"I will answer you sincerely, at the risk of injuring myself," said the prince.
"How could you make up your mind to exhibit yourself in public with—?"
"With that young girl?" interrupted Djalma.
"Yes, cousin," replied Mdlle. de Cardoville, and she waited for Djalma's answer with anxious curiosity.
"A stranger to the customs of this country," said Djalma, without any embarrassment, for he spoke the truth, "with a mind weakened with despair, and misled by the fatal counsels of a man devoted to my enemies, I believed, even as I was told, that, by displaying before you the semblance of another love, I should excite your jealousy, and thus—"
"Enough, cousin; I understand it all," said Adrienne hastily, interrupting Djalma in her turn, that she might spare him a painful confession. "I too must have been blinded by despair, not to have seen through this wicked plot, especially after your rash and intrepid action. To risk death for the sake of my bouquet!" added Adrienne, shuddering at the mere remembrance. "But one last question," she resumed, "though I am already sure of your answer. Did you receive a letter that I wrote to you, on the morning of the day in which I saw you at the theatre?"
Djalma made no reply. A dark cloud passed over his fine countenance, and, for a second, his features assumed so menacing an expression, that Adrienne was terrified at the effect produced by her words. But this violent agitation soon passed away, and Djalma's brow became once more calm and serene.
"I have been more merciful that I thought," said the prince to Adrienne, who looked at him with astonishment. "I wished to come hither worthy of you, my cousin. I pardoned the man who, to serve my enemies, had given me all those fatal counsels. The same person, I am sure, must have intercepted your letter. Just now, at the memory of the evils he thus caused me, I, for a moment, regretted my clemency. But then, again, I thought of your letter of yesterday—and my anger is all gone."
"Then the sad time of fear and suspicion is over—suspicion, that made me doubt of your sentiments, and you of mine. Oh, yes! far removed from us be that fatal past!" cried Adrienne de Cardoville, with deep joy..
Then, as if she had relieved her heart from the last thought of sadness, she continued: "The future is all your own—the radiant future, without cloud or obstacle, pure in the immensity of its horizon, and extending beyond the reach of sight!"
It is impossible to describe the tone of enthusiastic hope which accompanied these words. But suddenly Adrienne's features assumed an expression of touching melancholy, and she added, in a voice of profound emotion: "And yet—at this hour—so many unfortunate creatures suffer pain!"
This simple touch of pity for the misfortunes of others, at the moment when the noble maiden herself attained to the highest point of happiness, had such an effect on Djalma, that involuntarily he fell on his knees before Adrienne, clasped his hands together, and turned towards her his fine countenance, with an almost daring expression. Then, hiding his face in his hands, he bowed his head without speaking a single word. There was a moment of deep silence. Adrienne was the first to break it, as she saw a tear steal through the slender fingers of the prince.
"My friend! what is the matter?" she exclaimed, as with a movement rapid as thought, she stooped forward, and taking hold of Djalma's hands, drew them from before his face. That face was bathed in tears.
"You weep!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, so much agitated that she kept the hands of Djalma in her own; and, unable to dry his tears, the young Hindoo allowed them to flow like so many drops of crystal over the pale gold of his cheeks.
"There is not in this wide world a happiness like to mine!" said the prince, in his soft, melodious voice, and with a kind of exhaustion: "therefore do I feel great sadness, and so it should be. You give me heaven—and were I to give you the whole earth, it would be but a poor return. Alas! what can man do for a divinity, but humbly bless and adore? He can never hope to return the gifts bestowed: and this makes him suffer—not in his pride—but in his heart!"
Djalma did not exaggerate. He said what he really felt: and the rather hyperbolical form, familiar to Oriental nations, could alone express his thought. The tone of his regret was so sincere, his humility so gentle and full of simplicity, that Adrienne, also moved to tears, answered him with an effusion of serious tenderness, "My friend, we are both at the supreme point of happiness. Our future felicity appears to have no limits, and yet, though derived from different sources, sad reflections have come to both of us. It is, you see, that there are some sorts of happiness, which make you dizzy with their own immensity. For a moment, the heart, the mind, the soul, are incapable of containing so much bliss; it overflows and drowns us. Thus the flowers sometimes hang their heads, oppressed by the too ardent rays of the sun, which is yet their love and life. Oh, my friend! this sadness may be great, but it also sweet!"
As she uttered these words, the voice of Adrienne grew fainter and fainter, and her head bowed lower, as if she were indeed sinking beneath the weight of her happiness. Djalma had remained kneeling before her, his hands in hers—so that as she thus bent forward, her ivory forehead and golden hair touched the amber-colored brow and ebon curls of Djalma. And the sweet, silent tears of the two young lovers flowed together, and mingled as they fell on their clasped hands.
Whilst this scene was passing in Cardoville House, Agricola had gone to the Rue de Vaugirard, to deliver a letter from Adrienne to M. Hardy.
CHAPTER XLII. "THE IMITATION."
As we have already said, M. Hardy occupied a pavilion in the "Retreat" annexed to the house in the Rue de Vaugirard, inhabited by a goodly number of the reverend fathers of the Company of Jesus. Nothing could be calmer and more silent than this dwelling. Every one spoke in whispers, and the servants themselves had something oily in their words, something sanctified in their very walk.
Like all that is subject to the chilling and destructive influences of these men, this mournfully quiet house was entirely wanting in life and animation. The boarders passed an existence of wearisome and icy monotony, only broken by the use of certain devotional exercises; and thus, in accordance with the selfish calculation of the reverend fathers, the mind, deprived of all nourishment and all external support, soon began to droop and pine away in solitude. The heart seemed to beat more slowly, the soul was benumbed, the character weakened; at last, all freewill, all power of discrimination, was extinguished, and the boarders, submitting to the same process of self-annihilation as the novices of the Company, became, like them, mere "corpses" in the hands of the brotherhood.
The object of these manoeuvres was clear and simple. They secured the means of obtaining all kinds of donations, the constant aim of the skillful policy and merciless cupidity of these priests. By the aid of enormous sums, of which they thus become the possessors or the trustees, they follow out and obtain the success of their projects, even though murder, incendiarism, revolt, and all the horrors of civil war, excited by and through them, should drench in blood the lands over which they seek to extend their dark dominion.
Such, then, was the asylum of peace and innocence in which Francois Hardy had taken refuge. He occupied the ground-floor of a summer-house, which opened upon a portion of the garden. His apartments had been judiciously chosen, for we know with what profound and diabolical craft the reverend fathers avail themselves of material influences, to make a deep impression upon the minds they are moulding to their purpose. Imagine a prospect bounded by a high wall, of a blackish gray, half-covered with ivy, the plant peculiar to ruins. A dark avenue of old yew-trees, so fit to shade the grave with their sepulchral verdure, extended from this wall to a little semicircle, in front of the apartment generally occupied by M. Hardy. Two or three mounds of earth, bordered with box, symmetrically cut, completed the charms of this garden, which in every respect resembled a cemetery.
It was about two o'clock in the afternoon. Though the April sun shone brightly, its rays, intercepted by the high wall of which we have spoken, could not penetrate into that portion of the garden, obscure, damp, and cold as a cavern, which communicated with M. Hardy's apartment. The room was furnished with a perfect sense of the comfortable. A soft carpet covered the floor; thick curtains of dark green baize, the same color as the walls, sheltered an excellent bed, and hung in folds about the glass door, which opened on the garden. Some pieces of mahogany furniture, plain, but very clean and bright, stood round the room. Above the secretary, placed just in front of the bed, was a large ivory crucifix, upon a black velvet ground. The chimney-piece was adorned with a clock, in an ebony case, with ivory ornaments representing all sorts of gloomy emblems, such as hour-glasses, scythes, death's-heads, etc. Now imagine this scene in twilight, with its solitary and mournful silence, only broken at the hour of prayer by the lugubrious sound of the bells of the neighboring chapel, and you will recognize the infernal skill, with which these dangerous priests know how to turn to account every external object, when they wish to influence the mind of those they are anxious to gain over.
And this was not all. After appealing to the senses, it was necessary to address themselves to the intellect—and this was the method adopted by the reverend fathers. A single book—but one—was left, as if by chance, within reach. This book was Thomas a Kempis' "Imitation." But as it might happen that M. Hardy would not have the courage or the desire to read this book, thoughts and reflections borrowed from its merciless pages, and written in very large characters, were suspended in black frames close to the bed, or at other parts within sight, so that, involuntarily, in the sad leisure of his inactive dejection, the dweller's eyes were almost necessarily attracted by them. To that fatal circle of despairing thoughts they confined the already weakened mind of this unfortunate man, so long a prey to the most acute sorrow. What he read mechanically, every instant of the day and night, whenever the blessed sleep fled from his eyes inflamed with tears, was not enough merely to plunge the soul of the victim into incurable despair, but also to reduce him to the corpse-like obedience required by the Society of Jesus. In that awful book may be found a thousand terrors to operate on weak minds, a thousand slavish maxims to chain and degrade the pusillanimous soul.
And now imagine M. Hardy carried wounded into this house; while his heart, torn by bitter grief and the sense of horrible treachery, bled even faster than his external injuries. Attended with the utmost care, and thanks to the acknowledged skill of Dr. Baleinier, M. Hardy soon recovered from the hurts he had received when he threw himself into the embers of his burning factory. Yet, in order to favor the projects of the reverend fathers, a drug, harmless enough in its effects, but destined to act for a time upon the mind of the patient, and often employed for that purpose in similar important cases by the pious doctor, was administered to Hardy, and had kept him pretty long in a state of mental torpor. To a soul agonized by cruel deceptions, it appears an inestimable benefit to be plunged into that kind of torpor, which at least prevents one from dwelling upon the past.
