He had recourse to bathing with cold water in order to recover himself, opened his window to change the air, and lay down again, thoroughly chilled.
He hesitated to blow out his candle, uneasy at the darkness which seemed to him inhabited, full of ambushes and threats. He decided at last to extinguish it, and repeated the stanza he had already heard sung that evening in chapel:
Procul recedant somnia Et noctium phantasmata, Hostemque nostrum comprime, Ne polluantur corpora.
He ended by falling asleep and dreamt again of impurity, but he came to himself in time to break the charm, experiencing again the impression of a shadow evaporating before he could seize it in the sheets. He looked at his watch; it was two o'clock.
"If this goes on, I shall be broken down to-morrow," he thought, but he succeeded somehow or other in dozing, and waking every ten minutes to wait for three o'clock.
"If I fall asleep again, I shall not be able to wake at the moment I wish," he thought, "suppose I get up."
He sprang out of bed, dressed, prayed, reduced his thoughts to order.
Real excesses would have exhausted him less than these sham freaks, but what seemed to him especially odious was the want of satisfaction left by the completed rape of these ghosts. Compared with their greedy tricks, the caresses of a woman only diffused a temperate pleasure, and ended in a feeble shock, but with this Succuba one remained in a fury at having clasped only the void, at having been the dupe of a lie, the plaything of an appearance, of which one could not remember the form or the features. It necessarily brought with it the desire of the flesh, the wish to clasp a real body, and Durtal began to think of Florence; she at least quenched his desires, and did not leave him thus, panting and feverish, in quest of he knew not what, in an atmosphere where he was surrounded, spied upon by an unknown whom he could not discern, by a phantom he could not escape.
Then Durtal shook himself, and would repulse the assault of these memories. "At any rate I will go and breathe the fresh air, and smoke a cigarette; we will see afterwards."
He descended the staircase, whose walls seemed not to keep their place, and danced in the light of his candle, threaded the corridors, blew out his light, placed the candlestick near the auditorium, and rushed out.
It was pitch dark; at the height of the first story a round window in the wall of the chapel cut a hole through the darkness like a red moon.
Durtal took a few whiffs of a cigarette, and then made his way to the chapel. He turned the latch of the door gently; the vestibule into which he entered was dark, but the apse, though it was empty, was lighted by numerous lamps.
He made a step, crossed himself, and fell back, for he had stumbled over a body; and he looked down at his feet.
He had come upon a battle-field.
On the ground human forms were lying, in the attitudes of combatants mowed down by grape shot, some flat on their faces, others on their knees, some leaning their hands on the ground as if stricken from behind, others extended with their fingers clenched on their breast, others again holding their heads or stretching out their arms.
And from this group in their agony rose no groan, no complaint.
Durtal was stupefied as he looked at this massacre of monks, and suddenly stopped with open mouth. A shaft of light fell from a lamp which the Father Sacristan had just placed in the apse, and crossing the porch, it showed a monk on his knees before the altar dedicated to the Virgin.
He was an old man of more than four-score years; motionless as a statue, his eyes fixed, leaning forward in such an access of adoration, that the faces in ecstasy in the Early Masters seemed, compared with his, forced and cold.
Yet his features were vulgar, his shaven skull, without a crown, tanned by many suns and rains, was brick-coloured, his eye was dim, covered with a film by age, his face was wrinkled, shrivelled, stained like an old log, hidden in a thicket of white hair, while his somewhat snub nose made the general effect of the face singularly common.
But there went out, not from his eyes, nor his mouth, but from everywhere and nowhere, a kind of angelic look which was diffused over his head, and enveloped all his poor body, bowed in its heap of rags.
In this old man the soul did not even give herself the trouble to reform and ennoble his features, she contented herself in annihilating them with her rays; it was, as it were, the nimbus of the old saints not now remaining round the head, but extending over all the features, pale and almost invisible, bathing his whole being.
He saw nothing and heard nothing; monks dragged themselves on their knees, came to warm themselves, and to take shelter near him, and he never moved, dumb and deaf, so rigid that you might have believed him dead, had not his lower lip stirred now and then, lifting in this movement his long beard.
The dawn whitened the windows, and as the darkness was gradually dissipated, the other brethren were visible in turn to Durtal; all these men, wounded by divine love, prayed ardently, flashed out beyond themselves noiselessly before the altar. Some were quite young, on their knees, with their bodies upright; others, their eyeballs in ecstasy, were leaning back, and seated on their heels; others again were making the way of the cross, and were often placed each opposite another face to face, and they looked without seeing, as with the eyes of the blind.
And among these lay brethren, some fathers buried in their great white cowls lay prostrate and kissed the ground.
"Oh to pray, pray like these monks!" cried Durtal within himself.
He felt his unhappy soul grow slack within him; in this atmosphere of sanctity he unbent himself, and sank down on the pavement, humbly asking pardon from Christ, for having soiled by his presence the purity of this place.
He prayed long, unsealing himself for the first time, recognizing his unworthiness and vileness so that he could not imagine how, in spite of His mercy, the Lord could tolerate him in the little circle of His elect; he examined himself, saw clearly, and avowed that he was inferior to the least of these lay brothers who perhaps could not even spell out a book, understood that the culture of the mind was naught and the culture of the soul was all, and little by little, without perceiving it, thinking only of stammering forth acts of gratitude, he disappeared from the chapel, his soul borne up by the souls of others, away, away from the world, far from his charnel-house, far from his body.
In this chapel, the impulse had come at last, the going forth from self, till now refused, was at last permitted; he no longer strove with self as in the time when he escaped with so great difficulty from his prison-house, as at St. Severin or Notre Dame des Victoires.
Then he again realized this chapel, where his animal part had alone remained, and he looked round him with astonishment; the greater part of the brethren had gone, one father remained prostrate before Our Lady's altar; he quitted it in his turn, and went back to the apse, as the other fathers entered it.
