"I could not permit myself to blame your reverence," said Rodin, cringing almost to the ground. "But all that will be required is to confine this man for twenty-four hours."
"And afterwards—his complaints?"
"Such a scoundrel as he is will not dare to complain. Besides, he left this house in freedom. Morok and Goliath will bandage his eyes when they seize him. The house has another entrance in the Rue Vieille-des-Ursins. At this hour, and in such a storm, no one will be passing through this deserted quarter of the town. The knave will be confused by the change of place; they will put him into a cellar, of the new building, and to morrow night, about the same hour, they will restore him to liberty with the like precautions. As for the East Indian, we now know where to find him; we must send to him a confidential person, and, if he recovers from his trance, there would be, in my humble opinion," said Rodin, modestly, "a very simple and quiet manner of keeping him away from the Rue Saint Francois all day to-morrow."
The same servant with the mild countenance, who had introduced and shown out Faringhea, here entered the room, after knocking discreetly at the door. He held in his hand a sort of game-bag, which he gave to Rodin, saying: "Here is what M. Morok has just brought; he came in by the Rue Vieille."
The servant withdrew, and Rodin, opening the bag, said to Father d'Aigrigny, as he showed him the contents: "The medal, and Van Dael's letter. Morok has been quick at his work."
"One more danger avoided," said the marquis; "it is a pity to be forced to such measures."
"We must only blame the rascal who has obliged us to have recourse to them. I will send instantly to the hotel where the Indian lodges."
"And, at seven in the morning, you will conduct Gabriel to the Rue Saint Francois. It is there that I must have with him the interview which he has so earnestly demanded these three days."
"I informed him of it this evening, and he awaits your orders."
"At last, then," said Father d'Aigrigny, "after so many struggles, and fears, and crosses, only a few hours separate us from the moment which we have so long desired."
We now conduct the reader to the house in the Rue Saint-Francois.
(13) The doctrine of passive and absolute obedience, the principal tool in the hands of the Jesuits, as summed up in these terrible words of the dying Loyola—that every member of the order should be in the hands of his superiors as a dead body—'perinde ad cadaver'.
CHAPTER XVII. THE HOUSE IN THE RUE SAINT-FRANCOIS.
On entering the Rue Saint-Gervais, by the Rue Dore (in the Marais), you would have found yourself, at the epoch of this narrative, directly opposite to an enormously high wall, the stones of which were black and worm-eaten with age. This wall, which extended nearly the whole length of that solitary street, served to support a terrace shaded by trees of some hundred years old, which thus grew about forty feet above the causeway. Through their thick branches appeared the stone front, peaked roof and tall brick chimneys of an antique house, the entrance of which was situated in the Rue Saint-Francois, not far from the Rue Saint Gervais corner. Nothing could be more gloomy than the exterior of this abode. On the entrance-side also was a very high wall, pierced with two or three loop-holes, strongly grated. A carriage gateway in massive oak, barred with iron, and studded with large nail-heads, whose primitive color disappeared beneath a thick layer of mud, dust, and rust, fitted close into the arch of a deep recess, forming the swell of a bay window above. In one of these massive gates was a smaller door, which served for ingress and egress to Samuel the Jew, the guardian of this dreary abode. On passing the threshold, you came to a passage, formed in the building which faced in the street. In this building was the lodging of Samuel, with its windows opening upon the rather spacious inner court yard, through the railing of which you perceived the garden. In the middle of this garden stood a two-storied stone house, so strangely built, that you had to mount a flight of steps, or rather a double-flight of at least twenty steps, to reach the door, which had been walled up a hundred and fifty years before. The window-blinds of this habitation had been replaced by large thick plates of lead, hermetically soldered and kept in by frames of iron clamped in the stone. Moreover, completely to intercept air and light, and thus to guard against decay within and without, the roof had been covered with thick sheets of lead, as well as the vents of the tall chimneys, which had previously been bricked up. The same precautions had been taken with respect to a small square belvedere, situated on the top of the house; this glass cage was covered with a sort of dome, soldered to the roof. Only, in consequence of some singular fancy, in every one of the leaden plates, which concealed the four sides of the belvedere, corresponding to the cardinal points, seven little round holes had been bored in the form of a cross, and were easily distinguishable from the outside. Everywhere else the plates of lead were completely unpierced. Thanks to these precautions, and to the substantial structure of the building, nothing but a few outward repairs had been necessary; and the apartments, entirely removed from the influence of the external air, no doubt remained, during a century and a half, exactly in the same state as at the time of their being shut up. The aspect of walls in crevices, of broken, worm-eaten shutters, of a roof half fallen in, and windows covered with wall-flowers, would perhaps have been less sad than the appearance of this stone house, plated with iron and lead, and preserved like a mausoleum. The garden, completely deserted, and only regularly visited once a week by Samuel, presented to the view, particularly in summer, an incredible confusion of parasites and brambles. The trees, left to themselves, had shot forth and mingled their branches in all directions; some straggling vines, reproduced from offshoots, had crept along the ground to the foot of the trees, and, climbing up their trunks, had twined themselves about them, and encircled their highest branches with their inextricable net. You could only pass through this virgin forest by following the path made by the guardian, to go from the grating to the house, the approaches to which were a little sloped to let the water run off, and carefully paved to the width of about ten feet. Another narrow path which extended all around the enclosure, was every night perambulated by two or three Pyrenees dogs—a faithful race, which had been perpetuated in the house during a century and a half. Such was the habitation destined for the meeting of the descendants of the family of Rennepont. The night which separated the 12th from the 13th day of February was near its close. A calm had succeeded the storm, and the rain had ceased; the sky was clear and full of stars; the moon, on its decline, shone with a mild lustre, and threw a melancholy light over that deserted, silent house, whose threshold for so many years no human footstep had crossed.
A bright gleam of light, issuing from one of the windows of the guardian's dwelling, announced that Samuel was awake. Figure to yourself a tolerably large room, lined from top to bottom with old walnut wainscoting browned to an almost black, with age. Two half-extinguished brands are smoking amid the cinders on the hearth. On the stone mantelpiece, painted to resemble gray granite, stands an old iron candlestick, furnished with a meagre candle, capped by an extinguisher. Near it one sees a pair of double-barrelled pistols, and a sharp cutlass, with a hilt of carved bronze, belonging to the seventeenth century. Moreover, a heavy rifle rests against one of the chimney jambs. Four stools, an old oak press, and a square table with twisted legs, formed the sole furniture of this apartment. Against the wall were systematically suspended a number of keys of different sizes, the shape of which bore evidence to their antiquity, whilst to their rings were affixed divers labels. The back of the old press, which moved by a secret spring, had been pushed aside, and discovered, built in the wall, a large and deep iron chest, the lid of which, being open, displayed the wondrous mechanism of one of those Florentine locks of the sixteenth century, which, better than any modern invention, set all picklocks at defiance; and, moreover, according to the notions of that age, are supplied with a thick lining of asbestos cloth, suspended by gold wire at a distance from the sides of the chest, for the purpose of rendering incombustible the articles contained in it. A large cedar-wood box had been taken from the chest, and placed upon a stool; it contained numerous papers, carefully arranged and docketed. By the light of a brass lamp, the old keeper Samuel, was writing in a small register, whilst Bathsheba, his wife, was dictating to him from an account. Samuel was about eighty two years old, and, notwithstanding his advanced age, a mass of gray curling hair covered his head. He was short, thin, nervous, and the involuntary petulance of his movements proved that years had not weakened his energy and activity; though, out of doors, where, however, he made his appearance very seldom, he affected a sort of second childhood, as had been remarked by Rodin to Father d'Aigrigny. An old dressing-gown, of maroon-colored camlet, with large sleeves, completely enveloped the old man, and reached to his feet.
Samuel's features were cast in the pure, Eastern mould of his race. His complexion was of a dead yellow, his nose aquiline, his chin shaded by a little tuft of white beard, while projecting cheek-bones threw a harsh shadow upon the hollow and wrinkled cheeks. His countenance was full of intelligence, fine sharpness, and sagacity. On his broad, high forehead one might read frankness, honesty, and firmness; his eyes, black and brilliant as an Arab's, were at once mild and piercing.
His wife, Bathsheba, some fifteen years younger than himself, was of tall stature, and dressed entirely in black. A low cap, of starched lawn, which reminded one of the grave head-dresses of Dutch matrons, encircled a pale and austere countenance, formerly of a rare and haughty beauty, and impressed with the Scriptural character. Some lines in the forehead, caused by the almost continual knitting of her gray brows, showed that this woman had often suffered from the pressure of intense grief.
At this very moment her countenance betrayed inexpressible sorrow. Her look was fixed, her head resting on her bosom. She had let her right hand, which held a small account-book, fall upon her lap, while the other hand grasped convulsively a long tress of jet-black hair, which she bore about her neck. It was fastened by a golden clasp, about an inch square, in which, under a plate of crystal, that shut in one side of it like a relic-case, could be seen a piece of linen, folded square, and almost entirely covered with dark red spots that resembled blood a long time dried.
