Part 2 out of 13
glory of Thy Godhead Thou hast not sinned! Have patience yet, oh
Thou great Splendour of all worlds! Have patience yet, Thou outraged
and blasphemed Creator! Break once again Thy silence as of old and
speak to us!--pity us once again ere Thou slay us utterly,--come to
us even as Thou earnest in Judaea, and surely we will receive Thee
and obey Thee, and reject Thy love no more!"
As he thus prayed he was seized with a paralysing fear,--for
suddenly the red and glowing chaos of fire above him changed into
soft skies tinged with the exquisite pearl-grey hues of twilight,
and he became conscious of the approach of a great invisible
Presence, whose awful unseen beauty overwhelmed him with its
sublimity and majesty, causing him to forget altogether that he
himself existed. And Someone spoke,--in grave sweet accents, so soft
and close to him that the words seemed almost whispered in his
"Thy prayer is heard,--and once again the silence shall be broken.
Nevertheless remember that 'the light shineth in darkness and the
darkness comprehendeth it not'."
Deep silence followed. The mysterious Presence melted as it were
into space,--and the Cardinal awoke, trembling violently and bathed
in a cold perspiration. He gazed bewilderedly around him, his mind
still confused and dazzled by the strong visionary impression of the
burning heavens and sea,--and he could not for a moment realize
where he was. Then, after a while, he recognised the humble
furniture of the room he occupied, and through the diamond-shaped
panes of the little lattice window, perceived the towers of Notre
Dame, now gleaming with a kind of rusty silver in the broader
radiance of the fully uplifted moon.
"It was a dream," he murmured,--"A dream of the end of the world!"
He shuddered a little as he thought of the doom pronounced upon the
earth,--the planet "known to all angels as the Sorrowful Star"--"Let
the Sun that hath given it warmth and nourishment be now its chief
According to modern scientists, such was indeed the precise way in
which the world was destined to come to an end. And could anything
be more terrifying than the thought that the glorious Orb, the maker
of day and generator of all beauty, should be destined to hurl from
its shining centre death and destruction upon the planet it had from
creation vivified and warmed! The Vision had shown the devastating
ring of fire rising from that very quarter of the heavens where the
sun should have been radiantly beaming,--and as Felix Bonpre dwelt
upon the picture in his mind, and remembered his own wild prayer to
the Eternal, a great uneasiness and dread overwhelmed him.
"God's laws can never be altered;" he said aloud--"Every evil deed
brings its own punishment; and if the world's wickedness becomes too
great an offence in the eyes of the Almighty, it follows that the
world must be destroyed. What am I that I should pray against Divine
Justice! For truly we have had our chance of rescue and salvation;--
the Way,--the Truth,--and the Life have been given to us through
Christ our Redeemer; and if we reject Him, we reject all, and we
have but ourselves to blame."
At that moment a plaintive wailing, as of some human creature in
distress broke on his ears through the deep silence of the night. He
listened attentively, and the sorrowful sound was repeated,--a
desolate yet gentle cry as of some sick and suffering child. Moved
by a sudden impulse the Cardinal rose, and going to the window
looked anxiously out, and down into the street below. Not a living
creature was to be seen. The moonlight spread itself in a vast
silver glory over the whole width of the square, and the delicate
sculpture of the great rose-window of the Cathedral, centrally
suspended between the two tall towers, looked in the fine pale
radiance like a giant spider's web sparkling with fairy dew. Again--
again!--that weary sobbing cry! It went to the Cardinal's heart, and
stirred him to singular pain and pity.
"Surely it is some lost or starving creature," he said--"Some poor
soul seeking comfort in a comfortless world." Hastily throwing on
his garments he left his room, treading cautiously in order not to
disturb the sleeping household,--and feeling his way down the short,
dark staircase, he easily reached the door and passed noiselessly
out into the square. Walking a few steps hurriedly he paused, once
more listening. The night was intensely calm;--not a cloud crossed
the star-spangled violet dome of air wherein the moon soared
serenely, bathing all visible things in a crystalline brilliancy so
pure and penetrative, that the finest cuttings on the gigantic grey
facade of Notre Dame could be discerned and outlined as distinctly
as though every little portion were seen through a magnifying glass.
The Cardinal's tall attenuated figure, standing alone and almost in
the centre of the square, cast a long thin black shadow on the
glistening grey stones,--and his dream-impression of an empty world
came back forcibly upon him,--a world as empty as a hollow shell!
Houses there were around him, and streets, and a noble edifice
consecrated to the worship of God,--nevertheless there was a sense
of absolute desertion in and through all. Was not the Cathedral
itself the mere husk of a religion? The seed had dropped out and
sunk into the soil,--"among thorns" and "stony places" indeed,--and
some "by the wayside" to be devoured by birds of prey. Darker and
heavier grew the cloud of depression on the Cardinal's soul,--and
more and more passionate became the protest which had for a long
time been clamouring in him for utterance,--the protest of a
Churchman against the Church he served! It was terrible,--and to a
"prince of the Roman Church" hideous and unnatural; nevertheless the
protest existed, and it had in some unaccountable way grown to be
more a part of him than he himself realized.
"The world is empty because God is leaving it," he said, sorrowfully
raising his eyes to the tranquil heavens,--"and the joy of existence
is departing because the Divine and Holy Spirit of things is being
He moved on a few paces,--and once more through the deep stillness
the little sobbing cry of sorrow was wafted tremulously to his ears.
It came or seemed to come from the Cathedral, and quickening his
steps he went thither. The deeply hollowed portal, full of black
shadows, at first showed nothing but its own massively sculptured
outlines--then--all at once the Cardinal perceived standing within
the embrasured darkness, the slight shrinking figure of a child. A
boy's desolate little figure,--with uplifted hands clasped
appealingly and laid against the shut Cathedral door, and face
hidden and pressed hard upon those hands, as though in mute and
inconsolable despair. As the Cardinal softly drew nearer, a long
shuddering sigh from the solitary little creature moved his heart
anew to pity, and speaking in accents of the utmost gentleness he
"My poor child, what troubles you? Why are you here all alone, and
weeping at this late hour? Have you no home?--no parents?"
Slowly the boy turned round, still resting his small delicate hands
against the oaken door of the Cathedral, and with the tears yet wet
upon his cheeks, smiled. What a sad face he had!--worn and weary,
yet beautiful!--what eyes, heavy with the dews of sorrow, yet tender
even in pain! Startled by the mingled purity and grief of so young a
countenance, the Cardinal retreated for a moment in amaze,--then
approaching more closely he repeated his former question with
increased interest and tenderness--
"Why are you weeping here alone?"
"Because I am left alone to weep," said the boy, answering in a soft
voice of vibrating and musical melancholy--"For me, the world is
An empty world! His dream-impression of universal desolation and
desertion came suddenly back upon the prelate's mind, and a sudden
trembling seized him, though he could discover in himself no cause
for fear. Anxiously he surveyed the strange and solitary little
wayfarer on the threshold of the Cathedral, and while he thus
looked, the boy said wistfully--
"I should have rested here within, but it is closed against me."
"The doors are always locked at night, my child," returned the
Cardinal, recovering from his momentary stupor and bewilderment,
"But I can give you shelter. Will you come with me?"
With a half-questioning, half-smiling look of grateful wonder, the
boy withdrew his hands from their uplifted, supplicating and almost
protesting attitude against the locked Cathedral-door, and moving
out of the porch shadows into the wide glory of the moonlight, he
confronted his interlocutor--
"Will I come with you?" he said--"Nay, but I see you are a Cardinal
of the Church, and it is I should ask 'will you receive me?' You do
not know who I am--nor where I came from, and I, alas! may not tell
you! I am alone; all--all alone,--for no one knows me in the world,-
-I am quite poor and friendless, and have nothing where--with to pay
you for your kindly shelter--I can only bless you!"
Very simply, very gravely the young boy spoke these words, his
delicate head uplifted, his face shining in the moon-rays, and his
slight, childish form erect with a grace which was not born of pride
so much as of endurance, and again the Cardinal trembled, though he
knew not why. Yet in his very agitation, the desire he had to
persuade the tired child to go with him grew stronger and
overmastered every other feeling.
"Come then," he said, smiling and extending his hand, "Come, and you
shall sleep in my room for the remainder of the night, and to-morrow
we will talk of the future. At present you need repose."
The boy smiled gratefully but said nothing, and the Cardinal,
satisfied with the mere look of assent walked with his foundling
across the square and into the Hotel Poitiers. Arrived at his own
bed-room, he smoothed his couch and settled the pillows carefully
with active zeal and tenderness. The boy stood silently, looking on.
"Sleep now, my child," said the Cardinal,--"and forget all your
troubles. Lie down here; no one will disturb you till the morning."
"But you, my lord Cardinal," said the boy--"Are you depriving
yourself of comfort in order to give it to me? This is not the way
of the world!"
"It is MY way," said the Cardinal cheerfully,--"And if the world has
been unkind to you, my boy, still take courage,--it will not always
be unjust! Do not trouble yourself concerning me; I shall sleep well
on the sofa in the next room--indeed, I shall sleep all the better
for knowing that your tears have ceased, and that for the present at
least you are safely sheltered."
With a sudden quick movement the boy advanced and caught the
Cardinal's hands caressingly in his own.
"Oh, are you sure you understand?" he said, his voice growing
singularly sweet and almost tender as he spoke--"Are you sure that
it is well for you to shelter me?--I--a stranger,--poor, and with no
one to speak for me? How do you know what I may be? Shall I not
perhaps prove ungrateful and wrong your kindness?"
His worn little face upturned, shone in the dingy little room with a
sudden brightness such as one might imagine would illumine the
features of an angel, and Felix Bonpre looked down upon him half
fascinated, in mingled pity and wonder.
"Such results are with God, my child," he said gently--"I do not
seek your gratitude. It is certainly well for me that I should
shelter you,--it would be ill indeed if I permitted any living
creature to suffer for lack of what I could give. Rest here in
peace, and remember it is for my own pleasure as well as for your
good that I desire you to sleep well."
"And you do not even ask my name?" said the boy, half smiling and
still raising his sorrowful deep blue eyes to the Cardinal's face.
"You will tell me that when you please," said Felix, laying one hand
upon the soft curls that clustered over his foundling's forehead--"I
am in no wise curious. It is enough for me to know that you are a
child and alone in the world,--such sorrow makes me your servant."
Gently the boy loosened his clasp of the Cardinal's hands.
"Then I have found a friend!" he said,--"That is very strange!" He
paused, and the smile that had once before brightened his
countenance shone again like a veritable flash of sunlight--"You
have the right to know my name, and if you choose, to call me by
it,--it is Manuel."
"Manuel!" echoed the Cardinal--"No more than that?"
"No more than that," replied the boy gravely--"I am one of the
world's waifs and strays,--one name suffices me."
