Hardly had the young girl pronounced the name of the Bacchanal queen, than Rodin clasped his hands, and appeared as much surprised as interested.
"Oh, my dear child," he exclaimed, "I conjure you not to jest on this subject. Are you speaking of a young girl who bears that nickname, the sister of a deformed needlewoman."
"Yes, sir, the Bacchanal Queen is her nickname," said Rose-Pompon, astonished in her turn; "she is really Cephyse Soliveau, and she is my friend."
"Oh! she is your friend?" said Rodin, reflecting.
"Yes, sir, my bosom friend."
"So you love her?"
"Like a sister. Poor girl! I do what I can for her, and that's not much. But how comes it that a respectable man of your age should know the Bacchanal Queen?—Ah! that shows you have a false name!"
"My dear child, I am no longer inclined to laugh," said Rodin, with so sorrowful an air, that Rose-Pompon, reproaching herself with her pleasantry, said to him: "But how comes it that you know Cephyse?"
"Alas! I do not know her—but a young fellow, that I like excessively—"
"Otherwise called Sleepinbuff. He is now in prison for debt," sighed Rodin. "I saw him yesterday."
"You saw him yesterday?—how strange!" said Rose-Pompon, clapping her hands. "Quick! quick!—come over to Philemon's, to give Cephyse news of her lover. She is so uneasy about him."
"My dear child, I should like to give her good news of that worthy fellow, whom I like in spite of his follies, for who has not been guilty of follies?" added Rodin, with indulgent good-nature.
"To be sure," said Rose-Pompon, twisting about as if she still wore the costume of a debardeur.
"I will say more," added Rodin: "I love him because of his follies; for, talk as we may, my dear child, there is always something good at bottom, a good heart, or something, in those who spend generously their money for other people."
"Well, come! you are a very good sort of a man," said Rose-Pompon, enchanted with Rodin's philosophy. "But why will you not come and see Cephyse, and talk to her of Jacques?"
"Of what use would it be to tell her what she knows already—that Jacques is in prison? What I should like, would be to get the worthy fellow out of his scrape."
"Oh, sir! only do that, only get Jacques out of prison," cried Rose Pompon, warmly, "and we will both give you a kiss—me and Cephyse!"
"It would be throwing kisses away, dear little madcap!" said Rodin, smiling. "But be satisfied, I want no reward to induce me to do good when I can."
"Then you hope to get Jacques out of prison?"
Rodin shook his head, and answered with a grieved and disappointed air. "I did hope it. Certainly, I did hope it; but now all is changed."
"How's that?" asked Rose-Pompon, with surprise.
"That foolish joke of calling me M. Rodin may appear very amusing to you, my dear child. I understand it, you being only an echo. Some one has said to you: 'Go and tell M. Charlemagne that he is one M. Rodin. That will be very funny.'"
"Certainly, I should never myself have thought of calling you M. Rodin. One does not invent such names," answered Rose-Pompon.
"Well! that person with his foolish jokes, has done, without knowing it, a great injury to Jacques Rennepont."
"What! because I called you Rodin instead of Charlemagne?" cried Rose Pompon, much regretting the pleasantry which she had carried on at the instigation of Ninny Moulin. "But really, sir," she added, "what can this joke have to do with the service that you were, about to render Jacques?"
"I am not at liberty to tell you, my child. In truth, I am very sorry for poor Jacques. Believe me, I am; but do let me pass.
"Listen to me, sir, I beg," said Rose-Pompon; "if I told you the name of the person who told me to call you Rodin, would you interest yourself again for Jacques?"
"I do not wish to know any one's secrets, my dear child. In all this, you have been the echo of persons who are, perhaps, very dangerous; and, notwithstanding the interest I feel for Jacques Rennepont, I do not wish, you understand, to make myself enemies. Heaven forbid!"
Rose-Pompon did not at all comprehend Rodin's fears, and upon this he had counted; for after a second's reflection, the young girl resumed: "Well, sir—this is too deep for me; I do not understand it. All I know is, that I am truly sorry if I have injured a good young man by a mere joke. I will tell you exactly how it happened. My frankness may be of some use."
"Frankness will often clear up the most obscure matters," said Rodin, sententiously.
"After all," said Rose-Pompon, "it's Ninny's fault. Why does he tell me nonsense, that might injure poor Cephyse's lover? You see, sir, it happened in this way. Ninny Moulin who is fond of a joke, saw you just now in the street. The portress told him that your name was Charlemagne. He said to me: 'No; his name is Rodin. We must play him a trick. Go to his room, Rose-Pompon, knock at the door, and call him M. Rodin. You will see what a rum face he will make.' I promised Ninny Moulin not to name him; but I do it, rather than run the risk of injuring Jacques."
At Ninny Moulin's name Rodin had not been able to repress a movement of surprise. This pamphleteer, whom he had employed to edit the "Neighborly Love," was not personally formidable; but, being fond of talking in his drink, he might become troublesome, particularly if Rodin, as was probable, had often to visit this house, to execute his project upon Sleepinbuff, through the medium of the Bacchanal Queen. The socius resolved, therefore, to provide against this inconvenience.
"So, my dear child," said he to Rose-Pompon, "it is a M. Desmoulins that persuaded you to play off this silly joke?"
"Not Desmoulins, but Dumoulin," corrected Rose. "He writes in the pewholders' papers, and defends the saints for money; for, if Ninny Moulin is a saint, his patrons are Saint Drinkard and Saint Flashette, as he himself declares."
"This gentleman appears to be very gay."
"Oh! a very good fellow."
"But stop," resumed Rodin, appearing to recollect himself; "ain't he a man about thirty-six or forty, fat, with a ruddy complexion?"
"Ruddy as a glass of red wine," said Rose-Pompon, "and with a pimpled nose like a mulberry."
"That's the man—M. Dumoulin. Oh! in that case, I am quite satisfied, my dear child. The jest no longer makes me uneasy; for M. Dumoulin is a very worthy man—only perhaps a little too fond of his joke."
"Then, sir, you will try to be useful to Jacques? The stupid pleasantry of Ninny Moulin will not prevent you?"
"I hope not."
"But I must not tell Ninny Moulin that you know it was he who sent me to call you M. Rodin—eh, sir?"
"Why not? In every case, my dear child, it is always better to speak frankly the truth."
"But, sir, Ninny Moulin so strongly recommended me not to name him to you—"
"If you have named him, it is from a very good motive; why not avow it? However, my dear child, this concerns you, not me. Do as you think best."
"And may I tell Cephyse of your good intentions towards Jacques?"
"The truth, my dear child, always the truth. One need never hesitate to say what is."
"Poor Cephyse! how happy she will be!" cried Rose-Pompon, cheerfully; "and the news will come just in time."
"Only you must not exaggerate; I do not promise positively to get this good fellow out of prison; I say, that I will do what I can. But what I promise positively is—for, since the imprisonment of poor Jacques, your friend must be very much straitened—"
"What I promise positively is some little assistance which your friend will receive to-day, to enable her to live honestly; and if she behaves well—hereafter—why, hereafter, we shall see."
"Oh, sir! you do not know how welcome will be your assistance to poor Cephyse! One might fancy you were her actual good angel. Faith! you may call yourself Rodin, or Charlemagne; all I know is, that you are a nice, sweet—"
"Come, come, do not exaggerate," said Rodin; "say a good sort of old fellow; nothing more, my dear child. But see how things fall out, sometimes! Who could have told me, when I heard you knock at my door—which, I must say, vexed me a great deal—that it was a pretty little neighbor of mine, who under the pretext of playing off a joke, was to put me in the way of doing a good action? Go and comfort your friend; this evening she will receive some assistance; and let us have hope and confidence. Thanks be, there are still some good people in the world!"
"Oh, sir! you prove it yourself."
"Not at all! The happiness of the old is to see the young happy."
This was said by Rodin with so much apparent kindness, that Rose-Pompon felt the tears well up to her eyes, and answered with much emotion: "Sir, Cephyse and me are only poor girls; there are many more virtuous in the world; but I venture to say, we have good hearts. Now, if ever you should be ill, only send for us; there are no Sisters of Charity that will take better care of you. It is all that we can offer you, without reckoning Philemon, who shall go through fire and water for you, I give you my word for it—and Cephyse, I am sure, will answer for Jacques also, that he will be yours in life and death."
"You see, my dear child, that I was right in saying—a fitful head and a good heart. Adieu, till we meet again."
Thereupon Rodin, taking up the basket, which he had placed on the ground by the side of his umbrella, prepared to descend the stairs.
"First of all, you must give me this basket; it will be in your way going down," said Rose-Pompon, taking the basket from the hands of Rodin, notwithstanding his resistance. Then she added: "Lean upon my arm. The stairs are so dark. You might slip."
"I will accept your offer, my dear child, for I am not very courageous." Leaning paternally on the right arm of Rose-Pompon, who held the basket in her left hand, Rodin descended the stairs, and crossed the court-yard.
"Up there, on the third story, do you see that big face close to the window-frame?" said Rose-Pompon suddenly to Rodin, stopping in the centre of the little court. "That is my Ninny Moulin. Do you know him? Is he the same as yours?"
"The same as mine," said Rodin, raising his head, and waving his hand very affectionately to Jacques Dumoulin, who, stupefied thereat, retired abruptly from the window.
"The poor fellow! I am sure he is afraid of me since his foolish joke," said Rodin, smiling. "He is very wrong."