Durtal looked at them; they were of all sizes and all kinds; one fat and bald, with a long black beard and spectacles, some little fair and puffy men, some very old, bristling with skin like a wild boar, others very young, with a vague air of German dreaminess, with their eyes under their glasses; and almost all except the very young had this feature in common: a large belly, and cheeks with little red streaks.
Suddenly through the open door in the apse itself appeared the tall monk who had conducted the office the evening before. He threw back on his chasuble the woollen hood which covered his head, and assisted by two white monks went up to the high altar to say mass.
And it was not one of those masses served as so many are cooked in Paris, but a mass slow, meditated, and profound, a mass where the priest takes long to consecrate, overwhelmed before the altar, and when he elevated the Host no little bell tinkled, but the bells of the monastery spread abroad their slow peal, brief dull strokes, almost plaintive, while the Trappists disappeared; crouched on all-fours, their heads hidden below their desks.
When the mass ended it was nearly six o'clock. Durtal took the same way as the evening before, passed before the little chocolate factory, and saw through the windows the fathers wrapping up the tablets in lead paper, and in another room a tiny steam engine which a lay brother was directing.
He reached the walk where he had smoked the cigarettes in the shade. So gloomy at night, it was now charming with its two rows of aged limes which rustled gently while the wind wafted to him their enervating scent.
Seated on a bench, he could see at a glance the whole front of the abbey.
Before it was a long kitchen garden, with here and there some rose trees spread over the blueish basins and large balls of cabbages, and the old house, built in the monumental style of the seventeenth century, extended, solemn and immense, with eighteen windows in a row, and a pediment, in the span of which was placed a mighty clock.
It was roofed with slate, and surmounted by a ring of small bells, and was reached by a flight of several steps. It reached a height of at least five stories, though it had in reality only a ground and a first floor, but to judge by the unexpected height of the windows, the rooms had to accommodate their ceilings to the vast altitude of the church; on the whole the building was striking and cold, more apt, since it had been converted into a convent, to shelter the disciples of Jansen, than the sons of Saint Bernard.
The weather was warm that morning; the sun was filtered through the moving sieve of foliage, and the daylight, thus screened, was changed to rose colour as it touched the white. Durtal, who was about to read his prayer-book, saw the pages growing red, and by the law of complementary colours all the letters printed in black ink grew green.
He was amused by these details, and with his back to the warmth, he brightened up in this aromatic breeze, rested in this bath of sunshine from his fatigues of the night, when at the end of the walk he saw some of the brothers. They walked in silence, some carrying under their arms great round loaves, others holding milk cans, or baskets full of hay and eggs; they passed before him, and bowed respectfully.
All had a joyous and serious aspect. "Ah, good fellows," he thought, "for they helped me this morning, it is to them I owe it that I could keep silence no longer, and was able to pray, to have at last known the joy of supplication which at Paris was only a snare for me! to them, and above all to Our Lady de l'Atre, who had pity on my poor soul."
He sprang from his bench in an access of joy, went into the lateral walks, reached the piece of water he had partially seen the evening before; in front of it rose the huge cross he had seen at a distance from the carriage, in the wood, before he reached La Trappe.
It was placed opposite the monastery itself, and turned its back upon the pond; it bore an eighteenth-century Christ, of natural size, in white marble; the pond also took the form of a cross such as is shown on the greater part of the plans of churches.
This brown and liquid cross was spotted by duckweed, which the swan displaced as he swam.
He came towards Durtal, with extended beak, expecting, no doubt, a piece of bread.
Not a sound arose in this deserted spot, save the rustle of dry leaves which Durtal brushed as he walked. The clock struck seven.
He remembered that breakfast would be ready, and he walked quickly to the abbey. Father Etienne was waiting for him, shook hands, asked if he had slept well, then said:
"What would you like? I can only offer you milk and honey; I will send to-day to the nearest village and try to get you a little cheese, but you will have only a poor meal this morning."
Durtal proposed to exchange the milk for wine, declaring that he should then do very well, and said, "In any case I should do ill to complain, for you are fasting."
The monk smiled. "Just now," he said, "we are doing penance, on account of certain feasts of our order." And he explained that he only took food once a day, at two o'clock in the afternoon, after Nones.
"And you have not even wine and eggs to keep up your strength!"
Father Etienne smiled again. "One gets accustomed to it," he said. "What is this rule in comparison with that adopted by Saint Bernard and his companions, when they went to till the valley of Clairvaux? Their meal consisted of oak leaves, salted, cooked in muddy water."
And after a silence the Father continued: "No doubt the Trappist rule is hard, but it is mild if we carry our thoughts back to the rule of Saint Pacomius in the East. Only think; whoever wished to join that order had to remain ten days and nights at the door of the convent, and had to endure spitting and insults; if he still desired to enter, he fulfilled a three years' novitiate, inhabited a hut where he could not stand up, nor lie at full length, ate only olives and cabbage, prayed twelve times in the morning, twelve times in the afternoon, twelve times in the night; the silence was perpetual, and his mortifications never ceased. To prepare himself for this novitiate, and to learn to subdue his appetite, Saint Macarius thought of the plan of soaking his bread in a vessel with a very narrow neck, and only fed on the crumbs which he could take out with his fingers. When he was admitted into the monastery, he contented himself with gnawing leaves of raw cabbage on Sunday. Ah! they could stand more than we. We, alas! have no longer souls nor bodies stout enough to bear such fasts; but do not let that stop your meal; make as good an one as you can. Ah, by the way," said the monk, "be in the auditorium at ten precisely, where the Father Prior will hear your confession."
And he left the room.
If Durtal had received a blow on his head with a mallet, he could not have been more overwhelmed. All the scaffolding of his joys, so rapidly run up, fell. This strange fact had occurred, in the impulse of joy he had felt since daybreak he had wholly forgotten that he had to confess. He had a moment of aberration. "But I am forgiven," he thought; "the proof is that state of happiness, such as I have never known, that truly wonderful expansion of soul which I experienced in the chapel and in the wood."
