"Not one word more!" replied the soldier, stamping his foot with anger.
"I tell you, father," exclaimed the smith, growing fearfully pale as he spoke, "that you risk being sent to the galleys!"
"Unhappy boy!" cried Dagobert, seizing his son by the arm; "could you not keep that from me—rather than expose me to become a traitor and a coward?" And the soldier shuddered, as he repeated: "The galleys!"—and, bending down his head, remained mute, pensive, withered, as it were, by those blasting words.
"Yes, to enter an inhabited place by night, in such a manner, is what the law calls burglary, and punishes with the galleys," cried Agricola, at once grieved and rejoicing at his father's depression of mind—"yes, father, the galleys, if you are taken in the act; and there are ten chances to one that you would be so. Mother Bunch has told you, the convent is guarded. This morning, had you attempted to carry off the two young ladies in broad daylight, you would have been arrested; but, at least, the attempt would have been an open one, with a character of honest audacity about it, that hereafter might have procured your acquittal. But to enter by night, and by scaling the walls—I tell you, the galleys would be the consequence. Now, father, decide. Whatever you do, I will do also—for you shall not go alone. Say but the word, and I will forge the hook for you—I have here hammer and pincers—and in an hour we will set out."
A profound silence followed these words—a silence that was only interrupted by the stifled sobs of Frances, who muttered to herself in despair: "Alas! this is the consequence of listening to Abbe Dubois!"
It was in vain that Mother Bunch tried to console Frances. She was herself alarmed, for the soldier was capable of braving even infamy, and Agricola had determined to share the perils of his father.
In spite of his energetic and resolute character, Dagobert remained for some time in a kind of stupor. According to his military habits, he had looked at this nocturnal enterprise only as a ruse de guerre, authorized by his good cause, and by the inexorable fatality of his position; but the words of his son brought him back to the fearful reality, and left him the choice of a terrible alternative—either to betray the confidence of Marshal Simon, and set at naught the last wishes of the mother of the orphan—or else to expose himself, and above all his son, to lasting disgrace—without even the certainty of delivering the orphans after all.
Drying her eyes, bathed in tears, Frances exclaimed, as if by a sudden inspiration: "Dear me! I have just thought of it. There is perhaps a way of getting these dear children from the convent without violence."
"How so, mother?" said Agricola, hastily.
"It is Abbe Dubois, who had them conveyed thither; but Gabriel supposes, that he probably acted by the advice of M. Rodin.
"And if that were so, mother, it would be in vain to apply to M. Rodin. We should get nothing from him."
"Not from him—but perhaps from that powerful abbe, who is Gabriel's superior, and has always patronized him since his first entrance at the seminary."
"What abbe, mother?"
"True mother; before being a priest, he was a soldier he may be more accessible than others—and yet—"
"D'Aigrigny!" cried Dagobert, with an expression of hate and horror. "There is then mixed up with these treasons, a man who was a soldier before being a priest, and whose name is D'Aigrigny?"
"Yes, father; the Marquis d'Aigrigny—before the Restoration, in the service of Russia—but, in 1815, the Bourbons gave him a regiment."
"It is he!" said Dagobert, in a hollow voice. "Always the same! like an evil spirit—to the mother, father, children."
"What do you mean, father?"
"The Marquis d'Aigrigny!" replied Dagobert. "Do you know what is this man? Before he was a priest, he was the murderer of Rose and Blanche's mother, because she despised his love. Before he was a priest, he fought against his country, and twice met General Simon face to face in war. Yes; while the general was prisoner at Leipsic, covered with wounds at Waterloo, the turncoat marquis triumphed with the Russians and English!—Under the Bourbons, this same renegade, loaded with honors, found himself once more face to face with the persecuted soldier of the empire. Between them, this time, there was a mortal duel—the marquis was wounded—General Simon was proscribed, condemned, driven into exile. The renegade, you say, has become a priest. Well! I am now certain, that it is he who has carried off Rose and Blanche, in order to wreak on them his hatred of their father and mother. It is the infamous D'Aigrigny, who holds them in his power. It is no longer the fortune of these children that I have to defend; it is their life—do you hear what I say?—their very life?"
"What, father! do you think this man capable—"
"A traitor to his country, who finishes by becoming a mock priest, is capable of anything. I tell you, that, perhaps at this moment he may be killing those children by a slow-fire!" exclaimed the soldier, in a voice of agony. "To separate them from one another was to begin to kill them. Yes!" added Dagobert, with an exasperation impossible to describe; "the daughters of Marshal Simon are in the power of the Marquis d'Aigrigny and his band, and I hesitate to attempt their rescue, for fear of the galleys! The galleys!" added he, with a convulsive burst of laughter; "what do I care for the galleys? Can they send a corpse there? If this last attempt fail, shall I not have the right to blow my brains out?—Put the iron in the fire, my boy—quick! time presses—and strike while the iron's hot!"
"But your son goes with you!" exclaimed Frances, with a cry of maternal despair. Then rising, she threw herself at the feet of Dagobert, and said: "If you are arrested, he will be arrested also."
"To escape the galleys, he will do as I do. I have two pistols."
"And without you—without him," cried the unhappy mother, extending her hands in supplication, "what will become of me?"
"You are right—I was too selfish," said Dagobert. "I will go alone."
"You shall not go alone, father," replied Agricola.
"But your mother?"
"Mother Bunch sees what is passing; she will go to Mr. Hardy, my master, and tell him all. He is the most generous of men, and my mother will have food and shelter for the rest of her days."
"And I am the cause of all!" cried Frances, wringing her hands in despair. "Punish me, oh, heaven! for it is my fault. I gave up those children. I shall be punished by the death of my child!"
"Agricola, you shall not go with me—I forbid it!" said Dagobert, clasping his son closely to his breast.
"What! when I have pointed out the danger, am I to be the first to shrink from it? you cannot think thus lowly of me, father! Have I not also some one to deliver? The good, the generous Mdlle. de Cardoville, who tried to save me from a prison, is a captive in her turn. I will follow you, father. It is my right, my duty, my determination."
So saying, Agricola put into the heated stove the tongs that were intended to form the hook. "Alas! may heaven have pity upon us!" cried his poor mother, sobbing as she still knelt, whilst the soldier seemed a prey to the most violent internal struggle.
"Do not cry so, dear mother; you will break my heart," said Agricola, as he raised her with the sempstress's help. "Be comforted! I have exaggerated the danger of my father. By acting prudently, we two may succeed in our enterprise; without much risk—eh, father?" added he, with a significant glance at Dagobert. "Once more, be comforted, dear mother. I will answer for everything. We will deliver Marshal Simon's daughters, and Mdlle. de Cardoville too. Sister, give me the hammer and pincers, there in the press."
The sempstress, drying her tears, did as desired, while Agricola, by the help of bellows, revived the fire in which the tongs were heating.
"Here are your tools, Agricola," said the hunchback, in a deeply-agitated voice, as she presented them with trembling hands to the smith, who, with the aid of the pincers, soon drew from the fire the white-hot tongs, and, with vigorous blows of the hammer, formed them into a hook, taking the stove for his anvil.
Dagobert had remained silent and pensive. Suddenly he said to Frances, taking her by the hand: "You know what metal your son is. To prevent his following me would now be impossible. But do not be afraid, dear wife; we shall succeed—at least, I hope so. And if we should not succeed—if Agricola and me should be arrested—well! we are not cowards; we shall not commit suicide; but father and son will go arm in arm to prison, with heads high and proud, look like two brave men who have done their duty. The day of trial must come, and we will explain all, honestly, openly—we will say, that, driven to the last extremity, finding no support, no protection in the law, we were forced to have recourse to violence. So hammer away, my boy!" added Dagobert, addressing his son, pounding the hot iron; "forge, forge, without fear. Honest judges will absolve honest men."
"Yes, father, you are right, be at ease dear mother! The judges will see the difference between rascals who scale walls in order to rob, and an old soldier and his son who, at peril of their liberty, their life, their honor, have sought only to deliver unhappy victims."
"And if this language should not be heard," resumed Dagobert, "so much the worse for them! It will not be your son, or husband, who will be dishonored in the eyes of honest people. If they send us to the galleys, and we have courage to survive—the young and the old convict will wear their chains proudly—and the renegade marquis, the traitor priest, will bear more shame than we. So, forge without fear, my boy! There are things which the galleys themselves cannot disgrace—our good conscience and our honor! But now," he added, "two words with my good Mother Bunch. It grows late, and time presses. On entering the garden, did you remark if the windows of the convent were far from the ground?"
"No, not very far, M. Dagobert—particularly on that side which is opposite to the madhouse, where Mdlle. de Cardoville is confined."
"How did you manage to speak to that young lady?"
"She was on the other side of an open paling, which separates the two gardens."
"Excellent!" said Agricola, as he continued to hammer the iron: "we can easily pass from one garden to the other. The madhouse may perhaps be the readier way out. Unfortunately, you do not know, Mdlle. de Cardoville's chamber."
"Yes, I do," returned the work-girl, recollecting herself. "She is lodged in one of the wings, and there is a shade over her window, painted like canvas, with blue and white stripes."
"Good! I shall not forget that."
"And can you form no guess as to where are the rooms of my poor children?" said Dagobert.
After a moment's reflection, Mother Bunch answered, "They are opposite to the chamber occupied by Mdlle. de Cardoville, for she makes signs to them from her window: and I now remember she told me, that their two rooms are on different stories, one on the ground-floor, and the other up one pair of stairs."
