"That is another question. Come, I see that at present you are in fact in a state of fatigue requiring help."
"Comfort yourself therefore; go in peace and sin less, the greater part of your temptations will be remitted you; you can, if you choose, bear the remainder, only take care, if you fall henceforward, you will be without excuse, and I do not answer for it, that instead of mending, your condition will not be aggravated."
And as Durtal, stupefied, stammered out: "You believe—"
"I believe," said the priest, "in the mystical substitution of which I spoke to you; you will moreover experience it in yourself; the saints will enter into the lists to help you; they will take the overplus of the assaults which you cannot conquer; without even knowing your name, from their secluded province, nunneries of Carmelites and Poor Clares will pray for you, on receiving a letter from me."
And in fact, from that very day the most acute attacks ceased. Did he owe that cessation, that truce, to the intercession of the cloistered Orders, or to a change in the weather, which then took place, to the less heat of the sun, which gave way to floods of rain? He could not tell, but one thing was certain, his temptations were less frequent, and he could bear them with impunity.
This idea of convents in their compassion dragging him out of the mud in which he had stuck, and by their charity bringing him to the bank, excited him. He chose to go to the Avenue de Saxe, to pray in the home of the sisters of those who suffered for him.
This time there were no lights, no crowds, as on the morning when he had been present at a Procession, no odour of wax or incense, no sweeping by of robes of scarlet and cope of gold, all was deserted and dark.
He was there alone, in the sombre and dank chapel, smelling like stagnant water, and without saying rosaries mechanically, or repeating prayers by rote, he fell into a reverie, endeavouring to look somewhat clearly into his life, and take stock of himself. And while he thus pulled himself together, far-off voices came behind the grating, drew nearer and nearer, passed by the black sieve of the veil, and dropped round the altar, whose form rose dimly in the shadow.
These voices of the Carmelites aided Durtal to probe his despair deeply.
Seated in a chair, he said to himself: "When any one is as incapable as I am when I speak to Him, it is almost shameful to dare to pray, for indeed, if I think of Him, it is that I may ask for a little happiness; and that is foolish. In the immediate shipwreck of human reason, wishing to explain the terrible enigma of the meaning of life, one only idea comes to the surface, in the midst of the wreckage of thoughts which sink, the idea of an expiation felt rather than understood, the idea that the sole end assigned to life is sorrow.
"Every one has a sum of physical and moral suffering to pay, and whoever does not settle it here below, defrays it after death; happiness is only lent, and must be repaid; its very phantoms are like duties paid in advance on a future succession of sorrows.
"Who knows in that case whether anaesthetics which suppress corporal pain do not bring into debt those who use them? Who knows whether chloroform is not a means of revolt, and if the shrinking of the creature from suffering is not seditious, a rebellion against the will of Heaven? If this be so, the arrears of torture, the balance of distress, the warrants of pain avoided must accumulate terrible interest above, and justify the war cry of Saint Teresa, 'Lord, let me always suffer, or die;' this explains why, in their trials, the saints rejoice, and pray the Lord not to spare them, for they know that the purifying amount of ills must be paid in order to be free from debt after death.
"To be just, human nature would be too ignoble without pain, for it alone can raise the soul while purifying it, but all that is nothing less than consoling," he added. "What an accompaniment to these sad thoughts are the wailing voices of these nuns; it is truly frightful."
He ended by fleeing, and taking refuge, to shake off his depression, in the neighbouring convent at the bottom of the alley de Saxe, in a suburban lane, full of little cottages with gardens in front, where serpentine paths of pebbles wound round tufts of pot-herbs.
This was the convent of the Poor Clares of the Ave Maria, an Order still more strict than that of the Carmelites, poorer, less fashionable, more humble.
This cloister was entered by a little door, partly ajar; you ascended to the second storey without meeting anyone, and found a little chapel, through whose windows trees were visible, rocking to the chirping of riotous sparrows.
This too was a place of burial, but no longer, as though opposite a tomb at the bottom of a dark cavern, but rather a cemetery where birds sang in the sun among the branches, you might have thought yourself in the country, twenty miles from Paris.
The decoration of this bright chapel tried, however, to be gloomy; it was like those wine shops whose walls are made to look like those of caves, with false stones painted in the imitation plaster. Only the height of the nave manifested the childishness of the imposture, and declared the vulgarity of the deception.
At the end was an altar above a smooth waxed floor, and on either side of it a grating with a black veil. According to the rule of Saint Francis, all the ornaments, the crucifix, the candlesticks, the tabernacle, were of wood, no object was to be seen in metal, no flower, the only luxury in the chapel consisted of two modern stained windows, one of which represented Saint Francis, the other Saint Clare.
Durtal thought the sanctuary airy and delightful, but he only stayed there a few minutes, for there was not here, as at the Carmelites, an absolute solitude, a sombre peace; here there were always two or three Poor Clares trotting about the chapel, who looked at him while they were arranging the chairs, and seemed surprised at his presence.
They were annoying to him, and he feared he was the same to them, so much so that he went away; but this short stay was enough to efface, or at least to lessen the funereal impression of the neighbouring convent.
Durtal returned home, at once much appeased and much disquieted—much appeased in regard to his temptations, much disquieted about what he should do next.
He felt rising in him, and increasing ever more and more, the desire to have done with these strifes and fears, but he grew pale when he thought of reversing his life, once for all.
But if he still had hesitation and fear, he had no longer the firm intention of resisting; he now accepted in principle the idea of a change of existence, only he tried to retard the day, and put off the hour; he tried to gain time.
Then like people who grow angry at having to wait, on other days he wished to put off the inevitable moment no longer, and cried within himself that this must end; anything rather than remain as he was.
Then as this desire did not seem heard, he grew discouraged, would no longer think of anything, regretted the time past, and deplored that he felt himself carried along by such a current.
And when he was rather more cheerful, he tried again to examine himself. "In fact I do not at all know how I stand," he thought; "this flux and reflux of different wishes alarms me, but how have I come to this point, and what is the matter with me?" What he felt, since he became more lucid, was so intangible, so indefinite, and yet so continuous that he was obliged to give up understanding it. Indeed every time he tried to examine his soul, a curtain of mist arose, and hid from him the unseen and silent approach of he knew not what. The only impression which he carried with him as he rose, was that it was less that he advanced towards the unknown, but that this unknown invaded him, penetrated him, and little by little took possession of him.
When he spoke to the abbe of this state, at once cowardly and resigned, imploring and fearful, the priest only smiled.
"Busy yourself in prayer, and bow down your back," he said one day.
"But I am tired of bending my back, and of trampling always on the same spot," cried Durtal. "I have had enough of feeling myself taken by the shoulders and led I know not where, it is really time that in one way or another this situation came to an end."
"Plainly." And standing up, and looking him in the face, the abbe said, impressively,
"This advance towards God which you find so obscure and so slow is, on the contrary, so luminous and so rapid that it astonishes me, only as you yourself do not move, you do not take account of the swiftness with which you are borne along.
"Before long you will be ripe, and then without need to shake the tree you will fall off of yourself. The question we have now to answer is into what receptacle we must put you, when at last you fall away from your life."
"But ... but ..." thought Durtal, "we must at any rate come to an understanding; the abbe wearies me with his quiet assumptions, his receptacle in which he must place me. He does not, I suppose, think of making me a seminarist or a monk; the seminary, at my age, is devoid of interest, and as to the convent, it is attractive from the mystical point of view, and even enticing from the artistic standpoint, but I have not the physical aptitudes, still less the spiritual predispositions to shut myself up for ever in a cloister; but putting that aside, what does he mean?
"On the other hand he has insisted on lending me the works of Saint John of the Cross, and has made me read them; he has then an aim, for he is not a man to feel his way as he walks, he knows what he wishes and where he is going; does he imagine that I am intended for the perfect life, and does he intend to put me on my guard by this course of reading against the disillusions which, according to him, beginners experience? His scent seems to fail him there. I have a very horror of bigotry, and pious polish, but though I admire, I do not feel at all drawn towards the phenomena of Mysticism. No, I am interested in seeing them in others, I like to see it all from my window, but will not go downstairs, I have no pretension to become a saint, all that I desire is to attain the intermediate state, between goody-goodiness and sanctity. This is a frightfully low ideal, perhaps, but in practice it is the only one I am capable of attaining, and yet!
"Then these questions have to be faced! If I am mistaken and am obeying false impulses, I am, as I advance, on the verge of madness. How, except by a special grace, am I to know whether I am in the right way, or walking in the dark towards the abyss? Here, for instance, are those conversations between God and the soul so common in the mystical life; how can one be sure that this interior voice, these distinct words not heard with bodily ears, but perceived by the soul in a clearer fashion than if they came by the channels of sense, are true, how be sure that they emanate from God, not from our imagination or from the devil himself?
"I know, indeed, that Saint Teresa treats this matter at length in her 'Castles of the Soul,' and that she points out the signs by which we can recognize the origin of the words, but her proofs do not seem to me always as easy to discern as she thinks.
"'If these expressions come from God,' she says, 'they are always accompanied by an effect, and bring with them an authority which nothing can resist; thus a soul is in affliction, and the Lord simply suggests the words "trouble not thyself," and at once the whirlwind passes, and joy revives. In the second place, these words leave an indissoluble peace of mind, they engrave themselves on the memory, and often cannot be effaced.'
"'In the other case,' she continues, 'if these words proceed from imagination or from the demon, none of these effects are produced, a kind of uneasiness, anguish and doubt torments you, moreover the expressions evaporate in part, and fatigue the soul which endeavours in vain to recall them in their entirety.'
"In spite of these tokens, we are, in fact, standing on shifting ground in which we may sink at every step, but in his turn Saint John of the Cross intervenes, and tells you not to move. What then is to be done?
"'No one,' he says, 'ought to aspire to these supernatural communications and rest there, for two motives; first, humility, the perfect abnegation of refusing to believe in them; the second, that in acting thus, we deliver ourselves from the labour necessary to assure ourselves whether these vocal visions are true or false, and so we are dispensed from an examination which has no other profit for the soul than loss of time and anxiety.'
"Good—but if these words are really pronounced by God, we rebel against His will if we remain deaf to them. And then, as Saint Teresa declares, it is not in our power not to listen to them, and the soul can only think of what it hears when Jesus speaks to it. Moreover, all the discussions on this subject are uncertain, for one does not enter of one's own will into the strait way, as the Church calls it, we are led, and even thrown into it often against the will, and resistance is impossible, phenomena occur, and nothing in the world has power to check them; witness Saint Teresa, who, resist as she would by humility, fell into ecstasy under the divine breath, and was raised from the ground.
"No, these superhuman conditions alarm me, and I do not hold to knowing them by experience. As to Saint John of the Cross, the abbe is not wrong in calling him unique, but though he sounds the lowest strata of the soul, and reaches where human auger has never penetrated, he wearies me all the same in my admiration, for his work is full of nightmares which repel me; I am not certain that his hell is correct, and some of his assertions do not convince me. What he calls the 'night obscure' is incomprehensible; 'The sufferings of that darkness surpass what is possible,' he cries on each page. Here I lose foothold. I can imagine, though I have not experienced them, the moral and terrible pangs, of the deaths of friends and relations, love betrayed, hopes which failed, spiritual sorrows of all kinds, but such a martyrdom as he proclaims as superior to all others, is beyond me, for it is outside our human interests, beyond our affections; he moves in an inaccessible sphere, in an unknown world very far off.
"I am certainly afraid that this terrible saint, a true man of the south, abuses metaphor, and is full of Spanish affectation.
"Moreover I am astonished at the abbe on another point. He, who is so gentle, shows a certain leaning to the dry bread of Mysticism; the effusions of Ruysbroeck, of Saint Angela, of Saint Catherine of Genoa, touch him less than the arguments of saints who are hard reasoners; yet by the side of these he has advised me to read Marie d'Agreda, whom he ought not to fancy, for she has none of those qualities which are admired in the works of Saint Teresa and Saint John of the Cross.
"Ah! he may flatter himself that he has inflicted on me a complete disillusion, by lending me her 'Cite Mystique.'
"From the renown of this Spanish woman, I expected the breath of prophecy, wide outlooks, extraordinary visions. Not at all; her book is simply strange and pompous, wearisome and cold. Then the phraseology of her book is intolerable. All the expressions which swarm in those ponderous volumes, 'my divine princess,' 'my great queen,' when she addresses Our Lady, who in her turn speaks to her as 'my dearest,' just as Christ calls her 'my spouse,' 'my well-beloved,' and speaks of her continually as 'the object of my pleasure and delight,' the way in which she speaks of the angels as 'the courtiers of the great King,' set my nerves on edge and weary me.
"They smell of perriwigs and ruffles, bows and dances like Versailles, a sort of court mysticism in which Christ pontificates, attired in the costume of Louis XIV.
"Moreover Marie d'Agreda enters into most extravagant details. She tells us of the milk of Our Lady which cannot grow sour, of female complaints from which she was exempt, she explains the mystery of the conception by three drops of blood which fell from the heart into the womb of Mary, and which the Holy Ghost used to form the child; lastly, she declares that Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel played the part of midwives, and stood living, under human forms, at the lying-in of the Virgin.
"This is too strong. I know well that the abbe would say that we need not concern ourselves with these singularities and these errors, but that the 'Cite Mystique' is to be read in relation to the inner life of the Blessed Virgin. Yes, but then the book of M. Ollier, which treats of the same subject, seems to me curious and trustworthy in quite a different way."
Was the priest forcing the note, playing a part? Durtal asked himself this, when he saw how determined he was not to avoid the same questions during a certain time. He tried now and then, in order to see how the matter was, to turn the conversation, but the abbe smiled, and brought it back to the point he wished.
When he thought that he had saturated Durtal with mystical works, he spoke of them less, and seemed to attach himself mainly to the religious Orders, and especially to that of Saint Benedict. He very cleverly induced Durtal to become interested in this institution, and to ask him about it, and when once he had entered on this ground, he did not depart from it.
It began one day when Durtal was talking with him about plain chant.
"You have reason to like it," said the abbe, "for even independently of the liturgy and of art, this chant, if I may believe Saint Justin, appeases the desires and concupiscences of the flesh, 'affectiones et concupiscentias carnis sedat,' but let me assure you, you only know it by hearsay, there is no longer any true plain chant in the churches, these are like the products of therapeutics, only more or less audacious adulterations presented to you.
"None of the chants which are to some extent respected by choirs, the 'Tantum ergo,' for example, are now exact. It is given almost faithfully till the verse 'Praestet fides,' and then it runs off the rails, taking no account of the shades, which are, however, quite perceptible, that the Gregorian melody introduces when the text declares the impotence of reason and the powerful aid of Faith; these adulterations are still more apparent, if you listen to the 'Salve Regina' after Compline. This is abridged more than half, is enervated, blanched, half its pauses are taken away, it is reduced to a mere stump of ignoble music, if you had even heard this magnificent chant among the Trappists, you would weep with disgust at hearing it bawled in the churches at Paris.
"But besides the textual alteration of the melody as we now have it, the way in which the plain chant is bellowed is everywhere absurd. One of the first conditions for rendering it well, is that the voices should go together, that they should all chant in the same time syllable for syllable and note for note, in one word it must be in unison.
"Now, you can verify it yourself, the Gregorian melody is not thus treated; every voice takes its own part, and is isolated. Next, plain music allows no accompaniment, it must be chanted alone, without organ, it bears at most that the instrument should give the intonation and accompany it very softly, just enough if need be to sustain the pitch taken by the voices; it is not so that you will hear it given in the churches."
"Yes, I know it well," said Durtal. "When I hear it at St. Sulpice, St. Severin, or Notre Dame des Victoires, I am aware that it is sophisticated, but you must admit that it is even then superb. I do not defend the tricks, the addition of fiorituri, the falseness of the musical pauses, the felonious accompaniment, the concert-room tone inflicted on you at Saint Sulpice, but what can I do? in default of the original I must be content with a more or less worthless copy, and I repeat, even executed in that fashion the music is so admirable that I am enchanted by it."
"But," said the abbe quietly, "nothing obliges you to listen to the false plain chant, when you can hear the true, for saving your presence, there exists, even in Paris, a chapel where it is intact, and given according to the rules of which I have spoken."
"Indeed, and where is that?"
"At the Benedictine nuns of the Blessed Sacrament in the Rue Monsieur."
"And can anyone enter the convent and be present at the offices?"
"Anyone. Every day in the week, Vespers are sung at three o'clock, and on Sundays High Mass is said at nine."
"Ah, had I but known this chapel earlier," said Durtal, the first time he came out.
In fact it combined all the conditions he could wish. Situated in a solitary street, it had the completest privacy. The architect who built it had introduced no innovations or pretentiousness, had built a Gothic church, and introduced no fancies of his own.
It was cruciform, but one of the arms was scarcely the full length, for want of room, while the other was prolonged into a hall, separated from the choir by an iron grating above which the Blessed Sacrament was adored by two kneeling angels, whose lilac wings were folded over thin rose-coloured backs. Except these two figures, of which the execution was truly sinful, the rest was at least veiled by shadow, and was not too afflicting to the eyes. The chapel was dim, and always at the time of the offices, a young sacristan-sister, tall and pale, and rather bent, entered like a shadow, and each time that she passed before the altar she fell on one knee and bowed her head profoundly.
She seemed strange and scarcely human, gliding noiselessly over the pavement, her head bowed, with a band as low as her eyebrows, and she seemed to fly like a large bat when standing before the tabernacle she turned her back, moving her large black sleeves as she lighted the tapers. Durtal one day saw her features, sickly but charming, her eyelids dark, her eyes of a tired blue, and he guessed that her body was wasted by prayers, under her black robe drawn together by a leathern girdle ornamented by a little medal of the Blessed Sacrament of gilt metal, under the trimming, near her heart.
The grating of the enclosure, on the left of the altar, was large, and well lighted from behind, so that even when the curtains were drawn it was possible to see the whole chapter drawn up in file in their oaken stalls surmounted at the end by a higher stall in which the abbess sat. A lighted taper stood in the middle of the hall, and before it a nun prayed day and night, a cord round her neck, to expiate the insults offered to Jesus under His Eucharistic form.
The first time Durtal had visited the chapel, he had gone there on Sunday a little before the time of Mass, and he had been thus able to be present at the entry of the Benedictine nuns, behind the iron screen. They advanced two and two, stopped in the middle of the grating, turned to the altar and genuflected, then each bowed to her neighbour, and so to the end of this procession of women in black, only brightened by the whiteness of the head-band and the collar, and the gilt spot of the little monstrance on the breast. The novices came last, to be recognized by the white veils which covered their heads.
And when an old priest, assisted by a sacristan, began the mass softly at the end of the chapter, a small organ gave the tone to the voices.
Then Durtal might well wonder, for he had never before heard a sole and only voice made up of perhaps some thirty, of a tone so strange, a superterrestrial voice, which burnt upon itself, in the air, and intertwined its soft cooings.
This bore no resemblance to the icy and obstinate lament of the Carmelites, nor was it like the unsexed tone, the child's voice, squeaking, rounded off at the end of the Franciscan nuns, but quite another thing.
At La Glaciere in fact those raw voices, though softened and watered by prayers, kept somewhat of the drawling, almost vulgar, inflexion of the people from whom they came; they were greatly purified, but remained none the less human. Here the tenderness of tones was rendered angelic, that voice with no defined origin long bolted through the divine sieve, patiently modelled for the liturgical chant, caught fire as it unfolded, blazed in virginal clusters of white sound, died down, flowered out again in pale pleadings, distant, seraphic at the end of certain chants.
Thus interpreted the Mass gave a special accent to the sense of the sequences.
Standing, behind the grating, the convent answered the priest.
Durtal had then heard, after a mournful and solemn "Kyrie Eleison," sharp and almost tragic, the decided cry, so loving and so grave, of the "Gloria in Excelsis," to the true plain chant; he had listened to the Credo, slow and bare, solemn and pensive, and he was able to affirm that these chants were totally different from those which were sung everywhere in the churches. St. Severin and St. Sulpice now seemed to him profane; in the place of their gentle warmth, their curls and their fringes, the angles of their polished melodies, their modern endings, their incoherent accompaniments arranged for the organ, he found himself in the presence of a chant, thin, sharp and nervous, like the work of an early master, and saw the ascetic severity of its lines, its sonorous colouring, the brightness of its metal hammered out with the rude yet charming art of Gothic jewels, he heard under the woven robe of sound, the beating of a simple heart, the ingenuous love of ages, and he noticed that curious shade in Benedictine music; it ended all cries of adoration, all tender cooings in a timid murmur, cut short, as though shrinking in humility, effacing itself modestly as though asking pardon of God for daring to love Him.
"Ah, you were very right to send me there," said Durtal to the abbe when next he saw him.
"I had no choice," answered the priest, smiling, "for the plain chant is respected only in convents under the Benedictine rule. That grand Order has restored it. Dom Pothier has done for it what Dom Gueranger has done for the liturgy.
"Moreover, beyond the authenticity of the vocal text, and the manner of rendering it, there are still two essential conditions for restoring the special life of these melodies, and they are hardly found except in cloisters, first Faith, and next the understanding the meaning of the words sung."
"But," interrupted Durtal, "I do not suppose that the Benedictine nuns know Latin."
"I beg your pardon, among the nuns of Saint Benedict, and even among the cloistered sisters of other Orders there are a certain number who study the language enough to understand the Breviary and the Psalms. That is a serious advantage which they have over the choirs, composed for the most part of artisans without instruction and without piety, only simple workers with their voices.
"Now without wishing to abate your enthusiasm for the musical honesty of these nuns, I am bound to say, that in order to understand this magnificent chant in its height and breadth, you must hear it, not winnowed by the mouths of virgins, even if unsexed, but as it issues, unsmoothed, untrimmed from the lips of men. Unfortunately, though there are at Paris, in the Rue Monsieur and the Rue Tournefort, two communities of Benedictine nuns, there is not on the other hand a single monastery of Benedictine monks."
"At the Rue Monsieur do they absolutely follow the rule of Saint Benedict?"
"Yes; but over and above the usual vows of poverty, chastity, remaining in the cloister, obedience, they make a further vow of separation and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as formulated by Saint Mechtilde.
"And so they lead the most austere existence of any nuns. They scarcely taste flesh; they rise at two in the morning to sing Matins and Lauds, night and day, summer and winter, they take turns before the taper of reparation, and before the altar. It need not be said," continued the abbe after a pause, "that woman is stronger and braver than man; no male ascetic could live and lead such a life, especially in the enervating atmosphere of Paris."
"What perhaps astounds me still more," said Durtal, "is the kind of obedience exacted of them. How can a creature endowed with free will annihilate herself to such an extent?"
"Oh," said the abbe, "the obedience is the same in all the great Orders, absolute, without reserve; its formula is well summed up by Saint Augustine. Listen to this sentence which I remember to have read in a commentary on his rule:
"'We must enter into the feelings of a beast of burthen, and allow ourselves to be led like a horse or a mule, which have no understanding; or rather, that obedience may be still more perfect, since these animals kick against the spur, we must be in the hands of a superior like a block, or the stock of a tree, which has neither life, nor movement, nor action, nor will, nor judgment.' Is that clear?"
"It is most frightful! I quite admit," said Durtal, "that in exchange for such abnegation, the nuns must be powerfully aided from on high, but are there not some moments of falling away, some cases of despair, some instants in which they pine for a natural life in the open air, in which they lament that death in life which they have made for themselves; are there not days in which their senses wake and cry aloud?"
"No doubt; in the cloistered life the age of twenty-nine is terrible to pass, then a passionate crisis arises; if a woman doubles that cape, and she almost always does so, she is safe.
"But carnal emotions are not, to speak correctly, the most troublesome assault they have to undergo. The real punishment they endure in those hours of sorrow is the ardent, wild regret for that maternity of which they are ignorant; the desolate womb of woman revolts, and full of God though she be, her heart is breaking. The child Jesus whom they have loved so well then appears so far off and so inaccessible, and His very sight would hardly satisfy them, for they have dreamed of holding Him in their arms, of swathing and rocking Him, of giving Him suck, in one word, of being mothers.
"Other nuns undergo no precise attack, no assault to which a name can be given, but without any definite reason they languish and die suddenly, like a taper, blown out. The torpor of the cloister kills them."
"But indeed, Monsieur l'abbe, these details are far from encouraging."
The priest shrugged his shoulders. "It is the poor reverse of a splendid stuff," he said, "wonderful recompenses are granted, even in this world, to souls in convents."
"Nor do I suppose that if a nun fall, stricken in the flesh, she is abandoned. What does the Mother abbess in such a case?"
"She acts according to the bodily temperament and state of the soul of the sick person. Note that she has been able to follow her during the years of her probation, that she has necessarily gained an influence over her; at such times therefore she will watch her daughter very closely, endeavour to turn the course of her ideas, breaking her by hard work, and by occupying her mind; she must not leave her alone, must diminish her prayers, if need be, restrict her hours of office, lessen her fasts, give her, if the case demands it, better food. In other cases, on the contrary, she will have recourse to more frequent communions, lessen her food or cause her to be blooded, mix cooling meats with her diet, and above all things she and all the community must pray for her.
"An old Benedictine abbess, whom I knew at Saint-Omer, an incomparable guide of souls, limited before all things the length of confessions. The moment she saw the least symptoms arise she gave two minutes, watch in hand, to the penitent, and when the time was up she sent her back from the confessional, to mix with her companions."
"Because in convents, even for souls which are well, confession is a most dangerous relaxation, it is as it were too long and too warm a bath. In it nuns go to excess, open their hearts uselessly, dwell upon their troubles, accentuate them, and revel in them; they come out more weakened and more ill than before. Two minutes ought indeed to be enough for a nun in which to tell her little sins.
"Yet ... yet ... I must admit it, the confessor is a danger for a convent, not that I suspect his honour, that is not at all what I mean, but as he is generally chosen from among the bishop's favourites, there are many chances that he may be a man who knows nothing, and quite ignorant of how to deal with such souls, ends by unsettling them while he consoles them. Again, if demoniac attacks, so common in nunneries, occur, the poor man can only gape, gives all sorts of confused counsel, and hinders the energy of the abbess, who in such matters knows far better than he."
"And," said Durtal, who chose his words carefully, "tell me, I suppose that tales like those which Diderot gives in his foolish volume 'La Religieuse' are incorrect?"
"Unless a community is rotted by a superior given over to Satanism, which, thank God, is rare, the filthy stories told by that writer are false, and there is moreover a good reason why it should be so, for there is a sin which is the very antidote of the other, the sin of zeal."
"Yes: the sin of zeal which causes the denunciation of our neighbour, gives scope to jealousy, creates spying to satisfy hate, that is the real sin of the cloister. Well, I assure you that if two sisters became quite shameless they would be denounced at once."
"But I thought, Monsieur l'Abbe, that tale-bearing was allowed by the rules of most orders?"
"It is, but perhaps there is a temptation to carry it somewhat to excess, especially in convents of women; for you can imagine that if nunneries contain pure mystics, real saints, they have in them also some nuns less advanced in the way of perfection, and who even still retain some faults...."
"Come, since we are in the chapter of minute details, dare I ask if cleanliness is not just a little neglected by these good women?"
"I cannot say; all that I know is, that in the Benedictine abbeys I have known, each nun was free to act as seemed good to her; in certain Augustinian constitutions, the case was provided for in contrary fashion, it was forbidden to wash the body, except once a month. On the other hand, amongst the Carmelites cleanliness is exacted. Saint Teresa hated dirt, and loved white linen, her daughters have even, I think, a right to have a flask of Eau de Cologne in their cells. You see this depends on the order, and probably also, when the rule does not expressly mention it, on the ideas which the superior may have on the subject. I will add that this question must not be looked at only from the worldly point of view, for corporal dirt is for certain souls an additional suffering and mortification which they impose on themselves, as Benedict Labre."
"He who picked up vermin which left him, and put them piously in his sleeve. I prefer mortifications of another kind."
"There are harder ones, believe me, and I think they would suit you better. Would you like to imitate Suso, who, to subdue his passions, bore on his naked shoulders, for eighteen years, an enormous cross set with nails, whose points pierced his flesh? More than that, he imprisoned his hands in leather gloves which also bristled with nails, lest he should be tempted to dress his wounds. Saint Rose of Lima treated herself no better, she bound a chain so tightly round her body that it penetrated the skin, and hid itself under the bleeding pad of flesh, she wore also a horsehair girdle set with pins, and lay on shards of glass; but all these trials are nothing in comparison of those inflicted on herself by a Capuchin nun, the venerable Mother Pasidee of Siena.
"She scourged herself with branches of juniper and holly, then poured vinegar into her wounds, and sprinkled them with salt, she slept in winter on the snow, in summer on bunches of nettles, or pebbles, or brushes, put drops of hot lead in her shoes, knelt upon thistles, thorns and sticks. In January she broke the ice in a cask and plunged into it, and she even half-stifled herself by hanging head downwards in a chimney in which damp straw was lighted, but that is enough; indeed," said the abbe laughing, "if you had to choose, you would like best the mortifications which Benedict Labre imposed on himself."
"I would rather have none at all," answered Durtal.
There was a moment's pause.
Durtal's thoughts went back to the Benedictine nuns: "But," said he, "why do they put in the 'Semaine religieuse,' after their title Benedictine Nuns of the Blessed Sacrament, this further name, 'Convent of Saint Louis du Temple?'"
"Because," said the abbe, "their first convent was founded on the actual ruins of the Temple prison, given them by royal warrant, when Louis XVIII. returned to France.
"Their foundress and superior was Louise Adelaide de Bourbon Conde, an unfortunate princess of many wanderings, almost the whole of whose life was spent in exile. Expelled from France by the Revolution and the Empire, hunted in almost every country in Europe, she wandered by chance among convents seeking shelter, now among the nuns of the Annunciation at Turin and the Capuchins in Piedmont, now among the Trappistines in Switzerland and the Sisters of the Visitation at Vienna, now among the Benedictines of Lithuania and Poland. At last she found shelter among the Benedictines in Norfolk, till she could again enter France.
"She was a woman singularly trained in monastic science and experienced in the direction of souls.
"She desired that in her abbey every sister should offer herself to heaven in reparation for crimes committed; and that she should accept the most painful privations to make up for those which might be committed; she instituted there the perpetual adoration, and introduced the plain chant, in all its purity, to the exclusion of all others.
"It is, as you have been able to hear, there preserved intact; it is true that since her time, her nuns have had lessons from Dom Schmitt, one of the most learned monks in that matter.
"Then, after the death of the princess, which took place, I think, in 1824, it was perceived that her body exhaled the odour of sanctity, and though she has not been canonized her intercession is invoked by her daughters in certain cases. Thus, for example, the Benedictine nuns of the Rue Monsieur ask her assistance when they lose anything, and their experience shows that their prayer is never in vain, since the object lost is found almost at once.
"But," continued the abbe, "since you like the convent so well, go there, especially when it is lighted up."
The priest rose and took up a "Semaine religieuse," which lay upon the table.
He turned over the leaves. "See," he said, and read, "'Sunday 3 o'clock, Vespers chanted; ceremony of clothing, presided over by the Very Reverend Father Dom Etienne, abbot of the Grande Trappe, and Benediction.'"
"That is a ceremony which interests me much."
"I too shall probably be there."
"Then we can meet in the chapel?"
"These ceremonies of clothing have not now the gaiety they had in the eighteenth century in certain Benedictine institutions, amongst others the Abbey de Bourbourg in Flanders," said the abbe smiling, after a silence.
And since Durtal looked at him questioningly—
"Yes, there was no sadness about it, or at least it had a special sadness of its own; you shall judge. On the eve of the day that the postulant was to take the habit, she was presented to the abbess of Bourbourg by the governor of the town. Bread and wine were offered to her, and she tasted them in the church itself. On the morrow she appeared, magnificently dressed, at a ball which was attended by the whole community of nuns, where she danced, then she asked her parents' blessing, and was conducted, with violins playing, to the chapel, where the abbess took possession of her. She had for the last time seen, at the ball, the joys of the world, for she was immediately shut up, for the rest of her days in the cloister."
"The joy of the Dance of Death," said Durtal, "monastic customs and congregations were strange in old days."
"No doubt, but they are lost in the night of time. I remember, however, that in the fifteenth century there existed under the rule of Saint Augustine an order strange indeed, called the Order of the Daughters of Saint Magloire, whose convent was in the Rue Saint Denys at Paris. The conditions of admission were the reverse of those of all other charters. The postulant had to swear on the holy Gospels that she had been unchaste, and no one believed her oath; she was examined, and if her oath were false, she was declared unworthy to be received. Nor might she have brought about this condition expressly in order to enter the convent, she must have well and truly given herself over to sin, before she came to ask the shelter of the cloister.
"They were in fact a troop of penitent girls, and the rule of their subjection was savage. They were whipped, locked up, subjected to the most rigid fasts, made their confessions thrice in the week, rose at midnight, were under the most unremitting surveillance, were even attended in their most secret retirement; their mortifications were incessant and their closure absolute. I need hardly add that this nunnery is dead."
"Nor likely to revive," cried Durtal. "Well then, Monsieur l'Abbe, we meet on Sunday in the Rue Monsieur?"
And on the assent of the abbe, Durtal went his way, with the strangest ideas in his head about the monastic orders. The thing would be, he thought, to found an abbey where one could work at ease in a good library, there should be several monks, with decent meals, plenty of tobacco, and permission to take a turn on the quays now and then. And he laughed; but then that would not be a monastery! or only a Dominican monastery, with monks who dine out, and have, at least, the amusement of preaching.
On Sunday morning, on his way to the Rue Monsieur, Durtal chewed the cud of his reflections on the Monasteries. "It is certain," he thought, "that in the accumulated filth of ages, they alone have remained clean, are truly in relation with heaven, and serve as interpreters between it and earth. But we must thoroughly understand and specify that we are speaking only of the cloistered orders, which have remained, as far as possible, poor...."
And thinking of the communities of women, he murmured as he hastened his steps: "Here is a surprising fact, which proves once more, the incomparable genius with which the Church is endowed; she has been able to bring into common life women who do not assassinate each other, and obey without recalcitrancy the orders of another woman—wonderful!
"Well, here I am"—and Durtal, who knew he was late, hastened into the court of the Benedictine nunnery, took the steps of the little church four at a time, and pushed the door open. He paused in hesitation on the threshold, dazzled by the blaze of the lighted chapel. Lamps were lit everywhere, and overhead the altar flamed with a forest of tapers against which stood out as on a gold ground, the ruddy face of a bishop all in white.
Durtal glided among the crowd, elbowing his way till he saw the Abbe Gevresin beckoning to him. He joined him, and sat down on the chair the priest had kept for him, and examined the abbot of Grande Trappe, surrounded by priests in chasubles, and choir boys some in red and others in blue, followed by a Trappist with shaven crown, surrounded by a fringe of hair, holding a wooden cross, on the reverse of which was carved the small figure of a monk.
Clad in a white cowl, with long sleeves and a gold button on his hood, his abbot's cross on his breast, his head covered with an old French mitre of low form, Dom Etienne, with his broad shoulders, his greyish beard, his ruddy colour, had a look of an old Burgundian, tanned by the sun while working at his vines; he seemed, moreover, a good sort of man, uneasy under his mitre, oppressed by his honours.
A sharp perfume which burnt the nose as a spice burns the tongue, the perfume of myrrh, floated in the air, the crowds surged; behind the grating from which the curtain was withdrawn, the nuns standing sang the hymn of Saint Ambrose, "Jesu corona virginum," while the bells of the abbey rang a peal; in the short aisle leading from the porch to the choir, a bending line of women on either side, a cross-bearer and torch-bearers entered, and behind them appeared the novice dressed as a bride.
She was dark, slight, and very short, and came forward shyly with downcast eyes, between her mother and sister. At first sight Durtal thought her insignificant, scarcely pretty, a mere nobody; and he looked instinctively for the other party, put out in his sense of fitness, by the absence of a man in the marriage procession.
Striving against her agitation the postulant walked up the nave into the choir, and knelt on the left before a large taper, her mother and sister on either side as bridesmaids.
Dom Etienne genuflected to the altar, mounted the steps, and sat down in a red velvet arm-chair, placed on the highest step.
Then one of the priests conducted the girl, who knelt alone, before the monk.
Dom Etienne was motionless as a figure of Buddha; with the same gesture, he lifted one finger, and said gently to the novice,—
"What is it you ask?"
She spoke so low as scarcely to be heard.
"Father, feeling in myself an ardent desire to sacrifice myself to God, as a victim in union with our Lord Jesus Christ, immolated on our altars, and to spend my life in perpetual adoration of His divine Sacrament, under the observance of the rule of our glorious Father Saint Benedict, I humbly ask of you the grace of the holy habit."
"I will give it you willingly if you believe you can conform your life to that of a victim devoted to the Holy Sacrament."
And she answered in a firmer tone,
"I trust so, leaning on the infinite goodness of my Saviour Jesus Christ."
"God give you perseverance, my daughter," said the prelate; he rose, turned to the altar, genuflected, and with uncovered head began the chant "Veni Creator," taken up by the voices of the nuns behind the light screen of iron.
Then he replaced his mitre, and prayed, while the chanted psalms rose under the arches. The novice, who in the meantime had been reconducted to her place at the prie-Dieu, rose, genuflected to the altar, and then knelt between her two bridesmaids before the abbot of La Trappe, who had reseated himself.
Her two companions lifted the veil of the bride, took off her wreath of orange flowers, unrolled the coils of her hair, while a priest spread a napkin on the knees of the prelate, and the deacon presented a pair of long scissors on a salver.
Then before the gesture of this monk, making himself ready, like an executioner, to shear the condemned person, whose hour of expiation was at hand, the terrible beauty of innocence becoming like crime, in substitution for sins of which she was ignorant, which she could not even understand, was evident to the public who had come to the chapel out of curiosity, and in consternation at the superhuman denial of justice, it trembled when the bishop seized the entire handful of her hair, and drew it towards him over her brow.
Then there was as it were a flash of steel in a dark shower.
In the death-like silence of the church the grinding of the scissors was heard in the mass of hair which fell under the blades, and then all was silent. Dom Etienne opened his hand, and the rain fell on his knees in long black threads.
There was a sigh of relief when the priests and bridesmaids led away the bride, looking strange in her train, with her head discrowned and her neck bare.
The procession returned almost immediately. There was no longer a bride in a white skirt, but a nun in a black robe.
She bowed before the Trappist, and again knelt between her mother and sister.
Then, while the abbot prayed the Lord to bless his handmaid, the master of the ceremonies and the deacon took, from a credence near the altar, a basket, wherein under loose rose leaves were folded a girdle of untanned leather, emblem of the end of that luxury which the Fathers of the Church placed in the region of the reins, a scapular, symbol of a life crucified to the world, a veil, which signifies the solitude of the life hidden in God, and the prelate explained the sense of these emblems to the novice, then taking the lighted taper from the candlestick before her, he gave it to her, declaring in one phrase the meaning of his action: "Accipe, charissima soror, lumen Christi."
Then Dom Etienne took the sprinkler which a priest handed him with an inclination, and as in the general absolution of the dead, he sprinkled the girl with holy water in the form of a cross, then he sat down and spoke gently and quietly without using a single gesture.
He spoke to the postulant alone, praising the august and humble life of the cloister. "Look not back," he said, "have no regrets, for by my voice Jesus repeats to you the promise once made to the Magdalen, 'yours is the better part, which shall not be taken away from you.' Say also to yourself, my daughter, that, henceforward, taken away from the eternal trifling of labours in vain, you will accomplish a useful work upon earth, you will practise charity in its highest form, you will make expiation for others, you will pray for those who never pray, you will aid, so far as your strength permits, to make amends for the hate the world bears to the Saviour.
"Suffer and you will be happy; love your spouse, and you will see how tender He is to His elect. Believe me, His love is such that He will not even wait till you are purified by death to recompense you for your miserable mortifications, your poor sufferings. Even before your hour is come, He will heap His graces upon you, and you will beg Him to let you die, so greatly will the excess of these joys exceed your strength."
Little by little the old monk grew warm, and returned to the words of Christ to the Magdalen, showing how in reference to her Jesus set forward the excellence of the contemplative over the other Orders, and gave brief advice, dwelling on the necessity of humility and poverty, which are, as Saint Clare says, the two great walls of cloistered life. Then he blessed the novice, who kissed his hand, and when she had returned to her place, he prayed to the Lord, lifting his eyes to heaven, that He would accept this nun, who offered herself as a victim for the sins of the world. Then, standing, he intoned the "Te Deum."
Every one rose, and preceded by the cross and torch bearers, the procession passed out of the church, and was massed in the court.
Then Durtal might have believed himself carried back far from Paris, into the heart of the Middle Ages.
The court, surrounded by buildings, was closed opposite the entrance-gate by a high wall, in the midst of which was a folding-door; on each side six thin pines rocked to and fro, and chanting was heard behind the wall.
The postulant, in front, alone, near the closed door, held her torch, with her head bent. The abbot of La Trappe, leaning on his crosier, waited, unmoving, a few paces from her.
Durtal examined their faces, the girl, so commonplace in her bridal costume, had become charming, her body was now full of a timid grace, the lines, somewhat too marked under her worldly dress, were softened, under her religious shroud her outline was only a simple sketch, it was as though the years had rolled back, and as though there was a return to the forms only prophesied in childhood.
Durtal drew near to examine her better, he tried to look at her face, but under the chill bandage of her head-dress, she remained mute, and as if absent from life, with her eyes closed, and as though she lived only in the smile of her happy lips.
Seen nearer, the monk who had seemed so stout and ruddy in the chapel, seemed also changed, his frame remained robust, and his complexion bright, but his eyes of a light blue, like chalk water, water without reflections or waves, eyes wonderfully pure, changed the common expression of his features, and took away from him that look of a vine-dresser which he had at a distance.
"It is clear," thought Durtal, "that the soul is everything in these people, and their faces are modelled by it. There is a holy clearness in their eyes, and their lips, in those only apertures through which the soul comes to look out of the body, and almost shows itself."
The chants behind the wall suddenly ceased, the girl made a step forward, and knocked with her closed fingers at the door, and then with a failing voice she sang,—
"Aperite mihi portas justitiae: Ingressa in eas, confitebor Domino."
The door opened. Another large court, paved with pebbles was seen, bounded at the end by a building, and all the community, in a sort of semicircle, with black books in their hands, cried,—
"Haec porta Domini: Justi intrabunt in eam."
The novice made another step to the sill and answered in her far-away voice,—
"Ingrediar in locum tabernaculi admirabilis: usque ad domum Dei."
And the choir of nuns, unmoving, answered,—
"Haec est domus Domini firmiter aedificata: Bene fundata est supra firmam petram."
Durtal hastily looked at those faces which could only be seen for a few minutes and on the occasion of such a ceremony. It was a row of dead bodies standing in black shrouds. All were bloodless, with white cheeks, lilac eyelids and grey lips, the voices of all were exhausted and fined down by prayer, and most of them, even the young, were bent. "Their poor bodies are worn with austere fatigue," thought Durtal.
But his reflections were cut short, the bride, now kneeling on the threshold, turned to Dom Etienne and chanted in a low voice,—
"Haec requies mea in saeculum saeculi: Hic habitabo quoniam elegi eam."
The monk laid aside his mitre and crosier and said,—
"Confirma hoc Deus, quod operatus es in nobis."
And the postulant murmured,—
"A templo sacro tuo quod est in Jerusalem."
Then before re-covering his head and resuming his crosier, the prelate prayed God Almighty to pour the dew of His blessing on His handmaid; then directing the girl towards a nun who left the group of sisters and advanced to the threshold, he said to her,—
"Into your hands, Madame, we commit this new bride of the Lord, sustain her in the holy resolution she has so solemnly taken upon her, in asking to sacrifice herself to God as a victim, and to dedicate her life in honour of our Lord Jesus Christ, sacrificed on our altars. Lead her in the way of the divine Commandments, in the practice of the counsels of the Holy Gospel, and in the observance of the monastic rule. Prepare her for the eternal union to which the heavenly Spouse invites her, and from this blessed increase of the flock committed to your charge draw a new motive for maternal care. The peace of the Lord rest upon you."
This was all: the nuns one by one turned and disappeared behind the wall, while the girl followed them like a poor dog, who with drooping head accompanies at a distance a new master.
The folding doors closed.
Durtal remained stupefied, looking at the outline of the white bishop, the backs of the priests who were mounting the steps to give Benediction in the church, while behind them came in tears, their faces in their handkerchiefs, the mother and sister of the novice.
"Well?" said the abbe, passing his arm through Durtal's.
"Well, this scene is to my mind the most touching alibi of death that it is possible to see, this living woman, who buries herself in the most frightful of tombs—for in it the flesh continues to suffer—is wonderful.
"I remember that you have yourself told me of the pressure of this observance, and I shivered in thinking of perpetual Adoration, in those winter nights, when a child like this is awakened out of her first sleep, and cast into the darkness of a chapel where unless she faints from weakness or terror, she must pray alone, through the freezing hours on her knees on the pavement.
"What passes in that conversation with the unknown, that interview with the Shadow? Does she succeed in escaping from self, and in leaving the earth, in gaining, on the threshold of Eternity, the inconceivable Spouse, or does the soul, powerless to spring on high, remain riveted to the soil?
"We figure her to ourselves, her face bent forward, her hands joined, making appeal to herself, concentrating herself, in order to pour herself forth the better, and we imagine her thus sickly, with no strength left, trying to set her soul on fire in a shivering frame. But who can tell if on certain nights she attains to it?
"Ah! those poor lamps of exhausted oil, of flames almost dead, which tremble in the obscurity of the sanctuary, what will God make of them?
"Then there was the family present at the taking the habit, and if the daughter filled me with enthusiasm I could not restrain myself from pitying the mother. Think if the daughter died, the mother would embrace her, would perhaps speak to her, or if she did not recognize her, it would at least not be with her own good will; but in this case it is not the body, but the very soul of her child that dies before her eyes. Of her own accord her child knows her no longer, it is the contemptuous end of an affection. You will admit that for a mother this is very hard."
"Yes, but this so-called ingratitude, gained at the price of God knows what struggles, is it not, even apart from the divine vocation, the most equitable repartition of human love? Think that this elect creature becomes the scapegoat of sins committed, and like a lamentable daughter of Danaus she will unceasingly pour the offering of her mortifications and prayers, of her vigils and fastings, into the bottomless vessel of offences and crimes. Ah! if you knew what it was to repair the sins of the world. In regard to this I remember that one day the abbess of the Benedictines in the Rue Tournefort said to me: 'Since our tears are not holy enough, nor our souls pure enough, God makes trial of us in our bodies.' Here are long illnesses which cannot be cured, illnesses which doctors fail to understand, and we make thus much expiation for others.
"But if you will think over the ceremony which is just ended, you need not be affected beyond measure or compare it to the well-known ceremonies of a funeral; the postulant whom you saw has not yet pronounced her final vows, she can if she choose leave the convent, and return to her own home. At present she is in regard to her mother, a child in a foreign country, a child at school, but she is not a dead child.
"You may say what you please, but there is a tragedy in that door which closed upon her."
"Therefore in the Benedictine convent in the Rue Tournefort, the scene takes place in the interior of the convent, and the family is not present, the mother is spared, but mitigated thus, the ceremony is but a mere form, almost a foolish rule in the seclusion wherein the Faith is hidden."
"Those nuns are also Benedictines of the perpetual Adoration, are they not?"
"Yes, do you know their convent?"
And as Durtal shook his head, the abbe continued,—
"It is older, but less interesting than that in the Rue Monsieur, the chapel is mean, full of plaster statuettes, cotton flowers, bunches of grapes and ears of corn in gold paper, but the old building of the nunnery is curious. It contains, what shall I call it? a school dining-room, and a retreatant's drawing-room, and so gives at once the impression of old age and childhood."
"I know that class of convents," said Durtal. "I used often to see one, when I used to visit an old aunt at Versailles. It always used to impress me as a Maison Vauquer, brought to devotional uses, it had the air at once of a table d'hote in the Rue de la Clef and the sacristy of a country church."
"Just so," and the abbe went on with a smile,—
"I had many interviews with the abbess in the Rue Tournefort; you guess at rather than see her, for you are separated from her by a screen of black wood, behind which is stretched a black curtain which she draws aside."
"I can see it," thought Durtal, who, remembering the Benedictine custom, saw in a second a little face confused in neutral tinted light, and lower, at the top of her habit, the gleam of a medal of the Blessed Sacrament in red enamelled in white.
He laughed and said to the abbe,—
"I laugh, because having had some business to transact with my nun aunt of whom I was speaking, only visible like your abbess through a trellis, I found out how to read her thoughts a little."
"Ah! how was that?"
"In this way. Since I could not see her face, which was hidden behind the lattice of her cage, and disappeared behind her veil, and if she should answer me, having nothing to guide me but the inflexions of her voice, always circumspect and always calm, I ended by trusting only to her great glasses, round, with buff frames, which almost all nuns wear. Well, all the repressed vivacity of this woman burst out there; suddenly in a corner of her glasses, there was a glimmer, and I then understood that her eye had lighted up, and gave the lie to the indifference of her voice, the determined quietness of her tone."
The abbe in his turn began to laugh.
"Do you know the Superior of the Benedictines, in the Rue Monsieur?" said Durtal.
"I have spoken with her once or twice; there the parlour is monastic, there is not the provincial and middle-class side of the Rue Tournefort, it is composed of a sombre room, of which all the breadth at the end is taken up by an iron grating, and behind the grating are again wooden bars, and a shutter painted black. You are quite in the dark, and the abbess, scarcely in the light, appears to you like a phantom."
"The abbess is, I suppose, the nun, elderly, fragile and very short, to whom Dom Etienne committed the novice?"
"Yes. She is a remarkable shepherdess of souls, and what is more, a very well educated woman of most distinguished manners."
"Oh," thought Durtal: "I can imagine that these abbesses are charming, but also terrible women. Saint Teresa was goodness itself, but when she speaks in her 'Way of Perfection' of nuns who band themselves together to discuss the will of their mother, she shows herself inexorable, for she declares that perpetual imprisonment should be inflicted on them as soon as possible and without flinching, and in fact she is right, for every disorderly sister infects the flock, and gives the rot to souls."
Thus talking they had reached the end of the Rue de Sevres, and the abbe stopped to rest.
"Ah," he said, as if speaking to himself, "had I not had all my life heavy expenses, first a brother, then nephews to maintain, I should many years ago have become a member of Saint Benedict's family. I have always had an attraction towards that grand Order, which is, in fact, the intellectual Order of the Church. Therefore, when I was stronger and younger, I always went for my retreats to one of their monasteries, sometimes to the black monks of Solesmes, or of Liguge, who have preserved the wise traditions of Saint Maurus, sometimes to the Cistercians, or the white monks of La Trappe."
"True," said Durtal, "La Trappe is one of the great branches of the tree of Saint Benedict, but how is it that its ordinances do not differ from those which the Patriarch left?"
"That is to say that the Trappists interpret the rule of Saint Benedict, which is very broad and supple, less in its spirit than in its letter, while the Benedictines do the contrary.
"In fact, La Trappe is an offshoot of Citeaux, and is much more the daughter of Saint Bernard, who was during forty years the very sap of that branch, than the descendant of Saint Benedict."
"But, so far as I remember, the Trappists are themselves divided, and do not live under a uniform discipline."
"They do so now, since a pontifical brief dated March 17th, 1893, sanctioned the decisions of the general Chapter of the Trappists assembled in Rome, and ordered the fusion into one sole order, and under the direction of a sole superior, of the three observances of the Trappists, who were in fact ruled by discordant constitutions."
And seeing that Durtal was listening attentively, the abbe continued,—
"Among these three observances, one only, that of the Cistercian Trappists, to which belonged the abbey of which I was a guest, followed in their integrity the rules of the twelfth century, and led the monastic life of Saint Bernard's day. This alone recognized the rule of Saint Benedict, taken in its strictest application, and completed by the Charte de Charite, and the use and customs of Citeaux; the two others had adopted the same rule, but revised and modified in the seventeenth century by the Abbe de Rance, and again one of them, the Belgian congregation, had changed the statutes imposed by that abbot.
"At the present day, as I have just said, all the Trappists form only one and the same institute under the name, Order of Reformed Cistercians of the Blessed Virgin Mary of La Trappe, and all resume the rules of Citeaux, and live again the life of the cenobites of the Middle Ages."
"But if you have visited these ascetics," said Durtal, "you must know Dom Etienne?"
"No, I have never stayed at La Grande Trappe, I prefer the poor and small monasteries where one is mixed up with the monks, to those imposing convents where they isolate you in a guest-house, and in a word keep you separate.
"There is one in which I make my retreats, Notre Dame de l'Atre, a small Trappist monastery a few leagues from Paris, which is quite the most seductive of shelters. Besides that the Lord really abides there, for it has true saints among its children, it is delightful also with its ponds, its immemorial trees, its distant solitude, far in the woods."
"Yes, but," observed Durtal, "the life there must be unbending, for La Trappe is the most rigid order which has been imposed on men."
For his only answer the abbe let go Durtal's arm, and took both his hands.
"Do you know," he said, looking him in the face, "it is there you must go for your conversion?"
"Are you serious, Monsieur l'Abbe?"
And as the priest pressed his hands more strongly Durtal cried,—
"Ah, no indeed, first I have not the stoutness of soul, and if that be possible I have still less the bodily health needed for such a course, I should fall ill on my arrival, and then ... and then...."
"And then, what? I am not proposing to you to shut you up for ever in a cloister."
"So I suppose," said Durtal, in a somewhat piqued tone.
"But just to remain a week, just the necessary time for a cure. Now a week is soon over, then do you think that if you make such a resolution God will not sustain you?"
"That is all very fine, but ..."
"Let us speak on the health question, then;" and the abbe smiled a smile of pity that was a little contemptuous.
"I can promise you at once that as a retreatant, you will not be bound to lead the life of a Trappist in its austerest sense. You need not get up at two in the morning for Matins, but at three, or even at four o'clock, according to the day."
And smiling at the face Durtal made, the abbe went on,—
"As to your food it will be better than that of the monks; naturally you will have no fish nor meat, but you may certainly have an egg for dinner, if vegetables are not enough for you."
"And the vegetables, I suppose, are cooked with salt and water, and no seasoning?"
"No, they are dressed with salt and water only on fasting days; at other times you will have them cooked in milk and water, or in oil."
"Many thanks," said Durtal.
"But all that is excellent for your health," continued the priest, "you complain of pains in the stomach, sick headaches, diarrhoea, well, this diet, in the country, in the air, will cure you better than all the drugs you take.
"Now let us leave, if you like, your body out of the question, for in such a case, it is God's part to act against your weakness. I tell you, you will not be ill at La Trappe, that were absurd; it would be to send the penitent sinner away, and Jesus would not then be the Christ; but let us talk of your soul. Have the courage to take its measure, to look it well in the face. Do you see that?" said the abbe after a silence.
Durtal did not answer.
"Admit," said the priest, "that you are horrified at it."
They took a few steps in the street, and the abbe continued,—
"You declare that you are sustained by the crowds of Notre Dame des Victoires and the emanations of St. Severin. What will it be then, in the humble chapel, when you will be on the ground huddled together with the saints? I guarantee you in the name of the Lord an assistance such as you have never had;" and he went on with a laugh, "I may add that the Church will take pleasure in receiving you, she will bring out her ornaments which she has now left off: the authentic liturgies of the Middle Ages, true plain chant, without solos or organs."
"Listen, your propositions astound me," said Durtal with an effort. "No: I assure you I am not at all disposed to imprison myself in such a place. I know well that at Paris I shall never come to any good. I swear to you that I am not proud of my life, nor satisfied with my soul, but from thence ... to ... where I cannot tell; I want at least a mitigated asylum, a quiet convent. There must be, on those conditions, somewhere, hospitals for souls."
"I could only send you to the Jesuits, who make a specialty of retreats for men: but knowing you as I think I know you, I feel sure you would not stay there two days. You would find yourself among amiable and very clever priests, but they would overwhelm you with sermons, would wish to interfere with your life, mix themselves up with your art, they would examine your thoughts with a magnifying glass, and then you would be under treatment with good young people, whose unintelligent piety would horrify you, and you would flee in exasperation.
"At La Trappe it is the contrary. You would certainly be the sole retreatant there, and no one will have the least idea of troubling himself about you; you will be free, you can if you choose leave the monastery just as you entered it, without having confessed or approached the Sacraments, your will will be respected there, and no monk will attempt to sound it without your authority. To you only it will appertain to decide whether you will be converted or no.
"And you will like me to be frank to the last, will you not? You are, as indeed I have already said to you, a sensitive and distrustful man; well, the priest as you see him in Paris, even the religious not cloistered, seem to you, how shall I express it? second rate souls, not to go further...."
Durtal protested vaguely, with a gesture.
"Let me go on. An afterthought will come to you in regard to the ecclesiastic to whom will fall the task of cleansing you, you will be quite certain that he is not a saint; this is not very theological, for were he even the worst of priests his absolution would have just the same value, if you merit it, but indeed here is a question of sentiment which I respect, you will think of him in a word: he lives as I do, he is not more self-denying than I am, nothing shows that his conscience is very superior to mine, and thence to losing all confidence, and throwing up the whole thing there is but a step. At La Trappe, I will defy you to reason in this way, and not to become humble. When you see men, who after having abandoned everything to serve God, lead a life of privations and penance such as no government would dare to inflict on its convicts, you will indeed be obliged to admit that you are no great thing by their side."
Durtal was silent. After the astonishment he had felt at the suggestion of such an issue, he became dully irritated against this friend, who hitherto so discreet, had suddenly rushed upon his soul and opened it by force. There came out the disgusting vision of an existence stripped, used up, reduced to a state of dust, a condition of rags. And Durtal shrank from himself, convinced that the abbe was right, that he must at any rate stanch the discharge of his senses, and expiate their inappeasable desires, their abominable covetousness, their rotten tastes, and he was seized with a terror irrational and intense. He had the giddy fear of the cloister, a terror which attracted him to the abyss over which Gevresin made him lean.
Enervated by the ceremony of taking the habit, stunned by the blow with which the priest had assailed him as they left the church, he now felt an anguish almost physical, in which everything ended in confusion. He did not know to what reflections he should give himself, and only saw, swimming on this whirlpool of troubled ideas, one clear thought, that the moment had come so dreaded by him in which he must make a resolution.
The abbe looked at him, saw that he was really suffering, and was full of pity for a soul so unable to support a struggle.
He took Durtal's arm, and said gently,—
"My son, believe me that the day you go yourself to the house of God, the day you knock at its door, it will open wide, and the angels will draw aside to let you pass. The Gospel cannot lie, and it declares that there is more joy over one sinner that repents than over ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance. You will be much better welcomed than you expect, and be sufficiently my friend to think that the old priest you leave here will not remain inactive, and that he and the convents he can influence will pray their best for you."
"I will see," said Durtal, really moved by the affectionate tone of the priest, "I will see. I cannot decide thus, unexpectedly; I will think. Ah! it is not simple."
"Above all things pray," said the priest, who had reached his door. "I have on my side sought the Lord much that He would enlighten me, and I declare to you that the solution of La Trappe is the only one He has given me. Ask Him humbly, in your turn, and you will be guided. I shall soon see you again, shall I not?"
He pressed Durtal's hand, who, left alone, recovered himself at last. Then he recalled the strategic smiles, the ambiguous phrases, the dreamy silences of the Abbe Gevresin, he understood the kindness of his counsels, the patience of his plans; and a little put out at having been, without knowing it, led so wisely, he exclaimed in spite of himself, "This, then, was the design the priest was ripening, with his air of not concerning himself with it at all."
He experienced that painful awakening of a sick man whom a doctor deceives for months, who learns some fine morning that he is to be taken at once to an hospital to undergo an urgent surgical operation. "But that is not the way things should be done," cried Durtal, "people should be prepared, little by little, accustomed by words of warning, to the idea that they are to be cut up on a table, they are not struck down thus unexpectedly!
"Yes, but what does that matter? since I know very well, in the depths of my soul, that this priest is right; I must leave Paris if I wish to amend; but all the same, the treatment he inflicts is hard indeed to follow; I know not what to do."
And from this moment his days were haunted by Trappists. He turned over the thought of his departure, and examined it on all sides, chewed the cud of for and against, and ended by saying to himself, "That he would take stock of his reflections and open an account, and this with a debit and credit side, that he might know himself the better.
"The debit is terrible. To gather up his life, and cast it into the stove of a cloister; and again, he ought to know if his body were in a state to bear such a remedy; mine is frail and soft, accustomed to rise late; it becomes weak if not nourished by flesh meat, and is subject to neuralgia at any change of the hour of meals. I should never be able to hold out down there with vegetables cooked in warm oil or in milk; first I detest oily cookery, and I hate milk still more, which I cannot digest.
"Then I think I see myself on my knees, on the floor for hours, I who suffered so much at La Glaciere in remaining in that posture, on a step, for scarce a quarter of an hour.
"Again, I am so accustomed to cigarettes that it is absolutely impossible to give them up, and it is pretty certain they will not let me smoke in a monastery.
"No, indeed, from the bodily point of view, this plan is madness; in my state of health there is no doctor who would not dissuade me from undertaking such a risk.
"If I place myself in a spiritual point of view I must then again recognize that it is terrible to enter La Trappe.
"I am afraid indeed that my dryness of soul, my want of love will remain, and then what would become of me in such surroundings? then it is equally probable, that in that solitude and absolute silence, I should be wearied to death, and if it be so, what a miserable existence is it to stalk about a cell and count the hours. No, for that one needs to be firmly fixed on God, to be dwelt in wholly by Him.
"Moreover, there are two formidable questions which I have never properly weighed, because it has been painful to think of them, but now that they come before me, and stop the road, I must face them, the questions of Confession and Holy Communion.
"Confession? Yes, I will consent to it, I am so tired of myself, so disgusted with my wretched existence that this expiation appears to me as deserved, even necessary. I desire to humble myself, I would ask pardon with all my heart, but again this penance must be assigned me under possible conditions. At La Trappe, if I believe the abbe, no one will trouble himself about me, in other words no one will encourage me, and aid me to submit to this sorrowful extraction of my shames. I shall be somewhat like a sick man operated on in hospital, far from his friends and relatives.
"Confession," he went on, "is an admirable discovery, for it is the most sensitive touchstone of souls, the most intolerable act which the Church has ever imposed on the vanity of men.
"Is this strange? We speak easily of our lapses, of our grosser actions, even, indeed, to a priest in conversation, that does not seem to lead to any consequences, and perhaps a little bragging enters into our admission of easy sins, but to tell the same thing on one's knees, accusing oneself, after prayer, is different, that which was only rather amusing becomes a very painful humiliation, for the soul is not the dupe of this false seeming, it knows so well in its inner tribunal that all is changed, it feels so well the terrible power of the Sacrament, that he who but now smiled, now trembles at the very thought.
"Now, were I to find myself face to face with an old monk who emerges from an eternity of silence to listen to me, a monk who will not aid me, perhaps cannot even understand me, this will be terrible. I shall never get to the end of my troubles if he does not hold out a staff to me, if he lets me stifle and gives no air to my soul, nor brings me help.
"The Eucharist also seems terrible. To dare to come forward, to offer Him as a tabernacle the sewer of self scarce purified by repentance, a sewer drained by absolution, but still hardly dry, is monstrous. I am quite without such courage as to offer Christ this last insult, and so there is no good in fleeing to a monastery.
"No; the more I think of it, the more I am obliged to conclude that I should be mad if I ventured into a Trappist house.
"Now for the Credit side. The only proper work of my life would be to make a parcel of my life, and take it to a cloister to disinfect it, and if that cost me nothing, where is the merit?
"Nothing shows me, on the other hand, that my body, however weakened, cannot support the regimen of La Trappe. Without believing or pretending to believe with the Abbe Gevresin that that kind of food will be even helpful to me, I ought to count on Divine consolations, to admit the principle that, if I am sent there, it is not that I may take at once to my bed, or be obliged to leave again as soon as I arrive—at least, unless that is the chastisement prepared me, the expiation demanded, and again no, for that would be to ascribe to God pitiless tricks, and would be absurd!
"As to the cookery, it matters little that it is uncivilized, if my stomach can digest it; to have bad food, and get up in the middle of the night is nothing, provided the body can stand it, and no doubt I shall find some means of smoking cigarettes by stealth in the woods.
"After all, a week is soon over, and I am not even obliged, if I feel poorly, to remain a week.
"From the spiritual point of view, I must again count on the mercy of God, believe that it will not abandon me, will dress my wounds, and change the very foundation of my soul. I know well that these arguments do not rest on any earthly certainty, but yet if I have proofs that Providence has already taken part in my affairs, I have no reason to suppose that these arguments are weaker than the purely physical motives which served to support my other thesis. Now I must recall that conversion, so outside my will; I must take account of a fact which should encourage me, the weakness of the temptations which I now experience.
"It is difficult to have been more rapidly and more completely heard. Whether I owe this grace to my own prayers or to those of the convents which have shielded me without knowing me, it is the case that for some time past my brain has been silent and my flesh calm. That monster Florence appears to me still at certain times, but she does not approach me, she remains in the shade, and the end of the Lord's Prayer, the 'ne nos inducas in tentationem,' puts her to flight.
"That is an unaccustomed fact, and yet a precise one. Why should I doubt, then, that I shall be better upheld at La Trappe than I am in Paris itself?
"There remain confession and communion.
"Confession? It will be what the Lord chooses it should be. He will choose the monk for me; I shall only be able to make use of him; and then the more disagreeable it is, the better worth it will be; and if I suffer much, I shall think myself less unworthy to communicate.
"That is," he went on, "the most painful point! Communicate! But let us consider, it is certain that I shall be base in proposing to Christ that He should descend like a scavenger into my ditch; but if I wait till it is empty, I shall never be in a state to receive Him, for my bulkheads are not closed, and sins would filter through the fissures.
"All this well considered, the abbe spoke truth when he answered me one day: 'But I too am not worthy to approach Him; thank God, I have not those sewers of which you speak, but in the morning, when I go to say my mass, and think of all the dust of the evening, do you not think that I am ashamed? It is always necessary, you see, to go back to the Gospels, and say to yourself that He came for the weak and the sick, the publicans and lepers; and, in fact, you must convince yourself that the Eucharist is a lookout post, a help, that it is given, as it is written in the ordinary of the Mass "ad tutamentum mentis et corporis et ad medelam percipiendam." It is, if I may say so, a spiritual medicine; you go to the Saviour just as you go to a doctor, you take your soul to Him to care for it, and He does so!'
"I stand before the unknown," pursued Durtal, "I complain that I am arid, and have wandered from the right way, but who will declare to me that, if I determine to communicate, I shall remain in the same mind; for indeed, if I have Faith, I ought to believe in the occult work of Christ in the Sacrament. Lastly, I am afraid of being wearied by solitude; I am not much amused here as it is, but at La Trappe I shall no longer have those vacillations at every minute, those constant fears; I shall at least have the advantage of having my time to myself; and then ... and then ... how well I know solitude. Have I not lived apart since the deaths of des Hermies and Carhaix? Indeed, whom do I see? A few publishers, a few literary men, and my relations with these people are not interesting. As to silence, it is a blessing. I shall not hear any foolish sayings at La Trappe; I shall not listen to pitiable homilies and poor sermons; but I ought to rejoice on being at last isolated, far from Paris, far from men."
He was silent, and made, as it were, a return in upon himself; and said to himself, in a melancholy manner: "These strifes are useless, these reflections vain. I need not try to take account of my soul, to make out the debit and credit; I know, without knowing how, that I must go; I am thrust out of myself by an impulse which rises from the very depths of my being, to which I am quite certain I have to yield."
At that moment Durtal had decided, but ten minutes afterwards the attempt at resolution vanished. He felt his cowardice gain on him once more, he chewed once more the cud of arguments against his moving; came to the conclusion that his reasons for remaining in Paris were palpable, human, certain, while the others were intangible, extra-natural, and consequently subject to illusions, perhaps false.
And he invented for himself the fear of not obtaining the thing he feared, said to himself that La Trappe would not receive him, or certainly that it would refuse him communion; and then he suggested to himself a middle term: to confess at Paris and communicate at La Trappe.
But then there passed in him an incomprehensible fact: his whole soul revolted at this idea, and the formal order not to deceive himself was truly breathed into him, and he said to himself: "No, the bitter draught must be drained to the last drop, it is all or nothing; if I confess to the abbe it will be in disobedience to absolute and secret directions; I should be capable of not going afterwards to Notre Dame de l'Atre.
"What shall I do?" And he accused himself of distrust, called to his aid once more the memory of benefits received, how scales had fallen from his eyes, his insensible progress towards Faith, his encounter with that singular priest, perhaps the only one who could understand him, and treat him in a way so benign and so elastic; but he tried in vain to reassure himself, then he called up the dream of the monastic life, the sovereign beauty of the cloister; he imagined the joy of renunciation, the peace of exalted prayers, the interior intoxication of the spirit, the delight of not being at home any longer in his own body. Some words of the abbe about La Trappe served as a spring-board for his dreams, and he perceived an old abbey, grey and warm, immense avenues of trees, clouds flying confusedly amid the song of waters, silent strolls in the woods at nightfall; he called up the solemn liturgies of Saint Benedict's time; he saw the white pith of monastic chants rise under the scarcely pruned bark of sound. He succeeded in his decision, and cried: "You have dreamed for years of the cloisters, now rejoice that you will know them at last," and he wished to go at once and live there; then suddenly he fell down into reality, and said to himself: "It is easy to wish to live in a monastery, to tell God that you would desire to take shelter therein, when life in Paris weighs you down, but when it comes to the real point of emigration, it is quite another matter."
He turned over these thoughts everywhere, in the street, at home, in the chapels. He hurried like a shuttle from one church to another, hoping to solace his fears by changing his place, but they persisted, and rendered every place intolerable.
Then in the sacred places came always that dryness of soul, the broken spring of impulse, a sudden silence within, when he desired consolation in speaking to Him. His best moments, his pauses in the hurly-burly, were a few minutes of absolute torpor, which rested like snow on the soul and he heard nothing.
But this drowsiness of thought lasted but a while, the whirlwind blew once more, and the prayers which were wont to appease it refused to leave his lips, he tried religious music, the despairing sequences of the psalms, pictures of the Crucifixion by the Early Masters, to excite him, but his prayers ran on and became confused on his lips, were divested of all sense, mere words, empty shells.
At Notre Dame des Victoires, where he dragged himself that he might thaw a little under the warmth of his neighbours' prayers, he did in fact feel less chilly, and seemed to break up a little, fell drop by drop into sorrows which he could not formulate, and were all summed up in the cry of a sick child, in which he said to Our Lady, in low tones: "My soul is sorrowful."
Thence he returned to St. Severin, sat down under those arches browned by the rust of prayers, and, haunted by his fixed idea, he pleaded for himself extenuating circumstances, exaggerated the austerities of La Trappe, tried almost to exasperate his fear to excuse his weakness in a vague appeal to Our Lady.
"But I must go and see the Abbe Gevresin," he murmured, but his courage still failed him to pronounce the "Yes" which the priest would surely require from him. He ended by discovering a reason for his visit, without thinking himself obliged to promise just yet.
"After all," he thought, "I have no precise information about this monastery; I do not even know whether it may not be necessary to take a long and expensive journey to get there; the abbe indeed declares that it is not far from Paris, but it is impossible to decide on this simple declaration; it will be useful also to know the habits of these cenobites before going to stay with them."
The abbe smiled when Durtal mentioned these objections.
"The journey is short," he said. "You start from the Gare du Nord at eight o'clock in the morning for Saint Landry, where you arrive at a quarter to twelve; you lunch at an inn close to the station, and while you are drinking your coffee they get you a carriage, and after a drive of four hours you arrive at Notre Dame de l'Atre for dinner. There is no difficulty there.
"Then the cost is moderate. As far as I remember the railway fare is about fifteen francs, add two or three francs for lunch, and six or seven for the carriage ..."
And as Durtal was silent, the abbe went on: "Well?"
"Ah yes, yes ... if you knew ... I am in a pitiable state, I will and will not, I know well that I ought to take refuge there, but in spite of myself, I wish to gain time and put off the hour of departure."
And he continued: "My soul is out of gear, when I would pray, my senses go all astray, I cannot recollect myself, and if I succeed in pulling myself together, five minutes do not pass but I am all astray again; no, I have neither fervour nor true contrition, I do not love God enough, if it must be said.
"And, indeed, during the last two days, a frightful certainty has grown up in me; I am sure that, in spite of my good intentions, if I found myself in the presence of a certain person, whose sight troubles me, I should send religion to the devil, I should return eagerly to my vomit; I only hold on because I am not tempted, I am no better than when I was sinning. You will admit that I am in a wretched state to enter a Trappist monastery."
"Your reasons are at least weak," answered the abbe. "You say first that your prayers are distracted, that you are unable to concentrate your attention; but in fact you are just like everybody else. Even Saint Teresa declares that often she was unable to recite the Credo without distraction, it is a weakness in which we must just take our portion humbly: above all things it is necessary not to lay too much stress on these evils, for the fear of seeing them return ensures their assiduity; you are distracted in prayer by the very fear of distraction, and by regret for it; go forth more boldly, look at things more widely, pray as best you can, and do not trouble yourself.
"Again, you declare that if you meet a certain person whose attraction is a trouble to you, you will succumb. How do you know that? why should you take care about seductions which God does not yet inflict upon you, and which He will perhaps spare you? Why doubt His mercy? Why not believe, on the contrary, that if He judge the temptation useful, He will aid you enough to prevent your sinking under it?
"In any case you ought not, by anticipation, to fear disgust at your weakness; the Imitation declares 'There is nothing more foolish and vain, than to afflict ourselves about future things which may perhaps never happen.' No, it is enough to occupy ourselves with the present, for 'Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,'—'sufficit diei malitia sua.'
"Finally you say you do not love God; again I answer, what do you know about it? You have this love by the very token that you desire to have it, and that you regret you have it not; you love our Lord by the very fact that you desire to love Him."
"That is special pleading," murmured Durtal. "But indeed," he went on, "suppose at La Trappe, the monk revolted at the long outrage of my sins, refused me absolution, and forbade me to communicate."
The abbe burst out laughing.
"You are mad! What is your notion of Christ?"
"Not of Christ, but of His intermediary the human being who replaces Him."
"You can only chance upon a man pointed out beforehand from above to judge you; moreover, at Notre Dame de l'Atre you have every chance of kneeling at the feet of a saint, therefore God will inspire him, will be present, you have nothing to fear.