A HEEL NOT DIPPED IN THE STYX.
Was such a man really a man? Could the servant of the human race have any affection? Had he not too much soul to have any heart? This world-wide embrace, which took in all and everything, could it reserve itself for any one person? Could Cimourdain love? Let us answer, Yes.
When he was young, and a tutor in an almost princely mansion, he had one pupil, the son and heir of the family, and he loved him. It is so easy to love a child. What can one not forgive a child? One can pardon him for being a seigneur, a prince, a king. The innocence of his tender years makes one forget the crimes of his race; the feebleness of the creature makes one forget the exaggeration of rank. He is so small that one pardons him for being great. The slave pardons him for being the master. The old negro worships the little white boy.
Cimourdain had conceived a passion for his pupil. Childhood is so ineffable that one can pour out all one's affection on it. All the power of loving in Cimourdain had, so to speak, fallen on this child; the sweet, innocent being had become a sort of prey to this heart condemned to solitude. He loved him with all the tenderness at once of father, brother, friend and creator. He was his son, the son not of his flesh, but of his spirit. He was not his father, and this was not his work; but he was the master, and this was his masterpiece. Of this little lord he had made a man. Who knows? a great man, perhaps. For such are dreams. Unknown to the family,—does one need permission to create an intelligence, a will, an integrity?—he had communicated to the young viscount, his pupil, all the progress that he had in himself, he had inoculated him with the dreadful virus of his virtue; he had infused into his veins his convictions, his conscience, his ideals; into this aristocratic brain he had poured the soul of the people.
The mind suckles, intelligence is a breast. There is an analogy between the nurse giving her milk, and the teacher giving his thought. Sometimes the teacher is more the father than the father himself, just as the nurse is more the mother than the mother herself.
This deep spiritual paternity bound Cimourdain closely to his pupil. The mere sight of this child touched him.
Let us add this: it was easy to replace the father, for the child had no father; he was an orphan; his father was dead, his mother was dead; he had no one to watch over him but a blind grandmother, and a great uncle who was away. The grandmother died; the great uncle, the head of the family, a soldier and possessed of great estates, appointed to offices at court, avoided the old family castle, lived at Versailles, went to the army, and left the orphan alone in the solitary towers. So the tutor was master in every sense of the word.
Let us add this, besides; Cimourdain had seen the child who had been his pupil, born. The orphan child when very small had had a serious illness; Cimourdain, at this time of danger, had watched over him day and night; the physician attends the patient, the nurse saves his life, and Cimourdain had saved the child. His pupil owed to him not only his education, his instruction, his knowledge, but he owed to him his recovery, and health; his pupil not only owed to him his thoughts, but he owed to him his life. We adore those who owe everything to us. Cimourdain adored this child.
The natural separation of their lives came about. When his education was completed, Cimourdain was obliged to leave the child, grown to a young man. With what cold and unconscionable cruelty those separations are made! How calmly families dismiss the teacher who has left his thought in a child, a nurse who leaves in it her love. Cimourdain, paid and sent away, left high life, and went back to the lower ranks of society; the partition between the great and the lowly was closed again; the young lord, an officer of birth and instantly made captain, set out for a garrison somewhere; the humble tutor already in the bottom of his heart an unsubmissive priest, hastened to go down again to that dark ground-floor of the church, called the lower clergy, and Cimourdain lost sight of his pupil.
The revolution had come; the memory of this being, of whom he had made a man, continued to smoulder in him, hidden but not extinguished by the immensity of public matters.
To model a statue and give it life is a noble work; to model an intelligence and give it truth, is still nobler. Cimourdain was the Pygmalion of a soul.
A mind can have a child.
This pupil, this child, this orphan, was the only being on earth that he loved.
But, even in such an affection, was such a man vulnerable?
We shall see.