Alexandre Dumas.

Comtesse de Charny (Volume 2) online

. (page 3 of 24)
Online LibraryAlexandre DumasComtesse de Charny (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

am. Do you want anything, mademoiselle?"

"I 'm so thirsty," murmured the sick girl, brought back
to consciousness by physical suffering.

The nurse poured a little of the sleeping potion Pitou
had brought into a spoon, and inserted the spoon between
Catherine's parched lips and closed teeth. The girl swal-
lowed the medicine, and then let her head fall back on the
pillow again; so the nurse, satisfied that her duty was
fulhlled, went back to her comfortable arm-chair again.

Pitou supposed Catherine had not seen him, and heaved a
sigh; but Pitou was mistaken. When he assisted Madame
Clement in raising the girl's head, Catherine had half
opened her eyes, and, through the sort of mist which had
seemed to obscure her vision for the last two or three
days, she fancied she caught a glimpse of Pitou; but
whether it was the real Pitou, or only one of those phan-
toms which had been appearing, only to vanish, ever since
the fever set in, she could not tell. Pitou's sigh, though
not a very loud one, somehow caused this phantom to make
a deeper impression upon her mind than the others, and
after being tormented some time with a doubt as to whether
the person she had seen was a reality or not, she opened
her eyes again, and looked around to see if he was still in
the room.

It is needless to say that he had not budged; and, seeing
her eyes open again and fix themselves on him, Pitou's
face brightened, and he involuntarily extended his arms.

"Pitou!" she murmured.

"Ah, Mademoiselle Catherine, I knew that you loved
him, but I had no idea you loved him so much as all this! "

The poor fellow uttered the words in such a manner that
Catherine felt as sure of his sympathy as she did of his
kindness of heart; so, without making the slightest attempt
to conceal her feelings, the sick girl replied, —


"Ah, Monsieur Pitou, you see how unhappy I am! "

After that the barrier was broken down, and the tide of
conversation flowed on freely.

" ïhougli it gives me no great pleasure to talk of Mon-
sieur Isidore," said Pitou, "I can give you some informa-
tion in regard to him, if you would like to hear it."

"What! have you seen him?"


"And you know he reached Paris safely?"

" Yes ; but he was obliged to go away almost immediately
on a mission to Spain or Italy."

When Catherine heard the words "go away," her head
sank back on her pillow, and she heaved a sigh, that was
followed by a sudden burst of tears.

"If it is absolutely necessary that you should know
where he is now, I will find out, mademoiselle," said
Pitou, sadly.

"From whom?"

"From Doctor Gilbert; or, if you prefer, I '11 go back to
Paris for news of him. It would n't take me long."

"I thank you, my dear Pitou, but that is not necessary.
I feel sure that I shall get a letter from him to-morrow

"A letter from him? The deuce! " exclaimed Pitou.

"Certainly. Is it very astonishing that he should write
to me? "

"I'm not astonished that he should write to you. If
I were allowed to. Heaven knows I would do it quick
enough, — and long letters too; but I'm afraid — "

"Afraid of what, my friend?"

"That Monsieur Isidore's letter may fall into your
father's hands."

"My father's hands?"

Pitou nodded.

"My father's hands?" repeated Catherine. "Isn't my
father in Paris?"

" ISI'o , your father is here at the farm ; but Doctor Raynal


forbade him to come into your room because you were
delirious, and I think the doctor was right,"

"And why, Pitou?"

" Because your father does n't appear to be very kindly
disposed towards Monsieur Isidore; and once, when he
heard you utter his name, he made a wry face, I can tell

Catherine grasped Pitou's hands with a vehemence that
frightened him,

"You are right! " she exclaimed. "My letters must not
fall into my father's hands; he would kill me! There is
only one way to prevent it, but I hardly dare to tell you
what it is."

"I did not suppose you had so little confidence in me,

"I do not lack confidence in thee, my dear Pitou."

"That sounds better," said Pitou, much pleased.

"But it will be a hard task for thee, my friend."

"Never mind about that."

"Will you consent in advance to do what I ask?"

"Why, of course I will, if it's not an impossibility; so
speak out."

" Well, go to Mother Colombe — "

"The woman who keeps the candy-shop?"

"Yes, but she is the postmistress too; and I want you
to go and tell her not to deliver my letters to any one but
you, Pitou."

"Me?" exclaimed Pitou, sighing dubiously.

