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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Muse Of The Department - Part 3
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The Muse Of The Department - Part 3 Post by :24HourCash Category :Long Stories Author :Honore De Balzac Date :May 2012 Read :983

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The Muse Of The Department - Part 3

On reaching a copse, Monsieur Gravier left the two great men and Gatien, under the guidance of a keeper, to make their way through a little ravine.

"Well, we must wait for Monsieur Gravier," said Bianchon, when they had reached a clearing.

"You may be a great physician," said Gatien, "but you are ignorant of provincial life. You mean to wait for Monsieur Gravier?--By this time he is running like a hare, in spite of his little round stomach; he is within twenty minutes of Anzy by now----" Gatien looked at his watch. "Good! he will be just in time."

"Where?"

"At the chateau for breakfast," replied Gatien. "Do you suppose I could rest easy if Madame de la Baudraye were alone with Monsieur de Clagny? There are two of them now; they will keep an eye on each other. Dinah will be well guarded."

"Ah, ha! Then Madame de la Baudraye has not yet made up her mind?" said Lousteau.

"So mamma thinks. For my part, I am afraid that Monsieur de Clagny has at last succeeded in bewitching Madame de la Baudraye. If he has been able to show her that he had any chance of putting on the robes of the Keeper of the Seals, he may have hidden his moleskin complexion, his terrible eyes, his touzled mane, his voice like a hoarse crier's, his bony figure, like that of a starveling poet, and have assumed all the charms of Adonis. If Dinah sees Monsieur de Clagny as Attorney-General, she may see him as a handsome youth. Eloquence has great privileges.--Besides, Madame de la Baudraye is full of ambition. She does not like Sancerre, and dreams of the glories of Paris."

"But what interest have you in all this?" said Lousteau. "If she is in love with the Public Prosecutor!--Ah! you think she will not love him for long, and you hope to succeed him."

"You who live in Paris," said Gatien, "meet as many different women as there are days in the year. But at Sancerre, where there are not half a dozen, and where, of those six, five set up for the most extravagant virtue, when the handsomest of them all keeps you at an infinite distance by looks as scornful as though she were of the blood royal, a young man of two-and-twenty may surely be allowed to make a guess at her secrets, since she must then treat him with some consideration."

"Consideration! So that is what you call it in these parts?" said the journalist with a smile.

"I should suppose Madame de la Baudraye to have too much good taste to trouble her head about that ugly ape," said Bianchon.

"Horace," said Lousteau, "look here, O learned interpreter of human nature, let us lay a trap for the Public Prosecutor; we shall be doing our friend Gatien a service, and get a laugh out of it. I do not love Public Prosecutors."

"You have a keen intuition of destiny," said Horace. "But what can we do?"

"Well, after dinner we will tell sundry little anecdotes of wives caught out by their husbands, killed, murdered under the most terrible circumstances.--Then we shall see the faces that Madame de la Baudraye and de Clagny will make."

"Not amiss!" said Bianchon; "one or the other must surely, by look or gesture--"

"I know a newspaper editor," Lousteau went on, addressing Gatien, "who, anxious to forefend a grievous fate, will take no stories but such as tell the tale of lovers burned, hewn, pounded, or cut to pieces; of wives boiled, fried, or baked; he takes them to his wife to read, hoping that sheer fear will keep her faithful--satisfied with that humble alternative, poor man! 'You see, my dear, to what the smallest error may lead you!' says he, epitomizing Arnolfe's address to Agnes."

"Madame de la Baudraye is quite guiltless; this youth sees double," said Bianchon. "Madame Piedefer seems to me far too pious to invite her daughter's lover to the Chateau d'Anzy. Madame de la Baudraye would have to hoodwink her mother, her husband, her maid, and her mother's maid; that is too much to do. I acquit her."

"Well with more reason because her husband never 'quits her,'" said Gatien, laughing at his own wit.

"We can easily remember two or three stories that will make Dinah quake," said Lousteau. "Young man--and you too, Bianchon--let me beg you to maintain a stern demeanor; be thorough diplomatists, an easy manner without exaggeration, and watch the faces of the two criminals, you know, without seeming to do so--out of the corner of your eye, or in a glass, on the sly. This morning we will hunt the hare, this evening we will hunt the Public Prosecutor."

The evening began with a triumph for Lousteau, who returned the album to the lady with this elegy written in it:


SPLEEN

You ask for verse from me, the feeble prey
Of this self-seeking world, a waif and stray
With none to whom to cling;
From me--unhappy, purblind, hopeless devil!
Who e'en in what is good see only evil
In any earthly thing!

This page, the pastime of a dame so fair,
May not reflect the shadow of my care,
For all things have their place.
Of love, to ladies bright, the poet sings,
Of joy, and balls, and dress, and dainty things--
Nay, or of God and Grace.

It were a bitter jest to bid the pen
Of one so worn with life, so hating men,
Depict a scene of joy.
Would you exult in sight to one born blind,
Or--cruel! of a mother's love remind
Some hapless orphan boy?

When cold despair has gripped a heart still fond,
When there is no young heart that will respond
To it in love, the future is a lie.
If there is none to weep when he is sad,
And share his woe, a man were better dead!--
And so I soon must die.

