twang, and the devout lady bowed her head respectfully. "Grace has at length touched the heart of this impious man," continued Rodin, "and so effectually that, in his ascetic enthusiasm, he has already wished to take the vows which will bind him forever to our divine Order." "So soon, father?" said the princess, in astonishment. "Our statutes are opposed to this precipitation, unless in the case of a penitent in articulo mortis--on the very gasp of death--should such a person consider it necessary for his salvation to die in the habit of our Order, and leave us all his wealth for the greater glory of the Lord." "And is M. Hardy in so dangerous a condition, father?" "He has a violent fever. After so many successive calamities, which have miraculously brought him into the path of salvation," said Rodin, piously, "his frail and delicate constitution is almost broken up, morally and physically. Austerities, macerations, and the divine joys of ecstasy, will probably hasten his passage to eternal life, and in a few clays," said the priest, shaking his head with a solemn air, "perhaps--" "So soon as that, father?" "It is almost certain. I have therefore made use of my dispensations, to receive the dear penitent, as in articulo mortis, a member of our divine Company, to which, in the usual course, he has made over all his possessions, present and to come--so that now he can devote himself entirely to the care of his soul, which will be one victim more rescued from the claws of Satan." "Oh, father!" cried the lady, in admiration; "it is a miraculous conversion. Father d'Aigrigny told me how you had to contend against the influence of Abbe Gabriel." "The Abbe Gabriel," replied Rodin, "has been punished for meddling with what did not concern him. I have procured his suspension, and he has been deprived of his curacy. I hear that he now goes about the cholera- hospitals to administer Christian consolation; we cannot oppose that--but this universal comforter is of the true heretical stamp." "He is a dangerous character, no doubt," answered the princess, "for he has considerable influence over other men. It must have needed all your admirable and irresistible eloquence to combat the detestable counsels of this Abbe Gabriel, who had taken it into his head to persuade M. Hardy to return to the life of the world. Really, father, you are a second St. Chrysostom." "Tut, tut, madame!" said Rodin, abruptly, for he was very little sensible to flattery; "keep that for others." "I tell you that you're a second St. Chrysostom father," repeated the princess with enthusiasm; "like him, you deserve the name of Golden Mouth." "Stuff, madame!" said Rodin, brutally, shrugging his shoulders; "my lips are too pale, my teeth too black, for a mouth of gold. You must be only joking." "But, father--" "No, madame, you will not catch old birds with chaff," replied Rodin, harshly. "I hate compliments, and I never pay them." "Your modesty must pardon me, father," said the princess, humbly; "I could not resist the desire to express to you my admiration, for, as you almost predicted, or at least foresaw, two members of the Rennepont family, have, within the last few months, resigned all claim to the inheritance." Rodin looked at Madame de Saint-Dizier with a softened and approving air, as he heard her thus describe the position of the two defunct claimants. For, in Rodin's view of the case, M. Hardy, in consequence of his donation and his suicidal asceticism, belonged no longer to this world. The lady continued: "One of these men, a wretched artisan, has been led to his ruin by the exaggeration of his vices. You have brought the other into the path of salvation, by carrying out his loving and tender qualities. Honor, then. to your foresight, father! for you said that you would make use of the passions to attain your end." "Do not boast too soon," said Rodin, impatiently. "Have you forgotten your niece, and the Hindoo, and the daughters of Marshal Simon? Have they also made a Christian end, or resigned their claim to share in this inheritance?" "No, doubtless." "Hence, you see, madame, we should not lose time in congratulating ourselves on the past, but make ready for the future. The great day approaches. The first of June is not far off. Heaven grant we may not see the four surviving members of the family continue to live impenitent up to that period, and so take possession of this enormous property--the source of perdition in their hands--but productive of the glory of the Church in the hands of our Company!" "True, father!" "By the way, you were to see your lawyers on the subject of your niece?" "I have seen them, father. However uncertain may be the chance of which I spoke, it is worth trying. I shall know to-day, I hope, if it is legally possible." "Perhaps then,--in the new condition of life to which she would be reduced, we might find means to effect her conversion," said Rodin, with a strange and hideous smile; "until now, since she has been so fatally