The Wandering Jew, Entire
Part 6 out of 31
"But, sister, had he then that bright red scar round his forehead?"
"Oh, no! we should have certainly perceived it."
"And these other marks on his hands?"
"If he has been wounded, how can he be an archangel?"
"Why not, sister? If he received those wounds in preventing evil, or in
helping the unfortunate, who, like us, were about to perish?"
"You are right. If he did not run any danger for those he protects, it
would be less noble."
"What a pity that he does not open his eye!"
"Their expression is so good, so tender!"
"Why did he not speak of our mother, by the way?"
"We were not alone with him; he did not like to do so."
"But now we are alone."
"If we were to pray to him to speak to us?"
The orphans looked doubtingly at each other, with charming simplicity; a
bright glow suffused their cheeks, and their young bosoms heaved gently
beneath their black dresses.
"You are right. Let us kneel down to him."
"Oh, sister! our hearts beat so!" said Blanche, believing rightly, that
Rose felt exactly as she did. "And yet it seems to do us good. It is as
if some happiness were going to befall us."
The sisters, having approached the arm-chair on tip-toe, knelt down with
clasped hands, one to the right the other to the left of the young
priest. It was a charming picture. Turning their lovely faces towards
him, they said in a low whisper, with a soft, sweet voice, well suited to
their youthful appearance: "Gabriel! speak to us of our mother!"
On this appeal, the missionary gave a slight start, half-opened his eyes,
and, still in a state of semi-consciousness, between sleep and waking,
beheld those two beauteous faces turned towards him, and heard two gentle
voices repeat his name.
"Who calls me?" said he, rousing himself, and raising his head.
"It is Blanche and Rose."
It was now Gabriel's turn to blush, for he recognized the young girls he
had saved. "Rise, my sisters!" said he to them; "you should kneel only
The orphans obeyed, and were soon beside him, holding each other by the
hand. "You know my name, it seems," said the missionary with a smile.
"Oh, we have not forgotten it!"
"Who told it you?"
"Yes--when you came from our mother."
"I, my sisters?" said the missionary, unable to comprehend the words of
the orphans. "You are mistaken. I saw you to-day for the first time."
"But in our dreams?"
"Yes--do you not remember?--in our dreams."
"In Germany--three months ago, for the first time. Look at us well."
Gabriel could not help smiling at the simplicity of Rose and Blanche, who
expected him to remember a dream of theirs; growing more and more
perplexed, he repeated: "In your dreams?"
"Certainly; when you gave us such good advice."
"And when we were so sorrowful in prison, your words, which we
remembered, consoled us, and gave us courage."
"Was it not you, who delivered us from the prison at Leipsic, in that
dark night, when we were not able to see you?"
"What other but you would thus have come to our help, and to that of our
"We told him, that you would love him, because he loved us, although he
would not believe in angels."
"And this morning, during the tempest, we had hardly any fear."
"Because we expected you."
"This morning--yes, my sisters--it pleased heaven to send me to your
assistance. I was coming from America, but I have never been in Leipsic.
I could not, therefore, have let you out of prison. Tell me, my
sisters," added he, with a benevolent smile, "for whom do you take me?"
"For a good angel whom we have seen already in dreams, sent by our mother
from heaven to protect us."
"My dear sisters, I am only a poor priest. It is by mere chance, no
doubt, that I bear some resemblance to the angel you have seen in your
dreams, and whom you could not see in any other manner--for angels are
not visible to mortal eye.
"Angels are not visible?" said the orphans, looking sorrowfully at each
"No matter, my dear sisters," said Gabriel, taking them affectionately by
the hand; "dreams, like everything else, come from above. Since the
remembrance of your mother was mixed up with this dream, it is twice
At this moment a door opened, and Dagobert made his appearance. Up to
this time, the orphans, in their innocent ambition to be protected by an
archangel, had quite forgotten the circumstance that Dagobert's wife had
adopted a forsaken child, who was called Gabriel, and who was now a
priest and missionary.
The soldier, though obstinate in maintaining that his hurt was only a
blank wound (to use a term of General Simon's), had allowed it to be
carefully dressed by the surgeon of the village, and now wore a black
bandage, which concealed one half of his forehead, and added to the
natural grimness of his features. On entering the room, he was not a
little surprised to see a stranger holding the hands of Rose and Blanche
familiarly in his own. This surprise was natural, for Dagobert did not
know that the missionary had saved the lives of the orphans, and had
attempted to save his also.
In the midst of the storm, tossed about by the waves, and vainly striving
to cling to the rocks, the soldier had only seen Gabriel very
imperfectly, at the moment when, having snatched the sisters from certain
death, the young priest had fruitlessly endeavored to come to his aid.
And when, after the shipwreck, Dagobert had found the orphans in safety
beneath the roof of the Manor House, he fell, as we have already stated,
into a swoon, caused by fatigue, emotion, and the effects of his wound--
so that he had again no opportunity of observing the features of the
The veteran began to frown from beneath his black bandage and thick, gray
brows, at beholding a stranger so familiar with Rose and Blanche; but the
sisters ran to throw themselves into his arms, and to cover him with
filial caresses. His anger was soon dissipated by these marks of
affection, though he continued, from time to time, to cast a suspicious
glance at the missionary, who had risen from his seat, but whose
countenance he could not well distinguish.
"How is your wound?" asked Rose, anxiously. "They told us it was not
"Does it still pain?" added Blanche.
"No, children; the surgeon of the village would bandage me up in this
manner. If my head was carbonadoes with sabre cuts, I could not have
more wrappings. They will take me for an old milksop; it is only a blank
wound, and I have a good mind to--" And therewith the soldier raised one
of his hands to the bandage.
"Will you leave that alone?" cried Rose catching his arm. "How can you
be so unreasonable--at your age?"
"Well, well! don't scold! I will do what you wish, and keep it on."
Then, drawing the sisters to one end of the room, he said to them in a
low voice, whilst he looked at the young priest from the corner of his
eye: "Who is that gentleman who was holding your hands when I came in?
He has very much the look of a curate. You see, my children, you must be
on your guard; because--"
"He?" cried both sisters at once, turning towards Gabriel. "Without him,
we should not now be here to kiss you."
"What's that?" cried the soldier, suddenly drawing up his tall figure,
and gazing full at the missionary.
"It is our guardian angel," resumed Blanche.
"Without him," said Rose, "we must have perished this morning in the
"Ah! it is he, who--" Dagobert could say no more. With swelling heart,
and tears in his eyes, he ran to the missionary, offered him both his
hands, and exclaimed in a tone of gratitude impossible to describe: "Sir,
I owe you the lives of these two children. I feel what a debt that
service lays upon me. I will not say more--because it includes
Then, as if struck with a sudden recollection, he cried: "Stop! when I
was trying to cling to a rock, so as not to be carried away by the waves,
was it not you that held out your hand to me? Yes--that light hair--that
youthful countenance--yes--it was certainly you--now I am sure of it!"
"Unhappily, sir, my strength failed me, and I had the anguish to see you
fall back into the sea."
"I can say nothing more in the way of thanks than what I have already
said," answered Dagobert, with touching simplicity: "in preserving these
children you have done more for me than if you had saved my own life.
But what heart and courage!" added the soldier, with admiration; "and so
young, with such a girlish look!"
"And so," cried Blanche, joyfully, "our Gabriel came to your aid also?"
"Gabriel!" said Dagobert interrupting Blanche, and addressing himself to
the priest. "Is your name Gabriel?"
"Gabriel!" repeated the soldier, more and more surprised. "And a
priest!" added he.
"A priest of the foreign missions."
"Who--who brought you up?" asked the soldier, with increasing
"An excellent and generous woman, whom I revere as the best of mothers:
for she had pity on me, a deserted infant, and treated me ever as her
"Frances Baudoin--was it not?" said the soldier, with deep emotion.
"It was, sir," answered Gabriel, astonished in his turn. "But how do you
"The wife of a soldier, eh?" continued Dagobert.
"Yes, of a brave soldier--who, from the most admirable devotion, is even
now passing his life in exile--far from his wife--far from his son, my
dear brother--for I am proud to call him by that name--"
"My Agricola!--my wife!--when did you leave them?"
"What! is it possible! You the father of Agricola?--Oh! I knew not,
until now," cried Gabriel, clasping his hands together, "I knew not all
the gratitude that I owed to heaven!"
"And my wife! my child!" resumed Dagobert, in a trembling voice; "how are
they? have you news of them?"
"The accounts I received, three months ago, were excellent."
"No; it is too much," cried Dagobert; "it is too much!" The veteran was
unable to proceed; his feelings stifled his words, and fell back
exhausted in a chair.
And now Rose and Blanche recalled to mind that portion of their father's
letter which related to the child named Gabriel, whom the wife of
Dagobert had adopted; then they also yielded to transports of innocent
"Our Gabriel is the same as yours--what happiness!" cried Rose.
"Yes, my children! he belongs to you as well as to me. We have all our
part in him." Then, addressing Gabriel, the soldier added with
affectionate warmth: "Your hand, my brave boy! give me your hand!"
"Oh, sir! you are too good to me."
"Yes--that's it--thank me!--after all thou has done for us!"
"Does my adopted mother know of your return?" asked Gabriel, anxious to
escape from the praises of the soldier.
"I wrote to her five months since, but said that I should come alone;
there was a reason for it, which I will explain by and by. Does she
still live in the Rue Brise-Miche? It was there Agricola was born."
"She still lives there."
"In that case, she must have received my letter. I wished to write to
her from the prison at Leipsic, but it was impossible."
"From prison! Have you just come out of prison?"
"Yes; I come straight from Germany, by the Elbe and Hamburg, and I should
be still at Leipsic, but for an event which the Devil must have had a
hand in--a good sort of devil, though."
"What do you mean? Pray explain to me."
"That would be difficult, for I cannot explain it to myself. These
little ladies," he added, pointing with a smile to Rose and Blanche,
"pretended to know more about it than I did, and were continually
repeating: "It was the angel that came to our assistance, Dagobert--the
good angel we told thee of--though you said you would rather have Spoil-
sport to defend us--"
"Gabriel, I am waiting for you," said a stern voice, which made the
missionary start. They all turned round instantly, whilst the dog
uttered a deep growl.
