"You must know that, for the last few days, singular things are passing in the neighborhood of our factory. First, as we are in Lent, an abbe from Paris (a tall, fine-looking man, they say) has come to preach in the little village of Villiers, which is only a quarter of a league from our works. The abbe has found occasion to slander and attack M. Hardy in his sermons." "How is that?" "M. Hardy has printed certain rules with regard to our work, and the rights and benefits he grants us. These rules are followed by various maxims as noble as they are simple; with precepts of brotherly love such as all the world can understand, extracted from different philosophies and different religions. But because M. Hardy has chosen what is best in all religions, the abbe concludes that M. Hardy has no religion at all, and he has therefore not only attacked him for this in the pulpit, but has denounced our factory as a centre of perdition and damnable corruption, because, on Sundays, instead of going to listen to his sermons, or to drink at a tavern, our comrades, with their wives and children, pass their time in cultivating their little gardens, in reading, singing in chorus, or dancing together in the common dwelling- house. The abbe has even gone so far as to say, that the neighborhood of such an assemblage of atheists, as he calls us, might draw down the anger of Heaven upon the country--that the hovering of Cholera was much talked of, and that very possibly, thanks to our impious presence, the plague might fall upon all our neighborhood." "But to tell such things to ignorant people," exclaimed Mother Bunch, "is likely to excite them to fatal actions." "That is just what the abbe wants." "What do you tell me?" "The people of the environs, still more excited, no doubt by other agitators, show themselves hostile to the workmen of our factory. Their hatred, or at least their envy, has been turned to account. Seeing us live all together, well lodged, well warmed, and comfortably clad, active, gay, and laborious, their jealousy has been embittered by the sermons, and by the secret manoeuvres of some depraved characters, who are known to be bad workmen, in the employment of M. Tripeaud, our opposition. All this excitement is beginning to bear fruit; there have been already two or three fights between us and our neighbors. It was in one of these skirmishes that I received a blow with a stone on my head." "Is it not serious, Agricola?--are you quite sure?" said Mother Bunch, anxiously. "It is nothing at all, I tell you. But the enemies of M. Hardy have not confined themselves to preaching. They have brought into play something far more dangerous." "What is that?" "I, and nearly all my comrades, did our part in the three Revolutionary days of July; but we are not eager at present, for good reasons, to take up arms again. That is not everybody's opinion; well, we do not blame others, but we have our own ideas; and Father Simon, who is as brave as his son, and as good a patriot as any one, approves and directs us. Now, for some days past, we find all about the factory, in the garden, in the courts, printed papers to this effect: 'You are selfish cowards; because chance has given you a good master, you remain indifferent to the misfortunes of your brothers, and to the means of freeing them; material comforts have enervated your hearts.'" "Dear me, Agricola! what frightful perseverance in wickedness!" "Yes! and unfortunately these devices have their effect on some of our younger mates. As the appeal was, after all, to proud and generous sentiments, it has had some influence. Already, seeds of division have shown themselves in our workshops, where, before, all were united as brothers. A secret agitation now reigns there. Cold suspicion takes the place, with some, of our accustomed cordiality. Now, if I tell you that I am nearly sure these printed papers, thrown over the walls of our factory, to raise these little sparks of discord amongst us, have been scattered about by the emissaries of this same preaching abbe--would it not seem from all this, taken in conjunction with what happened this morning to the young lady, that M. Hardy has of late numerous enemies?" "Like you, I think it very fearful, Agricola," said the girl; "and it is so serious, that M. Hardy alone can take a proper decision on the subject. As for what happened this morning to the young lady, it appears to me, that, immediately on M. Hardy's return, you should ask for an interview with him, and, however delicate such a communication may be, tell him all that passed." "There is the difficulty. Shall I not seem as if wishing to pry into his secrets?" "If the young lady had not been followed, I should have shared your scruples. But she was watched, and is evidently in danger. It is therefore, in my opinion, your duty to warn M. Hardy. Suppose (which is not improbable) that the lady is married; would it not be better, for a thousand reasons, that M. Hardy should know all?" "You