There followed a brief pause, in which the old man and the child
looked at each other full and steadfastly, and once again an
inexplicable nervous trembling seized the Cardinal. Overcoming this
with an effort, he said softly,--
"Then--Manuel!--good night! Sleep--and Our Lady's blessing be upon
Signing the cross in air he retired, carefully shutting the door and
leaving his new-found charge to rest. When he was once by himself in
the next room, however, he made no attempt to sleep,--he merely drew
a chair to the window and sat down, full of thoughts which utterly
absorbed him. There was nothing unusual, surely, in his finding a
small lost boy and giving him a night's lodging?--then why was he so
affected by it? He could not tell. He fully realized that the
plaintive beauty of the child had its share in the powerful
attraction he felt,--but there was something else in the nature of
his emotion which he found it impossible to define. It was as though
some great blankness in his life had been suddenly filled;--as if
the boy whom he had found solitary and weeping within the porch of
the Cathedral of Notre Dame, belonged to him in some mysterious way
and was linked to his life so closely and completely as to make
parting impossible. But what a fantastic notion! Viewed by the light
of calm reason, there was nothing in the occurrence to give rise to
any such sentiment. Here was a poor little wayfarer, evidently
without parents, home, or friends,--and the Cardinal had given him a
night's lodging, and to-morrow--yes, to-morrow, he would give him
food and warm clothing and money,--and perhaps a recommendation to
the Archbishop in order that he might get a chance of free education
and employment in Rouen, while proper enquiries were being made
about him. That was the soberly prosaic and commonplace view to take
of the matter. The personality of the little fellow was intensely
winning,--but after all, that had nothing to do with the facts of
the case. He was a waif and stray, as he himself had said; his name,
so far as he seemed to know it, was Manuel,--an ordinary name enough
in France,--and his age might be about twelve,--not more. Something
could be done for him,--something SHOULD be done for him before the
Cardinal parted with him. But this idea of "parting" was just what
seemed so difficult to contemplate! Puzzled beyond measure at the
strange state of mind in which he found himself, Felix Bonpre went
over and over again all the events of the day in order,--his arrival
in Rouen,--his visit to the Cathedral, and the grand music he had
heard or fancied he heard there,--his experience with the sceptical
little Patoux children and their mother,--his conversation with the
Archbishop, in which he had felt much more excitement than he was
willing to admit,--his dream wherein he had been so painfully
impressed with a sense of the desertion, emptiness, and end of the
world, and finally his discovery of the little lonely and apparently
forsaken boy, thrown despairingly as it were against the closed
Cathedral, like a frail human wreck cast up from the gulf of the
devouring sea. Each incident, trivial in itself, yet seemed of
particular importance, though he could not explain or analyse why it
should be so. Meditatively he sat and watched the moon sink like a
silver bubble falling downward in the dark,--the stars vanished one
by one,--and a faint brown-gold line of suggestive light in the east
began the slow creation of a yet invisible dawn. Presently, yielding
to a vague impulse of inexplicable tenderness, he rose softly and
went to the threshold of the room where his foundling slept. Holding
his breath, he listened--but there was no sound. Very cautiously and
noiselessly he opened the door, and looked in,--a delicate half-
light came through the latticed window and seemed to concentrate
itself on the bed where the tired wanderer lay. His fine youthful
profile was distinctly outlined,--the soft bright hair clustered
like a halo round his broad brows,--and the two small hands were
crossed upon his breast, while in his sleep he smiled. Always
touched by the beauty, innocence and helplessness of childhood,
something in the aspect of this little lad moved the venerable
prelate's heart to an unwonted emotion,--and looking upon him, he
prayed for guidance as to what he should best do to rescue so gentle
and young a creature from the cruelties of the world.
"He has trusted me," said the Cardinal,--"I have found him, and I
cannot--dare not--forsake him. For the Master says 'Whosoever shall
receive one such little child in My name receiveth Me'."
The next morning broke fair and calm, and as soon as the Patoux
household were astir, Cardinal Bonpre sought Madame Patoux in her
kitchen, and related to her the story of his night's adventure. She
listened deferentially, but could not refrain from occasional
exclamations of surprise, mingled with suggestions of warning.
"It is like your good heart, Monseigneur," she said, "to give your
own bed to a stray child out of the street,--one, too, of whom you
know nothing,--but alas! how often such goodness is repaid by
ingratitude! The more charity you show the less thanks you receive,-
-yes, indeed, it is often so!--and it seems as if the Evil One were
in it! For look you, I myself have never done a kindness yet without
getting a cruelty in exchange for it."
"That is a sad experience, my daughter," returned the Cardinal
smiling,--"Nevertheless, it is our duty to go on doing kindnesses,
no matter what the results to ourselves may be. It is understood--is
it not? that we are to be misjudged in this world. If we had nothing
to suffer, what would be the use of exercising such virtues as
patience and endurance?"
"Ah, Monseigneur, for you it is different," said Madame Patoux
shaking her head and sighing--"You are like the blessed saints--safe
in a niche of Holy Church, with Our Lady for ever looking after you.
But for poor people such as we are--we see the rough side of life,
Monseigneur--and we know that there is very little goodness about in
the world,--and as for patience and endurance!--why, no one in these
days has the patience to endure even the least contradiction! Two
men,--aye even brothers,--will fight for a word like mongrels
quarrelling over a bone;--and two women will scream themselves
hoarse if one should have a lover more than the other--asking your
pardon, Monseigneur, for such wicked talk! Still, wicked as it may
be, it is true--and not all the powers of Heaven seem to care about
making things better. And for this boy,--believe me,--you had better
leave him to his own way--for there will be no chance of getting
such a poor little waif into the school unless his father and mother
are known, or unless someone will adopt him, which is not likely . . .
for Rouen is full of misery, and there are enough mouths to feed in
most families--and . . . mon Dieu!--is that the child?"
Thus abruptly she broke off her speech, utterly taken aback as she
suddenly perceived the little Manuel standing before her. Poorly
clad in the roughest garments as he was, his grace and plaintive
beauty moved her heart to quick compassion for his loneliness as he
came towards the Cardinal, who, extending one hand, drew him gently
to his side and asked if he had slept well?
"Thanks to your goodness, my lord Cardinal," the boy replied, "I
slept so well that I thought I was in Heaven! I heard the angels
singing in my dreams;--yes!--I heard all the music of a happy world,
in which there never had been known a sin or sorrow!"
He rested his fair head lightly against the Cardinal's arm and
smiled. Madame Patoux gazed at him in fascinated silence,--gazed and
gazed,--till she found her eyes suddenly full of tears. Then she
turned away to hide them,--but not before Cardinal Bonpre had
observed her emotion.
"Well, good MOTHER" he said with gentle emphasis on the word--"Would
you have me forsake this child that I have found?"
"No, Monseigneur,--no," said Madame Patoux very softly and
tremulously--"It is almost as if he were a little lost Angel sent to
A curious thrill went through the Cardinal. An angel to comfort him!
He looked down at Manuel who still clung caressingly to his arm, and
who met his earnest scrutiny with a sweet candid smile.
"Where did you come from, Manuel?" asked Bonpre suddenly.
"I cannot tell you," the boy answered, straightly, yet simply.
The Cardinal paused a moment, his keen penetrating eyes dwelling
kindly on the noble young face beside him.
"You do not wish to tell me,--is that so?" he pursued.
"Yes," said Manuel quietly--"I do not wish to tell you. And if,
because of this, you regret your kindness to me, my lord Cardinal, I
will go away at once and trouble you no more."
But at these words the Cardinal felt such a sharp consciousness of
pain and loss that his nerves ached with positive fear.
"Nay, nay, my child," he said anxiously--"I cannot let you go. It
shall be as you please,--I will not think that you could do yourself
or me a wrong by concealing what would be right for you to tell. It
is true that you are alone in the world?"
"Quite, quite alone!" answered Manuel, a faint shadow darkening the
serenity of his eyes--"No one was ever more alone than I!"
Madame Patoux drew nearer and listened.
"And there is no person living who has the right to claim you?"
"And is it not strange, Monseigneur," murmured Madame Patoux at this
juncture--"The little lad does not speak as if he were ignorant! It
is as though he had been well taught and carefully nurtured."
Manuel's deep eyes dwelt upon her with a meditative sweetness.
"I have taught myself;" he said simply--"Not out of books, perhaps,
but out of nature. The trees and rivers, the flowers and birds have
talked to me and explained many things;--I have learned all I know
from what God has told me."
His voice was so gentle and tender that Madame Patoux was infinitely
touched by its soft plaintiveness.
"Poor child!" she murmured,--"He has no doubt been wandering through
the country, without a soul to help him. Alas, that troubles should
begin for one so young! Perhaps he does not even know a prayer!"
"Oh yes!" said Manuel quickly--"Prayer is like thought,--God is so
good that it is only natural to thank and praise Him. Is it not so?"
"It should be natural, my boy," answered the Cardinal slowly and
with a slight accent of melancholy,--"But for many of us in these
days I fear it is more natural still to forget than to remember. Too
often we take gifts and ignore the giver. But come now and breakfast
in my room;--for the present you shall remain with me, and I will
see what can best be done for your future welfare."
And turning to Madame Patoux he added smilingly--"You, my daughter,
with children of your own to care for, will no longer blame me for
my interest in this child, who is without protection in a somewhat
rough world. We of the Church dare not 'offend one of these little
"Ah, Monseigneur!" murmured Madame,--"If all in the Church were like
you, some poor folks would believe in God more willingly. But when
people are starving and miserable, it is easy to understand that
often they will curse the priests and even religion itself, for
making such a mock of them as to keep on telling them about the joys
of heaven, when they are tormented to the very day of their death on
earth, and are left without hope or rescue of any kind--"
But the Cardinal had disappeared with his young charge and Madame's
speech was lost upon him. She had therefore to content herself with
relating the story of "Monseigneur's foundling" to her husband, who
just then came into the kitchen to take his breakfast before
starting off to work in his market-garden. He listened with interest
"A boy is always a trouble," he said sententiously--"And it is
likely that so Monseigneur will find it. How old would the child
"About twelve, I should say," answered Madame--"But beautiful as a
little angel, Jean!"
"That's a pity!" and Patoux shook his head ominously--"Tis bad
enough when a girl is beautiful,--but a boy!--Well, well!
Monseigneur is a wise man, and a saint they say,--he knows best,--
but I fear he has taken a burden upon himself which he will very
soon regret! What dost thou think of it, petite?"
Madame hesitated a moment before replying.
"Truly, I do not know what to think," she answered--"For myself, I
have not spoken to the child. I have seen him,--yes!--and at the
sight of him a something in my throat rose up and choked me as it
were,--and stopped me from saying a rough word. Such a lonely gentle
lad!--one could not be harsh with him, and yet--"
"Yet! Oh, yes, I know!" said Patoux, finishing his coffee at a gulp
and smiling,--"Women will always be women,--and a handsome face in
girl or boy is enough to make fools of them all. Where are the
children? Are they gone to school?"
"Yes--they went before the Cardinal was up. 'Tis a Saturday, and
they will be back early,--they are going to bring little Fabien
Doucet to Monseigneur."
"What for?" enquired Patoux, his round eyes opening widely in
"Oh, for a strange fancy! That he may bless the child and pray Our
Lady to cure him of his lameness. It was Babette's whim. I told her
the Cardinal was a saint,--and she said,--well! she said she would
never believe it unless he worked a miracle! The wicked mischief
that girl is!--as bad as Henri, who puts a doubt on everything!"
"'Tis the school," said Jean gloomily--"I must speak to Pere
"Truly that would be well," said Madame--"He may explain what we
cannot. All the same, you may be sure the children WILL bring Fabien
Doucet to Monseigneur;--they have made up their minds about it,--and
if the little miserable's lameness gets no better, we shall have
work enough in future to make the saints respected!"
