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- Mysteries of Paris, V3 - 6/89 -
"I told Aunt Pipelet just what suited me; she is ignorant of my past life; she thought I was reduced to this position by the death of my parents, and took me for a servant; but you have, I hope, too much sagacity to partake of her error, _dear master."_
"And what are you, then?" cried Jacques Ferrand, more and more surprised at this language.
"That is my secret. For reasons best known to myself, I have been obliged to leave Germany in this disguise. I wish to remain concealed at Paris for some time. My aunt, supposing me reduced to poverty, proposed my entering your service, spoke of your solitary manner of living, and told me that I would never be allowed to go out. I accepted quickly. Without knowing it, my aunt anticipated my most anxious desire. Who could look for and discover me here?"
"Conceal yourself! what have you done, to be obliged to conceal yourself?"
"Soft offenses, perhaps, but this is my secret."
"And what are your intentions, miss?"
"Always the same. Saving your significant compliments on my shape and beauty, I should not, perhaps, have made this avowal, which your penetration had sooner or later provoked. Listen to me, then, my dear master: I have accepted for the moment the condition, or, rather, the appearance of a servant; circumstances oblige me to do so. I shall have the courage to play this part to the end. I will submit to all the consequences. I will serve you with zeal, activity, and respect, to preserve my place; that is to say, a sure and unknown retreat. But at the least word of gallantry, at the least liberty you take with me, I leave you--not from prudery, nothing in me, I think, looks like the prude."
And she cast a glance charged with sensual electricity, which reached the very bottom of the notary's soul; he shuddered.
"No, I am not a prude," she resumed, with a provoking smile, which displayed her dazzling teeth. "When love bites me, the _bacchantes_ are saints in comparison. But be just, and you will agree that your unworthy servant only wishes to perform honestly her duty as a servant. Now you know my secret, or at least a part of my secret, will you, perchance, act as a gentleman? Do I seem too handsome to serve you? Do you desire to change parts and become my slave? So be it! Frankly, I prefer that, but always on this condition, that I shall never go out of the house, and you shall have for me the most paternal attention--that need not hinder you from saying that you find me charming: it shall be the recompense of your devotion and your discretion."
"The sole?" stammered Jacques Ferrand.
"The sole--unless solitude makes me mad; which is impossible, for you will keep me company, and, in your quality as a holy man you shall exorcise the evil spirit. Come, decide, no mixed position; either I will serve you, or you shall serve me; otherwise I leave your house, and I beg my aunt to find me _another place_. All this must seem strange to you; so be it; but if you take me for an adventurer, without the means of existence, you are wrong. In order to make my aunt my accomplice without her knowledge, I allowed her to think I was too poor to buy other clothes than these. Yet I have, you see, a purse well-filled: on this side with gold, on the other with diamonds" (and she showed the notary a long red silk purse, filled with gold, through the meshes of which also shone precious stones). "Unfortunately, all the money in the world could not give me a retreat as secure as your house, so isolated by the retirement in which you live. Accept, then, one or the other of my offers; you will render me a service. You see, I place myself at your discretion; for to tell you that I concealed myself, is to tell you I am sought for. But I am sure you will not betray me, even if you knew how to betray."
This romantic confidence, this sudden transformation of character, troubled the brain of Jacques Ferrand.
Who was this woman? Why did she conceal herself? Had chance alone conducted her to his dwelling? If, on the contrary, she came there for some secret purpose, what was this purpose?
Among all the hypotheses which this singular adventure raised in the mind of the notary, the true motive of the Creole's presence never came to his thought. He had not, or, rather, he thought he had not, any other enemies than the victims of his licentiousness and cupidity. Now all of them were in such a condition of trouble or distress that he could not suppose them capable of spreading a snare of which Cecily was the bait.
And then, again, for what purpose was it spread? No, the sudden transformation of Cecily inspired but one fear to Jacques Ferrand: he thought that if this woman did not speak the truth she was an adventurer, who, believing him rich, introduced herself into the house to cajole him, find him out, and perhaps cause him to marry her. But, although his avarice and cupidity revolted at the idea, he perceived, shuddering, that these suspicions and reflections were too late; for, with a single word, he could put his suspicions at rest by sending this woman away. And this word he did not speak. Already he loved her, after his manner, and passionately. Already the idea of seeing this seducing creature leave his house seemed to him impossible. Already, even, feeling the pangs of a savage jealousy to think that Cecily might bestow on others favors refused to him, he experienced some consolation in saying, "As long as she is sequestered in my house no one will possess her."
