Page images

are one side ; it is to satisfy them that she plays her double part. Early habits, turbulent recollections, Bohemian blood, the licence of poverty, the delights of pleasure in rags, are on the other; and it is all this which makes her detest both herself and her acquired fortune, and her glory, and the love she confers, and that which she experiences in return."

"You will permit me to observe to you, neighbour,” said Mark Anthony, “that all these pains are merely imaginary."

“You will permit me to observe to you, my dear neighbour, that you have just given utterance to a great piece of nonsense," returned the old gentleman. “With the exception of cholera, fever, broken bones, and neuralgia, all is imaginary pain in this respect. Learn, then, one thing, young man, which is, that we really suffer but through our ideas. Get a wench from the corner of the street, and put her in the position of Madame de Montes, and she will suffer none of those bitter feelings which now torture this poor woman. Put a porter's daughter in the place of Debora, allay this ardent nature, and she will experience none of those sudden returns which now torment her; or, rather, lower the elevation of her mind, and she will return to her past life without remorse, without regret, without those cruel judgments against herself. Her unhappiness proceeds from that never-ending combat with self, and so active, so poignant is it, that it burns-it consumes away this life-it menaces it-it destroys it.”

"Well,” remarked Riponneau, “if, on my side, it appears that I do not understand unhappiness, according to your argument it seems to me that there exists no real happiness on the earth."

“On the contrary, there are some people who feel nothing, who experience nothing, who love nothing."

“And who are they?".

An expression of peculiar meaning stole over the features of the old man, as he replied, with a scarcely perceptible smile,

“ They are the dead."

A long pause had followed these last words of the old man, which, somehow, none of the speakers had felt inclined to disturb, when the almost solemn silence was broken by the sound of a fallen body, which proceeded from the adjoining apartment; then followed stifled groans.

“That's our neighbour, the sempstress," cried Riponneau.

“Yes,” said the old gentleman, shrugging his shoulders, "she's groaning."

“But there must be something extraordinary going on-Don't you smell charcoal ?"

“I know it,” replied the neighbour, without disturbing himself.
“There is some misfortune there."
"That is not my opinion."
“ It is a suicide."
“You have guessed rightly."
“Ah! let us run to her assistance."

“Leave her alone ; she has doubtless some good reasons of her own, which we do not know of, for acting thus."

Riponneau cast upon his visitor a glance of furious indignation ; but the old gentleman contented himself by shruggingi his shoulders, and laughing quietly in Mark Anthony's face. As to our hero, he ran to the door of Juana's apartment—so was our sempstress named-and dashed it open at one blow, and penetrated into a stilling atmosphere which nearly suffocated him. A white body, lying upon the floor, attracted his attention ; he stooped down, took it in his arms, carried it into his own chamber, and deposited it upon his bed.


How beautiful was Juana thus, although the charcoal had already commenced its deadly task!

The young girl had retired to bed after having lit the fatal chafingdish, decked out with her prettiest cap, covered with her finest and whitest linen, herself just come forth from the bath : she had coquetted with death-the pretty coquette ; and death had come with avidity to place his icy hand upon the naked bosom of his beautiful bride; but, happily, Mark Anthony had arrived in time, and he saw that pure and snowy brow become animated, those large soft eyes open and close with astonishment; he saw those lips move to receive the pure air which he lavished on her by the open doors and windows; he saw that bosom heave under the long aspirations which restored life to that beautiful frame.

How beautiful she was thus! But it must be said that at that moment Riponneau thought not of regarding all this, if it was not but to spy out with anxiety the resurrection of the unfortunate girl.

At length came the moment when life was fully restored to its beautiful tenement. Juana wished to speak, to interrogate ; they imposed silence, they ordered repose ; she tried to rise and fly, and it was at this moment that she perceived the disorder in which she had been surprised, and blushing, and looking ten times more beautiful, she hid herself in the bed on which she had been deposited by our hero.

Then tears came to her relief.

Tears, that dew which falls from the heart, and leaves it for a moment in tranquility and repose, as the torrents of rain that fall from the storm-fraught clouds, rendering for a moment to the heavens their transparency and calm, until the sun recals this rain to gather it up for another tempest, as the heart recals these tears to preserve them for another grief.

