Away in Paris, a vast concourse of people were assembled round an open grave in Pere-la-Chaise, wherein the plain coffin of the Abbe Vergniaud had just been lowered. The day was misty and cold, and the sun shone fitfully through the wreaths of thin vapour that hung over the city, occasionally gleaming on the pale fine face of the famous |Gys Grandit|, who, standing at the edge of the grave spoke his oration over the dead.
|To this, to this,| he cried, |oh people of Paris, we all must come! Our ambitions, our hopes, our dreams, our grand reforms, our loves and joys end here, so far as this world is concerned! He whom we have just laid in the earth was skilled in many devious ways of learning, -- gifted with eloquence, great in scholarship, quick with the tongue as with the pen, he was a man whom perchance all France would have called famous had it not been for me! I am the blot on my father's name! I am the sin for which he has made the last expiation! People of Paris, for years he lived and worked among you, -- outwardly smiling, witty of speech and popular with you all, -- but inwardly a misery to himself in his own conscience, because he knew his life was not what he professed it to be. He knew that he did not believe what he asked YOU to accept as true. He knew that he had guilt upon his soul, -- he knew that all the sins which none of you could guess at, God saw. For there is a God! Not the God of the priests, but the God of the Universe and of man's natural and spiritual instinct. He from whom nothing escapes, -- He who ordains where every drop of dew shall fall, -- He whose omnipresent vision perceives the flight of every small bird in the air and predetermines the building of its nest, and the manner of its end, -- He is the God whom none can deceive. Those who dream they can play false with Him are mistaken. This dead man, my father, living among you for years, was contented for years to seem like you, -- yes! -- for you all have something which you think you can cover up from the searching eye of Fate; and many of you pretend to be what you are not, -- while many more wear the aspect of men over the souls of beasts. My father who rests here to-day at our feet, was a priest of the Roman Church. In that capacity he should have been clothed with sanctity. Human, yet removed from common frailty. Yet reckless of his order, heedless of his vows, he, priest as he was, turned libertine, and betrayed an innocent woman. He destroyed her name -- killed her honour -- broke her heart! Libertines of all classes from kings to commoners, do this kind of thing every day, and deem it but a small fault of character. Nevertheless it is a crime! -- and for a crime there is always punishment! For everything that is false, -- for everything that is mean, -- for everything that is contemptible and cowardly, punishment comes, -- if not soon, then late. In this case vengeance was forestalled, -- for the sinner, repenting in time, took his vengeance on himself. He confessed his sin before you all! That was brave! How many of you here to-day would have such courage! How many of you would throw off your cloaks of virtue and admit your vices? -- or having admitted them, try to amend them? But this is what my father did. And for this he should be honoured! He told you all fully and frankly that his professions of faith were false and vain and conventional; and that he had seemed to you what he was not. Now the committal of a sin is one thing, -- but the frankly repentant confession of that sin is another. Some of you will say -- Who am I that I should judge my father? Why truly I am nothing! -- and should have been nothing but the avenger of my mother's life and broken- hearted misery. For that I lived, -- for that I was ready to die! What a trivial object of existence it must seem to you Parisians nowadays! -- to avenge a mother's name! Much better to fight a duel for some paltry dancer! Yes! -- but I am not so constituted. From my childhood I worked for two things -- vengeance and ambition; I put ambition second, for I would have sacrificed it all to the fiercer passion. But when I sought to fulfil my vengeance, the man on whom I would have taken it, himself changed it into respect, pity, admiration, affection, -- and I loved what I had so long hated! So even I, bent on cruelty, learned to be kind. But not so the Church! The Church of Rome cannot forgive the dead priest whom we have laid in all-forgiving Mother Earth to-day! Had he lived, the sentence of excommunication would have been pronounced against him, -- now that he is dead, it is quite possible it may still be pronounced against his memory. But what of that? We who know, who feel, who think, -- we are not led by the Church of Rome, but by the Church of Christ! The two things are as different as this grave differs from high Heaven! For we believe that when Magdalen breaks a precious box of perfume at the feet of Christ 'she hath wrought a good work'. We also believe that when a man stands 'afar off', saying 'Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!' he goes back to his house again justified more than he who says 'Lord, I thank Thee I am not as other men!' We believe that Right is right, and that nothing can make it wrong! And simply speaking, we know it is right to tell the truth, and wrong to tell a lie. For a lie is opposed to the working forces of Nature, and those forces sooner or later will attack it and overcome it. They are beginning now in our swiftly advancing day, to attack the Church of Rome. And why? Because its doctrine is no longer that of Christ, but of Mammon! This is what my father felt and knew, when he addressed his congregation for the last time in Notre Dame de Lorette. He knew that he was doomed by disease to a speedy death, -- though he little guessed how soon that death would be. But feeling the premonition of his end, he resolved to speak out, -- not to condone or excuse himself for having preached what he could not believe all those years, -- but merely to tell you how things were with him, and to trust his memory to you to be dealt with as you choose. He has left a book behind him, -- a book full of great and noble thoughts expressed with most pathetic humility; hence I doubt not that when you see the better soul of him unveiled in his expressed mind, you will yet give him the fame he merits. His Church judges him a heretic and castaway for having confessed his sin at last to the people whom he so long deceived, -- but I for this, judge him as an honest man! And I have some little right to my opinion, for as Gys Grandit I have sought to proclaim the thoughts of many -- |
He paused till the murmur of enthusiasm at mention of the name by which he was known through France should have ceased. It rose on the air in a sort of bee-like humming monotone, and then died away, while many people stood on tip-toe and craned their necks eagerly over each other's shoulders to catch a glimpse of the daring writer whose works threatened to upset a greater power than any throne, the Roman Church.
