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Title: The Elm-tree on the Mall
Author: France, Anatole
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Libraries.)



  THE WORKS OF ANATOLE FRANCE
  IN AN ENGLISH TRANSLATION
  EDITED BY FREDERIC CHAPMAN

  THE ELM-TREE ON THE MALL

  [Illustration]



  THE ELM-TREE
  ON THE MALL

  A CHRONICLE OF OUR OWN TIMES
  BY ANATOLE FRANCE

  A TRANSLATION BY
  M. P. WILLCOCKS

  [Illustration]

  LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD
  NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY: MCMX



  Printed by BALLANTYNE & CO. LIMITED
  Tavistock Street, Covent Garden, London



THE ELM-TREE ON THE MALL

I


The salon which the Cardinal-Archbishop used as a reception room had
been fitted, in the time of Louis XV., with panellings of carved wood
painted a light grey. Seated figures of women surrounded by trophies
filled the angles of the cornices. The mirror on the chimney-piece
being in two divisions, was covered, as to its lower half, with a
drapery of crimson velvet which threw into relief a pure white statue
of Our Lady of Lourdes with her pretty blue scarf. Along the walls, in
the middle of the panels, hung enamel plates framed in reddish plush,
portraits of Popes Pius IX. and Leo XIII. printed in colours, and
pieces of embroidery, either souvenirs of Rome or gifts from the pious
ladies of the diocese. The gilded side-tables were loaded with plaster
models of Gothic or Romanesque churches: the Cardinal-Archbishop was
fond of buildings. From the plaster rose hung a Merovingian chandelier
executed from the designs of M. Quatrebarbe, diocesan architect and
Knight of the Order of Saint Gregory.

Tucking his cassock up above his violet stockings and warming his
short, stout legs at the fire, Monseigneur was dictating a pastoral
letter, whilst, seated at a large table of brass and tortoiseshell, on
which stood an ivory crucifix, the vicar-general, M. de Goulet, was
writing: _So that nothing may occur to sadden for us the joys of our
retreat._ …

Monseigneur dictated in a dry, colourless voice. He was a very short
man, but the great head with its square face softened by age was
carried erect. Notwithstanding its coarse and homely lineaments, his
face was expressive of subtlety and a kind of dignity born of habit and
the love of command.

“_The joys of our retreat._ … Here you will expound the ideas of
harmony, of the subduing of the mind, of that submission to the powers
that be which is so necessary, and which I have already dealt with in
my previous pastoral letters.”

M. de Goulet raised his long, pale, refined head adorned by beautiful
curled locks as though by a Louis Quatorze wig.

“But this time,” said he, “would it not be expedient, while repeating
these declarations, to show that reserve appropriate to the position
of the secular powers, shaken as they are by internal convulsions
and henceforth incapable of imparting to their covenants what they
themselves do not possess—I mean continuity and stability? For you
must see, Monseigneur, that the decline of parliamentary predominance …”

The Cardinal-Archbishop shook his head.

“Without reservation, Monsieur de Goulet, without any species of
reservation. You are full of learning and piety, Monsieur de Goulet,
but your old pastor can still give you a few lessons in discretion,
before handing over the government of the diocese, at his death, to
your youthful energy. Have we not to congratulate ourselves upon
the attitude of M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin, who regards our
schools and our labours with favour? And are we not welcoming to
our table to-morrow the general in command of the division and the
president-in-chief? And, _à propos_ of that, let me see the menu.”

The Cardinal-Archbishop inspected it, made alterations and additions,
and gave special directions that the game should be ordered from
Rivoire, the poacher to the prefecture.

A servant entered and presented him with a card on a silver tray.

Having read the name of Abbé Lantaigne, head of the high seminary, on
the card, Monseigneur turned towards his vicar-general.

“I’ll wager,” said he, “that M. Lantaigne is coming to complain to me
again about M. Guitrel.”

Abbé de Goulet rose to leave the salon. But Monseigneur stopped him.

“Stay! I want you to share with me the pleasure of listening to M.
Lantaigne, who, as you know, is spoken of as the finest preacher in the
diocese. For, if one listened only to public opinion, it would seem
that he preaches better than you, dear Monsieur de Goulet. But that
is not my opinion. Between ourselves, I care neither for his inflated
style nor for his involved scholarship. He is terribly wearisome,
and I am keeping you here to help me to get rid of him as quickly as
possible.”

A priest entered the salon and bowed. He was very tall and immensely
corpulent, with a serious, simple, abstracted face.

At sight of him Monseigneur exclaimed gaily:

“Ah! good-day, Monsieur l’abbé Lantaigne. At the very moment that you
sent in your name the vicar-general and I were talking about you. We
were saying that you are the most distinguished orator in the diocese,
and that the Lenten course you preached at Saint-Exupère is proof
positive of your great talents and profound scholarship.”

Abbé Lantaigne reddened. He was sensitive to praise, and it was by the
door of pride alone that the Enemy could find entrance to his soul.

“Monseigneur,” he answered, his face lit up by a smile which quickly
died away, “the approval of Your Eminence gives me a deep delight which
comes felicitously to soothe the opening of an interview which is a
painful one to me. For it is a complaint which the head of the high
seminary has the misfortune to pour into your paternal ears.”

Monseigneur interrupted him:

“Tell me, Monsieur Lantaigne, has that Lenten course at Saint-Exupère
been printed?”

“A synopsis of it appeared in the diocesan _Semaine religieuse_. I am
moved, Monseigneur, by the marks of interest which you deign to show in
my apostolic labours. Alas! it is long enough ago since I first entered
the pulpit. In 1880, when I had too many sermons, I gave them to M.
Roquette, who has since been raised to a bishopric.”

“Ah!” cried Monseigneur, with a smile, “that good M. Roquette! When I
went last year _ad limina apostolorum_ I met M. Roquette for the first
time just as he was gaily setting out for the Vatican. A week later I
met him in Saint-Peter’s, where he was imbibing the solace that he much
needed after being refused the cardinal’s hat.”

“And why,” demanded M. Lantaigne, in a voice that whistled like a
whip-lash, “why should the purple have descended on the shoulders
of this poor creature, a mediocrity in character, a nonentity in
doctrine, whose mental density has made him ridiculous, and whose
sole recommendation is that he has sat at table with the President of
the Republic at a masonic banquet? Could M. Roquette only rise above
himself, he would be astonished at finding himself a bishop. In these
times of trial, when a future confronts us pregnant with awful menace
as well as with gracious promise, it would be expedient to build up
a body of clergy powerful both in character and in scholarship. And
in fact, Monseigneur, I come to interview Your Eminence about another
Roquette, about another priest who is unfitted to sustain the weight of
his great duties. The professor of rhetoric at the high seminary, M.
l’abbé Guitrel …”

Monseigneur interrupted with a feigned jest, and asked, with a laugh,
whether Abbé Guitrel were in a fair way to become a bishop in his turn.

“What an idea, Monseigneur!” cried Abbé Lantaigne. “If perchance this
man were raised to a bishopric, we should behold once more the days of
Cautinus, when an unworthy pontiff defiled the see of Saint Martin.”

The Cardinal-Archbishop, curled up in his arm-chair, remarked genially:

“Cautinus, Bishop Cautinus” (it was the first time he had heard the
name), “Cautinus who was a successor of Saint Martin. Are you quite
sure that this Cautinus behaved as badly as they make out? It is an
interesting point in the history of the Gallic Church concerning which
I should much like to have the opinion of so learned a man as yourself,
Monsieur Lantaigne.”

The head of the high seminary drew himself up.

“The testimony, Monseigneur, of Gregory of Tours is explicit in the
passage touching Bishop Cautinus. This successor of the blessed Martin
lived in such luxury and robbed the Church of its treasures to such an
extent that, at the end of two years of his administration, all the
sacred vessels were in the hands of the Jews of Tours. And if I have
coupled the name of Cautinus with that of this unhappy M. Guitrel, it
is not without reason. M. Guitrel carries off the artistic curios,
wood-carvings, or finely chased vessels, which are still to be found in
country churches, in the care of ignorant churchwardens, and it is for
the benefit of the Jews that he devotes himself to this robbery.”

“For the benefit of the Jews?” demanded Monseigneur. “What is this that
you are telling me?”

“For the benefit of the Jews,” returned Abbé Lantaigne, “and to
embellish the drawing-rooms of M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin, Jew and
freemason. Madame Worms-Clavelin is fond of antiquities. Through the
medium of M. Guitrel she has gained possession of the copes treasured
for three hundred years in the vestry of the church at Lusancy, and she
has, I am told, turned them into seats of the kind called _poufs_.”

Monseigneur shook his head.

“_Poufs!_ But if the transfer of these disused vestments has been
conducted legally, I do not see that Bishop Cautinus … I mean M.
Guitrel, has done wrong in taking part in this lawful transaction.
There is no reason why these copes of the pious priests of Lusancy
should be revered as relics of the saints. There is no sacrilege in
selling their cast-off clothes to be turned into _poufs_.”

M. de Goulet, who had been nibbling his pen for some moments, could not
refrain from a murmur. He deplored the fact that the churches should be
thus robbed of their artistic treasures by infidels. The head of the
high seminary answered in firm tones:

“Let us, Monseigneur, if you please, drop the subject of the trade to
which the friend of M. Worms-Clavelin, the Jewish _préfet_, devotes
himself, and allow me to enumerate the only too definite complaints
which I have to bring against the professor of rhetoric at the high
seminary. I impugn: first, his doctrine; second, his conduct. I say
that I indict first his doctrine, and that on four grounds: first …”

The Cardinal-Archbishop stretched out both his arms as though to ward
off such a multitude of charges.

“Monsieur Lantaigne, I see that for some time the vicar-general has
been biting his pen and making desperate signs to remind me that our
printer is waiting for our pastoral letter, which has to be read on
Sunday in the churches of our diocese. Allow me to finish dictating
this charge, which, I trust, will bring some solace to our priests and
faithful people.”

Abbé Lantaigne bowed, and very sadly withdrew. After his departure the
Cardinal-Archbishop, turning to M. de Goulet, said:

“I did not know that M. Guitrel was so friendly with the _préfet_.
And I am grateful to the head of the seminary for having warned me
of it. M. Lantaigne is sincerity itself: I prize his frankness and
straightforwardness. With him, one knows where one is …”

He corrected himself:

“Where one would be.”



II


M. Lantaigne, principal of the high seminary, was working in his
study, the whitewashed walls of which were three parts covered by deal
shelves loaded with the dark bindings of his working library, the whole
of Migne’s _Patrologie_, and cheap editions of Saint Thomas Aquinas,
Baronius and Bossuet. A Virgin in the manner of Mignard surmounted the
door, with a dusty sprig of box sticking out of the old gilt frame.
Uninviting horsehair chairs stood on the red tiles in front of the
windows, through which the stale smell of the refectory ascended to the
cotton window-curtains.

The principal, bending over his little walnut-wood desk, was turning
over the pages of the registers handed him by Abbé Perruque, the master
of method, who stood at his side.

“I see,” said M. Lantaigne, “that again this week a hoard of sweetmeats
has been discovered in a pupil’s room. Such infractions are far too
often repeated.”

In fact, the students of the seminary made a practice of hiding cakes
of chocolate among their school-books. This was what they called
theology _Menier_. They used to meet in a room at night, by twos or
threes, to discuss it.

M. Lantaigne begged the master of method to use unfaltering severity.

“This disorder is deplorable in that it may involve the most serious
misconduct.”

He asked for the register of the rhetoric class. But when M. Perruque
had handed it to him, he looked away from it. His heart swelled at
the idea that sacred rhetoric was taught by this Guitrel, a man with
neither morals nor learning. He sighed within himself:

“When will the scales fall from the Cardinal-Archbishop’s eyes, that he
may see the unworthiness of this priest?”

Then, tearing himself from this bitter thought only to plunge into the
bitterness of another:

“And Piédagnel?” he asked.

For two years Firmin Piédagnel had caused incessant anxiety to the head
of the seminary. The only son of a cobbler who kept his stall between
two buttresses of Saint-Exupère, he was, through the brightness of
his intelligence, the most brilliant pupil in the house. Of placid
temperament, he had a very fair report for conduct. The timidity of his
character and the weakness of his constitution seemed a good safeguard
for his moral purity. But he had neither the instinct for theology nor
the vocation for the priesthood. His very faith was unstable. With his
great spiritual knowledge, M. Lantaigne had no inordinate fear of those
violent crises among his young Levites, which, often salutary, are to
be allayed by grace. He dreaded, on the contrary, the indifference of
a placidly intractable mind. He almost despaired of a soul to whom
doubt was light and bearable and whose thoughts flowed to irreligion
by a natural inclination. Such a one the shoemaker’s clever son showed
himself to be. M. Lantaigne had one day unexpectedly chanced, by one
of those brusque wiles which were natural to him, to plumb the depths
of this nature, double-faced through its courtesy. He perceived with
consternation that from the teaching at the seminary Firmin had only
acquired an elegant Latin style, skill in sophistry, and a kind of
sentimental mysticism. From that time Firmin had appeared to him as a
being weak and formidable, pitiable and noxious. Yet he loved this lad,
loved him tenderly, to infatuation. In spite of his disappointment it
pleased him that he should be the honour, the glory of the seminary.
He loved in Firmin the charm of his mind, the subtle harmony of his
style, and even the tenderness of those pale, short-sighted eyes,
like bruises under the quivering eyelids. He sometimes took pleasure
in seeing in him one of the victims of this Abbé Guitrel, whose
intellectual and moral poverty must (so he firmly believed) injure and
depress an intelligent and quick-sighted pupil. He flattered himself
that, if better trained in the future, Firmin, although too weak ever
to give to the Church one of those powerful leaders whom she so much
needs, would at least produce for religion, perhaps, a Péreyve or a
Gerbet, one of those priests who carry into the priesthood the heart
of a young mother. But, incapable of long self-flattery, M. Lantaigne
speedily rejected this unlikely hope and saw in this lad a Guéroult,
a Renan. And the sweat of anguish chilled his forehead. His fear was
lest, in rearing such pupils, he might be training formidable enemies
of the truth.

He knew that it was in the temple itself that the hammers were
forged which overthrew it. He very often said: “Such is the power
of theological discipline that it alone is capable of rearing great
reprobates; an unbeliever who has not passed through our hands is
powerless and without weapons for evil. It is within our walls that
they imbibe all knowledge, even that of blasphemy.” From the mass of
the students he only demanded industry and integrity, feeling certain
that these would make good parish priests of them. But in his finest
students he feared curiosity, pride, the impious boldness of the
intellect, and even the qualities that brought the angels to perdition.

“Monsieur Perruque,” said he brusquely, “let us see the notes on
Piédagnel.”

The master of method, with his thumb moistened at his lips, turned
over the leaves of the register, and then pointed out with his great
dirt-encircled forefinger the lines traced on the margin of the book:

_M. Piédagnel holds thoughtless conversations._

_M. Piédagnel gives way to depression._

_M. Piédagnel refuses to take any physical exercise._

The director read and shook his head. He turned the leaf and continued
reading:

_M. Piédagnel has written a poor essay on the unity of the faith._

At this Abbé Lantaigne burst out:

“Unity—that is just what he will never grasp! And yet it is the idea
above all others which ought to be impressed on the priest’s mind. For
I do not fear to affirm that this conception is entirely of God, and,
as it were, His most vivid manifestation among men.”

He turned his hollow, gloomy gaze towards Abbé Perruque.

“This subject of the unity of the faith, Monsieur Perruque, is my
touchstone by which I try the spirits. The simplest minds, if they do
not fail in sincerity, draw logical conclusions from the idea of unity;
and the most able derive an admirable philosophy from this principle.
In the pulpit, Monsieur Perruque, I have three times handled the unity
of the faith, and the wealth of the subject still amazes me.”

He resumed his reading:

_M. Piédagnel has compiled a note-book, which has been found in his
desk, and which contains, written in M. Piédagnel’s own hand, extracts
from different love-poems, composed by Leconte de Lisle and Paul
Verlaine, as well as by several other loose writers, and the choice
of the extracts betrays excessive profligacy both of the mind and the
senses._

He shut the register and pushed it away roughly. “What we lack
nowadays,” sighed he, “is neither learning nor intelligence; it is the
theological mind.”

“Monsieur,” said Abbé Perruque, “the steward wants to know if you can
receive him at once. The contract with Lafolie for butcher’s meat
expires on the fifteenth of this month, and they are waiting for your
decision before renewing an arrangement upon which the house can
scarcely plume itself. For you cannot fail to have remarked the bad
quality of the beef supplied by Lafolie.”

“Tell the steward to come in,” said M. Lantaigne.

And, left alone, he put his head in his hands and sighed:

“_O quando finieris et quando cessabis, universa vanitas mundi?_[A] Far
from Thee, O God, we are but wandering shadows. There are no greater
crimes than those committed against the unity of the faith. Vouchsafe
to lead the world back to this blessed unity!”

  [A] “When wilt thou end, when wilt thou cease to be, oh,
      ever-present vanity of this world?”

When, during the recreation hour after the midday meal, the principal
crossed the courtyard, the seminarists were playing a game of football.
On the gravelled playground there was a great commotion of ruddy
heads poised on stalks like black knife-handles, the jerky gestures
of puppets, and shouts and cries in all the rustic dialects of the
diocese. The master of method, Abbé Perruque, his cassock tucked up,
was joining in the game with the zest of a cloistered peasant, drunk
with air and exercise, and in athletic style was kicking from the toe
of his buckled shoe the huge ball covered with its leather quarters. At
sight of the principal the players stopped. M. Lantaigne made a sign to
them to continue. He followed the grove of stunted acacia trees that
fringes the courtyard on the side towards the ramparts and the country.
Half-way along he met three pupils who, arm in arm, were walking up
and down as they talked. Since they usually spent the recreation hours
in this way, they were called the peripatetics. M. Lantaigne called
one of them, the shortest, a pale-faced lad, with slightly stooping
shoulders, a refined and mocking mouth, and timid eyes. He did not hear
at first, and his neighbour had to nudge him with an elbow and say to
him:

“Piédagnel, the principal is calling you.”

At this Piédagnel approached Abbé Lantaigne and bowed to him with a
half-graceful clumsiness.

“My child,” said the principal to him, “you will be so good as to be my
server at mass to-morrow.”

The young man blushed. It was a coveted honour to serve the principal’s
mass.

Abbé Lantaigne, his breviary under his arm, went out by the little door
that opens on the fields and took the customary road in his walks, a
dusty track edged with nettles and thistles that follows the ramparts.

He was thinking:

“What will become of this poor child, if he is suddenly expelled,
ignorant of any sort of manual labour, weak, delicate, and timid? And
what grief there will be in his infirm father’s shop!”

He walked along over the flints of the barren road. Having reached the
mission cross, he took off his hat, wiped the perspiration from his
forehead with his silk handkerchief, and said in a low voice:

“Oh God, inspire me to act according to Thy interests, whatever it may
cost my paternal heart!”

At half-past six next morning Abbé Lantaigne was saying the concluding
words of the mass in the bare, deserted chapel.

In front of a side-altar a solitary old sacristan was setting paper
flowers in porcelain vases, beneath the gilt statue of Saint Joseph. A
grey, rainy daylight poured sadly through the blurred window-panes. The
celebrant, upright at the left of the high altar, was reading the last
Gospel.

“_Et Verbum caro factum est_,” said he, bending his knees.

Firmin Piédagnel, who was serving the mass, knelt at the same time
on the step where stood the bell; then he rose and, after the last
responses, preceded the priest into the sacristy. Abbé Lantaigne set
down the chalice with the corporal and waited for the server to help
him remove his priestly vestments. Firmin Piédagnel, being sensitive
to the mysterious influences of things, felt the charm of this scene,
so simple and yet so sacred. His soul, suffused with tender unction,
tasted with a kind of joy the familiar grandeur of the priesthood.
Never had he felt so deeply the desire to be a priest and in his turn
to celebrate the holy sacrifice. Having kissed and carefully folded up
the alb and chasuble, he bowed before Abbé Lantaigne ere retiring. The
head of the seminary, who had resumed his great-coat, made a sign to
him to stay, and looked at him with such nobility and kindness that the
young man received the look as a favour and a blessing. After a long
silence:

“My child,” said M. Lantaigne, “whilst celebrating this mass which I
asked you to serve, I prayed God to give me the strength to send you
away. My prayer has been granted. You are no longer a member of this
household.”

As he took in these words, Firmin was stupefied. It seemed to him that
the flooring was giving way beneath his feet. Through eyes big with
tears, he vaguely saw the lonely road, the rain, a life darkened with
misery and toil, the fate of a lost child terrified by its own weakness
and timidity. He looked at M. Lantaigne. The resolute gentleness,
the quiet strength, the calmness of this man revolted him. Suddenly
a feeling was born and grew in him, a feeling that sustained and
strengthened him, a hatred of the priest, a deathless and fruitful
hatred, a hatred to fill a whole life. Without uttering a word, he went
with great strides out of the sacristy.



III


Abbé Lantaigne, head of the high seminary of …, wrote the following
letter to Monseigneur the Cardinal-Archbishop of …:

“MONSEIGNEUR,

“When, on the 17th of this month, I had the honour of being received by
Your Eminence, I feared to trespass on your paternal kindness and on
your pastoral clemency by expounding at sufficient length the matter
about which I came to converse with you. But as this affair reflects
on your high and holy jurisdiction and concerns the government of this
diocese, which counts among the most ancient and beautiful provinces of
Christian Gaul, I conceive it to be my duty to submit to the watchful
impartiality of Your Eminence the facts concerning which it is called
upon to judge in the plenitude of its authority and in the fulness of
its wisdom.

“In bringing these facts to the knowledge of Your Eminence, I am
fulfilling a duty which I should characterise as painful to my heart,
if I did not know that the accomplishment of every duty brings to the
soul an inexhaustible spring of consolation, and that it is not enough
to obey God, if one does not obey Him with ready gladness.

“The facts which it behoves you to know, Monseigneur, relate to Abbé
Guitrel, professor of rhetoric at the high seminary. I will state them
as briefly and as accurately as possible.

“These facts concern:

“First, the doctrine;

“Second, the morals of Abbé Guitrel.

“I will first state the facts relating to M. Guitrel’s doctrine.

“On reading the note-books from which he delivers his lectures on
sacred rhetoric, I noticed in them various opinions which do not agree
with the tradition of the Church.

“First, M. Guitrel, whilst condemning as to their conclusions the
commentaries on Holy Scripture drawn up by atheists and so-called
reformers, does not condemn them in their principle and origin, in
which he is seriously in error. For it is evident that, the care of
the Scriptures having been confided to the Church, the Church alone is
capable of interpreting the books which she alone preserves.

“Second, led astray by the recent example of a monk who thirsted
for the applause of the age, M. Guitrel presumes to explain the
scenes of the Gospel by means of that pretended local colour and
that pseudo-psychology of which the Germans make a great show; and
he does not perceive that, by thus walking in the way of infidels,
he is skirting the abyss into which they have fallen. I should
weary the benevolent attention of His Eminence Monseigneur the
Cardinal-Archbishop were I to place before his reverend glance the
passages where M. Guitrel with pitiable childishness follows the
narratives of travellers, as to ‘the boat-service on the Lake of
Tiberias,’ and those where, with intolerable indecency, he describes
what he calls ‘the soul-states’ and ‘the psychic crises’ of our Lord
Jesus Christ.

“These foolish innovations, blameworthy in a cloistered worldling,
should not be tolerated in a secular cleric entrusted with the
instruction of young aspirants to the priesthood. Hence I was more
grieved than surprised when I heard that an intelligent pupil, whom I
have since been obliged to expel for his bad disposition, described the
professor of rhetoric as a ‘fin de siècle’ priest.

“Third, M. Guitrel affects a culpable laxity in relying on the
untrustworthy authority of Clement of Alexandria, who is not included
in the martyrology. In this the professor of rhetoric betrays the
weakness of a mind misled by the example of the so-called mystics,
who imagine that they find in the _Stromata_ a purely allegorical
interpretation of the most concrete mysteries of the Christian faith.
And, without actually going astray, M. Guitrel shows himself, in this
matter, to be inconsistent and light-minded.

“Fourth, since depravity of taste is one of the results of doctrinal
weakness, and since a mind which rejects strong food battens on
worthless nourishment, M. Guitrel seeks models of eloquence for the use
of his pupils even in the speeches of M. Lacordaire and the homilies of
M. Gratry.

“Secondly, I will enumerate the facts relating to M. Guitrel’s morals.

“First, Abbé Guitrel consorts with M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin both
secretly and constantly, and in this he throws off the reserve which it
always behoves an ecclesiastic of lower rank to observe in relation to
the public authorities, a reserve which, under present circumstances
and towards a Jewish official, there is no excuse for dropping. And by
the care which he takes never to enter the prefecture save by a private
door, M. Guitrel seems to acknowledge to himself the falseness of a
position which he nevertheless maintains.

“It is also notorious that M. Guitrel occupies a position with respect
to Madame Worms-Clavelin that is more mercantile than religious. This
lady is fond of antiquities, and although a Jewess, she does not
despise any articles connected with religion, provided that they have
the merit of art or of antiquity. It is unhappily well attested that
M. Guitrel busies himself in buying for Madame Worms-Clavelin at an
absurd price the antique furniture of village parsonages, left in
the care of ignorant churchwardens. In this way carved wainscoting,
priestly vestments, chalices, and pyxes are torn from the sacristies
of your rural churches, Monseigneur, in order that at the prefecture
they may adorn the private apartments of M. and Madame Worms-Clavelin.
And everybody knows that Madame Worms-Clavelin has trimmed with the
splendid and sacred copes of Saint-Porchaire the species of furniture
vulgarly called ‘_poufs_.’ I do not imply that M. Guitrel has derived
any material and direct profit from these transactions; but it must
needs grieve your paternal heart that a priest of the diocese should
have joined in robbing your churches of that wealth which proves, even
in the eyes of unbelievers, the superiority of Christian to profane art.

“Second, without complaint or protest Abbé Guitrel allows the rumour to
spread and grow that his elevation to the vacant bishopric of Tourcoing
is favoured by the President of the Council, the Minister for Justice
and Religion. Now this rumour is prejudicial to the minister, for,
although a freethinker and a freemason, he ought to be too careful of
the interests of the Church over which he has been appointed civil
overseer to place in the seat of the blessed Loup a priest such as M.
Guitrel. And if this invention were to be traced to its source, it is
to be feared that in M. Guitrel himself would be found the first and
foremost contriver of it.

“Third, having formerly occupied his leisure in translating into French
verse the Bucolics of that Latin poet called Calpurnius, whom the best
critics agree in relegating to the lowest class of insipid babblers,
Abbé Guitrel, with a carelessness which I would fain believe to be
quite unintentional, has allowed this work of his youth to circulate
privately. A copy of the Bucolics was addressed to the free-thinking
radical paper of the district, _le Phare_, which published extracts
from it; among them there occurred in particular this line, which I
blush to put before the paternal eyes of Your Eminence:

  “And our heaven of bliss is a well-loved breast.[B]

“This quotation was accompanied in _le Phare_ by the most derogatory
comments on the private character, as well as the literary taste, of
Abbé Guitrel. And the editor, whose ill-will is only too well known
to Your Eminence, took this wretched line as a pretext for charges of
wanton thoughts and dishonourable intentions generally against all the
professors of the high seminary, and even against all the priests
in the diocese. This is why, without inquiring whether as a scholar
M. Guitrel had any excuse for translating Calpurnius, I deplore the
publication of his work as the cause of a scandal which, I am sure,
was more bitter to your benevolent heart, Monseigneur, than gall and
wormwood.

“Fourth, M. Guitrel is in the habit of going every day at five o’clock
in the afternoon to the confectioner’s shop kept by Dame Magloire,
in the Place Saint-Exupère. And there, leaning over the sideboards,
counters and tables, he examines with deep interest and careful
diligence the dainties piled up on plates and dishes. Then, stopping
at the spot where are arranged the kinds of cakes which they tell
me are called _éclairs_ and _babas_, he touches first one and then
another of these pasties with the tip of his finger, and afterwards
has these dainty morsels wrapped up in a sheet of paper. Far be it
from me to bring a charge of sensuality against him on account of this
ridiculously careful choice of a few cream-cakes or sugar-pasties. But
if one reflects that he goes to Dame Magloire’s at the very moment
when the shop is thronged with fashionable folk of both sexes, and
that he makes himself a butt for the jests of worldlings, one will ask
oneself whether the professor of rhetoric at the high seminary does
not leave some part of his dignity behind him in the confectioner’s
shop. In fact, the choice of two cakes has not escaped the ill-natured
comment of observers, and it is said, either rightly or wrongly, that
M. Guitrel keeps one for himself and gives the other to his servant. He
may doubtless, without incurring any blame, share any dainties with the
woman attached to his service, especially if that woman has attained
the canonical age. But malicious gossip interprets this intimacy and
familiarity in the most shameful sense, and I should never dare to
repeat to Your Eminence the remarks which are made in the town as to
the relations between M. Guitrel and his domestic. I do not wish to
entertain these charges. Nevertheless, Your Eminence will see that M.
Guitrel is not easily to be excused for having given a show of truth to
the calumny by his mischievous behaviour. I have related the facts. It
now remains for me only to conclude.

“I have the honour to propose that Your Eminence should cancel the
appointment of M. Guitrel (Joachim) as professor of sacred rhetoric at
the high seminary of …, in accordance with your spiritual powers as
recognised by the State (decree of 17th March, 1808).

“Vouchsafe, Monseigneur, to continue your paternal kindness towards
one who, being placed in command of your seminary, has no dearer wish
than to give you proofs of his complete devotion and of the profound
respect with which he has the honour to be,

                                        “Monseigneur,
                                ”The most humble and obedient servant
                                             of Your Eminence,
                                                         “LANTAIGNE.”

Having written this letter, M. Lantaigne sealed it with his seal.

  [B] “Notre ciel à nous, c’est un sein chéri.”



IV


It is true that Abbé Guitrel, professor of sacred rhetoric at the
high seminary of …, was intimately connected with M. _le préfet_
Worms-Clavelin and with Madame Worms-Clavelin, _née_ Coblentz. But
Abbé Lantaigne was wrong in believing that M. Guitrel frequented the
drawing-rooms of the prefecture, where his presence would have been
equally disquieting to the Archbishop and to the masonic lodges, since
the _préfet_ was master of the lodge “The Rising Sun.” It was in the
confectioner’s shop kept by Dame Magloire in the Place Saint-Exupère,
where he went every Saturday at five o’clock to buy two little
three-sou cakes, one for his servant and the other for himself, that
the priest had met the _préfet’s_ wife, while she was eating _babas_
there in the company of Madame Lacarelle, wife of M. _le préfet’s_
private secretary.

By his demeanour, at once obsequious and discreet, which inspired
entire confidence and removed all apprehensions, the professor
of sacred rhetoric had instantly gained the good graces of Madame
Worms-Clavelin, to whom he suggested the mind, the face, and almost
the sex of those old-clothes women, the guardian angels of her youth
in the difficult days of Batignolles and the Place Clichy, when Noémi
Coblentz had finished growing up and was beginning to fade in the
business office kept by her father Isaac in the midst of distress-sales
and police-raids. One of these dealers in second-hand clothes, a
Madame Vacherie, who esteemed her, had acted as go-between for her and
an active and promising young barrister, M. Théodore Worms-Clavelin,
who, finding her seriously-minded and practically useful, had married
her after the birth of their daughter Jeanne, and she in return had
cleverly pushed him in the administration. Abbé Guitrel was very much
like Madame Vacherie. They had the same look, the same voice, the same
gestures. This propitious likeness had aroused in Madame Worms-Clavelin
a sudden sympathy. Besides, she had always revered the Catholic
clergy as one of the powers of this world. She constituted herself M.
Guitrel’s advocate in her husband’s good graces. M. Worms-Clavelin, who
recognised in his wife a quality that remained him a deep mystery, the
quality of tact, and who knew her to be clever, received Abbé Guitrel
courteously the first time he met him in the jeweller’s shop kept by
Rondonneau junior in the Rue des Tintelleries.

