"They kill her, my lord, as with us—when they find her out."
"Despots like ourselves! Why then do these civilized men not shut up their women, to force them to a fidelity which they do not practise?"
"Because their civilization is barbarous, and their barbarism civilized, my lord."
"All this is sad enough, if true," observed Djalma, with a pensive air, adding, with a species of enthusiasm, employing, as usual, the mystic and figurative language familiar to the people of his country; "yes, your talk afflicts me, slave—for two drops of dew blending in the cup of a flower are as hearts that mingle in a pure and virgin love; and two rays of light united in one inextinguishable flame, are as the burning and eternal joys of lovers joined in wedlock."
Djalma spoke of the pure enjoyments of the soul with inexpressible grace, yet it was when he painted less ideal happiness, that his eyes shone like stars; he shuddered slightly, his nostrils swelled, the pale gold of his complexion became vermilion, and the young prince sank into a deep reverie.
Faringhea, having remarked this emotion, thus spoke: "If, like the proud and brilliant king-bird of our woods, you prefer numerous and varied pleasures to solitary and monotonous amours—handsome, young, rich as you are, my lord, were you to seek out the seductive Parisians—voluptuous phantoms of your nights—charming tormentors of your dreams—were you to cast upon them looks bold as a challenge, supplicating as prayers, ardent as desires—do you not think that many a half-veiled eye would borrow fire from your glance? Then it would no longer be the monotonous delights of a single love, the heavy chain of our life—no, it would be the thousand pleasures of the harem—a harem peopled with free and proud beauties, whom happy love would make your slaves. So long constrained, there is no such thing as excess to you. Believe me, it would then be you, the ardent, the magnificent son of our country, that would become the love and pride of these women—the most seductive in the world, who would soon have for you no looks but those of languor and passion."
Djalma had listened to Faringhea with silent eagerness. The expression of his features had completely changed; it was no longer the melancholy and dreaming youth, invoking the sacred remembrance of his mother, and finding only in the dew of heaven, in the calyx of flowers, images sufficiently pure to paint the chastity of the love he dreamed of; it was no longer even the young man, blushing with a modest ardor at the thought of the permitted joys of a legitimate union. No! the incitements of Faringhea had kindled a subterraneous fire; the inflamed countenance of Djalma, his eyes now sparkling and now veiled, his manly and sonorous respiration, announced the heat of his blood, the boiling up of the passions, only the more energetic, that they had been hitherto restrained.
So, springing suddenly from the divan, supple, vigorous, and light as a young tiger, Djalma clutched Faringhea by the throat exclaiming: "Thy words are burning poison!"
"My lord," said Faringhea, without opposing the least resistance, "your slave is your slave." This submission disarmed the prince.
"My life belongs to you," repeated the half-caste.
"I belong to you, slave!" cried Djalma, repulsing him. "Just now, I hung upon your lips, devouring your dangerous lies."
"Lies, my lord? Only appear before these women, and their looks will confirm my words."
"These women love me!—me, who have only lived in war and in the woods?"
"The thought that you, so young, have already waged bloody war on men and tigers, will make them adore, my lord."
"I tell you, my lord, on seeing your hand, as delicate as theirs, but which has been so often bathed in hostile blood, they will wish to caress it; and they will kiss it again, when they think that, in our forests, with loaded rifle, and a poniard between your teeth, you smiled at the roaring of a lion or panther for whom you lay in wait."
"But I am a savage—a barbarian."
"And for that very reason you will have them at your feet. They will feel themselves both terrified and charmed by all the violence and fury, the rage of jealousy, the passion and the love, to which a man of your blood, your youth, your ardor must be subject. To-day mild and tender, to-morrow fierce and suspicious, another time ardent and passionate, such you will be—and such you ought to be, if you wish to win them. Yes; let a kiss of rage be heard between two kisses: let a dagger glitter in the midst of caresses, and they will fall before you, palpitating with pleasure, love, and fear—and you will be to them, not a man, but a god."
"Dost think so?" cried Djalma, carried away in spite of himself by the Thug's wild eloquence.
"You know, you feel, that I speak the truth," cried the latter, extending his arm towards the young Indian.
"Why, yes!" exclaimed Djalma, his eyes sparkling, his nostrils swelling, as he moved about the apartment with savage bounds. "I know not if I possess my reason, or if I am intoxicated, but it seems to me that you speak truth. Yes, I feel that they will love me with madness and fury, because my love will be mad and furious they will tremble with pleasure and fear, because the very thought of it makes me tremble with delight and terror. Slave, it is true; there is something exciting and fearful in such a love!" As he spoke forth these words, Djalma was superb in his impetuous sensuality. It is a rare thing to see a young man arrive in his native purity, at the age in which are developed, in all their powerful energy, those admirable instincts of love, which God has implanted in the heart of his creatures, and which, repressed, disguised, or perverted, may unseat the reason, or generate mad excesses and frightful crimes—but which, directed towards a great and noble passion, may and must, by their very violence, elevate man, through devotion and tenderness, to the limits of the ideal.
"Oh! this woman—this woman, before whom I am to tremble—and who, in turn, must tremble before me—where is she?" cried Djalma, with redoubled excitement. "Shall I ever find her?"
"One is a good deal, my lord," replied Faringhea, with his sardonic coolness; "he who looks for one woman, will rarely succeed in this country; he who seeks women, is only at a loss to choose."
As the half-caste made this impertinent answer to Djalma, a very elegant blue-and-white carriage stopped before the garden-gate of the house, which opened upon a deserted street. It was drawn by a pair of beautiful blood-horses, of a cream color, with black manes and tails. The scutcheons on the harness were of silver, as were also the buttons of the servants' livery, which was blue with white collars. On the blue hammercloth, also laced with white, as well as on the panels of the doors, were lozenge-shaped coats of arms, without crest or coronet, as usually borne by unmarried daughters of noble families. Two women were in this carriage—Mdlle. de Cardoville and Florine.
CHAPTER XLI. RISING.
To explain the arrival of Mdlle. de Cardoville at the garden-door of the house occupied by Djalma, we must cast a retrospective glance at previous events. On leaving Doctor Baleinier's, Mdlle. de Cardoville had gone to take up her residence in the Rue d'Anjou. During the last few months of her stay with her aunt, Adrienne had secretly caused this handsome dwelling to be repaired and furnished, and its luxury and elegance were now increased by all the wonders of the lodge of Saint-Dizier House. The world found it very strange, that a lady of the age and condition of Mdlle. de Cardoville should take the resolution of living completely alone and free, and, in fact, of keeping house exactly like a bachelor, a young widow, or an emancipated minor. The world pretended not to know that Mdlle. de Cardoville possessed what is often wanting in men, whether of age or twice of age—a firm character, a lofty mind, a generous heart, strong and vigorous good sense.
Judging that she would require faithful assistance in the internal management of her house, Adrienne had written to the bailiff of Cardoville, and his wife, old family servants, to come immediately to Paris: M. Dupont thus filled the office of steward, and Mme. Dupont that of housekeeper. An old friend of Adrienne's father, the Count de Montbron, an accomplished old man, once very much in fashion, and still a connoisseur in all sorts of elegances, had advised Adrienne to act like a princess, and take an equerry; recommended for this office a man of good rearing and ripe age, who, himself an amateur in horses, had been ruined in England, at Newmarket, the Derby, and Tattersall's, and reduced, as sometimes happened to gentlemen in that country, to drive the stage coaches, thus finding an honest method of earning his bread, and at the same time gratifying his taste for horses. Such was M. de Bonneville, M. de Montbron's choice. Both from age and habits, this equerry could accompany Mdlle. de Cardoville on horseback, and better than any one else, superintend the stable. He accepted, therefore, the employment with gratitude, and, thanks to his skill and attention, the equipages of Mdlle. de Cardoville were not eclipsed in style by anything of the kind in Paris. Mdlle. de Cardoville had taken back her women, Hebe, Georgette, and Florine. The latter was at first to have re-entered the service of the Princess de Saint-Dizier, to continue her part of spy for the superior of St. Mary's Convent; but, in consequence of the new direction given by Rodin to the Rennepont affair, it was decided that Florine, if possible, should return to the service of Mdlle. de Cardoville. This confidential place, enabling this unfortunate creature to render important and mysterious services to the people who held her fate in their hands, forced her to infamous treachery. Unfortunately, all things favored this machination. We know that Florine, in her interview with Mother Bunch, a few days after Mdlle. de Cardoville was imprisoned at Dr. Baleinier's, had yielded to a twinge of remorse, and given to the sempstress advice likely to be of use to Adrienne's interests—sending word to Agricola not to deliver to Madame de Saint Dizier the papers found in the hiding-place of the pavilion, but only to entrust them to Mdlle. de Cardoville herself. The latter, afterwards informed of these details by Mother Bunch, felt a double degree of confidence and interest in Florine, took her back into her service with gratitude, and almost immediately charged her with a confidential mission—that of superintending the arrangements of the house hired for Djalma's habitation. As for Mother Bunch (yielding to the solicitations of Mdlle. de Cardoville, and finding she was no longer of use to Dagobert's wife, of whom we shall speak hereafter), she had consented to take up her abode in the hotel on the Rue d'Anjou, along with Adrienne, who with that rare sagacity of the heart peculiar to her, entrusted the young sempstress, who served her also as a secretary, with the department of alms-giving.
