"Madame," said Agricola, with great emotion, "I am indebted to you for the repose, perhaps for the life of my mother. Believe that I shall ever be grateful."
"That is all quite simple. Now for another thing. It is proper that those who have too much should have the right of coming to the aid of those who have too little. Marshal Simon's daughters are members of my family, and they will reside here with me, which will be more suitable. You will apprise your worthy mother of this; and in the evening, besides going to thank her for the hospitality which she has shown to my young relations, I shall fetch them home."
At this moment Georgette, throwing open the door which separated the room from an adjacent apartment, hurriedly entered, with an affrighted look, exclaiming:
"Oh, madame, something extraordinary is going on in the street."
"How so? Explain yourself," said Adrienne.
"I went to conduct my dressmaker to the little garden-gate," said Georgette; "where I saw some ill-looking men, attentively examining the walls and windows of the little out-building belonging to the pavilion, as if they wished to spy out some one."
"Madame," said Agricola, with chagrin, "I have not been deceived. They are after me."
"What say you?"
"I thought I was followed, from the moment when I left the Rue St. Merry: and now it is beyond doubt. They must have seen me enter your house; and are on the watch to arrest me. Well, now that your interest has been acquired for my mother,—now that I have no farther uneasiness for Marshal Simon's daughters,—rather than hazard your exposure to anything the least unpleasant, I run to deliver myself up."
"Beware of that sir," said Adrienne, quickly. "Liberty is too precious to be voluntarily sacrificed. Besides, Georgette may have been mistaken. But in any case, I entreat you not to surrender yourself. Take my advice, and escape being arrested. That, I think, will greatly facilitate my measures; for I am of opinion that justice evinces a great desire to keep possession of those upon whom she has once pounced."
"Madame," said Hebe, now also entering with a terrified look, "a man knocked at the little door, and inquired if a young man in a blue blouse has not entered here. He added, that the person whom he seeks is named Agricola Baudoin, and that he has something to tell him of great importance."
"That's my name," said Agricola; "but the important information is a trick to draw me out."
"Evidently," said Adrienne; "and therefore we must play off trick for trick. What did you answer, child?" added she, addressing herself to Hebe.
"I answered, that I didn't know what he was talking about."
"Quite right," said Adrienne: "and the man who put the question?"
"He went away, madame."
"Without doubt to come back again, soon," said Agricola.
"That is very probable," said Adrienne, "and therefore, sir, it is necessary for you to remain here some hours with resignation. I am unfortunately obliged to go immediately to the Princess Saint-Dizier, my aunt, for an important interview, which can no longer be delayed, and is rendered more pressing still by what you have told me concerning the daughters of Marshal Simon. Remain here, then, sir; since if you go out, you will certainly be arrested."
"Madame, pardon my refusal; but I must say once more that I ought not to accept this generous offer."
"They have tried to draw me out, in order to avoid penetrating with the power of the law into your dwelling but if I go not out, they will come in; and never will I expose you to anything so disagreeable. Now that I am no longer uneasy about my mother, what signifies prison?"
"And the grief that your mother will feel, her uneasiness, and her fears,—nothing? Think of your father; and that poor work-woman who loves you as a brother, and whom I value as a sister;—say, sir, do you forget them also? Believe me, it is better to spare those torments to your family. Remain here; and before the evening I am certain, either by giving surety, or some other means, of delivering you from these annoyances."
"But, madame, supposing that I do accept your generous offer, they will come and find me here."
"Not at all. There is in this pavilion, which was formerly the abode of a nobleman's left-handed wife,—you see, sir," said Adrienne, smiling, "that live in a very profane place—there is here a secret place of concealment, so wonderfully well-contrived, that it can defy all searches. Georgette will conduct you to it. You will be very well accommodated. You will even be able to write some verses for me, if the place inspire you."
"Oh, madame! how great is your goodness! how have I merited it?"
"Oh, sir, I will tell you. Admitting that your character and your position do not entitle you to any interest;—admitting that I may not owe a sacred debt to your father for the touching regards and cares he has bestowed upon the daughters of Marshal Simon, my relations—do you forget Frisky, sir?" asked Adrienne, laughing,—"Frisky, there, whom you have restored to my fondles? Seriously, if I laugh," continued this singular and extravagant creature, "it is because I know that you are entirely out of danger, and that I feel an increase of happiness. Therefore, sir, write for me quickly your address, and your mother's, in this pocket-book; follow Georgette; and spin me some pretty verses, if you do not bore yourself too much in that prison to which you fly."
While Georgette conducted the blacksmith to the hiding-place, Hebe brought her mistress a small gray beaver hat with a gray feather; for Adrienne had to cross the park to reach the house occupied by the Princess Saint-Dizier.
A quarter of an hour after this scene, Florine entered mysteriously the apartment of Mrs. Grivois, the first woman of the princess.
"Well?" demanded Mrs. Grivois of the young woman.
"Here are the notes which I have taken this morning," said Florine, putting a paper into the duenna's hand. "Happily, I have a good memory."
"At what time exactly did she return home this morning?" asked the duenna, quickly.
"She did not go out, madame. We put her in the bath at nine o'clock."
"But before nine o'clock she came home, after having passed the night out of her house. Eight o'clock was the time at which she returned, however."
Florine looked at Mrs. Grivois with profound astonishment, and said-"I do not understand you, madame."
"What's that? Madame did not come home this morning at eight o'clock? Dare you lie?"
"I was ill yesterday, and did not come down till nine this morning, in order to assist Georgette and Hebe help our young lady from the bath. I know nothing of what passed previously, I swear to you, madame."
"That alters the case. You must ferret out what I allude to from your companions. They don't distrust you, and will tell you all."
"What has your mistress done this morning since you saw her?"
"Madame dictated a letter to Georgette for M. Norval, I requested permission to send it off, as a pretext for going out, and for writing down all I recollected."
"Very well. And this letter?"
"Jerome had to go out, and I gave it him to put in the post-office."
"Idiot!" exclaimed Mrs. Grivois: "couldn't you bring it to me?"
"But, as madame dictated it aloud to Georgette, as is her custom, I knew the contents of the letter; and I have written it in my notes."
"That's not the same thing. It is likely there was need to delay sending off this letter; the princess will be very much displeased."
"I thought I did right, madame."
"I know that it is not good will that fails you. For these six months I have been satisfied with you. But this time you have committed a very great mistake."
"Be indulgent, madame! what I do is sufficiently painful!" The girl stifled a sigh.
Mrs. Grivois looked fixedly at her, and said in a sardonic tone:
"Very well, my dear, do not continue it. If you have scruples, you are free. Go your way."
"You well know that I am not free, madame," said Florine, reddening; and with tears in her eyes she added: "I am dependent upon M. Rodin, who placed me here."
"Wherefore these regrets, then?"
"In spite of one's self, one feels remorse. Madame is so good, and so confiding."
"She is all perfection, certainly! But you are not here to sing her praises. What occurred afterwards?"
"The working-man who yesterday found and brought back Frisky, came early this morning and requested permission to speak with my young lady."
"And is this working-man still in her house?"
"I don't know. He came in when I was going out with the letter."
"You must contrive to learn what it was this workingman came about."
"Has your mistress seemed preoccupied, uneasy, or afraid of the interview which she is to have to-day with the princess? She conceals so little of what she thinks, that you ought to know."
"She has been as gay as usual. She has even jested about the interview!"
"Oh! jested, has she?" said the tire-woman, muttering between her teeth, without Florine being able to hear her: "'They laugh most who laugh last.' In spite of her audacious and diabolical character, she would tremble, and would pray for mercy, if she knew what awaits her this day." Then addressing Florine, she continued-"Return, and keep yourself, I advise you, from those fine scruples, which will be quite enough to do you a bad turn. Do not forget!"
"I cannot forget that I belong not to myself, madame."
"Anyway, let it be so. Farewell."
Florine quitted the mansion and crossed the park to regain the summer house, while Mrs Grivois went immediately to the Princess Saint-Dizier.
XXXVI. A Female Jesuit XXXVII. The Plot XXXVIII. Adrienne's Enemies XXXIX. The Skirmish XL. The Revolt XLI. Treachery XLII. The Snare XLIII. A False Friend XLIV. The Minister's Cabinet XLV. The Visit XLVI. Presentiments XLVII. The Letter XLVIII. The Confessional XLIX. My Lord and Spoil-sport L. Appearances LI. The Convent LII. The Influence of a Confessor LIII. The Examination
CHAPTER XXXVI. A FEMALE JESUIT.
During the preceding scenes which occurred in the Pompadour rotunda, occupied by Miss de Cardoville, other events took place in the residence of the Princess Saint-Dizier. The elegance and sumptuousness of the former dwelling presented a strong contrast to the gloomy interior of the latter, the first floor of which was inhabited by the princess, for the plan of the ground floor rendered it only fit for giving parties; and, for a long time past, Madame de Saint-Dizier had renounced all worldly splendors. The gravity of her domestics, all aged and dressed in black; the profound silence which reigned in her abode, where everything was spoken, if it could be called speaking, in an undertone; and the almost monastic regularity and order of this immense mansion, communicated to everything around the princess a sad and chilling character. A man of the world, who joined great courage to rare independence of spirit, speaking of the princess (to whom Adrienne de Cardoville went, according to her expression, to fight a pitched battle), said of her as follows: "In order to avoid having Madame de Saint-Dizier for an enemy, I, who am neither bashful nor cowardly, have, for the first time in my life, been both a noodle and a coward." This man spoke sincerely. But Madame de Saint-Dizier had not all at once arrived at this high degree of importance.