|I have tried,| he resumed quietly, |as I say, to proclaim the thoughts of many! The people of France, like the peoples of many other nations, are losing God in a cloud of priest-craft. Look up to this broad canopy of heaven, -- look up to yonder driving clouds heavy with rain, through which the great sun gleams like a golden shield,- -that is the temple of the real God! That sparkling roof of air through which the planets roll in their tremendous orbits, bends over the wise and the foolish, the just and the unjust; the sun shines as kindly on the face of the street outcast as on that of the great lady who is often more soiled in soul than her miserable sister. The rich man can provide for himself no finer quality of light than is vouchsafed to the poor. The flowers in the field spring up as graciously under the feet of the beggar as the king. The Church of the true God is Equality! -- the altar, the sacrament, the final resting-place of the dead, Equality! Your revolutionary cry was and is still, -- Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity! -- but when you shout those words, you know not what you are calling for. Your demand is instinctive, -- the cry of a child for its parents. It is not for temporal things that you clamouras the foolish imagine, -- it is for eternal things! Liberty of thought, -- Equality in work -- Fraternity in faith! But your political leaders, ever at work for themselves, misread these words for you, even as your priests misread Christ's Gospel. They make out for you that you want Liberty of action -- Equality of riches, Fraternity in position. These things are by Nature's law, impossible. They are not wanted, -- and reasonable consideration will prove to you that you do not want them, -- otherwise you would be asking for a disordered universe, a chaos instead of a world! The strong must always prevail, -- but by strong, I do not mean the strong liar or the strong evil-doer. No! For a lie contains in itself the germ of rottenness which shall kill -- and the evil-doer is not strong but weak, because cowardly. There is no strength in fear; no power in disease! Hence I repeat again, the strong must prevail -- and by the strong, I mean the Good! Evil is always weak, -- it flourishes for a day, a month, a year, or if you will, a thousand years, for a thousand years are but a moment in the sight of Heaven; but for ever and ever justice is done, -- for ever and ever Right comes uppermost, and the Strong which is God, than whom is none stronger, and who is all Goodness -- prevails! Liberty of thought should be the privilege of every human creature, but we must never mistake it for Liberty of action. Liberty of action is restrained by law in the world of nature, and must be equally restrained in the world of men. But insist on Equality in work! What do I mean by Equality in work? I mean this, -- that every man's work is entitled to consideration and respect, in every phase of life. The road-mender works well and makes a smooth way for men and horses; -- he deserves my honour for his skill, -- he has it, -- he shall have it, -- for I know he can teach me many things of which I am ignorant. The chief of the State works well, -- organizes; -- puts grave matters in order and establishes necessary government -- he also shall have my respect, -- he has it, -- he deserves his carriage and pair as fully as the road-mender deserves his dinner. We should not grudge or envy either man the reward due to their separate positions. The nightingale has a sweet voice, -- the peacock screams -- the one is plain in colour, the other gorgeous, -- and there is no actual equality; yet the one bird does not grudge the other its position, inasmuch as though there is no Equality there is Compensation. So it is with men. There is always Compensation in every lot. So it should be; so it must be. Equality in work means simply, respect for every kind of work done, and contempt for none except for him who does no work at all! And lastly the word 'Fraternity.' Glorious word, meaning so much! -- holding suggestions of peace, joy and purity in its mere utterance! Not a Fraternity of possession -- for then should we become lower than the beasts, who have their own separate holes, their separate mates, their separate young -- but Fraternity of Faith! -- the one Faith that teaches us to cry 'Abba Father,' -- that makes us understand Christ as our Brother -- and all of us the children of one family, -- one creation moving on in process of evolvement to greater things! Let any priest tell me that I am not a child of God, and I will retort that he, by such an utterance, has proved himself a child of the devil. Ignorant, sinful, full of miserable imperfections as I am, I am of God as the ant is, the worm, the fly! -- and if I have no more of God in me than such insects, still I am thankful to have so much! What priest shall dare to say how much or how little of God there was in the composition of this man lying in the grave at our feet, who was my father? Excommunication! Who can excommunicate the soul from its Creator? Who can part the sunbeam from the sun? Excommunication! The human being who, on what he calls Church authority, shall thrust his brother away from any form of communion which he himself judges and accepts as valuable, is one of those whom Christ declared to be 'in danger of hell-fire.' For there is no man who can, if he be true to himself, condemn his brother man, or say to him, 'Stand back! I am holier than thou!' Therefore, for him whom we lay down to rest to- day, let there be pardon and peace! Let us remember that for all his sins he atoned, by full confession; -- by publicly branding himself in the sight of that society in whose estimation he had till then seemed something superior, -- by voluntarily resigning himself to the wrath of the Church of which he was a professed servant. Cursed by his Creed, he may