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- The Mysteries of Paris V2 - 70/113 -


think it looks?"

"Oh, very well--very well! What a fine tie! You'll make one just like it with my cravat, won't you?"

"Yes, directly; but let me walk a little. You go before--backward; hold the glass up so that I can see myself as I walk." Francois executed this difficult maneuver very well, to the great satisfaction of Amandine, who strutted up and down triumphantly, under the rosette and ears of her _foulard._ Very innocent under any other circumstances, this conduct become culpable, as Francois and Amandine both knew the prize was stolen; another proof of the frightful facility with which children, even well endowed, are corrupted almost without knowing it, when they are continually plunged in a criminal atmosphere.

And, besides, the sole mentor of these little unfortunates, their brother Martial, was not himself irreproachable, as we have said: incapable of committing a theft or murder, he did not the less lead an irregular and wandering life. They refused to commit certain bad actions, not from honesty, but to obey Martial, whom they tenderly loved, and to disobey their mother, whom they feared and hated. It is hard to say how much the perceptions of morality with these children were doubtful, vacillating, precarious; with Francois particularly, arrived at that dangerous period where the mind, hesitating, undecided between good and evil, perhaps in one moment may be lost or saved.

"How this red becomes you, sister!" said Francois. "How pretty it is! When we go and play on the shore in front of the plaster-kilns, you must dress yourself so, to make the children wild, who are always throwing stones at us and calling us little _guillotines._ I'll put on my fine red cravat, and we will tell them, 'Never mind, you haven't such handsome handkerchiefs as these.'"

"But I say, Francois," said Amandine, after a pause, "if they knew that they were stolen, they would call us little thieves."

"Who cares if they do?"

"When it is not true, it's all the same; but now--"

"Since Nicholas has given us these, we have not stolen them."

"Yes, but he did; he took them from a boat; and brother Martial says we must not steal."

"But since Nicholas has stolen them, it is none of our business."

"You think so, Francois?"

"Yes, I do."

"Yet it seems to me that I should have preferred that the person to whom they belonged should have given them to us. Don't you think so, Francois?"

"Oh, it's all the same to me. They have been given to us, and that's enough."

"You are very sure?"

"Why, yes, yes; do be quiet."

"Then, so much the better; we have not done what brother Martial forbids, and we have fine handkerchiefs."

"I say, Amandine, if he knew that the other day Calabash made you take that handkerchief from the peddler's pack, when his back was turned!"

"Oh, Francois, do not speak of that!" said the poor child, whose eyes were filled with tears: "brother Martial would love me no more. He would leave us all alone here."

"Don't be afraid, I will not tell him," he said, laughing.

"Oh, don't laugh at that. Francois; I am sorry enough; but I had to do it. Sister pinched me till the blood came, and then she looked at me so--so! and yet twice my heart failed me; I thought I could never do it. Finally, the peddler saw nothing, and sister kept the kerchief. If he had seen me, Francois, they would have put me in prison."

"They did not see you; it is just the same as if you had not stolen."

"You think so?"

"Of course!"

"And in prison, how unhappy one must be!"

"On the contrary."

"How, Francois, on the contrary?"

"Look here! you know the big lame man who lives at Paris with Pere Micou; the man who sells for Nicholas; who keeps furnished lodgings, Passage de la Brasserie?"

"A big lame man?"

"Why, yes; who came here at the end of the autumn from Pere Micou, with a man with monkeys, and two women."

"Oh, yes, yes; the lame man who spent so much money?"

"I think so; he paid for everybody."

"Do you recollect the excursion on the water?"

[Illustration: THE BRIGAND'S ATTACK ON HIS BROTHER]

"I went with them, and the man with the monkeys took his organ on board to have some music in the boat."

"And then, at night, what fine fireworks they had, Francois!"

"Yes; and he was no miser: he gave me ten sous! He drank nothing but sealed wine; they had chickens at all their meals; they had at least eighty francs' worth."

"As much as that, Francois?" "Oh, yes."

"He was very rich, then?"

"Not at all; what he spent was the money which he earned in prison, from whence he had just come."

"He gained all that money in prison?"

"Yes; he said he had seven hundred francs left; that when all was gone, he would do some good job, and if they took him, he didn't care, because he would return to the prison and join his good friends there."

"He wasn't afraid of the prison, then, Francois?".

"Just the contrary; he told Calabash that they were all jolly together; that he never had a better bed or better food than in prison: good meat four times a week, fire all winter, and a good sum when he came out, while there are so many stupid fools of honest workmen who were starving for want of work."

"Did the lame man say that?"

"I heard him; for I was rowing in the boat while he told this to Calabash and the two women, who said it was the same thing in the prison for women; they had just come out."

"But, then, Francois, it can't be so wicked to steal, if one is so well off in prison?"

"I don't know; here, there is no one but brother Martial who says it is wrong to steal, perhaps he is mistaken."

"Never mind, we must believe him, Francois; he loves us so much!"

"He loves us, it is true! when he is here no one dares to beat us. If he had been here to-night, mother wouldn't have whipped me. Old beast! ain't she wicked? Oh! I hate her--hate her. How I wish I was a man, to pay her back all the blows she has given me, and you, who can't bear it as well as I can."

"Oh! Francois, hush, you make me afraid, to hear you say that you would like to strike mother!" cried the poor little thing, weeping, and throwing her arms around the neck of her brother, whom she embraced tenderly.

"No, it is true," answered Francois, repulsing his sister gently; "why are mother and Calabash always so severe and cross to us?"

"I do not know," said Amandine, wiping her eyes; "it is, perhaps, because they guillotined father and sent Ambrose to the galleys."

"Is that our fault?"

"No; but--"

"If I am always to receive blows in the end, I would rather steal, as they wish me to; what good does it do me not to steal?"

"And what would Martial say?"

"Oh! except for him I should have said 'yes' long ago, for I am tired of being flogged; now to-night, mother never was so wicked--she was like a fury--it was very dark, dark; she said not a word, I only felt her cold hand, which held me by the neck, while with the other she beat me, and I thought I saw her eyes glisten."

"Poor Francois! because you said you saw a dead man's bones in the wood-house?"

"Yes, a foot which stuck out of the earth," said Francois, shuddering with affright: "I am sure of it."

"Perhaps formerly there was a burying-ground there?"

"Must think so; but, then, why did mother say she would whip me again if I spoke of it to Martial? I tell you what, it is likely some one has been killed in a dispute, and been buried there so it should not be known." "You are right! for, do you remember, such a thing once liked to have happened?"


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