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132

The discreet Porter.

Rue de la Montagne-Saint-Genevieve. I dressed myself in a violet-coloured coat, a dark blue velvet waistcoat, small clothes of black kerseymere, and black silk stockings, shoes with silver buckles, a three-cornered cocked hat, and a frisure à l'ancien régime. I stepped into a fiacre, from which I alighted at the top of the Rue des Fosses-SaintVictor, and, having cautiously posted my vedettes, I hurried on to the place of my destination. The house had a port-cochère, a small court-yard, a vestibule and a large staircase. It was evidently the old residence of a person of opulence .... probably a member of the ancienne robe .... indeed, the signature of the letter, was a name which had been associated with the parliament of Paris.

“I inquired for Madame de Polvere. “«The young lady, or the dowager?' said the servant.

“This question embarrassed me, and I hesitated for a moment; but, iminediately recollecting the little perfumed billet, I answered promptly and confidently—the young lady.

"Step up stairs to the first floor, and knock at the great door facing the staircase.'

“And where does the dowager reside?” inquired I, anx. ious to gain all the information I could.

“.On the ground floor, in the apartments looking to the garden; that is to say, when she is in Paris, but she is now at her country seat.'

“Oh!.... yes ....it is .... near

66°Near Beauvais . perhaps you have been at the château, Sir?"

“No.... but I know the place well. I maintained this colloquy with an old man, who looked as if he united in himself the three-fold dignities of porter, butler and gardener. And how is Monsieur?” said I pursuing my in. terrogatories.

Do you mean the Baron, or Monsieur his father?' “Oh both! .... both!"

- The Count is with madame at .... and the young Baron has not yet returned from his journey.'

" And are all the rest well?” "Alas, Sir! we lost, about six months ago, the old de

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The Countess de Polvere.

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moiselle Desrivières, the Count's sister, a most pious lady, who was so very good herself, that she was scandalized at our wickedness, and was always telling us that we were doomed to eternal punishment. It was a great relief to all the house, when it pleased heaven to take her .... As to the Commander, he enjoys a green old age, at eighty. Monsieur Jules, the Baron's brother, is with the army,

and their sister, Madame de Melmire, is separated from her husband.'

“Bah! is it possible!" 66.Bless me, Sir, don't you

know it.... From the way in which you questioned me, I supposed you were quite intimate with the family.'

"I have just returned from India."

Sainte Vierge! that is a great way off .: :. Well, monsieur, then, since you don't know it I will tell you, that the Countess has done a great deal of mischief .... the young couple have quarrelled and parted .... One morning, Madame de Melmire came down stairs with her cheek swollen and her mouth bleeding .... a souffiet!' The rest of the secret was whispered in my ear.

"Perfectly satisfied with the information I had gleaned, I wished the discreet porter good morning, and made my way to the door to which I had been directed. The staircase was hung with portraits of parliamentary presidents; and the anti-chamber was graced with a few dusty portraits of some of the venerable ancestors of the family. A young and blooming soubrette inquired my name. I

gave her some name or other, no matter what, and added that I had brought an answer to the letter written by the Baroness to the lady on the Quai Malaquais.

“Five minutes afterwards, I was ushered into the drawing-room, the furniture of which seemed to take its date from the year 1750. In this old-fashioned apartment, I beheld a beautiful female, about five and twenty years of age; graceful, simple, modest and timid. As I advanced to make my bow to her, I observed that she was agitated and trembling.

“Madam," said I, presenting her note, “I am sent by his excellency the minister of ...."

VOL. 1.-12

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134

The Promise of Secrecy.

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“A supplicating look closed my mouth, and I stopped short.

“Sir,said the lady, 'nothing but the most urgent reasons could have induced me : . how much I am obliged to his excellency . . . . I will endeavour to prove my gra. titude .... Indeed I am very unfortunate!!

“Madam, I enjoy the full confidence of the minister. He will decide according to my report. As far as I can judge at present, it is likely to be favourable.

“I feel the importance of the step I have taken. Perhaps, after all, I have taken it too precipitately .... but I confess I had not sufficient heroism to brave the commis. sion of another crime.'

"A crime!"

“Alas, Sir, your surprise overwhelms me.... I shall never have courage to proceed.'

“Compose yourself, Madam, I entreat, and tell me all. It is your duty .... and, after what I have heard, it is my duty to urge you to make a full and candid disclosure.”

“ I will do so,' replied the lady raising her pale face.but it must be on condition that what I am about to communicate shall be enveloped in profound secrecy ... will 'you promise this?