After a short silence, during which Samuel was occupied with his register, he read aloud what he had just been writing: "Per contra, 5,000 Austrian Metallics of 1,000 florins, under date of October 19th, 1826."
After which enumeration, Samuel raised his head, and said to his wife: "Well, is it right, Bathsheba? Have you compared it with the account book?"
Bathsheba did not answer. Samuel looked at her, and, seeing that she was absorbed in grief, said to her, with an expression of tender anxiety: "What is the matter? Good heaven! what is the matter with you?"
"The 19th of October, 1826," said she, slowly, with her eyes still fixed, and pressing yet more closely the lock of black hair which she wore about her neck; "It was a fatal day—for, Samuel, it was the date of the last letter which we received from—"
Bathsheba was unable to proceed. She uttered a long sigh, and concealed her face in her hands.
"Oh! I understand you," observed the old man, in a tremulous voice; "a father may be taken up by the thought of other cares; but the heart of a mother is ever wakeful." Throwing his pen down upon the table, Samuel leaned his forehead upon his hands in sorrow.
Bathsheba resumed, as if she found a melancholy pleasure in these cruel remembrances: "Yes; that was the last day on which our son, Abel, wrote to us from Germany, to announce to us that he had invested the funds according to your desire and was going thence into Poland, to effect another operation."
"And in Poland he met the death of a martyr," added Samuel. "With no motive and no proof, they accused him falsely of coming to organize smuggling, and the Russian governor, treating him as they treat our brothers in that land of cruel tyranny, condemned him to the dreadful punishment of the knout, without even hearing him in his defence. Why should they hear a Jew? What is a Jew? A creature below a serf, whom they reproach for all the vices that a degrading slavery has engendered. A Jew beaten to death? Who would trouble themselves about it?"
"And poor Abel, so good, so faithful, died beneath their stripes, partly from shame, partly from the wounds," said Bathsheba, shuddering. "One of our Polish brethren obtained with great difficulty permission to bury him. He cut off this lock of beautiful black hair—which, with this scrap of linen, bathed in the blood of our dear son, is all that now remains to us of him." Bathsheba covered the hair and clasp with convulsive kisses.
"Alas!" said Samuel, drying his tears, which had burst forth at these sad recollections, "the Lord did not at last remove our child, until the task which our family has accomplished faithfully for a century and a half was nearly at an end. Of what use will our race be henceforth upon earth?" added Samuel, most bitterly. "Our duty is performed. This casket contains a royal fortune—and yonder house, walled up for a hundred and fifty years, will be opened to-morrow to the descendants of my ancestor's benefactor." So saying, Samuel turned his face sorrowfully towards the house, which he could see through the window. The dawn was just about to appear. The moon had set; belvedere, roof, and chimneys formed a black mass upon the dark blue of the starry firmament.
Suddenly, Samuel grew pale, and, rising abruptly, said to his wife in a tremulous tone, whilst he still pointed to the house: "Bathsheba! the seven points of light—just as it was thirty years ago. Look! look:"
Indeed, the seven round holes, bored in the form of a cross in the leaden plates which covered the window of the belvedere, sparkled like so many luminous points, as if some one in the house ascended with a light to the roof.
CHAPTER XVIII. DEBIT AND CREDIT.
For some seconds, Samuel and Bathsheba remained motionless, with their eyes fixed in fear and uneasiness on the seven luminous points, which shone through the darkness of the night from the summit of the belvedere; while, on the horizon, behind the house, a pale, rosy hue announced the dawn of day.
Samuel was the first to break silence, and he said to his wife, as he drew his hand across his brow: "The grief caused by the remembrance of our poor child has prevented us from reflecting that, after all, there should be nothing to alarm us in what we see."
"How so, Samuel?"
"My father always told me that he, and my grandfather before him, had seen such lights at long intervals."
"Yes, Samuel—but without being able, any more than ourselves, to explain the cause."
"Like my father and grandfather, we can only suppose that some secret passage gives admittance to persons who, like us, have some mysterious duty to fulfil in this dwelling. Besides, my father warned me not to be uneasy at these appearances, foretold by him, and now visible for the second time in thirty years."
"No matter for that, Samuel, it does strike one as if it was something supernatural."
"The days of miracles are over." said the Jew, shaking his head sorrowfully: "many of the old houses in this quarter have subterraneous communications with distant places—some extending even to the Seine and the Catacombs. Doubtless, this house is so situated, and the persons who make these rare visits enter by some such means."
"But that the belvedere should be thus lighted up?"
"According to the plan of the building, you know that the belvedere forms a kind of skylight to the apartment called the Great Hall of Mourning, situated on the upper story. As it is completely dark, in consequence of the closing of all the windows, they must use a light to visit this Hall of Mourning—a room which is said to contain some very strange and gloomy things," added the Jew, with a shudder.
Bathsheba, as well as her husband, gazed attentively on the seven luminous points, which diminished in brightness as the daylight gradually increased.
"As you say, Samuel, the mystery may be thus explained," resumed the Hebrew's wife. "Besides, the day is so important a one for the family of Rennepont, that this apparition: ought not to astonish us under the circumstances."
"Only to think," remarked Samuel, "that these lights have appeared at several different times throughout a century and a half! There must, therefore, be another family that, like ours, has devoted itself, from generation to generation, to accomplish a pious duty."
"But what is this duty? It will perhaps be explained today."
"Come, come, Bathsheba," suddenly exclaimed Samuel, as if roused from his reverie, and reproaching himself with idleness; this is the day, and, before eight o'clock, our cash account must be in order, and these titles to immense property arranged, so that they may be delivered to the rightful owners"—and he pointed to the cedar-wood box.
"You are right, Samuel; this day does not belong to us. It is a solemn day—one that would have been sweet, oh! very sweet to you and me—if now any days could be sweet to us," said Bathsheba bitterly, for she was thinking of her son.
"Bathsheba," said Samuel, mournfully, as he laid his hand on his wife's; "we shall at least have the stern satisfaction of having done our duty. And has not the Lord been very favorable to us, though He has thus severely tried us by the death of our son? Is it not thanks to His providence that three generations of my family have been able to commence, continue, and finish this great work?"
"Yes, Samuel," said the Jewess, affectionately, "and for you at least this satisfaction will be combined with calm and quietness, for on the stroke of noon you will be delivered from a very terrible responsibility."
So saying, Bathsheba pointed to the box.
"It is true," replied the old man; "I had rather these immense riches were in the hands of those to whom they belong, than in mine; but, to day, I shall cease to be their trustee. Once more then, I will check the account for the last time, and compare the register with the cash-book that you hold in your hand."
Bathsheba bowed her head affirmatively, and Samuel, taking up his pen, occupied himself once more with his calculations. His wife, in spite of herself, again yielded to the sad thoughts which that fatal date had awakened, by reminding her of the death of her son.
Let us now trace rapidly the history, in appearance so romantic and marvellous, in reality so simple, of the fifty thousand crowns, which, thanks to the law of accumulation, and to a prudent, intelligent and faithful investment, had naturally, and necessarily, been transformed, in the space of a century and a half, into a sum far more important than the forty millions estimated by Father d'Aigrigny—who, partially informed on this subject, and reckoning the disastrous accidents, losses, and bankruptcies which might have occurred during so long a period, believed that forty millions might well b e considered enormous.
The history of this fortune being closely connected with that of the Samuel family, by whom it had been managed for three generations, we shall give it again in a few words.
About the period 1670, some years before his death, Marius de Rennepont, then travelling in Portugal, had been enabled, by means of powerful interest, to save the life of an unfortunate Jew, condemned to be burnt alive by the Inquisition, because of his religion. This Jew was Isaac Samuel, grandfather of the present guardian of the house in the Rue Saint-Francois.
Generous men often attach themselves to those they have served, as much, at least, as the obliged parties are attached to their benefactors. Having ascertained that Isaac, who at that time carried on a petty broker's business at Lisbon, was industrious, honest, active, laborious, and intelligent, M. de Rennepont, who then possessed large property in France, proposed to the Jew to accompany him, and undertake the management of his affairs. The same hatred and suspicion with which the Israelites have always been followed, was then at its height. Isaac was therefore doubly grateful for this mark of confidence on the part of M. de Rennepont. He accepted the offer, and promised from that day to devote his existence to the service of him who had first saved his life, and then trusted implicitly to his good faith and uprightness, although he was a Jew, and belonged to a race generally suspected and despised. M. de Rennepont, a man of great soul, endowed with a good spirit, was not deceived in his choice. Until he was deprived of his fortune, it prospered wonderfully in the hands of Isaac Samuel, who, gifted with an admirable aptitude for business, applied himself exclusively to advance the interests of his benefactor.
