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35. Fraternity
'Oubliez les Professeurs.' So said Madame Beck. Madame Beck was a wise woman, but
she should not have uttered those words. To do so was a mistake. That night she should
have left me calm, not excited, indifferent, not interested, isolated in my own estimation
and that of others -- not connected, even in idea, with this second person whom I was to
Forget him? Ah! they took a sage plan to make me forget him -- the wise-heads! They
showed me how good he was; they made of my dear little man a stainless little hero. And
then they had prated about his manner of loving. What means had I, before this day, of
being certain whether he could love at all or not?
I had known him jealous, suspicious; I had seen about him certain tendernesses,
fitfulnesses -- a softness which came like a warm air, and a ruth which passed like early
dew, dried in the heat of his irritabilities: this was all I had seen. And they, Père Silas and
Modeste Maria Beck (that these two wrought in concert I could not doubt) opened up the
adytum of his heart -- showed me one grand love, the child of this southern nature's
youth, born so strong and perfect, that it had laughed at Death himself, despised his mean
rape of matter, clung to immortal spirit, and, in victory and faith, had watched beside a
tomb twenty years.
This had been done -- not idly: this was not a mere hollow indulgence of sentiment; he
had proven his fidelity by the consecration of his best energies to an unselfish purpose,
and attested it by limitless personal sacrifices: for those once dear to her he prized -- he
had laid down vengeance, and taken up a cross.
Now, as for Justine Marie, I knew what she was as well as if I had seen her. I knew she
was well enough; there were girls like her in Madame Beck's school -- phlegmatics --
pale, slow, inert, but kind-hearted, neutral of evil, undistinguished for good.
If she wore angel's wings, I knew whose poet-fancy conferred them. If her forehead
shone luminous with the reflex of a halo, I knew in the fire of whose irids that circlet of
holy flame had generation.
Was I, then, to be frightened by Justine Marie? Was the picture of a pale dead nun to rise,
an eternal barrier? And what of the charities which absorbed his worldly goods? What of
his heart sworn to virginity?
Madame Beck -- Père Silas -- you should not have suggested these questions. They were
at once the deepest puzzle, the strongest obstruction, and the keenest stimulus I had ever
felt. For a week of nights and days I fell asleep -- I dreamt, and I woke upon these two
questions. In the whole world there was no answer to them, except where one dark little
man stood, sat, walked, lectured, under the head-piece of a bandit bonnet-grec, and
within the girth of a sorry paletôt, much be-inked and no little adust.