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- The Mysteries of Paris V2 - 50/113 -

to tell me that which you have told to no one, and I am very sensible, believe me, my poor child, of this proof of your faith in the interest I have for you. Hence, I promise you, in guarding scrupulously your secret, if you confide it to me, I will do all in my power to meet your wishes."

Thanks to this palliating speech, Madame d'Harville regained the confidence of La Goualeuse, for a moment impaired. Fleur-de-Marie, in her innocence, reproached herself for having misinterpreted the words which had wounded her.

"Pardon me, madame," said she; "I was doubtless wrong not to tell you at once what you wished to know; but you asked me the name of my rescuer; in spite of myself, I cannot resist the pleasure of speaking of him."

"Nothing is better; it proves how grateful you are toward him. But why have you left the good people with whom he had placed you? Does your oath have reference to this?"

"Yes, madame; but thanks to you, I believe now, still keeping my word, I shall be able to satisfy my benefactors as to my disappearance." "Come, my poor child, I listen." "It is about three months since M. Rudolph placed me at a farm situated four or five leagues hence." "He conducted you there himself?" "Yes, madame; he confided me to the care of a lady as good as she was venerable, whom I soon loved as a mother. She and the cure of the village, at the request of M. Rudolph, took charge of my education." "And M. Rudolph often came to the farm?" "No, madame; he came there only three times while I was there." Clemence could not conceal a thrill of joy. "And when he came to see you, it made you very happy, did it not?" "Oh, yes, madame! it was for me more than happiness: It was a sentiment mixed with gratitude, respect, admiration, and even a little fear." "Fear!" "From him to me--from him to others--the distance is so great!" "But what is his rank?" "I am ignorant if he has any rank, madame." "Yet you speak of the distance which exists between him and others." "Oh, madame! that which places him above the rest of the world is the elevation of his character--his inexhaustible generosity for those who suffer; it is the enthusiasm with which he inspires everybody. The wicked even cannot hear his name without trembling; they respect him as much as they fear him. But pardon me, madame, for having again spoken of him--I ought to be silent; for I should give you but an imperfect idea of him whom I ought to content myself with adoring to myself. As well attempt to express by words the grandeur of Heaven! This comparison is perhaps sacrilegious, madame. But will it offend to compare to Goodness itself the man who has given me a consciousness of good and evil--who has dragged me from the abyss--to whom I owe a new existence?" "I do not blame you, my child; I comprehend your feelings. But how have you abandoned this farm, where you were so happy?"

"Alas, it was not voluntary, madame!"

"Who forced you, then?"

"One night, a short time since," said Fleur-de-Marie, trembling at the recital, "I went to the parsonage of the village, when a wicked woman, who had treated me cruelly in my childhood, and a man, her accomplice, who was concealed with her in a ravine, threw themselves upon me, wrapped me up, and carried me off in a carriage."

"For what purpose?"

"I do not know, madame. My waylayers were acting, I think, under the orders of some powerful persons."

"What then ensued?"

"Hardly had the vehicle moved, than the bad woman, whose name was La Chouette (Screech-Owl), cried, 'I have got some vitriol; I am going to wash the face of La Goualeuse, to disfigure her.'"

"How horrid! Unfortunate child! What saved you from that danger?"

"The accomplice of this woman, a blind man, called the Schoolmaster."

"He defended you?"

"Yes, madame, on this occasion and on another. This time a struggle ensued between him and La Chouette. Availing himself of his strength, he forced her to throw out of the window the bottle which contained the vitriol. This was the first service he rendered me, after having assisted in carrying me off. The night was very dark. At the end of an hour and a half the carriage stopped, I believe on the high road which crosses the plain of Saint Denis; a man on horseback waited for us here. 'Well,' said he, 'have you got her at last?' 'Yes, we have her,' answered La Chouette, who was furious at having been prevented from disfiguring me. 'If you wish to get rid of this little thing there is a good way; I will stretch her on the road--drive the wheels of the carriage over her head--it will look as if she was run over by accident.'"

"Oh, this is frightful!"

"Alas, madame! La Chouette was well capable of doing what she said. Happily, the man on horseback said that he did not wish to harm me; that it was only necessary to keep me shut up for two months in some place where I could neither get out nor write to any one. Then La Chouette proposed to take me to a man called Bras-Rouge, who kept a tavern in the Champs Elysees. In this tavern there were several subterranean chambers; one of them, La Chouette said, could answer for my prison. The man on horseback accepted this proposition. Then he promised me that, after remaining two months with Bras-Rouge, I should be so provided for that I would not regret the farm at Bouqueval."

