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The Grip of Desire by Hector France

Part 6 out of 6

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AT THE PALACE.

"This world is a great ball where fools, disguised
Under the laughable names of Eminence and Highness
Think to swell out their being and exalt their baseness
In vain does the equipage of vanity amaze us;
Mortals are equal: 'tis but their mark is different."

VOLTAIRE (_Discourse sur l'Homme_).

Marcel felt oppressed at heart, when he put his foot again, for the first
time after five years, within the episcopal Palace.

It was there formerly--five years ago, quite an abyss--he had dreamed of a
future embroidered with gold and silk, but it was there also that he had
seen his first illusions and his inmost beliefs flee away.

Nothing had changed; the Palace was always the same; there were the same
faces, the same porter with the wan complexion, the same attendants, at
once haughty and servile. Nevertheless, nobody recognized him. This priest,
browned by the sun, old before his years through disappointment, almost
bent beneath the load of his secret troubles, was different from the young
and brilliant curate, who, full of hope had launched himself formerly into
the illimitable future.

The lacqueys of the episcopal palace saluted him respectfully for his good
looks; but when he gave his name, they eyed from head to foot with disdain
and insolence this obscure country Cure, of whose disgrace they were aware.

--Monseigneur is much engaged, said a kind of _valet de chambre_ with a
sneaking look; I don't think he can receive you. You will call again
to-morrow. Monseigneur has given orders not to be disturbed.

--Then I will wait.

--Wait if you wish to, replied the lacquey, but you run the risk of waiting
a long time.

If it had not been for the valet's insolence, Marcel would no doubt have
gone away, and perhaps, would have abandoned the affair; but, humiliated at
hearing himself addressed in that tone, he became obstinate.

--Can you not then inform Monseigneur that the Cure of Althausen desires to
speak with him?

--Althausen! Ah, well! I believe that the Cure of Mattaincourt and Monsieur
le Cure of the Cathedral have called and not been received, replied the
valet; consequently, he added _in petto_, we shall not disturb ourselves
for a junior like you.

--Can I speak with _Monseigneur_ the Secretary?

--Monsieur l'Abbe Gaudinet does not like to be disturbed, and I believe
besides that he is in conference with his Lordship.

Marcel was aware that in the episcopal Palace the village Cures are treated
with less regard than the dogs in the back-yard; therefore he took his own
part, and he had just sat down on a bench without saying a word,
deliberating with himself whether be ought to wait or to go away, when a
little priest with a busy and important air, with spectacles on his nose
and a pen behind his ear, quickly crossed the anteroom.

--Is it not Monsieur l'Abbe Gaudinet? said Marcel rising.

--Ah, cried the former, Monsieur le Cure of Althausen, I think?

It was the Secretary, and he aspired, as may be remembered, to the envied
post of curate at St. Nicholas. He thought to obtain the good graces of
Ridoux by rendering a service to Marcel.

--Monseigneur is really too much engaged, said he, but I will obtain
admittance for you anyhow.

And he made him go into a small apartment next to the Bishop's private
cabinet.

--I will call you when it is time, he said to him and went out.

Marcel, left alone, heard the sound of a voice in Monseigneur's cabinet,
and he recognized perfectly old Collard's.

He would have been failing in good clerical traditions, if he had not
gently drawn near the door and listened with all his ears; struck with
amazement, he heard the singular conversation which follows.

LXXXV.

LITTLE PASTIMES.

"One thing which it is necessary
to take into account, is that they are
very precocious. A French girl of
fifteen is as much developed as regards
the sex and love, as an English girl
of eighteen. This is accounted for
essentially by Catholic education and
by the Confessional, which brings
forward young girls to so great an
extent."

MICHELET (_L'Amour_).

--Let us see, little one; look me right in the face. Madame de Montinisant
has assured me that you were very nice, very sweet, very submissive, very
modest, in fact ail the good qualities in the superlative, and that you
were worthy of entering into the sisterhood of the Holy Virgin, in spite of
your youth; is that quite true?

--Yes, Monseigneur.

--Ah, ah! It is true, do you say? I am going to know exactly, I am going to
know if you are truthful or not. God has bestowed on Bishops the gift of
divining everything. Did you know that?

--No, Monseigneur.

--Ah, ah! You are smiling; you believe perhaps that it is not true; wait,
wait, you shall see indeed. Is it long since she made her first communion?

--Nearly two years, Monseigneur.

--Two years, ah, ah! Then the little girl is fourteen.

--Only thirteen, Monseigneur.

--Thirteen! thirteen! that is very nice. At thirteen one is already a
grown-up girl. Are you already a grown-up girl, little rogue?

--I don't know.

--You don't know, ah, ah. We are going to see first, if you are modest.
Come close to me; see, little girl, give me your chin, and this pretty
little dimple.... Oh, oh! you are laughing, stay, stay ... she has some
pretty little dimples on her cheeks too, the little naughty thing. We are
going to make a little confession.... Ah, you are blushing. Why are you
blushing? You have then some great sins on your conscience? Come, you are
going to tell me all that ... quite low ... in my ear.

--But, Monseigneur....

--There is no _but, Monseigneur_. It is the condition _sine qua non_ of
entering the sisterhood. You understand that in order to admit a sheep into
his flock, the shepherd must be completely edified regarding that fresh
sheep.... The sheep then must relate all her wicked sins to her Bishop. It
is God who wills it, it is not I, little girl. What enters by one ear, goes
out directly by the other. I should be much puzzled, after the confession
to repeat a single word of what you have told me. You know what a
speaking-tube is.

--Yes, Monseigneur.

--Well, the Confessor's ear is the speaking-tube of the ear of God. Has not
your Confessor taught you that?

--Oh, yes, Monseigneur.

--Well, then, we have nothing to be afraid of, and she must not hesitate to
confide to us her little faults. Even were there very great sins, I shall
hear them without making any remonstrance, for that will prove to me that
you have confidence in your Bishop. Come, place yourself there, near me, on
your knees. You have no need to recite your _Confiteor_; it is only an
examination of conscience that we are both going to make. There! very well,
put this little cushion under your knees, you will be less tired. See,
where are we going to begin?

--One God only thou shalt adore...

No, no, that is unnecessary; I am fully persuaded that you love God and
your parents with all your heart.

--The goods of others thou shalt not take...

Ta, ta, ta, I am quite aware that you are not a thief--a thief has not a
pretty little face like that; let us go on at once to the sixth
commandment:

The works of the flesh thou shalt not desire
But in marriage only.

There, that is what moat concerns little girls. Do you know what are the
works of the flesh?

--No, Monseigneur.

--Oh, it is something very abominable, and I do not know how to explain it
to you. Nevertheless, in order to know if you have sinned against this
commandment, I must make myself understood. Has not your Confessor already
spoken to you about it?

--No, Monseigneur.

--Ah, do not tell a falsehood. It is a mortal sin to tell a falsehood in
confession. Who is your Confessor?

--He is Monsieur Matou.

--Ah, Matou! the Abbe Matou. Yes, yes, he has spoken to you about it, I
know him; he must have spoken to you about it. Come, tell me all about
that.

--Well, once he asked me....

--Ah, ah! well, well! do not stop. What is it he asked you?

--He asked me ... ah! it is a long time ago, before my first communion.

--Well?

--He asked me, if I did not go and play with the little boys.

--And then?

--If I had not culpable relations with them.

--Culpable relations with little boys, well! And what did you answer him?

--I answered him that I had not.

--That you had not! Was that quite true? Do not blush, and do not tell a
falsehood. I shall see if you are going to tell a falsehood.

--Yes, Monseigneur, it was quite true; I did not even know what Monsieur
Matou meant.

--And you know it now?

--Yes, he explained it to me.

--Oh, oh! he explained it to you. And how did he explain that to you?

--He told me....

--Let us see what he told you. Come, come, you most not hang down your
head: see, lift up this pretty face and show me this little dimple; what
did the Abbe Matou say to you?... Eh, eh! who is there! who is knocking at
the door? Is it you, Gaudinet? Rise up, my little daughter, and go and sit
down there, in the corner. Come in, Gaudinet, come in then.

