Chapter V.

The holidays were over, without there being any material revival of trade, when my deliverance unexpectedly occurred. It was in February, and I do believe our mistress had abandoned the expectation of disposing of us that season, when I heard a gentle voice speaking near the counter, one day, in tones which struck me as familiar. It was a female, of course, and her inquiries were about a piece of cambric handkerchiefs, which she said had been sent to this shop from a manufactory in Picardie. There was nothing of the customary alertness in the manner of our mistress, and, to my surprise, she even showed the customer one or two pieces of much inferior quality, before we were produced. The moment I got into the light, however, I recognized the beautifully turned form and sweet face of Adrienne de la Rocheaimard. The poor girl was paler and thinner than when I had last seen her, doubtless, I thought, the effects of her late illness; but I could not conceal from myself the unpleasant fact that she was much less expensively clad. I say less expensively clad, though the expression is scarcely just, for I had never seen her in attire that could properly be called expensive at all; and, yet, the term mean would be equally inapplicable to her present appearance. It might be better to say that, relieved by a faultless, even a fastidious neatness and grace, there was an air of severe, perhaps of pinched economy in her present attire. This it was that had prevented our mistress from showing her fabrics as fine as we, on the first demand. Still I thought there was a slight flush on the cheek of the poor girl, and a faint smile on her features, as she instantly recognized us for old acquaintances. For one, I own I was delighted at finding her soft fingers again brushing over my own exquisite surface, feeling as if one had been expressly designed for the other. Then Adrienne hesitated; she appeared desirous of speaking, and yet abashed. Her color went and came, until a deep rosy blush settled on each cheek, and her tongue found utterance.

“Would it suit you, madame,” she asked, as if dreading a repulse, “to part with one of these?”

“Your pardon, mademoiselle; handkerchiefs of this quality are seldom sold singly.”

“I feared as much — and yet I have occasion for only one. It is to be worked — if it — “

The words came slowly, and they were spoken with difficulty. At that last uttered, the sound of the sweet girl’s voice died entirely away. I fear it was the dullness of trade, rather than any considerations of benevolence, that induced our mistress to depart from her rule.

“The price of each handkerchief is five and twenty francs, mademoiselle — ” she had offered the day before to sell us to the wife of one of the richest agents de change in Paris, at a napoleon a piece — “the price is five and twenty francs, if you take the dozen, but as you appear to wish only one, rather than not oblige you, it may be had for eight and twenty.”

{ agents de change = stockbrokers; napoleon = gold coin worth twenty francs}

There was a strange mixture of sorrow and delight in the countenance of Adrienne; but she did not hesitate, and, attracted by the odor of the eau de cologne, she instantly pointed me out as the handkerchief she selected. Our mistress passed her scissors between me and my neighbor of the coté gauche, and then she seemed instantly to regret her own precipitation. Before making the final separation from the piece, she delivered herself of her doubts.

“It is worth another franc, mademoiselle,” she said, “to cut a handkerchief from the centre of the piece.”

The pain of Adrienne was now too manifest for concealment. That she ardently desired the handkerchief was beyond dispute, and yet there existed some evident obstacle to her wishes.

“I fear I have not so much money with me, madame” she said, pale as death, for all sense of shame was lost in intense apprehension. Still her trembling hands did their duty, and her purse was produced. A gold napoleon promised well, but it had no fellow. Seven more francs appeared in single pieces. Then two ten-sous were produced; after which nothing remained but copper. The purse was emptied, and the reticule rummaged, the whole amounting to just twenty-eight francs seven sous.

{sou = a small coin (5 centimes) — 20 sous equal one franc}

“I have no more, madame,” said Adrienne, in a faint voice.

