The Middle Classes/Part II/Chapter III
The evening of the day on which Flavie had communicated to Celeste the sovereign orders of Thuillier, the Phellions called to spend the evening with Brigitte, and a very sharp engagement took place between the two young people. Mademoiselle Colleville did not need to be told by her mother that it would be extremely unbecoming if she allowed Felix to know of the conditional approval that was granted to their sentiments. Celeste had too much delicacy, and too much real religious feeling to wish to obtain the conversion of the man she loved on any other ground than that of his conviction. Their evening was therefore passed in theological debate; but love is so strange a Proteus, and takes so many and such various forms, that though it appeared on this occasion in a black gown and a mob cap, it was not at all as ungraceful and displeasing as might have been imagined. But Phellion junior was in this encounter, the solemnity of which he little knew, unlucky and blundering to the last degree. Not only did he concede nothing, but he took a tone of airy and ironical discussion, and ended by putting poor Celeste so beside herself that she finally declared an open rupture and forbade him to appear in her presence again.
It was just the case for a lover more experienced than the young savant to reappear the very next day, for young hearts are never so near to understanding each other as when they have just declared the necessity of eternal separation. But this law is not one of logarithms, and Felix Phellion, being incapable of guessing it, thought himself positively and finally banished; so much so, that during the fifteen days granted to the poor girl to deliberate (as says the Code in the matter of beneficiary bequests), although he was expected day by day, and from minute to minute by Celeste, who gave no more thought to la Peyrade than if he had nothing to do with the question, the deplorably stupid youth did not have the most distant idea of breaking his ban.
Luckily for this hopeless lover, a beneficent fairy was watching over him, and the evening before the day on which the young girl was to make her decision the following affair took place.
It was Sunday, the day on which the Thuilliers still kept up their weekly receptions.
Madame Phellion, convinced that the housekeeping leakage, vulgarly called "the basket dance," was the ruin of the best-regulated households, was in the habit of going in person to her tradespeople. From time immemorial in the Phellion establishment, Sunday was the day of the "pot-au-feu," and the wife of the great citizen, in that intentionally dowdy costume in which good housekeepers bundle themselves when they go to market, was prosaically returning from a visit to the butcher, followed by her cook and the basket, in which lay a magnificent cut of the loin of beef. Twice had she rung her own doorbell, and terrible was the storm gathering on the head of the foot-boy, who by his slowness in opening the door was putting his mistress in a situation less tolerable than that of Louis XIV., who had only almost waited. In her feverish impatience Madame Phellion had just given the bell a third and ferocious reverberation, when, judge of her confusion, a little coupe drew up with much clatter at the door of her house, and a lady descended, whom she recognized, at this untimely hour, as the elegant Comtesse Torna de Godollo!
Turning a purplish scarlet, the unfortunate bourgeoise lost her head, and, floundering in excuses, she was about to complicate the position by some signal piece of awkwardness, when, happily for her, Phellion, attracted by the noise of the bell, and attired in a dressing-gown and Greek cap, came out of his study to inquire what was the matter. After a speech, the pompous charm of which did much to compensate for his dishabille, the great citizen, with the serenity that never abandoned him, offered his hand very gallantly to the lady, and having installed her in the salon, said:—
"May I, without indiscretion, ask Madame la comtesse what has procured for us the unhoped-for advantage of this visit?"
"I have come," said the lady, "to talk with Madame Phellion on a matter which must deeply interest her. I have no other way of meeting her without witnesses; and therefore, though I am hardly known to Madame Phellion, I have taken the liberty to call upon her here."
"Madame, your visit is a great honor to this poor dwelling. But where is Madame Phellion?" added the worthy man, impatiently, going towards the door.
"No, I beg of you, don't disturb her," said the countess; "I have heedlessly come at a moment when she is busy with household cares. Brigitte has been my educator in such matters, and I know the respect we ought to pay to good housekeepers. Besides, I have the pleasure of your presence, which I scarcely expected."
