She pronounced these last words with so much animation that her cheeks became slightly flushed. The superior had too much tact and experience not to perceive the sincerity of the words. Thinking herself lucky that the young girl should put this construction upon the affair, she smiled upon her affectionately, and stretched out her arms to her, saying: “It is well, my dear daughter. Come and embrace me!”
“Mother—I am really confused—with so much kindness—”
“No—you deserve it—your words are so full of truth and honesty. Only be persuaded that I have not put you to any trial, because there is no resemblance between the act of a spy and the marks of filial confidence that we require of our members for the sake of watching over their morals. But certain persons—I see you are of the number, my dear daughter—have such fixed principles, and so mature a judgment, that they can do without our advice and guardianship, and can appreciate themselves whatever might be dangerous to their salvation. I will therefore leave the entire responsibility to yourself, and only ask you for such communications as you may think proper to make.”
“Oh, madame! how good you are!” said poor Mother Bunch, for she was not aware of the thousand devices of the monastic spirit, and thought herself already sure of gaining just wages honorably.
“It is not goodness—but justice!” answered Mother Sainte-Perpetue, whose tone was becoming more and more affectionate. “Too much tenderness cannot be shown to pious young women like you, whom poverty has only purified because they have always faithfully observed the divine laws.”
“One last question, my child! how many times a month do you approach the Lord’s table?”
“Madame,” replied the hunchback, “I have not taken the sacrament since my first communion, eight years ago. I am hardly able, by working every day, and all day long, to earn my bread. I have no time—”
“Gracious heaven!” cried the superior, interrupting, and clasping her hands with all the signs of painful astonishment. “Is it possible? you do not practise?”
“Alas, madame! I tell you that I have no time,” answered Mother Bunch, looking disconcertedly at Mother Saint-Perpetue.
“I am grieved, my dear daughter,” said the latter sorrowfully, after a moment’s silence, “but I told you that, as we place our friends in none but pious houses, so we are asked to recommend none but pious persons, who practise their religious duties. It is one of the indispensable conditions of our institution. It will, therefore, to my great regret, be impossible for me to employ you as I had hoped. If, hereafter, you should renounce your present indifference to those duties, we will then see.”
“Madame,” said Mother Bunch, her heart swollen with tears, for she was thus forced to abandon a cheering hope, “I beg pardon for having detained you so long—for nothing.”