Still impassible, Rodin raised his flabby eyelids, fixed for hardly a second his little reptile eye upon the count, and darted at him one of his rapid, cold, and piercing glances—and then the livid eyelid again covered the dull eye of that corpse-like face.
"Not having the disadvantage of being an old wolf, and still less an old thief," said Rodin, quietly, "you will permit me, sir, to take no account of the pursuit of hunters and police. As for the reproaches made me, I have a very simple method of answering—I do not say of justifying myself—I never justify myself—"
"You don't say!" said the count.
"Never," resumed Rodin coolly; "my acts are sufficient for that. I will then simply answer that seeing the deep, violent, almost fearful impression made by this lady on the prince—"
"Let this assurance which you give me of the prince's love," said Adrienne interrupting Rodin with an enchanting smile, "absolve you of all the evil you wished to do me. The sight of our happiness be your only punishment!"
"It may be that I need neither absolution nor punishment, for, as I have already had the honor to observe to the count, my dear young lady, the future will justify my acts. Yes; it was my duty to tell the prince that you loved another than himself, and to tell you that he loved another than yourself—all in your mutual interest. That my attachment for you may have misled me, is possible—I am not infallible; but, after my past conduct towards you, my dear young lady, I have, perhaps, some right to be astonished at seeing myself thus treated. This is not a complaint. If I never justify myself, I never complain either."
"Now really, there is something heroic in all this, my good sir," said the count. "You do not condescend to complain or justify yourself, with regard to the evil you have done."
"The evil I have done?" said Rodin, looking fixedly at the count. "Are we playing at enigmas?"
"What, sir!" cried the count, with indignation: "is it nothing, by your falsehoods, to have plunged the prince into so frightful a state of despair, that he has twice attempted his life? Is it nothing, by similar falsehoods, to have induced this lady to believe so cruel and complete an error, that but for the resolution I have to-day taken, it might have led to the most fatal consequences?"
"And will you do me the honor to tell me, sir, what interest I could have in all this despair and error, admitting even that I had wished to produce them?"
"Some great interest no doubt," said the count, bluntly; "the more dangerous that it is concealed. You are one of those, I see, to whom the woes of others are pleasure and profit."
"That is really too much, sir," said Rodin, bowing; "I should be quite contented with the profit."
"Your impudent coolness will not deceive me; this is a serious matter," said the count. "It is impossible that so perfidious a piece of roguery can be an isolated act. Who knows but this may still be one of the fruits of Madame de Saint-Dizier's hatred for Mdlle. de Cardoville?"
Adrienne had listened to the preceding discussion with deep attention. Suddenly she started, as if struck by a sudden revelation.
After a moment's silence, she said to Rodin, without anger, without bitterness, but with an expression of gentle and serene calmness: "We are told, sir, that happy love works miracles. I should be tempted to believe it; for, after some minutes' reflection, and when I recall certain circumstances, your conduct appears to me in quite a new light."
"And what may this new perspective be, my dear young lady?"
"That you may see it from my point of view, sir, allow me to remind you of a few facts. That sewing-girl was generously devoted to me; she had given me unquestionable proofs of her attachment. Her mind was equal to her noble heart; but she had an invincible dislike to you. All on a sudden she disappears mysteriously from my house, and you do your best to cast upon her odious suspicions. M. de Montbron has a paternal affection for me; but, as I must confess, little sympathy for you; and you have always tried to produce a coldness between us. Finally, Prince Djalma has a deep affection for me, and you employ the most perfidious treachery to kill that sentiment within him. For what end do you act thus? I do not know; but certainly with some hostile design."
"It appears to me, madame," said Rodin, severely, "that you have forgotten services performed."
"I do not deny, sir, that you took me from the house of Dr. Baleinier; but, a few days sooner or later, I must infallibly have been released by M. de Montbron."
"You are right, my dear child," said the count; "it may be that your enemies wished to claim the merit of what must necessarily have happened through the exertions of your friends."
"You are drowning, and I save you—it is all a mistake to feel grateful," said Rodin, bitterly; "some one else would no doubt have saved you a little later."
"The comparison is wanting in exactness," said Adrienne, with a smile; "a lunatic asylum is not a river, and though, from what I see, I think you quite capable of diving, you have had no occasion to swim on this occasion. You merely opened a door for me, which would have opened of itself a little later."
"Very good, my dear child!" said the count, laughing heartily at Adrienne's reply.
"I know, sir, that your care did not extend to me only. The daughters of Marshal Simon were brought back by you; but we may imagine that the claim of the Duke de Ligny to the possession of his daughters would not have been in vain. You returned to an old soldier his imperial cross, which he held to be a sacred relic; it is a very touching incident. Finally, you unmasked the Abbe d'Aigrigny and Dr. Baleinier: but I had already made up my mind to unmask then. However, all this proves that you are a very clever man—"
"Oh, madame!" said Rodin, humbly.
"Full of resources and invention—"
"It is not my fault if, in our long interview at Dr. Baleinier's, you betrayed that superiority of mind which struck me so forcibly, and which seems to embarrass you so much at present. What would you have, sir?—great minds like yours find it difficult to maintain their incognito. Yet, as by different ways—oh! very different," added the young lady, maliciously, "we are tending to the same end (still keeping in view our conversation at Dr. Baleinier's), I wish, for the sake of our future communion, as you call it, to give you a piece of advice, and speak frankly to you."
Rodin had listened to Mdlle. de Cardoville with apparent impassibility, holding his hat under his arm, and twirling his thumbs, whilst his hands were crossed upon his waistcoat. The only external mark of the intense agitation into which he was thrown by the calm words of Adrienne, was that the livid eyelids of the Jesuit, which had been hypocritically closed, became gradually red, as the blood flowed into them. Nevertheless, he answered Mdlle. de Cardoville in a firm voice, and with a low bow: "Good advice and frankness are always excellent things."
"You see, sir," resumed Adrienne, with some excitement, "happy love bestows such penetration, such energy, such courage, as enables one to laugh at perils, to detect stratagems, and to defy hatred. Believe me, the divine light which surrounds two loving hearts will be sufficient to disperse all darkness, and reveal every snare. You see, in India—excuse my weakness, but I like to talk of India," added the young girl, with a smile of indescribable grace and meaning—"in India, when travellers sleep at night, they kindle great fires round their ajoupa (excuse this touch of local coloring), and far as extends the luminous circle, it puts to flight by its mere brilliancy, all the impure and venomous reptiles that shun the day and live only in darkness."
"The meaning of this comparison has quite escaped me," said Rodin, continuing to twirl his thumbs, and half raising his eyelids, which were getting redder and redder.
"I will speak more plainly," said Adrienne, with a smile. "Suppose, sir, that the last is a service which you have rendered me and the prince—for you only proceed by way of services—that, I acknowledge, is novel and ingenious."
"Bravo, my dear child!" said the count, joyfully. "The execution will be complete."
"Oh! this is meant for an execution?" said Rodin, still impassible.
"No, sir," answered Adrienne, with a smile; "it is a simple conversation between a poor young girl and an old philosopher, the friend of humanity. Suppose, then, that these frequent services that you have rendered to me and mine have suddenly opened my eyes; or, rather," added the young girl, in a serious tone, "suppose that heaven, who gives to the mother the instinct to defend her child, has given me, along with happiness, the instinct to preserve my happiness, and that a vague presentiment, by throwing light on a thousand circumstances until now obscure, has suddenly revealed to me that, instead of being the friend, you are perhaps, the most dangerous enemy of myself and family."
"So we pass from the execution to suppositions," said Rodin, still immovable.
"And from suppositions, sir, if you must have it, to certainty," resumed Adrienne, with dignified firmness; "yes, now I believe that I was for awhile your dupe, and I tell you, without hate, without anger, but with regret—that it is painful to see a man of your sense and intelligence stoop to such machinations, and, after having recourse to so many diabolical manoeuvres, finish at last by being ridiculous; for, believe me, there is nothing more ridiculous for a man like you, than to be vanquished by a young girl, who has no weapon, no defence, no instructor, but her love. In a word, sir, I look upon you from to-day as an implacable and dangerous enemy; for I half perceive your aim, without guessing by what means you will seek to accomplish it, No doubt your future means will be worthy of the past. Well! in spite of all this, I do not fear you. From tomorrow, my family will be informed of everything, and an active, intelligent, resolute union will keep us all upon our guard, for it doubtless concerns this enormous inheritance, of which they wish to deprive us. Now, what connection can there be between the wrongs I reproach you with and the pecuniary end proposed? I do not at all know—but you have told me yourself that our enemies are so dangerously skillful, and their craft so far-reaching, that we must expect all, be prepared for all. I will remember the lesson. I have promised you frankness, sir, and now I suppose you have it."
"It would be an imprudent frankness if I were your enemy," said Rodin, still impassible; "but you also promised me some advice, my dear young lady."
"My advice will be short; do not attempt to continue the struggle, because, you see, there is something stronger than you and yours—it is a woman's resolve, defending her happiness."
Adrienne pronounced these last words with so sovereign a confidence; her beautiful countenance shone, as is it were, with such intrepid joy, that Rodin, notwithstanding his phlegmatic audacity, was for a moment frightened. Yet he did not appear in the least disconcerted; and, after a moment's silence, he resumed, with an air of almost contemptuous compassion: "My dear young lady, we may perhaps never meet again; it is probable. Only remember one thing, which I now repeat to you: I never justify myself. The future will provide for that. Notwithstanding which, my dear young lady, I am your humble servant;" and he made her a low bow.
"Count, I beg to salute you most respectfully," he added, bowing still more humbly to M. de Montbron; and he went out.
Hardly had Rodin left the room than Adrienne ran to her desk, and writing a few hasty lines, sealed the note, and said to M. de Montbron: "I shall not see the prince before to-morrow—as much from superstition of the heart as because it is necessary for my plans that this interview should be attended with some little solemnity. You shall know all; but I write to him on the instant, for, with an enemy like M. Rodin, one must be prepared for all."
"You are right, my dear child; quick! the letter." Adrienne gave it to him.
"I tell him enough," said she, "to calm his grief; and not enough to deprive me of the delicious happiness of the surprise I reserve for to morrow."
"All this has as much sense as heart in it: I will hasten to the prince's abode, to deliver your letter. I shall not see him, for I could not answer for myself. But come! our proposed drive, our evening's amusement, are still to hold good."
"Certainly. I have more need than ever to divert my thoughts till to morrow. I feel, too, that the fresh air will do me good, for this interview with M. Rodin has warmed me a little."
"The old wretch! but we will talk further of him. I will hasten to the prince's and return with Madame de Morinval, to fetch you to the Champs Elysees."
The Count de Montbron withdrew precipitately, as joyful at his departure as he had been sad on his arrival.
CHAPTER XI. THE CHAMPS-ELYSEES
It was about two hours after the interview of Rodin with Mdlle. de Cardoville. Numerous loungers, attracted to the Champs-Elysees by the serenity of a fine spring day (it was towards the end of the month of March) stopped to admire a very handsome equipage. A bright-blue open carriage, with white-and-blue wheels, drawn by four superb horses, of cream color, with black manes, and harness glittering with silver ornaments, mounted by two boy postilions of equal size, with black velvet caps, light-blue cassimere jackets with white collars, buckskin breeches, and top-boots; two tall, powdered footmen, also in light-blue livery, with white collars and facings, being seated in the rumble behind.
No equipage could have been turned out in better style. The horses, full of blood, spirit, and vigor, were skillfully managed by the postilions, and stepped with singular regularity, gracefully keeping time in their movements, champing their bits covered with foam, and ever and anon shaking their cockades of blue and white silk, with long floating ends, and a bright rose blooming in the midst.
A man on horseback, dressed with elegant simplicity, keeping at the other side of the avenue, contemplated with proud satisfaction this equipage which he had, as it were, created. It was M. de Bonneville—Adrienne's equerry, as M. de Montbron called him—for the carriage belonged to that young lady. A change had taken place in the plan for this magic day's amusement. M. de Montbron had not been able to deliver Mdlle. de Cardoville's note to Prince Djalma. Faringhea had told him that the prince had gone that morning into the country with Marshal Simon, and would not be back before evening. The letter should be given him on his arrival. Completely satisfied as to Djalma, knowing that he could find these few lines, which, without informing him of the happiness that awaited him, would at least give him some idea of it, Adrienne had followed the advice of M. de Montbron, and gone to the drive in her own carriage, to show all the world that she had quite made up her mind, in spite of the perfidious reports circulated by the Princess de Saint Dizier, to keep to her resolution of living by herself in her own way. Adrienne wore a small white bonnet, with a fall of blonde, which well became her rosy face and golden hair; her high dress of garnet-colored velvet was almost hidden beneath a large green cashmere shawl. The young Marchioness de Morinval, who was also very pretty and elegant, was seated at her right. M. de Montbron occupied the front seat of the carriage.
Those who know the Parisian world, or rather, that imperceptible fraction of the world of Paris which goes every fine, sunny day to the Champs Elysees, to see and be seen, will understand that the presence of Mdlle. de Cardoville on that brilliant promenade was an extraordinary and interesting event.
The world (as it is called) could hardly believe its eyes, on seeing this lady of eighteen, possessed of princely wealth, and belonging to the highest nobility, thus prove to every one, by this appearance in public, that she was living completely free and independent, contrary to all custom and received notions of propriety. This kind of emancipation appeared something monstrous, and people were almost astonished that the graceful and dignified bearing of the young lady should belie so completely the calumnies circulated by Madame de Saint-Dizier and her friends, with regard to the pretended madness of her niece. Many beaux, profiting by their acquaintance with the Marchioness de Morinval or M. de Montbron, came by turns to pay their respects, and rode for a few minutes by the side of the carriage, so as to have an opportunity of seeing, admiring, and perhaps hearing, Mdlle. de Cardoville; she surpassed their expectations, by talking with her usual grace and spirit. Then surprise and enthusiasm knew no bounds. What had at first been blamed as an almost insane caprice, was now voted a charming originality, and it only depended on Mdlle. de Cardoville herself, to be declared from that day the queen of elegance and fashion. The young lady understood very well the impression she had made; she felt proud and happy, for she thought of Djalma; when she compared him to all these men of fashion, her happiness was the more increased. And, verily, these young men, most of whom had never quitted Paris, or had ventured at most as far as Naples or Baden, looked insignificant enough by the side of Djalma, who, at his age, had so many times commanded and combated in bloody wars, and whose reputation far courage and generosity, mentioned by travellers with admiration, had already reached from India to Paris. And then, how could these charming exquisites, with their small hats, their scanty frock-coats, and their huge cravats, compare with the Indian prince, whose graceful and manly beauty was still heightened by the splendor of a costume, at once so rich and so picturesque?
On this happy day, all was joy and love for Adrienne. The sun, setting in a splendidly serene sky, flooded the promenade with its golden light. The air was warm. Carriages and horsemen passed and repassed in rapid succession; a light breeze played with the scarfs of the women, and the plumes in their bonnets; all around was noise, movement, sunshine. Adrienne, leaning back in her carriage, amused herself with watching this busy scene, sparkling with Parisian luxury; but, in the vortex of this brilliant chaos, she saw in thought the mild, melancholy countenance of Djalma—when suddenly something fell into her lap, and she started. It was a bunch of half-faded violets. At the same instant she heard a child's voice following the carriage, and saying: "For the love of heaven, my good lady, one little sou!" Adrienne turned her head, and saw a poor little girl, pale and wan, with mild, sorrowful features, scarcely covered with rags, holding out her hand, and raising her eyes in supplication. Though the striking contrast of extreme misery, side by side with extreme luxury, is so common, that it no longer excites attention, Adrienne was deeply affected by it. She thought of Mother Bunch, now, perhaps, the victim of frightful destitution.
"Ah! at least," thought the young lady, "let not this day be one of happiness for me alone!"
She leaned from the carriage-window, and said to the poor child: "Have you a mother, my dear?"
"No, my lady, I have neither father nor mother."
"Who takes care of you?"
"No one, my lady. They give me nosegays to sell, and I must bring home money—or they beat me."
"Poor little thing!"
"A sou, my good lady—a sou, for the love of heaven!" said the child, continuing to follow the carriage, which was then moving slowly.
"My dear count," said Adrienne, smiling, and addressing M. de Montbron, "you are, unfortunately, no novice at an elopement. Please to stretch forth your arms, take up that child with both hands, and lift her into the carriage. We can hide her between Lady de Morinval and myself; and we can drive away before any one perceives this audacious abduction."
"What!" said the count, in surprise. "You wish—"
"Yes; I beg you to do it."
"What a folly!"
"Yesterday, you might, perhaps, have treated this caprice as a folly; but to-day," said Adrienne, laying great stress upon the word, and glancing at M. de Montbron with a significant air, "to-day, you should understand that it is almost a duty."
"Yes, I understand you, good and noble heart!" said the count, with emotion; while Lady de Morinval, who knew nothing of Mdlle. de Cardoville's love for Djalma, looked with as much surprise as curiosity at the count and the young lady.
M. de Montbron, leaning from the carriage, stretched out his arms towards the child, and said to her: "Give me your hands, little girl."
Though much astonished, the child obeyed mechanically, and held out both her little arms; then the count took her by the wrists, and lifted her lightly from the ground, which he did the more easily, as the carnage was very low, and its progress by no means rapid. More stupefied than frightened, the child said not a word. Adrienne and Lady de Morinval made room for her to crouch down between them, and the little girl was soon hidden beneath the shawls of the two young women. All this was executed so quickly, that it was hardly perceived by a few persons passing in the side-avenues.
"Now, my dear count," said Adrienne, radiant with pleasure, "let us make off at once with our prey."
M. de Montbron half rose, and called to the postilions. "Home!" and the four horses started at once into a rapid and regular trot.
"This day of happiness now seems consecrated, and my luxury is excused," thought Adrienne; "till I can again meet with that poor Mother Bunch, and from this day I will make every exertion to find her out, her place will at least not be quite empty."
There are often strange coincidences in life. At the moment when this thought of the hunchback crossed the mind of Adrienne, a crowd had collected in one of the side-avenues, and other persons soon ran to join the group.
"Look, uncle!" said Lady de Morinval; "how many people are assembled yonder. What can it be? Shall we stop, and send to inquire?"
"I am sorry, my dear, but your curiosity cannot be satisfied," said the count, drawing out his watch; "it will soon be six o'clock, and the exhibition of the wild beasts begin at eight. We shall only just have time to go home and dine. Is not that your opinion, my dear child?" said he to Adrienne.
"And yours, Julia?" said Mdlle. de Cardoville to the marchioness.
"Oh, certainly!" answered her friend.
"I am the less inclined to delay," resumed the count, "as when I have taken you to the Porte-Saint-Martin, I shall be obliged to go for half an-hour to my club, to ballot for Lord Campbell, whom I propose."
"Then, Adrienne and I will be left alone at the play, uncle?"
"Your husband will go with you, I suppose."
"True, dear uncle; but do not quite leave us, because of that."
"Be sure I shall not: for I am curious as you are to see these terrible animals, and the famous Morok, the incomparable lion-tamer."
A few minutes after, Mdlle. de Cardoville's carriage had left the Champs Elysees, carrying with it the little girl, and directing its course towards the Rue d'Anjou. As the brilliant equipage disappeared from the scene, the crowd, of which we before have spoken, greatly increased about one of the large trees in the Champs-Elysees, and expressions of pity were heard here and there amongst the groups. A lounger approached a young man on the skirts of the crowd, and said to him: "What is the matter, sir?"
"I hear it is a poor young girl, a hunchback, that has fallen from exhaustion."
"A hunchback! is that all? There will always be enough hunchbacks," said the lounger, brutally, with a coarse laugh.
"Hunchback or not, if she dies of hunger," answered the young man, scarcely able to restrain his indignation, "it will be no less sad—and there is really nothing to laugh at, sir."
"Die of hunger! pooh!" said the lounger, shrugging his shoulders. "It is only lazy scoundrels, that will not work, who die of hunger. And it serves them right."
"I wager, sir, there is one death you will never die of," cried the young man, incensed at the cruel insolence of the lounger.
