Gabriel raised his head hastily and said to Father d'Aigrigny: "As I have already stated to M. Rodin, my adopted mother only talked of her scruples of conscience, and I was completely ignorant of the existence of the inheritance of which you speak."
The expression of indifference with which the young priest pronounced these last words, was remarked by Rodin.
"Be it so," replied Father d'Aigrigny. "You were not aware of it—I believe you—though all appearances would tend to prove the contrary—to prove, indeed, that the knowledge of this inheritance was not unconnected with your resolution to separate from us."
"I do not understand you, Father."
"It is very simple. Your rupture with us would then have two motives. First, we are in danger, and you think it prudent to leave us—"
"Allow me to finish, my dear son, and come to the second motive. If I am deceived, you can tell me so. These are the facts. Formerly, on the hypothesis that your family, of which you knew nothing, might one day leave you some property, you made, in return for the care bestowed on you by the Company, a free gift of all you might hereafter possess, not to us—but to the poor, of whom we are the born shepherds."
"Well, father?" asked Gabriel, not seeing to what this preamble tended.
"Well, my dear son—now that you are sure of enjoying a competence, you wish, no doubt, by separating from us, to annul this donation made under other circumstances."
"To speak plainly, you violate your oath, because we are persecuted, and because you wish to take back your gifts," added Rodin, in a sharp voice, as if to describe in the clearest and plainest manner the situation of Gabriel with regard to the Society.
At this infamous accusation, Gabriel could only raise his hands and eyes to heaven, and exclaim, with an expression of despair, "Oh, heaven!"
Once more exchanging a look of intelligence with Rodin, Father d'Aigrigny said to him, in a severe tone, as if reproaching him for his too savage frankness: "I think you go too far. Our dear son could only have acted in the base and cowardly manner you suggest, had he known his position as an heir; but, since he affirms the contrary, we are bound to believe him—in spite of appearances."
"Father," said Gabriel, pale, agitated trembling, and with half suppressed grief and indignation, "I thank you, at least, for having suspended your judgment. No, I am not a coward; for heaven is my witness, that I knew of no danger to which the Society was exposed. Nor am I base and avaricious; for heaven is also my witness, that only at this moment I learn from you, father, that I may be destined to inherit property, and—"
"One word, my dear son. It is quite lately that I became informed of this circumstance, by the greatest chance in the world," said Father d'Aigrigny, interrupting Gabriel; "and that was thanks to some family papers which your adopted mother had given to her confessor, and which were entrusted to us when you entered our college. A little before your return from America, in arranging the archives of the Company, your file of papers fell into the hands of our father-attorney. It was examined, and we thus learned that one of your paternal ancestors, to whom the house in which we now are belonged, left a will which is to be opened to day at noon. Yesterday, we believed you one of us; our statutes command that we should possess nothing of our own; you had corroborated those statutes, by a donation in favor of the patrimony of the poor—which we administer. It was no longer you, therefore, but the Company, which, in my person, presented itself as the inheritor in your place, furnished with your titles, which I have here ready in order. But now, my clear son, that you separate from us, you must present yourself in your own name. We came here as the representatives of the poor, to whom in former days you piously abandoned whatever goods might fall to your share. Now, on the contrary, the hope of a fortune changes your sentiments. You are free to resume your gifts."
Gabriel had listened to Father d'Aigrigny with painful impatience. At length he exclaimed. "Do you mean to say, father, that you think me capable of canceling a donation freely made, in favor of the Company, to which I am indebted for my education? You believe me infamous enough to break my word, in the hope of possessing a modest patrimony?"
"This patrimony, my dear, son, may be small; but it may also be considerable."
"Well, father! if it were a king's fortune," cried Gabriel, with proud and noble indifference, "I should not speak otherwise—and I have, I think, the right to be believed listen to my fixed resolution. The Company to which I belong runs, you say, great dangers. I will inquire into these dangers. Should they prove threatening—strong in the determination which morally separates me from you—I will not leave you till I see the end of your perils. As for the inheritance, of which you believe me so desirous, I resign it to you formally, father, as I once freely promised. My only wish is, that this property may be employed for the relief of the poor. I do not know what may be the amount of this fortune, but large or small, it belongs to the Company, because I have thereto pledged my word. I have told you, father, that my chief desire is to obtain a humble curacy in some poor village—poor, above all—because there my services will be most useful. Thus, father, when a man, who never spoke falsehood in his life, affirms to you, that he only sighs for so humble an existence, you ought, I think, to believe him incapable of snatching back, from motives of avarice, gifts already made."
Father d'Aigrigny had now as much trouble to restrain his joy, as he before had to conceal his terror. He appeared, however, tolerably calm, and said to Gabriel: "I did not expect less from you, my dear son."
Then he made a sign to Rodin, to invite him to interpose. The latter perfectly understood his superior. He left the chimney, drew near to Gabriel, and leaned against the table, upon which stood paper and inkstand. Then, beginning mechanically to beat the tattoo with the tips of his coarse fingers, in all their array of flat and dirty nails, he said to Father d'Aigrigny: "All this is very fine! but your dear son gives you no security for the fulfilment of his promise except an oath—and that, we know, is of little value."
"Sir!" cried Gabriel
"Allow me," said Rodin, coldly. "The law does not acknowledge our existence and therefore can take no cognizance of donations made in favor of the Company. You might resume to-morrow what you are pleased to give us to-day."
"But my oath, sir!" cried Gabriel.
Rodin looked at him fixedly, as he answered: "Your oath? Did you not swear eternal obedience to the Company, and never to separate from us?—and of what weight now are these oaths?"
For a moment Gabriel was embarrassed; but, feeling how false was this logic, he rose, calm and dignified, went to seat himself at the desk, took up a pen, and wrote as follows:
"Before God, who sees and hears me, and in the presence of you, Father d'Aigrigny and M. Rodin, I renew and confirm, freely and voluntarily, the absolute donation made by me to the Society of Jesus, in the person of the said Father d'Aigrigny, of all the property which may hereafter belong to me, whatever may be its value. I swear, on pain of infamy, to perform tis irrevocable promise, whose accomplishment I regard, in my soul and conscience, as the discharge of a debt, and the fulfilment of a pious duty.
"This donation having for its object the acknowledgment of past services, and the relief of the poor, no future occurrences can at all modify it. For the very reason that I know I could one day legally cancel the present free and deliberate act, I declare, that if ever I were to attempt such a thing, under any possible circumstances, I should deserve the contempt and horror of all honest people.
"In witness whereof I have written this paper, on the 13th of February, 1832, in Paris, immediately before the opening of the testament of one of my paternal ancestors.
"GABRIEL DE RENNEPONT."
As he rose, the young priest delivered this document to Rodin, without uttering a word. The socius read it attentively, and, still impassible, answered, as he looked at Gabriel: "Well, it is a written oath—that is all."
Gabriel dwelt stupefied at the audacity of Rodin, who ventured to tell him, that this document, in which he renewed his donation in so noble, generous, and spontaneous a manner, was not all sufficient. The socius was the first again to break the silence, and he said to Father d'Aigrigny, with his usual cool impudence. "One of two things must be. Either your dear son means to render his donation absolutely valuable and irrevocable,—or—"
"Sir," exclaimed Gabriel, interrupting him, and hardly able to restrain himself, "spare yourself and me such a shameful supposition."
"Well, then," resumed Rodin, impassible as ever, "as you are perfectly decided to make this donation a serious reality, what objection can you have to secure it legally?"
"None, sir," said Gabriel, bitterly, "since my written and sworn promise will not suffice you."
"My dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny, affectionately, "if this were a donation for my own advantage, believe me I should require no better security than your word. But here I am, as it were, the agent of the Society, or rather the trustee of the poor, who will profit by your generosity. For the sake of humanity, therefore, we cannot secure this gift by too many legal precautions, so that the unfortunate objects of our care may have certainty instead of vague hopes to depend upon. God may call you to him at any moment, and who shall say that your heirs will be so ready to keep the oath you have taken?"
"You are right, father," said Gabriel, sadly; "I had not thought of the case of death, which is yet so probable."
Hereupon, Samuel opened the door of the room, and said: "Gentlemen, the notary has just arrived. Shall I show him in? At ten o'clock precisely, the door of the house will be opened."
"We are the more glad to see the notary," said Rodin, "as we just happen to have some business with him. Pray ask him to walk in."
"I will bring him to you instantly," replied Samuel, as he went out.
"Here is a notary," said Rodin to Gabriel. "If you have still the same intentions, you can legalize your donation in presence of this public officer, and thus save yourself from a great burden for the future."
"Sir," said Gabriel, "happen what may, I am as irrevocably engaged by this written promise, which I beg you to keep, father"—and he handed the paper to Father d'Aigrigny "as by the legal document, which I am about to sign," he added, turning to Rodin.
"Silence, my dear son," said Father d'Aigrigny; "here is the notary," just as the latter entered the room.
During the interview of the administrative officer with Rodin, Gabriel, and Father d'Aigrigny, we shall conduct the reader to the interior of the walled-up house.
CHAPTER XXII. THE RED ROOM.
As Samuel had said, the door of the walled-up house had just been disencumbered of the bricks, lead, and iron, which had kept it from view, and its panels of carved oak appeared as fresh and sound, as on the day when they had first been withdrawn from the influence of the air and time. The laborers, having completed their work, stood waiting upon the steps, as impatient and curious as the notary's clerk, who had superintended the operation, when they saw Samuel slowly advancing across the garden, with a great bunch of keys in his hand.
"Now, my friends," said the old man, when he had reached the steps, "your work is finished. The master of this gentleman will pay you, and I have only to show you out by the street door."