He had gone there to see the designs for the cups ordered by the
State to be given as prizes in the races organised by the Society for
the Improvement of Horse-breeding. After that visit he frequently
returned to the goldsmith’s, drawn by an innate taste for precious
metals. On his side, Abbé Guitrel contrived frequent occasions for
visiting the show-rooms of Rondonneau the younger, maker of sacred
vessels: candlesticks, lamps, pyxes, chalices, patens, monstrances, and
tabernacles. The _préfet_ and the priest were not ill-pleased at these
meetings in the first-storey show-rooms, out of sight of prying eyes,
in front of a counter loaded with bullion and amidst the vases and
statuettes that M. Worms-Clavelin called _bondieuseries_.[C] Stretched
out in Rondonneau junior’s one arm-chair, M. Worms-Clavelin sent a
little wave of his hand to M. Guitrel, who, black and fat, stole along
by the glass cases like a great rat.

  [C] Lit. good-goderies—_i.e._, pious gimcrackeries.

“Good-day, monsieur l’abbé. Delighted to see you!”

And it was true. He vaguely felt that, in contact with this
ecclesiastic of peasant stock, as French in priestly character and in
type as the blackened stones of Saint-Exupère and the old trees on the
Mall, he was frenchifying himself, naturalising himself, stripping
off the ponderous remnants of his German and Semitic descent. Intimacy
with a priest was flattering to the Jewish official. In it he tasted,
without actually acknowledging it to himself, the pride of revenge.
To browbeat, to patronise one of those tonsured heads entrusted for
eighteen centuries, both by heaven and earth, with the excommunication
and extermination of the circumcised, was for the Jew a keen and
flattering success. And besides, this dirty, threadbare, yet respected,
cassock that bowed before him entered châteaux where the _préfet_ was
not received. The aristocratic women of the department revered this
garb now humiliated before the official uniform. Deference from one of
the clergy was almost equivalent to deference from that rural nobility
that had not completely come over, and of whose scornful coldness the
Jew, though by no means sensitive, had had painful experiences. M.
Guitrel, humble, yet with _finesse_, made his deference appreciated.

Being honoured as a powerful master by this ecclesiastical politician,
the head of the department returned in patronage what he received in
deference, and flung conciliatory speeches at Abbé Guitrel:

“Doubtless there are good, devoted, and intelligent priests. When the
clergy takes its stand upon its privileges …”

And Abbé Guitrel bowed.

M. Worms-Clavelin went on:

“The Republic does not wage systematic war on the parish priests.
And, if the fraternities had submitted to the law, many of their
difficulties would have been avoided.”

And M. Guitrel protested:

“It is a matter of principle. I should have decided in favour of the
fraternities. It is also a matter of business. The fraternities did a
great deal of good.”

The _préfet_ summed up from out of the cloud of his cigar-smoke.

“Harking back over what has been done is useless. But the new spirit is
a spirit of conciliation.”

And again M. Guitrel bowed, while Rondonneau junior bent over his
account books his bald head where the flies pitched.

One day, being asked to give her opinion about a vase that the _préfet_
was to present with his own hand to the winner in the race for
draught-horses, Madame Worms-Clavelin came to Rondonneau junior’s with
her husband. She found M. Guitrel in the jeweller’s office. He made
a feint to leave the place. But they begged him to remain. They even
consulted him as to the nymphs who formed, by their bending figures,
the handles of the cup. The _préfet_ would have preferred them to be
Amazons.

“Amazons, doubtless,” murmured the professor of sacred rhetoric.

Madame Worms-Clavelin would have liked centauresses.

“Centauresses, yes, yes,” said the priest; “or rather centaurs.”

Meanwhile Rondonneau junior was holding up the wax model in his fingers
in front of the spectators and smiling in admiration.

“Monsieur l’abbé,” asked the _préfet_, “does the Church always ban the
nude in art?”

M. Guitrel replied:

“The Church has never absolutely proscribed nude studies; but she has
always judiciously restrained their employment.”

Madame Worms-Clavelin looked at the priest and thought how remarkably
like Madame Vacherie he was. She confided to him that she had a passion
for curios, that she was mad about brocades, stamped velvets, gold
fringes, embroidery and lace. She disclosed to him the covetous desires
accumulated in her mind since the days when she used to trail in her
youth and poverty in front of the shop-windows of the second-hand
dealers in the Quartier Bréda. She told him that she had dreams of
a salon with old copes and old chasubles, and that she was also
collecting antique jewels.

He answered that in truth the ornaments of the priests provided
precious models for artists, and that there we had a proof that the
Church was no enemy to art.

From that day forward M. Guitrel began to hunt in the country
sacristies for splendid antiques, and scarcely a week passed that
he did not carry into Rondonneau junior’s, under his great-coat, a
chasuble or a cope, adroitly pillaged from some innocent priest. M.
Guitrel was, moreover, very scrupulous in remitting to the rifled
vestry-board the hundred-sou piece with which the _préfet_ paid for the
silk, the brocade, the velvet and the lace.

In six months’ time Madame Worms-Clavelin’s drawing-room had become
like a cathedral treasury; a clinging odour of incense lingered round
it.

One summer day in that year, M. Guitrel, according to custom, mounted
the goldsmith’s stairs, and found M. Worms-Clavelin puffing away
merrily in the shop. For the day before the _préfet_ had succeeded
in getting his candidate, a cattle-breeder, and young turn-coat
royalist, returned; and he was counting on the approval of the
minister, who secretly preferred the new to the old republicans as
being less exacting and more humble. In the elation of his boisterous
satisfaction, he slapped the priest on the shoulder:

“Monsieur l’abbé, what we want is many priests like you, enlightened,
tolerant, free from prejudices—for you haven’t any prejudices, not
you!—priests who recognise the needs of the present day and the
requirements of a democratic society. If the episcopate, if the French
clergy would only catch the progressive yet conservative sentiments
that the Republic professes, they would still have a fine part to play.”

Then, amidst the smoke of his big cigar, he expounded ideas on
religion which testified to an ignorance that filled M. Guitrel with
inward dismay. The _préfet_, however, declared himself to be more
Christian than many Christians, and in the language of the masonic
lodge he extolled the moral teaching of Jesus, while he rejected
indiscriminately local superstitions and fundamental dogmas, the
needles thrown into the piscina of Saint Phal by marriageable girls,
and the real presence in the Eucharist.

M. Guitrel, an easy-going soul, but incapable of yielding a point as to
dogma, stammered out:

“One must make a distinction, monsieur _le préfet_, one must make a
distinction.”

In order to make a diversion, he drew out from a pocket of his
great-coat a roll of parchment which he opened on the counter. It was
a large page of plain-chant, with Gothic text under the four-line
divisions, with rubrics and a decorated initial.

The _préfet_ fixed his great, lamp-globe eyes on the page. Rondonneau
junior, stretching out his rosy bald head, said:

“The miniature in the initial is rather fine. It’s Saint Agatha, isn’t
it?”

“The martyrdom of Saint Agatha,” said M. Guitrel. “Here are seen the
executioners torturing the breasts of the saint.”

And he added in a voice which flowed as sweetly as thick syrup:

“According to authentic records, such was in fact the torment
inflicted on Saint Agatha of blessed memory by the proconsul. A page
from an antiphonary, Monsieur _le préfet_—a trifle, a mere trifle,
which perhaps will find a little niche in the collections of Madame
Worms-Clavelin, so devoted to our Christian antiquities. This page
gives us a fragment of the proper of the saint.”

And he deciphered the Latin text, marking the tonic accent
energetically:

“_Dum torqueretur beata Agata in mamillâ graviter dixit ad judicem:
‘Impie, crudelis et dire tyranne, non es confusus amputare in feminâ
quod ipse in matre suxisti? Ego habeo mamillas integras intus in animâ
quas Domino consecravi.’_”[D]

  [D] “While the blessed Agatha was being cruelly tortured in the
      breast, she said to the judge: ‘Oh, wicked, cruel, and savage
      tyrant, art thou not ashamed to mutilate in a woman that with
      which your mother fed you? Within my soul I have breasts
      undesecrated which I have sanctified to God.’”

The _préfet_, who was a graduate, half understood, and in his desire
to appear Gallic, remarked that it was piquant.

“Naïve,” answered Abbé Guitrel gently, “naïve.”

M. Worms-Clavelin granted that the language of the Middle Ages had, in
fact, a certain naïveté.

“It has also sublimity,” said M. Guitrel.

But the _préfet_ was rather inclined to seek in Church Latin for
the piquancy of broad humour, and it was with a sly little laugh of
obstinacy that he crammed the parchment into his pocket, with many
thanks to his dear Guitrel for this discovery.

Then, pushing the Abbé into the window-recess, he whispered in his ear:

“My dear Guitrel, when the chance comes, I will do something for you.”



V


There was one party in the town which openly declared that Abbé
Lantaigne, principal of the high seminary, was a priest worthy of a
bishopric and fitted to fill the vacant see of Tourcoing honourably,
until the time when Monseigneur Charlot’s death should enable him,
cross in hand and amethyst on finger, to assume the mitre in the
town that had witnessed his labours and his merits. This was the
scheme of the venerable M. Cassignol, ex-president in chief, and a
State pensioner of twenty-five years’ standing. With these plans
were associated M. Lerond, deputy attorney-general at the time
of the decrees,[E] now a barrister practising at …, and Abbé de
Lalonde, formerly an Army chaplain, and now chaplain to the Dames du
Salut. These, belonging to the most respected, but not to the most
influential, class in the town, made up practically the whole of Abbé
Lantaigne’s party. The head of the high seminary had been invited to
dine with M. Cassignol, the chief president, who said to him, in the
presence of M. de Lalonde and M. Lerond:

  [E] The _coup d’état_ of 1851.

“Monsieur l’abbé, put yourself forward as a candidate. When it shall
come to a choice between Abbé Lantaigne, who has so nobly served both
religion and Christian France by pen and tongue, who has protected
the oft-betrayed cause of the rights of the French Church within the
Catholic Church with the force of his mental endowments and high
character, and M. Guitrel, none will have the effrontery to hesitate.
And since it seems that this time the honour of supplying a bishop
for the town of Tourcoing is to fall to our city, the faithful of
the diocese are willing to lose you for a time for the good of the
episcopate as well as of Christendom.”

And the venerable M. Cassignol, who was now in his eighty-sixth year,
added with a smile:

“We shall see you again, I have a firm conviction of that. You will
come back to us from Tourcoing, monsieur l’abbé.”

Abbé Lantaigne had replied:

“Monsieur _le président_, with no intention of anticipating any honour,
I yet shall shirk no duty.”

He yearned and longed for the see of the lamented Monseigneur Duclou.
But this priest, whose ambition was frozen by his pride, was waiting
until they came to bring him the mitre.

One morning M. Lerond came to see him at the seminary, and brought news
of how Abbé Guitrel’s candidature was progressing at the Ministry of
Public Worship. It was suspected that M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin was
working hard in favour of M. Guitrel in the offices of the Ministry,
where all the freemasons had already received their orders. This was
what he had been told at the offices of _le Libéral_, the religious and
moderate paper of the district. With regard to the intentions of the
Cardinal-Archbishop, nothing was known.

The truth was that Monseigneur Charlot dared neither oppose nor support
any candidate. His characteristic caution had been growing on him
for years. If he had any preferences he let no one guess them. For
a long time he had been comfortably and pleasurably concealing his
policy, just as he played his game of bezique every evening with M.
de Goulet. And, in fact, the promotion of a priest of his diocese to
a non-suffragan bishopric was in no way an affair of his. But he was
forced to take part in this intrigue. M. Worms-Clavelin, the _préfet_,
whom he did not wish to offend, had caused him to be sounded. His
Eminence could not be ignorant of the shrewd and urbane disposition of
which M. Guitrel had given plain proofs in the diocese. On the other
hand, he believed this Guitrel to be capable of anything. “Who knows,”
thought he, “whether he is not scheming to get himself appointed here
as my coadjutor, instead of going to that gloomy little metropolis of
Northern Gaul? And if I declare him worthy of a bishopric, will it not
be believed that I intend him to share my see?” This apprehension that
he would be given a coadjutor embittered Monseigneur Charlot’s old age.
In Abbé Lantaigne’s case he had strong reasons for being silent and
holding aloof. He would not have supported this priest’s candidature
for the simple reason that he foresaw its failure. Monseigneur Charlot
never willingly put himself on the losing side. Moreover, he loathed
the principal of the high seminary. Yet this hatred, in a mind so
easy-going and kindly as Monseigneur’s, was not actually prejudicial
to M. Lantaigne’s ambitions. In order to get rid of him, Monseigneur
Charlot would have consented to his becoming either bishop or Pope. M.
Lantaigne had a high reputation for piety, learning, and eloquence: one
could not, without a certain shamelessness, be openly against him. Now
Monseigneur Charlot, being popular and very keen to gain every one’s
goodwill, did not despise the opinion of honourable men.

M. Lerond was unable to follow the secret thoughts of Monseigneur, but
he knew that the Archbishop had not yet committed himself. He judged
that it might be possible to bring influence to bear on the old man’s
mind and that an appeal to his pastoral instincts might not be in
vain. He urged M. Lantaigne to proceed at once to the Archbishop’s
palace.

“You will beg His Eminence, with filial deference, for advice in the
probable event of the bishopric of Tourcoing being offered to you. It
is the right step, and it will produce an excellent effect.”

M. Lantaigne objected:

“It behoves me to wait for a more solemn call.”

“What call could be more solemn than the suffrages of so many zealous
Christians, who hail your name with a unanimity that recalls the
ancient popular acclamations with which a Médard and a Remi were
greeted?”

“But, monsieur,” answered honest Lantaigne, “those acclamations, in
the obsolete custom to which you refer, came from the faithful of the
diocese which these holy men were called upon to govern. And I am not
aware that the Catholics of Tourcoing have acclaimed me.”

At this point lawyer Lerond said what had to be said:

“If you do not bar the road for him, M. Guitrel will become a bishop.”

The next day M. Lantaigne had fastened over his shoulders his visiting
cloak, the turned-back wing of which flapped on his sturdy back, the
while on the road to the Archbishop’s palace he besought his God to
spare the Church of France an unmerited disgrace.

His Eminence, at the moment when M. Lantaigne bowed before him,
had just received a letter from the nunciature asking him for a
confidential note about M. Guitrel. The nuncio made no secret of his
liking for a priest reputed to be intelligent and zealous and capable
of being useful in negotiations with the temporal power. His Eminence
had immediately dictated to M. de Goulet a note in favour of the
nuncio’s protégé.

He exclaimed in his pleasant tremulous voice:

“Monsieur Lantaigne, how glad I am to see you!”

“Monseigneur, I have come to ask Your Eminence for your paternal
counsel in case the Holy Father, regarding me with favour, should
nominate me …”

“Very happy to see you, Monsieur Lantaigne. You come just in the nick
of time!”

“I would venture, if Your Eminence did not deem me unworthy of …”

“You are, Monsieur Lantaigne, an eminent theologian and a priest of
the highest possible learning in the canon law. You are an authority
on knotty points of discipline. Your advice is precious on questions
of the liturgy and, in general, on any point that concerns religion.
If you had not come, I was going to send for you, as M. de Goulet can
tell you. At the present moment I am in great need of your insight.”

And Monseigneur, with his gouty hand, well practised in benediction,
waved the principal of the high seminary to a seat.

“Monsieur Lantaigne, be kind enough to listen to me. The venerable M.
Laprune, the curé of Saint-Exupère, is just gone from here. I must tell
you that this poor curé has this morning found a man hanged in his
church. Just conceive his distress! He is beside himself. And in such a
crisis, I myself need to take the advice of the most learned priest in
my diocese. What ought we to do? Tell me!”

M. Lantaigne collected himself for a moment. Then, in the tone of
a pedagogue, he began to expound the traditions concerning the
purification of churches:

“The Maccabees, after having washed the temple profaned by Antiochus
Epiphanes, in the year 164 before the Incarnation, celebrated its
dedication. That is the origin, Monseigneur, of the festival called
Hanicha—that is to say, renewal. In fact …”

And he developed his ideas.

Monseigneur listened with an air of admiration, and M. Lantaigne
drew up from his inexhaustible memory endless texts relating to the
ceremonies of purification, precedents, arguments, commentaries.

“John, Chapter X., verse 22 … the Roman Pontifical … the Venerable
Bede, Baronius …”

He spoke for three-quarters of an hour.

After this the Cardinal-Archbishop replied:

“It should be noted that the hanged man was found in the porch of the
side door, on the epistle side.”

“Was the inner door of the porch closed?” asked M. Lantaigne.

“Alas! alas!” answered Monseigneur, “it was not wide open … but neither
was it completely shut.”

“Ajar, Monseigneur?”

“That’s it! Ajar.”

“And the suicide, Monseigneur, was within the space covered by the
porch? That is a point which it is materially important to ascertain.
Your Eminence perceives the whole importance of that?”

“Assuredly, Monsieur Lantaigne. … Monsieur de Goulet, was there not one
arm of the hanged man which projected from the porch and jutted into
the church?”

M. de Goulet replied with a blush and some incoherent syllables.

“I feel certain,” replied Monseigneur, “that the arm went beyond, or,
at any rate, part of the arm.”

M. Lantaigne concluded from this that the church of Saint-Exupère was
profaned. He quoted precedents and described the proceedings after
the dastardly assassination of the Archbishop of Paris, in the church
of Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. He travelled up the ages, passed through the
Revolution, when the churches were transformed into armouries, referred
to Thomas Becket and the impious Heliodorus.

“What scholarship! What sound doctrine!” said Monseigneur.

He rose and stretched out his hand for the priest to kiss.

“It is a priceless service that you have rendered me, Monsieur
Lantaigne; be assured that I have a great esteem for your scholarship
and accept my pastoral benediction. Farewell.”

And M. Lantaigne, dismissed, perceived that he had not been able to say
a single word about the important business on which he had come. But,
with the echoes of his own words all round him, full of his learning
and his application of it, and much flattered, he descended the grand
staircase still turning over in his own mind the matter of the suicide
of Saint-Exupère and the urgent need for the purification of the parish
church. Outside he was still thinking of it.

As he was descending the winding street of the Tintelleries, he met the
curé of Saint-Exupère, the venerable M. Laprune, who, standing in front
of cooper Lenfant’s shop, was examining the corks.

His wine had been turning sour, and this deterioration he attributed to
the defective way in which his bottles were corked.

“It is deplorable,” he murmured, “deplorable!”

“And your suicide?” demanded Abbé Lantaigne.

At this question the worthy curé of Saint-Exupère opened his full,
round eyes and asked in astonishment:

“What suicide?”

“The man who hanged himself in Saint-Exupère, the miserable suicide
whom you found this morning in the porch of your church.”

M. Laprune, terrified, wondering from what he had just heard, whether
he or M. Lantaigne had gone mad, replied that he had found no one
hanged.

“What!” replied M. Lantaigne, surprised in his turn, “wasn’t a man
found this morning hanged in the porch of a door on the epistle side!”

In sign of denial, the vicar twice revolved on his shoulders a face
whereon shone the sacred truth.

Abbé Lantaigne now looked like a man taken with giddiness:

“But it was the Cardinal-Archbishop who has just told me himself that
you found a man hanged in your church!”

“Oh!” replied M. Laprune, suddenly reassured, “Monseigneur wanted to
amuse himself. He loves a jest. He is a capital hand at it, and knows
how to keep within the bounds of seemliness. He has so much wit!”

But Abbé Lantaigne, raising heavenwards his fiery, sombre glance,
exclaimed:

“The Archbishop has deceived me! This man will, then, never speak the
truth, save when on the steps of the altar, taking the consecrated host
in his hands, he pronounces the words: _Domine, non sum dignus_!”



VI


Now that he was no longer inclined to the saddle and liked to keep his
room, General Cartier de Chalmot had reduced his division to cards
in small cardboard boxes, which he placed every morning on his desk,
and which he arranged every evening on the white deal shelves above
his iron bedstead. He marshalled his cards day by day with scrupulous
exactitude, in an order which filled him with satisfaction. Every card
represented a man. The symbol by which he henceforth thought of his
officers, non-commissioned officers and men, satisfied his craving
for method and suited his natural bent of mind. Cartier de Chalmot
had always been noted as an excellent officer. General Parroy, under
whom he had served, said of him: “In Captain de Chalmot the capacity
for obedience is exactly balanced by the power of command. A rare and
priceless quality of the true military spirit.”

Cartier de Chalmot had always been scrupulous in the performance of
his duty. Being upright, diffident, and an excellent penman, he had
at last hit upon a system which fitted in with his abilities, and, in
command of his division of cards, he applied his method with the utmost
vigour.

On this particular day, having risen according to his custom at five
o’clock in the morning, he had passed from his tub to his work-table;
and, whilst the sun was mounting with solemn slowness above the elms
of the Archbishop’s palace, the general was organising manœuvres by
manipulating the boxes of cards that symbolised reality, and that were
actually identical with reality to an intelligence which, like his, was
excessively reverent towards everything symbolic.

For more than three hours he had been poring over his cards with a
mind and face as wan and melancholy as the cards themselves, when his
servant announced the Abbé de Lalonde. Then he took off his glasses,
wiped his work-reddened eyes, rose, and half smiling, turned towards
the door a countenance which had once been handsome and which in old
age remained quite simple in its lineaments. He stretched out to the
visitor who entered a large hand the palm of which had scarcely any
lines, and said good-day to the priest in a gruff, yet hesitating
voice, which revealed at the same time the diffidence of the man and
the infallibility of the commander.

“My dear abbé, how are you? I am very glad to see you.”

And he pushed forward to him one of the two horsehair chairs which,
with the desk and the bed, comprised all the furniture of this clean,
bright, empty room.

The abbé sat down. He was a wonderfully active little old man. In his
face of weather-worn, crumbling brick, there were set, like two jewels,
the blue eyes of a child.

They looked at one another for a moment, understandingly, without
saying a word. They were two old friends, two comrades-in-arms.
Formerly a chaplain in the Army, Abbé de Lalonde was now chaplain to
the Dames du Salut. As military chaplain, he had been attached to the
regiment of guards of which Cartier de Chalmot had been colonel in
1870, and which, forming part of the division …, had been shut up in
Metz with Bazaine’s army.

The memory of these homeric, yet lamentable, weeks came back to the
minds of these two friends every time they saw one another, and every
time they made the same remarks.

This time the chaplain began:

“Do you remember, general, when we were in Metz, running short of
medicine, of fodder, running short of salt? …”

Abbé de Lalonde was the least sensual of men. He had hardly felt the
want of salt for himself, but he had suffered much at not being able to
give the men salt as he gave them tobacco, in little packets carefully
wrapped up. And he remembered this cruel privation.

“Ah! general, the salt ran short!”

General Cartier de Chalmot replied:

“They made up for it, to a certain extent, by mixing gunpowder with the
food.”

“All the same,” answered the chaplain, “war is a terrible thing.”

Thus spoke this innocent friend of soldiers in the sincerity of his
heart. But the general did not acquiesce in this condemnation of war.

“Pardon me, my dear abbé! War is, of course, a cruel necessity, but
one which provides for officers and men an opportunity of showing the
highest qualities. Without war, we should still be ignorant of how far
the courage and endurance of men can go.”

And, very seriously, he added:

“The Bible proves the lawfulness of war, and you know better than I how
in it God is called Sabaoth—that is, the God of armies.”

The abbé smiled with an expression of frank roguishness, displaying the
three very white teeth which were all that remained to him.

“Pooh! I don’t know Hebrew, not I. … And God has so many more beautiful
names that I can dispense with calling him by that one. … Alas!
general, what a splendid army perished under the command of that
unhappy marshal! …”

At these words, General Cartier de Chalmot began to say what he had
already said a hundred times:

“Bazaine! … Listen to me. Neglect of the regulations touching fortified
towns, culpable hesitation in giving orders, mental reservations
before the enemy. And before the enemy one ought to have no mental
reservations … Capitulation in open country. … He deserved his fate.
And then a scapegoat was needed.”

“For my part,” answered the chaplain, “I should beware of ever saying a
single word which might injure the memory of this unfortunate marshal.
I cannot judge his actions. And it is certainly not my business to
noise abroad even his indubitable shortcomings. For he granted me a
favour for which I shall feel grateful as long as I live.”

“A favour?” demanded the general. “He? To you?”

“Oh! a favour so noble, so beautiful! He granted me a pardon for a poor
soldier, a dragoon condemned to death for insubordination. In memory
of this favour, every year I say a mass for the repose of the soul of
ex-Marshal Bazaine.”

But General Cartier de Chalmot would not let himself be turned from the
point.

“Capitulation in open country! … Just imagine it. … He deserved his
fate.”

And, in order to hearten himself up, the general spoke of Canrobert,
and of the splendid stand of the ... brigade at Saint-Privat.

And the chaplain related anecdotes of a diverting kind, with an
edifying climax.

“Ah! Saint-Privat, general! On the eve of the battle, a great rascal of
a carabineer came to look for me. I see him still, all blackened, in a
sheepskin. He cries to me: ‘To-morrow’s going to be warm work. I may
leave my bones to rot there. Confess me, monsieur le curé, and quickly!
I must go and groom my little mare.’ I say to him: ‘I don’t want to
delay you, friend. Still, you must tell me your sins. What are your
sins?’ In astonishment he looks at me and replies: ‘Why, all!’ ‘What,
all?’ ‘Yes, all. I have committed all the sins.’ I shake my head.
‘All, my friend—that is a good many! … Tell me, hast thou beaten thy
mother?’ At this question, my gentleman grows excited, waves his great
arms, swears like a Pagan, and exclaims: ‘Monsieur le curé, you are
mocking me!’ I reply to him: ‘Calm yourself, friend. You see now that
you have not committed all the sins.’ …”

Thus the chaplain cheerily narrated pious regimental anecdotes.
And then he deduced the moral from them. Good Christians made good
soldiers. It was a mistake to banish religion from the Army.

General Cartier de Chalmot approved of these maxims.

“I have always said so, my dear abbé. In destroying mystical beliefs
you ruin the military spirit. By what right do you exact of a man the
sacrifice of his life if you take away from him the hope of another
existence?”

And the chaplain answered, with a smile full of kindliness, innocence
and joy:

“You will see that there will be a return to religion. They are already
going back to it on all sides. Men are not as bad as they appear and
God is infinitely good.”

Then at last he revealed the object of his visit.

“I come, general, to ask a great favour of you.”

General Cartier de Chalmot became attentive; his face, already sad,
grew sadder still. He loved and respected this old chaplain, and would
have wished to give him pleasure. But the very idea of granting a
favour was alarming to his strict uprightness.

“Yes, general, I come to ask you to work for the good of the Church.
You know Abbé Lantaigne, head of the high seminary in our town. He is
a priest renowned for his piety and learning, a great theologian.”

“I have met Abbé Lantaigne several times. He made a favourable
impression on me. But …”

“Oh! general, if you had heard his lectures as I have done, you
would be amazed at his learning. Yet I was able to appreciate but a
trifling part of it. Thirty years of my life I have spent in reminding
poor soldiers stretched on a hospital bed of the goodness of God.
I have slipped in a good word along with a screw of tobacco. For
another twenty-five years I have been confessing holy maidens, full
of sanctity, of course, but less charming in character than were my
soldiers. I have never had the time to read the Fathers; I have neither
enough brain nor enough theology to appreciate M. l’abbé Lantaigne
at his true worth, for he is a walking encyclopedia. But at least I
can assure you, general, that he speaks as he acts, and he acts as he
speaks.”

And the old chaplain, winking his eye roguishly, added:

“All ecclesiastics, unfortunately, are not of this kind.”

“Nor are all soldiers,” said the general, smiling a very wan smile.

And the two men exchanged a sympathetic glance, in their common hatred
of intrigue and falsity.

Abbé de Lalonde, who was, however, capable of a little guile, wound up
his eulogy of Abbé Lantaigne with this touch:

“He is an excellent priest, and if he had been a soldier he would have
made an excellent soldier.”

But the general demanded brusquely:

“Well! what can I do for him?”

“Help him to slip on the violet stockings, which he has richly
deserved, general. He is an admitted candidate for the vacant bishopric
of Tourcoing. I beg you to support him with the Minister of Justice and
Religion, whom, I am told, you know personally.”

The general shook his head. In fact, he had never asked anything of
the Government. Cartier de Chalmot, as a royalist and a Christian,
regarded the Republic with a disapproval that was complete, silent
and whole-hearted. Reading no newspapers and talking with no one, he
undervalued on principle a civil power of whose doings he knew nothing.
He obeyed and held his tongue. He was admired in the châteaux of the
neighbourhood for his melancholy resignation, inspired by the sentiment
of duty, strengthened by a profound scorn for everything which was not
military, intensified by a growing difficulty in thought and speech
rendered obvious and affecting by the progress of an affection of the
liver.

It was well known that General Cartier de Chalmot remained a faithful
royalist in the depths of his heart. It was not so well known that one
day in the year 1893 his heart had received one of those shocks which
can only be compared with what Christians describe as the workings
of grace, and which bring with the force of a thunderbolt deep and
unlooked-for peace to a man’s innermost being. This event took place
at five o’clock in the evening of the 4th of June in the drawing-rooms
of the prefecture. There, among the flowers that Madame Worms-Clavelin
had herself arranged, President Carnot, on his way through the town,
had received the officers of the garrison. General Cartier de Chalmot,
being present with his staff, saw the President for the first time,
and instantly, for no apparent reason, on no explicable grounds, was
pierced through and through by a terrible admiration. In a second,
before the gentle gravity and honest inflexibility of the head of the
State, all his prejudices fell away. He forgot that this sovereign
was a civilian. He revered and loved him. He suddenly felt himself
bound with ties of sympathy and respect to this man, sad and sallow
like himself, but august and serene like a ruler. He uttered with a
soldierly stutter the official compliment which he had learnt by heart.
The President answered him: “I thank you in the name of the Republic
and of our country which you loyally serve.” At this, all the devotion
to an absent prince which General Cartier de Chalmot had stored up for
twenty-five years welled forth from his heart towards the President,
whose quiet face remained surprisingly immobile, and who spoke in a
melancholy voice with no movement of cheek or lips, on which his black
beard set a seal. On this waxen face, in these slow, honest eyes, on
this feeble breast, across which blazed the broad red ribbon of his
order, in the whole figure of this suffering automaton, the general
perceived both the dignity of the leader, and the affliction of the
ill-fated man who has never laughed. With his admiration there was
mingled a strain of tenderness.

A year later he heard of the tragic end of this President for whose
safety he would willingly have died, and whom he henceforth pictured in
his thoughts as dark and stiff, like the flag rolled round its staff in
the barracks and covered with its case.

From that time he had ignored the civil rulers of France. He cared
to know nothing save of his military superiors, whom he obeyed with
melancholy punctiliousness. Pained at the idea of answering the
venerable Abbé de Lalonde by a refusal, he bethought himself for a
moment, and then gave his reasons.

“A matter of principle. I never ask anything of the government. You
agree with me, don’t you? … For from the moment that one lays down a
rule for oneself …”

The chaplain looked at him with an expression of sadness that seemed
as though thrown over his happy old face.

“Oh! how could I agree with you, general—I who beg of everybody? I am
a hardened beggar. For God and the poor, I have pleaded with all the
powers of the day, with King Louis Philippe’s ministers, with those of
the provisional government, with Napoleon III.’s ministers, with those
of the _Ordre Moral_ and those of the present Republic. They have all
helped me to do some good. And since you know the Minister of Religion
…”

At this moment a shrill voice called in the passage:

“Poulot! Poulot!”

And a stout lady in a morning wrapper, her white hair crowned with
hair-curlers, entered the room with a rush. It was Madame Cartier de
Chalmot, who was calling the general to déjeuner.

She had already shaken her husband with imperious tenderness, and
exclaimed once more: “Poulot!” before she became aware of the presence
of the old priest crushed up against the door.

She apologised for her untidy dress. She had had so much to do
this morning! Three daughters, two sons, an orphan nephew and her
husband—seven children to look after!

“Ah! madame,” said the abbé, “it is God himself who has sent you! You
will be my providence.”

