"That is strange indeed," said Rodin with a start. Then, he continued to read:
"All search has hitherto been vain, to discover the authors of the sacrilegious deed. The chapel being, as you know, at a distance from the house, they were able to effect an entry without disturbing us. We have found traces of a four-wheeled carriage on the damp ground in the neighborhood; but, at some little distance from the chapel, these marks are lost in the sand, and it has been impossible to follow them any farther."
"Who can have carried away this body?" said Rodin, with a thoughtful air. "Who could have any interest in doing so?"
He continued to read:
"Luckily, the certificate of death is quite correct. I sent for a doctor from Etampes, to prove the disease, and no question can be raised on that point. The donation is therefore good and valid in every respect, but I think it best to inform your reverence of what has happened, that you may take measures accordingly, etc., etc."
After a moment's reflection, Rodin said to himself: "D'Aigrigny is right in his remark; it is more singular than important. Still, it makes one think. We must have an eye to this affair."
Turning towards the servant, who had brought him the letter, Rodin gave him the note he had just written to Ninny Moulin, and said to him: "Let this letter be taken instantly to its address, and let the bearer wait for an answer."
At the moment the servant left the room, a reverend father entered, and said to Rodin, "Father Caboccini of Rome has just arrived, with a mission from our general to your reverence."
At these words, Rodin's blood ran cold, but he maintained his immovable calmness, and said simply: "Where is Father Caboccini?"
"In the next room, father."
"Beg him to walk in, and leave us," said the other.
A second after, Father Caboccini of Rome entered the room and was left alone with Rodin.
CHAPTER LXII. TO A SOCIUS, A SOCIUS AND A HALF.
The Reverend Father Caboccini, the Roman Jesuit who now came to visit Rodin, was a short man of about thirty years of age, plump, in good condition, and with an abdomen that swelled out his black cassock. The good little father was blind with one eye, but his remaining organ of vision sparkled with vivacity. His rosy countenance was gay, smiling, joyous, splendidly crowned with thick chestnut hair, which curled like a wax doll's. His address was cordial to familiarity, and his expansive and petulant manners harmonized well with his general appearance. In a second, Rodin had taken his measure of the Italian emissary; and as he knew the practice of his Company, and the ways of Rome, he felt by no means comfortable at sight of this jolly little father, with such affable manners. He would have less feared some tall, bony priest, with austere and sepulchral countenance, for he knew that the Company loves to deceive by the outward appearance of its agents; and if Rodin guessed rightly, the cordial address of this personage would rather tend to show that he was charged with some fatal mission.
Suspicious, attentive, with eye and mind on the watch, like an old wolf, expecting an attack, Rodin advanced as usual, slowly and tortuously towards the little man, so as to have time to examine him thoroughly, and penetrate beneath his jovial outside. But the Roman left him no space for that purpose. In his impetuous affection he threw himself right on the neck of Rodin, pressed him in his arms with an effusion of tenderness, and kissed him over and over again upon both cheeks, so loudly and plentifully that the echo resounded through the apartment. In his life Rodin had never been so treated. More and more uneasy at the treachery which must needs lurk under such warm embraces, and irritated by his own evil presentiments, the French Jesuit did, all he could to extricate himself from the Roman's exaggerated tokens of tenderness. But the latter kept his hold; his arms, though short, were vigorous, and Rodin was kissed over and over again, till the little one-eyed man was quite out of breath. It is hardly necessary to state that these embraces were accompanied by the most friendly, affectionate, and fraternal exclamations—all in tolerably good French, but with a strong Italian accent, which we muss beg the reader to supply for himself, after we have given a single specimen. It will perhaps be remembered that, fully aware of the danger he might possibly incur by his ambitious machinations, and knowing from history that the use of poison had often been considered at Rome as a state necessity, Rodin, on being suddenly attacked with the cholera, had exclaimed, with a furious glance at Cardinal Malipieri, "I am poisoned!"
The same apprehensions occurred involuntarily to the Jesuit's mind as he tried, by useless efforts, to escape from the embraces of the Italian emissary; and he could not help muttering to himself, "This one-eyed fellow is a great deal too fond. I hope there is no poison under his Judas-kisses." At last, little Father Caboccini, being quite out of breath, was obliged to relinquish his hold on Rodin's neck, who, readjusting his dirty collar, and his old cravat and waistcoat, somewhat in disorder in consequence of this hurricane of caresses, said in a gruff tone, "Your humble servant, father, but you need not kiss quite so hard."
Without making any answer to this reproach, the little father riveted his one eye upon Rodin with an expression of enthusiasm, and exclaimed, whilst he accompanied his words with petulant gestures, "At lazt I zee te zuperb light of our zacred Company, and can zalute him from my heart—vonse more, vonse more."
As the little father had already recovered his breath, and was about to rush once again into Rodin's arms, the latter stepped back hastily, and held out his arm to keep him off, saying, in allusion to the illogical metaphor employed by Father Caboccini, "First of all, father, one does not embrace a light—and then I am not a light—I am a humble and obscure laborer in the Lord's vineyard."
The Roman replied with enthusiasm (we shall henceforth translate his gibberish), "You are right, father, we cannot embrace a light, but we can prostrate ourselves before it, and admire its dazzling brightness."
So saying, Caboccini was about to suit the action to the word, and to prostrate himself before Rodin, had not the latter prevented this mode of adulation by seizing the Roman by the arm and exclaiming, "This is mere idolatry, father. Pass over my qualities, and tell me what is the object of your journey."
"The object, my dear father, fills me with joy and happiness. I have endeavored to show you my affection by my caresses, for my heart is overflowing. I have hardly been able to restrain myself during my journey hither, for my heart rushed to meet you. The object transports, delights, enchants me—"
"But what enchants you?" cried Rodin, exasperated by these Italian exaggerations. "What is the object?"
"This rescript of our very reverend and excellent General will inform you, my clear father."
Caboccini drew from his pocket-book a folded paper, with three seals, which he kissed respectfully, and delivered to Rodin, who himself kissed it in his turn, and opened it with visible anxiety. While he read it the countenance of the Jesuit remained impassible, but the pulsation of the arteries on his temples announced his internal agitation. Yet he put the letter coolly into his pocket, and looking at the Roman, said to him, "Be it as our excellent General has commanded!"
"Then, father," cried Caboccini, with a new effusion of tenderness and admiration, "I shall be the shadow of your light, and, in fact, your second self. I shall have the happiness of being always with you, day and night, and of acting as your socius, since, after having allowed you to be without one for some time, according to your wish, and for the interest of our blessed Company, our excellent General now thinks fit to send me from Rome, to fill that post about your person—an unexpected, an immense favor, which fills me with gratitude to our General, and with love to you, my dear, my excellent father!"
"It is well played," thought Rodin; "but I am not so soft, and 'tis only among the blind that your Cyclops are kings!"
The evening of the day in which this scene took place between the Jesuit and his new socius, Ninny Moulin, after receiving in presence of Caboccini the instructions of Rodin, went straight to Madame de la Sainte-Colombe's.
This woman had made her fortune, at the time of the allies taking Paris, by keeping one of those "pretty milliner's shops," whose "pink bonnets" have run into a proverb not extinct in these days when bonnets are not known. Ninny Moulin had no better well to draw inspiration from when, as now, he had to find out, as per Rodin's order, a girl of an age and appearance which, singularly enough, were closely resembling those of Mdlle. de Cardoville.
No doubt of Ninny Moulin's success in this mission, for the next morning Rodin, whose countenance wore a triumphant expression, put with his own hand a letter into the post.
This letter was addressed:
"To M. Agricola Baudoin, "No. 2, Rue Brise-Miche, "Paris."
CHAPTER LXIII. FARINGHEA'S AFFECTION.
It will, perhaps, be remembered that Djalma, when he heard for the first time that he was beloved by Adrienne, had, in the fulness of his joy, spoken thus to Faringhea, whose treachery he had just discovered, "You leagued with my enemies, and I had done you no harm. You are wicked, because you are no doubt unhappy. I will strive to make you happy, so that you may be good. Would you have gold?—you shall have it. Would you have a friend?—though you are a slave, a king's son offers you his friendship."
Faringhea had refused the gold, and appeared to accept the friendship of the son of Kadja-sing. Endowed with remarkable intelligence, and extraordinary power of dissimulation the half-breed had easily persuaded the prince of the sincerity of his repentance, and obtained credit for his gratitude and attachment from so confiding and generous a character. Besides, what motives could Djalma have to suspect the slave, now become his friend? Certain of the love of Mdlle. de Cardoville, with whom he passed a portion of every day, her salutary influence would have guarded him against any dangerous counsels or calumnies of the half-caste, a faithful and secret instrument of Rodin, and attached by him to the Company. But Faringhea, whose tact was amazing, did not act so lightly; he never spoke to the prince of Mdlle. de Cardoville, and waited unobtrusively for the confidential communications into which Djalma was sometimes hurried by his excessive joy. A few days after the interview last described between Adrienne and Djalma, and on the morrow of the day when Rodin, certain of the success of Ninny Moulin's mission to Sainte Colombe, had himself put a letter in the post to the address of Agricola Baudoin, the half-caste, who for some time had appeared oppressed with a violent grief, seemed to get so much worse, that the prince, struck with the desponding air of the man, asked him kindly and repeatedly the cause of his sorrow. But Faringhea, while he gratefully thanked the prince for the interest he took in him, maintained the most absolute silence and reserve on the subject of his grief.
