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The Master-christian by Marie Corelli

XXV. The death of the famous actor Miraudin was a nine days' wonderà

The death of the famous actor Miraudin was a nine days' wonder, and about a three weeks' regret. He had made no reputation beyond that of the clever Mime, -- he was not renowned for scholarship, -- he had made no mark in dramatic literature, -- and his memory soon sank out of sight in the whirling ocean of events as completely as though he had never existed. There was no reality about him, and as a natural consequence he went the way of all Shams. Had even his study of his art been sincere and high -- had he sought for the best, the greatest, and most perfect work, and represented that only to the public, the final judgment of the world might perhaps have given him a corner beside Talma or Edmund Kean, -- but the conceit of him, united to an illiterate mind, was too great for the tolerance of the universal Spirit of things which silently in the course of years pronounces the last verdict on a man's work. Only a few of his own profession remembered him as one who might have been great had he not been so little; -- and a few women laughed lightly, recalling the legion of his |amours|, and said, |Ce pauvre coquin, Miraudin!| That was all. And for the mortal remains of Guy Beausire de Fontenelle, there came a lady, grave and pale, clothed in deep black, with the nun's white band crossing her severe and tranquil brows, -- and she, placing a great wreath of violets fresh gathered from the Pamphili woods, and marked, |In sorrow, from Sylvie Hermenstein|, on the closed coffin, escorted her melancholy burden back to Paris, where in a stately marble vault, to the solemn sound of singing, and amid the flare of funeral tapers, with torn battle banners drooping around his bier, and other decaying fragments of chivalry, the last scion of the once great house of Fontenelle was laid to rest with his fathers. Little did the austere Abbess, who was the chief mourner at these obsequies, guess that the actor Miraudin, whose grave had been hastily dug in Rome, had also a right to be laid in the same marble vault; -- proud and cold and stern as her heart had grown through long years of pain and disappointment, it is possible that had she known this, her sufferings might have been still more poignant. But the secret had died with the dead so far as the world went; -- there remained but the Eternal Record on which the bond of brotherhood was inscribed, -- and in that Eternal Record some of us do our best not to believe, notwithstanding the universal secret dread that we shall all be confronted with it at last.

Meanwhile, events were moving rapidly, and the net of difficult circumstance was weaving itself round the good Cardinal Bonpre in a manner that was strangely perplexing to his clear and just mind. He had received a letter from Monsignor Moretti, worded in curtly civil terms, to the effect that as the Cardinal's miracle of healing had been performed in France, he, as on Vatican service in Paris, found it his duty to enquire thoroughly into all the details. For this cause, he, Monsignor Moretti, trusted it would suit the Cardinal's convenience to remain in Rome till the return of Monsieur Claude Cazeau, secretary to the Archbishop of Rouen, who had been despatched back to that city on the business connected with this affair. Thus Monsignor Moretti; -- and Cardinal Bonpre, reading between the lines of his letter, knew that the displeasure of Rome had fallen upon him as heavily as it did upon the eloquent and liberal-minded Padre Agostino when he made the mistake of asking a blessing from Heaven on the King and Queen of Italy for their works of charity among the poor. And he easily perceived where the real trouble lay, -- namely, in the fact of his having condoned the Abbe Vergniaud's public confession. Out of the one thing there was an effort being made to contrive mischief with the other, -- and Bonpre, being too frail and old to worry his brain with complex arguments as to the how and why and wherefore of the machinations carried on at the Vatican, resigned himself to God, and contenting his mind with meditation and prayer, waited events patiently, caring little how they ended for himself, provided they did not involve others in any catastrophe. Moreover, there was a certain consolation contained in his enforced waiting, -- for his niece Angela had confided to him that the work of her great picture had advanced more swiftly than she had imagined possible, and that it was likely she would be able to show it to her relatives and private friends in the course of a week or so.

