This horrible hag exclaimed, in a hoarse voice: "I'll bite the women of the factory; I'll make them bleed."
The ferocious words were received with applause by her companions, and with savage cries of "Ciboule forever!" which excited her to frenzy.
Amongst the other leaders, was a small, dry pale man, with the face of a ferret, and a black beard all round the chin; he wore a scarlet Greek cap, and beneath his long blouse, perfectly new, appeared a pair of neat cloth trousers, strapped over thin boots. This man was evidently of a different condition of life from that of the other persons in the troop; it was he, in particular, who ascribed the most irritating and insulting language to the workmen of the factory, with regard to the inhabitants of the neighborhood. He howled a great deal, but he carried neither stick nor stone. A full-faced, fresh-colored man, with a formidable bass voice, like a chorister's, asked him: "Will you not have a shot at those impious dogs, who might bring down the Cholera on the country, as the curate told us?"
"I will have a better shot than you," said the little man, with a singular, sinister smile.
"And with what, I'd like to see?"
"Probably, with this," said the little man, stooping to pick up a large stone; but, as he bent, a well-filled though light bag, which he appeared to carry under his blouse, fell to the ground.
"Look, you are losing both bag and baggage," said the other; "it does not seem very heavy."
"They are samples of wool," answered the man with the ferret's face, as he hastily picked up the bag, and replaced it under his blouse; then he added: "Attention! the big blaster is going to speak."
And, in fact, he who exercised the most complete ascendency over this irritated crowd was the terrible quarryman. His gigantic form towered so much above the multitude, that his great head, bound in its ragged handkerchief, and his Herculean shoulders, covered with a fallow goat skin, were always visible above the level of that dark and swarming crowd, only relieved here and there by a few women's caps, like so many white points. Seeing to what a degree of exasperation the minds of the crowd had reached, the small number of honest, but misguided workmen, who had allowed themselves to be drawn into this dangerous enterprise, under the pretext of a quarrel between rival unions, now fearing for the consequences of the struggle, tried, but too late, to abandon the main body. Pressed close, and as it were, girt in with the more hostile groups, dreading to pass for cowards, or to expose themselves to the bad treatment of the majority, they were forced to wait for a more favorable moment to effect their escape. To the savage cheers, which had accompanied the first discharge of stones, succeeded a deep silence commanded by the stentorian voice of the quarryman.
"The Wolves have howled," he exclaimed; "let us wait and see how the Devourers will answer, and when they will begin the fight."
"We must draw them out of their factory, and fight them on neutral ground," said the little man with the ferret's face, who appeared to be the thieves' advocate; "otherwise there would be trespass."
"What do we care about trespass?" cried the horrible hag, Ciboule; "in or out, I will tear the chits of the factory."
"Yes, yes," cried other hideous creatures, as ragged as Ciboule herself; "we must not leave all to the men."
"We must have our fun, too!"
"The women of the factory say that all the women of the neighborhood are drunken drabs," cried the little man with the ferret's face.
"Good! we'll pay them for it."
"The women shall have their share."
"That's our business."
"They like to sing in their Common House," cried Ciboule; "we will make them sing the wrong side of their mouths, in the key of 'Oh, dear me!'"
This pleasantry was received with shouts, hootings, and furious stamping of feet, to which the stentorian voice of the quarryman put a term by roaring: "Silence!"
"Silence! silence!" repeated the crowd. "Hear the blaster!"
"If the Devourers are cowards enough not to dare to show themselves, after a second volley of stones, there is a door down there which we can break open, and we will soon hunt them from their holes."
"It would be better to draw them out, so that none might remain in the factory," said the little old man with the ferret's face, who appeared to have some secret motive.
"A man fights where he can," cried the quarryman, in a voice of thunder; "all, right, if we can but once catch hold. We could fight on a sloping roof, or on the top of a wall—couldn't we, my Wolves?"
"Yes, yes!" cried the crowd, still more excited by those savage words; "if they don't come out, we will break in."
"We will see their fine palace!"
"The pagans haven't even a chapel," said the bass voice. "The curate has damned them all!"
"Why should they have a palace, and we nothing but dog-kennels?"
"Hardy's workmen say that kennels are good enough for such as you." said the little man with the ferret's face.
"Yes, yes! they said so."
"We'll break all their traps."
"We'll pull down their bazaar."
"We'll throw the house out of the windows."
"When we have made the mealy-mouthed chits sing," cried Ciboule, "we will make them dance to the clatter of stones on their heads."
"Come, my Wolves! attention!" cried the quarryman, still in the same stentorian voice; "one more volley, and if the Devourers do not come out, down with the door!"
This proposition was received with cheers of savage ardor, and the quarryman, whose voice rose above the tumult, cried with all the strength of his herculean lungs: "Attention, my Wolves. Make ready! all together. Now, are you ready?"
"Yes, yes—all ready!"
"Then, present!—fire!" And, for the second time, a shower of enormous stones poured upon that side of the Common Dwelling-house which was turned towards the fields. A part of these projectiles broke such of the windows as had been spared by the first volley. To the sharp smashing and cracking of glass were joined the ferocious cries uttered in chorus by this formidable mob, drunk with its own excesses: "Death to the Devourers!"
Soon these outcries became perfectly frantic, when, through the broken windows, the assailants perceived women running in terror, some with children in their arms, and others raising their hands to heaven, calling aloud for help; whilst a few, bolder than the rest, leaned out of the windows, and tried to fasten the outside blinds.
"There come the ants out of their holes!" cried Ciboule, stooping to pick up a stone. "We must have a fling at them for luck!" The stone, hurled by the steady, masculine hand of the virago, went straight to its mark, and struck an unfortunate woman who was trying to close one of the shutters.
"Hit in the white!" cried the hideous creature.
"Well done, Ciboule!—you've rapped her coker-nut!" cried a voice.
"Come out, you Devourers, if you dare!"
"They have said a hundred times, that the neighbors were too cowardly even to come and look at their house," squealed the little man with the ferret's face.
"And now they show the white feather!"
"If they will not come out," cried the quarryman, in voice of thunder, "let us smoke them out!"
"Let's break open the door!"
"We are sure to find them!"
"Come on! come on!"
The crowd, with the quarryman at their head, and Ciboule not far from him, brandishing a stick, advanced tumultously towards one of the great doors. The ground shook beneath the rapid tread of the mob, which had now ceased shouting; but the confused, and, as it were, subterraneous noise, sounded even more ominous than those savage outcries. The Wolves soon arrived opposite the massive oaken door. At the moment the blaster raised a sledgehammer, the door opened suddenly. Some of the most determined of the assailants were about to rush in at this entrance; but the quarryman stepped back, extending his arm as if to moderate their ardor and impose silence. Then his followers gathered round him.
The half-open door discovered a party of workmen, unfortunately by no means numerous, but with countenances full of resolution. They had armed themselves hastily with forks, iron bars, and clubs. Agricola, who was their leader, held in his hand a heavy sledge-hammer. The young workman was very pale; but the fire of his eye, his menacing look, and the intrepid assurance of his bearing, showed that his father's blood boiled in his veins, and that in such a struggle he might become fear-inspiring. Yet he succeeded in restraining himself, and challenged the quarryman, in a firm voice: "What do you want?"
"A fight!" thundered the blaster.
"Yes, yes! a fight!" repeated the crowd.
"Silence, my Wolves!" cried the quarryman, as he turned round, and stretched forth his large hand towards the multitude. Then addressing Agricola, he said: "The Wolves have come to ask for a fight."
"With the Devourers."
"There are no Devourers here," replied Agricola; "we are only peaceable workmen. So begone."
"Well! here are the Wolves, that will eat your quiet workmen."
"The Wolves will eat no one here," said Agricola, looking full at the quarryman, who approached him with a threatening air; "they can only frighten little children."
"Oh! you think so," said the quarryman, with a savage sneer. Then raising his weapon, he shook it in Agricola's face, exclaiming: "Is that any laughing matter?
"Is that?" answered Agricola, with a rapid movement, parrying the stone sledge with his own hammer.
"Iron against iron—hammer against hammer—that suits me," said the quarryman.
"It does not matter what suits you," answered Agricola, hardly able to restrain himself. "You have broken our windows, frightened our women, and wounded—perhaps killed—the oldest workman in the factory, who at this moment lies bleeding in the arms of his son." Here Agricola's voice trembled in spite of himself. "It is, I think, enough."
"No; the Wolves are hungry for more," answered the blaster; "you must come out (cowards that you are!), and fight us on the plain."
"Yes! yes! battle!—let them come out!" cried the crowd, howling, hissing, waving their sticks and pushing further into the small space which separated them from the door.
"We will have no battle," answered Agricola: "we will not leave our home; but if you have the misfortune to pass this," said Agricola, throwing his cap upon the threshold, and setting his foot on it with an intrepid air, "if you pass this, you attack us in our own house, and you will be answerable for all that may happen."
"There or elsewhere we will have the fight! the Wolves must eat the Devourers. Now for the attack!" cried the fierce quarryman, raising his hammer to strike Agricola.
But the latter, throwing himself on one side by a sudden leap, avoided the blow, and struck with his hammer full at the chest of the quarryman, who staggered for a moment, but instantly recovering his legs, rushed furiously on Agricola, crying: "Follow me, Wolves!"
CHAPTER V. THE RETURN.
As soon as the combat had begun between Agricola and the blaster, the general fight became terrible, ardent, implacable. A flood of assailants, following the quarryman's steps, rushed into the house with irresistible fury; others, unable to force their way through this dreadful crowd, where the more impetuous squeezed, stifled, and crushed these who were less so, went round in another direction, broke through some lattice work, and thus placed the people of the factory, as it were, between two fires. Some resisted courageously; others, seeing Ciboule, followed by some of her horrible companions, and by several of the most ill-looking ruffians, hastily enter that part of the Common-Dwelling house in which the women had taken refuge, hurried in pursuit of this band; but some of the hag's companions, having faced about, and vigorously defended the entrance of the staircase against the workmen, Ciboule, with three or four like herself, and about the same number of no less ignoble men, rushed through the rooms, with the intention of robbing or destroying all that came in their way. A door, which at first resisted their efforts, was soon broken through; Ciboule rushed into the apartment with a stick in her hand, her hair dishevelled, furious, and, as it were, maddened with the noise and tumult. A beautiful young girl (it was Angela), who appeared anxious to defend the entrance to a second chamber, threw herself on her knees, pale and supplicating, and raising her clasped hands, exclaimed: "Do not hurt my mother!"
