The twilight gave place to a dark and stormy night, yet the Jew continued to pray, kneeling at the foot of the cross.
The following scene took place at Saint-Dizier House, two days after the reconciliation of Marshal Simon with his daughters. The princess is listening with the most profound attention to the words of Rodin. The reverend father, according to his habit, stands leaning against the mantelpiece, with his hands thrust into the pockets of his old brown great-coat. His thick, dirty shoes have left their mark on the ermine hearth-rug. A deep sense of satisfaction is impressed on the Jesuit’s cadaverous countenance. Princess de Saint-Dizier, dressed with that sort of modest elegance which becomes a mother of the church, keeps her eyes fixed on Rodin—for the latter has completely supplanted Father d’Aigrigny in the good graces of this pious lady. The coolness, audacity lofty intelligence, and rough and imperious character of the ex-socius have overawed this proud woman, and inspired her with a sincere admiration. Even his filthy habits and often brutal repartees have their charm for her, and she now prefers them to the exquisite politeness and perfumed elegance of the accomplished Father d’Aigrigny.
“Yes, madame,” said Rodin, in a sanctified tone, for these people do not take off their masks even with their accomplices, “yes, madame, we have excellent news from our house at St. Herem. M. Hardy, the infidel, the freethinker, has at length entered the pale of the holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.” Rodin pronounced these last word with a nasal twang, and the devout lady bowed her head respectfully.
“Grace has at length touched the heart of this impious man,” continued Rodin, “and so effectually that, in his ascetic enthusiasm, he has already wished to take the vows which will bind him forever to our divine Order.”
“So soon, father?” said the princess, in astonishment.
“Our statutes are opposed to this precipitation, unless in the case of a penitent in articulo mortis—on the very gasp of death—should such a person consider it necessary for his salvation to die in the habit of our Order, and leave us all his wealth for the greater glory of the Lord.”
“And is M. Hardy in so dangerous a condition, father?”
“He has a violent fever. After so many successive calamities, which have miraculously brought him into the path of salvation,” said Rodin, piously, “his frail and delicate constitution is almost broken up, morally and physically. Austerities, macerations, and the divine joys of ecstasy, will probably hasten his passage to eternal life, and in a few clays,” said the priest, shaking his head with a solemn air, “perhaps—”
“So soon as that, father?”
“It is almost certain. I have therefore made use of my dispensations, to receive the dear penitent, as in articulo mortis, a member of our divine Company, to which, in the usual course, he has made over all his possessions, present and to come—so that now he can devote himself entirely to the care of his soul, which will be one victim more rescued from the claws of Satan.”