Then came the persecution and ruin of M. de Rennepont, whose property was confiscated and given up to the reverend fathers of the Company of Jesus only a few days before his death. Concealed in the retreat he had chosen, therein to put a violent end to his life, he sent secretly for Isaac Samuel, and delivered to him fifty thousand crowns in gold, the last remains of his fortune. This faithful servant was to invest the money to the best advantage, and, if he should have a son, transmit to him the same obligation; or, should he have no child, he was to seek out some relation worthy of continuing this trust, to which would moreover be annexed a fair reward. It was thus to be transmitted and perpetuated from relative to relative, until the expiration of a century and a half. M. de Rennepont also begged Isaac to take charge, during his life, of the house in the Rue Saint-Francois, where he would be lodged gratis, and to leave this function likewise to his descendants, if it were possible.
If even Isaac Samuel had not had children, the powerful bond of union which exists between certain Jewish families, would have rendered practicable the last will of De Rennepont. The relations of Isaac would have become partner; in his gratitude to his benefactor, and they, and their succeeding generations, would have religiously accomplished the task imposed upon one of their race. But, several years after the death of De Rennepont, Isaac had a son.
This son, Levy Samuel, born in 1689, not having had any children by his first wife, married again at nearly sixty years of age, and, in 1750, he also had a son—David Samuel, the guardian of the house in the Rue Saint Francois, who, in 1832 (the date of this narrative), was eighty-two years old, and seemed likely to live as long as his father, who had died at the age of ninety-three. Finally, Abel Samuel, the son whom Bathsheba so bitterly regretted, born in 1790, had perished under the Russian knout, at the age of thirty-six.
Having established this humble genealogy, we easily understand how this successive longevity of three members of the Samuel family, all of whom had been guardians of the walled house, by uniting, as it were, the nineteenth with the seventeenth century, simplified and facilitated the execution of M. de Rennepont's will; the latter having declared his desire to the grandfather of the Samuels, that the capital should only be augmented by interest at five per cent.—so that the fortune might come to his descendants free from all taint of usurious speculation.
The fellow men of the Samuel family, the first inventors of the bill of exchange, which served them in the Middle Ages to transport mysteriously considerable amounts from one end of the world to the other, to conceal their fortune, and to shield it from the rapacity of their enemies—the Jews, we say, having almost the monopoly of the trade in money and exchanges, until the end of the eighteenth century, aided the secret transactions and financial operations of this family, which, up to about 1820, placed their different securities, which had become progressively immense, in the hands of the principal Israelitish bankers and merchants of Europe. This sure and secret manner of acting had enabled the present guardian of the house in the Rue Saint-Francois, to effect enormous investments, unknown to all; and it was more especially during the period of his management, that the capital sum had acquired, by the mere fact of compound interest, an almost incalculable development. Compared with him, his father and grandfather had only small amounts to manage. Though it had only been necessary to find successively sure and immediate investments, so that the money might not remain as it were one day without bearing interest, it had acquired financial capacity to attain this result, when so many millions were in question. The last of the Samuels, brought up in the school of his father, had exhibited this capacity in a very high degree, as will be seen immediately by the results. Nothing could be more touching, noble, and respectable, than the conduct of the members of this Jewish family, who, partners in the engagement of gratitude taken by their ancestor, devote themselves for long years, with as much disinterestedness as intelligence and honesty, to the slow acquisition of a kingly fortune, of which they expect no part themselves, but which, thanks to them, would come pure, as immense, to the hands of the descendants of their benefactor! Nor could anything be more honorable to him who made, and him who received this deposit, than the simple promise by word of mouth, unaccompanied by any security save mutual confidence and reciprocal esteem, when the result was only to be produced at the end of a century and a half!
After once more reading his inventory with attention, Samuel said to his wife: "I am certain of the correctness of my additions. Now please to compare with the account-book in your hand the summary of the investments that I have just entered in the register. I will assure myself, at the same time, that the bonds and vouchers are properly arranged in this casket, that, on the opening of the will, they may be delivered in order to the notary."
"Begin, my dear, and I will check you," said Bathsheba.
Samuel read as follows, examining as he went on, the contents of his casket:
Statement of the account of the heirs of M. DE RENNEPONT, delivered by DAVID SAMUELS.
2,000,000 francs per annum, in the French 5 P. C., bought from 1825 to 1832, at an average price of 99f. 50c............ 39,800,000 900,000 francs, ditto, in the French 3 P. C., bought during the same years, at an average of 74f 25c........ 22,275,000 5;000 shares in the Bank of France, bought at 1,900 9,500,000 3,000 shares in the Four Canals, in a certificate from the Company, bought at 1,115f..... 3,345,000 125,000 ducats of Neapolitans, at an average of 82. 2,050,000 ducats, at 4f. 400....... 9,020,000 5,000 Austrian Metallics, of 1,000 florins, at 93 —say 4,650,000 florins, at 2f. 50c........ 11,625,000 75,000 pounds sterling per annum, English Consolidated 3 P. C., at 88 3/4—say 2,218,750, at 25f......... 55,468,750 1,200,000 florins, Dutch 2 1/2 P. C., at 60-28, 860,000 florins, at 2f. 100........... 60,606,000 Cash in banknotes, gold and silver........ 535,250 ——— Francs 212,175,000
Paris, 12th February, 1832. CREDIT.
150,000 francs received from M. de Rennepont, in 1682, by Isaac Samuel my grandfather; and invested by him, my father, and myself, in different securities, at Five per Cent. Interest, with a settlement of account and Investment of interest every six months, producing, as by annexed vouchers, 225,950,000
Less losses sustained by failures, expenses of commission and brokerage, and salary of three generations of trustees, as per statement annexed 13,775,000 ————— 212,175,000
"It is quite right," said Samuel, after examining the papers, contained in the cedar-wood box. "There remains in hand, at the absolute disposal of the heirs of the Rennepont family, the Sum Of TWO HUNDRED AND TWELVE MILLIONS, ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FIVE THOUSAND FRANCS." And the old man looked at his wife with an expression of legitimate pride. "It is hardly credible!" cried Bathsheba, struck with surprise. "I knew that you had immense property in your hands; but I could never have believed, that one hundred and fifty thousand francs, left a century and a half ago, should be the only source of this immense fortune."
"It is even so, Bathsheba," answered the old man, proudly. "Doubtless, my grandfather, my father, and myself, have all been exact and faithful in the management of these funds; doubtless, we have required some sagacity in the choice of investments, in times of revolution and commercial panics; but all this was easy to us, thanks to our relations with our brethren in all countries—and never have I, or any of mine, made an usurious investment, or even taken the full advantage of the legal rate of interest. Such were the positive demands of M. de Rennepont, given to my grandfather; nor is there in the world a fortune that has been obtained by purer means. Had it not been for this disinterestedness, we might have much augmented this two hundred and twelve millions, only by taking advantage of a few favorable circumstances."
"Dear me! is it possible?"
"Nothing is more simple, Bathsheba. Every one knows, that in fourteen years a capital will be doubled, by the mere accumulation of interest and compound interest at five per cent. Now reflect, that in a century and a half there are ten times fourteen years, and that these one hundred and fifty thousands francs have thus been doubled and redoubled, over and over again. All that astonishes you will then appear plain enough. In 1682, M. de Rennepont entrusted my grandfather with a hundred and fifty thousand francs; this sum, invested as I have told you, would have produced in 1696, fourteen years after, three hundred thousand francs. These last, doubled in 1710, would produce six hundred thousand. On the death of my grandfather in 1719, the amount was already near a million; in 1724, it would be twelve hundred thousand francs; in 1738, two millions four hundred thousand; in 1752, about two years after my birth, four millions eight hundred thousand; in 1766, nine millions six hundred thousand; in 1780, nineteen millions two hundred thousand; in 1794, twelve years after the death of my father, thirty-eight millions four hundred thousand; in 1808, seventy-six millions eight hundred thousand; in 1822, one hundred and fifty-three millions six hundred thousand; and, at this time, taking the compound interest for ten years, it should be at least two hundred and twenty-five millions. But losses and inevitable charges, of which the account has been strictly kept, have reduced the sum to two hundred and twelve millions one hundred and seventy-five thousand francs, the securities for which are in this box."
"I now understand you, my dear," answered Bathsheba, thoughtfully; "but how wonderful is this power of accumulation! and what admirable provision may be made for the future, with the smallest present resources!"
"Such, no doubt, was the idea of M. de Rennepont; for my father has often told me, and he derived it from his father, that M. de Rennepont was one of the soundest intellects of his time," said Samuel, as he closed the cedar-box.
"God grant his descendants may be worthy of this kingly fortune, and make a noble use of it!" said Bathsheba, rising.
It was now broad day, and the clock had just struck seven.
"The masons will soon be here," said Samuel, as he replaced the cedar-box in the iron safe, concealed behind the antique press. "Like you, Bathsheba, I am curious and anxious to know, what descendants of M. de Rennepont will now present themselves."
Two or three loud knocks on the outer gate resounded through the house. The barking of the watch-dogs responded to this summons.
Samuel said to his wife: "It is no doubt the masons, whom the notary has sent with his clerk. Tie all the keys and their labels together; I will come back and fetch them."
So saying, Samuel went down to the door with much nimbleness, considering his age, prudently opened a small wicket, and saw three workmen, in the garb of masons, accompanied by a young man dressed in black.
