Chapter VII.

The morning of the 14ᵗʰ June arrived. Paris is then at its loveliest season. The gardens in particular are worthy of the capital of Europe, and they are open to all who can manage to make a decent appearance. Adrienne’s hotel had a little garden in the rear, and she sat at her window endeavoring to breathe the balmy odors that arose from it. Enter it she could not. It was the property, or devoted to the uses, of the occupant of the rez de chaussée. Still she might look at it as often as she dared to raise her eyes from her needle. The poor girl was not what she had been two months before. The handkerchief wanted but a few hours of being finished, it is true, but the pale cheeks, the hollow eyes and the anxious look, proved at what a sacrifice of health and physical force I had become what I was. As I had grown in beauty, the hand that ornamented me had wasted, and when I looked up to catch the smile of approbation, it was found to be care worn and melancholy. Still the birds did not sing the less sweetly, for Paris is full of birds, the roses were as fragrant, and the verdure was as deep as ever. Nature does not stop to lament over any single victim of human society. When misery is the deepest, there is something awful in this perpetual and smiling round of natural movements. It teaches profoundly the insignificance of the atoms of creation.

{ rez de chaussée — ground floor}

Adrienne had risen earlier than common, even, this morning, determined to get through with her task by noon, for she was actually sewing on the lace, and her impatience would not permit her to resume the work of the milliner that day, at least. For the last month she had literally lived on dry bread herself; at first with a few grapes to give her appetite a little gratification, but toward the last, on nothing but bread and water. She had not suffered so much from a want of food, however, as from a want of air and exercise; from unremitting, wasting toil at a sedentary occupation, from hope deferred and from sleepless nights. Then she wanted the cheering association of sympathy. She was strictly alone; with the exception of her short interviews with the milliner, she conversed with no one. Her grandmother slept most of the time, and when she did speak, it was with the querulousness of disease, and not in the tones of affection. This was hardest of all to bear; but Adrienne did bear up under all, flattering herself that when she could remove Mad. de la Rocheaimard into the country, her grandmother would revive and become as fond of her as ever. She toiled on, therefore, though she could not altogether suppress her tears. Under her painful and pressing circumstances, the poor girl felt her deepest affliction to be that she had not time to pray. Her work, now that she had nothing to expect from the milliner, could not be laid aside for a moment, though her soul did pour out its longings as she sat plying her needle.

Fortunately, Madame de la Rocheaimard was easy and tranquil the whole of the last morning. Although nearly exhausted by her toil and the want of food, for Adrienne had eaten her last morsel, half a roll, at breakfast, she continued to toil; but the work was nearly done, and the dear girl’s needle fairly flew. Of a sudden she dropped me in her lap and burst into a flood of tears. Her sobs were hysterical, and I felt afraid she would faint. A glass of water, however, restored her, and then this outpouring of an exhausted nature was suppressed. I was completed! At that instant, if not the richest, I was probably the neatest and most tasteful handkerchief in Paris. At this critical moment, Desirée, the commissionaire, entered the room.

From the moment that Adrienne had purchased me, this artful woman had never lost sight of the intended victim. By means of an occasional bribe to little Nathalie, she ascertained the precise progress of the work, and learning that I should probably be ready for sale that very morning, under the pretence of hiring the apartment, she was shown into my important presence. A brief apology explained all, and Adrienne civilly showed her little rooms.

“When does your lease end, mademoiselle?” demanded Desirée, carelessly.

“Next week, madame. I intend to remove to the country with my grandmother the beginning of the week.”

“You will do very right; no one that has the means should stay in Paris after June. Dieu! What a beautiful handkerchief! Surely — surely — this is not your work, mademoiselle?”

Adrienne simply answered in the affirmative, and then the commissionaire’s admiration was redoubled. Glancing her eye round the room, as if to ascertain the probabilities, the woman inquired if the handkerchief was ordered. Adrienne blushed, but shaking off the transient feeling of shame, she stated that it was for sale.

“I know a lady who would buy this — a marchande de mode, a friend of mine, who gives the highest prices that are ever paid for such articles — for to tell you the truth certain Russian princesses employ her in all these little matters. Have you thought of your price, mademoiselle?”