Before Phellion could reply to these obliging words, Madame Phellion appeared. A cap with ribbons had taken the place of the market bonnet, and a large shawl covered the other insufficiencies of the morning toilet. When his wife arrived, the great citizen made as though he would discreetly retire.
"Monsieur Phellion," said the countess, "you are not one too many in the conference I desire with madame; on the contrary, your excellent judgment will be most useful in throwing light upon a matter as interesting to you as to your wife. I allude to the marriage of your son."
"The marriage of my son!" cried Madame Phellion, with a look of astonishment; "but I am not aware that anything of the kind is at present in prospect."
"The marriage of Monsieur Felix with Mademoiselle Celeste is, I think, one of your strongest desires—"
"But we have never," said Phellion, "taken any overt steps for that object."
"I know that only too well," replied the countess; "on the contrary, every one in your family seems to study how to defeat my efforts in that direction. However, one thing is clear in spite of the reserve, and, you must allow me to say so, the clumsiness in which the affair has been managed, and that is that the young people love each other, and they will both be unhappy if they do not marry. Now, to prevent this catastrophe is the object with which I have come here this morning."
"We cannot, madame, be otherwise than deeply sensible of the interest you are so good as to show in the happiness of our son," said Phellion; "but, in truth, this interest—"
"Is something so inexplicable," interrupted the countess, "that you feel a distrust of it?"
"Oh! madame!" said Phellion, bowing with an air of respectful dissent.
"But," continued the lady, "the explanation of my proceeding is very simple. I have studied Celeste, and in that dear and artless child I find a moral weight and value which would make me grieve to see her sacrificed."
"You are right, madame," said Madame Phellion. "Celeste is, indeed, an angel of sweetness."
"As for monsieur Felix, I venture to interest myself because, in the first place, he is the son of so virtuous a father—"
"Oh, madame! I entreat—" said Phellion, bowing again.
"—and he also attracts me by the awkwardness of true love, which appears in all his actions and all his words. We mature women find an inexpressible charm in seeing the tender passion under a form which threatens us with no deceptions and no misunderstandings."
"My son is certainly not brilliant," said Madame Phellion, with a faint tone of sharpness; "he is not a fashionable young man."
"But he has the qualities that are most essential," replied the countess, "and a merit which ignores itself,—a thing of the utmost consequence in all intellectual superiority—"
"Really, madame," said Phellion, "you force us to hear things that—"
"That are not beyond the truth," interrupted the countess. "Another reason which leads me to take a deep interest in the happiness of these young people is that I am not so desirous for that of Monsieur Theodose de la Peyrade, who is false and grasping. On the ruin of their hopes that man is counting to carry out his swindling purposes."
"It is quite certain," said Phellion, "that there are dark depths in Monsieur de la Peyrade where light does not penetrate."
"And as I myself had the misfortune to marry a man of his description, the thought of the wretchedness to which Celeste would be condemned by so fatal a connection, impels me, in the hope of saving her, to the charitable effort which now, I trust, has ceased to surprise you."
"Madame," said Phellion, "we do not need the conclusive explanations by which you illumine your conduct; but as to the faults on our part, which have thwarted your generous efforts, I must declare that in order to avoid committing them in future, it seems to me not a little desirable that you should plainly indicate them."
"How long is it," asked the countess, "since any of your family have paid a visit to the Thuilliers'?"
"If my memory serves me," said Phellion, "I think we were all there the Sunday after the dinner for the house-warming."
"Fifteen whole days of absence!" exclaimed the countess; "and you think that nothing of importance could happen in fifteen days?"
"No, indeed! did not three glorious days in July, 1830, cast down a perjured dynasty and found the noble order of things under which we now live?"
"You see it yourself!" said the countess. "Now, tell me, during that evening, fifteen days ago, did nothing serious take place between your son and Celeste?"
"Something did occur," replied Phellion,—"a very disagreeable conversation on the subject of my son's religious opinions; it must be owned that our good Celeste, who in all other respects has a charming nature, is a trifle fanatic in the matter of piety."