"What may you want, gentlemen?" said the Jew, before opening the door, as he wished first to make sure of the identity of the personages.
"I am sent by M. Dumesnil, the notary," answered the clerk, "to be present at the unwalling of a door. Here is a letter from my master, addressed to M. Samuel, guardian of the house."
"I am he, sir," said the Jew; "please to put the letter through the slide, and I will take it."
The clerk did as Samuel desired, but shrugged his shoulders at what he considered the ridiculous precautions of a suspicious old man. The housekeeper opened the box, took the letter, went to the end of the vaulted passage in order to read it, and carefully compared the signature with that of another letter which he drew from the pocket of his long coat; then, after all these precautions, he chained up his dogs, and returned to open the gate to the clerk and masons.
"What the devil, my good man!" said the clerk, as he entered; "there would not be more formalities in opening the gates of a fortress!"
The Jew bowed, but without answering.
"Are you deaf, my good fellow?" cried the clerk, close to his ears.
"No, sir," said Samuel, with a quiet smile, as he advanced several steps beyond the passage. Then pointing to the old house, he added: "That, sir, is the door which you will have to open; you will also have to remove the lead and iron from the second window to the right."
"Why not open all the windows?" asked the clerk.
"Because, sir, as guardian of this house, I have received particular orders on the subject."
"Who gave you these orders?"
"My father, sir, who received them from his father, who transmitted them from the master of this house. When I cease to have the care of it, the new proprietor will do as he pleases."
"Oh! very well," said the clerk, not a little surprised. Then, addressing himself to the masons, he added: "This is your business, my fine fellows; you are to unwall the door, and remove the iron frame-work of the second window to the right."
Whilst the masons set to work, under the inspection of the notary's clerk, a coach stopped before the outer gate, and Rodin, accompanied by Gabriel, entered the house in the Rue Saint-Francois.
CHAPTER XIX. THE HEIR
Samuel opened the door to Gabriel and Rodin.
The latter said to the Jew, "You, sir, are the keeper of this house?"
"Yes, sir," replied Samuel.
"This is Abbe Gabriel de Rennepont," said Rodin, as he introduced his companion, "one of the descendants of the family of the Renneponts."
"Happy to hear it, sir," said the Jew, almost involuntarily, struck with the angelic countenance of Gabriel—for nobleness and serenity of soul were visible in the glance of the young priest, and were written upon his pure, white brow, already crowned with the halo of martyrdom. Samuel looked at Gabriel with curiosity and benevolent interest; but feeling that this silent contemplation must cause some embarrassment to his guest, he said to him, "M. Abbe, the notary will not be here before ten o'clock."
Gabriel looked at him in turn, with an air of surprise, and answered, "What notary, sir?"
"Father d'Aigrigny will explain all this to you," said Rodin, hastily. Then addressing Samuel, he added, "We are a little before the time. Will you allow us to wait for the arrival of the notary?"
"Certainly," said Samuel, "if you please to walk into my house."
"I thank you, sir," answered Rodin, "and accept your offer."
"Follow me, then, gentlemen," said the old man.
A few moments after, the young priest and the socius, preceded by Samuel, entered one of the rooms occupied by the latter, on the ground-floor of the building, looking out upon the court-yard.
"The Abbe d'Aigrigny, who has been the guardian of M. Gabriel, will soon be coming to ask for us," added Rodin; "will you have the kindness, sir to show him into this room?"
"I will not fail to do so, sir," said Samuel, as he went out.
The socius and Gabriel were left alone. To the adorable gentleness which usually gave to the fine features of the missionary so touching a charm, there had succeeded in this moment a remarkable expression of sadness, resolution, and severity. Rodin not having seen Gabriel for some days, was greatly struck by the change he remarked in him. He had watched him silently all the way from the Rue des Postes to the Rue Saint-Francois. The young priest wore, as usual, a long black cassock, which made still more visible the transparent paleness of his countenance. When the Jew had left the room, Gabriel said to Rodin, in a firm voice, "Will you at length inform me, sir, why, for some days past, I have been prevented from speaking to his reverence Father d'Aigrigny? Why has he chosen this house to grant me an interview?"
"It is impossible for me to answer these questions," replied Rodin, coldly. "His reverence will soon arrive, and will listen to you. All I can tell you is, that the reverend father lays as much stress upon this meeting as you do. If he has chosen this house for the interview, it is because you have an interest to be here. You know it well—though you affected astonishment on hearing the guardian speak of a notary."
So saying, Rodin fixed a scrutinizing, anxious look upon Gabriel, whose countenance expressed only surprise.
"I do not understand you," said he, in reply to Rodin. "What have I to do with this house?"
"It is impossible that you should not know it," answered Rodin, still looking at him with attention.
"I have told you, sir, that I do not know it," replied the other, almost offended by the pertinacity of the socius.
"What, then, did your adopted mother come to tell you yesterday? Why did you presume to receive her without permission from Father d'Aigrigny, as I have heard this morning? Did she not speak with you of certain family papers, found upon you when she took you in?"
"No, sir," said Gabriel; "those papers were delivered at the time to my adopted mother's confessor, and they afterwards passed into Father d'Aigrigny's hands. This is the first I hear for a long time of these papers."
"So you affirm that Frances Baudoin did not come to speak to you on this subject?" resumed Rodin, obstinately, laying great emphasis on his words.
"This is the second time, sir, that you seem to doubt my affirmation," said the young priest, mildly, while he repressed a movement of impatience, "I assure you that I speak the truth."
"He knows nothing," thought Rodin; for he was too well convinced of Gabriel's sincerity to retain the least doubt after so positive a declaration. "I believe you," went on he. "The idea only occurred to me in reflecting what could be the reason of sufficient weight to induce you to transgress Father d'Aigrigny's orders with regard to the absolute retirement he had commanded, which was to exclude all communication with those without. Much more, contrary to all the rules of our house, you ventured to shut the door of your room, whereas it ought to remain half open, that the mutual inspection enjoined us might be the more easily practiced. I could only explain these sins against discipline, by the necessity of some very important conversation with your adopted mother."
"It was to a priest, and not to her adopted son, that Madame Baudoin wished to speak," replied Gabriel, in a tone of deep seriousness. "I closed my door because I was to hear a confession."
"And what had Frances Baudoin of such importance to confess?"
"You will know that by-and-bye, when I speak to his reverence—if it be his pleasure that you should hear me."
These words were so firmly spoken, that a long silence ensued. Let us remind the reader that Gabriel had hitherto been kept by his superiors in the most complete ignorance of the importance of the family interests which required his presence in the Rue Saint-Francois. The day before, Frances Baudoin, absorbed in her own grief, had forgotten to tell him that the two orphans also should be present at this meeting, and had she even thought of it, Dagobert would have prevented her mentioning this circumstance to the young priest.
Gabriel was therefore quite ignorant of the family ties which united him with the daughters of Marshal Simon, with Mdlle. de Cardoville, with M. Hardy, Prince Djalma, and Sleepinbuff. In a word, if it had then been revealed to him that he was the heir of Marius de Rennepont, he would have believed himself the only descendant of the family. During the moment's silence which succeeded his conversation with Rodin, Gabriel observed through the windows the mason's at their work of unwalling the door. Having finished this first operation, they set about removing the bars of iron by which a plate of lead was fixed over the same entrance.
At this juncture, Father d'Aigrigny, conducted by Samuel, entered the room. Before Gabriel could turn around, Rodin had time to whisper to the reverend father, "He knows nothing—and we have no longer anything to fear from the Indian."
Notwithstanding his affected calmness, Father d'Aigrigny's countenance was pale and contracted, like that of a player who is about to stake all on a last, decisive game. Hitherto, all had favored the designs of the Society; but he could not think without alarm of the four hours which still remained before they should reach the fatal moment. Gabriel having turned towards him, Father d'Aigrigny offered him his hand with a smile, and said to him in an affectionate and cordial tone, "My dear son, it has pained me a good deal to have been obliged to refuse you till now the interview that you so much desired. It has been no less distressing to me to impose on you a confinement of some days. Though I cannot give any explanation of what I may think fit to order, I will just observe to you that I have acted only for your interest."
"I am bound to believe your reverence," answered Gabriel, bowing his head.
In spite of himself, the young priest felt a vague sense of fear, for until his departure for his American mission, Father d'Aigrigny, at whose feet he had pronounced the formidable vows which bound him irrevocably to the Society of Jesus, had exercised over him that frightful species of influence which, acting only by despotism, suppression, and intimidation, breaks down all the living forces of the soul, and leaves it inert, trembling, and terrified. Impressions of early youth are indelible, and this was the first time, since his return from America, that Gabriel found himself in presence of Father d'Aigrigny; and although he did not shrink from the resolution he had taken, he regretted not to have been able, as he had hoped, to gather new strength and courage from an interview with Agricola and Dagobert. Father d'Aigrigny knew mankind too well not to have remarked the emotion of the young priest, and to have endeavored to explain its cause. This emotion appeared to him a favorable omen; he redoubled, therefore, his seductive arts, his air of tenderness and amenity, reserving to himself, if necessary, the choice of assuming another mask. He sat down, while Gabriel and Rodin remained standing in a respectful position, and said to the former: "You desire, my dear son, to have an important interview with me?"