And he accompanied these last words with a sinister nipping of the lips, not perceived by Rose-Pompon.
"And now, my dear child," said he, as they both entered the passage, "I no longer need you assistance; return to your friend, and tell her the good news you have heard."
"Yes, sir, you are right. I burn with impatience to tell her what a good man you are." And Rose-Pompon sprung towards the stairs.
"Stop, stop! how about my basket that the little madcap carries off with her?" said Rodin.
"Oh true! I beg your pardon, sir. Poor Cephyse! how pleased she will be. Adieu, sir!" And Rose-Pompon's pretty figure disappeared in the darkness of the staircase, which she mounted with an alert and impatient step.
Rodin issued from the entry. "Here is your basket, my good lady," said he, stopping at the threshold of Mother Arsene's shop. "I give you my humble thanks for your kindness."
"For nothing, my dear sir, for nothing. It is all at your service. Well, was the radish good?"
"Succulent, my dear madame, and excellent."
"Oh! I am glad of it. Shall we soon see you again?"
"I hope so. But could you tell me where is the nearest post-office?"
"Turn to the left, the third house, at the grocer's."
"A thousand thanks."
"I wager it's a love letter for your sweetheart," said Mother Arsene, enlivened probably by Rose Pompon's and Ninny Moulin's proximity.
"Ha! ha! ha! the good lady!" said Rodin, with a titter. Then, suddenly resuming his serious aspect, he made a low bow to the greengrocer, adding: "Your most obedient humble servant!" and walked out into the street.
We now usher the reader into Dr. Baleinier's asylum, in which Mdlle. de Cardoville was confined.
CHAPTER XXXII. THE ADVICE.
Adrienne de Cardoville had been still more strictly confined in Dr. Baleinier's house, since the double nocturnal attempt of Agricola and Dagobert, in which the soldier, though severely wounded, had succeeded, thanks to the intrepid devotion of his son, seconded by the heroic Spoil sport, in gaining the little garden gate of the convent, and escaping by way of the boulevard, along with the young smith. Four o'clock had just struck. Adrienne, since the previous day, had been removed to a chamber on the second story of the asylum. The grated window, with closed shutters, only admitted a faint light to this apartment. The young lady, since her interview with Mother Bunch, expected to be delivered any day by the intervention of her friends. But she felt painful uneasiness on the subject of Agricola and Dagobert, being absolutely ignorant of the issue of the struggle in which her intended liberators had been engaged with the people of the asylum and convent. She had in vain questioned her keepers on the subject; they had remained perfectly mute. These new incidents had augmented the bitter resentment of Adrienne against the Princess de Saint Dizier, Father d'Aigrigny, and their creatures. The slight paleness of Mdlle. de Cardoville's charming face, and her fine eyes a little drooping, betrayed her recent sufferings; seated before a little table, with her forehead resting upon one of her hands, half veiled by the long curls of her golden hair, she was turning over the leaves of a book. Suddenly, the door opened, and M. Baleinier entered. The doctor, a Jesuit, in lay attire, a docile and passive instrument of the will of his Order, was only half in the confidence of Father d'Aigrigny and the Princess de Saint-Dizier. He was ignorant of the object of the imprisonment of Mdlle. de Cardoville; he was ignorant also of the sudden change which had taken place in the relative position of Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin, after the reading of the testament of Marius de Rennepont. The doctor had, only the day before, received orders from Father d'Aigrigny (now acting under the directions of Rodin) to confine Mdlle. de Cardoville still more strictly, to act towards her with redoubled severity, and to endeavor to force her, it will be seen by what expedients, to renounce the judicial proceedings, which she promised herself to take hereafter against her persecutors. At sight of the doctor, Mdlle. de Cardoville could not hide the aversion and disdain with which this man inspired her. M. Baleinier, on the contrary, always smiling, always courteous, approached Adrienne with perfect ease and confidence, stopped a few steps from her, as if to study her features more attentively, and then added like a man who is satisfied with the observations he had made: "Come! the unfortunate events of the night before last have had a less injurious influence than I feared. There is some improvement; the complexion is less flushed, the look calmer, the eyes still somewhat too bright, but no longer shining with such unnatural fire. You are getting on so well! Now the cure must be prolonged—for this unfortunate night affair threw you into a state of excitement, that was only the more dangerous from your not being conscious of it. Happily, with care, your recovery will not, I hope, be very much delayed." Accustomed though she was to the audacity of this tool of the Congregation, Mdlle. de Cardoville could not forbear saying to him, with a smile of bitter disdain: "What impudence, sir, there is in your probity! What effrontery in your zeal to earn your hire! Never for a moment do you lay aside your mask; craft and falsehood are ever on your lips. Really, if this shameful comedy causes you as much fatigue as it does me disgust and contempt, they can never pay you enough."
"Alas!" said the doctor, in a sorrowful tone; "always this unfortunate delusion, that you are not in want of our care!—that I am playing a part, when I talk to you of the sad state in which you were when we were obliged to bring you hither by stratagem. Still, with the exception of this little sign of rebellious insanity, your condition has marvellously improved. You are on the high-road to a complete cure. By-and-by, your excellent heart will render me the justice that is due to me; and, one day, I shall be judged as I deserve."
"I, believe it, sir; the day approaches, in which you will be judged as you deserve," said Adrienne, laying great stress upon the two words.
"Always that other fixed idea," said the doctor with a sort of commiseration. "Come, be reasonable. Do not think of this childishness."
"What! renounce my intention to demand at the hands of justice reparation for myself, and disgrace for you and your accomplices? Never, sir—never!"
"Well!" said the doctor, shrugging his shoulders; "once at liberty, thank heaven, you will have many other things to think of, my fair enemy."
"You forget piously the evil that you do; but I, sir, have a better memory."
"Let us talk seriously. Have you really the intention of applying to the courts?" inquired Dr. Baleinier, in a grave tone.
"Yes, sir, and you know that what I intend, I firmly carry out."
"Well! I can only conjure you not to follow out this idea," replied the doctor, in a still more solemn tone; "I ask it as a favor, in the name of your own interest."
"I think, sir, that you are a little too ready to confound your interest with mine."
"Now come," said Dr. Baleinier, with a feigned impatience, as if quite certain of convincing Mdlle. de Cardoville on the instant; "would you have the melancholy courage to plunge into despair two persons full of goodness and generosity?"
"Only two? The jest would be complete, if you were to reckon three: you, sir, and my aunt, and Abbe d'Aigrigny; for these are no doubt the generous persons in whose name you implore my pity."
"No, madame; I speak neither of myself, nor of your aunt, nor of Abbe d'Aigrigny."
"Of whom, then, sir?" asked Mdlle. de Cardoville with surprise.
"Of two poor fellows, who, no doubt sent by those whom you call your friends, got into the neighboring convent the other night, and thence into this garden. The guns which you heard go off were fired at them."
"Alas! I thought so. They refused to tell me if either of them was wounded," said Adrienne, with painful emotion.
"One of them received a wound, but not very serious, since he was able to fly and escape pursuit."
"Thank God!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, clasping her hands with fervor.
"It is quite natural that you should rejoice at their escape, but by what strange contradiction do you now wish to put the officers of justice on their track? A singular manner, truly, of rewarding their devotion!"
"What do you say, sir?" asked Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"For if they should be arrested," resumed Dr. Baleinier, without answering her, "as they have been guilty of housebreaking and attempted burglary, they would be sent to the galleys."
"Heavens! and for my sake!"
"Yes; it would be for you, and what is worse, by you, that they would be condemned."
"By me, sir?"
"Certainly; that is, if you follow up your vengeance against your aunt and Abbe d'Aigrigny—I do not speak of myself, for I am quite safe; in a word, if you persist in laying your complaint before the magistrates, that you have been unjustly confined in this house."
"I do not understand you, sir. Explain yourself," said Adrienne, with growing uneasiness.
"Child that you are!" cried the Jesuit of the short robe, with an air of conviction; "do you think that if the law once takes cognizance of this affair, you can stop short its action where and when you please? When you leave this house, you lodge a complaint against me and against your family; well, what happens? The law interferes, inquires, calls witnesses, enters into the most minute investigations. Then, what follows? Why, that this nocturnal escalade, which the superior of the convent has some interest in hushing up, for fear of scandal—that this nocturnal attempt, I say, which I also would keep quiet, is necessarily divulged, and as it involves a serious crime, to which a heavy penalty is attached, the law will ferret into it, and find out these unfortunate men, and if, as is probable, they are detained in Paris by their duties or occupations, or even by a false security, arising from the honorable motives which they know to have actuated them, they will be arrested. And who will be the cause of this arrest? You, by your deposition against us."
"Oh, sir! that would be horrible; but it is impossible."
"It is very possible, on the contrary," returned M. Baleinier: "so that, while I and the superior of the convent, who alone are really entitled to complain, only wish to keep quiet this unpleasant affair, it is you—you, for whom these unfortunate men have risked the galleys—that will deliver them up to justice."
