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LOST AND FOUND.
Wło that knows Paris, does not know the beautiful old tower of St. Jacques de la Boucherie, near the sumptuous Hotel de Ville, formerly hidden in the midst of a labyrinth of crooked, narrow, sunless, filthy alleys, the opprobrium of the capital, but now lifting its noble proportions into the bright blue sky, the glory of a large, airy square, just converted into a tasteful public garden, and opening, on either hand, upon wide, handsome streets; presenting to the eye long perspectives of fine buildings, brilliant shops, and gay promenades? No spot of the earth's surface-not excepting even the most renowned sites of Imperial Rome-could furnish, from its own individual history, more varied and instructive summary of historical and social vicissitude, than that on which stands my favourite tower of St. Jacques de la Boucherie.
Among the crowd of mothers, nurses, babies, and loungers, who lost no time in entering on the enjoyment of the pretty garden round the base of the tower, I had once or twice noticed a very pretty, neat-looking young woman, apparently about twenty years of age, and an ouvrière ; who was always accompanied by a little fellow of some three years, of whom she took the greatest care, never allowing him to be out of her sight for an instant; and, indeed, scarcely ever letting him leave hold of her hand. The child was always neatly-dressed, and seemed to be lively and intelligent. Something about the appearance of both of them interested me; and I soon found myself looking for them whenever I went into the garden. The young woman was evidently poor, and as evidently sorrowful. She seemed to know nobody; and looked like one accustomed to live alone, and bear her own troubles, whatever they might be, in silence and quiet. I could not help feeling a certain curiosity to learn her history; but was at a loss for any decent pretext for accosting her. All at once, her visits to the garden seemed to cease; at least, for a period of a month or so, I saw no more of her. But one afternoon, as I was sitting, with a book, on the sunny side of the tower, I suddenly bethought me of the young woman and the child; and, looking round involuntarily, in the hope of seeing them, I caught sight of them just entering the garden-gates. The young woman looked paler and shabbier than formerly, and the child was evidently recovering from an illness ; for he looked wan and languid, and appeared to walk with difficulty.
“ Maman, I'm tired !” I heard him exclaim, as they approached the place where I was sitting. There was a vacant place on the bench beside me; and I drew my gown a little closer to make room for them. The young woman glanced at me quickly as I did so, and after a moment's hesi. tation sat down beside me, lifting the child upon her lap:
“Eh bien, chéri, thou shalt rest nicely now," said the young woman, caressing him, "see how pretty the flowers are, and how warm the sun is here ; 'twill do thee good mon petit chou."
“ Maman, I'm hungry!” said the little fellow presently, laying his head on her shoulder.
Thereupon the young woman put her hand in her pocket, and drawing out a bit of bread, carefully folded in a piece of paper, offered it to the child. It was a very small bit, white, and quite clean ; but it looked dry and uninviting.
“I don't want that! Give me something else !” cried the child, fretfully, turning away his head.
"Maman has nothing else, darling!" said the mother in a low voice, replacing the bread in the paper, and putting it back into her pocket with a sigh. As she bent forward to kiss the child's forehead, I saw tears in her eyes.
It so happened that I had in my reticule a paper of sponge-cakes that I had just bought for a little pet of mine, who never fails, as soon as she sees me, to hold out a pair of tiny fat paws and demands a “punze-tate;" 80, having taken the parcel from its receptacle, I opened it, and held it before the child.
“They are very wholesome," I remarked to the mother, delighted with the opportunity of making acquaintance with her, and determined to profit by it, if possible, “and I hope you will allow your little boy to take one, if he likes them.”
“ Madame is a thousand times too good !” exclaimed the young woman blushing, as the child eagerly stretched out its thin hand to the paper, “my poor little Pierre is not very well, and does not fancy his food; but I fear it would be trespassing too far on the kindness of Madame !"
“Not at all,” I replied, puttting a cake into the out-stretched hand, " there are plenty of cakes in the paper, as you see; and I am very glad to see that your little boy likes them.”
The ice thus broken, I soon learned that the young woman was a sempstress, as I had supposed, and would fain have gathered a few particulars of her history; but she was far less communicative than people of her class are apt to be, and it was necessary to proceed with caution.
I therefore observed, with affected carelessness, that I was looking for some one to sew for me, and enquired whether she could undertake the work I wished to get done?
She replied that she should be very glad to do so, as her little boy's ill. ness had obliged her to send back several pieces of work that had been entrusted to her; and, the child not being yet sufficiently recovered for her to go in search of employment, she had, just then, nothing in hand.
Having taken her address—which proved to be very near my own residence—and insisted on her accepting the parcel of sponge-cakes for her little boy, I left the garden, feeling more than ever interested for this young mother, so pretty, modest, and uncomplaining, and yet so evidently solitary and friendless amidst the difficulties and temptations of the great city. I felt persuaded that there must be some painful circumstances in her history; and was determined that any aid I might be able to give her in surmounting them, should not be wanting.
Accordingly I took an early opportunity of calling on the little sempstress, “ taking a few informations about her, as is the phrase and the custom here, from the portress, before climbing to the attic in which she lived.
I thus learned that Thérèse Dubecq (I forgot to say that such was the name she had given me in the garden) had come from the country some three years ago, since which time she had lived in the house, in which she was much respected as a “quiet, industrious young woman, whom no one could say anything against, although," she remarked, "she may, or may not, be a widow, as she stated herself to be, when she came; but, very sure, if there's anything wrong in that quarter, it must be more the fault of other people than her own, seeing how young she was when she came, and how well. conducted she has been ever since. Not but what she may be a widow, after all, as she says she is ; only it seems odd, in that case, that she should have no friends or relations to look to,' continued the good woman; " but it
is pretty sure she has none, for when I saw her little boy so ill of the measles, and she unable to go on with her sewing, having to nurse him, I advised her to apply to her family for assistance, but she replied that she was an orphan, and had no one to look to but herself.” The portress further informed me that Thérèse Dubecq, “though a good needlewoman, gained but little, as having no connexions, she was obliged to work principally for the shops ; so that the expenses of the child's illness must have reduced her finances to a very low point. And, though the doctor said, he needed meat and wine, and to go into the country, (and that Thérèse would sacri- ' fice everything for that child, who was her idol!) of course she could give him nothing of all that; and indeed she had been obliged to pawn many of her clothes, of late, having been unable to work."
Having learned these details, I made my way upstairs to the young sempstress's room. It was very humble, but very clean; and its occupant seemed very glad to see the little roll of sewing I brought her; the price of which, paid in advance, for the nonce, however, (I approve of that sort of thing in a general way) enabled her to provide something more nutritious for the little invalid than the sponge-cakes which had formed his sole diet since the day before.
Thérèse executed my commission, and some others which I procured for her, so well, that a friend of mine, who lives in the country, and is always ready to lend a helping hand to those who need one, empowered me, shortly afterwards, to send the little sempstress to her, for a month, to do up a quantity of making and mending, taking little Pierre with her, an arrangement which proved very satisfactory to my friend, and was of great benefit to the young woman and her child, who came back from the fresh air and abundant diet they had been enjoying, looking quite like other people.
From this time I frequently saw Thérèse, and gradually learned the facts of her past history. She had been left an orphan in her childhood, and had lived as servant in the house of a peasant, between whose son and herself an attachment had sprung up. Pierre Blanc wished to marry Thérèse ; but his parents refused their consent to the match, thinking he ought to find a better “parti.” A neighbour, whose daughter had a dot of about an acre and a quarter of land close by the bit possessed by Pierre's father, had, it seemed, proposed to the latter an alliance, matrimonial and territorial, between their children ; overtures which Pierre's parents were bent upon accepting, but which Pierre himself was equally bent on refusing. While things were at this point in the peasant's household, his wife died; and his son, having.“ drawn a bad number," was drafted into the army. Finding it 'impossible to obtain his father's consent to their union, Pierre, before joining his regiment, persuaded Thérèse to accompany him to a neighbouring hamlet, were they were privately married ; after which, Pierre set out for his new quarters. His regiment, soon after he had joined it, was sent to Algeria, where he was attacked with fever, and died, after a brief illness. On receiving this sad intelligence from old Blanc, a few weeks after the son's departure, Thérèse, in the first burst of her sorrow, unfortunately betrayed the secret of her clandestine marriage; and the peasant, furious at the discovery, at once turned her out of his house, forbidding her ever again to cross his threshold. As Pierre, like Thérèse, was a minor, their marriage, having been contracted without the consent of his father, could only-according to French law-have become valid after the expiration of a term of three years, during which no legal opposition should have been made to it by his father. But this tacit validation of their marriage, on which Pierre had counted, was now prevented by the unguarded avowals of Thérèse ; and the angry father had little difficulty in causing it to be set aside, in order, as he
declared, that Thérèse might never be able to claim the "effects” to which after his decease, she would have been entitled, as the widow of his son.
The unfortunate girl, having in vain endeavoured to find employment in the village-where the calumnies industriously circulated against her by the peasants whose daughter Pierre had refused to marry, and by old Blanc, who accused her of having “ bewitched" his son, had caused her to be regarded with general suspicion and ill-will-utterly friendless, and looking forward to an event, the prospect of which filled her alternately with joy and with dismay, formed the desperate resolution of coming to Paris, where she hoped to be out of the sight of all who had ever known her, and to support herself and her infant with her needle.
Her slender savings, together with the small sum, which was all that Pierre could give her when he left, tarely sufficed for her journey ; which she accomplished mostly on foot, with the help of an occasional lift in the carts that overtook her on the road. One of these, however, in the neighbourhood of the metropolis, was of great service to her, for the wife of the owner of the vehicle happened to be in it; and having learned that the young peasant. girl was without friends or resources, advised her to apply at once for admission to the great hospice of La Maternité, where thousands of destitute women are received gratis, every year, for the period of their lying-in. The good woman, not content with proffering this counsel, proposed, on reaching Paris, to take her immediately to the institution, and to see her safely received within its walls ; an offer which was thankfully accepted by Thérèse.