Mdlle. de Cardoville had at first thought of entertaining her merely as a friend, wishing to pay homage in her person to probity with labor, resignation in sorrow, and intelligence in poverty; but knowing the workgirl's natural dignity, she feared, with reason that, notwithstanding the delicate circumspection with which the hospitality would be offered, Mother Bunch might perceive in it alms in disguise. Adrienne preferred, therefore, whilst she treated her as a friend, to give her a confidential employment. In this manner the great delicacy of the needlewoman would be spared, since she could earn her livelihood by performing duties which would at the same time satisfy her praiseworthy instincts of charity. In fact, she could fulfil, better than any one, the sacred mission confided to her by Adrienne. Her cruel experience in misfortune, the goodness of her angelic soul, the elevation of her mind, her rare activity, her penetration with regard to the painful secrets of poverty, her perfect knowledge of the industrial classes, were sufficient security for the tact and intelligence with which the excellent creature would second the generous intentions of Mdlle. de Cardoville.
Let us now speak of the divers events which, on that day, preceded the coming of Mdlle. de Cardoville to the garden-gate of the house in the Rue Blanche. About ten o'clock in the morning, the blinds of Adrienne's bedchamber, closely shut, admitted no ray of daylight to this apartment, which was only lighted by a spherical lamp of oriental alabaster, suspended from the ceiling by three long silver chains. This apartment, terminating in a dome, was in the form of a tent with eight sides. From the ceiling to the floor, it was hung with white silk, covered with long draperies of muslin, fastened in large puffs to the wall, by bands caught in at regular distances by plates of ivory. Two doors, also of ivory, admirably encrusted with mother-of-pearl, led, one to the bath-room, the other to the toilet-chamber, a sort of little temple dedicated to the worship of beauty, and furnished as it had been at the pavilion of Saint Dizier House. Two other compartments of the wall were occupied by windows, completely veiled with drapery. Opposite the bed, enclosing splendid fire-dogs of chased silver, was a chimney-piece of white marble, like crystallized snow, on which were sculptured two magnificent caryatides, and a frieze representing birds and flowers. Above this frieze, carved in openwork with extreme delicacy, was a marble basket, filled with red camellias. Their leaves of shining green their flowers of a delicate rosy hue, were the only colors that disturbed the harmonious whiteness of this virgin retreat. Finally, half surrounded by waves of white muslin, which poured down from the dome like a mass of light clouds, the bed was visible—very low, and resting on feet of carved ivory, which stood upon the ermine carpet that covered the floor. With the exception of a plinth, also in ivory, admirably inlaid with mother-of-pearl, the bed was entirely covered with white satin, wadded and quilted like an immense scent-bag. The cambric sheets, trimmed with lace, being a little disturbed on one side, discovered the corner of a white taffety mattress, and a light counterpane of watered stuff—for an equal temperature always reigned in this apartment, warm as a fine spring day.
From a singular scruple, arising from the same sentiment which had caused Adrienne to have inscribed on a masterpiece of goldsmith's work the name of the maker instead of that of the seller, she had wished all these articles, so costly and sumptuous, to be manufactured by workmen chosen amongst the most intelligent, honest, and industrious of their class, whom she had supplied with the necessary materials. In this manner she had been able to add to the price of the work the profit usually gained by the middle man, who speculates in such labor; this notable augmentation of wages had spread happiness and comfort through a hundred necessitous families, who, blessing the munificence of Adrienne, gave her, as she said, the right to enjoy her luxury as a good action. Nothing could be fresher or more charming than the interior of this bedchamber. Mdlle. de Cardoville had just awoke; she reposed in the middle of this flood of muslin, lace, cambric, and white silk, in a position full of sweet grace. Never during the night did she cover that beautiful golden hair (a certain recipe, said the Greeks, for preserving it for a long while in magnificence). Every evening, her women arranged her long silky curls in flat tresses, forming two broad bands, which, descending sufficiently low almost entirely to conceal the small ear, the rosy lobe of which was alone visible, were joined to the large plait behind the head.
This head-dress, borrowed from Greek antiquity, set off to admiration the pure, fine features of Mdlle. de Cardoville, and made her look so much younger, that, instead of eighteen, one would hardly have given her fifteen years of age. Gathered thus closely about the temples, the hair lost its transparent and brilliant hues, and would have appeared almost brown, but for the golden tints which played here and there, amid the undulations of the tresses. Lulled in that morning torpor, the warm languor of which is so favorable to soft reveries, Adrienne leaned with her elbow on the pillow, and her head a little on one side, which displayed to advantage the ideal contour of her bared neck and shoulders; her smiling lips, moist and rosy, were, like her cheeks, cold as if they had just been bathed in ice-water; her snow-white lids half veiled the large, dark, soft eyes, which now gazed languidly upon vacancy, and now fixed themselves with pleasure upon the rosy flowers and green leaves in the basket of camellias. Who can paint the matchless serenity of Adrienne's awaking—when the fair and chaste soul roused itself in the fair and chaste body? It was the awakening of a heart as pure as the fresh and balmy breath of youth, that made her bosom rise and fall in its white, immaculate purity. What creed, what dogma, what formula, what religious symbol, oh! paternal and divine Creator! can ever give a more complete idea of Thy harmonious and ineffable power, than the image of a young maiden awaking in the bloom of her beauty, and in all the grace of that modesty with which Thou hast endowed her, seeking, in her dreamy innocence, for the secret of that celestial instinct of love, which Thou hast placed in the bosom of all Thy creatures—oh! Thou whose love is eternal, and goodness infinite!
The confused thoughts which, since her sleep, had appeared gently to agitate Adrienne, absorbed her more and more; her head resting on her bosom, her beautiful arm upon the couch, her features without becoming precisely sad, assumed an expression of touching melancholy. Her dearest desire was accomplished; she was about to live independent and alone. But this affectionate, delicate, expansive, and marvellously complete nature, felt that God had not given her such rare treasures, to bury them in a cold and selfish solitude. She felt how much that was great and beautiful might be inspired by love, both in herself, and in him that should be worthy of her. Confiding in her courage, and the nobleness of her character, proud of the example that she wished to give to other women, knowing that all eyes would be fixed enviously upon her, she felt, as it were, only too sure of herself; far from fearing that she should make a bad choice, she rather feared, that she should not find any from whom to choose, so pure and perfect was her taste. And, even had she met with her own ideal, she had views so singular and so just, so extraordinary and yet so sensible, with regard to the independence and dignity of woman, that, inexorably determined to make no concession upon this head, she asked herself if the man of her choice would ever accept the hitherto unheard-of conditions that she meant to impose. In recalling to her remembrance the possible suitors that she had met in the world, she remembered also the dark, but true picture, which Rodin had drawn with so much caustic bitterness. She remembered, too, not without a certain pride, the encouragement this man had given her, not by flattery, but by advising her to follow out and accomplish a great, generous, and beautiful design. The current or the caprice of fancy soon brought Adrienne to think of Djalma. Whilst she congratulated herself on having paid to her royal kinsman the duties of a kingly hospitality, the young lady was far from regarding the prince as the hero of her future.
And first she said to herself, not unreasonably, that this half-savage boy, with passions, if not untamable, yet untamed, transported on a sudden into the midst of a refined civilization, would be inevitably destined to fiery trials and violent transformations. Now Mdlle. de Cardoville, having nothing masculine or despotic in her character, had no wish to civilize the young savage. Therefore, notwithstanding the interest, or rather because of the interest, which she felt for the young Indian, she was firmly resolved, not to make herself known to him, till after the lapse of two or three months; and she determined also, that, even if Djalma should learn by chance that she was his relation, she would not receive his visit. She desired, if not to try him, at least to leave him free in all his acts, so that he might expend the first fire of his passions, good or bad. But not wishing to abandon him quite without defence to the perils of Parisian life, she requested the Count de Montbron, in confidence, to introduce Prince Djalma to the best company in Paris, and to enlighten him by the counsels of his long experience. M. de Montbron had received the request of Mdlle. de Cardoville with the greatest pleasure, taking delight, he said, in starting his royal tiger in drawing-rooms, and bringing him into contact with the flower of the fine ladies and gentlemen of Paris, offering at the same time to wager any amount in favor of his half-savage pupil.