"Come, come, my good fellow," cried the clerk, "you don't think. We are just at the most interesting and curious moment; I and these honest masons are burning to see the interior of this mysterious house, and you would be cruel enough to send us away? Impossible!"
"I regret the necessity, sir, but so it must he. I must be the first to enter this dwelling, absolutely alone, before introducing the heirs, in order to read the testament."
"And who gave you such ridiculous and barbarous orders?" cried the clerk, singularly disappointed.
"My father, sir."
"A most respectable authority, no doubt; but come, my worthy guardian, my excellent guardian," resumed the clerk, "be a good fellow, and let us just take a peep in at the door."
"Yes, yes, sir, only a peep!" cried the heroes of the trowel, with a supplicating air.
"It is disagreeable to have to refuse you, gentlemen," answered Samuel; "but I cannot open this door, until I am alone."
The masons, seeing the inflexibility of the old man, unwillingly descended the steps; but the clerk had resolved to dispute the ground inch by inch, and exclaimed: "I shall wait for my master. I do not leave the house without him. He may want me—and whether I remain on these steps or elsewhere, can be of little consequence to you my worthy keeper."
The clerk was interrupted in his appeal by his master himself, who called out from the further side of the courtyard, with an air of business: "M. Piston! quick, M. Piston—come directly!"
"What the devil does he want with me?" cried the clerk, in a passion. "He calls me just at the moment when I might have seen something."
"M. Piston," resumed the voice, approaching, "do you not hear?"
While Samuel let out the masons, the clerk saw, through a clump of trees, his master running towards him bareheaded, and with an air of singular haste and importance. The clerk was therefore obliged to leave the steps, to answer the notary's summons, towards whom he went with a very bad grace.
"Sir, sir," said M. Dumesnil, "I have been calling you this hour with all my might."
"I did not hear you sir," said M. Piston.
"You must be deaf, then. Have you any change about you?"
"Yes sir," answered the clerk, with some surprise.
"Well, then, you must go instantly to the nearest stamp-office, and fetch me three or four large sheets of stamped paper, to draw up a deed. Run! it is wanted directly."
"Yes, sir," said the clerk, casting a rueful and regretful glance at the door of the walled-up house.
"But make haste, will you, M. Piston," said the notary.
"I do not know, sir, where to get any stamped paper."
"Here is the guardian," replied M. Dumesnil. "He will no doubt be able to tell you."
At this instant, Samuel was returning, after showing the masons out by the street-door.
"Sir," said the notary to him, "will you please to tell me where we can get stamped paper?"
"Close by, sir," answered Samuel; "in the tobacconist's, No. 17, Rue Vieille-du-Temple."
"You hear, M. Piston?" said the notary to his clerk. "You can get the stamps at the tobacconist's, No. 17, Rue Vieille-du-Temple. Be quick! for this deed must be executed immediately before the opening of the will. Time presses."
"Very well, sir; I will make haste," answered the clerk, discontentedly, as he followed his master, who hurried back into the room where he had left Rodin, Gabriel, and Father d'Aigrigny.
During this time, Samuel, ascending the steps, had reached the door, now disencumbered of the stone, iron, and lead with which it had been blocked up. It was with deep emotion that the old man having selected from his bunch of keys the one he wanted, inserted it in the keyhole, and made the door turn upon its hinges. Immediately he felt on his face a current of damp, cold air, like that which exhales from a cellar suddenly opened. Having carefully re-closed and double-locked the door, the Jew advanced along the hall, lighted by a glass trefoil over the arch of the door. The panes had lost their transparency by the effect of time, and now had the appearance of ground-glass. This hall, paved with alternate squares of black and white marble, was vast, sonorous, and contained a broad staircase leading to the first story. The walls of smooth stone offered not the least appearance of decay or dampness; the stair-rail of wrought iron presented no traces of rust; it was inserted, just above the bottom step, into a column of gray granite, which sustained a statue of black marble, representing a negro bearing a flambeau. This statue had a strange countenance, the pupils of the eyes being made of white marble.
The Jew's heavy tread echoed beneath the lofty dome of the hall. The grandson of Isaac Samuel experienced a melancholy feeling, as he reflected that the footsteps of his ancestor had probably been the last which had resounded through this dwelling, of which he had closed the doors a hundred and fifty years before; for the faithful friend, in favor of whom M. de Rennepont had made a feigned transfer of the property, had afterwards parted with the same, to place it in the name of Samuel's grandfather, who had transmitted it to his descendants, as if it had been his own inheritance.
To these thoughts, in which Samuel was wholly absorbed, was joined the remembrance of the light seen that morning through the seven openings in the leaden cover of the belvedere; and, in spite of the firmness of his character, the old man could not repress a shudder, as, taking a second key from his bunch, and reading upon the label, The Key of the Red Room, he opened a pair of large folding doors, leading to the inner apartments. The window which, of all those in the house, had alone been opened, lighted this large room, hung with damask, the deep purple of which had undergone no alteration. A thick Turkey carpet covered the floor, and large arm-chairs of gilded wood, in the severe Louis XIV. style, were symmetrically arranged along the wall. A second door, leading to the next room, was just opposite the entrance. The wainscoting and the cornice were white, relieved with fillets and mouldings of burnished gold. On each side of this door was a large piece of buhl-furniture, inlaid with brass and porcelain, supporting ornamental sets of sea crackle vases. The window was hung with heavy deep-fringed damask curtains, surmounted by scalloped drapery, with silk tassels, directly opposite the chimney-piece of dark-gray marble, adorned with carved brass-work. Rich chandeliers, and a clock in the same style as the furniture, were reflected in a large Venice glass, with basiled edges. A round table, covered with a cloth of crimson velvet, was placed in the centre of this saloon.
As he approached this table, Samuel perceived a piece of white vellum, on which were inscribed these words: "My testament is to be opened in this saloon. The other apartments are to remain closed, until after the reading of my last will—M. De R."
"Yes," said the Jew, as he perused with emotion these lines traced so long ago; "this is the same recommendation as that which I received from my father; for it would seem that the other apartments of this house are filled with objects, on which M. de Rennepont set a high value, not for their intrinsic worth, but because of their origin. The Hall of Mourning must be a strange and mysterious chamber. Well," added Samuel, as he drew from his pocket a register bound in black shagreen, with a brass lock, from which he drew the key, after placing it upon the table, "here is the statement of the property in hand, which I have been ordered to bring hither, before the arrival of the heirs."
The deepest silence reigned in the room, at the moment when Samuel placed the register on the table. Suddenly a simple and yet most startling occurrence roused him from his reverie. In the next apartment was heard the clear, silvery tone of a clock, striking slowly ten. And the hour was ten! Samuel had too much sense to believe in perpetual motion, or in the possibility of constructing a clock to go far one hundred and fifty years. He asked himself, therefore, with surprise and alarm, how this clock could still be going, and how it could mark so exactly the hour of the day. Urged with restless curiosity, the old man was about to enter the room; but recollecting the recommendation of his father, which had now been confirmed by the few lines he had just read from De Rennepont's pen, he stopped at the door, and listened with extreme attention.
He heard nothing—absolutely nothing, but the last dying vibration of the clock. After having long reflected upon this strange fact, Samuel, comparing it with the no less extraordinary circumstance of the light perceived that morning through the apertures in the belvedere, concluded that there must be some connection between these two incidents. If the old man could not penetrate the true cause of these extraordinary appearances, he at least explained them to himself, by remembering the subterraneous communications, which, according to tradition, were said to exist between the cellars of this house and distant places; and he conjectured that unknown and mysterious personages thus gained access to it two or three times in a century. Absorbed in these thoughts Samuel approached the fireplace, which, as we have said, was directly opposite the window. Just then, a bright ray of sunlight, piercing the clouds, shone full upon two large portraits, hung upon either side of the fireplace, and not before remarked by the Jew. They were painted life size, and represented one a woman, the other a man. By the sober yet powerful coloring of these paintings, by the large and vigorous style, it was easy to recognize a master's hand. It would have been difficult to find models more fitted to inspire a great painter. The woman appeared to be from five-and-twenty to thirty years of age. Magnificent brown hair, with golden tints, crooned a forehead, white, noble, and lofty. Her head-dress, far from recalling the fashion, which Madame de Sevigne brought in during the age of Louis XIV., reminded one rather of some of the portraits of Paul Veronese, in which the hair encircles the face in broad, undulating bands, surmounted by a thick plait, like a crown, at the back of the head. The eyebrows, finely pencilled, were arched over large eyes of bright, sapphire blue. Their gaze at once proud and mournful, had something fatal about it. The nose, finely formed, terminated in slight dilated nostrils: a half smile, almost of pain, contracted the mouth; the face was a long oval, and the complexion, extremely pale, was hardly shaded on the cheek by a light rose-color. The position of the head and neck announced a rare mixture of grace and dignity. A sort of tunic or robe, of glossy black material, came as high as the commencement of her shoulders, and just marking her lithe and tall figure, reached down to her feet, which were almost entirely concealed by the folds of this garment.
The attitude was full of nobleness and simplicity. The head looked white and luminous, standing out from a dark gray sky, marbled at the horizon by purple clouds, upon which were visible the bluish summits of distant hills, in deep shadow. The arrangement of the picture, as well as the warm tints of the foreground, contrasting strongly with these distant objects, showed that the woman was placed upon an eminence, from which she could view the whole horizon. The countenance was deeply pensive and desponding. There was an expression of supplicating and resigned grief, particularly in her look, half raised to heaven, which one would have thought impossible to picture. On the left side of the fireplace was the other portrait, painted with like vigor. It represented a man, between thirty and thirty-five years of age, of tall stature. A large brown cloak, which hung round him in graceful folds, did not quite conceal a black doublet, buttoned up to the neck, over which fell a square white collar. The handsome and expressive head was marked with stern powerful lines, which did not exclude an admirable air of suffering, resignation, and ineffable goodness. The hair, as well as the beard and eyebrows, was black; and the latter, by some singular caprice of nature, instead of being separated and forming two distinct arches, extended from one temple to the other, in a single bow, and seemed to mark the forehead of this man with a black line.
