Lovely to a poet or an artist's eye is the unevenly-built and picturesque square of Rouen in which the Cathedral stands, -- lovely, and suggestive of historical romance in all its remote corners, its oddly-shaped houses, its by-ways and crooked little flights of steps leading to nowhere, its gables and slanting roofs, and its utter absence of all structural proportion. A shrine here, a broken statue there, -- a half-obliterated coat-of-arms over an old gateway, -- a rusty sconce fitted fast into the wall to support a lantern no longer needed in these days of gas and electricity, -- an ancient fountain overgrown with weed, or a projecting vessel of stone for holy water, in which small birds bathe and disport themselves after a shower of rain, -- those are but a few of the curious fragments of a past time which make the old place interesting to the student, and more than fascinating to the thinker and dreamer. The wonderful |Hotel Bourgtheroulde,| dating from the time of Francis the First, and bearing on its sculptured walls the story of the Field of the Cloth of Gold, in company with the strangely-contrasting |Allegories|, from Petrarch's |Triumphs|, is enough in itself to keep the mind engrossed with fanciful musings for an hour. How did Petrarch and the Field of the Cloth of Gold come together in the brain of the sculptor who long ago worked at these ancient bas- reliefs? One wonders, but the wonder is in vain, -- there is no explanation; -- and the |Bourgtheroulde| remains a pleasing and fantastic architectural mystery. Close by, through the quaint old streets of the Epicerie and |Gross Horloge|, walked no doubt in their young days the brothers Corneille, before they evolved from their meditative souls the sombre and heavy genius of French tragedy, -- and not very far away, up one of those little shadowy winding streets and out at the corner, stands the restored house of Diane de Poitiers, so sentient and alive in its very look that one almost expects to see at the quaint windows the beautiful wicked face of the woman who swayed the humours of a king by her smile or her frown.
Cardinal Bonpre, walking past the stately fourteenth-century Gothic pile of the Palais de Justice, thought half-vaguely of some of these things, -- but they affected him less than they might have done had his mind not been full of the grand music he had just heard in the Cathedral, and of the darkness that had slowly gathered there, as though in solemn commingling with the darkness which had at the same time settled over his soul. A great oppression weighed upon him; -- almost he judged himself guilty of mortal sin, for had he not said aloud and boldly, while facing the High Altar of the Lord, that even in the Church itself faith was lacking? Yes, he, a Cardinal- Archbishop, had said this thing; he had as it were proclaimed it on the silence of the sacred precincts, -- and had he not in this, acted unworthily of his calling? Had he not almost uttered blasphemy? Grieved and puzzled, the good Felix went on his way, almost unseeingly, towards the humble inn where he had elected to remain for the brief period of his visit to Rouen, -- an inn where no one stayed save the very poorest of travellers, this fact being its chief recommendation in the eyes of the Cardinal. For it must be conceded, that viewed by our latter-day ideas of personal comfort and convenience, the worthy prelate had some very old-world and fantastic notions. One of these notions was a devout feeling that he should, so far as it was humanly possible, endeavour to obey the Master whose doctrine he professed to follow. This, it will be admitted, was a curious idea. Considering the bold and blasphemous laxity of modern Christian customs, it was surely quite a fanatical idea. Yet he had his own Church-warrant for such a rule of conduct; and chief among the Evangelic Counsels writ down for his example was Voluntary Poverty. Yes! -- Voluntary Poverty, -- notwithstanding the countless treasures lying idle and wasted in the Vatican, and the fat sinecures enjoyed by bishops and archbishops; which things exist in direct contradiction and disobedience to the command of Christ. Christ Himself lived on the earth in poverty, -- He visited only the poorest and simplest habitations, -- and never did He set His sacred foot within a palace, save the palace of the High Priest where He was condemned to die. Much symbolic meaning did Cardinal Felix discover in this incident, -- and often would he muse upon it gravely.
