Live and Let Live/Chapter XVII

CHAPTER XVII.
false appearances.


the next morning, while Mrs. Hartell was in the nursery, during some very common conversation about French embroidery, Adéle asked, as it seemed, casually, "if madame had found the superb cape she had missed." Mrs. Hartell said she had not; "that she and her maid had searched everywhere for it; she was sure it must have been stolen; and if it were not for letting Mr. Hartell know how much it cost, she would get him to inquire at the police-office."

"Oh, madame! cost so much! it was but seven hundred franc—one hundred and fifty dollar for the most superb 'broidery of Paris, and the full Mechlin trimming the most rich, is nothing at all!"

Mrs. Hartell was really mortified at having set a higher value on a particular sum than her liberal domestic, and she replied, "Oh, of course it is not the money it cost I care about; but there is not such another cape in New-York. Nobody has anything like it. No one can get anything like it; for I was assured in Paris the pattern was destroyed, and there never should be another like it."

"Does that make it any more valuable, mamma? asked Miss Ophelia, who happily was yet ignorant of the ludicrous ambitions and rivalries of the dressing world.

"Certainly, my dear," interposed Adéle. "I lived with one lady who would not wear nothing everybody else wore; and one time she burnt up one new pretty hat because she saw one just like it. Ah, madame, you must find that cape, so distingué—why not search your own house before you search the police?"

Mrs. Hartell shrugged her shoulders. "The servants will all be angry—and then Mr. Hartell will be angry."

"They cannot be angry with you, madame, for I make the proposition. I am one of the servants, and you shall search my trunk, my box, my bureau first." And, suiting the action to the word, she took her keys from her pocket and gave them to Ophelia, who, like all children, delighted with the idea of exploring, flew to Adéle's trunk; and, opening it, exposed a confused mass of clothes, finery, little boxes, knickknacks, and toys of every description, such as would naturally be accumulated by a French femme de chambre. Miss Ophelia was so much amused that she seemed to have forgotten the object of her quest, and Adéle came to her aid, and saying, "You will never find the cape this way, Miss Ophelia," she proceeded with the keen scent of a trained policeman to ransack boxes, unroll stockings, turn the sleeves of dresses, shake out the skirts, &c., &c., and thus she went through all her own repositories, of course finding not a thread that did not belong to her, for well had they been sifted that morning. "Now, Miss Ophelia," she said, "ask Lucy for her key to her one trunk—she always wear it round her neck—she very careful of her key—she have such rich clothes, you know."

"For shame, Adéle! I am sure Lucy looks prettier in her plain clothes than an old painted up person would, even dressed in mamma's clothes."

"Ophelia! no hints."

"Well, then, mamma, she need not hint at Lucy if she does not want to be hinted at; and besides, I won't unlock Lucy's trunk. She steal mamma's cape, indeed! I would trust her with all the gold in the world."

"Why don't you unlock your own trunk, Lucy?"

Lucy blushed deeply, and said she had rather not." Adéle threw up both hands, and looking at Mrs. Hartell, exclaimed, "Mon Dieu! est il possible?"

"No, it is not possible!" retorted Ophelia; and, fired by Adéle's insinuation against her favorite, she caught the riband by which Lucy's key was suspended and unlocked the trunk. On the top lay a pencil sketch of Charles Lovett, that he had the Sunday before given to Lucy. Ophelia grasped it, and held it up to Lucy archly. Lucy, trembling with embarrassment, begged her to give it to her; and while a little contest ensued between them, Adéle, casting, ever and anon, stolen glances at Mrs. Hartell, proceeded in her investigations. It was a short piece of work. There was something in the neatness and order with which our humble friend's scanty stores were arranged that would have appealed even to Adéle's heart, if she had not been intent on self-preservation. "You must excuse me, Lucy," she said, as she shook out Lucy's frocks and unrolled her stockings; "I only serve you as I serve me myself—it is nearly finished, and then, as me, you will be tranquil—one thing more, and we have done—look, madame!" she took the last article, a cotton petticoat, from the bottom of the trunk, unfolded, and shook it. The cape fell from within it! There was a general exclamation. Adéle's reiterated "Mon Dieu! mon Dieu!" drowned every other. After the first burst of surprise Mrs. Hartell seemed entirely occupied with examining a zigzag tear in the cape, which marred her pleasure in her recovered property; a pleasure that otherwise would have engrossed her to the exclusion of all emotion at the discovery of such guilt in an apparently innocent young creature; for, in her eyes, Lucy was but a little servant girl; a species of the human genus with whom she had about as much sympathy as with the bees and the silkworm, whom she fancied were created solely to make honey for the table, and spin silk for ladies to wear. "Oh, Lucy! how could you? how could you?" exclaimed Ophelia, mortified and grieved.