|But Florian must see it first,| she said, |Of course you know that! Florian must always be first!|

|Yes,| and the Cardinal stroked her hair tenderly, while his eyes rested on her with rather a troubled look -- |Yes -- of course -- Florian first. I suppose he will always be first with you, Angela? -- after God?|

|Always!| she answered softly, |Always -- after God!|

And Felix Bonpre sighed -- he knew not why -- except that he was always sorry for women who loved men with any very great exaltation or devotion. That curiously tender adoration of a true woman's heart which is so often wasted on an unworthy object, seemed to him like lifting a cup of gold to a swine's snout. He found no actual fault with Florian Varillo, -- he was just a man as men go, with nothing very pronounced about him, except a genius for fine mosaic-like painting. He was not a great creator, but he was a delicate and careful artist, -- a man against whom nothing particular could be said, except perhaps that his manner was often artificial, and that his conduct was not always sincere. But he had a power of fascinating the opposite sex, -- and Angela had fallen a willing victim to his candid smile, clear eyes, charming voice, and courteous ways, -- and with that strange inconsistency so common to gifted women, she was so full of |soul| and |over-soul| herself, that she could not imagine |soul| lacking in others; -- and never dreamed of making herself sure that it elevated the character or temperament of the man she loved.

|Alas, the love of women! it is known
To be a lovely and a fearful thing;
For all of theirs upon that die is thrown
And, if 'tis lost, life hath no more to bring!|
[Footnote: Byron]

During the time that matters were thus pending in Rome, Claude Cazeau, well satisfied with himself, and the importance of being entrusted with a special message from the Vatican to the Archbishop of Rouen, returned to the Normandy capital with many ambitious speculations rife in his brain, and schemes for improving the position of confidence with which he had, by the merest chance, and the fluctuations of the Pope's hunxour, been suddenly thrust. He took the Patoux family by surprise on the evening of his arrival in Rouen, and much to his secret satisfaction found Martine Doucet in their company. The children were gone to bed, and the appearance of Cazeau in Papa Patoux's kitchen was evidently not altogether the most agreeable circumstance that could have happened at the Hotel Poitiers. He was civilly received, however, and when he expressed his pleasure at seeing Madame Doucet present, that worthy female lifted her eyes from her knitting and gave him a suspicious glance of exceeding disfavour.

|I do not see what pleasure my company can give you, Monsieur,| she said curtly, |I am only a poor marketwoman!|

|But you have been singularly favoured by the protection and confidence of a great Cardinal, -- | began Cazeau.

|Protection -- confidence -- !| echoed Martine snappishly, |Nom de Jesus! What is the man talking about! I never set eyes on the Cardinal in my life. But that he cured my Fabien is enough to make me think of him as a saint for ever, -- though it seems there are some that would almost make him out to be a devil for having done a good deed! And ever since my boy was cured I have lived a life of torture and trouble -- yes, truly! -- torn between two things, our Blessed Lord and the Church! But I am trying my best to keep fast hold of our Lord, whatever the Church may do to me!|

|Dear me!| said Cazeau blandly, turning with a smile and propitiatory air to Patoux who sat silently smoking, |Madame Doucet seems a little -- what shall we say? -- unduly excited? Yet surely the recovery of her child should fill her with thanksgiving and make her a faithful and devout servant -- | |Pardon, Monsieur,| interrupted Madame Patoux, |Believe me, Martine is thankful enough, and devout enough, -- but truly it has been very hard for her to suffer the things that have been said to her of late, -- how that the child could never have been really crippled at all, but simply shamming, -- how that it was all a trick got up between herself and the priests for the purpose of bringing visitors and their money to Rouen, -- for of course since the miracle was noised abroad there have been many pilgrimages to Notre Dame, it having got about that there was some mysterious spirit or angel in one of the shrines, -- for look you, our Archbishop, when he came to visit the Cardinal here in this very hotel, distinctly remembers that His Eminence assured him he had heard strange music in the Cathedral, when truly there was no organ unlocked, and no organist on duty, -- and then there was something about the boy that His Eminence found lost that night . . .|