"What do you mean?" answered the other, haughtily.
"I mean, sir, that your heart is not likely to kill you."
"Sir!" cried the lounger in an angry tone.
"Well! what, sir?" replied the young man, looking full in his face.
"Nothing," said the lounger, turning abruptly on his heel, and grumbling as he sauntered towards an orange-colored cabriolet, on which was emblazoned an enormous coat-of-arms, surmounted by a baron's crest. A servant in green livery, ridiculously laced with gold, was standing beside the horse, and did not perceive his master.
"Are you catching flies, fool?" said the latter, pushing him with his cane. The servant turned round in confusion. "Sir," said he.
"Will you never learn to call me Monsieur le Baron, rascal?" cried his master, in a rage—"Open the door directly!"
The lounger was Baron Tripeaud, the manufacturing baron the stock-jobber. The poor hunchback was Mother Bunch, who had, indeed fallen with hunger and fatigue, whilst on her way to Mdlle. de Cardoville's. The unfortunate creature had found courage to brave the shame of the ridicule she so much feared, by returning to that house from which she was a voluntary exile; but this time, it was not for herself, but for her sister Cephyse—the Bacchanal Queen, who had returned to Paris the previous day, and whom Mother Bunch now sought, through the means of Adrienne, to rescue from a most dreadful fate.
Two hours after these different scenes, an enormous crowd pressed round the doors of the Porte-Saint-Martin, to witness the exercises of Morok, who was about to perform a mock combat with the famous black panther of Java, named Death. Adrienne, accompanied by Lord and Lady de Morinval, now stepped from a carriage at the entrance of the theatre. They were to be joined in the course of the evening by M. de Montbron, whom they had dropped, in passing, at his club.
CHAPTER XII. BEHIND THE SCENES.
The large theatre of the Porte-Saint-Martin was crowded by an impatient multitude. All Paris had hurried with eager and burning curiosity to Morok's exhibition. It is quite unnecessary to say that the lion-tamer had completely abandoned his small taste in religious baubles, which he had so successfully carried on at the White Falcon Inn at Leipsic. There were, moreover, numerous tokens by which the surprising effects of Morok's sudden conversion had been blazoned in the most extraordinary pictures: the antiquated baubles in which he had formerly dealt would have found no sale in Paris. Morok had nearly finished dressing himself, in one of the actor's rooms, which had been lent to him. Over a coat of mail, with cuishes and brassarts, he wore an ample pair of red trousers, fastened round his ankles by broad rings of gilt brass. His long caftan of black cloth, embroidered with scarlet and gold, was bound round his waist and wrist by other large rings of gilt metal. This sombre costume imparted to him an aspect still more ferocious. His thick and red-haired beard fell in large quantities down to his chest, and a long piece of white muslin was folded round his red head. A devout missionary in Germany and an actor in Paris, Morok knew as well as his employers, the Jesuits, how to accommodate himself to circumstances.
Seated in one corner of the room, and contemplating with a sort of stupid admiration, was Jacques Rennepont, better known as "Sleepinbuff" (from the likelihood that he would end his days in rags, or his present antipathy to great care in dress). Since the day Hardy's factory had been destroyed by fire, Jacques had not quitted Morok, passing the nights in excesses, which had no baneful effects on the iron constitution of the lion-tamer. On the other's features, on the contrary, a great alteration was perceptible; his hollow cheeks, marble pallor, his eyes, by turns dull and heavy, or gleaming with lurid fire, betrayed the ravages of debauchery, his parched lips were almost constantly curled by a bitter and sardonic smile. His spirit, once gay and sanguine, still struggled against the besotting influence of habitual intoxication. Unfitted for labor, no longer able to forego gross pleasures, Jacques sought to drown in wine a few virtuous impulses which he still possessed, and had sunk so low as to accept without shame the large dole of sensual gratification proffered him by Morok, who paid all the expenses of their orgies, but never gave him money, in order that he might be completely dependent on him. After gazing at Morok for some time in amazement, Jacques said to him, in a familiar tone: "Well, yours is a famous trade; you may boast that, at this moment, there are not two men like you in the whole world That's flattering. It's a pity you don't stick to this fine trade."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, how is the conspiracy going on, in whose honor you make me keep it up all day and all night?"
"It is working, but the time is not yet come; that is why I wish to have you always at hand, till the great day. Do you complain?"
"Hang it, no!" said Jacques. "What could I do? Burnt up with brandy as I am, if I wanted to work, I've no longer the strength to do so. I have not, like you, a head of marble, and a body of iron; but as for fuddling myself with gunpowder, instead of anything else, that'll do for me; I'm only fit for that work now—and then, it will drive away thought."
"Oh what kind?"
"You know that when I do think, I think only of one thing," said Jacques, gloomily.
"The Bacchanal queen?—still?" said Morok, in a disdainful tone.
"Still! rather: when I shall think of her no longer, I shall be dead—or stupefied. Fiend!"
"You were never better or more intelligent, you fool!" replied Morok, fastening his turban. The conversation was here interrupted. Morok's aider entered hastily.
The gigantic form of this Hercules had increased in width. He was habited like Alcides; his enormous limbs, furrowed with veins as thick as whipcord, were covered with a close-fitting flesh-colored garment, to which a pair of red drawers formed a strong contrast.
"Why do you rush in like a storm, Goliath?" said Morok.
"There's a pretty storm in the house; they are beginning to get impatient, and are calling out like madmen. But if that were all!"
"Well, what else?"
"Death will not be able to play this evening."
Morok turned quickly around. He seemed uneasy. "Why so?" he exclaimed.
"I have just seen her! she's crouching at the bottom of her cage; her ears lie so close to her head, she looks as if they had been cut off. You know what that means."
"Is that all?" said Morok, turning to the glass to complete his head dress.
"It's quite enough; she's in one of her tearing fits. Since that night in Germany, when she ripped up that old hack of a white horse, I've not seen her look so savage! her eyes shine like burning candles."
"Then she must have her fine collar on," said Morok, quietly.
"Her fine collar?"
"Yes; her spring-collar."
"And I must be lady's-maid," said the giant. "A nice toilet to attend to!"
"Hold your tongue!"
"That's not all—" continued Goliath, hesitating.
"I might as well tell you at once."
"Will you speak?"
"Well! he is here."
"Who, you stupid brute?"
Morok started; his arms fell powerless by his side. Jacques was struck with the lion-tamer's paleness and troubled countenance.
"The Englishman!—you have seen him?" cried Morok, addressing Goliath. "You are quite sure?"
"Quite sure. I was looking through the peep-hole in the curtain; I saw him in one of the stage-boxes—he wishes to see things close; he's easy to recognize, with his pointed forehead, big nose, and goggle eyes."
Morok shuddered again; usually fierce and unmoved, he appeared to be more and more agitated, and so alarmed, that Jacques said to him: "Who is this Englishman?"
"He has followed me from Strasburg, where he fell in with me," said Morok, with visible dejection. "He travelled with his own horses, by short stages, as I did; stopping where I stopped, so as never to miss one of my exhibitions. But two days before I arrived at Paris, he left me—I thought I was rid of him," said Morok, with a sigh.
"Rid of him!—how you talk!" replied Jacques, surprised; "such a good customer, such an admirer!"
"Aye!" said Morok, becoming more and more agitated; "this wretch has wagered an enormous sum, that I will be devoured in his presence, during one of my performances: he hopes to win his wager—that is why he follows me about."
Sleepinbuff found the John Bull's idea so amusingly eccentric, that, for the first time since a very long period, he burst into a peal of hearty laughter. Morok, pale with rage, rushed towards him with so menacing an air, that Goliath was obliged to interpose.
"Come, come," said Jacques, "don't be angry; if it is serious, I will not laugh any more."
Morok was appeased, and said to Sleepinbuff in a hoarse voice: "Do you think me a coward?"
"No, by heaven!"
"Well! And yet this Englishman, with his grotesque face, frightens me more than any tiger or my panther!"
"You say so, and I believe it," replied Jacques; "but I cannot understand why the presence of this man should alarm you."
"But consider, you dull knave!" cried Morok, "that, obliged to watch incessantly the least movement of the ferocious beast, whom I keep in subjection by my action and my looks, there is something terrible in knowing that two eyes are there—always there—fixed—waiting till the least absence of mind shall expose me to be torn in pieces by the animals."
"Now, I understand," said Jacques, shuddering in his turn. "It is terrible."
"Yes; for once there, though I may not see this cursed Englishman, I fancy I have his two round eyes, fixed and wide open, always before me. My tiger Cain once nearly mutilated my arm, when my attention was drawn away by this Englishman, whom the devil take! Blood and thunder!" cried Morok: "this man will be fatal to me." And Morok paced the room in great agitation.
"Besides, Death lays her ears close to her skull," said Goliath, brutally. "If you persist—mind, I tell you—the Englishman will win his wager this evening."
"Go away, you brute!—don't vex my head with your confounded predictions," cried Morok: "go and prepare Death's collar."
"Well, every one to his taste; you wish the panther to taste you," said the giant, stalking heavily away, after this joke.
"But if you feel these fears," said Jacques, "why do you not say that the panther is ill?"
Morok shrugged his shoulders, and replied with a sort of feverish ferocity, "Have you ever heard of the fierce pleasure of the gamester, who stakes his honor, his life, upon a card? Well! I too—in these daily exhibitions where my life is at stake—find a wild, fierce pleasure in braving death, before a crowded assembly, shuddering and terrified at my audacity. Yes, even in the fear with which this Englishman inspires me, I find, in spite of myself, a terrible excitement, which I abhor, and which yet subjugates me."
At this moment, the stage-manager entered the room, and interrupted the beast-tamer. "May we give the signal, M. Morok?" said the stage-manager. "The overture will not last above ten minutes."
"I am ready," said Morok.
"The police-inspector has just now given orders, that the double chain of the panther, and the iron ring riveted to the floor of the stage, at the end of the cavern in the foreground, shall be again examined; and everything has been reported quite secure."
"Yes—secure—except for me," murmured the beast-tamer.
"So, M. Morok, the signal may be given?"
