The words of the Hindoo, by drawing attention to these dreadful eccentricities, made a strong impression upon the minds of the negro and Faringhea—wild natures, brought by horrible doctrines to the monomania of murder.
Yes—for this also is an established fact—there have been in India members of an abominable community, who killed without motive, without passion—killed for the sake of killing—for the pleasure of murder—to substitute death for life—to make of a living man a corpse, as they have themselves declared in one of their examinations.
The mind loses itself in the attempt to penetrate the causes of these monstrous phenomena. By what incredible series of events, have men been induced to devote themselves to this priesthood of destruction? Without doubt, such a religion could only flourish in countries given up, like India, to the most atrocious slavery, and to the most merciless iniquity of man to man.
Such a creed!—is it not the hate of exasperated humanity, wound up to its highest pitch by oppression?—May not this homicidal sect, whose origin is lost in the night of ages, have been perpetuated in these regions, as the only possible protest of slavery against despotism? May not an inscrutable wisdom have here made Phansegars, even as are made tigers and serpents?
What is most remarkable in this awful sect, is the mysterious bond, which, uniting its members amongst themselves, separates them from all other men. They have laws and customs of their own, they support and help each other, but for them there is neither country nor family; they owe no allegiance save to a dark, invisible power, whose decrees they obey with blind submission, and in whose name they spread themselves abroad, to make corpses, according to their own savage expression.(6)
For some moments the three Stranglers had maintained a profound silence.
Outside the hut, the moon continued to throw great masses of white radiance, and tall bluish shadows, over the imposing fabric of the ruins; the stars sparkled in the heavens; from time to time, a faint breeze rustled through the thick and varnished leaves of the bananas and the palms.
The pedestal of the gigantic statue, which, still entire, stood on the left side of the portico, rested upon large flagstones, half hidden with brambles. Suddenly, one of these stones appeared to fall in; and from the aperture, which thus formed itself without noise, a man, dressed in uniform, half protruded his body, looked carefully around him, and listened.
Seeing the rays of the lamp, which lighted the interior of the hovel, tremble upon the tall grass, he turned round to make a signal, and soon, accompanied by two other soldiers, he ascended, with the greatest silence and precaution, the last steps of the subterranean staircase, and went gliding amongst the ruins. For a few moments, their moving shadows were thrown upon the moonlit ground; then they disappeared behind some fragments of broken wall.
At the instant when the large stone resumed its place and level, the heads of many other soldiers might have been seen lying close in the excavation. The half-caste, the Indian, and the negro, still seated thoughtfully in the hut, did not perceive what was passing.
(6) The following are some passages from the Count de Warren's very curious book, "British India in 1831:" "Besides the robbers, who kill for the sake of the booty they hope to find upon travellers, there is a class of assassins, forming an organized society, with chiefs of their own, a slang-language, a science, a free-masonry, and even a religion, which has its fanaticism and its devotion, its agents, emissaries, allies, its militant forces, and its passive adherents, who contribute their money to the good work. This is the community of the Thugs or Phansegars (deceivers or stranglers, from thugna, to deceive, and phansna, to strangle), a religious and economical society, which speculates with the human race by exterminating men; its origin is lost in the night of ages.
"Until 1810 their existence was unknown, not only to the European conquerors, but even to the native governments. Between the years 1816 and 1830, several of their bands were taken in the act, and punished: but until this last epoch, all the revelations made on the subject by officers of great experience, had appeared too monstrous to obtain the attention or belief of the public; they had been rejected and despised as the dreams of a heated imagination. And yet for many years, at the very least for half a century, this social wound had been frightfully on the increase, devouring the population from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin and from Cutch to Assam.
"It was in the year 1830 that the revelations of a celebrated chief, whose life was spared on condition of his denouncing his accomplices, laid bare the whole system. The basis of the Thuggee Society is a religious belief—the worship of Bowanee, a gloomy divinity, who is only pleased with carnage, and detests above all things the human race. Her most agreeable sacrifices are human victims, and the more of these her disciple may have offered up in this world the more he will be recompensed in the next by all the delights of soul and sense, by women always beautiful, and joys eternally renewed. If the assassin meets the scaffold in his career, he dies with the enthusiasm of a martyr, because he expects his reward. To obey his divine mistress, he murders, without anger and without remorse, the old man, woman and child; whilst, to his fellow-religionists, he may be charitable, humane, generous, devoted, and may share all in common with them, because, like himself, they are the ministers and adopted children of Bowanee. The destruction of his fellow-creatures, not belonging to his community—the diminution of the human race—that is the primary object of his pursuit; it is not as a means of gain, for though plunder may be a frequent, and doubtless an agreeable accessory, it is only secondary in his estimation. Destruction is his end, his celestial mission, his calling; it is also a delicious passion, the most captivating of all sports—this hunting of men!—'You find great pleasure,' said one of those that were condemned, 'in tracking the wild beast to his den, in attacking the boar, the tiger, because there is danger to brave, energy and courage to display. Think how this attraction must be redoubled, when the contest is with man, when it is man that is to be destroyed. Instead of the single faculty of courage, all must be called into action—courage, cunning, foresight, eloquence, intrigue. What springs to put in motion! what plans to develop! To sport with all the passions, to touch the chords of love and friendship, and so draw the prey into one's net—that is a glorious chase—it is a delight, a rapture, I tell you!'
"Whoever was in India in the years 1831 and 1832, must remember the stupor and affright, which the discovery of this vast infernal machine spread through all classes of society. A great number of magistrates and administrators of provinces refused to believe in it, and could not be brought to comprehend that such a system had so long preyed on the body politic, under their eyes as it were, silently, and without betraying itself."—See "British India in 183," by Count Edward de Warren, 2 vols. in 8vo. Paris, 1844.—E. S.
CHAPTER XXII. THE AMBUSCADE
The half-blood Faringhea, wishing doubtless to escape from the dark thoughts which the words of the Indian on the mysterious course of the Cholera had raised within him, abruptly changed the subject of conversation. His eye shone with lurid fire, and his countenance took an expression of savage enthusiasm, as he cried: "Bowanee will always watch over us, intrepid hunters of men! Courage, brothers, courage! The world is large; our prey is everywhere. The English may force us to quit India, three chiefs of the good work—but what matter? We leave there our brethren, secret, numerous, and terrible, as black scorpions, whose presence is only known by their mortal sting. Exiles will widen our domains. Brother, you shall have America!" said he to the Hindoo, with an inspired air. "Brother, you shall have Africa!" said he to the negro. "Brothers, I will take Europe! Wherever men are to be found, there must be oppressors and victims—wherever there are victims, there must be hearts swollen with hate—it is for us to inflame that hate with all the ardor of vengeance! It is for us, servants of Bowanee, to draw towards us, by seducing wiles, all whose zeal, courage, and audacity may be useful to the cause. Let us rival each other in devotion and sacrifices; let us lend each other strength, help, support! That all who are not with us may be our prey, let us stand alone in the midst of all, against all, and in spite of all. For us, there must be neither country nor family. Our family is composed of our brethren; our country is the world."
This kind of savage eloquence made a deep impression on the negro and the Indian, over whom Faringhea generally exercised considerable influence, his intellectual powers being very superior to theirs, though they were themselves two of the most eminent chiefs of this bloody association. "Yes, you are right, brother!" cried the Indian, sharing the enthusiasm of Faringhea; "the world is ours. Even here, in Java, let us leave some trace of our passage. Before we depart, let us establish the good work in this island; it will increase quickly, for here also is great misery, and the Dutch are rapacious as the English. Brother, I have seen in the marshy rice-fields of this island, always fatal to those who cultivate them, men whom absolute want forced to the deadly task—they were livid as corpses—some of them worn out with sickness, fatigue, and hunger, fell—never to rise again. Brothers, the good work will prosper in this country!"
"The other evening," said the half-caste, "I was on the banks of the lake, behind a rock; a young woman came there—a few rags hardly covered her lean and sun-scorched body—in her arms she held a little child, which she pressed weeping to her milkless breast. She kissed it three times, and said to it: 'You, at least, shall not be so unhappy as your father'—and she threw it into the lake. It uttered one wail, and disappeared. On this cry, the alligators, hidden amongst the reeds, leaped joyfully into the water. There are mothers here who kill their children out of pity.—Brothers, the good work will prosper in this country!"
"This morning," said the negro, "whilst they tore the flesh of one of his black slaves with whips, a withered old merchant of Batavia left his country-house to come to the town. Lolling in his palanquin, he received, with languid indolence, the sad caresses of two of those girls, whom he had bought, to people his harem, from parents too poor to give them food. The palanquin, which held this little old man, and the girls, was carried by twelve young and robust men. There are here, you see, mothers who in their misery sell their own daughters—slaves that are scourged—men that carry other men, like beasts of burden.—Brothers, the good work will prosper in this country!"
"Yes, in this country—and in every land of oppression, distress, corruption, and slavery."
"Could we but induce Djalma to join us, as Mahal the Smuggler advised," said the Indian, "our voyage to Java would doubly profit us; for we should then number among our band this brave and enterprising youth, who has so many motives to hate mankind."
"He will soon be here; let us envenom his resentments."
"Remind him of his father's death!"
"Of the massacre of his people!"
"His own captivity!"
"Only let hatred inflame his heart, and he will be ours."
The negro, who had remained for some time lost in thought, said suddenly: "Brothers, suppose Mahal the Smuggler were to betray us?"
"He" cried the Hindoo, almost with indignation; "he gave us an asylum on board his bark; he secured our flight from the Continent; he is again to take us with him to Bombay, where we shall find vessels for America, Europe, Africa."
"What interest would Mahal have to betray us?" said Faringhea. "Nothing could save him from the vengeance of the sons of Bowanee, and that he knows."
"Well," said the black, "he promised to get Djalma to come hither this evening, and, once amongst us, he must needs be our own."
"Was it not the Smuggler who told us to order the Malay to enter the ajoupa of Djalma, to surprise him during his sleep, and, instead of killing him as he might have done, to trace the name of Bowanee upon his arm? Djalma will thus learn to judge of the resolution, the cunning and obedience of our brethren, and he will understand what he has to hope or fear from such men. Be it through admiration or through terror, he must become one of us."