now perchance be blessed by his Creator! For he died, clean-souled and true -- washed of hypocrisy, -- with no secret vice left unhidden for others to rake up and expose to criticism. Whatsoever wrong he did, he openly admitted -- whatever false things he said, he retracted. I believe -- and I am sure we all believe, that his spirit thus purified, is acceptable to God. He has left no lies behind him -- no debts -- no wrongs to be avenged. He told you all, people of Paris, what he was before he left you, -- and, looking down into this dark grave, we know what he is. A senseless, sightless, stiffening form of clay, from which the soul that animated it into action has fled. Let the Church excommunicate this poor corpse of my father, -- let it muster its forces against his memory as it will, I swear before you all, that memory shall live! Yes -- for I, his son, will guard it; I whom he so late acknowledged as his own flesh and blood, will be a shield of defence for his name till I die! If priests would attack him, they must attack him through me! -- and I, despite a thousand Churches, a thousand Creeds, a thousand Sacraments, will firmly maintain that a man who frankly repents his sins and is openly honest with the world before he leaves it, is a better Christian than he, who for the sake of mere appearances and conventionality, juggles with death and passes to his Maker's presence in a black cloud of lies! Better to be crucified with Christ, than live with the High Priests and Pharisees of the modern Jerusalem of our social conditions! Truth may seem to perish on the Cross of injustice -- it may be buried in a sealed sepulchre, the entrance to which may be closed up by a great stone of Mammon-bulk and heaviness -- but the moment must come when the Angel descends from Heaven -- when the stone is rolled away -- and the eternal, living God rises again and walks the world in the glory of a new dawn!|
He ended -- and for a moment there was a deep silence. There had been no funeral service, for no priest would attend the burial of the heretic Abbe. So, after a brief pause, Cyrillon knelt down by the grave, -- and carried away by the solemnity of the scene, as well as by their own emotional excitement, more than half the crowd knelt with him, as, bending his head reverently over his clasped hands, he prayed aloud --
|Oh God of Love, whose tenderness and care for Thy creation is everywhere disclosed to us, from the smallest atom of dust, to the stupendous majesty of Thy million worlds in the air, -- give we beseech Thee, to this perished clay which once was man, the beauty which transforms vile things to virtuous, and endows our seeming death with life! Let Thy eternal Law of Resurrection so work upon this senseless body that it may pass through Earth to Heaven, and there find finer grades of being, higher forms of development, greater opportunities of perfection. And for the Soul, which is Thine own breath of fire, O God, receive it, purified from sin, and make it worthy of the final purpose for which Thou hast destined it from the beginning! And grant unto us, left here to still work out our own salvation on this the planet Thou hast chosen for our trial, the power to comprehend Thy laws, and faithfully to obey them, -- to forgive as we would be forgiven, -- to love as we would be loved, -- and to lift our thoughts from the appearance of this grave to the Reality of Thy beneficence, which hath ordained Light out of Darkness, and out of Death, Life, as proved most gloriously to us by Christ our Brother, our Teacher and our Master! Amen!|
His prayer finished, the young man rose, and taking a wreath of ivy, which he had travelled to Touraine himself to bring from the walls of the simple cottage where his mother had lived and worked and died, he dropped it gently on the coffin and signed to the grave- diggers to fill in the earth. Then turning to the crowd, he said,
|My friends, I thank you all for the sympathy which has brought you here to-day. 'It is finished.' The dead man is at rest! And now as you go, -- as you return to your own homes, -- homes happy or unhappy as the case may be, I will only ask you to remember that there is no permanence or virtue in falsehood whether it be falsehood religious or falsehood political, -- and he who dies truthfully dealing with his fellow-men, lives again with God, and is not, as Scripture says 'dead in his sins,' but born again to a new and more hopeful existence!|
With the last words he gave the sign of dismissal. The people began to disperse slowly and somewhat reluctantly, every member of the crowd being curious to obtain a nearer view of the young orator who not only spoke his thoughts fearlessly, but whose pen was as a scythe mowing down a harvest of shams and hypocrisies, and whose frank utterance from the heart was so honest as to be absolutely convincing to the public. But he, after giving a few further instructions to the men who were beginning to close in his father's grave, walked away with one or two friends, and was soon lost to sight in one of the many winding paths that led from the cemetery out into the road, so that many who anxiously sought to study his features more nearly, were disappointed. One person there was, who had listened to his oration in wonder and open-mouthed admiration, -- this was Jean Patoux. He had taken the opportunity offered him in a |cheap excursion| from Rouen to Paris, to visit a cousin of his who was a small florist owning a shop in the Rue St. Honore, -- and by chance, he and this same cousin, while quietly walking together down one of the boulevards, had got entangled in the press of people who were pouring into Pere-la-Chaise on this occasion, and had followed them out of curiosity, not at all knowing what they were going to see. But the florist, known as Pierre Midon, soon realised the situation and explained it all to his provincial relative.
