Meanwhile, unconscious of the miracle his prayer had wrought, Cardinal Bonpre and his young charge Manuel, arrived in Paris, and drove from the station direct to a house situated near the Bois du Boulogne, where the Cardinal's niece, Angela Sovrani, only daughter of Prince Sovrani, and herself famous throughout Europe as a painter of the highest promise, had a suite of rooms and studio, reserved for her occasional visits to the French capital. Angela Sovrani was a rare type of her sex, -- unlike any other woman in the world, so those who knew her best were wont to declare. Without being actually beautiful, according to the accepted lines and canons of physical perfection, she created around her an effect of beauty, which was dazzling and exciting to a singular degree, -- people who came once within the charmed circle of her influence could never forget her, and always spoke of her afterwards as a creature apart; -- a |woman of genius, -- yes!| -- they said, |But something more even than that.| And this |something more,| was just the inexplicable part of her which governed her whole being, and rendered her so indescribably attractive. And she was not without beauty -- or perhaps it should be termed loveliness rather, -- of an exquisitely suggestive kind, which provoked the beholder into questioning where and how the glamour of it fell. In her eyes, perhaps, the secret lay, -- they were violet- grey in hue, and drowsy-lidded, with long lashes that swept the delicate pale cheeks in a dark golden fringe of shadow, through which the sparkle of vision gleamed, -- now warningly, now tenderly, -- and anon, these same half-shut and deep fringed lids would open wide, letting the full brilliance of the soul behind the eyes pour forth its luminance, in flashes of such lightning-like clearness and compelling force, that it was impossible not to recognise something higher than mere woman in the dazzle of that spiritual glory. In figure she was wonderfully slight, -- so slight indeed that she suggested a delicate willow-withe such as can be bent and curved with one hand -- yet this slightness stood her in good stead, for being united with extreme suppleness, it gave her a grace of movement resembling that of some skimming mountain bird or sea- swallow, which flies with amazing swiftness yet seeming slowness. Angela never moved quickly, -- no one had ever seen her in what is termed a |rush,| or a vulgar hurry. She did everything she had to do without haste, without noise, without announcement or assertion of any kind; -- and all that she did was done as perfectly as her ability could warrant. And that ability was very great indeed, and displayed itself in small details as well as large attempts. Whether she merely twisted her golden-brown hair into a knot, or tied a few flowers together and fastened them on her dress with a pearl pin, either thing was perfectly done -- without a false line or a discordant hue. Her face, form, voice and colouring were like a chord of music, harmonious, -- and hence the impression of satisfaction and composure her presence always gave. In herself she was a creature of remarkable temperament and character; -- true womanly in every delicate sentiment, fancy and feeling, but with something of the man-hero in her scorn of petty aims, her delight in noble deeds, her courage, her ambition, her devotion to duty and her unflinching sense of honour. Full of rare perceptions and instinctive knowledge of persons and motives, she could only be deceived and blinded where her deepest affections were concerned, and there she could certainly be fooled and duped as completely as the wisest of us all. Looking at her now as she stood awaiting her uncle's arrival in the drawing-room of her |suite,| the windows of which faced the Bois, she expressed to the air and surroundings the personality of a thoughtful, charming young woman, -- no more. Her black silk gown, cut simply in the prevailing mode of definitely outlining the figure from throat to hips, and then springing out in pliant folds of trailing drapery, had nothing remarkable about it save its Parisian perfection of fit, -- the pale |Gloire de France| rose that rested lightly amongst the old lace at her neck, pinned, yet looking as though it had dropped there merely out of a languid desire to escape from further growing, was her only ornament. Her hair, full of curious lights and shades running from brown to gold and gold to brown again, in a rippling uncertain fashion, clustered thickly over her brow and was caught back at the sides in a loose twist after the style of the Greek vestals, -- and her fine, small white hands and taper fingers, so skilled in the use of the artist's brush, looked too tiny and delicate to be of any service save to receive the kisses of a lover's lips, -- or to be raised, folded pure and calm, in a child-like appeal to Heaven. Certainly in her fragile appearance she expressed nothing save indefinable charm -- no one, studying her physiognomy, would have accredited her with genius, power, and the large conceptions of a Murillo or a Raphael; -- yet within the small head lay a marvellous brain -- and the delicate body was possessed by a spirit of amazing potency to conjure with. While she watched for the first glimpse of the carriage which was to bring her uncle the Cardinal, whom she loved with a rare and tender devotion, her thoughts were occupied with a letter she had received that morning from Rome, -- a letter |writ in choice Italian,| which though brief, contained for her some drops of the essence of all the world's sweetness, and was worded thus --
|MY OWN LOVE! -- A century seems to have passed away since you left Rome. The hours move slowly without you -- they are days, -- even years! -- but I feel your spirit is always with me! Absence for those who love, is not absence after all! To the soul, time is nothing, -- space is nothing, -- and my true and passionate love for you makes an invisible bridge, over which my thoughts run and fly to your sweet presence, carrying their delicious burden of a thousand kisses! -- a thousand embraces and blessings to the Angela and angel of my life! From her devoted lover,
