Mdlle. de Cardoville, much astonished at the alarm displayed by Rodin, when she had asked him for some explanation of the formidable and far reaching power of the Abby d’Aigrigny, said to him: “Why, sir, what is there so strange in the question that I have just asked you?”
After a moment’s silence, Rodin cast his looks all around, with well feigned uneasiness, and replied in a whisper: “Once more, madame, do not question me on so fearful a subject. The walls of this house may have ears.”
Adrienne and Dagobert looked at each other with growing surprise. Mother Bunch, by an instinct of incredible force, continued to regard Rodin with invincible suspicion. Sometimes she stole a glance at him, as if trying to penetrate the mask of this man, who filled her with fear. At one moment, the Jesuit encountered her anxious gaze, obstinately fixed upon him; immediately he nodded to her with the greatest amenity. The young girl, alarmed at finding herself observed, turned away with a shudder.
“No, no, my dear young lady,” resumed Rodin, with a sigh, as he saw Mdlle. de Cardoville astonished at his silence; “do not question me on the subject of the Abbe d’Aigrigny’s power!”
“But, to persist, sir,” said Adrienne; “why this hesitation to answer? What do you fear?”
“Ah, my dear young lady,” said Rodin, shuddering, “those people are so powerful! their animosity is so terrible!”
“Be satisfied, sir; I owe you too much, for my support ever to fail you.”
“Ah, my dear young lady,” cried Rodin, as if hurt by the supposition; “think better of me, I entreat you. Is it for myself that I fear?—No, no; I am too obscure, too inoffensive; but it is for you, for Marshal Simon, for the other members of your family, that all is to be feared. Oh, my dear young lady! let me beg you to ask no questions. There are secrets which are fatal to those who possess them.”
“But, sir, is it not better to know the perils with which one is threatened?”
“When you know the manoeuvres of your enemy, you may at least defend yourself,” said Dagobert. “I prefer an attack in broad daylight to an ambuscade.”
“And I assure you,” resumed Adrienne, “the few words you have spoken cause me a vague uneasiness.”
“Well, if I must, my dear young lady,” replied the Jesuit, appearing to make a great effort, “since you do not understand my hints, I will be more explicit; but remember,” added he, in a deeply serious tone, “that you have persevered in forcing me to tell you what you had perhaps better not have known.”
“Speak, Sir, I pray you speak,” said Adrienne.
Drawing about him Adrienne, Dagobert, and Mother Bunch, Rodin said to them in a low voce, and with a mysterious air: “Have you never heard of a powerful association, which extends its net over all the earth, and counts its disciples, agents, and fanatics in every class of society which has had, and often has still, the ear of kings and nobles—which, in a word, can raise its creatures to the highest positions, and with a word can reduce them again to the nothingness from which it alone could uplift them?”