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Book 8 Chapter 5 The MOther

I do not believe that there is anything sweeter in the world than the ideas which awake in a mother's heart at the sight of her child's tiny shoe; especially if it is a shoe for festivals, for Sunday, for baptism, the shoe embroidered to the very sole, a shoe in which the infant has not yet taken a step. That shoe has so much grace and daintiness, it is so impossible for it to walk, that it seems to the mother as though she saw her child. She smiles upon it, she kisses it, she talks to it; she asks herself whether there can actually be a foot so tiny; and if the child be absent, the pretty shoe suffices to place the sweet and fragile creature before her eyes. She thinks she sees it, she does see it, complete, living, joyous, with its delicate hands, its round head, its pure lips, its serene eyes whose white is blue. If it is in winter, it is yonder, crawling on the carpet, it is laboriously climbing upon an ottoman, and the mother trembles lest it should approach the fire. If it is summer time, it crawls about the yard, in the garden, plucks up the grass between the paving-stones, gazes innocently at the big dogs, the big horses, without fear, plays with the shells, with the flowers, and makes the gardener grumble because he finds sand in the flower-beds and earth in the paths. Everything laughs, and shines and plays around it, like it, even the breath of air and the ray of sun which vie with each other in disporting among the silky ringlets of its hair. The shoe shows all this to the mother, and makes her heart melt as fire melts wax.

But when the child is lost, these thousand images of joy, of charms, of tenderness, which throng around the little shoe, become so many horrible things. The pretty broidered shoe is no longer anything but an instrument of torture which eternally crushes the heart of the mother. It is always the same fibre which vibrates, the tenderest and most sensitive; but instead of an angel caressing it, it is a demon who is wrenching at it.

One May morning, when the sun was rising on one of those dark blue skies against which Garofolo loves to place his Descents from the Cross, the recluse of the Tour-Roland heard a sound of wheels, of horses and irons in the Place de Grève. She was somewhat aroused by it, knotted her hair upon her ears in order to deafen herself, and resumed her contemplation, on her knees, of the inanimate object which she had adored for fifteen years. This little shoe was the universe to her, as we have already said. Her thought was shut up in it, and was destined never more to quit it except at death. The sombre cave of the Tour-Roland alone knew how many bitter imprecations, touching complaints, prayers and sobs she had wafted to heaven in connection with that charming bauble of rose-colored satin. Never was more despair bestowed upon a prettier and more graceful thing.

It seemed as though her grief were breaking forth more violently than usual; and she could be heard outside lamenting in a loud and monotonous voice which rent the heart.

"Oh my daughter!" she said, "my daughter, my poor, dear little child, so I shall never see thee more! It is over! It always seems to me that it happened yesterday! My God! my God! it would have been better not to give her to me than to take her away so soon. Did you not know that our children are part of ourselves, and that a mother who has lost her child no longer believes in God? Ah! wretch that I am to have gone out that day! Lord! Lord! to have taken her from me thus; you could never have looked at me with her, when I was joyously warming her at my fire, when she laughed as she suckled, when I made her tiny feet creep up my breast to my lips? Oh! if you had looked at that, my God, you would have taken pity on my joy; you would not have taken from me the only love which lingered, in my heart! Was I then, Lord, so miserable a creature, that you could not look at me before condemning me?--Alas! Alas! here is the shoe; where is the foot? where is the rest? Where is the child? My daughter! my daughter! what did they do with thee? Lord, give her back to me. My knees have been worn for fifteen years in praying to thee, my God! Is not that enough? Give her back to me one day, one hour, one minute; one minute, Lord! and then cast me to the demon for all eternity! Oh! if I only knew where the skirt of your garment trails, I would cling to it with both hands, and you would be obliged to give me back my child! Have you no pity on her pretty little shoe? Could you condemn a poor mother to this torture for fifteen years? Good Virgin! good Virgin of heaven! my infant Jesus has been taken from me, has been stolen from me; they devoured her on a heath, they drank her blood, they cracked her bones! Good Virgin, have pity upon me. My daughter, I want my daughter! What is it to me that she is in paradise? I do not want your angel, I want my child! I am a lioness, I want my whelp. Oh! I will writhe on the earth, I will break the stones with my forehead, and I will damn myself, and I will curse you, Lord, if you keep my child from me! you see plainly that my arms are all bitten, Lord! Has the good God no mercy?--Oh! give me only salt and black bread, only let me have my daughter to warm me like a sun! Alas! Lord my God. Alas! Lord my God, I am only a vile sinner; but my daughter made me pious. I was full of religion for the love of her, and I beheld you through her smile as through an opening into heaven. Oh! if I could only once, just once more, a single time, put this shoe on her pretty little pink foot, I would die blessing you, good Virgin. Ah! fifteen years! she will be grown up now! --Unhappy child! what! it is really true then I shall never see her more, not even in heaven, for I shall not go there myself. Oh! what misery to think that here is her shoe, and that that is all!"

