The latter, enraged at this perseverance, and wishing to avoid an interview which for many reasons was singularly odious to him, turned his face towards the wall, and pretended to be asleep. Caring little for this feint, and determined to profit by Rodin’s state of weakness, the prelate took a chair, and, conquering his repugnance, sat down close to the Jesuit’s bed.
“My reverend and very dear father, how do you find yourself?” said he to him, in a honeyed tone, which his Italian accent seemed to render still more hypocritical. Rodin pretended not to hear, breathed hard, and made no answer. But the cardinal, not without disgust, shook with his gloved hand the arm of the Jesuit, and repeated in a louder voice: “My reverend and very dear father, answer me, I conjure you!”
Rodin could not restrain a movement of angry impatience, but he continued silent. The cardinal was not a man to be discouraged by so little; he again shook the arm of the Jesuit, somewhat more roughly, repeating, with a passionless tenacity that would have incensed the most patient person in the world: “My reverend and very dear father, since you are not asleep, listen to me, I entreat of you.”
Irritable with pain, exasperated by the obstinacy of the prelate, Rodin abruptly turned his head, fixed on the Roman his hollow eyes, shining with lurid fire, and, with lips contracted by a sardonic smile, said to him, bitterly: “You must be very anxious, my lord, to see me embalmed, and lie in state with tapers, as you were saying just now, for you thus to come to torment me in my last moments, and hasten my end!”
“Oh, my good father! how can you talk so?” cried the cardinal, raising his hands as if to call heaven to witness to the sincerity of the tender interest he felt for the Jesuit.
“I tell you that I heard all just now, my lord; for the partition is thin,” added Rodin, with redoubled bitterness.
“If you mean that, from the bottom of my soul, I desired that you should make an exemplary and Christian end, you are perfectly right, my dear father. I did say so; for, after a life so well employed, it would be sweet to see you an object of adoration for the faithful!”
“I tell you, my lord,” cried Rodin, in a weak and broken voice, “that it is ferocious to express such wishes in the presence of a dying man. Yes,” he added, with growing animation, that contrasted strongly with his weakness, “take care what you do; for if I am too much plagued and pestered—if I am not allowed to breathe my last breath quietly—I give you notice that you will force me to die in anything but a Christian manner, and if you mean to profit by an edifying spectacle, you will be deceived.”
This burst of anger having greatly fatigued Rodin, his head fell back upon the pillow, and he wiped his cracked and bleeding lips with his old cotton handkerchief.
“Come, come, be calm, my very dear father,” resumed the cardinal, with a patronizing air; “do not give way to such gloomy ideas. Doubtless, Providence reserves you for great designs, since you have been already delivered from so much peril. Let us hope that you will be likewise saved from your present danger.”