Then, yielding to a transport of fury. Rodin tore with his nails his naked chest, for he had twisted off the buttons of his waistcoat, and rent his black and filthy shirt-front, as if the pressure of those garments augmented the violence of the pain under which he was writhing. The bishop, the cardinal, and Father d’Aigrigny, hastily approached Rodin, to try and hold him; he was seized with horrible convulsions; but, suddenly, collecting all his strength, he rose upon his feet stiff as a corpse. Then, with his garments in disorder, his thin, gray hair standing up all around his greenish face, fixing his red and flaming eyes upon the cardinal, he seized him with convulsive grasp, and exclaimed in a terrible voice, half stifled in his throat: “Cardinal Malipieri—this illness is too sudden—they suspect me at Rome—you are of the race of the Borgias—and your secretary was with me this morning!”
“Unhappy man! what does he dare insinuate?” cried the prelate, as amazed as he was indignant at the accusation. So saying, the cardinal strove to free himself from the grasp of Rodin, whose fingers were now as stiff as iron.
“I am poisoned!” muttered Rodin, and sinking back, he fell into the arms of Father d’Aigrigny.
Notwithstanding his alarm, the cardinal had time to whisper to the latter: “He thinks himself poisoned. He must therefore be plotting something very dangerous.”
The door of the room opened. It was Dr. Baleinier.
“Oh, doctor!” cried the princess, as she ran pale and frightened towards him; “Father Rodin has been suddenly attacked with terrible convulsions. Quick! quick!”
“Convulsions? oh! it will be nothing, madame,” said the doctor, throwing down his hat upon a chair, and hastily approaching the group which surrounded the sick man.
“Here is the doctor!” cried the princess. All stepped aside, except Father d’Aigrigny, who continued to support Rodin, leaning against a chair.
“Heavens! what symptoms!” cried Dr. Baleinier, examining with growing terror the countenance of Rodin, which from green was turning blue.
“What is it?” asked all the spectators, with one voice.
“What is it?” repeated the doctor, drawing back as if he had trodden upon a serpent. “It is the cholera! and contagious!”
On this frightful, magic word, Father d’Aigrigny abandoned his hold of Rodin, who rolled upon the floor.
“He is lost!” cried Dr. Baleinier. “But I will run to fetch the means for a last effort.” And he rushed towards the door.
The Princess de Saint-Dizier, Father d’Aigrigny, the bishop, and the cardinal followed in terror the flight of Dr. Baleinier. They all pressed to the door, which, in their consternation, they could not open. It opened at last but from without—and Gabriel appeared upon the threshold. Gabriel, the type of the true priest, the holy, the evangelical minister, to whom we can never pay enough of respect and ardent sympathy, and tender admiration. His angelic countenance, in its mild serenity, offered a striking contrast of these faces, all disturbed and contracted with terror.