“’Tis nothing, M’sieur,” he said, nonchalantly. “’Tis only a poor wretch who has died from the cold and they are taking him away. You see he could not get any charcoal this morning when he went to Monsieur Juigne. ’Tis best so.” He turned away carelessly, and, forcing himself through the crowd, was soon lost to sight.
“There are many such,” said Beaufort, gloomily, in answer to Calvert’s look of inquiry. “What will you have? The winter has been one of unexampled, of never-ending cold. The government, the cures, the nobles have done much for the poor wretches, but it has been impossible to relieve the suffering. They have, at least, to be thankful that freezing is such an easy death, and when all is said, they are far better off dead than alive. But it is extremely disagreeable to see the shivering scarecrows on the streets, and they ought to be kept to the poorer quarters of the city.” He had thrown off his look of gloom and spoke carelessly, though with an effort, as he struck the horses, which started again down the great avenue.
Calvert looked for an instant at Beaufort. “’Tis unlike you to speak so,” he said, at length. Indeed, ever since the young man had come into the breakfast-room at the Legation, Calvert had been puzzled by some strange difference in his former friend. It was not that the young Frenchman was so much more elaborately and exquisitely dressed than in the days when Calvert had known him in America, or that he was older or of more assurance of manner. There was some subtle change in his very nature, in the whole impression he gave out, or so it seemed to Calvert. There was an air of flippancy, of careless gayety, about Beaufort now very unlike the ingenuous candor, the boyish simplicity, of the Beaufort who had served as a volunteer under Rochambeau in the war of American independence.
“What will you have?” he asked again, nonchalantly. “Wait until you have been in Paris awhile and you will better understand our manner of speech. ’Tis a strange enough jargon, God knows,” he said, laughing in a disquieted fashion. “And France is not America.”
“And though the cold is doubtless unfortunate for the poor, the rich have enjoyed the winter greatly. Why, I have not had such sport since d’Azay and I used to go skating on your Schuylkill!” He flicked the horses again. “And as for the ladies!—they crowd to the pieces d’eau in the royal gardens. Those that can’t skate are pushed about in chairs upon runners or drive all day in their sleighs. ’Tis something new, and, you know, Folly must be ever amused.”
Even while he spoke numbers of elegantly mounted sleighs swept by, and to the fair occupants of many of them Beaufort bowed with easy grace. Here and there along the wide street great fires were burning, tended by cures in their long cassocks and crowded around by shivering men and women. The doors of the churches and hospitals stood open, and a continual stream of freezing wretches passed in to get warmed before proceeding on their way. Upon many houses were large signs bearing a notice to the effect that hot soup would be served free during certain hours, and a jostling, half-starved throng was standing at each door. There was a sort of terror of misery and despair over the whole scene, brilliant though it was, which affected Calvert painfully.