Patoux muttered something inaudible, and went his way. Life was in
his opinion, a very excellent thing,--nevertheless there were a few
details about it which occasionally troubled him, and one of these
details was decidedly the "national education" question. It struck
him as altogether remarkable that the State should force him to send
his children to school whether he liked it or no; and moreover that
the system of instruction at the said school should be totally
opposed to his own ideas. He would have certainly wished his son to
learn to read and write, and then to have been trained as a thorough
florist and gardener;--while for his daughter he also desired
reading and writing as a matter of course, and then a complete
education in cooking and domestic economy, so that she might be a
useful and efficient wife and mother when the proper time for such
duties came. Astronomy he felt they could both do without, and most
of the "physical sciences." Religion he considered an absolute
necessity, and this was the very thing that was totally omitted from
the national course of education. He was well aware that there are
countless numbers of unhappy people nowadays who despise religion
and mock at the very idea of a God. Every day he saw certain works
exposed for sale on the out-of-door bookstalls which in their very
titles proclaimed the hideous tone of blasphemy which in France is
gradually becoming universal,--but this did not affect his own sense
of what was right and just. He was a very plain common man, but he
held holy things in reverence, and instinctively felt that, if the
world were in truth a bad place, it was likely to become much worse
if all faith in God were taken out of it. And when he reached his
plot of ground that morning, and set to work as usual, he was, for a
non-reflective man, very much absorbed in thought. His heavy
tramping feet over the soil startled some little brown birds from
their hidden nests, and sent them flying to and fro through the
clear air uttering sharp chirrups of terror,--and, leaning on his
spade, he paused and looked at them meditatively.
"Everything is afraid," he said,--"Birds, beasts, and men,--all are
afraid of something and cannot tell what it is that frightens them.
It seems hard sometimes that there should be so much trouble and
struggle just to live--however, the good God knows best,--and if we
could not think and hope and believe He knew best, we might just as
well light up a charcoal fire, shut all the doors and windows, and
say 'Bon jour! Bon jour, Monsieur le bon Dieu!--for if YOU do not
know YOUR business, it is evident we do not know ours, and therefore
'tis best for both our sakes to make an end of sheer Stupidity!'"
He chuckled at his own reasoning, and moistening his hands
vigorously, seized his spade and began to bank up a ridge of celery,
singing "Bon jour, Monsieur le bon Dieu!" under his breath without
the slightest idea of irreverence. And looking up at the bright sky
occasionally, he wished he had seen the stray boy rescued from the
streets by Cardinal Bonpre.
"That he will be a trouble, there is no doubt," he said as he turned
and patted the rich dark earth--"Never was there a boy born yet into
the world that was not a trouble except our Lord, and even in His
case His own people did not know what to make of Him!"
Meantime, while Jean Patoux dug in his garden, and sang and
soliloquized, his two children, Henri and Babette, their school
hours being ended, had run off to the market, and were talking
vivaciously with a big brown sturdy woman, who was selling poultry
at a stall, under a very large patched red umbrella. She was Martine
Doucet, reported to have the worst temper and most vixenish tongue
in all the town, though there were some who said her sourness of
humour only arose from the hardships of her life, and the many
troubles she had been fated to endure. Her husband, a fine handsome
man, earning good weekly wages as a stone-mason, had been killed by
a fall from a ladder, while engaged in helping to build one of the
new houses on the Boulevards, and her only child Fabien, a boy of
ten had, when a baby, tumbled from the cart in which his mother was
taking her poultry to market, and though no injury was apparent at
the time, had, from the effects of the fall, grown into a poor
little twisted mite of humanity with a bent spine, and one useless
leg which hung limply from his body, while he could scarcely hobble
about on the other, even with the aid of a crutch. He had a soft,
pretty, plaintive face of his own, the little Fabien, and very
gentle ways,--but he was sensitively conscious of his misfortune,
and in his own small secret soul he was always praying that he might
die while he was yet a child, and not grow up to be a burden to his
mother. Martine, however, adored him; and it was through her intense
love for this child of hers that she had, in a strange vengeful sort
of mood abandoned God, and flung an open and atheistical defiance in
the face of her confessor, who, missing her at mass, had ventured to
call upon her and seriously reproach her for neglecting the duties
of her religion. Martine had whirled round upon him,--a veritable
storm in petticoats.
"Religion!" she cried--"Oh--he! What good has it done for ME, if you
please! When I said my prayers night and morning, went to mass and
confession, and told my rosary every Mary-Feast, what happened? Was
not my man killed and my child crippled? And then,--(not to lose
faith--) did I not give the saints every chance of behaving
themselves? For my child's sake did I not earn good money and pay it
to the Church in special masses that he might be cured of his
lameness? And Novenas in plenty, and candles in plenty to the
Virgin, and fastings of my own and penitences? And is the child not
as lame as ever? Look at him!--the dear angel!--with never an evil
thought or a wicked way,--and will you try to make me believe there
is a good God, when He will not help a poor little creature like
that, to be happy, though He is prayed to night and morning for it!
No--no! Churches are kept up for priests to make a fat living out
of,--but there is never a God in them that I can see;--and as for
the Christ, who had only to be asked in order to heal the sick,
there is not so much as a ghost of Him anywhere! If what you priests
tell us were true, poor souls such as I am, would get comfort and
help in our sorrows, but it is all a lie!--the whole thing!--and
when we are in trouble, we have got to bear it as best we can,
without so much as a kind word from our neighbours, let alone any
pity from the saints. Go to mass again? Not I!--nor to confession
either!--and no more of my earnings will click into your great brass
collection plate, mon reverend! Ah no!--I have been a foolish woman
indeed, to trust so long in a God who for all my tears and prayers
never gives me a sign or a hope of an answer,--and though I suppose
this wretched world of ours was made by somebody, whoever it is that
has done it is a cruel creature at best, so _I_ say,--without as
much good feeling as there is in the heart of an ordinary man, and
without the sense of the man either! For who that thinks twice about
it would make a world where everything is only born to die?--and for
no other use at all! Bah! It is sheer folly and wickedness to talk
to me of a God!--a God, if there were one, would surely be far above
torturing the creatures He has made, all for nothing!"
And the priest who heard this blasphemous and savage tirade on the
part of Martine Doucet, retreated from her in amazement and horror,
and presently gave out that she was possessed of a devil, and was
unfit to be admitted to the Holy Sacrament. Whereat, when she heard
of it, Martine laughed loudly and ferociously.
"Look you!--what a charitable creature a priest is!" she cried--"If
you don't do the things he considers exactly right and fitting, he
tells your neighbours that the devil has got you!--and so little
does he care to pick you out of the clutches of this same devil,
that he refuses you the Sacrament, though THAT is said to drive away
Satan by the mere touch of it! But wait till I ASK to have the
Sacrament given to me!--it will be time enough then to refuse it!
Many a fat chicken of my stock has the reverend father had as a free
gift to boil in his soup maigre!" and again she laughed angrily--"
But no more of them does he get to comfort his stomach while doing
penance for his soul!--the hypocrite! He must find another silly
woman to cheat with his stories of a good God who never does
anything but kill and curse us every one!--he has had all that he
will ever get out of Martine Doucet!"
It was to this redoubtable virago that Henri and Babette had betaken
themselves in the market place directly school was over. She always
held the same stall in the same position on market days,--and she
sat under her red umbrella on a rough wooden bench, knitting
rapidly, now keeping an eye on her little lame son, coiled up in a
piece of matting beside her, and anon surveying her stock-in-trade
of ducks and geese and fowls, which were heaped on her counter,
their wrung necks drooping limply from the board, and their yellow
feet tied helplessly together and shining like bits of dull gold in
the warm light of the September sun. She listened with an impassive
countenance while Babette poured out her story of the great
Cardinal,--the Cardinal Felix Bonpre, whom people said was a saint,-
-how he had come unexpectedly to stay two nights at the Hotel
Poitiers,--how "petite maman" had declared he was so good that even
angels might visit him,--how kind and gentle and grand he seemed,--
"Yes," said Babette somewhat eagerly, "there was no doubt that he
LOOKED good,--and we have told him all about Fabien and he has
promised to bless him and ask Our Lord to cure his lameness."
"Well, and of what use is that, mignonne?" demanded Martine,
clicking her knitting-needles violently and stooping over her work
to wink away the sudden tears that had risen in her bold brown eyes
at Babette's enthusiastic desire to benefit her afflicted child.--
"Asking our Lord is poor business,--you may ask and ask, but you
never get answered!"
Babette hung her curly brown head despondingly, and looked
appealingly at her brother. Now Henri was a decided cynic;--but his
sister exercised a weird fascination over him,--a sort of power to
command which he always felt more or less constrained to obey. He
stared solemnly at Martine, and then at the little Fabien, who, half
rising from his mat, had listened with a visibly painful interest to
"I think you might let us take Fabien and see if a Cardinal CAN do
anything," he said with a kind of judicial air, as of one who,
though considering the case hopeless, had no objection to try a last
desperate remedy. "This one is a very old man, and he must know a
good deal. He could not do any harm. And I am sure Babette would
like to find out if there is any use at all in a Cardinal. I should
like it too. You see we went into Notre Dame last night,--Babette
and I,--and everything was dark,--all the candles were out at Our
Lady's statue--and we had only ten centimes between us. And the
candles are ten centimes each. So we could only light one. But we
lit that one, and said an Ave for Fabien. And the candle was all by
itself in the Cathedral. And now I think we ought to take him to the
Martine shook her head, pursed up her lips, and knitted more
violently than ever.
"It is all no use--no use!" she muttered--"There is no God,--or if
there is, He must be deaf as well as blind!"
But here suddenly the weak plaintive voice of Fabien himself piped
"Oh, mother, let me go!"
Martine looked down at him.
"Let thee go? To see the Cardinal? Why he is nought but an old man,
child, as helpless as any of us. What dost thou think he can do for
"Nothing!" and the boy clambered up on his crutch, and stood
appealingly before his mother, his fair curls blowing back in the
breeze,--"But I SHOULD like to see him. Oh, do let me go!"
Babette caught him by the hand.
"Yes, oh yes, Martine!" she exclaimed--"Let him come with us!"
Martine hesitated a moment longer, but she could never altogether
resist an imploring look in her boy's eyes, or refuse any request he
made of her,--and gradually the hard lines of her mouth relaxed into
a half smile. Babette at once perceived this, and eagerly accepted
it as a sign that she had gained her point.
"Come, Fabien!" she exclaimed delightedly--"Thy mother says yes! We
will not be long gone, Martine! And perhaps we will bring him home
Martine shook her head sorrowfully, and paused for a while in her
knitting to watch the three children crossing the market-place
together, Henri supporting her little son on one side, Babette on
the other, both carefully aiding his slow and halting movements over
the rough cobbles of the uneven pavement. Then as they all turned a
corner and disappeared, she sighed, and a couple of bright tears
splashed down on her knitting. But the next moment her eyes were as
bold and keen and defiant as ever while she stood up to attend to
two or three customers who just then approached her stall, and her
voice was as shrill and sharp as any woman's voice could be in the
noisy business of driving a bargain. Having disposed of three or
four fat geese and fowls at a good profit, she chinked and counted
the money in her apron pockets, hummed a tune, and looked up at the
genial sky with an expression of disfavour.