|Stop! Stop!| said Cazeau, growing impatient, |Your eloquence is so impressive, Madame, and you say so much that is excellent in one breath, that you must pardon my inferior capacity in not being able to follow you quite coherently! There are conflicting statements, you say -- |

|No, there are none,| said Patoux himself, drawing his pipe out of his mouth slowly, and looking intently at its well-sucked stem -- |It is all the same sort of thing. A child is sick -- a child is cured -- and it is either God or the Devil who has done it. Some people prefer to think it is the Devil, -- some give the praise to God. It was exactly like that whenever our Lord did a good deed. Half the folks said he was God, -- the other half that he had a devil. Jerusalem was like Rouen, Rouen is like Jerusalem. Jerusalem was ancient and wicked; Rouen is modern and wickeder, -- that's all! As for music in the church, we have only the Archbishop's warrant that the Cardinal ever said anything about hearing music.|

|'ONLY' the Archbishop's warrant!| echoed Cazeau meaningly.

|I said 'ONLY', Monsieur! -- Make the best of it!| answered Patoux, sticking his pipe into his mouth again, and resuming his smoke with undisturbed tranquillity.

Cazeau hummed and hawed, -- he was irritated yet vaguely amused too at the singular self-assertion of these common folk who presumed to take their moral measurement of an Archbishop! It is a strange fact, but these same common folk always DO take these sorts of measurements.

|The inconsistencies -- (if there are any -- ) in the story will soon be cleared up,| he said, with a benevolent assumption of authority, |At least, I hope so! I am glad to say that I am entrusted with a message to the Archbishop from our Holy Father, the Pope, -- and I have also His Holiness's instructions to request you, Madame Doucet, together with your son Fabien, to accompany me back to Rome!|

Martine Doucet bounced up from her chair, and let fall her knitting.

|Me -- me!| she cried, |ME go to Rome! Never! Wild horses will not drag me there, nor shall you take my Fabien either! What should I do in Rome?|

|Testify personally to the truth of the Cardinal's miracle,| answered Cazeau, gazing coldly at her excited face as though he saw something altogether strange and removed from human semblance. |And bring your child into the Holy Presence and relate his history. It will be nothing but an advantage to you, -- for you will obtain a patient hearing, and the priceless boon of the Papal benediction!|

|Grand merci!| said Martine, |But I have lived more than half my time without the Papal benediction, and I can work out the rest of my days in the same way! Look you! -- there is a great English Duke I am told, who has an only son sorely afflicted, and he has taken this son to every place in the world where the Church is supposed to work miracles for the healing of the sick and the helpless, -- all to no use, for the poor boy is as sick and helpless as ever. How is that? What has the Papal benediction done for him?|

|Woman, your tongue overrules your senses!| said Cazeau, with rising temper, |You rail against the Church like an ungrateful heathen, even though you owe your son's recovery to the Church! For what is Cardinal Bonpre but a Prince of the Church?|

Martine stuck her arms akimbo, and surveyed him disdainfully.

|OH -- HE!| she cried, |My tongue overrules my senses, Monsieur Clause Cazeau! Take care that your cunning does not overrule yourself! Did I ever deny the worth and the goodness of Cardinal Bonpre? Though if I were to speak the whole truth, and if I were to believe the nonsense-talk of a child, I should perhaps give the credit of the miracle to the stray boy whom the Cardinal found outside the Cathedral door -- |Cazeau started -- |For Fabien says that he began to feel strong the moment that little lad touched him!|

|The boy!| exclaimed Cazeau -- |The boy!|

A curious silence ensued. Jean Patoux lifting his drowsy eyes gazed fixedly at the whitewashed ceiling, -- Madame, his wife, stood beside him watching the changes on Cazeau's yellow face -- and Martine sat down to take breath after her voluble outburst.

|The boy!| muttered Cazeau again -- then he broke into a harsh laugh.