Gaudinet put his head discreetly inside.

--Monseigneur, I came to inform you that the Cure of Althausen has been
there for some time.

--There? where is that?

--In the cabinet.

--What! in the cabinet? Ah, are you mad, Gaudinet, to send people in this
way into my cabinet? I do not approve of that, I do not approve of that at
all. What does that Cure of Althausen want with me?

LXXXVI.

SERIOUS TALK.

"Such were the words of the man
of the Rock; his authority was too
great, his wisdom too deep, not to
obey him."

CHATEAUBRIAND (_Atala_).

Marcel had not heard these last words. At Gaudinet's first word, he had
quickly vanished, foreseeing that a terrible tempest would burst upon his
head, if the Bishop should suspect that he had been a witness of his way of
hearing little girls' confessions, the usual way however of nearly all
priests; I appeal to the memories of the Lord's sheep.

--Monsieur le Cure!... cried Gaudinet, opening the door. Ah, he is no
longer there. He has gone away, Monseigneur. I had told him, in fact, that
your Lordship was very busy, and, no doubt, he wished not to trouble you.

--I was, in fact, expecting him. He will return to-morrow. But, for God's
sake, Gaudinet, never let anybody enter that room without warning me
beforehand.

Marcel was already at the bottom of the stairs. A valet called him back,
and Gaudinet, after bringing out the little girl, introduced him to
Monseigneur's presence.

--Ah, there you are, said the latter in a harsh tone, looking him straight
in the face. Why did you go away?

--I was told that Monseigneur was engaged, and I feared to disturb your
Lordship.

--Who told you that?

--The Abbe Gaudinet.

--You are much changed. I should not have recognized you. I have received a
letter from Monsieur le Cure of St. Nicholas, he added, searching on his
desk. Here it is. He says that you have returned to better sentiments ...
that you are amended, humbled before God ... that you wish henceforth to
follow the good way ... Is that so?

--That is my desire, Monseigneur.

--It is not enough to desire, sir, you must intend, firmly intend.

--I intend also.

--I intend to believe it. I ask nothing better than to oblige my old friend
Ridoux by doing something for you. Sit down. We are in want of priests,
that is to say, intelligent, hard-working, active priests, on whom we can
absolutely rely. Times are becoming difficult. Evil doctrines are
spreading. Faith is passing away. Infamous writers, wretched pamphleteers
are spreading everywhere, at so much a line, the seeds of doubt and
perversity. And to crown the evil, imprudent and maladroit priests are
indulging their vices and creating scandal. But we are not discouraged. Is
the holy arch in danger because a few nails are rusty, because a few cords
are rotten? Other nails and cords are supplied in their place, and the
rottenness is cast away. But we must not hide from ourselves that we are
passing through a melancholy period. This is what priests for the greater
part do not clearly see. They slumber in their priesthood, take their
emoluments, grow fat, go their small way, and believe they have discharged
their duty. That is not the case. When a man has the honour to be a priest,
he must be active. It is necessary, as in the time of the persecutions, to
make proselytes and win souls; to confront the irreligious propaganda with
our propaganda; lampoons, with lampoons; speeches, with sermons; acts, with
acts. In short, we must struggle. Can we remain still and idle, when our
Holy Father is imprisoned in a den of thieves?

The time has come. We are fighting for our very existence, we must close
the ranks, take count of ourselves, and above all see on what and on whom
we can count. Let us see what we can expect from you? What do you ask? You
wish to come to the town? I warn you that it will be hard, if you intend to
do what I expect of you.

--The trouble does not frighten me, Monseigneur.

--You will have a difficult parish. You will have to run foul of a thousand
different interests, and not give the slightest pretext for slander. You
understand me? There are five or six influential Liberals whose wives or
daughters you must win over adroitly, and at any cost--at any cost, you
understand. Do you feel yourself qualified for this work? Are you the man
we need?

--I will try, Monseigneur.

--You will try. That is not on answer. It is not enough to try; you most
succeed. We are surrounded with men who commit nothing but follies, while
intending to do well. Hell, you know, is paved with good intentions.

He looked at Marcel attentively, and the latter asked himself if this were
really the man he had heard, only a few moments before, talking lightly
with a little girl.

--You have good manners, continued the Bishop; you are intelligent, I know.
You will succeed therefore, if you intend it seriously. Our misfortune is,
that we are encumbered with dull and stupid peasants, whom the Seminary has
been able only partly to refine, and who render us ridiculous. You must
certainly have gone to sleep in your village?

--No, Monseigneur, I have worked.

--We shall see that. And what sort of people are they? Do they perform
their religious duties?

--A good and hard-working population.

--Do they perform their religious duties?

--Yes. Monseigneur, I was satisfied with them.

--What society?

--Very little. The lawyer, the doctor....

--Right-thinking?

--Tolerably so.

--And the women?

--Much the same as all country-folk, ignorant and narrow-minded.

--No, you were not the man needed there. You would lose your time and your
powers. I will send one of those brutes of whom I have just been speaking.
Well, go; you can tell the Abbe Ridoux that you will have the cure. Come
again to-morrow. I even think it will be useless for you to return to
Althausen.

LXXXVII.

THE SEMINARY.

"I turned my head and I saw a
number of the dead in living bodies.
These are the worst spectres, because
they must be subdued: you touch them,
they touch you, and, in order to drag
you away to their tomb, they seize
you with an arm of flesh which is no
better than the marble hand of the
Commendatore."

EUGENE PELLETAN (ELISEE, _Voyage d'un homme
a la recherche de lui-meme_).

Marcel went away disconsolate. So it was done. He was changed, another put
in his place at Althausen. He had hoped for opposition, he had counted on
objections from the Bishop, he thought, in short, that he would remain in
suspense for some weeks, perhaps for some months, during which he would
have the time to look before him and reflect; but no, all at once: "Go and
tell the Abbe Ridoux that you have the cure." Well, and Suzanne? Could he
leave Suzanne in this way? He had, it is true, informed her of his
departure the day before; but had not everything changed since the day
before? Could be abandon thus his heart which he had left behind there?
More than his heart, his whole soul, his life, the maiden who had yielded
herself.

Strange contradictions. When he had believed his change far distant and
still but slightly probable, he had thought he could leave Suzanne easily,
arrange far away from her for secret interviews, and await events; now that
this change was certain and had just become an accomplished fact, he looked
upon it as a catastrophe. Instead of hastening to announce _the good news_
to Ridoux, he proceeded to roam through the streets, assailed by his
thoughts.

"And I shall be obliged to live in this world which I have just caught a
glimpse of, to elbow these men at every hour, to mingle in their intrigues,
to blend myself in their life. That unscrupulous old Comtesse, that
insolent prelate, Gaudinet, Matou, Simonet and the rest, all oozing forth
hypocrisy, intrigue and vice; dreaming of one thing alone, to satisfy their
ambition, their passions, and their appetites. And these are the ministers
of God! Veronica was quite right:

"'All the same, we are all the same, all.' And I am one of the least bad. I
was blind and idiotic not to have cast my gaze earlier into this filthy
sewer.--Blind, idiotic and deaf."

He passed near a lofty, gloomy building. It was the Seminary. The desire
came upon him to go in. Some of his old fellow-pupils had remained there,
as masters or professors. But he altered his mind. What was the good? What
would he do? What would he say to them? There was henceforth an abyss
between him and these men who remained encrusted in the vessel of
clericalism, the most uncrossable of all abysses, that which divides the
thoughts. They were perhaps happy. He recalled to mind the long hours he
had passed beneath the Sacred Heart in the little chapel of an evening,
amidst the wax-lights, the incense and the flowers, mingling his voice in
exaltation with the voices of the young Levites, and singing senseless
hymns, with his heart melting with love of God.

And he began to envy those young fanatics whose blind and unintelligent
faith killed every rising thought, and who were ready to suffer martyrdom
to support the ridiculous beliefs which they had been taught and which they
were called upon to teach. Blind, idiotic and deaf.