"I agree to that," said the countess; "but she was brought up by the mother whom you know; she was never shown the face of true piety; she saw only the mimicry of it. Repentant Magdalens of the Madame Colleville species always assume an air of wishing to retire to a desert with their death's-head and crossed bones. They think they can't get salvation at a cheaper rate. But after all, what did Celeste ask of Monsieur Felix? Merely that he would read 'The Imitation of Christ.'"
"He has read it, madame," said Phellion, "and he thinks it a book extremely well written; but his convictions—and that is a misfortune—have not been affected by the perusal."
"And do you think he shows much cleverness in not assuring his mistress of some little change in his inflexible convictions?"
"My son, madame, has never received from me the slightest lesson in cleverness; loyalty, uprightness, those are the principles I have endeavored to inculcate in him."
"It seems to me, monsieur, that there is no want of loyalty when, in dealing with a troubled mind, we endeavor to avoid wounding it. But let us agree that Monsieur Felix owed it to himself to be that iron door against which poor Celeste's applications beat in vain; was that a reason for keeping away from her and sulking in his tent for fifteen whole days? Above all, ought he to have capped these sulks by a proceeding which I can't forgive, and which—only just made known to us—has struck the girl's heart with despair, and also with a feeling of extreme irritation?"
"My son capable of any such act! it is quite impossible, madame!" cried Phellion. "I know nothing of this proceeding; but I do not hesitate to affirm that you have been ill-informed."
"And yet, nothing is more certain. Young Colleville, who came home to-day for his half-holiday, has just told us that Monsieur Felix, who had previously gone with the utmost punctuality to hear him recite has ceased entirely to have anything to do with him. Unless your son is ill, I do not hesitate to say that this neglect is the greatest of blunders, in the situation in which he now stands with the sister he ought not to have chosen this moment to put an end to these lessons."
The Phellions looked at each other as if consulting how to reply.
"My son," said Madame Phellion, "is not exactly ill; but since you mention a fact which is, I acknowledge, very strange and quite out of keeping with his nature and habits, I think it right to tell you that from the day when Celeste seemed to signify that all was at an end between them, a very extraordinary change has come over Felix, which is causing Monsieur Phellion and myself the deepest anxiety."
"Yes, madame," said Phellion, "the young man is certainly not in his normal condition."
"But what is the matter with him?" asked the countess, anxiously.
"The night of that scene with Celeste," replied Phellion, "after his return home, he wept a flood of hot tears on his mother's bosom, and gave us to understand that the happiness of his whole life was at an end."
"And yet," said Madame de Godollo, "nothing very serious happened; but lovers always make the worst of things."
"No doubt," said Madame Phellion; "but since that night Felix has not made the slightest allusion to his misfortune, and the next day he went back to his work with a sort of frenzy. Does that seem natural to you?"
"It is capable of explanation; work is said to be a great consoler."
"That is most true," said Phellion; "but in Felix's whole personality there is something excited, and yet repressed, which is difficult to describe. You speak to him, and he hardly seems to hear you; he sits down to table and forgets to eat, or takes his food with an absent-mindedness which the medical faculty consider most injurious to the process of digestion; his duties, his regular occupations, we have to remind him of—him, so extremely regular, so punctual! The other day, when he was at the Observatory, where he now spends all his evenings, only coming home in the small hours, I took it upon myself to enter his room and examine his papers. I was terrified, madame, at finding a paper covered with algebraic calculations which, by their vast extent appeared to me to go beyond the limits of the human intellect."
"Perhaps," said the countess, "he is on the road to some great discovery."
"Or to madness," said Madame Phellion, in a low voice, and with a heavy sigh.
"That is not probable," said Madame de Godollo; "with an organization so calm and a mind so well balanced, he runs but little danger of that misfortune. I know myself of another danger that threatens him to-morrow, and unless we can take some steps this evening to avert it, Celeste is positively lost to him."
"How so?" said the husband and wife together.
"Perhaps you are not aware," replied the countess, "that Thuillier and his sister have made certain promises to Monsieur de la Peyrade about Celeste?"
"We suspected as much," replied Madame Phellion.
