"`MY DEAR MADAME BAUDOIN,--I am in the habit of hearing you Tuesday and Saturday, but I shall not be at liberty either to-morrow or the last day of the week; you must then come to me this morning, unless you wish to remain a whole week without approaching the tribunal of penance.'" "Good heavens! a week!" cried Dagobert's wife. "Alas! I am only too conscious of the necessity of going there today, notwithstanding the trouble and grief in which I am plunged." Then, addressing herself to the orphans, she continued: "Heaven has heard the prayers that I made for you, my dear young ladies; this very day I shall be able to consult a good and holy man with regard to the great dangers to which you are exposed. Poor dear souls, that are so innocent, and yet so guilty, without any fault of your own! Heaven is my witness, that my heart bleeds for you as much as for my son." Rose and Blanche looked at each other in confusion; they could not understand the fears with which the state of their souls inspired the wife of Dagobert. The latter soon resumed, addressing the young sempstress: "My good girl, will you render me yet another service?" "Certainly." "My husband took Agricola's week's wages with him to pay his journey to Chartres. It was all the money I had in the house; I am sure that my poor child had none about him, and in prison he will perhaps want some. Therefore take my silver cup, fork, and spoon, the two pair of sheets that remain over, and my wadded silk shawl, that Agricola gave me on my birthday, and carry them all to the pawnbroker's. I will try and find out in which prison my son is confined, and will send him half of the little sum we get upon the things; the rest will serve us till my husband comes home. And then, what shall we do? What a blow for him--and only more misery in prospect--since my son is in prison, and I have lost my sight. Almighty Father!" cried the unfortunate mother, with an expression of impatient and bitter grief, "why am I thus afflicted? Have I not done enough to deserve some pity, if not for myself, at least for those belonging to me?" But immediately reproaching herself for this outburst, she added, "No, no! I ought to accept with thankfulness all that Thou sandiest me. Forgive me for these complaints, or punish only myself!" "Be of good courage, mother!" said Mother Bunch. "Agricola is innocent, and will not remain long in prison." "But now I think of it," resumed Dagobert's wife, "to go to the pawnbroker's will make you lose much time, my poor girl." "I can make up that in the night, Madame Frances; I could not sleep, knowing you in such trouble. Work will amuse me." "Yes, but the candles--" "Never mind, I am a little beforehand with my work," said the poor girl, telling a falsehood. "Kiss me, at least," said Frances, with moist eyes, "for you are the very best creature in the world." So saying, she hastened cut of the room. Rose and Blanche were left alone with Mother Bunch; at length had arrived the moment for which they had waited with so much impatience. Dagobert's wife proceeded to St. Merely Church, where her confessor was expecting to see her. CHAPTER XLVIII: THE CONFESSIONAL Nothing could be more gloomy than the appearance of St. Merely Church, on this dark and snowy winter's day. Frances stopped a moment beneath the porch, to behold a lugubrious spectacle. While a priest was mumbling some words in a low voice, two or three dirty choristers, in soiled surplices, were charting the prayers for the dead, with an absent and sullen air, round a plain deal coffin, followed only by a sobbing old man and a child, miserably clad. The beadle and the sacristan, very much displeased at being disturbed for so wretched a funeral, had not deigned to put on their liveries, but, yawning with impatience, waited for the end of the ceremony, so useless to the interests of the establishment. At length, a few drops of holy water being sprinkled on the coffin, the priest handed the brush to the beadle, and retired. Then took place one of those shameful scenes, the necessary consequence of an ignoble and sacrilegious traffic, so frequent with regard to the burials of the poor, who cannot afford to pay for tapers, high mass, or violins--for now St. Thomas Aquinas' Church has violins even for the dead. The old man stretched forth his hand to the sacristan to receive the brush. "Come, look sharp!" said that official, blowing on his fingers. The emotion of the old man was profound, and his weakness extreme; he remained for a moment without stirring, while the brush was clasped tightly in his trembling hand. In that coffin was his daughter, the mother of the ragged child who wept by his side--his heart was breaking at the thought of that last farewell; he stood motionless, and his bosom heaved with convulsive sobs. "Now, will you make haste?" said the brutal beadle. "Do you think we are going to sleep here?" The old man quickened his movements. He made the sign of the cross over the corpse, and, stooping