Part 3 out of 3
"The will," cried Gabriel, with increasing agony, "gave the property to
those of the heirs that should appear before noon."
"Well?" said Dagobert, alarmed at the emotion of the young priest.
"Twelve o'clock has struck," resumed the latter. "Of all the family, I
alone was present. Do you understand it now? The term is expired. The
heirs have been thrust aside by me!"
"By you!" said Dagobert, stammering with joy. "By you, my brave boy!
then all is well."
"All is well," resumed Dagobert, radiant with delight. "You will share
with the others--I know you."
"But all this property I have irrevocably, made over to another," cried
Gabriel, in despair.
"Made over the property!" cried Dagobert, quite petrified. "To whom,
"To this gentleman," said Gabriel, pointing to Father d'Aigrigny.
"To him!" exclaimed Dagobert, overwhelmed by the news; "to him--the
renegade--who has always been the evil genius of this family!"
"But, brother," cried Agricola, "did you then know your claim to this
"No," answered the young priest, with deep dejection; "no--I only learned
it this morning, from Father d'Aigrigny. He told me, that he had only
recently been informed of my rights, by family papers long ago found upon
me, and sent by our mother to her confessor."
A sudden light seemed to dawn upon the mind of the smith, as he
exclaimed: "I understand it all now. They discovered in these papers,
that you would one day have a chance of becoming rich. Therefore, they
interested themselves about you--therefore, they took you into their
college, where we could never see you--therefore, they deceived you in
your vocation by shameful falsehoods, to force you to become a priest,
and to lead you to make this deed of gift. Oh, sir!" resumed Agricola,
turning towards Father d'Aigrigny, with indignation, "my father is right-
-such machinations are indeed infamous!"
During this scene, the reverend father and his socius, at first alarmed
and shaken in their audacity, had by degrees recovered all their
coolness. Rodin, still leaning upon the casket, had said a few words in
a low voice to Father d'Aigrigny. So that when Agricola, carried away by
his indignation, reproached the latter with his infamous machinations, he
bowed his head humbly, and answered: "We are bound to forgive injuries,
and offer them to the Lord as a mark of our humility."
Dagobert, confounded at all he had just heard, felt his reason begin to
wander. After so much anxiety, his strength failed beneath this new and
terrible blow. Agricola's just and sensible words, in connection with
certain passages of the testament, at once enlightened Gabriel as to the
views of Father d'Aigrigny, in taking charge of his education, and
leading him to join the Society of Jesus. For the first time in his
life, Gabriel was able to take in at a glance all the secret springs of
the dark intrigue, of which he had been the victim. Then, indignation
and despair surmounting his natural timidity, the missionary, with
flashing eye, and cheeks inflamed with noble wrath, exclaimed, as he
addressed Father d'Aigrigny: "So, father, when you placed me in one of
your colleges, it was not from any feeling of kindness or commiseration,
but only in the hope of bringing me one day to renounce in favor of your
Order my share in this inheritance; and it did not even suffice you to
sacrifice me to your cupidity, but I must also be rendered the
involuntary instrument of a shameful spoliation! If only I were
concerned--if you only coveted my claim to all this wealth, I should not
complain. I am the minister of a religion which honors and sanctifies
poverty; I have consented to the donation in your favor, and I have not,
I could never have any claim upon it. But property is concerned which
belong to poor orphans, brought from a distant exile by my adopted
father, and I will not see them wronged. But the benefactress of my
adopted brother is concerned, and I will not see her wronged. But the
last will of a dying man is concerned, who, in his ardent love of
humanity, bequeathed to his descendants an evangelic mission--an
admirable mission of progress, love, union, liberty--and I will not see
this mission blighted in its bud. No, no; I tell you, that this his
mission shall be accomplished, though I have to cancel the donation I
On these words, Father d'Aigrigny and Rodin looked at each other with a
slight shrug of the shoulders. At a sign from the socius, the reverend
father began to speak with immovable calmness, in a slow and sanctified
voice, keeping eyes constantly cast down: "There are many incidents
connected with this inheritance of M. de Rennepont, which appear very
complicated--many phantoms, which seem un usually menacing--and yet,
nothing could be really more simple and natural. Let us proceed in
regular order. Let us put aside all these calumnious imputations; we
will return to them afterwards. M. Gabriel de Rennepont--and I
humbly beg him to contradict me, if I depart in the least instance from
the exact truth--M. Gabriel de Rennepont, in acknowledgment of the care
formerly bestowed on him by the society to which I have the honor to
belong, made over to me, as its representative, freely and voluntarily,
all the property that might come to him one day, the value of which was
unknown to him, as well as to myself."
Father d'Aigrigny here looked at Gabriel, as if appealing to him for the
truth of this statement.
