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32. The Absolution.
This is what had taken place: We have seen that it was not of his own free will, but, on the contrary, very reluctantly, that the monk attended the wounded man who had been recommended to him in so strange a manner. Perhaps he would have sought to escape by flight had he seen any possibility of doing so. He was restrained by the threats of the two gentlemen and by the presence of their attendants, who doubtless had received their instructions. And besides, he considered it most expedient, without exhibiting too much ill-will, to follow to the end his role as confessor.
The monk entered the chamber and approached the bed of the wounded man. The executioner searched his face with the quick glance peculiar to those who are about to die and have no time to lose. He made a movement of surprise and said:
"Father, you are very young."
"Men who bear my robe have no, age," replied the monk, dryly.
"Alas, speak to me more gently, father; in my last moments I need a friend."
"Do you suffer much?" asked the monk.
"Yes, but in my soul much more than in my body."
"We will save your soul," said the young man; "but are you really the executioner of Bethune, as these people say?"
"That is to say," eagerly replied the wounded man, who doubtless feared that the name of executioner would take from him the last help that he could claim -- "that is to say, I was, but am no longer; it is fifteen years since I gave up the office. I still assist at executions, but no longer strike the blow myself -- no, indeed."
"You have, then, a repugnance to your profession?"
"So long as I struck in the name of the law and of justice my profession allowed me to sleep quietly, sheltered as I was by justice and law; but since that terrible night when I became an instrument of private vengeance and when with personal hatred I raised the sword over one of God's creatures -- since that day ---- "
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