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Title: En Route
Author: Huysmans, J.-K. (Joris-Karl), 1848-1907
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "En Route" ***

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EN ROUTE

by

J. K. HUYSMANS

Translated by W. Fleming



EN ROUTE.

CHAPTER I.


During the first week in November, the week within the Octave of All
Souls, Durtal entered St. Sulpice, at eight o'clock in the evening. He
often chose to turn into that church, because there was a trained choir,
and because he could there examine himself at peace, apart from the
crowd. The ugliness of the nave, with its heavy vaulting, vanished at
night, the aisles were often empty, it was ill-lighted by a few
lamps--it was possible for a man to chide his soul in secret, as if at
home.

Durtal sat down behind the high altar, on the left, in the aisle along
the Rue de St. Sulpice; the lamps of the choir organ were lighted. Far
off, in the almost empty nave, an ecclesiastic was preaching. He
recognized, by the unctuousness of his delivery, and his oily accent, a
well-fed priest who poured on his audience, according to his wont, his
best known commonplaces.

"Why are they so devoid of eloquence?" thought Durtal. "I have had the
curiosity to listen to many of them, and they are much the same. They
only vary in the tones of their voice. According to their temperament,
some are bruised down in vinegar, others steeped in oil. There is no
such thing as a clever combination." And he called to mind orators
petted like tenors, Monsabré, Didon, those Coquelins of the Church, and
lower yet than those products of the Catholic training school, that
bellicose booby the Abbé d'Hulst.

"Afterwards," he continued, "come the mediocrities, each puffed by the
handful of devotees who listen to them. If those cooks of the soul had
any skill, if they served their clients with delicate meats, theological
essences, gravies of prayer, concentrated sauces of ideas, they would
vegetate misunderstood by their flocks. So, on the whole, it is all for
the best. The low-water mark of the clergy must conform to the level of
the faithful, and indeed Providence has provided carefully for this."

A stamping of shoes, then the movement of chairs grinding on the flags
interrupted him. The sermon was over.

Then a great stillness was broken by a prelude from the organ, which
dropped to a low tone, a mere accompaniment to the voices.

A slow and mournful chant arose, the "De Profundis." The blended voices
sounded under the arches, intermingling with the somewhat raw sounds of
the harmonicas, like the sharp tones of breaking glass.

Resting on the low accompaniment of the organ, aided by basses so hollow
that they seemed to have descended into themselves, as it were
underground, they sprang out, chanting the verse "De profundis ad te
clamavi, Do--" and then stopped in fatigue, letting the last syllables
"mine" fall like a heavy tear; then these voices of children, near
breaking, took up the second verse of the psalm, "Domine exaudi vocem
meam," and the second half of the last word again remained in suspense,
but instead of separating, and falling to the ground, there to be
crushed out like a drop, it seemed to gather itself together with a
supreme effort, and fling to heaven the anguished cry of the
disincarnate soul, cast naked, and in tears before God.

And after a pause, the organ, aided by two double-basses, bellowed out,
carrying all the voices in its torrent--baritones, tenors, basses, not
now serving only as sheaths to the sharp blades of the urchin voices,
but openly with full throated sound--yet the dash of the little soprani
pierced them through all at once like a crystal arrow.

Then a fresh pause, and in the silence of the church, the verses mourned
out anew, thrown up by the organ, as by a spring board. As he listened
with attention endeavouring to resolve the sounds, closing his eyes,
Durtal saw them at first almost horizontal, then rising little by
little, then raising themselves upright, then quivering in tears, before
their final breaking.

Suddenly at the end of the psalm, when the response of the antiphon
came--"Et lux perpetua luceat eis"--the children's voices broke into a
sad, silken cry, a sharp sob, trembling on the word "eis," which
remained suspended in the void.

These children's voices stretched to breaking, these clear sharp voices
threw into the darkness of the chant some whiteness of the dawn, joining
their pure, soft sounds to the resonant tones of the basses, piercing as
with a jet of living silver the sombre cataract of the deeper singers;
they sharpened the wailing, strengthened and embittered the burning salt
of tears, but they insinuated also a sort of protecting caress, balsamic
freshness, lustral help; they lighted in the darkness those brief gleams
which tinkle in the Angelus at dawn of day; they called up, anticipating
the prophecies of the text, the compassionate image of the Virgin,
passing, in the pale light of their tones, into the darkness of that
sequence.

The "De Profundis" so chanted was incomparably beautiful. That sublime
prayer ending in sobs, at the moment when the soul of the voices was
about to overpass human limits, gave a wrench to Durtal's nerves, and
made his heart beat. Then he wished to abstract himself, and cling
especially to the meaning of that sorrowful plaint, in which the fallen
being calls upon its God with groans and lamentations. Those cries of
the third verse came back to him, wherein calling on his Saviour in
despair from the bottom of the abyss, man, now that he knows he is
heard, hesitates ashamed, knowing not what to say. The excuses he has
prepared appear to him vain, the arguments he has arranged seem to him
of no effect, and he stammers forth; "If Thou, O Lord, shalt observe
iniquities, Lord, who shall endure it?"

"It is a pity," said Durtal to himself, "that this psalm, which in its
first verses chants so magnificently the despair of humanity, becomes in
those which follow more personal to King David. I know well," he went
on, "that we must accept the symbolic sense of this pleading, admit that
the despot confounds his own cause with that of God, that his
adversaries are the unbelievers and the wicked, that he himself,
according to the doctors of the Church, prefigures the person of Christ;
but yet the memory of his fleshly desires, and the presumptuous praise
he gives to his incorrigible people, contracts the scope of the poem.
Happily the melody has a life apart from the text, a life of its own,
not arising out of mere tribal dissensions, but extending to all the
earth, chanting the anguish of the time to be born, as well as of the
present day, and of the ages which are no more."

The "De Profundis" had ceased; after a silence, the choir intoned a
motet of the eighteenth century, but Durtal was only moderately
interested in human music in churches. What seemed to him superior to
the most vaunted works of theatrical or worldly music, was the old plain
chant, that even and naked melody, at once ethereal and of the tomb, the
solemn cry of sadness and lofty shout of joy, those grandiose hymns of
human faith, which seem to well up in the cathedrals, like irresistible
geysers, at the very foot of the Romanesque columns. What music, however
ample, sorrowful or tender, is worth the "De Profundis" chanted in
unison, the solemnity of the "Magnificat," the splendid warmth of the
"Lauda Sion," the enthusiasm of the "Salve Regina," the sorrow of the
"Miserere," and the "Stabat Mater," the majestic omnipotence of the "Te
Deum"? Artists of genius have set themselves to translate the sacred
texts: Vittoria, Josquin de Près, Palestrina, Orlando Lasso, Handel,
Bach, Haydn, have written wonderful pages; often indeed they have been
uplifted by the mystic effluence, the very emanation of the Middle Ages,
for ever lost; and yet their works have retained a certain pomp, and in
spite of all are pretentious, as opposed to the humble magnificence, the
sober splendour of the Gregorian chant--with them the whole thing came
to an end, for composers no longer believed.

Yet in modern times some religious pieces may be cited of Lesueur,
Wagner, Berlioz, and Cæsar Franck, and in these again we are conscious
of the artist underlying his work, the artist determined to show his
skill, thinking to exalt his own glory, and therefore leaving God out.
We feel ourselves in the presence of superior men, but men with their
weaknesses, their inseparable vanity, and even the vice of their senses.
In the liturgical chant, created almost always anonymously in the depth
of the cloisters, was an extraterrestrial well, without taint of sin or
trace of art. It was an uprising of souls already freed from the slavery
of the flesh, an explosion of elevated tenderness and pure joy, it was
also the idiom of the Church, a musical gospel appealing like the Gospel
itself at once to the most refined and the most humble.

Ah! the true proof of Catholicism was that art which it had founded, an
art which has never been surpassed; in painting and sculpture the Early
Masters, mystics in poetry and in prose, in music plain chant, in
architecture the Romanesque and Gothic styles. And all this held
together and blazed in one sheaf, on one and the same altar; all was
reconciled in one unique cluster of thoughts: to revere, adore and serve
the Dispenser, showing to Him reflected in the soul of His creature, as
in a faithful mirror, the still immaculate treasure of His gifts.

Then in those marvellous Middle Ages, wherein Art, foster-child of the
Church, encroached on death and advanced to the threshold of Eternity,
and to God, the divine concept and the heavenly form were guessed and
half-perceived, for the first and perhaps for the last time by man. They
answered and echoed each other--art calling to art.

The Virgins had faces almond-shaped, elongated like those ogives which
the Gothic style contrived in order to distribute an ascetic light, a
virginal dawn in the mysterious shrine of its naves. In the pictures of
the Early Masters the complexion of holy women becomes transparent as
Paschal wax, and their hair is pale as golden grains of frankincense,
their childlike bosoms scarcely swell, their brows are rounded like the
glass of the pyx, their fingers taper, their bodies shoot upwards like
delicate columns. Their beauty becomes, as it were, liturgical. They
seem to live in the fire of stained glass, borrowing from the flaming
whirlwind of the rose-windows the circles of their aureoles. The ardent
blue of their eyes, the dying embers of their lips, keeping for their
garments the colours they disdain for their flesh, stripping them of
their light, changing them, when they transfer them to stuffs, into
opaque tones which aid still more by their contrast to declare the
seraphic clearness of their look, the grievous paleness of the mouth, to
which, according to the Proper of the season, the scent of the lily of
the Canticles or the penitential fragrance of myrrh in the Psalms lend
their perfume.

Then among artists was a coalition of brains, a welding together of
souls. Painters associated themselves in the same ideal of beauty with
architects, they united in an indestructible relation cathedrals and
saints, only reversing the usual process--they framed the jewel
according to the shrine, and modelled the relics for the reliquary.

On their side the sequences chanted by the Church had subtle affinities
with the canvases of the Early Painters.

Vittoria's responses for Tenebræ are of a like inspiration and an equal
loftiness with those of Quentin Matsys' great work, the Entombment of
Christ. The "Regina Coeli" of the Flemish musician Lasso has the same
good faith, the same simple and strange attraction, as certain statues
of a reredos, or religious pictures of the elder Breughel. Lastly, the
Miserere of Josquin de Près, choirmaster of Louis XII., has, like the
panels of the Early Masters of Burgundy and Flanders, a patient
intention, a stiff, threadlike simplicity, but also it exhales like them
a truly mystical savour, and its awkwardness of outline is very
touching.

The ideal of all these works is the same and attained by different
means.

As for plain chant, the agreement of its melody with architecture is
also certain; it also bends from time to time like the sombre Romanesque
arcades, and rises, shadowy and pensive, like complete vaulting. The "De
Profundis," for instance, curves in on itself like those great groins
which form the smoky skeleton of the bays; it is like them slow and
dark, extends itself only in obscurity and moves only in the shadow of
the crypts.

Sometimes, on the other hand, the Gregorian chant seems to borrow from
Gothic its flowery tendrils, its scattered pinnacles, its gauzy rolls,
its tremulous lace, its trimmings light and thin as the voices of
children. Then it passes from one extreme to another, from the amplitude
of sorrow to an infinite joy; at other times again, the plain music, and
the Christian music to which it gave birth, lend themselves, like
sculpture, to the gaiety of the people, associate themselves with simple
gladness, and the sculptured merriment of the ancient porches; they take
the popular rhythm of the crowd, as in the Christmas carol "Adeste
Fideles" and in the Paschal hymn "O Filii et Filiæ;" they become trivial
and familiar like the Gospels, submitting themselves to the humble
wishes of the poor, lending them a holiday tune easy to catch, a
running melody which carries them into pure regions where these simple
souls can cast themselves at the indulgent feet of Christ.

Born of the Church, and bred up by her in the choir-schools of the
Middle Ages, plain chant is the aerial and mobile paraphrase of the
immovable structure of the cathedrals; it is the immaterial and fluid
interpretation of the canvases of the Early Painters; it is a winged
translation, but also the strict and unbending stole of those Latin
sequences, which the monks built up or hewed out in the cloisters in the
far-off olden time.

Now it is changed and disconnected, foolishly overwhelmed by the crash
of organs, and is chanted, God knows how!

Most choirs when they intone it, like to imitate the rumbling and
gurgling of water-pipes, others the grating of rattles, the creaking of
pullies, the grinding of a crane, but, in spite of all, its beauty
remains, unextinguished, dulled though it be, by the wild bellowing of
the singers.

The sudden silence in the church roused Durtal. He rose and looked about
him; in his corner was no one save two poor women, asleep, their feet on
the bars of chairs, their heads on their knees. Leaning forward a
little, he saw, hanging above him in a dark chapel, the light of a lamp,
like a ruby in its red glass; no sound save the military tread of the
Suisse, making his round in the distance.

Durtal sat down again; the sweetness of his solitude was enhanced by the
aromatic perfume of wax, and the memories, now faint, of incense, but it
was suddenly broken. As the first chords crashed on the organ Durtal
recognized the "Dies iræ," that despairing hymn of the Middle Ages;
instinctively he bowed his head and listened.

This was no more as in the "De Profundis" an humble supplication, a
suffering which believes it has been heard, and discerns a path of light
to guide it in the darkness, no longer the prayer which has hope enough
not to tremble; it was the cry of absolute desolation and of terror.

And, indeed, the wrath divine breathed tempestuously through these
stanzas. They seemed addressed less to the God of mercy, to the Son who
listens to prayer, than to the inflexible Father, to Him whom the Old
Testament shows us, overcome with anger, scarcely appeased by the smoke
of the pyres, the inconceivable attractions of burnt-offerings. In this
chant it asserted itself still more savagely, for it threatened to
strike the waters, and break in pieces the mountains, and to rend
asunder the depths of heaven by thunder-bolts. And the earth, alarmed,
cried out in fear.

A crystalline voice, a clear child's voice, proclaimed in the nave the
tidings of these cataclysms, and after this the choir chanted new
strophes wherein the implacable judge came with shattering blare of
trumpet, to purify by fire the rottenness of the world.

Then, in its turn, a bass, deep as a vault, as though issuing from the
crypt, accentuated the horror of these prophecies, made these threats
more overwhelming, and after a short strain by the choir, an alto
repeated them in yet more detail. Then, so soon as the awful poem had
exhausted the enumeration of chastisement and suffering, in shrill
tones--the falsetto of a little boy--the name of Jesus went by, and a
light broke in on the thunder-cloud, the panting universe cried for
pardon, recalling, by all the voices of the choir, the infinite mercies
of the Saviour, and His pardon, pleading with Him for absolution, as
formerly He had spared the penitent thief and the Magdalen.

But in the same despairing and headstrong melody the tempest raged
again, drowned with its waves the half-seen shores of heaven, and the
solos continued, discouraged, interrupted by the recurrent weeping of
the choir, giving, with the diversity of voices, a body to the special
conditions of shame, the particular states of fear, the different ages
of tears.

At last, when still mixed and blended, these voices had borne away on
the great waters of the organ all the wreckage of human sorrows, all the
buoys of prayers and tears, they fell exhausted, paralyzed by terror,
wailing and sighing like a child who hides its face, stammering "Dona
eis requiem," they ended, worn out, in an Amen so plaintive, that it
died away in a breath above the sobbing of the organ.

What man could have imagined such despair, dreamed of such disasters?
And Durtal made answer to himself: "No man."

In fact the attempt has been vain to discover the author both of the
music and of the sequence. They have been attributed to Frangipani,
Thomas of Celano, St. Bernard and a crowd of others, and they have
remained anonymous, simply formed by the sad alluvial deposits of the
age. The "Dies iræ" seemed to have, at first, fallen, like a seed of
desolation, among the distracted souls of the eleventh century; it
germinated there and grew slowly, nurtured by the sap of anguish,
watered by the rain of tears. It was at last pruned when it seemed ripe,
and had, perhaps, thrown out too many branches, for in one of the
earliest known texts, a stanza, which has since disappeared, called up
the magnificent and barbarous image of an earth revolving as it belched
forth flames, while the constellations burst into shards, and heaven
shrivelled like a parched scroll.

"All this," concluded Durtal, "does not prevent these triple stanzas
woven of shadow and cold, full of reverberating rhymes, and hard echoes,
this music of rude stuff which wraps the phrases like a shroud, and
masks the rigid outlines of the work, from being admirable! Yet that
chant which constrains, and renders with such energy the breadth of the
sequence, that melodic period, which without variation, remaining always
the same, succeeds in expressing by turns prayer and terror, moves me
less than the 'De Profundis,' which yet has not its grandiose
spaciousness nor that artistic cry of despair.

"But chanted to the organ the psalm is earthy and suffocating. It comes
from out the very depths of the sepulchre, while the 'Dies iræ' has its
source only on the sill of the tomb. The first is the very voice of the
dead, the second that of the living who inter him, and the dead man
weeps, but takes courage a little, when those that bury him despair.

"To sum up," Durtal concluded, "I prefer the text of the 'Dies iræ' to
that of the 'De Profundis,' and the melody of the 'De Profundis' to that
of the 'Dies iræ.' It is true also that this last sequence is
modernized, and chanted theatrically here, without the imposing and
needful march of unison.

"This time, for instance, it is devoid of interest," he continued,
ceasing his thoughts for a moment, to listen to the piece of modern
music which the choir was just then rendering. "Ah, who will take on
himself to proscribe that pert mysticism, those fonts of toilet-water
which Gounod invented!... There ought indeed to be astonishing
penalties for choir masters who allow such musical effeminacy in church.
This is, as it was this morning at the Madeleine, when I happened to be
present at the interminable funeral of an old banker; they played a
military march with violin and violoncello accompaniments, with trumpets
and timbrels, a heroic and worldly march to celebrate the departure and
the decomposition of a financier!... It is too absurd." And listening no
more to the music in St. Sulpice, Durtal transferred himself in thought
to the Madeleine, and went off at full speed in his dreams.

"Indeed," he said to himself, "the clergy make Jesus like a tourist,
when they invite Him daily to come down into that church whose exterior
is surmounted by no cross, and whose interior is like the grand
reception-room at an hotel. But how can you make those priests
understand that ugliness is sacrilege, and that nothing is equal to the
frightful sin of this confusion of Romanesque and Greek, these pictures
of aged men, that flat ceiling studded with skylights, from which filter
in all weathers the spoiled gleams of a rainy day, to that futile altar
surmounted by a circle of angels who, in discreet abandonment, dance in
honour of our Lady, a motionless marble rigadoon?"

Yet in the Madeleine, at a funeral, when the door opens, and the corpse
advances in a gap of daylight, all is changed. Like a superterrestrial
antiseptic, an extrahuman disinfectant, the liturgy purifies and
cleanses the impious ugliness of the place.

And thinking over his memories of the morning, Durtal saw again, as he
closed his eyes, at the end of the semicircular apse, the procession of
red and black robes, white surplices, joining in front of the altar,
descending the steps together, making their way together to the
catafalque, dividing again on each aide, joining to mix afresh in the
great gangway between the chairs.

This slow and silent procession, led by incomparable Suisses, in
mourning, their swords horizontal, and a general's epaulets in jet,
advanced, preceded by a cross, in front of the corpse laid on tressels,
and far-off in all that confusion of lights falling from the roof, and
lighted flambeaux round the catafalque and on the altar, the white of
the tapers disappeared, and the priests who bore them seemed to march
with empty hands uplifted as though to point out the stars which
accompanied them, twinkling above their heads.

Then when the bier was surrounded by the clergy, the "De Profundis"
burst forth from the depths of the sanctuary, intoned by invisible
singers.

"That was good," said Durtal to himself. At the Madeleine the voices of
the children are sharp and feeble, and the basses are badly trained and
failing; we are evidently far from the choir of St. Sulpice, but all the
same it was superb; then what a moment was that of the priests'
communion, when suddenly arising from the murmuring of the choir, the
voice of the tenor threw above the corpse the magnificent plain chant
antiphon--

    "Requiem æternam dona eis Domine
    Et lux perpetua luceat eis."

It seems that after all the lamentations of the "De Profundis" and the
"Dies iræ," the presence of God, who comes then upon the altar, brings
consolation, and sanctions the confident and solemn pride of that
melodious phrase, which then invokes Christ, without dread and without
tears.

The mass ended, the celebrant disappeared, and, as at the moment when
the corpse entered, the clergy, preceded by the Suisses, advanced
towards the body, and in the blazing circle of the tapers, a priest, in
his cope, said the mighty prayers of the general absolution.

Then the liturgy took a higher tone, and became still more admirable.
Mediative between the sinner and the judge, the Church, by the mouth of
her priest, implores the Lord to pardon the poor soul: "Non intres in
judicium cum servo tuo Domine"--then after the amen given by the organ
and all the choir, a voice arose in the silence, and spoke in the name
of the dead:--

"Libera me!"

and the choir continued the old chant of the tenth century. Just as in
the "Dies iræ," which appropriates to itself fragments of these plaints,
the Last Judgment flamed out, and pitiless responses declare to the dead
the reality of his alarms, declare to him that at the end of Time the
Judge will come with the crash of thunder to chastise the world.

The priest marched round the catafalque, sprinkling it with beads of
holy water, incensed it, gave shelter to the poor weeping soul, consoled
it, took it to himself, covered it, as it were, with his cope, and
again, intervened to pray that, after so much weariness and sorrow, the
Lord will permit the unhappy one to sleep the sleep that knows no
waking, far from earth's noises.

Never, in any religion, has a more charitable part, a more august
mission been assigned to man. Lifted, by his consecration, wholly above
humanity, almost deified by the sacerdotal office, the priest, while
earth laments or is silent, can advance to the brink of the abyss, and
intercede for the being whom the Church has baptized as an infant, who
has no doubt forgotten her since that day, and may even have persecuted
her up to the hour of his death.

Nor does the Church shrink from the task. Before that fleshly dust
heaped in a chest, she thinks of that sewage of the soul, and cries:
"From the gates of hell deliver him, O Lord!" but at the end of the
general absolution, at the moment when the procession, turning its back,
is on the way to the sacristy, she too seems disquieted. Perhaps
recalling in an instant, the ill deeds done by that body while it was
alive, she seemed to doubt if her supplications were heard, and the
doubt her words would not frame, passed into the intonation of the last
amen, murmured at the Madeleine, by children's voices.

Timid and distant, plaintive and sweet, this amen said: "We have done
what we could, but ... but ..." And in the funereal silence which
followed the clergy leaving the nave, there remained only the ignoble
reality of the empty husk, lifted in the arms of men, thrust into a
carriage, like the refuse of the shambles carted off each morning to be
made into soap at the factories.

"If," continued Durtal, "in opposition to these sad prayers, these
eloquent absolutions, we call up before us a marriage mass, all is
changed. There the Church is disarmed and her musical liturgy is as
nought. Then she may well play Mendelssohn's Wedding March, and borrow
from profane authors the gaiety of their songs to celebrate the brief
and empty joy of the body. Imagine, and indeed it happens, the canticle
of the Virgin used to magnify the glad impatience of a bride. Fancy the
Te Deum, to hymn the blessedness of a bridegroom!"

Far away from this infamous barter of the flesh, plain chant remains
shut up in the antiphonaries, like a monk in the cloister, and when it
goes forth, it is to cast up before Christ his garnered pains and
sorrows. It gathers and sums them up in admirable supplications, and if,
fatigued with pleading it adores, its impulse is to glorify eternal
events, Palm Sunday and Easter, Pentecost and the Ascension, Epiphany
and Christmas, then its joy bursts forth so magnificently, that it
springs beyond the world to show its ecstatic joy at the feet of God.

As to the very ceremonies of the funeral, they are now only the regular
way of getting money, an official routine, a prayer-wheel which is
turned mechanically without thought of it.

The organist while he plays thinks of his family, and considers how
wearied he is; the bellows-blower thinks, as he fills the pipes, of the
half-pint which will dry his sweat; the tenors and basses are careful of
their effects, and admire themselves in the more or less rippled water
of their voices; the choir boys dream of their scampers after mass; and,
moreover, not one of them at all understands a word of the Latin they
sing and abridge, as for instance the "Dies iræ," of which they suppress
a part of the stanzas.

In its turn beadledom calculates the sum the dead man brings in, and
even the priest, wearied with the prayers of which he has read so many,
and needing his breakfast, prays mechanically from the lips outward,
while the assistants are in a hurry that the mass to which they have not
listened should come to an end, that they may shake hands with the
relations, and leave the dead.

There is absolute inattention, profound weariness. Yet how terrible is
that thing on the tressels that is waiting there in the church, that
empty dwelling-place, that body which is already breaking up. Liquid
manure that stinks, gases which evaporate, flesh that rots is all that
remains!

And the soul, now that life is over, and all begins? No one thinks of
it, not even the family worn out by the length of the service, absorbed
in their own sorrow; who in fact regret only the visible presence of the
being they have lost; no one except myself, thought Durtal, and a few
curious people, who associate themselves in their alarm with the "Dies
iræ" and the "Libera," of which they understand both the language and
the meaning.

Then by the external sound of the words, without the aid of
contemplation, without even the help of thought, the Church acts.

There it is, the miracle of her liturgy, the power of her word, the
constantly renewed prodigy of phrases created by revolving time, of
prayers arranged by ages which are dead. All has passed, nothing exists
that was raised up in those bygone times. Yet those sequences remain
intact, cried aloud by indifferent voices and cast out from empty
hearts, plead, groan, and implore even with efficacy, by their virtual
power, their talismanic might, their inalienable beauty by the almighty
confidence of their faith. The Middle Ages have left us these to help us
to save, if it may be, the soul of the modern and dead fine gentleman.

At the present time, concluded Durtal, there is nothing left peculiar to
Paris, but the ceremonies, very like each other, of taking the veil and
of funerals. It is unfortunate that when we have to do with a sumptuous
corpse, undertakers have their way.

They then bring out their terrible upholstery, plated statues of our
Lady in atrocious taste, zinc basins in which blaze bowls of green
punch, tin candelabra at the end of a branch, like a cannon on end with
its mouth upwards, supporting spiders on their backs, with burning
candles set about their legs, all the funeral ironmongery of the First
Empire, with curtain rods in relief, acanthus leaves, winged
hour-glasses, lozenges and Greek frets. It is unfortunate, too, that to
touch up the miserable furniture of these ceremonies they play Massenet
and Dubois, Benjamin Godard and Widor, or, worse still, the sacristy
orchestra, mystical bellowing, such as the women sing, who are
affiliated to the confraternities of the month of May.

And alas, we hear no longer the tempests of the great organs and the
majestic dolours of plain chant, save at the funerals of the monied
classes; for the poor, nothing--no choir, no organ, just a handful of
prayers, then a few dips of the brush in the holy water stoup, and there
is a dead man the more on whom the rain falls, who is carried away. But
the Church knows that the carrion of the rich rots as much as that of
the poor, while his soul stinks more, but she jobs indulgences and
haggles about masses; she, even she, is consumed by the lust of gold.

"Yet I must not think too ill of these wealthy fools," said Durtal,
after silent thought, "for after all it is thanks to them that I can
hear the admirable liturgy of the burial service, these people who
perhaps have done no good action in their life, do at least this
kindness to a few, without knowing it, after their death."

A noise recalled him to St. Sulpice; the choir was going, the church was
about to close. "I might as well have tried to pray," he said to
himself, "it would have been better than to dream in the empty church on
a chair. Pray indeed? I have no desire for it. I am haunted by
Catholicism, intoxicated by its atmosphere of incense and wax, I prowl
about it, moved even to tears by its prayers, touched even to the marrow
by its psalms and chants. I am thoroughly disgusted with my life, very
tired of myself, but it is a far cry from that to leading a different
existence! And yet--and yet ... If I am perturbed in these chapels, I
become unmoved and dry again, as soon as I leave them. After all," he
said to himself, getting up, and following the few persons who were
moving towards a door, driven out by the Suisse, "after all, my heart is
hardened and smoke-dried by dissipation, I am good for nothing."



CHAPTER II.


How had he again become a Catholic, and got to this point?

Durtal answered himself: "I cannot tell, all that I know is that, having
been for years an unbeliever, I suddenly believe.

"Let us see," he said to himself, "let us try at least to consider if,
however great the obscurity of such a subject, there be not common sense
in it.

"After all, my surprise depends on preconceived ideas of conversions. I
have heard of sudden and violent crises of the soul, of a thunderbolt,
or even of faith exploding at last in ground slowly and cleverly mined.
It is quite evident that conversions may happen in one or other of these
two ways, for God acts as may seem good to Him, but there must be also a
third means, and this no doubt the most usual, which the Saviour has
used in my case. And I know not in what this consists; it is something
analogous to digestion in a stomach, which works though we do not feel
it. There has been no road to Damascus, no events to bring about a
crisis; nothing has happened, we awake some fine morning, and, without
knowing how or why, the thing is done.

"Yes, but in fact this manoeuvre is very like that of the mine which
only explodes after it has been deeply dug. Yet not so, for in that case
the operations are material, the objections in the way are resolved; I
might have reasoned, followed the course of the spark along the thread,
but in this case, no! I sprang unexpectedly, without warning, without
even having suspected that I was so carefully sapped. Nor was it a clap
of thunder, unless I admit that a clap of thunder can, be occult and
silent, strange and gentle. And this again would be untrue, for sudden
disorder of the soul almost always follows a misfortune or a crime, an
act of which we are aware.

"No, the one thing which seems certain, in my case, is that there has
been divine impulse, grace.

"But," said he, "in that case the psychology of conversion is
worthless," and he made answer to himself,--

"That seems to be so, for I seek in vain to retrace the stages through
which I have passed; no doubt I can distinguish here and there some
landmarks on the road I have travelled: love of art, heredity, weariness
of life; I can even recall some of the forgotten sensations of
childhood, the subterranean workings of ideas excited by my visits to
the churches; but I am unable to gather these threads together, and
group them in a skein, I cannot understand the sudden and silent
explosion of light which took place in me. When I seek to explain to
myself how one evening an unbeliever, I became without knowing it, on
one night a believer, I can discover nothing, for the divine action has
vanished, and left no trace.

"It is certain," he continued, after silent thought, "that in these
cases the Virgin acts upon us, it is she who moulds and places us in the
hands of her Son, but her fingers are so light, so supple, so caressing,
that the soul they have handled has felt nothing.

"On the other hand, if I ignore the course and stages of my conversion,
I can at least guess the motives which, after a life of indifference,
have brought me into the harbours of the Church, made me wander round
about her borders, and finally gave me a shove from behind to bring me
in."

And he said to himself, without more ado, there are three causes:--

"First, the atavism of an old and pious family, scattered among the
monasteries;" and the memories of childhood returned to him, of cousins,
of aunts, seen in convent parlours; gentle women and grave, white as
wafers, who alarmed him by their low voices, who troubled him by their
looks, and asked if he were a good boy.

He felt a sort of terror, and hid himself in his mother's skirts,
trembling when he went away, and was obliged to bend his brow to those
colourless lips, and undergo the touch of a chilly kiss.

Now that he thought of them at a distance, the interviews which had
wearied him so much in his childhood, seemed to him charming. He put
into them all the poetry of the cloister, clothed those bare parlours
with a faded scent of wainscotting and of wax, and he saw again the
convent gardens through which he had passed, impregnated with the bitter
salt scent of box, planted with clipped hedges, intermingled with
trellises, whose green grapes never ripened, divided by benches whose
mouldering stone kept the traces worn by water; and a thousand details
came back to him of those silent lime alleys, of the paths where he ran
in the interlaced shade which branches threw upon the ground. These
gardens had seemed to him to become larger as he grew older, and he
retained a somewhat confused memory of them, amid which was the vague
recollection of an old stately park, and of a presbytery orchard in the
north, always somewhat damp, even when the sun shone.

It was not surprising that these sensations, transformed by time, had
left in him some traces of pious thought, which grew deeper as his mind
embellished them; all this might have fermented indistinctly for thirty
years, and now began to work.

But the two other causes which he knew, must have been still more
active.

These were his disgust for his life, and his passion for art; and the
disgust was certainly aggravated by his solitude and his idleness.

After having, in old days, made friends by chance, and having taken the
impression of souls which had nothing in common with his own, he had at
last chosen after much useless vagabondage; he had become the intimate
friend of a certain Doctor des Hermies, a physician, who devoted much
attention to demoniac possession and to mysticism, and of a Breton,
named Carhaix, the bell-ringer at St. Sulpice.

These friendships were not like those he had formerly made, entirely
superficial and external, they were wide and deep, based on similarity
of thought, and the indissoluble ties of soul, and these had been
roughly broken; within two months of each other Des Hermies and Carhaix
died, the former of typhoid fever, the latter of a chill that
prostrated him in his tower, after he had rung the evening Angelus.

These were frightful blows for Durtal. His life, now without an anchor,
drifted; he wandered all astray, declaring to himself that this
desolation was final, since he had reached an age at which new friends
are not made.

So he lived alone, apart among his books, but the solitude which he bore
bravely, when he was occupied, when he was writing a book, became
intolerable to him now that he was idle. He lounged in an arm-chair in
the afternoons, and abandoned himself to his dreams: then, especially,
fixed ideas took hold on him, and these ended by playing pantomimes of
which the scenes never varied behind the lowered curtain of his eyes.
Nude figures danced in his brain to the tune of psalms, and he woke from
these dreams weak and panting, ready, if a priest had been there, to
throw himself at his feet with tears, just as he would have abandoned
himself to the basest pleasures, had the temptation suddenly come to
him.

"Let me chase away these phantoms by work," he cried. But at what should
he work? He had just published the "Life of Gilles de Rais," which might
interest a few artists, and he now remained without a subject, on the
hunt for a book. As, in art, he was a man of extremes, he always went
from one excess to the other, and after having dived into the Satanism
of the Middle Ages, in his account of "Marshal de Rais," he saw nothing
so interesting to investigate as the life of a saint. Some lines which
he had discovered in Görres' and Ribet's "Studies in Mysticism" had put
him on the trace of a certain Blessed Lidwine in search of new
documents.

But admitting that he could unearth anything about her, could he write
the life of a saint? He did not believe it, and the arguments on which
he based his opinion seemed plausible.

Hagiography was now a lost branch of art, as completely lost as wood
carving, and the miniatures of the old missals. Nowadays it is only
treated by church officers and priests, by those stylistic agents who
seem when they write to put the embryos of their ideas on ballast
trucks, and in their hands it has become a commonplace of goody-goody, a
translation into a book of the statuettes of Froc Robert, and the
coloured images of Bouasse.

The way then was free, and it seemed at first easy enough to plan it
out, but to extract the charm of the legends needed the simple language
of bygone centuries, the ingenuous phrases of the days that are dead.
Who in our time can express the melancholy essence, the pale perfume of
the ancient translations of the Golden Legend of Voragine, how bind in
one bright posy the plaintive flowers, which the monks cultivated in
their cloistered enclosures, when hagiography was the sister of the
barbaric and delightful art of the illuminators and glass stainers, of
the ardent and chaste paintings of the Early Masters?

Yet we may not think of giving ourselves over to studious imitations,
nor coldly attempt to ape such works as these. The question remains,
whether we can with the present artistic resources, succeed in setting
up the humble yet lofty figure of a saint; and this is at least
doubtful, for the lack of real simplicity, the over-ingenious art of
style, the tricks of careful design and the false craft of colour would
probably transform the elect lady into a strolling player. She would be
no longer a saint, but an actress who rendered the part more or less
adroitly; and then the charm would be destroyed, the miracles would seem
mechanical, the episodes would be absurd, then ... then ... one must
have a lively faith, and believe in the sanctity of one's heroine, if
one would try to exhume her, and put her alive again in a book.

This is so true that we may examine Gustave Flaubert's admirable pages
on the legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller. Their development is like a
dazzling yet regulated tumult, evolved in superb language whose apparent
simplicity is only due to the complicated ingenuity of consummate skill.
All is there, all except the accent which would have made this work a
true masterpiece. Given the subject, the fire which should course
through these magnificent phrases is absent, there lacks the cry of the
love that faints, the gift of the superhuman exile, the mystical soul.

On the other hand, Hello's "Physionomies de Saints" are worth reading.
Faith flashes out in each of his portraits, enthusiasm runs over in each
chapter, unexpected allusions form deep reservoirs of thought between
the lines; but after all Hello was so little of an artist that the
fairest legends fade when his fingers touch them; the meanness of his
style impoverishes the miracles and renders them ineffectual. The art is
lacking which would rescue the book from the category of pale and dead
publications.

The example of these two men, in complete opposition as ever writers
were, neither of whom attained perfection, one in the legend of St.
Julian because faith was wanting, the other because his art was poor and
narrow, thoroughly discouraged Durtal. He ought to be both at once, and
yet remain himself, if not, there was no good in buckling to for such a
task, it were better to be silent; and he threw himself back in his
chair sullen and hopeless. Then the contempt of his desolate life grew
upon him, and once more he wondered what interest Providence could have
in thus tormenting the descendants of the first convicts. If there were
no answer, he was obliged to admit that the Church in these disasters
gathered up the waifs, sheltered the shipwrecked, brought them home
again, and assured them a resting-place.

No more than Schopenhauer, whom he had once admired, but whose plan of
labelling every one before death and whose herbarium of dry sorrows had
wearied him, has the Church deceived man, nor sought to decoy him, by
boasting the mercy of a life which she knew to be ignoble.

In all her inspired books she proclaims the horror of fate, and mourns
over the enforced task of living. Ecclesiasticus, Ecclesiastes, the book
of Job, the Lamentations of Jeremias manifest this sorrow in their every
line, and the Middle Ages too in the "Imitation of Jesus Christ" cursed
existence, and cried out loudly for death.

More plainly than Schopenhauer the Church declared that there is nothing
to wish for here below, nothing to expect, but where the mere catalogues
of the philosopher stop, the Church went on, overpassing the limits of
the senses, declared the end of man, and defined his limitations.

"Then," he said to himself, "if it be well considered, the vaunted
argument of Schopenhauer against the Creator, drawn from the misery and
injustice of the world, is not irrefutable, for the world is not as God
made it, but as man has refashioned it."

Before accusing heaven for our ills, it is, no doubt, fitting to examine
through what phases of consent, through what voluntary falls the
creature has passed, before ending in the gloomy disaster it deplores.
We may well curse the vices of our ancestors and our own passions which
beget the greater part of the woes from which we suffer; we may well
loathe the civilization which has rendered life intolerable to cleanly
souls, and not the Lord, who, perhaps, did not create us to be shot down
by cannon in time of war, to be cheated, robbed, and stripped in time of
peace, by the slave drivers of commerce and the brigands of the money
market.

But that which remains for ever incomprehensible is the initial horror,
the horror imposed on each of us, of having to live, and that is a
mystery no philosophy can explain.

"Ah!" he went on, "when I think of that horror, that disgust of
existence which has for years and years increased in me, I understand
how I am forced to make for the Church, the only port where I can find
shelter.

"Once I despised her, because I had a staff on which to lean when the
great winds of weariness blew; I believed in my novels, I worked at my
history, I had my art. I have come to recognize its absolute inadequacy,
its complete incapacity to afford happiness. Then I understood that
Pessimism was, at most, good to console those who had no real need of
comfort; I understood that its theories, alluring when we are young, and
rich, and well, become singularly weak and lamentably false, when age
advances, when infirmities declare themselves, when all around is
crumbling.

"I went to the church, that hospital for souls. There, at least, they
take you in, put you to bed and nurse you, they do not merely turn their
backs on you as in the wards of Pessimism and tell you the name of your
disease."

Finally Durtal had been brought back to religion by art. More even than
his disgust for life, art had been the irresistible magnet which drew
him to God. The day, when out of curiosity and to kill time, he had
entered a church, and after so many years of forgetfulness, had heard
the Vespers for the dead fall heavily, psalm after psalm, in antiphonal
chant, as the singers threw up, like ditchers, their shovelful of
verses, his soul had been shaken to its depths. The evenings when he had
listened at St. Sulpice to the admirable chanting during the Octave of
All Souls, he had felt himself caught once for all; but that which had
put most pressure on him, and brought him yet more completely into
bondage were the ceremonies and music of Holy Week.

He had visited the churches during that week; and they had opened to him
like palaces ruined, like cemeteries laid waste by God. They were
forbidding with their veiled images, their crucifixes wrapped
lozenge-wise in purple, their organs dumb, their bells silent. The crowd
flowed in, busy, but noiseless, along the floor over the immense cross
formed by the nave and the two transepts, and entering by the wounds of
which the doors were figures, they went up to the altar, where the
blood-stained head of Christ would lie, and there on their knees eagerly
kissed the crucifix which marked the place of the chin below the steps.

And the crowd itself, as it ran in the cruciform mould of the church,
became itself an enormous cross, living and crawling, silent and sombre.

At St. Sulpice, where the whole assembled seminary lamented the ignominy
of human justice and the fore-ordained death of a God, Durtal had
followed the incomparable offices of those mournful days, through all
their black minutes, had listened to the infinite sadness of the
Passion, so nobly and profoundly expressed at Tenebræ by the slow
chanting of the Lamentations and the Psalms, but when he thought it
over, that which above all made him shudder was the thought of the
Virgin coming on the scene on the Thursday at nightfall.

The Church, till then absorbed in her sorrow, and prostrate before the
Cross, raised herself and fell a-weeping on beholding the Mother.

By all the voices of the choir, it pressed round Mary, endeavouring to
console her, mixing the tears of the "Stabat Mater" with her own,
sighing out that music of plaintive weeping, pressing the wound of that
sequence, which gave forth water and blood like the wound of Christ
Himself.

Durtal left the church, worn out with these long services, but his
temptations to unbelief were gone; he had no further doubt; it seemed to
him that at St. Sulpice, grace mixed with the eloquent splendours of the
liturgies, and that in the dim sorrow of the voices there had been
appeals to him; and he therefore felt filial gratitude to that church
where he had lived through hours so sweet and sad.

Yet, in ordinary weeks he did not go there; it seemed to him too great
and too cold, and it was so ugly. He preferred warmer and smaller
sanctuaries, in which there were still traces of the Middle Ages.

Thus on idle days when he came out of the Louvre, where he had strayed
for a long time before the canvases of the Early Painters, he was wont
to take refuge in the old church of St. Severin, hidden away in a corner
of the poorer part of Paris.

He carried with him the visions of the canvases he had admired at the
Louvre, and contemplated them again, in this surrounding where they were
thoroughly at home.

Then he spent delightful moments, in which he was carried away in the
clouds of harmony, divided by the white splendour of a child's voice
flashing out from the rolling thunder of the organ.

There, without even praying, he felt a plaintive languor, a vague
uneasiness steal over him; St. Severin delighted him, aided him more
than other churches on some days to gain an indescribable impression of
joy and pity, sometimes even, when he thought of the filth of his
senses, to weave together the regret and the terror of his soul.

He often went there, especially on Sunday mornings to High Mass at ten
o'clock.

He was wont to place himself behind the high altar, in that melancholy
and delicate apse, planted like a winter garden with rare and somewhat
fantastic trees. It might have been called a petrified arbour of very
old trunks in flower, but stripped of leaf, forests of pillars, squared
or cut in broad panels, carved with regular notches near the base,
hollowed through their whole length like rhubarb stalks, channelled like
celery.

No vegetation expanded at the summit of those trunks which bent their
naked boughs along the vaulting, joined and met and gathered at their
junction, and thin, engrafted knots, extravagant bunches of heraldic
roses, armorial flowers with open tracery; and for more than four
hundred years no sap had run, no bud had formed in these trees. The
shafts bent for ever remained untouched, the white bark of these pillars
was scarcely worn, but the greater part of the flowers were withered,
the heraldic petals were wanting, some keystones of the arches had only
stratified calices, open like nests, with holes like sponges, in rags
like handfuls of russet lace.

And among this mystic flora, amid these petrified trees, there was one,
strange and charming, which suggested the fanciful idea, that the blue
smoke of the rolling incense had condensed, and, as it coagulated, had
grown pale with age, to form, in twisting, the spiral of a column which
was inverted on itself, and ended broadening out into a sheaf, whereof
the broken stems fell from above the arches.

The corner where Durtal took refuge was faintly lighted by pointed
stained windows, with black diamond-shaped divisions set with minute
panes darkened by the accumulated dust of years, rendered still more
obscure by the woodwork of the chapels, which cut off half their
surface.

This apse might have been called a frozen grove of skeleton trees, a
conservatory of dead specimens belonging to the palm family, calling up
the memory of an impossible phoenix and unlikely palms; but it also
recalled by its half-moon shape and doubtful light, the image of a
ship's prow below water. In fact it allowed to filter through its bars,
to its windows trellised with all black network, the murmur, suggested
by the rolling of the carriages which shook the street, of a river which
sifted the golden light of day through the briny course of its waters.

On Sundays, at the time of High Mass, the apse was empty. The public
filled the nave before the high altar, or spread themselves somewhat
further into a chapel dedicated to Our Lady. Durtal was therefore almost
alone, and even the people who crossed his refuge were neither stupid
nor hostile, like the faithful in other churches. In this district were
beggars, the very poor, hucksters, Sisters of Charity, rag pickers,
street arabs; above all, there were women in tatters walking on tiptoe,
who knelt without looking round, poor creatures overwhelmed by the
piteous splendour of the altars, looking out of the corner of their
eyes, and bending low when the Suisse passed them.

Touched by the timidity of this silent misery, Durtal listened to the
mass chanted by a scanty choir, but one patiently taught. The choir of
St. Severin intoned the Credo, that marvel of plain chant, better than
it was done at St. Sulpice, where, however, the offices were as a rule
solemn and correct. It bore it, as it were, to the top of the choir,
and let it spread with its great wings open and almost without motion,
above the prostrate flock, when the verse "Et homo factus est" took its
slow and reverent flight in the low voice of the singer. It was at once
monumental and fluid, indestructible like the articles of the Creed
itself, inspired like the text, which the Holy Spirit dictated, in their
last meeting, to the united apostles of Christ.

At St. Severin a powerful voice declaimed a verse as a solo, then all
the children, sustained by the rest of the singers, delivered the
others, and the unchangeable truths declared themselves in their order,
more attentive, more grave, more accentuated, even a little plaintive in
the solo voice of a man, more timid perhaps, but also more familiar and
more joyous, in the dash, however restrained, of the boys.

At such a moment Durtal was roused, and exclaimed within himself: "It is
impossible that the alluvial deposits of Faith which have created this
musical certainty are false. The accent of these declarations is such as
to be superhuman, and far from profane music, which has never attained
to the solid grandeur of this naked chant."

The whole mass, moreover, at St. Severin was perfect. The "Kyrie
eleison," solemn and sumptuous, the "Gloria in excelsis," shared by the
grand and the choir organs, the one taking the solos, the other guiding
and sustaining the singers, was full of exultant joy; the "Sanctus,"
concentrated, almost haggard, resounded through the arches when the
choir shouted the "Hosanna in excelsis," and the "Agnus Dei" was sung
low to a clear, suppliant melody, so humble that it dared not become
loud.

Indeed, except for a contraband "O Salutaris," introduced there as in
other churches, St. Severin maintained, on ordinary Sundays, the musical
liturgy, sang it almost reverentially with the fragile but well-toned
voices of the boys, the solidly built basses bringing vigorous sounds
from the deep.

It was a joy to Durtal to linger in the delightful surroundings of the
Middle Ages, in that shadowy loneliness, amid the chants which rose
behind him, without being annoyed by tricks of the mouths which he could
not see.

He ended by being moved to the very marrow, choked by nervous tears, and
all the bitterness of his life came up before him; full of vague fears,
of confused prayers which stifled him, and found no words, he cursed the
ignominy of his life and swore to master his carnal affections.

When the mass was over, he wandered in the church itself, and was
delighted with the spring of the nave, which four centuries built and
sealed with their arms, placing on it those strange impressions, those
wonderful seals which expand in relief under the reversed groining of
the arches. These centuries combined to bring to the feet of Christ the
superhuman effort of their art, and the gifts of each are still visible.
The thirteenth century shaped those low and stunted pillars, whose
capitals are crowned with water-lilies, water-parsley, foliage with
large leaves, voluted with crochets and turned in the form of a crosier.
The fourteenth century raised the columns of the neighbouring bays on
the sides of which prophets, monks and saints uphold the spring of the
arches. The fifteenth and sixteenth created the apse, the sanctuary,
some windows pierced above the choir, and though they have been restored
by incompetent builders, they have still retained a barbaric grace, and
a really touching simplicity.

They seem to have been designed by ancestors of the Epinal foundries,
and stained by them with crude colours. The donors and the saints who
pass through these bright, stone-framed pictures are all awkward and
pensive, dressed in robes of gamboge, bottle-green, prussian-blue,
gooseberry-red, pumpkin-purple and wine lees, and these are made still
deeper by contact with the flesh tints, either omitted or destroyed,
which have at any rate remained uncoloured like a thin skin of glass. In
one of these windows Christ on His cross seems limpid, all in light,
between blue splashes of sky, and the red and green patches, formed by
the wings of the two angels whose faces also seem cut in crystal and
full of light.

These windows differ from those of other churches, in that they absorb
the rays of the sun, without refracting them. No doubt they have been
deliberately divested of reflection that they may not by the insolent
joyousness of stones on fire insult the melancholy sorrow of this church
which rises in the squalid haunts of a quarter inhabited by beggars and
thieves.

Then these thoughts assailed Durtal. In Paris the modern churches are
useless, they remain deaf to the prayers which break against the icy
indifference of their walls. No man recollects himself in those naves
where souls have left nothing of themselves, or where they have perhaps
given themselves away, have had to turn and fall back on themselves,
rebuffed by the insolence of a photographic glare, darkened by the
neglect of those altars at which no saint has ever said mass. It seemed
that God had always gone out, and would only come home to keep His
promise to appear at the moment of consecration, and that He would
retire immediately afterwards, despising these edifices which have not
been built expressly for Him, since by the baseness of their form they
might be put to any profane use, since above all they do not bring Him,
in default of sanctity, the only gift which might please Him, the gift
of art which He has lent to man, and which allows Him to see Himself in
the abridged restitution of His work, and to rejoice in the development
of that flower of which He has sowed the seed in souls which He has
carefully chosen, in souls which are truly the elect, second only to
those of His Saints.

Ah, those charitable churches of the Middle Ages, those chapels damp and
smoky, full of ancient song, of exquisite paintings, of the odour of
extinguished tapers, of the perfume of burning incense!

In Paris there remain now only a few specimens of this art of other
years, a few sanctuaries whose stones really exude the Faith; among
these St. Severin seemed to Durtal the most exquisite and the most
certain. He only felt at home there, he believed that if he could ever
pray in earnest he could do it in that church; and he said to himself
that there lived the spirit of the fabric. It is impossible but that the
burning prayers, the hopeless sobs of the Middle Ages, have not for ever
impregnated the pillars and stained the walls; it is impossible but that
the vine of sorrows whence of old the Saints gathered warm clusters of
tears, has not preserved from those wonderful times emanations which
sustain, a breath which still awakes a shame for sin, and the gift of
tears.

As Saint Agnes remained immaculate in the brothels, this church remained
intact amid infamous surroundings, when all near it in the streets from
the Château Rouge to the Cremerie Alexandre, only two paces off, the
modern rabble of rascality combine their misdeeds, mingling with
prostitutes their brewage of crime, their adulterated absinthe and
spirits.

In this especial territory of Satanism, the church rises, delicate and
little, closely enveloped in the rags of taverns and hovels, and seen
far off, raises above the roofs its light spire, like a netting needle,
its point below, and lifting its eye into the light and air, through
which can be seen a minute bell surmounting a sort of anvil. Such it
appears, at least, from the Place Saint André des Arts. Symbolically it
might be called a piteous appeal, always rejected by souls hardened and
hammered by vice, of that anvil which was only an optical illusion, and
that very real bell.

"They say," thought Durtal, "they say that ignorant architects and
unskilled archæologists wish to free St. Severin from its rags, and
surround it with trees in an enclosed square. But it has always lived in
its network of black streets, and is voluntarily humble, in accordance
with the miserable district it aids. In the Middle Ages the church was a
monument seen only within, and not one of those impetuous basilicas
which are put up as a show in open spaces.

"Then it was an oratory for the poor, a church on its knees, and not
standing; it would, therefore, be the most absolute nonsense to free it
from its surroundings, to take it out of the day of an eternal twilight,
out of those hours of shadow which brighten the melancholy beauty of a
servant in prayer behind the impious hedge of hovels.

"Ah, were it possible to steep the church in the glowing atmosphere of
Notre Dame des Victoires, and join to its meagre psalmody the powerful
choir of St. Sulpice, that would be complete," said Durtal, "but alas,
here below, nothing whole, nothing perfect exists!"

Indeed from an artistic point of view, it was the only church which
satisfied him, for Notre Dame de Paris was too grand, and too much
overrun by tourists; there were few ceremonies there, just the necessary
amount of prayers were weighed out, and the greater part of the chapels
remained closed; and lastly the voices of the choir boys always wanted
mending; they broke, while the advanced age of the basses made them
hoarse. At St. Etienne du Mont it was worse still; the shell of the
church was charming, but the choir was an offshoot of the school of
Sanfourche, you might think yourself in a kennel, where a medley pack of
sick beasts were growling; as for the other sanctuaries on the right
bank of the river, they were worthless, plain chant was as far as
possible suppressed, and the poverty of the voices was everywhere
ornamented with promiscuous tunes.

Yet on the right bank were the more self-respecting churches, for
religious Paris stops on that side of the Seine, and comes to an end as
you pass the bridges.

In fact, to sum up all, he might believe that St. Severin by its scent,
and the delightful art of its old nave, St. Sulpice by its ceremonies
and its chanting, had brought him back towards Christian art, which in
its turn had directed him to God.

Then when once urged on this way, he had pursued it, had left
architecture and music, to wander in the mystic territories of the other
arts, and his long visits to the Louvre, his researches into the
breviaries, into the books of Ruysbröck, Angela da Foligno, Saint
Teresa, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Magdalen of Pazzi, had confirmed
him in his belief.

But the upheaval of all his ideas which he had undergone was too recent
for his soul at once to regain its equilibrium. From time to time it
seemed to wish to go back, and he discussed with himself in order to set
it at rest. He spent himself in disputation, came to doubt the reality
of his conversion, and said: "After all I am united to the church only
on the side of art. I only go there to see or hear and not to pray; I do
not seek the Lord, but my own pleasure. This is not business. Just as in
a warm bath I do not feel the cold if I am motionless, but if I move I
freeze, so in the church my impulses are upset when I move, I am almost
on fire in the nave, less warm in the porch, and I become perfectly icy
outside. These are literary postulates, vibrations of the nerves,
skirmishes of thought, spiritual brawls, whatever you please, except
Faith."

But what disquieted him still more than the need of helps to feeling,
was that his shameless senses rebelled at the contact of religious
ideas. He floated like wreckage between Licentiousness and the Church,
they each threw him back in turn, obliging him as he approached one to
return at once to that which he had left, and he was inclined to ask if
he were not a victim to some mystification of his lower instincts,
seeking to revive themselves, without his consciousness, by the cordial
of a false piety.

In fact he had often seen realized in himself that unclean miracle, when
he had left St. Severin, almost in tears. Insensibly, without connection
of ideas, without any welding together of sensations, without the
explosion of a spark, his senses took fire, and he was powerless to let
them burn themselves out, to resist them.

He loathed himself afterwards, and it was high time. Then came the
reverse movement; he longed to run to some chapel, there to wash and be
clean, and he was so disgusted with himself that now and then he went as
far as the door and dared not enter.

At other times, on the contrary, he rebelled against himself, and cried
in fury: "It is monstrous, I have in fact spoiled for myself the only
pleasure that remained to me--the flesh. Once I amused myself without
blame, now I pay for my poor debauches with torments. I have added one
more weariness to existence--would that I could undo it."

He lied to himself in vain, trying to justify himself by suggesting
doubts.

"Suppose all this were not true, if there were nothing in it, if I were
deceiving myself, what if the freethinkers were right?"

But he was obliged to be sorry for himself, for he felt distinctly to
the bottom of his soul, that he held unshaken the certitude of true
Faith.

"These discussions are miserable, and the excuses I make for my
filthinesses are odious," he said to himself, and a flame of enthusiasm
sprang up within him.

How doubt the truth of dogmas, how deny the divine power of the Church,
for she commands assent?

First she has her superhuman art and her mysticism, then she is most
wonderful in the persistent folly of conquered heresies. All since the
world began have had the flesh as their spring-board. Logically and
humanly speaking they should have triumphed, for they allowed man and
woman to satisfy their passions, saying to themselves there was no sin
in these, even sanctifying them as the Gnostics, rendering homage to God
by the foulest uncleanness.

All have suffered shipwreck. The Church, unbending in this matter, has
remained upright and entire. She orders the body to be silent, and the
soul to suffer, and contrary to all probability, humanity listens to
her, and sweeps away like a dung-heap the seductive joys proposed to
her.

Again, the vitality of the Church is decision, which preserves her in
spite of the unfathomable stupidity of her sons. She has resisted the
disquieting folly of the clergy, and has not even been broken up by the
awkwardness and lack of ability in her defenders, a very strong point.

"No, the more I think of her," he cried, "the more I think her
prodigious, unique, the more I am convinced that she alone holds the
truth, that outside her are only weaknesses of mind, impostures,
scandals. The Church is the divine breeding ground, the heavenly
dispensary of souls; she gives them suck, nourishes them, and heals
them; she bids them understand, when the hour of sorrow comes, that true
life begins, not at birth, but at death. The Church is indefectible,
before all things admirable, she is great--

"Yes, but then we must follow her directions and practise the sacraments
she orders!"

And Durtal, shaking his head, gave himself no further answer.



CHAPTER III.


Before his conversion he had said like all unbelievers: "If I believed
that Jesus Christ is God, and that eternal life is not a decoy, I would
not hesitate to change all my habits, to follow as far as possible the
rules of religion, and, in any case, to live chaste." And he was
surprised that people he knew, who were in these conditions, did not
maintain an attitude higher than his own. He who had so long indulgently
forgiven himself became singularly intolerant, so soon as he had to do
with a Catholic.

He now understood the injustice of his judgments, and confessed that
between faith and practice was a gulf difficult to overpass.

He did not like to discuss this question with himself, but it returned
and took possession of him all the same, and he was obliged to admit the
meanness of his arguments, the despicable reasons for his resistance.

He was still honest enough to say: "I am no longer a child; if I have
Faith, if I admit Catholicism, I cannot conceive it as lukewarm and
unfixed, warmed up again and again in the saucepan of a false zeal. I
will have no compromise or truce, no alternations of debauch and
communions, no stages of licentiousness and piety, no, all or nothing;
to change from top to bottom, or not change at all."

Then he drew back in alarm, endeavoured to escape the part he was about
to take, endeavoured to exculpate himself, cavilling for hours, invoking
the most wretched motives for remaining as he was, and not budging a
jot.

"What am I to do? If I do not obey orders, which I feel with increasing
force, I am preparing for myself a life of uneasiness and remorse, for I
know well I ought not to remain for ever on the threshold, but to
penetrate into the sanctuary and stay there. And if I make up my
mind--no indeed--for then I must bind myself to a heap of observances,
bend to a series of rules, assist at mass on Sunday, abstain on Friday,
live like a bigot, and look like a fool."

And then to help his revolt, he thought of the air, the look of people
who frequented the churches; for two men who looked intelligent and
clean, how many were without doubt rascals and impostors!

Almost all had a side-long look, an oily voice, downcast eyes, immovable
spectacles, clothes like sacristans as if of black wood, almost all told
thin beads ostentatiously, and with more strategy and more knavery than
the wicked, took toll from their neighbours on leaving God.

The devout women were still less reassuring, they invaded the church,
walking about as if quite at home, disturbing everybody, upsetting
chairs, knocking against you without begging pardon; then they knelt
down with much ado, in the attitude of contrite angels, murmured
interminable paternosters, and left the church more arrogant and sour
than before.

"It is not encouraging to have to mix with this flock of pious geese,"
he exclaimed.

But soon, against his will, he made answer to himself: "You have nothing
to do with others, were you more humble, these people would certainly
seem less offensive; at any rate they have the courage you lack, they
are not ashamed of their faith, and are not afraid to kneel to God in
public."

And Durtal remained dumfounded, for he had to admit that the riposte
struck home. It was clear his humility was at fault, but what was worse,
he could not free himself from human respect.

He was afraid of being taken for a fool; the prospect of being seen on
his knees, in church, made his hair stand on end; the idea, that, if he
ever had to communicate, he would have to rise and go to the altar in
the sight of all, was intolerable to him.

"If that moment ever come it will be hard to bear," said he; "and yet I
am an idiot, for what have I to do with the opinion of people I do not
know?" but much as he might repeat that his alarms were absurd, he
could not get over them, or free himself from the fear of ridicule.

"After all," he said, "even if I decide to jump the ditch, to confess
and communicate, that terrible question of the senses would always have
to be resolved. I must determine to fly the lusts of the flesh, and
accept perpetual abstinence. I could never attain to that.

"Without counting that in any case, the time would be ill-chosen were I
now to make such an effort, for never have I been so tormented as since
my conversion; Catholicism unfortunately excites unclean suggestions
when I prowl about it, without entering."

And to this exclamation another answered at once: "Yes, but you must
enter."

He was irritated at this change of front without change of place, and he
tried to turn the conversation, as though it had been held with another,
whose questions perplexed him; but he came back to it all the same, and,
in his annoyance, summoned all his reasoning powers to his aid.

"Come, let us try to take stock at any rate! It is plain that as I have
drawn near the Church, my unclean desires have become more frequent and
more persistent; and yet another fact is certain that I have been so
used up by twenty years of debauchery that I ought not to have any
further carnal appetites. In fact, if I chose it, I could perfectly well
remain chaste; but then I must bid my miserable brain be silent, and I
have no power to do so! It is frightful all the same that I am more
excited than in youth, for now my desires go a-travelling, and since
they have not their ordinary shelter they go off in search of evil
haunts. How may this be explained? It is a sort of dyspepsia of the
soul, which cannot digest ordinary meats, and tries to feed on spiced
dreams, highly seasoned thoughts; it is then want of appetite for
wholesome meals which has begotten this greediness for strange dishes,
this trouble of the mind, this wish to escape from myself, and jump were
it but for a moment over the permitted limits of the senses.

"In that case Catholicism would play a part at once repellent and
depressing. It would stimulate these sick desires, and weaken me at the
same time, would give me over to nervous emotions without strength to
resist them."

Wandering thus in self-examination, he came to a dead stand where was no
issue, arriving at this conclusion: "I do not practise my religion,
because I yield to my baser instincts, and I yield to these instincts
because I do not practise my religion."

Brought up thus by a dead wall, he resisted, asking if this last
observation were indeed true; for, after all, nothing proved that if he
approached the Sacraments he would not be attacked with even greater
violence. It was even probable he would be, for the devil makes a dead
set at pious people.

Then he rebelled against the cowardice of these remarks, and cried: "I
lie, for I know well, that if I made the least sign of resistance, I
should be powerfully aided from on high."

Clever at self-torture, he continued to harass his soul, always on the
same line. "Suppose," he said, "for the sake of argument, that I have
tamed my pride, and subdued my body, suppose that at present there were
nothing to do, but to go forward, I am still brought up, for the final
obstacle terrifies me.

"Up to now I have been able to walk alone, without earthly assistance,
without advice; I have been converted without the help of anyone, but
now I cannot make a step without a guide, I cannot approach the altar
without the aid of an interpreter, and the bulwark of a priest."

And once more, he drew back, for in former times he had been intimate
with a certain number of ecclesiastics, and had found them so mediocre,
so lukewarm, above all so hostile to Mysticism, that he was revolted at
the very notion of laying before them the schedule of his requirements
and his regrets.

"They will not understand me," he thought; "they will answer that
Mysticism was interesting in the Middle Ages, but has now become disused
and is in any case quite out of touch with the modern spirit. They will
think me mad, will assure me, moreover, that God does not want so much,
will advise me with a smile, not to make myself singular, to do as
others, and to think like them.

"I have indeed no intention of entering on the way of Mysticism, but
they may at least allow me to envy it and not inflict on me their
middle-class ideal of a God.

"For, not to deceive oneself, Catholicism is not only that moderate
religion that they offer us; it is not composed only of petty cases and
formulas; it is not wholly confined to rigid observances, and the toys
of old maids, to all that goody-goody business, which spreads itself
abroad in the Rue Saint Sulpice; it is far more exalted, far purer, but
then we must penetrate its burning zone, and seek in Mysticism, the art,
the essence, and the very soul of the Church.

"Using the powerful means at her disposal, we then have to empty
ourselves, and strip the soul, so that Christ if He will may enter it;
we have to purify the house, to cleanse it with the disinfectant of
prayer and the sublimate of Sacraments; in a word, to be ready when the
Guest shall come and bid us to empty ourselves wholly into Him, as He
will pour Himself into us.

"I know thoroughly well, that this divine alchemy, this transmutation of
the human creature into God, is generally impossible, for the Saviour,
as a rule, keeps His singular favours for His elect; but after all,
every one, however unworthy, is presumably able to attain that majestic
end, since God only decides, and not man, whose humble acquiescence
alone is requisite.

"I see myself saying that to the priests! They will tell me I have no
business with mystical ideas, and will give me in exchange the petty
religion of rich women; they will wish to mix themselves up with my
life, to inquire about the state of my soul, to insinuate their own
tastes; they will try to convince me that art is dangerous, will
sermonize me with imbecile talk, and pour over me their flowing bowls of
pious veal broth.

"I know what I am; at the end of a couple of interviews I shall rebel,
and become wicked."

Durtal shook his head, remained in thought, and began again,--

"Yet one must be just; perhaps the secular clergy are only the leavings,
for the contemplative orders and the missionary army carry away every
year the pick of the spiritual basket; the mystics, priests athirst for
sorrows, drunk with sacrifice, bury themselves in cloisters or exile
themselves among savages whom they teach. So when the cream is off, the
rest of the clergy are plainly but skim milk, the scourings of the
seminaries.

"Yes, but after all," he continued, "the question is not whether they
are intelligent or narrow, it is not my business to take the priest to
pieces to discover under the consecrated rind the nothingness of the
man; not my business to abuse his inadequacy since it is thoroughly
suited to the understanding of the crowd. Would it not be, after all,
more courageous and more humble to kneel before a being of whose brains
you know the weakness?

"And then ... then ... I am not reduced to that, for indeed I know one
in Paris, a true mystic. Suppose I go and see him!"

And he thought of a certain Abbé Gévresin, with whom he had formerly
some acquaintance; he had often met him at a bookseller's in the Rue
Servandoni, old Tocane, who had rare books on liturgy and the lives of
the saints.

Learning that Durtal was looking for works on Blessed Lidwine, the
priest was at once interested in him, and on leaving the shop they had a
long conversation. The abbé was very old and walked with difficulty,
therefore he willingly took Durtal's arm, who saw him home.

"The life of that victim of the sins of her time is a magnificent
subject," he said; "you remember it, do you not?" and as they walked he
sketched its lines, broadly.

"Lidwine was born towards the end of the fourteenth century, at
Schiedam, in Holland. Her beauty was extraordinary, but she lost it
through illness at the age of fifteen. She recovered, but while skating
one day with her companions on the frozen canals, she fell and broke a
rib. From the time of that accident to her death she was bed-ridden. She
was afflicted with most frightful ailments, her wounds festered, and
worms bred in her putrefying flesh. Erysipelas, that terrible malady of
the Middle Ages, consumed her. Her right arm was eaten away, a single
muscle held it to the body, her brow was cleft in two, one of her eyes
became blind, and the other so weak that it could not bear the light.

"While she was in this condition, the plague ravaged Holland, and
decimated the town in which she lived; she was the first attacked. Two
boils formed, one under her arm, the other above the heart. 'Two boils,
it is well,' she said to the Lord, 'but three would be better in honour
of the Holy Trinity,' and immediately a third pustule broke out on her
face.

