« EelmineJätka »
ing and blushing ; "it is years ago. He was very good to us girls, and papa a little misunderstood him ; it was painful—that is, unpleasant."
I know not what possessed me to say anything so unwarrantable, but I could not help it. "I believe he loved you, Miss Steel; I believe he loves you still! She turned pale, then red; affected to laugh at my « school-girl's romance," and then broke down in a passion of tears. “Forgive me ; don't be offended with me, pray," said I. She gave me her hand kindly, and recovered her composure, as she whispered,
“I was very young then or I should have been more discreet. I am old and steady now, and so, I suppose, is he. It must be all over. There would be no danger in meeting-no disobedience.” We walked down the hill silently, but as we drew near the others she said, “Don't mention anything to them; they don't know, and it is quite over, quite forgotten by—by everybody.”
Arrived at the hotel, there was very little difficulty in persuading Lord Stiffley to see Doctor Meyer ; for, as he himself remarked, the dinner. hour was drawing near, and he did not know whether to feed or to starve,
“ You are always better for a little starvation," suggested Miss Steel. Papa frowned.
“I am sure it is a bad plan to lower oneself,” said Matilda, who always proposed what experience had taught her was agreeable to her patron.
"I believe you are quite right,” he replied, solemnly. “But to make sure, we had better allow Doctor Meyer to take the responsibility on himself. A gentlemanly man, certainly; looks clever, too, but such a beard is sadly unprofessional. Why disguise himself so ?”
Without a moment's delay my lord's man was told to take a cab, and be sure to bring back Doctor Meyer from the Quartier Latin before dinner. No easy task ; but with the Stiffey servants to hear was to obey, and just as the jingle of plate told that the cloth was being laid in the adjoining room, in walked Doctor Meyer. He retired with his patient to his chamber; but when dinner was announced Lord Stiffley emerged therefrom with so cheerful a smile that we all knew he was to be allowed his dinner, and we soon found that Doctor Meyer had consented to partake of it.
With some slight apology for his lack of evening dress, he took his place at Miss Steel's right hand. A feeling of delicacy prevented my daring to look at them, but I longed to see if there appeared any understanding between them. She hardly spoke, but the doctor came out in (to me) a new light—the elegant, witty gentleman of society. He certainly was quite a fascinating man there, and scarcely at all like a wizard. As I looked at the brilliant plate, the fine damask, the sumptuous repast, the demure waiters, I could scarcely restrain a laugh at the contrast with the preparations my host had witnessed at my brother's study for his morning meal; indeed, to this day, I can never recal that frying-pan without a smile. The Honourable Charles declared that we ought to have had there “his painter," as he regally styled Will, for he believed he was a “doosid good fellow;" but how on earth any one could live in such a street, and such a house, he for his part could not tell, seeing Paris was so full of pleasant places and handsome apartments, “ and so doosid high up, too. Fancy coming home from hunting, dead beat, and having to climb that staircase !"
It was so likely a contingency that we all laughed.
“ The hunting which goes on in the Quartier Latin fatigues the head rather than the limbs,” replied Meyer. “When a man has been hunting ideas and riding his intellectual hobby, some eight hours at a stretch, a brisk run up and down to his garret is no bad adjunct to his evening meal. He cannot procure his dinner without a little necessary exercise. Men with occupations solely of the brain do well to live up many stairs ; you gentlemen sportsmen may engage the entresol.”
They chatted on merrily enough till we rose from table, when I whispered to cousin Matilda that I ought to return to school. The Honourable Charles proposed escorting me thither, which was, of course, decidedly negatived, though he grumbled something about “absurd prudishness,” and “ doosid shame.”
As I bade farewell to Miss Steel, I looked up into her face, and was surprised at the change I read there. She looked ten years younger; her eyes sparkled, her lips parted with a radiant smile, and the roses on her cheek seemed to add roundness to their contour. I had observed neither look nor word, but I felt sure the masonic sign known only to lovers had passed between them, and that the faithful woman knew that she was still loved. A fortnight slipped by, in which I only once saw our grand friends. Dr. Meyer was in high favour, for Lord Stiffley was in good health, and had escaped the gout and starvation entirely. Dear Will was handsomely paid on the spot for his little sketch, and came forthwith to me, good old fellow, to “ treat” me in any way I could devise or relish. I had rather a fancy for a visit to the Palais Royal, and a dinnerluncheon at one of those immense restaurants which were to me endless sources of amusement. As we passed by the Lutheran Chapel in the Rue St. Honoré, we saw the doors open, and a hackney-coach in waiting.
“ Let us go in—it may be a wedding,” I suggested.
