"Impossible? What were you, sir, fifteen years ago?" said Rodin. "An impious and debauched man of the world. And yet you came to us, and your wealth became ours. What! we have conquered princes, kings, popes; we have absorbed and extinguished in our unity magnificent intelligences, which, from afar, shone with too dazzling a light; we have all but governed two worlds; we have perpetuated our Society, full of life, rich and formidable, even to this day, through all the hate, and all the persecutions that have assailed us; and yet we shall not be able to get the better of a single family, which threatens our Company, and has despoiled us of a large fortune? What! we are not skillful enough to obtain this result without having recourse to awkward and dangerous violence? You do not know, then, the immense field that is thrown open by the mutually destructive power of human passions, skillfully combined, opposed, restrained, excited?--particularly," added Rodin, with a strange smile, "when, thanks to a powerful ally, these passions are sure to be redoubled in ardor and energy." "What ally?" asked Father d'Aigrigny, who, as well as the Princess de Saint-Dizier, felt a sort of admiration mixed with terror. "Yes," resumed Rodin, without answering the reverend father; "this formidable ally, who comes to our assistance, may bring about the most astonishing transformations--make the coward brave, and the impious credulous, and the gentle ferocious--" "But this ally!" cried the Princess, oppressed with a vague sense of fear. "This great and formidable ally--who is he?" "If he comes," resumed Rodin, still impassible, "the youngest and most vigorous, every moment in danger of death, will have no advantage over the sick man at his last gasp." "But who is this ally?" exclaimed Father d'Aigrigny, more and more alarmed, for as the picture became darker, Rodin's face become more cadaverous. "This ally, who can decimate a population, may carry away with him in the shroud that he drags at his heels, the whole of an accursed race; but even he must respect the life of that great intangible body, which does not perish with the death of its members--for the spirit of the Society of Jesus is immortal!" "And this ally?" "Oh, this ally," resumed Rodin, "who advances with slow steps, and whose terrible coming is announced by mournful presentiments--" "Is--" "The Cholera!" These words, pronounced by Rodin in an abrupt voice, made the Princess and Father d'Aigrigny grow pale and tremble. Rodin's look was gloomy and chilling, like a spectre's. For some moments, the silence of the tomb reigned in the saloon. Rodin was the first to break it. Still impassible, he pointed with imperious gesture to the table, where a few minutes before he had himself been humbly seated, and said in a sharp voice to Father d'Aigrigny, "Write!" The reverend father started at first with surprise; then, remembering that from a superior he had become an inferior, he rose, bowed lowly to Rodin, as he passed before him, seated himself at the table, took the pen, and said, "I am ready." Rodin dictated, and the reverend Father wrote as follows: "By the mismanagement of the Reverend Father d'Aigrigny, the affair of the inheritance of the Rennepont family has been seriously compromised. The sum amounts to two hundred and twelve millions. Notwithstanding the check we have received, we believe we may safely promise to prevent these Renneponts from injuring the Society, and to restore the two hundred and twelve millions to their legitimate possessors. We only ask for the most complete and extensive powers." A quarter of an hour after this scene, Rodin left Saint Dizier House, brushing with his sleeve the old greasy hat, I which he had pulled off to return the salute of the porter by a very low bow. CHAPTER XXVIII. THE STRANGER. The following scene took place on the morrow of the day in which Father d'Aigrigny had been so rudely degraded by Rodin to the subaltern position formerly occupied by the socius. It is well known that the Rue Clovis is one of the most solitary streets in the Montagne St. Genevieve district. At the epoch of this narrative, the house No. 4, in this street, was composed of one principal building, through which ran a dark passage, leading to a little, gloomy court, at the end of which was a second building, in a singularly miserable and dilapidated condition. On the ground-floor, in front of the house, was a half-subterraneous shop, in which was sold charcoal, fagots, vegetables, and milk. Nine o'clock in the morning had just struck. The mistress of the shop, one Mother Arsene, an old woman of a mild, sickly countenance, clad in a brown stuff dress, with a red bandanna round her head, was mounted on the top step of the stairs which led down to her door, and was employed in setting out her goods--that is, on one side of her door she placed a tin milk-can, and on the other some bunches of stale vegetables, flanked with yellowed cabbages. At the bottom of the steps, in the shadowy depths of the cellar, one could see the light of the burning charcoal in a little stove. This shop situated at the side of the passage, served as a porter's lodge, and the old woman acted as portress. On a sudden, a pretty little creature, coming from the house, entered lightly and merrily the shop. This young girl was Rose-Pompon, the intimate friend of the Bacchanal Queen.