"Yes, that will be much the safest way, — that is, unless
you are going to refuse to help me,"

"Me? Refuse? Why, Mademoiselle Catherine — "

"Thank you, my dear Pitou, thank you,"

"I '11 go; certainly I '11 go, — to-morrow,"

"But that will be too late. It must be done to-day."

"So be it, mademoiselle! I'll go to-day; this very
morning, — right away! "

"What a brave fellow you are, Pitou, and how much I
love you! "


"Don't say such things to me, Mademoiselle Catherine;
you set me wild."

" See what time it is, Pitou."

Pitou looked at the girl's watch, which was hanging over
the mantel.

"It is half -past five," he replied.

''Well, then — "

"Well, mademoiselle?"

"Isn't it time — "

"To go and see Mother Colombe? All right; I'm at
your service. But you had better take a little medicine
before I go. The doctor said you were to have a tea-
spoonful every hour."

"My dear Pitou, what you are doing for me is better
than all the medicine on earth," replied Catherine, with
a glance that went straight to Pitou' s heart. "But what
excuse can you make for going? It won't do for any one
here to suspect your errand."

"Oh, you needn't worry about that! Shall I wake
Madame Clement?"

"Oh, no; let the poor woman sleep. I don't need any-
thing but — "

"But what?"

Catherine smiled.

"Oh, yes, I understand," murmured Cupid's messenger.
Then, after a moment's silence, he added, "Well, if it is
there, you shall have it; if it isn't there — "

"If it isn't there?" repeated Catherine, anxiously.

" Well, if it is n't there, — for the sake of having you
look at me as you did just now; for the sake of having you
smile upon me, and call me your friend, and 'dear Pitou, '
as you did just now, — well, if the letter is n't there, why,
I'll go to Paris for it."

" Good, kind-hearted fellow that you are ! " murmured
Catherine, following him with her eyes as he left the room.
Then, tired by her long conversation, she sank back on
her pillow again, and ten minutes later she could hardly


tell herself whether what had happened was a dream or a
reality; but this much is certain, — a sensation of sweet
and refreshing calmness pervaded her entire being.

As Pitou passed through the kitchen, Mother Billot
raised her head and looked at him. For three days and
nights she had scarcely closed her eyes ; nor had she left
her seat in the shadow of the big chimney-corner, where
she could at least see the door of the room which she was
forbidden to enter.

"How is she, Pitou?" she asked.

"Very comfortable."

" Where are you going? "

"To Villers-Cotterets."

"What for?"

Pitou hesitated. Petty evasions were not much in nis

" Yes ; what are you going to the village for? " demanded
Father Billot, hastily emerging from his room. "The
doctor said you were not to send for him unless there was
some change."

" But it seems to me it is a change when mademoiselle
is so much better," responded Pitou, promptly.

Either because Father Billot was satisfied with this
reasoning, or because he did not wish to contradict a per-
son who brought him such good news, he made no further
objection to Pitou's departure.

He reached Villers-Cotterets at quarter-past six, and
woke Doctor Raynal to tell him how much better Catherine
was, and to ask if anything different should be done. The
doctor questioned him, and soon succeeded in discovering
what had taken place almost as correctly as if he had been
present. He promised to call at the farm-house in the
course of the morning, however, and gave the zealous nurse
to understand that the patient was to have frequent doses
from the same bottle; which Pitou, after long deliberation
over this enigmatical order, finally construed as meaning
that he was to continue his chats about Isidore with the
young girl.


Prom the doctor's he went straight to Mother Colombe's,
who lived at tlie end of the Eue Lormet, at the other end of
the village.

Mother Colombe was a great friend of his Aunt Angelica,
but this fact did not prevent her from appreciating the
nephew. Eealising the necessity of resorting to persua-
sion, if not to bribery, in a case like this, he began opera-
tions by purchasing a lavish supply of gingerbread and

These purchases made and paid for, he ventured to ask
the desired favour. He found he had grave difficulties to
contend with, however. Letters could be delivered onl}'
to those persons to whom they were addressed; or, at least,
only to such persons as brought a written order from the
owners of said letters.

Mother Colombe did not doubt Pitou's word, but she
insisted upon his having a written order.

Pitou saw that he must make a sacrifice : so he promised
to bring a written receipt for the letter the following day;
and he strengthened this promise with a second lavish
investment in candy and gingerbread. He also promised
to bring an order for any other letters that might come for

How could Mother Colombe refuse a favour to such a
persuasive person, especially to a person who persuaded in
such a sweet and liberal manner? So, after a few more
feeble objections, Mother Colombe consented.