Some words are necessary for the purpose of exhibiting distinctly some phases in the life of this dangerous and implacable woman who, by her affiliation with the Order of Jesuits, had acquired an occult and formidable power. For there is something even more menacing than a Jesuit: it is a Jesuits; and, when one has seen certain circles, it becomes evident that there exist, unhappily, many of those affiliated, who, more or less, uniformly dress (for the lay members of the Order call themselves "Jesuits of the short robe").
Madame de Saint-Dizier, once very beautiful, had been, during the last years of the Empire, and the early years of the Restoration, one of the most fashionable women of Paris, of a stirring, active, adventurous, and commanding spirit, of cold heart, but lively imagination. She was greatly given to amorous adventures, not from tenderness of heart, but from a passion for intrigue, which she loved as men love play—for the sake of the emotions it excites. Unhappily, such had always been the blindness or the carelessness of her husband, the Prince of Saint-Dizier (eldest brother of the Count of Rennepont and Duke of Cardoville, father of Adrienne), that during his life he had never said one word that could make it be thought that he suspected the actions of his wife. Attaching herself to Napoleon, to dig a mine under the feet of the Colossus, that design at least afforded emotions sufficient to gratify the humor of the most insatiable. During some time, all went well. The princess was beautiful and spirited, dexterous and false, perfidious and seductive. She was surrounded by fanatical adorers, upon whom she played off a kind of ferocious coquetry, to induce them to run their heads into grave conspiracies. They hoped to resuscitate the Fonder party, and carried on a very active secret correspondence with some influential personages abroad, well known for their hatred against the emperor and France. Hence arose her first epistolary relations with the Marquis d'Aigrigny, then colonel in the Russian service and aide-de-camp to General Moreau. But one day all these petty intrigues were discovered. Many knights of Madame de Saint-Dizier were sent to Vincennes; but the emperor, who might have punished her terribly, contented himself with exiling the princess to one of her estates near Dunkirk.
Upon the Restoration, the persecutions which Madame de Saint-Dizier had suffered for the Good Cause were entered to her credit, and she acquired even then very considerable influence, in spite of the lightness of her behavior. The Marquis d'Aigrigny, having entered the military service of France, remained there. He was handsome, and of fashionable manners and address. He had corresponded and conspired with the princess, without knowing her; and these circumstances necessarily led to a close connection between them.
Excessive self-love, a taste for exciting pleasures, aspirations of hatred, pride, and lordliness, a species of evil sympathy, the perfidious attraction of which brings together perverse natures without mingling them, had made of the princess and the Marquis accomplices rather than lovers. This connection, based upon selfish and bitter feelings, and upon the support which two characters of this dangerous temper could lend to each other against a world in which their spirit of intrigue, of gallantry, and of contempt had made them many enemies, this connection endured till the moment when, after his duel with General Simon, the Marquis entered a religious house, without any one understanding the cause of his unexpected and sudden resolution.
The princess, having not yet heard the hour of her conversion strike, continued to whirl round the vortex of the world with a greedy, jealous, and hateful ardor, for she saw that the last years of her beauty were dying out.
An estimate of the character of this woman may be formed from the following fact:
Still very agreeable, she wished to close her worldly and volatile career with some brilliant and final triumph, as a great actress knows the proper time to withdraw from the stage so as to leave regrets behind. Desirous of offering up this final incense to her own vanity, the princess skillfully selected her victims. She spied out in the world a young couple who idolized each other; and, by dint of cunning and address, she succeeded in taking away the lover from his mistress, a charming woman of eighteen, by whom he was adored. This triumph being achieved, Madame Saint-Dizier retired from the fashionable world in the full blaze of her exploit. After many long conversations with the Abbe Marquis d'Aigrigny, who had become a renowned preacher, she departed suddenly from Paris, and spent two years upon her estate near Dunkirk, to which she took only one of her female attendants, viz., Mrs. Grivois.
When the princess afterwards returned to Paris, it was impossible to recognize the frivolous, intriguing, and dissipated woman she had formerly been. The metamorphosis was as complete as it was extraordinary and even startling. Saint-Dizier House, heretofore open to the banquets and festivals of every kind of pleasure, became gloomily silent and austere. Instead of the world of elegance and fashion, the princess now received in her mansion only women of ostentatious piety, and men of consequence, who were remarkably exemplary by the extravagant rigor of their religious and monarchial principles. Above all, she drew around her several noted members of the higher orders of the clergy. She was appointed patroness of a body of religious females. She had her own confessor, chaplin, almoner, and even spiritual director; but this last performed his functions in partibus. The Marquis-Abbe d'Aigrigny continued in reality to be her spiritual guide; and it is almost unnecessary to say that for a long time past their mutual relations as to flirting had entirely ceased.
This sudden and complete conversion of a gay and distinguished woman, especially as it was loudly trumpeted forth, struck the greater number of persons with wonder and respect. Others, more discerning, only smiled.
A single anecdote, from amongst a thousand, will suffice to show the alarming influence and power which the princess had acquired since her affiliation with the Jesuits. This anecdote will also exhibit the deep, vindictive, and pitiless character of this woman, whom Adrienne de Cardoville had so imprudently made herself ready to brave.
Amongst the persons who smiled more or less at the conversion of Madame de Saint-Dizier were the young and charming couple whom she had so cruelly disunited before she quitted forever the scenes of revelry in which she had lived. The young couple became more impassioned and devoted to each other than ever; they were reconciled and married, after the passing storm which had hurled them asunder; and they indulged in no other vengeance against the author of their temporary infelicity than that of mildly jesting at the pious conversion of the woman who had done them so much injury.
Some time after, a terrible fatality overtook the loving pair. The husband, until then blindly unsuspicious, was suddenly inflamed by anonymous communications. A dreadful rupture ensued, and the young wife perished.
As for the husband, certain vague rumors, far from distinct, yet pregnant with secret meanings, perfidiously contrived, and a thousand times more detestable than formal accusations, which can, at least, be met and destroyed, were strewn about him with so much perseverance, with a skill so diabolical, and by means and ways so very various, that his best friends, by little and little, withdrew themselves from him, thus yielding to the slow, irresistible influence of that incessant whispering and buzzing, confused as indistinct, amounting to some such results as this-"Well! you know!" says one.
"No!" replies another.
"People say very vile things about him."
"Do they? really! What then?"
"I don't know! Bad reports! Rumors grievously affecting his honor!"
"The deuce! That's very serious. It accounts for the coldness with which he is now everywhere received!"
"I shall avoid him in future!"
"So will I," etc.
Such is the world, that very often nothing more than groundless surmises are necessary to brand a man whose very, happiness may have incurred envy. So it was with the gentleman of whom we speak. The unfortunate man, seeing the void around him extending itself,—feeling (so to speak) the earth crumbling from beneath his feet, knew not where to find or grasp the impalpable enemy whose blows he felt; for not once had the idea occurred to him of suspecting the princess, whom he had not seen since his adventure with her. Anxiously desiring to learn why he was so much shunned and despised, he at length sought an explanation from an old friend; but he received only a disdainfully evasive answer; at which, being exasperated, he demanded satisfaction. His adversary replied—"If you can find two persons of our acquaintance, I will fight you!" The unhappy man could not find one!
Finally, forsaken by all, without having ever obtained an explanation of the reason for forsaking him—suffering keenly for the fate of the wife whom he had lost, he became mad with grief, rage, and despair, and killed himself.
On the day of his death, Madame de Saint-Dizier remarked that it was fit and necessary that one who had lived so shamefully should come to an equally shameful end, and that he who had so long jested at all laws, human and divine, could not seemly otherwise terminate his wretched life than by perpetrating a last crime—suicide! And the friends of Madame de Saint-Dizier hawked about and everywhere repeated these terrible words with a contrite air, as if beatified and convinced! But this was not all. Along with chastisements there were rewards.
Observant people remarked that the favorites of the religious clan of Madame de Saint-Dizier rose to high distinction with singular rapidity. The virtuous young men, such as were religiously attentive to tiresome sermons, were married to rich orphans of the Sacred Heart Convents, who were held in reserve for the purpose; poor young girls, who, learning too late what it is to have a pious husband selected and imposed upon them by a set of devotees, often expiated by very bitter tears the deceitful favor of thus being admitted into a world of hypocrisy and falsehood, in which they found themselves strangers without support, crushed by it if they dared to complain of the marriages to which they had been condemned.
In the parlor of Madame de Saint-Dizier were appointed prefects, colonels, treasurers, deputies, academicians, bishops and peers of the realm, from whom nothing more was required in return for the all-powerful support bestowed upon them, but to wear a pious gloss, sometimes publicly take the communion, swear furious war against everything impious or revolutionary,—and above all, correspond confidentially upon "different subjects of his choosing" with the Abbe d'Aigrigny,—an amusement, moreover, which was very agreeable; for the abbe was the most amiable man in the world, the most witty, and above all, the most obliging. The following is an historical fact, which requires the bitter and vengeful irony of Moliere or Pascal to do it justice.
During the last year of the Restoration, there was one of the mighty dignitaries of the court a firm and independent man, who did not make profession (as the holy fathers call it), that is, who did not communicate at the altar. The splendor amid which he moved was calculated to give the weight of a very injurious example to his indifference. The Abbe-Marquis d'Aigrigny was therefore despatched to him; and he knowing the honorable and elevated character of the non communicant, thought that if he could only bring him to profess by any means (whatever the means might be) the effect would be what was desired. Like a man of intellect, the abbe prized the dogma but cheaply himself. He only spoke of the suitableness of the step, and of the highly salutary example which the resolution to adopt it would afford to the public.
