“Yes, madame,” said Rodin, in a sanctified tone, for these people do not take off their masks even with their accomplices, “yes, madame, we have excellent news from our house at St. Herem. M. Hardy, the infidel, the freethinker, has at length entered the pale of the holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Rodin pronounced these last word with a nasal twang, and the devout lady bowed her head respectfully.
“Grace has at length touched the heart of this impious man,” continued Rodin, “and so effectually that, in his ascetic enthusiasm, he has already wished to take the vows which will bind him forever to our divine Order.”
“So soon, father?” said the princess, in astonishment.
“Our statutes are opposed to this precipitation, unless in the case of a penitent in articulo mortis—on the very gasp of death—should such a person consider it necessary for his salvation to die in the habit of our Order, and leave us all his wealth for the greater glory of the Lord.”
“And is M. Hardy in so dangerous a condition, father?”
“He has a violent fever. After so many successive calamities, which have miraculously brought him into the path of salvation,” said Rodin, piously, “his frail and delicate constitution is almost broken up, morally and physically. Austerities, macerations, and the divine joys of ecstasy, will probably hasten his passage to eternal life, and in a few clays,” said the priest, shaking his head with a solemn air, “perhaps—”
“So soon as that, father?”
“It is almost certain. I have therefore made use of my dispensations, to receive the dear penitent, as in articulo mortis, a member of our divine Company, to which, in the usual course, he has made over all his possessions, present and to come—so that now he can devote himself entirely to the care of his soul, which will be one victim more rescued from the claws of Satan.”
“Oh, father!” cried the lady, in admiration; “it is a miraculous conversion. Father d’Aigrigny told me how you had to contend against the influence of Abbe Gabriel.”
“The Abbe Gabriel,” replied Rodin, “has been punished for meddling with what did not concern him. I have procured his suspension, and he has been deprived of his curacy. I hear that he now goes about the cholera hospitals to administer Christian consolation; we cannot oppose that—but this universal comforter is of the true heretical stamp.”
“He is a dangerous character, no doubt,” answered the princess, “for he has considerable influence over other men. It must have needed all your admirable and irresistible eloquence to combat the detestable counsels of this Abbe Gabriel, who had taken it into his head to persuade M. Hardy to return to the life of the world. Really, father, you are a second St. Chrysostom.”
“Tut, tut, madame!” said Rodin, abruptly, for he was very little sensible to flattery; “keep that for others.”