"Yes, father," said Gabriel, involuntarily casting down his eyes before the large, glittering gray pupil of his superior.
"And I also have matters of great importance to communicate to you. Listen to me first; you can speak afterwards."
"I listen, father."
"It is about twelve years ago, my dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny, affectionately, "that the confessor of your adopted mother, addressing himself to me through M. Rodin, called my attention to yourself, by reporting the astonishing progress you had made at the school of the Brothers. I soon found, indeed, that your excellent conduct, your gentle, modest character, and your precocious intelligence, were worthy of the most tender interest. From that moment I kept my eyes upon you, and at the end of some time, seeing that you did not fall off, it appeared to me that there was something more in you than the stuff that makes a workman. We agreed with your adopted mother, and through my intervention, you were admitted gratuitously to one of the schools of our Company. Thus one burden the less weighed upon the excellent woman who had taken charge of you, and you received from our paternal care all the benefits of a religious education. Is not this true, my dear son?"
"It is true, father," answered Gabriel, casting down his eyes.
"As you grew up, excellent and rare virtues displayed themselves in your character. Your obedience and mildness were above all exemplary. You made rapid progress in your studies. I knew not then to what career you wished to devote yourself, but I felt certain that, in every station of life, you would remain a faithful son of the Church. I was not deceived in my hopes, or rather, my dear son, you surpassed them all. Learning, by a friendly communication, that your adopted mother ardently desired to see you take orders, you acceded generously and religiously to the wish of the excellent woman to whom you owed so much. But as the Lord is always just in His recompenses, He willed that the most touching work of gratitude you could show to your adopted mother, should at the same time be divinely profitable by making you one of the militant members of our holy Church."
At these words, Gabriel could not repress a significant start, as he remembered Frances' sad confidences. But he restrained himself, whilst Rodin stood leaning with his elbow on the corner of the chimney-piece, continuing to examine him with singular and obstinate attention.
Father d'Aigrigny resumed: "I do not conceal from you, my dear son, that your resolution filled me with joy. I saw in you one of the future lights of the Church, and I was anxious to see it shine in the midst of our Company. You submitted courageously to our painful and difficult tests; you were judged worthy of belonging to us, and, after taking in my presence the irrevocable and sacred oath, which binds you for ever to our Company for the greater glory of God, you answered the appeal of our Holy Father(14) to willing souls, and offered yourself as a missionary, to preach to savages the one Catholic faith. Though it was painful to us to part with our dear son, we could not refuse to accede to such pious wishes. You set out a humble missionary you return a glorious martyr—and we are justly proud to reckon you amongst our number. This rapid sketch of the past was necessary, my dear son to arrive at what follows, for we wish now, if it be possible, to draw still closer the bonds that unite us. Listen to me, my dear son; what I am about to say is confidential and of the highest importance, not only for you, but the whole Company."
"Then, father," cried Gabriel hastily, interrupting the Abbe d'Aigrigny, "I cannot—I ought not to hear you."
The young priest became deadly pale; one saw, by the alteration of his features, that a violent struggle was taking place within him, but recovering his first resolution, he raised his head, and casting an assured look on Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin, who glanced at each other in mute surprise, he resumed: "I repeat to you, father, that if it concerns confidential matters of the Company, I must not hear you."
"Really, my dear son, you occasion me the greatest astonishment. What is the matter?—Your countenance changes, your emotion is visible. Speak without fear; why can you not hear me?"
"I cannot tell you, father, until I also have, in my turn, rapidly sketched the past—such as I have learned to judge it of late. You will then understand, father, that I am no longer entitled to your confidence, for an abyss will doubtlessly soon separate us."
At these words, it is impossible to paint the look rapidly exchanged between Rodin and Father d'Aigrigny. The socius began to bite his nails, fixing his reptile eye angrily upon Gabriel; Father d'Aigrigny grew livid, and his brow was bathed in cold sweat. He asked himself with terror, if, at the moment of reaching the goal, the obstacle was going to come from Gabriel, in favor of whom all other obstacles had been removed. This thought filled him with despair. Yet the reverend father contained himself admirably, remained calm, and answered with affectionate unction: "It is impossible to believe, my dear son, that you and I can ever be separated by an abyss—unless by the abyss of grief, which would be caused by any serious danger to your salvation. But speak; I listen to you."
"It is true, that, twelve years ago, father," proceeded Gabriel, in a firm voice, growing more animated as he proceeded, "I entered, through your intervention, a college of the Company of Jesus. I entered it loving, truthful, confiding. How did they encourage those precious instincts of childhood? I will tell you. The day of my entrance, the Superior said to me, as he pointed out two children a little older than myself: 'These are the companions that you will prefer. You will always walk three together. The rules of the house forbid all intercourse between two persons only. They also require, that you should listen attentively to what your companions say, so that you may report it to me; for these dear children may have, without knowing it, bad thoughts or evil projects. Now, if you love your comrades, you must inform me of these evil tendencies, that my paternal remonstrances may save them from punishment; it is better to prevent evil than to punish it.'"
"Such are, indeed, my dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny, "the rules of our house, and the language we hold to all our pupils on their entrance."
"I know it, father," answered Gabriel, bitterly; "three days after, a poor, submissive, and credulous child, I was already a spy upon my comrades, hearing and remembering their conversation, and reporting it to the superior, who congratulated me on my zeal. What they thus made me do was shameful, and yet, God knows! I thought I was accomplishing a charitable duty. I was happy in obeying the commands of a superior whom I respected, and to whose words I listened, in my childish faith, as I should have listened to those of Heaven. One day, that I had broken some rule of the house, the superior said to me: 'My child, you have deserved a severe punishment; but you will be pardoned, if you succeed in surprising one of your comrades in the same fault that you have committed.' And for that, notwithstanding my faith and blind obedience, this encouragement to turn informer, from the motive of personal interest, might appear odious to me, the superior added. 'I speak to you, my child, for the sake of your comrade's salvation. Were he to escape punishment, his evil habits would become habitual. But by detecting him in a fault, and exposing him to salutary correction, you will have the double advantage of aiding in his salvation, and escaping yourself a merited punishment, which will have been remitted because of your zeal for your neighbor—"
"Doubtless," answered Father d'Aigrigny, more and more terrified by Gabriel's language; "and in truth, my dear son, all this is conformable to the rule followed in our colleges, and to the habits of the members of our Company, 'who may denounce each other without prejudice to mutual love and charity, and only for their greater spiritual advancement, particularly when questioned by their superior, or commanded for the greater glory of God,' as our Constitution has it."
"I know it," cried Gabriel; "I know it. 'Tis in the name of all that is most sacred amongst men, that we are encouraged to do evil."
"My dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny, trying to conceal his secret and growing terror beneath an appearance of wounded dignity, "from you to me these words are at least strange."
At this, Rodin quitted the mantelpiece, on which he had been leaning, begin to walk up and down the room, with a meditative air, and without ceasing to bite his nails.
"It is cruel to be obliged to remind you, my dear son, that your are indebted to us for the education you have received," added Father d'Aigrigny.
"Such were its fruits, father," replied Gabriel. "Until then I had been a spy on the other children, from a sort of disinterestedness; but the orders of the superior made me advance another step on that shameful road. I had become an informer, to escape a merited punishment. And yet, such was my faith, my humility, my confidence, that I performed with innocence and candor this doubly odious part. Once, indeed, tormented by vague scruples, the last remains of generous aspirations that they were stifling within me, I asked myself if the charitable and religious end could justify the means, and I communicated my doubts to the superior. He replied, that I had not to judge, but to obey, and that to him alone belonged the responsibility of my acts."
"Go on, my dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny, gelding, in spite of himself, to the deepest dejection. "Alas! I was right in opposing your travel to America."
"And yet it was the will of Providence, in that new, productive, and free country, that, enlightened by a singular chance, on past and present, my eyes were at length opened. Yes!" cried Gabriel, "it was in America that, released from the gloomy abode where I had spent so many years of my youth, and finding myself for the first time face to face with the divine majesty of Nature, in the heart of immense solitudes through which I journeyed—it was there that, overcome by so much magnificence and grandeur, I made a vow—" Here Gabriel interrupted himself, to continue: "Presently, father, I will explain to you that vow; but believe me," added the missionary, with an accent of deep sorrow, "it was a fatal day to me when I first learned to fear and condemn all that I had hitherto most revered and blessed. Oh! I assure you father," added Gabriel, with moist eyes, "it was not for myself alone, that I then wept."
"I know the goodness of your heart, my dear son," replied Father d'Aigrigny, catching a glimpse of hope, on seeing Gabriel's emotion; "I fear that you have been led astray. But trust yourself to us, as to your spiritual fathers, and I doubt not we shall confirm your faith, so unfortunately shaken, and disperse the darkness which at present obscures your sight. Alas, my dear son, in your vain illusions, you have mistaken some false glimmer for the pure light of day. But go on."
