("Come, we had better make peace," thought she; "we sha'n't gain anything by battling in this way.")
A slight smile wandered over the priests face and was lost in its wrinkles.
"He has done us the service of getting a proper estimate on the value of those paintings," he said, looking up at the pictures. "They will be a noble ornament to the chapel of the Virgin." ("You shot a sarcasm at me," thought he, "and there's another in return; we are quits, madame.")
"If you intend to give them to Saint-Gatien, allow me to offer frames that will be more suitable and worthy of the place, and of the works themselves." ("I wish I could force you to betray that you have taken Birotteau's things for your own," thought she.)
"They do not belong to me," said the priest, on his guard.
"Here is the deed of relinquishment," said Madame de Listomere; "it ends all discussion, and makes them over to Mademoiselle Gamard." She laid the document on the table. ("See the confidence I place in you," thought she.) "It is worthy of you, monsieur," she added, "worthy of your noble character, to reconcile two Christians,--though at present I am not especially concerned for Monsieur Birotteau--"
"He is living in your house," said Troubert, interrupting her.
"No, monsieur, he is no longer there." ("That peerage and my nephew's promotion force me to do base things," thought she.)
The priest remained impassible, but his calm exterior was an indication of violent emotion. Monsieur Bourbonne alone had fathomed the secret of that apparent tranquillity. The priest had triumphed!
"Why did you take upon yourself to bring that relinquishment," he asked, with a feeling analogous to that which impels a woman to fish for compliments.
"I could not avoid a feeling of compassion. Birotteau, whose feeble nature must be well known to you, entreated me to see Madaemoiselle Gamard and to obtain as the price of his renunciation--"
The priest frowned.
"of rights upheld by distinguished lawyers, the portrait of--"
Troubert looked fixedly at Madame de Listomere.
"the portrait of Chapeloud," she said, continuing: "I leave you to judge of his claim." ("You will be certain to lose your case if we go to law, and you know it," thought she.)
The tone of her voice as she said the words "distinguished lawyers"
showed the priest that she knew very well both the strength and weakness of the enemy. She made her talent so plain to this connoisseur emeritus in the course of a conversation which lasted a long time in the tone here given, that Troubert finally went down to Mademoiselle Gamard to obtain her answer to Birotteau's request for the portrait.
He soon returned.
"Madame," he said, "I bring you the words of a dying woman. 'The Abbe Chapeloud was so true a friend to me,' she said, 'that I cannot consent to part with his picture.' As for me," added Troubert, "if it were mine I would not yield it. My feelings to my late friend were so faithful that I should feel my right to his portrait was above that of others."
"Well, there's no need to quarrel over a bad picture." ("I care as little about it as you do," thought she.) "Keep it, and I will have a copy made of it. I take some credit to myself for having averted this deplorable lawsuit; and I have gained, personally, the pleasure of your acquaintance. I hear you have a great talent for whist. You will forgive a woman for curiosity," she said, smiling. "If you will come and play at my house sometimes you cannot doubt your welcome."
Troubert stroked his chin. ("Caught! Bourbonne was right!" thought she; "he has his quantum of vanity!")
It was true. The vicar-general was feeling the delightful sensation which Mirabeau was unable to subdue when in the days of his power he found gates opening to his carriage which were barred to him in earlier days.
"Madame," he replied, "my avocations prevent my going much into society; but for you, what will not a man do?" ("The old maid is going to die; I'll get a footing at the Listomere's, and serve them if they serve me,"
thought he. "It is better to have them for friends than enemies.")
Madame de Listomere went home, hoping that the archbishop would complete the work of peace so auspiciously begun. But Birotteau was fated to gain nothing by his relinquishment. Mademoiselle Gamard died the next day.
No one felt surprised when her will was opened to find that she had left everything to the Abbe Troubert. Her fortune was appraised at three hundred thousand francs. The vicar-general sent to Madame de Listomere two notes of invitation for the services and for the funeral procession of his friend; one for herself and one for her nephew.