These preliminaries will enable the reader to understand the following scene, which took place about noon in the house in the Rue de Clichy occupied by the Hindoo. Contrary to his habit, Djalma had not passed that morning with Adrienne. He had been informed the evening before, by the young lady, that she must ask of him the sacrifice of this whole day, to take the necessary measures to make their marriage sacred and acceptable in the eyes of the world, and yet free from the restrictions which she and Djalma disapproved. As for the means to be employed by Mdlle. de Cardoville to attain this end, and the name of the pure and honorable person who was to consecrate their union, these were secrets which, not belonging exclusively to the young lady, could not yet be communicated to Djalma. To the Indian, so long accustomed to devote every instant to Adrienne, this day seemed interminable. By turns a prey to the most burning agitation, and to a kind of stupor, in which he plunged himself to escape from the thoughts that caused his tortures, Djalma lay stretched upon a divan, with his face buried in his hands, as if to shut out the view of a too enchanting vision. Suddenly, without knocking at the door, as usual, Faringhea entered the prince's apartment.
At the noise the half-caste made in entering Djalma started, raised his head, and looked round him with surprise; but, on seeing the pale agitated countenance of the slave, he rose hastily, and advancing towards him, exclaimed, "What is the matter, Faringhea!"
After a moment's silence, and as if struggling with a painful feeling of hesitation, Faringhea threw himself at the feet of Djalma, and murmured in a weak, despairing, almost supplicating voice: "I am very miserable. Pity me, my good lord!"
The tone was so touching, the grief under which the half-breed suffered seemed to give to his features, generally fixed and hard as bronze, such a heart-rending expression, that Djalma was deeply affected, and, bending to raise him from the ground, said to him, in a kindly voice: "Speak to me! Confidence appeases the torments of the heart. Trust me, friend—for my angel herself said to me, that happy love cannot bear to see tears about him."
"But unhappy love, miserable love, betrayed love—weeps tears of blood," replied Faringhea, with painful dejection.
"Of what love dost thou speak?" asked Djalma, in surprise.
"I speak of my love," answered the half-caste, with a gloomy air.
"Of your love?" said Djalma, more and more astonished; not that the half caste, still young, and with a countenance of sombre beauty, appeared to him incapable of inspiring or feeling the tender passion, but that, until now, he had never imagined him capable of conceiving so deep a sorrow.
"My lord," resumed the half-caste, "you told me, that misfortune had made me wicked, and that happiness would make me good. In those words, I saw a presentiment, and a noble love entered my heart, at the moment when hatred and treachery departed from it. I, the half-savage, found a woman, beautiful and young, to respond to my passion. At least I thought so. But I had betrayed you, my lord, and there is no happiness for a traitor, even though he repent. In my turn, I have been shamefully betrayed."
Then, seeing the surprise of the prince, the half-caste added, as if overwhelmed with confusion: "Do not mock me, my lord! The most frightful tortures would not have wrung this confession from me; but you, the son of a king, deigned to call the poor slave your friend!"
"And your friend thanks you for the confidence," answered Djalma. "Far from mocking, he will console you. Mock you! do you think it possible?"
"Betrayed love merits contempt and insult," said Faringhea, bitterly. "Even cowards may point at one with scorn—for, in this country, the sight of the man deceived in what is dearest to his soul, the very life blood of his life, only makes people shrug their shoulders and laugh."
"But are you certain of this treachery?" said Djalma, mildly. Then he added, with visible hesitation, that proved the goodness of his heart: "Listen to me, and forgive me for speaking of the past! It will only be another proof, that I cherish no evil memories, and that I fully believe in your repentance and affection. Remember, that I also once thought, that she, who is the angel of my life, did not love me—and yet it was false. Who tells you, that you are not, like me, deceived by false appearances?"
"Alas, my lord! could I only believe so! But I dare not hope it. My brain wanders uncertain, I cannot come to any resolution, and therefore I have recourse to you."
"But what causes your suspicions?"
"Her coldness, which sometimes succeeds to apparent tenderness. The refusals she gives me in the name of duty. Yes," added the half-caste, after a moment's silence, "she reasons about her love—a proof, that she has never loved me, or that she loves me no more."
"On the contrary, she perhaps loves you all the more, that she takes into consideration the interest and the dignity of her love."
"That is what they all say," replied the half-caste, with bitter irony, as he fixed a penetrating look on Djalma; "thus speak all those who love weakly, coldly; but those who love valiantly, never show these insulting suspicions. For them, a word from the man they adore is a command; they do not haggle and bargain, for the cruel pleasure of exciting the passion of their lover to madness, and so ruling him more surely. No, what their lover asks of them, were it to cost life and honor, they would grant it without hesitation—because, with them, the will of the man they love is above every other consideration, divine and human. But those crafty women, whose pride it is to tame and conquer man—who take delight in irritating his passion, and sometimes appear on the point of yielding to it—are demons, who rejoice in the tears and torments of the wretch, that loves them with the miserable weakness of a child. While we expire with love at their feet, the perfidious creatures are calculating the effects of their refusals, and seeing how far they can go, without quite driving their victim to despair. Oh! how cold and cowardly are they, compared to the valiant, true-hearted women, who say to the men of their choice: 'Let me be thine to-day-and to-morrow, come shame, despair, and death—it matters little! Be happy! my life is not worth one tear of thine!"
Djalma's brow had darkened, as he listened. Having kept inviolable the secret of the various incidents of his passion for Mdlle. de Cardoville, he could not but see in these words a quite involuntary allusion to the delays and refusals of Adrienne. And yet Djalma suffered a moment in his pride, at the thought of considerations and duties, that a woman holds dearer than her love. But this bitter and painful thought was soon effaced from the oriental's mind, thanks to the beneficent influence of the remembrance of Adrienne. His brow again cleared, and he answered the half-caste, who was watching him attentively with a sidelong glance: "You are deluded by grief. If you have no other reason to doubt her you love, than these refusals and vague suspicions, be satisfied! You are perhaps loved better than you can imagine."
"Alas! would it were so, my lord!" replied the half-caste, dejectedly, as if he had been deeply touched by the words of Djalma. "Yet I say to myself: There is for this woman something stronger than her love—delicacy, dignity, honor, what you will—but she does not love me enough to sacrifice for me this something!"
"Friend, you are deceived," answered Djalma, mildly, though the words affected him with a painful impression. "The greater the love of a woman, the more it should be chaste and noble. It is love itself that awakens this delicacy and these scruples. He rules, instead of being ruled."
"That is true," replied the half-caste, with bitter irony, "Love so rules me, that this woman bids me love in her own fashion, and I have only to submit."
Pausing suddenly, Faringhea hid his face in his hands, and heaved a deep drawn sigh. His features expressed a mixture of hate, rage, and despair, at once so terrible and so painful, that Djalma, more and more affected, exclaimed, as he seized the other's hand: "Calm this fury, and listen to the voice of friendship! It will disperse this evil influence. Speak to me!"
"No, no! it is too dreadful!"
"Speak, I bid thee."
"No! leave the wretch to his despair!"
"Do you think me capable of that?" said Djalma, with a mixture of mildness and dignity, which seemed to make an impression on the half caste.
"Alas!" replied he, hesitating; "do you wish to hear more, my lord?"
"I wish to hear all."
"Well, then! I have not told you all—for, at the moment of making this confession, shame and the fear of ridicule kept me back. You asked me what reason I had to believe myself betrayed. I spoke to you of vague suspicions, refusals, coldness. That is not all—this evening—"
"This evening—she made an appointment—with a man that she prefers to me."
"Who told you so?"
"A stranger who pitied my blindness."
"And suppose the man deceived you—or deceives himself?"
"He has offered me proofs of what he advances."
"He will enable me this evening to witness the interview. 'It may be,' said he, 'that this appointment may have no guilt in it, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary. Judge for yourself, have courage, and your cruel indecision will be at an end.'"
"And what did you answer?"
"Nothing, my lord. My head wandered as it does now and I came to you for advice."
Then, making a gesture of despair, he proceeded with a savage laugh: "Advice? It is from the blade of my kand-jiar that I should ask counsel! It would answer: 'Blood! blood!'"
Faringhea grasped convulsively the long dagger attached to his girdle. There is a sort of contagion in certain forms of passion. At sight of Faringhea's countenance, agitated by jealous fury, Djalma shuddered—for he remembered the fit of insane rage, with which he had been possessed, when the Princess de Saint-Dizier had defied Adrienne to contradict her, as to the discovery of Agricola Baudoin in her bed-chamber. But then, reassured by the lady's proud and noble bearing, Djalma had soon learned to despise the horrible calumny, which Adrienne had not even thought worthy of an answer. Still, two or three times, as the lightning will flash suddenly across the clearest sky, the remembrance of that shameful accusation had crossed the prince's mind, like a streak of fire, but had almost instantly vanished, in the serenity and happiness of his ineffable confidence in Adrienne's heart. These memories, however, whilst they saddened the mind of Djalma, only made him more compassionate with regard to Faringhea, than he might have been without this strange coincidence between the position of the half-caste and his own. Knowing, by his own experience, to what madness a blind fury may be carried, and wishing to tame the half-caste by affectionate kindness, Djalma said to him in a grave and mild tone: "I offered you my friendship. I will now act towards you a friend."
But Faringhea, seemingly a prey to a dull and mute frenzy, stood with fixed and haggard eyes, as though he did not hear Djalma.
The latter laid his hand on his shoulder, and resumed: "Faringhea, listen to me!"
"My lord," said the half-caste, starting abruptly, as from a dream, "forgive me—but—"
"In the anguish occasioned by these cruel suspicions, it is not of your kandjiar that you must take counsel—but of your friend."
"To this interview, which will prove the innocence or the treachery of your beloved, you will do well to go."
"Oh, yes!" said the half-caste, in a hollow voice, and with a bitter smile: "I shall be there."
"But you must not go alone."
"What do you mean, my lord?" cried the half-caste. "Who will accompany me?"
"You, my lord?"
"Yes—perhaps, to save you from a crime—for I know how blind and unjust is the earliest outburst of rage."
"But that transport gives us revenge!" cried the half-caste, with a cruel smile.
"Faringhea, this day is all my own. I shall not leave you," said the prince, resolutely. "Either you shall not go to this interview, or I will accompany you."
