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- Mysteries of Paris, V3 - 4/89 -
suddenly. He had between his teeth an old pocket-handkerchief; his spectacles remained on the chair. In all my life I have never seen such a face: he had the appearance of a lost soul. I drew back, alarmed--on my word of honor, alarmed! Then he--"
"Caught you by the throat?"
"You are out there. He looked at me, at first, with a bewildered air; then, letting his handkerchief fall, which he had, doubtless, gnawed and torn in grinding his teeth, he cried, throwing himself into my arms, 'Oh! I am very unhappy!'"
"Draw it mild!"
"Fact! Well, in spite of his death's-head look, when he pronounced these words his voice was so heart-rending--I would say, almost so soft--"
"So soft? Get out. There is not a rattle, nor Tom-cat with a cold, whose sounds would not be music alongside his voice."
"It is possible; that did not prevent it from being so plaintive at that time that I felt myself quite affected; so much the more as M. Ferrand is not habitually communicative. 'Sir,' said I, 'I believe that.' 'Leave me! leave me!' he answered, interrupting me; 'to tell your sufferings to another is a great solace.' Evidently he took me for some one else."
"So familiar? Then you owe us two bottles of Bordeaux:
"'When one's master is not proud One must freely treat the crowd.'
It is the proverb that speaks; it is sacred. Proverbs are the wisdom of a nation."
"Come, Chalamel, leave your proverbs alone. You comprehend, that, on hearing that, I at once understood that he was mistaken, or that he was in a high fever. I disengaged myself, saying, 'Calm yourself! it is I.' Then he looked at me with a stupid look."
"Very well! now that sounds like the truth."
"His eyes were wild. 'Eh!' he answered. 'What is it?--who is there? what do you want with me?' At each question he ran his hand over his face, as if to drive away the clouds which obscured his thoughts."
"'Which obscured his thoughts!' Just as if it were written! Bravo, head clerk; we will make a melodrama together:
"'Who speaks so well, and so polite, A melodrama ought to write.'"
"Do hold your tongue, Chalamel. I know nothing about it; but what is sure is, that, when he recovered his Senses, it was another song. He knit his brows in a terrible manner, and said to me, with quickness, without giving me time to answer, 'What did you come here for?--have you been a long time here?--can I not be alone in my own house without being surrounded by spies?--what have I said?--what have you heard? Answer, answer.' He looked so wicked that I replied, 'I have heard nothing, sir; I just came in.' 'You do not deceive me?' 'No, sir.' 'Well, what do you want?' 'To ask for some signatures, sir.' 'Give me the papers.' And he began to sign--without reading them, a half dozen notarial acts--he, who never put his flourish on an act without spelling it, letter by letter, and twice over, from end to end. I remarked that, from time to time, his hand slackened a little in the middle of his signature, as if he was absorbed by a fixed idea, and then he resumed and signed quickly, in a convulsive manner. When all were signed he told me to retire, and I heard him descend by the little staircase which leads from his cabinet to the court."
"I now come back to this: what can the matter be with him?"
"Perhaps he regrets Madame Séraphin."
"Oh, yes! _he_ regrets any one!"
"That reminds me of what the porter said: that the curé of Bonne-Nouvelle and his vicar had called several times, and were not received. That is surprising."
"What I want to know is, what the carpenter and locksmith have been doing in the pavilion."
"The fact is, they have worked there for three days consecutively."
"And then one evening they brought some furniture here in a covered cart."
"I give it up! as sung the swan of Cambrai."
"It is perhaps remorse for having imprisoned Germain which torments him."
"Remorse--_he?_ It is too hard, and too tough, as the eagle of Meau said."
"Speaking of Germain, he is going to have famous recruits in his prison, poor fellow."
"How is that?"
"I read in the 'Gazette des Tribunaux' that the gang of robbers and assassins who have been arrested by the Champs Elysees in one of those little subterranean taverns--"
"They are real caverns."
"That this band of scoundrels has been confined in La Force."
"Poor Germain, good society for him."
"Louise Morel will also have her part of the recruits; for in the band they say there is a whole family, from father to son and mother to daughter."
"Then they will send the women to Saint Lazare, where Louise is."
"It is, perhaps, some of this band who have attempted the life of the countess who lives near the Observatory, one of our clients. Has not master sent me often enough to know how she is? He appears to be very much interested about her health. Only yesterday he sent me again to inquire how Lady M'Gregor had passed the night."
"Always uncertain: one day they hope, the next despair--they never know whether she will get through the day; two days ago she was given up; but yesterday there was a ray of hope; what complicates the matter is, she has a brain fever."
"Could you go into the house, and see where the deed was committed?"
"Oh! by no means! I could go no further than the gate, and the porter did not seem disposed to walk much, not as ..."
"Here comes master," cried the boy, entering the office with the carcass. Immediately the young men seated themselves at their respective desks, over which they bent, moving their pens, while the boy deposited for a moment the turkey skeleton in a box filled with law papers.
Jacques Ferrand appeared.
Taking off his old silk cap, his red hair, mixed with gray, fell in disorder from each side of his temples; some of the veins on his forehead seemed injected with blood, while his flat face and hollow cheeks were of a livid paleness. The expression of his eyes could not be seen, concealed as they were by his large green spectacles; but the visible alteration of his features announced a consuming passion.
He crossed the office slowly, without saying a word to his clerks, without appearing to notice their presence, entered the room of the head clerk, walked through it, as well as his own cabinet, and descended immediately by the little staircase which led to the court. Jacques Ferrand having left behind him all the doors open, the clerks could, with good reason, be astonished at the extraordinary motions of their master, who came up one staircase and descended another, without stopping in any of the chambers, which he had traversed mechanically.
The Countess M'Gregor, at least, was not his trouble. In showing La Chouette Fleur-de-Marie's picture, she had exposed her jewels, and to secure them, the hag poniarded the lady and decamped.
THOU SHALT NOT LUST.
It was night. The profound silence which reigned in the house occupied by Jacques Ferrand was interrupted at intervals by the sighing of the wind, and by rain, which fell in torrents. These melancholy sounds seemed to render still more complete the solitude of the dwelling. In a bed-chamber on the first floor, very comfortably and newly furnished, and covered with a thick carpet, a young woman was standing before an excellent fire.
What was very strange, in the center of the door, which was strongly bolted, and opposite the bed, was placed a small wicket of about five or six inches square, which could be opened on the outside.
A reflecting lamp cast an obscure light in this room, which was hung with garnet-colored silk; the curtains of the bed, as also the covering of a large sofa, were of silk and worsted damask, of the same color.
We are minute in these details of furniture, so recently imported into the dwelling of the notary, because it announces a complete revolution in the habits of Jacques Ferrand, who, until then was of Spartan avarice and meanness (above all as respected others) in all that concerned living. It is then upon this garnet tapestry, a strong background, warm in color, on which is delineated the picture we are going to paint.
Of tall and graceful stature, she is a quadroon in the flower of bloom and youth. The development of her fine shoulders, and of her luxurious person, makes her waist appear so marvelously slender, that one would believe that she might use her necklace for a girdle.
As simple as it is coquettish and provoking, her Alsatian costume is of strange taste, somewhat theatrical, and thus more calculated for the effect that it was intended to produce.
Her spencer of black cassimere, half open on her swelling bosom, very long in the body, with tight sleeves and plain back, is embroidered with purple wool on the seams, and trimmed with a row of small chased silver buttons. A
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