We went in, and truly it was a wedding, for there before the large green baize-covered table, which ought to have been an altar, stood a veiled lady giving her hand to—could it really be so ?-yes, to our friend the doctor! We could not distinguish her features, but the drapery was in a sad flutter. It was a plain morning dress, and not a creature accompanied them save a weeping female, whom I recognised as Miss Steel's maid. As the unbridal-looking group moved away, we advanced a step towards them, and they gave a great start. The friends shook hands, and I took that of the trembling bride, wishing her joy heartily.
“Oh, thank you, thank you,” she answered, warmly.
Poor thing, the sad, silent, unfestive church had struck cold to her heart-a friendly clasp of the hand, a hearty congratulation, were, indeed, welcome to her.
“ What have you been doing, doctor? I am ashamed of you !" said Will.
“ You need not be so, for I do not think I am wrong. When we were both younger, I would not have proposed such a step-but she can judge for herself now, and I hope to make her happier than she has been whilst others judged for her. She has made her choice, God grant she may never repent it!"
- Well, you are an old pirate !” said Will, making a desperate effort to look jolly ; " but go your ways, and my blessing on you, for there does
not seem to be a father here to do the venerable. I suppose his lordship is ignorant of this po
“We are now going to confess to him.”
“ You might be worse off." And the doctor looked down on his wife with unmistakable love.
Lord Stiffley (we heard afterwards) was very angry at first, but ultimately forgave the happy pair. Miss Adelaide enjoyed the romance of the adventure. Matilda echoed all that his lordship said ; and the Honourable Charles thought it a “doosid queer start,” but his sister being no chicken, he did not see why she should not please herself.
I had some intention of making our good doctor turn out an offshoot of some illustrious German house (he was a German by birth); but I despise such hackneyed arrangements, and will stick to the truth, which is, indeed, the only merit of these my poor “jottings down.” I felt that I had some hand in the doctor's bliss, and was not a little proud at my first interference in such matters.
Not long after Dr. Meyer's marriage, on entering the porter's lodge to take the key of Will's room, we saw good Madame Babois seated by her fire, not preparing her pot-au-feu as usual, but with her apron thrown over her head, which was bent forwards supported on her hands, her elbows resting on her knees, and rocking to and fro in evident anguish of mind.
“What is it? what has happened?” we both exclaimed at once.
“ Ah, Petit Jean! my dear Petit Jean ! he was such a darling! He is lost!"
Petit Jean was a fine bright lad, of some eleven years old, whom I had often seen coming home from school with his books under his arm, and who in the summer evenings enjoyed a game of battledore and shuttlecock in the open street (if any street in the Quartier Latin can be styled open), sometimes with the concierge Babois, but more often with the good lady herself, who forgot her fat and her mollesse in the excitement of the game. I had never spoken to him but on one of these occasions, when I could not refrain from taking a school-girl's interest in his efforts to keep up a hundred strokes. I should have enjoyed challenging him myself, but was not quite brave enough to play in the street ; besides, it was Sunday, so I contented myself with admiring him. He looked very handsome as he stood there elated with his victory, his sparkling eyes raised to mine, his hair falling back in wild waves from his brown forehead, and his slight figure so graceful and elastic in his simple blouse and leathern girdle.
“What has happened to your son ?" I repeated, with sincere interest.
“ Ah, mademoiselle, he is not my son; but it is all as one! I think I love him better than if he were. He was only three days old when I had him first, and that is more than ten years ago !-ten years ! But I remember it as yesterday-it was a cold night-by reason that I had promised Babois a soupe au lait for his supper. He sat watching the marmite lest the soupe should burn, and I knitted whilst I said my prayers, when some one rang the bell from the street. Babois pulled the cordon, remarking, 'Well, I thought every one was in ; all the keys are gone; its some visitor to No. 4, I dare say. I shall have to give that young fellow notice that one cannot be disturbed night after night for nothing. Well, no one comes now the door is open ;' and, putting on his casquette, he went as far as the door. Sure enough, there was no one. It is some rascal playing you a bad turn,' said I; • look well round the corner.' But as I advanced to look also, I perceived on the ground a large bundle wrapped up in a white tablecloth. I stooped and picked it up. •Allons,' I said, the person it belongs to has doubtless run on for something. But no; on taking it to the light of our lamp, what should I see but a piece of paper pinned on to the cloth, on which was written, Commended to the kind heart of Madame Babois.' I opened it carefully, and there lay, comfortably swaddled and wrapped in a little blanket, the most lovely baby eyes ever saw. I could hardly believe mine, I was so surprised. My husband examined well, hoping to find some purse or billet de banque, or, at least, some promising note. There was none; but, for me, I could hardly look away from the sweet face, sleeping soundly in such touching innocence! • The wicked mother might as well have placed it in the Enfant Trouvés,' muttered Babois. • Never mind the wicked mother,' said I; it is Heaven who has sent it, as we have none of our own. Let us rear it.' 'Soit !' said my husband, for he is a man of few words, and not always good tempered; but his heart, mademoiselle, is tender as a lamb’s, and he is at this moment taking neither rest nor food in his anxiety to find Petit Jean ; the more that it is all his doing that he is lost. You see the lad has such a spirit, and if Babois did not go and accuse him of stealing some change that was missing! Petit Jean retorted angrily; they got to high words; Babois taunted him with his birth, and off, like an arrow, started Petit Jean out of the house. We did not seek to detain him, thinking he would return when his temper cooled. We breakfasted alone, and then my husband went in search of him. He returned at mid-day-no news—and when he saw my anxiety, he started again. Poor Petit Jean! He steal, indeed! Never!"