"But if he refuses to join us, notwithstanding the reasons he has to hate mankind?"
"Then—Bowanee will decide his fate," said Faringhea, with a gloomy look; "I have my plan."
"But will the Malay succeed in surprising Djalma during his sleep?" said the negro.
"There is none nobler, more agile, more dexterous, than the Malay," said Faringhea. "He once had the daring to surprise in her den a black panther, as she suckled her cub. He killed the dam, and took away the young one, which he afterwards sold to some European ship's captain."
"The Malay has succeeded!" exclaimed the Indian, listening to a singular kind of hoot, which sounded through the profound silence of the night and of the woods.
"Yes, it is the scream of the vulture seizing its prey," said the negro, listening in his turn; "it is also the signal of our brethren, after they have seized their prey."
In a few minutes, the Malay appeared at the door of the hut. He had wound around him a broad length of cotton, adorned with bright colored stripes.
"Well," said the negro, anxiously; "have you succeeded?"
"Djalma must bear all his life the mark of the good work," said the Malay, proudly. "To reach him, I was forced to offer up to Bowanee a man who crossed my path—I have left his body under the brambles, near the ajoupa. But Djalma is marked with the sign. Mahal the Smuggler was the first to know it."
"And Djalma did not awake?" said the Indian, confounded by the Malay's adroitness.
"Had he awoke," replied the other, calmly, "I should have been a dead man—as I was charged to spare his life."
"Because his life may be more useful to us than his death," said the half-caste. Then, addressing the Malay, he added: "Brother, in risking life for the good work, you have done to-day what we did yesterday, what we may do again to-morrow. This time, you obey; another you will command."
"We all belong to Bowanee," answered the Malay. "What is there yet to do?—I am ready." Whilst he thus spoke, his face was turned towards the door of the hut; on a sudden, he said in a low voice: "Here is Djalma. He approaches the cabin. Mahal has not deceived us."
"He must not see me yet," said Faringhea, retiring to an obscure corner of the cabin, and hiding himself under a mat; "try to persuade him. If he resists—I have my project."
Hardly had Faringhea disappeared, saying these words, when Djalma arrived at the door of the hovel. At sight of those three personages with their forbidding aspect, Djalma started in surprise. But ignorant that these men belonged to the Phansegars, and knowing that, in a country where there are no inns, travellers often pass the night under a tent, or beneath the shelter of some ruins, he continued to advance towards them. After the first moment, he perceived by the complexion and the dress of one of these men, that he was an Indian, and he accosted him in the Hindoo language: "I thought to have found here a European—a Frenchman—"
"The Frenchman is not yet come," replied the Indian; "but he will not be long."
Guessing by Djalma's question the means which Mahal had employed to draw him into the snare, the Indian hoped to gain time by prolonging his error.
"You knew this Frenchman?" asked Djalma of the Phansegar.
"He appointed us to meet here, as he did you," answered the Indian.
"For what?" inquired Djalma, more and more astonished.
"You will know when he arrives."
"General Simon told you to be at this place?"
"Yes, General Simon," replied the Indian.
There was a moment's pause, during which Djalma sought in vain to explain to himself this mysterious adventure. "And who are you?" asked he, with a look of suspicion; for the gloomy silence of the Phansegar's two companions, who stared fixedly at each other, began to give him some uneasiness.
"We are yours, if you will be ours," answered the Indian.
"I have no need of you—nor you of me."
"I know it."
"You are deceived. The English killed your father, a king; made you a captive; proscribed you, you have lost all your possessions."
At this cruel reminder, the countenance of Djalma darkened. He started, and a bitter smile curled his lip. The Phansegar continued:
"Your father was just and brave—beloved by his subjects—they called him 'Father of the Generous,' and he was well named. Will you leave his death unavenged? Will the hate, which gnaws at your heart, be without fruit?"
"My father died with arms in his hand. I revenged his death on the English whom I killed in war. He, who has since been a father to me, and who fought also in the same cause, told me, that it would now be madness to attempt to recover my territory from the English. When they gave me my liberty, I swore never again to set foot in India—and I keep the oaths I make."
"Those who despoiled you, who took you captive, who killed your father—were men. Are there not other men, on whom you can avenge yourself! Let your hate fall upon them!"
"You, who speak thus of men, are not a man!"
"I, and those who resemble me, are more than men. We are, to the rest of the human race, what the bold hunter is to the wild beasts, which they run down in the forest. Will you be, like us, more than a man? Will you glut surely, largely, safely—the hate which devours your heart, for all the evil done you?"
"Your words become more and more obscure: I have no hatred in my heart," said Djalma. "When an enemy is worthy of me, I fight with him; when he is unworthy, I despise him. So that I have no hate—either for brave men or cowards."
"Treachery!" cried the negro on a sudden, pointing with rapid gesture to the door, for Djalma and the Indian had now withdrawn a little from it, and were standing in one corner of the hovel.
At the shout of the negro, Faringhea, who had not been perceived by Djalma, threw off abruptly the mat which covered him, drew his crease, started up like a tiger, and with one bound was out of the cabin. Then, seeing a body of soldiers advancing cautiously in a circle, he dealt one of them a mortal stroke, threw down two others, and disappeared in the midst of the ruins. All this passed so instantaneously, that, when Djalma turned round, to ascertain the cause of the negro's cry of alarm, Faringhea had already disappeared.
The muskets of several soldiers, crowding to the door, were immediately pointed at Djalma and the three Stranglers, whilst others went in pursuit of Faringhea. The negro, the Malay, and the Indian, seeing the impossibility of resistance, exchanged a few rapid words, and offered their hands to the cords, with which some of the soldiers had provided themselves.
The Dutch captain, who commanded the squad, entered the cabin at this moment. "And this other one?" said he, pointing out Djalma to the soldiers, who were occupied in binding the three Phansegars.
"Each in his turn, captain!" said an old sergeant. "We come to him next."
Djalma had remained petrified with surprise, not understanding what was passing round him; but, when he saw the sergeant and two soldiers approach with ropes to bind him, he repulsed them with violent indignation, and rushed towards the door where stood the officer. The soldiers, who had supposed that Djalma would submit to his fate with the same impassibility as his companions, were astounded by this resistance, and recoiled some paces, being struck in spite of themselves, with the noble and dignified air of the son of Kadja-sing.
"Why would you bind me like these men?" cried Djalma, addressing himself in Hindostanee to the officer, who understood that language from his long service in the Dutch colonies.
"Why would we bind you, wretch?—because you form part of this band of assassins. What?" added the officer in Dutch, speaking to the soldiers, "are you afraid of him?—Tie the cord tight about his wrists; there will soon be another about his neck."
"You are mistaken," said Djalma, with a dignity and calmness which astonished the officer; "I have hardly been in this place a quarter of an hour—I do not know these men. I came here to meet a Frenchman."
"Not a Phansegar like them?—Who will believe the falsehood?"
"Them!" cried Djalma, with so natural a movement and expression of horror, that with a sign the officer stopped the soldiers, who were again advancing to bind the son of Kadja-sing; "these men form part of that horrible band of murderers! and you accuse me of being their accomplice!—Oh, in this case, sir! I am perfectly at ease," said the young man, with a smile of disdain.
"It will not be sufficient to say that you are tranquil," replied the officer; "thanks to their confessions, we now know by what mysterious signs to recognize the Thugs."
"I repeat, sir, that I hold these murderers in the greatest horror, and that I came here—"
The negro, interrupting Djalma, said to the officer with a ferocious joy: "You have hit it; the sons of the good work do know each other by marks tattooed on their skin. For us, the hour has come—we give our necks to the cord. Often enough have we twined it round the necks of those who served not with us the good work. Now, look at our arms, and look at the arms of this youth!"
The officer, misinterpreting the words of the negro, said to Djalma: "It is quite clear, that if, as this negro tells us, you do not bear on your arm the mysterious symbol—(we are going to assure ourselves of the fact), and if you can explain your presence here in a satisfactory manner, you may be at liberty within two hours."
"You do not understand me," said the negro to the officer; "Prince Djalma is one of us, for he bears on his left arm the name of Bowanee."
"Yes! he is like us, a son of Kale!" added the Malay.
"He is like us, a Phansegar," said the Indian.
The three men, irritated at the horror which Djalma had manifested on learning that they were Phansegars, took a savage pride in making it believed that the son of Kadja-sing belonged to their frightful association.
"What have you to answer?" said the officer to Djalma. The latter again gave a look of disdainful pity, raised with his right hand his long, wide left sleeve, and displayed his naked arm.
"What audacity!" cried the officer, for on the inner part of the fore arm, a little below the bend, the name of the Bowanee, in bright red Hindoo characters, was distinctly visible. The officer ran to the Malay, and uncovered his arm; he saw the same word, the same signs. Not yet satisfied, he assured himself that the negro and the Indian were likewise so marked.
"Wretch!" cried he, turning furiously towards Djalma; "you inspire even more horror than your accomplices. Bind him like a cowardly assassin," added he to the soldiers; "like a cowardly assassin, who lies upon the brink of the grave, for his execution will not be long delayed."
Struck with stupor, Djalma, who for some moments had kept his eye riveted on the fatal mark, was unable to pronounce a word, or make the least movement: his powers of thought seemed to fail him, in presence of this incomprehensible fact.
"Would you dare deny this sign?" said the officer to him, with indignation.
"I cannot deny what I see—what is," said Djalma, quite overcome.
"It is lucky that you confess at last," replied the officer. "Soldiers, keep watch over him and his accomplices—you answer for them."
Almost believing himself the sport of some wild dream. Djalma offered no resistance, but allowed himself to be bound and removed with mechanical passiveness. The officer, with part of his soldiers, hoped still to discover Faringhea amongst the ruins; but his search was vain, and, after spending an hour in fruitless endeavors, he set out for Batavia, where the escort of the prisoners had arrived before him.
Some hours after these events, M. Joshua van Dael thus finished his long despatch, addressed to M. Rodin, of Paris:
"Circumstances were such, that I could not act otherwise; and, taking all into consideration, it is a very small evil for a great good. Three murderers are delivered over to justice, and the temporary arrest of Djalma will only serve to make his innocence shine forth with redoubled luster.