"Are these windows grated?" asked the smith.
"I do not know."
"Never mind, my good girl: with these indications we shall do very well," said Dagobert. "For the rest, I have my plans."
"Some water, my little sister," said Agricola, "that I may cool my iron." Then addressing his father: "Will this hook do?"
"Yes, my boy; as soon as it is cold we will fasten the cord."
For some time, Frances Baudoin had remained upon her knees, praying with fervor. She implored Heaven to have pity on Agricola and Dagobert, who, in their ignorance, were about to commit a great crime; and she entreated that the celestial vengeance might fall upon her only, as she alone had been the cause of the fatal resolution of her son and husband.
Dagobert and Agricola finished their preparations in silence. They were both very pale, and solemnly grave. They felt all the danger of so desperate an enterprise.
The clock at Saint-Mery's struck ten. The sound of the bell was faint, and almost drowned by the lashing of the wind and rain, which had not ceased for a moment.
"Ten o'clock!" said Dagobert, with a start. "There is not a minute to lose. Take the sack, Agricola."
As he went to fetch the sack, Agricola approached Mother Bunch, who was hardly able to sustain herself, and said to her in a rapid whisper: "If we are not here to-morrow, take care of my mother. Go to M. Hardy, who will perhaps have returned from his journey. Courage, my sister! embrace me. I leave poor mother to you." The smith, deeply affected, pressed the almost fainting girl in his arms.
"Come, old Spoil-sport," said Dagobert: "you shall be our scout." Approaching his wife, who, just risen from the ground, was clasping her son's head to her bosom, and covering it with tears and kisses, he said to her, with a semblance of calmness and serenity: "Come, my dear wife, be reasonable! Make us a good fire. In two or three hours we will bring home the two poor children, and a fine young lady. Kiss me! that will bring me luck."
Frances threw herself on her husband's neck, without uttering a word. This mute despair, mingled with convulsive sobs, was heart-rending. Dagobert was obliged to tear himself from his wife's arms, and striving to conceal his emotion, he said to his son, in an agitated voice: "Let us go—she unmans me. Take care of her, my good Mother Bunch. Agricola—come!"
The soldier slipped the pistols into the pocket of his great coat, and rushed towards the door, followed by Spoil-sport.
"My son, let me embrace you once more—alas! it is perhaps for the last time!" cried the unfortunate mother, incapable of rising, but stretching out her arms to Agricola. "Forgive me! it is all my fault."
The smith turned back, mingled his tears with those of his mother—for he also wept—and murmured, in a stifled voice: "Adieu, dear mother! Be comforted. We shall soon meet again."
Then, escaping from the embrace, he joined his father upon the stairs.
Frances Baudoin heaved a long sigh, and fell almost lifeless into the needlewoman's arms.
Dagobert and Agricola left the Rue Brise-Miche in the height of the storm, and hastened with great strides towards the Boulevard de l'Hopital, followed by the dog.
CHAPTER XIII. BURGLARY.
Half-past eleven had just struck, when Dagobert and his son arrived on the Boulevard de l'Hopital.
The wind blew violently, and the rain fell down in torrents, but notwithstanding the thickness of the watery clouds, it was tolerably light, thanks to the late rising of the moon. The tall, dark trees, and the white walls of the convent garden, were distinguishable in the midst of the pale glimmer. Afar off, a street lamp, acted on by the wind, with its red lights hardly visible through the mist and rain, swung backwards and forwards over the dirty causeway of the solitary boulevard.
At rare intervals, they heard, at a very great distance, the rattle and rumble of a coach, returning home late; then all was again silent.
Since their departure from the Rue Brise-Miche, Dagobert and his son had hardly exchanged a word. The design of these two brave men was noble and generous, and yet, resolute but pensive, they glided through the darkness like bandits, at the hour of nocturnal crimes.
Agricola carried on his shoulders the sack containing the cord, the hook, and the iron bar; Dagobert leaned upon the arm of his son, and Spoil sport followed his master.
"The bench, where we sat down, must be close by," said Dagobert, stopping.
"Yes," said Agricola, looking around; "here it is, father."
"It is oily half-past eleven—we must wait for midnight," resumed Dagobert. "Let us be seated for an instant, to rest ourselves, and decide upon our plan."
After a moment's silence, the soldier took his son's hands between his own, and thus continued: "Agricola, my child—it is yet time. Let me go alone, I entreat you. I shall know very well how to get through the business; but the nearer the moment comes, the more I fear to drag you into this dangerous enterprise."
"And the nearer the moment comes, father, the more I feel I may be of some use; but, be it good or bad, I will share the fortune of your adventure. Our object is praiseworthy; it is a debt of honor that you have to pay, and I will take one half of it. Do not fancy that I will now draw back. And so, dear father, let us think of our plan of action."
"Then you will come?" said Dagobert, stifling a sigh.
"We must do everything," proceeded Agricola, "to secure success. You have already noticed the little garden-door, near the angle of the wall—that is excellent."
"We shall get by that way into the garden, and look immediately for the open paling."
"Yes; for on one side of this paling is the wing inhabited by Mdlle. de Cardoville, and on the other that part of the convent in which the general's daughters are confined."
At this moment, Spoil-sport, who was crouching at Dagobert's feet, rose suddenly, and pricked up his ears, as if to listen.
"One would think that Spoil-sport heard something," said Agricola. They listened—but heard only the wind, sounding through the tall trees of the boulevard.
"Now I think of it, father—when the garden-door is once open, shall we take Spoil-sport with us?"
"Yes; for if there is a watch-dog, he will settle him. And then he will give us notice of the approach of those who go the rounds. Besides, he is so intelligent, so attached to Rose and Blanche, that (who knows?) he may help to discover the place where they are. Twenty times I have seen him find them in the woods, by the most extraordinary instinct."
A slow and solemn knell here rose above the noise of the wind: it was the first stroke of twelve.
That note seemed to echo mournfully through the souls of Agricola and his father. Mute with emotion, they shuddered, and by a spontaneous movement, each grasped the hand of the other. In spite of themselves, their hearts kept time to every stroke of the clock, as each successive vibration was prolonged through the gloomy silence of the night.
At the last strobe, Dagobert said to his son, in a firm voice: "It is midnight. Shake hands, and let us forward!"
The moment was decisive and solemn. "Now, father," said Agricola, "we will act with as much craft and daring as thieves going to pillage a strong box."
So saying, the smith took from the sack the cord and hook; Dagobert armed himself with the iron bar, and both advanced cautiously, following the wall in the direction of the little door, situated not far from the angle formed by the street and the boulevard. They stopped from time to time, to listen attentively, trying to distinguish those noises which were not caused either by the high wind or the rain.
It continued light enough for them to be able to see surrounding objects, and the smith and the soldier soon gained the little door, which appeared much decayed, and not very strong.
"Good!" said Agricola to his father. "It will yield at one blow."
The smith was about to apply his shoulder vigorously to the door, when Spoil-sport growled hoarsely, and made a "point." Dagobert silenced the dog with a word, and grasping his son's arm, said to him in a whisper: "Do not stir. The dog has scented some one in the garden."
Agricola and his father remained for some minutes motionless, holding their breath and listening. The dog, in obedience to his master, no longer growled, but his uneasiness and agitation were displayed more and more. Yet they heard nothing.
"The dog must have been deceived, father," whispered Agricola.
"I am sure of the contrary. Do not move."
After some seconds of expectation, Spoil-sport crouched down abruptly, and pushed his nose as far as possible under the door, snuffling up the air.
"They are coming," said Dagobert hastily, to his son.
"Let us draw off a little distance," replied Agricola.
"No," said his father; "we must listen. It will be time to retire, if they open the door. Here, Spoil-sport! down!"
The dog obeyed, and withdrawing from the door, crouched down at the feet of his master. Some seconds after, they heard a sort of splashing on the damp ground, caused by heavy footsteps in puddles of water, and then the sound of words, which carried away by the wind, did not reach distinctly the ears of the soldier and the smith.
"They are the people of whom Mother Bunch told us, going their round," said Agricola to his father.
"So much the better. There will be an interval before they come round again, and we shall have some two hours before us, without interruption. Our affair is all right now."
By degrees, the sound of the footsteps became less and less distinct, and at last died away altogether.
"Now, quick! we must not lose any time," said Dagobert to his son, after waiting about ten minutes; "they are far enough. Let us try to open the door."
Agricola leaned his powerful shoulder against it, and pushed vigorously; but the door did not give way, notwithstanding its age.
"Confound it!" said Agricola; "there is a bar on the inside. I am sure of it, or these old planks would not have resisted my weight."
"What is to be done?"
"I will scale the wall by means of the cord and hook, and open the door from the other side."
So saying, Agricola took the cord, and after several attempts, succeeded in fixing the hook on the coping of the wall.
"Now, father, give me a leg up; I will help myself up with the cord; once astride on the wall, I can easily turn the hook and get down into the garden."
The soldier leaned against the wall, and joined his two hands, in the hollow of which his son placed one of his feet, then mounting upon the robust shoulders of his father, he was able, by help of the cord, and some irregularities in the wall, to reach the top. Unfortunately, the smith had not perceived that the coping of the wall was strewed with broken bottles, so that he wounded his knees and hands; but, for fear of alarming Dagobert, he repressed every exclamation of pain, and replacing the hook, he glided down the cord to the ground. The door was close by, and he hastened to it; a strong wooden bar had indeed secured it on the inside. This was removed, and the lock was in so bad a state, that it offered no resistance to a violent effort from Agricola.
