39. Old And New Acquaintance
Fascinated as by a basilisk with three heads, I could not leave this clique, the ground near
them seemed to hold my feet. The canopy of entwined trees held out shadow, the night
whispered a pledge of protection, and an officious lamp flashed just one beam to show
me an obscure, safe seat, and then vanished. Let me now briefly tell the reader all that,
during the past dark fortnight, I have been silently gathering from Rumour, respecting the
origin and the object of M. Emanuel's departure. The tale is short; and not new its alpha is
Mammon, and its omega Interest.
If Madame Walravens was as hideous as a Hindoo idol, she seemed also to possess, in the
estimation of these her votaries, an idol's consequence. The fact was, she had been rich --
very rich; and though, for the present, without the command of money, she was likely one
day to be rich again. At Basseterre in Guadaloupe, she possessed a large estate, received
in dowry on her marriage sixty years ago, sequestered since her husband's failure; but
now, it was supposed, cleared of claim, and, if duly looked after by a competent agent of
integrity, considered capable of being made, in a few years, largely productive.
Père Silas took an interest in this prospective improvement for the sake of religion and
the Church, whereof Magloire Walravens was a devout daughter. Madame Beck,
distantly related to the hunchback and knowing her to be without family of her own, had
long brooded over contingencies with a mother's calculating forethought, and, harshly
treated as she was by Madame Walravens, never ceased to court her for interest's sake.
Madame Beck and the priest were thus, for money reasons, equally and sincerely
interested in the nursing of the West Indian estate.
But the distance was great, and the climate hazardous. The competent and upright agent
wanted, must be a devoted man. Just such a man had Madame Walravens retained for
twenty years in her service, blighting his life, and then living on him, like an old fungus;
such a man had Père Silas trained, taught, and bound to him by the ties of gratitude, habit
and belief. Such a man Madame Beck knew, and could in some measure influence. 'My
pupil,' said Père Silas, 'if he remains in Europe, runs risk of apostacy, for he has become
entangled with a heretic.' Madame Beck made also her private comment, and preferred in
her own breast her secret reason for desiring expatriation. The thing she could not obtain,
she desired not another to win: rather would she destroy it. As to Madame Walravens, she
wanted her money and her land, and knew Paul, if he liked, could make the best and
faithfullest steward: so the three self-seekers banded and beset the one unselfish. They
reasoned, they appealed, they implored; on his mercy they cast themselves, into his hands
they confidingly thrust their interests. They asked but two or three years of devotion --
after that, he should live for himself: one of the number, perhaps, wished that in the
meantime he might die.
No living being ever humbly laid his advantage at M. Emanuel's feet, or confidingly put
it into his hands, that he spurned the trust or repulsed the repository. What might be his
private pain or inward reluctance to leave Europe -- what his calculations for his own