"One moment, sir," said Samuel, rising, and standing in his path; "I request M. Notary to examine the envelope, that has just been delivered to him. You may then go out."
"But, sir," said Rodin, trying to force a passage, "the question is definitively decided in favor of Father d'Aigrigny. Therefore, with your permission—"
"I tell you, sir," answered the old man, in a loud voice, "that this casket shall not leave the house, until M. Notary has examined the envelope just delivered to him!"
These words drew the attention of all, Rodin was forced to retrace his steps. Notwithstanding the firmness of his character, the Jew shuddered at the look of implacable hate which Rodin turned upon him at this moment.
Yielding to the wish of Samuel, the notary examined the envelope with attention. "Good Heaven!" he cried suddenly; "what do I see?—Ah! so much the better!"
At this exclamation all eyes turned upon the notary. "Oh! read, read, sir!" cried Samuel, clasping his hands together. "My presentiments have not then deceived me!"
"But, sir," said Father d'Aigrigny to the notary, for he began to share in the anxiety of Rodin, "what is this paper?"
"A codicil," answered the notary; "a codicil, which reopens the whole question."
"How, sir?" cried Father d'Aigrigny, in a fury, as he hastily drew nearer to the notary, "reopens the whole question! By what right?"
"It is impossible," added Rodin. "We protest against it.
"Gabriel! father! listen," cried Agricola, "all is not lost. There is yet hope. Do you hear, Gabriel? There is yet hope."
"What do you say?" exclaimed the young priest, rising, and hardly believing the words of his adopted brother.
"Gentlemen," said the notary; "I will read to you the superscription of this envelope. It changes, or rather, it adjourns, the whole of the testamentary provisions."
"Gabriel!" cried Agricola, throwing himself on the neck of the missionary, "all is adjourned, nothing is lost!"
"Listen, gentlemen," said the notary; and he read as follows:
"'This is a Codicil, which for reasons herein stated, adjourns and prorogues to the 1st day of June, 1832, though without any other change, all the provisions contained in the testament made by me, at one o'clock this afternoon. The house shall be reclosed, and the funds left in the hands of the same trustee, to be distributed to the rightful claimants on the 1st of June, 1832.
"'Villetaneuse, this 13th of February, 1682, eleven o'clock at night. "'MARIUS DE RENNEPONT.'"
"I protest against this codicil as a forgery!" cried Father d'Aigrigny livid with rage and despair.
"The woman who delivered it to the notary is a suspicious character," added Rodin. "The codicil has been forged."
"No, sir," said the notary, severely; "I have just compared the two signatures, and they are absolutely alike. For the rest—what I said this morning, with regard to the absent heirs, is now applicable to you—the law is open; you may dispute the authenticity of this codicil. Meanwhile, everything will remain suspended—since the term for the adjustment of the inheritance is prolonged for three months and a half."
When the notary had uttered these last words, Rodin's nails dripped blood; for the first time, his wan lips became red.
"Oh, God! Thou hast heard and granted my prayer!" cried Gabriel, kneeling down with religious fervor, and turning his angelic face towards heaven. "Thy sovereign justice has not let iniquity triumph!"
"What do you say, my brave boy?" cried Dagobert, who, in the first tumult of joy, had not exactly understood the meaning of the codicil.
"All is put off, father!" exclaimed the smith; "the heirs will have three months and a half more to make their claim. And now that these people are unmasked," added Agricola, pointing to Rodin and Father d'Aigrigny, "we have nothing more to fear from them. We shall be on our guard; and the orphans, Mdlle. de Cardoville, my worthy master, M. Hardy, and this young Indian, will all recover their own."
We must renounce the attempt to paint the delight, the transport of Gabriel and Agricola, of Dagobert, and Marshal Simon's father, of Samuel and Bathsheba. Faringhea alone remained in gloomy silence, before the portrait of the man with the black-barred forehead. As for the fury of Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin, when they saw Samuel retake possession of the casket, we must also renounce any attempt to describe it. On the notary's suggestion, who took with him the codicil, to have it opened according to the formalities of the law, Samuel agreed that it would be more prudent to deposit in the Bank of France the securities of immense value that were now known to be in his possession.
While all the generous hearts, which had for a moment suffered so much, were overflowing with happiness, hope, and joy, Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin quitted the house with rage and death in their souls. The reverend father got into his carriage, and said to his servants: "To Saint-Dizier House!"—Then, worn out and crushed, he fell back upon the seat, and hid his face in his hands, while he uttered a deep groan. Rodin sat next to him, and looked with a mixture of anger and disdain at this so dejected and broken-spirited man.
"The coward!" said he to himself. "He despairs—and yet—"
A quarter of an hour later, the carriage stopped in the Rue de Babylone, in the court-yard of Saint-Dizier House.
CHAPTER XXVII. THE FIRST LAST, AND THE LAST FIRST.
The carriage had travelled rapidly to Saint-Dizier House. During all the way, Rodin remained mute, contenting himself with observing Father d'Aigrigny, and listening to him, as he poured forth his grief and fury in a long monologue, interrupted by exclamations, lamentations, and bursts of rage, directed against the strokes of that inexorable destiny, which had ruined in a moment the best founded hopes. When the carriage entered the courtyard, and stopped before the portico, the princess's face could be seen through one of the windows, half hidden by the folds of a curtain; in her burning anxiety, she came to see if it was really Father d'Aigrigny who arrived at the house. Still more, in defiance of all ordinary rules, this great lady, generally so scrupulous as to appearances, hurried from her apartment, and descended several steps of the staircase, to meet Father d'Aigrigny, who was coming up with a dejected air. At sight of the livid and agitated countenance of the reverend father, the princess stopped suddenly, and grew pale. She suspected that all was lost. A look rapidly exchanged with her old lover left her no doubt of the issue she so much feared. Rodin humbly followed the reverend father, and both, preceded by the princess, entered the room. The door once closed, the princess, addressing Father d'Aigrigny, exclaimed with unspeakable anguish: "What has happened?"
Instead of answering this question, the reverend father, his eyes sparkling with rage, his lips white, his features contracted, looked fixedly at the princess, and said to her: "Do you know the amount of this inheritance, that we estimated at forty millions?"
"I understand," cried the princess; "we have been deceived. The inheritance amounts to nothing, and all you have dare has been in vain."
"Yes, it has indeed been in vain," answered the reverend father, grinding his teeth with rage; "it was no question of forty millions, but of two hundred and twelve millions.
"Two hundred and twelve millions!" repeated the princess in amazement, as she drew back a step. "It is impossible!"
"I tell you I saw the vouchers, which were examined by the notary."
"Two hundred and twelve millions?" resumed the princess, with deep dejection. "It is an immense and sovereign power—and you have renounced—you have not struggled for it, by every possible means, and till the last moment?"
"Madame, I have done all that I could!—notwithstanding the treachery of Gabriel, who this very morning declared that he renounced us, and separated from the Society."
"Ungrateful!" said the princess, unaffectedly.
"The deed of gift, which I had the precaution to have prepared by the notary, was in such good, legal form, that in spite of the objections of that accursed soldier and his son, the notary had put me in possession of the treasure."
"Two hundred and twelve millions!" repeated the princess clasping her hands. "Verily it is like a dream!"
"Yes," replied Father d'Aigrigny, bitterly, "for us, this possession is indeed a dream, for a codicil has been discovered, which puts off for three months and a half all the testamentary provisions. Now that our very precautions have roused the suspicion of all these heirs—now that they know the enormous amount at stake—they will be upon their guard; and all is lost."
"But who is the wretch that produced this codicil?"
"Some wandering creature, that Gabriel says he met in America, where she saved his life."
"And how could this woman be there—how could she know the existence of this codicil?"
"I think it was all arranged with a miserable Jew, the guardian of the house, whose family has had charge of the funds for three generations; he had no doubt some secret instructions, in case he suspected the detention of any of the heirs, for this Marius de Rennepont had foreseen that our Company would keep their eyes upon his race."
"But can you not dispute the validity of this codicil?"
"What, go to law in these times—litigate about a will—incur the certainty of a thousand clamors, with no security for success?—It is bad enough, that even this should get wind. Alas! it is terrible. So near the goal! after so much care and trouble. An affair that had been followed up with so much perseverance during a century and a half!"
"Two hundred and twelve millions!" said the princess. "The Order would have had no need to look for establishments in foreign countries; with such resources, it would have been able to impose itself upon France."
"Yes," resumed Father d'Aigrigny, with bitterness; "by means of education, we might have possessed ourselves of the rising generation. The power is altogether incalculable." Then, stamping with his foot, he resumed: "I tell you, that it is enough to drive one mad with rage! an affair so wisely, ably, patiently conducted!"
"Is there no hope?"
"Only that Gabriel may not revoke his donation, in as far as concerns himself. That alone would be a considerable sum—not less than thirty millions."
"It is enormous—it is almost what you hoped," said the princess; "then why despair?"
"Because it is evident that Gabriel will dispute this donation. However legal it may be, he will find means to annul it, now that he is free, informed as to our designs, and surrounded by his adopted family. I tell you, that all is lost. There is no hope left. I think it will be even prudent to write to Rome, to obtain permission to leave Paris for a while. This town is odious to me!"
