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Title: The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 4
Author: Zola, Émile
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 4" ***

                          THE THREE CITIES



                            EMILE ZOLA

                             Volume 4.


                           THE FOURTH DAY



AT the Hospital of Our Lady of Dolours, that morning, Marie remained
seated on her bed, propped up by pillows. Having spent the whole night at
the Grotto, she had refused to let them take her back there. And, as
Madame de Jonquiere approached her, to raise one of the pillows which was
slipping from its place, she asked: "What day is it, madame?"

"Monday, my dear child."

"Ah! true. One so soon loses count of time. And, besides, I am so happy!
It is to-day that the Blessed Virgin will cure me!"

She smiled divinely, with the air of a day-dreamer, her eyes gazing into
vacancy, her thoughts so far away, so absorbed in her one fixed idea,
that she beheld nothing save the certainty of her hope. Round about her,
the Sainte-Honorine Ward was now quite deserted, all the patients,
excepting Madame Vetu, who lay at the last extremity in the next bed,
having already started for the Grotto. But Marie did not even notice her
neighbour; she was delighted with the sudden stillness which had fallen.
One of the windows overlooking the courtyard had been opened, and the
glorious morning sunshine entered in one broad beam, whose golden dust
was dancing over her bed and streaming upon her pale hands. It was indeed
pleasant to find this room, so dismal at nighttime with its many beds of
sickness, its unhealthy atmosphere, and its nightmare groans, thus
suddenly filled with sunlight, purified by the morning air, and wrapped
in such delicious silence! "Why don't you try to sleep a little?"
maternally inquired Madame de Jonquiere. "You must be quite worn out by
your vigil."

Marie, who felt so light and cheerful that she no longer experienced any
pain, seemed surprised.

"But I am not at all tired, and I don't feel a bit sleepy. Go to sleep?
Oh! no, that would be too sad. I should no longer know that I was going
to be cured!"

At this the superintendent laughed. "Then why didn't you let them take
you to the Grotto?" she asked. "You won't know what to do with yourself
all alone here."

"I am not alone, madame, I am with her," replied Marie; and thereupon,
her vision returning to her, she clasped her hands in ecstasy. "Last
night, you know, I saw her bend her head towards me and smile. I quite
understood her, I could hear her voice, although she never opened her
lips. When the Blessed Sacrament passes at four o'clock I shall be

Madame de Jonquiere tried to calm her, feeling rather anxious at the
species of somnambulism in which she beheld her. However, the sick girl
went on: "No, no, I am no worse, I am waiting. Only, you must surely see,
madame, that there is no need for me to go to the Grotto this morning,
since the appointment which she gave me is for four o'clock." And then the
girl added in a lower tone: "Pierre will come for me at half-past three.
At four o'clock I shall be cured."

The sunbeam slowly made its way up her bare arms, which were now almost
transparent, so wasted had they become through illness; whilst her
glorious fair hair, which had fallen over her shoulders, seemed like the
very effulgence of the great luminary enveloping her. The trill of a bird
came in from the courtyard, and quite enlivened the tremulous silence of
the ward. Some child who could not be seen must also have been playing
close by, for now and again a soft laugh could be heard ascending in the
warm air which was so delightfully calm.

"Well," said Madame de Jonquiere by way of conclusion, "don't sleep then,
as you don't wish to. But keep quite quiet, and it will rest you all the

Meantime Madame Vetu was expiring in the adjoining bed. They had not
dared to take her to the Grotto, for fear they should see her die on the
way. For some little time she had lain there with her eyes closed; and
Sister Hyacinthe, who was watching, had beckoned to Madame Desagneaux in
order to acquaint her with the bad opinion she had formed of the case.
Both of them were now leaning over the dying woman, observing her with
increasing anxiety. The mask upon her face had turned more yellow than
ever, and now looked like a coating of mud; her eyes too had become more
sunken, her lips seemed to have grown thinner, and the death rattle had
begun, a slow, pestilential wheezing, polluted by the cancer which was
finishing its destructive work. All at once she raised her eyelids, and
was seized with fear on beholding those two faces bent over her own.
Could her death be near, that they should thus be gazing at her? Immense
sadness showed itself in her eyes, a despairing regret of life. It was
not a vehement revolt, for she no longer had the strength to struggle;
but what a frightful fate it was to have left her shop, her surroundings,
and her husband, merely to come and die so far away; to have braved the
abominable torture of such a journey, to have prayed both day and night,
and then, instead of having her prayer granted, to die when others

However, she could do no more than murmur "Oh! how I suffer; oh! how I
suffer. Do something, anything, to relieve this pain, I beseech you."

Little Madame Desagneaux, with her pretty milk-white face showing amidst
her mass of fair, frizzy hair, was quite upset. She was not used to
deathbed scenes, she would have given half her heart, as she expressed
it, to see that poor woman recover. And she rose up and began to question
Sister Hyacinthe, who was also in tears but already resigned, knowing as
she did that salvation was assured when one died well. Could nothing
really be done, however? Could not something be tried to ease the dying
woman? Abbe Judaine had come and administered the last sacrament to her a
couple of hours earlier that very morning. She now only had Heaven to
look to; it was her only hope, for she had long since given up expecting
aid from the skill of man.

"No, no! we must do something," exclaimed Madame Desagneaux. And
thereupon she went and fetched Madame de Jonquiere from beside Marie's
bed. "Look how this poor creature is suffering, madame!" she exclaimed.
"Sister Hyacinthe says that she can only last a few hours longer. But we
cannot leave her moaning like this. There are things which give relief.
Why not call that young doctor who is here?"

"Of course we will," replied the superintendent. "We will send for him at

They seldom thought of the doctor in the wards. It only occurred to the
ladies to send for him when a case was at its very worst, when one of
their patients was howling with pain. Sister Hyacinthe, who herself felt
surprised at not having thought of Ferrand, whom she believed to be in an
adjoining room, inquired if she should fetch him.

"Certainly," was the reply. "Bring him as quickly as possible."

When the Sister had gone off, Madame de Jonquiere made Madame Desagneaux
help her in slightly raising the dying woman's head, thinking that this
might relieve her. The two ladies happened to be alone there that
morning, all the other lady-hospitallers having gone to their devotions
or their private affairs. However, from the end of the large deserted
ward, where, amidst the warm quiver of the sunlight such sweet
tranquillity prevailed, there still came at intervals the light laughter
of the unseen child.

"Can it be Sophie who is making such a noise?" suddenly asked the
lady-superintendent, whose nerves were somewhat upset by all the worry of
the death which she foresaw. Then quickly walking to the end of the ward,
she found that it was indeed Sophie Couteau--the young girl so
miraculously healed the previous year--who, seated on the floor behind a
bed, had been amusing herself, despite her fourteen years, in making a
doll out of a few rags. She was now talking to it, so happy, so absorbed
in her play, that she laughed quite heartily. "Hold yourself up,
mademoiselle," said she. "Dance the polka, that I may see how you can do
it! One! two! dance, turn, kiss the one you like best!"

Madame de Jonquiere, however, was now coming up. "Little girl," she said,
"we have one of our patients here in great pain, and not expected to
recover. You must not laugh so loud."

"Ah! madame, I didn't know," replied Sophie, rising up, and becoming
quite serious, although still holding the doll in her hand. "Is she going
to die, madame?"

"I fear so, my poor child."

Thereupon Sophie became quite silent. She followed the superintendent,
and seated herself on an adjoining bed; whence, without the slightest
sign of fear, but with her large eyes burning with curiosity, she began
to watch Madame Vetu's death agony. In her nervous state, Madame
Desagneaux was growing impatient at the delay in the doctor's arrival;
whilst Marie, still enraptured, and resplendent in the sunlight, seemed
unconscious of what was taking place about her, wrapt as she was in
delightful expectancy of the miracle.

Not having found Ferrand in the small apartment near the linen-room which
he usually occupied, Sister Hyacinthe was now searching for him all over
the building. During the past two days the young doctor had become more
bewildered than ever in that extraordinary hospital, where his assistance
was only sought for the relief of death pangs. The small medicine-chest
which he had brought with him proved quite useless; for there could be no
thought of trying any course of treatment, as the sick were not there to
be doctored, but simply to be cured by the lightning stroke of a miracle.
And so he mainly confined himself to administering a few opium pills, in
order to deaden the severer sufferings. He had been fairly amazed when
accompanying Doctor Bonamy on a round through the wards. It had resolved
itself into a mere stroll, the doctor, who had only come out of
curiosity, taking no interest in the patients, whom he neither questioned
nor examined. He solely concerned himself with the pretended cases of
cure, stopping opposite those women whom he recognised from having seen
them at his office where the miracles were verified. One of them had
suffered from three complaints, only one of which the Blessed Virgin had
so far deigned to cure; but great hopes were entertained respecting the
other two. Sometimes, when a wretched woman, who the day before had
claimed to be cured, was questioned with reference to her health, she
would reply that her pains had returned to her. However, this never
disturbed the doctor's serenity; ever conciliatory, the good man declared
that Heaven would surely complete what Heaven had begun. Whenever there
was an improvement in health, he would ask if it were not something to be
thankful for. And, indeed, his constant saying was: "There's an
improvement already; be patient!" What he most dreaded were the
importunities of the lady-superintendents, who all wished to detain him
to show him sundry extraordinary cases. Each prided herself on having the
most serious illnesses, the most frightful, exceptional cases in her
ward; so that she was eager to have them medically authenticated, in
order that she might share in the triumph should cure supervene. One
caught the doctor by the arm and assured him that she felt confident she
had a leper in her charge; another entreated him to come and look at a
young girl whose back, she said, was covered with fish's scales; whilst a
third, whispering in his ear, gave him some terrible details about a
married lady of the best society. He hastened away, however, refusing to
see even one of them, or else simply promising to come back later on when
he was not so busy. As he himself said, if he listened to all those
ladies, the day would pass in useless consultations. However, he at last
suddenly stopped opposite one of the miraculously cured inmates, and,
beckoning Ferrand to his side, exclaimed: "Ah! now here is an interesting
cure!" and Ferrand, utterly bewildered, had to listen to him whilst he
described all the features of the illness, which had totally disappeared
at the first immersion in the piscina.

At last Sister Hyacinthe, still wandering about, encountered Abbe
Judaine, who informed her that the young doctor had just been summoned to
the Family Ward. It was the fourth time he had gone thither to attend to
Brother Isidore, whose sufferings were as acute as ever, and whom he
could only fill with opium. In his agony, the Brother merely asked to be
soothed a little, in order that he might gather together sufficient
strength to return to the Grotto in the afternoon, as he had not been
able to do so in the morning. However, his pains increased, and at last
he swooned away.

When the Sister entered the ward she found the doctor seated at the
missionary's bedside. "Monsieur Ferrand," she said, "come up-stairs with
me to the Sainte-Honorine Ward at once. We have a patient there at the
point of death."

He smiled at her; indeed, he never beheld her without feeling brighter
and comforted. "I will come with you, Sister," he replied. "But you'll
wait a minute, won't you? I must try to restore this poor man."

She waited patiently and made herself useful. The Family Ward, situated
on the ground-floor, was also full of sunshine and fresh air which
entered through three large windows opening on to a narrow strip of
garden. In addition to Brother Isidore, only Monsieur Sabathier had
remained in bed that morning, with the view of obtaining a little rest;
whilst Madame Sabathier, taking advantage of the opportunity, had gone to
purchase a few medals and pictures, which she intended for presents.
Comfortably seated on his bed, his back supported by some pillows, the
ex-professor was rolling the beads of a chaplet between his fingers. He
was no longer praying, however, but merely continuing the operation in a
mechanical manner, his eyes, meantime, fixed upon his neighbour, whose
attack he was following with painful interest.

"Ah! Sister," said he to Sister Hyacinthe, who had drawn near, "that poor
Brother fills me with admiration. Yesterday I doubted the Blessed Virgin
for a moment, seeing that she did not deign to hear me, though I have
been coming here for seven years past; but the example set me by that
poor martyr, so resigned amidst his torments, has quite shamed me for my
want of faith. You can have no idea how grievously he suffers, and you
should see him at the Grotto, with his eyes glowing with divine hope! It
is really sublime! I only know of one picture at the Louvre--a picture by
some unknown Italian master--in which there is the head of a monk
beatified by a similar faith."

The man of intellect, the ex-university-professor, reared on literature
and art, was reappearing in this poor old fellow, whose life had been
blasted, and who had desired to become a free patient, one of the poor of
the earth, in order to move the pity of Heaven. He again began thinking
of his own case, and with tenacious hopefulness, which the futility of
seven journeys to Lourdes had failed to destroy, he added: "Well, I still
have this afternoon, since we sha'n't leave till to-morrow. The water is
certainly very cold, but I shall let them dip me a last time; and all the
morning I have been praying and asking pardon for my revolt of yesterday.
When the Blessed Virgin chooses to cure one of her children, it only
takes her a second to do so; is that not so, Sister? May her will be
done, and blessed be her name!"

Passing the beads of the chaplet more slowly between his fingers, he
again began saying his "Aves" and "Paters," whilst his eyelids drooped on
his flabby face, to which a childish expression had been returning during
the many years that he had been virtually cut off from the world.

Meantime Ferrand had signalled to Brother Isidore's sister, Marthe, to
come to him. She had been standing at the foot of the bed with her arms
hanging down beside her, showing the tearless resignation of a poor,
narrow-minded girl whilst she watched that dying man whom she worshipped.
She was no more than a faithful dog; she had accompanied her brother and
spent her scanty savings, without being of any use save to watch him
suffer. Accordingly, when the doctor told her to take the invalid in her
arms and raise him up a little, she felt quite happy at being of some
service at last. Her heavy, freckled, mournful face actually grew bright.

"Hold him," said the doctor, "whilst I try to give him this."

When she had raised him, Ferrand, with the aid of a small spoon,
succeeded in introducing a few drops of liquid between his set teeth.
Almost immediately the sick man opened his eyes and heaved a deep sigh.
He was calmer already; the opium was taking effect and dulling the pain
which he felt burning his right side, as though a red-hot iron were being
applied to it. However, he remained so weak that, when he wished to
speak, it became necessary to place one's ear close to his mouth in order
to catch what he said. With a slight sign he had begged Ferrand to bend
over him. "You are the doctor, monsieur, are you not?" he faltered. "Give
me sufficient strength that I may go once more to the Grotto, this
afternoon. I am certain that, if I am able to go, the Blessed Virgin will
cure me."

"Why, of course you shall go," replied the young man. "Don't you feel
ever so much better?"

"Oh! ever so much better--no! I know very well what my condition is,
because I saw many of our Brothers die, out there in Senegal. When the
liver is attacked and the abscess has worked its way outside, it means
the end. Sweating, fever, and delirium follow. But the Blessed Virgin
will touch the sore with her little finger and it will be healed. Oh! I
implore you all, take me to the Grotto, even if I should be unconscious!"

Sister Hyacinthe had also approached, and leant over him. "Be easy, dear
Brother," said she. "You shall go to the Grotto after /dejeuner/, and we
will all pray for you."

At length, in despair at these delays and extremely anxious about Madame
Vetu, she was able to get Ferrand away. Still, the Brother's state filled
her with pity; and, as they ascended the stairs, she questioned the
doctor, asking him if there were really no more hope. The other made a
gesture expressive of absolute hopelessness. It was madness to come to
Lourdes when one was in such a condition. However, he hastened to add,
with a smile: "I beg your pardon, Sister. You know that I am unfortunate
enough not to be a believer."

But she smiled in her turn, like an indulgent friend who tolerates the
shortcomings of those she loves. "Oh! that doesn't matter," she replied.
"I know you; you're all the same a good fellow. Besides, we see so many
people, we go amongst such pagans that it would be difficult to shock

Up above, in the Sainte-Honorine Ward, they found Madame Vetu still
moaning, a prey to most intolerable suffering. Madame de Jonquiere and
Madame Desagneaux had remained beside the bed, their faces turning pale,
their hearts distracted by that death-cry, which never ceased. And when
they consulted Ferrand in a whisper, he merely replied, with a slight
shrug of the shoulders, that she was a lost woman, that it was only a
question of hours, perhaps merely of minutes. All he could do was to
stupefy her also, in order to ease the atrocious death agony which he
foresaw. She was watching him, still conscious, and also very obedient,
never refusing the medicine offered her. Like the others, she now had but
one ardent desire--to go back to the Grotto--and she gave expression to
it in the stammering accents of a child who fears that its prayer may not
be granted: "To the Grotto--will you? To the Grotto!"

"You shall be taken there by-and-by, I promise you," said Sister
Hyacinthe. "But you must be good. Try to sleep a little to gain some

The sick woman appeared to sink into a doze, and Madame de Jonquiere then
thought that she might take Madame Desagneaux with her to the other end
of the ward to count the linen, a troublesome business, in which they
became quite bewildered, as some of the articles were missing. Meantime
Sophie, seated on the bed opposite Madame Vetu, had not stirred. She had
laid her doll on her lap, and was waiting for the lady's death, since
they had told her that she was about to die. Sister Hyacinthe, moreover,
had remained beside the dying woman, and, unwilling to waste her time,
had taken a needle and cotton to mend some patient's bodice which had a
hole in the sleeve.

"You'll stay a little while with us, won't you?" she asked Ferrand.

The latter, who was still watching Madame Vetu, replied: "Yes, yes. She
may go off at any moment. I fear hemorrhage." Then, catching sight of
Marie on the neighbouring bed, he added in a lower voice: "How is she?
Has she experienced any relief?"

"No, not yet. Ah, dear child! we all pray for her very sincerely. She is
so young, so sweet, and so sorely afflicted. Just look at her now! Isn't
she pretty? One might think her a saint amid all this sunshine, with her
large, ecstatic eyes, and her golden hair shining like an aureola!"

Ferrand watched Marie for a moment with interest. Her absent air, her
indifference to all about her, the ardent faith, the internal joy which
so completely absorbed her, surprised him. "She will recover," he
murmured, as though giving utterance to a prognostic. "She will recover."

Then he rejoined Sister Hyacinthe, who had seated herself in the
embrasure of the lofty window, which stood wide open, admitting the warm
air of the courtyard. The sun was now creeping round, and only a narrow
golden ray fell upon her white coif and wimple. Ferrand stood opposite to
her, leaning against the window bar and watching her while she sewed. "Do
you know, Sister," said he, "this journey to Lourdes, which I undertook
to oblige a friend, will be one of the few delights of my life."

She did not understand him, but innocently asked: "Why so?"

"Because I have found you again, because I am here with you, assisting
you in your admirable work. And if you only knew how grateful I am to
you, what sincere affection and reverence I feel for you!"

She raised her head to look him straight in the face, and began jesting
without the least constraint. She was really delicious, with her pure
lily-white complexion, her small laughing mouth, and adorable blue eyes
which ever smiled. And you could realise that she had grown up in all
innocence and devotion, slender and supple, with all the appearance of a
girl hardly in her teens.

"What! You are so fond of me as all that!" she exclaimed. "Why?"

"Why I'm fond of you? Because you are the best, the most consoling, the
most sisterly of beings. You are the sweetest memory in my life, the
memory I evoke whenever I need to be encouraged and sustained. Do you no
longer remember the month we spent together, in my poor room, when I was
so ill and you so affectionately nursed me?"

"Of course, of course I remember it! Why, I never had so good a patient
as you. You took all I offered you; and when I tucked you in, after
changing your linen, you remained as still as a little child."

So speaking, she continued looking at him, smiling ingenuously the while.
He was very handsome and robust, in the very prime of youth, with a
rather pronounced nose, superb eyes, and red lips showing under his black
moustache. But she seemed to be simply pleased at seeing him there before
her moved almost to tears.

"Ah! Sister, I should have died if it hadn't been for you," he said. "It
was through having you that I was cured."

Then, as they gazed at one another, with tender gaiety of heart, the
memory of that adorable month recurred to them. They no longer heard
Madame Vetu's death moans, nor beheld the ward littered with beds, and,
with all its disorder, resembling some infirmary improvised after a
public catastrophe. They once more found themselves in a small attic at
the top of a dingy house in old Paris, where air and light only reached
them through a tiny window opening on to a sea of roofs. And how charming
it was to be alone there together--he who had been prostrated by fever,
she who had appeared there like a good angel, who had quietly come from
her convent like a comrade who fears nothing! It was thus that she nursed
women, children, and men, as chance ordained, feeling perfectly happy so
long as she had something to do, some sufferer to relieve. She never
displayed any consciousness of her sex; and he, on his side, never seemed
to have suspected that she might be a woman, except it were for the
extreme softness of her hands, the caressing accents of her voice, the
beneficent gentleness of her manner; and yet all the tender love of a
mother, all the affection of a sister, radiated from her person. During
three weeks, as she had said, she had nursed him like a child, helping
him in and out of bed, and rendering him every necessary attention,
without the slightest embarrassment or repugnance, the holy purity born
of suffering and charity shielding them both the while. They were indeed
far removed from the frailties of life. And when he became convalescent,
what a happy existence began, how joyously they laughed, like two old
friends! She still watched over him, scolding him and gently slapping his
arms when he persisted in keeping them uncovered. He would watch her
standing at the basin, washing him a shirt in order to save him the
trifling expense of employing a laundress. No one ever came up there;
they were quite alone, thousands of miles away from the world, delighted
with this solitude, in which their youth displayed such fraternal gaiety.

"Do you remember, Sister, the morning when I was first able to walk
about?" asked Ferrand. "You helped me to get up, and supported me whilst
I awkwardly stumbled about, no longer knowing how to use my legs. We did
laugh so."

"Yes, yes, you were saved, and I was very pleased."

"And the day when you brought me some cherries--I can see it all again:
myself reclining on my pillows, and you seated at the edge of the bed,
with the cherries lying between us in a large piece of white paper. I
refused to touch them unless you ate some with me. And then we took them
in turn, one at a time, until the paper was emptied; and they were very

"Yes, yes, very nice. It was the same with the currant syrup: you would
only drink it when I took some also."

Thereupon they laughed yet louder; these recollections quite delighted
them. But a painful sigh from Madame Vetu brought them back to the
present. Ferrand leant over and cast a glance at the sick woman, who had
not stirred. The ward was still full of a quivering peacefulness, which
was only broken by the clear voice of Madame Desagneaux counting the
linen. Stifling with emotion, the young man resumed in a lower tone: "Ah!
Sister, were I to live a hundred years, to know every joy, every
pleasure, I should never love another woman as I love you!"

