Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Grip of Desire by Hector France

Part 5 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

THE AMBUSCADE.

"Be not discouraged either before
obstacles, or before ill-will. Wait
patiently. The sacred hour will sound
for you and all the ways will be
made smooth."

(_Charge of Mgr. de Nancy_).

Drawing near to the window, Suzanne distinguished in front of her, behind
the open-work palisade, a dark motionless figure.

She immediately recognized the Cure.

Alarmed and trembling, she hastily drew back; but she heard a gentle cough,
as if someone was calling and was afraid of being surprised.

"What is happening?" she said to herself, "what is he doing there?"

She covered herself hurriedly with a dressing-gown and drew near the
casement again. Marcel, with his hat in his hand, bowed to her, and
appeared to invite her by a sign to come down.

Again she drew back. She knew not what to think or what to do. She
hesitated to comply with the priest's desire, and, on the other hand, she
was afraid lest Marianne, or some neighbour, should happen to wake and
catch the Cure of the village making signs, at that unseasonable hour,
before her door, during her father's absence. God only knew what a scandal
there would be then! and as tongues would wag, her father perhaps might
hear of it, and what explanation could she give? already they were
beginning to chatter about her absence from the services and their meetings
on the road.

She was seized with terror and ran to put out the lamp, calculating that
the Cure would withdraw.

But the Cure of Althausen had not undertaken this adventurous expedition to
abandon it at the moment when he was attaining his object. Excited by the
alcohol, by the dishabille of the charming young girl, and by all that he
had just caught a sight of, emboldened by the night and the solitary place,
he was waiting with impatience.

Therefore when Suzanne, trembling all over, drew near a second time to see
if he was gone, he was at the same place, still bowing to her and calling
her by signs. He was not tired, and with perfectly clerical obstinacy,
multiplied his salutes and his signs.

She said to herself that there was doubtless some important motive for him
to have decided, in spite of dangers and the proprieties, to require an
interview with her in the middle of the night "Good God! could some
misfortune have happened to my father?" The thought oppressed her mind. She
hesitated no longer, put on a light petticoat, threw a shawl over her
shoulders, and went downstairs.

LXXI.

THE BREACH.

"Who art thou, who knockest so
loudly. Art thou Great Love, to whom
all must yield, for whom heroes sacrificed
(more than life) their very heart ...
Ah, if thou art he, let the door be
opened wide."

MICHELET (_L'Amour_).

She saw at once that he was all in a fever.

--What has happened? she said. You have seen my father?

--Nothing has happened, Mademoiselle; as to your father, I saw him this
morning getting into a carriage: I believe that he is well.

--But what is it then? what is it? do not hide anything from me.

--I am hiding nothing from you, Mademoiselle, nothing grievous has
happened. Be comforted. I was passing by in my walk, I saw the light, I
observed you, your window was partly open. I stopped and said to myself:
Perhaps I can make a sign to Mademoiselle Durand that I am going away.

--Oh, Heavens, I am trembling all over.... What! you are going away? And
where? And when?

--To-morrow morning, Mademoiselle, after Mass.

--For ever?

--Perhaps.

--You are leaving Althausen so, without saying good-bye to your
parishioners, to your friends!

--I have no friends, Mademoiselle, I have only you, who are willing to hear
me some ... friendship; only you, who have sometimes thought of the poor
solitary at the parsonage, therefore I thank you for it from the bottom of
my heart, and I wanted to bid you ... farewell.

--But why this sudden and unexpected departure?

--A more important cure is offered me, Mademoiselle, and I have, like
others, a little grain of ambition.

--Oh, I understand, Monsieur, and let me congratulate you on this change in
your fortune. Is it far?

--Nancy, Mademoiselle.

--Nancy! I am glad of it on your account. You will have distractions there
which you have not here. I almost envy you.

--Do not envy me, Mademoiselle, for I carry away death in my soul. I am
sorrowful as Christ at Golgotha. I spoke to you of ambition. It is false, I
have no ambition. Other motives than miserable calculations compel me to
depart.

--Motives ... serious?

--You will understand them, Mademoiselle, for I must confess it to you, and
that I should not do if I was to remain in this parish. But from the day I
saw you, I have felt myself drawn towards you by an invincible sympathy.
Oh, be not disturbed. Let not my words offend you; it is the fondness which
I should have felt for a dearly-loved sister, if God had given me one.
Believe it truly, Mademoiselle, the spotless calyx of the lily, the emblem
of purity, is not more chaste than my thoughts when they fly towards you,
for when I think of you, I think of the queen of angels; that is why I
wished to see you again and bid you farewell.

--I thank you, sir.

--I wished to say to you: Farewell! I go away, but tell me, not if I may
ask to see you sometimes again--I dare not ask so great a favour--but if I
shall have the right to mingle my memory with yours, my thought with your
thought; tell me if you wish me to remain your friend though far away. We
leave one another, we separate, but is that a reason why all should end?
May we not write, give one another advice, follow one another from afar on
the arduous road of life?

It is so sweet, when we are alone, when the heart is sad, when the heaven
is dark and the tears come slowly to the eyes, to dream that away there, in
a little corner behind the horizon, there is a sister-soul to our soul,
which perhaps, at that very moment, leaps towards us also and murmurs
across space: "Friend, I think of you." We feel less abandoned and less
alone.

--Yes, that is true, I understand you.

--It is the communion of souls, dear Suzanne, sweeter than all the
pleasures of the body, because it is holy and pure, it is the Ark of the
Covenant, the gate of Heaven. Tell me, will you? Are you willing that we
should follow one another thus in life? You do not answer....

--Listen, sir, listen, there is someone in the road.

--There are footsteps, said Marcel, after he had listened. Yes, there are
footsteps. Someone comes. I must not be seen here.... Farewell,
Mademoiselle, farewell.

--Do not go away. That would be the means of compromising us both, for they
must have heard our voices, and your departure would attract suspicions.

--What shall I do? I cannot remain here.

--They cannot have seen us yet: Come in. Under this arbour you will be safe
from any gaze.

--What! said Marcel, you wish...?

--I beseech you, come. This village is full of evil-minded people. It is
more prudent for both of us.

She turned the key, and Marcel glided like a shadow through the half-open
gate, quickly crossed the borders, and threw himself under the arbour.

Suzanne closed the gate again and rejoined him.

LXXII.

THE ASSAULT.

"Be mine, be my sister, for I am all thine,
And well I deserve thee, for long have I loved."

A. DE VIGNY (_Eloa_).

They were standing up under the dark arbour. One close to the other,
excited, panting: they could scarce get their breath again. Does their
heart beat so hard because there is someone in the path? Silence!

The cricket, just by their side, sends forth from under the grass his soft
monotonous cry, and down there in the neighbouring ditch the toad lifts his
harsh voice. Silence!

A noise in the road, faint at first as the murmur of the wind, increases.
It comes near. It is the cautious hesitating step of someone listening. It
comes nearer and stops. Silence! The philosopher cricket continues his
song, the amorous toad his poem.

Behind the branches of honeysuckle they watch attentively, and can see
without being seen. A shadow passes slowly by, with its head turned towards
the dark arbour. Suzanne made a movement of surprise;--Your servant, she
said.

--Silence, murmured Marcel; and he seizes a hand which he keeps within his
own.

Veronica slowly walked on.

When she reached the gate, she pushed it as if to assure herself if it was
open.

--Well, there is an impertinence, said Suzanne. Who can have made her
suspect that you were here?

Marcel, for reply, pressed the hand which he was holding.

Finding the gate closed, the servant continued her road, then all at once
returned, stopped for a few seconds facing the arbour, and at length
disappeared behind the chestnut-trees.

They followed the sound of her footsteps, which was soon lost in the
silence, and found themselves alone, hearing nothing but the beatings of
their own heart.

--Let us remain, said Suzanne in a low voice, we must not go out yet.
Really, that is the most impertinent creature I have ever seen. By what
right does she spy on you thus?

--Dear child, do you not know that these old servants are on the track of
every scandal, jealous of all beauty and all virtue. She will have noticed
our frequent interviews, and has imagined a world of iniquities.
Nevertheless, I bless her, yes, I bless her, since I owe to her the joy of
finding myself in this tete-a-tete with you. See, dear child, how strange
is destiny, which is none other but the hand of God--for we must be blind
not to recognize in all these things the finger of divine Providence--it is
precisely the efforts made to put an obstacle between us, to prevent us, me
from fulfilling my duties of a pastor, you those of a Christian, which have
been the cause of our sweet intimacy. Your father forbids you to assist at
the Holy Sacrifice, and you come to me to ask for counsel. This servant
pursues us with her envious hate, and obliges us to take refuge like guilty
lovers beneath this dark arbour. Almighty God, thanks, thanks. But what a
strange situation! If anyone were to surprise us, the whole world would
accuse us, and yet what is surer than our conscience? You see plainly, dear
child, that we cannot separate thus, and that, whatever happens, we must
not remain strangers to one another.

Suzanne did not answer, and he, emboldened by this silence, pressed between
his the hand which she abandoned to him.

