On this happy day, all was joy and love for Adrienne. The sun, setting in a splendidly serene sky, flooded the promenade with its golden light. The air was warm. Carriages and horsemen passed and repassed in rapid succession; a light breeze played with the scarfs of the women, and the plumes in their bonnets; all around was noise, movement, sunshine. Adrienne, leaning back in her carriage, amused herself with watching this busy scene, sparkling with Parisian luxury; but, in the vortex of this brilliant chaos, she saw in thought the mild, melancholy countenance of Djalma—when suddenly something fell into her lap, and she started. It was a bunch of half-faded violets. At the same instant she heard a child’s voice following the carriage, and saying: “For the love of heaven, my good lady, one little sou!” Adrienne turned her head, and saw a poor little girl, pale and wan, with mild, sorrowful features, scarcely covered with rags, holding out her hand, and raising her eyes in supplication. Though the striking contrast of extreme misery, side by side with extreme luxury, is so common, that it no longer excites attention, Adrienne was deeply affected by it. She thought of Mother Bunch, now, perhaps, the victim of frightful destitution.
“Ah! at least,” thought the young lady, “let not this day be one of happiness for me alone!”
She leaned from the carriage-window, and said to the poor child: “Have you a mother, my dear?”
“No, my lady, I have neither father nor mother.”
“Who takes care of you?”
“No one, my lady. They give me nosegays to sell, and I must bring home money—or they beat me.”
“Poor little thing!”
“A sou, my good lady—a sou, for the love of heaven!” said the child, continuing to follow the carriage, which was then moving slowly.
“My dear count,” said Adrienne, smiling, and addressing M. de Montbron, “you are, unfortunately, no novice at an elopement. Please to stretch forth your arms, take up that child with both hands, and lift her into the carriage. We can hide her between Lady de Morinval and myself; and we can drive away before any one perceives this audacious abduction.”
“What!” said the count, in surprise. “You wish—”
“Yes; I beg you to do it.”
“What a folly!”
“Yesterday, you might, perhaps, have treated this caprice as a folly; but to-day,” said Adrienne, laying great stress upon the word, and glancing at M. de Montbron with a significant air, “to-day, you should understand that it is almost a duty.”
“Yes, I understand you, good and noble heart!” said the count, with emotion; while Lady de Morinval, who knew nothing of Mdlle. de Cardoville’s love for Djalma, looked with as much surprise as curiosity at the count and the young lady.
M. de Montbron, leaning from the carriage, stretched out his arms towards the child, and said to her: “Give me your hands, little girl.”