The idea that nothing had begun, that all was still to do, terrified him; he had not the courage to swallow his bread, he drank a little wine, and rushed out of doors in a wind of panic.
He went, wildly, with great strides. Confession! The prior? Who was the prior? He sought in vain among the fathers whose faces he remembered the one who would hear him.
"My God!" he said, all at once, "but I do not even know how a confession is made."
He sought a deserted corner, where he could recollect himself a little. He was striding along without even knowing how he came there, along a walnut-tree walk with a wall on one side. There were some enormous trees, he hid himself behind the trunk of one of them, and sitting on the moss, turned over the leaves of his prayer-book, and read: "On arriving at the confessional, place yourself on your knees, make the sign of the cross, and ask the priest for his blessing, saying, 'Bless me, Father, for I have sinned;' then recite the Confiteor as far as mea culpa ... and ..."
He stopped, and without any need of probing it his life sprang out in jets of filth.
He shrank from it, there was so much, of every kind, that he was overwhelmed with despair.
Then by an effort of his will he pulled himself together, endeavoured to control and bank up these torrents, to separate them so as to understand them, but one affluent rolled back all the others, ended by overwhelming them, and became the river itself.
And this sin appeared at first ape-like and sly, at school where everyone tempted and corrupted others; then there was all his greedy youth, dragged through tap-rooms, rolled in swine troughs, wallowing in the sinks of prostitution, and then an ignoble manhood. To his regular tasks had succeeded toll paid to his senses, and shameful memories assailed him in a crowd; he recalled to mind how he had sought after monstrous iniquities, his pursuit of artifices aggravating the malice of the act, and the accomplices and agents of his sins passed in file before him.
Among all, at one time, there was a certain Mme. Chantelouve, a demoniacal adulteress who had drawn him headlong into frightful excesses, who had linked him to nameless crimes, sins against holy things, to sacrileges.
"How can I tell all this to the monk?" thought Durtal, terrified by the remembrance; "how can I even express myself, so as to make him understand without defilement?"
Tears rushed from his eyes. "My God, my God!" he sighed, "this is indeed too much."
And in her turn Florence appeared with her little street-arab smile, and her childish haunches. "I can never tell the confessor all that was brewed in the perfumed shade of her vices," cried Durtal. "I can by no means make him face these torrents of pus.
"Yet they say this has to be done;" and he bowed under the weight of the foulness of this girl.
"How shameful to have been riveted to her, how disgusting to have satisfied the abominable demands of her desires!"
Behind this sewer extended others. He had traversed all the districts of sin which the prayer-book patiently enumerated. He had never confessed since his first communion, and with the piling up of years had come successive deposits of sins. He grew pale at the thought that he was about to detail to another man all his dirt, to acknowledge his most secret thoughts, to say to him what one dares not repeat to one's own self, lest one should despise oneself too much.
He sweated with anguish, then nausea at his being, remorse for his life solaced him, and he gave himself up; regret for having lived so long in this cesspool was a very crucifixion to him; he wept long, doubting pardon, not even daring to ask it, so vile did he feel himself.
At last he sprang up; the hour of expiation must be at hand, in fact his watch pointed to a quarter to ten. His agony as he thus wrought with himself had lasted more than two hours.
He hurriedly reached the main path which led to the monastery. He walked with his head down, forcing back his tears.
He slackened his pace somewhat as he drew near the little pond; he lifted his eyes in supplication to the cross, and as he lowered them he met a look so moved, so compassionate, so gentle, that he stopped, and the look disappeared with the bow of a lay brother, who passed on his way.
"He read my thoughts," said Durtal to himself. "Oh, this charitable monk has good reason to pity me, for indeed I suffer. Ah, Lord, that I might be like that humble brother!" he cried, remembering that he had seen that very morning the young tall lad, praying in the chapel with such fervour that he seemed to rise from the ground, before Our Lady.
He arrived at the auditorium in a frightful state, and sank on a chair; then, like a hunted animal that thinks itself discovered, he sprang up, and, disturbed by his fears, moved by a wind of disorder, he thought of flight, that he would pack his bag, and make for the train.
He mastered himself, undecided and trembling, his ear on the watch, his heart beating with great strokes, and he heard the sound of distant steps. "My God," he said, waiting for the steps that drew near, "what manner of monk is coming?"
The steps were silent, and the door opened. Durtal in his alarm dared not look at the confessor, in whom he recognized the tall Trappist, with the imperious profile, whom he believed to be the abbot of the monastery.
His breath was taken away, and he drew back without saying a word.
Surprised at this silence, the prior said,—
"You have asked to make your confession, sir?"
And at a sign from Durtal, he pointed out the prie-Dieu placed against the wall, and himself knelt down, turning his back.
Durtal braced himself, fell down at the prie-Dieu, and then completely lost his head. He had vaguely prepared how to enter on the matter, noted the points of his statement, classified his sins in some degree, and now remembered nothing.
The monk rose, sat down on a straw chair, leant towards the penitent, his hand behind his ear to hear the better.
Durtal wished rather to die than speak; he succeeded, however, in mastering himself, and bridling his shame; he opened his lips, but no word came; he remained overwhelmed, his head in his hands, repressing the tears he felt ready to fall.
The monk did not move.
At last he made a desperate effort, stammered the beginning of the Confiteor, and said,
"I have not confessed, since my childhood; since then I have led a shameful life, I have ..."
The words would not come.
The Trappist remained silent, and did not assist him at all.
"I have committed every kind of debauch, I have done everything ... everything ..."
He choked, and the tears he had repressed flowed, he wept, his body was shaken, his face hidden in his hands.
And as the prior, still bending over him, did not move,
"But I cannot," he cried; "I cannot."
All that life he could not bring out, stifled him; he sobbed in despair at the view of his sins, and crushed also at finding himself thus abandoned, without a word of kindness, without help. It seemed to him that all was giving way, that he was lost, repulsed even by Him who yet had directed him to this abbey.
