It is the only occasion of the kind, and the clergy, either knavish or ignorant, encourage all this shameful riot. The lower orders take it all in good faith, and anyone who raised any objection would run some risk, for the bishop goes in front of the saturnalia, and consequently it is all holy.
I expressed my disapproval of the whole affair, as likely to bring discredit on religion, to a councillor of parliament, M. de St. Marc; but he told me gravely that it was an excellent thing, as it brought no less than a hundred thousand francs into the town on the single day.
I could find no reply to this very weighty reason.
Every day I spent at Aix I thought of Henriette. I knew her real name, and remembering the message she had sent me by Marcoline I hoped to meet her in some assembly, being ready to adapt my conduct to hers. I had often heard her name mentioned, but I never allowed myself to ask any question, not wishing our old friendship to be suspected. Believing her to be at her country house, I had resolved on paying her a visit, and had only stayed on at Aix so as to recover my health before seeing her. In due course I left Aix with a letter in my pocket for her, resolving to send it in, and to remain in my carriage till she asked me to get down.
We arrived at her residence at eleven o'clock. A man came to the door, took my letter, and said madam should have it without fail.
"Then she is not here."
"No, sir; she is at Aix."
"For the last six months."
"Where does she live?"
"In her town house. She will be coming here in three weeks to spend the summer as usual."
"Will you let me write a letter?"
"If you will get down you will find all the necessary materials in madam's room."
I went into the house, and to my extreme surprise found myself face to face with my nurse.
"You live here, then."
"For the last ten years."
"How did you come to nurse me?"
"If you will step upstairs I will tell you."
Her story was as follows:
"Madam sent for me in haste, and told me to go and attend to you as if it were herself. She told me to say that the doctor had sent me if you asked any questions."
"The doctor said he didn't know you."
"Perhaps he was speaking the truth, but most likely he had received orders from madam. That's all I know, but I wonder you haven't seen her at Aix."
"She cannot see any company, for I have been everywhere."
"She does not see any company at her own house, but she goes everywhere."
"It's very strange. I must have seen her, and yet I do not think I could have passed her by unrecognized. You have been with her ten years?"
"Yes, sir, as I had the honour of informing you."
"Has she changed? Has she had any sickness? Has she aged?"
"Not at all. She has become rather stout, but I assure you you would take her for a woman of thirty."
"I must be blind, or I cannot have seen her. I am going to write to her now."
The woman went out, leaving me in astonishment, at the extraordinary situation in which I was placed.
"Ought I to return to Aix immediately?" I asked myself. She has a town house, but does not see company, but she might surely see me: She loves me still. She cared for me all through my illness, and she would not have done so if she had become indifferent to me. She will be hurt at my not recognizing her. She must know that I have left Aix, and will no doubt guess that I am here now. Shall I go to her or shall I write? I resolved to write, and I told her in my letter that I should await her reply at Marseilles. I gave the letter to my late nurse, with some money to insure its being dispatched at once, and drove on to Marseilles where I alighted at an obscure inn, not wishing to be recognized. I had scarcely got out of my carriage when I saw Madame Schizza, Nina's sister. She had left Barcelona with her husband. They had been at Marseilles three or four days and were going to Leghorn.
Madame Schizza was alone at the moment, her husband having gone out; and as I was full of curiosity I begged her to come up to my room while my dinner was getting ready.