Brandy to the rescue.
After the lapse of some seconds, the singular rapping which had so much surprised the guests, was again heard, but this time louder and longer.
“Waiter!” cried one of the party, “what in the devil’s name is knocking?”
The waiter, exchanging with his comrades a look of uneasiness and alarm, stammered Out in reply: “Sir—it is—it is—”
“Well! I suppose it is some crabbed, cross-grained lodger, some animal, the enemy of joy, who is pounding on the floor of his room to warn us to sing less loud,” said Ninny Moulin.
“Then, by a general rule,” answered sententiously the pupil of the great painter, “if lodger or landlord ask for silence, tradition bids us reply by an infernal uproar, destined to drown all his remonstrances. Such, at least,” added the scapegrace, modestly, “are the foreign relations that I have always seen observed between neighboring powers.”
This remark was received with general laughter and applause. During the tumult, Morok questioned one of the waiters, and then exclaimed in a shrill tone, which rose above the clamor: “I demand a hearing!”
“Granted!” cried the others, gayly. During the silence which followed the exclamation of Morok, the noise was again heard; it was this time quicker than before.
“The lodger is innocent,” said Morok, with a strange smile, “and would be quite incapable of interfering with your enjoyment.”
“Then why does he keep up that knocking?” said Ninny Moulin, emptying his glass.
“Like a deaf man who has lost his ear-horn?” added the young artist.
“It is not the lodger who is knocking” said Morok, in a sharp, quick tone; “for they are nailing him down in his coffin.” A sudden and mournful silence followed these words.
“His coffin no, I am wrong,” resumed Morok; “her coffin, I should say, or more properly their coffin; for, in these pressing times, they put mother and child together.”
“A woman!” cried pleasure, addressing the writer; “is it a woman that is dead?”
“Yes, ma’am; a poor young woman about twenty years of age,” answered the waiter in a sorrowful tone. “Her little girl, that she was nursing, died soon after—all in less than two hours. My master is very sorry that you ladies and gents should be disturbed in this way; but he could not foresee this misfortune, as yesterday morning the young woman was quite well, and singing with all her might—no one could have been gayer than she was.”
Upon these words, it was as if a funeral pall had been suddenly thrown over a scene lately so full of joy; all the rubicund and jovial faces took an expression of sadness; no one had the hardihood to make a jest of mother and child, nailed down together in the same coffin. The silence became so profound, that one could hear each breath oppressed by terror: the last blows of the hammer seemed to strike painfully on every heart; it appeared as if each sad feeling, until now repressed, was about to replace that animation and gayety, which had been more factitious than sincere. The moment was decisive. It was necessary to strike an immediate blow, and to raise the spirits of the guests, for many pretty rosy faces began to grow pale, many scarlet ears became suddenly white; Ninny Moulin’s were of the number.