Then a hand was laid on his shoulder, while a gentle, low voice said,
"Your soul is too tired for me to fatigue you with questions, come back at nine o'clock to-morrow, we shall have time before us, we shall not then be hurried by any office; from now till then, think of the story of Calvary; the cross, which was made for the sins of the whole world, lay so heavily on the shoulders of the Saviour, that His knees bent and He fell. A man of Cyrene passed by who helped the Lord to bear it. You, in detesting, in weeping for your sins, have alleviated and rendered lighter, if one may say so, the cross of the burthen of your sins, and having made it less heavy, have thus allowed Our Lord to lift it.
"He has recompensed you by the most astonishing of miracles, the miracle of having brought you here from so far off. Thank Him, then, with all your heart, and be not discomforted. You will say to-day for your penance, the Penitential Psalms, and the Litany of the Saints. I will give you my blessing."
And the prior blessed him and went out. Durtal raised himself up after his tears; what he feared so much had happened; the monk who would take him in hand was impassive, almost dumb. "Alas!" he thought, "my abscesses are ripe, but it needs the cut of a lancet to open them."
"After all," he went on, as he went upstairs to bathe his eyes in his cell, "this Trappist was compassionate at last, not so much in what he said, as the tone in which he said it; then, to be just, he was perhaps confused by my tears; the Abbe Gevresin certainly did not tell Father Etienne that I was taking refuge in La Trappe in order to be converted, let us put ourselves in the place of a man living in God, far from the world, over whose head a shower bath is suddenly discharged.
"Well, we shall see to-morrow;" and Durtal made haste to sponge his face, for it was nearly eleven o'clock and the office of Sext was about to begin.
He went to the chapel, which was almost empty, for the brothers were working at that time in the chocolate factory, and in the fields.
The fathers were in their places in the apse. The prior struck his bell, all signed themselves with a large cross, and on the left, where he could not see, for Durtal had taken the same place as in the morning, near Saint Joseph's altar, a voice arose:
"Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum."
And the other part of the choir answered:
"Et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus."
There was a moment's pause, and the pure thin voice of the old Trappist sang as before the office of Compline the evening before:
"Deus in adjutorium meum intende."
And the liturgy continued its course, with its "Gloria Patri," etc., during which the monks bowed their foreheads on their books, and with its series of psalms, accented in short tones on the one side, and long on the other.
Durtal, as he knelt, allowed himself to be rocked by the psalmody, too tired to be able to pray himself.
Then, when Sext was ended, all the fathers meditated, and Durtal caught a look of pity from the prior, who turned a little towards his bench. He understood that the monk implored the Saviour for him, and perhaps asked God to show him the way in which he might conduct himself on the morrow.
Durtal rejoined M. Bruno in the court; they shook hands, and the oblate announced the presence of a new guest.
"No; a curate from the neighbourhood of Lyons, he has come to see the abbot, who is ill."
"But I thought the abbot of Notre Dame de l'Atre was the tall monk who led the office?"
"Oh no; that was the prior Father Maximin, you have not seen the abbot, and I doubt if you will see him, for I do not think he will leave his bed before you go."
They reached the guest-house, and found Father Etienne making excuses to a short fat priest for the poor fare he could offer.
He was a jovial priest, with strong features moulded in yellow fat.
He joked M. Bruno, whom he seemed to have known some time, on the sin of gluttony which must so often be committed at La Trappe, then tasted, pretending a chuckle of delight, the scentless bouquet of the poor wine he poured out, and lastly, when he divided with a spoon the omelette which was the main dish of their dinner, he pretended to cut up a fowl, and to be delighted with the fine appearance of the flesh; saying to Durtal, "This is a barley-fed fowl, may I offer you a wing?"
This kind of pleasantry exasperated Durtal, who had no wish to laugh that day; he therefore was satisfied to make a vague bow, wishing to himself that the end of dinner was at hand.
The conversation continued between the priest and M. Bruno.
After it had spread over various commonplaces, it took a more definite form, in regard to an invisible otter which plundered the abbey ponds.
"But, no doubt," said the curate, "you have found its lair?"
"Never; it is easy to see in the lain grass the paths it traverses to get to the water, but we always lose its traces at the same spot. We have watched for days with Father Etienne, but it has never shown itself."
The abbe explained various traps which might be set with advantage. Durtal thought of the otter-hunt which Balzac tells so pleasantly at the beginning of his "Paysans," when the dinner came to an end.
The curate said grace, and said to M. Bruno, "Suppose we take a turn; the fresh air will do instead of the coffee, which they forget to give us."
Durtal returned to his cell.
He felt himself emptied, injured, cheated, reduced to a state of fibre, a state of pulp. His body, crushed by the nightmares of the night, enervated by the scene of the morning, needed entire rest, and if his soul had not still that infatuation which had broken it in tears at the monk's feet, it was sad and restless, and it also asked for silence, repose, and sleep.
"Let us see," said Durtal, "I must not give way, let me bestir myself."
He read the Penitential Psalms and the Litanies of the Saints; then he hesitated between two volumes of Saint Bonaventure and Saint Angela.
He decided on the Blessed Angela. She had sinned and had been converted, and she seemed less far from him, more intelligible, more helpful than the Seraphic Doctor, than a Saint who had always remained pure, sheltered from falls. For she too had been a carnal sinner; she too had reached the Saviour from afar.
A married woman, she lived in adultery and shame; lovers succeeded one another, and when she had exhausted them she threw them aside like husks. Suddenly grace rose in her and made her soul break forth; she went to confession, not daring to avow the more awful of her sins, and she communicated, thus grafting sacrilege upon her other faults.
She lived, day and night tortured by remorse, and finally prayed to Saint Francis of Assisi to help her; and the next night the saint appeared to her. "My sister," he said, "if you had called on me sooner, I should have granted your prayer before this." The next day she went to church, heard a priest preaching, understood she must address herself to him, and laid all before him in a full confession.