"Oh, yes, 'tis a fine day!" she muttered,--"And the heavens look as
if the saints lived in them;--but by and by the clouds will come,
and the cold!--the sleet, the snow, the frost and the bitterness of
winter!--and honest folk will starve while thieves make a good
living!--that is the way the wise God arranges things in this
She gave a short laugh of scorn, and resumed the clicking of her
needles, not raising her eyes from her work even when her neighbour,
the old woman who sold vegetables at the next stall, ventured to
"Where is thy unfortunate boy gone to, Martine?" she enquired,--"Is
it wise to let him be with the Patoux children? They are strong and
quick and full of mischief,--they might do him fresh injury in play
without meaning it."
"I will trust them," answered Martine curtly,--"They have taken him
to see a Cardinal."
"A Cardinal!" and the old woman craned her withered neck forward in
amazement and began to laugh feebly,--"Nom de Jesus! That is
strange! What does the Cardinal want with him?"
"Nothing," said Martine gruffly--"It seems that he is an old man who
is kind to children, and the girl Babette has a fancy to get his
blessing for my Fabien,--that is all."
"And that is little enough," responded the old vegetable-vendor,
still laughing, or rather chuckling hoarsely--"A blessing is not
worth much nowadays, is it Martine? It never puts an extra ounce of
meat in the pot-au-feu,--and yet it is all one gets out of the
priests for all the prayers and the praise. Last time I went to
confession I accused myself of the sin of envy. I said 'Look here,
my father, I am a widow and very old; and I have rheumatism in all
my bones, and I have only a bit of matting to sleep on at home, and
if I have a bad day with the market I can buy no food. And there is
a woman living near me who has a warm house, with a stove in it,--
and blankets to cover her, and a bit of money put by, and I envy her
her blankets and her stove and her house and her money. Is that a
sin?' And he said it was a sin; but that he would absolve me from it
if I said ten Paters and ten Aves before Our Lady of Bon-Secours.
And then he gave me his blessing,--but no blankets and no stove and
no money. And I have not said ten Paters and Aves yet, because my
bones have ached too much all the week for me to walk up the hill to
Bon-Secours. And the blessing has been no use to me at all."
"Nor is it likely to be!" scoffed Martine--"I thought you had given
up all that Church-nonsense long ago."
"Nay--nay--not altogether,"--murmured the old woman timidly--"I am
very old,--and one never knows--there may be truth in some of it. It
is the burning and the roasting in hell that I think of,--you know
that is very likely to happen, Martine!--because you see, in this
life we have nothing but trouble,--so whoever made us must like to
see us suffering;--it must be a pleasure to God, and so it is sure
to go on and on always. And I am afraid!--and if a candle now and
then to St. Joseph would help matters, I am not the one to grudge
it,--it is better to burn a candle than burn one's self!"
Martine laughed loudly, but made no answer. She could not waste her
time arguing against the ridiculous superstitions of an old creature
who was so steeped in ignorance as to think that a votive candle
could rescue her soul from a possible hell. She went on knitting in
silence till a sudden shadow came between her and the sunlight, and
a girl's voice, harsh, yet with a certain broken sweetness in it,
"A fine morning's killing, aye! All their necks wrung,--all dead
birds! Once they could fly--fly and swim! Fly and swim! All dead
now--and sold cheap in the open market!"
A shrill laugh finished this outburst, but Martine knew who it was
that spoke, and maintained her equanimity.
"Is that you again, Marguerite?" she said, not unkindly--"You will
tire yourself to death wandering about the streets all day."
Marguerite Valmond, "la folle" as she was called by the townsfolk,
shook her head and smiled cunningly. She was a tall girl, with black
hair disordered and falling loosely about her pale face,--her eyes
were dark and lustrous, but wild, and with a hunted expression in
them,--and her dress was composed of the strangest remnants of oddly
assorted materials and colours pinned about her without any order or
symmetry, the very idea of decent clothing being hardly considered,
as her bosom was half exposed and her legs were bare. She wore no
head-covering, and her whole aspect was that of one who had suddenly
awakened from a hideous dream and was striving to forget its
"I shall never be tired!" she said--"If I could be tired I should
sleep,--but I never sleep! I am looking for HIM, you know!--it was
at the fair I lost him--you remember the great fair? And when I find
him I shall kill him! It is quite easy to kill--you take a sharp
glittering thing, so!" and she snatched up a knife that lay on
Martine's counter--"And you plunge it--so!" and she struck it down
with singular fury through the breast of one of the "dead birds"
which were Martine's stock-in-trade. Then she threw the knife on the
ground--rubbed her hands together, tossed her head, and laughed
again--"That is how I shall do it when I meet him!"
Martine said nothing. She simply removed the one stabbed bird from
among the others, and setting it aside, picked up the knife from the
ground and went on knitting as calmly as ever.
"I am going to see the Archbishop," proceeded Marguerite, tossing
back her dishevelled locks and making one or two fantastic dance-
steps as she spoke--"The great Archbishop of this wonderful city of
Rouen! I want to ask him how it happened that God made men. It was a
mistake which He must be sorry for! The Archbishop knows
everything;--he will tell me about it. Ah!--what a beautiful mistake
is the Archbishop himself!--and how soon women find it out! Bon
"Bon jour, Marguerite!" responded Martine quietly.
Singing to herself, the crazed girl sauntered off. Several of the
market women looked after her.
"She killed her child, they say," muttered the old vegetable-seller-
-"But no one knows--"
"Sh--sh--sh!" hissed Martine angrily--"What one does not know one
should not say. Mayhap there never was a child at all. Whatever the
wrong was, she has suffered for it;--and if the man who led her
astray ever comes nigh her, his life is not worth a centime."
"Rough justice!" said one of the market porters, who had just paused
close by to light his pipe.
"Aye, rough justice!" echoed Martine--"When justice is not given to
the people, the people take it for themselves! And if a man deals
ill by a woman, he has murdered her as surely as if he had put a
knife through her;--and 'tis but even payment when he gets the knife
into himself. Things in this life are too easy for men and too hard
for women; men make the laws for their own convenience, and never a
thought of us at all in the making. They are a selfish lot!"
The porter laughed carelessly, and having lit his pipe to his
satisfaction went his way.
A great many more customers now came to Martine's stall, and for
upwards of an hour there was shrill argument and driving of bargains
till she had pretty well cleared her counter of all its stock. Then
she sat down again and looked to right and left of the market-place
for any sign of the Patoux children returning with her little son,
but there was not a glimpse of them anywhere.
"I wonder what they are doing!" she thought--"And I wonder what sort
of a Cardinal it is they have taken the child to see! These great
princes of the Church care nothing for the poor,--the very Pope
allows half Italy to starve while he shuts himself up with his
treasures in the Vatican;--what should a great Cardinal care for my
poor little Fabien! If the stories of the Christ were true, and one
could only take the child to Him, then indeed there might be a
chance of cure!--but it is all a lie,--and the worst of the lie is
that it would give us all so much comfort and happiness if it were
only true! It is like holding out a rope to a drowning man and
snatching it away again. And when the rope goes, the sooner one
sinks under the waves the better!"
The Cardinal was still in his room alone with the boy Manuel, when
Madame Patoux, standing at her door under the waving tendrils of the
"creeping jenny" and shading her eyes from the radiance of the sun,
saw her children approaching with Fabien Doucet between them.
"Little wretches that they are!" she murmured--"Once let them get an
idea into their heads and nothing will knock it out! Now I shall
have to tell Monseigneur that they are here,--what an impertinence
it seems!--and yet he is so gentle, and has such a good heart that
perhaps he will not mind . . ."
Here she broke off her soliloquy as the children came up, Babette
eagerly demanding to know where the Cardinal was. Madame Patoux set
her arms akimbo and surveyed the little group of three half-
pityingly, half derisively.
"The Cardinal has not left his room since breakfast," she answered--
"He is playing Providence already to a poor lad lost in the streets,
and for that matter lost in the world, without father or mother to
look after him,--he was found in Notre Dame last night,--"
"Why, mother," interrupted Henri--"how could a boy get into Notre
Dame last night? When Babette and I went there, nobody was in the
church at all,--and we left one candle burning all alone in the
darkness,--and when we came out the Suisse swore at us for having
gone in, and then locked the door."
"Well, if one must be so exact, the boy was not found actually in
Notre Dame, obstinate child," returned his mother impatiently--"It
happened at midnight,--the good Cardinal heard someone crying and
went to see who it was. And he found a poor boy outside the
Cathedral weeping as if his heart were breaking, and leaning his
head against the hard door for a pillow. And he brought him back and
gave him his own bed to sleep in;--and the lad is with him now."
Little Fabien Doucet, leaning on his crutch, looked up with
"Is he lame like me?" he asked.
"No, child," replied Madame compassionately--"He is straight and
strong. In truth a very pretty boy."
Fabien sighed. Babette made a dash forward.
"I will go and see him!" she said--"And I will call Monseigneur."
"Babette! How dare you! Babette!"
But Babette had scurried defiantly past her mother, and breathless
with a sense of excitement and disobedience intermingled, had burst
into the Cardinal's room without knocking. There on the threshold
she paused,--somewhat afraid at her own boldness,--and startled too
at the sight of Manuel, who was seated near the window opposite the
Cardinal, and who turned his deep blue eyes upon her with a look of
enquiry. The Cardinal himself rose and turned to greet her, and as
the wilful little maid met his encouraging glance and noted the
benign sweetness of his expression she trembled,--and losing nerve,
began to cry.
"Monseigneur . . . Monseigneur . . ." she stammered.
"Yes, my child,--what is it?" said the Cardinal kindly--"Do not be
afraid,--I am at your service. You have brought the little friend
you spoke to me of yesterday?"
Babette peeped shyly at him through her tears, and drooping her
head, answered with a somewhat smothered "Yes."
"That is well,--I will go to him at once,"--and the Cardinal paused
a moment looking at Manuel, who as if responding to his unuttered
wish, rose and approached him--"And you, Manuel--you will also come.
You see, my child," went on the good prelate addressing Babette, the
while he laid a gently caressing hand on her hair--"Another little
friend has come to me who is also very sad,--and though he is not
crippled or ill, he is all alone in the world, which is, for one so
young, a great hardship. You must be sorry for him too, as well as
for your own poor playmate."
But Babette was seized with an extraordinary timidity, and had much
ado to keep back the tears that rose in her throat and threatened to
break out in a burst of convulsive sobbing. She did not know in the
least what was the matter with her,--she was only conscious of an
immense confusion and shyness which were quite new to her ordinarily
bold and careless nature. Manuel's face frightened yet fascinated
her; he looked, she thought, like the beautiful angel of the famous
stained glass "Annunciation" window in the crumbling old church of
St. Maclou. She dared not speak to him,--she could only steal
furtive glances at him from under the curling length of her dark
tear-wet lashes,--and when the Cardinal took her by the hand and
descended the staircase with her to the passage where the crippled
Fabien waited, she could not forbear glancing back every now and
then over her shoulder at the slight, supple, almost aerial figure
of the boy, who, noiselessly, and with a light gliding step,
followed. And now Madame Patoux came forward;--a bulky, anxious
figure of gesticulation and apology.
"Alas, Monseigneur!" she began plaintively--"It is too shameful that
your quiet should be disturbed in this way, but if you could only
know the obstinacy of these children! Ah yes!--if you knew all, you
would pity their parents!--you would indeed! And this is the unhappy
little creature they have brought to you, Monseigneur,--a sad sight
truly!--and afflicted sorely by the will of God,--though one could
hardly say that God was anywhere about when he fell, poor baby, from
his mother's cart and twisted his body awry,--one would rather think
the devil was in the business, asking your pardon, Monseigneur; for
surely the turning of a human creature into a useless lump has
little of good, or divine kindness in it! Now make thy best bow to
the Cardinal," went on Madame with a gasp for breath in her voluble
speech, addressing the little cripple--" And it is a pity them hast
no time to confess thy sins and take the Sacrament before so holy a
man lay hands on thee!"