Such were the old man's thoughts as he gazed on the sleeping Juana, exhausted with fatigue and tears. Riponneau regarded ber also, but not as he saw her now, covered up with the bed-clothes above her head, but as she was when he had first carried her out of her own room and laid her on his bed ; and this recollection returned to him in such lively, such charming, such delicious colours, that, in spite of the ennui which he had experienced in listening to the old man's histories, he could not resist the inclination of interrogating him upon that of the young girl whose life he had just preserved.

“You, who appear to be acquainted with the secret histories of every one in this house," he said to him, “ you ought to know who and what this Juana is, and, above all, what calamities have impelled her to this act of despair."

“ What she is," said the neighbour, regarding her with an air of disdain—"what has induced her to attempt her own life—what good would it be for you to learn these things ?"

"Sang she not yesterday as the lark, while joyously plying her needle, skipping up to her garret as lightly as a bird would wing its flight through the air; a smile on her lip, and gaiety and happiness in her eye? This is what she is; the reasons which have impelled her to self-destruction form another of those invisible dramas which are enacted beneath the outward and public existence of every one, gnawing, rankling, like the tooth-ache, which keeps itself concealed, but at the same time drives you almost wild with agony. You would not believe it."

"Ah!" said Riponneau, “the result is there to give me faith.” “Bah," returned the old man, “ you would say that she was mad."

You take me then for a fool, or a cold egotist, like yourself? for you said to me just now, leave her alone;' but you imagined, I am sure, that the complaints we heard were uttered in a joke, did you

[ocr errors]

: "Not the least in the world, only. I was prudent for her--and perhaps also for yourself.” crot Ito I

“For me!” said Riponneau, "what do you mean by that?”.

The old gentleman's eye lighted up with a flame which seemed to cross the chamber, pierce the wall, and finally, lose itself afar off in space; and he replied coldly,-

“The future will answer for me. I shall now tell you in a few words what you desire to know respecting her history. This Juana is the daughter of a working man, a calico printer ; she is the seventh child of a numerous family; a seventh child coming into the world nearly ten years after the others; a seventh child, consequently very coldly greeted by both big and little, father and mother. My young friend,” continued the old gentleman, "nothing is more holy, more sacred, more beautiful, or more respected, than maternal, or paternal, or fraternal love ; but it is precisely because these sentiments are the most powerful of our nature, that when broken through they become wicked and cruel. It is as the vessel retained by her triple chain cable; when the efforts of the wind are so violent that the cable parts, the bark is driven at the mercy of the winds and waves, obeying not the helm's controlling power, until she is finally dashed to pieces against the rock-bound and inhospitable coast.

"Were I to relate to you all that this child suffered from the harshness of her family, it would make your heart bleed: the privation of nourishment and clothing, cold, hunger, all has been inflicted on her. You see her tall and beautiful, revelling in all that amplitude of charms which announces the full development of youthful strength ; well, all that was leanness and consumption, the stooping shoulders, the narrow and contracted chest, and the harsh and guttural voice, Ten years thus passed away, and she had not yet disencumbered her family of the useless burden inflicted upon it.

"At last, an aunt by the mother's side, the wife of a rich butcher, had compassion on this child, and took her into her own house. Juana gained in this new existence all the nourishment it was possible to extract from good beef and mutton that is to say, the deselopment of a rich physical nature ; but that which forms the aliment of the soul, the food of the mind was even more wanting here, than in her own

June, 1845.-VOL, XLIII.NO. CLXX.


family. There were for her no other words than those which reproached her, I will not say for the bread, but for the meat which she eat; and observe, neighbour, that this child was born with every disposition towards love and gratitude. But so well had they played their parts, that they succeeded in utterly destroying in her the germ of that rarest of sentiments. She imbibed a feeling of hatred and aversion for every one that surrounded her, and she reached her fifteenth year having but one desire, that of revenging herself upon all the world. It was a year ago, she was then eighteen, when the death of her aunt set her at liberty. Among the many bad lessons which she had been taught at her aunt's house, Juana profited by that which the deplorable position of her uncle offered for her daily contemplation. Should you like to know it? Should you like to know how this man (and there are a thousand similarly situated in Paris) having in his person and establishment all the appearance of commercial prosperity and interior happiness, was the most miserable of men ? Whether from imprudence, whether from expenses contracted in order to satisfy the extravagant desires of his wife, I know not; but the truth is, he had deeply compromised his fortune. He was within two steps of utter and irremediable ruin, when a friend presented himself in the person of an honest cattle merchant; he came forward to the assistance of Juana's uncle ; he proposed a loan, and advanced him a considerable sum of money, in bills, on the security of his house and goods-in short, on every good precaution which usury could imagine. Our butcher, whose ruin many of his kind friends had already predicted, triumphed over those who had denounced his trade as lost; in consequence he doubled his expenses for that adored wife who had already so deeply involved him.

