day--a piece of information I have just derived from the excellent and worthy Abbe Gabriel, one of the men I most love, esteem, and reverence. May I venture to hope, sir, that just at the moment of quitting our common retreat to return to the world, you will deign to receive favorably the request, however intrusive, of a poor old man, whose life will henceforth be passed in solitude, and who cannot therefore have any prospect of meeting you, in that vortex of society which he has abandoned forever. Waiting the honor of your answer, I beg you to accept, sir, the assurance of the sentiments of high esteem with which I remain, sir, with the deepest respect, "Your very humble and most obedient servant, "RODIN." After reading this letter and the signature of the writer, Hardy remained for some time in deep thought, without being able to recollect the name of Rodin, or to what serious circumstances he alluded. After a silence of some duration, he said to the servant "M. Rodin gave you this letter?" "Yes, sir." "And who is M. Rodin?" "A good old gentleman, who is just recovering from a long illness, that almost carried him off. Lately, he has been getting better, but he is still so weak and melancholy, that it makes one sad to see him. It is a great pity, for there is not a better and more worthy gentleman in the house--unless it be you, sir," added the servant, bowing with an air of flattering respect. "M. Rodin;" said Hardy, thoughtfully. "It is singular, that I should not remember the name nor any circumstance connected with it." "If you will give me your answer, sir," resumed the servant, "I will take it to M. Rodin. He is now with Father d'Aigrigny, to whom he is bidding farewell." "Farewell?" "Yes, sir, the post-horses have just come." "Post-horses for whom?" asked Hardy. "For Father d'Aigrigny, sir." "He is going on a journey then!" said Hardy, with some surprise. "Oh! he will not, I think be long absent," said the servant, with a confidential air, "for the reverend father takes no one with him, and but very light luggage. No doubt, the reverend father will come to say farewell to you, sir, before he starts. But what answer shall I give M. Rodin?" The letter, just received, was couched in such polite terms--it spoke of Gabriel with so much respect--that Hardy, urged moreover by a natural curiosity, and seeing no motive to refuse this interview before quitting the house, said to the servant: "Please tell M. Rodin, that if he will give himself the trouble to come to me, I shall be glad to see him." "I will let him know immediately, sir," answered the servant, bowing as he left the room. When alone, Hardy, while wondering who this M. Rodin could be, began to make some slight preparations for his departure. For nothing in the world would he have passed another night in this house; and, in order to keep up his courage, he recalled every instant the mild, evangelical language of Gabriel, just as the superstitious recite certain litanies, with a view of escaping from temptation. The servant soon returned, and said: "M. Rodin is here, sir." "Beg him to walk in." Rodin entered, clad in his long black dressing-gown, and with his old silk cap in his hand. The servant then withdrew. The day was just closing. Hardy rose to meet Rodin, whose features he did not at first distinguish. But as the reverend father approached the window, Hardy looked narrowly at him for an instant, and then uttered an exclamation, wrung from him by surprise and painful remembrance. But, recovering himself from this first movement, Hardy said to the Jesuit, in an agitated voice: "You here, sir? Oh, you are right! It was indeed a very serious circumstance that first brought us together." "Oh, my dear sir!" said Rodin, in a kindly and unctuous tone; "I was sure you would not have forgotten me." CHAPTER XLIII. PRAYER. It will doubtless be remembered that Rodin had gone (although a stranger to Hardy) to visit him at his factory, and inform him of De Blessac's shameful treachery--a dreadful blow, which had only preceded by a few moments a second no less horrible misfortune; for it was in the presence of Rodin that Hardy had learned the unexpected departure of the woman he adored. Painful to him must have been the sudden appearance of Rodin. Yes, thanks to the salutary influence of Gabriel's counsels, he recovered himself by degrees, and the contraction of his features being succeeded by a melancholy calm, he said to Rodin: "I did not indeed expect to meet you, sir, in this house." "Alas, sir!" answered Rodin, with a sigh, "I did not expect to come hither, probably to end my days beneath this roof, when I went, without being acquainted with you, but only as one honest man should serve another, to unveil to you a great infamy." "Indeed, sir, you then rendered me a true service; perhaps, in that painful moment, I did not fully express my gratitude; for, at the same moment in which you revealed to me the treachery of M. de Blessac--" "You were overwhelmed