"I'll serve you out first, and your mother afterwards," replied the horrible woman, throwing herself on the poor girl, and endeavoring to tear her face with her nails, whilst the rest of the ruffianly band broke the glass and the clock with their sticks, and possessed themselves of some articles of wearing apparel.
Angela, struggling with Ciboule, uttered loud cries of distress, and still attempted to guard the room in which her mother had taken refuge; whilst the latter, leaning from the window, called Agricola to their assistance. The smith was now engaged with the huge blaster. In a close struggle, their hammers had become useless, and with bloodshot eyes and clinched teeth, chest to chest, and limbs twined together like two serpents, they made the most violent efforts to overthrow each other. Agricola, bent forward, held under his right arm the left leg of the quarryman, which he had seized in parrying a violent kick; but such was the Herculean strength of the leader of the Wolves, that he remained firm as a tower, though resting only on one leg. With the hand that was still free (for the other was gripped by Agricola as in a vise), he endeavored with violent blows to break the jaws of the smith, who, leaning his head forward, pressed his forehead hard against the breast of his adversary.
"The Wolf will break the Devourer's teeth, and he shall devour no more," said the quarryman.
"You are no true Wolf," answered the smith, redoubling his efforts; "the true Wolves are honest fellows, and do not come ten against one."
"True or false, I will break your teeth."
"And I your paw," said the smith, giving so violent a wrench to the leg of the quarryman, that the latter uttered a cry of acute pain, and, with the rage of a wild beast, butting suddenly forward with his head, succeeded in biting Agricola in the side of the neck.
The pang of this bite forced Agricola to make a movement, which enabled the quarryman to disengage his leg. Then, with a superhuman effort, he threw himself with his whole weight on Agricola, and brought him to the ground, falling himself upon him.
At this juncture, Angela's mother, leaning from one of the windows of the Common Dwelling-house, exclaimed in a heart-rending voice: "Help, Agricola!—they are killing my child!"
"Let me go—and on, my honor—I will fight you tomorrow, or when you will," said Agricola, panting for breath.
"No warmed-up food for me; I eat all hot," answered the quarryman, seizing the smith by the throat, whilst he tried to place one of his knees upon his chest.
"Help!—they are killing my child!" cried Angela's mother, in a voice of despair.
"Mercy! I ask mercy! Let me go!"' said Agricola, making the most violent efforts to escape.
"I am too hungry," answered the quarryman.
Exasperated by the terror which Angela's danger occasioned him, Agricola redoubled his efforts, when the quarryman suddenly felt his thigh seized by the sharp teeth of a dog, and at the same instant received from a vigorous hand three or four heavy blows with a stick upon his head. He relaxed his grasp, and fell stunned upon his hand and knee, whilst he mechanically raised his other arm to parry the blows, which ceased as soon as Agricola was delivered.
"Father, you have saved me!" cried the smith, springing up. "If only I am in time to rescue Angela!"
"Run!—never mind me!" answered Dagobert; and Agricola rushed into the house.
Dogabert, accompanied by Spoil-sport, had come, as we have already said, to bring Marshal Simon's daughters to their grandfather. Arriving in the midst of the tumult, the soldier had collected a few workmen to defend the entrance of the chamber, to which the marshal's father had been carried in a dying state. It was from this post that the soldier had seen Agricola's danger. Soon after, the rush of the conflict separated Dagobert from the quarryman, who remained for some moments insensible. Arrived in two bounds at the Common Dwelling-house, Agricola succeeded in forcing his way through the men who defended the staircase, and rushed into the corridor that led to Angela's chamber. At the moment he reached it, the unfortunate girl was mechanically guarding her face with both hands against Ciboule, who, furious as the hyena over its prey, was trying to scratch and disfigure her.
To spring upon the horrible hag, seize her by her yellow hair with irresistible hand, drag her backwards, and then with one cuff, stretch her full length upon the ground, was for Agricola an achievement as rapid as thought. Furious with rage, Ciboule rose again almost instantly; but at this moment, several workmen, who had followed close upon Agricola, were able to attack with advantage, and whilst the smith lifted the fainting form of Angela, and carried her into the next room, Ciboule and her band were driven from that part of the house.
After the first fire of the assault, the small number of real Wolves, who, as Agricola said, were in the main honest fellows, but had the weakness to let themselves be drawn into this enterprise, under the pretext of a quarrel between rival unions, seeing the excesses committed by the rabble who accompanied them, turned suddenly round, and ranged themselves on the side of the Devourers.
"There are no longer here either Wolves or Devourers," said one of the most determined Wolves to Olivier, with whom he had been fighting roughly and fairly; "there are none here but honest workmen, who must unite to drive out a set of scoundrels, that have come only to break and pillage."
"Yes," added another; "it was against our will that they began by breaking your windows."
"The big blaster did it all," said another; "the true Wolves wash their hands of him. We shall soon settle his account."
"We may fight every day—but we ought to esteem each other."(35)
This defection of a portion of the assailants (unfortunately but a small portion) gave new spirit to the workmen of the factory, and all together, Wolves and Devourers, though very inferior in number, opposed themselves to the band of vagabonds, who were proceeding to new excesses. Some of these wretches, still further excited by the little man with the ferret's face, a secret emissary of Baron Tripeaud, now rushed in a mass towards the workshops of M. Hardy. Then began a lamentable devastation. These people, seized with the mania of destruction, broke without remorse machines of the greatest value, and most delicate construction; half manufactured articles were pitilessly destroyed; a savage emulation seemed to inspire these barbarians, and those workshops, so lately the model of order and well-regulated economy, were soon nothing but a wreck; the courts were strewed with fragments of all kinds of wares, which were thrown from the windows with ferocious outcries, or savage bursts of laughter. Then, still thanks to the incitements of the little man with the ferret's face, the books of M. Hardy, archives of commercial industry, so indispensable to the trader, were scattered to the wind, torn, trampled under foot, in a sort of infernal dance, composed of all that was most impure in this assembly of low, filthy, and ragged men and women, who held each other by the hand, and whirled round and round with horrible clamor. Strange and painful contrasts! At the height of the stunning noise of these horrid deeds of tumult and devastation, a scene of imposing and mournful calm was taking place in the chamber of Marshal Simon's father, the door of which was guarded by a few devoted men. The old workman was stretched on his bed, with a bandage across his blood stained white hair. His countenance was livid, his breathing oppressed, his look fixed and glazed.
Marshal Simon, standing at the head of the bed, bending over his father, watched in despairing anguish the least sign of consciousness on the part of the dying man, near whom was a physician, with his finger on the failing pulse. Rose and Blanche, brought hither by Dagobert, were kneeling beside the bed, their hands clasped, and their eyes bathed in tears; a little further, half hidden in the shadows of the room, for the hours had passed quickly, and the night was at hand, stood Dagobert himself, with his arms crossed upon his breast, and his features painfully contracted. A profound and solemn silence reigned in this chamber, only interrupted by the broken sobs of Rose and Blanche, or by Father Simon's hard breathing. The eyes of the marshal were dry, gloomy, and full of fire. He only withdrew them from his father's face, to interrogate the physician by a look. There are strange coincidences in life. That physician was Dr. Baleinier. The asylum of the doctor being close to the barrier that was nearest to the factory, and his fame being widely spread in the neighborhood, they had run to fetch him on the first call for medical assistance.
Suddenly, Dr. Baleinier made a movement; the marshal, who had not taken his eyes off him, exclaimed: "Is there any hope?"
"At least, my lord duke, the pulse revives a little."
"He is saved!" said the marshal.
"Do not cherish false hopes, my lord duke," answered the doctor, gravely: "the pulse revives, owing to the powerful applications to the feet, but I know not what will be the issue of the crisis."
"Father! father! do you hear me?" cried the marshal, seeing the old man slightly move his head, and feebly raise his eyelids. He soon opened his eyes, and this time their intelligence had returned.
"Father! you live—you know me!" cried the marshal, giddy with joy and hope.
"Pierre! are you there?" said the old man, in a weak voice. "Your hand—give—it—" and he made a feeble movement.
"Here, father!" cried the marshal, as he pressed the hands of the old man in his own.
Then, yielding to an impulse of delight, he bent over his father, covered his hands, face, and hair with kisses, and repeated: "He lives! kind heaven, he lives! he is saved!"
At this instant, the noise of the struggle which had recommenced between the rabble, the Wolves, and the Devourers, reached the ears of the dying man.
"That noise! that noise!" said he: "they are fighting."
"It is growing less, I think," said the marshal, in order not to agitate his father.
"Pierre," said the old man, in a weak and broken voice, "I have not long to live."
"Let me speak, child; if I can but tell you all."
"Sir," said Baleinier piously to the old workman, "heaven may perhaps work a miracle in your favor; show yourself grateful, and allow a priest—"
"A priest! Thank you, sir—I have my son," said the old man; "in his arms, I will render up my soul—which has always been true and honest."
"You die?" exclaimed the marshal; "no! no!"
"Pierre," said the old man, in a voice which, firm at first, gradually grew fainter, "just now—you ask my advice in a very serious matter. I think, that the wish to tell you of your duty—has recalled me—for a moment—to life—for I should die miserable—if I thought you in a road unworthy of yourself and me. Listen to me, my son—my noble son—at this last hour, a father cannot deceive himself. You have a great duty to perform—-under pain—of not acting like a man of honor—under pain of neglecting my last will. You ought, without hesitation—"
Here the voice failed the old man. When he had pronounced the last sentence, he became quite unintelligible. The only words that Marshal Simon could distinguish, were these: "Napoleon II.—oath—dishonor—my son!"