Her devoted lover, Florian! Yes; Florian Varillo -- her comrade in art, was her lover, -- a genius himself, who had recognised HER genius and who bowed before it, conquered and subdued! Florian, the creator of exquisitely delicate landscapes and seascapes, with nymphs and cupids and nereids and sirens all daintily portrayed therein, -- pictures so ethereal and warm and bright in colour that they were called by some of the best Italian critics, the |amoretti| of painting, -- he, this wonderful man, had caught her soul and heart by storm, in a few sudden, quickly-whispered words one night when the moon was at the full, hanging high over the gardens of the Pincio, -- and, proud of her security in the love she had won, Angela had risen by leaps and bounds to a magnificence of creative effort and attainment so far beyond him, that old and wise persons, skilled in the wicked ways of the world, would sometimes discourse among themselves in dubious fashion thus: |Is it possible that he is not jealous? He must surely see that her work is superior to his own!| And others would answer, |Oh no! No man was ever known to admit, even in thought, that a woman can do better things in art than himself! If a masculine creature draws a picture on a paving-stone he will assure himself in his own Ego, that it is really much more meritorious simply as 'man's work' than the last triumph of a Rosa Bonheur. Besides, you have to remember that in this case the man is the woman's lover -- he could soon kill her genius if he chose. He has simply to desert her, -- such an easy thing! -- so often done! -- and she will paint no more. Women are all alike, -- they rest on love, -- when that fails, then everything fails, and they drop into old age without a groan.| And then perhaps a stray cynic would say, |But Angela Sovrani need not depend on one lover surely? -- | and he would get for answer, |No, she need not -- but it so happens that she does,| -- which to everybody seemed extraordinary, more particularly in Italy, where morals are so lax, that a woman has only to be seen walking alone in the public gardens or streets with one of the opposite sex, and her reputation is gone for ever. It is no use to explain that the man in question is her father, her brother or her uncle, -- he simply could not be. He is THE man, the one inevitable. Few Italians (in Italy) believe in the chastity of English women, -- their reasons for doubt being simply because they see the fair and free ones going to parties, theatres and other places of amusement with their friends of the other sex in perfect ease and confidence. And in the case of Angela Sovrani, though she was affianced to Florian Varillo with her father's consent, (reluctantly obtained,) and the knowledge of all the Roman world of society, she saw very little of him, -- and that little, never alone. Thus it was very sweet to receive such consoling words as those she had had from him that day -- |Time is nothing, -- space is nothing, -- and my true and passionate love for you makes an invisible bridge over which my thoughts run and fly to your sweet presence!| The letter lay warm in her bosom just under the |Gloire de France| rose; she pressed it tenderly with her little hand now simply for the childish pleasure of hearing the paper rustle, and she smiled dreamily.
|Florian,| she murmured half aloud! -- |MY Florian!| And she recalled certain lines of verse he had written to her, -- for most Italians write verse as easily as they eat maccaroni; -- and there are countless rhymes to |amor| in the dulcet Dante-tongue, whereas our rough English can only supply for the word |love| some three or four similar sounds, -- which is perhaps a fortunate thing. Angela spoke English and French as easily and fluently as her native Tuscan, and had read the most notable books in all three languages, so she was well aware that of all kinds of human speech in the world there is none so adapted for making love and generally telling lies in, as the |lingua Toscana in bocca Romana.| And this particular |lingua| Florian possessed in fullest perfection of sweetness, so far as making love was concerned; -- of the telling of lies he was, according to Angela's estimate of him, most nobly ignorant. She had not many idle moments, however, for meditation on her love matters, or for dreamy study of the delicate beginnings of the autumnal tints on the trees of the Bois, for the carriage she had been awaiting soon made its appearance, and bowling rapidly down the road drew up sharply at the door. She had just time to perceive that her uncle had not arrived alone, when he entered, -- and with a pretty grace and reverence for his holy calling, she dropped on one knee before him to receive his benediction, which he gave by laying a hand on her soft hair and signing the cross on her brow. After which he raised her and looked at her fondly.
|My dear child!| -- he said, tenderly, -- and again |My dear child!|
Then he turned towards Manuel, who had followed him and was now standing quietly on the threshold of the apartment.
|Angela, this is one of our Lord's 'little ones,'| he said, -- |He is alone in the world, and I have made myself his guardian and protector for the present. You will be kind to him -- yes -- as kind as if you were his sister, will you not? -- for we are all one family in the sight of Heaven, and sorrow and loneliness and want can but strengthen the love which should knit us all together.|
Raising her candid eyes, and fixing them on Manuel, Angela smiled. The thoughtful face and pathetic expression of the boy greatly attracted her, and in her heart she secretly wondered where her uncle had found so intelligent and inspired-looking a creature. But one of her UNfeminine attributes was a certain lack of curiosity concerning other people's affairs, and an almost fastidious dislike of asking questions on matters which did not closely concern her. So she contented herself with giving him that smile of hers which in itself expressed all sweetness, and saying gently, --
|You are very welcome! You must try to feel that wherever my uncle is, -- that is 'home'.|
|I have felt that from the first,| -- replied Manuel in his soft musical voice, |I was all alone when my lord the Cardinal found me,- -but with him the world seems full of friends.|
Angela looked at him still more attentively; and the fascination of his presence became intensified. She would have liked to continue the conversation, but her uncle was fatigued by his journey, and expressed the desire for an hour's rest. She therefore summoned a servant to show him to the rooms prepared for his reception, whither he went, Manuel attending him, -- and when, after a little while, Angela followed to see that all was arranged suitably for his comfort, she found that he had retired to his bed-chamber, and that just outside his door in a little ante-room adjoining, his |waif and stray| was seated, reading. There was something indescribable about the boy even in this reposeful attitude of study, -- and Angela observed him for a minute or two, herself unseen. His face reminded her of one of Fra Angelico's seraphs, -- the same broad brow, deep eyes and sensitive lips, which seemed to suggest the utterance of wondrous speech or melodious song, -- the same golden hair swept back in rich clusters, -- the same eager, inspired, yet controlled expression. A curious fluttering of her heart disturbed the girl as she looked -- an indefinable dread -- a kind of wonder, that almost touched on superstitious awe. Manuel himself, apparently unconscious of her observation, went on reading, -- his whole attitude expressing that he was guarding the door to deter anyone from breaking in upon the Cardinal's rest, and Angela at last turned away reluctantly, questioning herself as to the cause of the strange uneasiness which thrilled her mind.