"Already this morning I went to the governor, to protest in favor of our young prince. 'As it was through me,' I said, 'that those three great criminals fell into the hands of the authorities, let them at least show me some gratitude, by doing everything to render clear as day the innocence of Prince Djalma, so interesting by reason of his misfortunes and noble qualities. Most certainly,' I added, 'when I came yesterday to inform the governor, that the Phansegars would be found assembled in the ruins of Tchandi, I was far from anticipating that any one would confound with those wretches the adopted son of General Simon, an excellent man, with whom I have had for some time the most honorable relations. We must, then, at any cost, discover the inconceivable mystery that has placed Djalma in this dangerous position;' and, I continued, 'so convinced am I of his innocence, that, for his own sake, I would not ask for any favor on his behalf. He will have sufficient courage and dignity to wait patiently in prison for the day of justice.' In all this, you see, I spoke nothing but the truth, and had not to reproach myself with the least deception, for nobody in the world is more convinced than I am of Djalma's innocence.
"The governor answered me as I expected, that morally he felt as certain as I did of the innocence of the young prince, and would treat him with all possible consideration; but that it was necessary for justice to have its course, because it would be the only way of demonstrating the falsehood of the accusation, and discovering by what unaccountable fatality that mysterious sign was tattooed upon Djalma's arm.
"Mahal the Smuggler, who alone could enlighten justice on this subject, will in another hour have quitted Batavia, to go on board the 'Ruyter,' which will take him to Egypt; for he has a note from me to the captain, to certify that he is the person for whom I engaged and paid the passage. At the same time, he will be the bearer of this long despatch, for the 'Ruyter' is to sail in an hour, and the last letter-bag for Europe was made up yesterday evening. But I wished to see the governor this morning, before closing the present.
"Thus, then, is Prince Djalma enforced detained for a month, and, this opportunity of the 'Ruyter' once lost, it is materially impossible that the young Indian can be in France by the 13th of next February. You see, therefore, that, even as you ordered, so have I acted according to the means at my disposal—considering only the end which justifies them—for you tell me a great interest of the society is concerned.
"In your hands, I have been what we all ought to be in the hands of our superiors—a mere instrument: since, for the greater glory of God, we become corpses with regard to the will.(7) Men may deny our unity and power, and the times appear opposed to us; but circumstances only change; we are ever the same.
"Obedience and courage, secrecy and patience, craft and audacity, union and devotion—these become us, who have the world for our country, our brethren for family, Rome for our Queen!
About ten o'clock in the morning, Mahal the Smuggler set out with this despatch (sealed) in his possession, to board the "Ruyter." An hour later, the dead body of this same Mahal, strangled by Thuggee, lay concealed beneath some reeds on the edge of a desert strand, whither he had gone to take boat to join the vessel.
When at a subsequent period, after the departure of the steamship, they found the corpse of the smuggler, M. Joshua sought in vain for the voluminous packet, which he had entrusted to his care. Neither was there any trace of the note which Mahal was to have delivered to the captain of the "Ruyter," in order to be received as passenger.
Finally, the searches and bushwhacking ordered throughout the country for the purpose of discovering Faringhea, were of no avail. The dangerous chief of the Stranglers was never seen again in Java.
(7) It is known that the doctrine of passive and absolute obedience, the main-spring of the Society of Jesus, is summed up in those terrible words of the dying Loyola: "Every member of the Order shall be, in the hands of his superiors, even as a corpse (Perinde ac Cadaver)."—E. S.
CHAPTER XXIII. M. RODIN.
Three months have elapsed since Djalma was thrown into Batavia Prison accused of belonging to the murderous gang of Megpunnas. The following scene takes place in France, at the commencement of the month of February, 1832, in Cardoville Manor House, an old feudal habitation standing upon the tall cliffs of Picardy, not far from Saint Valery, a dangerous coast on which almost every year many ships are totally wrecked, being driven on shore by the northwesters, which render the navigation of the Channel so perilous.
From the interior of the Castle is heard the howling of a violent tempest, which has arisen during the night; a frequent formidable noise, like the discharge of artillery, thunders in the distance, and is repeated by the echoes of the shore; it is the sea breaking with fury against the high rocks which are overlooked by the ancient Manor House.
It is about seven o'clock in the morning. Daylight is not yet visible through the windows of a large room situated on the ground-floor. In this apartment, in which a lamp is burning, a woman of about sixty years of age, with a simple and honest countenance, dressed as a rich farmer's wife of Picardy, is already occupied with her needle-work, notwithstanding the early hour. Close by, the husband of this woman, about the same age as herself, is seated at a large table, sorting and putting up in bags divers samples of wheat and oats. The face of this white-haired man is intelligent and open, announcing good sense and honesty, enlivened by a touch of rustic humor; he wears a shooting-jacket of green cloth, and long gaiters of tan-colored leather, which half conceal his black velveteen breeches.
The terrible storm which rages without renders still more agreeable the picture of this peaceful interior. A rousing fire burns in a broad chimney-place faced with white marble, and throws its joyous light on the carefully polished floor; nothing can be more cheerful than the old fashioned chintz hangings and curtains with red Chinese figures upon a white ground, and the panels over the door painted with pastoral scenes in the style of Watteau. A clock of Sevres china, and rosewood furniture inlaid with green—quaint and portly furniture, twisted into all sorts of grotesque shapes—complete the decorations of this apartment.
Out-doors, the gale continued to howl furiously, and sometimes a gust of wind would rush down the chimney, or shake the fastenings of the windows. The man who was occupied in sorting the samples of grain was M. Dupont, bailiff of Cardoville manor.
"Holy Virgin!" said his wife; "what dreadful weather, my dear! This M. Rodin, who is to come here this morning, as the Princess de Saint Dizier's steward announced to us, picked out a very bad day for it."
"Why, in truth, I have rarely heard such a hurricane. If M. Rodin has never seen the sea in its fury, he may feast his eyes to-day with the sight."
"What can it be that brings this M. Rodin, my dear?"
"Faith! I know nothing about it. The steward tells me in his letter to show M. Rodin the greatest attention, and to obey him as if he were my master. It will be for him to explain himself, and for me to execute his orders, since he comes on the part of the princess."
"By rights he should come from Mademoiselle Adrienne, as the land belongs to her since the death of the duke her father."
"Yes; but the princess being aunt to the young lady, her steward manages Mademoiselle Adrienne's affairs—so whether one or the other, it amounts to the same thing."
"May be M. Rodin means to buy the estate. Though, to be sure, that stout lady who came from Paris last week on purpose to see the chateau appeared to have a great wish for it."
At these words the bailiff began to laugh with a sly look.
"What is there to laugh at, Dupont?" asked his wife, a very good creature, but not famous for intelligence or penetration.
"I laugh," answered Dupont, "to think of the face and figure of that enormous woman: with such a look, who the devil would call themselves Madame de la Sainte-Colombe—Mrs. Holy Dove? A pretty saint, and a pretty dove, truly! She is round as a hogshead, with the voice of a town-crier; has gray moustachios like an old grenadier, and without her knowing it, I heard her say to her servant: 'Stir your stumps, my hearty!'—and yet she calls herself Sainte-Colombe!"
"How hard on her you are, Dupont; a body don't choose one's name. And, if she has a beard, it is not the lady's fault."
"No—but it is her fault to call herself Sainte-Colombe. Do you imagine it her true name? Ah, my poor Catherine, you are yet very green in some things."
"While you, my poor Dupont, are well read in slander! This lady seems very respectable. The first thing she asked for on arriving was the chapel of the Castle, of which she had heard speak. She even said that she would make some embellishments in it; and, when I told her we had no church in this little place, she appeared quite vexed not to have a curate in the village."
"Oh, to be sure! that's the first thought of your upstarts—to play the great lady of the parish, like your titled people."
"Madame de la Sainte-Colombe need not play the great lady, because she is one."
"She! a great lady? Oh, lor'!"
"Yes—only see how she was dressed, in scarlet gown, and violet gloves like a bishop's; and, when she took off her bonnet, she had a diamond band round her head-dress of false, light hair, and diamond ear-drops as large as my thumb, and diamond rings on every finger! None of your tuppenny beauties would wear so many diamonds in the middle of the day."
"You are a pretty judge!"
"That is not all."
"Do you mean to say there's more?"
"She talked of nothing but dukes, and marquises, and counts, and very rich gentlemen, who visit at her house, and are her most intimate friends; and then, when she saw the summer house in the park, half-burnt by the Prussians, which our late master never rebuilt, she asked, 'What are those ruins there?' and I answered: 'Madame, it was in the time of the Allies that the pavilion was burnt.'—'Oh, my clear,' cried she; 'our allies, good, dear allies! they and the Restoration began my fortune!' So you see, Dupont, I said to myself directly: 'She was no doubt one of the noble women who fled abroad—'"
"Madame de la Sainte-Colombe!" cried the bailiff, laughing heartily. "Oh, my poor, poor wife!"
"Oh, it is all very well; but because you have been three years at Paris, don't think yourself a conjurer!"
"Catherine, let's drop it: you will make me say some folly, and there are certain things which dear, good creatures like you need never know."
"I cannot tell what you are driving at, only try to be less slanderous—for, after all, should Madame de la Sainte-Colombe buy the estate, will you be sorry to remain as her bailiff, eh?"
"Not I—for we are getting old, my good Catherine; we have lived here twenty years, and we have been too honest to provide for our old days by pilfering—and truly, at our age, it would be hard to seek another place, which perhaps we should not find. What I regret is, that Mademoiselle Adrienne should not keep the land; it seems that she wished to sell it, against the will of the princess."
"Good gracious, Dupont! is it not very extraordinary that Mademoiselle Adrienne should have the disposal of her large fortune so early in life?"
"Faith! simple enough. Our young lady, having no father or mother, is mistress of her property, besides having a famous little will of her own. Dost remember, ten years ago, when the count brought her down here one summer?—what an imp of mischief! and then what eyes! eh?—how they sparkled, even then!"
"It is true that Mademoiselle Adrienne had in her look—an expression—a very uncommon expression for her age."
"If she has kept what her witching, luring face promised, she must be very pretty by this time, notwithstanding the peculiar color of her hair—for, between ourselves, if she had been a tradesman's daughter, instead of a young lady of high birth, they would have called it red."
