“Are there not in life such terrible circumstances that the most worldly, the firmest, the most impious characters, throw themselves blindly, overwhelmed with despair, into the arms of religion, and abandon all earthly greatness for sackcloth, and prayers, and solitude?”
“Are there not a thousand occasions in which the reaction of the passions works the most extraordinary changes, and brings about the most tragic catastrophes in the life of man and woman?”
“Well, then! why ask me, `What is to be done?’ What would you say, for example, if before three months are over, the most dangerous members of this family of the Renneponts should come to implore, upon their knees, admission to that very Society which they now hold in horror, and from which Gabriel has just separated?”
“Such a conversion is impossible,” cried Father d’Aigrigny.
“Impossible? What were you, sir, fifteen years ago?” said Rodin. “An impious and debauched man of the world. And yet you came to us, and your wealth became ours. What! we have conquered princes, kings, popes; we have absorbed and extinguished in our unity magnificent intelligences, which, from afar, shone with too dazzling a light; we have all but governed two worlds; we have perpetuated our Society, full of life, rich and formidable, even to this day, through all the hate, and all the persecutions that have assailed us; and yet we shall not be able to get the better of a single family, which threatens our Company, and has despoiled us of a large fortune? What! we are not skillful enough to obtain this result without having recourse to awkward and dangerous violence? You do not know, then, the immense field that is thrown open by the mutually destructive power of human passions, skillfully combined, opposed, restrained, excited?—particularly,” added Rodin, with a strange smile, “when, thanks to a powerful ally, these passions are sure to be redoubled in ardor and energy.”
“What ally?” asked Father d’Aigrigny, who, as well as the Princess de Saint-Dizier, felt a sort of admiration mixed with terror.
“Yes,” resumed Rodin, without answering the reverend father; “this formidable ally, who comes to our assistance, may bring about the most astonishing transformations—make the coward brave, and the impious credulous, and the gentle ferocious—”
“But this ally!” cried the Princess, oppressed with a vague sense of fear. “This great and formidable ally—who is he?”
“If he comes,” resumed Rodin, still impassible, “the youngest and most vigorous, every moment in danger of death, will have no advantage over the sick man at his last gasp.”
“But who is this ally?” exclaimed Father d’Aigrigny, more and more alarmed, for as the picture became darker, Rodin’s face become more cadaverous.
“This ally, who can decimate a population, may carry away with him in the shroud that he drags at his heels, the whole of an accursed race; but even he must respect the life of that great intangible body, which does not perish with the death of its members—for the spirit of the Society of Jesus is immortal!”