Since Rodin’s arrival Father d’Aigrigny had remained silent; he seemed occupied with bitter thoughts, and with some violent internal struggle. At last, half rising, he said to the prelate, in a forced tone of voice: “I will not ask your Eminence to judge between the reverend Father Rodin and myself. Our General has pronounced, and I have obeyed. But, as your Eminence will soon see our superior, I should wish that you would grant me the favor to report faithfully the answers of Father Rodin to one or two questions I am about to put to him.”
The prelate bowed. Rodin looked at Father d’Aigrigny with an air of surprise, and said to him, dryly: “The thing is decided. What is the use of questions?”
“Not to justify myself,” answered Father d’Aigrigny, “but to place matters in their true light before his Eminence.”
“Speak, then; but let us have no useless speeches,” said Rodin, drawing out his large silver watch, and looking at it. “By two o’clock I must be at Saint-Sulpice.”
“I will be as brief as possible,” said Father d’Aigrigny, with repressed resentment. Then, addressing Rodin, he resumed: “When your reverence thought fit to take my place, and to blame, very severely perhaps, the manner in which I had managed the interests confided to my care, I confess honestly that these interests were gravely compromised.”
“Compromised?” said Rodin, ironically; “you mean lost. Did you not order me to write to Rome, to bid them renounce all hope?”
“That is true,” said Father d’Aigrigny.
“It was then a desperate case, given up by the best doctors,” continued Rodin, with irony, “and yet I have undertaken to restore it to life. Go on.”
And, plunging both hands into the pockets of his trousers, he looked Father d’Aigrigny full in the face.
“Your reverence blamed me harshly,” resumed Father d’Aigrigny, “not for having sought, by every possible means, to recover the property odiously diverted from our society—”
“All your casuists authorize you to do so,” said the cardinal; “the texts are clear and positive; you have a right to recover; per fas aut nefas what has been treacherously taken from you.”
“And therefore,” resumed Father d’Aigrigny, “Father Rodin only reproached me with the military roughness of my means. `Their violence,’ he said, `was in dangerous opposition to the manners of the age.’ Be it so; but first of all, I could not be exposed to any legal proceedings, and, but for one fatal circumstance, success would have crowned the course I had taken, however rough and brutal it may appear. Now, may I ask your reverence what—”
“What I have done more than you?” said Rodin to Father d’Aigrigny, giving way to his impertinent habit of interrupting people; “what I have done better than you?—what step I have taken in the Rennepont affair, since I received it from you in a desperate condition? Is that what you wish to know?”