The unhappy woman flung herself upon that shoe; her consolation and her despair for so many years, and her vitals were rent with sobs as on the first day; because, for a mother who has lost her child, it is always the first day. That grief never grows old. The mourning garments may grow white and threadbare, the heart remains dark.

At that moment, the fresh and joyous cries of children passed in front of the cell. Every time that children crossed her vision or struck her ear, the poor mother flung herself into the darkest corner of her sepulchre, and one would have said, that she sought to plunge her head into the stone in order not to hear them. This time, on the contrary, she drew herself upright with a start, and listened eagerly. One of the little boys had just said,--

"They are going to hang a gypsy to-day."

With the abrupt leap of that spider which we have seen fling itself upon a fly at the trembling of its web, she rushed to her air-hole, which opened as the reader knows, on the Place de Grève. A ladder had, in fact, been raised up against the permanent gibbet, and the hangman's assistant was busying himself with adjusting the chains which had been rusted by the rain. There were some people standing about.

The laughing group of children was already far away. The sacked nun sought with her eyes some passer-by whom she might question. All at once, beside her cell, she perceived a priest making a pretext of reading the public breviary, but who was much less occupied with the "lectern of latticed iron," than with the gallows, toward which he cast a fierce and gloomy glance from time to time. She recognized monsieur the archdeacon of Josas, a holy man.

"Father," she inquired, "whom are they about to hang yonder?"

The priest looked at her and made no reply; she repeated her question. Then he said,--

"I know not."

"Some children said that it was a gypsy," went on the recluse.

"I believe so," said the priest.

Then Paquette la Chantefleurie burst into hyena-like laughter.

"Sister," said the archdeacon, "do you then hate the gypsies heartily?"

"Do I hate them!" exclaimed the recluse, " they are vampires, stealers of children! They devoured my little daughter, my child, my only child! I have no longer any heart, they devoured it!"

She was frightful. The priest looked at her coldly.

"There is one in particular whom I hate, and whom I have cursed," she resumed; "it is a young one, of the age which my daughter would be if her mother had not eaten my daughter. Every time that that young viper passes in front of my cell, she sets my blood in a ferment."

"Well, sister, rejoice," said the priest, icy as a sepulchral statue; "that is the one whom you are about to see die."

His head fell upon his bosom and he moved slowly away.

The recluse writhed her arms with joy.

"I predicted it for her, that she would ascend thither! Thanks, priest!" she cried.

And she began to pace up and down with long strides before the grating of her window, her hair dishevelled, her eyes flashing, with her shoulder striking against the wall, with the wild air of a female wolf in a cage, who has long been famished, and who feels the hour for her repast drawing near.

 

我不相信世界上有什么事情比得上一个母亲看见自己孩子的小鞋更愉快的了,尤其假若它是节日星期日或受洗礼时穿的鞋,连鞋底上都绣着花的鞋,孩子还不会走路时穿的鞋。这种鞋又精美又小巧,穿着这种鞋是走不了路的,母亲看见这种鞋就象看见了自己的孩子一样。她向着它笑,吻它,同它谈话。