|The Divine is condemned to die in all palaces,| he would say, -- |It is only in the glorious world of Nature, under the sunlit or starlit expanse of heaven, that the god in us can live; and it was not without some subtle cause of intended instruction to mankind that the Saviour always taught His followers in the open air.|
There was what might be called a palace hard by, to which Bonpre had been invited, and where he would have been welcome to stay as long as he chose, -- the house of the Archbishop of Rouen -- a veritable abode of luxury as compared with the Hotel Poitiers, which was a dingy little tumble-down building, very old, and wearing a conscious air of feebleness and decrepitude which was almost apologetic. Its small windows, set well back in deeply hollowed carved arches had a lack-lustre gleam, as of very aged eyes under shelving brows, -- its narrow door, without either bolts or bars, hung half-aslant upon creaking rusty hinges, and was never quite shut either by day or night, -- yet from the porch a trailing mass of |creeping jenny| fell in a gold-dotted emerald fringe over the head of any way-worn traveller passing in, -- making a brightness in a darkness, and suggesting something not altogether uncheery in the welcome provided. They were very humble folk who kept the Hotel Poitiers, -- the host, Jean Patoux, was a small market-gardener who owned a plot of land outside Rouen, which he chiefly devoted to the easy growing of potatoes and celery -- his wife had her hands full with the domestic business of the hotel and the cares of her two children, Henri and Babette, the most incorrigible imps of mischief that ever lived in Rouen or out of it. Madame Patoux, large of body, unwieldy in movement, but clean as a new pin, and with a fat smile of perpetual contentment on her round visage, professed to be utterly worn to death by the antics of these children of hers, -- but nevertheless she managed to grow stouter every day with a persistency and fortitude which denoted the reserved forces of her nature, -- and her cooking, always excellent, never went wrong because Babette had managed to put her doll in one of the saucepans, or Henri had essayed to swim a paper boat in the soup. Things went on somehow; Patoux himself was perfectly satisfied with his small earnings and position in life -- Madame Patoux felt that |le bon Dieu| was specially engaged in looking after her, -- and as long as the wicked Babette and the wickeder Henri threw themselves wildly into her arms and clung round her fat neck imploring pardon after any and every misdeed, and sat for a while |en penitence| in separate corners reading the |Hours of Mary|, they might be as naughty as they chose over and over again so far as the good-natured mother was concerned. Just now, however, unusual calm appeared to have settled on the Patoux household, -- an atmosphere of general placidity and peace prevailed, which had the effect of imparting almost a stately air to the tumble-down house, and a suggestion of luxury to the poorly-furnished rooms Madame Patoux herself was conscious of a mysterious dignity in her surroundings, and moved about on her various household duties with less bounce and fuss than was her ordinary custom, -- and Henri and Babette sat quiet without being told to do so, moved apparently by a sudden and inexplicable desire to study their lessons. All this had been brought about by the advent of Cardinal Bonpre, who with his kind face, gentle voice and beneficent manner, had sought and found lodging at the Hotel Poitiers, notwithstanding Madame Patoux's profuse apologies for the narrowness and inconvenience of her best rooms.
|For look you, Monseigneur,| she murmured, deferentially, |How should we have ever expected such an honour as the visit of a holy Cardinal-Archbishop to our poor little place! There are many new houses on the Boulevards which could have accommodated Monseigneur with every comfort, -- and that he should condescend to bestow the blessing of his presence upon us, -- ah! it was a special dispensation of Our Lady which was too amazing and wonderful to be at once comprehended!|
Thus Madame Patoux, with breathless pauses between her sentences, and many profound curtseyings; but the good Cardinal waived aside her excuses and protestations, and calling her |My daughter|, signed the cross on her brow with paternal gentleness, assuring her that he would give her as little trouble as any other casual visitor.