"There again! more slander."
"What! against Mademoiselle Adrienne? Heaven forbid—I always thought that she would be as good as pretty, and it is not speaking ill of her to say she has red hair. On the contrary, it always appears to me so fine, so bright, so sunny, and to suit so well her snowy complexion and black eyes, that in truth I would not have had it other than it was; and I am sure, that now this very color of her hair, which would be a blemish in any one else, must only add to the charm of Mademoiselle Adrienne's face. She must have such a sweet vixen look!"
"Oh! to be candid, she really was a vixen—always running about the park, aggravating her governess, climbing the trees—in fact, playing all manner of naughty tricks."
"I grant you, Mademoiselle Adrienne was a chip of the old block; but then what wit, what engaging ways, and above all, what a good heart!"
"Yes—that she certainly had. Once I remember she gave her shawl and her new merino frock to a poor little beggar girl, and came back to the house in her petticoat, and bare arms."
"Oh, an excellent heart—but headstrong—terribly headstrong!"
"Yes—that she was; and 'tis likely to finish badly, for it seems that she does things at Paris—oh! such things—"
"Oh, my dear; I can hardly venture—"
"Fell, but what are they?"
"Why," said the worthy dame, with a sort of embarrassment and confusion, which showed how much she was shocked by such enormities, "they say, that Mademoiselle Adrienne never sets foot in a church, but lives in a kind of heathen temple in her aunt's garden, where she has masked women to dress her up like a goddess, and scratches them very often, because she gets tipsy—without mentioning, that every night she plays on a hunting horn of massive gold—all which causes the utmost grief and despair to her poor aunt the princess."
Here the bailiff burst into a fit of laughter, which interrupted his wife.
"Now tell me," said he, when this first access of hilarity was over, "where did you get these fine stories about Mademoiselle Adrienne?"
"From Rene's wife, who went to Paris to look for a child to nurse; she called at Saint-Dizier House, to see Madame Grivois, her godmother.—Now Madame Grivois is first bedchamber woman to the princess—and she it was who told her all this—and surely she ought to know, being in the house."
"Yes, a fine piece of goods that Grivois! once she was a regular bad 'un, but now she professes to be as over-nice as her mistress; like master like man, they say. The princess herself, who is now so stiff and starched, knew how to carry on a lively game in her time. Fifteen years ago, she was no such prude: do you remember that handsome colonel of hussars, who was in garrison at Abbeville? an exiled noble who had served in Russia, whom the Bourbons gave a regiment on the Restoration?"
"Yes, yes—I remember him; but you are really too backbiting."
"Not a bit—I only speak the truth. The colonel spent his whole time here, and every one said he was very warm with this same princess, who is now such a saint. Oh! those were the jolly times. Every evening, some new entertainment at the chateau. What a fellow that colonel was, to set things going; how well he could act a play!—I remember—"
The bailiff was unable to proceed. A stout maid-servant, wearing the costume and cap of Picardy, entered in haste, and thus addressed her mistress: "Madame, there is a person here that wants to speak to master; he has come in the postmaster's calash from Saint-Valery, and he says that he is M. Rodin."
"M. Rodin?" said the bailiff rising. "Show him in directly!"
A moment after, M. Rodin made his appearance. According to his custom, he was dressed even more than plainly. With an air of great humility, he saluted the bailiff and his wife, and at a sign from her husband, the latter withdrew. The cadaverous countenance of M. Rodin, his almost invisible lips, his little reptile eyes, half concealed by their flabby lids, and the sordid style of his dress, rendered his general aspect far from prepossessing; yet this man knew how, when it was necessary, to affect, with diabolical art, so much sincerity and good-nature—his words were so affectionate and subtly penetrating—that the disagreeable feeling of repugnance, which the first sight of him generally inspired, wore off little by little, and he almost always finished by involving his dupe or victim in the tortuous windings of an eloquence as pliant as it was honeyed and perfidious; for ugliness and evil have their fascination, as well as what is good and fair.
The honest bailiff looked at this man with surprise, when he thought of the pressing recommendation of the steward of the Princess de Saint Dizier; he had expected to see quite another sort of personage, and, hardly able to dissemble his astonishment, he said to him: "Is it to M. Rodin that I have the honor to speak?"
"Yes, sir; and here is another letter from the steward of the Princess de Saint-Dizier."
"Pray, sir, draw near the fire, whilst I just see what is in this letter. The weather is so bad," continued the bailiff, obligingly, "may I not offer you some refreshment?"
"A thousand thanks, my dear sir; I am off again in an hour."
Whilst M. Dupont read, M. Rodin threw inquisitive glances round the chamber; like a man of skill and experience, he had frequently drawn just and useful inductions from those little appearances, which, revealing a taste or habit, give at the same time some notion of a character; on this occasion, however, his curiosity was at fault.
"Very good, sir," said the bailiff, when he had finished reading; "the steward renews his recommendation, and tells me to attend implicitly to your commands."
"Well, sir, they will amount to very little, and I shall not trouble you long."
"It will be no trouble, but an honor."
"Nay, I know how much your time must be occupied, for, as soon as one enters this chateau, one is struck with the good order and perfect keeping of everything in it—which proves, my dear sir, what excellent care you take of it."
"Oh, sir, you flatter me."
"Flatter you?—a poor old man like myself has something else to think of. But to come to business: there is a room here which is called the Green Chamber?"
"Yes, sir; the room which the late Count-Duke de Cardoville used for a study."
"You will have the goodness to take me there."
"Unfortunately, it is not in my power to do so. After the death of the Count-Duke, and when the seals were removed, a number of papers were shut up in a cabinet in that room, and the lawyers took the keys with them to Paris."
"Here are those keys," said M. Rodin, showing to the bailiff a large and a small key tied together.
"Oh, sir! that is different. You come to look for papers?"
"Yes—for certain papers—and also far a small mahogany casket, with silver clasps—do you happen to know it?"
"Yes, sir; I have often seen it on the count's writing-table. It must be in the large, lacquered cabinet, of which you have the key."
"You will conduct me to this chamber, as authorized by the Princess de Saint-Dizier?"
"Yes, sir; the princess continues in good health?"
"Perfectly so. She lives altogether above worldly things."
"And Mademoiselle Adrienne?"
"Alas, my dear sir!" said M. Rodin, with a sigh of deep contrition and grief.
"Good heaven, sir! has any calamity happened to Mademoiselle Adrienne?"
"In what sense do you mean it?"
"Is she ill?"
"No, no—she is, unfortunately, as well as she is beautiful."
"Unfortunately!" cried the bailiff, in surprise.
"Alas, yes! for when beauty, youth, and health are joined to an evil spirit of revolt and perversity—to a character which certainly has not its equal upon earth—it would be far better to be deprived of those dangerous advantages, which only become so many causes of perdition. But I conjure you, my dear sir, let us talk of something else: this subject is too painful," said M. Rodin, with a voice of deep emotion, lifting the tip of his little finger to the corner of his right eye, as if to stop a rising tear.
The bailiff did not see the tear, but he saw the gesture, and he was struck with the change in M. Rodin's voice. He answered him, therefore, with much sympathy: "Pardon my indiscretion, sir; I really did not know—"
"It is I who should ask pardon for this involuntary display of feeling—tears are so rare with old men—but if you had seen, as I have, the despair of that excellent princess, whose only fault has been too much kindness, too much weakness, with regard to her niece—by which she has encouraged her—but, once more, let us talk of something else, my dear sir!"
After a moment's pause, during which M. Rodin seemed to recover from his emotion, he said to Dupont: "One part of my mission, my dear sir—that which relates to the Green Chamber—I have now told you; but there is yet another. Before coming to it, however, I must remind you of a circumstance you have perhaps forgotten—namely, that some fifteen or sixteen years ago, the Marquis d'Aigrigny, then colonel of the hussars in garrison at Abbeville, spent some time in this house."
"Oh, sir! what a dashing officer was there! It was only just now, that I was talking about him to my wife. He was the life of the house!—how well he could perform plays—particularly the character of a scapegrace. In the Two Edmonds, for instance, he would make you die with laughing, in that part of a drunken soldier—and then, with what a charming voice he sang Joconde, sir—better than they could sing it at Paris!"
Rodin, having listened complacently to the bailiff, said to him: "You doubtless know that, after a fierce duel he had with a furious Bonapartist, one General Simon, the Marquis d'Aigrigny (whose private secretary I have now the honor to be) left the world for the church."
"No, sir! is it possible? That fine officer!"
"That fine officer—brave, noble, rich, esteemed, and flattered—abandoned all those advantages for the sorry black gown; and, notwithstanding his name, position, high connections, his reputation as a great preacher, he is still what he was fourteen years ago—a plain abbe—whilst so many, who have neither his merit nor his virtues, are archbishops and cardinals."
M. Rodin expressed himself with so much goodness, with such an air of conviction, and the facts he cited appeared to be so incontestable, that M. Dupont could not help exclaiming: "Well, sir, that is splendid conduct!"
"Splendid? Oh, no!" said M. Rodin, with an inimitable expression of simplicity; "it is quite a matter of course when one has a heart like M. d'Aigrigny's. But amongst all his good qualities, he has particularly that of never forgetting worthy people—people of integrity, honor, conscience—and therefore, my dear M. Dupont, he has not forgotten you."
"What, the most noble marquis deigns to remember—"
"Three days ago, I received a letter from him, in which he mentions your name."
"Is he then at Paris?"
"He will be there soon, if not there now. He went to Italy about three months ago, and, during his absence, he received a very sad piece of news—the death of his mother, who was passing the autumn on one of the estates of the Princess de Saint-Dizier."
"Oh, indeed! I was not aware of it."
"Yes, it was a cruel grief to him; but we must all resign ourselves to the will of Providence!"
"And with regard to what subject did the marquis do me the honor to mention my name?"
"I am going to tell you. First of all, you must know that this house is sold. The bill of sale was signed the day before my departure from Paris."
"Oh, sir! that renews all my uneasiness."
"I am afraid that the new proprietors may not choose to keep me as their bailiff."
"Now see what a lucky chance! It is just on that subject that I am going to speak to you."
"Is it possible?"