Hardy resigned himself entirely to this profound apathy, and at length came to regard it as the supreme good. Thus do unfortunate wretches, tortured by cruel diseases, accept with gratitude the opiate which kills them slowly, but which at least deadens the sense of pain.
In sketching the portrait of M. Hardy, we tried to give some idea of the exquisite delicacy of his tender soul, of his painful susceptibility with regard to anything base or wicked, and of his extreme goodness, uprightness, and generosity. We now allude to these admirable qualities, because we must observe, that with him, as with almost all who possess them, they were not, and could not be, united with an energetic and resolute character. Admirably persevering in good deeds, the influence of this excellent man, was insinuating rather than commanding; it was not by the bold energy and somewhat overbearing will, peculiar to other men of great and noble heart, that Hardy had realized the prodigy of his Common Dwelling-house; it was by affectionate persuasion, for with him mildness took the place of force. At sight of any baseness or injustice, he did not rouse himself, furious and threatening; but he suffered intense pain. He did not boldly attack the criminal, but he turned away from him in pity and sorrow. And then his loving heart, so full of feminine delicacy, had an irresistible longing for the blessed contact of dear affections; they alone could keep it alive. Even as a poor, frail bird dies with the cold, when it can no longer lie close to its brethren, and receive and communicate the sweet warmth of the maternal nest. And now this sensitive organization, this extremely susceptible nature, receives blow after blow from sorrows and deceptions, one of which would suffice to shake, if it did not conquer, the firmest and most resolute character. Hardy's best friend has infamously betrayed him. His adored mistress has abandoned him.
The house which he had founded for the benefit of his workmen, whom he loved as brethren, is reduced to a heap of ashes. What then happens? All the springs of his soul are at once broken. Too feeble to resist such frightful attacks, too fatally deceived to seek refuge in other affections, too much discouraged to think of laying the first stone of any new edifice—this poor heart, isolated from every salutary influence, finds oblivion of the world and of itself in a kind of gloomy torpor. And if some remaining instincts of life and affection, at long intervals, endeavored to rouse themselves within him, and if, half-opening his mind's eye, which he had kept closed against the present, the past, and the future, Hardy looks around him—what does he see? Only these sentences, so full of terrible despair:
"Thou art nothing but dust and ashes. Grief and tears art thy portion. Believe not in any son of man. There are no such things as friendship or ties of kindred. All human affections are false. Die in the morning, and thou wilt be forgotten before night. Be humble—despise thyself—and let others despise thee. Think not, reason not, live not—but commit thy fate to the hands of a superior, who will think and reason for thee. Weep, suffer, think upon death. Yes, death! always death—that should be thy thought when thou thinkest—but it is better not to think at all. Let a feeling of ceaseless woe prepare thy way to heaven. It is only by sorrow that we are welcome to the terrible God whom we adore!"
Such were the consolations offered to this unfortunate man. Affrighted, he again closed his eyes, and fell back into his lethargy. As for leaving this gloomy retreat, he could not, or rather he did not desire to do so. He had lost the power of will; and then, it must be confessed, he had finished by getting accustomed to this house, and liked it well—they paid him such discreet attentions, and yet left him so much alone with his grief—there reigned all around such a death-like silence, which harmonized closely with the silence of his heart; and that was now the tomb of his last love, last friendship, last hope. All energy was dead within him! Then began that slow, but inevitable transformation, so judiciously foreseen by Rodin, who directed the whole of this machination, even in its smallest details. At first alarmed by the dreadful maxims which surrounded him, M. Hardy had at length accustomed himself to read them over almost mechanically, just as the captive, in his mournful hours of leisure, counts the nails in the door of his prison, or the bars of the grated window. This was already a great point gained by the reverend fathers.
And soon his weakened mind was struck with the apparent correctness of these false and melancholy aphorisms.
Thus he read: "Do not count upon the affection of any human creature"—and he had himself been shamefully betrayed.
"Man is born to sorrow and despair"—and he was himself despairing.
"There is no rest save in the cessation of thought"—and the slumber of his mind had brought some relief to his pain.
Peepholes, skillfully concealed by the hangings and in the wainscoting of these apartments, enabled the reverend fathers at all times to see and hear the boarders, and above all to observe their countenance and manner, when they believed themselves to be alone. Every exclamation of grief which escaped Hardy in his gloomy solitude, was repeated to Father d'Aigrigny by a mysterious listener. The reverend father, following scrupulously Rodin's instructions, had at first visited his boarder very rarely. We have said, that when Father d'Aigrigny wished it, he could display an almost irresistible power of charming, and accordingly he threw all his tact and skill into the interviews he had with Hardy, when he came from time to time to inquire after his health. Informed of everything by his spies, and aided by his natural sagacity, he soon saw all the use that might be made of the physical and moral prostration of the boarder. Certain beforehand that Hardy would not take the hint, he spoke to him frequently of the gloom of the house, advising him affectionately to leave it, if he felt oppressed by its monotony, or at all events to seek beyond its walls for some pleasure and amusement. To speak of pleasure and amusement to this unfortunate man, was in his present state to insure a refusal, and so it of course happened. Father d'Aigrigny did not at first try to gain the recluse's confidence, nor did he speak to him of sorrow; but every time he came, he appeared to take such a tender interest in him, and showed it by a few simple and well timed words. By degrees, these interviews, at first so rare, became more frequent and longer. Endowed with a flow of honeyed, insinuating, and persuasive eloquence, Father d'Aigrigny naturally took for his theme those gloomy maxims, to which Hardy's attention was now so often directed.
Supple, prudent, skillful, knowing that the hermit had hitherto professed that generous natural religion which teaches the grateful adoration of God, the love of humanity, the worship of what is just and good, and which, disdaining dogmas, professes the same veneration for Marcus Aurelius as for Confucius, for Plato as for Christ, for Moses as for Lycurgus—Father d'Aigrigny did not at first attempt to convert him, but began by incessantly reminding him of the abominable deceptions practised upon him; and, instead of describing such treachery as an exception in life—instead of trying to calm, encourage, and revive his drooping soul—instead of exhorting Hardy to seek oblivion and consolation in the discharge of his duties toward humanity, towards his brethren, whom he had previously loved and succored—Father d'Aigrigny strove to inflame the bleeding wounds of the unfortunate man, painted the human race in the most atrocious blackness, and, by declaring all men treacherous, ungrateful, wicked, succeeded in rendering his despair incurable. Having attained this object, the Jesuit took another step. Knowing Hardy's admirable goodness of heart, and profiting by the weakened state of his mind, he spoke to him of the consolation to be derived by a man overwhelmed with sorrow, from the belief that every one of his tears, instead of being unfruitful, was in fact agreeable to God, and might aid in the salvation of souls—the belief, as the reverend father adroitly added, that by faith alone can sorrow be made useful to humanity, and acceptable to Divinity.
Whatever impiety, whatever atrocious Machiavelism there was in these detestable maxims, which make of a loving-kind Deity a being delighted with the tears of his creatures, was thus skillfully concealed from Hardy's eyes, whose generous instincts were still alive. Soon did this loving and tender soul, whom unworthy priests were driving to a sort of moral suicide, find a mournful charm in the fiction, that his sorrows would at least be profitable to other men. It was at first only a fiction; but the enfeebled mind which takes pleasure in such a fable, finishes by receiving it as a reality, and by degrees will submit to the consequences. Such was Hardy's moral and physical state, when, by means of a servant who had been bought over, he received from Agricola Baudoin a letter requesting an interview. Alone, the workman could not have broken the band of the Jesuit's pleadings, but he was accompanied by Gabriel, whose eloquence and reasonings were of a most convincing nature to a spirit like Hardy's.
It is unnecessary to point out to the reader, with what dignified reserve Gabriel had confined himself to the most generous means of rescuing Hardy from the deadly influence of the reverend fathers. It was repugnant to the great soul of the young missionary, to stoop to a revelation of the odious plots of these priests. He would only have taken this extreme course, had his powerful and sympathetic words have failed to have any effect on Hardy's blindness. About a quarter of an hour had elapsed since Gabriel's departure, when the servant appointed to wait on this boarder of the reverend fathers entered and delivered to him a letter.
"From whom is this?" asked Hardy.
"From a boarder in the house, sir," answered the servant bowing.
This man had a crafty hypocritical face; he wore his hair combed over his forehead, spoke in a low voice, and always cast clown his eyes. Waiting the answer, he joined his hands, and began to twiddle his thumbs. Hardy opened the letter, and read as follows:
"SIR,—I have only just heard, by mere chance, that you also inhabit this respectable house: a long illness, and the retirement in which I live, will explain my ignorance of your being so near. Though we have only met once, sir, the circumstance which led to that meeting was of so serious a nature, that I cannot think you have forgotten it."
Hardy stopped, and tasked his memory for an explanation, and not finding anything to put him on the right track, he continued to read:
"This circumstance excited in me a feeling of such deep and respectful sympathy for you, sir, that I cannot resist my anxious desire to wait upon you, particularly as I learn, that you intend leaving this house to day—a piece of information I have just derived from the excellent and worthy Abbe Gabriel, one of the men I most love, esteem, and reverence. May I venture to hope, sir, that just at the moment of quitting our common retreat to return to the world, you will deign to receive favorably the request, however intrusive, of a poor old man, whose life will henceforth be passed in solitude, and who cannot therefore have any prospect of meeting you, in that vortex of society which he has abandoned forever. Waiting the honor of your answer, I beg you to accept, sir, the assurance of the sentiments of high esteem with which I remain, sir, with the deepest respect,
"Your very humble and most obedient servant,
After reading this letter and the signature of the writer, Hardy remained for some time in deep thought, without being able to recollect the name of Rodin, or to what serious circumstances he alluded.
After a silence of some duration, he said to the servant "M. Rodin gave you this letter?"