Then the old workman again moved his lips mechanically—and all was over. At the moment he expired, the night was quite come, and terrible shouts were heard from without, of "Fire! Fire!" The conflagration had broken out in one of the workshops, filled with inflammable stuff, into which had glided the little man with the ferret's face. At the same time, the roll of drums was heard in the distance, announcing the arrival of a detachment of troops from town.
During an hour, in spite of every effort, the fire had been spreading through the factory. The night is clear, cold, starlight; the wind blows keenly from the north, with a moaning sound. A man, walking across the fields, where the rising ground conceals the fire from him, advances with slow and unsteady steps. It is M. Hardy. He had chosen to return home on foot, across the country, hoping that a walk would calm the fever in his blood—an icy fever, more like the chill of death. He had not been deceived. His adored mistress—the noble woman, with whom he might have found refuge from the consequences of the fearful deception which had just been revealed to him—had quitted France. He could have no doubt of it. Margaret was gone to America. Her mother had exacted from her, in expiation of her fault, that she should not even write to him one word of farewell—to him, for whom she had sacrificed her duty as a wife. Margaret had obeyed.
Besides, she had often said to him: "Between my mother and you, I should not hesitate."
She had not hesitated. There was therefore no hope, not the slightest; even if an ocean had not separated him from Margaret, he knew enough of her blind submission to her mother, to be certain that all relations between them were broken off forever. It is well. He will no longer reckon upon this heart—his last refuge. The two roots of his life have been torn up and broken, with the same blow, the same day, almost at the same moment. What then remains for thee, poor sensitive plant, as thy tender mother used to call thee? What remains to console thee for the loss of this last love—this last friendship, so infamously crushed? Oh! there remains for thee that one corner of the earth, created after the image of thy mind that little colony, so peaceful and flourishing, where, thanks to thee, labor brings with it joy and recompense. These worthy artisans, whom thou hast made happy, good, and grateful, will not fail thee. That also is a great and holy affection; let it be thy shelter in the midst of this frightful wreck of all thy most sacred convictions! The calm of that cheerful and pleasant retreat, the sight of the unequalled happiness of thy dependents, will soothe thy poor, suffering soul, which now seems to live only for suffering. Come! you will soon reach the top of the hill, from which you can see afar, in the plain below, that paradise of workmen, of which you are the presiding divinity.
M. Hardy had reached the summit of the hill. At that moment the conflagration, repressed for a short time, burst forth with redoubled fury from the Common Dwelling-house, which it had now reached. A bright streak, at first white, then red, then copper-colored, illuminated the distant horizon. M. Hardy looked at it with a sort of incredulous, almost idiotic stupor. Suddenly, an immense column of flame shot up in the thick of a cloud of smoke, accompanied by a shower of sparks, and streamed towards the sky, casting a bright reflection over all the country, even to M. Hardy's feet. The violence of the north wind, driving the flames in waves before it, soon brought to the ears of M. Hardy the hurried clanging of the alarm-bell of the burning factory.
(35) We wish it to be understood, that the necessities of our story alone have made the Wolves the assailants. While endeavoring to paint the evils arising the abuse of the spirit of association, we do not wish to ascribe a character of savage hostility to one sect rather than to the other to the Wolves more than to the Devourers. The Wolves, a club of united stone-cutters, are generally industrious, intelligent workmen, whose situation is the more worthy of interest, as not only their labors, conducted with mathematical precision, are of the rudest and most wearisome kind, but they are likewise out of work during three or four months of the year, their profession being, unfortunately, one of those which winter condemns to a forced cessation. A number of Wolves, in order to perfect themselves in their trade, attend every evening a course of linear geometry, applied to the cutting of stone, analogous to that given by M. Agricole Perdignier, for the benefit of carpenters. Several working stone-cutters sent an architectural model in plaster to the last exhibition.
CHAPTER VI. THE GO-BETWEEN.
A few days have elapsed since the conflagration of M. Hardy's factory. The following scene takes place in the Rue Clovis, in the house where Rodin had lodged, and which was still inhabited by Rose-Pompon, who, without the least scruple, availed herself of the household arrangements of her friend Philemon. It was about noon, and Rose-Pompon, alone in the chamber of the student, who was still absent, was breakfasting very gayly by the fireside; but how singular a breakfast! what a queer fire! how strange an apartment!
Imagine a large room, lighted by two windows without curtains—for as they looked on empty space, the lodger had fear of being overlooked. One side of this apartment served as a wardrobe, for there was suspended Rose-Pompon's flashy costume of debardeur, not far from the boat-man's jacket of Philemon, with his large trousers of coarse, gray stuff, covered with pitch (shiver my timbers!), just as if this intrepid mariner had bunked in the forecastle of a frigate, during a voyage round the globe. A gown of Rose Pompon's hung gracefully over a pair of pantaloons, the legs of which seemed to come from beneath the petticoat. On the lowest of several book-shelves, very dusty and neglected, by the side of three old boots (wherefore three boots?) and a number of empty bottles, stood a skull, a scientific and friendly souvenir, left to Philemon by one of his comrades, a medical student. With a species of pleasantry, very much to the taste of the student-world, a clay pipe with a very black bowl was placed between the magnificently white teeth of this skull; moreover, its shining top was half hidden beneath an old hat, set knowingly on one side, and adorned with faded flowers and ribbons. When Philemon was drunk, he used to contemplate this bony emblem of mortality, and break out into the most poetical monologues, with regard to this philosophical contrast between death and the mad pleasures of life. Two or three plaster casts, with their noses and chins more or less injured, were fastened to the wall, and bore witness to the temporary curiosity which Philemon had felt with regard to phrenological science, from the patient and serious study of which he had drawn the following logical conclusion:—That, having to an alarming extent the bump of getting into debt, he ought to resign himself to the fatality of this organization, and accept the inconvenience of creditors as a vital necessity. On the chimney-piece, stood uninjured, in all its majesty, the magnificent rowing-club drinking-glass, a china teapot without a spout, and an inkstand of black wood, the glass mouth of which was covered by a coat of greenish and mossy mould. From time to time, the silence of this retreat was interrupted by the cooing of pigeons, which Rose-Pompon had established with cordial hospitality in the little study. Chilly as a quail, Rose-Pompon crept close to the fire, and at the same time seemed to enjoy the warmth of a bright ray of sunshine, which enveloped her in its golden light. This droll little creature was dressed in the oddest costume, which, however, displayed to advantage the freshness of her piquant and pretty countenance, crowned with its fine, fair hair, always neatly combed and arranged the first thing in the morning. By way of dressing-gown, Rose-Pompon had ingeniously drawn over her linen, the ample scarlet flannel shirt which belonged to Philemon's official garb in the rowing-club; the collar, open and turned down, displayed the whiteness of the young girl's under garment, as also of her neck and shoulders, on whose firm and polished surface the scarlet shirt seemed to cast a rosy light. The grisette's fresh and dimpled arms half protruded from the large, turned-up sleeves; and her charming legs were also half visible, crossed one over the other, and clothed in neat white stockings, and boots. A black silk cravat formed the girdle which fastened the shirt round the wasp-like waist of Rose-Pompon, just above those hips, worthy of the enthusiasm of a modern Phidias, and which gave to this style of dress a grace very original.
We have said, that the breakfast of Rose-Pompon was singular. You shall judge. On a little table placed before her, was a wash-hand-basin, into which she had recently plunged her fresh face, bathing it in pure water. From the bottom of this basin, now transformed into a salad-bowl, Rose Pompon took with the tips of her fingers large green leaves, dripping with vinegar, and crunched them between her tiny white teeth, whose enamel was too hard to allow them to be set on edge. Her drink was a glass of water and syrup of gooseberries, which she stirred with a wooden mustard-spoon. Finally, as an extra dish, she had a dozen olives in one of those blue glass trinket-dishes sold for twenty-five sous. Her dessert was composed of nuts, which she prepared to roast on a red-hot shovel. That Rose-Pompon, with such an unaccountable savage choice of food, should retain a freshness of complexion worthy of her name, is one of those miracles, which reveal the mighty power of youth and health. When she had eaten her salad, Rose-Pompon was about to begin upon her olives, when a low knock was heard at the door, which was modestly bolted on the inside.
"Who is there?" said Rose-Pompon.
"A friend—the oldest of the old," replied a sonorous, jovial voice. "Why do you lock yourself in?"
"What! is it you, Ninny Moulin?"
"Yes, my beloved pupil. Open quickly. Time presses."
"Open to you? Oh, I dare say!—that would be pretty, the figure I am!"
"I believe you! what does it matter what figure you are? It would be very pretty, thou rosiest of all the roses with which Cupid ever adorned his quiver!"
"Go and preach fasting and morality in your journal, fat apostle!" said Rose—Pompon, as she restored the scarlet shirt to its place, with Philemon's other garments.
"I say! are we to talk much longer through the door, for the greater edification of our neighbors?" cried Ninny Moulin. "I have something of importance to tell you—something that will astonish you—"
"Give me time to put on my gown, great plague that you are!"
"If it is because of my modesty, do not think of it. I am not over nice. I should like you very well as you are!"
"Only to think that such a monster is the favorite of all the churchgoers!" said Rose-Pompon, opening the door as she finished fastening her dress.
"So! you have at last returned to the dovecot, you stray girl!" said Ninny Moulin, folding his arms, and looking at Rose-Pompon with comic seriousness. "And where may you have been, I pray? For three days the naughty little bird has left its nest."
"True; I only returned home last night. You must have called during my absence?"
"I came, every day, and even twice a day, young lady, for I have very serious matters to communicate."
"Very serious matters? Then we shall have a good laugh at them."
"Not at all—they are really serious," said Ninny Moulin, seating himself. "But, first of all, what did you do during the three days that you left your conjugal and Philemonic home? I must know all about it, before I tell you more."
"Will you have some olives?" said Rose-Pompon, as she nibbled one of them herself.
"Is that your answer?—I understand!—Unfortunate Philemon!"
"There is no unfortunate Philemon in the case, slanderer. Clara had a death in her house, and, for the first few days after the funeral she was afraid to sleep alone."