Then began the trials of an appalling life of purification. In blow after blow she lost her mother, her husband, her children; she went through such violent temptations to impurity that she was obliged to seize on lighted coals and cauterize the plague of her senses with fire.
During two years the demon sifted her. She parted her goods among the poor, assumed the habit of the Third Order of Saint Francis, gathered in the sick and infirm, and begged for them in the streets.
One day a feeling of sickness came over her before a leper whose sores were stinking. To punish herself she drank the water in which she had washed the sores; she was overcome with nausea; and punished herself yet more by forcing herself to swallow a scab which had not gone down with the water and remained dry in her throat.
For years she dressed ulcers and meditated on the Passion of Christ. Then her novitiate of sorrows drew to a close and a radiant day of visions dawned on her. Jesus treated her as a spoilt child, called her, "My sweetest, my well-beloved daughter;" He dispensed her from the necessity of eating, and nourished her only with the Sacred Species; He called her, drew her, absorbed her in uncreated light, and by anticipating her inheritance, enabled her to understand, in life, the joys of heaven.
And she was so simple and timid that she feared in spite of all, for the memory of her sins alarmed her. She could not believe herself forgiven, and said to Christ; "Ah, if I could but put myself in an iron collar and drag myself to the market-place to proclaim my shame."
And He consoled her: "Be easy, My daughter, My sufferings have atoned for your sins;" and as she reproached herself for having lived in opulence and having delighted in clothes and jewels, He addressed her, smiling: "To buy you riches, I have wanted for everything; you required a great number of clothes, and I had but one garment of which the soldiers stripped Me, for which they drew lots; My nakedness was the expiation of your vanity in ornaments."
And all her conversations with Christ were in this tone. He passed His time in comforting this humble creature whom His benefits overwhelmed; and this has made her the most loving of the saints! her work is a succession of spiritual outpourings and caresses; her book is such a living hearth that beside it the volumes of other mystics seem but dull coal.
"Ah," said Durtal to himself, in turning over these pages, "it was indeed the Christ of Saint Francis, the God of mercy who spoke to this Franciscan!" and he went on: "that ought to give me courage, for Angela of Foligno was as great a sinner as I am, but all her sins were remitted! Yes, but then what a soul she had, while mine is good for nothing; instead of loving, I reason; nevertheless it is right to remember that the conditions of the Blessed Angela were more favourable than mine. Living in the thirteenth century she had a shorter journey to make to approach God, for since the Middle Ages, each century takes us further from Him! she lived in a time full of miracles, which overflowed with Saints. For me, I live in Paris in an age when miracles are rare and Saints scarcely abound. And once away from here, what a vista is before me of falling away, of soaking myself in a stew of infamy, in a bath of the sins of great cities."
"By the way" ... he looked at his watch and started; it was two o'clock—"I have missed the office of Nones," he said; "I must simplify my complicated horary, or I shall never know where I am;" and at once he traced in a few lines:
"Morning. Rise at 3 o'clock, or rather at 3.30. Breakfast at 7—Sext at 11, dinner at 11.30—Nones at 1.30—Vespers at 5.15—Supper at 6, and Compline at 7.25."
"There, at least that is clear and easy to remember—If only Father Etienne have not noticed my absence from chapel!"
He left his room. "Ah, here is the famous rule," he said to himself, on seeing a framed table hung on the landing.
He approached and read:—
"Rule for Visitors."
It was composed of numerous paragraphs, and opened as follows:—
"Those whom Divine Providence has guided to this monastery are requested to note the following:—
"They will at all times avoid meeting the religious and lay brothers, and will not go near their places of work.
"They are forbidden to leave the cloister for the farm or the neighbourhood of the monastery."
Then came a series of instructions which he had already seen on the printed horary.
Durtal skipped several paragraphs, and read again:—
"Visitors are requested not to write anything on the doors, not to strike matches on the wall, and not to spill water on the floor.
"They are not allowed to visit each other's rooms or to speak to one another.
"Smoking is not allowed in the house."
"Nor indeed outside," thought Durtal. "But I want a cigarette badly;" and he went down.
In the corridor he ran against Father Etienne, who immediately observed that he had not seen him in his place during the office. Durtal excused himself as well as he could. The monk said no more, but Durtal understood that he was observed, and that under his childlike aspect the guest-master would, where discipline was concerned, hold him in an iron grip. He was confirmed in this impression when at Vespers he noticed that the monk's first glance on entering the chapel was at him, but that day he felt so sore and broken that he cared but little. This sudden change of existence, and of the manner in which he had been accustomed to spend his time, astounded him, and since the crisis of the morning he had been in a kind of torpor which took from him all power of recovery. He drifted to the end of the day, no longer thinking of anything, sleeping as he stood, and when the evening came he fell on his bed a mere inert mass.
He woke with a bound at eleven o'clock, with an impression of someone looking at him in his sleep. Lighting a match, he ascertained the time, and seeing no one, fell back in bed again, and slept at a stretch till four o'clock. Then he dressed himself in haste and ran to the church.
The vestibule, which had been dark on the previous evening, was lit up that morning, for an old monk was celebrating mass at the altar of St. Joseph. He was bald and infirm, with a white beard waving from side to side in long threads with every gust of wind.
A lay brother was assisting him, a small man with black hair and a shaven head, like a ball painted blue; he looked like a bandit, with his beard in disorder and his worn-out robe of felt.
And the eyes of this bandit were gentle and startled like those of a little boy. He served the priest with an almost timid respect and a suppressed joy which was touching to see.
Others, kneeling on the flagstones, prayed with concentrated attention or read their mass. Durtal noticed the old man of eighty, immovable with outstretched face and closed eyes; and the youth whose look of pity had helped him near the pond, was following the office in his prayer-book with attentive meditation. He looked about twenty years old, tall and strong; his face, with an air of fatigue, was at once masculine and tender, with emaciated features, and a light beard which fell over his habit in a point.
