Émile Zola.

The Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 online

. (page 9 of 10)
Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 → online text (page 9 of 10)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

breast. In all certainty she had never before hated her mother to such a
point as this in her envy of her beauty and her happiness in being loved.
And the irony which poured from the girl's virgin lips, before that
simple priest, was like a flood of mire with which she sought to submerge
her rival.

Just then, however, Rosemonde came back again, feverish and flurried as
usual. And she led Camille away: "Ah, my dear, make haste. They are
extraordinary, delightful, intoxicating!"

Janzen and little Massot also followed the Princess. All the men hastened
from the adjoining rooms, scrambled and plunged into the _salon_ at the
news that the Mauritanians had again begun to dance. That time it must
have been the frantic, lascivious gallop that Paris whispered about, for
Pierre saw the rows of necks and heads, now fair, now dark, wave and
quiver as beneath a violent wind. With every window-shutter closed, the
conflagration of the electric lamps turned the place into a perfect
brazier, reeking with human effluvia. And there came a spell of rapture,
fresh laughter and bravos, all the delight of an overflowing orgy.

When Pierre again found himself on the footwalk, he remained for a moment
bewildered, blinking, astonished to be in broad daylight once more.
Half-past four would soon strike, but he had nearly two hours to wait
before calling at the house in the Rue Godot-de-Mauroy. What should he
do? He paid his driver; preferring to descend the Champs Elysees on foot,
since he had some time to lose. A walk, moreover, might calm the fever
which was burning his hands, in the passion of charity which ever since
the morning had been mastering him more and more, in proportion as he
encountered fresh and fresh obstacles. He now had but one pressing
desire, to complete his good work, since success henceforth seemed
certain. And he tried to restrain his steps and walk leisurely down the
magnificent avenue, which had now been dried by the bright sun, and was
enlivened by a concourse of people, while overhead the sky was again
blue, lightly blue, as in springtime.

Nearly two hours to lose while, yonder, the wretched Laveuve lay with
life ebbing from him on his bed of rags, in his icy den. Sudden feelings
of revolt, of well-nigh irresistible impatience ascended from Pierre's
heart, making him quiver with desire to run off and at once find Baroness
Duvillard so as to obtain from her the all-saving order. He felt sure
that she was somewhere near, in one of those quiet neighbouring streets,
and great was his perturbation, his grief-fraught anger at having to wait
in this wise to save a human life until she should have attended to those
affairs of hers, of which her daughter spoke with such murderous glances!
He seemed to hear a formidable cracking, the family life of the
_bourgeoisie_ was collapsing: the father was at a hussy's house, the
mother with a lover, the son and daughter knew everything; the former
gliding to idiotic perversity, the latter enraged and dreaming of
stealing her mother's lover to make a husband of him. And meantime the
splendid equipages descended the triumphal avenue, and the crowd with its
luxury flowed along the sidewalks, one and all joyous and superb,
seemingly with no idea that somewhere at the far end there was a gaping
abyss wherein everyone of them would fall and be annihilated!

When Pierre got as far as the Summer Circus he was much surprised at
again seeing Salvat, the journeyman engineer, on one of the avenue seats.
He must have sunk down there, overcome by weariness and hunger, after
many a vain search. However, his jacket was still distended by something
he carried in or under it, some bit of bread, no doubt, which he meant to
take home with him. And leaning back, with his arms hanging listlessly,
he was watching with dreamy eyes the play of some very little children,
who, with the help of their wooden spades, were laboriously raising
mounds of sand, and then destroying them by dint of kicks. As he looked
at them his red eyelids moistened, and a very gentle smile appeared on
his poor discoloured lips. This time Pierre, penetrated by disquietude,
wished to approach and question him. But Salvat distrustfully rose and
went off towards the Circus, where a concert was drawing to a close; and
he prowled around the entrance of that festive edifice in which two
thousand happy people were heaped up together listening to music.



AS Pierre was reaching the Place de la Concorde he suddenly remembered
the appointment which Abbe Rose had given him for five o'clock at the
Madeleine, and which he was forgetting in the feverishness born of his
repeated steps to save Laveuve. And at thought of it he hastened on, well
pleased at having this appointment to occupy and keep him patient.

