List Of Contents | Contents of The Wandering Jew, V9, by Eugene Sue
< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

with robbing us of our property, excites from his tomb, at the end of a
century and a half, his cursed race to lift their heads against us?
What! to defend ourselves from these vipers, we shall not have the right
to crush them in their own venom?--I tell you, that it is to serve
heaven, and to give a salutary example to the world, to devote, by
unchaining their own passions, this impious family to grief and despair
and death!"

As he spoke thus, Rodin was dreadful in his ferocity; the fire of his
eyes became still more brilliant; his lips were dry and burning, a cold
sweat bathed his temples, which could be seen throbbing; an icy shudder
ran through his frame.  Attributing these symptoms to fatigue from
writing through a portion of the night, and wishing to avoid fainting, he
went to the sideboard, filled another glass with wine, which he drank off
at a draught, and returned as the cardinal said to him: "If your course
with regard to this family needed justification, my good father, your
last word would have victoriously justified it.  Not only are you right,
according to your own casuists, but there is nothing in your proceedings
contrary to human laws.  As for the divine law, it is pleasing to the
Lord to destroy impiety with its own weapons.

Conquered, as well as the others, by Rodin's diabolical assurance, and
brought back to a kind of fearful admiration, Father d'Aigrigny said to
him: "I confess I was wrong in doubting the judgment of your reverence.
Deceived by the appearance of the means employed, I could not judge of
their connection, and above all, of their results.  I now see, that,
thanks to you, success is no longer doubtful."

"This is an exaggeration," replied Rodin, with feverish impatience; "all
these passions are at work, but the moment is critical.  As the alchemist
bends over the crucible, which may give him either treasures or sudden
death--I alone at this moment--"

Rodin did not finish the sentence.  He pressed both his hands to his
forehead, with a stifled cry of pain.

"What is the matter?" said Father d'Aigrigny.  "For some moments you have
been growing fearfully pale."

"I do not know 'what is the matter," said Rodin, in an altered voice; "my
headache increases--I am seized with a sort of giddiness."

"Sit down," said the princess, with interest.

"Take something," said the bishop.

"It will be nothing," said Rodin, with an effort; "I am no milksop, thank
heaven!--I had little sleep last night; it is fatigue--nothing more.  I
was saying, that I alone could now direct this affair: but I cannot
execute the plan myself.  I must keep out of the way, and watch in the
shade: I must hold the threads, which I alone can manage," added Rodin,
in a faint voice.

"My good father," said the cardinal uneasily, "I assure you that you are
very unwell.  Your paleness is becoming livid."

"It is possible," answered Rodin, courageously; "but I am not to be so
soon conquered.  To return to our affair--this is the time, in which your
qualities, Father d'Aigrigny, will turn to good account.  I have never
denied them, and they may now be of the greatest use.  You have the power
of charming--grace--eloquence--you must--"

Rodin paused again.  A cold sweat poured from his forehead.  He felt his
legs give way under him, notwithstanding his obstinate energy.

"I confess, I am not well," he said; "yet, this morning, I was as well as
ever.  I shiver.  I am icy cold."

"Draw near the fire--it is a sudden indisposition," said the bishop,
offering his arm with heroic devotion; "it will not be anything of

"If you were to take something warm, a cup of tea," said the princess;
"Dr. Baleinier will be here directly--he will reassure us as to this--

"It is really inexplicable," said the prelate.

At these words of the cardinal, Rodin, who had advanced with difficulty
towards the fire, turned his eyes upon the prelate, and looked at him
fixedly in a strange manner, for about a second; then, strong in his
unconquerable energy, notwithstanding the change in his features, which
were now visibly disfigured, Rodin said, in a broken voice, which he
tried to make firm: "The fire has warmed me; it will be nothing.  I have
no time to coddle myself.  It would be a pretty thing to fall ill just as
the Rennepont affair can only succeed by my exertions! Let us return to
business.  I told you, Father d'Aigrigny, that you might serve us a good
deal; and you also, princess, who have espoused this cause as if it were
your own--"

Rodin again paused.  This time he uttered a piercing cry, sank upon a
chair placed near him, and throwing himself back convulsively, he pressed
his hands to his chest, and exclaimed: "Oh! what pain!"

Then (dreadful sight!) a cadaverous decomposition, rapid as thought, took
place in Rodin's features.  His hollow eyes were filled with blood, and
seemed to shrink back in their orbits, which formed, as it were, two dark
holes, in the centre of which blazed points of fire; nervous convulsions
drew the flabby, damp, and icy skin tight over the bony prominences of
the face, which was becoming rapidly green.  From the lips, writhing with
pain, issued the struggling breath, mingled with the words: "Oh! I
suffer! I burn!"