她自己问自己,人的脚真能够那样小巧么?孩子不在身边时,只要看见那美丽的小鞋,就仿佛是那柔弱可爱的小人儿在她跟前一般。她以为是看见了自己的孩子,看见了她的全身,活泼、愉快、精美的手,圆圆的脑袋,纯洁的嘴唇,眼白发蓝的亮晶晶的眼睛。假若是冬天,她便在地毯上爬行,好不容易爬到一张凳子上,那母亲就战战兢兢地担心她会爬到火炉跟前去。假若是夏天,就好象她脚步不稳地走到庭院里,花园里,去拔石板缝里的杂草,天真地看着那些大狗、大马,一点也不害怕,还同豆荚、花儿一起玩耍,弄得园丁在花坛上发现了砂子,在小径上发现了泥土,嘀咕地抱怨起来。她周围的一切都象她一样笑着,闪亮着,嬉戏着,就连在她柔软的鬈发中间嬉戏的空气同阳光也是笑眯眯的,欢快的。鞋儿把这一切呈现在母亲的眼睛里,象烛火一般把她的心熔化了。

可是,孩子丢失了之后,环绕着这小鞋的成千个欢乐、妩媚、温柔的形象,就变成了种种可怕的东西。那绣花小鞋变得只不过是一种永远使母亲心痛的刑具。依旧是那同一根弦在振动,同一根最深刻最敏感的弦,可是弹奏它的不再是那安慰人的天使,而是一个魔鬼了。

一天早上,当五月的太阳升起在澄蓝的天空,加俄法洛喜欢把耶稣从十字架上解下来的情景画在这样的背景上,罗兰塔的隐修女听见格雷沃广场上响起一片车轮声,马蹄声和铁器碰响的声音。她有些受惊了,便用头发把耳朵遮住不去听,一面走过去跪着看她供奉了十五年的那个没有生命的东西。

我们已经说过,那只小鞋对于她就是整个宇宙,她的思想封闭在那只鞋里面,到死不会出来的了。为了这只象可爱的玩具似的玫瑰色缎子的小鞋,她向上天吐露过多少痛苦的呼吁,伤心的叹息,吐露过多少祈祷和哭泣,那只有罗兰塔的这间小屋知道了。比这只小鞋更可爱更好看的事物也从来没有人流露过更多的悲哀呢。

那天早上她好象比往常更加伤心,从外边都听得见她那尖声的、令人心酸的悲叹。

“啊,我的女儿!”她说道,“我的女儿!我可怜的亲爱的小孩!我再也看不见你啦。这可完了!我总觉得还象是昨天的事。我的上帝,我的上帝,您这样快就把她带走了,还不如早先就不要把她赐给我。难道您不明白孩子是我们肚子里的一块肉,不明白失掉孩子的母亲就不再相信上帝了吗?啊,我真是个倒运的人,偏偏在那天出门去了!主啊,主啊!您这样把她从我身边夺走了,可见您从来没看到过她同我在一起,我怎样快乐地抱着她在炉边烤火,她怎样含着我的奶头甜笑,把脚伸到我的胸口,一直伸到我的嘴唇上。

啊,要是您看见过这些,我的上帝,您就会同情我的欢乐了,就不至于把我心头唯一的爱情夺走了!难道我真是这样可怜,主啊,使您看也不看我就惩罚我吗?唉!唉!鞋还在这里,可是那脚在哪儿呀?整个身子又在哪儿呀?