Durtal gave way to his emotions in this chapel, where everyone did a little to help him, and thinking of the confession he was about to make, he implored the Saviour to help him, and prayed that the monk would completely explore his soul.
And he felt himself less dismayed, more master of himself, and firmer. He collected and pulled himself together, feeling a melancholy confusion, but he had no longer the sense of desolation which had overcome him the evening before. He set his mind on the idea that he would not abandon himself, that he would help himself with all his might, and that in any case he could not collect himself better.
These reflections were interrupted by the departure of the old Trappist, who had finished offering the sacrifice, and by the entry of the prior, who went up in the rotunda between two white fathers to say mass at the high altar.
Durtal was absorbed in his prayer-book, but he ceased reading when the priest had consumed the Species, for all rose, and he was amazed at a sight of which he had never dreamed, a communion of monks.
They advanced in single file, silent and with downcast eyes, and when the first arrived before the altar, he turned round to embrace the comrade who followed; he in turn took in his arms the religious who followed him, and so on to the last. All, before receiving the Eucharist, exchanged the kiss of peace, then they knelt, communicated, and came back in single file, turning into the rotunda behind the altar.
And the return was unexpected; with the white fathers at the head of the line, they made their way very slowly with closed eyes and joined hands. The faces seemed to be somewhat altered; they were differently lit from within; it seemed that the soul, driven by the power of the Sacrament against the sides of the body, filtered through the pores and lit up the skin with a special light of joy, with that kind of brightness which pours from white souls, and makes way like a rose-coloured vapour along the cheeks, and shines, as if concentrated, on the brow.
Watching the mechanical and hesitating gait of these monks, it seemed as if their bodies were no more than automata moving from habit, and that the souls, being elsewhere, gave no heed to them.
Durtal recognized the old lay brother, bent so much that his face disappeared in his beard which pressed against his chest, and his two great knotty hands trembled as he clasped them; he also noticed the tall young brother, his features seeming drawn on a dissolved surface, gliding with short steps, his eyes closed.
By a fatal chance he thought upon himself. He was the only one who did not communicate, for he saw M. Bruno coming last from behind the altar and returning to his place with folded arms. This exclusion brought home to him clearly how different he was, and how far apart, from those around him! All were admitted, and he alone remained outside. His unworthiness was more apparent, and he grew sad at being put aside, looked on, as he deserved to be, as a stranger, separated like the goat of the Scriptures, penned, far from the sheep, on the left of Christ.
These reflections were of use to him, for they relieved him of the terror of confession which was again coming over him. This act seemed to him so natural and just, in his necessary humiliation and unavoidable suffering, that a desire came over him to accomplish it at once, so that he might appear in this chapel purified and washed, and with at least some resemblance to the others.
When the mass was over, he made his way towards his cell to get a tablet of chocolate.
At the top of the stairs M. Bruno, with a large apron round him, was getting ready to clean the steps.
Durtal looked on him with surprise. The oblate smiled and shook hands with him.
"This is an excellent task for the soul," he said, showing his broom; "it recalls modest sentiments which one is too inclined to forget after living in the world."
And he began sweeping vigorously, and collecting into a pan the dust which like pepper filled every crevice in the floor.
Durtal carried his tablet into the garden. "Let us consider," he said to himself as he nibbled it; "supposing I took another walk and tried an unknown part of the wood?" And he felt no wish to do so. "No, placed as I am, I would rather haunt the same spot and not leave the places to which I am accustomed; I am already so little under control, and so easily disturbed, that I do not wish to risk anything by curiosity to see new places." And he went down to the cross pond. He went along the banks, and having reached the end, was astonished to find, a few steps farther, a stream spotted with green pellicules, hollowing its way between two hedges which fenced in the monastery. The fields stretched out beyond, and the roofs of a large farmhouse were visible in the trees, and all round the horizon on hills were forests which seemed to stop the way before the sky.
"I imagined the grounds were larger," he said to himself, retracing his steps; and having reached the end of the cross pond, he gazed on the huge wooden crucifix reared in the air which was reflected in that black mirror. It sank down, seen from behind, trembling in the small waves stirred up by the breeze, and seemed to fall whirling round in that stretch of ink. And as the body of the marble Christ was hidden by the wood, only the two white arms which hung below the tree could be seen, twisted in the blackness of the water.
Seated on the grass, Durtal gazed on the hazy image of the recumbent cross, and thinking of his soul, which, like the pond, was tanned and stained by a bed of dead leaves and a dunghill of sins, he pitied the Saviour whom he was about to invite to bathe Himself there, for it would no longer be the Martyr of Golgotha to whom at all events death came on a hill, His head high, by daylight, in the open air! but it would be by an increase of outrages, the abominable plunging of the crucified body, the head low, by night, into a depth of mud.
"Ah! it would be time to spare Him, in filtering and clarifying me," he cried to himself. And the swan, till then motionless in an arm of the pond, swept over the lamentable image in advancing, and whitened the moving mourning of the waters with its peaceful reflection.
And Durtal thought of the absolution which he would perhaps obtain, and he reopened his prayer-book and numbered his faults; and, slowly, as on the day before, he tapped, in his innermost being, a fountain of tears.
"I must control myself," he said, trembling at the idea that he would suffocate again and be unable to speak; and he resolved to begin his confession at the other end, first going over the minor sins, keeping the great ones for the end so as to finish with the avowal of his carnal misdeeds: "if I succumb then I can explain myself in two words. My God! may the prior only not remain silent as he did yesterday, may he only absolve me!"
He shook off his sadness, left the pond, and returning to the lime avenue, he interested himself in a closer inspection of the trees. They raised huge trunks, covered with reddish-brown stonecrop, silvered grey by mosses; and several that morning were wrapped as in a mantle trimmed with pearls, gossamer threads studded with drops of dew.
He sat down on a bench, but fearing a shower, for it looked threatening, he retired to his cell.