“Your providence, monsieur l’abbé!”

In her grey dressing-gown her figure revealed the ample dignity of
classic motherhood. On her beaming moustachioed face shone a matronly
pride; her large gestures expressed at once the briskness of a
housewife habituated to work and the ease of a woman accustomed to
official deference. The general disappeared behind her. She was his
household goddess and his guardian angel, this Pauline who carried on
her brave, energetic shoulders all the burden of this poverty-stricken,
ostentatious house, who played the part of seamstress to the family,
as well as cook, dressmaker, chambermaid, governess, apothecary, and
even milliner with a frankly gaudy taste, and yet showed at big dinners
and receptions an imperturbable good breeding, a commanding profile,
and shoulders that were still beautiful. It was commonly said in the
division that if the general became Minister of War, his wife would do
the honours of the hôtel in the Boulevard Saint-Germain[F] in capital
fashion.

  [F] Where the French War Office is situated.

The energy of the general’s wife spread freely over into the outer
world and flourished vigorously in pious and charitable works.
Madame Cartier de Chalmot was lady patroness of three crêches and a
dozen charities recommended by the Cardinal-Archbishop. Monseigneur
Charlot showed a special predilection for this lady, and said to her
sometimes, with his man-of-the-world smile: “You are a general in
the army of Christian charity.” And, being a professor of orthodoxy,
Monseigneur Charlot never failed to add: “And there is no charity
outside the Christian charity; for the Church alone is in a position to
solve the social problems whose difficulties perplex the minds of all
and cause special anxiety to our paternal heart.”

This was just what Madame Cartier de Chalmot thought. She was lavishly,
glaringly pious, and not free from the rather loud magnificence that
was aptly accented by the sound of her voice and the flowers in her
hats. Her faith, voluminous and decorative like the bosom which
enshrined it, made a splendid show in drawing-rooms. By the breadth of
her religious sentiments she had done much harm to her husband. But
neither of them paid any heed to this. The general also believed in the
Christian creed, although this would not have prevented him from having
the Cardinal-Archbishop arrested on a written order from the Minister
of War. Yet he was regarded with suspicion by the democracy. And the
_préfet_, M. Worms-Clavelin himself, though little of a fanatic,
regarded General Cartier de Chalmot as a dangerous man. This was his
wife’s fault. She was ambitious, but the soul of honour and incapable
of betraying her God.

“How can I be your providence, monsieur l’abbé?”

And when she heard that the point at issue was the raising to the
bishopric of Tourcoing of Abbé Lantaigne, a man of such noble,
steadfast piety, she caught fire and showed her courage.

“Those are the bishops we want. M. Lantaigne ought to be nominated.”

The old chaplain began to make use of this happy valiancy.

“Then, madame, induce the general to write to the Minister of Religion,
who turns out to be his friend.”

She shook the crown of curlers on her head vigorously.

“No, monsieur l’abbé. My husband will not write. It is useless to
persist. He thinks that a soldier ought never to ask for anything. He
is right. My father was of this opinion. You knew him, monsieur l’abbé,
and you know that he was a fine man and a good soldier.”

The old Army chaplain smote his forehead.

“Colonel de Balny! Yes, of course, I knew him. He was a hero and a
Christian.”

General Cartier de Chalmot interposed:

“My father-in-law, Colonel de Balny, was chiefly commendable for
having mastered in their entirety the regulations of 1829 on cavalry
manœuvres. These regulations were so complicated that few officers
mastered them in their completeness. They were afterwards withdrawn,
and Colonel de Balny conceived such a disgust at this that it hastened
his end. New regulations were imposed, possessing the unquestionable
advantage of simplification. Yet I question whether the old state of
things was not preferable. You must exact much from a cavalryman in
order to get a little out of him. It is the same with the foot-soldier.”

And the general began anxiously to manipulate his division of cards
drawn up in the boxes.

Madame Cartier de Chalmot had heard these same words very often. She
always made the same reply to them. Once more this time she said:

“Poulot! how can you say that papa died of chagrin, when he fell down
in an apoplectic fit at a review?”

The old chaplain, by a crafty wile, brought the conversation back to
the subject which interested him.

“Ah! madame, your excellent father, Colonel de Balny, would have
certainly appreciated the character of M. Lantaigne, and he would have
offered up prayers that this priest might be raised to a bishopric.”

“I also, monsieur l’abbé, will offer up prayers for that,” answered the
general’s wife. “My husband cannot, ought not to make any application.
But if you think that my intervention will be useful, I will drop a
word to Monseigneur. He doesn’t terrify me at all, our Archbishop.”

“Doubtless a word from your mouth …” murmured the old man. “... The ear
of Monseigneur Chariot will be open to it.”

The general’s wife announced that she would be seeing the Archbishop
at the inauguration of the Pain de Saint Antoine, of which she was
president, and that there …

She interrupted herself:

“The cutlets! … Excuse me, monsieur l’abbé …”

She rushed out on to the landing and shouted orders to the cook from
the staircase. Then she reappeared in the room.

“And there I shall draw him aside, and beg him to speak to the nuncio
in favour of M. Lantaigne. Is that the right way to go to work?”

The old chaplain made as if to take her hands, yet without actually
doing so.

“That’s just the way, madame. I am sure that the good Saint Anthony
of Padua will be with you and will help you to persuade Monseigneur
Charlot. He is a great saint. I mean Saint Anthony. … Ladies ought not
to believe that he devotes himself exclusively to finding the jewels
which they have lost. In heaven he has something better to do. To beg
him for bread for the poor, that is assuredly far worthier. You have
realised that, dear madame. The Pain de Saint Antoine is a fine work. I
must inform myself more fully about it. But I shall take good care not
to breathe a word of it to my good sisters.”

He was referring to the Dames du Salut, to whom he was chaplain.

“They have already too many undertakings. They are excellent sisters,
but too much absorbed in trifling duties, and far too petty, the poor
ladies.”

He sighed, recalling the time when he was a regimental chaplain, the
tragic days of the war, when he accompanied the wounded stretched out
on an ambulance litter and gave them a drop of brandy. For it was by
doles of tobacco and spirits that he was in the habit of carrying
on his apostolic labours. He again gave way to his love of talking
about the fighting round Metz and told some anecdotes. He had several
concerning a certain sapper, a native of Lorraine called Larmoise, a
man full of resources.

“I did not tell you, general, how this great devil of a sapper used to
bring me a bag of potatoes every morning. One day I asked him where
he picked them up. Says he: ‘In the enemy’s lines.’ ‘You villain,’
I say to him. Thereupon he explains to me how he has found some
fellow-countrymen among the German guards. ‘Fellow-countrymen?’ ‘Yes,
fellow-countrymen, fellows from home. We are only separated by the
frontier. We embraced one another, we talked about our relatives and
friends. And they said to me: ”You can take as many potatoes as you
like.”’”

And the chaplain added:

“This simple incident made me feel better than any reasoning how cruel
and unjust war is.”

“Yes,” said the general, “these annoying intimacies occasionally occur
at the points of contact of two armies. They must be sternly repressed,
having due regard, of course, to the circumstances.”



VII


On the promenade along the ramparts that evening Abbé Lantaigne,
head of the high seminary, fell in with M. Bergeret, a professor of
literature who was considered a man of remarkable, but eccentric
character. M. Lantaigne forgave him his scepticism and chatted with
him willingly, whenever he met him under the elm-trees on the Mall.
On his side, M. Bergeret had no objection to studying the mind of an
intelligent priest. They both knew that their conversations on a seat
in the promenade were equally displeasing to the dean of the Faculty
and to the Archbishop. But Abbé Lantaigne knew nothing about worldly
prudence, and M. Bergeret, very weary, discouraged, and disillusioned,
had given up caring for fruitless considerations of policy.

Sceptical within the bounds of decorum and good taste, the assiduous
devotions of his wife and the endless catechisms of his daughters had
resulted in his being impeached of clericalism in the ministerial
bureaux, whilst certain speeches that had been attributed to him
were used against him, both by professing Catholics and professional
patriots. Foiled in his ambitions, he still meant to live in his own
way, and having failed to learn how to please, tried discreetly to
displease.

On this peaceful and radiant evening M. Bergeret, seeing the head of
the high seminary coming along his usual road, advanced several paces
to meet the priest and joined him under the first elm-trees on the Mall.

“To me the place is happy where I meet you,” said Abbé Lantaigne,
who loved, before a university man, to air his harmless literary
affectations.

In a few very vague phrases they made a mutual confession of the great
pity aroused in them both by the world in which they lived. It was Abbé
Lantaigne alone who deplored the decay of this ancient city, so rich,
during the Middle Ages, in knowledge and thought, and now subject to
a few petty tradesmen and freemasons. In frank opposition to this, M.
Bergeret said:

“In days gone by men were just what they are now; that is to say,
moderately good and moderately bad.”

“Not so!” answered M. Lantaigne. “Men were vigorous in character and
strong in doctrine when Raymond the Great, surnamed the balsamic
doctor, taught in this town the epitome of human knowledge.”

The professor and the priest sat down on a stone bench where two old
men, pale-faced and decrepit, were already sitting without saying a
word. In front of this bench, green meadows, wreathed in light mist,
stretched gently downwards to the poplars that fringed the river.

“Monsieur l’abbé,” said the professor, “I have, like everybody else,
turned over the pages of the _Hortus_ and the _Thesaurus_ of Raymond
the Great in the municipal library. Moreover, I have read the new book
that Abbé Cazeaux has devoted to the balsamic doctor. Now, what struck
me in that book …”

“Abbé Cazeaux is one of my pupils,” interrupted M. Lantaigne. “His book
on Raymond the Great is based on facts, which is praiseworthy; it is
founded on theology, which is still more praiseworthy and rare, for
theology is lost in this decadent France, which was the greatest of the
nations as long as she was the most theological.”

“This book of M. Cazeaux’s,” answered M. Bergeret, “appeared to me to
be interesting from several points of view. For want of a knowledge
of theology I lost myself in it more than once. Yet I fancied I could
see in it that the blessed Raymond, rigidly orthodox monk as he was,
claimed for the teacher the right of professing two contradictory
opinions on the same subject, the one theological and in accordance
with revelation, the other purely human and based on experience or
reason. The balsamic doctor, whose statue adorns so sternly the
courtyard of the Archbishop’s palace, maintained, according to what
I have been able to understand, that one and the same man may deny,
as an observer or as a disputant, the truths which, as a Christian,
he believes and confesses. And it seemed to me that your pupil, M.
Cazeaux, approved of a system so strange.”

Abbé Lantaigne, quite animated by what he had just heard, drew his
red silk handkerchief from his pocket, unfurled it like a flag, and
with flushed face and mouth wide open flung himself fearlessly on the
challenge thrown down.

“Monsieur Bergeret, as to whether one can have, on the same subject,
two distinct opinions, the one theological and of divine origin, the
other purely rational or experimental and of human origin, that is a
question which I answer in the affirmative. And I am going to prove to
you the truth of this apparent contradiction by a most common instance.
When, seated in your study, before your table loaded with books and
papers, you exclaim, ‘It is incredible! I have just this moment put my
paper-knife on this table and now I do not see it there. I see it, I’m
sure I see it, and yet I no longer see it,’ when you think in this way,
Monsieur Bergeret, you have two contradictory opinions with respect
to the same object, one that your paper-knife is on the table because
it ought to be there: that opinion is based on reason; the other that
your paper-knife is not on the table, because you do not see it there:
that opinion is based on experience. There you have two irreconcilable
opinions on the same subject. And they are simultaneous. You affirm at
the same time both the presence and the absence of the paper-knife. You
exclaim, ‘It is there, I am sure of it,’ at the very moment you are
proving it is not there.”

And, having finished his demonstration, Abbé Lantaigne waved his
chequered, snuff-besprinkled silk handkerchief, like the flaming banner
of scholasticism.

But the professor of literature was not convinced. He had no difficulty
in showing the emptiness of this sophism. He replied quite gently in
the rather weak voice that he habitually husbanded, that, in looking
for his paper-knife, he experienced fear and hope, by turns and not
simultaneously, the result of an uncertainty which could not last; for
it ended by his making sure whether the knife was on the table or not.

“There is nothing, monsieur l’abbé,” added he, “nothing in this
instance of the boxwood knife that is applicable to the contradictory
judgment which the blessed Raymond, or M. Cazeaux, or you yourself,
might form on such or such a fact recorded in the Bible, when you state
that it is at the same time both true and false. Allow me, in my turn,
to give you an instance. I choose,—not, of course, in order to ensnare
you, but because this incident comes of its own accord into my mind,—I
choose the story of Joshua causing the sun to stand still. …”

M. Bergeret passed his tongue over his lips and smiled. For in truth he
was, in the secret places of his soul, a Voltairean:

“... Joshua causing the sun to stand still. Will you tell me, straight
out, monsieur l’abbé, that Joshua made the sun stand still and did not
make it stand still?”

The head of the high seminary had by no means an air of embarrassment.
Splendid controversialist as he was, he turned to his opponent with
flashing eyes and heaving breast.

“After every reservation has been expressly made with respect to the
true interpretation, both literal and spiritual, of the passage in
Judges which you attack and against which so many unbelievers have
blindly dashed themselves before you, I will reply to you fearlessly.
Yes, I have two distinct opinions as to the interpretation of this
miracle. I believe as a natural philosopher, for reasons drawn from
physics, that is to say, from observation, that the earth turns
round a motionless sun. And as a theologian I believe that Joshua
caused the sun to stand still. There is here a contradiction. But this
contradiction is not irreconcilable. I will prove it to you at once.
For the idea which we form of the sun is purely human; it only concerns
man and could not be applicable to God. For man, the sun does not turn
round the earth. I grant it, and I am willing to decide in favour
of Copernicus. But I will not go so far as to force God to become a
Copernican like myself, and I shall not inquire whether, for God, the
sun turns or does not turn round the earth. To speak truly, I had no
need of the text of Judges in order to know that our human astronomy is
not the astronomy of God. Speculations as to time, number and space do
not embrace infinity, and it is a mad idea to wish to entangle the Holy
Spirit in a physical or mathematical difficulty.”

“Then,” asked the professor, “you admit that, even in mathematics, it
is permissible to have two contradictory opinions, the one human, the
other divine?”

“I will not risk being reduced to that extremity,” answered Abbé
Lantaigne. “There is in mathematics an exactitude which practically
reconciles it with absolute truth. Numbers, on the contrary, are only
dangerous because the reason, being tempted to seek in them for its own
principle, runs the risk of going so far astray as to see nothing in
the universe save a system of numbers. This error has been condemned by
the Church. Yet I will answer you boldly that human mathematics are not
divine mathematics. Doubtless, however, it would not be possible for
one to contradict the other, and I prefer to believe that you do not
wish to make me say that for God three and three can make nine. But we
do not know all the properties of numbers, and God does.

“I hear that there are priests, regarded as eminent, who maintain that
science ought to agree with theology. I detest this impertinence, I
will say this impiety, for there is a certain impiety in making the
immutable and absolute truth walk in harmony with that imperfect and
provisional truth which is called science. This madness of assimilating
reality to appearance, the body to the soul, has produced a multitude
of miserable, baneful opinions through which the apologists of this
period have allowed their foolhardy feebleness to be seen. One, a
distinguished member of the Society of Jesus, admits the plurality of
inhabited worlds; he allows that intelligent beings may inhabit Mars
and Venus, provided that to the earth there be reserved the privilege
of the Cross, by which it again becomes unique and peculiar in the
Creation. The other, a man who not without some merit occupied in the
Sorbonne the chair of theology which has since been abolished, grants
that the geologist can trace the vestiges of preadamites and reduces
the Genesis of the Bible to the organisation of one province of the
universe for the sojourn of Adam and his seed. O dull folly! O pitiable
boldness! O ancient novelties, already condemned a hundred times! O
violation of sacred unity! How much better, like Raymond the Great and
his historian, to proclaim that science and religion ought no more to
be confused with each other than the relative and the absolute, the
finite and the infinite, the darkness and the light!”

“Monsieur l’abbé,” said the professor, “you despise science.”

The priest shook his head.

“Not so, Monsieur Bergeret, not so! I hold, on the contrary, according
to the example of Saint Thomas Aquinas and all the great doctors, that
science and philosophy ought to be held in high esteem in the schools.

“One does not despise science without despising reason; one does not
despise reason without despising man; one does not despise man without
insulting God. The rash scepticism which lays the blame on human
reason is the first step towards that criminal scepticism that defies
the divine mysteries. I value science as a gift which comes to us
from God. But if God has given us science, he has not given us _His_
science. His geometry is not ours. Ours speculates on one plane or in
space; His works in infinitude. He has not deceived us: that is why I
consider that there is a true human science. He has not taught us all:
that is why I declare the powerlessness of this science, even though
true, to agree with the truth of truths. And this discrepancy, every
time that it occurs between the two, I see without fear: it proves
nothing, neither against heaven, nor earth.”

M. Bergeret confessed that this system seemed to him as clever as it
was bold, and ultimately consonant with the interests of the faith.

“But,” added he, “it is not our Archbishop’s doctrine. In his pastoral
letters, Monseigneur Charlot speaks voluntarily of the truths of
religion being confirmed by the discoveries of science, and especially
by the experiments of M. Pasteur.”

“Oh!” answered Abbé Lantaigne in a nasal voice that hissed with scorn,
“His Eminence observes, in philosophy at least, the vow of evangelical
poverty.”

At the moment when this phrase was lashing the air beneath the
quincunxes, a corpulent great-coat, capped by a wide clerical hat,
passed in front of the bench.

“Speak lower, monsieur l’abbé,” said the professor; “Abbé Guitrel hears
you.”



VIII


M. _le Préfet_ Worms-Clavelin was chatting with Abbé Guitrel in the
shop of Rondonneau junior, goldsmith and jeweller. He leant back in an
arm-chair and crossed his legs so that the sole of one of his boots
stuck up towards the placid old man’s chin.

“Monsieur l’abbé, it is useless for you to speak: you are an
enlightened priest; you see in religion a collection of moral precepts,
a necessary discipline, and not a set of antiquated dogmas, of
mysteries whose absurdity is only too little mysterious.”

As a priest, M. Guitrel had excellent rules of conduct. One of these
rules was to avoid scandal and to hold his tongue, rather than expose
the truth to the mockery of unbelievers. And, as this precaution agreed
with the bent of his character, he observed it scrupulously. But M.
_le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin was lacking in discretion. His vast, fleshy
nose, his thick lips, seemed like a powerful apparatus of suction and
absorption, whilst his receding forehead, above his great pale eyes,
betrayed his opposition to all moral delicacy. He persisted, marshalled
against Christian dogmas the arguments of the masonic lodges and the
literary cafés, and concluded by saying that it was impossible for an
intelligent man to believe a word of the Catechism. Then, bringing down
his fat, beringed hand on the priest’s shoulder, he said:

“You don’t answer, my dear abbé; you are of my opinion.”

M. Guitrel, in some sort a martyr, was forced to confess his faith.

“Pardon me, monsieur _le préfet_; that little book, the Catechism,
which it is the fashion to despise in certain quarters, contains more
truths than the great treatises on philosophy which make such a vast
noise in the world. The Catechism unites the most learned metaphysics
with the most effective simplicity. This appreciation is not mine;
it is that of an eminent philosopher, M. Jules Simon, who ranks the
Catechism above Plato’s _Timæus_.”

The _préfet_ dared not contradict the opinion of an ex-minister. He
remembered at the same time that his official superior, the present
Secretary of State for the Home Department, was a Protestant. He said:
“As an official I respect all religions equally, Protestantism as
well as Catholicism. As a man, I am a freethinker, and if I had any
preference as to dogma, let me tell you, monsieur l’abbé, that it
would be in favour of the Reformed Party.”

M. Guitrel replied in an unctuous voice: “There are, doubtless, among
Protestants, many persons eminently estimable from the point of view
of morals, and I dare say many exemplary persons, if they are judged
from the world’s standpoint. But the so-called reformed Church is but a
limb hacked from the Catholic Church, and the place of the wound still
bleeds.”

Indifferent to this powerful phrase, borrowed from Bossuet, M. _le
préfet_ drew from his case a big cigar, lighted it, and holding out the
case to the priest:

“Will you accept a cigar, monsieur l’abbé?”

Being densely ignorant of ecclesiastical discipline, and believing that
tobacco-smoking was forbidden to the clergy, he offered a cigar to M.
Guitrel in order to make him look awkward or to lead him astray. In his
ignorance he believed that by this offer he was leading a wearer of
the cassock into sin, making him fall into disobedience, perhaps into
sacrilege, and almost into apostasy. But M. Guitrel placidly took the
cigar, slipped it carefully into the pocket of his great-coat, and said
urbanely that he would smoke it after supper in his room.

Thus M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin and Abbé Guitrel, professor of
sacred rhetoric at the high seminary, conversed in the goldsmith’s
office. Near them, Rondonneau junior, contractor to the Archbishop,
who also worked for the prefecture, listened to the conversation
discreetly, without taking part in it. He was preparing his mail, and
his bald pate came and went among his account-books and the samples of
commercial jewellery heaped up on the table.

With a brusque movement M. _le préfet_ stood upright, pushed Abbé
Guitrel to the other end of the room, into the recess of the window,
and whispered in his ear:

“My dear Guitrel, you know that the bishopric of Tourcoing is vacant.”

“I have in fact,” answered the priest, “learnt of the death of
Monseigneur Duclou. It is a great loss for the Church of France.
Monseigneur Duclou’s merits were only equalled by his modesty. He
excelled in preaching. His pastoral addresses are models of hortatory
eloquence. Shall I dare to recall to mind that I knew him in Orleans,
at the time when he was still Abbé Duclou, the revered curé of
Saint-Euverte, and that at that time he deigned to honour me with his
gracious friendship? The news of his premature death was particularly
distressing to me.”

He was silent, letting his lips droop in sign of grief.

“It’s not a question of that,” said the _préfet_. “He is dead; it is a
question of filling his place.”

M. Guitrel’s face changed. Now, screwing up his little eyes till they
were quite round, he looked like a rat who sees bacon in the larder.

“You must know, my dear Guitrel,” continued the _préfet_, “that this
business has nothing whatever to do with me. It is not I who appoint
the bishops. I am not the keeper of the seals, nor the nuncio, nor the
Pope. God be thanked!”

And he began to laugh.

“By the bye, on what terms do you stand with the nuncio?”

“The nuncio, monsieur _le préfet_, looks upon me with friendliness, as
a humble and dutiful servant of the Holy Father. But I do not flatter
myself that he especially heeds me, in the humble station in which I
have been placed and where I am content to remain.”

“My dear abbé, if I speak to you about this affair—quite between
ourselves, isn’t it?—it is because there is a question of sending
a priest from my county town to Tourcoing. I hear on good authority
that the name of Abbé Lantaigne, head of the high seminary, is being
brought forward, and it is not impossible that I may be asked to supply
confidential information about the candidate. He is your ecclesiastical
superior. What do you think of him?”

M. Guitrel answered, with downcast eyes:

“It is certain that Abbé Lantaigne would bring to the episcopal
see once sanctified by the apostle Loup both eminent piety and
the precious gifts of eloquence. His Lenten sermons preached at
Saint-Exupère have been justly admired for their logical arrangement of
ideas and power of expression, and it is commonly recognised that some
of the sermons would fall in no respect short of perfection, if there
were present in them that unction, that perfumed and consecrated oil,
if I may dare so to call it, which alone penetrates the heart.

“The curé of Saint-Exupère took pleasure in being the first to
declare that M. Lantaigne, in speaking the word from the pulpit of
the most venerable church in the diocese, had deserved well of the
great apostle of the Gauls who laid the first stone of it, by reason
of an ardour and a zeal whose very excesses were excused by their
benevolent origin. He only deplored the orator’s excursions into the
domain of contemporary history. For it must needs be confessed that
M. Lantaigne has no fear of walking on embers that are still burning.
M. Lantaigne is distinguished by piety, learning and talent. What a
pity that a priest worthy of being raised to the highest positions in
the Church should believe it to be his duty to proclaim a devotion,
doubtless praiseworthy in principle, but reckless in its results, to
an exiled family from whom he has received favours. He takes pleasure
in showing a copy of the _Imitation de Jésus-Christ_, bound in purple
and gold, which was given to him by the Comtesse de Paris, and he
displays far too freely the extent of his gratitude and fidelity. And
what a misfortune that an arrogance, excusable perhaps in such lofty
talent, should lead him even to the lengths of speaking publicly under
the quincunxes about the Cardinal-Archbishop in terms which I dare
not repeat! Alas! failing my voice, all the trees on the Mall would
re-utter these words that fell from the mouth of M. Lantaigne, in the
presence of M. Bergeret, professor of literature: ‘In brain alone, His
Eminence observes the evangelical vow of poverty!’ Such sayings are
habitual with him, and was he not heard to say at the last ordination,
when His Eminence advanced clothed in those pontifical ornaments which
he bears with so much dignity, notwithstanding his short stature:
‘Golden cross, wooden bishop’? Most unseasonably he thus censured the
magnificence with which Monseigneur Charlot delights to celebrate the
offices as well as to regulate the ordering of his official banquets,
and especially the dinner which he gave to the general in command
of the new army-corps, and to which you were invited, Monsieur _le
préfet_. And in particular any better agreement between the prefecture
and the archbishopric offends Abbé Lantaigne, who is far too inclined,
unfortunately, to prolong the painful misunderstandings from which
Church and State suffer equally, in scorn of the precepts of St. Paul
and the teaching of His Holiness Leo XIII.”

The _préfet_ opened his mouth quite wide, being in the habit of
listening with it. He burst out:

“This Lantaigne is steeped in the most detestable spirit of
clericalism! He owes me a grudge? What has he got against me? Am I
not tolerant and liberal enough? Did I not shut my eyes when on all
sides the monks and nuns re-entered the convents, the schools? For if
we vigorously uphold the essential laws of the Republic, we hardly
enforce them. But priests are incorrigible. You are all the same. You
cry out that you are being oppressed as soon as you yourself are not
oppressing. And what does he say about me, this Lantaigne of yours?”

“Nothing definite can be set forth against the administration of M. _le
préfet_ Worms-Clavelin, but an uncompromising soul like M. Lantaigne
never forgives either your association with freemasonry or your Jewish
origin.”

The _préfet_ shook the ash from his cigar. “The Jews are no friends
of mine. I have no ties in the Jewish world. But be tranquil, my dear
abbé, I give you my word that M. Lantaigne shall not be bishop of
Tourcoing. I have enough influence in the bureaux to checkmate him. …
Just listen to me, Guitrel: I had no money when I started out in life.
I made connections for myself. Connections are worth nearly as much as
wealth. I have many and good ones. I shall be on the watch to see that
Abbé Lantaigne cuts his own throat in the bureaux. Besides, my wife has
a candidate for the bishopric of Tourcoing. And that candidate is you,
Guitrel.”

At this word, Abbé Guitrel cast down his eyes and flung up his arms.

“I, sit in the seat sanctified by the blessed Loup and by so many pious
apostles of Northern Gaul! Can such a thought have occurred to Madame
Worms-Clavelin?”

“My dear Guitrel, she wishes that you should wear the mitre. And I
assure you she is powerful enough to create a bishop. For my part, I
shall not be sorry to give a Republican bishop to the Republic. That’s
understood, my dear Guitrel; you look after the Archbishop and the
nuncio; my wife and I will set the bureaux in motion.”

And M. Guitrel murmured with clasped hands:

“The ancient and venerable see of Tourcoing!”

“A third-class bishopric, a mere hole, my dear abbé. But one must
make a beginning. Why! do you know where I started my career in
official life? At Céret! I was _sous-préfet_ of Céret, in the
Pyrénées-Orientales! Would any one credit it? … But I am wasting my
time gossiping … Good evening, Monseigneur.”

The _préfet_ held out his hand to the priest. And M. Guitrel went off
along the winding street of the Tintelleries, humbly and with shoulders
bent, yet planning cunning measures and promising himself, on the day
when he wore the mitre and grasped the crozier, to resist the civil
Government, like a prince of the Church, to fight the freemasons and to
hurl anathemas at the principles of freethought, the Republic, and the
Revolution.



IX


An article in _le Libéral_ informed the town of … that it possessed a
prophetess. This was Mademoiselle Claude Deniseau, daughter of a man
who kept a registry for country servants. Up to the age of seventeen
Mademoiselle Deniseau had not revealed to the closest observer any
abnormality of mind or body. She was a fair, fat, short girl, neither
pretty nor ugly, but pleasant and of a lively disposition. “She had
received,” said _le Libéral_, “a good middle-class education, and she
was religious without bigotry.” At the beginning of her eighteenth
year, on the 3rd of February, 189–, at six o’clock in the evening,
being engaged in laying the cloth on the table in the dining-room, she
thought she heard her mother’s voice saying, “Claudine, go to your
room.” She went there and between the bed and the door she perceived
a bright light, and heard a voice which spoke from the light, saying:
“Claudine, this country must do penance, for that will ward off great
misfortunes. I am Saint Radegonde, Queen of France.” Mademoiselle
Deniseau then descried in the splendour a luminous and, as it were,
transparent face that wore a crown of gold and gems.

After that Saint Radegonde came every day to converse with Mademoiselle
Deniseau, to whom she revealed secrets and made prophecies. She had
foretold the frosts that blighted the vine in blossom, and revealed
that M. Rieu, curé of Sainte-Agnès, would not see the Easter festival.
The venerable M. Rieu actually died on Holy Thursday. For the Republic
and for France she never ceased to foretell terrible disasters close
at hand—fires, floods, massacres. But God, wearied of chastising a
faithless people, would at last, under a king, bring back peace and
prosperity to it. The saint diagnosed and cured diseases. Under her
inspiration, Mademoiselle Deniseau had told Jobelin, the road-mender,
of an ointment which had cured him of an anchylosis of the knee.
Jobelin had been able to resume his work again.

These marvels attracted a crowd of inquirers to the flat inhabited
by the Deniseau family in the Place Saint-Exupère, above the tramway
office. The young girl was studied by ecclesiastics, retired officers,
and doctors of medicine. They believed that they noticed, when she was
repeating the words of Saint Radegonde, that her voice became deeper,
her expression sterner, and that her limbs became rigid. They also
noticed that she used expressions which are not customary with young
girls, and that her words could be explained by no natural means.

M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin, at first indifferent and scoffing, soon
followed the extraordinary success of the prophetess with anxiety, for
she announced the end of the Republic and the return of France to a
Christian monarchy.

M. Worms-Clavelin had entered office at the time of the scandals at
the Élysée under President Grévy. Since then he had participated in
those cases of corruption that are endlessly being hushed up and
as constantly revived to the great detriment of Parliament and the
public authority. And this spectacle, which seemed natural to him,
had ingrafted in his mind a profound feeling of laxity, which spread
from him to all his subordinates. A senator and two deputies from his
department were being threatened with legal proceedings. The most
influential members of the party, engineers and financiers, were either
in prison or in hiding. Under these circumstances, satisfied that the
people were attached to the republican rule, he expected from them
neither enthusiasm nor deference, which seemed to him but old-fashioned
qualities and the empty symbols of a vanished age. Events had enlarged
his naturally limited intelligence. The vast irony of things had
passed into his soul, making it easy-going, mocking, indifferent.
Having recognised, moreover, that the electoral committees constituted
the only real authority that still subsisted in the department, he
obeyed them with a semblance of zeal and with secret opposition. If he
executed their orders, it was not without a considerable modification
of their rigour. In a word, from opportunist he had become liberal
and progressive. He willingly allowed liberty of speech and action.
But he was too wise to allow any unbearable excesses, and, like a
conscientious official, he took good care that the government should
not receive any glaring insult, and that the ministers should peaceably
enjoy that common attitude of indifference which, by gaining over their
friends as well as their enemies, ensured at the same time both their
power and their repose.