Then Sister Hyacinthe, without, however, showing any confusion, bowed her
head and resumed her sewing. An almost imperceptible blush tinged her
lily-white skin with pink.

"I also love you well, Monsieur Ferrand," she said, "but you must not
make me vain. I only did for you what I do for so many others. It is my
business, you see. And there was really only one pleasant thing about it
all, that the Almighty cured you."

They were now again interrupted. La Grivotte and Elise Rouquet had
returned from the Grotto before the others. La Grivotte at once squatted
down on her mattress on the floor, at the foot of Madame Vetu's bed, and,
taking a piece of bread from her pocket, proceeded to devour it. Ferrand,
since the day before, had felt some interest in this consumptive patient,
who was traversing such a curious phase of agitation, a prey to an
inordinate appetite and a feverish need of motion. For the moment,
however, Elise Rouquet's case interested him still more; for it had now
become evident that the lupus, the sore which was eating away her face,
was showing signs of cure. She had continued bathing her face at the
miraculous fountain, and had just come from the Verification Office,
where Doctor Bonamy had triumphed. Ferrand, quite surprised, went and
examined the sore, which, although still far from healed, was already
paler in colour and slightly desiccated, displaying all the symptoms of
gradual cure. And the case seemed to him so curious, that he resolved to
make some notes upon it for one of his old masters at the medical
college, who was studying the nervous origin of certain skin diseases due
to faulty nutrition.

"Have you felt any pricking sensation?" he asked.

"Not at all, monsieur," she replied. "I bathe my face and tell my beads
with my whole soul, and that is all."

La Grivotte, who was vain and jealous, and ever since the day before had
been going in triumph among the crowds, thereupon called to the doctor.
"I say, monsieur, I am cured, cured, cured completely!"

He waved his hand to her in a friendly way, but refused to examine her.
"I know, my girl. There is nothing more the matter with you."

Just then Sister Hyacinthe called to him. She had put her sewing down on
seeing Madame Vetu raise herself in a frightful fit of nausea. In spite
of her haste, however, she was too late with the basin; the sick woman
had brought up another discharge of black matter, similar to soot; but,
this time, some blood was mixed with it, little specks of violet-coloured
blood. It was the hemorrhage coming, the near end which Ferrand had been

"Send for the superintendent," he said in a low voice, seating himself at
the bedside.

Sister Hyacinthe ran for Madame de Jonquiere. The linen having been
counted, she found her deep in conversation with her daughter Raymonde,
at some distance from Madame Desagneaux, who was washing her hands.

Raymonde had just escaped for a few minutes from the refectory, where she
was on duty. This was the roughest of her labours. The long narrow room,
with its double row of greasy tables, its sickening smell of food and
misery, quite disgusted her. And taking advantage of the half-hour still
remaining before the return of the patients, she had hurried up-stairs,
where, out of breath, with a rosy face and shining eyes, she had thrown
her arms around her mother's neck.

"Ah! mamma," she cried, "what happiness! It's settled!"

Amazed, her head buzzing, busy with the superintendence of her ward,
Madame de Jonquiere did not understand. "What's settled, my child?" she

Then Raymonde lowered her voice, and, with a faint blush, replied: "My

It was now the mother's turn to rejoice. Lively satisfaction appeared
upon her face, the fat face of a ripe, handsome, and still agreeable
woman. She at once beheld in her mind's eye their little lodging in the
Rue Vaneau, where, since her husband's death, she had reared her daughter
with great difficulty upon the few thousand francs he had left her. This
marriage, however, meant a return to life, to society, the good old times
come back once more.

"Ah! my child, how happy you make me!" she exclaimed.

But a feeling of uneasiness suddenly restrained her. God was her witness
that for three years past she had been coming to Lourdes through pure
motives of charity, for the one great joy of nursing His beloved
invalids. Perhaps, had she closely examined her conscience, she might,
behind her devotion, have found some trace of her fondness for authority,
which rendered her present managerial duties extremely pleasant to her.
However, the hope of finding a husband for her daughter among the
suitable young men who swarmed at the Grotto was certainly her last
thought. It was a thought which came to her, of course, but merely as
something that was possible, though she never mentioned it. However, her
happiness, wrung an avowal from her:

"Ah! my child, your success doesn't surprise me. I prayed to the Blessed
Virgin for it this morning."

Then she wished to be quite sure, and asked for further information.
Raymonde had not yet told her of her long walk leaning on Gerard's arm
the day before, for she did not wish to speak of such things until she
was triumphant, certain of having at last secured a husband. And now it
was indeed settled, as she had exclaimed so gaily: that very morning she
had again seen the young man at the Grotto, and he had formally become
engaged to her. M. Berthaud would undoubtedly ask for her hand on his
cousin's behalf before they took their departure from Lourdes.

"Well," declared Madame de Jonquiere, who was now convinced, smiling, and
delighted at heart, "I hope you will be happy, since you are so sensible
and do not need my aid to bring your affairs to a successful issue. Kiss

It was at this moment that Sister Hyacinthe arrived to announce Madame
Vetu's imminent death. Raymonde at once ran off. And Madame Desagneaux,
who was wiping her hands, began to complain of the lady-assistants, who
had all disappeared precisely on the morning when they were most wanted.
"For instance," said she, "there's Madame Volmar. I should like to know
where she can have got to. She has not been seen, even for an hour, ever
since our arrival."

"Pray leave Madame Volmar alone!" replied Madame de Jonquiere with some
asperity. "I have already told you that she is ill."

They both hastened to Madame Vetu. Ferrand stood there waiting; and
Sister Hyacinthe having asked him if there were indeed nothing to be
done, he shook his head. The dying woman, relieved by her first emesis,
now lay inert, with closed eyes. But, a second time, the frightful nausea
returned to her, and she brought up another discharge of black matter
mingled with violet-coloured blood. Then she had another short interval
of calm, during which she noticed La Grivotte, who was greedily devouring
her hunk of bread on the mattress on the floor.

"She is cured, isn't she?" the poor woman asked, feeling that she herself
was dying.

La Grivotte heard her, and exclaimed triumphantly: "Oh, yes, madame,
cured, cured, cured completely!"

For a moment Madame Vetu seemed overcome by a miserable feeling of grief,
the revolt of one who will not succumb while others continue to live. But
almost immediately she became resigned, and they heard her add very
faintly, "It is the young ones who ought to remain."

Then her eyes, which remained wide open, looked round, as though bidding
farewell to all those persons, whom she seemed surprised to see about
her. She attempted to smile as she encountered the eager gaze of
curiosity which little Sophie Couteau still fixed upon her: the charming
child had come to kiss her that very morning, in her bed. Elise Rouquet,
who troubled herself about nobody, was meantime holding her hand-glass,
absorbed in the contemplation of her face, which seemed to her to be
growing beautiful, now that the sore was healing. But what especially
charmed the dying woman was the sight of Marie, so lovely in her ecstasy.
She watched her for a long time, constantly attracted towards her, as
towards a vision of light and joy. Perhaps she fancied that she already
beheld one of the saints of Paradise amid the glory of the sun.

Suddenly, however, the fits of vomiting returned, and now she solely
brought up blood, vitiated blood, the colour of claret. The rush was so
great that it bespattered the sheet, and ran all over the bed. In vain
did Madame de Jonquiere and Madame Desagneaux bring cloths; they were
both very pale and scarce able to remain standing. Ferrand, knowing how
powerless he was, had withdrawn to the window, to the very spot where he
had so lately experienced such delicious emotion; and with an instinctive
movement, of which she was surely unconscious, Sister Hyacinthe had
likewise returned to that happy window, as though to be near him.

"Really, can you do nothing?" she inquired.

"No, nothing! She will go off like that, in the same way as a lamp that
has burnt out."

Madame Vetu, who was now utterly exhausted, with a thin red stream still
flowing from her mouth, looked fixedly at Madame de Jonquiere whilst
faintly moving her lips. The lady-superintendent thereupon bent over her
and heard these slowly uttered words:

"About my husband, madame--the shop is in the Rue Mouffetard--oh! it's
quite a tiny one, not far from the Gobelins.--He's a clockmaker, he is;
he couldn't come with me, of course, having to attend to the business;
and he will be very much put out when he finds I don't come back.--Yes, I
cleaned the jewelry and did the errands--" Then her voice grew fainter,
her words disjointed by the death rattle, which began. "Therefore,
madame, I beg you will write to him, because I haven't done so, and now
here's the end.--Tell him my body had better remain here at Lourdes, on
account of the expense.--And he must marry again; it's necessary for one
in trade--his cousin--tell him his cousin--"

The rest became a confused murmur. Her weakness was too great, her breath
was halting. Yet her eyes continued open and full of life, amid her pale,
yellow, waxy mask. And those eyes seemed to fix themselves despairingly
on the past, on all that which soon would be no more: the little
clockmaker's shop hidden away in a populous neighbourhood; the gentle
humdrum existence, with a toiling husband who was ever bending over his
watches; the great pleasures of Sunday, such as watching children fly
their kites upon the fortifications. And at last these staring eyes gazed
vainly into the frightful night which was gathering.

A last time did Madame de Jonquiere lean over her, seeing that her lips
were again moving. There came but a faint breath, a voice from far away,
which distantly murmured in an accent of intense grief: "She did not cure

And then Madame Vetu expired, very gently.

As though this were all that she had been waiting for, little Sophie
Couteau jumped from the bed quite satisfied, and went off to play with
her doll again at the far end of the ward. Neither La Grivotte, who was
finishing her bread, nor Elise Rouquet, busy with her mirror, noticed the
catastrophe. However, amidst the cold breath which seemingly swept by,
while Madame de Jonquiere and Madame Desagneaux--the latter of whom was
unaccustomed to the sight of death--were whispering together in
agitation, Marie emerged from the expectant rapture in which the
continuous, unspoken prayer of her whole being had plunged her so long.
And when she understood what had happened, a feeling of sisterly
compassion--the compassion of a suffering companion, on her side certain
of cure--brought tears to her eyes.

"Ah! the poor woman!" she murmured; "to think that she has died so far
from home, in such loneliness, at the hour when others are being born

Ferrand, who, in spite of professional indifference, had also been
stirred by the scene, stepped forward to verify the death; and it was on
a sign from him that Sister Hyacinthe turned up the sheet, and threw it
over the dead woman's face, for there could be no question of removing
the corpse at that moment. The patients were now returning from the
Grotto in bands, and the ward, hitherto so calm, so full of sunshine, was
again filling with the tumult of wretchedness and pain--deep coughing and
feeble shuffling, mingled with a noisome smell--a pitiful display, in
fact, of well-nigh every human infirmity.



ON that day, Monday, the crowd at the Grotto, was enormous. It was the
last day that the national pilgrimage would spend at Lourdes, and Father
Fourcade, in his morning address, had said that it would be necessary to
make a supreme effort of fervour and faith to obtain from Heaven all that
it might be willing to grant in the way of grace and prodigious cure. So,
from two o'clock in the afternoon, twenty thousand pilgrims were
assembled there, feverish, and agitated by the most ardent hopes. From
minute to minute the throng continued increasing, to such a point,
indeed, that Baron Suire became alarmed, and came out of the Grotto to
say to Berthaud: "My friend, we shall be overwhelmed, that's certain.
Double your squads, bring your men closer together."

The Hospitality of Our Lady of Salvation was alone entrusted with the
task of keeping order, for there were neither guardians nor policemen, of
any sort present; and it was for this reason that the President of the
Association was so alarmed. However, Berthaud, under grave circumstances,
was a leader whose words commanded attention, and who was endowed with
energy that could be relied on.

"Be easy," said he; "I will be answerable for everything. I shall not
move from here until the four-o'clock procession has passed by."

Nevertheless, he signalled to Gerard to approach.

"Give your men the strictest instructions," he said to him. "Only those
persons who have cards should be allowed to pass. And place your men
nearer each other; tell them to hold the cord tight."

Yonder, beneath the ivy which draped the rock, the Grotto opened, with
the eternal flaring of its candles. From a distance it looked rather
squat and misshapen, a very narrow and modest aperture for the breath of
the Infinite which issued from it, turning all faces pale and bowing
every head. The statue of the Virgin had become a mere white spot, which
seemed to move amid the quiver of the atmosphere, heated by the small
yellow flames. To see everything it was necessary to raise oneself; for
the silver altar, the harmonium divested of its housing, the heap of
bouquets flung there, and the votive offerings streaking the smoky walls
were scarcely distinguishable from behind the railing. And the day was
lovely; never yet had a purer sky expanded above the immense crowd; the
softness of the breeze in particular seemed delicious after the storm of
the night, which had brought down the over-oppressive heat of the two
first days.

Gerard had to fight his way with his elbows in order to repeat the orders
to his men. The crowd had already begun pushing. "Two more men here!" he
called. "Come, four together, if necessary, and hold the rope well!"

The general impulse was instinctive and invincible; the twenty thousand
persons assembled there were drawn towards the Grotto by an irresistible
attraction, in which burning curiosity mingled with the thirst for
mystery. All eyes converged, every mouth, hand, and body was borne
towards the pale glitter of the candles and the white moving speck of the
marble Virgin. And, in order that the large space reserved to the sick,
in front of the railings, might not be invaded by the swelling mob, it
had been necessary to inclose it with a stout rope which the bearers at
intervals of two or three yards grasped with both hands. Their orders
were to let nobody pass excepting the sick provided with hospital cards
and the few persons to whom special authorisations had been granted. They
limited themselves, therefore, to raising the cords and then letting them
fall behind the chosen ones, without heeding the supplications of the
others. In fact they even showed themselves somewhat rough, taking a
certain pleasure in exercising the authority with which they were
invested for a day. In truth, however, they were very much pushed about,
and had to support each other and resist with all the strength of their
loins to avoid being swept away.

While the benches before the Grotto and the vast reserved space were
filling with sick people, handcarts, and stretchers, the crowd, the
immense crowd, swayed about on the outskirts. Starting from the Place du
Rosaire, it extended to the bottom of the promenade along the Gave, where
the pavement throughout its entire length was black with people, so dense
a human sea that all circulation was prevented. On the parapet was an
interminable line of women--most of them seated, but some few standing so
as to see the better--and almost all carrying silk parasols, which, with
holiday-like gaiety, shimmered in the sunlight. The managers had wished
to keep a path open in order that the sick might be brought along; but it
was ever being invaded and obstructed, so that the carts and stretchers
remained on the road, submerged and lost until a bearer freed them.
Nevertheless, the great tramping was that of a docile flock, an innocent,
lamb-like crowd; and it was only the involuntary pushing, the blind
rolling towards the light of the candles that had to be contended
against. No accident had ever happened there, notwithstanding the
excitement, which gradually increased and threw the people into the
unruly delirium of faith.

However, Baron Suire again forced his way through the throng. "Berthaud!
Berthaud!" he called, "see that the /defile/ is conducted less rapidly.
There are women and children stifling."

This time Berthaud gave a sign of impatience. "Ah! hang it, I can't be
everywhere! Close the gate for a moment if it's necessary."

It was a question of the march through the Grotto which went on
throughout the afternoon. The faithful were permitted to enter by the
door on the left, and made their exit by that on the right.

"Close the gate!" exclaimed the Baron. "But that would be worse; they
would all get crushed against it!"

As it happened Gerard was there, thoughtlessly talking for an instant
with Raymonde, who was standing on the other side of the cord, holding a
bowl of milk which she was about to carry to a paralysed old woman; and
Berthaud ordered the young fellow to post two men at the entrance gate of
the iron railing, with instructions only to allow the pilgrims to enter
by tens. When Gerard had executed this order, and returned, he found
Berthaud laughing and joking with Raymonde. She went off on her errand,
however, and the two men stood watching her while she made the paralysed
woman drink.

"She is charming, and it's settled, eh?" said Berthaud. "You are going to
marry her, aren't you?"

"I shall ask her mother to-night. I rely upon you to accompany me."

"Why, certainly. You know what I told you. Nothing could be more
sensible. The uncle will find you a berth before six months are over."

A push of the crowd separated them, and Berthaud went off to make sure
whether the march through the Grotto was now being accomplished in a
methodical manner, without any crushing. For hours the same unbroken tide
rolled in--women, men, and children from all parts of the world, all who
chose, all who passed that way. As a result, the crowd was singularly
mixed: there were beggars in rags beside neat /bourgeois/, peasants of
either sex, well dressed ladies, servants with bare hair, young girls
with bare feet, and others with pomatumed hair and foreheads bound with
ribbons. Admission was free; the mystery was open to all, to unbelievers
as well as to the faithful, to those who were solely influenced by
curiosity as well as to those who entered with their hearts faint with
love. And it was a sight to see them, all almost equally affected by the
tepid odour of the wax, half stifling in the heavy tabernacle air which
gathered beneath the rocky vault, and lowering their eyes for fear of
slipping on the gratings. Many stood there bewildered, not even bowing,
examining the things around with the covert uneasiness of indifferent
folks astray amidst the redoubtable mysteries of a sanctuary. But the
devout crossed themselves, threw letters, deposited candles and bouquets,
kissed the rock below the Virgin's statue, or else rubbed their chaplets,
medals, and other small objects of piety against it, as the contact
sufficed to bless them. And the /defile/ continued, continued without end
during days and months as it had done for years; and it seemed as if the
whole world, all the miseries and sufferings of humanity, came in turn
and passed in the same hypnotic, contagious kind of round, through that
rocky nook, ever in search of happiness.

When Berthaud had satisfied himself that everything was working well, he
walked about like a mere spectator, superintending his men. Only one
matter remained to trouble him: the procession of the Blessed Sacrament,
during which such frenzy burst forth that accidents were always to be

This last day seemed likely to be a very fervent one, for he already felt
a tremor of exalted faith rising among the crowd. The treatment needed
for miraculous care was drawing to an end; there had been the fever of
the journey, the besetting influence of the same endlessly repeated
hymns, and the stubborn continuation of the same religious exercises; and
ever and ever the conversation had been turned on miracles, and the mind
fixed on the divine illumination of the Grotto. Many, not having slept
for three nights, had reached a state of hallucination, and walked about
in a rageful dream. No repose was granted them, the continual prayers
were like whips lashing their souls. The appeals to the Blessed Virgin
never ceased; priest followed priest in the pulpit, proclaiming the
universal dolour and directing the despairing supplications of the
throng, during the whole time that the sick remained with hands clasped
and eyes raised to heaven before the pale, smiling, marble statue.

At that moment the white stone pulpit against the rock on the right of
the Grotto was occupied by a priest from Toulouse, whom Berthaud knew,
and to whom he listened for a moment with an air of approval. He was a
stout man with an unctuous diction, famous for his rhetorical successes.
However, all eloquence here consisted in displaying the strength of one's
lungs in a violent delivery of the phrase or cry which the whole crowd
had to repeat; for the addresses were nothing more than so much
vociferation interspersed with "Ayes" and "Paters."

The priest, who had just finished the Rosary, strove to increase his
stature by stretching his short legs, whilst shouting the first appeal of
the litanies which he improvised, and led in his own way, according to
the inspiration which possessed him.

"Mary, we love thee!" he called.

And thereupon the crowd repeated in a lower, confused, and broken tone:
"Mary, we love thee!"

From that moment there was no stopping. The voice of the priest rang out
at full swing, and the voices of the crowd responded in a dolorous

"Mary, thou art our only hope!"

"Mary, thou art our only hope!"

"Pure Virgin, make us purer, among the pure!"

"Pure Virgin, make us purer, among the pure!"

"Powerful Virgin, save our sick!"

"Powerful Virgin, save our sick!"

Often, when the priest's imagination failed him, or he wished to thrust a
cry home with greater force, he would repeat it thrice; while the docile
crowd would do the same, quivering under the enervating effect of the
persistent lamentation, which increased the fever.

The litanies continued, and Berthaud went back towards the Grotto. Those
who defiled through it beheld an extraordinary sight when they turned and
faced the sick. The whole of the large space between the cords was
occupied by the thousand or twelve hundred patients whom the national
pilgrimage had brought with it; and beneath the vast, spotless sky on
that radiant day there was the most heart-rending jumble of sufferers
that one could behold. The three hospitals of Lourdes had emptied their
chambers of horror. To begin with, those who were still able to remain
seated had been piled upon the benches. Many of them, however, were
propped up with cushions, whilst others kept shoulder to shoulder, the
strong ones supporting the weak. Then, in front of the benches, before
the Grotto itself, were the more grievously afflicted sufferers lying at
full length; the flagstones disappearing from view beneath this woeful
assemblage, which was like a large, stagnant pool of horror. There was an
indescribable block of vehicles, stretchers, and mattresses. Some of the
invalids in little boxes not unlike coffins had raised themselves up and
showed above the others, but the majority lay almost on a level with the
ground. There were some lying fully dressed on the check-patterned ticks
of mattresses; whilst others had been brought with their bedding, so that
only their heads and pale hands were seen outside the sheets. Few of
these pallets were clean. Some pillows of dazzling whiteness, which by a
last feeling of coquetry had been trimmed with embroidery, alone shone
out among all the filthy wretchedness of all the rest--a fearful
collection of rags, worn-out blankets, and linen splashed with stains.
And all were pushed, squeezed, piled up by chance as they came, women,
men, children, and priests, people in nightgowns beside people who were
fully attired being jumbled together in the blinding light of day.

And all forms of disease were there, the whole frightful procession
which, twice a day, left the hospitals to wend its way through horrified
Lourdes. There were the heads eaten away by eczema, the foreheads crowned
with roseola, and the noses and mouths which elephantiasis had
transformed into shapeless snouts. Next, the dropsical ones, swollen out
like leathern bottles; the rheumatic ones with twisted hands and swollen
feet, like bags stuffed full of rags; and a sufferer from hydrocephalus,
whose huge and weighty skull fell backwards. Then the consumptive ones,
with livid skins, trembling with fever, exhausted by dysentery, wasted to
skeletons. Then the deformities, the contractions, the twisted trunks,
the twisted arms, the necks all awry; all the poor broken, pounded
creatures, motionless in their tragic, marionette-like postures. Then the
poor rachitic girls displaying their waxen complexions and slender necks
eaten into by sores; the yellow-faced, besotted-looking women in the
painful stupor which falls on unfortunate creatures devoured by cancer;
and the others who turned pale, and dared not move, fearing as they did
the shock of the tumours whose weighty pain was stifling them. On the
benches sat bewildered deaf women, who heard nothing, but sang on all the
same, and blind ones with heads erect, who remained for hours turned
toward the statue of the Virgin which they could not see. And there was
also the woman stricken with imbecility, whose nose was eaten away, and
who laughed with a terrifying laugh, displaying the black, empty cavern
of her mouth; and then the epileptic woman, whom a recent attack had left
as pale as death, with froth still at the corners of her lips.