--I was so much accustomed to see you in our church that, when you ceased
to come there, it seemed to me that everything was in mourning. You were
the most charming and the chastest ornament of it. When I went up into the
pulpit, it was for you that I preached, and when I turned towards my flock
to bless them, it was you alone, sweet lamb, that I blessed in the name of
the Father. You understand now, why I shall go away enveloped in sorrow.

--But, sir, I do not deserve the honour which you do me, and I am unworthy
to occupy your thoughts in this way.

--Do not say that, for since I have seen you, you have become, without my
knowing how, the joy of my life, the source from which I draw my sweetest
and most holy pleasures. With the memory of you, I lull myself in the
Infinite. I see Heaven and the angels, I dream of Seraphims who resemble
you, who bear me on their diaphanous wings into the abode where all is joy
and love ... heavenly love, dear Suzanne, love like that of the angels for
the Virgin, the mother, eternally pure, of our sweet Saviour. You see, you
have no reasons to be offended with my dreams. You are not offended at
them, are you?

--Why should I be offended at them, said Suzanne softly. Can one be
offended with dreams?

--You remember that night, when, alone as we are now, I allowed myself in a
moment of pious transport, to bear to my lips your lovely hand. I have
often blushed at it.... I have blushed at it, because I thought that you
might have mistaken that respectful kiss. I kissed it as I should have
kissed the hem of a queen's robe, if that queen had been a saint, as I
should have kissed the feet of the Virgin, as Magdalena kissed those of
Christ, as I kiss it at this moment, dear, dear Suzanne.

And his lips rested on that little warm, quivering, feverish hand, and they
could no more be separated from it.

And, when at length he withdrew his mouth from it, he found that Suzanne
was so near to him that he heard the beatings of her heart.

--Leave me, said the imprudent girl, I entreat you, leave me. Oh, why are
you doing that?

And she tried with vain efforts to loosen herself from the embrace.

But he murmured softly:

--Leave you, oh, never; you shall be my companion in life as you are my
betrothed before the Eternal. Leave you, dear Suzanne, sweet mystic rose,
chosen vessel. See, there is something stronger than all the laws and all
the proprieties; it is a look from you. Why do you repulse me? I speak to
you as to the Virgin, and I kiss your knees. Chaste betrothed of the
Levite, let me espouse you before God.

She struggled with all her might, excited and maddened. But what can the
dove do in the talons of the hawk! Pressed to his breast by his vigorous
arms, it was in vain that she asked for pity. Hell might have opened, ere
he would have dropped his prey.

The struggle lasted several minutes, passionate, silent, ardent. Woman is
weak. Soon nothing was heard ... a sob ... and all died away in the dense
shade.

The startled cricket was silent, and it alone might have counted the sighs,
while in the neighbouring ditch the toad unwearied continued its love-song.

LXXIII.

AUDACES FORTUNA JUVAT.

"If you have done wrong, rebuke yourself sharply:
If you have done well, have satisfaction."

SAINT FRANCOIS DE SALLES (_Traite de l'Amour Divin_).

Marcel reached the parsonage without hindrance. Veronica had not yet
returned. He congratulated himself on that, and went up the stair-case
which led to his room with the light step of a happy man, locked his door,
and began to laugh like a madman.

Everything was safe; only there was down there in a corner of the village,
an honour lost.

--Is it really you, Marcel, is it really you, he said, who have just played
so great a game, and won the trick?

And he laughed, and he rubbed his hands, and he would willingly have danced
a wild saraband, if he had not been afraid of making a noise.

He listened in the next room where his uncle was in bed, and heard his loud
breathing.

--And the hag who is watching still beneath the limes! And the father who
is at Vic, and who, I doubt not, is snoring too. Come, all goes well! all
goes well!

But he stopped, ashamed of himself.

--Decidedly, he said to himself, I have become in a few days utterly bad. I
did not believe that it was possible to make such rapid progress in evil.
But nonsense. Is it evil? Has not God made wine to be drunk, flowers to be
plucked, and women to be loved? As to that weather-beaten old soldier, why
should I feel any pity on his account? He has been insolent, he has
detested me without my ever having done anything to him; I have loved his
daughter, his daughter has loved me, we are quits. I do not see why I
should distress myself about an adventure which would make so many people
happy, and for which all my brethren would have very quickly sold the
sacred Host and the holy Pyx besides. Ah, my dear uncle, good father
Ridoux, sleep, sleep in peace. How greatly am I your debtor for what you
have done for me, unwittingly and in spite of yourself; for, have you not,
by urging me to drink more than is my custom, in order to draw my secret
from me, given me the courage to undertake what I should never have dared
to dream of? _Audaces fortuna juvat_. Oh, Providence! Providence! She is
mine, the girl with the dark eyes is mine!

He heard a slight noise in the corridor.

--Good never comes alone, he continued, it always has evil for an escort.
Behind the sweet form of the angel, the grinning face of Satan. He is
coming upstairs and knocks at the door.

He had not lighted his lamp again, and he carefully refrained from
answering. He heard Veronica, trying to open the door and calling him in a
low voice. But he pretended to be deaf, and quietly got into bed, all the
while cursing his accomplice, and thinking of the clumsy trap into which he
had fallen like a fool, and of that thick and filthy spider's web where,
like an unwary and silly fly, he had daubed his wings.

What a difference between the chaste resistance of Suzanne, her tears and
her defeat, and the hideous advances of that old courtesan of the sacristy!

In place of that unclean creature, accomplished in crime, oozing hypocrisy
from every pore, he had an adorable, loving, charming mistress, such as he
had never dared to dream of. And all this alteration in a few hours!
because he had faced it out, because, excited by intoxication, he had taken
his courage in both hands, and because he had dared.

Oh, why had he not dared ere this? He would not be under the infamous yoke
of his servant. And how many priests, he said to himself, for want of a
little boldness, are devoted to a degrading concubinage with faded old
spinsters!

He was not without uneasiness. How could he see Suzanne again, situated as
he was between the jealous watching of the servant and the vigilance of the
father? And above all, how could he discard his uncle's entreaties, and
refuse an unexpected promotion, without arousing suspicion in high
quarters? For, more than ever, he wished to remain at Althausen and keep
the treasure which had just caused him so much anxiety. Yes, he saw them
accumulating on his head, swooping from all parts and under all aspects:
Veronica, Durand, Ridoux, the Bishop, the gossips, scandal, dishonour.

But, after all, what did it matter to him? The essential is that he was in
possession of Suzanne, that Suzanne was his, that he had the most charming
of mistresses, and he was indifferent to all the rest.

To see her again readily and without danger, to contrive other interviews,
and above all to act prudently, was what he must think of. The chief step
was taken, the rest would come of its own accord.

With Suzanne's consent all obstacles could be smoothed away, and clever is
he who succeeds in barring the way to two lovers who are determined to see
one another again.

The old counsellor Lamblin, who in his capacity of magistrate was aware of
that, said long ago:

"To safely guard a certain fleece,
In vain is all the watchman's care;
'Tis labour lost, if Beauty chance
To feel a strange sensation there."

It was on this indeed that Marcel calculated; and, smiling, he slept the
sleep of the just and dreamed the most rosy dreams.

LXXIV.

BEFORE MASS.

"You think that we ought not to
break in two this puppet which is
called Public Opinion, and sit upon it."

EUG. VERMEESCH (_L'Infamie humaine_).

A loud and well-known voice roused him unpleasantly from his dreams.

--Well, well, lazy-bones, still in bed when the sun is risen! You are not
thinking then of going away? You go to bed the first, and you get up the
last. I, a poor old invalid, am giving you an example of activity. Ah,
young people! young people! you are not equal to us. Come, come you can rub
your eyes to-morrow. Get up! Get up!

--How early you are, my dear uncle; my Mass has not yet rang.

--Have you no preparations to make for departure?

--For departure. Is it for to-day then?

--Do you wish to put it off to the Greek Kalends?

--To-day! repeated Marcel. I did not think really that it was so soon.

He dressed with the prudent delays of a man who says to himself: Let us
see, let us consider carefully what we must do.

--You don't look satisfied, resumed Ridoux; I bring you honour, fortune and
success, and you look sulky.

--Honour, fortune and success. Those are very fine words!

--It is with fine words that we do fine things, and one of them is, it
appears, to unmoor you from this place.

--The fact is, replied Marcel, that I have reflected to-night; and, after
well considering everything, I am perfectly well off, and have no desire to
go away to be worse off elsewhere.

--Hey! what do you say?

--My parish, humble as it is, is not so bad as you think. The people are
simple, kind and affable. I love peace and tranquillity, and I tell you,
between ourselves, that to be Cure in a large town has no attractions for
me.

--What stuff are you telling me now?

--Your town Cures are full of meanness and intrigues. The little I have
seen of them has disgusted me for ever. They spy one upon another. It is
who shall prejudice a fellow-priest in order to supplant him, or play the
zealot in Monseigneur's presence. When I was the Bishop's secretary, hardly
a day passed without my being witness to some shameful piece of tale
bearing. You must weigh all your words, cover your looks and have a care
even of your gestures. The slightest imprudence is immediately commented
on, exaggerated, embellished and retailed at head-quarters. The Vicar
General is the spy in general.

Marcel uttered the truth.