It pleased him that the governmental papers and the opposition ones,
both being compromised by financial transactions, should be utterly
discredited, alike as to their praise and their blame. The socialist
sheet, being the only independent one, was also the only violent one.
But it was very poor; and the fear which it inspired drove people
back towards the government. Thus M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin
was entirely sincere when he informed the Home Secretary that the
political situation was excellent in his department. And here was
the prophetess of the Place Saint-Exupère destroying the harmony
of this happy state. Under the direction of Saint Radegonde, she
announced the fall of the ministry, the dissolution of Parliament, the
resignation of the President of the Republic, and the collapse of a
discredited government. She was much more violent than _le Libéral_
and far more influential. For _le Libéral_ drew but few, while the
whole town thronged around Mademoiselle Deniseau. The clergy, the large
landowners, the nobility, the clerical press, hung upon her and drank
in her words. Saint Radegonde rallied the defeated enemies of the
Republic and brought together the “Conservatives.” A harmless rally,
but inconvenient. M. Worms-Clavelin was especially afraid lest a Paris
paper should noise the affair about. “It would then assume,” said he
to himself, “the proportions of a scandal and would expose me to a
reprimand from the minister.” He resolved to look for the quietest way
of silencing Mademoiselle Deniseau, and first began to make inquiries
as to the character of her relations.

Her father’s family was not much respected in the town. The Deniseaux
were people of no position. Mademoiselle Claude’s father kept a
registry office, the reputation of which was neither better nor worse
than that of other registries. Masters and servants complained of
it, but still made use of it. In 1871 Deniseau had had the Commune
proclaimed in the Place Saint-Exupère. Somewhat later, upon the
expulsion of three Dominicans at the point of the sword, he had offered
resistance to the gendarmes, and had got himself arrested. Next he had
stood at municipal elections as a socialist, and had only obtained a
very small number of votes. He was hot-headed and weak-minded, but
believed to be honest.

The mother was a Nadal. The Nadals, in a better position than the
Deniseaux, were small agricultural proprietors, all much respected.
One of the Nadals, an aunt to Mademoiselle Claude, being subject to
hallucinations, had been shut up in an asylum for some years. The
Nadals were religious and had clerical connections. M. Worms-Clavelin
could learn nothing more about them.

One morning he had a conversation on this subject with his private
secretary, M. Lacarelle, who belonged to an old family in the
neighbourhood and knew the department well.

“My dear Lacarelle, we must put an end to this madness. For it is plain
that Mademoiselle Deniseau is mad.”

Lacarelle replied gravely, not without the kind of arrogance
inseparable from his long fair moustaches.

“Monsieur _le préfet_, opinions are divided with respect to this, and
many people believe that Mademoiselle Deniseau is perfectly sane.”

“After all, Lacarelle, you do not believe that Saint Radegonde comes
every morning to chat with her and to drag the head of the State, along
with the Government, down into the mire.”

But Lacarelle was of opinion that there had been exaggeration,
that ill-disposed persons were making the most of an extraordinary
manifestation. It really was extraordinary that Mademoiselle Deniseau
should prescribe sovereign remedies for incurable diseases; she had
cured Jobelin, the road-mender, and an old bailiff called Favru. That
was not all. She foretold events that fell out as she had said.

“I can vouch for one fact, monsieur _le préfet_. Last week Mademoiselle
Deniseau said: ‘There is a treasure hidden in a field called Faifeu, at
Noiselles.’ They dug at the place described and discovered a great slab
of stone which blocked the entrance of an underground passage.”

“But, still,” cried the _préfet_, “you cannot maintain that Saint
Radegonde …”

He stopped, thoughtful and questioning. He was profoundly ignorant of
the saintly legends of Christian Gaul and of the national antiquities
of France. But at school he had studied text-books of history. He was
struggling to recall his boyish recollections.

“Saint Radegonde was the mother of Saint Louis?”

M. Lacarelle, who knew more history, only hesitated a moment.

“No,” said he, “the mother of Saint Louis was Blanche of Castille.
Saint Radegonde was an earlier queen.”

“Well, she cannot be allowed to perform her conjuring tricks in the
county town. And you, my dear Lacarelle, you ought to make her father
understand—this Deniseau, I mean to say—that he has nothing to do but
to give a good flogging to his daughter and put her under lock and key.”

Lacarelle smoothed his Gallic moustaches.

“Monsieur _le préfet_, I advise you to go and see this Deniseau girl.
She is interesting. She will give you a private sitting quite to
yourself.”

“You can’t mean it, Lacarelle! Fancy my going to be instructed by a
little hussy that my Government is on the point of collapse!”

M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin was not credulous. He only thought of
religion from a political point of view. He had inherited no creed
from his parents, who were aliens to every superstition, as they were
to every land. His soul had sucked none of the nourishment of the past
from any soil. He remained empty, colourless, unfettered. Through
metaphysical incompetency and the instinctive feeling for action and
acquisition, he clung to tangible truth, and in all good faith believed
himself to be a positivist. Having but lately drunk his bocks in
the cafés at Montmartre in the company of chemists with political
opinions, he still preserved a blind trustfulness in scientific
methods, which he in his turn extolled in the lodges to the leading
spirits among the freemasons. He enjoyed embellishing his political
intrigues and administrative expedients with the fair appearance of
sociological experiment. And the more useful science was to him the
better he appreciated it. “I profess,” said he in all sincerity, “that
unquestioning faith in facts which constitutes the scientist, the
sociologist.” And it was just because he only believed in facts and
because he professed the creed of positivism that the affair of the
Sibyl began to worry him.

His private secretary, M. Lacarelle, had said to him: “This young
woman has cured a road-mender and a bailiff. These are facts. She has
pointed out the place where they would discover a treasure, and they
really found in that place a trap-door to the opening of a subterranean
passage. That is a fact. She foretold the failure of the vines. That is
a fact.”

M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin had the instinct of mockery and a sense
of humour, but this word _fact_ exercised a spell over his mind; and
it occurred vaguely to his memory that doctors like Charcot had made
observations in the hospitals on sick people gifted with extraordinary
powers. He remembered certain curious phenomena of hysteria and cases
of second sight. He wondered whether Mademoiselle Deniseau were not a
sufficiently interesting hysteric patient for her to be handed over to
the experts in mental cases, which would rid the town of her.

He thought:

“I might give an official order for the consignment of this girl to
an asylum, as in the case of any person whose mental derangement
forms a danger to public order and personal safety; but the enemies
of the government would squeal like polecats, and I can already hear
lawyer Lerond charging me with unlawful committal. The plot must be
unravelled, if the clericals of the county town have concocted one. For
it is not to be endured that Mademoiselle Deniseau should declare every
day, as the mouthpiece of Saint Radegonde, that the Republic is sinking
into the mire. I grant that some regrettable deeds have been done.
Certain partial changes will force themselves on us, especially in
national representation, but, thank God, the government is still strong
enough for me to support it.”



X


Abbé Lantaigne, principal of the high seminary, and M. Bergeret,
professor of literature, were seated in conversation on a bench on
the Mall, according to their custom in summer. On every subject they
were opposed in opinion; never were two men more different in mind
and character. But they were the only people in the town who took an
interest in general ideas. This fellow-feeling united them. While
philosophising beneath the quincunxes when the weather was fine, they
consoled each other, one for the loneliness of celibacy, the other for
the vexations of domestic life; both for their professional cares and
for the unpopularity each alike shared.

On this particular day they could see from the bench where they sat the
monument of Jeanne d’Arc still shrouded in wrappings. The Maid having
once slept a night in the town, at the house of an honest dame called
la Gausse, in 189– the municipality, with the concurrence of the State,
had caused a monument to be raised to commemorate this stay. This
monument, the work of two artists, the one a sculptor and the other
an architect, both natives of the district, displayed the Maid fully
armed, standing, meditative, on a high pedestal.

The date of the unveiling was fixed for the following Sunday. The
Minister of Education was expected, and it was reckoned that there
would be a lavish distribution of crosses of honour and academic
decorations. The townsfolk thronged the Mall to gaze at the linen which
covered the bronze figure and the stone pedestal. Outsiders installed
themselves on the ramparts. On the booths set up under the quincunxes
the refreshment-sellers were nailing up bands of calico bearing the
legends: _Véritable bière Jeanne d’Arc._—_Café de la Pucelle._

At sight of this, M. Bergeret remarked that one ought to rejoice in
this concourse of citizens assembled to pay honour to the liberator of
Orleans.

“The archivist of the department, M. Mazure,” added he, “stands out
from the crowd. He has written a memoir to prove that the famous
historical tapestry, representing the meeting at Chinon, was not made
about 1430 in Germany, as was believed, but that it came at that period
from some studio of Flemish France. He submitted the conclusions of his
memoir to M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin, who called them eminently
patriotic and approved of them. He expressed a hope that he would see
the author of this discovery receiving the insignia of an officer of
the Academy beneath Jeanne’s statue. It is also rumoured that in his
speech at the unveiling M. _le préfet_ will say, with his eyes turned
towards the Vosges, that Jeanne was a daughter of Alsace-Lorraine.”

Abbé Lantaigne, caring but little for a joke, made no reply and kept
a grave face. In principle he regarded these celebrations in honour
of Jeanne d’Arc as praiseworthy. Two years before he had himself
pronounced at Saint-Exupère a panegyric on the Maid, and had declared
her the type of the good Frenchwoman and the good Christian. He found
no subject for jest in a solemnity which was a glorification of faith
and country. As a patriot and a Christian, he only regretted that the
bishop and his clergy would not take the first place in it.

“The thing,” said he, “that ensures the continuity of the French
nation, is neither kings nor presidents of the Republic, neither
provincial governors nor _préfets_, neither officers of the crown nor
officials of the present government; it is the episcopacy which, from
the first apostles to the Gauls down to the present day, has continued,
without break, change, or diminution, and forms, so to say, the solid
web of the history of France. The power of the bishops is spiritual
and stable. The power of the kings, legitimate but transitory, is
decrepit from its birth. On its continuance that of the nation does
not depend. The nation is a spiritual conception inseparable from the
moral and religious idea. But, although absent in the body from the
celebrations that are being arranged for here, the clergy will be
present at them in spirit and in truth. Jeanne d’Arc is ours, and it is
vain for unbelievers to try and steal her from us.”

M. BERGERET: “It is, however, very natural that this simple
girl, having become a symbol of patriotism, should be claimed by all
patriots.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “I cannot imagine—I have told you so
before—nationality without religion. Every duty comes from God, the
duty of the citizen no less than that of others. If God be ignored the
call of duty is stilled. If it is a right and a duty to defend one’s
native land against the foreigner, it is not in virtue of any pretended
rights of man which never existed, but in conformity with the will of
God. This conformity appears in the stories of Jael and Judith. It
shines clearly in the book of the Maccabees. It can be read in the
deeds of the Maid.”

M. BERGERET: “Then you believe, monsieur l’abbé, that Jeanne
d’Arc received her mission from God Himself? That will land you in
numberless difficulties. I will only submit to you one of these,
because it is inherent in the nature of your beliefs. It relates to
the voices and apparitions which manifested themselves to the peasant
of Domremy. Those who grant that Saint Catherine really appeared to
Jacquot d’Arc’s daughter, in company with Saint Michael and Saint
Marguerite, will find themselves, I fancy, much embarrassed when it
has been proved to them that this Saint Catherine of Alexandria never
existed, and that her history is in reality only a rather poor Greek
romance. Now this fact was proved as early as the seventeenth century,
not by the freethinkers of the period, but by a learned doctor of the
Sorbonne, Jean de Launoy, a man of piety and good life. The judicious
Tillemont, although so submissive to the Church, rejected the biography
of Saint Catherine as an absurd fable. Is not that a difficulty,
monsieur l’abbé, for those who believe that the Voices of Jeanne d’Arc
came from Heaven?”

M. LANTAIGNE: “The martyrology, monsieur, worthy of all
reverence as it is, is not an article of faith; and it is permissible,
in imitation of Doctor de Launoy and Tillemont, to cast doubts on the
existence of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. For my part, I am not
inclined to go so far, and I hold such an absolute denial as rash.
I recognise that the biography of this saint has come to us from
the East overlaid everywhere with fabulous details, but I believe
that these embellishments have been laid over a solid foundation.
Neither Launoy nor Tillemont is infallible. It is not certain that
Saint Catherine never existed, and if by chance historic proof of
her non-existence were established, that would give way before the
theological testimony to the contrary, furnished by the miraculous
appearances of this saint authenticated by the Ordinary and solemnly
recognised by the Pope. For, after all, good logic requires that truths
of the scientific plane should yield to truths of a higher order.
But we are not yet in a position to know the opinion of the Church
as to the Maid’s apparitions. Jeanne d’Arc has not been canonised,
and the miracles wrought for her or by her are open to discussion: I
neither deny nor affirm them, and it is a purely human vision which
makes me perceive in the history of this marvellous girl the hand of
God stretched out over France. Truth to tell, though, that vision is
powerful and penetrating.”

M. BERGERET: “If I have rightly understood you, monsieur
l’abbé, you do not consider the strange event at Fierbois as an
attested miracle, when Jeanne, as they say, pointed out a sword
concealed in the wall. And you are not certain that the Maid, as she
herself declared, brought back a child to life at Lagny. You know my
opinions, and for my part I should give a natural interpretation to
these two facts. I suppose that the sword was fastened to the wall of
the Church as a votive offering, and was consequently visible. As for
the child that the Maid raised from the dead for the time necessary for
the administration of baptism, and who died again after having been
brought to the font, I confine myself to reminding you that there was
near Domremy a Notre-Dame-des-Aviots whose particular function it was
to endow still-born children with a few hours of life. I suspect that
the memory of Notre-Dame-des-Aviots had a good deal to do with the
illusions that possessed Jeanne d’Arc when she believed, at Lagny, that
she had raised a new-born child from the dead.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “There is much uncertainty in these
explanations, monsieur. And rather than adopt them, I suspend my
judgment, which inclines, I confess, towards the miraculous side, at
least with respect to Saint Catherine’s sword. For the passage is
precise: the sword was _in_ the wall, and it was necessary to excavate
to find it. Neither is it impossible, again, that God, upon the
efficacious prayers of a virgin, should have given life back to a child
that had died without having received baptism.”

M. BERGERET: “You speak, monsieur l’abbé, of ‘the efficacious
prayers of a virgin.’ Do you then grant, in accordance with the belief
of the Middle Ages, that there was some virtue, some peculiar power, in
Jeanne d’Arc’s virginity?”

M. LANTAIGNE: “Clearly virginity is pleasing to God, and Jesus
Christ rejoices in the triumph of His virgins. A young girl turned
Attila and his Huns back from Lutetia; a young girl delivered Orleans
and caused the lawful king to be crowned at Rheims.”

The priest having thus expressed himself, M. Bergeret seized on his
words in a way of his own.

“Exactly,” said he. “Jeanne d’Arc was a mascotte.”

But Abbé Lantaigne did not hear. He rose and said:

“France’s destined rôle in Christendom is not yet achieved. I foresee
that ere long God will yet again work His will through the nation which
has been the most faithful and the most faithless to Him.”

“And so it is,” answered M. Bergeret, “that, as in the profligate times
of King Charles VII., we behold the rise of prophetesses. Our town
indeed holds one of them, who is making a happier start than Jeanne,
since Jacquot d’Arc’s daughter was regarded as mad by her parents, and
Mademoiselle Deniseau finds a disciple in her own father. Still I do
not believe that her good luck will be great and lasting. Our _préfet_,
M. Worms-Clavelin, is somewhat wanting in good breeding, but he is less
of a simpleton than Baudricourt, and it is no longer the custom for the
heads of the State to give audience to prophetesses. M. Félix Faure
will not be advised by his confessor to test Mademoiselle Deniseau.
Here, perhaps, you may reply, monsieur l’abbé, that the influence of
Bernadette of Lourdes is stronger in our days than that of Jeanne
d’Arc ever was. The latter overthrew some hundreds of starving and
panic-stricken English; Bernadette has set countless pilgrims on the
march and drawn thousands of millions to a mountain in the Pyrenees.
And my revered friend, M. Pierre Laffitte, assures me that we have
entered on an era of positive philosophy.”

“As for what happens at Lourdes,” said Abbé Lantaigne, “without
becoming latitudinarian or falling into excessive credulity, I reserve
my opinion on a point upon which the Church has made no pronouncement.
But henceforth I see a triumph for religion in this crowd of pilgrims,
just as you yourself see in it a defeat for materialistic philosophy.”



XI


The ministry had fallen. M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin felt neither
surprise nor regret at this. In the depths of his heart he had always
considered it too restless and too disturbing, an object of suspicion,
and not without reason, to the agriculturist, the large merchant, and
the small investor. Without affecting the fortunate indifference of
the masses, this cabinet had exercised, to the _préfet’s_ grief, a
vexatious influence over freemasonry, the organisation by which, for
fifteen years past, the whole political life of the department had
been drawn together and held in check. M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin
had been able to turn the masonic lodges of the department into boards
vested with the preliminary choice of candidates for public offices,
for electoral functions, and for party favours. Exercising in this way
wide and definite prerogatives, the lodges, being as much opportunist
as they were radical, combined, acted in concert with one another, and
worked together for the republican cause. The _préfet_, rejoicing
to see the ambition of some restraining the desires of others,
gathered together, on the joint recommendation of the lodges, a band
of senators, deputies, municipal councillors and road-surveyors, all
equally loyal to the government, yet sufficiently diverse in opinion
and sufficiently moderate to satisfy and reassure all republican
parties, save the socialists. M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin had brought
about this unanimity. And now the radical ministry must needs break up
so happy a harmony.

Ill-luck decreed that the holder of one of the minor portfolios
(either agriculture or commerce) should travel through the department
and stop for some hours in the county town. It sufficed for him to
deliver a philosophic and moral speech at one assembly to flutter
all the assemblies, divide each lodge into two, set brother against
brother, and infuriate citizen Mandar, the chemist of the Rue Culture,
master of the lodge “New Alliance,” and a radical, against M. Tricoul,
vine-grower of Les Tournelles, master of the lodge “Sacred Friendship,”
and an opportunist.

Mentally M. Worms-Clavelin made another complaint against the
fallen ministry: that of having lavishly distributed academic
decorations and given Orders of Merit for agricultural proficiency to
radical-socialists only, thus robbing the _préfet_ of the advantage of
governing with the aid of these decorations, or at least by means of
tardily fulfilled promises of them.

M. _le préfet_ expressed his thoughts accurately as, alone in his
study, he murmured these bitter words:

“If they believed they could play at politics by upsetting my loyal
lodges and fastening my useful palms to the tail of every drunken dog
in the department, they’ll find themselves finely mistaken!”

Thus it was that he heard of the fall of the ministry without any
regret.

Besides, these changes that he had foreseen never surprised him.
His administrative policy was always founded on the assumption that
minister succeeds minister. He made a point of never serving a Home
Secretary with ardent zeal. He refrained from being over-pleasing
to any one, and shunned all opportunities of doing too well. This
moderation, kept up during the continuance of one ministry, assured
him the sympathy of the next one, thus sufficiently predisposed in his
favour to acquiesce in its turn in the half-hearted zeal, which became
a claim to the favour of a third cabinet. M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin
reigned without ruling, corresponded briefly with the Place Beauvau,[G]
manœuvred the boards, and stayed in office.

  [G] Where the French Home Office is situated.

In his study, through the half-open windows of which came the scent of
flowering lilacs and the twittering of sparrows, he was meditating,
in a gentle and peaceful mood, on the lingering extinction of the
scandals which on two occasions had gone near to ruining the leaders
of the party. He looked forward to the day, still far distant, on
which it would again be possible to resume activity. He reflected
that, in spite of passing difficulties, and notwithstanding the
discord unluckily communicated to the masonic lodges and the electoral
committees, he would have capital municipal elections. The mayors in
this agricultural district were excellent. The spirit of the populace
was so loyal that the two deputies, who, being compromised in several
financial transactions, were threatened with legal proceedings, had
yet retained all their influence in their districts. He said to
himself that the _scrutin de liste_[H] would never have produced such
favourable results. In his exaltation of mind thoughts that were almost
philosophic came to the surface of his mind as to the ease with which
men can be governed. He had a confused vision of this human beast
allowing itself to be led, and straggling along in tireless gloomy
tractableness beneath the eye of the shepherding dog.

  [H] In which each voter inscribes on his paper as many names
      as there are vacancies to be filled.

M. Lacarelle entered the study with a newspaper in his hand.

“Monsieur _le préfet_, the resignation of the ministers, having
been accepted by the President of the Republic, is announced in
_l’Officiel_.”

M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin continued his gentle musing, and
M. Lacarelle turned up his long Gallic moustaches and rolled his
china-blue eyes, as a sign that he was about to give expression to a
thought. And, as a matter of fact, he did so.

“Opinions differ as to the fall of the ministry.”

“Really?” asked M. _le préfet_, who was not listening.

“Well! monsieur _le préfet_, it cannot be denied that Mademoiselle
Claudine Deniseau predicted that the ministry would fall at an early
date.”

M. _le préfet_ shrugged his shoulders. He had a mind wise enough to
see that there was nothing marvellous in the fulfilment of such a
prophecy. But Lacarelle, with a profound knowledge of local affairs,
a marvellously contagious stupidity, and an exceptional aptitude for
self-delusion, immediately related to him three or four new stories
which were running through the town, and especially the story of M. de
Gromance, to whom Saint Radegonde had said, in reply to her visitor’s
secret thought: “Be at ease, monsieur _le comte_; the child that your
wife will bear is really your son.” Then Lacarelle returned to the
disclosure of the hidden treasure. Two Roman coins had been found at
the place indicated. The excavations were still going on. There had
also been some cures of which the private secretary gave vague and
rambling descriptions.

M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin listened uncomprehendingly. The mere idea
of the Deniseau girl saddened and worried him. The influence of this
visionary over the townsfolk at large was beyond his understanding. He
was afraid of using his abilities ineffectively in a psychic case such
as this. This fear paralysed his reason, although it was strong enough
in ordinary circumstances. As he listened to Lacarelle, he experienced
a dread of being convinced, and instinctively exclaimed brusquely:

“I don’t believe in such things as these! I don’t believe in them!”

But doubt and anxiety overwhelmed him. He wished to know what Abbé
Guitrel, whom he regarded as both learned and intelligent, thought on
the subject of this prophetess. It was just the time when he would meet
the abbé at the goldsmith’s house. He went to Rondonneau junior’s, and
found him in the inner room, nailing up a case, whilst Abbé Guitrel
examined a silver-gilt vase set on a long stem and surmounted with a
rounded lid.

“That’s a fine chalice, isn’t it, monsieur l’abbé?”

“It is a pyx, monsieur _le préfet_, a ciborium, a vessel intended _ad
ferendos cibos_.[I] In fact, the pyx holds the sacred hosts, the food
of the soul. Formerly they used to keep the pyx in a silver dove hung
over the baptismal font, the altar, or the tomb of a martyr. This one
is decorated in the style of the thirteenth century. An austere and
magnificent style, very suitable, monsieur _le préfet_, for church
furniture, and especially for the sacred vessels.”

  [I] To bear the bread.

M. Worms-Clavelin was not listening to the priest, whose restless,
crafty profile he was observing. “Here is the man,” thought he, “who
is going to tell me about Saint Radegonde and the prophetess.” And the
departmental representative of the Republic was already screwing up his
courage, concentrating his energies, lest he should appear weak-minded,
superstitious and credulous, before an ecclesiastic.

“Yes, monsieur _le préfet_” said Abbé Guitrel, “our worthy M.
Rondonneau junior has executed this beautiful specimen of goldsmith’s
work after ancient models. I am inclined to think that they could not
have done better in the Place Saint-Sulpice, in Paris, where the best
goldsmiths are to be found.”

“_À propos_, monsieur l’abbé, what is your opinion of the prophetess
whom our town possesses?”

“What prophetess, monsieur _le préfet_? Do you mean that poor girl who
pretends to be in communication with Saint Radegonde, queen of France?
Alas! monsieur, it cannot possibly be the pious spouse of Clotaire
who suggests to that miserable girl sorry nonsense of every kind and
rhapsodies which, being irreconcilable with good sense, are still less
to be reconciled with theology. Foolery, monsieur _le préfet_, mere
foolery!”

M. Worms-Clavelin, who had prepared some subtle jests concerning
priestly credulity, remained silent.

“No, indeed,” continued M. Guitrel, with a smile, “it is incredible
that Saint Radegonde should suggest this trash, this folly, all these
silly, empty, sometimes heterodox, speeches that fall from the lips
of this young maiden. The voice of the sainted Radegonde would have
another accent, believe me.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Very little is known, in fact, about this Saint
Radegonde.”

M. GUITREL: “You mistake, monsieur _le préfet_, you mistake!
Saint Radegonde, reverenced by the whole Catholic Church, is the object
of special worship in the diocese of Poitiers, which was formerly
witness of her merits.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Yes, as you say, monsieur l’abbé, there is a
special …”

M. GUITREL: “Even atheists themselves have regarded this great
figure with admiration. What a sublime picture, monsieur _le préfet_!
After the murder of her brother by her husband, Clotaire’s noble spouse
betakes herself to Bishop Médard at Noyon, and urges him to dedicate
her to God. Taken by surprise, Saint Médard hesitates; he urges the
indissolubility of marriage. But Radegonde herself covers her head with
the veil of a recluse, and flings herself at the feet of the pontiff,
who, overcome by the saintly persistence of the queen, and braving the
wrath of the savage monarch, offers this blessed victim to God.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “But, monsieur l’abbé, do you approve of a
bishop defying the civil powers in that fashion and abetting the wife
of his overlord in her revolt? The deuce! if these are your opinions, I
shall be grateful to you for telling me so.”

M. GUITREL: “Alas! monsieur _le préfet_, I have not, as
the blessed Médard had, the illumination of sanctity to enable me
to discern the will of God in extraordinary circumstances. Luckily
nowadays the rules which a bishop should follow with regard to the
civil powers are definitely defined. And monsieur _le préfet_ will
kindly remember, in speaking of me for the bishopric of Tourcoing to
his friends in the ministry, that I recognise all the obligations that
follow from the Concordat. But why intrude my humble personality in
these great scenes of history? Saint Radegonde, clothed in the veil of
a deaconess, founded the monastery of Sainte-Croix in Poitiers, where
she lived for more than fifty years in the practice of a rigorous
asceticism. She observed fasts and abstinences with such scrupulousness
…”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Keep these stories of yours, monsieur
l’abbé for your seminarists. You don’t believe that Saint Radegonde
communicates with Mademoiselle Deniseau. I congratulate you on
that. And I could wish that all the priests in the department were
as reasonable as you. But it only needs this hysteric patient—for
hysteric she is—to attack the government for all the curés to come in
herds to listen, open-mouthed and applauding, to all the insults she
spits out.”

M. GUITREL: “Oh! they make reservations, monsieur _le préfet_,
they make reservations. The Church instructs them to be extremely wary
in face of every fact that assumes the appearance of a miracle. And I
assure you that, for my part, I am very distrustful of modern miracles.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Tell me, between ourselves: you don’t believe
in miracles, my dear abbé?”

M. GUITREL: “In miracles that are not duly verified I have,
indeed, but little belief.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “We are alone. Confess, now, that there are no
miracles, that there never have been any, and that there never can
possibly be any.”

M. GUITREL: “Not at all, monsieur _le préfet_. A miracle is
possible; it can be unmistakably recognised; it is useful for the
confirmation of doctrine; and its utility is proved by the conversion
of nations.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Anyhow, you grant that it is ridiculous to
believe that Saint Radegonde, who lived in the Middle Ages …”

M. GUITREL: “In the sixth century, in the sixth century.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Exactly, in the sixth century. … Should come in 189–
to gossip with the daughter of a registry-keeper on the political
programme of the ministry and the Chambers.”

M. GUITREL: “Communications between the Church triumphant
and the Church militant are possible; history supplies numberless
undeniable instances of it. But, yet again, I do not believe that the
young person of whom we are speaking is favoured with a communication
of this kind. Her sayings, if I may dare to say so, do not bear the
hall-mark of a celestial revelation. Everything she says is somehow …”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Humbug.”

M. GUITREL: “If you like. … Though, indeed, it might be quite
possible that she is possessed.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “What is this that you are saying? You, an
intelligent priest, a future bishop of the Republic, you believe in
possession! It is a mediæval superstition! I have read a book by
Michelet on it.”

M. GUITREL: “But, monsieur _le préfet_, possession is a fact
recognised not only by theologians, but also by scientists, atheists
for the most part. And Michelet himself, whom you quote, believed in
the cases of possession at Loudun.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “What notions! You are all the same! And if
Claudine Deniseau were possessed, as you say? …”

M. GUITREL: “Then it would be necessary to exorcise her.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Exorcise her? Don’t you think, monsieur l’abbé,
that that would be absurd?”

M. GUITREL: “Not at all, monsieur _le préfet_, not at all.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “What does one do?”

M. GUITREL: “There are rules, monsieur _le préfet_, a
formulary, a ritual for this kind of operation, which has never ceased
to be used. Jeanne d’Arc herself had to undergo it, in the town of
Vaucouleurs, unless I mistake. M. Laprune, the curé of Saint-Exupère,
would be the right person to exorcise this Deniseau girl, who is one
of his parishioners. He is a very venerable priest. It is true that,
as regards the Deniseau family, he is in a position which may react on
his character, and, to a certain extent, influence a wise and cautious
mind, as yet unenfeebled by age, or which at any rate still seems able
to bear the weight of years and the fatigues of a long and onerous
ministry. I mean to say that events, regarded by some as miracles, have
taken place in the parish of this worthy curé; and M. Laprune’s zeal
must needs have been led into error by the thought that the parish
of Saint-Exupère may have been privileged to such a degree that a
manifestation of divine power has taken place in it, in preference to
all the other parishes in our town. Buoyed up by such a hope, he has
perhaps formed illusions which he has unconsciously communicated to his
clergy. An error and a mistake which one can excuse, if one considers
the circumstances. Indeed, what blessings would not a new miracle shed
on the parish church of Saint-Exupère! The zeal of the faithful would
be revived by it, an outpouring of gifts would bring wealth into the
famous, but clean-stripped, walls of the ancient church. And the favour
of the Cardinal-Archbishop would solace the last days of M. Laprune,
now arrived at the end of his ministry and strength.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “But if I understand you rightly, monsieur
l’abbé, it is this doddering cure of Saint-Exupère, it is M. Laprune,
with his vicaires, who has got up the affair of the Prophetess.
Undoubtedly the priests are strong. They won’t believe it in Paris,
in the bureaux, but it is the truth. The priests are a fine power!
Here your old Laprune has been organising these séances of clerical
spiritualism which all the town attends in order to hear the
Parliament, the presidency, and myself insulted—for I am perfectly
aware that they don’t spare me in these conventicles of the Place
Saint-Exupère.”

M. GUITREL: “Oh! monsieur _le préfet_, far be it from me
to think of suspecting the worthy curé of Saint-Exupère of having
concocted a plot! On the contrary, I sincerely believe that, if he
has in any way encouraged this unhappy affair, he will soon recognise
his error, and will use all his influence to efface the results of
it. … But even in his interest and in that of the diocese, one might
forestall him and inform His Eminence of the real facts, of which he
is perhaps still ignorant. Once warned of these disorders, he will
doubtless put an end to them.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “That’s an idea! … My dear abbé, are you willing
to undertake the commission? For my part, as _préfet_, I am obliged to
ignore the fact that there is an Archbishop, save in cases provided
for by the law, such as bells and processions. When one thinks of it,
it is an absurd situation, for from the moment that Archbishops have
an actual existence … But politics have their necessities. Tell me
frankly. Are you in favour at the Archbishop’s palace?”

M. GUITREL: “His Eminence sometimes deigns to listen to me
with kindness. The affability of His Eminence is extreme.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Well! tell him that it is inadmissible for
Saint Radegonde to come to life again in order to plague the senators,
the deputies, and the _préfet_ of the department, and that, in the
interests of the Church as well as of the Republic, it is time to
bridle the tongue of the fierce Clotaire’s spouse. Just tell His
Eminence that.”

