“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.
“Very well—I listen to you.”
“Bless me, father—for I have sinned!” said Frances.