"For thirty-five years she lived in a cellar, taking no solid food,
praying and weeping, so chilly in winter, that each morning her tears
formed two frozen streams down her cheeks.

"She thought herself still too fortunate, and entreated the Lord not to
spare her, and obtained from Him the grace that by her sufferings she
might expiate the sins of others. Christ heard her prayers, visited her
with His angels, communicated her with His own hand, gave her the
delight of heavenly ecstasies, and caused her festering wounds to exhale
delicious perfumes.

"At the moment of her death He stood by her, and restored her poor body
to its former soundness. Her beauty, so long vanished, shone out again,
the town was moved, the sick came in crowds, and all who drew near were
healed.

"She is the true patroness of the sick," concluded the abbé, and, after
a silence, he added,--

"From the point of view of the higher mysticism, Lidwine is wonderful,
for in her we can verify that plan of substitution which was, and is,
the glorious reason for the existence of convents."

And as, without answering, Durtal questioned him with a look, he went
on,--

"You are aware, sir, that in all ages, nuns have offered themselves to
heaven as expiatory victims. The lives of saints, both men and women,
who desired these sacrifices abound, of those who atoned for the sins of
others by sufferings eagerly demanded and patiently borne. But there is
a task still more arduous and more painful than was desired by these
admirable souls. It is not now that of purging the faults of others, but
of preventing them, hindering their commission, by taking the place of
those who are too weak to bear the shock.

"Read Saint Teresa on this subject; you will see that she gained
permission to take on herself, and without flinching, the temptations of
a priest who could not endure them. This substitution of a strong soul
freeing one who is not strong from perils and fears is one of the great
rules of mysticism.

"Sometimes this exchange is purely spiritual, sometimes on the contrary
it has to do only with the ills of the body. Saint Teresa was the
surrogate of souls in torment, Sister Catherine Emmerich took the place
of the sick, relieved, at least, those who were most suffering; thus,
for instance, she was able to undergo the agony of a woman suffering
from consumption and dropsy, in order to permit her to prepare for death
in peace.

"Well, Lidwine took on herself all bodily ills, she lusted for physical
suffering, and was greedy for wounds; she was, as it were, the reaper of
punishments, and she was also the piteous vessel in which everyone
discharged the overflowings of his malady. If you would speak of her in
other fashion than the poor hagiographies of our day, study first that
law of substitution, that miracle of perfect charity, that superhuman
triumph of Mysticism; that will be the stem of your book, and naturally,
without effort, all Lidwine's acts graft themselves on it."

"But," asked Durtal, "does this law still take effect?"

"Yes: I know convents which apply it. Moreover, Orders like the
Carmelites and the Poor Clares willingly accept the transfer to them of
temptations we suffer; then these convents take on their backs, so to
speak, the diabolical expiations of those insolvent souls whose debts
they pay to the full."

"All the same," said Durtal, shaking his head, "if you consent to take
on yourself the assaults intended for your neighbour, you must make
pretty sure not to sink."

"The nuns chosen by our Lord," replied the abbé, "as victims of
expiation, as whole burnt-offerings, are in fact few, and they are
generally, especially in this age, obliged to unite and coalesce in
order to bear without failing the weight of misdeeds which try them, for
in order that a soul may bear alone the assaults of Satan, which are
often terrible, it must be indeed assisted by the angels and elect of
God." And after a silence the old priest added,--

"I believe I may speak with some experience in these matters, for I am
one of the directors of those nuns who make reparation in their
convents."

"And yet," cried Durtal, "the world asks what is the good of the
contemplative Orders."

"They are the lightning conductors of society," said the abbé, with
great energy. "They draw on themselves the demoniacal fluid, they absorb
temptations to vice, preserve by their prayers those who live, like
ourselves, in sin; they appease, in fact, the wrath of the Most High
that He may not place the earth under an interdict. Ah! while the
sisters who devote themselves to nursing the sick and infirm are indeed
admirable, their task is easy in comparison with that undertaken by the
cloistered Orders, the Orders where penance never ceases, and the very
nights spent in bed are broken by sobs."

"This priest is far more interesting than his brethren," said Durtal to
himself as they parted; and, as the abbé invited his visits, he had
often called on him.

He had always been cordially welcomed. On several occasions he had
warily sounded the old man on several questions. He had answered
evasively in regard to other priests. But he did not seem to think much
of them, if Durtal might judge by what he said one day in regard to
Lidwine, that magnet of sorrows.

"Notice," he said, "that a weak and honest soul has every advantage in
choosing a confessor, not from the clergy who have lost the sense of
Mysticism, but from the monks. They alone know the effects of the law of
substitution, and if they see that in spite of their efforts the
penitent succumbs, they end by freeing him by taking his trials on
themselves, or by sending them off to some convent in the country where
resolute people can use them."

Another time the question of nationalities was discussed in a newspaper
which Durtal showed him. The abbé shrugged his shoulders, putting aside
the patriotic twaddle. "For me," he said calmly, "for me my country is
that where I can best pray."

Durtal could not make out what this priest was. He understood from the
bookseller, that the Abbé Gévresin on account of his great age and
infirmity was incapacitated for the regular duties of the priesthood. "I
know that, when he can, he still says his mass each morning in a
convent; I believe also he receives a few of his brethren for confession
in his own house;" and Tocane added with disdain, "He has barely enough
to live on, and they do not look on him with favour at the archbishop's
because of his mystical notions."

There ended all he knew about him. "He is evidently a very good priest,"
repeated Durtal; "his physiognomy declares it, and his mouth and eyes
contradict each other; his eyes certainly declare his entire goodness,
his lips, somewhat thick, purple and always moist, have on them an
affectionate but somewhat sad smile, and to this his blue eyes give the
lie--blue, childlike eyes which laugh out astonished under white
eyebrows in a rather red face, touched on the cheeks like a ripe
apricot, with little points of blood.

"In any case," said Durtal, waking from his meditations, "I am very
wrong not to continue the relations into which I have entered with him.

"Yes, but then nothing is so difficult as to become really intimate with
a priest; first by the very education he receives at the seminary the
ecclesiastic thinks himself obliged to disperse his affections and not
concentrate himself on particular friendships; then, like a doctor, he
is a man harassed with business, who is never to be found. You can catch
them now and then between two confessions or two sick calls. Nor even
then are you quite certain that the eager welcome of the priest rings
true, for he is just the same to all who come to him, and indeed, since
I do not call on the Abbé Gévresin for his help or advice, I am afraid
of being in his way, and of taking up his time, hence I am acting with
discretion in not going to see him.

"Yet I am sorry; suppose I write, or go to him one morning, but what
have I to say to him? I ought to know what I want before I allow myself
to trouble him. If I go only to complain, he will answer I am wrong not
to be a communicant, and I have nothing to answer. No: the better plan
is to meet him as by chance, on the quays, where no doubt he sometimes
looks over the book-stalls, or at Tocane's, for then I can talk to him
more intimately, at least less officially, about my vacillations and
regrets."

So Durtal searched the quays, and never once met the abbé. He went to
the bookseller's, and pretended to look over his stock, but as soon as
he pronounced the name Gévresin, Tocane exclaimed, "I have heard nothing
of him, he has not been here for the last two months."

"I will not turn back, but just disturb him in his own house," said
Durtal, "but he will wonder why I came back after so long an absence.
Besides the awkwardness I feel in calling on people whom I have
neglected, I am also troubled by thinking the abbé may suspect some
interested object in my visit. That is not convenient; if I had but a
good pretext; there is certainly that life of Lidwine which interests
him, I might consult him on various points. Yes, but which? I have not
concerned myself with that saint for a long time, and must read over
again the meagre old books on her biography. After all, it will be
simpler and better to be frank, and say, 'This is why I have come; I
want to ask advice, which I have not determined to follow, but I have so
much need of speaking, of giving the reins to my soul, that I beg you to
be so kind as to lose an hour for my sake.'

"He will do it certainly and willingly.

"Then that is agreed on; suppose I go to-morrow?" But he checked himself
at once. "There was nothing pressing; there was plenty of time; better
take time and think; ah, yes, here is Christmas close upon us, I cannot
decently trouble a priest who has his penitents to confess, for there
are many communicants on that day. Let him get his hard work over, and
then we will see."

He was at first pleased at having invented that excuse, then he had to
admit in his heart that, after all, there was not much in it, for there
was nothing to show that this priest, who was not attached to a parish,
was busy in hearing confessions.

It was hardly probable, but he tried to convince himself that it might
be so after all, and his hesitation began again. Angry at last with the
discussion, he adopted a middle course. For greater certainty, he would
not call on the abbé till after Christmas, but he would not be later
than a given time; he took an almanack, and swore to keep his
promise--three days after that feast.



CHAPTER IV.


Oh! that midnight mass! He had had the unfortunate idea of going to it
at Christmas. He went to St. Severin, and found a young ladies' day
school installed there, instead of the choir, who, with sharp voices
like needles, knitted the worn-out skeins of the canticles. He had fled
to St. Sulpice, and plunged into a crowd which walked and talked as if
in the open air; had heard there choral-society marches, tea-garden
waltzes, firework tunes, and had come away in a rage.

It had seemed to him superfluous to try St. Germain-des-Près, for he
held that church in horror. Besides the weariness inspired by its heavy,
ill-restored shell, and the miserable paintings with which Flandrin
loaded it, the clergy there were specially, almost alarmingly, ugly, and
the choir was truly infamous. They were like a set of bad cooks, boys
who spat vinegar, and elderly choir-men, who cooked in the furnace of
their throats a sort of vocal broth, a thin gruel of sound.

Nor did he think of taking refuge in St. Thomas Aquinas, where he
dreaded the barking and the choruses; there was indeed St. Clotilde,
where the psalmody, at least, is upright, and has not, like that of St.
Thomas, lost all shame. He went there, but again encountered dance music
and profane tunes, a worldly orgie.

At last he went to bed in a rage, saying to himself, "In Paris, at any
rate, a singular baptism of music is reserved for the New-Born."

Next day, when he woke, he felt he had no courage to face the churches;
the sacrileges of last night would, he thought, continue; and as the
weather was almost fine, he went out, wandered in the Luxembourg, gained
the square of the Observatoire, and the Boulevard de Port Royal, and
mechanically made his way along the interminable Rue de la Santé.

He knew that street of old, and had taken melancholy walks in it,
attracted by its poor houses, like those of a provincial town; then it
was fit for a dreamer, for it was bounded on the right by the Prison de
la Santé and Sainte Anne's madhouse, and on the left by convents. Light
and air circulated in the street, but, behind it, all was black; it was
a kind of prison corridor, with cells on either side, where some were
condemned to temporary sentences, and others, of their own free will,
suffered lasting sorrows.

"I can imagine," thought Durtal, "how it would have been painted by an
Early Flemish master; the long street paved by patient pencils, the
stories open from top to bottom, and the cupboards the same; and on one
side massive cells with iron bedsteads, a stoneware jug; little
peepholes in the doors secured by strong bolts, inside, scoundrels and
thieves, gnashing their teeth, turning round and round, their hair on
end, howling like caged animals; on the other side little rooms,
furnished with a pallet-bed, a stoneware jug, a crucifix, these also
closed by doors iron-banded, and within nuns or monks, kneeling on the
flags, their faces clean cut against the light of a halo, their eyes
lifted to heaven, their hands joined, raised from the ground in ecstasy,
a pot of lilies at their side."

Then at the back of the canvas, between these two rows of houses, rises
a great avenue, at the end of which in a dappled sky sits God the Father
with Christ on His right, choirs of Seraphim playing on guitar and viol;
God the Father immovable under his lofty tiara, His breast covered by
His long beard, holds scales which balance exactly, the holy captives
expiating precisely by their penances and prayers the blasphemies of the
rascals and the insane.

"It must be admitted," thought Durtal, "that this street is very
peculiar, that there is probably none like it in Paris, for it unites in
its course virtues and vices, which in other quarters, in spite of the
efforts of the Church, trend apart as far as possible from each other."

Thus thinking he had come as far as St. Anne's, where the street grows
lighter and the houses are lower, with only one or two stories, then,
gradually, there is greater space between them, and they are only
joined to each other by blank ends of walls.

"At any rate," thought Durtal, "if this street has no distinction, it is
very private; here at least one need not admire the impertinent
decoration of those modern shops which expose in their windows as
precious commodities, chosen piles of firewood, and in glass sweetmeat
jars, coal drops and coke lollipops."

And here is an odd lane, and he looked at an alley which led down a
sharp decline into a main street, where was to be seen the tricolor flag
in zinc on a washhouse; he read the name: Rue de l'Ebre.

He entered it, it was but a few yards long; the whole of one side was
occupied by a wall, behind which were half seen some stunted buildings,
surmounted by a bell. An entrance-gate with a square wicket was placed
in the wall, which was raised higher as it sloped downwards, and at the
end was pierced by round windows, and rose into a little building,
surmounted by a clock-tower so low that its point did not even reach the
height of the two-storied house opposite.

On the other side three hovels sloped down, closely packed together;
zinc pipes ran everywhere, growing like vines, ramifying like the stalks
of a hollow vine along the walls, windows gaped on rusty leaden hinges.
Dim courts of wretched hovels could be seen; in one was a shed where
some cows were reposing; in two others were coach-houses for
wheel-chairs, and a rack behind the bars of which appeared the capsuled
necks of bottles.

"But this must be a church," thought Durtal, looking at the little clock
tower, and the three or four round bays, which seemed cut out in emery
paper to look like the black rough mortar of the wall; "where is the
entrance?"

He found it on turning out of the alley into the Rue de la Glacière. A
tiny porch gave access to the building.

He opened the door, and entered a large room, a sort of closed shed,
painted yellow, with a flat ceiling, with small iron beams coloured
grey, picked out with blue, and ornamented with gas-jets like a wine
shop. At the end was a marble altar, six lighted tapers, and gilt
ornaments, candelabra full of tapers, and under the tabernacle, a very
small monstrance, which sparkled in the light of the tapers.

It was almost dark, the panes of the windows having been crudely daubed
with bands of indigo and yellowish green; it was freezing, the stove was
not alight, and the church, paved like a kitchen floor, had no matting
or carpet.

Durtal wrapped himself up as best he could and sat down. His eyes
gradually grew accustomed to the obscurity of the room, and what he saw
was strange; in front of the choir on rows of chairs were seated human
forms, drowned in floods of white muslin. No one stirred.

Suddenly there entered by a side door a nun equally wrapped from head to
foot in a large veil. She passed along the altar, stopped in the middle,
threw herself on the ground, kissed the floor, and by a sudden effort,
without helping herself by her arms, stood upright, advanced silently
into the church, and brushed by Durtal, who saw under the muslin a
magnificent robe of creamy white, an ivory cross at her neck, at her
girdle a white cord and beads.

She went to the entrance-door, and there ascended a little staircase
into a gallery which commanded the church.

He asked himself what could be this Order so sumptuously arrayed, in
this miserable chapel, in such a district?

Little by little the room filled, choir-boys in red with capes trimmed
with rabbit's skin lighted the candelabra, went out, and ushered in a
priest, vested in a grand cope, with large flowers, a priest tall and
young, who sat down, and in a sonorous tone chanted the first antiphon
of vespers.

Suddenly Durtal turned round. In the gallery an harmonium accompanied
the responses of voices never to be forgotten. It was not a woman's
voice, but one having in it something of a child's voice, sweetened,
purified, sharpened, and something of a man's, but less harsh, finer and
more sustained, an unsexed voice, filtered through litanies, bolted by
prayers, passed through the sieves of adoration and tears.

The priest, still sitting, chanted the first verse of the unchanging
psalm, "Dixit Dominus Domino meo."

And Durtal saw in the air, in the gallery, tall white statues, holding
black books in their hands, chanting slowly with eyes raised to heaven.
A lamp cast its light on one of these figures, which for a second leant
forward a little, and he saw under the lifted veil a face attentive and
sorrowful, and very pale.

The verses of the vesper psalms were now sung alternately, by the nuns
above and by the congregation below. The chapel was almost full; a
school of girls in white veils filled one side; little girls of the
middle-class, poorly dressed brats who played with their dolls occupied
the other. There were a few poor women in _sabots_, and no men.

The atmosphere became extraordinary. The warmth of the souls thawed the
ice of the room; here were not the vespers of the rich, such as were
celebrated on Sundays at St. Sulpice, but the vespers of the poor,
domestic vespers, in the plain chant of the country side, followed by
the faithful with mighty fervour in silent and singular devotion.

Durtal could fancy himself transported beyond the city, to the depths of
some village cloister; he felt himself softened, his soul rocked by the
monotonous amplitude of these chants, only recognizing the end of the
psalms by the return of the doxology, the "Gloria Patri et Filio," which
separated them from each other.

He had a real impulse, a dim need of praying to the Unknowable,
penetrated to the very marrow by this environment of aspiration, it
seemed to him that he thawed a little, and took a far-off part in the
united tenderness of these bright spirits. He sought for a prayer, and
recalled what St. Paphnutius taught Thais, when he cried, "Thou art not
worthy to name the name of God, thou wilt pray only thus: 'Qui plasmasti
me miserere mei;' Thou who hast formed me have mercy on me." He
stammered out the humble phrase, prayed not out of love or of
contrition, but out of disgust with himself, unable to let himself go,
regretting that he could not love. Then he thought of saying the Lord's
Prayer, but stopped at the notion that this is the hardest of all
prayers to pronounce, when the phrases are weighed in the balance. For
in it we declare to God that we forgive our neighbours' trespasses. Now
how many who use these words forgive others? How many Catholics do not
lie when they tell the All-knowing that they hate no one?

He was roused from these reflections by sudden silence; vespers were
over. Then the organ played again, and all the voices of the nuns
joined, those in the choir below and in the gallery above, singing the
old carol "Unto us a child is born."

He listened, moved by the simplicity of the strain, and suddenly, in a
minute, brutally, without understanding why, infamous thoughts filled
his mind.

He resisted in disgust, wished to repulse the assault of these shameful
feelings, and they were persistent. He seemed to see before him a woman
whose perverse ways had long maddened him.

All at once this hallucination ceased; his eye was mechanically
attracted towards the priest, who was looking at him, while speaking in
a low voice to a beadle.

He lost his head, imagining that the priest guessed his thoughts and was
turning him out, but this notion was so foolish, that he shrugged his
shoulders, and more sensibly thought that men were not admitted to this
convent of women, and that the abbé who had seen him was sending the
beadle to beg him to leave.

The beadle came straight to him; Durtal was ready to take his hat, when
in persuasive and gentle tones that functionary said that the procession
was about to begin, that it was the custom for the gentlemen to follow
the Blessed Sacrament, and that although he was the only man there, the
abbé thought he would not refuse to follow the procession about to
start.

Overwhelmed by this request, Durtal made a vague gesture, in which the
beadle seemed to see assent.

"No," he thought as soon as he was left alone; "I will not meddle with
the ceremony; first I know nothing about it, and I should spoil it all,
and again I will not make a fool of myself." He prepared to slip away
quietly, but he had no time to carry out his intention; the usher
brought him a lighted candle and asked him to accompany him. He put the
best face he could on the matter, and while thinking that he was
blushing all over, he followed the beadle to the altar.

There the beadle stopped him and bid him not to move. The whole
congregation was now standing, the girls' school divided into two files,
preceded by a woman carrying a banner. Durtal came in front of the first
rank of nuns.

Their veils lowered before the profane, even in church, were raised
before the Blessed Sacrament, before God. Durtal was able to look at
these sisters for a moment; at first his disillusion was complete. He
had supposed them pale and grave like the nun he had seen in the
gallery, and almost all of them were red, freckled, crossing their poor
hands swelled and wounded by chilblains. Their faces were puffy and all
seemed at the beginning or end of a cold; they were evidently country
girls, and the novices, known by their grey robes under the white veil,
were still more common looking; they had certainly been accustomed to
farm labour, and yet on seeing them all turned to the altar, the poverty
of their faces, the ugliness of their hands blue with cold, their broken
nails, injured in the wash, disappeared; their eyes, modest and humble
under their long lashes, changed their coarse features into pious
simplicity. Lost in prayer, they did not even see his curious looks, and
did not even suspect a man was there examining them.

Durtal envied the admirable wisdom of these poor girls who alone
understood it was mad to wish to live. He thought: "Ignorance leads to
the same result as knowledge. Among the Carmelites are rich and pretty
women who have lived in the world and left it, wholly convinced of the
vainness of its joys; and these nuns, who evidently know nothing, have
had an intuition of that vacuity which it has needed years of experience
for the others to gain. By different ways they have arrived at the same
meeting-place. Then what clearness of thought is revealed by their
entrance into an Order! for if indeed they had not been gathered by
Christ, what would have become of these unhappy girls? Married to
drunkards and hammered by beatings; or perhaps maids in taverns,
ill-treated by their masters, brutalized by the other servants, destined
to the scorn of the streets and the dangers of ill-usage. And without
knowing anything they have avoided it all, have remained innocent, far
from these perils, and far from this defilement, under an obedience
which is not ignoble, disposed by their very way of life to experience,
should they be worthy, the most powerful joys which the soul of a human
creature can feel. They remain, perhaps, beasts of burthen, but at any
rate God's beasts of burthen."

He had got so far in his reflections when the beadle beckoned to him.
The priest, who had descended from the altar, held the little
monstrance; the girls' procession was moving before him. Durtal passed
in front of the line of nuns who did not take part in the ceremony, and
torch in hand he followed the beadle, who carried behind the priest an
open white silk parasol.

Then the harmonium in the gallery filled the church with its drawling
tones, like an enlarged accordion, and the nuns standing beside it
intoned the old chant, rhythmical as a march, the "Adeste Fideles,"
while below the novices and the faithful repeated after each stanza the
sweet chorus of invitation, "Venite adoremus."

The procession went several times round the chapel, above the heads
bowed in the smoke from the censers, which the choir boys swung, turning
at each pause to face the priest.

"Well, after all, I have not come so badly out of it," said Durtal to
himself, when they had returned to the altar. He thought his part was
finished, but, this time without asking his permission, the beadle asked
him to kneel at the communion rail in front of the altar.

He was ill at ease and annoyed, at knowing that the whole school and the
whole convent was behind him, nor was he accustomed to kneel; it seemed
as if wedges were thrust into his limbs, as if he were subjected to the
tortures of the Middle Ages. Embarrassed by his taper, which was
guttering, and threatened to cover him with spots, he shifted his
position quietly, trying to make himself more comfortable by slipping
the skirts of his great coat between his knees and the steps; but in
moving he only increased the evil, his flesh was folded back between the
bones, and his skin was chafed and burning. He sweated at last with the
pain, and feared to distract the fervour of the community by falling;
while the ceremony went on for ever, the nuns sang in the gallery, but
he listened no more and deplored the length of the service.

At last the moment of Benediction approached.

Then in spite of himself, seeing himself there, so near to God, Durtal
forgot his sufferings, and bowed his head, ashamed to be so placed, like
a captain at the head of his company, in the first rank of this maiden
troop; and when in a great silence, the bell tinkled, and the priest
turning, lightly cut the air in the form of a cross, and, with the
Blessed Sacrament, blessed the congregation kneeling at his feet, Durtal
remained, his body bent, his eyes closed, seeking to hide himself, to
make himself small, and not be seen there in front amid that pious
crowd.

The psalm "Laudate Dominum, omnes gentes," rang out when the beadle came
to take his taper. Durtal could hardly resist a cry, when he had to
stand up; his benumbed knees cracked, and their joints would hardly
work.

Yet he regained his place somehow; let the crowd pass, and approaching
the beadle, asked him the name of the convent, and the order to which
the nuns belonged.

"They are the Franciscan missionaries of Mary," answered the man, "but
the chapel is not theirs as you seem to think; it is a chapel of ease
for the parish of St. Marcel de la Maison Blanche: it is only joined by
a corridor to the house those sisters occupy behind us there in the Rue
de l'Ebre. They join in the offices, in fact, just as you and I may do,
and they keep a school for the children of the district."

"It is a touching little chapel," thought Durtal, when he was alone. "It
is well matched with the neighbourhood it shelters, with the gloomy
brook of the tanners, which runs through the yards below the Rue de la
Glacière. It gives me the effect of being to Notre Dame de Paris what
its neighbour the Bièvre is to the Seine. It is the streamlet of the
church, the pious pavement, the miserable suburb of worship.

"How poor and yet how exquisite are those nuns' voices, which seem
non-sexual and mellow! God knows how I hate the voice of a woman in the
holy place, for it still remains unclean. I think woman always brings
with her the lasting miasma of her indispositions and she turns the
psalms sour. Then, all the same, vanity and concupiscence rise from the
worldly voice, and its cries of adoration accompanied by the organ are
only cries of carnal desire, its very pleadings in the most sombre
liturgical hymns are only addressed to God from the lips outward, for at
bottom a woman only mourns the mediocre ideal of earthly pleasure to
which she cannot attain. Thus I thoroughly understand that the Church
has rejected woman from her offices, and that the musical robe of her
sequences may not be contaminated she employs the voices of the boy and
the man.

"Yet in convents of women, that is changed; it is certain that prayer,
communion, abstinence and vows purify the body and the soul, as well as
the vocal odour which proceeds from them. The emanations from them give
to the voices of the nuns, however crude, however ill-trained they may
be, their chaste inflexions, their simple caresses of pure love, they
recall to it the ingenuous sounds of childhood.

"In certain orders, they seem even to prune it of the greater part of
its branches, and concentrate the threads of sap which remain in a few
twigs;" and he thought of a Carmelite convent to which he had gone from
time to time, remembered their failing, almost expiring voices, where
the little health that remained to them was concentrated in three notes,
voices which had lost the musical colours of life, the tints of open
air, keeping only in the cloister those of the costumes they seemed to
reflect, white and brown, chaste and sombre tones.

Ah! those Carmelites, he thought of them now, as he descended the Rue de
la Glacière, and he called up the memory of a profession, the thought of
which took entire possession of him every time he meditated on convents.
He saw again in memory a morning in the little chapel in the Avenue de
Saxe, a chapel, Spanish Gothic in style, with narrow windows glazed with
panes so dark that the light which remained in their colours did not
pass through them.

At the end rose the high altar in shade, raised on six steps; on the
left a large iron grating in an arch was covered with a black curtain,
and on the same side, but almost at the base of the altar, a little arch
traced on the plain wall, like a lancet window, with an aperture in the
middle, a sort of square, a frame, without a panel, empty.

That morning the chapel, cold and dark, sparkled, lighted by groves of
candles; and the odour of incense, not adulterated as in other churches
by spices and gums, filled it with a dull smoke; it was crammed with
people. Crouched in a corner, Durtal had turned round, and like his
neighbours looked at the backs of the thurifers and priests, who were
going towards the entrance. The door opened suddenly, and he saw, in a
burst of daylight, a red vision of the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris,
passing up the nave, turning from side to side a horse-like head, in
front of it a big spectacled nose, bending his tall form all on one
side, blessing the congregation with a long twisted hand, like a crab's
claw.

He and his suite ascended the altar steps, and knelt at a prie-Dieu,
then they took off his tippet, and vested him in a silk chasuble with a
white cross embroidered in silver, and the mass began. Shortly before
the communion, the black veil was gently withdrawn; behind the high
grating, and in a blueish light like that of the moon, Durtal faintly
saw white phantoms gliding and stars twinking in the air, and close to
the grating a woman's form, kneeling motionless on the ground, she too
holding a star at the end of a taper. The woman did not move but the
star shook; then when the moment of communion was at hand, the woman
rose, then disappeared, and her head, as if decapitated, filled the
square of the wicket opened in the arch.

Then as he leant forward he saw, for a second, a dead face, with closed
lids, white, eyeless, like ancient marble statues. And all passed away,
as the Cardinal bent above the grating, with the ciborium in his hand.

All was so rapid that he asked himself if he were not dreaming; the mass
was over. Behind the iron grating resounded mournful psalms, slow chants
drawn out, weeping, always on the same notes, wandering lights and white
forms passed in the azure fluid of the incense. Monseigneur Richard was
sitting, mitre on head, interrogating the postulant who had returned to
her place, and was kneeling before him behind the grating.

He spoke in a low voice, and could not be heard. The whole congregation
bent to listen to the novice as she pronounced her vows, but only a long
murmur was heard. Durtal remembered that he had elbowed his way, and got
near the choir, where, through the crossed bars of the grating, he saw
the woman clad in white, prostrate on her face, in a square of flowers,
while the whole convent filed past, bending over her, intoning the
psalms for the dead, and sprinkling her with holy water, like a corpse.

"It is admirable," he cried, moved in the street by the memory of the
scene, and he thought of what a life was that of these women! To lie on
an hair mattress without pillow or sheets, to fast seven months out of
the twelve, except on Sundays and feasts; always to eat, standing,
vegetables and abstinence fare; to have no fire in winter, to chant for
hours on ice-cold tiles, to scourge the body, to become so humble as,
however tenderly nurtured, to wash up dishes with joy, and attend to the
meanest tasks, to pray from morning to midnight even to fainting, to
pray there till death. They must indeed pity us, and set themselves to
expiate the imbecility of a world which treats them as hysterical fools,
for it cannot even understand the joy in suffering of souls like these.

"We cannot be proud of ourselves, in thinking of the Carmelites, or even
of those humble Franciscan Tertiaries, who are after all more vulgar. It
is true they do not belong to a contemplative order, but all the same
their rules are very strict, their existence is so hard that they too
can atone by their prayers and good works for the crimes of the city
they protect."

He grew enthusiastic in thinking of the convents. Ah! to be earthed up
among them, sheltered from the herd, not to know what books appear, what
newspapers are printed, never to know what goes on outside one's cell,
among men--to complete the beneficent silence of this cloistered life,
nourishing ourselves with good actions, refreshing ourselves with plain
song, saturating ourselves with the inexhaustible joys of the liturgies.

Then, who knows? By force of good will, and by ardent prayer, to succeed
in coming to Him, in entertaining Him, feeling Him near us, perhaps
almost satisfied with His creature. And he called up before him the joys
of those abbeys in which Jesus abode. He remembered that astonishing
convent of Unterlinden, near Colmar, where in the thirteenth century not
only one or two nuns, but the whole convent, rose distractedly before
Christ with cries of joy, nuns were lifted above the ground, others
heard the songs of seraphim, and their emaciated bodies secreted balm;
others became transparent or were crowned with stars; all these
phenomena of the contemplative life were visible in that cloister, a
high school of Mysticism.

Thus wrapped in thought, he found himself at his own door, without
remembering the road he had taken, and as soon as he was in his room,
his whole soul dilated and burst forth. He desired to thank, to call
for mercy, to appeal to someone, he knew not whom, to complain of he
knew not what. All at once the need of pouring himself forth, of going
out of himself, took shape, and he fell on his knees saying to Our Lady,

"Have pity on me, and hear me; I would rather anything than continue
this shaken existence, these idle stages without an aim. Pardon me, Holy
Virgin, unclean as I am, for I have no courage for the battle. Ah,
wouldest thou grant my prayer! I know well that I am over bold in daring
to ask, since I am not even resolved to turn out my soul, to empty it
like a bucket of filth, to strike it on the bottom, that the lees may
trickle out and the scales fall off, but ... but ... thou knowest I am
so weak, so little sure of myself, that in truth I shrink.

"Oh, all the same I would desire to flee away, a thousand miles from
Paris, I know not where, into a cloister. My God! yet this is very
madness that I speak, for I could not stay two days in a convent; nor
indeed would they take me in."

Then he thought,--

"Though this once I am less dry, less unclean than is my wont, I can
find nothing to say to Our Lady but insanities and follies, when it
would be so simple to ask her pardon, to beg her to have pity on my
desolate life, to aid me to resist the demands of my vices, not to pay
as I do the royalties on my nerves, the tax on my senses.

"All the same," he said, rising, "enough of this, I will at least do
what little I can; without more delay I will go to the abbé to-morrow. I
will explain the struggle of my soul, and we will see what happens
afterwards."



CHAPTER V.


He was really comforted when the servant said that Monsieur l'Abbé was
at home. He entered a little drawing-room, and waited till the priest,
whom he heard speaking to someone in the next chamber, was alone.

He looked at the little room, and marked that nothing was changed since
his last visit. It was still furnished with a velvet sofa, of which the
red, once crimson, had become the faded rose colour of raspberry jam on
bread. There were also two tall arm-chairs on either side of the
chimney, which was ornamented by an Empire clock, and some china vases
filled with sand, in which were stuck some dry stalks of reed. In a
corner against the wall, under an old wooden crucifix, was a prie-dieu,
marked by the knees, an oval table in the centre, some sacred engravings
on the walls; and that was all.

"It is like an hotel, or an old maid's lodging," thought Durtal. The
commonness of the furniture, the curtains in faded damask, the panels
hung with a paper covered with bouquets of poppies and field-flowers in
false colours, were like lodgings by the month, but certain details,
above all the scrupulous cleanliness of the room, the worked cushions on
the sofa, the grass mats under the chairs, an hortensia like a painted
cauliflower placed in a flower-pot covered with lace, looked on the
other hand like the futile and icy room of a devout woman.

"Nothing was wanting but a cage of canaries, photographs in plush
frames, shell-work and crochet mats."

Durtal had got so far in his reflections when the abbé came in with
extended hand, gently finding fault with his long absence.

Durtal made what excuses he could, unusual occupations, long weariness.

"And our Blessed Lidwine, how do you get on with her?"

"Ah, I have not even begun her life; I am not in a state of mind which
allows me to engage in it."

Durtal's accent of discouragement surprised the priest.

"Come, what is the matter? Can I be of any use to you?"

"I do not know, Monsieur l'Abbé. I am almost ashamed to talk to you
about such troubles," and suddenly he burst out, telling his sorrows in
any chance words, declaring the unreality of his conversion, his
struggles with the flesh, his human respect, his neglect of religious
practices, his aversion from the rites demanded of him, in fact from all
yokes.

The abbé listened without moving, his chin on his hand.

"You are more than forty," he said, when Durtal was silent; "you have
passed the age when without any impulse from thought, the awakening of
the flesh excites temptations, you are now in that period when indecent
thoughts first present themselves to the imagination, before the senses
are agitated. We have then to fight less against your sleeping body than
your mind, which stimulates and vexes it. On the other hand, you have
arrears and prizes of affection to put out, you have no wife or children
to receive them, so that your affections being driven back by celibacy,
you will end by taking them there where at first they should have been
placed; you try to appease your soul's hunger in chapels, and as you
hesitate, as you have not the courage to come to a decision, to break
once for all with your vices, you have arrived at this strange
compromise; to reserve your tender feeling for the church and the
manifestations of that feeling for women. That, if I do not mistake, is
your correct balance-sheet. But, good heavens, you have not too much to
complain of, for do you not see that the important thing is to care for
woman only with your bodily senses? When Heaven has given you grace to
be no longer taken captive by thought, all may be arranged with a little
effort of will."

"This is an indulgent priest," thought Durtal.

"But," continued the abbé, "you cannot always sit between two stools,
the moment will come when you must stick to the one, and push the other
away."

And looking at Durtal, who looked down without answering,--

"Do you pray? I do not ask if you say your morning prayers, for not all
those, who end by entering on the divine way, after wandering for years
where chance might take them, call on the Lord so soon as they awake.
At break of day the soul thinks itself well, thinks itself firmer, and
at once takes occasion of this fleeting energy to forget God. It is with
the soul as with the body when it is sick. When night comes our
sensations are stronger, pain which was quieted awakes, the fever which
slept blazes up again, filth revives and wounds bleed anew, and then it
thinks of the divine Miracle-worker, it thinks of Christ. Do you pray in
the evening?"

"Sometimes--and yet it is very difficult; the afternoon is tolerable,
but you say truly when the daylight goes, evils spring up. A whole
cavalcade of obscene ideas then pass through my brain; how can any one
be recollected at such moments?"

"If you do not feel able to resist in the street or at home, why do you
not take refuge in the churches?"

"But they are closed when one has most need of them; the clergy put
Jesus to bed at nightfall."

"I know it, but if most churches are closed, there are a few which
remain partly open very late. Ah, St. Sulpice is among the number, and
there is one which remains open every evening, and where those who visit
it are always sure of prayers and Benediction: Notre Dame des Victoires,
I think you know it."

"Yes, Monsieur l'Abbé. It is ugly enough to cause tears, it is
pretentious, it is in bad taste, and the singers churn up a margarine of
rancid tones. I do not go there then as I go to St. Severin and St.
Sulpice, to admire there the art of the old 'Praisers of God,' to
listen, even if they are incorrectly given, to the broad, familiar
melodies of plain chant. Notre Dame des Victoires is worthless from the
æsthetic point of view, and yet I go there from time to time, because
alone in Paris it has the irresistible attraction of true piety, it
alone preserves intact the lost soul of the Time. At whatever hour one
goes there people are praying there, prostrate in absolute silence; it
is full as soon as it is open, and full at its closing, there is a
constant coming and going of pilgrims from all parts of Paris, arriving
from the depths of the provinces, and it seems that each one, by the
prayers that he brings, adds fuel to the immense brazier of Faith whose
flames break out again under the smoky arches like the thousands of
tapers which constantly burn, and are renewed from morning till evening,
before Our Lady.

"Well, I who seek the most deserted corners and the darkest places in
the chapels, I who hate mobs, mix almost willingly with those I find
there; because there everyone is isolated, no one is concerned with his
neighbour, you do not see the human bodies which throng you, but you
feel the breath of souls around. However refractory, however damp you
may be, you end by taking fire at this contact, and are astonished to
find yourself all at once less vile; it seems to me that the prayers
which elsewhere when they leave my lips fall back to the ground
exhausted and chilled, spring upwards in that place, are borne on by
others, grow warm and soar and live.

"At St. Severin I have indeed experienced the sensation of a help
spreading from the pillars and running through the arches, but, as I
think, the aid is less strong. Perhaps since the Middle Ages that church
makes use of, but cannot renew the celestial effluvia with which it is
charged; while at Notre Dame the help which springs up from the very
pavement is for ever vivified by the uninterrupted presence of an ardent
crowd. In the one it is the impregnate stone, the church itself which
brings consolation, in the other it is above all things the fervour of
the crowds which fill it.

"And then I have the strange impression that the Virgin, attracted and
retained by so great faith, only spends a little while in other
churches, goes there as a visitor, but has made her home, and really
resides in Notre Dame."

The abbé smiled.

"Come, I see that you know and love it; and yet the church is not on our
left bank, beyond which, you said to me one day, there is no sanctuary
worth having."

"Yes, and I am surprised at it, especially as it is placed in a
thoroughly commercial quarter, two paces from the Exchange, whose
ignoble shouts can be heard in it."

"It was itself an Exchange," said the abbé.

"In what way?"

"After having been baptized by the monks, and having served as a chapel
for the discalced Augustinians, it was horribly desecrated in the
Revolution, and the Exchange was set up within its walls."

"I was not aware of that detail," said Durtal.

"But," continued the abbé, "it was with it, as with those holy women,
who, if we believe their biographers, recovered by a life of prayer the
virginity they had formerly lost. Our Lady washed it from its violation,
and though it is comparatively modern, it is at the present day
saturated with emanations, infused by effluences of angels, penetrated
with divine drugs, it is for sick souls what certain thermal springs are
for the body. People keep their season there, make their novenas, and
obtain their cure.

"Now to come back to our point; I tell you you will do wisely, if on
your bad evenings you will attend Benediction in that church. I shall be
surprised if you do not come out cleansed and at peace."

"If he have only that to offer me, it is little enough," thought Durtal.
And after a disappointed silence he rejoined,

"But, Monsieur l'Abbé, even were I to visit that sanctuary, and follow
the offices in other churches, when temptations assail me, even were I
to confess and draw near the Sacraments, how would that advantage me? I
should meet as I came out the woman whose very sight inflames my senses,
and it would be with me as after my leaving St. Severin all unnerved;
the very feeling of tenderness which I had in the chapel would destroy
me, and I should fall back into sin."

"What do you know about it?" and the priest suddenly rose, and took long
strides through the room.

"You have no right to speak thus, for the virtue of the Sacrament is
formal, the man who has communicated is no longer alone. He is armed
against others and defended against himself," and crossing his arms
before Durtal he exclaimed,--

"To lose one's soul for the pleasure of momentary gratification! what
madness. And since the time of your conversion, does not that disgust
you?"

"Yes, I am disgusted with myself, but only after my swinish desires are
satisfied. If only I could gain true repentance."

"Rest assured," said the abbé, who sat down again, "you will find it."

And, seeing that Durtal shook his head,

"Remember what Saint Teresa said: 'One trouble of those who are
beginning is, that they cannot recognize whether they have true
repentance for their faults; but they have it, and the proof is their
sincere resolution to serve God.' Think of that sentence, for it applies
to you; that repugnance to your sins which wearies you is witness to
your regret, and you have a desire to serve the Lord, since you are in
fact struggling to go to Him."

There was a moment of silence.

"Well, then, Monsieur l'Abbé, what is your advice?"

"I advise you to pray in your own house, in church, everywhere, as much
as you can. I do not prescribe any religious remedy, I simply invite you
to profit by some precepts of pious hygiene, afterwards we will see."

Durtal remained undecided, discontented, like those sick persons who
find fault with doctors, who, to satisfy them, prescribe only colourless
drugs.

The priest laughed.

"Confess," he said, looking him in the face, "confess that you are
saying to yourself, 'It was not worth while to put myself out, for I am
no further advanced, this good fellow, the priest, practises expectant
medicine; instead of cutting short my crises with energetic remedies, he
palters, advises me to go to bed early, not to catch cold--'"

"Oh, Monsieur l'Abbé," protested Durtal.

"Yet I do not wish to treat you like a child, or talk to you like a
woman; now attend to me!

"The way in which your conversion has worked leaves me in no doubt
whatever. There has been what Mysticism calls the divine touch,
only--note this--God has dispensed with human intervention, even with
the interference of a priest, to bring you back into the road you have
left for more than twenty years.

"Now we cannot reasonably suppose that the Lord has acted lightly, and
that He will now leave His work unaccomplished. He will carry it through
if you put no obstacle in His way.

"In fact you are at this moment like a block in His hands; what will He
do with it? I do not know, but since He has kept to Himself the conduct
of your soul, let Him act; be patient, He will explain His action; trust
in Him, He will help you; be content to protest with the Psalmist: 'Doce
me facere voluntatem tuam, quia Deus meus es tu.'

"I tell you again I believe in the preventive virtue, the formal power
of the Sacraments. I quite understand the system of Père Milleriot, who
obliged those persons to communicate whom he thought would afterwards
fall again into sin. For their only penance he obliged them to
communicate again and again, and he ended by purifying them with the
Sacred Species, taken in large doses. It is a doctrine at once realistic
and exalted.

"But reassure yourself," continued the abbé, looking at Durtal, who
seemed wearied, "I do not intend to experiment on you in this way; on
the contrary, my advice is that in the state of ignorance in which we
are of God's will, you abstain from the Sacraments.

"For you should desire them, and it should come from you rather than
from Him; be sure that sooner or later you will thirst for Penance,
hunger for the Eucharist. Well, when unable to restrain yourself longer,
you ask for pardon and entreat to be allowed to approach the Holy Table,
we shall see, we will ask Him what way He will choose to take, in order
to save you."

"But there are not, I presume, several ways of confessing and
communicating?"

"Certainly not, that is just what I meant to say ... but ..."

And the priest hesitated, at a loss for words.

"It is quite certain," he began again, "that art has been the principal
means which the Saviour has used to make you absorb the Faith. He has
taken you on your weak side--or strong side, if you like that better. He
has infused into your nature the chief mystical works; he has persuaded
and converted you, less by the way of reason than the way of the senses;
and indeed those are the special conditions you have to take into
account.

"On the other hand your soul is not humble and simple, you are a sort of
'sensitive,' whom the least imprudence, the least stupidity of a
confessor would at once repel.

"Therefore that you may not be at the mercy of a troublesome impression,
certain precautions must be taken. In the state of weakness and
feebleness in which you are, a disagreeable face, an unlucky word,
antipathetic surroundings, a mere nothing would be enough to rout
you--is it not so?"

"Alas!" sighed Durtal, "I am obliged to answer that you are right; but,
Monsieur l'Abbé, I do not think I shall have to fear such disillusions
if when the moment you predict has come you will allow me to make my
confession to you."

The priest was silent for a while; then said,

"No doubt, since I have met you, I may probably be useful to you, but I
have an idea that my part will be confined to pointing out the road to
you; I shall be a connecting link, and nothing more, you will end as you
have begun, without help, alone." The abbé remained in thought, then
shook his head, and went on: "Let us leave the subject, however, for we
cannot anticipate the designs of God; to sum up, try to stifle in prayer
your attacks of the flesh, it is a less matter not to be overcome at the
moment, than to direct all your efforts not to be so."

Then the priest added gently to rouse the spirits of Durtal, whom he saw
to be depressed,

"If you fall do not despair, and throw the handle after the hatchet. Say
to yourself, that, after all Lust is not the most unpardonable of
faults, that it is one of two sins for which the human being pays cash,
and which are consequently expiated in part at least before death. Say
to yourself that wantonness and avarice refuse all credit and will not
wait; and in fact, whoever unlawfully commits a fleshly act is almost
always punished in his lifetime. For some there are bastards to provide
for, sickly wives, low connections, broken careers, abominable
deceptions on the part of those they have loved. On whichever side we
turn when women are concerned we have to suffer, for she is the most
powerful instrument of sorrow which God has given to man.

"It is the same with the passion for gain. Every being who allows
himself to be overcome by that hateful sin, pays for it as a rule before
his death. Look at the Panama business. Cooks, housekeepers, small
proprietors who till then had lived in peace, seeking no inordinate
gains, no illicit profit, threw themselves like madmen into that
business. They had one only thought, to gain money; the chastisement of
their cupidity was, as you know, sudden."

"Yes," said Durtal, laughing, "the de Lesseps were the agents of
providence, when they stole the savings of fools, who had moreover got
them probably by thieving."

"In a word," said the abbé, "I repeat my last advice: do not be at all
discouraged if you sink. Do not despise yourself too much; have the
courage to enter a church afterwards; for the devil catches you by
cowardice, the false shame, the false humility he suggests, nourish,
maintain, solidify your wantonness in some measure.

"Well! no good-bye; come and see me soon again."

Durtal found himself in the street a little confused. "It is evident,"
he murmured, as he stalked along, "that the Abbé Gévresin is a clever
spiritual watchmaker. He has dexterously taken to pieces the movement of
my passions, and made the hours of idleness and weariness strike, but,
after all, his advice comes only to this: stew in your own juice and
wait.

"Indeed he is right; if I had come to the point I should not have gone
to him to chatter, but really to confess. What is strange is that he
does not at all seem to think he will have to put me through the
wash-tub; and to whom does he mean me to go--to the first comer who will
wind about me his spool of commonplaces, and stroke me with his big
hands without seeing clearly?

"Well, well ... what is the time?" He looked at his watch. "Six o'clock,
and I do not care to go home. What shall I do till dinner?"

He was near St. Sulpice. He went in and sat down, to clear his thoughts
a little, taking a place in the Chapel of Our Lady, which at that hour
was almost empty.

He felt no wish to pray, and rested there, looking at the great arch of
marble and gold, like a scene in a theatre, where the Virgin, the only
figure in the light, advances towards the faithful, as from a decorated
grotto, on plaster clouds.

Meanwhile two Little Sisters of the Poor came and knelt not far from
him, and meditated, their heads between their hands.

He thought as he looked at them,--

"Those souls are to be envied who can thus be abstracted in prayer. How
do they manage it? For, in fact, it is not easy, if one thinks of the
sorrows of the world, to praise the vaunted mercy of God. It is all very
fine to believe that He exists, to be certain that He is good; in fact,
we do not know Him--we are ignorant of Him. He is, and, in fact, He can
only be, immanent, permanent, and inaccessible. He is we know not what,
and at most we know what He is not. Try to imagine Him, and the senses
fail, for He is above, about, and in each one of us. He is three and He
is one; He is each and He is all; He is without beginning, and He will
be without end; He is above all and for ever incomprehensible. If we try
to picture Him to ourselves and give Him a human wrappage, we come back
to the simple conception of the early times, we represent Him under the
features of an ancestor. Some old Italian model, some old Father
Tourgéneff, with a long beard, and we cannot but smile, so childish is
the likeness of God the Father.

"He is, in fact, so absolutely above the imagination and the senses,
that He comes only nominally into prayer, and the impulses of humanity
ascend especially to the Son, Who only can be addressed, because He
became man, and is to us somewhat of an elder brother, because, having
wept in human form, we think He will hear us more readily, and be more
compassionate to our sorrows.

"As to the third Person, He is even more disconcerting than the first.
He is especially the unknowable. How can we imagine this God formless
and bodiless, this Substance equal to the two others, who, as it were,
breathe Him forth? We think of Him as a brightness, a fluid, a breath;
we cannot even lend to Him as to the Father the face of a man, since on
the two occasions that He took to Himself a body, He showed Himself
under the likenesses of a dove and of tongues of fire, and these two
different aspects do not help to a suggestion of the new appearance He
might assume.

"Certainly the Trinity is terrible, and makes the brain reel. Ruysbröck
has moreover said admirably, 'Let those who would know and study what
God is, know that it is forbidden; they will go mad.'

"So," he continued, looking at the two Little Sisters, who were now
telling their beads, "these good women are right not to try to
understand, and to confine themselves to praying with all their heart to
the Mother and the Son.

"Moreover, in all the lives of the saints which they have read, they
have made certain that Jesus and Mary always appeared to the elect to
console and strengthen them.

"In fact, how stupid I am. To pray to the Son is to pray to the two
others, for in praying to one among them I pray at the same time to the
three, since the three make but one. And the Substances are, however,
special, because if the divine Essence is one and simple, it is so in
the threefold distinction of the Persons; but, again, what is the use of
fathoming the Impenetrable?

"Yet," he continued, remembering the interview he had just had with the
priest, "how will all this end? If the abbé be right, I no longer
belong to myself; I am about to enter the unknown, which frightens me.
If only the sound of my vices consents to be silent, but I feel that
they rise furiously within me. Ah, that Florence"--and he thought of a
woman to whose vagaries he was riveted--"continues to walk about in my
brain. I see her behind the lowered curtain of my eyes, and when I think
of her I am a terrible coward."

He endeavoured once more to put her away, but his will was overcome at
the sight of her.

He hated, despised, and even cursed her, but the madness of his
illusions excited him; he left her disgusted with her and with himself;
he swore he would never see her again, but did not keep his resolve.

He saw her now in vision extend her hand to him.

He recoiled, struggling to free himself; but his dream continued
mingling her with the form of one of the sisters whose gentle profile he
saw.

Suddenly he started, returned to the real world, and saw that he was at
St. Sulpice, in the chapel. "It is disgusting that I should come here to
soil the church with my horrible dreams; I had better go."

He went out in confusion, thinking, "Perhaps if I visit Florence once
again, I may perhaps put an end to this haunting sense of her presence,
seeing and knowing the reality."

And he was obliged to answer himself that he was becoming idiotic, for
he knew by experience that past desire grows in proportion as it is
nourished. "No, the abbé was right; I have to become and to remain
penitent. But how? Pray? How can I pray, when evil imaginations pursue
me even in church? Evil dreams followed me to La Glacière; here they
appear again, and smite me to the ground. How can I defend myself? for
indeed it is frightful to be thus alone, to know nothing and have no
proof, to feel the prayers which one tears out of oneself fall into the
silence and the void without a gesture to answer, without a word of
encouragement, without a sign. I do not even know if He be there, and if
He listens. The abbé tells me to wait an indication, an order from on
high; but, alas! they come to me from below."



CHAPTER VI.


Many months passed. Durtal continued his alternation of wanton and pious
ideas. Without power to resist, he saw himself slipping. "All this is
far from clear," he cried, one day, in a rage, when, less apathetic than
usual, he forced himself to take stock. "Now, Monsieur l'Abbé, what does
this mean? Whenever my sensual obsessions are weaker, so also are my
religious impressions."

"That means," said the priest, "that your adversary is holding out to
you the most treacherous of his baits. He seeks to persuade you that you
will never attain to anything unless you will give yourself up to the
most repugnant excesses. He tries to convince you that satiety and
disgust of these acts alone will bring you back to God; he incites you
to commit them that they may, so to speak, bring about your deliverance;
he leads you into sin under pretext of delivering you from it. Have a
little energy, despise these sophistries and resist him."

He went to see the Abbé Gévresin every week. He liked the patient
discretion of the old priest, who let him talk when he was in a
confidential humour, listened to him carefully, manifested no surprise
at his frequent temptations and his falls. Only the abbé always returned
to his first advice, insisted on regular prayer, and that Durtal should
each day, if possible, visit a church. He also now said, "The hour is
important for the success of these practices. If you wish that the
chapels should be favourable to you, get up in time to be present at
daybreak at the first mass, the servants' mass, and also be very often
in the sanctuaries at nightfall."

The priest had evidently formed a plan; Durtal did not yet wholly
understand it, but he was bound to admit that this discipline of
temporizing, this constant call to thought always directed to God, by
his daily visits to the churches, acted upon him at last, and little by
little softened his soul. One fact proved it: that he who for so long a
time had been unable to meditate in the morning, now prayed as soon as
he awoke. Even in the afternoon he found himself on some days seized
with the need of speaking humbly with God, with an irresistible desire
to ask His pardon and implore His help.

It seemed then that the Lord knocked at his door with gentle touches,
wishing so to recall his attention, and draw him to Him; but when,
softened and troubled, Durtal would enter into himself to seek God, he
wandered vaguely, not knowing what he said, and thinking of other things
while speaking to Him.

He complained of these wanderings and distractions to the priest, who
answered,--

"You are on the threshold of the probationary life; you cannot yet
experience the sweet and familiar friendship of prayer. Do not sadden
yourself because you cannot close behind you the gate of your senses.
Watch and wait; pray badly if you can do nothing else, but pray all the
same.

"Be very sure too that every one has experienced the troubles which
distress you; above all, believe that we do not walk blindfold, that
Mysticism is an absolutely exact science. It can foretell the greater
part of the phenomena which occur in that soul which the Lord intends
for a perfect life; it follows also spiritual operations with the same
clearness as physiology observes the different states of the body. For
ages and ages it has disclosed the progress of grace and its effects,
now impetuous and now slow; it has even pointed out the modifications of
material organs which are transformed when the soul entirely loses
itself in God.

"Saint Denys the Areopagite, Saint Bonaventure, Hugh and Richard of
Saint Victor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Bernard, Ruysbröck, Angela of
Foligno, the two Eckharts, Tauler, Suso, Denys the Carthusian, Saint
Hildegarde, Saint Catherine of Genoa, Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint
Magdalen of Pazzi, Saint Gertrude, and others have set forth in a
masterly way the principles and theories of Mysticism, and it has found
at last an admirable psychologist to sum up its rules and their
exceptions; a Saint who has verified in her own person the supernatural
phases she has described--a woman whose lucidity was more than
human--Saint Teresa. You have read her life, and her 'Castles of the
Soul'!"

Durtal nodded assent.

"Then you have your information; you ought to know that before reaching
the shores of Blessedness, before arriving at the fifth dwelling of the
interior castle, at that prayer of union wherein the soul is awakened in
regard to God, and completely asleep to all things of earth and to
herself, she must pass through lamentable states of dryness, and the
most painful strainings. Take heart therefore; say to yourself that this
dryness should be a source of humility, and not a cause of disquietude;
do, in fact, as Saint Teresa would have you: carry your cross, and not
drag it after you."

"That magnificent and terrible Saint frightens me," sighed Durtal. "I
have read her works, and, do you know, she gives me the idea of a
stainless lily, but a metallic lily, forged of wrought iron; you will
admit that those who suffer have scant consolations to expect from her."

"Yes; in the sense that she does not think of the creature except in the
way of Mysticism. She supposes the fields already ploughed, the soul
already freed from its more vehement temptations, and sheltered from
crises; her starting-point is as yet too high and too distant for you,
for, in fact, she is addressing nuns, women of the cloister, beings who
live apart from the world, and who are consequently already advanced on
those ascetic ways wherein God is leading them.

"But make an effort in the spirit to free yourself from this mud, cast
away for a few moments the memory of your imperfections and your
troubles, and follow her. See then how experienced she is in the domain
of the supernatural, how, in spite of her repetitions and tediousness,
she explains wisely and clearly the mechanism of the soul unfolding when
God touches it. In subjects where words fail and phrases crumble away,
she succeeds in making herself understood, in showing, making felt,
almost making visible, the inconceivable sight of God buried in the
soul, and taking His pleasure there.

"And she goes still further into the mystery, even to the end; bounds
with a final spring to the very gates of heaven, but then she faints on
adoration, and being unable to express herself further, she soars,
describing circles like a frightened bird, wandering beyond herself, in
cries of love."

"Yes, Monsieur l'Abbé, I recognize that Saint Teresa has explored deeper
than any other the unknown regions of the soul; she is in some measure
its geographer, has drawn the map of its poles, marked the latitudes of
contemplation, the interior lands of the human sky. Other Saints have
explored them before her, but they have not left us so methodical nor so
exact a topography.

"But in spite of this I prefer those mystical writers who have less
self-analysis, and discuss less, who always do throughout their works
what Saint Teresa did at the end of hers--that is, who are all on fire
from the first page to the last, and are consumed and lost at the feet
of Christ. Ruysbröck is among these. The little volume which Hello has
translated is a very furnace; and, again, to quote a woman, take Saint
Angela of Foligno, not so much in the book of her visions which may not
be always effectual, as in the wonderful life which she dictated to
Brother Armand, her confessor. She too explains, and much earlier than
Saint Teresa, the principles and effects of Mysticism; but if she is
less profound, less clever in defining shades, on the other hand she is
wonderfully effusive and tender. She caresses the soul; she is a
Bacchante of divine love, a Mænad of purity. Christ loves her, holds
long conversations with her; the words she has retained surpass all
literature, and are manifestly the most beautiful ever written. This is
no longer the rough Christ, the Spanish Christ who begins by trampling
on His creature to make him more supple; He is the merciful Christ of
the Gospels, the gentle Christ of Saint Francis, and I like the Christ
of the Franciscans better than the Christ of the Carmelites."

"What will you say, then," said the abbé, with a smile, "of St. John of
the Cross? You compared Saint Teresa just now to a flower in wrought
iron; he too is such, but he is the lily of tortures, the royal flower
which the executioners were wont of old time to stamp on the heraldic
flesh of convicts. Like red-hot iron, he is at the same time burning and
sombre. As you turn over the pages, Saint Teresa now and then bends over
and sorrows and compassionates us; he remains impenetrable, buried in
his internal abyss, occupied, above all things, in describing the
sufferings of the soul which, after having crucified its desires, passes
through the 'Night obscure,' that is to say, through the renunciation of
all which comes from the sensible and the created.

"He wills that we should extinguish our imagination--so lethargize it
that it can no longer form images--imprison our senses, annihilate our
faculties. He wills that he who desires to unite himself to God should
place himself under an exhausted receiver, and make a vacuum within, so
that, if he choose, the Pilgrim should descend therein, and purify
himself, tearing out the remains of sins, extirpating the last relics of
vice.

"Then the sufferings which the soul endures overpass the bounds of the
possible, it lies lost in utter darkness, falls under discouragement and
fatigue, believes itself for ever abandoned by Him to whom it cries, who
now hides Himself and answers not again, happy still when in that agony,
the pangs of the flesh are not added, and that abominable spirit which
Isaias calls the spirit of confusion, and which is none other than the
disease of scrupulousness pushed to its extreme.

"Saint John makes you shudder when he cries out that this night of the
soul is bitter and terrible, and that the being who suffers it is
plunged alive into hell. But when the old man is purged out, when he is
scraped at every seam, raked over every face, light springs out, and God
appears. Then the soul casts itself like a child into His arms, and the
incomprehensible fusion takes place.

"You see Saint John penetrates more deeply than others into the depths
of mystical initiation. He also, like Saint Teresa and Ruysbröck, treats
of the spiritual marriage, of the influx of grace, and its gifts; but he
first dared to describe minutely the dolorous phases which till then had
been but hinted at with trembling.

"Then if he is an admirable theologian, he is also a rigorous and
clear-sighted saint. He has not those weaknesses which are natural to a
woman; he does not lose himself in digressions, nor return continually
on his own steps; he walks straight forward, but you often see him at
the end of the road, blood-stained and terrible, with dry eyes."

"But, but," said Durtal, "surely not all souls whom Christ will lead in
the ways of mysticism are tried thus?"

"Yes, almost always, more or less."

"I will confess that I thought the spiritual life was less arid and less
complex. I imagined that by leading a pure life, praying one's best, and
communicating, one would attain without much trouble, not indeed to
taste the infinite joys reserved for the saints, but at last to possess
the Lord, and live, at least, near Him, at rest.

"And I should be quite content with this middle class joy. The price
paid in advance for the exaltation described by Saint John disconcerts
me."

The abbé smiled, but made no answer.

"But do you know that if it be so," replied Durtal, "we are very far
from the Catholicism that is taught us? It is so practical, so benign,
so gentle, in comparison with Mysticism."

"It is made for lukewarm souls--that is to say, for almost all the pious
souls which are about us; it lives in a moderate atmosphere, without too
great suffering or too much joy; it only can be assimilated by the
masses, and the priests are right to present it thus, since otherwise
the faithful would cease to understand it, or would take flight in
alarm."

"But if God judge that a moderate religion is amply sufficient--for the
masses believe that he demands the most painful efforts on the part of
those whom he deigns to initiate into the supremely adorable mysteries
of His Person--it is necessary and just that he should mortify them
before allowing them to taste the essential intoxication of union with
Him."

"In fact, the end of Mysticism is to render visible, sensible, almost
palpable, the God who remains silent and hidden from all."

"And to throw us into His deep, into the silent abyss of joy! But in
order to speak correctly, we must forget the ordinary use of expressions
which have been degraded. In order to describe this mysterious love, we
are obliged to draw our comparisons from human acts, and to inflict on
the Lord the shame of our words. We have to employ such terms as
'union,' 'marriage,' 'wedding feast'; but it is impossible to speak of
the inexpressible, and with the baseness of our language declare the
ineffable immersion of the soul in God."

"The fact is," murmured Durtal ... "but to return to Saint Teresa...."

"She too," interrupted the abbé, "has treated of this 'Night obscure'
which terrifies you; but she only speaks of it in a few lines. She calls
it the soul's agony--a sadness so bitter that she strove in vain to
depict it."

"No doubt, but I prefer her to Saint John of the Cross, for she is not
so discouraging as that inflexible saint. Admit that he belongs too much
to the land of those large Christs who bleed in caverns."

"Of what nationality then was Saint Teresa?"

"Yes, I know she was a Spaniard, but so complex, so strange, that race
seems obliterated in her, less clearly defined.

"It is clear she was an admirable psychologist, but also how strange is
in her the mixture of an ardent mystic and a cool woman of business.
For, in fact, she has a double nature; she is a contemplative outside
the world, and at the same time a statesman, a female Colbert of the
cloister. In fact, never was woman so consummate a skilled artisan and
so powerful an organizer. When we consider that, in spite of incredible
difficulties, she founded thirty-two nunneries, that she put them all
under obedience to a rule which is a model of wisdom, a rule which
foresees and rectifies the most ignored mistakes of the heart, it is
astonishing to hear her treated by strong-minded people as an hysterical
madwoman."

"One of the distinctive marks of the mystics," answered the abbé, with a
smile, "is just their absolute balance, their entire common sense."

These conversations cheered Durtal; they planted on him seeds of
reflection which sprang up when he was alone; they encouraged him to
trust to the advice of this priest, and follow his counsels. He found
himself all the better for this conduct, in that his visits to the
churches, his prayers and readings occupied his objectless life, and he
was no longer wearied.

"I have at least gained peaceable evenings and quiet nights," he said to
himself.

He knew the soothing help of a pious evening.

He visited St. Sulpice at those times when, under the dull gleam of the
lamps, the pillars opened out and threw long panels of darkness on the
ground. The chapels which remained open were in shade, and in the nave
before the high altar a single cluster of lamps, above in the darkness,
shone out like a luminous bunch of red roses.

In the stillness no sounds were heard but the dull thud of a door, the
creaking of a chair, the short paces of a woman, the hurried stride of a
man.

Durtal was almost isolated in the obscure chapel which he had chosen; he
kept himself there so far from all, so far from the city whose full
pulse was beating only two paces from him. He knelt down and remained
still, he prepared to speak, and had nothing to say, felt himself
carried away by an impulse, but no words came. He ended by falling into
a vague languor, experiencing that indolent ease, that dim sense of
comfort, which the body feels in a medicated bath.

He fell a-dreaming of the lot of the women who were round about him here
and there, in chairs. Ah! those poor little black shawls, those
miserable pleated caps, those wretched tippets, those doleful seed
rosaries they fingered in the shade.

Some in mourning, sobbed still inconsolable; others, overwhelmed, bent
their backs and hung their heads on one side; others prayed, their
shoulders shaking, their head in their hands.

The task of the day was over; those wearied of their life came to ask
for mercy. Everywhere misfortune was kneeling, for the rich, the
healthy, the happy hardly pray; all around in the church were women,
widowed or old, without love, women deserted, women whose home was a
torture, praying that existence might become more merciful, that the
dissoluteness of their husbands might cease, the vices of their sons
amend, the health of those they loved grow stronger.

A lamentable perfume went up like incense to Our Lady from a very sheaf
of woes.

Few men came to this hidden meeting-place of trouble; still fewer young
people, for these have not yet suffered enough; there were only a few
old men, and a few sick who dragged themselves along by the backs of the
chairs, and a little hunchback, whom Durtal saw coming there every
evening, an outcast who could only be loved by Her who does not even see
the body.

A burning pity seized on Durtal at the sight of those unhappy ones who
came to beg from Heaven a little of the love refused them by men; and
he who could not pray on his own account ended by joining himself to
their pleadings, and praying for them.

So indifferent in the afternoon, the churches were truly persuasive,
truly sweet, in the evening; they seemed to bestir themselves at
nightfall, and to compassionate in their solitude the sufferings of
those sick creatures whose complaints they heard.

And their first mass in the morning, the mass of working women and
servant maids was no less touching; there were there no bigots nor
curious persons, but poor women who came to seek in communion strength
to live their hours of onerous tasks and servile needs. They knew as
they left the church that they were the living custodians of a God, of
Him who was ever while on earth the Poor Man, who took pleasure only in
souls who had scarce where to lay their head; they knew themselves His
chosen, and did not doubt that when He entrusted to them under the form
of bread the memorial of His suffering, He demanded of them in exchange
that they should live in sorrow and humility. And what harm then could
do to them the cares of a day spent in the salutary shame of base
occupations?

"I now understand," thought Durtal, "why the abbé made such a point of
my seeing the churches early or late; those are, in fact, the only times
in which the soul expands."

But he was too idle to be often present at early mass; he was content to
take his relaxation after dinner in the chapels. He came out with a
feeling of peace, even if he had prayed badly or not prayed at all. On
other evenings, on the contrary, he felt tired of solitude, tired of
silence, tired of darkness, and then he abandoned St. Sulpice and went
to Notre Dame des Victoires.

In this well-lighted sanctuary there was no longer that depression, that
despair of poor wretches who dragged themselves to the nearest church
and sat down in the shade. The pilgrims to Notre Dame des Victoires
brought a surer confidence, and that faith softened their sorrows, whose
bitterness was dissipated in the explosions of hope, the stammering
adoration, which spouted up all around. There were two currents in that
refuge, that of people who asked for favours, and that of those who,
having gained them, were profuse in thankfulness and in acts of
gratitude. Therefore, that church had its especial physiognomy, more
joyous than sad, less melancholy, more ardent under all circumstances
than that of other churches.

