By a spontaneous impulse, Rose and Blanche ran to the door, and opened it to the young girl. Sleet and snow had been falling incessantly since the evening before; the gingham dress of the young sempstress, her scanty cotton shawl, and the black net cap, which, leaving uncovered two thick bands of chestnut hair, encircled her pale and interesting countenance, were all dripping wet; the cold had given a livid appearance to her thin, white hands; it was only in the fire of her blue eyes, generally so soft and timid, that one perceived the extraordinary energy which this frail and fearful creature had gathered from the emergency of the occasion.
“Dear me! where do you come from, my good Mother Bunch?” said Frances. “Just now, in going to see if my son had returned, I opened your door, and was quite astonished to find you gone out so early.”
“I bring you news of Agricola.”
“Of my son!” cried Frances, trembling all over. “What has happened to him? Did you see him?—Did you speak to him?—Where is he?”
“I did not see him, but I know where he is.” Then, perceiving that Frances grew very pale, the girl added: “He is well; he is in no danger.”
“Blessed be God, who has pity on a poor sinner!—who yesterday restored me my husband, and to-day, after a night of cruel anguish, assures me of the safety of my child!” So saying, Frances knelt down upon the floor, and crossed herself with fervor.
During the moment of silence, caused by this pious action, Rose and Blanche approached Mother Bunch, and said to her in a low voice, with an expression of touching interest: “How wet you are! you must be very cold. Take care you do not get ill. We did not venture to ask Madame Frances to light the fire in the stove, but now we will do so.”
Surprised and affected by the kindness of Marshal Simon’s daughters, the hunchback, who was more sensible than others to the least mark of kindness, answered them with a look of ineffable gratitude: “I am much obliged to you, young ladies; but I am accustomed to the cold, and am moreover so anxious that I do not feel it.”
“And my son?” said Frances, rising after she had remained some moments on her knees; “why did he stay out all night? And could you tell me where to find him, my good girl? Will he soon come? why is he so long?”
“I assure you, Agricola is well; but I must inform you, that for some time—”
“You must have courage, mother.”
“Oh! the blood runs cold in my veins. What has happened? why shall I not see him?”
“Alas, he is arrested.”
“Arrested!” cried Rose and Blanche, with affright.
“Father! Thy will be done!” said Frances; “but it is a great misfortune. Arrested! for what? He is so good and honest, that there must be some mistake.”
“The day before yesterday,” resumed Mother Bunch, “I received an anonymous letter, by which I was informed that Agricola might be arrested at any moment, on account of his song. We agreed together that he should go to the rich young lady in the Rue de Babylone, who had offered him her services, and ask her to procure bail for him; to prevent his going to prison. Yesterday morning he set out to go to the young lady’s.”