down, was about to place the brush in the hand of his grandson, when the sacristan, thinking the affair had lasted long enough, snatched the sprinkling-brush from the child, and made a sign to the bearers to carry away the coffin--which was immediately done. "Wasn't that old beggar a slow coach?" said the beadle to his companion, as they went back to the sacristy. "We shall hardly have time to get breakfast, and to dress ourselves for the bang-up funeral of this morning. That will be something like a dead man, that's worth the trouble. I shall shoulder my halberd in style!" "And mount your colonel's epaulets, to throw dust in the eyes of the women that let out the chairs--eh, you old rascal!" said the other, with a sly look. "What can I do, Capillare? When one has a fine figure, it must be seen," answered the beadle, with a triumphant air. "I cannot blind the women to prevent their losing their hearts!" Thus conversing; the two men reached the sacristy. The sight of the funeral had only increased the gloom of Frances. When she entered the church, seven or eight persons, scattered about upon chairs, alone occupied the damp and icy building. One of the distributors of holy water, an old fellow with a rubicund, joyous, wine-bibbing face, seeing Frances approach the little font, said to her in a low voice: "Abbe Dubois is not yet in his box. Be quick, and you will have the first wag of his beard." Though shocked at this pleasantry, Frances thanked the irreverent speaker, made devoutly the sign of the cross, advanced some steps into the church, and knelt down upon the stones to repeat the prayer, which she always offered up before approaching the tribunal of penance. Having said this prayer, she went towards a dark corner of the church, in which was an oaken confessional, with a black curtain drawn across the grated door. The places on each side were vacant; so Frances knelt down in that upon the right hand, and remained there for some time absorbed in bitter reflections. In a few minutes, a priest of tall stature, with gray hair and a stern countenance, clad in a long black cassock, stalked slowly along one of the aisles of the church. A short, old, misshapen man, badly dressed, leaning upon an umbrella, accompanied him, and from time to time whispered in his ear, when the priest would stop to listen with a profound and respectful deference. As they approached the confessional, the short old man, perceiving Frances on her knees, looked at the priest with an air of interrogation. "It is she," said the clergyman. "Well, in two or three hours, they will expect the two girls at St. Mary's Convent. I count upon it," said the old man. "I hope so, for the sake of their souls," answered the priest; and, bowing gravely, he entered the confessional. The short old man quitted the church. This old man was Rodin. It was on leaving Saint Merely's that he went to the lunatic asylum, to assure himself that Dr. Baleinier had faithfully executed his instructions with regard to Adrienne de Cardoville. Frances was still kneeling in the interior of the confessional. One of the slides opened, and a voice began to speak. It was that of the priest, who, for the last twenty years had been the confessor of Dagobert's wife, and exercised over her an irresistible and all-powerful influence. "You received my letter?" said the voice. "Yes, father. "Very well--I listen to you." "Bless me, father--for I have sinned!" said Frances. The voice pronounced the formula of the benediction. Dagobert's wife answered "amen," as was proper, said her confider to "It is my fault," gave an account of the manner in which she had performed her last penance, and then proceeded to the enumeration of the new sins, committed since she had received absolution. For this excellent woman, a glorious martyr of industry and maternal love, always fancied herself sinning: her conscience was incessantly tormented by the fear that she had committed some incomprehensible offence. This mild and courageous creature, who, after a whole life of devotion, ought to have passed what time remained to her in calm serenity of soul, looked upon herself as a great sinner, and lived in continual anxiety, doubting much her ultimate salvation. "Father," said Frances, in a trembling voice, "I accuse myself of omitting my evening prayer the day before yesterday. My husband, from whom I had been separated for many years, returned home. The joy and the agitation caused by his arrival, made me commit this great sin." "What next?" said the voice, in a severe tone, which redoubled the poor woman's uneasiness. "Father, I accuse myself of falling into the same sin yesterday evening. I was in a state of mortal anxiety, for my son did not come home as usual, and I waited for him minute after minute, till the hour had passed over." "What next?" said the voice. "Father, I accuse myself of having told a falsehood all this week to my son, by letting him think that on account of his reproaching