He felt no desire to read; he was eager for, while yet he dreaded, the arrival of nine o'clock, to have done with, to get rid of the weight upon his soul, and he prayed mechanically, without knowing what he mumbled, always thinking on this confession, full of alarm and harassed with fears.
He went down a little before the time, and when he entered the auditorium his heart failed him.
In spite of himself, his eyes were fixed upon the prie-Dieu, where he had suffered so cruelly.
To think that he had to put himself on that hurdle again, to stretch himself on that rack of torture! He tried to collect himself, to compose himself—and he drew himself up quickly; he heard the footsteps of the monk. The door opened, and, for the first time, Durtal dared to look the prior in the face; it seemed to be hardly the same man, nor the face, he had noticed from a distance; the profile was so haughty, and the full face so sweet; the eye dulled the proud energy of the features, an eye familiar and deep, when at the same time there was a quiet joy and a sad pity.
"Come," he said, "do not be disturbed, you are about to speak to our Saviour alone, who knows all your faults." And he knelt down and prayed for some time and came, as on the day before, to sit by the prie-Dieu; he bent towards Durtal and listened.
Somewhat reassured, the penitent began without too great anguish. He accused himself of faults common to all men, want of charity towards his neighbour, evil speaking, hate, rash judgment, abuse, lies, vanity, anger, etc.
The monk interrupted him for a moment.
"You said, just now, I think, that in your youth you contracted debts; have you paid them?"
And on an affirmative sign from Durtal, he said, "Good," and went on,
"Have you belonged to any secret society? have you fought a duel?—I am obliged to ask these questions for they are reserved cases."
"No?—Good"—and he was silent.
"Before God, I accuse myself of everything," resumed Durtal; "as I confessed to you, yesterday, since my first communion I have given up everything; prayers, mass, everything; I have denied God, I have blasphemed, I had entirely lost faith."
And Durtal stopped.
He was reaching the sins of the flesh. His voice fell.
"Here I do not know how to explain myself," he said, keeping back his tears.
"Let us see," the monk said gently; "you told me yesterday that you had committed all those acts which are comprised in the sin of lust."
"Yes, father;" and trembling, he added, "Must I go into the details?"
"No, it is useless. I will confine myself to asking you, for it alters the nature of the sin, whether in your case there have been any private sins, or any sins committed between persons of the same sex?"
"Not since I left school."
"Have you committed adultery?"
"Am I to understand that in your relations with women, you have committed every possible excess?"
Durtal made an affirmative sign.
"That is sufficient."
And the monk was silent.
Durtal choked with disgust; the avowal of these horrors was a terrible effort to him; yet crushed as he was by shame, he was beginning to breathe, when suddenly he plunged his head again in his hands.
The remembrance of the sacrilege in which Madame Chantelouve had made him share, came back to him.
Hesitatingly he confessed that he had from curiosity assisted at a black mass, and that afterwards, without wishing it, he had defiled a Host which that woman, saturated with Satanism, concealed about her.
The prior listened without moving.
"Did you continue your visits to that woman?"
"No; that had given me a horror of her."
The Trappist reflected and said,
"That is all?"
"I think I have confessed everything," replied Durtal.
The confessor was silent for some minutes, and then in a pensive voice, he murmured,
"I am struck, even more than yesterday, by the astonishing miracle which Heaven has worked in you.
"You were sick, so sick that what Martha said of the body of Lazarus might truly have been said of your soul, 'Iam foetet!' And Christ has, in some manner, raised you. Only do not deceive yourself, the conversion of a sinner is not his cure, but only his convalescence; and this convalescence sometimes lasts for several years and is often long.
"It is expedient that you should determine from this moment to fortify yourself against any falling back, and to do all in your power for recovery. The preventive treatment consists of prayer, the sacrament of penance, and holy communion.
"Prayer?—you know it, for without much prayer you could not have decided to come here after the troubled life you had led."
"Ah! but I prayed so badly!"
"It does not matter, as your wish was to pray well! Confession?—It was painful to you; it will be less so now that you no longer have to avow the accumulated sins of years. The communion troubles me more; for it is to be feared that when you have triumphed over the flesh the Demon should await you there, and endeavour to draw you away, for he knows well that, without this divine government, no healing is possible. You will therefore have to give this matter all your attention."
The monk reflected a minute, and then went on,
"The holy Eucharist ... you will have more need of it than others, for you will be more unhappy than less cultured and simpler beings. You will be tortured by the imagination. It has made you sin much; and, by a just recompense, it will make you suffer much; it will be the badly closed door of your soul by which the Demon will enter and spread himself in you. Watch over this, and pray fervently that the Saviour may help you. Tell me, have you a rosary?"
"I feel," said the monk, "that the tone in which you said 'No' shows a certain hostility to the rosary."
"I admit that this mechanical manner of saying prayers wearies me a little; I do not know why, but it seems to me that at the end of some seconds I can no longer think of what I am saying; I should mock, and should certainly end by stammering out something stupid."
"You have known," quietly answered the prior, "some fathers of families. Their children stammer forth caresses, and tell them no matter what, and yet they are delighted to listen! Why should not our Lord, who is a good Father, love to hear His children when they drawl, or even when they talk nonsense?"
And after a pause he went on,
"I scent the devil's artifice in what you say, for the highest graces are attached to this crown of prayers. The most Blessed Virgin herself revealed to the saints this means of prayer; she declared she delighted in it; that should be enough to make us love it.
"Do it, then, for her who has powerfully assisted in your conversion, who has interceded with her Son to save you. Remember, also, that God wished that all graces should come to us through her. St. Bernard expressly declares 'Totum nos habere voluit per Mariam.'"
The monk paused anew, and added,
"However, the rosary enrages fools, and that is a sure sign. You will for a penance recite ten every day for a month."
He ceased, and then went on again, slowly,
"All of us, alas! retain that scar of original sin which is the inclination towards evil; each man encourages it more or less; as for you, since you grew up, the scar has been always open, but as you hate the wound God will close it.