As he followed the good woman from her house to the
post-office, he paused at the fountain, and, applying his
mouth to one of the jets, he absorbed the entire stream of
water, not losing a single drop for at least five minutes.

As he turned from the fountain he glanced around the
square, and saw that a large staging, or platform, was in
course of erection in the middle of it. This reminded him
that there had been considerable talk, prior to his departure
for Paris, of a convention to be held at Villers-Cotterets;
though interests of a personal nature had caused him to


forget this not unimportant political event. He at once
thought of the twenty-five louis Doctor Gilbert had given
him to aid in putting the Haramont National Guard on
the best possible footing; and he straightened himself up
proudly as he thought of the tine figure he and his might
present, — thanks to these twenty-five gold pieces.

This, too, helped him to digest the two huge squares of
gingerbread and four big sticks of barley-sugar, which,
added to the large quantity of water he had swallowed,
might otherwise have proved too much for his digestive
powers, and lain too heavily upon his stomach, if he had
not also possessed that invaluable aid to digestion which,
we call self-esteem.




While Pitou was drinking and digesting and cogitating,
Mother Colombe entered the post-office; but this did not
trouble him in the least, as he knew that with fifteen of
his long strides he could easily overtake her. He took
these fifteen long strides, and reached the door of the post-
office just as Madame Colombe emerged from it with a
letter in her hand, — a carefully folded missive, neatly
fastened with a waxen seal, and addressed to Catherine

Mother Colombe delivered this letter to her munificent
customer according to agreement, and Pitou set out forth-
with for Pisseleu, half joyful, half sorrowful, — joyful,
because he had good news for Catherine ; sorrowful, because
the source of the young girl's happiness precluded any
possibility of success as far as his own suit was concerned.

Despite his disappointment, the messenger was so
generous-hearted that, in order to get this confounded
letter to Catherine as soon as possible, he unconsciously
quickened his pace from a walk into a trot, and from a
trot into a gallop.

About fifty yards from the farm-house he paused sud-
denly, remembering that if he arrived there panting and
covered with sweat, Father Billot's suspicions might be
aroused; so he resolved to accomplish the rest of the
journey in a more dignified manner. As he passed the
side of the house where Catherine's window was located,
he saw that the nurse had thrown back one side of the
window, probably to let fresh air into the apartment.


Glancing into the room as he passed, he saw that Catherine
was awake: so, looking around to satisfy himself that no
other person was in sight, he tossed the letter in through
the opening with such skill that it lighted upon her pillow;
then, without waiting for any expression of thanks, he
proceeded towards the door of the house, where he found
Farmer Billot standing upon the threshold.

But for a projection in the side of the house, the farmer
would certainly have seen what had just taken place; and,
in his present frame of mind. Heaven only knows what
might have happened.

Honest Pitou no sooner found himself thus unexpectedly
face to face with the farmer, than he blushed up to his
very ears, in spite of himself.

"How you frightened me! " he exclaimed.

"Frightened! you, Pitou, — a captain in the National
Guard, one of the takers of the Bastile, frightened!"

" What of that? There are moments when one is not
expecting — "

"Yes; especially if a fellow is expecting to meet a girl,
and encounters the father, eh? "

" You can hardly say that in this case, as I could have
had no expectation of seeing Mademoiselle Catherine."

"Have you any report to make?"

"To whom?"

"To Catherine."

"I am to report that Doctor Raynal will call in the
course of the day ; but anybody else can tell her that just
as well as I can."

"You must be hungry."

"Hungry? I should say not! "

"What! you're not hungry?" cried the farmer, much

Pitou saw that he had made a terrible blunder. For
Pitou not to be hungry at eight o'clock in the morning
indicated a decided derangement in the equilibrium of


"Well, yes; I believe I am hungry," said he.

*'Go in and eat, then. The hands are at breakfast now;
but they 've saved a place for you."

Pitou entered the house, and Billot watched him as the
young man seated himself at the upper end of the table
and attacked the round loaf and dish of bacon ; for though
Pitou could not do many things at one time, whatever
he did, he did well. Intrusted with a commission by
Catherine, he executed it well; invited to breakfast by
Billot, he breakfasted well.