"I thought Clara sufficiently provided against such fears."
"There you are deceived, you great viper! I was obliged to go and keep the poor girl company."
At this assertion, the religious pamphleteer hummed a tune, with an incredulous and mocking air.
"You think I have played Philemon tricks?" cried Rose-Pompon, cracking a nut with the indignation of injured innocence.
"I do not say tricks; but one little rose-colored trick."
"I tell you, that it was not for my pleasure I went out. On the contrary—for, during my absence, poor Cephyse disappeared."
"Yes, Mother Arsene told me that the Bacchanal-Queen was gone on a journey. But when I talk of Philemon, you talk of Cephyse; we don't progress."
"May I be eaten by the black panther that they are showing at the Porte Saint-Martin if I do not tell you the truth. And, talking of that, you must get tickets to take me to see those animals, my little Ninny Moulin! They tell me there never were such darling wild beasts."
"Now really, are you mad?"
"That I should guide your youth, like a venerable patriarch, through the dangers of the Storm-blown Tulip, all well and good—I ran no risk of meeting my pastors and masters; but were I to take you to a Lent Spectacle (since there are only beasts to be seen), I might just run against my sacristans—and how pretty I should look with you on my arm!"
"You can put on a false nose, and straps to your trousers, my big Ninny; they will never know you."
"We must not think of false noses, but of what I have to tell you, since you assure me that you have no intrigue in hand."
"I swear it!" said Rose-Pompon, solemnly, extending her left hand horizontally, whilst with her right she put a nut into her mouth. Then she added, with surprise, as she looked at the outside coat of Ninny Moulin, "Goodness gracious! what full pockets you have got! What is there in them?"
"Something that concerns you, Rose-Pompon," said Dumoulin, gravely.
"Rose-Pompon!" said Ninny Moulin, suddenly, with a majestic air; "will you have a carriage? Will you inhabit a charming apartment, instead of living in this dreadful hole? Will you be dressed like a duchess?"
"Now for some more nonsense! Come, will you eat the olives? If not, I shall eat them all up. There is only one left."
Without answering this gastronomic offer, Ninny Moulin felt in one of his pockets, and drew from it a case containing a very pretty bracelet, which he held up sparkling before the eyes of the young girl.
"Oh! what a sumptuous bracelet!" cried she, clapping her hands. "A green-eyed serpent biting his tail—the emblem of my love for Philemon."
"Do not talk of Philemon; it annoys me," said Ninny Moulin, as he clasped the bracelet round the wrist of Rose-Pompon, who allowed him to do it, laughing all the while like mad, and saying to him, "So you've been employed to make a purchase, big apostle, and wish to see the effect of it. Well! it is charming!"
"Rose-Pompon," resumed Ninny Moulin, "would you like to have a servant, a box at the Opera, and a thousand francs a month for your pin-money?"
"Always the same nonsense. Get along!" said the young girl, as she held up the bracelet to the light, still continuing to eat her nuts. "Why always the same farce, and no change of bills?"
Ninny Moulin again plunged his hand into his pocket, and this time drew forth an elegant chain, which he hung round Rose-Pompon's neck.
"Oh! what a beautiful chain!" cried the young girl, as she looked by turns at the sparkling ornament and the religious writer. "If you chose that also, you have a very good taste. But am I not a good natured girl to be your dummy, just to show off your jewels?"
"Rose-Pompon," returned Ninny Moulin, with a still more majestic air, "these trifles are nothing to what you may obtain, if you will but follow the advice of your old friend."
Rose began to look at Dumoulin with surprise, and said to him, "What does all this mean, Ninny Moulin? Explain yourself; what advice have you to give?"
Dumoulin did not answer, but replunging his hand into his inexhaustible pocket, he fished up a parcel, which he carefully unfolded, and in which was a magnificent mantilla of black lace. Rose-Pompon started up, full of new admiration, and Dumoulin threw the rich mantilla over the young girl's shoulders.
"It is superb! I have never seen anything like it! What patterns! what work!" said Rose-Pompon, as she examined all with simple and perfectly disinterested curiosity. Then she added, "Your pocket is like a shop; where did you get all these pretty things?" Then, bursting into a fit of laughter, which brought the blood to her cheeks, she exclaimed, "Oh, I have it! These are the wedding-presents for Madame de la Sainte-Colombe. I congratulate you; they are very choice."
"And where do you suppose I should find money to buy these wonders?" said Ninny Moulin. "I repeat to you, all this is yours if you will but listen to me!"
"How is this?" said Rose-Pompon, with the utmost amazement; "is what you tell me in downright earnest?"
"In downright earnest."
"This offer to make me a great lady?"
"The jewels might convince you of the reality of my offers."
"And you propose all this to me for some one else, my poor Ninny Moulin?"
"One moment," said the religious writer, with a comical air of modesty, "you must know me well enough, my beloved pupil, to feel certain that I should be incapable of inducing you to commit an improper action. I respect myself too much for that—leaving out the consideration that it would be unfair to Philemon, who confided to me the guardianship of your virtue."
"Then, Ninny Moulin," said Rose-Pompon, more and more astonished, "on my word of honor, I can make nothing of it.
"Yet, 'tis all very simple, and I—"
"Oh! I've found it," cried Rose-Pompon, interrupting Ninny Moulin; "it is some gentleman who offers me his hand, his heart, and all the rest of it. Could you not tell me that directly?"
"A marriage? oh, laws, yes!" said Dumoulin, shrugging his shoulders.
"What! is it not a marriage?" said Rose-Pompon, again much surprised.
"And the offers you make me are honest ones, my big apostle?"
"They could not be more so." Here Dumoulin spoke the truth.
"I shall not have to be unfaithful to Philemon?"
"Or faithful to any one else?"
Rose-Pompon looked confounded. Then she rattled on: "Come, do not let us have any joking! I am not foolish enough to imagine that I am to live just like a duchess, just for nothing. What, therefore, must I give in return?"
"Nothing at all."
"Not even that," said Ninny Moulin, biting his nail-tip.
"But what am I to do, then?"
"Dress yourself as handsomely as possible, take your ease, amuse yourself, ride about in a carriage. You see, it is not very fatiguing—and you will, moreover, help to do a good action."
"What! by living like a duchess?"
"Yes! so make up your mind. Do not ask me for any more details, for I cannot give them to you. For the rest, you will not be detained against your will. Just try the life I propose to you. If it suits you, go on with it; if not, return to your Philemonic household."
"Only try it. What can you risk?"
"Nothing; but I can hardly believe that all you say is true. And then," added she, with hesitation, "I do not know if I ought—"
Ninny Moulin went to the window, opened it, and said to Rose-Pompon, who ran up to it, "Look there! before the door of the house."
"What a pretty carriage! How comfortable a body'd be inside of it!"
"That carriage is yours. It is waiting for you."
"Waiting for me!" exclaimed Rose-Pompon; "am I to decide as short as that?"
"Or not at all."
"On the instant."
"But where will they take me?"
"How should I know?"
"You do not know where they will take me?"
"Not I,"—and Dumoulin still spoke the truth—"the coachman has his orders."
"Do you know all this is very funny, Ninny Moulin?"
"I believe you. If it were not funny, where would be the pleasure?"
"You are right."
"Then you accept the offer? That is well. I am delighted both for you and myself."
"Yes; because, in accepting, you render me a great service."
"You? How so?"
"It matters little, as long as I feel obliged to you."
"Come, then; let us set out!"
"Bah! after all, they cannot eat me," said Rose-Pompon, resolutely.
With a skip and a jump, she went to fetch a rose-colored cap, and, going up to a broken looking-glass, placed the cap very much cocked on one side on her bands of light hair. This left uncovered her snowy neck, with the silky roots of the hair behind, and gave to her pretty face a very mischievous, not to say licentious expression.
"My cloak!" said she to Ninny Moulin, who seemed to be relieved from a considerable amount of uneasiness, since she had accepted his offer.
"Fie! a cloak will not do," answered her companion, feeling once more in his pocket and drawing out a fine Cashmere shawl, which he threw over Rose-Pompon's shoulders.
"A Cashmere!" cried the young girl, trembling with pleasure and joyous surprise. Then she added, with an air of heroism: "It is settled! I will run the gauntlet." And with a light step she descended the stairs, followed by Ninny Moulin.
The worthy greengrocer was at her post. "Good-morning, mademoiselle; you are early to-day," said she to the young girl.
"Yes, Mother Arsene; there is my key."
"Thank you, mademoiselle."
"Oh! now I think of it," said Rose Pompon, suddenly, in a whisper, as she turned towards Ninny Moulin, and withdrew further from the portress, "what is to became of Philemon?"
"If he should arrive—"
"Oh! the devil!" said Ninny Moulin, scratching his ear.
"Yes; if Philemon should arrive, what will they say to him? for I may be a long time absent."
"Three or four months, I suppose."
"I should think not."
"Oh! very good!" said Rose-Pompon. Then, turning towards the greengrocer, she said to her, after a moment's reflection: "Mother Arsene, if Philemon should come home, you will tell him I have gone out—on business."
"And that he must not forget to feed my pigeons, which are in his study."
"Good-bye, Mother Arsene."
"Good-bye, mademoiselle." And Rose-Pompon entered the carriage in triumph, along with Ninny Moulin.
"The devil take me if I know what is to come of all this," said Jacques Dumoulin to himself, as the carriage drove rapidly down the Rue Clovis. "I have repaired my error—and now I laugh at the rest."
CHAPTER VII. ANOTHER SECRET.