Though Mdlle. de Cardoville was not completely duped by the lay Jesuit, she guessed that the merciful intentions which he expressed with regard to Dagobert and his son, would be absolutely subordinate to the course she might take in pressing or abandoning the legitimate vengeance which she meant to claim of authority. Indeed, Rodin, whose instructions the doctor was following without knowing it, was too cunning to have it said to Mdlle. de Cardoville: "If you attempt any proceedings, we denounce Dagobert and his son;" but he attained the same end, by inspiring Adrienne with fears on the subject of her two liberators, so as to prevent her taking any hostile measures. Without knowing the exact law on the subject, Mdlle. de Cardoville had too much good sense not to understand that Dagobert and Agricola might be very seriously involved in consequence of their nocturnal adventure, and might even find themselves in a terrible position. And yet, when she thought of all she had suffered in that house, and of all the just resentment she entertained in the bottom of her heart, Adrienne felt unwilling to renounce the stern pleasure of exposing such odious machinations to the light of day. Dr. Baleinier watched with sullen attention her whom he considered his dupe, for he thought he could divine the cause of the silence and hesitation of Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"But, sir," resumed the latter, unable to conceal her anxiety, "if I were disposed, for whatever reason, to make no complaint, and to forget the wrongs I have suffered, when should I leave this place?"
"I cannot tell; for I do not know when you will be radically cured," said the doctor, benignantly. "You are in a very good way, but—"
"Still this insolent and stupid acting!" broke forth Mdlle. de Cardoville, interrupting the doctor with indignation. "I ask, and if it must be, I entreat you to tell me how long I am to be shut up in this dreadful house, for I shall leave it some day, I suppose?"
"I hope so, certainly," said the Jesuit of the short robe, with unction; "but when, I am unable to say. Moreover, I must tell you frankly, that every precaution is taken against such attempts as those of the other night; and the most vigorous watch will be maintained, to prevent your communicating with any one. And all this in your own interest, that your poor head may not again be dangerously excited."
"So, sir," said Adrienne, almost terrified, "compared with what awaits me, the last few days have been days of liberty."
"Your interest before everything," answered the doctor, in a fervent tone.
Mdlle. de Cardoville, feeling the impotence of her indignation and despair, heaved a deep sigh, and hid her face in her hands.
At this moment, quick footsteps were heard in the passage, and one of the nurses entered, after having knocked at the door.
"Sir," said she to the doctor, with a frightened air, "there are two gentlemen below, who wish to see you instantly, and the lady also."
Adrienne raised her head hastily; her eyes were bathed in tears.
"What are the names of these persons?" said M. Baleinier, much astonished.
"One of them said to me," answered the nurse: "'Go and inform Dr. Baleinier that I am a magistrate, and that I come on a duty regarding Mdlle. de Cardoville.'"
"A magistrate!" exclaimed the Jesuit of the short robe, growing purple in the face, and unable to hide his surprise and uneasiness.
"Heaven be praised!" cried Adrienne, rising with vivacity, her countenance beaming through her tears with hope and joy; "my friends have been informed in time, and the hour of justice is arrived!"
"Ask these persons to walk up," said Dr. Baleinier, after a moment's reflection. Then, with a still more agitated expression of countenance, he approached Adrienne with a harsh, and almost menacing air, which contrasted with the habitual placidity of his hypocritical smile, and said to her in a low voice: "Take care, madame! do not rejoice too soon."
"I no longer fear you," answered Mdlle. de Cardoville, with a bright, flashing eye. "M. de Montbron is no doubt returned to Paris, and has been informed in time. He accompanies the magistrate, and comes to deliver me. I pity you, sir—both you and yours," added Adrienne, with an accent of bitter irony.
"Madame," cried M. Baleinier, no longer able to dissemble his growing alarm, "I repeat to you, take care! Remember what I have told you. Your accusations would necessarily involve the discovery of what took place the other night. Beware! the fate of the soldier and his son is in your hands. Recollect they are in danger of the convict's chains."
"Oh! I am not your dupe, sir. You are holding out a covert menace. Have at least the courage to say to me, that, if I complain to the magistrates, you will denounce the soldier and his son."
"I repeat, that, if you make any complaint, those two people are lost," answered the doctor, ambiguously.
Startled by what was really dangerous in the doctor's threats, Adrienne asked: "Sir, if this magistrate questions me, do you think I will tell him a falsehood?"
"You will answer what is true," said M. Baleinier, hastily, in the hope of still attaining his end. "You will answer that you were in so excited a state of mind a few days ago, that it was thought advisable, for your own sake, to bring you hither, without your knowing it. But you are now so much better, that you acknowledge the utility of the measures taken with regard to you. I will confirm these words for, after all, it is the truth."
"Never!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, with indignation, "never will I be the accomplice of so infamous a falsehood; never will I be base enough to justify the indignities that I have suffered!"
"Here is the magistrate," said M. Baleinier, as he caught the sound of approaching footsteps. "Beware!"
The door opened, and, to the indescribable amazement of the doctor, Rodin appeared on the threshold, accompanied by a man dressed in black, with a dignified and severe countenance. In the interest of his projects, and from motives of craft and prudence that will hereafter be known, Rodin had not informed Father d'Aigrigny, and consequently the doctor, of the unexpected visit he intended to pay to the asylum, accompanied by a magistrate. On the contrary, he had only the day before given orders to M. Baleinier to confine Mdlle. de Cardoville still more strictly. Therefore, imagine the stupor of the doctor when he saw the judicial officer, whose unexpected presence and imposing aspect were otherwise sufficiently alarming, enter the room, accompanied by Rodin, Abbe d'Aigrigny's humble and obscure secretary. From the door, Rodin, who was very shabbily dressed, as usual, pointed out Mdlle. de Cardoville to the magistrate, by a gesture at once respectful and compassionate. Then, while the latter, who had not been able to repress a movement of admiration at sight of the rare beauty of Adrienne, seemed to examine her with as much surprise as interest, the Jesuit modestly receded several steps.
Dr. Baleinier in his extreme astonishment, hoping to be understood by Rodin, made suddenly several private signals, as if to interrogate him on the cause of the magistrate's visit. But this was only productive of fresh amazement to M. Baleinier; for Rodin did not appear to recognize him, or to understand his expressive pantomime, and looked at him with affected bewilderment. At length, as the doctor, growing impatient, redoubled his mute questionings, Rodin advanced with a stride, stretched forward his crooked neck, and said, in a loud voice: "What is your pleasure, doctor?"
These words, which completely disconcerted Baleinier, broke the silence which had reigned for some seconds, and the magistrate turned round. Rodin added, with imperturbable coolness: "Since our arrival, the doctor has been making all sorts of mysterious signs to me. I suppose he has something private to communicate, but, as I have no secrets, I must beg him to speak out loud."
This reply, so embarrassing for M. Baleinier, uttered in a tone of aggression, and with an air of icy coldness, plunged the doctor into such new and deep amazement, that he remained for some moments without answering. No doubt the magistrate was struck with this incident, and with the silence which followed it, for he cast a look of great severity on the doctor. Mdlle. de Cardoville, who had expected to have seen M. de Montbron, was also singularly surprised.
CHAPTER XXXIII. THE ACCUSER.
Baleinier, disconcerted for a moment by the unexpected presence of a magistrate, and by Rodin's inexplicable attitude, soon recovered his presence of mind, and addressing his colleague of the longer robe, said to him: "If I make signs to you, sir, it was that, while I wished to respect the silence which this gentleman"—glancing at the magistrate—"has preserved since his entrance, I desired to express my surprise at the unexpected honor of this visit."
"It is to the lady that I will explain the reason for my silence, and beg her to excuse it," replied the magistrate, as he made a half-bow to Adrienne, whom he thus continued to address: "I have just received so serious a declaration with regard to you, madame, that I could not forbear looking at you for a moment in silence, to see if I could read in your countenance or in your attitude, the truth or falsehood of the accusation that has been placed in my hands; and I have every reason to believe that it is but too well founded."
"May I at length be informed, sir," said Dr. Baleinier, in a polite but firm tone, "to whom I have the honor of speaking?"
"Sir, I am juge d'instruction, and I have come to inform myself as to a fact which has been pointed out to me—"
"Will you do me the honor to explain yourself, sir?" said the doctor, bowing.
"Sir," resumed the magistrate, M. de Gernande, a man of about fifty years of age, full of firmness and straightforwardness, and knowing how to unite the austere duties of his position with benevolent politeness, "you are accused of having committed—a very great error, not to use a harsher expression. As for the nature of that error, I prefer believing, sir, that you (a first rate man of science) may have been deceived in the calculation of a medical case, rather than suspect you of having forgotten all that is sacred in the exercise of a profession that is almost a priesthood."
"When you specify the facts, sir," answered the Jesuit of the short robe, with a degree of haughtiness, "it will be easy for me to prove that my reputation as a man of science is no less free from reproach, than my conscience as a man of honor."
"Madame," said M. de Gernande, addressing Adrienne, "is it true that you were conveyed to this house by stratagem?"
"Sir," cried M. Baleinier, "permit me to observe, that the manner in which you open this question is an insult to me."
"Sir, it is to the lady that I have the honor of addressing myself," replied M. de Gernande, sternly; "and I am the sole judge of the propriety of my questions."
Adrienne was about to answer affirmatively to the magistrate, when an expressive took from Dr. Baleinier reminded her that she would perhaps expose Dagobert and his son to cruel dangers. It was no base and vulgar feeling of vengeance by which Adrienne was animated, but a legitimate indignation, inspired by odious hypocrisy. She would have thought it cowardly not to unmask the criminals; but wishing to avoid compromising others, she said to the magistrate, with an accent full of mildness and dignity: "Permit me, sir, in my turn, rather to ask you a question."
"Will the answer I make be considered a formal accusation?"
"I have come hither, madame, to ascertain the truth, and no consideration should induce you to dissemble it."