|It is the Abbe Vergniaud they are burying,| he said, -- |He was a wonderful preacher! All fashionable Paris used to go and hear him till he made that pretty scandal of himself a month or so ago. He was a popular and a social favourite; but one fine morning he preached a sermon to his congregation all against the Church, and for that matter against himself too, for he then and there confessed before everybody that he was no true priest. And as he preached, -- what think you? -- a young man fired a pistol shot at him for his rascality, as everyone supposed, and when the gendarmes would have taken the assassin, this same Abbe stopped them, and refused to punish HIS OWN SON! What do you think of that for a marvel? And something still more marvellous followed, for that very son who tried to kill him was no other than Gys Grandit, the man we have just heard speaking, though nobody knew it till a week afterwards. Such a scene you never saw in a church! -- Paris was wild with excitement for a dozen hours, which is about as long as its fevers last, -- and the two of them, father and son, went straight away to a famous Cardinal then staying in Paris, -- and he, by the way, was in the church when the Abbe publicly confessed himself -- Cardinal Bonpre -- |
|Ah!| interrupted Patoux excitedly, |This interests me! For that most eminent Cardinal stayed at my inn in Rouen before coming on here!|
|So!| And Cousin Pierre looked rather surprised. |Without offence to thee, Jean, it was a poor place for a Cardinal, was it not?|
|Poor, truly, -- but sufficient for a man of his mind!| replied Patoux tranquilly, -- |For look you, he is trying to live as Christ lived, -- and Christ cared naught for luxury.|
Pierre Midon laughed.
|By my faith! If priests were to live as Christ lived, Paris might learn to respect them!| he said, -- |But we know that they will not, -- and that few of them are better than the worst of us! But to finish my story -- this Abbe and the son whom he so suddenly and strangely acknowledged, went to this Cardinal Bonpre for some reason -- most probably for pardon, though truly I cannot tell you what happened -- for almost immediately, the Abbe went out of Paris to the Chateau D'Agramont some miles away, and his son went with him, and there the two stayed together till the old man died. And as for Cardinal Bonpre, he went at once to Rome with his niece, the famous painter, Angela Sovrani, -- I imagine he may have interceded with the Pope, or tried to do so for the Abbe, but whatever happened, there they are now, for all I know to the contrary. And we heard that the Church was about to excommunicate, or had already excommunicated Vergniaud, though I suppose Cardinal Bonpre had nothing to do with that?|
|Not he!| said Patoux firmly, |He would never excommunicate or do any unkind thing to a living soul -- that I am pretty sure of. He is the very Cardinal who performed the miracle in my house that has caused us no end of trouble, -- and he is under the displeasure of the Pope for it now, if all I hear be true.|
|That is strange!| said Pierre with a laugh, -- |To be under the displeasure of the Pope for doing a good deed!|
|Truly, it seems so,| agreed Patoux, -- |But you must remember there was no paying shrine concerned in it! Mark you that, my Pierre! Even our Lady of Bon Secours, near to Rouen as she is, was not applied to. The miracle took place in the poor habitation of an unknown little inn-keeper, -- that is myself, -- and there was no solemnity at all about it -- no swinging of incense -- no droning of prayers -- no lighting of candles -- no anything, but just a good old man with a crippled child on his knee, praying to the Christ whom he believed was able to help him. And -- and -- |
He broke off suddenly and crossed himself. Pierre Midon stared at the action.
|What ails thee, Jean?| he asked brusquely, -- |Hast thou remembered a dead sin, or a passing soul?|
|Neither,| replied Patoux slowly, |But only just the thought of another child -- a waif and stray whom the good Cardinal found in the streets of Rouen, outside our great Cathedral door. A gentle lad! -- my wife was greatly taken with him; -- and he was present in my house too, when the miracle of healing was performed.|
|And for that, is there any need to cross thyself like a mumbling old woman afraid of the devil?| enquired his cousin.
Patoux smiled a slow smile.
|Gently, Pierre -- gently!| he said. |Thou art of Paris, -- I of the provinces. That makes all the difference in the way we look at life. There are very few holy things in great cities, -- but there are many in the country. Every day when I am at home I go out of the town to work in my field, -- and I feel the clean breath of the wind, the scent of the earth and the colours of the sky and the flowers, -- and I know quite well there is a God, or these blessings could not be. For if there were only Chance and a Man to manage the universe, a pretty muddle we should have of it! And when I see or think of a holy thing, I sign the cross out of old childhood's habit, -- so just now, when I remembered the boy whom the Cardinal rescued from the streets, I knew I was thinking of a holy thing; and that explains my action.|
|How dost thou prove a waif of the streets a holy thing?| enquired Pierre curiously.