It was Rodin. He stood in the doorway leading to the corridor. His
features were calm and impassive, but he darted a rapid, piercing glance
at the soldier and sisters.
"Who is that man?" said Dagobert, very little prepossessed in favor of
Rodin, whose countenance he found singularly repulsive. "What the
mischief does he want?"
"I must go with him," answered Gabriel, in a tone of sorrowful
constraint. Then, turning to Rodin, he added: "A thousand pardons! I
shall be ready in a moment."
"What!" cried Dagobert, stupefied with amazement, "going the very instant
we have just met? No, by my faith! you shall not go. I have too much
to tell you, and to ask in return. We will make the journey together.
It will be a real treat for me."
"It is impossible. He is my superior, and I must obey him."
"Your superior?--why, he's in citizen's dress."
"He is not obliged to wear the ecclesiastical garb."
"Rubbish! since he is not in uniform, and there is no provost-marshal in
your troop, send him to the--"
"Believe me, I would not hesitate a minute, if it were possible to
"I was right in disliking the phi of that man," muttered Dagobert between
his teeth. Then he added, with an air of impatience and vexation: "Shall
I tell him that he will much oblige us by marching off by himself?"
"I beg you not to do so," said Gabriel; "it would be useless; I know my
duty, and have no will but my superior's. As soon as you arrive in
Paris, I will come and see you, as also my adopted mother, and my dear
"Well--if it must be. I have been a soldier, and know what subordination
is," said Dagobert, much annoyed. "One must put a good face on bad
fortune. So, the day after to-morrow, in the Rue Brise-Miche, my boy;
for they tell me I can be in Paris by to-morrow evening, and we set out
almost immediately. But I say--there seems to be a strict discipline
with you fellows!"
"Yes, it is strict and severe," answered Gabriel, with a shudder, and a
"Come, shake hands--and let's say farewell for the present. After all,
twenty-four hours will soon pass away."
"Adieu! adieu!" replied the missionary, much moved, whilst he returned
the friendly pressure of the veteran's hand.
"Adieu, Gabriel!" added the orphans, sighing also, and with tears in
"Adieu, my sisters!" said Gabriel--and he left the room with Rodin, who
had not lost a word or an incident of this scene.
Two hours after, Dagobert and the orphans had quitted the Castle for
Paris, not knowing that Djalma was left at Cardoville, being still too
much injured to proceed on his journey. The half-caste, Faringhea,
remained with the young prince, not wishing, he said, to desert a fellow-
We now conduct the reader to the Rue Brise-Miche, the residence of
The following scenes occur in Paris, on the morrow of the day when the
shipwrecked travellers were received in Cardoville House.
Nothing can be more gloomy than the aspect of the Rue Brise-Miche, one
end of which leads into the Rue Saint-Merry, and the other into the
little square of the Cloister, near the church. At this end, the street,
or rather alley--for it is not more than eight feet wide--is shut in
between immense black, muddy dilapidated walls, the excessive height of
which excludes both air and light; hardly, during the longest days of the
year, is the sun able to throw into it a few straggling beams; whilst,
during the cold damps of winter, a chilling fog, which seems to penetrate
everything, hangs constantly above the miry pavement of this species of
It was about eight o'clock in the evening; by the faint, reddish light of
the street lamp, hardly visible through the haze, two men, stopping at
the angle of one of those enormous walls, exchanged a few words together.
"So," said one, "you understand all about it. You are to watch in the
street, till you see them enter No. 5."
"All right!" answered the other.
"And when you see 'em enter so as to make quite sure of the game, go up
to Frances Baudoin's room--"
"Under the cloak of asking where the little humpbacked workwoman lives--
the sister of that gay girl, the Queen of the Bacchanals."
"Yes--and you must try and find out her address also--from her humpbacked
sister, if possible--for it is very important. Women of her feather
change their nests like birds, and we have lost track of her."
"Make yourself easy; I will do my best with Hump, to learn where her
sister hangs out."
"And, to give you steam, I'll wait for you at the tavern opposite the
Cloister, and we'll have a go of hot wine on your return."
"I'll not refuse, for the night is deucedly cold."
"Don't mention it! This morning the water friz on my sprinkling-brush,
and I turned as stiff as a mummy in my chair at the church-door. Ah, my
boy! a distributor of holy water is not always upon roses!"
"Luckily, you have the pickings--"
"Well, well--good luck to you! Don't forget the Fiver, the little
passage next to the dyer's shop."
"Yes, yes--all right!" and the two men separated.
One proceeded to the Cloister Square; the other towards the further end
of the street, where it led into the Rue Saint-Merry. This latter soon
found the number of the house he sought--a tall, narrow building, having,
like all the other houses in the street, a poor and wretched appearance.
When he saw he was right, the man commenced walking backwards and
forwards in front of the door of No. 5.
If the exterior of these buildings was uninviting, the gloom and squalor
of the interior cannot be described. The house No. 5 was, in a special
degree, dirty and dilapidated. The water, which oozed from the wall,
trickled down the dark and filthy staircase. On the second floor, a wisp
of straw had been laid on the narrow landing-place, for wiping the feet
on; but this straw, being now quite rotten, only served to augment the
sickening odor, which arose from want of air, from damp, and from the
putrid exhalations of the drains. The few openings, cut at rare
intervals in the walls of the staircase, could hardly admit more than
some faint rays of glimmering light.
In this quarter, one of the most populous in Paris, such houses as these,
poor, cheerless, and unhealthy, are generally inhabited by the working
classes. The house in question was of the number. A dyer occupied the
ground floor; the deleterious vapors arising from his vats added to the
stench of the whole building. On the upper stories, several artisans
lodged with their families, or carried on their different trades. Up
four flights of stairs was the lodging of Frances Baudoin, wife of
Dagobert. It consisted of one room, with a closet adjoining, and was now
lighted by a single candle. Agricola occupied a garret in the roof.
Old grayish paper, broken here and there by the cracks covered the crazy
wall, against which rested the bed; scanty curtains, running upon an iron
rod, concealed the windows; the brick floor, not polished, but often
washed, had preserved its natural color. At one end of this room was a
round iron stove, with a large pot for culinary purposes. On the wooden
table, painted yellow, marbled with brown, stood a miniature house made
of iron--a masterpiece of patience and skill, the work of Agricola
Baudoin, Dagobert's son.
A plaster crucifix hung up against the wall, surrounded by several
branches of consecrated box-tree, and various images of saints, very
coarsely colored, bore witness to the habits of the soldier's wife.
Between the windows stood one of those old walnut-wood presses, curiously
fashioned, and almost black with time; an old arm-chair, covered with
green cotton velvet (Agricola's first present to his mother), a few rush-
bottomed chairs, and a worktable on which lay several bags of coarse,
brown cloth, completed the furniture of this room, badly secured by a
worm-eaten door. The adjoining closet contained a few kitchen and
Mean and poor as this interior may perhaps appear, it would not seem so
to the greater number of artisans; for the bed was supplied with two
mattresses, clean sheets, and a warm counterpane; the old-fashioned press
contained linen; and, moreover, Dagobert's wife occupied all to herself a
room as large as those in which numerous families, belonging to honest
and laborious workmen, often live and sleep huddled together--only too
happy if the boys and girls can have separate beds, or if the sheets and
blankets are not pledged at the pawnbroker's.
Frances Baudoin, seated beside the small stove, which, in the cold and
damp weather, yielded but little warmth, was busied in preparing her son
Agricola's evening meal.
Dagobert's wife was about fifty years of age; she wore a close jacket of
blue cotton, with white flowers on it, and a stuff petticoat; a white
handkerchief was tied round her head, and fastened under the chin. Her
countenance was pale and meagre, the features regular, and expressive of
resignation and great kindness. It would have been difficult to find a
better, a more courageous mother. With no resource but her labor, she
had succeeded, by unwearied energy, in bringing up not only her own son
Agricola, but also Gabriel, the poor deserted child, of whom, with
admirable devotion, she had ventured to take charge.
In her youth, she had, as it were, anticipated the strength of later
life, by twelve years of incessant toil, rendered lucrative by the most
violent exertions, and accompanied by such privations as made it almost
suicidal. Then (for it was a time of splendid wages, compared to the
present), by sleepless nights and constant labor, she contrived to earn
about two shillings (fifty sous) a day, and with this she managed to
educate her son and her adopted child.
At the end of these twelve years, her health was ruined, and her strength
nearly exhausted; but, at all events, her boys had wanted for nothing,
and had received such an education as children of the people can obtain.
About this time, M. Francois Hardy took Agricola as an apprentice, and
Gabriel prepared to enter the priest's seminary, under the active
patronage of M. Rodin, whose communications with the confessor of Frances
Baudoin had become very frequent about the year 1820.
This woman (whose piety had always been excessive) was one of those
simple natures, endowed with extreme goodness, whose self-denial
approaches to heroism, and who devote themselves in obscurity to a life
of martyrdom--pure and heavenly minds, in whom the instincts of the heart
supply the place of the intellect!
The only defect, or rather the necessary consequence of this extreme
simplicity of character, was the invincible determination she displayed
in yielding to the commands of her confessor, to whose influence she had
now for many years been accustomed to submit. She regarded this
influence as most venerable and sacred; no mortal power, no human
consideration, could have prevented her from obeying it. Did any dispute
arise on the subject, nothing could move her on this point; she opposed
to every argument a resistance entirely free from passion--mild as her
disposition, calm as her conscience--but, like the latter, not to be
shaken. In a word, Frances Baudoin was one of those pure, but
uninstructed and credulous beings, who may sometimes, in skillful and
dangerous hands, become, without knowing it, the instruments of much
For some time past, the bad state of her health, and particularly the
increasing weakness of her sight, had condemned her to a forced repose;
unable to work more than two or three hours a day, she consumed the rest
of her time at church.
