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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 18
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    The citoyenne Gamelin was devoted to old Brotteaux, and taking him altogether, thought him the best and greatest man she had ever known. She had not bidden him good-bye when he was arrested, because she would not have dared to defy the powers that be and because in her lowly estate she looked upon cowardice as a duty. But she had received a blow she could not recover from.

    She could not eat and lamented she had lost her appetite just when she had at last the means to satisfy it. She still admired her son; but she durst not let her mind dwell on the appalling duties he was engaged upon and congratulated herself she was only an ignorant woman who had no call to judge his conduct.

    The poor mother had found a rosary at the bottom of a trunk; she hardly knew how to use it, but often fumbled the beads in her trembling fingers. She had lived to grow old without any overt exercise of her religion, but she had always been a pious woman, and she would pray to God all day long, in the chimney corner, to save her boy and that good, kind Monsieur Brotteaux. Élodie often came to see her; they durst not look each other in the eyes, and sitting side by side they would talk at random of indifferent matters.

    One day in Pluviose, when the snow, falling in heavy flakes, darkened the sky and deadened the noises of the city, the citoyenne Gamelin, who was alone in the lodging heard a knock at the door. She started violently; for months now the slightest noise had set her trembling. She opened the door. A young man of eighteen or twenty walked in, his hat on his head. He was dressed in a bottle-green box-coat, the triple collar of which covered his bust and descended to the waist. He wore top-boots of an English cut. His chestnut hair fell in ringlets about his shoulders. He stepped into the middle of the studio, as if wishful that all the light admitted by the snow-encumbered skylight might fall on him, and stood there some moments without moving or speaking.

    At last, in answer to the citoyenne Gamelin's look of amazement:

    "Don't you know your daughter?"

    The old dame clasped her hands:

    "Julie!... It is you.... Good God! is it possible?..."

    "Why, yes, it is I. Kiss me, mother."

    The citoyenne Gamelin pressed her daughter to her bosom, and dropped a tear on the collar of the box-coat. Then she began again in an anxious voice:

    "You, in Paris!..."

    "Ah! mother, but why did I not come alone! For myself, they will never know me in this dress."

    It was a fact the box-coat sufficiently disguised her shape, and she did not look very different from a great many very young men, who, like her, wore their hair long and parted in two masses on the forehead. Her features, which were delicately cut and charming, but burnt by the sun, drawn with fatigue, worn with anxiety, had a bold, masculine expression. She was slim, with long straight limbs and an easy carriage; only the clear treble of her voice could have betrayed her sex.

    Her mother asked her if she was hungry. She said she would be glad of something to eat, and when bread, wine and ham had been set before her, she fell to, one elbow on the table, with a pretty gluttony, like Ceres in the hut of the old woman Baubo.

    Then, the glass still at her lips:

    "Mother," she asked, "do you know when my brother will be back? I have come to speak to him."

    The good woman looked at her daughter in embarrassment and said nothing.

    "I must see him. My husband was arrested this morning and taken to the Luxembourg."

    By this name of "husband" she designated Fortuné de Chassagne, a ci-devant noble and officer in Bouillé's regiment. He had first loved her when she was a work-girl at a milliner's in the Rue des Lombards, and had carried her away with him to England, whither he had fled after the 10th August. He was her lover; but she thought it more becoming to speak of him as her husband before her mother. Indeed, she told herself that the hardships they had shared had surely united them in a wedlock consecrated by suffering.

    More than once they had spent the night side by side on a bench in one of the London parks and gathered up scraps of broken bread under the table in the taverns in Piccadilly.

    Her mother could find no answer and gazed at her mournfully.

    "Don't you hear what I say, mother? Time presses, I must see Évariste at once; he, and he only, can save Fortuné's life."

    "Julie," answered her mother at last, "it is better you should not speak to your brother."

    "Why, what do you mean, mother?"

    "I mean what I say, it is better you do not speak to your brother about Monsieur de Chassagne."

    "But, mother, I must!"

    "My child, Évariste can never forgive Monsieur de Chassagne for his treatment of you. You know how angrily he used to speak of him, what names he called him."

    "Yes, he called him seducer," said Julie with a little hissing laugh, shrugging her shoulders.

    "My child, it was a mortal blow to his pride. Évariste has vowed never again to mention Monsieur de Chassagne's name, and for two years now he has not breathed one word of him or of you. But his feelings have not altered; you know him, he can never forgive you."

    "But, mother, as Fortuné has married me ... in London...."

    The poor mother threw up her eyes and hands:

    "Fortuné is an aristocrat, an émigré, and that is cause enough to make Évariste treat him as an enemy."

    "Mother, give me a direct answer. Do you mean that if I ask him to go to the Public Prosecutor and the Committee of General Security and take the necessary steps to save Fortuné's life, do you mean that he will not consent?... But, mother, he would be a monster if he refused!"