The background of this picture also represented a stormy sky; but, beyond some rocks in the distance, the sea was visible, and appeared to mingle with the dark clouds. The sun, just now shining upon these two remarkable figures (which it appeared impossible to forget, after once seeing them), augmented their brilliancy.
Starting from his reverie, and casting his eyes by chance upon these portraits, Samuel was greatly struck with them. They appeared almost alive. "What noble and handsome faces!" he exclaimed, as he approached to examine them more closely. "Whose are these portraits? They are not those of any of the Rennepont family, for my father told me that they are all in the Hall of Mourning. Alas!" added the old man, "one might think, from the great sorrow expressed in their countenances, that they ought to have a place in that mourning-chamber."
After a moment's silence, Samuel resumed: "Let me prepare everything for this solemn assembly, for it has struck ten." So saying, he placed the gilded arm-chairs round the table, and then continued, with a pensive air: "The hour approaches, and of the descendants of my grandfather's benefactor, we have seen only this young priest, with the angelic countenance. Can he be the sole representative of the Rennepont family? He is a priest, and this family will finish with him! Well! the moment is come when I must open this door, that the will may be read. Bathsheba is bringing hither the notary. They knock at the door; it is time!" And Samuel, after casting a last glance towards the place where the clock had struck ten, hastened to the outer door, behind which voices were now audible.
He turned the key twice in the lock, and threw the portals open. To his great regret, he saw only Gabriel on the steps, between Rodin and Father d'Aigrigny. The notary, and Bathsheba, who had served them as a guide, waited a little behind the principal group.
Samuel could not repress a sigh, as he stood bowing on the threshold, and said to them: "All is ready, gentlemen. You may walk in."
CHAPTER XXIII. THE TESTAMENT.
When Gabriel, Rodin, and Father d'Aigrigny entered the Red Room, they were differently affected. Gabriel, pale and sad, felt a kind of painful impatience. He was anxious to quit this house, though he had already relieved himself of a great weight, by executing before the notary, secured by every legal formality, a deed making over all his rights of inheritance to Father d'Aigrigny. Until now it had not occurred to the young priest, that in bestowing the care upon him, which he was about to reward so generously, and in forcing his vocation by a sacrilegious falsehood, the only object of Father d'Aigrigny might have been to secure the success of a dark intrigue. In acting as he did, Gabriel was not yielding, in his view of the question, to a sentiment of exaggerated delicacy. He had made this donation freely, many years before. He would have looked upon it as infamy now to withdraw it. It was hard enough to be suspected of cowardice: for nothing in the world would he have incurred the least reproach of cupidity.
The missionary must have been endowed with a very rare and excellent nature, or this flower of scrupulous probity would have withered beneath the deleterious and demoralizing influence of his education; but happily, as cold sometimes preserves from corruption, the icy atmosphere in which he had passed a portion of his childhood and youth had benumbed, but not vitiated, his generous qualities, which had indeed soon revived in the warm air of liberty. Father d'Aigrigny, much paler and more agitated than Gabriel, strove to excuse and explain his anxiety by attributing it to the sorrow he experienced at the rupture of his dear son with the Order. Rodin, calm, and perfectly master of himself, saw with secret rage the strong emotion of Father d'Aigrigny, which might have inspired a man less confiding than Gabriel with strange suspicions. Yet, notwithstanding his apparent indifference, the socius was perhaps still more ardently impatient than his superior for the success of this important affair. Samuel appeared quite desponding, no other heir but Gabriel having presented himself. No doubt the old man felt a lively sympathy for the young priest; but then he was a priest, and with him would finish the line of Rennepont; and this immense fortune, accumulated with so much labor, would either be again distributed, or employed otherwise than the testator had desired. The different actors in this scene were standing around the table. As they were about to seat themselves, at the invitation of the notary, Samuel pointed to the register bound in black shagreen, and said: "I was ordered, sir, to deposit here this register. It is locked. I will deliver up the key, immediately after the reading of the will."
"This course is, in fact, directed by the note which accompanies the will," said M. Dumesnil, "as it was deposited, in the year 1682, in the hands of Master Thomas Le Semelier, king's counsel, and notary of the Chatelet of Paris, then living at No. 13, Place Royale."
So saying, M. Dumesnil drew from a portfolio of red morocco a large parchment envelope, grown yellow with time; to this envelope was annexed, by a silken thread, a note also upon vellum.
"Gentlemen," said the notary, "if you please to sit down, I will read the subjoined note, to regulate the formalities at the opening of the will."
The notary, Rodin, Father d'Aigrigny, and Gabriel, took seats. The young priest, having his back turned to the fireplace, could not see the two portraits. In spite of the notary's invitation, Samuel remained standing behind the chair of that functionary, who read as follows:
"'On the 13th February, 1832, my will shall be carried to No. 3, in the Rue Saint-Francois.
"'At ten o'clock precisely, the door of the Red Room shall be opened to my heirs, who will no doubt have arrived long before at Paris, in anticipation of this day, and will have had time to establish their line of descent.
"'As soon as they are assembled, the will shall be read, and, at the last stroke of noon, the inheritance shall be finally settled in favor of those of my kindred, who according to my recommendation (preserved, I hope, by tradition in my family, during a century and a half); shall present themselves in person, and not by agents, before twelve o'clock, on the 13th of February, in the Rue Saint-Francois.'"
Having read these words in a sonorous voice, the notary stopped an instant, and resumed, in a solemn tone: "M. Gabriel Francois Marie de Rennepont, priest, having established, by legal documents, his descent on the father's side, and his relationship to the testator, and being at this hour the only one of the descendants of the Rennepont family here present, I open the testament in his presence, as it has been ordered."
So saying, the notary drew from its envelope the will, which had been previously opened by the President of the Tribunal, with the formalities required by law. Father d'Aigrigny leaned forward, and resting his elbow on the table, seemed to pant for breath. Gabriel prepared himself to listen with more curiosity than interest. Rodin was seated at some distance from the table, with his old hat between his knees, in the bottom of which, half hidden by the folds of a shabby blue cotton handkerchief, he had placed his watch. The attention of the socius was divided between the least noise from without, and the slow evolution of the hands of the watch, which he followed with his little, wrathful eye, as if hastening their progress, so great was his impatience for the hour of noon.
The notary, unfolding the sheet of parchment, read what follows, in the midst of profound attention:
Hameau de Villetaneuse,
"'February 13th, 1682.
"'I am about to escape, by death, from the disgrace of the galleys, to which the implacable enemies of my family have caused me to be condemned as a relapsed heretic.
"'Moreover, life is too bitter for me since the death of my son, the victim of a mysterious crime.
"'At nineteen years of age—poor henry!—and his murderers unknown—no, not unknown—if I may trust my presentiments.
"'To preserve my fortune for my son, I had feigned to abjure the Protestant faith. As long as that beloved boy lived, I scrupulously kept up Catholic appearances. The imposture revolted me, but the interest of my son was concerned.
"'When they killed him, this deceit became insupportable to me. I was watched, accused, and condemned as relapsed. My property has been confiscated, and I am sentenced to the galleys.
"'Tis a terrible time we live in! Misery and servitude! sanguinary despotism and religious intolerance! Oh, it is sweet to abandon life! sweet to rest and see no more such evils and such sorrows!
"'In a few hours, I shall enjoy that rest. I shall die. Let me think of those who will survive—or rather, of those who will live perhaps in better times.
"'Out of all my fortune, there remains to me a sum of fifty thousand crowns, deposited in a friend's hands.
"'I have no longer a son; but I have numerous relations, exiled in various parts of Europe. This sum of fifty thousand crowns, divided between them, would profit each of them very little. I have disposed of it differently.
"'In this I have followed the wise counsels of a man, whom I venerate as the image of God on earth, for his intelligence, wisdom, and goodness are almost divine.
"'Twice in the course of my life have I seen this man, under very fatal circumstances—twice have I owed him safety, once of the soul, once of the body.
"'Alas! he might perhaps have saved my poor child, but he came too late—too late.
"'Before he left me, he wished to divert me from the intention of dying—for he knew all. But his voice was powerless. My grief, my regret, my discouragement, were too much for him.
"'It is strange! when he was convinced of my resolution to finish my days by violence, some words of terrible bitterness escaped him, making me believe that he envied me—my fate—my death!
"'Is he perhaps condemned to live?
"'Yes; he has, no doubt, condemned himself to be useful to humanity, and yet life is heavy on him, for I heard him repeat one day, with an expression of despair and weariness that I have never forgotten: "Life! life! who will deliver me from it?"
"'Is life then so very burdensome to him?
"'He is gone. His last words have made me look for my departure with serenity. Thanks to him, my death shall not be without fruit.
"'Thanks to him, these lines, written at this moment by a man who, in a few hours, will have ceased to live, may perhaps be the parents of great things a century and a half hence—yes! great and noble things, if my last will is piously followed by my descendants, for it is to them that I here address myself.
"'That they may understand and appreciate this last will—which I commend to the care of the unborn, who dwell in the future whither I am hastening—they must know the persecutors of my family and avenge their ancestor, but by a noble vengeance.
"'My grandfather was a Catholic. Induced by perfidious counsels rather than religious zeal, he attached himself, though a layman, to a Society whose power has always been terrible and mysterious—the Society of Jesus—'"
At these words of the testament, Father d'Aigrigny, Rodin, and Gabriel looked involuntarily at each other: The notary, who had not perceived this action, continued to read:
"'After some years, during which he had never ceased to profess the most absolute devotion to this Society, he was suddenly enlightened by fearful revelations as to the secret ends it pursued, and the means it employed.