Give me your pity! often I blaspheme
The sacred name of God. Does it not seem
That I was born in vain?
Why should I bless him? Or why thank Him, since
He might have made me handsome, rich, a prince--
And I am poor and plain?

ETIENNE LOUSTEAU.
September 1836, Chateau d'Anzy.


"And you have written those verses since yesterday?" cried Clagny in a suspicious tone.

"Dear me, yes, as I was following the game; it is only too evident! I would gladly have done something better for madame."

"The verses are exquisite!" cried Dinah, casting up her eyes to heaven.

"They are, alas! the expression of a too genuine feeling," replied Lousteau, in a tone of deep dejection.

The reader will, of course, have guessed that the journalist had stored these lines in his memory for ten years at least, for he had written them at the time of the Restoration in disgust at being unable to get on. Madame de la Baudraye gazed at him with such pity as the woes of genius inspire; and Monsieur de Clagny, who caught her expression, turned in hatred against this sham _Jeune Malade (the name of an Elegy written by Millevoye). He sat down to backgammon with the cure of Sancerre. The Presiding Judge's son was so extremely obliging as to place a lamp near the two players in such a way as that the light fell full on Madame de la Baudraye, who took up her work; she was embroidering in coarse wool a wicker-plait paper-basket. The three conspirators sat close at hand.

"For whom are you decorating that pretty basket, madame?" said Lousteau. "For some charity lottery, perhaps?"

"No," she said, "I think there is too much display in charity done to the sound of a trumpet."

"You are very indiscreet," said Monsieur Gravier.

"Can there be any indiscretion," said Lousteau, "in inquiring who the happy mortal may be in whose room that basket is to stand?"

"There is no happy mortal in the case," said Dinah; "it is for Monsieur de la Baudraye."

The Public Prosecutor looked slily at Madame de la Baudraye and her work, as if he had said to himself, "I have lost my paper-basket!"

"Why, madame, may we not think him happy in having a lovely wife, happy in her decorating his paper-baskets so charmingly? The colors are red and black, like Robin Goodfellow. If ever I marry, I only hope that twelve years after, my wife's embroidered baskets may still be for me."

"And why should they not be for you?" said the lady, fixing her fine gray eyes, full of invitation, on Etienne's face.

"Parisians believe in nothing," said the lawyer bitterly. "The virtue of women is doubted above all things with terrible insolence. Yes, for some time past the books you have written, you Paris authors, your farces, your dramas, all your atrocious literature, turn on adultery--"

"Come, come, Monsieur the Public Prosecutor," retorted Etienne, laughing, "I left you to play your game in peace, I did not attack you, and here you are bringing an indictment against me. On my honor as a journalist, I have launched above a hundred articles against the writers you speak of; but I confess that in attacking them it was to attempt something like criticism. Be just; if you condemn them, you must condemn Homer, whose _Iliad turns on Helen of Troy; you must condemn Milton's _Paradise Lost_. Eve and her serpent seem to me a pretty little case of symbolical adultery; you must suppress the Psalms of David, inspired by the highly adulterous love affairs of that Louis XIV. of Judah; you must make a bonfire of _Mithridate, le Tartuffe, l'Ecole des Femmes, Phedre, Andromaque, le Mariage de Figaro_, Dante's _Inferno_, Petrarch's Sonnets, all the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the romances of the Middle Ages, the History of France, and of Rome, etc., etc. Excepting Bossuet's _Histoire des Variations and Pascal's _Provinciales_, I do not think there are many books left to read if you insist on eliminating all those in which illicit love is mentioned."

"Much loss that would be!" said Monsieur de Clagny.

Etienne, nettled by the superior air assumed by Monsieur de Clagny, wanted to infuriate him by one of those cold-drawn jests which consist in defending an opinion in which we have no belief, simply to rouse the wrath of a poor man who argues in good faith; a regular journalist's pleasantry.

"If we take up the political attitude into which you would force yourself," he went on, without heeding the lawyer's remark, "and assume the part of Public Prosecutor of all the ages--for every Government has its public ministry--well, the Catholic religion is infected at its fountain-head by a startling instance of illegal union. In the opinion of King Herod, and of Pilate as representing the Roman Empire, Joseph's wife figured as an adulteress, since, by her avowal, Joseph was not the father of Jesus. The heathen judge could no more recognize the Immaculate Conception than you yourself would admit the possibility of such a miracle if a new religion should nowadays be preached as based on a similar mystery. Do you suppose that a judge and jury in a police court would give credence to the operation of the Holy Ghost! And yet who can venture to assert that God will never again redeem mankind? Is it any better now than it was under Tiberius?"

"Your argument is blasphemy," said Monsieur de Clagny.

"I grant it," said the journalist, "but not with malicious intent. You cannot suppress historical fact. In my opinion, Pilate, when he sentenced Jesus, and Anytus--who spoke for the aristocratic party at Athens--when he insisted on the death of Socrates, both represented established social interests which held themselves legitimate, invested with co-operative powers, and obliged to defend themselves. Pilate and Anytus in their time were not less logical than the public prosecutors who demanded the heads of the sergeants of La Rochelle; who, at this day, are guillotining the republicans who take up arms against the throne as established by the revolution of July, and the innovators who aim at upsetting society for their own advantage under pretence of organizing it on a better footing. In the eyes of the great families of Greece and Rome, Socrates and Jesus were criminals; to those ancient aristocracies their opinions were akin to those of the Mountain; and if their followers had been victorious, they would have produced a little 'ninety-three' in the Roman Empire or in Attica."