"Certainly. Knowing the interest which the marquis feels for you, I am particularly desirous that you should keep this place, and I will do all in my power to serve you, if—"
"Ah, sir!" cried Dupont, interrupting Rodin; "what gratitude do I not owe you! It is Heaven that sends you to me!'
"Now, my dear sir, you flatter me in your turn; but I ought to tell you, that I'm obliged to annex a small condition to my support."
"Oh, by all means! Only name it, sir—name it!"
"The person who is about to inhabit this mansion, is an old lady in every way worthy of veneration; Madame de la Sainte-Colombe is the name of this respectable—"
"What, sir?" said the bailiff, interrupting Rodin; "Madame de la Sainte Colombe the lady who has bought us out?"
"Do you know her?"
"Yes, sir, she came last week to see the estate. My wife persists that she is a great lady; but—between ourselves—judging by certain words that I heard her speak—"
"You are full of penetration, my dear M. Dupont. Madame de la Sainte Colombe is far from being a great lady. I believe she was neither more nor less than a milliner, under one of the wooden porticoes of the Palais Royal. You see, that I deal openly with you."
"And she boasted of all the noblemen, French and foreign, who used to visit her!"
"No doubt, they came to buy bonnets for their wives! However, the fact is, that, having gained a large fortune and, after being in youth and middle age—indifferent—alas! more than indifferent to the salvation of her soul—Madame de la Sainte-Colombe is now in a likely way to experience grace—which renders her, as I told you, worthy of veneration, because nothing is so respectable as a sincere repentance—always providing it to be lasting. Now to make the good work sure and effectual, we shall need your assistance, my dear M. Dupont."
"Mine, sir! what can I do in it?"
"A great deal; and I will explain to you how. There is no church in this village, which stands at an equal distance from either of two parishes. Madame de la Sainte-Colombe, wishing to make choice of one of the two clergymen, will naturally apply to you and Madame Dupont, who have long lived in these parts, for information respecting them."
"Oh! in that case the choice will soon be made. The incumbent of Danicourt is one of the best of men."
"Now that is precisely what you must not say to Madame de la Sainte Colombe."
"You must, on the contrary, much praise, without ceasing, the curate of Roiville, the other parish, so as to decide this good lady to trust herself to his care."
"And why, sir, to him rather than to the other?"
"Why?—because, if you and Madame Dupont succeed in persuading Madame de la Sainte-Colombe to make the choice I wish, you will be certain to keep your place as bailiff. I give you my word of it, and what I promise I perform."
"I do not doubt, sir, that you have this power," said Dupont, convinced by Rodin's manner, and the authority of his words; "but I should like to know—"
"One word more," said Rodin, interrupting him; "I will deal openly with you, and tell you why I insist on the preference which I beg you to support. I should be grieved if you saw in all this the shadow of an intrigue. It is only for the purpose of doing a good action. The curate of Roiville, for whom I ask your influence, is a man for whom M. d'Aigrigny feels a deep interest. Though very poor, he has to support an aged mother. Now, if he had the spiritual care of Madame de la Sainte Colombe, he would do more good than any one else, because he is full of zeal and patience; and then it is clear he would reap some little advantages, by which his old mother might profit—there you see is the secret of this mighty scheme. When I knew that this lady was disposed to buy an estate in the neighborhood of our friend's parish, I wrote about it to the marquis; and he, remembering you, desired me to ask you to render him this small service, which, as you see, will not remain without a recompense. For I tell you once more, and I will prove it, that I have the power to keep you in your place as bailiff."
"Well, sir," replied Dupont, after a moment's reflection, "you are so frank and obliging, that I will imitate your sincerity. In the same degree that the curate of Danicourt is respected and loved in this country, the curate of Roiville, whom you wish me to prefer to him, is dreaded for his intolerance—and, moreover—"
"Well, and what more?"
"Why, then, they say—"
"Come, what do they say?"
"They say—he is a Jesuit."
Upon these words, M. Rodin burst into so hearty a laugh that the bailiff was quite struck dumb with amazement—for the countenance of M. Rodin took a singular expression when he laughed. "A Jesuit!" he repeated, with redoubled hilarity; "a Jesuit!—Now really, my dear M. Dupont, for a man of sense, experience, and intelligence, how can you believe such idle stories?—A Jesuit—are there such people as Jesuits?—in our time, above all, can you believe such romance of the Jacobins, hobgoblins of the old freedom lovers?—Come, come; I wager, you have read about them in the Constitutionnel!"
"And yet, sir, they say—"
"Good heavens! what will they not say?—But wise men, prudent men like you, do not meddle with what is said—they manage their own little matters, without doing injury to any one, and they never sacrifice, for the sake of nonsense, a good place, which secures them a comfortable provision for the rest of their days. I tell you frankly, however much I may regret it, that should you not succeed in getting the preference for my man, you will not remain bailiff here.
"But, sir," said poor Dupont, "it will not be my fault, if this lady, hearing a great deal in praise of the other curate, should prefer him to your friend."
"Ah! but if, on the other hand, persons who have long lived in the neighborhood—persons worthy of confidence, whom she will see every day—tell Madame de la Sainte-Colombe a great deal of good of my friend, and a great deal of harm of the other curate, she will prefer the former, and you will continue bailiff."
"But, sir—that would be calumny!" cried Dupont.
"Pshaw, my dear M. Dupont!" said Rodin, with an air of sorrowful and affectionate reproach, "how can you think me capable of giving you evil counsel?—I was only making a supposition. You wish to remain bailiff on this estate. I offer you the certainty of doing so—it is for you to consider and decide."
"One word more—or rather one more condition—as important as the other. Unfortunately, we have seen clergymen take advantage of the age and weakness of their penitents, unfairly to benefit either themselves or others: I believe our protege incapable of any such baseness—but, in order to discharge my responsibility—and yours also, as you will have contributed to his appointment—I must request that you will write to me twice a week, giving the most exact detail of all that you have remarked in the character, habits, connections, pursuits, of Madame de la Sainte Colombe—for the influence of a confessor, you see, reveals itself in the whole conduct of life, and I should wish to be fully edified by the proceedings of my friend, without his being aware of it—or, if anything blameable were to strike you, I should be immediately informed of it by this weekly correspondence."
"But, sir—that would be to act as a spy?" exclaimed the unfortunate bailiff.
"Now, my dear M. Dupont! how can you thus brand the sweetest, most wholesome of human desires—mutual confidence?—I ask of you nothing else—I ask of you to write to me confidentially the details of all that goes on here. On these two conditions, inseparable one from the other, you remain bailiff; otherwise, I shall be forced, with grief and regret, to recommend some one else to Madame de la Sainte-Colombe."
"I beg you, sir," said Dupont, with emotion, "Be generous without any conditions!—I and my wife have only this place to give us bread, and we are too old to find another. Do not expose our probity of forty years' standing to be tempted by the fear of want, which is so bad a counsellor!"
"My dear M. Dupont, you are really a great child: you must reflect upon this, and give me your answer in the course of a week."
"Oh, sir! I implore you—" The conversation was here interrupted by a loud report, which was almost instantaneously repeated by the echoes of the cliffs. "What is that?" said M. Rodin. Hardly had he spoken, when the same noise was again heard more distinctly than before.
"It is the sound of cannon," cried Dupont, rising; "no doubt a ship in distress, or signaling for a pilot."
"My dear," said the bailiffs wife, entering abruptly, "from the terrace, we can see a steamer and a large ship nearly dismasted—they are drifting right upon the shore—the ship is firing minute gulls—it will be lost."
"Oh, it is terrible!" cried the bailiff, taking his hat and preparing to go out, "to look on at a shipwreck, and be able to do nothing!"
"Can no help be given to these vessels?" asked M. Rodin.
"If they are driven upon the reefs, no human power can save them; since the last equinox two ships have been lost on this coast."
"Lost with all on board?—Oh, very frightful," said M. Rodin.
"In such a storm, there is but little chance for the crew; no matter," said the bailiff, addressing his wife, "I will run down to the rocks with the people of the farm, and try to save some of them, poor creatures!—Light large fires in several rooms—get ready linen, clothes, cordials—I scarcely dare hope to save any, but we must do our best. Will you come with me, M. Rodin?"
"I should think it a duty, if I could be at all useful, but I am too old and feeble to be of any service," said M. Rodin, who was by no means anxious to encounter the storm. "Your good lady will be kind enough to show me the Green Chamber, and when I have found the articles I require, I will set out immediately for Paris, for I am in great haste."
"Very well, sir. Catherine will show you. Ring the big bell," said the bailiff to his servant; "let all the people of the farm meet me at the foot of the cliff, with ropes and levers."
"Yes, my dear," replied Catherine; "but do not expose yourself."
"Kiss me—it will bring me luck," said the bailiff; and he started at a full run, crying: "Quick! quick; by this time not a plank may remain of the vessels."
"My dear madam," said Rodin, always impassible, "will you be obliging enough to show me the Green Chamber?"
"Please to follow me, sir," answered Catherine, drying her tears—for she trembled on account of her husband, whose courage she well knew.
CHAPTER XXIV. THE TEMPEST
The sea is raging. Mountainous waves of dark green, marbled with white foam, stand out, in high, deep undulations, from the broad streak of red light, which extends along the horizon. Above are piled heavy masses of black and sulphurous vapor, whilst a few lighter clouds of a reddish gray, driven by the violence of the wind, rush across the murky sky.
The pale winter sun, before he quite disappears in the great clouds, behind which he is slowly mounting, casts here and there some oblique rays upon the troubled sea, and gilds the transparent crest of some of the tallest waves. A band of snow-white foam boils and rages as far as the eye can reach, along the line of the reefs that bristle on this dangerous coast.
Half-way up a rugged promontory, which juts pretty far into the sea, rises Cardoville Castle; a ray of the sun glitters upon its windows; its brick walls and pointed roofs of slate are visible in the midst of this sky loaded with vapors.
A large, disabled ship, with mere shreds of sail still fluttering from the stumps of broken masts, drives dead upon the coast. Now she rolls her monstrous hull upon the waves—now plunges into their trough. A flash is seen, followed by a dull sound, scarcely perceptible in the midst of the roar of the tempest. That gun is the last signal of distress from this lost vessel, which is fast forging on the breakers.