"The signal may—be given," replied Morok. And the manager went out.
CHAPTER XIII. UP WITH THE CURTAIN.
The usual bell sounded with solemnity behind the scenes the overture began, and, to say the truth, but little attention was paid to it. The interior of the theatre offered a very animated view. With the exception of two stage-boxes even with the dress circle, one to the left, the other to the right of the audience, every seat was occupied. A great number of very fashionable ladies, attracted, as is always the case, by the strange wildness of the spectacle, filled the boxes. The stalls were crowded by most of the young men who; in the morning, had walked their horses on the Champs-Elysees. The observations which passed from one stall to another, will give some idea of their conversation.
"Do you know, my dear boy, there would not be so crowded or fashionable an audience to witness Racine's Athalia?"
"Undoubtedly. What is the beggarly howling of an actor, compared to the roaring of the lion?"
"I cannot understand how the authorities permit this Morok to fasten his panther with a chain to an iron ring in the corner of the stage. If the chain were to break?"
"Talking of broken chains—there's little Mme. de Blinville, who is no tigress. Do you see her in the second tier, opposite?"
"It becomes her very well to have broken, as you say, the marriage chain; she looks very well this season."
"Oh! there is the beautiful Duchess de Saint-Prix; all the world is here to-night—I don't speak of ourselves."
"It is a regular opera night—what a festive scene!"
"Well, after all, people do well to amuse themselves, perhaps it will not be for long."
"Suppose the cholera were to come to Paris?"
"Do you believe in the cholera?"
"To be sure I do! He's coming from the North, with his walking-stick under his arm."
"The devil take him on the road! don't let us see his green visage here."
"They say he's at London."
"A pleasant journey to him."
"Come, let us talk of something else; it may be a weakness, if you please, but I call this a dull subject."
"I believe you."
"Oh! gentlemen—I am not mistaken—no—it is she!"
"Mdlle. de Cardoville! She is coming into the stage-box with Morinval and his wife. It is a complete resuscitation: this morning on the Champs-Elysees; in the evening here."
"Faith, you are right! It is Mdlle. de Cardoville."
"Good heaven! how lovely she is!"
"Lend me your eyeglass."
"Well, what do you think of her?"
"And in addition to her beauty, an inexhaustible flow of wit, three hundred thousand francs a year, high birth, eighteen years of age, and—free as air."
"Yes, that is to say, that, provided it pleased her, I might be to morrow—or even to-day—the happiest of men."
"It is enough to turn one's brain."
"I am told that her mansion, Rue d'Anjou, is like an enchanted palace; a great deal is said about a bath-room and bedroom, worthy of the Arabian Nights."
"And free as air—I come back to that."
"Ah! if I were in her place!"
"My levity would be quite shocking."
"Oh! gentlemen, what a happy man will he be who is loved first!"
"You think, then, that she will have many lovers?"
"Being as free as air—"
"All the boxes are full, except the stage-box opposite to that in which Mdlle. de Cardoville is seated. Happy the occupiers of that box!"
"Did you see the English ambassador's lady in the dress circle?"
"And the Princess d'Alvimar—what an enormous bouquet!"
"I should like to know the name—of that nosegay."
"How flattering for the lions and tigers, to attract so fashionable an audience."
"Do you notice, gentlemen, how all the women are eye-glassing Mdlle. de Cardoville?"
"She makes a sensation."
"She is right to show herself; they gave her out as mad."
"Oh! gentlemen, what a capital phiz!"
"There—in the omnibus-box beneath Mdlle. de Cardoville's."
"It's a Nuremburg nutcracker."
"Did you ever see such round, staring eyes?"
"And the nose!"
"And the forehead!"
"It's a caricature."
"Order, order! the curtain rises."
And, in fact, the curtain rose. Some explanation is necessary for the clear understanding of what follows. In the lower stage-box, to the left of the audience, were several persons, who had been referred to by the young men in the stalls. The omnibus-box was occupied by the Englishman, the eccentric and portentous bettor, whose presence inspired Morok with so much dread.
It would require Hoffman's rare and fantastic genius to describe worthily that countenance, at once grotesque and frightful, as it stood out from the dark background of the box. This Englishman was about fifty years old; his forehead was quite bald, and of a conical shape; beneath this forehead, surmounted by eyebrows like parenthesis marks, glittered large, green eyes, remarkably round and staring, and set very close to a hooked nose, extremely sharp and prominent; a chin like that on the old fashioned nutcrackers was half-hidden in a broad and ample white cravat, as stiffly-starched as the round-cornered shirt-collar, which nearly touched his ears. The face was exceedingly thin and bony, and yet the complexion was high-colored, approaching to purple, which made the bright green of the pupils, and the white of the other part of the eyes, still more conspicuous. The mouth, which was very wide, sometimes whistled inaudibly the tune of a Scotch jig (always the same tune), sometimes was slightly curled with a sardonic smite. The Englishman was dressed with extreme care; his blue coat, with brass buttons, displayed his spotless waistcoat, snowy, white as his ample cravat; his shirt was fastened with two magnificent ruby studs, and his patrician hands were carefully kid gloved.
To any one who knew the eccentric and cruel desire which attracted this man to every representation, his grotesque face became almost terrific, instead of exciting ridicule; and it was easy to understand the dread experience by Morok at sight of those great, staring round eyes, which appeared to watch for the death of the lion-tamer (what a horrible death!) with unshaken confidence. Above the dark box of the Englishman, affording a graceful contrast, were seated the Morinvals and Mdlle. de Cardoville. The latter was placed nearest the stage. Her head was uncovered, and she wore a dress of sky-blue China crepe, ornamented at the bosom with a brooch of the finest Oriental pearls—nothing more; yet Adrienne, thus attired, was charming. She held in her hand an enormous bouquet, composed of the rarest flowers of India: the stephanotis and the gardenia mingled the dead white of their blossoms with the purple hibiscus and Java amaryllis.
Madame de Morinval, seated on the opposite side of the box, was dressed with equal taste and simplicity; Morinval, a fair and very handsome young man, of elegant appearance, was behind the two ladies. M. de Montbron was expected to arrive every moment. The reader will please to recollect that the stage-box to the right of the audience, opposite Adrienne's, had remained till then quite empty. The stage represented one of the gigantic forests of India. In the background, tall exotic trees rose in spiral or spreading forms, among rugged masses of perpendicular rocks, with here and there glimpses of a tropical sky. The side-scenes formed tufts of trees, interspersed with rocks; and at the side which was immediately beneath Adrienne's box appeared the irregular opening of a deep and gloomy cavern, round which were heaped huge blocks of granite, as if thrown together by some convulsion of nature. This scenery, full of a wild and savage grandeur, was wonderfully "built up," so as to make the illusion as complete as possible; the footlights were lowered, and being covered with a purple shade, threw over this landscape a subdued reddish light, which increased the gloomy and startling effect of the whole. Adrienne, leaning forward from the box, with cheeks slightly flushed, sparkling eyes, and throbbing heart, sought to trace in this scene the solitary forest described by the traveller who had eulogized Djalma's generosity and courage, when he threw himself upon a ferocious tigress to save the life of a poor black slave. Chance coincided wonderfully indeed with her recollections. Absorbed in the contemplation of the scenery and the thoughts it awakened in her heart, she paid no attention to what was passing in the house. And yet something calculated to excite curiosity was taking place in the opposite stage-box.
The door of this box opened. A man about forty years of age, of a yellow complexion, entered; he was clothed after the East Indian fashion, in a long robe of orange silk, bound round the waist with a green sash, and he wore a small white turban. He placed two chairs at the front of the box; and, having glanced round the house for a moment, he started, his black eyes sparkled, and he went out quickly. That man was Faringhea. His apparition caused surprise and curiosity in the theatre; the majority of the spectators not having, like Adrienne, a thousand reasons for being absorbed in the contemplation of a picturesque set scene. The public attention was still more excited when they saw the box which Faringhea had just left, entered by a youth of rare beauty, also dressed Oriental fashion, in a long robe of white Cashmere with flowing sleeves, with a scarlet turban striped with gold on his head, and a sash to correspond, in which was stuck a long dagger, glittering with precious stones. This young man was Prince Djalma. For an instant he remained standing at the door, and cast a look of indifference upon the immense theatre, crowded with people; then, stepping forward with a majestic and tranquil air, the prince seated himself negligently on one of the chairs, and, turning his head in a few moments towards the entrance, appeared surprised at not seeing some person whom he doubtless expected. This person appeared at length; the boxkeeper had been assisting her to take off her cloak. She was a charming, fair-haired girl, attired with more show than taste, in a dress of white silk, with broad cherry-colored stripes, made ultra fashionably low, and with short sleeves; a large bow of cherry-colored ribbon was placed on each side of her light hair, and set off the prettiest, sprightliest, most wilful little face in the world.
It was Rose-Pompon. Her pretty arms were partly covered by long white gloves, and ridiculously loaded with bracelets: in her hand she carried an enormous bouquet of roses.
Far from imitating the calm demeanor of Djalma, Rose-Pompon skipped into the box, moved the chairs about noisily, and fidgeted on her seat for some time, to display her fine dress; then, without being in the least intimidated by the presence of the brilliant assembly, she, with a little coquettish air, held her bouquet towards Djalma, that he might smell it, and appeared finally to establish herself on her seat. Faringhea came in, shut the door of the box, and seated himself behind the prince. Adrienne, still completely absorbed in the contemplation of the Indian forest, and in her own sweet thoughts, had not observed the newcomers. As she was turning her head completely towards the stage, and Djalma could not, for the moment, see even her profile, he, on his side, had not recognized Mdlle. de Cardoville.
CHAPTER XIV. DEATH.
The pantomime opening, by which was introduced the combat of Morok with the black panther, was so unmeaning, that the majority of the audience paid no attention to it, reserving all their interest for the scene in which the lion-tamer was to make his appearance.