    "My child, your brother is an honest man and a good son. But do not ask him, oh! do not ask him to intercede for Monsieur de Chassagne.... Listen to me, Julie. He does not confide his thoughts to me and, no doubt, I should not be competent to understand them ... but he is a juror; he has principles; he acts as his conscience dictates. Do not ask him anything, Julie."

    "Ah! I see you know him now. You know that he is cold, callous, that he is a bad man, that ambition and vainglory are his only guides. And you always loved him better than me. When we lived together, all three of us, you set him up as my pattern to copy. His staid demeanour and grave speech impressed you; you thought he possessed all the virtues. And me, me you always blamed, you gave me all the vices, because I was frank and free, and because I climbed trees. You could never endure me. You loved nobody but him. There, I hate him, your model Évariste; he is a hypocrite."

    "Hush, Julie! I have been a good mother to you as well as to him. I had you taught a trade. It has been no fault of mine that you are not an honest woman and did not marry in your station. I loved you tenderly and I love you still. I forgive you and I love you. But do not speak ill of Évariste. He is a good son. He has always taken care of me. When you left me, my child, when you abandoned your trade and forsook your shop, to go and live with Monsieur de Chassagne, what would have become of me without him? I should have died of hunger and wretchedness."

    "Do not talk so, mother; you know very well we would have cherished you with all affection, Fortuné and I, if you had not turned your face from us, at Évariste's instigation. Never tell me! he is incapable of a kindly action. It was to make me odious in your eyes that he made a pretence of caring for you. He! love you?... Is he capable of loving anyone? He has neither heart nor head. He has no talent, not a scrap. To paint, a man must have a softer, tenderer nature than his."

    She threw a glance round the canvases in the studio, which she found to be no better and no worse than when she left her home.

    "There you see his soul! he has put it in his pictures, cold and sombre as it is. His Orestes, his Orestes with the dull eye and cruel mouth, and looking as if he had been impaled, is himself all over.... But, mother, cannot you understand at all? I cannot leave Fortuné in prison. You know these Jacobins, these patriots, all Évariste's crew. They will kill him. Mother, little mother, darling mother, I cannot have them kill him. I love him! I love him! He has been so good to me, and we have been so unhappy together. Look, this box-coat is one of his coats. I had never a shift left. A friend of Fortuné's lent me a jacket and I got a post with an eating-house keeper at Dover, while he worked at a barber's. We knew quite well that to return to France was to risk our lives; but we were asked if we would go to Paris to carry out an important mission.... We agreed,--we would have accepted a mission to hell! Our travelling expenses were paid and we were given a letter of exchange on a Paris banker. We found the offices closed; the banker is in prison and going to be guillotined. We had not a brass farthing. All the individuals with whom we were in correspondence and to whom we could appeal are fled or imprisoned. Not a door to knock at. We slept in a stable in the Rue de la Femme-sans-tête. A charitable bootblack, who slept on the same straw with us there, lent my lover one of his boxes, a brush and a pot of blacking three quarters empty. For a fortnight Fortuné made his living and mine by blacking shoes in the Place de Grève.

    "But on Monday a Member of the Commune put his foot on the box to have his boots polished. He had been a butcher once, a man Fortuné had before now given a kick behind to for selling meat of short weight. When Fortuné raised his head to ask for his two sous, the rascal recognized him, called him aristocrat, and threatened to have him arrested. A crowd collected, made up of honest folks and a few blackguards, who began to shout "Death to the émigré!" and called for the gendarmes. At that moment I came up with Fortuné's bowl of soup. I saw him taken off to the Section and shut up in the church of Saint-Jean. I tried to kiss him, but they hustled me away. I spent the night like a dog on the church steps.... They took him away this morning...."

    Julie could not finish, her sobs choked her.

    She threw her hat on the floor and fell on her knees at her mother's feet.

    "They took him away this morning to the Luxembourg prison. Mother, mother, help me to save him; have pity on your child!"

    Drowned in her tears, she threw open her box-coat and, the better to prove herself a woman and a wife, bared her bosom; seizing her mother's hands, she held them close over her throbbing breasts.

    "My darling, my daughter, Julie, my Julie!" sobbed the widow Gamelin,--and pressed her streaming cheeks to the girl's.

    For some moments they clung together without a word. The poor mother was racking her brains for some way of helping her daughter, and Julie was watching the kind look in those tearful eyes.

    "Perhaps," thought Évariste's mother, "perhaps, if I speak to him, he will be melted. He is good, he is tender-hearted. If politics had not hardened him, if he had not been influenced by the Jacobins, he would never have had these cruel feelings, that terrify me because I cannot understand them."