|Trouble! -- Ah, heaven! -- could anything be a trouble for Monseigneur!| and Madame Patoux, moved to tears by the quiet contentment with which the Cardinal took possession of the two bare, common rooms which were the best she could place at his disposal, hurried away, and hustling Henri and Babette like two little roly- poly balls before her into the kitchen, she told them with much emphasis that there was a saint in the house, -- a saint fit to be the holy companion of any of those who had their niches up in the Cathedral near the great rose-window, -- and that if they were good children they would very likely see an angel coming down from heaven to visit him. Babette put her finger in her mouth and looked incredulous. She had a vague belief in angels, -- but Henri, with the cheap cynicism of the modern French lad was anything but sure about them.
|Mother,| said he, |There's a boy in our school who says there is no God at all, and that it's no use having priests or Cardinals or Cathedrals, -- it's all rubbish and humbug!|
|Poor little miserable monster!| exclaimed Madame Patoux, as she peered into the pot where the soup for the Cardinal's supper was simmering -- |He is arranging himself to become a thief or a murderer, be sure of that, Henri! -- and thou, who art trained in all thy holy duties by the good Pere Laurent, who teaches thee everything which the school is not wise enough to teach, ought never to listen to such wickedness. If there were no God, we should not be alive at all, thou foolish child! -- for it is only our blessed Saviour and the saints that keep the world going.|
Henri was silent, -- Babette looked at him and made a little grimace of scorn.
|If the Cardinal is a saint,| she said -- |he should be able to perform a miracle. The little Fabien Doucet has been lame for seven years; we shall bring him to Monseigneur, and he will mend his leg and make him well. Then we shall believe in saints afterwards.|
Madame Patoux turned her warm red face round from the fire over which she was bending, and stared at her precocious offspring aghast.
|What! You will dare to address yourself to the Cardinal!| she cried vociferously -- |You will dare to trouble him with such foolishness? Mon Dieu! -- is it possible to be so wicked! But listen to me well! -- If you presume to say one saucy word to Monseigneur, you shall be punished! What have you to do with the little Fabien Doucet? -- the poor child is sickly and diseased by the will of God.|
|I don't see why it should be God's will to make a boy sickly and diseased -- | began the irrepressible Henri, when his mother cut him short with a stamp of her foot and a cry of --
|Tais-toi! Silence! Wicked boy! -- thou wilt kill me with thy naughty speeches! All this evil comes of the school, -- I would thy father had never been compelled to send thee there!|
As she said this with a vast amount of heat and energy, Henri, seized by some occult and inexplicable emotion, burst without warning into loud and fitful weeping, the sound whereof resembled the yelling of a tortured savage, -- and Babette, petrified at first by the appalling noise, presently gave way likewise, and shrieked a wild accompaniment.
|What ails my children?| said a gentle voice, distinct and clear in its calm intonation even in the midst of the uproar, and Cardinal Bonpre, tall and stately, suddenly appeared upon the threshold -- |What little sorrows are these?|
Henri's roar ceased abruptly, -- Babette's shrill wailing dropped into awed silence. Both youngsters stared amazed at the venerable Felix, whose face and figure expressed such composed dignity and sweetness; and Madame Patoux, nastily and with frequent gasps for breath, related the history of the skirmish.
|And what will become of such little devils when they grow older, the Blessed Virgin only knows!| she groaned -- |For even now they are so suspicious in nature, that they will not believe in their dinner till they see it!|
Something like a faint grin widened the mouths of Henri and Babette at this statement made with so much distressed fervour by their angry mother, -- but the Cardinal did not smile. His face had grown very pale and grave, almost stern.