But at these words Cardinal Bonpre turned to her with a reproving
"I pray you do not call me holy, my daughter," he said earnestly,
the old shadows of pain and prote gathering in his eyes, "Nothing
can make me more sorrowful than to hear such an epithet applied to
one who is so full of errors and sins as myself. Try to look upon me
just as I am,--merely an old man, nearing the grave, with nothing of
merit in me beyond the desire to serve our Lord and obey His
commands,--a desire which is far stronger than the practical force
to obey it. Much that I would do I cannot; and in much that I
attempt I fail. Come to me, my child."
Here, interrupting himself, he bent down, and putting his arms
tenderly round Fabien, lifted him bodily, crutch and all, and
carried him into the next room, and as he did so, the young Manuel
glided in before him, and stood beside his chair, his blue eyes
shining with a soft and eager light of interest, and a little smile
lifting the delicate upper curve of his lips as he looked on. Fabien
meanwhile, perched on the Cardinal's knee, and held close in the
Cardinal's arms, was not at all frightened,--he simply sat,
contented, gazing up confidingly at the pale venerable face above
him. Henri and Babette, having as they considered, got their way,
stayed at the door half afraid to enter, and their mother peered
over their heads at the little scene in mingled awe and curiosity.
"My poor child," then said the Cardinal gently--"I want you to
understand quite clearly how sorry I am for you, and how willingly I
would do anything in the world to make you a strong, well, and happy
boy. But you must not fancy that I can cure you. I told your little
friends yesterday that I was not a saint, such as you read about in
story-books,--and that I could not work miracles, because I am not
worthy to be so filled with the Divine Spirit as to heal with a
touch like the better servants of our Blessed Lord. Nevertheless I
firmly believe that if God saw that it was good for you to be strong
and well, He would find ways to make you so. Sometimes sickness and
sorrow are sent to us for our advantage,--sometimes even death comes
to us for our larger benefit, though we may not understand how it is
so till afterwards. But in Heaven everything will be made clear; and
even our griefs will be turned into joys,--do you understand?"
"Yes," murmured Fabien gravely, but two large tears welled up in his
plaintive eyes as the faint glimmer of hope he had encouraged as to
the possibility of his being miraculously cured by the touch of a
saintly Cardinal, expired in the lonely darkness of his little
"That is well," continued the Cardinal kindly--"And now, since it is
so difficult for you to kneel, you shall stay where you are in my
arms,--so!"--and he set him on his knee in a position of even
greater comfort than before, "You shall simply shut your eyes, and
clasp your little hands together as I put them here,"--and as he
spoke he crossed the child's hands on his silver crucifix-"And I
will ask our Lord to come and make you well,--for of myself I can do
At these words Henri and Babette glanced at each other
questioningly, and then as if simultaneously moved by some
inexplicable emotion, dropped on their knees,--their mother, too
stout and unwieldy to do this with either noiselessness or
satisfaction to herself, was contented to bend her head as low as
she could get it. Manuel remained standing. Leaning against the
Cardinal's chair, his eyes fixed on the crippled Fabien, he had the
aspect of a young Angel of compassion, whose sole immortal desire
was to lift the burden of sorrow and pain from the lives of
suffering humanity. And after a minute or two passed in silent
meditation, the Cardinal laid his hands tenderly on Fabien's fair
curly head and prayed aloud.
"Oh merciful Christ! Most pitying and gentle Redeemer!--to Whom in
the days of Thy sacred life on earth, the sick and suffering and
lame and blind were brought, and never sent away unhealed or
uncomforted; consider, we beseech Thee, the sufferings of this Thy
little child, deprived of all the joys which Thou hast made so sweet
for those who are strong and straight in their youth, and who have
no ailment to depress their courage or to quench the ardour of their
aspiring souls. Look compassionately upon him, oh gentle King and
Master of all such children!--and even as Thou wert a child Thyself,
be pleased to heal him of his sad infirmity. For, if Thou wilt, Thou
canst make this bent body straight and these withered muscles
strong,--from death itself Thou canst ordain life, and nothing is
impossible to Thee! But above all things, gracious Saviour, we do
pray Thee so to lift and strengthen this child's soul, that if it is
destined he should still be called upon to bear his present pain and
trouble, grant to him such perfection in his inward spirit that he
may prove worthy to be counted among Thy angels in the bright
Hereafter. To Thy care, and to Thy comfort, and to Thy healing,
great Master, we commend him, trusting him entirely to Thy mercy,
with perfect resignation to Thy Divine Will. For the sake and memory
of Thy most holy childhood mercifully help and bless this child!
A deep silence ensued. Only the slow ticking of the big old-
fashioned clock in Madame Patoux's kitchen, which was next door to
the room they were all in, could be distinctly heard. Henri and
Babette were the first to stir. They got up from their knees,
brushed the dust of the floor from their clothes, and stared
curiously at Fabien. Was a miracle going to happen? Fabien, however-
-still resting against the Cardinal's breast, with his meagre little
hands clasped tight on the Cardinal's crucifix, kept his eyes
solemnly shut and gave no sign, till the Cardinal himself gently
moved him and set him down. Then he glanced around him
bewilderingly, tottered, and would have fallen had he not been given
his little crutch for support. Very pathetic was the smile which
then quivered on his pale lips,--very doleful was the shake of his
head as he prepared to hobble away.
"Thank you very much, Monseigneur," he murmured gently--"I felt
almost cured while you were praying,--but I am afraid it is no use!
You see there are so many miserable people in the world,--many
cripples, too,--I am not the only one. Our Lord must have enough to
do if He is asked to heal them all! But I am sure you have done
everything you can for me, and I am grateful to you, Monseigneur.
"Good-bye, my child!" and the Cardinal, strongly moved by the sight
of the little helpless twisted figure, and painfully impressed too
by the sense of his own entire powerlessness to remove the cause of
the trouble, bent down and kissed him--"Believe me, if the giving of
my own life could make you strong, you should have that life
willingly. May God bless and heal you!"
At that moment Manuel moved from the place he had kept near the
Cardinal's chair. With a light, eager step forward, he went up to
the little cripple, and putting his arms round him kissed him on the
"Good-bye, dear little brother!" he said smiling--"Do not be sad!
Have patience! In all the universe, among all the millions and
millions of worlds, there is never a pure and unselfish prayer that
the great good God does not answer! Be sure of that! Take courage,
dear little brother! You will soon be well!"
Fabien stared, half amazed, at the gentle young face that shone upon
him with such an expression of hope and tenderness.
"You are very kind," he said--"And you are just a boy yourself,--so
you can perhaps guess how it must feel not to be like other boys who
can run and leap and walk for miles and miles through the fields and
the green shady forests where the birds sing,--and where there is so
much to see and think about,--when one is lame one cannot go far you
know--and then there is my mother--she is very sad about me,--and it
will be hard for her if I live to be a man and still can do nothing
to help her . . ."
His weak voice broke, and two large tears filled his eyes and
brimmed over, trickling slowly down his pale cheeks. Manuel took his
hand and pressed it encouragingly.
"Do not cry!" he said gently--"Believe in what I say--that you will
soon be quite well. The Cardinal has prayed for you as only good men
CAN pray,--without one selfish thought, in faith and deep humility,-
-such prayers draw angels down! Be patient--be brave! Believe in the
best and the best will come!"
His words rang out with a sweet convincing clearness, and even
Cardinal Bonpre felt a sense of comfort as he listened. The little
cripple smiled through his tears.
"Oh, yes," he murmured--"I WILL hope and I WILL believe! I am always
sure God is near us, though my mother thinks He must be very far
away. Yes,--I will be as brave as I can. You are very good to me,--I
know you understand just how I feel, and I thank you very much. I
hope you will be happy yourself some day. Good-bye!" Then, turning
to Henri and Babette he asked, "Shall we go now?"
Henri's brows were drawn together in a dark frown.
"I suppose so," he replied--"I suppose there's nothing more to be
done?" This, with a somewhat sarcastic air of inquiry directed at
the Cardinal, who met his bold bright glance, mildly and half
"Nothing more my child"--he answered--"Did you expect a miracle? I
told you from the first that I was no saint,--I can do no good
unless our Lord wills it."
"The Pope believes in miracles"--said Henri, flushing as he spoke
with the heat of a sudden angry emotion--"But only those that are
performed on his own behalf! HE thinks that God's chief business is
to look after HIM!"
A silence ensued,--whether of horror or embarrassment could hardly
be determined. The Cardinal said nothing,--Babette trembled a
little,--what a dreadful boy Henri really was, she thought!--Madame
Patoux shut up her eyes in horror, crossed herself devoutly as
against some evil spirit, and was about to speak, when Henri,
nothing daunted, threw himself into the breach again, and turned
with a fiery vehemence of appeal towards the young and thoughtful-
"It's just as I say!" he declared hotly--"The Pope is taken as much
care of as if he were a peach wrapped in wadding! Was Christ taken
care of? No,--He suffered all sorts of hardships and at last was
crucified! The Pope shuts himself up in the Vatican with millions
and millions of money's worth, while thousands of people around him
in Italy alone, are starving and miserable. Christ would not allow
such a thing. Christ said 'Sell half that thou hast and give to the
poor'--now the Pope doesn't sell half, nor a quarter, nor a bit of a
quarter! He takes all he can get and keeps it! And yet God is
supposed to work miracles for an old man like that!--Oh I know all
about it! Boys read the newspapers as well as grown men!"
"Henri!" gasped Madame Patoux, extending her fat arm and hand with a
solemn gesture of reproach--"Henri, thou art mad . . . wicked . . ."
But Henri went on unheedingly, still addressing Manuel.
"Now you are a boy, and I daresay you can read and think,--you are
about my age I suppose. And you are left all alone in the world,
with nobody to care for you,--well, do you think that is well-
arranged?--And do you think there is any sense in believing in a God
who does such a lot of cruel things? And when He won't help us ever
so little? How can people be good if they keep on praying and
praying, and hoping and hoping, and working and working--and yet
nothing comes of it all but trouble and pain and loss . . ." He stopped
for sheer lack of breath to go on.
Manuel looked at him quietly, full in the eyes.
"Yes, it is hard!" he said--"Very hard! But it is not God who does
any cruel thing. God is Love,--and the Spirit of Love cannot be
cruel. It is the people of the world themselves,--the people who
injure each other in thought, word and deed,--and who have no spirit
of love in them,--these invite sorrow and pain, and rush upon
misfortune. Then they blame God for it! Ah, it is easy to blame
God!--so much easier than to blame one's self! And if you ask me if
it is well for those who suffer cruel things to still believe in
God, I say yes, I do think it well,--for it is the only chance they
have of finding the right way of life after much wandering in the
His sweet voice fell on the silence like a soft chime, and Henri,
for no particular reason that he could give, felt suddenly abashed.
Cardinal Bonpre listened to the words of this strange foundling with
a singular emotion,--an emotion too deep to find any outlet in
speech. Babette raised her brown trustful eyes, and timidly ventured
to put in her opinion.