"What are you trying to come to, monsieur?" asked the lawyer.

"To adultery!--For thus, monsieur, a Buddhist as he smokes his pipe may very well assert that the Christian religion is founded in adultery; as we believe that Mahomet is an impostor; that his Koran is an epitome of the Old Testament and the Gospels; and that God never had the least intention of constituting that camel-driver His Prophet."

"If there were many men like you in France--and there are more than enough, unfortunately--all government would be impossible."

"And there would be no religion at all," said Madame Piedefer, who had been making strangely wry faces all through this discussion.

"You are paining them very much," said Bianchon to Lousteau in an undertone. "Do not talk of religion; you are saying things that are enough to upset them."

"If I were a writer or a romancer," said Monsieur Gravier, "I should take the side of the luckless husbands. I, who have seen many things, and strange things too, know that among the ranks of deceived husbands there are some whose attitude is not devoid of energy, men who, at a crisis, can be very dramatic, to use one of your words, monsieur," he said, addressing Etienne.

"You are very right, my dear Monsieur Gravier," said Lousteau. "I never thought that deceived husbands were ridiculous; on the contrary, I think highly of them--"

"Do you not think a husband's confidence a sublime thing?" said Bianchon. "He believes in his wife, he does not suspect her, he trusts her implicitly. But if he is so weak as to trust her, you make game of him; if he is jealous and suspicious, you hate him; what, then, I ask you, is the happy medium for a man of spirit?"

"If Monsieur de Clagny had not just expressed such vehement disapproval of the immorality of stories in which the matrimonial compact is violated, I could tell you of a husband's revenge," said Lousteau.

Monsieur de Clagny threw the dice with a convulsive jerk, and dared not look up at the journalist.

"A story, from you!" cried Madame de la Baudraye. "I should hardly have dared to hope for such a treat--"

"It is not my story, madame; I am not clever enough to invent such a tragedy. It was told me--and how delightfully!--by one of our greatest writers, the finest literary musician of our day, Charles Nodier."

"Well, tell it," said Dinah. "I never met Monsieur Nodier, so you have no comparison to fear."

"Not long after the 18th Brumaire," Etienne began, "there was, as you know, a call to arms in Brittany and la Vendee. The First Consul, anxious before all things for peace in France, opened negotiations with the rebel chiefs, and took energetic military measures; but, while combining his plans of campaign with the insinuating charm of Italian diplomacy, he also set the Machiavelian springs of the police in movement, Fouche then being at its head. And none of these means were superfluous to stifle the fire of war then blaring in the West.

"At this time a young man of the Maille family was despatched by the Chouans from Brittany to Saumur, to open communications between certain magnates of that town and its environs and the leaders of the Royalist party. The envoy was, in fact, arrested on the very day he landed--for he traveled by boat, disguised as a master mariner. However, as a man of practical intelligence, he had calculated all the risks of the undertaking; his passport and papers were all in order, and the men told off to take him were afraid of blundering.

"The Chevalier de Beauvoir--I now remember his name--had studied his part well; he appealed to the family whose name he had borrowed, persisted in his false address, and stood his examination so boldly that he would have been set at large but for the blind belief that the spies had in their instructions, which were unfortunately only too minute. In this dilemma the authorities were more ready to risk an arbitrary act than to let a man escape to whose capture the Minister attached great importance. In those days of liberty the agents of the powers in authority cared little enough for what we now regard as _legal_. The Chevalier was therefore imprisoned provisionally, until the superior officials should come to some decision as to his identity. He had not long to wait for it; orders were given to guard the prisoner closely in spite of his denials.

"The Chevalier de Beauvoir was next transferred, in obedience to further orders, to the Castle of l'Escarpe, a name which sufficiently indicates its situation. This fortress, perched on very high rocks, has precipices for its trenches; it is reached on all sides by steep and dangerous paths; and, like every ancient castle, its principal gate has a drawbridge over a wide moat. The commandant of this prison, delighted to have charge of a man of family whose manners were most agreeable, who expressed himself well, and seemed highly educated, received the Chevalier as a godsend; he offered him the freedom of the place on parole, that they might together the better defy its dulness. The prisoner was more than content.

"Beauvoir was a loyal gentleman, but, unfortunately, he was also a very handsome youth. He had attractive features, a dashing air, a pleasing address, and extraordinary strength. Well made, active, full of enterprise, and loving danger, he would have made an admirable leader of guerillas, and was the very man for the part. The commandant gave his prisoner the most comfortable room, entertained him at his table, and at first had nothing but praise for the Vendean. This officer was a Corsican and married; his wife was pretty and charming, and he thought her, perhaps, not to be trusted--at any rate, he was as jealous as a Corsican and a rather ill-looking soldier may be. The lady took a fancy to Beauvoir, and he found her very much to his taste; perhaps they loved! Love in a prison is quick work. Did they commit some imprudence? Was the sentiment they entertained something warmer than the superficial gallantry which is almost a duty of men towards women?