|It is foolish, of course,| -- she murmured, |but I feel just as if there were a supernatural presence in the house, . . . however, -- I always do have that impression with Uncle Felix, for he is so good and noble-minded, -- almost a saint, as everyone says -- but to-day there is something else -- something quite unusual -- |
She re-entered the drawing-room, moving slowly with an abstracted air, and did not at once perceive a visitor in the room, -- a portly person in clerical dress, with a somewhat large head and strongly marked features, -- a notable character of the time in Paris, known as the Abbe Vergniaud. He had seated himself in a low fauteuil, and was turning over the pages of the month's |Revue de Deux Mondes|, humming a little tune under his breath as he did so, -- but he rose when he saw Angela, and advanced smilingly to greet her as she stopped short, with a little startled exclamation of surprise at the sight of him.
|Forgive me| he said, with an expressively apologetic gesture, -- |Have I come at an inopportune moment? I saw your uncle arrive, and I was extremely anxious to see him on a little confidential matter -- I ventured to persuade your servant to let me enter -- |
|No apologies are necessary, Monsieur l'Abbe| said Angela, quickly, |My uncle Felix is indeed here, but he is tired with his journey and is resting -- |
|Yes, I understand!| And Monsieur l'Abbe, showing no intention to take his leave on account of the Cardinal's non-presence, bowed low over the extended hand of |the Sovrani| as she was sometimes called in the world of art, where her name was a bone for envious dogs-in- the-manger to fight over -- |But if I might wait a little while -- |
|Your business with my uncle is important?| questioned Angela with slightly knitted brows.
|My dear child, all business is important,| -- declared the Abbe, with a smile which spread the light of a certain satirical benevolence all over his plump clean-shaven face, |or so we think -- we who consider that we have any business, -- which is of course a foolish idea, -- but one that is universal to human nature. We all imagine we are busy -- which is so curious of us! Will you sit here? -- Permit me!| And he dexterously arranged a couple of cushions in an arm-chair and placed it near the window. Angela half-reluctantly seated herself, watching the Abbe under the shadow of her long lashes as he sat down opposite to her. |Yes, -- the emmets, the flies, the worms and the men, are all of one equality in the absurd belief that they can do things -- things that will last. Their persistent self-credulity is astonishing, -- considering the advance the world has made in science, and the overwhelming proofs we are always getting of the fact that we are only One of an eternal procession of many mighty civilizations, all of which have been swept away with everything they have ever learnt, into silence, -- so that really all we do, or try to do, amounts to doing nothing in the end!|
|That is your creed, I know,| said Angela Sovrani with a faint sigh, |But it is a depressing and a wretched one.|
|I do not find it so,| responded the Abbe, complacently looking at a fine diamond ring that glittered on the little finger of his plump white hand, |It is a creed which impresses upon us the virtue of being happy during the present moment, no matter what the next may bring. Let each man enjoy himself according to his temperament and capabilities. Do not impose bounds upon him -- give him his liberty. Let him alone. Do not try to bamboozle him with the idea that there is a God looking after him. So will he be spared much disappointment and useless blasphemy. If he makes his own affairs unpleasant in this world', he will not be able to lift up his hands to the innocent skies, which are only composed of pure ether, and blame an impossible Large Person sitting up there who can have no part in circumstances which are entirely unknown outside the earth's ridiculously small orbit.|
He smiled kindly as he spoke, and looked paternally at |the Sovrani,| who flushed with a sudden warmth that sent a wave of pale rose over her face, and made her cheeks the colour of the flower she wore.
|How cruel you are!| she said, -- |How cold -- how didactic! You would give each man his freedom according to habit and temperament, -- no matter whether such habit and temperament led to crime or otherwise, -- you would impose upon him no creed, -- no belief in anything higher than himself, -- and yet -- you remain in the Church!|
The Abbe laughed softly.