Whilst Father d'Aigrigny was thus speaking, Rodin stopped, took a pocket book from his coat, and wrote down several notes. Gabriel was becoming more and more pale and agitated. It required no small courage in him, to speak as he was speaking, for, since his journey to America, he had learned to estimate the formidable power of the Company. But this revelation of the past, looked at from the vantage-ground of a more enlightened present, was for the young priest the excuse, or rather the cause of the determination he had just signified to his superior, and he wished to explain all faithfully, notwithstanding the danger he knowingly encountered. He continued therefore, in an agitated voice:
"You know, father, that the last days of my childhood, that happy age of frankness and innocent joy, were spent in an atmosphere of terror, suspicion, and restraint. Alas! how could I resign myself to the least impulse of confiding trust, when I was recommended to shun the looks of him who spoke with me, in order to hide the impression that his words might cause—to conceal whatever I felt, and to observe and listen to everything? Thus I reached the age of fifteen; by degrees, the rare visits that I was allowed to pay, but always in presence of one of our fathers, to my adopted mother and brother, were quite suppressed, so as to shut my heart against all soft and tender emotions. Sad and fearful in that large, old noiseless, gloomy house, I felt that I became more and more isolated from the affections and the freedom of the world. My time was divided between mutilated studies, without connection and without object, and long hours of minute devotional exercises. I ask you, father, did they ever seek to warm our young souls by words of tenderness or evangelic love? Alas, no! For the words of the divine Saviour—Love ye one another, they had substituted the command: Suspect ye one another. Did they ever, father, speak to us of our country or of liberty?—No! ah, no! for those words make the heart beat high; and with them, the heart must not beat at all. To our long hours of study and devotion, there only succeeded a few walks, three by three—never two and two—because by threes, the spy-system is more practicable, and because intimacies are more easily formed by two alone; and thus might have arisen some of those generous friendships, which also make the heart beat more than it should.15 And so, by the habitual repression of every feeling, there came a time when I could not feel at all. For six months, I had not seen my adopted mother and brother; they came to visit me at the college; a few years before, I should have received them with transports and tears; this time my eyes were dry, my heart was cold. My mother and brother quitted me weeping. The sight of this grief struck me and I became conscious of the icy insensibility which had been creeping upon me since I inhabited this tomb. Frightened at myself, I wished to leave it, while I had still strength to do so. Then, father, I spoke to you of the choice of a profession; for sometimes, in waking moments, I seemed to catch from afar the sound of an active and useful life, laborious and free, surrounded by family affections. Oh! then I felt the want of movement and liberty, of noble and warm emotions—of that life of the soul, which fled before me. I told it you, father on my knees, bathing your hands with my tears. The life of a workman or a soldier—anything would have suited me. It was then you informed me, that my adopted mother, to whom I owed my life—for she had taken me in, dying of want, and, poor herself, had shared with me the scanty bread of her child—admirable sacrifice for a mother!—that she," continued Gabriel, hesitating and casting down his eyes, for noble natures blush for the guilt of others, and are ashamed of the infamies of which they are themselves victims, "that she, that my adopted mother, had but one wish, one desire—"
"That of seeing you takes orders, my dear son," replied Father d'Aigrigny; "for this pious and perfect creature hoped, that, in securing your salvation, she would provide for her own: but she did not venture to inform you of this thought, for fear you might ascribe it to an interested motive."
"Enough, father!" said Gabriel, interrupting the Abbe d'Aigrigny, with a movement of involuntary indignation; "it is painful for me to hear you assert an error. Frances Baudoin never had such a thought."
"My dear son, you are too hasty in your judgments," replied Father d'Aigrigny, mildly. "I tell you, that such was the one, sole thought of your adopted mother."
"Yesterday, father, she told me all. She and I were equally deceived."
"Then, my dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny, sternly, "you take the word of your adopted mother before mine?"
"Spare me an answer painful for both of us, father," said Gabriel, casting down his eyes.
"Will you now tell me," resumed Father d'Aigrigny, with anxiety, "what you mean to—"
The reverend father was unable to finish. Samuel entered the room, and said: "A rather old man wishes to speak to M. Rodin."
"That is my name, sir," answered the socius, in surprise; "I am much obliged to you." But, before following the Jew, he gave to Father d'Aigrigny a few words written with a pencil upon one of the leaves of his packet-book.
Rodin went out in very uneasy mood, to learn who could have come to seek him in the Rue Saint-Francois. Father d'Aigrigny and Gabriel were left alone together.
(14) It is only in respect to Missions that the Jesuits acknowledge the papal supremacy.
(15) This rule is so strict in Jesuit Colleges, that if one of three pupils leaves the other two, they separate out of earshot till the first comes back.
CHAPTER XX. THE RUPTURE.
Plunged into a state of mortal anxiety, Father d'Aigrigny had taken mechanically the note written by Rodin, and held it in his hand without thinking of opening it. The reverend father asked himself in alarm, what conclusion Gabriel would draw from these recriminations upon the past; and he durst not make any answer to his reproaches, for fear of irritating the young priest, upon whose head such immense interests now reposed. Gabriel could possess nothing for himself, according to the constitutions of the Society of Jesus. Moreover, the reverend father had obtained from him, in favor of the Order, an express renunciation of all property that might ever come to him. But the commencement of his conversation seemed to announce so serious a change in Gabriel's views with regard to the Company, that he might choose to break through the ties which attached him to it; and in that case, he would not be legally bound to fulfil any of his engagements.(16) The donation would thus be cancelled de facto, just at the moment of being so marvellously realized by the possession of the immense fortune of the Rennepont family, and d'Aigrigny's hopes would thus be completely and for ever frustrated. Of all these perplexities which the reverend father had experienced for some time past, with regard to this inheritance, none had been more unexpected and terrible than this. Fearing to interrupt or question Gabriel, Father d'Aigrigny waited, in mute terror, the end of this interview, which already bore so threatening an aspect.
The missionary resumed: "It is my duty, father, to continue this sketch of my past life, until the moment of my departure for America. You will understand, presently, why I have imposed on myself this obligation."
Father d'Aigrigny nodded for him to proceed.
"Once informed of the pretended wishes of my adopted mother, I resigned myself to them, though at some cost of feeling. I left the gloomy abode, in which I had passed my childhood and part of my youth, to enter one of the seminaries of the Company. My resolution was not caused by an irresistible religious vocation, but by a wish to discharge the sacred debt I owed my adopted mother. Yet the true spirit of the religion of Christ is so vivifying, that I felt myself animated and warmed by the idea of carrying out the adorable precepts of our Blessed Saviour. To my imagination, a seminary, instead of resembling the college where I had lived in painful restraint, appeared like a holy place, where all that was pure and warm in the fraternity of the Gospel would be applied to common life—where, for example, the lessons most frequently taught would be the ardent love of humanity, and the ineffable sweets of commiseration and tolerance—where the everlasting words of Christ would be interpreted in their broadest sense—and where, in fine, by the habitual exercise and expansion of the most generous sentiments, men were prepared for the magnificent apostolic mission of making the rich and happy sympathize with the sufferings of their brethren, by unveiling the frightful miseries of humanity—a sublime and sacred morality, which none are able to withstand, when it is preached with eyes full of tears, and hearts overflowing with tenderness and charity!"
As he delivered these last words with profound emotion, Gabriel's eyes became moist, and his countenance shone with angelic beauty.
"Such is, indeed, my dear son, the spirit of Christianity; but one must also study and explain the letter," answered Father d'Aigrigny, coldly. "It is to this study that the seminaries of our Company are specially destined. Now the interpretation of the letter is a work of analysis, discipline, and submission—and not one of heart and sentiment."
"I perceive that only too well, father. On entering this new house, I found, alas! all my hopes defeated. Dilating for a moment, my heart soon sunk within me. Instead of this centre of life, affection, youth, of which I had dreamed. I found, in the silent and ice-cold seminary, the same suppression of every generous emotion, the same inexorable discipline, the same system of mutual prying, the same suspicion, the same invincible obstacles to all ties of friendship. The ardor which had warmed my soul for an instant soon died out; little by little, I fell back into the habits of a stagnant, passive, mechanical life, governed by a pitiless power with mechanical precision, just like the inanimate works of a watch."
"But order, submission and regularity are the first foundations of our Company, my dear son."
"Alas, father! it was death, not life, that I found thus organized. In the midst of this destruction of every generous principle, I devoted myself to scholastic and theological studies—gloomy studies—a wily, menacing, and hostile science which, always awake to ideas of peril, contest, and war, is opposed to all those of peace, progress, and liberty."
"Theology, my dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny, sternly, "is at once a buckler and a sword; a buckler, to protect and cover the Catholic faith—a sword, to attack and combat heresy."
