“Your emotion and alarm confirm the sad discoveries I have made,” resumed the cardinal, still more rejoicing at the success of his trick; “and now, my dear father,” added he, “you will understand that it is for your best interest to enter into the most minute detail as to your projects and accomplices at Rome. You may then hope, my dear father, for the indulgence of the Holy See—that is, if your avowals are sufficiently explicit to fill up the chasms necessarily left in a confession made during delirium.”
Rodin, recovered from his first surprise, perceived, but too late, that he had fallen into a snare, not by any words he had spoken, but by his too significant movements. In fact, the Jesuit had feared for a moment that he might have betrayed himself during his delirium, when he heard himself accused of dark intrigues with Rome; but, after some minutes of reflection, his common sense suggested: “If this crafty Roman knew my secret, he would take care not to tell me so. He has only suspicions, confirmed by my involuntary start just now.”
Rodin wiped the cold sweat from his burning forehead. The emotion of this scene augmented his sufferings, and aggravated the danger of his condition. Worn out with fatigue, he could not remain long in a sitting posture, and soon fell back upon the bed.
“Per Bacco!” said the cardinal to himself, alarmed at the expression of the Jesuit’s face; “if he were to die before he had spoken, and so escape the snare!”
Then, leaning over the bed, the prelate asked: “What is the matter, my very dear father?”
“I am weak, my lord—I am in pain—I cannot express what I suffer.”
“Let us hope, my very dear father, that this crisis will have no fatal results; but the contrary may happen, and it behooves the salvation of your soul to make instantly the fullest confession. Were it even to exhaust your strength, what is this perishable body compared to eternal life?”
“Of what confession do you speak, my lord?” said Rodin, in a feeble and yet sarcastic tone.
“What confession!” cried the amazed cardinal; “why, with regard to your dangerous intrigues at Rome.”
“What intrigues?” asked Rodin.
“The intrigues you revealed during your delirium,” replied the prelate, with still more angry impatience. “Were not your avowals sufficiently explicit? Why, then, this culpable hesitation to complete them?”
“My avowals—were explicit—you assure me?” said Rodin, pausing after each word for want of breath, but without losing his energy and presence of mind.
“Yes, I repeat it,” resumed the cardinal; “with the exception of a few chasms, they were most explicit.”
“Then why repeat them?” said Rodin, with the same sardonic smile on his violet lips.
“Why repeat them?” cried the angry prelate. “In order to gain pardon; for if there is indulgence and mercy for the repentant sinner, there must be condemnation and curses for the hardened criminal!”