When he entered the church he was surprised to find it so dark. There
were only a few candles burning, huge shadows were flooding the nave, and
amidst the semi-obscurity a very loud, clear voice spoke on with a
ceaseless streaming of words. All that one could at first distinguish of
the numerous congregation was a pale, vague mass of heads, motionless
with extreme attention. In the pulpit stood Monseigneur Martha, finishing
his third address on the New Spirit. The two former ones had re-echoed
far and wide, and so what is called "all Paris" was there - women of
society, politicians, and writers, who were captivated by the speaker's
artistic oratory, his warm, skilful language, and his broad, easy
gestures, worthy of a great actor.

Pierre did not wish to disturb the solemn attention, the quivering
silence above which the prelate's voice alone rang out. Accordingly he
resolved to wait before seeking Abbe Rose, and remained standing near a
pillar. A parting gleam of daylight fell obliquely on Monseigneur Martha,
who looked tall and sturdy in his white surplice, and scarcely showed a
grey hair, although he was more than fifty. He had handsome features:
black, keen eyes, a commanding nose, a mouth and chin of the greatest
firmness of contour. What more particularly struck one, however, what
gained the heart of every listener, was the expression of extreme
amiability and anxious sympathy which ever softened the imperious
haughtiness of the prelate's face.

Pierre had formerly known him as Cure, or parish priest, of Ste.
Clotilde. He was doubtless of Italian origin, but he had been born in
Paris, and had quitted the seminary of St. Sulpice with the best possible
record. Very intelligent and very ambitious, he had evinced an activity
which even made his superiors anxious. Then, on being appointed Bishop of
Persepolis, he had disappeared, gone to Rome, where he had spent five
years engaged in work of which very little was known. However, since his
return he had been astonishing Paris by his brilliant propaganda, busying
himself with the most varied affairs, and becoming much appreciated and
very powerful at the archiepiscopal residence. He devoted himself in
particular, and with wonderful results, to the task of increasing the
subscriptions for the completion of the basilica of the Sacred Heart. He
recoiled from nothing, neither from journeys, nor lectures, nor
collections, nor applications to Government, nor even endeavours among
Israelites and Freemasons. And at last, again enlarging his sphere of
action, he had undertaken to reconcile Science with Catholicism, and to
bring all Christian France to the Republic, on all sides expounding the
policy of Pope Leo XIII., in order that the Church might finally triumph.

However, in spite of the advances of this influential and amiable man,
Pierre scarcely liked him. He only felt grateful to him for one thing,
the appointment of good Abbe Rose as curate at St. Pierre de Montmartre,
which appointment he had secured for him no doubt in order to prevent
such a scandal as the punishment of an old priest for showing himself too
charitable. On thus finding and hearing the prelate speak in that
renowned pulpit of the Madeleine, still and ever pursuing his work of
conquest, Pierre remembered how he had seen him at the Duvillards' during
the previous spring, when, with his usual _maestria_, he had achieved his
greatest triumph - the conversion of Eve to Catholicism. That church, too,
had witnessed her baptism, a wonderfully pompous ceremony, a perfect gala
offered to the public which figures in all the great events of Parisian
life. Gerard had knelt down, moved to tears, whilst the Baron triumphed
like a good-natured husband who was happy to find religion establishing
perfect harmony in his household. It was related among the spectators
that Eve's family, and particularly old Justus Steinberger, her father,
was not in reality much displeased by the affair. The old man sneeringly
remarked, indeed, that he knew his daughter well enough to wish her to
belong to his worst enemy. In the banking business there is a class of
security which one is pleased to see discounted by one's rivals. With the
stubborn hope of triumph peculiar to his race, Justus, consoling himself
for the failure of his first scheme, doubtless considered that Eve would
prove a powerful dissolving agent in the Christian family which she had
entered, and thus help to make all wealth and power fall into the hands
of the Jews.