"And yet, father, Christ and His apostles knew not this subtle science: their simple and touching words regenerated mankind, and set freedom over slavery. Does not the divine code of the Gospel suffice to teach men to love one another? But, alas! far from speaking to us this language, our attention was too often occupied with wars of religion, and the rivers of blood that had flowed in honor of the Lord, and for the destruction of heresy. These terrible lessons made our life still more melancholy. As we grew near to manhood, our relations at the seminary assumed a growing character of bitterness, jealousy and suspicion. The habit of tale bearing against each other, applied to more serious subjects, engendered silent hate and profound resentments. I was neither better nor worse than the others. All of us, bowed down for years beneath the iron yoke of passive obedience, unaccustomed to reflection or free-will, humble and trembling before our superiors, had the same pale, dull, colorless disposition. At last I took orders; once a priest, you invited me, father, to enter the Company of Jesus, or rather I found myself insensibly brought to this determination. How, I do not know. For a long time before, my will was not my own. I went through all my proofs; the most terrible was decisive; for some months, I lived in the silence of my cell, practicing with resignation the strange and mechanical exercises that you ordered me. With the exception of your reverence, nobody approached me during that long space of time; no human voice but yours sounded in my ear. Sometimes, in the night, I felt vague terrors; my mind, weakened by fasting, austerity, and solitude, was impressed with frightful visions. At other times, on the contrary, I felt a sort of quiescence, in the idea that, having once pronounced my vows, I should be delivered for ever from the burden of thought and will. Then I abandoned myself to an insurmountable torpor, like those unfortunate wretches, who, surprised by a snow-storm, yield to a suicidal repose. Thus I awaited the fatal moment. At last, according to the rule of discipline, choking with the death rattle,(17) I hastened the moment of accomplishing the final act of my expiring will—the vow to renounce it for ever."
"Remember, my dear son," replied Father d'Aigrigny, pale and tortured by increasing anguish, "remember, that, on the eve of the day fixed for the completion of your vows; I offered, according to the rule of our Company, to absolve you from joining us—leaving you completely free, for we accept none but voluntary vocations."
"It is true, father," answered Gabriel, with sorrowful bitterness; "when, worn out and broken by three months of solitude and trial, I was completely exhausted, and unable to move a step, you opened the door of my cell, and said to me: 'If you like, rise and walk; you are free; Alas! I had no more strength. The only desire of my soul, inert and paralyzed for so long a period, was the repose of the grave; and pronouncing those irrevocable vows, I fell, like a corpse, into your hands."
"And, till now, my dear son, you have never failed in this corpse—like obedience,—to use the expression of our glorious founder—because, the more absolute this obedience, the more meritorious it must be."
After a moment's silence, Gabriel resumed: "You had always concealed from me, father, the true ends of the Society into which I entered. I was asked to abandon my free-will to my superiors, in the name of the Greater Glory of God. My vows once pronounced, I was to be in your hands a docile and obedient instrument; but I was to be employed, you told me, in a holy, great and beauteous work. I believed you, father—how should I not have believed you? but a fatal event changed my destiny—a painful malady caused by—"
"My son," cried Father d'Aigrigny, interrupting Gabriel, "it is useless to recall these circumstances."
"Pardon me, father, I must recall them. I have the right to be heard. I cannot pass over in silence any of the facts, which have led me to take the immutable resolution that I am about to announce to you."
"Speak on, my son," said Father d'Aigrigny, frowning; for he was much alarmed at the words of the young priest, whose cheeks, until now pale, were covered with a deep blush.
"Six months before my departure for America," resumed Gabriel, casting down his eyes, "you informed me, that I was destined to confess penitents; and to prepare then for that sacred ministry, you gave me a book."
Gabriel again hesitated. His blushes increased. Father d'Aigrigny could scarcely restrain a start of impatience and anger.
"You gave me a book," resumed the young priest, with a great effort to control himself, "a book containing questions to be addressed by a confessor to youths, and young girls, and married women, when they present themselves at the tribunal of penance. My God!" added Gabriel, shuddering at the remembrance. "I shall never forget that awful moment. It was night. I had retired to my chamber, taking with me this book, composed, you told me, by one of our fathers, and completed by a holy bishop.(18) Full of respect, faith, and confidence, I opened those pages. At first, I did not understand them—afterwards I understood—and then I was seized with shame and horror—struck with stupor—and had hardly strength to close, with trembling hand, this abominable volume. I ran to you, father, to accuse myself of having involuntarily cast my eyes on those nameless pages, which, by mistake, you had placed in my hands."
"Remember, also, my dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny, gravely, "that I calmed your scruples, and told you that a priest, who is bound to hear everything under the seal of confession, must be able to know and appreciate everything; and that our Company imposes the task of reading this Compendium, as a classical work, upon young deacons seminarists, and priests, who are destined to be confessors."
"I believed you, father. In me the habit of inert obedience was so powerful, and I was so unaccustomed to independent reflection, that, notwithstanding my horror (with which I now reproached myself as with a crime), I took the volume back into my chamber, and read. Oh, father! what a dreadful revelation of criminal fancies, guilty of guiltiest in their refinement!"
"You speak of this book in blamable terms," skid Father d'Aigrigny, severely; "you were the victim of a too lively imagination. It is to it that you must attribute this fatal impression, and not to an excellent work, irreproachable for its special purpose, and duly authorized by the Church. You are not able to judge of such a production."
"I will speak of it no more, father," said Gabriel: and he thus resumed: "A long illness followed that terrible night. Many times, they feared for my reason. When I recovered, the past appeared to me like a painful dream. You told me, then, father, that I was not yet ripe for certain functions; and it was then that I earnestly entreated you to be allowed to go on the American missions. After having long refused my prayer, you at length consented. From my childhood, I had always lived in the college or seminary, to a state of continual restraint and subjection. By constantly holding down my head and eyes, I had lost the habit of contemplating the heavens and the splendors of nature. But, oh! what deep, religious happiness I felt, when I found myself suddenly transported to the centre of the imposing grandeur of the seas-half-way between the ocean and the sky!—I seemed to come forth from a place of thick darkness; for the first time, for many years, I felt my heart beat freely in my bosom; for the first time, I felt myself master of my own thoughts, and ventured to examine my past life, as from the summit of a mountain, one looks down into a gloomy vale. Then strange doubts rose within me. I asked myself by what right, and for what end, any beings had so long repressed, almost annihilated, the exercise of my will, of my liberty, of my reason, since God had endowed me with these gifts. But I said to myself, that perhaps, one day, the great, beauteous, and holy work, in which I was to have my share, would be revealed to me, and would recompense my obedience and resignation."
At this moment, Rodin re-entered the room. Father d'Aigrigny questioned him with a significant look. The socius approached, and said to him in a low voice, so, that Gabriel could not hear: "Nothing serious. It was only to inform me, that Marshal Simon's father is arrived at M. Hardy's factory."
Then, glancing at Gabriel, Rodin appeared to interrogate Father d'Aigrigny, who hung his head with a desponding air. Yet he resumed, again addressing Gabriel, whilst Rodin took his old place, with his elbow on the chimney-piece: "Go on, my dear son. I am anxious to learn what resolution you have adopted."
"I will tell you in a moment, father. I arrived at Charleston. The superior of our establishment in that place, to whom I imparted my doubts as to the object of our Society, took upon himself to clear them up, and unveiled it all to me with alarming frankness. He told me the tendency not perhaps of all the members of the Company, for a great number must have shared my ignorance—but the objects which our leaders have pertinaciously kept in view, ever since the foundation of the Order. I was terrified. I read the casuists. Oh, father! that was a new and dreadful revelation, when, at every page, I read the excuse and justification of robbery, slander, adultery, perjury, murder, regicide. When I considered that I, the priest of a God of charity, justice, pardon, and love, was to belong henceforth to a Company, whose chiefs professed and glorified in such doctrines, I made a solemn oath to break for ever the ties which bound me to it!"(19)
On these words of Gabriel, Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin exchanged a look of terror. All was lost; their prey had escaped them. Deeply moved by the remembrances he recalled, Gabriel did not perceive the action of the reverend father and the socius, and thus continued: "In spite of my resolution, father, to quit the Company, the discovery I had made was very painful to me. Oh! believe me, for the honest and loving soul, nothing is more frightful than to have to renounce what it has long respected!—I suffered so much, that, when I thought of the dangers of my mission, I hoped, with a secret joy, that God would perhaps take me to Himself under these circumstances: but, on the contrary, He watched over me with providential solicitude."
As he said this, Gabriel felt a thrill, for he remembered a Mysterious Woman who had saved his life in America. After a moment's silence, he resumed: "My mission terminated, I returned hither to beg, father, that you would release me from my vows. Many times but in vain, I solicited an interview. Yesterday, it pleased Providence that I should have a long conversation with my adopted mother; from her I learned the trick by which my vocation had been forced upon me—and the sacrilegious abuse of the confessional, by which she had been induced to entrust to other persons the orphans that a dying mother had confided to the care of an honest soldier. You understand, father, that, if even I had before hesitated to break these bonds, what I have heard yesterday must have rendered my decision irrevocable. But at this solemn moment, father, I am bound to tell you, that I do not accuse the whole Society; many simple, credulous, and confiding men, like myself, must no doubt form part of it. Docile instruments, they see not in their blindness the work to which they are destined. I pity them, and pray God to enlighten them, as he has enlightened me."