Lucy was near fainting, and pale as death. Ophelia's exclamation brought the colour to her face, and tears and voice to her relief. "I did not take the cape," she said; "I don't know how it came into my trunk—Adéle must know!"

"Oh, mon Dieu! mon Dieu! listen, madame! You have never seen one such bold person—one such hypocrite—did you not suspect when she wished not her trunk examined?—did you not see her blush and tremble?—did she not turn pale as one guilty person when the cape dropped?—and now she accuse me! Ah, c'est un horreur!"

"Quite shocking, indeed!" responded Mrs. Hartell, faintly, her eyes still fixed on the rent in her cape. "Do you think, Adéle, Justine could darn this so it would not show?"

"I believe not, madame."

"If she had only stolen it, and not torn it," resumed Mrs. Hartell, "I could have forgiven her—but she really does deserve the penitentiary."

Adéle, bad as she was, started from such a consequence; and affecting to pity Lucy, she said, "Ah madame, she is very young!"

"The penitentiary, mamma!" exclaimed Ophelia; "Lucy shall not go to the penitentiary—I will ask papa—he will be home before dinner—she shall not go to the penitentiary, if she is ever so guilty."

Lucy's distress was increased by her embarrassment as to what it was best for her to say or do; her faculties were stunned; she almost lost the sense of her identity. She felt alone, helpless, and exposed to judgement without mercy. Ophelia's affection touched the springs of her heart, and, as she afterward said, "first sent her thoughts to the right place;" and that, having breathed a silent trust in Him who seeth in darkness as well as in light, she felt more composed! Still the tears poured over her cheeks, and little Eugene, who sat on her lap, put up his hand and wiped off first one cheek and then the other; then put up his lips to kiss her, and finding all did not do, he too burst into tears, and hid his face on her bosom. "Whatever becomes of me," thought Lucy, folding her arms round the little fellow, "I will do what I can for you!" and, after a little consideration, she resolved that she would, if possible, remain in the house till Mr. Hartell's arrival, and reserve her statement for his ear. In the mean time Adéle whispered to her mistress, and both retired for a few moments. In that interval Adéle strongly urged sending Lucy immediately off without other punishment than loss of character and loss of place. "If," she urged "she stays till Mr. Hartell arrives, she will frame her own story—she will put everything upon me—Mr. Hartell will believe her—men always believe a very pretty young girl against one who has the misfortune to be not young—madame will be left without any French servant, and that dear angel, master Eugene, would speak English first, just as the young ladies had."