"So be it, sir," resumed Adrienne; "but suppose, having just causes of complaint, I lay them before you, in order to be allowed to leave this house, shall I afterwards be at liberty not to press the accusations I have made?"
"You may abandon proceedings, madame, but the law will take up your case in the name of society, if its rights have been inured in your person."
"Shall I then not be allowed to pardon? Should I not be sufficiently avenged by a contemptuous forgetfulness of the wrongs I have suffered?"
"Personally, madame, you may forgive and forget; but I have the honor to repeat to you, that society cannot show the same indulgence, if it should turn out that you have been the victim of a criminal machination—and I have every reason to fear it is so. The manner in which you express yourself, the generosity of your sentiments, the calmness and dignity of your attitude, convince me that I have been well informed."
"I hope, sir," said Dr. Baleinier, recovering his coolness, "that you will at least communicate the declaration that has been made to you."
"It has been declared to me, sir," said the magistrate, in a stern voice, "that Mdlle. de Cardoville was brought here by stratagem."
"It is true. The lady was brought here by stratagem," answered the Jesuit of the short robe, after a moment's silence.
"You confess it, then?" said M. de Gernande.
"Certainly I do, sir. I admit that I had recourse to means which we are unfortunately too often obliged to employ, when persons who most need our assistance are unconscious of their own sad state."
"But, sir," replied the magistrate, "it has also been declared to me, that Mdlle. de Cardoville never required such aid."
"That, sir, is a question of medical jurisprudence, which has to be examined and discussed," said M. Baleinier, recovering his assurance.
"It will, indeed, sir, be seriously discussed; for you are accused of confining Mdlle. De Cardoville, while in the full possession of all her faculties."
"And may I ask you for what purpose?" said M. de Baleinier, with a slight shrug of the shoulders, and in a tone of irony. "What interest had I to commit such a crime, even admitting that my reputation did not place me above so odious and absurd a charge?"
"You are said to have acted, sir, in furtherance of a family plot, devised against Mdlle. de Cardoville for a pecuniary motive."
"And who has dared, sir, to make so calumnious a charge?" cried Dr. Baleinier, with indignant warmth. "Who has had the audacity to accuse a respectable, and I dare to say, respected man, of having been the accomplice in such infamy?"
"I," said Rodin, coldly.
"You!" cried Dr. Baleinier, falling back two steps, as if thunderstruck.
"Yes, I accuse you," repeated Rodin, in a clear sharp voice.
"Yes, it was this gentleman who came to me this morning, with ample proofs, to demand my interference in favor of Mdlle. de Cardoville," said the magistrate, drawing back a little, to give Adrienne the opportunity of seeing her defender.
Throughout this scene, Rodin's name had not hitherto been mentioned. Mdlle. de Cardoville had often heard speak of the Abbe d'Aigrigny's secretary in no very favorable terms; but, never having seen him, she did not know that her liberator was this very Jesuit. She therefore looked towards him, with a glance in which were mingled curiosity, interest, surprise and gratitude. Rodin's cadaverous countenance, his repulsive ugliness, his sordid dress, would a few days before have occasioned Adrienne a perhaps invincible feeling of disgust. But the young lady, remembering how the sempstress, poor, feeble, deformed, and dressed almost in rags was endowed notwithstanding her wretched exterior, with one of the noblest and most admirable hearts, recalled this recollection in favor of the Jesuit. She forgot that he was ugly and sordid, only to remember that he was old, that he seemed poor, and that he had come to her assistance. Dr. Baleinier, notwithstanding his craft, notwithstanding his audacious hypocrisy, in spite even of his presence of mind, could not conceal how much he was disturbed by Rodin's denunciation. His head became troubled as he remembered how, on the first day of Adrienne's confinement in this house, the implacable appeal of Rodin, through the hole in the door, had prevented him (Baleinier) from yielding to emotions of pity, inspired by the despair of this unfortunate young girl, driven almost to doubt of her own reason. And yet it was this very Rodin, so cruel, so inexorable, the devoted agent of Father d'Aigrigny, who denounced him (Baleinier), and brought a magistrate to set Adrienne at liberty—when, only the day before, Father d'Aigrigny had ordered an increase of severity towards her!
The lay Jesuit felt persuaded that Rodin was betraying Father d'Aigrigny in the most shameful manner, and that Mdlle. de Cardoville's friends had bribed and bought over this scoundrelly secretary. Exasperated by what he considered a monstrous piece of treachery, the doctor exclaimed, in a voice broken with rage: "And it is you, sir, that have the impudence to accuse me—you, who only a few days ago—"
Then, reflecting that the retort upon Rodin would be self-accusation, he appeared to give way to an excess of emotion, and resumed with bitterness: "Ah, sir, you are the last person that I should have thought capable of this odious denunciation. It is shameful!"
"And who had a better right than I to denounce this infamy?" answered Rodin, in a rude, overbearing tone. "Was I not in a position to learn—unfortunately, too late—the nature of the conspiracy of which Mdlle. de Cardoville and others have been the victims? Then, what was my duty as an honest man? Why, to inform the magistrate, to prove what I set forth, and to accompany him hither. That is what I have done."
"So, sir," said the doctor, addressing the magistrate, "it is not only myself that this man accuses, but he dares also—"
"I accuse the Abbe d'Aigrigny," resumed Rodin, in a still louder and more imperative tone, interrupting the doctor, "I accuse the Princess de Saint-Dizier, I accuse you, sir—of having, from a vile motive of self interest, confined Mdlle. de Cardoville in this house, and the two daughters of Marshal Simon in the neighboring convent. Is that clear?"
"Alas! it is only too true," said Adrienne, hastily. "I have seen those poor children all in tears, making signs of distress to me."
The accusation of Rodin, with regard to the orphans, was a new and fearful blow for Dr. Baleinier. He felt perfectly convinced that the traitor had passed clear over to the enemy's camp. Wishing therefore to put an end to this embarrassing scene, he tried to put a good face on the matter, in spite of his emotion, and said to the magistrate:
"I might confine myself, sir, to silence—disdaining to answer such accusations, till a judicial decision had given them some kind of authority. But, strong in a good conscience I address myself to Mdlle. de Cardoville, and I beg her to say if this very morning I did not inform her, that her health would soon be sufficiently restored to allow her to leave this house. I conjure her, in the name of her well-known love of truth to state if such was not my language, when I was alone with her—"
"Come, sir!" said Rodin, interrupting Baleinier with an insolent air; "suppose that, from pure generosity, this dear young lady were to admit as much—what will it prove in your favor?—why, nothing at all."
"What, sir," cried the doctor, "do you presume—"
"I presume to unmask you, without asking your leave. What have you just told us? Why, that being alone with Mdlle. de Cardoville, you talked to her as if she were really mad. How very conclusive!"
"But, sir—" cried the doctor.
"But, sir," resumed Rodin, without allowing him to continue, "it is evident that, foreseeing the possibility of what has occurred to-day, and, to provide yourself with a hole to creep out at, you have pretended to believe your own execrable falsehood, in presence of this poor young lady, that you might afterwards call in aid the evidence of your own assumed conviction. Come, sir! such stories will not go down with people of common sense or common humanity."
"Come now, sir!" exclaimed Baleinier, angrily.
"Well, sir," resumed Rodin, in a still louder voice, which completely drowned that of the doctor; "is it true, or is it not, that you have recourse to the mean evasion of ascribing this odious imprisonment to a scientific error? I affirm that you do so, and that you think yourself safe, because you can now say: 'Thanks to my care, the young lady has recovered her reason. What more would you have?'"
"Yes, I do say that, sir, and I maintain it."
"You maintain a falsehood; for it is proven that the lady never lost her reason for a moment."
"But I, sir, maintain that she did lose it."
"And I, sir, will prove the contrary," said Rodin.
"You? How will you do that?" cried the doctor.
"That I shall take care not to tell you at present, as you may well suppose," answered Rodin, with an ironical smile, adding with indignation: "But, really, sir, you ought to die for shame, to dare to raise such a question in presence of the lady. You should at least have spared her this discussion."
"Oh, fie, sir! I say, fie! It is odious to maintain this argument before her—odious if you speak truth, doubly odious if you lie," said Rodin, with disgust.
"This violence is inconceivable!" cried the Jesuit of the short robe, exasperated; "and I think the magistrate shows great partiality in allowing such gross calumnies to be heaped upon me!"
"Sir," answered M. de Gernande, severely, "I am entitled not only to hear, but to provoke any contradictory discussion that may enlighten me in the execution of my duty; it results from all this, that, even in your opinion, sir, Mdlle. de Cardoville's health is sufficiently good to allow her to return home immediately."
"At least, I do not see any very serious inconvenience likely to arise from it, sir," said the doctor: "only I maintain that the cure is not so complete as it might have been, and, on this subject, I decline all responsibility for the future."
"You can do so, safely," said Rodin; "it is not likely that the young lady will ever again have recourse to your honest assistance."
"It is useless, therefore, to employ my official authority, to demand the immediate liberation of Mdlle. de Cardoville," said the magistrate.
"She is free," said Baleinier, "perfectly free."
"As for the question whether you have imprisoned her on the plea of a suppositious madness, the law will inquire into it, sir, and you will be heard."
"I am quite easy, sir," answered M. Baleinier, trying to look so; "my conscience reproaches me with nothing."