    She took Julie's head in her two hands:

    "Listen, my child. I will speak to Évariste. I will sound him, get him to see you and hear your story. The sight of you might anger him; his first impulse might be to turn against you.... And then, I know him; this costume would offend him; he is uncompromising in everything that touches morals, that shocks the proprieties. I was a bit startled to see my Julie dressed as a man."

    "Oh! mother, the emigration and the fearful disorders of the kingdom have made these disguises quite a common thing. They are adopted in order to follow a trade, to escape recognition, to get a borrowed passport or a certificate approved. In London I saw young Girey dressed as a girl,--and he made a very pretty girl; you must own, mother, that is a more scandalous disguise than mine."

    "My poor child, you have no need to justify yourself in my eyes, whether in this or any other thing. I am your mother; for me you will always be blameless. I will speak to Évariste, I will say...."

    She broke off. She knew what her son was; she felt it in her heart, but she would not believe it, she would not know it.

    "He is kind-hearted. He will do it for my sake ... for your sake, he will do what I ask him."

    The two women, weary to the death, fell silent. Julie sank asleep, her head pillowed on the knees where she had rested as a child, while the mother, the rosary between her hands, wept, like another mater dolorosa, over the calamities she felt drawing stealthily nearer and nearer in the silence of this day of snow when everything was hushed, footsteps and carriage wheels and the very heaven itself.

    Suddenly, with a keenness of hearing sharpened by anxiety, she caught the sound of her son's steps on the stairs.

    "Évariste!" she cried. "Hide"--and she hurried the girl into the bedroom.

    "How are you to-day, mother dear?"

    Évariste hung up his hat on its peg, changed his blue coat for a working jacket and sat down before his easel. For some days he had been working at a sketch in charcoal of a Victory laying a wreath on the brow of a dead soldier, who had died for the fatherland. Once the subject would have called out all his enthusiasm, but the Tribunal consumed all his days and absorbed his whole soul, while his hand had lost its knack from disuse and had grown heavy and inert.

    He hummed over the Ça ira.

    "I hear you singing," said the citoyenne Gamelin; "you are light-hearted, Évariste?"

    "We have reason to be glad, mother; there is good news. La Vendée is crushed, the Austrians beaten, the Army of the Rhine has forced the lines of Lautern and of Wissembourg. The day is at hand when the Republic triumphant will show her clemency. Why must the conspirators' audacity increase the mightier the Republic waxes in strength, and traitors plot to strike the fatherland a blow in the dark at the very moment her lightnings overwhelm the enemies that assail her openly?"

    The citoyenne Gamelin, as she sat knitting a stocking, was watching her son's face over her spectacles.

    "Berzélius, your old model, has been to ask for the ten livres you owed him; I paid him. Little Joséphine has had a belly-ache from eating too much of the preserves the carpenter gave her. So I made her a drop of herb tea.... Desmahis has been to see you; he was sorry he did not find you in. He wanted to engrave a design by you. He thinks you have great talent. He is a fine fellow; he looked at your sketches and admired them."

    "When peace is re-established and conspiracy suppressed," said the painter, "I shall begin on my Orestes again. It is not my way to flatter myself; but that head is worthy of David's brush."

    He outlined with a majestic sweep the arm of his Victory.

    "She holds out palms," he said. "But it would be finer if her arms themselves were palms."

    "Évariste!"

    "Mother?"

    "I have had news ... guess, of whom...."

    "I do not know."

    "Of Julie ... of your sister.... She is not happy."

    "It would be a scandal if she were."

    "Do not speak so, my son, she is your sister. Julie is not a bad woman; she had a good disposition, which misfortune has developed. She loves you. I can assure you, Évariste, that she only desires a hard-working, exemplary life and her fondest wish is to be reconciled to her friends. There is nothing to prevent your seeing her again. She has married Fortuné Chassagne."

    "She has written to you?"

    "No."

    "How, then, have you had news of her, mother?"

    "It was not by letter, Évariste; it was...."

    He sprang up and stopped her with a savage cry:

    "Not another word, mother! Do not tell me they have both returned to France.... As they are doomed to perish, at least let it not be at my hands. For their own sake, for yours, for mine, let me not know they are in Paris.... Do not force the knowledge on me; otherwise...."

    "What do you mean, my son? you would think, you would dare...?"

    "Mother, hear what I say; if I knew my sister Julie to be in that room ..." (and he pointed at the closed door), "I should go instantly to denounce her to the Committee of Vigilance of the Section."

    The poor mother, her face as white as her coif, dropped her knitting from her trembling hands and sighed in a voice fainter than the faintest whisper:

    "I would not believe it, but I see it now; my boy is a monster...."

    As pale as she, the froth gathering on his lips, Évariste fled from the house and ran to find at Élodie's side forgetfulness, sleep, the delicious foretaste of extinction.
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