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- The Mysteries of Paris V2 - 4/113 -
"Why, you only owe thirteen hundred francs?" said Louise, addressing her father, with a stupefied air.
"Yes," said the lapidary.
"Stop!" rejoined the catchpole; "the bill is for thirteen hundred francs. Well, the bill is paid; but the expenses? Without the execution, they are already eleven hundred and forty francs." [Footnote: We append some curious facts about imprisonment for debt, taken from "_Le Pauvre Jacques_," a paper published by the Society of Christian Morality Prison Committee:--
"A protest and a warrant is legally set down as at 4 francs 35 centimes for the first, and 4 francs 70 centimes for the other, but is generally increased by the warrant-officers to 10fr. 40c., and 16fr. 40c. respectively. Thus 26fr. 80c. illegally obtained for what should have been but 9fr. 50c. The law sets down bailiff fees thus:--Stamp and registry, 3fr. 50c.; hackney-coach, 5fr.; arresting and imprisonment, 60fr. 25c.; turnkey's fee, 8fr. Total 76fr. 75c. One bill of charges taken as the average of those sent in by sheriffs' officers, swells the above to 240 francs!"
In the same paper is this paragraph:--
"M---, bailiff, has written to desire correction of the article on the Hanged Woman. He did not kill her, he says. We did not say that he did _kill_ that unfortunate woman. We reprint that article:--
"M---, bailiff, having writ out for a cabinet-maker in the Rue de la Lune, was seen by the latter from the house windows. He called out to his wife.--'I am lost, for there they come to arrest me!' His wife heard this, and fastened the door, while her husband hid him self in the loft. The bailiff called in a locksmith. The wife's room door was forced, and they found the woman had hanged herself! The sight of the corpse did not delay or prevent the officer hunting for the husband. 'I arrest you.' 'I have no money.' 'To prison, then.' 'Very well, let me give my wife good-bye.' 'That be hanged, like she is herself. She's dead.' What can you complain of, M---? we only print your own words, which minutely and blackly paint this frightful picture."
This same paper quotes three or four hundred facts, of which the following is a fair sample:--
"On collection of a 300 franc debt a warrant-officer charged 964 francs! The debtor, a workman with five children, lay seven months in prison."
For two reasons, the present writer quotes from "_Le Pauvre Jacques_," firstly, to show that the chapter just read falls below reality; and again, to prove that, if merely in a philanthropic point of view, the maintenance of such a state of things (the exorbitance of extras, illegally extorted by public servants,) often paralyzes the most generous intentions. For instance, with 1,000 francs there might be three or four honest though unfortunate workmen restored to their families from a prison whither petty debts of 250 or 500 francs had driven them; but these sums being tripled by a shameful exaggeration of costs, the most charitable persons often recoil from doing a good deed at the thought of two-thirds of their bounty merely going to sheriffs and their officers. And yet, there are few hardships more worthy of relief than those befalling such unfortunate people as we speak of.]
"Gracious heaven!" cried Louise; "I thought it was only thirteen hundred francs in all! But, sir, we will very soon pay you the remainder; this is a pretty good sum on account--is it not, father?"
"Soon!--very well; bring the money to the office, and we will then let your father go. Come, let's be off."
"You will take him away?"
"At once. This is on account. When the rest is paid, he will be free. Go on, Bourdin; let us get out of this."
"Mercy! mercy!" shrieked Louise.
"Oh, what a row! here it is--the old game over again: it is enough to make one sweat in the depth of winter--on my honor!" said the bailiff, in a brutal tone. Then advancing toward Morel, he continued: "If you don't come along at once, I will take you by the collar, and bundle you down. This wind-up is beastly!"
"Oh, poor father! when I had hoped to save you!" said Louise, overwhelmed.
"No, no! hope nothing for me! Heaven is not just!" cried the lapidary, in a voice of deep despair, and stamping his feet with rage.
"Peace! heaven is just! There is Providence for honest men!" said a soft, yet manly voice.
The same instant Rudolph appeared at the door of the little recess, from whence he had, unseen, witnessed the greater part of the scenes we have just related. He was very pale, and deeply moved. At this sudden interposition, the bailiffs drew back with surprise; while Morel and his daughter stared at the prince vacantly. Taking from his pocket a small parcel of folded bank notes, Rudolph selected three, and giving them to Malicorne, said to him: "Here are two thousand five hundred francs; give back to this girl the money you have just received from her."
