“I thought of it, as soon as your father came in, Agricola, but there is no wood nor charcoal left.”
“Then pray borrow some of Father Loriot, my dear sister. He is too good a fellow to refuse. My poor mother trembles so—she might fall ill.”
Hardly had he said the words, than Mother Bunch went out. The smith rose from the ground, took the blanket from the bed, and carefully wrapped it about the knees and feet of his mother. Then, again kneeling down, he said to her: “Your hands, dear mother!” and, taking those feeble palms in his own, he tried to warm them with his breath.
Nothing could be more touching than this picture: the robust young man, with his energetic and resolute countenance, expressing by his looks the greatest tenderness, and paying the most delicate attentions to his poor, pale, trembling old mother.
Dagobert, kind-hearted as his son, went to fetch a pillow, and brought it to his wife, saying: “Lean forward a little, and I will put this pillow behind you; you will be more comfortable and warmer.”
“How you both spoil me!” said Frances, trying to smile. “And you to be so kind, after all the ill I have done!” added she to Dagobert, as, disengaging one of her hands from those of her son, she took the soldier’s hand and pressed it to her tearful eyes. “In prison,” said she in a low voice, “I had time to repent.”
Agricola’s heart was near breaking at the thought that his pious and good mother, with her angelic purity, should for a moment have been confined in prison with so many miserable creatures. He would have made some attempt to console her on the subject of the painful past, but he feared to give a new shock to Dagobert, and was silent.
“Where is Gabriel, dear mother?” inquired he. “How is he? As you have seen him, tell us all about him.”
“I have seen Gabriel,” said Frances, drying her tears; “he is confined at home. His superiors have rigorously forbidden his going out. Luckily, they did not prevent his receiving me, for his words and counsels have opened my eyes to many things. It is from him that I learned how guilty I had been to you, my poor husband.”
“How so?” asked Dagobert.
“Why, you know that if I caused you so much grief, it was not from wickedness. When I saw you in such despair, I suffered almost as much myself; but I durst not tell you so, for fear of breaking my oath. I had resolved to keep it, believing that I did well, believing that it was my duty. And yet something told me that it could not be my duty to cause you so much pain. ‘Alas, my God! enlighten me!’ I exclaimed in my prison, as I knelt down and prayed, in spite of the mockeries of the other women. ’Why should a just and pious work, commanded by my confessor, the most respectable of men, overwhelm me and mine with so much misery? ’Have mercy on me, my God, and teach me if I have done wrong without knowing it!’ As I prayed with fervor, God heard me, and inspired me with the idea of applying to Gabriel. ‘I thank Thee, Father! I will obey!’ said I within myself. ’Gabriel is like my own child; but he is also a priest, a martyr—almost a saint. If any one in the world imitates the charity of our blessed Saviour, it is surely he. When I leave this prison, I will go and consult him and he will clear up my doubts.’”