The half-caste appeared conquered by this generous perseverance. He fell at the feet of Djalma, pressed the prince's hand respectfully to his forehead and to his lips, and said: "My lord, be generous to the end! forgive me!"
"For what should I forgive you?"
"Before I spoke to you, I had the audacity to think of asking for what you have just freely offered. Not knowing to what extent my fury might carry me, I had thought of asking you this favor, which you would not perhaps grant to an equal, but I did not dare to do it. I shrunk even from the avowal of the treachery I have cause to fear, and I came only to tell you of my misery—because to you alone in all the world I could tell it."
It is impossible to describe the almost candid simplicity, with which the half-breed pronounced these words, and the soft tones, mingled with tears, which had succeeded his savage fury. Deeply affected, Djalma raised him from the ground, and said: "You were entitled to ask of me a mark of friendship. I am happy in having forestalled you. Courage! be of good cheer! I will accompany you to this interview, and if my hopes do not deceive me, you will find you have been deluded by false appearances."
When the night was come, the half-breed and Djalma, wrapped in their cloaks, got into a hackney-coach. Faringhea ordered the coachman to drive to the house inhabited by Sainte-Colombe.
CHAPTER LXIV. AN EVENING AT SAINTE-COLOMBE'S.
Leaving Djalma and Faringhea in the coach, on their way, a few words are indispensable before continuing this scene. Ninny Moulin, ignorant of the real object of the step he took at the instigation of Rodin, had, on the evening before, according to orders received from the latter, offered a considerable sum to Sainte-Colombe, to obtain from that creature (still singularly rapacious) the use of her apartments for whole day. Sainte-Colombe, having accepted this proposition, too advantageous to be refused, had set out that morning with her servants, to whom she wished, she said, in return for their good services, to give a day's pleasure in the country. Master of the house, Rodin, in a black wig, blue spectacles, and a cloak, and with his mouth and chin buried in a worsted comforter—in a word, perfectly disguised—had gone that morning to take a look at the apartments, and to give his instructions to the half-caste. The latter, in two hours from the departure of the Jesuit, had, thanks to his address and intelligence, completed the most important preparation and returned in haste to Djalma, to play with detestable hypocrisy the scene at which we have just been present.
During the ride from the Rue de Clichy to the Rue de Richelieu, Faringhea appeared plunged in a mournful reverie. Suddenly, he said to Djalma to a quick tone: "My lord, if I am betrayed, I must have vengeance."
"Contempt is a terrible revenge," answered Djalma.
"No, no," replied the half-caste, with an accent of repressed rage. "It is not enough. The nearer the moment approaches, the more I feel I must have blood."
"Listen to me—"
"My lord, have pity on me! I was a coward to draw back from my revenge. Let me leave you, my lord! I will go alone to this interview."
So saying, Faringhea made a movement, as if he would spring from the carriage.
Djalma held him by the arm, and said: "Remain! I wilt not leave you. If you are betrayed, you shall not shed blood. Contempt will avenge and friendship will console you."
"No, no, my lord; I am resolved. When I have killed—then I will kill myself," cried the half-caste, with savage excitement. "This kandjiar for the false ones!" added he, laying his hand on his dagger. "The poison in the hilt for me."
"If I resist you, my lord, forgive me! My destiny must be accomplished."
Time pressed, and Djalma, despairing to calm the other's ferocious rage, resolved to have recourse to a stratagem.
After some minutes' silence, he said to Faringhea: "I will not leave you. I will do all I can to save you from a crime. If I do not succeed, the blood you shed be on your own head. This hand shall never again be locked in yours."
These words appeared to make a deep impression on Faringhea. He breathed a long sigh, and, bowing his head upon his breast, remained silent and full of thought. Djalma prepared, by the faint light of the lamps, reflected in the interior of the coach, to throw himself suddenly on the half-caste, and disarm him. But the latter, who saw at a glance the intention of the prince, drew his kandjiar abruptly from his girdle, and holding it still in its sheath, said to the prince in a half-solemn, half-savage tone: "This dagger, in a strong hand, is terrible; and in this phial is one of the most subtle poisons of our country."
He touched a spring, and the knob at the top of the hilt rose like a lid, discovering the mouth of a small crystal phial concealed in this murderous weapon.
"Two or three drops of this poison upon the lips," resumed the half caste, "and death comes slowly and peacefully, in a few hours, and without pain. Only, for the first symptom, the nails turn blue. But he who emptied this phial at a draught would fall dead, as if struck by lightning."
"Yes," replied Djalma; "I know that our country produces such mysterious poisons. But why lay such stress on the murderous properties of this weapon?"
"To show you, my lord, that this kandjiar would ensure the success and impunity of my vengeance. With the blade I could destroy, and by the poison escape from human justice. Well, my lord! this kandjiar—take it—I give it up to you—I renounce my vengeance—rather than render myself unworthy to clasp again your hand!"
He presented the dagger to the prince, who, as pleased as surprised at this unexpected determination, hastily secured the terrible weapon beneath his own girdle; whilst the half-breed continued, in a voice of emotion: "Deep this kandjiar, my lord—and when you have seen and heard all that we go to hear and see—you shall either give me the dagger to strike a wretch—or the poison, to die without striking. You shall command; I will obey."
Djalma was about to reply, when the coach stopped at the house inhabited by Sainte-Colombe. The prince and the half-caste, well enveloped in their mantles, entered a dark porch, and the door was closed after them. Faringhea exchanged a few words with the porter, and the latter gave him a key. The two Orientals soon arrived at Sainte-Colombe's apartments, which had two doors opening upon the landing-place, besides a private entrance from the courtyard. As he put the key into the lock, Faringhea said to Djalma, in an agitated voice: "Pity my weakness, my lord—but, at this terrible moment, I tremble and hesitate. It were perhaps better to doubt—or to forget!"
Then, as the prince was about to answer, the half-caste exclaimed: "No! we must have no cowardice!" and, opening the door precipitately, he entered, followed by Djalma.
When the door was again closed, the prince and the half-caste found themselves in a dark and narrow passage. "Your hand, my lord—let me guide you—walk lightly," said Faringhea, in a low whisper.
He extended his hand to the prince, who took hold of it, and they both advanced silently through the darkness. After leading Djalma some distance, and opening and closing several doors, the half-caste stopped abruptly, and abandoning the hand which he had hitherto held, said to the prince: "My lord, the decisive moment approaches; let us wait here for a few seconds."
A profound silence followed these words of the half-caste. The darkness was so complete, that Djalma could distinguish nothing. In about a minute, he heard Faringhea moving away from him; and then a door was suddenly opened, and as abruptly closed and locked. This circumstance made Djalma somewhat uneasy. By a mechanical movement, he laid his hand upon his dagger, and advanced cautiously towards the side, where he supposed the door to be.
Suddenly, the half-caste's voice struck upon his ear, though it was impossible to guess whence it came. "My lord," it said, "you told me, you were my friend. I act as a friend. If I have employed stratagem to bring you hither, it is because the blindness of your fatal passion would otherwise have prevented your accompanying me. The Princess de Saint Dizier named to you Agricola Baudoin, the lover of Adrienne de Cardoville. Listen—look—judge!"
The voice ceased. It appeared to have issued from one corner of the room. Djalma, still in darkness, perceived too late into what a snare he had fallen, and trembled with rage—almost with alarm.
"Faringhea!" he exclaimed; "where am I? where are you? Open the door on your life! I would leave this place instantly."
Extending his arms, the prince advanced hastily several steps, but he only touched a tapestried wall; he followed it, hoping to find the door, and he at length found it; but it was locked, and resisted all his efforts. He continued his researches, and came to a fireplace with no fire in it, and to a second door, equally fast. In a few moments, he had thus made the circle of the room, and found himself again at the fireplace. The anxiety of the prince increased more and more. He called Faringhea, in a voice trembling with passion. There was no answer. Profound silence reigned without, and complete darkness within. Ere long, a perfumed vapor, of indescribable sweetness, but very subtle and penetrating, spread itself insensibly through the little room in which Djalma was. It might be, that the orifice of a tube, passing through one of the doors of the room, introduced this balmy current. At the height of angry and terrible thoughts, Djalma paid no attention to this odor—but soon the arteries of his temples began to beat violently, a burning heat seemed to circulate rapidly through his veins, he felt a sensation of pleasure, his resentment died gradually away, and a mild, ineffable torpor crept over him, without his being fully conscious of the mental transformation that was taking place. Yet, by a last effort of the wavering will, Djalma advanced once more to try and open one of the doors; he found it indeed, but at this place the vapor was so strong, that its action redoubled, and, unable to move a step further, Djalma was obliged to support himself by leaning against the wall.(43)
Then a strange thing happened. A faint light spread itself gradually through an adjoining apartment, and Djalma now perceived, for the first time, the existence of a little round window, in the wall of the room in which he was. On the side of the prince, this opening was protected by a slight but strong railing, which hardly intercepted the view. On the other side a thick piece of plate-glass was fixed at the distance of two or three inches from the railing in question. The room, which Djalma saw through this window, and through which the faint light was now gradually spreading, was richly furnished. Between two windows, hung with crimson silk curtains, stood a kind of wardrobe, with a looking-glass front; opposite the fireplace in which glowed the burning coals, was a long, wide divan, furnished with cushions.
In another second a woman entered this apartment. Her face and figure were invisible, being wrapped in a long, hooded mantle, of peculiar form, and a dark color. The sight of this mantle made Djalma start. To the pleasure he at first felt succeeded a feverish anxiety, like the growing fumes of intoxication. There was that strange buzzing in his ears which we experience when we plunge into deep waters. It was in a kind of delirium that Djalma looked on at what was passing in the next room. The woman who had just appeared entered with caution, almost with fear. Drawing aside one of the window curtains, she glanced through the closed blinds into the street. Then she returned slowly to the fireplace, where she stood for a moment pensive, still carefully enveloped in her mantle. Completely yielding to the influence of the vapor, which deprived him of his presence of mind—forgetting Faringhea, and all the circumstances that had accompanied his arrival at this house—Djalma concentrated all the powers of his attention on the spectacle before him, at which he seemed to be present as in a dream.
