"Oh, father! I have wept and prayed for them." "That is not sufficient. These unfortunate children cannot have any notion of good or evil. Their souls must be an abyss of scandal and impurity--brought up as they have been, by an impious mother, and a soldier devoid of religion." "As for that, father," said Frances, with simplicity, "they are gentle as angels, and my husband, who has not quitted them since their birth, declares they have the best hearts in the world." "Your husband has dwelt all his life in mortal sin," said the voice, harshly; "how can he judge of the state of souls? I repeat to you, that as you represent the parents of these unfortunates, it is not to-morrow, but it is today, and on the instant, that you must labor for their salvation, if you would not incur a terrible responsibility." "It is true--I know it well, father--and I suffer as much from this fear as from grief at my son's arrest. But what is to be done? I could not instruct these young girls at home--for I have not the knowledge--I have only faith--and then my poor husband, in his blindness, makes game of sacred things, which my son, at least, respects in my presence, out of regard for me. Then, once more, father, come to my aid, I conjure you! Advise me: what is to be done?" "We cannot abandon these two young souls to frightful perdition," said the voice, after a moment's silence: "there are not two ways of saving them: there is only one, and that is to place them in a religious house, where they may be surrounded by good and pious examples." "Oh, father! if we were not so poor, or if I could still work, I would try to gain sufficient to pay for their board, and do for them as I did for Gabriel. Unfortunately, I have quite lost my sight; but you, father, know some charitable souls, and if you could get any of them to interest them, selves for these poor orphans--" "Where is their father?" "He was in India; but, my husband tells me, he will soon be in France. That, however, is uncertain. Besides, it would make my heart bleed to see those poor children share our misery--which will soon be extreme--for we only live by my son's labor." "Have these girls no relation here?" asked the voice. "I believe not, father." "It was their mother who entrusted them to your husband, to bring them to France?" "Yes, father; he was obliged to set out yesterday for Chartres, on some very pressing business, as he told me." It will be remembered that Dagobert had not thought fit to inform his wife of the hopes which the daughters of Marshall Simon founded on the possession of the medal, and that he had particularly charged them not to mention these hopes, even to Frances. "So," resumed the voice, after a pause of some moments' duration, "your husband is not in Paris." "No, father; but he will doubtless return this evening or to-morrow morning." "Listen to me," said the voice, after another pause. "Every minute lost for those two young girls is a new step on the road to perdition. At any moment the hand of God may smite them, for He alone knows the hour of our death; and were they to die in the state in which they now are, they would most probably be lost to all eternity. This very day, therefore, you must open their eyes to the divine light, and place them in a religious house. It is your duty--it should be your desire!" "Oh, yes, father; but, unfortunately, I am too poor, as I have already told you." "I know it--you do not want for zeal or faith--but even were you capable of directing these young girls, the impious examples of your husband and son would daily destroy your work. Others must do for these orphans, in the name of Christian charity, that which you cannot do, though you are answerable for them before heaven." "Oh, father! if, thanks to you, this good work could be accomplished, how grateful I should be!" "It is not impossible. I know the superior of a convent, where these young girls would be instructed as they ought. The charge for their board would be diminished in consideration of their poverty; but, however small, it must be paid and there would be also an outfit to furnish. All that would be too dear for you." "Alas! yes, father." "But, by taking a little from my poor-box, and by applying to one or two generous persons, I think I shall be able to complete the necessary sum, and so get the young girls received at the convent." "Ah, father! you are my deliverer, and these children's." "I wish to be so--but, in the interest of their salvation, and to make these measures really efficacious, I must attach some conditions to the support I offer you." "Name them, father; they are accepted beforehand. Your commands shall be obeyed in everything." "First of all, the children must be taken this very morning to the convent, by my housekeeper, to whom you must bring them almost immediately." "Nay, father; that is impossible!" cried Frances. "Impossible? why?" "In the absence of my husband--" "Well?" "I dare not take a such a step without consulting