"But the soldier will not leave them a second," said Father d'Aigrigny. "Then," replied Rodin, "we must talk to them in presence of the soldier, and get him on our side." "That hope is idle," cried Father d'Aigrigny. "You do not know the military honor of his character. You do not know this man." "Don't I know him?" said Rodin, shrugging his shoulders. "Did not Mdlle. de Cardoville present me to him as her liberator, when I denounced you as the soul of the conspiracy? Did I not restore to him his ridiculous imperial relic--his cross of honor--when we met at Dr. Baleinier's? Did I not bring him back the girls from the convent, and place them in the arms of their father?" "Yes," replied the princess; "but, since that time, my abominable niece has either guessed or discovered all. She told you so herself, father." "She told me, that she considered me her most mortal enemy," said Rodin. "Be it so. But did she tell the same to the marshal? Has she ever mentioned me to him? and if she have done so, has the marshal communicated this circumstance to his soldier? It may be so; but it is by no means sure; in any case. I must ascertain the fact; if the soldier treats me as an enemy, we shall see what is next to be done--but I will first try to be received as a friend." "When?" asked the princess. "To-morrow morning," replied Rodin. "Good heaven, my clear father!" cried the Princess de Saint-Dizier, in alarm; "if this soldier were to treat you as an enemy--beware--" "I always beware, madame. I have had to face worse enemies than he is," said the Jesuit showing his black teeth; "the cholera to begin with." "But he may refuse to see you, and in what way will you then get at Marshal Simon's daughters?" said Father d'Aigrigny. "I do not yet know." answered Rodin. "But as I intend to do it, I shall find the means." "Father," said the princess, suddenly, on reflection, "these girls have never seen me, and I might obtain admittance to them, without sending in my name." "That would be perfectly useless at present, madame, for I must first know what course to take with respect to them. I must see and converse with them, at any cost, and then, after I have fixed my plan, your assistance may be very useful. In any case, please to be ready to- morrow, madame, to accompany me." "To what place, father?" "To Marshal Simon's." "To the marshal's?" "Not exactly. You will get into your carriage, and I will take a hackney-coach. I will then try to obtain an interview with the girls, and, during that time, you will wait for me at a few yards from the house. If I succeed, and require your aid, I will come and fetch you; I can give you my instructions without any appearance of concert between us." "I am content, reverend father; but, in truth, I tremble at the thought of your interview with that rough trooper." "The Lord will watch over his servant, madame!" replied Rodin. "As for you, father," added he, addressing the Abbe d'Aigrigny, "despatch instantly to Vienna the note which is all prepared to announce the departure and speedy arrival of the marshal. Every precaution has been taken. I shall write more fully this evening." The next morning, about eight o'clock, the Princess de Saint-Dizier, in her carriage, and Rodin, in his hackney-coach, took the direction of Marshal Simon's house. CHAPTER LIII. HAPPINESS. Marshal Simon has been absent two days. It is eight o'clock in the morning. Dagobert, walking on tip-toe with the greatest caution, so as not to make the floor creak beneath his tread, crosses the room which leads to the bedchamber of Rose and Blanche and applies his ear to the door of the apartment. With equal caution, Spoil-sport follows exactly the movements of his master. The countenance of the soldier is uneasy and full of thought. As he approaches the door, he says to himself: "I hope the dear children heard nothing of what happened in the night! It would alarm them, and it is much better that they should not know it at present. It might afflict them sadly, poor dears! and they are so gay, so happy, since they feel sure of their father's love for them. They bore his departure so bravely! I would not for the world that they should know of this unfortunate event." Then as he listened, the soldier resumed: "I hear nothing--and yet they are always awake so early. Can it be sorrow?" Dagobert's reflections were here interrupted by two frank, hearty bursts of laughter, from the interior of the bedroom. "Come! they are not so sad as I thought," said the soldier, breathing more freely. "Probably they know nothing about it." Soon, the laughter was again heard with redoubled force, and the soldier, delighted at this gayety, so rare on the part of "his children," was much affected by it: the tears started to his eyes at the thought that the orphans had at length recovered the serenity natural to their age; then, passing from one emotion to the other, still listening at the door, with his body leaning forward, and his hands