"So, my son," said Father d'Aigrigny, rising with livid and despairing look, "you come to ask of me to break the ties which attach you to the Society?"
"Yes, father; you received my vows—it is for you to release me from them."
"So, my son, you understand that engagements once freely taken by you, are now to be considered as null and void?"
"So, my son, there is to be henceforth nothing in common between you and our Company?"
"No, father—since I request you to absolve me of my vows."
"But, you know, my son, that the Society may release you—but that you cannot release yourself."
"The step I take proves to you, father, the importance I attach to an oath, since I come to you to release me from it. Nevertheless, were you to refuse me, I should not think myself bound in the eyes of God or man."
"It is perfectly clear," said Father d'Aigrigny to Rodin, his voice expiring upon his lips, so deep was his despair.
Suddenly, whilst Gabriel, with downcast eyes, waited for the answer of Father d'Aigrigny, who remained mute and motionless, Rodin appeared struck with a new idea, on perceiving that the reverend father still held in his hand the note written in pencil. The socius hastily approached Father d'Aigrigny, and said to him in a whisper, with a look of doubt and alarm: "Have you not read my note?"
"I did not think of it," answered the reverend father, mechanically.
Rodin appeared to make a great effort to repress a movement of violent rage. Then he said to Father d'Aigrigny, in a calm voice: "Read it now."
Hardly had the reverend father cast his eyes upon this note, than a sudden ray of hope illumined his hitherto despairing countenance. Pressing the hand of the socius with an expression of deep gratitude, he said to him in a low voice: "You are right. Gabriel is ours."
(16) The statutes formally state that the Company can expel all drones and wasps, but that no man can break his ties, if the Order wishes to retain him.
(17) This is their own command. The constitution expressly bids the novice wait for this decisive climax of the ordeal before taking the vows of God.
(18) It is impossible, even in Latin, to give our readers an idea of this infamous work.
(19) This is true. See the extracts from the Compendium for the use of Schools, published under the title of "Discoveries by a Bibliophilist." Strasburg, 1843. For regicide, see Sanchez and others.
CHAPTER XXI. THE CHANGE.
Before again addressing Gabriel, Father d'Aigrigny carefully reflected; and his countenance, lately so disturbed, became gradually once more serene. He appeared to meditate and calculate the effects of the eloquence he was about to employ, upon an excellent and safe theme, which the socius struck with the danger of the situation, had suggested in a few lines rapidly written with a pencil, and which, in his despair, the reverend father had at first neglected. Rodin resumed his post of observation near the mantelpiece, on which he leaned his elbow, after casting at Father d'Aigrigny a glance of disdainful and angry superiority, accompanied by a significant shrug of the shoulders.
After this involuntary manifestation, which was luckily not perceived by Father d'Aigrigny, the cadaverous face of the socius resumed its icy calmness, and his flabby eyelids, raised a moment with anger and impatience, fell, and half-veiled his little, dull eyes. It must be confessed that Father d'Aigrigny, notwithstanding the ease and elegance of his speech, notwithstanding the seduction of his exquisite manners, his agreeable features, and the exterior of an accomplished and refined man of the world, was often subdued and governed by the unpitying firmness, the diabolical craft and depth of Rodin, the old, repulsive, dirty, miserably dressed man, who seldom abandoned his humble part of secretary and mute auditor. The influence of education is so powerful, that Gabriel, notwithstanding the formal rupture he had just provoked, felt himself still intimidated in presence of Father d'Aigrigny, and waited with painful anxiety for the answer of the reverend father to his express demand to be released from his old vows. His reverence having, doubtless, regularly laid his plan of attack, at length broke silence, heaved a deep sigh, gave to his countenance, lately so severe and irritated, a touching expression of kindness, and said to Gabriel, in an affectionate voice: "Forgive me, my dear son, for having kept silence so long; but your abrupt determination has so stunned me, and has raised within me so many painful thoughts, that I have had to reflect for some moments, to try and penetrate the cause of this rupture, and I think I have succeeded. You have well considered, my dear son, the serious nature of the step you are taking?"
"And you have absolutely decided to abandon the Society, even against my will?"
"It would be painful to me, father—but I must resign myself to it."
"It should be very painful to you, indeed, my dear son; for you took the irrevocable vow freely, and this vow, according to our statutes, binds you not to quit the Society, unless with the consent of your superiors."
"I did not then know, father, the nature of the engagement I took. More enlightened now, I ask to withdraw myself; my only desire is to obtain a curacy in some village far from Paris. I feel an irresistible vocation for such humble and useful functions. In the country, there is so much misery, and such ignorance of all that could contribute to ameliorate the condition of the agricultural laborer, that his existence is as unhappy as that of a negro slave; for what liberty has he? and what instruction? Oh! it seems to me, that, with God's help, I might, as a village curate, render some services to humanity. It would therefore be painful to me, father, to see you refuse—"
"Be satisfied, my son," answered Father d'Aigrigny; "I will no longer seek to combat your desire to separate yourself from us."
"Then, father, you release me from my vows?"
"I have not the power to do so, my dear son; but I will write immediately to Rome, to ask the necessary authority from our general."
"I thank you, father."
"Soon, my dear son, you will be delivered from these bonds, which you deem so heavy; and the men you abandon will not the less continue to pray for you, that God may preserve you from still greater wanderings. You think yourself released with regard to us, my dear son; but we do not think ourselves released with regard to you. It is not thus that we can get rid of the habit of paternal attachment. What would you have? We look upon ourselves as bound to our children, by the very benefits with which we have loaded them. You were poor, and an orphan; we stretched out our arms to you, as much from the interest which you deserved, my dear son, as to spare your excellent adopted mother too great a burden."
"Father," said Gabriel, with suppressed emotion, "I am not ungrateful."
"I wish to believe so, my dear son. For long years, we gave to you, as to our beloved child, food for the body and the soul. It pleases you now to renounce and abandon us. Not only do we consent to it—but now that I have penetrated the true motives of your rupture with us, it is my duty to release you from your vow."
"Of what motives do you speak, Father?"
"Alas! my dear son, I understand your fears. Dangers menace us—you know it well."
"Dangers, father?" cried Gabriel.
"It is impossible, my dear son, that you should not be aware that, since the fall of our legitimate sovereigns, our natural protectors, revolutionary impiety becomes daily more and more threatening. We are oppressed with persecutions. I can, therefore, comprehend and appreciate, my dear son, the motive which under such circumstances, induces you to separate from us."
"Father!" cried Gabriel, with as much indignation as grief, "you do not think that of me—you cannot think it."
Without noticing the protestations of Gabriel, Father d'Aigrigny continued his imaginary picture of the dangers of the Company, which, far from being really in peril, was already beginning secretly to recover its influence.
"Oh! if our Company were now as powerful as it was some years ago," resumed the reverend father; "if it were still surrounded by the respect and homage which are due to it from all true believers—in spite of the abominable calumnies with which we are assailed—then, my dear son, we should perhaps have hesitated to release you from your vows, and have rather endeavored to open your eyes to the light, and save you from the fatal delusion to which you are a prey. But now that we are weak, oppressed, threatened on every side, it is our duty, it is an act of charity, not to force you to share in perils from which you have the prudence to wish to withdraw yourself."
So, saying, Father d'Aigrigny cast a rapid glance at his socius, who answered with a nod of approbation, accompanied by a movement of impatience that seemed to say: "Go on! go on!"
Gabriel was quite overcome. There was not in the whole world a heart more generous, loyal, and brave than his. We may judge of what he must have suffered, on hearing the resolution he had come to thus misinterpreted.
"Father," he resumed, in an agitated voice, whilst his eyes filled with tears, "your words are cruel and unjust. You know that I am not a coward."
"No," said Rodin, in his sharp, cutting voice, addressing Father d'Aigrigny, and pointing to Gabriel with a disdainful look; "your dear son is only prudent."
These words from Rodin made Gabriel start; a slight blush colored his pale cheeks; his large and blue eyes sparkled with a generous anger; then, faithful to the precepts of Christian humility and resignation, he conquered this irritable impulse, hung down his head, and, too much agitated to reply, remained silent, and brushed away an unseen tear. This tear did not escape the notice of the socius. He saw in it no doubt, a favorable symptom, for he exchanged a glance of satisfaction with Father d'Aigrigny. The latter was about to touch on a question of great interest, so, notwithstanding his self-command, his voice trembled slightly; but encouraged, or rather pushed on by a look from Rodin, who had become extremely attentive, he said to Gabriel: "Another motive obliges us not to hesitate in releasing you from your vow, my dear son. It is a question of pure delicacy. You probably learned yesterday from your adopted mother, that you will perhaps be called upon to take possession of an inheritance, of which the value is unknown."