“But, sir,” said poor Dupont, “it will not be my fault, if this lady, hearing a great deal in praise of the other curate, should prefer him to your friend.”
“Ah! but if, on the other hand, persons who have long lived in the neighborhood—persons worthy of confidence, whom she will see every day—tell Madame de la Sainte-Colombe a great deal of good of my friend, and a great deal of harm of the other curate, she will prefer the former, and you will continue bailiff.”
“But, sir—that would be calumny!” cried Dupont.
“Pshaw, my dear M. Dupont!” said Rodin, with an air of sorrowful and affectionate reproach, “how can you think me capable of giving you evil counsel?—I was only making a supposition. You wish to remain bailiff on this estate. I offer you the certainty of doing so—it is for you to consider and decide.”
“One word more—or rather one more condition—as important as the other. Unfortunately, we have seen clergymen take advantage of the age and weakness of their penitents, unfairly to benefit either themselves or others: I believe our protege incapable of any such baseness—but, in order to discharge my responsibility—and yours also, as you will have contributed to his appointment—I must request that you will write to me twice a week, giving the most exact detail of all that you have remarked in the character, habits, connections, pursuits, of Madame de la Sainte Colombe—for the influence of a confessor, you see, reveals itself in the whole conduct of life, and I should wish to be fully edified by the proceedings of my friend, without his being aware of it—or, if anything blameable were to strike you, I should be immediately informed of it by this weekly correspondence.”
“But, sir—that would be to act as a spy?” exclaimed the unfortunate bailiff.
“Now, my dear M. Dupont! how can you thus brand the sweetest, most wholesome of human desires—mutual confidence?—I ask of you nothing else—I ask of you to write to me confidentially the details of all that goes on here. On these two conditions, inseparable one from the other, you remain bailiff; otherwise, I shall be forced, with grief and regret, to recommend some one else to Madame de la Sainte-Colombe.”
“I beg you, sir,” said Dupont, with emotion, “Be generous without any conditions!—I and my wife have only this place to give us bread, and we are too old to find another. Do not expose our probity of forty years’ standing to be tempted by the fear of want, which is so bad a counsellor!”
“My dear M. Dupont, you are really a great child: you must reflect upon this, and give me your answer in the course of a week.”
“Oh, sir! I implore you—” The conversation was here interrupted by a loud report, which was almost instantaneously repeated by the echoes of the cliffs. “What is that?” said M. Rodin. Hardly had he spoken, when the same noise was again heard more distinctly than before.