"Beauvoir never fully explained this rather obscure episode of the story; it is at least certain that the commandant thought himself justified in treating his prisoner with excessive severity. Beauvoir was placed in the dungeon, fed on black bread and cold water, and fettered in accordance with the time-honored traditions of the treatment lavished on captives. His cell, under the fortress-yard, was vaulted with hard stone, the walls were of desperate thickness; the tower overlooked the precipice.

"When the luckless man had convinced himself of the impossibility of escape, he fell into those day-dreams which are at once the comfort and the crowning despair of prisoners. He gave himself up to the trifles which in such cases seem so important; he counted the hours and the days; he studied the melancholy trade of being prisoner; he became absorbed in himself, and learned the value of air and sunshine; then, at the end of a fortnight, he was attacked by that terrible malady, that fever for liberty, which drives prisoners to those heroic efforts of which the prodigious achievements seem to us impossible, though true, and which my friend the doctor" (and he turned to Bianchon) "would perhaps ascribe to some unknown forces too recondite for his physiological analysis to detect, some mysteries of the human will of which the obscurity baffles science."

Bianchon shook his head in negation.

"Beauvoir was eating his heart out, for death alone could set him free. One morning the turnkey, whose duty it was to bring him his food, instead of leaving him when he had given him his meagre pittance, stood with his arms folded, looking at him with strange meaning. Conversation between them was brief, and the warder never began it. The Chevalier was therefore greatly surprised when the man said to him: 'Of course, monsieur, you know your own business when you insist on being always called Monsieur Lebrun, or citizen Lebrun. It is no concern of mine; ascertaining your name is no part of my duty. It is all the same to me whether you call yourself Peter or Paul. If every man minds his own business, the cows will not stray. At the same time, _I know,' said he, with a wink, 'that you are Monsieur Charles-Felix-Theodore, Chevalier de Beauvoir, and cousin to Madame la Duchesse de Maille.--Heh?' he added after a short silence, during which he looked at his prisoner.

"Beauvoir, seeing that he was safe under lock and key, did not imagine that his position could be any the worse if his real name were known.

"'Well, and supposing I were the Chevalier de Beauvoir, what should I gain by that?' said he.

"'Oh, there is everything to be gained by it,' replied the jailer in an undertone. 'I have been paid to help you to get away; but wait a minute! If I were suspected in the smallest degree, I should be shot out of hand. So I have said that I will do no more in the matter than will just earn the money.--Look here,' said he, taking a small file out of his pocket, 'this is your key; with this you can cut through one of your bars. By the Mass, but it will not be any easy job,' he went on, glancing at the narrow loophole that let daylight into the dungeon.

"It was in a splayed recess under the deep cornice that ran round the top of the tower, between the brackets that supported the embrasures.

"'Monsieur,' said the man, 'you must take care to saw through the iron low enough to get your body through.'

"'I will get through, never fear,' said the prisoner.

"'But high enough to leave a stanchion to fasten a cord to,' the warder went on.

"'And where is the cord?' asked Beauvoir.

"'Here,' said the man, throwing down a knotted rope. 'It is made of raveled linen, that you may be supposed to have contrived it yourself, and it is long enough. When you have got to the bottom knot, let yourself drop gently, and the rest you must manage for yourself. You will probably find a carriage somewhere in the neighborhood, and friends looking out for you. But I know nothing about that.--I need not remind you that there is a man-at-arms to the right of the tower. You will take care, of course, to choose a dark night, and wait till the sentinel is asleep. You must take your chance of being shot; but--'

"'All right! All right! At least I shall not rot here,' cried the young man.

"'Well, that may happen nevertheless,' replied the jailer, with a stupid expression.

"Beauvoir thought this was merely one of the aimless remarks that such folks indulge in. The hope of freedom filled him with such joy that he could not be troubled to consider the words of a man who was no more than a better sort of peasant. He set to work at once, and had filed the bars through in the course of the day. Fearing a visit from the Governor, he stopped up the breaches with bread crumb rubbed in rust to make it look like iron; he hid his rope, and waited for a favorable night with the intensity of anticipation, the deep anguish of soul that makes a prisoner's life dramatic.

"At last, one murky night, an autumn night, he finished cutting through the bars, tied the cord firmly to the stump, and perched himself on the sill outside, holding on by one hand to the piece of iron remaining. Then he waited for the darkest hour of the night, when the sentinels would probably be asleep; this would be not long before dawn. He knew the hours of their rounds, the length of each watch, every detail with which prisoners, almost involuntarily, become familiar. He waited till the moment when one of the men-at-arms had spent two-thirds of his watch and gone into his box for shelter from the fog. Then, feeling sure that the chances were at the best for his escape, he let himself down knot by knot, hanging between earth and sky, and clinging to his rope with the strength of a giant. All was well. At the last knot but one, just as he was about to let himself drop, a prudent impulse led him to feel for the ground with his feet, and he found no footing. The predicament was awkward for a man bathed in sweat, tired, and perplexed, and in a position where his life was at stake on even chances. He was about to risk it, when a trivial incident stopped him; his hat fell off; happily, he listened for the noise it must make in striking the ground, and he heard not a sound.