"As for myself, my dear Count," said Adrienne to M. de Montbron, with her usual frankness, "my resolution is not to be shaken. You have told me the effect that will be produced in the fashionable world, by the first appearance of Prince Djalma, an Indian nineteen years of age, of surprising beauty, proud and wild as a young lion arriving from his forest; it is new, it is extraordinary, you added; and, therefore, all the coquetries of civilized life will pursue him with an eagerness which makes me tremble for him. Now, seriously, my dear count it will not suit me to appear as the rival of so many fine ladies, who are about to expose themselves intrepidly to the claws of the young tiger. I take great interest in him, because he is my cousin, because he is handsome, because he is brave, and above all because he does not wear that horrible European dress. No doubt these are rare qualities—but not sufficient to make me change my mind. Besides, the good old philosopher, my new friend, has given me advice about this Indian, which you, my dear Count, who are not a philosopher, will yet approve. It is, for some time, to receive visits at home, but not to visit other people—which will spare me the awkwardness of meeting my royal cousin, and allow me to make a careful choice, even amongst my usual society. As my house will be an excellent one, my position most unusual, and as I shall be suspected of all sorts of naughty secrets, I shall be in no want of inquisitive visitors, who will amuse me a good deal, I assure you."
And as M. de Montbron asked, if the exile of the poor young Indian tiger was to last long, Adrienne answered: "As I shall see most of the persons, to whom you will introduce him, I shall be pleased to hear different opinions about him. If certain men speak well of him, and certain women ill, I shall have good hope of him. In a word, the opinion that I come to, in sifting the true from the false (you may leave that to my sagacity), will shorten or prolong the exile of my royal cousin."
Such were the formal intentions of Mdlle. de Cardoville with regard to Djalma, even on the day she went with Florine to the house he occupied. In a word, she had positively resolved not to be known to him for some months to come.
After long reflecting that morning, on the chances that might yet offer themselves to satisfy the wants of her heart, Adrienne fell into a new, deep reverie. This charming creature, so full of life and youth, heaved a low sigh, raised her arms above her head, turned her profile towards the pillow, and remained for some moments as if powerless and vanquished. Motionless beneath the white tissues that wrapped her round, she looked like a fair, marble statue, visible beneath a light layer of snow. Suddenly, Adrienne raised herself up, drew her hand across her brow, and rang for her women. At the first silver tone of the bell, the two ivory doors opened. Georgette appeared on the threshold of the dressing-room, from which Frisky, a little black and-tan dog, with his golden collar, escaped with a joyful barking. Hebe appeared at the same time on the threshold of the bath-room. At the further end of this apartment, lighted from above, might be seen upon a green mat of Spanish leather, with golden ornaments, a crystal bath in the form of a long shell. The three only divisions in this masterpiece of glass work, were concealed by the elegant device of several large reeds in silver, which rose from the wide base of the bath, also of wrought silver, representing children and dolphins playing, among branches of natural coral, and azure shells. Nothing could be more pleasing than the effect of these purple reeds and ultramarine shells, upon a dull ground of silver; the balsamic vapor, which rose from the warm, limpid, and perfumed water, that filled the crystal shell, spread through the bath-room, and floated like a light cloud into the sleeping-chamber.
Seeing Hebe in her fresh and pretty costume, bringing her a long bathing gown, hanging upon a bare and dimpled arm, Adrienne said to her: "Where is Florine, my child?"
"Madame, she went downstairs two hours ago; she was wanted for something very pressing."
"Who wanted her?"
"The young person who serves Madame as secretary. She went out this morning very early; and, as soon as she returned, she sent for Florine, who has not come back since."
"This absence no doubt relates to some important affair of my angelic minister of succor," said Adrienne, smiling, and thinking of the hunchback. Then she made a sign to Hebe to approach her bed.
About two hours after rising, Adrienne, having had herself dressed, as usual, with rare elegance, dismissed her women, and sent for Mother Bunch, whom she treated with marked deference, always receiving her alone. The young sempstress entered hastily, with a pale, agitated countenance, and said, in a trembling voice: "Oh, madame! my presentiments were justified. You are betrayed."
"Of what presentiments do you speak, my dear child!" said Adrienne, with surprise. "Who betrays me?"
"M. Rodin!" answered the workgirl.
CHAPTER XLII. DOUBTS.
On hearing the accusation brought against Rodin, Mdlle. de Cardoville looked at the denunciator with new astonishment. Before continuing this scene, we may say that Mother Bunch was no longer clad in her poor, old clothes, but was dressed in black, with as much simplicity as taste. The sad color seemed to indicate her renunciation of all human vanity, the eternal mourning of her heart, and the austere duties imposed upon her by her devotion to misfortune. With her black gown, she wore a large falling collar, white and neat as her little gauze cap, with its gray ribbons, which, revealing her bands of fine brown hair, set off to advantage her pale and melancholy countenance, with its soft blue eyes. Her long, delicate hands, preserved from the cold by gloves, were no longer, as formerly, of a violet hue, but of an almost transparent whiteness.
Her agitated features expressed a lively uneasiness. Extremely surprised, Mdlle. de Cardoville exclaimed: "What do you say?"
"M. Rodin betrays you, madame."
"M. Rodin? Impossible!"
"Oh, madame! my presentiments did not deceive me."
"The first time I saw M. Rodin, I was frightened in spite of myself. My heart sank within me, and I trembled—for you, madame."
"For me?" said Adrienne. "Why did you not tremble for yourself, my poor friend?"
"I do not know, madame; but such was my first impression. And this fear was so invincible, that, notwithstanding the kindness that M. Rodin showed my sister, he frightened me, none the less."
"That is strange. I can understand as well as any one the almost irresistible influence of sympathies or aversions; but, in this instance—However," resumed Adrienne, after a moment's reflection, "no matter for that; how have these suspicions been changed to certainty?"
"Yesterday, I went to take to my sister Cephyse, the assistance that M. Rodin had given me, in the name of a charitable person. I did not find Cephyse at the friend's who had taken care of her; I therefore begged the portress, to inform my sister that I would call again this morning. That is what I did; but you must excuse me, madame, some necessary details."
"Speak, speak, my dear."
"The young girl who had received my sister," said Mother Bunch, with embarrassment, casting down her eyes and blushing, "does not lead a very regular life. A person, with whom she has gone on several parties of pleasure, one M. Dumoulin, had informed her of the real name of M. Rodin, who has a kind of lodging in that house, and there goes by the name of Charlemagne."
"That is just what he told us at Dr. Baleinier's; and, the day before yesterday, when I again alluded to the circumstance, he explained to me the necessity in which he was, for certain reasons, to have a humble retreat in that remote quarter—and I could not but approve of his motives."
"Well, then! yesterday, M. Rodin received a visit from the Abbe d'Aigrigny."
"The Abbe d'Aigrigny!" exclaimed Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"Yes, madame; he remained for two hours shut up with M. Rodin."
"My child, you must have been deceived."
"I was told, madame, that the Abbe d'Aigrigny had called in the morning to see M. Rodin; not finding him at home, he had left with the portress his name written on a slip of paper, with the words, 'I shall return in two hours.' The girl of whom I spoke, madame, had seen this slip of paper. As all that concerns M. Rodin appears mysterious enough, she had the curiosity to wait for M. d'Aigrigny in the porter's lodge, and, about two hours afterwards, he indeed returned, and saw M. Rodin."
"No, no," said Adrienne, shuddering; "it is impossible. There must be some mistake."
"I think not, madame; for, knowing how serious such a discovery would be, I begged the young girl to describe to me the appearance of M. d'Aigrigny."
"The Abbe d'Aigrigny, she told me, is about forty years of age. He is tall and upright, dresses plainly, but with care; has gray eyes, very large and piercing, thick eyebrows, chestnut-colored hair, a face closely shaved, and a very decided aspect."
"It is true," said Adrienne, hardly able to believe what she heard. "The description is exact."
"Wishing to have all possible details," resumed Mother Bunch, "I asked the portress if M. Rodin and the Abbe d'Aigrigny appeared to be at variance when they quitted the house? She replied no, but that the Abbe said to M. Rodin, as they parted at the door: 'I will write to you tomorrow, as agreed.'"
"Is it a dream? Good heaven!" said Adrienne, drawing her hands across her forehead in a sort of stupor. "I cannot doubt your word, my poor friend; and yet it is M. Rodin who himself sent you to that house, to give assistance to your sister: would he have wilfully laid open to you his secret interviews with the Abbe d'Aigrigny? It would have been bad policy in a traitor."
"That is true, and the same reflection occurred to me. And yet the meeting of these two men appeared so dangerous to you, madame, that I returned home full of terror."
Characters of extreme honesty are very hard to convince of the treachery of others: the more infamous the deception, the more they are inclined to doubt it. Adrienne was one of these characters, rectitude being a prime quality of her mind. Though deeply impressed by the communication, she remarked: "Come, my dear, do not let us frighten ourselves too soon, or be over-hasty in believing evil. Let us try to enlighten ourselves by reasoning, and first of all remember facts. M. Rodin opened for me the doors of Dr. Baleinier's asylum; in my presence, he brought, his charge against the Abbe d'Aigrigny; he forced the superior of the convent to restore Marshal Simon's daughters, he succeeded in discovering the retreat of Prince Djalma—he faithfully executed my intentions with regard to my young cousin; only yesterday, he gave me the most useful advice. All this is true—is it not?"