"Why am I not so still!" he said; "I should believe myself the only guilty
one, the only wicked and perverse one among all those apostles; I should
curse my weaknesses and myself; but at least I should have faith, I should
walk onward with a star upon my brow, the star of sublime follies which
gives light and life, whereas I see nought around me but desolation and
death. I should humble myself before the Almighty, and I should cry to him
like the poet:

"'Oh Lord, oh Lord my God, thou art our Father:
Pity, for thou art kind! pity for thou art great!'

"And instead of that, I am obliged to humble myself before that Bishop whom
I despise, to endure the scorn of his lacqueys, and the offensive patronage
of his secretary, to have the opportunity of saying:

"'A little place in your good graces, Monseigneur!' No, a thousand times
no. My village, my poor belfry, my humble parsonage, my liberty, and my
Suzanne!"

By his dejected look, his uncle and the Comtesse believed he had not
succeeded.

--Too late! they cried. The cure is given away.

--Yes, he answered.

--To whom? To the _Sweet Jesus_, I wager. Ah, the Tartuffe.

--To me.

--And that is why you have a funereal expression?

--Yes, uncle, for I am burying for ever my tranquillity and my happiness.

--Is it only that? Madame la Comtesse, I present to you the oddest and the
most extraordinary man you have ever met. Judge him yourself. He has just
carried off at the first onset what he was eagerly desiring, and there he
is as cheerful as a flogged donkey. Ah, my dear Madame, how difficult it is
to benefit people in spite of themselves.

--That is my opinion also, said the Comtesse, looking tenderly with her
little eyes, still brilliant in spite of their long service, at the young
priest, for whom she felt that vague unfruitful passion which old
courtesans have for every young and handsome man; and she made him relate
minutely all the details of the interview.

--Bravo! bravo, she cried. It is more than I hoped. But do not alarm
yourself at the difficulties of the task. Monseigneur wishes to prove you.
I am acquainted with the parish. The Radicals have no influence there. One
of them the other day took it into his head to die _civilly_ and, in spite
of the protestations of some low scoundrels, he has been buried in the
early morning without drum or trumpet in the criminals' hole. Two primary
schools are in our hands, and with a little skill we shall have the third.

--How?

--By taking away all the means of work from the workmen who send their
children there. It is a task, Monsieur le Cure, which is incumbent upon
you.

--And so, said Marcel bitterly, I must try to take away their bread from
the fathers.

--I suppose, said Ridoux severely, that when the interest of religion is in
question, there is no reason to hesitate. Madame la Comtesse, pardon this
young priest, he comes out from his village and he is still imbued with
certain prejudices.

--Which we will root out, said the old lady smiling; that shall be the task
for us women.

LXXXVIII.

THE FAIR ONE.

"Pretty to paint! as graceful as an
ear of corn, slender and yet robust,
never was seen a morsel of flesh so
delicate, or better rounded. Her hair,
a wonderful fleece, smelt as sweet and
fresh as the grass, and shone red like
the sun."

LEON CLADEL (_L'Homme de la Croix-aux-Boeufs_).

It was with a great feeling of relief that, in the evening, after supper,
Marcel retired to the room which, in spite of his protests, the Countess
had caused to be made ready for him.

He had need to be alone. Events had hurried on in such an astounding and
rapid manner, and he had had no time to think about them.

His resolution was fully taken. He would refuse the new core. The odious
part which he was called upon to play there, decided him. He was about to
shatter his future. It meant a disagreement with his uncle, the hatred of
this influential woman, the formidable persecution of the Bishop; but what
was all that? He saw Suzanne again, amiable, gracious, smiling, looking at
him with her soft, dark eyes; Suzanne approving of his conduct and saying
to him: "You are a man of courage. Let us go away together; cast your frock
into the ditch."

And he wrote three letters: one to his uncle, the other to the Comtesse,
and the third to the Bishop, entreating them to excuse him, and telling
them that he did not feel qualified to perform his ministry in a large
town. He implored Monseigneur to leave him at Althausen and to think no
more about him.

But the night brings counsel. And when he woke up the next morning and saw
his three letters on the table, he thought that he could not do a more
awkward thing.

He threw them in the fire, dressed and went out. The idea came to him of
going to see the parish which was destined for him. He followed the
streets, drawn in a straight line, of that too regular city, and when he
arrived at the corner of the _Rue des Carmes_, he heard his name
pronounced. Be turned round and saw the landlord of the inn where he was
accustomed to stay, when he came to Nancy.

--What, you are passing before my door without coming in, Monsieur le Cure;
I was expecting you, however. I had prepared your room.

--You were expecting me, Monsieur Patin? And who told you that I was here?

--Who told me that? It was a young person who is very pretty, upon my word.
She came to ask for you yesterday evening, and we expected you up to ten
o'clock.

--Dark? said Marcel much disturbed.

--No, fair, the prettiest fair complexion which I have ever seen.

Marcel remembered immediately the little mountebank, whom he had altogether
forgotten, and to whom he had given the address of Monsieur Patin's hotel,
where he had expected to stay.

--It is a young girl who is recommended to me, he said; I regret that I did
not see her.

--You are not coming in?

--No, for perhaps I am going to set out again for Althausen.

--For Althausen. That is impossible to-day. I have just seen the
_diligence_ go by. Come, you will sleep once more at my house, Monsieur
Marcel; your room is quite ready, and my wife, who has a fancy for you,
will not let you go away. Stay, here she comes; she has recognized your
voice.

The little Madame Patin, plump, brown, active and pretty, hastened up,
indeed, and compelled Marcel to come in, almost in spite of himself.

--You shall remain, you shall remain! she said to him, relieving him of his
hat.

--No, he answered smiling, I shall not remain, and I will tell you the
reason. I came with my uncle, and I have my room at Madame de
Montluisant's.

Before that declaration Monsieur and Madame Patin bowed.

--Ah, that is not right, said Madame Patin; Madame de Montluisant is
opposing us, she is drawing our clients to her house.... My dear, have you
told Monsieur Marcel that a young person has come?...

--Your husband has told me, Madame, and that proves to you that I certainly
had the intention of staying with you, since I showed her your address. It
had escaped my memory, otherwise I should have called to ask you to send
the young person to Madame de Montluisant's.

--She will certainly come back again, for she seemed very desirous of
seeing you. Must I send her to you at that lady's?

--No, but tell her to come again this evening late. I have a thousand
things to do, and I can scarcely see any moment but that when I shall be
free.

That evening at eight o'clock, he was at Monsieur Patin's, where he found a
good fire in a small sitting-room well closed, with the newspapers and a
cup of coffee. The young girl had called again during the day, and would
return. Marcel installed himself comfortably in an arm-chair and waited for
her.

He had seen the Bishop again, who had flashed before his eyes a future,
full of golden rays. The visit of Ridoux and the Comtesse had preceded his
own, and in the sudden change of manner of the prelate towards him, he
recognized the good offices of his new friend.

A good dinner had completed the happy day, and life appeared to him, after
all, to have some sweetness.

LXXXIX.

LOVE AGAIN.

"Oh Folly, which we call love, what
dost thou make of us? Out of free-men
thou dost make us slaves; thou
dost breathe into us all the vices. It
is thou who dost supply the altars of
disloyalty and fear! It is thou who
dost extract from thought the rhetorician's
art, and from enthusiasm a vile
profession. How many young people
have you blighted! all the fairest. Ah,
siren, thy voice is sweet. Thou speakest
to us the language of the gods, but
thou are only an impure beast."

JEAN LAROQUE (_Niobe_).

A kind of emotion seized him. He was almost ashamed of it, and tried to
give an account of it to himself. It seemed to him that he was affected as
if at the approach of sin. He restrained his feelings and enquired of
himself what this young girl could want with him.

Perhaps she was but a common courtesan who, attracted by the handsome
appearance and tender look of the priest, counted on speculating profitably
in a clandestine intrigue.

Nevertheless, he was not terrified at the prospect, and he recalled
complacently the scene in the open air in the market-place at Althausen.
With his eyes closed, he saw her again playing the castanets, rounding her
hips and shooting forward her little foot, in order to make the enraptured
rustics admire the sculptural beauty of her leg. He saw again that bosom,
free from all covering, which had plunged him into such confusion.