Suddenly Djalma saw the woman leave the fireplace and advance towards the looking-glass. Turning her face toward it, she allowed the mantle to glide down to her feet. Djalma was thunderstruck. He saw the face of Adrienne de Cardoville. Yes, Adrienne, as he had seen her the night before, attired as during her interview with the Princess de Saint Dizier—the light green dress, the rose-colored ribbons, the white head ornaments. A network of white beads concealed her back hair, and harmonized admirably with the shining gold of her ringlets. Finally, as far as the Hindoo could judge through the railing and the thick glass, and in the faint light, it was the figure of Adrienne, with her marble shoulders and swan-like neck, so proud and so graceful. In a word, he could not, he did not doubt that it was Adrienne de Cardoville. Djalma was bathed in a burning dew, his dizzy excitement increased, and, with bloodshot eye and heaving bosom, he remained motionless, gazing almost without the power of thought. The young lady, with her back still turned towards Djalma, arranged her hair with graceful art, took off the network which formed her head-dress, placed it on the chimney-piece, and began to unfasten her gown; then, withdrawing from the looking-glass, she disappeared for an instant from Djalma's view.
"She is expecting Agricola Baudoin, her lover," said a voice, which seemed to proceed from the wall of the dark room in which Djalma was.
Notwithstanding his bewilderment, these terrible words, "She is expecting Agricola Baudoin, her lover," passed like a stream of fire through the brain and heart of the prince. A cloud of blood came over his eyes, he uttered a hollow moan, which the thickness of the glass prevented from being heard in the next room, and broke his nails in attempting to tear down the iron railing before the window.
Having reached this paroxysm of delirious rage, Djalma saw the uncertain light grow still fainter, as if it had been discreetly obscured, and, through the vapory shadow that hung before him, he perceived the young lady returning, clad in a long white dressing-gown, and with her golden curls floating over her naked arms and shoulders. She advanced cautiously in the direction of a door which was hid from Djalma's view. At this moment, one of the doors of the apartment in which the prince was concealed was gently opened by an invisible hand. Djalma noticed it by the click of the lock, and by the current of fresh air which streamed upon his face, for he could see nothing. This door, left open for Djalma, like that in the next room, to which the young lady had drawn near, led to a sort of ante-chamber communicating with the stairs, which some one now rapidly ascended, and, stopping short, knocked twice at the outer door.
"Here comes Agricola Baudoin. Look and listen!" said the same voice that the prince had already heard.
Mad, intoxicated, but with the fixed idea and reckless determination of a madman or a drunkard, Djalma drew the dagger which Faringhea had left in his possession, and stood in motionless expectation. Hardly were the two knocks heard before the young lady quitted the apartment, from which streamed a faint ray of light, ran to the door of the staircase, so that some faint glimmer reached the place where Djalma stood watching, his dagger in his hand. He saw the young lady pass across the ante-chamber, and approach the door of the staircase, where she said in a whisper: "Who is there?"
"It is I—Agricola Baudoin," answered, from, without, a manly voice.
What followed was rapid as lightning, and must be conceived rather than described. Hardly had the young lady drawn the bolt of the door, hardly had Agricola Baudoin stepped across the threshold, than Djalma, with the bound of a tiger, stabbed as it were at once, so rapid were the strokes, both the young lady, who fell dead on the floor, and Agricola, who sank, dangerously wounded, by the side of the unfortunate victim. This scene of murder, rapid as thought, took place in the midst of a half obscurity. Suddenly the faint light from the chamber was completely extinguished, and a second after, Djalma felt his arm seized in the darkness by an iron grasp, and the voice of Faringhea whispered: "You are avenged. Come; we can secure our retreat." Inert, stupefied at what he had done, Djalma offered no resistance, and let himself be dragged by the half-caste into the inner apartment, from which there was another way out.
When Rodin had exclaimed, in his admiration of the generative power of thought, that the word NECKLACE had been the germ of the infernal project he then contemplated, it was, that chance had brought to his mind the remembrance of the too famous affair of the diamond necklace, in which a woman, thanks to her vague resemblance to Queen Marie Antoinette, being dressed like that princess, and favored by the uncertainty of a twilight, had played so skillfully the part of her unfortunate sovereign, as to make the Cardinal Prince de Rohan, though familiar with the court, the complete dupe of the illusion. Having once determined on his execrable design, Rodin had sent Jacques Dumoulin to Sainte-Colombe, without telling him the real object of his mission, to ask this experienced woman to procure a fine young girl, tall, and with red hair. Once found, a costume exactly resembling that worn by Adrienne, and of which the Princess de Saint-Dizier gave the description to Rodin (though herself ignorant of this new plot), was to complete the deception. The rest is known, or may be guessed. The unfortunate girl, who acted as Adrienne's double, believed she was only aiding in a jest. As for Agricola, he had received a letter, in which he was invited to a meeting that might be of the greatest importance to Mdlle. de Cardoville.
(43) See the strange effect of hasheesh. To the effect of this is attributed the kind of hallucination which seized on those unhappy persons, whom the Prince of the Assassins (the Old Man of the Mountain) used as the instruments of his vengeance.
CHAPTER LXV. THE NUPTIAL BED.
The mild light of a circular lamp of oriental alabaster, suspended from the ceiling by three silver chains, spreads a faint lustre through the bed-chamber of Adrienne de Cardoville.
The large ivory bedstead, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, is not at present occupied, and almost disappears beneath snowy curtains of lace and muslin, transparent and vapory as clouds. On the white marble mantlepiece, from beneath which the fire throws ruddy beams on the ermine carpet, is the usual basket filled with a bush of red camellias, in the midst of their shining green leaves. A pleasant aromatic odor, rising from a warm and perfumed bath in the next room, penetrates every corner of the bed-chamber. All without is calm and silent. It is hardly eleven o'clock. The ivory door, opposite to that which leads to the bath-room, opens slowly. Djalma appears. Two hours have elapsed since he committed a double murder, and believed that he had killed Adrienne in a fit of jealous fury.
The servants of Mdlle. de Cardoville, accustomed to Djalma's daily visits, no longer announced his arrival, and admitted him without difficulty, having received no orders to the contrary from their mistress. He had never before entered the bed-chamber, but, knowing that the apartment the lady occupied was on the first floor of the house, he had easily found it. As he entered that virgin sanctuary, his countenance was pretty calm, so well did he control his feelings, only a slight paleness tarnished the brilliant amber of his complexion. He wore that day a robe of purple cashmere, striped with silver—a color which did not show the stains of blood upon it. Djalma closed the door after him, and tore off his white turban, for it seemed to him as if a band of hot iron encircled his brow. His dark hair streamed around his handsome face. He crossed his arms upon his bosom, and looked slowly about him. When his eyes rested on Adrienne's bed, he started suddenly, and his cheek grew purple. Then he drew his hand across his brow, hung down his head, and remained standing for some moments in a dream, motionless as a statue.
After a mournful silence of a few seconds' duration, Djalma fell upon his knees, and raised his eyes to heaven. The Asiatic's countenance was bathed in tears, and no longer expressed any violent passion. On his features was no longer the stamp of hate, or despair, or the ferocious joy of vengeance gratified. It was rather the expression of grief at once simple and immense. For several minutes he was almost choked with sobs, and tears ran freely down his cheeks.
"Dead! dead!" he murmured, in a half-stifled voice. "She, who this morning slept so peacefully in this chamber! And I have killed her. Now that she is dead, what is her treachery to me? I should not have killed her for that. She had betrayed me; she loved the man whom I slew—she loved him! Alas! I could not hope to gain the preference," added he, with a touching mixture of resignation and remorse; "I, poor, untaught youth—how could I merit her love? It was my fault that she did not love me; but, always generous, she concealed from me her indifference, that she might not make me too unhappy—and for that I killed her. What was her crime? Did she not meet me freely? Did she not open to me her dwelling? Did she not allow me to pass whole days with her? No doubt she tried to love me, and could not. I loved her with all the faculties of my soul, but my love was not such as she required. For that, I should not have killed her. But a fatal delusion seized me and, after it was done, I woke as from a dream. Alas! it was not a dream: I have killed her. And yet—until this evening—what happiness I owed to her—what hope—what joy! She made my heart better, nobler, more generous. All came from her," added the Indian, with a new burst of grief. "That remained with me—no one could take from me that treasure of the past—that ought to have consoled me. But why think of it? I struck them both—her and the man—without a struggle. It was a cowardly murder—the ferocity of the tiger that tears its innocent prey!"
Djalma buried his face in his hands. Then, drying his tears, he resumed, "I know, clearly, that I mean to die also. But my death will not restore her to life!"
He rose from the ground, and drew from his girdle Faringhea's bloody dagger; then, taking the little phial from the hilt, he threw the blood stained blade upon the ermine carpet, the immaculate whiteness of which was thus slightly stained with red.
"Yes," resumed Djalma, holding the phial with a convulsive grasp, "I know well that I am about to die. It is right. Blood for blood; my life for hers. How happens it that my steel did not turn aside? How could I kill her?—but it is done—and my heart is full of remorse, and sorrow, an inexpressible tenderness—and I have come here—to die!
"Here, in this chamber," he continued, "the heaven of my burning visions!" And then he added, with a heartrending accent, as he again buried his face in his hands, "Dead! dead!"
"Well! I too shall soon be dead," he resumed, in a firmer voice. "But, no! I will die slowly, gradually. A few drops of the poison will suffice; and, when I am quite certain of dying, my remorse will perhaps be less terrible. Yesterday, she pressed my hand when we parted. Who could have foretold me this?" The Indian raised the phial resolutely to his lips. He drank a few drops of the liquor it contained, and replaced it on a little ivory table close to Adrienne's bed.