More and more surprised, the bailiff took the notes hesitatingly, examined them very suspiciously, turning them over and over, and finally pocketed them. But as his alarm and surprise began to subside, so did his natural coarseness return, and eying Rudolph from head to foot with an impertinent stare, he exclaimed, "Your notes are good; but how came the likes of you with so large a sum? I hope, at least, it is your own!" added he.
Rudolph was very humbly dressed, and covered with dust--thanks to his stay in Pipelet's loft.
"I have bidden you restore that gold to the young girl," answered Rudolph, in a sharp, stern voice.
"Bid me! Who gives you the right to order me?" cried the bailiff, advancing toward Rudolph, in a threatening manner.
"The gold! the gold!" said the prince, seizing the fellow's wrist so violently that he winced under the iron hold, and cried out,
"Oh, you hurt me! Hands off!"
"Restore the gold! you are paid. Take yourself off, without further insolence, or I will kick you to the foot of the stairs."
"Very well; here is the gold," said Malicorne, giving it to the girl; "but mind what you are about, young man--don't fancy you are going to do as you like with me, because you happen to be the strongest."
"That's right. Who are you, to give yourself such airs?" said Bourdin, sheltering himself behind his companion. "Who are you?"
"Who is he? He is my tenant, the king of tenants, you foul-mouthed wretches!" cried Mrs. Pipelet, who appeared at last, quite out of breath, still wearing the Brutus wig. In her hand she held an earthen pot filled with boiling soup, which she was kindly taking to the Morels.
"What does this old polecat want?" said Bourdin.
"If you dare to pass any of your blackguard remarks upon me, I'll make you feel my nails--and my teeth too, if necessary!" screamed Mrs. Pipelet: "and more than that, my lodger, my prince of lodgers, will pitch you from the top to the bottom of the staircase, as he says! And I will sweep you away like a heap of rubbish, as you are!"
"This old woman will rouse all the people in the house against us. We are paid, and our expenses also; let us be off!" said Bourdin to Malicorne.
"Here are your documents," said the last-named individual, throwing a bundle of papers at Morel's feet.
"Pick them up, and deliver them properly! You are paid for being civil," said Rudolph, seizing the bailiff with his vigorous hand, while the other he pointed to the papers.
Convinced by this new and formidable grasp that he could not struggle against so powerful an adversary, the bailiff stooped down grumbling, picked up the bundle of papers, and gave them to Morel, who took them mechanically. The lapidary believed himself under the influence of a dream.
"Mind, young fellow, although you have an arm as strong as a porter's, never come under our lash!" said Malicorne. Shaking his fist at Rudolph, he nimbly jumped down the stairs, followed by his companion, who looked behind him with fear.
Mrs. Pipelet, burning for revenge on the bailiffs, for the insults offered to Rudolph, looked at her saucepan with an air of inspiration, and cried out, heroically: "Morel's debts are paid; they will now have plenty to eat, and no longer stand in need of my soup--heads!" Leaning over the banisters, the old woman emptied the contents of her saucepan on the backs of the bailiffs, who had just arrived at the first-floor landing.
"Oh, you are caught, I see!" added the portress. "They are soaked through like two sops! He! he! this is capital!"
"A thousand million thunders!" cried Malicorne, wet through with Mrs. Pipelet's culinary preparation. "Will you take care what you are about up there, you old baggage!"
"Alfred!" retorted Mrs. Pipelet, bawling in a voice sharp enough to split the tympanum of a deaf man. "Alfred! have at 'em, old darling! They wanted to behave improperly to thy 'Stasie! (Anastasia). Those rascals would take liberties with me! Pitch into them with your broom! call the oyster-woman and the potboy next door to help you. Quick!-- quick!--after them! Murder! police! thieves! Hish!--hish!--hish! bravo! Halloo! go it, old darling! Broom!--broom!" By way of a formidable finish to these hootings, which she had accompanied with a violent stamping of her feet, Mrs. Pipelet, carried away by the intoxication of her victory, hurled from the top to the bottom of the staircase her earthenware saucepan, which, breaking with a loud, crashing noise, the very moment the bailiffs, stunned by the frightful cries, were taking the stairs four at a time, added greatly to their fears.
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