Then, yielding to a transport of fury.  Rodin tore with his nails his
naked chest, for he had twisted off the buttons of his waistcoat, and
rent his black and filthy shirt-front, as if the pressure of those
garments augmented the violence of the pain under which he was writhing.
The bishop, the cardinal, and Father d'Aigrigny, hastily approached
Rodin, to try and hold him; he was seized with horrible convulsions; but,
suddenly, collecting all his strength, he rose upon his feet stiff as a
corpse.  Then, with his garments in disorder, his thin, gray hair
standing up all around his greenish face, fixing his red and flaming eyes
upon the cardinal, he seized him with convulsive grasp, and exclaimed in
a terrible voice, half stifled in his throat: "Cardinal Malipieri--this
illness is too sudden--they suspect me at Rome--you are of the race of
the Borgias--and your secretary was with me this morning!"

"Unhappy man! what does he dare insinuate?" cried the prelate, as amazed
as he was indignant at the accusation.  So saying, the cardinal strove to
free himself from the grasp of Rodin, whose fingers were now as stiff as

"I am poisoned!" muttered Rodin, and sinking back, he fell into the arms
of Father d'Aigrigny.

Notwithstanding his alarm, the cardinal had time to whisper to the
latter: "He thinks himself poisoned.  He must therefore be plotting
something very dangerous."

The door of the room opened.  It was Dr. Baleinier.

"Oh, doctor!" cried the princess, as she ran pale and frightened towards
him; "Father Rodin has been suddenly attacked with terrible convulsions.
Quick! quick!"

"Convulsions? oh! it will be nothing, madame," said the doctor, throwing
down his hat upon a chair, and hastily approaching the group which
surrounded the sick man.

"Here is the doctor!" cried the princess.  All stepped aside, except
Father d'Aigrigny, who continued to support Rodin, leaning against a

"Heavens! what symptoms!" cried Dr. Baleinier, examining with growing
terror the countenance of Rodin, which from green was turning blue.

"What is it?" asked all the spectators, with one voice.

"What is it?" repeated the doctor, drawing back as if he had trodden upon
a serpent.  "It is the cholera! and contagious!"

On this frightful, magic word, Father d'Aigrigny abandoned his hold of
Rodin, who rolled upon the floor.

"He is lost!" cried Dr. Baleinier.  "But I will run to fetch the means
for a last effort." And he rushed towards the door.

The Princess de Saint-Dizier, Father d'Aigrigny, the bishop, and the
cardinal followed in terror the flight of Dr. Baleinier.  They all
pressed to the door, which, in their consternation, they could not open.
It opened at last but from without--and Gabriel appeared upon the
threshold.  Gabriel, the type of the true priest, the holy, the
evangelical minister, to whom we can never pay enough of respect and
ardent sympathy, and tender admiration.  His angelic countenance, in its
mild serenity, offered a striking contrast of these faces, all disturbed
and contracted with terror.

The young priest was nearly thrown down by the fugitives, who rushed
through the now open doorway, exclaiming: "Do not go in! he is dying of
the cholera.  Fly!"

On these words, pushing back the bishop, who, being the last, was trying
to force a passage, Gabriel ran towards Rodin, while the prelate
succeeded in making his escape.  Rodin, stretched upon the carpet, his
limbs twisted with fearful cramps, was writhing in the extremity of pain.
The violence of his fall had, no doubt, roused him to consciousness, for
he moaned, in a sepulchral voice: "They leave me to die--like a dog--the
cowards!--Help!--no one--"

And the dying man, rolling on his back with a convulsive movement, turned
towards the ceiling a face on which was branded the infernal despair of
the damned, as he once more repeated: "No one!--not one!"

His eyes, which suddenly flamed with fury, just then met the large blue
eyes of the angelic and mild countenance of Gabriel who, kneeling beside
him, said to him, in his soft, grave tones: "I am here, father--to help
you, if help be possible-- to pray for you, if God calls you to him."

"Gabriel!" murmured Rodin, with failing voice; "forgive me for the evil I
have done you--do not leave me--do not--"

Rodin could not finish; he had succeeded in raising himself into a
sitting posture; he now uttered a loud cry, and fell back without sense
or motion.

