Struck with the Jesuit's rare intelligence, feeling her curiosity greatly excited by some mysterious words that he had purposely uttered, hardly explaining to herself the strange influence which this pernicious counsellor already exercised over her, and animated by respectful compassion for a man of his age and talents placed in so precarious a position, Adrienne said to him, with all her natural cordiality, "A man of your merit and character, sir, ought not to be at the mercy of the caprice of circumstances. Some of your words have opened a new horizon before me; I feel that, on many points, your counsels may be of the greatest use to me. Moreover, in coming to fetch me from this house, and in devoting yourself to the service of other persons of my family, you have shown me marks of interest which I cannot forget without ingratitude. You have lost a humble but secure situation. Permit me—"
"Not a word more, my dear young lady," said Rodin, interrupting Mdlle. de Cardoville, with an air of chagrin. "I feel for you the deepest sympathy; I am honored by having ideas in common with you; I believe firmly that some day you will have to ask advice of the poor old philosopher; and, precisely because of all that, I must and ought to maintain towards you the most complete independence."
"But, sir, it is I that would be the obliged party, if you deigned to accept what I offer."
"Oh, my dear young lady," said Rodin, with a smile: "I know that your generosity would always know how to make gratitude light and easy; but, once more, I cannot accept anything from you. One day, perhaps, you will know why."
"It is impossible for me to tell you more. And then, supposing I were under an obligation to you, how could I tell you all that was good and beautiful in your actions? Hereafter, if you are somewhat indebted to me for my advice, so much the better; I shall be the more ready to blame you, if I find anything to blame."
"In this way, sir, you would forbid me to be grateful to you."
"No, no," said Rodin, with apparent emotion. "Oh, believe me! there will come a solemn moment, in which you may repay all, in a manner worthy of yourself and me."
This conversation was here interrupted by the nurse, who said to Adrienne as she entered: "Madame, there is a little humpback workwoman downstairs, who wishes to speak to you. As, according to the doctor's new orders, you are to do as you like, I have come to ask, if I am to bring her up to you. She is so badly dressed, that I did not venture."
"Bring her up, by all means," said Adrienne, hastily, for she had recognized Mother Bunch by the nurse's description. "Bring her up directly."
"The doctor has also left word, that his carriage is to be at your orders, madame; are the horses to be put to?"
"Yes, in a quarter of an hour," answered Adrienne to the nurse, who went out; then, addressing Rodin, she continued: "I do not think the magistrate can now be long, before he returns with Marshal Simon's daughters?"
"I think not, my dear young lady; but who is this deformed workwoman?" asked Rodin, with an air of indifference.
"The adopted sister of a gallant fellow, who risked all in endeavoring to rescue me from this house. And, sir," said Adrienne, with emotion, "this young workwoman is a rare and excellent creature. Never was a nobler mind, a more generous heart, concealed beneath an exterior less—"
But reflecting, that Rodin seemed to unite in his own person the same moral and physical contrasts as the sewing-girl, Adrienne stopped short, and then added, with inimitable grace, as she looked at the Jesuit, who was somewhat astonished at the sudden pause: "No; this noble girl is not the only person who proves how loftiness of soul, and superiority of mind, can make us indifferent to the vain advantages which belong only to the accidents of birth or fortune." At the moment of Adrienne speaking these last words, Mother Bunch entered the room.
CHAPTER XXXVI. SUSPICIONS.
Mdlle. de Cardoville sprang hastily to meet the visitor, and said to her, in a voice of emotion, as she extended her arms towards her: "Come—come—there is no grating to separate us now!"
On this allusion, which reminded her how her poor, laborious hand had been respectfully kissed by the fair and rich patrician, the young workwoman felt a sentiment of gratitude, which was at once ineffable and proud. But, as she hesitated to respond to the cordial reception, Adrienne embraced her with touching affection. When Mother Bunch found herself clasped in the fair arms of Mdlle. de Cardoville, when she felt the fresh and rosy lips of the young lady fraternally pressed to her own pale and sickly cheek, she burst into tears without being able to utter a word. Rodin, retired in a corner of the chamber, locked on this scene with secret uneasiness. Informed of the refusal, so full of dignity, which Mother Bunch had opposed to the perfidious temptations of the superior of St. Mary's Convent, and knowing the deep devotion of this generous creature for Agricola—a devotion which for some days she had so bravely extended to Mdlle. de Cardoville—the Jesuit did not like to see the latter thus laboring to increase that affection. He thought, wisely, that one should never despise friend or enemy, however small they may appear. Now, devotion to Mdlle. de Cardoville constituted an enemy in his eyes; and we know, moreover, that Rodin combined in his character rare firmness, with a certain degree of superstitious weakness, and he now felt uneasy at the singular impression of fear which Mother Bunch inspired in him. He determined to recollect this presentiment.
Delicate natures sometimes display in the smallest things the most charming instincts of grace and goodness. Thus, when the sewing-girl was shedding abundant and sweet tears of gratitude, Adrienne took a richly embroidered handkerchief, and dried the pale and melancholy face. This action, so simple and spontaneous, spared the work-girl one humiliation; for, alas! humiliation and suffering are the two gulfs, along the edge of which misfortune continually passes. Therefore, the least kindness is in general a double benefit to the unfortunate. Perhaps the reader may smile in disdain at the puerile circumstance we mention. But poor Mother Bunch, not venturing to take from her pocket her old ragged handkerchief, would long have remained blinded by her tears, if Mdlle. de Cardoville had not come to her aid.
"Oh! you are so good—so nobly charitable, lady!" was all that the sempstress could say, in a tone of deep emotion; for she was still more touched by the attention of the young lady, than she would perhaps have been by a service rendered.
"Look there, sir," said Adrienne to Rodin, who drew near hastily. "Yes," added the young patrician, proudly, "I have indeed discovered a treasure. Look at her, sir; and love her as I love her, honor as I honor. She has one of those hearts for which we are seeking."
"And which, thank heaven, we are still able to find, my dear young lady!" said Rodin, as he bowed to the needle-woman.
The latter raised her eyes slowly, and locked at the Jesuit. At sight of that cadaverous countenance, which was smiling benignantly upon her, the young girl started. It was strange! she had never seen this man, and yet she felt instantly the same fear and repulsion that he had felt with regard to her. Generally timid and confused, the work-girl could not withdraw her eyes from Rodin's; her heart beat violently, as at the coming of some great danger, and, as the excellent creature feared only for those she loved, she approached Adrienne involuntarily, keeping her eyes fixed on Rodin. The Jesuit was too good a physiognomist not to perceive the formidable impression he had made, and he felt an increase of his instinctive aversion for the sempstress. Instead of casting down his eyes, he appeared to examine her with such sustained attention, that Mdlle. de Cardoville was astonished at it.
"I beg your pardon, my dear girl," said Rodin, as if recalling his recollections, and addressing himself to Mother Bunch, "I beg your pardon—but I think—if I am not deceived—did you not go a few days since to St. Mary's Convent, hard by?"
"No doubt, it was you. Where then was my head?" cried Rodin. "It was you—I should have guessed it sooner."
"Of what do you speak, sir?" asked Adrienne.
"Oh! you are right, my dear young lady," said Rodin, pointing to the hunchback. "She has indeed a noble heart, such as we seek. If you knew with what dignity, with what courage this poor girl, who was out of work and, for her, to want work is to want everything—if you knew, I say, with what dignity she rejected the shameful wages that the superior of the convent was unprincipled enough to offer, on condition of her acting as a spy in a family where it was proposed to place her."
"Oh, that is infamous!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, with disgust. "Such a proposal to this poor girl—to her!"
"Madame," said Mother Bunch, bitterly, "I had no work, I was poor, they did not know me—and they thought they might propose anything to the likes of me."
"And I tell you," said Rodin, "that it was a double baseness on the part of the superior, to offer such temptation to misery, and it was doubly noble in you to refuse."
"Sir," said the sewing-girl, with modest embarrassment.
"Oh! I am not to be intimidated," resumed Rod in. "Praise or blame, I speak out roughly what I think. Ask this dear young lady," he added, with a glance at Adrienne. "I tell you plainly, that I think as well of you as she does herself."
"Believe me, dear," said Adrienne, "there are some sorts of praise which honor, recompense, and encourage; and M. Rodin's is of the number. I know it,—yes, I know it."
"Nay, my dear young lady, you must not ascribe to me all the honor of this judgment."
"How so, sir?"
"Is not this dear girl the adopted sister of Agricola Baudoin, the gallant workman, the energetic and popular poet? Is not the affection of such a man the best of guarantees, and does it not enable us to judge, as it were, by the label?" added Rodin, with a smile.
"You are right, sir," said Adrienne; "for, before knowing this dear girl, I began to feel deeply interested in her, from the day that her adopted brother spoke to me about her. He expressed himself with so much warmth, so much enthusiasm, that I at once conceived an esteem for the person capable of inspiring so noble an attachment."