M. GUITREL: “Substantially, monsieur _le préfet_;
substantially I will tell him that.”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Set about it as you like, monsieur l’abbé, but
prove to him that he must forbid his priests to enter the Deniseau
house, that he must openly reprimand the curé Laprune, condemn in _la
Semaine religieuse_ the speeches made by this mad woman, and officially
request the editors of _le Libéral_ to cease the campaign they are
waging in support of a miracle both unconstitutional and contrary to
the Concordat.”

M. GUITREL: “I will try it, monsieur _le préfet_. Certainly, I
will try it. But what am I, a poor professor of sacred rhetoric, before
His Eminence the Cardinal-Archbishop?”

M. LE PRÉFET: “He is intelligent, is your Archbishop; he will
understand that his own interests, and the honour of Saint Radegonde,
by the Lord! …”

M. GUITREL: “Doubtless, monsieur _le préfet_, doubtless. But
His Eminence, so devoted to the spiritual interests of the diocese,
perhaps considers that the prodigious crowd of souls around this poor
girl is a token of that yearning after belief which torments the
younger generation, a proof that faith is more living than ever among
the masses, an example, in fact, which it would be well to present to
the consideration of statesmen. And it is possible that, thinking thus,
he may be in no hurry to cause the sign to cease, to suppress the proof
and the example. It is possible …”

M. LE PRÉFET: “... that he may make fun of everybody. He is quite
capable of it.”

M. GUITREL: “Oh! monsieur _le préfet_, there is no foundation
for that assumption! But how much easier and more certain would my
mission be, if, like the dove from the ark, I were the bearer of an
olive branch, if I were authorised to say—oh! just in a whisper!—to
Monseigneur, that the salary of the seven poor curés of the diocese,
suspended by the former Minister of Religion, was restored!”

M. LE PRÉFET: “Give, give, that’s it, isn’t it? I will think
it over. … I will telegraph to Paris, and I will bring you the answer
at Rondonneau junior’s. Good evening, monsieur _le diplomate_!”

A week after the day of this secret conference Abbé Guitrel had
successfully accomplished his mission. The prophetess of the Place
Saint-Exupère, disowned by the archbishopric, abandoned by the
clergy, abjured by _le Libéral_, kept on her side none save the two
corresponding members of the academy of psychical research, one of whom
regarded her as a subject worthy of study and the other as a dangerous
charlatan. Freed from this mad woman, and delighted at the municipal
elections, which had brought forth neither new measures nor new men, M.
_le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin rejoiced from the bottom of his heart.



XII


M. Paillot was the bookseller at the corner of the Place Saint-Exupère
and the Rue des Tintelleries. For the most part the houses which
surrounded this square were ancient; those that leant against the
church bore carved and painted signboards. Several had a pointed gable
and a wooden frontage. One of these, which had kept its carved beams,
was a gem admired by connoisseurs. The main joists were upheld by
carved corbels, some in the shape of angels bearing shields, the others
in the form of monks crouching low. To the left of the door, against
a post, rose the mutilated figure of a woman, her brow encircled by a
floreated crown. The townsfolk declared that this was Queen Marguerite.
And the building was known by the name of Queen Marguerite’s house.

It was believed, on the authority of Dom Maurice, author of a _Trésor
d’antiquités_, printed in 1703, that Margaret of Scotland lodged in
this house for several months of the year 1438. But M. de Terremondre,
president of the Society of Agriculture and Archæology, proves in a
substantially constructed memoir that this house was built in 1488 for
a prominent citizen named Philippe Tricouillard. The archæologists
of the town, whenever they conduct sightseers to the front of this
building, seizing a moment when the ladies are inattentive, take
pleasure in showing the canting arms of Philippe Tricouillard, carved
on a shield held by two angels. These arms, which M. de Terremondre
has judiciously compared with those of the Coleoni of Bergamo, are
represented on the corbel which stands over the doorway, under the left
lintel. The figures on it are very shadowy, and are only recognisable
by those who have had them pointed out. As for the figure of a woman
wearing a crown, which leans against the perpendicular joist, M. de
Terremondre found no difficulty in proving that it must be regarded
as a Saint Marguerite. In fact, there may still be made out at the
feet of the saint the remains of a hideous shape which is none other
than that of the devil; and the right arm of the principal figure,
which is lacking to-day, ought to hold the holy-water sprinkler which
the blessed saint shook over the enemy of the human race. It is clear
what Saint Marguerite typifies in this place, now that M. Mazure, the
archivist of the department, has brought to light a document proving
that in the year 1488 Philippe Tricouillard, then about seventy
years of age, had lately married Marguerite Larrivée, daughter of a
magistrate. By a confusion which is not very surprising, Marguerite
Larrivée’s celestial patron was taken for the young princess of
Scotland whose sojourn in the town of … has left a deep impression. Few
ladies have bequeathed a memory more full of pity than that princess
who died at twenty with this last sigh on her lips: “Out upon thee,
life!”

The house of M. Paillot, the bookseller, joins on to Queen Marguerite’s
house. Originally it was built, like its neighbour, with a wooden
front, and the visible timber-work was no less carefully carved. But,
in 1860, M. Paillot’s father, bookseller to the Archbishopric, had
it pulled down in order to rebuild it simply, in the modern style,
without any pretence at wealth or art, merely taking care to make it
convenient as a dwelling-house and place of business. A tree of Jesse,
in Renaissance style, which covered the entire front of Paillot’s
house, at the corner formed by the Place Saint-Exupère and the Rue
des Tintelleries, was torn down with the rest, but not destroyed.
M. de Terremondre, coming upon it afterwards in a timber-merchant’s
yard, purchased it for the museum. This monument is in good style.
Unfortunately the prophets and patriarchs, who cluster on each branch
like marvellous fruits, and the Virgin, blossoming on the summit of
the prophetic tree, were mutilated by the Terrorists in 1793, and
the tree suffered fresh damage in 1860, when it was carried to the
timber-yard as firewood. M. Quatrebarbe, the diocesan architect,
expatiates on these mutilations in his interesting pamphlet on _Les
Vandales modernes_. “One shudders,” says he, “at the thought that this
precious relic of an age of faith ran the risk of being sawn up and
burnt before our very eyes.”

This sentiment, being expressed by a man whose clerical tendencies were
well known, was trenchantly criticised by _le Phare_ in an anonymous
paragraph in which was recognised, rightly or wrongly, the hand of
the archivist of the department, M. Mazure. “In twenty words,” said
this paragraph, “the architect of the diocese supplies us with several
occasions for surprise. The first is that any one should be able to
shudder at the mere idea of the loss of an indifferently carved beam,
and one so much mutilated that the details are not recognisable;
the second is that this beam should stand to M. Quatrebarbe, whose
creed is well known, as a relic of an age of faith, since it dates
from 1530—that is to say, from the year when the Protestant Diet of
Augsburg assembled; the third is that M. Quatrebarbe should omit to
say that the precious beam was torn down and sent to the timber-yard
by his own father-in-law, M. Nicolet, the diocesan architect, who, in
1860, transformed the Paillot house in the way which one can now see;
the fourth is that M. Quatrebarbe ignores the fact that it was none
other than M. Mazure, the archivist, who discovered the carved beam in
Clouzot’s wood-yard, where it had been rotting for ten years under M.
Quatrebarbe’s very nose, and who pointed it out to M. de Terremondre,
president of the Society of Agriculture and Archæology, who purchased
it for the museum.”

In its actual condition the house of M. Paillot, the bookseller,
showed a uniform white frontage, three storeys in height. The shop,
ornamented with woodwork painted green, bore, in letters of gold, the
words, “Paillot, libraire.” The shop-window displayed terrestrial
and celestial globes of different diameters, boxes of mathematical
instruments, school books and little text-books for the officers of
the garrison, with a few novels and new memoirs: these were what M.
Paillot called works of literature. A window, narrower and not so deep,
that gave on the Rue des Tintelleries, contained works on agriculture
and law, and thus completed the supply of instruments required by the
intellectual life of the county town. On a counter inside the shop were
to be found works of literature, novels, essays, and memoirs.

“Classics in sets” were stacked in pigeon-holes, and quite at the
bottom, by the side of the door which opened on the staircase, some
shelves were reserved for old books. For M. Paillot combined in his
shop the business of a new and second-hand bookseller. This dark corner
of the old books attracted the bibliophiles of the district, who in
days gone by had found treasure-trove there. A certain copy of the
first edition of the third book of Pantagruel was recalled, unearthed
in excellent condition in 1871 by M. de Terremondre, father of the
present president of the Agricultural Society, at Paillot’s, in the
old-book corner. There was still more mysterious talk of a Mellin de
Saint-Gelais, containing on the back of the title-page some autograph
verses by Marie Stuart, that M. Dutilleul, the notary, had found, about
the same time, and in the same place, and for which he paid three
francs. But, since then, no one had announced any marvellous discovery.
The gloomy, monotonous corner of the old books scarcely changed. There
was always to be seen there _l’Abrégé de l’Histoire des Voyages_, in
fifty-six volumes, and the odd volumes of Kehl’s Voltaire, in large
paper. M. Dutilleul’s discovery, doubted by many, was by some openly
denied. They based their opinion on the idea that the old notary was
quite capable of having lied through vanity, and on the fact that after
M. Dutilleul’s death no copy of the poems of Mellin de Saint-Gelais was
found in his library. Yet the bibliophiles of the town, who frequented
Paillot’s shop, never failed to explore the old-book corner, at least
once a month. M. de Terremondre was one of the most assiduous visitors.

He was a large landed proprietor in the department, well connected, a
breeder of cattle and a connoisseur in artistic matters. He it was who
designed the historic costumes for processions and who presided over
the committee formed for the erection of a statue of Jeanne d’Arc on
the ramparts. He spent four months of the year in Paris, and had the
reputation of being a man of gallantry. At fifty he preserved a slim
and elegant figure. He was very popular with all three classes in the
county town, and they had several times offered him the position of
deputy. This he had refused, declaring that his leisure, as well as
his independence, was dear to him. And people were curious about the
reasons for his refusal.

M. de Terremondre had thought of buying Queen Marguerite’s house in
order to turn it into a museum of local archæology and offer it to the
town. But Madame Houssieu, the widowed owner of this house, had not
responded to the overtures which he had made to her. Now more than
eighty years of age, she lived in the old house, alone, save for a
dozen cats. She was supposed to be rich and miserly. All that could be
done was to wait for her death. Every time that he entered Paillot’s
shop, M. de Terremondre asked the bookseller:

“Is Queen Marguerite still in the land of the living?”

And M. Paillot replied that assuredly one morning she would be found
dead in her bed, living shut up alone at her age. Meanwhile, he dreaded
her setting his house on fire. This was her neighbour’s constant fear.
He lived in terror lest the old lady should burn down her wooden house
and his along with it.

Madame Houssieu interested M. de Terremondre greatly. He was
inquisitive about all that Queen Marguerite, as he called her, said
and did. At the last visit which he had paid to her, she had shown
him a bad Restoration engraving representing the Duchess of Angoulême
pressing to her heart the portraits of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette
enclosed in a medallion. This engraving, set in a black frame, hung in
the ground-floor sitting-room. Showing it to him, Madame Houssieu said:

“That’s the portrait of Queen Marguerite, who long ago lived in this
house.”

And M. de Terremondre asked himself how a portrait of
Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France had, even by the dullest of minds,
been taken for a portrait of Margaret of Scotland. He meditated on it
for a month.

Then one day he exclaimed, as he entered Paillot’s shop:

“I’ve got it!”

And he explained to his friend the bookseller the very plausible
reasons for this extraordinary confusion.

“Listen to me, Paillot! Margaret of Scotland, mistaken for Marguerite
Larrivée, is confused with Marguerite of Valois, Duchess of Angoulême,
and this princess is, in her turn, confused with the Duchess of
Angoulême, daughter of Louis XVI. and Marie-Antoinette, Marguerite
Larrivée—Margaret of Scotland—Marguerite, Duchess of Angoulême—the
Duchess of Angoulême.

“I am rather proud of having found that out, Paillot. Tradition should
always be taken into account. But when we own Queen Marguerite’s house,
we will furbish up the memory of that good Philippe Tricouillard a
little.”

Hard upon this declaration Dr. Fornerol entered the shop with the
wonted impetuosity of that indefatigable visitor of the sick, who
brought with him hope and comfort. Gustave Fornerol was a fat,
moustachioed man. Possessed in his wife’s right of a small country
estate, he affected the fashions of a country proprietor and paid
his visits in a soft hat, a hunting waistcoat and leather leggings.
Although his practice was exclusively among the lower middle class and
the rural population of the suburbs, he was considered the most skilful
practitioner in the town.

Friendly with Paillot, as with all his fellow-townsmen, he was not in
the habit of paying useless visits to him, nor of wasting his time
gossiping in the shop. This time, however, he sank down on one of the
three rush-bottomed chairs which, set in the old-book corner, had
gained for Paillot’s shop the reputation for a hospitality at once
literary, learned, cultured, and academic.

He puffed, waved a good-day to Paillot with his hand, bowed with some
deference to M. de Terremondre, and said:

“I am tired. … Well! Paillot, were you pleased with the show yesterday?
What did Madame Paillot think of the play and the actors?”

The bookseller did not commit himself. He considered that it is wise
for a tradesman to express no opinions in his shop. Besides, he went to
the theatre only _en famille_, and that but seldom. But Dr. Fornerol,
whose position as medical officer to the theatre procured him free
passes, never missed a performance.

A travelling company had given _la Maréchale_ the night before, with
Pauline Giry in the leading part.

“She is always capital, is Pauline Giry,” said the doctor.

“That’s the general opinion,” said the bookseller.

“She isn’t as young as she once was,” said M. de Terremondre, who was
turning over the leaves of volume xxxviii. of _l’Histoire Générale des
Voyages_.

“By Jove, no!” answered the doctor. “You know that Giry isn’t her real
name?”

“Her real name is Girou,” answered M. de Terremondre authoritatively.
“I knew her mother, Clémence Girou. Fifteen years ago Pauline Giry was
dark and very pretty.”

And the three of them, in the old-book corner, set to work to reckon
the actress’s age. But as they were calculating from doubtful or
incorrect data, they only reached contradictory, or sometimes even
absurd, conclusions, and with these they were by no means satisfied.

“I am worn out,” said the doctor. “You all went to bed after the
theatre. But I was called up at midnight to go to an old farmer on
Duroc hill, who was suffering from strangulated hernia. Says his man to
me: ‘He has brought up everything he can. He harps on one note. He is
going to die.’ I have the horse put in and I spin out to Duroc hill,
over yonder, right at the end of the Faubourg de Tramayes. I find my
man a-bed and howling. Corpse-like face, stercoraceous vomiting. Very
good! His wife says to me: ‘It’s in his inside that it takes him.’”

“She’s forty-seven, is Pauline Giry,” said M. de Terremondre.

“It’s quite possible,” said Paillot.

“At least forty-seven,” answered the doctor. “Double hernia, and
dangerous it was. Very good! I proceed to reduce it by hand-pressure.
Although it is only necessary to exercise a very faint pressure with
the hand, after thirty minutes of this business, one’s arms and back
are broken. And it was only at the end of five hours, at the tenth
repetition, that I was able to effect the reduction.”

At this point in the narrative recounted by Dr. Fornerol, Paillot the
bookseller went to serve some ladies who asked for some interesting
books to read in the country. And the doctor, addressing himself to M.
de Terremondre alone, continued:

“I was one ache. I say to my man: ‘You must keep to your bed, and, if
possible, you must remain lying on your back, until the truss-maker has
made a truss for you according to my directions. Lie stretched out, or
look out for strangulation. And you know whether that’s nice! Without
counting that one day or another it’ll carry you off. You understand?’

“‘Yes, sir.’

“‘Very good.’

“Down I go to the yard to wash myself at the pump. You may imagine
that after this business I wanted a bit of a wash. I strip myself to
the waist, and I rub myself with soft soap for, maybe, a quarter of an
hour. I dress myself again. I drink a glass of white wine that they
bring me in the yard. I see the grey dawn break, I hear the lark sing,
and I go back to the sick man’s room. There it was dark. I shout in
the direction of the bed: ‘Hey? That’s understood, isn’t it? Perfect
stillness whilst waiting for the new truss. The one you have is no good
at all. D’you hear?’ No answer. ‘Are you asleep?’ Then I hear behind me
the voice of the old nurse: ‘Doctor, our man’s no longer in the house,’
she tells me. ‘He was wearying to go out to his vines.’”

“There I recognise my peasants,” said M. de Terremondre.

He lapsed into meditation and resumed:

“Doctor, Pauline Giry is now forty-nine. She made her _début_ at the
Vaudeville in 1876; she was then twenty-two. I am sure of it.”

“In that case,” said the doctor, “she would be in her forty-third year,
since we are now in 1897.”

“It isn’t possible,” said M. de Terremondre, “for she is at least six
years older than Rose Max, who has certainly passed her fortieth year.”

“Rose Max? I don’t say no, but she is still a fine woman,” said the
doctor.

He yawned, stretched himself, and said:

“Getting back from Duroc hill, at six o’clock in the morning, I find
two baker’s men in my hall, come to tell me that their mistress, the
baker’s wife of the Tintelleries, has been brought to bed.”

“But,” asked M. de Terremondre, “did it require two baker’s men to tell
you that?”

“They had sent them one after the other,” answered the doctor. “I ask
if the characteristic symptoms have set in. They give me no answer, but
a third baker’s man turns up in his master’s cart. Up I get and seat
myself at his side. We take half a turn, and there I am rolling over
the pavement of the Tintelleries.”

“I have it!” exclaimed M. de Terremondre, who was pursuing his own
thoughts. “It was in ’69 that she came out at the Vaudeville. And it
was in ’76 that my cousin Courtrai knew her … and was intimate with
her.”

“Are you speaking of Jacques de Courtrai, who was a captain of
dragoons?”

“No, I am speaking of Agénor, who died in Brazil. … She has a son who
left Saint-Cyr last year.”

Thus spoke M. de Terremondre, just as M. Bergeret, professor of
literature at the University, entered the shop.

M. Bergeret held one of the three academic chairs of the Paillot
establishment, and was the most indefatigable talker of the old-book
corner. There, with a friendly hand, he used to turn over the leaves
of books old and books new, and although he never bought a single
volume, for fear of getting a wigging for it from his wife and three
daughters, he received the heartiest welcome from Paillot, who held him
in high esteem as a reservoir, an alembic, of that science and those
belles-lettres on which booksellers live and flourish. The old-book
corner was the only place in the town where M. Bergeret could sit in
utter contentment, for at home Madame Bergeret chased him from room
to room for different reasons of domestic administration; at the
University, the Dean, in his hatred, forced him to give his lectures
in a dark, unhealthy cellar, into which but few pupils descended, and
all three classes in the town cast black looks at him for having called
Jeanne d’Arc a military mascotte. Now M. Bergeret slipped into the
old-book corner.

“Good-day, gentlemen! Anything new?”

“A baby to the baker’s wife in the Tintelleries,” said the doctor.
“I brought it into the world just twenty minutes ago. I was going to
tell M. de Terremondre about it. And I may add that it wasn’t without
difficulty.”

“This child,” replied the professor, “hesitated to be born. He would
never have consented to it if, being gifted with understanding and
foresight, he had known the destiny of man on the earth, and more
especially in our town.”

“It is a pretty little girl,” said the doctor, “a pretty little girl
with a raspberry mark under the left breast.”

The conversation continued between the doctor and M. de Terremondre.

“A pretty little girl, with a raspberry mark under the left breast,
doctor? It would seem that the bakeress had a longing for raspberries
when she took off her corsets. The mere desire of a mother does not
suffice to stamp the picture of it on the offspring she bears. It is
also necessary that the longing woman should touch one particular
part of her body. And the picture will be stamped on the child in the
corresponding spot. Isn’t that the common belief, doctor?”

“That is what old women believe,” replied Dr. Fornerol. “And I have
known men, and even doctors, who were women in this respect, and who
shared in the credulity of the nurses. For my part, the experience
of an already long practice, my knowledge of observations made by
scientists, and especially a general view of embryology, prevent my
sharing in this popular belief.”

“Then, according to your opinion, doctor, wishing-marks are just spots
like others, that form on the skin without known cause.”

“Stop a bit! ‘Wishing-marks’ present a particular characteristic. They
contain no blood-vessels and are not erectile, like the tumours with
which you might perhaps be tempted to confuse them.”

“You declare, doctor, that they are a peculiar species. Do you make no
inference from that as to their origin?”

“Absolutely none.”

“But if these spots are not really ‘wishing-marks,’ if you refuse
them a … how shall I put it? … a psychic origin, I am unable to
account for the accident of a belief which is found in the Bible,
and which is still shared by such a great number of people. My aunt
Pastré was a very intelligent and by no means superstitious woman.
She died last spring, aged seventy-seven, in the full belief that the
three white currants visible on the shoulder of her daughter Bertha
had an illustrious origin and came from the Parc de Neuilly, where,
in the autumn of 1834, during her pregnancy, she was presented to
Queen Marie-Amélie, who took her to walk along a path bordered by
currant-bushes.”

To this Dr. Fornerol made no reply. He was not remarkably given to
contradicting the opinions of rich patients. But M. Bergeret, professor
of literature at the University, bent his head towards his left
shoulder and gave a far-away look, as he always did whenever he was
going to speak. Then he said:

“Gentlemen, it is a fact that these marks, called ‘wishing-spots,’
reduce themselves to a small number of types, which may be classified,
according to their colour and form, into strawberries, currants, and
raspberries, or wine and coffee spots. It would, perhaps, be convenient
to add to these types that of those diffused yellow spots in which
folks endeavour to recognise portions of tart or mince-pie. Now,
who can possibly believe that pregnant women desire nothing save to
drink wine or _café au lait_, or to eat red fruits, and, possibly,
forcemeat-pie? Such an idea runs counter to natural philosophy. That
desire which, according to certain philosophers, has alone created the
world and alone preserves it, works in them as in all living beings,
only with more range and diversity. It gives them secret fevers, hidden
passions, and strange frenzies. Without going into the question of the
effect of their particular condition on the appetites common to all
that lives, and even to plants, we recognise that this condition does
not produce indifference, but that it rather perverts and inflames
the deeper instincts. If the new-born child ought really to carry the
visible signs of its mother’s desires, believe me, we should more
frequently see imprinted on its body other symbols than these innocent
strawberries and drops of coffee with which the folly of old wives
diverts itself.”

“I see what you mean,” said M. de Terremondre. “Women loving jewels,
many children would be born with sapphires, rubies, and emeralds on
their fingers, and with gold bracelets on their wrists; necklaces of
pearls, rivières of diamonds would cover their neck and breast. Still,
one ought to be able to point to such children as these.”

“Just so,” replied M. Bergeret.

And, taking up from the table, where M. de Terremondre had left it,
the thirty-eighth volume of _l’Histoire Générale des Voyages_, the
professor buried his nose in the book, between pages 212 and 213, a
spot which, every time that he had opened the inevitable old book
during the last six years, had confronted him like a fate, to the
exclusion of every other page, as an instance of the monotony with
which life glides by, a symbol of the uniformity of those tasks and
those days in a provincial university which precede the day of death
and the travail of the body in the tomb. And this time, as he had
already done so many times before, M. Bergeret read in volume xxxviii.
of _l’Histoire Générale des Voyages_ the first lines of page 212: “a
passage to the North. ‘It is to this check,’ said he, ‘that we owe the
opportunity of being able to visit the Sandwich Isles again, and to
enrich our voyage with a discovery which, although the last, seems in
many respects to be the most important that Europeans have yet made in
the whole expanse of the Pacific Ocean.’ The happy prophecy which these
words seemed to denote has, unfortunately, never been fulfilled.”

And this time, as always, the reading of these lines plunged M.
Bergeret into melancholy. Whilst he was immersed in it, the bookseller,
M. Paillot, confronted a little soldier, who had come in to buy a sou’s
worth of letter-paper, with disdain and hauteur.

“I don’t keep letter-paper,” declared M. Paillot, turning his back on
the little soldier.

Then he complained of his assistant, Léon, who was always on errands,
and who, once gone out, never came back. Consequently he, Paillot, was
constantly being pestered by intruders. They actually asked him for
letter-paper!

“I remember,” said Dr. Fornerol to him, “that one market-day a good
country-woman came in and asked you for a plaster, and that you had the
greatest difficulty in preventing her from tucking up her petticoats
and showing you the painful spot where the paper was to be applied.”

Paillot, the bookseller, replied to this anecdotic sally by a silence
which expressed offended dignity.

“Heavens!” exclaimed M. de Terremondre, the book-lover, “this learned
storehouse of our Fröben, our Elzevir, our Debure, confused with the
chemist’s shop of Thomas Diafoirus! What an outrage!”

“Indeed,” replied Dr. Fornerol, “the good soul meant no harm in showing
Paillot the seat of her trouble. But it won’t do to judge the peasants
by her. In general, they show extreme repugnance to letting themselves
be seen by the doctor. My country colleagues have often remarked this
to me. Country-women, attacked by serious diseases, resist examination
with an energy and obstinacy which townswomen, and particularly women
of the world, do not show in the same circumstances. I saw a farmer’s
wife at Lucigny die of an internal tumour, which she had never allowed
to be suspected.”

M. de Terremondre, who, as president of several local academies, had
literary prejudices, took these remarks as a pretext for accusing Zola
of having shamefully maligned the peasants in _La Terre_. At this
accusation, M. Bergeret emerged from his pensive sadness and said:

“Yet the peasants are drunkards and parricides, and voluntarily
incestuous, as Zola has depicted them. Their repugnance to lend
themselves to clinical inspection by no means proves their chastity.
It only shows the power of prejudice in minds of limited intelligence.
The simpler a prejudice is, the stronger is its power. The prejudice
that it is wrong to be seen naked remains powerful with them. It has
been weakened amongst artists and people of intelligence by the custom
of baths, douches, and massage; it has been still further weakened by
æsthetic feeling and by the taste for voluptuous sensations, and it
easily yields to considerations of health and hygiene. This is all that
can be deduced from the doctor’s observations.”

“I have noticed,” said M. de Terremondre, “that well-made women …”

“There are hardly any,” said the doctor.

“Doctor, you remind me of my chiropodist,” replied M. de Terremondre.
“He said to me one day: ‘If you were a chiropodist, sir, you would take
no stock in women.’”

Paillot, the bookseller, who for some moments had been glued to the
wall listening intently, said:

“I don’t know what is going on in Queen Marguerite’s house; I hear
cries and the noise of furniture being overturned.”

And he was again seized with his customary misgiving.

“That old lady will set fire to her house, and the whole block of
buildings will be burnt: it’s all wood.”

Nobody heeded these words, nobody attempted to soothe his ridiculous
apprehensions. Dr. Fornerol rose painfully to his feet, stretched the
wearied muscles of his arms with an effort, and went off on his round
of visits through the town.

M. de Terremondre put on his gloves and took a step towards the door.
Then, perceiving a tall withered figure which was crossing the square
in stiff, abrupt strides:

“Here,” said he, “is General Cartier de Chalmot. I hope the _préfet_
won’t meet him.”

“And why not?” demanded M. Bergeret.

“Because these meetings are by no means pleasant for M. Worms-Clavelin.
Last Sunday our _préfet_, while driving by in a victoria, caught sight
of General Cartier de Chalmot, who was walking with his wife and
daughters. Lolling back in his carriage, with his hat on his head,
he saluted the gallant veteran with a little wave of his hand and a
‘Good-day, good-day, general!’ The general reddened with anger. For
the unassuming are always violent in their anger. General Chalmot was
beside himself. He was terrible. Before all the promenaders he imitated
M. Worms-Clavelin’s familiar salute and shouted at him in a voice of
thunder: ‘Good-day, good-day, _préfet_!’”

“There is perfect silence now in Queen Marguerite’s house,” said M.
Paillot.



XIII


The midday sun darted its clear white rays. Not a cloud in the sky, not
a breath in the air. The solitary orb swung across the vast repose in
which everything was wrapped and urged its blazing course towards the
horizon. On the deserted Mall the shadows lay still and heavy at the
foot of the elms. A road-mender slept in the bottom of the ditch that
bounds the ramparts. The birds were silent.

Seated at the shady end of a bench three parts steeped in sunlight, M.
Bergeret forgot, under these classic trees, in the friendly solitude,
his wife and his three daughters, his cramped life and his cramped
home; like Æsop he revelled in the freedom of his mind, and his
analytical imagination roved irresponsibly among the living and the
dead.

However Abbé Lantaigne, head of the high seminary, was passing, with
his breviary in his hand, down the broad walk of the Mall. M. Bergeret
rose to offer his shady place on the bench to the priest. M. Lantaigne
came up and sank into it composedly, with that priestly dignity which
never left him and which in him was just simplicity. M. Bergeret sat
near him, at the spot where the shadow fell mingled with light from the
feathery end of the branches, so that his black clothing was covered
with golden discs, and over his dazzled eyes his eyelids began to blink.

He congratulated Abbé Lantaigne in these words:

“It is said everywhere, monsieur l’abbé, that you will be called to the
bishopric of Tourcoing.

  “The sign I hail, and from it dare to hope.[J]

But this choice is too good a one not to make one doubtful. You are
believed to be a royalist, and that counts against you. Are you not a
republican like the Pope?”

  [J] “J’en accepte l’augure et j’ose l’espérer.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “I am a republican like the Pope. That is to
say, I am at peace and not at war with the government of the Republic.
But peace is not love. And I do not love the Republic.”

M. BERGERET: “I guess your reasons. You condemn it for being
freethinking and hostile to the clergy.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “Assuredly I condemn it as irreligious and
inimical to the priests. But this irreligion, these hostilities, are
not inherent in it. They are the attributes of republicans, not of the
Republic. They diminish or increase at every change of ministers. They
are less to-day than they were yesterday. Possibly they will increase
to-morrow. Perhaps a time will come when they will be non-existent, as
they were non-existent under the rule of Marshal MacMahon, or at least
during the delusive beginnings of that rule and under the deceptive
ministry of May 16th. They are accidental, not essential. But even if
it were respectful towards religion and its ministers, I should still
hate the Republic.”

M. BERGERET: “Why?”

M. LANTAIGNE: “Because it is diversity. In that it is
essentially bad.”

M. BERGERET: “I don’t quite understand you, monsieur l’abbé.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “That comes from your not having the theological
mind. At one time even laymen received some impress of it. Their
college note-books, which they preserved, supplied them with the
elements of philosophy. That is especially true of the men of the
seventeenth century. At that time all those who were educated knew
how to reason, even the poets. It is the teaching of Port-Royal that
underlies the _Phèdre_ of Racine. But to-day when theology has been
relegated to the seminaries, no one knows how to reason, and men of
the world are almost as foolish as poets and savants. Did not M. de
Terremondre, believing that he was speaking to the point, tell me
yesterday, on the Mall, that Church and State ought to make mutual
concessions? People no longer know, they no longer think. Empty words
pass and repass in the air. We are in Babel. You, Monsieur Bergeret,
are much better read in Voltaire than in Saint Thomas.”

M. BERGERET: “It is true. But did you not say, monsieur
l’abbé, that the Republic is _diversity_, and that in that respect it
is essentially bad? That is what I beg you to explain to me. Perhaps
I might succeed in understanding you. I know more theology than you
credit me with. Note-book in hand, I have read Baronius.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “Baronius is only an annalist, although the
greatest of all; and I am quite sure that from him you have only been
able to carry away some historic odds and ends. If you were in the
slightest degree a theologian, you would be neither surprised nor
disconcerted at what I have just said.

“Diversity is hateful. It is the characteristic of evil to be diverse.
This characteristic manifests itself in the government of the Republic,
which is more alienated than any other from unity. With its want of
unity it fails in independence, permanence, and power. It fails in
knowledge, and one may say of it that it knows not what it does.
Although for our chastisement it continues, yet it has no continuity.
For the idea of continuity implies that of identity, and the Republic
of one day is never the same as that of the day before. Even its
ugliness and its vices do not belong to it. And you have yourself
remarked that by them it has never been discredited. Reproaches and
scandals that would have ruined the mightiest empire have poured over
it harmlessly. It is indestructible, for it is destruction. It is
dispersion, it is discontinuity, it is diversity, it is evil.”

