Page images

Jules Regnauld often looked at her, in a certain manner, and that she always looked at Jules Regnauld, in a certain manner. Besides, it was necessary to cut short all investigation—all reciprocal accusation. Why not sacrifice Justine? It was so easy.

“Doctor," she said, “ I persist in my opinion; I attribute it to an accident—but whether it has occurred from chance, or-or crime, that which has happened in my house is too serious an affair, not to induce me to dismiss Justine.”

"I should preser," said the Doctor, "those investigations—those explanations which seem natural in such a case; for really it is not just that—"

“Pardon me, Doctor," said Madame Vachelier, interrupting him; “I accuse no one; I attribute it to negligence; but negligence must be punished. What would become of me, is it should occur again ?"

Justine's dismissal was decided upon. After the Doctor had left the house, Madame Vachelier sent for the young girl, informed her of her purpose, and after having paid her her wages, ordered her to be gone, and not to sleep another night in the house. The druggist's wife expected to hear cries and exclamations; she thought, at least, that Mademoiselle Justine would refer to the event which had just set the house in commotion; that she would endeavor to justify herself, to explain what had passed, or to demand an explanation. The Doctor had spoken of poisoning; to dismiss Mademoiselle Justine, on the very day, was to accuse her, and still the young girl did not utter a word; she did not make the slightest observation; she expressed neither anger or regret. Seated in Madame Vachelier's shop, she merely looked carefully to the settlement of her wages, took the longest time possible in counting the money that was given her, and when all was ended—when all accounts were settled, she rose modestly, cast a piercing glance upon the druggist's wife, and left the house. When she was gone, Madame Vachelier drew a long breath; she had suffered a terrible shock, but all was going well-all was dying away of itself

. The accident could easily be attributed to the girl, who had just been dismissed, and Jules Regnauld was out of danger; in a few days his health would be entirely restored.

Madame Vachelier, now at liberty, ascended to the chamber of Jules. Regnauld. She was eager to see him ; to assure herself with her own eyes. of his condition to tell him how much she had suffered from this melancholy event. Trembling, her heart filled with a thousand conflicting emotions, she paused, for a moment, at the door of the travelling clerk's apartment; she hesitated-she listened ; at last she entered—the chamber was deserted, the bed was empty-Jules Regnauld was no longer there.

We will not describe Madame Vachelier's anger and despair, when, after a careful examination, a minute search, she was convinced that Jules Regnauld was no longer in the house. The travelling clerk's clothes, his hat, his boots, were nowhere to be found. He had evidently found strength enough to rise, to dress himself, and to fly. His departure was not connected in her mind with Mademoiselle Justine's passive obedience; Madame Vachelier thought merely that Jules Regnauld's troubled imagination had led him to fear that, in a house where partridges were poisoned, potions, also, might be dangerous. Nay, perhaps the travelling clerk, who must have been ignorant of Mademoiselle Justine's discharge, distrusted the young girl. This thought somewhat reassured her.

On the very day when M. Vachelier, instead of eating of the roast partridge, which was designed for him, had breakfasted on tea, the future mayor of his arrondissement did not dine at home. Not that he entertained

the slightest suspicion, but he had been invited by M. Baudelot, his fatherin-law, and he was vexed at Mademoiselle Justine's dismissal.

“ Heaven alone knows what kind of a dinner we shall have, at home, to-day," he said to himself. “If Baudelot had not invited me, I should have gone to the Palais-Royal, and dropped in at Very's."

But Baudelot was to have an exquisite dinner ; the rarest fish, the finest game was spread upon his table. He had, for a week past, reserved for this gastronomic solemnity, a páté of becaficos, prepared with olives, after the receipt of the Jesuit Fabe, who flourished some sixty years ago, and who, with the merit of being a great theologian and a learned physician, combined the most remarkable culinary talents. Such another páté could not be found, even upon the table of the king of France.