These words of Adrienne, joined to another circumstance, had such an effect upon their hearer, that her pale face became crimson. The unfortunate hunchback loved Agricola, with love as passionate as it was secret and painful: the most indirect allusion to this fatal sentiment occasioned her the most cruel embarrassment. Now, the moment Mdlle. de Cardoville spoke of Agricola's attachment for Mother Bunch, the latter had encountered Rodin's observing and penetrating look fixed upon her. Alone with Adrienne, the sempstress would have felt only a momentary confusion on hearing the name of the smith; but unfortunately she fancied that the Jesuit, who already filled her with involuntary fear, had seen into her heart, and read the secrets of that fatal love, of which she was the victim. Thence the deep blushes of the poor girl, and the embarrassment so painfully visible, that Adrienne was struck with it.
A subtle and prompt mind, like Rodin's on perceiving the smallest effect, immediately seeks the cause. Proceeding by comparison, the Jesuit saw on one side a deformed, but intelligent young girl, capable of passionate devotion; on the other, a young workman, handsome, bold, frank, and full of talent. "Brought up together, sympathizing with each other on many points, there must be some fraternal affection between them," said he to himself; "but fraternal affection does not blush, and the hunchback blushed and grew troubled beneath my look; does she, then, Love Agricola?"
Once on the scent of this discovery, Rodin wished to pursue the investigation. Remarking the surprise and visible uneasiness that Mother Bunch had caused in Adrienne, he said to the latter, with a smile, looking significantly at the needlewoman: "You see, my dear young lady, how she blushes. The good girl is troubled by what we said of the attachment of this gallant workman."
The needlewoman hung down her head, overcome with confusion. After the pause of a second, during which Rodin preserved silence, so as to give time for his cruel remark to pierce the heart of the victim, the savage resumed: "Look at the dear girl! how embarrassed she appears!"
Again, after another silence, perceiving that Mother Bunch from crimson had become deadly pale, and was trembling in all her limbs, the Jesuit feared he had gone too far, whilst Adrienne said to her friend, with anxiety: "Why, dear child, are you so agitated?"
"Oh! it is clear enough," resumed Rodin, with an air of perfect simplicity; for having discovered what he wished to know, he now chose to appear unconscious. "It is quite clear and plain. This good girl has the modesty of a kind and tender sister for a brother. When you praise him, she fancies that she is herself praised."
"And she is as modest as she is excellent," added Adrienne, taking bath of the girl's hands, "the least praise, either of her adopted brother or of herself, troubles her in this way. But it is mere childishness, and I must scold her for it."
Mdlle. de Cardoville spoke sincerely, for the explanation given by Rodin appeared to her very plausible. Like all other persons who, dreading every moment the discovery of some painful secret have their courage as easily restored as shaken, Mother Bunch persuaded herself (and she needed to do so, to escape dying of shame), that the last words of Rodin were sincere, and that he had no idea of the love she felt for Agricola. So her agony diminished, and she found words to reply to Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"Excuse me, madame," she said timidly, "I am so little accustomed to such kindness as that with which you overwhelm me, that I make a sorry return for all your goodness."
"Kindness, my poor girl?" said Adrienne. "I have done nothing for you yet. But, thank heaven! from this day I shall be able to keep my promise, and reward your devotion to me, your courageous resignation, your sacred love of labor, and the dignity of which you have given so many proofs, under the most cruel privations. In a word, from this day, if you do not object to it, we will part no more."
"Madame, you are too kind," said Mother Bunch, in a trembling voice; "but I—"
"Oh! be satisfied," said Adrienne, anticipating her meaning. "If you accept my offer, I shall know how to reconcile with my desire (not a little selfish) of having you near me, the independence of your character, your habits of labor, your taste for retirement, and your anxiety to devote yourself to those who deserve commiseration; it is, I confess, by affording you the means of satisfying these generous tendencies, that I hope to seduce and keep you by me."
"But what have I done?" asked the other, simply, "to merit any gratitude from you? Did you not begin, on the contrary, by acting so generously to my adopted brother?"
"Oh! I do not speak of gratitude," said Adrienne; "we are quits. I speak of friendship and sincere affection, which I now offer you."
"Friendship to me, madame?"
"Come, come," said Adrienne, with a charming smile, "do not be proud because your position gives you the advantage. I have set my heart on having you for a friend, and you will see that it shall be so. But now that I think of it (a little late, you will say), what good wind brings you hither?"
"This morning M. Dagobert received a letter, in which he was requested to come to this place, to learn some news that would be of the greatest interest to him. Thinking it concerned Marshal Simon's daughters, he said to me: 'Mother Bunch, you have taken so much interest in those dear children, that you must come with me: you shall witness my joy on finding them, and that will be your reward.'"
Adrienne glanced at Rodin. The latter made an affirmative movement of the head, and answered: "Yes, yes, my dear young lady: it was I who wrote to the brave soldier, but without signing the letter, or giving any explanation. You shall know why."
"Then, my dear girl, why did you come alone?" said Adrienne.
"Alas, madame! on arriving here, it was your kind reception that made me forget my fears."
"What fears?" asked Rodin.
"Knowing that you lived here, madame, I supposed the letter was from you; I told M. Dagobert so, and he thought the same. When we arrived, his impatience was so great, that he asked at the door if the orphans were in this house, and he gave their description. They told him no. Then, in spite of my supplications, he insisted on going to the convent to inquire about them."
"What imprudence!" cried Adrienne.
"After what took place the other night, when he broke in," added Rodin, shrugging his shoulders.
"It was in vain to tell him," returned Mother Bunch, "that the letter did not announce positively, that the orphans would be delivered up to him; but that, no doubt, he would gain some information about them. He refused to hear anything, but said to me: 'If I cannot find them, I will rejoin you. But they were at the convent the day before yesterday, and now that all is discovered, they cannot refuse to give them up—"
"And with such a man there is no disputing!" said Rodin, with a smile.
"I hope they will not recognize him!" said Adrienne, remembering Baleinier's threats.
"It is not likely," replied Rodin; "they will only refuse him admittance. That will be, I hope, the worst misfortune that will happen. Besides, the magistrate will soon be here with the girls. I am no longer wanted: other cares require my attention. I must seek out Prince Djalma. Only tell me, my dear young lady, where I shall find you, to keep you informed of my discoveries, and to take measures with regard to the young prince, if my inquiries, as I hope, shall be attended with success."
"You will find me in my new house, Rue d'Anjou, formerly Beaulieu House. But now I think of it," said Adrienne, suddenly, after some moments of reflection, "it would not be prudent or proper, on many accounts, to lodge the Prince Djalma in the pavilion I occupied at Saint-Dizier House. I saw, some time ago, a charming little house, all furnished and ready; it only requires some embellishments, that could be completed in twenty four hours, to make it a delightful residence. Yes, that will be a thousand times preferable," added Mdlle. de Cardoville, after a new interval of silence; "and I shall thus be able to preserve the strictest incognito."
"What!" cried Rodin, whose projects would be much impeded by this new resolution of the young lady; "you do not wish him to know who you are?"
"I wish Prince Djalma to know absolutely nothing of the anonymous friend who comes to his aid; I desire that my name should not be pronounced before him, and that he should not even know of my existence—at least, for the present. Hereafter—in a month, perhaps—I will see; circumstances will guide me."
"But this incognito," said Rodin, hiding his disappointment, "will be difficult to preserve."
"If the prince had inhabited the lodge, I agree with you; the neighborhood of my aunt would have enlightened him, and this fear is one of the reasons that have induced me to renounce my first project. But the prince will inhabit a distant quarter—the Rue Blanche. Who will inform him of my secret? One of my old friends, M. Norval—you, sir—and this dear girl," pointing to Mother Bunch, "on whose discretion I can depend as on your own, will be my only confidants. My secret will then be quite safe. Besides, we will talk further on this subject to-morrow. You must begin by discovering the retreat of this unfortunate young prince."
Rodin, though much vexed at Adrienne's subtle determination with regard to Djalma, put the best face on the matter, and replied: "Your intentions shall be scrupulously fulfilled, my dear young lady; and to-morrow, with your leave, I hope to give you a good account of what you are pleased to call my providential mission."
"To-morrow, then, I shall expect you with impatience," said Adrienne, to Rodin, affectionately. "Permit me always to rely upon you, as from this day you may count upon me. You must be indulgent with me, sir; for I see that I shall yet have many counsels, many services to ask of you—though I already owe you so much."
"You will never owe me enough, my dear young lady, never enough," said Rodin, as he moved discreetly towards the door, after bowing to Adrienne. At the very moment he was going out, he found himself face to face with Dagobert.
"Holloa! at last I have caught one!" shouted the soldier, as he seized the Jesuit by the collar with a vigorous hand.
CHAPTER XXXVII. EXCUSES.
On seeing Dagobert grasp Rodin so roughly by the collar, Mdlle. de Cardoville exclaimed in terror, as she advanced several steps towards the soldier: "In the name of Heaven, sir! what are you doing?"
"What am I doing?" echoed the soldier, harshly, without relaxing his hold on Rodin, and turning his head towards Adrienne, whom he did not know; "I take this opportunity to squeeze the throat of one of the wretches in the band of that renegade, until he tells me where my poor children are."
"You strangle me," said the Jesuit, in a stifled voice, as he tried to escape from the soldier.
"Where are the orphans, since they are not here, and the convent door has been closed against me?" cried Dagobert, in a voice of thunder.
"Help! help!" gasped Rodin.