The position of the priest is a difficult one; he is surrounded with the
malevolence of enemies. But the priest's chief enemy, is the priest. As a
body, they march together, close, compact, disciplined, defending their
rights and the honour of the flag, resenting individually the insults
offered to all, and all rejoicing at the success of each. As individuals,
they spy on one another, are jealous of one another, fight, accuse and
judge one another; and they do all this hypocritically and by occult ways.
These hatreds and intrigues do not go outside the sanctuary domains. It is
a strange world which stirs within our world, a society within a society, a
state within the State. It is the behind-the-scenes of the temple, and it
stretches from the sacristy to the parsonage, from the parsonage to the
Palace. The profane world suspects nothing; it passes unconcernedly by
without dreaming that tempests are rumbling by its side. But, like the
revolutions raised by the eunuchs of the Seraglio, the intrigues of the
sacristy have been known to change the face of nations.

The priest is the spy upon the priest.

Misfortune to the cassock which unbuttons itself before another cassock.
The old priests are aware of this, and when they are among themselves, they
draw the folds of their black robe close, carefully hiding the least
tell-tale opening. But the young ones, simple and unreserved, often let
themselves be taken. They sound them and turn them up, and soon know what
they have underneath. In order to please Monseigneur and to deserve the
good graces of the Palace, there are few priests who resist the temptation
to sell their brother-priest, and are not ready to deny Jesus like Peter
the good apostle, the first and the model of the Roman pontiffs, three
times before cock-crow, that is to say before Monseigneur gets up.

--No, that will not do for me, added Marcel; if I am poor here, at least I
am free.

--Pshaw! You did not raise all those objections to me yesterday.

--I have reflected, my dear uncle, as I have had the honour of telling you.

--Your reflections are fine. Well, whether you have reflected or not, is
all the same to me. I have taken it into my head that you should go, and
you shall go. I will make you happy in spite of yourself, for I have
reflected also, and more than ever I said to myself that you most go. Do
you want me to enumerate the reasons?

--The same as yesterday I have no doubt.

--No, there is one more, and that is worth all the rest.

--I know what you are going to say to me, but I have my answer all ready.
Speak.

--What! at your age! in your position! Are you not ashamed to fall into
errors which would scarcely be pardonable in a seminarist? Ah! you want the
dots on the i's, well I am going to place them.

--Place them, uncle, place them.

--Had you not enough girls then in the village without going to lay a claim
on the one yonder? On a well-educated young lady, whose fall will cause a
scandal, the daughter of an enemy, of a Voltairian, almost a radical, a
gaol-bird in fine who will be happy to seize the occasion to raise a
terrible outcry, and to proclaim your conduct to the four quarters of the
horizon. You see I know all.

--And who has informed you so correctly?

--I know all, I tell you. You can therefore keep your temper. Will you act
like the Cure of Larriques?

--What is there in common between the Cure of Larriques and me?

--You ought to humble yourself before God. If you wanted a young girl, if
your immoderate appetites were not satisfied with what you had under your
nose, is there no cautious person in the village who would have been proud
and happy to be of service to you, and whom you could have married to some
clodhopper or to some Chrysostom ready for the opportunity; whilst that
one, whom will you give her to? There will be an uproar, I tell you, and
that will be abomination.

--Really, uncle, said Marcel pale with anger, if anyone heard us, would
they believe that they were listening to the conversation of two
ecclesiastics? you talk of these shameful things as if you were talking of
the Gospel. In fact, I do not know which to be the more astonished at, the
freedom of your talk or the sad opinion which you have of me. But I see
whence all this emanates. Do you take me then for a bad priest?

--What is that? Do you take me for a simpleton? for one of Moliere's
uncles?... Enough of playing a farce. You do not take me in, my good
fellow. I told you yesterday that you were cleverer than I; you did not see
then that I was joking? Your mask is still too transparent. One sees the
tears behind the grinning face. No tragic aim. Come down from this stage on
which you strut in such a ridiculous manner, and let us talk seriously like
plain citizens.

--Or bad priests!

--Be silent. The bad priests, that is to say the clumsy priests, which is
all the same, are in your cassock; and the clumsy ones are those who allow
themselves to be caught. You have been caught, my son; and caught by whom?
by your cook. Ha! Ha!

--Are you not ashamed to listen to the tale-bearing and calumny of that
horrible woman?

--Horrible! Be quiet, you are blind. It is your conduct which is horrible.
To concoct such intrigues!

--I concoct no intrigue. And when that does occur; when my feelings of
respect, of esteem, of friendship for a young person endowed with virtues
and graces, change into a sweeter feeling: at all events, if my position
compels me to conceal my inclinations from the world, I shall have no need
to blush for them when face to face with myself, that is to say: with my
dignity as a man. While your allusions, your instigation to certain
intimacies, which in order to be more closely hidden are only the more
abominable and degrading, inspire me only with disgust.

--Oh, Holy Spirit, enlighten him. He is wandering, he is a triple fool.
When I suspected, when I discovered, when I saw that you were entering on a
perilous path, I gave you yesterday the advice which a priest of my age has
the right to give to one of yours, especially when he is, as I am,
regardful of his future.

--I am as regardful of it as you.

--Cease your idle words. Have you decided to go?

--No, uncle, I am well off here, and I stay here.

--Well off! Mouldy in your vices and obscurity. Wallowing, like Job, on
your dung-heap. Roll yourself in your filth: for my part I know what course
remains for me to take.

--You will do what you think proper.

--I am sure of it. But you, instead of having the excellent cure which was
destined for you, you shall have one lower still than this where you can
wallow at your ease in your idleness, your nothingness and your vices, for,
I swear to you by my blessed patron, that if I go away without you, you
shall not remain here for forty-eight hours. I will have you recalled by
the Bishop. You laugh. You know me all the same; you know when I say _yes_
it is _yes_. A word is enough for Monseigneur, you know. _Magister dixit_.

Marcel knew the character of the old Cure well enough to know that he was
capable of keeping his word. Fearing to irritate him more by his obstinacy,
he thought it better to appear to yield.

--It is time for Mass, he said. We will talk about that again.

--Go, my son, and pray to the Holy Spirit.

LXXV.

DURING MASS.

"I have my rights of love and portion of the sun;
Let us together flee ..."

A. DE VIGNY (_La Prison_).

It will easily be credited that Marcel's thoughts had little in common with
the Holy Eucharist. He would have been a very ungrateful lover, if his
whole soul had not flown towards Suzanne. This was then his chief
preoccupation, while he murmured the long _Credo_, partook of Christ, and
recited his prayers.

What should he decide? that was his second. Should he go away? That meant
fortune, reconciliation with the Bishop, putting his foot in the stirrup of
honours. Young, intelligent, learned, what was there to stop him?

But that meant separation from Suzanne: saying farewell to all those divine
delights which he had just tasted. He had hardly time to moisten his
parched lips in the cup, before the cup was shattered. He was truly in
love, for he should have said to himself: "There are other cups." But for
him there was but one. Uncle Ridoux, the Bishop and greatness might go to
the devil. The promised cure and the episcopal mitre might go to the devil
too. Did he not possess the most precious of treasures, the most enviable
blessing, the supplement and complement of everything, the ambition of
every young man, the desire of every old man, of every man who has a heart:
a young, lovely, modest, loving, intelligent and adored mistress. But what
might not be the result of that love? What drama, what tragedy, and perhaps
what ludicrous comedy, in which he, the priest, would play the odious and
ridiculous character?

This love, which plunged him into an ocean of delights, would it not plunge
him also into an abyss of misfortunes?

Could it proceed for long without being known and remarked?

Scandal, shame, and death perhaps, a terrible trinity, were they waiting
not at his door?

For the viper which harboured at his hearth, had its piercing glassy eye
fixed unweariedly on him; and how could he crush the viper?

What could he do? What could he venture? He remembered hearing of priests
who had fled away with young girls whom they had seduced, and he thought
for an instant that he would carry off Suzanne and fly.

Willingly would he have left behind him his honour and his reputation,
willingly would he have torn his priestly robe on the sharp points of
infamy and scandal, willingly would he have quitted for ever that cursed
parsonage where shame and humiliation, vice and remorse were henceforth
installed; but Suzanne, would she follow him?

Then, had he well weighed the mortifications which await the apostate
priest!

To be nameless in society, with no future, repulsed, despised, scoffed at
by all!

Should he, like the Pere Hyacinth, go and found a free church in some
corner of the republic, and rove through Europe, like him, to confer about
morality, the rights of women and virtue?

Would not poverty come and knock at his door? Poverty with a beloved wife!
It would appear a hideous and terrifying spectre, chilling in its livid
approach and in its kisses of love.

To struggle against these obstacles he would need high energy and high
courage, and he felt that courage and energy were lacking in him, the
miserable coward, who had shamefully succumbed to the clumsy artifices of a
lascivious woman, who had allowed the first fruits of his virginity and his
youth to be lost in shameful debauch; while close by there was an adorable
maiden whose heart was beating in unison with his own.

Thus did his reflection lead him till the end of the Gospel, and when he
said the _Deo gratias_ he had as yet decided nothing.

LXXVI.

AWAKENING.