Ah, if instead of his love for Suzanne, so full of fever and danger, he had
picked up on his way some pretty girl like this Bohemian, who, while
calming his feelings, would have left his heart in peace.

With a common peasant girl, vigorous and sensual, like this dancer at the
fair, he would have gratified the only low permissible to a priest; for it
was the most unpardonable folly, he recognized now, to surrender his heart.

The Cure of St. Nicholas was a thousand times right! Let the priest make
use of woman, nothing is more proper, as an instrument, as a pastime,
hygienic and aperient; but let him stop there.

At certain periods, when the brain is heavy, the digestion is inactive, and
the bowels are confined, when dizziness occurs, when the blood becoming too
plentiful, grows thick and congested in the veins and rises to the head,
then it is that nature needs to accomplish her work. Then one seeks for a
woman, one throws oneself on her who happens to be there, and is willing to
lend herself to this hygienic and benevolent part. Servant or mistress,
girl or wife, lady or work-girl, young or old, courtesan from a
drawing-room or the pavement, one takes her, has one's pleasure of her, and
goes away.

But to love long, to make of the woman the aim of our life, the spring of
our actions, the ideal of our existence; to believe in happiness together,
to put faith in these fragile, vain and ignorant dolls!... What trickery!

To believe in happiness through love! Dream of the school-boy! It is
permissible to the neophyte who puts on for the first time the white
surplice and the golden chasuble with so much joy and pride. The sweet
young girls, the youthful wives, the grave matrons regard you with softened
eyes. Then you have faith, you have confidence, you see the future
illumined by angels with virgin bodies who murmur mysterious words in your
ear, which melt your heart. You dare hardly lift your eyes, and you say to
yourself: "Which one shall I love in this legion of seraphims? Oh, I will
love them all, all!" Presumptuous youth which doubts of nothing!

But when you have loved one, two, three of them ... afterwards, afterwards?

After having experienced the nothingness of all these trifles, of all these
follies of the heart, of all these caprices of the imagination, of all
these abortions of the thought, of all these voids of the soul, of all
these impurities of the body, of all the uncleanness of the woman with whom
you are satiated, and whose couch you are leaving, then go and speak of
eternal love.

Oh, how right Diogenes was to call love a short epilepsy.

How right that Imperial sophist of the Decline to call it a convulsion! and
the first Bonaparte, an affair of the sopha.

Thus Marcel moralized, like an old prelate, coming out from a closed room
when some filthy scene has been enacted.

The fact is, that for some time he had been the hero of a comedy and of a
drama; the grotesque comedy which he had unrolled with his servant, the
terrible drama in which he saw himself involved with Suzanne Durand. And he
was wearied and satiated. The satisfaction of his senses left him by way of
retaliation, shame, trouble and fear.

Daniel Defoe has written in his admirable book:

"From how many mysterious sources, opposed one to the other, do not
different circumstances cause our passions to proceed? We hate in the
evening what we cherished in the morning; we avoid to-day what we sought
for yesterday; we desire an object passionately, and a few moments after,
we shall not know how to endure the idea of it."

Thus Marcel was cursing love, when Zulma came and knocked at his door.

XC.

LE CYGNE DE LA CROIX.

"As soon as she comes
The Hostess looks hard:
--My beauty no ceremony,
The supper is ready;
Come in, come in, my beauty
Come in, and no more noise
With three gallant captains
You shall spend the night."

(_Popular Songs of France_).

Madame Connard, a widow, and the landlady of the Cygne de la Croix, a godly
and right-thinking person, made a significant grimace when she saw a young
girl, quietly dressed, entering her house, with no other luggage than an
old band-box.

But when she handed her the card of Monsieur Tibulle, judge of the Court at
Vic, president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and member of the
Committee for the protection of poor Young Girls, her grimace changed into
a gracious smile.

She soon gave her a room and asked her what she wanted to eat, informing
her, however, that it was a fast-day and that, consequently, she had not
much choice.

--Whatever you like, said the dancer; I am convalescent; I have a good
appetite, and I accommodate myself to everything: don't give then the best
which you have, but the cheapest.

--The little thing is sharp, thought Madame Connard; and she added aloud: A
young lady, recommended by Monsieur Tibulle, need not fear that she will
want for anything. Consider what you would like, my little dear, and don't
disturb yourself about the rest. And since you are ill, the Church allows
us to give you meat to eat.

She went out in the meantime, and an hour afterwards she herself served a
dinner which would have made the most greedy of curates envious, and washed
down with that light wine, acrid but heady, which the slopes of the Meurthe
produce.

The dancer, like a true child of Bohemia, dined heartily, and without
needing to be asked. She was at her coffee, when she heard a whispering in
the corridor, and a little cracked voice, which said:

--I am a little late, dear Madame, but I have been kept by Monseigneur. Has
the little one behaved well?

--Like an angel, Monsieur Tibulle, and a demon for beauty.

--Yes, yes. This will be a fine acquisition for the Church. A soul snatched
from Satan, dear Madame, snatched from Satan. We shall make something of
her.

--Ah, how happy you gentlemen are to snatch in this way pretty little souls
from hell. We, poor women, have not that power.

--But you prepare the ways. You open them, dear Madame Connard; everything
has its purpose, its purpose, its purpose.

--Well, Monsieur Tibulle, proceed to yours. It is number 10. I leave you.

And she quietly half-opened the door of No. 10, into which Monsieur glided
like a shadow, saying in his tremulous voice:

--Eh! Eh! it is I, I, I, my little dear. How happy I am to see you again,
to find you here, comfortably installed like a little queen. Eh, eh.

Madame Connard put her head in for an instant, smiled, and cautiously
closed the door; "He is still pretty young for his age," she said to
herself. "Ah, these men! these men! that goes on to the very end."

XCI.

THE CALVES.

"Non formosus erat sed erat facundus Ulixes."

OVID.

Zulma had run forward to meet him. He took hold of both her hands and made
her sit down close beside him on the sofa.

--Well, what is the news? How have they received you here? Are you
satisfied? Have you had a good dinner?

--Too good, replied Zulma: I am afraid I have spent a deal of money.

--A deal of money! Eh, eh! the good little girl! But you have nothing to
pay here, my little puss. Nothing at all to pay, nothing at all. All the
expense is my concern, and the more you spend, the better pleased I shall
be. Have they not told you that, told you that, told you that?

--You are too kind, Monsieur; but I, what shall I do then for you?

--She is heavenly, eh, eh! But I want nothing, darling, nothing, nothing
... except to see your pretty eyes. When we see them once, we have only one
wish, and that is to see them again, again, again. I am well paid for the
little I have done for you, since I have that pleasure. Yes, yes, yes. We
are only too happy for what we can do for a charming little face like
yours, and when we have obliged it, we say thank you! That is what I do, my
little duck; thank-you, thank-you, thank-you.

--I am very grateful to you....

--That is what I was thinking. I want to kiss you for that kind word. Alas,
we come across so many ungrateful people in the world.... What a fine and
velvety skin; how soft it is under the lips ... again, again.... I could
eat it ... again.... Ah, you do not want to again. What are you afraid of?
I might be your father.... Come, another little kiss for poor papa.

Zulma let him kiss her again.

[PLATE V: THE CALVES. "I want to see them again, again, again."

--Well, there they are, but do not touch.

--Oh, oh, you are cheating. That is only half, I want to see them all ...
up to the knees.]

[Illustration]

--Ah, what a pretty girl! Look how strong and well made she is! continued
the old President passing his trembling hand over the young girl's waist:
have not these breasts grown a little thin? Yes, I believe, a little, a
little, but how firm they are! like a rock, like a rock; hard as a rock,
heavenly girl.... Eh, eh! you are drawing back, you are afraid of me ... of
me who might be your papa.

--And perhaps my grandpapa, said Zulma.

--Grandpapa! Ah, the little girl is not flattering. Grandfather! you think
then that I am quite old? I am going to pinch her calves for that naughty
word, those big calves which I saw at Vic, and which have turned my head.
Have they grown smaller too? Let us see, let us see.