"What a strange mystery!"

"This man gave some money to La Chouette, promising her some more when I should be taken from Bras-Rouge, and set out on a gallop. We continued our route toward Paris. A short time before we arrived at the gates, the Schoolmaster said to La Chouette, 'You wish to shut up La Goualeuse in one of Bras-Rouge's cellars; you know very well that, being near the river, these cellars in winter are always inundated. Do you wish to drown her?' 'Yes,' answered La Chouette."

"But what had you done to this horrible woman?"

"Nothing, madame: and yet, since my infancy, she has always shown this feeling toward me. The Schoolmaster answered, 'I will not have the Goualeuse drowned; she shall not go to Bras-Rouge.' La Chouette was as much surprised as I was, madame, to hear this man defend me thus. She became furious, and swore that she would take me to Bras-Rouge in spite of him. 'I defy you,' said he,' for I have La Goualeuse by the arm; I will not let her go, and I'll strangle you if you come near her.' But what do you mean to do with her?' cried La Chouette, 'since she must be put out of the way for two months.' 'There is a way,' said the Schoolmaster; 'we are going to the Champs Elysees; we will stop the carriage near the guard-house; you will go and look for Bras-Rouge at his tavern. It is midnight; you will find him there; bring him with you; he will take La Goualeuse to the post, and declare she is a gay girl, whom he found near his tavern. As they are condemned to three months' imprisonment when they are caught on the Champs Elysees, and Goualeuse is still on the police lists, she will be arrested, and sent to Saint Lazare, where she will be as well guarded and concealed as in the cellar of Bras-Rouge.' 'But,' replied La Chouette, 'the Goualeuse will not suffer herself to be arrested; once at the guard-house, she will tell all, she will denounce us. Supposing, even, that she is imprisoned, she will write to her protectors; all will be discovered.' 'No, she will go to prison willingly,' answered the School-master; 'she must swear that she will not denounce us to any one as long as she remains at Saint Lazare, nor afterward either. She owes as much to me, for I have prevented her being disfigured by you, and drowned at Bras-Rouge's; but if after having sworn not to speak, she should do it, we will set the farm at Bouqueval a-fire.' Then, addressing me, he said, 'Decide! swear the oath I ask, you shall go to prison for two months; otherwise I abandon you to La Chouette, who will take you to the cellar, where you'll be drowned. Come, decide. I know If you swear you will keep your oath.'"

"And you have sworn?"

"Alas! yes, madame; I feared so much to be disfigured by La Chouette, or to be drowned in a cellar; that appeared to me so frightful. Any other kind of death would nave appeared less fearful. I should not, perhaps, have endeavored to escape."

"What a gloomy idea at your age!" said Madame d'Harville, looking at La Goualeuse with surprise. "Once away from this place, returned to your benefactors, will you not be very happy? Has not your repentance effaced the past?"

"Can the past be effaced? Can the past be forgotten? Can repentance destroy the memory, madame?" cried Fleur-de-Marie, in a tone so despairing that Clemence shuddered.

"But all faults can be redeemed, unhappy child!"

"But the recollection of the stain--madame, does it not become more and more terrible in measure as the mind is purified, as the soul becomes elevated? Alas! the more you mount the deeper appears the abyss from which you have emerged."

"Then you renounce all hope of re-establishment and pardon?"

"On the part of others--no, madame; your goodness proves that indulgence is never wanting to the penitent."

"You will, then, be the only one without pity toward yourself?"

"Others may be ignorant, may pardon and forget what I have been. I, madame, never can forget."'

"And sometimes you wish to die?"

"Sometimes!" said La Goualeuse, smiling bitterly, "yes, madame, sometimes."

"Yet you feared to be disfigured by that horrible woman? you cling to your beauty, then, poor child? That announces that life has some charms for you. Courage, then--courage!"

"It is, perhaps, a weakness to think so; but if I were handsome, as you say, madame, I should wish to die handsome, in pronouncing the name of my benefactor."

The eyes of Madame d'Harville filled with tears.

Fleur-de-Marie had said these words so simply; her angelic features, pale and cast down, her mournful smile, were so much in unison with her words, that no one could doubt the reality of her gloomy desire.

The Mysteries of Paris V2 - 50/113

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