|The children are quite right, my daughter,| he said gently, -- |I am no saint! I have performed no miracles. I am a poor sinner, -- striving to do well, but alas! -- for ever striving in vain. The days of noble living are past, -- and we are all too much fallen in the ways of error to deserve that our Lord should bless the too often half-hearted and grudging labour of his so-called servants. Come here, ma mignonne!| he continued, calling Babette, who approached him with a curious air of half-timid boldness -- |Thou art but a very little girl,| he said, laying his thin white hand softly on her tumbled brown curls -- |Nevertheless, I should be a very foolish old man if I despised thee, or thy thoughts, or thy desire to know the truth for truth's sake. Therefore to-morrow thou shalt bring me this afflicted friend of thine, and though I have no divine gifts, I will do even as the Master commanded, -- I will lay my hands on him in blessing and pray that he may be healed. More than this is not in my power, my child! -- if a miracle is to be worked, it is our dear Lord only who can work it.|
Gently he murmured his formal benediction, -- then, turning away, he entered his own room and shut the door. Babette, grown strangely serious, turned to her brother and held out her hand, moved by one of those erratic impulses which often take sudden possession of self-willed children.
|Come into the Cathedral!| she whispered imperatively -- |Come and say an Ave.|
Not a word did the usually glib Henri vouchsafe in answer, -- but clutching his sister's fingers in his own dirty, horny palm, he trotted meekly beside her out of the house and across the Square into the silence and darkness of Notre Dame. Their mother watched their little plump figures disappear with a feeling of mingled amazement and gratitude, -- miracles were surely beginning, she thought, if a few words from the Cardinal could impress Babette and Henri with an idea of the necessity of prayer!
They were not long gone, however; -- they came walking back together, still demurely hand in hand, and settled themselves quietly in a corner to study their tasks for the next day. Babette's doll, once attired as a fashionable Parisienne, and now degenerated into a one- eyed laundress with a rather soiled cap and apron, stuck out its composite arms in vain from the bench where it sat all askew, drooping its head forlornly over a dustpan, -- and Henri's drum, wherewith he was wont to wake alarming echoes out of the dreamy and historical streets of Rouen, lay on its side neglected and ingloriously silent. And, as before said, peace reigned in the Patoux household, -- even the entrance of Papa Patoux himself, fresh from his celery beds, and smelling of the earth earthy, created no particular diversion. He was a very little, very cheery, round man, was Papa Patoux; he had no ideas at all in his bullet head save that he judged everything to be very well managed in the Universe, and that he, considered simply as Patoux, was lucky in his life and labours, -- also that it was an easy thing to grow celery, provided God's blessing was on the soil. For the rest, he took small care; he knew that the world wagged in different ways in different climates,- -he read his half-penny journal daily, and professed to be interested in the political situation just for the fun of the thing, but in reality he thought the French Senate a pack of fools, and wondered what they meant by always talking so much about nothing. He believed in |La Patrie| to a certain extent, -- but he would have very much objected if |La Patrie| had interfered with his celery. Roughly sneaking, he understood that France was a nation, and that he was a Frenchman; and that if any enemies should presume to come into the country, it would be necessary to take up a musket and fight them out again, and defend wife, children, and celery-beds till the last breath was out of his body. Further than this simple and primitive idea of patriotism he did not go. He never bothered himself about dissentient shades of opinion, or quarrels among opposing parties. When he had to send his children to the Government school, the first thing he asked was whether they would be taught their religion there. He was told no, -- that the Government objected to religious teaching, as it merely created discussion and was of no assistance whatever in the material business of life. Patoux scratched his head over this for a considerable time and ruminated deeply, -- finally he smiled, a dull fat smile.
|Good!| said he -- |I understand now why the Government makes such an ass of itself now and then! You cannot expect mere men to do their duty wisely without God on their side. But Pere Laurent will teach my children their prayers and catechism, -- and I dare say Heaven will arrange the rest.|
And he forthwith dismissed the matter from his mind. His children attended the Government school daily, -- and every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday afternoons Pere Laurent, a kindly, simple- hearted old priest, took them, with several other little creatures |educated by the State|, and taught them all he knew about the great France-exiled Creator of the Universe, and of His ceaseless love to sinful and blasphemous mankind.
