“Those articles do not belong to you,” said the other officer.
“No, sir,” replied Mother Bunch, whose strength was failing her; “but—”
“Oh, vile hunchback! you have stolen more than you are big!”
“Stolen!” cried Mother Bunch, clasping her hands in horror, for she now understood it all. “Stolen!”
“The guard! make way for the lobsters!” cried several persons at once.
“Oh, ho! here’s the lobsters!”
“The Arab devourers!”
“Come for their dromedary!”
In the midst of these noisy jests, two soldiers and a corporal advanced with much difficulty. Their bayonets and the barrels of their guns were alone visible above the heads of this hideous and compact crowd. Some officious person had been to inform the officer at the nearest guard house, that a considerable crowd obstructed the public way.
“Come, here is the guard—so march to the guard-house!” said the policeman, taking Mother Bunch by the arm.
“Sir,” said the poor girl, in a voice stifled by sobs, clasping her hands in terror, and sinking upon her knees on the pavement; “sir,—have pity—let me explain—”
“You will explain at the guard-house; so come on!”
“But, sir—I am not a thief,” cried Mother Bunch, in a heart-rending tone; “have pity upon me—do not take me away like a thief, before all this crowd. Oh! mercy! mercy!”
“I tell you, there will be time to explain at the guard-house. The street is blocked up; so come along!” Grasping the unfortunate creature by both her hands, he set her, as it were, on her feet again.
At this instant, the corporal and his two soldiers, having succeeded in making their way through the crowd, approached the policeman. “Corporal,” said the latter, “take this girl to the guard-house. I am an officer of the police.”
“Oh, gentlemen!” cried the girl, weeping hot tears, and wringing her hands, “do not take me away, before you let me explain myself. I am not a thief—indeed, indeed, I am not a thief! I will tell you—it was to render service to others—only let me tell you—”
“I tell you, you should give your explanations at the guard-house; if you will not walk, we must drag you along,” said the policeman.
We must renounce the attempt to paint this scene, at once ignoble and terrible.
Weak, overpowered, filled with alarm, the unfortunate girl was dragged along by the soldiers, her knees sinking under her at every step. The two police-officers had each to lend an arm to support her, and mechanically she accepted their assistance. Then the vociferations and hootings burst forth with redoubled fury. Half-swooning between the two men, the hapless creature seemed to drain the cup of bitterness to the dregs.
Beneath that foggy sky, in that dirty street, under the shadow of the tall black houses, those hideous masses of people reminded one of the wildest fancies of Callot and of Goya: children in rags, drunken women, grim and blighted figures of men, rushed against each other, pushed, fought, struggled, to follow with howls and hisses an almost inanimate victim—the victim of a deplorable mistake.