"And who is M. Rodin?"
"A good old gentleman, who is just recovering from a long illness, that almost carried him off. Lately, he has been getting better, but he is still so weak and melancholy, that it makes one sad to see him. It is a great pity, for there is not a better and more worthy gentleman in the house—unless it be you, sir," added the servant, bowing with an air of flattering respect.
"M. Rodin;" said Hardy, thoughtfully. "It is singular, that I should not remember the name nor any circumstance connected with it."
"If you will give me your answer, sir," resumed the servant, "I will take it to M. Rodin. He is now with Father d'Aigrigny, to whom he is bidding farewell."
"Yes, sir, the post-horses have just come."
"Post-horses for whom?" asked Hardy.
"For Father d'Aigrigny, sir."
"He is going on a journey then!" said Hardy, with some surprise.
"Oh! he will not, I think be long absent," said the servant, with a confidential air, "for the reverend father takes no one with him, and but very light luggage. No doubt, the reverend father will come to say farewell to you, sir, before he starts. But what answer shall I give M. Rodin?"
The letter, just received, was couched in such polite terms—it spoke of Gabriel with so much respect—that Hardy, urged moreover by a natural curiosity, and seeing no motive to refuse this interview before quitting the house, said to the servant: "Please tell M. Rodin, that if he will give himself the trouble to come to me, I shall be glad to see him."
"I will let him know immediately, sir," answered the servant, bowing as he left the room.
When alone, Hardy, while wondering who this M. Rodin could be, began to make some slight preparations for his departure. For nothing in the world would he have passed another night in this house; and, in order to keep up his courage, he recalled every instant the mild, evangelical language of Gabriel, just as the superstitious recite certain litanies, with a view of escaping from temptation.
The servant soon returned, and said: "M. Rodin is here, sir."
"Beg him to walk in."
Rodin entered, clad in his long black dressing-gown, and with his old silk cap in his hand. The servant then withdrew. The day was just closing. Hardy rose to meet Rodin, whose features he did not at first distinguish. But as the reverend father approached the window, Hardy looked narrowly at him for an instant, and then uttered an exclamation, wrung from him by surprise and painful remembrance. But, recovering himself from this first movement, Hardy said to the Jesuit, in an agitated voice: "You here, sir? Oh, you are right! It was indeed a very serious circumstance that first brought us together."
"Oh, my dear sir!" said Rodin, in a kindly and unctuous tone; "I was sure you would not have forgotten me."
CHAPTER XLIII. PRAYER.
It will doubtless be remembered that Rodin had gone (although a stranger to Hardy) to visit him at his factory, and inform him of De Blessac's shameful treachery—a dreadful blow, which had only preceded by a few moments a second no less horrible misfortune; for it was in the presence of Rodin that Hardy had learned the unexpected departure of the woman he adored. Painful to him must have been the sudden appearance of Rodin. Yes, thanks to the salutary influence of Gabriel's counsels, he recovered himself by degrees, and the contraction of his features being succeeded by a melancholy calm, he said to Rodin: "I did not indeed expect to meet you, sir, in this house."
"Alas, sir!" answered Rodin, with a sigh, "I did not expect to come hither, probably to end my days beneath this roof, when I went, without being acquainted with you, but only as one honest man should serve another, to unveil to you a great infamy."
"Indeed, sir, you then rendered me a true service; perhaps, in that painful moment, I did not fully express my gratitude; for, at the same moment in which you revealed to me the treachery of M. de Blessac—"
"You were overwhelmed by another piece of painful intelligence," said Rodin, interrupting M. Hardy; "I shall never forget the sudden arrival of that poor woman, who, pale and affrighted, and without considering my presence, came to inform you that a person who was exceedingly dear to you had quitted Paris abruptly."
"Yes, sir; and, without stopping to thank you, I set out immediately," answered Hardy, with a mournful air.
"Do you know, sir," said Rodin, after a moment's silence, "that there are sometimes very strange coincidences?"
"To what do you allude, sir?"
"While I went to inform you that you were betrayed in so infamous a manner—I was myself—"
Rodin paused, as if unable to control his deep emotion, and his countenance wore the expression of such overpowering grief that Hardy said to him, with interest: "What ails you, sir?"
"Forgive me," replied Rodin, with a bitter smile. "Thanks to the ghostly counsels of the angelic Abbe Gabriel, I have reached a sort of resignation. Still, there are certain memories which affect me with the most acute pain. I told you," resumed Rodin, in a firmer voice, "or was going to tell you, that the very day after that on which I informed you of the treachery practised against you, I was myself the victim of a frightful deception. An adopted son—a poor unfortunate child, whom I had brought up—" He paused again, drew his trembling hand over his eyes, and added: "Pardon me, sir, for speaking of matters which must be indifferent to you. Excuse the intrusive sorrow of a poor, broken hearted old man!"
"I have suffered too much myself, sir, to be indifferent to any kind of sorrow," replied Hardy. "Besides, you are no stranger to me—for you did me a real service—and we both agree in our veneration for the same young priest."
"The Abbe Gabriel!" cried Rodin, interrupting Hardy; "ah, sir! he is my deliverer, my benefactor. If you knew all his care and devotion, during my long illness, caused by intense grief—if you knew the ineffable sweetness of his counsels—"
"I know them, sir," cried Hardy; "oh, yes! I know how salutary is the influence."
"In his mouth, sir, the precepts of religion are full of mildness," resumed Rodin, with excitement. "Do they not heal and console? do they not make us love and hope, instead of fear and tremble?"
"Alas, sir! in this very house," said Hardy, "I have been able to make the comparison."
"I was happy enough," said Rodin, "to have the angelic Abbe Gabriel for my confessor, or, rather, my confidant."
"Yes," replied Hardy, "for he prefers confidence to confession."
"How well you know him!" said Rodin, in a tone of the utmost simplicity. Then he resumed: "He is not a man but an angel. His words would convert the most hardened sinner. Without being exactly impious, I had myself lived in the profession of what is called Natural Religion; but the angelic Abbe Gabriel has, by degrees, fixed my wavering belief, given it body and soul, and, in fact, endowed me with faith."
"Yes! he is a truly Christian priest—a priest of love and pardon!" cried Hardy.
"What you say is perfectly true," replied Rodin; "for I came here almost mad with grief, thinking only of the unhappy boy who had repaid my paternal goodness with the most monstrous ingratitude, and sometimes I yielded to violent bursts of despair, and sometimes sank into a state of mournful dejection, cold as the grave itself. But, suddenly, the Abbe Gabriel appeared—and the darkness fled before the dawning of a new day."
"You were right, sir; there are strange coincidences," said Hardy, yielding more and more to the feeling of confidence and sympathy, produced by the resemblance of his real position to Rodin's pretended one. "And to speak frankly," he added, "I am very glad I have seen you before quitting this house. Were I capable of falling back into fits of cowardly weakness, your example alone would prevent me. Since I listen to you, I feel myself stronger in the noble path which the angelic Abbe Gabriel has opened before me, as you so well express it."
"The poor old man will not then regret having listened to the first impulse of his heart, which urged him to come to you," said Robin, with a touching expression. "You will sometimes remember me in that world to which you are returning?"
"Be sure of it, sir; but allow me to ask one question: You remain, you say, in this house?"
"What would you have me do? There reigns here a calm repose, and one is not disturbed in one's prayers," said Rodin, in a very gentle tone. "You see, I have suffered so much—the conduct of that unhappy youth was so horrible—he plunged into such shocking excesses—that the wrath of heaven must be kindled against him. Now I am very old, and it is only by passing the few days that are left me in fervent prayer that I can hope to disarm the just anger of the Lord. Oh! prayer—prayer! It was the Abbe Gabriel who revealed to me all its power and sweetness—and therewith the formidable duties it imposes."
"Its duties are indeed great and sacred," answered Hardy, with a pensive air.
"Do you remember the life of Rancey?" said Rodin, abruptly, as he darted a peculiar glance at Hardy.
"The founder of La Trappe?" said Hardy, surprised at Rodin's question. "I remember hearing a very vague account, some time ago, of the motives of his conversion."
"There is, mark you, no more striking an example of the power of prayer, and of the state of almost divine ecstasy, to which it may lead a religious soul. In a few words, I will relate to you this instructive and tragic history. Rancey—but I beg your pardon; I fear I am trespassing on your time."
"No, no," answered Hardy, hastily; "You cannot think how interested I am in what you tell me. My interview with the Abbe Gabriel was abruptly broken off, and in listening to you I fancy that I hear the further development of his views. Go on, I conjure you.
"With all my heart. I only wish that the instruction which, thanks to our angelic priest, I derived from the story of Rancey might be as profitable to you as it was to me."
"This, then, also came from the Abbe Gabriel?"
"He related to me this kind of parable in support of his exhortations," replied Rodin. "Oh, sir! do I not owe to the consoling words of that young priest all that has strengthened and revived my poor old broken heart?"
"Then I shall listen to you with a double interest."
"Rancey was a man of the world," resumed Rodin, as he looked attentively at Hardy; "a gentleman—young, ardent, handsome. He loved a young lady of high rank. I cannot tell what impediments stood in the way of their union. But this love, though successful, was kept secret, and every evening Rancey visited his mistress by means of a private staircase. It was, they say, one of those passionate loves which men feel but once in their lives. The mystery, even the sacrifice made by the unfortunate girl, who forgot every duty, seemed to give new charms to this guilty passion. In the silence and darkness of secrecy, these two lovers passed two years of voluptuous delirium, which amounted almost to ecstasy."