"Oh, yes! I see that no hope is left—since you, my friend, have decided almost to fly."
Father d'Aigrigny was completely discouraged and broken down; this terrible blow had destroyed all life and energy within him. He threw himself back in an arm-chair, quite overcome. During the preceding dialogue, Rodin was standing humbly near the door, with his old hat in his hand. Two or three times, at certain passages in the conversation between Father d'Aigrigny and the princess, the cadaverous face of the socius, whose wrath appeared to be concentrated, was slightly flushed, and his flappy eyelids were tinged with red, as if the blood mounted in consequence of an interior struggle; but, immediately after, his dull countenance resumed its pallid blue.
"I must write instantly to Rome, to announce this defeat, which has become an event of the first importance, because it overthrows immense hopes," said Father d'Aigrigny, much depressed.
The reverend father had remained seated; pointing to a table, he said to Rodin, with an abrupt and haughty air:
The socius placed his hat on the ground, answered with a respectful bow the command, and with stooping head and slanting walk, went to seat himself on a chair, that stood before a desk. Then, taking pen and paper, he waited, silent and motionless, for the dictation of his superior.
"With your permission, princess?" said Father d'Aigrigny to Madame de Saint-Dizier. The latter answered by an impatient wave of the hand, as if she reproached him for the formal demand at such a time. The reverend father bowed, and dictated these words in a hoarse and hollow voice: "All our hopes, which of late had become almost certainties, have been suddenly defeated. The affair of the Rennepont inheritance, in spite of all the care and skill employed upon it, has completely and finally failed. At the point to which matters had been brought, it is unfortunately worse than a failure; it is a most disastrous event for the Society, which was clearly entitled to this property, fraudulently withdrawn from a confiscation made in our favor. My conscience at least bears witness, that, to the last moment, I did all that was possible to defend and secure our rights. But I repeat, we must consider this important affair as lost absolutely and forever, and think no more about it."
Thus dictating, Father d'Aigrigny's back was turned towards Rodin. At a sudden movement made by the socius, in rising and throwing his pen upon the table, instead of continuing to write, the reverend father turned round, and, looking at Rodin with profound astonishment, said to him: "Well! what are you doing?"
"It is time to end this—the man is mad!" said Rodin to himself, as he advanced slowly towards the fireplace.
"What! you quit your place—you cease writing?" said the reverend father, in amazement. Then, addressing the princess, who shared in his astonishment, he added, as he glanced contemptuously at the socius, "He is losing his senses."
"Forgive him," replied Mme. de Saint-Dizier; "it is, no doubt, the emotion caused by the ruin of this affair."
"Thank the princess, return to your place, and continue to write," said Father d'Aigrigny to Rodin, in a tone of disdainful compassion, as, with imperious finger, he pointed to the table.
The socius, perfectly indifferent to this new order, approached the fireplace, drew himself up to his full height as he turned his arched back, planted himself firmly on his legs, stamped on the carpet with the heel of his clumsy, greasy shoes, crossed his hands beneath the flaps of his old, spotted coat, and, lifting his head, looked fixedly at Father d'Aigrigny. The socius had not spoken a word, but his hideous countenance, now flushed, suddenly revealed such a sense of his superiority, and such sovereign contempt for Father d'Aigrigny, mingled with so calm and serene a daring, that the reverend father and the princess were quite confounded by it. They felt themselves overawed by this little old man, so sordid and so ugly. Father d'Aigrigny knew too well the customs of the Company, to believe his humble secretary capable of assuming so suddenly these airs of transcendent superiority without a motive, or rather, without a positive right. Late, too late, the reverend father perceived, that this subordinate agent might be partly a spy, partly an experienced assistant, who, according to the constitutions of the Order, had the power and mission to depose and provisionally replace, in certain urgent cases, the incapable person over whom he was stationed as a guard. The reverend father was not deceived. From the general to the provincials, and to the rectors of the colleges, all the superior members of the Order have stationed near them, often without their knowledge, and in apparently the lowest capacities, men able to assume their functions at any given moment, and who, with this view, constantly keep up a direct correspondence with Rome.
From the moment Rodin had assumed this position, the manners of Father d'Aigrigny, generally so haughty, underwent a change. Though it cost him a good deal, he said with hesitation, mingled with deference: "You have, no doubt, the right to command me—who hitherto have commanded." Rodin, without answering, drew from his well-rubbed and greasy pocket-book a slip of paper, stamped upon both sides, on which were written several lines in Latin. When he had read it, Father d'Aigrigny pressed this paper respectfully, even religiously, to his lips: then returned it to Rodin, with a low bow. When he again raised his head, he was purple with shame and vexation. Notwithstanding his habits of passive obedience and immutable respect for the will of the Order, he felt a bitter and violent rage at seeing himself thus abruptly deposed from power. That was not all. Though, for a long time past, all relations in gallantry had ceased between him and Mme. de Saint-Dizier, the latter was not the less a woman; and for him to suffer this humiliation in presence of a woman was, undoubtedly, cruel, as, notwithstanding his entrance into the Order, he had not wholly laid aside the character of man of the world. Moreover, the princess, instead of appearing hurt and offended by this sudden transformation of the superior into a subaltern, and of the subaltern into a superior, looked at Rodin with a sort of curiosity mingled with interest. As a woman—as a woman, intensely ambitious, seeking to connect herself with every powerful influence—the princess loved this strange species of contrast. She found it curious and interesting to see this man, almost in rags, mean in appearance, and ignobly ugly, and but lately the most humble of subordinates look down from the height of his superior intelligence upon the nobleman by birth, distinguished for the elegance of his manners, and just before so considerable a personage in the Society. From that moment, as the more important personage of the two, Rodin completely took the place of Father d'Aigrigny in the princess's mind. The first pang of humiliation over, the reverend father, though his pride bled inwardly, applied all his knowledge of the world to behave with redoubled courtesy towards Rodin, who had become his superior by this abrupt change of fortune. But the ex-socius, incapable of appreciating, or rather of acknowledging, such delicate shades of manner, established himself at once, firmly, imperiously, brutally, in his new position, not from any reaction of offended pride, but from a consciousness of what he was really worth. A long acquaintance with Father d'Aigrigny had revealed to him the inferiority of the latter.
"You threw away your pen," said Father d'Aigrigny to Rodin with extreme deference, "while I was dictating a note for Rome. Will you do me the favor to tell me how I have acted wrong?"
"Directly," replied Rodin, in his sharp, cutting voice. "For a long time this affair appeared to me above your strength; but I abstained from interfering. And yet what mistakes! what poverty of invention; what coarseness in the means employed to bring it to bear!"
"I can hardly understand your reproaches," answered Father d'Aigrigny, mildly, though a secret bitterness made its way through his apparent submission. "Was not the success certain, had it not been for this codicil? Did you not yourself assist in the measures that you now blame?"
"You commanded, then, and it was my duty to obey. Besides, you were just on the point of succeeding—not because of the means you had taken—but in spite of those means, with all their awkward and revolting brutality."
"Sir—you are severe," said Father d'Aigrigny.
"I am just. One has to be prodigiously clever, truly, to shut up any one in a room, and then lock the door! And yet, what else have you done? The daughters of General Simon?—imprisoned at Leipsic, shut up in a convent at Paris! Adrienne de Cardoville?—placed in confinement. Sleepinbuff—put in prison. Djalma?—quieted by a narcotic. One only ingenious method, and a thousand times safer, because it acted morally, not materially, was employed to remove M. Hardy. As for your other proceedings—they were all bad, uncertain, dangerous. Why? Because they were violent, and violence provokes violence. Then it is no longer a struggle of keen, skillful, persevering men, seeing through the darkness in which they walk, but a match of fisticuffs in broad day. Though we should be always in action, we should always shrink from view; and yet you could find no better plan than to draw universal attention to us by proceedings at once open and deplorably notorious. To make them more secret, you call in the guard, the commissary of police, the jailers, for your accomplices. It is pitiable, sir; nothing but the most brilliant success could cover such wretched folly; and this success has been wanting."
"Sir," said Father d'Aigrigny, deeply hurt, for the Princess de Saint Dizier, unable to conceal the sort of admiration caused in her by the plain, decisive words of Rodin, looked at her old lover, with an air that seemed to say, "He is right;"—"sir, you are more than severe in your judgment; and, notwithstanding the deference I owe to you, I must observe, that I am not accustomed—"
"There are many other things to which you are not accustomed," said Rodin, harshly interrupting the reverend father; "but you will accustom yourself to them. You have hitherto had a false idea of your own value. There is the old leaven of the soldier and the worlding fermenting within you, which deprives your reason of the coolness, lucidity, and penetration that it ought to possess. You have been a fine military officer, brisk and gay, foremost in wars and festivals, with pleasures and women. These things have half worn you out. You will never be anything but a subaltern; you have been thoroughly tested. You will always want that vigor and concentration of mind which governs men and events. That vigor and concentration of mind I have—and do you know why? It is because, solely devoted to the service of the Company, I have always been ugly, dirty, unloved, unloving—I have all my manhood about me!"