"It is true," said the young priest: "I made this donation freely."
"This morning, in consequence of a private conversation, which I will not
repeat--and in this, I am certain beforehand, of the Abbe Gabriel--"
"True," replied Gabriel, generously; "the subject of this conversation is
of little importance."
"It was then, in consequence of this conversation that the Abbe Gabriel
manifested the desire to confirm this donation--not in my favor, for I
have little to do with earthly wealth--but in favor of the sacred and
charitable works of which our Company is the trustee. I appeal to the
honor of M. Gabriel to declare if he have not engaged himself towards us,
not only by a solemn oath, but by a perfectly legal act, executed in
presence of M. Dumesnil, here present?"
"It is all true," answered Gabriel.
"The deed was prepared by me," added the notary.
"But Gabriel could only give you what belonged to him," cried Dagobert.
"The dear boy never supposed that you were making use of him to rob other
"Do me the favor, sir, to allow me to explain myself," replied Father
d'Aigrigny, courteously; "you can afterwards make answer."
Dagobert repressed with difficulty his painful impatience. The reverend
father continued: "The Abbe Gabriel has therefore, by the double
engagement of an oath and a legal act, confirmed his donation. Much
more," resumed Father d'Aigrigny: "when to his great astonishment and to
ours, the enormous amount of the inheritance became known, the Abbe
Gabriel, faithful to his own admirable generosity, far from repenting of
his gifts, consecrated them once more by a pious movement of gratitude to
Providence--for M. Notary will doubtless remember, that, after embracing
the Abbe Gabriel with transport, and telling him that he was a second
Vincent de Paul in charity, I took him by the hand, and we both knelt
down together to thank heaven for having inspired him with the thought
too offer these immense riches to the Greater Glory of the Lord."
"That is true, also," said Gabriel, honestly; "so long as myself was
concerned, though I might be astounded for a moment by the revelation of
so enormous a fortune, I did not think for an instant of cancelling the
donation I had freely made."
"Under these circumstances," resumed Father d'Aigrigny, "the hour fixed
for the settlement of the inheritance having struck, and Abbe Gabriel
being the only heir that presented himself, he became necessarily the
only legitimate possessor of this immense wealth--enormous, no doubt--and
charity makes me rejoice that it is enormous, for, thanks to it, many
miseries will be relieved and many tears wiped away. But, all on a
sudden, here comes this gentleman," said Father d'Aigrigny, pointing to
Dagobert; "and, under some delusion, which I forgive from the bottom of
my soul, and which I am sure he will himself regret, accuses me, with
insults and threats, with having carried off (I know not where) some
persons (I know not whom), in order to prevent their being here at the
"Yes, I accuse you of this infamy!" cried the soldier exasperated by the
calmness and audacity of the reverend father: "yes--and I will--"
"Once again, sir, I conjure you to be so good as to let me finish; you
can reply afterwards," said Father d'Aigrigny, humbly, in the softest and
most honeyed accents.
"Yes, I will reply, and confound you!" cried Dagobert.
"Let him finish, father. You can speak presently," said Agricola.
The soldier was silent as Father d'Aigrigny continued with new assurance:
"Doubtless, if there should really be any other heirs, besides the Abbe
Gabriel, it is unfortunate for them that they have not appeared in proper
time. And if, instead of defending the cause of the poor and needy, I
had only to look to my own interest, I should be far from availing myself
of this advantage, due only to chance; but, as a trustee for the great
family of the poor, I am obliged to maintain my absolute right to this
inheritance; and I do not doubt that M. Notary will acknowledge the
validity of my claim, and deliver to me these securities, which are now
my legitimate property."
"My only mission," replied the notary, in an agitated voice, "is
faithfully to execute the will of the testator. The Abbe Gabriel de
Rennepont alone presented himself, within the term fixed by the
testament. The deed of gift is in due form; I cannot refuse, therefore,
to deliver to the person named in the deed the amount of the heritage--"
On these words Samuel hid his face in his hands, and heaved a deep sigh;
he was obliged to acknowledge the rigorous justice of the notary's
"But, sir," cried Dagobert, addressing the man of law, "this cannot be.
You will not allow two poor orphans to be despoiled. It is in the name
of their father and mother that I speak to you. I give you my honor--the
honor of a soldier!--that they took advantage of the weakness of my wife
to carry the daughters of Marshal Simon to a convent, and thus prevent me
bringing them here this morning. It is so true, that I have already laid
my charge before a magistrate."
"And what answer did you receive?" said the notary.
"That my deposition was not sufficient for the law to remove these young
girls from the convent in which they were, and that inquiries would be
"Yes, sir," added Agricola, "and it was the same with regard to Mdlle.
de Cardoville, detained as mad in a lunatic asylum, though in the full
enjoyment of her reason. Like Marshal Simon's daughters, she too has a
claim to this inheritance. I took the same steps for her, as my father
took for Marshal Simon's daughters."
