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- The Mysteries of Paris V2 - 2/113 -
"Once for all, let us be off!" said Bourdin; "I am sick of all this. Come, dress yourself and march."
"My good gentleman, forgive what I have just said to you," cried Madeleine, still in bed; "you will not have the cruelty to take away Morel; what do you think will become of me, with my five children, and my idiot mother? There she is, huddled up on her mattress. She is foolish, my good gentlemen; she is quite out of her mind."
"The old woman that is shorn?"
"Sure enough she is shaved," said Malicorne; "I thought she had on a white scull-cap."
"My dear children, throw yourselves at the feet of these two gentlemen," said Madeleine, hoping, by a last effort, to soften the bailiffs, "entreat them not to take away your poor father--our only hope." But in spite of the order of their mother, the children, frightened and crying, dared not leave their beds.
At the unusual noise, and the sight of the two bailiffs, whom she did not know, the idiot began to utter deafening howls, crouching herself against the wall. Morel appeared careless to all that was passing around him; the blow was so frightful, so unexpected, the consequences of this arrest appeared so terrible, that he could scarcely believe in its reality. Already weakened by privations of every description, his strength failed him; he remained pale and haggard, seated on his stool, as though incapable of speech or motion, his head drooping on his breast, and his arms hanging listlessly down.
"Confound it! when will all this end?" cried Malicorne; "think you that we come here for fun? Off with you, or I shall make you!" So saying, the bailiff put his hand on the artisan's shoulder, and shook him roughly. The threat and action alarmed the children; the three little boys left their mattress half naked, and came, in a flood of tears, to throw themselves at the feet of the bailiffs, and, with clasped hands, cried, in tones of touching earnestness, "Pray, pray do not kill father."
At sight of these unhappy children, shivering with cold and fear, Bourdin, in spite of his natural callousness, and the constant sight of scenes like the present, felt something akin to compassion; his companion, unpitying, brutally disengaged his leg from the grasp of the kneeling supplicants.
"Hands off, you young ragamuffins! A pretty business ours would be truly, if we had always to do with such beggars!"
A fearful addition was made to the horrors of this scene. The elder of the little girls, who had remained in the straw with her sick sister, cried out, "Oh, mother, mother! I do not know what is the matter with Adele! She is quite cold, and she stares so at me and she don't breathe!"
The poor consumptive child had just quietly expired, without a murmur, her looks resting on her sister, whom she tenderly loved.
No language can describe the heart-rending cry of anguish uttered by the diamond-cutter's wife at this frightful announcement, for she understood it all. It was one of those stifling, convulsive screams, torn from the depth of a mother's heart.
"My sister seems as though she were dead!" continued the child. "Oh, how she frightens me! She still looks at me, but how cold her face is!" Saying this, the poor child suddenly rose from the side of her dead sister, and, running terrified, threw herself into the arms of her mother; while the distracted parent, forgetful that her paralyzed limbs were incapable of sustaining her, made a violent effort to rise, and ran toward the corpse; but her strength failed her, and she fell on the floor, uttering a last cry of despair. That cry found an echo in Morel's heart, and roused him from his stupor; with one step he reached the bed's side, snatching from it his child, four years old. She was dead! Cold and want had hastened her end, although her complaint, brought on by the want of common necessaries, was beyond cure. Her poor little limbs were already cold and stiff. Morel, his gray hair almost standing on end with despair and fright, remained motionless, holding his dead child in his arms, whom he contemplated with fixed, tearless eyes, bloodshot with agony.
"Morel! Morel! give my Adele to me!" shrieked the unhappy mother, holding out her arms toward her husband; "it is not true that she is dead: you shall see--I will warm her in my arms!"
The idiot's curiosity was excited by the haste with which the two bailiffs approached the lapidary, who would not part with the body of his infant. The old woman ceased to howl, rose from her bed, slowly approached Morel, and passing her hideous and stupid face over his shoulder, gazed vacantly on the corpse of her grandchild. The features of the idiot retained their usual expression of ferocity. After a little time, she uttered a sort of hoarse, hollow groan, like a hungry beast, and returning to her bed, she threw herself upon it, crying out, "I am hungry! I am hungry!"