The door was opened, and Dagobert entered the garden with Spoil-sport.
"Now," said the soldier to his son, "thanks to you, the worst is over. Here is a means of escape for the poor children, and Mdlle. de Cardoville. The thing is now to find them, without accident or delay. Spoil-sport will go before as a scout. Come, my good dog!" added Dagobert, "above all—fair and softly!"
Immediately, the intelligent animal advanced a few steps, sniffing and listening with the care and caution of a hound searching for the game.
By the half-light of the clouded moon, Dagobert and his son perceived round them a V-shaped grove of tall trees, at which several paths met. Uncertain which to choose, Agricola said to his father: "Let us take the path that runs alongside the wall. It will surely lead to some building."
"Right! Let us walk on the strips of grass, instead of through the mud. It will make less noise."
The father and son, preceded by the Siberian dog, kept for some time in a winding path, at no great distance from the wall. They stopped now and then to listen, or to satisfy themselves, before continuing their advance, with regard to the changing aspects of the trees and bushes, which, shaken by the wind, and faintly illumined by the pale light of the moon, often took strange and doubtful forms.
Half-past twelve struck as Agricola and his father reached a large iron gate which shut in that part of the garden reserved for the Superior—the same into which Mother Bunch had intruded herself, after seeing Rose Simon converse with Adrienne de Cardoville.
Through the bars of this gate, Agricola and his father perceived at a little distance an open paling, which joined a half-finished chapel, and beyond it a little square building.
"That is no doubt the building occupied by Mdlle. de Cardoville," said Agricola.
"And the building which contains the chambers of Rose and Blanche, but which we cannot see from here, is no doubt opposite it," said Dagobert. "Poor children! they are there, weeping tears of despair," added he, with profound emotion.
"Provided the gate be but open," said Agricola.
"It will probably be so—being within the walls."
"Let us go on gently."
The gate was only fastened by the catch of the lock. Dagobert was about to open it, when Agricola said to him: "Take care! do not make it creak on its hinges."
"Shall I push it slowly or suddenly?"
"Let me manage it," said Agricola; and he opened the gate so quickly, that it creaked very little; still the noise might have been plainly heard, in the silence of the night, during one of the lulls between the squalls of wind.
Agricola and his father remained motionless for a moment, listening uneasily, before they ventured to pass through the gate. Nothing stirred, however; all remained calm and still. With fresh courage, they entered the reserved garden.
Hardly had the dog arrived on this spot, when he exhibited tokens of extraordinary delight. Picking up his ears, wagging his tail, bounding rather than running, he had soon reached the paling where, in the morning, Rose Simon had for a moment conversed with Mdlle. de Cardoville. He stopped an instant at this place, as if at fault, and turned round and round like a dog seeking the scent.
Dagobert and his son, leaving Spoil-sport to his instinct, followed his least movements with intense interest, hoping everything from his intelligence and his attachment to the orphans.
"It was no doubt near this paling that Rose stood when Mother Bunch saw her," said Dagobert. "Spoil-sport is on her track. Let him alone."
After a few seconds, the dog turned his head towards Dagobert, and started at full trot in the direction of a door on the ground-floor of a building, opposite to that occupied by Adrienne. Arrived at this door, the dog lay down, seemingly waiting for Dagobert.
"No doubt of it! the children are there!" said Dagobert, hastening to rejoin Spoil-sport; "it was by this door that they took Rose into the house."
"We must see if the windows are grated," said Agricola, following his father.
"Well, old fellow!" whispered the soldier, as he came up to the dog and pointed to the building, "are Rose and Blanche there?"
The dog lifted his head, and answered by a joyful bark. Dagobert had just time to seize the mouth of the animal with his hands.
"He will ruin all!" exclaimed the smith. "They have, perhaps, heard him."
"No," said Dagobert. "But there is no longer any doubt—the children are here."
At this instant, the iron gate, by which the soldier and his son had entered the reserved garden, and which they had left open, fell to with a loud noise.
"They've shut us in," said Agricola, hastily; "and there is no other issue."
For a moment, the father and son looked in dismay at each other; but Agricola instantly resumed: "The gate has perhaps shut of itself. I will make haste to assure myself of this, and to open it again if possible."
"Go quickly; I will examine the windows."
Agricola flew towards the gate, whilst Dagobert, gliding along the wall, soon reached the windows on the ground floor. They were four in number, and two of them were not grated. He looked up at the first story; it was not very far from the ground, and none of the windows had bars. It would then be easy for that one of the two sisters, who inhabited this story, once informed of their presence, to let herself down by means of a sheet, as the orphans had already done to escape from the inn of the White Falcon. But the difficult thing was to know which room she occupied. Dagobert thought they might learn this from the sister on the ground floor; but then there was another difficulty—at which of the four windows should they knock?
Agricola returned precipitately. "It was the wind, no doubt, which shut the gate," said he. "I have opened it again, and made it fast with a stone. But we have no time to lose."
"And how shall we know the windows of the poor children?" said Dagobert, anxiously.
"That is true," said Agricola, with uneasiness. "What is to be done?"
"To call them at hap-hazard," continued Dagobert, "would be to give the alarm."
"Oh, heavens!" cried Agricola, with increasing anguish. "To have arrived here, under their windows, and yet not to know!"
"Time presses," said Dagobert, hastily, interrupting his son; "we must run all risks."
"But how, father?"
"I will call out loud, 'Rose and Blanche'—in their state of despair, I am sure they do not sleep. They will be stirring at my first summons. By means of a sheet, fastened to the window, she who is on the first story will in five minutes be in our arms. As for the one on the ground floor—if her window is not grated, we can have her in a second. If it is, we shall soon loosen one of the bars."
"But, father—this calling out aloud?"
"Will not perhaps be heard."
"But if it is heard—all will be lost."
"Who knows? Before they have time to call the watch, and open several doors, the children may be delivered. Once at the entrance of the boulevard, and we shall be safe."
"It is a dangerous course; but I see no other."
"If there are only two men, I and Spoil-sport will keep them in check, while you will have time to carry off the children."
"Father, there is a better way—a surer one," cried Agricola, suddenly. "From what Mother Bunch told us, Mdlle. de Cardoville has corresponded by signs with Rose and Blanche."
"Hence she knows where they are lodged, as the poor children answered her from their windows."
"You are right. There is only that course to take. But how find her room?"
"Mother Bunch told me there was a shade over the window."
"Quick! we have only to break through a wooden fence. Have you the iron bar?"
"Here it is."
In a few steps, Dagobert and his son had reached the paling. Three planks, torn away by Agricola, opened an easy passage.
"Remain here, father, and keep watch," said he to Dagobert, as he entered Dr. Baleinier's garden.
The indicated window was easily recognized. It was high and broad; a sort of shade surmounted it, for this window had once been a door, since walled in to the third of its height. It was protected by bars of iron, pretty far apart. Since some minutes, the rain had ceased. The moon, breaking through the clouds, shone full upon the building. Agricola, approaching the window, saw that the room was perfectly dark; but light came from a room beyond, through a door left half open. The smith, hoping that Mdlle. de Cardoville might be still awake, tapped lightly at the window. Soon after, the door in the background opened entirely, and Mdlle. de Cardoville, who had not yet gone to bed, came from the other chamber, dressed as she had been at her interview with Mother Bunch. Her charming features were visible by the light of the taper she held in her hand. Their present expression was that of surprise and anxiety. The young girl set down the candlestick on the table, and appeared to listen attentively as she approached the window. Suddenly she started and stopped abruptly. She had just discerned the face of a man, looking at her through the window. Agricola, fearing that Mdlle. de Cardoville would retire in terror to the next room, again tapped on the glass, and running the risk of being heard by others, said in a pretty loud voice: "It is Agricola Baudoin."
These words reached the ears of Adrienne. Instantly remembering her interview with Mother Bunch, she thought that Agricola and Dagobert must have entered the convent for the purpose of carrying off Rose and Blanche. She ran to the window, recognized Agricola in the clear moonlight, and cautiously opened the casement.
"Madame," said the smith, hastily; "there is not an instant to lose. The Count de Montbron is not in Paris. My father and myself have come to deliver you."
"Thanks, thanks, M. Agricola!" said Mdlle. de Cardoville, in a tone expressive of the most touching gratitude; "but think first of the daughters of General Simon."
"We do think of them, madame, I have come to ask you which are their windows."
"One is on the ground floor, the last on the garden-side; the other is exactly over it, on the first story."
"Then they are saved!" cried the smith.
"But let me see!" resumed Adrienne, hastily; "the first story is pretty high. You will find, near the chapel they are building, some long poles belonging to the scaffolding. They may be of use to you."
"They will be as good as a ladder, to reach the upstairs window. But now to think of you madame."
"Think only of the dear orphans. Time presses. Provided they are delivered to-night, it makes little difference to me to remain a day or two longer in this house."
"No, mademoiselle," cried the smith, "it is of the first importance that you should leave this place to-night. Interests are concerned, of which you know nothing. I am now sure of it."
"What do you mean?"
"I have not time to explain myself further; but I conjure you madame, to come. I can wrench out two of these bars; I will fetch a piece of iron."
"It is not necessary. They are satisfied with locking the outer door of this building, which I inhabit alone. You can easily break open the lock."