Frances rose from her seat, pushed the coarse bags at which she had been
working to the further end of the table, and proceeded to lay the cloth
for her son's supper, with maternal care and solicitude. She took from
the press a small leathern bag, containing an old silver cup, very much
battered, and a fork and spoon, so worn and thin, that the latter cut
like a knife. These, her only plate (the wedding present of Dagobert)
she rubbed and polished as well as she was able, and laid by the side of
her son's plate. They were the most precious of her possessions, not so
much for what little intrinsic value might attach to them, as for the
associations they recalled; and she had often shed bitter tears, when,
under the pressure of illness or want of employment, she had been
compelled to carry these sacred treasures to the pawnbroker's.
Frances next took, from the lower shelf of the press, a bottle of water,
and one of wine about three-quarters full, which she also placed near her
son's plate; she then returned to the stove, to watch the cooking of the
Though Agricola was not much later than usual, the countenance of his
mother expressed both uneasiness and grief; one might have seen, by the
redness of her eyes, that she had been weeping a good deal. After long
and painful uncertainty, the poor woman had just arrived at the
conviction that her eyesight, which had been growing weaker and weaker,
would soon be so much impaired as to prevent her working even the two or
three hours a day which had lately been the extent of her labors.
Originally an excellent hand at her needle, she had been obliged, as her
eyesight gradually failed her, to abandon the finer for the coarser sorts
of work, and her earnings had necessarily diminished in proportion; she
had at length been reduced to the necessity of making those coarse bags
for the army, which took about four yards of sewing, and were paid at the
rate of two sous each, she having to find her own thread. This work,
being very hard, she could at most complete three such bags in a day, and
her gains thus amounted to threepence (six sous)!
It makes one shudder to think of the great number of unhappy females,
whose strength has been so much exhausted by privations, old age, or
sickness, that all the labor of which they are capable, hardly suffices
to bring them in daily this miserable pittance. Thus do their gains
diminish in exact proportion to the increasing wants which age and
infirmity must occasion.
Happily, Frances had an efficient support in her son. A first-rate
workman, profiting by the just scale of wages adopted by M. Hardy, his
labor brought him from four to five shillings a day--more than double
what was gained by the workmen of many other establishments. Admitting
therefore that his mother were to gain nothing, he could easily maintain
both her and himself.
But the poor woman, so wonderfully economical that she denied herself
even some of the necessaries of life, had of late become ruinously
liberal on the score of the sacristy, since she had adopted the habit of
visiting daily the parish church. Scarcely a day passed but she had
masses sung, or tapers burnt, either for Dagobert, from whom she had been
so long separated, or for the salvation of her son Agricola, whom she
considered on the high-road to perdition. Agricola had so excellent a
heart, so loved and revered his mother, and considered her actions in
this respect inspired by so touching a sentiment, that he never
complained when he saw a great part of his week's wages (which he paid
regularly over to his mother every Saturday) disappear in pious forms.
Yet now and then he ventured to remark to Frances, with as much respect
as tenderness, that it pained him to see her enduring privations
injurious at her age, because she preferred incurring these devotional
expenses. But what answer could he make to this excellent mother, when
she replied with tears: "My child, 'tis for the salvation of your father
and yours too."
To dispute the efficacy of masses, would have been venturing on a,
subject which Agricola, through respect for his mother's religious faith,
never discussed. He contented himself, therefore, with seeing her
dispense with comforts she might have enjoyed.
A discreet tap was heard at the door. "Come in," said Frances. The
person came in.
THE SISTER OF THE BACCHANAL QUEEN.
The person who now entered was a girl of about eighteen, short, and very
much deformed. Though not exactly a hunchback, her spine was curved; her
breast was sunken, and her head deeply set in the shoulders. Her face
was regular, but long, thin, very pale, and pitted with the small pox;
yet it expressed great sweetness and melancholy. Her blue eyes beamed
with kindness and intelligence. By a strange freak of nature, the
handsomest woman would have been proud of the magnificent hair twisted in
a coarse net at the back of her head. She held an old basket in her
hand. Though miserably clad, the care and neatness of her dress revealed
a powerful struggle with her poverty. Notwithstanding the cold, she wore
a scanty frock made of print of an indefinable color, spotted with white;
but it had been so often washed, that its primitive design and color had
long since disappeared. In her resigned, yet suffering face, might be
read a long familiarity with every form of suffering, every description
of taunting. From her birth, ridicule had ever pursued her. We have
said that she was very deformed, and she was vulgarly called "Mother
Bunch." Indeed it was so usual to give her this grotesque name, which
every moment reminded her of her infirmity, that Frances and Agricola,
though they felt as much compassion as other people showed contempt for
her, never called her, however, by any other name.
Mother Bunch, as we shall therefore call her in future, was born in the
house in which Dagobert's wife had resided for more than twenty years;
and she had, as it were, been brought up with Agricola and Gabriel.
There are wretches fatally doomed to misery. Mother Bunch had a very
pretty sister, on whom Perrine Soliveau, their common mother, the widow
of a ruined tradesman, had concentrated all her affection, while she
treated her deformed child with contempt and unkindness. The latter
would often come, weeping, to Frances, on this account, who tried to
console her, and in the long evenings amused her by teaching her to read
and sew. Accustomed to pity her by their mother's example, instead of
imitating other children, who always taunted and sometimes even beat her,
Agricola and Gabriel liked her, and used to protect and defend her.
She was about fifteen, and her sister Cephyse was about seventeen, when
their mother died, leaving them both in utter poverty. Cephyse was
intelligent, active, clever, but different to her sister; she had the
lively, alert, hoydenish character which requires air, exercise and
pleasures--a good girl enough, but foolishly spoiled by her mother.
Cephyse, listening at first to Frances's good advice, resigned herself to
her lot; and, having learnt to sew, worked like her sister, for about a
year. But, unable to endure any longer the bitter privations her
insignificant earnings, notwithstanding her incessant toil, exposed her
to--privations which often bordered on starvation--Cephyse, young,
pretty, of warm temperament, and surrounded by brilliant offers and
seductions--brilliant, indeed, for her, since they offered food to
satisfy her hunger, shelter from the cold, and decent raiment, without
being obliged to work fifteen hours a day in an obscure and unwholesome
hovel--Cephyse listened to the vows of a young lawyer's clerk, who
forsook her soon after. She formed a connection with another clerk, whom
she (instructed by the examples set her), forsook in turn for a bagman,
whom she afterwards cast off for other favorites. In a word, what with
changing and being forsaken, Cephyse, in the course of one or two years,
was the idol of a set of grisettes, students and clerks; and acquired
such a reputation at the balls on the Hampstead Heaths of Paris, by her
decision of character, original turn of mind, and unwearied ardor in all
kinds of pleasures, and especially her wild, noisy gayety, that she was
termed the Bacchanal Queen, and proved herself in every way worthy of
this bewildering royalty.
From that time poor Mother Bunch only heard of her sister at rare
intervals. She still mourned for her, and continued to toil hard to gain
her three-and-six a week. The unfortunate girl, having been taught
sewing by Frances, made coarse shirts for the common people and the army.
For these she received half-a-crown a dozen. They had to be hemmed,
stitched, provided with collars and wristbands, buttons, and button-
holes; and at the most, when at work twelve and fifteen hours a day, she
rarely succeeded in turning out more than fourteen or sixteen shirts a
week--an excessive amount of toil that brought her in about three
shillings and fourpence a week. And the case of this poor girl was
neither accidental nor uncommon. And this, because the remuneration
given for women's work is an example of revolting injustice and savage
barbarism. They are paid not half as much as men who are employed at the
needle: such as tailors, and makers of gloves, or waistcoats, etc.--no
doubt because women can work as well as men--because they are more weak
and delicate--and because their need may be twofold as great when they
Well, Mother Bunch fagged on, with three-and-four a week. That is to
say, toiling hard for twelve or fifteen hours every day; she succeeded in
keeping herself alive, in spite of exposure to hunger, cold, and poverty-
-so numerous were her privations. Privations? No! The word privation
expresses but weakly that constant and terrible want of all that is
necessary to preserve the existence God gives; namely, wholesome air and
shelter, sufficient and nourishing food and warm clothing. Mortification
would be a better word to describe that total want of all that is
essentially vital, which a justly organized state of society ought--yes--
ought necessarily to bestow on every active, honest workman and
workwoman, since civilization has dispossessed them of all territorial
right, and left them no other patrimony than their hands.
The savage does not enjoy the advantage of civilization; but he has, at
least, the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the fish of the
sea, and the fruits of the earth, to feed him, and his native woods for
shelter and for fuel. The civilized man, disinherited of these gifts,
considering the rights of property as sacred, may, in return for his hard
daily labor, which enriches his country, demand wages that will enable
him to live in the enjoyment of health: nothing more, and nothing less.
For is it living, to drag along on the extreme edge which separates life
from the grave, and even there continually struggle against cold, hunger,
and disease? And to show how far the mortification which society imposes
thus inexorably on its millions of honest, industrious laborers (by its
careless disregard of all the questions which concern the just
remuneration of labor), may extend, we will describe how this poor girl
contrived to live on three shillings and sixpence a week.
Society, perhaps, may then feel its obligation to so many unfortunate
wretches for supporting, with resignation, the horrible existence which
leaves them just sufficient life to feel the worst pangs of humanity.
Yes: to live at such a price is virtue! Yes, society thus organized,
whether it tolerates or imposes so much misery, loses all right to blame
the poor wretches who sell themselves not through debauchery, but because
they are cold and famishing. This poor girl spent her wages as follows:
Six pounds of bread, second quality . . . . . . . .0 8 1/2
Four pails of water . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 2
Lard or dripping (butter being out of the question)0 5
Coarse salt . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 0 3/4
A bushel of charcoal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 4
A quart of dried vegetables . . . . . . . . . . . .0 3
Three quarts of potatoes. . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 2
Dips. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 3 1/4
Thread and needles. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0 2 1/2
To save charcoal, Mother Bunch prepared soup only two or three times a
week at most, on a stove that stood on the landing of the fourth story.