"This liquor is sharp and hot," said he. "Now I am certain to die. Oh! that I may still have time to feast on the sight and perfume of this chamber—to lay my dying head on the couch where she has reposed."
Djalma fell on his knees beside the bed, and leaned against it his burning brow. At this moment, the ivory door, which communicated with the bath-room, rolled gently on its hinges, and Adrienne entered. The young lady had just sent away her woman, who had assisted to undress her. She wore a long muslin wrapper of lustrous whiteness. Her golden hair, neatly arranged in little plaits, formed two bands, which gave to her sweet face an extremely juvenile air. Her snowy complexion was slightly tinged with rose-color, from the warmth of the perfumed bath, which she used for a few seconds every evening. When she opened the ivory door, and placed her little naked foot, in its white satin slipper, upon the ermine carpet, Adrienne was dazzlingly beautiful. Happiness sparkled in her eyes, and adorned her brow. All the difficulties relative to her union with Djalma had now been removed. In two days she would be his. The sight of the nuptial chamber oppressed her with a vague and ineffable languor. The ivory door had been opened so gently, the lady's first steps were so soft upon the fur carpet, that Djalma, still leaning against the bed, had heard nothing. But suddenly a cry of surprise and alarm struck upon his ear. He turned round abruptly. Adrienne stood before him.
With an impulse of modesty, Adrienne closed her nightdress over her bosom, and hastily drew back, still more afflicted than angry at what she considered a guilty attempt on the part of Djalma. Cruelly hurt and offended, she was about to reproach him with his conduct, when she perceived the dagger, which he had thrown down upon the ermine carpet. At sight of this weapon, and the expression of fear and stupor which petrified the features of Djalma, who remained kneeling, motionless, with his body thrown back, hands stretched out, his eyes fixed and wildly staring Adrienne, no longer dreading an amorous surprise, was seized with an indescribable terror, and, instead of flying from the prince, advanced several steps towards him, and said, in an agitated voice, whilst she pointed to the kandjiar, "My friend, why are you here? what ails you? why this dagger?"
Djalma made no answer. At first, the presence of Adrienne seemed to him a vision, which he attributed to the excitement of his brain, already (it might be) under the influence of the poison. But when the soft voice sounded in his ears—when his heart bounded with the species of electric shock, which he always felt when he met the gaze of that woman so ardently beloved—when he had contemplated for an instant that adorable face, so fresh and fair, in spite of its expression of deep uneasiness—Djalma understood that he was not the sport of a dream, but that Mdlle. de Cardoville was really before his eyes.
Then, as he began fully to grasp the thought that Adrienne was not dead, though he could not at all explain the prodigy of her resurrection, the Hindoo's countenance was transfigured, the pale gold of his complexion became warm and red, his eyes (tarnished by tears of remorse) shone with new radiance, and his features, so lately contracted with terror and despair, expressed all the phases of the most ecstatic joy. Advancing, still on his knees, towards Adrienne, he lifted up to her his trembling hands, and, too deeply affected to pronounce a word, he gazed on her with so much amazement, love, adoration, gratitude, that the young lady, fascinated by those inexplicable looks, remained mute also, motionless also, and felt, by the precipitate beating of her heart, and by the shudder which ran through her frame, that there was here some dreadful mystery to be unfolded.
At last, Djalma, clasping his hands together, exclaimed with an accent impossible to describe, "Thou art not dead!"
"Dead!" repeated the young lady, in amazement.
"It was not thou, really not thou, whom I killed? God is kind and just!"
And as he pronounced these words with intense joy, the unfortunate youth forgot the victim whom he had sacrificed in error.
More and more alarmed, and again glancing at the dagger en which she now perceived marks of blood—a terrible evidence, in confirmation of the words of Djalma—Mdlle. de Cardoville exclaimed, "You have killed some one, Djalma! Oh! what does he say? It is dreadful!"
"You are alive—I see you—you are here," said Djalma, in a voice trembling with rapture. "You are here—beautiful! pure! for it was not you! Oh, no! had it been you, the steel would have turned back upon myself."
"You have killed some one?" cried the young lady, beside her with this unforeseen revelation, and clasping her hands in horror. "Why? whom did you kill?"
"I do not know. A woman that was like you—a man that I thought your lover—it was an illusion, a frightful dream—you are alive—you are here!"
And the oriental wept for joy.
"A dream? but no, it is not a dream. There is blood upon that dagger!" cried the young lady, as she pointed wildly to the kandjiar. "I tell you there is blood upon it!"
"Yes. I threw it down just now, when I took the poison from it, thinking that I had killed you."
"The poison!" exclaimed Adrienne, and her teeth chattered convulsively. "What poison?"
"I thought I had killed you, and I came here to die."
"To die? Oh! wherefore? who is to die?" cried the young lady, almost in delirium.
"I," replied Djalma, with inexpressible tenderness, "I thought I had killed you—and I took poison."
"You!" exclaimed Adrienne, becoming pale as death. "You!"
"Oh! it is not true!" said the young lady, shaking her head.
"Look!" said the Asiatic. Mechanically, he turned towards the bed—towards the little ivory table, on which sparkled the crystal phial.
With a sudden movement, swifter than thought, swifter, it may be, than the will, Adrienne rushed to the table, seized the phial, and applied it eagerly to her lips.
Djalma had hitherto remained on his knees; but he now uttered a terrible cry, made one spring to the drinker's side, and dragged away the phial, which seemed almost glued to her mouth.
"No matter! I have swallowed as much as you," said Adrienne, with an air of gloomy triumph.
For an instant, there followed an awful silence. Adrienne and Djalma gazed upon each other, mute, motionless, horror-struck. The young lady was the first to break this mournful silence, and said in a tone which she tried to make calm and steady, "Well! what is there extraordinary in this? You have killed, and death most expiate your crime. It is just. I will not survive you. That also is natural enough. Why look at me thus? This poison has a sharp taste—does it act quickly! Tell me, my Djalma!"
The prince did not answer. Shuddering through all his frame, he looked down upon his hands. Faringhea had told the truth; a slight violet tint appeared already beneath the nails. Death was approaching, slowly, almost insensibly, but not the less certain. Overwhelmed with despair at the thought that Adrienne, too, was about to die, Djalma felt his courage fail him. He uttered a long groan, and hid his face in his hands. His knees shook under him, and he felt down upon the bed, near which he was standing.
"Already?" cried the young lady in horror, as she threw herself on her knees at Djalma's feet. "Death already? Do you hide your face from me?"
In her fright, she pulled his hands from before his face. That face was bathed in tears.
"No, not yet," murmured he, through his sobs. "The poison is slow."
"Really!" cried Adrienne, with ineffable joy. Then, kissing the hands of Djalma, she added tenderly, "If the poison is slow, why do you weep?"
"For you! for you!" said the Indian, in a heart-rending tone.
"Think not of me," replied Adrienne, resolutely. "You have killed, and we must expiate the crime. I know not what has taken place; but I swear by our love that you did not do evil for evil's sake. There is some horrible mystery in all this."
"On a pretence which I felt bound to believe," replied Djalma, speaking quickly, and panting for breath, "Faringhea led me to a certain house. Once there, he told me that you had betrayed me. I did not believe him, but I know not what strange dizziness seized upon me—and then, through a half-obscurity, I saw you—"
"No—not you—but a woman resembling you, dressed like you, so that I believed the illusion—and then there came a man—and you flew to meet him—and I—mad with rage—stabbed her, stabbed him, saw them fall—and so came here to die. And now I find you only to cause your death. Oh, misery! misery! that you should die through me!"
And Djalma, this man of formidable energy, began again to weep with the weakness of a child. At sight of this deep, touching, passionate despair, Adrienne, with that admirable courage which women alone possess in love, thought only of consoling Djalma. By an effort of superhuman passion, as the prince revealed to her this infernal plot, the lady's countenance became so splendid with an expression of love and happiness, that the East Indian looked at her in amazement, fearing for an instant that he must have lost his reason.
"No more tears, my adored!" cried the young lady, exultingly. "No more tears—but only smiles of joy and love! Our cruel enemies shall not triumph!"
"What do you say?"
"They wished to make us miserable. We pity them. Our felicity shall be the envy of the world!"
"Oh! I have all my senses about me. Listen to me, my adored! I now understand it all. Falling into a snare, which these wretches spread for you, you have committed murder. Now, in this country, murder leads to infamy, or the scaffold—and to-morrow—to-night, perhaps—you would be thrown into prison. But our enemies have said: 'A man like Prince Djalma does not wait for infamy—he kills himself. A woman like Adrienne de Cardoville does not survive the disgrace or death of her lover—she prefers to die.'"
"Therefore a frightful death awaits them both," said the black-robed men; "and that immense inheritance, which we covet—'"
"And for you—so young, so beautiful so innocent—death is frightful, and these monsters triumph!" cried Djalma. "They have spoken the truth!"
"They have lied!" answered Adrienne. "Our death shall be celestial. This poison is slow—and I adore you, my Djalma!"
She spoke those words in a low voice, trembling with passionate love, and, leaning upon Djalma's knees, approached so near, that he felt her warm breath upon his cheek. As he felt that breath, and saw the humid flame that darted from the large, swimming eyes of Adrienne, whose half opened lips were becoming of a still deeper and brighter hue, the Indian started—his young blood boiled in his veins—he forgot everything—his despair, and the approach of death, which as yet (as with Adrienne), only showed itself in a kind of feverish ardor. His face, like the young girl's, became once more splendidly beautiful.
"Oh, my lover! my husband! how beautiful you are!" said Adrienne, with idolatry. "Those eyes—that brow—those lips—how I love them!—How many times has the remembrance of your grace and beauty, coupled with your love, unsettled my reason, and shaken my resolves—even to this moment, when I am wholly yours!—Yes, heaven wills that we should be united. Only this morning, I gave to the apostolic man, that was to bless our union, in thy name and mine, a royal gift—a gift, that will bring joy and peace to the heart of many an unfortunate creature. Then what have we to regret, my beloved? Our immortal souls will pass away in a kiss, and ascend, full of love, to that God who is all love!"