On quitting the Maternité, a fortnight after the birth of her child, with the small sum of money given to all mothers who declare their intention of retainin g their infant (those renounced by their mothers being sent to the Foundling Hospital), Thérèse had taken the room in which, under the assumed of Thérèse Dubecq, she had remained, as the reader already knows, until I found her out.
The memory of the child's father Thérèse still cherished with unchanged affection. “He meant no harm, and if he had lived he would have done the right thing by Pierre and me," was her sole comment on the past; as the bringing-up of her child honestly, and as she thought its father would have approved, was the sole idea she seemed to have for the future.
It was impossible not to be interested on behalf of this ill-starved, friend. less young creature, bearing the hardships of her lot so patiently, and mani. festing so entire a devotion to her child; and as she executed with skill and punctuality all the sewing entrusted to her, I found it no very difficult matter to secure for her, among my friends, as much work as she could get through with.
Living near me, as already remarked, she was often at my house; sometimes bringing home sewing she had done for me, at others, being sent for to lend an occasional hand in the kitchen when company was expected, or any other household emergency rendered a little assistance necessary. At such times, Thérèse was invariably accompanied by her child, now becoming a handsome and intelligent little fellow, and rapidly approaching the epoch at which he was to be sent to the public school of the quarter in which we lived; the child, meantime, having struck up a warm friendship with the two little sons of my portress, who were about his own age, and never failing to pass an hour or two in playing with them in the court below, whenever he accompanied his mother to my house.
Things were in this state with my pretty little protégé when the late Italian war broke out; the sudden awaking of martial ardour, and the prominence thereupon given to the army and everything relating to it, re
viving the memory of Thérèse's old sorrows, and calling up all her former regrets.
• My poor Pierre would have made a first-rate soldier, he was so strong and so brave,” she would say, wiping away a few tears; "and who knows what he might have become, if it had pleased the good God to spare his life.”
The sight of soldiers had thus a depressing effect upon Thérèse ; and though she never failed, when a body of troops happened to march by, to list little Pierre in her arms, and cause him to salute them with his hand for the love of the father he had never known, she herself, after one of these rencontres, was always silent and sad for the rest of the day.
When the campaign was brought so suddenly to an end, and it was announced that the returning troops would make their triumphal entry into Paris, my servants, like everybody else, were of course agog to witness a spectacle which it was known that the government and the municipal authorities had determined should surpass in splendour all the pageants hitherto beheld in this gay capital ; and having, equally as a matter of course, obtained permission to witness the show, they invited Thérèse to accompany them.
But Thérèse declined this invitation. The sight of the serried ranks among whom her lost soldier would probably have been, had not his career been so suddenly cut short, was more than she could bear; and she had made up her mind to stay in-doors with little Pierre, quite out of the way of sights and sounds that could only have caused her useless pain.
“If it be so," I replied, when my maid had taken an opportunity of imparting to me the young sempstress's refusal, and its motive, “ ask Thérèse to come and stay here with Pierre, while you are all out, and get things ready for cook's return. She will perhaps feel less lonely here than in her own little room; and as she can stay and dine with you, the day will not be altogether a sad one for her, after all.” This arrangement was gratefully accepted by Thérèse, who accordingly made her appearance at my house, with Pierre, early on the Sunday morning appointed for the entry, and prepared to take care of my deserted rooms in the absence of their usual inmates.
Of the appearance of this brilliant capital on that bright August day-of the triumphal arches spanning the Boulevards, the flags, streamers, garlands, draperies, and mottoes, stretching across the streets, fluttering from balconies, and depending across the handsome fronts of the white freestone houses ;of the beautiful rue de la Paix, with its colossal statue of Peace (whose fingers, one could hardly help thinking, must have been strangely tempted to perform a suggestive fantasia on nothing, in the immediate proximity of its nose !) its gold and velvet hangings, and gilded Victories, standing on lofty pillars, and holding gilded laurel-wreaths in their outstretched hands ;-or of the Place Vendôme, transformed into a magnificent drawing-room for the Court, the “Great Bodies of the State,” the Ambassadors, and other favoured mortals possessing a prescriptive right to admission to this crowning point of the gay scene, it were needless to enter on a description here. Equally needless were it to enlarge upon the vastness and good-humour of the crowd that was packed, in the dense mass, to the number of some five hundred thousand, on the pavements skirting the line of march, from the Place de la Bastille—where the Emperor, with his brilliant staff, met the entering troops-to the Place Vendôme, whither he preceded their advancing lines, and where he remained on his glossy bay charger, while the sixty thousand troops, chosen to represent the victorious army, defiled before him. The details of this magnificent pageant, with its bands of wounded and convalescents, the cannon and colours that had played so conspicuous a