"I hope it may turn out well, sir," said M. de Gernande. "However bad appearances may be, more especially when persons of your station in society are concerned, we should always wish to be convinced of their innocence." Then, turning to Adrienne, he added: "I understand, madame, how painful this scene must be to all your feelings of delicacy and generosity; hereafter, it will depend upon yourself, either to proceed for damages against M. Baleinier, or to let the law take its course. One word more. The bold and upright man"—here the magistrate pointed to Rodin—"who has taken up your cause in so frank and disinterested a manner, expressed a belief that you would, perhaps, take charge for the present of Marshal Simon's daughters, whose liberation I am about to demand from the convent where they also are confined by stratagem."
"The fact is, sir," replied Adrienne, "that, as soon as I learned the arrival of Marshal Simon's daughters in Paris, my intention was to offer them apartments in my house. These young ladies are my near relations. It is at once a duty and a pleasure for me to treat them as sisters. I shall, therefore, be doubly grateful to you, sir, if you will trust them to my care."
"I think that I cannot serve them better," answered M. de Gernande. Then, addressing Baleinier, he added, "Will you consent, sir, to my bringing these two ladies hither? I will go and fetch them, while Mdlle. de Cardoville prepares for her departure. They will then be able to leave this house with their relation."
"I entreat the lady to make use of this house as her own, until she leaves it," replied M. Baleinier. "My carriage shall be at her orders to take her home."
"Madame," said the magistrate, approaching Adrienne, "without prejudging the question, which must soon be decided by, a court of law, I may at least regret that I was not called in sooner. Your situation must have been a very cruel one."
"There will at least remain to me, sir, from this mournful time," said Adrienne, with graceful dignity, "one precious and touching remembrance—that of the interest which you have shown me. I hope that you will one day permit me to thank you, at my own home, not for the justice you have done me, but for the benevolent and paternal manner in which you have done it. And moreover, sir," added Mdlle. de Cardoville, with a sweet smile, "I should like to prove to you, that what they call my cure is complete."
M. de Gernande bowed respectfully in reply. During the abort dialogue of the magistrate with Adrienne, their backs were both turned to Baleinier and Rodin. The latter, profiting by this moment's opportunity, hastily slipped into the doctor's hand a note just written with a pencil in the bottom of his hat. Baleinier looked at Rodin in stupefied amazement. But the latter made a peculiar sign, by raising his thumb to his forehead, and drawing it twice across his brow. Then he remained impassible. This had passed so rapidly, that when M. de Gernande turned round, Rodin was at a distance of several steps from Dr. Baleinier, and looking at Mdlle. de Cardoville with respectful interest.
"Permit me to accompany you, sir," said the doctor, preceding the magistrate, whom Mdlle. de Cardoville saluted with much affability. Then both went out, and Rodin remained alone with the young lady.
After conducting M. de Gernande to the outer door of the house, M. Baleinier made haste to read the pencil-note written by Rodin; it ran as follows: "The magistrate is going to the convent, by way of the street. Run round by the garden, and tell the Superior to obey the order I have given with regard to the two young girls. It is of the utmost importance."
The peculiar sign which Rodin had made, and the tenor of this note, proved to Dr. Baleinier, who was passing from surprise to amazement, that the secretary, far from betraying the reverend father, was still acting for the Greater Glory of the Lord. However, whilst he obeyed the orders, M. Baleinier sought in vain to penetrate the motives of Rodin's inexplicable conduct, who had himself informed the authorities of an affair that was to have been hushed up, and that might have the most disastrous consequences for Father d'Aigrigny, Madame de Saint-Dizier, and Baleinier himself. But let us return to Rodin, left alone with Mdlle, de Cardoville.
CHAPTER XXXIV. FATHER D'AIGRIGNY'S SECRETARY.
Hardly had the magistrate and Dr. Baleinier disappeared, than Mdlle. de Cardoville, whose countenance was beaming with joy, exclaimed, as she looked at Rodin with a mixture of respect and gratitude, "At length, thanks to you, sir, I am free—free! Oh, I had never before felt how much happiness, expansion, delight, there is in that adorable word—liberty!"
Her bosom rose and fell, her rosy nostrils dilated, her vermilion lips were half open, as if she again inhaled with rapture pure and vivifying air.
"I have been only a few days in this horrible place," she resumed, "but I have suffered enough from my captivity to make me resolve never to let a year pass without restoring to liberty some poor prisoners for debt. This vow no doubt appears to belong a little to the Middle Ages," added she, with a smile; "but I would fain borrow from that noble epoch something more than its old windows and furniture. So, doubly thanks, sir!—for I take you as a partner in that project of deliverance, which has just (you see) unfolded itself in the midst of the happiness I owe to you, and by which you seem so much affected. Oh! let my joy speak my gratitude, and pay you for your generous aid!" exclaimed the young girl with enthusiasm.
Mdlle. de Cardoville had truly remarked a complete transfiguration in the countenance of Rodin. This man, lately so harsh, severe, inflexible, with regard to Dr. Baleinier, appeared now under the influence of the mildest and most tender sentiments. His little, half-veiled eyes were fixed upon Adrienne with an expression of ineffable interest. Then, as if he wished to tear himself from these impressions, he said, speaking to himself, "Come, come, no weakness. Time is too precious; my mission is not fulfilled. My dear young lady," added he, addressing himself to Adrienne, "believe what I say—we will talk hereafter of gratitude—but we have now to talk of the present so important for you and your family. Do you know what is taking place?"
Adrienne looked at the Jesuit with surprise, and said, "What is taking place, sir?"
"Do you know the real motive of your imprisonment in this house? Do you know what influenced the Princess de Saint-Dizier and Abbe d'Aigrigny?"
At the sound of those detested names, Mdlle. de Cardoville's face, now so full of happiness, became suddenly sad, and she answered with bitterness, "It is hatred, sir, that no doubt animated Madame de Saint-Dizier against me."
"Yes, hatred; and, moreover, the desire to rob you with impunity of an immense fortune."
"Me, sir! how?"
"You must be ignorant, my dear young lady, of the interest you had to be in the Rue Saint-Francois on the 13th February, for an inheritance?"
"I was ignorant, sir, of the date and details: but I knew by some family papers, and thanks to an extraordinary circumstance, that one of our ancestors—"
"Had left an enormous sum to be divided between his descendants; is it not so?"
"But what unfortunately you did not know, my dear young lady, was that the heirs were all bound to be present at a certain hour on the 13th February. This day and hour once past, the absent would forfeit their claim. Do you now understand why you have been imprisoned here, my dear young lady?"
"Yes, yes; I understand it," cried Mdlle. de Cardoville; "cupidity was added to the hatred which my aunt felt for me. All is explained. Marshal Simon's daughters, having the same right as I had have, like me, been imprisoned."
"And yet," cried Rodin, "you and they were not the only victims."
"Who, then, are the others, sir?"
"A young East Indian."
"Prince Djalma?" said Adrienne, hastily.
"For the same reason he has been nearly poisoned with a narcotic."
"Great God!" cried the young girl, clasping her hands in horror. "It is fearful. That young prince, who was said to have so noble and generous a character! But I had sent to Cardoville Castle—"
"A confidential person, to fetch the prince to Paris—I know it, my dear young lady; but, by means of a trick, your friend was got out of the way, and the young Oriental delivered to his enemies."
"And where is he now?"
"I have only vague information on the subject. I know that he is in Paris, and do not despair of finding him. I shall pursue my researches with an almost paternal ardor, for we cannot too much love the rare qualities of that poor king's son. What a heart, my dear young lady! what a heart! Oh, it is a heart of gold, pure and bright as the gold of his country!"
"We must find the prince, sir," said Adrienne with emotion; "let me entreat you to neglect nothing for that end. He is my relation—alone here—without support—without assistance."
"Certainly," replied Rodin, with commiseration. "Poor boy!—for he is almost a boy—eighteen or nineteen years of age—thrown into the heart of Paris, of this hell—with his fresh, ardent, half-savage passions—with his simplicity and confidence—to what perils may he not be exposed?"
"Well, we must first find him, sir," said Adrienne, hastily; "and then we will save him from these dangers. Before I was confined here, I learned his arrival in France, and sent a confidential person to offer him the services of an unknown friend. I now see that this mad idea, with which I have been so much reproached, was a very sensible one. I am more convinced of it than ever. The prince belongs to my family, and I owe him a generous hospitality. I had destined for him the lodge I occupied at my aunt's."
"And you, my dear young lady?"
"To-day, I shall remove to a house, which I had prepared some time ago, with the determination of quitting Madame de Saint-Dizier, and living alone as I pleased. Then, sir, as you seem bent upon being the good genius of our family, be as generous with regard to Prince Djalma, as you have been to me and Marshal Simon's daughters. I entreat you to discover the hiding-place of this poor king's son, as you call him; keep my secret for me, and conduct him to the house offered by the unknown friend. Let him not disquiet himself about anything; all his wants shall be provided for; he shall live—like a prince."
"Yes; he will indeed live like a prince, thanks to your royal munificence. But never was such kind interest better deserved. It is enough to see (as I have seen) his fine, melancholy countenance—"
"You have seen him, then, sir?" said Adrienne, interrupting Rodin.
"Yes, my dear young lady; I was with him for about two hours. It was quite enough to judge of him. His charming features are the mirror of his soul."
"And where did you see him, sir?"
"At your old Chateau de Cardoville, my dear young lady, near which he had been shipwrecked in a storm, and whither I had gone to—" Rodin hesitated for a moment, and then, as if yielding to the frankness of his disposition, added: "Whither I had gone to commit a bad action—a shameful, miserable action, I must confess!"