"'This was in 1510, a month before the assassination of Henry IV. "'My grandfather, terrified at the secret of which he had become the unwilling depositary, and which was to be fully explained by the death of the best of kings, not only broke with the Society, but, as if Catholicism itself had been answerable for the crimes of its members, he abandoned the Romish religion, in which he had hitherto lived, and became a Protestant.
"'Undeniable proofs, attesting the connivance of two members of the Company with Ravaillac, a connivance also proved in the case of Jean Chatel, the regicide, were in my grandfather's possession.
"'This was the first cause of the violent hatred of the Society for our family. Thank Heaven, these papers have been placed in safety, and if my last will is executed, will be found marked A. M.C. D. G., in the ebony casket in the Hall of Mourning, in the house in the Rue Saint-Francois.
"'My father was also exposed to these secret persecutions. His ruin, and perhaps his death, would have been the consequence, had it not been for the intervention of an angelic woman, towards whom he felt an almost religious veneration.
"'The portrait of this woman, whom I saw a few years ago, as well as that of the man whom I hold in the greatest reverence, were painted by me from memory, and have been placed in the Red Room in the Rue Saint-Francois—to be gratefully valued, I hope, by the descendants of my family.'"
For some moments Gabriel had become more and more attentive to the reading of this testament. He thought within himself by how strange a coincidence one of his ancestors had, two centuries before, broken with the Society of Jesus, as he himself had just done; and that from this rupture, two centuries old, dated also that species of hatred with which the Society of Jesus had always pursued his family. Nor did the young priest find it less strange that this inheritance, transmitted to him after a lapse of a hundred and fifty years, from one of his kindred (the victim of the Society of Jesus), should return by a voluntary act to the coffers of this same society. When the notary read the passage relative to the two portraits, Gabriel, who, like Father d'Aigrigny, sat with his back towards the pictures, turned round to look at them. Hardly had the missionary cast his eyes on the portrait of the woman, than he uttered a loud cry of surprise, and almost terror. The notary paused in his reading, and looked uneasily at the young priest.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE LAST STROKE OF NOON.
At the cry uttered by Gabriel, the notary had stopped reading the testament, and Father d'Aigrigny hastily drew near the young priest. The latter rose trembling from his seat and gazed with increasing stupor at the female portrait.
Then he said in a low voice, as if speaking to himself. "Good Heaven! is it possible that nature can produce such resemblances? Those eyes—so proud and yet so sad—that forehead—that pale complexion—yes, all her features, are the same—all of them!"
"My dear son, what is the matter?" said Father d'Aigrigny, as astonished as Samuel and the notary.
"Eight months ago," replied the missionary, in a voice of deep emotion, without once taking his eyes from the picture, "I was in the power of the Indians, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. They had crucified, and were beginning to scalp me; I was on the point of death, when Divine Providence sent me unexpected aid—sent me this woman for a deliverer."
"That woman!" cried Samuel, Father d'Aigrigny, and the notary, all together.
Rodin alone appeared completely indifferent to this episode of the picture. His face contracted with angry impatience, he bit his nails to the quick, as he contemplated with agony the slow progress of the hands of his watch.
"What! that woman saved your life?" resumed Father d'Aigrigny.
"Yes, this woman," replied Gabriel, in a still lower and more trembling voice; "this woman—or rather a woman so much resembling her, that if this picture had not been here for a century and a half, I should have felt sure it was the same—nor can I explain to myself that so striking a resemblance could be the effect of chance. Well," added he, after a moment's silence, as he heaved a profound sigh, "the mysteries of Nature, and the will of God, are impenetrable."
Gabriel fell back into his chair, in the midst of a general silence, which was broken by Father d'Aigrigny saying, "It is a case of extraordinary resemblance; that is all, my dear son. Only, the natural gratitude which you feel towards your benefactress, makes you take a deep interest in this singular coincidence."
Rodin, bursting with impatience, here said to the notary, by whose side he stood, "It seems to me, sir, that all this little romance has nothing to do with the testament."
"You are right," answered the notary, resuming his seat; "but the fact is so extraordinary, and as you say, romantic, that one cannot help sharing in this gentleman's astonishment."
He pointed to Gabriel, who, with his elbow resting on the arms of the chair, leaned his forehead upon his hand, apparently quite absorbed in thought. The notary continued the reading of the will, as follows:
"'Such are the persecutions to which my family has been exposed on the part of the Society of Jesus.
"'The Society possesses at this hour the whole of my confiscated property. I am about to die. May its hatred perish with me, and spare my kindred, whose fate at this solemn moment is my last and only thought.
"'This morning I sent for a man of long tried probity Isaac Samuel. He owes his life to me, and every day I congratulate myself on having been able to preserve to the world so honest and excellent a creature.
"'Before the confiscation of my property, Isaac Samuel had long managed it with as much intelligence as uprightness. I have entrusted him with the fifty thousand crowns, returned to me by a faithful friend. Isaac Samuel, and his descendants after him, to whom he will leave this debt of gratitude, will invest the above sum, and allow it to accumulate, until the expiration of the hundred and fiftieth year from this time.
"'The amount thus accumulated may become enormous, and constitute a royal fortune, if no unfavorable event should occur. May my descendants attend to my wishes, as to the division and employment of this immense sum!
"'In a century and a half, there happen so many changes, so many varieties of fortunes, such a rise and fall in the condition of the successive generations of a family, that probably, a hundred and fifty years hence, my descendants will belong to various classes of society, and thus represent the divers social elements of their time.
"'There may, perhaps, be among them men of great intelligence great courage, or great virtue—learned men, or names illustrious in arts and arms. There may, perhaps, also be obscure workmen, or humble citizens—perhaps, also, alas! great criminals.
"'However, this may be, my most earnest desire is that my descendants should combine together, and, reconstituting one family, by a close and sincere union, put into practice the divine words of Christ, "Love ye one another."
"'This union would have a salutary tendency; for it seems to me that upon union, upon the association of men together, must depend the future happiness of mankind.
"'The Company, which so long persecuted my family, is one of the most striking examples of the power of association, even when applied to evil.
"'There is something so fruitful and divine in this principle, that it sometimes forces to good the worst and most dangerous combinations.
"'Thus, the missions have thrown a scanty but pure and generous light on the darkness of this Company of Jesus—founded with the detestable and impious aim of destroying, by a homicidal education, all will, thought, liberty, and intelligence, in the people, so as to deliver them, trembling, superstitious, brutal, and helpless, to the despotism of kings, governed in their turn by confessors belonging to the Society.'"
At this passage of the will, there was another strange look exchanged between Gabriel and Father d'Aigrigny. The notary continued:
"'If a perverse association, based upon the degradation of humanity, upon fear and despotism, and followed by the maledictions of the people, has survived for centuries, and often governed the world by craft and terror—how would it be with an association, which, taking fraternity and evangelic love for its means, had for its end to deliver man and woman from all degrading slavery, to invite to the enjoyment of terrestrial happiness those who have hitherto known nothing of life but its sorrows and miseries, and to glorify and enrich the labor that feeds the state?—to enlighten those whom ignorance has depraved?—to favor the free expansion of all the passions, which God, in His infinite wisdom, and inexhaustible goodness, gave to man as so many powerful levers?—to sanctify all the gifts of Heaven: love, maternity, strength, intelligence, beauty, genius?—to make men truly religious, and deeply grateful to their Creator, by making them understand the splendors of Nature, and bestowing on them their rightful share in the treasures which have been poured upon us?
"'Oh! if it be Heaven's will that, in a century and a half, the descendants of my family, faithful to the last wishes of a heart that loved humanity, meet in this sacred union!—if it be Heaven's will that amongst them be found charitable and passionate souls, full of commiseration for those who suffer, and lofty minds, ardent for liberty! warm and eloquent natures! resolute characters! women, who unite beauty and wit with goodness—oh! then, how fruitful, how powerful will be the harmonious union of all these ideas, and influences, and forces—of all these attractions grouped round that princely fortune, which, concentrated by association, and wisely managed, would render practicable the most admirable Utopias!
"'What a wondrous centre of fertile and generous thoughts! What precious and life-giving rays would stream incessantly from this focus of charity, emancipation, and love! What great things might be attempted what magnificent examples given to the world! What a divine mission! What an irresistible tendency towards good might be impressed on the whole human race by a family thus situated, and in possession of such means!
"'And, then, such a beneficent association would be able to combat the fatal conspiracy of which I am the victim, and which, in a century and a half, may have lost none of its formidable power.
"'So, to this work of darkness, restraint, and despotism, which weighs heavily on the Christian world, my family would oppose their work of light, expansion, and liberty!
"'The genii of good and evil would stand face to face. The struggle would commence, and God would protect the right.
"'And that these immense pecuniary resources, which will give so much power to my family, may not be exhausted by the course of years, my heirs, following my last will, are to place out, upon the same conditions, double the sum that I have invested—so that, a century and a half later, a new source of power and action will be at the disposal of their descendants. What a perpetuity of good!
"'In the ebony cabinet of the Hall of Mourning will be found some practical suggestions on the subject of this association.
"'Such is my last will—or rather, such are my last hopes.
"'When I require absolutely that the members of my family should appear in person in the Rue Saint-Francois, on the day of the opening of this testament, it is so that, united in that solemn moment, they may see and know each other. My words may then, perhaps, have some effect upon them; and, instead of living divided, they will combine together. It will be for their own interest, and my wishes will thus be accomplished.