him." "Not only must you abstain from consulting him, but the thing must be done during his absence." "What, father? should I not wait for his return?" "No, for two reasons," answered the priest, sternly: "first, because his hardened impiety would certainly lead him to oppose your pious resolution; secondly, because it is indispensable that these young girls should break off all connection with your husband, who, therefore, must be left in ignorance of the place of their retreat." "But, father," said Frances, a prey to cruel doubt and embarrassment, "it is to my husband that these children were entrusted--and to dispose of them without his consent would be--" "Can you instruct these children at your house--yes or no?" interrupted the voice. "No, father, I cannot." "Are they exposed to fall into a state of final impenitence by remaining with you--yes or no?" "Yes, father, they are so exposed." "Are you responsible, as you take the place of their parents, for the mortal sins they may commit--yes or no?" "Alas, father! I am responsible before God." "Is it in the interest of their eternal salvation that I enjoin you to place them this very day in a convent?" "It is for their salvation, father." "Well, then, choose!" "But tell me, I entreat you, father if I have the right to dispose of them without the consent of my husband?" "The right! you have not only the right, but it is your sacred duty. Would you not be bound, I ask you, to rescue these unfortunate creatures from a fire, against the will of your husband, or during his absence? Well! you must now rescue them, not from a fire that will only consume the body, but from one in which their souls would burn to all eternity." "Forgive me, I implore you, father," said the poor woman, whose indecision and anguish increased every minute; "satisfy my doubts!--How can I act thus, when I have sworn obedience to my husband?" "Obedience for good--yes--but never for evil. You confess, that, were it left to him, the salvation of these orphans would be doubtful, and perhaps impossible." "But, father," said Frances, trembling, "when my husband returns, he will ask me where are these children? Must I tell him a falsehood?" "Silence is not falsehood; you will tell him that you cannot answer his question." "My husband is the kindest of men; but such an answer will drive him almost mad. He has been a soldier, and his anger will be terrible, father," said Frances, shuddering at the thought. "And were his anger a hundred times more terrible, you should be proud to brave it in so sacred a cause!" cried the voice, with indignation. "Do you think that salvation is to be so easily gained on earth? Since when does the sinner, that would walk in the way of the Lord, turn aside for the stones and briars that may bruise and tear him?" "Pardon, father, pardon!" said Frances, with the resignation of despair. "Permit me to ask one more question, one only. Alas! if you do not guide me, how shall I find the way?" "Speak!" "When Marshal Simon arrives, he will ask his children of my husband. What answer can he then give to their father?" "When Marshal Simon arrives, you will let me know immediately, and then-- I will see what is to be done. The rights of a father are only sacred in so far as he make use of them for the salvation of his children. Before and above the father on earth, is the Father in heaven, whom we must first serve. Reflect upon all this. By accepting what I propose to you, these young girls will be saved from perdition; they will not be at your charge; they will not partake of your misery; they will be brought up in a sacred institution, as, after all, the daughters of a Marshal of France ought to be--and, when their father arrives at Paris, if he be found worthy of seeing them again, instead of finding poor, ignorant, half- savage heathens, he will behold two girls, pious, modest, and well- informed, who, being acceptable with the Almighty, may invoke His mercy for their father, who, it must be owned, has great need of it--being a man of violence, war, and battle. Now decide! Will you, on peril of your soul, sacrifice the welfare of these girls in this world and the next, because of an impious dread of your husband's anger?" Though rude and fettered by intolerance, the confessor's language was (taking his view of the case) reasonable and just, because the honest priest was himself convinced of what he said; a blind instrument of Rodin, ignorant of the end in view, he believed firmly, that, in forcing Frances to place these young girls in a convent, he was performing a pious duty. Such was, and is, one of the most wonderful resources of the order to which Rodin belonged--to have for accomplices good and sincere people, who are ignorant of the nature of the plots in which they are the principal actors. Frances, long accustomed to submit to the influence of her confessor, could find nothing to object to his last words. She resigned herself to follow his directions, though she