“Impossible? What were you, sir, fifteen years ago?” said Rodin. “An impious and debauched man of the world. And yet you came to us, and your wealth became ours. What! we have conquered princes, kings, popes; we have absorbed and extinguished in our unity magnificent intelligences, which, from afar, shone with too dazzling a light; we have all but governed two worlds; we have perpetuated our Society, full of life, rich and formidable, even to this day, through all the hate, and all the persecutions that have assailed us; and yet we shall not be able to get the better of a single family, which threatens our Company, and has despoiled us of a large fortune? What! we are not skillful enough to obtain this result without having recourse to awkward and dangerous violence? You do not know, then, the immense field that is thrown open by the mutually destructive power of human passions, skillfully combined, opposed, restrained, excited?—particularly,” added Rodin, with a strange smile, “when, thanks to a powerful ally, these passions are sure to be redoubled in ardor and energy.”
“What ally?” asked Father d’Aigrigny, who, as well as the Princess de Saint-Dizier, felt a sort of admiration mixed with terror.
“Yes,” resumed Rodin, without answering the reverend father; “this formidable ally, who comes to our assistance, may bring about the most astonishing transformations—make the coward brave, and the impious credulous, and the gentle ferocious—”
“But this ally!” cried the Princess, oppressed with a vague sense of fear. “This great and formidable ally—who is he?”
“If he comes,” resumed Rodin, still impassible, “the youngest and most vigorous, every moment in danger of death, will have no advantage over the sick man at his last gasp.”
“But who is this ally?” exclaimed Father d’Aigrigny, more and more alarmed, for as the picture became darker, Rodin’s face become more cadaverous.
“This ally, who can decimate a population, may carry away with him in the shroud that he drags at his heels, the whole of an accursed race; but even he must respect the life of that great intangible body, which does not perish with the death of its members—for the spirit of the Society of Jesus is immortal!”
“And this ally?”
“Oh, this ally,” resumed Rodin, “who advances with slow steps, and whose terrible coming is announced by mournful presentiments—”
These words, pronounced by Rodin in an abrupt voice, made the Princess and Father d’Aigrigny grow pale and tremble. Rodin’s look was gloomy and chilling, like a spectre’s. For some moments, the silence of the tomb reigned in the saloon. Rodin was the first to break it. Still impassible, he pointed with imperious gesture to the table, where a few minutes before he had himself been humbly seated, and said in a sharp voice to Father d’Aigrigny, “Write!”
The reverend father started at first with surprise; then, remembering that from a superior he had become an inferior, he rose, bowed lowly to Rodin, as he passed before him, seated himself at the table, took the pen, and said, “I am ready.”