But sickness and suffering were no longer of consequence, since they were
all there, seated or stretched with their eyes upon the Grotto. The poor,
fleshless, earthy-looking faces became transfigured, and began to glow
with hope. Anchylosed hands were joined, heavy eyelids found the strength
to rise, exhausted voices revived as the priest shouted the appeals. At
first there was nothing but indistinct stuttering, similar to slight
puffs of air rising, here and there above the multitude. Then the cry
ascended and spread through the crowd itself from one to the other end of
the immense square.

"Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us!" cried the priest in his
thundering voice.

And the sick and the pilgrims repeated louder and louder: "Mary,
conceived without sin, pray for us!"

Then the flow of the litany set in, and continued with increasing speed:

"Most pure Mother, most chaste Mother, thy children are at thy feet!"

"Most pure Mother, most chaste Mother, thy children are at thy feet!"

"Queen of the Angels, say but a word, and our sick shall be healed!"

"Queen of the Angels, say but a word, and our sick shall be healed!"

In the second row of sufferers, near the pulpit, was M. Sabathier, who
had asked to be brought there early, wishing to choose his place like an
old /habitue/ who knew the cosy corners. Moreover, it seemed to him that
it was of paramount importance that he should be as near as possible,
under the very eyes of the Virgin, as though she required to see her
faithful in order not to forget them. However, for the seven years that
he had been coming there he had nursed this one hope of being some day
noticed by her, of touching her, and of obtaining his cure, if not by
selection, at least by seniority. This merely needed patience on his part
without the firmness of his faith being in the least shaken by his way of
thinking. Only, like a poor, resigned man just a little weary of being
always put off, he sometimes allowed himself diversions. For instance, he
had obtained permission to keep his wife near him, seated on a
camp-stool, and he liked to talk to her, and acquaint her with his

"Raise me a little, my dear," said he. "I am slipping. I am very

Attired in trousers and a coarse woollen jacket, he was sitting upon his
mattress, with his back leaning against a tilted chair.

"Are you better?" asked his wife, when she had raised him.

"Yes, yes," he answered; and then began to take an interest in Brother
Isidore, whom they had succeeded in bringing in spite of everything, and
who was lying upon a neighbouring mattress, with a sheet drawn up to his
chin, and nothing protruding but his wasted hands, which lay clasped upon
the blanket.

"Ah! the poor man," said M. Sabathier. "It's very imprudent, but the
Blessed Virgin is so powerful when she chooses!"

He took up his chaplet again, but once more broke off from his devotions
on perceiving Madame Maze, who had just glided into the reserved
space--so slender and unobtrusive that she had doubtless slipped under
the ropes without being noticed. She had seated herself at the end of a
bench and, very quiet and motionless, did not occupy more room there than
a child. And her long face, with its weary features, the face of a woman
of two-and-thirty faded before her time, wore an expression of unlimited
sadness, infinite abandonment.

"And so," resumed M. Sabathier in a low voice, again addressing his wife
after attracting her attention by a slight movement of the chin, "it's
for the conversion of her husband that this lady prays. You came across
her this morning in a shop, didn't you?"

"Yes, yes," replied Madame Sabathier. "And, besides, I had some talk
about her with another lady who knows her. Her husband is a
commercial-traveller. He leaves her for six months at a time, and goes
about with other people. Oh! he's a very gay fellow, it seems, very nice,
and he doesn't let her want for money; only she adores him, she cannot
accustom herself to his neglect, and comes to pray the Blessed Virgin to
give him back to her. At this moment, it appears, he is close by, at
Luchon, with two ladies--two sisters."

M. Sabathier signed to his wife to stop. He was now looking at the
Grotto, again becoming a man of intellect, a professor whom questions of
art had formerly impassioned. "You see, my dear," he said, "they have
spoilt the Grotto by endeavouring to make it too beautiful. I am certain
it looked much better in its original wildness. It has lost its
characteristic features--and what a frightful shop they have stuck there,
on the left!"

However, he now experienced sudden remorse for his thoughtlessness.
Whilst he was chatting away, might not the Blessed Virgin be noticing one
of his neighbours, more fervent, more sedate than himself? Feeling
anxious on the point, he reverted to his customary modesty and patience,
and with dull, expressionless eyes again began waiting for the good
pleasure of Heaven.

Moreover, the sound of a fresh voice helped to bring him back to this
annihilation, in which nothing was left of the cultured reasoner that he
had formerly been. It was another preacher who had just entered the
pulpit, a Capuchin this time, whose guttural call, persistently repeated,
sent a tremor through the crowd.

"Holy Virgin of virgins, be blessed!"

"Holy Virgin of virgins, be blessed!"

"Holy Virgin of virgins, turn not thy face from thy children!"

"Holy Virgin of virgins, turn not thy face from thy children!"

"Holy Virgin of virgins, breathe upon our sores, and our sores shall

"Holy Virgin of virgins, breathe upon our sores, and our sores shall

At the end of the first bench, skirting the central path, which was
becoming crowded, the Vigneron family had succeeded in finding room for
themselves. They were all there: little Gustave, seated in a sinking
posture, with his crutch between his legs; his mother, beside him,
following the prayers like a punctilious /bourgeoise/; his aunt, Madame
Chaise, on the other side, so inconvenienced by the crowd that she was
stifling; and M. Vigneron, who remained silent and, for a moment, had
been examining Madame Chaise attentively.

"What is the matter with you, my dear?" he inquired. "Do you feel

She was breathing with difficulty. "Well, I don't know," she answered;
"but I can't feel my limbs, and my breath fails me."

At that very moment the thought had occurred to him that all the
agitation, fever, and scramble of a pilgrimage could not be very good for
heart-disease. Of course he did not desire anybody's death, he had never
asked the Blessed Virgin for any such thing. If his prayer for
advancement had already been granted through the sudden death of his
chief, it must certainly be because Heaven had already ordained the
latter's death. And, in the same way, if Madame Chaise should die first,
leaving her fortune to Gustave, he would only have to bow before the will
of God, which generally requires that the aged should go off before the
young. Nevertheless, his hope unconsciously became so keen that he could
not help exchanging a glance with his wife, to whom had come the same
involuntary thought.

"Gustave, draw back," he exclaimed; "you are inconveniencing your aunt."
And then, as Raymonde passed, he asked; "Do you happen to have a glass of
water, mademoiselle? One of our relatives here is losing consciousness."

But Madame Chaise refused the offer with a gesture. She was getting
better, recovering her breath with an effort. "No, I want nothing, thank
you," she gasped. "There, I'm better--still, I really thought this time
that I should stifle!"

Her fright left her trembling, with haggard eyes in her pale face. She
again joined her hands, and begged the Blessed Virgin to save her from
other attacks and cure her; while the Vignerons, man and wife, honest
folk both of them, reverted to the covert prayer for happiness that they
had come to offer up at Lourdes: a pleasant old age, deservedly gained by
twenty years of honesty, with a respectable fortune which in later years
they would go and enjoy in the country, cultivating flowers. On the other
hand, little Gustave, who had seen and noted everything with his bright
eyes and intelligence sharpened by suffering, was not praying, but
smiling at space, with his vague enigmatical smile. What could be the use
of his praying? He knew that the Blessed Virgin would not cure him, and
that he would die.

However, M. Vigneron could not remain long without busying himself about
his neighbours. Madame Dieulafay, who had come late, had been deposited
in the crowded central pathway; and he marvelled at the luxury about the
young woman, that sort of coffin quilted with white silk, in which she
was lying, attired in a pink dressing-gown trimmed with Valenciennes
lace. The husband in a frock-coat, and the sister in a black gown of
simple but marvellous elegance, were standing by; while Abbe Judaine,
kneeling near the sufferer, finished offering up a fervent prayer.

When the priest had risen, M. Vigneron made him a little room on the
bench beside him; and he then took the liberty of questioning him. "Well,
Monsieur le Cure, does that poor young woman feel a little better?"

Abbe Judaine made a gesture of infinite sadness.

"Alas! no. I was full of so much hope! It was I who persuaded the family
to come. Two years ago the Blessed Virgin showed me such extraordinary
grace by curing my poor lost eyes, that I hoped to obtain another favour
from her. However, I will not despair. We still have until to-morrow."

M. Vigneron again looked towards Madame Dieulafay and examined her face,
still of a perfect oval and with admirable eyes; but it was
expressionless, with ashen hue, similar to a mask of death, amidst the
lace. "It's really very sad," he murmured.

"And if you had seen her last summer!" resumed the priest. "They have
their country seat at Saligny, my parish, and I often dined with them. I
cannot help feeling sad when I look at her elder sister, Madame Jousseur,
that lady in black who stands there, for she bears a strong resemblance
to her; and the poor sufferer was even prettier, one of the beauties of
Paris. And now compare them together--observe that brilliancy, that
sovereign grace, beside that poor, pitiful creature--it oppresses one's
heart--ah! what a frightful lesson!"

He became silent for an instant. Saintly man that he was naturally,
altogether devoid of passions, with no keen intelligence to disturb him
in his faith, he displayed a naive admiration for beauty, wealth, and
power, which he had never envied. Nevertheless, he ventured to express a
doubt, a scruple, which troubled his usual serenity. "For my part, I
should have liked her to come here with more simplicity, without all that
surrounding of luxury, because the Blessed Virgin prefers the humble--
But I understand very well that there are certain social exigencies. And,
then, her husband and sister love her so! Remember that he has forsaken
his business and she her pleasures in order to come here with her; and so
overcome are they at the idea of losing her that their eyes are never
dry, they always have that bewildered look which you can notice. So they
must be excused for trying to procure her the comfort of looking
beautiful until the last hour."

M. Vigneron nodded his head approvingly. Ah! it was certainly not the
wealthy who had the most luck at the Grotto! Servants, country folk, poor
beggars, were cured, while ladies returned home with their ailments
unrelieved, notwithstanding their gifts and the big candles they had
burnt. And, in spite of himself, Vigneron then looked at Madame Chaise,
who, having recovered from her attack, was now reposing with a
comfortable air.

But a tremor passed through the crowd and Abbe Judaine spoke again: "Here
is Father Massias coming towards the pulpit. He is a saint; listen to

They knew him, and were aware that he could not make his appearance
without every soul being stirred by sudden hope, for it was reported that
the miracles were often brought to pass by his great fervour. His voice,
full of tenderness and strength, was said to be appreciated by the

All heads were therefore uplifted and the emotion yet further increased
when Father Fourcade was seen coming to the foot of the pulpit, leaning
on the shoulder of his well-beloved brother, the preferred of all; and he
stayed there, so that he also might hear him. His gouty foot had been
paining him more acutely since the morning, so that it required great
courage on his part to remain thus standing and smiling. The increasing
exaltation of the crowd made him happy, however; he foresaw prodigies and
dazzling cures which would redound to the glory of Mary and Jesus.

Having ascended the pulpit, Father Massias did not at once speak. He
seemed, very tall, thin, and pale, with an ascetic face, elongated the
more by his discoloured beard. His eyes sparkled, and his large eloquent
mouth protruded passionately.

"Lord, save us, for we perish!" he suddenly cried; and in a fever, which
increased minute by minute, the transported crowd repeated: "Lord, save
us, for we perish!"

Then he opened his arms and again launched forth his flaming cry, as if
he had torn it from his glowing heart: "Lord, if it be Thy will, Thou
canst heal me!"

"Lord, if it be Thy will, Thou canst heal me!"

"Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only
say the word, and I shall be healed!"

"Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only
say the word, and I shall be healed!"

Marthe, Brother Isidore's sister, had now begun to talk in a whisper to
Madame Sabathier, near whom she had at last seated herself. They had
formed an acquaintance at the hospital; and, drawn together by so much
suffering, the servant had familiarly confided to the /bourgeoise/ how
anxious she felt about her brother; for she could plainly see that he had
very little breath left in him. The Blessed Virgin must be quick indeed
if she desired to save him. It was already a miracle that they had been
able to bring him alive as far as the Grotto.

In her resignation, poor, simple creature that she was, she did not weep;
but her heart was so swollen that her infrequent words came faintly from
her lips. Then a flood of past memories suddenly returned to her; and
with her utterance thickened by prolonged silence, she began to relieve
her heart: "We were fourteen at home, at Saint Jacut, near Vannes. He,
big as he was, has always been delicate, and that was why he remained
with our priest, who ended by placing him among the Christian Brothers.
The elder ones took over the property, and, for my part, I preferred
going out to service. Yes, it was a lady who took me with her to Paris,
five years ago already. Ah! what a lot of trouble there is in life!
Everyone has so much trouble!"

"You are quite right, my girl," replied Madame Sabathier, looking the
while at her husband, who was devoutly repeating each of Father Massias's

"And then," continued Marthe, "there I learned last month that Isidore,
who had returned from a hot climate where he had been on a mission, had
brought a bad sickness back with him. And, when I ran to see him, he told
me he should die if he did not leave for Lourdes, but that he couldn't
make the journey, because he had nobody to accompany him. Then, as I had
eighty francs saved up, I gave up my place, and we set out together. You
see, madame, if I am so fond of him, it's because he used to bring me
gooseberries from the parsonage, whereas all the others beat me."

She relapsed into silence for a moment, her countenance swollen by grief,
and her poor eyes so scorched by watching that no tears could come from
them. Then she began to stutter disjointed words: "Look at him, madame.
It fills one with pity. Ah! my God, his poor cheeks, his poor chin, his
poor face--"

It was, in fact, a lamentable spectacle. Madame Sabathier's heart was
quite upset when she observed Brother Isidore so yellow, cadaverous,
steeped in a cold sweat of agony. Above the sheet he still only showed
his clasped hands and his face encircled with long scanty hair; but if
those wax-like hands seemed lifeless, if there was not a feature of that
long-suffering face that stirred, its eyes were still alive,
inextinguishable eyes of love, whose flame sufficed to illumine the whole
of his expiring visage--the visage of a Christ upon the cross. And never
had the contrast been so clearly marked between his low forehead and
unintelligent, loutish, peasant air, and the divine splendour which came
from his poor human mask, ravaged and sanctified by suffering, sublime at
this last hour in the passionate radiance of his faith. His flesh had
melted, as it were; he was no longer a breath, nothing but a look, a

Since he had been set down there his eyes had not strayed from the statue
of the Virgin. Nothing else existed around him. He did not see the
enormous multitude, he did not even hear the wild cries of the priests,
the incessant cries which shook this quivering crowd. His eyes alone
remained to him, his eyes burning with infinite tenderness, and they were
fixed upon the Virgin, never more to turn from her. They drank her in,
even unto death; they made a last effort of will to disappear, die out in
her. For an instant, however, his mouth half opened and his drawn visage
relaxed as an expression of celestial beatitude came over it. Then
nothing more stirred, his eyes remained wide open, still obstinately
fixed upon the white statue.

A few seconds elapsed. Marthe had felt a cold breath, chilling the roots
of her hair. "I say, madame, look!" she stammered.

Madame Sabathier, who felt anxious, pretended that she did not
understand. "What is it, my girl?"

"My brother! look! He no longer moves. He opened his mouth, and has not
stirred since." Then they both shuddered, feeling certain he was dead. He
had, indeed, just passed away, without a rattle, without a breath, as if
life had escaped in his glance, through his large, loving eyes, ravenous
with passion. He had expired gazing upon the Virgin, and nothing could
have been so sweet; and he still continued to gaze upon her with his dead
eyes, as though with ineffable delight.

"Try to close his eyes," murmured Madame Sabathier. "We shall soon know

Marthe had already risen, and, leaning forward, so as not to be observed,
she endeavoured to close the eyes with a trembling finger. But each time
they reopened, and again looked at the Virgin with invincible obstinacy.
He was dead, and Marthe had to leave his eyes wide open, steeped in
unbounded ecstasy.

"Ah! it's finished, it's quite finished, madame!" she stuttered.

Two tears then burst from her heavy eyelids and ran down her cheeks;
while Madame Sabathier caught hold of her hand to keep her quiet. There
had been whisperings, and uneasiness was already spreading. But what
course could be adopted? It was impossible to carry off the corpse amidst
such a mob, during the prayers, without incurring the risk of creating a
disastrous effect. The best plan would be to leave it there, pending a
favourable moment. The poor fellow scandalised no one, he did not seem
any more dead now than he had seemed ten minutes previously, and
everybody would think that his flaming eyes were still alive, ardently
appealing to the divine compassion of the Blessed Virgin.

Only a few persons among those around knew the truth. M. Sabathier, quite
scared, had made a questioning sign to his wife, and on being answered by
a prolonged affirmative nod, he had returned to his prayers without any
rebellion, though he could not help turning pale at the thought of the
mysterious almighty power which sent death when life was asked for. The
Vignerons, who were very much interested, leaned forward, and whispered
as though in presence of some street accident, one of those petty
incidents which in Paris the father sometimes related on returning home
from the Ministry, and which sufficed to occupy them all, throughout the
evening. Madame Jousseur, for her part, had simply turned round and
whispered a word or two in M. Dieulafay's ear, and then they had both
reverted to the heart-rending contemplation of their own dear invalid;
whilst Abbe Judaine, informed by M. Vigneron, knelt down, and in a low,
agitated voice recited the prayers for the dead. Was he not a Saint, that
missionary who had returned from a deadly climate, with a mortal wound in
his side, to die there, beneath the smiling gaze of the Blessed Virgin?
And Madame Maze, who also knew what had happened, suddenly felt a taste
for death, and resolved that she would implore Heaven to suppress her
also, in unobtrusive fashion, if it would not listen to her prayer and
give her back her husband.

But the cry of Father Massias rose into a still higher key, burst forth
with a strength of terrible despair, with a rending like that of a sob:
"Jesus, son of David, I am perishing, save me!"

And the crowd sobbed after him in unison "Jesus, son of David, I am
perishing, save me!"

Then, in quick succession, and in higher and higher keys, the appeals
went on proclaiming the intolerable misery of the world:

"Jesus, son of David, take pity on Thy sick children!"

"Jesus, son of David, take pity on Thy sick children!"

"Jesus, son of David, come, heal them, that they may live!"

"Jesus, son of David, come, heal them, that they may live!"

It was delirium. At the foot of the pulpit Father Fourcade, succumbing to
the extraordinary passion which overflowed from all hearts, had likewise
raised his arms, and was shouting the appeals in his thundering voice as
though to compel the intervention of Heaven. And the exaltation was still
increasing beneath this blast of desire, whose powerful breath bowed
every head in turn, spreading even to the young women who, in a spirit of
mere curiosity, sat watching the scene from the parapet of the Gave; for
these also turned pale under their sunshades.

Miserable humanity was clamouring from the depths of its abyss of
suffering, and the clamour swept along, sending a shudder down every
spine, for one and all were plunged in agony, refusing to die, longing to
compel God to grant them eternal life. Ah! life, life! that was what all
those unfortunates, who had come so far, amid so many obstacles,
wanted--that was the one boon they asked for in their wild desire to live
it over again, to live it always! O Lord, whatever our misery, whatever
the torment of our life may be, cure us, grant that we may begin to live
again and suffer once more what we have suffered already. However unhappy
we may be, to be is what we wish. It is not heaven that we ask Thee for,
it is earth; and grant that we may leave it at the latest possible
moment, never leave it, indeed, if such be Thy good pleasure. And even
when we no longer implore a physical cure, but a moral favour, it is
still happiness that we ask Thee for; happiness, the thirst for which
alone consumes us. O Lord, grant that we may be happy and healthy; let us
live, ay, let us live forever!

This wild cry, the cry of man's furious desire for life, came in broken
accents, mingled with tears, from every breast.

"O Lord, son of David, heal our sick!"

"O Lord, son of David, heal our sick!"

Berthaud had twice been obliged to dash forward to prevent the cords from
giving way under the unconscious pressure of the crowd. Baron Suire, in
despair, kept on making signs, begging someone to come to his assistance;
for the Grotto was now invaded, and the march past had become the mere
trampling of a flock rushing to its passion. In vain did Gerard again
leave Raymonde and post himself at the entrance gate of the iron railing,
so as to carry out the orders, which were to admit the pilgrims by tens.
He was hustled and swept aside, while with feverish excitement everybody
rushed in, passing like a torrent between the flaring candles, throwing
bouquets and letters to the Virgin, and kissing the rock, which the
pressure of millions of inflamed lips had polished. It was faith run
wild, the great power that nothing henceforth could stop.

And now, whilst Gerard stood there, hemmed in against the iron railing,
he heard two countrywomen, whom the advance was bearing onward, raise
loud exclamations at sight of the sufferers lying on the stretchers
before them. One of them was so greatly impressed by the pallid face of
Brother Isidore, whose large dilated eyes were still fixed on the statue
of the Virgin, that she crossed herself, and, overcome by devout
admiration, murmured: "Oh! look at that one; see how he is praying with
his whole heart, and how he gazes on Our Lady of Lourdes!"

The other peasant woman thereupon replied "Oh! she will certainly cure
him, he is so beautiful!"

Indeed, as the dead man lay there, his eyes still fixedly staring whilst
he continued his prayer of love and faith, his appearance touched every
heart. No one in that endless, streaming throng could behold him without
feeling edified.



IT was good Abbe Judaine who was to carry the Blessed Sacrament in the
four-o'clock procession. Since the Blessed Virgin had cured him of a
disease of the eyes, a miracle with which the Catholic press still
resounded, he had become one of the glories of Lourdes, was given the
first place, and honoured with all sorts of attentions.

At half-past three he rose, wishing to leave the Grotto, but the
extraordinary concourse of people quite frightened him, and he feared he
would be late if he did not succeed in getting out of it. Fortunately
help came to him in the person of Berthaud. "Monsieur le Cure," exclaimed
the superintendent of the bearers, "don't attempt to pass out by way of
the Rosary; you would never arrive in time. The best course is to ascend
by the winding paths--and come! follow me; I will go before you."

By means of his elbows, he thereupon parted the dense throng and opened a
path for the priest, who overwhelmed him with thanks. "You are too kind.
It's my fault; I had forgotten myself. But, good heavens! how shall we
manage to pass with the procession presently?"