However, Pierre's vision faded. Monseigneur Martha's voice was rising
with increase of volume, celebrating, amidst the quivering of the
congregation, the benefits that would accrue from the New Spirit, which
was at last about to pacify France and restore her to her due rank and
power. Were there not certain signs of this resurrection on every hand?
The New Spirit was the revival of the Ideal, the protest of the soul
against degrading materialism, the triumph of spirituality over filthy
literature; and it was also Science accepted, but set in its proper
place, reconciled with Faith, since it no longer pretended to encroach on
the latter's sacred domain; and it was further the Democracy welcomed in
fatherly fashion, the Republic legitimated, recognised in her turn as
Eldest Daughter of the Church. A breath of poetry passed by. The Church
opened her heart to all her children, there would henceforth be but
concord and delight if the masses, obedient to the New Spirit, would give
themselves to the Master of love as they had given themselves to their
kings, recognising that the Divinity was the one unique power, absolute
sovereign of both body and soul.

Pierre was now listening attentively, wondering where it was that he had
previously heard almost identical words. And suddenly he remembered; and
could fancy that he was again at Rome, listening to the last words of
Monsignor Nani, the Assessor of the Holy Office. Here, again, he found
the dream of a democratic Pope, ceasing to support the compromised
monarchies, and seeking to subdue the masses. Since Caesar was down, or
nearly so, might not the Pope realise the ancient ambition of his
forerunners and become both emperor and pontiff, the sovereign, universal
divinity on earth? This, too, was the dream in which Pierre himself, with
apostolic naivete, had indulged when writing his book, "New Rome": a
dream from which the sight of the real Rome had so roughly roused him. At
bottom it was merely a policy of hypocritical falsehood, the priestly
policy which relies on time, and is ever tenacious, carrying on the work
of conquest with extraordinary suppleness, resolved to profit by
everything. And what an evolution it was, the Church of Rome making
advances to Science, to the Democracy, to the Republican _regimes_,
convinced that it would be able to devour them if only it were allowed
the time! Ah! yes, the New Spirit was simply the Old Spirit of
Domination, incessantly reviving and hungering to conquer and possess the

Pierre thought that he recognised among the congregation certain deputies
whom he had seen at the Chamber. Wasn't that tall gentleman with the fair
beard, who listened so devoutly, one of Monferrand's creatures? It was
said that Monferrand, once a devourer of priests, was now smilingly
coquetting with the clergy. Quite an underhand evolution was beginning in
the sacristies, orders from Rome flitted hither and thither; it was a
question of accepting the new form of government, and absorbing it by
dint of invasion. France was still the Eldest Daughter of the Church, the
only great nation which had sufficient health and strength to place the
Pope in possession of his temporal power once more. So France must be
won; it was well worth one's while to espouse her, even if she were
Republican. In the eager struggle of ambition the bishop made use of the
minister, who thought it to his interest to lean upon the bishop. But
which of the two would end by devouring the other? And to what a _role_
had religion sunk: an electoral weapon, an element in a parliamentary
majority, a decisive, secret reason for obtaining or retaining a
ministerial portfolio! Of divine charity, the basis of religion, there
was no thought, and Pierre's heart filled with bitterness as he
remembered the recent death of Cardinal Bergerot, the last of the great
saints and pure minds of the French episcopacy, among which there now
seemed to be merely a set of intriguers and fools.

However, the address was drawing to a close. In a glowing peroration,
which evoked the basilica of the Sacred Heart dominating Paris with the
saving symbol of the Cross from the sacred Mount of the Martyrs,*
Monseigneur Martha showed that great city of Paris Christian once more
and master of the world, thanks to the moral omnipotence conferred upon
it by the divine breath of the New Spirit. Unable to applaud, the
congregation gave utterance to a murmur of approving rapture, delighted
as it was with this miraculous finish which reassured both pocket and
conscience. Then Monseigneur Martha quitted the pulpit with a noble step,
whilst a loud noise of chairs broke upon the dark peacefulness of the
church, where the few lighted candles glittered like the first stars in
the evening sky. A long stream of men, vague, whispering shadows, glided
away. The women alone remained, praying on their knees.

* Montmartre.

Pierre, still in the same spot, was rising on tip-toes, looking for Abbe
Rose, when a hand touched him. It was that of the old priest, who had
seen him from a distance. "I was yonder near the pulpit," said he, "and I
saw you plainly, my dear child. Only I preferred to wait so as to disturb
nobody. What a beautiful address dear Monseigneur delivered!"