"Oh! it is dreadful!" said Adrienne, as, pale and trembling, she held up her clasped hands to Dagobert. "Have mercy, sir! listen to me! listen to him!"
"M. Dagobert!" cried Mother Bunch, seizing with her weak hands the soldier's arm, and showing him Adrienne, "this is Mdlle. de Cardoville. What violence in her presence! and then, you are deceived doubtless!"
At the name of Mdlle. de Cardoville, the benefactress of his son, the soldier turned round suddenly, and loosened his hold on Rodin. The latter, crimson with rage and suffocation, set about adjusting his collar and his cravat.
"I beg your pardon, madame," said Dagobert, going towards Adrienne, who was still pale with fright; "I did not known who you were, and the first impulse of anger quite carried me away."
"But what has this gentleman done to you?" said Adrienne. "If you had listened to me, you would have learned—"
"Excuse me if I interrupt you, madame," said the soldier to Adrienne, in a hollow voice. Then addressing himself to Rodin, who had recovered his coolness, he added: "Thank the lady, and begone!—If you remain here, I will not answer for myself."
"One word only, my dear sir," said Rodin.
"I tell you that if you remain, I will not answer for myself!" cried Dagobert, stamping his foot.
"But, for heaven's sake, tell me the cause of this anger," resumed Adrienne; "above all, do not trust to appearances. Calm yourself, and listen."
"Calm myself, madame!" cried Dagobert, in despair; "I can think only of one thing, ma dame—of the arrival of Marshal Simon—he will be in Paris to-day or to-morrow."
"Is it possible?" said Adrienne. Rodin started with surprise and joy.
"Yesterday evening," proceeded Dagobert, "I received a letter from the marshal: he has landed at Havre. For three days I have taken step after step, hoping that the orphans would be restored to me, as the machinations of those wretches have failed." He pointed to Rodin with a new gesture of impatience. "Well! it is not so. They are conspiring some new infamy. I am prepared for anything."
"But, sir," said Rodin advancing, "permit me—"
"Begone!" cried Dagobert, whose irritation and anxiety redoubled, as he thought how at any moment Marshal Simon might arrive in Paris. "Begone! Were it not for this lady, I would at least be revenged on some one."
Rodin made a nod of intelligence to Adrienne, whom he approached prudently, and, pointing to Dagobert with a gesture of affectionate commiseration, he said to the latter: "I will leave you, sir, and the more willingly, as I was about to withdraw when you entered." Then, coming still closer to Mdlle. de Cardoville, the Jesuit whispered to her, "Poor soldier! he is beside himself with grief, and would be incapable of hearing me. Explain it all to him, my dear young lady; he will be nicely caught," added he, with a cunning air. "But in the meantime," resumed Rodin, feeling in the side-pocket of his great-coat and taking out a small parcel, "let me beg you to give him this, my dear young lady. It is my revenge, and a very good one."
And while Adrienne, holding the little parcel in her hand looked at the Jesuit with astonishment, the latter laying his forefinger upon his lip, as if recommending silence, drew backward on tiptoe to the door, and went out after again pointing to Dagobert with a gesture of pity; while the soldier, in sullen dejection, with his head drooping, and his arms crossed upon his bosom, remained deaf to the sewing-girl's earnest consolations. When Rodin had left the room, Adrienne, approaching the soldier, said to him, in her mild voice, with an expression of deep interest, "Your sudden entry prevented my asking you a question that greatly concerns me. How is your wound?"
"Thank you, madame," said Dagobert, starting from his painful lethargy, "it is of no consequence, but I have not time to think of it. I am sorry to have been so rough in your presence, and to have driven away that wretch; but 'tis more than I could master. At sight of those people, my blood is all up."
"And yet, believe me, you have been too hasty in your judgment. The person who was just now here—"
"Too hasty, madame! I do not see him to-day for the first time. He was with that renegade the Abbe d'Aigrigny—"
"No doubt!—and yet he is an honest and excellent man."
"He!" cried Dagobert.
"Yes; for at this moment he is busy about only one thing restoring to you those dear children!"
"He!" repeated Dagobert, as if he could not believe what he heard. "He restore me my children?"
"Yes; and sooner, perhaps, than you think for."
"Madame," said Dagobert, abruptly, "he deceives you. You are the dupe of that old rascal."
"No," said Adrienne, shaking her head, with a smile. "I have proofs of his good faith. First of all, it is he who delivers me from this house."
"Is it true?" said Dagobert, quite confounded.
"Very true; and here is, perhaps, something that will reconcile you to him," said Adrienne, as she delivered the small parcel which Rodin had given her as he went out. "Not wishing to exasperate you by his presence, he said to me: 'Give this to that brave soldier; it is my revenge.'"
Dagobert looked at Mdlle. de Cardoville with surprise, as he mechanically opened the little parcel. When he had unfolded it, and discovered his own silver cross, black with age, and the old red, faded ribbon, treasures taken from him at the White Falcon Inn, at the same time as his papers, he exclaimed in a broken voice: "My cross! my cross! It is my cross!" In the excitement of his joy, he pressed the silver star to his gray moustache.
Adrienne and the other were deeply affected by the emotion of the old soldier, who continued, as he ran towards the door by which Rodin had gone out: "Next to a service rendered to Marshal Simon, my wife, or son, nothing could be more precious to me. And you answer for this worthy man, madame, and I have ill used him in your presence! Oh! he is entitled to reparation, and he shall have it."
So saying, Dagobert left the room precipitately, hastened through two other apartments, gained the staircase, and descending it rapidly, overtook Rodin on the lowest step.
"Sir," said the soldier to him, in an agitated voice, as he seized him by the arm, "you must come upstairs directly."
"You should make up your mind to one thing or the other, my dear sir," said Rodin, stopping good-naturedly; "one moment you tell me to begone, and the next to return. How are we to decide?"
"Just now, sir, I was wrong; and when I am wrong, I acknowledge it. I abused and ill-treated you before witnesses; I will make you my apologies before witnesses."
"But, my dear sir—I am much obliged to you—I am in a hurry."
"I cannot help your being in a hurry. I tell you, I must have you come upstairs, directly—or else—or else," resumed Dagobert, taking the hand of the Jesuit, and pressing it with as much cordiality as emotion, "or else the happiness you have caused the in returning my cross will not be complete."
"Well, then, my good friend, let us go up."
"And not only have you restored me my cross, for which I have wept many tears, believe me, unknown to any one," cried Dagobert, much affected; "but the young lady told me, that, thanks to you, those poor children but tell me—no false joy-is it really true?—My God! is it really true?"
"Ah! ah! Mr. Inquisitive," said Rodin, with a cunning smile. Then he added: "Be perfectly tranquil, my growler; you shall have your two angels back again." And the Jesuit began to ascend the stairs.
"Will they be restored to me to-day?" cried Dagobert, stopping Rodin abruptly, by catching hold of his sleeve.
"Now, really, my good friend," said the Jesuit, "let us come to the point. Are we to go up or down? I do not find fault, but you turn me about like a teetotum."
"You are right. We shall be better able to explain things upstairs. Come with me—quick! quick!" said Dagobert, as, taking the Jesuit by the arm, he hurried him along, and brought him triumphantly into the room, where Adrienne and Mother Bunch had remained in much surprise at the soldier's sudden disappearance.
"Here he is! here he is!" cried Dagobert, as he entered. "Luckily, I caught him at the bottom of the stairs."
"And you have made me come up at a fine pace!" added Rodin, pretty well out of breath.
"Now, sir," said Dagobert, in a grave voice, "I declare, in presence of all, that I was wrong to abuse and ill-treat you. I make you my apology for it, sir; and I acknowledge, with joy, that I owe you—much—oh! very much and when I owe, I pay."
So saying, Dagobert held out his honest hand to Rodin, who pressed it in a very affable manner, and replied: "Now, really—what is all this about? What great service do you speak of?"
"This!" said Dagobert, holding up the cross before Rodin's eyes. "You do not know, then, what this cross is to me?"
"On the contrary, supposing you would set great store by it, I intended to have the pleasure of delivering it myself. I had brought it for that purpose; but, between ourselves, you gave me so warm a reception, that I had not the time—"
"Sir," said Dagobert, in confusion, "I assure you that I sincerely repent of what I have done."
"I know it, my good friend; do not say another word about it. You were then much attached to this cross?"
"Attached to it, sir!" cried Dagobert. "Why, this cross," and he kissed it as he spoke, "is my relic. He from whom it came was my saint—my hero—and he had touched it with his hand!"
"Oh!" said Rodin, feigning to regard the cross with as much curiosity as respectful admiration; "did Napoleon—the Great Napoleon—indeed touch with his own hand—that victorious hand!—this noble star of honor?"
"Yes, sir, with his own hand. He placed it there upon my bleeding breast, as a cure for my fifth wound. So that, you see, were I dying of hunger, I think I should not hesitate betwixt bread and my cross—that I might, in any case, have it on my heart in death. But, enough—enough! let us talk of something else. It is foolish in an old soldier, is it not?" added Dagobert, drawing his hand across his eyes, and then, as if ashamed to deny what he really felt: "Well, then! yes," he resumed, raising his head proudly, and no longer seeking to conceal the tears that rolled down his cheek; "yes, I weep for joy, to have found my cross—my cross, that the Emperor gave me with his victorious hand, as this worthy man has called it."