It had, moreover, the peculiarity of being much frequented by men, but
less by hypocrites, who will not look you in the face, or with upturned
eyes, than by men of all classes whose features were not degraded by
false piety. There alone were to be seen clear expressions and clean
faces; there, above all, was not that horrible grimace of the working
man of the Catholic clubs--that hideous creature in a blouse, whose
breath belies the ill-defined unction of his features.

In that church, covered with _ex votos_, plastered even above the arches
with inscriptions on marble celebrating the joy for prayers granted and
benefits received, before that altar of Our Lady where hundreds of
tapers pierced the air blue with incense with the gilded blades of their
lances, there were public prayers every evening at eight. A priest in
the pulpit said the rosary, sometimes the Litany of Our Lady was sung to
a singular air, a sort of musical cento, but it was impossible to say
whence it was constructed, very rhythmical, and continually changing its
tone, now fast, now slow, bringing with it, for a moment, a vague
recollection of seventeenth-century airs, then turning sharply at a
tangent, to a barrel-organ tune, a modern, almost vulgar, melody.

Yet, after all, there was something taking in this singular confusion of
sounds after the "Kyrie eleison" and the opening invocations. The Virgin
came upon the scene to a dance measure like a ballet girl; but when
certain of her attributes were paraded, and certain of her symbolical
names declared, the music became singularly respectful; it became lower,
halting and solemn, thrice repeating, on the same motive, some of her
attributes, the "Refugium Peccatorum" among others; then it went on
again, and began her graces again with a skip.

When by chance there was no sermon, the Benediction took place
immediately afterwards.

Then with raspings of the choir, a bass with a cold, and two boys who
snivelled began their liturgical chants: "Inviolata," that languishing
and plaintive Sequence, with its clear and drawling tune so weak, so
frail, that it would seem as if it should only be sung by voices in a
hospital; then the "Parce Domine," that antiphon so suppliant and so
sad; lastly, that scrap, detached from the "Panga Lingua," the "Tantum
ergo," humble and thoughtful, attentive and slow.

When the organ sounded out the first chords, and that plain chant melody
began, the choir had only to cross their arms and hold their tongues. As
tapers which are lighted by threads of fulminate attached one to the
other, the faithful caught fire, and, accompanied by the organs, struck
up for themselves the humble and glorious strains. They were then
kneeling on the chairs, prostrate on the pavement, and when, after the
exchange of antiphons and responses, after the "oremus," the priest
ascended to the altar, his shoulders and hands enfolded in the white
silk scarf, to take the monstrance, then, at the shrill and hurried
sounds of the bells, a wind passed which at once bent every head like
the mowing of grass.

In these groups of souls on fire there was a fulness of devotion, a
complete and absolute silence, till the bells again rang out, and
invited human life which had been interrupted to wrap itself in a great
sign of the Cross and resume its course.

The "Laudate" was not ended when Durtal left the church, before the
crowd began to move.

"Verily," he said, as he entered his lodgings, "the fervour of that
congregation, who do not come as in other churches from the districts,
but are pilgrims from everywhere and one knows not where, is out of tune
with the blackguardism of this foolish age."

Then at Notre Dame at least one hears curious singing, and he bethought
him of those strange litanies which he had heard nowhere else, and yet
he had experienced all kinds, in churches. At St. Sulpice, for example,
it was recited to two tunes. When the choir sang it was set to a plain
chant melody, bellowed by the gong of a bass to which the sharp fife of
the boys made answer; but during Rosary month, on every day except
Thursday the task of singing it was entrusted to young ladies; then in
the evening round a wheezy old harmonium, a troup of young and old
geese, made Our Lady run round on her litanies as on hobby horses to the
music of a fair.

In other churches, at St. Thomas Aquinas, for example, where they were
also dropped out by women, the litanies were sprinkled with powder and
perfumed by bergamot and ambergris. They were, in fact, adapted to a
minuet tune, and therefore did not disagree with the operatic
architecture of the church, where they presented a Virgin walking with
mincing steps, pinching her petticoat with two fingers, bending in
beautiful curtseys, and recovering herself with a fine bow. This has
evidently nothing to do with church music, but it was none the less
disagreeable to hear. It would have made the whole performance complete
if the harpsichord had been substituted for the organ.

Far more interesting than this lay quavering was the plain chant, given
more or less badly, as it was moreover given, but yet given, when there
was no special ceremony at Notre Dame.

It was not arranged there as at St. Sulpice and the other churches where
the "Tantum ergo" is almost always dressed up in foolish flourishes,
tunes for military ceremonials or public dinners.

The Church has not allowed the actual text of Saint Thomas Aquinas to be
altered, but she has let any and every choirmaster suppress the plain
chant in which it has been wrapped from its birth, which has penetrated
to its marrow, has clung to each of its phrases, and become with it one
body and one soul.

It was monstrous, and it must really be that these curés have lost, not
the sense of art, for that they never had, but the most elementary sense
of the liturgy, to accept such heresies, and tolerate such outrages in
their churches.

These thoughts enraged Durtal, but he returned little by little to Notre
Dame des Victoires and grew calmer. It was well he should examine it
under all aspects, but it remained none the less mysterious nor the less
unique in Paris.

At La Salette, at Lourdes, there have been apparitions. "Whether these
have been authentic or controverted matters little," he thought. "For
even supposing Our Lady were not there at the moment her coming was
announced, she was attracted there, and dwells there now, retained there
by the tide of prayer and the emanations cast up by the faith of
crowds. Miracles have happened there; it is therefore not astonishing
that pious crowds flock thither. But here at Notre Dame des Victoires
has been no apparition; no Mélanie, no Bernadette, have seen and
described the luminous appearance of a 'beautiful Lady.' There are no
piscinas, no medical staff, no public cures, no mountain top, no grotto,
nothing. One fine day in 1836 the curé of the parish, the Abbé Dufriche
Des Genettes, declared that while he was celebrating mass Our Lady
manifested to him her desire that the sanctuary should be specially
consecrated to her, and that alone was enough. The church, then a
desert, has never since been empty, and thousands of _ex votos_ declare
the graces which since that day the Madonna has accorded to the
visitors."

"Yes, but in fact," concluded Durtal, "all these suppliants are not
specially extraordinary souls, for indeed the most part of them are like
me, they come in their own interests, for themselves and not for Her."

And he remembered the answer of the Abbé Gévresin, to whom he had
already made the observation.

"You must be singularly far advanced on the road to perfection if you go
there for Her only."

Suddenly, after so many hours spent in the chapels, there was a
reaction; the flesh extinguished under the cinders of prayers took fire,
and the conflagration, springing up from below, became terrible.

Florence seemed present, to Durtal's imagination, at his lodgings, in
the churches, in the street, everywhere, and he was constantly on the
watch against her recurrent attractions.

The weather was mixed up with it all; the heaven broke up, a stormy
summer raged, shattering the nerves, enfeebling the will, letting the
awakened troop of vices loose in their gloomy moisture. Durtal blenched
before the dread of long evenings and the abominable melancholy of days
that never ended. At eight o'clock in the evening the sun had not set,
and at three in the morning it seemed to wake again; the week was only
one uninterrupted day, and life was never arrested.

Oppressed by the ignominy of this angry sunshine and these blue skies,
disgusted at bathing in Niles of sweat, and feeling Niagaras run from
his hat, he did not stir from home, and then, in his solitude, foul
thoughts assailed him.

It was an obsession by thought, by vision, in all ways, and the haunting
was all the more terrible that it was so special, that it never turned
aside, but concentrated itself always on the same point, the face and
figure of Florence.

Durtal resisted, then in distraction, took to flight, tried to tire
himself out by long walks, and to divert his mind by excursions, but the
ignoble desire followed him in his course, sat before him in the Café,
came between his eyes and the newspaper he strove to read, becoming ever
more definite. He ended, after hours of struggle, by giving way and
going to see this woman; he left her overwhelmed, half dead with disgust
and shame, almost in tears.

Nor did he thus find any solace in his struggle, but the contrary; far
from escaping it, the hateful charm took more violent and tenacious
possession of him. Then Durtal thought of and accepted a strange
compromise, to visit another woman he knew, and in her society to break
this nervous state, to put an end to this possession, this weariness and
remorse; and in doing so he strove to persuade himself that in thus
acting he would be more pardonable, less sinful.

The clearest result of this attempt was to bring back the memory of
Florence, and her vicious charm.

He continued therefore his intimacy with her, and then he had, during a
few days, such a revolt from his slavery, that he extricated himself
from the sewer, and stood on firm ground.

He succeeded in recovering and pulling himself together, and he loathed
himself. During this crisis he had somewhat neglected the Abbé Gévresin,
to whom he dared not avow his foulness, but since certain indications
warned him of new attacks, he took fright, and went to see him.

He explained his crises in veiled words, and he felt so unnerved, so
sad, that tears stood in his eyes.

"Well, are you now certain that you have that repentance which you
assure me you have not experienced up to this time?"

"Yes, but what is the good of it, if one is so weak, that in spite of
all efforts one is certain to be overthrown at the first assault?"

"That is another question. Come, I see that at present you are in fact
in a state of fatigue requiring help."

"Comfort yourself therefore; go in peace and sin less, the greater part
of your temptations will be remitted you; you can, if you choose, bear
the remainder, only take care, if you fall henceforward, you will be
without excuse, and I do not answer for it, that instead of mending,
your condition will not be aggravated."

And as Durtal, stupefied, stammered out: "You believe--"

"I believe," said the priest, "in the mystical substitution of which I
spoke to you; you will moreover experience it in yourself; the saints
will enter into the lists to help you; they will take the overplus of
the assaults which you cannot conquer; without even knowing your name,
from their secluded province, nunneries of Carmelites and Poor Clares
will pray for you, on receiving a letter from me."

And in fact, from that very day the most acute attacks ceased. Did he
owe that cessation, that truce, to the intercession of the cloistered
Orders, or to a change in the weather, which then took place, to the
less heat of the sun, which gave way to floods of rain? He could not
tell, but one thing was certain, his temptations were less frequent, and
he could bear them with impunity.

This idea of convents in their compassion dragging him out of the mud in
which he had stuck, and by their charity bringing him to the bank,
excited him. He chose to go to the Avenue de Saxe, to pray in the home
of the sisters of those who suffered for him.

This time there were no lights, no crowds, as on the morning when he had
been present at a Procession, no odour of wax or incense, no sweeping by
of robes of scarlet and cope of gold, all was deserted and dark.

He was there alone, in the sombre and dank chapel, smelling like
stagnant water, and without saying rosaries mechanically, or repeating
prayers by rote, he fell into a reverie, endeavouring to look somewhat
clearly into his life, and take stock of himself. And while he thus
pulled himself together, far-off voices came behind the grating, drew
nearer and nearer, passed by the black sieve of the veil, and dropped
round the altar, whose form rose dimly in the shadow.

These voices of the Carmelites aided Durtal to probe his despair deeply.

Seated in a chair, he said to himself: "When any one is as incapable as
I am when I speak to Him, it is almost shameful to dare to pray, for
indeed, if I think of Him, it is that I may ask for a little happiness;
and that is foolish. In the immediate shipwreck of human reason, wishing
to explain the terrible enigma of the meaning of life, one only idea
comes to the surface, in the midst of the wreckage of thoughts which
sink, the idea of an expiation felt rather than understood, the idea
that the sole end assigned to life is sorrow.

"Every one has a sum of physical and moral suffering to pay, and whoever
does not settle it here below, defrays it after death; happiness is only
lent, and must be repaid; its very phantoms are like duties paid in
advance on a future succession of sorrows.

"Who knows in that case whether anæsthetics which suppress corporal pain
do not bring into debt those who use them? Who knows whether chloroform
is not a means of revolt, and if the shrinking of the creature from
suffering is not seditious, a rebellion against the will of Heaven? If
this be so, the arrears of torture, the balance of distress, the
warrants of pain avoided must accumulate terrible interest above, and
justify the war cry of Saint Teresa, 'Lord, let me always suffer, or
die;' this explains why, in their trials, the saints rejoice, and pray
the Lord not to spare them, for they know that the purifying amount of
ills must be paid in order to be free from debt after death.

"To be just, human nature would be too ignoble without pain, for it
alone can raise the soul while purifying it, but all that is nothing
less than consoling," he added. "What an accompaniment to these sad
thoughts are the wailing voices of these nuns; it is truly frightful."

He ended by fleeing, and taking refuge, to shake off his depression, in
the neighbouring convent at the bottom of the alley de Saxe, in a
suburban lane, full of little cottages with gardens in front, where
serpentine paths of pebbles wound round tufts of pot-herbs.

This was the convent of the Poor Clares of the Ave Maria, an Order
still more strict than that of the Carmelites, poorer, less fashionable,
more humble.

This cloister was entered by a little door, partly ajar; you ascended to
the second storey without meeting anyone, and found a little chapel,
through whose windows trees were visible, rocking to the chirping of
riotous sparrows.

This too was a place of burial, but no longer, as though opposite a tomb
at the bottom of a dark cavern, but rather a cemetery where birds sang
in the sun among the branches, you might have thought yourself in the
country, twenty miles from Paris.

The decoration of this bright chapel tried, however, to be gloomy; it
was like those wine shops whose walls are made to look like those of
caves, with false stones painted in the imitation plaster. Only the
height of the nave manifested the childishness of the imposture, and
declared the vulgarity of the deception.

At the end was an altar above a smooth waxed floor, and on either side
of it a grating with a black veil. According to the rule of Saint
Francis, all the ornaments, the crucifix, the candlesticks, the
tabernacle, were of wood, no object was to be seen in metal, no flower,
the only luxury in the chapel consisted of two modern stained windows,
one of which represented Saint Francis, the other Saint Clare.

Durtal thought the sanctuary airy and delightful, but he only stayed
there a few minutes, for there was not here, as at the Carmelites, an
absolute solitude, a sombre peace; here there were always two or three
Poor Clares trotting about the chapel, who looked at him while they were
arranging the chairs, and seemed surprised at his presence.

They were annoying to him, and he feared he was the same to them, so
much so that he went away; but this short stay was enough to efface, or
at least to lessen the funereal impression of the neighbouring convent.

Durtal returned home, at once much appeased and much disquieted--much
appeased in regard to his temptations, much disquieted about what he
should do next.

He felt rising in him, and increasing ever more and more, the desire to
have done with these strifes and fears, but he grew pale when he thought
of reversing his life, once for all.

But if he still had hesitation and fear, he had no longer the firm
intention of resisting; he now accepted in principle the idea of a
change of existence, only he tried to retard the day, and put off the
hour; he tried to gain time.

Then like people who grow angry at having to wait, on other days he
wished to put off the inevitable moment no longer, and cried within
himself that this must end; anything rather than remain as he was.

Then as this desire did not seem heard, he grew discouraged, would no
longer think of anything, regretted the time past, and deplored that he
felt himself carried along by such a current.

And when he was rather more cheerful, he tried again to examine himself.
"In fact I do not at all know how I stand," he thought; "this flux and
reflux of different wishes alarms me, but how have I come to this point,
and what is the matter with me?" What he felt, since he became more
lucid, was so intangible, so indefinite, and yet so continuous that he
was obliged to give up understanding it. Indeed every time he tried to
examine his soul, a curtain of mist arose, and hid from him the unseen
and silent approach of he knew not what. The only impression which he
carried with him as he rose, was that it was less that he advanced
towards the unknown, but that this unknown invaded him, penetrated him,
and little by little took possession of him.

When he spoke to the abbé of this state, at once cowardly and resigned,
imploring and fearful, the priest only smiled.

"Busy yourself in prayer, and bow down your back," he said one day.

"But I am tired of bending my back, and of trampling always on the same
spot," cried Durtal. "I have had enough of feeling myself taken by the
shoulders and led I know not where, it is really time that in one way or
another this situation came to an end."

"Plainly." And standing up, and looking him in the face, the abbé said,
impressively,

"This advance towards God which you find so obscure and so slow is, on
the contrary, so luminous and so rapid that it astonishes me, only as
you yourself do not move, you do not take account of the swiftness with
which you are borne along.

"Before long you will be ripe, and then without need to shake the tree
you will fall off of yourself. The question we have now to answer is
into what receptacle we must put you, when at last you fall away from
your life."



CHAPTER VII.


"But ... but ..." thought Durtal, "we must at any rate come to an
understanding; the abbé wearies me with his quiet assumptions, his
receptacle in which he must place me. He does not, I suppose, think of
making me a seminarist or a monk; the seminary, at my age, is devoid of
interest, and as to the convent, it is attractive from the mystical
point of view, and even enticing from the artistic standpoint, but I
have not the physical aptitudes, still less the spiritual
predispositions to shut myself up for ever in a cloister; but putting
that aside, what does he mean?

"On the other hand he has insisted on lending me the works of Saint John
of the Cross, and has made me read them; he has then an aim, for he is
not a man to feel his way as he walks, he knows what he wishes and where
he is going; does he imagine that I am intended for the perfect life,
and does he intend to put me on my guard by this course of reading
against the disillusions which, according to him, beginners experience?
His scent seems to fail him there. I have a very horror of bigotry, and
pious polish, but though I admire, I do not feel at all drawn towards
the phenomena of Mysticism. No, I am interested in seeing them in
others, I like to see it all from my window, but will not go downstairs,
I have no pretension to become a saint, all that I desire is to attain
the intermediate state, between goody-goodiness and sanctity. This is a
frightfully low ideal, perhaps, but in practice it is the only one I am
capable of attaining, and yet!

"Then these questions have to be faced! If I am mistaken and am obeying
false impulses, I am, as I advance, on the verge of madness. How, except
by a special grace, am I to know whether I am in the right way, or
walking in the dark towards the abyss? Here, for instance, are those
conversations between God and the soul so common in the mystical life;
how can one be sure that this interior voice, these distinct words not
heard with bodily ears, but perceived by the soul in a clearer fashion
than if they came by the channels of sense, are true, how be sure that
they emanate from God, not from our imagination or from the devil
himself?

"I know, indeed, that Saint Teresa treats this matter at length in her
'Castles of the Soul,' and that she points out the signs by which we can
recognize the origin of the words, but her proofs do not seem to me
always as easy to discern as she thinks.

"'If these expressions come from God,' she says, 'they are always
accompanied by an effect, and bring with them an authority which nothing
can resist; thus a soul is in affliction, and the Lord simply suggests
the words "trouble not thyself," and at once the whirlwind passes, and
joy revives. In the second place, these words leave an indissoluble
peace of mind, they engrave themselves on the memory, and often cannot
be effaced.'

"'In the other case,' she continues, 'if these words proceed from
imagination or from the demon, none of these effects are produced, a
kind of uneasiness, anguish and doubt torments you, moreover the
expressions evaporate in part, and fatigue the soul which endeavours in
vain to recall them in their entirety.'

"In spite of these tokens, we are, in fact, standing on shifting ground
in which we may sink at every step, but in his turn Saint John of the
Cross intervenes, and tells you not to move. What then is to be done?

"'No one,' he says, 'ought to aspire to these supernatural
communications and rest there, for two motives; first, humility, the
perfect abnegation of refusing to believe in them; the second, that in
acting thus, we deliver ourselves from the labour necessary to assure
ourselves whether these vocal visions are true or false, and so we are
dispensed from an examination which has no other profit for the soul
than loss of time and anxiety.'

"Good--but if these words are really pronounced by God, we rebel against
His will if we remain deaf to them. And then, as Saint Teresa declares,
it is not in our power not to listen to them, and the soul can only
think of what it hears when Jesus speaks to it. Moreover, all the
discussions on this subject are uncertain, for one does not enter of
one's own will into the strait way, as the Church calls it, we are led,
and even thrown into it often against the will, and resistance is
impossible, phenomena occur, and nothing in the world has power to check
them; witness Saint Teresa, who, resist as she would by humility, fell
into ecstasy under the divine breath, and was raised from the ground.

"No, these superhuman conditions alarm me, and I do not hold to knowing
them by experience. As to Saint John of the Cross, the abbé is not wrong
in calling him unique, but though he sounds the lowest strata of the
soul, and reaches where human auger has never penetrated, he wearies me
all the same in my admiration, for his work is full of nightmares which
repel me; I am not certain that his hell is correct, and some of his
assertions do not convince me. What he calls the 'night obscure' is
incomprehensible; 'The sufferings of that darkness surpass what is
possible,' he cries on each page. Here I lose foothold. I can imagine,
though I have not experienced them, the moral and terrible pangs, of the
deaths of friends and relations, love betrayed, hopes which failed,
spiritual sorrows of all kinds, but such a martyrdom as he proclaims as
superior to all others, is beyond me, for it is outside our human
interests, beyond our affections; he moves in an inaccessible sphere, in
an unknown world very far off.

"I am certainly afraid that this terrible saint, a true man of the
south, abuses metaphor, and is full of Spanish affectation.

"Moreover I am astonished at the abbé on another point. He, who is so
gentle, shows a certain leaning to the dry bread of Mysticism; the
effusions of Ruysbröck, of Saint Angela, of Saint Catherine of Genoa,
touch him less than the arguments of saints who are hard reasoners; yet
by the side of these he has advised me to read Marie d'Agreda, whom he
ought not to fancy, for she has none of those qualities which are
admired in the works of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross.

"Ah! he may flatter himself that he has inflicted on me a complete
disillusion, by lending me her 'Cité Mystique.'

"From the renown of this Spanish woman, I expected the breath of
prophecy, wide outlooks, extraordinary visions. Not at all; her book is
simply strange and pompous, wearisome and cold. Then the phraseology of
her book is intolerable. All the expressions which swarm in those
ponderous volumes, 'my divine princess,' 'my great queen,' when she
addresses Our Lady, who in her turn speaks to her as 'my dearest,' just
as Christ calls her 'my spouse,' 'my well-beloved,' and speaks of her
continually as 'the object of my pleasure and delight,' the way in which
she speaks of the angels as 'the courtiers of the great King,' set my
nerves on edge and weary me.

"They smell of perriwigs and ruffles, bows and dances like Versailles, a
sort of court mysticism in which Christ pontificates, attired in the
costume of Louis XIV.

"Moreover Marie d'Agreda enters into most extravagant details. She tells
us of the milk of Our Lady which cannot grow sour, of female complaints
from which she was exempt, she explains the mystery of the conception by
three drops of blood which fell from the heart into the womb of Mary,
and which the Holy Ghost used to form the child; lastly, she declares
that Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel played the part of midwives, and
stood living, under human forms, at the lying-in of the Virgin.

"This is too strong. I know well that the abbé would say that we need
not concern ourselves with these singularities and these errors, but
that the 'Cité Mystique' is to be read in relation to the inner life of
the Blessed Virgin. Yes, but then the book of M. Ollier, which treats of
the same subject, seems to me curious and trustworthy in quite a
different way."

Was the priest forcing the note, playing a part? Durtal asked himself
this, when he saw how determined he was not to avoid the same questions
during a certain time. He tried now and then, in order to see how the
matter was, to turn the conversation, but the abbé smiled, and brought
it back to the point he wished.

When he thought that he had saturated Durtal with mystical works, he
spoke of them less, and seemed to attach himself mainly to the religious
Orders, and especially to that of Saint Benedict. He very cleverly
induced Durtal to become interested in this institution, and to ask him
about it, and when once he had entered on this ground, he did not depart
from it.

It began one day when Durtal was talking with him about plain chant.

"You have reason to like it," said the abbé, "for even independently of
the liturgy and of art, this chant, if I may believe Saint Justin,
appeases the desires and concupiscences of the flesh, 'affectiones et
concupiscentias carnis sedat,' but let me assure you, you only know it
by hearsay, there is no longer any true plain chant in the churches,
these are like the products of therapeutics, only more or less audacious
adulterations presented to you.

"None of the chants which are to some extent respected by choirs, the
'Tantum ergo,' for example, are now exact. It is given almost faithfully
till the verse 'Præstet fides,' and then it runs off the rails, taking
no account of the shades, which are, however, quite perceptible, that
the Gregorian melody introduces when the text declares the impotence of
reason and the powerful aid of Faith; these adulterations are still more
apparent, if you listen to the 'Salve Regina' after Compline. This is
abridged more than half, is enervated, blanched, half its pauses are
taken away, it is reduced to a mere stump of ignoble music, if you had
even heard this magnificent chant among the Trappists, you would weep
with disgust at hearing it bawled in the churches at Paris.

"But besides the textual alteration of the melody as we now have it, the
way in which the plain chant is bellowed is everywhere absurd. One of
the first conditions for rendering it well, is that the voices should go
together, that they should all chant in the same time syllable for
syllable and note for note, in one word it must be in unison.

"Now, you can verify it yourself, the Gregorian melody is not thus
treated; every voice takes its own part, and is isolated. Next, plain
music allows no accompaniment, it must be chanted alone, without organ,
it bears at most that the instrument should give the intonation and
accompany it very softly, just enough if need be to sustain the pitch
taken by the voices; it is not so that you will hear it given in the
churches."

"Yes, I know it well," said Durtal. "When I hear it at St. Sulpice, St.
Severin, or Notre Dame des Victoires, I am aware that it is
sophisticated, but you must admit that it is even then superb. I do not
defend the tricks, the addition of fiorituri, the falseness of the
musical pauses, the felonious accompaniment, the concert-room tone
inflicted on you at Saint Sulpice, but what can I do? in default of the
original I must be content with a more or less worthless copy, and I
repeat, even executed in that fashion the music is so admirable that I
am enchanted by it."

"But," said the abbé quietly, "nothing obliges you to listen to the
false plain chant, when you can hear the true, for saving your presence,
there exists, even in Paris, a chapel where it is intact, and given
according to the rules of which I have spoken."

"Indeed, and where is that?"

"At the Benedictine nuns of the Blessed Sacrament in the Rue Monsieur."

"And can anyone enter the convent and be present at the offices?"

"Anyone. Every day in the week, Vespers are sung at three o'clock, and
on Sundays High Mass is said at nine."

"Ah, had I but known this chapel earlier," said Durtal, the first time
he came out.

In fact it combined all the conditions he could wish. Situated in a
solitary street, it had the completest privacy. The architect who built
it had introduced no innovations or pretentiousness, had built a Gothic
church, and introduced no fancies of his own.

It was cruciform, but one of the arms was scarcely the full length, for
want of room, while the other was prolonged into a hall, separated from
the choir by an iron grating above which the Blessed Sacrament was
adored by two kneeling angels, whose lilac wings were folded over thin
rose-coloured backs. Except these two figures, of which the execution
was truly sinful, the rest was at least veiled by shadow, and was not
too afflicting to the eyes. The chapel was dim, and always at the time
of the offices, a young sacristan-sister, tall and pale, and rather
bent, entered like a shadow, and each time that she passed before the
altar she fell on one knee and bowed her head profoundly.

She seemed strange and scarcely human, gliding noiselessly over the
pavement, her head bowed, with a band as low as her eyebrows, and she
seemed to fly like a large bat when standing before the tabernacle she
turned her back, moving her large black sleeves as she lighted the
tapers. Durtal one day saw her features, sickly but charming, her
eyelids dark, her eyes of a tired blue, and he guessed that her body was
wasted by prayers, under her black robe drawn together by a leathern
girdle ornamented by a little medal of the Blessed Sacrament of gilt
metal, under the trimming, near her heart.

The grating of the enclosure, on the left of the altar, was large, and
well lighted from behind, so that even when the curtains were drawn it
was possible to see the whole chapter drawn up in file in their oaken
stalls surmounted at the end by a higher stall in which the abbess sat.
A lighted taper stood in the middle of the hall, and before it a nun
prayed day and night, a cord round her neck, to expiate the insults
offered to Jesus under His Eucharistic form.

The first time Durtal had visited the chapel, he had gone there on
Sunday a little before the time of Mass, and he had been thus able to be
present at the entry of the Benedictine nuns, behind the iron screen.
They advanced two and two, stopped in the middle of the grating, turned
to the altar and genuflected, then each bowed to her neighbour, and so
to the end of this procession of women in black, only brightened by the
whiteness of the head-band and the collar, and the gilt spot of the
little monstrance on the breast. The novices came last, to be recognized
by the white veils which covered their heads.

And when an old priest, assisted by a sacristan, began the mass softly
at the end of the chapter, a small organ gave the tone to the voices.

Then Durtal might well wonder, for he had never before heard a sole and
only voice made up of perhaps some thirty, of a tone so strange, a
superterrestrial voice, which burnt upon itself, in the air, and
intertwined its soft cooings.

This bore no resemblance to the icy and obstinate lament of the
Carmelites, nor was it like the unsexed tone, the child's voice,
squeaking, rounded off at the end of the Franciscan nuns, but quite
another thing.

At La Glacière in fact those raw voices, though softened and watered by
prayers, kept somewhat of the drawling, almost vulgar, inflexion of the
people from whom they came; they were greatly purified, but remained
none the less human. Here the tenderness of tones was rendered angelic,
that voice with no defined origin long bolted through the divine sieve,
patiently modelled for the liturgical chant, caught fire as it unfolded,
blazed in virginal clusters of white sound, died down, flowered out
again in pale pleadings, distant, seraphic at the end of certain chants.

Thus interpreted the Mass gave a special accent to the sense of the
sequences.

Standing, behind the grating, the convent answered the priest.

Durtal had then heard, after a mournful and solemn "Kyrie Eleison,"
sharp and almost tragic, the decided cry, so loving and so grave, of the
"Gloria in Excelsis," to the true plain chant; he had listened to the
Credo, slow and bare, solemn and pensive, and he was able to affirm that
these chants were totally different from those which were sung
everywhere in the churches. St. Severin and St. Sulpice now seemed to
him profane; in the place of their gentle warmth, their curls and their
fringes, the angles of their polished melodies, their modern endings,
their incoherent accompaniments arranged for the organ, he found himself
in the presence of a chant, thin, sharp and nervous, like the work of an
early master, and saw the ascetic severity of its lines, its sonorous
colouring, the brightness of its metal hammered out with the rude yet
charming art of Gothic jewels, he heard under the woven robe of sound,
the beating of a simple heart, the ingenuous love of ages, and he
noticed that curious shade in Benedictine music; it ended all cries of
adoration, all tender cooings in a timid murmur, cut short, as though
shrinking in humility, effacing itself modestly as though asking pardon
of God for daring to love Him.

"Ah, you were very right to send me there," said Durtal to the abbé when
next he saw him.

"I had no choice," answered the priest, smiling, "for the plain chant is
respected only in convents under the Benedictine rule. That grand Order
has restored it. Dom Pothier has done for it what Dom Guéranger has done
for the liturgy.

"Moreover, beyond the authenticity of the vocal text, and the manner of
rendering it, there are still two essential conditions for restoring the
special life of these melodies, and they are hardly found except in
cloisters, first Faith, and next the understanding the meaning of the
words sung."

"But," interrupted Durtal, "I do not suppose that the Benedictine nuns
know Latin."

"I beg your pardon, among the nuns of Saint Benedict, and even among the
cloistered sisters of other Orders there are a certain number who study
the language enough to understand the Breviary and the Psalms. That is a
serious advantage which they have over the choirs, composed for the most
part of artisans without instruction and without piety, only simple
workers with their voices.

"Now without wishing to abate your enthusiasm for the musical honesty of
these nuns, I am bound to say, that in order to understand this
magnificent chant in its height and breadth, you must hear it, not
winnowed by the mouths of virgins, even if unsexed, but as it issues,
unsmoothed, untrimmed from the lips of men. Unfortunately, though there
are at Paris, in the Rue Monsieur and the Rue Tournefort, two
communities of Benedictine nuns, there is not on the other hand a single
monastery of Benedictine monks."

"At the Rue Monsieur do they absolutely follow the rule of Saint
Benedict?"

"Yes; but over and above the usual vows of poverty, chastity, remaining
in the cloister, obedience, they make a further vow of separation and
adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as formulated by Saint Mechtilde.

"And so they lead the most austere existence of any nuns. They scarcely
taste flesh; they rise at two in the morning to sing Matins and Lauds,
night and day, summer and winter, they take turns before the taper of
reparation, and before the altar. It need not be said," continued the
abbé after a pause, "that woman is stronger and braver than man; no male
ascetic could live and lead such a life, especially in the enervating
atmosphere of Paris."

"What perhaps astounds me still more," said Durtal, "is the kind of
obedience exacted of them. How can a creature endowed with free will
annihilate herself to such an extent?"

"Oh," said the abbé, "the obedience is the same in all the great
Orders, absolute, without reserve; its formula is well summed up by
Saint Augustine. Listen to this sentence which I remember to have read
in a commentary on his rule:

"'We must enter into the feelings of a beast of burthen, and allow
ourselves to be led like a horse or a mule, which have no understanding;
or rather, that obedience may be still more perfect, since these animals
kick against the spur, we must be in the hands of a superior like a
block, or the stock of a tree, which has neither life, nor movement, nor
action, nor will, nor judgment.' Is that clear?"

"It is most frightful! I quite admit," said Durtal, "that in exchange
for such abnegation, the nuns must be powerfully aided from on high, but
are there not some moments of falling away, some cases of despair, some
instants in which they pine for a natural life in the open air, in which
they lament that death in life which they have made for themselves; are
there not days in which their senses wake and cry aloud?"

"No doubt; in the cloistered life the age of twenty-nine is terrible to
pass, then a passionate crisis arises; if a woman doubles that cape, and
she almost always does so, she is safe.

"But carnal emotions are not, to speak correctly, the most troublesome
assault they have to undergo. The real punishment they endure in those
hours of sorrow is the ardent, wild regret for that maternity of which
they are ignorant; the desolate womb of woman revolts, and full of God
though she be, her heart is breaking. The child Jesus whom they have
loved so well then appears so far off and so inaccessible, and His very
sight would hardly satisfy them, for they have dreamed of holding Him in
their arms, of swathing and rocking Him, of giving Him suck, in one
word, of being mothers.

"Other nuns undergo no precise attack, no assault to which a name can be
given, but without any definite reason they languish and die suddenly,
like a taper, blown out. The torpor of the cloister kills them."

"But indeed, Monsieur l'abbé, these details are far from encouraging."

The priest shrugged his shoulders. "It is the poor reverse of a splendid
stuff," he said, "wonderful recompenses are granted, even in this
world, to souls in convents."

"Nor do I suppose that if a nun fall, stricken in the flesh, she is
abandoned. What does the Mother abbess in such a case?"

"She acts according to the bodily temperament and state of the soul of
the sick person. Note that she has been able to follow her during the
years of her probation, that she has necessarily gained an influence
over her; at such times therefore she will watch her daughter very
closely, endeavour to turn the course of her ideas, breaking her by hard
work, and by occupying her mind; she must not leave her alone, must
diminish her prayers, if need be, restrict her hours of office, lessen
her fasts, give her, if the case demands it, better food. In other
cases, on the contrary, she will have recourse to more frequent
communions, lessen her food or cause her to be blooded, mix cooling
meats with her diet, and above all things she and all the community must
pray for her.

"An old Benedictine abbess, whom I knew at Saint-Omer, an incomparable
guide of souls, limited before all things the length of confessions. The
moment she saw the least symptoms arise she gave two minutes, watch in
hand, to the penitent, and when the time was up she sent her back from
the confessional, to mix with her companions."

"Why so?"

"Because in convents, even for souls which are well, confession is a
most dangerous relaxation, it is as it were too long and too warm a
bath. In it nuns go to excess, open their hearts uselessly, dwell upon
their troubles, accentuate them, and revel in them; they come out more
weakened and more ill than before. Two minutes ought indeed to be enough
for a nun in which to tell her little sins.

"Yet ... yet ... I must admit it, the confessor is a danger for a
convent, not that I suspect his honour, that is not at all what I mean,
but as he is generally chosen from among the bishop's favourites, there
are many chances that he may be a man who knows nothing, and quite
ignorant of how to deal with such souls, ends by unsettling them while
he consoles them. Again, if demoniac attacks, so common in nunneries,
occur, the poor man can only gape, gives all sorts of confused counsel,
and hinders the energy of the abbess, who in such matters knows far
better than he."

"And," said Durtal, who chose his words carefully, "tell me, I suppose
that tales like those which Diderot gives in his foolish volume 'La
Religieuse' are incorrect?"

"Unless a community is rotted by a superior given over to Satanism,
which, thank God, is rare, the filthy stories told by that writer are
false, and there is moreover a good reason why it should be so, for
there is a sin which is the very antidote of the other, the sin of
zeal."

"What?"

"Yes: the sin of zeal which causes the denunciation of our neighbour,
gives scope to jealousy, creates spying to satisfy hate, that is the
real sin of the cloister. Well, I assure you that if two sisters became
quite shameless they would be denounced at once."

"But I thought, Monsieur l'Abbé, that tale-bearing was allowed by the
rules of most orders?"

"It is, but perhaps there is a temptation to carry it somewhat to
excess, especially in convents of women; for you can imagine that if
nunneries contain pure mystics, real saints, they have in them also some
nuns less advanced in the way of perfection, and who even still retain
some faults...."

"Come, since we are in the chapter of minute details, dare I ask if
cleanliness is not just a little neglected by these good women?"

"I cannot say; all that I know is, that in the Benedictine abbeys I have
known, each nun was free to act as seemed good to her; in certain
Augustinian constitutions, the case was provided for in contrary
fashion, it was forbidden to wash the body, except once a month. On the
other hand, amongst the Carmelites cleanliness is exacted. Saint Teresa
hated dirt, and loved white linen, her daughters have even, I think, a
right to have a flask of Eau de Cologne in their cells. You see this
depends on the order, and probably also, when the rule does not
expressly mention it, on the ideas which the superior may have on the
subject. I will add that this question must not be looked at only from
the worldly point of view, for corporal dirt is for certain souls an
additional suffering and mortification which they impose on themselves,
as Benedict Labre."

"He who picked up vermin which left him, and put them piously in his
sleeve. I prefer mortifications of another kind."

"There are harder ones, believe me, and I think they would suit you
better. Would you like to imitate Suso, who, to subdue his passions,
bore on his naked shoulders, for eighteen years, an enormous cross set
with nails, whose points pierced his flesh? More than that, he
imprisoned his hands in leather gloves which also bristled with nails,
lest he should be tempted to dress his wounds. Saint Rose of Lima
treated herself no better, she bound a chain so tightly round her body
that it penetrated the skin, and hid itself under the bleeding pad of
flesh, she wore also a horsehair girdle set with pins, and lay on shards
of glass; but all these trials are nothing in comparison of those
inflicted on herself by a Capuchin nun, the venerable Mother Pasidée of
Siena.

"She scourged herself with branches of juniper and holly, then poured
vinegar into her wounds, and sprinkled them with salt, she slept in
winter on the snow, in summer on bunches of nettles, or pebbles, or
brushes, put drops of hot lead in her shoes, knelt upon thistles, thorns
and sticks. In January she broke the ice in a cask and plunged into it,
and she even half-stifled herself by hanging head downwards in a chimney
in which damp straw was lighted, but that is enough; indeed," said the
abbé laughing, "if you had to choose, you would like best the
mortifications which Benedict Labre imposed on himself."

"I would rather have none at all," answered Durtal.

There was a moment's pause.

Durtal's thoughts went back to the Benedictine nuns: "But," said he,
"why do they put in the 'Semaine religieuse,' after their title
Benedictine Nuns of the Blessed Sacrament, this further name, 'Convent
of Saint Louis du Temple?'"

"Because," said the abbé, "their first convent was founded on the actual
ruins of the Temple prison, given them by royal warrant, when Louis
XVIII. returned to France.

"Their foundress and superior was Louise Adélaïde de Bourbon Condé, an
unfortunate princess of many wanderings, almost the whole of whose life
was spent in exile. Expelled from France by the Revolution and the
Empire, hunted in almost every country in Europe, she wandered by
chance among convents seeking shelter, now among the nuns of the
Annunciation at Turin and the Capuchins in Piedmont, now among the
Trappistines in Switzerland and the Sisters of the Visitation at Vienna,
now among the Benedictines of Lithuania and Poland. At last she found
shelter among the Benedictines in Norfolk, till she could again enter
France.

"She was a woman singularly trained in monastic science and experienced
in the direction of souls.

"She desired that in her abbey every sister should offer herself to
heaven in reparation for crimes committed; and that she should accept
the most painful privations to make up for those which might be
committed; she instituted there the perpetual adoration, and introduced
the plain chant, in all its purity, to the exclusion of all others.

"It is, as you have been able to hear, there preserved intact; it is
true that since her time, her nuns have had lessons from Dom Schmitt,
one of the most learned monks in that matter.

"Then, after the death of the princess, which took place, I think, in
1824, it was perceived that her body exhaled the odour of sanctity, and
though she has not been canonized her intercession is invoked by her
daughters in certain cases. Thus, for example, the Benedictine nuns of
the Rue Monsieur ask her assistance when they lose anything, and their
experience shows that their prayer is never in vain, since the object
lost is found almost at once.

"But," continued the abbé, "since you like the convent so well, go
there, especially when it is lighted up."

The priest rose and took up a "Semaine religieuse," which lay upon the
table.

He turned over the leaves. "See," he said, and read, "'Sunday 3 o'clock,
Vespers chanted; ceremony of clothing, presided over by the Very
Reverend Father Dom Etienne, abbot of the Grande Trappe, and
Benediction.'"

"That is a ceremony which interests me much."

"I too shall probably be there."

"Then we can meet in the chapel?"

"Just so."

"These ceremonies of clothing have not now the gaiety they had in the
eighteenth century in certain Benedictine institutions, amongst others
the Abbey de Bourbourg in Flanders," said the abbé smiling, after a
silence.

And since Durtal looked at him questioningly--

"Yes, there was no sadness about it, or at least it had a special
sadness of its own; you shall judge. On the eve of the day that the
postulant was to take the habit, she was presented to the abbess of
Bourbourg by the governor of the town. Bread and wine were offered to
her, and she tasted them in the church itself. On the morrow she
appeared, magnificently dressed, at a ball which was attended by the
whole community of nuns, where she danced, then she asked her parents'
blessing, and was conducted, with violins playing, to the chapel, where
the abbess took possession of her. She had for the last time seen, at
the ball, the joys of the world, for she was immediately shut up, for
the rest of her days in the cloister."

"The joy of the Dance of Death," said Durtal, "monastic customs and
congregations were strange in old days."

"No doubt, but they are lost in the night of time. I remember, however,
that in the fifteenth century there existed under the rule of Saint
Augustine an order strange indeed, called the Order of the Daughters of
Saint Magloire, whose convent was in the Rue Saint Denys at Paris. The
conditions of admission were the reverse of those of all other charters.
The postulant had to swear on the holy Gospels that she had been
unchaste, and no one believed her oath; she was examined, and if her
oath were false, she was declared unworthy to be received. Nor might she
have brought about this condition expressly in order to enter the
convent, she must have well and truly given herself over to sin, before
she came to ask the shelter of the cloister.

"They were in fact a troop of penitent girls, and the rule of their
subjection was savage. They were whipped, locked up, subjected to the
most rigid fasts, made their confessions thrice in the week, rose at
midnight, were under the most unremitting surveillance, were even
attended in their most secret retirement; their mortifications were
incessant and their closure absolute. I need hardly add that this
nunnery is dead."

"Nor likely to revive," cried Durtal. "Well then, Monsieur l'Abbé, we
meet on Sunday in the Rue Monsieur?"

And on the assent of the abbé, Durtal went his way, with the strangest
ideas in his head about the monastic orders. The thing would be, he
thought, to found an abbey where one could work at ease in a good
library, there should be several monks, with decent meals, plenty of
tobacco, and permission to take a turn on the quays now and then. And he
laughed; but then that would not be a monastery! or only a Dominican
monastery, with monks who dine out, and have, at least, the amusement of
preaching.



CHAPTER VIII.


On Sunday morning, on his way to the Rue Monsieur, Durtal chewed the cud
of his reflections on the Monasteries. "It is certain," he thought,
"that in the accumulated filth of ages, they alone have remained clean,
are truly in relation with heaven, and serve as interpreters between it
and earth. But we must thoroughly understand and specify that we are
speaking only of the cloistered orders, which have remained, as far as
possible, poor...."

And thinking of the communities of women, he murmured as he hastened his
steps: "Here is a surprising fact, which proves once more, the
incomparable genius with which the Church is endowed; she has been able
to bring into common life women who do not assassinate each other, and
obey without recalcitrancy the orders of another woman--wonderful!

"Well, here I am"--and Durtal, who knew he was late, hastened into the
court of the Benedictine nunnery, took the steps of the little church
four at a time, and pushed the door open. He paused in hesitation on the
threshold, dazzled by the blaze of the lighted chapel. Lamps were lit
everywhere, and overhead the altar flamed with a forest of tapers
against which stood out as on a gold ground, the ruddy face of a bishop
all in white.

Durtal glided among the crowd, elbowing his way till he saw the Abbé
Gévresin beckoning to him. He joined him, and sat down on the chair the
priest had kept for him, and examined the abbot of Grande Trappe,
surrounded by priests in chasubles, and choir boys some in red and
others in blue, followed by a Trappist with shaven crown, surrounded by
a fringe of hair, holding a wooden cross, on the reverse of which was
carved the small figure of a monk.

Clad in a white cowl, with long sleeves and a gold button on his hood,
his abbot's cross on his breast, his head covered with an old French
mitre of low form, Dom Etienne, with his broad shoulders, his greyish
beard, his ruddy colour, had a look of an old Burgundian, tanned by the
sun while working at his vines; he seemed, moreover, a good sort of man,
uneasy under his mitre, oppressed by his honours.

A sharp perfume which burnt the nose as a spice burns the tongue, the
perfume of myrrh, floated in the air, the crowds surged; behind the
grating from which the curtain was withdrawn, the nuns standing sang the
hymn of Saint Ambrose, "Jesu corona virginum," while the bells of the
abbey rang a peal; in the short aisle leading from the porch to the
choir, a bending line of women on either side, a cross-bearer and
torch-bearers entered, and behind them appeared the novice dressed as a
bride.

She was dark, slight, and very short, and came forward shyly with
downcast eyes, between her mother and sister. At first sight Durtal
thought her insignificant, scarcely pretty, a mere nobody; and he looked
instinctively for the other party, put out in his sense of fitness, by
the absence of a man in the marriage procession.

Striving against her agitation the postulant walked up the nave into the
choir, and knelt on the left before a large taper, her mother and sister
on either side as bridesmaids.

Dom Etienne genuflected to the altar, mounted the steps, and sat down in
a red velvet arm-chair, placed on the highest step.

Then one of the priests conducted the girl, who knelt alone, before the
monk.

Dom Etienne was motionless as a figure of Buddha; with the same gesture,
he lifted one finger, and said gently to the novice,--

"What is it you ask?"

She spoke so low as scarcely to be heard.

"Father, feeling in myself an ardent desire to sacrifice myself to God,
as a victim in union with our Lord Jesus Christ, immolated on our
altars, and to spend my life in perpetual adoration of His divine
Sacrament, under the observance of the rule of our glorious Father Saint
Benedict, I humbly ask of you the grace of the holy habit."

"I will give it you willingly if you believe you can conform your life
to that of a victim devoted to the Holy Sacrament."

And she answered in a firmer tone,

"I trust so, leaning on the infinite goodness of my Saviour Jesus
Christ."

"God give you perseverance, my daughter," said the prelate; he rose,
turned to the altar, genuflected, and with uncovered head began the
chant "Veni Creator," taken up by the voices of the nuns behind the
light screen of iron.

Then he replaced his mitre, and prayed, while the chanted psalms rose
under the arches. The novice, who in the meantime had been reconducted
to her place at the prie-Dieu, rose, genuflected to the altar, and then
knelt between her two bridesmaids before the abbot of La Trappe, who had
reseated himself.

Her two companions lifted the veil of the bride, took off her wreath of
orange flowers, unrolled the coils of her hair, while a priest spread a
napkin on the knees of the prelate, and the deacon presented a pair of
long scissors on a salver.

Then before the gesture of this monk, making himself ready, like an
executioner, to shear the condemned person, whose hour of expiation was
at hand, the terrible beauty of innocence becoming like crime, in
substitution for sins of which she was ignorant, which she could not
even understand, was evident to the public who had come to the chapel
out of curiosity, and in consternation at the superhuman denial of
justice, it trembled when the bishop seized the entire handful of her
hair, and drew it towards him over her brow.

Then there was as it were a flash of steel in a dark shower.

In the death-like silence of the church the grinding of the scissors was
heard in the mass of hair which fell under the blades, and then all was
silent. Dom Etienne opened his hand, and the rain fell on his knees in
long black threads.

There was a sigh of relief when the priests and bridesmaids led away the
bride, looking strange in her train, with her head discrowned and her
neck bare.

The procession returned almost immediately. There was no longer a bride
in a white skirt, but a nun in a black robe.

She bowed before the Trappist, and again knelt between her mother and
sister.

Then, while the abbot prayed the Lord to bless his handmaid, the master
of the ceremonies and the deacon took, from a credence near the altar, a
basket, wherein under loose rose leaves were folded a girdle of untanned
leather, emblem of the end of that luxury which the Fathers of the
Church placed in the region of the reins, a scapular, symbol of a life
crucified to the world, a veil, which signifies the solitude of the life
hidden in God, and the prelate explained the sense of these emblems to
the novice, then taking the lighted taper from the candlestick before
her, he gave it to her, declaring in one phrase the meaning of his
action: "Accipe, charissima soror, lumen Christi."

Then Dom Etienne took the sprinkler which a priest handed him with an
inclination, and as in the general absolution of the dead, he sprinkled
the girl with holy water in the form of a cross, then he sat down and
spoke gently and quietly without using a single gesture.

He spoke to the postulant alone, praising the august and humble life of
the cloister. "Look not back," he said, "have no regrets, for by my
voice Jesus repeats to you the promise once made to the Magdalen, 'yours
is the better part, which shall not be taken away from you.' Say also to
yourself, my daughter, that, henceforward, taken away from the eternal
trifling of labours in vain, you will accomplish a useful work upon
earth, you will practise charity in its highest form, you will make
expiation for others, you will pray for those who never pray, you will
aid, so far as your strength permits, to make amends for the hate the
world bears to the Saviour.

"Suffer and you will be happy; love your spouse, and you will see how
tender He is to His elect. Believe me, His love is such that He will not
even wait till you are purified by death to recompense you for your
miserable mortifications, your poor sufferings. Even before your hour is
come, He will heap His graces upon you, and you will beg Him to let you
die, so greatly will the excess of these joys exceed your strength."

Little by little the old monk grew warm, and returned to the words of
Christ to the Magdalen, showing how in reference to her Jesus set
forward the excellence of the contemplative over the other Orders, and
gave brief advice, dwelling on the necessity of humility and poverty,
which are, as Saint Clare says, the two great walls of cloistered life.
Then he blessed the novice, who kissed his hand, and when she had
returned to her place, he prayed to the Lord, lifting his eyes to
heaven, that He would accept this nun, who offered herself as a victim
for the sins of the world. Then, standing, he intoned the "Te Deum."

Every one rose, and preceded by the cross and torch bearers, the
procession passed out of the church, and was massed in the court.

Then Durtal might have believed himself carried back far from Paris,
into the heart of the Middle Ages.

The court, surrounded by buildings, was closed opposite the
entrance-gate by a high wall, in the midst of which was a folding-door;
on each side six thin pines rocked to and fro, and chanting was heard
behind the wall.

The postulant, in front, alone, near the closed door, held her torch,
with her head bent. The abbot of La Trappe, leaning on his crosier,
waited, unmoving, a few paces from her.

Durtal examined their faces, the girl, so commonplace in her bridal
costume, had become charming, her body was now full of a timid grace,
the lines, somewhat too marked under her worldly dress, were softened,
under her religious shroud her outline was only a simple sketch, it was
as though the years had rolled back, and as though there was a return to
the forms only prophesied in childhood.

Durtal drew near to examine her better, he tried to look at her face,
but under the chill bandage of her head-dress, she remained mute, and as
if absent from life, with her eyes closed, and as though she lived only
in the smile of her happy lips.

Seen nearer, the monk who had seemed so stout and ruddy in the chapel,
seemed also changed, his frame remained robust, and his complexion
bright, but his eyes of a light blue, like chalk water, water without
reflections or waves, eyes wonderfully pure, changed the common
expression of his features, and took away from him that look of a
vine-dresser which he had at a distance.

"It is clear," thought Durtal, "that the soul is everything in these
people, and their faces are modelled by it. There is a holy clearness in
their eyes, and their lips, in those only apertures through which the
soul comes to look out of the body, and almost shows itself."

The chants behind the wall suddenly ceased, the girl made a step
forward, and knocked with her closed fingers at the door, and then with
a failing voice she sang,--

"Aperite mihi portas justitiae: Ingressa in eas, confitebor Domino."

The door opened. Another large court, paved with pebbles was seen,
bounded at the end by a building, and all the community, in a sort of
semicircle, with black books in their hands, cried,--

"Haec porta Domini: Justi intrabunt in eam."

The novice made another step to the sill and answered in her far-away
voice,--

"Ingrediar in locum tabernaculi admirabilis: usque ad domum Dei."

And the choir of nuns, unmoving, answered,--

"Haec est domus Domini firmiter aedificata: Bene fundata est supra
firmam petram."

Durtal hastily looked at those faces which could only be seen for a few
minutes and on the occasion of such a ceremony. It was a row of dead
bodies standing in black shrouds. All were bloodless, with white cheeks,
lilac eyelids and grey lips, the voices of all were exhausted and fined
down by prayer, and most of them, even the young, were bent. "Their poor
bodies are worn with austere fatigue," thought Durtal.

But his reflections were cut short, the bride, now kneeling on the
threshold, turned to Dom Etienne and chanted in a low voice,--

"Haec requies mea in saeculum saeculi: Hic habitabo quoniam elegi eam."

The monk laid aside his mitre and crosier and said,--

"Confirma hoc Deus, quod operatus es in nobis."

And the postulant murmured,--

"A templo sacro tuo quod est in Jerusalem."

Then before re-covering his head and resuming his crosier, the prelate
prayed God Almighty to pour the dew of His blessing on His handmaid;
then directing the girl towards a nun who left the group of sisters and
advanced to the threshold, he said to her,--

"Into your hands, Madame, we commit this new bride of the Lord, sustain
her in the holy resolution she has so solemnly taken upon her, in asking
to sacrifice herself to God as a victim, and to dedicate her life in
honour of our Lord Jesus Christ, sacrificed on our altars. Lead her in
the way of the divine Commandments, in the practice of the counsels of
the Holy Gospel, and in the observance of the monastic rule. Prepare her
for the eternal union to which the heavenly Spouse invites her, and from
this blessed increase of the flock committed to your charge draw a new
motive for maternal care. The peace of the Lord rest upon you."

This was all: the nuns one by one turned and disappeared behind the
wall, while the girl followed them like a poor dog, who with drooping
head accompanies at a distance a new master.

The folding doors closed.

Durtal remained stupefied, looking at the outline of the white bishop,
the backs of the priests who were mounting the steps to give Benediction
in the church, while behind them came in tears, their faces in their
handkerchiefs, the mother and sister of the novice.

"Well?" said the abbé, passing his arm through Durtal's.

"Well, this scene is to my mind the most touching alibi of death that it
is possible to see, this living woman, who buries herself in the most
frightful of tombs--for in it the flesh continues to suffer--is
wonderful.

"I remember that you have yourself told me of the pressure of this
observance, and I shivered in thinking of perpetual Adoration, in those
winter nights, when a child like this is awakened out of her first
sleep, and cast into the darkness of a chapel where unless she faints
from weakness or terror, she must pray alone, through the freezing hours
on her knees on the pavement.

"What passes in that conversation with the unknown, that interview with
the Shadow? Does she succeed in escaping from self, and in leaving the
earth, in gaining, on the threshold of Eternity, the inconceivable
Spouse, or does the soul, powerless to spring on high, remain riveted to
the soil?

"We figure her to ourselves, her face bent forward, her hands joined,
making appeal to herself, concentrating herself, in order to pour
herself forth the better, and we imagine her thus sickly, with no
strength left, trying to set her soul on fire in a shivering frame. But
who can tell if on certain nights she attains to it?

"Ah! those poor lamps of exhausted oil, of flames almost dead, which
tremble in the obscurity of the sanctuary, what will God make of them?

"Then there was the family present at the taking the habit, and if the
daughter filled me with enthusiasm I could not restrain myself from
pitying the mother. Think if the daughter died, the mother would embrace
her, would perhaps speak to her, or if she did not recognize her, it
would at least not be with her own good will; but in this case it is not
the body, but the very soul of her child that dies before her eyes. Of
her own accord her child knows her no longer, it is the contemptuous end
of an affection. You will admit that for a mother this is very hard."

"Yes, but this so-called ingratitude, gained at the price of God knows
what struggles, is it not, even apart from the divine vocation, the most
equitable repartition of human love? Think that this elect creature
becomes the scapegoat of sins committed, and like a lamentable daughter
of Danaus she will unceasingly pour the offering of her mortifications
and prayers, of her vigils and fastings, into the bottomless vessel of
offences and crimes. Ah! if you knew what it was to repair the sins of
the world. In regard to this I remember that one day the abbess of the
Benedictines in the Rue Tournefort said to me: 'Since our tears are not
holy enough, nor our souls pure enough, God makes trial of us in our
bodies.' Here are long illnesses which cannot be cured, illnesses which
doctors fail to understand, and we make thus much expiation for others.

"But if you will think over the ceremony which is just ended, you need
not be affected beyond measure or compare it to the well-known
ceremonies of a funeral; the postulant whom you saw has not yet
pronounced her final vows, she can if she choose leave the convent, and
return to her own home. At present she is in regard to her mother, a
child in a foreign country, a child at school, but she is not a dead
child.

"You may say what you please, but there is a tragedy in that door which
closed upon her."

"Therefore in the Benedictine convent in the Rue Tournefort, the scene
takes place in the interior of the convent, and the family is not
present, the mother is spared, but mitigated thus, the ceremony is but a
mere form, almost a foolish rule in the seclusion wherein the Faith is
hidden."

"Those nuns are also Benedictines of the perpetual Adoration, are they
not?"

"Yes, do you know their convent?"

And as Durtal shook his head, the abbé continued,--

"It is older, but less interesting than that in the Rue Monsieur, the
chapel is mean, full of plaster statuettes, cotton flowers, bunches of
grapes and ears of corn in gold paper, but the old building of the
nunnery is curious. It contains, what shall I call it? a school
dining-room, and a retreatant's drawing-room, and so gives at once the
impression of old age and childhood."

"I know that class of convents," said Durtal. "I used often to see one,
when I used to visit an old aunt at Versailles. It always used to
impress me as a Maison Vauquer, brought to devotional uses, it had the
air at once of a _table d'hôte_ in the Rue de la Clef and the sacristy
of a country church."

"Just so," and the abbé went on with a smile,--

"I had many interviews with the abbess in the Rue Tournefort; you guess
at rather than see her, for you are separated from her by a screen of
black wood, behind which is stretched a black curtain which she draws
aside."

"I can see it," thought Durtal, who, remembering the Benedictine custom,
saw in a second a little face confused in neutral tinted light, and
lower, at the top of her habit, the gleam of a medal of the Blessed
Sacrament in red enamelled in white.

He laughed and said to the abbé,--

"I laugh, because having had some business to transact with my nun aunt
of whom I was speaking, only visible like your abbess through a trellis,
I found out how to read her thoughts a little."

"Ah! how was that?"

"In this way. Since I could not see her face, which was hidden behind
the lattice of her cage, and disappeared behind her veil, and if she
should answer me, having nothing to guide me but the inflexions of her
voice, always circumspect and always calm, I ended by trusting only to
her great glasses, round, with buff frames, which almost all nuns wear.
Well, all the repressed vivacity of this woman burst out there; suddenly
in a corner of her glasses, there was a glimmer, and I then understood
that her eye had lighted up, and gave the lie to the indifference of her
voice, the determined quietness of her tone."

The abbé in his turn began to laugh.

"Do you know the Superior of the Benedictines, in the Rue Monsieur?"
said Durtal.

"I have spoken with her once or twice; there the parlour is monastic,
there is not the provincial and middle-class side of the Rue Tournefort,
it is composed of a sombre room, of which all the breadth at the end is
taken up by an iron grating, and behind the grating are again wooden
bars, and a shutter painted black. You are quite in the dark, and the
abbess, scarcely in the light, appears to you like a phantom."

"The abbess is, I suppose, the nun, elderly, fragile and very short, to
whom Dom Etienne committed the novice?"

"Yes. She is a remarkable shepherdess of souls, and what is more, a very
well educated woman of most distinguished manners."

"Oh," thought Durtal: "I can imagine that these abbesses are charming,
but also terrible women. Saint Teresa was goodness itself, but when she
speaks in her 'Way of Perfection' of nuns who band themselves together
to discuss the will of their mother, she shows herself inexorable, for
she declares that perpetual imprisonment should be inflicted on them as
soon as possible and without flinching, and in fact she is right, for
every disorderly sister infects the flock, and gives the rot to souls."

Thus talking they had reached the end of the Rue de Sèvres, and the abbé
stopped to rest.

"Ah," he said, as if speaking to himself, "had I not had all my life
heavy expenses, first a brother, then nephews to maintain, I should many
years ago have become a member of Saint Benedict's family. I have
always had an attraction towards that grand Order, which is, in fact,
the intellectual Order of the Church. Therefore, when I was stronger and
younger, I always went for my retreats to one of their monasteries,
sometimes to the black monks of Solesmes, or of Ligugé, who have
preserved the wise traditions of Saint Maurus, sometimes to the
Cistercians, or the white monks of La Trappe."

"True," said Durtal, "La Trappe is one of the great branches of the tree
of Saint Benedict, but how is it that its ordinances do not differ from
those which the Patriarch left?"

"That is to say that the Trappists interpret the rule of Saint Benedict,
which is very broad and supple, less in its spirit than in its letter,
while the Benedictines do the contrary.

"In fact, La Trappe is an offshoot of Citeaux, and is much more the
daughter of Saint Bernard, who was during forty years the very sap of
that branch, than the descendant of Saint Benedict."

"But, so far as I remember, the Trappists are themselves divided, and do
not live under a uniform discipline."

"They do so now, since a pontifical brief dated March 17th, 1893,
sanctioned the decisions of the general Chapter of the Trappists
assembled in Rome, and ordered the fusion into one sole order, and under
the direction of a sole superior, of the three observances of the
Trappists, who were in fact ruled by discordant constitutions."

And seeing that Durtal was listening attentively, the abbé continued,--

"Among these three observances, one only, that of the Cistercian
Trappists, to which belonged the abbey of which I was a guest, followed
in their integrity the rules of the twelfth century, and led the
monastic life of Saint Bernard's day. This alone recognized the rule of
Saint Benedict, taken in its strictest application, and completed by the
Charte de Charité, and the use and customs of Citeaux; the two others
had adopted the same rule, but revised and modified in the seventeenth
century by the Abbé de Rancé, and again one of them, the Belgian
congregation, had changed the statutes imposed by that abbot.

"At the present day, as I have just said, all the Trappists form only
one and the same institute under the name, Order of Reformed Cistercians
of the Blessed Virgin Mary of La Trappe, and all resume the rules of
Citeaux, and live again the life of the cenobites of the Middle Ages."

"But if you have visited these ascetics," said Durtal, "you must know
Dom Etienne?"

"No, I have never stayed at La Grande Trappe, I prefer the poor and
small monasteries where one is mixed up with the monks, to those
imposing convents where they isolate you in a guest-house, and in a word
keep you separate.

"There is one in which I make my retreats, Notre Dame de l'Atre, a small
Trappist monastery a few leagues from Paris, which is quite the most
seductive of shelters. Besides that the Lord really abides there, for it
has true saints among its children, it is delightful also with its
ponds, its immemorial trees, its distant solitude, far in the woods."

"Yes, but," observed Durtal, "the life there must be unbending, for La
Trappe is the most rigid order which has been imposed on men."

For his only answer the abbé let go Durtal's arm, and took both his
hands.

"Do you know," he said, looking him in the face, "it is there you must
go for your conversion?"

"Are you serious, Monsieur l'Abbé?"

And as the priest pressed his hands more strongly Durtal cried,--

"Ah, no indeed, first I have not the stoutness of soul, and if that be
possible I have still less the bodily health needed for such a course, I
should fall ill on my arrival, and then ... and then...."

"And then, what? I am not proposing to you to shut you up for ever in a
cloister."

"So I suppose," said Durtal, in a somewhat piqued tone.

"But just to remain a week, just the necessary time for a cure. Now a
week is soon over, then do you think that if you make such a resolution
God will not sustain you?"

"That is all very fine, but ..."

"Let us speak on the health question, then;" and the abbé smiled a smile
of pity that was a little contemptuous.

"I can promise you at once that as a retreatant, you will not be bound
to lead the life of a Trappist in its austerest sense. You need not get
up at two in the morning for Matins, but at three, or even at four
o'clock, according to the day."

And smiling at the face Durtal made, the abbé went on,--

"As to your food it will be better than that of the monks; naturally you
will have no fish nor meat, but you may certainly have an egg for
dinner, if vegetables are not enough for you."

"And the vegetables, I suppose, are cooked with salt and water, and no
seasoning?"

"No, they are dressed with salt and water only on fasting days; at other
times you will have them cooked in milk and water, or in oil."

"Many thanks," said Durtal.

"But all that is excellent for your health," continued the priest, "you
complain of pains in the stomach, sick headaches, diarrhoea, well, this
diet, in the country, in the air, will cure you better than all the
drugs you take.

"Now let us leave, if you like, your body out of the question, for in
such a case, it is God's part to act against your weakness. I tell you,
you will not be ill at La Trappe, that were absurd; it would be to send
the penitent sinner away, and Jesus would not then be the Christ; but
let us talk of your soul. Have the courage to take its measure, to look
it well in the face. Do you see that?" said the abbé after a silence.

Durtal did not answer.

"Admit," said the priest, "that you are horrified at it."

They took a few steps in the street, and the abbé continued,--

"You declare that you are sustained by the crowds of Notre Dame des
Victoires and the emanations of St. Severin. What will it be then, in
the humble chapel, when you will be on the ground huddled together with
the saints? I guarantee you in the name of the Lord an assistance such
as you have never had;" and he went on with a laugh, "I may add that the
Church will take pleasure in receiving you, she will bring out her
ornaments which she has now left off: the authentic liturgies of the
Middle Ages, true plain chant, without solos or organs."

"Listen, your propositions astound me," said Durtal with an effort. "No:
I assure you I am not at all disposed to imprison myself in such a
place. I know well that at Paris I shall never come to any good. I swear
to you that I am not proud of my life, nor satisfied with my soul, but
from thence ... to ... where I cannot tell; I want at least a mitigated
asylum, a quiet convent. There must be, on those conditions, somewhere,
hospitals for souls."

"I could only send you to the Jesuits, who make a specialty of retreats
for men: but knowing you as I think I know you, I feel sure you would
not stay there two days. You would find yourself among amiable and very
clever priests, but they would overwhelm you with sermons, would wish to
interfere with your life, mix themselves up with your art, they would
examine your thoughts with a magnifying glass, and then you would be
under treatment with good young people, whose unintelligent piety would
horrify you, and you would flee in exasperation.

"At La Trappe it is the contrary. You would certainly be the sole
retreatant there, and no one will have the least idea of troubling
himself about you; you will be free, you can if you choose leave the
monastery just as you entered it, without having confessed or approached
the Sacraments, your will will be respected there, and no monk will
attempt to sound it without your authority. To you only it will
appertain to decide whether you will be converted or no.

"And you will like me to be frank to the last, will you not? You are, as
indeed I have already said to you, a sensitive and distrustful man;
well, the priest as you see him in Paris, even the religious not
cloistered, seem to you, how shall I express it? second rate souls, not
to go further...."

Durtal protested vaguely, with a gesture.