"'When I sent, a few days ago, to those of my family whom exile has dispersed over Europe, a medal on which is engravers the date of the convocation of my heirs, a century and a half from this time, I was forced to keep secret my true motive, and only to tell them, that my descendants would find it greatly to their interest to attend this meeting.
"'I have acted thus, because I know the craft and perseverance of the society of which I have been the victim. If they could guess that my descendants would hereafter have to divide immense sums between them, my family would run the risk of much fraud and malice, through the fatal recommendations handed down from age to age in the Society of Jesus.
"'May these precautions be successful! May the wish, expressed upon these medals, be faithfully transmitted from generation to generation!
"'If I fix a day and hour, in which my inheritance shall irrevocably fall to those of my descendants who shall appear in the Rue Saint-Francois on the 13th February, in 1832, it is that all delays must have a term, and that my heirs will have been sufficiently informed years before of the great importance of this meeting.
"'After the reading of my testament, the person who shall then be the trustee of the accumulated funds, shall make known their amount, so that, with the last stroke of noon, they may be divided between my heirs then and there present.
"'The different apartments of the house shall then be opened to them. They will see in them divers objects, well worthy of interest, pity, and respect—particularly in the Hall of Mourning.
"'My desire is, that the house may not be sold, but that it may remain furnished as it is, and serve as a place of meeting for my descendants, if, as I hope, they attend to my last wishes.
"'If, on the contrary, they are divided amongst themselves—if, instead of uniting for one of the most generous enterprises that ever signalized an age, they yield to the influence of selfish passions—if they prefer a sterile individuality to a fruitful association—if, in this immense fortune, they see only an opportunity for frivolous dissipation, or sordid interest—may they be accursed by all those whom they might have loved, succored, and disfettered!—and then let this house be utterly demolished and destroyed, and the papers, of which Isaac Samuel possesses the inventory, as well as the two portraits in the Red Room, be burnt by the guardian of the property.
"'I have spoken. My duty is accomplished. In all this, I have followed the counsels of the man whom I revere and love as the image of God upon earth.
"'The faithful friend, who preserved for me the fifty thousand crowns, the wreck of my fortune, knows the use I mean to make of them. I could not refuse his friendship this mark of confidence. But I have concealed from him the name of Isaac Samuel—for to have mentioned it might have exposed this latter and his descendants to great dangers.
"'In a short time, this friend, who knows not that my resolution to die is so near its accomplishment, will come hither with my notary. Into their hands, after the usual formalities, I shall deliver my sealed testament.
"'Such is my last will. I leave its execution to the superintending care of Providence. God will protect the cause of love, peace, union, and liberty.
"'This mystic testament,(20) having been freely made by me, and written entirely with my own hand, I intend and will its scrupulous execution both in spirit and the letter.
"'This 13th day of February, 1682, at one o'clock in the afternoon.
"'MARIUS DE RENNEPONT.'"
As the notary had proceeded with the reading of the testament, Gabriel was successively agitated by divers painful impressions. At first, as we have before said, he was struck with the singular fatality which restored this immense fortune, derived from a victim of the Society of Jesus, to the hands of that very association, by the renewal of his deed of gift. Then, as his charitable and lofty soul began fully to comprehend the admirable tendency of the association so earnestly recommended by Marius de Rennepont, he reflected with bitter remorse, that, in consequence of his act of renunciation, and of the absence of any other heir, this great idea would never be realized, and a fortune, far more considerable than had even been expected, would fall to the share of an ill-omened society, in whose hands it would become a terrible means of action. At the same time, it must be said that the soul of Gabriel was too pure and noble to feel the slightest personal regret, on hearing the great probable value of the property he had renounced. He rejoiced rather in withdrawing his mind, by a touching contrast, from the thought of the wealth he had abandoned, to the humble parsonage, where he hoped to pass the remainder of his life, in the practice of most evangelical virtue.
These ideas passed confusedly through his brain. The sight of that woman's portrait, the dark revelations contained in the testament, the grandeur of the views exhibited in this last will of M. de Rennepont, all these extraordinary incidents had thrown Gabriel into a sort of stupor, in which he was still plunged, when Samuel offered the key of the register to the notary, saying: "You will find, sir, in this register, the exact statement of the sums in my possession, derived from the investment and accumulation of the one hundred and fifty thousand francs, entrusted to my grandfather by M. Marius de Rennepont."
"Your grandfather!" cried Father d'Aigrigny, with the utmost surprise; "it is then your family that has always had the management of this property."
"Yes, sir; and, in a few minutes, my wife will bring hither the casket which contains the vouchers."
"And to what sum does this property amount?" asked Rodin, with an air of the most complete indifference.
"As M. Notary may convince himself by this statement," replied Samuel, with perfect frankness, and as if he were only talking of the original one hundred and fifty thousand francs, "I have in my possession various current securities to the amount of two hundred and twelve millions, one hundred and seventy—"
"You say, sir'" cried Father d'Aigrigny, without giving Samuel time to finish, for the odd money did not at all interest his reverence.
"Yes, the sum!" added Rodin, in an agitated voice, and, for the first time, perhaps, in his life losing his presence of mind; "the sum—the sum—the sum!"
"I say, sir," resumed the old man, "that I hold securities for two hundred and twelve millions, one hundred and seventy-five thousand francs, payable to self or bearer—as you may soon convince yourself, M. Notary, for here is my wife with the casket."
Indeed, at this moment, Bathsheba entered, holding in her arms the cedar wood chest, which contained the securities in question; she placed it upon the table, and withdrew, after exchanging an affectionate glance with Samuel. When the latter declared the enormous amount of the sum in hand, his words were received with silent stupor. All the actors in this scene, except himself, believed that they were the sport of some delusion. Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin had counted upon forty millions. This sum, in itself enormous, was more than quintupled. Gabriel, when he heard the notary read those passages in the testament, which spoke of a princely fortune, being quite ignorant of the prodigious effects of eligible investments, had valued the property at some three or four millions. He was, therefore, struck dumb with amazement at the exorbitant amount named. Notwithstanding his admirable disinterestedness and scrupulous honor, he felt dazzled and giddy at the thought, that all these immense riches might have belonged to him—alone. The notary, almost as much amazed as Gabriel, examined the statement, and could hardly believe his eyes. The Jew also remained mute, and seemed painfully absorbed in thought, that no other heir made his appearance.
In the depth of this profound silence, the clock in the next room began slowly to strike twelve. Samuel started, and heaved a deep sigh. A few seconds more, and the fatal term would be at an end. Rodin, Father d'Aigrigny, Gabriel, and the notary, were all under the influence of such complete surprise, that not one of them even remarked how strange it was to hear the sound of this clock.
"Noon!" cried Rodin, as, by an involuntary movement, he hastily placed his two hands upon the casket, as if to take possession of it.
"At last!" cried Father d'Aigrigny, with an expression of joy, triumph transport, which it is impossible to describe. Then he added, as he threw himself into Gabriel's arms, whom he embraced warmly: "Oh, my dear son! how the poor will bless you! You will be a second Vincent de Paul. You will be canonized, I promise you."
"Let us first thank Providence," said Rodin, in a grave and solemn tone, as he fell upon his knees, "let us thank Providence, that He has permitted so much wealth to be employed for His glory!"'
Father d'Aigrigny, having again embraced Gabriel, took him by the hand, and said: "Rodin is right. Let us kneel, my dear son, and render thanks to Providence!"
So saying, Father d'Aigrigny knelt down, dragging Gabriel with him, and the latter, confused and giddy with so many precipitate events, yielded mechanically to the impulse. It was the last stroke of twelve when they all rose together.
Then said the notary, in a slightly agitated voice, for there was something extraordinary and solemn in this scene—
"No other heir of M. Marius de Rennepont having presented himself, before noon on this day, I execute the will of the testator, by declaring, in the name of law and justice, that M. Francois Marie Gabriel de Rennepont, here present, is the sole heir and possessor of all the estate, real and personal, bequeathed under the said will; all which estate the said Gabriel de Rennepont, priest, has freely and voluntarily made over by deed of gift to Frederic Emanuel de Bordeville, Marquis d'Aigrigny, priest, who has accepted the same, and is, therefore, the only legal holder of such property, in the room of the said Gabriel de Rennepont, by virtue of the said deed, drawn up and engrossed by me this morning, and signed in my presence by the said Gabriel de Rennepont and Frederic d'Aigrigny."
At this moment, the sound of loud voices was heard from the garden. Bathsheba entered hastily, and said to her husband with an agitated air: "Samuel—a soldier—who insists—"
She had not time to finish. Dagobert appeared at the door of the Red Room. The soldier was fearfully pale. He seemed almost fainting; his left arm was in a sling, and he leaned upon Agricola. At sight of Dagobert, the pale and flabby eyelids of Rodin were suddenly distended, as if all the blood in his body had flowed towards the head. Then the socius threw himself upon the casket, with the haste of ferocious rage and avidity, as if he were resolved to cover it with his body, and defend it at the peril of his life.
(20) This term is sanctioned by legal usage.
CHAPTER XXV. THE DEED OF GIFT.
Father d'Aigrigny did not recognize Dagobert, and had never seen Agricola. He could not therefore, at first explain the kind of angry alarm exhibited by Rodin. But the reverend father understood it all, when he heard Gabriel utter a cry of joy, and saw him rush into the arms of the smith, exclaiming: "My brother! my second father—oh! it is heaven that sends you to me."
Having pressed Gabriel's hand, Dagobert advanced towards Father d'Aigrigny, with a rapid but unsteady step. As he remarked the soldier's threatening countenance, the reverend father, strong in his acquired rights, and feeling that, since noon, he was at home here; drew back a little, and said imperiously to the veteran: "Who are you, sir!—What do you want here?"