The light, transparent curtains fell like a cloud over that nuptial and funereal couch. Yes, funereal; for, two hours after, Adrienne and Djalma breathed their last sigh in a voluptuous agony.
CHAPTER LXVI. A DUEL TO THE DEATH.
Adrienne and Djalma died on the 30th of May. The following scene took place on the 31st, the eve of the day appointed for the last convocation of the heirs of Marius de Rennepont. The reader will no doubt remember the room occupied by M. Hardy, in the "house of retreat," in the Rue de Vaugirard—a gloomy and retired apartment, opening on a dreary little garden, planted with yew-trees, and surrounded by high walls. To reach this chamber, it was necessary to cross two vast rooms, the doors of which, once shut, intercepted all noise and communication from without. Bearing this in mind, we may go on with our narrative. For the last three or four days, Father d'Aigrigny occupied this apartment. He had not chosen it, but had been induced to accept it, under most plausible pretexts, given him at the instigation of Rodin. It was about noon. Seated in an arm-chair, by the window opening on the little garden, Father d'Aigrigny held in his hand a newspaper, in which he read as follows, under the head of "Paris:"
"Eleven p.m.—A most horrible and tragical event has just excited the greatest consternation in the quarter of the Rue de Richelieu. A double murder has been committed, on the person of a young man and woman. The girl was killed on the spot, by the stroke of a dagger; hopes are entertained of saving the life of the young man. The crime is attributed to jealousy. The officers of justice are investigating the matter. We shall give full particulars tomorrow."
When he had read these lines, Father d'Aigrigny threw down the paper and remained in deep thought.
"It is incredible," said he, with bitter envy, in allusion to Rodin. "He has attained his end. Hardly one of his anticipations has been defeated. This family is annihilated, by the mere play of the passions, good and evil that he has known how to set in motion. He said it would be so. Oh! I must confess," added Father d'Aigrigny, with a jealous and hateful smile, "that Rodin is a man of rare dissimulation, patience, energy, obstinacy and intelligence. Who would have told a few months ago, when he wrote under my orders, a discreet and humble socius, that he had already conceived the most audacious ambition, and dared to lift his eyes to the Holy See itself? that, thanks to intrigues and corruption, pursued with wondrous ability, these views were not so unreasonable? Nay, that this infernal ambition would soon be realized, were it not that the secret proceedings of this dangerous man have long been as secretly watched?—Ah!" sneered Father d'Aigrigny, with a smile of irony and triumph, "you wish to be a second Sixtus V., do you? And, not content with this audacious pretension, you mean, if successful, to absorb our Company in the Papacy, even as the Sultan has absorbed the Janissaries. Ah! You would make us your stepping-stone to power! And you have thought to humiliate and crush me with your insolent disdain! But patience, patience: the day of retribution approaches. I alone am the depository of our General's will. Father Caboccini himself does not know that. The fate of Rodin is in my hands. Oh! it will not be what he expects. In this Rennepont affair (which, I must needs confess, he has managed admirably), he thinks to outwit us all, and to work only for himself. But to-morrow—"
Father d'Aigrigny was suddenly disturbed in these agreeable reflections. He heard the door of the next room open, and, as he turned round to see who was coming, the door of the apartment in which he was turned upon its hinges. Father d'Aigrigny started with surprise, and became almost purple. Marshal Simon stood before him. And, behind the marshal, in the shadow of the door, Father d'Aigrigny perceived the cadaverous face of Rodin. The latter cast on him one glance of diabolical delight, and instantly disappeared. The door was again closed, and Father d'Aigrigny and Marshal Simon were left alone together. The father of Rose and Blanche was hardly recognizable. His gray hair had become completely white. His pale, thin face had not been shaved for some days. His hollow eyes were bloodshot and restless, and had in them something wild and haggard. He was wrapped in a large cloak, and his black cravat was tied loosely about his neck. In withdrawing from the apartment, Rodin had (as if by inadvertence) double-locked the door on the outside. When he was alone with the Jesuit, the marshal threw back his cloak from his shoulders, and Father d'Aigrigny could see two naked swords, stuck through a silk handkerchief which served him as a belt.
Father d'Aigrigny understood it all. He remembered how, a few days before, Rodin had obstinately pressed him to say what he would do if the marshal were to strike him in the face. There could be no doubt that he, who thought to have held the fate of Rodin in his hands, had been brought by the latter into a fearful peril; for he knew that, the two outer rooms being closed, there was no possibility of making himself heard, and that the high walls of the garden only bordered upon some vacant lots. The first thought which occurred to him, one by no means destitute of probability, was that Rodin, either by his agents at Rome, or by his own incredible penetration, had learned that his fate depended on Father d'Aigrigny, and hoped therefore to get rid of him, by delivering him over to the inexorable vengeance of the father of Rose and Blanche. Without speaking a word, the marshal unbound the handkerchief from his waist, laid the two swords upon the table, and, folding his arms upon his breast, advanced slowly towards Father d'Aigrigny. Thus these two men, who through life had pursued each other with implacable hatred, at length met face to face—they, who had fought in hostile armies, and measured swords in single combat, and one of whom now came to seek vengeance for the death of his children. As the marshal approached, Father d'Aigrigny rose from his seat. He wore that day a black cassock, which rendered still more visible the pale hue, which had now succeeded to the sudden flush on his cheek. For a few seconds, the two men stood face to face without speaking. The marshal was terrific in his paternal despair. His calmness, inexorable as fate, was more impressive than the most furious burst of anger.
"My children are dead," said he at last, in a slow and hollow tone. "I come to kill you."
"Sir," cried Father d'Aigrigny, "listen to me. Do not believe—"
"I must kill you," resumed the marshal, interrupting the Jesuit; "your hate followed my wife into exile, where she perished. You and your accomplices sent my children to certain death. For twenty years you have been my evil genius. I must have your life, and I will have it."
"My life belongs, first, to God," answered Father d'Aigrigny, piously, "and then to who likes to take it."
"We will fight to the death in this room," said the marshal; "and, as I have to avenge my wife and children, I am tranquil as to the result."
"Sir," answered Father d'Aigrigny, coldly, "you forget that my profession forbids me to fight. Once I accepted your challenge—but my position is changed since then."
"Ah!" said the marshal, with a bitter smile; "you refuse to fight because you are a priest?"
"Yes, sir—because I am a priest."
"So that, because he is a priest, a wretch like you may commit any crime, any baseness, under shelter of his black gown?"
"I do not understand a word of your accusations. In any case, the law is open," said Father d'Aigrigny, biting his pale lips, for he felt deeply the insult offered by the marshal; "if you have anything to complain of, appeal to that law, before which all are equal."
Marshal Simon shrugged his shoulders in angry disdain. "Your crimes escape the law—and, could it even reach you, that would not satisfy my vengeance, after all the evil you have done me, after all you have taken from me," said the marshal; and, at the memory of his children, his voice slightly trembled; but he soon proceeded, with terrible calmness: "You must feel that I now only live for vengeance. And I must have such revenge as is worth the seeking—I must have your coward's heart palpitating on the point of my sword. Our last duel was play; this will be earnest—oh! you shall see."
The marshal walked up to the table, where he had laid the two swords. Father d'Aigrigny needed all his resolution to restrain himself. The implacable hate which he had always felt for Marshal Simon, added to these insults, filled him with savage ardor. Yet he answered, in a tone that was still calm: "For the last time, sir, I repeat to you, that my profession forbids me to fight."
"Then you refuse?" said the marshal, turning abruptly towards him.
"Positively. Nothing on earth should force me to it."
"No, sir; nothing."
"We shall see," said the marshal, as his hand fell with its full force on the cheek of Father d'Aigrigny.
The Jesuit uttered a cry of fury; all his blood rushed to his face, so roughly handled; the courage of the man (for he was brave), his ancient military ardor, carried him away; his eyes sparkled, and, with teeth firmly set, and clenched fists, he advanced towards the marshal, exclaiming: "The swords! the swords!"
But suddenly, remembering the appearance of Rodin, and the interest which the latter had in bringing about this encounter, he determined to avoid the diabolical snare laid by his former socius, and so gathered sufficient resolution to restrain his terrible resentment.
To his passing fury succeeded a calm, full of contrition; and, wishing to play his part out to the end, he knelt down, and bowing his head and beating his bosom, repeated: "Forgive me, Lord, for yielding to a movement of rage! and, above all, forgive him who has injured me!"
In spite of his apparent resignation, the Jesuit's voice was neatly agitated. He seemed to feel a hot iron upon his cheek, for never before in his life, whether as a soldier or a priest, had he suffered such an insult. He had thrown himself upon his knees, partly from religious mummery, and partly to avoid the gaze of the marshal, fearing that, were he to meet his eye, he should not be able to answer for himself, but give way to his impetuous feelings. On seeing the Jesuit kneel down, and on hearing his hypocritical invocation, the marshal, whose sword was in his hand, shook with indignation.
"Stand up, scoundrel!" he said, "stand up, wretch!" And he spurned the Jesuit with his boot.
At this new insult, Father d'Aigrigny leaped up, as if he had been moved by steel springs. It was too much; he could bear no more. Blinded with rage, he rushed to the able, caught up the other sword, and exclaimed, grinding his teeth together: "Ah! you will have blood. Well then! it shall be yours—if possible!"
And the Jesuit, still in all the vigor of manhood, his face purple, his large gray eyes sparkling with hate, fell upon his guard with the ease and skill of a finished swordsman.
"At last!" cried the marshal, as their blades were about to cross.
