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List Of Contents | Contents of The Countess of Saint Geran, by Dumas, Pere
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"Consider that this is a most serious matter, that I am as it were
placing my head in your hands, and that I would lose my life a
thousand times rather than see this mystery unravelled."

"Consider also," bluntly replied the midwife, "that we ourselves are
primarily interested in all the secrets entrusted to us; that an
indiscretion would destroy all confidence in us, and that there are
even cases----You may speak."

When the marquis had reassured her as to himself by this preface, he
continued: "I know that you are a very able woman."

"I could indeed wish to be one, to serve you.".

"That you have pushed the study of your art to its utmost limits."

"I fear they have been flattering your humble servant."

"And that your studies have enabled you to predict the future."

"That is all nonsense."

"It is true; I have been told so."

"You have been imposed upon."

"What is the use of denying it and refusing to do me a service?"

Louise Goillard defended herself long: she could not understand a man
of this quality believing in fortune-telling, which she practised
only with low-class people and rich farmers; but the marquis appeared
so earnest that she knew not what to think.

"Listen," said he, "it is no use dissembling with me, I know all.  Be
easy; we are playing a game in which you are laying one against a
thousand; moreover, here is something on account to compensate you
for the trouble I am giving."

He laid a pile of gold on the table.  The matron weakly owned that
she had sometimes attempted astrological combinations which were not
always fortunate, and that she had been only induced to do so by the
fascination of the phenomena of science.  The secret of her guilty
practices was drawn from her at the very outset of her defence.

"That being so," replied the marquis, "you must be already aware of
the situation in which I find myself; you must know that, hurried
away by a blind and ardent passion, I have betrayed the confidence of
an old lady and violated the laws of hospitality by seducing her
daughter in her own house; that matters have come to a crisis, and
that this noble damsel, whom I Love to distraction, being pregnant,
is on the point of losing her life and honour by the discovery of her
fault, which is mine."

The matron replied that nothing could be ascertained about a person
except from private questions; and to further impose upon the
marquis, she fetched a kind of box marked with figures and strange
emblems.  Opening this, and putting together certain figures which it
contained, she declared that what the marquis had told her was true,
and that his situation was a most melancholy one.  She added, in
order to frighten him, that he was threatened by still more serious
misfortunes than those which had already overtaken him, but that it
was easy to anticipate and obviate these mischances by new
consultations.

"Madame," replied the marquis, "I fear only one thing in the world,
the dishonour of the woman I love.  Is there no method of remedying
the usual embarrassment of a birth?"

"I know of none," said the matron.

"The young lady has succeeded in concealing her condition; it would
be easy for her confinement to take place privately."

"She has already risked her life; and I cannot consent to be mixed up
in this affair, for fear of the consequences."

"Could not, for instance," said the marquis, "a confinement be
effected without pain?"

"I don't know about that, but this I do" know, that I shall take very
good care not to practise any method contrary to the laws of nature."

"You are deceiving me: you are acquainted with this method, you have
already practised it upon a certain person whom I could name to you."

"Who has dared to calumniate me thus?  I operate only after the
decision of the Faculty.  God forbid that I should be stoned by all
the physicians, and perhaps expelled from France!"

"Will you then let me die of despair?  If I were capable of making a
bad use of your secrets, I could have done so long ago, for I know
them.  In Heaven's name, do not dissimulate any longer, and tell me
how it is possible to stifle the pangs of labour.  Do you want more
gold?  Here it is."  And he threw more Louis on the table.

"Stay," said the matron: "there is perhaps a method which I think I
have discovered, and which I have never employed, but I believe it
efficacious."

"But if you have never employed it, it may be dangerous, and risk the
life of the lady whom I love."

"When I say never, I mean that I have tried it once, and most
successfully.  Be at your ease."

"Ah!" cried the marquis, "you have earned my everlasting gratitude!
But," continued he, "if we could anticipate the confinement itself,
and remove from henceforth the symptoms of pregnancy?"

"Oh, sir, that is a great crime you speak of!"

"Alas!" continued the marquis, as if speaking to himself in a fit of
intense grief; "I had rather lose a dear child, the pledge of our
love, than bring into the world an unhappy creature which might
possibly cause its mother's death."