Instead of answering, the soldier continued to advance, then, stopping just facing Father d'Aigrigny, he looked at him for a second with such an astounding mixture of curiosity, disdain, aversion, and audacity, that the ex-colonel of hussars quailed before the pale face and glowing eye of the veteran. The notary and Samuel, struck with surprise, remained mute spectators of this scene, while Agricola and Gabriel followed with anxiety Dagobert's least movements. As for Rodin, he pretended to be leaning on the casket, in order still to cover it with his body.
Surmounting at length the embarrassment caused by the steadfast look of the soldier, Father d'Aigrigny raised his head, and repeated. "I ask you, sir, who you are, and what you want?"
"Do you not recognize me?" said Dagobert, hardly able to restrain himself.
"In truth," returned the soldier, with profound contempt, "You cast down your eyes for shame when, at Leipsic, you fought for the Russians against the French, and when General Simon, covered with wounds, answered you, renegade that you were, when you asked him for his sword, 'I do not surrender to a traitor!'—and dragged himself along to one of the Russian grenadiers, to whom he yielded up his weapon. Well! there was then a wounded soldier by the side of General Simon—I am he."
"In brief, sir, what do you want?" said Father d'Aigrigny, hardly, able to control himself.
"I have come to unmask you—you, that are as false and hateful a priest, as Gabriel is admirable and beloved by all."
"Sir!" cried the marquis, becoming livid with rage and emotion.
"I tell you, that you are infamous," resumed the soldier, with still greater force. "To rob Marshal Simon's daughters, and Gabriel, and Mdlle. de Cardoville of their inheritance, you have had recourse to the most shameful means."
"What do you say?" cried Gabriel. "The daughters of Marshal Simon?"
"Are your relations, my dear boy, as is also that worthy Mdlle. de Cardoville, the benefactress of Agricola. Now, this priest," he added, pointing to Father d'Aigrigny, "has had them shut up—the one as mad, in a lunatic asylum—the others in a convent. As for you, my dear boy, I did not hope to find you here, believing that they would have prevented you, like the others, from coming hither this morning. But, thank God, you are here, and I arrive in time. I should have been sooner, but for my wound. I have lost so much blood, that I have done nothing but faint all the morning."
"Truly!" cried Gabriel, with uneasiness. "I had not remarked your arm in a sling. What is the wound?"
At a sign from Agricola, Dagobert answered: "Nothing; the consequence of a fall. But here I am, to unveil many infamies."
It is impossible to paint the curiosity, anguish, surprise, or fear, of the different actors in this scene, as they listened to Dagobert's threatening words. But the most overcome was Gabriel. His angelic countenance was distorted, his knees trembled under him. Struck by the communication of Dagobert which revealed the existence of other heirs, he was unable to speak for some time; at length, he cried out, in a tone of despair: "And it is I—oh, God! I—who am the cause of the spoliation of this family!"
"You, brother?" exclaimed Agricola.
"Did they not wish to rob you also?" added Dagobert.
"The will," cried Gabriel, with increasing agony, "gave the property to those of the heirs that should appear before noon."
"Well?" said Dagobert, alarmed at the emotion of the young priest.
"Twelve o'clock has struck," resumed the latter. "Of all the family, I alone was present. Do you understand it now? The term is expired. The heirs have been thrust aside by me!"
"By you!" said Dagobert, stammering with joy. "By you, my brave boy! then all is well."
"All is well," resumed Dagobert, radiant with delight. "You will share with the others—I know you."
"But all this property I have irrevocably, made over to another," cried Gabriel, in despair.
"Made over the property!" cried Dagobert, quite petrified. "To whom, then?—to whom?"
"To this gentleman," said Gabriel, pointing to Father d'Aigrigny.
"To him!" exclaimed Dagobert, overwhelmed by the news; "to him—the renegade—who has always been the evil genius of this family!"
"But, brother," cried Agricola, "did you then know your claim to this inheritance?"
"No," answered the young priest, with deep dejection; "no—I only learned it this morning, from Father d'Aigrigny. He told me, that he had only recently been informed of my rights, by family papers long ago found upon me, and sent by our mother to her confessor."
A sudden light seemed to dawn upon the mind of the smith, as he exclaimed: "I understand it all now. They discovered in these papers, that you would one day have a chance of becoming rich. Therefore, they interested themselves about you—therefore, they took you into their college, where we could never see you—therefore, they deceived you in your vocation by shameful falsehoods, to force you to become a priest, and to lead you to make this deed of gift. Oh, sir!" resumed Agricola, turning towards Father d'Aigrigny, with indignation, "my father is right—such machinations are indeed infamous!"
During this scene, the reverend father and his socius, at first alarmed and shaken in their audacity, had by degrees recovered all their coolness. Rodin, still leaning upon the casket, had said a few words in a low voice to Father d'Aigrigny. So that when Agricola, carried away by his indignation, reproached the latter with his infamous machinations, he bowed his head humbly, and answered: "We are bound to forgive injuries, and offer them to the Lord as a mark of our humility."
Dagobert, confounded at all he had just heard, felt his reason begin to wander. After so much anxiety, his strength failed beneath this new and terrible blow. Agricola's just and sensible words, in connection with certain passages of the testament, at once enlightened Gabriel as to the views of Father d'Aigrigny, in taking charge of his education, and leading him to join the Society of Jesus. For the first time in his life, Gabriel was able to take in at a glance all the secret springs of the dark intrigue, of which he had been the victim. Then, indignation and despair surmounting his natural timidity, the missionary, with flashing eye, and cheeks inflamed with noble wrath, exclaimed, as he addressed Father d'Aigrigny: "So, father, when you placed me in one of your colleges, it was not from any feeling of kindness or commiseration, but only in the hope of bringing me one day to renounce in favor of your Order my share in this inheritance; and it did not even suffice you to sacrifice me to your cupidity, but I must also be rendered the involuntary instrument of a shameful spoliation! If only I were concerned—if you only coveted my claim to all this wealth, I should not complain. I am the minister of a religion which honors and sanctifies poverty; I have consented to the donation in your favor, and I have not, I could never have any claim upon it. But property is concerned which belong to poor orphans, brought from a distant exile by my adopted father, and I will not see them wronged. But the benefactress of my adopted brother is concerned, and I will not see her wronged. But the last will of a dying man is concerned, who, in his ardent love of humanity, bequeathed to his descendants an evangelic mission—an admirable mission of progress, love, union, liberty—and I will not see this mission blighted in its bud. No, no; I tell you, that this his mission shall be accomplished, though I have to cancel the donation I have made."
On these words, Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin looked at each other with a slight shrug of the shoulders. At a sign from the socius, the reverend father began to speak with immovable calmness, in a slow and sanctified voice, keeping eyes constantly cast down: "There are many incidents connected with this inheritance of M. de Rennepont, which appear very complicated—many phantoms, which seem un usually menacing—and yet, nothing could be really more simple and natural. Let us proceed in regular order. Let us put aside all these calumnious imputations; we will return to them afterwards. M. Gabriel de Rennepont—and I humbly beg him to contradict me, if I depart in the least instance from the exact truth—M. Gabriel de Rennepont, in acknowledgment of the care formerly bestowed on him by the society to which I have the honor to belong, made over to me, as its representative, freely and voluntarily, all the property that might come to him one day, the value of which was unknown to him, as well as to myself."
Father d'Aigrigny here looked at Gabriel, as if appealing to him for the truth of this statement.
"It is true," said the young priest: "I made this donation freely."
"This morning, in consequence of a private conversation, which I will not repeat—and in this, I am certain beforehand, of the Abbe Gabriel—"
"True," replied Gabriel, generously; "the subject of this conversation is of little importance."
"It was then, in consequence of this conversation that the Abbe Gabriel manifested the desire to confirm this donation—not in my favor, for I have little to do with earthly wealth—but in favor of the sacred and charitable works of which our Company is the trustee. I appeal to the honor of M. Gabriel to declare if he have not engaged himself towards us, not only by a solemn oath, but by a perfectly legal act, executed in presence of M. Dumesnil, here present?"
"It is all true," answered Gabriel.
"The deed was prepared by me," added the notary.
"But Gabriel could only give you what belonged to him," cried Dagobert. "The dear boy never supposed that you were making use of him to rob other people."
"Do me the favor, sir, to allow me to explain myself," replied Father d'Aigrigny, courteously; "you can afterwards make answer."
Dagobert repressed with difficulty his painful impatience. The reverend father continued: "The Abbe Gabriel has therefore, by the double engagement of an oath and a legal act, confirmed his donation. Much more," resumed Father d'Aigrigny: "when to his great astonishment and to ours, the enormous amount of the inheritance became known, the Abbe Gabriel, faithful to his own admirable generosity, far from repenting of his gifts, consecrated them once more by a pious movement of gratitude to Providence—for M. Notary will doubtless remember, that, after embracing the Abbe Gabriel with transport, and telling him that he was a second Vincent de Paul in charity, I took him by the hand, and we both knelt down together to thank heaven for having inspired him with the thought too offer these immense riches to the Greater Glory of the Lord."
"That is true, also," said Gabriel, honestly; "so long as myself was concerned, though I might be astounded for a moment by the revelation of so enormous a fortune, I did not think for an instant of cancelling the donation I had freely made."
"Under these circumstances," resumed Father d'Aigrigny, "the hour fixed for the settlement of the inheritance having struck, and Abbe Gabriel being the only heir that presented himself, he became necessarily the only legitimate possessor of this immense wealth—enormous, no doubt—and charity makes me rejoice that it is enormous, for, thanks to it, many miseries will be relieved and many tears wiped away. But, all on a sudden, here comes this gentleman," said Father d'Aigrigny, pointing to Dagobert; "and, under some delusion, which I forgive from the bottom of my soul, and which I am sure he will himself regret, accuses me, with insults and threats, with having carried off (I know not where) some persons (I know not whom), in order to prevent their being here at the proper time—"
"Yes, I accuse you of this infamy!" cried the soldier exasperated by the calmness and audacity of the reverend father: "yes—and I will—"
"Once again, sir, I conjure you to be so good as to let me finish; you can reply afterwards," said Father d'Aigrigny, humbly, in the softest and most honeyed accents.