|What folly!| he exclaimed, |As if a little tramp of the streets could have anything to do with a Church miracle! Martine Doucet, if you were to say such a thing at the Vatican -- |

|I have not said it,| said Martine angrily, |I only told you what my Fabien says. I am not answerable for the thoughts of the child! That he is well and strong -- that he has the look and the soul of an angel, is enough for me to praise God all my life. But I shall never say the Laus Deo at the Vatican, -- you will have no chance to trap me in that way!|

Cazeau stared at her haughtily.

|You must be mad!| he said, |No one wishes to 'trap' you, as you express it! The miracle of healing performed on your child is a very remarkable one, -- it should not be any surprise to you that the Head of the Church seeks to know all the details of it thoroughly, in order to ratify and confirm it, and perhaps bestow new honour on the eminent Cardinal -- |

|I rather doubt that!| interposed Patoux slowly, |For I gather from our Archbishop that the Holy Father was suspicious of some trick rather than an excess of sanctity!|

Cazeau reddened through his pallid skin.

|I know nothing of that!| he said curtly, |But my orders are imperative, and I shall seek the assistance of the Archbishop to enforce and carry them out! For the moment I have the honour to wish you good-night, Monsieur Patoux! -- and you also, Mesdames!|

And he departed abruptly, in an anger which he was at no pains to disguise. Personally he cared nothing about the miracle or how it had been accomplished, but he cared very much for his own advancement, -- and he saw, or thought he saw, a chance of very greatly improving his position among the ecclesiastical authorities if he only kept a cool head and a clear mind. He recognised that there was a desire on the part of the Pope to place Cardinal Bonpre under close observance and restraint on account of his having condoned the Abbe Vergniaud's confession to his congregation in Paris; and he rightly judged that anything he could do to aid the accomplishment of that end would not be without its reward. And the few words which Martine Doucet had let drop concerning the stray boy who now lived under the Cardinal's protection, had given him a new idea which he resolved to act upon when he returned to Rome. For it was surely very strange that an eminent Prince of the Church should allow himself to be constantly attended by a little tramp rescued from the street! There was something in it more than common, -- and Cazeau decided that he would suggest a close enquiry being made on this point.

Crossing the square opposite the Hotel Poitiers, he hesitated before turning the corner of the street which led towards the avenue where the Archbishop's house was situated. The night was fine and calm -- the air singularly balmy, -- and he suddenly decided to take a stroll by the river before finally returning to his rooms for the night. There is one very quiet bit of the Seine in Rouen where the water flows between unspoilt grassy banks, which in summer are a frequent resort for lovers to dream the dreams which so often come to nothing, -- and here Cazeau betook himself to smoke and meditate on the brilliancy of his future prospects. The river had been high in flood during the week, and the grass which sloped towards the water was still wet, and heavy to the tread. But Cazeau limited his walk to the broad summit of the bank, being aware that the river just below flowed over a muddy quicksand, into which, should a man chance to fall, it would be death and fast burial at one and the same moment. And Cazeau set a rather exorbitant value on his own life, as most men do whose lives are of no sort of consequence to the world. So he was careful to walk where there was the least danger of slipping, -- and as he lit an excellent cigar, and puffed the faint blue rings of smoke out into the clear moonlit atmosphere, he was in a very agreeable frame of mind. He was crafty and clever in his way, -- one of those to whom the Yankee term |cute| would apply in its fullest sense, -- and he had the happy knack of forgetting his own mistakes and follies, and excusing his own sins with as much ease as though he were one of the |blood-royal| of nations. Vices he had in plenty in common with most men, -- except that his particular form of licentiousness was distinguished by a callousness and cruelty in which there was no touch of redeeming quality. As a child he had loved to tear the wings off flies and other insects, and one of his keenest delights in boyhood had been to watch the writhings of frogs into whose soft bodies he would stick long pins, -- the frogs would live under this treatment four and five hours -- sometimes longer, and while observing their agonies he enjoyed |that contented mind which is a perpetual feast.| Now that he was a man, he delighted in torturing human beings after the same methods applied mentally, whenever he could find a vulnerable part through which to thrust a sharp spear of pain.

