On the wall facing her bed, and immediately above a velvet-covered prie-dieu, there was a small figure of the Virgin and Child—one of those quaintly pretty devices for holding holy water, which the reverent superstition of the past century rendered a necessary adjunct of every girl’s room.
In front of the figure a small lamp was kept perpetually burning. This Juliette now took between her fingers, carefully, lest the tiny flame should die out. First she poured the oil over the fragments of paper in the ash-pan, then with the wick she set fire to the whole compromising correspondence.
The oil helped the paper to burn quickly; the smell, or perhaps the presence of Juliette in the room caused worthy old Petronelle to wake.
“It’s nothing, Petronelle,” said Juliette quietly; “only a few old letters I am burning. But I want to be alone for a few moments—will you go down to the kitchen until I call you?”
Accustomed to do as her young mistress commanded, Petronelle rose without a word.
“I have finished putting away your few things, my jewel. There, there! why didn’t you tell me to burn your papers for you? You have soiled your dear hands, and...”
“Sh! Sh! Petronelle!” said Juliette impatiently, and gently pushing the garrulous old woman towards the door. “Run to the kitchen now quickly, and don’t come out of it until I call you. And, Petronelle,” she added, “you will see soldiers about the house perhaps.”
“Soldiers! The good God have mercy!”
“Don’t be frightened, Petronelle. But they may ask you questions.”
“Yes; about me.”
“My treasure, my jewel,” exclaimed Petronelle in alarm, “have those devils...?”
“No, no; nothing has happened as yet, but, you know, in these times there is always danger.”
“Good God! Holy Mary! Mother of God!”
“Nothing ’ll happen if you try to keep quite calm and do exactly as I tell you. Go to the kitchen, and wait there until I call you. If the soldiers come in and question you, if they try to frighten you, remember that we have nothing to fear from men, and that our lives are in God’s keeping.”
All the while that Juliette spoke, she was watching the heap of paper being gradually reduced to ashes. She tried to fan the flames as best she could, but some of the correspondence was on tough paper, and was slow in being consumed. Petronelle, tearful but obedient, prepared to leave the room. She was overawed by her mistress’ air of aloofness, the pale face rendered ethereally beautiful by the sufferings she had gone through. The eyes glowed large and magnetic, as if in presence of spiritual visions beyond mortal ken; the golden hair looked like a saintly halo above the white, immaculate young brow.
Petronelle made the sign of the cross, as if she were in the presence of a saint.