Page:McClure's Magazine v9 n3 to v10 no2.djvu/250

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

976

ST. IVES.

which last he kept usually closed as though the light distressed him. There was an unspeakable degree of slyness in his expression, which kept me ill at ease; he seemed to lie there with his arms folded, like a spider waiting for prey. His speech was very deliberate and courteous, but scarce louder than a sigh.

"I bid you welcome, Monsieur le Vicomte Anne," said he, looking at me hard with his pale eyes, but not moving on his pillows. "I have sent for you, and I thank you for the obliging expedition you have shown. It is my misfortune that I cannot rise to receive you. I trust you have been reasonably well entertained?"

"Monsieur mon oncle," I said, bowing very low, "I am come at the summons of the head of my family."

"It is well," he said. "Be seated. I should be glad to hear some news—if that can be called news that is already twenty years old—of how I have the pleasure to see you here."

By the coldness of his address, not more than by the nature of the times that he bade me recall, I was plunged in melancholy. I felt myself surrounded as with deserts of friendlessness, and the delight of my welcome was turned to ashes in my mouth.

"That is soon told, Monseigneur," said I. "I understand that I need tell you nothing of the end of my unhappy parents? It is only the story of the lost dog."

"You are right. I am sufficiently informed of that deplorable affair; it is painful to me. My nephew, your father, was a man who would not be advised," said he. "Tell me, if you please, simply of yourself."

“I am afraid I must run the risk of harrowing your sensibility in the beginning," said I, with a bitter smile, "because my story begins at the foot of the guillotine. When the list came out that night, and her name was there, I was already old enough, not in years, but in sad experience, to understand the extent of my misfortune. She—" I paused. "Enough that she arranged with a friend, Madame de Chasseradés, that she should take charge of me, and by the favor of our jailors I was suffered to remain in the shelter of the Abbaye. That was my only refuge; there was no corner of France that I could rest the sole of my foot upon except the prison. Monsieur le Comte, you are as well aware as I can be what kind of a life that was and how swiftly death smote in that society. I did not wait long before the name of Madame de Chasseradés succeeded to that of my mother on the list. She passed me on to Madame de Noytot; she, in her turn, to Mademoiselle de Braye; and there were others. I was the one thing permanent; they were all transient as clouds; a day or two of their care, and then came the last farewell and—somewhere far off in that roaring Paris that surrounded us—the bloody scene. I was the cherished one, the last comfort, of these dying women. I have been in pitched fights, my lord, and I never knew such courage. It was all done smiling, in the tone of good society; belle maman was the name I was taught to give to each; and for a day or two the new 'pretty mammas' would make much of me, show me off, teach me the minuet, and to say my prayers, and then, with a tender embrace, would go the way of her predecessors, smiling. There were some that wept too. There was a childhood! All the time Monsieur de Culemberg kept his eye on me, and would have had me out of the Abbaye and in his own protection, but my 'pretty mammas' one after another resisted the idea. Where could I be safer? they argued; and what was to become of them without the darling of the prison? Well, it was soon shown how safe I was! The dreadful day of the massacre came; the prison was overrun; none paid attention to me, not even the last of my ‘pretty mammas,' for she had met another fate. I was wandering distracted, when I was found by some one in the interests of Monsieur de Culemberg. I understand he was sent on purpose; I believe, in order to reach the interior of the prison, he had set his hand to nameless barbarities: such was the price paid for my worthless, whimpering little life! He gave me his hand; it was wet, and mine was reddened; he led me unresisting. I remember but the one circumstance of my flight—it was my last view of my last 'pretty mamma.' Shall I describe it to you?" I asked the count, with a sudden fierceness.

"Avoid unpleasant details," observed my great-uncle, gently.

At these words a sudden peace fell upon me. I had been angry with the man before; I had not sought to spare him; and now, in a moment, I saw that there was nothing to spare. Whether from natural heartlessness or extreme old age, the soul was not at home; and my benefactor, who had kept the fire lit in my room for a month past—my only relative except Alain, whom I knew already to be a hired