|The eminent Cardinal Bonpre!| he mused now; |What is he to me! If I could force the Archbishop of Rouen into high favour at the Vatican instead of this foolish old Saint Felix, it would be a better thing for my future. After all, it was at Rouen that the miracle was performed -- the city should have some credit! And Bonpre has condoned a heretic . . . he is growing old and feeble -- possibly he is losing his wits. And then there is that boy . . .|

He started violently as a fantastic shadow suddenly crossed his path, in the moonlight, and a peal of violent laughter assailed his ears.

|Enfin! Toi, mon Claude! -- enfin! -- Grace a Dieu! Enfin!|

And the crazed creature, known as Marguerite, |La Folle|, stood before him, her long black hair streaming over her bare chest and gaunt arms, her eyes dilated, and glowing with the mingled light of madness and despair.

Cazeau turned a livid white in the moon-rays; -- his blood grew icy cold. What! After two years of dodging about the streets of Rouen to avoid meeting this wretched woman whom he had tricked and betrayed, had she found him at last!

|When did you come back from the fair?| cried the girl shrilly, |I lost you there, you know-and you man-aged to lose ME -- but I have waited! -- waited patiently for news of you! . . . and when none came, I still waited, making myself beautiful! . . . see! -- | And she thrust her fingers through her long hair, throwing it about in wilder disorder than ever. |You thought you had killed me -- and you were glad! -- it makes all men glad to kill women when they can! But I -- I was not killed so easily, -- I have lived! -- for this night -- just for this night! Listen!| and she sprang forward and threw herself violently against his breast, |Do you love me now? Tell me again -- as you told me at the fair -- you love me?|

He staggered under her weight -- and tried for a moment to thrust her back, but she held him in a grip of iron, looking up at him with her great feverish dark eyes, and grasping his shoulders with thin burning hands. He trembled; -- he was beginning to grow horribly afraid. What devil had sent this woman whom he had ruined so long as two years ago, across his path to-night? Would it be possible to soothe her?

|Marguerite -- | he began.

|Yes, yes, Marguerite! Say it again!| she cried wildly, |Marguerite! Say it again! Sweet -- sweet and tenderly as you said it then! Poor Marguerite! Your pale ugly face seemed the face of a god to her once, because she thought you loved her -- we all find men so beautiful when we think they love us! Yes -- your cold eyes and cruel lips and hard brow! -- it was quite a different face at the fair! So was mine a different face -- but you! -- YOU have made mine what it is now! -- look at it! What! -- you thought you could murder a woman and never be found out! You thought you could kill poor Marguerite, and that no one would ever know -- |

|Hush, hush!| said Cazeau, his teeth chattering with the cold of his inward terror, |I never killed you, Marguerite! -- I loved you -- yes, listen!| For she was looking up at him with an attentive, almost sane expression in her eyes. |I meant to write to you after the fair, -- and come to you . . .|

|Hush, hush!| said the girl, |Let me hear this! -- this is strange news! He meant to write to me -- yet he let me die by inches in an agony of waiting! -- till I dropped into the darkness where I am now! He meant to come to me -- oh, it was very easy to come if he had chosen to come, -- before I wandered away into all this strangeness -- this shadow -- this confusion and fire! But you see, it is too late now,| and she began to laugh again, |Too late! I have a strange idea that I am dead, though I seem alive -- I am in my grave; and so you must die also and be buried with me! Yes, you must certainly die! -- when one is cruel and false and treacherous one is not wanted in the world! -- better to go out of it -- and it is quite easy, -- see! -- this way! -- |

And before he realised her intention she sprang back a step -- then drew a knife from her bosom, and with a sort of exultant shriek, stabbed him furiously once -- twice -- thrice . . . crying out -- |This for your lie! This for my sorrow! -- This for your love! -- |

Reeling back with the agony of her murderous blows he made a fierce effort to tear the knife from her hands, but she suddenly threw it a long way from her towards the river, where it fell with a light splash, and rushing at him twined her arms close about his neck, while her mad laughter, piercing and terrible, rang out through the quiet air.