When he had nearly finished his repast, Catherine's door
opened, and Madame Clement entered the kitchen; and as
soon as she appeared, Madame Billot hastened to her, and
Billot re-entered the house, for both were desirous of
inquiring for Catherine.

" She is doing very well now, though she seems a little
inclined to become delirious again."

"Delirious again?" repeated the farmer.

"Oh, my poor child! " murmured Mother Billot.

"Yes; she talks about a city she calls Sardinia, and a
country named Turin, and she has been begging me to call
Monsieur Pitou in to tell her which is the city and which
is the country."

"All right! " exclaimed Pitou, swallowing the remaining
contents of his mug of cider at a single draught, and wiping
his mouth on his sleeve. But a glance at Father Billot
checked him, and he added, "That is, if Monsieur Billot
thinks it well for me to give mademoiselle the information
she wants."

"Why not?" interposed Mother Billot. "If the poor
child wants you, go to her, of course. Besides, didn't
Doctor Raynal say you were a capital hand in a sick-

"My goodness! " said Pitou, naively, "just ask Madame
Clement how we had to watch mademoiselle all night.
She never slept a wink, any more than I did."

This indicated a vast amount of cunning on Pitou's part;


for, as the nurse had slept from midnight until six o'clock,
the audacious assertion that she had not slept a wink con-
verted her into a friend, — yes, more than a friend, an

"Very well; if Catherine wants to see you, go to her,"
replied Father Billot. "Perhaps the time will come when
she '11 ask for her mother and me."

Pitou felt that there was danger in the air, and, though
quite ready to face the storm if absolutely necessary,
promptly decided to provide himself with a place of shelter
as well.

This shelter was Haramont, where he was king. King!
he was more than king, — he was commander of the Na-
tional Guard; he was Lafayette. Besides, many duties
summoned him to Haramont, and he resolved to return
there as soon as he had made satisfactory arrangements
with Catherine.

When he re-entered the sick-room, he found the patient
awaiting him most impatiently. In fact, from the brilliant
colour in her cheeks and the fire in her eyes, one might
indeed have supposed, like Madame Clement, that the
fever had returned again.

"Ah, it is you!" she exclaimed. "I thought you were
never coming."

"It was not my fault; your father detained me. I'm
afraid he suspects something. Besides, I didn't hurry,
as I knew you had what you wanted most," added the
honest fellow, with a sigh.

"Yes, Pitou, yes; and I thank you with all my heart.
You are very kind, and I do love you ever so much."

"You are very kind yourself, mademoiselle," Pitou
answered, almost ready to cry, as he saw how entirely this
friendship was the reflection of her love for another; for
modest as he was, he could not help feeling humiliated at
the idea of playing moon to Isidore's sun, so he added
quickly, "I came because they told me you wanted to ask
me something."


Catherine placed her hand on her heart. She was feel-
ing for Isidore's letter, as if to gain courage from it; then
she exclaimed, "Ah, Pitou, you are so wise! Can you tell
me anything about Sardinia? "

Pitou endeavoured to recall all of his limited knowledge
of geography. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, made-
moiselle. I ought to know. Wait a minute. If I could
only remember the first word, I should be all right."

"Try, Pitou; do try," entreated Catherine.

"That is precisely what I am doing. Sardinia — Sar-
dinia. Ah! I have it now. Sardinia, so named by the
Romans, is one of the three largest islands in the Mediter-
ranean Sea. It lies south of Corsica, from which it is
separated by the Straits of Bonifacio. The capital is
Cagliari. There, that is all I know about Sardinia,
Mademoiselle Catherine ! "

"How grand one must feel to know so much! Now I
have heard all there is to hear about Sardinia, tell me
something about Turin."

"Turin? Certainly. I'm sure nothing would please
me better; that is, if I can remember. Turin — Turin!
Oh, yes; Turin, the capital of Piedmont. Yes, I know
now. Turin, called by the ancients Bodincemagxis Taurasia
and Augusta Taurinorum, and now the capital of Piedmont
and of the Sardinian states, situated on the Po and the
Dora Ripaira, is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.
Population, one hundred and twenty-five thousand; reign-
ing monarch, Charles Emmanuel. There 's your Turin,
Mademoiselle Catherine."

"But how far is Turin from Pisseleu, Monsieur Pitou?"

" Goodness gracious I I can tell you how far Turin is from
Paris; but from Pisseleu, that's quite another matter."