At these words Hardy started. For the first time of late his brow was suffused with a deep blush; his heart throbbed violently; he remembered that he too had once known the ardent intoxication of a guilty and hidden love. Though the day was closing rapidly, Rodin cast a sidelong glance at Hardy, and perceived the impression he had made. "Some times," he continued, "thinking of the dangers to which his mistress was exposed, if their connection should be discovered, Rancey wished to sever these delicious ties; but the girl, beside herself with passion, threw herself on the neck of her lover, and threatened him, in the language of intense excitement, to reveal and to brave all, if he thought of leaving her. Too weak and loving to resist the prayers of his mistress, Rancey again and again yielded, and they both gave themselves up to a torrent of delight, which carried them along, forgetful of earth and heaven!"
M. Hardy listened to Rodin with feverish and devouring avidity. The Jesuit, in painting, with these almost sensual colors, an ardent and secret love, revived in Hardy burning memories, which till now had been drowned in tears. To the beneficent calm produced by the mild language of Gabriel had succeeded a painful agitation, which, mingled with the reaction of the shocks received that day, began to throw his mind into a strange state of confusion.
Rodin, having so far succeeded in his object, continued as follows: "A fatal day came at last. Rancey, obliged to go to the wars, quitted the girl; but, after a short campaign, he returned, more in love than ever. He had written privately, to say he would arrive almost immediately after his letter. He came accordingly. It was night. He ascended, as usual, the private staircase which led to the chamber of his mistress; he entered the room, his heart beating with love and hope. His mistress had died that morning!"
"Ah!" cried Hardy, covering his face with his hands, in terror.
"She was dead," resumed Rodin. "Two wax-candles were burning beside the funeral couch. Rancey could not, would not believe that she was dead. He threw himself on his knees by the corpse. In his delirium, he seized that fair, beloved head, to cover it with kisses. The head parted from the body, and remained in his hands! Yes," resumed Rodin as Hardy drew back, pale and mute with terror, "yes, the girl had fallen a victim to so swift and extraordinary a disease, that she had not been able to receive the last sacraments. After her death, the doctors, in the hope of discovering the cause of this unknown malady, had begun to dissect that fair form—"
As Rodin reached this part of his narrative, night was almost come. A sort of hazy twilight alone reigned in this silent chamber, in the centre of which appeared the pale and ghastly form of Rodin, clad in his long black gown, whilst his eyes seemed to sparkle with diabolic fire. Overcome by the violent emotions occasioned by this story, in which thoughts of death and voluptuousness, love and horror, were so strangely mingled, Hardy remained fixed and motionless, waiting for the words of Rodin, with a combination of curiosity, anguish and alarm.
"And Rancey?" said he, at last, in an agitated voice, whilst he wiped the cold sweat from his brow.
"After two days of furious delirium," resumed Rodin, "he renounced the world, and shut himself up in impenetrable solitude. The first period of his retreat was frightful; in his despair, he uttered loud yells of grief and rage, that were audible at some distance. Twice he attempted suicide, to escape from the terrible visions."
"He had visions, then?" said Hardy, with an increased agony of curiosity.
"Yes," replied Rodin, in a solemn tone, "he had fearful visions. He saw the girl, who, for his sake, had died in mortal sin, plunged in the heat of the everlasting flames of hell! On that fair face, disfigured by infernal tortures, was stamped the despairing laugh of the damned! Her teeth gnashed with pain; her arms writhed in anguish! She wept tears of blood, and, with an agonized and avenging voice, she cried to her seducer: 'Thou art the cause of my perdition—my curse, my curse be upon thee!'"
As he pronounced these last words, Rodin advanced three steps nearer to Hardy, accompanying each step with a menacing gesture. If we remember the state of weakness, trouble, and fear, in which M. Hardy was—if we remember that the Jesuit had just roused in the soul of this unfortunate man all the sensual and spiritual memories of a love, cooled, but not extinguished, in tears—if we remember, too, that Hardy reproached himself with the seduction of a beloved object, whom her departure from her duties might (according to the Catholic faith) doom to everlasting flames—we shall not wonder at the terrible effect of this phantasmagoria, conjured up in silence and solitude, in the evening dusk, by this fearful priest.
The effect on Hardy was indeed striking, and the more dangerous, that the Jesuit, with diabolical craft, seemed only to be carrying out, from another point of view, the ideas of Gabriel. Had not the young priest convinced Hardy that nothing is sweeter, than to ask of heaven forgiveness for those who have sinned, or whom we have led astray? But forgiveness implies punishment; and it was to the punishment alone that Rodin drew the attention of his victim, by painting it in these terrible hues. With hands clasped together, and eye fixed and dilated, Hardy trembled in all his limbs, and seemed still listening to Rodin, though the latter had ceased to speak. Mechanically, he repeated: "My curse, my curse be upon thee?"
Then suddenly he exclaimed, in a kind of frenzy: "The curse is on me also! The woman, whom I taught to forget her sacred duties, and to commit mortal sin—one day plunged in the everlasting flames—her arms writhing in agony—weeping tears of blood—will cry to me from the bottomless pit: 'My curse, my curse be upon thee!'—One day," he added, with redoubled terror, "one day?—who knows? perhaps at this moment!—for if the sea voyage had been fatal to her—if a shipwreck—oh, God! she too would have died in mortal sin—lost, lost, forever!—Oh, have mercy on her, my God! Crush me in Thy wrath—but have mercy on her—for I alone am guilty!"
And the unfortunate man, almost delirious, sank with clasped hands upon the ground.
"Sir," cried Rodin, in an affectionate voice, as he hastened to lift him up, "my dear sir—my dear friend—be calm! Comfort yourself. I cannot bear to see you despond. Alas! my intention was quite the contrary to that."
"The curse! the curse! yes, she will curse me also—she, that I loved so much—in the everlasting flames!" murmured Hardy, shuddering, and apparently insensible to the other's words.
"But, my dear sir, listen to me, I entreat you," resumed the latter; "let me finish my story, and then you will find it as consoling as it now seems terrible. For heaven's sake, remember the adorable words of our angelic Abbe Gabriel, with regard to the sweetness of prayer."
At the name of Gabriel, Hardy recovered himself a little, and exclaimed, in a heart-rending tone: "Ay! his words were sweet and beneficent. Where are they now? For mercy's sake, repeat to me those consoling words."
"Our angelic Abbe Gabriel," resumed Rodin, "spoke to you of the sweetness of prayer—"
"Oh, yes! prayer!"
"Well, my dear sir, listen to me, and you shall see how prayer saved Rancey, and made a saint of him. Yes, these frightful torments, that I have just described, these threatening visions, were all conquered by prayer, and changed into celestial delights."
"I beg of you," said Hardy, in a faint voice, "speak to me of Gabriel, speak to me of heaven—but no more flames—no more hell—where sinful women weep tears of blood—"
"No, no," replied Rodin; and even as, in describing hell, his tone had been harsh and threatening, it now became warm and tender, as he uttered the following words: "No; we will have no more images of despair—for, as I have told you, after suffering infernal tortures, Rancey, thanks to the power of prayer, enjoyed the delights of paradise."
"The delights of paradise?" repeated Hardy, listening with anxious attention.
"One day, at the height of his grief, a priest, a good priest—another Abbe Gabriel—came to Rancey. Oh, happiness! oh, providential change! In a few days, he taught the sufferer the sacred mysteries of prayer—that pious intercession of the creature, addressed to the Creator, in favor of a soul exposed to the wrath of heaven. Then Rancey seemed transformed. His grief was at once appeased. He prayed; and the more he prayed, the greater was his hope. He felt that God listened to his prayer. Instead of trying to forget his beloved, he now thought of her constantly, and prayed for her salvation. Happy in his obscure cell, alone with that adored remembrance, he passed days and nights in praying for her—plunged in an ineffable, burning, I had almost said amorous ecstasy."
It is impossible to give an idea of the tone of almost sensual energy with which Rodin pronounced the word "amorous." Hardy started, changing from hot to cold. For the first time, his weakened mind caught a glimpse of the fatal pleasures of asceticism, and of that deplorable catalepsy, described in the lives of St. Theresa, St. Aubierge and others.
Rodin perceived the other's thoughts, and continued "Oh, Rancey was not now the man to content himself with a vague, passing prayer, uttered in the whirl of the world's business, which swallows it up, and prevents it from reaching the ear of heaven. No, no; in the depth of solitude, he endeavored to make his prayers even more efficacious, so ardently did he desire the eternal salvation of his mistress."
"What did he do then—oh! what did he do in his solitude?" cried Hardy, who was now powerless in the hands of the Jesuit.
"First of all," said Rodin, with a slight emphasis, "he became a monk."
"A monk!" repeated Hardy, with a pensive air.
"Yes," resumed Rodin, "he became a monk, because his prayers were thus more likely to be favorably accepted. And then, as in solitude our thoughts are apt to wander, he fasted, and mortified his flesh, and brought into subjection all that was carnal within him, so that, becoming all spirit, his prayers might issue like a pure flame from his bosom, and ascend like the perfume of incense to the throne of the Most High!"
"Oh! what a delicious dream!" cried Hardy, more and more under the influence of the spell; "to pray for the woman we have adored, and to become spirit—perfume—light!"
"Yes; spirit, perfume, light!" said Rodin, with emphasis. "But it is no dream. How many monks, how many hermits, like Rancey, have, by prayers, and austerity, and macerations, attained a divine ecstasy! and if you only knew the celestial pleasures of such ecstasies!—Thus, after he became a monk, the terrible dreams were succeeded by enchanting visions. Many times, after a day of fasting, and a night passed in prayers and macerations, Rancey sank down exhausted on the floor of his cell! Then the spirit freed itself from the vile clogs of matter. His senses were absorbed in pleasure; the sound of heavenly harmony struck upon his ravished car; a bright, mild light, which was not of this world, dawned upon his half-closed eyes; and, at the height of the melodious vibrations of the golden harps of the Seraphim, in the centre of a glory, compared to which the sun is pale, the monk beheld the image of that beloved woman—"
"Whom by his prayers he had at length rescued from the eternal flames?" said Hardy, in a trembling voice.