"Yes"--she said--"I am sure that is true. You see Henri"--with a
wise glance at her brother--"you see it is always the same,--when
anyone suffers something unfortunate, there is certain to be some
cause for it. Now everybody says that if poor Martine had not put
Fabien in the cart to save herself the trouble of holding him on her
knee, he would not have tumbled out and been hurt. That was the
beginning of it. And that was not God's fault. Come Fabien!--we'll
take you back now."
At this, Madame Patoux started from her stricken condition of
horrified dumbness into speech and action.
"Ah yes, it is indeed time!" she exclaimed--"Enough trouble has been
given, I am sure, to Monseigneur, and if such a prayer as his does
not reach Heaven, why then there is no Heaven at all, and it is no
good bothering ourselves about it. And what things have been said by
my son!--MY son!--against the Holy Father! Ah, mon Dieu! The
wickedness of it!--The horror! And if thou learnest such blasphemy
from newspapers, Henri, thou shalt not read them--"
"Who is to prevent me?" demanded Henri, his eyes sparkling
"Hush--hush my child!" interposed the Cardinal quietly "Nothing
indeed can prevent thee,--no one can hinder thee from walking the
world according to thine own will and direction. Thou must take good
and evil as they come, and strive thy best to discern between them--
and if the love of God cannot help thee--well!--perchance the love
of thy mother may!"
There was a pause. Henri's head drooped, and quick tears filled his
eyes. He said nothing further, but turned to assist Babette in
guiding the little Fabien's hesitating steps as he hobbled from the
room. The emotional Madame Patoux choked back a rising sob.
"God bless you Monseigneur!" she murmured--"Henri will not forget
those words--the lad has a hasty temper, but a good heart--yes,
believe me--a good heart--"
"That I am sure of"--responded the Cardinal--"He is quick and
intelligent--and seeks to know the truth. If he could feel an
asserted 'truth' to be really true, I am confident he would frame
his life upon it, and be a good, brave man. Yes--he is a clever
lad,--and our modern system of education pushes the brain to a
precocity exceeding bodily years,--his impatience and anger only
come from puzzling over what he finds it difficult to understand. It
is all a puzzle to him--all a puzzle!--as it is to most of us!" He
sighed--then added in a lighter tone--"I shall want nothing more at
your kindly hands, my daughter. I have decided to leave Rouen for
Paris to-day and will take an early afternoon train. Manuel"--and he
hesitated a moment--"Manuel will go with me."
Madame was scarcely surprised at this announcement. She had indeed
expected it. She glanced at Manuel himself to see how he accepted
this sudden change in his fortunes, but he was entirely absorbed in
watching Henri and Babette lead their little crippled friend away.
After all, there was nothing to be said. The Cardinal was a free
agent,--he had a perfect right to befriend a homeless boy and give
him sustenance and protection if he chose. He would make, thought
Madame, a perfect acolyte, and would look like a young angel in his
little white surplice. And so the good woman, deciding in her own
mind that such was the simple destiny for which the Cardinal
intended him, smiled, murmured something deferential and approving,
and hastened from the room, to prepare for Monseigneur, whether he
asked for it or not, a dish of her most excellent soup, to
strengthen and support him before starting on his journey. And ere
four o'clock had chimed from all the towers of the city, the Hotel
Poitiers was deprived of its honoured guest,--the Cardinal,
accompanied by his foundling, had departed, and the black, smoky,
snake-like train had rushed with them through the smiling peace of
the Normandy pasture-lands on towards the brilliant "city enthroned
in wickedness," which sparkles like a jewel on the borders of the
Seine as gloriously as ever Babylon sparkled on the shores of
Euphrates. As godless, as hollow to the very core of rottenness, as
her sister of ancient days, wanton "Lutetia" shines,--with the
ghastly and unnatural lustre of phosphorescent luminance arising
from old graves--and as divinely determined as the destruction of
the old-time city splendid, is the approaching downfall of the
modern capital. To the inhabitants of Rouen, the very name of Paris
carries with it a kind of awe,--it excites various emotions of
wonder, admiration, longing, curiosity and even fear,--for Paris is
a witches' cauldron in which Republicanism, Imperialism, Royalism,
Communism and Socialism, are all thrown by the Fates to seethe
together in a hellish broth of conflicting elements--and the smoke
of it ascends in reeking blasphemy to Heaven. Not from its church-
altars does the cry of "How long, O Lord, how long!" ascend
nowadays,--for its priests are more skilled in the use of the witty
bon-mot or the polished sneer than in the power of the prophet's
appeal,--it is from the Courts of Science that the warning note of
terror sounds,--the cold vast courts where reasoning thinkers
wander, and learn, and deeply meditate, knowing that all their
researches but go to prove the fact that apart from all creed and
all forms of creed, Crime carries Punishment as surely as the seed
is born with the flower,--thinkers who are fully aware that not all
the forces of all mankind, working with herculean insistence to
support a Lie, can drive back the storm-cloud of the wrath of that
"Unknown Quantity" called God, whose thunders do most terribly
declare the truth "with power and great glory." "How long O Lord,
how long!" Not long, we think, O friends!--not long now shall we
wait for the Divine Pronouncement of the End. Hints of it are in the
air,--signs and portents of it are about us in our almost terrific
discoveries of the invisible forces of Light and Sound,--we are not
given such tremendous powers to play with in our puny fashion for
the convenience of making our brief lives easier to live and more
interesting,--no, there is some deeper reason,--one, which in our
heedless way of dancing over our own Earth-grave, we never dream of.
And we go on making our little plans, building our ships and making
loud brags of our armies, and our skill, and our prowess both by
land and sea, and our amazing importance to ourselves and to
others,--which importance has reached such a height at the present
day as to make of us a veritable spectacle for Olympian laughter,--
and we draw out our little sums of life from the Eternal exchequer,
and add them up and try to obtain the highest interest for them,
always forgetting to calculate that in making up the sum total, that
mysterious "Unknown Quantity" will have to come in, and (un less it
has been taken into due counting from the first) will be a figure
likely to swamp the whole banking business. And in this particular
phase of speculation and exchange, Paris has long been playing a
losing game. So steadily has she lost, in honour, in prestige, in
faith, in morals, in justice, in honesty and in cleanly living, that
it does not seem possible she can ever retrieve herself. Her men are
dissolute,--her women shameless--her youth of both sexes depraved,--
her laws are corrupt--her arts de cadent--her religion dead. What
next can be expected of her?--or rather to what extent will Destiny
permit her to go before the bolt of destruction falls? "Thus far,
and no farther" has ever been the Principle of Nature--and Paris has
almost touched the "Thus far."
Sitting quietly in her tidy kitchen near the open window, after the
Cardinal's departure, Madame Patoux knitted busily, her thoughts
flying faster than her glittering needles. A certain vague
impression of solemnity had been left on her mind by the events of
the morning,--she could not quite reason out the why or the
wherefore of it--and yet--it was a fact that after Monseigneur had
gone, she had, when entering the rooms he had vacated, felt a
singular sense of awe.
"Almost as if one were in the Cathedral at the ringing of the
'Sanctus'" she murmured under her breath, glancing about timidly at
the plain furniture and bare walls. And after putting everything in
order, she closed and locked the doors jealously, with a
determination that she would not let those rooms to the first
chance-comer for a long time,--no, though she might have to lose
money by her refusal. And now, as she sat actively employed in
knitting socks for Henri, whom she could see sitting with his sister
outside on the bench under the house porch, reading or pretending to
read, she began to wonder what opinion those two young miscreants
had formed in their minds respecting the Cardinal, and also what
they thought of the boy who had been taken so suddenly under his
protection. She was almost tempted to call Henri and ask him a few
questions on the subject,--but she had learnt to value peace and
quietness when she could secure those rare blessings at the hands of
her children, and when they were employed with a book and visibly
out of mischief she thought it wisest to leave them alone. And so
she left them in the present instance, pushing her window open as
she sat and knitted, for the air was warm and balmy, and the long
rays of sunshine streaming across the square were of the hue of a
ripe nectarine just gathered, and the delicate mouldings and
traceries and statues on the porch of the Cathedral appeared like so
many twinings of grey gossamer web glistening in a haze of gold. Now
and then neighbours passed, and nodded or called a greeting which
Madame Patoux answered cheerily, still knitting vivaciously; and the
long shafts of sunshine grew longer, casting deeper shadows as the
quarters chimed. All at once there was a cry,--a woman's figure came
rushing precipitately across the square,--Madame Patoux sprang up,
and her children ran out of the porch as they recognised Martine
"Martine! Martine! What is it!" they all cried simultaneously.
Martine, breathless, dishevelled, laughing and sobbing alternately,
tried to speak, but could only gesticulate and throw up her hands in
a kind of ecstasy, but whether of despair or joy could not be
guessed. Madame Patoux shook her by the arm.
"Martine!--speak--what is it!"
Martine made a violent effort.
"Fabien!--Fabien--" she gasped, flinging herself to and fro and
still sobbing and laughing.
"Mon Dieu!" cried Madame in horror. "Is the child dead?"
"No, no!--" and Martine again tossed her arms aloft in a kind of
frenzy. "No--but look you!--there IS a God! Yes!--we thought He was
an invention of the priests--but no--He is a real God after all!--Oh
mes enfants!" and she tried to grasp the amazed Henri and Babette in
her arms, "You are two of His angels!--you took my boy to the
The children glanced at each other.
"Yes--yes!" they murmured breathlessly.
"Well! and see what has happened!--See!--Here comes Fabien--!"
And as she spoke exultantly with an excitement that seemed to
inspire every nerve of her body, a little figure came running
lightly towards them,--the light strong figure of a boy with fair
curls flying in the wind, and a face in which the large, grey,
astonished eyes flashed with an almost divine joy.
"Mother!--Mother!" he cried.
Madame Patoux felt as though the heavens had suddenly opened to let
the angels down. Was this Fabien? Fabien, who had hobbled painfully
upon crutches all his life, and had left her house in his usual
condition an hour or so ago?--This straight-limbed child, running
with the graceful and easy movement of a creature who had never
known a day's pain?
"Fabien, is it thou?" almost screamed Henri, "Speak, is it thou?"
"It is I" said Fabien, and he stopped, panting for breath,--then
threw his arms round his mother's neck and faced them,--"It is I--
strong and well!--thanks to God and the prayers of the Cardinal!"
For a moment there was a dead silence,--a silence of stupefied
amazement unbroken save by the joyful weeping of Martine. Then
suddenly a deep-toned bell rang from the topmost tower of Notre
Dame--and in the flame-red of the falling sun the doves that make
their homes among the pinnacles of the great Cathedral, rose
floating in cloudy circles towards the sky. One bell--and then
"The Angelus!" cried Babette dropping on her knees and folding her
hands, "The Angelus!--Mother--Martine--Henri!--Fabien!--the
Down they all knelt, a devotional group, in the porch through which
the good Cardinal had so lately passed, and the bells chimed sweetly
and melodiously as Fabien reverently repeated the Angelic Salutation
amid responses made with tears and thanksgiving, and neighbours and
townfolk hearing of the miracle came hastening to the Hotel Poitiers
to enquire into its truth, and pausing as they saw the cluster of
kneeling figures in the porch instinctively and without question
knelt also,--then as the news spread, group after group came running
and gathering together, and dropping on their knees amazed and awe-
struck, till the broad Square showed but one black mass of a
worshipping congregation under the roseate sky, their voices joining
in unison with the clear accents of one little happy child; while
behind them rose the towers of Notre Dame, and over their heads the
white doves flew and the bells of the Angelus rang. And the sun
dropped slowly into the west, crimson and glorious like the shining
rim of a Sacramental Cup held out and then drawn slowly back again
by angel hands within the Veil of Heaven.