Convinced by these precious arguments, Mrs. Hartell returned to the nursery, and announced to Lucy that she must leave the house within an hour. Lucy entreated that she might be permitted to stay till evening, and Ophelia seconded her entreaties, and then declared she "should not go till papa came." Her mother's reiterated decision only made her more vehement, till Adéle whimpered to her that if she cared for Lucy she had best let her go at once, for all the servants knew what had happened, and no one could say how soon a police-officer might be in the house. This roused the common childish terrors of an officer of justice, and she now urged Lucy to hasten her departure. Lucy, however, resolved to abide all risks but that of leaving Eugene before his father was warned of his danger. Her resolution was, however, suddenly changed by the arrival of a letter from Mr. Hartell, saying that business had unexpectedly taken him to Richmond, Virginia. Now there was no reason for delay, but whither go? Though she had served all with whom she had lived faithfully, and had left them with a spotless character, they had never manifested that sort of interest in her that inspired the poor child with confidence to apply to them in her present stress. Had they performed their duty—had they been friends as well as employers, with what confidence might this poor girl have appealed to them, sustained as she was inwardly by that "strong-siding champion, conscience?" She thought of going to her mother at once; but though she was sure her mother would believe her story, others might not, and she would not bear the thought of returning to her with a blasted character. She hoped that if she remained in the city the truth might come out. Her heart prompted her to go at once to Charles Lovett; there she was sure of faith and sympathy to the full. But what could he do for her? nothing; while her resorting to a young man as her only friend might render her liable to further and more cruel imputations. What, then, should she do? She had not a shilling in the world, for two days before she had sent all her unexpended earnings to "dear Jemmie." Again she passed her employers in review, and among them Mrs. Ardley, always good-natured and kindly disposed, had made the most favourable impression, and she had half resolved to go and tell her story to her, when a recollection of the lady whom she had seen at Mrs. Ardley's, the Mrs. Hyde who "talked so like mother," darted into her mind. The reminiscence seemed like a revelation from Heaven. "She had such feelings for servants," thought Lucy; "she will hear me, and give me good advice at any rate." Her decision made, she proceeded to the preparations for her departure. And first, undaunted by fear of Adéle, she asked to speak alone with Mrs. Hartell. To this Adéle objected, and that lady bade her say whatever she had to say without any fuss. She then, in spite of Adéle's interruptions and protestations, told the story of the laudanum calmly and exactly. There are few who give all the weight that should be allowed to general character against unfavourable appearances in a single case, especially if they have appealed to their own senses. Certainly Mrs. Hartell was not one of the exceptions. She had seen "with her own eyes" the cape taken from Lucy's trunk. She had witnessed Lucy's reluctance to have her trunk examined, and her confusion afterward; and she readily acquiesced in Adéle's suggestion, that the story of the laudanum was an after thought, "trumped up" to save herself, and to take revenge on Adéle for the part, innocent and unpremeditated! which she had in exposing Lucy's guilt. Lucy remembered the drops on her nightgown, and referring to them as a corroboration of her testimony, she produced it, but the stain was effaced! After a little hesitation, after again and again kissing Eugene, who clung to her as if he understood all that was going on, she told the story of his shrieks, and showed the marks still on his arm. Adéle, quick as thought, exclaimed, "Mon Dieu! l'ingrate! l'ingrate!" and proceeded to tell a story of Lucy having let Eugene fall on his coral bells, and bribed her to secrecy by many promises of future carefulness. Mrs. Hartell's maternal instincts were deadened. She listened with credulity to Adéle; and telling Lucy she had no more time to hear her falsehoods, bade her leave the house instantly. Poor Lucy embraced Eugene for the last time; and, crying as heartily as he did, she unlocked his arms from her neck, and gave him to Ophelia, whispering an entreaty that she would watch over him till her father's return. Ophelia answered by a burst of tears and outcries against Adéle; and Lucy, begging her to be quiet, left the room. The servants, who had heard through Ophelia the explosion in the nursery, gathered round her to express their sympathy and their detestation of Adéle. They all offered to speak a kind word for her wherever she went. Lucy was comforted by their good-will, and she left Mrs. Hartell's with a composure that, in her circumstances, would seem wonderful, did we not know the power of calm endurance in a soul conscious of integrity, and therefore stayed on God. "I am sure I have done right," she repeated to herself, "I am sure my mother will approve. I am sure the time will come when nobody can make Charles feel like blushing for me; and, more than all, I am sure that God, who knows all, is my friend, so I ought not to feel very unhappy—but, oh, poor little Eugene!" and she brushed the fast-coming tears from her eyes as she entered a shop to ask for a directory.