“ The becafico," says Brillat-Savarin, “has an exquisite aroma, a slight, mild bitterness, which fills the mouth with beatitude." Vachelier suffered himself to be seduced by these enchanting savors. He had a stomach like a chicken, and he dined like a Cossack. To complete his misfortune, the weather was damp and cold, M. Baudelot's saloon well warmed, and although it was not far from the Rue Grenetut, in which the father-in-law dwelt, to the Rue des Lombards, in which the son-in-law lived, yet in walking this distance M. Vachelier caught a cold, which settled upon his lungs. Doctor Lafrenais was sent for in the night.

My dear Marie," he said to Madame Vachelier, after he had examined his patient,

we have here a troublesome complication of diseases; inflammation of the lungs and indigestion ; I doubt if the subcarbonate of copper is worse than this."

And, in truth, notwithstanding all the Doctor's cares, Vachelier, who had escaped his wife's roast partridge, did not (by the help of the inflammation of the lungs) escape his father-in-law's becaficos; he died regretting the peerage which awaited him, and the good dinners which he would not have failed to eat, if he had lived to the ordinary term of human existence.

V. Madame Vachelier was now a widow, and Doctor Lafrenais' love, lawful. The latter had never ceased to cultivate Madame Baudelot's friendship, and had preserved great influence over her; his practice had increased, his fortune was augmenting every day; some fortunate cures, some services rendered in the hospitals, had obtained for him the cross of honor. He was still hump-backed, but it was a very respectable match; the Baudelot family could not desire a better. Madame Baudelot gave an attentive ear, therefore, to the Doctor's cautious insinuations.

“ It would have defied the most skilful physicians in the world to save M. Vachelier," said Lafrenais. “Esculapius himself could not have succeeded, although, to speak frankly, I do not regret it-neither do I think, Madame Baudelot, that your daughter regrets it much.”

“My daughter is a good woman,” said Madame Baudelot.

“ That is the very reason why I wish to marry her, madam. I ought to have been her first husband; with God's will, I will be her second. What do you thivk of it, my dear Madame Baudelot ?"

• We must let her year of mourning pass over,” replied the prudent Madame Baudelot. "I will take my daughter home; I will persuade her to sell her stock of drugs, and all will go well, my dear Doctor."

While these little arrangements occurred in the Rue Grenetat, the widow did not remain idle in the Rue des Lombards. She lost no time in mourning for her husband; her sole aim was to fiud Jules Regnauld again. For

this purpose, she employed the services both of friends and enemies-her father, her mother, the Doctor himself. Regnauld, she said, knew all the secrets of her affairs; she had need of Regnauld, to sell, to buy, to pay; what could a poor, helpless, and desolate widow do without him? She had but one misfortune to fear, which would complete her despair; this was, to hear that Regnauld had fallen a victim to the subcarbonate of copper.

"Fear nothing," the Doctor would say, when she expressed her anxiety; "your Jules Regnauld is a sturdy fellow; besides, I have acted with promptitude and vigor ; the gentleman is, at this moment, upon his legs, I will answer for it."

Two months were passed in hoping, waiting, and in snubbing the poor Doctor, who in vain exerted all his wit and all his amiability to please the young widow. Madame Vachelier would neither leave her house, nor sell her stock of drugs.

“ They are for him,” she said to herself; "he will return, he must return; the poor fellow is of course ignorant that Justine is no longer here, and that M. Vachelier is dead; perhaps he left the house because he distrusted the skill of M, Lafrenais."

As Madame Vachelier had said, Jules Regnauld must sooner or later return. One day a fiacre stopped before the drug shop, and who should alight from it but the travelling clerk! He was very pale, his face was greatly emaciated, he looked like a man who had just recovered from a fit of illness; and, indeed, Jules Regnauld had been seriously ill. But he still preserved his good-natured air, his lips smiled, and his joyous glances announced a contentment of mind, from which Madame Vachelier drew a good omen. Dressed in a blue coat, which was buttoned to his chin, and which revealed the extremity of a white vest, his feet cased in polished pumps, his hands covered with yellow gloves, perfectly new, Jules Reg. nauld advanced straight towards Madame Vachelier.