"The prisoner felt vaguely suspicious as to this state of affairs. He began to wonder whether the Commandant had not laid a trap for him --but if so, why? Torn by doubts, he almost resolved to postpone the attempt till another night. At any rate, he would wait for the first gleam of day, when it would still not be impossible to escape. His great strength enabled him to climb up again to his window; still, he was almost exhausted by the time he gained the sill, where he crouched on the lookout, exactly like a cat on the parapet of a gutter. Before long, by the pale light of dawn, he perceived as he waved the rope that there was a little interval of a hundred feet between the lowest knot and the pointed rocks below.

"'Thank you, my friend, the Governor!' said he, with characteristic coolness. Then, after a brief meditation on this skilfully-planned revenge, he thought it wise to return to his cell.

"He laid his outer clothes conspicuously on the bed, left the rope outside to make it seem that he had fallen, and hid himself behind the door to await the arrival of the treacherous turnkey, arming himself with one of the iron bars he had filed out. The jailer, who returned rather earlier than usual to secure the dead man's leavings, opened the door, whistling as he came in; but when he was at arm's length, Beauvoir hit him such a tremendous blow on the head that the wretch fell in a heap without a cry; the bar had cracked his skull.

"The Chevalier hastily stripped him and put on his clothes, mimicked his walk, and, thanks to the early hour and the undoubting confidence of the warders of the great gate, he walked out and away."

It did not seem to strike either the lawyer or Madame de la Baudraye that there was in this narrative the least allusion that should apply to them. Those in the little plot looked inquiringly at each other, evidently surprised at the perfect coolness of the two supposed lovers.

"Oh! I can tell you a better story than that," said Bianchon.

"Let us hear," said the audience, at a sign from Lousteau, conveying that Bianchon had a reputation as a story-teller.

Among the stock of narratives he had in store, for every clever man has a fund of anecdotes as Madame de la Baudraye had a collection of phrases, the doctor chose that which is known as _La Grande Breteche_, and is so famous indeed, that it was put on the stage at the _Gymnase-Dramatique under the title of _Valentine_. So it is not necessary to repeat it here, though it was then new to the inhabitants of the Chateau d'Anzy. And it was told with the same finish of gesture and tone which had won such praise for Bianchon when at Mademoiselle des Touches' supper-party he had told it for the first time. The final picture of the Spanish grandee, starved to death where he stood in the cupboard walled up by Madame de Merret's husband, and that husband's last word as he replied to his wife's entreaty, "You swore on that crucifix that there was no one in that closet!" produced their full effect. There was a silent minute, highly flattering to Bianchon.

"Do you know, gentlemen," said Madame de la Baudraye, "love must be a mighty thing that it can tempt a woman to put herself in such a position?"

"I, who have certainly seen some strange things in the course of my life," said Gravier, "was cognizant in Spain of an adventure of the same kind."

"You come forward after two great performers," said Madame de la Baudraye, with coquettish flattery, as she glanced at the two Parisians. "But never mind--proceed."

"Some little time after his entry into Madrid," said the Receiver-General, "the Grand Duke of Berg invited the magnates of the capital to an entertainment given to the newly conquered city by the French army. In spite of the splendor of the affair, the Spaniards were not very cheerful; their ladies hardly danced at all, and most of the company sat down to cards. The gardens of the Duke's palace were so brilliantly illuminated, that the ladies could walk about in as perfect safety as in broad daylight. The fete was of imperial magnificence. Nothing was grudged to give the Spaniards a high idea of the Emperor, if they were to measure him by the standard of his officers.

"In an arbor near the house, between one and two in the morning, a party of French officers were discussing the chances of war, and the not too hopeful outlook prognosticated by the conduct of the Spaniards present at that grand ball.

"'I can only tell you,' said the surgeon-major of the company of which I was paymaster, 'I applied formally to Prince Murat only yesterday to be recalled. Without being afraid exactly of leaving my bones in the Peninsula, I would rather dress the wounds made by our worthy neighbors the Germans. Their weapons do not run quite so deep into the body as these Castilian daggers. Besides, a certain dread of Spain is, with me, a sort of superstition. From my earliest youth I have read Spanish books, and a heap of gloomy romances and tales of adventures in this country have given me a serious prejudice against its manners and customs.

"'Well, now, since my arrival in Madrid, I have already been, not indeed the hero, but the accomplice of a dangerous intrigue, as dark and mysterious as any romance by Lady (Mrs.) Radcliffe. I am apt to attend to my presentiments, and I am off to-morrow. Murat will not refuse me leave, for, thanks to our varied services, we always have influential friends.'

"'Since you mean to cut your stick, tell us what's up,' said an old Republican colonel, who cared not a rap for Imperial gentility and choice language.

"The surgeon-major looked about him cautiously, as if to make sure who were his audience, and being satisfied that no Spaniard was within hearing, he said:

"'We are none but Frenchmen--then, with pleasure, Colonel Hulot. About six days since, I was quietly going home, at about eleven at night, after leaving General Montcornet, whose hotel is but a few yards from mine. We had come away together from the Quartermaster-General's, where we had played rather high at _bouillotte_. Suddenly, at the corner of a narrow high-street, two strangers, or rather, two demons, rushed upon me and flung a large cloak round my head and arms. I yelled out, as you may suppose, like a dog that is thrashed, but the cloth smothered my voice, and I was lifted into a chaise with dexterous rapidity. When my two companions released me from the cloak, I heard these dreadful words spoken by a woman, in bad French:

"'"If you cry out, or if you attempt to escape, if you make the very least suspicious demonstration, the gentleman opposite to you will stab you without hesitation. So you had better keep quiet.--Now, I will tell you why you have been carried off. If you will take the trouble to put your hand out in this direction, you will find your case of instruments lying between us; we sent a messenger for them to your rooms, in your name. You will need them. We are taking you to a house that you may save the honor of a lady who is about to give birth to a child that she wishes to place in this gentleman's keeping without her husband's knowledge. Though monsieur rarely leaves his wife, with whom he is still passionately in love, watching over her with all the vigilance of Spanish jealousy, she had succeeded in concealing her condition; he believes her to be ill. You must bring the child into the world. The dangers of this enterprise do not concern us: only, you must obey us, otherwise the lover, who is sitting opposite to you in this carriage, and who does not understand a word of French, will kill you on the least rash movement."

"'"And who are you?" I asked, feeling for the speaker's hand, for her arm was inside the sleeve of a soldier's uniform.

"'"I am my lady's waiting-woman," said she, "and ready to reward you with my own person if you show yourself gallant and helpful in our necessities."

"'"Gladly," said I, seeing that I was inevitably started on a perilous adventure.

"'Under favor of the darkness, I felt whether the person and figure of the girl were in keeping with the idea I had formed of her from her tone of voice. The good soul had, no doubt, made up her mind from the first to accept all the chances of this strange act of kidnapping, for she kept silence very obligingly, and the coach had not been more than ten minutes on the way when she accepted and returned a very satisfactory kiss. The lover, who sat opposite to me, took no offence at an occasional quite involuntary kick; as he did not understand French, I conclude he paid no heed to them.

"'"I can be your mistress on one condition only," said the woman, in reply to the nonsense I poured into her ear, carried away by the fervor of an improvised passion, to which everything was unpropitious.

"'"And what is it?"

"'"That you will never attempt to find out whose servant I am. If I am to go to you, it must be at night, and you must receive me in the dark."

"'"Very good," said I.

"'We had got as far as this, when the carriage drew up under a garden wall.

"'"You must allow me to bandage your eyes," said the maid. "You can lean on my arm, and I will lead you."

"'She tied a handkerchief over my eyes, fastening it in a tight knot at the back of my head. I heard the sound of a key being cautiously fitted to the lock of a little side door by the speechless lover who had sat opposite to me. In a moment the waiting-woman, whose shape was slender, and who walked with an elegant jauntiness'--_meneho_, as they call it," Monsieur Gravier explained in a superior tone, "a word which describes the swing which women contrive to give a certain part of their dress that shall be nameless.--'The waiting-woman'--it is the surgeon-major who is speaking," the narrator went on--"'led me along the gravel walks of a large garden, till at a certain spot she stopped. From the louder sound of our footsteps, I concluded that we were close to the house. "Now silence!" said she in a whisper, "and mind what you are about. Do not overlook any of my signals; I cannot speak without terrible danger for both of us, and at this moment your life is of the first importance." Then she added: "My mistress is in a room on the ground floor. To get into it we must pass through her husband's room and close to his bed. Do not cough, walk softly, and follow me closely, so as not to knock against the furniture or tread anywhere but on the carpets I laid down."

"'Here the lover gave an impatient growl, as a man annoyed by so much delay.

"'The woman said no more, I heard a door open, I felt the warm air of the house, and we stole in like thieves. Presently the girl's light hand removed the bandage. I found myself in a lofty and spacious room, badly lighted by a smoky lamp. The window was open, but the jealous husband had fitted it with iron bars. I was in the bottom of a sack, as it were.

"'On the ground a woman was lying on a mat; her head was covered with a muslin veil, but I could see her eyes through it full of tears and flashing with the brightness of stars; she held a handkerchief in her mouth, biting it so hard that her teeth were set in it: I never saw finer limbs, but her body was writhing with pain like a harp-string thrown on the fire. The poor creature had made a sort of struts of her legs by setting her feet against a chest of drawers, and with both hands she held on to the bar of a chair, her arms outstretched, with every vein painfully swelled. She might have been a criminal undergoing torture. But she did not utter a cry; there was not a sound, all three speechless and motionless. The husband snored with reassuring regularity. I wanted to study the waiting-woman's face, but she had put on a mask, which she had removed, no doubt, during our drive, and I could see nothing but a pair of black eyes and a pleasingly rounded figure.

"'The lover threw some towels over his mistress' legs and folded the muslin veil double over her face. As soon as I had examined the lady with care, I perceived from certain symptoms which I had noted once before on a very sad occasion in my life, that the infant was dead. I turned to the maid in order to tell her this. Instantly the suspicious stranger drew his dagger; but I had time to explain the matter to the woman, who explained in a word or two to him in a low voice. On hearing my opinion, a quick, slight shudder ran through him from head to foot like a lightning flash; I fancied I could see him turn pale under his black velvet mask.

"'The waiting-woman took advantage of a moment when he was bending in despair over the dying woman, who had turned blue, to point to some glasses of lemonade standing on a table, at the same time shaking her head negatively. I understood that I was not to drink anything in spite of the dreadful thirst that parched my throat. The lover was thirsty too; he took an empty glass, poured out some fresh lemonade, and drank it off.