resting on his knees, Dagobert's lip quivered with an expression of mute joy, and, shaking his head a little, he accompanied with his silent laughter, the increasing hilarity of the young girls. At last, as nothing is so contagious as gayety, and as the worthy soldier was in an ecstasy of joy, he finished by laughing aloud with all his might, without knowing why, and only because Rose and Blanche were laughing. Spoil-sport had never seen his master in such a transport of delight; he looked at him for a while in deep and silent astonishment, and then began to bark in a questioning way. At this well-known sound, the laughter within suddenly ceased, and a sweet voice, still trembling with joyous emotion, exclaimed: "Is it you, Spoil-sport, that have come to wake us?" The dog understood what was said, wagged his tail, held down his ears, and, approaching close to the door, answered the appeal of his young mistress by a kind of friendly growl. "Spoil-sport," said Rose, hardly able to restrain her laughter, "you are very early this morning." "Tell us what o'clock it is, if you please, old fellow?" added Blanche. "Young ladies, it is past eight," said suddenly the gruff voice of Dagobert, accompanying this piece of humor with a loud laugh. A cry of gay surprise was heard, and then Rose resumed: "Good-morning, Dagobert." "Good-morning, my children. You are very lazy to-day, I must tell you." "It is not our fault. Our dear Augustine has not yet been to call us. We are waiting for her." "Oh! there it is," said Dagobert to himself, his features once more assuming an expression of anxiety. Then he returned aloud, in a tone of some embarrassment, for the worthy man was no hand at a falsehood: "My children, our companion went out this morning--very early. She is gone to the country--on business--she will not return for some days--so you had better get up by yourselves for today." "Our good Madame Augustine!" exclaimed Blanche, with interest. "I hope it is nothing bad that has made her leave suddenly--eh, Dagobert?" "No, no--not at all--only business," answered the soldier. "To see one of her relations." "Oh, so much the better!" said Rose. "Well, Dagobert, when we call you can come in." "I will come back in a quarter of an hour," said the soldier as he withdrew; and he thought to himself: "I must lecture that fool Loony--for he is so stupid, and so fond of talking, that he will let it all out." The name of the pretended simpleton will serve as a natural transition, to inform the reader of the cause of the hilarity of the sisters. They were laughing at the numberless absurdities of the idiot. The girls rose and dressed themselves, each serving as lady's-maid to the other. Rose had combed and arranged Blanche's hair; it was now Blanche's turn to do the same for her sister. Thus occupied, they formed a charming picture. Rose was seated before the dressing-table; her sister, standing behind her, was smoothing her beautiful brown hair. Happy age! so little removed from childhood, that present joy instantly obliterates the traces of past sorrow! But the sisters felt more than joy; it was happiness, deep and unalterable, for their father loved them, and their happiness was a delight, and not a pain to him. Assured of the affection of his children, he, also, thanks to them, no longer feared any grief. To those three beings, thus certain of their mutual love, what was a momentary separation? Having explained this, we shall understand the innocent gayety of the sisters, notwithstanding their father's departure, and the happy, joyous expression, which now filled with animation their charming faces, on which the late fading rose had begun once more to bloom. Their faith in the future gave to their countenances something resolute and decisive, which added a degree of piquancy to the beauty of their enchanting features. Blanche, in smoothing her sister's hair, let fall the comb, and, as she was stooping to pick it up, Rose anticipated her, saying: "If it had been broken, we would have put it into the handle-basket." Then the two laughed merrily at this expression, which reminded them of an admirable piece of folly on the part of Loony. The supposed simpleton had broken the handle of a cup, and when the governess of the young ladies had reprimanded him for his carelessness, he had answered: "Never mind, madame; I have put it into the handle- basket." "The handle-basket, what is that?" "Yes, Madame; it is where I keep all the handles I break off the things!" "Dear me!" said Rose, drying her eyes; "how silly it is to laugh at such foolishness." "It is droll," replied Blanche; "how can we help it?" "All I regret is, that father cannot hear us laugh." "He was so happy to see us gay!" "We must write to him to-day, the story of the handle-basket." "And that of the feather-brush, to show that, according to promise, we kept up our spirits during his absence." "Write to him, sister? no, he is to write to us, and we are not to