“Ah, here you are at last!” cried the widow ; " come, my friend, I need your assistance; I must tell you all my secrets.

"All, bourgeoise ?" said Jules Regnauld, with that air of good humor which never forsook him.

Yes, all. In the first place, you shall never again leave this shop." "Excuse me, I have had enough of your cookery; enough, for a while, of roast partridges."

“ Banish these sad remembrances,” said Madame Vachelier, no longer a wish to set up for yourself?”

“To set up for myself, and to retire from business, bourgeoise; since I ate that accursed partridge I need country air."

" And did you not tell me," said Madame Vachelier, that the women would make your fortune, and render you wealthy ?"

“ Just so, bourgeoise, just so.”
“ You did not think you spoke so truly, my friend."
“On the contrary, bourgeoise, I knew what I said."

"Ah! you divined my feelings, then. Well, well, I suspected it; and, for that reason, I could not understand why you left the house so suddenly."

" It was on account of the cookery, bourgeoise; it was on account of the partridge.”

"That was a misfortune which will never happen again,” said Madame Vachelier. “ Justine is no longer here.”

"I know it, bourgeoise."

" And I hope,” continued Madame Vachelier, " that you will not accuse me of what has happened. It was your fault, my friend; why did you leave me? If you had remained with me, we had business to attend to~"

have you

" True, true, bourgeoise," replied Regnauld, laughing, "the partridge was not meant for me."

“Well,” said Madame Vachelier," I do not accuse Justine.” "Nor I either, most certainly."

“She is gone, and poor Vachelier is dead. Listen, my friend, it was my father who killed him, by stuffing him with paté of becaficos. He died of indigestion and inflammation of the lungs, which he caught, after leave ing table, in coming home from the Rue Grenetat. Doctor Lafrenais at. tended him. If I were to say that I regretted him, I should tell an untruth. I was not happy with him—there now, frankly; he did well to diem for you, at least—"

“For me !" cried Regnauld.

Ah, you well know it, little hypocrite! I will make your fortune, and you count upon it; you told me so yourself-here in this shop—the evening before the day"

"I told you so, bourgeoise.

“Well," continued Madame Vachelier, “I could do much for you then, but now, I can do still more."

Come, come, bourgemise, I do not understand you," replied Regnauld, “ what the d- can you do for me! My affair is done, and well done—the farce is played, the piece is ended, e, d, ed, ended. A woman has made my fortune; I have fifteen thousand livres income-I am married.”

“ Married !" cried the widow Vachelier, in a tone of despair.

'Yes, and it is to you that I owe my happiness; it was you who made me acquainted with my wife."

“ Your wife !” exclaimed Madame Vachelier, wildly; "and who is your wife, then ?"

“Why, Titine-little Titine; come, come, bourgeoise,” said Regnauld, clasping Madame Vachelier's waist with both hands, you knew that we loved each other, I am sure. Women always see things of this sort. In the first place, everybody in the house perceived it-Gerard, the domestic, that

poor M. Vachelier, a most excellent man, whom I shall always regret, —and even the porter. The porter has not mentioned it to you?-it was very discreet for a Swiss.”

While he spoke thus, Madame Vachelier's eyes were injected with blood, her lips turned purple, a deathlike pallor overspread her forehead, and her hands trembled violently; but Regnauld did not observe her; he was occupied with, his. garments—his wedding garments! He made his polished pumps creak upon the floor, unbuttoned his blue coat, and displayed his white vest.

“ You know. bourgeoise," he said, “ that I have married Titine, but you do not know how I have become rich. Well, it was Titine !"

“ How !" stammered Madame Vachelier.

