The Vendetta/Chapter II
Servin, one of our most distinguished artists, was the first to conceive of the idea of opening a studio for young girls who wished to take lessons in painting.
About forty years of age, a man of the purest morals, entirely given up to his art, he had married from inclination the dowerless daughter of a general. At first the mothers of his pupils bought their daughters themselves to the studio; then they were satisfied to send them alone, after knowing the master's principles and the pains he took to deserve their confidence.
It was the artist's intention to take no pupils but young ladies belonging to rich families of good position, in order to meet with no complaints as to the composition of his classes. He even refused to take girls who wished to become artists; for to them he would have been obliged to give certain instructions without which no talent could advance in the profession. Little by little his prudence and the ability with which he initiated his pupils into his art, the certainty each mother felt that her daughter was in company with none but well-bred young girls, and the fact of the artist's marriage, gave him an excellent reputation as a teacher in society. When a young girl wished to learn to draw, and her mother asked advice of her friends, the answer was, invariably: "Send her to Servin's."
Servin became, therefore, for feminine art, a specialty; like Herbault for bonnets, Leroy for gowns, and Chevet for eatables. It was recognized that a young woman who had taken lessons from Servin was capable of judging the paintings of the Musee conclusively, of making a striking portrait, copying an ancient master, or painting a genre picture. The artist thus sufficed for the educational needs of the aristocracy. But in spite of these relations with the best families in Paris, he was independent and patriotic, and he maintained among them that easy, brilliant, half-ironical tone, and that freedom of judgment which characterize painters.
He had carried his scrupulous precaution into the arrangements of the locality where his pupils studied. The entrance to the attic above his apartments was walled up. To reach this retreat, as sacred as a harem, it was necessary to go up a small spiral staircase made within his own rooms. The studio, occupying nearly the whole attic floor under the roof, presented to the eye those vast proportions which surprise inquirers when, after attaining sixty feet above the ground-floor, they expect to find an artist squeezed into a gutter.
This gallery, so to speak, was profusely lighted from above, through enormous panes of glass furnished with those green linen shades by means of which all artists arrange the light. A quantity of caricatures, heads drawn at a stroke, either in color or with the point of a knife, on walls painted in a dark gray, proved that, barring a difference in expression, the most distinguished young girls have as much fun and folly in their minds as men. A small stove with a large pipe, which described a fearful zigzag before it reached the upper regions of the roof, was the necessary and infallible ornament of the room. A shelf ran round the walls, on which were models in plaster, heterogeneously placed, most of them covered with gray dust. Here and there, above this shelf, a head of Niobe, hanging to a nail, presented her pose of woe; a Venus smiled; a hand thrust itself forward like that of a pauper asking alms; a few "ecorches," yellowed by smoke, looked like limbs snatched over-night from a graveyard; besides these objects, pictures, drawings, lay figures, frames without paintings, and paintings without frames gave to this irregular apartment that studio physiognomy which is distinguished for its singular jumble of ornament and bareness, poverty and riches, care and neglect. The vast receptacle of an "atelier," where all seems small, even man, has something of the air of an Opera "coulisse"; here lie ancient garments, gilded armor, fragments of stuffs, machinery. And yet there is something mysteriously grand, like thought, in it; genius and death are there; Diana and Apollo beside a skull or skeleton, beauty and destruction, poesy and reality, colors glowing in the shadows, often a whole drama, motionless and silent. Strange symbol of an artist's head!
At the moment when this history begins, a brilliant July sun was illuminating the studio, and two rays striking athwart it lengthwise, traced diaphanous gold lines in which the dust was shimmering. A dozen easels raised their sharp points like masts in a port. Several young girls were animating the scene by the variety of their expressions, their attitudes, and the differences in their toilets. The strong shadows cast by the green serge curtains, arranged according to the needs of each easel, produced a multitude of contrasts, and the piquant effects of light and shade. This group was the prettiest of all the pictures in the studio.