So things went on; -- and though Henri and Babette were being crammed by the national system of instruction, with learning which was destined to be of very slight use to them in their after careers, and which made them little cynics before their time, they were still sustained within bounds by the saving sense of something better than themselves, -- that Something Better which silently declares itself in the beauty of the skies, the blossoming of the flowers, and the loveliness of all things wherein man has no part, -- and neither of them was yet transformed into that most fearsome product of modern days, the child-Atheist, for whom there is no greater God than Self.
On this particular night when Papa Patoux returned to the bosom of his family, he, though a dull-witted man generally, did not fail to note the dove-like spirit of calm that reigned over his entire household. His wife's fat face was agreeably placid, -- the children were in an orderly mood, and as he sat down to the neatly spread supper-table, he felt more convinced than ever that things were exceedingly well managed for him in this best of all possible worlds. Pausing in the act of conveying a large spoonful of steaming soup to his mouth he enquired --
|And Monseigneur, the Cardinal Bonpre, -- has he also been served?|
Madame Patoux opened her round eyes wide at him.
|But certainly! Dost thou think, my little cabbage, thou wouldst get thy food before Monseigneur? That would be strange indeed!|
Papa Patoux swallowed his ladleful of soup in abashed silence.
|It was a beautiful day in the fields,| he presently observed -- |There was a good smell in the earth, as if violets were growing, -- and late in the autumn though it is, there was a skylark yet singing. It was a very blue heaven, too, as blue as the robe of the Virgin, with clouds as white as little angels clinging to it.|
Madame nodded. Some people might have thought Papa Patoux inclined to be poetical, -- she did not. Henri and Babette listened.
|The robe of Our Lady is always blue,| said Babette.
|And the angels' clothes are always white,| added Henri.
Madame Patoux said nothing, but passed a second helping of soup all round. Papa Patoux smiled blandly on his offspring.
|Just so,| he averred -- |Blue and white are the colours of the sky, my little ones, -- and Our Lady and the angels live in the sky!|
|I wonder where?| muttered Henri with his mouth half full. |The sky is nothing but miles and miles of air, and in the air there are millions and millions of planets turning round and round, larger than our world, -- ever so much larger, -- and nobody knows which is the largest of them all!|
|It is as thou sayest, my son,| said Patoux confidently -- |Nobody knows which is the largest of them all, but whichever it may be, that largest of them all belongs to Our Lady and the angels.|
Henri looked at Babette, but Babette was munching watercress busily, and did not return his enquiring glances. Papa Patoux, quite satisfied with his own reasoning, continued his supper in an amiable state of mind.
|What didst thou serve to Monseigneur, my little one?| he asked his wife with a coaxing and caressing air, as though she were some delicate and dainty sylph of the woodlands, instead of being the lady of massive proportions which she undoubtedly was, -- |Something of delicacy and fine flavour, doubtless?|
Madame Patoux shook her head despondingly.
|He would have nothing of that kind,| she replied -- |Soup maigre, and afterwards nothing but bread, dried figs, and apples to finish. Ah, Heaven! What a supper for a Cardinal-Archbishop! It is enough to make one weep!|
Patoux considered the matter solemnly.
|He is perhaps very poor?| he half queried.
|Poor, he may be,| responded Madame, -- |But if he is, it is surely his own fault, -- whoever heard of a poor Cardinal-Archbishop! Such men can all be rich if they choose.|
|Can they?| asked Henri with sudden vivacious eagerness. |How?|
But his question was not answered, for just at that moment a loud knock came at the door of the inn, and a tall broadly built personage in close canonical attire appeared in the narrow little passage of entry, attended by another smaller and very much more insignificant-looking individual.
Patoux hastily scrambled out of his chair.
|The Archbishop!| he whispered to his wife -- |He himself! Our own Archbishop!|
Madame Patoux jumped up, and seizing her children, held one in each hand as she curtsied up and down.