Patoux shrugged his shoulders, and gave a wide deprecatory wave of both hands.
|Ah, that is more than I can tell you!| he said, -- |It is a matter beyond my skill. But the boy was a fair-faced boy, -- I never saw him myself -- |
Midon laughed outright.
|Never saw him thyself!| he cried, -- |And yet thou dost make the sign of the cross at the thought of him! Diantre! Patoux, thou art crazy!|
|Maybe -- maybe,| said Patoux mildly, -- they were walking together out of the cemetery by this time in the wake of the rapidly dispersing crowd, -- |But I have always taken my wife's word, -- and I take it now. And she has said over and over again to me that the boy had a rare sweet nature. And then -- the child whom the Cardinal healed, -- Fabien Doucet, -- will always insist upon it that it was the touch of that same boy which truly cured him and not the Cardinal at all!|
|Mere fancy!| said Pierre carelessly, -- |And truly if it were not for knowing thee to be honest, I should doubt the miracle altogether!|
|And thou wouldst be of the majority!| said Patoux equably -- |For our house has been a very bee-hive of buzz and trouble ever since a bit of good was done in it -- and Martine Doucet, the mother of the cured child, has led the life of the damned, thanks to the kindness of her neighbours and friends! And will you believe me, the Archbishop of Rouen himself took the trouble to walk into the market-place and assure her she was a wicked woman, -- that she had taught her boy to play the cripple in order to excite pity, -- and I believe he thinks she is concerned in the strange disappearance of his clerk, Claude Cazeau. For this same Cazeau came to our house one night when Martine was there, and told her he had instructions to take her to Rome to see the Pope, and her child with her, for the purpose of explaining the miracle in her own words, and giving the full life- history of herself and the little one. And she was angry, -- ah, she can be very angry, poor Martine! -- she has a shrill tongue and a wild eye, and she said out flatly that she would not go, and furthermore that she would not be caught in a priest's trap, or words to that effect. And this clerk, Cazeau, -- a miserable little white-livered rascal, crawled away from my door in a rage with us all, and was never seen again. The police have hunted high and low for trace of him, but can find none. But I have my suspicions -- |
|What are they?| enquired Midon, -- |That he went out like Judas, and hanged himself?|
|Truly he might have done that without loss or trouble to anyone!| said Patoux tranquilly, -- |But he thought too well of himself to be quite so ready for a meeting with le bon Dieu! No! -- I will tell you what I think. There was a poor girl who used to roam about the streets of our town, called Marguerite, she was once a sensible, bright creature enough, the only daughter of old Valmond the saddler, who died from a kick from his favourite horse one day, and left his child all alone in the world. She was a worker in a great silk-factory, and was happy and contented, so it seemed, till -- well! It is the old story -- a man with a woman, and the man is most often the devil in it. Anyway, this Marguerite went mad on her love- affair, -- and we called her 'La Folle,' -- not harshly -- for all the town was kind to her. I mentioned her name once in the presence of this man Cazeau, and he started as if an adder had bitten him. And now -- he has disappeared -- and strange to say, so has she!|
|So has she!| echoed Midon, opening his eyes a little wider -- |Then what do you suppose? -- |
|Just this,| said Patoux, emphasizing his words by marking them out with a fat thumb on the palm of the other hand -- |That Cazeau was the villain of the piece as they say in the theatres, and that she has punished him for his villainy. She used to swear in her mad speech that if ever she met the man who had spoilt her life for her, she would kill him; and that is just what I believe she has done!|
|But would she kill herself also?| demanded Pierre -- |And what has become of one or both bodies?|
|Ah! There thou dost ask more than I can answer!| said Patoux. |But what is very certain is, that both bodies, living or dead, have disappeared. And as I said to my wife when she put these things into my head, -- for look you, my head is but a dull one, and if my wife did not put things into it, it would be but an emptiness altogether, -- I said to my wife that if she were right in her suspicions -- and she generally is right -- this Marguerite had taken but a just vengeance. For you will not prove to me that there is any man living who has the right to take the joy out of a woman's soul and destroy it.|
|It is done every day!| said Midon with a careless shrug, -- |Women give themselves too easily!|
|And men take too greedily!| said Patoux obstinately -- |What virtue there is in the matter is on the woman's side. For she mostly gives herself for love's sake, -- but the man cares naught save for his own selfish pleasure. As a man myself, I am on the side of the woman who revenges herself on her betrayer.|
|For that matter so am I!| said Midon. |Women have a hard time of it in this world, even under the best of circumstances, -- and whatever man makes it harder for them, should be horse-whipped within an inch of his life, if I had my way. I have a wife -- and a young daughter -- and my old mother sits at home with us, as cheery and bright a body as you would find in all France, -- and so I know the worth of women. If any rascal were to insult my girl by so much as a look, he would find himself in the ditch with a sore back before he had time to cry 'Dieu merci!'|
He laughed; -- Patoux laughed with him, and then went on, --
