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Read The Mysteries Of Paris Volume Vi Part 7

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“You saw them, I ask,–did you not?” resumed Rodolph, making a powerful struggle to overcome his emotion. “You observed these base and degraded creatures, the shame and disgrace of their own s.e.x? But did you remark among them a young girl of about sixteen years of age, lovely as an angel,–a poor child, who, amid the infamy in which she had lived during the last few weeks, still retained a look so pure, so innocent, and good that even the ruffians by whom she was surrounded called her Fleur-de-Marie? Did you observe this,–this fair, this interesting being? Answer,–answer,–tender, exemplary mother!”

“No!” answered Sarah, almost mechanically; “I did not observe the young person you speak of.” But the teeth rattled in Sarah’s head as she spoke, and her whole frame seemed oppressed with a vague though fearful dread of coming evil.

“Indeed!” cried Rodolph, with a sardonic smile. “Indeed! I am surprised at that! Well, I did remark, and upon the following occasion. Listen attentively to what I am about to relate! During one of the exploring excursions I before spoke of, I found myself in the Cite, not far from the den to which you followed me. A man was just going to beat one of the unfortunate creatures who herd together there; I interposed, and saved her from his brutal rage. Now then, careful, kind, and anxious mother, tell me, if you can, whom it was I saved! Can you not guess?

Speak! Say your heart whispers to you who was the miserable being I found in this sink of wickedness and pollution! You know, do you not, without my a.s.sistance?”

“No, no,–I cannot say! I beseech you to go–and leave me to my thoughts!”

“Then I will tell you who the wretched, trembling creature I thus saved from brutal violence was. Her name was Fleur-de-Marie!”

“Merciful powers!”

“And is it possible that you, most irreproachable of mothers, that you cannot divine who Fleur-de-Marie was?”

“Be merciful, and kill me; but torture me not thus!”

“She was your daughter–known as the Goualeuse!” cried Rodolph, with almost frantic violence. “Yes, the helpless girl I rescued from the hands of a felon was my own, my lost child!–the offspring of Rodolph of Gerolstein! Oh, there was in this meeting with a daughter I unconsciously saved a visible interposition of the hand of Providence!

It brought a blessing to the man who had striven so earnestly to succour his fellow men, and it conveyed a well-merited chastis.e.m.e.nt for the impious wretch who had dared to aim at his father’s life!”

“Alas!” murmured Sarah, falling back in her armchair, and concealing her face with her hands, “my destiny is accomplished! I die, carrying with me out of the world the curse both of G.o.d and man!”

“And when,” continued Rodolph, with much difficulty restraining his resentment, and vainly striving to repress the sobs which from time to time interrupted his voice, “when I had released her from the ill-usage with which she was menaced, struck with the indescribable sweetness of her voice and manner, as well as by the angelic expression of her lovely countenance, I found it impossible to abandon the interest she excited in me. I led her on to tell me the history of her life, made up of neglect, grief, and misery. With what simple eloquence did she express the yearnings of a heart that had never expanded into virtue beneath a mother’s fostering care after a life of innocence, and how touchingly did she dwell on the the dest.i.tution which had led her where she was!

Ah, madame, to have brought down your pride and haughtiness, you should have listened as I did while your daughter described her early years as pa.s.sed in shivering beggary, soliciting charity in the streets all day, and at night, when the cold winter’s wind pierced through the few rags she wore, creeping to her bed of straw strewn in the corner of a wretched garret; and when the horrible old hag who tortured her had exhausted every other means of inflicting pain on her, what do you think she did, madame? Why, wrenched out her teeth! And all this starving and desolation was experienced by your own child, while you were revelling in every sort of luxury, and indulging in ambitious dreams of sharing a crown!”

“Oh, that I could die, and so escape the direful agony I suffer!”

“Nay you have more to hear! Escaping from the hands of the Chouette, wandering about, penniless and starving, at the tender age of only ten years she was taken up as a vagabond, and as such thrown into prison.