The woman, who had been trained in the school of suspicion, looked intently at the other, for an instant, and then she swept the money into her drawer, content with having extorted from this poor girl more than she would have dared to ask of the wife of the agent de change. Adrienne took me up and glided from the shop, as if she feared her dear bought prize would yet be torn from her. I confess my own delight was so great that I did not fully appreciate, at the time, all the hardship of the case. It was enough to be liberated, to get into the fresh air, to be about to fulfill my proper destiny. I was tired of that sort of vegetation in which I neither grew, nor was watered by tears; nor could I see those stars on which I so much doated, and from which I had learned a wisdom so profound. The politics, too, were rendering our family unpleasant; the coté droit was becoming supercilious — it had always been illogical; while the coté gauche was just beginning to discover that it had made a revolution for other people. Then it was happiness itself to be with Adrienne, and when I felt the dear girl pressing me to her heart, by an act of volition of which pocket-handkerchiefs are little suspected, I threw up a fold of my gossamer-like texture, as if the air wafted me, and brushed the first tear of happiness from her eye that she had shed in months.

{revolution for other people = as he suggests frequently in this story, Cooper believed that the promise of the July Revolution was betrayed, and that the new government of King Louis Philippe proved little better than the old reactionary one of King Charles X; in this he shared the views of his friend the Marquis de Lafayette, the hero of the American Revolution, who as head of the French National Guard had been one of the leaders of the July Revolution in Paris}

The reader may be certain that my imagination was all alive to conjecture the circumstances which had brought Adrienne de la Rocheaimard to Paris, and why she had been so assiduous in searching me out, in particular. Could it be that the grateful girl still intended to make her offering to the Duchesse de d’Angoulême? Ah! no — that princess was in exile; while her sister was forming weak plots in behalf of her son, which a double treachery was about to defeat. I have already hinted that pocket-handkerchiefs do not receive and communicate ideas, by means of the organs in use among human beings. They possess a clairvoyance that is always available under favorable circumstances. In their case the mesmeritic trance may be said to be ever in existence, while in the performance of their proper functions. It is only while crowded into bales, or thrust into drawers for the vulgar purposes of trade, that this instinct is dormant, a beneficent nature scorning to exercise her benevolence for any but legitimate objects. I now mean legitimacy as connected with cause and effect, and nothing political or dynastic.

{ Duchesse de d’Angoulême = Marie Therese Charlotte, the Dauphine, Adrienne’s patron; her sister = her sister-in-law Marie Caroline, Duchesse de Berry, who led an unsuccessful revolt against the new regime}

By virtue of this power, I had not long been held in the soft hand of Adrienne, or pressed against her beating heart, without becoming the master of all her thoughts, as well as her various causes of hope and fear. This knowledge did not burst upon me at once, it is true, as is pretended to be the case with certain somnambules, for with me there is no empiricism — every thing proceeds from cause to effect, and a little time, with some progressive steps, was necessary to make me fully acquainted with the whole. The simplest things became the first apparent, and others followed by a species of magnetic induction, which I cannot now stop to explain. When this tale is told, I propose to lecture on the subject, to which all the editors in the country will receive the usual free tickets, when the world cannot fail of knowing quite as much, at least, as these meritorious public servants.

{somnambules = sleep walkers; editors = Cooper had very little respect for the press}

The first fact that I learned, was the very important one that the vicomtesse had lost all her usual means of support by the late revolution, and the consequent exile of the dauphine. This blow, so terrible to the grandmother and her dependent child, had occurred, too, most inopportunely, as to time. A half year’s pension was nearly due at the moment the great change occurred, and the day of payment arrived and passed, leaving these two females literally without twenty francs. Had it not been for the remains of the trousseau, both must have begged, or perished of want. The crisis called for decision, and fortunately the old lady, who had already witnessed so many vicissitudes, had still sufficient energy to direct their proceedings. Paris was the best place in which to dispose of her effects, and thither she and Adrienne came, without a moment’s delay. The shops were first tried, but the shops, in the autumn of 1830, offered indifferent resources for the seller. Valuable effects were there daily sold for a twentieth part of their original cost, and the vicomtesse saw her little stores diminish daily; for the Mont de Piété was obliged to regulate its own proceedings by the received current values of the day. Old age, vexation, and this last most cruel blow, did not fail of effecting that which might have been foreseen. The vicomtesse sunk under this accumulation of misfortunes, and became bed-ridden, helpless, and querulous. Every thing now devolved on the timid, gentle, unpracticed Adrienne. All females of her condition, in countries advanced in civilization like France, look to the resource of imparting a portion of what they themselves have acquired, to others of their own sex, in moments of urgent necessity. The possibility of Adrienne’s being compelled to become a governess, or a companion, had long been kept in view, but the situation of Mad. de la Rocheaimard forbade any attempt of the sort, for the moment, had the state of the country rendered it at all probable that a situation could have been procured. On this fearful exigency, Adrienne had aroused all her energies, and gone deliberately into the consideration of her circumstances.

{Mont de Piété = traditional term for a municipal pawn shop operated to help the poor}

Poverty had compelled Mad. de la Rocheaimard to seek the cheapest respectable lodgings she could find on reaching town. In anticipation of a long residence, and, for the consideration of a considerable abatement in price, she had fortunately paid six months’ rent in advance; thus removing from Adrienne the apprehension of having no place in which to cover her head, for some time to come. These lodgings were in an entresol of the Place Royale, a perfectly reputable and private part of the town, and in many respects were highly eligible. Many of the menial offices, too, were to be performed by the wife of the porter, according to the bargain, leaving to poor Adrienne, however, all the care of her grandmother, whose room she seldom quitted, the duties of nurse and cook, and the still more important task of finding the means of subsistence.

{entresol = mezzanine, low-ceilinged area between between the first and second floors}

For quite a month the poor desolate girl contrived to provide for her grandmother’s necessities, by disposing of the different articles of the trousseau. This store was now nearly exhausted, and she had found a milliner who gave her a miserable pittance for toiling with her needle eight or ten hours each day. Adrienne had not lost a moment, but had begun this system of ill-requited industry long before her money was exhausted. She foresaw that her grandmother must die, and the great object of her present existence was to provide for the few remaining wants of this only relative during the brief time she had yet to live, and to give her decent and Christian burial. Of her own future lot, the poor girl thought as little as possible, though fearful glimpses would obtrude themselves on her uneasy imagination. At first she had employed a physician; but her means could not pay for his visits, nor did the situation of her grandmother render them very necessary. He promised to call occasionally without fee, and, for a short time, he kept his word, but his benevolence soon wearied of performing offices that really were not required. By the end of a month, Adrienne saw him no more.

As long as her daily toil seemed to supply her own little wants, Adrienne was content to watch on, weep on, pray on, in waiting for the moment she so much dreaded; that which was to sever the last tie she appeared to possess on earth. It is true she had a few very distant relatives, but they had emigrated to America, at the commencement of the revolution of 1789, and all trace of them had long been lost. In point of fact, the men were dead, and the females were grandmothers with English names, and were almost ignorant of any such persons as the de la Rocheaimards. From these Adrienne had nothing to expect. To her, they were as beings in another planet. But the trousseau was nearly exhausted, and the stock of ready money was reduced to a single napoleon, and a little change. It was absolutely necessary to decide on some new scheme for a temporary subsistence, and that without delay.

Among the valuables of the trousseau was a piece of exquisite lace, that had never been even worn. The vicomtesse had a pride in looking at it, for it showed the traces of her former wealth and magnificence, and she would never consent to part with it. Adrienne had carried it once to her employer, the milliner, with the intention of disposing of it, but the price offered was so greatly below what she knew to be the true value, that she would not sell it. Her own wardrobe, however, was going fast, nothing disposable remained of her grandmother’s, and this piece of lace must be turned to account in some way. While reflecting on these dire necessities, Adrienne remembered our family. She knew to what shop we had been sent in Paris, and she now determined to purchase one of us, to bestow on the handkerchief selected some of her own beautiful needle work, to trim it with this lace, and, by the sale, to raise a sum sufficient for all her grandmother’s earthly wants.

Generous souls are usually ardent. Their hopes keep pace with their wishes, and, as Adrienne had heard that twenty napoleons were sometimes paid by the wealthy for a single pocket-handkerchief, when thus decorated, she saw a little treasure in reserve, before her mind’s eye.

“I can do the work in two months,” she said to herself, “by taking the time I have used for exercise, and by severe economy; by eating less myself, and working harder, we can make out to live that time on what we have.”

This was the secret of my purchase, and the true reason why this lovely girl had literally expended her last sou in making it. The cost had materially exceeded her expectations, and she could not return home without disposing of some article she had in her reticule, to supply the vacuum left in her purse. There would be nothing ready for the milliner, under two or three days, and there was little in the lodgings to meet the necessities of her grandmother. Adrienne had taken her way along the quays, delighted with her acquisition, and was far from the Mont de Piété before this indispensable duty occurred to her mind. She then began to look about her for a shop in which she might dispose of something for the moment. Luckily she was the mistress of a gold thimble, that had been presented to her by her grandmother, as her very last birth-day present. It was painful for her to part with it, but, as it was to supply the wants of that very parent, the sacrifice cost her less than might otherwise have been the case. Its price had been a napoleon, and a napoleon, just then, was a mint of money in her eyes. Besides, she had a silver thimble at home, and a brass one would do for her work.

Adrienne’s necessities had made her acquainted with several jewellers’ shops. To one of these she now proceeded, and, first observing through the window that no person was in but one of her own sex, the silversmith’s wife, she entered with the greater confidence and alacrity.

“Madame,” she said, in timid tones, for want had not yet made Adrienne bold or coarse, “I have a thimble to dispose of — could you be induced to buy it?”

The woman took the thimble and examined it, weighed it, and submitted its metal to the test of the touchstone. It was a pretty thimble, though small, or it would not have fitted Adrienne’s finger. This fact struck the woman of the shop, and she cast a suspicious glance at Adrienne’s hand, the whiteness and size of which, however, satisfied her that the thimble had not been stolen.

{touchstone = a variety of black stone used to test the purity of gold, by the streak it leaves when rubbed on the stone}

“What do you expect to receive for this thimble, mademoiselle?” asked the woman, coldly.

“It cost a napoleon, madame, and was made expressly for myself.”

“You do not expect to sell it at what it cost?” was the dry answer.

“Perhaps not, madame — I suppose you will look for a profit in selling it again. I wish you to name the price.”

This was said because the delicate ever shrink from affixing a value to the time and services of others. Adrienne was afraid she might unintentionally deprive the other of a portion of her just gains. The woman understood by the timidity and undecided manner of the applicant, that she had a very unpracticed being to deal with, and she was emboldened to act accordingly. First taking another look at the pretty little hand and fingers, to make certain the thimble might not be reclaimed, when satisfied that it really belonged to her who wished to dispose of it, she ventured to answer.

“In such times as we had before these vile republicans drove all the strangers from Paris, and when our commerce was good,” she said, “I might have offered seven francs and a half for that thimble; but, as things are now, the last sou I can think of giving is five francs.”

“The gold is very good, madame,” Adrienne observed, in a voice half-choked, “they told my grandmother the metal alone was worth thirteen.”

“Perhaps, mademoiselle, they might give that much at the mint, for there they coin money; but, in this shop, no one will give more than five francs for that thimble.”

Had Adrienne been longer in communion with a cold and heartless world, she would not have submitted to this piece of selfish extortion; but, inexperienced, and half frightened by the woman’s manner, she begged the pittance offered as a boon, dropped her thimble, and made a hasty retreat. When the poor girl reached the street, she began to reflect on what she had done. Five francs would scarcely support her grandmother a week, with even the wood and wine she had on hand, and she had no more gold thimbles to sacrifice. A heavy sigh broke from her bosom, and tears stood in her eyes. But she was wanted at home, and had not the leisure to reflect on her own mistake.