Benedicite!| said the new-comer, lightly signing the cross in air with a sociable smile -- |Do not disturb yourselves, my children! You have with you in this house the eminent Cardinal Bonpre?|
|Ah, yes, Monseigneur!| replied Madame Patoux -- |Only just now he has finished his little supper. Shall I show Monseigneur to his room?|
|If you please,| returned the Archbishop, still smiling benevolently -- |And permit my secretary to wait with you here till I return.|
With this, and an introductory wave of his hand in the direction of the attenuated and sallow-faced personage who had accompanied him, he graciously permitted Madame Patoux to humbly precede him by a few steps, and then followed her with a soft, even tread, and a sound as of rustling silk in his garments, from which a faint odour of some delicate perfume seemed wafted as he moved.
Left to entertain the Archbishop's secretary, Jean Patoux was for a minute or two somewhat embarrassed. Henri and Babette stared at the stranger with undisguised curiosity, and were apparently not favourably impressed by his appearance.
|He has white eyelashes!| whispered Henri.
|And yellow teeth,| responded Babette.
Meanwhile Patoux, having scratched his bullet-head sufficiently over the matter, offered his visitor a chair.
|Sit down, sir,| he said curtly.
The secretary smiled pallidly and took the proffered accommodation. Patoux again meditated. He was not skilled in the art of polite conversation, and he found himself singularly at a loss.
|It would be an objection no doubt, and an irreverance perhaps to smoke a pipe before you, Monsieur -- Monsieur -- |
|Cazeau,| finished the secretary with another pallid smile -- |Claude Cazeau, a poor scribe, -- at your service! And I beg of you, Monsieur Jean Patoux, to smoke at your distinguished convenience!|
There was a faint tone of satire in his voice which struck Papa Patoux as exceedingly disagreeable, though he could not quite imagine why he found it so. He slowly reached for his pipe from the projecting shelf above the chimney, and as slowly proceeded to fill it with tobacco from a tin cannister close by.
|I do not think I have ever seen you in the town, Monsieur Cazeau,| he said -- |Nor at Mass in the Cathedral either?|
|No?| responded Cazeau easily, in a half-querying tone -- |I do not much frequent the streets; and I only attend the first early mass on Sundays. My work for Monseigneur occupies my whole time.|
|Ah!| and Patoux, having stuffed his pipe sufficiently, lit it, and proceeded to smoke peaceably -- |There must be much to do. Many poor and sick who need money, and clothes, and help in every way, -- and to try and do good, and give comfort to all the unhappy souls in Rouen is a hard task, even for an Archbishop.|
Cazeau linked his thin hands together with an action of pious fervour and assented.
|There is a broken-hearted creature near us,| pursued Patoux leisurely -- |We call her Marguerite La Folle; -- I have often thought I would ask Pere Laurent to speak to Monseigneur for her, that she might be released from the devils that are tearing her. She was a good girl till a year or two ago, -- then some villain got the ruin of her, and she lost her wits over it. Ah,'tis a sad sight to see her now -- poor Marguerite Valmond!|
|Ha!| cried Henri suddenly, pointing a grimy finger at Cazeau -- |Why did you jump? Did something hurt you?|
Cazeau had indeed |jumped,| as Henri put it, -- that is, he had sprung up from his chair suddenly and as suddenly sat down again with an air of impatience and discomfort. He rapidly overcame whatever emotion moved him, however, and stretched his thin mouth in a would- be amiable grin at the observant Henri.
|You are a sharp boy!| he observed condescendingly -- |and tall for your age, no doubt. How old are you?|
|Eleven,| replied Henri -- |But that has nothing to do with your jumping.|
|True,| and the secretary wriggled in his chair, pretending to be much amused -- |But my jumping had nothing to do with you either, my small friend! I had a thought, -- a sudden thought, -- of a duty forgotten.|
|Oh, it was a thought, was it?| and Henri looked incredulous. |Do thoughts always make you jump?|
|Tais-toi! Tais-toi!| murmured Patoux gently, between two whiffs of his pipe -- |Excuse him, Monsieur Cazeau, -- he is but a child.|
Cazeau writhed amicably.