Zulma held back the too presumptuous hand.

--What, said the worthy man astonished, you will not show your calves?

--What is the good, since you have seen them at Vic?

--I want to see them again, again, again.

--Well, there they are, but do not touch.

--Oh, oh, you are cheating. That is only half, I want to see them all ...
up to the knees; at the least what I saw in the market-place.

--No, sir.

--Ah, you must not say _no_ to me.... I do not like _no_. Let me help you,
my pretty. Women always have a lot of strings under their petticoats and
sometimes there are knots, knots, knots. I know that, so let me do it.

--But I don't want to, I tell you.

--Nevertheless, just to show me your calves, your fine big calves.

--You have seen them enough.

--What, cried Monsieur Tibulle, indignant at length at such obstinacy, you
refuse to show to me what you exhibit in public, to everybody, in the
market-places, in the streets, to the first who comes along; you refuse me
when I am all alone, in this little room where nobody sees us. Ah, it is
very wrong, wrong, wrong. I intend to punish you for that naughty act.

--In public, that is my profession, and besides I have a costume.

--She is nice enough to eat! A costume! If you only want that, it is very
easy to find. I know of a little costume, very nice and not dear; and if
you like, we will both of us put it on.

--What is it?

--That which God gave us. It is the best of all, and besides it is that
which will become you the best. Ah, my little dear, nothing is equal to the
gifts of God, and all the fripperies of women will never serve them as well
as the simple attire of our first mother. We are going then to try the
costume of Adam and Eve. Does that suit you, little one? You will no longer
be afraid then of showing your calves. Come, come, Sophie, my dear, enough
of these affectations.

--My name is not Sophie.

--Your name is Zulma, and also Aspasia, and Phryne, and again it is Eve.
For it is long since you ate of the forbidden fruit, is it not, you little
rogue?

--Let me alone, I ask you.

--Leave you alone! you would think I was very silly. Come, heavenly Eve, be
quick into the costume of your part; I will play Adam and you shall see
what a fine apple we will eat.

--Sir, a man of your age!

--Old men are always more amorous than the young ones, you will see, you
will see.

--I don't want to see anything, let me go.

--Go! and where do you want to go to? A man does not let a little duck like
you go away when he has hold of her, for I have you, you little rogue, yes,
yes, I have you. Listen. We will go away to-morrow morning, each our own
way, neither seen, nor known. And I assure you that you will be satisfied.
My wife does not expect me till to-morrow.

--Your wife? What, you are married?...

--Does that surprise you? My wife is an old she-goat who is good for
nothing more. Therefore I make no more use of her. Come, let us be quick;
into the costume of Eve, and if you absolutely keep to it, I will fasten a
fig-leaf on to you.

But Zulma was not the girl to allow herself to be forced in this way; and
the worthy old man, who wanted to add deeds to words, received a vigorous
slap on the face.

He stopped, quite confused, and rubbed his cheek.

--She has a strong wrist, he said. Who would suspect that such a little
hand could hit so hard? But the ice is broken now, and you are going to pay
me for it.

XCII.

THE SCAPULAR

"And the old bearded fellow rubbed
away, pushed with his hips, embracing
her in front: clasped with his arms
embracing her behind; stuffing at the
chancellery, throwing her gently and
collecting his strength, labouring with
his chest, and even tripping her up:
he made use of all."

LEON CLADEL (_Ompdrailles_).

--I shall scream, said Zulma, who was defending herself valiantly; I shall
scream if you do not loose me.

--Scream as much as you will, said the holy man as he recovered breath:
here the walls are deaf, and you will have to deal with me.

--I just laugh at you. You old Punch!

--Old Punch! Punch!

--You ought to be ashamed.

--You insult me; take care.

--Let me go directly, or I shall know whom to complain to.

--Ah, you assume that tone! You want to make a complaint do you? And to
whom, you little wretch?

--To whom it may concern.

--Ah, what a fine expression you have learnt by heart. Who is _whom it may
concern_? I do not know him. Whoever he may be, _whom it may concern_ will
laugh in your face. You, a daughter of the streets, a rope-dancer, a clown,
a ragged slut, you would lodge a complaint against me! Surely you do not
know who I am. I am an honourable man; known everywhere, respected
everywhere. Come, you see clearly that you are talking nonsense; be more
reasonable again. What! it pleases me to cast my eyes upon you, to want to
pass a little while with you agreeably; I honour you by stooping myself to
a girl of your kind, and you refuse, and are fastidious. Has one ever seen
such a thing? It is enough to make God laugh. Come, come now, not so many
affectations: for the lost time, how much do you want? A hundred francs?

--You horrify me. Let me go away.

He cast a fearful look upon her, and said, with a laugh which chilled her
blood:

--Oh, you want to go away. Well, how about the money I have spent on you,
and on your journey?

--Your money! I did not ask you for it. But I will let you have it back
again, be assured; when I have worked and earned it.

--And you believe that I shall be satisfied with this fine promise? You
will let me have my money back immediately, or I shall certainly accuse you
of being a thief ... an adventuress.

--I will say what happened. It was you who compelled me to take the money
for the coach-fare.

--I make you a present of that, but you will have to pay all that you have
spent here; if not, you will be put in prison, you understand, little
good-for-nothing? Do you think people are going to keep you and let you
enjoy yourself for nothing?

--And who has told you that I shall not pay, replied Zulma, struck by the
logic of this objection.

--Then you will pay immediately, said the worthy man, for I have been
answerable for you, and it is on my recommendation that they have received
a trollop like you into this respectable house. Madame Connard, he cried at
the door, dear Madame Connard, will you bring up the bill, the little bill?

Madame Connard appeared at once:

--What, Mademoiselle is going away, is she not sleeping here?

--No, Mademoiselle is going to try her fortune elsewhere.

Madame Connard handed the bill to Monsieur Tibulle.

--No, no. It is Mademoiselle who is going to settle it; this young lady.

Zulma glanced at it and grew pale. She had hardly 10 francs, and the bill
amounted to 19 francs, 75 centimes.

--And besides, it is so little because it is you. Everything is so dear
here, and one does not know what to do for a living.

The poor girl remained silent; she looked at the bill without seeing it,
for her eyes were full of tears.

--Well, said Monsieur Tibulle in a wheedling tone. Is there some little
hindrance to your settling that?

--Madame, said Zulma, I have not enough money with me; no, I do not believe
I have enough money ... but I can find it, I know where to find it ... and
in an hour or two....

--Oh, oh, cried Madame Connard, in an hour or two, that is a very fine
tale. But I know it, my girl, and people don't tell me that sort of thing.

--Well, dear Madame, I leave you, said Monsieur Tibulle, making her a
knowing sign; I am going to see if my horse is put to, for I am setting off
directly. Good-bye, little one, good-bye. No malice.

--Well, Mademoiselle, said Madame Connard, what do you decide?

--I have told you, Madame, I can give you five or six francs, and, although
it is a downright robbery, I will find you the rest.

-What! a robbery? you little thief, you little hussy, you dare to call me a
thief, you little street-walker. You are going to pay me immediately, or I
will hand you over to the police.

--Very well, call the police, if you wish; I ask for nothing better; I will
relate what has occurred.

She considered no doubt that she was wrong, for she cried:

--Look, that is not all, pay me immediately and take yourself off somewhere
else. Has one ever seen anything like? You believed perhaps that I was
going to lodge you and keep you for your pretty face? No, my dear. I have
been done already in that way, and you don't catch me any more. There was a
respectable gentleman, very polite, rich, and wearing a red ribbon, who was
answerable for you, if you had been willing to make an arrangement with
him; but instead of making an arrangement with him, you have a dispute; so
much the worse for you, your family quarrels don't concern me. What I want
is the money, that is all that I know; pay me my bill and get out, you
little prostitute.

--Come, dear Madame, I will try and arrange this little matter, said
Monsieur Tibulle, appearing again; the little one is going to think better
of it, I feel sure. Let me reason with her.

Madame Connard withdrew complacently.