|Chere Sovrani! You are angry -- deliciously angry! Impulsively, enthusiastically, beautifully vexed with me! I like to see you so, -- you are a woman of remarkable genius, and yet you are quite a little child in heart, -- a positive child, with beliefs and hopes! I should not wonder if you even believed that love itself is eternal! -- that most passing of phantoms! -- yes -- and you exclaim against me because I venture to think for myself? It is appalling that I should think for myself and yet remain in the Church? My dear lady, you might just as well, after unravelling the dirty entanglement of the Dreyfus case, have turned upon our late friend Faure ancl exclaimed 'And yet you remained President!'|
Angela's violet eyes glowed.
|He was not allowed to remain President,| she said.
|No, he was not. He died. Certainly! And I know you think he would not have died if he had done his best to clear the character of an innocent man. To women of your type, it always seems as if God -- the Large Person up above -- stepped in exactly at the right moment. It would really appear as if it were so at times. But such things are mere coincidences.|
|I do not believe in coincidences,| said Angela decisively, |I do not believe in 'chance' or 'luck', or what you call 'fortuitous' haphazard arrangements of any sort. I think everything is planned by law from the beginning; even to the particular direction in which a grain of dust floats through space. It is all mathematical and exact. And the moving Spirit -- the Divine Centre of things, whom I call God, -- cannot dislodge or alter one particle of the majestic system without involving the whole in complete catastrophe. It is our mistake to 'chance' things -- at least, so I think. And if I exclaim against you and say, -- |Why do you remain in the Church?' it is because I cannot understand a man of conscience and intellect outwardly professing one thing while inwardly he means another. Because God will take him in the end at his own interior valuation, not at his outward seeming.|
|Uncomfortable, if true,| said the Abbe, still smiling. |When one has been at infinite pains all one's life to present a charmingly virtuous and noble aspect to the world, it would be indeed distressing if at the last moment one were obliged to lift the mask . . .|
|Sometimes one is not given the chance to lift it,| interposed Angela, |It is torn off ruthlessly by a force greater than one's own. 'Call no man happy till his death,' you know.|
|Yes, I know,| and the Abbe settled himself in his chair more comfortably; -- he loved an argument with |the Sovrani|, and was wont to declare that she was the only woman in the world who had ever made him wish to be a good man, -- |But that maxim can be taken in two ways. It may mean that no man is happy till his death, -- which I most potently believe, -- or it may mean that a man is only JUDGED after his death, in which case it cannot be said to affect his happiness, as he is past caring whether people think ill or well of him. Besides, after death it must needs be all right, as every man is so particularly fortunate in his epitaph!|
Angela smiled a little.
|That is witty of you,| she said, |but the fact of every man having a kindly-worded epitaph only proves goodness of heart and feeling in his relatives and friends -- |
|Or gratitude for a fortune left to them in his will,| declared the Abbe gaily, |or a sense of relief that the dear creature has gone and will never come back. Either motive, would, I know, inspire me to write most pathetic verses! Now you bend your charming brows at me, -- mea culpa! I have said something outrageous?|
|Not from the point of view at which YOU take life,| said Angela quietly, |but I was just then thinking of a cousin of mine, -- a very beautiful woman; her husband treated her with every possible sort of what I should term civil cruelty, -- polite torture -- refined agony. If he had struck her or shot her dead it would have been far kinder. But his conduct was worse than murder. He finally deserted her, and left her penniless to fight her own way through the world. Then he died suddenly, and she forgot all his faults, spoke of him as though he had been a model of goodness, and lives now for his memory, ever mourning his loss. In her case the feeling of regret had nothing to do with money, for he spent all her fortune and left her nothing even of her own. She has to work hard for her living now, -- but she loves him and is as true to him as if he were still alive. What do you say to that?|
|I say that the lady in question must be a charming person!| replied the Abbe, |Perfectly charming! But of course she is deceiving herself; and she takes pleasure in the self-deception. She knows that the man had deserted her and was quite unworthy of her devotion; -- but she pretends to herself that she does NOT know. And it is charming, of course! But women will do that kind of thing. It is extraordinary, -- but they will. They all deceive themselves in matters of love. Even you deceive yourself.|
|I?| she exclaimed.
|Yes -- you -- why not?| And the Abbe treated her to one of his particularly paternal smiles. |You are betrothed to Florian Varillo, -- but no man ever had or ever could have all the virtues with which you endow this excellent Florian. He is a delightful creature, -- a good artist -- unique in his own particular line, -- but you think him something much greater than even artist or man -- a sort of god, (though the gods themselves were not impeccable) only fit to be idealised. Now, I am not a believer in the gods, -- but of course it is delightful to me to meet those who are.|
|Signor Varillo needs neither praise nor defence,| said Angela with a slight touch of hauteur, |All the world knows what he is.|
|Yes, precisely! That is just it, -- all the world knows what he is, -- | and the Abbe rubbed his forehead with an air of irritation, |And I am vexing you by my talk, I can see! Well, well! -- You must forgive my garrulity; -- I admit my faults -- I am old -- I am a cynic -- I talk too much -- I have a bad opinion of man, and an equally bad opinion of the Forces that evolved him. By the way, I met that terrible reformer and socialist Aubrey Leigh at the Embassy the other day -- the man who is making such a sensation in England with his 'Addresses to the People.' He is quite an optimist, do you know? He believes in everything and everybody, -- even in me!|
Angela laughed, and her laughter sweet and low, thrilled the air with a sense of music.