The same day it was announced in the evening papers: "The cholera has
broken out in Paris.  The first case declared itself this day, at half-
past three, P.M. in the Rue de Babylone, at Saint-Dizier House."



A week had passed since Rodin was seized with the cholera, and its
ravages had continually increased.  That was an awful time! A funeral
pall was spread over Paris, once so gay.  And yet, never had the sky been
of a more settled, purer blue; never had the sun shone more brilliantly.
The inexorable serenity of nature, during the ravages of the deadly
scourge, offered a strange and mysterious contrast.  The flaunting light
of the dazzling sunshine fell full upon the features, contracted by a
thousand agonizing fears.  Each trembled for himself, or for those dear
to him; every countenance was stamped with an expression of feverish
astonishment and dread.  People walked with rapid steps, as if they would
escape from the fate which threatened them; besides, they were in haste
to return to their homes, for often they left life, health, happiness,
and, two hours later, they found agony, death, and despair.

At every moment, new dismal objects met the view.  Sometimes carts passed
along, filled with coffins, symmetrically piled; they stopped before
every house.  Men in black and gray garments were in waiting before the
door; they held out their hands, and to some, one coffin was thrown, to
some two, frequently three or four, from the same house.  It sometimes
happened that the store was quickly exhausted, and the cart, which had
arrived full, went away empty, whilst many of the dead in the street were
still unserved.  In nearly every dwelling, upstairs and down, from the
roof to the cellar, there was a stunning tapping of hammers: coffins were
being nailed down, and so many, so very many were nailed, that sometimes
those who worked stopped from sheer fatigue.  Then broke forth laments,
heart-rending moans, despairing imprecations.  They were uttered by those
from whom the men in black and gray had taken some one to fill the

Unceasingly were the coffins filled, and day and night did those men
work, but by day more than by night, for, as soon as it was dusk, carne a
gloomy file of vehicles of all kinds--the usual hearses were not
sufficient; but cars, carts, drays, hackney-coaches, and such like,
swelled the funeral procession; different to the other conveyances, which
entered the streets full and went away empty--these came empty but soon
returned full.  During that period, the windows of many houses were
illuminated, and often the lights remained burning till the morning.  It
was "the season." These illuminations resembled the gleaming rays which
shine in the gay haunts of pleasure; but there were tapers instead of wax
candles, and the chanting of prayers for the dead replaced the murmur of
the ball-room.  In the streets, instead of the facetious transparencies
which indicate the costumers, there swung at intervals huge lanterns of a
blood-red color, with these words in black letters: "Assistance for those
attacked with the cholera." The true places for revelry, during the
night, were the churchyards; they ran riot--they, usually so desolate and
silent, during the dark, quiet hours, when the cypress trees rustle in
the breeze, so lonely, that no human step dared to disturb the solemn
silence which reigned there at night, became on a sudden, animated,
noisy, riotous, and resplendent with light.  By the smoky flames of
torches, which threw a red glare upon the dark fir-trees, and the white
tombstones, many grave-diggers worked merrily, humming snatches of some
favorite tune.  Their laborious and hazardous industry then commanded a
very high price; they were in such request that it was necessary to humor
them.  They drank often and much; they sang long and loud; and this to
keep up their strength and spirits good, absolute requisites in such an
employment.  If, by chance, any did not finish the grave they had begun,
some obliging comrade finished it for them (fitting expression!), and
placed them in it with friendly care.

Other distant sounds responded to the joyous strains of the grave-
diggers; public-houses had sprung up in the neighborhood of the
churchyards, and the drivers of the dead, when they had "set down their
customers," as they jocosely expressed themselves, enriched with their
unusual gratuities, feasted and made merry like lords; dawn often found
them with a glass in their hands, and a jest on their lips; and, strange
to say, among these funeral satellites, who breathed the very atmosphere
of the disease, the mortality was scarcely perceptible.  In the dark,
squalid quarters of the town, where, surrounded by infectious
exhalations, the indigent population was crowded together, and miserable
beings, exhausted by severe privation, were "bespoke" by the cholera, as
it was energetically said at the time, not only individuals, but whole
families, were carried off in a few hours; and yet, sometimes, oh,
merciful Providence! one or two little children were left in the cold and
empty room, after the father and mother, brother and sister, had been
taken away in their shells.

Frequently, houses which had swarmed with hard working laborers, were
obliged to be shut up for want of tenants; in one day, they had been
completely cleared by this terrible visitation, from the cellars, where

< < Previous Page     Next Page > >

Other sites: