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After bidding his sister good night, Monseigneur Bienvenu took one of the two silver candlesticks from the table, handed the other to his guest, and said to him, -
"Monsieur, I will conduct you to your room."
The man followed him.
As might have been observed from what has been said above, the house was so arranged that in order to pass into the oratory where the alcove was situated, or to get out of it, it was necessary to traverse the Bishop's bedroom.
At the moment when he was crossing this apartment, Madame Magloire was putting away the silverware in the cupboard near the head of the bed. This was her last care every evening before she went to bed.
The Bishop installed his guest in the alcove. A fresh white bed had been prepared there. The man set the candle down on a small table.
"Well," said the Bishop, "may you pass a good night. To-morrow morning, before you set out, you shall drink a cup of warm milk from our cows."
"Thanks, Monsieur l'Abbe," said the man.
Hardly had he pronounced these words full of peace, when all of a sudden, and without transition, he made a strange movement, which would have frozen the two sainted women with horror, had they witnessed it. Even at this day it is difficult for us to explain what inspired him at that moment. Did he intend to convey a warning or to throw out a menace? Was he simply obeying a sort of instinctive impulse which was obscure even to himself? He turned abruptly to the old man, folded his arms, and bending upon his host a savage gaze, he exclaimed in a hoarse voice: -
"Ah! really! You lodge me in your house, close to yourself like this?"
He broke off, and added with a laugh in which there lurked something monstrous: -
"Have you really reflected well? How do you know that I have not been an assassin?"
The Bishop replied: -
"That is the concern of the good God."
Then gravely, and moving his lips like one who is praying or talking to himself, he raised two fingers of his right hand and bestowed his benediction on the man, who did not bow, and without turning his head or looking behind him, he returned to his bedroom.
When the alcove was in use, a large serge curtain drawn from wall to wall concealed the altar. The Bishop knelt before this curtain as he passed and said a brief prayer. A moment later he was in his garden, walking, meditating, conteplating, his heart and soul wholly absorbed in those grand and mysterious things which God shows at night to the eyes which remain open.
As for the man, he was actually so fatigued that he did not even profit by the nice white sheets. Snuffing out his candle with his nostrils after the manner of convicts, he dropped, all dressed as he was, upon the bed, where he immediately fell into a profound sleep.
Midnight struck as the Bishop returned from his garden to his apartment.
A few minutes later all were asleep in the little house.
Turn to the next chapter: CHAPTER VI