"The fulfilment of these pledges was postponed to a rather distant period, and subordinated to certain conditions. Monsieur de la Peyrade, after enabling them to buy the house near the Madeleine, pledged himself not only to obtain the cross for Monsieur Thuillier, but to write in his name a political pamphlet, and assist him in his election to the Chamber of Deputies. It sounds like the romances of chivalry, in which the hero, before obtaining the hand of the princess, is compelled to exterminate a dragon."
"Madame is very witty," said Madame Phellion, looking at her husband, who made her a sign not to interrupt.
"I have no time now," said the countess; "in fact it would be useless to tell you the manoeuvres by which Monsieur de la Peyrade has contrived to hasten the period of this marriage; but it concerns you to know that, thanks to his duplicity, Celeste is being forced to choose between him and Monsieur Felix; fifteen days were given her in which to make her choice; the time expires to-morrow, and, thanks to the unfortunate state of feeling into which your son's attitude has thrown her, there is very serious danger of seeing her sacrifice to her wounded feelings the better sentiments of her love and her instincts."
"But what can be done to prevent it?" asked Phellion.
"Fight, monsieur; come this evening in force to the Thuilliers'; induce Monsieur Felix to accompany you; lecture him until he promises to be a little more flexible in his philosophical opinions. Paris, said Henri IV., is surely worth a mass. But let him avoid all such questions; he can certainly find in his heart the words and tones to move a woman who loves him; it requires so little to satisfy her! I shall be there myself, and I will help him to my utmost ability; perhaps, under the inspiration of the moment, I may think of some way to do effectually. One thing is very certain: we have to fight a great battle to-night, and if we do not ALL do our duty valorously, la Peyrade may win it."
"My son is not here, madame," said Phellion, "and I regret it, for perhaps your generous devotion and urgent words would succeed in shaking off his torpor; but, at any rate, I will lay before him the gravity of the situation, and, beyond all doubt, he will accompany us to-night to the Thuilliers'."
"It is needless to say," added the countess, rising, "that we must carefully avoid the very slightest appearance of collusion; we must not converse together; in fact, unless it can be done in some casual way, it would be better not to speak."
"I beg you to rely, madame, upon my prudence," replied Phellion, "and kindly accept the assurance—"
"Of your most distinguished sentiments," interrupted the countess, laughing.
"No, madame," replied Phellion, gravely, "I reserve that formula for the conclusion of my letters; I beg you to accept the assurance of my warmest and most unalterable gratitude."
"We will talk of that when we are out of danger," said Madame de Godollo, moving towards the door; "and if Madame Phellion, the tenderest and most virtuous of mothers, will grant me a little place in her esteem, I shall count myself more than repaid for my trouble."
Madame Phellion plunged headlong into a responsive compliment; and the countess, in her carriage, was at some distance from the house before Phellion had ceased to offer her his most respectful salutations.
As the Latin-quarter element in Brigitte's salon became more rare and less assiduous, a livelier Paris began to infiltrate it. Among his colleagues in the municipal council and among the upper employees of the prefecture of the Seine, the new councillor had made several very important recruits. The mayor, and the deputy mayors of the arrondissement, on whom, after his removal to the Madeleine quarter, Thuillier had called, hastened to return the civility; and the same thing happened with the superior officers of the first legion. The house itself had produced a contingent; and several of the new tenants contributed, by their presence, to change the aspect of the dominical meetings. Among the number we must mention Rabourdin [see "Bureaucracy"], the former head of Thuillier's office at the ministry of finance. Having had the misfortune to lose his wife, whose salon, at an earlier period, checkmated that of Madame Colleville, Rabourdin occupied as a bachelor the third floor, above the apartment let to Cardot, the notary. As the result of an odious slight to his just claims, Rabourdin had voluntarily resigned his public functions. At this time, when he again met Thuillier, he was director of one of those numerous projected railways, the construction of which is always delayed by either parliamentary rivalry or parliamentary indecision. Let us say, in passing, that the meeting with this able administrator, now become an important personage in the financial world, was an occasion to the worthy and honest Phellion to display once more his noble character. At the time of the resignation to which Rabourdin had felt himself driven, Phellion alone, of all the clerks in the office, had stood by him in his misfortunes. Being now in a position to bestow a great number of places, Rabourdin, on meeting once more his faithful subordinate, hastened to offer him a position both easy and lucrative.
"Mossieu," said Phellion, "your benevolence touches me and honors me, but my frankness owes you an avowal, which I beg you not to take in ill part: I do not believe in 'railways,' as the English call them."
"That's an opinion to which you have every right," said Rabourdin, smiling; "but, meanwhile, until the contrary is proved, we pay the employees in our office well, and I should be glad to have you with me in that capacity. I know by experience that you are a man on whom I can count."
"Mossieu," returned the great citizen, "I did my duty at that time, and nothing more. As for the offer you have been so good as to make to me, I cannot accept it; satisfied with my humble fortunes, I feel neither the need nor the desire to re-enter an administrative career; and, in common with the Latin poet, I may say, 'Claudite jam rivos, pueri, sat prata biberunt.'"
Thus elevated in the character of its habitues, the salon Thuillier still needed a new element of life. Thanks to the help of Madame de Godollo, a born organizer, who successfully put to profit the former connection of Colleville with the musical world, a few artists came to make diversion from bouillotte and boston. Old-fashioned and venerable, those two games were forced to beat a retreat before whist, the only manner, said the Hungarian countess, in which respectable people can kill time.
Like Louis XVI., who began by putting his own hand to reforms which subsequently engulfed his throne, Brigitte had encouraged, at first, this domestic revolution; the need of sustaining her position suitably in the new quarter to which she had emigrated had made her docile to all suggestions of comfort and elegance. But the day on which occurred the scene we are about to witness, an apparently trivial detail had revealed to her the danger of the declivity on which she stood. The greater number of the new guests, recently imported by Thuillier, knew nothing of his sister's supremacy in his home. On arrival, therefore, they all asked Thuillier to present them to Madame, and, naturally, Thuillier could not say to them that his wife was a figure-head who groaned under the iron hand of a Richelieu, to whom the whole household bent the knee. It was therefore not until the first homage rendered to the sovereign "de jure" was paid, that the new-comers were led up to Brigitte, and by reason of the stiffness which displeasure at this misplacement of power gave to her greeting they were scarcely encouraged to pay her any further attentions. Quick to perceive this species of overthrow, Queen Elizabeth said to herself, with that profound instinct of domination which was her ruling passion:—
"If I don't take care I shall soon be nobody in this house."
Burrowing into that idea, she came to think that if the project of making a common household with la Peyrade, then Celeste's husband, were carried out, the situation which was beginning to alarm her would become even worse. From that moment, and by sudden intuition, Felix Phellion, that good young man, with his head too full of mathematics ever to become a formidable rival to her sovereignty, seemed to her a far better match than the enterprising lawyer, and she was the first, on seeing the Phellion father and mother arrive without the son, to express regret at his absence. Brigitte, however, was not the only one to feel the injury that the luckless professor was doing to his prospects in thus keeping away from her reception. Madame Thuillier, with simple candor, and Celeste with feigned reserve, both made manifest their displeasure. As for Madame de Godollo, who, in spite of a very remarkable voice, usually required much pressing before she would sing (the piano having been opened since her reign began), she now went up to Madame Phellion and asked her to accompany her, and between two verses of a song she said in her ear:—
"Why isn't your son here?"
"He is coming," said Madame Phellion. "His father talked to him very decidedly; but to-night there happens to be a conjunction of I don't know what planets; it is a great night at the Observatory, and he did not feel willing to dispense with—"
"It is inconceivable that a man should be so foolish!" exclaimed Madame de Godollo; "wasn't theology bad enough, that he must needs bring in astronomy too?"
And her vexation gave to her voice so vibrating a tone that her song ended in the midst of what the English call a thunder of applause. La Peyrade, who feared her extremely, was not one of the last, when she returned to her place, to approach her, and express his admiration; but she received his compliments with a coldness so near to incivility that their mutual hostility was greatly increased. La Peyrade turned away to console himself with Madame Colleville, who had still too many pretensions to beauty not to be the enemy of a woman made to intercept all homage.
"So you also, you think that woman sings well?" she said, contemptuously, to Theodose.
"At any rate, I have been to tell her so," replied la Peyrade, "because without her, in regard to Brigitte, there's no security. But do just look at your Celeste; her eyes never leave that door, and every time a tray is brought in, though it is an hour at least since the last guest came, her face expresses disappointment."
We must remark, in passing, that since the reign of Madame de Godollo trays were passed round on the Sunday reception days, and that without scrimping; on the contrary, they were laden with ices, cakes, and syrups, from Taurade's, then the best confectioner.
"Don't harass me!" cried Flavie. "I know very well what that foolish girl has in her mind; and your marriage will take place only too soon."
"But you know it is not for myself I make it," said la Peyrade; "it is a necessity for the future of all of us. Come, come, there are tears in your eyes! I shall leave you; you are not reasonable. The devil! as that Prudhomme of a Phellion says, 'Whoso wants the end wants the means.'"
And he went toward the group composed of Celeste, Madame Thuillier, Madame de Godollo, Colleville, and Phellion. Madame Colleville followed him; and, under the influence of the feeling of jealousy she had just shown, she became a savage mother.
"Celeste," she said, "why don't you sing? These gentlemen wish to hear you."
"Oh, mamma!" cried the girl, "how can I sing after Madame de Godollo, with my poor thread of a voice? Besides, you know I have a cold."
"That is to say that, as usual, you make yourself pretentious and disagreeable; people sing as they can sing; all voices have their own merits."
"My dear," said Colleville, who, having just lost twenty francs at the card-tables, found courage in his ill-humor to oppose his wife, "that saying, 'People sing as they can sing' is a bourgeois maxim. People sing with a voice, if they have one; but they don't sing after hearing such a magnificent opera voice as that of Madame la comtesse. For my part, I readily excuse Celeste for not warbling to us one of her sentimental little ditties."
"Then it is well worth while," said Flavie, leaving the group, "to spend so much money on expensive masters who are good for nothing."
"So," said Colleville, resuming the conversation which the invasion of Flavie had interrupted, "Felix no longer inhabits this earth; he lives among the stars?"
"My dear and former colleague," said Phellion, "I am, as you are, annoyed with my son for neglecting, as he does, the oldest friends of his family; and though the contemplation of those great luminous bodies suspended in space by the hand of the Creator presents, in my opinion, higher interest than it appears to have to your more eager brain, I think that Felix, by not coming here to-night, as he promised me he would, shows a want of propriety, about which, I can assure you I shall speak my mind."
"Science," said la Peyrade, "is a fine thing, but it has, unfortunately, the attribute of making bears and monomaniacs."
"Not to mention," said Celeste, "that it destroys all religious sentiments."
"You are mistaken there, my dear child," said Madame de Godollo. "Pascal, who was himself a great example of the falseness of your point of view, says, if I am not mistaken, that a little science draws us from religion, but a great deal draws us back to it."
"And yet, madame," said Celeste, "every one admits that Monsieur Felix is really very learned; when he helped my brother with his studies nothing could be, so Francois told me, clearer or more comprehensible than his explanations; and you see, yourself, he is not the more religious for that."
"I tell you, my dear child, that Monsieur Felix is not irreligious, and with a little gentleness and patience nothing would be easier than to bring him back."
"Bring back a savant to the duties of religion!" exclaimed la Peyrade. "Really, madame, that seems to me very difficult. These gentlemen put the object of their studies before everything else. Tell a geometrician or a geologist, for example, that the Church demands, imperatively, the sanctification of the Sabbath by the suspension of all species of work, and they will shrug their shoulders, though God Himself did not disdain to rest from His labors."
"So that in not coming here this evening," said Celeste, naively, "Monsieur Felix commits not only a fault against good manners, but a sin."
"But, my dearest," said Madame de Godollo, "do you think that our meeting here this evening to sing ballads and eat ices and say evil of our neighbor—which is the customary habit of salons—is more pleasing to God than to see a man of science in his observatory busied in studying the magnificent secrets of His creation?"