brought in contact with the Oriental, the happiness of these two pagans appears bright and changeless as the diamond. Nothing bites into it, not even Faringhea's tooth. Let us hope that the Lord will wreak justice on their vain and guilty felicity!" This conversation was here interrupted by Father d'Aigrigny, who entered the room with an air of triumph, and exclaimed, "Victory!" "What do you say"' asked the princess. "He is gone--last night," said Father d'Aigrigny. "Who?" said Rodin. "Marshal Simon," replied the abbe. "At last!" said Rodin, unable to hide his joy. "It was no doubt his interview with General d'Havrincourt which filled up the measure," cried the princess, "for I know he had a long conversation with the general, who like so many others, believed the reports in circulation. All means are good against the impious!" added the princess, by way of moral. "Have you any details?" asked Rodin. "I have just left Robert," said Father d'Aigrigny. "His age and description agree with the marshal's, and the latter travels with his papers. Only one thing has greatly surprised your emissary." "What is that?" said Rodin. "Until now, he had always to contend with the hesitations of the marshal, and had moreover noticed his gloomy and desponding air. Yesterday, on the contrary, he found him so bright with happiness, that he could not help asking him the cause of the alteration." "Well?" said Rodin and the princess together, both extremely surprised. "The marshal answered: `I am indeed the happiest man in the world; for I am going joyfully to accomplish a sacred duty!" The three actors in this scene looked at each other in silence. "And what can have produced this sudden change in the mind of the marshal?" said the princess, with a pensive air. "We rather reckon on sorrow and every kind of irritation to urge him to engage in this adventurous enterprise." "I cannot make it out," said Rodin, reflecting; "but no matter--he is gone. We must not lose a moment, to commence operations on his daughters. Has he taken that infernal soldier with him?" "No," said Father d'Aigrigny; "unfortunately, he has not done so. Warned by the past, he will redouble his precautions; and a man, whom we might have used against him at a pinch, has just been taken with the contagion." "Who is that?" asked the princess. "Morok. I could count upon him anywhere and for anything. He is lost to us; for, should he recover from the cholera, I fear he will fall a victim to a horrible and incurable disease." "How so?" "A few days ago, he was bitten by one of the mastiffs of his menagerie, and, the next day, the dog showed symptoms of hydrophobia." "Ah! it is dreadful," cried the princess; "and where is this unfortunate man?" "He has been taken to one of the temporary hospitals established in Paris, for at present he has only been attacked with cholera. It is doubly unfortunate, I repeat, for he was a devoted, determined fellow, ready for anything. Now this soldier, who has the care of the orphans, will be very difficult to get at, and yet only through him can we hope to reach Marshal Simon's daughters." "That is clear," said Rodin, thoughtfully. "Particularly since the anonymous letters have again awakened his suspicions," added Father d'Aigrigny "and--" "Talking of the anonymous letters," said Rodin suddenly, interrupting Father d'Aigrigny, "there is a fact that you ought to know; I will tell you why." "What is it?" "Besides the letters that you know of, Marshal Simon has received a number of others unknown to you, in which, by every possible means, it is tried to exasperate his irritation against yourself--for they remind him of all the reasons he has to hate you, and mock at him, because your sacred character shelters you from his vengeance." Father d'Aigrigny looked at Rodin with amazement, colored in spite of himself, and said to him: "But for what purpose has your reverence acted in this manner?" "First of all, to clear myself of suspicion with regard to the letters; then, to excite the rage of the marshal to madness, by incessantly reminding him of the just grounds he has to hate you, and of the impossibility of being avenged upon you. This, joined to the other emotions of sorrow and anger, which ferment in the savage bosom of this man of bloodshed, tended to urge him on to the rash enterprise, which is the consequence and the punishment of his idolatry for a miserable usurper." "That may be," said Father d'Aigrigny, with an air of constraint: "but I will observe to your reverence, that it was, perhaps, rather dangerous thus to excite Marshal Simon against me." "Why?" asked Rodin, as he fixed a piercing look upon Father d'Aigrigny. "Because the marshal, excited beyond all bounds, and remembering only our mutual hate, might seek me out--" "Well! and what then?" "Well! he might forget that I am a priest--" "Oh, you are afraid are you?" said Rodin, disdainfully, interrupting Father d'Aigrigny. At the words: "You are afraid," the reverend father almost started from his chair; but recovering his coolness, he answered: "Your reverence is right; yes, I should be afraid under such circumstances; I should be afraid of forgetting that I am a priest, and of remembering too well that I have been a soldier." "Really?" said Rodin, with sovereign contempt. "You are still no further than that stupid and savage point of honor? Your cassock has not yet extinguished the warlike fire? So that if this brawling swordsman, whose poor, weak head, empty and sonorous as a drum, is so easily turned with the stupid jargon of `Military honor, oaths, Napoleon II.'