"Now suppose that M. Rodin, putting things in their worst light, had some after-thought—that he hopes to be liberally rewarded, for instance; hitherto, at least, he has shown complete disinterestedness."
"That also is true, madame," said poor Mother Bunch, obliged, like Adrienne, to admit the evidence of fixed facts.
"Now let us look to the possibility of treachery. Unite with the Abbe d'Aigrigny to betray me! Betray me?—how? and for what purpose? What have I to fear? Is it not the Abbe d'Aigrigny, on the contrary, is it not Madame de Saint-Dizier, who have to render an account for the injuries they have done me?"
"But, then, madame, how do you explain the meeting of these two men, who have so many motives for mutual aversion? May there not be some dark project still behind? Besides, madame, I am not the only one to think so."
"How is that?"
"This morning, on my return, I was so much agitated, that Mdlle. Florine asked me the cause of my trouble. I know, madame, how much she is devoted to you."
"Nobody could be more so; only recently, you yourself informed me of the signal service she rendered, during my confinement at Dr. Baleinier's."
"Well, madame, this morning, on my return, thinking it necessary to have you informed as soon as possible, I told all to Mdlle. Florine. Like me—even more, perhaps—she was terrified at the meeting of Rodin and M. d'Aigrigny.
"After a moment's reflection, she said to me: 'It is, I think, useless to disturb my mistress at present; it can be of no importance whether she is informed of this treachery two or three hours sooner or later; during that time I may be able to discover something more. I have an idea, which I think a good one. Make my excuses to my mistress; I shall soon be back.' Then Florine sent for a hackney-coach, and went out."
"Florine is an excellent girl," said Mdlle. de Cardoville, with a smile, for further reflection had quite reassured her: "but, on this occasion, I think that her zeal and good heart have deceived her, as they have you, my poor friend. Do you know, that we are two madcaps, you and I, not to have thought of one thing, which would have put us quite at our ease?"
"How so, madame?"
"The Abbe d'Aigrigny fears M. Rodin; he may have sought him out, to entreat his forbearance. Do you not find this explanation both satisfactory and reasonable?"
"Perhaps so, madame," said Mother Bunch, after a moment's reflection; "yes, it is probable." But after another silence, and as if yielding to a conviction superior to every possible argument, she exclaimed: "And yet, no; believe me, madame, you are deceived. I feel it. All appearances may be against what I affirm; yet, believe me, these presentiments are too strong not to be true. And have you not guessed the most secret instincts of my heart? Why should I not be able to guess the dangers with which you are menaced?"
"What do you say? what have I guessed?" replied Mdlle. de Cardoville, involuntarily impressed by the other's tone of conviction and alarm.
"What have you guessed?" resumed the latter. "All the troublesome susceptibility of an unfortunate creature, to whom destiny has decreed a life apart. If I have hitherto been silent, it is not from ignorance of what I owe you. Who told you, madame, that the only way to make me accept your favors without blushing, was to give me some employment, that would enable me to soothe the misfortunes I had so long shared? Who told you, when you wished me to have a seat at your table, and to treat as your friend the poor needlewoman, in whose person you sought to honor, resignation and honest industry—who told you, when I answered with tears of gratitude and regret, that it was not false modesty, but a consciousness of my own ridiculous deformity, that made me refuse your offer? Who told you that, but for this, I should have accepted it proudly, in the name of all my low-born sisters? But you replied to me with the touching words: 'I understand your refusal, my friend; it is not occasioned by false modesty, but by a sentiment of dignity that I love and respect.' Who told you," continued the workgirl, with increasing animation, "that I should be so happy to find a little solitary retreat in this magnificent house, which dazzles me with its splendor? Who guided you in the choice of the apartment (still far too good) that you have provided for me? Who taught you, that, without envying the beauty of the charming creatures that surround you, and whom I love because they love you, I should always feel, by an involuntary comparison, embarrassed and ashamed before them? Who told you therefore to send them away, whenever you wished to speak with me? Yes! who has revealed to you all the painful and secret susceptibilities of a position like mine! Who has revealed them to you? God, no doubt! who in His infinite majesty creates worlds, and yet cares for the poor little insect hidden beneath the grass. And you think, that the gratitude of a heart you have understood so well, cannot rise in its turn to the knowledge of what may be hurtful to you? No, no, lady; some people have the instinct of self preservation; others have the still more precious instinct that enables them to preserve those they love. God has given me this instinct. I tell you that you are betrayed!" And with animated look, and cheeks slightly colored with emotion, the speaker laid such stress upon the last words, and accompanied them with such energetic gesture, that Mdlle. de Cardoville already shaken by the girl's warmth, began almost to share in her apprehensions. Then, although she had before learned to appreciate the superior intelligence of this poor child of the people, Mdlle. de Cardoville had never till now heard her friend express herself with so much eloquence—an eloquence, too, that was inspired by the noblest sentiments. This circumstance added to the impression made upon Adrienne. But at the moment she was about to answer, a knock was heard at the door of the room, and Florine entered.
On seeing the alarmed countenance of her waiting-maid, Mdlle. de Cardoville said hastily: "Well, Florine! what news? Whence come you, my child?"
"From Saint-Dizier House, madame."
"And why did you go there?" asked Mdlle. de Cardoville, with surprise.
"This morning," said Florine, glancing at the workgirl, "madame, there, confided to me her suspicions and uneasiness. I shared in them. The visit of the Abbe d'Aigrigny to M. Rodin appeared to me very serious. I thought, if it should turn out that M. Rodin had been during the last few days to Saint-Dizier House, there would be no longer any doubt of his treachery."
"True," said Adrienne, more and more uneasy. "Well?"
"As I had been charged to superintend the removal from the lodge, I knew that several things had remained there. To obtain admittance, I had to apply to Mrs. Grivois. I had thus a pretext for returning to the hotel."
"What next, Florine, what next?"
"I endeavored to get Mrs. Grivois to talk of M. Rodin; but it was in vain."
"She suspected you," said the workgirl. "It was to be anticipated."
"I asked her," continued Florine, "if they had seen M. Rodin at the hotel lately. She answered evasively. Then despairing of getting anything out of her," continued Florine, "I left Mrs. Grivois, and that my visit might excite no suspicion, I went to the pavilion—when, as I turn down the avenue—whom do I see? why, M. Rodin himself, hastening towards the little garden-door, wishing no doubt to depart unnoticed by that way."
"Madame, you hear," cried Mother Bunch, clasping her hands with a supplicating air; "such evidence should convince you."
"M. Rodin at the Princess de Saint-Dizier's!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, whose glance, generally so mild, now suddenly flashed with vehement indignation. Then she added, in a tone of considerable emotion, "Continue, Florine."
"At sight of M. Rodin, I stopped," proceeded Florine, "and keeping a little on one side, I gained the pavilion without being seen. I looked out into the street, through the closed blinds, and perceived a hackney coach. It was waiting for M. Rodin, for, a minute after, he got into it, saying to the coachman, 'No. 39, Rue Blanche.'
"The prince's!" exclaimed Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"Yes, M. Rodin was to see him to-day," said Adrienne, reflecting.
"No doubt he betrays you, madame, and the prince also; the latter will be made his victim more easily than you."
"Shame! shame!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, on a sudden, as she rose, all her features contracted with painful anger. "After such a piece of treachery, it is enough to make us doubt of everything—even of ourselves."
"Oh, madame! is it not dreadful?" said Mother Bunch, shuddering.
"But, then, why did he rescue me and mine, and accuse the Abbe d'Aigrigny?" wondered Mdlle. de Cardoville. "Of a truth, it is enough to make one lose one's reason. It is an abyss—but, oh! how frightful is doubt!"
"As I returned," said Florine, casting a look of affectionate devotion on her mistress, "I thought of a way to make all clear; but there is not a minute to lose."
"What do you mean?" said Adrienne, looking at Florine with surprise.
"M. Rodin will soon be alone with the prince," said Florine.
"No doubt," replied Adrienne.
"The prince always sits in a little room that opens upon a greenhouse. It is there that he will receive M. Rodin."
"What then?" resumed Adrienne.
"This greenhouse, which I had arranged according to your orders, has only one issue—by a door leading into a little lane. The gardener gets in that way every morning, so as not to have to pass through the apartments. Having finished his work, he does not return thither during the day."
"What do you mean? what is your project?" said Adrienne, looking at Florine with growing surprise.
"The plants are so disposed, that, I think, if even the shade were not there, which screens the glass that separates the saloon from the greenhouse, one might get near enough to hear what was passing in the room, without being seen. When I was superintending the arrangements, I always entered by this greenhouse door. The gardener had one key, and I another. Luckily, I have not yet parted with mine. Within an hour, you may know how far to trust M. Rodin. If he betrays the prince, he betrays you also."
"What say you?" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"Set out instantly with me; we reach the side door; I enter alone, for precaution sake—if all is right, I return—"
"You would have me turn spy?" said Mdlle. de Cardoville, haughtily, interrupting Florine. "You cannot think it.