The following scene took place a few days after the abduction of Rose Pompon by Ninny Moulin. Mdlle. de Cardoville was seated in a dreamy mood, in her cabinet, which was hung with green silk, and furnished with an ebony library, ornamented with large bronze caryatides. By some significant signs, one could perceive that Mdlle. de Cardoville had sought in the fine airs some relief from sad and serious thoughts. Near an open piano, was a harp, placed before a music-stand. A little further, on a table covered with boxes of oil and water-color, were several brilliant sketches. Most of them represented Asiatic scenes, lighted by the fires of an oriental sun. Faithful to her fancy of dressing herself at home in a picturesque style, Mademoiselle de Cardoville resembled that day one of those proud portraits of Velasquez, with stern and noble aspect. Her gown was of black moire, with wide swelling petticoat, long waist, and sleeve slashed with rose-colored satin, fastened together with jet bugles. A very stiff, Spanish ruff reached almost to her chin, and was secured round her neck by a broad rose-colored ribbon. This frill, slightly heaving, sloped down as far as the graceful swell of the rose-colored stomacher, laced with strings of jet beads, and terminating in a point at the waist. It is impossible to express how well this black garment, with its ample and shining folds, relieved with rose-color and brilliant jet, skin, harmonized with the shining whiteness of Adrienne's and the golden flood of her beautiful hair, whose long, silky ringlets descended to her bosom.
The young lady was in a half-recumbent posture, with her elbow resting on a couch covered with green silk. The back of this piece of furniture, which was pretty high towards the fireplace, sloped down insensibly towards the foot. A sort of light, semicircular trellis-work, in gilded bronze, raised about five feet from the ground, covered with flowering plants (the admirable passiflores quadrangulatoe, planted in a deep ebony box, from the centre of which rose the trellis-work), surrounded this couch with a sort of screen of foliage enamelled with large flowers, green without, purple within, and as brilliant as those flowers of porcelain, which we receive from Saxony. A sweet, faint perfume, like a faint mixture of jasmine with violet, rose from the cup of these admirable passiflores. Strange enough, a large quantity of new books (Adrienne having bought them since the last two or three days) and quite fresh-cut, were scattered around her on the couch, and on a little table; whilst other larger volumes, amongst which were several atlases full of engravings, were piled on the sumptuous fur, which formed the carpet beneath the divan. Stranger still, these books, though of different forms, and by different authors, alt treated of the same subject. The posture of Adrienne revealed a sort of melancholy dejection. Her cheeks were pale; a light blue circle surrounded her large, black eyes, now half-closed, and gave to them an expression of profound grief. Many causes contributed to this sorrow—amongst others, the disappearance of Mother Bunch. Without absolutely believing the perfidious insinuations of Rodin, who gave her to understand that, in the fear of being unmasked by him, the hunchback had not dared to remain in the house, Adrienne felt a cruel sinking of the heart, when she thought how this young girl, in whom she had had so much confidence, had fled from her almost sisterly hospitality, without even uttering a word of gratitude; for care had been taken not to show her the few lines written by the poor needlewoman to her benefactress, just before her departure.
She had only been told of the note of five hundred francs found on her desk; and this last inexplicable circumstance had contributed to awaken cruel suspicions in the breast of Mdlle. de Cardoville. She already felt the fatal effects of that mistrust of everything and everybody, which Rodin had recommended to her; and this sentiment of suspicion and reserve had the more tendency to become powerful, that, for the first time in her life, Mdlle. de Cardoville, until then a stranger to all deception, had a secret to conceal—a secret, which was equally her happiness, her shame, and her torment. Half-recumbent on her divan, pensive and depressed, Adrienne pursued, with a mind often absent, one of her newly purchased books. Suddenly, she uttered an exclamation of surprise; the hand which held the book trembled like a leaf, and from that moment she appeared to read with passionate attention and devouring curiosity. Soon, her eyes sparkled with enthusiasm, her smile assumed ineffable sweetness, and she seemed at once proud, happy, delighted—but, as she turned over the last page, her countenance expressed disappointment and chagrin. Then she recommenced this reading, which had occasioned her such sweet emotion, and this time she read with the most deliberate slowness, going over each page twice, and spelling, as it were, every line, every word. From time to time, she paused, and in a pensive mood, with her forehead leaning on her fair hand, she seemed to reflect, in a deep reverie, on the passages she had read with such tender and religious love. Arriving at a passage which so affected her, that a tear started in her eye, she suddenly turned the volume, to see on the cover the name of the author. For a few seconds, she contemplated this name with a singular expression of gratitude, and could not forbear raising to her rosy lips the page on which it was printed. After reading many times over the lines with which she had been so much struck, forgetting, no doubt, the letter in the spirit, she began to reflect so deeply, that the book glided from her hand, and fell upon the carpet. During the course of this reverie, the eyes of the young girl rested, at first mechanically, upon an admirable bas-relief, placed on an ebony stand, near one of the windows. This magnificent bronze, recently cast after a plaster copy from the antique, represented the triumph of the Indian Bacchus. Never, perhaps, had Grecian art attained such rare perfection. The youthful conqueror, half clad in a lion's skin, which displayed his juvenile grace and charming purity of form shone with divine beauty. Standing up in a car, drawn by two tigers, with an air at once gentle and proud, he leaned with one hand upon a thyrsus, and with the other guided his savage steeds in tranquil majesty. By this rare mixture of grace, vigor, and serenity, it was easy to recognize the hero who had waged such desperate combats with men and with monsters of the forest. Thanks to the brownish tone of the figure, the light, falling from one side of the sculpture, admirably displayed the form of the youthful god, which, carved in relievo, and thus illumined, shone like a magnificent statue of pale gold upon the dark fretted background of the bronze.
When Adrienne's look first rested on this rare assemblage of divine perfections, her countenance was calm and thoughtful. But this contemplation, at first mechanical, became gradually more and more attentive and conscious, and the young lady, rising suddenly from her seat, slowly approached the bas-relief, as if yielding to the invincible attraction of an extraordinary resemblance. Then a slight blush appeared on the cheeks of Mdlle. de Cardoville, stole across her face, and spread rapidly to her neck and forehead. She approached still closer, threw round a hasty glance, as if half-ashamed, or as if she had feared to be surprised in a blamable action, and twice stretched forth her hand, trembling with emotion, to touch with the tips of her charming fingers the bronze forehead of the Indian Bacchus. And twice she stopped short, with a kind of modest hesitation. At last, the temptation became too strong for her. She yielded to it; and her alabaster finger, after delicately caressing the features of pale gold, was pressed more boldly for an instant on the pure and noble brow of the youthful god. At this pressure, though so slight, Adrienne seemed to feel a sort of electric shock; she trembled in every limb, her eyes languished, and, after swimming for an instant in their humid and brilliant crystal, were raised, half-closed, to heaven. Then her head was thrown a little way back, her knees bent insensibly, her rosy lips were half opened, as if to give a passage to her heated breath, for her bosom heaved violently, as thought youth and life had accelerated the pulsations of her heart, and made her blood boil in her veins. Finally, the burning cheeks of Adrienne betrayed a species of ecstasy, timid and passionate, chaste and sensual, the expression of which was ineffably touching.
An affecting spectacle indeed is that of a young maiden, whose modest brow flushes with the first fires of a secret passion. Does not the Creator of all things animate the body as well as the soul, with a spark of divine energy? Should He not be religiously glorified in the intellect as in the senses, with which He has so paternally endowed His creatures? They are impious blasphemers who seek to stifle the celestial senses, instead of guiding and harmonizing them in their divine flight. Suddenly, Mdlle. de Cardoville started, raised her head, opened her eyes as if awakening from a dream, withdrew abruptly from the sculptures, and walked several times up and down the room in an agitated manner, pressing her burning hands to her forehead. Then, falling, as it were, exhausted on her seat, her tears flowed in abundance. The most bitter grief was visible in her features, which revealed the fatal struggle that was passing within her. By degrees, her tears ceased. To this crisis of painful dejection succeeded a species of violent scorn and indignation against herself, which were expressed by these words that escaped her: "For the first time in my life, I feel weak and cowardly. Oh yes! cowardly—very cowardly!"
The sound of a door opening and closing, roused Mdlle. de Cardoville from her bitter reflections. Georgette entered the room, and said to her mistress: "Madame, can you receive the Count de Montbron?"
Adrienne, too well-bred to exhibit before her women the sort of impatience occasioned by this unseasonable visit, said to Georgette: "You told M. de Montbron that I was at home?"
"Then beg him to walk in." Though Mdlle. de Cardoville felt at that moment much vexed at the arrival of Montbron, let us hasten to say, that she entertained for him an almost filial affection, and a profound esteem, though, by a not unfrequent contrast, she almost always differed from him in opinion. Hence arose, when Mdlle. de Cardoville had nothing to disturb her mind, the most gay and animated discussions, in which M. de Montbron, notwithstanding his mocking and sceptical humor, his long experience, his rare knowledge of men and things, his fashionable training, in a word, had not always the advantage, and even acknowledged his defeat gayly enough. Thus, to give an idea of the differences of the count and Adrienne, before, as he would say laughingly, he had made himself her accomplice, he had always opposed (from other motives than those alleged by Madame de Saint-Dizier) Adrienne's wish to live alone and in her own way; whilst Rodin, on the contrary, by investing the young girl's resolve on this subject with an ideal grandeur of intention, had acquired a species of influence over her. M. de Montbron, now upwards of sixty years of age, had been a most prominent character during the Directory, Consulate, and the Empire. His prodigal style of living, his wit, his gayety, his duels, his amours, and his losses at play, had given him a leading influence in the best society of his day; while his character, his kind-heartedness, and liberality, secured him the lasting friendship of nearly all his female friends. At the time we now present him to the reader, he was still a great gambler; and, moreover, a very lucky gambler. He had, as we have stated, a very lordly style; his manners were decided, but polished and lively; his habits were such as belong to the higher classes of society, though he could be excessively sharp towards people whom he did not like. He was tall and thin, and his slim figure gave him an almost youthful appearance; his forehead was high, and a little bald; his hair was gray and short, his countenance long, his nose aquiline, his eyes blue and piercing, and his teeth white, and still very good.
"The Count de Montbron," said Georgette, opening the door. The count entered, and hastened to kiss Adrienne's hand, with a sort of paternal familiarity.
"Come!" said M. de Montbron to himself; "let us try to discover the truth I am in search of, that we may escape a great misfortune."
CHAPTER VIII. THE CONFESSION.