"Yes, herself," replied Rodin, with eloquent enthusiasm, for this monster was skilled in every style of speech. "Thanks to the prayers of her lover, which the Lord had granted, this woman no longer shed tears of blood—no longer writhed her beautiful arms in the convulsions of infernal anguish. No, no; still fair—oh! a thousand times fairer than when she dwelt on earth—fair with the everlasting beauty of angels—she smiled on her lover with ineffable ardor, and, her eyes beaming with a mild radiance, she said to him in a tender and passionate voice: 'Glory to the Lord! glory to thee, O my beloved! Thy prayers and austerities have saved me. I am numbered amongst the chosen. Thanks, my beloved, and glory!'—And therewith, radiant in her felicity, she stooped to kiss, with lips fragrant with immortality, the lips of the enraptured monk—and their souls mingled in that kiss, burning as love, chaste as divine grace immense as eternity!"
"Oh!" cried Hardy, completely beside himself; "a whole life of prayer, fasting, torture, for such a moment—with her, whom I mourn—with her, whom I have perhaps led to perdition!"
"What do you say? such a moment!" cried Rodin, whose yellow forehead was bathed in sweat like that of a magnetizer, and who now took Hardy by the hand, and drew still closer, as if to breathe into him the burning delirium; "it was not once in his religious life—it was almost every day, that Rancey, plunged in divine ecstasy, enjoyed these delicious, ineffable, superhuman pleasures, which are to the pleasures of earth what eternity is to man's existence!"
Seeing, no doubt, that Hardy was now at the point to which he wished to bring him, and the night being almost entirely come, the reverend father coughed two or three times in a significant manner, and looked towards the door. At this moment, Hardy, in the height of his frenzy, exclaimed, with a supplicating voice: "A cell—a tomb—and the Ecstatic Vision!"
The door of the room opened, and Father d'Aigrigny entered, with a cloak under his arm. A servant followed him, bearing a light.
About ten minutes after this scene, a dozen robust men with frank, open countenances, led by Agricola, entered the Rue de Vaugirard, and advanced joyously towards the house of the reverend fathers. It was a deputation from the former workmen of M. Hardy. They came to escort him, and to congratulate him on his return amongst them. Agricola walked at their head. Suddenly he saw a carriage with post-horses issuing from the gateway of the house. The postilion whipped up the horses, and they started at full gallop. Was it chance or instinct? The nearer the carriage approached the group of which he formed a part, the more did Agricola's heart sink within him.
The impression became so vivid that it was soon changed into a terrible apprehension; and at the moment when the vehicle, which had its blinds down, was about to pass close by him, the smith, in obedience to a resistless impulse, exclaimed, as he rushed to the horses' heads: "Help, friends! stop them!"
"Postilion! ten louis if you ride over him!" cried from the carriage the military voice of Father d'Aigrigny.
The cholera was still raging. The postilion had heard of the murder of the poisoners. Already frightened at the sudden attack of Agricola, he struck him a heavy blow on the head with the butt of his whip which stretched him senseless on the ground. Then, spurring with all his might, he urged his three horses into a triple gallop, and the carriage rapidly disappeared, whilst Agricola's companions, who had neither understood his actions nor the sense of his words, crowded around the smith, and did their best to revive him.
CHAPTER XLIV. REMEMBRANCES.
Other events took place a few days after the fatal evening in which M. Hardy, fascinated and misled by the deplorable, mystic jargon of Rodin, had implored Father d'Aigrigny on his knees to remove him far from Paris, into some deep solitude where he might devote himself to a life of prayer and ascetic austerities. Marshal Simon, since his arrival in Paris, had occupied, with his two daughters, a house in the Rue des Trois-Freres. Before introducing the reader into this modest dwelling, we are obliged to recall to his memory some preceding facts. The day of the burning of Hardy 's factory, Marshal Simon had come to consult with his father on a question of the highest importance, and to communicate to him his painful apprehensions on the subject of the growing sadness of his twin daughters, which he was unable to explain.
Marshal Simon held in religious reverence the memory of the Great Emperor. His gratitude to the hero was boundless, his devotion blind, his enthusiasm founded upon reason, his affection warm as the most sincere and passionate friendship. But this was not all.
One day the emperor, in a burst of joy and paternal tenderness, had led the marshal to the cradle of the sleeping King of Rome, and said to him, as he proudly pointed to the beautiful child: "My old friend, swear to me that you will serve the son as you have served the father!"
Marshal Simon took and kept that vow. During the Restoration, the chief of a military conspiracy in favor of Napoleon II., he had attempted in vain to secure a regiment of cavalry, at that time commanded by the Marquis d'Aigrigny. Betrayed and denounced, the marshal, after a desperate duel with the future Jesuit, had succeeded in reaching Poland, and thus escaping a sentence of death. It is useless to repeat the series of events which led the marshal from Poland to India, and then brought him back to Paris after the Revolution of July—an epoch at which a number of his old comrades in arms had solicited and obtained from the government, without his knowledge, the confirmation of the rank and title which the emperor had bestowed upon him just before Waterloo.
On his return to Paris, after his long exile, in spite of all the happiness he felt in at length embracing his children, Marshal Simon was deeply affected on learning the death of their mother, whom he adored. Till the last moment, he had hoped to find her in Paris. The disappointment was dreadful, and he felt it cruelly, though he sought consolation in his children's affection.
But soon new causes of trouble and anxiety were interwoven with his life by the machinations of Rodin. Thanks to the secret intrigues of the reverend father at the Courts of Rome and Vienna, one of his emissaries, in a condition to inspire full confidence, and provided with undeniable evidence to support his words, went to Marshal Simon, and said to him: "The son of the emperor is dying, the victim of the fears with which the name of Napoleon still inspires Europe.
"From this slow expiring, you, Marshal Simon, one of the emperor's most faithful friends, are able to rescue this unfortunate prince.
"The correspondence in my hand proves that it would be easy to open relations, of the surest and most secret nature, with one of the most influential persons about the King of Rome, and this person would be disposed to favor the prince's escape.
"It is possible, by a bold, unexpected stroke, to deliver Napoleon II. from the custody of Austria, which would leave him to perish by inches in an atmosphere that is fatal to him.
"The enterprise may be a rash one, but it has chances of success that you Marshal Simon, more than any other, could change into certainties; for your devotion to the emperor is well known, and we remember with what adventurous audacity you conspired, in 1815, in favor of Napoleon II."
The state of languor and decline of the King of Rome was then in France a matter of public notoriety. People even went so far as to affirm that the son of the hero was carefully trained by priests, who kept him in complete ignorance of the glory of his paternal name; and that, by the most execrable machinations, they strove day by day to extinguish every noble and generous instinct that displayed itself in the unfortunate youth. The coldest hearts were touched and softened at the story of so sad and fatal a destiny. When we remember the heroic character and chivalrous loyalty of Marshal Simon, and his passionate devotion to the emperor, we can understand how the father of Rose and Blanche was more interested than any one else in the fate of the young prince, and how, if occasion offered, he would feel himself obliged not to confine his efforts to mere regrets. With regard to the reality of the correspondence produced by Rodin's emissary, it had been submitted by the marshal to a searching test, by means of his intimacy with one of his old companions in arms, who had been for a long period on a mission to Vienna, in the time of the empire. The result of this investigation, conducted with as much prudence as address, so that nothing should transpire, showed that the marshal might give his serious attention to the advances made him.
Hence, this proposition threw the father of Rose and Blanche into a cruel perplexity; for, to attempt so bold and dangerous an enterprise, he must once more abandon his children; whilst, on the contrary, if, alarmed at this separation, he renounced the endeavor to save the King of Rome, whose lingering death was perfectly true and well authenticated, the marshal would consider himself as false to the vow he had sworn to the emperor. To end these painful hesitations, full of confidence in the inflexible uprightness of his father's character, the marshal had gone to ask his advice; unfortunately the old republican workman, mortally wounded during the attack on M. Hardy's factory, but still pondering over the serious communication of his son, died with these words upon his Lips: "My son, you have a great duty to perform, under pain of not acting like a man of honor, and of disobeying my last will. You must, without hesitation—"
But, by a deplorable fatality, the last words, which would have completed the sense of the old workman's thought, were spoken in so feeble a voice as to be quite unintelligible. He died, leaving Marshal Simon in a worse state of anxiety, as one of the two courses open to him had now been formally condemned by his father, in whose judgment he had the most implicit and merited confidence. In a word, his mind was now tortured by the doubt whether his father had intended, in the name of honor and duty, to advise him not to abandon his children, to engage in so hazardous an enterprise, or whether, on the contrary, he had wished him to leave them for a time, to perform the vow made to the emperor, and endeavor at least to rescue Napoleon II. from a captivity that might soon be mortal.
This perplexity, rendered more cruel by certain circumstances, to be related hereafter, the tragical death of his father, who had expired in his arms; the incessant and painful remembrance of his wife, who had perished in a land of exile; and finally, the grief he felt at perceiving the overgrowing sadness of Rose and Blanche, occasioned severe shocks to Marshal Simon. Let us add that, in spite of his natural intrepidity, so nobly proved by twenty years of war, the ravages of the cholera, the same terrible malady to which his wife had fallen a victim in Siberia, filled the marshal with involuntary dread. Yes, this man of iron nerves, who had coolly braved death in so many battles, felt the habitual firmness of his character give way at sight of the scenes of desolation and mourning which Paris offered at every step. Yet, when Mdlle. de Cardoville gathered round her the members of her family, to warn them against the plot of their enemies, the affectionate tenderness of Adrienne for Rose and Blanche appeared to exercise so happy an influence on their mysterious sorrow, that the marshal, forgetting for a moment his fatal regrets, thought only of enjoying this blessed change, which, alas! was but of short duration. Having now recalled these facts to the mind of the reader, we shall continue our story.
