صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

At length her weary pilgrimage drew to a close. Before her rose the towers of Strasburgh, and as she pressed her infant closer to her bosom, a feeling almost of joy arose in her heart as she felt she was so much nearer to him who was her life of life. Traversing the city, and looking about on every side for accommodation humble enough to suit her scanty means, she stopped before a small house in one of the suburbs. The door was opened by a clean, kind-looking old woman ; an arrangement was speedily concluded, and Louise installed in her strange home. Her first object was to obtain employment, by which she could support herself and child, and, applying to old Jeanneton, her landlady, asked if she could recommend her as a workwoman to any ladies in the town. There was something in the appearance and manner of Louise singularly winning, and they must have had a harder heart than Jeanneton who could have listened to her simple but affecting recital without feeling a desire to serve her.

“ Are you a good embroideress?" asked the old woman, when she had heard her request.

“ I have always been reckoned so," replied Louise ; “I was brought up by the Ursulines, and they are noted for their skill in fancy works."

“ Well, that's very fortunate,” said Jeanneton, really happy at being able to forward her wishes. “My grand-daughter is femme de chambre to Madame de la Riviere, and she came to me only the other day to know if I could recommend any young person to her mistress to work her a dress. I will give you a line to Julie, and if they have not already found some one else, no doubt you will get it; but remember, my dear child, I hope you are skilful, for, if madame's dress should be spoiled, what should I do?"

Louise assured her kind friend she need be under no apprehension, as she was quite confident of giving satisfaction; and leaving her little child, with many a tender injunction, to her care, set forth in quest of the hoped-for employment. Perhaps it was that she began to feel the effects of her toilsome journey, or it might be, that parting with her infant for the first time, though but for so short a period, subdued and depressed her ; but as she went on her unknown way, a feeling of sadness and apprehension came over her, making the distance, which in reality was trifling, appear interminable ; yet, when arrived at the house, she felt an unaccountable reluctance to enter, and when, having conquered what she reproached herself for as folly, she asked for Julie, and gave her her grandmother's note, it was some time before she sufficiently subdued the emotions which had so strangely overcome her, to confirm the assertions it contained respecting her abilities. Julie was all kindness and attention, as all young Frenchwomen are to any one they see in distress, and made her rest and partake of refreshment before she would conduct her to her lady; and when she did so, descanted as volubly on the beauty of her work, as if she had seen it with her own bright eyes. The dress was brought and delivered to Louise, with a promise that if her work was approved of, she would have more to do when that was finished. While she was receiving her instructions, the Marquis de la Riviere entered his mother's room. He was a man apparently about five-and-thirty, eminently handsome; but the expression of his countenance struck one more forcibly than

his beauty. It was singular-scarcely definable, but decidedly unpleasant. He gave you the idea of one who would scoff at virtue; and for any act of greatness, the result of its dictates, assign unworthy motives. On first coming into the apartment he fixed his eyes on Louise; and though he saw that his earnest look disturbed and annoyed her, he neither withdrew it, nor sought by speaking to lessen her confusion, but contrived to gaze on her for two or three minutes, then turned away, and during the remainder of her stay took no notice of her whatever.

[ocr errors]

“ You are not the first,” said Julie laughingly, “ that Monsieur le Marquis has stared out of countenance. You must keep out of his way,

for it is said he has worked woe to many as fair as yourself.” Louise only replied, “He can have nothing to say to me, for I am married.”

The simplicity of this answer provoked a loud laugh from the town-bred abigail, with the exclamation, “ Quelle innocence! mais c'est quelque chose de merveilleuse.”

" What a pity that he does not marry;" said Louise, “ He would be happy then; he does not look so now."

“. Madame would give the world that he was, for she has suffered 'a great deal on his account; but his only answer, when she urges him to do so, is, that he knows women too well ever to think of it."

Louise opened her large dark eyes in astonishment, and went home with her work. How her heart beat, as her child, who could now go alone, came toddling from the door to meet her! Her bosom felt lightened of half its load at the prospect of being able to earn enough by her needle to keep her baby and herself from want. Could she but get a letter from Paul-could she only obtain the longed-for intelligence that he was well, she would be content. In a space of time so short, that Julie declared her fingers must be fairies, the dress was completed and taken home. As she was leaving the house, she met Monsieur de la Riviere, who stopped, and, paying her some trifling compliment, put a napoleon in her hand.