answer his letters." "True! well then, I have an idea. Let us address letters to him here, Dagobert can put them into the post, and, on his return, our father will read our correspondence." "That will be charming! What nonsense we will write to him, since he takes pleasure in it!" "And we, too, like to amuse ourselves." "Oh, certainly! father's last words have given us so much courage." "As I listened to them, I felt quite reconciled to his going." "When he said to us: 'My children, I will confide in you all I can. I go to fulfill a sacred duty, and I must be absent for some time; for though, when I was blind enough to doubt your affection, I could not make up my mind to leave you, my conscience was by no means tranquil. Grief takes such an effect on us, that I had not the strength to come to a decision, and my days were passed in painful hesitation. But now that I am certain of your tenderness, all this irresolution has ceased, and I understand how one duty is not to be sacrificed to another, and that I have to perform two duties at once, both equally sacred; and this I now do with joy, and delight, and courage!'" "Go on, sister!" cried Blanche, rising to draw nearer to Rose. "I think I hear our father when I remember those words, which must console and support us during his absence." "And then our father continued: 'Instead of grieving at my departure, you would rejoice in it, you should be proud and happy. I go to perform a good and generous act. Fancy to yourselves, that there is somewhere a poor orphan, oppressed and abandoned by all--and that the father of that orphan was once my benefactor, and that I had promised him to protect his son--and that the life of that son is now in peril--tell me, my children; would you regret that I should leave you to fly to the aid of such an orphan?'--" "'No, no, brave father!' we answered: 'we should not then be your daughters!'" continued Rose, with enthusiasm. "'Count upon us! We should be indeed unhappy if we thought that our sorrow could deprive thee of thy courage. Go! and every day we will say to ourselves proudly, "It was to perform a great and noble duty that our father left us--we can wait calmly for his return." "How that idea of duty sustains one, sister!" resumed Rose, with growing enthusiasm. "It gave our father the courage to leave us without regret, and to us the courage to bear his absence gayly!" "And then, how calm we are now! Those mournful dreams, which seemed to portend such sad events, no longer afflict us." "I tell you, sister, this time we are really happy once for all." "And then, do you feel like me? I fancy, that I am stronger and more courageous and that I could brave every danger." "I should think so! We are strong enough now. Our father in the midst, you on one side, I on the other--" "Dagobert in the vanguard, and Spoil-sport in the rear! Then the army will be complete, and let 'em come on by thousands!" added a gruff, but jovial voice, interrupting the girl, as Dagobert appeared at the half- open door of the room. It was worth looking at his face, radiant with joy; for the old fellow had somewhat indiscreetly been listening to the conversation. "Oh! you were listening, Paul Pry!" said Rose gayly, as she entered the adjoining room with her sister, and both affectionately embraced the soldier. "To be sure, I was listening; and I only regretted not to have ears as large as Spoil-sport's! Brave, good girls! that's how I like to see you- -bold as brass, and saying to care and sorrow: 'Right about face! march! go to the devil!'" "He will want to make us swear, now," said Rose to her sister, laughing with all her might. "Well! now and then, it does no harm," said the soldier; "it relieves and calms one, when if one could not swear by five hundred thousand de--" "That's enough!" said Rose, covering with her pretty hand the gray moustache, so as to stop Dagobert in his speech. "If Madame Augustine heard you--" "Our poor governess! so mild and timid," resumed Blanche. "How you would frighten her!" "Yes," said Dagobert, as he tried to conceal his rising embarrassment; "but she does not hear us. She is gone into the country." "Good, worthy woman!" replied Blanche, with interest. "She said something of you, which shows her excellent heart." "Certainly," resumed Rose; "for she said to us, in speaking of you, 'Ah, young ladies! my affection must appear very little, compared with M. Dagobert's. But I feel that I also have the right to devote myself to you.'" "No doubt, no doubt! she has a heart of gold," answered Dagobert. Then he added to himself, "It's as if they did it on purpose, to bring the conversation back to this poor woman." "Father made a good choice," continued Rose. "She is the widow of an old officer, who was with him in the wars." "When we were out of spirits," said Blanche, "you should have seen her uneasiness and grief, and how earnestly she set about consoling us."
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