"Then blessed be my poor old hand for having restored you the glorious treasure!" said Rodin, with emotion. "In truth," he added, "the day will be a good one for everybody—as I announced to you this morning in my letter."
"That letter without a signature?" asked the soldier, more and more astonished. "Was it from you?"
"It was I who wrote it. Only, fearing some new snare of the Abbe d'Aigrigny, I did not choose, you understand, to explain myself more clearly."
"Then—I shall see—my orphans?"
Rodin nodded affirmatively, with an expression of great good-nature.
"Presently—perhaps immediately," said Adrienne, with smile. "Well! was I right in telling you that you had not judged this gentleman fairly?"
"Why did he not tell me this when I came in?" cried Dagobert, almost beside himself with joy.
"There was one difficulty in the way, my good friend," said Rodin; "it was, that when you came in, you nearly throttled me."
"True; I was too hasty. Once more, I ask your pardon. But was I to blame? I had only seen you with that Abbe d'Aigrigny, and in the first moment—"
"This dear young lady," said Rodin, bowing to Adrienne, "will tell you that I have been, without knowing it, the accomplice IN many perfidious actions; but as soon as I began to see my way through the darkness, I quitted the evil course on which I had entered, and returned to that which is honest, just and true."
Adrienne nodded affirmatively to Dagobert, who appeared to consult her look.
"If I did not sign the letter that I wrote to you, my good friend, it was partly from fear that my name might inspire suspicion; and if I asked you to come hither, instead of to the convent, it was that I had some dread—like this dear young lady—lest you might be recognized by the porter or by the gardener, your affair of the other night rendering such a recognition somewhat dangerous."
"But M. Baleinier knows all; I forgot that," said Adrienne, with uneasiness. "He threatened to denounce M. Dagobert and his son, if I made any complaint."
"Do not be alarmed, my dear young lady; it will soon be for you to dictate conditions," replied Rodin. "Leave that to me; and as for you, my good friend, your torments are now finished."
"Yes," said Adrienne, "an upright and worthy magistrate has gone to the convent, to fetch Marshal Simon's daughters. He will bring them hither; but he thought with me, that it would be most proper for them to take up their abode in my house. I cannot, however, come to this decision without your consent, for it is to you that these orphans were entrusted by their mother."
"You wish to take her place with regard to them, madame?" replied Dagobert. "I can only thank you with all my heart, for myself and for the children. But, as the lesson has been a sharp one, I must beg to remain at the door of their chamber, night and day. If they go out with you, I must be allowed to follow them at a little distance, so as to keep them in view, just like Spoil-sport, who has proved himself a better guardian than myself. When the marshal is once here—it will be in a day or two—my post will be relieved. Heaven grant it may be soon!"
"Yes," replied Rodin, in a firm voice, "heaven grant he may arrive soon, for he will have to demand a terrible reckoning of the Abbe d'Aigrigny, for the persecution of his daughters; and yet the marshal does not know all."
"And don't you tremble for the renegade?" asked Dagobert, as he thought how the marquis would soon find himself face to face with the marshal.
"I never care for cowards and traitors," answered Rodin; "and when Marshal Simon returns—" Then, after a pause of some seconds, he continued: "If he will do me the honor to hear me, he shall be edified as to the conduct of the Abbe d'Aigrigny. The marshal knows that his dearest friends, as well as himself, have been victims of the hatred of that dangerous man."
"How so?" said Dagobert.
"Why, yourself, for instance," replied Rodin; "you are an example of what I advance."
"Do you think it was mere chance, that brought about the scene at the White Falcon Inn, near Leipsic?"
"Who told you of that scene?" said Dagobert in astonishment.
"Where you accepted the challenge of Morok," continued the Jesuit, without answering Dagobert's question, "and so fell into a trap, or else refused it, and were then arrested for want of papers, and thrown into prison as a vagabond, with these poor children. Now, do you know the object of this violence? It was to prevent your being here on the 13th of February."
"But the more I hear, sir," said Adrienne, "the more I am alarmed at the audacity of the Abbe d'Aigrigny, and the extent of the means he has at his command. Really," she resumed, with increasing surprise, "if your words were not entitled to absolute belief—"
"You would doubt their truth, madame?" said Dagobert. "It is like me. Bad as he is. I cannot think that this renegade had relations with a wild-beast showman as far off as Saxony; and then, how could he know that I and the children were to pass through Leipsic? It is impossible, my good man."
"In fact, sir," resumed Adrienne, "I fear that you are deceived by your dislike (a very legitimate one) of Abbe d'Aigrigny, and that you ascribe to him an almost fabulous degree of power and extent of influence."
After a moment's silence, during which Rodin looked first at Adrienne and then at Dagobert, with a kind of pity, he resumed. "How could the Abbe d'Aigrigny have your cross in his possession, if he had no connection with Morok?"
"That is true, sir," said Dagobert; "joy prevented me from reflecting. But how indeed, did my cross come into your hands?"
"By means of the Abbe d'Aigrigny's having precisely those relations with Leipsic, of which you and the young lady seem to doubt."
"But how did my cross get to Paris?"
"Tell me; you were arrested at Leipsic for want of papers—is it not so?"
"Yes; but I could never understand how my passports and money disappeared from my knapsack. I thought I must have had the misfortune to lose them."
Rodin shrugged his shoulders, and replied: "You were robbed of them at the White Falcon Inn, by Goliath, one of Morok's servants, and the latter sent the papers and the cross to the Abbe d'Aigrigny, to prove that he had succeeded in executing his orders with respect to the orphans and yourself. It was the day before yesterday, that I obtained the key of that dark machination. Cross and papers were amongst the stores of Abbe d'Aigrigny; the papers formed a considerable bundle, and he might have missed them; but, hoping to see you this morning, and knowing how a soldier of the Empire values his cross, his sacred relic, as you call it, my good friend—I did not hesitate. I put the relic into my pocket. 'After all,' said I, 'it is only restitution, and my delicacy perhaps exaggerates this breach of trust.'"
"You could not have done a better action," said Adrienne; "and, for my part, because of the interest I feel for M. Dagobert—I take it as a personal favor. But, sir," after a moment's silence, she resumed with anxiety: "What terrible power must be at the command of M. d'Aigrigny, for him to have such extensive and formidable relations in a foreign country!"
"Silence!" said Rodin, in a low voice, and looking round him with an air of alarm. "Silence! In heaven's name do not ask me about it!"
CHAPTER XXXVIII. REVELATIONS.
Mdlle. de Cardoville, much astonished at the alarm displayed by Rodin, when she had asked him for some explanation of the formidable and far reaching power of the Abby d'Aigrigny, said to him: "Why, sir, what is there so strange in the question that I have just asked you?"
After a moment's silence, Rodin cast his looks all around, with well feigned uneasiness, and replied in a whisper: "Once more, madame, do not question me on so fearful a subject. The walls of this house may have ears."
Adrienne and Dagobert looked at each other with growing surprise. Mother Bunch, by an instinct of incredible force, continued to regard Rodin with invincible suspicion. Sometimes she stole a glance at him, as if trying to penetrate the mask of this man, who filled her with fear. At one moment, the Jesuit encountered her anxious gaze, obstinately fixed upon him; immediately he nodded to her with the greatest amenity. The young girl, alarmed at finding herself observed, turned away with a shudder.
"No, no, my dear young lady," resumed Rodin, with a sigh, as he saw Mdlle. de Cardoville astonished at his silence; "do not question me on the subject of the Abbe d'Aigrigny's power!"
"But, to persist, sir," said Adrienne; "why this hesitation to answer? What do you fear?"
"Ah, my dear young lady," said Rodin, shuddering, "those people are so powerful! their animosity is so terrible!"
"Be satisfied, sir; I owe you too much, for my support ever to fail you."
"Ah, my dear young lady," cried Rodin, as if hurt by the supposition; "think better of me, I entreat you. Is it for myself that I fear?—No, no; I am too obscure, too inoffensive; but it is for you, for Marshal Simon, for the other members of your family, that all is to be feared. Oh, my dear young lady! let me beg you to ask no questions. There are secrets which are fatal to those who possess them."
"But, sir, is it not better to know the perils with which one is threatened?"
"When you know the manoeuvres of your enemy, you may at least defend yourself," said Dagobert. "I prefer an attack in broad daylight to an ambuscade."
"And I assure you," resumed Adrienne, "the few words you have spoken cause me a vague uneasiness."
"Well, if I must, my dear young lady," replied the Jesuit, appearing to make a great effort, "since you do not understand my hints, I will be more explicit; but remember," added he, in a deeply serious tone, "that you have persevered in forcing me to tell you what you had perhaps better not have known."
"Speak, Sir, I pray you speak," said Adrienne.
Drawing about him Adrienne, Dagobert, and Mother Bunch, Rodin said to them in a low voce, and with a mysterious air: "Have you never heard of a powerful association, which extends its net over all the earth, and counts its disciples, agents, and fanatics in every class of society which has had, and often has still, the ear of kings and nobles—which, in a word, can raise its creatures to the highest positions, and with a word can reduce them again to the nothingness from which it alone could uplift them?"