CHAPTER XLV. THE BLOCKHEAD
We have stated that Marshal Simon occupied a small house in the Rue des Trois-Freres. Two o'clock in the afternoon had just struck in the marshal's sleeping-chamber, a room furnished with military simplicity. In the recess, in which stood the bed, hung a trophy composed of the arms used by the marshal during his campaigns. On the secretary opposite was a small bronze bust of the emperor, the only ornament of the apartment. Out of doors the temperature was far from warm, and the marshal had become susceptible to cold during his long residence in India. A good fire therefore blazed upon the hearth. A door, concealed by the hangings, and leading to a back staircase, opened slowly, and a man entered the chamber. He carried a basket of wood, and advanced leisurely to the fireplace, before which he knelt clown, and began to arrange the logs symmetrically in a box that stood besides the hearth. After some minutes occupied in this manner, still kneeling, he gradually approached another door, at a little distance from the chimney, and appeared to listen with deep attention, as if he wished to hear what was passing in the next room.
This man, employed as an inferior servant in the house, had the most ridiculously stupid look that can be imagined. His functions consisted in carrying wood, running errands, etc. In other respects he was a kind of laughing-stock to the other servants. In a moment of good humor, Dagobert, who filled the post of major-domo, had given this idiot the name of "Loony" (lunatic), which he had retained ever since, and which he deserved in every respect, as well for his awkwardness and folly as for his unmeaning face, with its grotesquely flat nose, sloping chin, and wide, staring eyes. Add to this description a jacket of red stuff, and a triangular white apron, and we must acknowledge that the simpleton was quite worthy of his name.
Yet, at the moment when Loony listened so attentively at the door of the adjoining room, a ray of quick intelligence animated for an instant his dull and stupid countenance.
When he had thus listened for a short time, Loony returned to the fireplace, still crawling on his knees; then rising, he again took his basket half full of wood, and once more approaching the door at which he had listened knocked discreetly. No one answered. He knocked a second time, and more loudly. Still there was the same silence.
Then he said, in a harsh, squeaking, laughable voice: "Ladies, do you want any wood, if you please, for your fire?"
Receiving no answer, Loony placed his basket on the ground, opened the door gently, and entered the next room, after casting a rapid glance around. He came out again in a few seconds, looking from side to side with an anxious air, like a man who had just accomplished some important and mysterious task.
Taking up his basket, he was about to leave Marshal Simon's room, when the door of the private staircase was opened slowly and with precaution, and Dagobert appeared.
The soldier, evidently surprised at the servant's presence, knitted his brows, and exclaimed abruptly, "What are you doing here?"
At this sudden interrogation, accompanied by a growl expressive of the ill-humor of Spoil-sport, who followed close on his master's heels, Loony uttered a cry of real or pretended terror. To give, perhaps, an appearance of greater reality to his dread, the supposed simpleton let his basket fall on the ground, as if astonishment and fear had loosened his hold of it.
"What are you doing, numbskull?" resumed Dagobert, whose countenance was impressed with deep sadness, and who seemed little disposed to laugh at the fellow's stupidity.
"Oh, M. Dagobert! how you frighten me! Dear me! what a pity I had not an armful of plates, to prove it was not my fault if I broke them all."
"I ask what you are doing," resumed the soldier.
"You see, M. Dagobert," replied Loony, pointing to his basket, "that I came with some wood to master's room, so that he might burn it, if it was cold—which it is."
"Very well. Pick up your wood, and begone!"
"Oh, M. Dagobert! my legs tremble under me. How you did scare me, to be sure!"
"Will you begone, brute?" resumed the veteran; and seizing Loony by the arm, he pushed him towards the door, while Spoil-sport, with recumbent ears, and hair standing up like the quills of a porcupine, seemed inclined to accelerate his retreat.
"I am going, M. Dagobert, I am going," replied the simpleton, as he hastily gathered up his basket; "only please to tell the dog—"
"Go to the devil, you stupid chatterbox!" cried Dagobert, as he pushed Loony through the doorway.
Then the soldier bolted the door which led to the private staircase, and going to that which communicated with the apartments of the two sisters, he double-locked it. Having done this, he hastened to the alcove in which stood the bed and taking down a pair of loaded pistols, he carefully removed the percussion caps, and, unable to repress a deep sigh, restored the weapons to the place in which he had found them. Then, as if on second thoughts, he took down an Indian dagger with a very sharp blade, and drawing it from its silver-gilt sheath, proceeded to break the point of this murderous instrument, by twisting it beneath one of the iron castors of the bed.
Dagobert then proceeded to unfasten the two doors, and, returning slowly to the marble chimney-piece, he leaned against it with a gloomy and pensive air. Crouching before the fire, Spoil-sport followed with an attentive eye the least movement of his master. The good dog displayed a rare and intelligent sagacity. The soldier, having drawn out his handkerchief, let fall, without perceiving it, a paper containing a roll of tobacco. Spoil-sport, who had all the qualities of a retriever of the Rutland race, took the paper between his teeth, and, rising upon his hind-legs, presented it respectfully to Dagobert. But the latter received it mechanically, and appeared indifferent to the dexterity of his dog. The grenadier's countenance revealed as much sorrow as anxiety. After remaining for some minutes near the fire, with fixed and meditative look, he began to walk about the room in great agitation, one of his hands thrust into the bosom of his long blue frock-coat, which was buttoned up to the chin, and the other into one of his hind-pockets.
From time to time he stopped abruptly, and seemed to make reply to his own thoughts, or uttered an exclamation of doubt and uneasiness; then, turning towards the trophy of arms, he shook his head mournfully, and murmured, "No matter—this fear may be idle; but he has acted so extraordinarily these two days, that it is at all events more prudent—"
He continued his walk, and said, after a new and prolonged silence: "Yes he must tell me. It makes me too uneasy. And then the poor children—it is enough to break one's heart."
And Dagobert hastily drew his moustache between his thumb and forefinger, a nervous movement, which with him was an evident symptom of extreme agitation. Some minutes after, the soldier resumed, still answering his inward thoughts: "What can it be? It is hardly possible to be the letters, they are too infamous; he despises them. And yet But no, no—he is above that!"
And Dagobert again began to walk with hasty steps. Suddenly, Spoil-sport pricked up his ears, turned his head in the direction of the staircase door, and growled hoarsely. A few seconds after, some one knocked at the door.
"Who is there?" said Dagobert. There was no answer, but the person knocked again. Losing patience, the soldier went hastily to open it, and saw the servant's stupid face.
"Why don't you answer, when I ask who knocks!" said the soldier, angrily.
"M. Dagobert, you sent me away just now, and I was afraid of making you cross, if I said I had come again."
"What do you want? Speak then—come in, stupid!" cried the exasperated. Dagobert, as he pulled him into the room.
"M. Dagobert, don't be angry—I'll tell you all about it—it is a young man."
"He wants to speak to you directly, Mr. Dagobert."
"His name, M. Dagobert?" replied Loony, rolling about and laughing with an idiotic air.
"Yes, his name. Speak, idiot!"
"Oh, M. Dagobert! it's all in joke that you ask me his name!"
"You are determined, fool that you are, to drive me out of my senses!" cried the soldier, seizing Loony by the collar. "The name of this young man!"
"Don't be angry, M. Dagobert. I didn't tell you the name because you know it."
"Beast!" said Dagobert, shaking his fist at him.
"Yes, you do know it, M. Dagobert, for the young man is your own son. He is downstairs, and wants to speak to you directly—yes, directly."
The stupidity was so well assumed, that Dagobert was the dupe of it. Moved to compassion rather than anger by such imbecility, he looked fixedly at the servant, shrugged his shoulders, and said, as he advanced towards the staircase, "Follow me!"
Loony obeyed; but, before closing the door, he drew a letter secretly from his pocket, and dropped it behind him without turning his head, saying all the while to Dagobert, for the purpose of occupying his attention: "Your son is in the court, M. Dagobert. He would not come up—that's why he is still downstairs!"
Thus talking, he closed the door, believing he had left the letter on the floor of Marshal Simon's room. But he had reckoned without Spoil-sport. Whether he thought it more prudent to bring up the rear, or, from respectful deference for a biped, the worthy dog had been the last to leave the room, and, being a famous carrier, as soon as he saw the letter dropped by Loony, he took it delicately between his teeth, and followed close on the heels of the servant, without the latter perceiving this new proof of the intelligence and sagacity of Spoil-sport.
CHAPTER XLVI. THE ANONYMOUS LETTERS.
We will explain presently what became of the letter, which Spoil-sport held between his teeth, and why he left his master, when the latter ran to meet Agricola. Dagobert had not seen his son for some days. Embracing him cordially, he led him into one of the rooms on the ground floor, which he usually occupied. "And how is your wife?" said the soldier to his son.
"She is well, father, thank you."
Perceiving a great change in Agricola's countenance, Dagobert resumed: "You look sad. Has anything gone wrong since I saw you last?"
"All is over, father. We have lost him," said the smith, in a tone of despair.
"M. Hardy!—why, three days ago, you told me you were going to see him."
"Yes, father, I have seen him—and my dear brother Gabriel saw him and spoke to him—how he speaks! with a voice that comes from the heart!—and he had so revived and encouraged him, that M. Hardy consented to return amongst us. Then I, wild with joy, ran to tell the good news to some of my mates, who were waiting to hear the result of nay interview with M. Hardy. I brought them all with me to thank and bless him. We were within a hundred yards of the house belonging to the black-gowns—"
"Ali, the black-gowns!" said Dagobert, with a gloomy air. "Then some mischief will happen. I know them."