--You see, you see in what a position you are placing yourself, said the
excellent old gentleman, crossing his arms and looking at the young girl
with all the dignity and sorrow of a father who has detected his child in
some shameful act.

--Say rather into what an ambush you have driven me, you old scoundrel.

--Oh, oh, oh! no bad word, my girl. Bad words are no use. I am going away
to pay the bill.

--A fig for you and your money.

--What! a fig for me and my money! In the first place you should never
despise money, my girl; we can do nothing without money in this world. And
then you are wrong to despise me, who only wish you well, my dear; yes,
yes, wish you well.

--I tell you to leave me alone.

--Look now, don't be naughty, for I am going to settle the matter.

--I don't want you. Don't touch me....

--And how are you going to get yourself out of this scrape, if you will not
let me get you out. You rebuff me again, though I only want to make you
happy.

--I tell you not to come near me.

--Come, be pacified, you little angry cat; only a kiss and that shall be
all.

He wanted to take hold of her waist, but she pushed him back. But he had
gone too far to believe that he ought to beat a retreat, and he retained to
the charge with renewed vigour. In the struggle she seized him by the neck,
his waistcoat came undone, and a little square bit of painted canvas, of a
dubious colour, remained in her hand. She threw it back in his face in
disgust.

--My scapular! he cried. You throw my scapular about in this way. Stay, you
are a little wretch, a street-walker, a hussy, a reprobate. You will perish
miserably, and I leave you to your fate. Ah, you throw away my scapular!

When he had said this, the good gentleman piously recovered his scapular,
buttoned up his overcoat, and retired full of dignity.

XCIII.

FROM THE DARK TO THE FAIR.

"Moderation should preside over
pleasure: let us seek in new pleasures
a refuge against the satiety of our
souls."

KALVOS DE ZANTE (_Odes nouvelles_).

Zulma had remembered Marcel and had gone to him boldly.

--You have been crying then, my child? said the priest who noticed her red
eyes.

The young girl in a few words informed him of her adventure.

--Who would ever have believed that? she said. Such a kind man! Such an
obliging lady! The old gentleman said to me at Vic: "I shall not concern
myself about you if you do not go to Confession, if you do not receive the
Communion, if you do not say your prayers." Whom can one trust?

And that Madame Connard: "Eat what you like, and don't stand on ceremony.
Monsieur Tibulle wishes it so. Old men are made to pay." And with all these
fine words, I owe her ten _francs_.

Marcel could not help laughing at the girl's artlessness.

--Then you have come to ask me for them.

--Yes, said Zulma blushing; have I not done right? She has kept my
band-box, the old thief; what it contains is not worth ten _francs_, but I
don't want to leave it with her.

--And what will you give me in exchange?

--Everything you want.

--That is a great deal to promise; but you have nothing.

--It is true, I have nothing, she said piteously. Well, I will kiss you and
will love you very much. One may kiss a Cure, may one not?

Marcel thought she was getting to business very quickly.

--Priests do not receive kisses from anybody, he replied.

--From nobody? not even from a sister?

--But you are not my sister.

--Well, I will be your comrade.

--No more do they have a comrade.

--Oh, well, if I were a man I should not like to be in your position; one
must get awfully tired of being all alone. What are you able to do all the
blessed day? For my part, in the first place I must have a lover.

--Ha, ha! and who is your lover?

--A rider at the Loyal Circus. A handsome boy too. A tall dark fellow like
you. He is a little too proud, but I like that in a man.

--And for how long has he been your lover?

--Ever since I have seen him. It is nearly two years ago at the fete at
Mirecourt. Our booth was beside the Circus.

--Two years! cried Marcel: but at what age did you begin?

--Begin what? to dance on the tight-rope?

--To have lovers.

--But I have only had one, and that is he.

--Well, how old were you when you had him?

--I have never had him.

--Look, dear child, you have told me that you are sixteen.

--Yes, sir.

--Then you began at fourteen.

--Began what?

--With your lover.

--We never began anything. I have told you that he was too proud. I wanted
to speak to him once, and he answered, "Go along."

--But he is not your lover.

--But he is, because I love him.

--And you have not had others.

--No, because I love him.

--Well, you are a good girl, and if what you have said is true, you are
worth your weight in gold.

--My weight in gold! cried Zulma laughing; then buy me, for it is true, and
I shall be rich.

--But how shall I know if what you say is true?

--Ah, that is embarrassing, she said thoughtfully. What can I do to prove
it?

--I believe you without proof. But I am not rich enough to pay you.

--It doesn't matter, to you I give myself for nothing.

Marcel was bewildered and hurriedly gave her the ten _francs_.

--How kind you are; I should like all the same to do something for you.

--You wish to please me? Well, remain good.

--Only that! And till when?

--Until I give you permission not to be so any longer.

--I will certainly.

She took a few steps towards the door, opened it, then turning back
suddenly, she advanced her bust, as though she were making a bow to the
crowd, and placing the tips of her fingers on her lips, she wafted a
gracious kiss to the priest.

--There is pleasant and easy love-making, said Marcel to himself. Why did I
not know it sooner?

He ran to the door.

--Wait, my child. Where are you going to sleep to-night? It is late. Have
you a lodging?

--Stay, my word no, I had forgotten it.

--This is what you will do. First, settle your account with this landlady,
without making allusion to anything. A scandal must always be avoided.
Monsieur Tibulle is a man, highly esteemed, with a considerable position in
the world, and anything you might say against him, would only turn against
you. Do not tell this story then to anybody; and do not tell anybody that
you know me. Now take these two _louis_, my dear child, and buy yourself a
few little articles of dress. You must be dressed properly. Go, and come
back here. Monsieur Patin!

The landlord appeared.

--Monsieur Patin, said Marcel, I confide this young person to you, or
rather, to Madame Patin here. She has been recommended specially to me by
some ladies of high rank. She is going to fetch her small articles of
luggage, and will soon be back again. Be careful of her. Give her a room
and her meals; I am answerable for her. Mademoiselle, I shall see you again
to-morrow.

What were Marcel's intentions?

Had he felt the appetite for the unknown awakening?

He who had just poured forth his bitterness upon woman and upon love, had
be come to the conclusion in the presence of this stranger that he could
not do without woman or without love!

But the other?

The other was not there, and the absent are in the wrong.

Could this one make him forget the other? Could a new fancy destroy the
strong love which bound him and was ruining him? Could a love facile and
without risk soothe the hidden mischief and diminish the fury of a
dangerous passion? She had all that was required for that, this little fair
girl with the tempting lips.

Like Suzanne she was young and charming, like Suzanne she would be loving,
and unlike Suzanne, she would be submissive.

Her eyes swimming in their azure, her aquiline nose with its mobile
nostrils, her scarlet fleshly lips, her golden hair like ripened corn, her
rosy cheeks in which coursed health and life, the slimness of her waist,
the delicacy and whiteness of her hand; it all said: Love me.

And she was a fresh woman ... a fresh woman, eternal temptation.

When he returned to the hotel, he found the Comtesse anxiously waiting for
him.

With a smile she handed a large packet, sealed with the episcopal arms.

It was his nomination to the Cure of St. Marie. He would have to take
possession of it immediately.

XCIV.

THE CHANGE.

"Prayer on that day is said within the gothic church,
The old men mourn beneath the ancient oak.
Resisted are the games but just begun.
The village maidens will no longer dance."

MME. DE GIRARDIN (_Elgire_).

The worshippers at Althausen were much surprised the next day to see a
priest whom they did not know, officiating without ceremony in the place of
their Cure. He was stout and plain, with an inflamed face, bloated lips, a
cynical look, and a thundering voice: he said Mass in such a hasty and
indecorous manner that they went away scandalized. The handsome Marcel
certainly was no longer there, with his sweet and unctuous voice, his
evangelic piety, and his eyes which stirred their hearts.

The report spread through the village that the handsome Cure had gone away,
and all the gossips at bay grouped in the market-place and watched for
Veronica to assail her with questions. But the old maid-servant to her
mortification knew no more about it than the gossips. She ventured to
interrogate her new master, but he slapped her on the back and sent her
away to her kitchen-stove.