In pronouncing these words, full of cynical pride, Rodin was truly fearful. The princess de Saint-Dizier thought him almost handsome by his energy and audacity.
Father d'Aigrigny, feeling himself overawed, invincibly and inexorably, by this diabolical being, made a last effort to resist and exclaimed, "Oh! sir, these boastings are no proofs of valor and power. We must see you at work."
"Yes," replied Rodin, coldly; "do you know at what work?" Rodin was fond of this interrogative mode of expression. "Why, at the work that you so basely abandon."
"What!" cried the Princess de Saint-Dizier; for Father d'Aigrigny, stupefied at Rodin's audacity, was unable to utter a word.
"I say," resumed Rodin, slowly, "that I undertake to bring to a good issue this affair of the Rennepont inheritance, which appears to you so desperate."
"You?" cried Father d'Aigrigny. "You?" "I."
"But they have unmasked our maneuvers."
"So much the better; we shall be obliged to invent others."
"But they; will suspect us in everything."
"So much the better; the success that is difficult is the most certain."
"What! do you hope to make Gabriel consent not to revoke his donation, which is perhaps illegal?"
"I mean to bring in to the coffers of the Company the whole of the two hundred and twelve millions, of which they wish to cheat us. Is that clear?"
"It is clear—but impossible."
"And I tell you that it is, and must be possible. Do you not understand, short-sighted as you are!" cried Rodin, animated to such a degree that his cadaverous face became slightly flushed; "do you not understand that it is no longer in our choice to hesitate? Either these two hundred and twelve millions must be ours—and then the re-establishment of our sovereign influence in France is sure—for, in these venal times, with such a sum at command, you may bribe or overthrow a government, or light up the flame of civil war, and restore legitimacy, which is our natural ally, and, owing all to us, would give us all in return—"
"That is clear," cried the princess, clasping her hands in admiration.
"If, on the contrary," resumed Rodin, "these two hundred and twelve millions fall into the hands of the family of the Renneponts, it will be our ruin and our destruction. We shall create a stock of bitter and implacable enemies. Have you not heard the execrable designs of that Rennepont, with regard to the association he recommends, and which, by an accursed fatality, his race are just in a condition to realize? Think of the forces that would rally round these millions. There would be Marshal Simon, acting in the name of his daughters—that is, the man of the people become a duke, without being the vainer for it, which secures his influence with the mob, because military spirit and Bonapartism still represent, in the eyes of the French populace, the traditions of national honor and glory. There would be Francis Hardy, the liberal, independent, enlightened citizen, the type of the great manufacturer, the friend of progress, the benefactor of his workmen. There would be Gabriel—the good priest, as they say!—the apostle of the primitive gospel, the representative of the democracy of the church, of the poor country curate as opposed to the rich bishop, the tiller of the vine as opposed to him who sits in the shade of it; the propagator of all the ideas of fraternity, emancipation, progress—to use their own jargon—and that, not in the name of revolutionary and incendiary politics, but in the name of a religion of charity, love, and peace—to speak as they speak. There, too, would be Adrienne de Cardoville, the type of elegance, grace, and beauty, the priestess of the senses, which she deifies by refining and cultivating them. I need not tell you of her wit and audacity; you know them but too well. No one could be more dangerous to us than this creature, a patrician in blood, a plebeian in heart, a poet in imagination. Then, too, there would be Prince Djalma, chivalrous, bold, ready for adventure, knowing nothing of civilized life, implacable in his hate as in his affection, a terrible instrument for whoever can make use of him. In this detestable family, even such a wretch as Sleepinbuff, who in himself is of no value, raised and purified by the contact of these generous and far from narrow natures (as they call them), might represent the working class, and take a large share in the influence of that association. Now do you not think that if all these people, already exasperated against us, because (as they say) we have wished to rob them, should follow the detestable counsels of this Rennepont—should unite their forces around this immense fortune, which would strengthen them a hundred-fold—do you not think that, if they declare a deadly war against us, they will be the most dangerous enemies that we have ever had? I tell you that the Company has never been in such serious peril; yes, it is now a question of life and death. We must no longer defend ourselves, but lead the attack, so as to annihilate this accursed race of Rennepont, and obtain possession of these millions."
At this picture, drawn by Rodin with a feverish animation, which had only the more influence from its unexpectedness, the princess and Father d'Aigrigny looked at each other in confusion.
"I confess," said the reverend father to Rodin, "I had not considered all the dangerous consequences of this association, recommended by M. de Rennepont. I believe that the heir, from the characters we know them to be possessed of, would wish to realize this Utopia. The peril is great and pressing; what is to be done?"
"What, sir? You have to act upon ignorant, heroic, enthusiastic natures like Djalma's—sensual and eccentric characters like Adrienne de Cardoville's—simple and ingenuous minds like Rose and Blanche Simon's—honest and frank dispositions like Francis Hardy's—angelic and pure souls like Gabriel's—brutal and stupid instincts like Jacques—and can you ask, 'What is to be done?'"
"In truth, I do not understand you," said Father d'Aigrigny.
"I believe it. Your past conduct shows as much," replied Rodin, contemptuously. "You have had recourse to the lowest and most mechanical contrivances, instead of acting upon the noble and generous passions, which, once united, would constitute so formidable a bond; but which, now divided and isolated, are open to every surprise, every seduction, every attack! Do you, at length understand me? Not yet?" added Rodin, shrugging his shoulders. "Answer me—do people die of despair?"
"May not the gratitude of successful love reach the last limits of insane generosity?"
"May there not be such horrible deceptions, that suicide is the only refuge from frightful realities?"
"May not the excess of sensuality lead to the grave by a slow and voluptuous agony?"
"Are there not in life such terrible circumstances that the most worldly, the firmest, the most impious characters, throw themselves blindly, overwhelmed with despair, into the arms of religion, and abandon all earthly greatness for sackcloth, and prayers, and solitude?"
"Are there not a thousand occasions in which the reaction of the passions works the most extraordinary changes, and brings about the most tragic catastrophes in the life of man and woman?"
"Well, then! why ask me, 'What is to be done?' What would you say, for example, if before three months are over, the most dangerous members of this family of the Renneponts should come to implore, upon their knees, admission to that very Society which they now hold in horror, and from which Gabriel has just separated?"
"Such a conversion is impossible," cried Father d'Aigrigny.
"Impossible? What were you, sir, fifteen years ago?" said Rodin. "An impious and debauched man of the world. And yet you came to us, and your wealth became ours. What! we have conquered princes, kings, popes; we have absorbed and extinguished in our unity magnificent intelligences, which, from afar, shone with too dazzling a light; we have all but governed two worlds; we have perpetuated our Society, full of life, rich and formidable, even to this day, through all the hate, and all the persecutions that have assailed us; and yet we shall not be able to get the better of a single family, which threatens our Company, and has despoiled us of a large fortune? What! we are not skillful enough to obtain this result without having recourse to awkward and dangerous violence? You do not know, then, the immense field that is thrown open by the mutually destructive power of human passions, skillfully combined, opposed, restrained, excited?—particularly," added Rodin, with a strange smile, "when, thanks to a powerful ally, these passions are sure to be redoubled in ardor and energy."
"What ally?" asked Father d'Aigrigny, who, as well as the Princess de Saint-Dizier, felt a sort of admiration mixed with terror.
"Yes," resumed Rodin, without answering the reverend father; "this formidable ally, who comes to our assistance, may bring about the most astonishing transformations—make the coward brave, and the impious credulous, and the gentle ferocious—"
"But this ally!" cried the Princess, oppressed with a vague sense of fear. "This great and formidable ally—who is he?"
"If he comes," resumed Rodin, still impassible, "the youngest and most vigorous, every moment in danger of death, will have no advantage over the sick man at his last gasp."
"But who is this ally?" exclaimed Father d'Aigrigny, more and more alarmed, for as the picture became darker, Rodin's face become more cadaverous.
"This ally, who can decimate a population, may carry away with him in the shroud that he drags at his heels, the whole of an accursed race; but even he must respect the life of that great intangible body, which does not perish with the death of its members—for the spirit of the Society of Jesus is immortal!"
"And this ally?"
"Oh, this ally," resumed Rodin, "who advances with slow steps, and whose terrible coming is announced by mournful presentiments—"
These words, pronounced by Rodin in an abrupt voice, made the Princess and Father d'Aigrigny grow pale and tremble. Rodin's look was gloomy and chilling, like a spectre's. For some moments, the silence of the tomb reigned in the saloon. Rodin was the first to break it. Still impassible, he pointed with imperious gesture to the table, where a few minutes before he had himself been humbly seated, and said in a sharp voice to Father d'Aigrigny, "Write!"
The reverend father started at first with surprise; then, remembering that from a superior he had become an inferior, he rose, bowed lowly to Rodin, as he passed before him, seated himself at the table, took the pen, and said, "I am ready."
Rodin dictated, and the reverend Father wrote as follows: "By the mismanagement of the Reverend Father d'Aigrigny, the affair of the inheritance of the Rennepont family has been seriously compromised. The sum amounts to two hundred and twelve millions. Notwithstanding the check we have received, we believe we may safely promise to prevent these Renneponts from injuring the Society, and to restore the two hundred and twelve millions to their legitimate possessors. We only ask for the most complete and extensive powers."
A quarter of an hour after this scene, Rodin left Saint Dizier House, brushing with his sleeve the old greasy hat, I which he had pulled off to return the salute of the porter by a very low bow.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE STRANGER.
The following scene took place on the morrow of the day in which Father d'Aigrigny had been so rudely degraded by Rodin to the subaltern position formerly occupied by the socius.
It is well known that the Rue Clovis is one of the most solitary streets in the Montagne St. Genevieve district. At the epoch of this narrative, the house No. 4, in this street, was composed of one principal building, through which ran a dark passage, leading to a little, gloomy court, at the end of which was a second building, in a singularly miserable and dilapidated condition. On the ground-floor, in front of the house, was a half-subterraneous shop, in which was sold charcoal, fagots, vegetables, and milk. Nine o'clock in the morning had just struck. The mistress of the shop, one Mother Arsene, an old woman of a mild, sickly countenance, clad in a brown stuff dress, with a red bandanna round her head, was mounted on the top step of the stairs which led down to her door, and was employed in setting out her goods—that is, on one side of her door she placed a tin milk-can, and on the other some bunches of stale vegetables, flanked with yellowed cabbages. At the bottom of the steps, in the shadowy depths of the cellar, one could see the light of the burning charcoal in a little stove. This shop situated at the side of the passage, served as a porter's lodge, and the old woman acted as portress. On a sudden, a pretty little creature, coming from the house, entered lightly and merrily the shop. This young girl was Rose-Pompon, the intimate friend of the Bacchanal Queen.—Rose-Pompon, a widow for the moment, whose bacchanalian cicisbeo was Ninny Moulin, the orthodox scapegrace, who, on occasion, after drinking his fill, could transform himself into Jacques Dumoulin, the religious writer, and pass gayly from dishevelled dances to ultramontane polemics, from Storm-blown Tulips to Catholic pamphlets.
Rose-Pompon had just quitted her bed, as appeared by the negligence of her strange morning costume; no doubt, for want of any other head-dress, on her beautiful light hair, smooth and well-combed, was stuck jauntily a foraging-cap, borrowed from her masquerading costume. Nothing could be more sprightly than that face, seventeen years old, rosy, fresh, dimpled, and brilliantly lighted up by a pair of gay, sparkling blue eyes. Rose Pompon was so closely enveloped from the neck to the feet in a red and green plaid cloak, rather faded, that one could guess the cause of her modest embarrassment. Her naked feet, so white that one could not tell if she wore stockings or not, were slipped into little morocco shoes, with plated buckles. It was easy to perceive that her cloak concealed some article which she held in her hand.
"Good-day, Rose-Pompon," said Mother Arsene with a kindly air; "you are early this morning. Had you no dance last night?"
"Don't talk of it, Mother Arsene; I had no heart to dance. Poor Cephyse—the Bacchanal Queen—has done nothing but cry all night. She cannot console herself, that her lover should be in prison."
"Now, look here, my girl," said the old woman, "I must speak to you about your friend Cephyse. You won't be angry?"
"Am I ever angry?" said Rose-Pompon, shrugging her shoulders.
"Don't you think that M. Philemon will scold me on his return?"
"Scold you! what for?"
"Because of his rooms, that you occupy."
"Why, Mother Arsene, did not Philemon tell you, that, in his absence, I was to be as much mistress of his two rooms as I am of himself?"
"I do not speak of you, but of your friend Cephyse, whom you have also brought to occupy M. Philemon's lodgings."
"And where would she have gone without me, my good Mother Arsene? Since her lover was arrested, she has not dared to return home, because she owes ever so many quarters. Seeing her troubles. I said to her: 'Come, lodge at Philemon's. When he returns, we must find another place for you.'"
"Well, little lovey—if you only assure me that M. Philemon will not be angry—"
"Angry! for what? That we spoil his things? A fine set of things he has to spoil! I broke his last cup yesterday—and am forced to fetch the milk in this comic concern."
So saying, laughing with all her might, Rose-Pompon drew her pretty little white arm from under her cloak, and presented to Mother Arsene one of those champagne glasses of colossal capacity, which hold about a bottle.
"Oh, dear!" said the greengrocer in amazement; "it is like a glass trumpet."
"It is Philemon's grand gala-glass, which they gave him when he took his degrees in boating," said Rose-Pompon, gravely.
"And to think you must put your milk in it—I am really ashamed," said Mother Arsene.
"So am I! If I were to meet any one on the stairs, holding this glass in my hand like a Roman candlestick, I should burst out laughing, and break the last remnant of Philemon's bazaar, and he would give me his malediction."
"There is no danger that you will meet any one. The first-floor is gone out, and the second gets up very late."
"Talking of lodgers," said Rose-Pompon, "is there not a room to let on the second-floor in the rear house? It might do for Cephyse, when Philemon comes back."
"Yes, there is a little closet in the roof—just over the two rooms of the mysterious old fellow," said Mother Arsene.
"Oh, yes! Father Charlemagne. Have you found out anything more about him?"
"Dear me, no, my girl! only that he came this morning at break of day, and knocked at my shutters. 'Have you received a letter for me, my good lady?' said he—for he is always so polite, the dear man!—'No, sir,' said I.'—'Well, then, pray don't disturb yourself, my good lady!' said he; 'I will call again.' And so he went away."
"Does he never sleep in the house?"
"Never. No doubt, he lodges somewhere else—but he passes some hours here, once every four or five days."
"And always comes alone?"
"Are you quite sure? Does he never manage to slip in some little puss of a woman? Take care, or Philemon will give you notice to quit," said Rose-Pompon, with an air of mock-modesty.
"M. Charlemagne with a woman! Oh, poor dear man!" said the greengrocer, raising her hands to heaven; "if you saw him, with his greasy hat, his old gray coat, his patched umbrella, and his simple face, he looks more like a saint than anything else."
"But then, Mother Arsene, what does the saint do here, all alone for hours, in that hole at the bottom of the court, where one can hardly see at noon-day?"
"That's what I ask myself, my dovey, what can he be doing? It can't be that he comes to look at his furniture, for he has nothing but a flock bed, a table, a stove, a chair, and an old trunk."
"Somewhat in the style of Philemon's establishment," said Rose-Pompon.
"Well, notwithstanding that, Rosey, he is as much afraid that any one should come into his room, as if we were all thieves, and his furniture was made of massy gold. He has had a patent lock put on the door, at his own expense; he never leaves me his key; and he lights his fire himself, rather than let anybody into his room."
"And you say he is old?"
"Yes, fifty or sixty."
"Just fancy, little viper's eyes, looking as if they had been bored with a gimlet, in a face as pale as death—so pale, that the lips are white. That's for his appearance. As for his character, the good old man's so polite!—he pulls off his hat so often, and makes you such low bows, that it is quite embarrassing."
"But, to come back to the point," resumed Rose-Pompon, "what can he do all alone in those two rooms? If Cephyse should take the closet, on Philemon's return, we may amuse ourselves by finding out something about it. How much do they want for the little room?"
"Why, it is in such bad condition, that I think the landlord would let it go for fifty or fifty-five francs a-year, for there is no room for a stove, and the only light comes through a small pane in the roof."
"Poor Cephyse!" said Rose, sighing, and shaking her head sorrowfully. "After having amused herself so well, and flung away so much money with Jacques Rennepont, to live in such a place, and support herself by hard work! She must have courage!"
"Why, indeed, there is a great difference between that closet and the coach-and-four in which Cephyse came to fetch you the other day, with all the fine masks, that looked so gay—particularly the fat man in the silver paper helmet, with the plume and the top boots. What a jolly fellow!"
"Yes, Ninny Moulin. There is no one like him to dance the forbidden fruit. You should see him with Cephyse, the Bacchanal Queen. Poor laughing, noisy thing!—the only noise she makes now is crying."
"Oh! these young people—these young people!" said the greengrocer.
"Easy, Mother Arsene; you were young once."
"I hardly know. I have always thought myself much the same as I am now."
"And your lovers, Mother Arsene?"
"Lovers! Oh, yes! I was too ugly for that—and too well taken care of."
"Your mother looked after you, then?"
"No, my girl; but I was harnessed."
"Harnessed!" cried Rose-Pompon, in amazement, interrupting the dealer.
"Yes,—harnessed to a water-cart, along with my brother. So, you see, when we had drawn like a pair of horses for eight or ten hours a day, I had no heart to think of nonsense."
"Poor Mother Arsene, what a hard life," said Rose-Pompon with interest.
"In the winter, when it froze, it was hard enough. I and my brother were obliged to be rough-shod, for fear of slipping."
"What a trade for a woman! It breaks one's heart. And they forbid people to harness dogs!" added Rose-Pompon, sententiously.(21)
"Why, 'tis true," resumed Mother Arsene. "Animals are sometimes better off than people. But what would you have? One must live, you know. As you make your bed, you must lie. It was hard enough, and I got a disease of the lungs by it—which was not my fault. The strap, with which I was harnessed, pressed so hard against my chest, that I could scarcely breathe: so I left the trade, and took to a shop, which is just to tell you, that if I had had a pretty face and opportunity, I might have done like so many other young people, who begin with laughter and finish—"
"With a laugh t'other side of the mouth—you would say; it is true, Mother Arsene. But, you see, every one has not the courage to go into harness, in order to remain virtuous. A body says to herself, you must have some amusement while you are young and pretty—you will not always be seventeen years old—and then—and then—the world will end, or you will get married."
"But, perhaps, it would have been better to begin by that."
"Yes, but one is too stupid; one does not know how to catch the men, or to frighten them. One is simple, confiding, and they only laugh at us. Why, Mother Arsene, I am myself an example that would make you shudder; but 'tis quite enough to have had one's sorrows, without fretting one's self at the remembrance."
"What, my beauty! you, so young and gay, have had sorrows?"
"Ah, Mother Arsene! I believe you. At fifteen and a half I began to cry, and never left off till I was sixteen. That was enough, I think."
"They deceived you, mademoiselle?"
"They did worse. They treated me as they have treated many a poor girl, who had no more wish to go wrong than I had. My story is not a three volume one. My father and mother are peasants near Saint-Valery, but so poor—so poor, that having five children to provide for, they were obliged to send me, at eight years old, to my aunt, who was a charwoman here in Paris. The good woman took me out of charity, and very kind it was of her, for I earned but little. At eleven years of age she sent me to work in one of the factories of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine. I don't wish to speak, ill of the masters of these factories; but what do they care, if little boys and girls are mixed up pell-mell with young men and women of eighteen to twenty? Now you see, there, as everywhere, some are no better than they should be; they are not particular in word or deed, and I ask you, what art example for the children, who hear and see more than you think for. Then, what happens? They get accustomed as they grow older, to hear and see things, that afterwards will not shock them at all."
"What you say there is true, Rose-Pompon. Poor children! who takes any trouble about them?—not their father or mother, for they are at their daily work."
"Yes, yes, Mother Arsene, it is all very well; it is easy to cry down a young girl that has gone wrong; but if they knew all the ins and outs, they would perhaps pity rather than blame her. To come back to myself—at fifteen years old I was tolerably pretty. One day I had something to ask of the head clerk. I went to him in his private room. He told me he would grant what I wanted, and even take me under his patronage, if I would listen to him; and he began by trying to kiss me. I resisted. Then he said to me:—'You refuse my offer? You shall have no more work; I discharge you from the factory.'"
"Oh, the wicked man!" said Mother Arsene.
"I went home all in tears, and my poor aunt encouraged me not to yield, and she would try to place me elsewhere. Yes—but it was impossible; the factories were all full. Misfortunes never come single; my aunt fell ill, and there was not a sou in the house; I plucked up my courage, and returned to entreat the mercy of the clerk at the factory. Nothing would do. 'So much the worse,' said he; 'you are throwing away your luck. If you had been more complying, I should perhaps have married you.' What could I do, Mother Arsene?—misery was staring me in the face; I had no work; my aunt was ill; the clerk said he would marry me—I did like so many others."
"And when, afterwards, you spoke to him about marriage?"
"Of course he laughed at me, and in six months left me. Then I wept all the tears in my body, till none remained—then I was very ill—and then—I console myself, as one may console one's self for anything. After some changes, I met with Philemon. It is upon him that I revenge myself for what others have done to me. I am his tyrant," added Rose-Pompon, with a tragic air, as the cloud passed away which had darkened her pretty face during her recital to Mother Arsene.
"It is true," said the latter thoughtfully. "They deceive a poor girl—who is there to protect or defend her? Oh! the evil we do does not always come from ourselves, and then—"
"I spy Ninny Moulin!" cried Rose-Pompon, interrupting the greengrocer, and pointing to the other side of the street. "How early abroad! What can he want with me?" and Rose wrapped herself still more closely and modestly in her cloak.
It was indeed Jacques Dumoulin, who advanced with his hat stuck on one side, with rubicund nose and sparkling eye, dressed in a loose coat, which displayed the rotundity of his abdomen. His hands, one of which held a huge cane shouldered like a musket, were plunged into the vast pockets of his outer garment.
Just as he reached the threshold of the door, no doubt with the intention of speaking to the portress, he perceived Rose-Pompon. "What!" he exclaimed, "my pupil already stirring? That is fortunate. I came on purpose to bless her at the rise of morn!"
So saying, Ninny Moulin advanced with open arms towards Rose-Pompon who drew back a step.
"What, ungrateful child!" resumed the writer on divinity. "Will you refuse me the morning's paternal kiss?"
"I accept paternal kisses from none but Philemon. I had a letter from him yesterday, with a jar of preserves, two geese, a bottle of home-made brandy, and an eel. What ridiculous presents! I kept the drink, and changed the rest for two darling live pigeons, which I have installed in Philemon's cabinet, and a very pretty dove-cote it makes me. For the rest, my husband is coming back with seven hundred francs, which he got from his respectable family, under pretence of learning the bass viol, the cornet-a-piston, and the speaking trumpet, so as to make his way in society, and a slap-up marriage—to use your expression—my good child."
"Well, my dear pupil, we will taste the family brandy, and enjoy ourselves in expectation of Philemon and his seven hundred francs."
So saying, Ninny Moulin slapped the pockets of his waistcoat, which gave forth a metallic sound, and added: "I come to propose to you to embellish my life, to-day and to-morrow, and even the day after, if your heart is willing."
"If the announcements are decent and fraternal, my heart does not say no."
"Be satisfied; I will act by you as your grandfather, your great grandfather, your family portrait. We will have a ride, a dinner, the play, a fancy dress ball, and a supper afterwards. Will that suit you?"
"On condition that poor Cephyse is to go with us. It will raise her spirits."
"Well, Cephyse shall be of the party."
"Have you come into a fortune, great apostle?"
"Better than that, most rosy and pompous of all Rose-Pom, pons! I am head editor of a religious journal; and as I must make some appearance in so respectable a concern, I ask every month for four weeks in advance, and three days of liberty. On this condition, I consent to play the saint for twenty-seven days out of thirty, and to be always as grave and heavy as the paper itself."
"A journal! that will be something droll, and dance forbidden steps all alone on the tables of the cafes."
"Yes, it will be droll enough; but not for everybody. They are rich sacristans, who pay the expenses. They don't look to money, provided the journal bites, tears, burns, pounds, exterminates and destroys. On my word of honor, I shall never have been in such a fury!" added Ninny Moulin, with a loud, hoarse laugh. "I shall wash the wounds of my adversaries with venom of the finest vintage, and gall of the first quality."
For his peroration, Ninny Moulin imitated the pop of uncorking a bottle of champagne—which made Rose-Pompon laugh heartily.
"And what," resumed she, "will be the name of your journal of sacristans?"
"It will be called 'Neighborly Love.'"
"Come! that is a very pretty name."
"Wait a little! there is a second title."
"Let us hear it."
"'Neighborly Love; or, the Exterminator of the Incredulous, the Indifferent, the Lukewarm, and Others,' with this motto from the great Bossuet: 'Those who are not for us are against us.'"
"That is what Philemon says in the battles at the Chaumiere, when he shakes his cane."
"Which proves, that the genius of the Eagle of Meaux is universal. I only reproach him for having been jealous of Moliere."
"Bah! actor's jealousy," said Rose-Pompon.
"Naughty girl!" cried Ninny Moulin, threatening her with his finger.
"But if you are going to exterminate Madame de la Sainte-Colombo, who is somewhat lukewarm—how about your marriage?"
"My journal will advance it, on the contrary. Only think! editor-In chief is a superb position; the sacristans will praise, and push, and support, and bless me; I shall get La-Sainte-Colombe—and then, what a life I'll lead!"
At this moment, a postman entered the shop, and delivered a letter to the greengrocer, saying: "For M. Charlemagne, post-paid!"
"My!" said Rose-Pompon; "it is for the little mysterious old man, who has such extraordinary ways. Does it come from far?"
"I believe you; it comes from Italy, from Rome," said Ninny Moulin, looking in his turn at the letter, which the greengrocer held in her hand. "Who is the astonishing little old man of whom you speak?"
"Just imagine to yourself, my great apostle," said Rose-Pompon, "a little old man, who has two rooms at the bottom of that court. He never sleeps there, but comes from time to time, and shuts himself up for hours, without ever allowing any one to enter his lodging, and without any one knowing what he does there."
"He is a conspirator," said Ninny Moulin, laughing, "or else a comer."
"Poor dear man," said Mother Arsene, "what has he done with his false money? He pays me always in sous for the bit of bread and the radish I furnish him for his breakfast."
"And what is the name of this mysterious chap?" asked Dumoulin.
"M. Charlemagne," said the greengrocer. "But look, surely one speaks of the devil, one is sure to see his horns."
"Where's the horns?"
"There, by the side of the house—that little old man, who walks with his neck awry, and his umbrella under his arm."
"M. Rodin!" ejaculated Ninny Moulin, retreating hastily, and descending three steps into the shop, in order not to be seen. Then he added. "You say, that this gentleman calls himself—"
"M. Charlemagne—do you know him?" asked the greengrocer.
"What the devil does he do here, under a false name?" said Jacques Dumoulin to himself.
"You know him?" said Rose-Pompon, with impatience. "You are quite confused."