"There's a time for all things," said Celeste; "and, as Monsieur de la Peyrade says, God Himself did not disdain to rest."
"But, my love," said Madame de Godollo, "God has time to do so; He is eternal."
"That," said la Peyrade, "is one of the wittiest impieties ever uttered; those are the reasons that the world's people put forth. They interpret and explain away the commands of God, even those that are most explicit and imperative; they take them, leave them, or choose among them; the free-thinker subjects them to his lordly revision, and from free-thinking the distance is short to free actions."
During this harangue of the barrister Madame de Godollo had looked at the clock; it then said half-past eleven. The salon began to empty. Only one card-table was still going on, Minard, Thuillier, and two of the new acquaintances being the players. Phellion had just quitted the group with which he had so far been sitting, to join his wife, who was talking with Brigitte in a corner; by the vehemence of his pantomimic action it was easy to see that he was filled with some virtuous indignation. Everything seemed to show that all hope of seeing the arrival of the tardy lover was decidedly over.
"Monsieur," said the countess to la Peyrade, "do you consider the gentlemen attached to Saint-Jacques du Haut Pas in the rue des Postes good Catholics?"
"Undoubtedly," replied the barrister, "religion has no more loyal supporters."
"This morning," continued the countess, "I had the happiness to be received by Pere Anselme. He is thought the model of all Christian virtues, and yet the good father is a very learned mathematician."
"I have not said, madame, that the two qualities were absolutely incompatible."
"But you did say that a true Christian could not attend to any species of work on Sunday. If so, Pere Anselme must be an unbeliever; for when I was admitted to his room I found him standing before a blackboard with a bit of chalk in his hand, busy with a problem which was, no doubt, knotty, for the board was three-parts covered with algebraic signs; and I must add that he did not seem to care for the scandal this ought to cause, for he had with him an individual whom I am not allowed to name, a younger man of science, of great promise, who was sharing his profane occupation."
Celeste and Madame Thuillier looked at each other, and both saw a gleam of hope in the other's eyes.
"Why can't you tell us the name of that young man of science?" Madame Thuillier ventured to say, for she never put any diplomacy into the expression of her thoughts.
"Because he has not, like Pere Anselme, the saintliness which would absolve him in the eyes of monsieur here for this flagrant violation of the Sabbath. Besides," added Madame de Godollo, in a significant manner, "he asked me not to mention that I had met him there."
"Then you know a good many scientific young men?" said Celeste, interrogatively; "this one and Monsieur Felix—that makes two."
"My dear love," said the countess, "you are an inquisitive little girl, and you will not make me say what I do not choose to say, especially after a confidence that Pere Anselme made to me; for if I did, your imagination would at once set off at a gallop."
The gallop had already started, and every word the countess said only added to the anxious eagerness of the young girl.
"As for me," said la Peyrade, sarcastically, "I shouldn't be at all surprised if Pere Anselme's young collaborator was that very Felix Phellion. Voltaire always kept very close relations with the Jesuits who brought him up; but he never talked religion with them."
"Well, my young savant does talk of it to his venerable brother in science; he submits his doubts to him; in fact, that was the beginning of their scientific intimacy."
"And does Pere Anselme," asked Celeste, "hope to convert him?"
"He is sure of it," replied the countess. "His young collaborator, apart from a religious education which he certainly never had, has been brought up to the highest principles; he knows, moreover, that his conversion to religion would make the happiness of a charming girl whom he loves, and who loves him. Now, my dear, you will not get another word out of me, and you may think what you like."
"Oh! godmother!" whispered Celeste, yielding to the freshness of her feelings, "suppose it were he!"
And the tears filled her eyes as she pressed Madame Thuillier's hand.
At this moment the servant threw open the door of the salon, and, singular complication! announced Monsieur Felix Phellion.
The young professor entered the room, bathed in perspiration, his cravat in disorder, and himself out of breath.
"A pretty hour," said Phellion, sternly, "to present yourself."
