“Poor girl!” cried he. “It is really terrible!”
“Didst see Mother Bunch? didst claim her?” said Frances hastily, forgetting for a moment her own fears.
“Yes, I have seen her—but in what a state—twas enough to break one’s heart. I claimed her, and pretty loud too, I can tell you; but they said to me, that the commissary must first come to our place in order—” here Dagobert paused, threw a glance of surprise round the room, and exclaimed abruptly: “Where are the children?”
Frances felt herself seized with an icy shudder. “My dear,” she began in a feeble voice—but she was unable to continue.
“Where are Rose and Blanche! Answer me then! And Spoil-sport, who is not here either!”
“Do not be angry.”
“Come,” said Dagobert, abruptly, “I see you have let them go out with a neighbor—why not have accompanied them yourself, or let them wait for me, if they wished to take a walk; which is natural enough, this room being so dull. But I am astonished that they should have gone out before they had news of good Mother Bunch—they have such kind hearts. But how pale you are?” added the soldier looking nearer at Frances; “what is the matter, my poor wife? Are you ill?”
Dagobert took Frances’s hand affectionately in his own but the latter, painfully agitated by these words, pronounced with touching goodness, bowed her head and wept as she kissed her husband’s hand. The soldier, growing more and more uneasy as he felt the scalding tears of his wife, exclaimed: “You weep, you do not answer—tell me, then, the cause of your grief, poor wife! Is it because I spoke a little loud, in asking you how you could let the dear children go out with a neighbor? Remember their dying mother entrusted them to my care—’tis sacred, you see—and with them, I am like an old hen after her chickens,” added he, laughing to enliven Frances.
“Yes, you are right in loving them!”
“Come, then—becalm—you know me of old. With my great, hoarse voice, I am not so bad a fellow at bottom. As you can trust to this neighbor, there is no great harm done; but, in future, my good Frances, do not take any step with regard to the children without consulting me. They asked, I suppose, to go out for a little stroll with Spoil-sport?”
“No, my dear!”
“No! Who is this neighbor, to whom you have entrusted them? Where has she taken them? What time will she bring them back?”
“I do not know,” murmured Frances, in a failing voice.
“You do not know!” cried Dagobert, with indignation; but restraining himself, he added, in a tone of friendly reproach: “You do not know? You cannot even fix an hour, or, better still, not entrust them to any one? The children must have been very anxious to go out. They knew that I should return at any moment, so why not wait for me—eh, Frances? I ask you, why did they not wait for me? Answer me, will you!—Zounds! you would make a saint swear!” cried Dagobert, stamping his foot; “answer me, I say!”