"We must go," she said.
"It can't be helped," said Monsieur de Bourbonne. "It is a test to which Troubert puts you. Baron, you must go to the cemetery," he added, turning to the lieutenant, who, unluckily for him, had not left Tours.
The services took place, and were performed with unusual ecclesiastical magnificence. Only one person wept, and that was Birotteau, who, kneeling in a side chapel and seen by none, believed himself guilty of the death and prayed sincerely for the soul of the deceased, bitterly deploring that he was not able to obtain her forgiveness before she died.
The Abbe Troubert followed the body of his friend to the grave; at the verge of which he delivered a discourse in which, thanks to his eloquence, the narrow life the old maid had lived was enlarged to monumental proportions. Those present took particular note of the following words in the peroration:--
"This life of days devoted to God and to His religion, a life adorned with noble actions silently performed, and with modest and hidden virtues, was crushed by a sorrow which we might call undeserved if we could forget, here at the verge of this grave, that our afflictions are sent by God. The numerous friends of this saintly woman, knowing the innocence and nobility of her soul, foresaw that she would issue safely from her trials in spite of the accusations which blasted her life. It may be that Providence has called her to the bosom of God to withdraw her from those trials. Happy they who can rest here below in the peace of their own hearts as Sophie now is resting in her robe of innocence among the blest."
"When he had ended his pompous discourse," said Monsieur de Bourbonne, after relating the incidents of the internment to Madame de Listomere when whist was over, the doors shut, and they were alone with the baron, "this Louis XI. in a cassock--imagine him if you can!--gave a last flourish to the sprinkler and aspersed the coffin with holy water."
Monsieur de Bourbonne picked up the tongs and imitated the priest's gesture so satirically that the baron and his aunt could not help laughing. "Not until then," continued the old gentleman, "did he contradict himself. Up to that time his behavior had been perfect; but it was no doubt impossible for him to put the old maid, whom he despised so heartily and hated almost as much as he hated Chapeloud, out of sight forever without allowing his joy to appear in that last gesture."
The next day Mademoiselle Salomon came to breakfast with Madame de Listomere, chiefly to say, with deep emotion: "Our poor Abbe Birotteau has just received a frightful blow, which shows the most determined hatred. He is appointed curate of Saint-Symphorien."
Saint-Symphorien is a suburb of Tours lying beyond the bridge. That bridge, one of the finest monuments of French architecture, is nineteen hundred feet long, and the two open squares which surround each end are precisely alike.
"Don't you see the misery of it?" she said, after a pause, amazed at the coldness with which Madame de Listomere received the news. "It is just as if the abbe were a hundred miles from Tours, from his friends, from everything! It is a frightful exile, and all the more cruel because he is kept within sight of the town where he can hardly ever come. Since his troubles he walks very feebly, yet he will have to walk three miles to see his old friends. He has taken to his bed, just now, with fever.
The parsonage at Saint-Symphorien is very cold and damp, and the parish is too poor to repair it. The poor old man will be buried in a living tomb. Oh, it is an infamous plot!"
To end this history it will suffice to relate a few events in a simple way, and to give one last picture of its chief personages.
Five months later the vicar-general was made Bishop of Troyes; and Madame de Listomere was dead, leaving an annuity of fifteen hundred francs to the Abbe Birotteau. The day on which the dispositions in her will were made known Monseigneur Hyacinthe, Bishop of Troyes, was on the point of leaving Tours to reside in his diocese, but he delayed his departure on receiving the news. Furious at being foiled by a woman to whom he had lately given his countenance while she had been secretly holding the hand of a man whom he regarded as his enemy, Troubert again threatened the baron's future career, and put in jeopardy the peerage of his uncle. He made in the salon of the archbishop, and before an assembled party, one of those priestly speeches which are big with vengeance and soft with honied mildness. The Baron de Listomere went the next day to see this implacable enemy, who must have imposed sundry hard conditions on him, for the baron's subsequent conduct showed the most entire submission to the will of the terrible Jesuit.
