A HORRIBLE PREDICAMENT

The strains of a beautiful old German melody, rendered by a rich
contralto voice, floated through the night air and caused many a
passer-by to linger beneath the open windows of a house in the Avenue
Friedland whence they proceeded. It was a singularly beautiful woman
who was singing, seated at the piano, in the half light of a daintily
furnished drawing-room. Dressed in a marvelous composition of white
velvet and old lace, with fragrant gardenias nestling in her bosom and
in her soft, golden hair, her low bodice displayed to great advantage
the marble whiteness and perfect outline of her bust.

“Nonsense, nonsense,” cries a cheery voice from the balcony where
Frederick von Waldberg has been enjoying his after-dinner weed. With
a light-hearted laugh he flings his half-burnt cigar into the street
and steps into the room. Approaching his wife he encircles her slender
waist with his arm and draws her curly head upon his shoulder.

“Dare to repeat, now, you perverse little woman, that you are sad. What
ails you? Have you not all you can wish for, including a devoted slave
of a husband who has given up everything for you, and is only governed
by your sweet will?”

“Yes, dear, yes, dear,” murmurs Rose, gently disengaging herself from
his embrace, “but you can’t think how it pains me to know that it is I
who have been the cause of your quarrel with your father—and then the
future is so uncertain. We have not very much money left, and how we
shall manage to keep up this establishment is more than I can tell.”

“Never mind; leave that to me. I will find the means somehow or other;
only don’t fret,” replies Frederick, in a low voice. “As long as you
continue to love me everything will be all right. You are not yet tired
of me, Weibchen, are you?”

She laughs saucily, but there is a queer light in her dark-blue eyes as
she seats herself again at the piano and runs her fingers dreamily over
the keys.

Three months have elapsed since the burglary at Gen. von Waldberg’s
Neapolitan residence, and some eight or ten weeks since Count and
Countess Frederick von Waldberg have taken up their quarters in Paris.
They live recklessly and extravagantly, like children who are intent
on sipping all the sweets of the cup of life without giving a moment’s
thought to the dregs at the bottom thereof, and which they are bound to
reach sooner or later.

Frederick’s careless and easy-going nature had enabled him to forget in
an incredibly short space of time all the tragic scenes through which
he passed at Biala and Naples. He is still passionately in love with
his wife, whose beauty is the talk of Paris. He has not attempted to
enter society, but when the young couple drive in the “Bois” in their
well-appointed victoria, or enter a box at one of the fashionable
theaters, they are the cynosure of all eyes. Moreover Frederick has
picked up many male acquaintances, and the choice fare and exquisite
wines which are always to be found at his hospitable board prove nearly
as great an attraction as the lovely eyes and matchless elegance of the
mistress of the house.

Rose has, outwardly at least, become a perfect _femme du monde_. She
has picked up all the ways and mannerisms of the higher classes with a
quickness that astonishes and delights her husband. But it is fortunate
that he is unable to fathom the depths of her heart. For it is just as
hard, as mercenary and corrupt as of yore, and she often involuntarily
yearns for the gutter from which her husband has raised her.

Toward 9 o’clock Frederick called for his coat and hat, and, kissing
his wife tenderly, exclaimed:

“Do not wait up for me, little woman, as I shall not be home from the
club till about 2 o’clock.”

With that he left the house and strolled down the avenue to one of the
well-known _cercles de jeu_ (gambling clubs) of the Boulevards.

Luck, however, was against him for once, and shortly after 11 o’clock,
having sustained heavy losses, he left the club and walked rapidly
home, in a very bad temper.

Letting himself in with his latch-key he walks softly up stairs and
enters the drawing-room where a light is still dimly burning. His
footsteps fall noiselessly on the thick carpet, and wishing to surprise
Rose, who could hardly have retired for the night at this comparatively
early hour, he pulls aside the heavy drapery of tawny plush which
screens the door of her “boudoir,” and peeps in. Hardly has he done
so than he springs forward with a yell of rage, for there on a low
oriental divan he beholds his wife, his beloved Rose, in the arms of
his butler.

The terrified servant makes a dash for the nearest door and escapes
through the adjoining conservatory. Frederick, scorning to pursue him,
turns his attention to Rose. Brutally grasping her arm, he raises her
from the ground where she has flung herself on her knees at his feet,
and without a word he drags her down stairs, stopping for a moment in
the hall below to throw a gorgeous red-brocaded opera-cloak, which
hangs there, on the speechless woman’s shoulders. Opening the front
door, he thrusts her into the street, exclaiming hoarsely as he bangs
it behind her:

“That is where you belong.”

For a few minutes Rose stood on the pavement, dazed and trembling, but
suddenly recalling to mind the expression of her infuriated husband’s
eyes as he pushed her down stairs she was seized with terror and fled
down the avenue.

She had not gone very far when two men, springing from a dark side
street, arrested her wild flight by clutching her arms.

“Where is your police permit?” exclaimed the taller of the two.

Rose stared helplessly at them without replying.

“Why don’t you answer?” yelled the other, shaking her violently. “Don’t
you hear me talking to you? Are you drunk?”

The unfortunate woman draws herself up, and, shaking off the dirty
hand of the “Agents-des-Mœurs” (police charged with the control of the
women of ill-repute,) replied:

“I do not know what you mean. There is some mistake. I am the Countesse
de Waldberg; let me go!”