"Let me go on. An afterthought will come to you in regard to the
ecclesiastic to whom will fall the task of cleansing you, you will be
quite certain that he is not a saint; this is not very theological, for
were he even the worst of priests his absolution would have just the
same value, if you merit it, but indeed here is a question of sentiment
which I respect, you will think of him in a word: he lives as I do, he
is not more self-denying than I am, nothing shows that his conscience is
very superior to mine, and thence to losing all confidence, and
throwing up the whole thing there is but a step. At La Trappe, I will
defy you to reason in this way, and not to become humble. When you see
men, who after having abandoned everything to serve God, lead a life of
privations and penance such as no government would dare to inflict on
its convicts, you will indeed be obliged to admit that you are no great
thing by their side."

Durtal was silent. After the astonishment he had felt at the suggestion
of such an issue, he became dully irritated against this friend, who
hitherto so discreet, had suddenly rushed upon his soul and opened it by
force. There came out the disgusting vision of an existence stripped,
used up, reduced to a state of dust, a condition of rags. And Durtal
shrank from himself, convinced that the abbé was right, that he must at
any rate stanch the discharge of his senses, and expiate their
inappeasable desires, their abominable covetousness, their rotten
tastes, and he was seized with a terror irrational and intense. He had
the giddy fear of the cloister, a terror which attracted him to the
abyss over which Gévresin made him lean.

Enervated by the ceremony of taking the habit, stunned by the blow with
which the priest had assailed him as they left the church, he now felt
an anguish almost physical, in which everything ended in confusion. He
did not know to what reflections he should give himself, and only saw,
swimming on this whirlpool of troubled ideas, one clear thought, that
the moment had come so dreaded by him in which he must make a
resolution.

The abbé looked at him, saw that he was really suffering, and was full
of pity for a soul so unable to support a struggle.

He took Durtal's arm, and said gently,--

"My son, believe me that the day you go yourself to the house of God,
the day you knock at its door, it will open wide, and the angels will
draw aside to let you pass. The Gospel cannot lie, and it declares that
there is more joy over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine
just persons who need no repentance. You will be much better welcomed
than you expect, and be sufficiently my friend to think that the old
priest you leave here will not remain inactive, and that he and the
convents he can influence will pray their best for you."

"I will see," said Durtal, really moved by the affectionate tone of the
priest, "I will see. I cannot decide thus, unexpectedly; I will think.
Ah! it is not simple."

"Above all things pray," said the priest, who had reached his door. "I
have on my side sought the Lord much that He would enlighten me, and I
declare to you that the solution of La Trappe is the only one He has
given me. Ask Him humbly, in your turn, and you will be guided. I shall
soon see you again, shall I not?"

He pressed Durtal's hand, who, left alone, recovered himself at last.
Then he recalled the strategic smiles, the ambiguous phrases, the dreamy
silences of the Abbé Gévresin, he understood the kindness of his
counsels, the patience of his plans; and a little put out at having
been, without knowing it, led so wisely, he exclaimed in spite of
himself, "This, then, was the design the priest was ripening, with his
air of not concerning himself with it at all."



CHAPTER IX.


He experienced that painful awakening of a sick man whom a doctor
deceives for months, who learns some fine morning that he is to be taken
at once to an hospital to undergo an urgent surgical operation. "But
that is not the way things should be done," cried Durtal, "people should
be prepared, little by little, accustomed by words of warning, to the
idea that they are to be cut up on a table, they are not struck down
thus unexpectedly!

"Yes, but what does that matter? since I know very well, in the depths
of my soul, that this priest is right; I must leave Paris if I wish to
amend; but all the same, the treatment he inflicts is hard indeed to
follow; I know not what to do."

And from this moment his days were haunted by Trappists. He turned over
the thought of his departure, and examined it on all sides, chewed the
cud of for and against, and ended by saying to himself, "That he would
take stock of his reflections and open an account, and this with a debit
and credit side, that he might know himself the better.

"The debit is terrible. To gather up his life, and cast it into the
stove of a cloister; and again, he ought to know if his body were in a
state to bear such a remedy; mine is frail and soft, accustomed to rise
late; it becomes weak if not nourished by flesh meat, and is subject to
neuralgia at any change of the hour of meals. I should never be able to
hold out down there with vegetables cooked in warm oil or in milk; first
I detest oily cookery, and I hate milk still more, which I cannot
digest.

"Then I think I see myself on my knees, on the floor for hours, I who
suffered so much at La Glacière in remaining in that posture, on a step,
for scarce a quarter of an hour.

"Again, I am so accustomed to cigarettes that it is absolutely
impossible to give them up, and it is pretty certain they will not let
me smoke in a monastery.

"No, indeed, from the bodily point of view, this plan is madness; in my
state of health there is no doctor who would not dissuade me from
undertaking such a risk.

"If I place myself in a spiritual point of view I must then again
recognize that it is terrible to enter La Trappe.

"I am afraid indeed that my dryness of soul, my want of love will
remain, and then what would become of me in such surroundings? then it
is equally probable, that in that solitude and absolute silence, I
should be wearied to death, and if it be so, what a miserable existence
is it to stalk about a cell and count the hours. No, for that one needs
to be firmly fixed on God, to be dwelt in wholly by Him.

"Moreover, there are two formidable questions which I have never
properly weighed, because it has been painful to think of them, but now
that they come before me, and stop the road, I must face them, the
questions of Confession and Holy Communion.

"Confession? Yes, I will consent to it, I am so tired of myself, so
disgusted with my wretched existence that this expiation appears to me
as deserved, even necessary. I desire to humble myself, I would ask
pardon with all my heart, but again this penance must be assigned me
under possible conditions. At La Trappe, if I believe the abbé, no one
will trouble himself about me, in other words no one will encourage me,
and aid me to submit to this sorrowful extraction of my shames. I shall
be somewhat like a sick man operated on in hospital, far from his
friends and relatives.

"Confession," he went on, "is an admirable discovery, for it is the most
sensitive touchstone of souls, the most intolerable act which the Church
has ever imposed on the vanity of men.

"Is this strange? We speak easily of our lapses, of our grosser actions,
even, indeed, to a priest in conversation, that does not seem to lead to
any consequences, and perhaps a little bragging enters into our
admission of easy sins, but to tell the same thing on one's knees,
accusing oneself, after prayer, is different, that which was only rather
amusing becomes a very painful humiliation, for the soul is not the dupe
of this false seeming, it knows so well in its inner tribunal that all
is changed, it feels so well the terrible power of the Sacrament, that
he who but now smiled, now trembles at the very thought.

"Now, were I to find myself face to face with an old monk who emerges
from an eternity of silence to listen to me, a monk who will not aid me,
perhaps cannot even understand me, this will be terrible. I shall never
get to the end of my troubles if he does not hold out a staff to me, if
he lets me stifle and gives no air to my soul, nor brings me help.

"The Eucharist also seems terrible. To dare to come forward, to offer
Him as a tabernacle the sewer of self scarce purified by repentance, a
sewer drained by absolution, but still hardly dry, is monstrous. I am
quite without such courage as to offer Christ this last insult, and so
there is no good in fleeing to a monastery.

"No; the more I think of it, the more I am obliged to conclude that I
should be mad if I ventured into a Trappist house.

"Now for the Credit side. The only proper work of my life would be to
make a parcel of my life, and take it to a cloister to disinfect it, and
if that cost me nothing, where is the merit?

"Nothing shows me, on the other hand, that my body, however weakened,
cannot support the regimen of La Trappe. Without believing or pretending
to believe with the Abbé Gévresin that that kind of food will be even
helpful to me, I ought to count on Divine consolations, to admit the
principle that, if I am sent there, it is not that I may take at once to
my bed, or be obliged to leave again as soon as I arrive--at least,
unless that is the chastisement prepared me, the expiation demanded, and
again no, for that would be to ascribe to God pitiless tricks, and would
be absurd!

"As to the cookery, it matters little that it is uncivilized, if my
stomach can digest it; to have bad food, and get up in the middle of the
night is nothing, provided the body can stand it, and no doubt I shall
find some means of smoking cigarettes by stealth in the woods.

"After all, a week is soon over, and I am not even obliged, if I feel
poorly, to remain a week.

"From the spiritual point of view, I must again count on the mercy of
God, believe that it will not abandon me, will dress my wounds, and
change the very foundation of my soul. I know well that these arguments
do not rest on any earthly certainty, but yet if I have proofs that
Providence has already taken part in my affairs, I have no reason to
suppose that these arguments are weaker than the purely physical motives
which served to support my other thesis. Now I must recall that
conversion, so outside my will; I must take account of a fact which
should encourage me, the weakness of the temptations which I now
experience.

"It is difficult to have been more rapidly and more completely heard.
Whether I owe this grace to my own prayers or to those of the convents
which have shielded me without knowing me, it is the case that for some
time past my brain has been silent and my flesh calm. That monster
Florence appears to me still at certain times, but she does not approach
me, she remains in the shade, and the end of the Lord's Prayer, the 'ne
nos inducas in tentationem,' puts her to flight.

"That is an unaccustomed fact, and yet a precise one. Why should I
doubt, then, that I shall be better upheld at La Trappe than I am in
Paris itself?

"There remain confession and communion.

"Confession? It will be what the Lord chooses it should be. He will
choose the monk for me; I shall only be able to make use of him; and
then the more disagreeable it is, the better worth it will be; and if I
suffer much, I shall think myself less unworthy to communicate.

"That is," he went on, "the most painful point! Communicate! But let us
consider, it is certain that I shall be base in proposing to Christ that
He should descend like a scavenger into my ditch; but if I wait till it
is empty, I shall never be in a state to receive Him, for my bulkheads
are not closed, and sins would filter through the fissures.

"All this well considered, the abbé spoke truth when he answered me one
day: 'But I too am not worthy to approach Him; thank God, I have not
those sewers of which you speak, but in the morning, when I go to say my
mass, and think of all the dust of the evening, do you not think that I
am ashamed? It is always necessary, you see, to go back to the Gospels,
and say to yourself that He came for the weak and the sick, the
publicans and lepers; and, in fact, you must convince yourself that the
Eucharist is a lookout post, a help, that it is given, as it is written
in the ordinary of the Mass "ad tutamentum mentis et corporis et ad
medelam percipiendam." It is, if I may say so, a spiritual medicine; you
go to the Saviour just as you go to a doctor, you take your soul to Him
to care for it, and He does so!'

"I stand before the unknown," pursued Durtal, "I complain that I am
arid, and have wandered from the right way, but who will declare to me
that, if I determine to communicate, I shall remain in the same mind;
for indeed, if I have Faith, I ought to believe in the occult work of
Christ in the Sacrament. Lastly, I am afraid of being wearied by
solitude; I am not much amused here as it is, but at La Trappe I shall
no longer have those vacillations at every minute, those constant fears;
I shall at least have the advantage of having my time to myself; and
then ... and then ... how well I know solitude. Have I not lived apart
since the deaths of des Hermies and Carhaix? Indeed, whom do I see? A
few publishers, a few literary men, and my relations with these people
are not interesting. As to silence, it is a blessing. I shall not hear
any foolish sayings at La Trappe; I shall not listen to pitiable
homilies and poor sermons; but I ought to rejoice on being at last
isolated, far from Paris, far from men."

He was silent, and made, as it were, a return in upon himself; and said
to himself, in a melancholy manner: "These strifes are useless, these
reflections vain. I need not try to take account of my soul, to make out
the debit and credit; I know, without knowing how, that I must go; I am
thrust out of myself by an impulse which rises from the very depths of
my being, to which I am quite certain I have to yield."

At that moment Durtal had decided, but ten minutes afterwards the
attempt at resolution vanished. He felt his cowardice gain on him once
more, he chewed once more the cud of arguments against his moving; came
to the conclusion that his reasons for remaining in Paris were palpable,
human, certain, while the others were intangible, extra-natural, and
consequently subject to illusions, perhaps false.

And he invented for himself the fear of not obtaining the thing he
feared, said to himself that La Trappe would not receive him, or
certainly that it would refuse him communion; and then he suggested to
himself a middle term: to confess at Paris and communicate at La
Trappe.

But then there passed in him an incomprehensible fact: his whole soul
revolted at this idea, and the formal order not to deceive himself was
truly breathed into him, and he said to himself: "No, the bitter draught
must be drained to the last drop, it is all or nothing; if I confess to
the abbé it will be in disobedience to absolute and secret directions; I
should be capable of not going afterwards to Notre Dame de l'Atre.

"What shall I do?" And he accused himself of distrust, called to his aid
once more the memory of benefits received, how scales had fallen from
his eyes, his insensible progress towards Faith, his encounter with that
singular priest, perhaps the only one who could understand him, and
treat him in a way so benign and so elastic; but he tried in vain to
reassure himself, then he called up the dream of the monastic life, the
sovereign beauty of the cloister; he imagined the joy of renunciation,
the peace of exalted prayers, the interior intoxication of the spirit,
the delight of not being at home any longer in his own body. Some words
of the abbé about La Trappe served as a spring-board for his dreams, and
he perceived an old abbey, grey and warm, immense avenues of trees,
clouds flying confusedly amid the song of waters, silent strolls in the
woods at nightfall; he called up the solemn liturgies of Saint
Benedict's time; he saw the white pith of monastic chants rise under the
scarcely pruned bark of sound. He succeeded in his decision, and cried:
"You have dreamed for years of the cloisters, now rejoice that you will
know them at last," and he wished to go at once and live there; then
suddenly he fell down into reality, and said to himself: "It is easy to
wish to live in a monastery, to tell God that you would desire to take
shelter therein, when life in Paris weighs you down, but when it comes
to the real point of emigration, it is quite another matter."

He turned over these thoughts everywhere, in the street, at home, in the
chapels. He hurried like a shuttle from one church to another, hoping to
solace his fears by changing his place, but they persisted, and rendered
every place intolerable.

Then in the sacred places came always that dryness of soul, the broken
spring of impulse, a sudden silence within, when he desired consolation
in speaking to Him. His best moments, his pauses in the hurly-burly,
were a few minutes of absolute torpor, which rested like snow on the
soul and he heard nothing.

But this drowsiness of thought lasted but a while, the whirlwind blew
once more, and the prayers which were wont to appease it refused to
leave his lips, he tried religious music, the despairing sequences of
the psalms, pictures of the Crucifixion by the Early Masters, to excite
him, but his prayers ran on and became confused on his lips, were
divested of all sense, mere words, empty shells.

At Notre Dame des Victoires, where he dragged himself that he might thaw
a little under the warmth of his neighbours' prayers, he did in fact
feel less chilly, and seemed to break up a little, fell drop by drop
into sorrows which he could not formulate, and were all summed up in the
cry of a sick child, in which he said to Our Lady, in low tones: "My
soul is sorrowful."

Thence he returned to St. Severin, sat down under those arches browned
by the rust of prayers, and, haunted by his fixed idea, he pleaded for
himself extenuating circumstances, exaggerated the austerities of La
Trappe, tried almost to exasperate his fear to excuse his weakness in a
vague appeal to Our Lady.

"But I must go and see the Abbé Gévresin," he murmured, but his courage
still failed him to pronounce the "Yes" which the priest would surely
require from him. He ended by discovering a reason for his visit,
without thinking himself obliged to promise just yet.

"After all," he thought, "I have no precise information about this
monastery; I do not even know whether it may not be necessary to take a
long and expensive journey to get there; the abbé indeed declares that
it is not far from Paris, but it is impossible to decide on this simple
declaration; it will be useful also to know the habits of these
cenobites before going to stay with them."

The abbé smiled when Durtal mentioned these objections.

"The journey is short," he said. "You start from the Gare du Nord at
eight o'clock in the morning for Saint Landry, where you arrive at a
quarter to twelve; you lunch at an inn close to the station, and while
you are drinking your coffee they get you a carriage, and after a drive
of four hours you arrive at Notre Dame de l'Atre for dinner. There is no
difficulty there.

"Then the cost is moderate. As far as I remember the railway fare is
about fifteen francs, add two or three francs for lunch, and six or
seven for the carriage ..."

And as Durtal was silent, the abbé went on: "Well?"

"Ah yes, yes ... if you knew ... I am in a pitiable state, I will and
will not, I know well that I ought to take refuge there, but in spite of
myself, I wish to gain time and put off the hour of departure."

And he continued: "My soul is out of gear, when I would pray, my senses
go all astray, I cannot recollect myself, and if I succeed in pulling
myself together, five minutes do not pass but I am all astray again; no,
I have neither fervour nor true contrition, I do not love God enough, if
it must be said.

"And, indeed, during the last two days, a frightful certainty has grown
up in me; I am sure that, in spite of my good intentions, if I found
myself in the presence of a certain person, whose sight troubles me, I
should send religion to the devil, I should return eagerly to my vomit;
I only hold on because I am not tempted, I am no better than when I was
sinning. You will admit that I am in a wretched state to enter a
Trappist monastery."

"Your reasons are at least weak," answered the abbé. "You say first that
your prayers are distracted, that you are unable to concentrate your
attention; but in fact you are just like everybody else. Even Saint
Teresa declares that often she was unable to recite the Credo without
distraction, it is a weakness in which we must just take our portion
humbly: above all things it is necessary not to lay too much stress on
these evils, for the fear of seeing them return ensures their assiduity;
you are distracted in prayer by the very fear of distraction, and by
regret for it; go forth more boldly, look at things more widely, pray as
best you can, and do not trouble yourself.

"Again, you declare that if you meet a certain person whose attraction
is a trouble to you, you will succumb. How do you know that? why should
you take care about seductions which God does not yet inflict upon you,
and which He will perhaps spare you? Why doubt His mercy? Why not
believe, on the contrary, that if He judge the temptation useful, He
will aid you enough to prevent your sinking under it?

"In any case you ought not, by anticipation, to fear disgust at your
weakness; the Imitation declares 'There is nothing more foolish and
vain, than to afflict ourselves about future things which may perhaps
never happen.' No, it is enough to occupy ourselves with the present,
for 'Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,'--'sufficit diei
malitia sua.'

"Finally you say you do not love God; again I answer, what do you know
about it? You have this love by the very token that you desire to have
it, and that you regret you have it not; you love our Lord by the very
fact that you desire to love Him."

"That is special pleading," murmured Durtal. "But indeed," he went on,
"suppose at La Trappe, the monk revolted at the long outrage of my sins,
refused me absolution, and forbade me to communicate."

The abbé burst out laughing.

"You are mad! What is your notion of Christ?"

"Not of Christ, but of His intermediary the human being who replaces
Him."

"You can only chance upon a man pointed out beforehand from above to
judge you; moreover, at Notre Dame de l'Atre you have every chance of
kneeling at the feet of a saint, therefore God will inspire him, will be
present, you have nothing to fear.

"As to the Communion, the prospect of being rejected terrifies you, but
is not that one proof the more that, contrary to your opinion, God does
not leave you insensible?"

"Yes, but the idea of communicating alarms me none the less."

"I say to you again: if Jesus were indifferent to you, it would be just
the same to you, to consume or not to consume the sacred species."

"All that does not convince me," sighed Durtal. "I do not know where I
am; I am afraid of a confessor, of others, of myself; it is foolish, but
it is stronger than I. I cannot gain the upper hand."

"You are afraid of the water; imitate Gribouille, throw yourself in
boldly; look, suppose I write to La Trappe this very day to say you are
coming; when?"

"Oh!" cried Durtal, "wait a while."

"To get an answer, we need two days each way; will you go there five
days hence?"

And, as Durtal was astounded and silent,

"Is that settled?"

Then, at that moment, Durtal had a strange experience, as often at St.
Severin, a sort of caressing touch and gentle push; he felt a will
insinuate itself into his own, and he drew back disquieted at seeing he
had a double self, to find he was no longer alone in the depth of his
being; then he was inexplicably reassured, and gave himself up, and as
soon as he had said "Yes" he felt immensely relieved; then passing from
one extreme to the other, he was troubled at the idea that his departure
could not take place at once, and was sorry that he had still to pass
five days in Paris.

The abbé laughed. "But the Trappists must have notice, it is a simple
formality, for with a word from me, you will be received at once, but
wait at least until I have sent this word; I will post it this evening,
so have no anxiety, and sleep in peace."

Durtal in his turn laughed at his own impatience. "You must think me
very ridiculous," he said.

The priest shrugged his shoulders. "Come, you asked me about my little
monastery; I must try to satisfy you. It is very small, if compared with
the grande Trappe at Soligny, or the establishments at Sept Fonds,
Meilleray or Aiguebelle, for there are only about ten choir fathers, and
about thirty lay brothers or 'conversi.' There are also a certain number
of peasants who work with them, and help them to till their land, and
make their chocolate."

"They make chocolate!"

"That surprises you. How do you think they live? Ah! I warn you, you are
not going into a sumptuous monastery."

"I like it so. But in regard to the stories of La Trappe, I suppose the
monks do not greet each other with 'Brother, we must die,' and that they
do not dig their graves every morning?"

"All that is false. They take no trouble about their graves, and they
salute each other silently, since they are forbidden to speak."

"Then what am I to do if I need anything?"

"The abbot, the confessor, and the guest-master have the right of
conversing with the guests, you will have to do with them alone; the
others will bow when you meet them, but if you speak to them they will
not answer."

"It is well to know that. What is their dress?"

"Before the foundation of Citeaux, the Benedictines wore, or so it is
supposed, the black habit of Saint Benedict; the Benedictines properly
so-called wear it still, but at Citeaux the colour was changed, and the
Trappists, who are a twig of this branch, have adopted the white robe of
Saint Bernard."

"Pray pardon all these questions, which must seem childish, but since I
am about to visit these monks, I ought to be in some measure acquainted
with the customs of their order."

"I am wholly at your disposition," replied the abbé.

Durtal asked him about the situation of the abbey itself, and he
replied,

"The present monastery dates from the eighteenth century, but you will
see in the gardens the ruins of the old cloister, which was built in the
time of Saint Bernard. In the Middle Ages there was a succession of
Blessed in this convent; it is a truly sanctified land, fit for
meditation and regret.

"The abbey is situated at the bottom of a valley, according to the
orders of Saint Bernard; for you know that if Saint Benedict loved the
hills, Saint Bernard sought the low and moist plains wherein to found
his convents. An old Latin line has preserved the different tastes of
these two saints:

     "'Bernardus valles, colles Benedictus amabat.'"

"Was it on account of his own personal liking, or for a pious end, that
Saint Bernard built his hermitages in unwholesome and flat places?"

"In order that his monks, whose health was enfeebled by the fogs, might
have constantly before their eyes the salutary image of death."

"The deuce he did!"

"I may add at once that the valley in which Notre Dame de l'Atre rises
is now drained, and the air is very pure. You will stroll by delightful
ponds, and I may recommend you, on the borders of the enclosure, an
avenue of secular chestnuts, where you may take some refreshing walks
at daybreak."

And after a silence the Abbé Gévresin continued,--

"Walk there a good deal, traverse the woods in all directions; the
forests will tell you more about your soul than books: 'Aliquid amplius
invenies in sylvis quam in libris,' wrote Saint Bernard--'pray and your
days will seem short.'"

Durtal went away from the priest's house comforted, almost joyful; he
felt at least the solace of a fixed decision, a resolution taken at
last. He said to himself that the only thing now to be done was to
prepare himself as best he could for the retreat, and he prayed and went
to bed for the first time for months with his mind at rest.

But next day, when he woke, his mood changed, all his preconceived
ideas, all his fears returned; he asked himself if his conversion were
ripe enough to allow him to cut it separate, and carry it to La Trappe;
the fear of a confessor, the dread of the unknown, assailed him afresh.
"I was wrong to have answered so soon," and he asked himself, "Why did I
say 'yes'?" The recollection of this word pronounced by his lips,
conceived by a will which was still his own and yet other than his, came
back to his mind. "It is not the first time that such a thing happened
to me," he thought, "I have already experienced when alone in the
churches unexpected counsels, silent orders, and it must be admitted
that it is terrifying to feel this infusion into self of an invisible
being, and to know that he can, if he choose, almost turn you out of the
domain of your personality.

"But no, it is not that, there is no substitution of an exterior will to
one's own, for one's free will is absolutely intact; neither is it one
of those irresistible impulses endured by certain sick persons, for
nothing is more easy than to resist it; it is still less a suggestion,
since, in this case, there are no magnetic passes, no somnambulism
induced, no hypnotism; no, it is the irresistible entrance into oneself
of a strange will, the sudden intrusion of a precise and discreet
desire, a pressure on the soul at once firm and gentle. Ah! again I am
incorrect, and play the fool, but nothing can describe that close
pressure, which vanishes at the least movement of impatience--it is felt
but cannot be expressed.

"Its introduction is always attended by surprise, almost with anguish,
since it does not make use of even an interior voice to make itself
heard, and is formulated without the aid of words, all is blotted out,
the breath which has thrilled you disappears. You would wish that this
incitement should be confirmed, that the phenomenon should be repeated
in order to be more closely observed, to try to analyze it and
understand it, when lo! it is gone; you remain alone with yourself, are
free not to obey, your will is unfettered and you know it, but you know
also that if you reject these invitations you take on yourself
unspeakable risks for the future.

"In fact," pursued Durtal, "it is an angelic influx, a divine touch,
something analogous to the interior voice so well known by the mystics,
but it is less complete, less precise, and yet it is quite as certain."

He ended his dreams concluding, "I am consumed and collared by myself,
before being able to answer this priest, whose arguments would scarce
persuade me, unless I had had this help, this unexpected succour.

"But then, since I am thus led by the hand, what have I to fear?"

He feared all the same, and could not be at peace with himself; then if
he profited by the comfort of a decision, he was consumed for the moment
by the expectation of his departure.

He tried to kill time in reading, but he had to admit once more that he
could not expect consolation from any book. None came even distantly
into relation with his state of mind. High Mysticism was so little
human, soared at such heights far from our mire, that no sovereign aid
could be expected from it. He ended by falling back on the "Imitation,"
in which Mysticism, placed within the reach of the crowd, was like a
trembling and plaintive friend who stanched your wounds within the cells
of its chapters, prayed and wept with you, and in any case
compassionated the desolate widowhood of souls.

Unfortunately, Durtal had read so much, and was so saturated with the
Gospels, that he had temporarily exhausted their sedative and soothing
virtues. Tired of reading, he again began his courses in the churches.
"And suppose the Trappists will not have me," he thought, "what will
become of me?"

"But I tell you that they will receive you," said the abbé, whom he went
to see. He was not easy till the day the priest handed him the answer
from La Trappe.

He read:--

     "We will receive with pleasure, for a week, in our guest-house the
     retreatant whom you wish to commend to us, and I do not see at the
     moment any reason why the retreat should not begin next Tuesday.

     "In the hope, Monsieur l'Abbé, that we shall also have the pleasure
     of seeing you again in our solitude, I beg to assure you that I am
     yours most respectfully,

     "F. M. ETIENNE,
     "_Guestmaster._"

He read and re-read it, at once delighted and terrified. "There is no
further doubt; it is irrevocable," he said, and he went at once in haste
to St. Severin, having less need of prayer than of going near to Our
Lady; of showing himself to her, paying her, as it were, a visit of
thankfulness, and expressing his gratitude by his very presence.

He was taken by the charms of that church, its silence, the shadow which
fell on the apse, from the height of its palm trees of stone, and he
ended by caring for nothing and sinking on a chair, filled with one sole
desire, not to enter again on the life of the streets, never to leave
his refuge, never to move.

The next day, which was a Sunday, he went to the Benedictine nuns to
hear High Mass. A black monk celebrated; he recognized a Benedictine
when the priest chanted "Dominous vobiscoum," for the Abbé Gévresin had
told him that the Benedictines pronounced Latin like Italian.

Though he was not inclined to like that pronunciation which took away
from Latin the sonorous tones of its words, and turned after a fashion
the phrases of that tongue into a ring of bells with their clappers
muffled or their vases stuffed with tow, he let himself go, taken hold
of by the unction, by the humble piety of the monk, who almost trembled
with reverence and joy when he kissed the altar, and he had a deep
voice, to which, behind the grating, answered the clear high voices of
the nuns.

Durtal panted, listening to the fluid pictures of the Early Masters
sketch and form and paint themselves on the air; he was affected to his
very marrow, as he had formerly been during High Mass at St. Severin. He
had lost that emotion now in that church, where the flower of melody had
faded for him since he knew the Benedictine plain song, and he now found
it again, or rather he took it with him from St. Severin to this chapel.

And for the first time he had a wild desire, a desire so violent that it
seemed to melt his heart.

It was at the moment of the Communion. The monk, elevating the Host,
uttered the "Domine non sum dignus." Pale, with drawn features,
sorrowful eyes, and serious mouth, he seemed to have escaped from a
monastery of the Middle Ages, cut out of one of those Flemish pictures
where the monks are standing in the background, while, before them, nuns
are praying on their knees with joined hands, near the donors, to the
child Jesus on whom the Virgin smiles, while lowering her long lashes
under her arching brow.

And while he descended the steps and communicated two women, Durtal
trembled, and his desires went forth towards the ciborium.

It seemed to him that if he were nourished on that Bread, there would be
an end of all his dryness and all his fears; it would seem to him that
the wall of his sins, higher and higher from year to year, and now
barring his view, would roll away, and at last he would see. And he was
in haste to set off for La Trappe, that he too might receive the Sacred
Body from the hands of a monk.

That mass gave him new strength like a tonic, he came out of the chapel
joyful and firmer, and when the impression grew somewhat feebler in the
course of hours, he remained perhaps less affected, but still resolute,
joking in the evening with a gentle melancholy about his condition:
"There are many people who go to Barèges or Vichy to cure their bodies,
and why should not I go and cure my soul in a Trappist monastery?"



CHAPTER X.


"I shall make myself a prisoner in two days," sighed Durtal; "it is time
to think about packing. What books shall I take to help me to live down
there?"

He searched his library, and turned over the mystical books, which had,
by degrees, replaced profane works on the shelves.

"I will not talk of Saint Teresa," he thought; "neither she, nor Saint
John of the Cross, would be indulgent enough to me in solitude; I have
need of more pardon and consolation."

"Saint Denys the Areopagite, or the apocryphal book known under that
name? He is the first of the Mystics, and perhaps has gone the furthest
in his theological definitions. He lives in the rarefied air of the
mountain tops, above the gulfs, on the threshold of the other world
which he sees in part by flashes of grace, and he remains lucid,
undazzled in the blaze of light around him.

"It seems that in his 'Celestial Hierarchies,' in which he brings out in
procession the armies of heaven, and shows the meaning of angelic
attributes and symbols, he has already passed the limits assigned to
man, and yet in his 'Divine Names' he ventures even a step further, and
then he raises himself into the super-essence of metaphysics at once
calm and stern.

"He over-heats the human word to give it greater force, but when after
all his efforts he endeavours to define the Indescribable, to
distinguish those never to be confounded Persons of the Trinity who in
their plurality never lose their unity, words fail on his lips, and his
tongue is paralyzed under his pen; then tranquilly and without any
astonishment he makes himself again a child, comes down from those
heights among us, and in order to try and explain to us what he
understands, he has recourse to comparisons with domestic life; and that
he may explain the Trinity in Unity he notices how, if many torches be
lighted in one hall, lights, though distinct, mingle in one, and are in
fact no more than one.

"Saint Denys," thought Durtal, "is one of the boldest explorers of the
eternal regions, but he would be dry reading at La Trappe."

"Ruysbröck?" he thought--"perhaps, and yet I hardly am sure--I might put
him in my bag as well as for a cordial the little collection distilled
by Hello; as for the Spiritual Marriages, so well translated by
Maeterlinck, they are disconnected and obscure, they stifle me, this
Ruysbröck oppresses me less. This hermit is singular, all the same, for
he does not enter into us, but rather goes round about us; he
endeavours, like Saint Denys, to arrive at God, rather in heaven than in
the soul, but in wishing to take such a flight, he strains his wings,
and stammers incomprehensibly when he comes down.

"We will leave him behind, then. Now let us see. Saint Catherine of
Genoa? Her discussions between the soul, the body, and self-love are
unmeaning and confused, and when in her 'Dialogues,' she treats of the
operations of the interior life, she is greatly below Saint Teresa and
Saint Angela. On the other hand her Treatise on Purgatory is clear. It
declares that she alone has penetrated into the spaces of unknown
sorrows, and that she has disentangled and taken hold of the joys; she
has in fact succeeded in reconciling two contraries which seemed
eternally repugnant; the suffering of the soul in its purification from
sin, and the joy of the same soul, which at the very moment it is
enduring frightful torment experiences immense happiness, for little by
little it draws near to God, and feels His rays attract it more and
more, and His love inundate it with such excess, that it would seem the
Saviour desires nought but only it.

"Saint Catherine sets forth also that Jesus forbids heaven to none, that
it is the soul herself who, deeming herself unworthy to attain it,
flings herself by her own motion into Purgatory there to cleanse
herself, for she has only one end, to re-establish herself in her
primitive purity, only one desire, to attain her last end, by
destroying herself, annihilating herself, losing herself in God.

"This is a conclusive study," murmured Durtal, "but not that which would
lead to La Trappe. We must try again."

He touched other volumes in the book-cases.

"Here, for instance, is one which obviously I should use," he went on,
as he took down the "Seraphic Theology" of Saint Bonaventure, "for he
condenses the means of self-examination, of meditation for communion, of
thoughts on death, then in these 'Selections' is a treatise on the
Contempt of the World, whose terse phrases are admirable; it is the true
essence of the Holy Spirit, a jelly of unction firm set--we will put
that on one side.

"I shall hardly find a better help to remedy the probable weariness of
solitude," murmured Durtal, turning over new ranks of volumes. He looked
at the titles. "The Life of the Blessed Virgin," by M. Olier.

He hesitated, saying to himself, "Under a style which is like water with
scarcely the chill off, there are some interesting observations, some
tasteful comments. M. Olier has in a way traversed the mysterious
territory of hidden designs, and has there discovered the unimaginable
truths which the Lord is sometimes pleased to reveal to His saints. He
has made himself the liege-man of Our Lady, and living near her has made
himself also the herald of her attributes, the legate of her graces. His
Life of Mary is certainly the only one which seems really inspired and
is possible to read. Where the abbess of Agreda wanders, he alone
remains vigorous and clear. He shows us the Virgin existing from all
eternity in God, conceiving without ceasing to be immaculate, like the
crystal which receives and reflects the rays of the sun, yet loses
nothing of its lustre, and indeed shines with greater brightness,
bringing forth without pain, but suffering at the death of her Son the
pangs she would have borne at His birth. Then he gives us learned
dissertations on Her whom he calls the Treasure-house of all good, the
Mediatrix of love and impetration. Yes, but to converse with Her nothing
is so good as the 'Officium parvum beatæ Virginis,' and that," concluded
Durtal, "I will put in my bag with my Prayer-book; we will not disturb
M. Olier's volume."

"My stock begins to give out," he continued. "Angela of Foligno?
Certainly she is a brasier at which one may warm one's soul. I will take
her with me. What more--Tauler's Sermons? I am tempted to do so, for
never has any treated better than this monk the most abstruse subjects
with a more perfectly lucid mind. By aid of familiar images, humble
analogies, he has rendered accessible the highest speculations of
Mysticism. He is homely and deep, then he borrows a little from
quietism, and, perhaps, it will be no bad thing to absorb, down there, a
few drops of that mixture. Yet on the whole, no; I have rather need of
nerve tonics. As to Suso, he is a remedy far inferior to Saint
Bonaventure, or Saint Angela. I put aside also Saint Bridget of Sweden,
for in her conversations with heaven she seems aided by a God morose and
tired, who reveals to her nothing unexpected, nothing new.

"There is also Saint Magdalen of Pazzi, that voluble Carmelite whose
work is a series of apostrophes. An exclamatory person, clever at
analogies, expert in coincidences, a saint infatuated with metaphors and
hyperboles. She talks directly with God the Father, and stammers out in
ecstasy explanations of the mysteries revealed to her by the Ancient of
days. Her books contain one sovereign page on the Circumcision, another
magnificent one, entirely made up of antitheses, on the Holy Spirit,
others, very strange, on the deification of the human soul, on its union
with heaven, and on the part assigned in this operation to the wounds of
the Word.

"These are inhabited nests; the eagle which is the symbol of Faith
resides in the eyrie of the left foot; in the hole of the right foot
resides the melancholy sweetness of the turtle-doves; in the wound of
the left hand the dove ensconces herself, the symbol of surrender, and
in the cavity of the right hand reposes the pelican, the emblem of love.

"These birds leave their nests and come to seek the soul that they may
lead it to the nuptial chamber of the wound which bleeds in the side of
Christ.

"Was it not also that Carmelite nun who, ravished by the power of grace,
despised so greatly the certitude acquired by the way of the senses, as
to say to the Lord: 'If I saw Thee with mine eyes, I should have Faith
no more, because Faith ceases where evidence comes in'?

"All things considered," he said; "Magdalen of Pazzi, with her dialogues
and contemplations, opens eloquent horizons, but the soul, snared in the
bird-lime of its sins, cannot follow her. No; this saint cannot reassure
me in the cloister.

"Ah!" he went on, shaking the dust from a volume in a grey cover; "ah!
it is true I have The Precious Blood, of Father Faber." And he began to
dream as he turned over its pages where he stood.

He remembered the impression, till now forgotten, produced on him when
he read it. The work of this Oratorian was at least strange. The pages
boiled over, ran forth tumultuously, carrying with them grandiose
visions, such as Hugo conceived, developing historical perspectives such
as Michelet loved to paint. In this volume was seen advancing the solemn
procession of the Precious Blood, starting from the confines of
humanity, from the origin of the ages, and it broke the bounds of the
worlds, overwhelmed the nations, submerged history.

Father Faber was less a mystic, properly so-called, than a visionary and
a poet; in spite of the abuse of rhetoric transferred from the pulpit to
a book, he tore up souls by roots, carried them away on the rush of the
stream, but when one regained footing, and sought to remember what had
been heard and seen, one could recall nothing; on reflection one
recognized that the theme of the work was very thin, too slender to have
been executed by so noisy an orchestra, and there remained of that
reading something distracting and feverish which made you uneasy, and
made you think that this kind of book had only very distant relation to
the heavenly fulness of the great mystics.

"No, not that," thought Durtal. "Now what have we selected? I keep the
little collection of Ruysbröck, the Life of Angela of Foligno, and Saint
Bonaventure, and the best of all for my state of soul," he said,
striking his forehead. He went back to his book-case, and seized a
little book, which lay alone in a corner.

He sat down, and turned it over, saying, "Here is the tonic, the
stimulant in weakness, the strychnine for failure of Faith, the goad
which drives you in tears to the feet of Christ, the 'Dolorous Passion'
of Sister Emmerich."

She was no chemist of the spiritual being, like Saint Teresa; she had
nothing to do with our interior life; in her book she forgot herself,
and left us on one side, for she saw only Jesus crucified, and wished
only to show the stages of His agony, and to leave marked on her pages,
as on the veil of Veronica, the imprint of the Holy Face.

Though she was of our time, for Catherine Emmerich died in 1824, this
great work dates from the Middle Ages. It is a picture which seems to
belong to the early schools of Franconia and Swabia. This woman was the
sister of the Zeitbloms and the Grünewalds, she had their clear visions,
their vivid colouring, their wild scent; but she seemed to bring back
also, by her care for exact detail, by her precise indication of places,
the old Flemish Masters, Roger Van der Weyden and Bouts; she united in
herself two currents, springing one from Germany, the other from
Flanders, and this painting brushed in with blood, and varnished with
tears, was transposed by her into a prose style which has no relation to
any known literature, of which we can only find by analogy the ancestry
in the panels of the fifteenth century.

Moreover, she was quite illiterate, had never read a book, nor seen a
painting; she told quite plainly what she saw in her ecstasies.

The pictures of the Passion unfolded themselves before her while she was
bed-ridden, crushed by suffering, bleeding from the wounds of her
stigmata; she mourned and wept, brought to nothingness by love and pity,
before the torments of Christ.

According to her words, which a scribe took down, Calvary rose, and the
whole rascaldom of the soldiers rushed at the Saviour and spat on Him;
frightful episodes took place where Jesus, chained to a pillar, twisting
like a worm, under the lashes of the scourgers, then falling, looking
with His failing eyes, at the fallen women who held Him by the hand, and
turned away in disgust from His lacerated body, from His face covered
with threads of blood as with a red net.

Then slowly, patiently, only stopping to sob, and cry for mercy, she
described the soldiers tearing away the stuff which had stuck to the
wounds, the Virgin weeping; her face livid and her lips blue, she
related the agony of His bearing His Cross, how He fell on His knees,
grew weaker and more worn when death came.

It was a frightful spectacle, told in its every particular, forming a
sublime and frightful whole. The Redeemer was extended on a cross laid
on the ground, one of the executioners placed a knee against His side,
while another spread His fingers abroad, and a third hammered in a
flat-headed nail as broad as a crown, and so long that the point came
out behind the wood. And when the right hand was riveted the torturers
saw that the left would not reach to the place they intended to pierce,
therefore they attached a rope to the arm, pulled it with all their
force, dislocated the shoulder, and the cries of the Saviour were heard
above the blows of the hammer, His breast was seen heaving, while His
body was anguished and furrowed by terrible shuddering.

The same scene was repeated to fix His feet. They also did not reach the
place which the executioners had marked. The body had to be tied and the
arms bound so as not to tear the hands from the wood, and then it was
necessary to hang on the legs so as to lengthen them as far as the
bracket on which they were to rest; all at once the entire body yielded,
the ribs moved under the skin; the shock was so fearful, that the
executioners believed that the bones would start, and burst the flesh,
wherefore they made haste to rest the left foot on the right, but their
difficulties began again, the feet turned over, and it was necessary to
bore them with an auger to fasten them.

This continued till Jesus died, when Sister Emmerich fainted from
terror, her stigmata bled afresh, and her wounded head rained blood.

In this book the whole pack of Jewish hounds was seen in full cry, the
imprecations and shouts of the crowd were heard, the Virgin was shown
trembling with fever, the Magdalen, beyond herself, was terrible by her
cries, and towering above this lamentable group, Christ appeared, pale
and swollen, His legs entangled in His robe, when He mounted to Golgotha
clenching His broken nails on the cross as it slipped from His grasp.

This extraordinary visionary, Catherine Emmerich, also described the
surroundings of these scenes, the landscapes of Judæa, which she had
never visited, but have since been recognized as exact; without knowing
it, without willing it, this illiterate woman became an unique and
powerful artist.

"Wonderful visionary, wonderful painter," cried Durtal, "and also
wonderful saint," he added, running over the life of this nun, placed as
a preface to the book.

She was born in 1774, in the diocese of Münster, the child of poor
peasants. From her infancy she had conversations with the Virgin, and
possessed the gift which also was given to Saint Sibylline of Pavia, Ida
of Louvain, and more recently to Louise Lateau, of discerning, when she
looked at, or touched them, objects which had been blessed from those
which had not. She entered, as a novice, the Augustinian convent at
Dulmen, made her profession when she was twenty-nine; her health failed
and incessant pain tortured her, which she increased, for, like Blessed
Lidwine, she obtained from Heaven permission to suffer for others, and
succour the sick by taking their maladies. In 1811, under the government
of Jerome Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, the convent was suppressed and
the nuns dispersed. Infirm and penniless, she was carried to a room in
an inn where she had to bear every sort of curiosity and insult. Christ
added to her martyrdom in giving her the stigmata for which she asked;
she could neither rise, nor walk, nor sit, could take no food but the
juice of a cherry, but she was transported by long ecstasies. In these
she visited Palestine, following the Saviour step by step, dictated with
groans this fond book, then said with her death-rattle, "Let me die in
shame with Jesus on the Cross," and died overwhelmed with joy, thanking
Heaven for the life of suffering she had endured.

"Ah, yes; I will take the 'Dolorous Passion!'" cried Durtal to himself.

"Take the Gospels also," said the abbé, who came in meanwhile; "they are
the heavenly phials from which you will draw the oil you need to dress
your wounds."

"It will be equally useful, and truly in accordance with the atmosphere
of La Trappe, to be able to read in the abbey itself the works of Saint
Bernard, but they consist of unmanageable folios, and the abridgments
and extracts in volumes of a more convenient form are so ill-chosen,
that I have never had the courage to buy them."

"They have Saint Bernard at La Trappe, and will lend you the volumes if
you ask them; but where are you from the spiritual point of view? How
are you getting on?"

"I am melancholy, badly prepared and resigned. I cannot tell if
weariness has come from my turning always on the same round, like a
circus horse, but at this moment I am not suffering. I am persuaded that
this change of place is necessary, and that it would be useless to
hesitate. All the same," he said, after a silence, "it is very odd that
I am going to imprison myself in a monastery, and in truth, in spite of
myself, that astonishes me."

"I will admit," said the abbé, laughing, "that when I first met you at
Tocane's, I never thought I was pointed out to direct you to a
monastery; ah, you see I must evidently belong to that category of
people whom I may call mere bridges, involuntary brokers of souls who
are imposed on you for a certain end which you do not suspect, and of
which even themselves are ignorant."

"Rather, if any one were a mere bridge in this matter," answered Durtal,
"it was Tocane, for it was he who brought us together, and we kick him
away as soon as he has finished his unconscious task; it was evidently
designed that we should know each other."

"That is true," said the abbé, with a smile; "now I do not suppose I
shall see you again before you start, for I go to-morrow to Mâcon, where
I shall stay five days, time to see my nephews and to sign some law
papers: at any rate keep up your courage, and do not forget to send me
news of yourself. Write to me without much delay, that I may find your
letter when I return to Paris."

And as Durtal thanked him for his constant kindness, he took his hand
and held it in his own.

"Say nothing about that," he said; "you have only to thank Him, whose
fatherly impatience has broken the obstinate slumber of your Faith; you
owe thanks to God only.

"Thank Him in getting rid of your nature as soon as possible, and
leaving the house of your conscience empty for Him. The more you die to
yourself the better will He live in you. Prayer is the most powerful
ascetic means by which you can renounce yourself, empty yourself and
render yourself humble in this matter; pray therefore without ceasing at
La Trappe. Implore our Lady especially, for like myrrh which consumes
the proud flesh of wounds, she heals the ulcers of the soul; I on my
side will pray for you as best I can; you can thus in your weakness
lean, so as not to fall, on that firm and protecting pillar of prayer of
which Saint Teresa speaks. Once again, a safe journey to you; we shall
meet soon again, my son, good-bye."

Durtal remained much disturbed. "It is most tiresome," he thought, "that
this priest is leaving Paris before me, for indeed if I have need of
spiritual help or counsel, to whom shall I go? It is clearly written
that I must end as I have begun, alone, but ... but ... solitude under
these conditions is alarming. I am no spoilt child, whatever the abbé
may say."

Next morning Durtal awoke ill; furious neuralgia bored his temples like
a gimlet; he tried to stop it with antipyrine, but this medicine in a
large dose put his stomach out of order without abating the strokes of
the machine which penetrated his skull. He wandered about his rooms,
changing from one seat to another, coiling himself up in an arm-chair,
getting up to lie down again, jumping from his bed in fits of sickness,
upsetting his furniture from time to time.

He could assign no precise cause for this attack; he had slept his fill,
and had not exceeded in any way the night before.

He thought, with his head in his hands, "There are still two days
counting to-day before I leave Paris, and very fit I am for it! I shall
not be in a state to travel by train, and if I travel, the food at La
Trappe will finish me."

He had a minute's comfort from the idea that through no fault of his own
he might perhaps avoid his painful duty, and remain at home; but the
reaction was immediate; he understood that if he did not go, he was
lost; the vacillation of his soul had become chronic, the crisis of
disgust of self, the acute regret of an effort consented to with pain,
and suddenly missed, the certainty that it would only be postponed for a
time, that he would have to pass again through alternations of revolt
and terror, and begin again to fight with himself for conviction.

"Admitting that I am not in a state to travel, I have always the
resource of making my confession to the abbé when he returns, and of
communicating in Paris," he thought, but he shook his head, saying to
himself once more that he felt and knew that was not his duty. "But
then," he said to God: "since Thou dost implant this idea in me so
violently that I cannot even discuss it, in spite of its entire common
sense--for after all it is not necessary to immure myself in a Trappist
monastery in order to reconcile myself to Thee--then let me go!"

And he spoke to God quietly.

"My soul is an evil place, sordid and infamous; till now it has loved
only perverse ways; it has exacted from my wretched body the tithe of
illicit pleasures and unholy joys, it is worth little, it is worth
nothing, and yet down there near Thee, if Thou wilt succour me, I think
that I shall subdue it, but if my body be sick, I cannot force it to
obey me; this is worse than all, I am disarmed if Thou do not come to my
aid.

"Take count of this, O Lord; I know by experience that when I am
ill-fed, I have neuralgia; humanly, logically speaking, I am certain to
be horribly ill at Notre Dame de l'Atre; nevertheless, if I can get
about at all, the day after to-morrow, I will go all the same.

"In default of love, this is the sole proof I can give that I truly
desire Thee, that truly I hope and believe in Thee, but then, O Lord,
aid me."

He added sadly, "Ah! indeed I am no Lidwine or Catherine Emmerich, who
when Thou didst strike them cried out, More, more!--Thou dost scarce
touch me, and I protest; but what wouldest Thou? Thou dost know better
than I; physical suffering breaks me down, drives me to despair."

He went to sleep at last to kill the day in bed; slumbering to wake
again suddenly from frightful nightmares.

The next day his head seemed empty and his heart feeble, but his
neuralgia was less violent. He rose, saying to himself that he must eat,
though he was not hungry, for fear his pain should return. He went out
and wandered in the Luxembourg, saying to himself that he must arrange
his time, that after breakfast he would visit St. Severin, then he would
go home and pack, and afterwards finish the day at Notre Dame des
Victoires.

The walk did him good, his head was lighter, and his heart free. He went
into a restaurant, where because of the early hour nothing was ready; he
spent the time before a newspaper, on a bench. How often he had held
papers thus without reading them, how many evenings he had waited in
cafés with his nose in an article, thinking of other matters, at those
times especially when he was striving with his vices; when Florence
appeared to him, still keeping the clear smile of a little girl on her
way to school, her eyes cast down, her hands in the pockets of her
apron.

Suddenly the child changed into a ghoul who whirled round him wildly,
and made him silently understand the horror of his desires....

All that was now far distant; almost in one day the charm was broken,
without any real strife or true effort, without inward struggles; he had
abstained from seeing her, and now when she roused his memory again she
was no more in fact than a recollection odious and sweet.

"After all," thought Durtal, as he cut up his beefsteak, "I wonder what
she thinks of me; she must certainly suppose me dead or lost; happily I
have never met her, and she does not know my address.

"Well," he went on, "there is no use in stirring the mud, it will be
time to cleanse it when I am at La Trappe," and he shuddered, for the
idea of the confessor again took root in him, and he was obliged to tell
himself for the twentieth time that the expected never happens, and to
declare that he should find some good fellow of a monk who would listen
to him; then he was afraid again, putting things at their worst, and
fancying himself turned out, like a mangy dog.

He finished his breakfast, and went to St. Severin; there the crisis
declared itself, the overcharged soul gave way, struck down by a
congestion of sadness.

He lay on a chair in such a state of depression that he could think no
more, he remained inert without the power of suffering, till little by
little the soul, recovered from its torpor, came to itself in a flood of
tears.

These tears gave him solace; he wept over his lot, thought himself so
unhappy, so worthy of pity, that he hoped still more for help, yet he
dare not address himself to Christ, whom he thought less accessible, but
he spoke in low tones to the Virgin, murmuring that prayer in which
Saint Bernard reminds the Mother of Christ that never in human memory
was it heard that she abandoned any of those who sought her aid.

He left St. Severin, consoled and more resolved, and, when once at home,
was taken up with preparations for departure. Afraid that he would find
nothing he wanted down there, he determined to stuff his portmanteau
full; he crammed into the corners sugar, packets of chocolate, that he
might try to deceive if needful the anguish of a fasting stomach, took
towels thinking there would be few at La Trappe, prepared a stock of
tobacco and matches; then besides books, paper, pencils, ink, packets of
antipyrine, a phial of laudanum, which he wrapped in handkerchiefs and
wedged into his slippers.

When he had strapped his portmanteau, he said to himself, looking at the
clock: "To-morrow at this time I shall be jolting in a cab, and my
seclusion will be near at hand; never mind, I shall do well, in
anticipation of bodily ailment, to ask for the confessor as soon as I
get there, and suppose that turns out badly, I shall have time to make
arrangements and take the train back at once.

"All the same this will not prevent my having a wretched moment this
evening when I enter Notre Dame des Victoires," but his anxieties and
emotions vanished when the hour of Benediction came. He was seized by
the giddy infection of the church, and he wrapped, steeped, and lost
himself in the prayer which arose from all those souls, in the chant
which went up from every mouth, and when the monstrance was brought
forward to make its sign in the air, he felt a vast peace descend upon
him.

At evening as he undressed he sighed: "To-morrow I shall lie down in a
cell, amazing when I think of it! I should have considered anyone mad,
who, a few years ago, had prophesied that I should take refuge in a
Trappist monastery; yet now I am going there of my own accord, and yet
no, I am going driven by an unknown power, I am going as a whipped cur.

"After all, what a symptom of the time it is! Society must indeed be
unclean, if God has no longer the right to be hard, and is reduced to
pick up what He finds, and to content Himself with gathering to Himself
people like me!"



SECOND PART.



CHAPTER I.


Durtal awoke, gay and brisk, astonished at not hearing himself groan,
when the moment had come in which he should set off for La Trappe; he
was wonderfully reassured. He tried to recollect himself, and to pray,
but he felt his thoughts more scattered and wandering than usual; he
remained indifferent and unmoved. Surprised at this result, he tried to
examine himself, and touched the void; he was slack that morning, in one
of those sudden dispositions in which a man becomes a child again,
incapable of attention, in which the wrong side of things disappears,
and everything distracts.

He dressed hastily, got into a cab, was too early at the station; and
there experienced a perfectly childish attack of vanity. Looking at the
people who hurried through the waiting rooms, thronged the ticket
offices, or resignedly followed their luggage, he was not far from
admiring himself. "If these travellers who think only of their pleasures
or their business, knew where I am going," he thought.

Then he reproached himself for the stupidity of these reflections, and
as soon as he was settled in his compartment, in which he chanced to be
alone, he lighted a cigarette, saying to himself, "Let us profit at
least by the time there is still for smoking," and he began to wander,
to dream about the position of the monastery, and rove about the
neighbourhood of La Trappe.

He remembered that a review had recently estimated the number of nuns
and monks in France at two hundred thousand.

"Two hundred thousand persons, who, in such an epoch, have understood
the wickedness of the struggle for life, the filth of sexual relations,
the horror of lyings-in, those are they who save the honour of the
country," he thought.

Then, passing at a bound from cloistered souls to the treatises he had
put in his portmanteau, he went on: "It is, all the same, curious how
completely the temperament of French art rebels against Mysticism!

"All exalted writers are foreigners. Saint Denys the Areopagite was a
Greek; Eckhart, Tauler, Suso, Sister Emmerich, were Germans; Ruysbröck
came from Flanders; Saint Teresa, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Marie
d'Agreda, were Spaniards; Father Faber was English; Saint Bonaventure,
Angela of Foligno, Magdalen of Pazzi, Catherine of Genoa, Jacopo de
Voragine, were Italians....

"Ah!" he said, struck by the last name he had cited, "I ought to have
brought his Golden Legend in my bag; how was it I did not remember it,
for that book is, in fact, the very crowning work of the Middle Ages,
the stimulant for hours rendered languid by the prolonged uneasiness of
fasting, the simple aid of pious vigils? For the most incredulous souls
of our time, the Golden Legend at least still seems like one of those
pure parchments, on which simple illuminators painted the faces of
saints with gum water, or white of egg on golden backgrounds. Jacopo de
Voragine is the Jehan Fouquet, the André Beaunevue, of literary
miniature, of mystic prose!

"It is quite absurd to have forgotten that book, for it would have made
me pass precious days, like those of old, in La Trappe.

"Yes, it is strange," he thought, returning on his thoughts, and coming
back to his first idea; "France can count religious authors, more or
less celebrated, but very few mystical writers, properly so-called, and
it is just the same also in painting. The true Early Masters are
Flemish, German or Italian, none are French, for our Burgundian School
descended from the Flemish.

"No, it cannot be denied, the genius of our race cannot easily follow
and explain how God acts when He works in the central depths of the
soul, which is the ovary of thought, the very source of conception; it
is refractory at explaining, by the expressive power of words, the crash
or the silence of grace; bursting forth in the domain which is wasted by
sin, it is inapt at extracting from that secret world, works of
psychology like those of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, works
of art, like those of Voragine or Sister Emmerich.

"Besides that our field is scarcely arable, and our soil harsh, where
shall we now find the labourer who sows and harrows it, who prepares not
even a mystical harvest, but even any spiritual fruit, capable of
assuaging the hunger of the few who stray and are lost, and fall from
inanition in the icy desert of our time?

"He who should be the cultivator of that land, the farmer of souls, the
priest, has not strength to clear the ground.

"The seminary has made him arbitrary and puerile, life outside has made
him lukewarm. Therefore it seems that God has withdrawn Himself from
him, and the proof of this is that He has taken away all ability from
the priesthood. There are no priests now who have talent, either in the
pulpit or in books; the laity have inherited that grace which was so
common in the Church of the Middle Ages. Another example proves it still
more, priests make so few conversions. In these days the being who
pleases Heaven does without them, the Saviour Himself strikes him down,
handles him, works directly on him.

"The ignorance of the clergy, their want of education, their
unintelligence of their surroundings, their dislike for Mysticism, their
incomprehension of art, have taken away all their influence on the
aristocracy of souls. Their only action is now on the childish brains of
bigots and pretenders; and this is no doubt providential; it is better
so, for if the priest became the master, if he succeeded in raising and
vivifying the wearisome tribe he manages, it would be like a waterspout
of clerical stupidity beating down on a country, would be the end of all
literature and all art in France.

"To save the Church there remains the monk, whom the priest detests, for
the life of the cloister is a constant reproach to his own existence,"
continued Durtal; "always supposing that my illusions are not again
destroyed when I see a monastery ... but no, I am lucky; I have
discovered in Paris one of those few abbés who is neither indifferent
nor a pedant; why should I not, in an abbey, come into contact with
authentic monks?"

He lighted a cigarette, and looked at the landscape from the carriage
window; the train was passing through fields in front of which the
telegraph wires danced in puffs of steam; the landscape was flat and
uninteresting. Durtal fell back sulkily in his corner.

"The arrival at the convent disturbs me," he murmured; "since there are
no useless words to proffer, I shall confine myself to giving his letter
to the Father Guestmaster; ah! and then all will arrange itself."

He felt, in fact, a perfect calm, and was astonished at not finding in
himself any disgust or fear, at being almost in high spirits: "Well, my
good priest was right in declaring that I was creating monsters in
advance;" and he thought of the Abbé Gévresin, was surprised that long
as he had visited him, he knew nothing whatever of his antecedents, that
he was no more intimate with him than on the very first day; "In fact,
it only rested with me to question him discreetly, but the idea never
entered my head: it is true that our intercourse has been strictly
limited to matters of religion and art; this perpetual reserve does not
create very thrilling friendships, but it institutes a sort of Jansenism
of the affections which is not without charm.

"In any case that ecclesiastic is a holy man; he has not even that
manner at once caressing and reserved of other priests. Apart from
certain gestures, his habit of rolling his arms in his cincture, of
wrapping his hands in his sleeves, of liking to walk backwards when in
conversation; apart from his innocent mania of interlarding his phrases
with Latin, he does not recall either the attitude or the unfashionable
speech of his brethren. He loves mysticism and plain song; he is
exceptional, and therefore he must have been also carefully chosen for
me in heaven.

"Ah well! we must be getting near," he sighed, looking at his watch, "I
am beginning to feel hungry; come, that is all right, we shall be at
Saint Landry in a quarter of an hour."

He strummed on the windows of the carriage, saw the fields and woods fly
past, smoked a cigarette or two, took his bag from the rack, at last
arrived at the station and got out.

Close to the tiny station he recognized the inn of which the abbé had
told him. He found a good woman in the kitchen who said, "All right,
sir, sit down, they will put the horse to while you breakfast."

He fed himself on uneatable things, they brought him a calf's head
forgotten in a tub, some cutlets that were high, vegetables blackened
with gravy from the stove.

In his present mood he was amused at this infamous meal, fell back upon
a thin wine which rasped his throat, and resignedly drank coffee which
left a sediment of peat at the bottom of the cup.

Then he climbed into a jolting car driven by a young man, and the horse
went off at a smart pace through the village and into the country.

On the way he asked the driver for some information about La Trappe, but
the peasant knew nothing. "I often go there," he said, "but never enter,
the carriage stays at the gate, so you see I can tell you nothing."

They went for an hour rapidly through the lanes, and the peasant saluted
a roadmaker with his whip, and said to Durtal,

"They say that the eminets eat their bellies."

And as Durtal asked what he meant,

"They are idle dogs, they lie all the summer on their bellies in the
shade."

And he said no more.

Durtal thought of nothing; he digested and smoked, dizzy with the
rumbling of the carriage.

At the end of another hour they came into the heart of the forest.

"Are we near?"

"Oh, not yet!"

"Can we see La Trappe from a distance?"

"Oh no, you must have your nose just over it to see it, it is quite in a
bottom, at the end of a lane, like that," said the peasant, pointing to
a grassy lane into which they turned.

"There is a fellow coming from the place," he said, pointing out a
vagabond, who was crossing the copse at a great pace.

And he explained to Durtal that every beggar had a right to food and
even to lodging at La Trappe; they gave them the ordinary fare of the
community in a room close to the brother porter's lodge, but did not let
them into the convent.

When Durtal asked him the opinion which the villagers round about had of
the monks, the peasant was evidently afraid of compromising himself, for
he answered,

"Some say nothing about them."

Durtal began to be rather weary, when suddenly as they turned out of a
lane, he saw an immense building below him.

"There is La Trappe!" said the peasant, gathering his reins for the
descent.

From the height where he was, Durtal looked over the roofs, and saw a
large garden, with thickets, and in front of them a formidable crucifix.

Then the vision disappeared, the carriage again went through the wood,
descending by zig-zag roads where the foliage intercepted the view.

They came at last, by long circuits, to an open place, at the end of
which rose a wall with a large gate in the middle. The carriage stopped.

"You have only to ring," said the peasant, showing Durtal an iron chain
along the wall; and he added,

"Shall I come for you again to-morrow?"

"No."

"Then you remain here?" and the peasant looked at him with astonishment,
turned about, and drove up the hill.

Durtal remained as one crushed, his portmanteau at his feet, before the
door; his heart beat violently; all his assurance, all his enthusiasm,
had vanished, and he stammered: "What will happen to me within?"

And with a swift feeling of dread, there passed before him the terrible
life of the Trappists; the body ill-nourished, exhausted from want of
sleep, prostrate for hours on the pavement; the soul trembling, squeezed
like a sponge in the hand, drilled, examined, ransacked even to its
smallest folds; and at the end of its failure of an existence, thrown
like a wreck against this rude rock, into the silence of a prison, and
the dreadful stillness of the tomb!

"My God, my God, have pity upon me!" said he, as he wiped his brow.

Mechanically he looked around, as if he expected some help; the roads
were deserted and the woods were empty; no sound was heard in the
country, or in the monastery.

"At any rate I must make up my mind to ring;" and, his limbs sinking
under him, he pulled the chain.

The sound of the bell, hard, rusty, grumbling, sounded on the other side
of the wall.

"Get up and don't be a fool," he said to himself, as he heard the
clatter of a pair of sabots behind the door.

This opened, and a very old monk, clad in the brown cloth of the
Capuchins, looked at him inquiringly.

"I come to make a retreat, and I wish to see Father Etienne."

The monk bowed, took up the portmanteau, and made a sign to Durtal to
follow him. He went with bent head and short steps across an orchard.
They reached a grating, passed on the right of the vast building a sort
of dilapidated chateau, flanked by two wings advancing on a court.

The brother entered the wing close to the grating. Durtal followed him
along a corridor into which several grey doors opened; on one of these
he read the word "Auditorium." The Trappist stopped before it, lifted
the wooden latch, ushered Durtal into the room, and after some minutes
he heard repeated calls on the bell.

Durtal sat down and looked at this gloomy chamber, for the window was
half closed by shutters. There was little furniture; the most important
a dining-table with an old cover; in the corner, a "prie-Dieu" above
which was nailed a figure of Saint Antony of Padua rocking the infant
Jesus in his arms; a large crucifix on the other wall, and here and
there were placed two high-backed chairs and four ordinary chairs.

Durtal took from his pocket-book the letter of introduction to the
father. "What sort of reception will he give me?" he asked himself; "he
at any rate can speak; well, we shall soon see," he said, as he heard
steps.

A monk in white with a black scapular whose two ends fell, one on his
shoulders, the other on his breast, appeared; he was young and smiling.

He read the letter, then he took Durtal's hand, and led him in silent
astonishment across the court to the other wing of the building, opened
a door, dipped his finger in a holy-water stoup, and offered it to him.

They were in a chapel. The monk invited Durtal by a sign to kneel on a
step before the altar, and he prayed in a low voice; he then rose,
returned slowly to the threshold, offered Durtal holy water again, still
without opening his lips, and leading him by the hand they went the way
they came to the Auditorium.

There, he inquired after the health of the Abbé Gévresin, seized the
portmanteau, and mounted an immense staircase falling into ruin. At the
top of this staircase, which had only one story, there extended a vast
landing bounded at each of its extremities by a door.

Father Etienne entered that on the right, crossed a broad vestibule, and
led Durtal into a room, which a ticket printed in large letters placed
under the invocation of St. Benedict, and said, "I am sorry, sir, to be
only able to put at your disposal this room, which is not very
comfortable."

"But it will do very well," said Durtal, "and the view is charming," he
continued, approaching the window.

"At least you will be in good air," said the monk, opening the casement.

Below stretched the orchard through which Durtal had passed under the
conduct of the brother porter. An enclosure full of apple trees stunted
and clipped, silvered by lichens, and gilt by moss; then beyond the
monastery, and above the walls, rose fields of clover intersected by a
great white road, extending to the horizon, which was notched by the
foliage of trees.

"You will see, sir," Father Etienne went on, "if you need anything in
this cell, and tell me quite simply, will you not? for otherwise we
should heap up regret for both of us, for you who have only to ask for
what might be useful to you, for me who should only discover it later
and be sorry for my forgetfulness."

Durtal looked at him reassured by this frank greeting; he was a young
priest, about thirty years old. His face bright, and finely cut, was
streaked with red fibres on the cheeks; this monk wore a beard, and
round his shaven head was a crown of brown hair. He spoke somewhat
rapidly, and smiled, with his hands pushed into the large leathern belt
round his waist. "I will come back directly, for I have some important
work to finish," he said; "try to make yourself at home as much as
possible, and if you have time glance over the rule which you have to
follow in this monastery--it is written on one of these cards on the
table; we will talk about it after you have mastered it, if you like."

And he left Durtal alone.

He soon made an inventory of the room; it was very high and extremely
narrow like a gun-barrel, the door was at one end, the window at the
other.

At the bottom, in a corner, near the casement, was a little iron bed,
and a small round table in chestnut wood. At the foot of the bed which
stood along the wall was a prie-Dieu in faded rep, upon which was a
crucifix, and a branch of dried fir below it; on the same side was a
table of white wood covered with a towel, on which were placed an ewer,
a basin, and a glass. On the opposite wall was a wardrobe, and by the
fireplace, on the mantelpiece of which a crucifix was placed, was a
table opposite the bed near the window; three straw chairs completed the
furniture of this room. "I shall never have water enough to wash in,"
thought Durtal, gauging the miniature jug, which held about a pint;
"since Father Etienne shows himself so obliging, I must ask him for a
larger ration." He unpacked his portmanteau, undressed, put on flannel
instead of his starched shirt, arranged his toilet things on the
washing-stand, folded his linen in the wardrobe; then sat down, looked
around the cell, and thought it sufficiently comfortable, and above all
very clean. He then went towards the table on which were laid a ream of
ruled paper, an inkstand, and some pens; he was grateful for this
attention of the monk, who knew no doubt by the Abbé Gévresin's letter
that his business was writing, opened two volumes bound in leather and
shut them again. The one was "The Introduction to the Devout Life," by
Saint Francis de Sales, the other was "Manresa," or "The Spiritual
Exercises" of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and he arranged his own books on
the table.