|Together!| she said, |That day at the fair we were together, and now -- we shall be together again! Come! -- Come! I have waited long enough! -- your promised letter never came -- you have kept me waiting a long long while -- but now I will wait no longer! I have found you! -- I will never let you go!|

Furiously, despite his wounds, he fought with her, -- tried to thrust her away from him, -- and beat her backwards and downwards, -- but she had the strength of ten women in her maddened frame, and she clung to him with the tenacity of some savage beast. All around them was perfectly quiet, -- there was not a soul in sight, -- there was no place near where a shout for help could have been heard. Struggling still, dizzy, blind and breathless, he did not see that they were nearing the edge of the slippery bank -- all his efforts were concentrated in an endeavour to shake off the infuriated creature, made more powerful in her very madness by the just sense of her burning wrong and his callous treachery -- when all at once his foot slipped and he fell to the ground. She pounced on him like a tigress, and fastened her fingers on his throat, -- clutching his flesh and breathlessly muttering, |Never! -- never! Never can you hide away from me any more! Together -- together! I will never let you go! -- | till, as his eyes rolled up in agony and his jaw relaxed, she uttered a shout of ecstasy to see him die! He sank heavily under her fierce grasp which she never relaxed for an instant, and his dead weight dragged her unconsciously down -- down! -- she not heeding or knowing whither she was moving, -- down -- still down! -- till, as she clung to his inert body, madly determining not to let it go, she fell, -- fast grappling her betrayer's corpse, -- into the ominous stillness of the river. The flood opened, as it were, to receive the two, -- the dead and the living -- there was a slight ripple as though a mouth in the water smiled -- then the usual calm surface reflected the moon once more, and there was no sign of trouble. Nothing struggled, -- nothing floated, -- all was perfectly tranquil. The bells chimed from all the churches in the city a quarter to midnight, and their pretty echoes were wafted across the water, -- no other sound disturbed the silence, -- not a trace of the struggle was left, save just one smeared track of grass and slime, which, if examined carefully, might have been found sprinkled with blood. But with the morning the earth would have swallowed those drops of human life as silently as the river-quicksand had sucked down the bodies of the betrayed and the betrayer; -- in neither case would Nature have any hint to give of the tragedy enacted. Nature is a dumb witness to many dramas, -- and it may be that she has eyes and ears and her own way of keeping records. Sometimes she gives up long-buried secrets, sometimes she holds them fast; -- biding her time until the Judgment Day, when not only the crime shall be disclosed but the Cause of the crime's committal. And it may chance in certain cases, such as those of men who have deliberately ruined the lives of trusting and loving women, that the Cause may be proved a more criminal thing than the crime!

That night Martine Doucet slept badly, and had horrible dreams of being dragged by force to Rome, and there taken before the Pope who at once deprived her of her son Fabien, and ordered her to be shot in one of the public squares for neglecting to attend Mass regularly. And Jean Patoux and his wife, reposing on their virtuous marital couch, conversed a long time about the unexpected and unwelcome visit of Claude Cazeau, and the mission he had declared himself entrusted with from the Vatican, -- |And you may depend upon it,| said Madame sententiously, |that he will get his way by fair means or foul! I am thankful that neither of OUR children were subjects for a Church-miracle! -- the trouble of the remedy seems more troublesome than the sickness!|

|No, no,| said her husband, |Thou dost not judge these things rightly, my little one! God worked the remedy, as He works all good things, -- and there would be no trouble about it if it were not for the men's strange way of taking it. Did ever our Lord do a good or a kind deed without being calumniated for it? Did not all those men- fools in Jerusalem go about 'secretly seeking how they might betray him'? That is a lesson for us all, -- and never forget, petite, that for showing them the straight way to Heaven He was crucified!|

The next day a telegram was despatched from the Archbishop of Rouen to Monsignor Moretti at the Vatican: --

|Claude Cazeau visited Hotel Poitiers last night, but has since mysteriously disappeared. Every search and enquiry being made. Strongly suspect foul play.|

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