The new bishop made over Mademoiselle Gamard's house by deed of gift to the Chapter of the cathedral; he gave Chapeloud's books and bookcases to the seminary; he presented the two disputed pictures to the Chapel of the Virgin; but he kept Chapeloud's portrait. No one knew how to explain this almost total renunciation of Mademoiselle Gamard's bequest.
Monsieur de Bourbonne supposed that the bishop had secretly kept moneys that were invested, so as to support his rank with dignity in Paris, where of course he would take his seat on the Bishops' bench in the Upper Chamber. It was not until the night before Monseigneur Troubert's departure from Tours that the sly old fox unearthed the hidden reason of this strange action, the deathblow given by the most persistent vengeance to the feeblest of victims. Madame de Listomere's legacy to Birotteau was contested by the Baron de Listomere under a pretence of undue influence!
A few days after the case was brought the baron was promoted to the rank of captain. As a measure of ecclesiastical discipline, the curate of Saint-Symphorien was suspended. His superiors judged him guilty. The murderer of Sophie Gamard was also a swindler. If Monseigneur Troubert had kept Mademoiselle Gamard's property he would have found it difficult to make the ecclestiastical authorities censure Birotteau.
At the moment when Monseigneur Hyacinthe, Bishop of Troyes, drove along the quay Saint-Symphorien in a post-chaise on his way to Paris poor Birotteau had been placed in an armchair in the sun on a terrace above the road. The unhappy priest, smitten by the archbishop, was pale and haggard. Grief, stamped on every feature, distorted the face that was once so mildly gay. Illness had dimmed his eyes, formerly brightened by the pleasures of good living and devoid of serious ideas, with a veil which simulated thought. It was but the skeleton of the old Birotteau who had rolled only one year earlier so vacuous but so content along the Cloister. The bishop cast one look of pity and contempt upon his victim; then he consented to forget him, and went his way.
There is no doubt that Troubert would have been in other times a Hildebrand or an Alexander the Sixth. In these days the Church is no longer a political power, and does not absorb the whole strength of her solitaries. Celibacy, however, presents the inherent vice of concentrating the faculties of man upon a single passion, egotism, which renders celibates either useless or mischievous. We live at a period when the defect of governments is to make Man for Society rather than Society for Man. There is a perpetual struggle going on between the Individual and the Social system which insists on using him, while he is endeavoring to use it to his own profit; whereas, in former days, man, really more free, was also more loyal to the public weal. The round in which men struggle in these days has been insensibly widened; the soul which can grasp it as a whole will ever be a magnificent exception; for, as a general thing, in morals as in physics, impulsion loses in intensity what it gains in extension. Society can not be based on exceptions. Man in the first instance was purely and simply, father; his heart beat warmly, concentrated in the one ray of Family. Later, he lived for a clan, or a small community; hence the great historical devotions of Greece and Rome. After that he was a man of caste or of a religion, to maintain the greatness of which he often proved himself sublime; but by that time the field of his interests became enlarged by many intellectual regions. In our day, his life is attached to that of a vast country; sooner or later his family will be, it is predicted, the entire universe.
Will this moral cosmopolitanism, the hope of Christian Rome, prove to be only a sublime error? It is so natural to believe in the realization of a noble vision, in the Brotherhood of Man. But, alas! the human machine does not have such divine proportions. Souls that are vast enough to grasp a range of feelings bestowed on great men only will never belong to either fathers of families or simple citizens. Some physiologists have thought that as the brain enlarges the heart narrows; but they are mistaken. The apparent egotism of men who bear a science, a nation, a code of laws in their bosom is the noblest of passions; it is, as one may say, the maternity of the masses; to give birth to new peoples, to produce new ideas they must unite within their mighty brains the breasts of woman and the force of God. The history of such men as Innocent the Third and Peter the Great, and all great leaders of their age and nation will show, if need be, in the highest spheres the same vast thought of which Troubert was made the representative in the quiet depths of the Cloister of Saint-Gatien.