“How? why, Titine is the daughter of a farmer in the neighborhood of Semur, an old knave-oh, I am frank, I do not spare my father-in-law-an old knave, who turned his daughter out of doors, to please a hag of a second wife whoin he had married, and a little wretch of a boy that he had by her. You understand, bourgeoise, that, in returning from Lyons to Paris by the way of Burgundy, I passed through there. The little wretch of a boy had died, six years ago, of the whooping cough. The hag of a wife had followed her boy six months afterwards, and my knave of a father-in-law had kicked the bucket twenty days before I arrived. When I made my appearance in Semur, I found there a distant relative who claimed the property. One moment! I was on the spot ; I had a power of attorney from Titine in my pocket. Titine's father had three hundred and fifty thousand francs, lands,

one or two houses in Semur-in fine, that brings us in fifteen thousand livres income. Thed- take business now, bourgeoise, the d—I take Paris game now; we are going to be Burgundians, Titine and I. But come, bourgeoise, we have some accounts to settle. The house owes me twelve hundred francs-I owe the house seven hundred francs: there are five hundred francs due me. It is true, Titine says to me, 'Don't think of those five hundred francs,' but here I am, by my faith—short accounts make long friends." You will return here to-morrow,

sir." " Very well, bourgeoise, I am not uneasy about my money. Adieu, bourgeoise, until to-morrow."

And M. Jules Regnauld entered the fiacre which had brought him.

" They know all,” said Madame Vachelier, when she was alone; they hate me, they despise me, they abhor me. How they have deceived me! They loved each other before my face, under my very eyes; and this man whom I loved so well, for whom I would have killed my husband, he has come to enjoy the pleasure of making me blush at my crime, of boasting of his happiness to me."

Two hours after Jules Regnauld's departure, Lafrenais paid his usual visit to Madame Vachelier; he was dressed with extreme elegance; he wore a shirt with a cambric bosom, a cravat of snowy whiteness, a new ribbon at his button hole, and on his ring finger an antique cameo of great value; his coat, made by a fashionable tailor, was skilfully padded on the shoulders, so that, on this day he was not hump-backed, only his shoulders looked somewhat round. Madame Vachelier was in her chamber, reclining upon a comfortable article of furniture, to-day out of fashion, called a chaise longue. The blinds were closed, the apartment was quite dark. Doctor Lafrenais took an arm-chair, drew it towards the chaise longue, and seated himself at Madame Vachelier's side.

“My dear Marie,” he said, “I have just come from your mother's; indeed, it is she who sends me; that is to say, I should have come of myself, but Madame Baudelot wished me to pay you a visit, and inscribe my name on your list, that I might be the first in date."

“ How so, doctor ” said Madame Vachelier, in a tone which, to Lafrenais' ears, appeared replete with languid softness.

"Why, you know, Marie,” continued the doctor, “ that you are beautiful and rich ; these are two great faults, or two great merits, which disquiet your mother, and which, on the other hand, will attract suitors, as a mirror draws swallows. I will bet that all the young men, all the widowers, all the old bachelors of the quarter, are now ogling you. Do not forget, Marie ; remember, I am first on the list."

"It is too late," replied Madame Vachelier, in a sharp tone.
“How! you are already engaged ?”
“ Do

you know what love is, doctor ?" replied Madame Vachelier, without replying to Lafrenais' question.

" Do I know ?'' cried the doctor, in an impassioned tone. “It is what I have felt for you from the first day that I saw you. Love is an unconquerable passion, which seizes our hearts like a tyrant, which subjugates us, devours us, and leads us to sacrifice the world for a smile from the object of our affection."

“That is what I have done, doctor,” said Madame Vachelier, sternly. “What you have done ?" “Yes, I love a man who does not love me, and for him I have sacrificed"

What, Marie ?" “ My life, doctor ; but before that, Vachelier's.”

« EelmineJätka »