"You see, gentlemen, this poor little girl, just four years old-- Adele; yes, she was named Adele. Only last night, she fondly returned my caresses--and now--look at her! You will, perhaps, say that I have one less to feed, and that I ought not to murmur," said the artisan, with a haggard look.
The poor man's reason began to totter under so many repeated shocks.
"Morel, I want my child; I will have her!" said Madeleine.
"True, true," replied the lapidary, "each in turn, that is but fair!" He went and laid the child in the arms of his wife. Then, hiding his face between his hands, he groaned bitterly. Madeleine, almost as frenzied as her husband, laid the child in the straw of her couch, and watched it with a sort of savage jealousy; while the other children were kneeling round in tears.
The bailiffs, for a moment softened by the death of the child, soon returned to their accustomed brutality of conduct. "Oh, look here, my friend," said Malicorne to the lapidary, "your child is dead; it is unfortunate, but we are all mortal; we cannot help it, nor can you, so there's an end of it. We have an extra job to do to-day--a _swell_ to grab."
Morel did not hear the man. Completely lost in mournful contemplation, the artisan said to himself, in a hollow and broken voice: "It will be necessary to bury my poor little girl--to watch her here till they come to carry her away. But how?--we have nothing! And the coffin!-- who will give us credit? Oh, a little coffin for a child of four years old ought not to cost much! And then we shall want no bearers! One can take it under his arm. Ha! ha! ha!" added he, with a frightful burst of laughter, "how lucky I am! She might perhaps have lived to be eighteen, Louise's age, and no one would have given me credit for a large coffin!"
"Egad! this chap seems as though he would lose his senses!" said Bourdin to Malicorne. "Look at him; he quite frightens me! and how the old idiot howls with hunger! What a queer lot!"
"We must, however, make a finish; although the arrest of this beggar is only for seventy-six francs, seventy-five centimes, it is only right that we should swell the costs to two hundred and forty or fifty francs. It is the _wolf_ who pays."
"You mean who has to _fork out_--for this poor devil here will have to pay the fiddler, since it is he that must dance."
"By the time he has paid his creditor two thousand five hundred francs, for principal, interest, costs, and all, he will be warm."
"It will not be then as now, for it freezes," said the bailiff, blowing his fingers. "Come, old fellow, pack up and let us be off; you can blubber as you go along. Who the devil can help the youngun's kicking the bucket!"
"Besides, when people are so poor, they have no right to have children."
"A good idea!" said Malicorne. Then slapping Morel on the shoulder, he continued: "Come, come, old boy, we can wait no longer; since you cannot pay, off to prison with you!"
"Prison!" said a pure, youthful voice; "Morel to prison!" A young, bright, rosy brunette suddenly entered the garret.
"Oh, Miss Dimpleton!" said one of the children, crying; "you are so good; save papa! they want to take him to prison, and little sister is dead."
"Adele dead!" exclaimed the girl, whose large, brilliant black eyes were veiled in tears. "Your father to prison? This cannot be." Stupefied by surprise, she looked alternately at the lapidary, his wife, and the bailiffs.
"My pretty girl," said Bourdin approaching Miss Dimpleton, "you're cool, you must try to make this poor man listen to reason; his little girl is dead, but nevertheless he must come with us to Clichy--to the debtors' prison. We are sheriffs' officers."
"It is, then, all true," said the girl.
"Quite true. The mother has the little one in her bed--they cannot take it from her; and while she is hugging it there, the father ought to take the opportunity of slipping out."
"My God! my God! what misery," said Miss Dimpleton. "What is to be done?"
"Pay, or go to prison! there is no other way, unless you have notes for two or three thousand francs to lend them," said Malicorne, in a careless tone; "if you have them, _shell out_, and we will _cut_, devilish glad to get away."
"Oh, this is dreadful!" said Miss Dimpleton, with indignation; "daring to jest with such dreadful misfortunes."
"Well then, joking aside," replied the other bailiff, "if you would do some good, endeavor to prevent the woman from seeing us take away her husband. You will thus save each of them a very disagreeable quarter of an hour."
The advice was good, though coarsely given, and Miss Dimpleton, following it, approached Madeleine, who, distracted with grief, did not appear to notice the young girl, as she knelt down beside the bed with the children.
Meanwhile, Morel had only recovered from his temporary delirium to
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