This indifference of the public explains the curiosity excited in the theatre by the arrival of Faringhea and Djalma—a curiosity which expressed itself (as at this day, when uncommon foreigners appear in public) by a slight murmur and general movement amongst the crowd. The sprightly, pretty face of Rose-Pompon, always charming, in spite of her singularly staring dress, in style so ridiculous for such a theatre, and her light and familiar manner towards the handsome Indian who accompanied her, increased and animated the general surprise; for, at this moment, Rose-Pompon, yielding without reserve to a movement of teasing coquetry, had held up, as we have already stated, her large bunch of roses to Djalma. But the prince, at sight of the landscape which reminded him of his country, instead of appearing sensible to this pretty, provocation, remained for some minutes as in a dream, with his eyes fixed upon the stage. Then Rose-Pompon began to beat time on the front of the box with her bouquet, whilst the somewhat too visible movement of her pretty shoulders showed that this devoted dancer was thinking of fast-life dances, as the orchestra struck up a more lively strain.
Placed directly opposite the box in which Faringhea, Djalma, and Rose Pompon had just taken their seats, Lady Morinval soon perceived the arrival of these two personages, and particularly the eccentric coquetries of Rose-Pompon. Immediately, the young marchioness, leaning over towards Mdlle. de Cardoville, who was still absorbed in memories ineffable, said to her, laughing: "My dear, the most amusing part of the performance is not upon the stage. Look just opposite."
"Just opposite?" repeated Adrienne, mechanically: and, turning towards Lady Morinval with an air of surprise, she glanced in the direction pointed out.
She looked—what did she see?—Djalma seated by the side of a young woman, who was familiarly offering to his sense of smell the perfume of her bouquet. Amazed, struck almost literally to the heart, as by an electric shock, swift, sharp, and painful, Adrienne became deadly pale. From instinct, she shut her eyes for a second, in order not to see—as men try to ward off the dagger, which, having once dealt the blow, threatens to strike again. Then suddenly, to this feeling of grief succeeded a reflection, terrible both to her love and to her wounded pride.
"Djalma is present with this woman, though he must have received my letter," she said to herself,—"wherein he was informed of the happiness that awaited him."
At the idea of so cruel an insult, a blush of shame and indignation displaced Adrienne's paleness, who overwhelmed by this sad reality, said to herself: "Rodin did not deceive me."
We abandon all idea of picturing the lightning-like rapidity of certain emotions which in a moment may torture—may kill you in the space of a minute. Thus Adrienne was precipitated from the most radiant happiness to the lowest depths of an abyss of the most heart-rending grief, in less than a second; for a second had hardly elapsed before she replied to Lady Morinval: "What is there, then, so curious, opposite to us, my dear Julia?"
This evasive question gave Adrienne time to recover her self-possession. Fortunately, thanks to the thick folds of hair which almost entirely concealed her cheeks, the rapid and sudden changes from pallor to blush escaped the notice of Lady Morinval, who gayly replied: "What, my dear, do you not perceive those East Indians, who have just entered the box immediately opposite to ours? There, just before us!"
"Yes, I see them; but what then?" replied Adrienne, in a firm tone.
"And don't you observe anything remarkable?" said the marchioness.
"Don't be too hard, ladies," laughingly interposed the marquis; "we ought to allow the poor foreigners some little indulgence. They are ignorant of our manners and customs; were it not for that, they would never appear in the face of all Paris in such dubious company."
"Indeed," said Adrienne, with a bitter smile, "their simplicity is touching; we must pity them."
"And, unfortunately, the girl is charming, spite of her low dress and bare arms," said the marchioness; "she cannot be more than sixteen or seventeen at most. Look at her, my dear Adrienne; what a pity!"
"It is one of your charitable days, my dear Julia," answered Adrienne; "we are to pity the Indians, to pity this creature, and—pray, whom else are we to pity?"
"We will not pity that handsome Indian, in his red-and-gold turban," said the marquis, laughing, "for, if this goes on, the girl with the cherry colored ribbons will be giving him a kiss. See how she leans towards her sultan."
"They are very amusing," said the marchioness, sharing the hilarity of her husband, and looking at Rose-Pompom through her glass; then she resumed, in about a minute, addressing herself to Adrienne: "I am quite certain of one thing. Notwithstanding her giddy airs, that girl is very fond of her Indian. I just saw a look that expresses a great deal."
"Why so much penetration, my dear Julia?" said Adrienne, mildly; "what interest have we to read the heart of that girl?"
"Why, if she loves her sultan, she is quite in the right," said the marquis, looking through his opera-glass in turn; "for, in my whole life, I never saw a more handsome fellow than that Indian. I can only catch his side-face, but the profile is pure and fine as an antique cameo. Do you not think so?" added the marquis, leaning towards Adrienne. "Of course, it is only as a matter of art, that I permit myself to ask you the question."
"As a work of art," answered Adrienne, "it is certainly very fine."
"But see!" said the marchioness; "how impertinent the little creature is!—She is actually staring at us."
"Well!" said the marquis; "and she is actually laying her hand quite unceremoniously on her sultan's shoulder, to make him share, no doubt, in her admiration of you ladies."
In fact, Djalma, until now occupied with the contemplation of the scene which reminded him of his country, had remained insensible to the enticements of Rose-Pompon, and had not yet perceived Adrienne.
"Well, now!" said Rose-Pompon, bustling herself about in front of the box, and continuing to stare at Mdlle. de Cardoville, for it was she, and not the marchioness, who now drew her attention; "that is something quite out of the common way—a pretty woman, with red hair; but such sweet red, it must be owned. Look, Prince Charming!"
And so saying, she tapped Djalma lightly on the shoulder; he started at these words, turned round, and for the first time perceived Mdlle. de Cardoville.
Though he had been almost prepared for this meeting, the prince was so violently affected by it, that he was about involuntarily to rise, in a state of the utmost confusion; but he felt the iron hand of Faringhea laid heavily on his shoulder, and heard him whisper in Hindostanee: "Courage! and by to-morrow she will be at your feet."
As Djalma still struggled to rise, the half-caste added to restrain him: "Just now, she grew pale and red with jealousy. No weakness, or all is lost!"
"So! there you are again, talking your dreadful gibberish," said Rose Pompon, turning round towards Faringhea. "First of all, it is not polite; and then the language is so odd, that one might suppose you were cracking nuts."
"I spoke of you to my master," said the half-caste; "he is preparing a surprise for you."
"A surprise? oh! that is different. Only make haste—do you hear, Prince Charming!" added she, looking tenderly at Djalma.
"My heart is breaking," said Djalma, in a hollow voice to Faringhea, still using the language of India.
"But to-morrow it will bound with joy and love," answered the half-caste. "It is only by disdain that you can conquer a proud woman. To-morrow, I tell you, she will be trembling, confused, supplicating, at your feet!"
"To-morrow, she will hate me like death!" replied the prince, mournfully.
"Yes, were she now to see you weak and cowardly. It is now too late to draw back; look full at her, take the nosegay from this girl, and raise it to your lips. Instantly, you will see yonder woman, proud as she is, grow pale and red, as just now. Then will you believe me?"
Reduced by despair to make almost any attempt, and fascinated, in spite of himself, by the diabolical hints of Faringhea, Djalma looked for a second full at Mdlle. de Cardoville; then, with a trembling hand he took the bouquet from Rose-Pompon, and, again looking at Adrienne, pressed it to his lips.
Upon this insolent bravado, Mdlle. de Cardoville could not restrain so sudden and visible a pang, that the prince was struck by it.
"She is yours," said the half-caste, to him. "Did you see, my lord, how she trembled with jealousy?—Only have courage! and she is yours. She will soon prefer you to that handsome young man behind her—for it is he whom she has hitherto fancied herself in love with."
As if the half-caste had guessed the movement of rage and hatred, which this revelation would excite in the heart of the prince, he hastily added: "Calmness and disdain! Is it not his turn now to hate you?"
The prince restrained himself, and drew his hand across his forehead which glowed with anger.
"There now! what are you telling him, that vexes him so?" said Rose Pompon to Faringhea, with pouting lip. Then, addressing Djalma, she continued: "Come, Prince Charming, as they say in the fairy-tale, give me back my flowers."
As she took it again, she added: "You have kissed it, and I could almost eat it." Then, with a sigh, and a passionate glance at Djalma, she said softly to herself: "That monster Ninny Moulin did not deceive me. All this is quite proper; I have not even that to reproach myself with." And with her little white teeth, she bit at a rosy nail of her right hand, from which she had just drawn the glove.
It is hardly necessary to say, that Adrienne's letter had not been delivered to the prince, and that he had not gone to pass the day in the country with Marshal Simon. During the three days in which Montbron had not seen Djalma, Faringhea had persuaded him, that, by affecting another passion, he would bring Mdlle. de Cardoville to terms. With regard to Djalma's presence at the theatre, Rodin had learned from her maid, Florine, that her mistress was to go in the evening to the Porte-Saint Martin. Before Djalma had recognized her, Adrienne, who felt her strength failing her, was on the point of quitting the theatre; the man, whom she had hitherto placed so high, whom she had regarded as a hero and a demi-god and whom she had imagined plunged in such dreadful despair, that, led by the most tender pity, she had written to him with simple frankness, that a sweet hope might calm his grief—replied to a generous mark of sincerity and love, by making himself a ridiculous spectacle with a creature unworthy of him. What incurable wounds for Adrienne's pride! It mattered little, whether Djalma knew or not, that she would be a spectator of the indignity. But when she saw herself recognized by the prince, when he carried the insult so far as to look full at her, and, at the same time, raise to his lips the creature's bouquet who accompanied him, Adrienne was seized with noble indignation, and felt sufficient courage to remain: instead of closing her eyes to evidence, she found a sort of barbarous pleasure in assisting at the agony and death of her pure and divine love. With head erect, proud and flashing eye, flushed cheek, and curling lip, she looked in her turn at the prince with disdainful steadiness. It was with a sardonic smile that she said to the marchioness, who, like many others of the spectators was occupied with what was passing in the stage-box: "This revolting exhibition of savage manners is at least in accordance with the rest of the performance."
"Certainly," said the marchioness; "and my dear uncle will have lost, perhaps, the most amusing part."
"Montbron?" said Adrienne, hastily, with hardly repressed bitterness; "yes, he will regret not having seen all. I am impatient for his arrival. Is it not to him that I am indebted for his charming evening?"