"You, sir?—at Cardoville House—to commit a bad action?" cried Adrienne, much surprised.
"Alas! yes, my dear young lady," answered Rodin with simplicity. "In one word, I had orders from Abbe d'Aigrigny, to place your former bailiff in the alternative either of losing his situation or lending himself to a mean action—something, in fact, that resembled spying and calumny; but the honest, worthy man refused."
"Why, who are you, sir?" said Mdlle. de Cardoville, more and more astonished.
"I am Rodin, lately secretary of the Abbe d'Aigrigny—a person of very little importance, as you see."
It is impossible to describe the accent, at once humble and ingenuous, of the Jesuit, as he pronounced these words, which he accompanied with a respectful bow. On this revelation, Mdlle. de Cardoville drew back abruptly. We have said that Adrienne had sometimes heard talk of Rodin, the humble secretary of the Abbe d'Aigrigny, as a sort of obedient and passive machine. That was not all; the bailiff of Cardoville Manor, writing to Adrienne on the subject of Prince Djalma, had complained of the perfidious and dishonest propositions of Rodin. She felt, therefore, a vague suspicion, when she heard that her liberator was the man who had played so odious a part. Yet this unfavorable feeling was balanced by the sense of what she owed to Rodin, and by his frank denunciation of Abbe d'Aigrigny before the magistrate. And then the Jesuit, by his own confession, had anticipated, as it were, the reproaches that might have been addressed to him. Still, it was with a kind of cold reserve that Mdlle. de Cardoville resumed this dialogue, which she had commenced with as much frankness as warmth and sympathy.
Rodin perceived the impression he had made. He expected it. He was not the least disconcerted when Mdlle. de Cardoville said to him, as she fixed upon him a piercing glance, "Ah! you are M. Rodin—secretary to the Abbe d'Aigrigny?"
"Say ex-secretary, if you please, my dear young lady," answered the Jesuit; "for you see clearly that I can never again enter the house of the Abbe d'Aigrigny. I have made of him an implacable enemy, and I am now without employment—but no matter—nay, so much the better—since, at this price, the wicked are unmasked, and honest people rescued."
These words, spoken with much simplicity, and dignity, revived a feeling of pity in Adrienne's heart. She thought within herself that, after all, the poor old man spoke the truth. Abbe d'Aigrigny's hate, after this exposure, would be inexorable, and Rodin had braved it for the sake of a generous action.
Still Mdlle. de Cardoville answered coldly, "Since you knew, sir, that the propositions you were charged to make to the bailiff of Cardoville were shameful and perfidious, how could you undertake the mission?"
"How?" replied Rodin, with a sort of painful impatience; "why, because I was completely under Abbe d'Aigrigny's charm, one of the most prodigiously clever men I have ever known, and, as I only discovered the day before yesterday, one of the most prodigiously dangerous men there is in the world. He had conquered my scruples, by persuading me that the End justifies the Means. I must confess that the end he seemed to propose to himself was great and beautiful; but the day before yesterday I was cruelly undeceived. I was awakened, as it were, by a thunder-peal. Oh, my dear young lady!" added Rodin, with a sort of embarrassment and confusion, "let us talk no more of my fatal journey to Cardoville. Though I was only an ignorant and blind instrument, I feel as ashamed and grieved at it as if I had acted for myself. It weighs upon me, it oppresses me. I entreat you, let us speak rather of yourself, and of what interests you—for the soul expands with generous thoughts, even as the breast is dilated in pure and healthful air."
Rodin had confessed his fault so spontaneously, he explained it so naturally, he appeared to regret it so sincerely, that Adrienne, whose suspicions had no other grounds, felt her distrust a good deal diminished.
"So," she resumed, still looking attentively at Rodin, "it was at Cardoville that you saw Prince Djalma?"
"Yes, madame; and my affection for him dates from that interview. Therefore I will accomplish my task. Be satisfied, my dear young lady; like you, like Marshal Simon's daughters, the prince shall avoid being the victim of this detestable plot, which unhappily does not stop there."
"And who besides, then, is threatened?"
"M. Hardy, a man full of honor and probity, who is also your relation, and interested in this inheritance, but kept away from Paris by infamous treachery. And another heir, an unfortunate artisan, who falling into a trap cleverly baited, has been thrown into a prison for debt."
"But, sir," said Adrienne, suddenly, "for whose advantage was this abominable plot, which really alarms me, first devised?"
"For the advantage of Abbe d'Aigrigny," answered Rodin.
"How, and by what right! Was he also an heir?"
"It would take too long to explain it to you, my dear young lady. You will know all one day. Only be convinced that your family has no more bitter enemy that Abbe d'Aigrigny."
"Sir," said Adrienne, giving way to one last suspicion, "I will speak frankly to you. How can I have deserved the interest that you seem to take in me, and that you even extend to all the members of my family?"
"My dear young lady," answered Rodin, with a smile, "were I to tell you the cause, you would only laugh at, or misapprehend me."
"Speak, I beg of you, sir. Do not mistrust me or yourself."
"Well, then, I became interested in you—devoted to you—because your heart is generous, your mind lofty, your character independent and proud. Once attached to you, those of your race, who are indeed themselves worthy of interest, were no longer indifferent to me. To serve them was to serve you also."
"But, sir—admitting that you suppose me worthy of the too flattering praises you bestow upon me—how could you judge of my heart, my mind, my character?"
"I will tell you, my dear young lady; but first I must make another confession, that fills me with shame. If you were not even so wonderfully endowed, what you have suffered in this house should suffice to command the interest of every honest man—don't you think so?"
"I do think it should, sir."
"I might thus explain the interest I feel in you. But no—I confess it—that would not have sufficed with me. Had you been only Mdlle. de Cardoville—a rich, noble, beautiful young lady—I should doubtless have pitied your misfortune; but I should have said to myself, 'This poor young lady is certainly much to be pitied; but what can I, poor man, do in it? My only resource is my post of secretary to the Abbe d'Aigrigny, and he would be the first that must be attacked. He is all-powerful, and I am nothing. To engage in a struggle with him would be to ruin myself, without the hope of saving this unfortunate person.' But when I learnt what you were, my dear young lady, I revolted, in spite of my inferiority. 'No,' I said, 'a thousand times, no! So fine an intellect, so great a heart, shall not be the victims of an abominable plot. I may perish in the struggle, but I will at least make the attempt.'"
No words can paint the mixture of delicacy, energy, and sensibility with which Rodin uttered these sentiments. As it often happens with people singularly repulsive and ill-favored, if they can once bring you to forget their ugliness, their very deformity becomes a source of interest and commiseration, and you say to yourself, "What a pity that such a mind, such a soul, should inhabit so poor a body!"—and you are touched and softened by the contrast.
It was thus that Mdlle. de Cardoville began to look upon Rodin. He had shown himself as simple and affectionate towards her as he had been brutal and insolent to Dr. Baleinier. One thing only excited the lively curiosity of Mdlle. de Cardoville—she wished to know how Rodin had conceived the devotion and admiration which she seemed to inspire.
"Forgive my indiscreet and obstinate curiosity, sir, but I wish to know—"
"How you were morally revealed to me—is it not so? Oh, my dear young lady! nothing is more simple. I will explain it to you in two words. The Abbe d'Aigrigny saw in me nothing but a writing-machine, an obtuse, mute, blind instrument—"
"I thought M. d'Aigrigny had more penetration."
"And you are right, my dear young lady; he is a man of unparalleled sagacity; but I deceived him by affecting more than simplicity. Do not, therefore, think me false. No; I am proud in my manner—and my pride consists in never appearing above my position, however subaltern it may be! Do you know why? It is that, however haughty may be my superiors, I can say to myself, 'They do not know my value. It is the inferiority of my condition, not me, that they humiliate.' By this I gain doubly—my self-love is spared, and I hate no one."
"Yes, I understand that sort of pride," said Adrienne, more and more struck with Rodin's original turn of mind.
"But let us return to what concerns you, my dear young lady. On the eve of the 13th of February, the Abbe d'Aigrigny delivered to me a paper in shorthand, and said to me, 'Transcribe this examination; you may add that it is to support the decision of a family council, which has declared, in accordance with the report of Dr. Baleinier, the state of mind of Mdlle. de Cardoville to be sufficiently alarming to render it necessary to confine her in a lunatic asylum.'"
"Yes," said Adrienne, with bitterness; "it related to a long interview, which I had with the Princess de Saint-Dizier, my aunt, and which was taken down without my knowledge."
"Behold me, then, poring over my shorthand report, and beginning to transcribe it. At the end of the first ten lines, I was struck with stupor. I knew not if I were awake or dreaming. 'What! mad?' They must be themselves insane who dare assert so monstrous a proposition!—More and more interested, I continued my reading—I finished it—Oh! then, what shall I say? What I felt, my dear young lady, it is impossible to express. It was sympathy, delight, enthusiasm!"
"Sir," said Adrienne.
"Yes, my dear young lady, enthusiasm! Let not the words shock your modesty. Know that these ideas, so new, so independent, so courageous which you expressed to your aunt with so much brilliancy, are, without your being aware of it, common to you and another person, for whom you will one day feel the most tender and religious respect."
"Of whom do you speak, sir?" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, more and more interested.
After a moment's apparent hesitation, Rodin resumed, "No, no—it is useless now to inform you of it. All I can tell you, my dear young lady, is that, when I had finished my reading, I ran to Abbe d'Aigrigny's, to convince him of the error into which he had fallen with regard to you. It was impossible then to find him; but yesterday morning I told him plainly what I thought. He only appeared surprised to find that I could think at all. He received my communications with contemptuous silence. I thought him deceived; I continued my remonstrances, but quite in vain. He ordered me to follow him to the house, where the testament of your ancestor was to be opened. I was so blind with regard to the Abbe d'Aigrigny, that it required the successive arrivals of the soldier, of his son, and of Marshal Simon's father, to open my eyes thoroughly. Their indignation unveiled to me the extent of a conspiracy, plotted long ago, and carried on with terrible ability. Then, I understood why you were confined here as a lunatic; why the daughters of Marshal Simon were imprisoned in a convent. Then a thousand recollections returned to my mind; fragments of letters and statements, which had been given me to copy or decipher, and of which I had never been able to find the explanation, put me on the track of this odious machination. To express then and there the sudden horror I felt at these crimes, would have been to ruin all. I did not make this mistake. I opposed cunning to cunning; I appeared even more eager than Abbe d'Aigrigny. Had this immense inheritance been destined for me alone, I could not have shown myself more grasping and merciless. Thanks to this stratagem, Abbe d'Aigrigny had no suspicion. A providential accident having rescued the inheritance from his hands, he left the house in a state of profound consternation. For my part, I felt indescribable joy; for I had now the means of saving and avenging you, my dear young lady. As usual, I went yesterday evening to my place of business. During the absence of the abbe, it was easy for me to peruse the correspondence relative to the inheritance. In this way I was able to unite all the threads of this immense plot. Oh! then, my dear young lady, I remained, struck with horror, in presence of the discoveries that I made, and that I never should have made under any other circumstances."
"What discoveries, sir?"
"There are some secrets which are terrible to those who possess them. Do not ask me to explain, my dear young lady; but, in this examination, the league formed against you and your relations, from motives of insatiable cupidity, appeared to me in all its dark audacity. Thereupon, the lively and deep interest which I already felt for you, my dear young lady, was augmented greatly, and extended itself to the other innocent victims of this infernal conspiracy. In spite of my weakness, I determined to risk all, to unmask the Abbe d'Aigrigny. I collected the necessary proofs, to give my declaration before the magistrate the needful authority; and, this morning, I left the abbe's house without revealing to him my projects. He might have employed some violent method to detain me; yet it would have been cowardly to attack him without warning. Once out of his house, I wrote to him, that I had in my hands proof enough of his crimes, to attack him openly in the face of day. I would accuse, and he must defend himself. I went directly to a magistrate, and you know the rest."
At this juncture, the door opened, and one of the nurses appeared, and said to Rodin: "Sir, the messenger that you and the magistrate sent to the Rue Brise-Miche has just come back."
"Has he left the letter?"
"Yes, sir; and it was taken upstairs directly."
"Very well. Leave us!" The nurse went out.
CHAPTER XXXV. SYMPATHY.
If it had been possible for Mdlle. de Cardoville to harbor any suspicion of the sincerity of Rodin's devotion, it must have given way before this reasoning, unfortunately so simple and undeniable. How could she suppose the faintest complicity between the Abbe d'Aigrigny and his secretary, when it was the latter who completely unveiled the machinations of his master, and exposed them to the tribunals? when in this, Rodin went even further than Mdlle. de Cardoville would herself have gone? Of what secret design could she suspect the Jesuit? At worst, of a desire to earn by his services the profitable patronage of the young lady.
And then, had he not just now protested against this supposition, by declaring his devotion, not to Mdlle. de Cardoville—not to the fair, rich, noble lady—but to the high-souled and generous girl? Finally, as Rodin had said himself, could any but a miserable wretch fail to be interested in Adrienne's fate? A strange mixture of curiosity, surprise, and interest, was joined with Mdlle. de Cardoville's feelings of gratitude towards Rodin. Yet, as she recognized the superior mind under that humble exterior, she was suddenly struck with a grave suspicion. "Sir," said she to Rodin, "I always confess to the persons I esteem the doubts they may have inspired, so that they may justify themselves, and excuse me, if I am wrong."
Rodin looked at Mdlle. de Cardoville with surprise, as if mentally calculating the suspicions than she might entertain, and replied, after a moment's silence: "You are perhaps thinking of my journey to Cardoville, of my base proposals to your good and worthy bailiff? Oh! if you—"
"No, no, sir," said Adrienne, interrupting him; "you made that confession spontaneously, and I quite understand, that, blinded with regard to M. d'Aigrigny, you passively executed instructions repugnant to your delicacy. But how comes it, that, with your incontestable merits, you have so long; occupied so mean a position in his service?"
"It is true," said Rodin, with a smile; "that must impress you unfavorably, my dear young lady; for a man of any capacity, who remains long in an inferior condition, has evidently some radical vice, some bad or base passion—"
"It is generally true, sir."
"And personally true—with regard to myself."
"What, sir! do you make this avowal?"
"Alas! I confess that I have a bad passion, to which, for forty years, I have sacrificed all chances of attaining to a better position."
"And this passion, sir?"
"Since I must make the unpleasant avowal, this passion is indolence—yes, indolence—the horror of all activity of mind, of all moral responsibility, of taking the lead in anything. With the twelve hundred francs that Abbe d'Aigrigny gave me, I was the happiest man in the world; I trusted to the nobleness of his views; his thoughts became mine, his wishes mine. My work once finished, I returned to my poor little chamber, I lighted my fire, I dined on vegetables—then, taking up some book of philosophy, little known, and dreaming over it, I gave free course to my imagination, which, restrained all the day long, carried me through numberless theories to a delicious Utopia. Then, from the eminences of my intelligence, lifted up Lord knows whither, by the audacity of my thoughts, I seemed to look down upon my master, and upon the great men of the earth. This fever lasted for three or four hours, after which I had a good sleep; and, the next morning, I went lightly to my work, secure of my daily bread, without cares for the future, living content with little, waiting with impatience for the delights of my solitary evening, and saying to myself as I went on writing like a stupid machine: 'And yet—and yet—if I chose!'—"
"Doubtless, you could, like others, surer than others, have reached a higher position," said Adrienne, greatly struck with Rodin's practical philosophy.
"Yes, I think I could have done so; but for what purpose?—You see, my dear young lady, what often renders people of some merit puzzles to the vulgar, is that they are frequently content to say: 'If I chose!'"
"But, sir, without attaching much importance to the luxuries of life, there is a certain degree of comfort, which age renders almost indispensable, and which you seem to have utterly renounced."
"Undeceive yourself, if you please, my dear young lady," said Rodin, with a playful smile. "I am a true Sybarite; I require absolutely warm clothes, a good stove, a soft mattress, a good piece of bread, a fresh radish, flavored with good cheap salt, and some good, clear water; and, notwithstanding this complication of wants, my twelve hundred francs have always more than sufficed, for I have been able to make some little savings."
"But now that you are without employment, how will you manage to live, sir?" said Adrienne, more and more interested by the singularities of this man, and wishing to put his disinterestedness to the proof.
"I have laid by a little, which will serve me till I have unravelled the last thread of Father d'Aigrigny's dark designs. I owe myself this reparation, for having been his dupe; three or four days, I hope, will complete the work. After that, I have the certainty of meeting with a situation, in my native province, under a collector of taxes: some time ago, the offer was made me by a friend; but then I would not leave Father d'Aigrigny, notwithstanding the advantages proposed. Fancy, my dear young lady—eight hundred francs, with board and lodging! As I am a little of the roughest, I should have preferred lodging apart; but, as they give me so much, I must submit to this little inconvenience."
Nothing could exceed Rodin's ingenuity, in making these little household confidences (so abominably false) to Mdlle. de Cardoville, who felt her last suspicions give way.
"What, sir?" said she to the Jesuit, with interest; "in three or four days, you mean to quit Paris?"
"I hope to do so, my dear young lady; and that," added he, in a mysterious tone, "and that for many reasons. But what would be very precious to me," he resumed, in a serious voice, as he looked at Adrienne with emotion, "would be to carry with me the conviction, that you did me the justice to believe, that, on merely reading your interview with the Princess de Saint-Dizier, I recognized at once qualities quite unexampled in our day, in a young person of your age and condition."
"Ah, sir!" said Adrienne, with a smile, "do not think yourself obliged to return so soon the sincere praises that I bestowed on your superiority of mind. I should be better pleased with ingratitude."
"Oh, no! I do not flatter you, my dear young lady. Why should I? We may probably never meet again. I do not flatter you; I understand you—that's all—and what will seem strange to you, is, that your appearance complete, the idea which I had already formed of you, my dear young lady, in reading your interview with your aunt: and some parts of your character, hitherto obscure to me, are now fully displayed."
"Really, sir, you astonish me more and more."
"I can't help it! I merely describe my impressions. I can now explain perfectly, for example, your passionate love of the beautiful, your eager worship of the refinements of the senses, your ardent aspirations for a better state of things, your courageous contempt of many degrading and servile customs, to which woman is condemned; yes, now I understand the noble pride with which you contemplate the mob of vain, self-sufficient, ridiculous men, who look upon woman as a creature destined for their service, according to the laws made after their own not very handsome image. In the eyes of these hedge-tyrants, woman, a kind of inferior being to whom a council of cardinals deigned to grant a soul by a majority of two voices, ought to think herself supremely happy in being the servant of these petty pachas, old at thirty, worn-out, used up, weary with excesses, wishing only for repose, and seeking, as they say, to make an end of it, which they set about by marrying some poor girl, who is on her side desirous to make a beginning."