by another piece of painful intelligence," said Rodin, interrupting M. Hardy; "I shall never forget the sudden arrival of that poor woman, who, pale and affrighted, and without considering my presence, came to inform you that a person who was exceedingly dear to you had quitted Paris abruptly." "Yes, sir; and, without stopping to thank you, I set out immediately," answered Hardy, with a mournful air. "Do you know, sir," said Rodin, after a moment's silence, "that there are sometimes very strange coincidences?" "To what do you allude, sir?" "While I went to inform you that you were betrayed in so infamous a manner--I was myself--" Rodin paused, as if unable to control his deep emotion, and his countenance wore the expression of such overpowering grief that Hardy said to him, with interest: "What ails you, sir?" "Forgive me," replied Rodin, with a bitter smile. "Thanks to the ghostly counsels of the angelic Abbe Gabriel, I have reached a sort of resignation. Still, there are certain memories which affect me with the most acute pain. I told you," resumed Rodin, in a firmer voice, "or was going to tell you, that the very day after that on which I informed you of the treachery practised against you, I was myself the victim of a frightful deception. An adopted son--a poor unfortunate child, whom I had brought up--" He paused again, drew his trembling hand over his eyes, and added: "Pardon me, sir, for speaking of matters which must be indifferent to you. Excuse the intrusive sorrow of a poor, broken- hearted old man!" "I have suffered too much myself, sir, to be indifferent to any kind of sorrow," replied Hardy. "Besides, you are no stranger to me--for you did me a real service--and we both agree in our veneration for the same young priest." "The Abbe Gabriel!" cried Rodin, interrupting Hardy; "ah, sir! he is my deliverer, my benefactor. If you knew all his care and devotion, during my long illness, caused by intense grief--if you knew the ineffable sweetness of his counsels--" "I know them, sir," cried Hardy; "oh, yes! I know how salutary is the influence." "In his mouth, sir, the precepts of religion are full of mildness," resumed Rodin, with excitement. "Do they not heal and console? do they not make us love and hope, instead of fear and tremble?" "Alas, sir! in this very house," said Hardy, "I have been able to make the comparison." "I was happy enough," said Rodin, "to have the angelic Abbe Gabriel for my confessor, or, rather, my confidant." "Yes," replied Hardy, "for he prefers confidence to confession." "How well you know him!" said Rodin, in a tone of the utmost simplicity. Then he resumed: "He is not a man but an angel. His words would convert the most hardened sinner. Without being exactly impious, I had myself lived in the profession of what is called Natural Religion; but the angelic Abbe Gabriel has, by degrees, fixed my wavering belief, given it body and soul, and, in fact, endowed me with faith." "Yes! he is a truly Christian priest--a priest of love and pardon!" cried Hardy. "What you say is perfectly true," replied Rodin; "for I came here almost mad with grief, thinking only of the unhappy boy who had repaid my paternal goodness with the most monstrous ingratitude, and sometimes I yielded to violent bursts of despair, and sometimes sank into a state of mournful dejection, cold as the grave itself. But, suddenly, the Abbe Gabriel appeared--and the darkness fled before the dawning of a new day." "You were right, sir; there are strange coincidences," said Hardy, yielding more and more to the feeling of confidence and sympathy, produced by the resemblance of his real position to Rodin's pretended one. "And to speak frankly," he added, "I am very glad I have seen you before quitting this house. Were I capable of falling back into fits of cowardly weakness, your example alone would prevent me. Since I listen to you, I feel myself stronger in the noble path which the angelic Abbe Gabriel has opened before me, as you so well express it." "The poor old man will not then regret having listened to the first impulse of his heart, which urged him to come to you," said Robin, with a touching expression. "You will sometimes remember me in that world to which you are returning?" "Be sure of it, sir; but allow me to ask one question: You remain, you say, in this house?" "What would you have me do? There reigns here a calm repose, and one is not disturbed in one's prayers," said Rodin, in a very gentle tone. "You see, I have suffered so much--the conduct of that unhappy youth was so horrible--he plunged into such shocking excesses--that the wrath of heaven must be kindled against him. Now I am very old, and it is only by passing the few days that are left me in fervent prayer that I can hope to disarm the just anger of the Lord. Oh! prayer--prayer! It was the Abbe Gabriel who revealed to me all its power and sweetness--and therewith the formidable duties it imposes." "Its duties are indeed great and