On other days she ate it cold. There remained nine or ten pence a week
for clothes and lodging. By rare good fortune, her situation was in one
respect an exception to the lot of many others. Agricola, that he might
not wound her delicacy, had come to a secret arrangement with the
housekeeper, and hired a garret for her, just large enough to hold a
small bed, a chair, and a table; for which the sempstress had to pay five
shillings a year. But Agricola, in fulfilment of his agreement with the
porter, paid the balance, to make up the actual rent of the garret, which
was twelve and sixpence. The poor girl had thus about eighteenpence a
month left for her other expenses. But many workwomen, whose position is
less fortunate than hers, since they have neither home nor family, buy a
piece of bread and some other food to keep them through the day; and at
night patronize the "twopenny rope," one with another, in a wretched room
containing five or six beds, some of which are always engaged by men, as
male lodgers are by far the most abundant. Yes; and in spite of the
disgust that a poor and virtuous girl must feel at this arrangement, she
must submit to it; for a lodging-house keeper cannot have separate rooms
for females. To furnish a room, however meanly, the poor workwoman must
possess three or four shillings in ready money. But how save this sum,
out of weekly earnings of a couple of florins, which are scarcely
sufficient to keep her from starving, and are still less sufficient to
clothe her? No! no! The poor wretch must resign herself to this
repugnant cohabitation; and so, gradually, the instinct of modesty
becomes weakened; the natural sentiment of chastity, that saved her from
the "gay life," becomes extinct; vice appears to be the only means of
improving her intolerable condition; she yields; and the first "man made
of money," who can afford a governess for his children, cries out against
the depravity of the lower orders! And yet, painful as the condition of
the working woman is, it is relatively fortunate. Should work fail her
for one day, two days, what then? Should sickness come--sickness almost
always occasioned by unwholesome food, want of fresh air, necessary
attention, and good rest; sickness, often so enervating as to render work
impossible; though not so dangerous as to procure the sufferer a bed in
an hospital--what becomes of the hapless wretches then? The mind
hesitates, and shrinks from dwelling on such gloomy pictures.
This inadequacy of wages, one terrible source only of so many evils, and
often of so many vices, is general, especially among women; and, again
this is not private wretchedness, but the wretchedness which afflicts
whole classes, the type of which we endeavor to develop in Mother Bunch.
It exhibits the moral and physical condition of thousands of human
creatures in Paris, obliged to subsist on a scanty four shillings a week.
This poor workwoman, then, notwithstanding the advantages she unknowingly
enjoyed through Agricola's generosity, lived very miserably; and her
health, already shattered, was now wholly undermined by these constant
hardships. Yet, with extreme delicacy, though ignorant of the little
sacrifice already made for her by Agricola, Mother Bunch pretended she
earned more than she really did, in order to avoid offers of service
which it would have pained her to accept, because she knew the limited
means of Frances and her son, and because it would have wounded her
natural delicacy, rendered still more sensitive by so many sorrows and
But, singular as it may appear, this deformed body contained a loving and
generous soul--a mind cultivated even to poetry; and let us add, that
this was owing to the example of Agricola Baudoin, with whom she had been
brought up, and who had naturally the gift. This poor girl was the first
confidant to whom our young mechanic imparted his literary essays; and
when he told her of the charm and extreme relief he found in poetic
reverie, after a day of hard toil, the workwoman, gifted with strong
natural intelligence, felt, in her turn, how great a resource this would
be to her in her lonely and despised condition.
One day, to Agricola's great surprise, who had just read some verses to
her, the sewing-girl, with smiles and blushes, timidly communicated to
him also a poetic composition. Her verses wanted rhythm and harmony,
perhaps; but they were simple and affecting, as a non-envenomed complaint
entrusted to a friendly hearer. From that day Agricola and she held
frequent consultations; they gave each other mutual encouragement: but
with this exception, no one else knew anything of the girl's poetical
essays, whose mild timidity made her often pass for a person of weak
intellect. This soul must have been great and beautiful, for in all her
unlettered strains there was not a word of murmuring respecting her hard
lot: her note was sad, but gentle--desponding, but resigned; it was
especially the language of deep tenderness--of mournful sympathy--of
angelic charity for all poor creatures consigned, like her, to bear the
double burden of poverty and deformity. Yet she often expressed a
sincere free-spoken admiration of beauty, free from all envy or
bitterness; she admired beauty as she admired the sun. But, alas! many
were the verses of hers that Agricola had never seen, and which he was
never to see.
The young mechanic, though not strictly handsome, had an open masculine
face; was as courageous as kind; possessed a noble, glowing, generous
heart, a superior mind, and a frank, pleasing gayety of spirits. The
young girl, brought up with him, loved him as an unfortunate creature can
love, who, dreading cruel ridicule, is obliged to hide her affection in
the depths of her heart, and adopt reserve and deep dissimulation. She
did not seek to combat her love; to what purpose should she do so? No
one would ever know it. Her well known sisterly affection for Agricola
explained the interest she took in all that concerned him; so that no one
was surprised at the extreme grief of the young workwoman, when, in 1830,
Agricola, after fighting intrepidly for the people's flag, was brought
bleeding home to his mother. Dagobert's son, deceived, like others, on
this point, had never suspected, and was destined never to suspect, this
love for him.
Such was the poorly-clad girl who entered the room in which Frances was
preparing her son's supper.
"Is it you, my poor love," said she; "I have not seen you since morning:
have you been ill? Come and kiss me."
The young girl kissed Agricola's mother, and replied: "I was very busy
about some work, mother; I did not wish to lose a moment; I have only
just finished it. I am going down to fetch some charcoal--do you want
anything while I'm out?"
"No, no, my child, thank you. But I am very uneasy. It is half-past
eight, and Agricola is not come home." Then she added, after a sigh: "He
kills himself with work for me. Ah, I am very unhappy, my girl; my sight
is quite going. In a quarter of an hour after I begin working, I cannot
see at all--not even to sew sacks. The idea of being a burden to my son
drives me distracted."
"Oh, don't, ma'am, if Agricola heard you say that--"
"I know the poor boy thinks of nothing but me, and that augments my
vexation. Only I think that rather than leave me, he gives up the
advantages that his fellow-workmen enjoy at Hardy's, his good and worthy
master--instead of living in this dull garret, where it is scarcely light
at noon, he would enjoy, like the other workmen, at very little expense,
a good light room, warm in winter, airy in summer, with a view of the
garden. And he is so fond of trees! not to mention that this place is so
far from his work, that it is quite a toil to him to get to it."
"Oh, when he embraces you he forgets his fatigue, Mrs. Baudoin," said
Mother Bunch; "besides, he knows how you cling to the house in which he
was born. M. Hardy offered to settle you at Plessy with Agricola, in the
building put up for the workmen."
"Yes, my child; but then I must give up church. I can't do that."
"But--be easy, I hear him," said the hunchback, blushing.
A sonorous, joyous voice was heard singing on the stairs.
"At least, I'll not let him see that I have been crying," said the good
mother, drying her tears. "This is the only moment of rest and ease from
toil he has--I must not make it sad to him."
Our blacksmith poet, a tall young man, about four-and-twenty years of
age, was alert and robust, with ruddy complexion, dark hair and eyes, and
aquiline nose, and an open, expressive countenance. His resemblance to
Dagobert was rendered more striking by the thick brown moustache which he
wore according to the fashion; and a sharp-pointed imperial covered his
chin. His cheeks, however, were shaven, Olive color velveteen trousers,
a blue blouse, bronzed by the forge smoke, a black cravat, tied
carelessly round his muscular neck, a cloth cap with a narrow vizor,
composed his dress. The only thing which contrasted singularly with his
working habiliments was a handsome purple flower, with silvery pistils,
which he held in his hand.
"Good-evening, mother," said he, as he came to kiss Frances immediately.
Then, with a friendly nod, he added, "Good-evening, Mother Bunch."
"You are very late, my child," said Frances, approaching the little stove
on which her son's simple meal was simmering; "I was getting very
"Anxious about me, or about my supper, dear mother?" said Agricola,
gayly. "The deuce! you won't excuse me for keeping the nice little
supper waiting that you get ready for me, for fear it should be spoilt,
So saying, the blacksmith tried to kiss his mother again.
"Have done, you naughty boy; you'll make me upset the pan."
"That would be a pity, mother; for it smells delightfully. Let's see
what it is."
"Wait half a moment."
"I'll swear, now, you have some of the fried potatoes and bacon I'm so
"Being Saturday, of course!" said Frances, in a tone of mild reproach.
"True," rejoined Agricola, exchanging a smile of innocent cunning with
Mother Bunch; "but, talking of Saturday, mother, here are my wages."
"Thank ye, child; put the money in the cupboard."
"Oh, dear!" cried the young sempstress, just as Agricola was about to put
away the money, "what a handsome flower you have in your hand, Agricola.
I never saw a finer. In winter, too! Do look at it, Mrs. Baudoin."
"See there, mother," said Agricola, taking the flower to her; "look at
it, admire it, and especially smell it. You can't have a sweeter
perfume; a blending of vanilla and orange blossom."
"Indeed, it does smell nice, child. Goodness! how handsome!" said
Frances, admiringly; "where did you find it?"
"Find it, my good mother!" repeated Agricola, smilingly: "do you think
folks pick up such things between the Barriere du Maine and the Rue
"How did you get it then?" inquired the sewing girl, sharing in Frances's
"Oh! you would like to know? Well, I'll satisfy you, and explain why I
came home so late; for something else detained me. It has been an
evening of adventures, I promise you. I was hurrying home, when I heard
a low, gentle barking at the corner of the Rue de Babylone; it was just
about dusk, and I could see a very pretty little dog, scarce bigger than
my fist, black and tan, with long, silky hair, and ears that covered its
"Lost, poor thing, I warrant," said Frances.
"You've hit it. I took up the poor thing, and it began to lick my hands.
Round its neck was a red satin ribbon, tied in a large bow; but as that
did not bear the master's name, I looked beneath it, and saw a small
collar, made of a gold plate and small gold chains. So I took a Lucifer
match from my 'bacco-box, and striking a light, I read, 'FRISKY belongs
to Hon. Miss Adrienne de Cardoville, No. 7, Rue de Babylone.'"
"Why, you were just in the street," said Mother Bunch.
"Just so. Taking the little animal under my arm, I looked about me till
I came to a long garden wall, which seemed to have no end, and found a
small door of a summer-house, belonging no doubt to the large mansion at
the other end of the park; for this garden looked just like a park. So,
looking up I saw 'No. 7,' newly painted over a little door with a grated
slide. I rang; and in a few minutes, spent, no doubt, in observing me
through the bars (for I am sure I saw a pair of eyes peeping through),
the gate opened. And now, you'll not believe a word I have to say."
"Why not, my child?"
"Because it seems like a fairy tale."
"A fairy tale?" said Mother Bunch, as if she was really her namesake of
"For, all the world it does. I am quite astounded, even now, at my
adventure; it is like the remembrance of a dream."
"Well, let us have it," said the worthy mother, so deeply interested that
she did not perceive her son's supper was beginning to burn.
"First," said the blacksmith, smiling at the curiosity he had excited, "a
young lady opened the door to me, but so lovely, so beautifully and
gracefully dressed, that you would have taken her for a beautiful
portrait of past times. Before I could say a word, she exclaimed, 'Ah!
dear me, sir, you have brought back Frisky; how happy Miss Adrienne will
be! Come, pray come in instantly; she would so regret not having an
opportunity to thank you in person!' And without giving me time to
reply, she beckoned me to follow her. Oh, dear mother, it is quite out
of my power to tell you, the magnificence I saw, as I passed through a
small saloon, partially lighted, and full of perfume! It would be
impossible. The young woman walked too quickly. A door opened,--Oh,
such a sight! I was so dazzled I can remember nothing but a great glare
of gold and light, crystal and flowers; and, amidst all this brilliancy,
a young lady of extreme beauty--ideal beauty; but she had red hair, or
rather hair shining like gold! Oh! it was charming to look at! I never
saw such hair before. She had black eyes, ruddy lips, and her skin
seemed white as snow. This is all I can recollect: for, as I said
before, I was so dazzled, I seemed to be looking through a veil.
'Madame,' said the young woman, whom I never should have taken for a
lady's-maid, she was dressed so elegantly, 'here is Frisky. This
gentleman found him, and brought him back.' 'Oh, sir,' said the young
lady with the golden hair, in a sweet silvery voice, 'what thanks I owe
you! I am foolishly attached to Frisky.' Then, no doubt, concluding from
my dress that she ought to thank me in some other way than by words, she
took up a silk purse, and said to me, though I must confess with some
hesitation--'No doubt, sir, it gave you some trouble to bring my pet
back. You have, perhaps, lost some valuable time--allow me--' She held
forth her purse."
"Oh, Agricola," said Mother Bunch, sadly; "how people may be deceived!"
"Hear the end, and you will perhaps forgive the young lady. Seeing by my
looks that the offer of the purse hurt me, she took a magnificent
porcelain vase that contained this flower, and, addressing me in a tone
full of grace and kindness, that left me room to guess that she was vexed
at having wounded me, she said--'At least, sir, you will accept this
"You are right, Agricola," said the girl, smiling sadly; "an involuntary
error could not be repaired in a nicer way.
"Worthy young lady," said Frances, wiping her eyes; "how well she
understood my Agricola!"
"Did she not, mother? But just as I was taking the flower, without
daring to raise my eyes (for, notwithstanding the young lady's kind
manner, there was something very imposing about her) another handsome
girl, tall and dark, and dressed to the top of fashion, came in and said
to the red-haired young lady, 'He is here, Madame.' She immediately rose
and said to me, 'A thousand pardons, sir. I shall never forget that I am
indebted to you for a moment of much pleasure. Pray remember, on all
occasions, my address and name--Adrienne de Cardoville.' Thereupon she
disappeared. I could not find a word to say in reply. The same young
woman showed me to the door, and curtseyed to me very politely. And
there I stood in the Rue de Babylone, as dazzled and astonished as if I
had come out of an enchanted palace."
"Indeed, my child, it is like a fairy tale. Is it not, my poor girl?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Mother Bunch, in an absent manner that Agricola did
"What affected me most," rejoined Agricola, "was, that the young lady, on
seeing her little dog, did not forget me for it, as many would have done
in her place, and took no notice of it before me. That shows delicacy
and feeling, does it not? Indeed, I believe this young lady to be so
kind and generous, that I should not hesitate to have recourse to her in
any important case."
"Yes, you are right," replied the sempstress, more and more absent.
The poor girl suffered extremely. She felt no jealousy, no hatred,
towards this young stranger, who, from her beauty, wealth, and delicacy,
seemed to belong to a sphere too splendid and elevated to be even within
the reach of a work, girl's vision; but, making an involuntary comparison
of this fortunate condition with her own, the poor thing had never felt
more cruelly her deformity and poverty. Yet such were the humility and
gentle resignation of this noble creature, that the only thing which made
her feel ill-disposed towards Adrienne de Cardoville was the offer of the
purse to Agricola; but then the charming way in which the young lady had
atoned for her error, affected the sempstress deeply. Yet her heart was
ready to break. She could not restrain her tears as she contemplated the
magnificent flower--so rich in color and perfume, which, given by a
charming hand, was doubtless very precious to Agricola.
"Now, mother," resumed the young man smilingly, and unaware of the
painful emotion of the other bystander, "you have had the cream of my
adventures first. I have told you one of the causes of my delay; and now
for the other. Just now, as I was coming in, I met the dyer at the foot
of the stairs, his arms a beautiful pea-green. Stopping me he said, with
an air full of importance, that he thought he had seen a chap sneaking
about the house like a spy, 'Well, what is that to you, Daddy Loriot?'
said I: 'are you afraid he will nose out the way to make the beautiful
green, with which you are dyed up to the very elbows?'"
"But who could that man be, Agricola?" said Frances.
"On my word, mother, I don't know and scarcely care; I tried to persuade
Daddy Loriot, who chatters like a magpie, to return to his cellar, since
it could signify as little to him as to me, whether a spy watched him or
not." So saying, Agricola went and placed the little leathern sack,
containing his wages, on a shelf, in the cupboard.
As Frances put down the saucepan on the end of the table, Mother Bunch,
recovering from her reverie, filled a basin with water, and, taking it to
the blacksmith, said to him in a gentle tone--
"Agricola--for your hands."
"Thank you, little sister. How kind you are!" Then with a most
unaffected gesture and tone, he added, "There is my fine flower for your
"Do you give it me?" cried the sempstress, with emotion, while a vivid
blush colored her pale and interesting face. "Do you give me this
handsome flower, which a lovely rich young lady so kindly and graciously
gave you?" And the poor thing repeated, with growing astonishment, "Do
you give it to me?"
"What the deuce should I do with it? Wear it on my heart, have it set as
a pin?" said Agricola, smiling. "It is true I was very much impressed by
the charming way in which the young lady thanked me. I am delighted to
think I found her little dog, and very happy to be able to give you this
flower, since it pleases you. You see the day has been a happy one."
While Mother Bunch, trembling with pleasure, emotion, and surprise, took
the flower, the young blacksmith washed his hands, so black with smoke
and steel filings that the water became dark in an instant. Agricola,
pointing out this change to the sempstress, said to her in a whisper,
"Here's cheap ink for us paper-stainers! I finished some verses
yesterday, which I am rather satisfied with. I will read them to you."
With this, Agricola wiped his hands naturally on the front of his blouse,
while Mother Bunch replaced the basin on the chest of drawers, and laid
the flower against the side of it.
"Can't you ask for a towel," said Frances, shrugging her shoulders,
"instead of wiping your hands on your blouse?"
"After being scorched all day long at the forge, it will be all the
better for a little cooling to-night, won't it? Am I disobedient,
mother? Scold me, then, if you dare! Come, let us see you."
Frances made no reply; but, placing her hands on either side of her son's
head, so beautiful in its candor, resolution and intelligence, she
surveyed him for a moment with maternal pride, and kissed him repeatedly
on the forehead.
"Come," said she, "sit down: you stand all day at your forge, and it is
"So,--your arm-chair again!" said Agricola.--"Our usual quarrel every
evening--take it away, I shall be quite as much at ease on another."
"No, no! You ought at least to rest after your hard toil."
"What tyranny!" said Agricola gayly, sitting down. "Well, I preach like
a good apostle; but I am quite at ease in your arm-chair, after all.
Since I sat down on the throne in the Tuileries, I have never had a
Frances Baudoin, standing on one side of the table, cut a slice of bread
for her son, while Mother Bunch, on the other, filled his silver mug.
There was something affecting in the attentive eagerness of the two
excellent creatures, for him whom they loved so tenderly.
"Won't you sup with me?" said Agricola to the girl.
"Thank you, Agricola," replied the sempstress, looking down, "I have only
"Oh, I only ask you for form's sake--you have your whims--we can never
prevail on you to eat with us--just like mother; she prefers dining all
alone; and in that way she deprives herself without my knowing it."
"Goodness, child! It is better for my health to dine early. Well, do
you find it nice?"
"Nice!--call it excellent! Stockfish and parsnips. Oh, I am very fond
of stockfish; I should have been born a Newfoundland fisherman."
This worthy lad, on the contrary, was but poorly refreshed, after a hard
day's toil, with this paltry stew,--a little burnt as it had been, too,
during his story; but he knew he pleased his mother by observing the fast
without complaining. He affected to enjoy his meal; and the good woman
accordingly observed with satisfaction:
"Oh, I see you like it, my dear boy; Friday and Saturday next we'll have
"Thank you, mother,--only not two days together. One gets tired of
luxuries, you know! And now, let us talk of what we shall do to-morrow--
Sunday. We must be very merry, for the last few days you seem very sad,
dear mother, and I can't make it out--I fancy you are not satisfied with
"Oh, my dear child!--you--the pattern of--"
"Well, well! Prove to me that you are happy, then, by taking a little
amusement. Perhaps you will do us the honor of accompanying us, as you
did last time," added Agricola, bowing to Mother Bunch.
