Live and Let Live/Chapter XVI
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Chapter XVI. A Detection
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though too confirmed in evil to be reformed by Lucy's gentle influence, Adéle, for some weeks after her conversation with Lucy, was guarded before her. She wore only her own finery, neither indulged herself nor a "cher ami" with Champagne or Burgundy, and only went out with Mrs. Hartell's knowledge. This was often enough; for Lucy was the pack-horse on whom she was allowed to cast all her burdens. She was more lavish than ever of her hollow caresses and pretty French epithets on Eugene in his parents' presence, and the little fellow requited her as well as if he had understood them, by preferring everybody else to her. The constraint of Lucy's presence was becoming intolerable to Adéle, and she took a new course, treating her with injustice and constant petulance, in the hope of driving her to seek a new service. But this was not easy to effect. Lucy had been early impressed with an aversion to change, as an evil in itself; and, besides, her love for Eugene would not permit her to desert him. She had no confidence in Adéle, and she considered herself pledged not to communicate her distrust till there was some further overt act on Adéle's part. There were, too, in her situation—where are there not?—some alleviating circumstances; She had the half of every Sunday to go to church; and true to the stroke of the bell, Charles Lovett was on the steps to go with her. She had often whole evenings, when Adéle had gone out without preparing her task-work, to read and write. She wrote often to her mother and Mrs. Lovett. Her separation from all she dearly loved sometimes brought the tears from her eyes to the paper; but she wrote cheerfully, said nothing of her trials, or put them in the faint hues of the distance in the landscape, while her pleasures filled the foreground. The letters began and ended with some allusion to Charles. Sometimes "Charles thought the sermon the best he ever heard," or "Charles thought it not quite so instructive as the last Sabbath." "It was a rainy Sunday, and Charles prudently wore his old coat," or "it was such a beautiful Sabbath, and Charles looked so well in his new coat." "Last Sabbath, dear Mrs. Lovett, Charles laughed and said my old bonnet wanted a new riband and my old riband a new bonnet; and so, to reconcile him, I told him how, remembering mother's advice, never to wear what was not suited to my circumstances, though given to me, I had declined a present from Mrs. Hartell of a French pink satin hat, hardly soiled at all. The next day he sent me the greatest beauty of a little straw bonnet with a white satin riband—I hope it will never wear out!" "Mother, there is one thing I wish you would tell me whether you think wrong. Charles and I always come the longest way home from church—it seems very short too" "Is not it strange Eugene should know Charles? When I am holding him up at the window, and he sees him coming up the street, he claps his hands; but, oh, the poor little fellow is so affectionate! When I come home he shouts as if he would go mad with pleasure."
Lucy had now been four months at the Hartell's, and she was beginning to suffer the natural consequences of her position. Her principles rested too firmly on a sure basis to be shaken, and her dispositions were too sweet, they had too much natural force, to be easily impaired; but her habits, like the habits of most young people, were flexible, and at the mercy of circumstances. She fared sumptuously every day, and in her steril and inactive life her meals became events. She had felt a blush steal into her cheek as she detected herself mentally wondering how she had existed day after day on rye-mush. Trained from infancy to early rising, it had seemed as natural to her as to the birds to rise when the day broke. At Mrs. Hartell's she occupied a sofa-bed in the nursery. At first it had seemed to her a real misery to wait, hour after hour in the morning, till it pleased Miss Adéle to have the blinds opened; but, in the process of a few weeks, partly from keeping irregular hours at night, and partly from the facility that all young people have at sleeping, and partly, probably, from the physical indolence that seems ever ready to encroach on our energies, she became at first passive, and then, like the sluggard, she loved a little more folding of the arms to sleep, and a little more slumber.
From having been a very bee in her industry, she was falling into the lounging, desultory habits of the household. Sometimes she would be so hurried by Adéle that she was compelled to despatch her work in the most slovenly manner, and then precious minutes and half hours that she had been taught to cherish as "the stuff that life is made of" were wasted in lounging about with the children, or gazing out of the window with them, listening to their comments on the fine clothes that were worn by those people whose only part in life seems to be to play walking advertisers for dressmakers. Dress was the constant theme at Mrs. Hartell's. Lucy had scarcely ever heard her mistress talk of anything else. Upon this topic Adéle was almost eloquent, and the little girls naturally adopted and repeated what they heard, so that life, in the aspect it now offered to Lucy, afforded ground for the fanciful theory of a certain writer, who supposes man, "that paragon of animals and quintessence of dust," to be made up of clothes. Lucy had been well fortified by her mother to resist this ruling passion of the house, but she was not exempt from the infirmity of her age and sex; and there is no knowing how long she might have resisted the deteriorating influences that make half the world creatures of mere sense and frivolity, had they not been suddenly interrupted.