A fair young girl, very simply dressed, sat at some distance from her companions, working bravely and seeming to be in dread of some mishap. No one looked at her, or spoke to her; she was much the prettiest, the most modest, and, apparently, the least rich among them. Two principal groups, distinctly separated from each other, showed the presence of two sets or cliques, two minds even here, in this studio, where one might suppose that rank and fortune would be forgotten.
But, however that might be, these young girls, sitting or standing, in the midst of their color-boxes, playing with their brushes or preparing them, handling their dazzling palettes, painting, laughing, talking, singing, absolutely natural, and exhibiting their real selves, composed a spectacle unknown to man. One of them, proud, haughty, capricious, with black hair and beautiful hands, was casting the flame of her glance here and there at random; another, light-hearted and gay, a smile upon her lips, with chestnut hair and delicate white hands, was a typical French virgin, thoughtless, and without hidden thoughts, living her natural real life; a third was dreamy, melancholy, pale, bending her head like a drooping flower; her neighbor, on the contrary, tall, indolent, with Asiatic habits, long eyes, moist and black, said but little, and reflected, glancing covertly at the head of Antinous.
Among them, like the "jocoso" of a Spanish play, full of wit and epigrammatic sallies, another girl was watching the rest with a comprehensive glance, making them laugh, and tossing up her head, too lively and arch not to be pretty. She appeared to rule the first group of girls, who were the daughters of bankers, notaries, and merchants, —all rich, but aware of the imperceptible though cutting slights which another group belonging to the aristocracy put upon them. The latter were led by the daughter of one of the King's ushers, a little creature, as silly as she was vain, proud of being the daughter of a man with "an office at court." She was a girl who always pretended to understand the remarks of the master at the first word, and seemed to do her work as a favor to him. She used an eyeglass, came very much dressed, and always late, and entreated her companions to speak low.
In this second group were several girls with exquisite figures and distinguished features, but there was little in their glance or expression that was simple and candid. Though their attitudes were elegant and their movements graceful, their faces lacked frankness; it was easy to see that they belonged to a world where polite manners form the character from early youth, and the abuse of social pleasures destroys sentiment and develops egotism.
But when the whole class was here assembled, childlike heads were seen among this bevy of young girls, ravishingly pure and virgin, faces with lips half-opened, through which shone spotless teeth, and on which a virgin smile was flickering. The studio then resembled not a studio, but a group of angels seated on a cloud in ether.
By mid-day, on this occasion, Servin had not appeared. For some days past he had spent most of his time in a studio which he kept elsewhere, where he was giving the last touches to a picture for the Exposition. All of a sudden Mademoiselle Amelie Thirion, the leader of the aristocrats, began to speak in a low voice, and very earnestly, to her neighbor. A great silence fell on the group of patricians, and the commercial party, surprised, were equally silent, trying to discover the subject of this earnest conference. The secret of the young ultras was soon revealed.
Amelie rose, took an easel which stood near hers, carried it to a distance from the noble group, and placed it close to a board partition which separated the studio from the extreme end of the attic, where all broken casts, defaced canvases and the winter supply of wood were kept. Amelie's action caused a murmur of surprise, which did not prevent her from accomplishing the change by rolling hastily to the side of the easel the stool, the box of colors, and even the picture by Prudhon, which the absent pupil was copying. After this coup d'etat the Right began to work in silence, but the Left discoursed at length.
"What will Mademoiselle Piombo say to that?" asked a young girl of Mademoiselle Matilde Roguin, the lively oracle of the banking group.
"She's not a girl to say anything," was the reply; "but fifty years hence she'll remember the insult as if it were done to her the night before, and revenge it cruelly. She is a person that I, for one, don't want to be at war with."
"The slight these young ladies mean to put upon her is all the more unkind," said another young girl, "because yesterday, Mademoiselle Ginevra was very sad. Her father, they say, has just resigned. They ought not to add to her trouble, for she was very considerate of them during the Hundred Days. Never did she say a word to wound them. On the contrary, she avoided politics. But I think our ultras are acting more from jealousy than from party spite."