The boldness of language of this woman, the fire in her eyes, the provoking liberty of her manners, sufficiently revealed that she was not, as she said, _a prude._ This conviction, giving vague hopes to the notary, assured still more the empire of Cecily.
In a word, the licentiousness of Jacques Ferrand stifled the voice of cold reason; he abandoned himself blindly to the emotions which overwhelmed him.
It was agreed that Cecily should be his servant only in appearance; in this manner there would be no scandal. Besides, to assure still more the security of his guest, he would take no other domestic; he would himself serve her and himself also; a neighboring coffee-house keeper could bring his repasts. He paid in money the breakfasts of his clerks, and the porter could take care of the office. Finally, the notary ordered to be promptly furnished a chamber on the first floor, according to Cecily's taste. She offered to pay the expense. He opposed it, and expended two thousand francs.
This generosity was enormous, and proved the unheard-of violence of his passion. Then commenced for this wretch a strange life.
Shut up in the impenetrable solitude of his house, inaccessible to all, more and more under the yoke of his frenzied love, no longer attempting to discover the secrets of this strange woman, from master he became a slave; he was the footman of Cecily--he served her at her repasts--he took care of her apartment. Informed by the baron that Louise had been surprised by a narcotic, the Creole only drank very pure water, only ate meats impossible to adulterate; she chose the chamber which she occupied, and assured herself that the walls concealed no secret doors.
Besides, Jacques Ferrand soon comprehended that Cecily was a woman not to be surprised with impunity. She was vigorous, agile, and dangerously armed.
Nevertheless, not to allow his passion to flag, the Creole seemed at times touched with his attentions, and flattered by the terrible domination she exercised over him. Then, supposing that by proofs of his devotion and self-denial he could make her forget age and ugliness, she delighted to paint in glowing colors his reward when he should arrive at that success.
At these words of a woman so young and so lovely, Jacques Ferrand felt sometimes his mind wandering; a devouring imagery pursued him, waking or sleeping. The ancient fable of the Nessus' shirt was realized for him.
In the midst of these nameless tortures he lost his health, appetite, and sleep. Often at night, in spite of cold or rain, he descended to his garden, and endeavored by a rapid walk to calm his emotions.
At other times, during whole hours, he looked into the chamber where the Creole slept, for she had had the infernal kindness to allow a wicket to be placed in her door, which she often opened, in order that she might almost cause him to lose his reason, so that she could then execute the orders she had received.
The decisive moment seemed to approach. The chastisement of Ferrand became from day to day more worthy of his sins.
He suffered all the torments. By turns absorbed, lost, out of his mind, indifferent to his most serious interests, the maintenance of his reputation as an austere, grave, and pious man--a reputation usurped, but acquired by long years of dissimulation and cunning--he astonished his clerks by his aberrations, displeased his clients by his refusal to see them, and harshly kept at a distance the priests, who, deceived by his hypocrisy, had been, until then, his most fervent trumpeters.
As we were saying, Cecily was arranging her head for the night before a glass. On a slight noise coming from the corridor, she turned her face away from the door.
Notwithstanding the noise which she had just heard at the door, Cecily did not the less tranquilly continue her undressing; she drew from her corsage, where it was placed like a busk, a dirk, five or six inches long, in a case of black shagreen, with a handle of black ebony fastened with silver, a very simple handle, but perfectly _handy_, not a weapon of mere display.
Cecily took the dirk from its case with excessive precaution, and placed it on the marble chimney-piece; the blade, of the finest Damascus and the best temper, was triangular; its point, as sharp as a needle, had pierced a dollar without blunting it.
Impregnated with a subtle and quick poison, the least wound from this poniard was mortal.
Jacques Ferrand, having one day doubted the dangerous properties of this weapon, the Creole made before him an experiment _in anima vita_, that is to say, on the unfortunate house dog, who, slightly pricked in the nose, fell dead in horrible convulsions.
The dirk placed on the chimney, Cecily taking off her spencer of black cloth, exposed her shoulders, bosom, and arms, naked like a lady in ball costume.
According to the custom of most girls of color, she wore, instead of a corset, a second corsage of double linen, which was closely bound around her waist; her orange petticoat, remaining fastened under her white inner waist with short sleeves, composed thus a costume much less severe than the first, and harmonized wonderfully with the scarlet stockings, and the Madras scarf so capriciously twisted around the head of the Creole. Nothing could be more pure, more beautiful, than the contour of her arms and shoulders, to which little dimples gave a charm the more.
A profound sigh attracted the attention of Cecily. She smiled, while roiling around one of her ivory fingers some stray curls which escaped from the folds of the bandana.
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