Mdlle. de Cardoville, not wishing to betray the cause of the violent feelings which agitated her, received M. de Montbron with a feigned and forced gayety. On the other hand, notwithstanding his tact and knowledge of the world, the count was much embarrassed how to enter upon the subject on which he wished to confer with Adrienne, and he resolved to feel his way, before seriously commencing the conversation. After looking at the young lady for some seconds, M. de Montbron shook his head, and said, with a sigh of regret: "My dear child, I am not pleased."
"Some affair of the heart, or of hearts, my dear count?" returned Adrienne, smiling.
"Of the heart," said M. de Montbron.
"What! you, so great a player, think more of a woman's whim than a throw of the dice?"
"I have a heavy heart, and you are the cause of it, my dear child."
"M. de Montbron, you will make me very proud," said Adrienne, with a smile.
"You would be wrong, for I tell you plainly, my trouble is caused by your neglect of your beauty. Yes, your countenance is pale, dejected, sorrowful; you have been low-spirited for the last few days; you have something on your mind, I am sure of it."
"My dear M. de Montbron, you have so much penetration, that you may be allowed to fall for once, as now. I am not sad, I have nothing on my mind, and—I am about to utter a very silly piece of impertinence—I have never thought myself so pretty."
"On the contrary, nothing could be more modest than such an assertion. Who told you that falsehood? a woman?"
"No; it was my heart, and it spoke the truth," answered Adrienne, with a slight degree of emotion. "Understand it, if you can," she added.
"Do you mean that you are proud of the alteration in your features, because you are proud of the sufferings of your heart?" said M. de Montbron, looking at Adrienne with attention. "Be it so; I am then right. You have some sorrow. I persist in it," added the count, speaking with a tone of real feeling, "because it is painful to me."
"Be satisfied; I am as happy as possible—for every instant I take delight in repeating, how, at my age, I am free—absolutely free!"
"Yes; free to torment yourself, free to be miserable."
"Come, come, my dear count!" said Adrienne, "you are recommencing our old quarrel. I still find in you the ally of my aunt and the Abbe d'Aigrigny."
"Yes; as the republicans are the allies of the legitimists—to destroy each other in their turn. Talking of your abominable aunt, they say that she holds a sort of council at her house these last few days, a regular mitred conspiracy. She is certainly in a good way."
"Why not? Formerly, she would have wished to be Goddess of Reason, now, we shall perhaps see her canonized. She has already performed the first part of the life of Mary Magdalen."
"You can never speak worse of her than she deserves, my dear child. Still, though for quite opposite reasons, I agreed with her on the subject of your wish to reside alone."
"I know it."
"Yes; and because I wished to see you a thousand times freer than you really are, I advised you—"
"No doubt; you would have had your dear liberty, with its consequences, only, instead of Mdlle. de Cardoville, we should have called you Madame Somebody, having found an excellent husband to be responsible for your independence."
"And who would have been responsible for this ridiculous husband? And who would bear a mocked and degraded name? I, perhaps?" said Adrienne, with animation. "No, no, my dear count, good or ill, I will answer for my own actions; to my name shall attach the reputation, which I alone have formed. I am as incapable of basely dishonoring a name which is not mine, as of continually bearing it myself, if it were not held in, esteem. And, as one can only answer for one's own actions, I prefer to keep my name."
"You are the only person in the world that has such ideas."
"Why?" said Adrienne, laughing. "Because it appears to me horrible, to see a poor girl lost and buried in some ugly and selfish man, and become, as they say seriously, the better half of the monster—yes! a fresh and blooming rose to become part of a frightful thistle!—Come, my dear count; confess there is something odious in this conjugal metempsychosis," added Adrienne, with a burst of laughter.
The forced and somewhat feverish gayety of Adrienne contrasted painfully with her pale and suffering countenance; it was so easy to see that she strove to stifle with laughter some deep sorrow, that M. de Montbron was much affected by it; but, dissembling his emotion, he appeared to reflect a moment, and took up mechanically one of the new, fresh-cut books, by which Adrienne was surrounded. After casting a careless glance at this volume, he continued, still dissembling his feelings: "Come, my dear madcap: this is another folly. Suppose I were twenty years old, and that you did me the honor to marry me—you would be called Lady de Montbron, I imagine?"
"How perhaps? Would you not bear my name, if you married me?"
"My dear count," said Adrienne, with a smile, "do not let us pursue this hypothesis, which can only leave us—regrets."
Suddenly, M. de Montbron started, and looked at Mdlle, de Cardoville with an expression of surprise. For some moments, whilst talking to Adrienne, he had mechanically—taken up two or three of the volumes scattered over the couch, and had glanced at their titles in the same careless manner. The first was the "Modern History of India." The second, "Travels in India." The third, "Letters on India." Much surprised, M. de Montbron had continued his investigation, and found that the fourth volume continued this Indian nomenclature, being "Rambles in India." The fifth was, "Recollections of Hindostan." The sixth, "Notes of a Traveller in the East Indies."
Hence the astonishment, which, for many serious reasons, M. de Montbron had no longer been able to conceal, and which his looks betrayed to Adrienne. The latter, having completely forgotten the presence of the accusing volumes by which she was surrounded, yielded to a movement of involuntary confusion, and blushed slightly; but, her firm and resolute character again coming to her aid, she looked full at M. de Montbron, and said to him: "Well, my dear count! what surprises you?"
Instead of answering, M. de Montbron appeared still more absorbed in thought, and contemplating the young girl, he could not forbear saying to himself: "No, no—it is impossible—and yet—"
"It would, perhaps, be indiscreet in me to listen to your soliloquy, my dear count," said Adrienne.
"Excuse me, my dear child; but what I see surprises me so much—"
"And pray what do you see?"
"The traces of so great and novel an interest in all that relates to India," said M. de Montbron, laying a slight stress on his words, and fixing a piercing look upon the young girl.
"Well!" said Adrienne, stoutly.
"Well! I seek the cause of this sudden passion—"
"Geographical?" said Mdlle. de Cardoville, interrupting M. de Montbron: "you may find this taste somewhat serious for my age my dear count—but one must find occupation for leisure hours—and then, having a cousin, who is both an Indian and a prince, I should like to know something of the fortunate country from which I derive this savage relationship."
These last words were pronounced with a bitterness that was not lost on M. de Montbron: watching Adrienne attentively, he observed: "Meseems, you speak of the prince with some harshness."
"No; I speak of him with indifference."
"Yet he deserves a very different feeling."
"On the part of some other person, perhaps," replied Adrienne, dryly.
"He is so unhappy!" said M, de Montbron, in a tone of sincere pity. "When I saw him the other day, he made my heart ache."
"What have I to do with it?" exclaimed Adrienne, with an accent of painful and almost angry impatience.
"I should have thought that his cruel torments at least deserved your pity," answered the count gravely.
"Pity—from me!" cried Adrienne, with an air of offended pride. Then restraining herself, she added coldly: "You are jesting, M. de Montbron. It is not in sober seriousness that you ask me to take interest in the amorous torments of your prince."
There was so much cold disdain in these last words of Adrienne, her pale and agitated countenance betrayed such haughty bitterness, that M. de Montbron said, sorrowfully: "It is then true; I have not been deceived. I, who thought, from our old and constant friendship, that I had some claim to your confidence have known nothing of it—while you told all to another. It is painful, very painful to me."
"I do not understand you, M. de Montbron."
"Well then, since I must speak plainly," cried the count, "there is, I see, no hope for this unhappy boy—you love another."
As Adrienne started—"Oh! you cannot deny it," resumed the count; "your paleness and melancholy for the last few days, your implacable indifference to the prince—all prove to me that you are in love."
Hurt by the manner in which the count spoke of the sentiment he attributed to her, Mdlle. de Cardoville answered with dignified stateliness: "You must know, M. de Montbron, that a secret discovered is not a confidence. Your language surprises me.
"Oh, my dear friend, if I use the poor privilege of experience—if I guess that you are in love—if I tell you so, and even go so far as to reproach you with it—it is because the life or death of this poor prince is concerned; and I feel for him as if he were my son, for it is impossible to know him without taking the warmest interest in him."
"It would be singular," returned Adrienne, with redoubled coldness, and still more bitter irony, "if my love—admitting I were in love—could have any such strange influence on Prince Djalma. What can it matter to him?" added she, with almost agonizing disdain.
"What can it matter to him? Now really, my dear friend, permit me to tell you, that it is you who are jesting cruelly. What! this unfortunate youth loves you with all the blind ardor of a first love—twice has attempted to terminate by suicide the horrible tortures of his passion—and you think it strange that your love for another should be with him a question of life or death!"
"He loves me then?" cried the young girl, with an accent impossible to describe.
"He loves you to madness, I tell you; I have seen it."
Adrienne seemed overcome with amazement. From pale, she became crimson; as the redness disappeared, her lips grew white, and trembled. Her emotion was so strong, that she remained for some moments unable to speak, and pressed her hand to her heart, as if to moderate its pulsations.
M. de Montbron, almost frightened at the sudden change in Adrienne's countenance, hastily approached her, exclaiming: "Good heaven, my poor child! what is the matter?"
Instead of answering, Adrienne waved her hand to him, in sign that he should not be alarmed; and, in fact, the count was speedily tranquillized, for the beautiful face, which had so lately been contracted with pain, irony, and scorn, seemed now expressive of the sweetest and most ineffable emotions; Adrienne appeared to luxuriate in delight, and to fear losing the least particle of it; then, as reflection told her, that she was, perhaps, the dupe of illusion or falsehood, she exclaimed suddenly, with anguish, addressing herself to M. de Montbron: "But is what you tell me true?"
"What I tell you!"
"Yes—that Prince Djalma—"
"Loves you to madness?—Alas! it is only too true."
"No, no," cried Adrienne, with a charming expression of simplicity; "that could never be too true."
"What do you say?" cried the count.
"But that woman?" asked Adrienne, as if the word scorched her lips.
"She who has been the cause of all these painful struggles."
"That woman—why, who should it be but you?"
"What, I? Oh! tell me, was it I?"
"On my word of honor. I trust my experience. I have never seen so ardent and sincere a passion."
"Oh! is it really so? Has he never had any other love?"
"Yet I was told so."
"Had fallen violently in love, two days after I saw him."
"M. Rodin told you that!" cried M. de Montbron, as if struck with a sudden idea. "Why, it is he who told Djalma that you were in love with some one else."
"And this it was which occasioned the poor youth's dreadful despair."
"It was this which occasioned my despair."
"You love him, then, just as he loves you!" exclaimed M. de Montbron, transported with joy.
"Love him!" said Mdlle. de Cardoville. A discreet knock at the door interrupted Adrienne.
"One of your servants, no doubt. Be calm," said the count.
"Come in," said Adrienne, in an agitated voice.
"What is it?" said Mdlle. de Cardoville. Florine entered the room.
"M. Rodin has just been here. Fearing to disturb mademoiselle, he would not come in; but he will return in half an hour. Will mademoiselle receive him?"
"Yes, yes," said the count to Florine; "even if I am still here, show him in by all means. Is not that your opinion?" asked M. de Montbron of Adrienne.
"Quite so," answered the young girl; and a flash of indignation darted from her eyes, as she thought of Rodin's perfidy.
"Oho! the old knave!" said M. de Montbron, "I always had my doubts of that crooked neck!" Florine withdrew, leaving the count with her mistress.
CHAPTER IX. LOVE.
Mdlle. de Cardoville was transfigured. For the first time her beauty shone forth in all its lustre. Until now overshadowed by indifference, or darkened by grief, she appeared suddenly illumined by a brilliant ray of sunshine. The slight irritation caused by Rodin's perfidy passed like an imperceptible shade from her brow. What cared she now for falsehood and perfidy? Had they not failed? And, for the future, what human power could interpose between her and Djalma, so sure of each other? Who would dare to cross the path of those two things, resolute and strong with the irresistible power of youth, love, and liberty? Who would dare to follow them into that blazing sphere, whither they went, so beautiful and happy, to blend together in their inextinguishable love, protected by the proof armor of their own happiness? Hardly had Florine left the room, when Adrienne approached M. de Montbron with a rapid step. She seemed to have become taller; and to watch her advancing, light, radiant, and triumphant, one might have fancied her a goddess walking upon clouds.
"When shall I see him?" was her first word to M. de Montbron.
"Well—say to-morrow; he must be prepared for so much happiness; in so ardent a nature, such sudden, unexpected joy might be terrible."
Adrienne remained pensive for a moment, and then said rapidly: "To morrow—yes—not before to-morrow. I have a superstition of the heart."
"What is it?"
"You shall know. HE LOVES ME—that word says all, contains all, comprehends all, is all—and yet I have a thousand questions to ask with regard to him—but I will ask none before to-morrow, because, by a mysterious fatality, to-morrow is with me a sacred anniversary. It will be an age till then; but happily, I can wait. Look here!"
Beckoning M. de Montbron, she led him to the Indian Bacchus. "How much it is like him!" said she to the count.
"Indeed," exclaimed the latter, "it is strange!"
"Strange?" returned Adrienne, with a smile of gentle pride; "strange, that a hero, a demi-god, an ideal of beauty, should resemble Djalma?"
"How you love him!" said M. de Montbron, deeply touched, and almost dazzled by the felicity which beamed from the countenance of Adrienne.
"I must have suffered a good deal, do you not think so?" said she, after a moment's silence.
"If I had not made up my mind to come here to-day, almost in despair, what would have happened?"
"I cannot tell; I should perhaps have died, for I am wounded mortally here"—she pressed her hand to her heart. "But what might have been death to me, will now be life."
"It was horrible," said the count, shuddering. "Such a passion, buried in your own breast, proud as you are—"
"Yes, proud—but not self-conceited. When I learned his love for another, and that the impression which I fancied I had made on him at our first interview had been immediately effaced, I renounced all hope, without being able to renounce my love. Instead of shunning his image, I surrounded myself with all that could remind me of him. In default of happiness, there is a bitter pleasure in suffering through what we love."
"I can now understand your Indian library."
Instead of answering the count, Adrienne took from the stand one of the freshly-cut volumes, and, bringing it to M. de Montbron, said to him, with a smile and a celestial expression of joy and happiness: "I was wrong—I am vain. Just read this—aloud, if you please. I tell you that I can wait for to-morrow." Presenting the book to the count, she pointed out one passage with the tip of her charming finger. Then she sank down upon the couch, and, in an attitude of deep attention, with her body bent forward, her hands crossed upon the cushion, her chin resting upon her hands, her large eyes fixed with a sort of adoration on the Indian Bacchus, that was just opposite to her, she appeared by this impassioned contemplation to prepare herself to listen to M. de Montbron.
The latter, much astonished, began to read, after again looking at Adrienne, who said to him, in her most coaxing voice, "Very slowly, I beg of you."
M. de Montbron then read the following passage from the journal of a traveller in India: "'When I was at Bombay, in 1829, I constantly heard amongst the English there, of a young hero, the son of—'"
The count having paused a second, by reason of the barbarous spelling of the name of Djalma's father, Adrienne immediately said to him, in her soft voice: "The son of Kadja-sing."
"What a memory!" said the count, with a smile. And he resumed: "'A young hero, the son of Kadja-sing, king of Mundi. On his return from a distant and sanguinary expedition amongst the mountains against this Indian king, Colonel Drake was filled with enthusiasm for this son of Kadja-sing, known as Djalma. Hardly beyond the age of childhood, this young prince has in the course of this implacable war given proofs of such chivalrous intrepidity, and of so noble a character, that his father has been surnamed the Father of the Generous.'"
"That is a touching custom," said the count. "To recompense the father, as it were, by giving him a surname in honor of his son, is a great idea. But how strange you should have met with this book!" added the count, in surprise. "I can understand; there is matter here to inflame the coolest head."
"Oh! you will see, you will see," said Adrienne.
The count continued to read: "'Colonel Drake, one of the bravest and best officers of the English army, said yesterday, in my presence, that having been dangerously wounded, and taken prisoner by Prince Djalma, after an energetic resistance, he had been conveyed to the camp established in the village of—"
Here there was the same hesitation on the part of the count, on seeing a still more barbarous name than the first; so, not wishing to try the adventure, he paused, and said to Adrienne, "Now really, I give this up."
"And yet it is so easy!" replied Adrienne; and she pronounced with inexpressible softness, a name in itself soft, "The village of Shumshabad."
"You appear to have an infallible process for remembering geographical names," said the count, continuing: "'Once arrived at the camp, Colonel Drake received the kindest hospitality, and Prince Djalma treated him with the respect of a son. It was there that the colonel became acquainted with some facts, which carried to the highest pitch his enthusiasm for prince Djalma. I heard him relate the two following.
"'In one of the battles, the prince was accompanied by a young Indian of about twelve years of age, whom he loved tenderly, and who served him as a page, following him on horseback to carry his spare weapons. This child was idolized by its mother; just as they set out on the expedition, she had entrusted her son to Prince Djalma's care, saying, with a stoicism worthy of antiquity, "Let him be your brother." "He shall be my brother," had replied the prince. In the height of a disastrous defeat, the child is severely wounded, and his horse killed; the prince, at peril of his life, notwithstanding the perception of a forced retreat, disengages him, and places him on the croup of his own horse; they are pursued; a musket-ball strikes their steed, who is just able to reach a jungle, in the midst of which, after some vain efforts, he falls exhausted. The child is unable to walk, but the prince carries him in his arms, and hides with him in the thickest part of the jungle. The English arrive, and begin their search; but the two victims escape. After a night and a day of marches, counter-marches, stratagems, fatigues, unheard-of perils, the prince, still, carrying the child, one of whose legs is broken, arrives at his father's camp, and says, with the utmost simplicity, "I had promised his mother that I would act a brother's part by him—and I have done so."'
"That is admirable!" cried the count.
"Go on—pray go on!" said Adrienne, drying a tear, without removing her eyes from the bas-relief, which she continued to contemplate with growing adoration.
The count continued: "'Another time, Prince Djalma, followed by two black slaves, went, before sunrise, to a very wild spot, to seize a couple of tiger cubs only a few days old. The den had been previously discovered. The two old tigers were still abroad. One of the blacks entered the den by a narrow aperture; the other, aided by Djalma, cut down a tolerably large tree, to prepare a trap for one of the old tigers. On the side of the aperture, the cavern was exceedingly steep. The prince mounted to the top of it with agility, to set his trap, with the aid of the other black. Suddenly, a dreadful roar was heard; and, in a few bounds, the tigress, returning from the chase, reached the opening of the den. The black who was laying the trap with the prince had his skull fractured by her bite; the tree, falling across the entrance, prevented the female from penetrating the cavern, and at the same time stopped the exit of the black who had seized the cubs.
"'About twenty feet higher, upon a ledge of rock, the prince lay flat on the ground, looking down upon this frightful spectacle. The tigress, rendered furious by the cries of her little ones, gnawed the hands of the black, who, from the interior of the den, strove to support the trunk of the tree, his only rampart, whilst he uttered the most lamentable outcries.'
"It is horrible!" said the count.
"Oh! go on! pray go on!" exclaimed Adrienne, with excitement; "you will see what can be achieved by the heroism of goodness."
The count pursued: "'Suddenly the prince seized his dagger between his teeth, fastened his sash to a block of stone, took his axe in one hand, and with the other slid down this substitute for a rope; falling a few steps from the wild beast, he sprang upon her, and, swift as lightning, dealt her two mortal strokes, just as the black, losing his strength, was about to drop the trunk of the tree, sure to have been torn to pieces.'"
"And you are astonished at his resemblance with the demi-god, to whom fable itself ascribes no more generous devotion!" cried the young lady, with still increasing excitement.
"I am astonished no longer, I only admire," said the count, in a voice of emotion; "and, at these two noble instances of heroism, my heart beats with enthusiasm, as if I were still twenty."
"And the noble heart of this traveller beat like yours at the recital," said Adrienne; "you will see."