|That is wonderful!| she said gaily, -- |Even in you! And how does he manage to believe in you, Monsieur l'Abbe? Do tell me!|
A little frown wrinkled the Abbe's brow.
|Well! in a strange way,| he responded. |You know he is a very strange man and believes in very strange things. When I treat humanity as a jest -- which is really how it should be treated -- he looks at me with a grand air of tolerance, 'Oh, you will progress;' he says, 'You are passing through a phase.' 'My dear sir,' I assure him, 'I have lived in this |phase|, as you call it, for forty years. I used to pray to the angels and saints and to all the different little Madonnas that live in different places, till I was twenty. Then I dropped all the pretty heaven-toys at once; -- and since then I have believed in nothing -- myself, least of all. Now I am sixty -- and yet you tell me I am only passing through a phase.' 'Quite so,' he answered me with the utmost coolness, 'Your forty years -- or your sixty years, are a Moment merely; -- the Moment will pass -- and you will find another Moment coming which will explain the one which has just gone. Nothing is simpler.' And when I ask him which will be the best Moment, -- the one that goes, or the one that comes -- he says that I am making the coming Moment for myself -- 'which is so satisfactory' he adds with that bright smile of his, 'because of course you will make it pleasant!' 'Il faut que tout homme trouve pour lui meme une possibilite particuliere de vie superieure dans l'humble et inevitable realite quotidienne.' I do not find the 'possibilite particuliere' -- but this man assures me it is because I do not trouble to look for it. What do you think about it?| Angela's eyes were full of dreamy musing.
|I think Mr. Leigh's ideas are beautiful,| she said, slowly, |I have often heard him talk on the subject of religion -- and of art, and of work, -- and all he says seems to be the expression of a noble and sincere mind. He is extraordinarily gifted.|
|Yes, -- and he is becoming rather an alarming personage in England, so I hear, -- | returned the Abbe -- |He writes books that are distinctly dangerous, because true. He wants to upset shams like our Socialist writer Gys Grandit. Gys Grandit, you know, will never be satisfied till, like Rousseau, he has brought about another French Revolution. He is only a peasant, they say, but he writes with the pen of a prophet. And this Englishman is of the same calibre, -- only his work is directed against religious hypocrisies more than social ones. I daresay that is why I always feel so uneasy in his presence!| And Vergniaud laughed lightly. |For the rest, he is a brilliant creature enough, and thoroughly manly. The other evening at the Club that little Vicomte de Lorgne was chattering in his usual offensive manner about women, and Leigh astonished everyone by the way in which he pulled him up. There was almost a very pretty quarrel, -- but a stray man happened to mention casually, -- that Leigh was considered one of the finest shots in England. After that the dear Vicomte vanished, and did not return.|
|Poor de Lorgne! Yes -- I have heard that Mr. Leigh excels in everything that is distinctly English -- riding, shooting, and all that kind of thing. He is not effeminate.|
|Few Englishmen are,| said the Abbe, -- |And yet to my mind there is something not altogether English in this man. He has none of the heavy British mental and physical stolidity. He is strong and muscular certainly, -- but also light and supple, -- and with that keen, intellectual delicate face of his, he is more of the antique Greek type than like a son of Les Isles Sans-Soleil.|
|Sans-Soleil,| echoed Angela, |But there is plenty of sunshine in England!|
|Is there? Well, I have been unfortunate, -- I have never seen any, -- | and the Abbe gave a shrug of half regret, half indifference. |It is very curious the effect that this so brave England has upon me! In crossing to its shores I suffer of course from the mal de mer -- then when I arrive exhausted to the white cliffs, it is generally raining -- then I take train to London, where it is what is called black fog; and I find all the persons that I meet either with a cold, or going to have a cold, or just recovering from a cold! It is not lively -- the very funerals are dull. And you -- this is not your experience?|
|No -- frankly I cannot say it is,| replied Angela, |I have seen rain and fog in Rome that cannot be surpassed for wretchedness anywhere. Italy is far more miserable in cold weather than England. I passed a summer once in England, and it was to me like a glimpse of Paradise. I never saw so many flowers -- I never heard so many birds -- (you know in Italy we kill all the singing birds and eat them), and I never met so many kind and gentle people.|
|Well! -- perhaps the religious sects in England are responsible for the general feeling of depression in the English atmosphere,| said the Abbe with a light laugh, |They are certainly foggy! The one round Sun of one Creed is unknown to them. I assure you it is best to have one light of faith, even though it be only a magic lantern,- -a toy to amuse the children of this brief life before their everlasting bedtime comes -- | He broke off abruptly as a slow step was heard approaching along the passage, and in another moment Cardinal Bonpre entered the room.
|Ah, le bien aime Felix!| cried Vergniaud, hastening to meet him and clasp his outstretched hand, bowing slightly over it as he did so, |I have taken the liberty to wait for you, cher Monseigneur, being anxious to see you -- and I understand your stay in Paris will not be long?|
|A few days at most, my dear Abbe|, -- replied the Cardinal, gently pressing the hand of Vergniaud and smiling kindly. |You are well? But surely I need not ask -- you seem to be in the best of health and spirits.|
|Ah, my seeming is always excellent,| returned the Abbe, |However, I do not fare badly. I have thrown away all hard thinking!|
|And you are happier so?|
|Well, I am not quite sure! There is undoubtedly a pleasure in analysing the perplexities of one's own mind. Still, on the whole, it is perhaps better to enjoy the present hour without any thought at all.|
|Like the butterflies!| laughed Angela.
