“If I were you I should go to the bureau of police!” said Madame la Proprietaire.
Yes, she would go; the wretch should be captured, should be haled to gaol. Even her half of the Louis Quinze timepiece recurred to poor Madame Depine’s brain.
“Add that she has stolen my carpet-bag.”
The local bureau telegraphed first to Tonnerre.
There had been the wedding, but no Madame Valiere. She had accepted the invitation, had given notice of her arrival; one had awaited the midnight train. The family was still wondering why the rich aunt had turned sulky at the last hour. But she was always an eccentric; a capricious and haughty personage.
Poor Madame Depine’s recurrent “My wig! my brooch!” reduced the official mind to the same muddle as her own.
“No doubt a sudden impulse of senescent kleptomania,” said the superintendent, sagely, when he had noted down for transference to headquarters Madame Depine’s verbose and vociferous description of the traits and garments of the runagate. “But we will do our best to recover your brooch and your wig.” Then, with a spasm of supreme sagacity, “Without doubt they are in the carpet-bag.”
Madame Depine left the bureau and wandered about in a daze. That monster of ingratitude! That arch-adventuress, more vicious even than her bejewelled sister! All the long months of more than Lenten rigour recurred to her self-pitiful mood, that futile half-year of semi-starvation. How Madame Valiere must have gorged on the sly, the rich eccentric! She crossed a bridge to the Ile de la Cite, and came to the gargoyled portals of Notre Dame, and let herself be drawn through the open door, and all the gloom and glory of the building fell around her like a soothing caress. She dropped before an altar and poured out her grief to the Mother of Sorrows. At last she arose, and tottered up the aisle, and the great rose-window glowed like the window of heaven. She imagined her husband and the dead children looking through it. Probably they wondered, as they gazed down, why her head remained so young.
Ah! but she was old, so very old. Surely God would take her soon. How should she endure the long years of loneliness and social ignominy?
As she stumbled out of the Cathedral, the cold, hard day smote her full in the face. People stared at her, and she knew it was at the brown wig. But could they expect her to starve herself for a whole year?
“Mon Dieu! Starve yourselves, my good friends. At my age, one needs fuel.”
She escaped from them, and ran, muttering, across the road, and almost into the low grey shed.
Ah! the Morgue! Blessed idea! That should be the end of her. A moment’s struggle, and then—the rose-window of heaven! Hell? No, no; the Madonna would plead for her; she who always looked so beautiful, so convenable.