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“I HAD thus been for some time without paying my visit to the young man, and when at length, by dint of self-reproach and self-encouragement, I had brought myself to a decision that I would without delay repair to his mausarde, it was with a kind of vague and undefined dread upon my mind that late one evening I did so. To my surprise I found him, although at so late an hour, seated at his easel, evidently greatly improved both in health and spirits, for he was whistling a lively air when I entered, and when I advanced near to him my wonder grew to find the blue-winged Azurine, the Mecca pigeon which I myselt had sold some time before, perched upon the elbow of his chair, and playfully pecking at a cherry which he was holding at arm's length. On the table by his side stood a basket of costly fruits, and a flacon of rich Spanish wine ; and instead of the gentle reproach which I had so much dreaded on my entrance, he courteously accosted me with a pressing request to partake of the fruit and wine which was spread out beside him.
“ He doubtless caught the expression of wonder which my countenance conveyed, for he said, while he coloured
up to the
forehead, ** I have had a return of good fortune since you came to see me last, Georgette. A friend has been to visit me, and has met with such good success in the sale of those drawings which you could not dispose of at any price, that all my courage has returned to make me work with redoubled ardour; and see, my sweet Azurine has returned again, all the more loving and beloved for her short absence.' And then, evidently to hide his embarrassment, he took the bird upon his finger, and while kissing its open beak, stroked down its variegated feathers, which flashed as the light fell upon them with the many-coloured tints of the rainbow.
“ I stayed but a few moments, for I felt in some measure wounded by the want of confidence on the part of Louis, for he well knew that I must be quite aware that he had no friend save myself and Paquerette. I was hastening to seek her, for again was I assailed by all my fearful suspicions, when I met her on the threshold, hurrying forth seemingly in the greatest haste, but I stopped her perforce. The glance with which she greeted me bad lost, methought, much of its usual gentleness. Her brow was flushed to crimson, and when she spoke, the tones of her voice trembled with emotion.
*** Thou hast deceived me, Georgette,' said she; thou hast played me false. Louis has been in want, in woe, in wretchedness, and Thou didst not tell me. 'Twas well I grew distrustful, and went myself to seek, or he might else have died. 'Twas an unkindly act to use disguise towards
me-his own in heart, and mind, and soul-to me, to whom the past is but the memory of him—the future, but the dream of what he is to be. Is he to want, Georgette ? Have I not limbs, and eyes, and ears, ay, and a tongue, wherewithal to beg if it should be needful!'
“ I could not but smile, although in sadness, as I looked upon the frail form and pale cheek of the maiden who spoke these words, but I said nothing, for I knew that it would be useless to argue with a passion like hers.
“ I could not doubt, however, that she was the friend of whom Louis had spoken. I could not but admire the perseverance which had enabled her to obtain success, where I, with all my good will, had so signally failed ; and yet I felt a kind of involuntary misgiving that all was not clear and right, for I knew that Paquerette would hesitate at no sacrifice, however great, to procure the slightest comfort or indulgence for Louis. An indescribable feeling of sadness overcame me as I exclaimed,
“. Poor Paquerette ! and what can you do to aid him in the strait to which he is brought ?'
“ See what I have done already,' returned she, with glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes, as she drew from beneath her shawl a huge uncouth canvass bag which she was carrying “Look, 'tis the price of the drawings which thou, despite of thy best endeavours, couldst not sell. Ah ! it well nigh broke his heart, when thou didst return to tell him that his work had been despised, and that thou couldst find no buyer.
But now this fear is removed, for I could dispose of all that he could ever find time to execute. Were that ten times as many, I could find a purchaser for all !'
“I was astonished at all I heard, the more so when in a moment of exultation she placed the bag in my hand. Its weight was tremendous, and from a feeling of curiosity natural enough under such circumstances, I withdrew the string to examine its contents. It was most extraordinary. The bag was almost wholly filled with the large heavy two-sous pieces and other copper coin, with but few, a very few, pieces of silver seattered among them. To my exclamation of astonishment at this, she replied by a crimson blush and a slight laugh of embarrassment, and said, as she snatched the bag hastily from my hand, that the purchaser of Louis's drawings had evidently a wish to be rid of this petite monnaie, and always paid her for them in this manner.'
“She hurried away, pretexting the lateness of the hour, and the having to procure for Louis several little delicacies which, with the wayward fancy peculiar to convalescence, he had demanded, heedless of the expense or trouble to be used in obtaining them.
“ This adventure made me more wretched than ever. All kinds of suspicions, some of them of the wildest nature, floated by turns through my brain ; but wild and improbable as they appeared to me when rejected, yet did they fall far short of the reality. I now began to feel all the weight of the responsibility which I had incurred by consenting to become the confidant of the love of this guileless maiden, who, from her very innocence and freedom from suspicion of evil, might be led into the way of darkness, and be lost for ever. I determined then, although the measure cost me much, to reveal the whole affair to Françoise. Rude and uncouth as she was in manner, yet had she ever been the kind and
disinterested protectress of Paquerette. She was, therefore, the most fitting person to interfere with the conduct and habits of the maiden, and why then should I any longer bear the sole responsibility? It was thus I reasoned as I went along, and by the time I had reached the street where she resided, I had argued myself into sufficient courage to enter at once upon the subject.
“ That very day there was a grand festival in Paris. The grandest pageant which had been seen for many years. It was the triumphal entry into the city of the emperor and his victorious army, after one of his most glorious campaigns. The streets were impassable. Crowds, eager and joyous, lined the whole length of the Boulevards, and choked up every avenue which led to them; and it was not till I was completely wearied, that I at last found myself standing before the gate of the mansion wherein the worthy matron resided. I knew that upon occasions like the present, she never permitted either of her young charges to stir abroad, and I therefore felt sure of obtaining a quiet hearing, as upon such a day there was likewise little chance of our being disturbed by idle and gossipping neighbours. I found both Melanie and her mother standing on the threshold of the great gate, which opened into the courtyard; I thought, at first, that it might be to catch what slight glimpses of the fête could be obtained from the end of the retired street in which they lived. But as I drew near, I found that they were gazing right and left up and down the street, apparently in the greatest agitation. The old woman was wringing her hands in agony, while Melanie would, every now and then, be smoothing down her hair, and shaking out her dress behind, run upon tiptoe into the middle of the pavement, and, after looking earnestly in every direction, shake her head mournfully, and run back again to her station by her mother's side.
“ They both flew forward to meet me as I approached, and, without allowing me the time to speak, Françoise exclaimed, in breathless haste,
“* Where is she ?—where didst thou leave her, Georgette ?—what has befallen her that she comes not home with thee?
“ • 'Tis Paquerette of whom my mother is inquiring,' said Melanie, in answer to the look of utter unconsciousness with which I had listened to this speech, surely thou hast seen her since noon?'
“I replied in the negative.
" • Then may the God of Heaven protect her! exclaimed Melanie, bursting into tears, she has been abroad since noon—and see, already night is coming on. We know not whither she is gone, nor if she will ever return.'
* I endeavoured to soothe and pacify these kind-hearted beings with as many specious reasonings as I could at the moment muster. Nevertheless, my heart failed me. Here was another knot in this complicated drama, which it seemed as if I were expected to unloose, for both my questioners were loud in their supplications for aid in their dilemma. Scarcely knowing what I expected, I mounted, with the speed of lightning, to her chamber. Perhaps she had fled with Louis! Perhaps, after all my confidence in her rectitude and integrity, might she have proved herself worthless! I doubted not, if such were the case, I should find some clue to the direction she had taken, some token whereby I might be enabled to conjecture her intention in her own little chamber. I dreaded to find the least scrap of paper bearing her handwriting, which might render whatever step she had taken no longer dubious, and I entered the mausarde with a beating heart. Every thing was in the same state as when I had last paid my moonlight visit to Paquerette, and heard the strange avowal of her passion from her own lips, as we had sat together side-by-side upon the edge of that snowy bed : the carved lutrin, the antique elbow-chair, still occupied the same place wherein I had before beheld them, surrounded by a whole parterre of flowers.
“My very breathing was suddenly checked as I beheld, leaning against the white-washed wall
, the large blue portfolio which I so well remembered to have belonged to Louis, and which I had myself carried full of his drawings to every printseller I could find, in my strenuous endeavours to meet with a purchaser of any one of its contents. I opened it, and felt the blood rush in a torrent to my brow, and my sight for an instant failed me.
It was still as full as when I had grown so weary carrying it beneath my arm! Not one was missing! I knew them all so well that I could at once have answered for this, for had I not turned them over twenty times while seeking to find a bidder ?
“ Then it was as I had dreaded. Paquerette had raised the money by other means than those which Louis had imagined to be the case; for here was evidence sufficient to convince me that his labour had had no share in producing the money she had shown me.
“I descended with a heavy heart, and my mind filled with all kinds of dreamy terror. I knew not which way to turn for advice or assistance, as to the best means of procuring tidings concerning Paquerette.
" I repaired, as a first chance, although with but little hope, to the house of Louis. The porter's answer to my inquiries were all satisfactory in one point of view, although adding to the perplexity which I already felt. Louis was at home as usual, such was the information given. He has not stirred out the whole of that day, indeed he was still much too weak and ill to go abroad. The old man added further, that the little maiden who generally came each day to see him had not been that morning, owing, doubtless, to the fète and crowded streets.
“ I did not attempt to gain any information, nor even any conjecture from Louis himself. It would be a useless measure, for there could be no doubt that whatever might be the step which Paquerette had taken, she was acting entirely without his knowledge, and that she was deceiving him as to the sources of her sudden wealth. Moreover, it would appear as if she had grown wiser latterly, and was determined to keep her own counsel, for she had not even hinted to me, nor let slip the least sentence which could put me in the way of discovering her secret. I knew not whither to bend my steps. I dared not even decide upon the road I ought to take, fearful lest it might lead me still further from Paquerette.
Sometimes, when I think now of those events and reflect upon the hair-breadth chances which combined in the end to insure
my success, I cannot help believing that Providence had taken the wayward orphan under especial care and protection. I know not what spirit prompted me, there were many directions which I might have taken on leaving that street, but I was involuntarily drawn into the stream of gazers that were hurrying towards the Place de Louis Quinze. I had no distinct object in view: I crept along without knowing whither I was bent, and hopeless and wretched I followed the crowd, until I found myself midway up the Champs Elysées. Here all was uproar and confusion, and I soon gave up as desperate any chance I might have fancied I possessed of recognising Paquerette, even had she passed close at my elbow, for soon the crowd which came thronging from all parts of the capital completely choked up every channel, and I saw myself compelled to follow the stream of pleasure-seekers, although my heart was faint with alarm and apprehension, and my thoughts were far enough away from the scenes of mirth and festivity everywhere going on around me. However, by sheer compulsion I wandered on, borne along by numbers rather than walking, until panting and breathless, I found myself carried to the extremest verge of the festivities, where the pressure gradually diminishing, left me at length free and at liberty to strike off in whatever direction I might choose.
“I was too weary to be able to proceed further for a short space, so I diverged into one of the dark alleys beneath the trees, where the silence and comparative solitude seemed perfect heaven after the stunning noise and heat and dust of the scene I had just quitted. I sat myself down at the foot of one of the tall elms just to breathe for an instant, ere I disposed myself to turn and seek my home through one of the by-streets of the Faubourg:
"I had remained for some time thus with my elbows resting on my knees, and my face buried in my hands, and was thinking of Paquerette, while I gazed mechanically from time to time down the broad avenue, which at the moment seemed all on fire with the blaze of light from the long line of splendid illuminations. But here where I had chosen to rest, all was dark and silent, the very glare from without the line of trees but served to make the spot appear more gloomy and deserted.
“Here then did I sit for awhile, musing on the strange destiny which had made me thus, and without any of my own seeking, the guardian of the youth of Paquerette, and at that moment so sad and weary did I feel, that the self-imposed responsibility weighed like lead upon my very soul. I had often, but in vain, endeavoured to throw off the influence which she had, unknown even to herself, held over me ever since the confidence to which I had listened on that moonlight evening in the little chamber. Many and many a time had I been upon the point of revealing the secret to Françoise, but there seemed a fatality attending the disclosure I sought to make, for upon each occasion some unlooked-for circumstance or other had always occurred to prevent it. Even this very day had I not set forth from home expressly to seek the good woman with this same intention, and yet here I was still with that secret in my bosom, and sinking yet more deeply into the mysteries of her strange and startling fancies.
“Sometimes I had struggled against my own heart, I had felt indignant with my own want of courage, which suffered me to be thus enthralled, and then I would vow to shake off this influence, but when I once mentioned by chance, the sensations which I experienced to my poor grandmother, she shook her head, and answered that it would be useless to strive against this thraldom, for that this peculiar influence was a mysterious attribute with those who were fated to die early and of a violent death.
"The memory of these words had often made me shudder as I gazed upon the cold, pale brow, and eyes of wondrous lustre, which distinguished Paquerette, and the thin pale cheek, too, over which from time to time passed a faint hectic blush, which would steal gradually away while yet the gazer marvelled at its beauty. May.-VOL. LXXXIII. NO. CCCXXIX.