"M. Abbe," replied the person sought to be influenced, "I have a greater respect for religion than you have. I should consider it an infamous mockery to go to the communion table without feeling the proper conviction."
"Nonsense! you inflexible man! you frowning Alcestes," said the Marquis Abbe, smiling slyly. "Your profits and your scruples will go together, believe me, by listening to me. In short, we shall manage to make it a BLANK COMMUNION for you; for after all, what is it that we ask?—only the APPEARANCE!"
Now, a BLANK COMMUNION means breaking an unconsecrated wafer!
The Abbe-Marquis retired with his offers, which were rejected with indignation;—but then, the refractory man was dismissed from his place at court. This was but a single isolated fact. Woe to all who found themselves opposed to the interest and principles of Madame de Saint Dizier or her friends! Sooner or later, directly or indirectly, they felt themselves cruelly stabbed, generally immediately—some in their dearest connections, others in their credit, some in their honor; others in their official functions; and all by secret action, noiseless, continuous, and latent, in time becoming a terrible and mysterious dissolvent, which invisibly undermined reputations, fortunes, positions the most solidly established, until the moment when all sunk forever into the abyss, amid the surprise and terror of the beholders.
It will now be conceived how under the Restoration the Princess de Saint Dizier had become singularly influential and formidable. At the time of the Revolution of July (1830) she had "rallied," and, strangely enough, by preserving some relation of family and of society with persons faithful to the worship of decayed monarchy, people still attributed to the princess much influence and power. Let us mention, at last, that the Prince of Saint-Dizier, having died many years since, his very large personal fortune had descended to his younger brother, the father of Adrienne de Cardoville; and he, having died eighteen months ago, that young lady found herself to be the last and only representative of that branch of the family of the Renneponts.
The Princess of Saint-Dizier awaited her niece in a very large room, rendered dismal by its gloomy green damask. The chairs, etc., covered with similar stuff, were of carved ebony. Paintings of scriptural and other religious subjects, and an ivory crucifix thrown up from a background of black velvet, contributed to give the apartment a lugubrious and austere aspect.
Madame de Saint-Dizier, seated before a large desk, has just finished putting the seals on numerous letters; for she had a very extensive and very diversified correspondence. Though then aged about forty-five she was still fair. Advancing years had somewhat thickened her shape, which formerly of distinguished elegance, was still sufficiently handsome to be seen to advantage under the straight folds of her black dress. Her headdress, very simple, decorated with gray ribbons, allowed her fair sleek hair to be seen arranged in broad bands. At first look, people were struck with her dignified though unassuming appearance; and would have vainly tried to discover in her physiognomy, now marked with repentant calmness, any trace of the agitations of her past life. So naturally grave and reserved was she, that people could not believe her the heroine of so many intrigues and adventures and gallantry. Moreover, if by chance she ever heard any lightness of conversation, her countenance, since she had come to believe herself a kind of "mother in the Church," immediately expressed candid but grieved astonishment, which soon changed into an air of offended chastity and disdainful pity.
For the rest, her smile, when requisite, was still full of grace, and even of the seducing and resistless sweetness of seeming good-nature. Her large blue eyes, on fit occasions, became affectionate and caressing. But if any one dared to wound or ruffle her pride, gainsay her orders or harm her interests, her countenance, usually placid and serene, betrayed a cold but implacable malignity. Mrs. Grivois entered the cabinet, holding in her hand Florine's report of the manner in which Adrienne de Cardoville had spent the morning.
Mrs. Grivois had been about twenty years in the service of Madame de Saint-Dizier. She knew everything that a lady's-maid could or ought to have known of her mistress in the days of her sowing of wild (being a lady) flowers. Was it from choice that the princess had still retained about her person this so-well-informed witness of the numerous follies of her youth? The world was kept in ignorance of the motive; but one thing was evident, viz., that Mrs. Grivois enjoyed great privileges under the princess, and was treated by her rather as a companion than as a tiring woman.
"Here are Florine's notes, madame," said Mrs. Grivois, giving the paper to the princess.
"I will examine them presently," said the princess; "but tell me, is my niece coming? Pending the conference at which she is to be present, you will conduct into her house a person who will soon be here, to inquire for you by my desire."
"This man will make an exact inventory of everything contained in Adrienne's residence. You will take care that nothing is omitted; for that is of very great importance."
"Yes, madame. But should Georgette or Hebe make any opposition?"
"There is no fear; the man charged with taking the inventory is of such a stamp, that when they know him, they will not dare to oppose either his making the inventory, or his other steps. It will be necessary not to fail, as you go along with him, to be careful to obtain certain peculiarities destined to confirm the reports which you have spread for some time past."
"Do not have the slightest doubt, madame. The reports have all the consistency of truth."
"Very soon, then, this Adrienne, so insolent and so haughty, will be crushed and compelled to pray for pardon; and from me!"
An old footman opened both of the folding doors, and announced the Marquis-Abbe d'Aigrigny.
"If Miss de Cardoville present herself," said the princess to Mrs. Grivois, "you will request her to wait an instant."
"Yes, madame," said the duenna, going out with the servant.
Madame de Saint-Dizier and D'Aigrigny remained alone.
CHAPTER XXXVII. THE PLOT.
The Abbe-Marquis d'Aigrigny, as the reader has easily divined, was the person already seen in the Rue du Milieu-des-Ursins; whence he had departed from Rome, in which city he had remained about three months. The marquis was dressed in deep mourning, but with his usual elegance. His was not a priestly robe; his black coat, and his waistcoat, tightly gathered in at the waist, set off to great advantage the elegance of his figure: his black cassimere pantaloons disguised his feet, exactly fitted with lace boots, brilliantly polished. And all traces of his tonsure disappeared in the midst of the slight baldness which whitened slightly the back part of his head. There was nothing in his entire costume, or aspect, that revealed the priest, except, perhaps, the entire absence of beard, the more remarkable upon so manly a countenance. His chin, newly shaved, rested on a large and elevated black cravat, tied with a military ostentation which reminded the beholder, that this abbe-marquis this celebrated preacher—now one of the most active and influential chiefs of his order, had commanded a regiment of hussars upon the Restoration, and had fought in aid of the Russians against France.
Returned to Paris only this morning, the marquis had not seen the princess since his mother, the Dowager Marchioness d'Aigrigny, had died near Dunkirk, upon an estate belonging to Madame de Saint-Dizier, while vainly calling for her son to alleviate her last moments; but the order to which M. d'Aigrigny had thought fit to sacrifice the most sacred feeling and duties of nature, having been suddenly transmitted to him from Rome, he had immediately set out for that city; though not without hesitation, which was remarked and denounced by Rodin; for the love of M. d'Aigrigny for his mother had been the only pure feeling that had invariably distinguished his life.
When the servant had discreetly withdrawn with Mrs. Grivois, the marquis quickly approached the princess, held out his hand to her, and said with a voice of emotion:
"Herminia, have you not concealed something in your letters. In her last moments did not my mother curse me?"
"No, no, Frederick, compose yourself. She had anxiously desired your presence. Her ideas soon became confused. But in her delirium it was still for you that she called."
"Yes," said the marquis, bitterly; "her maternal instinct doubtless assured her that my presence could have saved her life."
"I entreat you to banish these sad recollections," said the princess, "this misfortune is irreparable."
"Tell me for the last time, truly, did not my absence cruelly affect my mother? Had she no suspicion that a more imperious duty called me elsewhere?"
"No, no, I assure you. Even when her reason was shaken, she believed that you had not yet had time to come to her. All the sad details which I wrote to you upon this painful subject are strictly true. Again, I beg of you to compose yourself."
"Yes, my conscience ought to be easy; for I have fulfilled my duty in sacrificing my mother. Yet I have never been able to arrive at that complete detachment from natural affection, which is commanded to us by those awful words: 'He who hates not his father and his mother, even with the soul, cannot be my disciple.'"(9)
"Doubtless, Frederick," said the princess, "these renunciations are painful. But, in return, what influence, what power!"
"It is true," said the marquis, after a moment's silence. "What ought not to be sacrificed in order to reign in secret over the all-powerful of the earth, who lord it in full day? This journey to Rome, from which I have just returned, has given me a new idea of our formidable power. For, Herminia, it is Rome which is the culminating point, overlooking the fairest and broadest quarters of the globe, made so by custom, by tradition, or by faith. Thence can our workings be embraced in their full extent. It is an uncommon view to see from its height the myriad tools, whose personality is continually absorbed into the immovable personality of our Order. What a might we possess! Verily, I am always swayed with admiration, aye, almost frightened, that man once thinks, wishes, believes, and acts as he alone lists, until, soon ours, he becomes but a human shell; its kernel of intelligence, mind, reason, conscience, and free will, shrivelled within him, dry and withered by the habit of mutely, fearingly bowing under mysterious tasks, which shatter and slay everything spontaneous in the human soul! Then do we infuse in such spiritless clay, speechless, cold, and motionless as corpses, the breath of our Order, and, lo! the dry bones stand up and walk, acting and executing, though only within the limits which are circled round them evermore. Thus do they become mere limbs of the gigantic trunk, whose impulses they mechanically carry out, while ignorant of the design, like the stonecutter who shapes out a stone, unaware if it be for cathedral or bagnio."