"'What renders so admirable the intrepidity of the prince, is, that, according to the principle of Indian castes, the life of a slave is of no importance; thus a king's son, risking his life for the safety of a poor creature, so generally despised, obeyed an heroic and truly Christian instinct of charity, until then unheard of in this country."
"'Two such actions,' said Colonel Drake, with good reason, 'are sufficient to paint the man; it is with a feeling of profound respect and admiration, therefore, that I, an obscure traveller, have written the name of Prince Djalma in my book; and at the same time, I have experienced a kind of sorrow, when I have asked myself what would be the future fate of this prince, buried in the depths of a savage country, always devastated by war. However humble may be the homage that I pay to this character, worthy of the heroic age, his name will at least be repeated with generous enthusiasm by all those who have hearts that beat in sympathy with what is great and noble.'"
"And just now, when I read those simple and touching lines," resumed Adrienne, "I could not forbear pressing my lips to the name of the traveller."
"Yes; he is such as I thought him," cried the count, with still more emotion, as he returned the book to Adrienne, who rose, with a grave and touching air, and said to him: "It was thus I wished you to know him, that you might understand my adoration; for this courage, this heroic goodness, I had guessed beforehand, when I was an involuntary listener to his conversation. From that moment, I knew him to be generous as intrepid, tender and sensitive as energetic and resolute; and when I saw him so marvellously beautiful—so different, in the noble character of his countenance, and even in the style of his garments, from all I had hitherto met with—when I saw the impression that I made upon him, and which I perhaps felt still more violently—I knew that my whole life was bound up with his love."
"And now, what are your plans?"
"Divine, radiant as my heart. When he learns his happiness, I wish that Djalma should feel dazzled as I do, so as to prevent my gazing on my sun; for I repeat, that until tomorrow will be a century to me. Yes, it is strange! I should have thought that after such a discovery, I should feel the want of being left alone, plunged in an ocean of delicious dreams. But no! from this time till to-morrow—I dread solitude—I feel a kind of feverish impatience—uneasy—ardent—Oh! where is the beneficent fairy, that, touching me with her wand, will lull me into slumber till to-morrow!"
"I will be that beneficent fairy," said the count, smiling.
"And how so?"
"The power of my wand is this: I will relieve you from a portion of your thoughts by making them materially visible."
"Pray explain yourself."
"And my plan will have another advantage for you. Listen to me; you are so happy now that you can hear anything. Your odious aunt, and her equally odious friends, are spreading the report that your residence with Dr. Baleinier—"
"Was rendered necessary by the derangement of my mind," said Adrienne, with a smile; "I expected that."
"It is stupid enough; but, as your resolution to live alone makes many envious of you, and many hostile, you must feel that there will be no want of persons ready to believe the most absurd calumny possible."
"I hope as much. To pass for mad in the eyes of fools is very flattering."
"Yes; but to prove to fools that they are fools, and that in the face of all Paris, is much more amusing. Now, people begin to talk of your absence; you have given up your daily rides; for some time my niece has appeared alone in our box at the Opera; you wish to kill the time till to-morrow—well! here is an excellent opportunity. It is two o'clock; at halfpast three, my niece will come in the carriage; the weather is splendid; there is sure to be a crowd in the Bois de Boulogne. You can take a delightful ride, and be seen by everybody. Then, as the air and movement will have calmed your fever of happiness, I will commence my magic this evening, and take you to India."
"Into the midst of one of those wild forests, in which roar the lion, the panther, and the tiger. We will have this heroic combat, which so moved you just now, under our own eyes, in all its terrible reality."
"Really, my dear count, you must be joking."
"Not at all; I promise to show you real wild beasts, formidable tenants of the country of our demigod—growling tigers—roaring lions—do you not think that will be better than books?"
"Come! I must give you the secret of my supernatural power. On returning from your ride, you shall dine with my niece, and we will go together to a very curious spectacle now exhibiting at the Porte-Saint-Martin Theatre. A most extraordinary lion-tamer there shows you a number of wild beasts, in a state of nature, in the midst of a forest (here only commences the illusion), and has fierce combats with them all—tigers, lions, and panthers. All Paris is crowding to these representations, and all Paris will see you there, more charming than ever."
"I accept your offer," said Adrienne, with childish delight. "Yes, you are right. I feel a strange pleasure in beholding these ferocious monsters, who will remind me of those that my demi-god so heroically overcame. I accept also, because, for the first time in my life, I am anxious to be admired—even by everybody. I accept finally because—" Here Mdlle. de Cardoville was interrupted by a low knock at the door, and by the entrance of Florine, who announced M. Rodin.
CHAPTER X. THE EXECUTION.
Rodin entered. A rapid glance at Mdlle. de Cardoville and M. de Montbron told him at once that he was in a dilemma. In fact, nothing could be less encouraging than the faces of Adrienne and the count. The latter, when he disliked people, exhibited his antipathy, as we have already said, by an impertinently aggressive manner, which had before now occasioned a good number of duels. At sight of Rodin, his countenance at once assumed a harsh and insolent expression; resting his elbow on the chimney-piece, and conversing with Adrienne, he looked disdainfully over his shoulder, without taking the least notice of the Jesuit's low bow. On the other hand, at sight of this man, Mdlle. de Cardoville almost felt surprise, that she should experience no movement of anger or hatred. The brilliant flame which burned in her heart, purified it from every vindictive sentiment. She smiled, on the contrary; for, glancing with gentle pride at the Indian Bacchus, and then at herself, she asked herself what two beings, so young, and fair, and free, and loving, could have to fear from this old, sordid man, with his ignoble and base countenance, now advancing towards her with the writhing of a reptile. In a word, far from feeling anger or aversion with regard to Rodin, the young lady seemed full of the spirit of mocking gayety, and her large eyes, already lighted up with happiness, now sparkled with irony and mischief. Rodin felt himself ill at ease. People of his stamp greatly prefer violent to mocking enemies. They can encounter bursts of rage—sometimes by falling on their knees, weeping, groaning, and beating their breasts—sometimes by turning on their adversary, armed and implacable. But they are easily disconcerted by biting raillery; and thus it was with Rodin. He saw that between Adrienne de Cardoville and M. de Montbron, he was about to be placed in what is vulgarly termed a "regular fix."
The count opened the fire; still glancing over his shoulder, he said to Rodin: "Ah! you are here, my benevolent gentleman!"
"Pray, sir, draw a little nearer," said Adrienne, with a mocking smile. "Best of friends and model of philosophers—as well as declared enemy of all fraud and falsehood—I have to pay you a thousand compliments."
"I accent anything from you, my dear young lady, even though undeserved," said the Jesuit, trying to smile, and thus exposing his vile yellow teeth; "but may I be informed how I have earned these compliments?"
"Your penetration, sir, which is rare—" replied Adrienne.
"And your veracity, sir," said the count, "which is perhaps no less rare—"
"In what have I exhibited my penetration, my dear young lady?" said Rodin, coldly. "In what my veracity?" added he, turning towards M. de Montbron.
"In what, sir?" said Adrienne. "Why, you have guessed a secret surrounded by difficulties and mystery. In a word, you have known how to read the depths of a woman's heart."
"I, my dear young lady?"
"You, sir! rejoice at it, for your penetration has had the most fortunate results."
"And your veracity has worked wonders," added the count.
"It is pleasant to do good, even without knowing it," said Rodin, still acting on the defensive, and throwing side glances by turns on the count and Adrienne; "but will you inform me what it is that deserves this praise—"
"Gratitude obliges me to inform you of it," said Adrienne, maliciously; "you have discovered, and told Prince Djalma, that I was passionately in love. Well! I admire your penetration; it was true."
"You have also discovered, and told this lady, that Prince Djalma was passionately in love," resumed the count. "Well! I admire your penetration, my dear sir; it was true."
Rodin looked confused, and at a loss for a reply.
"The person that I loved so passionately," said Adrienne, "was the prince."
"The person that the prince loved so passionately," resumed the count, "was this lady."
These revelations, so sudden and alarming, almost stunned Rodin; he remained mute and terrified, thinking of the future.
"Do you understand now, sir, the extent of our gratitude towards you?" resumed Adrienne, in a still more mocking tone. "Thanks to your sagacity, thanks to the touching interest you take in us, the prince and I are indebted to you for the knowledge of our mutual sentiments."
The Jesuit had now gradually recovered his presence of mind, and his apparent calmness greatly irritated M. de Montbron, who, but for Adrienne's presence, would have assumed another tone than jests.
"There is some mistake," said Rodin, "in what you have done me the honor to tell me, my dear young lady. I have never in my life spoken of the sentiments, however worthy and respectable, that you may entertain for Prince Djalma—"
"That is true," replied Adrienne; "with scrupulous and exquisite discretion, whenever you spoke to me of the deep love felt by Prince Djalma, you carried your reserve and delicacy so far as to inform me that it was not I whom he loved."
"And the same scruple induced you to tell the prince that Mdlle. de Cardoville loved some one passionately—but that he was not the person," added the count.
"Sir," answered Rodin, dryly, "I need hardly tell you that I have no desire to mix myself up with amorous intrigues."
"Come! this is either pride or modesty," said the count, insolently. "For your own interest, pray do not advance such things; for, if we took you at your word, and it became known, it might injure some of the nice little trades that you carry on."
"There is one at least," said Rodin, drawing himself up as proudly as M. de Montbron, "whose rude apprenticeship I shall owe to you. It is the wearisome one of listening to your discourse."
"I tell you what, my good sir!" replied the count, disdainfully: "you force me to remind you that there are more ways than one of chastising impudent rogues."
"My dear count!" said Adrienne to M. de Montbron, with an air of reproach.
With perfect coolness, Rodin replied: "I do not exactly see, sir, first, what courage is shown by threatening a poor old man like myself, and, secondly—"
"M. Rodin," said the count, interrupting the Jesuit, "first, a poor old man like you, who does evil under the shelter of the age he dishonors, is both cowardly and wicked, and deserves a double chastisement; secondly, with regard to this question of age, I am not aware that gamekeepers and policemen bow down respectfully to the gray coats of old wolves, and the gray hairs of old thieves. What do you think, my good sir?"