sacred," answered Hardy, with a pensive air. "Do you remember the life of Rancey?" said Rodin, abruptly, as he darted a peculiar glance at Hardy. "The founder of La Trappe?" said Hardy, surprised at Rodin's question. I remember hearing a very vague account, some time ago, of the motives of his conversion." "There is, mark you, no more striking an example of the power of prayer, and of the state of almost divine ecstasy, to which it may lead a religious soul. In a few words, I will relate to you this instructive and tragic history. Rancey--but I beg your pardon; I fear I am trespassing on your time." "No, no," answered Hardy, hastily; "You cannot think how interested I am in what you tell me. My interview with the Abbe Gabriel was abruptly broken off, and in listening to you I fancy that I hear the further development of his views. Go on, I conjure you. "With all my heart. I only wish that the instruction which, thanks to our angelic priest, I derived from the story of Rancey might be as profitable to you as it was to me." "This, then, also came from the Abbe Gabriel?" "He related to me this kind of parable in support of his exhortations," replied Rodin. "Oh, sir! do I not owe to the consoling words of that young priest all that has strengthened and revived my poor old broken heart?" "Then I shall listen to you with a double interest." "Rancey was a man of the world," resumed Rodin, as he looked attentively at Hardy; "a gentleman--young, ardent, handsome. He loved a young lady of high rank. I cannot tell what impediments stood in the way of their union. But this love, though successful, was kept secret, and every evening Rancey visited his mistress by means of a private staircase. It was, they say, one of those passionate loves which men feel but once in their lives. The mystery, even the sacrifice made by the unfortunate girl, who forgot every duty, seemed to give new charms to this guilty passion. In the silence and darkness of secrecy, these two lovers passed two years of voluptuous delirium, which amounted almost to ecstasy." At these words Hardy started. For the first time of late his brow was suffused with a deep blush; his heart throbbed violently; he remembered that he too had once known the ardent intoxication of a guilty and hidden love. Though the day was closing rapidly, Rodin cast a sidelong glance at Hardy, and perceived the impression he had made. "Some times," he continued, "thinking of the dangers to which his mistress was exposed, if their connection should be discovered, Rancey wished to sever these delicious ties; but the girl, beside herself with passion, threw herself on the neck of her lover, and threatened him, in the language of intense excitement, to reveal and to brave all, if he thought of leaving her. Too weak and loving to resist the prayers of his mistress, Rancey again and again yielded, and they both gave themselves up to a torrent of delight, which carried them along, forgetful of earth and heaven!" M. Hardy listened to Rodin with feverish and devouring avidity. The Jesuit, in painting, with these almost sensual colors, an ardent and secret love, revived in Hardy burning memories, which till now had been drowned in tears. To the beneficent calm produced by the mild language of Gabriel had succeeded a painful agitation, which, mingled with the reaction of the shocks received that day, began to throw his mind into a strange state of confusion. Rodin, having so far succeeded in his object, continued as follows: "A fatal day came at last. Rancey, obliged to go to the wars, quitted the girl; but, after a short campaign, he returned, more in love than ever. He had written privately, to say he would arrive almost immediately after his letter. He came accordingly. It was night. He ascended, as usual, the private staircase which led to the chamber of his mistress; he entered the room, his heart beating with love and hope. His mistress had died that morning!" "Ah!" cried Hardy, covering his face with his hands, in terror. "She was dead," resumed Rodin. "Two wax-candles were burning beside the funeral couch. Rancey could not, would not believe that she was dead. He threw himself on his knees by the corpse. In his delirium, he seized that fair, beloved head, to cover it with kisses. The head parted from the body, and remained in his hands! Yes," resumed Rodin as Hardy drew back, pale and mute with terror, "yes, the girl had fallen a victim to so swift and extraordinary a disease, that she had not been able to receive the last sacraments. After her death, the doctors, in the hope of discovering the cause of this unknown malady, had begun to dissect that fair form--" As Rodin reached this part of his narrative, night was almost come. A sort of hazy twilight alone reigned in this silent chamber, in the centre of which appeared the pale and ghastly form of Rodin, clad in his long black gown, whilst his eyes seemed to sparkle with diabolic fire.
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