" Then he knew you were not his mother?”
“ Yes; I have many a time told him the story of his arrival here, and showed him the tablecloth, which I still preserve in case any one should wish to claim him. But see, here is Babois again! Ah, mon Dieu! he is still alone.”
And so he was, and looking very tired and depressed. “Je n'en puis plus,” he said, throwing himself into a chair. “I have been searching for seven hours, and in vain. I give it up. Depend upon it, wife, the rascal is all safe, and only wants to punish us for scolding him. He will return soon, when his appetite sharpens a bit.”
Some of Madame Babois's gossips, who had heard the news, here stepped in, and the porteress, being of that nature which gets rid of sorrow by talking it over, fell to work again upon the new comers.
“ Place aux Dames,” said Babois, rising, and following Will and me out of the lodge.
“Don't give up your search so soon,” said I. " Let us go with you. If the boy is afraid of you, our presence may reassure him.”
“ Petit Jean is not afraid - not he; he is in a mad passion, that is all.” “ See," I interrupted, “ there is that dreadful man coming again." It was the same police-agent who had carried off Will to explain the
mystery of the chest. He looked at us with a slight smile of recognition, and turned to Babois :
“I understand you have lost a child, sir?" “ Yes; not my own, but my adopted son.”
“Ah! yes-İ know all that story. He has been with you above ten years. Why has he left you ?”
Babois related the story of the missing coppers, taking much blame on himself.
“Have you lost nothing else?”
“No, no, nothing; and I am sure now that he did not take them. I was mad to accuse him. He could not steal a pin, the fine honest lad ! That was what angered him so."
“And you have looked everywhere amongst your friends ?” “ Everywhere."
“ There is still one place you have not searched. I will accompany you there."
“ Where, sir—where?” asked Babois, eagerly.
“ To the Morgue,” replied the other, with his usual sang froid. The porter sprang up as if he had been shot. “My impression is,” continued the policeman, “from what you say of his face and demeanour on leaving you, that he probably rushed straight into the water. We have a great many instances of drowning from mere passion. He left you at seven ; the river was dragged before noon. I have no doubt we shall find him there."
“Do you mean to say,” cried Will, “ that you believe that child to have committed suicide ?”
“ Monsieur est Anglais,” he replied, with a shrug of contempt, as if that fact accounted for a considerable amount of ignorance. “Suicide amongst us is very common; not a month passes but I see a child's body in the Morgue. We have not the phlegme Anglais."
Will and I shrank from the police agent, and walked silently together till we came to a low building close to the Seine, with windows of a peculiar construction, through which a few women and boys were trying to peep inside. No need for peeping, however, for the sad place was open to every one. I remained outside whilst Will entered with his two companions. In a moment he reappeared :
“Come in, the place is empty.”
I entered with a beating heart the little house, the culminating point of so many life-long tragedies. There was, however, no cause for fear, nothing terrible, not even repulsive, save as suggestive to the imagination. Four slabs of (I think) lead were arranged beneath the open windows, sloping towards the feet, I suppose to drain off the water from the bodies deposited on those narrow beds; they were then untenanted, and Babois, who had been afraid to enter, heaved a deep sigh of relief. Against the walls hung a few groups of garments, male and female, still awaiting the recognition of friends after the unfortunate wearers had been buried. I turned sick as I thought what we had expected to find on one of those cold grey beds—the lifeless, dripping, perhaps distorted form of that bright, handsome boy! As I turned shudderingly away, I was arrested by the face of an old woman, who walked quietly in. Oh, such a face, such a terribly earnest face! Not afraid, not excited, but hardened, as it were, in protracted suffering, coldly, hopelessly wretched! Scarcely