|Yes, -- if butterflies DO enjoy their hour, -- which I am not at all prepared to admit. In my opinion they are very dissatisfied creatures, -- no sooner on one flower than off they go to another. Very like human beings after all! But I imagine they never worry themselves with philosophical or religious questions.|
|And do you?| enquired Bonpre, smiling, as he sat down in the easy chair his niece placed for him.
|Not as a rule! -- | answered Vergniaud frankly, with a light laugh -- |But I confess I have done a little in that way lately. Some of the new sciences puzzle me, -- I am surprised to find how closely they approach to the fulfilment of old prophecies. One is almost inclined to believe that there must be a next world and a future life.|
|I think such belief is now placed beyond mere inclination,| said the Cardinal -- |There is surely no doubt of it.|
Vergniaud gave him a quick side-glance of earnest scrutiny.
|With you, perhaps not -- | he replied -- |But with me, -- well! -- it is a different matter. However, it is really no use worrying one's self with the question of 'To be, or not to be.' It drove Hamlet mad, just as the knotty point as to whether Hamlet himself was fat or lean nearly killed our hysterical little boy, Catullus Mendes. It's best to leave eternal subjects like God and Shakespeare alone.|
He laughed again, but the Cardinal did not smile.
|I do not agree with you, Vergniaud,| he said -- |I fear it is because we do not think sufficiently for ourselves on the One eternal subject that so much mischief threatens us at the present time. To take gifts and ignore the Giver is surely the blackest ingratitude, yet that is what the greater part of humanity is guilty of in these days. Never was there so much beholding and yet ignoring of the Divine as now. Science is searching for God, and is getting closer to Him every day; -- the Church remains stationary and refuses to look out beyond her own pale of thought and conventional discipline. I know, -- | and the Cardinal hesitated a moment, |I know I can speak quite plainly to you, for you are what is called a freethinker -- yet I doubt whether you are really as free as you imagine!|
The Abbe shrugged his shoulders.
|I imagine nothing!| he declared airily, |Everything is imagined for me nowadays, -- and imagination itself is like a flying Geni which overtakes and catches the hair of some elusive Reality and turns its face round, full-shining on an amazed world!|
|A pretty simile!| said Angela Sovrani, smiling.
|Is it not? Almost worthy of Paul Verlaine who was too 'inspired' to keep either his body or his soul clean. Why was I not a poet! Helas! -- Fact so much outweighs fancy that it is no longer any use penning a sonnet to one's mistress's eyebrow. One needs to write with thunderbolts in characters of lightning, to express the wonders and discoveries of this age. When I find I can send a message from here to London across space, without wires or any visible means of communication, -- and when I am told that probably one of these days I shall be able at will to SEE the person to whom I send the message, reflected in space while the message is being delivered, -- I declare myself so perfectly satisfied with the fairy prodigies revealed to me, that I have really no time, and perhaps no inclination to think of any other world than this one.|
|You are wrong, then,| said the Cardinal, |Very wrong, Vergniaud. To me these discoveries of science, this apparent yielding of invisible forces into human hands, are signs and portents of terror. You remember the line 'the powers of heaven shall be shaken'? Those powers are being shaken now! We cannot hold them back; -- they are here, with us; -- but they mean much more than mere common utility to our finite selves. They are the material declarations of what is spiritual. They are the scientific proofs that Christ's words to 'THIS generation,' namely, this particular phase of creation, -- are true. 'Blessed are they which have not seen and yet believed,' He said; -- and many there are who have passed away from us in rapt faith and hope, believing not seeing, and with whom we may rejoice in spirit, knowing that all must be well with them. But now -- now we are come upon an age of doubt in the world -- doubt which corrodes and kills the divine spirit in man, and therefore we are being forced to SEE that we may believe, -- but the seeing is terrible!|
|Because in the very beholding of things we remain blind!| answered the Cardinal, |Our intense selfishness obscures the true light of every fresh advance. We accept new marvels of knowledge, as so much practical use to us, and to the little planet we live on, -- but we do not see that they are merely reflections of the Truth from which they emanate. The toy called the biograph, which reflects pictures for us in a dazzling and moving continuity, so that we can see scenes of human life in action, is merely a hint to us that every scene of every life is reflected in a ceaseless moving panorama SOMEWHERE in the Universe, for the beholding of SOMEONE, -- yes! -- there must be Someone who so elects to look upon everything, or such possibilities of reflected scenes would not be, -- inasmuch as nothing exists without a Cause for existence. The wireless telegraphy is a stupendous warning of the truth that 'from God no secrets are hid', and also of the prophecy of Christ 'there is nothing covered that shall not be revealed' -- and, 'whatsoever ye have spoken in darkness shall be revealed in light.' The latter words are almost appalling in their absolute accord with the latest triumphant discoveries of science.|
Abbe Vergniaud looked at the Cardinal, and slightly raised his eyebrows in a kind of wondering protest.