"We never permit with impunity
the mind to analyze the liberty to
indulge in certain loves; once begin
to reflect on those deep and troublesome
matters which are called _passion_ and
_duty_, the soul which naturally delights
in the investigation of every truth, is
unable to stop in its exploration."

ERNEST FRYDEAU (_La Comtesse de Chalis_).

When Marcel had gone away, Suzanne, when she had quietly shut the
street-door, by which she had gone out, went upstairs to her room and sat
down on the side of her bed.

She asked herself if she had not just been the sport of an hallucination,
if it was really true that a man had gone out of the house, who had held
her in his arms, to whom she had yielded herself.

Everything had happened so rapidly, that she had had no time to think, to
reflect, to say to herself: "What does he want with me?" no time even to
recover herself.

A kiss, a violent emotion, a transient indignation, a struggle for a few
seconds, a sharp pain, and that was all; the crime was consummated, she had
lost her honour, and that was love!

She wished not to believe it, but her disordered corsage, her dishevelled
hair upon her bare shoulders, her crumpled dressing-gown, and more than all
that, the violent leaping of her heart, told her that she was not dreaming.

He was gone, the priest; he had fled away into the night, happy and light
of heart, leaving her alone with her shame, and the ulcer of remorse in her
soul.

And then big tears rolled down her cheeks and fell upon her breasts, still
burning with his feverish caresses. "It is all over! it is all over. Where
is my virginity?"

Weep, poor girl, weep, for that virginity is already far away, and nothing,
it is said, flees faster than the illusion which departs, if it be not a
virginity which flies away.

And a vague terror was mingled with her remorse.

The first apprehension which strikes brutally against the edifice of
illusions of the woman who has committed a fault, is the anxiety regarding
the opinion of the man who has incited her to that fault; I am speaking, be
it understood, of one in whom there remains the feeling of modesty, without
which she is not a woman, but an unclean female.

When she awakes from her short delirium, she says to herself:

--What will he think of me? What will he believe? Will he not despise me?

And she has good grounds for apprehension; for often (I believe I have said
so already) the contempt of her accomplice is all that remains to her.

And then, what man is there who, after having at length possessed
_illegitimately_ the wife or the maiden so long pursued and desired, does
not say to himself in the morning, when his fever is dissipated, when the
bandage which hitherto has covered the eyes of love _suppliant_, is unbound
from the eyes of love _satisfied_, when the _unknown_ which has so many
charms, has become the _known_ that we despise, when of the rosy, inflated
illusion there remains but a yellow skeleton: "She has given herself to me
trustingly and artlessly; but might she not have given herself with equal
facility to another, if I had not been there? for in fact ... what
devil...?"

A strange question, but one which unavoidably takes up its abode in the
heart, and waits to come forth and be present one day on the lips, at the
time when Satiety gives the last kick to the last house of cards erected by
Pleasure.

And it is thus that after doing everything to draw a woman into our own
fall, we are discontented with her for her sacrifice and for her love.

For there comes a moment when the _angel_ for whom one would have given
one's life, the _divinity_ for whom one would have sacrificed country,
family, fortune, future, is no more than a common mistress, ranked in the
ordinary lot with the rest, and for whom one would hesitate to spend
half-a-sovereign.

Have you not chanced sometimes to follow with an envious eye, on some fresh
morning in spring or on a lovely autumn evening, the solitary walk of a
loving couple? They go slowly, hand in hand, avoiding notice, selecting the
shady and secret paths, or the darkest walks in the woods. He is handsome,
young and strong; she is pretty and charming, pale with emotion, or
blushing with modesty. What things they murmur as they lean one towards
another, what sweet projects of an endless future, what oaths which ought
to be eternal, sworn untiringly, lip on lip.

"One of those noble loves which have no end."

Happy egotists. They think but of themselves; all, except themselves, is
insupportable to them, all but themselves wearies and weighs upon them. The
universe is themselves, life is the present which glides along, and in
order to delay the present and enjoy it at their ease, they have no scruple
in mortgaging the future. And they go on, listening to the divine harmony,
the mysterious poem which sings in their own heart, of youth and love.

You have envied them; who would not envy them? It is happiness which passes
by. Make way respectfully. What! you smiled sorrowfully! Ah, it is because
like me, you have seen behind these poor trustful children, following them
as the _insultores_ used to follow the triumphal chariot of old, a demon
with sinister countenance who with his brutal hands will soon roughly tear
the veil woven of fancies; the Reality, who is there with his rags, getting
ready to cast them upon their bright tinsels of gauze and spangles.

Wait a few years, a few months, perhaps only a few weeks. What has become
of those handsome lovers so tenderly entwined? They swore mouth to mouth an
endless love. Where are they? Where are their loves?

As well would it be worth to ask where are the leaves of autumn which the
evening breeze carried away last year.

"But where are the snows of yester-year?"

What! already, it is finished! And yet he had sworn to love her always.
Yes, but she also had sworn to be always amiable. Which of the two first
forfeited the oath?

There has been then a tragedy, a drama, despair, tears? Nonsense! Those who
had sworn to die one for the other, one fine day parted as strangers.

The charming young girl whom you saw passing by, proud and radiant on the
arm of that artless stripling, see, here she comes, a little weary, a
little faded, but still charming, on the arm of that cynical Bohemian.

That poetical school-girl, who smiled and scattered daisies on the head of
her lover, as he knelt before her, has become the adored wife of a dull
tallow-chandler; and the other one, who took the ivy for her emblem, and
who said to her sweetheart: "I cling till death!" has clung to and
separated from half-a-dozen others without dying, and has finished by
fastening herself to a rheumatical old churchwarden, peevish but
substantial.

And the lover? He is no better: he has loved twenty since; the deep sea of
oblivion has passed between them, and among so many vanished mistresses,
can he precisely remember her name?

Suzanne did not say all this to herself, she was ignorant of the whirlpools
of life, but she felt instinctively that she was about to be precipated
into an abyss.

She was not perverse, she was merely frivolous and coquettish, but she had
received a vicious education. Her imagination only had been corrupted, her
heart had remained till then untainted. It was a good ear of corn which
somehow or another had made its way into the field of tares.

She reproached herself bitterly therefore for the shameful facility with
which she had yielded herself to the priest, and she sought for an excuse
to try and palliate her fault in her own eyes.

But she was unable to discover any genuine excuses. A young girl is
pardoned for yielding herself to her lover in a moment of forgetfulness and
excitement, because she hopes that marriage will atone for her fault.

But what had she to claim? What could she expect from this Cure?

Again a young wife is pardoned for deceiving an old husband, or a husband
who is worthless, debauched and brutal, and for seeking a friend abroad
whom she cannot find at her fire-side; but she? Whom had she deceived? Her
father, who though severe, adored her. Whom had she dishonoured? The white
hairs of that worthy, brave old man.

She saw clearly that she could find no excuse, and she was compelled to
confess that she ought to feel ashamed of herself; but what affected her
most was the thought that her lover, the priest, must have been extremely
surprised at his victory himself, and that if he too were to attempt to
find an excuse for her conduct, he could discover none either. But in
proportion as she felt astonished at her shame, as she saw into what a
corner she had been driven, as she dreaded the man's scorn, for whom she
had fallen so low, did she feel her love grow greater.

LXXVII.

CONSOLATIONS.

"Every fault finds its excuse in
itself. This is the sophistry in which
we are richest. The struggle of good
and evil is serious, and really painful,
only in the case of a man who has
been brought up in a position where
actions, deeds and thoughts have had
the power of self-examination."

EMILE LECLERCQ (_Une fille du peuple_).

Before her fault, or if you prefer it, her fall, this was but the odd
caprice of an ardent, amorous, passionate young girl whose feelings are
exhilarated and excited by a licentious imagination, continually nourished
by the senseless reading of the adventures of heroes, who have existed
nowhere but in the brain of novelists.

Therefore, eager for the unknown, she hastens to lay hold of the first
rascal who comes forward, having a little self-assurance, talkativeness and
good looks, and who will be for one day the ideal she has dreamed of, if he
knows how to brazen it out.

"Every woman is at heart a rake," said the great poet Alexander Pope.

And as for those who, in spite of the heat of an ungovernable temperament,
remain virtuous and chaste, we must scarcely be pleased at them on that
account.

It is simply because they have not had the opportunity to sin. The
opportunity, which makes the thief, is also the touchstone of women's
virtue. Therefore, when this blessed opportunity presents itself, although
it is said to be bald, they well know how to find other hairs on it by
which they seize and do not let it go again.

Certainly there are exceptions, and I am far from saying _Ab una disce
omnes_.

You, Madame, for instance, who read me, I am convinced that you are not in
that category of women of whom the Englishman Pope made this wicked remark.

Suzanne felt now possessed by a wild infatuation for the man to whom she
had yielded herself almost without love; and do not young girls frequently
yield themselves in this manner? She felt herself attracted towards him by
the purely physical and magnetic phenomenon which impels the female towards
the male; for we shall try in vain and talk in vain, raise ourselves on our
dwarfish heels, talk of the ethereal essence of our soul and the
quintessence of our feelings, idealize woman and deify love, there always
comes a moment when we become like the brute, and when the passion of
seraphims cannot be distinguished in anything from that of man.

........who goes by night
In some street obscure, to a lodging low and dark.