"I beg your pardon, madame," said the girl, casting down her eyes, with confused and sorrowful air; "you had suspicions, and me seems 'tis the only way to confirm or destroy them."
"Stoop to listen to a conversation—never!" replied Adrienne.
"Madame," said Mother Bunch, suddenly, after same moments' thought, "permit me to tell you that Mdlle. Florine is right. The plan proposed is a painful one, but it is the only way in which you can clear up, perhaps, for ever, your doubts as to M. Rodin. Notwithstanding the evidence of facts, in spite of the almost certainty of my presentiments, appearances may deceive us. I was the first who accused M. Rodin to you. I should not forgive myself all the rest of my life, did I accuse him wrongfully. Beyond doubt, it is painful, as you say, madame, to listen to a conversation—" Then, with a violent effort to console herself, she added, as she strove to repress her tears, "Yet, as your safety is at stake, madame—for, if this be treachery, the future prospect is dreadful—I will go in your place—to—"
"Not a word more, I entreat you," cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, interrupting. "Let you, my poor friend, do for me what I thought degrading to do myself? Never!"
Then, turning to Florine, she added, "Tell M. de Bonneville to have the carriage got ready on the instant."
"You consent, then!" cried Florine, clasping her hands, and not seeking to conceal her joy; and her eyes also became full of tears.
"Yes, I consent," answered Adrienne, with emotion. "If it is to be war—war to the knife, that they would wage with me—I must be prepared for it; and, come to think of it, it would only be weakness and folly not to put myself on my guard. No doubt this step costs me much, and is very repugnant to me, but it is the only way to put an end to suspicions that would be a continual torment to me, and perhaps to prevent still greater evils. Yes! for many important reasons, this interview of M. Rodin with Prince Djalma may be doubly decisive to me—as to the confidence, or the inexorable hate, that I must henceforth feel for M. Rodin. So, Florine, quick!—my cloak and bonnet, and the carriage. You will go with me. As for you, my dear, pray wait for me here," she added, turning to the work girl.
Half an hour after this conversation, Adrienne's carriage stopped, as we have before seen, at the little garden-gate of the house in the Rue Blanche. Florine entered the greenhouse and soon returned to her mistress. "The shade is down, madame. M. Rodin has just entered the prince's room." Mdlle. de Cardoville was, therefore, present, though invisible, at the following scene, which took place between Rodin and Djalma.
CHAPTER XLIII. THE LETTER.
Some minutes before the entrance of Mdlle. de Cardoville into the greenhouse, Rodin had been introduced by Faringhea into the presence of the prince, who, still under the influence of the burning excitement into which he had been plunged by the words of the half-caste, did not appear to perceive the Jesuit. The latter, surprised at the animated expression of Djalma's countenance, and his almost frantic air, made a sign of interrogation to Faringhea, who answered him privately in the following symbolical manner:—After laying his forefinger on his head and heart, he pointed to the fire burning in the chimney, signifying by his pantomimic action that the head and heart of Djalma were both in flames. No doubt Rodin understood him, for an imperceptible smile of satisfaction played upon his wan lips; then he said aloud to Faringhea, "I wish to be alone with the prince. Let down the shade and see that we are not interrupted." The half-caste bowed, and touched a spring near the sheet of plate-glass, which slid into the wall as the blind descended; then, again bowing, Faringhea left the room. It was shortly after that Mdlle. de Cardoville and Florine entered the greenhouse, which was now only separated from the room in which was Djalma, by the transparent thickness of a shade of white silk, embroidered with large colored birds. The noise of the door, which Faringhea closed as he went out, seemed to recall the young Indian to himself; his features, though still animated, recovered their habitual expression of mildness and gentleness; he started, drew his hand across his brow, looked around him, as if waking up from a deep reverie, and then, advancing towards Rodin, with an air as respectful as confused, he said to him, using the expression commonly applied to old men in his country, "Pardon me, father." Still following the customs of his nation, so full of deference towards age, he took Rodin's hand to raise it to his lips, but the Jesuit drew back a step, and refused his homage.
"For what do you ask pardon, my dear prince?" said he to Djalma.
"When you entered, I was in a dream; I did not come to meet you. Once more, pardon me, father!"
"Once more, I forgive you with all my heart, my dear prince. But let us have some talk. Pray resume your place on the couch, and your pipe, too, if you like it."
But Djalma, instead of adopting the suggestion, and throwing himself on the divan, according to his custom, insisted on seating himself in a chair, notwithstanding all the persuasions of "the Old Man with the Good Heart," as he always called the Jesuit.
"Really, your politeness troubles me, my dear prince," said Rodin; "you are here at home in India; at least, we wish you to think so."
"Many things remind me of my country," said Djalma, in a mild grave tone. "Your goodness reminds me of my father, and of him who was a father to me," added the Indian, as he thought of Marshal Simon, whose arrival in Paris had been purposely concealed from him.
After a moment's silence, he resumed in a tone full of affectionate warmth, as he stretched out his hand to Rodin, "You are come, and I am happy!"
"I understand your joy, my dear prince, for I come to take you out of prison—to open your cage for you. I had begged you to submit to a brief seclusion, entirely for your own interest."
"Can I go out to-morrow?"
"To-day, my dear prince, if you please."
The young Indian reflected for a moment, and then resumed, "I must have friends, since I am here in a palace that does not belong to me."
"Certainly you have friends—excellent friends," answered Rodin. At these words, Djalma's countenance seemed to acquire fresh beauty. The most noble sentiments were expressed in his fine features; his large black eyes became slightly humid, and, after another interval of silence, he rose and said to Rodin with emotion: "Come!"
"Whither, dear prince?" said the other, much surprised.
"To thank my friends. I have waited three days. It is long."
"Permit me dear prince—I have much to tell you on this subject—please to be seated."
Djalma resumed his seat with docility. Rodin continued: "It is true that you have friends; or rather, you have a friend. Friends are rare."
"What are you?"
"Well, then, you have two friends, my dear prince—myself, whom you know, and one other, whom you do not know, and who desires to remain unknown to you."
"Why?" answered Rodin, after a moment's embarrassment. "Because the happiness he feels in giving you these proofs of his friendship and even his own tranquillity, depend upon preserving this mystery."
"Why should there be concealment when we do good?"
"Sometimes, to conceal the good we do, my dear prince."
"I profit by this friendship; why should he conceal himself from one?" These repeated questions of the young Indian appeared to puzzle Rodin, who, however, replied: "I have told you, my dear prince, that your secret friend would perhaps have his tranquillity compromised, if he were known."
"If he were known—as my friend?"
"Exactly so, dear prince."
The countenance of Djalma immediately assumed an appearance of sorrowful dignity; he raised his head proudly, and said in a stern and haughty voice: "Since this friend hides himself from me, he must either be ashamed of me, or there is reason for me to be ashamed of him. I only accept hospitality from those who are worthy of me, and who think me worthy of them. I leave this house." So saying, Djalma rose with such an air of determination, that Rodin exclaimed: "Listen to me, my dear prince. Allow me to tell you, that your petulance and touchiness are almost incredible. Though we have endeavored to remind you of your beautiful country, we are here in Europe, in France, in the centre of Paris. This consideration may perhaps a little modify your views. Listen to me, I conjure you."
Notwithstanding his complete ignorance of certain social conventionalisms, Djalma had too much good sense and uprightness, not to appreciate reason, when it appeared reasonable. The words of Rodin calmed him. With that ingenuous modesty, with which natures full of strength and generosity are almost always endowed, he answered mildly: "You are right, father. I am no longer in my own country. Here the customs are different. I will reflect upon it."
Notwithstanding his craft and suppleness, Rodin sometimes found himself perplexed by the wild and unforseen ideas of the young Indian. Thus he saw, to his great surprise, that Djalma now remained pensive for some minutes, after which he resumed in a calm but firm tone: "I have obeyed you, father: I have reflected."
"Well, my dear prince?"
"In no country in the world, under no pretext, should a man of honor conceal his friendship for another man of honor."
"But suppose there should be danger in avowing this friendship?" said Rodin, very uneasy at the turn the conversation was taking. Djalma eyed the Jesuit with contemptuous astonishment, and made no reply.
"I understand your silence, my dear prince: a brave man ought to defy danger. True; but if it should be you that the danger threatens, in case this friendship were discovered, would not your man of honor be excusable, even praiseworthy, to persist in remaining unknown?"
"I accept nothing from a friend, who thinks me capable of denying him from cowardice."
"Dear prince—listen to me."
"I have said it," replied Djalma, in an abrupt and almost sovereign tone, as he walked towards the door.
"But suppose a woman were concerned," cried Rodin, driven to extremity, and hastening after the young Indian, for he really feared that Djalma might rush from the house, and thus overthrow all his projects.
At the last words of Rodin the Indian stopped abruptly. "A woman!" said he, with a start, and turning red. "A woman is concerned?"
"Why, yes! suppose it were a woman," resumed Rodin, "would you not then understand her reserve, and the secrecy with which she is obliged to surround the marks of affection she wishes to give you?"
"A woman!" repeated Djalma, in a trembling voice, clasping his hands in adoration; and his beautiful countenance was expressive of the deepest emotion. "A woman!" said he again. "A Parisian?"
"Yes, my dear prince, as you force me to this indiscretion, I will confess to you that your friend is a real Parisian—a noble matron, endowed with the highest virtues—whose age alone merits all your respect."
"She is very old, then?" cried poor Djalma, whose charming dream was thus abruptly dispelled.
"She may be a few years older than I am," answered Rodin, with an ironical smile, expecting to see the young man express a sort of comical disappointment or angry regret.
But it was not so. To the passionate enthusiasm of love, which had for a moment lighted up the prince's features, there now succeeded a respectful and touching expression. He looked at Rodin with emotion, and said to him in a broken voice: "This woman, is then, a mother to me?"
It is impossible to describe with what a pious, melancholy, and tender charm the Indian uttered the word mother.
"You have it, my dear prince; this respectable lady wishes to be a mother to you. But I may not reveal to you the cause of the affection she feels for you. Only, believe me—this affection is sincere, and the cause honorable. If I do not tell you her secret, it is that, with us, the secrets of women, young or old, are equally sacred."
"That is right, and I will respect it. Without seeing her, I will love her—as I love God, without seeing Him."
"And now, my dear prince, let me tell you what are the intentions of your maternal friend. This house will remain at your disposal, as long as you like it; French servants, a carriage, and horses, will be at your orders; the charges of your housekeeping will be paid for you. Then, as the son of a king should live royalty, I have left in the next room a casket containing five hundred Louis; every month a similar sum will be provided: if it should not be found sufficient for your little amusements, you will tell me, and it shall be augmented."
At a movement of Djalma, Rodin hastened to add: "I must tell you at once, my dear prince, that your delicacy may be quite at ease. First of all, you may accept anything from a mother; next, as in about three months you will come into possession of an immense inheritance, it will be easy for you, if you feel the obligation a burden—and the sum cannot exceed, at the most, four or five thousand Louis—to repay these advances. Spare nothing, then, but satisfy all your fancies. You are expected to appear in the great world of Paris, in a style becoming the son of a king who was called the Father of the Generous. So once again I conjure you not to be restrained by a false delicacy; if this sum should not be sufficient—"
"I will ask for more. My mother is right; the son of a monarch ought to live royally."
Such was the answer of the Indian, made with perfect simplicity, and without any appearance of astonishment at these magnificent offers. This was natural. Djalma would have done for others what they were doing for him, for the traditions of the prodigal magnificence and splendid hospitality of Indian princes are well known. Djalma had been as moved as grateful, on hearing that a woman loved him with maternal affection. As for the luxury with which she nought to surround him, he accepted it without astonishment and without scruple. This resignation, again, somewhat disconcerted Rodin, who had prepared many excellent arguments to persuade the Indian to accept his offers.
"Well, then, it's all agreed, my dear prince," resumed the Jesuit. "Now, as you must see the world, it's just as well to enter by the best door, as we say. One of the friends of your maternal protectress, the Count de Montbron, an old nobleman of the greatest experience, and belonging to the first society, will introduce you in some of the best houses in Paris."
"Will you not introduce me, father?"
"Alas! my dear prince, look at me. Tell me, if you think I am fitted for such an office. No! no; I live alone and retired from the world. And then," added Rodin, after a short silence, fixing a penetrating, attentive, and curious look upon the prince, as if he would have subjected him to a sort of experiment by what follows; "and then, you see, M. de Montbron will be better able than I should, in the world you are about to enter, to enlighten you as to the snares that will be laid for you. For if you have friends, you have also enemies—cowardly enemies, as you know, who have abused your confidence in an infamous manner, and have made sport of you. And as, unfortunately, their power is equal to their wickedness, it would perhaps be more prudent in you to try to avoid them—to fly, instead of resisting them openly."
At the remembrance of his enemies, at the thought of flying from them, Djalma trembled in every limb; his features became of a lurid paleness; his eyes wide open, so that the pupil was encircled with white, sparkled with lurid fire; never had scorn, hatred, and the desire of vengeance, expressed themselves so terribly on a human face. His upper lip, blood red, was curled convulsively, exposing a row of small, white, and close set teeth, and giving to his countenance lately so charming, an air of such animal ferocity, that Rodin started from his seat, and exclaimed: "What is the matter, prince? You frighten me."
Djalma did not answer. Half leaning forward, with his hands clinched in rage, he seemed to cling to one of the arms of the chair, for fear of yielding to a burst of terrific fury. At this moment, the amber mouthpiece of his pipe rolled, by chance, under one of his feet; the violent tension, which contracted all the muscles of the young Indian, was so powerful, and notwithstanding his youth and his light figure, he was endowed with such vigor, that with one abrupt stamp he powdered to dust the piece of amber, in spite of its extreme hardness.
"In the name of heaven, what is the matter, prince?" cried Rodin.
"Thus would I crush my cowardly enemies!" exclaimed Djalma, with menacing and excited look. Then, as if these words had brought his rage to a climax, he bounded from his seat, and, with haggard eyes, strode about the room for some seconds in all directions, as if he sought for some weapon, and uttered from time to time a hoarse cry, which he endeavored to stifle by thrusting his clinched fist against his mouth, whilst his jaws moved convulsively. It was the impotent rage of a wild beast, thirsting for blood. Yet, in all this, the young Indian preserved a great and savage beauty; it was evident that these instincts of sanguinary ardor and blind intrepidity, now excited to this pitch by horror of treachery and cowardice, when applied to war, or to those gigantic Indian hunts, which are even more bloody than a battle, must make of Djalma what he really was a hero.
Rodin admired, with deep and ominous joy, the fiery impetuosity of passion in the young Indian, for, under various conceivable circumstances, the effect must be terrible. Suddenly, to the Jesuit's great surprise, the tempest was appeased. Djalma's fury was calmed thus instantaneously, because refection showed him how vain it was: ashamed of his childish violence, he cast down his eyes. His countenance remained pale and gloomy; and, with a cold tranquillity, far more formidable than the violence to which he had yielded, he said to Rodin: "Father, you will this day lead me to meet my enemies."
"In what end, my dear prince? What would you do?"
"Kill the cowards!"
"Kill them! you must not think of it."
"Faringhea will aid me."
"Remember, you are not on the banks of the Ganges, and here one does not kill an enemy like a hunted tiger."
"One fights with a loyal enemy, but one kills a traitor like an accursed dog," replied Djalma, with as much conviction as tranquillity.
"Ah, prince, whose father was the Father of the Generous," said Rodin, in a grave voice; "what pleasure can you find in striking down creatures as cowardly as they are wicked?"
"To destroy what is dangerous, is a duty."
"So prince, you seek for revenge."
"I do not revenge myself on a serpent," said the Indian, with haughty bitterness; "I crush it."
"But, my dear prince, here we cannot get rid of our enemies in that manner. If we have cause of complaint—"
"Women and children complain," said Djalma, interrupting Rodin: "men strike."
"Still on the banks of the Ganges, my dear prince. Here society takes your cause into its own hands, examines, judges, and if there be good reason, punishes."
"In my own quarrel, I am both judge and executioner."
"Pray listen to me; you have escaped the odious snares of your enemies, have you not?—Well! suppose it were thanks to the devotion of the venerable woman who has for you the tenderness of a mother, and that she were to ask you to forgive them—she, who saved you from their hands—what would you do then?"
The Indian hung his head, and was silent. Profiting by his hesitation, Rodin continued: "I might say to you that I know your enemies, but that in the dread of seeing you commit some terrible imprudence, I would conceal their names from you forever. But no! I swear to you, that if the respectable person, who loves you as her son, should find it either right or useful that I should tell you their names, I will do so—until she has pronounced, I must be silent."
Djalma looked at Rodin with a dark and wrathful air. At this moment, Faringhea entered, and said to Rodin: "A man with a letter, not finding you at home, has been sent on here. Am I to receive it? He says it comes from the Abbe d'Aigrigny.
"Certainly," answered Rodin. "That is," he added, "with the prince's permission."
Djalma nodded in reply; Faringhea went out.
"You will excuse what I have done, dear prince. I expected this morning a very important letter. As it was late in coming to hand, I ordered it to be sent on."
A few minutes after, Faringhea returned with the letter, which he delivered to Rodin—and the half-caste again withdrew.
CHAPTER XLIV. ADRIENNE AND DJALMA.
When Faringhea had quitted the room, Rodin took the letter from Abbe d'Aigrigny with one hand, and with the other appeared to be looking for something, first in the side pocket of his great-coat, then in the pocket behind, then in that of his trousers; and, not finding what he sought, he laid the letter on his knee, and felt himself all over with both hands, with an air of regret and uneasiness. The divers movements of this pantomime, performed in the most natural manner, were crowned by the exclamations.
"Oh! dear me! how vexatious!"
"What is the matter?" asked Djalma, starting from the gloomy silence in which he had been plunged for some minutes.
"Alas! my dear prince!" replied Rodin, "the most vulgar and puerile accident may sometimes cause the greatest inconvenience. I have forgotten or lost my spectacles. Now, in this twilight, with the very poor eyesight that years of labor have left me, it will be absolutely impossible for me to read this most important letter—and an immediate answer is expected—most simple and categorical—a yes or a no. Times presses; it is really most annoying. If," added Rodin, laying great stress on his words, without looking at Djalma, but so as the prince might remark it; "if only some one would render me the service to read it for me; but there is no one—no—one!"
"Father," said Djalma, obligingly, "shall I read it for you. When I have finished it, I shall forget what I have read."
"You?" cried Rodin, as if the proposition of the Indian had appeared to him extravagant and dangerous; "it is impossible, prince, for you to read this letter."
"Then excuse my having offered," said Djalma mildly.
"And yet," resumed Rodin, after a moment's reflection, and as if speaking to himself, "why not?"
And he added, addressing Djalma: "Would you really be so obliging, my dear prince? I should not have ventured to ask you this service."
So saying, Rodin delivered the letter to Djalma, who read aloud as follows: "'Your visit this morning to Saint-Dizier House can only be considered, from what I hear, as a new act of aggression on your part.
"'Here is the last proposition I have to make. It may be as fruitless as the step I took yesterday, when I called upon you in the Rue Clovis.
"'After that long and painful explanation, I told you that I would write to you. I keep my promise, and here is my ultimatum.
"'First of all, a piece of advice. Beware! If you are determined to maintain so unequal a struggle, you will be exposed even to the hatred of those whom you so foolishly seek to protect. There are a thousand ways to ruin you with them, by enlightening them as to your protects. It will be proved to them, that you have shared in the plat, which you now pretend to reveal, not from generosity, but from cupidity.'" Though Djalma had the delicacy to feel that the least question on the subject of this letter would be a serious indiscretion, he could not forbear turning his head suddenly towards the Jesuit, as he read the last passage.
"Oh, yes! it relates to me. Such as you see me, my dear prince," added he, glancing at his shabby clothes, "I am accused of cupidity."
"And who are these people that you protect?"
"Those I protect?" said Rodin feigning some hesitation, as if he had been embarrassed to find an answer; "who are those I protect? Hem—hem—I will tell you. They are poor devils without resources; good people without a penny, having only a just cause on their side, in a lawsuit in which they are engaged. They are threatened with destruction by powerful parties—very powerful parties; but, happily, these latter are known to me, and I am able to unmask them. What else could have been? Being myself poor and weak, I range myself naturally on the side of the poor and weak. But continue, I beg of you."
Djalma resumed: "'You have therefore every-thing to fear if you persist in your hostility, and nothing to gain by taking the side of those whom you call your friends. They might more justly be termed your dupes, for your disinterestedness would be inexplicable, were it sincere. It must therefore conceal some after-thought of cupidity.
"'Well! in that view of the case, we can offer you ample compensation—with this difference, that your hopes are now entirely founded on the probable gratitude of your friends, a very doubtful chance at the best, whereas our offers will be realized on the instant. To speak clearly, this is what we ask, what we exact of you. This very night, before twelve, you must have left Paris, and engage not to return for six months.'" Djalma could not repress a movement of surprise, and looked at Rodin.
"Quite natural," said the latter; "the cause of my poor friends would be judged by that time, and I should be unable to watch over them. You see how it is, my dear prince," added Rodin, with bitter indignation. "But please continue, and excuse me for having interrupted you; though, indeed, such impudence disgusts me."
Djalma continued: "'That we may be certain of your removal from Paris for six months, you will go to the house of one of our friends in Germany. You will there be received with generous hospitality, but forcibly detained until the expiration of the term.'"
"Yes, yes! a voluntary prison," said Rodin.
"'On these conditions, you will receive a pension of one thousand francs a month, to begin from your departure from Paris, ten thousand francs down, and twenty thousand at the end of the six months—the whole to be completely secured to you. Finally, at the end of the six months, we will place you in a position both honorable and independent.'"
Djalma having stopped short, with involuntary indignation, Rodin said to him: "Let me beg you to continue, my dear prince. Read to the end, and it will give you some idea of what passes in the midst of our civilization."
Djalma resumed: "'You know well enough the course of affairs, and what we are, to feel that in providing for your absence, we only wish to get rid of an enemy, not very dangerous, but rather troublesome. Do not be blinded by your first success. The results of your denunciation will be stifled, because they are calumnious. The judge who received your evidence will soon repent his odious partiality. You may make what use you please of this letter. We know what we write, to whom we write, and how we write. You will receive this letter at three o'clock; if by four o'clock we have not your full and complete acceptance, written with your own hand at the bottom of this letter, war must commence between us—and not from to-morrow, but on the instant.'"
Having finished reading the letter, Djalma looked at Rodin, who said to him: "Permit me to summon Faringhea."
He rang the bell, and the half-caste appeared. Rodin took the letter from the hands of Djalma, tore it into halves, rubbed it between his palms, so as to make a sort of a ball, and said to the half-caste, as he returned it to him: "Give this palter to the person who waits for it, and tell him that is my only answer to his shameless and insolent letter; you understand me—this shameless and insolent letter."
"I understand." said the half-caste; and he went out.
"This will perhaps be a dangerous war for you, father, said the Indian, with interest.
"Yes, dear prince, it may be dangerous, but I am not like you; I have no wish to kill my enemies, because they are cowardly and wicked. I fight them under the shield of the law. Imitate me in this." Then, seeing that the countenance of Djalma darkened, he added: "I am wrong. I will advise you no more on this subject. Only, let us defer the decision to the judgment of your noble and motherly protectress. I shall see her to morrow; if she consents, I will tell you the names of your enemies. If not—not."
"And this woman, this second mother," said Djalma, "is her character such, that I can rely on her judgment?"
"She!" cried Rodin, clasping his hands, and speaking with increased excitement. "Why, she is the most noble, the most generous, the most valiant being upon earth!—why, if you were really her son, and she loved you with all the strength of maternal affection, and a case arose in which you had to choose between an act of baseness and death, she would say to you: 'Die!' though she might herself die with you."
"Oh, noble woman! so was my mother!" cried Djalma, with enthusiasm.
"Yes," resumed Rodin, with growing energy, as he approached the window concealed by the shade, towards which he threw an oblique and anxious glance, "if you would imagine your protectress, think only of courage, uprightness, and loyalty personified. Oh! she has the chivalrous frankness of the brave man, joined with the high-souled dignity of the woman, who not only never in her life told a falsehood, never concealed a single thought, but who would rather die than give way to the least of those sentiments of craft and dissimulation, which are almost forced upon ordinary women by the situation in which they are placed."
It is difficult to express the admiration which shone upon the countenance of Djalma, as he listened to this description. His eyes sparkled, his cheeks glowed, his heart palpitated with enthusiasm.
"That is well, noble heart!" said Rodin to him, drawing still nearer to the blind; "I love to see your soul sparkle through your eyes, on hearing me speak thus of your unknown protectress. Oh! but she is worthy of the pious adoration which noble hearts and great characters inspire!"
"Oh! I believe you," cried Djalma, with enthusiasm; "my heart is full of admiration and also of astonishment, for my mother is no more, and yet such a woman exists!"
"Yes, she exists. For the consolation of the afflicted, for the glory of her sex, she exists. For the honor of truth, and the shame of falsehood, she exists. No lie, no disguise, has ever tainted her loyalty, brilliant and heroic as the sword of a knight. It is but a few days ago that this noble woman spoke to me these admirable words, which, in all my life, I shall not forget: 'Sir,' she said, 'if ever I suspect any one that I love or esteem—'"
Rodin did not finish. The shade, so violently shaken that the spring broke, was drawn up abruptly, and, to the great astonishment of Djalma, Mdlle. de Cardoville appeared before him. Adrienne's cloak had fallen from her shoulders, and in the violence of the movement with which she had approached the blind, her bonnet, the strings of which were untied, had also fallen. Having left home suddenly, with only just time to throw a mantle over the picturesque and charming costume which she often chose to wear when alone, she appeared so radiant with beauty to Djalma's dazzled eyes, in the centre of those leaves and flowers, that the Indian believed himself under the influence of a dream.
With clasped hands, eyes wide open, the body slightly bent forward, as if in the act of prayer, he stood petrified with admiration, Mdlle. de Cardoville, much agitated, and her countenance glowing with emotion, remained on the threshold of the greenhouse, without entering the room. All this had passed in less time than it takes to describe it. Hardly had the blind been raised, than Rodin, feigning surprise, exclaimed: "You here, madame?"
