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she was not much more than twenty, and had well-shaped features, that, with a happier expression, might have been attractive; but in this slatternly attire and attitude, her careless presence was doubly disagreeable to Sir Godfrey.
He stepped nearer the sitting woman, who, like a recent invalid, seemed still not so much to attend as to be enjoying the open air, the scent from the flower-pot, and the streak of warm sunshine that gleamed on the windowframe and glowed across her clean dress, on the old bright kerchief that was pinned across her breast, and the high white coif of some country fashion which she wore close to her face; yet in her face there was a healthy tint, a little shrivelled, as on a well-kept apple: so that it appeared to be more from ignorance, or the awkwardness of surprise, perhaps as much from his own foreign accent, or some patois to which she might have been accustomed, that, when Sir Godfrey went on distinctly to explain his errand, the woman Deroux looked sometimes vacantly at him, sometimes away out altogether to the open sky, again irresolutely towards her daughter and son-in-law, spreading her hands in the feeble way of still more aged persons, and smoothing her knees with them by turns, more and more restlessly as his voice grew distincter in its emphasis. To the statement of her former patron's recent death, of the omission or oversight which had interrupted her allowance from him, and of the nature and amount of the present bequest, increased as it would justly be by the addition of some recompense for the intervening yearsSuzanne Deroux returned vague murmurs, which might be taken for assent, till her large mild face was at length fixed towards Sir Godfrey's, with a light of greater comprehension than before in her dim eyes; and he noticed, for the first time, that one side of her cheek and forehead was marked by the white smooth seam of an old scar-how large it was impossible to see, for her cap; but frightful it must have been once-taking, as it did, the eyebrow away, and seeming to have blanched the eye itself, where its shining mark still crept out and curled round, amidst the furrows and wrinkles of otherwise healthy old age.
said something in reply, but confusedly, and with evident agitation, while her shaking face seemed fascinated to his-and with such a mixture of patois, as it seemed, whether of idiom, pronunciation, or languagethat Sir Godfrey could merely infer it to denote recollection of his brother, with sorrow for his death, and gratitude at the remembrance he had shown. The young man had at length put by his work, risen up, and approached to listen, as he leant his elbows on the broken deal-table.
"She is weak in mind, the poor woman- my mother," said the daughter, abruptly, though still engaged in administering nourishment to her infant; "it is useless to transact anything with her, Monsieur."
"No, it is merely her memory that is bad, Jeannette," interposed the son-in-law, who seemed scarcely his wife's age; and there was something deferential in his look towards the elder woman, with a comparative kindliness of tone, as he turned to address herself, putting his hand on her arm-chair and his head near hers, and using the respectful vous—" and she does not hear strangers very well -do you, belle-mère?"
The elder woman smiled faintly in return, her head still slightly trembling, though the familiar voice seemed to call up a degree of intelligence and composure on her face, somewhat like a child's when it is commended: "no
no-not very well, my son!" she said; then drawing herself up and spreading her gown with her hands, sat full of silent importance.
"She has always been weak in mind," coldly repeated her daughter, paying no attention to them, "since the accident by which she was so injured. I am acquainted with the circumstances, Monsieur, although at that time but a child, and fortunately not present with my mother in the house where it occurred."
"You allude to the fire, above nineteen years ago, in the house where the family of her employer, my late brother, had their apartments?" Sir Godfrey asked, turning to her. She made a simple assent. "Then your mother, Suzanne Deroux, was a servant living within the establishment?" he continued.
"Yes, she was the nurse-the wet
remember, during the sharp winter, thou wert glad thy brother's mouth was not here, did she not groan-and when the fine time came again, while thou wert so apt to taunt us about her son being grown English, she swung herself and wept! You feel it, you wish your son back here, Marraine (godmother), do you not?"
The elder woman turned from the light to him with a start and a stare; perhaps it was the bright sunshine that made her face seem faded beside it, especially where the scar-mark ran; she looked, to the stranger's eye, almost ghastly, as she replied, in a less cracked and tremulous voice than before-"Holy Virgin, yes! You will send-you will take care ofah!" And as she stopped, perplexed and troubled, the moisture sprang from her dull-blue eyes into tears; she passed one hand about the disfigured place; she seemed nearer clearness of speech on the subject than hitherto, as if that had been a masterspring to her scattered memories.
"My good woman," said the baronet soothingly, as he stepped nearer, into the recess where her easy-chair stood
"My good Madame Deroux-if you wish your son to return to you, it shall be managed, of course! You will see him, I hope, grown up and prosperous, as well as able to assist you! It would, no doubt, have been a burden before!-She or you could scarcely recognise him now, however," he added aside to the daughter, in an under-tone.
nurse (nourrice-à-lait)," was the unembarrassed answer" for the infant which perished along with its mother and the other persons. She had remained a considerable time, since it was sickly. My mother had been a peasant, you see, Monsieur."
