When Frances spoke of her confessor a sudden light flashed across the mind of the soldier, though he was far from suspecting the machinations which had so long been at work with regard to Gabriel and the orphans. But he had a vague feeling that his wife was acting in obedience to some secret influence of the confessional—an influence of which he could not understand the aim or object, but which explained, in part at least, Frances’s inconceivable obstinacy with regard to the disappearance of the orphans.
After a moment’s reflection, he rose, and said sternly to his wife, looking fixedly at her: “There is a priest at the bottom of all this.”
“What do you mean, my dear?”
“You have no interest to conceal these children. You are one of the best of women. You see that I suffer; if you only were concerned, you would have pity upon me.”
“I tell you, all this smacks of the confessional,” resumed Dagobert. “You would sacrifice me and these children to your confessor; but take care—I shall find out where he lives—and a thousand thunders! I will go and ask him who is master in my house, he or I—and if he does not answer,” added the soldier, with a threatening expression of countenance, “I shall know how to make him speak.”
“Gracious heaven!” cried Frances, clasping her hands in horror at these sacrilegious words; “remember he is a priest!”
“A priest, who causes discord, treachery, and misfortune in my house, is as much of a wretch as any other; whom I have a right to call to account for the evil he does to me and mine. Therefore, tell me immediately where are the children—or else, I give you fair warning, I will go and demand them of the confessor. Some crime is here hatching, of which you are an accomplice without knowing it, unhappy woman! Well, I prefer having to do with another than you.”
“My dear,” said Frances, in a mild, firm voice, “you cannot think to impose by violence on a venerable man, who for twenty years has had the care of my soul. His age alone should be respected.”
“No age shall prevent me!”
“Heavens! where are you going? You alarm me!”
“I am going to your church. They must know you there—I will ask for your confessor—and we shall see!”
“I entreat you, my dear,” cried Frances, throwing herself in a fright before Dagobert, who was hastening towards the door; “only think, to what you will expose yourself! Heavens! insult a priest? Why, it is one of the reserved cases!”
These last words, which appeared most alarming to the simplicity of Dagobert’s wife, did not make any impression upon the soldier. He disengaged himself from her grasp, and was going to rush out bareheaded, so high was his exasperation, when the door opened, and the commissary of police entered, followed by Mother Bunch and a policeman, carrying the bundle which he had taken from the young girl.