--if this brawling bravo, I say, were to commit some violence against you, it would require a great effort, I suppose, for you to remain calm?" "It is useless, I think," said Father d'Aigrigny, quite unable to control his agitation, "for your reverence to enter upon such questions." "As your superior," answered Rodin, severely, "I have the right to ask. If Marshal Simon had lifted his hand against you--" "Sir," cried the reverend father. "There are no sirs here--we are only priests," said Rodin, harshly. Father d'Aigrigny held down his head, scarcely able to repress his rage. "I ask you," continued Rodin, obstinately, "if Marshal Simon had struck you? Is that clear?" "Enough! in mercy," said Father d'Aigrigny, "enough!" "Or, if you like it better, had Marshal Simon left the marks of his fingers on your cheek?" resumed Rodin, with the utmost pertinacity. Father d'Aigrigny, pale as death, ground his teeth in a kind of fury at the very idea of such an insult, while Rodin, who had no doubt his object in asking the question, raised his flabby eyelids, and seemed to watch attentively the significant symptoms revealed in the agitated countenance of the ex-colonel. At length, recovering partly his presence of mind, Father d'Aigrigny replied, in a forcedly calm tone: "If I were to be exposed to such an insult, I would pray heaven to give me resignation and humility." "And no doubt heaven would hear your prayers," said Rodin, coldly, satisfied with the trial to which he had just put him. "Besides, you are now warned, and it is not very probable," added he, with a grim smile, "that Marshal Simon will ever return to test your humility. But if he were to return," said Rodin, fixing on the reverend father a long and piercing look, "you would know how to show this brutal swordsman, in spite of all his violence, what resignation and humility there is in a Christian soul!" Two humble knocks at the door here interrupted the conversation for a moment. A footman entered, bearing a large sealed packet on a salver, which he presented to the princess. After this, he withdrew. Princess de Saint-Dizier, having by a look asked Rodin's permission to open the letter, began to read it--and a cruel satisfaction was soon visible on her face. "There is hope," cried she addressing herself to Rodin: "the demand is rigorously legal, and the consequence may be such as we desire. In a word, my niece may, any day, be exposed to complete destitution. She, who is so extravagant! what a change in her life!" "We shall then no doubt have some hold on that untamable character," said Rodin with a meditative air; "for, till now, all has failed in that direction, and one would suppose some kinds of happiness are invulnerable," added the Jesuit, gnawing his flat and dirty nails. "But, to obtain the result we desire, we must exasperate my niece's pride. It is, therefore, absolutely necessary, that I should see and talk to her," said the Princess de Saint-Dizier, reflecting. "Mdlle. de Cardoville will refuse this interview," said Father d'Aigrigny. "Perhaps," replied the princess. "But she is so happy that her audacity must be at its height. Yes, yes--I know her--and I will write in such a manner, that she will come." "You think so?" asked Rodin, with a doubtful air. "Do not fear it, father," answered the lady, "she will come. And her pride once brought into play, we may hope a good deal from it." "We must then act, lady," resumed Rodin; "yes, act promptly. The moment approaches. Hate and suspicion are awake. There is not a moment to lose." "As for hate," replied the princess, "Mdlle. de Cardoville must have seen to what her lawsuit would lead, about what she called her illegal detention in a lunatic asylum, and that of the two young ladies in St. Mary's Convent. Thank heaven, we have friends everywhere! I know from good authority, that the case will break down from want of evidence, in spite of the animosity of certain parliamentary magistrates, who shall be well remembered." "Under these circumstances," replied Rodin, "the departure of the marshal gives us every latitude. We must act immediately on his daughters." "But how?" said the princess. "We must see them," resumed Rodin, "talk with them, study them. Then we shall act in consequence."
db3nf.com screen-capture.net floresca.net simonova.net flora-source.com flora-source.com sourcecentral.com sourcecentral.com geocities.com