|TRES-SAINT Felix!| he murmured, |Are you turning into a mystic? One of those doubtful personages who are seeking to reconcile science with the Church? -- |
|Stop!| interposed the Cardinal, raising his hand with an eloquent gesture, |Science is, or should be, the Church! -- science is Truth, and Truth is God! God cannot be found anywhere in a lie; and the Church in many ways would make our Divine Redeemer Himself a lie were it not that His words are every day taking fresh meaning, and bringing new and solemn conviction to those who have eyes to see and ears to hear!|
He spoke as if carried beyond himself, -- his pale cheeks glowed, -- his eyes flashed fire, -- and the combined effect of his words and manner was startling to the Abbe, and in a way stupefying to his niece Angela. She had never heard him give utterance to such strong sentiments and she shrank a little within herself, wondering whether as a Cardinal of the Roman Church he had not been too free of speech. She glanced apprehensively at Vergniaud, who however only smiled a little.
|If you should be disposed to express yourself in such terms at the Vatican, -- | he began.
The Cardinal relapsed into his usual calm, and met the Abbe's questioning, half cynical glance composedly. |I have many things to speak of at the Vatican,| he answered, -- |This matter will probably be one of them.|
|Then -- | But whatever Vergniaud was about to say was interrupted by the entrance of the boy Manuel, who at that moment came into the room and stood beside the Cardinal's chair. The Abbe gave him an upward glance of surprise and admiration.
|Whom have we here?| he exclaimed, |One of your acolytes, Monseigneur?|
|No,| replied the Cardinal, his eyes resting on the fair face of the lad with a wistful affection, |A little stray disciple of our Lord,- -to whom I have ventured to offer protection. There is none to question my right to do so, for he is quite alone in the world.|
And in a few words he related how he had discovered the boy on the previous night, weeping outside the Cathedral in Rouen. Angela Sovrani listened attentively, her violet eyes darkening and deepening as she heard, -- now and then she raised them to look at the youthful waif who stood so quietly while the story of his troubles was told in the gentle and sympathetic way which was the Cardinal's usual manner of speech, and which endeared him so much to all. |And for the present,| finished Bonpre, smiling -- |he stays with me, and already I have found him skilled in the knowledge of many things, -- he can read Scripture with a most musical and clear emphasis, -- and he is a quick scribe, so that he will be valuable to me in more ways than one.|
|Ah!| and the Abbe turned himself round in his chair to survey the boy more attentively, |You can read Scripture? But can you understand it? If you can, you are wiser than I am!|
Manuel regarded him straightly.
|Was it not once said in Judaea that |IT IS THE SPIRIT THAT QUICKENETH'?| he asked.
|True! -- And from that you would infer . . . ?|
|That when one cannot understand Scripture, it is perhaps for the reason that 'THE LETTER KILLETH, BECAUSE LACKING THE SPIRIT THAT GIVETH LIFE.|
The boy spoke gently and with grace and modesty, -- but something in the tone of his voice had a strange effect on the cynical temperament of Abbe Vergniaud.
|Here,| he mused, |is a lad in whom the principle of faith is strong and pure, -- shall I drop the poison of doubt into the open flower of his mind, or leave it uncontaminated?| Aloud he said, kindly,
|You speak well, -- you have evidently thought for yourself. Who taught you to recognise 'the Spirit that giveth life'?|
|Does that need teaching?| he asked.
Radiance shone in his eyes, -- the look of purity and candour on his young face was infinitely touching to the two men who beheld it, -- the one worn with age and physical languors, the other equally worn in mind, if not in body. In the brief silence which followed, -- a silence of unexpressed feeling, -- a soft strain of organ-music came floating deliciously towards them, -- a delicate thread of grave melody which wove itself in and out the airspaces, murmuring suggestions of tenderness and appeal. Angela smiled, and held up one finger, listening.
|That is Mr. Leigh!| she said, |He is in my studio improvising.|
|Happy Mr. Leigh!| said the Abbe with a little malicious twinkle in his eyes, |To be allowed to improvise at all in the studio of the Sovrani!|
Angela flushed, and lifted her fair head with a touch of pride.
|Mr. Leigh is a friend,| she said, |He is welcome in the studio always. His criticism of a picture is valuable, -- besides -- he is a celebrated Englishman!| She laughed, and her eyes flashed.
|Ah! To a celebrated Englishman all things are conceded!| said the Abbe satirically, |Even the right to enter the sanctum of the most exclusive lady in Europe! Is it not a curious thing that the good Britannia appears to stick her helmet on the head, and put her sceptre in the hand of every one of her sons who condescends to soil his boots by walking on foreign soil? With the helmet he defies the gemdarme, -- with the sceptre he breaks open every door, -- we prostrate ourselves before his face and curse him behind his back, -- c'est drole! -- yet we are all alike, French, Germans, Austrians, and Italians; -- we hate the Englishman, but we black his boots all the same, -- which is contemptible of us, -- MAIS, QUE FAIRE! He is so overwhelming in sheer impudence! With culture and politeness we might cross swords in courtly duel, -- but in the presence of absolute bluff, or what is called 'cheek', we fall flat in sheer dismay! What delicious music! I see that it charms our young friend, -- he is fond of music.|
|Yes,| said Manuel speaking for himself before any question could be put to him, |I love it! It is like the fresh air, -- full of breath and life.|
|Come then with me,| said Angela, |Come into the studio and we will hear it more closely. Dearest uncle,| and she knelt for a moment by the Cardinal's chair, |Will you come there also when Monsieur l'Abbe has finished talking with you?|
Cardinal Bonpre's hand rested lovingly on her soft hair.