At the same moment, a steamer, with its long plume of black smoke, is working her way from east to west, making every effort to keep at a distance from the shore, leaving the breakers on her left. The dismasted ship, drifting towards the rocks, at the mercy of the wind and tide, must some time pass right ahead of the steamer.
Suddenly, the rush of a heavy sea laid the steamer upon her side; the enormous wave broke furiously on her deck; in a second the chimney was carried away, the paddle box stove in, one of the wheels rendered useless. A second white-cap, following the first, again struck the vessel amidships, and so increased the damage that, no longer answering to the helm, she also drifted towards the shore, in the same direction as the ship. But the latter, though further from the breakers, presented a greater surface to the wind and sea, and so gained upon the steamer in swiftness that a collision between the two vessels became imminent—a new clanger added to all the horrors of the now certain wreck.
The ship was an English vessel, the "Black Eagle," homeward bound from Alexandria, with passengers, who arriving from India and Java, via the Red Sea, had disembarked at the Isthmus of Suez, from on board the steamship "Ruyter." The "Black Eagle," quitting the Straits of Gibraltar, had gone to touch at the Azores. She headed thence for Portsmouth, when she was overtaken in the Channel by the northwester. The steamer was the "William Tell," coming from Germany, by way of the Elbe, and bound, in the last place, for Hamburg to Havre.
These two vessels, the sport of enormous rollers, driven along by tide and tempest, were now rushing upon the breakers with frightful speed. The deck of each offered a terrible spectacle; the loss of crew and passengers appeared almost certain, for before them a tremendous sea broke on jagged rocks, at the foot of a perpendicular cliff.
The captain of the "Black Eagle," standing on the poop, holding by the remnant of a spar, issued his last orders in this fearful extremity with courageous coolness. The smaller boats had been carried away by the waves; it was in vain to think of launching the long-boat; the only chance of escape in case the ship should not be immediately dashed to pieces on touching the rocks, was to establish a communication with the land by means of a life-line—almost the last resort for passing between the shore and a stranded vessel.
The deck was covered with passengers, whose cries and terror augmented the general confusion. Some, struck with a kind of stupor, and clinging convulsively to the shrouds, awaited their doom in a state of stupid insensibility. Others wrung their hands in despair, or rolled upon the deck uttering horrible imprecations. Here, women knelt down to pray; there, others hid their faces in their hands, that they might not see the awful approach of death. A young mother, pale as a specter, holding her child clasped tightly to her bosom, went supplicating from sailor to sailor, and offering a purse full of gold and jewels to any one that would take charge of her son.
These cries, and tears, and terror contrasted with the stern and silent resignation of the sailors. Knowing the imminence of the inevitable danger, some of them stripped themselves of part of their clothes, waiting for the moment to make a last effort, to dispute their lives with the fury of the waves; others renouncing all hope, prepared to meet death with stoical indifference.
Here and there, touching or awful episodes rose in relief, if one may so express it, from this dark and gloomy background of despair.
A young man of about eighteen or twenty, with shiny black hair, copper colored complexion, and perfectly regular and handsome features, contemplated this scene of dismay and horror with that sad calmness peculiar to those who have often braved great perils; wrapped in a cloak, he leaned his back against the bulwarks, with his feet resting against one of the bulkheads. Suddenly, the unhappy mother, who, with her child in her arms, and gold in her hand, had in vain addressed herself to several of the mariners, to beg them to save her boy, perceiving the young man with the copper-colored complexion, threw herself on her knees before him, and lifted her child towards him with a burst of inexpressible agony. The young man took it, mournfully shook his head, and pointed to the furious waves—but, with a meaning gesture, he appeared to promise that he would at least try to save it. Then the young mother, in a mad transport of hope, seized the hand of the youth, and bathed it with her tears.
Further on, another passenger of the "Black Eagle," seemed animated by sentiments of the most active pity. One would hardly have given him five-and-twenty years of age. His long, fair locks fell in curls on either side of his angelic countenance. He wore a black cassock and white neck-band. Applying himself to comfort the most desponding, he went from one to the other, and spoke to them pious words of hope and resignation; to hear him console some, and encourage others, in language full of unction, tenderness, and ineffable charity, one would have supposed him unaware or indifferent to the perils that he shared.
On his fine, mild features, was impressed a calm and sacred intrepidity, a religious abstraction from every terrestrial thought; from time to time, he raised to heaven his large blue eyes, beaming with gratitude, love, and serenity, as if to thank God for having called him to one of those formidable trials in which the man of humanity and courage may devote himself for his brethren, and, if not able to rescue them at all, at least die with them, pointing to the sky. One might almost have taken him for an angel, sent down to render less cruel the strokes of inexorable fate.
Strange contrast! not far from this young man's angelic beauty, there was another being, who resembled an evil spirit!
Boldly mounted on what was left of the bowsprit, to which he held on by means of some remaining cordage, this man looked down upon the terrible scene that was passing on the deck. A grim, wild joy lighted up his countenance of a dead yellow, that tint peculiar to those who spring from the union of the white race with the East. He wore only a shirt and linen drawers; from his neck was suspended, by a cord, a cylindrical tin box, similar to that in which soldiers carry their leave of absence.
The more the danger augmented, the nearer the ship came to the breakers, or to a collision with the steamer, which she was now rapidly approaching—a terrible collision, which would probably cause the two vessels to founder before even they touched the rocks—the more did the infernal joy of this passenger reveal itself in frightful transports. He seemed to long, with ferocious impatience, for the moment when the work of destruction should be accomplished. To see him thus feasting with avidity on all the agony, the terror, and the despair of those around him, one might have taken him for the apostle of one of those sanguinary deities, who, in barbarous countries, preside over murder and carnage.
By this time the "Black Eagle," driven by the wind and waves, came so near the "William Tell" that the passengers on the deck of the nearly dismantled steamer were visible from the first-named vessel.
These passengers were no longer numerous. The heavy sea, which stove in the paddle-box and broke one of the paddles, had also carried away nearly the whole of the bulwarks on that side; the waves, entering every instant by this large opening, swept the decks with irresistible violence, and every time bore away with them some fresh victims.
Amongst the passengers, who seemed only to have escaped this danger to be hurled against the rocks, or crushed in the encounter of the two vessels, one group was especially worthy of the most tender and painful interest. Taking refuge abaft, a tall old man, with bald forehead and gray moustache, had lashed himself to a stanchion, by winding a piece of rope round his body, whilst he clasped in his arms, and held fast to his breast, two girls of fifteen or sixteen, half enveloped in a pelisse of reindeer-skin. A large, fallow, Siberian dog, dripping with water, and barking furiously at the waves, stood close to their feet.
These girls, clasped in the arms of the old man, also pressed close to each other; but, far from being lost in terror, they raised their eyes to heaven, full of confidence and ingenuous hope, as though they expected to be saved by the intervention of some supernatural power.
A frightful shriek of horror and despair, raised by the passengers of both vessels, was heard suddenly above the roar of the tempest. At the moment when, plunging deeply between two waves, the broadside of the steamer was turned towards the bows of the ship, the latter, lifted to a prodigious height on a mountain of water, remained, as it were, suspended over the "William Tell," during the second which preceded the shock of the two vessels.
There are sights of so sublime a horror, that it is impossible to describe them. Yet, in the midst of these catastrophes, swift as thought, one catches sometimes a momentary glimpse of a picture, rapid and fleeting, as if illumined by a flash of lightning.
Thus, when the "Black Eagle," poised aloft by the flood, was about to crash down upon the "William Tell," the young man with the angelic countenance and fair, waving locks bent over the prow of the ship, ready to cast himself into the sea to save some victim. Suddenly, he perceived on board the steamer, on which he looked down from the summit of the immense wave, the two girls extending their arms towards him in supplication. They appeared to recognize him, and gazed on him with a sort of ecstacy and religious homage!
For a second, in spite of the horrors of the tempest, in spite of the approaching shipwreck, the looks of those three beings met. The features of the young man were expressive of sudden and profound pity; for the maidens with their hands clasped in prayer, seemed to invoke him as their expected Saviour. The old man, struck down by the fall of a plank, lay helpless on the deck. Soon all disappeared together.
A fearful mass of water dashed the "Black Eagle" down upon the "William Tell," in the midst of a cloud of boiling foam. To the dreadful crash of the two great bodies of wood and iron, which splintering against one another, instantly foundered, one loud cry was added—a cry of agony and death—the cry of a hundred human creatures swallowed up at once by the waves!
And then—nothing more was visible!
A few moments after, the fragments of the two vessels appeared in the trough of the sea, and on the caps of the waves—with here and there the contracted arms, the livid and despairing faces of some unhappy wretches, striving to make their way to the reefs along the shore, at the risk of being crushed to death by the shock of the furious breakers.
CHAPTER XXV. THE SHIPWRECK.
While the bailiff was gone to the sea-shore, to render help to those of the passengers who might escape from the inevitable shipwreck, M. Rodin, conducted by Catherine to the Green Chamber, had there found the articles that he was to take with him to Paris.
After passing two hours in this apartment, very indifferent to the fate of the shipwrecked persons, which alone absorbed the attention of the inhabitants of the Castle, Rodin returned to the chamber commonly occupied by the bailiff, a room which opened upon a long gallery. When he entered it he found nobody there. Under his arm he held a casket, with silver fastenings, almost black from age, whilst one end of a large red morocco portfolio projected from the breast-pocket of his half buttoned great coat.