And yet, madame, that period was the happiest your poor deserted child had ever known. And each night, though surrounded by her prison walls, she gratefully thanked G.o.d that she no longer suffered from hunger, thirst, or blows. It was in a prison she pa.s.sed those years so precious to the well-being of a young female, those years over which a good and affectionate mother so carefully and anxiously watches. As her sixteenth year commenced, your daughter, instead of being surrounded by the tender solicitude of loving relatives, and enriched with all the gifts of education, had seen and known nothing more edifying or elevated than the brutal indifference of her gaolers. Yet this naturally pure-minded, beautiful, and ingenuous creature was at that dangerous moment sent forth from her safe asylum–a gaol–and left to wander unaided and unprotected in a world of which she knew so little! Unfortunate, deserted, friendless child!” continued Rodolph, giving free vent to the swelling sobs which had continually impeded his voice, “yours was, indeed, a bitter lot, thrown thus young and helpless amid the mire and pollution of a great city!

[Ill.u.s.tration: “_They Took Her to Their Guilty Haunts_”

Original Etching by Mercier]

“Ah, madame!” cried he, addressing Sarah, “however cold, hard, and selfish your heart may be, you could not have refrained from weeping at the recital of your poor, neglected child’s misery and privations! Poor, hapless girl! Sullied, but not corrupted; chaste in heart even amid the degradation into which she had fallen; for each word she uttered breathed the most unfeigned horror and disgust at the mode of life to which she was so fatally condemned. Oh, could you but have known what delicate thoughts, what n.o.ble, high-minded inspirations were betrayed in her every word and action! How good, how feeling, how innately charitable was her nature! For it was to relieve a degree of misery even greater than her own that she exhausted the small sum of money she had received on quitting her prison, and which, while it lasted, formed her only defence from the abyss of infamy into which she was afterwards plunged; for there came a time,–a hideous time, when, without employment, food, or shelter, some horrible women found her almost perishing from weakness and want of support. Under pretence of aiding her, they took her to their guilty haunts, administered intoxicating drugs, and–and–“

Rodolph could proceed no further. He uttered a distracting cry, and exclaimed, “And this was my child!”

“May Heaven’s punishment be on me for what I have done!” said Sarah, hiding her face as though she feared to meet the light of day.

“Ay!” exclaimed Rodolph. “And it will a.s.suredly cling to you all your life, and haunt even your dying pillow; for it is your neglect and abandonment of all a mother’s most sacred duties which have led to all these horrors. Accursed may you ever be for your double wickedness towards your unoffending child! For even after I had succeeded in removing her from the guilt and pollution by which she was surrounded, and had placed her in a safe and peaceful asylum, you set your vile accomplices on to tear her thence! My curse be for ever on you! For it was owing to your causing her to be forcibly carried off which threw her back into the power of Jacques Ferrand.”

As Rodolph p.r.o.nounced this name he suddenly stopped and shuddered. The features of the prince a.s.sumed an expression of concentrated rage and hatred impossible to describe; mute and motionless he stood, as though crushed to the earth by the reflection that the murderer of his child was still in existence.

Spite of the increasing weakness of Sarah and the agitation caused by this interview with Rodolph, she was so much struck with his threatening aspect that she faintly exclaimed:

“In mercy say what fresh idea has taken possession of your mind?”

“No, no,” responded Rodolph, as though speaking to himself; “till now I thought to spare this monster, believing a life of enforced charity would be to him one of never ending torment. Now I must revenge my infant child, delivered up by him to want and misery! I have to wash out the stain of my daughter’s infamy, caused by his diabolical villainy and cupidity; and his blood alone will serve to wipe out that foul wrong!

Yes, he dies–and by my hand!” And, with these words, the prince sprang forward to the door.

“Whither are you going?” cried Sarah, extending her supplicating hands towards Rodolph. “Oh, leave me not to die alone–“

“Alone? Oh, no! Fear not to die alone! The spectre of the innocent child, doomed by you to an early grave, will bear you company.”

Exhausted and alarmed, Sarah uttered a scream, as though she really beheld the phantom of her child, exclaiming, “Forgive me! I am dying!”

“Die then, accursed woman!” shouted Rodolph, wild with fury. “Now I must have the life of your accomplice, for it was you who delivered your child to this monster!”

And hastening from the apartment, Rodolph ordered himself to be rapidly driven to the residence of Jacques Ferrand.



It was nightfall when Rodolph went to the notary’s. The pavilion occupied by Jacques Ferrand was plunged in the deepest obscurity; the wind roared and the rain fell as it did on the terrible night when Cecily, before she quitted the notary’s abode for ever, had excited the pa.s.sions of that man to frenzy. Extended on his bed, feebly lighted up by a lamp, Jacques Ferrand was dressed in a black coat and waistcoat.