--Rose-Pompon, a widow for the moment, whose bacchanalian cicisbeo was Ninny Moulin, the orthodox scapegrace, who, on occasion, after drinking his fill, could transform himself into Jacques Dumoulin, the religious writer, and pass gayly from dishevelled dances to ultramontane polemics, from Storm-blown Tulips to Catholic pamphlets. Rose-Pompon had just quitted her bed, as appeared by the negligence of her strange morning costume; no doubt, for want of any other head-dress, on her beautiful light hair, smooth and well-combed, was stuck jauntily a foraging-cap, borrowed from her masquerading costume. Nothing could be more sprightly than that face, seventeen years old, rosy, fresh, dimpled, and brilliantly lighted up by a pair of gay, sparkling blue eyes. Rose- Pompon was so closely enveloped from the neck to the feet in a red and green plaid cloak, rather faded, that one could guess the cause of her modest embarrassment. Her naked feet, so white that one could not tell if she wore stockings or not, were slipped into little morocco shoes, with plated buckles. It was easy to perceive that her cloak concealed some article which she held in her hand. "Good-day, Rose-Pompon," said Mother Arsene with a kindly air; "you are early this morning. Had you no dance last night?" "Don't talk of it, Mother Arsene; I had no heart to dance. Poor Cephyse- -the Bacchanal Queen--has done nothing but cry all night. She cannot console herself, that her lover should be in prison." "Now, look here, my girl," said the old woman, "I must speak to you about your friend Cephyse. You won't be angry?" "Am I ever angry?" said Rose-Pompon, shrugging her shoulders. "Don't you think that M. Philemon will scold me on his return?" "Scold you! what for?" "Because of his rooms, that you occupy." "Why, Mother Arsene, did not Philemon tell you, that, in his absence, I was to be as much mistress of his two rooms as I am of himself?" "I do not speak of you, but of your friend Cephyse, whom you have also brought to occupy M. Philemon's lodgings." "And where would she have gone without me, my good Mother Arsene? Since her lover was arrested, she has not dared to return home, because she owes ever so many quarters. Seeing her troubles. I said to her: `Come, lodge at Philemon's. When he returns, we must find another place for you.'" "Well, little lovey--if you only assure me that M. Philemon will not be angry--" "Angry! for what? That we spoil his things? A fine set of things he has to spoil! I broke his last cup yesterday--and am forced to fetch the milk in this comic concern." So saying, laughing with all her might, Rose-Pompon drew her pretty little white arm from under her cloak, and presented to Mother Arsene one of those champagne glasses of colossal capacity, which hold about a bottle. "Oh, dear!" said the greengrocer in amazement; "it is like a glass trumpet." "It is Philemon's grand gala-glass, which they gave him when he took his degrees in boating," said Rose-Pompon, gravely. "And to think you must put your milk in it--I am really ashamed," said Mother Arsene. "So am I! If I were to meet any one on the stairs, holding this glass in my hand like a Roman candlestick, I should burst out laughing, and break the last remnant of Philemon's bazaar, and he would give me his malediction." "There is no danger that you will meet any one. The first-floor is gone out, and the second gets up very late." "Talking of lodgers," said Rose-Pompon, "is there not a room to let on the second-floor in the rear house? It might do for Cephyse, when Philemon comes back." "Yes, there is a little closet in the roof--just over the two rooms of the mysterious old fellow," said Mother Arsene. "Oh, yes! Father Charlemagne. Have you found out anything more about him?" Dear me, no, my girl! only that he came this morning at break of day, and knocked at my shutters. `Have you received a letter for me, my good lady?' said he--for he is always so polite, the dear man!--'No, sir,' said I.