"Father," said Felix, moving to the side of the room where Madame Thuillier and Celeste were seated, "I could not leave before the end of the phenomenon; and then I couldn't find a carriage, and I have run the whole way."
"Your ears ought to have burned as you came," said la Peyrade, "for you have been for the last half-hour in the minds of these ladies, and a great problem has been started about you."
Felix did not answer. He saw Brigitte entering the salon from the dining-room where she had gone to tell the man-servant not to bring in more trays, and he hurried to greet her.
After listening to a few reproaches for the rarity of his visits and receiving forgiveness in a very cordial "Better late than never," he turned towards his pole, and was much astonished to hear himself addressed by Madame de Godollo as follows:—
"Monsieur," she said, "I hope you will pardon the indiscretion I have, in the heat of conversation, committed about you. I have told these ladies where I met you this morning."
"Met me?" said Felix; "if I had the honor to meet you, madame, I did not see you."
An almost imperceptible smile flickered on la Peyrade's lips.
"You saw me well enough to ask me to keep silence as to where I had met you; but, at any rate, I did not go beyond a simple statement; I said you saw Pere Anselme sometimes, and had certain scientific relations with him; also that you defended your religious doubts to him as you do to Celeste."
"Pere Anselme!" said Felix, stupidly.
"Yes, Pere Anselme," said la Peyrade, "a great mathematician who does not despair of converting you. Mademoiselle Celeste wept for joy."
Felix looked around him with a bewildered air. Madame de Godollo fixed upon him a pair of eyes the language of which a poodle could have understood.
"I wish," he said finally, "I could have given that joy to Mademoiselle Celeste, but I think, madame, you are mistaken."
"Ah! monsieur, then I must be more precise," said the countess, "and if your modesty still induces you to hide a step that can only honor you, you can contradict me; I will bear the mortification of having divulged a secret which, I acknowledge, you trusted implicitly to my discretion."
Madame Thuillier and Celeste were truly a whole drama to behold; never were doubt and eager expectation more plainly depicted on the human face. Measuring her words deliberately, Madame de Godollo thus continued:—
"I said to these ladies, because I know how deep an interest they take in your salvation, and because you are accused of boldly defying the commandments of God by working on Sundays, that I had met you this morning at the house of Pere Anselme, a mathematician like yourself, with whom you were busy in solving a problem; I said that your scientific intercourse with that saintly and enlightened man had led to other explanations between you; that you had submitted to him your religious doubts, and he did not despair of removing them. In the confirmation you can give of my words there is nothing, I am sure, to wound your self-esteem. The matter was simply a surprise you intended for Celeste, and I have had the stupidity to divulge it. But when she hears you admit the truth of my words you will have given her such happiness that I shall hope to be forgiven."
"Come, monsieur," said la Peyrade, "there's nothing absurd or mortifying in having sought for light; you, so honorable and so truly an enemy to falsehood, you cannot deny what madame affirms with such decision."
"Well," said Felix, after a moment's hesitation, "will you, Mademoiselle Celeste, allow me to say a few words to you in private, without witnesses?"
Celeste rose, after receiving an approving sign from Madame Thuillier. Felix took her hand and led her to the recess of the nearest window.
"Celeste," he said, "I entreat you: wait! See," he added, pointing to the constellation of Ursa Minor, "beyond those visible stars a future lies before us; I will place you there. As for Pere Anselme, I cannot admit what has been said, for it is not true. It is an invented tale. But be patient with me; you shall soon know all."
"He is mad!" said the young girl, in tones of despair, as she resumed her place beside Madame Thuillier.
Felix confirmed this judgment by rushing frantically from the salon, without perceiving the emotion in which his father and his mother started after him. After this sudden departure, which stupefied everybody, la Peyrade approached Madame de Godollo very respectfully, and said to her:—
"You must admit, madame, that it is difficult to drag a man from the water when he persists in being drowned."
"I had no idea until this moment of such utter simplicity," replied the countess; "it is too silly. I pass over to the enemy; and with that enemy I am ready and desirous to have, whenever he pleases, a frank and honest explanation."