Suzanne certainly had not taken note of her impressions.

Attracted towards Marcel by his sympathetic beauty, by his sweet and
unctuous voice, and especially by the vague sorrow displayed on his
countenance, perhaps still more by the opposition and slanders of her
father, she had allowed herself to be won, before she know where she was
going.

She was far from any carnal thought, and she would have been considerably
surprised if anyone had told her that the priest loved her otherwise than
as a sister is loved.

But that is not what we men understand by love.

The Werthers who regard their mistress as a sacred divinity whom we ought
to touch with trembling, are rare. They are not met again after eighteen.
Marcel was more than eighteen; therefore he had found his desires become
more inflamed than ever in the presence of his mistress.

If he had been hesitating and timid, like Charlotte's lover, I do not doubt
that she would have found time to gather within herself the force necessary
to resist him, but she felt herself mastered before even she had recovered
from her terror and confusion.

I do not wish to try and excuse her, but she repented; and how far more
worthy of respect is the repentance of certain fallen women than the
haughty virtue of certain others.

And, perceiving that she found no excuse for her fault, Suzanne tried to
deceive herself by exalting above measure the worth of the man who had
ruined her.

--He is no ordinary man after all, she said to herself, and we do not love
the man we wish. It does honour to the heart to repose its love rightly. It
is natural then that I should say, that I should confess to myself, since I
cannot confess it to others. Yes, I love him; who would not love him? Yes,
I have given myself to him; but who in my place would have had the power to
resist him?

Is it not a fact that everybody here loves him? Have I not observed the
looks of all these village girls fixed on him with eager desire? It would
have been easy for him to make his choice among the prettiest, but he has
seen me only.

He is a priest, but what does that matter? is he not a man? And this man as
handsome as a god, I feel that I love him much more than a lover ought to
be loved; for I love not only for the happiness of loving him and being
loved by him, but also from pride, because I am proud of him, because I
admire his fine and noble nature, so open, so sweet, so charming, so
audacious, which, led astray into this false and thankless position, must
find itself so unhappy. Then, I was so affected the first time that my look
met his, I felt that all my being was his, but especially my inward
feelings, my spirit, my soul, and my sentiments.

And in this way there is a great difference in man and in woman in their
love.

In man, possession most frequently causes passion to disappear; the reality
kills the ideal; the awakening, the dream; in woman on the other hand, it
nearly always enhances, for the first time at any rate, the fascination of
being loved, for she attaches herself to him in proportion to the trouble,
the shame, the sacrifice.

For with man, love is but an episode, while with woman it is her whole
life.

LXXVIII.

FALSE ALARM.

"She's there, say'st thou? What, can that be the maid
Whose pure, fresh face attracted me but now,
When I beheld her in her home; alas,
And can the flower so quickly fade?"...

DELPHINE GAY.

Suzanne, who had passed a sleepless night, was fast asleep in the morning,
when her father burst into her room like a hurricane.

She woke with a start, all pale and trembling; she tried nevertheless to
assume the most innocent and the calmest air.

--What is the matter, papa?

But Durand did not answer. He surveyed the room with a scrutinizing eye,
apparently, interrogating the furniture and the walls, as if he were asking
them if they had not been witnesses of some unusual event.

But if walls at times have eyes and ears, they have no tongue; they cannot
relate the things they have seen. Then he turned towards his daughter in
such a singular way that Suzanne dropped her eyes and felt she was going to
faint.

--Suzanne, he demanded of her abruptly, did you hear anything in the night?

--I! she said with the most profound astonishment.

--Yes, you, Suzanne. It seems to me that I am speaking to you. Did you hear
anything in the night?

She thought she saw at first that her father knew nothing, and, in spite of
herself, a long sigh of relief escaped her breast; therefore she replied
with the most natural air in the world:

--What do you mean that I have heard, father?

--Something has happened, my daughter, this very night, in the garden, said
Durand, scanning his words, something extraordinary.

This time Suzanne was terrified.

Nevertheless she collected all her courage; fully determined to lie to the
last extremity.

--Well?

--Well, father? you puzzle me.

And leaning her pretty pale head on her plump arm, she looked at her father
with perfect assurance.

She was charming thus. Her black hair, long and curling, partly covered her
round, polished shoulders, and her velvety eye was frankly fixed on
Durand's.

The old soldier was moved; he looked at his daughter with admiration, and
reproached himself doubtlessly for his wrongful suspicions, for he said
gently:

--Do not lie to me, Suzanne, and answer my questions frankly. I know very
well that you are not guilty, that you cannot be guilty, that you have
nothing to reproach yourself with; you quite see then that I am not angry.
But sometimes young girls allow themselves to be led into acts of
thoughtlessness which they believe to be of no consequence, and which yet
have a gravity which they do not foresee. Last night a man entered the
garden.

--The garden? said Suzanne, alarmed afresh, and ever feeling the fixed and
scrutinizing look dwelling upon her. No doubt, it is a thief. No, father,
no, I have heard nothing.

--I have several reasons for believing that it is not a thief; thieves take
more precautions; this one walked heavily in my asparagus-bed.

--Ah, what a pity! In the asparagus-bed! He has crushed some, no doubt...

--Yes, in the asparagus-bed. The mark of his feet is distinctly visible.

Suzanne could contain herself no longer. Her self-possession deserted her,
and she felt that her strength was going also. She believed that her father
knew all, she saw herself lost, and, to conceal her shame and hide her
terror, she buried herself under the bed-clothes, sobbing, and saying:

--Ah, papa! Ah, papa!

The old soldier mistook her terror, her despair and her tears.

--Come, he cried, confound it, Suzanne, are you mad? Don't cry like this,
little girl, don't cry like this, like a fool: I only wanted to know if you
had heard anything.

--No, father, sobbed Suzanne under her bed-clothes.

--You did not hear him? Well! very good. That is all, confound it. Another
time we will keep our eyes open, that is all.

But the shock had been too great, and Suzanne continued to utter sobs; she
decided, however, to show her face all bathed in tears, and said to her
father in a reproachful tone:

--And besides I did not know what you meant with your night-robber and your
asparagus-bed; I was fast asleep, and you woke me up with a start to tell
me that.

--True, I have been rather abrupt, I was wrong; well, don't let us talk
about it any more, hang it.

But Suzanne, having recovered herself, wanted to enjoy her triumph to the
end.

--I don't know what you could have meant, she added still in tears, by
coming and telling me in an angry tone that a man had been walking in your
asparagus, as if it were my fault.

--It is true nevertheless, Suzanne. It is quite plain. I arrived this
morning quite dusty from my journey, and went down into the garden very
quietly as I usually do, thinking of nothing, when all at once I stopped.
What did I behold? ... footsteps, child, a man's footsteps, right in the
middle of my borders. "Hang it," I cried, "here is a blackguard who makes
himself at home." I followed their track, which led me to the wall of the
house and right up to the stair-case. That was rather bad, you know. There
was still some fresh soil on the steps. Good Heavens! I asked myself then
what it meant, and I came to you to learn.

--To me, father. But I know no more about it than you do. Why do you
suppose that I know more about it than you?

Durand had great confidence in his daughter: he knew her to be giddy and
frivolous, but he did not suppose for an instant her giddiness and
frivolity amounted to the forgetfulness of duty.

Many fathers in this manner allow themselves to be deceived by their
children with the same blindness and meekness as foolish husbands are
deceived by their wives, till the day, when the bandage which covered their
eyes, falls at length, and they discover to their amazement that the
_cherub_ which they had brought up with so much care and love, and whose
long roll of good qualities, talents and virtues they loved to recount
before strangers, is nothing but a little being saturated with vice and
hide-bound in overweening vanity.

He embraced her with a father's tender and affectionate look, and for some
time gazed upon Suzanne's clear eyes:

--No, he said to himself, there can be no vice in this young soul; is not
this calm brow and these pure eyes the evidence of the purity of her soul?

And, taking one of her hands in his, he remained near her bed and said to
her gently:

--It is a fact, I say again, my child, that I know young people sometimes,
without thinking or intending any evil, commit imprudent acts, which are
nothing at first, but which often have dangerous consequences. Sometimes
carelessly they fasten their eyes on a young man whom they meet at church,
at a ball, during a walk, or no matter where ... well! that is enough for
him to construe the look as an advance which is made to him, or at least as
an encouragement, and to believe himself authorized then to undertake some
enterprise. Good Heavens, all seductions begin in the same way. We men are
for the most part very infatuated with ourselves. I, my dearest child, can
make that confession without any shame, for I have long since passed the
age of self-conceit, although we still come across some old rascals who
want to gobble up chickens, and forget that they have lost their teeth. Men
are very foolish, young men particularly, and willingly imagine that all
the ladies are dying of love for their little persons. A young woman passes
by, and happens to look at them, as one looks at a dog or a pig; good, they
say directly, "Stop, stop, that woman wants me." And immediately they try
the knot of their tie, arrange their collar, and, assuming a triumphant
air, begin to follow her and consider themselves authorized to address her
impertinently.

--Ah, ah, said Suzanne, I can see that now, father. There were some young
fellows who used to follow us always at school, with their moustaches well
waxed and a fine parting in their hair behind. Heavens, how they have
amused us.