--`Well, then, pray don't disturb yourself, my good lady!' said he; `I will call again.' And so he went away." "Does he never sleep in the house?" "Never. No doubt, he lodges somewhere else--but he passes some hours here, once every four or five days." "And always comes alone?" "Always." "Are you quite sure? Does he never manage to slip in some little puss of a woman? Take care, or Philemon will give you notice to quit," said Rose-Pompon, with an air of mock-modesty. "M. Charlemagne with a woman! Oh, poor dear man!" said the greengrocer, raising her hands to heaven; "if you saw him, with his greasy hat, his old gray coat, his patched umbrella, and his simple face, he looks more like a saint than anything else." "But then, Mother Arsene, what does the saint do here, all alone for hours, in that hole at the bottom of the court, where one can hardly see at noon-day?" "That's what I ask myself, my dovey, what can he be doing? It can't be that he comes to look at his furniture, for he has nothing but a flock- bed, a table, a stove, a chair, and an old trunk." "Somewhat in the style of Philemon's establishment," said Rose-Pompon. "Well, notwithstanding that, Rosey, he is as much afraid that any one should come into his room, as if we were all thieves, and his furniture was made of massy gold. He has had a patent lock put on the door, at his own expense; he never leaves me his key; and he lights his fire himself, rather than let anybody into his room." "And you say he is old?" "Yes, fifty or sixty." "And ugly?" "Just fancy, little viper's eyes, looking as if they had been bored with a gimlet, in a face as pale as death--so pale, that the lips are white. That's for his appearance. As for his character, the good old man's so polite!--he pulls off his hat so often, and makes you such low bows, that it is quite embarrassing." "But, to come back to the point," resumed Rose-Pompon, "what can he do all alone in those two rooms? If Cephyse should take the closet, on Philemon's return, we may amuse ourselves by finding out something about it. How much do they want for the little room?" "Why, it is in such bad condition, that I think the landlord would let it go for fifty or fifty-five francs a-year, for there is no room for a stove, and the only light comes through a small pane in the roof." "Poor Cephyse!" said Rose, sighing, and shaking her head sorrowfully. "After having amused herself so well, and flung away so much money with Jacques Rennepont, to live in such a place, and support herself by hard work! She must have courage!" "Why, indeed, there is a great difference between that closet and the coach-and-four in which Cephyse came to fetch you the other day, with all the fine masks, that looked so gay--particularly the fat man in the silver paper helmet, with the plume and the top boots. What a jolly fellow!" "Yes, Ninny Moulin. There is no one like him to dance the forbidden fruit. You should see him with Cephyse, the Bacchanal Queen. Poor laughing, noisy thing!--the only noise she makes now is crying." "Oh! these young people--these young people!" said the greengrocer. "Easy, Mother Arsene; you were young once." "I hardly know. I have always thought myself much the same as I am now." "And your lovers, Mother Arsene?" "Lovers! Oh, yes! I was too ugly for that--and too well taken care of." "Your mother looked after you, then?" "No, my girl; but I was harnessed." "Harnessed!" cried Rose-Pompon, in amazement, interrupting the dealer. "Yes,--harnessed to a water-cart, along with my brother. So, you see, when we had drawn like a pair of horses for eight or ten hours a day, I had no heart to think of nonsense." "Poor Mother Arsene, what a hard life," said Rose-Pompon with interest. "In the winter, when it froze, it was hard enough. I and my brother were obliged to be rough-shod, for fear of slipping." "What a trade for a woman! It breaks one's heart. And they forbid people to harness dogs!" added Rose-Pompon, sententiously. "Why, 'tis true," resumed Mother Arsene. "Animals are sometimes better off than people. But what would you have? One must live, you know. As you make your bed, you must lie. It was hard enough, and I got a disease of the lungs by it--which was not my fault. The strap, with which I was harnessed, pressed so hard against my chest, that I could scarcely breathe: so I left the trade, and took to a shop, which is just to tell you, that if I had had a pretty face and opportunity, I might have done like so many other young people, who begin with laughter and finish--" "With a laugh t'other side of the mouth--you would say; it is true, Mother Arsene. But, you see, every one has not the courage to go into harness, in order to remain virtuous. A body says to herself, you must have some amusement while you are young and pretty--you will not always be seventeen years old--and then--and then--the world will end, or you will get married." "But, perhaps, it would have been better to begin by that." "Yes, but one is too stupid; one does not know how to catch the men, or to frighten them. One is simple, confiding, and they only laugh at us. Why, Mother Arsene, I am myself an example that would make you shudder; but 'tis quite enough to have had one's sorrows, without fretting one's self at the remembrance." "What, my beauty! you, so young and gay, have had sorrows?" "Ah, Mother Arsene! I believe you. At fifteen and a half I began to cry, and never left off till I was sixteen. That was enough, I think."
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