She proceeded further of her own accord, with an evident view to the point of business.
"My mother was certainly entitled to this pension, notwithstanding her indifference to it-her refusal, I believe," said the young woman, looking for a moment at the elder, who had listlessly turned again to the sunlight. "Her wound, which was shocking, confined her for weeks to the hospital-her lover, my father, who up to that time had still admired her, and who was in the family of a nobleman, returned, indifferent to her fate, with his master to the provinces, where his friendship for her had arisen. As for her own infant, my brother, whom at the risk of her own life she had remained to save-its arm was indelibly scorched, almost destroyed by the flames which pursued her. She ultimately relinquished it with apparent unconcern, to the man who had rescued them by a ladder at the window-an Englishman, a servant who had arrived with Monsieur Vilby, and whose eccentricity made him desire to adopt it. She has neither heard of, nor seen her son, my brother, since. She has never seemed even to wish it, Monsieur. Certainly my mother is weak in mind."
In most of this account the thread was easily traceable; the baronet recalled to mind some vague connection of his brother's late huntsman, Griffiths, or "Welsh Will," as he was called, with the fatal incidents-he had heard his son Francis talk years before of a boy about Stoke, whom the huntsman's vixen wife persecuted and kept out of doors. He had been sent to some business, so far as Sir Godfrey remembered, through Mr Hesketh. The baronet stated as much to the people before him.
"Thou'rt wrong, though, Jeannette," said the son-in-law again, with the same side-tone, irrespective of their visitor's presence, rather through a dull incapability to acknowledge it than from intention; "she es for him. When thou'dst say,
"It is easy enough, Monsieur," was the careless answer, without any responsive depression of voice," since the arm would not lose such a mark, more than my mother's visage-added to the loss of the little finger. I was too young to remember it, you seebut the washerwoman who kept us both, and who used privately to bring the child at intervals to my mother, leaving it for the night-she had again seen it after its recovery, and lodged along with us afterwards till her death."
Suzanne Deroux had felt hastily for something beneath the bosom of her dress, and at length drew it forth; a thin gold cross with black beads, which she kissed with fervour, then began eagerly to whisper and mutter some scraps of prayer, that might
have been Latin or patois, or both; at each bead that fell from her fingers her face seemed growing calmer.
"She is quite well in other respects, Monsieur," continued the daughter, turning impatiently from her; 66 she still eats like a peasant, she sleeps soundly, she prefers bright colours for her dress to go to mass and confession. As for that, she is so superstitious, that when we were about to starve, she would not permit her little cross there to be pledged, nor the dress in which she must frequent Notre Dame-it was not she who suffered, you see, but we-who endeavoured to conceal it from her that we endured so much!"
A look of mild reproach was cast by Suzanne towards her daughter, while her lips still moved.
"Well, well, Jeannette, going to these affairs pleases her," said the young boot-closer, with the cub-like leaning to his mother-in-law which appeared through his uncouth exterior.
"It is the priests who frighten her," went on his partner, her back towards him, in perfect indifference to his remarks; "her confessor, who makes her tremble at the supposition of crimes
"Peltier is the name of Jeannette's father, it seems," resumed the bootmaker more confidentially than before, coming nearer the visitor; though for that-I and Jeannette do not mind such ceremony-do we, Jeannette? We are fond of each other, you see." The disdainful glance which he received from his female companion was sufficiently sharp-tempered to make the fondness on her side doubtful.
"Of which she is innocent!" observed the son-in-law behind, in the same disregarded way-" sacré nom! Jeannette is wrong about my motherin-law," he added, looking awkwardly for a moment at Sir Godfrey. "If you would not call her Madame Derouxit confuses her ideas it is Madame Peltier she likes strangers to call her -do you not, Marraine ?"
An air of childish pleasure spread over the old woman's features, and she nodded graciously, and smiled.
"See how she loves the child, too, Jeannette!" said he, as the infant stretched its shapeless arms and legs from the maternal bosom, where it had at length ceased to feed, towards the grandmother's bright kerchief and white coif, that basked in outer sunshine. She put out her hands to receive it, and, with an aspect of complete satisfaction, began dandling the child towards the window, chirping to it like a bird, or buzzing like a bee; while the slatternly Jeannette applied a careless touch to the disorder of her dress.