M. BERGERET: “Are you speaking of Republics in general, or
only of our own?”

M. LANTAIGNE: “Obviously I am considering neither the Roman
Republic, nor the Dutch, nor the Swiss, but only the French. For these
governments have nothing in common save the name, and you will not
charge me with judging them by the name by which they call themselves,
nor by those points in which they seem, one and all, opposed to
monarchy—an opposition which is not in itself necessarily to be
condemned; but the Republic in France means nothing more than the lack
of a prince and the want of a governing power. And this nation was too
old at the time of the amputation for one not to fear that it would die
of it.”

M. BERGERET: “Yet France has already survived the Empire by
twenty-seven years, the _bourgeois_-king by forty-eight years, and the
legitimate sovereign by sixty-six years.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “Say rather that for a century France, wounded
to death, has been dragging out a miserable remnant of life in
alternate fits of fever and prostration. And do not imagine that I
flatter the past or base my regrets on lying pictures of an age of
gold which never existed. The conditions of national life are quite
familiar to me. Its hours are marked by perils, its days by disasters.
And it is just and necessary that it should be so. Its life, like
that of individual men, if it were exempt from trials, would have no
meaning. The early history of France is full of crimes and expiations.
God ceaselessly chastened this nation with the zeal of an untiring
love, and in the time of the kings His mercy spared her no suffering.
But, being then Christian, her woes were useful and precious to her.
In them she recognised the ennobling power of chastisement. From them
she derived her lessons, her merits, her salvation, her power, and her
renown. Now her sufferings have no longer any meaning for her; she
neither understands them nor acquiesces in them. Whilst undergoing
the test she rebels against it. And the demented state expects good
fortune! It is in losing faith in God that one loses, along with the
idea of the absolute, the knowledge of the relative and even the
historic sense. God alone informs the logical sequence of human events
which, without Him, would no longer follow one another in a rational
and conceivable manner. And for the last hundred years the history of
France has been an enigma for the French. Yet even in our days there
was one solemn hour of hope and expectation.

“The horseman who rides forth at the hour appointed by God, and who
is called now Shalmanezar, now Nebuchadnezzar, then Cyrus, Cambyses,
Memmius, Titus, Alaric, Attila, Mahomet II., or William, had ridden
with fiery trail across France. Humiliated, bleeding, and mutilated,
she raised her eyes to Heaven. May that moment be counted to her for
righteousness! She seemed to understand, and along with her faith to
recover her intelligence, to recognise the value and the use of her
vast and providential woes. She aroused her just men, her Christians,
to form a sovereign assembly. Then appeared the spectacle of that
assembly, renewing a solemn custom and consecrating France to the heart
of Jesus. We saw, as in the times of Saint Louis, churches rising on
the mountains, before the gaze of penitent cities; we saw the foremost
citizens preparing for the restoration of the monarchy.”

M. BERGERET (_sotto voce_): “1. The Assembly of Bordeaux. 2.
The Sacré-Cœur of Montmartre and the Church of Fourvières at Lyons. 3.
The Commission of the Nine and the mission of M. Chesnelong.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “What do you say?”

M. BERGERET: “Nothing. I am filling in the headings in the
_Discours sur l’Histoire universelle_.”

M. LANTAIGNE: “Do not jest and do not deny. Coming along the
roads sounded the white horses that were bringing the king to his
own again. Henri Dieudonné was coming to re-establish the principle
of authority from which spring the two social forces: command and
obedience; he was coming to restore human order along with divine
order, political wisdom along with the religious spirit, the hierarchy,
law, discipline, true liberty and unity. The nation, linking up its
traditions once more, was recovering, along with the sense of its
mission, the secret of its power and the pledge of victory. … God
willed it not. These great designs, thwarted by the enemy who still
hated us after having satisfied his hatred, opposed by a great number
of the French, miserably supported even by those who had formed them,
were brought to naught in one day. The frontier of our country was
barricaded against Henri Dieudonné, and the people subsided into a
Republic; that is to say, they repudiated their birthright, they
renounced their rights and their duties, in order to govern themselves
according to their own inclinations and to live at their ease in that
liberty which God curbs and which overturns both law and order, the
temporal images of Himself. Henceforth evil was king and proclaimed its
edicts. The Church, exposed to incessant vexations, was perfidiously
tempted on the one side to an impossible renunciation and on the other
to revolt involving punishment.”

M. BERGERET: “You doubtless reckon among the vexatious
measures the expulsion of the fraternities?”

M. LANTAIGNE: “It is clear that the expulsion of the
fraternities was prompted by evil intentions, and was the result of
malicious calculation. It is also certain that the religious who were
expelled did not deserve such treatment. In striking them it was
believed that the Church was being struck. But the blow, badly aimed,
strengthened the body that they wished to shake, and restored to the
parishes the authority and the resources which had been diverted from
them. Our enemies did not know the Church, and their chief minister of
that time, less ignorant than they, but more desirous of satisfying
them than of destroying us, made a war on us that was merely mimic
and for purposes of show. For I do not regard the expulsion of the
non-licensed orders as an effective attack. Of course, I honour the
victims of this clumsy persecution; but I consider that the Church
of France has in the secular clergy a sufficient staff to govern and
minister to souls without the help of the regulars. Alas! the Republic
has inflicted deeper and more secret wounds on the Church. You know
too much about educational questions, Monsieur Bergeret, not to have
discovered several of these plague-spots; but the most poisonous
one was induced by the introduction into the episcopate of priests
feeble in mind or in character. … I have said enough about that. The
Christian at least consoles and reassures himself, knowing that the
Church will not perish. But what will be the patriot’s consolation?
He discovers that all the members of the State are gangrened and
rotten. In twenty years what progress in corruption! A chief of the
State whose sole virtue is his powerlessness, and who is denounced
as criminal if it should get wind that he ventures to act, or even
merely to think; ministers subject to a foolish Parliament, which is
believed to be corrupt, and whose members, more ignorant every day,
were chosen, moulded, nominated in the godless clubs of the freemasons
to carry out an evil policy of which they are yet incapable, and
which is surpassed by the evils brought about through their turbulent
inaction; an incessantly increasing bureaucracy, vast, greedy, and
mischievous, in which the Republic believes she is securing for herself
a band of supporters, but which she is nourishing to her own ruin; a
magistracy recruited without law or equity, and too often canvassed by
the government not to be suspected of obsequiousness; an army, nay, a
whole nation, unceasingly pervaded by the fatal spirit of independence
and equality, is poured back straightway into town and country, a whole
community, depraved by barrack life, unfitted for arts and trades,
and disliking all labour; an educational body which has a mission
to teach atheism and immorality; a diplomatic corps which fails in
readiness and authority, and which leaves the care of our foreign
policy and the conclusion of our alliances to innkeepers, shopkeepers
and journalists; in a word, all the powers, the legislative and the
executive, the judicial, the military, and the civil, intermingled,
confused, destroyed one by the other; a farcical rule which, in its
destructive weakness, has given to society the two most powerful
instruments of death that wickedness ever devised: divorce and
malthusianism. And all the evils of which I have made a rapid summary
belong to the Republic and spring naturally from her: the Republic is
essentially unrighteous. She is unrighteous in willing a liberty which
God has not willed, since He is the master, and since He has delegated
to priests and kings a part of his authority; she is unrighteous in
willing an equality which God has not willed, since He has established
the hierarchy of dignities in Heaven and on earth; she is unrighteous
in instituting that tolerance which cannot be the will of God, since
evil is intolerable; she is unrighteous in consulting the will of the
people, as if the multitude of ignorant ought to prevail against the
small company of those who bow themselves before the will of God, which
overshadows the government and even the details of administration, as
a principle whose consequences are never-ending; in a word, she is
unrighteous in proclaiming her indifference to religion—that is to
say, her impiety, her unbelief, her blasphemies (of which the very
smallest is mortal sin), and her adhesion to diversity, which is evil
and death.”

M. BERGERET: “Did you not say just now, monsieur l’abbé, that
being as republican as the Pope, you were resolved to live at peace
with the Republic?”

M. LANTAIGNE: “Certainly, I will live with her in submission
and obedience. In rebelling against her, I should act according to
her principles, and contrary to my own. By being seditious I should
resemble her, and I should no longer resemble myself.

“It is unlawful to return evil for evil. Sovereignty is hers. Whether
she decrees ill or does not decree, hers is the guilt. Let it rest with
her! My duty is to obey. I shall do it. I shall obey. As a priest and,
if it please God, as a bishop, I shall refuse nothing to the Republic
of what I owe her. I call to mind that Saint Augustine, in Hippo, then
besieged by the Vandals, died a bishop and a Roman citizen. For myself,
the lowest member of this illustrious Church of the Gauls, after the
example of the greatest of the doctors, I will die in France, a priest
and a French citizen, praying God to scatter the Vandals.”

The elm-trees on the Mall began to incline their shadow towards the
east. A fresh breeze coming from a region of distant storm stirred
among the leaves. Whilst a ladybird travelled over the sleeve of his
coat, M. Bergeret replied to Abbé Lantaigne in a tone of the greatest
affability.

“Monsieur l’abbé, you have just traced, with an eloquence only to
be found on your lips, the characteristics of democratic rule. This
government is very much as you describe it. And yet it is the one I
prefer. In it all bonds are loosened, which weakens the State, but
relieves individuals and ensures a certain ease of life and a liberty
which unfortunately local tyrannies counteract. It is true that
corruption appears to be greater in it than in monarchies. That springs
from the number and diversity of the people who are raised to power.
But this corruption would be less visible if the secret of it were
better kept. The lack of secrecy and the want of continuity render
all enterprise impossible in a democratic Republic. But, since the
enterprises of monarchies have most often ruined the nations, I am not
very sorry to live under a government incapable of great designs. What
rejoices me especially in our Republic is the sincere desire which she
shows not to provoke war in Europe. She rejoices in militarism, but
is not at all bellicose. In considering the chances of a war, other
governments have nothing to fear save defeat. Ours fears equally—and
justly so—both victory and defeat. This salutary fear secures us
peace, which is the greatest of blessings.

“The worst fault of the present _régime_ is that it costs very dear. It
makes no outward show: it is not ostentatious. It is gorgeous neither
in its women nor its horses. But, with its humble appearance and
neglected exterior, it is expensive. It has too many poor relations,
too many friends to provide for. It is a spendthrift. The most grievous
point is that it lives on an exhausted country, whose powers are waning
and which no longer thrives. And the administration has great need of
money. It is aware that it is in difficulties. And its difficulties are
greater than it fancies. They will increase still more. The evil is not
new. It is the one which killed the old _régime_. I am going, monsieur
l’abbé, to tell you a great truth: as long as the State contents itself
with the revenues supplied by the poor, as long as it has enough from
the subsidies which are assured to it with mechanical regularity
by those who work with their hands, it lives happy, peaceful, and
honoured. Economists and financiers are pleased to acknowledge its
honesty. But as soon as this unhappy State, driven by need, makes a
show of asking for money from those who have it, and of levying some
slight toll on the rich, it is made to feel that it is committing a
horrible outrage, is violating all rights, is wanting in respect to a
sacred thing, is destroying commerce and industry, and crushing the
poor by touching the rich. No one hides his conviction that discredit
is at hand. And it sinks beneath the genuine contempt of the good
citizen. Yet ruin comes slowly and surely. The State touches capital:
it is lost.

“Our ministers are jesting at us when they speak of the clerical or
the socialist peril. There is but one peril, the financial peril.
The Republic is beginning to recognise this. I pity her, I shall
regret her. I was reared under the Empire, in love for the Republic.
‘She is justice,’ my father, professor of rhetoric at the college of
Saint-Omer, used to say to me. He did not know her. She is not justice,
but she is ease. Monsieur l’abbé, if you had a soul less exalted,
less serious, and more given to jesting thoughts, I should confide
to you that the present Republic, the Republic of 1896, delights me
and touches me by its modesty. She acquiesces in not being admired.
She exacts but a trifling respect, and even renounces esteem. It
is enough for her to live. That is her sole desire; it is a lawful
one. The humblest beings cling to life. Like the woodcutter of the
fabulist, like the apothecary of Mantua, who so greatly astonished that
young fool of a Romeo, she fears death, and it is her only fear. She
mistrusts princes and soldiers. In danger of death, she would be very
ill to handle. Fear would make her abandon her own nature and would
render her ferocious. That would be a pity. But as long as they make
no attempt on her life, and as long as they only attack her honour,
she is good-natured. A government of this kind suits me and gives
me confidence. So many others were merciless through self-esteem!
So many others made sure of their rights, their grandeur, and their
prosperity by cruelties! So many others have poured out blood for
their prerogative and their majesty! She has no self-esteem; she has
no majesty. A fortunate lack which keeps her innocuous to us! Provided
that she lives, she is content. She rules laxly, and I should be
tempted to praise her for that more than for all the rest. And since
she governs laxly, I forgive her for governing badly. I suspect men
at all times of having much exaggerated the necessity of government
and the benefits of a strong administration. Certainly strong
administrations make nations great and prosperous. But the nations
have suffered so much all through the centuries for their grandeur and
prosperity, that I fancy they would renounce it. Glory has cost them
too dear for them to resent the fact that our present rulers have only
procured for us the colonial variety of it. If the uselessness of all
government should at last be discovered, the Republic of M. Carnot
would have paved the way for this priceless discovery. And one ought
to feel some gratitude towards it for that. Taking everything into
consideration, I feel much attached to our institutions.”

Thus spoke M. Bergeret, professor of literature at the University.

Abbé Lantaigne rose, drew out from his pocket his blue-checkered
handkerchief, passed it over his lips, returned it to his pocket,
smiled, contrary to his custom, secured his breviary under his arm, and
said:

“You express yourself pleasantly, Monsieur Bergeret. Just so did the
rhetors talk in Rome when Alaric entered it with his Visigoths. Yet
under the terebinth trees of the Esquiline the rhetors of the fifth
century let fall thoughts of less vanity. For then Rome was Christian.
You are that no longer.”

“Monsieur l’abbé,” replied the professor, “be a bishop and not the head
of the University.”

“It is true, Monsieur Bergeret,” said the priest with a loud laugh,
“that if I were head of the University I should forbid you to be a
teacher of youth.”

“And you would do me a great service. For then I should write in the
papers, like M. Jules Lemaître, and who knows whether, like him …”

“Well! well! you would not be out of place among the wits. And the
French Academy has a partiality for freethinkers.”

He spoke and walked away with a firm, straight, heavy tread. M.
Bergeret remained alone in the middle of the bench, which was now
three-parts covered by shade. The ladybird which had been fluttering
its wing-cases on his shoulder for a moment flew away. He began to
dream. He was not happy, for he had an acute mind whose points were
not always turned outwards, and very often he pricked himself with
the needle-points of his own criticism. Anæmic and bilious, he had
a very weak digestion and enfeebled senses, which brought him more
disgust and suffering than pleasure and happiness. He was reckless in
speech, and in unerringness and precision his tactlessness attained
the same results as the most practised skill. With cunning art he
seized every opportunity of injuring himself. He inspired the majority
of people with a natural aversion, and being sociable and inclined
to fraternise with his fellows, he suffered from that fact. He had
never succeeded in moulding his pupils, and he delivered his lectures
on Latin literature in a gloomy, damp, deserted cellar, in which he
was buried through the Dean’s burning hatred of him. The University
buildings were, however, spacious. Built in 1894, “these new premises,”
according to the words of M. Worms-Clavelin at the opening, “testified
to the zeal of the government of the Republic for the diffusion of
learning.” They boasted an amphitheatre, decorated by M. Léon Glaize
with allegorical paintings representing Science and Literature, where
M. Compagnon gave his much-belauded lectures on mathematics. The other
gownsmen in their red or yellow taught different subjects in handsome,
well-lighted rooms. M. Bergeret alone, under the bedel’s ironic glance,
had to descend, followed by three students, into a dusky, subterranean
hole. There, in the heavy, noisome air, he expounded the _Æneid_ with
German scholarship and French subtlety; there, by his literary and
moral pessimism, he afflicted M. Roux, of Bordeaux, his best pupil;
there, he opened up new vistas, whose aspect was terrifying; there, one
evening he pronounced those words now become famous, but which ought
rather to have perished, stifled in the shadow of the vault: “Fragments
of differing origins, soldered clumsily on to each other, made up the
_Iliad_ and the _Odyssey_. Such are the models of composition that
have been imitated by Virgil, by Fénelon, and in general, in classic
literatures, by writers of narratives in verse or in prose.”

M. Bergeret was not happy. He had received no honorary distinction. It
is true that he despised honours. But he felt that it would have been
much finer to despise them while accepting them. He was obscure and
less well known in the town for works of talent than M. de Terremondre,
author of a Tourist Guide; than General Milher, a distinguished
miscellaneous writer of the department; less even than his pupil, M.
Albert Roux, of Bordeaux, author of _Nirée_, a poem in _vers libres_.
Certainly he despised literary fame, knowing that that of Virgil in
Europe rested on a double misconception, one absurd and the other
fabulous. But he suffered at having no intercourse with writers who,
like MM. Faguet, Doumic, or Pellissier, seemed akin to him in mind. He
would have liked to know them, to live with them in Paris, like them to
write in reviews, to contradict, to rival, perhaps to outstrip them.
He recognised in himself a certain subtlety of intellect, and he had
written pages which he knew to be pleasing.

He was not happy. He was poor, shut up with his wife and his three
daughters in a little dwelling, where he tasted to the full the
inconveniences of domestic life; and it harassed him to find
hair-curlers on his writing-table, and to see the margins of his
manuscripts singed by curling-tongs. The only secure and pleasant place
of retreat that he had in the world was that bench on the Mall shaded
by an ancient elm, and the old-book corner in Paillot’s shop.

He meditated for a moment on his sad condition; then he rose from his
bench and took the road which leads to the bookseller’s.



XIV


When M. Bergeret entered the shop, Paillot, the bookseller, with a
pencil thrust behind his ear, was collecting his “returns.” He was
stacking up the volumes whose yellow covers, after long exposure to
the sunlight, had turned brown and become covered with fly-marks.
These were the unsaleable copies, which he was sending back to the
publishers. M. Bergeret recognised among the “returns” several works
that he liked. He felt no chagrin at this, having too much taste to
hope to see his favourite authors winning the votes of the crowd.

He sank down, as he was accustomed to do, in the old-book corner, and
through mere habit took up the thirty-eighth volume of _l’Histoire
Générale des Voyages_. The book, bound in green leather, opened of its
own accord at p. 212, and M. Bergeret once more read these fatal lines:

“a passage to the North. ‘It is to this check,’ said he, ‘that we owe
the opportunity of being able to visit the Sandwich Isles again …’”

And M. Bergeret sank into melancholy.

M. Mazure, the archivist of the department, and M. de Terremondre,
president of the Society of Agriculture and Archæology, who both had
their rush-bottomed chairs in the old-book corner, came in opportunely
to join the professor. M. Mazure was a paleographer of great merit.
But his manners were not elegant. He had married the servant of the
archivist, his predecessor, and appeared in the town in a straw
hat with battered crown. He was a radical, and published documents
concerning the history of the county town during the Revolution. He
enjoyed inveighing against the royalists of the department; but having
applied for academic honours without having received them, he began
invectives against his political friends, and particularly against M.
Worms-Clavelin, the _préfet_.

Being insulting by nature, his professional practice of discovering
secrets disposed him to slander and calumny. Nevertheless he was good
company, especially at table, where he used to sing drinking songs.

“You know,” said he to M. de Terremondre and M. Bergeret, “that the
_préfet_ uses the house of Rondonneau junior for assignations with
women. He has been caught there. Abbé Guitrel also haunts the place.
And, appropriately enough, the house is called, in a land-survey of
1783, the House of the Two Satyrs.”

“But,” said M. de Terremondre, “there are no women of loose life in the
house of Rondonneau junior.”

“They are taken there,” answered Mazure, the archivist.

“Talking of that,” said M. de Terremondre, “I have heard, my dear
Monsieur Bergeret, that you have been shocking my old friend Lantaigne,
on the Mall, by a cynical confession of your political and social
immorality. They say that you know neither law nor curb …”

“They are mistaken,” replied M. Bergeret.

“... that you are indifferent in the matter of government.”

“Not at all! But, to tell the truth, I do not attach any special
importance to the form of the State. Changes of government make
little change in the condition of individuals. We do not depend on
constitutions or on charters, but on instincts and morals. It serves no
purpose at all to change the name of public necessities. And it is only
the crazy and the ambitious who make revolutions.”

“It is not above ten years ago,” replied M. Mazure, “that I would have
risked a broken head for the Republic. To-day I could see her turn a
somersault, and only laugh and cross my arms. The old republicans are
despised. Favour is only granted to the turncoats. I am not referring
to you, Monsieur de Terremondre. But I am disgusted. I have come to
think with M. Bergeret. All governments are ungrateful.”

“They are all powerless,” said M. Bergeret; “and I have here in my
pocket a little tale which I should very much like to read to you. I
have founded it on an anecdote which my father often related to me. It
proves that absolute power is powerlessness itself. I should like to
have your opinion on this trifle. If you do not disapprove of it, I
shall send it to the _Revue de Paris_.”

M. de Terremondre and M. Mazure drew their chairs up to that of M.
Bergeret, who pulled a note-book from his pocket and began to read in a
weak, but clear voice:

                       A DEPUTY MAGISTRATE

    In a salon of the Tuileries the ministers had assembled …

“Allow me to listen,” said M. Paillot, the bookseller. “I am waiting
for Léon, who is not back yet. When he is out, he never comes back. I
am obliged to tend the shop and serve the customers. But I shall hear
at least a part of the reading. I like to improve my mind.”

“Very well, Paillot,” said M. Bergeret, and he resumed:


A DEPUTY MAGISTRATE

In a salon of the Tuileries the ministers had assembled in council,
under the presidency of the Emperor. Napoleon III. was silently making
marks with a pencil on a plan of an industrial town. His long, sallow
face, with its melancholy sweetness, had a strange appearance amid the
square heads of the men of affairs and the bronzed faces of the men of
toil. He half raised his eyelids, glanced with his gentle, vague look
round the oval table, and asked:

“Gentlemen, is there any other matter to be discussed?”

His voice issued from his thick moustaches a little muffled and hollow,
and seemed to come from very far off.

At this moment the Keeper of the Seals made a sign to his colleague of
the Home Department which the latter did not seem to notice.—At that
time the Keeper of the Seals was M. Delarbre, a magistrate in virtue of
his birth, who had displayed in his high judicial functions a becoming
pliability, abruptly laid aside now and then for the rigidity of a
professional dignity that nothing could bend. It was said that, after
having become an ultramontane and a member of the Empress’s party, the
jansenism of those great lawyers, his ancestors, sometimes bubbled
up in his nature. But those who had access to him considered him to
be merely punctilious, a trifle fanciful, indifferent to the great
questions which his mind did not grasp, and obstinate about the trifles
which suited the pettiness of his intriguing character.

The Emperor was preparing to rise, with his two hands on the gilt arms
of his chair. Delarbre, seeing that the Home Secretary, his nose in his
papers, was avoiding his look, took it upon himself to challenge him.

“Pardon me, my dear colleague, for raising a question which, although
it started in your department, none the less concerns mine. But you
have yourself declared to me your intention of apprising the Council of
the extremely delicate situation in which a magistrate has been placed
by the _préfet_ of a department in the West.”

The Home Secretary shrugged his broad shoulders slightly and looked
at Delarbre with some impatience. He had the air, at once jovial and
choleric, which belongs to great demagogues.

“Oh,” said he, “that was gossip, ridiculous tittle-tattle, a rumour
which I should be ashamed to bring to the notice of the Emperor, were
it not that my colleague, the Minister of Justice, seems to attach
an importance to it which, for my part, I have not succeeded in
discovering.”

Napoleon began sketching once more. “It has to do with the _préfet_ of
Loire-Inférieure,” continued the minister. “This official is reputed,
in his department, to be a gallant squire of dames, and the reputation
for gallantry which has become attached to his name, combined with his
well-known courtesy and his devotion to the government, has contributed
not a little to the popularity which he enjoys in the country. His
attentions to Madame Méreau, the wife of the _procureur-général_, have
been noticed and commented on. I grant that M. Pélisson, the _préfet_,
has given occasion for scandalous gossip in Nantes, and that severe
charges have been laid to his account in the bourgeois circles of
the county town, especially in the drawing-rooms frequented by the
magistracy. Assuredly M. Pélisson’s attitude towards Madame Méreau,
whose position ought to have protected her from any such equivocal
attentions, would be regrettable, if it were continued. But the
information I have received enables me to state that Madame Méreau has
not been actually compromised and that no scandal is to be anticipated.
A little prudence and circumspection will suffice to prevent this
affair having any annoying consequences.”

Having spoken in these terms, the Home Secretary closed his portfolio
and leant back in his chair.

The Emperor said nothing.

“Excuse me, my dear colleague!” said the Keeper of the Seals drily,
“the wife of the _procureur-général_ of the court of Nantes is the
mistress of the _préfet_ of Loire-Inférieure; this connection, known
throughout the whole district, is calculated to injure the prestige of
the magistracy. It is important to call the attention of His Majesty to
this state of things.”

“Doubtless,” replied the Home Secretary, his gaze turned towards the
allegories on the ceiling, “doubtless, such facts are to be regretted;
yet one must in no way exaggerate; it is possible that the _préfet_ of
Loire-Inférieure may have been a little imprudent and Madame Méreau a
little giddy, but …”

The minister wafted the rest of his ideas towards the mythological
figures which floated across the painted sky. There was a moment’s
silence, during which one could hear the impudent chirping of the
sparrows perched on the trees in the garden and on the eaves of the
château.

M. Delarbre bit his thin lips and pulled his austere but coquettish
moustaches. He replied:

“Excuse my persistence; the secret reports which I have received leave
no doubt as to the nature of the relationship between M. Pélisson
and Madame Méreau. These relations were already established two
years ago. In fact, in the month of September 18— the _préfet_ of
Loire-Inférieure got the _procureur-général_ an invitation to hunt
with the Comte de Morainville, deputy for the third division in the
department, and during the magistrate’s absence he entered Madame
Méreau’s room. He got in by way of the kitchen-garden. The next day
the gardener saw traces that the wall had been scaled and informed the
police. Inquiry was made; they even arrested a tramp, who, not being
able to prove his innocence, endured several months of precautionary
imprisonment. He had, it is true, a very bad record and no special
points of interest about him. Still to this day the _procureur-général_
persists, supported by a very small proportion of the public, in
believing him to be guilty of house-breaking. The position, I repeat,
is rendered by this fact no less annoying and prejudicial to the
prestige of the magistracy.”

The Home Secretary poured over the discussion, according to his wont,
certain massive phrases calculated to close and suppress it by their
weight. He held, said he, his _préfets_ in the palm of his hand; he
would be able to lead M. Pélisson easily to a just appreciation of
things, without taking any drastic measure against an intelligent
and zealous official, who had succeeded in his department, and who
was valuable “from the point of view of the electoral position.” No
one could say that he was more interested than the Home Secretary
in maintaining a good understanding between the officials of the
departments and the judicial authority.

Still the Emperor kept that dreamy look in which he was usually
wrapped when silent. He was evidently thinking of past events, for he
suddenly said: “Poor M. Pélisson! I knew his father. He was called
Anacharsis Pélisson. He was the son of a republican of 1792; himself a
republican, he used to write in the opposition papers during the July
administration. At the time of my captivity in the fortress of Ham, he
addressed a friendly letter to me. You cannot imagine the joy which the
slightest token of sympathy gives a prisoner. After that we went on our
separate paths. We never saw one another again. He is dead.”

The Emperor lit a cigarette and remained wrapped in his dream for a
moment. Then rising:

“Gentlemen, I will not detain you.”

With the awkward gait of a great winged bird when it walks, he returned
to his private apartments; and the ministers went out, one after the
other, through the long suite of rooms, beneath the solemn gaze of the
ushers. The marshal who was the Minister of War held out his cigar-case
to the Keeper of the Seals.

“Monsieur Delarbre, shall we take a little walk outside? I want to
stretch my legs.”

Whilst they were both walking down the Rue de Rivoli, by the railing
that borders the Terrasse des Feuillants:

“Speaking of cigars,” said the marshal, “I only like very dry one-sou
cigars. The others seem like sweetmeats to me. Don’t you know …”

He cut short his thought, then:

“This Pélisson that you were talking about just now in the Council,
isn’t he a little dried up, swarthy man, who was _sous-préfet_ at
Saint-Dié five years ago?”

Delarbre replied that Pélisson had indeed been _sous-préfet_ in the
Vosges.

“So I said to myself: I knew Pélisson. And I remember Madame Pélisson
very well. I sat next to her at dinner at Saint-Dié, when I went there
for the unveiling of a monument. Don’t you know …”

“What kind of woman is she?” asked Delarbre.

“Tiny, swarthy, thin. A deceptive thinness. In the morning, in a
high-necked dress, she looked a mere wisp. At table in the evening, in
a low-necked dress with flowers in her bosom, very charming.”

“But morally, marshal?”

“Morally. … I am not an imbecile, am I, now? Well! I have never
understood anything about a woman’s morals. All that I can tell you is
that Madame Pélisson passed for a sentimentalist. They said she had a
warm heart for handsome men.”

“She gave you a hint to that effect, my dear marshal?”

“Not the least in the world. She said to me at dessert, ‘I dote on
eloquence. A noble speech carries me away.’ I could not apply that
remark to myself. It is true that I had that morning delivered an
address. But I had got my aide-de-camp, a short-sighted artillery
officer, to write it out for me. He had written so small that I could
not read it. … Don’t you know? …”

They had reached the Place Vendôme. Delarbre held out his little
withered hand to the marshal, and stole under the archway of the
Ministry.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following week, at the breaking up of the Council, when the
ministers were already withdrawing, the Emperor laid his hand on the
shoulder of the Keeper of the Seals.

“My dear Monsieur Delarbre,” said he to him, “I have heard by
chance—in my position, one never learns anything save by chance—that
there is a deputy magistrate’s post vacant at the Nantes bar. I beg
that you will consider for that post a very deserving young doctor of
law, who has written a remarkable treatise on Trade Unions. His name is
Chanot, and he is the nephew of Madame Ramel. He is to beg an audience
of you this very day. Should you propose him to me for it, I shall sign
his nomination with pleasure.”

The Emperor had pronounced the name of his foster-sister tenderly, for
he had never lost his affection for her, although, a republican of
republicans, she repelled his advances, refused, poor widow as she was,
the master’s offers, and raged openly in her garret against the _coup
d’état_. But yielding at last, after fifteen years, to the persistent
kindness of Napoleon III., she had come to beg, as earnest of
reconciliation, a favour from the prince—not for herself, but for her
nephew young Chanot, a doctor of law, and, according to his professors,
an honour to the Schools. Even now it was an austere favour that Madame
Ramel demanded of her foster-brother; admission to the open court for
young Chanot could scarcely be considered an act of partiality. But
Madame Ramel was keenly anxious that her nephew should be sent to
Loire-Inférieure, where his relatives lived. This fact recurred to
Napoleon’s mind, and he impressed it on the Minister of Justice.

“It is very important,” said he, “that my candidate should be nominated
at Nantes, for that is his native place and where his parents live.
That is an important consideration for a young man whose means are
small and who likes family life.”

“Chanot … hard-working, meritorious, and with small means …” answered
the minister.

He added that he would use his best endeavours to act in accordance
with the desire expressed by His Majesty. His only fear was lest the
_procureur-général_ should have already submitted to him a list of
proposed nominees, among whom, naturally, the name Chanot would not
occur. This _procureur-général_ was, indeed, M. Méreau, concerning whom
there had been a discussion in the preceding Council. The Keeper of
the Seals was particularly anxious to act very handsomely towards him.
But he would strain every nerve to bring this affair to an issue that
conformed with the intentions expressed by His Majesty.

