"CERTES," said Aramis, "I do justice to the beauties of this thesis; but at the same time I perceive it would be overwhelming for me. I had chosen this text-tell me, dear d'Artagnan, if it is not to your taste-'NON INUTILE EST DESIDERIUM IN OBLATIONE'; that is, 'A little regret is not unsuitable in an offering to the Lord.'"
"Stop there!" cried the Jesuit, "for that thesis touches closely upon heresy. There is a proposition almost like it in the AUGUSTINUS of the heresiarch Jansenius, whose book will sooner or later be burned by the hands of the executioner. Take care, my young friend. You are inclining toward false doctrines, my young friend; you will be lost."
"You will be lost," said the curate, shaking his head sorrowfully.
"You approach that famous point of free will which is a mortal rock. You face the insinuations of the Pelagians and the semi-Pelagians."
"But, my Reverend-" replied Aramis, a little amazed by the shower of arguments that poured upon his head.
"How will you prove," continued the Jesuit, without allowing him time to speak, "that we ought to regret the world when we offer ourselves to God? Listen to this dilemma: God is God, and the world is the devil. To regret the world is to regret the devil; that is my conclusion."
"And that is mine also," said the curate.
"But, for heaven's sake-" resumed Aramis.
"DESIDERAS DIABOLUM, unhappy man!" cried the Jesuit.
"He regrets the devil! Ah, my young friend," added the curate, groaning, "do not regret the devil, I implore you!"
D'Artagnan felt himself bewildered. It seemed to him as though he were in a madhouse, and was becoming as mad as those he saw. He was, however, forced to hold his tongue from not comprehending half the language they employed.
"But listen to me, then," resumed Aramis with politeness mingled with a little impatience. "I do not say I regret; no, I will never pronounce that sentence, which would not be orthodox."
The Jesuit raised his hands toward heaven, and the curate did the same.
"No; but pray grant me that it is acting with an ill grace to offer to the Lord only that with which we are perfectly disgusted! Don't you think so, d'Artagnan?"
"I think so, indeed," cried he.
The Jesuit and the curate quite started from their chairs.
"This is the point of departure; it is a syllogism. The world is not wanting in attractions. I quit the world; then I make a sacrifice. Now, the Scripture says positively, 'Make a sacrifice unto the Lord.'"
"That is true," said his antagonists.
"And then," said Aramis, pinching his ear to make it red, as he rubbed his hands to make them white, "and then I made a certain RONDEAU upon it last year, which I showed to Monsieur Voiture, and that great man paid me a thousand compliments."
"A RONDEAU!" said the Jesuit, disdainfully.
"A RONDEAU!" said the curate, mechanically.
"Repeat it! Repeat it!" cried d'Artagnan; "it will make a little change."
"Not so, for it is religious," replied Aramis; "it is theology in verse."
"The devil!" said d'Artagnan.
"Here it is," said Aramis, with a little look of diffidence, which, however, was not exempt from a shade of hypocrisy:
"Vous qui pleurez un passe plein de charmes, Et qui trainez des jours infortunes, Tous vos malheurs se verront termines, Quand a Dieu seul vous offrirez vos larmes, Vous qui pleurez!"
"You who weep for pleasures fled, While dragging on a life of care, All your woes will melt in air, If to God your tears are shed, You who weep!"
d'Artagnan and the curate appeared pleased. The Jesuit persisted in his opinion. "Beware of a profane taste in your theological style. What says Augustine on this subject: 'SEVERUS SIT CLERICORUM VERBO.'"
"Yes, let the sermon be clear," said the curate.
"Now," hastily interrupted the Jesuit, on seeing that his acolyte was going astray, "now your thesis would please the ladies; it would have the success of one of Monsieur Patru's pleadings."
"Please God!" cried Aramis, transported.
"There it is," cried the Jesuit; "the world still speaks within you in a loud voice, ALTISIMMA VOCE. You follow the world, my young friend, and I tremble lest grace prove not efficacious."
"Be satisfied, my reverend father, I can answer for myself."
"I know myself, Father; my resolution is irrevocable."
"Then you persist in continuing that thesis?"
"I feel myself called upon to treat that, and no other. I will see about the continuation of it, and tomorrow I hope you will be satisfied with the corrections I shall have made in consequence of your advice."
"Work slowly," said the curate; "we leave you in an excellent tone of mind."
"Yes, the ground is all sown," said the Jesuit, "and we have not to fear that one portion of the seed may have fallen upon stone, another upon the highway, or that the birds of heaven have eaten the rest, AVES COELI COMEDERUNT ILLAM."
"Plague stifle you and your Latin!" said d'Artagnan, who began to feel all his patience exhausted.
"Farewell, my son," said the curate, "till tomorrow."
"Till tomorrow, rash youth," said the Jesuit. "You promise to become one of the lights of the Church. Heaven grant that this light prove not a devouring fire!"
D'Artagnan, who for an hour past had been gnawing his nails with impatience, was beginning to attack the quick.
The two men in black rose, bowed to Aramis and d'Artagnan, and advanced toward the door. Bazin, who had been standing listening to all this controversy with a pious jubilation, sprang toward them, took the breviary of the curate and the missal of the Jesuit, and walked respectfully before them to clear their way.
Aramis conducted them to the foot of the stairs, and then immediately came up again to d'Artagnan, whose senses were still in a state of confusion.
When left alone, the two friends at first kept an embarrassed silence. It however became necessary for one of them to break it first, and as d'Artagnan appeared determined to leave that honor to his companion, Aramis said, "you see that I am returned to my fundamental ideas."
"Yes, efficacious grace has touched you, as that gentleman said just now."
"Oh, these plans of retreat have been formed for a long time. You have often heard me speak of them, have you not, my friend?"
"Yes; but I confess I always thought you jested."
"With such things! Oh, d'Artagnan!"
"The devil! Why, people jest with death."
"And people are wrong, d'Artagnan; for death is the door which leads to perdition or to salvation."
"Granted; but if you please, let us not theologize, Aramis. You must have had enough for today. As for me, I have almost forgotten the little Latin I have ever known. Then I confess to you that I have eaten nothing since ten o'clock this morning, and I am devilish hungry."