But once more reflection came to damp the fire of the Jesuit. He remembered how this hazardous duel would gratify the wishes of Rodin, whose fate was in his hands, and whom he hated perhaps even more than the marshal. Therefore, in spite of the fury which possessed him, in spite of his secret hope to conquer in this combat, so strong and healthy did he feel himself, and so fatal had been the effects of grief on the constitution of Marshal Simon, he succeeded in mastering his rage, and, to the amazement of the marshal, dropped the point of his sword, exclaiming: "I am a minister of the Lord, and must not shed blood. Forgive ne, heaven! and, oh! forgive my brother also."
Then placing the blade beneath his heel, he drew the hilt suddenly towards him, and broke the weapon into two pieces. The duel was no longer possible. Father d'Aigrigny had put it out of his own power to yield to a new burst of violence, of which he saw the imminent danger. Marshal Simon remained for an instant mute and motionless with surprise and indignation, for he also saw that the duel was now impossible. But, suddenly, imitating the Jesuit, the marshal placed his blade also under his heel, broke it in half, and picking up the pointed end, about eighteen inches in length tore off his black silk cravat, rolled it round the broken part so as to form a handle, and said to Father d'Aigrigny: "Then we will fight with daggers."
Struck with this mixture of coolness and ferocity, the Jesuit exclaimed: "Is this then a demon of hell?"
"No; it is a father, whose children have been murdered," said the marshal, in a hollow voice, whilst he fitted the blade to his hand, and a tear stood in the eye, that instantly after became fierce and ardent.
The Jesuit saw that tear. There was in this mixture of vindictive rage and paternal grief something so awful, and yet so sacred, that for the first time in his life Father d'Aigrigny felt fear—cowardly, ignoble fear—fear for his own safety. While a combat with swords was in question, in which skill, agility, and experience are such powerful auxiliaries to courage, his only difficulty had been to repress the ardor of his hate—but when he thought of the combat proposed, body to body, face to face, heart to heart, he trembled, grew pale, and exclaimed: "A butchery with knives?—never!"
His countenance and the accent betrayed his alarm, so that the marshal himself was struck with it, and fearing to lose his revenge, he cried: "After all, he is a coward! The wretch had only the courage or the vanity of a fencer. This pitiful renegade—this traitor to his country—whom I have cuffed, kicked—yes, kicked, most noble marquis!—shame of your ancient house—disgrace to the rank of gentleman, old or new—ah! it is not hypocrisy, it is not calculation, as I at first thought—it is fear! You need the noise of war, and the eyes of spectators to give you courage—"
"Sir—have a care!" said Father d'Aigrigny, stammering through his clenched teeth, for rage and hate now made him forget his fear-"Must I then spit on you, to make the little blood you have left rise to your face?" cried the exasperated marshal.
"Oh! this is too much! too much!" said the Jesuit, seizing the pointed piece of the blade that lay at his feet.
"It is not enough!" said the marshal, panting for breath. "There, Judas!" and he spat in his face.
"If you will not fight now," added the marshal, "I will beat you like a dog, base child-murderer!"
On receiving the uttermost insult which can be offered to an already insulted man, Father d'Aigrigny lost all his presence of mind, forgot his interests, his resolutions, his fears, forgot even Rodin—felt only the frenzied ardor of revenge—and, recovering his courage, rejoiced in the prospect of a close struggle, in which his superior strength promised success over the enfeebled frame of the marshal for, in this kind of brutal and savage combat, physical strength offers an immense advantage. In an instant, Father d'Aigrigny had rolled his handkerchief round the broken blade, and rushed upon Marshal Simon, who received the shock with intrepidity. For the short time that this unequal struggle lasted—unequal, for the marshal had since some days been a prey to a devouring fever, which had undermined his strength—the two combatants, mute in their fury, uttered not a word or a cry. Had any one been present at this horrible scene, it would have been impossible for him to tell how they dealt their blows. He would have seen two heads—frightful, livid, convulsed—rising, falling, now here, now there—arms, now stiff as bars of iron, and now twisting like serpents—and, in the midst of the undulation of the blue coat of the marshal and the black cassock of the Jesuit, from time to time the sudden gleam of the steel. He would have heard only a dull stamping, and now and then a deep breath. In about two minutes at most, the two adversaries fell, and rolled one over the other. One of them—it was Father d'Aigrigny—contrived to disengage himself with a violent effort, and to rise upon his knees. His arms fell powerless by his side; and then the dying voice of the marshal murmured: "My children! Dagobert!"
"I have killed him," said Father d'Aigrigny, in a weak voice; "but I feel—that I am wounded—to death."
Leaning with one hand on the ground, the Jesuit pressed the other to his bosom. His black cassock was pierced through and through, but the blades, which had served for the combat, being triangular and very sharp, the blood instead of issuing from the wounds, was flowing inwards.
"Oh! I die—I choke," said Father d'Aigrigny, whose features were already changing with the approach of death.
At this moment, the key turned twice in the door, Rodin appeared on the threshold, and, thrusting in his head, he said in a humble and discreet voice: "May I come in?"
At this dreadful irony, Father d'Aigrigny strove to rise, and rush upon Rodin; but he fell back exhausted; the blood was choking him.
"Monster of hell!" he muttered, casting on Rodin a terrible glance of rage and agony. "Thou art the cause of my death."
"I always told you, my dear father, that your old military habits would be fatal to you," answered Rodin with a frightful smile. "Only a few days ago, I gave you warning, and advised you take a blow patiently from this old swordsman—who seems to have done with that work forever, which is well—for the Scripture says: 'All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.' And then this Marshal Simon might have had some claim on his daughter's inheritance. And, between ourselves, my dear father, what was I to do? It was necessary to sacrifice you for the common interest; the rather, that I well knew what you had in pickle for me to-morrow. But I am not so easily caught napping."
"Before I die," said Father d'Aigrigny, in a failing voice, "I will unmask you."
"Oh, no, you will not," said Rodin, shaking his head with a knowing air; "I alone, if you please, will receive your last confession."
"Oh! this is horrible," moaned Father d'Aigrigny, whose eyes were closing. "May God have mercy on me, if it is not too late!—Alas! at this awful moment, I feel that I have been a great sinner—"
"And, above all, a great fool," said Rodin, shrugging his shoulders, and watching with cold disdain the dying moments of his accomplice.
Father d'Aigrigny had now but a few minutes more to live. Rodin perceived it, and said: "It is time to call for help." And the Jesuit ran, with an air of alarm and consternation, into the courtyard of the house.
Others came at his cries; but, as he had promised, Rodin had only quitted Father d'Aigrigny as the latter had breathed his last sigh.
That evening, alone in his chamber, by the glimmer of a little lamp, Rodin sat plunged in a sort of ecstatic contemplation, before the print representing Sixtus V. The great house-clock struck twelve. At the last stroke, Rodin drew himself up in all the savage majesty of his infernal triumph, and exclaimed: "This is the first of June. There are no more Renneponts!—Methinks, I hear the hour from the clock of St. Peter's at Rome striking!"
CHAPTER LXVII. A MESSAGE.
While Rodin sat plunged in ambitious reverie, contemplating the portrait of Sixtus V., good little Father Caboccini, whose warm embraces had so much irritated the first mentioned personage, went secretly to Faringhea, to deliver to him a fragment of an ivory crucifix, and said to him with his usual air of jovial good-nature: "His Excellency Cardinal Malipieri, on my departure from Rome, charged me to give you this only on the 31st of May."
The half-caste, who was seldom affected by anything, started abruptly, almost with an expression of pain. His face darkened, and bending upon the little father a piercing look, he said to him: "You were to add something."
"True," replied Father Caboccini; "the words I was to add are these: 'There is many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip.'"
"It is well," said the other. Heaving a deep sigh, he joined the fragment of the ivory crucifix to a piece already in his possession; it fitted exactly.
Father Caboccini looked at him with curiosity, for the cardinal had only told him to deliver the ivory fragment to Faringhea, and to repeat the above words. Being somewhat mystified with all this, the reverend father said to the half-caste: "What are you going to do with that crucifix?"
"Nothing," said Faringhea, still absorbed in painful thought.
"Nothing?" resumed the reverend father, in astonishment. "What, then, was the use of bringing it so far?"
Without satisfying his curiosity, Faringhea replied: "At what hour to morrow does Father Rodin go to the Rue Saint Francois?"
"Before leaving home, he will go to say prayers in the chapel?"
"Yes, according to the habit of our reverend fathers."
"You sleep near him?"
"Being his socius, I occupy the room next to his."
"It is possible," said Faringhea, after a moment's silence, "that the reverend father, full of the great interests which occupy his mind, might forget to go to the chapel. In that case, pray remind him of this pious duty."
"I shall not fail."
"Pray do not fail," repeated Faringhea, anxiously.
"Be satisfied," said the good little father; "I see that you take great interest in his salvation."
"It is very praiseworthy in you. Continue as you have begun, and you may one day belong, completely to our Company," said Father Caboccini, affectionately.
"I am as yet but a poor auxiliary member," said Faringhea, humbly; "but no one is more devoted to the Society, body and soul. Bowanee is nothing to it."
"Bowanee! who is that, my good friend?"
"Bowanee makes corpses which rot in the ground. The Society makes corpses which walk about."
"Ah, yes! Perinde ac cadaver—they were the last words of our great saint, Ignatius de Loyola. But who is this Bowanee?"
"Bowanee is to the Society what a child is to a man," replied the Asiatic, with growing excitement. "Glory to the Company—glory! Were my father its enemy, I would kill my father. The man whose genius inspires me most with admiration, respect, and terror—were he its enemy, I would kill, in spite of all," said the half-caste, with an effort. Then, after a moment's silence, he looked full in Caboccini's face, and added: "I say this, that you may report my words to Cardinal Malipieri, and beg him to mention them to—"
Faringhea stopped short. "To whom should the cardinal mention your words?" asked Caboccini.
"He knows," replied the half-caste, abruptly. "Good night!"
"Good-night, my friend! I can only approve of your excellent sentiments with regard to our Company. Alas! it is in want of energetic defenders, for there are said to be traitors in its bosom."
