Conquered for her own part, the Countess turned to her daughter to ask for her adhesion: 'Well, what do you think of it?'

But the girl would say nothing more; she let her eyelids slowly fall to hide the glow of her eyes.

'Ah! true,' continued the mother, smiling in her turn, 'I had forgotten that you wished to let me remain sole mistress in the matter. But I know how brave you are, and all that you hope for.'

Then, addressing Saccard, she said: 'Ah! people speak so highly of you, monsieur. We can go nowhere without hearing the most beautiful and touching things about you. It is not only the Princess d'Orviedo, but all my friends, who are enthusiastic over your work. Many of them are jealous of me because I was one of your first shareholders, and if I were to take their advice I should sell even my mattresses in order to buy more shares.'

She jested in a mild, gentle way. 'I even think them a trifle crazy,' she continued—'yes, really a trifle crazy. No doubt it is because I am no longer young enough to understand it all. But my daughter is one of your admirers. She believes in your mission, and carries on propaganda in all the houses where we visit.'

Quite charmed, Saccard looked at Alice, who at that moment was so animated, so penetrated with lively faith, that she actually seemed to him very pretty, albeit already faded, with yellow complexion, and scraggy neck. And he deemed himself very great and good at the idea of having brought happiness to that sad creature whom the mere hope of a husband sufficed to beautify.

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'Oh!' said she in a very low, seemingly distant voice, ''tis so beautiful to think of, that conquest yonder—yes, a new era, the Cross radiant——'

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But that was the mystery of which no one spoke; and her voice sank lower yet, died away in a breath of rapture. Moreover, Saccard reduced her to silence by a friendly gesture, for[Pg 249] in his presence he would not tolerate any mention of the grand affair, the supreme, hidden end. His gesture implied that it was necessary one should always aim at attaining that end, but that one should never open one's lips to speak about it. In the sanctuary the censers swung in the hands of the few initiated.

After an interval of feeling silence, the Countess at last rose. 'Well, monsieur,' said she, 'I am convinced. I shall send my notary word that I accept the offer which is made for Les Aublets. May God forgive me, if I do wrong!'

Standing before her, Saccard declared with mingled gravity and emotion: 'It is God himself who inspires you, madame; be certain of it.'[23]

And as he accompanied them into the little passage, avoiding the ante-room, which was still thronged with people, he met Dejoie, who was prowling about with an embarrassed air.

'What's the matter? Not someone else, I hope?'

'No, no, monsieur. If I dared to ask Monsieur's advice—it is for myself.'

And he man?uvred in such a way that Saccard found himself in his office again, while Dejoie stood on the threshold in a very deferential attitude.

'For you. Ah! true, you are a shareholder also. Well, my man, take the new shares which will be reserved for you; take them even if you must sell your shirts to do so. That is the advice which I give to all our friends.'