"I have a great mind to go and get Mademoiselle Piombo's easel and place it next to mine," said Matilde Roguin. She rose, but second thoughts made her sit down again.
"With a character like hers," she said, "one can't tell how she would take a civility; better wait events."
"Ecco la," said the young girl with the black eyes, languidly.
The steps of a person coming up the narrow stairway sounded through the studio. The words: "Here she comes!" passed from mouth to mouth, and then the most absolute silence reigned.
To understand the importance of the ostracism imposed by the act of Amelie Thirion, it is necessary to add that this scene took place toward the end of the month of July, 1815. The second return of the Bourbons had shaken many friendships which had held firm under the first Restoration. At this moment families, almost all divided in opinion, were renewing many of the deplorable scenes which stain the history of all countries in times of civil or religious wars. Children, young girls, old men shared the monarchial fever to which the country was then a victim. Discord glided beneath all roofs; distrust dyed with its gloomy colors the words and the actions of the most intimate friends.
Ginevra Piombo loved Napoleon to idolatry; how, then, could she hate him? The emperor was her compatriot and the benefactor of her father. The Baron di Piombo was among those of Napoleon's devoted servants who had co-operated most effectually in the return from Elba. Incapable of denying his political faith, anxious even to confess it, the old baron remained in Paris in the midst of his enemies. Ginevra Piombo was all the more open to condemnation because she made no secret of the grief which the second Restoration caused to her family. The only tears she had so far shed in life were drawn from her by the twofold news of Napoleon's captivity on the "Bellerophon," and Labedoyere's arrest.
The girls of the aristocratic group of pupils belonged to the most devoted royalist families in Paris. It would be difficult to give an idea of the exaggerations prevalent at this epoch, and of the horror inspired by the Bonapartists. However insignificant and petty Amelie's action may now seem to be, it was at that time a very natural expression of the prevailing hatred. Ginevra Piombo, one of Servin's first pupils, had occupied the place that was now taken from her since the first day of her coming to the studio. The aristocratic circle had gradually surrounded her. To drive her from a place that in some sense belonged to her was not only to insult her, but to cause her a species of artistic pain; for all artists have a spot of predilection where they work.
Nevertheless, political prejudice was not the chief influence on the conduct of the Right clique of the studio. Ginevra, much the ablest of Servin's pupils, was an object of intense jealousy. The master testified as much admiration for the talents as for the character of his favorite pupil, who served as a conclusion to all his comparisons. In fact, without any one being able to explain the ascendancy which this young girl obtained over all who came in contact with her, she exercised over the little world around her a prestige not unlike that of Bonaparte upon his soldiers.
The aristocracy of the studio had for some days past resolved upon the fall of this queen, but no one had, as yet, ventured to openly avoid the Bonapartist. Mademoiselle Thirion's act was, therefore, a decisive stroke, intended by her to force the others into becoming, openly, the accomplices of her hatred. Though Ginevra was sincerely loved by several of these royalists, nearly all of whom were indoctrinated at home with their political ideas, they decided, with the tactics peculiar to women, that they should do best to keep themselves aloof from the quarrel.
On Ginevra's arrival she was received, as we have said, in profound silence. Of all the young women who had, so far, come to Servin's studio, she was the handsomest, the tallest, and the best made. Her carriage and demeanor had a character of nobility and grace which commanded respect. Her face, instinct with intelligence, seemed to radiate light, so inspired was it with the enthusiasm peculiar to Corsicans,—which does not, however, preclude calmness. Her long hair and her black eyes and lashes expressed passion; the corners of her mouth, too softly defined, and the lips, a trifle too marked, gave signs of that kindliness which strong beings derive from the consciousness of their strength.