"'At this moment the lady had a violent attack of pain, which showed me that now was the time to operate. I summoned all my courage, and in about an hour had succeeded in delivering her of the child, cutting it up to extract it. The Spaniard no longer thought of poisoning me, understanding that I had saved the mother's life. Large tears fell on his cloak. The woman uttered no sound, but she trembled like a hunted animal, and was bathed in sweat.

"'At one horribly critical moment she pointed in the direction of her husband's room; he had turned in his sleep, and she alone had heard the rustle of the sheets, the creaking of the bed or of the curtain. We all paused, and the lover and the waiting-woman, through the eyeholes of their masks, gave each other a look that said, "If he wakes, shall we kill him?"

"'At that instant I put out my hand to take the glass of lemonade the Spaniard had drunk of. He, thinking that I was about to take one of the full glasses, sprang forward like a cat, and laid his long dagger over the two poisoned goblets, leaving me his own, and signing to me to drink what was left. So much was conveyed by this quick action, and it was so full of good feeling, that I forgave him his atrocious schemes for killing me, and thus burying every trace of this event.

"'After two hours of care and alarms, the maid and I put her mistress to bed. The lover, forced into so perilous an adventure, had, to provide means in case of having to fly, a packet of diamonds stuck to paper; these he put into my pocket without my knowing it; and I may add parenthetically, that as I was ignorant of the Spaniard's magnificent gift, my servant stole the jewels the day after, and went off with a perfect fortune.

"'I whispered my instructions to the waiting-woman as to the further care of her patient, and wanted to be gone. The maid remained with her mistress, which was not very reassuring, but I was on my guard. The lover made a bundle of the dead infant and the blood-stained clothes, tying it up tightly, and hiding it under his cloak; he passed his hand over my eyes as if to bid me to see nothing, and signed to me to take hold of the skirt of his coat. He went first out of the room, and I followed, not without a parting glance at my lady of an hour. She, seeing the Spaniard had gone out, snatched off her mask and showed me an exquisite face.

"'When I found myself in the garden, in the open air, I confess that I breathed as if a heavy load had been lifted from my breast. I followed my guide at a respectful distance, watching his least movement with keen attention. Having reached the little door, he took my hand and pressed a seal to my lips, set in a ring which I had seen him wearing on a finger of his left hand, and I gave him to understand that this significant sign would be obeyed. In the street two horses were waiting; we each mounted one. My Spaniard took my bridle, held his own between his teeth, for his right hand held the bloodstained bundle, and we went off at lightning speed.

"'I could not see the smallest object by which to retrace the road we came by. At dawn I found myself close by my own door, and the Spaniard fled towards the Atocha gate.'

"'And you saw nothing which could lead you to suspect who the woman was whom you had attended?' the Colonel asked of the surgeon.

"'One thing only,' he replied. 'When I turned the unknown lady over, I happened to remark a mole on her arm, about half-way down, as big as a lentil, and surrounded with brown hairs.'--At this instant the rash speaker turned pale. All our eyes, that had been fixed on his, followed his glance, and we saw a Spaniard, whose glittering eyes shone through a clump of orange-trees. On finding himself the object of our attention, the man vanished with the swiftness of a sylph. A young captain rushed in pursuit.

"'By Heaven!' cried the surgeon, 'that basilisk stare has chilled me through, my friends. I can hear bells ringing in my ears! I may take leave of you; you will bury me here!'

"'What a fool you are!' exclaimed Colonel Hulot. 'Falcon is on the track of the Spaniard who was listening, and he will call him to account.'

"'Well,' cried one and another, seeing the captain return quite out of breath.

"'The devil's in it,' said Falcon; 'the man went through a wall, I believe! As I do not suppose that he is a wizard, I fancy he must belong to the house! He knows every corner and turning, and easily escaped.'

"'I am done for,' said the surgeon, in a gloomy voice.

"'Come, come, keep calm, Bega,' said I (his name was Bega), 'we will sit on watch with you till you leave. We will not leave you this evening.'

"In point of fact, three young officers who had been losing at play went home with the surgeon to his lodgings, and one of us offered to stay with him.

"Within two days Bega had obtained his recall to France; he made arrangements to travel with a lady to whom Murat had given a strong escort, and had just finished dinner with a party of friends, when his servant came to say that a young lady wished to speak to him. The surgeon and the three officers went down suspecting mischief. The stranger could only say, 'Be on your guard--' when she dropped down dead. It was the waiting-woman, who, finding she had been poisoned, had hoped to arrive in time to warn her lover.

"'Devil take it!' cried Captain Falcon, 'that is what I call love! No woman on earth but a Spaniard can run about with a dose of poison in her inside!'

"Bega remained strangely pensive. To drown the dark presentiments that haunted him, he sat down to table again, and with his companions drank immoderately. The whole party went early to bed, half drunk.

"In the middle of the night the hapless Bega was aroused by the sharp rattle of the curtain rings pulled violently along the rods. He sat up in bed, in the mechanical trepidation which we all feel on waking with such a start. He saw standing before him a Spaniard wrapped in a cloak, who fixed on him the same burning gaze that he had seen through the bushes.

"Bega shouted out, 'Help, help, come at once, friends!' But the Spaniard answered his cry of distress with a bitter laugh.--'Opium grows for all!' said he.