Louise, confused and abashed, tendered him the money, saying, “ Thank you, sir, madame has already settled with me.”

“ Well, child, but if I choose to make you á trifling present, you do not mean to say you will refuse it?”

“ I am very much obliged to you, sir," replied the poor girl, blushing painfully, “ but I would rather not."

He looked at her incredulously for a moment, but there was a simple earnestness in her manner that could not be affected ; and as she still held out the coin to him, he took it with a half sneer, and muttering to himself “ Attendons," passed on.

Louise went home, but she felt ill at ease ; a presentiment of coming evil hung heavily upon her. It might be, and she tried to think it was, only the effect of the fatigue and anxiety she had lately undergone; but she could not shake it off. Her health, too, began to cause her uneasiness. Instead of allowing herself the repose necessary to recover from the fatigues of her painful journey, she had, from the moment in which she obtained work, stolen many hours

Nov. 1838.--Vol. XXIll.-NO. XCI.

T

from each night's rest to complete the daily task she had allotted herself. Her landlady was kind and friendly, but very poor, earning a scanty subsistence by going out to do such trifling work as her strength permitted; and Louise began to be nervously afraid that the time was not far distant in which she should be unable to procure necessaries for her child. She felt she was over-taxing her strength, but would not give up.

One morning, having completed some embroidered caps, she took them home, and learned, to her dismay, that Madame de la Riviere set out for Paris the following week for the remainder of the winter. Her heart sank within her at this intelligence, and something seemed to whisper that trials severer than any she had yet encountered were now about to commence. She walked slowly from the house, and tears she was unable to restrain fell from her eyes when, on turning the corner of the street, a cabriolet, which was coming rapidly in the opposite direction, suddenly stopped, and Monsieur de la Riviere, jumping out, took her hand, and asked her in a tone of real interest what was the matter. When she had told him, he said, “I am not going to Paris, and you must let me be your friend, Louise." He looked at her as if expecting a reply, but Louise did not even guess his meaning. There was something in his manner which always made her feel uncomfortable, but she was too pure even to comprehend dishonest insinuation. She sought employment from other quarters, but could fine none.

The weather, which had been unusually mild for the season, suddenly changed—a severe frost set in. Poor old Jeanneton got severe attack of rheumatism, which confined her to her bed, and Louise found herself in a strange place without friends or work, with no other resource to keep herself, her child, and the friend who had saved her from starving, but the few francs remaining of what she had earned ; and to add to her misery, the object for which she had encountered it, had not been realised. She had not seen a creature from the army-not a line had reached her from her husband. The poor girl would sit and count her little horde, as if by doing so she could double its value ; but, alas ! notwithstanding her care and economy, it rapidly diminished. It soon got so low that she had recourse to curtailing her own allowance of food, to prevent her child and her friend finding any diminution in theirs. She grew thinner and paler every day, but that she heeded not.

“ How much longer shall I be able to give bread to my child ?" was the thought that haunted her unceasingly, and well might it do so now, for she had but one franc remaining—her last, and when that was gone !

She had looked on it in agony not to be described, and in the stillness of night her fevered imagination conjured up scenes of horror: she saw her child, pale and emaciated, asking for food and she had none to give it. Then her husband, wounded and bleeding, stood before her, reproaching her with having left their native village, where at least she and her child would not have been allowed to starve. Exhausted and refreshed, she arose and went to purchase provisions, as she felt, for the last or nearly the last time. Once or twice the idea had occurred to her of asking Monsieur de la Riviere to

*

recommend her to some of his friends ; but a feeling powerful, though to her incomprehensible and undefined, had always, even in her extreme destitution, prevented her from doing so. As she returned slowly from the market-place, all she had in the world being now only a few sous, she met him. He looked earnestly at her, and asked her if she still lived in the same place. She replied in the affirmative. You look very ill,” he said ; “ I will come and see you, and talk over your affairs." The poor girl, hoping he might serve her, and rescue her from her present misery, could scarcely thank him, but tears of gratitude chased each other down her pale cheeks; he turned abruptly away, merely saying, “I will call this morning;" and Louise, with a feeling of hope which had been long unknown to her, hastened home, and seating herself beside her child, awaited his arrival.