By a singular caprice of nature, the charm of her face was, in some degree, contradicted by a marble forehead, on which lay an almost savage pride, and from which seemed to emanate the moral instincts of a Corsican. In that was the only link between herself and her native land. All the rest of her person, her simplicity, the easy grace of her Lombard beauty, was so seductive that it was difficult for those who looked at her to give her pain. She inspired such keen attraction that her old father caused her, as matter of precaution, to be accompanied to and from the studio. The only defect of this truly poetic creature came from the very power of a beauty so fully developed; she looked a woman. Marriage she had refused out of love to her father and mother, feeling herself necessary to the comfort of their old age. Her taste for painting took the place of the passions and interests which usually absorb her sex.
"You are very silent to-day, mesdemoiselles," she said, after advancing a little way among her companions. "Good-morning, my little Laure," she added, in a soft, caressing voice, approaching the young girl who was painting apart from the rest. "That head is strong,—the flesh tints a little too rosy, but the drawing is excellent."
Laure raised her head and looked tenderly at Ginevra; their faces beamed with the expression of a mutual affection. A faint smile brightened the lips of the young Italian, who seemed thoughtful, and walked slowly to her easel, glancing carelessly at the drawings and paintings on her way, and bidding good-morning to each of the young girls of the first group, not observing the unusual curiosity excited by her presence. She was like a queen in the midst of her court; she paid no attention to the profound silence that reigned among the patricians, and passed before their camp without pronouncing a single word. Her absorption seemed so great that she sat down before her easel, opened her color-box, took up her brushes, drew on her brown sleeves, arranged her apron, looked at her picture, examined her palette, without, apparently, thinking of what she was doing. All heads in the group of the bourgeoises were turned toward her. If the young ladies in the Thirion camp did not show their impatience with the same frankness, their sidelong glances were none the less directed on Ginevra.
"She hasn't noticed it!" said Mademoiselle Roguin.
At this instant Ginevra abandoned the meditative attitude in which she had been contemplating her canvas, and turned her head toward the group of aristocrats. She measured, at a glance, the distance that now separated her from them; but she said nothing.
"It hasn't occurred to her that they meant to insult her," said Matilde; "she neither colored nor turned pale. How vexed these girls will be if she likes her new place as well as the old! You are out of bounds, mademoiselle," she added, aloud, addressing Ginevra.
The Italian pretended not to hear; perhaps she really did not hear. She rose abruptly; walked with a certain deliberation along the side of the partition which separated the adjoining closet from the studio, and seemed to be examining the sash through which her light came, —giving so much importance to it that she mounted a chair to raise the green serge, which intercepted the light, much higher. Reaching that height, her eye was on a level with a slight opening in the partition, the real object of her efforts, for the glance that she cast through it can be compared only to that of a miser discovering Aladdin's treasure. Then she sprang down hastily and returned to her place, changed the position of her picture, pretended to be still dissatisfied with the light, pushed a table close to the partition, on which she placed a chair, climbed lightly to the summit of this erection, and again looked through the crevice. She cast but one glance into the space beyond, which was lighted through a skylight; but what she saw produced so strong an effect upon her that she tottered.
"Take care, Mademoiselle Ginevra, you'll fall!" cried Laure.
All the young girls gazed at the imprudent climber, and the fear of their coming to her gave her courage; she recovered her equilibrium, and replied, as she balanced herself on the shaking chair:—
"Pooh! it is more solid than a throne!"
She then secured the curtain and came down, pushed the chair and table as far as possible from the partition, returned to her easel, and seemed to be arranging it to suit the volume of light she had now thrown upon it. Her picture, however, was not in her mind, which was wholly bent on getting as near as possible to the closet, against the door of which she finally settled herself. Then she began to prepare her palette in the deepest silence. Sitting there, she could hear, distinctly, a sound which had strongly excited her curiosity the evening before, and had whirled her young imagination across vast fields of conjecture. She recognized the firm and regular breathing of a man whom she had just seen asleep. Her curiosity was satisfied beyond her expectations, but at the same time she felt saddled by an immense responsibility. Through the opening in the wall she had seen the Imperial eagle; and upon the flock bed, faintly lighted from above, lay the form of an officer of the Guard. She guessed all. Servin was hiding a proscribed man!