Mdlle. de Cardoville would certainly have smiled at these satirical remarks, if she had not been greatly struck by hearing Rodin express in such appropriate terms her own ideas, though it was the first time in her life that she saw this dangerous man. Adrienne forgot, or rather, she was not aware, that she had to deal with a Jesuit of rare intelligence, uniting the information and the mysterious resources of the police-spy with the profound sagacity of the confessor; one of those diabolic priests, who, by the help of a few hints, avowals, letters, reconstruct a character, as Cuvier could reconstruct a body from zoological fragments. Far from interrupting Rodin, Adrienne listened to him with growing curiosity. Sure of the effect he produced, he continued, in a tone of indignation: "And your aunt and the Abbe d'Aigrigny treated you as mad, because you revolted against the yoke of such tyrants! because, hating the shameful vices of slavery, you chose to be independent with the suitable qualities of independence, free with the proud virtues of liberty!"
"But, sir," said Adrienne, more and more surprised, "how can my thoughts be so familiar to you?"
"First, I know you perfectly, thanks to your interview with the Princess de Saint-Dizier: and next, if it should happen that we both pursue the same end, though by different means," resumed Rodin, artfully, as he looked at Mdlle. de Cardoville with an air of intelligence, "why should not our convictions be the same?"
"I do not understand you, sir. Of what end do you speak?"
"The end pursued incessantly by all lofty, generous, independent spirits—some acting, like you, my dear young lady, from passion, from instinct, without perhaps explaining to themselves the high mission they are called on to ful, fil. Thus, for example, when you take pleasure in the most refined delights, when you surround yourself with all that charms the senses, do you think that you only yield to the attractions of the beautiful, to the desire of exquisite enjoyments? No! ah, no! for then you would be incomplete, odiously selfish, a dry egotist, with a fine taste—nothing more—and at your age, it would be hideous, my dear young lady, it would be hideous!"
"And do you really think thus severely of me?" said Adrienne, with uneasiness, so much influence had this man irresistibly attained over her.
"Certainly, I should think thus of you, if you loved luxury for luxury's sake; but, no—quite another sentiment animates you," resumed the Jesuit. "Let us reason a little. Feeling a passionate desire for all these enjoyments, you know their value and their need more than any one—is it not so?"
"It is so," replied Adrienne, deeply interested.
"Your gratitude and favor are then necessarily acquired by those who, poor, laborious, and unknown, have procured for you these marvels of luxury, which you could not do without?"
"This feeling of gratitude is so strong in me, sir," replied Adrienne, more and more pleased to find herself so well understood, "that I once had inscribed on a masterpiece of goldsmith's work, instead of the name of the seller, that of the poor unknown artist who designed it, and who has since risen to his true place."
"There you see, I was not deceived," went on Rodin; "the taste for enjoyment renders you grateful to those who procure it for you; and that is not all; here am I, an example, neither better nor worse than my neighbors, but accustomed to privations, which cause me no suffering—so that the privations of others necessarily touch me less nearly than they do you, my dear young lady; for your habits of comfort must needs render you more compassionate towards misfortune. You would yourself suffer too much from poverty, not to pity and succor those who are its victims."
"Really, sir," said Adrienne, who began to feel herself under the fatal charm of Rodin, "the more I listen to you, the more I am convinced that you would defend a thousand times better than I could those ideas for which I was so harshly reproached by Madame de Saint-Dizier and Abbe d'Aigrigny. Oh! speak, speak, sir! I cannot tell you with what happiness, with what pride I listen."
Attentive and moved, her eyes fixed on the Jesuit with as much interest as sympathy and curiosity, Adrienne, by a graceful toss of the head that was habitual to her, threw hack her long, golden curls, the better to contemplate Rodin, who thus resumed: "You are astonished, my dear young lady, that you were not understood by your aunt or by Abbe d'Aigrigny! What point of contact had you with these hypocritical, jealous, crafty minds, such as I can judge them to be now? Do you wish a new proof of their hateful blindness? Among what they called your monstrous follies, which was the worst, the most damnable? Why, your resolution to live alone and in your own way, to dispose freely of the present and the future. They declared this to be odious, detestable, immoral. And yet—was this resolution dictated by a mad love of liberty? no!—by a disordered aversion to all restraint? no!—by the desire of singularity?—no!—for then I, too, should have blamed you severely."
"Other reasons have indeed guided me, sir, I assure you," said Adrienne eagerly, for she had become very eager for the esteem with which her character might inspire Rodin.
"Oh! I know it well; your motives could only be excellent ones," replied the Jesuit. "Why then did you take this resolution, so much called in question? Was it to brave established etiquette? no! for you respected them until the hate of Mme. de Saint-Dizier forced you to withdraw yourself from her unbearable guardianship. Was it to live alone, to escape the eyes of the world? no! you would be a hundred times more open to observation in this than any other condition. Was it to make a bad use of your liberty? no, ah, no! those who design evil seek for darkness and solitude; while you place yourself right before the jealous anal envious eyes of the vulgar crowd. Why then do you take this determination, so courageous and rare, unexampled in a young person of your age? Shall I tell you, my dear young lady? It is, that you wish to prove, by your example, that a woman of pure heart and honest mind, with a firm character and independence of soul, may nobly and proudly throw off the humiliating guardianship that custom has imposed upon her. Yes, instead of accepting the fate of a revolted slave, a life only destined to hypocrisy or vice, you wish to live freely in presence of all the world, independent, honorable, and respected. You wish to have, like man, the exercise of your own free will, the entire responsibility of all your actions, so as to establish the fact, that a woman left completely to herself, may equal man in reason, wisdom, uprightness, and surpass him indelicacy and dignity. That is your design, my dear young lady. It is noble and great. Will your example be imitated? I hope it may; but whether it be so or not, your generous attempt, believe me, will place you in a high and worthy position."
Mdlle. de Cardoville's eyes shone with a proud and gentle brightness, her cheeks were slightly colored, her bosom heaved, she raised her charming head with a movement of involuntary pride; at length completely under the charm of that diabolical man she exclaimed: "But, sir, who are you that can thus know and analyze my most secret thoughts, and read my soul more clearly than myself, so as to give new life and action to those ideas of independence which have long stirred within me? Who are you, that can thus elevate me in my own eyes, for now I am conscious of accomplishing a mission, honorable to myself, and perhaps useful to my sisters immersed in slavery? Once again, sir, who are you?"
"Who am I, madame?" answered Rodin, with a smile of the greatest good nature; "I have already told you that I am a poor old man, who for the last forty years, having served in the day time as a writing machine to record the ideas of others, went home every evening to work out ideas of his own—a good kind of man who, from his garret, watches and even takes some little share in the movement of generous spirits, advancing towards an end that is nearer than is commonly thought. And thus, my dear young lady, as I told you just now, you and I are both tending towards the same objects, though you may do the same without reflection, and merely in obedience to your rare and divine instincts. So continue so to live, fair, free, and happy!—it is your mission—more providential than you may think it. Yes; continue to surround yourself with all the marvels of luxury and art; refine your senses, purify your tastes, by the exquisite choice of your enjoyments; by genius, grace, and purity raise yourself above the stupid and ill-favored mob of men, that will instantly surround you, when they behold you alone and free; they will consider you an easy prey, destined to please their cupidity, their egotism, their folly.
"Laugh at them, and mock these idiotic and sordid pretensions. Be the queen of your own world, and make yourself respected as a queen. Love—shine—enjoy—it is your part upon earth. All the flowers, with which you are whelmed in profusion, will one day bear fruit. You think that you have lived only for pleasure; in reality, you will have lived for the noblest aims that could tempt a great and lofty soul. And so—some years hence—we may meet again, perhaps; you, fairer and more followed than ever; I, older and more obscure. But, no matter—a secret voice, I am sure, says to you at this moment, that between us two, however different, there exists an invisible bond, a mysterious communion, which nothing hereafter will ever be able to destroy!"
He uttered these final words in a tone of such profound emotion, that Adrienne started. Rodin had approached without her perceiving it, and without, as it were, walking at all, for he dragged his steps along the floor, with a sort of serpent motion; and he had spoken with so much warmth and enthusiasm, that his pale face had become slightly tinged, and his repulsive ugliness had almost disappeared before the brilliancy of his small sharp eyes, now wide open, and fixed full upon Adrienne. The latter leaned forward, with half-open lips and deep-drawn breath, nor could she take her eyes from the Jesuit's; he had ceased to speak, and yet she was still listening. The feelings of the fair young lady, in presence of this little old man, dirty, ugly, and poor, were inexplicable. That comparison so common, and yet so true, of the frightful fascination of the bird by the serpent, might give some idea of the singular impression made upon her. Rodin's tactics were skillful and sure. Until now, Mdlle. de Cardoville had never analyzed her tastes or instincts. She had followed them, because they were inoffensive and charming. How happy and proud she then was sure to be to hear a man of superior mind not only praise these tendencies, for which she had been heretofore so severely blamed, but congratulate her upon them, as upon something great, noble, and divine! If Rodin had only addressed himself to Adrienne's self-conceit, he would have failed in his perfidious designs, for she had not the least spark of vanity. But he addressed himself to all that was enthusiastic and generous in her heart; that which he appeared to encourage and admire in her was really worthy of encouragement and admiration. How could she fail to be the dupe of such language, concealing though it did such dark and fatal projects?