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When the servant had retired, the two Ravens sat down.
"Sir," said Suzanne, “fifty years ago, two young girls were compelled to leave this house where they were born. You became the head of the family by the will of the late Baron de Gréoulx, their and your father;
; you wished to be his only heir, and on that account it was necessary that your sisters should become nuns. They were young, they had been brought up in fear and submission; however, they dared to resist, they refused to take the veil at the convent of the Benedictines of Aix, where you had confined them. Then you had recourse to violence. They were taken to another convent, the Carmelites of Arles, and there things took place which, had they been divulged, would have made the prioress be summoned before the ecclesiastical tribunal, and you before the criminal judge. The two young girls spent the year of their novitiate in a walledup cell; scarcely enough bread and water to keep them from dying of hunger was given to them; they were threatened with being left in this prison all their life. They pretended to submit, and then they were more kindly treated. It was believed that they would take the vows; you spread the report abroad that they had become nuns. But one day they were not to be found in their cells; they had made their escape, and since then they have never been heard of.”
“ They are dead," muttered the baron, hoarsely, who had become pale at this account; "they have been long dead.”
“ They are alive,” replied Suzanne ; “ they are both living
“I do not believe you !” interrupted the baron, in a violent tone. “ After so many years, where could they come from? Where are the proofs? These unhappy girls are dead, I tell you.”
“ Brother !” exclaimed Suzanne, looking into his face, with an air of ironical pride, “ you will not recognise us !"
And as the baron turned away with a gesture of confusion and anger, she continued :
“ In truth we are no longer the beautiful Demoiselles de Gréoulx ; hard work, and many cares, have wrinkled us before our time. You, too, have grown old in prosperity and idleness. Brother, I recognised you, nevertheless !"
“Be silent! for Heaven's sake, be silent!" interrupted the baron, in great agitation.
“I have not finished our history," continued Suzanne, coldly, while sitting down again. “ It is necessary for you to know all. After we had escaped from the convent, we knew not what would become of us. We might have dragged you before a judge, and made you render us justice, but we considered the honour of our house, and it was this which prevented us.
While you were, perhaps, hoping that we were drowned in the Rhône, we were traversing fields, dressed as peasants, and with three francs in our pockets, as our only resource. We had been brought up to do nothing, like ladies of a noble house ; we could do nothing to gain a living, like many other women, but those who will work never want bread. We took the road to Marseilles, that large town where we knew no one, and where one is lost in the crowd.
On arriving, my
proposed that we should become sick nurses ; no apprenticeship was necessary for that; it was sufficient to possess courage, strength, patience, discretion, and civility, in order to succeed. We have succeeded. For fifty years
past we have been known in the town of Marseilles, but no one has ever discovered to what family we belong. Our reputation is made. There is not a house where they would not willingly trust us with all their keys, so confident are they of our honesty. Now, we are not strong enough to take care of the sick, but we bury the dead. The people call us the Ravens,' and little children are afraid of us; that does not prevent us from continuing our trade, and working hard for our living. This is how we happened to watch our grand-nephew, Gaspard de Gréoulx"
“ Does Gaspard know who you are ?" interrupted the baron, anxi. ously.
“He has not the least suspicion. He thinks, like every one else, that we are of low origin; the daughters of some servant in your house, perhaps, for he knows that we were acquainted with you formerly. He know whom we are! No, no, neither Gaspard or any other being knows. Who could imagine that the Ravens are of the noble family of Gréoulx, and that you are their brother, baron ?''
“ You have dishonoured your name !" cried he, vehemently. “ I disown you. But what do you come here for ? By Heavens ! do you come to ask me to acknowledge you ?"
“We might do so," replied Suzanne, calmly; “we might also claim our portions, with the interest for fifty years, which would nearly triple the sum; but we give all that up on one condition: it is, that Gaspard de Gréoulx be set at liberty, and that you allow him to choose the wife he pleases-” “You are mad!" interrupted the baron, in a burst of
anger. “Know that the chevalier is smitten with a little jade, a girl without a name, without fortune.”
“ You are mistaken ; her nobility is as our own,” replied Veronique, proudly. “She is Gabrielle de Lescale. She is an orphan; we have adopted her"
"By all that is holy! it was, then, to your house that I sent SaintJean ?” exclaimed the baron, in amazement.
“Yes, brother, a valet who threatened Mademoiselle de Lescale from you that you
would make her be sent to the convent of Filles-Repenties ;' who insulted her by a proposition of marriage. On my word, some reparation is due to her. I have promised it to her, and she shall have it !”
There was a pause. The baron had risen, with an air which would have intimidated women less resolute than his sisters. Anger had made the blood mount to his face; he strode up and down the room like a man out of his mind; the two old women, stiff and unmoved, followed him with their eyes.
“Brother,” said Suzanne, abruptly, in a firm tone, " decide-decide immediately ; we cannot, we will not, wait
“So," interrupted he, scornfully, “ you stand there thinking to hold a pistol to my throat! You make conditions—threats! Go, you are mad! I fear
not !” He did fear them, however. He knew his own blood; he knew that he strove against wills as firm, as obstinate as his own, and he cast down his eyes, when Suzanne, advancing towards him determinately, said to him, slowly :
“ You refuse ? You refuse us justice for Mademoiselle de Lescale, and for Gaspard ? Very well; we will render it to them ourselves! Brother, you will repent this in this world, and in the next! Men will despise you. God will punish you! Yes, brother, in eight days you will be summoned to appear before the judge, to acknowledge your sisters, the Ravens, as they are called in all Marseilles; we will furnish our proofs before parliament. Ah! will you force us to this? We are going ! We will return here, sir, not as we are to-day, humble and scorned, but under our real names. Farewell, brother, we shall see each other again soon.”