Had the cold and livid countenance of the Abbe d'Aigrigny's secretary been able to express joy otherwise than by a sarcastic smile, his features would have been radiant with delight; for, just then, he was under the influence of the most agreeable thoughts. Having placed the casket upon a table, it was with marked satisfaction that he thus communed with himself:
"All goes well. It was prudent to keep these papers here till this moment, for one must always be on guard against the diabolical spirit of that Adrienne de Cardoville, who appears to guess instinctively what it is impossible she should know. Fortunately, the time approaches when we shall have no more need to fear her. Her fate will be a cruel one; it must be so. Those proud, independent characters are at all times our natural enemies—they are so by their very essence—how much more when they show themselves peculiarly hurtful and dangerous! As for La Sainte Colombe, the bailiff is sure to act for us; between what the fool calls his conscience, and the dread of being at his age deprived of a livelihood, he will not hesitate. I wish to have him because he will serve us better than a stranger; his having been here twenty years will prevent all suspicion on the part of that dull and narrow-minded woman. Once in the hands of our man at Roiville, I will answer for the result. The course of all such gross and stupid women is traced beforehand: in their youth, they serve the devil; in riper years, they make others serve him; in their old age, they are horribly afraid of him; and this fear must continue till she has left us the Chateau de Cardoville, which, from its isolated position, will make us an excellent college. All then goes well. As for the affair of the medals, the 13th of February approaches, without news from Joshua—evidently, Prince Djalma is still kept prisoner by the English in the heart of India, or I must have received letters from Batavia. The daughters of General Simon will be detained at Leipsic for at least a month longer. All our foreign relations are in the best condition. As for our internal affairs—"
Here M. Rodin was interrupted in the current of his reflections by the entrance of Madame Dupont, who was zealously engaged in preparations to give assistance in case of need.
"Now," said she to the servant, "light a fire in the next room; put this warm wine there; your master may be in every minute."
"Well, my dear madam," said Rodin to her, "do they hope to save any of these poor creatures?"
"Alas! I do not know, sir. My husband has been gone nearly two hours. I am terribly uneasy on his account. He is so courageous, so imprudent, if once he thinks he can be of any service."
"Courageous even to imprudence," said Rodin to himself, impatiently; "I do not like that."
"Well," resumed Catherine, "I have here at hand my hot linen, my cordials—heaven grant it may all be of use!"
"We may at least hope so, my dear madam. I very much regretted that my age and weakness did not permit me to assist your excellent husband. I also regret not being able to wait for the issue of his exertions, and to wish him joy if successful—for I am unfortunately compelled to depart, my moments are precious. I shall be much obliged if you will have the carriage got ready."
"Yes, Sir; I will see about it directly."
"One word, my dear, good Madame Dupont. You are a woman of sense, and excellent judgment. Now I have put your husband in the way to keep, if he will, his situation as bailiff of the estate—"
"Is it possible? What gratitude do we not owe you! Without this place what would become of us at our time of life?"
"I have only saddled my promise with two conditions—mere trifles—he will explain all that to you."
"Ah, sir! we shall regard you as our deliverer."
"You are too good. Only, on two little conditions—"
"If there were a hundred, sir we should gladly accept them. Think what we should be without this place—penniless—absolutely penniless!"
"I reckon upon you then; for the interest of your husband, you will try to persuade him."
"Missus! I say, missus! here's master come back," cried a servant, rushing into the chamber.
"Has he many with him?"
"No, missus; he is alone."
"Quite alone, missus."
A few moments after, M. Dupont entered the room; his clothes were streaming with water; to keep his hat on in the midst of the storm, he had tied it down to his head by means of his cravat, which was knotted under his chin; his gaiters were covered with chalky stains.
"There I have thee, my dear love!" cried his wife, tenderly embracing him. "I have been so uneasy!"
"Up to the present moment—THREE SAVED."
"God be praised, my dear M. Dupont!" said Rodin; "at least your efforts will not have been all in vain."
"Three, only three?" said Catherine. "Gracious heaven!"
"I only speak of those I saw myself, near the little creek of Goelands. Let us hope there may be more saved on other parts of the coast."
"Yes, indeed; happily, the shore is not equally steep in all parts."
"And where are these interesting sufferers, my dear sir?" asked Rodin, who could not avoid remaining a few instants longer.
"They are mounting the cliffs, supported by our people. As they cannot walk very fast, I ran on before to console my wife, and to take the necessary measures for their reception. First of all, my dear, you must get ready some women's clothes."
"There is then a woman amongst the persons saved?"
"There are two girls—fifteen or sixteen years of age at the most—mere children—and so pretty!"
"Poor little things!" said Rodin, with an affectation of interest.
"The person to whom they owe their lives is with them. He is a real hero!"
"Yes; only fancy—"
"You can tell me all this by and by. Just slip on this dry warm dressing-gown, and take some of this hot wine. You are wet through."
"I'll not refuse, for I am almost frozen to death. I was telling you that the person who saved these young girls was a hero; and certainly his courage was beyond anything one could have imagined. When I left here with the men of the farm, we descended the little winding path, and arrived at the foot of the cliff—near the little creek of Goelands, fortunately somewhat sheltered from the waves by five or six enormous masses of rock stretching out into the sea. Well, what should we find there? Why, the two young girls I spoke of, in a swoon, with their feet still in the water, and their bodies resting against a rock, as though they had been placed there by some one, after being withdrawn from the sea."
"Dear children! it is quite touching!" said M. Rodin, raising, as usual, the tip of his little finger to the corner of his right eye, as though to dry a tear, which was very seldom visible.
"What struck me was their great resemblance to each other," resumed the bailiff; "only one in the habit of seeing them could tell the difference."
"Twin—sisters, no doubt," said Madame Dupont.
"One of the poor things," continued the bailiff, "held between her clasped hands a little bronze medal, which was suspended from her neck by a chain of the same material."
Rodin generally maintained a very stooping posture; but at these last words of the bailiff, he drew himself up suddenly, whilst a faint color spread itself over his livid cheeks. In any other person, these symptoms would have appeared of little consequence; but in Rodin, accustomed for long years to control and dissimulate his emotions, they announced no ordinary excitement. Approaching the bailiff, he said to him in a slightly agitated voice, but still with an air of indifference: "It was doubtless a pious relic. Did you see what was inscribed on this medal?"
"No, sir; I did not think of it."
"And the two young girls were like one another—very much like, you say?"
"So like, that one would hardly know which was which. Probably they are orphans, for they are dressed in mourning."
"Oh! dressed in mourning?" said M. Rodin, with another start.
"Alas! orphans so young!" said Madame Dupont, wiping her eyes.
"As they had fainted away, we carried them further on to a place where the sand was quite dry. While we were busy about this, we saw the head of a man appear from behind one of the rocks, which he was trying to climb, clinging to it by one hand; we ran to him, and luckily in the nick of time, for he was clean worn out, and fell exhausted into the arms of our men. It was of him I spoke when I talked of a hero; for, not content with having saved the two young girls by his admirable courage, he had attempted to rescue a third person, and had actually gone back amongst the rocks and breakers—but his strength failed him, and, without the aid of our men, he would certainly have been washed away from the ridge to which he clung."
"He must indeed be a fine fellow!" said Catherine.
Rodin, with his head bowed upon his breast, seemed quite indifferent to this conversation. The dismay and stupor, in which he had been plunged, only increased upon reflection. The two girls, who had just been saved, were fifteen years of age; were dressed in mourning; were so like, that one might be taken for the other; one of them wore round her neck a chain with a bronze medal; he could scarcely doubt that they were the daughters of General Simon. But how could those sisters be amongst the number of shipwrecked passengers? How could they have escaped from the prison at Leipsic? How did it happen, that he had not been informed of it? Could they have fled, or had they been set at liberty? How was it possible that he should not be apprise of such an event? But these secondary thoughts, which offered themselves in crowds to the mind of M. Rodin, were swallowed up in the one fact: "the daughters of General Simon are here!"—His plan, so laboriously laid, was thus entirely destroyed.
"When I speak of the deliverer of these young girls," resumed the bailiff, addressing his wife, and without remarking M. Rodin's absence of mind, "you are expecting no doubt to see a Hercules?—well, he is altogether the reverse. He is almost a boy in look, with fair, sweet face, and light, curling locks. I left him a cloak to cover him, for he had nothing on but his shirt, black knee-breeches, and a pair of black worsted stockings—which struck me as singular."
"Why, it was certainly not a sailor's dress."
"Besides, though the ship was English, I believe my hero is a Frenchman, for he speaks our language as well as we do. What brought the tears to my eyes, was to see the young girls, when they came to themselves. As soon as they saw him, they threw themselves at his feet, and seemed to look up to him and thank him, as one would pray. Then they cast their eyes around them, as if in search of some other person, and, having exchanged a few words, they fell sobbing into each other's arms."
"What a dreadful thing it is! How many poor creatures must have perished!"
"When we quitted the rocks, the sea had already cast ashore seven dead bodies, besides fragments of the wrecks, and packages. I spoke to some of the coast-guard, and they will remain all day on the look-out; and if, as I hope, any more should escape with life, they are to be brought here. But surely that is the sound of voices!—yes, it is our shipwrecked guests!"
The bailiff and his wife ran to the door of the room—that door, which opened on the long gallery—whilst Rodin, biting convulsively his flat nails, awaited with angry impatience the arrival of the strangers. A touching picture soon presented itself to his view.
From the end of the dark some gallery, only lighted on one side by several windows, three persons, conducted by a peasant, advanced slowly. This group consisted of the two maidens, and the intrepid young man to whom they owed their lives. Rose and Blanche were on either side of their deliverer, who, walking with great difficulty, supported himself lightly on their arms.
Though he was full twenty-five years of age, the juvenile countenance of this man made him appear younger. His long, fair hair, parted on the forehead, streamed wet and smooth over the collar of a large brown cloak, with which he had been covered. It would be difficult to describe the adorable expression of goodness in his pale, mild face, as pure as the most ideal creations of Raphael's pencil—for that divine artist alone could have caught the melancholy grace of those exquisite features, the serenity of that celestial look, from eyes limpid and blue as those of an archangel, or of a martyr ascended to the skies.
Yes, of a martyr! for a blood-red halo already encircled that beauteous head. Piteous sight to see! just above his light eyebrows, and rendered still more visible by the effect of the cold, a narrow cicatrix, from a wound inflicted many months before, appeared to encompass his fair forehead with a purple band; and (still more sad!) his hands had been cruelly pierced by a crucifixion—his feet had suffered the same injury—and, if he now walked with so much difficulty, it was that his wounds had reopened, as he struggled over the sharp rocks.
This young man was Gabriel, the priest attached to the foreign mission, the adopted son of Dagobert's wife. He was a priest and martyr—for, in our days, there are still martyrs, as in the time when the Caesars flung the early Christians to the lions and tigers of the circus.
Yes, in our days, the children of the people—for it is almost always amongst them that heroic and disinterested devotion may still be found—the children of the people, led by an honorable conviction, because it is courageous and sincere, go to all parts of the world, to try and propagate their faith, and brave both torture and death with the most unpretending valor.