"Good heaven, sir!" said Adrienne, "what formidable association? Until now I never heard of it."
"I believe you; and yet your ignorance on this subject greatly astonishes me, my dear young lady."
"And why should it astonish you?"
"Because you lived some time with your aunt, and must have often seen the Abbe d'Aigrigny."
"I lived at the princess's, but not with her; for a thousand reasons she had inspired me with warrantable aversion."
"In truth, my dear young lady, my remark was ill-judged. It was there, above all, and particularly in your presence, that they would keep silence with regard to this association—and yet to it alone did the Princess de Saint-Dizier owe her formidable influence in the world, during the last reign. Well, then; know this—it is the aid of that association which renders the Abbe d'Aigrigny so dangerous a man.
"By it he was enabled to follow and to reach divers members of your family, some in Siberia, some in India, others on the heights of the American mountains; but, as I have told you, it was only the day before yesterday, and by chance, that, examining the papers of Abbe d'Aigrigny, I found the trace of his connection with this Company, of which he is the most active and able chief."
"But the name, sir, the name of this Company?" said Adrienne.
"Well! it is—" but Rodin stopped short.
"It is," repeated Adrienne, who was now as much interested as Dagobert and the sempstress; "it is—"
Rodin looked round him, beckoned all the actors in this scene to draw nearer, and said in a whisper, laying great stress upon the words: "It is—the Society of Jesus!" and he again shuddered.
"The Jesuits!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, unable to restrain a burst of laughter, which was the more buoyant, as, from the mysterious precautions of Rodin, she had expected some very different revelation. "The Jesuits!" she resumed, still laughing. "They have no existence, except in books; they are frightful historical personages, certainly; but why should you put forward Madame de Saint-Dizier and M. d'Aigrigny in that character? Such as they are, they have done quite enough to justify my aversion and disdain."
After listening in silence to Mdlle. de Cardoville Rodin continued, with a grave and agitated air: "Your blindness frightens me, my dear, young lady; the past should have given you some anxiety for the future, since, more than any one, you have already suffered from the fatal influence of this Company, whose existence you regard as a dream!"
"I, sir?" said Adrienne, with a smile, although a little surprised.
"Under what circumstances?"
"You ask me this question! my dear young lady! you ask me this question!—and yet you have been confined here as a mad person! Is it not enough to tell you that the master of this house is one of the most devoted lay members of the Company, and therefore the blind instrument of the Abbe d'Aigrigny?"
"So," said Adrienne, this time without smiling, "Dr. Baleinier"
"Obeyed the Abbe d'Aigrigny, the most formidable chief of that formidable society. He employs his genius for evil; but I must confess he is a man of genius. Therefore, it is upon him that you and yours must fix all your doubts and suspicions; it is against him that you must be upon your guard. For, believe me, I know him, and he does not look upon the game as lost. You must be prepared for new attacks, doubtless of another kind, but only the more dangerous on that account—"
"Luckily, you give us notice," said Dagobert, "and you will be on our side."
"I can do very little, my good friends; but that little is at the service of honest people," said Rodin.
"Now," said Adrienne, with a thoughtful air, completely persuaded by Rodin's air of conviction, "I can explain the inconceivable influence that my aunt exercised in the world. I ascribed it chiefly to her relations with persons in power; I thought that she, like the Abbe d'Aigrigny, was concerned in dark intrigues, for which religion served as a veil—but I was far from believing what you tell me."
"How many things you have got to learn!" resumed Rodin. "If you knew, my dear young lady, with what art these people surround you, without your being aware of it, by agents devoted to themselves! Every one of your steps is known to them, when they have any interest in such knowledge. Thus, little by little, they act upon you—slowly, cautiously, darkly. They circumvent you by every possible means, from flattery to terror—seduce or frighten, in order at last to rule you, without your being conscious of their authority. Such is their object, and I must confess they pursue it with detestable ability."
Rodin had spoken with so much sincerity, that Adrienne trembled; then, reproaching herself with these fears, she resumed: "And yet, no—I can never believe in so infernal a power; the might of priestly ambition belongs to another age. Heaven be praised, it has disappeared forever!"
"Yes, certainly, it is out of sight; for they now know how to disperse and disappear, when circumstances require it. But then are they the most dangerous; for suspicion is laid asleep, and they keep watch in the dark. Oh! my dear young lady, if you knew their frightful ability! In my hatred of all that is oppressive, cowardly, and hypocritical, I had studied the history of that terrible society, before I knew that the Abbe d'Aigrigny belonged to it. Oh! it is dreadful. If you knew what means they employ! When I tell you that, thanks to their diabolical devices, the most pure and devoted appearances often conceal the most horrible snares." Rodin's eye rested, as if by chance, on the hunchback; but, seeing that Adrienne did not take the hint, the Jesuit continued: "In a word—are you not exposed to their pursuits?—have they any interest in gaining you over?—oh! from that moment, suspect all that surround you, suspect the most noble attachments, the most tender affections, for these monsters sometimes succeed in corrupting your best friends, and making a terrible use of them, in proportion to the blindness of your confidence."
"Oh! it is impossible," cried Adrienne, in horror. "You must exaggerate. No! hell itself never dreamed of more frightful treachery!"
"Alas, my dear young lady! one of your relations, M. Hardy—the most loyal and generous-hearted man that could be—has been the victim of some such infamous treachery. Do you know what we learned from the reading of your ancestor's will? Why, that he died the victim of the malevolence of these people; and now, at the lapse of a hundred and fifty years, his descendants are still exposed to the hate of that indestructible society."
"Oh, sir! it terrifies me," said Adrienne, feeling her heart sink within her. "But are there no weapons against such attacks?"
"Prudence, my dear young lady—the most watchful caution—the most incessant study and suspicion of all that approach you."
"But such a life would be frightful! It is a torture to be the victim of continual suspicions, doubts, and fears."
"Without doubt! They know it well, the wretches! That constitutes their strength. They often triumph by the very excess of the precautions taken against them. Thus, my dear young lady, and you, brave and worthy soldier, in the name of all that is dear to you, be on your guard, and do not lightly impart your confidence. Be on your guard, for you have nearly fallen the victims of those people. They will always be your implacable enemies. And you, also, poor, interesting girl!" added the Jesuit, speaking to Mother Bunch, "follow my advice—fear these people. Sleep, as the proverb says, with one eye open."
"I, sir!" said the work-girl. "What have I done? what have I to fear?"
"What have you done? Dear me! Do not you tenderly love this young lady, your protectress? have you not attempted to assist her? Are you not the adopted sister of the son of this intrepid soldier, the brave Agricola! Alas, poor, girl! are not these sufficient claims to their hatred, in spite of your obscurity? Nay, my dear young lady! do not think that I exaggerate. Reflect! only reflect! Think what I have just said to the faithful companion-in-arms of Marshal Simon, with regard to his imprisonment at Leipsic. Think what happened to yourself, when, against all law and reason, you were brought hither. Then you will see, that there is nothing exaggerated in the picture I have drawn of the secret power of this Company. Be always on your guard, and, in doubtful cases, do not fear to apply to me. In three days, I have learned enough by my own experience, with regard to their manner of acting, to be able to point out to you many a snare, device, and danger, and to protect you from them."
"In any such case, sir," replied Mdlle. de Cardoville, "my interests, as well as gratitude, would point to you as my best counsellor."
According to the skillful tactics of the sons of Loyola, who sometimes deny their own existence, in order to escape from an adversary—and sometimes proclaim with audacity the living power of their organization, in order to intimidate the feeble-R-odin had laughed in the face of the bailiff of Cardoville, when the latter had spoken of the existence of the Jesuits; while now, at this moment, picturing their means of action, he endeavored, and he succeeded in the endeavor, to impregnate the mind of Mdlle. de Cardoville with some germs of doubt, which were gradually to develop themselves by reflection, and serve hereafter the dark projects that he meditated. Mother Bunch still felt considerable alarm with regard to Rodin. Yet, since she had heard the fatal powers of the formidable Order revealed to Adrienne, the young sempstress, far from suspecting the Jesuit of having the audacity to speak thus of a society of which he was himself a member, felt grateful to him, in spite of herself, for the important advice that he had just given her patroness. The side-glance which she now cast upon him (which Rodin also detected, for he watched the young girl with sustained attention), was full of gratitude, mingled with surprise. Guessing the nature of this impression, and wishing entirely to remove her unfavorable opinion, and also to anticipate a revelation which would be made sooner or later, the Jesuit appeared to have forgotten something of great importance, and exclaimed, striking his forehead: "What was I thinking of?" Then, speaking to Mother Bunch, he added: "Do you know where your sister is, my dear girl?" Disconcerted and saddened by this unexpected question, the workwoman answered with a blush, for she remembered her last interview with the brilliant Bacchanal Queen: "I have not seen my sister for some days, sir."
"Well, my dear girl, she is not very comfortable," said Rodin; "I promised one of her friends to send her some little assistance. I have applied to a charitable person, and that is what I received for her." So saying, he drew from his pocket a sealed roll of coin, which he delivered to Mother Bunch, who was now both surprised and affected.
"You have a sister in trouble, and I know nothing of it?" said Adrienne, hastily. "This is not right of you, my child!"
