Father d’Aigrigny went out. The prelate approached the doctor, and whispered, pointing to Rodin: “Is he out of danger?”
“If he stands the operation—yes, my lord.”
“Are you sure that he can stand it?”
“To him I should say `yes,’ to you `I hope so.’”
`And were he to die, would there be time to administer the sacraments in public, with a certain pomp, which always causes some little delay?”
“His dying may continue, my lord—a quarter of an hour.”
“It is short, but we must be satisfied with that,” said the prelate.
And, going to one of the windows, he began to tap with his fingers on the glass, while he thought of the illumination effects, in the event of Rodin’s lying in state. At this moment, Rousselet entered, with a large square box under his arm. He placed it on the drawers, and began to arrange his apparatus.
“How many have you prepared?” said the doctor.
“Four will do, but it is well to be fully provided. The cotton is not too thick?”
“And how is the reverend father?” asked the pupil.
“Humph!” answered the doctor, in a whisper. “The chest is terribly clogged, the respiration hissing, the voice gone—still there is a change.”
“All my fear is, sir, that the reverend father will not be able to stand the dreadful pain.”
“It is another chance; but, under the circumstances, we must risk all. Come, my dear boy, light the—taper; I hear our assistants.”
Just then Father d’Aigrigny entered the room, accompanied by the three Jesuits, who, in the morning, had walked in the garden. The two old men, with their rosy cheeks, and the young one, with the ascetic countenance, all three dressed in black, with their square caps and white bands, appeared perfectly ready to assist Dr. Baleinier in his formidable operation.
“Reverend fathers,” said Dr. Baleinier, graciously, to the three, “I thank you for your kind aid. What you have to do is very simple, and, by the blessing of heaven, this operation will save the life of our dear Father Rodin.”
The three black-gowns cast up their eyes piously, and then bowed altogether, like one man. Rodin, indifferent to what was passing around him, never ceased an instant to write or reflect. Nevertheless, in spite of his apparent calmness, he felt such difficulty in breathing, that more than once Dr. Baleinier had turned round uneasily, as he heard the stifled rattling in the throat of the sick man. Making a sign to his pupil, the doctor approached Rodin and said to him: “Come, reverend father; this is the important moment. Courage!”
No sign of alarm was expressed in the Jesuit’s countenance. His features remained impassible as those of a corpse. Only, his little reptile eyes sparkled still more brightly in their dark cavities. For a moment, he looked round at the spectators of this scene; then, taking his pen between his teeth, he folded and wafered another letter, placed it on the table beside the bed, and nodded to Dr. Baleinier, as if to say: “I am ready.”