How many of them, victims of some barbarous tribe, have perished, obscure and unknown, in the midst of the solitudes of the two worlds!—And for these humble soldiers of the cross, who have nothing but their faith and their intrepidity, there is never reserved on their return (and they seldom do return) the rich and sumptuous dignities of the church. Never does the purple or the mitre conceal their scarred brows and mutilated limbs; like the great majority of other soldiers, they die forgotten.(8)
In their ingenuous gratitude, the daughters of General Simon, as soon as they recovered their senses after the shipwreck, and felt themselves able to ascend the cliffs, would not leave to any other person the care of sustaining the faltering steps of him who had rescued them from certain death.
The black garments of Rose and Blanche streamed with water; their faces were deadly pale, and expressive of deep grief; the marks of recent tears were on their cheeks, and, with sad, downcast eyes, they trembled both from agitation and cold, as the agonizing thought recurred to them, that they should never again see Dagobert, their friend and guide; for it was to him that Gabriel had stretched forth a helping hand, to assist him to climb the rocks. Unfortunately the strength of both had failed, and the soldier had been carried away by a retreating wave.
The sight of Gabriel was a fresh surprise for Rodin, who had retired on one side, in order to observe all; but this surprise was of so pleasant a nature, and he felt so much joy in beholding the missionary safe after such imminent peril, that the painful impression, caused by the view of General Simon's daughters, was a little softened. It must not be forgotten, that the presence of Gabriel in Paris, on the 13th of February, was essential to the success of Rodin's projects.
The bailiff and his wife, who were greatly moved at sight of the orphans, approached them with eagerness. Just then a farm-boy entered the room, crying: "Sir! sir! good news—two more saved from the wreck!"
"Blessing and praise to God for it!" said the missionary.
"Where are they?" asked the bailiff, hastening towards the door.
"There is one who can walk, and is following behind me with Justin; the other was wounded against the rocks, and they are carrying him on a litter made of branches."
"I will run and have him placed in the room below," said the bailiff, as he went out. "Catherine, you can look to the young ladies."
"And the shipwrecked man who can walk—where is he?" asked the bailiff's wife.
"Here he is," said the peasant, pointing to some one who came rapidly along the gallery; "when he heard that the two young ladies were safe in the chateau—though he is old, and wounded in the head, he took such great strides, that it was all I could do to get here before him."
Hardly had the peasant pronounced these words, when Rose and Blanche, springing up by a common impulse, flew to the door. They arrived there at the same moment as Dagobert.
The soldier, unable to utter a syllable, fell on his knees at the threshold, and extended his arms to the daughters of General Simon; while Spoil-sport, running to them licked their hands.
But the emotion was too much for Dagobert; and, when he had clasped the orphans in his arms, his head fell backward, and he would have sunk down altogether, but for the care of the peasants. In spite of the observations of the bailiff's wife, on their state of weakness and agitation, the two young girls insisted on accompanying Dagobert, who was carried fainting into an adjoining apartment.
At sight of the soldier, Rodin's face was again violently contracted, for he had till then believed that the guide of General Simon's daughters was dead. The missionary, worn out with fatigue, was leaning upon a chair, and had not yet perceived Rodin.
A new personage, a man with a dead yellow complexion, now entered the room, accompanied by another peasant, who pointed out Gabriel to him. This man, who had just borrowed a smock-frock and a pair of trousers, approached the missionary, and said to him in French but with a foreign accent: "Prince Djalma has just been brought in here. His first word was to ask for you."
"What does that man say?" cried Rodin, in a voice of thunder; for, at the name of Djalma, he had sprung with one bound to Gabriel's side.
"M. Rodin!" exclaimed the missionary, falling back in surprise.
"M. Rodin," cried the other shipwrecked person; and from that moment, he kept his eye fixed on the correspondent of M. Van Dael.
"You here, sir?" said Gabriel, approaching Rodin with an air of deference, not unmixed with fear.
"What did that man say to you?" repeated Rodin, in an excited tone. "Did he not utter the name of Prince Djalma?"
"Yes, sir; Prince Djalma was one of the passengers on board the English ship, which came from Alexandria, and in which we have just been wrecked. This vessel touched at the Azores, where I then was; the ship that brought me from Charlestown having been obliged to put in there, and being likely to remain for some time, on account of serious damage, I embarked on board the 'Black Eagle,' where I met Prince Djalma. We were bound to Portsmouth, and from thence my intention was to proceed to France."
Rodin did not care to interrupt Gabriel. This new shock had completely paralyzed his thoughts. At length, like a man who catches at a last hope, which he knows beforehand to be vain, he said to Gabriel: "Can you tell me who this Prince Djalma is?"
"A young man as good as brave—the son of an East Indian king, dispossessed of his territory by the English."
Then, turning towards the other shipwrecked man, the missionary said to him with anxious interest: "How is the Prince? are his wounds dangerous?"
"They are serious contusions, but they will not be mortal," answered the other.
"Heaven be praised!" said the missionary, addressing Rodin; "here, you see, is another saved."
"So much the better," observed Rodin, in a quick, imperious tone.
"I will go see him," said Gabriel, submissively. "You have no orders to give me?"
"Will you be able to leave this place in two or three hours, notwithstanding your fatigue?"
"If it be necessary—yes."
"It is necessary. You will go with me."
Gabriel only bowed in reply, and Rodin sank confounded into a chair, while the missionary went out with the peasant. The man with the sallow complexion still lingered in a corner of the room, unperceived by Rodin.
This man was Faringhea, the half-caste, one of the three chiefs of the Stranglers. Having escaped the pursuit of the soldiers in the ruins of Tchandi, he had killed Mahal the Smuggler, and robbed him of the despatches written by M. Joshua Van Dael to Rodin, as also of the letter by which the smuggler was to have been received as passenger on board the "Ruyter." When Faringhea left the hut in the ruins of Tchandi, he had not been seen by Djalma; and the latter, when he met him on shipboard, after his escape (which we shall explain by and by), not knowing that he belonged to the sect of Phansegars, treated him during the voyage as a fellow-countryman.
Rodin, with his eye fixed and haggard, his countenance of a livid hue, biting his nails to the quick in silent rage, did not perceive the half caste, who quietly approached him and laying his hand familiarly on his shoulder, said to him: "Your name is Rodin?"
"What now?" asked the other, starting, and raising his head abruptly.
"Your name is Rodin?" repeated Faringhea.
"Yes. What do you want?"
"You live in the Rue du Milieu-des-Ursins, Paris?"
"Yes. But, once more, what do you want?"
"Nothing now, brother: hereafter, much!"
And Faringhea, retiring, with slow steps, left Rodin alarmed at what had passed; for this man, who scarcely trembled at anything, had quailed before the dark look and grim visage of the Strangler.
(8) We always remember with emotion the end of a letter written, two or three years ago, by one of these young and valiant missionaries, the son of poor parents in Beauce. He was writing to his mother from the heart of Japan, and thus concluded his letter: "Adieu, my dear mother! they say there is much danger where I am now sent to. Pray for me, and tell all our good neighbors that I think of them very often." These few words, addressed from the centre of Asia to poor peasants in a hamlet of France, are only the more touching from their very simplicity—E. S.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE DEPARTURE FOR PARIS.
The most profound silence reigns throughout Cardoville House. The tempest has lulled by degrees, and nothing is heard from afar but the hoarse murmur of the waves, as they wash heavily the shore.
Dagobert and the orphans have been lodged in warm and comfortable apartments on the first-floor of the chateau. Djalma, too severely hurt to be carried upstairs, has remained in a room below. At the moment of the shipwreck, a weeping mother had placed her child in his arms. He had failed in the attempt to snatch this unfortunate infant from certain death, but his generous devotion had hampered his movements, and when thrown upon the rocks, he was almost dashed to pieces. Faringhea, who has been able to convince him of his affection, remains to watch over him.
Gabriel, after administering consolation to Djalma, has rescinded to the chamber allotted to him; faithful to the promise he made to Rodin, to be ready to set out in two hours, he has not gone to bed; but, having dried his clothes, he has fallen asleep in a large, high-backed arm-chair, placed in front of a bright coal-fire. His apartment is situated near those occupied by Dagobert and the two sisters.
Spoil-sport, probably quite at his ease in so respectable a dwelling, has quitted the door of Rose and Blanche's chamber, to lie down and warm himself at the hearth, by the side of which the missionary is sleeping. There, with his nose resting on his outstretched paws, he enjoys a feeling of perfect comfort and repose, after so many perils by land and sea. We will not venture to affirm, that he thinks habitually of poor old Jovial; unless we recognize as a token of remembrance on his part, his irresistible propensity to bite all the white horses he has met with, ever since the death of his venerable companion, though before, he was the most inoffensive of dogs with regard to horses of every color.
Presently one of the doors of the chamber opened, and the two sisters entered timidly. Awake for some minutes, they had risen and dressed themselves, feeling still some uneasiness with respect to Dagobert; though the bailiff's wife, after showing them to their room, had returned again to tell them that the village doctor found nothing serious in the hurt of the old soldier, still they hoped to meet some one belonging to the chateau, of whom they could make further inquiries about him.
The high back of the old-fashioned arm-chair, in which Gabriel was sleeping, completely screened him from view; but the orphans, seeing their canine friend lying quietly at his feet, thought it was Dagobert reposing there, and hastened towards him on tip-toe. To their great astonishment, they saw Gabriel fast asleep, and stood still in confusion, not daring to advance or recede, for fear of waking him.
The long, light hair of the missionary was no longer wet, and now curled naturally round his neck and shoulders; the paleness of his complexion was the more striking, from the contrast afforded by the deep purple of the damask covering of the arm-chair. His beautiful countenance expressed a profound melancholy, either caused by the influence of some painful dream, or else that he was in the habit of keeping down, when awake, some sad regrets, which revealed themselves without his knowledge when he was sleeping. Notwithstanding this appearance of bitter grief, his features preserved their character of angelic sweetness, and seemed endowed with an inexpressible charm, for nothing is more touching than suffering goodness. The two young girls cast down their eyes, blushed simultaneously, and exchanged anxious glances, as if to point out to each other the slumbering missionary.