"Do not blame her," said Rodin. "First of all, she did not know that her sister was in distress, and, secondly, she could not ask you, my dear young lady, to interest yourself about her."
As Mdlle. de Cardoville looked at Rodin with astonishment, he added, again speaking to the hunchback: "Is not that true, my dear girl!"
"Yes, sir," said the sempstress, casting down her eyes and blushing. Then she added, hastily and anxiously: "But when did you see my sister, sir? where is she? how did she fall into distress?"
"All that would take too long to tell you, my dear girl; but go as soon as possible to the greengrocer's in the Rue Clovis, and ask to speak to your sister as from M. Charlemagne or M. Rodin, which you please, for I am equally well known in that house by my Christian name as by my surname, and then you will learn all about it. Only tell your sister, that, if she behaves well, and keeps to her good resolutions, there are some who will continue to look after her."
More and more surprised, Mother Bunch was about to answer Rodin, when the door opened, and M. de Gernande entered. The countenance of the magistrate was grave and sad.
"Marshal Simon's daughters!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"Unfortunately, they are not with me," answered the judge.
"Then, where are they, sir? What have they done with them? The day before yesterday, they were in the convent!" cried Dagobert, overwhelmed by this complete destruction of his hopes.
Hardly had the soldier pronounced these words, when, profiting by the impulse which gathered all the actors in this scene about the magistrate, Rodin withdrew discreetly towards the door, and disappeared without any one perceiving his absence. Whilst the soldier, thus suddenly thrown back to the depths of his despair, looked at M. de Gernande, waiting with anxiety for the answer, Adrienne said to the magistrate: "But, sir, when you applied at the convent, what explanation did the superior give on the subject of these young girls?"
"The lady superior refused to give any explanation, madame. 'You pretend,' said she, 'that the young persons of whom you speak are detained here against their will. Since the law gives you the right of entering this house, make your search.' 'But, madame, please to answer me positively,' said I to the superior; 'do you declare, that you know nothing of the young girls, whom I have come to claim?' 'I have nothing to say on this subject, sir. You assert, that you are authorized to make a search: make it.' Not being able to get any other explanation," continued the magistrate, "I searched all parts of the convent, and had every door opened—but, unfortunately, I could find no trace of these young ladies."
"They must have sent them elsewhere," cried Dagobert; "who knows?—perhaps, ill. They will kill them—O God! they will kill them!" cried he, in a heart-rending tone.
"After such a refusal, what is to be done? Pray, sir, give us your advice; you are our providence," said Adrienne, turning to speak to Rodin, who she fancied was behind her. "What is your—"
Then, perceiving that the Jesuit had suddenly disappeared, she said to Mother Bunch, with uneasiness: "Where is M. Rodin?"
"I do not know, madame," answered the girl, looking round her; "he is no longer here."
"It is strange," said Adrienne, "to disappear so abruptly!"
"I told you he was a traitor!" cried Dagobert, stamping with rage; "they are all in a plot together."
"No, no," said Mdlle. de Cardoville; "do not think that. But the absence is not the less to be regretted, for, under these difficult circumstances, he might have given us very useful information, thanks to the position he occupied at M. d'Aigrigny's."
"I confess, madame, that I rather reckoned upon it," said M. de Gernande; "and I returned hither, not only to inform you of the fruitless result of my search, but also to seek from the upright and honorable roan, who so courageously unveiled these odious machinations, the aid of his counsels in this contingency."
Strangely enough, for the last few moments Dagobert was so completely absorbed in thought, that he paid no attention to the words of the magistrate, however important to him. He did not even perceive the departure of M. de Gernande, who retired after promising Adrienne that he would neglect no means to arrive at the truth, in regard to the disappearance of the orphans. Uneasy at this silence, wishing to quit the house immediately, and induce Dagobert to accompany her, Adrienne, after exchanging a rapid glance with Mother Bunch, was advancing towards the soldier, when hasty steps were heard from without the chamber, and a manly sonorous voice, exclaiming with impatience, "Where is he—where is he?"
At the sound of this voice, Dagobert seemed to rouse himself with a start, made a sudden bound, and with a loud cry, rushed towards the door. It opened. Marshal Simon appeared on the threshold!
CHAPTER XXXIX. PIERRE SIMON.
Marshal Pierre Simon, Duke de Ligny, was a man of tall stature, plainly dressed in a blue frock-coat, buttoned up to the throat, with a red ribbon tied to the top buttonhole. You could not have wished to see a more frank, honest, and chivalrous cast of countenance than the marshal's. He had a broad forehead, an aquiline nose, a well formed chin, and a complexion bronzed by exposure to the Indian sun. His hair, cut very short, was inclined to gray about the temples; but his eyebrows were still as black as his large, hanging moustache. His walk was free and bold, and his decided movements showed his military impetuosity. A man of the people, a man of war and action, the frank cordiality of his address invited friendliness and sympathy. As enlightened as he was intrepid as generous as he was sincere, his manly, plebeian pride was the most remarkable part of his character. As others are proud of their high birth, so was he of his obscure origin, because it was ennobled by the fine qualities of his father, the rigid republican, the intelligent and laborious artisan, who, for the space of forty years, had been the example and the glory of his fellow-workmen. In accepting with gratitude the aristocratic title which the Emperor had bestowed upon him, Pierre Simon acted with that delicacy which receives from a friendly hand a perfectly useless gift, and estimates it according to the intention of the giver. The religious veneration of Pierre Simon for the Emperor had never been blind; in proportion as his devotion and love for his idol were instructive and necessary, his admiration was serious, and founded upon reason. Far from resembling those swashbucklers who love fighting for its own sake, Marshal Simon not only admired his hero as the greatest captain in the world, but he admired him, above all, because he knew that the Emperor had only accepted war in the hope of one day being able to dictate universal peace; for if peace obtained by glory and strength is great, fruitful, and magnificent, peace yielded by weakness and cowardice is sterile, disastrous, and dishonoring. The son of a workman, Pierre Simon still further admired the Emperor, because that imperial parvenu had always known how to make that popular heart beat nobly, and, remembering the people, from the masses of whom he first arose, had invited them fraternally to share in regal and aristocratic pomp.
When Marshal Simon entered the room, his countenance was much agitated. At sight of Dagobert, a flash of joy illumined his features; he rushed towards the soldier, extending his arms, and exclaimed, "My friend! my old friend!"
Dagobert answered this affectionate salute with silent emotion. Then the marshal, disengaging himself from his arms, and fixing his moist eyes upon him, said to him in so agitated a voice that his lips trembled, "Well, didst arrive in time for the 13th of February?"
"Yes, general; but everything is postponed for four months."
"And—my wife?—my child?" At this question Dagobert shuddered, hung down his head, and was silent.
"They are not, then, here?" asked Simon, with more surprise than uneasiness. "They told me they were not at your house, but that I should find you here—and I came immediately. Are they not with you?"
"General," said Dagobert, becoming deadly pale; "general—" Drying the drops of cold sweat that stood upon his forehead, he was unable to articulate a word, for his voice was checked in his parched throat.
"You frighten me!" exclaimed Pierre Simon, becoming pale as the soldier, and seizing him by the arm.
At this, Adrienne advanced, with a countenance full of grief and sympathy; seeing the cruel embarrassment of Dagobert, she wished to come to his assistance, and she said to Pierre Simon, in a mild but agitated voice, "Marshal, I am Mdlle. de Cardoville—a relation of your dear children."
Pierre Simon turned around suddenly, as much struck with the dazzling beauty of Adrienne as with the words she had just pronounced. He stammered out in his surprise, "You, madame—a relation—of my children!"
He laid a stress on the last words, and looked at Dagobert in a kind of stupor.
"Yes, marshal your children," hastily replied Adrienne; "and the love of those charming twin sisters—"
"Twin sisters!" cried Pierre Simon, interrupting Mdlle. de Cardoville, with an outburst of joy impossible to describe. "Two daughters instead of one! Oh! what happiness for their mother! Pardon me, madame, for being so impolite," he continued; "and so little grateful for what you tell me. But you will understand it; I have been seventeen years without seeing my wife; I come, and I find three loved beings, instead of two. Thanks, madame: would I could express all the gratitude I owe you! You are our relation; this is no doubt your house; my wife and children are with you. Is it so? You think that my sudden appearance might be prejudicial to them? I will wait—but madame, you, that I am certain are good as fair—pity my impatience—will make haste to prepare them to receive me—"
More and more agitated, Dagobert avoided the marshal's gaze, and trembled like a leaf. Adrienne cast down her eyes without answering. Her heart sunk within her, at thought of dealing the terrible blow to Marshal Simon.
The latter, astonished at this silence, looking at Adrienne, then at the soldier, became first uneasy, and at last alarmed. "Dagobert!" he exclaimed, "something is concealed from me!"
"General!" stammered the soldier, "I assure you—I—I—."
"Madame!" cried Pierre Simon, "I conjure you, in pity, speak to me frankly!—my anxiety is horrible. My first fears return upon me. What is it? Are my wife and daughters ill? Are they in danger? Oh! speak! speak!"
"Your daughters, marshal," said Adrienne "have been rather unwell, since their long journey—but they are in no danger."