"Oh, sir!" said Adrienne, in an agitated voice, "I come to terminate the phrase which you have commenced. I told you, that when a suspicion crossed my mind, I uttered it aloud to the person by whom it was inspired. Well! I confess it: I have failed in this honesty. I came here as a spy upon you, when your answer to the Abbe d'Aigrigny was giving me a new pledge of your devotion and sincerity. I doubted your uprightness at the moment when you were bearing testimony to my frankness. For the first time in my life, I stooped to deceit; this weakness merits punishment, and I submit to it—demands reparation, and I make it—calls for apologies, and I tender them to you." Then turning towards Djalma, she added: "Now, prince, I am no longer mistress of my secret. I am your relation, Mdlle. de Cardoville; and I hope you will accept from a sister the hospitality that you did not refuse from a mother."
Djalma made no reply. Plunged in ecstatic contemplation of this sudden apparition, which surpassed his wildest and most dazzling visions, he felt a sort of intoxication, which, paralyzing the power of thought, concentrated all his faculties in the one sense of sight; and just as we sometimes seek in vain to satisfy unquenchable thirst, the burning look of the Indian sought, as it were, with devouring avidity, to take in all the rare perfections of the young lady. Verily, never had two more divine types of beauty met face to face. Adrienne and Djalma were the very ideal of a handsome youth and maiden. There seemed to be something providential in the meeting of these two natures, so young and so vivacious, so generous and so full of passion, so heroic and so proud, who, before coming into contact, had, singularly enough, each learned the moral worth of the other; for if, at the words of Rodin, Djalma had felt arise in his heart an admiration, as lively as it was sudden, for the valiant and generous qualities of that unknown benefactress, whom he now discovered in Mdlle. de Cardoville, the latter had, in her turn, been moved, affected, almost terrified, by the interview she had just overheard, in which Djalma had displayed the nobleness of his soul, the delicate goodness of his heart, and the terrible transports of his temper. Then she had not been able to repress a movement of astonishment, almost admiration, at sight of the surprising beauty of the prince; and soon after, a strange, painful sentiment, a sort of electric shock, seemed to penetrate all her being, as her eyes encountered Djalma's.
Cruelly agitated, and suffering deeply from this agitation, she tried to dissemble the impression she had received, by addressing Rodin, to apologize for having suspected him. But the obstinate silence of the Indian redoubled the lady's painful embarrassment. Again raising her eyes towards the prince, to invite him to respond to her fraternal offer, she met his ardent gaze wildly fixed upon her, and she looked once more with a mixture of fear, sadness, and wounded pride; then she congratulated herself on having foreseen the inexorable necessity of keeping Djalma at a distance from her, such apprehension did this ardent and impetuous nature already inspire. Wishing to put an end to her present painful situation, she said to Rodin, in a low and trembling voice, "Pray, sir, speak to the prince; repeat to him my offers. I cannot remain longer." So saying, Adrienne turned, as if to rejoin Florine. But, at the first step, Djalma sprang towards her with the bound of a tiger, about to be deprived of his prey. Terrified by the expression of wild excitement which inflamed the Indian's countenance, the young lady drew back with a loud scream.
At this, Djalma remembered himself, and all that had passed. Pale with regret and shame, trembling, dismayed, his eyes streaming with tears, and all his features marked with an expression of the most touching despair, he fell at Adrienne's feet, and lifting his clasped hands towards her, said in a soft, supplicating, timid voice: "Oh, remain! remain! do not leave me. I have waited for you so long!" To this prayer, uttered with the timid simplicity of a child, and a resignation which contrasted strangely with the savage violence that had so frightened Adrienne, she replied, as she made a sign to Florine to prepare for their departure: "Prince, it is impossible for me to remain longer here."
"But you will return?" said Djalma, striving to restrain his tears. "I shall see you again?"
"Oh, no! never—never!" said Mdlle. de Cardoville, in a failing voice. Then, profiting by the stupor into which her answer had thrown Djalma, Adrienne disappeared rapidly behind the plants in the greenhouse.
Florine was hastening to rejoin her mistress, when, just at the moment she passed before Rodin, he said to her in a low, quick voice: "To-morrow we must finish with the hunchback." Florine trembled in every limb, and, without answering Rodin, disappeared, like her mistress, behind the plants. Broken, overpowered, Djalma remained upon his knees, with his head resting on his breast. His countenance expressed neither rage nor excitement, but a painful stupor; he wept silently. Seeing Rodin approach him, he rose, but with so tremulous a step, that he could hardly reach the divan, on which he sank down, hiding his face in his hands.
Then Rodin, advancing, said to him in a mild and insinuating tone: "Alas! I feared what has happened. I did not wish you to see your benefactress; and if I told you she was old, do you know why, dear prince?"
Djalma, without answering, let his hands fall upon his knees, and turned towards Rodin a countenance still bathed in tears.
"I knew that Mdlle. de Cardoville was charming, and at your age it is so easy to fall in love," continued Rodin; "I wished to spare you that misfortune, my dear prince, for your beautiful protectress passionately loves a handsome young man of this town."
Upon these words, Djalma suddenly pressed both hands to his heart, as if he felt a piercing stab, uttered a cry of savage grief, threw back his head, and fell fainting upon the divan.
Rodin looked at him coldly for some seconds, and then said as he went away, brushing his old hat with his elbow,
"Come! it works—it works!"
CHAPTER XLV. THE CONSULTATION.
It is night. It has just struck nine. It is the evening of that day on which Mdlle. de Cardoville first found herself in the presence of Djalma. Florine, pale, agitated, trembling, with a candle in her hand, had just entered a bedroom, plainly but comfortably furnished. This room was one of the apartments occupied by Mother Bunch, in Adrienne's house. They were situated on the ground-floor, and had two entrances. One opened on the garden, and the other on the court-yard. From this side came the persons who applied to the workgirl for succor; an ante-chamber in which they waited, a parlor in which they were received, constituted Mother Bunch's apartments, along with the bedroom, which Florine had just entered, looking about her with an anxious and alarmed air, scarcely touching the carpet with the tips of her satin shoes, holding her breath, and listening at the least noise.
Placing the candle upon the chimney-piece, she took a rapid survey of the chamber, and approached the mahogany desk, surmounted by a well-filled bookcase. The key had been left in the drawers of this piece of furniture, and they were all three examined by Florine. They contained different petitions from persons in distress, and various, notes in the girl's handwriting. This was not what Florine wanted. Three cardboard boxes were placed in pigeon-holes beneath the bookcase. These also were vainly explored, and Florine, with a gesture of vexation, looked and listened anxiously; then, seeing a chest of drawers, she made therein a fresh and useless search. Near the foot of the bed was a little door, leading to a dressing-room. Florine entered it, and looked—at first without success—into a large wardrobe, in which were suspended several black dresses, recently made for Mother Bunch, by order of Mdlle. de Cardoville. Perceiving, at the bottom of this wardrobe, half hidden beneath a cloak, a very shabby little trunk, Florine opened it hastily, and found there, carefully folded up, the poor old garments in which the work-girl had been clad when she first entered this opulent mansion.
Florine started—an involuntary emotion contracted her features; but considering that she had not liberty to indulge her feelings, but only to obey Rodin's implacable orders, she hastily closed both trunk and wardrobe, and leaving the dressing-room, returned into the bed-chamber. After having again examined the writing-stand, a sudden idea occurred to her. Not content with once more searching the cardboard boxes, she drew out one of them from the pigeon-hole, hoping to find what she sought behind the box: her first attempt failed, but the second was more successful. She found behind the middle box a copy-book of considerable thickness. She started in surprise, for she had expected something else; yet she took the manuscript, opened it, and rapidly turned over the leaves. After having perused several pages, she manifested her satisfaction, and seemed as if about to put the book in her pocket; but after a moment's reflection, she replaced it where she had found it, arranged everything in order, took her candle, and quitted the apartment without being discovered—of which, indeed, she had felt pretty sure, knowing that Mother Bunch would be occupied with Mdlle. de Cardoville for some hours.
The day after Florine's researches, Mother Bunch, alone in her bed chamber, was seated in an arm-chair, close to a good fire. A thick carpet covered the floor; through the window-curtains could be seen the lawn of a large garden; the deep silence was only interrupted by the regular ticking of a clock, and the crackling of the wood. Her hands resting on the arms of the chair, she gave way to a feeling of happiness, such as she had never so completely enjoyed since she took up her residence at the hotel. For her, accustomed so long to cruel privations, there was a kind of inexpressible charm in the calm silence of this retreat—in the cheerful aspect of the garden, and above all, in the consciousness that she was indebted for this comfortable position, to the resignation and energy she had displayed, in the thick of the many severe trials which now ended so happily. An old woman, with a mild and friendly countenance, who had been, by express desire of Adrienne, attached to the hunchback's service, entered the room and said to her: "Mademoiselle, a young man wishes to speak to you on pressing business. He gives his name as Agricola Baudoin."
At this name, Mother Bunch uttered an exclamation of surprise and joy, blushed slightly, rose and ran to the door which led to the parlor in which was Agricola.
"Good-morning, dear sister," said the smith, cordially embracing the young girl, whose cheeks burned crimson beneath those fraternal kisses.
"Ah, me!" cried the sempstress on a sudden, as she looked anxiously at Agricola; "what is that black band on your forehead? You have been wounded!"