trembled to think of the furious anger of Dagobert, when he should no longer find the children that a dying mother had confided to his care. But, according to the priest's opinion, the more terrible this anger might appear to her, the more she would show her pious humility by exposing herself to it. "God's will be done, father!" said she, in reply to her confessor. "Whatever may happen, I wilt do my duty as a Christian--in obedience to your commands." "And the Lord will reward you for what you may have to suffer in the accomplishment of this meritorious act. You promise then, before God, that you will not answer any of your husband's questions, when he asks you for the daughters of Marshal Simon?" "Yes, father, I promise!" said Frances, with a shudder. "And will preserve the same silence towards Marshal Simon himself, in case he should return, before his daughters appear to me sufficiently grounded in the faith to be restored to him?" "Yes, father," said Frances, in a still fainter voice. "You will come and give me an account of the scene that takes place between you and your husband, upon his return?" "Yes, father; when must I bring the orphans to your house?" "In an hour. I will write to the superior, and leave the letter with my housekeeper. She is a trusty person, and will conduct the young girls to the convent." After she had listened to the exhortations of her confessor, and received absolution for her late sins, on condition of performing penance, Dagobert's wife left the confessional. The church was no longer deserted. An immense crowd pressed into it, drawn thither by the pomp of the grand funeral of which the beadle had spoken to the sacristan two hours before. It was with the greatest difficulty that Frances could reach the door of the church, now hung with sumptuous drapery. What a contrast to the poor and humble train, which had that morning so timidly presented themselves beneath the porch! The numerous clergy of the parish, in full procession, advanced majestically to receive the coffin covered with a velvet pall; the watered silks and stuffs of their copes and stoles, their splendid silvered embroideries, sparkled in the light of a thousand tapers. The beadle strutted in all the glory of his brilliant uniform and flashing epaulets; on the opposite side walked in high glee the sacristan, carrying his whalebone staff with a magisterial air; the voice of the choristers, now clad in fresh, white surplices, rolled out in bursts of thunder; the trumpets' blare shook the windows; and upon the countenances of all those who were to have a share in the spoils of this rich corpse, this excellent corpse, this first-class corpse, a look of satisfaction was visible, intense and yet subdued, which suited admirably with the air and attitude of the two heirs, tall, vigorous fellows with florid complexions, who, without overstepping the limits of a charming modesty of enjoyment, seemed to cuddle and hug themselves most comfortably in their mourning cloaks. Notwithstanding her simplicity and pious faith, Dagobert's wife was painfully impressed with this revolting difference between the reception of the rich and the poor man's coffin at the door of the house of God-- for surely, if equality be ever real, it is in the presence of death and eternity! The two sad spectacles she had witnessed, tended still further to depress the spirits of Frances. Having succeeded with no small trouble in making her way out of the church, she hastened to return to the Rue Brise-Miche, in order to fetch the orphans and conduct them to the housekeeper of her confessor, who was in her turn to take them to St. Mary's Convent. situated, as we know, next door to Dr. Baleinier's lunatic-asylum, in which--Adrienne de Cardoville was confined. CHAPTER XLIX. MY LORD AND SPOIL-SPORT. The wife of Dagobert, having quitted the church, arrived at the corner of the Rue Brise-Miche, when she was accosted by the distributor of holy water; he came running out of breath, to beg her to return to Saint- Mery's, where the Abbe Dubois had yet something of importance to say to her. The moment Frances turned to go back, a hackney-coach stopped in front of the house she inhabited. The coachman quitted his box to open the door. "Driver," said a stout woman dressed in black, who was seated in the carriage, and held a pug-dog upon her knees, "ask if Mrs. Frances Baudoin lives in this house." "Yes, ma'am," said the coachman. The reader will no doubt have recognized Mrs. Grivois, head waiting-woman to the Princess de Saint-Dizier, accompanied by My Lord, who exercised a real tyranny over his mistress. The dyer, whom we have already seen performing the duties of a porter, being questioned by the coachman as to the dwelling of Frances, came out of his workshop, and advanced gallantly to the coach-door, to inform Mrs. Grivois, that Frances Baudoin did in fact live in the house, but that she was at present from home.
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