"And, in ten minutes, we shall be on the boulevard," said the smith. "Make yourself ready, madame; take a shawl, a bonnet, for the night is cold. I will return instantly."
"M. Agricola," said Adrienne, with tears in her eyes, "I know what you risk for my sake. I shall prove to you, I hope, that I have as good a memory as you have. You and your adopted sister are noble and valiant creatures, and I am proud to be indebted to you. But do not return for me till the daughters of Marshal Simon are in safety."
"Thanks to your directions, the thing will be done directly, madame. I fly to rejoin my father, and we will come together to fetch you."
Following the excellent advice of Mdlle. de Cardoville, Agricola took one of the long, strong poles that rested against the wall of the chapel, and, bearing it on his robust shoulders, hastened to rejoin his father. Hardly had Agricola passed the fence, to direct his steps towards the chapel, obscured in shadow, than Mdlle. de Cardoville thought she perceived a human form issue from one of the clumps of trees in the convent-garden, cross the path hastily, and disappear behind a high hedge of box. Alarmed at the sight, Adrienne in vain called to Agricola in a low voice, to bid him beware. He could not hear her; he had already rejoined his father, who, devoured by impatience, went from window to window with ever-increasing anguish.
"We are saved," whispered Agricola. "Those are the windows of the poor children—one on the ground floor, the other on the first story."
"At last!" said Dagobert, with a burst of joy impossible to describe. He ran to examine the windows. "They are not grated!" he exclaimed.
"Let us make sure, that one of them is there," said Agricola; "then, by placing this pole against the wall, I will climb up to the first story, which is not so very high."
"Right, my boy!—once there, tap at the window, and call Rose or Blanche. When she answers, come down. We will rest the pole against the window, and the poor child will slide along it. They are bold and active. Quick, quick! to work!"
"And then we will deliver Mdlle. de Cardoville."
Whilst Agricola placed his pole against the wall, and prepares to mount, Dagobert tapped at the panes of the last window on the ground floor, and said aloud: "It is I—Dagobert."
Rose Simon indeed occupied the chamber. The unhappy child, in despair at being separated from her sister, was a prey to a burning fever, and, unable to sleep, watered her pillow with her tears. At the sound of the tapping on the glass, she started up affrighted, then, hearing the voice of the soldier—that voice so familiar and so dear—she sat up in bed, pressed her hands across her forehead, to assure herself that she was not the plaything of a dream, and, wrapped in her long night-dress, ran to the window with a cry of joy. But suddenly—and before she could open the casement—two reports of fire-arms were heard, accompanied by loud cries of "Help! thieves!"
The orphan stood petrified with terror, her eyes mechanically fixed upon the window, through which she saw confusedly, by the light of the moon, several men engaged in a mortal struggle, whilst the furious barking of Spoil-sport was heard above all the incessant cries of "Help! Help! Thieves! Murder!"
XIV. The Eve of a Great Day XV. The Thug XVI. The Two Brothers of the Good Work XVII. The House in the Rue Saint- Francois XVIII. Debit and Credit XIX. The Heir XX. The Rupture XXI. The Change XXII. The Red Room XXIII. The Testament XXIV. The Last Stroke of Noon XXV. The Deed of Gift
CHAPTER XIV. THE EVE OF A GREAT DAY.
About two hours before the event last related took place at St. Mary's Convent, Rodin and Abbe d'Aigrigny met in the room where we have already seen them, in the Rue du Milieu-des-Ursins. Since the Revolution of July, Father d'Aigrigny had thought proper to remove for the moment to this temporary habitation all the secret archives and correspondence of his Order—a prudent measure, since he had every reason to fear that the reverend fathers would be expelled by the state from that magnificent establishment, with which the restoration had so liberally endowed their society. (11)
Rodin, dressed in his usual sordid style, mean and dirty as ever, was writing modestly at his desk, faithful to his humble part of secretary, which concealed, as we have already seen a far more important office—that of Socius—a function which, according to the constitutions of the Order, consists in never quitting his superior, watching his least actions, spying into his very thoughts, and reporting all to Rome.
In spite of his usual impassibility, Rodin appeared visibly uneasy and absent in mind; he answered even more briefly than usual to the commands and questions of Father d'Aigrigny, who had but just entered the room.
"Has anything new occurred during my absence?" asked he. "Are the reports still favorable?"
"Read them to me."
"Before giving this account to your reverence," said Rodin, "I must inform you that Morok has been two days in Paris."
"Morok?" said Abbe d'Aigrigny, with surprise. "I thought, on leaving Germany and Switzerland, he had received from Friburg the order to proceed southward. At Nismes, or Avignon, he would at this moment be useful as an agent; for the Protestants begin to move, and we fear a reaction against the Catholics."
"I do not know," said Rodin, "if Morok may not have had private reasons for changing his route. His ostensible reasons are, that he comes here to give performances."
"A dramatic agent, passing through Lyons, engaged him and his menagerie for the Port Saint-Martin Theatre at a very high price. He says that he did not like to refuse such an offer."
"Well," said Father d'Aigrigny, shrugging his shoulders, "but by distributing his little books, and selling prints and chaplets, as well as by the influence he would certainly exercise over the pious and ignorant people of the South or of Brittany, he might render services, such as he can never perform in Paris."
"He is now below, with a kind of giant, who travels about with him. In his capacity of your reverence's old servant, Morok hoped to have the honor of kissing your hand this evening."
"Impossible—impossible—you know how much I am occupied. Have you sent to the Rue Saint-Francois?"
"Yes, I have. The old Jew guardian has had notice from the notary. To morrow, at six in the morning, the masons will unwall the door, and, for the first time since one hundred and fifty years, the house will be opened."
Father d'Aigrigny remained in thought for a moment, and then said to Rodin: "On the eve of such a decisive day, we must neglect nothing, and call every circumstance to memory. Read me the copy of the note, inserted in the archives of the society, a century and a half ago, on the subject of Rennepont."
The secretary took the note from the case, and read as follows:
"'This 19th day of February, 1682, the Reverend Father-Provincial Alexander Bourdon sent the following advice, with these words in the margin: Of extreme importance for the future.
"'We have just discovered, by the confession of a dying person to one of our fathers, a very close secret.
"'Marius de Rennepont, one of the most active and redoubtable partisans of the Reformed Religion, and one of the most determined enemies of our Holy Society, had apparently re-entered the pale of our Mother Church, but with the sole design of saving his worldly goods, threatened with confiscation because of his irreligious and damnable errors. Evidence having been furnished by different persons of our company to prove that the conversion of Rennepont was not sincere, and in reality covered a sacrilegious lure, the possessions of the said gentleman, now considered a relapsed heretic, were confiscated by our gracious sovereign, his Majesty King Louis XIV, and the said Rennepont was condemned to the galleys for life.(12) He escaped his doom by a voluntary death; in consequence of which abominable crime, his body was dragged upon a hurdle, and flung to the dogs on the highway.
"'From these preliminaries, we come to the great secret, which is of such importance to the future interests of our Society.
"'His Majesty Louis XIV., in his paternal and Catholic goodness towards the Church in general, and our Order in particular, had granted to us the profit of this confiscation, in acknowledgment of our services in discovering the infamous and sacrilegious relapse of the said Rennepont.
"'But we have just learned, for certain, that a house situated in Paris, No. 3, Rue Saint-Francois, and a sum of fifty thousand gold crowns, have escaped this confiscation, and have consequently been stolen from our Society.
"'The house was conveyed, before the confiscation, by means of a feigned purchase, to a friend of Rennepont's a good Catholic, unfortunately, as against him we cannot take any severe measures. Thanks to the culpable, but secure connivance of his friend, the house has been walled up, and is only to be opened in a century and a half, according to the last will of Rennepont. As for the fifty thousand gold crowns, they have been placed in hands which, unfortunately, are hitherto unknown to us, in order to be invested and put out to use for one hundred and fifty years, at the expiration of which time they are to be divided between the then existing descendants of the said Rennepont; and it is calculated that this sum, increased by so many accumulations, will by then have become enormous, and will amount to at least forty or fifty millions of livres tournois. From motives which are not known, but which are duly stated in a testamentary document, the said Rennepont has concealed from his family, whom the edicts against the Protestants have driven out of France, the investment of these fifty thousand crowns; and has only desired his relations to preserve in their line from generation to generation, the charge to the last survivors, to meet in Paris, Rue Saint-Francois, a hundred and fifty years hence, on February the 13th, 1832. And that this charge might not be forgotten, he employed a person, whose description is known, but not his real occupation, to cause to be manufactured sundry bronze medals, on which the request and date are engraved, and to deliver one to each member of the family—a measure the more necessary, as, from some other motive equally unknown, but probably explained in the testament, the heirs are to present themselves on the day in question, before noon, in person, and not by any attorney, or representative, or to forfeit all claim to the inheritance. The stranger who undertook to distribute the medals to the different members of the family of Rennepont is a man of thirty to thirty-six years of age, of tall stature, and with a proud and sad expression of countenance. He has black eyebrows, very thick, and singularly joined together. He is known as JOSEPH, and is much suspected of being an active and dangerous emissary of the wretched republicans and heretics of the Seven United Provinces. It results from these premises, that this sum, surreptitiously confided by a relapsed heretic to unknown hands, has escaped the confiscation decreed in our favor by our well-beloved king. A serious fraud and injury has therefore been committed, and we are bound to take every means to recover this our right, if not immediately, at least in some future time. Our Society being (for the greater glory of God and our Holy Father) imperishable, it will be easy, thanks to the connections we keep up with all parts of the world, by means of missions and other establishments, to follow the line of this family of Rennepont from generation to generation, without ever losing sight of it—so that a hundred and fifty years hence, at the moment of the division of this immense accumulation of property, our Company may claim the inheritance of which it has been so treacherously deprived, and recover it by any means in its power, fas aut nefas, even by craft or violence—our Company not being bound to act tenderly with the future detainers of our goods, of which we have been maliciously deprived by an infamous and sacrilegious heretic—and because it is right to defend, preserve, and recover one's own property by every means which the Lord may place within one's reach. Until, therefore, the complete restitution of this wealth, the family of Rennepont must be considered as reprobate and damnable, as the cursed seed of a Cain, and always to be watched with the utmost caution. And it is to be recommended, that, every year from this present date, a sort of inquisition should be held as to the situation of the successive members of this family.'"
Rodin paused, and said to Father d'Aigrigny: "Here follows the account, year by year, of the history of this family, from the year 1682, to our own day. It will be useless to read this to your reverence."
"Quite useless," said Abbe d'Aigrigny. "The note contains all the important facts." Then, after a moment's silence, he exclaimed, with an expression of triumphant pride: "How great is the power of the Association, when founded upon tradition and perpetuity! Thanks to this note, inserted in our archives a century and a half ago, this family has been watched from generation to generation—our Order has always had its eyes upon them, following them to all points of the globe, to which exile had distributed them—and at last, to-morrow, we shall obtain possession of this property, at first inconsiderable, but which a hundred and fifty years have raised to a royal fortune. Yes, we shall succeed, for we have foreseen every eventuality. One thing only troubles me."
"What is that?" asked Rodin.
"The information that we have in vain tried to obtain from the guardian of the house in the Rue Saint-Francois. Has the attempt been once more made, as I directed?"
"It has been made."
"This time, as always before, the old Jew has remained impenetrable. Besides he is almost in his second childhood, and his wife not much better."
"When I think," resumed Father d'Aigrigny, "that for a century and a half, this house in the Rue Saint-Francois has remained walled up, and that the care of it has been transmitted from generation to generation in this family of the Samuels—I cannot suppose that they have all been ignorant as to who were and are the successive holders of these funds, now become immense by accumulation."
"You have seen," said Rodin, "by the notes upon this affair, that the Order has always carefully followed it up ever since 1682. At different periods attempts have been made to obtain information upon subjects not fully explained in the note of Father Bourdon. But this race of Jew guardians has ever remained dumb, and we must therefore conclude that they know nothing about it."
"That has always struck me as impossible; for the ancestor of these Samuels was present at the closing of the house, a hundred and fifty years ago. He was according to the file, a servant or confidential clerk of De Rennepont. It is impossible that he should not have known many things, the tradition of which must have been preserved in the family."
"If I were allowed to hazard a brief observation," began Rodin, humbly.
"A few years ago we obtained certain information through the confessional, that the funds were in existence, and that they had risen to an enormous amount."
"Doubtless; and it was that which called the attention of the Reverend Father-General so strongly to this affair."
"We know, then, what probably the descendants of the family do not—the immense value of this inheritance?"
"Yes," answered Father d'Aigrigny, "the person who certified this fact in confession is worthy of all belief. Only lately, the same declaration was renewed; but all the efforts of the confessor could not obtain the name of the trustee, or anything beyond the assertion, that the money could not be in more honest hands."
"It seems to me, then," resumed Rodin, "that we are certain of what is most important."
"And who knows if the holder of this enormous sum will appear to-morrow, in spite of the honesty ascribed to him? The nearer the moment the more my anxiety increases. Ah!" continued Father d'Aigrigny, after a moment's silence, "the interests concerned are so immense that the consequences of success are quite incalculable. However, all that it was possible to do, has been at least tried."
To these words, which Father d'Aigrigny addressed to Rodin, as if asking for his assent, the socius returned no answer.
The abbe looked at him with surprise, and said: "Are you not of my opinion—could more have been attempted? Have we not gone to the extreme limit of the possible?"
Rodin bowed respectfully, but remained mute.
"If you think we have omitted some precaution," cried Father d'Aigrigny, with a sort of uneasy impatience, "speak out! We have still time. Once more, do you think it is possible to do more than I have done? All the other descendants being removed, when Gabriel appears to-morrow in the Rue Saint-Francois, will he not be the only representative of this family, and consequently the rightful possessor of this immense fortune? Now, according to his act of renunciation, and the provisions of our statutes, it is not to him, but to the Order, that these possessions must fall. Could I have acted better, or in any other manner? Speak frankly!"
"I cannot permit myself to offer an opinion on this subject," replied Rodin, humbly, and again bowing; "the success of the measures taken must answer your reverence."
Father d'Aigrigny shrugged his shoulders, and reproached himself for having asked advice of this writing-machine, that served him for a secretary, and to whom he only ascribed three qualities—memory, discretion, and exactness.
(11) This was an idle fear, for we read in the Constitutionnel, Feb. 1st 1832, as follows: "When in 1822, M. de Corbiere abruptly abolished that splendid Normal School, which, during its few years' existence, had called forth or developed such a variety of talent, it was decided, as some compensation, that a house in the Rue des Postes should be purchased, where the congregation of the Holy Ghost should be located and endowed. The Minister of Marine supplied the funds for this purpose, and its management was placed at the disposal of the Society, which then reigned over France. From that period it has held quiet possession of the place, which at once became a sort of house of entertainment, where Jesuitism sheltered, and provided for, the numerous novitiates that flocked from all parts of the country, to receive instructions from Father Ronsin. Matters were in this state when the Revolution of July broke out, which threatened to deprive the Society of this establishment. But it will hardly be believed; this was not done. It is true that they suppressed their practice, but they left them in possession of the house in the Rue des Postes; and to this very day, the 31st of January, 1832, the members of the Sacred Heart are housed at the expense of government, during the whole of which time the Normal School has been without a shelter—and on its reorganization, thrust into a dirty hole, in a narrow corner of the College of Louis the Great."
The above appeared in the Constitutionnel, respecting the house in the Rue des Posses. We are certainly ignorant as to the nature of the transactions, since that period, that have taken place between the reverend fathers and the government; but we read further, in a recently published article that appeared in a journal, in reference to the Society of Jesus, that the house in the Rue des Postes, still forms a part of their landed property. We will here give some portions of the article in question.
"The following is a list of the property belonging to this branch of
Jesuits: Fr. House in the Rue de Postes, worth about 500,000 One in the Rue de Sevres, estimated at 300,000 Farm, two leagues from Paris.....150,000 House and church at Bourges..... 100,000 Notre Dame de Liesse, donation in 1843 60,000 Saint Acheul, House for Novitiates.. 400,000 Nantes, a house...........100,000 Quimper, ditto........... 40,000 Laval, house and church...... 150,000 Rennes, a house.......... 20,000 Vannes, ditto........... 20,000 Metz, ditto............ 40,000 Strasbourg............ 60,000 Rouen, ditto........... 15,000
"By this it appears that these various items amount to little less than two millions. Teaching, moreover, is another important source of revenue to the Jesuits. The college at Broyclette alone brings in 200,000 francs. The two provinces in France (for the general of the Jesuits at Rome has divided France into two provinces, Lyons and Paris) possess, besides a large sum in ready money, Austrian bonds of more than 260,000 francs. Their Propagation of Faith furnishes annually some 50,000 francs; and the harvest which the priests collect by their sermons amounts to 150,000 francs. The alms given for charity may be estimated at the same figure, producing together a revenue of 540,000 francs. Now, to this revenue may be added the produce of the sale of the Society's works, and the profit obtained by hawking pictures. Each plate costs, design and engraving included, about 600 francs, off which are struck about 10,000 copies, at 40 francs per thousand, and there is a further expense of 250 francs to their publisher; and they obtain a net profit of 210 francs on every thousand. This, indeed, is working to advantage. And it can easily be imagined with what rapidity all these are sold. The fathers themselves are the travellers for the Society, and it would be difficult to find more zealous or persevering ones. They are always well received, and do not know what it is to meet with a refusal. They always take care that the publisher should be one of their own body. The first person whom they selected for this occupation was one of their members, possessing some money; but they were obliged, notwithstanding, to make certain advances to enable him to defray the expenses of its first establishment. But, when they became fully convinced of the success of their undertaking, they suddenly called in these advances, which the publisher was not in a condition to pay. They were perfectly aware of this, and superseded him by a wealthy successor, with whom they could make a better bargain; and thus, without remorse, they ruined the man, by thrusting him from an appointment of which they had morally guaranteed the continuance."
(12) Louis XIV., the great King, punished with the Galleys those Protestants who, once converted, often by force, afterwards returned to their first belief. As for those Protestants who remained in France, notwithstanding the rigor of the edicts against them, they were deprived of burial, dragged upon a hurdle, and given to the dogs.—E. S.
CHAPTER XV. THE THUG.
After a moment's silence, Father d'Aigrigny resumed "Read me to-day's report on the situation of each of the persons designated."
"Here is that of this evening; it has just come."
"Let us hear."
Rodin read as follows: "Jacques Rennepont, alias Sleepinbuff, was seen in the interior of the debtors' prison at eight o'clock this evening."
"He will not disturb us to-morrow. One; go on."