"And this gentleman has two rooms in this house, and comes here mysteriously," said Jacques Dumoulin, more and more surprised.
"Yes," resumed Rose-Pompon; "you can see his windows from Philemon's dove-cote."
"Quick! quick! let me go into the passage, that I may not meet him," said Dumoulin.
And, without having been perceived by Rodin, he glided from the shop into the passage, and thence mounted to the stairs, which led to the apartment occupied by Rose-Pompon.
"Good-morning, M. Charlemagne," said Mother Arsene to Rodin, who made his appearance on the threshold. "You come twice in a day; that is right, for your visits are extremely rare."
"You are too polite, my good lady," said Rodin, with a very courteous bow; and he entered the shop of the greengrocer.
(21) There are, really, ordinances, full of a touching interest for the canine race, which forbid the harnessing of dogs.
CHAPTER XXIX. THE DEN.
Rodin's countenance, when he entered Mother Arsene's shop, was expressive of the most simple candor. He leaned his hands on the knob of his umbrella, and said: "I much regret, my good lady, that I roused you so early this morning."
"You do not come often enough, my dear sir, for me to find fault with you."
"How can I help it, my good lady? I live in the country, and only come hither from time to time to settle my little affairs."
"Talking of that sir, the letter you expected yesterday has arrived this morning. It is large, and comes from far. Here it is," said the greengrocer, drawing it from her pocket; "it cost nothing for postage."
"Thank you, my dear lady," said Rodin, taking the letter with apparent indifference, and putting it into the side-pocket of his great-coat, which he carefully buttoned over.
"Are you going up to your rooms, sir?"
"Yes, my good, lady."
"Then I will get ready your little provisions," said Mother Arsene; "as usual, I suppose, my dear sir?"
"Just as usual."
"It shall be ready in the twinkling of an eye, sir."
So saying, the greengrocer took down an old basket; after throwing into it three or four pieces of turf, a little bundle of wood, and some charcoal, she covered all this fuel with a cabbage leaf; then, going to the further end of the shop, she took from a chest a large round loaf, cut off a slice, and selecting a magnificent radish with the eye of a connoisseur, divided it in two, made a hole in it, which she filled with gray salt joined the two pieces together again, and placed it carefully by the side of the bread, on the cabbage leaf which separated the eatables from the combustibles. Finally, taking some embers from the stove, she put them into a little earthen pot, containing ashes, which she placed also in the basket.
Then, reascending to her top step, Mother Arsene said to Rodin: "Here is your basket, sir."
"A thousand thanks, my good lady," answered Rodin, and plunging his hand into the pocket of his trousers, he drew forth eight sous, which he counted out only one by one to the greengrocer, and said to her, as he carried off his store: "Presently, when I come down again, I will return your basket as usual."
"Quite at your service, my dear sir, quite at your service," said Mother Arsene.
Rodin tucked his umbrella under his left arm, took up the greengrocer's basket with his right hand, entered the dark passage, crossed the little court and mounted with light step to the second story of a dilapidated building; there, drawing a key from his pocket, he opened a door, which he locked carefully after him. The first of the two rooms which he occupied was completely unfurnished, as for the second, it is impossible to imagine a more gloomy and miserable den. Papering so much worn, torn and faded, that no one could recognize its primitive color, bedecked the walls. A wretched flock-bed, covered with a moth-fretted blanket; a stool, and a little table of worm-eaten wood; an earthenware stove, as cracked as old china; a trunk with a padlock, placed under the bed—such was the furniture of this desolate hole. A narrow window, with dirty panes, hardly gave any light to this room, which was almost deprived of air by the height of the building in front; two old cotton pocket handkerchiefs, fastened together with pins, and made to slide upon a string stretched across the window, served for curtains. The plaster of the roof, coming through the broken and disjointed tiles, showed the extreme neglect of the inhabitant of this abode. After locking his door, Rodin threw his hat and umbrella on the bed, placed his basket on the ground, set the radish and bread on the table, and kneeling down before his stove, stuffed it with fuel, and lighted it by blowing with vigorous lungs on the embers contained in his earthen pot.
When, to use the consecrated expression, the stove began to draw, Rodin spread out the handkerchiefs, which served him for curtains; then, thinking himself quite safe from every eye, he took from the side-pocket of his great-coat the letter that Mother Arsene had given him. In doing so, he brought out several papers and different articles; one of these papers, folded into a thick and rumpled packet, fell upon the table, and flew open. It contained a silver cross of the Legion of Honor, black with time. The red ribbon of this cross had almost entirely lost its original color. At sight of this cross, which he replaced in his pocket with the medal of which Faringhea had despoiled Djalma, Rodin shrugged his shoulders with a contemptuous and sardonic air; then, producing his large silver watch, he laid it on the table by the side of the letter from Rome. He looked at this letter with a singular mixture of suspicion and hope, of fear, and impatient curiosity. After a moment's reflection, he prepared to unseal the envelope; but suddenly he threw it down again upon the table, as if, by a strange caprice, he had wished to prolong for a few minutes that agony of uncertainty, as poignant and irritating as the emotion of the gambler.
Looking at his watch, Rodin resolved not to open the letter, until the hand should mark half-past nine, of which it still wanted seven minutes. In one of those whims of puerile fatalism, from which great minds have not been exempt, Rodin said to himself: "I burn with impatience to open this letter. If I do not open it till half-past nine, the news will be favorable." To employ these minutes, Rodin took several turns up and down the room, and stood in admiring contemplation before two old prints, stained with damp and age, and fastened to the wall by rusty nails. The first of these works of art—the only ornaments with which Rodin had decorated this hole—was one of those coarse pictures, illuminated with red, yellow, green, and blue, such as are sold at fairs; an Italian inscription announced that this print had been manufactured at Rome. It represented a woman covered with rags, bearing a wallet, and having a little child upon her knees; a horrible hag of a fortune-teller held in her hands the hand of the little child, and seemed to read there his future fate, for these words in large blue letters issued from her mouth: "Sara Papa" (he shall be Pope).
The second of these works of art, which appeared to inspire Rodin with deep meditations, was an excellent etching, whose careful finish and bold, correct drawing, contrasted singularly with the coarse coloring of the other picture. This rare and splendid engraving, which had cost Rodin six louis (an enormous expense for him), represented a young boy dressed in rags. The ugliness of his features was compensated by the intellectual expression of his strongly marked countenance. Seated on a stone, surrounded by a herd of swine, that he seemed employed in keeping, he was seen in front, with his elbow resting on his knee, and his chin in the palm of his hand. The pensive and reflective attitude of this young man, dressed as a beggar, the power expressed in his large forehead, the acuteness of his penetrating glance, and the firm lines of the mouth, seemed to reveal indomitable resolution, combined with superior intelligence and ready craft. Beneath this figure, the emblems of the papacy encircled a medallion, in the centre of which was the head of an old man, the lines of which, strongly marked, recalled in a striking manner, notwithstanding their look of advanced age, the features of the young swineherd. This engraving was entitled THE YOUTH of SIXTUS V.; the color print was entitled The Prediction.(22)
In contemplating these prints more and more nearly, with ardent and inquiring eye, as though he had asked for hopes or inspirations from them, Rodin had come so close that, still standing, with his right arm bent behind his head, he rested, as it were, against the wall, whilst, hiding his left hand in the pocket of his black trousers, he thus held back one of the flaps of his olive great-coat. For some minutes, he remained in this meditative attitude.
Rodin, as we have said, came seldom to this lodging; according to the rules of his Order, he had till now lived with Father d'Aigrigny, whom he was specially charged to watch. No member of the Society, particularly in the subaltern position which Rodin had hitherto held, could either shut himself in, or possess an article of furniture made to lock. By this means nothing interferes with the mutual spy-system, incessantly carried on, which forms one of the most powerful resources of the Company of Jesus. It was on account of certain combinations, purely personal to himself, though connected on some points with the interests of the Order, that Rodin, unknown to all, had taken these rooms in the Rue Clovis. And it was from the depths of this obscure den that the socius corresponded directly with the most eminent and influential personages of the sacred college. On one occasion, when Rodin wrote to Rome, that Father d'Aigrigny, having received orders to quit France without seeing his dying mother, had hesitated to set out, the socius had added, in form of postscriptum, at the bottom of the letter denouncing to the General of the Order the hesitation of Father d'Aigrigny:
"Tell the Prince Cardinal that he may rely upon me, but I hope for his active aid in return."
This familiar manner of corresponding with the most powerful dignitary of the Order, the almost patronizing tone of the recommendation that Rodin addressed to the Prince Cardinal, proved that the socius, notwithstanding his apparently subaltern position, was looked upon, at that epoch, as a very important personage, by many of the Princes of the Church, who wrote to him at Paris under a false name, making use of a cipher and other customary precautions. After some moments passed in contemplation, before the portrait of Sixtus V., Rodin returned slowly to the table, on which lay the letter, which, by a sort of superstitious delay, he had deferred opening, notwithstanding his extreme curiosity. As it still wanted some minutes of half-past nine, Rodin, in order not to lose time, set about making preparations for his frugal breakfast. He placed on the table, by the side of an inkstand, furnished with pens, the slice of bread and the radish; then seating himself on his stool, with the stove, as it were, between his legs, he drew a horn-handled knife from his pocket, and cutting alternately a morsel of bread and a morsel of radish, with a sharp, well-worn blade, he began his temperate repast with a vigorous appetite, keeping his eye fixed on the hand of his watch. When it reached the momentous hour, he unsealed the envelope with a trembling hand.