He seemed, indeed, much moved. But there was deep sadness about his
kindly mouth and clear childlike eyes, whose smile as a rule illumined
his good, round white face. "I was afraid you might go off without seeing
me," he resumed, "for I have something to tell you. You know that poor
old man to whom I sent you this morning and in whom I asked you to
interest yourself? Well, on getting home I found a lady there, who
sometimes brings me a little money for my poor. Then I thought to myself
that the three francs I gave you were really too small a sum, and as the
thought worried me like a kind of remorse, I couldn't resist the impulse,
but went this afternoon to the Rue des Saules myself."

He lowered his voice from a feeling of respect, in order not to disturb
the deep, sepulchral silence of the church. Covert shame, moreover,
impeded his utterance, shame at having again relapsed into the sin of
blind, imprudent charity, as his superiors reproachfully said. And,
quivering, he concluded in a very low voice indeed: "And so, my child,
picture my grief. I had five francs more to give the poor old man, and I
found him dead."

Pierre suddenly shuddered. But he was unwilling to understand: "What,
dead!" he cried. "That old man dead! Laveuve dead?"

"Yes, I found him dead - ah! amidst what frightful wretchedness, like an
old animal that has laid itself down for the finish on a heap of rags in
the depths of a hole. No neighbours had assisted him in his last moments;
he had simply turned himself towards the wall. And ah! how bare and cold
and deserted it was! And what a pang for a poor creature to go off like
that without a word, a caress. Ah! my heart bounded within me and it is
still bleeding!"

Pierre in his utter amazement at first made but a gesture of revolt
against imbecile social cruelty. Had the bread left near the unfortunate
wretch, and devoured too eagerly, perhaps, after long days of abstinence,
been the cause of his death? Or was not this rather the fatal
_denouement_ of an ended life, worn away by labour and privation?
However, what did the cause signify? Death had come and delivered the
poor man. "It isn't he that I pity," Pierre muttered at last; "it is
we - we who witness all that, we who are guilty of these abominations."

But good Abbe Rose was already becoming resigned, and would only think of
forgiveness and hope. "No, no, my child, rebellion is evil. If we are all
guilty we can only implore Providence to forget our faults. I had given
you an appointment here hoping for good news; and it's I who come to tell
you of that frightful thing. Let us be penitent and pray."

Then he knelt upon the flagstones near the pillar, in the rear of the
praying women, who looked black and vague in the gloom. And he inclined
his white head, and for a long time remained in a posture of humility.

But Pierre was unable to pray, so powerfully did revolt stir him. He did
not even bend his knees, but remained erect and quivering. His heart
seemed to have been crushed; not a tear came to his ardent eyes. So
Laveuve had died yonder, stretched on his litter of rags, his hands
clenched in his obstinate desire to cling to his life of torture, whilst
he, Pierre, again glowing with the flame of charity, consumed by
apostolic zeal, was scouring Paris to find him for the evening a clean
bed on which he might be saved. Ah! the atrocious irony of it all! He
must have been at the Duvillards' in the warm _salon_, all blue and
silver, whilst the old man was expiring; and it was for a wretched corpse
that he had then hastened to the Chamber of Deputies, to the Countess de
Quinsac's, to that creature Silviane's, and to that creature Rosemonde's.
And it was for that corpse, freed from life, escaped from misery as from
prison, that he had worried people, broken in upon their egotism,
disturbed the peace of some, threatened the pleasures of others! What was
the use of hastening from the parliamentary den to the cold _salon_ where
the dust of the past was congealing; of going from the sphere of
middle-class debauchery to that of cosmopolitan extravagance, since one
always arrived too late, and saved people when they were already dead?
How ridiculous to have allowed himself to be fired once more by that
blaze of charity, that final conflagration, only the ashes of which he
now felt within him? This time he thought he was dead himself; he was
naught but an empty sepulchre.

And all the frightful void and chaos which he had felt that morning at
the basilica of the Sacred Heart after his mass became yet deeper,
henceforth unfathomable. If charity were illusory and useless the Gospel
crumbled, the end of the Book was nigh. After centuries of stubborn
efforts, Redemption through Christianity failed, and another means of
salvation was needed by the world in presence of the exasperated thirst
for justice which came from the duped and wretched nations. They would
have no more of that deceptive paradise, the promise of which had so long
served to prop up social iniquity; they demanded that the question of
happiness should be decided upon this earth. But how? By means of what
new religion, what combination between the sentiment of the Divine and
the necessity for honouring life in its sovereignty and its fruitfulness?
Therein lay the grievous, torturing problem, into the midst of which
Pierre was sinking; he, a priest, severed by vows of chastity and
superstition from the rest of mankind.