"You are not mistaken, father," answered Agricola, with a sigh. "I was running on with my comrades, when I saw a carriage coming towards us. Some presentiment told me that they were taking away M. Hardy."
"By force!" said Dagobert, hastily.
"No," answered Agricola, bitterly; "no—the priests are too cunning for that. They know how to make you an accomplice in the evil they do you. Shall I not always remember how they managed with my good mother?"
"Yes, the worthy woman! there was a poor fly caught in the spider's web. But this carriage, of which you speak?"
"On seeing it start from the house of the black-gowns," replied Agricola, "my heart sank within me; and, by an impulse stronger than myself, I rushed to the horses' heads, calling on my comrades to help me. But the postilion knocked me down and stunned me with a blow from his whip. When I recovered my senses, the carriage was already far away."
"You were not hurt?" cried Dagobert, anxiously, as he examined his son from top to toe.
"No, father; a mere scratch."
"What did you next, my boy?"
"I hastened to our good angel, Mdlle. de Cardoville, and told her all. 'You must follow M. Hardy on the instant,' said she to me. 'Take my carriage and post-horses. Dupont will accompany you; follow M. Hardy from stage to stage; should you succeed in overtaking him your presence and your prayers may perhaps conquer the fatal influence that these priests have acquired over him.'"
"It was the best advice she could give you. That excellent young lady is always right."
"An hour after, we were upon our way, for we learned by the returned postilions, that M. Hardy had taken the Orleans road. We followed him as far as Etampes. There we heard that he had taken a cross-road, to reach a solitary house in a valley about four leagues from the highway. They told us that this house called the Val-de-St. Herem, belonged to certain priests, and that, as the night was so dark, and the road so bad, we had better sleep at the inn, and start early in the morning. We followed this advice, and set out at dawn. In a quarter of an hour, we quitted the high-road for a mountainous and desert track. We saw nothing but brown rocks, and a few birch trees. As we advanced, the scene became wilder and wilder. We might have fancied ourselves a hundred leagues from Paris. At last we stopped in front of a large, old, black-looking house with only a few small windows in it, and built at the foot of a high, rocky mountain. In my whole life I have never seen anything so deserted and sad. We got out of the carriage, and I rang the bell. A man opened the door. 'Did not the Abbe d'Aigrigny arrive here last night with a gentleman?' said I to this man, with a confidential air. 'Inform the gentleman directly, that I come on business of importance, and that I must see him forthwith.'—The man, believing me an accomplice, showed us in immediately; a moment after, the Abbe d'Aigrigny opened the door, saw me, and drew back; yet, in five minutes more, I was in presence of M. Hardy."
"Well!" said Dagobert, with interest.
Agricola shook his head sorrowfully, and replied: "I knew by the very countenance of M. Hardy, that all was over. Addressing me in a mild but firm voice, he said to me: 'I understand, I can even excuse, the motives that bring you hither. But I am quite determined to live henceforth in solitude and prayer. I take this resolution freely and voluntarily, because I would fain provide for the salvation of my soul. Tell your fellows that my arrangements will be such as to leave them a good remembrance of me.'—And as I was about to speak, M. Hardy interrupted me, saying: 'It is useless, my friend. My determination is unalterable. Do not write to me, for your letters would remain unanswered. Prayer will henceforth be my only occupation. Excuse me for leaving you, but I am fatigued from my journey!'—He spoke the truth for he was as pale as a spectre, with a kind of wildness about the eyes, and so changed since the day before, as to be hardly the same man. His hand, when he offered it on parting from me, was dry and burning. The Abbe d'Aigrigny soon came in. 'Father,' said M. Hardy to him, 'have the goodness to see M. Baudoin to the door.'—So saying, he waved his hand to me in token of farewell, and retired to the next chamber. All was over; he is lost to us forever."
"Yes," said Dagobert, "those black-gowns have enchanted him, like so many others."
"In despair," resumed Agricola, "I returned hither with M. Dupont. This, then, is what the priests have made of M. Hardy—of that generous man, who supported nearly three hundred industrious workmen in order and happiness, increasing their knowledge, improving their hearts, and earning the benediction of that little people, of which he was the providence. Instead of all this, M. Hardy is now forever reduced to a gloomy and unavailing life of contemplation."
"Oh, the black-gowns!" said Dagobert, shuddering, and unable to conceal a vague sense of fear. "The longer I live, the more I am afraid of them. You have seen what those people did to your poor mother; you see what they have just done to M. Hardy; you know their plots against my two poor orphans, and against that generous young lady. Oh, these people are very powerful! I would rather face a battalion of Russian grenadiers, than a dozen of these cassocks. But don't let's talk of it. I have causes enough beside for grief and fear."
Then seeing the astonished look of Agricola, the soldier, unable to restrain his emotion, threw himself into the arms of his son, exclaiming with a choking voice: "I can hold out no longer. My heart is too full. I must speak; and whom shall I trust if not you?"
"Father, you frighten me!" said Agricola, "What is the matter?"
"Why, you see, had it not been for you and the two poor girls, I should have blown out my brains twenty times over rather than see what I see—and dread what I do."
"What do you dread, father?"
"Since the last few days, I do not know what has come over the marshal—but he frightens me."
"Yet in his last interviews with Mdlle. de Cardoville—"
"Yes, he was a little better. By her kind words, this generous young lady poured balm into his wounds; the presence of the young Indian cheered him; he appeared to shake off his cares, and his poor little girls felt the benefit of the change. But for some days, I know not what demon has been loosed against his family. It is enough to turn one's head. First of all, I am sure that the anonymous letters have begun again."
"What letters, father?"
"The anonymous letters."
"But what are they about?"
"You know how the marshal hated that renegade, the Abbe d'Aigrigny. When he found that the traitor was here, and that he had persecuted the two orphans, even as he persecuted their mother to the death—but that now he had become a priest—I thought the marshal would have gone mad with indignation and fury. He wishes to go in search of the renegade. With one word I calmed him. 'He is a priest,' I said; 'you may do what you will, insult or strike him—he will not fight. He began by serving against his country, he ends by becoming a bad priest. It is all in character. He is not worth spitting upon.'—'But surely I may punish the wrong done to my children, and avenge the death of my wife,' cried the marshal, much exasperated.—'They say, as you well know, that there are courts of law to avenge your wrongs,' answered I; 'Mdlle. de Cardoville has lodged a charge against the renegade, for having attempted to confine your daughters in a convent. We must champ the bit and wait."'
"Yes," said Agricola, mournfully, "and unfortunately there lacks proof to bring it home to the Abbe d'Aigrigny. The other day, when I was examined by Mdlle. de Cardoville's lawyer, with regard to our attempt on the convent, he told me that we should meet with obstacles at every step, for want of legal evidence, and that the priests had taken their precautions with so much skill that the indictment would be quashed."
"That is just what the marshal thinks, my boy, and this increases his irritation at such injustice."
"He should despise the wretches."
"But the anonymous letters!"
"Well, what of them, father?"
"You shall know all. A brave and honorable man like the marshal, when his first movement of indignation was over, felt that to insult the renegade disguised in the garb of a priest, would be like insulting an old man or a woman. He determined therefore to despise him, and to forget him as soon as possible. But then, almost every day, there came by the post anonymous letters, in which all sorts of devices were employed, to revive and excite the anger of the marshal against the renegade by reminding him of all the evil contrived by the Abbe d'Aigrigny against him and his family. The marshal was reproached with cowardice for not taking vengeance on this priest, the persecutor of his wife and children, the insolent mocker at his misfortunes."
"And from whom do you suspect these letters to come, father?"
"I cannot tell—it is that which turns one's brain. They must come from the enemies of the marshal, and he has no enemies but the black-gowns."
"But, father, since these letters are to excite his anger against the Abbe d'Aigrigny, they can hardly have been written by priests."
"That is what I have said to myself."
"But what, then, can be their object?"
"Their object? oh, it is too plain!" cried Dagobert. "The marshal is hasty, ardent; he has a thousand reasons to desire vengeance on the renegade. But he cannot do himself justice, and the other sort of justice fails him. Then what does he do? He endeavors to forget, he forgets. But every day there comes to him an insolent letter, to provoke and exasperate his legitimate hatred, by mockeries and insults. Devil take me! my head is not the weakest—but, at such a game, I should go mad."
"Father, such a plot would be horrible, and only worthy of hell!"
"And that is not all."
"The marshal has received other letters; those he has not shown me—but, after he had read the first, he remained like a man struck motionless, and murmured to himself: 'They do not even respect that—oh! it is too much—too much!'—And, hiding his face in his hands he wept."
"The marshal wept!" cried the blacksmith, hardly able to believe what he heard.
"Yes," answered Dagobert, "he wept like a child."
"And what could these letters contain, father?"
"I did not venture to ask him, he appeared so miserable and dejected."
"But thus harassed and tormented incessantly, the marshal must lead a wretched life."
"And his poor little girls too! he sees them grow sadder and sadder, without being able to guess the cause. And the death of his father, killed almost in his arms! Perhaps, you will think all this enough; but, no! I am sure there is something still more painful behind. Lately, you would hardly know the marshal. He is irritable about nothing, and falls into such fits of passion, that—" After a moment's hesitation, the soldier resumed: "I way tell this to you, my poor boy. I have just been upstairs, to take the caps from his pistols."
"What, father!" cried Agricola; "you fear—"
"In the state of exasperation in which I saw him yesterday, there is everything to fear."
"What then happened?"
"Since some time, he has often long secret interviews with a gentleman, who looks like an old soldier and a worthy man. I have remarked that the gloom and agitation of the marshal are always redoubled after one of these visits. Two or three times, I have spoken to him about it; but I saw by his look, that I displeased him, and therefore I desisted.