In so speaking, the marquis's features wore an incredible air of proud and domineering haughtiness.
"Oh, yes! this power is great, most great," observed the princess; "and the more formidable because it moves in a mysterious way over minds and consciences."
"Aye, Herminia," said the marquis: "I have had under my command a magnificent regiment. Very often have I experienced the energetic and exquisite enjoyment of command! At my word my squadrons put themselves in action; bugles blared, my officers, glittering in golden embroidery, galloped everywhere to repeat my orders: all my brave soldiers, burning with courage, and cicatrized by battles, obeyed my signal; and I felt proud and strong, holding as I did (so to speak) in my hands, the force and valor of each and all combined into one being of resistless strength and invincible intrepidity,—of all of which I was as much the master, as I mastered the rage and fire of my war-horse! Aye! that was greatness. But now, in spite of the misfortunes which have befallen our Order, I feel myself a thousand times more ready for action, more authoritative, more strong and more daring, at the head of our mute and black-robed militia, who only think and wish, or move and obey, mechanically, according to my will. On a sign they scatter over the surface of the globe, gliding stealthily into households under the guise of confessing the wife or teaching the children, into family affairs by hearing the dying avowals,—up to the throne through the quaking conscience of a credulous crowned coward;—aye, even to the chair of the Pope himself, living manifesto of the Godhead though he is, by the services rendered him or imposed by him. Is not this secret rule, made to kindle or glut the wildest ambition, as it reaches from the cradle to the grave, from the laborer's hovel to the royal palace, from palace to the papal chair? What career in all the world presents such splendid openings? what unutterable scorn ought I not feel for the bright butterfly life of early days, when we made so many envy us? Don't you remember, Herminia?" he added, with a bitter smile.
"You are right, perfectly right, Frederick!" replied the princess quickly. "How little soever we may reflect, with what contempt do we not think upon the past! I, like you, often compare it with the present; and then what satisfaction I feel at having followed your counsels! For, indeed, without you, I should have played the miserable and ridiculous part which a woman always plays in her decline from having been beautiful and surrounded by admirers. What could I have done at this hour? I should have vainly striven to retain around me a selfish and ungrateful world of gross and shameful men, who court women only that they may turn them to the service of their passions, or to the gratification of their vanity. It is true that there would have remained to me the resource of what is called keeping an agreeable house for all others,—yes, in order to entertain them, be visited by a crowd of the indifferent, to afford opportunities of meeting to amorous young couples, who, following each other from parlor to parlor, come not to your house but for the purpose of being together; a very pretty pleasure, truly, that of harboring those blooming, laughing, amorous youths, who look upon the luxury and brilliancy with which one surrounds them, as if they were their due upon bonds to minister to their pleasure, and to their impudent amours!"
Her words were so stinging, and such hateful envy sat upon her face, that she betrayed the intense bitterness of her regrets in spite of herself.
"NO, no; thanks to you, Frederick," she continued, "After a last and brilliant triumph, I broke forever with the world, which would soon have abandoned me, though I was so long its idol and its queen. And I have only changed my queendom. Instead of the dissipated men whom I ruled with a frivolity superior to their own, I now find myself surrounded by men of high consideration, of redoubtable character, and all-powerful, many of whom have governed the state; to them I have devoted myself, as they have devoted themselves to me! It is now only that I really enjoy that happiness, of which I ever dreamt. I have taken an active part and have exercised a powerful influence over the greatest interests of the world; I have been initiated into the most important secrets; I have been able to strike, surely, whosoever scoffed at or hated me; and I have been able to elevate beyond their hopes those who have served or respected and obeyed me."
"There are some madmen, and some so blind, that they imagine that we are struck down, because we ourselves have had to struggle against some misfortunes," said M. d'Aigrigny, disdainfully, "as if we were not, above all others, securely founded, organized for every struggle, and drew not from our very struggles a new and more vigorous activity. Doubtless the times are bad. But they will become better; and, as you know, it is nearly certain that in a few days (the 13th of February), we shall have at our disposal a means of action sufficiently powerful for re establishing our influence which has been temporarily shaken."
"Yes, doubtless this affair of the medals is most important," said the princess.
"I should not have made so much haste to return hither," resumed the abbe, "were it not to act in what will be, perhaps, for us, a very great event."
"But you are aware of the fatality which has once again overthrown projects the most laboriously conceived and matured?"
"Yes; immediately on arriving I saw Rodin."
"And he told you—?"
"The inconceivable arrival of the Indian, and of General Simon's daughters at Cardoville Castle, after a double shipwreck, which threw them upon the coast of Picardy; though it was deemed certain that the young girls were at Leipsic, and the Indian in Java. Precautions were so well taken, indeed," added the marquis in vexation, "that one would think an invisible power protects this family."
"Happily, Rodin is a man of resources and activity," resumed the princess. "He came here last night, and we had a long conversation."
"And the result of your consultation is excellent," added the marquis: "the old soldier is to be kept out of the way for two days; and his wife's confessor has been posted; the rest will proceed of itself. To morrow, the girls need no longer be feared; and the Indian remains at Cardoville, wounded dangerously. We have plenty of time for action."
"But that is not all," continued the princess: "there are still, without reckoning my niece, two persons, who, for our interests, ought not to be found in Paris on the 13th of February."
"Yes, M. Hardy: but his most dear and intimate friend has betrayed him; for, by means of that friend, we have drawn M. Hardy into the South, whence it is impossible for him to return before a month. As for that miserable vagabond workman, surnamed 'Sleepinbuff!'"
"Fie!" exclaimed the princess, with an expression of outraged modesty.
"That man," resumed the marquis, "is no longer an object of inquietude. Lastly, Gabriel, upon whom our vast and certain hope reposes, will not be left by himself for a single minute until the great day. Everything seems, you see, to promise success; indeed, more so than ever; and it is necessary to obtain this success at any price. It is for us a question of life or death; for, in returning, I stopped at Forli, and there saw the Duke d'Orbano. His influence over the mind of the king is all powerful—indeed, absolute; and he has completely prepossessed the royal mind. It is with the duke alone, then, that it is possible to treat."
"D'Orbano has gained strength; and he can, I know it, assure to us a legal existence, highly protected, in the dominions of his master, with full charge of popular education. Thanks to such advantages, after two or three years in that country we shall become so deeply rooted, that this very Duke d'Orbano, in his turn, will have to solicit support and protection from us. But at present he has everything in his power; and he puts an absolute condition upon his services."
"What is the condition?"
"Five millions down; and an annual pension of a hundred thousand francs."
"It is very much."
"Nay, but little if it be considered that our foot once planted in that country, we shall promptly repossess ourselves of that sum, which, after all, is scarcely an eighth part of what the affair of the medals, if happily brought to an issue, ought to assure to the Order."
"Yes, nearly forty millions," said the princess, thoughtfully.
"And again: these five millions that Orbano demands will be but an advance. They will be returned to us in voluntary gifts, by reason even of the increase of influence that we shall acquire from the education of children; through whom we have their families. And yet, the fools hesitate! those who govern see not, that in doing our own business, we do theirs also;—that in abandoning education to us (which is what we wish for above all things) we mold the people into that mute and quiet obedience, that servile and brutal submission, which assures the repose of states by the immobility of the mind. They don't reflect that most of the upper and middle classes fear and hate us; don't understand that (when we have persuaded the mass that their wretchedness is an eternal law, that sufferers must give up hope of relief, that it is a crime to sigh for welfare in this world, since the crown of glory on high is the only reward for misery here), then the stupefied people will resignedly wallow in the mire, all their impatient aspirations for better days smothered, and the volcano-blasts blown aside, which made the future of rulers so horrid and so dark? They see not, in truth, that this blind and passive faith which we demand from the mass, furnishes their rulers with a bridle with which both to conduct and curb them; whilst we ask from the happy of the world only some appearances which ought, if they had only the knowledge of their own corruption, to give an increased stimulant to their pleasures.
"It signifies not," resumed the princess; "since, as you say, a great day is at hand, bringing nearly forty millions, of which the Order can become possessed by the happy success of the affair of the medals. We certainly can attempt very great things. Like a lever in your hands, such a means of action would be of incalculable power, in times during which all men buy and sell one another."
"And then," resumed M. d'Aigrigny, with a thoughtful air, "here the reaction continues: the example of France is everything. In Austria and Holland we can rarely maintain ourselves; while the resources of the Order diminish from day to day. We have arrived at a crisis; but it can be made to prolong itself. Thus, thanks to the immense resource of the affair of the medals, we can not only brave all eventualities, but we can again powerfully establish ourselves, thanks to the offer of the Duke d'Orbano, which we accept; and then, from that inassailable centre, our radiations will be incalculable. Ah! the 13th of February!" added M. d'Aigrigny, after a moment of silence, and shaking his head: "the 13th of February, a date perhaps fortunate and famous for our power as that of the council which gave to us (so to say) a new life!"
"And nothing must be spared." resumed the princess, "in order to succeed at any price. Of the six persons whom we have to fear, five are or will be out of any condition to hurt us. There remains then only my niece; and you know that I have waited but for your arrival in order to take my last resolution. All my preparations are completed; and this very morning we will begin to act."
"Have your suspicions increased since your last letter?"
"Yes, I am certain that she is more instructed than she wishes to appear; and if so, we shall not have a more dangerous enemy."