“I pledged myself to receive the disclosure on the condition of secrecy. In cases of emergency, I often found it indispensable to make these promises, in order to stimulate confidence. In so doing, I conceived that I was promoting the ends of justice. The integrity of a police minister must be general, and not particular. He is justifiable in breaking his promise to an individual for the sake of the public good. I never should have hesitated to have made a promise of secrecy, for the sake of obtaining a disclosure of an intended robbery or murder; but, I should not have considered myself bound to keep my promise to the robber or the murderer, to the prejudice of his victim: that would have been a strange perversion of the point of honour. Guided, therefore, by what I conceived to be the just principle of my duty, I gave the lady my promise of secrecy.

“I am satisfied,' said the Baroness de Polvere. «Now you shall hear the story which I have to reveal .

My

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The want of an Heir.

135 husband is the representative of an ancient and noble family, several members of which have, at various times, discharged high judicial functions. The distinction which the family has long enjoyed has imbued my mother-in-law with so high an idea of importance, that the fear of seeing it without an heir, has thrice urged her to the commission of a horrible crime. This lady is not our countrywoman. She is a native of the Greek islands, where her husband married her during one of his voyages: he was an officer in the navy, having thrown aside the judicial robe of his ancestors, to fight the battles of his country. My motherin-law, as I have already observed, has conceived such an extravagant veneration for the house of Polvere, that its perpetuity is the sole object which engrosses her thoughts. She has two sons, of whom my husband is the elder. The younger, who is a captain of artillery, was married five years ago. His wife, at the expiration of the fourth year of her marriage, died, and you shall hear in what way.

My husband, before he attained his majority, married his first cousin, to whom he was ardently attached. Four years elapsed. Their union was still unblessed by progeny; and the unfortunate lady suddenly died. The Baron de Polvere, whilst still overwhelmed with affliction, suffered himself to be dragged to the altar a second time, in compliance with his mother's urgent entreaties. His second wife, my intimate friend, was a beautiful and amiable woman. She also proved childless, and, like the first wife, died suddenly about four years after her marriage. Nearly at the same time, I lost my husband. He left me two lovely children, a boy and girl who are now the sole sources of my happiness.

• Some time after I had become a widow, the Countess proposed a union between ine and her son. To me she urged her proposition with unremitting perseverance, and dwelt with unbounded eulogy on the many amiable qualities of the Baron. Our mutual bereavements led to a mutual sympathy, and we gradually became persuaded that life would be more agreeable if passed in one another's society. We were married about four years ago, and the two little angels, the fruit of my first marriage, are still my only children.

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•My mother-in-law's affection for me rapidly chilled, in proportion as she relinquished her hope of my presenting an heir to the family. Her ill humour not only rendered me miserable, but was intolerable to every one of the family. She has caused a separation between her younger son and his wife, and, by representing that my brother-inlaw was shewing improper attentions to me, she has raised a barrier of dissention between her two sons.

But even this conduct, odious as it is, is innocentin comparison with the crimes of which she is guilty.

“When she quitted Greece, to come to France, she brought with her, a female servant, or rather a slave, who was present at her birth. This woman, whose name is Panchiera, and who is no less malignant and ill-tempered than her mistress, fell ill about six months ago. Her disorder was of so infectious a nature that no one could approach her without danger. Every one fled from her, even the Countess, whose imprudence in thus abandoning her can only be accounted for by the apparent certainty of Panchiera’s approaching end.

“ I alone, continued the lady, blushing to tell of her own goodness, I alone obeyed the precept set down in the Holy Gospel. I discharged, day and night, at the bed-side of the miserable invalid, the duties which religion imposes on us. The gratitude she manifested for my attentions, roused the jealousy of her imperious mistress, who vented upon her all the bitterness of her displeasure. Panchieri became convalescent, to the surprise of every one, even of the doctors who were prescribing for her; and the circumstance was attributed wholly to my attentions. However, after the lapse of a day or two, an unaccountable change took place. Panchiera’s disorder manifested the most fatal symptoms;-her death was pronounced to be inevitable.

Worn out with watching, and assured that all further attendance on the patient must be unavailing, I retired to bed. It happened to be my mother-in-law's

fête day, and she went to hear mass at Saint-Etienne-du-Mont. On leaving home, she gave strict orders that no one should enter the chamber of Panchiera, whom she supposed to be in the agonies of death. But no sooner had the Countess

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