“One last question, my child! how many times a month do you approach the Lord’s table?”
“Madame,” replied the hunchback, “I have not taken the sacrament since my first communion, eight years ago. I am hardly able, by working every day, and all day long, to earn my bread. I have no time—”
“Gracious heaven!” cried the superior, interrupting, and clasping her hands with all the signs of painful astonishment. “Is it possible? you do not practise?”
“Alas, madame! I tell you that I have no time,” answered Mother Bunch, looking disconcertedly at Mother Saint-Perpetue.
“I am grieved, my dear daughter,” said the latter sorrowfully, after a moment’s silence, “but I told you that, as we place our friends in none but pious houses, so we are asked to recommend none but pious persons, who practise their religious duties. It is one of the indispensable conditions of our institution. It will, therefore, to my great regret, be impossible for me to employ you as I had hoped. If, hereafter, you should renounce your present indifference to those duties, we will then see.”
“Madame,” said Mother Bunch, her heart swollen with tears, for she was thus forced to abandon a cheering hope, “I beg pardon for having detained you so long—for nothing.”
“It is I, my dear daughter, who regret not to be able to attach you to the institution; but I am not altogether hopeless, that a person, already so worthy of interest, will one day deserve by her piety the lasting support of religious people. Adieu, my dear daughter! go in peace, and may God be merciful to you, until the day that you return with your whole heart to Him!”
So saying, the superior rose, and conducted her visitor to the door, with all the forms of the most maternal kindness. At the moment she crossed the threshold, she said to her: “Follow the passage, go down a few steps, and knock at the second door on the right hand. It is the press-room, and there you will find Florine. She will show you the way out. Adieu, my dear daughter!”
As soon as Mother Bunch had left the presence of the superior, her tears, until now restrained, gushed forth abundantly. Not wishing to appear before Florine and the nuns in this state, she stopped a moment at one of the windows to dry her eyes. As she looked mechanically towards the windows of the next house, where she fancied she had seen Adrienne de Cardoville, she beheld the latter come from a door in the building, and advance rapidly towards the open paling that separated the two gardens. At the same instant, and to her great astonishment, Mother Bunch saw one of the two sisters whose disappearance had caused the despair of Dagobert, with pale and dejected countenance, approach the fence that separated her from Mdlle. de Cardoville, trembling with fear and anxiety, as though she dreaded to be discovered.