Adrienne’s bloom had actually returned, with this unexpected gleam of hope, for the affair of disposing of me had always appeared awful in her imagination. She owned the truth frankly, and said that she had not made herself acquainted with the prices of such things, except as she had understood what affluent ladies paid for them.

“Ah! that is a different matter,” said Désirée, coldly. “These ladies pay far more than a thing is worth. Now you paid ten francs for the handkerchief itself.”

“Twenty-eight,” answered Adrienne, trembling.

“Twenty-eight! mademoiselle, they deceived you shamefully. Ten would have been dear in the present absence of strangers from Paris. No, call that ten. This lace would probably bring a napoleon — yes, I think it might bring a napoleon.”

Adrienne’s heart sunk within her. She had supposed it to be worth at least five times as much.

“That makes thirty francs,” continued Désirée coldly; “and now for the work. You must have been a fortnight doing all this pretty work.”

“Two months, madame,” said Adrienne, faintly.

“Two months! Ah! you are not accustomed to this sort of work and are not adroit, perhaps.”

“I worked only in the mornings and late at night; but still think I worked full hours.”

“Yes, you worked when sleepy. Call it a month, then. Thirty days at ten sous a day make fifteen francs. Ten for the handkerchief, twenty for the lace, and fifteen for the work, make forty-five francs — parole d’honneur, it does come to a pretty price for a handkerchief. Si, we must ask forty-five francs for it, and then we can always abate the five francs, and take two napoleons.”

{ parole d’honneur = word of honor, upon my word!}

Adrienne felt sick at heart. Want of nourishment had lessened her energies, and here came a blow to all her golden visions that was near overcoming her. She knew that handkerchiefs similar to this frequently sold for twenty napoleons in the shops, but she did not know how much the cupidity of trade extracted from the silly and vain in the way of sheer contributions to avarice. It is probable the unfortunate young lady would have lost her consciousness, under the weight of this blow, had it not been for the sound of her grandmother’s feeble voice calling her to the bedside. This was a summons that Adrienne never disregarded, and, for the moment, she forgot her causes of grief.

“My poor Adrienne,” whispered Madame de la Rocheaimard in a tone of tenderness that her granddaughter had not heard for some weeks, “my poor Adrienne, the hour is near when we must part — “

“Grand-mamma! — dearest grand-mamma!”

“Nay, love, God wills it. I am old, and I feel death upon me. It is happy that he comes so gently, and when I am so well prepared to meet him. The grave has views, that no other scene offers, Adrienne! Noble blood and ancient renown are as nothing compared to God’s mercy and forgiveness. Pardon me if I have ever taught thy simple heart to dwell on vanities; but it was a fault of the age. This world is all vanity, and I can now see it when it is too late. Do not let my fault be thy fault, child of my love. Kiss me, Adrienne, pray for my soul when all is over.”

“Yes, dearest, dearest grand-mamma, thou know’st I will.”

“Thou must part with the rest of the trousseau to make thyself comfortable when I am gone.”

“I will do as thou wishest, dearest grand-mamma.”

“Perhaps it will raise enough to purchase thee four or five hundred francs of rentes, on which thou may’st live with frugality.”

{ rentes = annuity, yearly income}

“Perhaps it will, grand-mamma.”

“Thou wilt not sell the thimble — that thou wilt keep to remember me.”

Adrienne bowed her head and groaned. Then her grandmother desired her to send for a priest, and her thoughts took another direction. It was fortunate they did, for the spirit of the girl could not have endured more.

That night Madame de la Rocheaimard died, the wife of the porter, the bon curé, and Adrienne alone being present. Her last words were a benediction on the fair and gentle being who had so faithfully and tenderly nursed her in old age. When all was over, and the body was laid out, Adrienne asked to be left alone with it. Living or dead, her grandmother could never be an object of dread to her, and there were few disposed to watch. In the course of the night, Adrienne even caught a little sleep, a tribute that nature imperiously demanded of her weakness.