"The lady superior of St. Mary's Convent, warned by the Princess de Saint-Dizier, has thought fit to confine still more strictly the Demoiselles Rose and Blanche Simon. This evening, at nine o'clock, they have been carefully locked in their cells, and armed men will make their round in the convent garden during the night."
"Thanks to these precautions, there is nothing to fear from that side," said Father d'Aigrigny. "Go on."
"Dr. Baleinier, also warned by the Princess de Saint-Dizier, continues to have Mdlle. de Cardoville very closely watched. At a quarter to nine the door of the building in which she is lodged was locked and bolted."
"That is still another cause the less for uneasiness."
"As for M. Hardy," resumed Rodin "I have received this morning, from Toulouse, a letter from his intimate friend, M. de Bressac, who has been of such service to us in keeping the manufacturer away for some days longer. This letter contains a note, addressed by M. Hardy to a confidential person, which M. de Bressac has thought fit to intercept, and send to us as another proof of the success of the steps he has taken, and for which he hopes we shall give him credit—as to serve us, he adds, he betrays his friend in the most shameful manner, and acts a part in an odious comedy. M. de Bressac trusts that, in return for these good offices, we will deliver up to him those papers, which place him in our absolute dependence, as they might ruin for ever a woman he loves with an adulterous passion. He says that we ought to have pity on the horrible alternative in which he is placed—either to dishonor and ruin the woman he adores, or infamously to betray the confidence of his bosom friend."
"These adulterous lamentations are not deserving of pity," answered Father d'Aigrigny, with contempt. "We will see about that; M. de Bressac may still be useful to us. But let us hear this letter of M. Hardy, that impious and republican manufacturer, worthy descendant of an accursed race, whom it is of the first importance to keep away."
"Here is M. Hardy's letter," resumed Rodin. "To-morrow, we will send it to the person to whom it is addressed." Rodin read as follows:
"TOULOUSE, February the 10th.
"At length I find a moment to write to you, and to explain the cause of the sudden departure which, without alarming, must at least have astonished you. I write also to ask you a service; the facts may be stated in a few words. I have often spoken to you of Felix de Bressac, one of my boyhood mates, though not nearly so old as myself. We have always loved each other tenderly, and have shown too many proofs of mutual affection not to count upon one another. He is a brother to me. You know all I mean by that expression. Well—a few days ago, he wrote to me from Toulouse, where he was to spend some time: 'If you love me, come; I have the greatest need of you. At once! Your consolations may perhaps give me the courage to live. If you arrive too late—why, forgive me—and think sometimes of him who will be yours to the last.' Judge of my grief and fear on receipt of the above. I seat instantly for post-horses. My old foreman, whom I esteem and revere (the father of General Simon), hearing that I was going to the south, begged me to take him with me, and to leave him for some days in the department of the Creuse, to examine some ironworks recently founded there. I consented willingly to this proposition, as I should thus at least have some one to whom I could pour out the grief and anxiety which had been caused by this letter from Bressac. I arrive at Toulouse; they tell me that he left the evening before, taking arms with him, a prey to the most violent despair. It was impossible at first to tell whither he had gone; after two days, some indications, collected with great trouble, put me upon his track. At last, after a thousand adventures, I found him in a miserable village. Never—no, never, have I seen despair like this. No violence, but a dreadful dejection, a savage silence. At first, he almost repulsed me; then, this horrible agony having reached its height, he softened by degrees, and, in about a quarter of an hour, threw himself into my arms, bathed in tears. Beside him were his loaded pistols: one day later, and all would have been over. I cannot tell you the reason of his despair; I am not at liberty to do so; but it did not greatly astonish me. Now there is a complete cure to effect. We must calm, and soothe, and heal this poor soul, which has been cruelly wounded. The hand of friendship is alone equal to this delicate task, and I have good hope of success. I have therefore persuaded him to travel for some time; movement and change of scene will be favorable to him. I shall take him first to Nice; we set out tomorrow. If he wishes to prolong this excursion. I shall do so too, for my affairs do not imperiously demand my presence in Paris before the end of March. As for the service I have to ask of you, it is conditional. These are the facts. According to some family papers that belonged to my mother, it seems I have a certain interest to present myself at No. 3, Rue Saint-Francois, in Paris, on the 13th of February. I had inquired about it, and could learn nothing, except that this house of very antique appearance, has been shut up for the last hundred and fifty years, through a whim of one of my maternal ancestors, and that it is to be opened on the 13th of this month, in presence of the co-heirs who, if I have any, are quite unknown to me. Not being able to attend myself, I have written to my foreman, the father of General Simon, in whom I have the greatest confidence, and whom I had left behind in the department of the Creuse, to set out for Paris, and to be present at the opening of this house, not as an agent (which would be useless), but as a spectator, and inform me at Nice what has been the result of this romantic notion of my ancestor's. As it is possible that my foreman may arrive too late to accomplish this mission, I should be much obliged if you would inquire at my house at Plessy, if he has yet come, and, in case of his still being absent, if you would take his place at the opening of the house in the Rue Saint-Francois. I believe that I have made a very small sacrifice for my friend Bressac, in not being in Paris on that day. But had the sacrifice been immense, I should have made it with pleasure, for my care and friendship are at present most necessary to the man whom I look upon as a brother. I count upon your compliance with my request, and, begging you to be kind enough to write me, 'to be called for,' at Nice, the result of your visit of inquiry, I remain, etc., etc.
"Though his presence cannot be of any great importance, it would be preferable that Marshal Simon's father should not attend at the opening of this house to-morrow," said Father d'Aigrigny. "But no matter. M. Hardy himself is out of the way. There only remains the young Indian."
"As for him," continued the abbe, with a thoughtful air, "we acted wisely in letting M. Norval set out with the presents of Mdlle. de Cardoville. The doctor who accompanies M. Norval, and who was chosen by M. Baleinier, will inspire no suspicion?"
"None," answered Rodin. "His letter of yesterday is completely satisfactory."
"There is nothing, then, to fear from the Indian prince," said D'Aigrigny. "All goes well."
"As for Gabriel," resumed Rodin, "he has again written this morning, to obtain from your reverence the interview that he has vainly solicited for the last three days. He is affected by the rigor exercised towards him, in forbidding him to leave the house for these five days past."
"To-morrow, when we take him to the Rue Saint-Francois, I will hear what he has to say. It will be time enough. Thus, at this hour," said Father d'Aigrigny, with an air of triumphant satisfaction, "all the descendants of this family, whose presence might ruin our projects, are so placed that it is absolutely impossible for them to be at the Rue Saint-Francois to-morrow before noon, while Gabriel will be sure to be there. At last our end is gained."
Two cautious knocks at the door interrupted Father d'Aigrigny. "Come in," said he.
An old servant in black presented himself, and said: "There is a man downstairs who wishes to speak instantly to M. Rodin on very urgent business."
"His name?" asked Father d'Aigrigny.
"He would not tell his name; but he says that he comes from M. Van Dael, a merchant in Java."
Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin exchanged a glance of surprise, almost of alarm.
"See what this man is," said D'Aigrigny to Rodin, unable to conceal his uneasiness, "and then come and give me an account of it." Then, addressing the servant, he added: "Show him in"—and exchanging another expressive sign with Rodin, Father d'Aigrigny disappeared by a side-door.
A minute after, Faringhea, the ex-chief of the Stranglers, appeared before Rodin, who instantly remembered having seen him at Cardoville Castle.
The socius started, but he did not wish to appear to recollect his visitor. Still bending over his desk, he seemed not to seen Faringhea, but wrote hastily some words on a sheet of paper that lay before him.
"Sir," said the servant, astonished at the silence of Rodin, "here is the person."
Rodin folded the note that he had so precipitately written, and said to the servant: "Let this be taken to its address. Wait for an answer."
The servant bowed, and went out. Then Rodin, without rising, fixed his little reptile-eyes on Faringhea, and said to him courteously: "To whom, sir, have I the honor of speaking?"
CHAPTER XVI. THE TWO BROTHERS OF THE GOOD WORK.
Faringhea, as we have before stated, though born in India, had travelled a good deal, and frequented the European factories in different parts of Asia. Speaking well both English and French, and full of intelligence and sagacity, he was perfectly civilized.
Instead of answering Rodin's question, he turned upon him a fixed and searching look. The socius, provoked by this silence, and forseeing vaguely that Faringhea's arrival had some connection—direct or indirect—with Djalma, repeated, though still with the greatest coolness: "To whom, sir, have I the honor of speaking?"
"Do you not recognize me," said Faringhea, advancing two steps nearer to Rodin's chair.
"I do not think I have ever had the honor of seeing you," answered the other, coldly.
"But I recognize you," said Faringhea; "I saw you at Cardoville Castle the day that a ship and a steamer were wrecked together."
"At Cardoville Castle? It is very possible, sir. I was there when a shipwreck took place."
"And that day I called you by your name, and you asked me what I wanted. I replied: 'Nothing now, brother—hereafter, much.' The time has arrived. I have come to ask for much."
"My dear sir," said Rodin, still impassible, "before we continue this conversation, which appears hitherto tolerably obscure, I must repeat my wish to be informed to whom I have the advantage of speaking. You have introduced yourself here under pretext of a commission from Mynheer Joshua Van Dael, a respectable merchant of Batavia, and—"
"You know the writing of M. Van Dael?" said Faringhea, interrupting Rodin.
"I know it perfectly."
"Look!" The half-caste drew from his pocket (he was shabbily dressed in European clothes) a long dispatch, which he had taken from one Mahal the Smuggler, after strangling him on the beach near Batavia. These papers he placed before Rodin's eyes, but without quitting his hold of them.
"It is, indeed, M. Van Dael's writing," said Rodin, and he stretched out his hard towards the letter, which Faringhea quickly and prudently returned to his pocket.
"Allow me to observe, my dear sir, that you have a singular manner of executing a commission," said Rodin. "This letter, being to my address, and having been entrusted to you by M. Van Dael, you ought—"
"This letter was not entrusted to me by M. Van Dael," said Faringhea, interrupting Rodin.
"How, then, is it in your possession?"
"A Javanese smuggler betrayed me. Van Dael had secured a passage to Alexandria for this man, and had given him this letter to carry with him for the European mail. I strangled the smuggler, took the letter, made the passage—and here I am."
The Thug had pronounced these words with an air of savage boasting; his wild, intrepid glance did not quail before the piercing look of Rodin, who, at this strange confession, had hastily raised his head to observe the speaker.
Faringhea thought to astonish or intimidate Rodin by these ferocious words; but, to his great surprise, the socius, impassible as a corpse, said to him, quite simply: "Oh! they strangle people in Java?"
"Yes, there and elsewhere," answered Faringhea, with a bitter smile.
"I would prefer to disbelieve you; but I am surprised at your sincerity M.—, what is your name?"
"Well, then, M. Faringhea, what do you wish to come to? You have obtained by an abominable crime, a letter addressed to me, and now you hesitate to deliver it."
"Because I have read it, and it may be useful to me."
"Oh! you have read it?" said Rodin, disconcerted for a moment. Then he resumed: "It is true, that judging by your mode of possessing yourself of other people's correspondence, we cannot expect any great amount of honesty on your part. And pray what have you found so useful to you in this letter?"
"I have found, brother, that you are, like myself, a son of the Good Work."
"Of what good work do you speak" asked Rodin not a little surprised.
Faringhea replied with an expression of bitter irony. "Joshua says to you in his letter—'Obedience and courage, secrecy and patience, craft and audacity, union between us, who have the world for our country, the brethren for our family, Rome for our queen.'"
"It is possible that M. Van Dael has written thus to me Pray, sir, what do you conclude from it?"
"We, too, have the world for our country, brother, our accomplices for our family, and for our queen Bowanee."
"I do not know that saint," said Rodin, humbly.
"It is our Rome," answered the Strangler. "Van Dael speaks to you of those of your Order, who, scattered over all the earth, labor for the glory of Rome, your queen. Those of our band labor also in divers countries, for the glory of Bowanee."
"And who are these sons of Bowanee, M. Faringhea?"
"Men of resolution, audacious, patient, crafty, obstinate, who, to make the Good Work succeed, would sacrifice country and parents, and sister and brother, and who regard as enemies all not of their band!"
"There seems to be much that is good in the persevering and exclusively religious spirit of such an order," said Rodin, with a modest and sanctified air; "only, one must know your ends and objects."
"The same as your own, brother—we make corpses."(13)
"Corpses!" cried Rodin.
"In this letter," resumed Faringhea, "Van Dael tells you that the greatest glory of your Order is to make 'a corpse of man.' Our work also is to make corpses of men. Man's death is sweet to Bowanee."
"But sir," cried Rodin, "M. Van Dael speaks of the soul, of the will, of the mind, which are to be brought down by discipline."
"It is true—you kill the soul, and we the body. Give me your hand, brother, for you also are hunters of men."
"But once more, sir,—understand, that we only meddle with the will, the mind," said Rodin.
"And what are bodies deprived of soul, will, thought, but mere corpses? Come—come, brother; the dead we make by the cord are not more icy and inanimate than those you make by your discipline. Take my hand, brother; Rome and Bowanee are sisters."
Notwithstanding his apparent calmness, Rodin could not behold, without some secret alarm, a wretch like Faringhea in possession of a long letter from Van Dael, wherein mention must necessarily have been made of Djalma. Rodin believed, indeed, that he had rendered it impossible for the young Indian to be at Paris on the morrow, but not knowing what connection might have been formed, since the shipwreck, between the prince and the half-caste, he looked upon Faringhea as a man who might probably be very dangerous. But the more uneasy the socius felt in himself, the more he affected to appear calm and disdainful. He replied, therefore: "This comparison between Rome and Bowanee is no doubt very amusing; but what, sir, do you deduce from it?"
"I wish to show you, brother, what I am, and of what I am capable, to convince you that it is better to have me for a friend than an enemy."
"In other terms, sir," said Rodin, with contemptuous irony, "you belong to a murderous sect in India, and, you wish, by a transparent allegory, to lead me to reflect on the fate of the man from whom you have stolen the letter addressed to me. In my turn, I will take the freedom just to observe to you, in all humility, M. Faringhea, that here it is not permitted to strangle anybody, and that if you were to think fit to make any corpses for the love of Bowanee, your goddess, we should make you a head shorter, for the love of another divinity commonly called justice."
"And what would they do to me, if I tried to poison any one?"
"I will again humbly observe to you, M. Faringhea, that I have no time to give you a course of criminal jurisprudence; but, believe me, you had better resist the temptation to strangle or poison any one. One word more: will you deliver up to me the letters of M. Van Dael, or not?"
"The letters relative to Prince Djalma?" said the half-caste, looking fixedly at Rodin, who, notwithstanding a sharp and sudden twinge, remained impenetrable, and answered with the utmost simplicity: "Not knowing what the letters which you, sir, are pleased to keep from me, may contain, it is impossible for me to answer your question. I beg, and if necessary, I demand, that you will hand me those letters—or that you will retire."
"In a few minutes, brother, you will entreat me to remain."
"I doubt it."
"A few words will operate—this miracle. If just now I spoke to you about poisoning, brother, it was because you sent a doctor to Cardoville Castle, to poison (at least for a time) Prince Djalma."
In spite of himself, Rodin started almost imperceptibly, as he replied: "I do not understand you."
"It is true, that I am a poor foreigner, and doubtless speak with an accent; I will try and explain myself better. I know, by Van Dael's letters, the interest you have that Prince Djalma should not be here to morrow, and all that you have done with this view. Do you understand me now?"
"I have no answer for you."
Two cautious taps at the door here interrupted the conversation. "Come in," said Rodin.
"The letter has been taken to its address, sir," said the old servant, bowing, "and here is the answer."
Rodin took the paper, and, before he opened it, said courteously to Faringhea: "With your permission, sir?"
"Make no ceremonies," said the half-caste.
"You are very kind," replied Rodin, as, having read the letter he received, he wrote hastily some words at the bottom, saying: "Send this back to the same address."
The servant bowed respectfully, and withdrew.
"Now can I continue"' asked the half-caste, of Rodin.
"I will continue, then," resumed Faringhea:
"The day before yesterday, just as the prince, all wounded as he was, was about, by my advice, to take his departure for Paris, a fine carriage arrived, with superb presents for Djalma, from an unknown friend. In this carriage were two men—one sent by the unknown friend—the other a doctor, sent by you to attend upon Djalma, and accompany him to Paris. It was a charitable act, brother—was it not so?"
"Go on with your story, sir."
"Djalma set out yesterday. By declaring that the prince's wound would grow seriously worse, if he did not lie down in the carriage during all the journey, the doctor got rid of the envoy of the unknown friend, who went away by himself. The doctor wished to get rid of me too; but Djalma so strongly insisted upon it, that I accompanied the prince and doctor. Yesterday evening, we had come about half the distance. The doctor proposed we should pass the night at an inn. 'We have plenty of time,' said he, 'to reach Paris by to-morrow evening'—the prince having told him, that he must absolutely be in Paris by the evening of the 12th. The doctor had been very pressing to set out alone with the prince. I knew by Van Dael's letter, that it was of great importance to you for Djalma not to be here on the 13th; I had my suspicions, and I asked the doctor if he knew you; he answered with an embarrassed air, and then my suspicion became certainty. When we reached the inn, whilst the doctor was occupied with Djalma, I went up to the room of the former, and examined a box full of phials that he had brought with him. One of them contained opium—and then I guessed—"
"What did you guess, sir?"
"You shall know. The doctor said to Djalma, before he left him: 'Your wound is doing well, but the fatigue of the journey might bring on inflammation; it will be good for you, in the course of to-morrow, to take a soothing potion, that I will make ready this evening, to have with us in the carriage.' The doctor's plan was a simple one," added Faringhea; "to-day the prince was to take the potion at four or five o'clock in the afternoon—and fall into a deep sleep—the doctor to grow uneasy, and stop the carriage—to declare that it would be dangerous to continue the journey—to pass the night at an inn, and keep close watch over the prince, whose stupor was only, to cease when it suited your purposes. That was your design—it was cleverly planned—I chose to make use of it myself, and I have succeeded."
"All that you are talking about, my dear sir," said Rodin, biting his nails, "is pure Hebrew to me."
"No doubt, because of my accent. But tell me, have you heard speak of array—mow?"
"Your loss! It is an admirable production of the Island of Java, so fertile in poisons."
"What is that to me?" said Rodin, in a sharp voice, but hardly able to dissemble his growing anxiety.