" Well, tell me first how far it is from Paris, and then
we can add the eighteen leagues between Paris and

"That's so," responded Pitou; then, as if going on with
a recitation, he continued, "Distance from Paris two hun-


dred and six leagues ; from Eome, one hundred and forty ;
from Constantinople — "

"I only want to know the distance from Paris. Two
hundred and six leagues, plus eighteen leagues, make two
hundred and twenty -four leagues. Only three days ago he
was here, but half a league from me; now — now — " she
added, bursting into tears, and wringing her hands, "now,
he is two hundred and twenty-four leagues from me ! "

"No, no, not yet," Pitou corrected timidly. "He
started only day before yesterday, and he is scarcely half-
way now."

" Where is he, do you think? "

"I can't say, really. Abbé Portier taught us all about
the different countries and their capitals, but he taught us
nothing about the roads leading to them."

"So that is all you know about Turin, Pitou?"

"Yes," replied the geographer, ashamed of his very
limited store of knowledge, "except that Turin is a great
place for aristocrats."

"What do you mean by that? "

"I mean that Turin is a place of refuge for all the
princes and princesses and fugitives, like D'Artois, Condé,
and Madame de Polignac, — a lot of conspirators against
the nation, who will have their heads chopped off by
Monsieur Guillotin's new machine some day, I hope."

"Oh, Monsieur Pitou! how can you be so cruel! "

"Cruel? Me? Yes, yes, I see; Monsieur Isidore is one
of the aristocrats, and you 're alarmed on his account."

Then, with one of those ponderous sighs we have men-
tioned more than once, he said, "Don't let us talk any
more about that. Let us talk of yourself, Mademoiselle
Catherine, and of how I can be most useful to you."

"My dear Pitou, the letter I received this morning is
probably not the only one I shall receive."

"And you want me to get the others for you, just as I
did this one?"

"Yes. My father, you see, will watch me so closely


that I sha'n't be able to go to the village at all, I 'm

"But he is watching me, too, I can tell you; I see it in
his eye."

"Yes; but he can't follow you to Haramont, Pitou, and
we can agree upon some safe hiding-place for the letters."

"Yes; such as the hollow in the big willow-tree, near
the place where I found you in that swoon, for example."

" Exactly ; that is just on the edge of the farm , yet out
of sight from the windows. So it is understood that the
letters shall be placed there?"

"Yes; but how will you manage to go after the letters?"

"Why, you see I shall try to get well quickly now," re-
plied Catherine, with a smile full of hope and determination.

Poor Pitou heaved the heaviest of sighs.

Just then the door opened, and Doctor Raynal appeared.

VOL. n. — 4




Doctor Ratnal's visit occurred just in time to facilitate
Pitou's departure.

When the physician approached his patient, he perceived
the change which had taken place in her condition since
the evening before, at a glance. Catherine smiled upon
him and held out her wrist.

" If it were not for the pleasure of touching your pretty
hand, I shouldn't take your pulse, my dear Catherine,"
said the doctor; *'for I 'm sure it isn't beating at the rate
of more than seventy -five a minute."

*' I 'm certainly very much better, doctor. Your medicine
has worked wonders."

" My medicine ! Ilum-m-m ! Of course, my child, I am
very willing to take all the credit of your quick recovery
to myself; but, vain as I am, I must give part of the credit
to my assistant, Pitou."

Then, glancing heavenward, he added, " Oh, Nature, mys-
terious Isis, what wonderful secrets thou hidest, even from
those who know how to question thee! " Then, turning to
the door, he called out, "Come in, now, you gloomy-faced
father and anxious-eyed mother; come in and see your
dear invalid! She needs only your love and caresses to
complete her recovery now."

Father and Mother Billot instantly obej^ed the doctor's
summons, — the father with some remnant of suspicion
still on his face; the mother's countenance all radiant with



As they stepped into tlie room, Pitou slipped out, after
responding to Catherine's farewell glance with a knowing

Let us leave our pretty invalid now to regain health and
hope under the caresses of her parents, and follow the
worthy youth who had just performed so unobtrusively and
unconsciously one of the most difficult tasks Christianity
imposes upon its followers; namely, forgetfulness of self,
united with devotion to one's neighbour.

Though he did not stop to think of the greatness of his
deed, he did feel, through the commendations of that in-
ward voice in every human breast, that he had done a good

Online LibraryAlexandre DumasComtesse de Charny (Volume 2) → online text (page 3 of 24)