One of the sleeves of his shirt was tucked up and spotted with blood; a ligature of red cloth, which was to be seen on his nervous arm, announced that he had been bled by Polidori, who, standing near his bed, leaned one hand on the couch, and seemed to watch his accomplice’s features with uneasiness. Nothing could be more frightfully hideous than was Jacques Ferrand, whilst plunged in that somnolent torpor which usually succeeds violent crises. Of an ashy paleness, his face was bedewed with a cold sweat, and his closed eyelids were so swollen, so injected with blood, that they appeared like two red b.a.l.l.s in the centre of his cadaverous countenance.

“Another such an attack and he is a dead man!” exclaimed Polidori, in a low voice. “All the writers on this subject have agreed that all who are attacked by this strange and frightful malady usually sink under it on the seventh day, and it is now six days since that infernal creole kindled the inextinguishable flame which is consuming this man.” After some minutes of further meditation, Polidori left the bedside and walked slowly up and down the chamber.

The tempest was still raging without, and fell with such fury on this dilapidated house as to shake it to its centre. Despite his audacity and wickedness, Polidori was superst.i.tious, and dark forebodings came over him; he felt an undefinable uneasiness. In order to dissipate his gloomy thoughts, he again examined Ferrand’s features.

“Now,” he said, leaning over him, “his eyelids are injected. It would seem as though his blood flowed thither and stagnated. No doubt his sight will now present, as his hearing did just now, some remarkable appearance! What agonies now they endure! How they vary! Oh,” he added, with a bitter smile, “when nature determines on being cruel and playing the part of a tormentor, she defies all the efforts of man; and thus in this illness, caused by an erotic frenzy, she submits every sense to unheard-of, superhuman tortures.”

The storm still howled without, and Polidori, throwing himself into an armchair, exclaimed, “What a night! What a night! Nothing could be worse for Jacques’s present state. Yes,” he continued, “the prince is pitiless, and it would have been a thousand times better for Ferrand to have allowed his head to fall upon a scaffold; better fire, the wheel, molten lead, which burns and eats into the flesh, than the miserable punishment he endures! As I see him suffer I begin to feel affright for my own fate! What will become of me? What is in reserve for me as the accomplice of Jacques? To be his gaoler will not suffice for the prince’s vengeance. Perhaps a perpetual imprisonment in the prisons of Germany awaits me! But that is better than death! Yet I know that the prince’s word is sacred! But I, who have so often violated all laws, human and divine, dare I invoke a sworn promise? Inasmuch as it was to my interest that Jacques should not escape, so will it be equally my interest to prolong his days. But his symptoms grow worse and worse; nothing but a miracle can save him. What is to be done? What is to be done?”

At this moment, a crash without, occasioned by the fall of a stack of chimneys, roused Jacques Ferrand, and he turned on his bed.

Polidori became more and more under the influence of the vague terror which had seized on him. “It is folly to believe in presentments,” he said, in a troubled voice; “but the night seems to me very appalling!”

A heavy groan from the notary attracted Polidori’s attention. “He is awaking from his torpor,” he said, approaching his bed very quietly; “perhaps another crisis may ensue!”

“Polidori!” muttered Jacques Ferrand, still extended on the bed, and with his eyes closed. “Polidori, what noise was that?”

“A chimney that fell,” replied Polidori, in a low voice, fearing to strike too loudly on the hearing of his accomplice. “A fearful tempest shakes the house to its foundation; it is a horrible night!”

The notary did not hear, and replied, turning away his head, “Polidori, you are not there, then?”

“Yes, yes, I am here,” said Polidori, in a louder voice; “but I answered gently for fear of giving you pain.”

“No; I hear you now without any pain such as I had just now, for then it seemed as if the least noise burst like thunder on my brain. And yet in the midst of it all,–of these horrible sufferings,–I distinguish the thrilling voice of Cecily, who was calling to me–“

“Still that infernal woman! But drive away these thoughts,–they will kill you.”

“These thoughts are life to me, and, like my life, they resist all tortures.”

“Madman that you are, it is these thoughts that cause your tortures!


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