Perhaps Madame de Morinval would have remarked the expression of bitter irony, that Adrienne could not altogether dissemble, if suddenly a hoarse and prolonged roar had net attracted her attention, as well as that of the rest of the audience, who had hitherto been quite indifferent to the scenes intended for an introduction to the appearance of Morok. Every eye was now turned instinctively towards the cavern situated to the left of the stage, just below Mdlle. de Cardoville's box; a thrill of curiosity ran through the house. A second roar, deeper and more sonorous, and apparently expressive of more irritation than the first, now rose from the cave, the mouth of which was half-hidden by artificial brambles, made so as to be easily put on one side. At this sound, the Englishman stood up in his little box, leaned half over the front, and began to rub his hands with great energy; then, remaining perfectly motionless, he fixed his large, green, glittering eyes on the mouth of the cavern.
At these ferocious howlings, Djalma also had started, notwithstanding the frenzy of love, hate, and jealousy, to which he was a prey. The sight of this forest, and the roarings of the panther, filled him with deep emotion, for they recalled the remembrance of his country, and of those great hunts which, like war, have their own terrible excitement. Had he suddenly heard the horns and gongs of his father's army sounding to the charge, he could not have been transported with more savage ardor. And now deep growls, like distant thunder, almost drowned the roar of the panther. The lion and tiger, Judas and Cain answered her from their dens at the back of the stage. On this frightful concert, with which his ears had been familiar in the midst of the solitudes of India, when he lay encamped, for the purposes of the chase or of war, Djalma's blood boiled in his veins. His eyes sparkled with a wild ardor. Leaning a little forward, with both hands pressed on the front of the box, his whole body trembled with a convulsive shudder. The audience, the theatre, Adrienne herself no longer existed for him; he was in a forest of his own lands, tracking the tiger.
Then there mingled with his beauty so intrepid and ferocious an expression, that Rose-Pompon looked at him with a sort of terror and passionate admiration. For the first time in her life, perhaps, her pretty blue eyes, generally so gay and mischievous; expressed a serious emotion. She could not explain what she felt; but her heart seemed frightened, and beat violently, as though some calamity were at hand.
Yielding to a movement of involuntary fear, she seized Djalma by the arm, and said to him: "Do not stare so into that cavern; you frighten me."
Djalma did not hear what she said.
"Here he is! here he is!" murmured the crowd, almost with one voice, as Morok appeared at the back of the stage.
Dressed as we have described, Morok now carried in addition a bow and a long quiver full of arrows. He slowly descended the line of painted rocks, which came sloping down towards the centre of the stage. From time to time, he stopped as if to listen, and appeared to advance with caution. Looking from one side to the other, his eyes involuntarily encountered the large, green eyes of the Englishman, whose box was close to the cavern. Instantly the lion-tamer's countenance was contracted in so frightful a manner, that Lady Morinval, who was examining him closely with the aid of an excellent glass, said hastily to Adrienne: "My dear, the man is afraid. Some misfortune will happen."
"How can accidents happen," said Adrienne, with a sardonic smile, "in the midst of this brilliant crowd, so well dressed and full of animation! Misfortunes here, this evening! why, dear Julia, you do not think it. It is in darkness and solitude that misfortunes come—never in the midst of a joyous crowd, and in all this blaze of light."
"Good gracious, Adrienne! take care!" cried the marchioness, unable to repress an exclamation of alarm, and seizing her arm, as if to draw her closer; "do you not see it?" And with a trembling hand, she pointed to the cavern's mouth. Adrienne hastily bent forward, and looked in that direction. "Take care, do not lean so forward!" exclaimed Lady Morinval.
"Your terrors are nonsensical, my dear," said the marquis to his wife. "The panther is securely chained; and even were it to break its chains (which is impossible), we are here beyond its reach."
A long murmur of trembling curiosity here ran through the house, and every eye was intently fixed on the cavern. From amongst the artificial brambles, which she abruptly pushed aside with her broad chest, the black panther suddenly appeared. Twice she stretched forth her flat head, illumined by yellow, flaming eyes; then, half-opening her blood-red jaws, she uttered another roar, and exhibited two rows of formidable fangs. A double iron chain, and a collar also of iron, painted black, blended with the ebon shades of her hide, and with the darkness of the cavern. The illusion was complete, and the terrible animal seemed to be at liberty in her den.
"Ladies," said the marquis, suddenly, "look at those Indians. Their emotion makes them superb!"
In fact, the sight of the panther had raised the wild ardor of Djalma to its utmost pitch. His eyes sparkled in their pearly orbits like two black diamonds; his upper lip was curled convulsively with an expression of animal ferocity, as if he were in a violent paroxysm of rage.
Faringhea, now leaning on the front of the box, was also greatly excited, by reason of a strange coincidence. "That black panther of so rare a breed," thought he, "which I see here at Paris, upon the stage, must be the very one that the Malay"—the Thug who had tatooed Djalma at Java during his sleep—"took quite young from his den, and sold to a European captain. Bowanee's power is everywhere!" added the Thug, in his sanguinary superstition.
"Do you not think," resumed the marquis, addressing Adrienne, "that those Indians are really splendid in their present attitude?"
"Perhaps they may have seen such a hunt in their own country," said Adrienne, as if she would recall and brave the most cruel remembrances.
"Adrienne," said the marchioness, suddenly, in an agitated voice, "the lion-tamer has now come nearer—is not his countenance fearful to look at?—I tell you he is afraid."
"In truth," observed the marquis, this time very seriously, "he is dreadfully pale, and seems to grow worse every minute, the nearer he approaches this side. It is said that, were he to lose his presence of mind for a single moment, he would run the greatest danger."
"O! it would be horrible!" cried the marchioness, addressing Adrienne, "if he were wounded—there—under our eyes!"
"Every wound does not kill," replied her friend, with an accent of such cold indifference, that the marchioness looked at her with surprise, and said to her: "My dear girl, what you say there is cruel!"
"It is the air of the place that acts on me," answered Adrienne, with an icy smile.
"Look! look! the lion-tamer is about to shoot his arrow at the panther," said the marquis, suddenly. "No doubt, he will next perform the hand to hand grapple."
Morok was at this moment in front of the stage, but he had yet to traverse its entire breadth to reach the cavern's mouth. He stopped an instant, adjusted an arrow to the string, knelt down behind a mass of rock, took deliberate aim—and then the arrow hissed across the stage, and was lost in the depths of the cavern, into which the panther had retired, after showing for a moment her threatening head to the audience. Hardly had the arrow disappeared, than Death, purposely irritated by Goliath (who was invisible) sent forth a howl of rage, as if she had been really wounded. Morok's actions became so expressive, he evinced so naturally his joy at having hit the wild beast, that a tempest of applause burst from every quarter of the house. Then, throwing away his bow, he drew a dagger from his girdle, took it between his teeth, and began to crawl forward on hands and knees, as though he meant to surprise the wounded panther in his den. To render the illusion perfect, Death, again excited by Goliath, who struck him with an iron bar, sent forth frightful howlings from the depths of the cavern.
The gloomy aspect of the forest, only half-lighted with a reddish glare, was so effective—the howlings of the panther were so furious—the gestures, attitude, and countenance of Morok were so expressive of terror, that the audience, attentive and trembling, now maintained a profound silence. Every one held his breath, and a kind of shudder came over the spectators, as though they expected some horrible event. What gave such a fearful air of truth to the pantomime of Morok, was that, as he approached the cavern step by step, he approached also the Englishman's box. In spite of himself, the lion-tamer, fascinated by terror, could not take his eyes from the large green eyes of this man, and it seemed as if every one of the abrupt movements which he made in crawling along, was produced by a species of magnetic attraction, caused by the fixed gaze of the fatal wagerer. Therefore, the nearer Morok approached, the more ghastly and livid he became. At sight of this pantomime, which was no longer acting, but the real expression of intense fear, the deep and trembling silence which had reigned in the theatre was once more interrupted by acclamations, with which were mingled the roarings of the panther, and the distant growls of the lion and tiger.
The Englishman leaned almost out of his box, with a frightful sardonic smile on his lip, and with his large eyes still fixed, panted for breath. The perspiration ran down his bald red forehead, as if he had really expended an incredible amount of magnetic power in attracting Morok, whom he now saw close to the cavern entrance. The moment was decisive. Crouching down with his dagger in his hand, following with eye and gesture Death's every movement, who, roaring furiously, and opening wide her enormous jaws, seemed determined to guard the entrance of her den, Morok waited for the moment to rush upon her. There is such fascination in danger, that Adrienne shared, in spite of herself, the feeling of painful curiosity, mixed with terror, that thrilled through all the spectators. Leaning forward like the marchioness, and gazing upon this scene of fearful interest, the lady still held mechanically in her hand the Indian bouquet preserved since the morning. Suddenly, Morok raised a wild shout, as he rushed towards Death, who answered this exclamation by a dreadful roar, and threw herself upon her master with so much fury, that Adrienne, in alarm, believing the man lost, drew herself back, and covered her fact with her hands. Her flowers slipped from her grasp, and, falling upon the stage, rolled into the cavern in which Morok was struggling with the panther.
Quick as lightning, supple and agile as a tiger, yielding to the intoxication of his love, and to the wild ardor excited in him by the roaring of the panther, Djalma sprang at one bound upon the stage, drew his dagger, and rushed into the cavern to recover Adrienne's nosegay. At that instant, Morok, being wounded, uttered a dreadful cry for help; the panther, rendered still more furious at sight of Djalma, make the most desperate efforts to break her chain. Unable to succeed in doing so, she rose upon her hind legs, in order to seize Djalma, then within reach of her sharp claws. It was only by bending down his head, throwing himself on his knees, and twice plunging his dagger into her belly with the rapidity of lightning, that Djalma escaped certain death. The panther gave a howl, and fell with her whole weight upon the prince. For a second, during which lasted her terrible agony, nothing was seen but a confused and convulsive mass of black limbs, and white garments stained with blood—and then Djalma rose, pale, bleeding, for he was wounded—and standing erect, his eye flashing with savage pride, his foot on the body of the panther, he held in his hand Adrienne's bouquet, and cast towards her a glance which told the intensity of his love. Then only did Adrienne feel her strength fail her—for only superhuman courage had enabled her to watch all the terrible incidents of the struggle.