|A delightful child,| he murmured -- |And the little girl -- his sister- -is also charming -- Ah, what fine dark eyes! -- what hair! Will she not come and speak to me?|
He held out a hand invitingly towards Babette, but she merely made a grimace at him and retired backwards. Patoux smiled benevolently.
|She does not like strangers,| he explained.
|Good -- very good! That is right! Little girls should always run away from strangers, especially strangers of my sex,| observed Cazeau with a sniggering laugh -- |And do these dear children go to school?|
Patoux took his pipe out of his mouth altogether, and stared solemnly at the ceiling.
|Without doubt! -- they are compelled to go to school,| he answered slowly; |but if I could have had my way, they should never have gone. They learn mischief there in plenty, but no good that I can see. They know much about geography, and the stars, and anatomy, and what they call physical sciences; -- but whether they have got it into their heads that the good God wants them to live straight, clean, honest, wholesome lives, is more than I am certain of. However, I trust Pere Laurent will do what he can.|
|Pere Laurent?| echoed Cazeau, with a wide smile -- |You have a high opinion of Pere Laurent? Ah, yes, a good man! -- but ignorant -- alas! very ignorant!|
Papa Patoux brought his eyes down from the ceiling and fixed them enquiringly on Cazeau.
|Ignorant?| he began, when at this juncture Madame Patoux entered, and taking possession of Henri and Babette, informed Monsieur Cazeau that the Archbishop would be for some time engaged in conversation with Cardinal Bonpre, and that therefore he, Monsieur Cazeau, need not wait, -- Monseigneur would return to his house alone. Whereupon the secretary rose, evidently glad to be set at liberty, and took his leave of the Patoux family. On the threshold, however, he paused, looking back somewhat frowningly at Jean Patoux himself.
|I should not, if I were you, trouble Monseigneur concerning the case you told me of -- that of -- of Marguerite Valmond,| -- he observed -- |He has a horror of evil women.|
With that he departed, walking across the Square towards the Archbishop's house in a stealthy sort of fashion, as though he were a burglar meditating some particularly daring robbery.
|He is a rat -- a rat!| exclaimed Henri, suddenly executing a sort of reasonless war-dance round the kitchen -- |One wants a cat to catch him!|
|Rats are nice,| declared Babette, for she remembered having once had a tame white rat which sat on her knee and took food from her hand, -- |Monsieur Cazeau is a man; and men are not nice.|
Patoux burst into a loud laugh.
|Men are not nice!| he echoed -- |What dost thou know about it, thou little droll one?|
|What I see,| responded Babette severely, with an elderly air, as of a person who has suffered by bitter experience; and, undeterred by her parents' continued laughter she went on --
|Men are ugly. They are dirty. They say 'Come here my little girl, and I will give you something,' -- then when I go to them they try and kiss me. And I will not kiss them, because their mouths smell bad. They stroke my hair and pull it all the wrong way. And it hurts. And when I don't like my hair pulled the wrong way, they tell me I will be a great coquette. A coquette is to be like Diane de Poitiers. Shall I be like Diane de Poitiers?|
|The saints forbid!| cried Madame Patoux, -- |And talk no more nonsense, child, -- it's bed-time. Come, -- say good-night to thy father, Henri; -- give them thy blessing, Jean -- and let me get them into their beds before the Archbishop leaves the house, or they will be asking him as many questions as there are in the catechism.|
Thus enjoined, Papa Patoux kissed his children affectionately, signing the cross on their brows as they came up to him in turn, after the fashion of his own father, who had continued this custom up to his dying day. What they thought of the benediction in itself might be somewhat difficult to define, but it can be safely asserted that a passion of tears on the part of Babette, and a fit of demoniacal howling from Henri, would have been the inevitable result if Papa Patoux had refused to bestow it on them. Whether there were virtue in it or not, their father's mute blessing sent them to bed peaceably and in good humour with each other, and they trotted off very contentedly beside their mother, hushing their footsteps and lowering their voices as they passed the door of the room occupied by Cardinal Bonpre.
|The Archbishop is not an angel, is he?| asked Babette whisperingly.