"It concerns you nearly. We sons of Bowanee have a horror of shedding blood," resumed Faringhea; "to pass the cord round the neck of our victims, we wait till they are asleep. When their sleep is not deep enough, we know how to make it deeper. We are skillful at our work; the serpent is not more cunning, or the lion more valiant, Djalma himself bears our mark. The array-mow is an impalpable powder, and, by letting the sleeper inhale a few grains of it, or by mixing it with the tobacco to be smoked by a waking man, we can throw our victim into a stupor, from which nothing will rouse him. If we fear to administer too strong a dose at once, we let the sleeper inhale a little at different times, and we can thus prolong the trance at pleasure, and without any danger, as long as a man does not require meat and drink—say, thirty or forty hours. You see, that opium is mere trash compared to this divine narcotic. I had brought some of this with me from Java—as a mere curiosity, you know—without forgetting the counter poison."
"Oh! there is a counter-poison, then?" said Rodin, mechanically.
"Just as there are people quite contrary to what we are, brother of the good work. The Javanese call the juice of this root tooboe; it dissipates the stupor caused by the array-mow, as the sun disperses the clouds. Now, yesterday evening, being certain of the projects of your emissary against Djalma, I waited till the doctor was in bed and asleep. I crept into his room, and made him inhale such a dose of array-mow—that he is probably sleeping still."
"Miscreant!" cried Rodin, more and more alarmed by this narrative, for Faringhea had dealt a terrible blow at the machinations of the socius and his friends. "You risk poisoning the doctor."
"Yes, brother; just as he ran the risk of poisoning Djalma. This morning we set out, leaving your doctor at the inn, plunged in a deep sleep. I was alone in the carriage with Djalma. He smoked like a true Indian; some grains of array-mow, mixed with the tobacco in his long pipe, first made him drowsy; a second dose, that he inhaled, sent him to sleep; and so I left him at the inn where we stopped. Now, brother, it depends upon me, to leave Djalma in his trance, which will last till to-morrow evening or to rouse him from it on the instant. Exactly as you comply with my demands or not, Djalma will or will not be in the Rue Saint-Francois to morrow."
So saying, Faringhea drew from his pocket the medal belonging to Djalma, and observed, as he showed it to Rodin: "You see that I tell you the truth. During Djalma's sleep, took from him this medal, the only indication he has of the place where he ought to be to-morrow. I finish, then as I began: Brother, I have come to ask you for a great deal."
For some minutes, Rodin had been biting his nails to the quick, as was his custom when seized with a fit of dumb and concentrated rage. Just then, the bell of the porter's lodge rang three times in a particular manner. Rodin did not appear to notice it, and yet a sudden light sparkled in his small reptile eyes; while Faringhea, with his arms folded, looked at him with an expression of triumph and disdainful superiority. The socius bent down his head, remained silent for some seconds, took mechanically a pen from his desk, and began to gnaw the feather, as if in deep reflection upon what Faringhea had just said. Then, throwing down the pen upon the desk, he turned suddenly towards the half-caste, and addressed him with an air of profound contempt "Now, really, M. Faringhea—do you think to make game of us with your cock-and bull stories?"
Amazed, in spite of his audacity, the half-caste recoiled a step.
"What, sir!" resumed Rodin. "You come here into a respectable house, to boast that you have stolen letters, strangled this man, drugged that other?—Why, sir, it is downright madness. I wished to hear you to the end, to see to what extent you would carry your audacity—for none but a monstrous rascal would venture to plume himself on such infamous crimes. But I prefer believing, that they exist only in your imagination."
As he barked out these words, with a degree of animation not usual in him, Rodin rose from his seat, and approached the chimney, while Faringhea, who had not yet recovered from his surprise, looked at him in silence. In a few seconds, however, the half-caste returned, with a gloomy and savage mien: "Take care, brother; do not force me to prove to you that I have told the truth."
"Come, come, sir; you must be fresh from the Antipodes, to believe us Frenchmen such easy dupes. You have, you say, the prudence of a serpent, and the courage of a lion. I do not know if you are a courageous lion, but you are certainly not a prudent serpent. What! you have about you a letter from M. Van Dael, by which I might be compromised—supposing all this not to be a fable—you have left Prince Djalma in a stupor, which would serve my projects, and from which you alone can rouse him—you are able, you say, to strike a terrible blow at my interests—and yet you do not consider (bold lion! crafty serpent as you are!) that I only want to gain twenty-four hours upon you. Now, you come from the end of India to Paris, an unknown stranger—you believe me to be as great a scoundrel as yourself,—since you call me brother—and do not once consider, that you are here in my power—that this street and house are solitary, and that I could have three or four persons to bind you in a second, savage Strangler though you are!—and that just by pulling this bell-rope," said Rodin, as he took it in his hand. "Do not be alarmed," added he, with a diabolical smile, as he saw Faringhea make an abrupt movement of surprise and fright; "would I give you notice, if I meant to act in this manner?—But just answer me. Once bound and put in confinement for twenty-four hours, how could you injure me? Would it not be easy for me to possess myself of Van Dael's letter, and Djalma's medal? and the latter, plunged in a stupor till to-morrow evening, need not trouble me at all. You see, therefore, that your threats are vain because they rest upon falsehood—because it is not true, that Prince Djalma is here and in your power. Begone, sir—leave the house; and when next you wish to make dupes, show more judgment in the selection."
Faringhea seemed struck with astonishment. All that he had just heard seemed very probable. Rodin might seize upon him, the letter, and the medal, and, by keeping him prisoner, prevent Djalma from being awakened. And yet Rodin ordered him to leave the house, at the moment when Faringhea had imagined himself so formidable. As he thought for the motives of this inexplicable conduct, it struck him that Rodin, notwithstanding the proofs he had brought him, did not yet believe that Djalma was in his power. On that theory, the contempt of Van Dael's correspondent admitted of a natural explanation. But Rodin was playing a bold and skillful game; and, while he appeared to mutter to himself, as in anger, he was observing, with intense anxiety, the Strangler's countenance.
The latter, almost certain that he had divined the secret motive of Rodin, replied: "I am going—but one word more. You think I deceive you?"
"I am certain of it. You have told me nothing but a tissue of fables, and I have lost much time in listening to them. Spare me the rest; it is late—and I should like to be alone."
"One minute more: you are a man, I see, from whom nothing should be hid," said Faringhea, "from Djalma, I could now only expect alms and disdain—for, with a character like this, to say to him, 'Pay me, because I might have betrayed you and did not,' would be to provoke his anger and contempt. I could have killed him twenty times over, but his day is not yet come," said the Thug, with a gloomy air; "and to wait for that and other fatal days, I must have gold, much gold. You alone can pay me for the betrayal of Djalma, for you alone profit by it. You refuse to hear me, because you think I am deceiving you. But I took the direction of the inn where we stopped—and here it is. Send some one to ascertain the truth of what I tell you, and then you will believe me. But the price of my services will be high; for I told you that I wanted much."
So saying, Faringhea offered a printed card to Rodin: the socius, who, out of the corner of his eye, followed all the half-caste's movements, appeared to be absorbed in thought, and taking no heed of anything.
"Here is the address," repeated Faringhea, as he held out the card to Rodin; "assure yourself that I do not lie."
"Eh? what is it?" said the other, casting a rapid but stolen glance at the address, which he read greedily, without touching the card.
"Take this address," repeated the half-caste, "and you may then assure yourself—"
"Really, sir," cried Rodin, pushing back the card with his hand, "your impudence confounds me. I repeat that I wish to have nothing in common with you. For the last time, I tell you to leave the house. I know nothing about your Prince Djalma. You say you can injure me—do so—make no ceremonies—but, in heaven's name, leave me to myself."
So saying, Rodin rang the bell violently. Faringhea made a movement as if to stand upon the defensive; but only the old servant, with his quiet and placid mien, appeared at the door.
"Lapierre, light the gentleman out," said Rodin, pointing to Faringhea.
Terrified at Rodin's calmness, the half-caste hesitated to leave the room.
"Why do you wait, sir?" said Rodin, remarking his hesitation. "I wish to be alone."
"So, sir," said Faringhea, as he withdrew, slowly, "you refuse my offers? Take care! to-morrow it will be too late."
"I have the honor to be your most humble servant, sir," said Rodin, bowing courteously. The Strangler went out, and the door closed upon him.
Immediately, Father d'Aigrigny entered from the next room. His countenance was pale and agitated.
"What have you done?" exclaimed he addressing Rodin.
"I have heard all. I am unfortunately too sure that this wretch spoke the truth. The Indian is in his power, and he goes to rejoin him."
"I think not," said Rodin, humbly, as bowing, he reassumed his dull and submissive countenance.
"What will prevent this man from rejoining the prince?"
"Allow me. As soon as the rascal was shown in, I knew him; and so, before speaking a word to him, I wrote a few lines to Morok, who was waiting below with Goliath till your reverence should be at leisure. Afterwards, in the course of the conversation, when they brought me Morok's answer, I added some fresh instructions, seeing the turn that affairs were taking."
"And what was the use of all this, since you have let the man leave the house?"
"Your reverence will perhaps deign to observe that he did not leave it; till he had given me the direction of the hotel where the Indian now is, thanks to my innocent stratagem of appearing to despise him. But, if it had failed, Faringhea would still have fallen into the hands of Goliath and Morok, who are waiting for him in the street, a few steps from the door. Only we should have been rather embarrassed, as we should not have known where to find Prince Djalma."
"More violence!" said Father d'Aigrigny, with repugnance.
"It is to be regretted, very much regretted," replied Rodin; "but it was necessary to follow out the system already adopted."
"Is that meant for a reproach?" said Father d'Aigrigny, who began to think that Rodin was something more than a mere writing-machine.