He bowed and took his leave. It was his reception day. As soon as he
had entered his study, he asked his secretary, Labarthe, whether there
were many people in the ante-room. There were two presidents of courts,
a councillor of the Appeal Court, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Nicomedia,
a crowd of judges, barristers, and priests. The minister asked if
there was any one there called Chanot. Labarthe searched in the silver
salver, and discovered, among the pile of cards, that of Chanot, doctor
of law, prizeman of the Faculty of Law, Paris. The minister ordered him
to be called first, merely requesting that he should be conducted by
the back passages, in order not to offend the magistrates and clergy.

The minister seated himself at his table and murmured quite to himself:

“‘A sentimentalist,’ said the marshal, ‘with a warm heart for handsome
men who speak well.’ …”

The usher introduced into the study a huge, tall young man, stooping,
spectacled, and with a pointed skull. Every part of his uncouth frame
expressed at once the timidity of the recluse and the boldness of the
thinker.

The Keeper of the Seals examined him from head to foot and saw that he
had the cheeks of a child and no shoulders. He signed to him to sit
down. The suitor, having perched himself at the edge of the chair, shut
his eyes and began to pour forth a flood of words.

“Monsieur _le Ministre_, I come to beg from your noble patronage the
privilege of admission to the magistracy. Possibly Your Excellence may
consider that the reports I have gained in the various examinations
which I have undergone, and a prize which has been awarded to me for
a work on Trade Unions, are sufficient qualifications, and that the
nephew of Madame Ramel, foster-sister of the Emperor, is not altogether
unworthy …”

The Keeper of the Seals stopped him with a wave of his little yellow
hand.

“Doubtless, Monsieur Chanot, doubtless an august patronage, which would
never have been mistakenly bestowed on an unworthy recipient, has been
secured for you. I know it, the Emperor takes much interest in you. You
desire a chair as judge-advocate, Monsieur Chanot?”

“Your Excellence,” replied Chanot, “would put the finishing touch to my
wishes by nominating me deputy magistrate at Nantes, where my family
live.”

Delarbre fixed his leaden eyes on Chanot and said drily:

“There is no vacancy at the bar of Nantes.”

“Excuse me, Your Excellency, I thought …”

The minister rose.

“There is none there.”

And whilst Chanot was making clumsily for the door and looking for an
exit in the white panels as he made his bow, the Keeper of the Seals
said to him, with a persuasive air and almost in a confidential tone:

“Trust me, Monsieur Chanot, and dissuade your aunt from making any new
solicitations which, far from being of any profit to you, will only do
you harm. Rest assured that the Emperor takes an interest in you, and
rely on me.”

As soon as the door was shut the minister called his secretary.

“Labarthe, bring me your candidate.”

       *       *       *       *       *

At eight o’clock in the evening Labarthe entered a house in the Rue
Jacob, mounted the staircase as far as the attics, and called from the
landing:

“Are you ready, Lespardat?”

The door of a little garret opened. Inside on a shelf there were
several law-books and tattered novels; on the bed a black velvet
mask with a fall of lace, a bunch of withered violets, and some
fencing foils. On the wall a bad portrait of Mirabeau, a copper-plate
engraving. In the middle of the room a big bronzed fellow was
brandishing dumb-bells. He had frizzled hair, a low forehead, hazel
eyes full of laughter and sweetness, a nose that quivered like the
nostrils of a horse, and in his pleasantly gaping mouth strong white
teeth.

“I was waiting for you,” said he.

Labarthe begged him to dress himself. He was hungry. What time would
they get their dinner?

Lespardat, having laid his dumb-bells on the floor, pulled off his
jersey, and showed the herculean nape that carried his round head on
his broad shoulders.

“He looks at least twenty-six,” thought Labarthe.

As soon as Lespardat had put on his coat, the thin cloth of which
allowed one to follow the powerful, easy play of the muscles, Labarthe
pushed him outside.

“We shall be at Magny’s in three minutes. I have the minister’s
brougham.”

As they had matters to discuss, they asked for a private room at the
restaurant.

After the sole and the _pré-salé_, Labarthe attacked his subject
bluntly:

“Listen to me carefully, Lespardat. You will see my chief to-morrow,
your nomination will be proposed by the _procureur-général_ of Nantes
on Thursday, and on Monday submitted for the signature of the Emperor.
It is arranged that it shall be given to him unexpectedly, at the
moment when he will be busy with Alfred Maury in fixing the site of
Alesia. When he is studying the topography of the Gauls in the time of
Cæsar, the Emperor signs everything they want him to. But understand
clearly what is expected from you. You must win the favour of Madame
_la préfète_. You must win from her the ultimate favour. It is only by
this consummation that the magistracy will be avenged.”

Lespardat swallowed and listened, pleased and smiling in his ingenuous
self-conceit.

“But,” said he, “what notion has budded in Delarbre’s head? I thought
he was a puritan.”

Labarthe, raising his knife, stopped him.

“First of all, my friend, I beg that you will not compromise my chief,
who must remain ignorant of all that’s going on here. But since you
have brought in Delarbre’s name, I will tell you that his puritanism
is a jansenist puritanism. He is a great-nephew of Deacon Pâris. His
maternal great-uncle was that M. Carré de Montgeron who defended the
fanatics of Saint-Médard’s Cloister[K] before the Parliament. Now the
jansenists love to practise their austerities in nooks and crannies;
they have a taste for diplomatic and canonical blackguardism. It is
the effect of their perfect purity. And then they read the Bible. The
Old Testament is full of stories of the same kind as yours, my dear
Lespardat.”

  [K] In 1730 miracles were claimed by the jansenists to have been
      worked in the cemetery of St. Médard, Paris, at the grave of
      François de Pâris, a young jansenist deacon. The spot became
      a place of pilgrimage, and was visited by thousands of
      jansenist fanatics.

Lespardat was not listening. He was floating in a sea of naïve delight.
He was asking himself: “What will father say? What will mother say?”
thinking of his parents, grocers of large ambitions and little wealth
at Agen. And he vaguely associated his budding fortune with the glory
of Mirabeau, his favourite hero. Since his college days he had dreamt
of a destiny rich with women and feats of oratory.

Labarthe recalled his young friend’s attention to himself.

“You know, monsieur _le substitut_, you are not irremovable. If after a
reasonable interval you have not made yourself very agreeable to Madame
Pélisson—I mean completely agreeable—you fall into disgrace.”

“But,” asked Lespardat frankly, “how much time do you give me to make
myself excessively pleasing to Madame Pélisson?”

“Until the vacation,” answered the minister’s secretary gravely. “We
give you, in addition, all sorts of facilities, secret missions,
furloughs, &c. Everything except money. Above all, we are an honest
administration. People don’t believe it. But later on they will find
that we were no jobbers. Take Delarbre: he has clean hands. Besides,
the Home Office, which is on the husband’s side, controls the Secret
Service Money. Do not count on anything save your two thousand four
hundred francs of salary and your handsome face to captivate Madame
Pélisson.”

“Is she pretty, this _préfète_ of mine?” demanded Lespardat.

He asked this question carelessly, without exaggerating the importance
of it, placidly, as behoves a very young man who finds all women
beautiful. By way of reply, Labarthe threw on the table the photograph
of a thin lady in a round hat, with a double bandeau falling on her
brown neck.

“Here,” said he, “is the portrait of Madame Pélisson. It was ordered by
the Cabinet from the Prefecture of Police, and they sent it on after
they had stamped it with a warranty stamp, as you see.”

Lespardat seized it eagerly with his square fingers.

“She is handsome,” said he.

“Have you a plan?” asked Labarthe. “A methodical scheme of operations.”

“No,” answered Lespardat simply.

Labarthe, who was keen-witted, protested that it was, however,
necessary to foresee, to arrange, not to allow oneself to be taken
unawares by any contingencies.

“You are certain,” added he, “to be invited to the balls at the
prefecture, and you will, of course, dance with Madame Pélisson. Do you
know how to dance? Show me how you dance.”

Lespardat rose, and, clasping his chair in his arms, took one turn of a
waltz with the deportment of a graceful bear.

Labarthe watched him very gravely through his eyeglass.

“You are heavy, awkward, without that irresistible suppleness which …”

“Mirabeau danced badly,” said Lespardat.

“After all,” said Labarthe, “perhaps it is only that the chair does not
inspire you.”

When they were both once more on the damp pavement of the narrow Rue
Contrescarpe, they met several girls who were coming and going between
the Carrefour Buci and the wine-shops of the Rue Dauphine. As one of
these, a thick-set, heavy girl, in a dingy black dress, was passing
sadly by under a street lamp with slack gait, Lespardat seized her
roughly by the waist, lifted her, and made her take with him two turns
of a waltz across the greasy pavement and into the gutter, before she
had any idea what was happening.

Recovering from her astonishment, she shrieked the foulest insults
at her cavalier, who carried her away with irresistible verve. He
himself supplied the orchestra, in a baritone voice, as warm and
seductive as military music, and whirled so madly with the girl that,
all bespattered with mud and water from the street, they collided with
the shafts of prowling cabs and felt on their neck the breath of the
horses. After a few turns, she murmured in the young man’s ear, her
head sunk on his breast and all her anger gone:

“After all, you are a pretty fellow, you are. You ought to make them
happy, didn’t you?—those girls at Bullier’s.”

“That’s enough, my friend,” cried Labarthe. “Don’t go and get run in.
My word, you will avenge the magistracy!”

       *       *       *       *       *

In the golden light of a September day four months later, the Minister
of Justice and Religion, passing with his secretary under the arcades
of the Rue de Rivoli, recognised M. Lespardat, the deputy magistrate
of Nantes, at the very moment when the young man was hurrying into the
Hôtel du Louvre.

“Labarthe,” asked the minister, “did you know that your protégé was
in Paris? Has he then nothing to keep him in Nantes? It seems to me
that it is now some time since you have given me any confidential
information about him. His start interested me, but I don’t know yet
whether he has quite lived up to the high opinion you formed of him.”

Labarthe took up the cudgels for the _substitut_; he reminded the
minister that Lespardat was on regular leave; that at Nantes he had
immediately gained the confidence of his chiefs at the bar, and that he
had at the same time won the good graces of the _préfet_.

“M. Pélisson,” added he, “cannot get on without him. It is Lespardat
who organises the concerts at the prefecture.”

Then the minister and his secretary continued their walk towards the
Rue de la Paix, along the arcades, stopping here and there before the
windows of the photograph shops.

“There are too many nude figures exposed in these shop-fronts,” said
the minister. “It would be better to take away their license from
these shops. Strangers judge us by appearances, and such spectacles as
these are calculated to injure the good name of the country and the
government.”

Suddenly, at the corner of the Rue de l’Échelle, Labarthe told his
chief to look at a veiled woman who was coming towards them with a
rapid step. But Delarbre, glancing at her for a moment, considered her
very ordinary, far too slender, and not at all elegant.

“She is clumsily shod,” said he; “she is from the provinces.”

When she had passed them:

“Your Excellency is quite right,” said Labarthe. “That is Madame
Pélisson.”

At this name the minister, much interested, turned round eagerly. With
a vague feeling of his own dignity, he dared not follow her. But he
showed his curiosity in his look.

Lebarthe spurred it on.

“I’ll wager, monsieur _le ministre_, that she won’t go very far.”

They both hastened their steps, and saw Madame Pélisson follow the
arcades, skirt the Place du Palais-Royal, and then, throwing uneasy
glances to left and right, disappear into the Hôtel du Louvre.

At that the minister began to laugh from the depths of his throat. His
little leaden eyes lighted up. And he muttered between his teeth the
words which his secretary guessed rather than heard:

“The magistracy is avenged.”

       *       *       *       *       *

On the same day the Emperor, then in residence at Fontainebleau, was
smoking cigarettes in the library of the palace. He was leaning
motionless, with the air of a melancholy sea-bird, against the case in
which is kept the Monaldeschi coat of mail. Viollet-le-Duc and Mérimée,
both his intimate friends, stood by his side.

He asked:

“Why, Monsieur Mérimée, do you like the works of Brantôme?”

“Sire,” replied Mérimée, “in them I recognise the French nation, with
her good and bad qualities. She is never worse than when she is without
a leader to show her a noble aim.”

“Really,” said the Emperor, “does one find that in Brantôme?”

“One also finds in him,” answered Mérimée, “the influence of women in
the affairs of state.”

At that moment Madame Ramel entered the gallery. Napoleon had given
orders that she should be allowed to come to him whenever she presented
herself. At the sight of his foster-sister he showed as much delight as
his expressionless, sorrowful face was capable of displaying.

“My dear Madame Ramel,” asked he, “how is your nephew getting on at
Nantes? Is he satisfied?”

“But, sire,” said Madame Ramel, “he was not sent there. Another was
nominated in his place.”

“That’s strange,” murmured His Majesty thoughtfully.

Then, placing his hand on the academician’s shoulder:

“My dear Monsieur Mérimée, I am supposed to rule the fate of France,
of Europe, and of the world. And I cannot get a nomination for a
_substitut_ of the sixth class, at a salary of two thousand four
hundred francs.”



XV


Having finished his reading, M. Bergeret folded up his manuscript and
put it in his pocket. M. Mazure, M. Paillot, and M. de Terremondre
nodded three times in silence.

Then the last-named placed a hand on Bergeret’s shoulder:

“What you have just read to us, my dear sir,” said he, “is truly …”

At this moment Léon flung himself into the shop and exclaimed with a
mixture of excitement and importance:

“Madame Houssieu has just been found strangled in her bed.”

“How extraordinary!” said M. de Terremondre.

“From the state of the body,” added Léon, “it is believed that death
took place three days ago.”

“Then,” remarked M. Mazure, the archivist, “that would make it Saturday
that the crime was committed.”

Paillot, the bookseller, who had remained silent up till now, with his
mouth wide open out of deference to death, now began to collect his
thoughts.

“On Saturday, about five o’clock in the afternoon, I plainly heard
stifled cries and the heavy thud produced by the fall of a body. I
even said to these gentlemen” (he turned towards M. de Terremondre
and M. Bergeret) “that something extraordinary was going on in Queen
Marguerite’s house.”

No one supported the claim that the bookseller was making that he
alone, by the keenness of his senses and the penetration of his mind,
had suspected the deed at the moment when it was taking place.

After a respectful silence, Paillot began again:

“During the night between Saturday and Sunday I said to Madame Paillot:
‘There isn’t a sound from Queen Marguerite’s house.’”

M. Mazure asked the age of the victim. Paillot replied that Madame
Houssieu was between seventy-nine and eighty years of age, that she
had been a widow fifty years, that she owned landed property, stocks
and shares, and a large sum of money, but that, being miserly and
eccentric, she kept no servant, and cooked her victuals herself over
the fireplace in her room, living alone amidst a wreckage of furniture
and crockery, covered with the dust of a quarter of a century. It was
actually more than twenty-five years since any one had wielded a broom
in Queen Marguerite’s house. Madame Houssieu went out but seldom,
bought a whole week’s supply of provisions for herself, and never let
any one into the house save the butcher-boy and two or three urchins
who ran errands for her.

“And the crime is supposed to have been committed on Saturday
afternoon?” asked M. de Terremondre.

“So it is believed, from the state of the body,” replied Léon. “It
appears that it is a ghastly sight.”

“On Saturday, in the afternoon,” replied M. de Terremondre, “we were
here, merely separated by a wall from the horrible scene, and we were
chatting about passing trifles.”

There was again a long silence. Then some one asked if the assassin had
been arrested, or if they even knew who it was. But, in spite of his
zeal, Léon could not answer these questions.

A shadow, which grew ever deeper and deeper and seemed funereal, began
to fall across the bookseller’s shop. It was caused by the dark crowd
of sightseers swarming in the square in front of the house of crime.

“Doubtless they are waiting for the inspector of police and the public
prosecutor,” said Mazure, the archivist.

Paillot, who was gifted with an exquisite caution, fearing lest the
eager people would break the window-panes, ordered Léon to close the
shutters.

“Don’t leave anything open,” said he, “save the window which looks on
the Rue des Tintelleries.”

This precautionary measure seemed to bear the stamp of a certain moral
delicacy. The gentlemen of the old-book corner approved of it. But
since the Rue des Tintelleries was narrow, and since on that side the
panes were covered with notices and drawing-copies, the shop became
plunged in darkness.

The murmur of the crowd, till then unnoticed, spread with the shadow
and became continuous, hollow, solemn, almost terrible, evidencing the
unanimity of the moral condemnation.

Much moved, M. de Terremondre gave fresh expression to the thought
which had struck him:

“It is strange,” said he, “that while the crime was being committed so
near us, we were talking quietly of unimportant affairs.”

At this M. Bergeret bent his head towards his left shoulder, gave a
far-away glance, and spoke thus:

“My dear sir, allow me to tell you that there is nothing strange in
that. It is not customary, when a criminal action is going on, that
conversations should stop of their own accord around the victim, either
within a radius of so many leagues or even of so many feet. A commotion
inspired by the most villainous thought only produces natural effects.”

M. de Terremondre made no reply to this speech, and the rest of his
hearers turned away from M. Bergeret with a vague sense of disquietude
and disapproval.

Still the professor of literature persisted:

“And why should an act so natural and so common as murder produce
strange and uncommon results? To kill is common to animals, and
especially to man. Murder was for long ages regarded in human
civilisation as a courageous action, and there still remain in our
morals and institutions certain traces of this ancient point of view.”

“What traces?” demanded M. de Terremondre.

“They are to be found in the honours,” replied M. Bergeret, “which are
paid to soldiers.”

“That is not the same thing,” said M. de Terremondre.

“Certainly it is,” said M. Bergeret. “For the motive force of all human
actions is hunger or love. Hunger taught savages murder, impelled
them to wars, to invasions. Civilised nations are like hunting-dogs.
A perverted instinct drives them to destroy without profit or reason.
The unreasonableness of modern wars disguises itself under dynastic
interest, nationality, balance of power, honour. This last pretext is
perhaps the most extravagant of all, for there is not a nation in the
world that is not sullied with every crime and loaded with every shame.
There is not one of them which has not endured all the humiliations
that fortune could inflict on a miserable band of men. If there
yet remains any honour among the nations, it is a strange means of
upholding it to make war—that is to say, to commit all the crimes by
which an individual dishonours himself: arson, robbery, rape, murder.
And as for the actions whose motive power is love, they are for the
most part as violent, as frenzied, as cruel as the actions inspired by
hunger; so much so that one must come to the conclusion that man is a
mischievous beast. But it still remains to inquire why I know this, and
whence it comes that the fact arouses grief and indignation in me. If
nothing but evil existed, it would not be visible, as the night would
have no name if the sun never rose.”

M. de Terremondre, however, had extended enough deference to the
religion of tenderness and human dignity by reproaching himself
with having conversed in a gay and careless fashion at the moment
of the crime and so near the victim. He began to regard the tragic
end of Madame Houssieu as a familiar incident which one might look
at straightforwardly and of which one might deduce the consequences.
He reflected that now there was nothing to prevent his buying Queen
Marguerite’s house as a storehouse for his collections of furniture,
china, and tapestry, and thus starting a sort of municipal museum. As
a reward for his zeal and munificence, he counted on receiving, along
with the applause of his fellow-countrymen, the Cross of the Legion of
Honour, and perhaps the title of correspondent of the Institute.

He had in the Academy of Inscriptions two or three comrades, old
bachelors like himself, with whom he sometimes lunched in Paris in some
wine-shop, and to whom he recounted many anecdotes about women. And
there was no correspondent for the district.

Hence he had already reached the point of depreciating the coveted
house.

“It won’t stand upright much longer,” said he, “that house of Queen
Marguerite. The beams of the floors used to fall in flakes of touchwood
on the poor old octogenarian. It will be necessary to spend an immense
sum in putting it in repair.”

“The best thing,” said Mazure, the archivist, “would be to pull it down
and remove the frontage to the courtyard of the museum. It would really
be a pity to abandon Philippe Tricouillard’s shield to the wreckers.”

They heard a great commotion among the crowd in the square. It was
the noise of the people whom the police were driving back to clear a
passage for the magistrates into the house of crime.

Paillot pushed his nose out of the half-open door.

“Here,” said he, “comes the examining judge, M. Roquincourt, with M.
Surcouf, his clerk. They have gone into the house.”

One after the other the academicians of the old-book corner had
slipped out behind the bookseller on to the pavement of the Rue des
Tintelleries, from which they watched the surging movements of the
people who crowded the Place Saint-Exupère.

Among the mob Paillot recognised M. Cassignol, the president in chief.
The old man was taking his daily constitutional. The excited crowd, in
which he had got entangled during his walk, impeded his short steps
and feeble sight. He went on, still upright and sturdy, carrying his
withered, white head erect.

When Paillot saw him, he ran up to him, doffed his velvet cap, and,
offering him his arm, invited him to come and sit down in the shop.

“How imprudent of you, Monsieur Cassignol, to venture into such a
crowd! It’s almost like a riot.”

At the word riot, the old man had a vision, as it were, of the century
of revolution, three parts of which he had seen. He was now in his
eighty-seventh year, and had already been on the retired list for
twenty-five years.

Leaning on the bookseller, Paillot, he crossed the doorstep of the shop
and sat down on a rush-bottomed chair, in the midst of the respectful
academicians. His malacca cane, with its silver top, trembled under
his hand between his hollow thighs. His spine was stiffer than the
back of his chair. He drew off his tortoiseshell spectacles to wipe
them, and it took him a long time to put them on again. He had lost his
memory for faces, and although he was hard of hearing, it was by the
voice that he recognised people.

He asked concisely for the cause of the crowds which had gathered in
the square, but he hardly listened to the answer given him by M. de
Terremondre. His brain, sound but ossified, steeped as it were in
myrrh, received no new impressions, although old ideas and passions
remained deeply embedded in it.

MM. de Terremondre, Mazure, and Bergeret stood up in a circle round
him. They were ignorant of his story, lost now in the immemorial
past. They only knew that he had been the disciple, the friend, and
the companion of Lacordaire and Montalembert, that he had opposed,
as far as the precise limits of his rights and his office permitted,
the establishment of the Empire, that in former days he had been
subjected to the insults of Louis Veuillot,[L] and that he went every
Sunday to mass, with a great book under his arm. Like all the town,
they recognised that he retained his old-world honesty and the glory
of having maintained the cause of liberty throughout his whole life.
But not one of them could have told of what type was his liberalism,
for none of them had read this sentence in a pamphlet, published by
M. Cassignol in 1852, on the affairs of Rome: “There is no liberty
save that of the man who believes in Jesus Christ, and in the moral
dignity of man.” It was said that, still remaining active in mind at
his age, he was classifying his correspondence and working at a book
on the relations between Church and State. He still spoke fluently and
brightly.

  [L] Louis Veuillot, author and journalist, born 1813, and much
      given to duels, both with words and swords.

During the conversation which he followed with difficulty, on hearing
a mention of the name of M. Garrand, the public prosecutor of the
Republic, he remarked, looking down at the knob of his stick as though
it were the solitary witness of those bygone days that still survived:

“In 1838 I knew at Lyons a public prosecutor for the Crown who had a
high idea of his duties. He used to maintain that one of the attributes
of public administration was infallibility, and that the king’s
prosecutor could no more be in the wrong than the king himself. His
name was M. de Clavel, and he left some valuable works on criminal
cross-examination.”

Then the old man was silent, alone with his memories in the midst of
men.

Paillot, on the doorstep, was watching what was going on outside.

“Here is M. Roquincourt coming out of the house.”

M. Cassignol, thinking only of past events, said:

“I started at the bar. I was under the orders of M. de Clavel, who
used again and again to repeat to me: ‘Grasp this maxim thoroughly:
The interests of the prisoner are sacred, the interests of society
are doubly sacred, the interests of justice are thrice sacred.’
Metaphysical principles had in those days more influence on men’s minds
than they have nowadays.”

“That’s very true,” said M. de Terremondre.

“They are carrying away a bedside-table, some linen, and a little
truck,” said Paillot. “These are doubtless articles to be used in
evidence.”

M. de Terremondre, no longer able to restrain himself, went forward
to watch the loading of the truck. Suddenly, knitting his brows, he
exclaimed:

“Sacrebleu!”

Then, seeing Paillot’s inquiring look, he added:

“It’s nothing! nothing!”

Cunning collector that he was, he had just caught sight of a water-jug
in _porcelaine à la Reine_ among the articles attached, and he was
making up his mind to inquire about it after the trial from Surcouf,
the registrar, who was an obliging man. In getting together his
collections he used artifice. “One must rise to the occasion,” he used
to say to himself. “Times are bad.”

“I was nominated deputy at twenty-two years of age,” resumed M.
Cassignol. “At that time my long, curly hair, my beardless, ruddy
cheeks, gave me a look of youth that rendered me desperate. In order
to inspire respect I had to affect an air of solemnity and to wear
an aspect of severity. I carried out my duties with a diligence
that brought its reward. At thirty-three years of age I became
attorney-general at Puy.”

“It is a picturesque town,” said M. Mazure.

“In the performance of my new duties I had to inquire into an affair
of little interest, if one only took account of the nature of the
crime and the character of the accused, but which had indeed its own
importance, since it was a matter that involved the death sentence. A
fairly prosperous farmer had been found murdered in his bed. I pass
over the circumstances of the crime, which yet remain fixed in my
memory, although they were as commonplace as possible. I need only say
that, from the opening of the inquiry, suspicions fell on a ploughman,
a servant of the victim. This was a man of thirty. His name was
Poudrailles, Hyacinthe Poudrailles. On the day following the crime he
had suddenly disappeared, and was found in a wine-shop, where he was
spending pretty freely. Strong circumstantial evidence pointed to him
as the author of this murder. A sum of sixty francs was found on him,
for the possession of which he could not account; his clothes bore
traces of blood. Two witnesses had seen him prowling round the farm on
the night of the crime. It is true that another witness swore to an
alibi, but that witness was a well-known bad character.

“The examination had been very well managed by a judge of consummate
ability. The case for the prosecution was drawn up with much skill.
But Poudrailles had made no confession. And in court, during the whole
course of the cross-examination, he fenced himself about with a series
of denials from which nothing could dislodge him. I had prepared my
address as public prosecutor with all the care of which I was capable
and with all the conscientiousness of a young man who does not wish to
appear unfitted for his high duties. I brought to the delivery of it
all the ardour of my youth. The alibi furnished by the woman Cortot,
who pretended that she had kept Poudrailles in her house at Puy during
the night of the crime, was a great obstacle to me. I set myself
to break it down. I threatened the woman Cortot with the penalties
attaching to perjury. One of my arguments made a special impression on
the mind of the jury. I reminded them that, according to the report
of the neighbours, the watch-dogs had not barked at the murderer.
That was because they knew him. It was, then, no stranger. It was the
ploughman; it was Poudrailles. Finally I called for the death penalty,
and I got it. Poudrailles was condemned to death by a majority of
votes. After the reading of the sentence, he exclaimed in a loud voice:
‘I am innocent!’ At this a terrible doubt seized me. I felt that,
after all, he might be speaking the truth, and that I did not myself
possess that certainty with which I had inspired the minds of the jury.
My colleagues, my chiefs, my seniors, and even the counsel for the
defence came to congratulate me on this brilliant success, to applaud
my youthful and formidable eloquence. These praises were sweet to me.
You know, gentlemen, Vauvenargues’ dainty fancy about the first rays of
glory. Yet the voice of Poudrailles saying, ‘I am innocent’ thundered
in my ears.

“My doubts still remained with me, and I was forced again and again to
go over my speech for the prosecution in my mind.

“Poudrailles’ appeal was dismissed, and my uncertainty increased. At
that time it was comparatively seldom that reprieves arrested the
carrying out of the death sentence. Poudrailles petitioned in vain for
a commutation of the sentence. On the morning of the day fixed for the
execution, when the scaffold had already been erected at Martouret,
I went to the prison, got them to open the condemned cell to me, and
alone, face to face with the prisoner, said to him: ‘Nothing can alter
your fate. If there remains in you one good feeling, in the interests
of your own soul and to set my mind at rest, Poudrailles, tell me
whether you are guilty of the crime for which you are condemned.’ He
looked at me for some moments without replying. I still see his dull
face and wide, dumb mouth. I had a moment of terrible anguish. At last
he bent his head right down and murmured in a feeble but distinct
voice: ‘Now that I have no hope left, I may as well tell you that I did
it. And I had more trouble than you would believe, because the old man
was strong. All the same, he was a bad lot.’ When I heard this final
confession I heaved a deep sigh of relief.”

M. Cassignol stopped, gazed fixedly for a long time at the knob of his
stick with his faded, washed-out eyes, and then uttered these words:

“During my long career as a magistrate I have never known of a single
judicial error.”

“That’s a reassuring statement,” said M. de Terremondre.

“It makes my blood run cold with horror,” murmured M. Bergeret.



XVI


That year, as usual, M. Worms-Clavelin, the _préfet_, went shooting
at Valcombe, at the house of M. Delion, an iron-master and a member
of the General Council, who had the finest shooting in the district.
The _préfet_ enjoyed himself very much at Valcombe; he was flattered
at meeting there many people of good family, especially the Gromances
and the Terremondres, and he took a deep joy in winging pheasants.
Here he was to be seen pacing the woodland paths in exuberant spirits.
He shot with twisted body, with raised shoulders and bent head, with
one eye closed and brows knitted, in the style of the inhabitants of
Bois-Colombes, the bookmakers and restaurant-keepers, his original
shooting companions. He proclaimed noisily, with tactless delight,
the birds that he had brought down; and by now and then attributing
to himself those that had fallen to his neighbours’ guns, he aroused
an indignation which he immediately allayed by the placidity of his
temper and by entire ignorance of the fact that any one could possibly
be vexed with him. In all his behaviour he united pleasantly enough
the importance of an official with the familiarity of a cheerful
guest. He flung their titles at men as though they were nicknames,
and because, like all the department, he knew that M. de Gromance was
an oft-betrayed husband, at every meeting he would give this man of
ceremony several affectionate little taps without any apparent reason.
Among the company at Valcombe he imagined himself to be popular, and
he was not entirely wrong. When, despite his underbred manners and
toadying air, his companions had got off scot-free of both shot and
impertinences, he was considered dexterous, and they said that, at
bottom, he had tact.

This year he had succeeded better than ever in the capitalist circle.
It was known that he was opposed to the income tax, which in private
conversation he had felicitously described as inquisitorial. At
Valcombe, therefore, he was the recipient of the congratulations of a
grateful society, and Madame Delion smiled on him, softening for him
her steel-blue eyes and her majestic forehead crowned with bandeaux of
iron-grey.

On leaving his room, where he had been dressing for dinner, he saw the
lissom figure of Madame de Gromance gliding along the dark corridor,
with a rustle of clothes and jewels. In the dusk her bare shoulders
seemed barer than ever. He frisked forward to overtake her, seized
her by the waist and kissed her on the neck. When she freed herself
hurriedly, he said to her in reproachful accents:

“Why so cruel to _me_, Countess?”

Then she gave him a box on the ears which surprised him greatly.

On the ground-floor landing he came upon Noémi, who, very seemly in her
dress of black satin covered with black tulle, was slowly drawing her
long gloves over her arms. He made a friendly little sign to her with
his eye. He was a good husband, and regarded his wife with a good deal
of esteem and some admiration.

She deserved it, for she had need of rare tact not to ruffle the
anti-Jewish society of Valcombe. And she was not unpopular there. She
had even won their sympathy. And what was most astonishing, she did not
seem an outsider.

In that great cold provincial salon she assumed an awe-stricken face
and a placid demeanour which produced a doubt of her intelligence,
but proclaimed her honest, sweet, and good. With Madame Delion and
the other women, she admired, approved, and held her tongue. And if a
man of some intelligence and experience entered into a _tête-à-tête_
with her, she made herself still more demure, modest, and timid, with
downcast eyes; then suddenly she hurled some broad jest at him,
which tickled him by its unexpectedness, and which he regarded as a
special favour, coming from so prim a mouth and so reserved a mind. She
captivated the hearts of the old sparks. Without a gesture, without a
movement, without the flutter of a fan, with an imperceptible quiver
of her eyelashes and a swift pursing of the lips, she insinuated ideas
that flattered them. She made a conquest of M. Mauricet himself, who,
great connoisseur as he was, said of her:

“She has always been plain, she is no longer even attractive, but she
is a woman.”