"Oh, heaven! it is my wife!"
"Have courage, sir!" said Mdlle. de Cardoville, sadly. "Alas! you must seek consolation in the affection of the two angels that remain to you."
"General!" said Dagobert, in a firm grave tone, "I returned from Siberia—alone with your two daughters."
"And their mother! their mother!" cried Simon, in a voice of despair.
"I set out with the two orphans the day after her death," said the soldier.
"Dead?" exclaimed Pierre Simon, overwhelmed by the stroke; "dead?" A mournful silence was the only answer. The marshal staggered beneath this unexpected shock, leaned on the back of a chair for support, and then, sinking into the seat, concealed his face with his hands. For same minutes nothing was heard but stifled sobs, for not only had Pierre Simon idolized his wife, but by one of those singular compromises, that a man long cruelly tried sometimes makes with destiny, Pierre Simon, with the fatalism of loving souls, thought he had a right to reckon upon happiness after so many years of suffering, and had not for a moment doubted that he should find his wife and child—a double consolation reserved to him after going through so much. Very different from certain people, whom the habit of misfortune renders less exacting, Simon had reckoned upon happiness as complete as had been his misery. His wife and child were the sole, indispensable conditions of this felicity, and, had the mother survived her daughters, she would have no more replaced them in his eyes than they did her. Weakness or avarice of the heart, so it was; we insist upon this singularity, because the consequences of these incessant and painful regrets exercised a great influence on the future life of Marshal Simon. Adrienne and Dagobert had respected the overwhelming grief of this unfortunate man. When he had given a free course to his tears, he raised his manly countenance, now of marble paleness, drew his hand across his blood-shot eyes, rose, and said to Adrienne, "Pardon me, madame; I could not conquer my first emotion. Permit me to retire. I have cruel details to ask of the worthy friend who only quitted my wife at the last moment. Have the kindness to let me see my children—my poor orphans!—" And the marshal's voice again broke.
"Marshal," said Mdlle. de Cardoville, "just now we were expecting your dear children: unfortunately, we have been deceived in our hopes." Pierre Simon first looked at Adrienne without answering, as if he had not heard or understood.—"But console yourself," resumed the young girl; "we have yet no reason to despair."
"To despair?" repeated the marshaling by turns at Mdlle. de Cardoville despair?—"of what, in heaven's name?"
"Of seeing your children, marshal," said Adrienne; "the presence of their father will facilitate the search."
"The search!" cried Pierre Simon. "Then, my daughters are not here?"
"No, sir," said Adrienne, at length; "they have been taken from the affectionate care of the excellent man who brought them from Russia, to be removed to a convent."
"Wretch!" cried Pierre Simon, advancing towards Dagobert, with a menacing and terrible aspect; "you shall answer to me for all!"
"Oh, sir, do not blame him!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"General," said Dagobert, in a tone of mournful resignation, "I merit your anger. It is my fault. Forced to absent myself from Paris, I entrusted the children to my wife; her confessor turned her head, and persuaded her that your daughters would be better in a convent than at our house. She believed him, and let them be conveyed there. Now they say at the convent, that they do not know where they are. This is the truth: do what you will with me; I have only to silently endure."
"This is infamous!" cried Pierre Simon, pointing to Dagobert, with a gesture of despairing indignation. "In whom can a man confide, if he has deceived me? Oh, my God!"
"Stay, marshal! do not blame him," repeated Mdlle. de Cardoville; "do not think so! He has risked life and honor to rescue your children from the convent. He is not the only one who has failed in this attempt. Just now, a magistrate—despite his character and authority—was not more successful. His firmness towards the superior, his minute search of the convent, were all in vain. Up to this time it has been impossible to find these unfortunate children."
"But where's this convent!" cried Marshal Simon, raising his head, his face all pale and agitated with grief and rage. "Where is it? Do these vermin know what a father is, deprived of his children?" At the moment when Marshal Simon, turning towards Dagobert, pronounced these words, Rodin, holding Rose and Blanche by the hand, appeared at the open door of the chamber. On hearing the marshal's exclamation, he started with surprise, and a flash of diabolical joy lit up his grim countenance—for he had not expected to meet Pierre Simon so opportunely.
Mdlle. de Cardoville was the first to perceive the presence of Rodin. She exclaimed, as she hastened towards him: "Oh! I was not deceived. He is still our providence."
"My poor children!" said Rodin, in a low voice, to the young girls, as he pointed to Pierre Simon, "this is your father!"
"Sir!" cried Adrienne, following close upon Rose and Blanche. "Your children are here!"
As Simon turned round abruptly, his two daughters threw themselves into his arms. Here was a long silence, broken only by sobs, and kisses, and exclamations of joy.
"Come forward, at least, and enjoy the good you have done!" said Mdlle. de Cardoville, drying her eyes, and turning towards Rodin, who, leaning against the door, seemed to contemplate this scene with deep emotion.
Dagobert, at sight of Rodin bringing back the children, was at first struck with stupor, and unable to move a step; but hearing the words of Adrienne, and yielding to a burst of almost insane gratitude, he threw himself on his knees before the Jesuit, joined his hands together, and exclaimed in a broken voice: "You have saved me, by bringing back these children."
"Oh, bless you, sir!" said Mother Bunch, yielding to the general current.
"My good friends, this is too much," said Rodin, as if his emotions were beyond his strength; "this is really too much for me. Excuse me to the marshal, and tell him that I am repaid by the sight of his happiness."
"Pray, sir," said Adrienne, "let the marshal at least have the opportunity to see and know you."
"Oh, remain! you that have saved us all!" cried Dagobert, trying to stop Rodin.
"Providence, you know, my dear young lady, does not trouble itself about the good that is done, but the good that remains to do," said Rodin, with an accent of playful kindness. "Must I not think of Prince Djalma? My task is not finished, and moments are precious. Come," he added, disengaging himself gently from Dagobert's hold, "come the day has been as good a one as I had hoped.. The Abbe d'Aigrigny is unmasked; you are free, my dear young lady; you have recovered your cross, my brave soldier; Mother Bunch is sure of a protectress; the marshal has found his children. I have my share in all these joys, it is a full share—my heart is satisfied. Adieu, my friends, till we meet again." So saying, Rodin waved his hand affectionately to Adrienne, Dagobert, and the hunchback, and withdrew, waving his hand with a look of delight on Marshal Simon, who, seated between his daughters, held them in his arms, and covered them with tears and kisses, remaining quite indifferent to all that was passing around him.
An hour after this scene, Mdlle. de Cardoville and the sempstress, Marshal Simon, his two daughters and Dagobert quitted Dr. Beleinier's asylum.
In terminating this episode, a few words by way of moral, with regard to lunatic asylums and convents may not be out of place. We have said, and we repeat, that the laws which apply to the superintendence of lunatic asylums appear to us insufficient. Facts that have recently transpired before the courts, and other facts that have been privately communicated to us, evidently prove this insufficiency. Doubtless, magistrates have full power to visit lunatic asylums. They are even required to make such visits. But we know, from the best authority, that the numerous and pressing occupations of magistrates, whose number is often out of proportion with the labor imposed upon them, render these inspections so rare, that they are, so to speak, illusory. It appears, therefore, to us advisable to institute a system of inspections, at least twice a month, especially designed for lunatic asylums, and entrusted to a physician and a magistrate, so that every complaint may be submitted to a double examination. Doubtless, the law is sufficient when its ministers are fully informed; but how many formalities, how many difficulties must be gone through, before they can be so, particularly when the unfortunate creature who needs their assistance, already suspected, isolated, and imprisoned, has no friend to come forward in defence, and demand, in his or her name, the protection of the authorities! Is it not imperative, therefore, on the civil power, to meet these necessities by a periodical and well-organized system of inspection?
What we here say of lunatic asylums will apply with still greater force to convents for women, seminaries, and houses inhabited by religious bodies. Recent and notorious facts, with which all France has rung, have, unfortunately, proved that violence, forcible detention, barbarous usage, abduction of minors, and illegal imprisonment, accompanied by torture, are occurrences which, if not frequent, are at least possible in religious houses. It required singular accidents, audacious and cynical brutalities; to bring these detestable actions to public knowledge. How many other victims have been, and, perhaps still are, entombed in those large silent mansions, where no profane look may penetrate, and which, through the privileges of the clergy, escape the superintendence of the civil power. Is it not deplorable that these dwellings should not also be subject to periodical inspection, by visitors consisting, if it be desired, of a priest, a magistrate, and some delegate of the municipal authorities? If nothing takes place, but what is legal, human, and charitable, in these establishments, which have all the character, and incur all the responsibility, of public institutions, why this resistance, this furious indignation of the church party, when any mention is made of touching what they call their privileges? There is something higher than the constitutions devised at Rome. We mean the Law of France—the common law—which grants to all protection, but which, in return, exacts from all respect and obedience.
XL. The East Indian in Paris XLI. Rising XLII. Doubts XLIII. The Letter XLIV. Adrienne and Djalma XLV. The Consultation XLVI. Mother Bunch's Diary XLVII. The Diary Continued XLVIII. The Discovery XLIX. The Trysting-Place of the Wolves L. The Common Dwelling-House LI. The Secret LII. Revelations
CHAPTER XL. THE EAST INDIAN IN PARIS.