"Well! yesterday, this gentleman came in the evening. He remained here until eleven o'clock, and his wife came to fetch him, and waited for him in a coach. After his departure, I went up to see if the marshal wanted anything. He was very pale, but calm; he thanked me, and I came down again. You know that my room is just under his. I could hear the marshal walking about as if much agitated, and soon after he seemed to be knocking down the furniture. In alarm, I once more went upstairs. He asked me, with an irritated air, what I wanted, and ordered me to leave the room. Seeing him in that way, I remained; he grew more angry, still I remained; perceiving a chair and table thrown down, I pointed to them with so sad an air that he understood me. You know that he has the best heart in the world, so, taking me by the hand, he said to me: 'Forgive me for causing you this uneasiness, my good Dagobert; but just now, I lost my senses, and gave way to a burst of absurd fury; I think I should have thrown myself out of the window, had it been open. I only hope, that my poor dear girls have not heard me,' added he, as he went on tip-toe to open the door which communicates with his daughters' bedroom. When he had listened anxiously for a moment, he returned to me, and said: 'Luckily, they are asleep.'—Then I asked him what was the cause of his agitation, and if, in spite of my precautions, he had received any more anonymous letters. 'No,' replied he, with a gloomy air; 'but leave me, my friend. I am now better. It has done me good to see you. Good—night, old comrade! go downstairs to bed.'—I took care not to contradict him; but, pretending to go down, I came up again, and seated myself on the top stair, listening. No doubt, to calm himself entirely, the marshal went to embrace his children, for I heard him open and shut their door. Then he returned to his room, and walked about for a long time, but with a more quiet step. At last, I heard him throw himself on his bed, and I came down about break of day. After that, all remained tranquil."
"But whatever can be the matter with him, father?"
"I do not know. When I went up to him, I was astonished at the agitation of his countenance, and the brilliancy of his eyes. He would have looked much the same, had he been delirious, or in a burning fever—so that, when I heard him say, he could have thrown himself out of the window, had it been open, I thought it more prudent to remove the caps from his pistols."
"I cannot understand it!" said Agricola. "So firm, intrepid, and cool a man as the marshal, a prey to such violence!"
"I tell you that something very extraordinary is passing within him. For two days, he has not been to see his children, which is always a bad sign with him—to say nothing of the poor little angels themselves, who are miserable at the notion that they have displeased their father. They displease him! If you only knew the life they lead, dear creatures! a walk or ride with me and their companion, for I never let them go out alone, and, the rest of their time, at their studies, reading, or needlework—always together—and then to bed. Yet their duenna, who is, I think, a worthy woman, tells me that sometimes at night, she has seen them shed tears in their sleep. Poor children! they have hitherto known but little happiness," added the soldier, with a sigh.
At this moment, hearing some one walk hastily across the courtyard, Dagobert raised his eyes, and saw Marshal Simon, with pale face and bewildered air, holding in his two hands a letter, which he seemed to read with devouring anxiety.
CHAPTER XLVII. THE GOLDEN CITY.
While Marshal Simon was crossing the little court with so agitated an air, reading the anonymous letter, which he had received by Spoil-sport's unexpected medium, Rose and Blanche were alone together, in the sitting room they usually occupied, which had been entered for a moment by Loony during their absence. The poor children seemed destined to a succession of sorrows. At the moment their mourning for their mother drew near its close, the tragical death of their grandfather had again dressed them in funereal weeds. They were seated together upon a couch, in front of their work-table. Grief often produces the effect of years. Hence, in a few months, Rose and Blanche had become quite young women. To the infantine grace of their charming faces, formerly so plump and rosy, but now pale and thin, had succeeded an expression of grave and touching sadness. Their large, mild eyes of limpid azure, which always had a dreamy character, were now never bathed in those joyous tears, with which a burst of frank and hearty laughter used of old to adorn their silky lashes, when the comic coolness of Dagobert, or some funny trick of Spoil-sport, cheered them in the course of their long and weary pilgrimage.
In a word, those delightful faces, which the flowery pencil of Greuze could alone have painted in all their velvet freshness, were now worthy of inspiring the melancholy ideal of the immortal Ary Scheffer, who gave us Mignon aspiring to Paradise, and Margaret dreaming of Faust. Rose, leaning back on the couch, held her head somewhat bowed upon her bosom, over which was crossed a handkerchief of black crape. The light streaming from a window opposite, shone softly on her pure, white forehead, crowned by two thick bands of chestnut hair. Her look was fixed, and the open arch of her eyebrows, now somewhat contracted, announced a mind occupied with painful thoughts. Her thin, white little hands had fallen upon her knees, but still held the embroidery, on which she had been engaged. The profile of Blanche was visible, leaning a little towards her sister, with an expression of tender and anxious solicitude, whilst her needle remained in the canvas, as if she had just ceased to work.
"Sister," said Blanche, in a low voice, after some moments of silence, during which the tears seemed to mount to her eyes, "tell me what you are thinking of. You look so sad."
"I think of the Golden City of our dreams," replied Rose, almost in a whisper, after another short silence.
Blanche understood the bitterness of these words. Without speaking, she threw herself on her sister's neck, and wept. Poor girls! the Golden City of their dreams was Paris, with their father in it—Paris, the marvellous city of joys and festivals, through all of which the orphans had beheld the radiant and smiling countenance of their sire! But, alas! the Beautiful City had been changed into a place of tears, and death, and mourning. The same terrible pestilence which had struck down their mother in the heart of Siberia, seemed to have followed them like a dark and fatal cloud, which, always hovering above them, hid the mild blue of the sky, and the joyous light of the sun.
The Golden City of their dreams! It was the place, where perhaps one day their father would present to them two young lovers, good and fair as themselves. "They love you," he was to say; "they are worthy of you. Let each of you have a brother, and me two sons." Then what chaste, enchanting confusion for those two orphans, whose hearts, pure as crystal, had never reflected any image but that of Gabriel, the celestial messenger sent by their mother to protect them!
We can therefore understand the painful emotion of Blanche, when she heard her sister repeat, with bitter melancholy, those words which described their whole situation: "I think of the Golden City of our dreams!"
"Who knows?" proceeded Blanche, drying her sister's tears; "perhaps, happiness may yet be in store for us."
"Alas! if we are not happy with our father by us—shall we ever be so?"
"Yes, when we rejoin our mother," said Blanche, lifting her eyes to heaven.
"Then, sister, this dream may be a warning—it is so like that we had in Germany."
"The difference being that then the Angel Gabriel came down from heaven to us, and that this time he takes us from earth, to our mother."
"And this dream will perhaps come true, like the other, my sister. We dreamt that the Angel Gabriel would protect us, and he came to save us from the shipwreck."
"And, this time, we dream that he will lead us to heaven. Why should not that happen also?"
"But to bring that about, sister, our Gabriel, who saved us from the shipwreck, must die also. No, no; that must not happen. Let us pray that it may not happen."
"No, it will not happen—for it is only Gabriel's good angel, who is so like him, that we saw in our dreams."
"Sister, dear, how singular is this dream!—Here, as in Germany, we have both dreamt the same—three times, the very same!"
"It is true. The Angel Gabriel bent over us, and looked at us with so mild and sad an air, saying: 'Come, my children! come, my sisters! Your mother waits for you. Poor children, arrived from so far!' added he in his tender voice: 'You have passed over the earth, gentle and innocent as two doves, to repose forever in the maternal nest.'"
"Yes, those were the words of the archangel," said the other orphan, with a pensive air; "we have done no harm to any one, and we have loved those who loved us—why should we fear to die?"
"Therefore, dear sister, we rather smiled than wept, when he took us by the hand, and, spreading wide his beautiful white wings, carried us along with him to the blue depths of the sky."
"To heaven, where our dear mother waited for us with open arms, her face all bathed in tears."
"Oh, sweet sister! one has not dreams like ours for nothing. And then," added she, looking at Rose, with a sad smile that went to the heart, "our death might perhaps end the sorrow, of which we have been the cause."
"Alas! it is not our fault. We love him so much. But we are so timid and sorrowful before him, that he may perhaps think we love him not."
So saying, Rose took her handkerchief from her workbasket, to dry her fears; a paper, folded in the form of a letter, fell out.
At this sight, the two shuddered, and pressed close to one mother, and Rose said to Blanche, in a trembling voice: "Another of these letters!—Oh, I am afraid! It will doubtless be like the last."
"We must pick it up quickly, that it may not be seen," said Blanche, hastily stooping to seize the letter; "the people who take interest in us might otherwise be exposed to great danger."
"But how could this letter come to us?"
"How did the others come to be placed right under our hand, and always in the absence of our duenna?"
"It is true. Why seek to explain the mystery? We should never be able to do so. Let us read the letter. It will perhaps be more favorable to us than the last." And the two sisters read as follows:-"Continue to love your father, dear children, for he is very miserable, and you are the involuntary cause of his distress. You will never know the terrible sacrifices that your presence imposes on him; but, alas! he is the victim of his paternal duties. His sufferings are more cruel than ever; spare him at least those marks of tenderness, which occasion him so much more pain than pleasure. Each caress is a dagger-stroke, for he sees in you the innocent cause of his misfortunes. Dear children, you must not therefore despair. If you have enough command over yourselves, not to torture him by the display of too warm a tenderness, if you can mingle some reserve with your affection, you will greatly alleviate his sorrow. Keep these letters a secret from every one, even from good Dagobert, who loves you so much; otherwise, both he and you, your father, and the unknown friend who is writing to you, will be exposed to the utmost peril, for your enemies are indeed formidable. Courage and hope! May your father's tenderness be once more free from sorrow and regret!—That happy day is perhaps not so far distant. Burn this letter like all the others!"