Then he took up, just as it came, one of the cards spread on the table
and read:--

     "Exercises of the Community for ordinary days--from Easter to the
     Invention of the Cross in September.

          Rise. 2.
          Prime and Mass.  5.15.
          Work after the Chapter.
          End of work and leisure time.  9.
          Sext.  11.
          Angelus and Dinner.  11.30.
          Siesta after Dinner.
          End of Siesta.  1.30.
          None and work, five minutes after waking.
          End of work and leisure.  4.30.
          Vespers followed by prayer.  5.15.
          Supper and leisure.  6.
          Compline.  7.25.
          Retire to rest.  8."

He turned the card, and on the other side was a new horary, entitled:--

     "Winter Exercises, from the Invention of the Cross in September to
     Easter."

The hour of rising was the same, but bed-time was an hour earlier;
dinner was changed from 11.30 to 2; siesta and supper at 6 o'clock were
suppressed; the canonical hours were the same, except vespers and
compline, which were changed from 5.15 and 7.25 to 4.30 and 6.15.

"It is not pleasant to drag oneself from bed in the middle of the
night," sighed Durtal, "but I am inclined to think that the Retreatants
are not subject to this rule of wakefulness," and he took up another
card. "This must be the one intended for me," he said, reading the head
of the card:--

Rules of Retreat from Easter to the Invention of the Cross in September.

Let us look at these rules rather more closely.

He examined the two tables, brought together, one for the morning, and
one for the evening.

          MORNING.

          4.     Rise at the Angelus bell.
          4.30.  Prayer and Meditation.
          5.15.   Prime and Mass.
          6-7.    Examination of Conscience.
          7.      Breakfast.
          7.30.   Way of the Cross.
          8.      Sext and None.
          8.30.   Second Meditation.
          9.      Spiritual Reading.
          11.     Adoration and Examination. Tierce.
          11.30.  Angelus. Dinner. Recreation.
          12.15.  Siesta. Absolute Silence.


          EVENING.

          1.30.   End of Siesta. Rosary.
          2.      Vespers and Compline.
          3.      Third Meditation.
          3.15.   Spiritual Reading.
          4.15.   Matins and Lauds.
          5.15.   Reflections. Choir Vespers.
          5.30.   Examination and Prayer.
          6.      Supper and Recreation.
          7.      Litanies. Absolute Silence.
          7.15.   Assist at Compline.
          7.30.   Salve Regina. Angelus.
          7.45.   Private Examination. Retire to rest.

"This at any rate is more practical--four o'clock in the morning is an
almost possible hour, but I do not understand it, the canonical hours on
this tablet do not agree with those of the monks, and then why these
double Vespers and Compline? Lastly, these little points in which you
are invited to meditate so many minutes, to read so many more, scarcely
suit me. My mind is scarcely malleable enough to run in those
channels--it is true that after all I am free to do as I please, for no
one can verify what tricks I may play, can know, for instance, if I
meditate....

"Ah, here is again a regulation at the back," he went on, as he turned
the card, "the regulation for September, I need not trouble myself about
it, it differs, moreover, little from the other; but here is a
postscript which concerns both horaries."

     NOTE.

     1. Those who are not bound to say the Breviary will say the Little
     Office of the Blessed Virgin.

     2. The Retreatants are requested to make their Confessions at an
     early date, in order to have their mind more free for meditation.

     3. After each meditation an analogous chapter of the Imitation must
     be read.

     4. The best time for confessions and the Way of the Cross is from
     6-9 in the morning, 2-5 in the afternoon, and in summer from 9 in
     the morning till 5 in the afternoon.

     5. To read the table of notices.

     6. It is well to be punctual at meals to keep no one waiting.

     7. The Father Guestmaster alone is charged with providing for the
     wants of guests.

     8. Guests may ask for books for the retreat, if they have none
     themselves.

Confession! He saw this word only in the whole series of rules. He must
at once have recourse to it. He felt a cold shiver down his back; and
knew that he must speak to Father Etienne about it as soon as he
returned.

He had not long to wrestle with himself, for the monk entered almost at
once and said,

"Have you noticed anything you need, and the presence of which may be
useful to you?"

"No, Father; yet if you could let me have a little more water."

"Nothing is easier; I will send you up a large pitcher every morning."

"Thank you ... see, I have been studying the rules."

"I will at once put you at ease," said the monk. "You are compelled to
nothing but the strictest punctuality. You must follow the canonical
offices to the letter. As to the exercises marked on the card, they are
not of obligation; they may be useful, as they are laid down, for people
who are very young and devoid of all initiative, but, as I think at
least, they somewhat hamper others, and as a general rule we do not
trouble the retreatants here, we let solitude act on them; it belongs to
yourself to discriminate and distinguish the best mode of occupying your
time holily. Therefore I will not impose on you any of the reading laid
down on this card, and only take leave to get you to say the Little
Office of the Blessed Virgin. Have you it?"

"Here it is," said Durtal, holding out a bound book.

"Your volume is charming," said Father Etienne, as he turned over the
pages exquisitely printed in red and black. He paused at one of them,
and read aloud the third lesson of Matins.

"Is it not fine?" he cried. A sudden joy sprang up in his face; his eyes
grew bright, his hands trembled on the cover. "Yes," he said, closing
it, "read this office, here especially, for you know our true patroness,
the true Abbot of the Trappists, is the Blessed Virgin!"

After a silence he continued: "I have fixed a week as the duration of
your retreat, in the letter I sent to the Abbé Gévresin, but I need not
say that if you are not too weary here, you can stay as long as seems
good to you."

"I hope to be able to prolong my stay among you, but this must depend
upon the way in which my body stands the struggle; my stomach is
somewhat weak, and I am not without some fear; I shall, therefore, be
much obliged to you if you will let me see the confessor as soon as
possible."

"Good; you shall see him to-morrow. I will tell you the time this
evening, after compline. As for the food, if you think it insufficient,
I will see that you have an extra egg, but there ceases the discretion I
can exercise, for the rule is precise, no fish, no flesh--vegetables,
and I am bound to admit they are not first rate.

"But you shall judge, and, indeed, as it is just upon supper-time, I
will show you the room where you will dine in company with M. Bruno."

And as they descended the staircase, the monk went on: "M. Bruno is a
person who has renounced the world, and, without having taken the vows,
lives enclosed. He is what our rule calls an oblate, he is a holy and
learned man, whom you will certainly like; you can talk with him during
the meal."

"Ah!" said Durtal, "and before and after I must keep silence?"

"Yes, unless you have anything to ask, in which case I shall be always
at your service, ready to answer you. As for that question of silence,
as for those of the hours of rising and going to bed, and the offices,
the rule allows no modification, it must be observed to the letter."

"Good," said Durtal, a little taken aback by the decided tone of the
Father, "but I saw on my card a note directing me to consult a table of
regulations, and I have not that table."

"It hangs on the wall of the staircase, near your room; you can read it
when your head is rested to-morrow. Will you go in?" he said, opening a
door in the lower corridor, just opposite that of the auditorium.

Durtal bowed to an old gentleman who came to meet him; the monk
introduced them and vanished.

The dishes were on the table, two poached eggs, a bowl of rice, another
of French beans, and a pot of honey.

M. Bruno said grace, and proceeded to help Durtal.

He gave him an egg.

"This is a poor supper for a Parisian," he said, with a smile.

"Ah, as long as there is an egg and wine it is bearable. I was afraid, I
confess, that my only drink would be cold water."

They talked as friends.

The man was pleasant, and distinguished, with ascetic features, but with
a bright smile, lighting up a grave face, yellow and wrinkled.

He lent himself with perfect good grace to Durtal's inquiries, and told
him, that after a tempestuous life, he felt that Grace had touched him,
and he had retired from the world to expiate by years of austerities and
silence his own sins and those of others.

"And you have never grown tired of being here?"

"Never, during the five years that I have spent in this cloister, time,
cut up as it is at La Trappe, seems short."

"You are present at all the exercises of the Community?"

"Yes; I only replace manual labour by meditation in my cell; my position
as oblate, however, dispenses me, if I so wish, from getting up at two
o'clock to follow the night office, but it is a great joy to me to
recite the magnificent Benedictine Psalter before daybreak--but you are
listening to me, and eat nothing. Let me give you a little more rice."

"No, thank you, but I will take, if you will allow me, a spoonful of
honey.

"The food is not bad," he said, "but I do not quite understand the same
strange and identical taste in all the dishes; it smells, how shall I
express it? like burnt fat or suet."

"That is the warm oil with which the vegetables are dressed, you will
soon grow accustomed to it, in a couple of days you will cease to notice
it."

"But in what consists, precisely, the part of an oblate?"

"His life is less austere, and more contemplative than that of a monk;
he may travel if he will, and though he is not bound by vows, he shares
in all the spiritual advantages of the order.

"In old times the rule admitted those whom it styled 'familiars.'

"Those were oblates who received the tonsure, wore a distinct costume,
and pronounced the three greater vows; they led in fact a mitigated
life, half layman, half monk. This rule, which still exists among the
true Benedictines, has disappeared among the Trappists since the year
1293, the date at which it was suppressed by the Chapter General.

"At the present time, in the Cistercian abbeys are only the fathers, the
lay brothers, the oblates, when there are any, and the peasants employed
in field labour."

"The lay brothers, I suppose, are those whose heads are completely
shaven, and who are clothed in a brown habit, like the monk who opened
the door to me?"

"Yes; they do not sing office, and have only manual tasks."

"By the way, the rule for retreat which I read in my room does not seem
clear. As far as I recall it, it doubles certain offices, places Matins
at four in the afternoon, and Vespers at two; in any case the horary is
not the same as that of the Trappists; how am I to understand and
reconcile them?"

"You have only to take into consideration the exercises set out on your
card; Father Etienne must, I think, have said so; that mould was only
made for people who cannot occupy and guide themselves. That explains to
you how, to prevent them from becoming idle, the priests' breviary has
been in some degree taken to pieces, and their time has been
distributed in small slices, so that, for instance, they may be obliged
to recite the psalms for Matins at hours when there is no psalm."

Dinner was over; M. Bruno said grace, and said to Durtal,

"You have twenty minutes free from now to Compline; you can make
acquaintance with the garden and woods." He bowed politely and went out.

"I can smoke a cigarette," thought Durtal, when he was alone. He took
his hat and left the room. Night was coming on. He passed through the
great court, skirted a small building surmounted by a long
chimney-stack, discovered by the smell that it was a chocolate factory,
and entered an avenue of trees.

The sky was so obscure that he could scarcely see the group of trees he
entered, and not seeing anyone he rolled his cigarettes, and smoked them
slowly, with enjoyment, consulting his watch from time to time by his
cigar lights.

He was astonished at the silence of the monastery; not a sound, however
hushed, however distant, save now and then a gentle rustle of boughs; he
went to the side whence the noise came, and saw a piece of water, on
which a swan was sailing, which came towards him.

He saw its white plumage oscillate against the darkness which it
displaced with a splash, when a bell sounded with slow strokes; "Ah,"
said he, looking again at his watch, "that is the hour of Compline."

He went to the chapel, which was still empty; and he took occasion of
the solitude to examine it at his ease.

It was in the form of a truncated cross, a cross without a foot, rounded
at the summit, holding out two square arms, with a door at either end.

The upper part of the cross, below a cupola painted blue, formed a
little circular apse, round which was a circle of stalls placed back
against the wall; in the middle rose a great altar of white marble,
surmounted by wooden chandeliers, flanked on the left and right by
candelabra also of wood, placed on marble shafts.

The lower part of the altar was hollow, and closed in front by a glass,
behind which appeared a shrine in Gothic style, which reflected in its
copper gilt mirror the light of the lamps.

The apse opened into a large porch, with three steps in front, on the
arms of the cross, which were prolonged into a kind of vestibule serving
at once as nave and side aisles to this stumpy church.

The hollowed arms, at their extremities near the doors, held two very
small chapels set back in niches painted blue, like the cupola,
containing above two stone altars without ornament, two mediocre
statues, one of Saint Joseph, the other of Christ.

Lastly, a fourth altar, dedicated to the Virgin, was situated in this
vestibule opposite the steps leading to the apse, opposite therefore to
the high altar. It was relieved against a window whose lights
represented Saint Bernard in white on one hand, and Saint Benedict in
black on the other, and it appeared to recede into the church, because
of the two ranges of seats which stood on the left and right before the
two other little chapels, leaving only room necessary to pass along the
vestibule, or to go in a straight line from this altar of the Virgin in
the apse, to the high altar.

"This sanctuary is alarmingly ugly," said Durtal, who had sat down on a
bench in front of the statue of Saint Joseph. "To judge by the few
subjects carved along the walls, this edifice dates from the time of
Louis XVI., an abominable date for a church."

He was disturbed in these thoughts by the sound of bells, and at the
same time all the doors were opened; one situated in the apse itself, on
the left of the altar, gave passage to about half a score monks, wrapped
in great white cowls, who spread out into the choir, and occupied the
stalls on either side.

Then, by the two doors of the vestibule, came a crowd of brown monks,
who knelt at the benches on the two sides of Our Lady's altar.

Durtal had some of them near him; but they bowed their heads, and joined
their hands, he dared not observe them; moreover, the vestibule had
become almost dark, the light was concentrated in the choir, where the
lamps were kindled.

He could make out the faces of the white monks in their stalls in the
part of the apse he could see, and among them he recognized Father
Etienne on his knees near a short monk; but another at the end of the
stalls near the porch, almost opposite the altar, and in full light,
attracted him.

He was tall and strong, and looked like an Arab in his white burnous.
Durtal could only see him in profile, and he distinguished a long grey
beard, a shaven skull, surrounded by the monastic crown, a high
forehead, and a nose like an eagle's beak. He had a grand appearance,
with his imperious features, and his fine figure as it swayed under the
cowl.

"That is probably the abbot of La Trappe," thought Durtal, and he felt
certain when this monk struck a little bell hidden under the desk before
him, and directed the office.

All the monks bowed to the altar; the abbot recited the opening prayers,
then there was a pause, and, from the other side of the apse, which
Durtal could not see, rose the frail voice of an old man, a voice which
had returned to the clear tones of childhood, but was just a little
cracked, growing higher as it declaimed the antiphon,

"Deus in adjutorium meum intende."

And the other side of the choir, that on which were Father Etienne and
the abbot, answered, scanning the syllables very slowly, with voices of
bass pitch,--

"Domine ad adjuvandum me festina."

And all bowed their heads over the folios placed before them, and took
up the words,--

"Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto."

And they lifted their heads while the other part of the Fathers
pronounced the response, "Sicut erat in principio, etc."

The office began.

It was not chanted but declaimed, now rapid and now slow. The side of
the choir which Durtal saw made all the vowels sharp and short letters;
the other, on the contrary, altered them all into long letters and
seemed to cap all the Os with a circumflex accent. It might be said that
one side had the pronunciation of the South, the other that of the
North; thus chanted, the office became strange, and ended by rocking
like an incantation, and soothing the soul which fell asleep in the
rolling of the verses, interrupted by the recurrent doxology like a
refrain after the last verse of each of the psalms.

"Ah well, I cannot understand it," thought Durtal, who had his Compline
at his fingers' ends, "they are not singing the Roman office at all."

The fact is that one of the psalms was wanting. He caught indeed, at one
moment, the hymn of Saint Ambrose, the "Te lucis ante terminum," sung to
a simple and rugged tune of the old plain chant, and yet the last stanza
was not the same; but he lost himself afresh, and waited for the "Short
Lessons" and the "Nunc Dimittis" which never came.

"Yet Compline does not vary like Vespers," he thought, "I must ask
Father Etienne the meaning of this to-morrow."

Then his reflections were disturbed by a young white monk, who passed
him, genuflected to the altar, and lighted two tapers.

Suddenly all rose, and with a great shout, the "Salve Regina" shook the
arches.

Durtal was affected as he listened to this admirable chant, which had
nothing in common with that which is bellowed at Paris in the churches.
This was at once flexible and ardent, sustained by such suppliant
adoration, that it seemed to concentrate in itself alone, the immemorial
hope of humanity, and its eternal lamentation.

Chanted without accompaniment, unsustained by the organ, by voices
indifferent to themselves and blending in one only, masculine and deep,
it rose with quiet boldness, sprang up with irresistible flight towards
Our Lady, then made, as it were, a return upon itself, and its
confidence was lessened; it advanced more tremblingly, but so different,
so humble, that it felt itself forgiven, and dared then in passionate
appeals to demand the undeserved pleasures of heaven.

It was the absolute triumph of the neumes, those repetitions of notes on
the same syllable, the same word, which the Church invented to paint the
excess of that interior joy or sorrow which words cannot render; it was
a rush, a going forth of the soul, escaping in the passionate voices,
breathed forth by the bodies of the monks as they stood and trembled.

Durtal followed in his prayer-book this work with so short a text, so
long a chant; and as he listened to, and read it with recollection, this
magnificent prayer seemed to decompose as a whole, and to represent
three different states of the soul, to exhibit the triple phase of
humanity, during its youth, its maturity, and its decline; it was, in a
word, an essential summary of prayer for all ages.

First, there was the canticle of exultation, the joyous welcome of a
being yet little, stammering forth respectful caresses, petting with
gentle words, and fondness of a child who seeks to coax his mother--this
is the "Salve Regina, Mater misericordiæ, vita, dulcedo et spes nostra,
salve." Then the soul so candid, so simply happy, has grown, and knowing
the wilful failings of thought, the repeated loss through sin, joins her
hands, and asks, sobbing, for help. She adores no longer with a smile,
but with tears; it is "Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Hevae; ad te
suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lachrymarum valle." At last old
age comes; the soul lies, tormented by the memory of counsels neglected,
by regret for lost graces; and having become weaker, and more full of
fears, is alarmed before her deliverance, before the destruction of that
prison of the flesh which she feels at hand, and then she thinks of the
eternal death of those whom the Judge condemns. On her knees she
implores the Advocatress of earth, the Consultrix of heaven; it is the
"Eia ergo Advocata nostra; illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos
converte; et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc
exilium ostende."

And to that essence of prayer composed by Peter of Compostella or
Hermann Contract, Saint Bernard, in an excess of hyperdulia, added the
three invocations at the end, "O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria,"
sealing the inimitable prose with a triple seal, by those three cries of
love which recall the hymn to the affectionate adoration of its
beginning.

"This is unprecedented," thought Durtal, as the Trappists chanted these
sweet and eager appeals; the neumes were prolonged on the Os, which
passed through all the colours of the soul, through the whole register
of sound; and these interjections summed up again, in the series of
notes which clothed them, the inventory of the human soul, which now
recapitulated the whole body of the hymn.

And suddenly at the word "Maria," at the glorious cry of that name, the
chant fell, the tapers were extinguished, the monks fell on their knees,
a silence like death came upon the chapel. The bells rang slowly, and
the Angelus unfolded under the arches the separated petals of its clear
sounds.

All, now prostrate, their faces buried in their hands, were praying, and
this lasted long; then the sound of the little hand-bell was heard,
everyone rose, genuflected to the altar, and in silent file the monks
disappeared through the door in the apse.

"Ah! the true creator of plain music, the unknown author who cast into
the brain of man the seed of plain chant, was the Holy Ghost," said
Durtal, sick and dazzled, with tears in his eyes.

M. Bruno, whom he had not noticed in the chapel, came and joined him.
They crossed the court without speaking, and when they had entered the
guest-house, M. Bruno lighted two candles, gave one to Durtal, and said
gravely, "I wish you a good night, sir."

Durtal went up the staircase behind him. They bowed again on the
landing, and Durtal entered his cell.

The wind blew under the door, and the room, scarcely lighted by the low
flame of the candle, seemed to him gloomy, the high ceiling vanished in
shadow, and rained down darkness.

Durtal sat down by his bed, discouraged.

And yet he was thrust forward by one of those impulses it is impossible
to translate into words, in which it seems that the heart swells almost
to bursting, and before his inability to get away and fly from self,
Durtal ended by becoming a child again, by weeping without definite
cause, simply from the need of relieving himself by tears.

He sank down at the prie-Dieu, expecting he knew not what, which never
came; then before the crucifix which stretched its arms above him, he
began to speak to Him, and to say to Him in low tones:

"Father, I have driven the swine from my being, but they have trampled
on me, and covered me with mire, and the very stye is in ruins. Have
pity on me, for I return from a distant land. Have mercy, O Lord, on the
swine-herd without a house. I have entered into Thy house; do not send
me away, be to me a kindly host, wash me."

"Ah," he said suddenly, "that reminds me that I have not seen Father
Etienne, who was to tell me the hour at which the confessor would
receive me to-morrow; he has no doubt forgotten to ask him; so much the
better. At any rate it will put it off for a day; my soul is so cramped
that I have indeed need of rest."

He undressed, sighing: "I must be up at half-past three to be in the
chapel at four: I have no time to lose if I wish to sleep. If only I
have no neuralgia to-morrow, and can wake before dawn!"



CHAPTER II.


He passed a most terrible night; it was so special, so dreadful, that he
did not remember, in the whole of his existence, to have endured such
anguish, undergone the like fears.

It was an uninterrupted succession of sudden wakings and of nightmares.

And these nightmares overpassed the limits of abomination that the most
dangerous madness dreams. They developed themselves in the realm of
lust; and they were so special, so new to him, that when he woke Durtal
remained trembling, almost crying out.

It was not at all that involuntary and well known act, that vision which
ceases just at the moment when the sleeper clasps an amorous form; it
was as and more complete than in nature, long and accomplished,
accompanied by all the preludes, all the details, all the sensations,
and the orgasm took place with a singularly painful acuteness, an
incredible spasm.

A strange fact, which seemed to point the difference between this state,
and the unconscious uncleanness of night, was, beyond certain episodes
and caresses which could only follow each other in reality, but were
united at the same moment in the dream, the sensation clear and precise
of a being, of a fluid form disappearing, with the sharp sound of a
percussion cap, or the crack of a whip close by, on waking. This being
was felt near him so distinctly, that the sheet, disarranged by the wind
of the flight, was still in motion, and he looked at the empty place in
terror.

"Ah," thought Durtal, when he had lighted his candle, "this carries me
back to the time when I used to visit Madame Chantelouve, and reminds
me of the stories of the Succubus."

He remained sitting up in bed, astonished, and looked with real
uneasiness round the cell steeped in shadow. He looked at his watch, it
was only eleven o'clock at night. "God," he said, "if the nights are
always like this in monasteries!"

He had recourse to bathing with cold water in order to recover himself,
opened his window to change the air, and lay down again, thoroughly
chilled.

He hesitated to blow out his candle, uneasy at the darkness which seemed
to him inhabited, full of ambushes and threats. He decided at last to
extinguish it, and repeated the stanza he had already heard sung that
evening in chapel:

    Procul recedant somnia
    Et noctium phantasmata,
    Hostemque nostrum comprime,
    Ne polluantur corpora.

He ended by falling asleep and dreamt again of impurity, but he came to
himself in time to break the charm, experiencing again the impression of
a shadow evaporating before he could seize it in the sheets. He looked
at his watch; it was two o'clock.

"If this goes on, I shall be broken down to-morrow," he thought, but he
succeeded somehow or other in dozing, and waking every ten minutes to
wait for three o'clock.

"If I fall asleep again, I shall not be able to wake at the moment I
wish," he thought, "suppose I get up."

He sprang out of bed, dressed, prayed, reduced his thoughts to order.

Real excesses would have exhausted him less than these sham freaks, but
what seemed to him especially odious was the want of satisfaction left
by the completed rape of these ghosts. Compared with their greedy
tricks, the caresses of a woman only diffused a temperate pleasure, and
ended in a feeble shock, but with this Succuba one remained in a fury at
having clasped only the void, at having been the dupe of a lie, the
plaything of an appearance, of which one could not remember the form or
the features. It necessarily brought with it the desire of the flesh,
the wish to clasp a real body, and Durtal began to think of Florence;
she at least quenched his desires, and did not leave him thus, panting
and feverish, in quest of he knew not what, in an atmosphere where he
was surrounded, spied upon by an unknown whom he could not discern, by a
phantom he could not escape.

Then Durtal shook himself, and would repulse the assault of these
memories. "At any rate I will go and breathe the fresh air, and smoke a
cigarette; we will see afterwards."

He descended the staircase, whose walls seemed not to keep their place,
and danced in the light of his candle, threaded the corridors, blew out
his light, placed the candlestick near the auditorium, and rushed out.

It was pitch dark; at the height of the first story a round window in
the wall of the chapel cut a hole through the darkness like a red moon.

Durtal took a few whiffs of a cigarette, and then made his way to the
chapel. He turned the latch of the door gently; the vestibule into which
he entered was dark, but the apse, though it was empty, was lighted by
numerous lamps.

He made a step, crossed himself, and fell back, for he had stumbled over
a body; and he looked down at his feet.

He had come upon a battle-field.

On the ground human forms were lying, in the attitudes of combatants
mowed down by grape shot, some flat on their faces, others on their
knees, some leaning their hands on the ground as if stricken from
behind, others extended with their fingers clenched on their breast,
others again holding their heads or stretching out their arms.

And from this group in their agony rose no groan, no complaint.

Durtal was stupefied as he looked at this massacre of monks, and
suddenly stopped with open mouth. A shaft of light fell from a lamp
which the Father Sacristan had just placed in the apse, and crossing the
porch, it showed a monk on his knees before the altar dedicated to the
Virgin.

He was an old man of more than four-score years; motionless as a statue,
his eyes fixed, leaning forward in such an access of adoration, that the
faces in ecstasy in the Early Masters seemed, compared with his, forced
and cold.

Yet his features were vulgar, his shaven skull, without a crown, tanned
by many suns and rains, was brick-coloured, his eye was dim, covered
with a film by age, his face was wrinkled, shrivelled, stained like an
old log, hidden in a thicket of white hair, while his somewhat snub nose
made the general effect of the face singularly common.

But there went out, not from his eyes, nor his mouth, but from
everywhere and nowhere, a kind of angelic look which was diffused over
his head, and enveloped all his poor body, bowed in its heap of rags.

In this old man the soul did not even give herself the trouble to reform
and ennoble his features, she contented herself in annihilating them
with her rays; it was, as it were, the nimbus of the old saints not now
remaining round the head, but extending over all the features, pale and
almost invisible, bathing his whole being.

He saw nothing and heard nothing; monks dragged themselves on their
knees, came to warm themselves, and to take shelter near him, and he
never moved, dumb and deaf, so rigid that you might have believed him
dead, had not his lower lip stirred now and then, lifting in this
movement his long beard.

The dawn whitened the windows, and as the darkness was gradually
dissipated, the other brethren were visible in turn to Durtal; all these
men, wounded by divine love, prayed ardently, flashed out beyond
themselves noiselessly before the altar. Some were quite young, on their
knees, with their bodies upright; others, their eyeballs in ecstasy,
were leaning back, and seated on their heels; others again were making
the way of the cross, and were often placed each opposite another face
to face, and they looked without seeing, as with the eyes of the blind.

And among these lay brethren, some fathers buried in their great white
cowls lay prostrate and kissed the ground.

"Oh to pray, pray like these monks!" cried Durtal within himself.

He felt his unhappy soul grow slack within him; in this atmosphere of
sanctity he unbent himself, and sank down on the pavement, humbly asking
pardon from Christ, for having soiled by his presence the purity of this
place.

He prayed long, unsealing himself for the first time, recognizing his
unworthiness and vileness so that he could not imagine how, in spite of
His mercy, the Lord could tolerate him in the little circle of His
elect; he examined himself, saw clearly, and avowed that he was inferior
to the least of these lay brothers who perhaps could not even spell out
a book, understood that the culture of the mind was naught and the
culture of the soul was all, and little by little, without perceiving
it, thinking only of stammering forth acts of gratitude, he disappeared
from the chapel, his soul borne up by the souls of others, away, away
from the world, far from his charnel-house, far from his body.

In this chapel, the impulse had come at last, the going forth from self,
till now refused, was at last permitted; he no longer strove with self
as in the time when he escaped with so great difficulty from his
prison-house, as at St. Severin or Notre Dame des Victoires.

Then he again realized this chapel, where his animal part had alone
remained, and he looked round him with astonishment; the greater part of
the brethren had gone, one father remained prostrate before Our Lady's
altar; he quitted it in his turn, and went back to the apse, as the
other fathers entered it.

Durtal looked at them; they were of all sizes and all kinds; one fat and
bald, with a long black beard and spectacles, some little fair and puffy
men, some very old, bristling with skin like a wild boar, others very
young, with a vague air of German dreaminess, with their eyes under
their glasses; and almost all except the very young had this feature in
common: a large belly, and cheeks with little red streaks.

Suddenly through the open door in the apse itself appeared the tall monk
who had conducted the office the evening before. He threw back on his
chasuble the woollen hood which covered his head, and assisted by two
white monks went up to the high altar to say mass.

And it was not one of those masses served as so many are cooked in
Paris, but a mass slow, meditated, and profound, a mass where the priest
takes long to consecrate, overwhelmed before the altar, and when he
elevated the Host no little bell tinkled, but the bells of the monastery
spread abroad their slow peal, brief dull strokes, almost plaintive,
while the Trappists disappeared; crouched on all-fours, their heads
hidden below their desks.

When the mass ended it was nearly six o'clock. Durtal took the same way
as the evening before, passed before the little chocolate factory, and
saw through the windows the fathers wrapping up the tablets in lead
paper, and in another room a tiny steam engine which a lay brother was
directing.

He reached the walk where he had smoked the cigarettes in the shade. So
gloomy at night, it was now charming with its two rows of aged limes
which rustled gently while the wind wafted to him their enervating
scent.

Seated on a bench, he could see at a glance the whole front of the
abbey.

Before it was a long kitchen garden, with here and there some rose trees
spread over the blueish basins and large balls of cabbages, and the old
house, built in the monumental style of the seventeenth century,
extended, solemn and immense, with eighteen windows in a row, and a
pediment, in the span of which was placed a mighty clock.

It was roofed with slate, and surmounted by a ring of small bells, and
was reached by a flight of several steps. It reached a height of at
least five stories, though it had in reality only a ground and a first
floor, but to judge by the unexpected height of the windows, the rooms
had to accommodate their ceilings to the vast altitude of the church; on
the whole the building was striking and cold, more apt, since it had
been converted into a convent, to shelter the disciples of Jansen, than
the sons of Saint Bernard.

The weather was warm that morning; the sun was filtered through the
moving sieve of foliage, and the daylight, thus screened, was changed to
rose colour as it touched the white. Durtal, who was about to read his
prayer-book, saw the pages growing red, and by the law of complementary
colours all the letters printed in black ink grew green.

He was amused by these details, and with his back to the warmth, he
brightened up in this aromatic breeze, rested in this bath of sunshine
from his fatigues of the night, when at the end of the walk he saw some
of the brothers. They walked in silence, some carrying under their arms
great round loaves, others holding milk cans, or baskets full of hay and
eggs; they passed before him, and bowed respectfully.

All had a joyous and serious aspect. "Ah, good fellows," he thought,
"for they helped me this morning, it is to them I owe it that I could
keep silence no longer, and was able to pray, to have at last known the
joy of supplication which at Paris was only a snare for me! to them, and
above all to Our Lady de l'Atre, who had pity on my poor soul."

He sprang from his bench in an access of joy, went into the lateral
walks, reached the piece of water he had partially seen the evening
before; in front of it rose the huge cross he had seen at a distance
from the carriage, in the wood, before he reached La Trappe.

It was placed opposite the monastery itself, and turned its back upon
the pond; it bore an eighteenth-century Christ, of natural size, in
white marble; the pond also took the form of a cross such as is shown on
the greater part of the plans of churches.

This brown and liquid cross was spotted by duckweed, which the swan
displaced as he swam.

He came towards Durtal, with extended beak, expecting, no doubt, a piece
of bread.

Not a sound arose in this deserted spot, save the rustle of dry leaves
which Durtal brushed as he walked. The clock struck seven.

He remembered that breakfast would be ready, and he walked quickly to
the abbey. Father Etienne was waiting for him, shook hands, asked if he
had slept well, then said:

"What would you like? I can only offer you milk and honey; I will send
to-day to the nearest village and try to get you a little cheese, but
you will have only a poor meal this morning."

Durtal proposed to exchange the milk for wine, declaring that he should
then do very well, and said, "In any case I should do ill to complain,
for you are fasting."

The monk smiled. "Just now," he said, "we are doing penance, on account
of certain feasts of our order." And he explained that he only took food
once a day, at two o'clock in the afternoon, after Nones.

"And you have not even wine and eggs to keep up your strength!"

Father Etienne smiled again. "One gets accustomed to it," he said. "What
is this rule in comparison with that adopted by Saint Bernard and his
companions, when they went to till the valley of Clairvaux? Their meal
consisted of oak leaves, salted, cooked in muddy water."

And after a silence the Father continued: "No doubt the Trappist rule is
hard, but it is mild if we carry our thoughts back to the rule of Saint
Pacomius in the East. Only think; whoever wished to join that order had
to remain ten days and nights at the door of the convent, and had to
endure spitting and insults; if he still desired to enter, he fulfilled
a three years' novitiate, inhabited a hut where he could not stand up,
nor lie at full length, ate only olives and cabbage, prayed twelve times
in the morning, twelve times in the afternoon, twelve times in the
night; the silence was perpetual, and his mortifications never ceased.
To prepare himself for this novitiate, and to learn to subdue his
appetite, Saint Macarius thought of the plan of soaking his bread in a
vessel with a very narrow neck, and only fed on the crumbs which he
could take out with his fingers. When he was admitted into the
monastery, he contented himself with gnawing leaves of raw cabbage on
Sunday. Ah! they could stand more than we. We, alas! have no longer
souls nor bodies stout enough to bear such fasts; but do not let that
stop your meal; make as good an one as you can. Ah, by the way," said
the monk, "be in the auditorium at ten precisely, where the Father Prior
will hear your confession."

And he left the room.

If Durtal had received a blow on his head with a mallet, he could not
have been more overwhelmed. All the scaffolding of his joys, so rapidly
run up, fell. This strange fact had occurred, in the impulse of joy he
had felt since daybreak he had wholly forgotten that he had to confess.
He had a moment of aberration. "But I am forgiven," he thought; "the
proof is that state of happiness, such as I have never known, that truly
wonderful expansion of soul which I experienced in the chapel and in the
wood."

The idea that nothing had begun, that all was still to do, terrified
him; he had not the courage to swallow his bread, he drank a little
wine, and rushed out of doors in a wind of panic.

He went, wildly, with great strides. Confession! The prior? Who was the
prior? He sought in vain among the fathers whose faces he remembered the
one who would hear him.

"My God!" he said, all at once, "but I do not even know how a confession
is made."

He sought a deserted corner, where he could recollect himself a little.
He was striding along without even knowing how he came there, along a
walnut-tree walk with a wall on one side. There were some enormous
trees, he hid himself behind the trunk of one of them, and sitting on
the moss, turned over the leaves of his prayer-book, and read: "On
arriving at the confessional, place yourself on your knees, make the
sign of the cross, and ask the priest for his blessing, saying, 'Bless
me, Father, for I have sinned;' then recite the Confiteor as far as _mea
culpa_ ... and ..."

He stopped, and without any need of probing it his life sprang out in
jets of filth.

He shrank from it, there was so much, of every kind, that he was
overwhelmed with despair.

Then by an effort of his will he pulled himself together, endeavoured to
control and bank up these torrents, to separate them so as to understand
them, but one affluent rolled back all the others, ended by overwhelming
them, and became the river itself.

And this sin appeared at first ape-like and sly, at school where
everyone tempted and corrupted others; then there was all his greedy
youth, dragged through tap-rooms, rolled in swine troughs, wallowing in
the sinks of prostitution, and then an ignoble manhood. To his regular
tasks had succeeded toll paid to his senses, and shameful memories
assailed him in a crowd; he recalled to mind how he had sought after
monstrous iniquities, his pursuit of artifices aggravating the malice of
the act, and the accomplices and agents of his sins passed in file
before him.

Among all, at one time, there was a certain Mme. Chantelouve, a
demoniacal adulteress who had drawn him headlong into frightful
excesses, who had linked him to nameless crimes, sins against holy
things, to sacrileges.

"How can I tell all this to the monk?" thought Durtal, terrified by the
remembrance; "how can I even express myself, so as to make him
understand without defilement?"

Tears rushed from his eyes. "My God, my God!" he sighed, "this is indeed
too much."

And in her turn Florence appeared with her little street-arab smile, and
her childish haunches. "I can never tell the confessor all that was
brewed in the perfumed shade of her vices," cried Durtal. "I can by no
means make him face these torrents of pus.

"Yet they say this has to be done;" and he bowed under the weight of the
foulness of this girl.

"How shameful to have been riveted to her, how disgusting to have
satisfied the abominable demands of her desires!"

Behind this sewer extended others. He had traversed all the districts of
sin which the prayer-book patiently enumerated. He had never confessed
since his first communion, and with the piling up of years had come
successive deposits of sins. He grew pale at the thought that he was
about to detail to another man all his dirt, to acknowledge his most
secret thoughts, to say to him what one dares not repeat to one's own
self, lest one should despise oneself too much.

He sweated with anguish, then nausea at his being, remorse for his life
solaced him, and he gave himself up; regret for having lived so long in
this cesspool was a very crucifixion to him; he wept long, doubting
pardon, not even daring to ask it, so vile did he feel himself.

At last he sprang up; the hour of expiation must be at hand, in fact his
watch pointed to a quarter to ten. His agony as he thus wrought with
himself had lasted more than two hours.

He hurriedly reached the main path which led to the monastery. He walked
with his head down, forcing back his tears.

He slackened his pace somewhat as he drew near the little pond; he
lifted his eyes in supplication to the cross, and as he lowered them he
met a look so moved, so compassionate, so gentle, that he stopped, and
the look disappeared with the bow of a lay brother, who passed on his
way.

"He read my thoughts," said Durtal to himself. "Oh, this charitable monk
has good reason to pity me, for indeed I suffer. Ah, Lord, that I might
be like that humble brother!" he cried, remembering that he had seen
that very morning the young tall lad, praying in the chapel with such
fervour that he seemed to rise from the ground, before Our Lady.

He arrived at the auditorium in a frightful state, and sank on a chair;
then, like a hunted animal that thinks itself discovered, he sprang up,
and, disturbed by his fears, moved by a wind of disorder, he thought of
flight, that he would pack his bag, and make for the train.

He mastered himself, undecided and trembling, his ear on the watch, his
heart beating with great strokes, and he heard the sound of distant
steps. "My God," he said, waiting for the steps that drew near, "what
manner of monk is coming?"

The steps were silent, and the door opened. Durtal in his alarm dared
not look at the confessor, in whom he recognized the tall Trappist, with
the imperious profile, whom he believed to be the abbot of the
monastery.

His breath was taken away, and he drew back without saying a word.

Surprised at this silence, the prior said,--

"You have asked to make your confession, sir?"

And at a sign from Durtal, he pointed out the prie-Dieu placed against
the wall, and himself knelt down, turning his back.

Durtal braced himself, fell down at the prie-Dieu, and then completely
lost his head. He had vaguely prepared how to enter on the matter, noted
the points of his statement, classified his sins in some degree, and now
remembered nothing.

The monk rose, sat down on a straw chair, leant towards the penitent,
his hand behind his ear to hear the better.

He waited.

Durtal wished rather to die than speak; he succeeded, however, in
mastering himself, and bridling his shame; he opened his lips, but no
word came; he remained overwhelmed, his head in his hands, repressing
the tears he felt ready to fall.

The monk did not move.

At last he made a desperate effort, stammered the beginning of the
Confiteor, and said,

"I have not confessed, since my childhood; since then I have led a
shameful life, I have ..."

The words would not come.

The Trappist remained silent, and did not assist him at all.

"I have committed every kind of debauch, I have done everything ...
everything ..."

He choked, and the tears he had repressed flowed, he wept, his body was
shaken, his face hidden in his hands.

And as the prior, still bending over him, did not move,

"But I cannot," he cried; "I cannot."

All that life he could not bring out, stifled him; he sobbed in despair
at the view of his sins, and crushed also at finding himself thus
abandoned, without a word of kindness, without help. It seemed to him
that all was giving way, that he was lost, repulsed even by Him who yet
had directed him to this abbey.

Then a hand was laid on his shoulder, while a gentle, low voice said,

"Your soul is too tired for me to fatigue you with questions, come back
at nine o'clock to-morrow, we shall have time before us, we shall not
then be hurried by any office; from now till then, think of the story of
Calvary; the cross, which was made for the sins of the whole world, lay
so heavily on the shoulders of the Saviour, that His knees bent and He
fell. A man of Cyrene passed by who helped the Lord to bear it. You, in
detesting, in weeping for your sins, have alleviated and rendered
lighter, if one may say so, the cross of the burthen of your sins, and
having made it less heavy, have thus allowed Our Lord to lift it.

"He has recompensed you by the most astonishing of miracles, the miracle
of having brought you here from so far off. Thank Him, then, with all
your heart, and be not discomforted. You will say to-day for your
penance, the Penitential Psalms, and the Litany of the Saints. I will
give you my blessing."

And the prior blessed him and went out. Durtal raised himself up after
his tears; what he feared so much had happened; the monk who would take
him in hand was impassive, almost dumb. "Alas!" he thought, "my
abscesses are ripe, but it needs the cut of a lancet to open them."

"After all," he went on, as he went upstairs to bathe his eyes in his
cell, "this Trappist was compassionate at last, not so much in what he
said, as the tone in which he said it; then, to be just, he was perhaps
confused by my tears; the Abbé Gévresin certainly did not tell Father
Etienne that I was taking refuge in La Trappe in order to be converted,
let us put ourselves in the place of a man living in God, far from the
world, over whose head a shower bath is suddenly discharged.

"Well, we shall see to-morrow;" and Durtal made haste to sponge his
face, for it was nearly eleven o'clock and the office of Sext was about
to begin.

He went to the chapel, which was almost empty, for the brothers were
working at that time in the chocolate factory, and in the fields.

The fathers were in their places in the apse. The prior struck his bell,
all signed themselves with a large cross, and on the left, where he
could not see, for Durtal had taken the same place as in the morning,
near Saint Joseph's altar, a voice arose:

"Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum."

And the other part of the choir answered:

"Et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus."

There was a moment's pause, and the pure thin voice of the old Trappist
sang as before the office of Compline the evening before:

"Deus in adjutorium meum intende."

And the liturgy continued its course, with its "Gloria Patri," etc.,
during which the monks bowed their foreheads on their books, and with
its series of psalms, accented in short tones on the one side, and long
on the other.

Durtal, as he knelt, allowed himself to be rocked by the psalmody, too
tired to be able to pray himself.

Then, when Sext was ended, all the fathers meditated, and Durtal caught
a look of pity from the prior, who turned a little towards his bench. He
understood that the monk implored the Saviour for him, and perhaps asked
God to show him the way in which he might conduct himself on the morrow.

Durtal rejoined M. Bruno in the court; they shook hands, and the oblate
announced the presence of a new guest.

"A retreatant?"

"No; a curate from the neighbourhood of Lyons, he has come to see the
abbot, who is ill."

"But I thought the abbot of Notre Dame de l'Atre was the tall monk who
led the office?"

"Oh no; that was the prior Father Maximin, you have not seen the abbot,
and I doubt if you will see him, for I do not think he will leave his
bed before you go."

They reached the guest-house, and found Father Etienne making excuses to
a short fat priest for the poor fare he could offer.

He was a jovial priest, with strong features moulded in yellow fat.

He joked M. Bruno, whom he seemed to have known some time, on the sin of
gluttony which must so often be committed at La Trappe, then tasted,
pretending a chuckle of delight, the scentless bouquet of the poor wine
he poured out, and lastly, when he divided with a spoon the omelette
which was the main dish of their dinner, he pretended to cut up a fowl,
and to be delighted with the fine appearance of the flesh; saying to
Durtal, "This is a barley-fed fowl, may I offer you a wing?"

This kind of pleasantry exasperated Durtal, who had no wish to laugh
that day; he therefore was satisfied to make a vague bow, wishing to
himself that the end of dinner was at hand.

The conversation continued between the priest and M. Bruno.

After it had spread over various commonplaces, it took a more definite
form, in regard to an invisible otter which plundered the abbey ponds.

"But, no doubt," said the curate, "you have found its lair?"

"Never; it is easy to see in the lain grass the paths it traverses to
get to the water, but we always lose its traces at the same spot. We
have watched for days with Father Etienne, but it has never shown
itself."

The abbé explained various traps which might be set with advantage.
Durtal thought of the otter-hunt which Balzac tells so pleasantly at the
beginning of his "Paysans," when the dinner came to an end.

The curate said grace, and said to M. Bruno, "Suppose we take a turn;
the fresh air will do instead of the coffee, which they forget to give
us."

Durtal returned to his cell.

He felt himself emptied, injured, cheated, reduced to a state of fibre,
a state of pulp. His body, crushed by the nightmares of the night,
enervated by the scene of the morning, needed entire rest, and if his
soul had not still that infatuation which had broken it in tears at the
monk's feet, it was sad and restless, and it also asked for silence,
repose, and sleep.

"Let us see," said Durtal, "I must not give way, let me bestir myself."

He read the Penitential Psalms and the Litanies of the Saints; then he
hesitated between two volumes of Saint Bonaventure and Saint Angela.

He decided on the Blessed Angela. She had sinned and had been converted,
and she seemed less far from him, more intelligible, more helpful than
the Seraphic Doctor, than a Saint who had always remained pure,
sheltered from falls. For she too had been a carnal sinner; she too had
reached the Saviour from afar.

A married woman, she lived in adultery and shame; lovers succeeded one
another, and when she had exhausted them she threw them aside like
husks. Suddenly grace rose in her and made her soul break forth; she
went to confession, not daring to avow the more awful of her sins, and
she communicated, thus grafting sacrilege upon her other faults.

She lived, day and night tortured by remorse, and finally prayed to
Saint Francis of Assisi to help her; and the next night the saint
appeared to her. "My sister," he said, "if you had called on me sooner,
I should have granted your prayer before this." The next day she went to
church, heard a priest preaching, understood she must address herself to
him, and laid all before him in a full confession.

Then began the trials of an appalling life of purification. In blow
after blow she lost her mother, her husband, her children; she went
through such violent temptations to impurity that she was obliged to
seize on lighted coals and cauterize the plague of her senses with fire.

During two years the demon sifted her. She parted her goods among the
poor, assumed the habit of the Third Order of Saint Francis, gathered in
the sick and infirm, and begged for them in the streets.

One day a feeling of sickness came over her before a leper whose sores
were stinking. To punish herself she drank the water in which she had
washed the sores; she was overcome with nausea; and punished herself
yet more by forcing herself to swallow a scab which had not gone down
with the water and remained dry in her throat.

For years she dressed ulcers and meditated on the Passion of Christ.
Then her novitiate of sorrows drew to a close and a radiant day of
visions dawned on her. Jesus treated her as a spoilt child, called her,
"My sweetest, my well-beloved daughter;" He dispensed her from the
necessity of eating, and nourished her only with the Sacred Species; He
called her, drew her, absorbed her in uncreated light, and by
anticipating her inheritance, enabled her to understand, in life, the
joys of heaven.

And she was so simple and timid that she feared in spite of all, for the
memory of her sins alarmed her. She could not believe herself forgiven,
and said to Christ; "Ah, if I could but put myself in an iron collar and
drag myself to the market-place to proclaim my shame."

And He consoled her: "Be easy, My daughter, My sufferings have atoned
for your sins;" and as she reproached herself for having lived in
opulence and having delighted in clothes and jewels, He addressed her,
smiling: "To buy you riches, I have wanted for everything; you required
a great number of clothes, and I had but one garment of which the
soldiers stripped Me, for which they drew lots; My nakedness was the
expiation of your vanity in ornaments."

And all her conversations with Christ were in this tone. He passed His
time in comforting this humble creature whom His benefits overwhelmed;
and this has made her the most loving of the saints! her work is a
succession of spiritual outpourings and caresses; her book is such a
living hearth that beside it the volumes of other mystics seem but dull
coal.

"Ah," said Durtal to himself, in turning over these pages, "it was
indeed the Christ of Saint Francis, the God of mercy who spoke to this
Franciscan!" and he went on: "that ought to give me courage, for Angela
of Foligno was as great a sinner as I am, but all her sins were
remitted! Yes, but then what a soul she had, while mine is good for
nothing; instead of loving, I reason; nevertheless it is right to
remember that the conditions of the Blessed Angela were more favourable
than mine. Living in the thirteenth century she had a shorter journey
to make to approach God, for since the Middle Ages, each century takes
us further from Him! she lived in a time full of miracles, which
overflowed with Saints. For me, I live in Paris in an age when miracles
are rare and Saints scarcely abound. And once away from here, what a
vista is before me of falling away, of soaking myself in a stew of
infamy, in a bath of the sins of great cities."

"By the way" ... he looked at his watch and started; it was two
o'clock--"I have missed the office of Nones," he said; "I must simplify
my complicated horary, or I shall never know where I am;" and at once he
traced in a few lines:

"Morning. Rise at 3 o'clock, or rather at 3.30. Breakfast at 7--Sext at
11, dinner at 11.30--Nones at 1.30--Vespers at 5.15--Supper at 6, and
Compline at 7.25."

"There, at least that is clear and easy to remember--If only Father
Etienne have not noticed my absence from chapel!"

He left his room. "Ah, here is the famous rule," he said to himself, on
seeing a framed table hung on the landing.

He approached and read:--

      "Rule for Visitors."

It was composed of numerous paragraphs, and opened as follows:--

     "Those whom Divine Providence has guided to this monastery are
     requested to note the following:--

     "They will at all times avoid meeting the religious and lay
     brothers, and will not go near their places of work.

     "They are forbidden to leave the cloister for the farm or the
     neighbourhood of the monastery."

Then came a series of instructions which he had already seen on the
printed horary.

Durtal skipped several paragraphs, and read again:--

     "Visitors are requested not to write anything on the doors, not to
     strike matches on the wall, and not to spill water on the floor.

     "They are not allowed to visit each other's rooms or to speak to
     one another.

     "Smoking is not allowed in the house."

"Nor indeed outside," thought Durtal. "But I want a cigarette badly;"
and he went down.

In the corridor he ran against Father Etienne, who immediately observed
that he had not seen him in his place during the office. Durtal excused
himself as well as he could. The monk said no more, but Durtal
understood that he was observed, and that under his childlike aspect the
guest-master would, where discipline was concerned, hold him in an iron
grip. He was confirmed in this impression when at Vespers he noticed
that the monk's first glance on entering the chapel was at him, but that
day he felt so sore and broken that he cared but little. This sudden
change of existence, and of the manner in which he had been accustomed
to spend his time, astounded him, and since the crisis of the morning he
had been in a kind of torpor which took from him all power of recovery.
He drifted to the end of the day, no longer thinking of anything,
sleeping as he stood, and when the evening came he fell on his bed a
mere inert mass.



CHAPTER III.


He woke with a bound at eleven o'clock, with an impression of someone
looking at him in his sleep. Lighting a match, he ascertained the time,
and seeing no one, fell back in bed again, and slept at a stretch till
four o'clock. Then he dressed himself in haste and ran to the church.

The vestibule, which had been dark on the previous evening, was lit up
that morning, for an old monk was celebrating mass at the altar of St.
Joseph. He was bald and infirm, with a white beard waving from side to
side in long threads with every gust of wind.

A lay brother was assisting him, a small man with black hair and a
shaven head, like a ball painted blue; he looked like a bandit, with his
beard in disorder and his worn-out robe of felt.

And the eyes of this bandit were gentle and startled like those of a
little boy. He served the priest with an almost timid respect and a
suppressed joy which was touching to see.

Others, kneeling on the flagstones, prayed with concentrated attention
or read their mass. Durtal noticed the old man of eighty, immovable with
outstretched face and closed eyes; and the youth whose look of pity had
helped him near the pond, was following the office in his prayer-book
with attentive meditation. He looked about twenty years old, tall and
strong; his face, with an air of fatigue, was at once masculine and
tender, with emaciated features, and a light beard which fell over his
habit in a point.

Durtal gave way to his emotions in this chapel, where everyone did a
little to help him, and thinking of the confession he was about to make,
he implored the Saviour to help him, and prayed that the monk would
completely explore his soul.

And he felt himself less dismayed, more master of himself, and firmer.
He collected and pulled himself together, feeling a melancholy
confusion, but he had no longer the sense of desolation which had
overcome him the evening before. He set his mind on the idea that he
would not abandon himself, that he would help himself with all his
might, and that in any case he could not collect himself better.

These reflections were interrupted by the departure of the old Trappist,
who had finished offering the sacrifice, and by the entry of the prior,
who went up in the rotunda between two white fathers to say mass at the
high altar.

Durtal was absorbed in his prayer-book, but he ceased reading when the
priest had consumed the Species, for all rose, and he was amazed at a
sight of which he had never dreamed, a communion of monks.

They advanced in single file, silent and with downcast eyes, and when
the first arrived before the altar, he turned round to embrace the
comrade who followed; he in turn took in his arms the religious who
followed him, and so on to the last. All, before receiving the
Eucharist, exchanged the kiss of peace, then they knelt, communicated,
and came back in single file, turning into the rotunda behind the altar.

And the return was unexpected; with the white fathers at the head of the
line, they made their way very slowly with closed eyes and joined hands.
The faces seemed to be somewhat altered; they were differently lit from
within; it seemed that the soul, driven by the power of the Sacrament
against the sides of the body, filtered through the pores and lit up the
skin with a special light of joy, with that kind of brightness which
pours from white souls, and makes way like a rose-coloured vapour along
the cheeks, and shines, as if concentrated, on the brow.

Watching the mechanical and hesitating gait of these monks, it seemed as
if their bodies were no more than automata moving from habit, and that
the souls, being elsewhere, gave no heed to them.

Durtal recognized the old lay brother, bent so much that his face
disappeared in his beard which pressed against his chest, and his two
great knotty hands trembled as he clasped them; he also noticed the tall
young brother, his features seeming drawn on a dissolved surface,
gliding with short steps, his eyes closed.

By a fatal chance he thought upon himself. He was the only one who did
not communicate, for he saw M. Bruno coming last from behind the altar
and returning to his place with folded arms. This exclusion brought home
to him clearly how different he was, and how far apart, from those
around him! All were admitted, and he alone remained outside. His
unworthiness was more apparent, and he grew sad at being put aside,
looked on, as he deserved to be, as a stranger, separated like the goat
of the Scriptures, penned, far from the sheep, on the left of Christ.

These reflections were of use to him, for they relieved him of the
terror of confession which was again coming over him. This act seemed to
him so natural and just, in his necessary humiliation and unavoidable
suffering, that a desire came over him to accomplish it at once, so that
he might appear in this chapel purified and washed, and with at least
some resemblance to the others.

When the mass was over, he made his way towards his cell to get a tablet
of chocolate.

At the top of the stairs M. Bruno, with a large apron round him, was
getting ready to clean the steps.

Durtal looked on him with surprise. The oblate smiled and shook hands
with him.

"This is an excellent task for the soul," he said, showing his broom;
"it recalls modest sentiments which one is too inclined to forget after
living in the world."

And he began sweeping vigorously, and collecting into a pan the dust
which like pepper filled every crevice in the floor.

Durtal carried his tablet into the garden. "Let us consider," he said to
himself as he nibbled it; "supposing I took another walk and tried an
unknown part of the wood?" And he felt no wish to do so. "No, placed as
I am, I would rather haunt the same spot and not leave the places to
which I am accustomed; I am already so little under control, and so
easily disturbed, that I do not wish to risk anything by curiosity to
see new places." And he went down to the cross pond. He went along the
banks, and having reached the end, was astonished to find, a few steps
farther, a stream spotted with green pellicules, hollowing its way
between two hedges which fenced in the monastery. The fields stretched
out beyond, and the roofs of a large farmhouse were visible in the
trees, and all round the horizon on hills were forests which seemed to
stop the way before the sky.

"I imagined the grounds were larger," he said to himself, retracing his
steps; and having reached the end of the cross pond, he gazed on the
huge wooden crucifix reared in the air which was reflected in that black
mirror. It sank down, seen from behind, trembling in the small waves
stirred up by the breeze, and seemed to fall whirling round in that
stretch of ink. And as the body of the marble Christ was hidden by the
wood, only the two white arms which hung below the tree could be seen,
twisted in the blackness of the water.

Seated on the grass, Durtal gazed on the hazy image of the recumbent
cross, and thinking of his soul, which, like the pond, was tanned and
stained by a bed of dead leaves and a dunghill of sins, he pitied the
Saviour whom he was about to invite to bathe Himself there, for it would
no longer be the Martyr of Golgotha to whom at all events death came on
a hill, His head high, by daylight, in the open air! but it would be by
an increase of outrages, the abominable plunging of the crucified body,
the head low, by night, into a depth of mud.

"Ah! it would be time to spare Him, in filtering and clarifying me," he
cried to himself. And the swan, till then motionless in an arm of the
pond, swept over the lamentable image in advancing, and whitened the
moving mourning of the waters with its peaceful reflection.

And Durtal thought of the absolution which he would perhaps obtain, and
he reopened his prayer-book and numbered his faults; and, slowly, as on
the day before, he tapped, in his innermost being, a fountain of tears.

"I must control myself," he said, trembling at the idea that he would
suffocate again and be unable to speak; and he resolved to begin his
confession at the other end, first going over the minor sins, keeping
the great ones for the end so as to finish with the avowal of his carnal
misdeeds: "if I succumb then I can explain myself in two words. My God!
may the prior only not remain silent as he did yesterday, may he only
absolve me!"

He shook off his sadness, left the pond, and returning to the lime
avenue, he interested himself in a closer inspection of the trees. They
raised huge trunks, covered with reddish-brown stonecrop, silvered grey
by mosses; and several that morning were wrapped as in a mantle trimmed
with pearls, gossamer threads studded with drops of dew.

He sat down on a bench, but fearing a shower, for it looked threatening,
he retired to his cell.

He felt no desire to read; he was eager for, while yet he dreaded, the
arrival of nine o'clock, to have done with, to get rid of the weight
upon his soul, and he prayed mechanically, without knowing what he
mumbled, always thinking on this confession, full of alarm and harassed
with fears.

He went down a little before the time, and when he entered the
auditorium his heart failed him.

In spite of himself, his eyes were fixed upon the prie-Dieu, where he
had suffered so cruelly.

To think that he had to put himself on that hurdle again, to stretch
himself on that rack of torture! He tried to collect himself, to compose
himself--and he drew himself up quickly; he heard the footsteps of the
monk. The door opened, and, for the first time, Durtal dared to look the
prior in the face; it seemed to be hardly the same man, nor the face, he
had noticed from a distance; the profile was so haughty, and the full
face so sweet; the eye dulled the proud energy of the features, an eye
familiar and deep, when at the same time there was a quiet joy and a sad
pity.

"Come," he said, "do not be disturbed, you are about to speak to our
Saviour alone, who knows all your faults." And he knelt down and prayed
for some time and came, as on the day before, to sit by the prie-Dieu;
he bent towards Durtal and listened.

Somewhat reassured, the penitent began without too great anguish. He
accused himself of faults common to all men, want of charity towards his
neighbour, evil speaking, hate, rash judgment, abuse, lies, vanity,
anger, etc.

The monk interrupted him for a moment.

"You said, just now, I think, that in your youth you contracted debts;
have you paid them?"

And on an affirmative sign from Durtal, he said, "Good," and went on,

"Have you belonged to any secret society? have you fought a duel?--I am
obliged to ask these questions for they are reserved cases."

"No?--Good"--and he was silent.

"Before God, I accuse myself of everything," resumed Durtal; "as I
confessed to you, yesterday, since my first communion I have given up
everything; prayers, mass, everything; I have denied God, I have
blasphemed, I had entirely lost faith."

And Durtal stopped.

He was reaching the sins of the flesh. His voice fell.

"Here I do not know how to explain myself," he said, keeping back his
tears.

"Let us see," the monk said gently; "you told me yesterday that you had
committed all those acts which are comprised in the sin of lust."

"Yes, father;" and trembling, he added, "Must I go into the details?"

"No, it is useless. I will confine myself to asking you, for it alters
the nature of the sin, whether in your case there have been any private
sins, or any sins committed between persons of the same sex?"

"Not since I left school."

"Have you committed adultery?"

"Yes."

"Am I to understand that in your relations with women, you have
committed every possible excess?"

Durtal made an affirmative sign.

"That is sufficient."

And the monk was silent.

Durtal choked with disgust; the avowal of these horrors was a terrible
effort to him; yet crushed as he was by shame, he was beginning to
breathe, when suddenly he plunged his head again in his hands.

The remembrance of the sacrilege in which Madame Chantelouve had made
him share, came back to him.

Hesitatingly he confessed that he had from curiosity assisted at a black
mass, and that afterwards, without wishing it, he had defiled a Host
which that woman, saturated with Satanism, concealed about her.

The prior listened without moving.

"Did you continue your visits to that woman?"

"No; that had given me a horror of her."

The Trappist reflected and said,

"That is all?"

"I think I have confessed everything," replied Durtal.

The confessor was silent for some minutes, and then in a pensive voice,
he murmured,

"I am struck, even more than yesterday, by the astonishing miracle which
Heaven has worked in you.

"You were sick, so sick that what Martha said of the body of Lazarus
might truly have been said of your soul, 'Iam foetet!' And Christ has,
in some manner, raised you. Only do not deceive yourself, the conversion
of a sinner is not his cure, but only his convalescence; and this
convalescence sometimes lasts for several years and is often long.

"It is expedient that you should determine from this moment to fortify
yourself against any falling back, and to do all in your power for
recovery. The preventive treatment consists of prayer, the sacrament of
penance, and holy communion.

"Prayer?--you know it, for without much prayer you could not have
decided to come here after the troubled life you had led."

"Ah! but I prayed so badly!"

"It does not matter, as your wish was to pray well! Confession?--It was
painful to you; it will be less so now that you no longer have to avow
the accumulated sins of years. The communion troubles me more; for it is
to be feared that when you have triumphed over the flesh the Demon
should await you there, and endeavour to draw you away, for he knows
well that, without this divine government, no healing is possible. You
will therefore have to give this matter all your attention."

The monk reflected a minute, and then went on,

"The holy Eucharist ... you will have more need of it than others, for
you will be more unhappy than less cultured and simpler beings. You will
be tortured by the imagination. It has made you sin much; and, by a just
recompense, it will make you suffer much; it will be the badly closed
door of your soul by which the Demon will enter and spread himself in
you. Watch over this, and pray fervently that the Saviour may help you.
Tell me, have you a rosary?"

"No, father."

"I feel," said the monk, "that the tone in which you said 'No' shows a
certain hostility to the rosary."

"I admit that this mechanical manner of saying prayers wearies me a
little; I do not know why, but it seems to me that at the end of some
seconds I can no longer think of what I am saying; I should mock, and
should certainly end by stammering out something stupid."

"You have known," quietly answered the prior, "some fathers of families.
Their children stammer forth caresses, and tell them no matter what, and
yet they are delighted to listen! Why should not our Lord, who is a good
Father, love to hear His children when they drawl, or even when they
talk nonsense?"

And after a pause he went on,

"I scent the devil's artifice in what you say, for the highest graces
are attached to this crown of prayers. The most Blessed Virgin herself
revealed to the saints this means of prayer; she declared she delighted
in it; that should be enough to make us love it.

"Do it, then, for her who has powerfully assisted in your conversion,
who has interceded with her Son to save you. Remember, also, that God
wished that all graces should come to us through her. St. Bernard
expressly declares 'Totum nos habere voluit per Mariam.'"

The monk paused anew, and added,

"However, the rosary enrages fools, and that is a sure sign. You will
for a penance recite ten every day for a month."

He ceased, and then went on again, slowly,

"All of us, alas! retain that scar of original sin which is the
inclination towards evil; each man encourages it more or less; as for
you, since you grew up, the scar has been always open, but as you hate
the wound God will close it.

"So I will say nothing of your past, as your repentance and your firm
resolve to sin no more efface it. To-morrow, you will receive the pledge
of reconciliation, you will communicate; after so many years the Lord
will set out on the way to your soul and will rest there; approach Him
with great humility, and prepare yourself from this moment, by prayer,
for this mysterious meeting of hearts which His goodness desires. Now
say your act of contrition and I will give you holy absolution."

The monk raised his arms, and the sleeves of his white cowl rose above
him like two wings. With uplifted eyes he uttered the imperious formula
which breaks the bonds, and the three words, "Ego te absolvo," spoken
more distinctly and slowly, fell upon Durtal, who trembled from head to
foot. He almost sank to the ground, incapable of collecting himself or
understanding himself, only feeling, in the clearest manner, that Christ
Himself was present, near him in that place, and finding no word of
thanks, he wept, ravished and bowed down under the great sign of the
cross with which the monk enveloped him.

He seemed to be waking from a dream as the prior said to him,

"Rejoice, your life is dead; it is buried in a cloister, and in a
cloister it will be born again; it is a good omen; have confidence in
our Lord and go in peace."

And the father added, pressing his hand, "Do not be afraid of disturbing
me, I am entirely at your service, not only for confession, but for
interviews and for any advice which may be of use to you; you quite
understand me?"

They left the auditorium together; the monk bowed to him in the corridor
and disappeared. Durtal hesitated whether to meditate in his cell or in
the church, when M. Bruno met him. Approaching Durtal he said,

"Well? that is a fine weight the less on your stomach!"

And as Durtal looked at him in astonishment he laughed.

"Do you think that an old sinner like me could not tell from a thousand
nothings, if only from the way your poor eyes are now shining, that you
had not been reconciled when you landed here? Now I have just met the
reverend father returning to the cloister, and I find you coming out of
the auditorium; there is no need to be particularly sly to guess that
the great wash has just taken place."

"But," said Durtal, "you could not have seen the prior with me, for he
had left before you came in, and he might have been performing some
other duty."

"No, for he was not in his scapular; he had his cowl on. And as he
never puts on that robe except to go to church or at confessions, I was
quite certain that he came from the auditorium, as there is no office at
this hour. I may also point out that as the Trappists do not come to
confession in this room, two persons only could have been with him, you
or I."

"You may say as much," replied Durtal, laughing.

Father Etienne met them in the midst of all this, and Durtal asked him
for a rosary.

"But I have not one," exclaimed the monk.

"I have several," said M. Bruno, "and shall be most happy to offer you
one. You will allow me, father?..."

The monk acquiesced by a sign.

"Then if you will come with me," replied the oblate, addressing Durtal,
"I will hand it you without delay."

They went upstairs together, and Durtal then learnt that M. Bruno lived
in a room at the bottom of a small corridor, not far from his own.

His cell was very simply furnished with old middle-class furniture, a
bed, a mahogany bureau, a large book-case full of ascetic books, an
earthenware stove and some arm-chairs. These articles were evidently the
property of the oblate, for they were nothing like the furniture of La
Trappe.

"Pray be seated," said M. Bruno, indicating an arm-chair; and they
conversed.

Having first discussed the Sacrament of Penance, the talk came round to
the subject of Father Maximin, and Durtal admitted the high bearing of
the prior had terrified him at first.