“Countess indeed! Is that all? We know all about such countesses. They
belong in the St. Lazarre Prison when they run round without their
‘livret’(police permit.) Allons! come along! Enough of these airs and
graces! A decent woman does not pace the streets at midnight in a
ball-dress.”

[Illustration: ROSE ARRESTED BY THE PARIS POLICE.]

With a shriek of horror Rose made a sudden dart forward, but has not
got far before she is seized by the hair with such force as to throw
her on the pavement. Picking her up again, the Agents-des-Mœurs call a
passing night cab, and, bundling the now fainting woman into it, order
the coachman to drive to the police station.

On arriving at the police station Rose was roughly dragged from the cab
by the two Agents des Mœurs and thrust into the “Violon”—a filthy cell
which was already crowded with a score or two of drunk and disorderly
women. The atmosphere which reigned in the place was indescribably
horrible and nauseating; and the shrieks, the yells, and the disgusting
songs and discordant cries of its occupants were only interrupted
from time to time when the door was opened to give admittance to some
fresh samples of the feminine scum of the Paris streets. Such was the
pandemonium in which the Countess von Waldberg passed the first night
after being driven out of her luxuriously appointed home in the Avenue
Friedland.

* * * * *

When at length day began to dawn through the iron grating of the
solitary window of the cell, she breathed a sigh of relief. The scene
around her was one fit to figure in “Dante’s Inferno.” Every imaginable
type of woman seemed to be assembled within the circumscribed limits of
those four grimy walls, from the demi-mondaine in silks and satins who
had been run in for creating a disturbance at Mabille, down to the old
and tattered ragpicker who had been arrested for drunkenness; from the
bourgeoise who had been discovered in the act of betraying her husband,
down to the ordinary street-walker, who had been caught abroad without
her police livret. Here and there, too, were a shoplifter, a _bonne_
who had assaulted her mistress, and a market woman who, in a moment of
fury, had chewed off her antagonist’s nose. Dressed in the most motley
of costumes, they lay about on the wooden bench which ran round the
cell, or were stretched prostrate on the damp and dirty brick floor.

Amid these surroundings Rose presented a truly strange appearance as
she stood up in the cold morning light, with her costly white velvet
gown all stained with mud, from which the superb lace flounces had been
partly torn by the brutal hands of the men who had arrested her. Her
beautiful golden hair lay in tangled masses on her bare shoulders, from
which the red opera-cloak had fallen as she rose to her feet. She was
very pale and there was a hard and stony look in her sunken eyes.

She had had time to reflect on the events of the previous evening, and
thoroughly realized the fact that after what had happened Frederick
would refuse to acknowledge her as his wife. It would be, therefore,
more than useless to appeal to him to substantiate the statements which
she had at first made as to her rank and condition; indeed, matters
might be only aggravated by such a course, and she determined to
maintain the strictest silence concerning her former life. Her heart,
however, was filled to overflowing with bitterness against her husband,
to whose conduct she attributed her present horrible predicament.
Intense hatred had taken the place of any feelings of affection which
she might formerly have possessed for him, and she then and there
registered a solemn oath that she would never rest until she had
wreaked a terrible vengeance for all she had suffered on his account.

At eight o’clock she was brought into court and charged with having
been found plying an immoral trade in the public streets, without
having previously obtained the required license from the “Prefecture
de Police.” For this offense the magistrate, without much questioning,
sentenced her to three months’ imprisonment at St. Lazarre. Shortly
afterward the police-van, which in French bears the euphonic name
of “Panier a Salade” (Salad Basket), drew up at the door of the
station-house, and Rose, with most of the women who had spent the night
in the same cell with her, was bundled into the dismal conveyance. The
latter then rattled off through the streets along which she had last
driven reclining lazily on the soft cushions of her victoria, to the
well-known prison in the Faubourg St. Denis, within the walls of which
even an hour’s sojourn is sufficient to brand a woman with infamy for
the remainder of her days.

On alighting in the court-yard of St. Lazarre, Rose was taken to
the clerk’s office, where her name, age, and origin were entered on
the prison register. She gave her name as Rose Hartmann, her age as
twenty-five, and declared, in response to the inquiries on the subject,
that she had no profession and was of German extraction. From thence
she was passed on to the hands of “Madame la Fouilleuse,” as the
searcher is nicknamed, who made her strip, and, after having searched
her clothes and even her hair, bade her put on the prison dress,
consisting of coarse linen under-clothes, blue cotton hose, thick
shoes, a brown stuff dress, brown woolen cap, and large blue cotton
cloth apron.

The prison regulations at St. Lazarre were then and are still very
severe. The prisoners have to get up at five o’clock in the morning.
They sleep four together in one room, and have no other toilet utensils
than small pitchers of water and basins no bigger than a moderate-sized
soup plate. This makes their morning bath a rather difficult operation.
Their meals, except when they are allowed meat on Sundays, consist of
a dish of thin vegetable broth, a piece of brown bread, and fricasseed
vegetables. While they are at table, a Sister of the religious order
of Marie-Joseph reads aloud to them extracts from some pious book. Ten
hours of the long, weary day are spent in doing plain needlework, and
they have to be in bed for the night at 7:30 o’clock. At eight o’clock
all lights are extinguished throughout the prison, and during the long
night no sound is heard in the big pile of buildings but the steps of
the Sisters of Marie-Joseph, who are on guard, and who pace the long
corridors at fixed intervals to see that there is no talking going on.

It must be acknowledged that all this was a cruel change to Rose, who,
at any rate during the previous twelve months, had been accustomed to a
life of elegance, refinement, and cruelty.