CHAPTER VII SOME PETTICOAT
We have mentioned a lancer.
He was a great-grand-nephew of M. Gillenormand, on the paternal side, who led a garrison life, outside the family and far from the domestic hearth. Lieutenant Theodule Gillenormand fulfilled all the conditions required to make what is called a fine officer. He had "a lady's waist," a victorious manner of trailing his sword and of twirling his mustache in a hook. He visited Paris very rarely, and so rarely that Marius had never seen him. The cousins knew each other only by name. We think we have said that Theodule was the favorite of Aunt Gillenormand, who preferred him because she did not see him. Not seeing people permits one to attribute to them all possible perfections.
One morning, Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder returned to her apartment as much disturbed as her placidity was capable of allowing. Marius had just asked his grandfather's permission to take a little trip, adding that he meant to set out that very evening. "Go!" had been his grandfather's reply, and M. Gillenormand had added in an aside, as he raised his eyebrows to the top of his forehead: "Here he is passing the night out again." Mademoiselle Gillenormand had ascended to her chamber greatly puzzled, and on the staircase had dropped this exclamation: "This is too much!"--and this interrogation: "But where is it that he goes?" She espied some adventure of the heart, more or less illicit, a woman in the shadow, a rendezvous, a mystery, and she would not have been sorry to thrust her spectacles into the affair. Tasting a mystery resembles getting the first flavor of a scandal; sainted souls do not detest this. There is some curiosity about scandal in the secret compartments of bigotry.
So she was the prey of a vague appetite for learning a history.
In order to get rid of this curiosity which agitated her a little beyond her wont, she took refuge in her talents, and set about scalloping, with one layer of cotton after another, one of those embroideries of the Empire and the Restoration, in which there are numerous cart-wheels. The work was clumsy, the worker cross. She had been seated at this for several hours when the door opened. Mademoiselle Gillenormand raised her nose. Lieutenant Theodule stood before her, making the regulation salute. She uttered a cry of delight. One may be old, one may be a prude, one may be pious, one may be an aunt, but it is always agreeable to see a lancer enter one's chamber.
"You here, Theodule!" she exclaimed.
"On my way through town, aunt."
"Here goes!" said Theodule.
And he kissed her. Aunt Gillenormand went to her writing-desk and opened it.
"You will remain with us a week at least?"
"I leave this very evening, aunt."
"It is not possible!"
"Remain, my little Theodule, I beseech you."
"My heart says `yes,' but my orders say `no.' The matter is simple. They are changing our garrison; we have been at Melun, we are being transferred to Gaillon. It is necessary to pass through Paris in order to get from the old post to the new one. I said: `I am going to see my aunt.'"
"Here is something for your trouble."
And she put ten louis into his hand.
"For my pleasure, you mean to say, my dear aunt."
Theodule kissed her again, and she experienced the joy of having some of the skin scratched from her neck by the braidings on his uniform.
"Are you making the journey on horseback, with your regiment?" she asked him.
"No, aunt. I wanted to see you. I have special permission. My servant is taking my horse; I am travelling by diligence. And, by the way, I want to ask you something."
"What is it?"
"Is my cousin Marius Pontmercy travelling so, too?"
"How do you know that?" said his aunt, suddenly pricked to the quick with a lively curiosity.
"On my arrival, I went to the diligence to engage my seat in the coupe."
"A traveller had already come to engage a seat in the imperial. I saw his name on the card."
"The wicked fellow!" exclaimed his aunt. "Ah! your cousin is not a steady lad like yourself. To think that he is to pass the night in a diligence!"
"Just as I am going to do."
"But you--it is your duty; in his case, it is wildness."
"Bosh!" said Theodule.
Here an event occurred to Mademoiselle Gillenormand the elder,-- an idea struck her. If she had been a man, she would have slapped her brow. She apostrophized Theodule:--
"Are you aware whether your cousin knows you?"
"No. I have seen him; but he has never deigned to notice me."
"So you are going to travel together?"
"He in the imperial, I in the coupe."
"Where does this diligence run?"
"Then that is where Marius is going?"
