Madame de Lescure tried to utter some kind of protest that she would not turn the poor old man out of his only bed, but she succeeded badly in the attempt, for her heart was sad within her, and she hardly knew what she was saying. They all followed Father Jerome out of the chapel, of which he locked the door, and putting the key into his pocket, strode into the humble dwelling opposite.
They found Father Bernard seated over a low wood fire, in a small sitting-room, in which the smell arising from the burning of damp sticks was very prevalent. There was one small rickety table in the middle of the room, and one other chair besides that occupied by the host, and with these articles alone the room was furnished. That there was no carpet in a clergyman’s house in Poitou was not remarkable; indeed it would have been very remarkable if there had been one; but the total want of any of the usual comforts of civilized life struck even Madame de Lescure, unsuited as she was at the present moment to take notice of such things.
The old man did not rise, but stared at them somewhat wildly: he was nearly doting from age; and fear, poverty, and sorrow, added to his many years, had now weighed him down almost to idiotcy. Father Jerome did the honours of the house; he made Madame de Lescure sit down on the chair, and then bustling into the kitchen, brought out a three legged stool, which he wiped with the sleeve of his coat, and offered to Marie. Then he took Chapeau to the door, and whispered to him some secret communication with reference to supper; in fact, he had to confess that there was nothing in the house but bread, and but little of that. That neither he or Father Bernard had a sou piece between them, and that unless Chapeau had money, and could go as far as the village and purchase eggs, they would all have to go supperless to bed. Chapeau luckily was provided, and started at once to forage for the party, and Father Jerome returned into the room relieved from a heavy weight.
“My dear old friend here,” said he, laying his hand on the old man’s arm, “has not much to offer you; but I am sure you are welcome to what -he has. There is not a heart in all La Vendee beats truer to his sovereign than his. Old age, misfortune, and persecution, have lain a heavy hand on him lately, but his heart still warms to the cause. Does it not my old friend?” And Father Jerome looked kindly into his face, striving to encourage him into some little share of interest in what was going on.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be warm again,” said the old man, drawing his chair still nearer to the dull smoky fire, and shivering as he did so. “Everything is cold now. I don’t understand why these ladies are come here, or what they’re to do; but they’re very welcome, Jerome, very welcome. A strange man came in just now, and said they must have my bed.”
“Oh no, Sir,” said Madame de Lescure, inexpressibly shocked at the dreadful misery of the poor old man; “indeed, indeed, we will not. It is only for one night, and we shall do very well. Indeed, we would not turn you out of your bed.”