Her mother smiled broadly.
|Not exactly, my little one. Why such a foolish question?|
|You said that Cardinal Bonpre was a saint, and that perhaps we should see an angel come down from heaven to visit him,| replied Babette.
|Well, you could not have thought the Archbishop came from heaven,| interpolated Henri, scornfully, -- |He came from his own house over the way with his own secretary behind him. Do angels keep secretaries?|
Babette laughed aloud, -- the idea was grotesque. The two children were just then ascending the wooden stairs to their bedroom, the mother carrying a lighted candle behind them, and at that moment the rich sonorous voice of the Archbishop, raised to a high and somewhat indignant tone, reached them with these words -- |I consider that you altogether mistake your calling and position.|
Then the voice died away into inaudible murmurings.
|They are quarrelling! The Archbishop is angry!| said Henri with a grin.
|Perhaps Archbishops do not like saints,| suggested Babette.
|Tais-toi! Cardinal Bonpre is an archbishop himself, little silly,| said Madame Patoux -- |Therefore those great and distinguished Monseigneurs are like brothers.|
|That is why they are quarrelling!| declared Henri glibly, -- |A boy told me in school that Cain and Abel were the first pair of brothers, and they quarrelled, -- and all brothers have quarrelled ever since. It's in the blood, so that boy says, -- and it is his excuse always for fighting HIS little brother. His little brother is six, and he is twelve; -- and of course he always knocks his little brother down. He cannot help it, he says. And he gets books on physiology and heredity, and he learns in them that whatever is IN the blood has got to come out somehow. He says that it's because Cain killed Abel that there are wars between nations; -- if Cain and Abel had never quarrelled, there would never have been any fighting in the world, -- and now that it's in the blood of every body -- |
But further sapient discourse on the part of Henri was summarily put an end to by his mother's ordering him to kneel down and say his prayers, and afterwards bundling him into bed, -- where, being sleepy, he speedily forgot all that he had been trying to talk about. Babette took more time in retiring to rest. She had very pretty, curly, brown hair, and Madame Patoux took a pride in brushing and plaiting it neatly.
|I may be like Diane de Poitiers after all,| she remarked, peering at herself in the small mirror when her thick locks were smoothed and tied back for the night -- |Why should I not be?|
|Because Diane de Poitiers was a wicked woman,| said Madame Patoux energetically, -- |and thou must learn to be a good girl.|
|But if Diane de Poitiers was bad, why do they talk so much about her even now, and put her in all the histories, and show her house, and say she was beautiful?| went on Babette.
|Because people are foolish,| said Madame, getting impatient -- |Foolish people run after bad women, and bad women run after foolish people. Now say thy prayers.|
Obediently Babette knelt down, shut her eyes close, clasped her hands hard, and murmured the usual evening formula, heaving a small sigh after her |act of contrition,| and looking almost saintly as she commended herself to her |angel guardian.| Then her mother kissed her, saying --
|Good-night, little daughter! Think of Our Lady and the saints, and then ask them to keep us safe from evil. Good-night!|
|Good-night.| responded Babette sleepily, -- but all the same she did not think of Our Lady and the saints half as much as of Diane de Poitiers. There are few daughters of Eve to whom conquest does not seem a finer thing than humility; and the sovereignty of Diane de Poitiers over a king, seems to many a girl just conscious of her own charm, a more emphatic testimony to the supremacy of her sex, than the Angel's greeting of |Blessed art thou!| to the elected Virgin of the world.