Meanwhile, unconscious of the miracle his prayer had wrought,
Cardinal Bonpre and his young charge Manuel, arrived in Paris, and
drove from the station direct to a house situated near the Bois du
Boulogne, where the Cardinal's niece, Angela Sovrani, only daughter
of Prince Sovrani, and herself famous throughout Europe as a painter
of the highest promise, had a suite of rooms and studio, reserved
for her occasional visits to the French capital. Angela Sovrani was
a rare type of her sex,--unlike any other woman in the world, so
those who knew her best were wont to declare. Without being actually
beautiful, according to the accepted lines and canons of physical
perfection, she created around her an effect of beauty, which was
dazzling and exciting to a singular degree,--people who came once
within the charmed circle of her influence could never forget her,
and always spoke of her afterwards as a creature apart;--a "woman of
genius,--yes!"--they said, "But something more even than that." And
this "something more," was just the inexplicable part of her which
governed her whole being, and rendered her so indescribably
attractive. And she was not without beauty--or perhaps it should be
termed loveliness rather,--of an exquisitely suggestive kind, which
provoked the beholder into questioning where and how the glamour of
it fell. In her eyes, perhaps, the secret lay,--they were violet-
grey in hue, and drowsy-lidded, with long lashes that swept the
delicate pale cheeks in a dark golden fringe of shadow, through
which the sparkle of vision gleamed,--now warningly, now tenderly,--
and anon, these same half-shut and deep fringed lids would open
wide, letting the full brilliance of the soul behind the eyes pour
forth its luminance, in flashes of such lightning-like clearness and
compelling force, that it was impossible not to recognise something
higher than mere woman in the dazzle of that spiritual glory. In
figure she was wonderfully slight,--so slight indeed that she
suggested a delicate willow-withe such as can be bent and curved
with one hand--yet this slightness stood her in good stead, for
being united with extreme suppleness, it gave her a grace of
movement resembling that of some skimming mountain bird or sea-
swallow, which flies with amazing swiftness yet seeming slowness.
Angela never moved quickly,--no one had ever seen her in what is
termed a "rush," or a vulgar hurry. She did everything she had to do
without haste, without noise, without announcement or assertion of
any kind;--and all that she did was done as perfectly as her ability
could warrant. And that ability was very great indeed, and displayed
itself in small details as well as large attempts. Whether she
merely twisted her golden-brown hair into a knot, or tied a few
flowers together and fastened them on her dress with a pearl pin,
either thing was perfectly done--without a false line or a
discordant hue. Her face, form, voice and colouring were like a
chord of music, harmonious,--and hence the impression of
satisfaction and composure her presence always gave. In herself she
was a creature of remarkable temperament and character;--true
womanly in every delicate sentiment, fancy and feeling, but with
something of the man-hero in her scorn of petty aims, her delight in
noble deeds, her courage, her ambition, her devotion to duty and her
unflinching sense of honour. Full of rare perceptions and
instinctive knowledge of persons and motives, she could only be
deceived and blinded where her deepest affections were concerned,
and there she could certainly be fooled and duped as completely as
the wisest of us all. Looking at her now as she stood awaiting her
uncle's arrival in the drawing-room of her "suite," the windows of
which faced the Bois, she expressed to the air and surroundings the
personality of a thoughtful, charming young woman,--no more. Her
black silk gown, cut simply in the prevailing mode of definitely
outlining the figure from throat to hips, and then springing out in
pliant folds of trailing drapery, had nothing remarkable about it
save its Parisian perfection of fit,--the pale "Gloire de France"
rose that rested lightly amongst the old lace at her neck, pinned,
yet looking as though it had dropped there merely out of a languid
desire to escape from further growing, was her only ornament. Her
hair, full of curious lights and shades running from brown to gold
and gold to brown again, in a rippling uncertain fashion, clustered
thickly over her brow and was caught back at the sides in a loose
twist after the style of the Greek vestals,--and her fine, small
white hands and taper fingers, so skilled in the use of the artist's
brush, looked too tiny and delicate to be of any service save to
receive the kisses of a lover's lips,--or to be raised, folded pure
and calm, in a child-like appeal to Heaven. Certainly in her fragile
appearance she expressed nothing save indefinable charm--no one,
studying her physiognomy, would have accredited her with genius,
power, and the large conceptions of a Murillo or a Raphael;--yet
within the small head lay a marvellous brain--and the delicate body
was possessed by a spirit of amazing potency to conjure with. While
she watched for the first glimpse of the carriage which was to bring
her uncle the Cardinal, whom she loved with a rare and tender
devotion, her thoughts were occupied with a letter she had received
that morning from Rome,--a letter "writ in choice Italian," which
though brief, contained for her some drops of the essence of all the
world's sweetness, and was worded thus--
"MY OWN LOVE!--A century seems to have passed away since you left
Rome. The hours move slowly without you--they are days,--even
years!--but I feel your spirit is always with me! Absence for those
who love, is not absence after all! To the soul, time is nothing,--
space is nothing,--and my true and passionate love for you makes an
invisible bridge, over which my thoughts run and fly to your sweet
presence, carrying their delicious burden of a thousand kisses!--a
thousand embraces and blessings to the Angela and angel of my life!
From her devoted lover,
Her devoted lover, Florian! Yes; Florian Varillo--her comrade in
art, was her lover,--a genius himself, who had recognised HER genius
and who bowed before it, conquered and subdued! Florian, the creator
of exquisitely delicate landscapes and seascapes, with nymphs and
cupids and nereids and sirens all daintily portrayed therein,--
pictures so ethereal and warm and bright in colour that they were
called by some of the best Italian critics, the "amoretti" of
painting,--he, this wonderful man, had caught her soul and heart by
storm, in a few sudden, quickly-whispered words one night when the
moon was at the full, hanging high over the gardens of the Pincio,--
and, proud of her security in the love she had won, Angela had risen
by leaps and bounds to a magnificence of creative effort and
attainment so far beyond him, that old and wise persons, skilled in
the wicked ways of the world, would sometimes discourse among
themselves in dubious fashion thus: "Is it possible that he is not
jealous? He must surely see that her work is superior to his own!"
And others would answer, "Oh no! No man was ever known to admit,
even in thought, that a woman can do better things in art than
himself! If a masculine creature draws a picture on a paving-stone
he will assure himself in his own Ego, that it is really much more
meritorious simply as 'man's work' than the last triumph of a Rosa
Bonheur. Besides, you have to remember that in this case the man is
the woman's lover--he could soon kill her genius if he chose. He has
simply to desert her,--such an easy thing!--so often done!--and she
will paint no more. Women are all alike,--they rest on love,--when
that fails, then everything fails, and they drop into old age
without a groan." And then perhaps a stray cynic would say, "But
Angela Sovrani need not depend on one lover surely?--" and he would
get for answer, "No, she need not--but it so happens that she
does,"--which to everybody seemed extraordinary, more particularly
in Italy, where morals are so lax, that a woman has only to be seen
walking alone in the public gardens or streets with one of the
opposite sex, and her reputation is gone for ever. It is no use to
explain that the man in question is her father, her brother or her
uncle,--he simply could not be. He is THE man, the one inevitable.
Few Italians (in Italy) believe in the chastity of English women,--
their reasons for doubt being simply because they see the fair and
free ones going to parties, theatres and other places of amusement
with their friends of the other sex in perfect ease and confidence.
And in the case of Angela Sovrani, though she was affianced to
Florian Varillo with her father's consent, (reluctantly obtained,)
and the knowledge of all the Roman world of society, she saw very
little of him,--and that little, never alone. Thus it was very sweet
to receive such consoling words as those she had had from him that
day--"Time is nothing,--space is nothing,--and my true and
passionate love for you makes an invisible bridge over which my
thoughts run and fly to your sweet presence!" The letter lay warm in
her bosom just under the "Gloire de France" rose; she pressed it
tenderly with her little hand now simply for the childish pleasure
of hearing the paper rustle, and she smiled dreamily.
"Florian," she murmured half aloud!--"MY Florian!" And she recalled
certain lines of verse he had written to her,--for most Italians
write verse as easily as they eat maccaroni;--and there are
countless rhymes to "amor" in the dulcet Dante-tongue, whereas our
rough English can only supply for the word "love" some three or four
similar sounds,--which is perhaps a fortunate thing. Angela spoke
English and French as easily and fluently as her native Tuscan, and
had read the most notable books in all three languages, so she was
well aware that of all kinds of human speech in the world there is
none so adapted for making love and generally telling lies in, as
the "lingua Toscana in bocca Romana." And this particular "lingua"
Florian possessed in fullest perfection of sweetness, so far as
making love was concerned;--of the telling of lies he was, according
to Angela's estimate of him, most nobly ignorant. She had not many
idle moments, however, for meditation on her love matters, or for
dreamy study of the delicate beginnings of the autumnal tints on the
trees of the Bois, for the carriage she had been awaiting soon made
its appearance, and bowling rapidly down the road drew up sharply at
the door. She had just time to perceive that her uncle had not
arrived alone, when he entered,--and with a pretty grace and
reverence for his holy calling, she dropped on one knee before him
to receive his benediction, which he gave by laying a hand on her
soft hair and signing the cross on her brow. After which he raised
her and looked at her fondly.
"My dear child!"--he said, tenderly,--and again "My dear child!"
Then he turned towards Manuel, who had followed him and was now
standing quietly on the threshold of the apartment.
"Angela, this is one of our Lord's 'little ones,'" he said,--"He is
alone in the world, and I have made myself his guardian and
protector for the present. You will be kind to him--yes--as kind as
if you were his sister, will you not?--for we are all one family in
the sight of Heaven, and sorrow and loneliness and want can but
strengthen the love which should knit us all together."
Raising her candid eyes, and fixing them on Manuel, Angela smiled.
The thoughtful face and pathetic expression of the boy greatly
attracted her, and in her heart she secretly wondered where her
uncle had found so intelligent and inspired-looking a creature. But
one of her UNfeminine attributes was a certain lack of curiosity
concerning other people's affairs, and an almost fastidious dislike
of asking questions on matters which did not closely concern her. So
she contented herself with giving him that smile of hers which in
itself expressed all sweetness, and saying gently,--
"You are very welcome! You must try to feel that wherever my uncle
is,--that is 'home'."
"I have felt that from the first,"--replied Manuel in his soft
musical voice, "I was all alone when my lord the Cardinal found me,-
-but with him the world seems full of friends."
Angela looked at him still more attentively; and the fascination of
his presence became intensified. She would have liked to continue
the conversation, but her uncle was fatigued by his journey, and
expressed the desire for an hour's rest. She therefore summoned a
servant to show him to the rooms prepared for his reception, whither
he went, Manuel attending him,--and when, after a little while,
Angela followed to see that all was arranged suitably for his
comfort, she found that he had retired to his bed-chamber, and that
just outside his door in a little ante-room adjoining, his "waif and
stray" was seated, reading. There was something indescribable about
the boy even in this reposeful attitude of study,--and Angela
observed him for a minute or two, herself unseen. His face reminded
her of one of Fra Angelico's seraphs,--the same broad brow, deep
eyes and sensitive lips, which seemed to suggest the utterance of
wondrous speech or melodious song,--the same golden hair swept back
in rich clusters,--the same eager, inspired, yet controlled
expression. A curious fluttering of her heart disturbed the girl as
she looked--an indefinable dread--a kind of wonder, that almost
touched on superstitious awe. Manuel himself, apparently unconscious
of her observation, went on reading,--his whole attitude expressing
that he was guarding the door to deter anyone from breaking in upon
the Cardinal's rest, and Angela at last turned away reluctantly,
questioning herself as to the cause of the strange uneasiness which
thrilled her mind.