M. Worms-Clavelin was placed at table between Madame Delion and Madame
Laprat-Teulet, wife of the senator of … Madame Laprat-Teulet was a
sallow little woman, whom one always seemed to be looking at through
gauze, so soft were her features. As a young girl, she had been steeped
in religion as if it had been oil. Now, the wife of a clever man who
had married her for her fortune, she wallowed in unctuous piety, while
her husband devoted his energies to the anti-clerical and secular
parties. She gave herself up to endless petty tasks. And deeply
attached as she was to her wedded condition, when a demand was lodged
before the Senate for the authorisation of judicial proceedings against
Laprat-Teulet and several other senators, she offered two candles
in the Church of Saint-Exupère, before the painted statue of Saint
Anthony, in order that by his good offices her husband’s opponents
might be non-suited. And it was in that way that the affair ended. A
pupil of Gambetta, M. Laprat-Teulet had in his possession certain small
documents, a photographic reproduction of which he had sent at a timely
moment to the Keeper of the Seals. Madame Laprat-Teulet, in the zeal of
her gratitude, had a marble slab put up, as a votive-offering, on the
wall of the chapel, with this inscription drawn up by the venerable M.
Laprune himself: _To Saint Anthony from a Christian wife, in gratitude
for an unexpected blessing._ Since then M. Laprat-Teulet had retrieved
his position. He had given serious pledges to the Conservatives, who
hoped to utilise his great financial talents in the struggle against
socialism. His political position had become satisfactory again,
provided he affronted no one and did not seize the reins of power for
himself.

And with her waxen fingers Madame Laprat-Teulet embroidered
altar-frontals.

“Well, madame,” said the _préfet_ to her, after the soup, “are your
good works prospering? Do you know that, after Madame Cartier de
Chalmot, you are the lady in the department who presides over the
largest number of charities?”

She made no answer. He recollected that she was deaf, and, turning
towards Madame Delion:

“Tell me, I beg you, madame, about Saint Anthony’s charity. It was this
poor Madame Laprat-Teulet who made me think of it. My wife tells me it
is a new cult that is becoming the rage in the department.”

“Madame Worms-Clavelin is right, my dear sir. We are all devoted to
Saint Anthony.”

Then they heard M. Mauricet, in reply to a sentence lost in the noise,
say to M. Delion:

“You flatter me, my dear sir. The Puits-du-Roi, very much neglected
since Louis XIV.’s time, is not to be compared with Valcombe for its
sport. There is very little game there. Still, a poacher of rare
skill, named Rivoire, who honours the Puits-du-Roi with his nocturnal
visits, kills plenty of pheasants there. And you’ve no idea what an
extraordinary old blunderbuss he shoots them with. It’s a specimen for
a museum! I owe him thanks for having one day allowed me to examine it
at leisure. Imagine a …”

“I am told, madame,” said the _préfet_, “that the worshippers address
their requests to Saint Anthony in a sealed paper, and that they make
no payment until after the blessing demanded has been received.”

“Don’t jest,” replied Madame Delion; “Saint Anthony grants many
favours.”

“It is,” continued M. Mauricet, “the barrel of an old musket which has
been cut through and mounted on a kind of hinge, so that it rocks up
and down, and …”

“I thought,” replied the _préfet_, “that Saint Anthony’s speciality was
finding lost articles.”

“That is why,” answered Madame Delion, “so many requests are made to
him.”

And she added, with a sigh:

“Who, in this world, has not lost a precious possession? Peace of
heart, a conscience at rest, a friendship formed in childhood or … a
husband’s love? It is then that one prays to Saint Anthony.”

“Or to his comrade,” added the _préfet_, whom the ironmaster’s wines
had elated, and who in his innocence was confusing Saint Anthony of
Padua with Saint Anthony the hermit.

“But,” asked M. de Terremondre, “this Rivoire is known as the poacher
to the prefecture, is he not?”

“You are mistaken, Monsieur de Terremondre,” replied the _préfet_.
“He has a still more honourable appointment as poacher to the
Archbishopric. He supplies Monseigneur’s table.”

“He also consents to put his skill at the service of the court,” said
President Peloux.

M. Delion and Madame Cartier de Chalmot were conversing together in low
tones:

“My son Gustave, dear lady, is going to serve his military term this
year. I should so much like him to be placed under General Cartier de
Chalmot.”

“Do not set your heart on that, monsieur. My husband hates favouritism,
and he is chary of granting leave; he expects lads of good family to
show an example of work. And he has imbued all his colonels with his
principles.”

“... And the barrel of this musket,” continued M. Mauricet,
“corresponds with no recognised bore, so that Rivoire can only make use
of undersized cartridges. You can easily imagine …”

The _préfet_ was unfolding certain arguments calculated to bring Madame
Delion completely over to the government, and he concluded with this
noble thought:

“At the moment when the Czar is coming on a visit to France, it is
necessary that the Republic should identify itself with the upper
classes of the nation in order to put them in touch with our great
ally, Russia.”

Meanwhile, with the calm of a Madonna, Noémi was kissing feet with M.
_le président_ Peloux, who had been feeling about for hers under the
table.

Young Gustave Delion was saying in a low voice to Madame de Gromance:

“I hope that this time you will not keep me hanging about as you did on
the day when you were playing the fool with that dotard of a Mauricet,
whilst I had no other amusement in your yellow drawing-room than to
potter with the works of the clock.”

“What an excellent woman Madame Laprat-Teulet is!” exclaimed Madame
Delion in a sudden outburst of affection.

“Excellent,” said the _préfet_, swallowing a quarter of a pear. “It is
a pity that she is as deaf as a post. Her husband also is an excellent
man, and very intelligent. I am glad to see that people are beginning
to readjust their views of him. He has gone through a difficult
time. The enemies of the Republic wanted to compromise him in order
to discredit the government. He has been the victim of schemes that
aimed at excluding from Parliament the leading men belonging to the
business world. Such an exclusion would lower the level of national
representation and would be in all respects deplorable.”

For a moment he remained thoughtful; then he said sadly:

“Besides, no further scandals can be hatched; no more charges are being
trumped up. And there we have one of the most grievous results of this
campaign of calumny, carried on with unheard-of audacity.”

“Perhaps it is as well!” sighed Madame Delion, thoughtfully and
meaningly.

Then suddenly, with a burst of fervour:

“Monsieur _le préfet_, give us back our dear religious orders, let our
Sisters of Charity return to the hospitals and our God to the schools
whence you have expelled Him. No longer prevent our rearing our sons as
Christians and … we shall be very near to a mutual understanding.”

Hearing these words, M. Worms-Clavelin flung up his hands, as well
as his knife, on which was a morsel of cheese, and exclaimed with
heartfelt sincerity: “Good God! madame, don’t you see that the streets
of the county town are black with curés, and that there are monks
behind all the gratings? And as for your young Gustave, damn it! it
isn’t I who prevent him from going to mass all day instead of running
after the girls!”

M. Mauricet was finishing his description of the marvellous
blunderbuss, amid the clatter of voices, the echo of laughter, and the
little tinkling taps of silver upon china.

M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin, who was in a hurry to smoke, passed out
first into the billiard-room. He was soon joined there by President
Peloux, to whom he held out a cigar:

“Have one, do! They are capital.”

And in reply to M. Peloux’s thanks, showing the box of regalias, he
answered:

“Don’t thank me; it is one of our host’s cigars.”

This joke was one of his stock ones.

At last M. Delion appeared, leading the bulk of the guests, who with
greater gallantry had been chatting for a few minutes with the ladies.
He was listening approvingly to M. de Gromance, who was explaining to
him how necessary it was in shooting to calculate distances accurately.

“For instance,” he said, “on uneven ground a hare seems relatively
distant, whilst, on level ground, it seems nearer by more than fifty
metres. It is on this account that …”

“Come,” said M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin, taking down a cue from the
rack, “come, Peloux, shall we play a game?”

M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin was a pretty fair stroke at billiards;
but M. _le président_ Peloux gave him points. A little Norman attorney
who, at the close of a disastrous estate case, had been forced to
sell his practice, he had been appointed a judge at the time when the
Republic was purging the magistracy. Sent from one end of France to the
other, in courts where the knowledge of the law had almost disappeared,
his skill in sharp practice made him useful, and his ministerial
relations secured him advancement. Yet everywhere a vague rumour of his
past pursued him, and people refused to treat him with respect. But
luckily he was wise enough to know how to endure persistent rebuffs.
He bore affronts placidly. M. Lerond, deputy attorney-general, now a
barrister at the bar at …, said of him in the Salle des Pas-Perdus: “He
is a man of intelligence who knows the distance between his seat and
the prisoner’s dock.” Yet that public approval which he had not sought,
and which evaded him, had at length, by a sudden recoil, come of its
own accord. For the last two years the whole society of the district
had looked upon President Peloux as an upright magistrate. They admired
his courage when, smiling placidly between his two pale assessors, he
had condemned to five years’ imprisonment three confederate anarchists,
guilty of having distributed in the barracks bills exhorting the
nations to fraternise.

“Twelve—four,” announced M. _le président_ Peloux.

Having practised for a long time in the sleepy restaurant of a county
town in a rural canton, he had learnt a close professional game. He
raked his balls into a little corner of the billiard-table and brought
off a series of cannons. M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin played in the
broad, splendid, reckless style of the artist-cafés of Montmartre and
Clichy. And laying the failure of his rash strokes to the charge of the
table, he complained of the hardness of the cushions.

“At la Tuilière,” said M. de Terremondre, “in my cousin Jacques’ house,
there is a billiard-table with pockets, which dates from Louis XV.’s
time, in a very low vaulted hall, of soft, whitewashed stone, where
this inscription is still to be read: ‘Gentlemen are requested not to
rub their cues on the walls.’ It is a request to which no one has paid
any attention, for the vaulting is pitted with a number of little round
holes, whose origin is accurately explained by this inscription.”

M. _le président_ Peloux was asked in several directions at once for
details as to the affair in Queen Marguerite’s house. The murder of
Madame Houssieu, which had excited all the district, was still arousing
interest. Every one knew that a crushing weight of evidence hung over a
butcher’s boy of nineteen, named Lecœur, whom folks used to see twice
a week entering the old lady’s house with his basket on his head. It
was also known that the prosecution was detaining two upholsterers’
apprentices of fourteen and sixteen years of age as accomplices, and it
was said that the crime had been committed in circumstances which made
the story of it a particularly delicate one.

Being questioned on this point, M. _le président_ Peloux lifted his
round, ruddy head from the billiard-table and winked.

“The case is being tried _in camera_. The scene of the murder has
been reconstructed in its entirety. I don’t believe that there is a
doubt left as to the acts of debauchery which preceded the crime and
facilitated the perpetration of it.”

He took up his liqueur glass, swallowed a mouthful of armagnac, smacked
his lips, and said:

“Heavens! what velvet!”

And, when a circle of inquirers crowded round him asking for details,
the magistrate, in a low voice, disclosed certain circumstances which
provoked murmurs of surprise and grunts of disgust.

“Is it possible?” was the comment. “A woman of eighty!”

“The case,” answered M. _le président_ Peloux, “is not unique. You may
take my word for it after my experience as a magistrate. And the young
scamps of the faubourgs know much more on this subject than we do. The
crime in Queen Marguerite’s house is of a well-known, classified sort;
I might call it a classic type. I immediately scented it out as senile
debauchery, and I saw quite clearly that Roquincourt, the prosecuting
counsel, was following a wrong track. He had naturally ordered the
arrest of all the vagabonds and tramps found wandering within a wide
circumference. Every one of them aroused suspicions; and what put the
crowning touch to his mistake was that one of them, Sieurin, nicknamed
Pied-d’Alouette, a regular old gaol-bird, made a confession.”

“How was that?”

“He was bored with solitary confinement. He had been promised a pipe
of canteen tobacco if he confessed. He did confess. He told them all
they wanted. This Sieurin, who has been sentenced thirty-seven times
for vagabondage, is incapable of killing a fly. He has never committed
robbery. He is a simpleton, an inoffensive creature. At the time of the
crime, the gendarmes saw him on Duroc hill making straw fountains and
cork boats for the school children.”

M. _le président_ resumed his game.

“Ninety—forty. … During this time, Lecœur was telling all the girls
in the Quartier des Carreaux that he had done the deed, and the
keepers of disorderly houses were bringing to the police-inspector
Madame Houssieu’s earrings, chain, and rings that the butcher-boy
had distributed among their inmates. This Lecœur, like so many other
murderers, gave himself up. But Roquincourt, in a rage, left Sieurin,
or Pied-d’Alouette, in solitary confinement. He is still there.
Ninety-nine … and one hundred.”

“Splendid!” said M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin.

“So,” murmured M. Delion, “this woman of eighty-three had still … It is
incredible!”

But Dr. Fornerol, agreeing with President Peloux’s opinion, declared
that the case was not as unusual as they fancied, and he supplied the
physiological explanation, which was listened to with interest. Then
he went on to quote different cases of sexual aberrations and wound up
in these words:

“If the devil on two sticks, lifting us up in the air, were to raise
the roofs of the town before our eyes, we should see appalling sights,
and we should be staggered at the discovery among our fellow-citizens
of so many maniacs, degenerates, mad men and mad women.”

“Bah!” said M. Worms-Clavelin, the _préfet_, “one must not look too
closely into that. All these people, taken one by one, are perhaps what
you say; but together they form a superb mass of constituents and a
splendid county-town population for the department.”

Now, on the raised divan which overlooked the billiard-table, Senator
Laprat-Teulet sat caressing his long white beard. He had the majesty of
a river.

“For my part,” said he, “I can only believe in goodness. Wherever I
cast my eyes, I see virtue and honesty. I have been able to prove
by numerous instances that the morals of the French women since the
Revolution leave nothing to be desired, especially in the middle
classes.”

“I am not so optimistic,” replied M. de Terremondre, “but I certainly
did not suspect that Queen Marguerite’s house hid such shameful
mysteries behind its walls of crumbling woodwork and beneath the
cobweb-curtains of its mullioned windows. I went to see Madame Houssieu
several times; she seemed to me a miserly and mistrustful old woman, a
little mad, yet like so many others. But, as they used to say in the
time of Queen Marguerite:

  “She is under the sod.
   Her soul be with God![M]

She will no longer, by her lewdness, blot the scutcheon of good
Philippe Tricouillard.”

  [M] “Elle est sous lame.
       Dieu ait son âme!”

At that name a shout of merry laughter burst from their knowing faces.
It was the secret joy and inward pride of the town, that emblematic
shield, with its witness to the triple virtue and power that put this
bourgeois ancestor of theirs on a level with the great condottiere
of Bergamo. The people of ... loved him, their lusty forebear, the
contemporary of the king in the _Cent Nouvelles nouvelles_, their
ancient alderman Philippe Tricouillard, about whom, to tell the
truth, they knew nothing save the gift of nature to which he owed his
illustrious surname.

The turn taken by the conversation led Dr. Fornerol to say that several
instances had been cited of a similar anomaly, and that certain writers
declare that at times this honourable monstrosity is transmitted
hereditarily and becomes persistent in a family. Unluckily the line of
the worthy Philippe had been extinct for more than two hundred years.

After this remark, M. de Terremondre, who was president of the
Archæological Society, related a true anecdote.

“Our departmental archivist,” said he, “the learned M. Mazure, has
recently discovered in the garrets of the prefecture some documents
relating to a charge of adultery, brought, at the very period when
Philippe Tricouillard was flourishing, towards the end of the fifteenth
century, by Jehan Tabouret against Sidoine Cloche, his wife, for the
reason that the aforesaid Sidoine, having had three children at a
birth, Sieur Jehan Tabouret only acknowledged two of them as his, and
maintained that the third was by another man, for he averred that he
was constitutionally incapable of begetting more than two at a time.
And he gave a reason for this, founded on an error then common among
matrons, barber-surgeons, and apothecaries, who each as eagerly as
the others professed to believe that the normal frame of a man was
physiologically incapable of begetting more than twins, and that all
over the number of pledges which the father can produce should be
disowned. For this reason, poor Sidoine was convicted by the judge of
having played the harlot, and for this put naked on an ass, with her
head towards the tail, and thus led through the town to the pond at
Les Evés, where she was ducked three times. She would scarcely have
suffered thus if her wicked husband had been as generously gifted by
Dame Nature as good Philippe Tricouillard.”



XVII


In front of Rondonneau’s house-door, the _préfet_ glanced to right and
left to see that he was not being spied upon. He had heard that it was
said in the town that he went to the jeweller’s house for assignations
and that Madame Lacarelle had been seen following him into this house,
called the House of the Two Satyrs. He felt very bad-tempered over
this. He had another cause of annoyance. _Le Libéral_, which had
treated him respectfully for a long time, had attacked him vigorously
over the departmental budget. He was censured by the Conservative organ
for having made a transfer to conceal the expenses of the electoral
propaganda. M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin was perfectly honest. Money
inspired him with respect as well as love. He felt before “Property”
that feeling of religious terror that the moon inspires in dogs. With
him wealth had become a cult.

His budget was very honestly put together. And, apart from the
irregularities that had now become regular as the result of a faulty
administration common to the whole Republic, nothing worthy of blame
could be discovered in it. M. Worms-Clavelin knew this. He felt himself
strong in his integrity. But the polemics of the press put him out of
patience. His heart was saddened by the animosity of his opponents
and the rancour of the parties that he believed he had disarmed.
After so many sacrifices he was pained at not having won the esteem
of the Conservatives, which he secretly valued far more highly than
the friendship of the Republicans. He would have to inspire _le Phare_
with pointed and forceful replies, to conduct a lively, and, perhaps
protracted war. This thought was harassing to the deep slothfulness of
his mind and alarming to his prudence, which feared every action as a
source of peril.

Thus he was in a very bad temper. And it was in a sharp voice that,
throwing himself into the old leather arm-chair, he inquired of
Rondonneau junior whether M. Guitrel had arrived. M. Guitrel had not
yet come. So M. Worms-Clavelin, roughly snatching a paper from the
jeweller’s desk, tried to read while smoking his cigar. But neither
political ideas nor tobacco-smoke served to dispel the gloomy pictures
that crowded into his mind. He read with his eyes, but thought of
the attacks of _le Libéral_: “Transfer! There are not fifty people
in the county town who know what a transfer is. And here I can see
all the idiots in the department shaking their heads and solemnly
repeating the phrase in their newspaper: ‘We regret to see that M.
_le préfet_ has not abandoned the detestable and exploded practice
of making transfers.’” He fell into thought. The ash from his cigar
lavishly bestrewed his waistcoat. He went on thinking: “Why does _le
Libéral_ attack me? I got its candidate returned. My department shows
the greatest number of new adherents at election-times.” He turned
over the page of the paper. He thought on again: “I have not covered
up a deficit. The sums voted on the presentation of the estimates
have not been spent in a different way from what was proposed. These
people don’t know how to read a budget. And they are disingenuous.” He
shrugged his shoulders; and gloomy, indifferent to the cigar ash which
covered his chest and thighs, he plunged into the reading of his paper.

His eyes fell on these lines:

“We learn that a fire having broken out in a faubourg of Tobolsk, sixty
wooden houses have fallen a prey to the flames. In consequence of the
disaster more than a hundred families are homeless and starving.”

As he read this, M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin emitted a deep shout,
something like a triumphal growl, and, aiming a kick at the jeweller’s
desk:

“I say, Rondonneau, Tobolsk is a Russian town, isn’t it?”

Rondonneau, raising his innocent, bald head towards the _préfet_,
replied that Tobolsk was, indeed, a town in Asiatic Russia.

“Well,” cried M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin, “we are going to give an
entertainment for the benefit of the sufferers by the fire at Tobolsk.”

And he added between his teeth:

“I’ll make … a Russian entertainment for ’em. I shall have six weeks’
peace, and they won’t talk any more about transfers.”

At that moment Abbé Guitrel, with anxious eyes, his hat under his arm,
entered the jeweller’s shop.

“Do you know, monsieur l’abbé,” said the _préfet_ to him, “that, by
general request, I am authorising entertainments for the benefit of the
sufferers from the fire at Tobolsk—concerts, special performances,
bazaars, &c.? I hope that the Church will join in these benevolent
entertainments.”

“The Church, monsieur _le préfet_,” replied Abbé Guitrel, “has her
hands full of comfort for the afflicted who come to her. And doubtless
her prayers …”

“_À propos_, my dear abbé, your affairs are not getting on at all. I
come from Paris. I saw the friends whom I have at the Department of
Religion. And I bring back bad news. To start with, there are eighteen
of you.”

“Eighteen?”

“Eighteen candidates for the bishopric of Tourcoing. In the first rank
is Abbé Olivet, curé of one of the richest parishes in Paris, and the
president’s candidate. Next there is Abbé Lavardin, vicar-general at
Grenoble. Ostensibly, he is supported by the nuncio.”

“I have not the honour of knowing M. Lavardin, but I do not think he
can be the candidate of the nunciature. It is possible that the nuncio
has his favourite. But assuredly that favourite remains unknown. The
nunciature does not solicit on behalf of its protégés. It insists on
their appointment.”

“Ah! ah! monsieur l’abbé, they are cute at the nunciature.”

“Monsieur _le préfet_, the members of it are not all eminent in
themselves; but they have on their side unbroken tradition, and their
action is guided by secular rules. It is a force, monsieur _le préfet_,
a great force.”

“By Jove, yes! But we were saying that there is the president’s
candidate and the nuncio’s candidate. There is also your own
Archbishop’s candidate. When they first mentioned him, I thought to
myself that it was you. … We were wrong, my poor friend. Monseigneur
Charlot’s protégé—I’ll wager you won’t guess who it is.”

“Don’t make a wager, monsieur _le préfet_, don’t make a wager. I would
bet that the candidate of Monseigneur the Cardinal-Archbishop is his
vicar-general, M. de Goulet.”

“How do you know that? I did not know it myself.”

“Monsieur _le préfet_, you are not unaware that Monseigneur Charlot
dreads that he may find himself saddled with a coadjutor, and that his
old age, otherwise so august and serene, is darkened by this fear. He
is afraid lest M. de Goulet should, so to say, attract this nomination
to himself, as much by his personal merits as by the knowledge that
he has acquired of the affairs of the diocese. And His Eminence is
still more desirous, and even impatient, to separate himself from his
vicar-general, since M. de Goulet belongs by birth to the nobility of
the district, and through that fact shines with a brilliancy which
is far too dazzling for Monseigneur Charlot. Since, on the contrary,
Monseigneur does not rejoice in being the son of an honest artisan who,
like Saint Paul, worked at the trade of weaver!”

“You know, Monsieur Guitrel, that they also talk of M. Lantaigne. He
is the protégé of Madame Cartier de Chalmot. And General Cartier de
Chalmot, although clerical and reactionary, is much respected in
Paris. He is recognised as one of the ablest and most intelligent of
our generals. Even his opinions, at this moment, are advantageous
rather than harmful to him. With a ministry disposed to reunion,
reactionaries get all that they want. They are needed; they give
the turn to the scale. And then the Russian alliance and the Czar’s
friendship have contributed to restore to the aristocracy and the army
of our nation a part of their ancient prestige. We are shunting the
Republic on to a certain distinction of mind and manners. Moreover, a
general tendency towards authority and stability is declaring itself.
I do not, however, believe that M. Lantaigne has great chances. In the
first place, I have reported most unfavourably with regard to him. I
have represented him in high places as a militant monarchist. I have
described his uncompromising ways, his cross-grained temperament.
And I have painted a sympathetic portrait of you, my dear Guitrel. I
have shown off your moderation, your pliancy, your politic mind, your
respect for republican institutions.”

“I am very grateful to you for your kindness, monsieur _le préfet_. And
what did they reply?”

“You want to know that. Well! they replied: ‘We know such candidates as
your M. Guitrel. Once nominated, they are worse than the others. They
show more zeal against us. That is easily accounted for. They have
more to beg pardon for of their own party.’”

“Is it possible, monsieur _le préfet_, that they talked like this in
high places?”

“Ha! yes. And my interlocutor added this: ‘I do not like candidates for
the episcopacy who show too much zeal for our institutions. If I could
get a hearing, the choice would be made from among the others. In the
civil and political ranks they prefer officials who are most devoted,
most attached to the government. Nothing can be better. But there are
no priests devoted to the Republic. In this case, the wise thing is
always to take the most honest men.’”

And the _préfet_, throwing the chewed end of his cigar into the middle
of the floor, finished with these words:

“You see, my poor Guitrel, that your affairs are not making headway.”

M. Guitrel stammered:

“I do not see, Monsieur _le préfet_, I do not perceive anything, in
such speeches, that is calculated to produce in you this impression of
… discouragement. On the contrary, I should rather derive from it a
sentiment of … confidence. …”

M. _le préfet_ Worms-Clavelin lit a cigar and said with a laugh:

“Who knows whether they are not right, at the bureaux? … But reassure
yourself, my dear abbé, I do not abandon you. Let’s see, whom have we
on our side?”

He opened his left hand, in order to count on his fingers.

They both considered.

They found a senator of the department who was beginning to emerge
from the difficulties into which the recent scandals had plunged him,
a retired general, politician, publicist and financier, the bishop of
Ecbatana, well known in the artistic world, and Théophile Mayer, the
friend of the ministers.

“But, my dear Guitrel,” cried the _préfet_, “you have only the rag-tag
and bobtail on your side.”

Abbé Guitrel endured these manners, but he did not like them. He
looked at the _préfet_ with a saddened air and pressed his sinuous
lips together. M. Worms-Clavelin, who had no spite, regretted the
playfulness of his words and took pains to console the old man:

“Come! come! they are by no means the worst protectors. Besides, my
wife is for you. And Noémi by herself is well able to make a bishop.”



  [Illustration]

  THE WORKS OF
  ANATOLE FRANCE

  IN AN ENGLISH
  TRANSLATION EDITED
  BY THE LATE FREDERIC
  CHAPMAN, J. LEWIS MAY
  AND BERNARD MIALL

  Uniform, Demy 8vo.

  7/6 net

  $2.50 net
  per volume.

  LONDON: JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD.
  NEW YORK: JOHN LANE COMPANY.



ANATOLE FRANCE


“I do not believe that Thorfin Karlsefne was more astonished and
delighted when he discovered America than I was when, in my sixtieth
year, this great literary luminary sailed into my ken. … I have three
good reasons for writing about Anatole France. I want to help the
British people to enjoy his work; I want them to accord to the great
Frenchman the full justice which I feel he has not yet received in
this country; and I want to ease my soul by some expression of my own
gratitude and admiration. … Of all the famous or popular men alive upon
this planet Anatole France is to me the greatest. There is no writer
to compare to him, and he has few peers amongst the greatest geniuses
of past ages and all climes. … ‘Penguin Island’ is a masterpiece and a
classic. It is, in my opinion, a greater work than ‘Gargantua’ or ‘Don
Quixote’ or ‘Sartor Resartus’ or ‘Tristram Shandy.’ … The laughing,
mocking, learned and dissolute Abbé Coignard is one of the greatest
creations of human genius. If it will not sound too audacious I will
venture to claim that there is no character in Rabelais, Cervantes,
Dickens, or Sterne to equal the Abbé Coignard, and, with the exception
of the miraculous Hamlet, there is nothing greater in Shakespeare.
These be ‘brave words.’ I am writing of one of the world’s greatest
artists and humorists: of Anatole France, the Master. … Then there
is the great scene of the banquet in the house of Monsieur de la
Geritande, which I have read fifty times, and hope to read a hundred
times again. The whole chapter is one of the most artistic, humorous,
human, and exhilarating achievements in literature. It is alive; it
is real; it goes like a song. There is nothing finer or stronger in
the best comedy work of Shakespeare. … Anatole France is a great man,
and there is no living celebrity for whom I have so much reverence and
regard.”—ROBERT BLATCHFORD in the _Sunday Chronicle_.



  [N]THE RED LILY
    A TRANSLATION BY WINIFRED STEPHENS

  MOTHER OF PEARL
    A TRANSLATION BY FREDERIC CHAPMAN

  THE GARDEN OF EPICURUS
    A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON

  [N]THE CRIME OF SYLVESTRE BONNARD
    A TRANSLATION BY LAFCADIO HEARN

  THE WELL OF ST. CLARE
    A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON

  BALTHASAR
    A TRANSLATION BY MRS. JOHN LAMB

  [N]THAIS
    A TRANSLATION BY ROBERT BRUCE DOUGLAS

  THE WHITE STONE
    A TRANSLATION BY C. E. ROCHE

  [N]PENGUIN ISLAND
    A TRANSLATION BY A. W. EVANS

  THE MERRIE TALES OF JACQUES TOURNEBROCHE.
    A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON

  THE ELM TREE OF THE MALL
    A TRANSLATION BY M. P. WILLCOCKS

  THE WICKER-WORK WOMAN
    A TRANSLATION BY M. P. WILLCOCKS

  ON LIFE AND LETTERS. 2 Vols. First and
    Second Series. A TRANSLATION BY A. W. EVANS

  AT THE SIGN OF THE REINE PEDAUQUE
    A TRANSLATION BY MRS WILFRID JACKSON

  THE ASPIRATIONS OF JEAN SERVIEN
    A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON

  JOCASTA AND THE FAMISHED CAT
    A TRANSLATION BY MRS. FARLEY

  MY FRIEND’S BOOK
    A TRANSLATION BY J. LEWIS MAY

  THE GODS ARE ATHIRST
    A TRANSLATION BY ALFRED ALLINSON

  THE OPINIONS OF JEROME COIGNARD
    A TRANSLATION BY MRS. WILFRID JACKSON

  THE REVOLT OF THE ANGELS
    A TRANSLATION BY MRS WILFRID JACKSON

  CRAINQUEBILLE
    A TRANSLATION BY WINIFRED STEPHENS

  PIERRE NOZIÈRE
    A TRANSLATION BY J. LEWIS MAY

  THE AMETHYST RING
    A TRANSLATION BY BERENGERE DRILLIEN

  THE BRIDE OF CORINTH and other Plays
    A TRANSLATION BY EMILIE AND WILFRID JACKSON

  THE SEVEN WIVES OF BLUEBEARD
    A TRANSLATION BY D. B. STEWART


  _Also uniform in size_:

  JOAN OF ARC
    A TRANSLATION BY WINIFRED STEPHENS. With eight illustrations
    Two vols. 25s. net


  _IN PREPARATION_

  LITTLE PIERRE
    A TRANSLATION BY J. LEWIS MAY

  M. BERGERET IN PARIS
    A TRANSLATION BY J. LEWIS MAY

  CLIO and THE CHATEAU DE VAUX LE
    VICOMTE. A TRANSLATION BY WINIFRED STEPHENS

  A COMIC STORY
    A TRANSLATION BY C. E. ROCHE

  LE GÉNIE LATIN
    A TRANSLATION BY WILFRID JACKSON

  ON LIFE AND LETTERS
    Third Series. A TRANSLATION BY D. B. STEWART

  ON LIFE AND LETTERS
    Fourth Series. A TRANSLATION BY BERNARD MIALL

  [N] _Also Cheap Edition, with Illustrated Coloured Wrapper,
      1s. net each._

  JOHN LANE, THE BODLEY HEAD, VIGO ST., W.



Transcriber’s Note:

Hyphenation, spelling, accents and punctuation have been
retained as they appear in the original publication except
as follows:

  Page 10
    M Lantaigne, principal of the high _changed to_
    M. Lantaigne, principal of the high

  Page 20
    Abbe Lantaigne, head of the high seminary _changed to_
    Abbé Lantaigne, head of the high seminary

  Page 37
    of the proper of the saint. _changed to_
    of the proper of the saint.”

  Page 66
    at all, our Archbishop. _changed to_
    at all, our Archbishop.”

  Page 79
    M _le Préfet_ Worms-Clavelin _changed to_
    M. _le Préfet_ Worms-Clavelin

  Page 118
    should come in 189– _changed to_
    Should come in 189–

  Page 125
    M Paillot was the bookseller _changed to_
    M. Paillot was the bookseller

  Page 123
    he may make fun o _changed to_
    he may make fun of

  Page 219
    They are capital.’ _changed to_
    They are capital.”





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