He held up again the glittering treasure, and in a voice as calm and unmoved as if he had been speaking on the most indifferent subject, he continued : “ I repeat, here are two thousand francs, a fortune to persons in your station of life—you can procure a substitute for your husband, and live in comfort all the rest of your life ; I will take care he does not quarrel with the means by which you will have procured him ease and happiness. On the other hand, consider well the consequences of a refusal-you acknowledge that you have but a few sous remaining. You have already nearly starved yourself to give food to your child; in a few days at farthest your sacrifice will be of no avail, your last sous will be gone, your infant will pine and die before your eyes,

and you

will remember that it was in your power to save her, and you refused to do so."

Louise did not interrupt him. In the first bitterness of her disappointment she burst into tears, and wept as those only weep who, exhausted by suffering, behold their last earthly hope snatched from them. After a little time her tears ceased, and she sat as if unconscious of all around her. But though motionless, save an occasional sobbing sigh, and to outward seeming calm, who shall tell the agonising thoughts that made her brain throb and burn, while her heart felt cold and heavy as death itself? She fancied all that had befallen her was in token of disapprobation at the course she had adopted. Disappointment had attended her every hope. It was now eight months since she had written to her husband, and not one line from him had she yet received. Perhaps her letter had never reached him. That was a bitter thought—but bitterer still was the idea that, ignorant of her removal, he might have written to her at Berny, where even now a letter might be lying for her. The possibility of such a circumstance almost drove her mad, and she cursed the impatience which had made her come to Strasburg. She would instantly retrace her steps and obtain the longed-for treasure. She rose and took up her child, as though she were about to put her plan into immediate execution; but, alas ! she was speedily convinced of its utter impracticability. Her little girl was nearly a year older than when she had performed the journey before, while she herself

, who was at that time in perfect health, was now exhausted with misery and starvation. Just as this unwelcome conviction forced itself upon her, the measured, calculating words of him she began to believe a messenger direct from the Evil One, smote upon lier ear—“ You will see your child pine and die before your eyes, and remember you had it in your power to save it, and would not.'

Another passion of tears burst from that breaking heart, as kneeling at the infant's feet, and clasping her arms round its sweet head, she strained it wildly to her bosom. “ O God !" she cried, “ be thou my friend, give food to my infant, but save her mother from infamy.” She arose calmer and less despairing, for her prayer was pure and sincere. She addressed the tempter, " I have still a trifle left, and before that is gone, He, who forsakes not those who trust in him, will afford me honourable means of existence.”

De la Riviere looked at her as he would have gažed on the performance of a magician, watching with a jealous eye to detect any sleight of hand, fearing to give credit to what he beheld, lest he should discover that what had excited his admiration and wonder was only a common cheat.

We have said but little respecting the beauty of Louise ; but beautiful she was, and now, as she stood in all the lustre of beauty and holiness, a sculptor, who had wished to embody virtue, might have taken her for his model.

Well,” he said at length, “ take your own way; I am still willing to assist you on certain conditions. I shall leave the money here; if your present hopes fail you, and you choose to comply with them, it is yours—use it freely; but should I hear nothing from you, I shall conclude it is untouched, and return for it in a fortnight."

“Oh! for the love of Heaven, as you hope for mercy yourself, show it to‘me-leave not the money here !” Her tone showed the agony she endured. “O tempt me not so sorely,” she continued.

my knees I implore you to take it away, and leave me to my poverty and God's care. Who shall answer for themselves when one dearer than life asks for bread, and the price of guilt lies before them? Take it away-if you know what mercy is, o take it away!" She raised her eyes imploringly. He was gone; and on the table lay the bag of money; and there sat her child, pale and terrified at a scene so unusual ; and she was alone with misery and temptation.

Ten days had elapsed since that trying visit. The last saleable article had been disposed of, and the provisions it had supplied were consumed. For twenty-four hours the child had not tasted food. The wretched mother sat on the side of the bed, in which it lay sleeping from exhaustion-a sleep how unlike the slumber of health! A low moan broke repeatedly from its lips, and every time that sound met the mother's ear, it seemed to send a pang through her heart, which she pressed with her hand as if to still its beating. She was pale as marble, but not even the trace of a tear was visible on her cheek. After a time, the child's sleep seemed easier, and soon its breathing became inaudible. Suddenly Louise, who had never taken her eyes

from her face, rose from her seat and bent over the bed for a moment, then sobbing hysterically, she said, "God of goodness, take me likewise,” and threw herself beside it.

Even this her sad hope cheated her. The child was not dead, as she had imagined; it opened its languid eyes, stretching out its little

« On

« السابقةمتابعة »