are right, my good sister; I will follow your advice. M. Hardy shall know everything. But now that we have spoken of others, I have to speak of myself--yes, of myself--for it concerns a matter, on which may depend the happiness of my whole life," added the smith, in a tone of seriousness, which struck his hearer. "You know," proceeded Agricola, after a moment's silence, "that, from my childhood, I have never concealed anything from you--that I have told you everything--absolutely everything?" "I know it, Agricola, I know it," said the hunchback, stretching out her white and slender hand to the smith, who grasped it cordially, and thus continued: "When I say everything, I am not quite exact--for I have always concealed from you my little love-affairs--because, though we may tell almost anything to a sister, there are subjects of which we ought not to speak to a good and virtuous girl, such as you are." "I thank you, Agricola. I had remarked this reserve on your part," observed the other, casting down her eyes, and heroically repressing the grief she felt; "I thank you." "But for the very reason, that I made it a duty never to speak to you of such love affairs, I said to myself, if ever it should happen that I have a serious passion--such a love as makes one think of marriage--oh! then, just as we tell our sister even before our father and mother, my good sister shall be the first to be informed of it." "You are very kind, Agricola." "Well then! the serious passion has come at last. I am over head and ears in love, and I think of marriage." At these words of Agricola, poor Mother Bunch felt herself for an instant paralyzed. It seemed as if all her blood was suddenly frozen in her veins. For some seconds, she thought she was going to die. Her heart ceased to beat; she felt it, not breaking, but melting away to nothing. Then, the first blasting emotion over, like those martyrs who found, in the very excitement of pain, the terrible power to smile in the midst of tortures, the unfortunate girl found, in the fear of betraying the secret of her fatal and ridiculous love, almost incredible energy. She raised her head, looked at the smith calmly, almost serenely, and said to him in a firm voice: "Ah! so, you truly love?" "That is to say, my good sister, that, for the last four days, I scarcely live at all--or live only upon this passion." "It is only since four days that you have been in love?" "Not more--but time has nothing to do with it." "And is she very pretty?" "Dark hair--the figure of a nymph--fair as a lily--blue eyes, as large as that--and as mild, as good as your own." "You flatter me, Agricola." "No, no, it is Angela that I flatter--for that's her name. What a pretty one! Is it not, my good Mother Bunch?" "A charming name," said the poor girl, contrasting bitterly that graceful appellation with her own nickname, which the thoughtless Agricola applied to her without thinking of it. Then she resumed, with fearful calmness: "Angela? yes, it is a charming name!" "Well, then! imagine to yourself, that this name is not only suited to her face, but to her heart. In a word, I believe her heart to be almost equal to yours." "She has my eyes--she has my heart," said Mother Bunch, smiling. "It is singular, how like we are." Agricola did not perceive the irony of despair contained in these words. He resumed, with a tenderness as sincere as it was inexorable: "Do you think, my good girl, that I could ever have fallen seriously in love with any one, who had not in character, heart, and mind, much of you?" "Come, brother," said the girl, smiling--yes, the unfortunate creature had the strength to smile; "come, brother, you are in a gallant vein to- day. Where did you make the acquaintance of this beautiful young person?" "She is only the sister of one of my mates. Her mother is the head laundress in our common dwelling, and as she was in want of assistance, and we always take in preference the relations of members of the association, Mrs. Bertin (that's the mother's name) sent for her daughter from Lille, where she had been stopping with one of her aunts, and, for the last five days, she has been in the laundry. The first evening I saw her, I passed three hours, after work was over, in talking with her, and her mother and brother; and the next day, I felt that my heart was gone; the day after that, the feeling was only stronger--and now I am quite mad about her, and resolved on marriage--according as you shall decide. Do not be surprised at this; everything depends upon you. I shall only ask my father and mother's leave, after I have yours." "I do not understand you, Agricola." "You know the utter confidence I have in the incredible instinct of your heart. Many times, you have said to me: 'Agricola, love this person, love that person, have confidence in that other'--and never yet were you deceived. Well! you must now render me the same service. You will ask permission of Mdlle. de Cardoville to absent yourself; I will take