“He would speak so, if about to engage in a deadly duel,” interrupted Agricola. “True, father! and yet you, who are a good judge of valor, acknowledged that Gabriel’s courage was equal to yours. For him so to fear his superiors, the danger must be great indeed.”
“Now that I have heard your mother, I understand it all,” said Dagobert. “Gabriel is like Rose and Blanche, like Mdlle. de Cardoville, like your mother, like all of us, perhaps—the victim of a secret conspiracy of wicked priests. Now that I know their dark machinations, their infernal perseverance, I see,” added the soldier, in a whisper, “that it requires strength to struggle against them. I had not the least idea of their power.”
“You are right, father; for those who are hypocritical and wicked do as much harm as those who are good and charitable, like Gabriel, do good. There is no more implacable enemy than a bad priest.”
“I know it, and that’s what frightens me; for my poor children are in their hands. But is all lost? Shall I bring myself to give them up without an effort? Oh, no, no! I will not show any weakness—and yet, since your mother told us of these diabolical plots, I do not know how it is but I seem less strong, less resolute. What is passing around me appears so terrible. The spiriting away of these children is no longer an isolated fact—it is one of the ramifications of a vast conspiracy, which surrounds and threatens us all. It seems to me as if I and those I love walked together in darkness, in the midst of serpents, in the midst of snares that we can neither see nor struggle against. Well! I’ll speak out! I have never feared death—I am not a coward and yet I confess—yes, I confess it—these black robes frighten me—”
Dagobert pronounced these words in so sincere a tone, that his son started, for he shared the same impression. And it was quite natural. Frank, energetic, resolute characters, accustomed to act and fight in the light of day, never feel but one fear—and that is, to be ensnared and struck in the dark by enemies that escape their grasp. Thus, Dagobert had encountered death twenty times; and yet, on hearing his wife’s simple revelation of this dark tissue of lies, and treachery, and crime, the soldier felt a vague sense of fear; and, though nothing was changed in the conditions of his nocturnal enterprise against the convent, it now appeared to him in a darker and more dangerous light.
The silence, which had reigned for some moments, was interrupted by Mother Bunch’s return. The latter, knowing that the interview between Dagobert, his wife, and Agricola, ought not have any importunate witness, knocked lightly at the door, and remained in the passage with Father Loriot.
“Can we come in, Mme. Frances?” asked the sempstress. “Here is Father Loriot, bringing some wood.”
“Yes, yes; come in, my good girl,” said Agricola, whilst his father wiped the cold sweat from his forehead.