"Having thus pronounced sentence as it were, the stranger pointed to the three other men sleeping soundly, took from under his cloak the arm of a woman, freshly amputated, and held it out to Bega, pointing to a mole like that he had so rashly described. 'Is it the same?' he asked. By the light of the lantern the man had set on the bed, Bega recognized the arm, and his speechless amazement was answer enough.

"Without waiting for further information, the lady's husband stabbed him to the heart."

"You must tell that to the marines!" said Lousteau. "It needs their robust faith to swallow it! Can you tell me which told the tale, the dead man or the Spaniard?"

"Monsieur," replied the Receiver-General, "I nursed poor Bega, who died five days after in dreadful suffering.--That is not the end.

"At the time of the expedition sent out to restore Ferdinand VII. I was appointed to a place in Spain; but, happily for me, I got no further than Tours when I was promised the post of Receiver here at Sancerre. On the eve of setting out I was at a ball at Madame de Listomere's, where we were to meet several Spaniards of high rank. On rising from the card-table, I saw a Spanish grandee, an _afrancesado in exile, who had been about a fortnight in Touraine. He had arrived very late at this ball--his first appearance in society--accompanied by his wife, whose right arm was perfectly motionless. Everybody made way in silence for this couple, whom we all watched with some excitement. Imagine a picture by Murillo come to life. Under black and hollow brows the man's eyes were like a fixed blaze; his face looked dried up, his bald skull was red, and his frame was a terror to behold, he was so emaciated. His wife--no, you cannot imagine her. Her figure had the supple swing for which the Spaniards created the word _meneho_; though pale, she was still beautiful; her complexion was dazzlingly fair--a rare thing in a Spaniard; and her gaze, full of the Spanish sun, fell on you like a stream of melted lead.

"'Madame,' said I to her, towards the end of the evening, 'what occurrence led to the loss of your arm?'

"'I lost it in the war of independence,' said she."

"Spain is a strange country," said Madame de la Baudraye. "It still shows traces of Arab manners."

"Oh!" said the journalist, laughing, "the mania for cutting off arms is an old one there. It turns up every now and then like some of our newspaper hoaxes, for the subject has given plots for plays on the Spanish stage so early as 1570--"

"Then do you think me capable of inventing such a story?" said Monsieur Gravier, nettled by Lousteau's impertinent tone.

"Quite incapable of such a thing," said the journalist with grave irony.

"Pooh!" said Bianchon, "the inventions of romances and play-writers are quite as often transferred from their books and pieces into real life, as the events of real life are made use of on the stage or adapted to a tale. I have seen the comedy of _Tartufe played out --with the exception of the close; Orgon's eyes could not be opened to the truth."

"And the tragi-comedy of _Adolphe by Benjamin Constant is constantly enacted," cried Lousteau.

"And do you suppose," asked Madame de la Baudraye, "that such adventures as Monsieur Gravier has related could ever occur now, and in France?"

"Dear me!" cried Clagny, "of the ten or twelve startling crimes that are annually committed in France, quite half are mixed up with circumstances at least as extraordinary as these, and often outdoing them in romantic details. Indeed, is not this proved by the reports in the _Gazette des Tribunaux_--the Police news--in my opinion, one of the worst abuses of the Press? This newspaper, which was started only in 1826 or '27, was not in existence when I began my professional career, and the facts of the crime I am about to speak of were not known beyond the limits of the department where it was committed.

"In the quarter of Saint-Pierre-des-Corps at Tours a woman whose husband had disappeared at the time when the army of the Loire was disbanded, and who had mourned him deeply, was conspicuous for her excess of devotion. When the mission priests went through all the provinces to restore the crosses that had been destroyed and to efface the traces of revolutionary impiety, this widow was one of their most zealous proselytes, she carried a cross and nailed to it a silver heart pierced by an arrow; and, for a long time after, she went every evening to pray at the foot of the cross which was erected behind the Cathedral apse.

"At last, overwhelmed by remorse, she confessed to a horrible crime. She had killed her husband, as Fualdes was murdered, by bleeding him; she had salted the body and packed it in pieces into old casks, exactly as if it have been pork; and for a long time she had taken a piece every morning and thrown it into the Loire. Her confessor consulted his superiors, and told her that it would be his duty to inform the public prosecutor. The woman awaited the action of the Law. The public prosecutor and the examining judge, on examining the cellar, found the husband's head still in pickle in one of the casks. --'Wretched woman,' said the judge to the accused, 'since you were so barbarous as to throw your husband's body into the river, why did you not get rid of the head? Then there would have been no proof.'

"'I often tried, monsieur,' said she, 'but it was too heavy.'"

"Well, and what became of the woman?" asked the two Parisians.

"She was sentenced and executed at Tours," replied the lawyer; "but her repentance and piety had attracted interest in spite of her monstrous crime."

"And do you suppose, said Bianchon, "that we know all the tragedies that are played out behind the curtain of private life that the public never lifts?--It seems to me that human justice is ill adapted to judge of crimes as between husband and wife. It has every right to intervene as the police; but in equity it knows nothing of the heart of the matter."

"The victim has in many cases been for so long the tormentor," said Madame de la Baudraye guilelessly, "that the crime would sometimes seem almost excusable if the accused could tell all."

This reply, led up to by Bianchon and by the story which Clagny had told, left the two Parisians excessively puzzled as to Dinah's position.

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