孩子在哪儿呀?我的女儿,我的女儿!人们对你做了些什么?主啊,把她还给我吧!我跪着向您祷告了十五年,把膝盖都磨破了。我的上帝,这难道还不够么?把她还给我吧,哪怕只有一天也好,一个钟头,一分钟也好。把她还给我一分钟,主啊!然后把我永远扔给魔鬼吧!啊,要是我知道在什么地方能够拽住您的袍子边儿,我就会用我的两只手抓住它,那您就只好把我的孩子还给我啦!主啊,她这只漂亮的小鞋,难道您就不怜惜吗?您能用十五年的苦刑来惩罚一个可怜的母亲吗?慈悲的圣母,天上慈悲的圣母啊!我那孩子,我那亲生的孩子,人家把她抢去了,偷去了,在丛林里把她吃掉了,还喝了她的血,嚼碎了她的骨头!慈悲的圣母,可怜我吧!我的女儿!我要我的女儿!哪怕她是在天堂里,对我又有什么好处?我不愿要您的天使,我只愿意要我的孩子!我是一只母狮子,我要我的小狮子!啊,我要伏在地上,把我的头在石板地上磕碰,我要诅咒自己,我要咒骂您,假若您把我的孩子留着不还我!您看我把自己的手臂都咬伤啦,难道慈悲的上帝会没有怜悯心吗?要是我的孩子在我身边,她会象太阳一般使我温暖,尽管人们只给我一点盐和黑面包!上帝我主!我不过是一个卑微的罪人,可是我的女儿使我成了虔诚的信徒。由于爱她,我心头充满了宗教信仰,她的微笑象通往天堂的门户,我从她的微笑里看见了您。请让我能再有一次,仅仅一次,把这只小鞋穿在她那粉红色的脚上,然后在对您的赞美声中死去。我的圣母啊!啊,十五年啦!现在她一定长大了!不幸的孩子啊!什么?难道我真的不能再看见她了吗,也不能在天上再看见她了吗?因为我是进不了天堂的。啊,多惨!

只有她的鞋在这里,就只这样罢了!”

不幸的母亲扑到那只小鞋上,十五年来,那只小鞋成了唯一能安慰她的东西,也是唯一使她失望的东西,就象发现孩子丢失的那天一样,她五内崩裂,哭得死去活来。对于丢失孩子的母亲,永远都象是刚刚把孩子丢失了似的,这种悲痛是不会过去的,丧服已经相当破旧褪色,而心依旧是漆黑一团。

这时,一阵阵富有生气的孩子欢乐的声音从小屋外传来,每次听见了他们的声音,那可怜的母亲都要躲到她那象坟墓一样的小屋的最暗的角落里去,好象是为了好把耳朵贴在石板地上不去听他们。这一次却相反,她忽然直挺挺地站起来留心听着,一个小男孩正在说:“今天要绞死一个埃及女人。”

用我们看见过的蜘蛛扑向一只在蛛网上发抖的苍蝇那样的突然一跳,她就跳到了窗口。读者知道,那窗口是朝向格雷沃广场的,的确有一架梯子放在那永久性的绞刑架跟前,执行绞刑的刽子手正在忙着整顿由于潮湿生了锈的链子,周围有一群人围着。

那一群说说笑笑的孩子已经走远了,小麻袋用眼睛找寻一个过路人,好向他打听。她发现就在她的小屋近旁有一个神甫,装出在读那本公用祈祷书的样子,但他的心思好象并不在铁栅里的祈祷书上,而是在那个绞刑架上,他不断朝那边投去狂乱的恶狠狠的眼光,她认出那是若扎斯的副主教先生,一个神圣的人。

“神甫,要在那里绞死谁呀?”

神甫看了她一眼没有回答,她又问了一遍,他才说:“我不知道。”

“那边有几个孩子说是要绞死一个埃及女人呢。”隐修女说道。

“我想是吧。”神甫说。

于是巴格特就发出一串疯疯癫癫的笑声。

“教姊,”副主教问道,“那么你很恨埃及女人吧?”

“我恨不恨她们?”隐修女喊道,“她们是巫婆,是偷小孩的人呀!她们吞吃了我的小女儿,我的孩子,我唯一的孩子!我再没有心了,她们把我的心吃掉了!”

她的样子可怕极了,神甫冷漠地看着她。

“我特别恨其中的一个,我诅咒过她,”她又说,“那是一个姑娘,她的年龄和我的女儿差不多,要是她母亲没有把我的女儿吃掉的话。这条小毒蛇每次经过我的屋子,就使我的血往上涌!”

“得啦,教姊,高兴起来吧,”象坟头石像一般冷酷的神甫说,“你要亲眼看着死去的就是她呀。”

他脑袋耷拉在胸前,慢慢走开了。

隐修女快乐地挥舞着胳膊。“我早就说过她是要上绞刑架的!感谢你,神甫!”她喊道。

于是她大踏步在她那洞穴的铁格窗口前走来走去,头发蓬乱,眼睛闪亮,又用肩膀往墙上撞,好象一头已经饿了很久的笼中恶狼,此刻知道快要有东西下肚了。



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