"Do you not see that you infest Monsieur with your absurd remarks!" said she, angrily, when the pin had been taken from her mouth, on which her attire greatly depended; "and he must naturally wish to escape from a habitation so unworthy of himfavour me by being silent, or going out." The bootmaker retreated towards his original place again, while his abler partner, with an intelligence and quickness of apprehension, as well as a collectedness, which might have done credit to a higher station, proceeded to take up the thread of their visitor's business with them.
There was one precaution which she requested him to afford them-a signed paper in his handwriting, to account for their possession of the money, and state the ground of its being given, in case of any accident meanwhile from the police. And while the bootmaker was absent in search of ink-bottle and pen from some neighbour, Sir Godfrey turned, for the first time, from beside the elder woman's chair in its recess, toward the attic casement which appeared as fascinating to her as to her charge.
"My mother is still a peasant, Monsieur," remarked the younger woman, apologetically; "she is never weary of admiring Paris!-Paris, with which she has so little to do—of which she knows nothing-which has kept us so long miserable!"
A strange thrill of very novel feeling ran through Sir Godfrey as he pressed nearer, and looked. He almost shrank back with an emotion of awe, the sight was so unexpected, in such extreme contrast to that mean abode, from beside the unmeaning vacancy of the elder woman's pleasure, the infant's crowing sounds and motions, the repugnance he felt for the others, and his own engrossing thoughts otherwise, on Willoughby's
faculties of a prophet; indeed the
single-minded, straight-forward, un-
"And now, my good woman," said Sir Godfrey, when he had written the required paper, with an order for the money, "let me bid you farewell." He took Suzanne's shrivelled hand, and she made a motion to rise up, with decorous gravity. There was a confused murmur of gratitude, as if appealing to her daughter for fuller explanation; but he saw her eyes moisten again, silently, when he said he would cause the means to be taken for at least enabling her son to communicate with and assist her. Suzanne Deroux shook her head, she seemed almost to groan; while the same wavering feebleness of mind again turned her to the window and the child. It appeared doubtful
1854.] The Secret of Stoke Manor: A Family History.—Part IV.
whether she really had a distinct
"Or on what floor-her master's
"There was no other circumstance,
The recent interview, making known little of any additional importance, at least convinced Sir Godfrey of the judiciousness of a step he had hitherto disliked, so long as it seemed possible that unexpected facts might appear from it an examination for himself, namely, of the original record by the police, whose reputation for exactitude and acuteness was so proverbial. It now, indeed, assumed the air of a somewhat superfluous measure, when through all he had heard from these people, with no motive or means for deception, there did not show the slightest trace of anything unlike other disasters of the kind of anything equivocal, any thing suspicious. It was chiefly, therefore, with the wish for complete reassurance, and final dismissal of the unwelcome subject, that he turned again, on his way homeward, to the chief bureau of police which he had previously passed. He found prompt attendance there, on producing his passport, and the required volume, from
under the head of "Conflagrations Domestiques," soon lay open on a high desk before him at the point he turned the leaves slowly, reading was in search of, while the inspector which the peculiar style of French calaloud the passages he indicated, and ligraphy did not tend to render lucid.
The record of nineteen years ago arch, according to the laboriously prohad been made under a different monwhen any foreign subject was concernlix system of M. de Sartines, especially ed; and it extended over many of the large pages, betraying by its faintval had elapsed. It set out with the brown ink how considerable an interthe residence of the commissary in the alarm being brought past midnight to Quartier faubourg St Germain, that a flames, and the endeavours made to house on the Quai d'Orcay was in inhabitants, who had been driven to arrest them, as well as to succour the the garret windows, and were attemptit stated the narrow escape of a maiding to pass to the contiguous roofs; servant from a front window of the apartments were full of smoke, by the first floor, where the whole of the aid of a gendarme with a ladder too short to allow him to enter-and of a had first given the alarm, but who had woman in her night-dress, whose shrieks disappeared; till she returned to a corner window with a child in her flame, but rescued by a man on the arms, actually pursued by a bursting top of a wall which abutted there on a manufactory canal flowing at a right lish gentleman, the tenant of the first angle into the Seine-also of the Engfloor, who had at first made his way from the street into the basement, out of a fiacre which had brought him from the theatre, but who reappeared half amidst the play of the fire-engines. drenched, and panting for breath, The state of the February night was described as being very dark before the occurrence, with a high wind blowing up the river, where, from the tide, and a period of unusual rain, the overflow, rising almost to a level with water of the Seine made the canal its bridges, yet affording the greater facilities for the jets from the fireengines, which succeeded ultimately in saving the adjoining structures, and the sheds of the tobacco-manufactory