The latter blushed and looked down; her face assumed an expression of
bitter grief, and she made no reply.
"I have the prayers to attend all day, you know, my dear child," said
Frances to her son.
"Well, in the evening, then? I don't propose the theatre; but they say
there is a conjurer to be seen whose tricks are very amusing.
"I am obliged to you, my son; but that is a kind of theatre."
"Dear mother, this is unreasonable!"
"My dear child, do I ever hinder others from doing what they like?"
"True, dear mother; forgive me. Well, then, if it should be fine, we
will simply take a walk with Mother Bunch on the Boulevards. It is
nearly three months since she went out with us; and she never goes out
"No, no; go alone, my child. Enjoy your Sunday, 'tis little enough."
"You know very well, Agricola," said the sempstress, blushing up to the
eyes, "that I ought not to go out with you and your mother again."
"Why not, madame? May I ask, without impropriety, the cause of this
refusal?" said Agricola gayly.
The poor girl smiled sadly, and replied, "Because I will not expose you
to a quarrel on my account, Agricola."
"Forgive me," said Agricola, in a tone of sincere grief, and he struck
his forehead vexedly.
To this Mother Bunch alluded sometimes, but very rarely, for she observed
punctilious discretion. The girl had gone out with Agricola and his
mother. Such occasions were, indeed, holidays for her. Many days and
nights had she toiled hard to procure a decent bonnet and shawl, that she
might not do discredit to her friends. The five or six days of holidays,
thus spent arm in arm with him whom she adored in secret, formed the sum
of her happy days.
Taking their last walk, a coarse, vulgar man elbowed her so rudely that
the poor girl could not refrain from a cry of terror, and the man
retorted it by saying,--
"What are you rolling your hump in my way for, stoopid?"
Agricola, like his father, had the patience which force and courage give
to the truly brave; but he was extremely quick when it became necessary
to avenge an insult. Irritated at the vulgarity of this man, Agricola
left his mother's arm to inflict on the brute, who was of his own age,
size, and force, two vigorous blows, such as the powerful arm and huge
fist of a blacksmith never before inflicted on human face. The villain
attempted to return it, and Agricola repeated the correction, to the
amusement of the crowd, and the fellow slunk away amidst a deluge of
hisses. This adventure made Mother Bunch say she would not go out with
Agricola again, in order to save him any occasion of quarrel. We may
conceive the blacksmith's regret at having thus unwittingly revived the
memory of this circumstance,--more painful, alas! for Mother Bunch than
Agricola could imagine, for she loved him passionately, and her infirmity
had been the cause of that quarrel. Notwithstanding his strength and
resolution, Agricola was childishly sensitive; and, thinking how painful
that thought must be to the poor girl, a large tear filled his eyes, and,
holding out his hands, he said, in a brotherly tone, "Forgive my
heedlessness! Come, kiss me." And he gave her thin, pale cheeks two
The poor girl's lips turned pale at this cordial caress; and her heart
beat so violently that she was obliged to lean against the corner of the
"Come, you forgive me, do you not?" said Agricola.
"Yes! yes!" she said, trying to subdue her emotion; "but the recollection
of that quarrel pains me--I was so alarmed on your account; if the crowd
had sided with that man!"
"Alas!" said Frances, coming to the sewing-girl's relief, without knowing
it, "I was never so afraid in all my life!"
"Oh, mother," rejoined Agricola, trying to change a conversation which
had now become disagreeable for the sempstress, "for the wife of a horse
grenadier of the Imperial Guard, you have not much courage. Oh, my brave
father; I can't believe he is really coming! The very thought turns me
"Heaven grant he may come," said Frances, with a sigh.
"God grant it, mother. He will grant it, I should think. Lord knows,
you have had masses enough said for his return."
"Agricola, my child," said Frances, interrupting her son, and shaking her
head sadly, "do not speak in that way. Besides, you are talking of your
"Well, I'm in for it this evening. 'Tis your turn now; positively, I am
growing stupid, or going crazy. Forgive me, mother! forgive! That's the
only word I can get out to-night. You know that, when I do let out on
certain subjects, it is because I can't help it; for I know well the pain
it gives you."
"You do not offend me, my poor, dear, misguided boy."
"It comes to the same thing; and there is nothing so bad as to offend
one's mother; and, with respect to what I said about father's return, I
do not see that we have any cause to doubt it."
"But we have not heard from him for four months."
"You know, mother, in his letter--that is, in the letter which he
dictated (for you remember that, with the candor of an old soldier, he
told us that, if he could read tolerably well, he could not write); well,
in that letter he said we were not to be anxious about him; that he
expected to be in Paris about the end of January, and would send us word,
three or four days before, by what road he expected to arrive, that I
might go and meet him."
"True, my child; and February is come, and no news yet."
"The greater reason why we should wait patiently. But I'll tell you
more: I should not be surprised if our good Gabriel were to come back
about the same time. His last letter from America makes me hope so.
What pleasure, mother, should all the family be together!"
"Oh, yes, my child! It would be a happy day for me."
"And that day will soon come, trust me."
"Do you remember your father, Agricola?" inquired Mother Bunch.
"To tell the truth, I remember most his great grenadier's shako and
moustache, which used to frighten me so, that nothing but the red ribbon
of his cross of honor, on the white facings of his uniform, and the
shining handle of his sabre, could pacify me; could it, mother? But what
is the matter? You are weeping!"
"Alas! poor Baudoin! What he must suffer at being separated from us at
his age--sixty and past! Alas! my child, my heart breaks, when I think
that he comes home only to change one kind of poverty for another."
"What do you mean?"
"Alas! I earn nothing now."
"Why, what's become of me? Isn't there a room here for you and for him;
and a table for you too? Only, my good mother, since we are talking of
domestic affairs," added the blacksmith, imparting increased tenderness
to his tone, that he might not shock his mother, "when he and Gabriel
come home, you won't want to have any more masses said, and tapers burned
for them, will you? Well, that saving will enable father to have tobacco
to smoke, and his bottle of wine every day. Then, on Sundays, we will
take a nice dinner at the eating-house."
A knocking at the door disturbed Agricola.
"Come in," said he. Instead of doing so, some one half-opened the door,
and, thrusting in an arm of a pea-green color, made signs to the
"'Tis old Loriot, the pattern of dyers," said Agricola; "come in, Daddy,
"Impossible, my lad; I am dripping with dye from head to foot; I should
cover missus's floor with green."
"So much the better. It will remind me of the fields I like so much."
"Without joking, Agricola, I must speak to you immediately."
"About the spy, eh? Oh, be easy; what's he to us?"
"No; I think he's gone; at any rate, the fog is so thick I can't see him.
But that's not it--come, come quickly! It is very important," said the
dyer, with a mysterious look; "and only concerns you."
"Me, only?" said Agricola, with surprise. "What can it be.
"Go and see, my child," said Frances.
"Yes, mother; but the deuce take me if I can make it out."
And the blacksmith left the room, leaving his mother with Mother Bunch.
In five minutes Agricola returned; his face was pale and agitated--his
eyes glistened with tears, and his hands trembled; but his countenance
expressed extraordinary happiness and emotion. He stood at the door for
a moment, as if too much affected to accost his mother.
Frances's sight was so bad that she did not immediately perceive the
change her son's countenance had undergone.
"Well, my child--what is it?" she inquired.
Before the blacksmith could reply, Mother Bunch, who had more
discernment, exclaimed: "Goodness, Agricola--how pale you are! Whatever
is the matter?"
"Mother," said the artisan, hastening to Frances, without replying to the
sempstress,--"mother, expect news that will astonish you; but promise me
you will be calm."
"What do you mean? How you tremble! Look at me! Mother Bunch was
right--you are quite pale."
"My kind mother!" and Agricola, kneeling before Frances, took both her
hands in his--"you must--you do not know,--but--"
The blacksmith could not go on. Tears of joy interrupted his speech.
"You weep, my dear child! Your tears alarm me. 'What is the matter?--
you terrify me!"
"Oh, no, I would not terrify you; on the contrary," said Agricola, drying
his eyes--"you will be so happy. But, again, you must try and command
your feelings, for too much joy is as hurtful as too much grief."
"Did I not say true, when I said he would come?"
"Father!" cried Frances. She rose from her seat; but her surprise and
emotion were so great that she put one hand to her heart to still its
beating, and then she felt her strength fail. Her son sustained her, and
assisted her to sit down.
Mother Bunch, till now, had stood discreetly apart, witnessing from a
distance the scene which completely engrossed Agricola and his mother.
But she now drew near timidly, thinking she might be useful; for Frances
changed color more and more.
"Come, courage, mother," said the blacksmith; "now the shock is over, you
have only to enjoy the pleasure of seeing my father."
"My poor man! after eighteen years' absence. Oh, I cannot believe it,"
said Frances, bursting into tears. "Is it true? Is it, indeed, true?"
"So true, that if you will promise me to keep as calm as you can, I will
tell you when you may see him."
"Soon--may I not?"
"But when will he arrive?"
"He may arrive any minute--to-morrow--perhaps to-day."
"Yes, mother! Well, I must tell you all--he has arrived."
"He--he is--" Frances could not articulate the word.
"He was downstairs just now. Before coming up, he sent the dyer to
apprise me that I might prepare you; for my brave father feared the
surprise might hurt you."
"And now," cried the blacksmith, in an accent of indescribable joy--"he
is there, waiting! Oh, mother! for the last ten minutes I have scarcely
been able to contain myself--my heart is bursting with joy." And running
to the door, he threw it open.
Dagobert, holding Rose and Blanche by the hand, stood on the threshold.
Instead of rushing to her husband's arms, Frances fell on her knees in
prayer. She thanked heaven with profound gratitude for hearing her
prayers, and thus accepting her offerings. During a second, the actors
of this scene stood silent and motionless. Agricola, by a sentiment of
respect and delicacy, which struggled violently with his affection, did
not dare to fall on his father's neck. He waited with constrained
impatience till his mother had finished her prayer.
The soldier experienced the same feeling as the blacksmith; they
understood each other. The first glance exchanged by father and son
expressed their affection--their veneration for that excellent woman, who
in the fulness of her religious fervor, forgot, perhaps, too much the
creature for the Creator.
Rose and Blanche, confused and affected, looked with interest on the
kneeling woman; while Mother Bunch, shedding in silence tears of joy at
the thought of Agricola's happiness, withdrew into the most obscure
corner of the room, feeling that she was a stranger, and necessarily out
of place in that family meeting. Frances rose, and took a step towards
her husband, who received her in his arms. There was a moment of solemn
silence. Dagobert and Frances said not a word. Nothing could be heard
but a few sighs, mingled with sighs of joy. And, when the aged couple
looked up, their expression was calm, radiant, serene; for the full and
complete enjoyment of simple and pure sentiments never leaves behind a
feverish and violent agitation.
"My children," said the soldier, in tones of emotion, presenting the
orphans to Frances, who, after her first agitation, had surveyed them
with astonishment, "this is my good and worthy wife; she will be to the
daughters of General Simon what I have been to them."
"Then, madame, you will treat us as your children," said Rose,
approaching Frances with her sister.
"The daughters of General Simon!" cried Dagobert's wife, more and more
"Yes, my dear Frances; I have brought them from afar not without some
difficulty; but I will tell you that by and by."
"Poor little things! One would take them for two angels, exactly alike!"
said Frances, contemplating the orphans with as much interest as
"Now--for us," cried Dagobert, turning to his son.
"At last," rejoined the latter.
We must renounce all attempts to describe the wild joy of Dagobert and
his son, and the crushing grip of their hands, which Dagobert interrupted
only to look in Agricola's face; while he rested his hands on the young
blacksmith's broad shoulders that he might see to more advantage his
frank masculine countenance, and robust frame. Then he shook his hand
again, exclaiming, "He's a fine fellow--well built--what a good-hearted
look he has!"
From a corner of the room Mother Bunch enjoyed Agricola's happiness; but
she feared that her presence, till then unheeded, would be an intrusion.
She wished to withdraw unnoticed, but could not do so. Dagobert and his
son were between her and the door; and she stood unable to take her eyes
from the charming faces of Rose and Blanche. She had never seen anything
so winsome; and the extraordinary resemblance of the sisters increased
her surprise. Then, their humble mourning revealing that they were poor,
Mother Bunch involuntarily felt more sympathy towards them.
"Dear children! They are cold; their little hands are frozen, and,
unfortunately, the fire is out," said Frances, She tried to warm the
orphans' hands in hers, while Dagobert and his son gave themselves up to
the feelings of affection, so long restrained.
As soon as Frances said that the fire was out, Mother Bunch hastened to
make herself useful, as an excuse for her presence; and, going to the
cupboard, where the charcoal and wood were kept, she took some small
pieces, and, kneeling before the stove, succeeded, by the aid of a few
embers that remained, in relighting the fire, which soon began to draw
and blaze. Filling a coffee-pot with water, she placed it on the stove,
presuming that the orphans required some warm drink. The sempstress did
all this with so much dexterity and so little noise--she was naturally so
forgotten amidst the emotions of the scene--that Frances, entirely
occupied with Rose and Blanche, only perceived the fire when she felt its
warmth diffusing round, and heard the boiling water singing in the
coffee-pot. This phenomenon--fire rekindling of itself--did not astonish
Dagobert's wife then, so wholly was she taken up in devising how she
could lodge the maidens; for Dagobert as we have seen, had not given her
notice of their arrival.
Suddenly a loud bark was heard three or four times at the door.
"Hallo! there's Spoil-sport," said Dagobert, letting in his dog; "he
wants to come in to brush acquaintance with the family too."
The dog came in with a bound, and in a second was quite at home. After
having rubbed Dagobert's hand with his muzzle, he went in turns to greet
Rose and Blanche, and also Frances and Agricola; but seeing that they
took but little notice of him, he perceived Mother Bunch, who stood
apart, in an obscure corner of the room, and carrying out the popular
saying, "the friends of our friends are our friends," he went and licked
the hands of the young workwoman, who was just then forgotten by all. By
a singular impulse, this action affected the girl to tears; she patted
her long, thin, white hand several times on the head of the intelligent
dog. Then, finding that she could be no longer useful (for she had done
all the little services she deemed in her power), she took the handsome
flower Agricola had given her, opened the door gently, and went away so
discreetly that no one noticed her departure. After this exchange of
mutual affection, Dagobert, his wife, and son, began to think of the
realities of life.
"Poor Frances," said the soldier, glancing at Rose and Blanche, "you did
not expect such a pretty surprise!"
"I am only sorry, my friend," replied Frances, "that the daughters of
General Simon will not have a better lodging than this poor room; for
with Agricola's garret--"
"It composes our mansion," interrupted Dagobert; "there are handsomer, it
must be confessed. But be at ease; these young ladies are drilled into
not being hard to suit on that score. To-morrow, I and my boy will go
arm and arm, and I'll answer for it he won't walk the more upright and
straight of the two, and find out General Simon's father, at M. Hardy's
factory, to talk about business."
"To-morrow, said Agricola to Dagobert, "you will not find at the factory
either M. Hardy or Marshall Simon's father."
"What is that you say, my lad?" cried Dagobert, hastily, "the Marshal!"
"To be sure; since 1830, General Simon's friends have secured him the
title and rank which the emperor gave him at the battle of Ligny."
"Indeed!" cried Dagobert, with emotion, "but that ought not to surprise
me; for, after all, it is just; and when the emperor said a thing, the
least they can do is to let it abide. But it goes all the same to my
heart; it makes me jump again."
Addressing the sisters, he said: "Do you hear that, my children? You
arrive in Paris the daughters of a Duke and Marshal of France. One would
hardly think it, indeed, to see you in this room, my poor little
duchesses! But patience; all will go well. Ah, father Simon must have
been very glad to hear that his son was restored to his rank! eh, my
"He told us he would renounce all kinds of ranks and titles to see his
son again; for it was during the general's absence that his friends
obtained this act of justice. But they expect Marshal Simon every
moment, for the last letter from India announced his departure."
At these words Rose and Blanche looked at each other; and their eyes
filled with tears.
"Heaven be praised! These children rely on his return; but why shall we
not find M. Hardy and father Simon at the factory to-morrow?"
"Ten days ago, they went to examine and study an English mill established
in the south; but we expect them back every day."
"The deuce! that's vexing; I relied on seeing the general's father, to
talk over some important matters with him. At any rate, they know where
to write to him. So to-morrow you will let him know, my lad, that his
granddaughters are arrived. In the mean time, children," added the
soldier, to Rose and Blanche, "my good wife will give you her bed and you
must put up with the chances of war. Poor things! they will not be worse
off here than they were on the journey."
"You know we shall always be well off with you and madame," said Rose.
"Besides, we only think of the pleasure of being at length in Paris,
since here we are to find our father," added Blanche.
"That hope gives you patience, I know," said Dagobert, "but no matter!
After all you have heard about it, you ought to be finely surprised, my
children. As yet, you have not found it the golden city of your dreams,
by any means. But, patience, patience; you'll find Paris not so bad as
"Besides," said Agricola, "I am sure the arrival of Marshal Simon in
Paris will change it for you into a golden city."
"You are right, Agricola," said Rose, with a smile, "you have, indeed,
"What! do you know my name?"
"Certainly, Agricola, we often talked about you with Dagobert; and
latterly, too, with Gabriel," added Blanche.
"Gabriel!" cried Agricola and his mother, at the same time.
"Yes," replied Dagobert, making a sign of intelligence to the orphans,
"we have lots to tell you for a fortnight to come; and among other
things, how we chanced to meet with Gabriel. All I can now say is that,
in his way, he is quite as good as my boy (I shall never be tired of
saying 'my boy'); and they ought to love each other like brothers. Oh,
my brave, brave wife!" said Dagobert, with emotion, "you did a good
thing, poor as you were, taking the unfortunate child--and bringing him
up with your own."
"Don't talk so much about it, my dear; it was such a simple thing."
"You are right; but I'll make you amends for it by and by. 'Tis down to
your account; in the mean time, you will be sure to see him to-morrow
"My dear brother arrived too!" cried the blacksmith; "who'll say, after
this, that there are not days set apart for happiness? How came you to
meet him, father?"
"I'll tell you all, by and by, about when and how we met Gabriel; for if
you expect to sleep, you are mistaken. You'll give me half your room,
and a fine chat we'll have. Spoil-sport will stay outside of this door;
he is accustomed to sleep at the children's door."
"Dear me, love, I think of nothing. But, at such a moment, if you and
the young ladies wish to sup, Agricola will fetch something from the
"What do you say, children?"
"No, thank you, Dagobert, we are not hungry; we are too happy."
"You will take a little wine and water, sweetened, nice and hot, to warm
you a little, my dear young ladies," said Frances; "unfortunately, I have
nothing else to offer you."
"You are right, Frances; the dear children are tired, and want to go to
bed; while they do so, I'll go to my boy's room, and, before Rose and
Blanche are awake, I will come down and converse with you, just to give
Agricola a respite."
A knock was now heard at the door.
"It is good Mother Bunch come to see if we want her," said Agricola.
"But I think she was here when my husband came in," added Frances.
"Right, mother; and the good girl left lest she should be an intruder:
she is so thoughtful. But no--no--it is not she who knocks so loud."
"Go and see who it is, then, Agricola."
Before the blacksmith could reach the door, a man decently dressed, with
a respectable air, entered the room, and glanced rapidly round, looking
for a moment at Rose and Blanche.
"Allow me to observe, sir," said Agricola, "that after knocking, you
might have waited till the door was opened, before you entered. Pray,
what is your business?"
"Pray excuse me, sir," said the man, very politely, and speaking slowly,
perhaps to prolong his stay in the room: "I beg a thousand pardons--I
regret my intrusion--I am ashamed--"
"Well, you ought to be, sir," said Agricola, with impatience, "what do
"Pray, sir, does not Miss Soliveau, a deformed needlewoman, live here?"
"No, sir; upstairs," said Agricola.