"Yes, I will reply, and confound you!" cried Dagobert.
"Let him finish, father. You can speak presently," said Agricola.
The soldier was silent as Father d'Aigrigny continued with new assurance: "Doubtless, if there should really be any other heirs, besides the Abbe Gabriel, it is unfortunate for them that they have not appeared in proper time. And if, instead of defending the cause of the poor and needy, I had only to look to my own interest, I should be far from availing myself of this advantage, due only to chance; but, as a trustee for the great family of the poor, I am obliged to maintain my absolute right to this inheritance; and I do not doubt that M. Notary will acknowledge the validity of my claim, and deliver to me these securities, which are now my legitimate property."
"My only mission," replied the notary, in an agitated voice, "is faithfully to execute the will of the testator. The Abbe Gabriel de Rennepont alone presented himself, within the term fixed by the testament. The deed of gift is in due form; I cannot refuse, therefore, to deliver to the person named in the deed the amount of the heritage—"
On these words Samuel hid his face in his hands, and heaved a deep sigh; he was obliged to acknowledge the rigorous justice of the notary's observations.
"But, sir," cried Dagobert, addressing the man of law, "this cannot be. You will not allow two poor orphans to be despoiled. It is in the name of their father and mother that I speak to you. I give you my honor—the honor of a soldier!—that they took advantage of the weakness of my wife to carry the daughters of Marshal Simon to a convent, and thus prevent me bringing them here this morning. It is so true, that I have already laid my charge before a magistrate."
"And what answer did you receive?" said the notary.
"That my deposition was not sufficient for the law to remove these young girls from the convent in which they were, and that inquiries would be made—"
"Yes, sir," added Agricola, "and it was the same with regard to Mdlle. de Cardoville, detained as mad in a lunatic asylum, though in the full enjoyment of her reason. Like Marshal Simon's daughters, she too has a claim to this inheritance. I took the same steps for her, as my father took for Marshal Simon's daughters."
"Well?" asked the notary.
"Unfortunately, sir," answered Agricola, "they told me; as they did my father, that my deposition would not suffice, and that they must make inquiries."
At this moment, Bathsheba, having heard the street-bell ring, left the Red Room at a sign from Samuel. The notary resumed, addressing Agricola and his father: "Far be it from me, gentlemen, to call in question your good faith; but I cannot, to my great regret, attach such importance to your accusations, which are not supported by proof, as to suspend the regular legal course. According to your own confession, gentlemen, the authorities, to whom you addressed yourselves, did not see fit to interfere on your depositions, and told you they would inquire further. Now, really, gentlemen, I appeal to you: how can I, in so serious a matter, take upon myself a responsibility, which the magistrates themselves have refused to take?"
"Yes, you should do so, in the name of justice and honor?" cried Dagobert.
"It may be so, sir, in your opinion; but in my view of the case, I remain faithful to justice and honor, by executing with exactness the last will of the dead. For the rest you have no occasion to despair. If the persons, whose interests you represent, consider themselves injured, they may hereafter have recourse to an action at law, against the person receiving as donee of the Abbe Gabriel—but in the meanwhile, it is my duty to put him in immediate possession of the securities. I should be gravely injured, were I to act in any, other manner."
The notary's observations seemed so reasonable, that Samuel, Dagobert and Agricola were quite confounded. After a moment's thought, Gabriel appeared to take a desperate resolution, and said to the notary, in a firm voice—
"Since, under these circumstances, the law is powerless to obtain the right, I must adopt, sir, an extreme course. Before doing so, I will ask M. l'Abbe d'Aigrigny, for the last time, if he will content himself with that portion of the property which falls justly to me, on condition that the rest shall be placed in safe hands, till the heirs, whose names have been brought forward, shall prove their claim."
"To this proposition I must answer as I have done already," replied Father d'Aigrigny; "it is not I who am concerned, but an immense work of charity. I am, therefore, obliged to refuse the part-offer of the Abbe Gabriel, and to remind him of his engagements of every kind."
"Then you refuse this arrangement?" asked Gabriel, in an agitated voice.
"Charity commands me to do so."
"You refuse it—absolutely?"
"I think of all the good and pious institutions that these treasures will enable us to establish for the Greater Glory of the Lord, and I have neither the courage nor the desire to make the least concession."
"Then, sir," resumed the good priest, in a still more agitated manner, "since you force me to do it, I revoke my donation. I only intended to dispose of my own property, and not of that which did not belong to me."
"Take care M. l'Abbe," said rather d'Aigrigny; "I would observe that I hold in my hand a written, formal promise."
"I know it, sir; you have a written paper, in which I take an oath never to revoke this donation, upon any pretext whatever, and on pain of incurring the aversion and contempt of all honest men. Well, sir! be it so," said Gabriel, with deep bitterness; "I will expose myself to all the consequences of perjury; you may proclaim it everywhere. I may be hated and despised by all—but God will judge me!" The young priest dried a tear, which trickled from his eye.
"Oh! do not be afraid, my dear boy!" cried Dagobert, with reviving hope. "All honest men will be on your side!"
"Well done, brother!" said Agricola.
"M. Notary," said Rodin, in his little sharp voice, "please to explain to Abbe Gabriel, that he may perjure himself as much as he thinks fit, but that the Civil Code is much less easy to violate than a mere promise, which is only—sacred!"
"Speak, sir," said Gabriel.
"Please to inform Abbe Gabriel," resumed Rodin, "that a deed of gift, like that made in favor of Father d'Aigrigny, can only be cancelled for one of three reasons—is it not so?"
"Yes, sir, for three reasons," said the notary.
"The first is in case of the birth of a child," said Rodin, "and I should blush to mention such a contingency to the Abbe Gabriel. The second is the ingratitude of the donee—and the Abbe Gabriel may be certain of our deep and lasting gratitude. The last case is the non-fulfilment of the wishes of the donor, with regard to the employment of his gifts.
"Now, although the Abbe Gabriel may have suddenly conceived a very bad opinion of us, he will at least give us some time to show that his gifts have been disposed of according to his wishes, and applied to the Greater Glory of the Lord."
"Now, M. Notary," added Father d'Aigrigny, "it is for you to decide and say, if Abbe Gabriel can revoke the donation he has made."
Just as the notary was going to answer, Bathsheba reentered the room, followed by two more personages, who appeared in the Red Room at a little distance from each other.
PART SECOND.—THE CHASTISEMENT. (Concluded.)
XXVI. A Good Genius XXVII. The First Last, And the Last First XXVIII. The Stranger XXIX. The Den XXX. An Unexpected Visit XXXI. Friendly Services XXXII. The Advice XXXIII. The Accuser XXXIV. Father d'Aigrigny's Secretary XXXV. Sympathy XXXVI. Suspicions XXXVII. Excuses XXXVIII. Revelations XXXIX. Pierre Simon
CHAPTER XXVI. A GOOD GENIUS.
The first of the two, whose arrival had interrupted the answer of the notary, was Faringhea. At sight of this man's forbidding countenance, Samuel approached, and said to him: "Who are you, sir?"
After casting a piercing glance at Rodin, who started but soon recovered his habitual coolness, Faringhea replied to Samuel: "Prince Djalma arrived lately from India, in order to be present here this day, as it was recommended to him by an inscription on a medal, which he wore about his neck."
"He, also!" cried Gabriel, who had been the shipmate of the Indian Prince from the Azores, where the vessel in which he came from Alexandria had been driven into port: "he also one of the heirs! In fact, the prince told me during the voyage that his mother was of French origin. But, doubtless, he thought it right to conceal from me the object of his journey. Oh! that Indian is a noble and courageous young man. Where is he?"
The Strangler again looked at Rodin, and said, laying strong emphasis upon his words: "I left the prince yesterday evening. He informed me that, although he had a great interest to be here, he might possibly sacrifice that interest to other motives. I passed the night in the same hotel, and this morning, when I went to call on him, they told me he was already gone out. My friendship for him led me to come hither, hoping the information I should be able to give might be of use to the prince."
In making no mention of the snare into which he had fallen the day before, in concealing Rodin's machinations with regard to Djalma, and in attributing the absence of this latter to a voluntary cause, the Strangler evidently wished to serve the socius, trusting that Rodin would know how to recompense his discretion. It is useless to observe, that all this story was impudently false. Having succeeded that morning in escaping from his prison by a prodigious effort of cunning, audacity, and skill, he had run to the hotel where he had left Djalma; there he had learned that a man and woman, of an advanced age, and most respectable appearance, calling themselves relations of the young Indian, had asked to see him—and that, alarmed at the dangerous state of somnolency in which he seemed to be plunged, they had taken him home in their carriage, in order to pay him the necessary attention.
"It is unfortunate," said the notary, "that this heir also did not make his appearance—but he has, unhappily, forfeited his right to the immense inheritance that is in question."
"Oh! an immense inheritance is in question," said Faringhea, looking fixedly at Rodin, who prudently turned away his eyes.
The second of the two personages we have mentioned entered at this moment. It was the father of Marshal Simon, an old man of tall stature, still active and vigorous for his age. His hair was white and thin. His countenance, rather fresh-colored, was expressive at once of quickness, mildness and energy.
Agricola advanced hastily to meet him. "You here, M. Simon!" he exclaimed.