It contained two letters. The first appeared to give him little satisfaction; for, after some minutes, he shrugged his shoulders, struck the table impatiently with the handle of his knife, disdainfully pushed aside the letter with the back of his dirty hand, and perused the second epistle, holding his bread in one hand, and with the other mechanically dipping a slice of radish into the gray salt spilt on a corner of the table. Suddenly, Rodin's hand remained motionless. As he progressed in his reading, he appeared more and more interested, surprised, and struck. Rising abruptly, he ran to the window, as if to assure himself, by a second examination of the cipher, that he was not deceived. The news announced to him in the letter seemed to be unexpected. No doubt, Rodin found that he had deciphered correctly, for, letting fall his arms, not in dejection, but with the stupor of a satisfaction as unforeseen as extraordinary, he remained for some time with his head down, and his eyes fixed—the only mark of joy that he gave being manifested by a loud, frequent, and prolonged respiration. Men who are as audacious in their ambition, as they are patient and obstinate in their mining and countermining, are surprised at their own success, when this latter precedes and surpasses their wise and prudent expectations. Rodin was now in this case. Thanks to prodigies of craft, address, and dissimulation, thanks to mighty promises of corruption, thanks to the singular mixture of admiration, fear, and confidence, with which his genius inspired many influential persons, Rodin now learned from members of the pontifical government, that, in case of a possible and probable occurrence, he might, within a given time, aspire, with a good chance of success, to a position which has too often excited the fear, the hate, or the envy of many sovereigns, and which has in turn, been occupied by great, good men, by abominable scoundrels, and by persons risen from the lowest grades of society. But for Rodin to attain this end with certainty, it was absolutely necessary for him to succeed in that project, which he had undertaken to accomplish without violence, and only by the play and the rebound of passions skillfully managed. The project was: To secure for the Society of Jesus the fortune of the Rennepont family.
This possession would thus have a double and immense result; for Rodin, acting in accordance with his personal views, intended to make of his Order (whose chief was at his discretion) a stepping-stone and a means of intimidation. When his first impression of surprise had passed away—an impression that was only a sort of modesty of ambition and self diffidence, not uncommon with men of really superior powers—Rodin looked more coldly and logically on the matter, and almost reproached himself for his surprise. But soon after, by a singular contradiction, yielding to one of those puerile and absurd ideas, by which men are often carried away when they think themselves alone and unobserved, Rodin rose abruptly, took the letter which had caused him such glad surprise, and went to display it, as it were, before the eyes of the young swineherd in the picture: then, shaking his head proudly and triumphantly, casting his reptile-glance on the portrait, he muttered between his teeth, as he placed his dirty finger on the pontifical emblem: "Eh, brother? and I also—perhaps!"
After this ridiculous interpolation, Rodin returned to his seat, and, as if the happy news he had just received had increased his appetite, he placed the letter before him, to read it once more, whilst he exercised his teeth, with a sort of joyous fury, on his hard bread and radish, chanting an old Litany.
There was something strange, great, and, above all, frightful, in the contrast afforded by this immense ambition, already almost justified by events, and contained, as it were, in so miserable an abode. Father d'Aigrigny (who, if not a very superior man, had at least some real value, was a person of high birth, very haughty, and placed in the best society) would never have ventured to aspire to what Rodin thus looked to from the first. The only aim of Father d'Aigrigny, and even this he thought presumptuous, was to be one day elected General of his Order—that Order which embraced the world. The difference of the ambitious aptitudes of these two personages is conceivable. When a man of eminent abilities, of a healthy and vivacious nature, concentrates all the strength of his mind and body upon a single point, remaining, like Rodin, obstinately chaste and frugal, and renouncing every gratification of the heart and the senses—the man, who revolts against the sacred designs of his Creator, does so almost always in favor of some monstrous and devouring passion—some infernal divinity, which, by a sacrilegious pact, asks of him, in return for the bestowal of formidable power, the destruction of every noble sentiment, and of all those ineffable attractions and tender instincts with which the Maker, in His eternal wisdom and inexhaustible munificence, has so paternally endowed His creatures.
During the scene that we have just described, Rodin had not perceived that the curtain of a window on the third story of the building opposite had been partially drawn aside, and had half-revealed the sprightly face of Rose-Pompon, and the Silenus-like countenance of Ninny Moulin. It ensued that Rodin, notwithstanding his barricade of cotton handkerchiefs, had not been completely sheltered from the indiscreet and curious examination of the two dancers of the Storm-blown Tulip.
(22) According to the tradition, it was predicted to the mother of Sixtus V., that he would be pope; and, in his youth, he is said to have kept swine.
CHAPTER XXX. AN UNEXPECTED VISIT.
Though Rodin had experienced much surprise on reading the second letter from Rome, he did not choose that his answer should betray any such amazement. Having finished his frugal breakfast, he took a sheet of paper, and rapidly wrote in cipher the following note, in the short, abrupt style that was natural to him when not obliged to restrain himself:
"The information does not surprise me. I had foreseen it all. Indecision and cowardice always bear such fruit. This is not enough. Heretical Russia murders Catholic Poland. Rome blesses the murderers, and curses the victims.(23)
"Let it pass.
"In return, Russia guarantees to Rome, by Austria, the bloody suppression of the patriots of Romagna.
"That, too, is well.
"The cut-throat band of good Cardinal Albani is not sufficient for the massacre of the impious liberals. They are weary of the task.
"Not so well. They must go on."
When Rodin had written these last words, his attention was suddenly attracted by the clear and sonorous voice of Rose-Pompon, who, knowing her Beranger by heart, had opened Philemon's window, and, seated on the sill, sang with much grace and prettiness this verse of the immortal song-writer:
"How wrong you are! Is't you dare say That heaven ever scowls on earth? The earth that laughs up to its blue, The earth that owes it joy and birth? Oh, may the wine from vines it warms, May holy love thence fluttering down, Lend my philosophy their charms, To drive away care's direful frown! So, firm let's stand, Full glass in hand, And all evoke The God of honest folk!"
This song, in its divine gentleness, contrasted so strangely with the cold cruelty of the few lines written by Rodin, that he started and bit his lips with rage, as he recognized the words of the great poet, truly Christian, who had dealt such rude blows to the false Church. Rodin waited for some moments with angry impatience, thinking the voice would continue; but Rose-Pompon was silent, or only continued to hum, and soon changed to another air, that of the Good Pope, which she entoned, but without words. Rodin, not venturing to look out of his window to see who was this troublesome warbler, shrugged his shoulders, resumed his pen, and continued:
"To it again. We must exasperate the independent spirits in all countries—excite philosophic rage all over Europe make liberalism foam at the mouth—raise all that is wild and noisy against Rome. To effect this, we must proclaim in the face of the world these three propositions. 1. It is abominable to assert that a man may be saved in any faith whatever, provided his morals be pure. 2. It is odious and absurd to grant liberty of conscience to the people. 3. The liberty of the press cannot be held in too much horror.24
"We must bring the Pap-fed man to declare these propositions in every respect orthodox—show him their good effect upon despotic governments—upon true Catholics, the muzzlers of the people. He will fall into the snare. The propositions once published, the storm will burst forth. A general rising against Rome—a wide schism—the sacred college divided into three parties. One approves—the other blames—the third trembles. The Sick Man, still more frightened than he is now at having allowed the destruction of Poland, will shrink from the clamors, reproaches, threats, and violent ruptures that he has occasioned.
"That is well—and goes far.
"Then, set the Pope to shaking the conscience of the Sick Man, to disturb his mind, and terrify his soul.
"To sum up. Make everything bitter to him—divide his council—isolate him—frighten him—redouble the ferocious ardor of good Albini—revive the appetite of the Sanfedists(25)—give them a gulf of liberals—let there be pillage, rape, massacre, as at Cesena—a downright river of Carbonaro blood—the Sick Man will have a surfeit of it. So many butcheries in his name—he will shrink, be sure he will shrink—every day will have its remorse, every night its terror, every minute its anguish; and the abdication he already threatens will come at last—perhaps too soon. That is now the only danger; you must provide against it.
"In case of an abdication, the grand penitentiary has understood me. Instead of confiding to a general the direction of our Order, the best militia of the Holy See, I should command it myself. Thenceforward this militia would give me no uneasiness. For instance: the Janissaries and the Praetorian Guards were always fatal to authority—why?—because they were able to organize themselves as defenders of the government, independently of the government; hence their power of intimidation.
"Clement XIV. was a fool. To brand and abolish our Company was an absurd fault. To protect and make it harmless, by declaring himself the General of the Order, is what he should have done. The Company, then at his mercy, would have consented to anything. He would have absorbed us, made us vassals of the Holy See, and would no longer have had to fear our services. Clement XIV. died of the cholic. Let him heed who hears. In a similar case, I should not die the same death."