--He is disgusting, this old fellow, she said. For my part I am not going
to remain here. I prefer the Corporal.

Durand had just sat down at table with his daughter, when Marianne with a
scared air, looked at Suzanne in a mysterious way, and said to the Captain:

--Do you know? Monsieur le Cure has gone away.

--Pleasant journey, said Durand.

--There is a new Cure already in his place. He said Mass this morning.

--A new Cure, cried Suzanne; then he has gone away not to return again?

--Gone away without hope of coming back, said the Captain, that is
discouraging! It surprises you then, little girl, that the handsome priest
has disappeared with neither drum nor trumpet, and with no touching
farewells to his flock. For my part, I am not surprised at it, and I wager
that he has committed some act of blackguardism, and has absconded.

--Oh, father!

--He has not absconded, Marianne said quickly; he went away on Friday very
quietly with another Cure.

--Let him go to the devil!

Suzanne had difficulty in hiding her palor and her distress. She pretended
to have a head-ache, left the table, ran to her room and burst into tears.
Why this decisive departure? Why had she not received a single warning from
Marcel? No doubt, he had done it for the best, but that best was
incomprehensible to her; her heart was broken, and her self-love received a
cruel wound.

Soon the news arrived. The new Cure announced Marcel's change in the
sermon, and said farewell for him to his parishioners. Everybody was in
consternation. He might have announced the seven plagues of Egypt.

For her part Marianne received a mysterious packet which was intended for
Suzanne. The priest, in cautious terms informed her of his change, and said
it was necessary to wait. Wait for what? Suzanne waited.

But one morning she awoke full of dismay; she had felt something give a
start in her entrails. She wrote a long letter to Marcel, and Marcel
answered: Wait.

Wait for what? She waited again.

XCV.

THE CURE OF ST. MARIE.

"The white ground and the gloomy sky
Blended their heads sepulchral;
The rough north winds of winter
Breathed to the heart despair."

CAMILLE DELTHIL (_Poemes parisiens_).

Weeks and then months passed away. One rainy winter's evening a young
woman, in deep mourning, with her face covered with a thick veil, stopped
at the Cure of St. Marie's door.

She had hesitated for a long time; several times she had passed in front of
the tall gray house, casting a furtive glance on the lofty windows,
slackening her walk and seeming to say: "Ought I to go in? Yes, I must go
in." But each time she pursued her way again. At length, as the rain kept
falling ever colder as night came on, she controlled herself by en effort,
slowly retraced her step and rang gently.

The door was opened at once, and an old woman with a face the colour of
leather, invited her in mysteriously, "Whom shall I announce?" she
asked.--"Do not announce me. I am expected."

The old woman smiled discreetly and showed her into a large parlour, the
door of which she closed upon her.

It was a bare wainscoted room, gloomy, lighted by two candle-ends.

A _prie-Dieu_, a table, some straw chairs, a few rows of old books on
shelves painted black, composed all the furniture.

A large crucifix of wood which stretched its thin arms from one window to
the other, contributed no little to give a sorrowful and monastic look to
the room.

The young girl approached the chimney-piece, where a few brands were
burning at the bottom of a huge grate. She shivered, perhaps more from
emotion than from cold, for she remained there, thoughtful, forgetting even
to warm her feet, soaked by the rain.

A door opened soon at the other end of the room and Marcel entered.

He had greatly changed during these few months.

His eye shot forth a gloomy fire, his cheeks were hollow, and numerous
threads of silver showed themselves in his dark locks. It was evident that
anxiety, watchings and cares, contended on his wrinkled brow.

At the sight of the young woman he assumed a livid palor.

--You, he murmured in a stifled voice, you here, Mademoiselle?

--I am, replied Suzanne; did you not reckon then on seeing me again?

--Not now, dear child, I confess to you. I had said to you: Wait.

--And I have waited. And weary of waiting, I decided to come and to know
finally from your own mouth what I must wait for, and on what I most count.
But ... sir.... I am tired: will you allow me to sit down?

--Pardon me, Mademoiselle, I mean to say, dear Suzanne, but your coming has
filled me with such confusion....

He handed her a chair, and sat down facing her.

--Ah! dear child, you do not know with what cares I am overwhelmed.

--They must indeed be very serious, sir, since they have made you forgetful
of your duties, even to the care of your honour and of mine ... for the
moment is approaching when I shall no longer he able to hide the
consequences of your....

--Of our fault, dear Suzanne, of both our faults. Do not overwhelm me
alone, for it was your pretty face which made me mad. But is it really
possible? Can it be true? what, you are....

--I have let you know it, sir, a long time ago, and you have not deigned to
give any answer on that subject. I have read and read again your letters
many times, seeking for a word which might console me, for a hope, for a
light, but there was nothing. You have told me to wait; you have tried,
like a coward, to gain time, you have reckoned on something unforeseen
occurring, which might settle the question without your aid ... and you
would have washed your hands of it in peace in your broad conscience. But
the time has gone on, the unexpected has not come, and now here I am, and I
come to ask you: What do you intend to do with me?

--In truth, dear Suzanne, I had not believed ... Ah, you are more beautiful
than ever ... No, I had not believed that the case was so desperate.

--You have not believed. No doubt, amidst your life of lies, surrounded by
hypocrites and criminals, you have included me charitably in the number,
and supposed that I lied.

--Suzanne, dear Suzanne, do not be offended ... I believed that you wished
to terrify me ... Ah, how lovely you are like this ... Ah, it is a terrible
misfortune. We must guard against it. And your father, does he suspect?

--Not yet, sir, but the moment is approaching when I shall no longer be
able to hide the truth.

--It is true then. What is to be done? What is to be done?

--Stop; you would make me laugh, if I did not pity you. I am come to ask
you, for the last time, if I ought to count upon you.

--Count upon me? But, my dear child, upon whom would you count if not upon
me? There is no doubt but that you have only me to count on. I am your
friend, your only friend. Always the same, dear Suzanne. I am ready for
anything, in order to get you out of this scrape. But judge yourself. I am
observed by all here, the slightest report would re-echo terribly and would
ruin me. I am surrounded by those who envy me and consequently are my
enemies. In a year or two, perhaps, I may be Grand-Vicar. You see how
careful I have to be of my position. I will do everything, be well assured
of it, it is my interest as well as yours, but I cannot do the impossible.
What do you ask?

--You have a short memory, sir, but I remember, I remember with what
infernal art you induced me, not to yield to you--for you well know, and
God is witness to it, that I yielded only to violence--but to listen to you
with a too trustful ear. No, I see you do not remember it: you have
forgotten so many things that it would be lost time to try and refresh your
memory. You do not answer? For in truth, sir, the parts are strangely
altered, and if I am ashamed of it for myself, I blush still more for your
sake. But since you are so careful of your future and of your fortune, I am
come to tell you this: I am rich, sir, do not then fear anything, do not
dread poverty; I have inherited from an aunt, who leaves me enough to
provide me with a husband. But what I want is a father for my child....

--Mademoiselle, dear and fondly-loved Suzanne, yes, ever fondly-loved
Suzanne, I am full of confusion and remorse; I thank you from the bottom of
my heart for your generous offer ... but ... can I accept it? I make you
the judge of it yourself. Do I belong to myself? I am the Church's, bound
from head to foot, body and soul; not a thought belongs to myself, I am but
the infinitesimal portion of an immense wheel which carries me away in
spite of myself. How can I loosen myself from the gear? Can I do it? Can I
defy such a scandal? My honour, my dignity as a man....

--Ah, you are appealing to your honour now ... but, sir, your duty, is not
that your honour? And what is your duty? Stay, you are a wretch....

As she uttered these words, a young girl's head, fair, charming, rosy
looked inquisitively through the half-open door. Suzanne saw it and grew
pale. Her brows contracted and a bitter smile passed across her lips.

--I understand, she said, I understand your hesitation, your honour and
your scruples. Farewell, sir....

And she went out, without turning her head, stifling her sobs.

Marcel followed her with his eyes, and ran to the door:

--Suzanne, Mademoiselle, to-morrow you shall have an answer. Another
word...

She made no reply and he heard the street-door close.

A tear rolled to the edge of his eyelid.

He rushed to the window to call her back, but a hand laid hold of his and
the fair girl stood before him.

--Well, Monsieur my uncle, well! And who is that handsome dark girl?

--Ah, my poor Zulma, do not be jealous of her.

--I am jealous of everything, and I want to know.

XCVI.

FINIS CORONAT OPUS.

"No mortal can foresee his fate
Let none despair. Comrades, good night."

BYRON (_Mazeppa_).

The following evening, the canal toll-collector on the Malzeville road
discerned a black shadow which, despite the icy rain, remained for a long
time leaning on the parapet of the turn-bridge, then all at once
disappeared. He called for help and, a few minutes afterwards, they drew
out of the water the body of a young girl of remarkable beauty.

A portion of a letter was found upon her which at first aroused a thousand
comments.

This is what was written:

"I have just celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and during the
Elevation, I prayed God to inspire me with a good idea. I likewise asked of
the Queen of Angels what I could do for this unfortunate one. The
All-pitying God and the Mother chaste and pure hearkened to me. Let my
sister in Jesus Christ whose image will never be effaced from the heart of
her spiritual friend, go and knock at the gate of the Convent of Our Lady
of the Seven Sorrows, in the parish of St. Marie; there, the cares which
her interesting condition demand, will be afforded her. It will be easy to
explain her temporary absence, and, in case of need, to obtain the
permission of a parent who wished to place an obstacle in the way of this
pious necessity. Divine Providence will assist in this as it assists all
those who have recourse to it. The ladies of the Seven Sorrows are
informed, and they await the new sheep with mothers' and sisters' hearts.

"Let it be thus done in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the
Holy Ghost:

"Jesus, Mary, Joseph."

On applying at the Convent of the Seven Sorrows, the good sisters said that
in fact they had received a letter, sealed with the episcopal arms,
announcing the arrival of a young lady. They were unable to say more.

Monseigneur, when questioned, summoned the Abbe Marcel who gave the
examining magistrate the most satisfactory explanations, acknowledging that
he was the author of the letter, and that she was a young girl whose honour
he desired to save.

This event did the greatest good to the reputation of the former Cure of
Althausen. His discretion, his wisdom and his virtue were lauded more than
ever.

[Illustration]

Afterword.

OTHER WORKS IN ENGLISH
BY HECTOR FRANCE

MANSOUR'S CHASTISEMENT;
THE ATTACK ON THE BROTHELS;
MUSK, HASHISH AND BLOOD;
THE DAUGHTER OF THE CHRIST;
UNDER THE BURNOUS.

THE AUTHOR AND HIS WORKS.

Hector France alighted upon this planet some fifty years ago and chose his
home in the midst of a family renowned for generations as fighters. From
this preliminary statement we may deduce two facts: firstly, that baby
Hector was not destined by his stern-visaged, paternal sire for any other
than the martial profession, and secondly, that the squealing youngster of
those days is now a man in the prime of life.

Strongly-built, upright and vigorous, Hector France looks every inch just
what he really is--a Soldier and a Gentleman, as ready to handle the Sword
as to smite smooth-faced Lie and Hypocrisy with the Pen.

The qualities of his mind are faithfully delineated in his features. He has
the same leonine look that distinguished the famous English iconoclast,
Charles Bradlaugh. The massive brow, the firm, determined jaw, the large,
luminous eyes, the wavy hair and big shoulders would anywhere mark him out
at once, though unknown, as a Philosopher, Fighter, Orator and Leader of
men. The career of the two men also offers points in common.

If Charles Bradlaugh was a soldier so was Hector France, with the
difference that the latter really did face sabre-flash and cannon-smoke
whereas his English prototype early bought himself out of the Service. Both
men, too, mixed in the game of Politics, only Bradlaugh's luck landed him
at last in Parliament while France led a forlorn hope that ended, after
many a narrow escape for life, in twenty years of weary exile from his
beloved country. Finally both men hold nearly identical opinions with
regard to Religious Questions, only Bradlaugh imagined he had a special
mission to assail the world's historic faiths, and Hector France, like
Ernest Renan, smiles in a curious Oriental way, when these things are
broached, quite content for you to believe anything you please so that you
do not bother him overmuch with your reasons.

Hector France must not be confounded, as is often done by ignorant persons,
with the gentleman who has elected to call himself "Anatole France", and
who writes under that name. The real patronym of M. "Anatole France" is, I
am informed, Monsieur Chaussepied, which interpreted into English means
"Mr. Shoe-horn". It is unnecessary to state that Hector France is content
with his own name, and would not have changed it even had it been less
noble than it really is, believing with us that a man's work are sufficient
title to nobility, however odd may be the cognomen bequeathed him from
bygone sires.

The appearance of this book in English will prove a godsend to Protestants
who may see in it only an attack on Catholicism. Let them hug no such
flattering unction to their souls. M. Hector France is no savage iconoclast
gone mad with sectarian hatred. He recognizes the good in all religions as
answering a temporary need in the evolution of Humanity, and for none has
he a more profound respect than the Catholic Church. Indeed the pomp and
magnificence, the architectural grandeur, the vast learning, wealth and
influence of this institution appeal to the imagination of both ignorant
and cultured alike. The aim of the distinguished writer of the "Grip of
Desire" is far removed from that of vulgar and gratuitous image-breaking.
He seeks to show the danger to human character that comes through meddling
with one of the most imperious of natural instincts. If in the
"Chastisement of Mansour" he bodies forth the consequences of unbridled
Libertinism, in the "Grip of Desire" he demonstrates the evils attendant on
a life of forced Celibacy. In the first we have the autocratic Reign of the
Flesh, in the second the Subjection of legitimate Carnal Desire.

The union of the female to the male is a law of Nature, as solid as the
granite bases of the world. No normally constituted man can disregard that
law without doing violence to himself and to his kind.

Kant says: "Man and woman constitute, when united, the whole and entire
being, one sex completes the other."

Schopenhauer asserts: "The sexual impulse is the most complete expression
of the will to live, in other words, it is the concentration of all
volition." And in another passage: "The affirmation of the will to live
concentrates itself in the act of procreation, which is its most positive
expression." Mainlaender gives utterance to the opinion when he says: "The
sexual impulse is the centre of gravity for human existence. It alone
secures to the individual the life which he above all desires ... man
devotes himself more seriously to the business of procreation than to any
other; in the achievement of nothing else does he condense and concentrate
the intensity of his will in so remarkable a manner as in the act of
generation." And before all those, Buddha wrote: "Sexual desire is sharper
than the hook with which wild elephants are tamed; hotter than flame; it is
like an arrow that is shot into the heart of man."

The present work, if it teach anything at all, teaches that Celibacy is a
crime, and the Mother of crime, just as a venomous plant is a producer of
poison. The needs of his organization torment the single man until he robs
from others that which he lacks. Hence Seduction, Rape, Adultery, the
Invasion of trouble into families, and furious Jealousies with all their
prolific brood of Wrong-doing and Woe.

This is not the place to praise or to blame the book before us. Each man
will judge it according to his individual tastes, temperament and
character. The embryonic, thin-lipped man may consider it bold, far too
outspoken. The full-blooded reader more conversant with the realities of
life, will be inclined to look upon it with larger charity, having regard
to what the Author has _refrained from saying_, rather than to what he has
said.

"At the outset," says Camille Lemonnier, himself a well-known writer,
"these pages are conspicuously chaste; Temptation takes the form of
Mystical Sensuality, at first beaten back and then surging forwards
victorious; then, as the fire of passion grows more intense, the lamp of
the tabernacle dies gradually out; and Humanity, with the unchaining of
instinct, breaks forth, cries and howls like a mad gorilla from his cage."
Here again we witness the triumph of Eve; entangled in her long, flaxen
tresses she sweeps away the sinner's conscience, and while the Church
closes the door against them both, Nature opens out wide her own with a
kindly,

"Come in, my Children."
CHARLES CARRINGTON.
PARIS, 1st JUNE, 1898.

[Illustration]

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