--At other times, said Durand, a young girl is at her window. A gentleman,
passing by, all at once lifts his nose. The young girl sees him, their eyes
meet: "Eh, eh," says the gentleman, "there is a little thing who is rather
nice; 'pon my word, she is not bad, not bad at all, and I believe that it
would not be difficult ... the devil, it would be charming! What a look she
gave me! let us have a try." And the rogue commences to walk up and down
under the windows, doing all he can to compromise the girl.

And all these young fellows, my dear, are like that; they have the most
deplorable opinion of women, that one would say that their mothers had all
been very easy-going ladies. And now, that is enough.

Together they passed in minute review all the young village _beaux_, but
Durand's suspicion did not rest on any.

LXXIX

IN THE _DILIGENCE_

"Hydras and apes. Triboulet puts
on the mitre, and Bobeche the crown,
Crispin plays Lycurgus, and Pasquin
parades as Solon. Scapin is heard
calling himself Sire, Mascarillo is My
Lord ... Cheeks made for slaps, are
titles for honours. The more they
are branded on the shoulder, the more
they are bedisened on the back.
Trestallion is radiant, and Pancrace
resplendent."

CAMILLE LEMONNIERE (_Paris-Berlin_).

During this time, the _diligence_ for Nancy was carrying away Marcel and
Ridoux at full trot. Marcel had appeared to yield to his uncle's
exhortations, and said to himself: "Let us go; that does not bind me to
anything. In a couple of days at the latest, I shall be on my way back;"
and this had made the worthy Ridoux quite happy.

They were alone in the _coupe_, and could converse at their ease.

--Look at this lovely country, that valley, those little hills, and away
there the large woods, and do you not think that I shall feel some regret
at leaving this part?

--And that little white house at the foot of the hill?... Is it there?

--Ah! so Veronica has pointed it out to you.

--Reluctantly, my son. But I wanted to know all. She is a cautious and
trustworthy person who is entirely devoted to you.

--Not a word more about that cautious woman, uncle, I pray.

--Let us rather talk about your promotion.

--My promotion. I assure you, uncle, that I am no longer ambitious.

--What are you saying there? You are no longer ambitious! You are going
perhaps to make me believe that you are happy in your shell. Come, rouse
yourself. Has a moral torpor already seized you? You are no longer
ambitious. Well, I will be so for you, and I intend, yes, I intend, do you
hear, that you should make your way. What happiness for a poor old man,
like me, when I hear them say: "Monsieur Ridoux, I have just seen your
nephew, Monseigneur Marcel, go by." I shall answer then: "It is I, however,
who have made him, who have formed him, his Right-Reverence." You will give
me your patronage, will you not?

--Dear uncle, said Marcel softened, pressing the old Cure's hands, you
still have those ideas then, you always think then that I shall become a
Bishop?

--What? yes I think so; I do more than that, I am sure of it. Are you not
of the stuff of which they make them? Why should not you become one as well
as another?

--A bishopric is not for the first-comer.

--Don't worry me. Are you the first-comer? See, my dear fellow, you really
must get this into your head, that in order to succeed in our profession,
evangelical virtues are more detrimental than useful, and that there are
two things indispensable: first to have a good outside show, to stir
yourself and to know how to intrigue to the utmost. As for talent, that is
an accessory which can do no harm, but after all, it is merely an
accessory. Now, you have a good outside show; you have more talent than is
necessary, there is only one thing in which you are faulty, you are not
sufficiently intriguing. Well, I will be so for you, and I will stir myself
up for you. Success wholly lies in that.

You say that a bishopric is not for the first-comer. You make me laugh.
Look at ours, Monseigneur Collard; what transcendant genius does he
possess? Is not his morality somewhat elastic, and his virtues very
doubtful? But he has a magnificent head, and that from all time has pleased
the world in general and the women in particular. Ah, the women, my dear
friend, the women! you do not know what a weight they are in the scales of
our destinies, and in the choice of our superiors. I know something about
it, and if I had had a smaller nose and a better-made mouth, I should not
be now Cure of St. Nicholas. But I am ugly and they despise me. How many I
know who owe their cross and their mitre to the way in which they say in
the pulpit, "my sisters", and to the amiable manner in which they receive
the confessions of influential sheep.

--You confess, uncle, that it is abominable.

--I confess that it is in human nature, that is all I confess. Is it not
logical to befriend people whose appearance pleases you, rather than those
whose face is disagreeable to you? Good Heavens, it has always been the
case since the commencement of the world. All that you could say on the
subject would not make the slightest change. Let us therefore profit by our
advantages when we have advantages, and leave fruitless jeremiads to the
foolish and envious.

--Birth also counts for much in our fortune.

--Often, but not always. Look at Collard again, who is the son of a
journeyman baker.

--He has that in common with Pope Benedict XII.

--Yes, but he has that only. Therefore, since it is neither his birth, nor
his genius, nor his virtues which have helped him on, it is then something
else.

--In fact, ecclesiastical history abounds in similar instances. Men,
starting from the most humble condition, have attained the supreme dignity:
Benedict XI had tended sheep, the great Sixtus V was a swineherd, Urban VI
was the son of a cobbler, Alexander V had been a beggar.

--And a host of others of the same feather. Well, that ought to encourage
you who are the son neither of a cobbler, or of a pig-seller.

--Would to heaven that I were a cobbler or a shepherd myself; I could have
married according to my taste and have become the worthy father of a
family, an honest artisan rather than a bad Cure.

--Yes, but Mademoiselle Durand would not have wanted you.

--Oh, uncle, do not speak of that young person with whom you are not
acquainted, and regarding whom you are strangely mistaken, for you see her
through the dirty spectacles of my servant. You want to take me away on her
account, but are there not young persons everywhere? You know, as well as
I, to what dangers young priests are exposed; shall I be safe from those
dangers by going away? No. And since it is agreed between us that, no more
than others, can we avoid certain necessities of nature....

-Alas, alas, human infirmity!

Omnia vincit amor, et nos cadamus amori.

--Then....

--Then, we choose our company; for instance, that pretty girl there.

And Ridoux leant his head out of the door. They had just reached Vic, where
they changed horses.

LXXX.

AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE.

"Methinks Queen Mab upon your cheek
Doth blend the tints of cream and rose.
And lends the pearls which deck her hat
And rubies too from off her gown,
To be your own fit ornament."

E. DARIO (_Strophes_).

Before the _Hotel des Messageries_, a young girl, modestly dressed, was
waiting for the _diligence_, with an old band-box in her hand.

Marcel, who had also put his head out of the coach-door, looked at her with
surprise. He had seen this girl somewhere. Yes, he remembered her. He had
seen that charming countenance, he had already admired that fair hair and
those blue eyes. But the face had grown pale; the cheeks had lost their
freshness with the sun-burn, and the bosom its opulence. Marcel thought her
prettier and more delicate like this. For it was really she, the
mountebank's daughter, whom he had seen a few weeks before, dancing in the
market-place of Althausen.

By what chance was she still in the neighbourhood, this travelling swallow?

Was the house on wheels then in the vicinity with its two broken-winded
horses, and the clown with the cracked voice, and the big woman with the
red face, and the thin and hungry little children?

He looked if he could not see them all, but he saw only the pretty fair
girl, who had recognized him also, and made him a friendly bow.

--Mademoiselle Zulma! called the conductor.

--It is I, she said.

--This way, this way, my little dear, said the conductor with a
good-natured familiarity which disgusted Marcel; there is no room inside.
And, to the priest's great delight, he opened the coupe.

The young girl seemed surprised, for she hesitated a little and said:

--What, in the coupe?

--Yes, my imp of Satan, in the coupe, and in good hands too. Do you
complain? If you are not converted yet, here are two gentlemen who will
undertake your conversion.

--Well, I ask for nothing better, she answered laughing; and addressing
herself to Marcel: Will you take my band-box for me?

He took the box, and at the same time offered his hand to help her to get
up. She leant on it prettily; and bowing to him, and to Ridoux also, she
sat down beside Marcel.

--You have come back then into the country, Mademoiselle.

--I have not left it, sir; I have been ill. I am coming out of the
hospital.

--Oh, really. And what has been the matter with you?

--'Pon my word, I don't know. I caught a chill after an evening
performance, and when I woke up the next morning, I could not move arm or
leg. My father was obliged to leave me here in the hospital. They have been
very kind to me, and an old gentleman has even paid my coach-fare. Oh,
there are good people everywhere.

--And you are going to Nancy?

--To Nancy first, then I shall rejoin the company, which ought to be at
Epinal.

Ridoux was listening in his corner.

--You know this young person then? he said.

--I know her through having seen her once at Althausen.

--Twice, the young girl corrected him: when I arrived and when I went away.
You remember, we were both of us at our window?

Marcel remembered it very well; he remembered still better the fantastic
sight in the market-place, and the lascivious dance, and the theatrical
low-cut dress of the mountebank, which had awakened all at once the passion
of his feelings. But as he was afraid of allowing the young girl to suspect
that the memory of her had left too deep a mark upon him, he answered.

--I don't remember.