"Such has always been my opinion. Thus it is six month: since I advised you to take in all cases the measures which you have adopted, in order to provoke, on her part, that demand of emancipation, the consequences of which now render quite easy that which would have been impossible without it."
"At last," said the princess, with an expression of joy, hateful and bitter, "this indomitable spirit will be broken. I am at length about to be avenged of the many insolent sarcasms which I have been compelled to swallow, lest I should awaken her suspicions. I! I to have borne so much till now! for this Adrienne has made it her business (imprudent as she is!) to irritate me against herself!"
"Whosoever offends you, offends me; you know it," said D'Aigrigny, "my hatreds are yours."
"And you yourself!" said the princess, "how many times have you been the butt of her poignant irony!"
"My instincts seldom deceive me. I am certain that this young girl may become a dangerous enemy for us," said the marquis, with a voice painfully broken into short monosyllables.
"And, therefore, it is necessary that she may be rendered incapable of exciting further fear," responded Madame de Saint-Dizier, fixedly regarding the marquis.
"Have you seen Dr. Baleinier, and the sub-guardian, M. Tripeaud?" asked he.
"They will be here this morning. I have informed them of everything."
"Did you find them well disposed to act against her?"
"Perfectly so—and the best is, Adrienne does not at all suspect the doctor, who has known how, up to a certain point, to preserve her confidence. Moreover, a circumstance which appears to me inexplicable has come to our aid."
"What do you allude to?"
"This morning, Mrs. Grivois went, according to my orders, to remind Adrienne that I expected her at noon, upon important business. As she approached the pavilion, Mrs. Grivois saw, or thought she saw, Adrienne come in by the little garden-gate."
"What do you tell me? Is it possible? Is there any positive proof of it?" cried the marquis.
"Till now, there is no other proof than the spontaneous declaration of Mrs. Grivois: but whilst I think of it," said the Princess, taking up a paper that lay before her, "here is the report, which, every day, one of Adrienne's women makes to me."
"The one that Rodin succeeded in introducing into your niece's service?"
"The same; as this creature is entirely in Rodin's hands, she has hitherto answered our purpose very well. In this report, we shall perhaps find the confirmation of what Mrs. Grivois affirms she saw."
Hardly had the Princess glanced at the note, than she exclaimed almost in terror: "What do I see? Why, Adrienne is a very demon!"
"The bailiff at Cardoville, having written to my niece to ask her recommendation, informed her at the same time of the stay of the Indian prince at the castle. She knows that he is her relation, and has just written to her old drawing-master, Norval, to set out post with Eastern dresses, and bring Prince Djalma hither—the man that must be kept away from Paris at any cost."
The marquis grew pale, and said to Mme. de Saint-Dizier: "If this be not merely one of her whims, the eagerness she displays in sending for this relation hither, proves that she knows more than you even suspected. She is 'posted' on the affair of the medals. Have a care—she may ruin all."
"In that case," said the princess, resolutely, "there is no room to hesitate. We must carry things further than we thought, and make an end this very morning."
"Yes, though it is almost impossible."
"Nay, all is possible. The doctor and M. Tripeaud are ours," said the princess, hastily.
"Though I am as sure as you are of the doctor, or of M. Tripeaud, under present circumstances, we must not touch on the question of acting—which will be sure to frighten them at first—until after our interview with your niece. It will be easy, notwithstanding her cleverness, to find out her armor's defect. If our suspicions should be realized—if she is really informed of what it would be so dangerous for her to know—then we must have no scruples, and above all no delay. This very day must see all set at rest. The time for wavering is past."
"Have you been able to send for the person agreed on?" asked the princess, after a moment's silence.
"He was to be here at noon. He cannot be long."
"I thought this room would do very well for our purpose. It is separated from the smaller parlor by a curtain only behind which your man may be stationed."
"Is he a man to be depended on?"
"Quite so—we have often employed him in similar matters. He is as skillful as discreet."
At this moment a low knock was heard at the door.
"Come in," said the princess.
"Dr. Baleinier wishes to know if her Highness the Princess can receive him," asked the valet-de-chambre.
"Certainly. Beg him to walk in."
"There is also a gentleman that M. l'Abbe appointed to be here at noon, by whose orders I have left him waiting in the oratory."
"'Tis the person in question," said the marquis to the princess. "We must have him in first. 'Twould be useless for Dr. Baleinier to see him at present."
"Show this person in first," said the princess; "next when I ring the bell, you will beg Dr. Baleinier to walk this way: and, if Baron Tripeaud should call, you will bring him here also. After that, I am at home to no one, except Mdlle. Adrienne." The servant went out.
(9) With regard to this text, a commentary upon it will be found in the Constitutions of the Jesuits, as follows: "In order that the habit of language may come to the help of the sentiments, it is wise not to say, 'I have parents, or I have brothers;' but to say, 'I had parents; I had brothers.'"—General Examination, p. 29; Constitutions.—Paulin; 1843. Paris.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. ADRIENNE'S ENEMIES.
The Princess de Saint-Dizier's valet soon returned, showing in a little, pale man, dressed in black, and wearing spectacles. He carried under his left arm a long black morocco writing-case.
The princess said to this man: "M. l'Abbe, I suppose, has already informed you of what is to be done?"
"Yes, your highness," said the man in a faint, shrill, piping voice, making at the same time a low bow.
"Shall you be conveniently placed in this room?" asked the princess, conducting him to the adjoining apartment, which was only separated from the other by a curtain hung before a doorway.
"I shall do nicely here, your highness," answered the man in spectacles, with a second and still lower bow.
"In that case, sir, please to step in here; I will let you know when it is time."
"I shall wait your highness's order."
"And pray remember my instructions," added the marquis, as he unfastened the loops of the curtain.
"You may be perfectly tranquil, M. l'Abbe." The heavy drapery, as it fell, completely concealed the man in spectacles.
The princess touched the bell; some moments after, the door opened, and the servant announced a very important personage in this work.
Dr. Baleinier was about fifty years of age, middling size, rather plump, with a full shining, ruddy countenance. His gray hair, very smooth and rather long, parted by a straight line in the middle, fell flat over his temples. He had retained the fashion of wearing short, black silk breeches, perhaps because he had a well-formed leg; his garters were fastened with small, golden buckles, as were his shoes of polished morocco leather; his coat, waistcoat, and cravat were black, which gave him rather a clerical appearance; his sleek, white hand was half hidden beneath a cambric ruffle, very closely plaited; on the whole, the gravity of his costume did not seem to exclude a shade of foppery.
His face was acute and smiling; his small gray eye announced rare penetration and sagacity. A man of the world and a man of pleasure, a delicate epicure, witty in conversation, polite to obsequiousness, supple, adroit, insinuating, Baleinier was one of the oldest favorites of the congregational set of the Princess de Saint-Dizier. Thanks to this powerful support, its cause unknown, the doctor, who had been long neglected, in spite of real skill and incontestable merit, found himself, under the Restoration, suddenly provided with two medical sinecures most valuable, and soon after with numerous patients. We must add, that, once under the patronage of the princess, the doctor began scrupulously to observe his religious duties; he communicated once a week, with great publicity, at the high mass in Saint Thomas Aquinas Church.
At the year's end, a certain class of patients, led by the example and enthusiasm of Madame de Saint-Dizier's followers, would have no other physician than Doctor Baleinier, and his practice was now increased to an extraordinary degree. It may be conceived how important it was for the order, to have amongst its "plain clothes members" one of the most popular practitioners of Paris.
A doctor has in some sort a priesthood of his own. Admitted at all hours to the most secret intimacy of families, he knows, guesses, and is able to effect much. Like the priest, in short, he has the ear of the sick and the dying. Now, when he who cares for the health of the body, and he who takes charge of the health of the soul, understands each other, and render mutual aid for the advancement of a common interest, there is nothing (with certain exceptions), which they may not extract from the weakness and fears of a sick man at the last gasp—not for themselves (the laws forbid it)—but for third parties belonging more or less to the very convenient class of men of straw. Doctor Baleinier was therefore one of the most active and valuable assistant members of the Paris Jesuits.
When he entered the room, he hastened to kiss the princess's hand with the most finished gallantry.
"Always punctual, my dear M. Baleinier."
"Always eager and happy to attend to your highness's orders." Then turning towards the marquis, whose hand he pressed cordially, he added: "Here we have you then at last. Do you know, that three months' absence appears very long to your friends?"
"The time is as long to the absent as to those who remain, my dear doctor. Well! here is the great day, Mdlle. de Cardoville is coming."
"I am not quite easy," said the princess; "suppose she had any suspicion?"
"That's impossible," said M. Baleinier; "we are the best friends in the world. You know, that Mdlle. Adrienne has always had great confidence in me. The day before yesterday, we laughed a good deal, and as I made some observations to her, as usual, on her eccentric mode of life, and on the singular state of excitement in which I sometimes found her—"
"M. Baleinier never fails to insist on these circumstances, in appearance so insignificant," said Madame de Saint-Dizier to the marquis with a meaning look.
"They are indeed very essential," replied the other.
"Mdlle. Adrienne answered my observations," resumed the doctor, "by laughing at me in the gayest and most witty manner; for I must confess, that this young lady has one of the aptest and most accomplished minds I know."
"Doctor, doctor!" said Madame de Saint-Dizier, "no weakness!"
Instead of answering immediately, M. Baleinier drew his gold snuff-box from his waistcoat pocket, opened it, and took slowly a pinch of snuff, looking all the time at the princess with so significant an air, that she appeared quite reassured. "Weakness, madame?" observed he at last, brushing some grains of snuff from his shirt-front with his plump white hand; "did I not have the honor of volunteering to extricate you from this embarrassment?"