"Unless, like myself, he should stop on the way. I get down at Vernon, in order to take the branch coach for Gaillon. I know nothing of Marius' plan of travel."
"Marius! what an ugly name! what possessed them to name him Marius? While you, at least, are called Theodule."
"I would rather be called Alfred," said the officer.
"I am listening, aunt."
"I am paying attention."
"Well, Marius absents himself!"
"He spends the night out."
"We should like to know what there is behind all this."
Theodule replied with the composure of a man of bronze:--
"Some petticoat or other."
And with that inward laugh which denotes certainty, he added:--
"That is evident," exclaimed his aunt, who thought she heard M. Gillenormand speaking, and who felt her conviction become irresistible at that word fillette, accentuated in almost the very same fashion by the granduncle and the grandnephew. She resumed:--
"Do us a favor. Follow Marius a little. He does not know you, it will be easy. Since a lass there is, try to get a sight of her. You must write us the tale. It will amuse his grandfather."
Theodule had no excessive taste for this sort of spying; but he was much touched by the ten louis, and he thought he saw a chance for a possible sequel. He accepted the commission and said: "As you please, aunt."
And he added in an aside, to himself: "Here I am a duenna."
Mademoiselle Gillenormand embraced him.
"You are not the man to play such pranks, Theodule. You obey discipline, you are the slave of orders, you are a man of scruples and duty, and you would not quit your family to go and see a creature."
The lancer made the pleased grimace of Cartouche when praised for his probity.
Marius, on the evening following this dialogue, mounted the diligence without suspecting that he was watched. As for the watcher, the first thing he did was to fall asleep. His slumber was complete and conscientious. Argus snored all night long.
At daybreak, the conductor of the diligence shouted: "Vernon! Relay of Vernon! Travellers for Vernon!" And Lieutenant Theodule woke.
"Good," he growled, still half asleep, "this is where I get out."
Then, as his memory cleared by degrees, the effect of waking, he recalled his aunt, the ten louis, and the account which he had undertaken to render of the deeds and proceedings of Marius. This set him to laughing.
"Perhaps he is no longer in the coach," he thought, as he rebuttoned the waistcoat of his undress uniform. "He may have stopped at Poissy; he may have stopped at Triel; if he did not get out at Meulan, he may have got out at Mantes, unless he got out at Rolleboise, or if he did not go on as far as Pacy, with the choice of turning to the left at Evreus, or to the right at Laroche-Guyon. Run after him, aunty. What the devil am I to write to that good old soul?"
At that moment a pair of black trousers descending from the imperial, made its appearance at the window of the coupe.
"Can that be Marius?" said the lieutenant.
It was Marius.
A little peasant girl, all entangled with the horses and the postilions at the end of the vehicle, was offering flowers to the travellers. "Give your ladies flowers!" she cried.
Marius approached her and purchased the finest flowers in her flat basket.
"Come now," said Theodule, leaping down from the coupe, "this piques my curiosity. Who the deuce is he going to carry those flowers to? She must be a splendidly handsome woman for so fine a bouquet. I want to see her."
And no longer in pursuance of orders, but from personal curiosity, like dogs who hunt on their own account, he set out to follow Marius. Marius paid no attention to Theodule. Elegant women descended from the diligence; he did not glance at them. He seemed to see nothing around him.
"He is pretty deeply in love!" thought Theodule.
Marius directed his steps towards the church.
"Capital," said Theodule to himself. "Rendezvous seasoned with a bit of mass are the best sort. Nothing is so exquisite as an ogle which passes over the good God's head."
On arriving at the church, Marius did not enter it, but skirted the apse. He disappeared behind one of the angles of the apse.
"The rendezvous is appointed outside," said Theodule. "Let's have a look at the lass."
And he advanced on the tips of his boots towards the corner which Marius had turned.
On arriving there, he halted in amazement.
Marius, with his forehead clasped in his hands, was kneeling upon the grass on a grave. He had strewn his bouquet there. At the extremity of the grave, on a little swelling which marked the head, there stood a cross of black wood with this name in white letters: COLONEL BARON PONTMERCY. Marius' sobs were audible.
The "lass" was a grave.