Meanwhile, a throng of beggars besieged the _diligence_; allured by the
sight of the two cassocks, they recited all at the same time _litanies_,
_paters_ and _aves_ in undefinable accents and in lamentable voices.
Ridoux and Marcel with much ostentation distributed a few _sous_ among the
most bare-faced and importunate, that is to say among the most expert
beggars and consequently those who least deserved attention, then they
threw themselves back into the carriage and shut their ears.

--I have nothing more, said Ridoux, I have nothing more; go and work, you
set of idlers.

--Poor things, murmured the player; no doubt, among the number there are
some who cannot work.

--There, said Ridoux, is where the old order of things is ever to be
lamented. Formerly there were convents which fed all the beggars, while now
these starving creatures will soon eat us all up. Ah, it makes the heart
bleed to see such misery.

And he took a pinch of snuff.

A poor woman, pale and sickly, with a child on her arm, kept timidly behind
the greedy crowd. Zulma perceived her, and made her a sign. Then, taking a
pie out of her hat-box, she cut it into two and gave her one half.

--You are giving away your breakfast, said Marcel.

--Yes, sir, it is a present from the kind Sisters. I should have eaten it
yesterday, but I preferred to keep it for to-day; you see I have done a
good action, she added laughing.

--I see that the Sisters were very kind to you.

--Yes, sir, they have converted me, they made me confess and take the
Communion, which I had not done for a long time.

--That is well, said Ridoux.

The _diligence_ had started again. A tiny child, emaciated, in rags and
with bare feet was running, cap in hand.

He was quite out of breath, and with a little panting, plaintive voice, he
cried:

--Charity, kind Monsieur le Cure; charity, if you please.

--Go away, said Ridoux, go away, little rascal.

-My mother is very ill, said the little one: there is no bread at home.

--Wait, wait, I am going to point you out to the _gendarmes_.

The child stopped short, and sadly put on his cap again.

--Poor little fellow, said the dancer.

And she threw him the other half of the pie.

Ridoux thought he saw an offensive meaning in this quite spontaneous
action, for he cried angrily:

--Would you tell us then, Mademoiselle, that you have taken the Communion?
No doubt it was with that piece of meat.

--Why, sir?

--In what religion have you been brought up?

--In the Catholic religion.

--Is it possible? Really! you are a Catholic and you keep some pie for your
meals on a fast-day, on a Friday! A Friday! he repeated with an accent of
the deepest indignation: has not your Cure then taught that it is forbidden
to eat meat the day on which Our Lord Jesus Christ died to redeem you from
your sins?

--I know it, answered the young girl colouring, but we are not able to
attend to religion much. We do not belong to any parish.

--What do you mean by "we?" What is your calling?

--I am a travelling artiste, sir.

--A travelling artiste. What is that?

--I dance character dances, and I appear in _tableaux vivants_ and _poses
plastiques_.

--_Poses plastiques_! at your age? Are you not ashamed to follow that
calling?

--That is the calling which I was taught, sir; I know no other, replied the
young girl, whose eyes filled with tears. I have always heard it said that
when we gain our living honourably, we have nothing to reproach ourselves
with.

--Honourably! that's a fine word!

--I mean to say, without wronging our neighbour.

--And you are talking nonsense. Can you think your life is honourable, when
you do not discharge even the most elementary duty of a good Catholic,
which is to keep the Friday as a fast-day? And not only that, you encourage
others in your vices; in short, that wretched woman, to whom you have given
that piece of meat, you incite her to disobey the Church....

--I did not think of that.

--And that little child, he continued with growing anger, that little child
to whom you have given this bad example, whom you lead into a disorderly
life by throwing him, before two ecclesiastics, some pie on a Friday....
You have caused this little child to offend. Do you not know then what Our
Lord Jesus Christ has said about those who cause the little children to
offend? But you know nothing about it. Do you take heed of the Divine
Master's words, you who, at the beginning of your life, display your youth
in sinful dances for the lewd pleasure of passers-by?

--I make my living as I can, replied Zulma, wounded by the rebuke.

--A fine way of making your living! You would do better to pray to the Holy
Virgin.

--Will the Holy Virgin give me what I want to eat?

--Ah, they are all like that. Eating! Eating! They only think of eating! It
appeals that they have said everything when they have said: "Who will give
me to eat?" That is the great argument to excuse the lowest callings, and
work on Sundays. Eating? Eating? Eh, unhappy child, and your soul? You must
not think only of your body, which will be one day eaten by worms. Your
soul also requires to eat.

Marcel interrupted.

--Uncle, I ask you to excuse this young person. She is ignorant of the
duties of a Christian, and it is not her fault. This is a soul to guide.

--I do not say that it is not; I wish then that she may find someone to
guide her.

Thereupon he opened his breviary; but he had not finished the second page
of that potent narcotic before he was sound asleep.

LXXXI.

A LITTLE CONFESSION

"Let us not ask of the tree what
fruit it bears."

CAMILLE LEMONNIER (_Mes Medailles_).

--Monsieur le Cure is a trifle abrupt, said Marcel, bat he has an excellent
heart.

--Yes, he seems to be quickly offended. It is quite different with the old
gentleman who came to see me at the Hospital. There is a good sort of a
man!

--The Chaplain, no doubt.

--No, he is a judge. When I knew it, I was quite alarmed at it. A judge,
that makes one think of the _gendarmes_. I was quite in order, fortunately.
Besides, he is the president of a great Society, which enters everywhere,
and knows what is going on everywhere. Ah, he is a man who frightened me
very much the first time I saw him. But he is as kind as can be.

--You are talking, no doubt, of Monsieur Tibulle, President of the Society
of St. Vincent de Paul, and Judge of the Court at Vic.

--Monsieur Tibulle, that is he. A benevolent man, but who does good only to
people who are religious and honest and right-minded--as he says. As I am
an artiste, the Sister was afraid that he would not trouble himself about
me, but he saw plainly that I was an honest girl.

--What do you mean by honest girl?

She looked at him attentively:

--You know very well, she said.

--But it is not enough to receive the Communion once, by chance, to be
honest.

--Was I not obliged to go to confession before?

--Ah, I can explain it all now. You have been washed from your sins. That
is well, my daughter, but you must not fall into them again.

--Fall where?

--Into your sins.

--That will be very hard, said Zulma with a sigh, for I commit so many of
them.

--Many! so young! How old are you?

--Sixteen.

--Sixteen; and so grown-up already. But what are the sins that you can
commit at sixteen?

--Many. The Cure of the Hospital has assured me so. He said to me that I
was a cup of iniquity.

--Oh, he has exaggerated; I feel sure that he has exaggerated. What sins do
you commit then?

--I do not say my prayers, I do not fast on Friday, I do not go to Mass.

--What then?

--Others besides.

--What are they?

--I do not know; there are so many.

--Which are those that you commit by preference? The sins which you have
just related to me are infractions of the Church's laws. But the others ...
you do not know what are the sins which you take pleasure in committing?

--They all give me pleasure. If I sin, it is because it gives me pleasure,
is it not? If it did not give me pleasure, I should not sin.

--But, after all, there are pleasures which you love more than others.

--Assuredly. Are not all pleasures sins?

--All those which are not innocent, yes.

--How can I distinguish innocent pleasures from those which are not so?

--Your conscience is the best judge.

--And when my conscience says nothing?

--That is not a sin.

--Well, Monsieur le Cure of the Hospital has accused me of a heap of sins
for which my conscience does not reproach me at all.

--My child, habit sometimes hardens the heart, but you are not of an age to
have a hardened heart. I feel certain that your heart, on the contrary, is
kind and tender, and that if you commit faults, it is through ignorance.
What are then those great faults?

--Must I tell you them in order to be an honest girl?

--Yes, I should like to hear them; I might be able to give you some good
advice. Advice is not to be despised, particularly in your condition,
exposed as you are, young and pretty as you are.

--Pretty! you think me pretty?

--Yes, said Marcel smiling; am I the first to tell you so, and don't you
know it?

--Oh, no, you are not the first. When I am passing by somewhere, or when I
am taking part in the outside show, I often hear them say: Eh, the pretty
girl! But you are the first from whom it has given me so much pleasure to
hear it. Is that a sin too?

--A little sin of vanity, but extremely pardonable. If you have no greater
ones than that, you are really an honest girl.

He looked at her and smiled. Zulma caught his look, and blushed.

--Where are you going to stay at Nancy?

--The gentleman who paid my fare, gave me also the address of a house where
I can rest for a day or two while I am waiting for news from my company:
the _Hotel du Cygne de la Croix_.

--I know it, said Ridoux who had just woke up, it is a respectable house,
the best which a young person like you could meet with. I have no doubt but
that you will be welcomed there and at a moderate price, being recommended
by the worthy Monsieur Tibulle. The mistress of the establishment is a
conscientious lady, well-disposed and observing her religious duties. She
is not one who will give you meat on a Friday. Monsieur Tibulle takes a
great interest in you then?

--Yes, sir. He has even said that if I wished, he would find a more
suitable position for me; but what position could he give me?

--He might find you some ... he is an influential man. I invite you to
follow his advice. He is a member of the _Society for the protection of
poor young girls_.

--But, no doubt, I shall not see him again.