|I told thee of the miracle in my house, and of the boy the Cardinal found in the streets, -- well! -- these things have had their good effect in my own family. My two children, Henri and Babette -- ah! What children! God be praised for them! As bright, as kind as the sunlight, -- and their love for me and their mother is a great thing -- a good thing, look you! -- one cannot be sufficiently grateful for it. For nowadays, children too often despise their parents, which is bad luck to them in their after days; but ours, wild as they were a while ago, are all obedience and sweetness. I used often to wonder what would become of them as they grew up -- for they were wilful and angry-tempered, and ofttimes cruel in speech -- but I have no fear now. Henri works well at his lessons, and Babette too, -- and there is something better than the learning of lessons about them, -- something new and bright in their dispositions which makes us all happy. And this has come about since the Cardinal stayed with us; and also since the pretty boy was found outside the Cathedral!|
|That boy seems to have impressed thee more than the Cardinal himself!| said Midon -- |but now I remember well -- on the day the Abbe Vergniaud preached his last sermon, and was nearly shot dead by his own son, there was a rumour that his life had been saved by some boy who was an attendant on the Cardinal, and who interposed himself between the Abbe and the flying bullet, -- that must have been the one you mean?|
|No doubt -- no doubt!| said Patoux, nodding gravely -- |There was something about him that seemed a sort of shield against evil -- or at least, so said my wife, -- and so say my children. Only the other day, my boy Henri -- he is big and full of mischief as boys will be -- was playing with two or three younger lads, and one of them like a little sneak, stole up behind him and gave him a blow with a stick, which broke in two with the force of the way the young rascal went to work with it. Now, thought I, there will be need for me to step out and stop this quarrel, for Henri will beat that miserable little wretch into a jelly! But nothing of the sort! My boy turned round with a bright laugh -- picked up the two pieces of the stick and gave them back to the little coward with a civil bow |Hit in front next time!| he said. And the little wretch turned tail and began to boo- hoo in fine fashion -- crying as if he had been hurt instead of Henri. But they are the best friends in the world now. I asked Henri about it afterwards, and he turned as red as an apple in the cheeks. 'I wanted to kill him, father,' he said, -- 'but I knew that the boy who was with Cardinal Bonpre would not have done it -- and so I did not!' Now look you, for a rough little fellow such as Henri, that was a great victory over his passions -- and there is no doubt the Cardinal's little foundling was the cause of his so managing himself.|
Pierre Midon had nothing to say in answer, -- the subject was getting beyond him, and he was a man who, when thought became difficult, gave up thinking altogether.
And while these two simple-minded worthies were thus talking and strolling together home through the streets of Paris, Cyrillon Vergniaud, having parted from the few friends who had paid him the respect of their attendance at his father's grave, was making his way towards the Champs Elysees in a meditative frame of mind, when his attention was suddenly caught and riveted by a placard set up in front of one of the newspaper kiosks at the corner of a boulevard, on which in great black letters, was the name |Angela Sovrani.| His heart gave one great bound -- then stood still -- the streets of the city reeled round him, and he grew cold and sick. |Meurtre de la celebre Angela Sovrani!|
Hardly knowing what he was about, he bought the paper. The news was in a mere paragraph briefly stating that the celebrated artist had been found stabbed in her studio, and that up to the present there was no trace of the unknown assassin.
Passionate and emotional as his warm nature was, the great tears rushed to Cyrillon's eyes. In one moment he realized what he had been almost unconsciously cherishing in his own mind ever since Angela's beautiful smile had shone upon him. When in the few minutes of speech he had had with her she admitted herself to be the mysterious correspondent who had constantly written to him as |Gys Grandit,| fervently sympathising with his theories, and urging him on to fresh and more courageous effort, he had been completely overcome, not only with surprise, but also with admiration. It had taken him some time to realize that she, the greatest artist of her day, was actually his unknown friend of more than two years' correspondence. He knew she was engaged to be married to her comrade in art, Florian Varillo, but that fact did not prevent him from feeling for her all the sudden tenderness, the instinctive intimacy of spirit with spirit, which in the highest natures means the highest love. Then, -- they had all been brought together so strangely! -- his father, and himself, with Cardinal Bonpre, -- and she- -the Cardinal's fair niece, daughter of a proud Roman house, -- she had not turned away from the erring and repentant priest whom the Church had cast out; she had given him her hand at parting, and had been as sweetly considerate of his feelings as though she had been his own daughter. And when he was ill and dying at the Chateau D'Agramont, she had written to him two or three times in the kindest and tenderest way, and her letters had not been answered, because the Abbe was too ill to write, and he, Cyrillon, had been afraid -- lest he should say too much! And now -- she was dead? -- murdered? No! -- he would not believe it!
|God is good!| said Cyrillon, crushing the paper in his hand and raising his eyes to the cloudy heavens -- |He does nothing that is unnecessarily cruel. He would not take that brilliant creature away till she had won the reward of her work -- happiness! No! -- something tells me this news is false! -- she cannot be dead! But I will start for Rome to-night.|
He returned to the cheap pension where he had his room, and at once packed his valise. With all his fame he was extremely poor; he had for the most part refused to take payment for his books and pamphlets which had been so freely spread through France, preferring to work for his daily bread in the fields of an extensive farm near his birthplace in Touraine. He had begun there as a little lad, earning his livelihood by keeping the birds away from the crops -- and had steadily risen by degrees, through his honesty and diligence, to the post of superintendent or bailiff of the whole concern. No one was more trusted than he by his employers, -- no one more worthy of trust. But his wages were by no means considerable, -- and though he saved as much as he could, and lived on the coarsest fare, it was a matter of some trouble for him to spare the money to take him from Paris to Rome. What cash he had, he carried about him in a leathern bag, and this he now emptied on the table to estimate the strength of his finances. Any possibility of changing his mind and waiting for further news from Rome did not occur to him. One of his chief characteristics was the determined way he always carried through anything he had set his mind upon. In one of his public speeches he had once said -- |Let all the powers of hell oppose me, I will storm them through and pass on! For the powers of Heaven are on MY side!|- -the audacity and daring of this utterance carrying away his audience in a perfect whirlwind of enthusiasm. And though it is related of a certain cynical philosopher, that when asked by one of his scholars for a definition of hell, he dashed into the face of his enquirer an empty purse for answer, the lack of funds was no obstacle to Cyrillon's intended journey.
|Because if I can go no other way, I will persuade the guard to let me ride in the van, or travel in company with a horse or dog -- quite as good animals as myself in their way,| he thought.
With a characteristic indifference to all worldly matters he had entirely forgotten that the father whom he had just buried had died wealthy, and that his entire fortune had been left to the son whom he had so lately and strangely acknowledged. And when, -- while he was still engaged in counting up his small stock of money, -- a knock came at the door, and a well-dressed man of business-like appearance entered with a smiling and propitiatory air, addressing him as |Monsieur Vergniaud,| Cyrillon did not know at all what to make of his visitor. Sweeping his coins together with one hand, he stood up, his flashing eyes glancing the stranger over carelessly.
|Your name, sir?| he demanded -- |I am not acquainted with you.|
The smiling man unabashed, sought about for a place to put down his shiny hat, and smiled still more broadly.
|No!| he said -- |No! You would not be likely to know me. I have not the celebrity of Gys Grandit! I am only Andre Petitot -- a lawyer, residing in the Boulevard Malesherbes. I have just come from your father's funeral.|
Cyrillon bowed gravely, and remained silent.
|I have followed you,| pursued Monsieur Petitot affably, |as soon as I could, according to the instructions I received, to ask when it will be convenient for you to hear me read your father's will?|
The young man started.
|His will!| he ejaculated. He had never given it a thought. |Yes. May I take a chair? There are only two in the room, I perceive! Thanks!| And the lawyer sat down and began drawing off his gloves, -- |Your father had considerable means, -- though he parted with much that he might have kept, through his extraordinary liberality to the poor -- |
|God bless him!| murmured Cyrillon.
|Yes -- yes -- no doubt God will bless him!| said Monsieur Petitot amicably -- |According to your way of thinking, He ought to do so. But personally, I always find the poor extremely ungrateful, and God certainly does not bless ME whenever I encourage them in their habits of idleness and vice! However, that is not a question for discussion at present. The immediate point is this -- your father made his will about eighteen months ago, leaving everything to you. The wording of the will is unusual, but he insisted obstinately on having it thus set down -- |
Here the lawyer drew a paper out of his pocket, fixed a pair of spectacles on his nose, and studied the document intently -- |Yes! -- it reads in this way: -- ' Everything of which I die possessed to my son, Cyrillon Vergniaud, born out of wedlock, but as truly my son in the sight of God, as Ninette Bernadin was his mother, and my wife, though never so legalised before the world, but fully acknowledged by me before God, and before the Church which I have served and disobeyed.' A curious wording!| said Petitot, nodding his head a great many times -- |Very curious! I told him so -- but he would have it his own way, -- moreover, I am instructed to publish his will in any Paris paper that will give it a place. Now this clause is to my mind exceedingly disagreeable, and I wish I could set it aside.|
|Why?| asked Cyrillon quietly.
|My dear young man! Can you ask? Why emphasise the fact of your illegitimacy to the public!|
|Why disguise it?| returned Cyrillon. |You must remember that I have another public than the merely social, -- the people! They all know what I am, and who I am. They have honoured me. They shall not despise me. And they would despise me if I sought to hold back from them what my father bade me tell. Moreover, this will gives my mother the honour of wifehood in the sight of God, -- and I must tell you, monsieur l'avocat, that I am one of those who care nothing what the world says so long as I stand more or less clear with the world's Creator!|
His great dark eyes were brilliant, -- his face warm with the fire of his inward feeling. Monsieur Petitot folded up his document and looked at him with an amiable tolerance.
|Wonderful -- wonderful!| he said -- |But of course eccentricities WILL appear in the world occasionally! -- and you must pardon me if I venture to think that you are certainly one of them. But I imagine you have nograsped the whole position. The money -- I should saythe fortune -- which your father has left to you, will make you a gentleman -- |
He paused, affrighted. Drawing himself up to his full height, young Vergniaud confronted him in haughty amazement.