"It is foolish, of course,"--she murmured, "but I feel just as if
there were a supernatural presence in the house, . . . however,--I
always do have that impression with Uncle Felix, for he is so good
and noble-minded,--almost a saint, as everyone says--but to-day
there is something else--something quite unusual--"
She re-entered the drawing-room, moving slowly with an abstracted
air, and did not at once perceive a visitor in the room,--a portly
person in clerical dress, with a somewhat large head and strongly
marked features,--a notable character of the time in Paris, known as
the Abbe Vergniaud. He had seated himself in a low fauteuil, and was
turning over the pages of the month's "Revue de Deux Mondes",
humming a little tune under his breath as he did so,--but he rose
when he saw Angela, and advanced smilingly to greet her as she
stopped short, with a little startled exclamation of surprise at the
sight of him.
"Forgive me" he said, with an expressively apologetic gesture,--
"Have I come at an inopportune moment? I saw your uncle arrive, and
I was extremely anxious to see him on a little confidential matter--
I ventured to persuade your servant to let me enter--"
"No apologies are necessary, Monsieur l'Abbe" said Angela, quickly,
"My uncle Felix is indeed here, but he is tired with his journey and
"Yes, I understand!" And Monsieur l'Abbe, showing no intention to
take his leave on account of the Cardinal's non-presence, bowed low
over the extended hand of "the Sovrani" as she was sometimes called
in the world of art, where her name was a bone for envious dogs-in-
the-manger to fight over--"But if I might wait a little while--"
"Your business with my uncle is important?" questioned Angela with
slightly knitted brows.
"My dear child, all business is important,"--declared the Abbe, with
a smile which spread the light of a certain satirical benevolence
all over his plump clean-shaven face, "or so we think--we who
consider that we have any business,--which is of course a foolish
idea,--but one that is universal to human nature. We all imagine we
are busy--which is so curious of us! Will you sit here?--Permit me!"
And he dexterously arranged a couple of cushions in an arm-chair and
placed it near the window. Angela half-reluctantly seated herself,
watching the Abbe under the shadow of her long lashes as he sat down
opposite to her. "Yes,--the emmets, the flies, the worms and the
men, are all of one equality in the absurd belief that they can do
things--things that will last. Their persistent self-credulity is
astonishing,--considering the advance the world has made in science,
and the overwhelming proofs we are always getting of the fact that
we are only One of an eternal procession of many mighty
civilizations, all of which have been swept away with everything
they have ever learnt, into silence,--so that really all we do, or
try to do, amounts to doing nothing in the end!"
"That is your creed, I know," said Angela Sovrani with a faint sigh,
"But it is a depressing and a wretched one."
"I do not find it so," responded the Abbe, complacently looking at a
fine diamond ring that glittered on the little finger of his plump
white hand, "It is a creed which impresses upon us the virtue of
being happy during the present moment, no matter what the next may
bring. Let each man enjoy himself according to his temperament and
capabilities. Do not impose bounds upon him--give him his liberty.
Let him alone. Do not try to bamboozle him with the idea that there
is a God looking after him. So will he be spared much disappointment
and useless blasphemy. If he makes his own affairs unpleasant in
this world', he will not be able to lift up his hands to the
innocent skies, which are only composed of pure ether, and blame an
impossible Large Person sitting up there who can have no part in
circumstances which are entirely unknown outside the earth's
ridiculously small orbit."
He smiled kindly as he spoke, and looked paternally at "the
Sovrani," who flushed with a sudden warmth that sent a wave of pale
rose over her face, and made her cheeks the colour of the flower she
"How cruel you are!" she said,--"How cold--how didactic! You would
give each man his freedom according to habit and temperament,--no
matter whether such habit and temperament led to crime or
otherwise,--you would impose upon him no creed,--no belief in
anything higher than himself,--and yet--you remain in the Church!"
The Abbe laughed softly.
"Chere Sovrani! You are angry--deliciously angry! Impulsively,
enthusiastically, beautifully vexed with me! I like to see you so,--
you are a woman of remarkable genius, and yet you are quite a little
child in heart,--a positive child, with beliefs and hopes! I should
not wonder if you even believed that love itself is eternal!--that
most passing of phantoms!--yes--and you exclaim against me because I
venture to think for myself? It is appalling that I should think for
myself and yet remain in the Church? My dear lady, you might just as
well, after unravelling the dirty entanglement of the Dreyfus case,
have turned upon our late friend Faure ancl exclaimed 'And yet you
Angela's violet eyes glowed.
"He was not allowed to remain President," she said.
"No, he was not. He died. Certainly! And I know you think he would
not have died if he had done his best to clear the character of an
innocent man. To women of your type, it always seems as if God--the
Large Person up above--stepped in exactly at the right moment. It
would really appear as if it were so at times. But such things are
"I do not believe in coincidences," said Angela decisively, "I do
not believe in 'chance' or 'luck', or what you call 'fortuitous'
haphazard arrangements of any sort. I think everything is planned by
law from the beginning; even to the particular direction in which a
grain of dust floats through space. It is all mathematical and
exact. And the moving Spirit--the Divine Centre of things, whom I
call God,--cannot dislodge or alter one particle of the majestic
system without involving the whole in complete catastrophe. It is
our mistake to 'chance' things--at least, so I think. And if I
exclaim against you and say,--"Why do you remain in the Church?' it
is because I cannot understand a man of conscience and intellect
outwardly professing one thing while inwardly he means another.
Because God will take him in the end at his own interior valuation,
not at his outward seeming."
"Uncomfortable, if true," said the Abbe, still smiling. "When one
has been at infinite pains all one's life to present a charmingly
virtuous and noble aspect to the world, it would be indeed
distressing if at the last moment one were obliged to lift the
mask . . ."
"Sometimes one is not given the chance to lift it," interposed
Angela, "It is torn off ruthlessly by a force greater than one's
own. 'Call no man happy till his death,' you know."
"Yes, I know," and the Abbe settled himself in his chair more
comfortably;--he loved an argument with "the Sovrani", and was wont
to declare that she was the only woman in the world who had ever
made him wish to be a good man,--"But that maxim can be taken in two
ways. It may mean that no man is happy till his death,--which I most
potently believe,--or it may mean that a man is only JUDGED after
his death, in which case it cannot be said to affect his happiness,
as he is past caring whether people think ill or well of him.
Besides, after death it must needs be all right, as every man is so
particularly fortunate in his epitaph!"
Angela smiled a little.
"That is witty of you," she said, "but the fact of every man having
a kindly-worded epitaph only proves goodness of heart and feeling in
his relatives and friends--"
"Or gratitude for a fortune left to them in his will," declared the
Abbe gaily, "or a sense of relief that the dear creature has gone
and will never come back. Either motive, would, I know, inspire me
to write most pathetic verses! Now you bend your charming brows at
me,--mea culpa! I have said something outrageous?"
"Not from the point of view at which YOU take life," said Angela
quietly, "but I was just then thinking of a cousin of mine,--a very
beautiful woman; her husband treated her with every possible sort of
what I should term civil cruelty,--polite torture--refined agony. If
he had struck her or shot her dead it would have been far kinder.
But his conduct was worse than murder. He finally deserted her, and
left her penniless to fight her own way through the world. Then he
died suddenly, and she forgot all his faults, spoke of him as though
he had been a model of goodness, and lives now for his memory, ever
mourning his loss. In her case the feeling of regret had nothing to
do with money, for he spent all her fortune and left her nothing
even of her own. She has to work hard for her living now,--but she
loves him and is as true to him as if he were still alive. What do
you say to that?"
"I say that the lady in question must be a charming person!" replied
the Abbe, "Perfectly charming! But of course she is deceiving
herself; and she takes pleasure in the self-deception. She knows
that the man had deserted her and was quite unworthy of her
devotion;--but she pretends to herself that she does NOT know. And
it is charming, of course! But women will do that kind of thing. It
is extraordinary,--but they will. They all deceive themselves in
matters of love. Even you deceive yourself."
"I?" she exclaimed.
"Yes--you--why not?" And the Abbe treated her to one of his
particularly paternal smiles. "You are betrothed to Florian
Varillo,--but no man ever had or ever could have all the virtues
with which you endow this excellent Florian. He is a delightful
creature,--a good artist--unique in his own particular line,--but
you think him something much greater than even artist or man--a sort
of god, (though the gods themselves were not impeccable) only fit to
be idealised. Now, I am not a believer in the gods,--but of course
it is delightful to me to meet those who are."
"Signor Varillo needs neither praise nor defence," said Angela with
a slight touch of hauteur, "All the world knows what he is."
"Yes, precisely! That is just it,--all the world knows what he is,--
" and the Abbe rubbed his forehead with an air of irritation, "And I
am vexing you by my talk, I can see! Well, well!--You must forgive
my garrulity;--I admit my faults--I am old--I am a cynic--I talk too
much--I have a bad opinion of man, and an equally bad opinion of the
Forces that evolved him. By the way, I met that terrible reformer
and socialist Aubrey Leigh at the Embassy the other day--the man who
is making such a sensation in England with his 'Addresses to the
People.' He is quite an optimist, do you know? He believes in
everything and everybody,--even in me!"
Angela laughed, and her laughter sweet and low, thrilled the air
with a sense of music.
"That is wonderful!" she said gaily,--"Even in you! And how does he
manage to believe in you, Monsieur l'Abbe? Do tell me!"
A little frown wrinkled the Abbe's brow.
"Well! in a strange way," he responded. "You know he is a very
strange man and believes in very strange things. When I treat
humanity as a jest--which is really how it should be treated--he
looks at me with a grand air of tolerance, 'Oh, you will progress;'
he says, 'You are passing through a phase.' 'My dear sir,' I assure
him, 'I have lived in this "phase", as you call it, for forty years.
I used to pray to the angels and saints and to all the different
little Madonnas that live in different places, till I was twenty.
Then I dropped all the pretty heaven-toys at once;--and since then I
have believed in nothing--myself, least of all. Now I am sixty--and
yet you tell me I am only passing through a phase.' 'Quite so,' he
answered me with the utmost coolness, 'Your forty years--or your
sixty years, are a Moment merely;--the Moment will pass--and you
will find another Moment coming which will explain the one which has
just gone. Nothing is simpler.' And when I ask him which will be the
best Moment,--the one that goes, or the one that comes--he says that
I am making the coming Moment for myself--'which is so satisfactory'
he adds with that bright smile of his, 'because of course you will
make it pleasant!' 'Il faut que tout homme trouve pour lui meme une
possibilite particuliere de vie superieure dans l'humble et
inevitable realite quotidienne.' I do not find the 'possibilite
particuliere'--but this man assures me it is because I do not
trouble to look for it. What do you think about it?" Angela's eyes
were full of dreamy musing.
"I think Mr. Leigh's ideas are beautiful," she said, slowly, "I have
often heard him talk on the subject of religion--and of art, and of
work,--and all he says seems to be the expression of a noble and
sincere mind. He is extraordinarily gifted."