{ bon curé = worthy parish priest}

The following day was one of anguish and embarrassment. The physician, who always inspects the dead in France, came to make his report. The arrangements were to be ordered for the funeral. Fortunately, as Adrienne then thought, Désirée appeared in the course of the morning, as one who came in consequence of having been present at so much of the scene of the preceding day. In her character of a commissionaire she offered her services, and Adrienne, unaccustomed to act for herself in such offices, was fain to accept them. She received an order, or rather an answer to a suggestion of her own, and hurried off to give the necessary directions. Adrienne was now left alone again with the body of her deceased grandmother. As soon as the excitement ceased, she began to feel languid, and she became sensible of her own bodily wants. Food of no sort had passed her lips in more than thirty hours, and her last meal had been a scanty breakfast of dry bread. As the faintness of hunger came over her, Adrienne felt for her purse with the intention of sending Nathalie to a neighboring baker’s, when the truth flashed upon her, in its dreadful reality. She had not a liard. Her last sou had furnished the breakfast of the preceding day. A sickness like that of death came over her, when, casting her eyes around her in despair, they fell on the little table that usually held the nourishment prepared for her grandmother. A little arrowroot, and a light potage, that contained bread, still remained. Although it was all that seemed to separate the girl from death, she hesitated about using it. There was an appearance of sacrilege, in her eyes, in the act of appropriating these things to herself. A moment’s reflection, however, brought her to a truer state of mind, and then she felt it to be a duty to that dear parent herself, to renew her own strength, in order to discharge her duty to the dead. She ate, therefore, though it was with a species of holy reverence. Her strength was renewed, and she was enabled to relieve her soul by prayer.

{liard = half-farthing, the tiniest of coins}

“Mademoiselle will have the goodness to give me ten francs,” said Désirée, on her return; “I have ordered every thing that is proper, but money is wanting to pay for some little articles that will soon come.”

“I have no money, Désirée — not even a sou.”

“No money, mademoiselle? In the name of heaven, how are we to bury your grandmother?”

“The handkerchief — “

Désirée shook her head, and saw that she must countermand most of the orders. Still she was human, and she was a female. She could not altogether desert one so helpless, in a moment of such extreme distress. She reflected on the matter for a minute or two, and opened her mind.

“This handkerchief might sell for forty-five francs, mademoiselle,” she said, “and I will pay that much for it myself, and will charge nothing for my services to-day. Your dear grandmother must have Christian burial, that is certain, and poor enough will that be which is had for two napoleons. What say you, mademoiselle — will you accept the forty five francs, or would you prefer seeing the marchande de mode?

“I can see no one now, Désirée. Give me the money, and do honor to the remains of my dear, dear grandmother.”

Adrienne said this with her hands resting on her lap in quiescent despair. Her eyes were hollow and vacant, her cheeks bloodless, her mind almost as helpless as that of an infant. Désirée laid down two napoleons, keeping the five francs to pay for some necessaries, and then she took me in her hands, as if to ascertain whether she had done too much. Satisfied on this head, I was carefully replaced in the basket, when the commissionaire went out again, on her errands, honorably disposed to be useful. Still she did not deem it necessary to conceal her employer’s poverty, which was soon divulged to the porteress, and by her to the bourgeois.

{bourgeois = towns-people, neighbors}

Adrienne had now the means of purchasing food, but, ignorant how much might be demanded on behalf of the approaching ceremony, she religiously adhered to the use of dry bread. When Désirée returned in the evening, she told the poor girl that the convoi was arranged for the following morning, that she had ordered all in the most economical way, but that thirty-five francs were the lowest sou for which the funeral could be had. Adrienne counted out the money, and then found herself the mistress of just four francs ten sous. When Désirée took her leave for the night, she placed me in her basket, and carried me to her own lodgings, in virtue of her purchase.

{ convoi = funeral; lowest sou = cheapest price}

I was laid upon a table where I could look through an open window, up at the void of heaven. It was glittering with those bright stars which the astronomers tell us are suns of other systems, and the scene gradually drew me to reflections on that eternity which is before us. My feelings got to be gradually soothed, as I remembered the moment of time that all are required to endure injustice and wrongs on earth. Some such reflections are necessary to induce us to submit to the mysterious reign of Providence, whose decrees so often seem unequal, and whose designs are so inscrutable. By remembering what a speck is time, as compared with eternity, and that “God chasteneth those he loveth,” the ills of life may be borne, even with joy.

The manner in which Désirée disposed of me, shall be related in another number.

{another number = in the Graham’s Magazine periodical version, not divided into chapters, this paragraph closed the first of the four installments in which the story was printed; in later book versions it was changed to read “in the next chapter”}