Live and Let Live/Chapter XXI
Lucy, in her new sphere, which she felt to be a high and happy one, was daily acquiring knowledge in the domestic arts, and daily gaining on the faults she had contracted in her various service-places. Never was there an eye more vigilant than Mrs. Hyde's; never a quicker perception of the faults of those of whom she had the supervision. But hers was the keen perception of the parent, and the admonition that followed it was gentle; for, in imitation of Him whom she served, "love was her motive and reformation her object." Lucy received long letters from her mother, assuring her of her welfare, telling her that her sisters were well placed, and that Jemmie was profiting by her remittances. We insert a postscript written by himself. "The first letter that ever I write, I long ago said should be to dear, dear Lucy; and here it is. Can you read it? It's pretty crooked, but that is because my hand trembles, thinking I am writing to you. Dear Lucy, do leave off working, and come here to live. The money you have sent me is enough to pay my master a whole year, and by that time, he says, I shall write and cipher as well as anybody. When I think of what you are doing for me, I try so hard to improve that my heart beats like a drum, and then mother stops me. Oh, it is so beautiful here, Lucy; you can see so much sky, clear from mountain to mountain. Sometimes the girls draw me along the river bank, and we stop under the willows and talk of you and Charlie. Give my best love to Charlie, and tell him I dreamed"—then followed two effaced lines—"mother has blotted over this, because she says you would not like to tell him; so good-by, dear Lucy."
So happy was Lucy, that she would scarcely have remembered the miserable affair at Mrs. Hartell's, if Charles had not called daily to ask if she had heard nothing more from that "infamous wretch," the gentlest name he vouchsafed Adéle; and each day she repeated her entreaties that he would be more patient, and wait till sufficient time had elapsed for Mr. Hartell's return; "if justice is not done you then, Lucy, don't preach patience to me any longer," said Charles; "patience may be very Christian in you, but in my opinion it's very poltronish in me, besides being impossible." "Well, wait, Charles, till to-morrow," Lucy replied to his last outbreak; "Mrs. Hyde says it is possible Mr. Hartell may be here to-morrow." The next morning, at dawn, Mrs. Hyde's door-bell was rung violently, and a message came to Lucy, entreating her to go immediately to Mr. Hartell's, for Eugene was dying; when she entered Mrs. Hartell's nursery, she found Eugene in his father's arms in a deathlike stupor. Mr. Hartell, half distracted, was walking up and down the room. The physician, who had done all his art could do, was anxiously watching the child's rigid features. Mrs. Hartell was wrapped in her shawl, shivering and sighing, and Adéle wringing her hands, crying violently,and exclaiming at every breath, "Mon Dieu! mon Dieu! Dieu me pardonne! pauvre enfant! Ah, mon Dieu, que j'etois morte. God forgive me, poor child! would that I were dead!" Lucy gazed around her in grief and amazement. No one seemed to see her, till Ophelia, looking up from the apron in which she had buried her face, ran to her, sobbing, "Oh, Lucy! I and papa sent for you; he came home about an hour ago, and came right into the nursery to see Eugene, for ever since he got your letter—he got a letter from you, Lucy—he thought he never should see him again; and don't you think he found him going into a fit, and Adéle asleep, and the vial of laudanum standing there on the table! Only think! he has thrown up once, and the doctor says, if he can only be roused again, but, oh dear! oh dear! see how he lies in papa's arms." Lucy threw aside her cloak and bonnet, and went up to Mr. Hartell. "Pray, sir," she said, "let me speak to him."
"God bless you, Lucy, is it you? Oh, my boy, Lucy! he's going!"
"Eugene! darling Eugene!" cried Lucy, kissing his lips; "Eugene, don't you know me?" The voice penetrated to the little fellow's spirit. He opened his eyes; a faint ray of joy shot through his heart and eyes; he made a feeble effort to extend his hands. Lucy caught him in her arms, and throwing up the window, and setting wide open the door, she tossed him up and down in the draught of fresh air, repeating his name in her natural tone of playful tenderness. Every voice but hers was hushed till Ophelia exclaimed, "Father, he smiles! he certainly does smile!" The violent motion, the fresh air, and the moral excitement of the voice of that friend, whom the little fellow loved better than anything else on earth, roused the energies of nature. The desired physical effect followed; there was a free ejection from the stomach, and in half an hour the physician pronounced him safe. "That's right!" said Mr. Hartell to Eugene, who, resting his drooping head on Lucy's bosom, kept one arm fast round her neck; "that's right! cling to her, she has saved your life; God for ever bless her. How dared you," he added, turning to his wife, who had been as immoveable and as impotent as a statue, "how dared you neglect the warning she gave you? You had every reason to confide in her, and none in that she-devil!" Mrs. Hartell began, in her own justification, and finished, in spite of her husband's repeated exclamations, the story of the theft.
