All that we have just written passed though Rodin’s mind in a second. His features, convulsed by the mental torment he endured, must have assumed a very strange expression, for Father d’Aigrigny and the cardinal looked at him in silent consternation. Once resolved to live, and to sustain a desperate struggle with the Rennepont family, Rodin acted in consequence. For a few moments Father d’Aigrigny and the prelate believed themselves under the influence of a dream. By an effort of unparalleled energy, and as if moved by hidden mechanism, Rodin sprang from the bed, dragging the sheet with him, and trailing it, like a shroud, behind his livid and fleshless body. The room was cold; the face of the Jesuit was bathed in sweat; his naked and bony feet left their moist print upon the stones.
“What are you doing? It is death!” cried Father d’Aigrigny, rushing towards Rodin, to force him to lie down again.
But the latter, extending one of his skeleton arms, as hard as iron, pushed aside Father d’Aigrigny with inconceivable vigor, considering the state of exhaustion in which he had so long been.
“He has the strength of a man in a fit of epilepsy,” said Father d’Aigrigny, recovering his balance.
With a steady step Rodin advanced to the desk on which Dr. Baleinier daily wrote his prescriptions. Seating himself before it, the Jesuit took pen and paper, and began to write in a firm hand. His calm, slow, and sure movements had in them something of the deliberateness remarked in somnambulists. Mute and motionless, hardly knowing whether they dreamed or not, the cardinal and Father d’Aigrigny remained staring at the incredible coolness of Rodin, who, half-naked, continued to write with perfect tranquillity.
“But, father,” said the Abbe d’Aigrigny, advancing towards him, “this is madness!”
Rodin shrugged his shoulders, stopped him with a gesture and made him a sign to read what he had just written.
The reverend father expected to see the ravings of a diseased brain; but he took the note, whilst Rodin commenced another.
“My lord,” exclaimed Father d’Aigrigny, “read this!”
The cardinal read the paper, and returning it to the reverend father with equal amazement, added: “It is full of reason, ability, and resources. We shall thus be able to neutralize the dangerous combination of Abbe Gabriel and Mdlle. de Cardoville, who appear to be the most formidable leaders of the coalition.”
“It is really miraculous,” said Father d’Aigrigny.
“Oh, my dear father!” whispered the cardinal, shaking his head; “what a pity that we are the only witnesses of this scene! What an excellent miracle we could have made of it! In one sense, it is another Raising of Lazarus!”
“What an idea, my lord!” answered Father d’Aigrigny, in a low voice. “It is perfect—and we must not give it up—”
This innocent little plot was interrupted by Rodin, who, turning his head, made a sign to Father d’Aigrigny to approach, and delivered to him another sheet, with this note attached: “To be executed within an hour.”