He placed himself with a violent effort before the door, and made a sign to the Ravens to sit down again. Listen,” said he, trying to collect himself
, and to yield to the necessities of this terrible situation—" listen ; it is not I who would wish to dishonour our house by so great a scandal, but I cannot satisfy you—no, I cannot do it. You do not know all, nor Gaspard either.”
They looked at him with suspicion and surprise. He remained standing, sullen, his arms crossed, and as if tortured at the necessity of coming to further explanations.
“Speak !" exclaimed Suzanne, with impatience—“speak, or else we shall retire."
Then, for the first time in his life, the Baron de Gréoulx subdued his pride and his will.
“ You wish this young girl, Mademoiselle de Lescale, to become a great lady ?" said he, bitterly ; “ you
wish her to be rich? Well, know that I am ruined ; that if Gaspard does not redeem his fortune by some good marriage, my creditors will sell the barony of Gréoulx.”
“ We will buy it back,” replied Suzanne, coolly.
“ You !” exclaimed the baron, believing that she was out of her mind. “By the true cross ! where could you have gained this money? By waiting on the sick, and sewing up the dead in their shrouds ?"
He broke off in a convulsive fit of laughter, and shrugged his shoulders with an air of pity.
“ I am going to tell you how,” said Suzanne, without being at all excited. “ About thirty years ago we were sent for to take care of a merchant who had attempted to commit suicide by poison. The poor man was very ill, and refused all assistance. When we represented to him that he would sacrifice both his body and his soul, he avowed to us that he wished to die, not being able to bear the dishonour of seeing his bills protested. We had the amount in question, having amassed it by saving ; we lent it to him ; it brought him good luck; we left the sum in his business, and shared in his profits. Now the house of Vincent is one of the richest in Marseilles, and we have nearly four thousand crowns; this will be Gabrielle's dowry if she marry our grand-nephew. Don't
think this sufficient to buy the barony?" “It would be sufficient, certainly,” replied the old baron, choked with astonishment, and nearly losing his senses.
“ We must thank God for his goodness in bringing all this about,” continued Suzanne. “Until we became acquainted with Gaspard, our intention was to have left this fortune to the poor; we should never have enjoyed it; it was too much for the station in which we have so long
lived. Now, it will raise the position of the family. My lord, these children must know nothing of all this. You will give, by contract of marriage, the barony of Gréoulx to Gaspard.”
The baron made a movement of surprise. “Would you rather that he should buy it?” continued Suzanne. "I should think it would be more agreeable to you to avoid this disgrace. You will assemble your creditors, we will pay them, and the world will not know that you have squandered our father's inheritance."
The baron was confounded. The sufferings of a proud man, obliged to choose between two humiliations, can be imagined; however, he did not long hesitate.
“ I consent to all,” said he ; “but I will not mix myself up in anything. Let this marriage take place-let Gaspard bring his wife here; she shall be welcome—she shall be the lady and mistress. I am old; I now only desire to think of my eternal welfare."
The Ravens rose.
“ Farewell, brother,” said Veronique, offering him her hand. shall never see you again ; we are going to return for ever, to our humble dwelling in the street Saint Laurent. These children shall remain ignorant that they are so nearly related to us; but I know them; they have good hearts, they are grateful, they will not forget us in their happiness, and we shall sometimes see them.”
The two old women seemed also to bid a silent adieu to all that surrounded them. They cast a look, for the last time, around this spacious chamber, in which every corner, every piece of furniture, recalled something to their remembrance. Their eyes glanced over the collection of portraits hung on the walls, and rested on that of their mother, who died in the flower of her age. The noble lady was represented holding in her arms two beautiful little rosy girls, adorned with ribbons. “ There we are !" muttered Suzanne, with a sigh.
Come, come away, sister !" said Veronique, wiping away a tear. The barou had also risen. He appeared impatient, and his eyes were dry.
“ Farewell, brother!" repeated Suzanne ; "all is finished between us. My lord, you may now allow your servants to enter; here are no longer but two old women-strangers.”
On saying this, the Ravens curtseyed humbly, and slowly retired. The baron had rung.
" Bourguignon," said he to the valet, “ accompany these ladies down stairs."
Three weeks afterwards, the marriage of Gaspard de Gréouls and Gabrielle de Lescale was celebrated at the church of Saint Laurent, without pomp or ceremony. The Ravens were present on the occasion, and conducted afterwards the newly-married pair to their house. The carriage which was to convey them to the Château de Gréoulx was already at the door. The bride exchanged her beautiful head-dress of white lace for a travelling-cloak, and, before leaving, she took down the wreath of immortelles which hung over the chimney-piece, and placed it with her bridal bouquet. The young wife, in tears, embraced the Ravens ; she loved them with all her heart, and it was with much regret that she parted from them. Gaspard pressed their hands, saying:
“ I owe all to you! You rescued me from death-you made the baron yield-you gave me Gabrielle.
. . How can I
such great benefits? I had no claim upon you,
have done more for me than near relations--than a mother could have done.”
“ It was because we loved you as if you belonged to us,” replied Suzanne, much affected, while Veronique was crying bitterly. happy, my children. Come and see us sometimes. When we are dead, remember us, and say, in the midst of your happiness, “ These poor old women, who were called the Ravens, have, nevertheless, done us much
THE CROSS BESIDE THE STAR.
“ On receipt of the news of the assassination of President Lincolo, the British and American flags were hoisted together at half-mast in various places.”
Wave on in beauty side by side, thus should it ever be,
ISABEL A, SAXON. London, July, 1865.