“I clearly see how it will be,” finally murmured the pope, as if talking to himself. “I shall complete the work I have begun—it is God Himself who has opened the way for it, but this way will at the same time lead me to my grave.”
“What dark thoughts are these?” said Bernis, approaching him. “This bold and high-hearted resolution will not bring you death, but fame and immortality.”
“It will at least lead me to immortality,” said the pope, with a faint smile. “The dead are all immortal. But think not so little of me as to suppose I would now timidly shrink from doing that which I have once recognized as right and necessary. Only there are necessities of a very painful and dreadful kind. Such a necessity is war. And is it not a war that I commence, and does it not involve the destruction of all those thousands who call themselves the followers of Loyola, and belong to the Society of Jesus? Ah, believe me, this Society of Jesus is a hydra, and we shall never succeed in entirely extirpating it. I may now separate my own head from my body; but a day will come when the head of this hydra will have grown again, and when it will rise from the dead with renewed vitality, while I shall be mouldering in my grave. Say not, therefore, that I know not how to destroy them, and if you do say it, at least add that I lacked not the will, but that I gave for it my own life.”
Thus speaking, the pope slightly nodded an adieu to the cardinal, and withdrew into his study, the door of which he carefully closed after him.
There was he long heard to walk the room with measured steps. Then all was still. No one ventured to disturb him. Hours passed. Lorenzo, with a fearful presentiment, knelt before the door. He laid his ear to the keyhole and tried to listen. All was still within, nothing stirred. At length he ventured to call the pope’s name—at first low and tremulously, then louder and more anxiously, and as no answer was received, he at last ventured to open the door.
At his writing-table sat the pope; his face deadly pale, with staring eyes and great drops of perspiration on his forehead. Immovable sat he there, his right hand, which held a pen, resting on a parchment lying upon the table before him.
Like an image of wax, so stiff, so motionless was he, that Lorenzo, shuddering, made the sign of the cross upon his brow. Then, noiselessly advancing, he timidly and anxiously touched the pope’s shoulder. Ganganelli shuddered, and a slight trembling pervaded his members; he then drew a long breath, and, casting a dull glance at his faithful friend, said:
“Lorenzo, let my coffin be ordered, and pray for my soul. I have just now signed my own death-sentence. See, there it lies. I have signed the decree abolishing the order of the Jesuits! I must therefore die, Lorenzo. It is all over and past with our shady place and our recreations. My murderers are already prowling around me, for I tell you I have myself signed my death-sentence!”