"A damnable contrivance!" cried Hartell, "a diabolical lie! I am sure of it. Here!" he continued, dragging Adéle forth from the corner into which she had slunk, "stand before this innocent girl, and as ye hope for any mercy from me, tell the whole truth."
"Oh monsieur! oh madame!" said Adéle, falling on her knees, "je suis coupable, mais si malheureuse. I am guilty, but so wretched!"
"None of your French jabber; speak English, so that Lucy can understand every word you say. God bless him! he's putting his lips up to kiss you, Lucy."
Adéle rolled up her eyes, made a deprecating gesture to madame, and proceeded, "I had unfortunately, by a little mistake—"
"None of your 'unfortunately's' and 'mistakes;' tell a plain story,"
"Mon Dieu! I had worn madame's cape to one society, and torn it unfor—ah, mon Dieu!— waltzing—and—and—merci, monsieur! my head is in one such confusion."
"Tell the truth, that will unsnarl it."
Adéle, finding there was no use in attempting to weave any sort of self-defence or exculpation into her relation, proceeded to confess, that, partly to guard against the communication of Lucy's detection of the laudanum, and partly to conceal her abuse of the cape from her mistress, she had stolen Lucy's key while she slept, and deposited the cape in her trunk. "I was sure of it!" cried Ophelia, hardly able to restrain herself till Adéle had finished, "I told you so, mamma."
"And anybody might have told you so," said Hartell, too much exasperated at his wife's folly to keep any terms, even in the presence of his daughter; "anybody that had common sense might have known that this good girl was innocent, and that tawdry piece of French trumpery was fit for just such a piece of iniquity."
"That's always the way," said Mrs. Hartell, half crying and half indignant; "if there is anything the matter with the servants, the fault is always laid on my shoulders."
"And, in Heaven's name, on whose shoulders should it be laid if not on yours? When you took upon yourself to be the mistress of a family, you assumed responsibility; you virtually promised such supervision of your servants as should be best for them, best for me, and best for your children."
"Bless your soul, Mr. Hartell, I never promised—I never thought of any such thing."
"I believe you," he replied, turning away with ineffable disgust, and with the desperate conviction that, save by a miracle, the blind could not be made to see. In the mean time, Adéle, perceiving blame laid elsewhere, felt her shoulders somewhat lightened, and she was thunderstruck when Mr. Hartell said to her, "Are you ready for Bridewell?"
"Oh, monsieur!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands and almost rolling her eyes out of their sockets.
"Be silent; no punishment is severe enough for you. You have sent out this innocent girl disgraced and suffering, and all but murdered my child."
"Mr. Hartell," interposed Lucy, "I have not suffered, and I never felt disgraced—pray do not punish her on my account. She is dreadfully punished already; I do not believe she meant to give Eugene enough to hurt him."
"That is the true truth, if monsieur will let me tell it. Dieu te benit, ma chere fille, vous avez un si bon coeur. God bless you, my dear! you have such a good heart." There are few hearts so indurated as not to be softened by such generosity as Lucy's, and Adéle for the first time felt something like real penitence, and wept tears of gratitude and honest grief. Mr. Hartell stooped to kiss his boy, and Lucy whispered, "Adéle has had such an awful lesson, that, maybe, if you would let her off, it would do her more good than punishing her."
I will do anything you ask, my child. Since Lucy asks it, Adéle, you may go away; I'll not molest you. Pack up, and be off immediately. But don't attempt to get another service-place; I'll send your bad name after you." This was something like the mercy to the dog, "I'll not kill thee, but I'll turn thee out and call thee mad." Such mercy as it was, Adéle was glad to profit by it; and, without waiting to express one of the sentiments she had professed for "madame," she prepared her luggage and was off. There can be no attachment between the employer and the employed where no virtue on either side has been brought into action.
Lucy was now beset by Mr. Hartell, who offered her enormous wages, and used every persuasive argument to induce her to remain and take the sole charge of his child. Eugene himself urged his cause almost irresistibly by the mute eloquence of his tender eye, and his arm fixed lovingly over her shoulder. But Lucy was inexorable. She felt too deeply the advantages of her position at Mrs. Hyde's to relinquish them even for such entreaties, and she could only be induced to promise that, with Mrs. Hyde's permission, she would remain till a good nurse could be procured. This matter being settled, she modestly asked Mr. Hartell's leave to send for her friend, Mrs. Lovett's son, that he might hear Adéle's explanation from his lips. Charles came on the instant, and listened to the explanation coolly and as a matter of course; but when Mr. Hartell came to the expression of his gratitude to Lucy, and his estimation of her virtues, Charles's cheek glowed and his eye moistened. Ophelia whispered to Lucy, "Do look at him, Lucy! Why don't you look at him! you are not half so glad as he is!"