She now trembled lest any of her companions should come near here to examine her picture, when the regular breathing or some deeper breath might reveal to them, as it had to her, the presence of this political victim. She resolved to keep her place beside that door, trusting to her wits to baffle all dangerous chances that might arise.
"Better that I should be here," thought she, "to prevent some luckless accident, than leave that poor man at the mercy of a heedless betrayal."
This was the secret of the indifference which Ginevra had apparently shown to the removal of her easel. She was inwardly enchanted, because the change had enabled her to gratify her curiosity in a natural manner; besides, at this moment, she was too keenly preoccupied to perceive the reason of her removal.
Nothing is more mortifying to young girls, or, indeed, to all the world, than to see a piece of mischief, an insult, or a biting speech, miss its effect through the contempt or the indifference of the intended victim. It seems as if hatred to an enemy grows in proportion to the height that enemy is raised above us. Ginevra's behavior was an enigma to all her companions; her friends and enemies were equally surprised; for the former claimed for her all good qualities, except that of forgiveness of injuries. Though, of course, the occasions for displaying that vice of nature were seldom afforded to Ginevra in the life of a studio, still, the specimens she had now and then given of her vindictive disposition had left a strong impression on the minds of her companions.
After many conjectures, Mademoiselle Roguin came to the conclusion that the Italian's silence showed a grandeur of soul beyond all praise; and the banking circle, inspired by her, formed a project to humiliate the aristocracy. They succeeded in that aim by a fire of sarcasms which presently brought down the pride of the Right coterie.
Madame Servin's arrival put a stop to the struggle. With the shrewdness that usually accompanies malice, Amelie Thirion had noticed, analyzed, and mentally commented on the extreme preoccupation of Ginevra's mind, which prevented her from even hearing the bitterly polite war of words of which she was the object. The vengeance Mademoiselle Roguin and her companions were inflicting on Mademoiselle Thirion and her group had, therefore, the fatal effect of driving the young ultras to search for the cause of the silence so obstinately maintained by Ginevra di Piombo. The beautiful Italian became the centre of all glances, and she was henceforth watched by friends and foes alike.
It is very difficult to hide even a slight emotion or sentiment from fifteen inquisitive and unoccupied young girls, whose wits and mischief ask for nothing better than secrets to guess, schemes to create or baffle, and who know how to find too many interpretations for each gesture, glance, and word, to fail in discovering the right one.
At this moment, however, the presence of Madame Servin produced an interlude in the drama thus played below the surface in these various young hearts, the sentiments, ideas, and progress of which were expressed by phrases that were almost allegorical, by mischievous glances, by gestures, by silence even, more intelligible than words. As soon as Madame Servin entered the studio, her eyes turned to the door near which Ginevra was seated. Under present circumstances the fact of this glance was not lost. Though at first none of the pupils took notice of it, Mademoiselle Thirion recollected it later, and it explained to her the doubt, fear, and mystery which now gave something wild and frightened to Madame Servin's eyes.
"Mesdemoiselles," she said, "Monsieur Servin cannot come to-day."
Then she went round complimenting each young girl, receiving in return a volume of those feminine caresses which are given as much by the tones of the voice and by looks as by gestures. She presently reached Ginevra, under the influence of an uneasiness she tried in vain to disguise. They nodded to each other in a friendly way, but said nothing; one painted, the other stood looking at the painting. The breathing of the soldier in the closet could be distinctly heard, but Madame Servin appeared not to notice it; her feigned ignorance was so obvious that Ginevra recognized it at once for wilful deafness. Presently the unknown man turned on his pallet.
The Italian then looked fixedly at Madame Servin, who said, without the slightest change of face:—
"Your copy is as fine as the original; if I had to choose between the two I should be puzzled."
"Monsieur Servin has not taken his wife into his confidence as to this mystery," thought Ginevra, who, after replying to the young wife's speech with a gentle smile of incredulity, began to hum a Corsican "canzonetta" to cover the noise that was made by the prisoner.
It was so unusual a thing to hear the studious Italian sing, that all the other young girls looked up at her in surprise. Later, this circumstance served as proof to the charitable suppositions of jealousy.
Madame Servin soon went away, and the session ended without further events; Ginevra allowed her companions to depart, and seemed to intend to work later. But, unconsciously to herself, she betrayed her desire to be left alone by impatient glances, ill-disguised, at the pupils who were slow in leaving. Mademoiselle Thirion, a cruel enemy to the girl who excelled her in everything, guessed by the instinct of jealousy that her rival's industry hid some purpose. By dint of watching her she was struck by the attentive air with which Ginevra seemed to be listening to sounds that no one else had heard. The expression of impatience she now detected in her companion's eyes was like a flash of light to her.
Amelie was the last of the pupils to leave the studio; from there she went down to Madame Servin's apartment and talked with her for a moment; then she pretended to have left her bag, ran softly back to the studio, and found Ginevra once more mounted on her frail scaffolding, and so absorbed in the contemplation of an unknown object that she did not hear the slight noise of her companion's footsteps. It is true that, to use an expression of Walter Scott, Amelie stepped as if on eggs. She hastily withdrew outside the door and coughed. Ginevra quivered, turned her head, saw her enemy, blushed, hastened to alter the shade to give meaning to her position, and came down from her perch leisurely. She soon after left the studio, bearing with her, in her memory, the image of a man's head, as beauteous as that of the Endymion, a masterpiece of Girodet's which she had lately copied.
"To banish so young a man! Who can he be? for he is not Marshal Ney—"
These two sentences are the simplest expression of the many ideas that Ginevra turned over in her mind for two days. On the third day, in spite of her haste to be first at the studio, she found Mademoiselle Thirion already there, having come in a carriage.
Ginevra and her enemy observed each other for a long time, but they made their faces impenetrable. Amelie had seen the handsome head of the mysterious man, but, fortunately, and unfortunately also, the Imperial eagles and uniform were so placed that she did not see them through the crevice in the partition. She was lost in conjectures. Suddenly Servin came in, much earlier than usual.
"Mademoiselle Ginevra," he said, after glancing round the studio, "why have you placed yourself there? The light is bad. Come nearer to the rest of the young ladies and pull down that curtain a little."
Then he sat down near Laure, whose work deserved his most cordial attention.
"Well, well!" he cried; "here, indeed, is a head extremely well done. You'll be another Ginevra."
The master then went from easel to easel, scolding, flattering, jesting, and making, as usual, his jests more dreaded than his reprimands. Ginevra had not obeyed the professor's order, but remained at her post, firmly resolved not to quit it. She took a sheet of paper and began to sketch in sepia the head of the hidden man. A work done under the impulse of an emotion has always a stamp of its own. The faculty of giving to representations of nature or of thought their true coloring constitutes genius, and often, in this respect, passion takes the place of it. So, under the circumstances in which Ginevra now found herself, the intuition which she owed to a powerful effect upon her memory, or, possibly, to necessity, that mother of great things, lent her, for the moment, a supernatural talent. The head of the young officer was dashed upon the paper in the midst of an awkward trembling which she mistook for fear, and in which a physiologist would have recognized the fire of inspiration. From time to time she glanced furtively at her companions, in order to hide the sketch if any of them came near her. But in spite of her watchfulness, there was a moment when she did not see the eyeglass of the pitiless Amelie turned full upon the drawing from the shelter of a great portfolio. Mademoiselle Thirion, recognizing the portrait of the mysterious man, showed herself abruptly, and Ginevra hastily covered the sheet of paper.
"Why do you stay there in spite of my advice, mademoiselle?" asked the professor, gravely.
The pupil turned her easel so that no one but the master could see the sketch, which she placed upon it, and said, in an agitated voice:—
"Do you not think, as I do, that the light is very good? Had I not better remain here?"
Servin turned pale. As nothing escapes the piercing eyes of malice, Mademoiselle Thirion became, as it were, a sharer in the sudden emotion of master and pupil.
"You are right," said Servin; "but really," he added, with a forced laugh, "you will soon come to know more than I do."
A pause followed, during which the professor studied the drawing of the officer's head.
"It is a masterpiece! worthy of Salvator Rosa!" he exclaimed, with the energy of an artist.
All the pupils rose on hearing this, and Mademoiselle Thirion darted forward with the velocity of a tiger on its prey. At this instant, the prisoner, awakened, perhaps, by the noise, began to move. Ginevra knocked over her stool, said a few incoherent sentences, and began to laugh; but she had thrown the portrait into her portfolio before Amelie could get to her. The easel was now surrounded; Servin descanted on the beauty of the copy which his favorite pupil was then making, and the whole class was duped by this stratagem, except Amelie, who, slipping behind her companions, attempted to open the portfolio where she had seen Ginevra throw the sketch. But the latter took it up without a word, and placed it in front of her. The two young girls then looked at each other fixedly, in silence.
"Come, mesdemoiselles, take your places," said Servin. "If you wish to do as well as Mademoiselle di Piombo, you mustn't be always talking fashions and balls, and trifling away your time as you do."
When they were all reseated before their easels, Servin sat down beside Ginevra.
"Was it not better that I should be the one to discover the mystery rather than the others?" asked the girl, in a low voice.
"Yes," replied the painter, "you are one of us, a patriot; but even if you were not, I should still have confided the matter to you."
Master and pupil understood each other, and Ginevra no longer feared to ask:—
"Who is he?"
"An intimate friend of Labedoyere, who contributed more than any other man, except the unfortunate colonel, to the union of the 7th regiment with the grenadiers of Elba. He was a major in the Imperial guard and was at Waterloo."
"Why not have burned his uniform and shako, and supplied him with citizen's clothes?" said Ginevra, impatiently.
"He will have them to-night."
"You ought to have closed the studio for some days."
"He is going away."
"Then they'll kill him," said the girl. "Let him stay here with you till the present storm is over. Paris is still the only place in France where a man can be hidden safely. Is he a friend of yours?" she asked.
"No; he has no claim upon me but that of his ill-luck. He came into my hands in this way. My father-in-law, who returned to the army during the campaign, met this young fellow, and very cleverly rescued him from the claws of those who captured Labedoyere. He came here to defend the general, foolish fellow!"
"Do you call him that!" cried Ginevra, casting a glance of astonishment at the painter, who was silent for a moment.
"My father-in-law is too closely watched to be able to keep him in his own house," he resumed. "So he brought him to me, by night, about a week ago. I hoped to keep him out of sight in this corner, the only spot in the house where he could be safe."
"If I can be useful to you, employ me," said Ginevra. "I know the Marechal de Feltre."
"Well, we'll see," replied the painter.
This conversation lasted too long not to be noticed by all the other girls. Servin left Ginevra, went round once more to each easel, and gave such long lessons that he was still there at the hour when the pupils were in the habit of leaving.
"You are forgetting your bag, Mademoiselle Thirion," said the professor, running after the girl, who was now condescending to the work of a spy to satisfy her jealousy.
The baffled pupil returned for the bag, expressing surprise at her carelessness; but this act of Servin's was to her fresh proof of the existence of a mystery, the importance of which was evident. She now ran noisily down the staircase, and slammed the door which opened into the Servins' apartment, to give an impression that she had gone; then she softly returned and stationed herself outside the door of the studio.