"And you are the only person in the world that could render us this important service," said D'Aigrigny.
"Your highness sees, therefore," resumed the doctor, "that I am not likely to show any weakness. I perfectly understand the responsibility of what I undertake; but such immense interests, you told me, were at stake—"
"Yes," said D'Aigrigny, "interests of the first consequence."
"Therefore I did not hesitate," proceeded M. Baleinier; "and you need not be at all uneasy. As a man of taste, accustomed to good society, allow me to render homage to the charming qualities of Mdlle. Adrienne; when the time for action comes, you will find me quite as willing to do my work."
"Perhaps, that moment may be nearer than we thought," said Madame de Saint-Dizier, exchanging a glance with D'Aigrigny.
"I am, and will be, always ready," said the doctor. "I answer for everything that concerns myself. I wish I could be as tranquil on every other point."
"Is not your asylum still as fashionable—as an asylum can well be?" asked Madame de Saint-Dizier, with a half smile.
"On the contrary. I might almost complain of having too many boarders. It is not that. But, whilst we are waiting for Mdlle. Adrienne, I will mention another subject, which only relates to her indirectly, for it concerns the person who, bought Cardoville Manor, one Madame de la Sainte-Colombe, who has taken me for a doctor, thanks to Rodin's able management."
"True," said D'Aigrigny; "Rodin wrote to me on the subject—but without entering into details."
"These are the facts," resumed the doctor. "This Madame de la Sainte Colombe, who was at first considered easy enough to lead, has shown herself very refractory on the head of her conversion. Two spiritual directors have already renounced the task of saving her soul. In despair, Rodin unslipped little Philippon on her. He is adroit, tenacious, and above all patient in the extreme—the very man that was wanted. When I got Madame de la Sainte-Colombe for a patient, Philippon asked my aid, which he was naturally entitled to. We agreed upon our plan. I was not to appear to know him the least in the world; and he was to keep me informed of the variations in the moral state of his penitent, so that I might be able, by the use of very inoffensive medicines—for there was nothing dangerous in the illness—to keep my patient in alternate states of improvement or the reverse, according as her director had reason to be satisfied or displeased—so that he might say to her: 'You see, madame, you are in the good way! Spiritual grace acts upon your bodily health, and you are already better. If, on the contrary, you fall back into evil courses, you feel immediately some physical ail, which is a certain proof of the powerful influence of faith, not only on the soul, but on the body also?'"
"It is doubtless painful," said D'Aigrigny, with perfect coolness, "to be obliged to have recourse to such means, to rescue perverse souls from perdition—but we must needs proportion our modes of action to the intelligence and the character of the individual."
"By-the-bye, the princess knows," resumed the doctor, "that I have often pursued this plan at St. Mary's Convent, to the great advantage of the soul's peace and health of some of our patients, being extremely innocent. These alternations never exceed the difference between 'pretty well,' and 'not quite so well.' Yet small as are the variations, they act most efficaciously on certain minds. It was thus with Madame de la Sainte-Colombe. She was in such a fair way of recovery, both moral and physical, that Rodin thought he might get Philippon to advise the country for his penitent, fearing that Paris air might occasion a relapse. This advice, added to the desire the woman had to play 'lady of the parish,' induced her to buy Cardoville Manor, a good investment in any respect. But yesterday, unfortunate Philippon came to tell me, that Madame de la Sainte-Colombe was about to have an awful relapse—moral, of course—for her physical health is now desperately good. The said relapse appears to have been occasioned by an interview she has had with one Jacques Dumoulin, whom they tell me you know, my dear abbe; he has introduced himself to her, nobody can guess how."
"This Jacques Dumoulin," said the marquis, with disgust, "is one of those men, that we employ while we despise. He is a writer full of gall, envy, and hate, qualities that give him a certain unmercifully cutting eloquence. We pay him largely to attack our enemies, though it is often painful to see principles we respect defended by such a pen. For this wretch lives like a vagabond—is constantly in taverns—almost always intoxicated—but, I must own, his power of abuse is inexhaustible, and he is well versed in the most abstruse theological controversies, so that he is sometimes very useful to us."
"Well! though Madame de la Sainte-Colombe is hard upon sixty, it appears that Dumoulin has matrimonial views on her large fortune. You will do well to inform Rodin, so that he may be on his guard against the dark designs of this rascal. I really beg a thousand pardons for having so long occupied you with such a paltry affair—but, talking of St. Mary's Convent," added the doctor, addressing the princess, "may I take the liberty of asking if your highness has been there lately?"
The princess exchanged a rapid glance with D'Aigrigny, and answered: "Oh, let me see! Yes, I was there about a week ago."
"You will find great changes then. The wall that was next to my asylum has been taken down, for they are going to build anew wing and a chapel, the old one being too small. I must say in praise of Mdlle. Adrienne" continued the doctor with a singular smile aside, "that she promised me a copy of one of Raphael's Madonnas for this chapel."
"Really? very appropriate!" said the princess. "But here it is almost noon, and M. Tripeaud has not come."
"He is the deputy-guardian of Mdlle. de Cardoville, whose property he has managed, as former agent of the count-duke," said the marquis, with evident anxiety, "and his presence here is absolutely indispensable. It is greatly to be desired that his coming should precede that of Mdlle. de Cardoville, who may be here at any moment."
"It is unlucky that his portrait will not do as well," said the doctor, smiling maliciously, and drawing a small pamphlet from his pocket.
"What is that, doctor?" asked the princess.
"One of those anonymous sheets, which are published from time to time. It is called the 'Scourge,' and Baron Tripeaud's portrait is drawn with such faithfulness, that it ceases to be satire. It is really quite life like; you have only to listen. The sketch is entitled: 'TYPE OF THE LYNX SPECIES.'
"'The Baron Tripeaud.—This man, who is as basely humble towards his social superiors, as he is insolent and coarse to those who depend upon him—is the living, frightful incarnation of the worst pardon of the moneyed and commercial aristocracy—one of the rich and cynical speculators, without heart, faith or conscience, who would speculate for a rise or fall on the death of his mother, if the death of his mother could influence the price of stocks.
"'Such persons have all the odious vices of men suddenly elevated, not like those whom honest and patient labor has nobly enriched, but like those who owe their wealth to some blind caprice of fortune, or some lucky cast of the net in the miry waters of stock-jobbing.
"'Once up in the world, they hate the people—because the people remind them of a mushroom origin of which they are ashamed. Without pity for the dreadful misery of the masses, they ascribe it wholly to idleness or debauchery because this calumny forms an excuse for their barbarous selfishness.
"'And this is not all. On the strength of his well-filled safe, mounted on his right of the candidate, Baron Tripeaud insults the poverty and political disfranchisement—of the officer, who, after forty years of wars and hard service, is just able to live on a scanty pension—Of the magistrate, who has consumed his strength in the discharge of stern and sad duties, and who is not better remunerated in his litter days—Of the learned man who has made his country illustrious by useful labors; or the professor who has initiated entire generations in the various branches of human knowledge—Of the modest and virtuous country curate, the pure representative of the gospel, in its charitable, fraternal, and democratic tendencies, etc.
"'In such a state of things, how should our shoddy baron of in-dust-ry not feel the most sovereign contempt for all that stupid mob of honest folk, who, having given to their country their youth, their mature age, their blood, their intelligence, their learning, see themselves deprived of the rights which he enjoys, because he has gained a million by unfair and illegal transactions?
"'It is true, that your optimists say to these pariahs of civilization, whose proud and noble poverty cannot be too much revered and honored: "Buy an estate and you too may be electors and candidates!"'
"'But to come to the biography of our worthy baron—Andrew Tripeaud, the son of an ostler, at a roadside inn.'"
At this instant the folding-doors were thrown open, and the valet announced: "The Baron Tripeaud!"
Dr. Baleinier put his pamphlet into his pocket, made the most cordial bow to the financier, and even rose to give him his hand. The baron entered the room, overwhelming every one with salutations. "I have the honor to attend the orders of your highness the princess. She knows that she may always count upon me."
"I do indeed rely upon you, M. Tripeaud, and particularly under present circumstances."
"If the intentions of your highness the princess are still the same with regard to Mdlle. de Cardoville—"
"They are still the same, M. Tripeaud, and we meet to-day on that subject."
"Your highness may be assured of my concurrence, as, indeed, I have already promised. I think that the greatest severity must at length be employed, and that even if it were necessary."
"That is also our opinion," said the marquis, hastily making a sign to the princess, and glancing at the place where the man in spectacles was hidden; "we are all perfectly in harmony. Still, we must not leave any point doubtful, for the sake of the young lady herself, whose interests alone guides us in this affair. We must draw out her sincerity by every possible means."
"Mademoiselle has just arrived from the summer-house and wishes to see your highness," said the valet, again entering, after having knocked at the door.
"Say that I wait for her," answered the princess; "and now I am at home to no one—without exception. You understand me; absolutely to no one."
Thereupon, approaching the curtain behind which the man was concealed, Mme. de Saint-Dizier gave him the cue—after which she returned to her seat.
It is singular, but during the short space which preceded Adrienne's arrival, the different actors in this scene appeared uneasy and embarrassed, as if they had a vague fear of her coming. In about a minute, Mdlle. de Cardoville entered the presence of her aunt.
