With that, I made a profound bow and retired.
I gave an account of this interview to the abbe, who was waiting for me at Patience’s. He was entirely of my own opinion; he thought, like myself, that the prior, so far from endeavouring to turn the Trappist from his pretended designs, was trying with all his power to frighten me, in the hope that I should be brought to make considerable sacrifices of money. In his eyes it was clear that this old man, faithful to the monkish spirit, wished to put into the hands of a clerical Mauprat the fruit of the labours and thrift of a lay Mauprat.
“That is the indelible mark of the Catholic clergy,” he said. “They cannot live without waging war on the families around them, and being ever on the watch for opportunities to spoil them. They look upon this wealth as their property, and upon all ways of recovering it as lawful. It is not as easy as you think to protect one’s self against this smooth-faced brigandage. Monks have stubborn appetites and ingenious minds. Act with caution and be prepared for anything. You can never induce a Trappist to show fight. Under the shelter of his hood, with head bowed and hands crossed, he will accept the cruelest outrages; and, knowing quite well that you will not assassinate him, he will hardly fear you. Again, you do not know what justice can become in man’s hands, and how a criminal trial is conducted and decided when one of the parties will not stick at any kind of bribery and intimidation. The Church is powerful, the law grandiloquent. The words ‘honesty’ and ‘integrity’ have for centuries been ringing against the hardened walls of courts of justice; but that has not prevented judges from being false or verdicts from being iniquitous. Have a care; have a care! The Trappist may start the cowled pack on his own track and throw them off by disappearing at the right point and leading them on yours. Remember that you have wounded many an amour propre by disappointing the pretensions of the dowry-hunters. One of the most incensed of them, and at the same time one of the most malicious, is a near relative of a magistrate who is all-powerful in the province. De la Marche has given up the gown for the sword; but among his old colleagues he may have left some one who would like to do you an ill-turn. I am sorry you were not able to join him in America, and get on good terms with him. Do not shrug your shoulders; you may kill a dozen of them, and things will go from bad to worse. They will avenge themselves; not on your life, perhaps, for they know that you hold that cheap, but on your honour; and your great-uncle will die of grief. In short—”