I am, however, entirely at your service."
Duroy sent for Madame Forestier.
"He is dying," said he.
"The doctor advises a priest being sent for.
What would you like done?"
She hesitated for some time, and then, in slow tones, as though she had calculated everything, replied,
"Yes, that will be best--in many respects. I will break it to him--tell him the vicar wants to see him, or something or other; I really don't know what.
You would be very kind if you would go and find a priest for me and pick one out.
Choose one who won't raise too many difficulties over the business.
One who will be satisfied with confession, and will let us off with the rest of it all."
The young fellow returned with a complaisant old ecclesiastic, who accommodated himself to the state of affairs.
As soon as he had gone into the dying man's room, Madame Forestier came out of it, and sat down with Duroy in the one adjoining.
"It has quite upset him," said she.
"When I spoke to him about a priest his face assumed a frightful expression as if he had felt the breath--the breath of--you know. He understood that it was all over at last, and that his hours were numbered."
She was very pale as she continued,
"I shall never forget the expression of his face.
He certainly saw death face to face at that moment.
He saw him."
They could hear the priest, who spoke in somewhat loud tones, being slightly deaf, and who was saying,
"No, no; you are not so bad as all that.
You are ill, but in no danger.
And the proof is that I have called in as a friend as a neighbor."
They could not make out Forestier's reply, but the old man went on,
"No, I will not ask you to communicate.
We will talk of that when you are better.
If you wish to profit by my visit--to confess, for instance--I ask nothing better.
I am a shepherd, you know, and seize on every occasion to bring a lamb back to the fold."
A long silence followed.
Forestier must have been speaking in a faint voice.
Then all at once the priest uttered in a different tone, the tone of one officiating at the altar.
"The mercy of God is infinite.
Repeat the Comfiteor, my son.
You have perhaps forgotten it; I will help you.
Repeat after me: 'Comfiteor Deo omnipotenti--Beata Maria semper virgini.'"
He paused from time to time to allow the dying man to catch him up.
Then he said, "And now confess."
The young wife and Duroy sat still seized on by a strange uneasiness, stirred by anxious expectation.
The invalid had murmured something.
The priest repeated, "You have given way to guilty pleasures--of what kind, my son?"
Madeleine rose and said,
"Let us go down into the garden for a short time.
We must not listen to his secrets."
And they went and sat down on a bench before the door beneath a rose tree in bloom, and beside a bed of pinks, which shed their soft and powerful perfume abroad in the pure air.
Duroy, after a few moments' silence, inquired, "Shall you be long before you return to Paris?"
"Oh, no," she replied.
"As soon as it is all over I shall go back there."
"Within ten days?"
"Yes, at the most."
"He has no relations, then?"
"None except cousins.