against the stones— I will damn myself, and curse thee, Lord, if thou keepest my child from me! Thou seest that my arms are gnawed all over— has the good God no pity? Oh, give me but a little black bread and salt, only let me have my child to warm me like the sun! Alas! O Lord my God, I am the vilest of sinners, but my child made me pious— I was full of religion out of love for her, and I beheld thee through her smiles as through an opening in heaven. Oh, let me only once, once more only, once more draw this little shoe on to her sweet rosy little foot, and I will die, Holy Mother, blessing thee! Ah, fifteen years— she will be a woman grown now! Unhappy child! is it then indeed true that I shall never see her more?— not even in heaven, for there I shall never go. Oh, woe is me! to have to say, There is her shoe, and that is all I shall ever have of her!”

The unhappy creature threw herself upon the shoe— her consolation and her despair for so many years— and her very soul was rent with sobs as on the first day. For to a mother who has lost her child, it is always the first day— that grief never grows old. The mourning garments may wear out and lose their sombre hue, the heart remains black as on the first day.

At that moment the blithe, fresh voices of children passing the cell struck upon her ear. Whenever children met her eye or ear, the poor mother would cast herself into the darkest corner of her living sepulchre, as if she sought to bury her head in the stone wall that she might not hear them. This time, contrary to her habit, she started up and listened eagerly, for one of them had said: “They are going to hang a gipsy woman to-day.”

With the sudden bound of the spider which we have seen rush upon the fly at the shaking of his web, she ran to her loophole which looked out, as the reader knows, upon the Place de Grève. In effect, a ladder was placed against the gibbet, and the hangman’s assistant was busy adjusting the chains rusted by the rain. A few people stood round.

The laughing group of children was already far off. The sachette looked about for a passer-by of whom she might make inquiries. Close to her cell she caught sight of a priest making believe to study the public breviary, but who was much less taken up with the lattice-guarded volume than with the gibbet, towards which, ever and anon, he cast a savage, scowling glance. She recognised him as the reverend Archdeacon of Josas, a saintly man.

“Father,” she asked, “who is to be hanged there?”

The priest looked at her without replying. She repeated her question.

“I do not know,” he answered.

“Some children passing said that it was an Egyptian woman,” said the recluse.

“I think it is,” returned the priest. Paquette La Chantefleurie broke into a hyena laugh.

“Listen,” said the Archdeacon, “it appears that you hate the gipsy women exceedingly?”

“Hate them!” cried the recluse. “They are ghouls and stealers of children! They devoured my little girl, my babe, my only child! I have no heart in my body— they have eaten it!”

She was terrible. The priest regarded her coldly.

“There is one that I hate above the rest,” she went on, “and that I have cursed— a young one— about the age my child would be if this one’s mother had not devoured her. Each time that this young viper passes my cell my blood boils!”

“Well, my sister, let your heart rejoice,” said the priest, stony as a marble statue on a tomb, “for ’tis that one you will see die.”

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous chapter/page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next chapter/page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.