“The bills became due, it was impossible to meet them; and with the certainty of this impossibility, a more horrible certainty, which was that his wife had paid with her own and her husband's honour for the complaisance with which the lender had renewed his usurious advances.

"Until then all had gone on quietly in this family; now, every day were heard loud words, violent disputes, insulting epithets; in fact, the husband was placed between imminent ruin on the one side, and the quiet acceptance of his own dishonour on the other. He, for himself, would have preferred ruin, but he had children who would have died of hunger, and a daughter, whose prospects her mother's dishonour would have for ever blasted. Besides, had he dared to raise a complaint, the answer was ready: it is a debtor calumniating his creditor. What part was he then to take ? that which would at the same time save both fortune and appearances. He became the friend of his cattle merchant ; invited him to his house, and counterfeited happiness, and confidence, and gaiety. And his neighbours exclaimed, Oh! he knows nothing, he sees nothing of what's going on, so he is happy.' Oh! no, young man, very far from that. At first it was a hidden, rankling torment, but borne in silence, hidden within the depths of his own heart; then, when the presumption of the guilty pair would pass all bounds, he would break forth, he would storm and rage. But the wife, sure of her power, would coolly reply to him,

"• Well, for God's sake turn him out of doors, I should desire nothing better.'

“To turn out of doors, to offend the man who held bis existence, his honour in his hands--not only his own existence, but that of his children ; he could not do it, and he would resume his shameful chainrage and despair at his heart. But who knew all this? No one outside, for the butcher had his vanity, and preferred passing for a fool than a poltroon. No one suspected what he suffered except his own children, and among them Juana.

“What could she acquire from this lesson? those seeds which must necessarily take root in a mind so ill prepared as hers; this idea namely, that with money one possesses all things, even the right of failing in every social duty. Consequently, as soon as she was free, to what did she aspire ? To be rich. She has lived too long on calculation not to be able to calculate well; she has not been impatient; she has awaited a good opportunity, and has listened only to those proposals which accompanied a large fortune assured by marriage.

"Whether she has been imprudent enough to rely on promises, and has no longer anything to bestow on the man who now rejects and casts her off; or whether she has not possessed sufficient skill, or charms sufficient to spur on her lover to marriage, I know not; but the truth is, that in eight days' time he is going to be married to another.”

The neighbour had scarcely finished speaking, when an old greyheaded gentleman, venerable in coat, peruke, and red ribbon, entered the room and inquired for Juana. Here was a surprise! One of the richest financiers of administrative France, a Receiver General, asking for Juana the sempstress. They pointed her out to him asleep in bed, and related the circumstances which had occurred.

The financier begged that they would awake her, and leave them for a few moments alone. The neighbour retired, but Mark Anthony, being in his own apartment, thought himself justified in remaining; he feared lest the beautiful Juana should disappear in his absence. Only he promised to hear as little as possible, and retired into a corner of the room, with the firm intention of not letting a single syllable escape him if he could possibly avoid it.

The old man approached the bed, and Riponneau was enabled to gather the substance of the following conversation :

"You have written a letter to my daughter," began the old gentleman, “ to tell her that her future husband, M. de Belmont, deceives her; that he loved you, and had promised to marry you ....".

The voice subsided into a murmur, the sense of which Riponneau was unable to catch ; then it continued :

"You have almost killed my daughter ; she is in bed, ill, dying, and will no longer hear this marriage spoken of.”

“ That is my revenge, monsieur," replied Juana.

“ But this revenge falls on persons who never did you harm. I desire this marriage ; it is necessary for family reasons that it should take place, but my daughter will not consent unless the same hand which has written her this infamous letter will send her another declaring that the whole was an invention got up to destroy the character of M. de Belmont." “ Never!" cried Juana, in a resolute voice. The old man muttered something in her ear.

« PreviousContinue »