"Really, sir," cried the polite man, with low bows, "I am quite abroad at
my blunder: I thought this was the room of that young person. I brought
her proposals for work from a very respectable party."
"It is very late, sir," said Agricola, with surprise. "But that young
person is as one of our family. Call to-morrow; you cannot see her to-
night; she is gone to bed."
"Then, sir, I again beg you to excuse--"
"Enough, sir," said Agricola, taking a step towards the door.
"I hope, madame and the young ladies, as well as this gent, will be
"If you go on much longer making excuses, sir, you will have to excuse
the length of your excuses; and it is time this came to an end!"
Rose and Blanche smiled at these words of Agricola; while Dagobert rubbed
his moustache with pride.
"What wit the boy has!" said he aside to his wife. "But that does not
astonish you--you are used to it."
During this speech, the ceremonious person withdrew, having again
directed a long inquiring glance to the sisters, and to Agricola and
In a few minutes after, Frances having spread a mattress on the ground
for herself, and put the whitest sheets on her bed for the orphans,
assisted them to undress with maternal solicitude, Dagobert and Agricola
having previously withdrawn to their garret. Just as the blacksmith, who
preceded his father with a light, passed before the door of Mother
Bunch's room, the latter, half concealed in the shade, said to him
rapidly, in a low tone:
"Agricola, great danger threatens you: I must speak to you."
These words were uttered in so hasty and low a voice that Dagobert did
not hear them; but as Agricola stopped suddenly, with a start, the old
soldier said to him,
"Well, boy, what is it?"
"Nothing, father," said the blacksmith, turning round; "I feared I did
not light you well."
"Oh, stand at ease about that; I have the legs and eyes of fifteen to-
night;" and the soldier, not noticing his son's surprise, went into the
little room where they were both to pass the night.
On leaving the house, after his inquiries about Mother Bunch, the over-
polite Paul Pry slunk along to the end of Brise-Miche Street. He
advanced towards a hackney-coach drawn up on the Cloitre Saint-Merry
In this carriage lounged Rodin, wrapped in a cloak.
"Well?" said he, in an inquiring tone.
"The two girls and the man with gray moustache went directly to Frances
Baudoin's; by listening at the door, I learnt that the sisters will sleep
with her, in that room, to-night; the old man with gray moustache will
share the young blacksmith's room."
"Very well," said Rodin.
"I did not dare insist on seeing the deformed workwoman this evening on
the subject of the Bacchanal Queen; I intend returning to-morrow, to
learn the effect of the letter she must have received this evening by the
post about the young blacksmith."
"Do not fail! And now you will call, for me, on Frances Baudoin's
confessor, late as it is; you will tell him that I am waiting for him at
Rue du Milieu des Ursins--he must not lose a moment. Do you come with
him. Should I not be returned, he will wait for me. You will tell him
it is on a matter of great moment."
"All shall be faithfully executed," said the ceremonious man, cringing to
Rodin, as the coach drove quickly away.
AGRICOLA AND MOTHER BUNCH.
Within one hour after the different scenes which have just been described
the most profound silence reigned in the soldier's humble dwelling. A
flickering light, which played through two panes of glass in a door,
betrayed that Mother Bunch had not yet gone to sleep; for her gloomy
recess, without air or light, was impenetrable to the rays of day, except
by this door, opening upon a narrow and obscure passage, connected with
the roof. A sorry bed, a table, an old portmanteau, and a chair, so
nearly filled this chilling abode, that two persons could not possibly be
seated within it, unless one of them sat upon the side of the bed.
The magnificent and precious flower that Agricola had given to the girl
was carefully stood up in a vessel of water, placed upon the table on a
linen cloth, diffusing its sweet odor around, and expanding its purple
calix in the very closet, whose plastered walls, gray and damp, were
feebly lighted by the rays of an attenuated candle. The sempstress, who
had taken off no part of her dress, was seated upon her bed--her looks
were downcast, and her eyes full of tears. She supported herself with
one hand resting on the bolster; and, inclining towards the door,
listened with painful eagerness, every instant hoping to hear the
footsteps of Agricola. The heart of the young sempstress beat violently;
her face, usually very pale, was now partially flushed--so exciting was
the emotion by which she was agitated. Sometimes she cast her eyes with
terror upon a letter which she held in her hand, a letter that had been
delivered by post in the course of the evening, and which had been placed
by the housekeeper (the dyer) upon the table, while she was rendering
some trivial domestic services during the recognitions of Dagobert and
After some seconds, Mother Bunch heard a door, very near her own, softly
"There he is at last!" she exclaimed, and Agricola immediately entered.
"I waited till my father went to sleep," said the blacksmith, in a low
voice, his physiognomy evincing much more curiosity than uneasiness.
"But what is the matter, my good sister? How your countenance is
changed! You weep! What has happened? About what danger would you
speak to me?"
"Hush! Read this!" said she, her voice trembling with emotion, while she
hastily presented to him the open letter. Agricola held it towards the
light, and read what follows:
"A person who has reasons for concealing himself, but who knows the
sisterly interest you take in the welfare of Agricola Baudoin, warns you.
That young and worthy workman will probably be arrested in the course of
"I!" exclaimed Agricola, looking at Mother Bunch with an air of stupefied
amazement. "What is the meaning of all this?"
"Read on!" quickly replied the sempstress, clasping her hands.
Agricola resumed reading, scarcely believing the evidence of his eyes:--
"The song, entitled 'Working-men Freed,' has been declared libellous.
Numerous copies of it have been found among the papers of a secret
society, the leaders of which are about to be incarcerated, as being
concerned in the Rue des Prouvaires conspiracy."
"Alas!" said the girl, melting into tears, "now I see it all. The man
who was lurking about below, this evening, who was observed by the dyer,
was, doubtless, a spy, lying in wait for you coming home."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Agricola. "This accusation is quite ridiculous!
Do not torment yourself. I never trouble myself with politics. My
verses breathe nothing but philanthropy. Am I to blame, if they have
been found among the papers of a secret society?" Agricola disdainfully
threw the letter upon the table.
"Read! pray read!" said the other; "read on."
"If you wish it," said Agricola, "I will; no time is lost."
He resumed the reading of the letter:
"A warrant is about to be issued against Agricola Baudoin. There is mo
doubt of his innocence being sooner or later made clear; but it will be
well if he screen himself for a time as much as possible from pursuit, in
order that he may escape a confinement of two or three months previous to
trial--an imprisonment which would be a terrible blow for his mother,
whose sole support he is.
"A SINCERE FRIEND, who is compelled to remain unknown."
After a moment's silence, the blacksmith raised his head; his countenance
resumed its serenity; and laughing, he said: "Reassure yourself, good
Mother Bunch, these jokers have made a mistake by trying their games on
me. It is plainly an attempt at making an April-fool of me before the
"Agricola, for the love of heaven!" said the girl, in a supplicating
tone; "treat not the warning thus lightly. Believe in my forebodings,
and listen to my advice."
"I tell you again, my good girl," replied Agricola, "that it is two
months since my song was published. It is not in any way political;
indeed, if it were, they would not have waited till now before coming
down on me."
"But," said the other, "you forget that new events have arisen. It is
scarcely two days since the conspiracy was discovered, in this very
neighborhood, in the Rue des Prouvaires. And," continued she, "if the
verses, though perhaps hitherto unnoticed, have now been found in the
possession of the persons apprehended for this conspiracy, nothing more
is necessary to compromise you in the plot."
"Compromise me!" said Agricola; "my verses! in which I only praise the
love of labor and of goodness! To arrest me for that! If so, justice
would be but a blind noodle. That she might grope her way, it would be
necessary to furnish her with a dog and a pilgrim's staff to guide her
"Agricola," resumed Mother Bunch; overwhelmed with anxiety and terror on
hearing the blacksmith jest at such a moment, "I conjure you to listen to
me! No doubt you uphold in the verses the sacred love of labor; but you
do also grievously deplore and deprecate the unjust lot of the poor
laborers, devoted as they are, without hope, to all the miseries of life;
you recommend, indeed, only fraternity among men; but your good and noble
heart vents its indignation, at the same time, against the selfish and
the wicked. In fine, you fervently hasten on, with the ardor of your
wishes, the emancipation of all the artisans who, less fortunate than
you, have not generous M. Hardy for employer. Say, Agricola, in these
times of trouble, is there anything more necessary to compromise you than
that numerous copies of your song have been found in possession of the
persons who have been apprehended?"
Agricola was moved by these affectionate and judicious expressions of an
excellent creature, who reasoned from her heart; and he began to view
with more seriousness the advice which she had given him.
Perceiving that she had shaken him, the sewing-girl went on to say: "And
then, bear your fellow-workman, Remi, in recollection."
"Remi!" said Agricola, anxiously.
"Yes," resumed the sempstress; "a letter of his, a letter in itself quite
insignificant, was found in the house of a person arrested last year for
conspiracy; and Remi, in consequence, remained a month in prison."
"That is true, but the injustice of his implication was easily shown, and
he was set at liberty."
"Yes, Agricola: but not till he had lain a month in prison; and that has
furnished the motive of the person who advised you to conceal yourself!
A month in prison! Good heavens! Agricola, think of that! and your
These words made a powerful impression upon Agricola. He took up the
letter and again read it attentively.
"And the man who has been lurking all this evening about the house?"
proceeded she. "I constantly recall that circumstance, which cannot be
naturally accounted for. Alas! what a blow it would be for your father,
and poor mother, who is incapable of earning anything. Are you not now
their only resource? Oh! consider, then, what would become of them
without you--without your labor!"
"It would indeed be terrible," said Agricola, impatiently casting the
letter upon the table. "What you have said concerning Remi is too true.
He was as innocent as I am: yet an error of justice, an involuntary error
though it be, is not the less cruel. But they don't commit a man without
"But they arrest him first, and hear him afterwards," said Mother Bunch,
bitterly; "and then, after a month or two, they restore him his liberty.
And if he have a wife and children, whose only means of living is his
daily labor, what becomes of them while their only supporter is in
prison? They suffer hunger, they endure cold, and they weep!"
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