Since three days, Mdlle. de Cardoville had left Dr. Baleinier's. The following scene took place in a little dwelling in the Rue Blanche, to which Djalma had been conducted in the name of his unknown protector. Fancy to yourself a pretty, circular apartment, hung with Indian drapery, with purple figures on a gray ground, just relieved by a few threads of gold. The ceiling, towards the centre, is concealed by similar hangings, tied together by a thick, silken cord; the two ends of this cord, unequal in length, terminated, instead of tassels, in two tiny Indian lamps of gold filigreed-work, marvellously finished. By one of those ingenious combinations, so common in barbarous countries, these lamps served also to burn perfumes. Plates of blue crystal, let in between the openings of the arabesque, and illumined by the interior light, shone with so limpid an azure, that the golden lamps seemed starred with transparent sapphires. Light clouds, of whitish vapor rose incessantly from these lamps, and spread all around their balmy odor.
Daylight was only admitted to this room (it was about two o'clock in the afternoon) through a little greenhouse, on the other side of a door of plate-glass, made to slide into the thickness of the wall, by means of a groove. A Chinese shade was arranged so as to hide or replace this glass at pleasure. Some dwarf palm tress, plantains, and other Indian productions, with thick leaves of a metallic green, arranged in clusters in this conservatory, formed, as it were, the background to two large variegated bushes of exotic flowers, which were separated by a narrow path, paved with yellow and blue Japanese tiles, running to the foot of the glass. The daylight, already much dimmed by the leaves through which it passed, took a hue of singular mildness as it mingled with the azure lustre of the perfumed lamps, and the crimson brightness of the fire in the tall chimney of oriental porphyry. In the obscurity of this apartment, impregnated with sweet odors and the aromatic vapor of Persian tobacco, a man with brown, hanging locks, dressed in a long robe of dark green, fastened round the waist by a parti-colored sash, was kneeling upon a magnificent Turkey carpet, filling the golden bowl of a hookah; the long, flexible tube of this pipe, after rolling its folds upon the carpet, like a scarlet serpent with silver scales, rested between the slender fingers of Djalma, who was reclining negligently on a divan. The young prince was bareheaded; his jet-black hair, parted on the middle of his forehead, streamed waving about his face and neck of antique beauty—their warm transparent colors resembling amber or topaz. Leaning his elbow on a cushion, he supported his chin with the palm of his right hand. The flowing sleeve of his robe, falling back from his arm, which was round as that of a woman, revealed mysterious signs formerly tattooed there in India by a Thug's needle. The son of Radja-sing held in his left hand the amber mouthpiece of his pipe. His robe of magnificent cashmere, with a border of a thousand hues, reaching to his knee, was fastened about his slim and well-formed figure by the large folds of an orange-colored shawl. This robe was half withdrawn from one of the elegant legs of this Asiatic Antinous, clad in a kind of very close fitting gaiter of crimson velvet, embroidered with silver, and terminating in a small white morocco slipper, with a scarlet heel. At once mild and manly, the countenance of Djalma was expressive of that melancholy and contemplative calmness habitual to the Indian and the Arab, who possess the happy privilege of uniting, by a rare combination, the meditative indolence of the dreamer with the fiery energy of the man of action—now delicate, nervous, impressionable as women—now determined, ferocious, and sanguinary as bandits.
And this semi-feminine comparison, applicable to the moral nature of the Arab and the Indian, so long as they are not carried away by the ardor of battle and the excitement of carnage, is almost equally applicable to their physical constitution; for if, like women of good blood, they have small extremities, slender limbs, fine and supple forms, this delicate and often charming exterior always covers muscles of steel, full of an elasticity, and vigor truly masculine. Djalma's oblong eyes, like black diamonds set in bluish mother-of-pearl, wandered mechanically from the exotic flowers to the ceiling; from time to time he raised the amber mouthpiece of the hookah to his lips; then, after a slow aspiration, half opening his rosy lips, strongly contrasted with the shining enamel of his teeth, he sent forth a little spiral line of smoke, freshly scented by the rose-water through which it had passed.
"Shall I put more tobacco in the hookah?" said the kneeling figure, turning towards Djalma, and revealing the marked and sinister features of Faringhea the Strangler.
The young prince remained dumb, either that, from an oriental contempt for certain races, he disdained to answer the half-caste, or that, absorbed in his reverie, he did not even hear him. The Strangler became again silent; crouching cross-legged upon the carpet, with his elbows resting on his knees, and his chin upon his hands, he kept his eyes fixed on Djalma, and seemed to await the reply or the orders of him whose sire had been surnamed the Father of the Generous. How had Faringhea, the sanguinary worshipper of Bowanee, the Divinity of Murder, been brought to seek or to accept such humble functions? How came this man, possessed of no vulgar talents, whose passionate eloquence and ferocious energy had recruited many assassins for the service of the Good Work, to resign himself to so base a condition? Why, too, had this man, who, profiting by the young prince's blindness with regard to himself, might have so easily sacrificed him as an offering to Bowanee—why had he spared the life of Radja-sings son? Why, in fine, did he expose himself to such frequent encounters with Rodin, whom he had only known under the most unfavorable auspices? The sequel of this story will answer all these questions. We can only say at present, that, after a long interview with Rodin, two nights before, the Thug had quitted him with downcast eyes and cautious bearing.
After having remained silent for some time, Djalma, following with his eye the cloud of whitish smoke that he had just sent forth into space, addressed Faringhea, without looking at him, and said to him in the language, as hyperbolical as concise, of Orientals: "Time passes. The old man with the good heart does not come. But he will come. His word is his word."
"His word is his word, my lord," repeated Faringhea, in an affirmative tone. "When he came to fetch you, three days ago, from the house whither those wretches, in furtherance of their wicked designs, had conveyed you in a deep sleep—after throwing me, your watchful and devoted servant, into a similar state—he said to you: 'The unknown friend, who sent for you to Cardoville Castle, bids me come to you, prince. Have confidence, and follow me. A worthy abode is prepared for you.'—And again, he said to you, my lord: 'Consent not to leave the house, until my return. Your interest requires it. In three days you will see me again, and then be restored to perfect freedom.' You consented to those terms, my lord, and for three days you have not left the house."
"And I wait for the old man with impatience," said Djalma, "for this solitude is heavy with me. There must be so many things to admire in Paris. Above all."
Djalma did not finish the sentence, but relapsed into a reverie. After some moments' silence, the son of Radja-sing said suddenly to Faringhea, in the tone of an impatient yet indolent sultan: "Speak to me!"
"Of what shall I speak, my lord?"
"Of what you will," said Djalma, with careless contempt, as he fixed on the ceiling his eyes, half-veiled with languor. "One thought pursues me—I wish to be diverted from it. Speak to me."
Faringhea threw a piercing glance on the countenance of the young Indian, and saw that his cheeks were colored with a slight blush. "My lord," said the half-caste, "I can guess your thought."
Djalma shook his head, without looking at the Strangler. The latter resumed: "You are thinking of the women of Paris, my lord."
"Be silent, slave!" said Djalma, turning abruptly on the sofa, as if some painful wound had been touched to the quick. Faringhea obeyed.
After the lapse of some moments. Djalma broke forth again with impatience, throwing aside the tube of the hookah, and veiling both eyes with his hands: "Your words are better than silence. Cursed be my thoughts, and the spirit which calls up these phantoms!"
"Why should you fly these thoughts, my lord? You are nineteen years of age, and hitherto all your youth has been spent in war and captivity. Up to this time, you have remained as chaste as Gabriel, that young Christian priest, who accompanied us on our voyage."
Though Faringhea did not at all depart from his respectful deference for the prince, the latter felt that there was something of irony in the tone of the half-caste, as he pronounced the word "chaste."
Djalma said to him with a mixture of pride and severity: "I do not wish to pass for a barbarian, as they call us, with these civilized people; therefore I glory in my chastity."
"I do not understand, my lord."
"I may perhaps love some woman, pure as was my mother when she married my father; and to ask for purity from a woman, a man must be chaste as she."
At this, Faringhea could not refrain from a sardonic smile.
"Why do you laugh, slave?" said the young prince, imperiously.
"Among civilized people, as you call them, my lord, the man who married in the flower of his innocence would be mortally wounded with ridicule."
"It is false, slave! He would only be ridiculous if he married one that was not pure as himself."
"Then, my lord, he would not only be wounded—he would be killed outright, for he would be doubly and unmercifully laughed at."
"It is false! it is false. Where did you learn all this?"
"I have seen Parisian women at the Isle of France, and at Pondicherry, my lord. Moreover, I learned a good deal during our voyage; I talked with a young officer, while you conversed with the young priest."
"So, like the sultans of our harems, civilized men require of women the innocence they have themselves lost."
"They require it the more, the less they have of it, my lord."
"To require without any return, is to act as a master to his slave; by what right?"
"By the right of the strongest—as it is among us, my lord."
"And what do the women do?"
"They prevent the men from being too ridiculous, when they marry, in the eyes of the world."
"But they kill a woman that is false?" said Djalma, raising himself abruptly, and fixing upon Faringhea a savage look, that sparkled with lurid fire.