Just then, the clear and liquid voice of Rose-Pompon was again heard. Rodin bounded with rage upon his seat; but soon, as he listened to the following verse, new to him (for, unlike Philemon's widow, he had not his Beranger at his fingers' ends), the Jesuit, accessible to certain odd, superstitious notions, was confused and almost frightened at so singular a coincidence. It is Beranger's Good Pope who speaks—
"What are monarchs? sheepish sots! Or they're robbers, puffed with pride, Wearing badges of crime blots, Till their certain graves gape wide. If they'll pour out coin for me, I'll absolve them—skin and bone! If they haggle—they shall see, My nieces dancing on their throne! So laugh away! Leap, my fay! Only watch one hurt the thunder First of all by Zeus under, I'm the Pope, the whole world's wonder!"
Rodin, half-risen from his chair, with outstretched neck and attentive eye, was still listening, when Rose-Pompon, flitting like a bee from flower to flower of her repertoire, had already begun the delightful air of Colibri. Hearing no more, the Jesuit reseated himself, in a sort of stupor; but, after some minutes' reflection, his countenance again brightened up, and he seemed to see a lucky omen in this singular incident. He resumed his pen, and the first words he wrote partook, as it were, of this strange confidence in fate.
"I have never had more hope of success than at this moment. Another reason to neglect nothing. Every presentiment demands redoubled zeal. A new thought occurred to me yesterday.
"We shall act here in concert. I have founded an ultra-Catholic paper called Neighborly Love. From its ultramontane, tyrannical, liberticidal fury, it will be thought the organ of Rome. I will confirm these reports. They will cause new terrors.
"That will be well.
"I shall raise the question of the liberty of instruction. The raw liberals will support us. Like fools, they admit us to equal rights; when our privileges, our influence of the confessional, our obedience to Rome, all place us beyond the circle of equal rights, by the advantages which we enjoy. Double fools! they think us disarmed, because they have disarmed themselves towards us.
"A burning question—irritating clamors—new cause of disgust for the Weak Man. Every little makes a mickle.
"That also is very well.
"To sum up all in two words. The end is abdication—the means, vexation, incessant torture. The Rennepont inheritance wilt pay for the election. The price agreed, the merchandise will be sold."
Rodin here paused abruptly, thinking he had heard some noise at that door of his, which opened on the staircase; therefore he listened with suspended breath; but all remaining silent, he thought he must have been deceived, and took up his pen:
"I will take care of the Rennepont business—the hinge on which will turn our temporal operations. We must begin from the foundation—substitute the play of interests, and the springs of passion, for the stupid club law of Father d'Aigrigny. He nearly compromised everything—and yet he has good parts, knows the world, has powers of seduction, quick insight—but plays ever in a single key, and is not great enough to make himself little. In his stead, I shall know how to make use of him. There is good stuff in the man. I availed myself in time of the full powers given by the R. F. G.; I may inform Father d'Aigrigny, in case of need, of the secret engagements taken by the General towards myself. Until now, I have let him invent for this inheritance the destination that you know of. A good thought, but unseasonable. The same end, by other means.
"The information was false. There are over two hundred millions. Should the eventuality occur, what was doubtful must become certain. An immense latitude is left us. The Rennepont business is now doubly mine, and within three months, the two hundred millions will be ours, by the free will of the heirs themselves. It must be so; for this failing, the temporal part would escape me, and my chances be diminished by one half. I have asked for full powers; time presses, and I act as if I had them. One piece of information is indispensable for the success of my projects. I expect it from you, and I must have it; do you understand me? The powerful influence of your brother at the Court of Vienna will serve you in this. I wish to have the most precise details as to the present position of the Duke de Reichstadt—the Napoleon II. of the Imperialists. Is it possible, by means of your brother, to open a secret correspondence with the prince, unknown to his attendants?
"Look to this promptly. It is urgent. This note will be sent off to day. I shall complete it to-morrow. It will reach you, as usual, by the hands of the petty shopkeeper."
At the moment when Rodin was sealing this letter within a double envelope, he thought that he again heard a noise at the door. He listened. After some silence, several knocks were distinctly audible. Rodin started. It was the first time any one had knocked at his door, since nearly a twelve-month that he occupied this room. Hastily placing the letter in his great-coat pocket, the Jesuit opened the old trunk under his bed, took from it a packet of papers wrapped in a tattered cotton handkerchief, added to them the two letters in cipher he had just received, and carefully relocked the trunk. The knocking continued without, and seemed to show more and more impatience. Rodin took the greengrocer's basket in his hand, tucked his umbrella under his arm, and went with some uneasiness to ascertain who was this unexpected visitor. He opened the door, and found himself face to face with Rose-Pompon, the troublesome singer, and who now, with a light and pretty courtesy, said to him in the most guileless manner in the world, "M. Rodin, if you please?"
(23) On page 110 of Lamennais' Affaires de Rome, will be seen the following admirable scathing of Rome by the most truly evangelical spirit of our age: "So long as the issue of the conflict between Poland and her oppressors remained in the balances, the papal official organ contained not one word to offend the so long victorious nation; but hardly had she gone down under the Czar's atrocious vengeance, and the long torture of a whole land doomed to rack, and exile, and servitude began, than this same journal found no language black enough to stain those whom fortune had fled. Yet it is wrong to charge this unworthy insult to papal power; it only cringes to the law which Russia lays down to it, when it says:
"'If you want to keep your own bones unbroken, bide where you are, beside the scaffold, and, as the victims pass, hoot at them!'"
(24) See Pope Gregory XVI.'s Encyclical Letter to the Bishops in France, 1832.
(25) Hardly had the Sixteenth Gregory ascended the pontifical throne, than news came of the rising in Bologna. His first idea was to call the Austrians, and incite the Sanfedist volunteer bands of fanatics. Cardinal Albini defeated the liberals at Cesena, where his followers pillaged churches, sacked the town, and ill-treated women. At Forli, cold-blooded murders were committed. In 1832 the Sanfedists (Holy Faithites) openly paraded their medals, bearing the heads of the Duke of Modena and the Pope; letters issued by the apostolic confederation; privileges and indulgences. They took the following oath: "I. A. B., vow to rear the throne and altar over the bones of infamous freedom shriekers, and exterminate these latter without pity for children's cries and women's tears." The disorders perpetrated by these marauders went beyond all bounds; the Romish Court regularized anarchy and organized the Sanfedists into volunteer corps, to which fresh privileges were granted. (Revue deux Mondes, Nov. 15th, 1844.—"La Revolution en Italie.")
CHAPTER XXXI. FRIENDLY SERVICES.
Notwithstanding his surprise and uneasiness, Rodin did not frown. He began by locking his door after him, as he noticed the young girl's inquisitive glance. Then he said to her good-naturedly, "Who do you want, my dear?"
"M. Rodin," repeated Rose-Pompon, stoutly, opening her bright blue eyes to their full extent, and looking Rodin full in the face.
"It's not here," said he, moving towards the stairs. "I do not know him. Inquire above or below."
"No, you don't! giving yourself airs at your age!" said Rose-Pompon, shrugging her shoulders. "As if we did not know that you are M. Rodin."
"Charlemagne," said the socius, bowing; "Charlemagne, to serve you—if I am able."
"You are not able," answered Rose-Pompon, majestically; then she added with a mocking air, "So, we have our little pussy-cat hiding-places; we change our name; we are afraid Mamma Rodin will find us out."
"Come, my dear child," said the socius, with a paternal smile; "you have come to the right quarter. I am an old man, but I love youth—happy, joyous youth! Amuse yourself, pray, at my expense. Only let me pass, for I am in a hurry." And Rodin again advanced towards the stairs.
"M. Rodin," said Rose-Pompon, in a solemn voice, "I have very important things to say to you, and advice to ask about a love affair."
"Why, little madcap that you are! have you nobody to tease in your own house, that you must come here?"
"I lodge in this house, M. Rodin," answered Rose-Pompon, laying a malicious stress on the name of her victim.
"You? Oh, dear, only to think I did not know I had such a pretty neighbor."
"Yes, I have lodged here six months, M. Rodin."
"On the third story, front, M. Rodin."
"It was you, then, that sang so well just now?"
"You gave me great pleasure, I must say."
"You are very polite, M. Rodin."
"You lodge, I suppose, with your respectable family?"
"I believe you, M. Rodin," said Rose-Pompon, casting down her eyes with a timid air. "I lodge with Grandpapa Philemon, and Grandmamma Bacchanal—who is a queen and no mistake."
Rodin had hitherto been seriously uneasy, not knowing in what manner Rose had discovered his real name. But on hearing her mention the Bacchanal queen, with the information that she lodged in the house, he found something to compensate for the disagreeable incident of Rose-Pompon's appearance. It was, indeed, important to Rodin to find out the Bacchanal Queen, the mistress of Sleepinbuff, and the sister of Mother Bunch, who had been noted as dangerous since her interview with the superior of the convent, and the part she had taken in the projected escape of Mdlle. de Cardoville. Moreover, Rodin hoped—thanks to what he had just heard—to bring Rose-Pompon to confess to him the name of the person from whom she had learned that "Charlemagne" masked "Rodin."