M. Bruno laughed. "Yes," he said, "he produces that effect on those who
never come near him, but when one associates with him, one finds that he
is only strict for himself, for no one is more indulgent to others. In
every acceptation of the term he is a true and holy monk; besides, he
has great judgment...."

And as Durtal spoke to him of the other cenobites, and wondered that
there were some quite young men among them, M. Bruno replied,

"It is a mistake to suppose that most Trappists have lived in the world.
The idea, so widespread, that people take refuge in La Trappe after long
sorrows or disorderly lives, is absolutely false; besides, to be able to
stand the weakening rule of the cloister it is necessary to begin
young, and not to come in worn out with every kind of abuse.

"It is also necessary to avoid confounding misanthropy with the monastic
vocation; it is not hypochondria, but the divine call, which leads to La
Trappe. There is a special grace, which makes all young men who have
never lived in the world long to bury themselves in silence and therein
suffer the hardest privations; and they are happy as I hope you will be;
and yet their life is still more rigorous than you would think; take the
lay brothers, for example.

"Think of their giving themselves up to the most painful labour, and
that they have not, like the fathers, the consolation of singing and
assisting at all the offices; remember that even their reward, the
communion, is not very often conceded to them.

"Now think of the winter here. The cold is frightful; in these decayed
buildings nothing shuts properly, and the wind sweeps the house from top
to bottom; they freeze without fires, they sleep upon pallets, and they
cannot help or encourage each other, for they hardly know each other, as
all conversation is forbidden.

"Think, also, that these poor people never hear a kindly word, a word
which would soothe and comfort them. They work from dawn till night, and
the master never thanks them for their zeal, never tells the good
workman that he is pleased.

"Consider, also, that in summer when men are hired from the neighbouring
villages to reap the harvest, these rest when the sun scorches the
fields; they sit in their shirt sleeves under the shade of the ricks,
and drink, if they are thirsty, and eat; and the lay brother in his
heavy clothes looks at them and goes on with his work, and neither eats
nor drinks. Ah! men must have well-tempered souls to stand such a life."

"But surely there must be some off days," said Durtal, "when the rule is
relaxed?"

"Never; there is not even, as in some very strict orders--the
Carmelites, to take one instance--an hour of recreation, when the
religious may talk and laugh. Here, the silence is eternal."

"Even when they are together in the refectory?"

"Then they read the Conferences of Cassien, the 'Holy Ladder' of
Climacus, the Lives of the Fathers of the Desert, or some other pious
book."

"And on Sunday?"

"On Sunday they rise an hour earlier; but on the whole it is their best
day, for they can follow all the offices and pass their whole time in
church."

"Humility and self-denial carried to such an extent are superhuman!"
cried Durtal. "But they are surely given a sufficient quantity of strong
nourishment to enable them to give themselves up from morning till
evening to exhausting work in the fields?"

M. Bruno smiled.

"They simply get vegetables which are not even as good as those which
are served to us, and, by way of wine, they quench their thirst with a
sour and insipid liquid, which leaves half a glass full of sediment.
They get a pint each, and if they are thirsty they can add water."

"And how often do they eat?"

"That depends. From the 14th September to Lent they only eat once a day,
at half-past two--and during Lent this meal is put off till four
o'clock. From Easter to the 14th September, when the Cistercian fast is
less strict, dinner is at about half-past eleven, and to this may be
added a light meal in the evening."

"It is frightful! to work for months on one meal a day, two hours after
noon, after being up since two o'clock in the morning; having had no
dinner the evening before."

"It is sometimes necessary to relax the rule a little, and when a monk
fails from weakness he is not refused a morsel of bread.

"It would be well," continued M. Bruno, pensively, "to relax still
further the grasp of these observances, for this question of food is
becoming a veritable stumbling-block in recruiting for La Trappe; souls
which delight in these cloisters are forced to fly them, because their
bodies cannot stand the rule."[1]

     [1] The opinion of M. Bruno has been lately adopted by all the
     abbeys of the order. In a General Chapter of La Trappe, held from
     the 12th to the 18th September, 1894, in Holland, at Tilburg, it
     was decided that except in seasons of fasting, the monks might eat
     a little in the morning, dine at eleven, and sup in the evening.

     Article CXVI. of the new constitutions, voted by this assembly of
     the Chapter and approved by the Holy See, is in effect thus
     conceived:--

     "Diebus quibus non jejunatur a Sancto Pascha usque ad Idus
     Septembris, Dominicis per totum annum et omnibus festis Sermonis
     aut feriatis extra Quadrigesimam, omnes monachi mane accipiant
     mixtum, hora undecima prandeant et ad seram coenent."

"And the fathers lead the same life as the lay brothers?"

"Absolutely--they set the example; they all swallow the same pittance,
and sleep in the same dormitory on similar beds; there is complete
equality. Only, the fathers have the advantage of singing the office and
obtaining more frequent communions."

"Among the lay brothers there are two who have interested me
particularly, one quite young, a tall fair man with a pointed beard, the
other a very old man, quite bent?"

"The young one is Brother Anacletus; this young man is a veritable
column of prayer, and one of the most precious recruits whom Heaven has
bestowed upon our abbey. As for old Simeon, he is a child of La Trappe,
for he was brought up in an orphanage of the order. There you have an
extraordinary soul, a true saint, who already lives absorbed in God. We
will talk of him at greater length another day, for it is time we went
down; the hour of Sext is near.

"Wait, here is the rosary which I am pleased to offer you. Allow me to
add to it a medal of Saint Benedict." And he made over to Durtal a small
wooden rosary, and the strange circle engraved with cabalistic letters,
the amulet of Saint Benedict.

"Do you know the meaning of these signs?"

"Yes; I read it once in a pamphlet of Dom Guéranger."

"Good. And, by-the-bye, when do you communicate?"

"To-morrow."

"To-morrow; it is impossible!"

"Why impossible?"

"Because there will be only a single mass to-morrow, that of five
o'clock, and at that the rule prevents your communicating alone. Father
Benedict, who usually says an earlier mass, went away this morning and
will not return for two days. There is some mistake."

"But the prior positively declared to me that I should communicate
to-morrow!" exclaimed Durtal. "Not all the fathers here, then, are
priests?"

"No, in fact, as to priests, there is the abbot who is ill, the prior
who will offer the sacrifice to-morrow at five o'clock, Father Benedict
of whom I spoke to you, and another whom you have not seen and who is
travelling. And then, if it had been possible, I also should have
approached the Holy Table."

"Then, if the fathers are not all ordained, what difference is there
between those who have obtained the priesthood and the simple lay
brothers?"

"Education--to be a father a man must have studied, must know Latin, and
in a word must not be what the lay brothers are, peasants or workmen. In
any case I shall see the prior, and as to the communion to-morrow, I
will let you know, after the office. But it is tiresome; it is a pity
you could not have come up this morning, with us."

Durtal made a gesture of regret. He went into the chapel, dwelling on
this misfortune and praying God not to delay his re-entry into grace any
longer.

After Sext, the oblate came to rejoin him. "It is just as I thought," he
said, "but nevertheless you will be admitted to take the Sacrament. The
father prior has arranged with the curate who dines with us. He will say
a mass to-morrow morning before leaving, and you will then communicate."

"Oh!" groaned Durtal.

This news broke his heart. That he should have come to La Trappe to
receive the Eucharist from the hands of a priest of passage, from a
jovial priest such as this man! "Ah, no, I have confessed to a monk, and
I wished to receive the communion from a monk!" he exclaimed. "It would
have been better to wait till Father Benedict returned--but what can I
do? I can hardly explain to the prior how repugnant this unknown priest
is to me, and how terribly painful it would be to me, after having gone
through so much, to end by being thus reconciled in a cloister."

And he complained to God, telling Him that all the joy he might have
felt in being purified and clean at last, was now spoilt by this
disappointment.

He arrived at the refectory hanging his head.

The curate was there already. Seeing Durtal's sad demeanour, he
charitably tried to cheer him, but the jokes he attempted produced the
opposite effect. Durtal smiled in order to be polite, but his air was so
wearied that M. Bruno, who saw it, turned the conversation and
monopolized the priest.

Durtal was in a hurry for his dinner to be over. He had eaten his egg
and was painfully swallowing a warm potato soup made with hot oil, which
from its appearance might have been mistaken for vaseline; but he now
cared little about his food.

He said to himself, "It is dreadful to carry away an irritating and
painful recollection of a first communion--and I know it will haunt me
for ever. I know well enough that from a theological point of view it
does not matter whether I am dealing with a priest or a Trappist; both
are but interpreters between God and me, but yet, I feel very well that
it is not at all the same thing. For once at least I need a guarantee of
certain holiness, and how can I have it with an ecclesiastic who hawks
about jokes like a bagman?" He stopped, remembering that the Abbé
Gévresin, fearing this mistrust, had specially sent him to a Trappist
monastery. "What a run of ill-luck!" he said to himself.

He did not even hear the conversation which was going on beside him
between the curate and the oblate.

He struggled with himself all alone, as he chewed, with his nose in his
plate.

"I do not wish to communicate to-morrow," he went on, and he was
shocked. He was cowardly, and becoming foolish at the last. Would not
the Saviour give Himself to him all the same?

He rose from the table, stirred by a dull anguish, and he wandered in
the park and went down the paths as chance led him.

Another idea was now growing in him, an idea that Heaven was inflicting
a trial upon him. "I want humility," he repeated. "Well, it is to punish
me that I am refused the joy of being sanctified by a monk. Christ has
forgiven me, that is much. Why should He do more by taking note of my
preferences and granting my wishes?"

This thought appeased him for a few minutes, and reproaching himself
for rebelling, he accused himself of being unjust towards a priest who,
after all, might be a saint.

"Ah, enough of that," he said; "I must accept the fact, and try for once
to be a little humble! but I have to recite my rosary." He seated
himself on the grass and began.

He had not reached the second bead, when misunderstanding again pursued
him. He began again on the Pater and Ave, and went on thinking no more
of the sense of his prayers, reflecting: "What ill-luck that the one
monk who says mass every day should be away, so that I have to go
through such a disappointment to-morrow!"

He was silent and had a moment of calm, when suddenly a new element of
trouble burst upon him.

He looked at the rosary, of which he had told ten beads.

"Let me see, the prior told me to recite ten every day--ten beads or ten
rosaries?"

"Beads," he said, and almost at the same moment answered, "Rosaries."

He remained perplexed.

"But that is idiotic, he could not have told me to go through the rosary
ten times a day; that would amount to something like five hundred
prayers on end; no one could do such a task without losing his wits.
There is no doubt, it is clear he meant ten beads!

"But no! for if a confessor gives a penance, it must be admitted that he
would proportion it to the greatness of the sins. And as I have such
repugnance for these drops of devotion taken in globules, it is natural
that he should gorge me with a large dose of the rosary!

"Still ... still ... it cannot be! I should not have even time for it
all in Paris; it is absurd!"

And the idea that he was deceiving himself came intermittently charging
back.

"Still, there must be no haggling; in ecclesiastical language 'ten'
means ten beads; no doubt ... but I remember very well that after he
pronounced the word rosary, the father expressed himself thus: 'you will
say ten,' that means ten rosaries, for otherwise he would have specified
ten ... of a rosary."

And so he thrust and parried with himself--"The father had no need to
put the dots on all the i's, if he were using an ordinary phrase, known
to everyone. This cavilling about the value of a word is ridiculous."

He tried to get rid of this torment by appealing to his reason; and
suddenly there came out some argument which unsettled him.

He found out that it was through cowardice, idleness, desire for
contradiction and the necessity of rebelling, that he did not wish to
wind his ten reels. "Of the two interpretations I have chosen the one
which would relieve me of all effort and trouble, it is really too
easy!--that alone proves that I deceive myself when I try to persuade
myself that the prior only ordered me to pick out ten beads!"

"Then a Pater, ten Aves, and a Gloria are nothing; it is not heavy as a
penance!"

And then he answered himself, "But it is much for you, for you cannot
even attempt so much without wandering."

He was turning on himself without advancing a step.

"I have never felt such hesitation," he said, trying to pull himself
together; "I am not stupid and yet I am fighting against my good sense,
for it is not a matter of doubt, I know it, I ought to say ten Aves and
not one more!"

He remained nonplussed, almost frightened at his condition which was new
to him.

And, to get out of the difficulty, to silence himself, he thought of a
new idea to conciliate both parties, which seemed most concise and which
presented at least a provisional solution.

"In any case," he reflected, "I cannot communicate to-morrow if I do not
complete my penance to-day; in the doubt, the wisest course is to yoke
myself to the ten rosaries; later I shall see; if necessary I shall be
able to consult the prior. It is true that he will think me an idiot if
I speak to him of these rosaries! so I shall not be able to ask him
that!"

"But then, you see, you admit yourself, it can only be ten beads!"

He was furious with himself, and for silence' sake rushed upon the
rosary.

He might well shut his eyes, and try to collect himself, it was
impossible for him at the end of the second ten to follow his prayers;
he hesitated, forgetting the large beads of the Paters, losing his way
in the small beads of the Aves, stamping on the ground.

To check himself, he thought of transporting himself in imagination at
each dose, into one of the chapels of the Virgin which he loved to
attend in Paris, at Notre Dame des Victoires, at St. Sulpice, at St.
Severin; but these Virgins were not numerous enough for him to dedicate
each set of ten to them, so he evoked the Madonnas of the early masters,
and, absorbed before their images, he turned the windlass of his
prayers, not understanding what he mumbled, but praying the Mother of
the Saviour to accept his paternosters, as she would receive the lost
smoke of a censer forgotten before the altar.

"I cannot force myself any more," he said. He left this toil worried and
crushed and wanting to take breath; there were still three rosaries to
exhaust.

And as soon as he had stopped, the question of the Eucharist, which had
been dropped, came up again.

"Better not to communicate than to communicate badly;" and it was
impossible that after such debates and with such prejudices he could
properly approach the Holy Table.

"Yes, but then what shall I do?--in reality, was it not monstrous of me
to dispute the monk's orders, to wish to carry them out in my own way,
to take them up at my convenience! If this goes on, I shall sin so much
to-day that I shall have to confess again," he said.

To break through this feeling, he threw himself again upon his wheel,
but then stupefied himself completely; the device he had tried to keep
himself before the Virgin at least was used up. When he wished to
abstract himself and to bring up a recollection of Memling, he could not
succeed, and his lip-prayers, wearying him, distressed him.

"My soul is worn out," he thought, "I should do well to let it rest,
while I stay quiet."

He wandered round the pond, not knowing what to do next.

"Suppose I go to my cell!" He went there, tried to become absorbed in
the Little Office of the Virgin, and did not grasp a single word of the
phrases he was reading. He went down and began to prowl about the park
again.

"This is enough to drive me mad," he cried--and mournfully he exclaimed,
"I ought to be happy, to pray in peace and prepare myself for
to-morrow's act, yet never have I been so restless, so upset, so far
from God!

"But I must finish this penance!" Despair seized him, and he was on the
point of letting all go; he mortified himself again, and compelled
himself to tell the beads.

He finished by despatching them; he was at the end of his powers. And he
immediately found a new means of torture.

He reproached himself with having moaned the prayers negligently,
without having even seriously tried to follow their meaning. And he was
on the point of beginning the rosary over again, but in the face of the
evident folly of this suggestion he pulled himself up, refused to
listen, and then he worried himself again.

"It is none the less true that you have not literally fulfilled the task
assigned you by the confessor, for your conscience reproaches you for
your want of reflection and your wandering."

"But I am half dead!" he exclaimed. "I cannot go through the exercises
again in this condition!"--and once again he ended, by giving a casting
vote, and finding a new weakness.

By saying over another ten, thoughtfully pronouncing the prayers with
care, he might make up for all the beads of the rosary which he had
mumbled without understanding them.

And he tried to turn the crank, but as soon as he had got out the Pater,
he wandered; he was obstinate in wishing to grind out the Aves, but then
his mind gave way and became thoroughly distracted.

He stopped, thinking, "What is the use of it? besides, would one set of
ten, however well said, be equal to five hundred prayers that have
missed fire? and then why one set of ten and not two, why not three? it
is absurd!"

He grew angry; "After all," he concluded, "these repetitions are absurd;
Christ positively declared that we should not use vain repetitions in
our prayers. Then what is the object of this wheel of Aves?"

"If I dwell upon such ideas, if I cavil at the injunctions of the monk,
I am lost," said he suddenly; and by an effort of will, he stifled the
revolt which was rumbling in him.

He took refuge in his cell; the hours lengthened interminably; he killed
the time by recapitulating all the same objections with all the same
answers. It was a repetition of which he was himself ashamed.

"So much is certain, that I am the victim of an aberration," he said. "I
do not speak of the Eucharist; there my thoughts may not be exact, but
at least they are not maddening, while as for this question of
paternosters!"

He confused himself so much that he felt hammered like an anvil between
these two opposing ideas, and finally sank drowsily on a chair.

Thus he passed the time till the hour of vespers and supper. After this
meal he returned to the park.

And then the slumbering dispute revived and all came back. A furious
battle was raging within him. He remained there, immovable, astounded,
listening to himself, when a rapid footstep approached and M. Bruno said
to him,

"Take care, you are possessed by the devil!"

And as Durtal, stupefied, did not answer,

"Yes," he said, "God sometimes allows me intuitions, and I am certain at
this moment that the devil is working in you. Let us see, what is wrong
with you?"

"I ... I do not know myself;" and Durtal told him of the extraordinary
conflict about the rosary which had been raging in him since the
morning.

"But this is madness," exclaimed the oblate; "it is ten beads the prior
ordered you to tell; ten rosaries would be impossible."

"I know it ... and yet I doubt still."

"Always the same tactics," said M. Bruno; "contriving to render
disgusting the thing you ought to do. Yes, the devil wished to make the
rosary odious to you by crushing you with it. And what is there besides?
You do not wish to communicate to-morrow?"

"True," replied Durtal.

"I thought as much, when I was watching you at supper. Ah! well, after
conversions the Evil One is at work; and it is nothing, believe me; he
was harder on me than that."

He slipped his arm under Durtal's, and leading him to the auditorium,
begged him to wait, and disappeared.

Some minutes afterwards, the prior entered.

"Well," said he, "M. Bruno tells me that you are suffering. What is it,
exactly?"

"It is so stupid that I am ashamed to explain myself."

"You will never astonish a monk," said the prior, smiling.

"Well, I know precisely, I am certain that you gave me ten beads of the
rosary to recite every day for a month, and, since this morning, I have
been arguing with myself against all common sense, to convince myself
that my daily penance is to be the rosary ten times."

"Hand me your rosary," said the monk, "and look at these ten beads;
well, that is all I prescribed for you, and all you have to recite. So
you have told all the beads ten times to-day?"

Durtal signified assent.

"And naturally you were perplexed, you lost all patience, and ended up
by rambling."

And seeing Durtal's pitiful smile,

"Well, listen to me," declared the father, in an energetic tone, "I
absolutely forbid you for the future to begin a prayer again; it has
been badly said; so much the worse, go on, do not repeat it.

"I need not ask you if the idea of abstaining from communion occurred to
you, for that comes of itself; it is there that the enemy directs all
his efforts. Do not listen to the devil's voice which would keep you
away; whatever happens you will communicate to-morrow. You should have
no scruple, for I command you to receive the Sacrament; I take it all
upon myself.

"And now another question; what sort of nights have you?"

Durtal told him of the awful night of his arrival at La Trappe, and of
the feeling of being spied upon which had awakened him the day before.

"We have long known these manifestations, they are without imminent
danger; do not therefore let them trouble you. At the same time, if they
continue you will let me know, and we will not neglect attending to
them."

And the Trappist left quietly, while Durtal remained thinking.

"I never doubted that those phenomena were satanic," he thought, "but I
did not understand these attacks upon the soul, this charge at full
speed against my reason which remains untouched, and yet is overcome;
that is remarkable; if only this lesson may be useful to me so that I
may not be unhorsed on the first alarm!"

He went up to his cell again and a great peace fell upon him. All had
died down at the voice of the monk; he now only felt surprise at having
been off the rails for hours; he understood now that he had been
assailed unawares and that the struggle had not been with himself.

He said his prayers and lay down. And, suddenly, the assault began again
by new tactics he had not guessed at.

"No doubt I shall communicate to-morrow," he said to himself; "but ...
but ... am I prepared for such an act? I ought to have collected my
thoughts in the day-time, I ought to have thanked the Lord for having
absolved me, and I have lost my time in nonsense."

"Why did I not say that just now to Father Maximin? how is it I did not
think of it? Then I ought to have confessed again. And this priest who
will give me the communion, this priest!"

The horror which he felt for this man increased suddenly and became so
vehement that he was astonished. "Ah, but there I am again knocked about
by the enemy," he said, and he went on:

"All that shall not prevent me from receiving the Heavenly Bread
to-morrow, for I have quite decided; only how frightful it is that the
Spirit of Malice should be allowed to oppress and harass me without
respite while I have no sign from Heaven which does not interfere, and I
know nothing.

"Ah! Lord, if I were only certain this communion would please Thee! Give
me a sign, show me that I may ally myself with Thee without remorse; let
the impossible take place so that, to-morrow, it may be a monk and not
this priest...."

And he stopped himself, astonished at his boldness, asking himself how
he dared ask for, and indicate a sign.

"It is idiotic!" he exclaimed; "in the first place, no one has a right
to claim such favours from God; and then, as He will not grant my
prayer, what shall I have gained? I shall infer from the refusal that my
communion will be worth nothing!"

And he prayed the Lord to forget his wish, excused himself for having
formed it, and wished to convince himself that He should not take it
into account, and, helped by the agitations of the day, he ended by
falling asleep as he prayed.



CHAPTER IV.


When he left his cell he said to himself, "This morning I shall
communicate," and these words, which should have thrilled him through
and through, woke no zeal in him. He remained dull, tired and caring for
nothing, feeling cold in the depth of his being.

Nevertheless a fear stimulated him when he was outside. "I do not know,"
he said to himself, "when I must leave my seat and go to kneel before
the priest; I know that the congregation should communicate after the
celebrant; but at what moment exactly ought I to move? It is indeed
another misfortune that I should have to go up, alone, towards this
Table which so disturbs me; otherwise I shall only have to follow the
others and at least be sure of not doing anything improperly."

He scrutinized the chapel as he went in, looking round for M. Bruno who,
had he been by his side, might have kept off his scruples, but the
oblate could not be found. Durtal sat down, disabled, dreaming of the
sign he had asked for the evening before, endeavouring to throw off the
recollection, thinking of it all the same.

He wished to examine himself and collect himself, and he was praying
Heaven to forgive him his mental vacillations when M. Bruno came in, and
went to kneel before the statue of the Virgin.

Almost at the same minute a brother, who had a beard like seaweed
growing from a face like a pear, took up to the altar of St. Joseph a
small rustic table on which he placed a basin, a towel, two vases and a
napkin.

Before these preparations, which recalled the imminence of the
Sacrifice, Durtal stiffened himself and succeeded by an effort in
keeping back his anxieties and overthrowing his troubles, and escaping
from himself he ardently implored Our Lady to intervene so that he
might, for this hour at least, without wandering, pray in peace.

And when he had finished his prayer he lifted his eyes and looked with a
start at the priest who was advancing, preceded by a lay brother, to
celebrate mass.

This was not the curate whom he knew, but another, younger, very tall,
with a majestic air, with cheeks pale and shaven, and a bald head.

Durtal was watching him solemnly marching towards the altar with his
eyes cast down when he suddenly noticed a violet flame light up his
fingers.

"He wears an episcopal ring, he is a bishop," thought Durtal, who leant
forward to see the colour of the vestment underneath the chasuble and
alb. It was white.

"Then it is a monk," he said, astounded; and, mechanically, he turned
towards the statue of the Virgin, summoning the oblate by a hasty
glance, who came to sit beside him.

"Who is he?"

"Dom Anselm, the abbot of the monastery."

"He who was ill?"

"Yes, he will give us communion."

Durtal fell upon his knees, suffocated, almost trembling: he was not
dreaming! Heaven was answering him by the sign on which he had fixed.

He ought to abase himself before God, to be overwhelmed at His feet, to
spread himself in a passion of gratitude; he knew and wished it! And
without knowing how, he was exercising himself in seeking natural causes
which might account for the substitution of a monk for the priest.

No doubt it was very simple; for on the whole, before admitting a kind
of miracle.... "anyhow, I will keep an open mind, for after the ceremony
I wish to clear the matter up."

And he repelled the insinuations which crept into him. Well! what
interest could there be in the motive of this change? there clearly must
be a motive, but it was only a consequence, an accessory; the important
point was the supernatural will which had produced it. "In any case you
have obtained more than you asked; you have even a better than the
simple monk you wished for, you have the abbot of La Trappe himself!"
And he cried: "Oh, to believe, to believe like these poor lay brothers,
not to be endowed with a soul which is blown about by every wind; to
have the faith of a child, an immovable faith, a faith which cannot be
rooted up! Ah, Father, Father, bury it, rivet it in me!"

And such was his enthusiasm that he came out of himself; all around him
seemed to disappear and he cried, stammering, to Christ: "Lord, go not
far from me. Let Thy pity curb Thy justice; be unjust, forgive me;
receive Thy poor bedesman for communion, the poor in spirit!"

M. Bruno touched his arm, and with a glance invited him to accompany
him. They went up to the altar and knelt upon the flagstones, then, when
the priest had blessed them, they knelt closer on the single step, and
the lay brother handed them a napkin, for there was no bar or cloth.

And the abbot of La Trappe gave them the communion.

They returned to their places. Durtal was in a state of absolute torpor;
the Sacrament had, in a manner, anæsthetized his mind; he fell on his
knees at his bench, incapable even of unravelling what might be moving
within him, unable to rally and pull himself together.

And all of a sudden the impression came over him that he was suffocating
and wanted air; the mass was finished; he rushed out and ran to his
walk; there he wished to take an account of himself and he found
nothing.

And in front of the cross pond, in whose waters the Christ was drowning,
there came over him an infinite melancholy, a vast sadness.

It was a true syncope of the soul; it lost consciousness; and when it
came to itself, he was astonished that he had not felt an unknown
transport of joy; then he dwelt on a troublesome recollection, on the
all too human side of the deglutition of a God; the Host had stuck
against his palate, and he had had to seek it with his tongue and roll
it about like a pancake in order to swallow it.

Ah! it was still too material! he only wanted a fluid, a perfume, a
fire, a breath!

And he tried to explain to himself the treatment that the Saviour made
him follow.

All his anticipations had returned; it was the absolution and not the
communion which had worked. When with the confessor he had very clearly
perceived the presence of the Redeemer; all his being had, in a manner,
been injected with divine effluvia, and the Eucharist had only brought
him suffocation and trouble.

It seemed that the effects of the two Sacraments had changed places the
one with the other; they had worked the wrong way with him; Christ had
been perceptible to his soul before and not afterwards.

"But it is easy enough to see," he reflected, "that the great question
for me is to have an absolute certainty of my forgiveness! By a special
favour, Jesus has ratified my faith in the healing power of Penance. Why
should He have done more?"

"And then, what bounties would He reserve for His saints? After all I am
astonishing. It is too much that I should wish to be treated as He
certainly treats Brother Anacletus and Brother Simeon."

"I have obtained more than I deserve. And what an answer I had, this
very morning? Yes, indeed, but why should such advances end suddenly in
this recoil?"

And making his way towards the abbey to eat his bread and cheese, he
said to himself: "My error towards God is to be always arguing, when I
ought to adore stupidly as these monks here do. Ah! to be able to keep
silence, silence to one's self, that is indeed a grace!"

He reached the refectory, which, as a rule, he had to himself, M. Bruno
never coming to the meal at seven o'clock in the morning. He was
beginning to cut himself a piece of bread, when the father guest-master
appeared.

He had a whetstone and some knives in his hand, and smiling at Durtal,
he said: "I am going to polish the knives of the monastery, for they
want it badly." And he placed them on a table in a small room attached
to the refectory.

"Well, are you satisfied?" he said, on coming back.

"Certainly--but, what happened this morning, how is it I was
communicated by the abbot of La Trappe, when I should have been by the
curate who dines with me?"

"Ah!" exclaimed the monk, "I was as much surprised as you. On waking,
the Father Abbot suddenly declared that he must say mass this morning.
He got up in spite of the observations of the prior, who as a doctor,
forbade him to leave his bed. Neither I, nor any one else, knows what
took him. Then they told him that a retreatant would communicate and he
answered 'Just so, I shall communicate him.' And then M. Bruno took the
opportunity of also approaching the Sacrament, for he loves to receive
our Saviour from the hands of Dom Anselm."

"And this arrangement also satisfied the curate," the monk went on,
smiling; "for he left La Trappe at an earlier hour this morning and has
been able to say his mass in a parish where he was expected.... By the
way, he told me to make his excuses to you for not having been able to
bid you good-bye."

Durtal bowed. "There is no doubt about it," he thought, "God wished to
give me an unmistakable answer."

"And your health?"

"It is good, father; I am astounded; my digestion has never been so good
as it is here; to say nothing of the fact that the neuralgia, which I
feared so much, has spared me."

"That shows that Heaven protects you."

"Yes, indeed. But now that I remember it, I have long wished to ask you
this--how are your offices arranged? They do not correspond with those
printed in my prayer-book."

"No, they differ from yours, which belong to the Roman ritual. At the
same time, the Vespers are almost similar, except sometimes the lessons,
and then what may put you out is that ours are often preceded by the
Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. As a general rule we have a psalm less in
the office, and the lessons are nearly always short.

"Except," Father Etienne went on, smiling, "in Compline, the very one
you recite. Thus you may have noticed we know nothing of 'In manus tuas,
Domine,' which is one of the few short lessons sung in parish churches.

"We have also a special Proper of Saints; we celebrate the commemoration
of the Blessed of our order which you will not find in your books. In
fact we follow the letter of the monastic breviary of Saint Benedict."

Durtal had finished his breakfast. He rose, fearing to trouble the
father by his questions.

One word of the monk, however, was troubling his brain, that relating to
the prior as a doctor; and before going out he spoke of this again to
Father Etienne.

"No--the Reverend Father Maximin is not a doctor, but he understands
simples very well, and he has a small pharmacy which is enough as long
as no one is seriously ill."

"And in that case?"

"In that case the practitioner can be called in from one of the nearest
towns, but no one is ever so ill as that; or else the end is approaching
and the doctor's visit would be useless...."

"So on the whole the prior looks after soul and body at La Trappe."

The monk signified assent.

Durtal went out. He hoped to get rid of his suffocation by a long walk.

He took a road which he had not been along before, and came out on a
glade where stood the ruins of an ancient convent, some bits of wall,
truncated columns and capitals in the Roman style; unhappily these
remains were in a deplorable condition, rough, covered with moss and
riddled with holes like pumice stones.

He went on and came to the end of a long walk, at the top of which was a
pond five or six times as large as the small one in the form of a cross,
which he frequented.

The walk was planted with old oaks on each side, and in the middle, near
a wooden bench, stood a cast-iron statue of the Virgin.

He groaned as he looked at it. The crime of the church followed him once
more; even in this little chapel so full of divine compassion, all the
statues came from the religious bazaars of Paris or Lyons.

He took his position below, near the pond whose banks were bordered by
reeds surrounded by tufts of osiers; and he amused himself by examining
the colours of these shrubs, with their smooth green leaves and stalks
of citron yellow, or blood red, noticing the curling water which began
to foam with a gust of wind. And the martins skimmed it, touching it
with the tips of their wings from which drops of water fell like pearls
of quicksilver. And the birds rose whirling above and giving out their
cries of weet, weet, weet, while the dragon-flies shone brightly in the
air which they slashed with blue flames.

"Peaceful refuge!" thought Durtal; "I ought to have come to rest here
before." He sat down on a bed of moss and interested himself in the
noiseless and active life of the waters. Now the splash and flash of the
turn of a leaping carp; now great spiders skating on the surface, making
little circles and driving one against another, stopping, going back and
making new rounds; then, near him on the ground, Durtal noticed jumping,
green grasshoppers with vermilion bellies, or, scaling the oaks,
colonies of queer insects on whose backs a devil's head was painted in
red lead on a black ground.

And above all that, if he raised his eyes, there was the silent upturned
sea of heaven, a blue sea crested with surging white clouds like waves;
and at the same time this firmament moved in the water where it billowed
under a blueish gray glass.

Durtal felt himself expand as he smoked cigarettes; the melancholy which
had oppressed him since the dawn began to melt away, and joy crept into
him as he felt his soul was washed in the pool of the Sacraments and
dried in the air of a cloister. And he was at once happy and uneasy;
happy, for the meeting he had had with the father guest-master, had
removed all the doubts he had entertained as to the supernatural side to
the sudden change of a priest for a monk to communicate him; happy,
also, to know that not only had Christ not repulsed him in spite of all
the disorders of his life, but that He was encouraging him and giving
him pledges, ratifying the signs of His favours by perceptible acts. And
nevertheless he was uneasy, for he knew himself to be barren, and felt
that it was necessary for him to be grateful for this goodness by a
struggle with himself and an entirely new existence differing completely
from that he had hitherto led.

"Well, we shall see!" and he went off to the office of Sext almost
calmed, and thence to dinner, where he found M. Bruno.

"We will go for a walk to-day," said the oblate, rubbing his hands.

Durtal looked at him with astonishment.

"Yes, indeed, I thought that after a communion a little air outside the
walls would do you good, and I proposed to the Reverend Father Abbot to
free you from the rule for to-day, if the offer is not disagreeable to
you."

"I gladly accept, and thank you sincerely for your kind attention," said
Durtal.

They dined off a soup made with oil in which a stick of cabbage and some
peas were swimming; it was not bad; but the bread made at La Trappe
reminded him, when stale, of the bread in the siege of Paris, and made
the soup turn sour.

Then they tasted an egg with sorrel and some rice steeped in milk.

"If it suits you," said the oblate, "we will begin by paying a visit to
Dom Anselm, who has expressed a wish to know you."

And M. Bruno led Durtal through a labyrinth of passages and staircases
to a small cell where the abbot was. He was dressed like the fathers in
a white robe and a black scapular; only at the end of a violet cord he
bore on his breast an abbot's cross of ivory, in the centre of which,
under a round glass, some relics were inserted.

He gave his hand to Durtal and begged him to sit down.

Then he asked if the food seemed to be enough for him. And on receiving
a reply in the affirmative from Durtal he inquired if the long silence
did not weigh upon him too much.

"Not at all, this solitude suits me perfectly."

"Well," said the abbot, laughing, "you are one of the few laymen who
have borne our rule so easily. Generally those who have tried to make a
retreat here have been devoured by home sickness and spleen, and have
had but one idea, to get away."

"Let us see," he said after a pause; "it is not possible, all the same,
that such a sudden change of habits should not bring with it some
painful privations; there must be at least one which you feel above all
the others?"

"True, I feel the want of being able to light a cigarette whenever I
like."

The abbot answered smiling, "But I suppose you have not been entirely
without smoking, since you came here?"

"I should tell a lie if I said I had not smoked in secret."

"Why, bless me, tobacco was not foreseen by St. Benedict; there is no
mention of it in his rule, and I am therefore free to allow its use; so
smoke as many cigarettes as you like without being uneasy."

And Dom Anselm added:

"I hope shortly to have a little more time to myself, unless, indeed, I
am obliged to keep my room, in that case I shall be happy to have a
longer talk with you."

And the monk, who seemed exhausted, shook them by the hand.

Going down into the court with the oblate Durtal exclaimed,

"The Father Abbot is charming, and quite young."

"He is hardly forty."

"He appears to be really ill."

"Yes, he is not well, and he required no common energy to say his mass
this morning; but let us see, we will first of all visit the grounds of
La Trappe which you can hardly have been over completely, then we will
leave the enclosure and push on to the farm."

They started, skirting the remains of the ancient abbey, and as they
walked, turning by the piece of water near which Durtal had been seated
in the morning, M. Bruno entered into explanations about the ruins.

"This monastery was founded in 1127 by St. Bernard, who installed the
Blessed Humbert as abbot, an epileptic Cistercian, whom he had cured by
a miracle. At that time there were apparitions in the convent; a legend
relates that two angels came and cut one of the lilies planted in the
cemetery every time one of the monks died.

"The second abbot was the Blessed Guerric, who was famous for his
knowledge, his humility and his patience in enduring evils. We possess
his relics and they are enclosed in the shrine under the high altar.

"But the most remarkable of the superiors, who succeeded each other here
in the middle ages, was Peter Monoculus, whose story was written by his
friend, the member of the synod, Thomas de Reuil.

"Pierre, called Monoculus, or the one-eyed, was a saint thirsting for
austerities and sufferings. He was assailed by horrible temptations at
which he laughed. Exasperated, the Devil attacked his body and, by fits
of neuralgia, broke his skull, but Heaven came to his aid and cured it.
By shedding tears from a spirit of penitence, Peter lost an eye, and he
thanked our Lord for this blessing, 'I had' he said, 'two enemies; I
have escaped the first, but the one I retain troubles me more than the
one I have lost.'

"He worked miracles of healing. The king of France, Louis VII.,
venerated him so much that, on seeing the empty eyelid, he wished to
kiss it. Monoculus died in 1186; they soaked linen cloths in his blood,
and washed his entrails in wine which was distributed, for the mixture
was a powerful remedy.

"The property of the abbey was then immense; it comprised all the
country which surrounds us, kept up several lazar houses in the
neighbourhood, and was the home of more than three hundred monks.
Unfortunately what happened to others happened to Notre-Dame de l'Atre.
Under the rule of abbots in commendam it declined, and it was dying with
only six religious to look after it when the Revolution suppressed it.
The church was then pulled down and afterwards replaced by the rotunda
chapel.

"Only in 1875 the present house, which I think dates from 1733, was
reconciled and became a monastery again. Trappists were brought here
from Sainte Marie de la Mer, in the diocese of Toulouse, and this small
colony has made Notre-Dame de l'Atre the Cistercian nursery you see.

"Such, in few words, is the history of the convent," said the oblate.
"As for the ruins they are buried underground, and no doubt precious
fragments might be discovered, but for want of money and men no
excavations have been made.

"In addition to the broken columns and the capitals we passed, there
remains from the old church a large statue of the Virgin which has been
erected in one of the corridors of the abbey; besides this there are two
angels fairly well preserved and which you may see down there at the end
of the cloister in a small chapel, hidden behind a curtain of trees."

"A virgin, before which St. Bernard may possibly have knelt, ought
surely to have been put in the church on the altar dedicated to Mary,
for the coloured statue, which surmounts it, is of crying
ugliness--like that one also," said Durtal, pointing out in the distance
the cast-iron Madonna which towered above the pond.

The oblate bowed his head and did not reply.

"Do you know," exclaimed Durtal, who in the face of this silence did not
persist and changed the conversation, "do you know that I envy you
living here?"

"It is certain that I do not deserve this favour, for, on the whole, the
cloister is less an expiation than a reward; it is the only place where,
far from the world and near heaven, the only place where a man may give
himself up to this mystic life which only develops in solitude and
silence."

"Yes, and if possible, I envy you yet more that you should have had the
courage to venture into regions which, I confess, frightened me. And I
know so well that, in spite of the spring-board of prayers and fasts, in
spite of the green house, or orchid house atmosphere, wherein mysticism
is grown, I should wither away in these regions without ever expanding
again."

The oblate smiled. "What do you know about it?" he replied, "the thing
is not done in an hour; the orchid you speak of does not flower in a
day; the advance is so slow, that mortifications space themselves out,
fatigues are distributed over years, and, on the whole, are easily
borne.

"As a general rule it is necessary, to cross the distance which
separates us from the Creator, to go through three grades to attain that
science of Christian perfection which is called mysticism; we must live
in turn the life of Purification, of Illumination and of Unity--to join
the uncreated Good and be poured out in Him.

"It matters little that these three grand phases of ascetic existence
subdivide themselves into an infinity of stages; which are degrees
according to Saint Bonaventure, dwelling places according to Saint
Teresa, steps according to Saint Angela; they may vary in length and
number, according to the will of the Lord and the temperament of those
who go through them. It is not disputed that the journey of the soul
towards God includes, first, perpendicular and breakneck roads--these
are the roads of the life of Purification--next, narrower paths still,
but well marked out and accessible--these are the paths of the life of
Illumination--at length, a wide road almost smooth, the road of the
life of unity, at the end of which the soul throws itself into the
furnace of Love, and falls into the abyss of the most adorable Infinity!

"On the whole, these three ways are successively reserved to those who
start in Christian asceticism, to those who practise it, and finally to
those who attain to the supreme end, the death of self and the life in
God.

"Long," pursued the oblate, "I have placed my desires beyond the
horizon, yet I progress little; I am scarcely disengaged from the life
of Purification, scarcely...."

"And you do not fear--how shall I say--material infirmities, for if at
last you succeed in attaining the limits of contemplation, you risk the
ruin of your body for ever. Experience seems to show, in effect, that
the deified soul acts on the constitution and brings incurable
troubles."

The oblate smiled. "In the first place I should, no doubt, fail to
attain to the last degree of initiation, the extreme point of mysticism;
then, supposing I attain it, what would corporal accidents be in the
face of such results?

"Let me also assure you that these accidents are neither so frequent nor
so certain as you seem to think.

"A man may be a great mystic, or an admirable saint, and not be the
subject of visible phenomena for those who surround him. Would you not
think, for example, that levitation, or the flight of bodies in the air,
which seems to constitute the highest state of rapture, is one of the
rarest? Whom can you quote to me? Saint Teresa, Saint Christina the
Admirable, Saint Peter of Alcantara, Dominic of Mary Jesus, Agnes of
Bohemia, Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Gorardesca of
Pisa, and above all Saint Joseph of Cupertino, who raised himself at
will from the ground. But they are ten or twenty out of thousands of the
elect!

"And note well that these gifts do not prove their superiority over
other Saints. Saint Teresa declares expressly: it must not be imagined
that anyone, blessed as he may be in this respect, is better than those
who are not so blessed, for our Lord directs each one according to his
particular need.

"And then the doctrine of the Church is seen in the untiring prudence
shown in the canonization of the dead. Qualities and not extraordinary
acts decide this; for the Church, miracles themselves are only secondary
proofs, for she knows that the Spirit of Evil imitates them.

"In the lives of the Blessed you will find, too, the most unusual deeds,
and more amazing phenomena than in the biographies of the Saints. These
phenomena have rather hindered than helped them. After having beatified
them for their virtues, the Church has put off--and no doubt for a long
time--their promotion to the sovereign dignity of Saints.

"It is difficult, on the whole, to formulate an exact theory on this
subject, for if the cause, if the mental action is the same in all
mystics, it differs a little, as I have said, according to God's will
and the character of the subjects; the difference of sex often changes
the form of the mystic flow, though in essence it never varies; the rush
of the Spirit from on High may produce different effects, but is none
the less identical.

"The only observation we dare make in these matters is that women, as a
rule, are more passive and less reserved, while men resist more
violently the wishes of Heaven."

"That makes me think," said Durtal, "that even in religion there are
souls which seem to have mistaken their sex. Saint Francis of Assisi,
who was all love, had rather the feminine soul of a nun, and Saint
Teresa, who was the most attentive of psychologists, had the virile soul
of a monk. We might correctly speak of Saint Francis as a woman and
Saint Teresa as a man."

The oblate smiled. "To return to your question," he resumed, "I do not
at all believe that illness can be the necessary consequence of
phenomena aroused by the impetuous force of mysticism."

"But look at Saint Colette, Lidwine, Saint Aldegonde, Jane-Mary of the
Cross, Sister Emmerich and how many more who passed their existence,
half paralyzed, upon a bed! They are a small minority. Besides, the
Saints or Blessed ones whose names you quote were victims of
substitution, expiating the sins of others, a part God had reserved to
them; it is not, therefore, surprising that they were bed-ridden and
cripples, and were constantly half dead.

"No, the truth is that mysticism can modify the needs of the body,
without, for all that, having much effect on, or destroying the health.
I know well, you would answer me with that terrible phrase of Saint
Hildegarde, a phrase at once just and sinister: 'the Lord dwells not in
the bodies of the healthy and vigorous,' and you might add, with Saint
Teresa, that evils are more frequent in the last of the castles of the
soul. Yes, but these saints hoist themselves on the summit of life and
retain God in a permanent manner in their carnal shell. Having reached
this point, nature, too feeble to support a perfect state, gives way,
but, I assert again, these cases are an exception and not a rule. And,
alas, such maladies are not contagious.

"I am quite aware," resumed the oblate, after a pause, "that the very
existence of mysticism is resolutely denied by some who in consequence
can never admit the possibility of any influence over the bodily organs,
but the experience of this supernatural reality is from all time, and
proofs abound.

"Let us take the stomach for example. Well, under the heavenly
influence, it becomes transformed, omits all earthly nourishment and
consumes the Holy Species only.

"Saint Catherine of Siena and Angela of Foligno lived for years
exclusively on the Sacrament; and this gift devolved equally upon Saint
Colette, Saint Lidwine, Dominic of Paradise, Saint Columba of Rieti,
Mary Bagnesi, Rose of Lima, Saint Peter of Alcantara, Mother Agnes of
Langeac and on many others.

"Under the divine impress the senses of smell and taste presented no
less strange metamorphoses. Saint Philip Nevi, Saint Angela, Saint
Margaret of Cortona recognized a special taste in unleavened bread, when
after the consecration there was no longer any wheat, but the very flesh
of Christ. Saint Pacomius knew heretics by their foul smell; Saint
Catherine of Siena, Saint Joseph of Cupertino and Mother Agnes of Jesus
discovered sins by their evil odours; Saint Hilarion, Saint Lutgarde,
Gentilla of Ravenna, could tell merely by the scent of those whom they
met what faults they had committed.

"And the Saints themselves, whether living or dead, exhaled powerful
perfumes.

"When Saint Francis de Paul and Venturini of Bergamo offered the
Sacrifice they smelt sweet. Saint Joseph of Cupertino secreted such
fragrant odours that his track could be followed; and sometimes it was
during illness that these aromas were diffused.

"The pus of Saint John of the Cross and of the Blessed Didée gave forth
strong and distinct scent of lilies; Barthole, the tertiary, gnawed to
the bones by leprosy, gave out pleasant emanations, and the same was the
case with Lidwine, Ida of Louvain, Saint Colette, Saint Humiliana,
Maria-Victoria of Genoa, Dominic of Paradise, whose wounds were boxes of
perfume, whence fresh scents escaped.

"And thus we can enumerate organs and senses one after another, and
declare marvellous effects. Without speaking of those faithful stigmata
which open or shut according to the Proper of the liturgical year, what
is more astounding than the gift of bilocation, the power of doubling
oneself, of being in two places at the same time, at the same moment?
And yet what numerous examples exist of this incredible fact: many are
celebrated, amongst others those of Saint Antony of Padua, Saint Francis
Xavier, Marie of Agreda, who was at the same time in her monastery in
Spain and in Mexico when she was preaching to infidels, Mother Agnes of
Jesus, who came to visit M. Olier at Paris without leaving her convent
at Langeac. And, again, the action from on High seems singularly
energetic when it takes hold of the central organ of circulation, the
motor which drives the blood into all parts of the body.

"Numbers of the elect had such a burning heart that the linen they wore
was singed; the fire which consumed Ursula Benincasa, the foundress of
the Theatines, was so strong that this saint breathed columns of smoke
as soon as she opened her mouth; Saint Catherine of Genoa dipped her
feet or her hands in iced water and the water boiled; snow melted round
Saint Peter of Alcantara, and, one day when the blessed Gerlach was
crossing a forest in the depth of winter he advised his companion, who
walked behind him, and who could not go on, as his legs were numb, to
put his feet into his footsteps, and immediately he ceased to feel cold.

"I will add that certain of these phenomena, which make freethinkers
smile, have been renewed and have been verified quite recently.

"Linen scorched by the fire of the heart has been observed by Dr.
Imbert-Gourbeyre on the stigmatized Palma d'Oria, and phenomena of high
mysticism, which no science can explain, were watched in the case of
Louise Lateau, minute by minute, and noted and controlled by Professor
Rohling, Dr. Lafebvre, Dr. Imbert Gourbeyre, Dr. de Noüe, by medical
delegates from all countries....

"But here we are," said the oblate; "excuse me, I will go first to show
you the way."

They had left the enclosure as he spoke, and cutting across the fields,
reached an immense farm. Trappists bowed respectfully as they entered
the court yard. M. Bruno, addressing himself to one of them, asked him
to be good enough to take them over the property.

The lay brother took them to the cattle sheds, then to the stables, then
to the poultry yard; Durtal, who was not interested in such sights,
confined himself to admiring the grace of these good people. No one
spoke, but they replied to questions by signs and winks.

"But how do they communicate with each other?" asked Durtal, when they
were outside the farm.

"You have just seen; they correspond by signs; they have a simpler
alphabet than that of the deaf and dumb, for each idea that they may
require to express for their common work is foreseen.

"Thus the word 'wash' is translated by one hand tapping on the other;
the word 'vegetable' by scratching the left forefinger; sleep is feigned
by leaning the head upon the fist; drink by raising a closed hand to the
lips. And for more spiritual expressions they employ a like method.
Confession is translated by a finger kissed and laid upon the heart;
holy water by five fingers of the left hand clasped on which a cross is
made with the thumb of the right hand; fasting by fingers which close
the mouth; the word 'yesterday' by turning the arm back towards the
shoulder; shame by covering the eyes with the hand."

"But supposing they wished to indicate me, who am not one of themselves,
how would they set about it?"

"They would use the sign of 'guest,' which they make by stretching out
the hand and bringing it near the body."

"That means that I come to them from far, an open and even transparent
fact if you like."

They went silently along a walk which led down into the labour fields.

"I have not noticed Brother Anacletus or old Simeon among these monks,"
exclaimed Durtal, suddenly.

"They are not occupied on the farm; Brother Anacletus is employed in the
chocolate factory, and Brother Simeon looks after the pigs; both are
working in the immediate neighbourhood of the monastery. If you like, we
will go and wish Simeon good-morning."

And the oblate added, "You can tell them, when you go back to Paris,
that you have seen a real saint, such as existed in the eleventh
century; he carries us back to the time of St. Francis of Assisi; he is
in some sense the reincarnation of that astonishing Juniper whose
innocent exploits the Fioretti celebrate for us. You know that work?"

"Yes; after the Golden Legend it is the book on which the soul of the
Middle Ages is most clearly impressed."

"But to return to Simeon; this old man is a saint of uncommon
simplicity. Here is one proof out of a thousand. Several months ago I
was in the prior's cell when Brother Simeon appeared. He made use of the
ordinary formula in asking permission to speak, 'Benedicite.' Father
Maximin replied 'Dominus,' and on this word, which permitted him to
speak, the brother showed his glasses and said he could no longer see
clearly.

"'That is not very surprising,' said the prior, 'you have been using the
same glasses for nearly ten years, and since then your eyes may well
have become weaker; never mind, we will find the number which suits your
sight now.'

"As he spoke, Father Maximin mechanically moved the glass of the
spectacles between his hands, and suddenly he laughed, showing me his
fingers, which were black. He turned round, took a cloth, cleaned the
spectacles, and replacing them on the brother's nose, said to him, 'Do
you see, Brother Simeon?'

"And the old man, astonished, cried 'Yes ... I see!'

"But this is only one side of this good man. Another is the love of his
beasts. When a sow is going to bring forth, he asks permission to pass
the night by her, and delivers her, looking after her like his child,
weeps when they sell his little pigs or when the big ones are sent to
the slaughter-house! And how all the animals adore him!"

"Truly," the oblate went on, after a silence, "God loves simple souls
above all, for he loads Brother Simeon with graces. Alone, here, he can
reabsorb and even prevent the demoniacal accidents which arise in
cloisters. Then we assist at strange performances: one fine morning all
the pigs fall on their sides; they are ill and at the point of death.

"Simeon, who knows the origin of these evils, cries to the Devil: 'Wait,
wait, and you will see!' He runs for holy water, and sprinkles them with
it, praying the while, and all the beasts who were dying jump up,
frisking about and wagging their tails.

"As for diabolic incursions into the convent itself, they are but too
real, and sometimes are only driven back after persistent prayers and
energetic fastings; at certain times in most convents the Demon sows a
harvest of hobgoblins of whom no one knows how to get rid. Here, the
father abbot, the prior, and all those who are priests have failed; it
was necessary, to give efficacy to the exorcisms, that the humble lay
brother should intervene; so, to forestall new attacks, he has obtained
the right to wash the monastery with holy water and to use prayers
whenever he thinks well to do so.

"He has the power of feeling where the Evil One is hidden, and he
follows him, tracks him, and finally casts him out."

"Here is the piggery," continued M. Bruno, showing a tumble-down old
place in front of the left wing of the cloister, surrounded by
palisades; and he added,

"I warn you, the old man grunts like a pig, but he will not answer your
questions except by signs."

"But he can speak to his animals?"

"Yes, to them only."

The oblate opened a small door, and the lay brother, all bent, lifted
his head with difficulty.

"Good-day, brother," said M. Bruno; "here is a gentleman who would like
to see your pupils."

There was a grunt of joy on the lips of the old man. He smiled and
invited them by a sign to follow him.

He introduced them into a shed, and Durtal recoiled, deafened by
horrible cries, suffocated by the pestilential heat of the liquid
manure. All the pigs jumped up behind their barrier, and howled with
joy at the sight of the brother.

"Peace, peace," said the old man, in a gentle voice; and lifting an arm
over the paling, he caressed the snouts which, on smelling him, were
almost suffocated by grunting.

He drew Durtal aside by the arm, and making him lean over the trellis
work, showed him an enormous sow with a snub nose, of English breed, a
monstrous animal surrounded by a company of sucking pigs which rushed,
as if mad, at her teats.

"Yes, my beauty; go, my beauty," murmured the old man, stroking her
bristles with his hand.

And the sow looked at him with little languishing eyes, and licked his
fingers; she ended by screaming abominably when he went away.

And Brother Simeon showed off other pupils, pigs with ears like the
mouth of a trumpet and corkscrew tails, sows whose stomachs trailed and
whose feet seemed hardly outside their bodies, new-born pigs which
sucked ravenously at the teats, larger ones, who delighted in chasing
each other about and rolled in the mud, snorting.

Durtal complimented him on the beasts, and the old man was jubilant,
wiping his face with his great hand; then, on the oblate inquiring about
the litter of some sow, he felt his fingers in a row; replying to the
observation that the animals were very greedy, by stretching his arms to
heaven, showing the empty troughs, lifting ends of wood, tearing up
tufts of grass which he carried to his lips, grunting as if he had his
muzzle full.

Then he took them into the courtyard, placed them against the wall,
opened a door beyond, and hid himself. A formidable boar passed like a
waterspout, upset a wheelbarrow, scattering everything round him with a
noise like a shell bursting; then he broke into a gallop all round the
courtyard, and ended by taking a header into a sea of liquid manure. He
wallowed, turned head over heels, kicked about with his four feet in the
air, and got up black and disgusting as the inside of a chimney.

After this he halted, grunted a cheerful note, and wished to fawn on the
monk, who checked him with a gesture.

"Your boar is splendid!" said Durtal.

And the lay brother looked on Durtal with moist eyes as he rubbed his
neck with his hand, sighing.

"That means they are going to kill him soon," said the oblate.

And the old man acquiesced with a melancholy shake of his head.

They left him, thanking him for his kindness.

"When I think of how this being, who is devoted to the lowest duties,
prays in church, I long to kneel before him and, like his pigs, kiss his
hands!" exclaimed Durtal after a silence.

"Brother Simeon is an angelic being," replied the oblate. "He lives the
Unitive life, his soul plunged, drowned in the divine essence. Under a
rough exterior an absolutely white soul, a soul without sin, lives in
this poor body; it is right that God should spoil him! As I have told
you, He has given him all power over the Demon; and in certain cases He
allows him also the power of healing by the imposition of hands. He has
renewed here the wonderful cures of the ancient saints."

They ceased speaking, and, warned by the bells which were ringing for
Vespers, they moved towards the church.

And, coming to himself again, trying to recover, Durtal remained
astounded. Monastic life retarded time. How many weeks had he been at La
Trappe, and how many days since had he approached the Sacraments? that
was lost in the distance. Ah, life was double in these cloisters! And
yet he was not tired of it; he had bent himself easily to the hard rule,
and, in spite of the scanty meals, he felt no sick headaches or failing;
he had never felt so well!--but what remained was a feeling of stifling,
of restrained sighs, this burning melancholy for hours, and, more than
all, this vague anxiety at listening again within himself, and hearing
united in his person the voices of this Trinity, God, the Devil, and
Man.

"This is not the peace of the soul I dreamed of--and it is even worse
than at Paris," he said to himself, recalling the maddening trial of the
rosary--"and yet--how can I explain it? I am happy here all the same."



CHAPTER V.


Rising, somewhat earlier than his wont, Durtal went down to the chapel.
The office of Matins was over, but some lay brothers, amongst whom was
Brother Simeon, were praying on their knees on the ground.

The sight of this holy swine-herd threw Durtal into a long train of
thought. He tried in vain to penetrate into the sanctuary of that soul,
hidden like an invisible chapel behind the dunghill rampart of a body;
he did not even succeed in representing to himself the docile and
clinging soul of this man, who had attained the highest state to which
the human creature can reach here below.

"What a power of prayer he has," thought he, as he looked at the old
man.

He remembered the details of his interview the evening before. "It is
true," he thought, "that in this monk I find something of the charm of
that brother Juniper, whose surprising simplicity has come down through
the ages."

And he brought to mind the adventures of that Franciscan whom his
companions left one day by himself in the convent, telling him to
prepare dinner against their return.

Juniper reflected, "What an amount of time is spent in preparing food!
The brothers who take turns in that work have not even time to
pray"--and desiring to lighten the work of those who should succeed him
in the kitchen, he determined to cook such plentiful dishes that the
community might dine on them for a fortnight.

He lighted all the stoves, procured, we are not told how, enormous
boilers, filled them with water, threw into them, pell-mell, eggs with
their shells, chickens with their feathers, vegetables he had neglected
to trim, and before a fire which would roast an ox, he exerted himself
to pile up and stir the ridiculous jumble of his stock-pots.

When the brothers came home, and sat down in the refectory, he ran, his
face browned and his hands burnt, and joyously served up his stew. The
superior asked him if he were not mad, while he remained stupefied that
no one gobbled up this astonishing mess. He declared in all humility
that he thought he was doing a service to his brethren, and only when he
observed that so much food would be wasted, did he weep hot tears, and
declare himself a wretch; he cried that he was good for nothing but to
spoil the property of Almighty God, while the monks smiled, admiring
this debauch of charity, and the excess of Juniper's simplicity.

"Brother Simeon would be humble enough and simple enough to renew again
such splendid jokes," thought Durtal, "but better still than the good
Franciscan, he recalls the memory of that astonishing Saint Joseph of
Cupertino, of whom the oblate spoke yesterday."

He, who called himself brother Ass, was a charming and poor creature, so
modest, and so ignorant, that he was turned away wherever he went. He
passed through life, with open mouth, thrusting himself eagerly against
all the cloisters that repulsed him. He wandered about unable to perform
even the lowest tasks. He was, to use a popular expression, a regular
butter-fingers, and broke whatever he touched. They ordered him to go
and fetch water, and he wandered without understanding, absorbed in God,
and at the end, when no one thought about it any more, brought some
after a month.

A monastery of Capucins which had received him, got rid of him. He went
his way, vaguely, out of his orbit among the towns, stumbled into
another convent where he employed himself in taking care of the animals,
whom he adored, and he rose into a perpetual ecstasy, revealing himself
as the most singular of wonder workers, putting the demons to flight,
and healing the sick. He was at once idiotic and sublime; in the
hagiography he stands alone, and seems to figure there to furnish a
proof that the soul is identified with Eternal Wisdom, rather by
ignorance than by science.

"He also loves animals," said Durtal to himself, as he looked at old
Simeon; "and he too puts to flight the Evil One, and works cures by his
sanctity.

"In a time when all men are exclusively haunted by the thoughts of
luxury and lucre, the soul appears extraordinary when divested of its
bark, as the candid and naked soul of this good monk. He is eighty years
old and more, and he has led from his youth up the restricted life of
the Trappists; he probably does not know in what time he lives, nor what
latitudes he inhabits, whether he is in America or in France, for he has
never read a newspaper, and outside rumours do not reach him.

"He does not even know the taste of flesh meat or wine; he has no notion
of money, of which he does not suspect the value nor the appearance; he
does not imagine how a woman is made; and save for the breeding of his
pigs, he perhaps cannot even guess the meaning and the consequences of
the sin of the flesh.

"He lives alone ringed round by silence, and buried in the shade; he
meditates on the mortifications of the Fathers in the Desert, which are
read to him as he eats, and the frenzy of their fasts makes him ashamed
of his miserable repast, and he accuses himself that he is so well to
do.

"Ah! this Father Simeon is innocent; he knows nothing that we know, and
knows that of which all others are ignorant; his education has been
taken in hand by the Lord Himself, who teaches him truths which we
cannot comprehend, models his soul after heaven, infuses Himself into
him, possesses him, and deifies him in the union of Blessedness.

"This puts us somewhat at a distance from hypocrites and devout persons;
as far indeed as modern Catholicism is from Mysticism, for certainly
that religion is as grovelling on the ground as Mysticism is high!

"And that is true. Instead of directing all our forces to that unknown
end, of taking our soul to fashion it in that form of a dove which the
Middle Ages gave to the pyxes; instead of making it the shrine where the
Host reposes in the very image of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic confines
himself to trying to conceal his conscience, to deceive his Judge by the
fear of a salutary hell; he acts not by choice, but by fear: he with the
aid of his clergy, and the help of his imbecile literature, and his
feeble press, has made of religion a mere fetishism, a ridiculous
worship composed of statuettes and alms boxes; candles and
chromo-lithographs; he has materialized the ideal of Love, in inventing
an entirely physical devotion to the Sacred Heart.

"What baseness of conception!" continued Durtal, who had come out of the
chapel, and was strolling along the bank of the great pond. He looked at
the reeds, which bent like an harvest still green, under a puff of wind;
then he half saw as he leant forward, an old boat, which bore almost
effaced on its blueish hull the name "Alleluia." This bark disappeared
under the tufts of leaves round which were twined the bells of the
convolvulus, a symbolic flower, since it widens out like a chalice, and
has the dead white of a wafer.

The scent of the water, at once enticing and bitter, intoxicated him.
"Ah!" he thought, "happiness certainly consists in being restricted to a
place closely locked, a prison very confined, or a chapel always open,"
and he caught himself up: "Ah! there is Brother Anacletus;" the lay
brother was coming towards him, bending under a hamper.

He passed before Durtal, smiling at him with his eyes: and while he went
his way, Durtal thought, "This man is a true friend of mine; when I was
suffering so much before my confession, he expressed all to me in a
look. To-day when he believes me serener, and more joyous, he is
content, and shows it to me by a smile; and I shall never speak to him,
I shall never thank him, I shall never even know who he is, I shall
perhaps never even see him again.

"In leaving this place, I shall keep a friend, for whom I too feel
affection; yet neither of us has even exchanged a gesture with the
other.

"After all," he thought, "does not this absolute reserve make our
friendship more perfect? it is stamped in the eternal distance, it
remains mysterious and incomplete, and more certain."

While thinking over these reflections, Durtal went towards the chapel,
where the Office called him, and thence to the refectory.

He was surprised to find the table laid only for one. "What has happened
to M. Bruno? Yet I may as well wait a while," and to kill time, he
occupied himself by reading a printed card, hung upon the wall.

It was a sort of advertisement which began thus:

     "ETERNITY.

     "Fellow sinners, you will die. Be ye always ready.

     "Watch then, pray without ceasing, never forget the Four Last
     Things which you see here traced

    "Death, the gate of Eternity,
    Judgment, which decides Eternity,
    Hell, the abode of unhappy Eternity,
    Paradise, the abode of blessed Eternity."

Father Etienne interrupted Durtal, telling him that M. Bruno had gone to
Saint Landry to make some purchases, and would only return at bed-time
at eight o'clock. "Dine then without waiting, and make haste, or all
your dishes will be cold."

"And how is the father abbot?"

"Better, he keeps his room still, but he hopes to be able to come down a
while, the day after to-morrow, and assist at least at some of the
offices."

And the monk bowed and disappeared.

Durtal seated himself at table, ate some bean broth, swallowed a
soft-boiled egg and a spoonful of warm beans, then once outside, he
passed along the chapel, entered it, and knelt before the altar of the
Virgin; but at once the spirit of blasphemy filled him; he wished,
whatever it cost him, to insult the Virgin; it seemed to him that he
would experience a sharp joy, an acute pleasure in soiling her; but he
restrained himself, he wrinkled his face not to allow the coal-heaver's
abuse, which was on his lips, to escape.

And he detested these abominations; he revolted against them, strove
against them with horror; and the impulse became so irresistible, that
in order to keep silence he was obliged to bite his lips till they bled.

"This is somewhat strong," he said, "to hear grumbling in oneself, the
contrary of what one is thinking;" but he had need to call to his help
all his will, he felt that he should yield, and spit out all these
impurities; wherefore he fled, thinking, that should he find no means of
resistance, it were better to vomit this filth in the court rather than
in the church.

And so soon as he quitted the chapel this madness of blasphemy ceased;
he walked along the pond astonished by the strange violence of the
attack.

Little by little there came to him the unexplained intuition of a danger
that menaced him. As a beast that scents a hidden enemy, he looked with
precaution within himself, and ended by seeing a black point on the
horizon of his soul, and suddenly, before he had time to reconnoitre,
and take account of the danger he saw arising, this point extended, and
covered him with its shadow; there was no more light in him.

He had that minute of unrest which precedes the storm, and in the
anxious silence of his being, arguments fell like drops of rain.

The painful effects of the Sacrament justified themselves, had he not
proceeded in such a way that his communion could not but be unfaithful?
Evidently; instead of collecting and straining himself, he had passed an
afternoon of revolt and anger; the very evening before he had unworthily
judged an ecclesiastic whose only wrong was that he took pleasure in the
vanity of easy jokes. Had he confessed this injustice, and these
revolts? Not the least in the world; and after the communion still less;
had he, as he should have done, shut himself up alone with his Guest? He
had abandoned Him, without thinking more of Him; had quitted his
innermost cell, had taken a walk in the wood, had not even been present
at the Offices.

"But come, come, this blame is foolish. I communicated, just as I was,
on the formal order of the confessor; as for the walk, I did not ask for
it nor wish for it. M. Bruno, in agreement with the abbot of La Trappe,
decided it would do me good; I have then nothing to reproach myself
with; I am blameless.

"This does not prove that you would not have done better to spend the
day in prayer, in the church.

"But," he cried, "with such a system one could not move, one could not
eat, nor sleep, for one should never leave the church. There must be
time for everything, or the devil take it all!

"No doubt, but a more diligent soul would have refused that excursion,
just because it was pleasant; would have avoided it, out of
mortification, in a spirit of penance."

"Evidently, but" ... these scruples tortured him; "the fact is," he
said, "I might have employed my afternoon more wholesomely than that;"
to believe that he had spent it ill was but a step, and he made it. He
pelted himself for an hour, sweating with agony, heaping on himself
imaginary sins, and entering so far on that road that he ended by
suddenly realizing his position and understanding he was out of the
right track.

The story of the rosary returned to his memory, and then he blamed
himself for allowing himself to be again driven into a corner by the
demon. He began to breathe again, to regain his footing, when other
attacks equally formidable presented themselves.

It was no longer an insinuation of arguments which ran drop by drop, but
a furious rain, which threw itself like an avalanche on his soul. The
storm, of which the wave of scruples was only the prelude, burst in its
fulness; and in the panic of the first moment, in the violence of the
tempest, the enemy unmasked his batteries, and struck him to the heart.

He had got no good from that communion, but he was also too young at it.
Ah! indeed, was he to believe that because a priest uttered five Latin
words over a bit of unleavened bread, that bread was transubstantiated
into the flesh of Christ? That a child should accept such nonsense,
might be possible, but that a man past forty should listen to such
formidable shams, was excessive; almost disquieting.

And these insinuations lashed him like hail showers: how could bread
made of wheat before, have only the appearance of wheat afterwards; what
is flesh that is neither seen nor felt; what is a body, which has such
ubiquity as to be at the same time on the altars of divers countries;
what is that power which is annihilated when the Host is not made of
pure wheat?

And this became a regular deluge which overwhelmed him, and yet like an
impenetrable pile, that Faith he had acquired without ever having known
how, remained immovable, disappeared under torrents of interrogation,
but never stirred.

He revolted, and said to himself: "This only proves that the sacramental
darkness of the Eucharist cannot be sounded. Moreover, if it were
intelligible, it would not be divine. If the God whom we serve could be
comprehended by reason, He could not be worth the trouble of serving,
said Tauler; and the 'Imitation' declares plainly also at the end of the
IVth book that if the works of God were such as man's intelligence could
easily grasp, they would cease to be marvellous, and could not be
qualified as ineffable."

And a mocking voice replied,

"That is what you call answering, avowing that there is nothing to
answer."

"In fact," said Durtal, who reflected, "I have been present at
spiritualistic experiences, where no trickery was possible. It was quite
evident that there was no fluid from the spectators, no suggestion of
persons surrounding the table who dictated the responses; then in giving
its raps, the table expressed itself suddenly in English, though no one
spoke that language, then a few minutes later, addressing itself to me,
who was at a distance from it, and consequently was not touching it, it
told me this time in French, facts which I had forgotten, and I alone
could know. I am then certainly obliged to suppose an element of the
supernatural, using a table in guise of an interpreter, to accept if not
the evocation of the dead, but at least the proved existence of ghosts.

"Then it is not more impossible, more surprising that Christ should
substitute Himself for a piece of bread, than that a ghost should hide
and brag in the foot of a table. These phenomena equally put our senses
to rout; but if one of them be undeniable, and spiritualistic
manifestation certainly is so, what motives can we invoke to deny the
other, which is moreover attested by thousands of saints?

"After all," he went on with a smile, "we have already demonstration by
the absurd, but this may be called demonstration by the abject, for if
the Eucharistic mystery is sublime, it is not the same with
spiritualism, which is after all only the latrine of the supernatural!"

"If this were the only enigma," began the voice again, "but all the
Catholic doctrines are on the same model; examine religion from its
birth, and see if it do not always issue by an absurd dogma.

"Here is a God, infinitely perfect, infinitely good, a God who is not
ignorant of past, present, or future. He knew then that Eve would sin;
therefore of two things, one; either He is not good, in that He
submitted her to that proof knowing that she had not power to stand it;
or again, He was not certain of her defeat; in that case He is not
omniscient, He is not perfect."

Durtal gave no answer to this dilemma; which is in fact difficult to
resolve.

"Yet," he thought, "we may at once exclude one of these two
propositions, the latter; for it is childish to concern ourselves about
the future, when we have to do with God; we judge Him by our miserable
understanding, and there is for Him neither present nor past, nor
future; He sees them all at the same moment in light uncreate. For Him
distance has no figure, and space is nought. It is consequently
impossible to doubt that the Serpent will conquer. This amputated
dilemma is then out of order."

"Be it so, but the other alternative remains; what do you make of His
goodness?"

"His goodness?" And Durtal had need to repeat again the arguments drawn
from free will, and the promised coming of the Saviour; and he was
obliged to admit that these answers were weak.

And the voice became more pressing,

"Then you admit original sin?"

"I am obliged to admit it, because it exists. What are heredity and
atavism, save, under another name, the terrible sin of the beginning?"

"And does it appear to you just that innocent generations should make
amends now and always for the sin of the first man?"

And as Durtal did not reply, the voice insinuated gently,

"This law is so iniquitous that it seems as if the Creator were ashamed
of it, and that in order to punish Himself for His ferocity, and not to
make Himself for ever execrated by His creature, He wished to suffer on
the Cross, and expiate His crime in the person of His own Son."

"But," cried Durtal, exasperated, "God could not commit a crime and
punish Himself: were that so, Jesus would be the Redeemer of His Father,
and not ours; it is madness!"

Little by little he recovered his balance; he recited slowly the
Apostles' Creed, while the objections which demolished it, pressed one
after the other within him.

"There is one fact certain," he said to himself, for in all this
tumult, he was perfectly lucid, "that for the moment we are two persons
in one. I can follow my reasonings, and I hear on the other side, the
sophisms my double breathes in me. This duality has never appeared so
clear to me."

And the attack grew feebler, on this reflection; it might have been
believed that the enemy now discovered was beating a retreat.

But nothing of the kind; after a short truce, the assault began again on
another point.

"Are you very sure that you have not suggested and shown the blow to
yourself? By having wished, you have ended by begetting belief, and by
implanting in yourself a fixed idea, disguised under the name of grace,
round which everything now clings. You complain that you did not
experience sensible joys after your communion; this simply proves that
you were not careful enough, or that, tired by the excess of the evening
before, your imagination showed itself unready to play the infatuating
fairy story you expected from yourself after the mass.

"Moreover, you ought to know that in these questions all depends on the
more or less feverish activity of the brain and the senses; see what
takes place in the case of women, who deceive themselves more easily
than men; for that again declares the difference of conformations, the
variety between the sexes; Christ gives Himself carnally under the
appearances of bread; that is mystical marriage, the divine union
consummated by the way of the lips; He is indeed the spouse of women,
while we men, without willing it, by the very lodestone of our nature,
are more attracted by the Virgin. But she does not give herself, like
her Son, to us; she does not reside in the Sacrament; possession is in
her case impossible; she is our Mother, but she is not our Spouse, as he
is the Spouse of virgins.

"We conceive, therefore, that women are more violently duped, that they
adore better, and imagine more easily the more they are petted.
Moreover, M. Bruno said to you yesterday, 'Woman is more passive, less
rebellious to the action of Heaven ...'

"Well, what has that to do with me; what does that prove? that the more
we love the better we are loved: but if that axiom is false, from the
earthly point of view, it is certainly exact from the divine point of
view; which would be monstrous, and would come to this, that the Lord
would not treat the soul of a Poor Clare better than mine."

There was again a time of rest, and the attack turned and rushed on a
new place.

"Then you believe in an eternal hell? You suppose a God more cruel than
yourself, a God who has created people, without their having been
consulted, without their having asked to be born; and after having
suffered during their existence, they will be again punished without
mercy after their death; but consider, if you were to see your worst
enemy in torture, you would be taken by pity, and would ask pardon for
him. You would pardon, and the Almighty be implacable; you will admit
this is to have a singular idea of Him."

Durtal was silent; hell going on infinitely became in fact wearisome.
The reply that it is legitimate, that punishment should be infinite,
because rewards are so, was not decisive, since indeed it were the
property of perfect goodness, to abridge the chastisements and prolong
the joys.

"But, in fact," he said to himself, "Saint Catherine of Genoa has
elucidated the question. She explains very well that God sends a ray of
mercy, a current of pity into hell, that no damned soul suffers as much
as it deserves to suffer; that if expiation ought not to cease, it may
be modified, and weakened, and become at length less rigorous, less
intense.

"She remarks also, that at the moment of its separation from the body,
the soul becomes obstinate or yields; if it remain hardened and shows no
contrition for its faults, its guilt cannot be remitted, since, after
death, free will subsists no more; the will which we possess at the
moment of quitting the world remains invariable.

"If, on the contrary, it does not persist in those impenitent
sentiments, a part of the repression will no doubt be removed; and
consequently is not devoted to a continual gehenna, as that which
deliberately, while there is yet time, will not return to amendment,
refuses in fact to lay aside its sins.

"Let us add that according to the saint, God does not even make the soul
empty to be never polluted by sin, for it goes there of itself; it is
led there by the very nature of its sins, it flings itself in as into
its own good; is, if one may say so, naturally engulfed there.

"In fact we may imagine to ourselves a very small hell, and a very large
purgatory; may imagine that hell is scantily peopled, is only reserved
for cases of rare wickedness, that in reality the crowd of disincarnate
souls presses into Purgatory and there endures punishments proportioned
to the misdeeds it has willed here below. These ideas have nothing which
cannot be sustained, and they have the advantage of being in accord with
the ideas of mercy and justice."

"Exactly," replied the voice in railing tones. "Man then will do well to
constrain himself; he may steal, rob, kill his father, and violate his
daughter; the price is the same; provided he repent at the last minute,
he is saved!"

"But no, contrition takes away the eternity of punishment only, and not
punishment itself; everyone must be punished or rewarded according to
his works. He who will be soiled by a parricide or an incest will bear a
chastisement different in pain and length to him who has not committed
them; equality in expiatory suffering, in reparative pain, does not
exist.

"Moreover this idea of a purgative life after death is so natural, so
certain, that all religions assume it. All consider the soul is a sort
of air balloon, which cannot mount and attain its last end in space
except by throwing away its ballast. In the religions of the East, the
soul is re-incarnistic; in order to purify itself it rubs itself against
a new body, like a blade in sandstone troughs, to brighten it. For us
Catholics it undergoes no terrestrial avatar, but it lightens and scours
itself, clears itself in the Purgatory, where God transforms it, draws
it out, extracts it little by little from the dross of its sins, till it
can raise itself and lose itself in Him.

"To have done with this irritating question of a perpetual hell, why not
conceive that divine justice hesitates in the majority of cases to
pronounce inexorable decrees? Humanity is for the most part composed of
unconscious rascals and fools, who do not take any count of the reach of
their faults. These are saved by their complete want of comprehension.
As for others who rot, knowing what they do, they are evidently more
blameworthy, but society which hates superior beings takes on itself
their punishment, humiliates and persecutes them; and it is therefore
allowed us to hope that our Lord will pity these poor souls so miserably
pelted during their stay upon earth by a horde of fools."

"Then there is every advantage in being imbecile, since one is spared
both on earth and in heaven?"

"Ah! certainly, and yet ... and yet.... What is the good of discussion,
since we cannot frame for ourselves the least idea of the infinite
justice of a God?"

"Moreover, this is enough, these debates overwhelm me." He tried to
distract his thoughts from these subjects, and would feign to break the
obsession, betake himself to Paris; but five minutes had not passed
before his double returned to the charge.

He entered once more on that halting dilemma which had so recently
assailed the goodness of the Creator in regard to the sins of man.
"Purgatory is then exorbitant, for after all," said he, "God knew that
man would yield to temptations; then why allow them, and above all why
condemn them? Is that goodness, is that justice?"

"But it is a sophism," cried Durtal, growing angry. "God has left to
every man his liberty; no one is tempted beyond his power. If in certain
cases, he allows the seduction to overpass our means of resistance, it
is to recall us to humility, to bring us back to Him by remorse, for
other causes which we know not, which it is not His business to show us.
Then probably those transgressions are appreciated in a different way to
those which we have practised with our full accord."

"The liberty of man! it is a pretty thing. Yes, let us speak of it, and
atavism, and our surroundings and diseases of the brain, and of the
marrow. Is a man driven by the impulses of sickness, overwhelmed by
troubles of the generative organs, responsible for his acts?"

"But what can be said if under these conditions these acts are imputed
to him on high. It is after all idiotic always to compare divine justice
to man's tribunals; for it is exactly the contrary; human judgments are
often so infamous that they attest the existence of another equity.
Rather than the proofs of a theodicy, the magistrature proves God; for
without Him, how can be satisfied that instinct of justice so innate in
each of us, that even the humblest beast possesses it?"

"Yet," replied the voice, "all this does not hinder the change of
character according as the stomach does its work ill or well; slander,
anger, envy are accumulated bile, or faulty digestion; good temper, joy,
come from a free circulation of blood, the expansion of the body at
will; mystics are anemo-nervous people; your ecstatics are hysterical
patients badly-fed, madhouses are full of them; they depend on science
when visions begin."

All at once Durtal recovered himself, the material arguments were but
little disquieting, for none could remain standing: all confounded the
function and the organ, the lodger and the lodging, the clock and the
hour. Their assertions rested on no base. To liken the happy lucidity
and unequalled genius of a Saint Teresa to the extravagances of
nymphomaniacs and other mad women were so obtuse, so clumsy, that it
could only raise a smile!

The mystery would remain complete; no doctor has been able to discover
or could discover the psyche in those round or fusiform cells, in the
white matter or grey substance of the brain. They would recognize more
or less justly the organs which the soul uses to pull the strings of the
puppet, which it is condemned to move, but itself remains invisible; it
has gone, when after death they force open the rooms of its habitation.

"No; these newsmongers have no effect on me," Durtal assured himself.

"But does this one do any better? Do you believe in the utility of life,
in the necessity of this endless chain, this towage of sufferings, to be
prolonged for the most part after death? True goodness would have
consisted in inventing nothing, creating nothing, in leaving all as it
was, in nothingness, in peace."

The attack turned round on itself, and after apparent variations,
returned always to the same starting point.

Durtal lowered his head, for this argument dismasted him; all the
replies which could be imagined were remarkably weak, and the least
feeble, that which consists in denying to ourselves the right to judge
because we only see the details of the divine plan, because we can
possess no general view of it cannot avail against that terrible phrase
of Schopenhauer: "If God made the world I would not be that God, for
the misery of the world would break my heart!"

"There is no haggling in the matter," he said to himself. "I can quite
understand that sorrow is the true disinfectant of souls, yet I am
obliged to ask myself why the Creator has not invented a less atrocious
way of purifying us?

"Ah! when I think of the sufferings shut up in madhouses, and hospital
wards, I am revolted, and inclined to doubt everything.

"If, again, grief were an antiseptic for future misdeeds or a detersive
for past faults, one might again understand, but now it falls
indifferently on the bad and on the good; it is blind. The best proof is
the Virgin who was without spot, and who had not like her Son to expiate
for us. She consequently ought not to be punished; yet she too underwent
at the foot of Calvary the punishment exacted by this horrible law.

"Good; but then," replied Durtal, after a silence of reflection, "if the
innocent Virgin has given us an example, by what right do we who are
culpable dare to complain?

"No; we must therefore resolve to dwell in darkness, to live surrounded
by enigmas. Money, love, nothing is clear; chance if it exist is as
mysterious as Providence, and indeed still more so; it is inexplicable.
God is at least an origin of the unknown, a key.

"An origin which is itself another secret, a key which opens nothing!

"Ah! it is irritating," he said to himself, "to be thus harassed in
every sense. Enough of it; besides these are questions which a
theologian is alone able to discuss; I am unarmed, the game is not
equal; I will not answer any more."

And he could not but hear a vague laughter which arose in him.

He quitted the garden, and directed his steps towards the chapel, but
the fear of being seized again by the madness of blasphemy turned him
away from it. Knowing not whither to go, he regained his cell, saying to
himself, that he ought not to wrangle thus; yes, but how could he help
hearing the cavils which rose he knew not whence? He almost shouted
aloud: "Be silent, let the other speak!"

When he was in his chamber he desired to pray, and fell on his knees at
his bedside.

This was abominable; for memories of Florence recurred to him. He rose,
but the old aberrations returned.

He thought of that creature, her strange tastes, her mania for biting
his ears, for drinking toilet scents in little glasses, for nibbling
bread and butter with caviare, and dates. She was so wild, and so
strange; a fool no doubt, but obscure.

"And if she were in this room, before you, what would you do?"

He stammered to himself: "I would try not to yield."

"You lie; admit then that you would send your conversion, the monastery,
all, to the devil."

He grew pale at the thought; the possibility of his cowardice was a
punishment. To have communicated, when one was no more certain of the
future, no more certain of oneself, was almost a sacrilege, he thought.

And he became angry. Up till now he had kept right, but the vision of
Florence subdued him. He threw himself, in desperation, on a chair, no
longer knowing what would become of him, gathering what of courage
remained to him to descend to the church, where the Office was
beginning.

He dragged himself there, and held himself down, assailed by filthy
temptations, disgusted with himself, feeling his will yielding, wounded
in every part.

And when he was in the court he remained overwhelmed, asking himself
where he could take shelter. Every place had become hostile to him; in
his cell were carnal memories, outside were temptations against Faith,
"or rather," he cried, "I carry these with me always. My God, my God! I
was yesterday so tranquil."

He strolled by chance into an alley, when a new phenomenon arose.

He had had, up to this hour, in the sky within him, a rain of scruples,
a tempest of doubts, a thunderstroke of lust; now was silence and death.

Complete darkness was within him.

He sought his soul by groping for it, and found it inert, without
consciousness, almost icy. He had a body living and healthy; all his
intelligence, all his reason, and his other powers, his other faculties,
were benumbed little by little, and stopped. In his being there was
manifested an effect at once analogous and contrary to that which curara
produces on the organism, when it circulates in the network of the
blood; the members are paralyzed, no pain is experienced, but cold
rises, the soul ends by being sequestered alive in a corpse; in this
case it was the living body that detained a dead soul.

Harassed by fear, he disengaged himself with a supreme effort, he would
make a visit to himself, see where he was, and like a sailor who
descends into the hold in a ship that has sprung a leak, he had to step
backwards, for the gangway was cut, the steps opened upon an abyss.

In spite of the terror which rushed upon him, he hung fascinated over
the hole, and by fixing the black point he distinguished appearances; in
a light as of eclipse in rarefied air, he perceived at the basis of
himself the panorama of his soul, a desert twilight on the horizons that
approached the night, and under this doubtful light there seemed
something like bare fields, a marsh heaped with rubbish and cinders; the
place of the sins torn up by the confessor remained visible, but besides
the dry darnel of dead vices which grew still, nothing budded.

He saw himself exhausted; he knew that he had no further force to
extirpate the last roots, and he fancied that he had again to sow the
seed of virtues, to till this arid soil, manure this dead ground. He
felt himself incapable of all work, and had at the same time the
conviction that God rejected him, that God would aid him no more. This
certainty tore him to pieces. It could not be expressed, for nothing
could translate the anxiety, the anguish of a state through which he
must have passed who could understand it. The terror of a child who has
never left its mother's petticoats, and who is deserted, without
warning, in the open country in a fog, could only give a vestige of an
idea of it, and again by reason of his age the child after having felt
desolate would end by growing calmer, by distracting himself from his
grief, no longer seeing the danger which surrounds him, while in this
state is danger, clinging and absolute, the immovable thought of
abandonment, obstinate fear, which nothing diminishes, nothing appeases.

One dare not advance nor retreat; rather cast oneself on the ground,
with bowed head, and wait the end of what we know not, and be assured
that the menaces we ignore, and those at which we guess, are removed.
Durtal was at this point; he could not return on his steps, for the way
he had quitted horrified him. He would rather have died than return to
Paris, there to begin again his carnal experiences, to live again his
hours of libertinage and lassitude; but if he could not again retrace
his road, neither could he advance, for the road ended in a blind alley.
If earth repulsed him, heaven at the same time was closed for him.

He was lying, half on his side, in the darkness, in the shade, he knew
not where.

And this state was aggravated by an absolute failure to understand the
causes which brought him there, was exaggerated by the memory of graces
before received.

Durtal remembered the sweetness of the beginning, the caress of the
divine touches, the steady progress without obstacles, the encounter
with a solitary priest, his being sent to La Trappe, the very ease with
which he bent to the monastic life, the absolution which had such truly
sensible effects, the rapid and clear answer that he might communicate
without fear.

And suddenly, without his will, he had in fact failed. He who had till
then held him by the hand, refused to guide him, cast him off into the
darkness without a word.

"All is over," he thought; "I am condemned to float here below, like a
waif which no one wants; no shore is henceforward accessible, for if the
world refuses me, I disgust God. Ah! Lord, remember the garden of
Gethsemani, the tragic defection of the Father whom Thou didst implore
in unspeakable pangs." In the silence which received his cry he gave
way, and yet he desired to react against this desolation, endeavoured to
escape from his despair; he prayed, and had again that very precise
sensation that his petitions did not carry, were not even heard. He
called her who superintends allegiance, the Mediatrix of pardon, to his
aid, and he was persuaded that the Virgin heard him no longer.

He was silent and discouraged, while the shade grew still more dense,
and complete darkness covered him. He did not then suffer any longer in
the true sense of the word, but it was worse, for this was annihilation
in the void, the giddiness of a man who is bent over a gulf; and the
scraps of reasoning which he could gather and knit together in this
breaking up, ended by branching out into scruples.

He sought for any sins which since his communion might justify such a
trial, and he could not find them. He even tried to magnify his small
faults, enlarge his want of patience; he wished to convince himself that
he had taken a certain pleasure in finding the image of Florence in his
cell, and he tortured himself so violently that he reanimated the soul,
which had half fainted, by these moxas, and placed it again, without
wishing it, in that acute state of scruples, in which it was when the
crisis declared itself.

And in these brawling reflections he did not lose the sad faculty of
analysis. He said to himself while gauging himself at a glance: "I am
like the litter in a circus, trodden down by all the sorrows which go
and come to play their parts. Doubts about Faith, which seemed to
stretch into every sense, turned in fact in the same circle. And now
scruples, from which I thought myself freed, reappear and course through
me."

How should he explain this? Was he who inflicted this torture on him the
Spirit of Malice, or God?

That he had been bruised by the Evil One was certain, the very nature of
his attacks showed his handiwork, but how could this abandonment of God
be explained, for in fact, the Demon could not prevent the Saviour from
assisting him, and he was quite obliged to conclude that if he were
martyrized by the one, the Other took no interest in him, let him be,
and retired from him completely?

This certainty deduced from precise observations, this reasoned
assurance, finished him. He cried out from the anguish of it, looking at
the pond by which he was walking, wishing he might fall in, thinking
that death by drowning were preferable to such a life.

Then he trembled before the water which attracted him, and carried away
his sorrows to the charm of the woods. He tried to wear himself out by
long walking, but he wearied himself without effect, and he ended by
sinking down worn and broken at the refectory table.

He looked at his plate, with no courage to eat, no desire to drink; he
breathed hard, and, exhausted as he was, could not keep in one place. He
rose and wandered in the court till Compline, and there in the chapel,
where at least he hoped to find some solace, was the crowning point of
all; the mine went off; the soul, sapped since the morning, exploded.

On his knees, desolate, he tried again to invoke help, and nothing came;
he choked, immured in so deep a trench, under a vault so thick, that
every appeal was stifled, and no sound vibrated. Without courage, he
wept with his head in his hands, and while he complained to God that He
had brought him thither to punish him in a Trappist monastery, ignoble
visions assailed him.

Fluids passed before his face, and peopled the space with priapisms. He
did not see them with the eyes of his body, which were in no degree
hallucinated, but perceived them outside him, and felt them within him;
in a word, the touch was external, and the vision internal.

He tried to gaze on the statue of Saint Joseph, before which he kept
himself, and to see nothing but it, but his eyes seemed to revolve, to
see only within, and were filled with indecencies. It was a medley of
apparitions with undecided outlines, and confused colours, which gained
precision only in those parts coveted by the secular infamy of man. And
this changed again. The human forms vanished. There remained only, in
invisible landscapes of flesh, marshes reddened by the fires of what
sunset it was impossible to say, marshes shuddering under the divided
shelter of the grasses. Then the sensual spot grew smaller still, but
remained, and this time did not move; it was the growth of an unclean
flood, the spreading of the daisy of darkness, the unfolding of the
lotos of the caverns, hidden at the bottom of the valley.

And there, burning gasps excited Durtal, enwrapped him, stifled him with
furious gasps which drank his mouth.

He looked in spite of himself, unable to withdraw himself from the
outrages imposed by these violations, but the body was still and
remained calm, while the soul revolted with a groan; the temptation was
then of no effect; but if the tricks only succeeded in suggesting to him
disgust and horror, they made him suffer beyond measure, while they
delayed; all the days of his shameful existence came to the surface, all
these enticements to greedy desires crucified him. Joined to the sum of
sorrows accumulated since the dawn, the overcharge of these sorrows
overwhelmed him, and a cold sweat bathed him from head to foot.

He was in agony, and suddenly, as though he had come to overlook his
ministers, and to see if his orders were carried out, the executioner
himself entered on the scene. Durtal did not see him, but felt him, and
it was indescribable. Since he had the impression of a real demoniac
presence, his whole soul trembled and desired to fly, like a terrified
bird that clings to the window-panes.

And it fell back exhausted; then unlikely as it may appear, the parts of
his life were inverted, the body was upright, and held its own,
commanding the terrified soul, repressed this panic in a furious
tension.

Durtal perceived very plainly and clearly for the first time the
distinction, the separation of the soul from the body, and for the first
time also, he was conscious of the phenomenon of a body, which had so
tortured its companion by its needs and wants, to forget all its hatred
in the common danger, and hinder her who resisted it, the habit of
sinking.

He saw that in a flash, and suddenly all vanished. It seemed that the
Demon had taken himself off, the wall of darkness which encompassed
Durtal opened, and light issued from all parts; with an immense impulse
the "Salve Regina," springing up from the choir, swept aside the
phantoms, and put the goblins to flight.

The elevated cordial of this chant restored him. He took courage, and
began again to hope that this frightful desertion might cease; he
prayed, and his petitions found vent; he understood that they were at
last heard.

The Office was at an end; he gained the guest-house, and when he
appeared so worn out and pale before Father Etienne and the oblate, they
cried: "What is the matter with you?"

He sank on a chair, and endeavoured to describe to them the terrible
Calvary he had climbed. "This has lasted," he said, "for more than nine
hours; I wonder that I have not gone mad;" and he added, "Yet I never
could have believed that the soul could suffer so much."

The face of the father was illuminated. He pressed Durtal's hands and
said,

"Rejoice, my brother, you have been treated here like a monk."

"How is that?" said Durtal, surprised.

"Yes, this agony, for there is no other word to define the horror of the
state, is one of the most serious trials which God inflicts on us; it is
one of the operations of the purgative life. Be happy, for it is a great
grace which Jesus does to you."

"And this proves that your conversion is good," affirmed the oblate.

"God! But it was not He at any rate who insinuated doubts about the
Faith, who caused to be born in me that madness of scruples, who raised
in me that spirit of blasphemy, who caressed my face with disgusting
apparitions."

"No, but He allows it. It is frightful, I know it," said the
guest-master. "God conceals Himself, and however you may call on Him, He
does not answer you. You think yourself deserted, yet He is very near
you; and while He effaces Himself, Satan advances. He twists you about,
places a microscope over your faults, his malice gnaws your brain like a
dull file, and when to all this are joined, to try you to the utmost,
impure visions...."

The Trappist stopped; then, speaking to himself, he said, slowly,

"It would be nothing to be in presence of a real temptation, of a true
woman in flesh and bone, but these appearances on which imagination
works, are horrible!"

"And I used to think there was peace in the cloister!"

"No, we are here on this earth to strive, and it is just in the cloister
that the Lowest works; there, souls escape him, and he will at all price
conquer them. No place on earth is more haunted by him than a cell, no
one is more harassed than a monk."

"A story which is told in the Lives of the Fathers in the Desert, is
typical from this point of view. One demon only was charged to watch a
town; and he went to sleep while two or three hundred demons who had
orders to guard a monastery had no rest, but behaved themselves, here is
the place for the phrase, like very devils.

"And indeed, the mission to increase the sin of the towns is a sinecure,
for Satan holds them, though they are not aware of it; all then he has
to do is to torment them so as to take from them trust in God, since all
obey him without his taking the least trouble about it.

"And so he keeps his legions to besiege convents where resistance is
determined. And indeed, you see the way in which he conducts the
attack."

"Ah!" exclaimed Durtal, "it is not he who makes you suffer the most; for
what is worse than scruples, worse than temptations against purity, or
against the Faith, is the supposed abandonment of Heaven; no, nothing
can describe that."

"That is what mystical theology calls 'the Night Obscure,'" answered M.
Bruno.

And Durtal exclaimed,

"Ah! now I am with you; I remember.... That is why Saint John of the
Cross declares that it is impossible to describe the sorrows of that
night, and why he exaggerates nothing when he says, that one is then
plunged alive into hell.

"And I doubted the veracity of his books, I accused him of excess;
rather he minimized. Only one must have felt this oneself to believe
it."

"And you have seen nothing," the oblate replied quietly; "you have
passed through the first portion of that night, through the night of the
senses; it is terrible enough, as I know by experience, but it is
nothing in comparison with the Night of the Spirit which sometimes
succeeds it. That is the exact image of the sufferings which our Lord
endured in the Garden of Olives, when, sweating blood, He cried at the
end of His force, 'Lord, let this chalice pass from me.'

"This is so terrible ..." and M. Bruno was silent and grew pale.
"Whoever has undergone that martyrdom," he said, after a pause, "knows
beforehand what awaits the damned in another life."

"But," said the monk, "the hour of bed-time has struck. There exists but
one remedy for all these evils, the Holy Eucharist; to-morrow, Sunday,
the community approaches the Sacrament; you must join us."

"But I cannot communicate in the state in which I am...."

"Well, then, be up to-night, at three o'clock. I will come for you to
your cell, and will take you to Father Maximin, who confesses us at that
time."

And without waiting for his answer, the guest-master pressed his hand
and went.

"He is right," said the oblate; "it is the true remedy."

And when he had regained his room, Durtal thought,

"I now understand why the Abbé Gévresin made such a point of lending me
Saint John of the Cross; he knew that I should enter into the 'Night
Obscure'; he did not dare warn me clearly, for fear of alarming me, and
yet he would put me on my guard against despair, and aid me by the
remembrance here of that reading. Only how could he think that in such a
shipwreck I should remember anything!

"All this makes me think that I have omitted to write to him, and that
to-morrow I must keep my promise by sending him a letter."

And he thought again of Saint John of the Cross, that extraordinary
Carmelite who described so placidly that terrible phase of the mystic
genesis.

He took count of the lucidity, the power of spirit of this saint,
explaining the most obscure vicissitude of the soul and the least known,
catching and following the operations of God, who dealt with that soul,
pressed it in His hands, squeezed it like a sponge, then let it suck up
again, fill itself out with sorrows, then wrung it again; making it drip
tears of blood to cleanse it.



CHAPTER VI.


"No," said Durtal, in a whisper, "I will not take the place of these
good people."

"But I assure you it is quite the same to them."

And while Durtal was still refusing to go before the lay brothers who
were waiting their turn for confession, Father Etienne insisted: "I will
stay with you, and as soon as the cell is free, you will enter."

Durtal was then on the landing of a staircase on every step of which was
posted a brother kneeling or standing, his head wrapped in his hood, his
face turned to the wall. All were sifting and closely examining their
souls.

"Of what sins can they really accuse themselves?" thought Durtal. "Who
knows?" he continued, perceiving Brother Anacletus, his head sunk on his
breast, and his hands joined, "who knows if he does not reproach himself
for the discreet affection he has for me; for in monasteries all
friendship is forbidden!"

And he called to memory in the "Way of Perfection" of Saint Teresa, a
page at once glowing and icy in which she cries out on the nothingness
of human ties, declares that friendship is a weakness, and asserts
clearly that every nun who desires to see her relations is imperfect.

"Come," said Father Etienne, who interrupted these reflections, and
pushed him towards the door of the cell out of which a monk came. Father
Maximin was there, seated close to a prie-Dieu.

Durtal knelt, and told him briefly his scruples and strifes of the
evening before.

"What has happened to you is not surprising after a conversion; indeed,
it is a good sign, for those persons alone for whom God has views are
submitted to these proofs," said the monk slowly, when Durtal had ended
his story.

And he continued,

"Now that you have no more grave sins, the Demon endeavours to drown you
by spitting at you. In fact, in these episodes of malice at bay, there
is for you temptation and no sin.

"You have, if I may sum up what you have said, undergone temptation of
the flesh, and of Faith, and you have been tortured by scruples.

"Let us leave on one side the sensual visions; such as they have been
were produced independently of your will, painful no doubt, but
ineffectual.

"Doubts about Faith are more dangerous.

"Steep yourself in this truth that besides prayer there exists but one
efficacious remedy against this evil, to despise it.

"Satan is pride; despise him, and at once his audacity gives way; he
speaks; shrug your shoulders and he is silent. You must not discuss with
him; however good a reasoner you may be, you will be worsted, for he is
a most tricky dialectician."

"Yes, but what can I do? I do not wish to listen to him, but I hear him
all the same. I was obliged to answer him if only to refute him."

"And it was just on that he counted to subdue you; keep this carefully
in your mind; in order to let you give him an easy throw, he will
present you at need grotesque arguments, and so soon as he sees you
confident, simply satisfied with the excellence of your replies, he will
involve you in sophisms so specious that you will fight in vain to solve
them.

"No; I repeat to you, had you the best reasons to oppose to him, do not
riposte, refuse the strife."

The prior was silent; then he began again, quietly,

"There are two ways of getting rid of a thing which troubles you--to
throw it far away, or let it fall. To throw it to a distance demands an
effort of which one may not be capable; to let it fall imposes no
fatigue, is simple, without danger, within the reach of all.

"To throw to a distance implies again a certain interest, a certain
animation, perhaps even a certain fear; to let it fall is indifference,
complete contempt; believe me, use this means and Satan will fly.

"This weapon of contempt will be also all-powerful to conquer the
assault of scruples, if in combats of this nature the person assailed
sees clear. Unfortunately, the peculiarity of scruples is to alarm
people, to make them lose at once the clearing breeze, and then it is
indispensable to have recourse to a priest to defend oneself.

"Indeed," pursued the monk, who had interrupted himself a moment to
think--"the closer one looks the less one sees; one becomes
short-sighted the moment one observes; it is necessary to place oneself
at a certain point of view to distinguish objects, for when they are
very close they become as confused as if they were far. Therefore in
such a case we must have recourse to the confessor, who is neither too
distant, nor too near, who holds himself precisely at the spot where
objects detach themselves in their relief. Only it is with scruples as
with certain maladies which, when they are not taken in time, become
almost incurable.

"Do not allow them, then, to become implanted in you; scruple cannot
resist being told as soon as it begins. The moment you formulate it
before the priest it dissolves; it is a kind of mirage which a word
effaces.

"You will object to me," continued the monk, after a silence, "that it
is very mortifying to avow delusions which generally are absurd; but it
is for this very reason that the demon suggests to you less clever
arguments than foolish. He takes hold of you thus by vanity, by false
shame."

The monk was silent again; then he continued,

"Scruples not treated, scruples not cured, lead to discouragement which
is the worst of temptations; for in other cases Satan attacks one virtue
only in particular, and he shows himself; while in this case he attacks
all at once, and he hides himself.

"And this is so true that if you are seduced by lust, by the love of
money, or by pride, you can, in examining yourself, give yourself
account of the nature of the temptation which exhausts you; in
discouragement, on the contrary, your understanding is obscured to such
a degree that you do not even suspect that the state in which you
succumb is only a diabolic manoeuvre which you must combat; and you let
go all, you give up the only arm which can save you, prayer, from which
the demon turns you aside as a vain thing.

"Never hesitate, then, to cut the evil at its root, to take care of a
scruple as soon as it is born.

"Now tell me; you have nothing else to confess?"

"No, except the indesire for the Eucharist, the languor in which I now
faint."

"There is some fatigue in your case, for no one can endure such a shock
with impunity; do not be uneasy about that, have confidence, do not
attempt to present yourself before God all neat and trim; go to Him
simply, naturally, in undress even, just as you are; do not forget that
if you are a servant you are also a son; have good courage, our Lord
will dispel all these nightmares."

And when he had received absolution, Durtal went down to the church to
await the hour of mass.

And when the moment for communion came, he followed M. Bruno behind the
lay brothers. All were kneeling on the pavement, and one after the other
rose to exchange the kiss of peace, and reach the altar.

Though he repeated to himself the counsels of Father Maximin, though he
exhorted himself to dismiss all his unrest, Durtal could not help
thinking as he saw these monks approach the Table, "The Lord will find a
change when I advance in my turn; after having descended into the
sanctuaries, He will be reduced to visit hovel." And sincerely, humbly,
he was sorry for Him.

And as the first time that he approached this peace-giving mystery, he
experienced a sensation of stifling, as if his heart were too large when
he returned to his place. As soon as the mass was over, he quitted the
chapel and escaped into the park.

Then gently, without sensible effects, the Sacrament worked; Christ
opened, little by little, his closed house and gave it air, light
entered into Durtal in a flood. From the windows of his senses which had
looked till then into he knew not what cesspool, into what enclosure,
dank, and steeped in shadow; he now looked suddenly, through a burst of
light, on a vista which lost itself in heaven.

His vision of nature was modified; the surroundings were transformed;
the fog of sadness which visited them vanished; the sudden clearness of
his soul was repeated in its surroundings.

He had the sensation of expansion, the almost childlike joy of a sick
man who takes his first outing, of the convalescent, who having long
crawled in a chamber, sets foot without; all grew young again. These
alleys, this wood, through which he had wandered so much, which he began
to know in all their windings, and in every corner, began to appear to
him in a new aspect. A restrained joy, a repressed gladness emanated
from this site, which appeared to him, instead of extending as formerly,
to draw near and gather round the crucifix, to turn, as it were, with
attention towards the liquid cross.

The trees rustled trembling, in a whisper of prayers, inclining towards
the Christ, who no longer twisted His painful arms in the mirror of the
pool, but He constrained these waters, and displayed them before Him,
blessing them.

They were themselves different; the dark fluid was covered with monastic
visions, in white robes, which the reflections of clouds left there in
passing, and the swan scattered them, in a splash of sunlight, making as
he swam great oily circles round him.

One might have said that these waves were gilt by the oil of the
catechumens, and the sacred Chrism, which the Church exorcises on the
Saturday of Holy Week, and above them heaven half-opened its tabernacle
of clouds, out of which came a clear sun like a monstrance of molten
gold in a Blessed Sacrament of flames.

It was a Benediction of nature, a genuflection of trees and flowers,
singing in the wind, incensing with their perfume the sacred Bread which
shone on high, in the flaming custody of the planet.

Durtal looked on in transport. He desired to cry aloud his enthusiasm
and his Faith to the landscape; he felt a joy in living. The horror of
existence counted for nothing when there were such moments, as no
earthly happiness can give. God alone had the power of thus filling a
soul, of making it overflow, and rush in floods of joy; and He alone
could also fill the basin of sorrows, as no event in this world could
do. Durtal had just tried it; his spiritual sufferings and joys attained
under the divine imprint an acuteness, which people most humanly happy
or unhappy cannot even suspect.

This idea brought him back to the terrible distresses of the evening
before. He endeavoured to sum up what he had been able to observe of
himself in this Trappist monastery.

First, the clear distinction between body and soul; then the action of
the demon, insinuating and obstinate, almost visible, while the heavenly
action remained, on the contrary, dull and veiled, appeared only at
certain moments, and seemed at others to vanish for ever.

And all this, when felt and understood, had an appearance simple in
itself, but scarcely explaining itself. The body appearing to throw
itself forward to the rescue of the soul, and no doubt borrowing from it
its will, to help it when it fainted, was unintelligible. How a body
could itself react obscurely, and yet show, all at once, so strong a
decision that it pressed its companion into a vice, and prevented its
flight--

"It is as mysterious as the rest," thought Durtal, and as in a dream he
continued,

"The secret action of Jesus in His Sacrament is not less strange. If I
may judge by what has happened to me; a first communion exasperates the
action of the devil, while a second represses it.

"Ah, and how I put myself in line with all my calculations! In taking
shelter here I thought myself pretty sure of my soul, and that my body
would trouble me; whereas just the contrary has been the case.

"My stomach has grown vigorous and shown itself fit to support an effort
of which I should never have thought it capable, and my soul has been
below everything, vacillating and dry, so fragile, so feeble!

"But we will let all that alone."

He walked about, lifted from earth by a confused joy. He grew vaporized
in a sort of intoxication, in a vague etherization, in which arose,
without his even thinking of formulating words, acts of thanksgiving; it
was an effort of thanks of his soul, of his body, of his whole being, to
that God whom he felt living in him, and diffused in that kneeling
landscape which also seemed to expand in mute hymns of gratitude.

The hour which struck by the clock in the portico reminded him it was
breakfast time. He went to the guest-house, cut himself a slice of bread
and butter with some cheese, drank half a glass of wine, and was about
to go out again when he reflected that the horary of the offices was
changed.

"They must be different from those of the week," he thought; and he went
up into his cell to consult his placards.

He found only one, that of the rule of the monks themselves, which
contained the regulations for the Sunday practices for the cloister; and
he read:

EXERCISES OF THE COMMUNITY FOR ALL ORDINARY SUNDAYS.

          MORNING.

           1.     Rise. Little Office. Prayer till 1.30.
           2.     Grand Canonical Office chanted.
           5.30.  Prime, Morning Mass, 6 o'clock.
           6.45.  Chapter Instructions. Great Silence.
           9.15.  Asperges, Tierce, Procession.
          10.     High Mass.
          11.10.  Sext and special examination.
          11.30.  Angelus, Dinner.
          12.15.  Siesta, Great Silence.


          EVENING.

           2.     End of Repose. None.
           4.     Vespers and Benediction.
           5.45.  Quarter of an hour for Prayer.
           6.     Supper.
           7.     Reading before Compline.
           7.15.  Compline.
           7.30.  Salve, Angelus.
           7.45.  Examination of conscience and Retreat.
           8.     Bed time, Great Silence.

     Note.--After the Cross of September, no siesta. None is at 2
     o'clock; Vespers at 3; Supper at 5; Compline at 6, and bed time at
     7.

Durtal copied this rule for his use on a scrap of paper. "In fact," he
said to himself, "I have to be in chapel at 9.15 for Asperges, High Mass
and the Office of Sext, afterwards at 2 for None, then at 4 for Vespers
and Benediction, and lastly at 7.30 for Compline.

"Here is a day which will be occupied, without counting that I got up at
half-past two this morning," he concluded; and when he reached the
chapel, about nine o'clock, he found the greater part of the lay
brothers on their knees, the others saying their rosary; and when the
clock struck all returned to their place.

Assisted by two fathers in cowls, the prior, vested in a white alb,
entered, and while the antiphon "Asperges me, Domine, hyssopo, et
mundabor" was sung, all the monks in succession defiled before Father
Maximin, standing on the steps, turning his back to the altar; and he
sprinkled them with holy water, while they regained their stalls, each
making the sign of the cross.

Then the prior descended from the altar, and came to the entrance to the
vestibule, where he dispersed the water crosswise, traced by the
sprinkler over the oblate, and over Durtal.

At last he vested, and went to celebrate the sacrifice.

Then Durtal was able to think over his Sundays at the Benedictine nuns.

The "Kyrie Eleison" was the same but slower and more sonorous, more
grave on the prolonged termination of the last word; at Paris the voices
of the nuns drew it out and put a gloss on it at the same time, turned
into satin its final sound, rendered it less dull, less spaced, less
ample. The "Gloria in Excelsis" differed; that of La Trappe was more
primitive, more mounting, more sombre, interesting by its very
barbarism, but less touching, for in its forms of adoration, in the
"Adoramus te," for example, the "te" did not detach itself, did not drop
like a tear of amorous essence, like an avowal retained by humility on
the tip of the lips; but it was when the Credo arose, that Durtal could
uplift himself at ease.

He had never yet heard it so authoritative, and so imposing; it
advanced, chanted in unison, developing its slow procession of dogmas,
in sounds well furnished and rigid, of a violet almost obscure, a red
almost black, growing lighter towards the end, till it expired in a long
and plaintive Amen.

In following the Cistercian office Durtal could recognize the morsels of
plain chant still preserved in parish masses. All the part of the Canon,
the "Sursum Corda," the "Vere Dignum," the Antiphons, the "Pater,"
remained intact. Only the "Sanctus" and the "Agnus Dei" were changed.

Massive, built up, as it were, in the Roman style, they draped
themselves in the colour, glowing and dull, which clothes, in fact, the
offices of La Trappe.

"Well," said the oblate, when, after the ceremony, they sat at the table
of the refectory; "well, what do you think of our High Mass?"

"It is superb," answered Durtal. And he said dreamily, "Would that one
could have the whole complete! to bring here, instead of this
uninteresting chapel, the apse of St. Severin; hang on the walls the
pictures of Fra Angelico, Memling, Grünewald, Gerard David, Roger van
den Weyden, Bouts; add to these, admirable sculptures such as those of
the great door of Chartres, altar screens of sculptured wood, such as
those of the Cathedral of Amiens, what a dream!"

"Yet," he went on after a silence, "this dream has been a reality, it is
evident. This ideal church existed for ages, everywhere in the Middle
Ages! The chant, the goldsmith's work, the panels, the sculptures, the
tissues were all attractive; the liturgies possessed, to give them
value, fabulous caskets, but all that is far off."

"But you certainly cannot say," replied M. Bruno, with a smile, "that
the church ornaments are ugly here!"

"No; they are exquisite. First, the chasubles have not the shapes of a
miner's apron, and they do not hoist themselves up on the shoulders of
the priest, that excrescence, that puffing like the ear of a little
donkey lying back, which the vestment makers use at Paris.

"Nor is it any more that cross in stripe or woven, filling all the
stuff, falling like a sack-coat over the back of the celebrant; the
Trappist chasubles have kept the old form, as the old image makers and
the old painters preserved them in their religious scenes; and that
cross with four leaves, like those which the Gothic style chiselled on
the walls of its churches, is related to the very expanded lotus a
flower so full-blown that its falling petals droop."

"Without counting," pursued Durtal, "that the stuff which seems cut in a
sort of flannel or thick soft felt must have been plunged in threefold
dyes, for it takes a depth, and a magnificent clearness of tone. The
religious trimming-makers could trim these watered and plain silks with
silver and gold, yet never attain to give a colour at once so vehement
and so familiar to the eye as that crimson with sulphur-yellow flowers,
which Father Maximin wore the other day."

"Yes, and the mourning chasuble with its lobed crosses, and its discreet
white fullings, in which the Father abbot vested himself, the day on
which he communicated us, is not it also a caress for the eyes?"

Durtal sighed: "Ah! if the statues in the chapel showed a like taste!"

"By the way," said the oblate, "come and salute that Notre Dame de
l'Atre, of which I have spoken to you, found among the remains of the
old cloister."

They rose from table, passed along a corridor, and struck into a lateral
gallery, at the end of which they stopped before a statue of life size,
in stone.

It was heavy and massive, representing in a robe of long folds, a
peasant woman, crowned, and round-cheeked, holding on her arm a child
who blessed a ball.

But in this portrait of a robust peasant woman, sprung from Burgundy or
Flanders, there was a candour, a goodness almost tumultuous, which
sprang from her smiling face, her innocent eyes, her good and large
lips, indulgent, ready for all forgiveness.

She was a rustic Virgin made for the humble lay brothers; she was not a
great lady who could hold them at a distance, but she was indeed the
nursing mother of their souls, their true mother. "How was it they had
not understood her here? how instead of presiding in the chapel, did she
grow chill at the end of a corridor?" cried Durtal.

The oblate turned the conversation--"I warn you," he said, "that
Benediction will not take place after Vespers as your placard indicates,
but directly after Compline; this latter office will therefore be
advanced a quarter of an hour at least."

And the oblate went up to his cell, while Durtal went towards the large
pond. There he lay down on a bed of dry reed, looking at the water which
broke in wavelets at his feet. The coming and going of these limited
waters, folding back on themselves, yet never overpassing the basin they
had hollowed for themselves, led him on into long reveries.

He said to himself that a river was the most exact symbol of the active
life; one follows it from its source through all its courses across the
territories it fertilizes; it has fulfilled its assigned task before it
dies, immersing itself in the gaping sepulchre of the seas; but the
pond, that tamed water, imprisoned in a hedge of reeds which it has
itself caused to grow in fertilizing the soil of its bank, has
concentrated itself, lived on itself, not seemed to achieve any known
work, save to keep silence and reflect on the infinite of heaven.

"Still water troubles me," continued Durtal. "It seems to me that unable
to extend itself, it grows deeper, and that while running waters borrow
only the shadows of things they reflect, it swallows them without giving
them back. Most certainly in this pond is a continued and profound
absorption of forgotten clouds, of lost trees, even of sensations seized
on the faces of monks who hung over it. This water is full, and not
empty, like those which are distracted in wandering about the country
and in bathing the towns. It is a contemplative water, in perfect accord
with the recollected life of the cloisters.

"The fact is," he concluded, "that a river would have here no meaning;
it would only be passing, would remain indifferent and in a hurry, would
be in all cases unfit to pacify the soul which the monastic water of the
ponds appeases. Ah! in founding Notre Dame de l'Atre, Saint Bernard knew
how to fit the Cistercian rule and the site.

"But we must leave these fancies," he said, rising; and, remembering
that it was Sunday, he transferred himself to Paris, and revisited in
thought his halts on this day in the churches.

In the morning St. Severin enchanted him, but he ought not to thrust
himself into that sanctuary for the other Offices. Vespers there were
botched and mean; and if it were a feast day the organ master showed
himself possessed by the love of ignoble music.

Occasionally Durtal had taken refuge at St. Gervais, where at least they
played at certain times motets of the old masters; but that church was,
as well as St. Eustache, a paying concert, where Faith had nothing to
do. No recollection was possible in the midst of ladies who fainted
behind, their faces in their hands, and grew agitated in creaking
chairs. These were frivolous assemblies for pious music, a compromise
between the theatre and God.

St. Sulpice was better, where at least the public was silent. There,
moreover, Vespers were celebrated with more solemnity and less haste.

In general the seminary reinforced the choir, and rendered by this
imposing choir they rolled on majestically sustained by the grand organ.

Chanted, only in half, and not in unison, reduced to a state of
couplets, given, some by a baritone, others by the choir, they were
twisted and frizzled by a curling iron, but as they were not less
adulterated at the other churches, there was every advantage in
listening to them at St. Sulpice, whose powerful choir, very well led,
had not, as for example at Notre Dame, those dusty voices which break at
the least whisper.

This only became really odious when, with a formidable explosion, the
first strophe of the Magnificat struck the arches.

The organ then swallowed up one stanza out of two, and under the
seditious pretext that the length of the Office of incensing was too
long to be filled up entirely by singing, M. Widor, seated at his desk,
rolled forth stale fragments of music splashed about above, imitating
the human voice and the flute, the bagpipe and the bassoon, or indeed,
tired of affectations, he blew furiously on the keys, ending by
imitating the roll of locomotives over iron bridges, letting all the
stops go.

And the choirmaster, not wishing to show himself inferior to the
organist in his instinctive hatred of plain chant, was delighted, when
the Benediction began, to put aside Gregorian melodies and make his
choristers gurgle rigadoons.

It was no longer a sanctuary, but a howling place. The "Ave Maria," the
"Ave Verum," all the mystical indecencies of the late Gounod, the
rhapsodies of old Thomas, the capers of indigent musicasters, defiled in
a chain wound by choir leaders from Lamoureux, chanted unfortunately by
children, the chastity of whose voices no one feared to pollute in these
middle-class passages of music, these by-ways of art.

"Ah," thought Durtal, "if only this choirmaster, who is evidently an
excellent musician; for indeed, when he must, he knows how to get
executed better than anywhere else in Paris, the 'De Profundis' with
organ accompaniment, and the 'Dies Iræ'; if only this man would as at
St. Gervais give us some Palestrina and Vittoria, some Aichinger and
Allegri, some Orlando Lasso and De Près; but no, he must detest these
masters also, consider them as archaic rubbish, good to send into the
dust-heaps."

And Durtal continued,

"What we hear now at Paris, in the churches, is wholly incredible! Under
pretence of managing an income for the singers, they suppress half the
stanzas of canticles and hymns, and substitute, to vary the pleasure,
the tiresome divagations of an organ.

"There they howl the 'Tantum Ergo' to the Austrian National air; or what
is still worse, muffle it up with operatic choruses, or refrains from
canteens. The very text is divided into couplets which are ornamented
like a drinking song with a little burthen.

"The other Church sequences are treated in the same manner.

"And yet the Papacy has formally forbidden, in many bulls, that the
sanctuary should be soiled by those liberties. To cite one only, John
XXII., in his Extravagant 'Doctor Sanctorum,' expressly forbade profane
voices and music in churches. He prohibited choirs at the same time to
change plain chant into fiorituri. The decrees of the Council of Trent
are not less clear from this point of view, and more recently still a
regulation of the Sacred Congregation of Rites has intervened to
proscribe musical rioting in holy places.

"Then what are the parish-priests doing who, in fact, have musical
police charge in their churches? Nothing, they laugh at it.

"Nor is this a mere phrase, but with those priests who, hoping for
receipts, permit on fête days the shameless voices of actresses to dance
gambols to the heavy sounds of the organ, the poor Church has become far
from clean.

"At St. Sulpice," Durtal went on, "the priest tolerates the villainy of
jolly songs which are served up to him; but at least he does not, like
the one at St. Severin, allow strolling women players to lighten up the
Office by the shouts of such voices as remain to them. Nor has he
accepted the solo on the English horn which I heard at St. Thomas one
evening during the Perpetual Adoration. In short, if the grand
Benedictions at St. Sulpice are a shame, the Complines remain in spite
of their theatrical attitude really charming."

And Durtal thought of those Complines of which the paternity is often
attributed to Saint Benedict; they were in fact the integral prayer of
the evenings, the preventive adjuration, the safeguard against the
attempts of the Demon, they were in some measure the advanced sentinels
of the out-posts placed round the soul to protect it during the night.

And the regulation of this entrenched camp of prayer was perfect. After
the benediction the best trained voice, the most threadlike of the
choir, the voice of the smallest of the children, sang forth the short
lesson taken from the first Epistle of Saint Peter, warning the faithful
that they must be sober and watch, not allow themselves to be surprised
unexpectedly. A priest then recited the usual evening prayers; the choir
organ gave the intonation, and the psalms fell, chanted one by one, the
twilight psalms, in which before the approaches of night peopled with
goblins, and furrowed by ghosts, man calls God to aid, and prays Him to
guard his sleep from the violence of the ways of hell, the rape of the
lamias that pass.

And the hymn of Saint Ambrose, the "Te lucis ante terminum," made still
more precise the scattered meaning of these psalms, gathering it up in
its short stanzas. Unfortunately, the most important, that which
foresees and declares the luxurious dangers of darkness, was swallowed
up by the full organ. This hymn was not rendered in plain chant at St.
Sulpice as at La Trappe, but was sung to a pompous and elaborate air, an
air full of glory, with a certain proud attractiveness, originating no
doubt in the eighteenth century.

Then there was a pause--and man, feeling himself more sheltered, behind
a rampart of prayers, recollected himself, more assured, and borrowed
innocent voices to address new supplications to God. After the chapter
read by the officiant, the children of the choir chanted the short
response "In manus tuus Domine, commendo spiritum meum," which rolled
out, dividing in two parts, then doubled itself, and resolved at the
last its two separate portions by a verse, and part of an antiphon.

And after that prayer there was still the canticle of Simeon, who, as
soon as he had seen the Messiah, desired to die. This "Nunc dimittis,"
which the Church has incorporated in Compline to stimulate us at
eventide to self-examination--for none can tell whether he shall wake on
the morrow--was raised by the whole choir, which alternated with the
responses of the organ.

In fact, to end this Office of a besieged town, to take its last
dispositions and try to repose in shelter from a violent attack, the
Church built up again a few prayers, and placed her parishes under the
tutelage of the Virgin, to whom it chanted one of the four antiphons
which follow, according to the Proper.

"At La Trappe Compline was evidently less solemn, less interesting than
at St. Sulpice," concluded Durtal, "for the monastic breviary is, for a
wonder, less complete for that Office than the Roman breviary. As for
Sunday Vespers, I am curious to hear them."

And he heard them; but they hardly differed from the Vespers adopted by
the Benedictine nuns of the Rue Monsieur; they were more massive, more
grave, more Roman, if it may be said, for necessarily the voice of women
drew them out into sharp points, made them like acute arches, as it
were, in Gothic style, but the Gregorian tunes were the same.

On the other hand they resembled in nothing those at St. Sulpice, where
the modern sauces spoilt the very essences of the plain chants. Only the
Magnificat of La Trappe, abrupt, and with dry tone, was not so good as
the majestic, the admirable Royal Magnificat chanted at Paris.

"These monks are astonishing with their superb voices," said Durtal to
himself, and he smiled as they finished the antiphon of Our Lady, for he
remembered that in the primitive Church the chanter was called "Fabarius
cantor," "eater of beans," because he was obliged to eat that vegetable
to strengthen his voice. Now, at La Trappe, dishes of beans were common;
perhaps that was the secret of the ever young monastic voices.

He thought over the liturgy and plain chant while smoking cigarettes, in
the walks, after Vespers.

He brought to mind the symbolism of those canonical hours which recalled
every day to the Christian the shortness of life in summing up for him
its image from infancy to death.

Recited soon after dawn, Prime was the figure of childhood; Tierce of
youth; Sext the full vigour of age; None the approaches of old age,
while Vespers were an allegory of decrepitude. They belonged, moreover,
to the Nocturns, and were sung about six o'clock in the evening, at that
hour when, at the time of the Equinoxes, the sun sets in the red cinder
of the clouds. As for Compline, it resounds when night, the symbol of
death, has come.

This canonical Office was a marvellous rosary of psalms; every bead of
each of these hours bore reference to the different phases of human
existence, followed, little by little, the periods of the day, the
decline of destiny, to end in the most perfect of offices, in Compline,
that provisional absolution of a death, itself represented by sleep.

And if, from these texts so wisely selected, these Sequences so solemnly
sealed, Durtal passed to the sacerdotal robe of their sounds, to those
neumatic chants, that divine psalmody all uniform, all simple, which is
plain chant, he had to admit, that except in Benedictine cloisters, an
organ accompaniment was everywhere added, that plain chant had been put
forcibly in modern tonality, and it disappeared under vegetations which
stifled it, became everywhere discoloured, amorphous and
incomprehensible.

One only of its executioners, Niedermayer, showed himself at least
pitiful. He tried a system more ingenious and more honest. He reversed
the terms of torture. Instead of wishing to make plain chant supple and
to thrust it into the mould of modern harmony, he constrained that
harmony to bend itself to the austere tonality of plain chant. He thus
preserved its character, but how far more natural would it have been to
leave it solitary and not obliged it to tow an useless companion and
awkward following?

Here at least at La Trappe it lived and spread in all security, without
treason on the part of the monks. There was always sameness of sound, it
was always chanted without accompaniment in unison.

He was able to satisfy himself about this truth once more after supper,
that evening, when at the end of Compline the father sacristan lighted
all the candles on the altar.

At that moment, in the silence of the Trappists on their knees, their
head in their hands, or their cheek resting on the sleeve of their great
cowl, three lay brothers entered, two carrying torches, and another
preceding them with a censer, and behind them a few paces, came the
prior with his hands joined.

Durtal looked at the changed costume of the three brothers. They had no
longer their robes of serge, made of bits and scraps, stained mud
colour, but robes of violet-brown, like plums on which was spread the
white twilling of a new surplice.

While Father Maximin, vested in a copy of milky white, woven with a
cross in orange yellow, placed the Host in the monstrance, the thurifer
put down the censer, on the coals of which melted tears of real incense.
Contrary to what takes place in Paris, where the censer, swung before
the altar, sounds against its chains, and is like the clear tinkling of
a horse which, as he lifts his head, shakes his curb and bit, the censer
at La Trappe remained immovable before the altar, and smoked by itself
behind the officiants.

And everyone chanted the imploring and melancholy antiphon "Parce
Domine," then the "Tantum Ergo," that magnificent song, which could be
almost acted, so clear in their changes are the sentiments which succeed
each other in their rhymed sequence.

In the first stanza it seems indeed to shake the head gently, to put
forward the chin, so to speak, so as to affirm the insufficiency of the
senses to explain the dogma of the real presence, the finished avatar of
the Bread. It is then admiring and reflective; then that melody so
attentive, so respectful, does not wait to affirm the weakness of the
reason, and the power of faith, but in the second stanza it goes
forward, adores the glory of the three Persons, exults with joy, only
recovers itself at the end, where the music adds a new sense to the text
of Saint Thomas, in avowing in a long and mournful Amen the unworthiness
of those present to receive the Benediction of the Flesh placed upon
that cross which the monstrance is about to trace in the air.

And slowly, while unrolling its coil of smoke, the censer spread, as it
were, a blue gauze before the altar, while the Blessed Sacrament was
lifted like a golden moon, amid the stars of the tapers, sparkling in
the growing darkness of that fog, the bells of the abbey sounded with
musical and sweet strokes. And all the monks bowed low with their eyes
closed, then recovered themselves and entoned the "Laudate" to the old
melody which is also sung at Notre Dame des Victoires at the Benediction
in the evening.

Then one by one, having genuflected before the altar, they went out,
while Durtal and the oblate returned to the guest-house, where Father
Etienne was waiting for them.

He said to Durtal: "I would not go to bed without knowing how you have
borne the day;" and as Durtal thanked him, assuring him that this Sunday
had been very peaceful, Father Etienne smiled and revealed in a word,
that under their reserved attitude all at La Trappe were more interested
in their guest than he had himself believed.

"The reverend Father abbot and the Father prior will be glad when I give
them this answer," said the monk, who wished Durtal good-night, pressing
his hand.



CHAPTER VII.


At seven o'clock, just as he was preparing to eat his bread, Durtal
encountered Father Etienne.

"Father," he said, "to-morrow is Tuesday; the time of my retreat has
expired, and I am going; how should I order a carriage for Saint
Landry?"

The monk smiled. "When the postman brings the letters I can charge him
with the commission, but let us see; are you in a great hurry to leave
us?"

"No, but I would not trespass...."

"Listen, since you are so well broken in to the life at La Trappe, stay
here two days more. The Father procurator must go to settle a dispute at
Saint Landry. He will take you to the station in our carriage. So you
will avoid some expense, and the journey hence to the railroad will seem
to you less long, since there will be two of you."

Durtal accepted, and as it rained, he went up to his room. "It is
strange," he said, as he sat down, "how impossible one finds it in a
cloister to read a book; one wants nothing, one thinks of God by
Himself, and not by the volumes which speak about Him."

Mechanically he had taken up from a heap of books one in octavo, which
he had found on his table the day he took possession of his cell; it
bore the title "Manresa," or the "Spiritual Exercises" of Ignatius of
Loyola.

He had already run through the work at Paris, and the pages which he
turned over afresh did not change the harsh, almost hostile, opinion
which he had retained of this book.

The fact is that these exercises leave no initiative to the soul; they
consider it as a soft paste good to run into a mould; they show it no
horizon, no sky. Instead of trying to stretch it, and make it greater,
they make it smaller deliberately; they put it back into the cases of
their wafer box, nourish it only on faded trifles, on dry nothings.

This Japanese culture of deformed toes which remain dwarf; this Chinese
deformation of children planted in pots, horrified Durtal, who closed
the volume.

He opened another, the "Introduction to the Devout Life," by Saint
Francis de Sales.

Certainly he found no need to read it again, in spite of its
affectations, and its good nature, at first charming, but which ends by
making you sick, by making the soul sticky with sweets with liqueurs in
them, and lollypops; in a word, that work so much praised by Catholics
was a julep scented with bergamot and ambergris. It was like a fine
handkerchief shaken in a church in which a musty smell of incense
remained.

But the man himself, the Bishop Saint Francis de Sales, was suggestive;
with his name was called up the whole mystical history of the
seventeenth century.

And Durtal recalled the memories he had kept of the religious life of
that time. There were then in the Church two currents:

That of the high Mysticism, as it was called, originating from Saint
Teresa and Saint John of the Cross; and this current was concentrated on
Marie Guyon.

And another that of so-called temperate Mysticism, of which the adepts
were Saint Francis de Sales and his friend the celebrated Baroness de
Chantal.

It was naturally this second current which triumphed. Jesus, putting
Himself within the reach of drawing-rooms, descending to the level of
women of the world, a moderate and proper Jesus, only dealing with the
soul of His creature just enough to give it one attraction the more,
this elegant Jesus became all the fashion; but Madame Guyon, whose
source was above all Saint Teresa, who taught the mystical theory of
love, and familiar intercourse with heaven, raised the opposition of the
whole clergy who abominated Mysticism without understanding it; she
exasperated the terrible Bossuet, who accused her of the fashionable
heresy, Molinism and Quietism. She refuted, unhappy as she was, this
trouble without much difficulty, but he persecuted her for it none the
less; he was furious against her, and had her imprisoned at Vincennes;
revealed himself obstinate, surly, and atrocious.

Fenelon, who tried to conciliate these two tendencies in preparing a
small Mysticism neither too hot nor too cold, a little less lukewarm
than that of Saint Francis de Sales, and above all things much less
ardent than that of Saint Teresa, ended in his turn by displeasing the
cormorant of Meaux, and though he abandoned and denied Madame de Guyon,
whose friend he had been for long years, he was persecuted and tracked
down by Bossuet, condemned at Rome, and sent in exile to Cambrai.

And here Durtal could not but smile, for he remembered the desolate
complaints of his partisans weeping for this disgrace, representing thus
as a martyr this archbishop whose punishment consisted in quitting his
post as courtier at Versailles to go at last and administer his diocese,
in which he appeared till then to have never resided.

This mitred Job, who remained in his misfortune Archbishop and Duke of
Cambrai, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and rich, so unhappy because
he was obliged to visit his flock, well shows the state of the
episcopate under the redundant reign of the great king. It was a
priesthood of financiers and valets.

Only there was at any rate a certain attraction, there was talent in
every case; while now bishops are not for the most part less intriguing
nor less servile, but they have no longer either talent or manners.
Caught in part, in the fishpond of bad priests, they show themselves
ready for everything, and turn out to be souls of old usurers, low
jobbers, beggars, when you press them.

"It is sad to say it, but so it is," concluded Durtal. "As for Madame
Guyon," he went on, "she was neither an original writer nor a saint; she
was only an unwelcome substitute for the true mystics; she was presuming
and certainly lacked that humility which magnified Saint Teresa and
Saint Clare; but after all she burst into a flame, she was overcome by
Jesus; above all, she was not a pious courtier, a bigot softened by a
court like the Maintenon.

"After all, what a time for religion it was? All its saints have
something formal and restricted, wordy and cold, which turns me away
from them. Saint Francis de Sales, Saint Vincent de Paul, Saint Chantal
... No, I prefer Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Bernard, Saint Angela
... The Mysticism of the seventeenth century is all the fashion with its
emphatic and mean churches, its pompous and icy painting, its solemn
poetry, its gloomy prose.

"But look," he said, "my cell is still neither swept nor set in order,
and I am afraid that in lingering here I may give some trouble to Father
Etienne. It rains, however, too hard to allow of my walking in the wood;
the simplest thing is to go and read the Little Office of Our Lady in
the chapel."

He went down there; it was at this hour almost empty; the monks were at
work in the fields or in the factory; two fathers only, on their knees
before the altar of Our Lady, were praying so absorbedly that they did
not even hear the opening of the door.

And Durtal, who had placed himself near them opposite the porch which
gave upon the high altar, saw them reflected in the sheet of glass,
placed before the shrine of the Blessed Guerric. This sheet had indeed
the effect of a mirror, and the white fathers were in the depths of it,
lived in prayers under the table, in the very heart of the altar.

And he also appeared there in a corner, reflected, at the back of the
shrine, near the sacred remains of the monk.

At one moment he lifted his head, and saw that the round window in the
apse, behind the altar, reproduced on its glass ornamented with grey and
blue, the marks engraved on the reverse of the medal of Saint Benedict,
the first letters of its imperative formulas, the initials of its
distiches.

It might have been called an immense clear medal, sifting a pale light,
straining it through prayers, not allowing them to penetrate to the
altar till sanctified and blessed by the Patriarch.

And while he was dreaming, the clock struck; the two Trappists regained
their stalls, while the others entered.

Waiting thus in the chapel, the hour of Sext had struck. The abbot
advanced. Durtal saw him again for the first time since their
conversation; he seemed less ill, less pale; he marched majestically in
his great white cowl, at the hood of which hung a violet acorn, and the
fathers bowed, kissing their sleeve before him; he reached his place,
which was designated by a wooden cross standing before a stall, and all
enfolded themselves with a great sign of the cross, bowed to the altar,
and the feeble imploring voice of the old Trappist rose: "Deus in
adjutorium meum intende."

And the Office continued, in the monotonous and charming pitch of the
doxology, interrupted by profound reverences, large movements of the arm
lifting the sleeve of the cowl as it fell to the ground, to allow the
hand freedom to turn the pages.

When Sext was over Durtal went to rejoin the oblate.

They found on the table of the refectory a little omelette, leeks cooked
in a sauce of flour and oil, haricots and cheese.

"It is astonishing," said Durtal, "how in regard to mystics, the world
errs on preconceived ideas, on the old string. Phrenologists declare
that mystics have pointed skulls; now here that their form is more
visible than elsewhere, because they are all hairless and shaven, there
are no more heads like eggs than anywhere else. I looked this morning at
the shape of their heads, no two are alike. Some are oval and depressed,
others like a pear and straight, some have lumps on them, and some have
none; and it is just the same with faces; when they are not transfigured
by prayer they are ordinary. If they did not wear the habit of their
order, no one could recognize in these Trappists predestined beings
living out of modern society, in the full Middle Ages, in absolute
dependence on a God. If they have souls which are not like those of
other people, they have, after all, faces and bodies like those of the
first comer."

"All is within," said the oblate. "Why should elect souls be enclosed in
fleshly prisons different to others?"

This conversation, which continued on different points of Trappist life,
ended by turning on death in a monastery, and M. Bruno revealed some
details.

"When death is near," he said, "the Father abbot traces on the ground a
cross in blessed ashes covered with straw, and the dying man is placed
on it wrapped in serge cloth.

"The brothers recite near him the prayers of the dying, and at the
moment of his death the response 'Subvenite Sancti Dei' is chanted in
choir. The Father abbot incenses the body, which is washed while the
monks sing the Office of the Dead in another room.

"Then his regular habit is put on the dead monk, and he is borne in
procession to the church, where he lies on a stretcher with his face
uncovered, until the hour destined for the funeral.

"Then on the way to the cemetery the community intones no longer the
chant of the dead, the psalms of grief, and the sequences of regret, but
rather 'In exitu Israel de Ægypto,' which is the psalm of deliverance,
the free song of joy.

"And the Trappist is buried without a coffin, in his robe of stuff, his
head covered with his hood.

"Lastly, during thirty days, his place remains empty in the refectory,
his portion is served as usual, but the brother porter distributes it to
the poor.

"Ah! the happiness to die thus," said the oblate, as he ended, "for if
one dies after having honestly fulfilled one's task in the order, one is
assured of eternal happiness, according to the promises made by our Lord
to Saint Benedict and to Saint Bernard!"

"The rain is over," said Durtal; "I should like to visit to-day that
little chapel at the end of the park of which you spoke to me the other
day. Which is the shortest way to reach it?"

M. Bruno told him the way, and Durtal went off, rolling a cigarette, to
gain the great pond, thence he struck a path to the left and mounted a
lane of trees.

He slipped on the wet ground, and got on with difficulty. At last,
however, he gained a clump of chestnuts, which he skirted. Behind these
rose a dwarf tower topped by a very small dome, pierced by a door. To
the left and right of this door, on sockets where ornaments of the
Romanesque epoch still were seen under the velvety crust of moss, two
stone angels were still standing.

They belonged, evidently, to the Burgundian school, with their big round
heads, their hair puffed and divided into waves, their fat faces with
turned-up noses, their solid draperies with hard folds. They also came
from the ruins of the old cloister, but the interior of the chapel was
unfortunately thoroughly modern; it was so small that the feet of him
who knelt at the altar almost touched the wall at the entrance.

In a niche veiled by white gauze a Virgin smiled with extended hands.
She had blue plaster eyes and apple-shaped cheeks. She was wearisome in
her insignificance, but her sanctuary retained the warmth of places
always shut up. The walls, hung with red calico, were dusted, the floor
was swept, and the holy water basins full; superb tea roses flourished
in pots between the candelabra. Durtal then understood why he had so
often seen M. Bruno walking in this direction with flowers in his hand;
he was going to pray in this place, which he loved no doubt because it
was isolated in the profound solitude of this Trappist monastery.

"Excellent man!" cried Durtal, thinking over the affectionate services,
the fraternal care the oblate had had for him; and he added, "He is a
happy man too, for he is self-contained, and lives so placidly here.

"And, indeed," he went on, "where is the good of striving, if not
against oneself? to agitate oneself for money, for glory, to conduct
oneself so as to keep others down, and gain adulation from them, how
vain a task!

"Only the Church, in decking the temporary altars of the liturgical
year, in forcing the seasons to follow step by step the life of Christ,
has known how to trace for us a plan of necessary occupations, of useful
ends. She has given us the means of walking always side by side with
Jesus, to live day by day with the Gospels; for Christians she has made
time the messenger of sorrows and the herald of joys; she has entrusted
to the year the part of servant of the New Testament, the zealous
emissary of worship."

And Durtal reflected on the cycle of the liturgy which begins on the
first day of the religious year, with Advent, then turns with an
insensible movement on itself till it returns again to its
starting-point, to the time when the Church prepares by penitence and
prayer to celebrate Christmas.

And turning over his prayer-book, seeing the extraordinary circle of
offices, he thought of that prodigious jewel, that crown of King
Recceswinthe preserved in the Museum of Cluny.

The liturgical year was, like it, studded with crystals and jewels by
its admirable canticles and its fervent hymns set in the very gold of
Benedictions and Vespers.

It seemed that the Church had substituted for that crown of thorns with
which the Jews had surrounded the temples of the Saviour, the truly
royal crown of the Proper of the Seasons, the only one which was
chiselled in a metal precious enough, with art pure enough to dare to
place itself on the brow of a God.

And the grand Lapidary had begun his work by incrusting, in this diadem
of offices, the hymn of Saint Ambrose, and the invocation taken from the
Old Testament, the "Rorate Coeli," that melodious chant of expectation
and regret, that obscure gem violet-coloured; the lustre declares itself
then, when after each of its stanzas rises the solemn prayer of the
patriarchs, calling for the longed-for presence of Christ.

And the four Sundays of Advent disappeared with the turned pages of the
prayer-book; the night of the Nativity was come. After the "Jesu
Redemptor" of Vespers, the old Portuguese chant, the "Adeste Fideles,"
arose at Benediction from every lip. It was a sequence of a truly
charming simplicity, an old carving wherein defiled the shepherds and
the kings to a popular air appropriate to great marches, apt to charm,
to aid by the somewhat military rhythm of its steps, the long lines of
the faithful quitting their cottages to go to the distant churches in
the towns.

And imperceptibly, like the year in an invisible rotation, the circle
turned, and stopped at the Feast of the Holy Innocents, where there
flourished out, like a flower from a slaughter-house, on a shoot culled
from a soil irrigated by the blood of lambs, this sequence, red, and
smelling of roses, the "Salvate Flores Martyrum" of Prudentius; the
crown moved again, and the hymn of the Epiphany, the "Crudelis Herodes"
of Sedudius, appeared in its turn.

Now the Sundays grew heavy, the violet Sundays when the "Gloria in
Excelsis" is no more heard, when the "Audi Benigne" of Saint Ambrose is
chanted, and the "Miserere," that cinder-coloured psalm, which is
perhaps the most perfect masterpiece which the Church has ever drawn
from her store-houses of plain chants.

It was Lent, when the amethysts fade in the moist grey of onyxes, in the
embrowned white of quartz, and the magnificent invocation, "Attende
Domine," rose beneath the arches. Sprung like the "Rorate Coeli" from
the sequences of the Old Testament, this humble and contrite chant,
enumerating the deserved punishments of sins, became, if not more
sorrowful, at all events more grave and more pressing when it
confirmed, when it resumed in the initial stanza of its burthen, the
avowal of shame already confessed.

And suddenly on this crown there burst out after the expiring fires of
Lent, the flaming ruby of the Passion. On the upturned yellow of the sky
a red cross was raised, while majestic shouts and despairing cries
proclaimed the blood-stained fruit of the tree; and the "Vexilla Regis"
was again repeated the following Sunday at the Feast of Palms, which
joined to that Sequence of Fortunatus the green hymn which it
accompanied with a silky noise of palms, the "Gloria laus et honor" of
Theodulph.

Then the fires of precious stones grew grey and died. To the glowing
coals of gems succeeded the dead cinders of obsidians, black stones
scarcely swelling, without a gleam above the tarnished gold of their
mountings; one entered no Holy Week, everywhere the "Pange Lingua" and
the "Stabat Mater" wailed under the arches, and then came the "Tenebræ,"
the lamentations, and the psalms, whose knell shook the flame of the
brown waxen tapers, and after each halt, at the end of each of the
psalms, one of the tapers expired, and its column of blue smoke
evaporated still under the lighted circumference of the arches, while
the choir recommenced the interrupted series of complaints.

And the crown turned once more; the beads of this musical rosary still
ran on, and all changed. Jesus had risen, and songs of joy issued from
the organs. The "Victimæ Paschali Laudes" exulted before the gospel of
the masses, and at the Benediction the "O Filii et Filiæ," created
indeed to be intoned by the wild jubilations of crowds, ran and sported
in the joyous hurricane of the organs, which uprooted the pillars and
unroofed the naves.

And the feasts rung in with bells followed at longer intervals. At
Ascension the heavy and clear crystals of Saint Ambrose filled with
their luminous water the tiny basin of the catkins; the fire of rubies
and garnets lighted up again with the crimson hymn and scarlet sequence
of Pentecost the "Veni Creator" and "Veni Spiritus." The Feast of the
Trinity passed, signalized by the stanzas of Gregory the Great; and for
the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament, the liturgy could exhibit the most
marvellous jewel case of its dower, the Office of Saint Thomas, the
"Pange Lingua," the "Adore Te," the "Sacris Solemniis," the "Verbum
Supernum," and above all the "Lauda Sion," that pure masterpiece of
Latin poetry and scholasticism, that hymn so precise, so lucid in its
abstraction, so firm in its rhymed words, round which is rolled the
melody perhaps the most enthusiastic, the most supple in plain chant.

The circle displaced itself again, showing on its different faces the
twenty-three to twenty-eight Sundays which defile after Pentecost, the
green weeks of the time of Pilgrimage, and stopped at the last feast, at
the Sunday after the Octave of All Saints, at the Dedication of Churches
which the "Coelestis Urbs" incensed, old stanzas of which the ruins were
badly consolidated by the architects of Urban VIII., old jewels, on
which the troubled water slept and was reanimated only in rare lights.

The juncture of the religious crown, of the liturgical year, was then
made at the masses, in which the gospel of the last Sunday after
Pentecost, the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, repeats, as well as
the Gospel according to Saint Luke, recited on the first Sunday in
Advent, the terrible predictions of Christ on the desolation of the
time, on the end of the world.

"This is not all," Durtal continued, who was interested in this run
through his prayer-book. "In this crown of the Proper of the Seasons are
inserted, like smaller stones, the sequences of the Proper of Saints
which fill the empty places, and finish the round of the circle.

"First the pearls and gems of the Blessed Virgin, the limpid jewels, the
blue sapphires and rose rubies of her antiphons; then the aquamarine, so
lucid and pure, of the 'Ave Maris Stella,' the topaz, pale as tears, of
the 'O Quot nudis Lacrymarum' on the Feast of the Seven Dolours, the
hyacinth, colour of dried blood, of the 'Stabat;' then were told the
feasts of the Angels and the Saints, the hymns dedicated to the Apostles
and the Evangelists, to the Martyrs, whether solitary or in couples,
both out of and during the Paschal season, to the Confessors, Pontiffs,
and non-Pontiffs, to Virgins, to Holy Women, all Feasts differentiated
by special Sequences, by special Proses of which some are very simple,
like those stanzas made in honour of the Nativity of Saint John the
Baptist, by Paul the Deacon.

"There still remains All Saints, with the 'Placare Christe,' and the
three blows on the alarm bell, the knell in triplets of the 'Dies Iræ,'
which resounds on the day set apart for the Commemoration of the Dead.

"What an immense fund of poetry, what an incomparable estate of art the
Church possesses!" he cried, closing his book; and many memories rose
for him at this excursion into his prayer-book.

On how many evenings had the sadness of life been dissipated in
listening to these proses chanted in the churches!

He thought over again of the suppliant voice of Advent, and recalled one
evening, when he had wandered under a fine rain along the quays. He had
been driven from home by ignoble visions, and at the same time had been
harassed by the increasing disgust of his vices. He had ended by being
brought up against his will at St. Gervais.

In the chapel of the Virgin, some poor women were prostrate. He had
knelt, tired and dazed, his soul so ill at ease, that he slumbered
without power to wake himself. Some men and boys of the choir were
installed in the chapel, with two or three priests; they had lighted
candles, and the voice, light and sustained, of a child, had in the dark
of the church chanted the long antiphons of the "Rorate."

In the state of overwhelming sadness in which he was stagnant, Durtal
felt himself open and bleeding to the bottom of his soul; then a voice
older and less trembling, which understood the words it said, narrated
ingenuously, almost without confusion, to the Just One, "Peccavimus et
facti sumus tanquam immundus nos."

And Durtal took up these words, and spelt them over in terror, thinking,
"Ah! yes, we have sinned and become like the leprous, O Lord!" And the
chant continued, and in His turn, the Most High borrowed that same
innocent organ of childhood, to declare to man His pity, and to confirm
to him the pardon assured by the coming of the Son.

And the evening had ended by the Benediction in plain chant, in the
midst of the silence and prostration of unhappy women.

Durtal remembered how he left the church refreshed, freed from his
hauntings, and he had gone away in the drizzling rain, surprised that
the way was so short, humming the "Rorate," of which the air had taken
possession of him, ending by seeing in it the personal touch of a kindly
unknown.

And there were other evenings ... the Octave of the Feast of All Souls
at St. Sulpice and at St. Thomas Aquinas, where, after the Vespers of
the Dead, they brought out again the old Sequence which has disappeared
from the Roman Breviary, the "Lanquentilus in Purgatorio."

This church was the only one in Paris which had retained these pages of
the Gallican hymnal, and had them sung by two basses without a choir;
but these singers, so poor as a rule, no doubt were fond of this air,
for if they did not sing it with art, at least they put a little soul
into its delivery.

And this invocation to the Madonna, in which she was adjured to save the
souls in Purgatory, was as sorrowful as the souls themselves, and so
melancholy, so languid, that the surroundings were forgotten, the
ugliness of that sanctuary of which the choir was a theatre scene,
surrounded by closed dressing-rooms and garnished with lustres, one
might think oneself for a few moments far from Paris, far from that
population of devout women and servant girls, which attend that place in
the evening.

"Ah! the Church," he said to himself, as he descended the path which led
to the great pond, "what a mother of art is she!" and suddenly the noise
of a body falling into the water interrupted his reflections.

He looked behind the hedge of reeds and saw nothing but great circles
running on the water, and all at once in one of these rings a small
dog-like head appeared holding a fish in its mouth; the beast raised
itself a little out of the water, showed a thin body covered with fur,
and gazed on Durtal quietly with its little black eyes.

Then in a flash it passed the distance which separated it from the bank,
and disappeared under the grasses.

"It is the otter," he said to himself, remembering the discussion at
table between the stranger priest and the oblate.

And he went to gain the other pond, when he encountered Father Etienne.

He told him his adventure.

"Impossible!" cried the monk, "no one has ever seen the otter; you must
have mistaken it for a water rat, or some other animal, for that beast,
for which we have watched for years, is invisible."

Durtal gave him a description of it.

"It is certainly the otter," admitted the guest-master, surprised.

It was evident that this otter lived in the pond in a legendary state.
In monotonous lives, in days like those in a cloister, it took the
proportions of a fabulous subject, of an event whereof the mystery would
occupy intervals seized between prayers and offices.

"We must point out to M. Bruno the exact spot where you remarked it, for
he will begin to hunt it again," said Father Etienne after a silence.

"But how can it trouble you in eating your fish, since you do not angle
for them?"

"I beg your pardon; we fish for them to send them to the Archbishop,"
answered the monk, who went on: "Still, it is very strange that you saw
the beast!"

"When I leave this," thought Durtal, "they will certainly speak of me as
the gentleman who saw the otter."

While talking, they had arrived at the cross pond.

"Look," said the father, pointing out the swan, who rose in a fury, beat
his wings, and hissed.

"What is the matter with him?"

"The matter is that the white hue of my habit infuriates him."

"Ah! and why?"

"I do not know; perhaps he wants to be the only one who is white here;
he spares the lay brothers, while as for a father ... wait, you will
see."

And the guest-master walked quietly towards the swan.

"Come," he said to the angry creature, who splashed him with water; and
he held out his hand which the swan snapped.

"See," said the monk, showing the mark of a red pinch printed on the
flesh.

And he smiled, holding his hand, and quitted Durtal, who asked himself
whether, in acting thus, the Trappist were not wishing to inflict on
himself some corporal punishment to atone for some distraction the
evening before; some peccadillo.

"That stroke of the beak must have pinched him horribly, for the tears
came into his eyes. How could he expose himself with joy to such a
bite?"

And he remembered that one day at the office of None, one of the young
monks made a mistake in the tone of an antiphon; at the moment that the
office ended, he knelt before the altar, then he lay his whole length on
the tiles on his face, his mouth pressed on the ground, till the stroke
of the prior's bell gave him the order to get up.

This was a voluntary punishment for a negligence committed, a
forgetfulness. Who knows whether Father Etienne did not in his turn
punish himself for a thought he deemed to border on sin, in getting
himself thus pinched?

He consulted the oblate on the point in the evening, but M. Bruno
contented himself with a smile, without answering.

And when Durtal spoke to him of his speedy departure for Paris, the old
man shook his head.

"Considering," he said, "the fear and the discomfort that Communion
caused you, you would act wisely if you approach the Holy Table
immediately on your return."

And seeing that Durtal did not reply, but hung his head,

"Believe a man who has known these trials; if you do not force yourself
while you are still under the warm impression of La Trappe, you will
float between desire and regret without advancing; you will be ingenious
in discovering excuses for not making your confession; you will try to
think it impossible to find in Paris an abbé who understands you. Now
allow me to assure you nothing is more false. If you desire an expert
and easy confidant, go to the Jesuits; if you wish above all a
zealous-souled priest, go to St. Sulpice.

"You will find there honest and intelligent ecclesiastics, excellent
hearts. In Paris, where the clergy of the parishes are so mixed, they
are at the top of the basket of the priesthood, and, as may be imagined,
they form a community, live in cells, do not dine out; and as the
Sulpician rule forbids them to aspire to honours, or places, they do not
run the chance of becoming bad priests by ambition. Do you know them?"

"No; but to resolve that question, which in fact constantly troubles me,
I count on a priest whom I often see, on the very man who, in fact, sent
me into this Trappist monastery.

"And that," he went on, "makes me remember," and he rose to go to
Compline, "that I have as yet forgotten to write to him. It is true that
now it is too late, I should arrive at his house almost as soon as my
letter. It is strange, but by force of walking in one's own, by force of
living to oneself, the days run by, and there is no time to do anything
here!"



CHAPTER VIII.


He had hoped for his last day at La Trappe a morning of quiet, when his
mind might lounge, a mixture of spiritual siesta and of working, charmed
by a round of offices, and not at all that the idea persistent and
obstinate that he must quit the monastery next day, would spoil all the
pleasures he had promised himself.

Now that he had no longer to cleanse himself, and pass under the
winnowing of confession, to present himself for the Communion in the
morning, he remained irresolute, not knowing any longer how to occupy
his time, terrified by the recommencement of that life of the world
which would upset all the barriers of forgetfulness, and would get at
him at once above all the broken defences of the cloister.

Like a captured animal, he began to rub against the bars of his cage,
made the tour of the enclosure, filling his sight with those places
where he had tasted hours so kindly and so cruel.

He felt in himself a shaking of the ground, a disturbance of soul, an
absolute discouragement before the prospect of re-entering into his
habitual existence, of mixing himself anew with the coming and going of
men, and he experienced at the same time a great fatigue of brain.

He dragged himself along the walks in a state of complete discomfort, in
one of those attacks of religious spleen which determine, while they
last during years, the "tædium vitæ" of the cloisters. He had a horror
of any life but this, and the soul overwrought by prayers was failing in
a body insufficiently rested and ill-nourished; it had no further
desire, asked only to be let alone, to sleep, to fall into one of those
states of torpor in which everything becomes indifferent, in which one
ends by losing consciousness gently, by being stifled without
suffering.

He might well, to re-act on him as a consolation, promise himself to
assist in Paris at the offices of the Benedictine nuns, that he would
keep himself on the outskirts of society, to himself; and he was at once
obliged to answer that these subterfuges are impossible, that the very
movement of the town is against all decoys, that isolation in a chamber
is in no degree like the solitude of a cell, that masses celebrated in a
chapel open to the public cannot be likened to the private Offices of
the Trappists.

Then what is the good of trying to misunderstand? It is with the soul as
with the body, which is better on the sea shore, or in the mountains,
than shut up in a town. There is a better spiritual air even at Paris,
in certain religious quarters of the left bank, than in the districts
situated on the other bank, more lively in certain churches, more pure,
for example, at Notre Dame des Victoires than in churches such as La
Trinité and the Madeleine.

But the monastery was, as it were, the true shore and high plateau of
the soul. There the atmosphere was balsamic, strength returned, lost
appetite for God was there recovered, there was health succeeding
weakness, a regimen, fortified and sustained, instead of languor and the
restricted exercises of the towns.

The conviction that no trickery was possible to him at Paris brought him
to the ground. He wandered from cell to chapel, from chapel to woods,
awaiting the dinner hour with impatience, in order to be able to speak
to someone, for in his disorder a new need arose. For more than a week
he had spent the whole afternoon without opening his lips; he did not
suffer from it, was even satisfied with his silence, but since he was
pressed by this idea of departure he could not keep silence any longer,
thought aloud in the walks to assuage the sensations of his swelling
heart, that stifled him.

M. Bruno was too sagacious not to guess the uneasiness of his companion,
who became by turns taciturn and over talkative during the meal. He
made, however, as though he saw nothing, but after he had said grace he
disappeared, and Durtal, who was strolling near the great pond, was
surprised to see him coming in his direction with Father Etienne.

They greeted him, and the Trappist with a smile proposed to him, if he
had made no other plan, to pass his time in visiting the convent, and
especially the library, which the Father prior would be delighted to
show him.

"If convenient to me! I shall be delighted!" cried Durtal.

All three returned towards the abbey; the monk lifted the latch of a
little door fashioned in a wall near the church, and Durtal entered a
minute cemetery, planted with wooden crosses on grass graves.

There was no inscription, no flower in this enclosure which they
traversed; the monk pushed another door, which opened on a long corridor
smelling of rats. At the end of this gallery, Durtal recognized the
staircase he had ascended one morning for his confession in the prior's
room. They left it on their right, turned into another gallery, and the
guest-master led them into an immense hall, pierced by high windows,
decorated with eighteenth century pier-glasses, and _grisailles_; it was
furnished only with benches and stalls, above which was a single chair
sculptured and painted with abbatial arms, which marked the place of Dom
Anselm.

"Oh! this chapter-house has nothing monastic," said Father Etienne,
designating the profane pictures on the walls; "we have kept just as it
was the drawing-room of this old chateau, but I beg you to believe that
this decoration hardly pleases us."

"And what takes place in this hall?"

"Well, we meet here after mass; the chapter opens by reading the
martyrology, followed by the concluding prayers of Prime. Then we read a
passage from the rule, and the Father abbot comments on it. Lastly, we
practise the exercise of humility, that is to say, that whoever among us
has committed any fault against the rule, prostrates himself, and avows
it before his brethren."

They went thence to the refectory. This room had also a high ceiling,
but was smaller, and garnished with tables in form of a horse-shoe. A
kind of large cruets, each containing two half-bottles of wine and
water, separated by a water bottle, and before them, instead of glasses,
cups of brown earthenware, with two handles, were placed at equal
distances. The monk explained that these sham cruets with three branches
indicated the place of two covers, each monk having a right to his half
bottle of drink, and partaking with his neighbour the water in the
bottle.

"This pulpit," said Father Etienne, pointing out a large wooden box
fixed against the wall, "is destined for the reader of the week, the
father who reads during the meal."

"How long does the meal last?"

"Just half an hour."

"Yes; and the cookery which we eat is delicate in comparison with that
which is served to the monks," said the oblate.

"I should lie if I were to affirm that we make good cheer," answered the
guest-master. "Do you know that the hardest thing to bear, in the
earlier time especially, is the want of seasoning in our dishes. Pepper
and spices are forbidden by our rule, and as no salt-cellar has place on
our table, we swallow our food just as it is, and it is for the most
part scarcely salted.

"On certain days in summer, when one sweats in big drops, this becomes
almost impossible, the gorge rises. Yet one must begin upon this warm
paste, and at least swallow a sufficient quantity not to give out before
the next day; we look at each other discouraged, unable to get any
further; there is not another word to define our dinner in the month of
August, it is a punishment."

"And all, the Father abbot, the prior, the fathers, the brethren, have
the same food?"

"All. Now come and see the dormitory."

They ascended to the first floor. An immense corridor, furnished like a
stable with wooden boxes, extended before them, closed at each end by a
door.

"This is our lodging," said the monk, as he stopped before one of these
cases. Cards were placed on them, affixing the name of each monk, and
the first bore a ticket with this inscription: "The Father Abbot."

Durtal felt the bed against one of the two walls.

It was as rough as a carding comb, and as biting as a file. It was
composed of a simple quilted paillasse extended on a plank; no sheets,
but a prison coverlet of grey wool, a sack of straw instead of pillows.

"God! it is very hard," said Durtal, and the monk laughed.

"Our habits soften the roughness of this straw mattress," he said; "for
our rule does not allow us to undress, we may only take off our shoes,
therefore we sleep entirely clad, our head wrapped in our hood."

"And it must be cold in this corridor swept by all the winds," added
Durtal.

"No doubt the winter is rough here, but it is not that season which
alarms us; we live pretty well, even without fire in time of frost, but
the summer--! If you knew what it is to wake in habits still steeped in
sweat, not dried since the evening before, it is terrible!

"Then, though because of the great heat we have often hardly slept, we
must before dawn jump out of bed, and begin at once the great night
office, the Vigils, which last at least two hours. Even after twenty
years of Trappist life, one cannot but suffer at that getting up; in
chapel you fight against sleep which crushes you, you sleep while you
hear a verse chanted, you strive to keep awake, in order to be able to
chant another, and fall asleep again.

"One ought to be able to turn the key on thought, and one is incapable
of it.

"Truly, I assure you that even beyond the corporal fatigue which
explains that state in the morning, there is then an aggression of the
demon, an incessant temptation to make us recite the office badly."

"And you all undergo this strife?"

"All; and this does not hinder," concluded the monk, whose face was
radiant, "this does not hinder us from being very happy here.

"Because all these trials are nothing beside the deep and intimate joys
which our good God gives us. Ah! He is a generous Master; he pays us a
hundred-fold for our poor sorrows."

As they spoke, they had passed through the corridor and had arrived at
its other end.

The monk opened the door, and Durtal was astounded to find himself in a
vestibule just opposite his own cell.

"I did not think," he said, "that I was living so near you."

"This house is a regular labyrinth--but M. Bruno will take you to the
library where the Father prior is waiting for you; for I must go to my
business. We shall meet presently," he said, with a smile.

The library was situated on the other side of the staircase by which
Durtal reached his chamber. It was large, furnished with shelves from
top to bottom, occupied in the middle by a sort of counter table on
which also were spread rows of books.

Father Maximin said to Durtal,

"We are not very rich, but at any rate we possess tools for work fairly
complete on theology and the monography of the cloisters."

"You have superb volumes," cried Durtal, who looked at magnificent
folios in splendid bindings with armorial bearings.

"Wait; here are the works of Saint Bernard in a fine edition," and the
monk presented to Durtal enormous volumes, printed in heavy letters on
crackling paper.

"When I think that I promised myself to make acquaintance with Saint
Bernard in this very abbey which he founded, and here I am on the eve of
my departure, and have read nothing!"

"You do not know his works?"

"Yes; scattered fragments of his sermons and of his letters. I have run
through some _selectæ mediocres_ of his works, but that is all."

"He is our chief master here; but he is not the only one of our
ancestors in Saint Benedict whom the convent possesses," said the monk
with a certain pride. "See," and he pointed out on the shelves some
heavy folios, "here: 'Saint Gregory the Great,' 'Venerable Bede,' 'Saint
Peter Damian,' 'Saint Anselm.' ... And your friends are there," he said,
following Durtal with a glance as he read the titles of the volumes,
"'Saint Teresa,' 'Saint John of the Cross,' 'Saint Magdalen of Pazzi,'
'Saint Angela,' 'Tauler,' ... and she who like Sister Emmerich dictated
her conversations with Jesus during her ecstasy." And the prior took
from the range of books in octavo, "The Dialogues of Saint Catherine of
Siena."

"That Dominican nun is terrible for the priests of her time," the monk
went on. "She insists on their misdeeds, reproaches them roundly with
selling the Holy Spirit, with practising sortilege, and with using the
Sacrament to compose evil charms."

"And there are besides the disorderly vices of which she accuses them
in the series concerning the sin of the flesh," added the oblate.

"Certainly, she does not mince her words, but she had the right to take
up that tone, and menace in the name of the Lord, for she was truly
inspired by Him. Her doctrine was drawn from divine sources. 'Doctrina
ejus infusa non acquisita,' says the Church in the bull of her
canonization. Her Dialogues are admirable; the pages in which God
exposes the holy frauds which He sometimes uses to recall men to good,
the passages in which she treats of the monastic life, of that barque
which possesses three ropes: chastity, obedience, and poverty, and which
faces the tempest under the conduct of the Holy Spirit, are delightful.
She reveals herself in her work the pupil of the well-beloved disciple
and of Saint Thomas Aquinas. One might believe that one heard the Angel
of the School paraphrasing the last of the Evangelists."

"Yes," said the oblate, striking in, "if Saint Catherine of Siena does
not give herself to the high speculations of Mysticism; if she does not
analyze like Saint Teresa the mysteries of divine love, nor trace the
itinerary of souls destined to the perfect life, she reflects directly
at least the conversations of Heaven. She calls, she loves! You have
read, sir, her treatises on Discretion and Prayer?"

"No. I have read Saint Catherine of Genoa, but the books of Saint
Catherine of Siena have never fallen into my hands."

"And what do you think of this collection?"

Durtal looked at the title, and made a face.

"I see that Suso hardly delights you."

"I should tell a lie if I assured you that the dissertations of this
Dominican pleased me. First, however illuminated the man may be, he does
not attract me. Without speaking of the frenzy of his penances, what
scrupulousness of devotion and narrowness of piety was his! Think that
he could not decide on drinking till he had first, as a preliminary,
divided his beverage into five parts. He thought thus to honour the five
wounds of the Saviour, and, moreover, he swallowed his last mouthful in
two gulps to call up before himself the water and the blood which flowed
from the side of the Word.

"No! these sort of things would never enter into my head; I would never
admit that such practices would glorify Christ.

"And remark well that this love of pounding things small, this passion
for small blessings, is found in all his work. His God is so difficult
to content, so scrupulous, so meddling, that no one would ever get to
heaven if they believed what he said. This God of his is the
fault-finder of eternity, the miser of paradise.

"On the whole, Suso expands himself in impetuous discourses on trifles;
then what with his insipid allegories, his morose 'Colloquy on the Nine
Rocks' knocks me down."

"You will, however, admit that his study on the Union of the Soul is
substantial, and that the 'Office of the Eternal Wisdom' which he
composed is worth reading?"

"I cannot say, Father, I do not now remember that Office; but I
recollect tolerably well the treatise on 'Union with God,' it seems to
me more interesting than the rest, but you will admit that it is very
short ... and then Saint Teresa has also elucidated that question of
human renunciation and divine fruition; and, hang it then...!"

"Come," said the oblate, with a smile, "I give up the attempt to make
you a fervent reader of the good Suso."

"For us," said Father Maximin, "if we had a little time to work, this
ought to be the leaven of our meditations, the subject of our reading;"
and he took down a folio which contained the works of Saint Hildegarde,
abbess of the Convent of Rupertsberg.

"She, you see, is the great prophetess of the New Testament. Never,
since the visions of Saint John at Patmos, has the Holy Spirit
communicated to an earthly being with such fulness and light. In her
'Heptachronon' she predicts Protestantism and the captivity of the
Vatican; in her 'Scivias, or Knowledge of the Ways of the Lord,' which
was edited, according to her recital, by a monk of the Convent of Saint
Désibode, she interprets the symbols of the Scriptures, and even the
nature of the elements. She also wrote a diligent commentary on our
rules and enthusiastic pages on sacred music, on literature, on art,
which she defines admirably; a reminiscence, half-effaced, of a
primitive condition from which we have fallen since Eden. Unfortunately,
to understand her, it is necessary to give oneself to minute researches
and patient studies. Her apocalyptic style has something retractile,
which retreats and shuts itself up all the more when one will open it."

"I am well aware that I am losing my little Latin," said M. Bruno. "What
a pity there is not a translation of her works, with glosses to help."

"They are untranslatable," said the father, who went on,

"Saint Hildegarde is, with Saint Bernard, one of the purest glories of
the family of Saint Benedict. How predestinate was that virgin, who was
inundated with interior light at the age of three, and died at
eighty-two, having lived all her life in the cloister!"

"And add that she was as a permanent state, prophetical!" cried the
oblate. "She is like no other woman saint; all in her is astonishing,
even the way in which God addresses her, for He forgets that she is a
woman, and calls her 'man.'

"And she," added the prior, "employs, when she wishes to designate
herself, the singular expression, 'the paltry form.' But here is another
writer who is dear to us," and he showed Durtal the two volumes of Saint
Gertrude. "She is again one of our great nuns, an abbess truly
Benedictine, in the exact sense of the word, for she caused the Holy
Scriptures to be explained to her nuns, wished that the piety of her
daughters should be based on science, that this faith should be
sustained by liturgical food, if I may say so."

"I know nothing of her but her 'Exercises,'" observed Durtal, "and they
have left with me the memory of echoed words, of things said again from
the sacred books. So far as one may judge from simple extracts, she does
not appear to have original expression, and to be far below Saint Teresa
or Saint Angela."

"No doubt," answered the monk. "But she comes near Saint Angela by the
gift of familiarity when she converses with Christ, and also by the
loving vehemence of what she says; only all this is transformed on
leaving its proper source; she thinks liturgically; and this is so true,
that the least of her reflections at once presents itself to her clothed
in the language of the Gospels and the Psalms.

"Her 'Revelations,' her 'Insinuations,' her 'Herald of Divine Love,' are
marvellous from this point of view; and then her prayer to the Blessed
Virgin is exquisite which opens with this phrase: 'Hail, O white lily
of the Trinity, resplendent, and always at rest....'

"As a continuation of her works, the Benedictine Fathers of Solesmes
have edited also the 'Revelations' of Saint Mechtilde, her book on
'Special Grace,' and her 'Light of the Divinity'; they are there on that
shelf...."

"Let me show you," said in his turn M. Bruno, "guides wisely marked out
for the soul which escapes from itself, and will attempt to climb the
eternal mountains," and he handed to Durtal the "Lucerna Mystica" of
Lopez Ezquerra, the quartos of Scaramelli, the volumes of Schram, the
"Christian Asceticism" of Ribet, the "Principles of Mystic Theology" of
Father Seraphin.

"And do you know this?" continued the oblate; the volume he offered was
called "On Prayer," was anonymous, and bore at the bottom of its first
page "Solesmes, printed at the Abbey of Saint Cecilia," and above the
printed date, 1886, Durtal made out the word written in ink,
"Confidential."

"I have never seen this little book, which seems moreover to have never
been brought into the market. Who is the author?"

"The most extraordinary nun of our time, the abbess of the Benedictine
nuns at Solesmes. I regret only that you are going so soon, for I should
have been happy to let you read it.

"As far as the document is concerned, it is of a most extraordinary
science, and it contains admirable quotations from Saint Hildegarde and
Cassien: as far as Mysticism is concerned, Mother Saint Cecilia
evidently only reproduces the works of her predecessors, and she tells
us nothing very new. Nevertheless, I remember a passage which seems to
me more special, more personal. Wait...."

And the oblate turned over a few pages. "Here it is:

"'The spiritualized soul does not appear exposed to temptation properly
so-called, but by a divine permission it is called upon to conflict with
the Demon, spirit against spirit.... The contact with the Demon is then
perceived on the surface of the soul, under the form of a burn at once
spiritual and sensible.... If the soul hold good in its union with God,
if it be strong, the pain, however sharp, is bearable; but if the soul
commit any slight imperfection, even inwardly, the Demon makes just so
much way, and carries his horrible burning more forward, until by
generous acts the soul can repulse him further."

"This touch of Satan, which produces an almost material effect on the
most intangible parts of our being, is, you will admit, at least
curious," concluded the oblate, as he closed the volume.

"Mother Saint Cecilia is a remarkable strategist of the soul," said the
prior, "but ... but ... this work, which she edited for the daughters of
her abbey, contains, I think, some rash propositions which have not been
read without displeasure at Rome."

"To have done with our poor treasures," he continued, "we have only on
this side," and he pointed out a portion of the book-cases which covered
the room, "long-winded works, the 'Cistercian Menology,' 'Migné's
Patrology,' dictionaries of the lives of the saints, manuals of sacred
interpretation, canon law, Christian apology, Biblical exegesis, the
complete works of Saint Thomas, tools of work which we rarely employ,
for as you know we are a branch of the Benedictine trunk vowed to a life
of bodily labour and penance; we are men of sorrow for God, above all
things. Here is M. Bruno, who uses these books; so do I at times, for I
have special charge of spiritual matters in this monastery," added the
monk with a smile.

Durtal looked at him; he handled the volumes with caressing hands,
brooded over them with the blue lustre of his eye, laughed with the joy
of a child as he turned their pages.

"What a difference between this monk who evidently adores his books, and
the prior with his imperious profile and silent lips who heard his
confession the second day;" then thinking of all these Trappists, the
severity of their countenances, the joy of their eyes, Durtal said to
himself that these Cistercians were not at all as the world believed,
solemn and funereal people, but that, quite the contrary, they were the
gayest of men.

"Now," said Father Maximin, "the reverend Father abbot has charged me
with a commission; knowing that you will leave us to-morrow, he is
anxious, now that he is better, to pass at least some minutes with you.
He will be free this evening: will it trouble you to join him after
Compline?"

"Not at all; I shall be glad to talk with Dom Anselm."

"That is understood, then."

They went downstairs. Durtal thanked the prior, who re-entered the
enclosure of the corridors, and the oblate, who went up to his cell. He
trifled about, and in spite of the torment of his departure, which
haunted him, reached the evening without too much trouble.

The "Salve Regina," which he heard perhaps for the last time thus sung
by male voices; that airy chapel built of sound, and evaporating with
the close of the antiphon, in the smoke of the tapers, stirred him to
the bottom of his soul; the Trappist monastery showed itself truly
charming this evening. After the office, they said the Rosary, not as at
Paris, where they recite a Pater, ten Aves, and a Gloria, and so over
again; here they said in Latin a Pater, an Ave, a Gloria, and began
again till in that manner they had finished several decades.

This rosary was said on their knees, half by the prior, half by all the
monks. It went at so rapid a pace that it was scarcely possible to
distinguish the words, but as soon as it was ended, at a signal there
was a great silence, and each one prayed with his head in his hands.

And Durtal took notice of the ingenious system of conventual prayers:
after the prayers purely vocal like these, came mental prayer, personal
petitions, stimulated and set a-going by the very machine of
paternosters.

"Nothing is left to chance in religion; every exercise which seems at
first useless has a reason for its being," he said to himself, as he
went out into the court. "And the fact is, that the rosary, which seems
to be only a humming-top of sounds, fulfils an end. It reposes the soul
wearied with the supplications which it has recited, applying itself to
them, thinking of them; it hinders it from babbling and reciting to God
always the same petitions, the same complaints; it allows it to take
breath, to take rest, in prayers in which it can dispense with
reflection, and, in fact, the rosary occupies in prayer, those hours of
fatigue in which one would not pray.... Ah! here is the Father abbot."

The Trappist expressed to him his regret at visiting him only thus for a
few moments; then after he had answered Durtal, who inquired after the
state of his health, which he hoped was at last re-established, he
proposed to him to walk in the garden, and begged him not to
inconvenience himself by not smoking cigarettes if he had a mind to do
so.

And the conversation turned on Paris. Dom Anselm asked for some
information, and ended by saying with a smile, "I see by scraps of
newspapers which come to me, that society just now is infected with
socialism. Everyone wishes to solve the famous social question. How does
that get on?"

"How does that get on? Why, not at all! Unless you can change the souls
of workmen and masters, and make them disinterested and charitable
between to-day and to-morrow, in what can you expect these systems to
end?"

"Well," said the monk, enwrapping the monastery with a gesture, "the
question is solved here.

"As wages do not exist, all sources of conflicts are suppressed.

"As every task is according to aptitudes and powers, the fathers who are
not strong-shouldered and big-armed fold the packages of chocolate, or
make out the bills, and those who are robust dig the ground.

"I add that the equality in our cloisters is such that the prior and the
abbot have no advantage over the other monks. At table the portions, and
in the dormitory the paillasses, are identical. The sole profits of the
abbot consist on the whole in the inevitable cares arising from the
moral conduct and the temporal administration of an abbey. There is
therefore no reason why the workmen of a convent should go on strike,"
concluded the abbot with a smile.

"Yes, but you are minimists, you suppress the family and woman, you live
on nothing, and expect the only real recompense for your labours after
death. How can you make the people in the towns understand that?"

"The social system may thus be summed up, as I think: the masters wish
to profit by the workmen, who in their turn desire to be paid as much as
possible for as little work as possible. Well, then, there is no way out
of that."

"Exactly, and there is the sad part of it, for socialism in fact arises
from kindly ideas, just ideas, and will always run up against egotism
and gain, against the inevitable breakers of the sins of man.

"And your little chocolate factory gives you at least some income?"

"Yes; that saves us."

The abbot was silent for a second; then he went on,

"You know, sir, how a convent is founded. I take for example our Order.
A domain and the lands about it are offered the Order on condition that
it peoples them. The Order takes a handful of its monks, and settles
them as a swarm on the soil given to it. There its task stops. The grain
must spring up of itself, or to put it differently, the Trappists,
severed from their mother-house, must gain their livelihood, and suffice
for themselves.

"So when we took possession of these buildings we were so poor, that
from bread to shoes everything was lacking; but we had no anxiety for
the future, for there is no example in monastic history that Providence
has not succoured abbeys who trusted in it. Little by little we drew our
food from the estate, and we learnt useful trades; now we make our
habits and our shoes; we reap our wheat and make our bread; our material
existence is therefore assured, but the taxes crush us; therefore we
have founded this factory, of which the report becomes better from year
to year.

"In a year or two the building which shelters us, and for want of money
we have been unable to repair, will tumble down, but if God then allows
generous souls to come to our aid, perhaps we shall be in a condition to
build a monastery, which is the wish of all of us; for indeed this hovel
with its rooms in confusion, and its rotunda-chapel, is painful to us."

The abbot was silent again, then after a pause he said in a low voice,
speaking to himself,

"It cannot be denied, a convent which has not the look of a cloister is
an obstacle to vocations; the postulant has need--and this is quite
natural--to mould himself in surroundings which please him, to encourage
himself in a church which wraps him round, in a somewhat sombre chapel;
and to obtain that result you want the Romanesque or Gothic style."

"Ah, yes, indeed. And have you many novices?"

"We have especially many subjects who desire to feel the life of
Trappists, but the greater part do not succeed in supporting our way of
life. Beside even the question of knowing whether the vocation of the
beginners is imaginary or real, we are from the physical point of view
clearly fixed after a fortnight's trial."

"Eating vegetables only must crush the most robust constitutions; I do
not even understand how, leading an active life, you can bear it."

"The truth is that bodies obey where souls are resolute. Our ancestors
endured the life of the Trappists very well. We want souls at the
present day. I remember that when I made my probation in a Cistercian
cloister I had no health, and yet had it been necessary I would have
eaten stones!

"Moreover, the rule will soon be softened," pursued the abbot; "but in
any case there is a country which, if there should be scarcity, assures
us a good number of recruits, Holland."

And seeing Durtal's look of astonishment, the father said,

"Yes, in that Protestant country mystic vegetation is flourishing.
Catholicism is all the more fervent that it is, if not persecuted, at
least despised, drowned in the mass of Calvinists. Perhaps this belongs
also to the nature of the soil, to its solitary plains, its silent
canals, to the very taste of the Dutch for a regular and peaceable life;
but in that little knot of Catholics the Cistercian vocation is always
very common."

Durtal looked at the Trappist as he walked majestic and quiet, his head
buried in his hood, his hands passed under his cincture.

From time to time his eyes grew bright inside his hood, and the amethyst
which he wore on his finger sparkled in brief flames.

No sound was heard; at this hour the monastery was asleep. Durtal and
the abbot were walking on the banks of the great pond, where the water
was alive, it alone wakeful in the slumber of the woods, for the moon,
which shone in a cloudless sky, sowed a myriad of goldfish, and this
luminous spawn, fallen from the planet, mounted, descended, sparkled in
a thousand little points of fire, of which the wind as it blew increased
the brightness.

The abbot spoke no longer, and Durtal, who was thinking, intoxicated by
the sweetness of the night, groaned suddenly. He had just considered
that at this same hour the next day he would be at Paris, and seeing the
monastery, whose pale front appeared at the end of a walk as at the end
of a dark tunnel, he cried, thinking of all the monks who inhabited it,

"Ah! they are happy!"

And the abbot answered, "Too happy."

Then gently, in a low voice,

"Yes, it is true we enter here to do penance, to mortify ourselves, and
we have hardly begun to suffer when God consoles us. He is so good that
He Himself wishes to deceive Himself about our merits. If at certain
moments He allows the Demon to persecute us, He gives us in exchange so
much happiness that there is no proportion preserved between the
recompense and the sorrow. Sometimes when I think of it, I ask myself
how there still subsists that equilibrium that nuns and monks are
charged to maintain, since neither of us suffer enough to neutralize the
repeated sins of towns?"

The abbot stopped, and then went on pensively,

"The world does not even conceive that the austerity of the abbeys can
profit it. The doctrine of mystical compensation escapes it entirely. It
cannot represent to itself that the substitution of the innocent for the
guilty is necessary when to suffer merited punishment is concerned. Nor
does it explain to itself any more that in wishing to suffer for others,
monks turn aside the wrath of heaven, and establish a solidarity in the
good which is a counter-weight against the federation of evil. God
knows, moreover, with what cataclysms the unconscious world would be
menaced, if in consequence of a sudden disappearance of all the
cloisters, the equilibrium which saves it were broken."

"The case has already presented itself," said Durtal, who while
listening to the Trappist thought of the Abbé Gévresin, and remembered
how that priest had expressed himself on the same subject in nearly
similar terms. "The Revolution, in fact, suppressed all convents with
one stroke of a pen, but I think that the history of that time when so
many hucksters were busy is still to be written. Instead of searching
for documents on the acts, and even on the persons of the Jacobins, the
archives of the religious orders which existed at that time should be
ransacked.

"In working thus at the side of the Revolution, in sounding its
neighbourhood, its foundations will be exhumed. Its causes will be
brought to the surface, and it will certainly be discovered that in
proportion to the suppression of convents, monstrous excesses had birth.
Who knows if the demoniacal madness of Carrier or Marat do not accord
with the death of an abbey whose sanctity preserved France for years."

"To be just," answered the abbot, "it is right to say that the
Revolution destroyed ruins only. The rule of _in commendam_ ended by
giving the monasteries over to Satan. It was they, alas! that by the
relaxation of their morals, inclined the balance, and drew down the
lightning on the land.

"The Terror was only a consequence of their impiety. God, whom nothing
longer withheld, let things take their course."

"Yes; but how can you now prove the necessity of compensations to a
world which wanders out of the way in continued accesses of gain; how
persuade it that it is an urgent need, as a preventive against new
crises, to shelter towns behind the sacred bulwarks of cloisters?

"After the siege of 1870, Paris was wisely sheltered behind an immense
net of impregnable forts; but is it not also indispensable to surround
it with a cincture of prayers, to buttress its neighbourhood with
conventual houses, to build everywhere in its suburbs convents of Poor
Clares, Carmelites, Benedictine nuns of the Blessed Sacrament,
monasteries which will be in some degree powerful citadels, destined to
arrest the forward march of the armies of evil?

"Certainly the towns have great need of being guaranteed against
infernal invasions by a sanitary defence of Orders.... But come, sir, I
must not deprive you of necessary rest, I will join you to-morrow,
before you quit our solitude. I have now but to say that you have only
friends here, and that you will be always welcome. I hope that on your
side you will keep no unfavourable memory of our poor hospitality, and
that you will prove it in coming to see us again."

As they talked they had come in front of the guest-house.

The father pressed Durtal's hands, and slowly ascended the stairs,
sweeping with his robe the silver dust of the steps, as he mounted, all
white, in a ray of the moon.



CHAPTER IX.


Durtal wished immediately after Mass to visit for the last time that
wood through which he had walked, in turn so languidly and so rapidly.
He went at first to the old lime alley, whose pale emanations were
verily for his spirit what an infusion of their leaves is for the body,
a sort of very weak panacea, a kindly and soothing sedative.

Then he sat down in their shade on a stone bench. As he leant forward a
little he could see through the moving spaces in the branches, the
solemn front of the abbey, and opposite it, separated by the kitchen
garden, the gigantic cross standing before that liquid plan of a church
which the pond simulated.

He rose, and approached the watery cross, of which the sky turned the
marble water blue, and he contemplated the great crucifix in white
marble, which towered above the whole monastery, and seemed to rise
opposite to it as a permanent reminder of the vows of suffering which he
had accepted, and reserved to himself to change at length into joys.

"The fact is," said Durtal, who thought over again the contradictory
declarations of the monks, confessing that they led at once the most
attractive and the most atrocious life; "the fact is that the good God
deceives them. They attain here below Paradise, while they seek hell
there. I have myself tasted how strange is existence in this cloister,
for I have been here, almost at the same time, very unhappy and very
happy; and now I feel well the mirage which is already beginning: before
two days are over the remembrance of the sorrows which then were, if I
recall them with care, greatly above the joys, will have disappeared,
and I shall only recall those interior emotions in the chapel, those
delicious stolen moments in the morning in the pathways of the park.

"I shall regret the open-air prison of this convent. It is curious I
find myself attached to it by obscure bonds; when I am in my cell, there
return to me all kinds of memories, like those of an ancient race. I
find myself at once at home again, in a place I had never seen; I
recognize from the first moment a very special life, of which
nevertheless I know nothing. It seems to me that something which
interests me, which is indeed personal to me, passed here before I was
born. Truly, if I believed in metempsychosis I might imagine I had been
a monk in anterior existences; a bad monk then," he said, smiling at his
reflections, "since I should have been obliged to be reincarnate and to
return to a cloister to expiate my sins."

While thus talking with himself, he had passed across a long alley which
led to the end of the enclosure, and, cutting across the road, and
through the thickets, he strayed into the wood of the great pond.

It was not in motion, as on certain days when the wind made hollows in
it, and swelled it, made it flow and return on itself as soon as it
touched its banks. It remained immovable, and was only stirred by the
reflections of the moving clouds and of the trees. At moments a leaf
fallen from the neighbouring poplars swam on the image of a cloud, at
others bubbles of air came from the bottom and burst on the surface in
the reflected blue of heaven.

Durtal looked for the otter, but it did not show itself; he saw only the
swallows which skimmed the water with their wing, the dragon-flies which
sparkled like jewels, flashing like the blue flames of sulphur.

If he had suffered near the cross-pond, before the sheet of water of the
other pond he could only call up the memory of healing hours, which he
had passed lying on a bed of moss, or a couch of dry reeds, and he
looked at it tenderly, trying to fix and carry it away in his memory to
re-live again in Paris, shutting his eyes on the bank.

He pursued his walk, and stopped in an alley of chestnuts along the
walls above the monastery; thence he went into the court in front of the
cloister, the outbuildings, the stables, the woodsheds, even the
pig-styes. He tried to see Brother Simeon, but he was probably engaged
in the stables, for he did not appear. The buildings were silent, the
pigs were shut up; only some lean cats prowled about in silence,
scarcely looking when they met each other, going each on its own side,
no doubt seeking some nourishing game which would console them for the
eternal meals of vegetable soup served them at the monastery.

Time was getting on; he prayed for the last time in the chapel, and went
to his cell to get his portmanteau ready.

While putting his things in order he thought of the inutility of
decorated rooms. He had spent all his money at Paris in buying ornaments
and books, for till now he had detested bare walls.

But now, considering the blank walls of this room, he admitted to
himself that he had done better between these four white-washed walls
than in his room at Paris, hung with stuffs.

Suddenly he recognized that La Trappe had weaned him from his
preferences, had in a few days completely upset him. "The power of such
an environment!" he said to himself, a little alarmed at feeling how he
was transformed. And he thought in buckling his portmanteau, "I must
however, go and find Father Etienne, for I must settle my account; I
cannot be altogether a debtor to these good people."

He went along the corridors, and ended by meeting the father in the
court.

He was a little confused how to open the question; at the first words
the guest-master smiled.

"The rule of Saint Benedict is formal," he said; "we must receive our
guests as we receive our Lord Jesus Himself, that is to tell you that we
cannot exchange our poor care for money."

And when Durtal insisted, embarrassed,

"If it does not suit you to have partaken of our meagre pittance without
paying, do as you please; only the sum which you may give will be
distributed in coins of ten or twenty sous, to the poor who come each
morning, often from a great distance, to knock at our monastery gate."

Durtal bowed and handed the money, which he had ready in his pocket, to
the father, but he inquired if he might not have a word with Father
Maximin before his departure.

"Certainly; moreover, Father prior would not have let you go without
shaking hands with you. I will go and make certain if he be free. Wait
for me in the refectory." And the monk disappeared, and came back a few
minutes afterwards, preceded by the prior.

"Ah, well," said he, "then you are going to plunge again into the
hurly-burly?"

"Oh! without any pleasure, Father."

"I understand that. It is so good, is it not, no longer to hear anything
and to be silent. However, take courage; we will pray for you."

And as Durtal thanked both of them for their kind attentions,

"It is a pleasure to receive a retreatant such as you," cried Father
Etienne, "nothing repulses you, and you are so exact that you are about
before the hour: you rendered my task of overseer easy. If all were as
little exacting and as pliable."

And he admitted that he had given lodging to priests sent by their
bishops as a penance, ecclesiastics of ill-repute whose complaints about
food, lodging, the need of rising early in the morning, never ceased.

"If, again," said the prior, "one could hope to recall them to good, to
send them back healed to their parishes; but no, they go away still more
rebellious than before, the Devil does not let them alone."

During this conversation a lay brother brought in some dishes covered
with plates and placed them on the table.

"We have changed the hour of your dinner, because of the train," said
Father Etienne.

"Good appetite, adieu, and may the Lord bless you," said the prior.

He raised his hand, and enwrapped Durtal, with a great sign of the
cross, who knelt surprised at the sudden emotion in the monk's tone. But
Father Maximin recovered himself at once, and he bowed to him as M.
Bruno entered.

The meal was silent; the oblate was visibly distressed at the departure
of the companion whom he loved, and Durtal looked with a swelling heart
at the old man, who had so charitably come out of his solitude to give
him aid.

"Will you not come some day to see me in Paris?" he said.

"No. I have quitted life without any mind to return to it. I am dead to
the world. I do not wish to see Paris again. I have no wish to live
again.

"But if God lend me still a few years of existence I hope to see you
here again, for it is not in vain that one has crossed the threshold of
mystic asceticism, to verify by one's own experience the reality of the
requirements which our Lord brings about. Now, as God does not proceed
by chance, He will certainly finish His work by sifting you as wheat. I
venture to recommend you to try not to give way, and attempt to die in
some measure to yourself, in order not to run counter to His plans."

"I know well," said Durtal, "that all is displaced in me, that I am no
longer the same, but what frightens me is that I am now sure that the
works of the Teresan school are exact ... then, then ... if one must
pass-through the cylinders of the rolling mill which Saint John of the
Cross describes...."

The noise of a carriage in the court interrupted him. M. Bruno went to
the window and looked out.

"Your luggage is down."

"Yes."

They looked at each other.

"Listen! I would wish indeed to say to you...."

"No, no, do not thank me," cried the oblate. "See, I have never so
thoroughly understood the misery of my being. Ah! if I had been another
man, I might, by praying better, have aided you more."

The door opened and Father Etienne declared,

"You have not a minute to lose, if you do not wish to miss the train."

Thus hurried, Durtal had only time to press the hand of his friend, who
accompanied him to the court. He found waiting a sort of open wagon
driven by a Trappist, who, below a bald head, and cheeks streaked with
rose threads, had a great black beard.

Durtal pressed the hands of the guest-master and the oblate for the last
time, when the Father abbot came in his turn to wish him a safe journey;
and at the end of the court Durtal perceived two eyes fixed on him,
those of Brother Anacletus, who, at a distance, said adieu by a slight
bow, but without other gesture.

Even this poor man, whose eloquent look told of a truly touching
affection, had a saint's pity for the stranger whom he had seen so
tumultuous and so sad in the desolate solitude of the wood!

Certainly the stiffness of the rule forbade all show of feeling to these
monks, but Durtal felt thoroughly that for him they had gone to the
limit of concessions allowed, and his affliction was great as he cast
them in parting a last expression of thanks.

And the door of the monastery closed; that door at which he had trembled
in arriving, and at which he now looked with tears in his eyes.

"We must get on fast," said the procurator, "for we are late," and the
horse went at a great speed along the lanes.

Durtal recognized his companion, as having seen him in the chapel,
singing in the choir during the Office.

He had an air at once good-natured and firm, and his little grey eye
smiled as it glanced behind his branched spectacles.

"Well," said he, "how have you borne our regimen?"

"I have had every chance; I came herewith my stomach out of order, my
body ill, and the simple Trappist meals have cured me."

And when Durtal narrated briefly the stages of soul he had undergone,
the monk murmured,

"That is nothing in regard to demoniacal attacks; we have had here true
cases of possession."

"And Brother Simeon discovered them!"

"Ah! you know that...." And he replied quite simply to Durtal, who spoke
to him of his admiration for the poor lay brothers,

"You are right, sir; if you could talk with these peasants and
illiterate men, you would be surprised at the often profound answers
which these people give you; then they alone at the monastery are really
courageous; we, the Fathers, when we think ourselves too weak, accept
willingly the authorized addition of an egg; they never; they pray more,
and it must be admitted that our Lord listens to them, since they get
well again, and indeed are never ill."

And to a question of Durtal who asked him in what consisted the
functions of procurator, the monk answered,

"They consist in keeping the accounts, in being the commercial agent, in
travelling, in managing, alas! everything which does not concern the
life of the cloister; but we are so few in number at Notre Dame de
l'Atre, that we become necessarily Jacks-of-all-trades. For instance,
Father Etienne is cellarer of the Abbey and guest-master, he is also
sacristan and bell-ringer. I too, am first cantor and professor of plain
song."

And while the carriage rolled along, shaken by the ruts, the procurator
declared to Durtal, who told him how much the offices chanted at the
monastery had delighted him,

"It is not with us that you ought to hear them; our choirs are too
restricted, too weak to be able to raise the giant mass of those chants.
You ought to go to the black monks of Solesmes or Ligugé if you wish to
find the Gregorian melodies executed as they were in the Middle Ages. By
the way, do you know in Paris, the Benedictine nuns in the Rue
Monsieur?"

"Yes; but do you not think they coo a little?"

"I cannot say; all the same their collection of tunes is authentic, but
at the little seminary at Versailles, you have better still, since they
chant there exactly as at Solesmes; note this well, moreover, at Paris,
when the churches decline to repudiate liturgical music, they use for
the most part the false notation printed and spread in abundance in all
the dioceses in France by the house of Pustet of Ratisbon."

"But the errors and frauds with which those editions abound are well
known."

"The legend on which its partisans rely is incorrect. To assert, as they
do, that this version is no other than that of Palestrina who was
charged by Pope Paul V. to revive the musical liturgy of the Church, is
an argument destitute of truth and void of force, for everyone knows
that when Palestrina died, he had hardly begun the correction of the
Gradual.

"I will add that even if that musician had finished his work, that would
not prove that his interpretation ought to be preferred to that which
has been recently constituted after patient researches by the Abbey of
Solesmes, for the Benedictine texts are based on the copy preserved at
the monastery of St. Gall of the antiphonary of Saint Gregory, which
represents the most ancient and the most certain monument which the
Church preserves of the true plain chant.

"This manuscript, of which photographic facsimiles exist, is the code of
Gregorian melodies, and it ought to be, if I may use the expression, the
neumatic Bible of choirs.

"The disciples of Saint Benedict are then absolutely right when they
declare that their version alone is faithful, alone correct."

"How then comes it that so many churches get their music from Ratisbon?"

"Alas, how comes it that Pustet has so long acquired the monopoly of
liturgical books, and ... but no, better hold one's peace ... take this
only for certain, that the German volumes are the absolute negation of
the Gregorian tradition, the most complete heresy of plain chant."

"By the way, what time is it? We must make haste," said the procurator,
looking at the watch which Durtal held up to him. "Come up, my beauty,"
and he whipped up the mare.

"You drive with spirit," cried Durtal.

"It is true; I forgot to say to you, that over and above my other
functions, I also have, if need be, that of coachman."

Durtal thought all the same that these people were extraordinary who
lived an interior life in God. As soon as they consented to redescend on
earth they revealed themselves as the most sagacious and the boldest of
business men. An abbot founded a factory with the few pence he succeeded
in gathering; he discerned the employment which suited each of his
monks, and with them he improvised artisans, writing clerks, transformed
a professor of plain chant into an agent, plunged into the tumult of
purchases and sales, and little by little the house which scarcely was
raised above the soil, grew, put forth shoots, and ended by nourishing
with its fruit the abbey which had planted it.

Transported into another environment these people would have as easily
created great manufactories and started banks. And it was the same with
the women. When one thinks of the practical qualities of a man of
business, and the coolness of an old diplomatist which a mother abbess
ought to possess in order to rule her community, one is obliged to admit
that the only women, truly intelligent, truly remarkable are, outside of
drawing-rooms, outside of the world, at the head of cloisters.

And as he expressed his wonder aloud, that monks were so expert at
setting up business.

"It must be so," sighed the father, "but if you believe that we do not
regret the time necessarily spent in digging the ground! then our spirit
at least was free, then we could sanctify ourselves in silence which to
a monk is as necessary as bread, for it is thanks to it, that he stifles
vanity as it rises, that he represses disobedience as it murmurs, that
he turns all his aspirations, all his thoughts towards God, and becomes
at last attentive to His presence.

"Instead of that ... but here we are at the station; do not trouble
yourself about your portmanteau, but go and take your ticket, for I hear
the whistle of the train."

And in fact Durtal had only time to shake hands with the father, who put
his luggage into the carriage.

There, when he was alone, seated, looking at the monk as he departed, he
felt his heart swell, ready to break.

And in the clatter of the rails the train started.

Sharply, clearly, in a minute, Durtal took stock of the frightful
disorder into which he had thrown the monastery.

"Ah! and outside it, all is the same to me, and nothing matters to me,"
he cried. And he groaned, knowing that he should never more succeed in
interesting himself in all that makes the joy of men. The uselessness of
caring about any other thing than Mysticism and the liturgy, of thinking
about aught else save God, implanted itself in him so firmly that he
asked himself what would become of him at Paris with such ideas.

He saw himself submitting to the confusion of controversies, the
cowardice of conventionality, the vanity of declarations, the inanity of
proofs. He saw himself bruised and thrust aside by the reflections of
everybody, obliged henceforward to advance or retire, dispute or hold
his tongue?

In any case peace was for ever lost. How in fact was he to rally and
recover when he was obliged to dwell in a place of passage, in a soul
open to all winds, visited by a crowd of public thoughts?

His contempt for relations, his disgust for acquaintances grew on him.
"No, everything rather than mix myself again with society," he declared
to himself, and then he was silent in despair, for he was not ignorant
that he could not, apart from the monastic zone, live in isolation.
After a short time would come weariness and a void, therefore why had
he reserved nothing for himself, why had he trusted all to the cloister?
He had not even known how to arrange the pleasure of entering into
himself, he had discovered how to lose the amusement of bric-à-brac, how
to extirpate that last satisfaction in the white nakedness of a cell! he
no longer held to anything, but lay dismantled, saying, "I have
renounced almost all the happiness which might fall to me, and what am I
going to put in its place?"

And terrified, he perceived the disquiet of a conscience ready to
torment itself, the permanent reproaches of an acquired lukewarmness,
the apprehensions of doubts against Faith, fear of furious clamours of
the senses stirred by chance meetings.

And he repeated to himself that the most difficult thing would not be to
master the emotions of his flesh, but indeed to live Christianly, to
confess, to communicate at Paris, in a church. He never could get so far
as that, and he imagined discussions with the Abbé Gévresin, his gaining
time, his refusal, foreseeing that their friendship would come to an end
in these disputes.

Then where should he fly? At the very recollection of the Trappist
monastery the theatrical representations of St. Sulpice made him jump.
St. Severin seemed to him distracted and worn. How could he live among
stupid people like the devout, how listen without gnashing his teeth to
the affected chants of the choirs? How, lastly, could he seek again in
the chapel of the Benedictine nuns, and even at Notre Dame des
Victoires, that dull heat radiating from the souls of the monks, and
thawing little by little the ice of his poor being?

And then it was not even that. What was truly crushing, truly dreadful,
was to think that doubtless he would never again feel that admirable joy
which lifts you from the ground, carries you, you know not where, nor
how, above sense.

Ah, those paths at the monastery wandered in at daybreak, those paths
where one day after a communion, God had dilated his soul in such a
fashion that it seemed no longer his own, so much had Christ plunged him
in the sea of His divine infinity, swallowed him in the heavenly
firmament of His person.

How renew that state of grace without communion and outside a cloister?
"No; it is all over," he concluded.

And he was seized with such an access of sadness, such an outburst of
despair, that he thought of getting out at the first station, and
returning to the monastery; and he had to shrug his shoulders, for his
character was not patient enough nor his will firm enough, nor his body
strong enough to support the terrible trials of a noviciate. Moreover,
the prospect of having no cell to himself, of sleeping dressed
higgledy-piggledy in a dormitory, alarmed him.

But what then? And sadly he took stock of himself.

"Ah!" he thought, "I have lived twenty years in ten days in that
convent, and I leave it, my brain relaxed, my heart in rags; I am done
for, for ever. Paris and Notre Dame de l'Atre have rejected me each in
their turn like a waif, and here I am condemned to live apart, for I am
still too much a man of letters to become a monk, and yet I am already
too much a monk to remain among men of letters."

He leapt up and was silent, dazzled by jets of electric light which
flooded him as the train stopped.

He had returned to Paris.

"If they," he said, thinking of those writers whom it would no doubt be
difficult not to see again, "if they knew how inferior they are to the
lowest of the lay brothers! if they could imagine how the divine
intoxication of a Trappist swine-herd interests me more than all their
conversations and all their books! Ah! Lord, that I might live, live in
the shadow of the prayers of humble Brother Simeon!"





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