"For those," said Faringhea, "we must have no pity."
"Certainly," said the good little father; "we understand one another."
"Perhaps," said the half-caste. "Do not, at all events, forget to remind Father Rodin to go to chapel to-morrow morning."
"I will take care of that," said Father Caboccini.
The two men parted. On his return to the house, Caboccini learned that a courier, only arrived that night from Rome, had brought despatches to Rodin.
CHAPTER LXVIII. THE FIRST OF JUNE.
The chapel belonging to the house of the reverend fathers in the Rue de Vaugirard, was gay and elegant. Large panes of stained glass admitted a mysterious light; the altar shone with gold and silver; and at the entrance of this little church, in an obscure corner beneath the organ loft, was a font for holy water in sculptured marble. It was close to this font, in a dark nook where he could hardly be seen, that Faringhea knelt down, early on the 1st of June, as soon indeed as the chapel doors were opened. The half-caste was exceedingly sad. From time to time he started and sighed, as if agitated by a violent internal struggle. This wild, untamable being, possessed with the monomania of evil and destruction, felt, as may be imagined, a profound admiration for Rodin, who exercised over him a kind of magnetic fascination. The half-caste, almost a wild beast in human form, saw something supernatural in the infernal genius of Rodin. And the latter, too sagacious not to have discovered the savage devotion of this wretch, had made, as we have seen, good use of him, is bringing about the tragical termination of the loves of Adrienne and Djalma. But what excited to an incredible degree the admiration of Faringhea, was what he knew of the Society of Jesus. This immense, occult power, which undermined the world by its subterraneous ramifications, and reached its ends by diabolical means, had inspired the half-caste with a wild enthusiasm. And if anything in the world surpassed his fanatical admiration for Rodin, it was his blind devotion to the Company of Ignatius de Loyola, which, as he said, could make corpses that walk about. Hid in the shadow of the organ-loft, Faringhea was reflecting deeply on these things, when footsteps were heard, and Rodin entered the chapel, accompanied by his socius, the little one-eyed father.
Whether from absence of mind, or that the shadow of the orange-loft completely concealed the half-caste, Rodin dipped his fingers into the font without perceiving Faringhea, who stood motionless as a statue, though a cold sweat streamed from his brow. The prayer of Rodin was, as may be supposed, short; he was in haste to get to the Rue Saint-Francois. After kneeling down with Father Caboccini for a few seconds, he rose, bowed respectfully to the altar, and returned towards the door, followed by his socius. At the moment Rodin approached the font he perceived the tall figure of the half-caste standing out from the midst of the dark shadow; advancing a little, Faringhea bowed respectfully to Rodin, who said to him, in a low voice; "Come to me at two o'clock."
So saying, Rodin stretched forth his hand to dip it into the holy water; but Faringhea spared him the trouble, by offering him the sprinkling brush, which generally stood in the font.
Pressing between his dirty fingers the damp hairs of the brush, which the half-caste held by the handle, Rodin wetted his thumb and forefinger, and, according to custom, traced the sign of the cross upon his forehead. Then, opening the door of the chapel, he went out, after again repeating to Faringhea: "Come to me at two o'clock."
Thinking he would also make use of the sprinkling-brush, which, Faringhea, still motionless, held with a trembling hand, Father Caboccini stretched out his fingers to reach it, when the half-breed, as if determined to confine his favors to Rodin, hastily withdrew the instrument. Deceived in his expectation, Father Caboccini lost no time in following Rodin, whom he was not to leave that day for a single moment, and, getting into a hackney-coach with him, set out for the Rue Saint-Francois. It is impossible to describe the look which the half breed fixed upon Rodin as the latter quitted the chapel. Left alone in the sacred edifice, Faringhea sank upon the stones, half kneeling, half crouching, with his face buried in his hands. As the coach drew near the quarter of the Marais, in which was situated the house of Marius de Rennepont, a feverish agitation, and the devouring impatience of triumph, were visible on the countenance of Rodin. Two or three times he opened his pocketbook, and read and arranged the different certificates of death of the various members of the Rennepont family; and from time to time he thrust his head anxiously from the coach-window, as if he had wished to hasten the slow progress of the vehicle.
The good little father, his socius, did not take his eye off Rodin, and his look had a strange and crafty expression. At last the coach entered the Rue Saint-Francois, and stopped before the iron-studded door of the old house, which had been closed for a century and a half. Rodin sprang from the coach with the agility of a young man, and knocked violently at the door, whilst Father Caboccini, less light of foot, descended more prudently to the ground. No answer was returned to the loud knocking of Rodin. Trembling with anxiety, he knocked again. This time, as he listened attentively, he heard slow steps approaching. They stopped at some distance from the door, which was not yet opened.
"It is keeping one upon red-hot coals," said Rodin, for he felt as if there was a burning fire in his chest. He again shook the door violently, and began to gnaw his nails according to his custom.
Suddenly the door opened, and Samuel, the Jew guardian, appeared beneath the porch. The countenance of the old man expressed bitter grief. Upon his venerable cheeks were the traces of recent tears, which he strove to dry with his trembling hands, as he opened the door to Rodin.
"Who are you, gentlemen?" said Samuel.
"I am the bearer of a power of attorney from the Abbe Gabriel, the only living representative of the Rennepont family," answered Rodin, hastily. "This gentleman is my secretary," added he, pointing to Father Caboccini, who bowed.
After looking attentively at Rodin, Samuel resumed: "I recognize you, sir. Please to follow me." And the old guardian advanced towards the house in the garden, making a sign to the two reverend fathers to follow.
"That confounded old man kept me so long at the door," said Rodin to his socius, "that I think I have caught a cold in consequence. My lips and throat are dried up, like parchment baked at the fire."
"Will you not take something, my dear, good father? Suppose you were to ask this man for a glass of water," cried the little one-eyed priest, with tender solicitude.
"No, no," answered Rodin; "it is nothing. I am devoured by impatience. That is all."
Pale and desolate, Bathsheba, the wife of Samuel, was standing at the door of the apartment she occupied with her husband, in the building next the street. As the Jew passed before her, he said, in Hebrew: "The curtains of the Hall of Mourning?"
"And the iron casket?"
"Is prepared," answered Bathsheba, also in Hebrew.
After pronouncing these words, completely unintelligible to Rodin and Caboccini, Samuel and Bathsheba exchanged a bitter smile, notwithstanding the despair impressed on their countenances.
Ascending the steps, followed by the two reverend fathers, Samuel entered the vestibule of the house, in which a lamp was burning. Endowed with an excellent local memory, Rodin was about to take the direction of the Red Saloon, in which had been held the first convocation of the heirs, when Samuel stopped him, and said: "It is not that way."
Then, taking the lamp, he advanced towards a dark staircase, for the windows of the house had not been un-bricked.
"But," said Rodin, "the last time, we met in a saloon on the ground floor."
"To-day, we must go higher," answered Samuel, as he began slowly to ascend the stairs.
"Where to? higher!" said Rodin, following him.
"To the Hall of Mourning," replied the Jew, and he continued to ascend.
"What is the Hall of Mourning?" resumed Rodin, in some surprise.
"A place of tears and death," answered the Israelite; and he kept on ascending through the darkness, for the little lamp threw but a faint light around.
"But," said Rodin, more and more astonished, and stopping short on the stairs, "why go to this place?"
"The money is there," answered Samuel, and he went on,
"Oh? if the money is there, that alters the case," replied Rodin; and he made haste to regain the few steps he had lost by stopping.
Samuel continued to ascend, and, at a turn of the staircase, the two Jesuits could see by the pale light of the little lamp, the profile of the old Israelite, in the space left between the iron balustrade and the wall, as he climbed on with difficulty above them. Rodin was struck with the expression of Samuel's countenance. His black eyes, generally so calm, sparkled with ardor. His features, usually impressed with a mixture of sorrow, intelligence, and goodness, seemed to grow harsh and stern, and his thin lips wore a strange smile.
"It is not so very high," whispered Rodin to Caboccini, "and yet my legs ache, and I am quite out of breath. There is a strange throbbing too in my temples."
In fact, Rodin breathed hard, and with difficulty. To this confidential communication, good little Father Caboccini, in general so full of tender care for his colleague, made no answer. He seemed to be in deep thought.
"Will we soon be there?" said Rodin, impatiently, to Samuel.
"We are there," replied the Israelite.
"And a good thing too," said Rodin.
"Very good," said the Jew.
Stopping in the midst of a corridor, he pointed with the hand in which he held the lamp to a large door from which streamed a faint light. In spite of his growing surprise. Rodin entered resolutely, followed by Father Caboccini and Samuel. The apartment in which these three personage, now found themselves was very large. The daylight only entered from a belvedere in the roof, the four sides of which had been covered with leaden plates, each of which was pierced with seven holes, forming a cross, thus:
* * * * * * *
Now, the light being only admitted through these holes, the obscurity would have been complete, had it not been for a lamp, which burned on a large massive slab of black marble, fixed against one of the walls. One would have taken it for a funeral chamber, for it was all hung with black curtains, fringed with white. There was no furniture, save the slab of black marble we have already mentioned. On this slab was an iron casket, of the manufacture of the seventeenth century, admirably adorned with open work, like lace made of metal.
Addressing Rodin, who was wiping his forehead with his dirty handkerchief, and looking round him with surprise, but not fear, Samuel said to him: "The will of the testator, however strange it may appear, is sacred with me, and must be accomplished in all things."
"Certainly," said Rodin; "but what are we to do here?"
"You will know presently, sir. You are the representative of the only remaining heir of the Rennepont family, the Abbe Gabriel de Rennepont?"
"Yes, sir, and here are my papers," replied Rodin.
"To save time," resumed Samuel, "I will, previous to the arrival of the magistrate, go through the inventory of the securities contained in this casket, which I withdrew yesterday from the custody of the Bank of France."