--Then, said Marcel, I, for my part, would wish to be useful to you; but
unfortunately, you are only passing through, and I also am not here for
long. Nevertheless, if for one cause or another you should have need of
anyone ... you understand ... a young girl might find herself at a loss in
a huge town ... you will enquire for the Abbe Marcel at this address.

-Many thanks, sir.

They had arrived. The travellers separated. The young girl with her small
amount of luggage directed her steps in all confidence towards the inn
which the old member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul had acquainted
her with, while Ridoux and Marcel took their way to the Place d'Alliance,
where resided the Comtesse de Montluisant.

LXXXII.

THE CHURCH-WOMAN.

"Devotion is the sole resource of
coquettes: when they are become old,
God becomes the last resource of all
women who know not aught else to do."

MME. DE REUX.

As _his uncle_ had foreseen, the young Cure pleased the old lady greatly.
She examined him with satisfaction and predicted that he would make his
way.

--You have not deceived me, she said to Ridoux, here is a priest such as
we require. We are encumbered with awkward, ridiculous, red-raced men, who
bring religion into disrepute. Why not send all those peasants back to
their village, and select men like Monsieur l'Abbe? It is a shame, an
absolute shame to allow you to stagnate in this way. I shall reproach
Monseigneur severely for it.

--It is the fault of the Grand-Vicar Gobin, said Ridoux; he had taken a
dislike to my nephew.

--I have known that. He was a very harsh and a very tiresome man. Too
frozen virtue which has melted, I am told. I do not want to believe it. He
is the talk of the town. It is abominable, but I do not pity him. That is
what comes of not making religion amiable. Although we are old, Monsieur
Marcel, we are of the new school; we firmly believe that religion and
agreeable gaiety ought to proceed in harmony. We want conciliatory and
amiable priests. In this way the women let themselves be won over. I may
confess it to you, I who am double your age; and in so far as we shall
have the women, the world is ours.

While asking himself, what influence this more than middle-aged lady could
exercise over the Bishop's decisions, Marcel quickly perceived that in
order to be successful, he had only to be in the good graces of this
estimable dowager, and, in spite of the remembrance of Suzanne, he tried to
be amiable and witty.

But soon his ideas of ambition returned to him in this sumptuous
drawing-room, surrounded with comfort and luxury: he thought that he had
only to wish it, in order to become himself too, one of the great of the
earth, and it appeared to him that the Comtesse do Montluisant ought to be
the instrument of a rapid fortune.

The old lady was one of those women, very numerous in the world, who make
of religion a convenient chaperone for their intrigues and their affairs of
gallantry. When they are old, and can scarcely _venture_ any longer on
their own account, they generously place their experience and their small
talents at another's service, and willingly assist the intrigues of others.
That is called _lending the hand_, and more than once the old lady had
countenanced, through perfectly Christian charity, the secret interviews of
sweet sheep with their tender pastor.

The deduction must not be made from this that all the devout are courtesans
when they are young and procuresses in their ripened age.

Whatever may be said, all are not hypocritical and vicious. Vice usually
comes in the long run, and hypocrisy, which oozes from the old arches of
the temples, and from the antique wainscoting of the sacristies, falls at
length upon their shoulders like an unwholesome drizzling rain, but for the
most part they begin with conviction and good faith.

They attend church frequently, not only because it is _good form_, not only
through want of occupation and through habit, but from inclination.

The melodies of the organ, the odour of incense, the singing of the choir,
the meditation and silence, the flowers, the wax-tapers, the gilding, the
pictures, the mysterious light which filters through the stained-glass
windows, the radiant face of the Virgin, the sweet and pale countenance of
Christ, the statues of the saints, the niches, the old pillars, the small
chapels, all this mystic poetry pleases them, everything enchants and
intoxicates them, even to the sanctimonious and hypocritical face of the
beadle and the sacristan.

It is their element, their centre, their world. They attach themselves to
the old nave as sailors attach themselves to their ship.

They know all the little corners and recesses of the temple. They have
knelt at all the chapels and burnt tapers before all the saints. But there
is always one place which they have an affection for, and where they are
invariably to be found. Why? Mystery! What do they do there? Mystery again.
They remain there for whole hours, motionless, dreaming, their eyes fixed
on vacancy, their thoughts one knows not where, and in their hands a book
of prayers which they open from time to time as if to recall themselves to
reality.

A young priest passes by. He recognizes them. He bows and smiles to them
like old acquaintances. In fact, he sees them there every day at the same
place. Godly sheep! They look at him passing by, and, while pretending to
read their psalms, they follow him with that deep, undefinable, mysterious
look, which inspires fear.

What connection is there between their prayers and reveries, and the lively
behaviour of this red-faced Abbe?

How he must laugh, and how he must inwardly despise these women, who can
find no better employment for the day than to mutter _Paternosters_, devoid
of meaning, before an image of wood or stone, or to remain in the vague
sanctimonious contemplation of a _mysterious unknown_.

Poor women! who, better led, better instructed in their duties and mission
in life, would have become excellent mothers, might have been the light and
joy of some hearth which now remains deserted, and who, lost and misled by
a false education and a detestable system of morality, fall into wasting
mysticism, hysterical ecstasies, a contemplative and useless existence,
into degrading practices and shameful superstitions, and instead of being
the fruitful animating springs of moral and social progress, become the
passive instruments, the unfruitful _things_ of the priest, that is to say
the agents of reaction.

It is they who have caused thinkers to doubt the noble part which woman is
called to fulfil; who have compelled Proudhon to say: "Woman is the
desolation of the just," and that other apostle of socialism, Bebel, that
she is incapable of helping in the reconstitution of Society:

"_Slave of every prejudice, affected by every moral and physical malady,
she will be the stumbling-block of progress. With her must be used, morally
certainly, perhaps physically, the peremptory reason to the slaves of the
old race: The Stick_!" We are far from the divine book of Michelet, _Love_.

No, do not let us beat woman, even with a rose, as the Arab proverb says.
She is a sick child, foolishly spoiled, who requires only to be cured and
reformed by another education. The Comtesse was not like this. Skilful and
intelligent, she knew _what talking meant_, and how to read in wise men's
eyes and between the lines of letters. Therefore, she had learnt in good
time, how to bring together two things which the profane suppose to be so
opposed to one another, and which form the secret of the Temple: _Religion
and pleasure_.

"And she was quite right," Veronica would have said, "for how can pleasure
hurt God."

LXXXIII.

CONVENTICLE.

"Je, dist Panurge, me trouve bien
du conseil des femmes, et mesmement
de vieilles."

RABELAIS (_Panurge_).

They took a light repast, and it was decided that Marcel should repair to
the Palace that very day.

--There is no time to lose, said the Comtesse. The Cure of St. Marie is
much coveted, and we have competitors in earnest. There is firstly the Abbe
Matou, who is supported by all the fraternity of the Sacred Heart; he is
young, active, wheedling and honey-tongued. He is the man I should choose
myself, if I did not know you. He has had certainly a funny little story
formerly with some communicants, but that is passed and gone, and as, after
all, he is an intelligent priest and very Ultramontane, Monseigneur would
he desirous of nominating him in order to rehabilitate him in public
esteem. He is dangerous.

Now we have little Kock. He has rendered important services. But he is the
son of an inn-keeper, and he has common manners. Let us pass him by. There
is yet the _Sweet Jesus_. Do you know the sweet Jesus, Abbe Ridoux?

--Yes, it is the Abbe Simonet.

--The Abbe Simonet, said Marcel, I know him; we were together at the
Seminary. Do they call him the sweet Jesus? He was a terrible lazy fellow.

--Well, he is not so among the ladies, I assure you They all are madly in
love with him. He confesses the wives of the large and small shop-keepers,
and he has enough to do. The gentry used to go to the Abbe Gobin. Now he
has gone away, what will become of all the sinners of the Old-Town?
Supposing they were all to fall upon that poor Simonet! It is enough to
make one shudder. Dear _Sweet Jesus_! When I see him wandering in the
Cathedral with his long fair hair, and his down-cast eyes, I understand the
infatuation of the women. He is nice enough to eat; yes, gentlemen, to eat.
Ah, you do not know as well as we do, how religion gains by young and
handsome pastors for its interpreters, and with what rapidity the holy
flock increases. It is an astonishing thing. I fear that we must strive
very hard against the _Sweet Jesus_.

--We will strive, said Ridoux.

--And we will employ every means. Go, dear Abbe, hasten to Monseigneur's,
he is warned of your visit, and before entering on the struggle, it is well
to reconnoitre the ground. Go, I have good hopes that we shall have St.
Marie.

Thus Marcel found himself enlisted, in spite of himself. The Cure of St.
Marie was, to tell the truth, perfectly indifferent to him. That one or
another mattered to him but little. He had considered that it was perhaps
indispensable that he should quit Althausen for the sake of his reputation
and the tranquillity of his heart. His heart? Was it then no longer
Suzanne's? More than ever: but he thought by this time that if there are
reconciliations with heaven, there were none such with his maid-servant,
and that to rid himself of her, he must first quit Althausen. Suzanne from
time to time could come to Nancy, and it was much more easy and less
perilous for him to contrive interviews with her there, than in that
village where they were spied upon by all. Afterwards they would see....

LXXXIV.

Book of the day: