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Title: The Miracle Of The Great St. Nicolas - 1920
Author: France, Anatole
Language: English
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THE MIRACLE OF THE GREAT ST. NICOLAS

From “The Seven Wives Of Bluebeard & Other Marvellous Tales”

By Anatole France

Translated by D. B. Stewart

Edited By James Lewis May And Bernard Miall

John Lane Company MCMXX


ST. NICOLAS, Bishop of Myra in Lycia, lived in the time of Constantine
the Great. The most ancient and weighty of those authors who have
mentioned him celebrate his virtues, his labours, and his worth: they
give abundant proofs of his sanctity; but none of them records the
miracle of the salting-tub. Nor is it mentioned in the Golden Legend.
This silence is important: still one does not willingly consent to throw
doubt upon a fact so widely known, which is attested by the ballad which
all the world knows:

     “There were three little children
     In the fields they went to glean.”

This famous text expressly states that a cruel pork-butcher put
the innocents “like pigs into the salting-vat.” That is to say, he
apparently preserved them, cut into pieces, in a bath of brine. This is,
to be sure, how pork is cured: but one is surprised to read further on
that the three little children remained seven years in pickle, whereas
it is usual to begin withdrawing the pieces of flesh from the tub, with
a wooden fork, at the end of about six weeks. The text is explicit:
according to the elegy, it was seven years after the crime that St.
Nicolas entered the accursed hostelry. He asked for supper. The landlord
offered him a piece of ham:

     “‘Wilt eat of ham?   Tis dainty food.’
     ‘I’ll have no ham: it is not good.
     ‘Wilt cat a piece of tender veal?
     ‘I will not make of that my meal.
     Young salted flesh I want, and that
     Has lain seven years within the vat.
     Wheras the butcher heard this said
     Out of the door full fast he fled.”

The Man of God immediately resuscitated the tender victims by the laying
of hands on the salting-tub.

Such is, in substance, the story of the old anonymous rhyme. It bears
the inimitable stamp of honesty and good faith. Scepticism seems
ill-inspired when it attacks the most vital memories of the popular
mind. It is not without a lively satisfaction that I have found myself
able to reconcile the authority of the ballad with the silence of the
ancient biographers of the Lycian pontiff. I am happy to proclaim the
result of my long meditations and scholastic researches. The miracle of
the salting-tub is true, in so far as essentials are concerned, but it
was not the blessed Bishop of Myra who performed it; it was another St.
Nicolas, for there were two: one, as we have already stated, Bishop
of Myra in Lycia; the other more recent, Bishop of Trinqueballe in
Vervignole. For me was reserved the task of distinguishing between them.
It was the Bishop of Trinqueballe who rescued the three little boys from
the salting-tub. I shall establish the fact by authentic documents, and
no one will have occasion to deplore the end of a legend.

I have been fortunate enough to recover the entire history of the Bishop
Nicolas and the children whom he resuscitated. I have fashioned it
into in a narrative which will be read, I hope, with both pleasure and
profit.



CHAPTER I

NICOLAS, a scion of an illustrious family of Vervignole, showed marks of
sanctity from his earliest childhood, and at the age of fourteen vowed
to consecrate himself to the Lord. Having embraced the ecclesiastical
profession, he was raised, while still young, by popular acclamation and
the wish of the Chapter, to the see of St. Cromadaire, the apostle of
Vervignole, and first Bishop of Trinqueballe. He exercised his pastoral
ministry with piety, governed his clergy with wisdom, taught the people,
and feared not to remind the great of Justice and Moderation. He was
liberal, profuse in almsgiving, and set aside for the poor the greater
part of his wealth.

His castle proudly lifted its crenelated walls and pepper-pot roofs from
the summit of a hill overlooking the town. He made of it a refuge where
all who were pursued by the secular arm might find a place of refuge. In
the lower hall, the largest to be seen in all Vervignole, the table laid
for meals was so long that those who sat at one end saw it lose itself
in the distance in an indistinct point, and when the torches upon
it were lighted it recalled the tail of the comet which appeared in
Vervignole to announce the death of King Comus. The holy St. Nicolas sat
at the upper end. There he entertained the principal folk of the town
and of the kingdom, and a multitude of clergy and laymen. But on his
right there was always reserved a seat for the poor man who might come
begging for his bread at the door.

Children, particularly, aroused the solicitude of the good St. Nicolas.
He delighted in their innocence, and he felt for them with the heart of
a father and the bowels of a mother. He had the virtues and the morals
of an apostle. Yearly, in the dress of a simple monk, with a white staff
in his hand, he would visit his flock, desirous of seeing everything
with his own eyes; and in order that no adversity or disorder should
escape his notice he would traverse, accompanied by a single priest, the
wildest parts of his diocese, crossing, in winter, the flooded rivers,
climbing mountains, and plunging into the thick forests. One day, having
ridden since dawn upon his mule, in company with the Deacon Modernus,
thorny thickets through which his mount with difficulty forced a winding
path. The Deacon Modernus followed him with much difficulty on his mule,
which carried the baggage.

Overcome with hunger and fatigue, the man of God said to Modernus:

“Let us halt here, my son, and if you still have a little bread and wine
we will sup here, for I feel that I hardly have the strength to proceed
further, and you, although the younger, must be nearly as tired as I.”

“Monseigneur,” answered Modernus, “there remains neither a drop of wine
nor a crumb of bread; for, by your orders, I gave all to some people on
the road, who had less need of it than ourselves.”

“Without a doubt,” replied the Bishop, “had there been a few scraps
left in your wallet we should have eaten them with pleasure, for it
is fitting that those who govern the Church should be nourished on the
leavings of the poor. But since you have nothing left it is because God
has desired it so, and He has surely desired it for our good and profit.
It is possible that He will for ever hide from us the reason of this
favour: perhaps, on the other hand, He will quickly make it manifest.
Meanwhile, I think the only thing left for us is to push on until we
find some arbutus berries and blackberries for our own nourishment, and
some grass for our mules, and, being thus refreshed, to lie down upon a
bed of leaves.”

“As you please, Monseigneur,” answered Modernus, pricking his mount.

They travelled all night, and a part of the following morning; then,
having climbed a fairly steep ascent, they suddenly found themselves at
the border of the wood, and beheld at their feet a plain covered by a
yellowish sky, and crossed by four white roads, which lost themselves
in the mist. They took that to the left, an old Roman road, formerly
frequented by merchants and pilgrims, but deserted since the war had
laid waste this part of Vervignole. Dense clouds were gathering in the
sky, across which birds were flying; a stifling atmosphere weighed down
upon the dumb, livid earth. Lightning flashed on the horizon. They urged
on their wearied mules. Suddenly a mighty wind bent the tops of the
trees, making the boughs crack and the battered foliage moan. The
thunder muttered, and heavy drops of rain began to fall.

As they made their way through the storm, the lightning flashing about
them, along a road which had become a torrent, they perceived, by the
light of a flash, a house outside which there hung a branch of holly,
the sign of hospitality.

The inn appeared deserted; nevertheless, the host advanced towards them,
a man fierce yet humble, with a great knife at his belt, and asked what
they wished for.

“A lodging, and a scrap of bread, with a drop of wine,” answered the
Bishop, “for we are weary and benumbed with cold.”

While the host was fetching wine from the cellar, and Modernus was
taking the mules to the stable, St. Nicolas, sitting at the hearth
beside a dying fire, cast a glance round the smoky room. Dust and dirt
covered the benches and casks; spiders spun their webs between the
worm-eaten joists, whence hung scanty bunches of onions. In a dark
corner the salting-tub displayed its iron-hooped belly.

In those days the demons used to take a hand in domestic life in a
far more intimate fashion than they do to-day. They haunted houses,
concealed in the salt-box, the butter-tub, or some other hiding-place;
they spied upon the people of the house, and watched for the opportunity
to tempt them and lead them into evil. Then, too, the angels made more
frequent appearances among Christian folk.

Now a devil, as big as a hazel-nut, who was hidden among the burning
logs, spoke up and said to the holy Bishop:

“Look at that salting-tub, Father; it is well worth a look. It is the
best salting-tub in the whole of Vervignole. It is, indeed, the model
and paragon of salting-tubs. When the master here, Seigneur Garum,
received it from the hands of a skilful cooper he perfumed it with
juniper, thyme, and rosemary. Seigneur Garum has not his equal
in bleeding the meat, boning it, and cutting it up, carefully,
thoughtfully, and lovingly, and steeping it in salted liquors by which
it is preserved and embalmed. He is without a rival for seasoning,
concentrating, boiling down, skimming, straining, and decanting the
pickle. Taste his mild-cured pork, father, and you will lick your
fingers: taste his mild-cured pork, Nicolas, and you will have something
to say about it.”

But in these words, and above all in the voice that uttered them (it
grated like a saw), the holy Bishop recognized an evil spirit. He
made the sign of the Cross, whereupon the little devil exploded with a
horrible noise and a very bad smell, just like a chestnut thrown into
the fire without having had its skin split.

And an angel from Heaven appeared, resplendent in light and said to
Nicolas:

“Nicolas, beloved of the Lord, you must know that three little children
have been in that salting-tub for seven years; Garum, the innkeeper,
cut up these tender infants, and put them in salt and pickle. Arise,
Nicolas, and pray that they may come to life again. For, if you
intercede for them, O Pontiff, the Lord, who loves you, will restore
them to life.”

During this speech Modernus entered the room, but he did not see the
angel, nor did he hear him, for he was not sufficiently holy to be able
to communicate with the heavenly spirits.

The angel further said:

“Nicolas, son of God, lay your hands on the salting-tub, and the three
children will be resuscitated.”

The blessed Nicolas, filled with horror, pity, zeal, and hope, gave
thanks to God, and when the innkeeper reappeared with a jug in either
hand, the Saint said to him in a terrible voice:

“Garum, open the salting-tub!”

Whereupon, Garum, overcome by fear, dropped both his jugs.

And the saintly Bishop Nicolas stretched out his hands, and said:

“Children, arise!”

At these words, the lid of the salting-tub was lifted up, and three
young boys emerged.

“Children,” said the Bishop, “give thanks to God, who through me, has
raised you from out the salting-tub.”

And turning towards the innkeeper, who was trembling in every limb, he
said:

“Cruel man, recognize the three children whom you shamefully put to
death. May you loathe your crime, and repent, that God may pardon you!”

The innkeeper, filled with terror, fled into the storm, amidst the
thunder and lightning.



CHAPTER II

ST. NICOLAS embraced the three children and gently questioned them about
the miserable death which they had suffered. They related that Garum,
having approached them while they were gleaning in the fields, had lured
them into his inn, had made them drink wine, and had cut their throats
while they slept.

They still wore the rags in which they had been clothed on the day of
their death, and they retained, after their resurrection, a wild
and timid air. The sturdiest of the three, Maxime, was the son of a
half-witted woman, who followed the soldiers to war, mounted on an ass.
One night he fell from the pannier in which she carried him, and was
left abandoned by the roadside. From that time forward he had lived
solely by theft. The feeblest, Robin, could hardly recall his parents,
peasants in the highlands, who being too poor or too avaricious to
support him had deserted him in the forest. The third, Sulpice, knew
nothing of his birth, but a priest had taught him his alphabet. The
storm had ceased; in the buoyant, limpid air the birds were calling
loudly to one another. The smiling earth was green. Modernus having
fetched the mules, Bishop Nicolas mounted his, and carried Maxime
wrapped in his cloak: the deacon took Sulpice and Robin upon his
crupper, and they set off toward the city of Trinqueballe.

The road unfolded itself between fields of corn, vineyards, and meadows.
As they went along the great Saint Nicolas who already loved the
children with all his heart, examined them on subjects suitable to their
age, and asked them easy questions such as: “How much is five times
five?” or “What is God?” He obtained no satisfactory answers. But, far
from shaming them for their ignorance, he thought only of gradually
dissipating it by the application of the best pedagogic methods.

“Modernus,” he said, “we will teach them firstly the truths necessary
for salvation, and secondly the liberal arts, especially music, so that
they may sing the praises of the Lord. It will also be expedient to
teach them rhetoric, philosophy, and the history of men, plants, and
animals. I desire that they shall study, in their habits and their
structure, the animals, all of whose organs, in their wonderful
perfection, attest the glory of the Creator.”

Scarcely had the venerable Pontiff concluded this speech when a peasant
woman passed along the road, dragging by the halter an old mare so
heavily laden with branches cut with their leaves on that her knees were
trembling, and she stumbled at every step.

“Alas,” sighed the great St. Nicolas, “here is a poor horse carrying
more than its burden. He has unfortunately fallen into the hands of
unjust and hard-hearted masters. One should not overload any creature,
not even beasts of burden.”

At these words the three boys burst out laughing. The Bishop having
asked why they laughed so loudly:

“Because----” said Robin.

“That is----” said Sulpice.

“We laughed,” said Maxime, “because you mistook a mare for a horse.
Can’t you see the difference? It is very plain to me. Don’t you know
anything about animals?”

“I think,” said Modernus, “the first thing is to teach these children
manners.”

At every town, borough, village, hamlet or castle by which he passed,
St. Nicolas showed the people the children rescued from the salting-tub,
and related the great miracle performed by God, on his intercession;
whereupon they were all very joyful, and blessed him. Informed by
messengers and travellers of so prodigious an occurrence, the entire
population of Trinqueballe came out to meet their pastor, unrolling
precious carpets and scattering flowers in his path. The citizens, their
eyes wet with tears, gazed at the three victims who had escaped from the
salting-tub, and cried: “The Lord be praised!” But the poor children
knew no better than to laugh and stick out their tongues; this caused
further wonder and compassion, as being a palpable proof of their
innocence and misfortune.

The saintly Bishop Nicolas had an orphan niece, Mirande by name, who had
just reached her seventh year, and was dearer to him than the light of
his eyes. A worthy widow by name Basine was rearing her in piety, good
manners, and ignorance of evil. The three miraculously saved children
were confided to the care of this lady. She was not lacking in judgment.
She quickly saw that Maxime had courage, Robin prudence, and Sulpice
the power of reflection. She devoted herself to confirming these good
qualities, which, by the corruption common to the whole human race,
tended unceasingly to become perverted and distorted; for Robin’s
cautiousness turned easily into hypocrisy, and mostly hid a greedy
covetousness; Maxime was subject to fits of rage, and Sulpice frequently
and obstinately expressed false ideas in very important matters.
However, they were but mere children who went bird’s-nesting, stole the
garden fruit, tied cooking-pots to dogs’ tails, put ink the holy water
font, and cow-itch in Modernus’ bed.

At night, wrapped in white sheets and walking on stilts, they would go
into the gardens, and frighten into a swoon the serving-maids belated
in their lovers’ arms. They would cover the seat which Madame Basine
was wont to use with bristling spikes, and when she sat down they would
delight in her sufferings, observing the confusion with which she openly
applied a heedful and comforting hand to the damaged spot, for she would
not for all the world have been lacking in modesty.

In spite of her age and virtues, this lady inspired them with neither
love nor fear. Robin called her an old goat, Maxime an old she-ass, and
Sulpice, the ass of Balaam. They teased little Mirande in all sorts
of ways; they would dirty her pretty clothes by making her fall face
downward on the stones. Once they pushed her head right up to the neck
into a barrel of treacle. They taught her to sit astride railings, and
to climb trees, contrary to the decorum of her sex; they taught her
words and manners that smacked of the inn and the salting-tub. Following
their example, she called Madame Bassne “an old goat,” and even, taking
the part for the whole, “old goat’s rump.” But she remained completely
innocent. The purity of her soul was unchangeable.

“I am fortunate,” said the holy Bishop Nicolas, “in that I rescued these
children from the salting-tub, to make them good Christians. They will
become faithful servants of God, and their merits will be accounted to
me.”

Now, by the third year after their resurrection, when they were already
tall and well-made, on a day of spring, as they were all playing in the
field beside the river, Maxime in a moment of facetiousness and natural
high spirits, threw the Deacon Modernus into the water. Hanging on to
the branch of a willow-tree, Modernus called for help. Robin ran up,
made as though to draw him out by the hand, took off his ring, and fled.

Meanwhile, Sulpice, sitting motionless on the bank with his arms
crossed, said:

“Modernus is making a bad end. I can see six devils, in the form of
flittermice, ready to seize his soul as it comes out of his mouth.”

When this serious affair was reported to him by Madame Basine and
Modernus, the holy Bishop was much afflicted and fell a-sighing.

“These children,” he said, “were reared in suffering, by unworthy
parents. The excess of their misfortunes has caused the deformity of
their characters. We must redress their wrongs by enduring patience, and
persevering kindness.”

“Monseigneur,” answered Modernus, who was chattering with fever in his
dressing-gown, and sneezing under his nightcap, for his bath had given
him a cold, “it is possible that their wickedness is derived from the
wickedness of their parents. But how do you explain, father, the fact
that neglect has produced in each of them different and, so to speak,
contrary vices, and that the desertion and destitution into which
they were thrown before they were put in the salting-tub has made one
avaricious, a second violent, and the third a visionary? And in your
place, my Lord, I should feel most uneasy about the last.”

“Each of these children,” answered the Bishop, “has yielded in his weak
spot. Ill-treatment has deformed their souls in those portions that
offered the least resistance. Let us straighten them out with a thousand
precautions, for fear of increasing the evil instead of diminishing it.
Mildness, clemency, and forbearance are the only means which should ever
be employed for the improvement of men, heretics of course excepted.”

“No doubt, Monseigneur, no doubt,” said Modernus, sneezing three
times. “But you cannot have a good education without chastisement, nor
discipline without discipline. I know what I am about. If you do not
punish these three little ragamuffins, they will grow up worse than
Herod. I assure you I am right.”

“Modernus could not be mistaken,” said Madame Basine.

The Bishop did not answer. With the widow and the Deacon, he paced the
length of a hawthorn hedge, which breathed forth an agreeable fragrance
of honey and bitter almonds. In a slight hollow, where the soil received
the water from a neighbouring spring, he stopped before a bush, whose
twisted, close-packed branches were covered with gleaming, clean-cut
leaves and white clusters of flowers.

“Look,” he said, “at this leafy, fragrant shrub, this lovely may, this
noble thorn-bush, so strong and vigorous. Observe that it is in more
abundant leaf, and more glorious with bloom, than all the other thorns
in the hedge. But notice also that the pale bark of its branches bears
only a few thorns, which are weak and soft and blunt. What is the reason
of this? It is because, growing in a rich, moist soil, quiet and secure
in the wealth which sustains its life, it has utilized all the juices
of the earth to augment its power and its glory, and being too strong
to dream of arming against its feeble enemies, it has devoted itself
entirely to the joys of its magnificent and delicious fertility. Now
come a few steps up this rising path, and look at this other hawthorn,
which having with difficulty issued from a dry, stony soil, languishes,
deficient in both wood and leaves, and has had no other thought during
its hard life than to defend itself against the innumerable enemies that
threaten the weal. It is nothing but a bundle of thorns. It has employed
the little sap which it received in fashioning innumerable spears, broad
at the base, hard and sharp, which but ill restore confidence to
its apprehensive weakness. It has nothing left over for fruitful and
fragrant blossom. My friends, we are like the hawthorns. The care given
to our childhood makes us better. Too harsh an up bringing hardens us.”



CHAPTER III

WHEN Maxime was approaching his seventeenth year he filled the holy
Bishop Nicolas with grief and the diocese with scandal by forming and
training a company of rogues of his own age, with a view to kidnapping
the girls of a village called Grosses-Nates, situated at a distance
of four leagues from Trinqueballe. The expedition was marvellously
successful. The ravishers entered the village by night, clasping to
their bosoms the dishevelled virgins, who vainly uplifted to heaven
their burning eyes and imploring hands. But when the fathers, brothers,
and betrothed of these ravished maidens sought them out, they refused to
return to the place of their birth, alleging that they felt too deeply
shamed, and preferred to hide their dishonour in _the_ arms that
had caused it. Maxime, who, for his share, had taken the three most
beautiful, was living in their company in a little manor dependent upon
the episcopal See. In the absence of their ravisher, the Deacon Modernus
arrived, by order of the Bishop, to knock at their door, answering that
he came to set them free. They refused to open; and when he represented
to them the abomination of their lives they dropped upon his head
a crockful of dishwater, with the crock, by which his skull was
fractured.

Armed with a gentle severity, the holy Bishop reproached Maxime for this
violence and disorder:

“Alas,” he said, “did I draw you from out of the salting-box to the ruin
of the virgins of Vervignole?”

And he reproached him with the magnitude of his offence. But Maxime
shrugged his shoulders, and turned his back, without making any reply.

At that moment King Berlu, in the fourteenth year of his reign, was
assembling a powerful army to fight the Mambournians, the determined
enemies of his kingdom, who, having entered Vervignole, were ravaging
and depopulating the richest provinces of that great country.

Maxime left Trinqueballe without saying goodbye to a soul. When he was
some leagues distant from the town, seeing in a field a mare of moderate
quality, except that she was blind in one eye and lame, he jumped on her
back and galloped off. On the following morning, accidentally meeting
a farm lad who was taking a great plough horse to water, he immediately
dismounted, bestrode the great horse, and ordered the lad to mount the
blind mare, and to follow him, saying that he would take him for his
squire should he prove satisfactory. Thus equipped Maxime presented
himself to King Berlu, who accepted his services. He became in a very
short time one of Vervignole’s greatest captains.

Meanwhile, Sulpice was giving the holy Bishop cause for perhaps more
cruel, and certainly more momentous, uneasiness; for if Maxime sinned
grievously, he sinned without malice, and offending God without thought,
and, so to speak, unknowingly. But Sulpice set himself to do evil with a
greater and more unusual malignity. Being destined from early youth for
the Church he assiduously studied letters, both sacred and profane; but
his soul was a corrupted vessel, wherein Truth was turned into Error.
He sinned in spirit; he erred in matters of faith with surprising
precocity. At an age when people have as yet no ideas at all, he
overflowed with wrong ones. A thought occurred to him which was
doubtless suggested by the devil. In a field belonging to the Bishop he
gathered a multitude of boys and girls of his own age and, climbing into
a tree, he exhorted them to leave their fathers and mothers to follow
Jesus Christ, and to go in, parties through the country-side, burning
priories and presbyteries in order to lead the Church back into
evangelical poverty. This youthful mob, led away by emotion, followed
the sinner along the roads of Vervignole, singing canticles, burning
barns, pillaging chapels, and devastating the ecclesiastical lands. Many
of these crazy creatures perished of fatigue, hunger, and cold, or were
killed by villagers. The episcopal palace re-echoed with the complaints
of the priesthood and the lamentations of mothers.

The pious Bishop Nicolas sent for the originator of these disorders.
With extreme mildness, and infinite sadness, he reproached him for
having misused the Word for the misleading of souls, and reminded him
that God had not picked him out of the salting-tub in order that he
should attack the property of our Holy Mother, the Church.

“Consider, my son,” he said, “the greatness of your offence. You appear
before your pastor charged with turmoil, sedition, and murder.”

But young Sulpice, maintaining a horrid calm, answered with a voice full
of assurance, that he had not sinned, neither had he offended God; but,
on the contrary, he had acted in accordance with the bidding of Heaven,
for the good of the Church. And he professed before the dismayed Bishop
the false doctrines of the Manicheans, the Arians, the Nestorians, the
Sabellians, the Vaudois, the Albigenses, and the Bégards. So eager
was he to embrace these monstrous errors that he did not see how they
contradicted one another, and were mutually devoured in the bosom that
cherished and revived them.

The pious Bishop endeavoured to lead Sulpice back into the right path,
but he failed to overcome the unhappy lad’s obstinacy.

Having dismissed him, he knelt and prayed.

“I thank thee, O Lord, for having sent me this young man, as a whetstone
on which to sharpen my patience and my charity.”

While two of the children he had rescued from the salting-tub were
causing him so much pain, St. Nicolas was obtaining some consolation
from the third. Robin showed himself neither violent in his actions nor
arrogant in his thoughts. He had not the sturdy, ruddy appearance of
Maxime; nor the grave, audacious manner of Sulpice. Small, thin, yellow,
lined, and shrunken, of humble, obsequious and reverential bearing, he
devoted himself to assisting the Bishop and clergy, helping the clerks
to keep the accounts of the episcopal revenues, and making complicated
calculations with the assistance of balls threaded on rods; he even
multiplied and divided numbers in his head, without the use of slate or
pencil, with a rapidity and accuracy that would have been admired even
in a past master of money and finance. For him it was a pleasure to keep
the books of the Deacon Modernus, who, growing old, used to muddle the
figures and fall asleep at his desk. To oblige the Bishop, and obtain
money for him, he spared neither trouble nor fatigue. From the Lombards,
he learnt how to calculate both the simple and compound interest on a
sum of money for a day, week, month, or year; he feared not to visit
the filthy Jews in the black lanes of the Ghetto, in order to learn,
by mingling with them, the standard of metals, the price of precious
stones, and the art of clipping coin. Ultimately, with a little store
which he had accumulated by marvellous industry in Vervignole, in
Mondousiana, and even in Mambournia, he attended the fairs, tournaments,
pardons, and jubilees, to which people of all conditions flocked from
all parts of Christendom: peasants, burghers, clerics, and _seigneurs_;
there he changed their money, and every time he returned a little richer
than he had departed. Robin did not spend the money he had made, but
brought it to the Bishop.

St. Nicolas was extremely hospitable, and very liberal in almsgiving.
He spent all his property and that of the Church in making gifts to
pilgrims and assisting the unfortunate. Thus he continually found
himself short of money; and he was much obliged to Robin for the skill
and energy with which the young treasurer obtained the sums which he
required. The condition of penury in which the holy Bishop had placed
himself owing to his magnificence and liberality was greatly aggravated
by the condition of the times. The war which was ravaging Vervignole
also ruined the Church in Trinqueballe. The soldiery who were
fighting in the country-side about the town pillaged the farms, levied
contributions on the peasantry, drove out the religious orders, and
burned the castles and abbeys.

The clergy and the faithful could no longer contribute to the expenses
of their creed, and thousands of peasants, fleeing from the free-booters
came daily to beg their bread at the door of the episcopal palace. For
their sakes, the good St. Nicolas felt the poverty which he had never
felt for his own. Fortunately, Robin was always ready to lend him money,
which the holy pontiff naturally agreed to return in more prosperous
times.

Alas, the war was now raging throughout the kingdom, from north to
south, from east to west, attended by its two inseparable companions,
famine and pestilence. The peasantry turned robbers, and the monks
followed the armies. The inhabitants of Trinqueballe, having neither
wood for firing, nor bread to eat, died like flies at the approach of
winter. Wolves entered the outlying parts of the town, devouring little
children. At this sad juncture, Robin came to inform the Bishop that not
only was he unable to provide any further sum of money, however small,
but that being unable to obtain anything from his debtors, and being
pressed by his creditors, he had been compelled to hand over all his
assets to the Jews.

He brought this distressing news to his benefactor with the obsequious
politeness which was usual to him; but he appeared a great deal less
afflicted than he might have been in this grevions extremity. As a
matter of fact, he was hard put to it to conceal, under a long face, his
joyous feelings and his lively satisfaction. The parchment of his dry,
humble, yellow eyelids ill concealed the light of joy which shone from
his sharp eyes.

Sadly stricken, St. Nicolas remained quiet and serene under the blow.

“God will soon re-establish our declining affairs,” he said. “He will
not permit the house which He has built to be overthrown.”

“That is true,” said Modernus, “but you may be sure that Robin, whom you
drew out of the salting-tub, has made an arrangement with the Lombards
of Pont-Vieux and the Jews of the Ghetto to despoil you, and that he is
retaining the lion’s share of the plunder.”

Modernus spoke the truth. Robin had lost no money. He was richer than
ever, and had just been appointed treasurer to the King.



CHAPTER IV

AT this time Mirande was nearing the close of her seventeenth year.
She was beautiful, and well grown. An air of purity, innocence, and
artlessness hung round her like a veil. The length of her eyelashes,
which barred her blue eyes, and the childlike smallness of her mouth,
gave the impression that evil could never find means to enter into her.
Her ears were so tiny, so fine, so finished and so delicate, that the
least modest of men could never have dared to breathe into them any but
the most innocent of speeches. In the whole of Ver-vigbole no virgin
inspired so much respect, and none had greater need to do so, for she
was marvellously simple, credulous, and defenceless.

The pious Bishop Nicolas, her uncle, cherished her more dearly every
day, and was more deeply attached to her than one should be to any of
God’s creatures. He loved her, undoubtedly, in God; but he also loved
her for herself; he took great delight in her, and he loved to love her;
it was his only weakness. The Saints themselves are not always able to
cut through all the ties of the flesh.

St. Nicolas loved his niece, with a pure love, but not without
gratification of the senses. On the day following that on which he had
learned of Robin’s bankruptcy, he went to see Mirande in order to hold
pious converse with her, as was his duty, for he stood in the place of a
father to her, and had taken charge of her education.

She lived in the upper town, near the Cathedral in a house called “The
House of the Musicians,” because there were to be seen on its front men
and animals playing on divers instruments. There were, notably, an ass
playing a flute, and a philosopher, recognizable by his long beard and
ink-horn, clashing cymbals. Every one explained these figures according
to his fancy. It was the finest dwelling-house in the town.

The Bishop found his niece crouching on the floor, with dishevelled
hair, her eyes glittering with tears, by the side of an empty, open
coffer, in a room full of confusion.

He inquired of her the reason of this affliction, and of the disorder
that prevailed around her. Turning upon him her despairing gaze, she
told him with a thousand sighs that Robin, the Robin who had escaped
from the salting-tub, the darling Robin, having many a time told her
that if she ever wanted a dress, an ornament or a jewel, he would gladly
lend her the money wherewith to buy it, she had frequently had recourse
to his kindness, which appeared inexhaustible; but that very morning a
Jew called Seligmann had come to her with four sheriff’s officers, had
presented the notes, signed by herself, which she had given Robin, and
as she had not the money to pay them he had taken away all the clothes,
head-dresses and jewels which she possessed.

“He has taken,” she sobbed, “my bodices and petticoats of velvet,
brocade and lace; my diamonds, my emeralds, my sapphires, my jacinths,
my amethysts, my rubies, my garnets, and my turquoises; he has taken my
great diamond cross, with angels’ heads in enamel, my large necklace,
consisting of two table diamonds, three cabochons, and six knots each
of four pearls; he has taken my great collar of thirteen table diamonds,
and twenty hanging pearls!”

And without saying more she wept bitterly into her handkerchief.

“My daughter,” answered the saintly Bishop, “a Christian virgin is
sufficiently adorned when she wears modesty for a necklace, and chastity
for a girdle. None the less, as the scion of a most noble and most
illustrious family it was right that you should wear diamonds and
pearls. Your jewels were the treasury of the poor, and I deplore the
fact that they should have been snatched from you.”

He assured her that she would certainly recover them, either in this
world or the next; he said everything possible to assuage her regret,
and soothe her sorrow, and he comforted her. For she had a tender
soul, which longed for consolation. But he himself left her full of
affliction.

On the following day, as he was about to celebrate Mass in the
cathedral, the holy Bishop saw coming towards him, in the sacristy, the
three Jews, Seligmann, Issachar, and Meyer, who, wearing green hats and
fillets upon their shoulders, very humbly presented him the notes which
Robin had made over to them. As the venerable pontiff could not pay
diem, they called up twenty porters, with baskets, sacks, picklocks,
carts, cords, and ladders, and commenced to pick the locks of the
wardrobes, coffers, and tabernacles. The holy man cast on them a look
which would have destroyed three Christians. He threatened them with the
penalties of sacrilege, both in this world and the next, he pointed
out that their mere presence in the house of the God, whom they had
crucified, called down the fire of heaven upon their heads. They
listened with the calm of people for whom anathema, reprobation,
malediction, and execration were their daily bread. He then prayed to
them, besought them, and promised to pay as soon as he could, twofold,
threefold, tenfold, a hundredfold, the debt which they had acquired.
They excused themselves politely for being unable to postpone the little
transaction. The Bishop threatened to sound the tocsin, to rouse against
them the people who would kill them like dogs for profaning, violating,
and stealing the miraculous images and holy relics. They smilingly
pointed to the sheriff’s officers, who were guarding them. They were
protected by King Berln, for they lent him money. At this sight the holy
Bishop, recognizing that resistance would be rebellion, and remembering
Him who replaced the ear of Malchus, remained inert and speechless, and
bitter tears dropped from his eyes. Seligmann, Issachar, and Meyer
took away the golden shrines enriched with precious stones, enamels and
cabochons, the reliquaries in the form of chalices, lanterns, naves, and
towers, the portable altars of alabaster encased in gold and silver, the
coffers enamelled by the skilful craftsmen of Limoges and the Rhine, the
altar-crosses, the Gospels bound in carved ivory and antique cameos,
the desks ornamented with festoons of trailing vines, the consular
registers, the pyxes, the candelabra and candlesticks, the lamp, of
which they blew out the sacred flame, and spilt the blessed oil on the
tiles, the chandeliers like enormous crowns, the duplets with beads of
pearl and amber, the eucharistie doves, the ciboria, the chalices, the
patens, the kisses of peace, incense boxes and flagons, the innumerable
ex-votos--hands, arms, legs, eyes, mouths, and hearts, all of
silver--the nose of King Sidoc, the breast of Queen Blandine, and the
head in solid gold of Saint Cromadaire, the first apostle of Vervignole,
and the blessed patron of Trinqueballe. They even carried off the
miraculous image of St. Gibbosine, whom the people of Vervignole had
never invoked in vain in time of pestilence, famine, or war. This very
ancient and venerable image was made of leaves of beaten gold nailed
upon a core of cedar-wood, and was covered with precious stones of the
bigness of ducks’ eggs, which emitted fiery rays of red, blue, yellow
and violet and white. For the past three hundred years her enamelled
eyes, wide open in her golden face, had compelled such respect from the
inhabitants of Trinqueballe that they saw her in their dreams, splendid
and terrible, threatening them with the direst penalties if they
failed to supply her with sufficient quantities of virgin- wax and
crown-pieces. St. Gibbosine groaned, trembled, and tottered on her
pedestal, and allowed herself to be carried away without resistance,
out of the basilica to which, from time immemorial, she had drawn
innumerable pilgrims.

After the departure of these sacrilegious thieves the holy Bishop
Nicolas ascended the steps of the despoiled altar, and consecrated the
blood of our Lord in an old silver chalice, of German origin, thin and
deeply dented. He prayed for the afflicted, and in particular for Robin,
whom, by the will of God, he had rescued from the salting-box.



CHAPTER V

SHORTLY after this, King Berlu defeated the Mambournians in a great
battle. He was, at first, unaware of the fact, for armed conflicts
always present a great confusion, and during the last two hundred years
the Vervignolians had lost the habit of victory. But the precipitate
and disordered flight of the Mambournians informed him of his advantage.
Instead of fighting a rear-guard action he pursued the enemy, and
regained half his kingdom. The victorious army entered the city of
Trinqueballe, all beflagged and beflowered in its honour, and in that
illustrious capital of Vervignole it committed a great number of rapes,
thefts, murders, and other cruelties, burnt several houses, sacked the
churches, and took from the cathedral all that the Jews had left there,
which, truth to tell, was not much.

Maxime, who having become a knight and commander of eighty lances, had
largely contributed to the victory, was one of the first to enter the
city, and repaired straightway to the House of the Musicians, where
dwelt the beautiful Mirande, whom he had not seen since his departure
for the war. He found her in her bower, plying her distaff, and fell
upon her with such impetuosity that the young lady lost her innocence
without, so to speak, realizing that she had done so. And when, having
recovered from her surprise, she exclaimed: “Is it you, Seigneur Maxime?
What are you doing here?” and was preparing as in duty bound to resist
her aggressor, he was quietly walking down the street, readjusting his
armour and ogling the girls.

Possibly she would have entirely overlooked this offence, had it not
been that some time later she found that she was about to become a
mother. Captain Maxime was then fighting in Mambournia. All the town
knew her shame: she confided it to the great St. Nicolas, who, on
learning this astonishing news, lifted his eyes to heaven, and said:

“Lord, did you rescue this man from the salting-tub only as a ravening
wolf to devour my sheep? Your wisdom is adorable; but your ways are
dark, and your designs mysterious.”

And in that same year, on the Sunday of Mid-Lent, Sulpice threw himself
at the feet of the holy Bishop, saying:

“From my earliest youth, my keenest wish has been to consecrate myself
to the Lord. Allow me, father, to embrace the monastic state, and
to make my profession in the monastery of the mendicant friars of
Trinqueballe.”

“My son,” answered the good St. Nikolas, “there is no worthier condition
than that of the monk. Happy is he who in the shade of the cloister
takes shelter from the tempests of the age. But of what avail to flee
the storm if the storm is within oneself? Of what avail to affect an
outward show of humility, if one’s bosom contains a heart full of pride?
What shall you profit by donning the livery of obedience if your soul
be in revolt? I have seen you, my son, fall into more errors than
Sabellius, Alius, Nestorius, Eutyches, Manes, Pelagius, and Pachosius
combined, and revive, before your twentieth year, twelve centuries of
peculiar opinions. It is true that you have not been very obstinate
in any of them, but your successive recantations appear to betray less
submission to our Holy Mother the Church than eagerness to rush from one
error to another, to leap from Manicheeism to Sabellianism, and from
the crime of the Albigenses to the ignominies of the Vaudois.”

Sulpice listened to this discourse with a contrite heart, a simplicity
of mind and submissiveness, that drew tears from the great St. Nicolas.

“I deplore, repudiate, condemn, reprove, detest, execrate, and abominate
my errors, past, present, and future,” he said. “I submit myself to the
Church fully and entirely, totally and generally, purely and simply; and
I have no belief but her belief, no faith but her faith, no knowledge
but her knowledge: I neither see, hear, nor feel, save only through her.
She might tell me that the fly which has but now settled on the nose
of the Deacon Modernus was a camel, and I should incontinently, without
dispute, contest, murmur, resistance, hesitation or doubt, believe,
declare, proclaim, and confess, under torture and unto death, that it
was a camel that settled on the nose of the Deacon Modernus. For the
Church is the Fountain of Truth, and I am nought by myself but a vile
receptacle of Error.”

“Take care, my father,” said Modernus. “Sulpice is capable of overdoing
submission to the Church even to the point of Heresy. Do you not see
that he submits with frenzy, in transports and swooning? Is wallowing in
submission a good way of submitting? He is annihilating himself; he is
committing suicide.”

But the Bishop reprimanded his deacon for holding such ideas, which
were contrary to charity, and sent the postulant to the noviciate of the
mendicant friars of Trinqueballe.

Alas, at the end of a year those priests, till then so quiet and humble,
were torn by frightful schisms, plunged into a thousand errors against
the Catholic truth, their days filled with disorder, and their souls
with sedition! Sulpice inspired the brothers with this poison. He
sustained against his superiors that there was no longer any true Pope,
since miracles no longer accompanied the elections of the Sovereign
Pontiffs; nor, rightly speaking, any Church, since Christians had ceased
to live the life of the apostles and the first of the faithful; that
there was no purgatory; that it was not necessary to confess to a priest
if one confessed to God; that men do wrong in making use of moneys
of gold and silver, for they should share in common the fruits of
the earth. These abominable maxims, which he forcibly sustained, were
combated by some, and adopted by others, causing horrible scandals.
A little later Sulpice taught the doctrine of perfect purity, which
nothing can soil, and the good brothers’ monastery became like a cage of
monkeys. This pestilence did not remain confined within the walls of a
monastery. Sulpice went preaching through the city; his eloquence, the
internal fire by which he was consumed, the simplicity of his life, and
his unshakable courage touched all hearts.

On hearing the voice of the reformer, the ancient city, evangelized by
St. Cromadaire, and enlightened by St. Gibbosine, fell into disorder and
dissolution; every sort of extravagance and impiety was committed there,
by day and by night. In vain did the great St. Nicolas warn his flock by
exhortations, threats, and fulminations. The evil increased unchecked,
and it was sad to see the contagion spreading itself among the
well-to-do townsfolk, the lords, and the clergy, as much as and more
than among the poor artisans and the small tradesfolk.

One day when the man of God was lamenting the deplorable state of the
church of Vervignole in the cloister of the cathedral, his meditations
were disturbed by strange shrieks, and he saw a woman, stark naked,
walking on all fours, with a peacock’s feather for a tail. As she came
nearer, she barked, sniffed, and licked the ground. Her fair head
was covered with mud, and her whole body was a mass of filth. In this
unhappy creature the holy Bishop Nicolas recognized his niece Mirande.

“What do you there, my daughter?” he cried. “Why are you naked, and
wherefore do you walk on your hands and knees? Have you no shame?”

“No, uncle, I am not ashamed,” sweetly replied Mirande. “I should, on
the contrary, be ashamed of any other gesture, or method of progression.
If one wishes to please God, it is thus that one should behave. The holy
Brother Sulpice taught me to conduct myself thus, in order to resemble
the beasts, who are nearer to God than is Man, in that they have not
sinned. So long as I am in the state in which you see me, there will be
no danger of my sinning. I have come, uncle, to beg you in all love and
charity to do likewise; for unless you do you cannot be saved. Remove,
I beg, your clothes, and adopt the posture of the animals, in whom God
joyfully sees His image which has not been distorted by sin. I give you
this advice by order of the holy brother Sulpice, and consequently by
order of God Himself, for the holy brother is in the Lord’s secrets.
Strip yourself naked, uncle, and come with me, so that we may show
ourselves to the people for their edification.”

“Can I believe my eyes and ears?” gasped the holy Bishop, whose voice
was stifled by sobs. “I had a niece blooming in beauty, virtue, and
piety; the three children whom I rescued from the salting-tub have
reduced her to the miserable condition in which I now see her. The first
has despoiled her of all her property, an abundant source of alms, and
the patrimony of the poor; the second has robbed her of her honour, and
the third has turned her into a heretic.”

He threw himself on the flagstones, embracing his niece, begging her to
renounce so evil a way of life, and adjuring her to reclothe herself,
and walk on her feet like a human being, ransomed by the blood of Jesus
Christ.

But she replied only by sharp yelps and lamentable shrieks.

Before long the town of Trinqueballe was filled with naked men and
women, walking on all fours and barking; they called themselves the
Edenites, and their ambition was to lead back the world to the times of
perfect innocence, before the unfortunate creation of Adam and Eve.

The Reverend Father Gilles Caquerole, a Dominican, inquisitor of
the faith in the city, university, and ecclesiastical province of
Trinqueballe, became uneasy concerning this novelty, and proceeded to
look into it minutely. In the most urgent fashion, by letters under his
seal, he invited the Bishop Nicolas, in co-operation with himself, to
arrest, imprison, interrogate, and sentence these enemies of God, and
especially their principal leaders, the Franciscan monk, Sulpice, and
a dissolute woman named Mirande. The great St. Nicolas burned with an
ardent zeal for the unity of the Church and the destruction of heresy,
but he dearly loved his niece. He hid her in the episcopal palace, and
refused to hand her over to the inquisitor Caquerole, who denounced him
to the Pope as an abettor of disorder and the propagator of a new and
very detestable heresy. The Pope enjoined Nicolas to no longer
withhold the guilty one from her legitimate judges. Nicolas eluded
the injunction, protested his obedience, and did not obey. The Pope
fulminated against him in the Bull _Maleficus pastor_, in which the
venerable pontiff was accused of being a disobedient member of the
Church, a heretic, or one smelling of heresy, a keeper of concubines,
a committer of incest, a corrupter of the people, an old woman and a
meddling old fool, and was passionately admonished.

In this way the Bishop did himself a great deal of harm without any
benefit to his beloved niece. King Berlu, having been threatened with
excommunication if he did not lend his secular arm to the Church in
pursuit of the Edenites, sent some men-at-arms to the episcopal palace
of Trinqueballe.

They tore Mirande from her asylum: she was brought before the inquisitor
Caquerole, thrown into a deep dungeon, and fed upon bread which the
jailers’ dogs had refused; but what afflicted her most was that she was
forcibly compelled to don an old frock and a hood, and that she could no
longer be certain of not sinning.

The monk Sulpice escaped the investigations of the Holy Office and
succeeded in reaching Mambournia, and found an asylum in a monastery of
that kingdom, where he established new sects even more pernicious than
the previous one.

Nevertheless, heresy, fortified by persecution, and exulting in danger,
now spread its ravages over the whole of Vervignole. All over the
kingdom there were seen in the fields thousands of naked men and women,
nibbling the grass, bleating, lowing, roaring, neighing, and contending
at night with sheep, cattle, and horses for the use of stable and
manger. The inquisitor informed the Holy Father of these horrible
scandals, and warned him that so long as the Protector of the Edenites,
the odious Nicolas, remained seated on the throne of St. Cromadaire, the
evil could only continue to increase. Conformably with this advice the
Pope hurled against the Bishop, like a thunderbolt, the Bull _Deterrima
quondam_, by which he deprived him of all his ecclesiastical functions,
and cut him off from the communion of the faithful.



CHAPTER VI

CRUSHED by the Vicar of Jesus Christ, steeped in bitterness, overwhelmed
by affliction, the holy Nicolas stepped down without regret from his
illustrious seat, and departed, no more to return thither, from the city
of Trinqueballe, which for thirty years had witnessed his pontifical
virtues and apostolic labours. There is in western Vervignole a lofty
mountain, whose peals are covered with perpetual snow; from its flanks
there descend, in spring, the foaming sonorous cascades that fill the
valley torrents with a water as blue as the sky. There, in a region
where grow the larch, the arbutus, and the hazel, some hermits supported
themselves on berries and milk. This mountain is called that of the
Saviour. It was here that St. Nicolas resolved to take refuge, and, far
from the world, to weep for his sins and those of man.

As he was climbing the mountain in search of some wild spot where he
might establish his habitation, having emerged above the clouds which
are almost always gathered about the flanks of the peak, he saw upon the
threshold of a hut an old man sharing his bread with a tame hind. His
hair fell over his forehead, and nothing could be perceived of his face
but the tip of his nose and a long white beard.

The holy Nicolas greeted him with these words:

“Peace be with you, brother.”

“It delights to dwell upon this mountain,” answered the recluse.

“I also,” replied the holy Nicolas, “have come hither to end, in calm,
days which have been disturbed by the tumult of the times and the
malignity of men.”

As he was speaking in this wise, the hermit gazed at him attentively.

“Are you not,” he said at length, “the Bishop of Trinqueballe, that
Nicolas whose work and virtues are extolled by men?”

When, by a sign, the holy pontiff admitted that he was that man, the
hermit threw himself at his feet.

“Monseigneur, to you I owe the saving of my soul, if, as I hope, my soul
is saved.”

Nicolas raised him with kindness, and asked him:

“My brother, how have I had the happiness to work for your salvation?”

“Twenty years ago,” replied the recluse, “when I was an innkeeper at
the edge of a wood, on a deserted road, I saw one day, in a field, three
little children gleaning. I lured them to my house, gave them wine to
drink, cut their throats in their sleep, cut them up into small pieces,
and salted them. On seeing them emerge from the salting-tub I was frozen
with terror; owing to your exhortations my heart melted; I experienced
a salutary repentance, and, fleeing from men, I came to this mountain,
where I consecrated my days to God. He bestowed His peace upon me.”

“What,” cried the holy Bishop, “you are that cruel Garum, guilty of so
heinous a crime! I praise God that he has accorded you a peaceful
heart, after the horrible murder of three children, whom you put in the
salting-tub like pigs; but as for me, alas! for having drawn them out
of it my life has been filled with tribulation, my soul steeped in
bitterness, and my Bishopric laid wholly desolate. I have been deposed,
excommunicated by the common Father of the Faithful. Why have I been so
cruelly punished for what I did?”

“Let us worship God,” said Garum, “and let us not ask His motives.”

The great St. Nicolas, with his own hands, built a hut near that of
Garum, and there, in prayer and penitence, he ended his days.





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