At the moment of drawing back, Adrienne said to Mother Bunch, with so sweet a smile and affectionate a tone, that it was impossible not to believe her sincere: “M. Agricola told me that I had a heart like yours. I now understand how honorable, how flattering those words were for me. Pray, give me your hand!” added Mdlle. de Cardoville, whose eyes were filling with tears; and, passing her beautiful hand through an opening in the fence, she offered it to the other. The words and the gesture of the fair patrician were full of so much real cordiality, that the sempstress, with no false shame, placed tremblingly her own poor thin hand in Adrienne’s, while the latter, with a feeling of pious respect, lifted it spontaneously to her lips, and said: “Since I cannot embrace you as my sister, let me at least kiss this hand, ennobled by labor!”
Suddenly, footsteps were heard in the garden of Dr. Baleinier; Adrienne withdrew abruptly, and disappeared behind some trees, saying: “Courage, memory, and hope!”
All this had passed so rapidly that the young workwoman had no time to speak or move; tears, sweet tears, flowed abundantly down her pale cheeks. For a young lady, like Adrienne de Cardoville, to treat her as a sister, to kiss her hand, to tell her that she was proud to resemble her in heart—her, a poor creature, vegetating in the lowest abyss of misery—was to show a spirit of fraternal equality, divine, as the gospel words.
There are words and impressions which make a noble soul forget years of suffering, and which, as by a sudden flash, reveal to it something of its own worth and grandeur. Thus it was with the hunchback. Thanks to this generous speech, she was for a moment conscious of her own value. And though this feeling was rapid as it was ineffable, she clasped her hands and raised her eyes to heaven with an expression of fervent gratitude; for, if the poor sempstress did not practise, to use the jargon of ultramontane cant, no one was more richly endowed with that deep religious sentiment, which is to mere dogmas what the immensity of the starry heaven is to the vaulted roof of a church.
Five minutes after quitting Mdlle. de Cardoville, Mother Bunch, having left the garden without being perceived, reascended to the first story, and knocked gently at the door of the press-room. A sister came to open the door to her.
“Is not Mdlle. Florine, with whom I came, still here, sister?” asked the needlewoman.
“She could not wait for you any longer. No doubt, you have come from our mother the superior?”
“Yes, yes, sister,” answered the sempstress, casting down her eyes; “would you have the goodness to show me the way out?”
“Come with me.”
The sewing-girl followed the nun, trembling at every step lest she should meet the superior, who would naturally have inquired the cause of her long stay in the convent.
At length the inner gate closed upon Mother Bunch. Passing rapidly across the vast court-yard and approaching the porter’s lodge, to ask him to let her out, she heard these words pronounced in a gruff voice: “It seems, old Jerome, that we are to be doubly on our guard to-night. Well, I shall put two extra balls in my gun. The superior says we are to make two rounds instead of one.”