CHAPTER XXXIX. THE SKIRMISH.
On entering, Mdlle. de Cardoville threw down upon a chair the gray beaver hat she had worn to cross the garden, and displayed her fine golden hair, falling on either side of her face in long, light ringlets, and twisted in a broad knot behind her head. She presented herself without boldness, but with perfect ease: her countenance was gay and smiling; her large black eyes appeared even more brilliant than usual. When she perceived Abbe d'Aigrigny, she started in surprise, and her rosy lips were just touched with a mocking smile.
After nodding graciously to the doctor, she passed Baron Tripeaud by without looking at him, and saluted the princess with stately obeisance, in the most fashionable style.
Though the walk and bearing of Mdlle. de Cardoville were extremely elegant, and full of propriety and truly feminine grace, there was about her an air of resolution and independence by no means common in women, and particularly in girls of her age. Her movements, without being abrupt, bore no traces of restraint, stiffness, or formality. They were frank and free as her character, full of life, youth, and freshness; and one could easily divine that so buoyant, straightforward, and decided a nature had never been able to conform itself to the rules of an affected rigor.
Strangely enough, though he was a man of the world, a man of great talent, a churchman distinguished for his eloquence, and, above all, a person of influence and authority. Marquis d'Aigrigny experienced an involuntary, incredible, almost painful uneasiness, in presence of Adrienne de Cardoville. He—generally so much the master of himself, so accustomed to exercise great power—who (in the name of his Order) had often treated with crowned heads on the footing of an equal, felt himself abashed and lowered in the presence of this girl, as remarkable for her frankness as for her biting irony. Now, as men who are accustomed to impose their will upon others generally hate those who, far from submitting to their influence, hamper it and make sport of them, it was no great degree of affection that the marquis bore towards the Princess de Saint-Dizier's niece.
For a long time past, contrary to his usual habit, he had ceased to try upon Adrienne that fascinating address to which he had often owed an irresistible charm; towards her he had become dry, curt, serious, taking refuge in that icy sphere of haughty dignity and rigid austerity which completely hid all those amiable qualities with which he was endowed and of which, in general, he made such efficient use. Adrienne was much amused at all this, and thereby showed her imprudence—for the most vulgar motives often engender the most implacable hatreds.
From these preliminary observations, the reader will understand the divers sentiments and interests which animated the different actors in the following scene.
Madame de Saint-Dizier was seated in a large arm-chair by one side of the hearth. Marquis d'Aigrigny was standing before the fire. Dr. Baleinier seated near a bureau, was again turning over the leaves of Baron Tripeaud's biography, whilst the baron appeared to be very attentively examining one of the pictures of sacred subjects suspended from the wall.
"You sent for me, aunt, to talk upon matters of importance?" said Adrienne, breaking the silence which had reigned in the reception-room since her entrance.
"Yes, madame," answered the princess, with a cold and severe mien; "upon matters of the gravest importance."
"I am at your service, aunt. Perhaps we had better walk into your library?"
"It is not necessary. We can talk here." Then, addressing the marquis, the doctor, and the baron, she said to them, "Pray, be seated, gentlemen," and they all took their places round the table.
"How can the subject of our interview interest these gentlemen, aunt?" asked Mdlle. de Cardoville, with surprise.
"These gentlemen are old family friends; all that concerns you must interest them, and their advice ought to be heard and accepted by you with respect."
"I have no doubt, aunt, of the bosom friendship of M. d'Aigrigny for our family: I have still less of the profound and disinterested devotion of M. Tripeaud; M. Baleinier is one of my old friends; still, before accepting these gentlemen as spectators, or, if you will, as confidants of our interview, I wish to know what we are going to talk of before them."
"I thought that, among your many singular pretensions, you had at least those of frankness and courage."
"Really, aunt," said Adrienne, smiling with mock humility, "I have no more pretensions to frankness and courage than you have to sincerity and goodness. Let us admit, once for all, that we are what we are—without pretension."
"Be it so," said Madame de Saint-Dizier, in a dry tone; "I have long been accustomed to the freaks of your independent spirit. I suppose, then, that, courageous and frank as you say you are, you will not be afraid to speak before such grave and respectable persons as these gentlemen what you would speak to me alone?"
"Is it a formal examination that I am to submit to? if so, upon what subject?"
"It is not an examination: but, as I have a right to watch over you, and as you take advantage of my weak compliance with your caprices, I mean to put an end to what has lasted too long, and tell you my irrevocable resolutions for the future, in presence of friends of the family. And, first, you have hitherto had a very false and imperfect notion of my power over you."
"I assure you, aunt, that I have never had any notion, true or false, on the subject—for I have never even dreamt about it."
"That is my own fault; for, instead of yielding to your fancies, I should have made you sooner feel my authority; but the moment has come to submit yourself; the severe censures of my friends have enlightened me in time. Your character is self-willed, independent, stubborn; it must change—either by fair means or by force, understand me, it shall change."
At these words, pronounced harshly before strangers, with a severity which did not seem at all justified by circumstances, Adrienne tossed her head proudly; but, restraining herself, she answered with a smile: "You say, aunt, that I shall change. I should not be astonished at it. We hear of such odd conversions."
The princess bit her lips.
"A sincere conversion can never be called odd, as you term it, madame," said Abbe d'Aigrigny, coldly. "It is, on the contrary, meritorious, and forms an excellent example."
"Excellent?" answered Adrienne: "that depends! For instance, what if one converts defects into vices?"
"What do you mean, madame?" cried the princess.
"I am speaking of myself, aunt; you reproach me of being independent and resolute—suppose I were to become hypocritical and wicked? In truth, I prefer keeping my dear little faults, which I love like spoiled children. I know what I am; I do not know what I might be."
"But you must acknowledge, Mdlle. Adrienne," said Baron Tripeaud, with a self-conceited and sententious air, "that a conversion—"
"I believe," said Adrienne, disdainfully, "that M. Tripeaud is well versed in the conversion of all sorts of property into all sorts of profit, by all sorts of means—but he knows nothing of this matter."
"But, madame," resumed the financier, gathering courage from a glance of the princess, "you forget that I have the honor to be your deputy guardian, and that—"
"It is true that M. Tripeaud has that honor," said Adrienne, with still more haughtiness, and not even looking at the baron; "I could never tell exactly why. But as it is not now the time to guess enigmas, I wish to know, aunt, the object and the end of this meeting?"
"You shall be satisfied, madame. I will explain myself in a very clear and precise manner. You shall know the plan of conduct that you will have henceforth to pursue; and if you refuse to submit thereto, with the obedience and respect that is due to my orders, I shall at once see what course to take."
It is impossible to give an idea of the imperious tone and stern look of the princess, as she pronounced these words which were calculated to startle a girl, until now accustomed to live in a great measure as she pleased: yet, contrary perhaps to the expectation of Madame de Saint Dizier, instead of answering impetuously, Adrienne looked her full in the face, and said, laughing: "This is a perfect declaration of war. It's becoming very amusing."
"We are not talking of declarations of war," said the Abbe d'Aigrigny, harshly, as if offended by the expressions of Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"Now, M. l'Abbe!" returned Adrienne, "for an old colonel, you are really too severe upon a jest!—you are so much indebted to 'war,' which gave you a French regiment after fighting so long against France—in order to learn, of course, the strength and the weakness of her enemies."
On these words, which recalled painful remembrances, the marquis colored; he was going to answer, but the princess exclaimed: "Really, madame, your behavior is quite intolerable!"
"Well, aunt, I acknowledge I was wrong. I ought not to have said this is very amusing—for it is not so, at all; but it is at least very curious—and perhaps," added the young girl, after a moment's silence, "perhaps very audacious and audacity pleases me. As we are upon this subject, and you talk of a plan of conduct to which I must conform myself, under pain of (interrupting herself)—under pain of what, I should like to know, aunt?"
"You shall know. Proceed."
"I will, in the presence of these gentlemen, also declare, in a very plain and precise manner, the determination that I have come to. As it required some time to prepare for its execution, I have not spoken of it sooner, for you know I am not in the habit of saying, 'I will do so and so!' but I do it."
"Certainly; and it is just this habit of culpable independence of which you must break yourself."
"Well, I had intended only to inform you of my determination at a later period; but I cannot resist the pleasure of doing so to-day, you seem so well disposed to hear and receive it. Still, I would beg of you to speak first: it may just so happen, that our views are precisely the same."
"I like better to see you thus," said the princess. "I acknowledge at least the courage of your pride, and your defiance of all authority. You speak of audacity—yours is indeed great."
"I am at least decided to do that which others in their weakness dare not—but which I dare. This, I hope, is clear and precise."
"Very clear, very precise," said the princess, exchanging a glance of satisfaction with the other actors in this scene. "The positions being thus established, matters will be much simplified. I have only to give you notice, in your own interest, that this is a very serious affair—much more so than you imagine—and that the only way to dispose me to indulgence, is to substitute, for the habitual arrogance and irony of your language, the modesty and respect becoming a young lady."
Adrienne smiled, but made no reply. Some moments of silence, and some rapid glances exchanged between the princess and her three friends, showed that these encounters, more or less brilliant in themselves, were to be followed by a serious combat.
Mdlle. de Cardoville had too much penetration and sagacity, not to remark, that the Princess de Saint-Dizier attached the greatest importance to this decisive interview. But she could not understand how her aunt could hope to impose her absolute will upon her: the threat of coercive measures appearing with reason a mere ridiculous menace. Yet, knowing the vindictive character of her aunt, the secret power at her disposal, and the terrible vengeance she had sometimes exacted—reflecting, moreover, that men in the position of the marquis and the doctor would not have come to attend this interview without some weighty motive—the young lady paused for a moment before she plunged into the strife.