This procession was Berthaud's remaining anxiety. Even on ordinary days
it provoked wild excitement, which forced him to take special measures;
and what would now happen, as it wended its way through this dense
multitude of thirty thousand persons, consumed by such a fever of faith,
already on the verge of divine frenzy? Accordingly, in a sensible way, he
took advantage of this opportunity to give Abbe Judaine the best advice.

"Ah! Monsieur le Cure, pray impress upon your colleagues of the clergy
that they must not leave any space between their ranks; they should come
on slowly, one close behind the other. And, above all, the banners should
be firmly grasped, so that they may not be overthrown. As for yourself,
Monsieur le Cure, see that the canopy-bearers are strong, tighten the
cloth around the monstrance, and don't be afraid to carry it in both
hands with all your strength."

A little frightened by this advice, the priest went on expressing his
thanks. "Of course, of course; you are very good," said he. "Ah!
monsieur, how much I am indebted to you for having helped me to escape
from all those people!"

Then, free at last, he hastened towards the Basilica by the narrow
serpentine path which climbs the hill; while his companion again plunged
into the mob, to return to his post of inspection.

At that same moment Pierre, who was bringing Marie to the Grotto in her
little cart, encountered on the other side, that of the Place du Rosaire,
the impenetrable wall formed by the crowd. The servant at the hotel had
awakened him at three o'clock, so that he might go and fetch the young
girl at the hospital. There seemed to be no hurry; they apparently had
plenty of time to reach the Grotto before the procession. However, that
immense throng, that resisting, living wall, through which he did not
know how to break, began to cause him some uneasiness. He would never
succeed in passing with the little car if the people did not evince some
obligingness. "Come, ladies, come!" he appealed. "I beg of you! You see,
it's for a patient!"

The ladies, hypnotised as they were by the spectacle of the Grotto
sparkling in the distance, and standing on tiptoe so as to lose nothing
of the sight, did not move, however. Besides, the clamour of the litanies
was so loud at this moment that they did not even hear the young priest's

Then Pierre began again: "Pray stand on one side, gentlemen; allow me to
pass. A little room for a sick person. Come, please, listen to what I am

But the men, beside themselves, in a blind, deaf rapture, would stir no
more than the women.

Marie, however, smiled serenely, as if ignorant of the impediments, and
convinced that nothing in the world could prevent her from going to her
cure. However, when Pierre had found an aperture, and begun to work his
way through the moving mass, the situation became more serious. From all
parts the swelling human waves beat against the frail chariot, and at
times threatened to submerge it. At each step it became necessary to
stop, wait, and again entreat the people. Pierre had never before felt
such an anxious sensation in a crowd. True, it was not a threatening mob,
it was as innocent as a flock of sheep; but he found a troubling thrill
in its midst, a peculiar atmosphere that upset him. And, in spite of his
affection for the humble, the ugliness of the features around him, the
common, sweating faces, the evil breath, and the old clothes, smelling of
poverty, made him suffer even to nausea.

"Now, ladies, now, gentlemen, it's for a patient," he repeated. "A little
room, I beg of you!"

Buffeted about in this vast ocean, the little vehicle continued to
advance by fits and starts, taking long minutes to get over a few yards
of ground. At one moment you might have thought it swamped, for no sign
of it could be detected. Then, however, it reappeared near the piscinas.
Tender sympathy had at length been awakened for this sick girl, so wasted
by suffering, but still so beautiful. When people had been compelled to
give way before the priest's stubborn pushing, they turned round, but did
not dare to get angry, for pity penetrated them at sight of that thin,
suffering face, shining out amidst a halo of fair hair. Words of
compassion and admiration were heard on all sides: "Ah, the poor
child!"--"Was it not cruel to be infirm at her age?"--"Might the Blessed
Virgin be merciful to her!" Others, however, expressed surprise, struck
as they were by the ecstasy in which they saw her, with her clear eyes
open to the spheres beyond, where she had placed her hope. She beheld
Heaven, she would assuredly be cured. And thus the little car left, as it
were, a feeling of wonder and fraternal charity behind it, as it made its
way with so much difficulty through that human ocean.

Pierre, however, was in despair and at the end of his strength, when some
of the stretcher-bearers came to his aid by forming a path for the
passage of the procession--a path which Berthaud had ordered them to keep
clear by means of cords, which they were to hold at intervals of a couple
of yards. From that moment the young priest was able to drag Marie along
in a fairly easy manner, and at last place her within the reserved space,
where he halted, facing the Grotto on the left side. You could no longer
move in this reserved space, where the crowd seemed to increase every
minute. And, quite exhausted by the painful journey he had just
accomplished, Pierre reflected what a prodigious concourse of people
there was; it had seemed to him as if he were in the midst of an ocean,
whose waves he had heard heaving around him without a pause.

Since leaving the hospital Marie had not opened her lips. He now
realised, however, that she wished to speak to him, and accordingly bent
over her. "And my father," she inquired, "is he here? Hasn't he returned
from his excursion?"

Pierre had to answer that M. de Guersaint had not returned, and that he
had doubtless been delayed against his will. And thereupon she merely
added with a smile: "Ah I poor father, won't he be pleased when he finds
me cured!"

Pierre looked at her with tender admiration. He did not remember having
ever seen her looking so adorable since the slow wasting of sickness had
begun. Her hair, which alone disease had respected, clothed her in gold.
Her thin, delicate face had assumed a dreamy expression, her eyes
wandering away to the haunting thought of her sufferings, her features
motionless, as if she had fallen asleep in a fixed thought until the
expected shock of happiness should waken her. She was absent from
herself, ready, however, to return to consciousness whenever God might
will it. And, indeed, this delicious infantile creature, this little girl
of three-and-twenty, still a child as when an accident had struck her,
delaying her growth, preventing her from becoming a woman, was at last
ready to receive the visit of the angel, the miraculous shock which would
draw her out of her torpor and set her upright once more. Her morning
ecstasy continued; she had clasped her hands, and a leap of her whole
being had ravished her from earth as soon as she had perceived the image
of the Blessed Virgin yonder. And now she prayed and offered herself

It was an hour of great mental trouble for Pierre. He felt that the drama
of his priestly life was about to be enacted, and that if he did not
recover faith in this crisis, it would never return to him. And he was
without bad thoughts, without resistance, hoping with fervour, he also,
that they might both be healed! Oh! that he might be convinced by her
cure, that he might believe like her, that they might be saved together!
He wished to pray, ardently, as she herself did. But in spite of himself
he was preoccupied by the crowd, that limitless crowd, among which he
found it so difficult to drown himself, disappear, become nothing more
than a leaf in the forest, lost amidst the rustle of all the leaves. He
could not prevent himself from analysing and judging it. He knew that for
four days past it had been undergoing all the training of suggestion;
there had been the fever of the long journey, the excitement of the new
landscapes, the days spent before the splendour of the Grotto, the
sleepless nights, and all the exasperating suffering, ravenous for
illusion. Then, again, there had been the all-besetting prayers, those
hymns, those litanies, which agitated it without a pause. Another priest
had followed Father Massias in the pulpit, a little thin, dark Abbe, whom
Pierre heard hurling appeals to the Virgin and Jesus in a lashing voice
which resounded like a whip. Father Massias and Father Fourcade had
remained at the foot of the pulpit, and were now directing the cries of
the crowd, whose lamentations rose in louder and louder tones beneath the
limpid sunlight. The general exaltation had yet increased; it was the
hour when the violence done to Heaven at last produced the miracles.

All at once a paralytic rose up and walked towards the Grotto, holding
his crutch in the air; and this crutch, waving like a flag above the
swaying heads, wrung loud applause from the faithful. They were all on
the look-out for prodigies, they awaited them with the certainty that
they would take place, innumerable and wonderful. Some eyes seemed to
behold them, and feverish voices pointed them out. Another woman had been
cured! Another! Yet another! A deaf person had heard, a mute had spoken,
a consumptive had revived! What, a consumptive? Certainly, that was a
daily occurrence! Surprise was no longer possible; you might have
certified that an amputated leg was growing again without astonishing
anyone. Miracle-working became the actual state of nature, the usual
thing, quite commonplace, such was its abundance. The most incredible
stories seemed quite simple to those overheated imaginations, given what
they expected from the Blessed Virgin. And you should have heard the
tales that went about, the quiet affirmations, the expressions of
absolute certainty which were exchanged whenever a delirious patient
cried out that she was cured. Another! Yet another! However, a piteous
voice would at times exclaim: "Ah! she's cured; that one; she's lucky,
she is!"

Already, at the Verification Office, Pierre had suffered from this
credulity of the folk among whom he lived. But here it surpassed
everything he could have imagined; and he was exasperated by the
extravagant things he heard people say in such a placid fashion, with the
open smiles of children. Accordingly he tried to absorb himself in his
thoughts and listen to nothing. "O God!" he prayed, "grant that my reason
may be annihilated, that I may no longer desire to understand, that I may
accept the unreal and impossible." For a moment he thought the spirit of
inquiry dead within him, and allowed the cry of supplication to carry him
away: "Lord, heal our sick! Lord, heal our sick!" He repeated this appeal
with all his charity, clasped his hands, and gazed fixedly at the statue
of the Virgin, until he became quite giddy, and imagined that the figure
moved. Why should he not return to a state of childhood like the others,
since happiness lay in ignorance and falsehood? Contagion would surely
end by acting; he would become nothing more than a grain of sand among
innumerable other grains, one of the humblest among the humble ones under
the millstone, who trouble not about the power that crushes them. But
just at that second, when he hoped that he had killed the old man in him,
that he had annihilated himself along with his will and intelligence, the
stubborn work of thought, incessant and invincible, began afresh in the
depths of his brain. Little by little, notwithstanding his efforts to the
contrary, he returned to his inquiries, doubted, and sought the truth.
What was the unknown force thrown off by this crowd, the vital fluid
powerful enough to work the few cures that really occurred? There was
here a phenomenon that no physiologist had yet studied. Ought one to
believe that a multitude became a single being, as it were, able to
increase the power of auto-suggestion tenfold upon itself? Might one
admit that, under certain circumstances of extreme exaltation, a
multitude became an agent of sovereign will compelling the obedience of
matter? That would have explained how sudden cure fell at times upon the
most sincerely excited of the throng. The breaths of all of them united
in one breath, and the power that acted was a power of consolation, hope,
and life.

This thought, the outcome of his human charity, filled Pierre with
emotion. For another moment he was able to regain possession of himself,
and prayed for the cure of all, deeply touched by the belief that he
himself might in some degree contribute towards the cure of Marie. But
all at once, without knowing what transition of ideas led to it, a
recollection returned to him of the medical consultation which he had
insisted upon prior to the young girl's departure for Lourdes. The scene
rose before him with extraordinary clearness and precision; he saw the
room with its grey, blue-flowered wall-paper, and he heard the three
doctors discuss and decide. The two who had given certificates
diagnosticating paralysis of the marrow spoke discreetly, slowly, like
esteemed, well-known, perfectly honourable practitioners; but Pierre
still heard the warm, vivacious voice of his cousin Beauclair, the third
doctor, a young man of vast and daring intelligence, who was treated
coldly by his colleagues as being of an adventurous turn of mind. And at
this supreme moment Pierre was surprised to find in his memory things
which he did not know were there; but it was only an instance of that
singular phenomenon by which it sometimes happens that words scarce
listened to, words but imperfectly heard, words stored away in the brain
almost in spite of self, will awaken, burst forth, and impose themselves
on the mind after they have long been forgotten. And thus it now seemed
to him that the very approach of the miracle was bringing him a vision of
the conditions under which--according to Beauclair's predictions--the
miracle would be accomplished.

In vain did Pierre endeavour to drive away this recollection by praying
with an increase of fervour. The scene again appeared to him, and the old
words rang out, filling his ears like a trumpet-blast. He was now again
in the dining-room, where Beauclair and he had shut themselves up after
the departure of the two others, and Beauclair recapitulated the history
of the malady: the fall from a horse at the age of fourteen; the
dislocation and displacement of the organ, with doubtless a slight
laceration of the ligaments, whence the weight which the sufferer had
felt, and the weakness of the legs leading to paralysis. Then, a slow
healing of the disorder, everything returning to its place of itself, but
without the pain ceasing. In fact this big, nervous child, whose mind had
been so grievously impressed by her accident, was unable to forget it;
her attention remained fixed on the part where she suffered, and she
could not divert it, so that, even after cure, her sufferings had
continued--a neuropathic state, a consecutive nervous exhaustion,
doubtless aggravated by accidents due to faulty nutrition as yet
imperfectly understood. And further, Beauclair easily explained the
contrary and erroneous diagnosis of the numerous doctors who had attended
her, and who, as she would not submit to examination, had groped in the
dark, some believing in a tumour, and the others, the more numerous,
convinced of some lesion of the marrow. He alone, after inquiring into
the girl's parentage, had just begun to suspect a simple state of
auto-suggestion, in which she had obstinately remained ever since the
first violent shock of pain; and among the reasons which he gave for this
belief were the contraction of her visual field, the fixity of her eyes,
the absorbed, inattentive expression of her face, and above all the
nature of the pain she felt, which, leaving the organ, had borne to the
left, where it continued in the form of a crushing, intolerable weight,
which sometimes rose to the breast in frightful fits of stifling. A
sudden determination to throw off the false notion she had formed of her
complaint, the will to rise, breathe freely, and suffer no more, could
alone place her on her feet again, cured, transfigured, beneath the lash
of some intense emotion.

A last time did Pierre endeavour to see and hear no more, for he felt
that the irreparable ruin of all belief in the miraculous was in him.
And, in spite of his efforts, in spite of the ardour with which he began
to cry, "Jesus, son of David, heal our sick!" he still saw, he still
heard Beauclair telling him, in his calm, smiling manner how the miracle
would take place, like a lightning flash, at the moment of extreme
emotion, under the decisive circumstance which would complete the
loosening of the muscles. The patient would rise and walk in a wild
transport of joy, her legs would all at once be light again, relieved of
the weight which had so long made them like lead, as though this weight
had melted, fallen to the ground. But above all, the weight which bore
upon the lower part of the trunk, which rose, ravaged the breast, and
strangled the throat, would this time depart in a prodigious soaring
flight, a tempest blast bearing all the evil away with it. And was it not
thus that, in the Middle Ages, possessed women had by the mouth cast up
the Devil, by whom their flesh had so long been tortured? And Beauclair
had added that Marie would at last become a woman, that in that moment of
supreme joy she would cease to be a child, that although seemingly worn
out by her prolonged dream of suffering, she would all at once be
restored to resplendent health, with beaming face, and eyes full of life.

Pierre looked at her, and his trouble increased still more on seeing her
so wretched in her little cart, so distractedly imploring health, her
whole being soaring towards Our Lady of Lourdes, who gave life. Ah! might
she be saved, at the cost even of his own damnation! But she was too ill;
science lied like faith; he could not believe that this child, whose
limbs had been dead for so many years, would indeed return to life. And,
in the bewildered doubt into which he again relapsed, his bleeding heart
clamoured yet more loudly, ever and ever repeating with the delirious
crowd: "Lord, son of David, heal our sick!--Lord, son of David, heal our

At that moment a tumult arose agitating one and all. People shuddered,
faces were turned and raised. It was the cross of the four-o'clock
procession, a little behind time that day, appearing from beneath one of
the arches of the monumental gradient way. There was such applause and
such violent, instinctive pushing that Berthaud, waving his arms,
commanded the bearers to thrust the crowd back by pulling strongly on the
cords. Overpowered for a moment, the bearers had to throw themselves
backward with sore hands; however, they ended by somewhat enlarging the
reserved path, along which the procession was then able to slowly wend
its way. At the head came a superb beadle, all blue and gold, followed by
the processional cross, a tall cross shining like a star. Then followed
the delegations of the different pilgrimages with their banners,
standards of velvet and satin, embroidered with metal and bright silk,
adorned with painted figures, and bearing the names of towns: Versailles,
Rheims, Orleans, Poitiers, and Toulouse. One, which was quite white,
magnificently rich, displayed in red letters the inscription "Association
of Catholic Working Men's Clubs." Then came the clergy, two or three
hundred priests in simple cassocks, about a hundred in surplices, and
some fifty clothed in golden chasubles, effulgent like stars. They all
carried lighted candles, and sang the "Laudate Sion Salvatorem" in full
voices. And then the canopy appeared in royal pomp, a canopy of purple
silk, braided with gold, and upheld by four ecclesiastics, who, it could
be seen, had been selected from among the most robust. Beneath it,
between two other priests who assisted him, was Abbe Judaine, vigorously
clasping the Blessed Sacrament with both hands, as Berthaud had
recommended him to do; and the somewhat uneasy glances that he cast on
the encroaching crowd right and left showed how anxious he was that no
injury should befall the heavy divine monstrance, whose weight was
already straining his wrists. When the slanting sun fell upon him in
front, the monstrance itself looked like another sun. Choir-boys meantime
were swinging censers in the blinding glow which gave splendour to the
entire procession; and, finally, in the rear, there was a confused mass
of pilgrims, a flock-like tramping of believers and sightseers all
aflame, hurrying along, and blocking the track with their ever-rolling

Father Massias had returned to the pulpit a moment previously; and this
time he had devised another pious exercise. After the burning cries of
faith, hope, and love that he threw forth, he all at once commanded
absolute silence, in order that one and all might, with closed lips,
speak to God in secret for a few minutes. These sudden spells of silence
falling upon the vast crowd, these minutes of mute prayer, in which all
souls unbosomed their secrets, were deeply, wonderfully impressive. Their
solemnity became formidable; you heard desire, the immense desire for
life, winging its flight on high. Then Father Massias invited the sick
alone to speak, to implore God to grant them what they asked of His
almighty power. And, in response, came a pitiful lamentation, hundreds of
tremulous, broken voices rising amidst a concert of sobs. "Lord Jesus, if
it please Thee, Thou canst cure me!"--"Lord Jesus take pity on Thy child,
who is dying of love!"--"Lord Jesus, grant that I may see, grant that I
may hear, grant that I may walk!" And, all at once, the shrill voice of a
little girl, light and vivacious as the notes of a flute, rose above the
universal sob, repeating in the distance: "Save the others, save the
others, Lord Jesus!" Tears streamed from every eye; these supplications
upset all hearts, threw the hardest into the frenzy of charity, into a
sublime disorder which would have impelled them to open their breasts
with both hands, if by doing so they could have given their neighbours
their health and youth. And then Father Massias, not letting this
enthusiasm abate, resumed his cries, and again lashed the delirious crowd
with them; while Father Fourcade himself sobbed on one of the steps of
the pulpit, raising his streaming face to heaven as though to command God
to descend on earth.

But the procession had arrived; the delegations, the priests, had ranged
themselves on the right and left; and, when the canopy entered the space
reserved to the sick in front of the Grotto, when the sufferers perceived
Jesus the Host, the Blessed Sacrament, shining like a sun, in the hands
of Abbe Judaine, it became impossible to direct the prayers, all voices
mingled together, and all will was borne away by vertigo. The cries,
calls, entreaties broke, lapsing into groans. Human forms rose from
pallets of suffering; trembling arms were stretched forth; clenched hands
seemingly desired to clutch at the miracle on the way. "Lord Jesus, save
us, for we perish!"--"Lord Jesus, we worship Thee; heal us!"--"Lord
Jesus, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God; heal us!" Thrice
did the despairing, exasperated voices give vent to the supreme
lamentation in a clamour which rushed up to Heaven; and the tears
redoubled, flooding all the burning faces which desire transformed. At
one moment, the delirium became so great, the instinctive leap toward the
Blessed Sacrament seemed so irresistible, that Berthaud placed the
bearers who were there in a chain about it. This was the extreme
protective manoeuvre, a hedge of bearers drawn up on either side of the
canopy, each placing an arm firmly round his neighbour's neck, so as to
establish a sort of living wall. Not the smallest aperture was left in
it; nothing whatever could pass. Still, these human barriers staggered
under the pressure of the unfortunate creatures who hungered for life,
who wished to touch, to kiss Jesus; and, oscillating and recoiling, the
bearers were at last thrust against the canopy they were defending, and
the canopy itself began swaying among the crowd, ever in danger of being
swept away like some holy bark in peril of being wrecked.

Then, at the very climax of this holy frenzy, the miracles began amidst
supplications and sobs, as when the heavens open during a storm, and a
thunderbolt falls on earth. A paralytic woman rose and cast aside her
crutches. There was a piercing yell, and another woman appeared erect on
her mattress, wrapped in a white blanket as in a winding sheet; and
people said it was a half-dead consumptive who had thus been
resuscitated. Then grace fell upon two others in quick succession: a
blind woman suddenly perceived the Grotto in a flame; a dumb woman fell
on both her knees, thanking the Blessed Virgin in a loud, clear voice.
And all in a like way prostrated themselves at the feet of Our Lady of
Lourdes, distracted with joy and gratitude.

But Pierre had not taken his eyes off Marie, and he was overcome with
tender emotion at what he saw. The sufferer's eyes were still
expressionless, but they had dilated, while her poor, pale face, with its
heavy mask, was contracted as if she were suffering frightfully. She did
not speak in her despair; she undoubtedly thought that she was again in
the clutches of her ailment. But all at once, when the Blessed Sacrament
passed by, and she saw the star-like monstrance sparkling in the sun, a
sensation of dizziness came over her. She imagined herself struck by
lightning. Her eyes caught fire from the glare which flashed upon her,
and at last regained their flame of life, shining out like stars. And
under the influence of a wave of blood her face became animated, suffused
with colour, beaming with a smile of joy and health. And, suddenly,
Pierre saw her rise, stand upright in her little car, staggering,
stuttering, and finding in her mind only these caressing words: "Oh, my
friend! Oh, my friend!"

He hurriedly drew near in order to support her. But she drove him back
with a gesture. She was regaining strength, looking so touching, so
beautiful, in the little black woollen gown and slippers which she always
wore; tall and slender, too, and crowned as with a halo of gold by her
beautiful flaxen hair, which was covered with a simple piece of lace. The
whole of her virgin form was quivering as if some powerful fermentation
had regenerated her. First of all, it was her legs that were relieved of
the chains that bound them; and then, while she felt the spirit of
life--the life of woman, wife, and mother--within her, there came a final
agony, an enormous weight that rose to her very throat. Only, this time,
it did not linger there, did not stifle her, but burst from her open
mouth, and flew away in a cry of sublime joy.

"I am cured!--I am cured!"

Then there was an extraordinary sight. The blanket lay at her feet, she
was triumphant, she had a superb, glowing face. And her cry of cure had
resounded with such rapturous delight that the entire crowd was
distracted by it. She had become the sole point of interest, the others
saw none but her, erect, grown so radiant and so divine.

"I am cured!--I am cured!"

Pierre, at the violent shock his heart had received, had begun to weep.
Indeed, tears glistened again in every eye. Amidst exclamations of
gratitude and praise, frantic enthusiasm passed from one to another,
throwing the thousands of pilgrims who pressed forward to see into a
state of violent emotion. Applause broke out, a fury of applause, whose
thunder rolled from one to the other end of the valley.

However, Father Fourcade began waving his arms, and Father Massias was at
last able to make himself heard from the pulpit: "God has visited us, my
dear brothers, my dear sisters!" said he. "/Magnificat anima mea
Dominum/, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in
God my Saviour."

And then all the voices, the thousands of voices, began the chant of
adoration and gratitude. The procession found itself at a stand-still.
Abbe Judaine had been able to reach the Grotto with the monstrance, but
he patiently remained there before giving the Benediction. The canopy was
awaiting him outside the railings, surrounded by priests in surplices and
chasubles, all a glitter of white and gold in the rays of the setting

Marie, however, had knelt down, sobbing; and, whilst the canticle lasted,
a burning prayer of faith and love ascended from her whole being. But the
crowd wanted to see her walk, delighted women called to her, a group
surrounded her, and swept her towards the Verification Office, so that
the miracle might be proved true, as patent as the very light of the sun.
Her box was forgotten, Pierre followed her, while she, stammering and
hesitating, she who for seven years had not used her legs, advanced with
adorable awkwardness, the uneasy, charming gait of a little child making
its first steps; and it was so affecting, so delicious, that the young
priest thought of nothing but the immense happiness of seeing her thus
return to her childhood. Ah! the dear friend of infancy, the dear
tenderness of long ago, so she would at last be the beautiful and
charming woman that she had promised to be as a young girl when, in the
little garden at Neuilly, she had looked so gay and pretty beneath the
tall trees flecked with sunlight!

The crowd continued to applaud her furiously, a huge wave of people
accompanied her; and all remained awaiting her egress, swarming in a
fever before the door, when she had entered the office, whither Pierre
only was admitted with her.

That particular afternoon there were few people at the Verification
Office. The small square room, with its hot wooden walls and rudimentary
furniture, its rush-bottomed chairs, and its two tables of unequal
height, contained, apart from the usual staff only some five or six
doctors, seated and silent. At the tables were the inspector of the
piscinas and two young Abbes making entries in the registers, and
consulting the sets of documents; while Father Dargeles, at one end,
wrote a paragraph for his newspaper. And, as it happened, Doctor Bonamy
was just then examining Elise Rouquet, who, for the third time, had come
to have the increasing cicatrisation of her sore certified.

"Anyhow, gentlemen," exclaimed the doctor, "have you ever seen a lupus
heal in this way so rapidly? I am aware that a new work has appeared on
faith healing in which it is stated that certain sores may have a nervous
origin. Only that is by no means proved in the case of lupus, and I defy
a committee of doctors to assemble and explain mademoiselle's cure by
ordinary means."

He paused, and turning towards Father Dargeles, inquired: "Have you
noted, Father, that the suppuration has completely disappeared, and that
the skin is resuming its natural colour?"

However, he did not wait for the reply, for just then Marie entered,
followed by Pierre; and by her beaming radiance he immediately guessed
what good-fortune was befalling him. She looked superb, admirably fitted
to transport and convert the multitude. He therefore promptly dismissed
Elise Rouquet, inquired the new arrival's name, and asked one of the
young priests to look for her papers. Then, as she slightly staggered, he
wished to seat her in the arm-chair.

"Oh no! oh no!" she exclaimed. "I am so happy to be able to use my legs!"

Pierre, with a glance, had sought for Doctor Chassaigne, whom he was
sorry not to see there. He remained on one side, waiting while they
rummaged in the untidy drawers without being able to place their hands on
the required papers. "Let's see," repeated Dr. Bonamy; "Marie de
Guersaint, Marie de Guersaint. I have certainly seen that name before."

At last Raboin discovered the documents classified under a wrong letter;
and when the doctor had perused the two medical certificates he became
quite enthusiastic. "Here is something very interesting, gentlemen," said
he. "I beg you to listen attentively. This young lady, whom you see
standing here, was afflicted with a very serious lesion of the marrow.
And, if one had the least doubt of it, these two certificates would
suffice to convince the most incredulous, for they are signed by two
doctors of the Paris faculty, whose names are well known to us all."

Then he passed the certificates to the doctors present, who read them,
wagging their heads the while. It was beyond dispute; the medical men who
had drawn up these documents enjoyed the reputation of being honest and
clever practitioners.

"Well, gentlemen, if the diagnosis is not disputed--and it cannot be when
a patient brings us documents of this value--we will now see what change
has taken place in the young lady's condition."

However, before questioning her he turned towards Pierre. "Monsieur
l'Abbe," said he, "you came from Paris with Mademoiselle de Guersaint, I
think. Did you converse with the doctors before your departure?"

The priest shuddered amidst all his great delight.

"I was present at the consultation, monsieur," he replied.

And again the scene rose up before him. He once more saw the two doctors,
so serious and rational, and he once more saw Beauclair smiling, while
his colleagues drew up their certificates, which were identical. And was
he, Pierre, to reduce these certificates to nothing, reveal the other
diagnosis, the one that allowed of the cure being explained
scientifically? The miracle had been predicted, shattered beforehand.

"You will observe, gentlemen," now resumed Dr. Bonamy, "that the presence
of the Abbe gives these proofs additional weight. However, mademoiselle
will now tell us exactly what she felt."

He had leant over Father Dargeles's shoulder to impress upon him that he
must not forget to make Pierre play the part of a witness in the

"/Mon Dieu/! gentlemen, how can I tell you?" exclaimed Marie in a halting
voice, broken by her surging happiness. "Since yesterday I had felt
certain that I should be cured. And yet, a little while ago, when the
pins and needles seized me in the legs again, I was afraid it might only
be another attack. For an instant I doubted. Then the feeling stopped.
But it began again as soon as I recommenced praying. Oh! I prayed, I
prayed with all my soul! I ended by surrendering myself like a child.
'Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Lourdes, do with me as thou wilt,' I said.
But the feeling did not cease, it seemed as if my blood were boiling; a
voice cried to me: 'Rise! Rise!' And I felt the miracle fall on me in a
cracking of all my bones, of all my flesh, as if I had been struck by

Pierre, very pale, listened to her. Beauclair had positively told him
that the cure would come like a lightning flash, that under the influence
of extreme excitement a sudden awakening of will so long somnolent would
take place within her.

"It was my legs which the Holy Virgin first of all delivered," she
continued. "I could well feel that the iron bands which bound them were
gliding along my skin like broken chains. Then the weight which still
suffocated me, there, in the left side, began to ascend; and I thought I
was going to die, it hurt me so. But it passed my chest, it passed my
throat, and I felt it there in my mouth, and spat it out violently. It
was all over, I no longer had any pain, it had flown away!"

She had made a gesture expressive of the motion of a night bird beating
its wings, and, lapsing into silence, stood smiling at Pierre, who was
bewildered. Beauclair had told him all that beforehand, using almost the
same words and the same imagery. Point by point, his prognostics were
realised, there was nothing more in the case than natural phenomena,
which had been foreseen.

Raboin, however, had followed Marie's narrative with dilated eyes and the
passion of a pietist of limited intelligence, ever haunted by the idea of
hell. "It was the devil," he cried; "it was the devil that she spat out!"

Doctor Bonamy, who was more wary, made him hold his tongue. And turning
towards the doctors he said: "Gentlemen, you know that we always avoid
pronouncing the big word of miracle here. Only here is a fact, and I am
curious to know how any of you can explain it by natural means. Seven
years ago this young lady was struck with serious paralysis, evidently
due to a lesion of the marrow. And that cannot be denied; the
certificates are there, irrefutable. She could no longer walk, she could
no longer make a movement without a cry of pain, she had reached that
extreme state of exhaustion which precedes but by little an unfortunate
issue. All at once, however, here she rises, walks, laughs, and beams on
us. The paralysis has completely disappeared, no pain remains, she is as
well as you and I. Come, gentlemen, approach, examine her, and tell me
what has happened."

He triumphed. Not one of the doctors spoke. Two, who were doubtless true
Catholics, had shown their approval of his speech by their vigorous nods,
while the others remained motionless, with a constrained air, not caring
to mix themselves up in the business. However, a little thin man, whose
eyes shone behind the glasses he was wearing, ended by rising to take a
closer look at Marie. He caught hold of her hand, examined the pupils of
her eyes, and merely seemed preoccupied by the air of transfiguration
which she wore. Then, in a very courteous manner, without even showing a
desire to discuss the matter, he came back and sat down again.

"The case is beyond science, that is all I can assume," concluded Doctor
Bonamy, victoriously. "I will add that we have no convalescence here;
health is at once restored, full, entire. Observe the young lady. Her
eyes are bright, her colour is rosy, her physiognomy has recovered its
lively gaiety. Without doubt, the healing of the tissues will proceed
somewhat slowly, but one can already say that mademoiselle has been born
again. Is it not so, Monsieur l'Abbe, you who have seen her so
frequently; you no longer recognise her, eh?"

"That's true, that's true," stammered Pierre.

And, in fact, she already appeared strong to him, her cheeks full and
fresh, gaily blooming. But Beauclair had also foreseen this sudden joyful
change, this straightening and resplendency of her invalid frame, when
life should re-enter it, with the will to be cured and be happy. Once
again, however, had Doctor Bonamy leant over Father Dargeles, who was
finishing his note, a brief but fairly complete account of the affair.
They exchanged a few words in low tones, consulting together, and the
doctor ended by saying: "You have witnessed these marvels, Monsieur
l'Abbe, so you will not refuse to sign the careful report which the
reverend Father has drawn up for publication in the 'Journal de la

He--Pierre--sign that page of error and falsehood! A revolt roused him,
and he was on the point of shouting out the truth. But he felt the weight
of his cassock on his shoulders; and, above all, Marie's divine joy
filled his heart. He was penetrated with deep happiness at seeing her
saved. Since they had ceased questioning her she had come and leant on
his arm, and remained smiling at him with eyes full of enthusiasm.

"Oh, my, friend, thank the Blessed Virgin!" she murmured in a low voice.
"She has been so good to me; I am now so well, so beautiful, so young!
And how pleased my father, my poor father, will be!"

Then Pierre signed. Everything was collapsing within him, but it was
enough that she should be saved; he would have thought it sacrilegious to
interfere with the faith of that child, the great pure faith which had
healed her.

When Marie reappeared outside the office, the applause began afresh, the
crowd clapped their hands. It now seemed that the miracle was official.
However, certain charitable persons, fearing that she might again fatigue
herself and again require her little car, which she had abandoned before
the Grotto, had brought it to the office, and when she found it there she
felt deeply moved. Ah! that box in which she had lived so many years,
that rolling coffin in which she had sometimes imagined herself buried
alive, how many tears, how much despair, how many bad days it had
witnessed! And, all at once, the idea occurred to her that it had so long
been linked with her sufferings, it ought also to share her triumph. It
was a sudden inspiration, a kind of holy folly, that made her seize the

At that moment the procession passed by, returning from the Grotto, where
Abbe Judaine had pronounced the Benediction. And thereupon Marie,
dragging the little car, placed herself behind the canopy. And, in her
slippers, her head covered with a strip of lace, her bosom heaving, her
face erect, glowing, and superb, she walked on behind the clergy,
dragging after her that car of misery, that rolling coffin, in which she
had endured so much agony. And the crowd which acclaimed her, the frantic
crowd, followed in her wake.



PIERRE also had followed Marie, and like her was behind the canopy,
carried along as it were by the blast of glory which made her drag her
little car along in triumph. Every moment, however, there was so much
tempestuous pushing that the young priest would assuredly have fallen if
a rough hand had not upheld him.

"Don't be alarmed," said a voice; "give me your arm, otherwise you won't
be able to remain on your feet."

Pierre turned round, and was surprised to recognise Father Massias, who
had left Father Fourcade in the pulpit in order to accompany the
procession. An extraordinary fever was sustaining him, throwing him
forward, as solid as a rock, with eyes glowing like live coals, and an
excited face covered with perspiration.

"Take care, then!" he again exclaimed; "give me your arm."

A fresh human wave had almost swept them away. And Pierre now yielded to
the support of this terrible enthusiast, whom he remembered as a
fellow-student at the seminary. What a singular meeting it was, and how
greatly he would have liked to possess that violent faith, that mad
faith, which was making Massias pant, with his throat full of sobs,
whilst he continued giving vent to the ardent entreaty "Lord Jesus, heal
our sick! Lord Jesus, heal our sick!"

There was no cessation of this cry behind the canopy, where there was
always a crier whose duty it was to accord no respite to the slow
clemency of Heaven. At times a thick voice full of anguish, and at others
a shrill and piercing voice, would arise. The Father's, which was an
imperious one, was now at last breaking through sheer emotion.

"Lord Jesus, heal our sick! Lord Jesus, heal our sick!"

The rumour of Marie's wondrous cure, of the miracle whose fame would
speedily fill all Christendom, had already spread from one to the other
end of Lourdes; and from this had come the increased vertigo of the
multitude, the attack of contagious delirium which now caused it to whirl
and rush toward the Blessed Sacrament like the resistless flux of a
rising tide. One and all yielded to the desire of beholding the Sacrament
and touching it, of being cured and becoming happy. The Divinity was
passing; and now it was not merely a question of ailing beings glowing
with a desire for life, but a longing for happiness which consumed all
present and raised them up with bleeding, open hearts and eager hands.

Berthaud, who feared the excesses of this religious adoration, had
decided to accompany his men. He commanded them, carefully watching over
the double chain of bearers beside the canopy in order that it might not
be broken.

"Close your ranks--closer--closer!" he called, "and keep your arms firmly

These young men, chosen from among the most vigorous of the bearers, had
an extremely difficult duty to discharge. The wall which they formed,
shoulder to shoulder, with arms linked at the waist and the neck, kept on
giving way under the involuntary assaults of the throng. Nobody,
certainly, fancied that he was pushing, but there was constant eddying,
and deep waves of people rolled towards the procession from afar and
threatened to submerge it.

When the canopy had reached the middle of the Place du Rosaire, Abbe
Judaine really thought that he would be unable to go any farther.
Numerous conflicting currents had set in over the vast expanse, and were
whirling, assailing him from all sides, so that he had to halt under the
swaying canopy, which shook like a sail in a sudden squall on the open
sea. He held the Blessed Sacrament aloft with his numbed hands, each
moment fearing that a final push would throw him over; for he fully
realised that the golden monstrance, radiant like a sun, was the one
passion of all that multitude, the Divinity they demanded to kiss, in
order that they might lose themselves in it, even though they should
annihilate it in doing so. Accordingly, while standing there, the priest
anxiously turned his eyes on Berthaud.

"Let nobody pass!" called the latter to the bearers--"nobody! The orders
are precise; you hear me?"

Voices, however, were rising in supplication on all sides, wretched
beings were sobbing with arms outstretched and lips protruding, in the
wild desire that they might be allowed to approach and kneel at the
priest's feet. What divine grace it would be to be thrown upon the ground
and trampled under foot by the whole procession!* An infirm old man
displayed his withered hand in the conviction that it would be made sound
again were he only allowed to touch the monstrance. A dumb woman wildly
pushed her way through the throng with her broad shoulders, in order that
she might loosen her tongue by a kiss. Others were shouting, imploring,
and even clenching their fists in their rage with those cruel men who
denied cure to their bodily sufferings and their mental wretchedness. The
orders to keep them back were rigidly enforced, however, for the most
serious accidents were feared.

  * One is here irresistibly reminded of the car of Juggernaut, and
    of the Hindoo fanatics throwing themselves beneath its wheels
    in the belief that they would thus obtain an entrance into

"Nobody, nobody!" repeated Berthaud; "let nobody whatever pass!"

There was a woman there, however, who touched every heart with
compassion. Clad in wretched garments, bareheaded, her face wet with
tears, she was holding in her arms a little boy of ten years or so, whose
limp, paralysed legs hung down inertly. The lad's weight was too great
for one so weak as herself, still she did not seem to feel it. She had
brought the boy there, and was now entreating the bearers with an
invincible obstinacy which neither words nor hustling could conquer.

At last, as Abbe Judaine, who felt deeply moved, beckoned to her to
approach, two of the bearers, in deference to his compassion, drew apart,
despite all the danger of opening a breach, and the woman then rushed
forward with her burden, and fell in a heap before the priest. For a
moment he rested the foot of the monstrance on the child's head, and the
mother herself pressed her eager, longing lips to it; and, as they
started off again, she wished to remain behind the canopy, and followed
the procession, with streaming hair and panting breast, staggering the
while under the heavy burden, which was fast exhausting her strength.

They managed, with great difficulty, to cross the remainder of the Place
du Rosaire, and then the ascent began, the glorious ascent by way of the
monumental incline; whilst upon high, on the fringe of heaven, the
Basilica reared its slim spire, whence pealing bells were winging their
flight, sounding the triumphs of Our Lady of Lourdes. And now it was
towards an apotheosis that the canopy slowly climbed, towards the lofty
portal of the high-perched sanctuary which stood open, face to face with
the Infinite, high above the huge multitude whose waves continued soaring
across the valley's squares and avenues. Preceding the processional
cross, the magnificent beadle, all blue and silver, was already rearing
the level of the Rosary cupola, the spacious esplanade formed by the roof
of the lower church, across which the pilgrimage deputations began to
wind, with their bright-coloured silk and velvet banners waving in the
ruddy glow of the sunset. Then came the clergy, the priests in snowy
surplices, and the priests in golden chasubles, likewise shining out like
a procession of stars. And the censers swung, and the canopy continued
climbing, without anything of its bearers being seen, so that it seemed
as though a mysterious power, some troop of invisible angels, were
carrying it off in this glorious ascension towards the open portal of

A sound of chanting had burst forth; the voices in the procession no
longer called for the healing of the sick, now that the /cortege/ had
extricated itself from amidst the crowd. The miracle had been worked, and
they were celebrating it with the full power of their lungs, amidst the
pealing of the bells and the quivering gaiety of the atmosphere.

"/Magnificat anima mea Dominum/"--they began. "My soul doth magnify the

'Twas the song of gratitude, already chanted at the Grotto, and again
springing from every heart: "/Et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari
meo/." "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour."

Meantime it was with increasing, overflowing joy that Marie took part in
that radiant ascent, by the colossal gradient way, towards the glowing
Basilica. It seemed to her, as she continued climbing, that she was
growing stronger and stronger, that her legs, so long lifeless, became
firmer at each step. The little car which she victoriously dragged behind
her was like the earthly tenement of her illness, the /inferno/ whence
the Blessed Virgin had extricated her, and although its handle was making
her hands sore, she nevertheless wished to pull it up yonder with her, in
order that she might cast it at last at the feet of the Almighty. No
obstacle could stay her course, she laughed through the big tears which
were falling on her cheeks, her bosom was swelling, her demeanour
becoming warlike. One of her slippers had become unfastened, and the
strip of lace had fallen from her head to her shoulders. Nevertheless,
with her lovely fair hair crowning her like a helmet and her face beaming
brightly, she still marched on and on with such an awakening of will and
strength that, behind her, you could hear her car leap and rattle over
the rough slope of the flagstones, as though it had been a mere toy.

Near Marie was Pierre, still leaning on the arm of Father Massias, who
had not relinquished his hold. Lost amidst the far-spreading emotion, the
young priest was unable to reflect. Moreover his companion's sonorous
voice quite deafened him.

"/Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles/." "He hath put down the
mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble."

On Pierre's other side, the right, Berthaud, who no longer had any cause
for anxiety, was now also following the canopy. He had given his bearers
orders to break their chain, and was gazing with an expression of delight
on the human sea through which the procession had lately passed. The
higher they the incline, the more did the Place du Rosaire and the
avenues and paths of the gardens expand below them, black with the
swarming multitude. It was a bird's-eye view of a whole nation, an
ant-hill which ever increased in size, spreading farther and farther
away. "Look!" Berthaud at last exclaimed to Pierre. "How vast and how
beautiful it is! Ah! well, the year won't have been a bad one after all."

Looking upon Lourdes as a centre of propaganda, where his political
rancour found satisfaction, he always rejoiced when there was a numerous
pilgrimage, as in his mind it was bound to prove unpleasant to the
Government. Ah! thought he, if they had only been able to bring the
working classes of the towns thither, and create a Catholic democracy.
"Last year we scarcely reached the figure of two hundred thousand
pilgrims," he continued, "but we shall exceed it this year, I hope." And
then, with the gay air of the jolly fellow that he was, despite his
sectarian passions, he added: "Well, 'pon my word, I was really pleased
just now when there was such a crush. Things are looking up, I thought,
things are looking up."

Pierre, however, was not listening to him; his mind had been struck by
the grandeur of the spectacle. That multitude, which spread out more and
more as the procession rose higher and higher above it, that magnificent
valley which was hollowed out below and ever became more and more
extensive, displaying afar off its gorgeous horizon of mountains, filled
him with quivering admiration. His mental trouble was increased by it
all, and seeking Marie's glance, he waved his arm to draw her attention
to the vast circular expanse of country. And his gesture deceived her,
for in the purely spiritual excitement that possessed her she did not
behold the material spectacle he pointed at, but thought that he was
calling earth to witness the prodigious favours which the Blessed Virgin
had heaped upon them both; for she imagined that he had had his share of
the miracle, and that in the stroke of grace which had set her erect with
her flesh healed, he, so near to her that their hearts mingled, had felt
himself enveloped and raised by the same divine power, his soul saved
from doubt, conquered by faith once more. How could he have witnessed her
wondrous cure, indeed, without being convinced? Moreover, she had prayed
so fervently for him outside the Grotto on the previous night. And now,
therefore, to her excessive delight, she espied him transfigured like
herself, weeping and laughing, restored to God again. And this lent
increased force to her blissful fever; she dragged her little car along
with unwearying hands, and--as though it were their double cross, her own
redemption and her friend's redemption which she was carrying up that
incline with its resounding flagstones--she would have liked to drag it
yet farther, for leagues and leagues, ever higher and higher, to the most
inaccessible summits, to the transplendent threshold of Paradise itself.

"O Pierre, Pierre!" she stammered, "how sweet it is that this great
happiness should have fallen on us together--yes, together! I prayed for
it so fervently, and she granted my prayer, and saved you even in saving
me. Yes, I felt your soul mingling with my own. Tell me that our mutual
prayers have been granted, tell me that I have won your salvation even as
you have won mine!"

He understood her mistake and shuddered.

"If you only knew," she continued, "how great would have been my grief
had I thus ascended into light alone. Oh! to be chosen without you, to
soar yonder without you! But with you, Pierre, it is rapturous delight!
We have been saved together, we shall be happy forever! I feel all
needful strength for happiness, yes, strength enough to raise the world!"

And in spite of everything, he was obliged to answer her and lie,
revolting at the idea of spoiling, dimming that great and pure felicity.
"Yes, yes, be happy, Marie," he said, "for I am very happy myself, and
all our sufferings are redeemed."

But even while he spoke he felt a deep rending within him, as though a
brutal hatchet-stroke were parting them forever. Amidst their common
sufferings, she had hitherto remained the little friend of childhood's
days, the first artlessly loved woman, whom he knew to be still his own,
since she could belong to none. But now she was cured, and he remained
alone in his hell, repeating to himself that she would never more be his!
This sudden thought so upset him that he averted his eyes, in despair at
reaping such suffering from the prodigious felicity with which she

However the chant went on, and Father Massias, hearing nothing and seeing
nothing, absorbed as he was in his glowing gratitude to God, shouted the
final verse in a thundering voice: "/Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros,
Abraham, et semini ejus in saecula/." "As He spake to our fathers, to
Abraham, and to his seed for ever!"

Yet another incline had to be climbed, yet another effort had to be made
up that rough acclivity, with its large slippery flagstones. And the
procession rose yet higher, and the ascent still went on in the full,
bright light. There came a last turn, and the wheels of Marie's car
grated against a granite curb. Then, still higher, still and ever higher,
did it roll until it finally reached what seemed to be the very fringe of

And all at once the canopy appeared on the summit of the gigantic
inclined ways, on the stone balcony overlooking the stretch of country
outside the portal of the Basilica. Abbe Judaine stepped forward holding
the Blessed Sacrament aloft with both hands. Marie, who had pulled her
car up the balcony steps, was near him, her heart beating from her
exertion, her face all aglow amidst the gold of her loosened hair. Then
all the clergy, the snowy surplices, and the dazzling chasubles ranged
themselves behind, whilst the banners waved like bunting decking the
white balustrades. And a solemn minute followed.

From on high there could have been no grander spectacle. First,
immediately below, there was the multitude, the human sea with its dark
waves, its heaving billows, now for a moment stilled, amidst which you
only distinguished the small pale specks of the faces uplifted towards
the Basilica, in expectation of the Benediction; and as far as the eye
could reach, from the place du Rosaire to the Gave, along the paths and
avenues and across the open spaces, even to the old town in the distance;
those little pale faces multiplied and multiplied, all with lips parted,
and eyes fixed upon the august heaven was about to open to their gaze.

Then the vast amphitheatre of slopes and hills and mountains surged
aloft, ascended upon all sides, crests following crests, until they faded
away in the far blue atmosphere. The numerous convents among the trees on
the first of the northern slopes, beyond the torrent--those of the
Carmelites, the Dominicans, the Assumptionists, and the Sisters of
Nevers--were coloured by a rosy reflection from the fire-like glow of the
sunset. Then wooded masses rose one above the other, until they reached
the heights of Le Buala, which were surmounted by the Serre de Julos, in
its turn capped by the Miramont.

Deep valleys opened on the south, narrow gorges between piles of gigantic
rocks whose bases were already steeped in lakes of bluish shadow, whilst
the summits sparkled with the smiling farewell of the sun. The hills of
Visens upon this side were empurpled, and shewed like a promontory of
coral, in front of the stagnant lake of the ether, which was bright with
a sapphire-like transparency. But, on the east, in front of you, the
horizon again spread out to the very point of intersection of the seven
valleys. The castle which had formerly guarded them still stood with its
keep, its lofty walls, its black outlines--the outlines of a fierce
fortress of feudal time,--upon the rock whose base was watered by the
Gave; and upon this side of the stern old pile was the new town, looking
quite gay amidst its gardens, with its swarm of white house-fronts, its
large hotels, its lodging-houses, and its fine shops, whose windows were
glowing like live embers; whilst, behind the castle, the discoloured
roofs of old Lourdes spread out in confusion, in a ruddy light which
hovered over them like a cloud of dust. At this late hour, when the
declining luminary was sinking in royal splendour behind the little Gers
and the big Gers, those two huge ridges of bare rock, spotted with
patches of short herbage, formed nothing but a neutral, somewhat violet,
background, as though, indeed, they were two curtains of sober hue drawn
across the margin of the horizon.

And higher and still higher, in front of this immensity, did Abbe Judaine
with both hands raise the Blessed Sacrament. He moved it slowly from one
to the other horizon, causing it to describe a huge sign of the cross
against the vault of heaven. He saluted the convents, the heights of Le
Buala, the Serre de Julos, and the Miramont, upon his left; he saluted
the huge fallen rocks of the dim valleys, and the empurpled hills of
Visens, on his right; he saluted the new and the old town, the castle
bathed by the Gave, the big and the little Gers, already drowsy, in front
of him; and he saluted the woods, the torrents, the mountains, the faint
chains linking the distant peaks, the whole earth, even beyond the
visible horizon: Peace upon earth, hope and consolation to mankind! The
multitude below had quivered beneath that great sign of the cross which
enveloped it. It seemed as though a divine breath were passing, rolling
those billows of little pale faces which were as numerous as the waves of
an ocean. A loud murmur of adoration ascended; all those parted lips
proclaimed the glory of God when, in the rays of the setting sun, the
illumined monstrance again shone forth like another sun, a sun of pure
gold, describing the sign of the cross in streaks of flame upon the
threshold of the Infinite.

The banners, the clergy, with Abbe Judaine under the canopy, were already
returning to the Basilica, when Marie, who was also entering it, still
dragging her car by the handle, was stopped by two ladies, who kissed
her, weeping. They were Madame de Jonquiere and her daughter Raymonde,
who had come thither to witness the Benediction, and had been told of the

"Ah! my dear child, what happiness!" repeated the lady-hospitaller; "and
how proud I am to have you in my ward! It is so precious a favour for all
of us that the Blessed Virgin should have been pleased to select you."

Raymonde, meanwhile, had kept one of the young girl's hands in her own.
"Will you allow me to call you my friend, mademoiselle?" said she. "I
felt so much pity for you, and I am now so pleased to see you walking, so
strong and beautiful already. Let me kiss you again. It will bring me

"Thank you, thank you with all my heart," Marie stammered amidst her
rapture. "I am so happy, so very happy!"

"Oh! we will not leave you," resumed Madame de Jonquiere. "You hear me,
Raymonde? We must follow her, and kneel beside her, and we will take her
back after the ceremony."

Thereupon the two ladies joined the /cortege/, and, following the canopy,
walked beside Pierre and Father Massias, between the rows of chairs which
the deputations already occupied, to the very centre of the choir. The
banners alone were allowed on either side of the high altar; but Marie
advanced to its steps, still dragging her car, whose wheels resounded
over the flagstones. She had at last brought it to the spot whither the
sacred madness of her desire had longingly impelled her to drag it. She
had brought it, indeed, woeful, wretched-looking as it was, into the
splendour of God's house, so that it might there testify to the truth of
the miracle. The threshold had scarcely been crossed when the organs
burst into a hymn of triumph, the sonorous acclamation of a happy people,
from amidst which there soon arose a celestial, angelic voice, of joyful
shrillness and crystalline purity. Abbe Judaine had placed the Blessed
Sacrament upon the altar, and the crowd was streaming into the nave, each
taking a seat, installing him or herself in a corner, pending the
commencement of the ceremony. Marie had at once fallen on her knees
between Madame de Jonquiere and Raymonde, whose eyes were moist with
tender emotion; whilst Father Massias, exhausted by the extraordinary
tension of the nerves which had been sustaining him ever since his
departure from the Grotto, had sunk upon the ground, sobbing, with his
head between his hands. Behind him Pierre and Berthaud remained standing,
the latter still busy with his superintendence, his eyes ever on the
watch, seeing that good order was preserved even during the most violent
outbursts of emotion.

Then, amidst all his mental confusion, increased by the deafening strains
of the organ, Pierre raised his head and examined the interior of the
Basilica. The nave was narrow and lofty, and streaked with bright
colours, which numerous windows flooded with light. There were scarcely
any aisles; they were reduced to the proportions of a mere passage
running between the side-chapels and the clustering columns, and this
circumstance seemed to increase the slim loftiness of the nave, the
soaring of the stonework in perpendicular lines of infantile, graceful
slenderness. A gilded railing, as transparent as lace, closed the choir,
where the high altar, of white marble richly sculptured, arose in all its
lavish chasteness. But the feature of the building which astonished you
was the mass of extraordinary ornamentation which transformed the whole
of it into an overflowing exhibition of embroidery and jewellery. What
with all the banners and votive offerings, the perfect river of gifts
which had flowed into it and remained clinging to its walls in a stream
of gold and silver, velvet and silk, covering it from top to bottom, it
was, so to say, the ever-glowing sanctuary of gratitude, whose thousand
rich adornments seemed to be chanting a perpetual canticle of faith and

The banners, in particular, abounded, as innumerable as the leaves of
trees. Some thirty hung from the vaulted roof, whilst others were
suspended, like pictures, between the little columns around the
triforium. And others, again, displayed themselves on the walls, waved in
the depths of the side-chapels, and encompassed the choir with a heaven
of silk, satin, and velvet. You could count them by hundreds, and your
eyes grew weary of admiring them. Many of them were quite celebrated, so
renowned for their skilful workmanship that talented embroideresses took
the trouble to come to Lourdes on purpose to examine them. Among these
were the banner of our Lady of Fourvieres, bearing the arms of the city
of Lyons; the banner of Alsace, of black velvet embroidered with gold;
the banner of Lorraine, on which you beheld the Virgin casting her cloak
around two children; and the white and blue banner of Brittany, on which
bled the sacred heart of Jesus in the midst of a halo. All empires and
kingdoms of the earth were represented; the most distant lands--Canada,
Brazil, Chili, Haiti--here had their flags, which, in all piety, were
being offered as a tribute of homage to the Queen of Heaven.

Then, after the banners, there were other marvels, the thousands and
thousands of gold and silver hearts which were hanging everywhere,
glittering on the walls like stars in the heavens. Some were grouped
together in the form of mystical roses, others described festoons and
garlands, others, again, climbed up the pillars, surrounded the windows,
and constellated the deep, dim chapels. Below the triforium somebody had
had the ingenious idea of employing these hearts to trace in tall letters
the various words which the Blessed Virgin had addressed to Bernadette;
and thus, around the nave, there extended a long frieze of words, the
delight of the infantile minds which busied themselves with spelling
them. It was a swarming, a prodigious resplendency of hearts, whose
infinite number deeply impressed you when you thought of all the hands,
trembling with gratitude, which had offered them. Moreover, the
adornments comprised many other votive offerings, and some of quite an
unexpected description. There were bridal wreaths and crosses of honour,
jewels and photographs, chaplets, and even spurs, in glass cases or
frames. There were also the epaulets and swords of officers, together
with a superb sabre, left there in memory of a miraculous conversion.

But all this was not sufficient; other riches, riches of every kind,
shone out on all sides--marble statues, diadems enriched with brilliants,
a marvellous carpet designed at Blois and embroidered by ladies of all
parts of France, and a golden palm with ornaments of enamel, the gift of
the sovereign pontiff. The lamps suspended from the vaulted roof, some of
them of massive gold and the most delicate workmanship, were also gifts.
They were too numerous to be counted, they studded the nave with stars of
great price. Immediately in front of the tabernacle there was one, a
masterpiece of chasing, offered by Ireland. Others--one from Lille, one
from Valence, one from Macao in far-off China--were veritable jewels,
sparkling with precious stones. And how great was the resplendency when
the choir's score of chandeliers was illumined, when the hundreds of
lamps and the hundreds of candles burned all together, at the great
evening ceremonies! The whole church then became a conflagration, the
thousands of gold and silver hearts reflecting all the little flames with
thousands of fiery scintillations. It was like a huge and wondrous
brasier; the walls streamed with live flakes of light; you seemed to be
entering into the blinding glory of Paradise itself; whilst on all sides
the innumerable banners spread out their silk, their satin, and their
velvet, embroidered with sanguifluous sacred hearts, victorious saints,
and Virgins whose kindly smiles engendered miracles.

Ah! how many ceremonies had already displayed their pomp in that
Basilica! Worship, prayer, chanting, never ceased there. From one end of
the year to the other incense smoked, organs roared, and kneeling
multitudes prayed there with their whole souls. Masses, vespers, sermons,
were continually following one upon another; day by day the religious
exercises began afresh, and each festival of the Church was celebrated
with unparalleled magnificence. The least noteworthy anniversary supplied
a pretext for pompous solemnities. Each pilgrimage was granted its share
of the dazzling resplendency. It was necessary that those suffering ones
and those humble ones who had come from such long distances should be
sent home consoled and enraptured, carrying with them a vision of
Paradise espied through its opening portals. They beheld the luxurious
surroundings of the Divinity, and would forever remain enraptured by the
sight. In the depths of bare, wretched rooms, indeed, by the side of
humble pallets of suffering throughout all Christendom, a vision of the
Basilica with its blazing riches continually arose like a vision of
fortune itself, like a vision of the wealth of that life to be, into
which the poor would surely some day enter after their long, long misery
in this terrestrial sphere.

Pierre, however, felt no delight; no consolation, no hope, came to him as
he gazed upon all the splendour. His frightful feeling of discomfort was
increasing, all was becoming black within him, with that blackness of the
tempest which gathers when men's thoughts and feelings pant and shriek.
He had felt immense desolation rising in his soul ever since Marie,
crying that she was healed, had risen from her little car and walked
along with such strength and fulness of life. Yet he loved her like a
passionately attached brother, and had experienced unlimited happiness on
seeing that she no longer suffered. Why, therefore, should her felicity
bring him such agony? He could now no longer gaze at her, kneeling there,
radiant amidst her tears, with beauty recovered and increased, without
his poor heart bleeding as from some mortal wound. Still he wished to
remain there, and so, averting his eyes, he tried to interest himself in
Father Massias, who was still shaking with violent sobbing on the
flagstones, and whose prostration and annihilation, amidst the consuming
illusion of divine love, he sorely envied. For a moment, moreover, he
questioned Berthaud, feigning to admire some banner and requesting
information respecting it.

"Which one?" asked the superintendent of the bearers; "that lace banner
over there?"

"Yes, that one on the left."

"Oh! it is a banner offered by Le Puy. The arms are those of Le Puy and
Lourdes linked together by the Rosary. The lace is so fine that if you
crumpled the banner up, you could hold it in the hollow of your hand."

However, Abbe Judaine was now stepping forward; the ceremony was about to
begin. Again did the organs resound, and again was a canticle chanted,
whilst, on the altar, the Blessed Sacrament looked like the sovereign
planet amidst the scintillations of the gold and silver hearts, as
innumerable as stars. And then Pierre lacked the strength to remain there
any longer. Since Marie had Madame de Jonquiere and Raymonde with her,
and they would accompany her back, he might surely go off by himself,
vanish into some shadowy corner, and there, at last, vent his grief. In a
few words he excused himself, giving his appointment with Doctor
Chassaigne as a pretext for his departure. However, another fear suddenly
came to him, that of being unable to leave the building, so densely did
the serried throng of believers bar the open doorway. But immediately
afterwards he had an inspiration, and, crossing the sacristy, descended
into the crypt by the narrow interior stairway.

Deep silence and sepulchral gloom suddenly succeeded to the joyous chants
and prodigious radiance of the Basilica above. Cut in the rock, the crypt
formed two narrow passages, parted by a massive block of stone which
upheld the nave, and conducting to a subterranean chapel under the apse,
where some little lamps remained burning both day and night. A dim forest
of pillars rose up there, a mystic terror reigned in that semi-obscurity
where the mystery ever quivered. The chapel walls remained bare, like the
very stones of the tomb, in which all men must some day sleep the last
sleep. And along the passages, against their sides, covered from top to
bottom with marble votive offerings, you only saw a double row of
confessionals; for it was here, in the lifeless tranquillity of the
bowels of the earth, that sins were confessed; and there were priests,
speaking all languages, to absolve the sinners who came thither from the
four corners of the world.

At that hour, however, when the multitude was thronging the Basilica
above, the crypt had become quite deserted. Not a soul, save Pierre's,
throbbed there ever so faintly; and he, amidst that deep silence, that
darkness, that coolness of the grave, fell upon his knees. It was not,
however, through any need of prayer and worship, but because his whole
being was giving way beneath his crushing mental torment. He felt a
torturing longing to be able to see clearly within himself. Ah! why could
he not plunge even more deeply into the heart of things, reflect,
understand, and at last calm himself.

And it was a fearful agony that he experienced. He tried to remember all
the minutes that had gone by since Marie, suddenly springing from her
pallet of wretchedness, had raised her cry of resurrection. Why had he
even then, despite his fraternal joy in seeing her erect, felt such an
awful sensation of discomfort, as though, indeed, the greatest of all
possible misfortunes had fallen upon him? Was he jealous of the divine
grace? Did he suffer because the Virgin, whilst healing her, had
forgotten him, whose soul was so afflicted? He remembered how he had
granted himself a last delay, fixed a supreme appointment with Faith for
the moment when the Blessed Sacrament should pass by, were Marie only
cured; and she was cured, and still he did not believe, and henceforth
there was no hope, for never, never would he be able to believe. Therein
lay the bare, bleeding sore. The truth burst upon him with blinding
cruelty and certainty--she was saved, he was lost. That pretended miracle
which had restored her to life had, in him, completed the ruin of all
belief in the supernatural. That which he had, for a moment, dreamed of
seeking, and perhaps finding, at Lourdes,--naive faith, the happy faith
of a little child,--was no longer possible, would never bloom again after
that collapse of the miraculous, that cure which Beauclair had foretold,
and which had afterwards come to pass, exactly as had been predicted.
Jealous! No--he was not jealous; but he was ravaged, full of mortal
sadness at thus remaining all alone in the icy desert of his
intelligence, regretting the illusion, the lie, the divine love of the
simpleminded, for which henceforth there was no room in his heart.

A flood of bitterness stifled him, and tears started from his eyes. He
had slipped on to the flagstones, prostrated by his anguish. And, by
degrees, he remembered the whole delightful story, from the day when
Marie, guessing how he was tortured by doubt, had become so passionately
eager for his conversion, taking hold of his hand in the gloom, retaining
it in her own, and stammering that she would pray for him--oh! pray for
him with her whole soul. She forgot herself, she entreated the Blessed
Virgin to save her friend rather than herself if there were but one grace
that she could obtain from her Divine Son. Then came another memory, the
memory of the delightful hours which they had spent together amid the
dense darkness of the trees during the night procession. There, again,
they had prayed for one another, mingled one in the other with so ardent
a desire for mutual happiness that, for a moment, they had attained to
the very depths of the love which gives and immolates itself. And now
their long, tear-drenched tenderness, their pure idyl of suffering, was
ending in this brutal separation; she on her side saved, radiant amidst
the hosannas of the triumphant Basilica; and he lost, sobbing with
wretchedness, bowed down in the depths of the dark crypt in an icy,
grave-like solitude. It was as though he had just lost her again, and
this time forever and forever.

All at once Pierre felt the sharp stab which this thought dealt his
heart. He at last understood his pain--a sudden light illumined the
terrible crisis of woe amidst which he was struggling. He had lost Marie
for the first time on the day when he had become a priest, saying to
himself that he might well renounce his manhood since she, stricken in
her sex by incurable illness, would never be a woman. But behold! she
/was/ cured. Behold! she /had/ become a woman. She had all at once
appeared to him very strong, very beautiful, living, and desirable. He,
who was dead, however, could not become a man again. Never more would he
be able to raise the tombstone which crushed and imprisoned his flesh.
She fled away alone, leaving him in the cold grave. The whole wide world
was opening before her with smiling happiness, with the love which laughs
in the sunlit paths, with the husband, with children, no doubt. Whereas
he, buried, as it were to his shoulders, had naught of his body free,
save his brain, and that remained free, no doubt, in order that he might
suffer the more. She had still been his so long as she had not belonged
to another; and if he had been enduring such agony during the past hour,
it was only through this final rending which, this time, parted her from
him forever and forever.

Then rage shook Pierre from head to foot. He was tempted to return to the
Basilica, and cry the truth aloud to Marie. The miracle was a lie! The
helpful beneficence of an all-powerful Divinity was but so much illusion!
Nature alone had acted, life had conquered once again. And he would have
given proofs: he would have shown how life, the only sovereign, worked
for health amid all the sufferings of this terrestrial sphere. And then
they would have gone off together; they would have fled far, far away,
that they might be happy. But a sudden terror took possession of him.
What! lay hands upon that little spotless soul, kill all belief in it,
fill it with the ruins which worked such havoc in his own soul? It all at
once occurred to him that this would be odious sacrilege. He would
afterwards become horrified with himself, he would look upon himself as
her murderer were he some day to realise that he was unable to give her a
happiness equal to that which she would have lost. Perhaps, too, she
would not believe him. And, moreover, would she ever consent to marry a
priest who had broken his vows? She who would always retain the sweet and
never-to be-forgotten memory of how she had been healed in ecstasy! His
design then appeared to him insane, monstrous, polluting. And his revolt
rapidly subsided, until he only retained a feeling of infinite weariness,
a sensation of a burning, incurable wound--the wound of his poor,
bruised, lacerated heart.

Then, however, amidst his abandonment, the void in which he was whirling,
a supreme struggle began, filling him again with agony. What should he
do? His sufferings made a coward of him, and he would have liked to flee,
so that he might never see Marie again. For he understood very well that
he would now have to lie to her, since she thought that he was saved like
herself, converted, healed in soul, even as she had been healed in body.
She had told him of her joy while dragging her car up the colossal
gradient way. Oh! to have had that great happiness together, together; to
have felt their hearts melt and mingle one in the other! And even then he
had already lied, as he would always be obliged to lie in order that he
might not spoil her pure and blissful illusion. He let the last
throbbings of his veins subside, and vowed that he would find sufficient
strength for the sublime charity of feigning peacefulness of soul, the
rapture of one who is redeemed. For he wished her to be wholly
happy--without a regret, without a doubt--in the full serenity of faith,
convinced that the blessed Virgin had indeed given her consent to their
purely mystical union. What did his torments matter? Later on, perhaps,
he might recover possession of himself. Amidst his desolate solitude of
mind would there not always be a little joy to sustain him, all that joy
whose consoling falsity he would leave to her?

Several minutes again elapsed, and Pierre, still overwhelmed, remained on
the flagstones, seeking to calm his fever. He no longer thought, he no
longer lived; he was a prey to that prostration of the entire being which
follows upon great crises. But, all at once, he fancied he could hear a
sound of footsteps, and thereupon he painfully rose to his feet, and
feigned to be reading the inscriptions graven in the marble votive slabs
along the walls. He had been mistaken--nobody was there; nevertheless,
seeking to divert his mind, he continued perusing the inscriptions, at
first in a mechanical kind of way, and then, little by little, feeling a
fresh emotion steal over him.

The sight was almost beyond imagination. Faith, love, and gratitude
displayed themselves in a hundred, a thousand ways on these marble slabs
with gilded lettering. Some of the inscriptions were so artless as to
provoke a smile. A colonel had sent a sculptured representation of his
foot with the words: "Thou hast preserved it; grant that it may serve
Thee." Farther on you read the line: "May Her protection extend to the
glass trade." And then, by the frankness of certain expressions of
thanks, you realised of what a strange character the appeals had been.
"To Mary the Immaculate," ran one inscription, "from a father of a
family, in recognition of health restored, a lawsuit won, and advancement
gained." However, the memory of these instances faded away amidst the
chorus of soaring, fervent cries. There was the cry of the lovers: "Paul
and Anna entreat Our Lady of Lourdes to bless their union." There was the
cry of the mothers in various forms: "Gratitude to Mary, who has thrice
healed my child."--"Gratitude to Mary for the birth of Antoinette, whom I
dedicate, like myself and all my kin, to Her."--"P. D., three years old,
has been preserved to the love of his parents." And then came the cry of
the wives, the cry, too, of the sick restored to health, and of the souls
restored to happiness: "Protect my husband; grant that my husband may
enjoy good health."--"I was crippled in both legs, and now I am
healed."--"We came, and now we hope."--"I prayed, I wept, and She heard
me." And there were yet other cries, cries whose veiled glow conjured up
thoughts of long romances: "Thou didst join us together; protect us, we
pray Thee."--"To Mary, for the greatest of all blessings." And the same
cries, the same words--gratitude, thankfulness, homage,
acknowledgment,--occurred again and again, ever with the same passionate
fervour. All! those hundreds, those thousands of cries which were forever
graven on that marble, and from the depths of the crypt rose clamorously
to the Virgin, proclaiming the everlasting devotion of the unhappy beings
whom she had succoured.

Pierre did not weary of reading them, albeit his mouth was bitter and
increasing desolation was filling him. So it was only he who had no
succour to hope for! When so many sufferers were listened to, he alone
had been unable to make himself heard! And he now began to think of the
extraordinary number of prayers which must be said at Lourdes from one
end of the year to the other. He tried to cast them up; those said during
the days spent at the Grotto and during the nights spent at the Rosary,
those said at the ceremonies at the Basilica, and those said at the
sunlight and the starlight processions. But this continual entreaty of
every second was beyond computation. It seemed as if the faithful were
determined to weary the ears of the Divinity, determined to extort
favours and forgiveness by the very multitude, the vast multitude of
their prayers. The priests said that it was necessary to offer to God the
acts of expiation which the sins of France required, and that when the
number of these acts of expiation should be large enough, God would smite
France no more. What a harsh belief in the necessity of chastisement!
What a ferocious idea born of the gloomiest pessimism! How evil life must
be if it were indeed necessary that such imploring cries, such cries of
physical and moral wretchedness, should ever and ever ascend to Heaven!

In the midst of all his sadness, Pierre felt deep compassion penetrate
his heart. He was upset by the thought that mankind should be so
wretched, reduced to such a state of woe, so bare, so weak, so utterly
forsaken, that it renounced its own reason to place the one sole
possibility of happiness in the hallucinatory intoxication of dreams.
Tears once more filled his eyes; he wept for himself and for others, for
all the poor tortured beings who feel a need of stupefying and numbing
their pains in order to escape from the realities of the world. He again
seemed to hear the swarming, kneeling crowd of the Grotto, raising the
glowing entreaty of its prayer to Heaven, the multitude of twenty and
thirty thousand souls from whose midst ascended such a fervour of desire
that you seemed to see it smoking in the sunlight like incense. Then
another form of the exaltation of faith glowed, beneath the crypt, in the
Church of the Rosary, where nights were spent in a paradise of rapture,
amidst the silent delights of the communion, the mute appeals in which
the whole being pines, burns, and soars aloft. And as though the cries
raised before the Grotto and the perpetual adoration of the Rosary were
not sufficient, that clamour of ardent entreaty burst forth afresh on the
walls of the crypt around him; and here it was eternised in marble, here
it would continue shrieking the sufferings of humanity even into the
far-away ages. It was the marble, it was the walls themselves praying,
seized by that shudder of universal woe which penetrated even the world's
stones. And, at last, the prayers ascended yet higher, still higher,
soared aloft from the radiant Basilica, which was humming and buzzing
above him, full as it now was of a frantic multitude, whose mighty voice,
bursting into a canticle of hope, he fancied he could hear through the
flagstones of the nave. And it finally seemed to him that he was being
whirled away, transported, as though he were indeed amidst the very
vibrations of that huge wave of prayer, which, starting from the dust of
the earth, ascended the tier of superposed churches, spreading from
tabernacle to tabernacle, and filling even the walls with such pity that
they sobbed aloud, and that the supreme cry of wretchedness pierced its
way into heaven with the white spire, the lofty golden cross, above the
steeple. O Almighty God, O Divinity, Helpful Power, whoever, whatever
Thou mayst be, take pity upon poor mankind and make human suffering

All at once Pierre was dazzled. He had followed the left-hand passage,
and was coming out into broad daylight, above the inclined ways, and two
affectionate arms at once caught hold of him and clasped him. It was
Doctor Chassaigne, whose appointment he had forgotten, and who had been
waiting there to take him to visit Bernadette's room and Abbe Peyramale's
church. "Oh! what joy must be yours, my child!" exclaimed the good old
man. "I have just learnt the great news, the extraordinary favour which
Our Lady of Lourdes has granted to your young friend. Recollect what I
told you the day before yesterday. I am now at ease--you are saved!"

A last bitterness came to the young priest who was very pale. However, he
was able to smile, and he gently answered: "Yes, we are saved, we are
very happy."

It was the lie beginning; the divine illusion which in a spirit of
charity he wished to give to others.

And then one more spectacle met Pierre's eyes. The principal door of the
Basilica stood wide open, and a red sheet of light from the setting sun
was enfilading the nave from one to the other end. Everything was flaring
with the splendour of a conflagration--the gilt railings of the choir,
the votive offerings of gold and silver, the lamps enriched with precious
stones, the banners with their bright embroideries, and the swinging
censers, which seemed like flying jewels. And yonder, in the depths of
this burning splendour, amidst the snowy surplices and the golden
chasubles, he recognised Marie, with hair unbound, hair of gold like all
else, enveloping her in a golden mantle. And the organs burst into a hymn
of triumph; and the delirious people acclaimed God; and Abbe Judaine, who
had again just taken the Blessed Sacrament from off the altar, raised it
aloft and presented it to their gaze for the last time; and radiantly
magnificent it shone out like a glory amidst the streaming gold of the
Basilica, whose prodigious triumph all the bells proclaimed in clanging,
flying peals.



IMMEDIATELY afterwards, as they descended the steps, Doctor Chassaigne
said to Pierre: "You have just seen the triumph; I will now show you two
great injustices."

And he conducted him into the Rue des Petits-Fosses to visit Bernadette's
room, that low, dark chamber whence she set out on the day the Blessed
Virgin appeared to her.

The Rue des Petits-Fosses starts from the former Rue des Bois, now the
Rue de la Grotte, and crosses the Rue du Tribunal. It is a winding lane,
slightly sloping and very gloomy. The passers-by are few; it is skirted
by long walls, wretched-looking houses, with mournful facades in which
never a window opens. All its gaiety consists in an occasional tree in a

"Here we are," at last said the doctor.

At the part where he had halted, the street contracted, becoming very
narrow, and the house faced the high, grey wall of a barn. Raising their
heads, both men looked up at the little dwelling, which seemed quite
lifeless, with its narrow casements and its coarse, violet pargeting,
displaying the shameful ugliness of poverty. The entrance passage down
below was quite black; an old light iron gate was all that closed it; and
there was a step to mount, which in rainy weather was immersed in the
water of the gutter.

"Go in, my friend, go in," said the doctor. "You have only to push the

The passage was long, and Pierre kept on feeling the damp wall with his
hand, for fear of making a false step. It seemed to him as if he were
descending into a cellar, in deep obscurity, and he could feel a slippery
soil impregnated with water beneath his feet. Then at the end, in
obedience to the doctor's direction, he turned to the right.

"Stoop, or you may hurt yourself," said M. Chassaigne; "the door is very
low. There, here we are."

The door of the room, like the gate in the street, stood wide open, as if
the place had been carelessly abandoned; and Pierre, who had stopped in
the middle of the chamber, hesitating, his eyes still full of the bright
daylight outside, could distinguish absolutely nothing. He had fallen
into complete darkness, and felt an icy chill about the shoulders similar
to the sensation that might be caused by a wet towel.

But, little by little, his eyes became accustomed to the dimness. Two
windows of unequal size opened on to a narrow, interior courtyard, where
only a greenish light descended, as at the bottom of a well; and to read
there, in the middle of the day, it would be necessary to have a candle.
Measuring about fifteen feet by twelve, the room was flagged with large
uneven stones; while the principal beam and the rafters of the roof,
which were visible, had darkened with time and assumed a dirty, sooty
hue. Opposite the door was the chimney, a miserable plaster chimney, with
a mantelpiece formed of a rotten old plank. There was a sink between this
chimney and one of the windows. The walls, with their decaying,
damp-stained plaster falling off by bits, were full of cracks, and
turning a dirty black like the ceiling. There was no longer any furniture
there; the room seemed abandoned; you could only catch a glimpse of some
confused, strange objects, unrecognisable in the heavy obscurity that
hung about the corners.

After a spell of silence, the doctor exclaimed "Yes, this is the room;
all came from here. Nothing has been changed, with the exception that the
furniture has gone. I have tried to picture how it was placed: the beds
certainly stood against this wall, opposite the windows; there must have
been three of them at least, for the Soubirouses were seven--the father,
mother, two boys, and three girls. Think of that! Three beds filling this
room! Seven persons living in this small space! All of them buried alive,
without air, without light, almost without bread! What frightful misery!
What lowly, pity-awaking poverty!"

But he was interrupted. A shadowy form, which Pierre at first took for an
old woman, entered. It was a priest, however, the curate of the parish,
who now occupied the house. He was acquainted with the doctor.

"I heard your voice, Monsieur Chassaigne, and came down," said he. "So
there you are, showing the room again?"

"Just so, Monsieur l' Abbe; I took the liberty. It does not inconvenience

"Oh! not at all, not at all! Come as often as you please, and bring other

He laughed in an engaging manner, and bowed to Pierre, who, astonished by
this quiet carelessness, observed: "The people who come, however, must
sometimes plague you?"

The curate in his turn seemed surprised. "Indeed, no! Nobody comes. You
see the place is scarcely known. Every one remains over there at the
Grotto. I leave the door open so as not to be worried. But days and days
often pass without my hearing even the sound of a mouse."

Pierre's eyes were becoming more and more accustomed to the obscurity;
and among the vague, perplexing objects which filled the corners, he
ended by distinguishing some old barrels, remnants of fowl cages, and
broken tools, a lot of rubbish such as is swept away and thrown to the
bottom of cellars. Hanging from the rafters, moreover, were some
provisions, a salad basket full of eggs, and several bunches of big pink

"And, from what I see," resumed Pierre, with a slight shudder, "you have
thought that you might make use of the room?"

The curate was beginning to feel uncomfortable. "Of course, that's it,"
said he. "What can one do? The house is so small, I have so little space.
And then you can't imagine how damp it is here; it is altogether
impossible to occupy the room. And so, /mon Dieu/, little by little all
this has accumulated here by itself, contrary to one's own desire."

"It has become a lumber-room," concluded Pierre.

"Oh no! hardly that. An unoccupied room, and yet in truth, if you insist
on it, it is a lumber-room!"

His uneasiness was increasing, mingled with a little shame. Doctor
Chassaigne remained silent and did not interfere; but he smiled, and was
visibly delighted at his companion's revolt against human ingratitude.
Pierre, unable to restrain himself, now continued: "You must excuse me,
Monsieur l'Abbe, if I insist. But just reflect that you owe everything to
Bernadette; but for her Lourdes would still be one of the least known
towns of France. And really it seems to me that out of mere gratitude the
parish ought to have transformed this wretched room into a chapel."

"Oh! a chapel!" interrupted the curate. "It is only a question of a human
creature: the Church could not make her an object of worship."

"Well, we won't say a chapel, then; but at all events there ought to be
some lights and flowers--bouquets of roses constantly renewed by the
piety of the inhabitants and the pilgrims. In a word, I should like some
little show of affection--a touching souvenir, a picture of
Bernadette--something that would delicately indicate that she deserves to
have a place in all hearts. This forgetfulness and desertion are
shocking. It is monstrous that so much dirt should have been allowed to

The curate, a poor, thoughtless, nervous man, at once adopted Pierre's
views: "In reality, you are a thousand times right," said he; "but I
myself have no power, I can do nothing. Whenever they ask me for the
room, to set it to rights, I will give it up and remove my barrels,
although I really don't know where else to put them. Only, I repeat, it
does not depend on me. I can do nothing, nothing at all!" Then, under the
pretext that he had to go out, he hastened to take leave and run away
again, saying to Doctor Chassaigne: "Remain, remain as long as you
please; you are never in my way."

When the doctor once more found himself alone with Pierre he caught hold
of both his hands with effusive delight. "Ah, my dear child," said he,
"how pleased you have made me! How admirably you expressed to him all
that has been boiling in my own heart so long! Like you, I thought of
bringing some roses here every morning. I should have simply had the room
cleaned, and would have contented myself with placing two large bunches
of roses on the mantelpiece; for you know that I have long felt deep
affection for Bernadette, and it seemed to me that those roses would be
like the very flowering and perfume of her memory. Only--only--" and so
saying he made a despairing gesture, "only courage failed me. Yes, I say
courage, no one having yet dared to declare himself openly against the
Fathers of the Grotto. One hesitates and recoils in the fear of stirring
up a religious scandal. Fancy what a deplorable racket all this would
create. And so those who are as indignant as I am are reduced to the
necessity of holding their tongues--preferring a continuance of silence
to anything else." Then, by way of conclusion, he added: "The ingratitude
and rapacity of man, my dear child, are sad things to see. Each time I
come into this dim wretchedness, my heart swells and I cannot restrain my

He ceased speaking, and neither of them said another word, both being
overcome by the extreme melancholy which the surroundings fostered. They
were steeped in gloom. The dampness made them shudder as they stood there
amidst the dilapidated walls and the dust of the old rubbish piled upon
either side. And the idea returned to them that without Bernadette none
of the prodigies which had made Lourdes a town unique in the world would
have existed. It was at her voice that the miraculous spring had gushed
forth, that the Grotto, bright with candles, had opened. Immense works
were executed, new churches rose from the ground, giant-like causeways
led up to God. An entire new city was built, as if by enchantment, with
gardens, walks, quays, bridges, shops, and hotels. And people from the
uttermost parts of the earth flocked thither in crowds, and the rain of
millions fell with such force and so abundantly that the young city
seemed likely to increase indefinitely--to fill the whole valley, from
one to the other end of the mountains. If Bernadette had been suppressed
none of those things would have existed, the extraordinary story would
have relapsed into nothingness, old unknown Lourdes would still have been
plunged in the sleep of ages at the foot of its castle. Bernadette was
the sole labourer and creatress; and yet this room, whence she had set
out on the day she beheld the Virgin, this cradle, indeed, of the miracle
and of all the marvellous fortune of the town, was disdained, left a prey
to vermin, good only for a lumber-room, where onions and empty barrels
were put away.

Then the other side of the question vividly appeared in Pierre's mind,
and he again seemed to see the triumph which he had just witnessed, the
exaltation of the Grotto and Basilica, while Marie, dragging her little
car, ascended behind the Blessed Sacrament, amidst the clamour of the
multitude. But the Grotto especially shone out before him. It was no
longer the wild, rocky cavity before which the child had formerly knelt
on the deserted bank of the torrent; it was a chapel, transformed and
enriched, a chapel illumined by a vast number of candles, where nations
marched past in procession. All the noise, all the brightness, all the
adoration, all the money, burst forth there in a splendour of constant
victory. Here, at the cradle, in this dark, icy hole, there was not a
soul, not a taper, not a hymn, not a flower. Of the infrequent visitors
who came thither, none knelt or prayed. All that a few tender-hearted
pilgrims had done in their desire to carry away a souvenir had been to
reduce to dust, between their fingers, the half-rotten plank serving as a
mantelshelf. The clergy ignored the existence of this spot of misery,
which the processions ought to have visited as they might visit a station
of glory. It was there that the poor child had begun her dream, one cold
night, lying in bed between her two sisters, and seized with a fit of her
ailment while the whole family was fast asleep. It was thence, too, that
she had set out, unconsciously carrying along with her that dream, which
was again to be born within her in the broad daylight and to flower so
prettily in a vision such as those of the legends. And no one now
followed in her footsteps. The manger was forgotten, and left in
darkness--that manger where had germed the little humble seed which over
yonder was now yielding such prodigious harvests, reaped by the workmen
of the last hour amidst the sovereign pomp of ceremonies.

Pierre, whom the great human emotion of the story moved to tears, at last
summed up his thoughts in three words, saying in a low voice, "It is

"Yes," remarked Doctor Chassaigne, in his turn, "it is the wretched
lodging, the chance refuge, where new religions are born of suffering and
pity. And at times I ask myself if all is not better thus: if it is not
better that this room should remain in its actual state of wretchedness
and abandonment. It seems to me that Bernadette has nothing to lose by
it, for I love her all the more when I come to spend an hour here."

He again became silent, and then made a gesture of revolt: "But no, no! I
cannot forgive it--this ingratitude sets me beside myself. I told you I
was convinced that Bernadette had freely gone to cloister herself at
Nevers. But although no one smuggled her away, what a relief it was for
those whom she had begun to inconvenience here! And they are the same
men, so anxious to be the absolute masters, who at the present time
endeavour by all possible means to wrap her memory in silence. Ah! my
dear child, if I were to tell you all!"

Little by little he spoke out and relieved himself. Those Fathers of the
Grotto, who showed such greed in trading on the work of Bernadette,
dreaded her still more now that she was dead than they had done whilst
she was alive. So long as she had lived, their great terror had assuredly
been that she might return to Lourdes to claim a portion of the spoil;
and her humility alone reassured them, for she was in nowise of a
domineering disposition, and had herself chosen the dim abode of
renunciation where she was destined to pass away. But at present their
fears had increased at the idea that a will other than theirs might bring
the relics of the visionary back to Lourdes; that, thought had, indeed,
occurred to the municipal council immediately after her death; the town
had wished to raise a tomb, and there had been talk of opening a
subscription. The Sisters of Nevers, however, formally refused to give up
the body, which they said belonged to them. Everyone felt that the
Sisters were acting under the influence of the Fathers, who were very
uneasy, and energetically bestirred themselves to prevent by all means in
their power the return of those venerated ashes, in whose presence at
Lourdes they foresaw a possible competition with the Grotto itself. Could
they have imagined some such threatening occurrence as this--a monumental
tomb in the cemetery, pilgrims proceeding thither in procession, the sick
feverishly kissing the marble, and miracles being worked there amidst a
holy fervour? This would have been disastrous rivalry, a certain
displacement of all the present devotion and prodigies. And the great,
the sole fear, still and ever returned to them, that of having to divide
the spoils, of seeing the money go elsewhere should the town, now taught
by experience, know how to turn the tomb to account.

The Fathers were even credited with a scheme of profound craftiness. They
were supposed to have the secret idea of reserving Bernadette's remains
for themselves; the Sisters of Nevers having simply undertaken to keep it
for them within the peaceful precincts of their chapel. Only, they were
waiting, and would not bring it back until the affluence of the pilgrims
should decrease. What was the use of a solemn return at present, when
crowds flocked to the place without interruption and in increasing
numbers? Whereas, when the extraordinary success of Our Lady of Lourdes
should decline, like everything else in this world, one could imagine
what a reawakening of faith would attend the solemn, resounding ceremony
at which Christendom would behold the relics of the chosen one take
possession of the soil whence she had made so many marvels spring. And
the miracles would then begin again on the marble of her tomb before the
Grotto or in the choir of the Basilica.

"You may search," continued Doctor Chassaigne, "but you won't find a
single official picture of Bernadette at Lourdes. Her portrait is sold,
but it is hung no where, in no sanctuary. It is systematic forgetfulness,
the same sentiment of covert uneasiness as that which has wrought silence
and abandonment in this sad chamber where we are. In the same way as they
are afraid of worship at her tomb, so are they afraid of crowds coming
and kneeling here, should two candles burn or a couple of bouquets of
roses bloom upon this chimney. And if a paralytic woman were to rise
shouting that she was cured, what a scandal would arise, how disturbed
would be those good traders of the Grotto on seeing their monopoly
seriously threatened! They are the masters, and the masters they intend
to remain; they will not part with any portion of the magnificent farm
that they have acquired and are working. Nevertheless they tremble--yes,
they tremble at the memory of the workers of the first hour, of that
little girl who is still so great in death, and for whose huge
inheritance they burn with such greed that after having sent her to live
at Nevers, they dare not even bring back her corpse, but leave it
imprisoned beneath the flagstones of a convent!"