He had ceased to believe in the efficacy of alms; it was not sufficient
that one should be charitable, henceforth one must be just. Given
justice, indeed, horrid misery would disappear, and no such thing as
charity would be needed. Most certainly there was no lack of
compassionate hearts in that grievous city of Paris; charitable
foundations sprouted forth there like green leaves at the first warmth of
springtide. There were some for every age, every peril, every misfortune.
Through the concern shown for mothers, children were succoured even
before they were born; then came the infant and orphan asylums lavishly
provided for all sorts of classes; and, afterwards, man was followed
through his life, help was tendered on all sides, particularly as he grew
old, by a multiplicity of asylums, almshouses, and refuges. And there
were all the hands stretched out to the forsaken ones, the disinherited
ones, even the criminals, all sorts of associations to protect the weak,
societies for the prevention of crime, homes that offered hospitality to
those who repented. Whether as regards the propagation of good deeds, the
support of the young, the saving of life, the bestowal of pecuniary help,
or the promotion of guilds, pages and pages would have been needed merely
to particularise the extraordinary vegetation of charity that sprouted
between the paving-stones of Paris with so fine a vigour, in which
goodness of soul was mingled with social vanity. Still that could not
matter, since charity redeemed and purified all. But how terrible the
proposition that this charity was a useless mockery! What! after so many
centuries of Christian charity not a sore had healed. Misery had only
grown and spread, irritated even to rage. Incessantly aggravated, the
evil was reaching the point when it would be impossible to tolerate it
for another day, since social injustice was neither arrested nor even
diminished thereby. And besides, if only one single old man died of cold
and hunger, did not the social edifice, raised on the theory of charity,
collapse? But one victim, and society was condemned, thought Pierre.

He now felt such bitterness of heart that he could remain no longer in
that church where the shadows ever slowly fell, blurring the sanctuaries
and the large pale images of Christ nailed upon the Cross. All was about
to sink into darkness, and he could hear nothing beyond an expiring
murmur of prayers, a plaint from the women who were praying on their
knees, in the depths of the shrouding gloom.

At the same time he hardly liked to go off without saying a word to Abbe
Rose, who in his entreaties born of simple faith left the happiness and
peace of mankind to the good pleasure of the Invisible. However, fearing
that he might disturb him, Pierre was making up his mind to retire, when
the old priest of his own accord raised his head. "Ah, my child," said
he, "how difficult it is to be good in a reasonable manner. Monseigneur
Martha has scolded me again, and but for the forgiveness of God I should
fear for my salvation."

For a moment Pierre paused under the porticus of the Madeleine, on the
summit of the great flight of steps which, rising above the railings,
dominates the Place. Before him was the Rue Royale dipping down to the
expanse of the Place de la Concorde, where rose the obelisk and the pair
of plashing fountains. And, farther yet, the paling colonnade of the
Chamber of Deputies bounded the horizon. It was a vista of sovereign
grandeur under that pale sky over which twilight was slowly stealing, and
which seemed to broaden the thoroughfares, throw back the edifices, and
lend them the quivering, soaring aspect of the palaces of dreamland. No
other capital in the world could boast a scene of such aerial pomp, such
grandiose magnificence, at that hour of vagueness, when falling night
imparts to cities a dreamy semblance, the infinite of human immensity.

Motionless and hesitating in presence of the opening expanse, Pierre
distressfully pondered as to whither he should go now that all which he
had so passionately sought to achieve since the morning had suddenly
crumbled away. Was he still bound for the Duvillard mansion in the Rue
Godot-de-Mauroy? He no longer knew. Then the exasperating remembrance,
with its cruel irony, returned to him. Since Laveuve was dead, of what
use was it for him to kill time and perambulate the pavements pending the
arrival of six o'clock? The idea that he had a home, and that the most
simple course would be to return to it, did not even occur to him. He
felt as if there were something of importance left for him to do, though

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 9

Online LibraryÉmile ZolaThe Three Cities Trilogy: Paris, Volume 1 → online text (page 9 of 10)