But soon, the very presentiment of some vague danger, far from weakening her, gave her new courage to brave the worst, to exaggerate, if that were possible, the independence of her ideas, and uphold, come what might, the determination that she was about to signify to the Princess de Saint Dizier.
CHAPTER XL. THE REVOLT
"Madame," said the princess to Adrienne de Cardoville, in a cold, severe tone, "I owe it to myself, as well as to these gentlemen, to recapitulate, in a few words, the events that have taken place for some time past. Six months ago, at the end of the mourning for your father, you, being eighteen years old, asked for the management of your fortune, and for emancipation from control. Unfortunately, I had the weakness to consent. You quitted the house, and established yourself in the extension, far from all superintendence. Then began a train of expenditures, each one more extravagant than the last. Instead of being satisfied with one or two waiting-women, taken from that class from which they are generally selected, you chose governesses for lady-companions, whom you dressed in the most ridiculous and costly fashion. It is true, that, in the solitude of your pavilion, you yourself chose to wear, one after another, costumes of different ages. Your foolish fancies and unreasonable whims have been without end and without limit: not only have you never fulfilled your religious duties, but you have actually had the audacity to profane one of your rooms, by rearing in the centre of it a species of pagan altar, on which is a group in marble representing a youth and a girl"—the princess uttered these words as if they would burn her lips—"a work of art, if you will, but a work in the highest degree unsuitable to a person of your age. You pass whole days entirely secluded in your pavilion, refusing to see any one; and Dr. Baleinier, the only one of my friends in whom you seem to have retained some confidence, having succeeded by much persuasion in gaining admittance, has frequently found you in so very excited a state, that he has felt seriously uneasy with regard to your health. You have always insisted on going out alone, without rendering any account of your actions to any one. You have taken delight in opposing, in every possible way, your will to my authority. Is all this true?"
"The picture of my past is not much flattered," said Adrienne; smiling, "but it is not altogether unlike."
"So you admit, madame," said Abbe d'Aigrigny, laying stress on his words, "that all the facts stated by your aunt are scrupulously true?"
Every eye was turned towards Adrienne, as if her answer would be of extreme importance.
"Yes, M. l'Abbe," said she; "I live openly enough to render this question superfluous."
"These facts are therefore admitted," said Abbe d'Aigrigny, turning towards the doctor and the baron.
"These facts are completely established," said M. Tripeaud, in a pompous voice.
"Will you tell me, aunt," asked Adrienne, "what is the good of this long preamble?"
"This long preamble, madame," resumed the princess with dignity, "exposes the past in order to justify the future."
"Really, aunt, such mysterious proceedings are a little in the style of the answers of the Cumaean Sybil. They must be intended to cover something formidable."
"Perhaps, mademoiselle—for to certain characters nothing is so formidable as duty and obedience. Your character is one of those inclined to revolt—"
"I freely acknowledge it, aunt—and it will always be so, until duty and obedience come to me in a shape that I can respect and love."
"Whether you respect and love my orders or not, madame," said the princess, in a curt, harsh voice, "you will, from to-day, from this moment, learn to submit blindly and absolutely to my will. In one word, you will do nothing without my permission: it is necessary, I insist upon it, and so I am determined it shall be."
Adrienne looked at her aunt for a second, and then burst into so free and sonorous a laugh, that it rang for quite a time through the vast apartment. D'Aigrigny and Baron Tripeaud started in indignation. The princess looked angrily at her niece. The doctor raised his eyes to heaven, and clasped his hands over his waistcoat with a sanctimonious sigh.
"Madame," said Abbe d'Aigrigny, "such fits of laughter are highly unbecoming. Your aunt's words are serious, and deserve a different reception."
"Oh, sir!" said Adrienne, recovering herself, "it is not my fault if I laugh. How can I maintain my gravity, when I hear my aunt talking of blind submission to her orders? Is the swallow, accustomed to fly upwards and enjoy the sunshine, fledged to live with the mole in darkness?"
At this answer, D'Aigrigny affected to stare at the other members of this kind of family council with blank astonishment.
"A swallow? what does she mean?" asked the abbe of the baron making a sign, which the latter understood.
"I do not know," answered Tripeaud, staring in his turn at the doctor. "She spoke too of a mole. It 'is quite unheard-of—incomprehensible."
"And so, madame," said the princess, appearing to share in the surprise of the others, "this is the reply that you make to me?"
"Certainly," answered Adrienne, astonished herself that they should pretend not to understand the simile of which she had made use, accustomed as she was to speak in figurative language.
"Come, come, madame," said Dr. Baleinier, smiling good-humoredly, "we must be indulgent. My dear Mdlle. Adrienne has naturally so uncommon and excitable a nature! She is really the most charming mad woman I know; I have told her so a hundred times, in my position of an old friend, which allows such freedom."
"I can conceive that your attachment makes you indulgent—but it is not the less true, doctor," said D'Aigrigny, as if reproaching him for taking the part of Mdlle. de Cardoville, "that such answers to serious questions are most extravagant."
"The evil is, that mademoiselle does not seem to comprehend the serious nature of this conference," said the princess, harshly. "She will perhaps understand it better when I have given her my orders."
"Let us hear these orders, aunt," replied Adrienne as, seated on the other side of the table, opposite to the princess, she leaned her small, dimpled chin in the hollow of her pretty hand, with an air of graceful mockery, charming to behold.
"From to-morrow forward," resumed the princess, "you will quit the summer-house which you at present inhabit, you will discharge your women, and come and occupy two rooms in this house, to which there will be no access except through my apartment. You will never go out alone. You will accompany me to the services of the church. Your emancipation terminates, in consequence of your prodigality duly proven. I will take charge of all your expenses, even to the ordering of your clothes, so that you may be properly and modestly dressed. Until your majority (which will be indefinitely postponed, by means of the intervention of a family-council), you will have no money at your own disposal. Such is my resolution."
"And certainly your resolution can only be applauded, madame," said Baron Tripeaud; "we can but encourage you to show the greatest firmness, for such disorders must have an end."
"It is more than time to put a stop to such scandal," added the abbe.
"Eccentricity and exaltation of temperament—may excuse many things," ventured to observe the smooth-tongued doctor.
"No doubt," replied the princess dryly to Baleinier, who played his part to perfection; "but then, doctor, the requisite measures must be taken with such characters."
Madame de Saint-Dizier had expressed herself in a firm and precise manner; she appeared convinced of the possibility of putting her threats into execution. M. Tripeaud and D'Aigrigny had just now given their full consent to the words of the princess. Adrienne began to perceive that something very serious was in contemplation, and her gayety was at once replaced by an air of bitter irony and offended independence.
She rose abruptly, and colored a little; her rosy nostrils dilated, her eyes flashed fire, and, as she raised her head, she gently shook the fine, wavy golden hair, with a movement of pride that was natural to her. After a moment's silence, she said to her aunt in a cutting tone: "You have spoken of the past, madame; I also will speak a few words concerning it, since you force me to do so, though I may regret the necessity. I quitted your dwelling, because it was impossible for me to live longer in this atmosphere of dark hypocrisy and black treachery."
"Madame," said D'Aigrigny, "such words are as violent as they are unreasonable."
"Since you interrupt me, sir," said Adrienne, hastily, as she fixed her eyes on the abbe, "tell me what examples did I meet with in my aunt's house?"
"Excellent, examples, madame."
"Excellent, sir? Was it because I saw there, every day, her conversion keep pace with your own?"
"Madame, you forget yourself!" cried the princess, becoming pale with rage.
"Madame, I do not forget—I remember, like other people; that is all. I had no relation of whom I could ask an asylum. I wished to live alone. I wished to enjoy my revenues—because I chose rather to spend them myself, than to see them wasted by M. Tripeaud."
"Madame," cried the baron, "I cannot imagine how you can presume—"
"Sir!" said Adrienne, reducing him to silence by a gesture of overwhelming lordliness, "I speak of you—not to you. I wished to spend my income," she continued, "according to my own tastes. I embellished the retreat that I had chosen. Instead of ugly, ill-taught servants, I selected girls, pretty and well brought up, though poor. Their education forbade their being subjected to any humiliating servitude, though I have endeavored to make their situation easy and agreeable. They do not serve me, but render me service—I pay them, but I am obliged to them—nice distinctions that your highness will not understand, I know. Instead of seeing them badly or ungracefully dressed, I have given them clothes that suit their charming faces well, because I like whatever is young and fair. Whether I dress myself one way or the other, concerns only my looking-glass. I go out alone, because I like to follow my fancy. I do not go to mass—but, if I had still a mother, I would explain to her my devotions, and she would kiss me none the less tenderly. It is true, that I have raised a pagan altar to youth and beauty, because I adore God in all that He has made fair and good, noble and grand—because, morn and evening, my heart repeats the fervent and sincere prayer: 'Thanks, my Creator! thanks!'—Your highness says that M. Baleinier has often found me in my solitude, a prey to a strange excitement: yes, it is true; for it is then that, escaping in thought from all that renders the present odious and painful to me, I find refuge in the future—it is then that magical horizons spread far before me—it is then that such splendid visions appear to me, as make me feel myself rapt in a sublime and heavenly ecstasy, as if I no longer appertained to earth!"