XV. The Constant Wanderer XVI. The Luncheon XVII. Rendering the Account XVIII. The Square of Notre Dame XIX. The Cholera Masquerade XX. The Defiance XXI. Brandy to the Rescue XXII. Memories XXIII. The Poisoner XXIV. In the Cathedral XXV. The Murderers XXVI. The Patient XXVII. The Lure XXVIII. Good News XXIX. The Operation XXX. The Torture XXXI. Vice and Virtue XXXII. Suicide
CHAPTER XV. THE CONSTANT WANDERER.
It is night. The moon shines and the stars glimmer in the midst of a serene but cheerless sky; the sharp whistlings of the north wind, that fatal, dry, and icy breeze, ever and anon burst forth in violent gusts. With its harsh and cutting breath, it sweeps Montmartre's Heights. On the highest point of the hills, a man is standing. His long shadow is cast upon the stony, moon-lit ground. He gazes on the immense city, which lies outspread beneath his feet. PARIS—with the dark outline of its towers, cupolas, domes, and steeples, standing out from the limpid blue of the horizon, while from the midst of the ocean of masonry, rises a luminous vapor, that reddens the starry azure of the sky. It is the distant reflection of the thousand fires, which at night, the hour of pleasures, light up so joyously the noisy capital.
"No," said the wayfarer; "it is not to be. The Lord will not exact it. Is not twice enough?
"Five centuries ago, the avenging hand of the Almighty drove me hither from the uttermost confines of Asia. A solitary traveller, I had left behind me more grief, despair, disaster, and death, than the innumerable armies of a hundred devastating conquerors. I entered this town, and it too was decimated.
"Again, two centuries ago, the inexorable hand, which leads me through the world, brought me once more hither; and then, as the time before, the plague, which the Almighty attaches to my steps, again ravaged this city, and fell first on my brethren, already worn out with labor and misery.
"My brethren—mine?—the cobbler of Jerusalem, the artisan accursed by the Lord, who, in my person, condemned the whole race of workmen, ever suffering, ever disinherited, ever in slavery, toiling on like me without rest or pause, without recompense or hope, till men, women, and children, young and old, all die beneath the same iron yoke—that murderous yoke, which others take in their turn, thus to be borne from age to age on the submissive and bruised shoulders of the masses.
"And now, for the third time in five centuries, I reach the summit of one of the hills that overlook the city. And perhaps I again bring with me fear, desolation, and death.
"Yet this city, intoxicated with the sounds of its joys and its nocturnal revelries, does not know—oh! does not know that I am at its gates.
"But no, no! my presence will not be a new calamity. The Lord, in his impenetrable views, has hitherto led me through France, so as to avoid the humblest hamlet; and the sound of the funeral knell has not accompanied my passage.
"And, moreover, the spectre has left me—the green, livid spectre, with its hollow, bloodshot eyes. When I touched the soil of France, its damp and icy hands was no longer clasped in mine—and it disappeared.
"And yet—I feel that the atmosphere of death is around me.
"The sharp whistlings of that fatal wind cease not, which, catching me in their whirl, seem to propagate blasting and mildew as they blow.
"But perhaps the wrath of the Lord is appeased, and my presence here is only a threat—to be communicated in some way to those whom it should intimidate.
"Yes; for otherwise he would smite with a fearful blow, by first scattering terror and death here in the heart of the country, in the bosom of this immense city!
"Oh! no, no! the Lord will be merciful. No! he will not condemn me to this new torture.
"Alas! in this city, my brethren are more numerous and miserable than elsewhere. And should I be their messenger of death?"
"No! the Lord will have pity. For, alas! the seven descendants of my sister have at length met in this town. And to them likewise should I be the messenger of death, instead of the help they so much need?
"For that woman, who like me wanders from one border of the earth to the other, after having once more rent asunder the nets of their enemies, has gone forth upon her endless journey.
"In vain she foresaw that new misfortunes threatened my sister's family. The invisible hand, that drives me on, drives her on also.
"Carried away, as of old, by the irresistible whirlwind, at the moment of leaving my kindred to their fate, she in vain cried with supplicating tone: 'Let me at least, O Lord, complete my task!'—'GO ON!—'A few days, in mercy, only a few poor days!'—'GO ON'—'I leave those I love on the brink of the abyss!'—'GO ON! GO ON!'
"And the wandering star—again started on its eternal round. And her voice, passing through space, called me to the assistance of mine own.
"When that voice readied me, I knew that the descendants of my sister were still exposed to frightful perils. Those perils are even now on the increase.
"Tell me, O Lord! will they escape the scourge, which for so many centuries has weighed down our race?
"Wilt thou pardon me in them? wilt thou punish me in them? Oh, that they might obey the last will of their ancestor!
"Oh, that they might join together their charitable hearts, their valor and their strength, their noble intelligence, and their great riches!
"They would then labor for the future happiness of humanity—they would thus, perhaps, redeem me from my eternal punishment!
"The words of the Son of Man, LOVE YE ONE ANOTHER, will be their only end, their only means.
"By the help of those all-powerful words, they will fight and conquer the false priests, who have renounced the precepts of love, peace, and hope, for lessons of hatred, violence, and despair.
"Those false priests, who, kept in pay by the powerful and happy of this world, their accomplices in every age, instead of asking here below for some slight share of well-being for my unfortunate brethren, dare in thy name, O Lord God, to assert that the poor are condemned to endless suffering in this world—and that the desire or the hope to suffer less is a crime in thine eyes—because the happiness of the few, and the misery of nearly the whole human race, is (O blasphemy!) according to thy will. Is not the very contrary of those murderous words alone worthy of divinity!
"In mercy, hear me, Lord! Rescue from their enemies the descendants of my sister—the artisan as the king's son. Do not let them destroy the germ of so mighty and fruitful an association, which, with thy blessing, would make an epoch in the annals of human happiness!
"Let me unite them, O Lord, since others would divide them—defend them, since others attack; let me give hope to those who have ceased to hope, courage to those who are brought low with fear—let me raise up the falling, and sustain those who persevere in the way of the righteous!
"And, peradventure, their struggles, devotion, virtue, and grief, may expiate my fault—that of a man, whom misfortune alone rendered unjust and wicked.
"Oh! since Thy Almighty hand hath led me hither—to what end I know not—lay aside Thy wrath, I beseech Thee—let me be no longer the instrument of Thy vengeance!
"Enough of woe upon the earth! for the last two years, Thy creatures have fallen by thousands upon my track. The world is decimated. A veil of mourning extends over all the globe.
"From Asia to the icy Pole, they died upon the path of the wanderer. Dost Thou not hear the long-drawn sigh that rises from the earth unto Thee, O Lord?
"Mercy for all! mercy for me!—Let me but unite the descendants of my sister for a single day, and they will be saved!"
As he pronounced these words, the wayfarer sank upon his knees, and raised to heaven, his supplicating hands. Suddenly, the wind blew with redoubled violence; its sharp whistlings were changed into the roar of a tempest.
The traveller shuddered; in a voice of terror he exclaimed: "The blast of death rises in its fury—the whirlwind carries me on—Lord! Thou art then deaf to my prayer?"
"The spectre! oh, the spectre! it is again here! its green face twitching with convulsive spasms—its red eyes rolling in their orbits. Begone! begone!—its hand, oh! its icy hand has again laid hold of mine. Have mercy, heaven!"
"Oh, Lord! the pestilence—the terrible plague—must I carry it into this city?—And my brethren will perish the first—they, who are so sorely smitten even now! Mercy!"
"And the descendants of my sister. Mercy! Mercy!"
"Oh, Lord, have pity!—I can no longer keep my ground; the spectre drags me to the slope of the hill; my walk is rapid as the deadly blast that rages behind me; already do I behold the city gates. Have mercy, Lord, on the descendants of my sister! Spare them; do not make me their executioner; let them triumph over their enemies!"
"GO ON! GO ON!"
"The ground flies beneath my feet; there is the city gate. Lord, it is yet time! Oh, mercy for that sleeping town! Let it not waken to cries of terror, despair, and death! Lord, I am on the threshold. Must it be?—Yes, it is done. Paris, the plague is in thy bosom. The curse—oh, the eternal curse!"
"GO ON! GO ON! GO ON!"
CHAPTER XVI. THE LUNCHEON.
The morning after the doomed traveller, descending the heights of Montmartre, had entered the walls of Paris, great activity reigned in St. Dizier House. Though it was hardly noon, the Princess de St. Dizier, without being exactly in full dress (she had too much taste for that), was yet arrayed with more care than usual. Her light hair, instead of being merely banded, was arranged in two bunches of curls, which suited very well with her full and florid cheeks. Her cap was trimmed with bright rose-colored ribbon, and whoever had seen the lady in her tight fitting dress of gray-watered silk would have easily guessed that Mrs. Grivois, her tirewoman, must have required the assistance and the efforts of another of the princess's women to achieve so remarkable a reduction in the ample figure of their mistress.
We shall explain the edifying cause of this partial return to the vanities of the world. The princess, attended by Mrs. Grivois, who acted as housekeeper, was giving her final orders with regard to some preparations that were going on in a vast parlor. In the midst of this room was a large round table, covered with crimson velvet, and near it stood several chairs, amongst which, in the place of honor, was an arm chair of gilded wood. In one corner, not far from the chimney, in which burned an excellent fire, was a buffet. On it were the divers materials for a most dainty and exquisite collation. Upon silver dishes were piled pyramids of sandwiches composed of the roes of carp and anchovy paste, with slices of pickled tunny-fish and Lenigord truffles (it was in Lent); on silver dishes, placed over burning spirits of wine, so as to keep them very hot, tails of Meuse crawfish boiled in cream, smoked in golden colored pastry, and seemed to challenge comparison with delicious little Marennes oyster-patties, stewed in Madeira, and flavored with a seasoning of spiced sturgeon. By the side of these substantial dishes were some of a lighter character, such as pineapple tarts, strawberry-creams (it was early for such fruit), and orange-jelly served in the peel, which had been artistically emptied for that purpose. Bordeaux, Madeira, and Alicant sparkled like rubies and topazes in large glass decanters, while two Sevres ewers were filled, one with coffee a la creme, the other with vanilla chocolate, almost in the state of sherbet, from being plunged in a large cooler of chiselled silver, containing ice.