|Gentleman!| he cried -- |What do you mean by the term? A loafer? -- a lounger in the streets? -- a leerer at women? Or a man who works for daily food from sunrise to sunset, and controls his lower passions by hard and honest labour! Gentleman! What is that? Is it to live lazily on the toil of others, or to be up and working one's self, and to eat no bread that one has not earned? Will you answer me?|
|My dear sir, you must really excuse me!| said Petitot nervously -- | I am quite unable to enter into any sort of discussion with you on these things! Please recollect that my life as a lawyer, depends entirely on men's stupidities and hypocrisies, -- if they all entertained your views I should have to beg in the streets, or seek another profession. In my present business I should have nothing whatever to do. You perceive the position? Yes, of course you do!| For Cyrillon with one of the quick changes of mood habitual to him, smiled, as his temporary irritation passed like a cloud, and his eyes softened -- |You see, I am a machine, -- educated to be a machine; and I am set down to do certain machine-like duties, -- and one of these duties is, -- regardless of your fame, your eccentric theories, your special work which you have chosen to make for yourself in the world, -- to put you in possession of the money your father left you -- |
|Can you now -- at once -- | said Cyrillon suddenly -- |give me enough money to go to Rome to-night?|
Monsieur Petitot stared.
|To go to Rome to-night?| he echoed -- |Dear me, how very extraordinary! I beg your pardon! . . . of course -- most certainly! I can advance you any sum you want -- would ten thousand francs suffice?|
|Ten thousand francs!| Cyrillon laughed. |I never had so much money in all my life!|
|No? Well, I have not the notes about me at the moment, but I will send you up that sum in an hour if you wish it. Your father's will entitles you to five million francs, so you see I am not in any way endangering myself by advancing you ten thousand.|
Cyrillon was quite silent. The lawyer studied him curiously, but could not determine whether he was pleased or sorry at the announcement of his fortune. His handsome face was pale and grave, -- and after a pause he said simply --
|Thank you! Then I can go to Rome. If you will send me the money you speak of I shall be glad, as it will enable me to start to-night. For the rest, -- kindly publish my father's will as he instructed you to do, -- and I -- when I return to Paris, will consult you on the best way in which I can dispose of my father's millions.|
|Dispose of them!| began Petitot amazedly. Young Vergniaud interrupted him by a slight gesture.
|Pardon me, Monsieur, if I ask you to conclude this interview! For the present, I want nothing else in the world but to get to Rome as quickly as possible! -- apres ca, le deluge!|
He smiled -- but his manner was that of some great French noble who gently yet firmly dismisses the attentions of a too-officious servant, -- and Petitot, much to his own surprise, found himself bowing low, and scrambling out of the poorly furnished room in as much embarrassment as though he had accidentally stumbled into a palace where his presence was not required.
And Cyrillon, left to himself, gathered up all the coins he had been counting out previous to the lawyer's arrival, and tied them again together in the old leathern bag; then having closed and strapped his little travelling valise, sat down and waited. Punctually to the time indicated, that is to say, in one hour from the moment Petitot had concluded his interview with the celebrated personage whom he now mentally called |an impossible young man,| a clerk arrived bringing the ten thousand francs promised. He counted the notes out carefully, -- Cyrillon watching him quietly the while, and taking sympathetic observation of his shabby appearance, his thread-bare coat, and his general expression of pinched and anxious poverty.
|You will perceive it is all right, Monsieur,| he said humbly, as he finished counting.
|What are you, mon ami?| asked Cyrillon; scarcely glancing at the notes but fixing a searching glance on the messenger who had brought them.
|I?| and the clerk coughed nervously and blushed, -- |Oh, I am nothing, Monsieur! I am Monsieur Petitot's clerk, that is all!|
|And does he pay you well?|
|Thirty francs a week, Monsieur. It is not bad, -- only this -- I was young a few years ago, and I married -- and two dear little ones came- -so it is a pull at times to make everything go as it should -- not that I am sorry for myself at all, oh no! For I am well off as the people go -- |
Cyrillon interrupted him.
|Yes -- as the people go! That is what you all say, you patient, brave souls! See you, my friend, I do not want all this money -- |and he took up a note for five hundred francs -- |Take this and make the wife and little ones happy!|
|Monsieur!| stammered the astonished clerk -- |How can I dare -- !|
|Dare! Nay, there is no daring in freely taking what your brother freely gives you! You must let me practise what I preach, my friend, otherwise I am only a fraud and unfit to live. God keep you!|
The clerk still stood trembling, afraid to take up the note, and unable through emotion to speak a word, even of thanks. Upon which, Cyrillon folded up the note and put it himself in the man's pocket.
|There! -- go and make happiness with that bit of paper!| he said -- |Who can tell through what dirty usurer's hand it has been, carrying curses with it perchance on its way! Use it now for the comfort of a woman and her little children, and perhaps it will bring blessing to a living man as well as to a departed soul!|
And he literally put the poor stupefied fellow outside his door, shutting it gently upon him.
That night he left for Rome. And as the express tore its grinding way along over the iron rails towards the south, he repeated to himself over and over again as in a dream --
|No -- Angela Sovrani is not dead! She cannot be dead! God is too good for that. He will not let her die before she knows -- before she knows I love her!|