me for neglecting my health, I had taken a little wine for my dinner--whereas I had left it for him, who has more need of it, because he works so much." "Go on!" said the voice. "Father, I accuse myself of a momentary want of resignation this morning, when I learned that my poor son was arrested; instead of submitting with respect and gratitude to this new trial which the Lord hath sent me-- alas! I rebelled against it in my grief--and of this I accuse myself." "A bad week," said the priest, in a tone of still greater severity, "a bad week--for you have always put the creature before the Creator. But proceed!" "alas, father!" resumed Frances, much dejected, "I know that I am a great sinner; and I fear that I am on the road to sins of a still graver kind." "Speak!" "My husband brought with him from Siberia two young orphans, daughters of Marshal Simon. Yesterday morning, I asked them to say their prayers, and I learned from them, with as much fright as sorrow, that they know none of the mysteries of our holy faith, though they are fifteen years old. They have never received the sacrament, nor are they even baptized, father--not even baptized!" "They must be heathens!" cried the voice, in a tone of angry surprise. "That is what so much grieves me, father; for, as I and my husband are in the room of parents to these young orphans, we should be guilty of the sins which they might commit--should we not, father?" "Certainly,--since you take the place of those who ought to watch over their souls. The shepherd must answer for his flock," said the voice. "And if they should happen to he in mortal sin, father, I and my husband would be in mortal sin?" "Yes," said the voice; "you take the place of their parents; and fathers and mothers are guilty of all the sins which their children commit when those sins arise from the want of a Christian education." "Alas, father! what am I to do? I address myself to you as I would to heaven itself. Every day, every hour, that these poor young girls remain heathens, may contribute to bring about their eternal damnation, may it not, father?" said Frances, in a tone of the deepest emotion. "Yes," answered the voice; "and the weight of this terrible responsibility rests upon you and your husband; you have the charge of souls!" "Lord, have mercy upon me!" said Frances weeping. "You must not grieve yourself thus," answered the voice, in a softer tone; "happily for these unfortunates, they have met you upon the way. They, will have in you and your husband good and pious examples--for I suppose that your husband, though formerly an ungodly person, now practices his religious duties!" "We must pray for him, father," said Frances, sorrowfully; "grace has not yet touched his heart. He is like my poor child, who has also not been called to holiness. Ah, father!" said Frances, drying her tears, "these thoughts are my heaviest cross." "So neither your husband nor your son practises," resumed the voice, in a tone of reflection; "this is serious--very serious. The religious education of these two unfortunate girls has yet to begin. In your house, they will have ever before them the most deplorable examples. Take care! I have warned you. You have the charge of souls--your responsibility is immense!" "Father, it is that which makes me wretched--I am at a loss what to do. Help me, and give me your counsels: for twenty years your voice has been to me as the voice of the Lord." "Well! you must agree with your husband to send these unfortunate girls to some religious house where they may be instructed." "We are too poor, father, to pay for their schooling, and unfortunately my son has just been put in prison for songs that he wrote." "Behold the fruit of impiety," said the voice, severely; "look at Gabriel! he has followed my counsels, and is now the model of every Christian virtue." "My son, Agricola, has had good qualities, father; he is so kind, so devoted!" "Without religion," said the voice, with redoubled severity, "what you call good qualities are only vain appearances; at the least breath of the devil they will disappear--for the devil lurks in every soul that has no religion." "Oh! my poor son!" said Frances, weeping; "I pray for him every day, that faith may enlighten him." "I have always told you," resumed the voice, "that you have been too weak with him. God now punishes you for it. You should have parted from this irreligious son, and not sanctioned his impiety by loving him as you do. `If thy right hand offend thee, cut it off,' saith the Scripture." "Alas, father! you know it is the only time I have disobeyed you; but I could not bring myself to part from my son." "Therefore is your salvation uncertain--but God is merciful. Do not fall into the same fault with regard to these young girls, whom Providence has sent you, that you might save them from eternal damnation. Do not plunge them into it by your own culpable indifference."
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