you to the factory: I have spoken of you to Mrs. Benin and her daughter, as of a beloved sister; and, according to your impression at sight of Angela, I will declare myself or not. This may be childishness, or superstition, on my part; but I am so made." "Be it so," answered Mother Bunch, with heroic courage; "I will see Mdlle. Angela; I will tell you what I think of her--and that, mind you, sincerely." "I know it. When will you come?" "I must ask Mdlle. de Cardoville what day she can spare sue. I will let you know." "Thanks, my good sister!" said Agricola warmly; then he added, with a smile: "Bring your best judgment with you--your full dress judgment." "Do not make a jest of it, brother," said Mother Bunch, in a mild, sad voice; "it is a serious matter, for it concerns the happiness of your whole life." At this moment, a modest knock was heard at the door. "Come in," said Mother Bunch. Florine appeared. "My mistress begs that you will come to her, if you are not engaged," said Florine to Mother Bunch. The latter rose, and, addressing the smith, said to him: "Please wait a moment, Agricola. I will ask Mdlle. de Cardoville what day I can dispose of, and I will come and tell you." So saying, the girl went out, leaving Agricola with Florine. "I should have much wished to pay my respects to Mdlle. de Cardoville," said Agricola; "but I feared to intrude." "My lady is not quite well, sir," said Florine, "and receives no one to- day. I am sure, that as soon as she is better, she will be quite pleased to see you." Here Mother Bunch returned, and said to Agricola: "If you can come for me to-morrow, about three o'clock, so as not to lose the whole day, we will go to the factory, and you can bring me back in the evening." "Then, at three o'clock to-morrow, my good sister." "At three to-morrow, Agricola." The evening of that same day, when all was quiet in the hotel, Mother Bunch, who had remained till ten o'clock with Mdlle. de Cardoville, re- entered her bedchamber, locked the door after her, and finding herself at length free and unrestrained, threw herself on her knees before a chair, and burst into tears. She wept long--very long. When her tears at length ceased to flow, she dried her eyes, approached the writing-desk, drew out one of the boxes from the pigeonhole, and, taking from this hiding-place the manuscript which Florine had so rapidly glanced over the evening before, she wrote in it during a portion of the night. CHAPTER XLVI. MOTHER BUNCH'S DIARY. We have said that the hunchback wrote during a portion of the night, in the book discovered the previous evening by Florine, who had not ventured to take it away, until she had informed the persons who employed her of its contents, and until she had received their final orders on the subject. Let us explain the existence of this manuscript, before opening it to the reader. The day on which Mother Bunch first became aware of her love for Agricola, the first word of this manuscript had been written. Endowed with an essentially trusting character, yet always feeling herself restrained by the dread of ridicule--a dread which, in its painful exaggeration, was the workgirl's only weakness--to whom could the unfortunate creature have confided the secret of that fatal passion, if not to paper--that mute confidant of timid and suffering souls, that patient friend, silent and cold, who, if it makes no reply to heart- rending complaints, at least always listens, and never forgets? When her heart was overflowing with emotion, sometimes mild and sad, sometimes harsh and bitter, the poor workgirl, finding a melancholy charm in these dumb and solitary outpourings of the soul, now clothed in the form of simple and touching poetry, and now in unaffected prose, had accustomed herself by degrees not to confine her confidences to what immediately related to Agricola, for though he might be mixed up with all her thoughts, for reflections, which the sight of beauty, of happy love, of maternity, of wealth, of misfortune, called up within her, were so impressed with the influence of her unfortunate personal position, that she would not even have dared to communicate them to him. Such, then, was this journal of a poor daughter of the people, weak, deformed, and miserable, but endowed with an angelic soul, and a fine intellect, improved by reading, meditation, and solitude; pages quite unknown, which yet contained many deep and striking views, both as regard men and things, taken from the peculiar standpoint in which fate had placed this unfortunate creature. The following lines, here and there abruptly interrupted or stained with tears, according to the current of her various emotions, on hearing of Agricola's deep love for Angela, formed the last pages of this journal: "Friday, March 3d, 1832. "I spent the night without any painful dreams. This morning, I rose with no sorrowful presentiment. I was calm and tranquil when Agricola came.
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