But what gave to this dainty collation a singularly apostolic and papal character were sundry symbols of religious worship carefully represented. Thus there were charming little Calvaries in apricot paste, sacerdotal mitres in burnt almonds, episcopal croziers in sweet cake, to which the princess added, as a mark of delicate attention, a little cardinal's hat in cherry sweetmeat, ornamented with bands in burnt sugar. The most important, however, of these Catholic delicacies, the masterpiece of the cook, was a superb crucifix in angelica, with a crown of candied berries. These are strange profanations, which scandalize even the least devout. But, from the impudent juggle of the coat of Triers, down to the shameless jest of the shrine at Argenteuil, people, who are pious after the fashion of the princess, seem to take delight in bringing ridicule upon the most respectable traditions.
After glancing with an air of satisfaction at these preparations for the collation, the lady said to Mrs. Grivois, as she pointed to the gilded arm-chair, which seemed destined for the president of the meeting: "Is there a cushion under the table, for his Eminence to rest his feet on? He always complains of cold."
"Yes, your highness," said Mrs. Grivois, when she had looked under the table; "the cushion is there."
"Let also a pewter bottle be filled with boiling water, in case his Eminence should not find the cushion enough to keep his feet warm."
"Yes, my lady."
"And put some more wood on the fire."
"But, my lady, it is already a very furnace. And if his Eminence is always too cold, my lord the Bishop of Halfagen is always too hot. He perspires dreadfully."
The princess shrugged her shoulders, and said to Mrs. Grivois: "Is not his Eminence Cardinal Malipieri the superior of his Lordship the Bishop of Halfagen?"
"Yes, your highness."
"Then, according to the rules of the hierarchy, it is for his Lordship to suffer from the heat, rather than his Eminence from the cold. Therefore, do as I tell you, and put more wood on the fire. Nothing is more natural; his Eminence being an Italian, and his Lordship coming from the north of Belgium, they are accustomed to different temperatures."
"Just as your highness pleases," said Mrs. Grivois, as she placed two enormous logs on the fire; "but in such a heat as there is here his Lordship might really be suffocated."
"I also find it too warm; but does not our holy religion teach us lessons of self-sacrifice and mortification?" said the princess, with a touching expression of devotion.
We have now explained the cause of the rather gay attire of the princess. She was preparing for a reception of prelates, who, along with Father d'Aigrigny and other dignitaries of the Church, had already held at the princely house a sort of council on a small scale. A young bride who gives her first ball, an emancipated minor who gives his first bachelor's dinner, a woman of talent who reads aloud for the first time her first unpublished work, are not more joyous and proud, and, at the same time, more attentive to their guests, than was this lady with her prelates. To behold great interests discussed in her house, and in her presence, to hear men of acknowledged ability ask her advice upon certain practical matters relating to the influence of female congregations, filled the princess with pride, as her claims to consideration were thus sanctioned by Lordships and Eminences, and she took the position, as it were, of a mother of the Church. Therefore, to win these prelates, whether native or foreign, she had recourse to no end of saintly flatteries and sanctified coaxing. Nor could anything be more logical than these successive transfigurations of this heartless woman, who only loved sincerely and passionately the pursuit of intrigue and domination. With the progress of age, she passed naturally from the intrigues of love to those of politics, and from the latter to those of religion.
At the moment she finished inspecting her preparations, the sound of coaches was heard in the courtyard, apprising her of the arrival of the persons she had been expecting. Doubtless, these persons were of the highest rank, for contrary to all custom, she went to receive them at the door of her outer saloon. It was, indeed, Cardinal Malipieri, who was always cold, with the Belgian Bishop of Halfagen, who was always hot. They were accompanied by Father d'Aigrigny. The Roman cardinal was a tall man, rather bony than thin, with a yellowish puffy countenance, haughty and full of craft; he squinted a good deal, and his black eyes were surrounded by a deep brown circle. The Belgian Bishop was short, thick, and fat, with a prominent abdomen, an apoplectic complexion, a slow, deliberate look, and a soft, dimpled, delicate hand.
The company soon assembled in the great saloon. The cardinal instantly crept close to the fire, whilst the bishop, beginning to sweat and blow, cast longing glances at the iced chocolate and coffee, which were to aid him in sustaining the oppressive heat of the artificial dog-day. Father d'Aigrigny, approaching the princess, said to her in a low voice: "Will you give orders for the admittance of Abbe Gabriel de Rennepont, when he arrives?"
"Is that young priest then here?" asked the princess, with extreme surprise.
"Since the day before yesterday. We had him sent for to Paris, by his superiors. You shall know all. As for Father Rodin, let Mrs. Grivois admit him, as the other day, by the little door of the back stairs."
"He will come to-day?"
"He has very important matters to communicate. He desires that both the cardinal and the bishop should be present for they have been informed of everything at Rome by the Superior General, in their quality of associates."
The princess rang the bell, gave the necessary orders, and, returning towards the cardinal, said to him, in a tone of the most earnest solicitude: "Does your Eminence begin to feel a little warmer? Would your Eminence like a bottle of hot water to your feet? Shall we make a larger fire for your Eminence?"
At this proposition, the Belgian bishop, who was wiping the perspiration from his forehead, heaved a despairing sigh.
"A thousand thanks, princess," answered the cardinal to her, in very good French, but with an intolerable Italian accent; "I am really overcome with so much kindness."
"Will not your Lordship take some refreshment?" said the princess to the bishop, as she turned towards the sideboard.
"With your permission, madame, I will take a little iced coffee," said the prelate, making a prudent circuit to approach the dishes without passing before the fire.
"And will not your Eminence try one of these little oyster-patties? They are quite hot," said the princess.
"I know them already, princess," said the cardinal, with the air and look of an epicure; "they are delicious, and I cannot resist the temptation."
"What wine shall I have the honor to offer your Eminence?" resumed the princess, graciously.
"A little claret, if you please, madame;" and as Father d'Aigrigny prepared to fill the cardinal's glass, the princess disputed with him that pleasure.
"Your Eminence will doubtless approve what I have done," said Father d'Aigrigny to the cardinal, whilst the latter was gravely despatching the oyster-patties, "in not summoning for to-day the Bishop of Mogador, the Archbishop of Nanterre, and our holy Mother Perpetue, the lady-superior of St. Mary Convent, the interview we are about to have with his Reverence Father Rodin and Abbe Gabriel being altogether private and confidential."
"Our good father was perfectly right," said the cardinal; "for, though the possible consequences of this Rennepont affair may interest the whole Church, there are some things that are as well kept secret."
"Then I must seize this opportunity to thank your Eminence for having deigned to make an exception in favor of a very obscure and humble servant of the Church," said the princess to the cardinal, with a very deep and respectful curtsey.
"It is only just and right, madame," replied the cardinal, bowing as he replaced his empty glass upon the table; "we know how much the Church is indebted to you for the salutary direction you give to the religious institutions of which you are the patroness."
"With regard to that, your Eminence may be assured that I always refuse assistance to any poor person who cannot produce a certificate from the confessional."
"And it is only thus, madame," resumed the cardinal, this time allowing himself to be tempted by the attractions of the crawfish's tails, "it is only thus that charity has any meaning. I care little that the irreligious should feel hunger, but with the pious it is different;" and the prelate gayly swallowed a mouthful. "Moreover," resumed he, "it is well known with what ardent zeal you pursue the impious, and those who are rebels against the authority of our Holy Father."
"Your Eminence may feel convinced that I am Roman in heart and soul; I see no difference between a Gallican and a Turk," said the princess, bravely.
"The princess is right," said the Belgian bishop: "I will go further, and assert that a Gallican should be more odious to the church than a pagan. In this respect I am of the opinion of Louis XIV. They asked him a favor for a man about the court. 'Never,' said the great king; 'this person is a Jansenist.'—'No, sire; he is an atheist.'—'Oh! that is different; I will grant what he asks,' said the King."
This little episcopal jest made them all laugh. After which Father d'Aigrigny resumed seriously, addressing the cardinal: "Unfortunately, as I was about to observe to your Eminence with regard to the Abbe Gabriel, unless they are very narrowly watched, the lower clergy have a tendency to become infected with dissenting views, and with ideas of rebellion against what they call the despotism of the bishops."
"This young man must be a Catholic Luther!" said the bishop. And, walking on tip-toe, he went to pour himself out a glorious glass of Madeira, in which he soaked some sweet cake, made in the form of a crozier.
Led by his example, the Cardinal, under pretence of warming his feet by drawing still closer to the fire, helped himself to an excellent glass of old Malaga, which he swallowed by mouthfuls, with an air of profound meditation; after which he resumed: "So this Abbe Gabriel starts as a reformer. He must be an ambitious man. Is he dangerous?"
"By our advice his superiors have judged him to be so. They have ordered him to come hither. He will soon be here, and I will tell your Eminence why I have sent for him. But first, I have a note on the dangerous tendencies of the Abbe Gabriel. Certain questions were addressed to him, with regard to some of his acts, and it was in consequence of his answers that his superiors recalled him."
So saying, Father d'Aigrigny, took from his pocket-book a paper, which he read as follows:
"'Question.—Is it true that you performed religious rites for an inhabitant of your parish who died in final impenitence of the most detestable kind, since he had committed suicide?
"'Answer of Abbe Gabriel.—I paid him the last duties, because, more than any one else, because of his guilty end, he required the prayers of the church. During the night which followed his interment I continually implored for him the divine mercy.
"'Q.—Is it true that you refused a set of silver-gilt sacramental vessels, and other ornaments, with which one of the faithful, in pious zeal, wished to endow your parish?
"'A.—I refused the vessels and embellishments, because the house of the Lord should be plain and without ornament, so as to remind the faithful that the divine Saviour was born in a stable. I advised the person who wished to make these useless presents to my parish to employ the money in judicious almsgiving, assuring him it would be more agreeable to the Lord.'"