"I pray you, sir, let no more be said on the subject; it is a
horrible crime even to think of such a thing."

"But what is to be done?  Is it better to destroy two persons and
perhaps kill a whole family with despair?  Oh, madame, I entreat you,
extricate us from this extremity!"

The marquis buried his face in his hands, and sobbed as though he
were weeping copiously.

"Your despair grievously affects me," said the matron; "but consider
that for a woman of my calling it is a capital offence."

"What are you talking about?  Do not our mystery, our safety, and our
credit come in first?

"They can never get at you till after the death and dishonour of all
that is dear to me in the world."

"I might then, perhaps.  But in this case you must insure me against
legal complications, fines, and procure me a safe exit from the
kingdom."

"Ah! that is my affair.  Take my whole fortune!  Take my life!"

And he threw the whole purse on the table.

"In this case, and solely to extricate you from the extreme danger in
which I see you placed, I consent to give you a decoction, and
certain instructions, which will instantly relieve the lady from her
burden.  She must use the greatest precaution, and study to carry out
exactly what I am about to tell you.  My God!  only such desperate
occasions as this one could induce me to---- Here----"

She took a flask from the bottom of a cupboard, and continued--

"Here is a liquor which never fails."

"Oh, madame, you save my honour, which is dearer to me than life!
But this is not enough: tell me what use I am to make of this liquor,
and in what doses I am to administer it."

"The patient," replied the midwife, "must take one spoonful the first
day; the second day two; the third----"

"You will obey me to the minutest particular?"

"I swear it."

"Let us start, then."

She asked but for time to pack a little linen, put things in order,
then fastened her doors, and left the house with the marquis.
A quarter of an hour later they were galloping through the night,
without her knowing where the marquis was taking her.

The marquis reappeared three days later at the chateau, finding the
count's family as he had left them--that is to say, intoxicated with
hope, and counting the weeks, days, and hours before the accouchement
of the countess.  He excused his hurried departure on the ground of
the importance of the business which had summoned him away; and
speaking of his journey at table, he related a story current in the
country whence he came, of a surprising event which he had all but
witnessed.  It was the case of a lady of quality who suddenly found
herself in the most dangerous pangs of labour.  All the skill of the
physicians who had been summoned proved futile; the lady was at the
point of death; at last, in sheer despair, they summoned a midwife of
great repute among the peasantry, but whose practice did not include
the gentry.  From the first treatment of this woman, who appeared
modest and diffident to a degree, the pains ceased as if by
enchantment; the patient fell into an indefinable calm languor, and
after some hours was delivered of a beautiful infant; but after this
was attacked by a violent fever which brought her to death's door.
They then again had recourse to the doctors, notwithstanding the
opposition of the master of the house, who had confidence in the
matron.  The doctors' treatment only made matters worse.  In this
extremity they again called in the midwife, and at the end of three
weeks the lady was miraculously restored to life, thus, added the
marquis, establishing the reputation of the matron, who had sprung
into such vogue in the town where she lived and the neighbouring
country that nothing else was talked about.

This story made a great impression on the company, on account of the
condition of the countess; the dowager added that it was very wrong
to ridicule these humble country experts, who often through
observation and experience discovered secrets which proud doctors
were unable to unravel with all their studies.  Hereupon the count
cried out that this midwife must be sent for, as she was just the
kind of woman they wanted.  After this other matters were talked
about, the marquis changing the conversation; he had gained his point
in quietly introducing the thin end of the wedge of his design.

After dinner, the company walked on the terrace.  The countess
dowager not being able to walk much on account of her advanced age,
the countess and Madame de Bouille took chairs beside her.  The count
walked up and down with M. de Saint-Maixent.  The marquis naturally
asked how things had been going on during his absence, and if Madame
de Saint-Geran had suffered any inconvenience, for her pregnancy had
become the most important affair in the household, and hardly
anything else was talked about.

"By the way," said the count, "you were speaking just now of a very
skilful midwife; would it not be a good step to summon her?"

"I think," replied the marquis, "that it would be an excellent

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