Ah! how wretched was the fate of that poor creature, who had been cut off
from among the living, and whose corpse in its turn was condemned to
exile! And how Pierre pitied her, that daughter of misery, who seemed to
have been chosen only that she might suffer in her life and in her death!
Even admitting that an unique, persistent will had not compelled her to
disappear, still guarding her even in her tomb, what a strange succession
of circumstances there had been--how it seemed as if someone, uneasy at
the idea of the immense power she might grasp, had jealously sought to
keep her out of the way! In Pierre's eyes she remained the chosen one,
the martyr; and if he could no longer believe, if the history of this
unfortunate girl sufficed to complete within him the ruin of his faith,
it none the less upset him in all his brotherly love for mankind by
revealing a new religion to him, the only one which might still fill his
heart, the religion of life, of human sorrow.

Just then, before leaving the room, Doctor Chassaigne exclaimed: "And
it's here that one must believe, my dear child. Do you see this obscure
hole, do you think of the resplendent Grotto, of the triumphant Basilica,
of the town built, of the world created, the crowds that flock to
Lourdes! And if Bernadette was only hallucinated, only an idiot, would
not the outcome be more astonishing, more inexplicable still? What! An
idiot's dream would have sufficed to stir up nations like this! No! no!
The Divine breath which alone can explain prodigies passed here."

Pierre was on the point of hastily replying "Yes!" It was true, a breath
had passed there, the sob of sorrow, the inextinguishable yearning
towards the Infinite of hope. If the dream of a suffering child had
sufficed to attract multitudes, to bring about a rain of millions and
raise a new city from the soil, was it not because this dream in a
measure appeased the hunger of poor mankind, its insatiable need of being
deceived and consoled? She had once more opened the Unknown, doubtless at
a favourable moment both socially and historically; and the crowds had
rushed towards it. Oh! to take refuge in mystery, when reality is so
hard, to abandon oneself to the miraculous, since cruel nature seems
merely one long injustice! But although you may organise the Unknown,
reduce it to dogmas, make revealed religions of it, there is never
anything at the bottom of it beyond the appeal of suffering, the cry of
life, demanding health, joy, and fraternal happiness, and ready to accept
them in another world if they cannot be obtained on earth. What use is it
to believe in dogmas? Does it not suffice to weep and love?

Pierre, however, did not discuss the question. He withheld the answer
that was on his lips, convinced, moreover, that the eternal need of the
supernatural would cause eternal faith to abide among sorrowing mankind.
The miraculous, which could not be verified, must be a food necessary to
human despair. Besides, had he not vowed in all charity that he would not
wound anyone with his doubts?

"What a prodigy, isn't it?" repeated the doctor.

"Certainly," Pierre ended by answering. "The whole human drama has been
played, all the unknown forces have acted in this poor room, so damp and

They remained there a few minutes more in silence; they walked round the
walls, raised their eyes toward the smoky ceiling, and cast a final
glance at the narrow, greenish yard. Truly it was a heart-rending sight,
this poverty of the cobweb level, with its dirty old barrels, its
worn-out tools, its refuse of all kinds rotting in the corners in heaps.
And without adding a word they at last slowly retired, feeling extremely

It was only in the street that Doctor Chassaigne seemed to awaken. He
gave a slight shudder and hastened his steps, saying: "It is not
finished, my dear child; follow me. We are now going to look at the other
great iniquity." He referred to Abbe Peyramale and his church.

They crossed the Place du Porche and turned into the Rue Saint Pierre; a
few minutes would suffice them. But their conversation had again fallen
on the Fathers of the Grotto, on the terrible, merciless war waged by
Father Sempe against the former Cure of Lourdes. The latter had been
vanquished, and had died in consequence, overcome by feelings of
frightful bitterness; and, after thus killing him by grief, they had
completed the destruction of his church, which he had left unfinished,
without a roof, open to the wind and to the rain. With what a glorious
dream had that monumental edifice filled the last year of the Cure's
life! Since he had been dispossessed of the Grotto, driven from the work
of Our Lady of Lourdes, of which he, with Bernadette, had been the first
artisan, his church had become his revenge, his protestation, his own
share of the glory, the House of the Lord where he would triumph in his
sacred vestments, and whence he would conduct endless processions in
compliance with the formal desire of the Blessed Virgin. Man of authority
and domination as he was at bottom, a pastor of the multitude, a builder
of temples, he experienced a restless delight in hurrying on the work,
with the lack of foresight of an eager man who did not allow indebtedness
to trouble him, but was perfectly contented so long as he always had a
swarm of workmen busy on the scaffoldings. And thus he saw his church
rise up, and pictured it finished, one bright summer morning, all new in
the rising sun.

Ah! that vision constantly evoked gave him courage for the struggle,
amidst the underhand, murderous designs by which he felt himself to be
enveloped. His church, towering above the vast square, at last rose in
all its colossal majesty. He had decided that it should be in the
Romanesque style, very large, very simple, its nave nearly three hundred
feet long, its steeple four hundred and sixty feet high. It shone out
resplendently in the clear sunlight, freed on the previous day of the
last scaffolding, and looking quite smart in its newness, with its broad
courses of stone disposed with perfect regularity. And, in thought, he
sauntered around it, charmed with its nudity, its stupendous candour, its
chasteness recalling that of a virgin child, for there was not a piece of
sculpture, not an ornament that would have uselessly loaded it. The roofs
of the nave, transept, and apse were of equal height above the
entablature, which was decorated with simple mouldings. In the same way
the apertures in the aisles and nave had no other adornments than
archivaults with mouldings, rising above the piers. He stopped in thought
before the great coloured glass windows of the transept, whose roses were
sparkling; and passing round the building he skirted the semicircular
apse against which stood the vestry building with its two rows of little
windows; and then he returned, never tiring of his contemplation of that
regal ordonnance, those great lines standing out against the blue sky,
those superposed roofs, that enormous mass of stone, whose solidity
promised to defy centuries. But, when he closed his eyes he, above all
else, conjured up, with rapturous pride, a vision of the facade and
steeple; down below, the three portals, the roofs of the two lateral ones
forming terraces, while from the central one, in the very middle of the
facade, the steeple boldly sprang. Here again columns resting on piers
supported archivaults with simple mouldings. Against the gable, at a
point where there was a pinnacle, and between the two lofty windows
lighting the nave, was a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes under a canopy. Up
above, were other bays with freshly painted luffer-boards. Buttresses
started from the ground at the four corners of the steeple-base, becoming
less and less massive from storey to storey, till they reached the spire,
a bold, tapering spire in stone, flanked by four turrets and adorned with
pinnacles, and soaring upward till it vanished in the sky. And to the
parish priest of Lourdes it seemed as if it were his own fervent soul
which had grown and flown aloft with this spire, to testify to his faith
throughout the ages, there on high, quite close to God.

At other times another vision delighted him still more. He thought he
could see the inside of his church on the day of the first solemn mass he
would perform there. The coloured windows threw flashes of fire brilliant
like precious stones; the twelve chapels, the aisles, were beaming with
lighted candles. And he was at the high altar of marble and gold; and the
fourteen columns of the nave in single blocks of Pyrenean marble,
magnificent marble purchased with money that had come from the four
corners of Christendom, rose up supporting the vaulted roof, while the
sonorous voices of the organs filled the whole building with a hymn of
joy. A multitude of the faithful was gathered there, kneeling on the
flags in front of the choir, which was screened by ironwork as delicate
as lace, and covered with admirably carved wood. The pulpit, the regal
present of a great lady, was a marvel of art cut in massive oak. The
baptismal fonts had been hewn out of hard stone by an artist of great
talent. Pictures by masters ornamented the walls. Crosses, pyxes,
precious monstrances, sacred vestments, similar to suns, were piled up in
the vestry cupboards. And what a dream it was to be the pontiff of such a
temple, to reign there after having erected it with passion, to bless the
crowds who hastened to it from the entire earth, while the flying peals
from the steeple told the Grotto and Basilica that they had over there,
in old Lourdes, a rival, a victorious sister, in whose great nave God
triumphed also!

After following the Rue Saint Pierre for a moment, Doctor Chassaigne and
his companion turned into the little Rue de Langelle.

"We are coming to it," said the doctor. But though Pierre looked around
him he could see no church. There were merely some wretched hovels, a
whole district of poverty, littered with foul buildings. At length,
however, at the bottom of a blind alley, he perceived a remnant of the
half-rotten palings which still surrounded the vast square site bordered
by the Rue Saint Pierre, the Rue de Bagneres, the Rue de Langelle, and
the Rue des Jardins.

"We must turn to the left," continued the doctor, who had entered a
narrow passage among the rubbish. "Here we are!"

And the ruin suddenly appeared amidst the ugliness and wretchedness that
masked it.

The whole great carcase of the nave and the aisles, the transept and the
apse was standing. The walls rose on all sides to the point where the
vaulting would have begun. You entered as into a real church, you could
walk about at ease, identifying all the usual parts of an edifice of this
description. Only when you raised your eyes you saw the sky; the roofs
were wanting, the rain could fall and the wind blow there freely. Some
fifteen years previously the works had been abandoned, and things had
remained in the same state as the last workman had left them. What struck
you first of all were the ten pillars of the nave and the four pillars of
the choir, those magnificent columns of Pyrenean marble, each of a single
block, which had been covered with a casing of planks in order to protect
them from damage. The bases and capitals were still in the rough,
awaiting the sculptors. And these isolated columns, thus cased in wood,
had a mournful aspect indeed. Moreover, a dismal sensation filled you at
sight of the whole gaping enclosure, where grass had sprung up all over
the ravaged, bumpy soil of the aisles and the nave, a thick cemetery
grass, through which the women of the neighbourhood had ended by making
paths. They came in to spread out their washing there. And even now a
collection of poor people's washing--thick sheets, shirts in shreds, and
babies' swaddling clothes--was fast drying in the last rays of the sun,
which glided in through the broad, empty bays.

Slowly, without speaking, Pierre and Doctor Chassaigne walked round the
inside of the church. The ten chapels of the aisles formed a species of
compartments full of rubbish and remnants. The ground of the choir had
been cemented, doubtless to protect the crypt below against
infiltrations; but unfortunately the vaults must be sinking; there was a
hollow there which the storm of the previous night had transformed into a
little lake. However, it was these portions of the transept and the apse
which had the least suffered. Not a stone had moved; the great central
rose windows above the triforium seemed to be awaiting their coloured
glass, while some thick planks, forgotten atop of the walls of the apse,
might have made anyone think that the workmen would begin covering it the
next day. But, when Pierre and the doctor had retraced their steps, and
went out to look at the facade, the lamentable woefulness of the young
ruin was displayed to their gaze. On this side, indeed, the works had not
been carried forward to anything like the same extent: the porch with its
three portals alone was built, and fifteen years of abandonment had
sufficed for the winter weather to eat into the sculptures, the small
columns and the archivaults, with a really singular destructive effect,
as though the stones, deeply penetrated, destroyed, had melted away
beneath tears. The heart grieved at the sight of the decay which had
attacked the work before it was even finished. Not yet to be, and
nevertheless to crumble away in this fashion under the sky! To be
arrested in one's colossal growth, and simply strew the weeds with ruins!

They returned to the nave, and were overcome by the frightful sadness
which this assassination of a monument provoked. The spacious plot of
waste ground inside was littered with the remains of scaffoldings, which
had been pulled down when half rotten, in fear lest their fall might
crush people; and everywhere amidst the tall grass were boards, put-logs,
moulds for arches, mingled with bundles of old cord eaten away by damp.
There was also the long narrow carcase of a crane rising up like a
gibbet. Spade-handles, pieces of broken wheelbarrows, and heaps of
greenish bricks, speckled with moss and wild convolvuli in bloom, were
still lying among the forgotten materials. In the beds of nettles you
here and there distinguished the rails of a little railway laid down for
the trucks, one of which was lying overturned in a corner. But the
saddest sight in all this death of things was certainly the portable
engine which had remained in the shed that sheltered it. For fifteen
years it had been standing there cold and lifeless. A part of the roof of
the shed had ended by falling in upon it, and now the rain drenched it at
every shower. A bit of the leather harness by which the crane was worked
hung down, and seemed to bind the engine like a thread of some gigantic
spider's web. And its metal-work, its steel and copper, was also
decaying, as if rusted by lichens, covered with the vegetation of old
age, whose yellowish patches made it look like a very ancient,
grass-grown machine which the winters had preyed upon. This lifeless
engine, this cold engine with its empty firebox and its silent boiler,
was like the very soul of the departed labour vainly awaiting the advent
of some great charitable heart, whose coming through the eglantine and
the brambles would awaken this sleeping church in the wood from its heavy
slumber of ruin.

At last Doctor Chassaigne spoke: "Ah!" he said, "when one thinks that
fifty thousand francs would have sufficed to prevent such a disaster!
With fifty thousand francs the roof could have been put on, the heavy
work would have been saved, and one could have waited patiently. But they
wanted to kill the work just as they had killed the man." With a gesture
he designated the Fathers of the Grotto, whom he avoided naming. "And to
think," he continued, "that their annual receipts are eight hundred
thousand francs. However, they prefer to send presents to Rome to
propitiate powerful friends there."

In spite of himself, he was again opening hostilities against the
adversaries of Cure Peyramale. The whole story caused a holy anger of
justice to haunt him. Face to face with those lamentable ruins, he
returned to the facts--the enthusiastic Cure starting on the building of
his beloved church, and getting deeper and deeper into debt, whilst
Father Sempe, ever on the lookout, took advantage of each of his
mistakes, discrediting him with the Bishop, arresting the flow of
offerings, and finally stopping the works. Then, after the conquered man
was dead, had come interminable lawsuits, lawsuits lasting fifteen years,
which gave the winters time to devour the building. And now it was in
such a woeful state, and the debt had risen to such an enormous figure,
that all seemed over. The slow death, the death of the stones, was
becoming irrevocable. The portable engine beneath its tumbling shed would
fall to pieces, pounded by the rain and eaten away by the moss.

"I know very well that they chant victory," resumed the doctor; "that
they alone remain. It is just what they wanted--to be the absolute
masters, to have all the power, all the money for themselves alone. I may
tell you that their terror of competition has even made them intrigue
against the religious Orders that have attempted to come to Lourdes.
Jesuits, Dominicans, Benedictines, Capuchins, and Carmelites have made
applications at various times, and the Fathers of the Grotto have always
succeeded in keeping them away. They only tolerate the female Orders, and
will only have one flock. And the town belongs to them; they have opened
shop there, and sell God there wholesale and retail!"

Walking slowly, he had while speaking returned to the middle of the nave,
amidst the ruins, and with a sweeping wave of the arm he pointed to all
the devastation surrounding him. "Look at this sadness, this frightful
wretchedness! Over yonder the Rosary and Basilica cost them three
millions of francs."*

  * About 580,000 dollars.

Then, as in Bernadette's cold, dark room, Pierre saw the Basilica rise
before him, radiant in its triumph. It was not here that you found the
realisation of the dream of Cure Peyramale, officiating and blessing
kneeling multitudes while the organs resounded joyfully. The Basilica,
over yonder, appeared, vibrating with the pealing of its bells, clamorous
with the superhuman joy of an accomplished miracle, all sparkling with
its countless lights, its banners, its lamps, its hearts of silver and
gold, its clergy attired in gold, and its monstrance akin to a golden
star. It flamed in the setting sun, it touched the heavens with its
spire, amidst the soaring of the milliards of prayers which caused its
walls to quiver. Here, however, was the church that had died before being
born, the church placed under interdict by a mandamus of the Bishop, the
church falling into dust, and open to the four winds of heaven. Each
storm carried away a little more of the stones, big flies buzzed all
alone among the nettles which had invaded the nave; and there were no
other devotees than the poor women of the neighbourhood, who came thither
to turn their sorry linen, spread upon the grass.

It seemed amidst the mournful silence as though a low voice were sobbing,
perhaps the voice of the marble columns weeping over their useless beauty
under their wooden shirts. At times birds would fly across the deserted
apse uttering a shrill cry. Bands of enormous rats which had taken refuge
under bits of the lowered scaffoldings would fight, and bite, and bound
out of their holes in a gallop of terror. And nothing could have been more
heart-rending than the sight of this pre-determined ruin, face to face
with its triumphant rival, the Basilica, which beamed with gold.

Again Doctor Chassaigne curtly said, "Come."

They left the church, and following the left aisle, reached a door,
roughly fashioned out of a few planks nailed together; and, when they had
passed down a half-demolished wooden staircase, the steps of which shook
beneath their feet, they found themselves in the crypt.

It was a low vault, with squat arches, on exactly the same plan as the
choir. The thick, stunted columns, left in the rough, also awaited their
sculptors. Materials were lying about, pieces of wood were rotting on the
beaten ground, the whole vast hall was white with plaster in the
abandonment in which unfinished buildings are left. At the far end, three
bays, formerly glazed, but in which not a pane of glass remained, threw a
clear, cold light upon the desolate bareness of the walls.

And there, in the middle, lay Cure Peyramale's corpse. Some pious friends
had conceived the touching idea of thus burying him in the crypt of his
unfinished church. The tomb stood on a broad step and was all marble. The
inscriptions, in letters of gold, expressed the feelings of the
subscribers, the cry of truth and reparation that came from the monument
itself. You read on the face: "This tomb has been erected by the aid of
pious offerings from the entire universe to the blessed memory of the
great servant of Our Lady of Lourdes." On the right side were these words
from a Brief of Pope Pius IX.: "You have entirely devoted yourself to
erecting a temple to the Mother of God." And on the left were these words
from the New Testament: "Happy are they who suffer persecution for
justice' sake." Did not these inscriptions embody the true plaint, the
legitimate hope of the vanquished man who had fought so long in the sole
desire of strictly executing the commands of the Virgin as transmitted to
him by Bernadette? She, Our Lady of Lourdes, was there personified by a
slender statuette, standing above the commemorative inscription, against
the naked wall whose only decorations were a few bead wreaths hanging
from nails. And before the tomb, as before the Grotto, were five or six
benches in rows, for the faithful who desired to sit down.

But with another gesture of sorrowful compassion, Doctor Chassaigne had
silently pointed out to Pierre a huge damp spot which was turning the
wall at the far end quite green. Pierre remembered the little lake which
he had noticed up above on the cracked cement flooring of the
choir--quite a quantity of water left by the storm of the previous night.
Infiltration had evidently commenced, a perfect stream ran down, invading
the crypt, whenever there was heavy rain. And they both felt a pang at
their hearts when they perceived that the water was trickling along the
vaulted roof in narrow threads, and thence falling in large, regular
rhythmical drops upon the tomb. The doctor could not restrain a groan.
"Now it rains," he said; "it rains on him!"

Pierre remained motionless, in a kind of awe. In the presence of that
falling water, at the thought of the blasts which must rush at winter
time through the glassless windows, that corpse appeared to him both
woeful and tragic. It acquired a fierce grandeur, lying there alone in
its splendid marble tomb, amidst all the rubbish, at the bottom of the
crumbling ruins of its own church. It was the solitary guardian, the dead
sleeper and dreamer watching over the empty spaces, open to all the birds
of night. It was the mute, obstinate, eternal protest, and it was
expectation also. Cure Peyramale, stretched in his coffin, having all
eternity before him to acquire patience, there, without weariness,
awaited the workmen who would perhaps return thither some fine April
morning. If they should take ten years to do so, he would be there, and
if it should take them a century, he would be there still. He was waiting
for the rotten scaffoldings up above, among the grass of the nave, to be
resuscitated like the dead, and by the force of some miracle to stand
upright once more, along the walls. He was waiting, too, for the
moss-covered engine to become all at once burning hot, recover its
breath, and raise the timbers for the roof. His beloved enterprise, his
gigantic building, was crumbling about his head, and yet with joined
hands and closed eyes he was watching over its ruins, watching and
waiting too.

In a low voice, the doctor finished the cruel story, telling how, after
persecuting Cure Peyramale and his work, they persecuted his tomb. There
had formerly been a bust of the Cure there, and pious hands had kept a
little lamp burning before it. But a woman had one day fallen with her
face to the earth, saying that she had perceived the soul of the
deceased, and thereupon the Fathers of the Grotto were in a flutter. Were
miracles about to take place there? The sick already passed entire days
there, seated on the benches before the tomb. Others knelt down, kissed
the marble, and prayed to be cured. And at this a feeling of terror
arose: supposing they should be cured, supposing the Grotto should find a
competitor in this martyr, lying all alone, amidst the old tools left
there by the masons! The Bishop of Tarbes, informed and influenced,
thereupon published the mandamus which placed the church under interdict,
forbidding all worship there and all pilgrimages and processions to the
tomb of the former priest of Lourdes. As in the case of Bernadette, his
memory was proscribed, his portrait could be found, officially, nowhere.
In the same manner as they had shown themselves merciless against the
living man, so did the Fathers prove merciless to his memory. They
pursued him even in his tomb. They alone, again nowadays, prevented the
works of the church from being proceeded with, by raising continual
obstacles, and absolutely refusing to share their rich harvest of alms.
And they seemed to be waiting for the winter rains to fall and complete
the work of destruction, for the vaulted roof of the crypt, the walls,
the whole gigantic pile to crumble down upon the tomb of the martyr, upon
the body of the defeated man, so that he might be buried beneath them and
at last pounded to dust!

"Ah!" murmured the doctor, "I, who knew him so valiant, so enthusiastic
in all noble labour! Now, you see it, it rains, it rains on him!"

Painfully, he set himself on his knees and found relief in a long prayer.

Pierre, who could not pray, remained standing. Compassionate sorrow was
overflowing from his heart. He listened to the heavy drops from the roof
as one by one they broke on the tomb with a slow rhythmical pit-a-pat,
which seemed to be numbering the seconds of eternity, amidst the profound
silence. And he reflected on the eternal misery of this world, on the
choice which suffering makes in always falling on the best. The two great
makers of Our Lady of Lourdes, Bernadette and Cure Peyramale, rose up in
the flesh again before him, like woeful victims, tortured during their
lives and exiled after their deaths. That alone, indeed, would have
completed within him the destruction of his faith; for the Bernadette,
whom he had just found at the end of his researches, was but a human
sister, loaded with every dolour. But none the less he preserved a tender
brotherly veneration for her, and two tears slowly trickled down his

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 4" ***

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