“If I allude to that little innocent playfulness on your part, my dear sir,” said Rodin, in his softest tone, approaching the two sisters with a wriggle which was peculiar to him; “if I allude to it, you see, it was suggested by the involuntary recollection of the little services I was happy enough to render you.” Dagobert looked fixedly at Rodin, who instantly veiled his glance beneath his flabby eyelids.
“First of all,” said the soldier, after a moment’s silence, “a true man never speaks of the services he has rendered, and you come back three times to the subject.”
“But Dagobert,” whispered Rose, “if he brings news of our father?”
The soldier made a sign, as if to beg the girl to let him speak, and resumed, looking full at Rodin: “You are cunning, but I’m no raw recruit.”
“I cunning?” said Rodin, with a sanctified air.
“Yes, very. You think to puzzle me with your fine phrases; but I’m not to be caught in that way. Just listen to me. Some of your band of black-gowns stole my cross; you returned it to me. Some of the same band carried off these children; you brought them back. It is also true that you denounced the renegade D’Aigrigny. But all this only proves two things: first, that you were vile enough to be the accomplice of these scoundrels; and secondly, that, having been their accomplice, you were base enough to betray them. Now, those two facts are equally bad, and I suspect you most furiously. So march off at once; your presence is not good for these children.”
“But, my dear sir—”
“I will have no buts,” answered Dagobert, in an angry voice. “When a man of your look does good, it is only to hide some evil; and one must be on guard.”
“I understand your suspicions,” said Rodin coolly, hiding his growing disappointment, for he had hoped it would have been easy to coax the soldier; but, if you reflect, what interest have I in deceiving you? And in what should the deception consist?”
“You have some interest or other in persisting to remain here, when I tell you to go away.”
“I have already had the honor of informing you of the object of my visit, my dear sir.”
“To bring news of Marshal Simon?”
“That is exactly the case. I am happy enough to have news of the marshal. Yes, my dear young ladies,” added Rodin, as he again approached the two sisters, to recover, as it were, the ground he had lost, “I have news of your glorious father!”
“Then come to my room directly, and you can tell it to me,” replied Dagobert.
“What! you would be cruel enough to deprive these dear ladies of the pleasure—”
“By heaven, sir!” cried Dagobert, in a voice of thunder, “you will make me forget myself. I should be sorry to fling a man of your age down the stairs. Will you be gone?”
“Well, well,” said Rodin mildly, “do not be angry with a poor old man. I am really not worth the trouble. I will go with you to your room, and tell you what I have to communicate. You will repent not having let me speak before these dear young ladies; but that will be your punishment, naughty man!”