|Yes, my child, I will come.| And in a lower tone he added, -- |Do not speak much to Manuel, -- he is a strange lad; more fond of silence and prayer than other things, -- and if such is his temperament I would rather keep him so.|
Angela bowed her head in acquiescence to this bidding, -- then rising, left the room with a gentle gesture of invitation to the boy, who at once followed her. As the two disappeared a chill and a darkness seemed to fall upon the air, and the Cardinal sank back among the cushions of his fauteuil with a deep sigh of utter exhaustion. Abbe Vergniaud glanced at him inquisitively.
|You are very tired, I fear?| he said.
|Physically, no, -- mentally, yes. Spiritually, I am certainly fatigued to the death.|
The Abbe shrugged his shoulders.
|Helas! There is truly much in spiritual matters to engender weariness!| he said.
With a sudden access of energy the Cardinal gripped both arms of his chair and sat upright.
|For God's sake, do not jest,| he said earnestly, |Do not jest! We have all been jesting too long, and the time is near when we shall find out the bitter cost of it! Levity -- carelessness -- doubt and final heresy -- I do not mean heresy against the Church, for that is nothing -- |
|Nothing!| exclaimed the Abbe, |YOU say this?|
|I say it!| And Bonpre's thin worn features grew transfigured with the fervour of his thought. |I am a priest of the Church -- but I am also a man! -- with reason, with brain, and with a love of truth; -- and I can faithfully say I have an almost jealous honour for my Master -- but I repeat, heresy against the Church is nothing, -- it is heresy against Christ which is the crime of the age, -- and in that, the very Church is heretic! Heresy against Christ! -- Heresy against Christ! A whole system of heresy! 'I never knew you, -- depart from me, ye workers of iniquity,' will be our Lord's words at the Last Judgment!|
The Abbe's wonderment increased. He looked down a moment, then looked up, and a quizzical, half-melancholy expression filled his eyes.
|Well, I am very much concerned in all this,| he said, |I wanted to have a private talk with you on my own account, principally because I know you to be a good man, while I am a bad one. I have a trouble here, -- | and he touched the region of his heart, |which the wise doctors say may end my days at any moment; two years at the utmost is the ultimatum of my life, so I want to know from you, whom I know to be intelligent and honest, whether you believe I am going to another existence, -- and if so, what sort of a one you think is in prospect for such a man as I am? Now don't pity me, my dear Bonpre,- -don't pity me! -- | and he laughed a little huskily as the Cardinal took his hand and pressed it with a silent sympathy more eloquent than words, |We must all die, -- and if I am to go somewhat sooner than I expected, that is nothing to compassionate me for. But there is just a little uncertainty in my mind, -- I am not at all sure that death is the end -- I wish I could be quite positive of the fact. I was once -- quite positive. But science, instead of giving me this absolute comfort has in its later progress upset all my former calculations, and I am afraid I must own that there is indubitably Something Else, -- which to my mind seems distinctly disagreeable!|
Though the Abbe spoke lightly, the troubled look remained in his eyes and the Cardinal saw it.
|My dear Vergniaud,| he began gently, |I am grieved at what you tell me -- |
|No, don't be grieved,| interrupted Vergniaud, |because that is not it. Talk to me! Tell me what you truly think. That this life is only a schoolroom where we do our lessons more or less badly? -- That death is but the name for another life? Now do not FORCE your faith for me. Tell me your own honest conviction. Do we end? -- or do we begin again? Be frank and fair and true; according to the very latest science, remember! -- not according to the latest hocus-pocus of twelfth-century mandate issued from Rome. You see how frank I am, and how entirely I go with you. But I am going further than you, -- I am bound for the last voyage -- so you must not offer me the wrong pass-word to the shore!|
|No, I will give you the right pass-word,| said the cardinal, a fervid glow of enthusiasm lighting up his features. |It is CHRIST in all, and through all! Christ only; -- Christ, the friend and brother of man; -- the only Divine Teacher this world has ever had, or ever will have!|
|You believe in Him really, -- truly, -- then?| exclaimed the Abbe wonderingly.
|Really -- truly, and with all my heart and soul!| responded the Cardinal firmly, -- |Surely, you too, believe?|
|No,| said the Abbe firmly, |I do not! I would as soon believe that the lad you have just rescued from the streets of Rouen is divine, as that there is any divinity in the Man of Nazareth!|
He rose up as he spoke in a kind of petulance, -- then started slightly as he found himself face to face with Manuel. The boy had entered noiselessly and stood for a moment glancing from one priest of the Church to the other. A faint smile was on his face, -- his blue eyes were full of light.
|Did you call me, my lord Cardinal?| he asked.
The Cardinal looked up.
|No, my child!|
|I thought I heard you. If you should need me, I am close at hand.|
He went away as quietly as he had entered; and the same silence followed his departure as before, -- a silence which was only disturbed by the occasional solemn and sweet vibrations of the distant music from the studio.