"Yes, my boy," said the marshal's father, cordially pressing Agricola's hand "I have just arrived from my journey. M. Hardy was to have been here, about some matter of inheritance, as he supposed: but, as he will still be absent from Paris for some time, he has charged me—"
"He also an heir!—M. Francis Hardy!" cried Agricola, interrupting the old workman.
"But how pale and agitated you are, my boy!" said the marshal's father, looking round with astonishment. "What is the matter?"
"What is the matter?" cried Dagobert, in despair, as he approached the foreman. "The matter is that they would rob your granddaughters, and that I have brought them from the depths of Siberia only to witness this shameful deed!"
"Eh?" cried the old workman, trying to recognize the soldiers face, "you are then—"
"You—the generous, devoted friend of my son!" cried the marshal's father, pressing the hands of Dagobert in his own with strong emotion; "but did you not speak of Simon's daughter?"
"Of his daughters; for he is more fortunate than he imagines," said Dagobert. "The poor children are twins."
"And where are they?" asked the old man.
"In a convent."
"In a convent?"
"Yes; by the treachery of this man, who keeps them there in order to disinherit them."
"The Marquis d'Aigrigny."
"My son's mortal enemy!" cried the old workman, as he threw a glance of aversion at Father d'Aigrigny, whose audacity did not fail him.
"And that is not all," added Agricola. "M. Hardy, my worthy and excellent master, has also lost his right to this immense inheritance."
"What?" cried Marshal Simon's father; "but M. Hardy did not know that such important interests were concerned. He set out hastily to join one of his friends who was in want of him."
At each of these successive revelations, Samuel felt his trouble increase: but he could only sigh over it, for the will of the testator was couched, unhappily, in precise and positive terms.
Father d'Aigrigny, impatient to end this scene, which caused him cruel embarrassment, in spite of his apparent calmness, said to the notary, in a grave and expressive voice: "It is necessary, sir, that all this should have an end. If calumny could reach me, I would answer victoriously by the facts that have just come to light. Why attribute to odious conspiracies the absence of the heirs, in whose names this soldier and his son have so uncourteously urged their demands? Why should such absence be less explicable than the young Indian's, or than M. Hardy's, who, as his confidential man has just told us, did not even know the importance of the interests that called him hither? Is it not probable, that the daughters of Marshal Simon, and Mdlle. de Cardoville have been prevented from coming here to-day by some very natural reasons? But, once again, this has lasted too long. I think M. Notary will agree with me, that this discovery of new heirs does not at all affect the question, which I had the honor to propose to him just now; namely whether, as trustee for the poor, to whom Abbe Gabriel made a free gift of all he possessed, I remain notwithstanding his tardy and illegal opposition, the only possessor of this property, which I have promised, and which I now again promise, in presence of all here assembled, to employ for the Greater Glory of the Lord? Please to answer me plainly, M. Notary; and thus terminate the scene which must needs be painful to us all."
"Sir," replied the notary, in a solemn tone, "on my soul and conscience, and in the name of law and justice—as a faithful and impartial executor of the last will of M. Marius de Rennepont, I declare that, by virtue of the deed of gift of Abbe Gabriel de Rennepont, you, M. l'Abbe d'Aigrigny, are the only possessor of this property, which I place at your immediate disposal, that you may employ the same according to the intention of the donor."
These words pronounced with conviction and gravity, destroyed the last vague hopes that the representatives of the heirs might till then have entertained. Samuel became paler than usual, and pressed convulsively the hand of Bathsheba, who had drawn near to him. Large tears rolled down the cheeks of the two old people. Dagobert and Agricola were plunged into the deepest dejection. Struck with the reasoning of the notary, who refused to give more credence and authority to their remonstrances than the magistrates had done before him, they saw themselves forced to abandon every hope. But Gabriel suffered more than any one; he felt the most terrible remorse, in reflecting that, by his blindness, he had been the involuntary cause and instrument of this abominable theft.
So, when the notary, after having examined and verified the amount of securities contained in the cedar box, said to Father d'Aigrigny: "Take possession, sir, of this casket—" Gabriel exclaimed, with bitter disappointment and profound despair: "Alas! one would fancy, under these circumstances, that an inexorable fatality pursues all those who are worthy of interest, affection or respect. Oh, my God!" added the young priest, clasping his hands with fervor, "Thy sovereign justice will never permit the triumph of such iniquity."
It was as if heaven had listened to the prayer of the missionary. Hardly had he spoken, when a strange event took place.
Without waiting for the end of Gabriel's invocation, Rodin, profiting by the decision of the notary, had seized the casket in his arms, unable to repress a deep aspiration of joy and triumph. At the very moment when Father d'Aigrigny and his socius thought themselves at last in safe possession of the treasure, the door of the apartment in which the clock had been heard striking was suddenly opened.
A woman appeared upon the threshold.
At sight of her, Gabriel uttered a loud cry, and remained as if thunderstruck. Samuel and Bathsheba fell on their knees together, and raised their clasped hands. The Jew and Jewess felt inexplicable hopes reviving within them.
All the other actors in this scene appeared struck with stupor. Rodin—Rodin himself—recoiled two steps, and replaced the casket on the table with a trembling hand. Though the incident might appear natural enough—a woman appearing on the threshold of a door, which she had just thrown open—there was a pause of deep and solemn silence. Every bosom seemed oppressed, and as if struggling for breath. All experienced, at sight of this woman, surprise mingled with fear, and indefinable anxiety—for this woman was the living original of the portrait, which had been placed in the room a hundred and fifty years ago. The same head-dress, the same flowing robe, the same countenance, so full of poignant and resigned grief! She advanced slowly, and without appearing to perceive the deep impression she had caused. She approached one of the pieces of furniture, inlaid with brass, touched a spring concealed in the moulding of gilded bronze, so that an upper drawer flew open, and taking from it a sealed parchment envelope, she walked up to the table, and placed this packet before the notary, who, hitherto silent and motionless, received it mechanically from her.
Then, casting upon Gabriel, who seemed fascinated by her presence, a long, mild, melancholy look, this woman directed her steps towards the hall, the door of which had remained open. As she passed near Samuel and Bathsheba, who were still kneeling, she stopped an instant, bowed her fair head towards them, and looked at them with tender solicitude. Then, giving them her hands to kiss, she glided away as slowly as she had entered—throwing a last glance upon Gabriel. The departure of this woman seemed to break the spell under which all present had remained for the last few minutes. Gabriel was the first to speak, exclaiming, in an agitated voice. "It is she—again—here—in this house!"
"Who, brother?" said Agricola, uneasy at the pale and almost wild looks of the missionary; for the smith had not yet remarked the strange resemblance of the woman to the portrait, though he shared in the general feeling of amazement, without being able to explain it to himself. Dagobert and Faringhea were in a similar state of mind.
"Who is this woman?" resumed Agricola, as he took the hand of Gabriel, which felt damp and icy cold.
"Look!" said the young priest. "Those portraits have been there for more than a century and a half."
He pointed to the paintings before which he was now seated, and Agricola, Dagobert, and Faringhea raised their eyes to either side of the fireplace. Three exclamations were now heard at once.
"It is she—it is the same woman!" cried the smith, in amazement, "and her portrait has been here for a hundred and fifty years!"
"What do I see?" cried Dagobert, as he gazed at the portrait of the man. "The friend and emissary of Marshal Simon. Yes! it is the same face that I saw last year in Siberia. Oh, yes! I recognize that wild and sorrowful air—those black eyebrows, which make only one!"
"My eyes do not deceive me," muttered Faringhea to himself, shuddering with horror. "It is the same man, with the black mark on his forehead, that we strangled and buried on the banks of the Ganges—the same man, that one of the sons of Bowanee told me, in the ruins of Tchandi, had been met by him afterwards at one of the gates of Bombay—the man of the fatal curse, who scatters death upon his passage—and his picture has existed for a hundred and fifty years!"
And, like Dagobert and Agricola, the stranger could not withdraw his eyes from that strange portrait.
"What a mysterious resemblance!" thought Father d'Aigrigny. Then, as if struck with a sudden idea, he said to Gabriel: "But this woman is the same that saved your life in America?"
"It is the same," answered Gabriel, with emotion; "and yet she told me she was going towards the North," added the young priest, speaking to himself.
"But how came she in this house?" said Father d'Aigrigny, addressing Samuel. "Answer me! did this woman come in with you, or before you?"
"I came in first, and alone, when this door was first opened since a century and half," said Samuel, gravely.
"Then how can you explain the presence of this woman here?" said Father d'Aigrigny.
"I do not try to explain it," said the Jew. "I see, I believe, and now I hope." added he, looking at Bathsheba with an indefinable expression.
"But you ought to explain the presence of this woman!" said Father d'Aigrigny, with vague uneasiness. "Who is she? How came she hither?"
"All I know is, sir, that my father has often told me; there are subterraneous communications between this house and distant parts of the quarter."
"Oh! then nothing can be clearer," said Father d'Aigrigny; "it only remains to be known what this woman intends by coming hither. As for her singular resemblance to this portrait, it is one of the freaks of nature."
Rodin had shared in the general emotion, at the apparition of this mysterious woman. But when he saw that she had delivered a sealed packet to the notary, the socius, instead of thinking of the strangeness of this unexpected vision, was only occupied with a violent desire to quit the house with the treasure which had just fallen to the Company. He felt a vague anxiety at sight of the envelope with the black seal, which the protectress of Gabriel had delivered to the notary, and was still held mechanically in his hands. The socius, therefore, judging this a very good opportunity to walk off with the casket, during the general silence and stupor which still continued, slightly touched Father d'Aigrigny's elbow, made him a sign of intelligence, and, tucking the cedar-wood chest under his arm, was hastening towards the door.