Eugene had arrived at the teething period, trying to the soul of mothers and nurses. Lucy's days and evenings were devoted to soothing him. At night he was left to Adéle's tender mercies. Her virtue could not be expected to stand the test of his wakefulness and fretting, and repeatedly Lucy was startled from her deep sleep by the shrieks of the child; and when involuntarily she sprang to his bedside, the poor little fellow most beseechingly stretched out his arms to her. She suspected that Adéle, in her impatience, inflicted some personal violence upon him, and particularly after hearing her assure Mr. Hartell the next morning that it was the cries of cats, and not his child's, that had awakened him. On the same morning she saw Eugene frequently put his hand to a part of the arm covered by his sleeve, and, on examining it, she found it black and blue, and looking as if it had been severely pinched. "Could Adéle," she asked herself, "have done this?" it seemed to her too fiendish an act; but suspicion had taken possession of her, and she determined to be watchful. She loved the child fondly, and felt the more tenderly for it from the carelessness of its natural protector.
The next night Eugene waked at his usual time, and his first whimper roused Lucy from her light slumbers. She took care to give no sign that she was awake. Adéle got out of bed, and taking up the night-lamp, and ascertaining, as she supposed, that Lucy was sleeping, she took a vial from under the pillow, dropped a few drops into Eugene's milk, and fed him. He soon fell asleep, and, as Lucy observed, slept late and heavily the next morning. All the next day Lucy was wretched. She shed bitter tears over the poor little boy, who, it seemed to her, would be the victim of his unprincipled nurse. She was uncertain as to the best course to pursue. She felt sure Adéle had given the child laudanum; but what use would there be in telling the mother so? Adéle would frame her own lies for the occasion, and would be believed; and then she herself would probably be sent off in disgrace, and no one would be left to comfort the poor little boy. But had she not best address herself to the father? it would be easy to rouse his fears. He was now in Philadelphia, and expected home the next day. In the intervening night she might perhaps get some proof to substantiate her suspicions. Thus, with a prudence beyond her years, determining on her course, she was careful not to betray, by word or sign, her suspicions to Adéle. The next night Lucy lay awake with a beating heart till Eugene began his usual fretting. Adéle gave him his milk, and soothed him to sleep; but his sleep was restless, and she was long kept awake. Just as her breathing betrayed that she had fallen asleep, and Lucy, believing that all danger for that night was past, was yielding to the demands of nature, Eugene started up wide awake and screaming. This was too much for Adéle's patience. He had taken his milk, and she had no proper resource for quieting him, so she adopted that most convenient to herself; and rising, she took the vial from its hiding-place, and, with her back towards Lucy's bed, was in the act of dropping some drops into a spoon, when Lucy sprang upon her and wrested the vial from her hand. A scuffle ensued; and Adéle succeeding in regaining the vial, instantly threw it into the grate; and then, recovering her self-possession, as even weak persons sometimes do in great emergencies, she said, with forced calmness, "What is it all? Why let me not take my drops?"
"Your drops, Adéle! oh, don't think to deceive me! It was the drops I saw you give the baby last night! horrid laudanum!"
"Laudanum—I swear it was not—you have no proof it was laudanum."
"Have I not?" said Lucy, pointing to some drops that had fallen on the sleeve of her night-dress.
"They are on you, not on me. I will first tell the story to Mrs, Hartell—she will believe you—never—never."
"But Mr. Hartell will believe me; and as surely as he returns to-morrow I will tell him the whole truth."
Adéle's hardihood now forsook her utterly. She saw the abyss opening at her feet, and falling on her knees and wringing her hands, she besought Lucy to have pity on her. "I am away from my country," she said; "I left all to come with Mrs. Hartell—I have no friend in this country—nobody will care for me—nobody will pity me."
"I do pity you, Adéle—but —"
"But you will tell all to monsieur; is that what you call pity? Oh, Dieu merci! he will be like one tiger to me."
"And what have you been to this poor little helpless child that was trusted to you, Adéle? think of that." Lucy had taken up Eugene, and he had quietly lain his head on her bosom, and was looking up into her face as if he knew she was his guardian angel. Lucy caressed him tenderly; and then turning up the sleeve of his night-dress, she showed Adéle the traces of her violence on his arm. Adéle well understood her, but she said nothing. She perceived there was no use in any further lies to Lucy; and when Lucy added, "I know what my duty is; and though, as I told you, Adéle, I am very sorry for you, I will certainly do it." Adéle saw there was no use in any further supplication. She rose from her knees, and, after a few moments' silence, she said, with a totally changed tone, "I will not be lost by one such young person as you."
Poor Lucy, little imagining how much this threat imported, took her protégée to her narrow bed, where they soon fell asleep together, while Adéle lay tossing on hers, and contriving a cruel plot.