"Well?" asked the notary.
"Unfortunately, sir," answered Agricola, "they told me; as they did my
father, that my deposition would not suffice, and that they must make
At this moment, Bathsheba, having heard the street-bell ring, left the
Red Room at a sign from Samuel. The notary resumed, addressing Agricola
and his father: "Far be it from me, gentlemen, to call in question your
good faith; but I cannot, to my great regret, attach such importance to
your accusations, which are not supported by proof, as to suspend the
regular legal course. According to your own confession, gentlemen, the
authorities, to whom you addressed yourselves, did not see fit to
interfere on your depositions, and told you they would inquire further.
Now, really, gentlemen, I appeal to you: how can I, in so serious a
matter, take upon myself a responsibility, which the magistrates
themselves have refused to take?"
"Yes, you should do so, in the name of justice and honor?" cried
"It may be so, sir, in your opinion; but in my view of the case, I remain
faithful to justice and honor, by executing with exactness the last will
of the dead. For the rest you have no occasion to despair. If the
persons, whose interests you represent, consider themselves injured, they
may hereafter have recourse to an action at law, against the person
receiving as donee of the Abbe Gabriel--but in the meanwhile, it is my
duty to put him in immediate possession of the securities. I should be
gravely injured, were I to act in any, other manner."
The notary's observations seemed so reasonable, that Samuel, Dagobert and
Agricola were quite confounded. After a moment's thought, Gabriel
appeared to take a desperate resolution, and said to the notary, in a
"Since, under these circumstances, the law is powerless to obtain the
right, I must adopt, sir, an extreme course. Before doing so, I will ask
M. l'Abbe d'Aigrigny, for the last time, if he will content himself with
that portion of the property which falls justly to me, on condition that
the rest shall be placed in safe hands, till the heirs, whose names have
been brought forward, shall prove their claim."
"To this proposition I must answer as I have done already," replied
Father d'Aigrigny; "it is not I who am concerned, but an immense work of
charity. I am, therefore, obliged to refuse the part-offer of the Abbe
Gabriel, and to remind him of his engagements of every kind."
"Then you refuse this arrangement?" asked Gabriel, in an agitated voice.
"Charity commands me to do so."
"You refuse it--absolutely?"
"I think of all the good and pious institutions that these treasures will
enable us to establish for the Greater Glory of the Lord, and I have
neither the courage nor the desire to make the least concession."
"Then, sir," resumed the good priest, in a still more agitated manner,
"since you force me to do it, I revoke my donation. I only intended to
dispose of my own property, and not of that which did not belong to me."
"Take care M. l'Abbe," said rather d'Aigrigny; "I would observe that I
hold in my hand a written, formal promise."
"I know it, sir; you have a written paper, in which I take an oath never
to revoke this donation, upon any pretext whatever, and on pain of
incurring the aversion and contempt of all honest men. Well, sir! be it
so," said Gabriel, with deep bitterness; "I will expose myself to all
the consequences of perjury; you may proclaim it everywhere. I may be
hated and despised by all--but God will judge me!" The young priest
dried a tear, which trickled from his eye.
"Oh! do not be afraid, my dear boy!" cried Dagobert, with reviving hope.
"All honest men will be on your side!"
"Well done, brother!" said Agricola.
"M. Notary," said Rodin, in his little sharp voice, "please to explain to
Abbe Gabriel, that he may perjure himself as much as he thinks fit, but
that the Civil Code is much less easy to violate than a mere promise,
which is only--sacred!"
"Speak, sir," said Gabriel.
"Please to inform Abbe Gabriel," resumed Rodin, "that a deed of gift,
like that made in favor of Father d'Aigrigny, can only be cancelled for
one of three reasons--is it not so?"
"Yes, sir, for three reasons," said the notary.
"The first is in case of the birth of a child," said Rodin, "and I should
blush to mention such a contingency to the Abbe Gabriel. The second is
the ingratitude of the donee--and the Abbe Gabriel may be certain of our
deep and lasting gratitude. The last case is the non-fulfilment of the
wishes of the donor, with regard to the employment of his gifts.
"Now, although the Abbe Gabriel may have suddenly conceived a very bad
opinion of us, he will at least give us some time to show that his gifts
have been disposed of according to his wishes, and applied to the Greater
Glory of the Lord."
"Now, M. Notary," added Father d'Aigrigny, "it is for you to decide and
say, if Abbe Gabriel can revoke the donation he has made."
Just as the notary was going to answer, Bathsheba reentered the room,
followed by two more personages, who appeared in the Red Room at a little
distance from each other.