"So I will say nothing of your past, as your repentance and your firm resolve to sin no more efface it. To-morrow, you will receive the pledge of reconciliation, you will communicate; after so many years the Lord will set out on the way to your soul and will rest there; approach Him with great humility, and prepare yourself from this moment, by prayer, for this mysterious meeting of hearts which His goodness desires. Now say your act of contrition and I will give you holy absolution."
The monk raised his arms, and the sleeves of his white cowl rose above him like two wings. With uplifted eyes he uttered the imperious formula which breaks the bonds, and the three words, "Ego te absolvo," spoken more distinctly and slowly, fell upon Durtal, who trembled from head to foot. He almost sank to the ground, incapable of collecting himself or understanding himself, only feeling, in the clearest manner, that Christ Himself was present, near him in that place, and finding no word of thanks, he wept, ravished and bowed down under the great sign of the cross with which the monk enveloped him.
He seemed to be waking from a dream as the prior said to him,
"Rejoice, your life is dead; it is buried in a cloister, and in a cloister it will be born again; it is a good omen; have confidence in our Lord and go in peace."
And the father added, pressing his hand, "Do not be afraid of disturbing me, I am entirely at your service, not only for confession, but for interviews and for any advice which may be of use to you; you quite understand me?"
They left the auditorium together; the monk bowed to him in the corridor and disappeared. Durtal hesitated whether to meditate in his cell or in the church, when M. Bruno met him. Approaching Durtal he said,
"Well? that is a fine weight the less on your stomach!"
And as Durtal looked at him in astonishment he laughed.
"Do you think that an old sinner like me could not tell from a thousand nothings, if only from the way your poor eyes are now shining, that you had not been reconciled when you landed here? Now I have just met the reverend father returning to the cloister, and I find you coming out of the auditorium; there is no need to be particularly sly to guess that the great wash has just taken place."
"But," said Durtal, "you could not have seen the prior with me, for he had left before you came in, and he might have been performing some other duty."
"No, for he was not in his scapular; he had his cowl on. And as he never puts on that robe except to go to church or at confessions, I was quite certain that he came from the auditorium, as there is no office at this hour. I may also point out that as the Trappists do not come to confession in this room, two persons only could have been with him, you or I."
"You may say as much," replied Durtal, laughing.
Father Etienne met them in the midst of all this, and Durtal asked him for a rosary.
"But I have not one," exclaimed the monk.
"I have several," said M. Bruno, "and shall be most happy to offer you one. You will allow me, father?..."
The monk acquiesced by a sign.
"Then if you will come with me," replied the oblate, addressing Durtal, "I will hand it you without delay."
They went upstairs together, and Durtal then learnt that M. Bruno lived in a room at the bottom of a small corridor, not far from his own.
His cell was very simply furnished with old middle-class furniture, a bed, a mahogany bureau, a large book-case full of ascetic books, an earthenware stove and some arm-chairs. These articles were evidently the property of the oblate, for they were nothing like the furniture of La Trappe.
"Pray be seated," said M. Bruno, indicating an arm-chair; and they conversed.
Having first discussed the Sacrament of Penance, the talk came round to the subject of Father Maximin, and Durtal admitted the high bearing of the prior had terrified him at first.
M. Bruno laughed. "Yes," he said, "he produces that effect on those who never come near him, but when one associates with him, one finds that he is only strict for himself, for no one is more indulgent to others. In every acceptation of the term he is a true and holy monk; besides, he has great judgment...."
And as Durtal spoke to him of the other cenobites, and wondered that there were some quite young men among them, M. Bruno replied,
"It is a mistake to suppose that most Trappists have lived in the world. The idea, so widespread, that people take refuge in La Trappe after long sorrows or disorderly lives, is absolutely false; besides, to be able to stand the weakening rule of the cloister it is necessary to begin young, and not to come in worn out with every kind of abuse.
"It is also necessary to avoid confounding misanthropy with the monastic vocation; it is not hypochondria, but the divine call, which leads to La Trappe. There is a special grace, which makes all young men who have never lived in the world long to bury themselves in silence and therein suffer the hardest privations; and they are happy as I hope you will be; and yet their life is still more rigorous than you would think; take the lay brothers, for example.
"Think of their giving themselves up to the most painful labour, and that they have not, like the fathers, the consolation of singing and assisting at all the offices; remember that even their reward, the communion, is not very often conceded to them.
"Now think of the winter here. The cold is frightful; in these decayed buildings nothing shuts properly, and the wind sweeps the house from top to bottom; they freeze without fires, they sleep upon pallets, and they cannot help or encourage each other, for they hardly know each other, as all conversation is forbidden.
"Think, also, that these poor people never hear a kindly word, a word which would soothe and comfort them. They work from dawn till night, and the master never thanks them for their zeal, never tells the good workman that he is pleased.
"Consider, also, that in summer when men are hired from the neighbouring villages to reap the harvest, these rest when the sun scorches the fields; they sit in their shirt sleeves under the shade of the ricks, and drink, if they are thirsty, and eat; and the lay brother in his heavy clothes looks at them and goes on with his work, and neither eats nor drinks. Ah! men must have well-tempered souls to stand such a life."
"But surely there must be some off days," said Durtal, "when the rule is relaxed?"
"Never; there is not even, as in some very strict orders—the Carmelites, to take one instance—an hour of recreation, when the religious may talk and laugh. Here, the silence is eternal."
"Even when they are together in the refectory?"
"Then they read the Conferences of Cassien, the 'Holy Ladder' of Climacus, the Lives of the Fathers of the Desert, or some other pious book."
"And on Sunday?"
"On Sunday they rise an hour earlier; but on the whole it is their best day, for they can follow all the offices and pass their whole time in church."
"Humility and self-denial carried to such an extent are superhuman!" cried Durtal. "But they are surely given a sufficient quantity of strong nourishment to enable them to give themselves up from morning till evening to exhausting work in the fields?"
M. Bruno smiled.
"They simply get vegetables which are not even as good as those which are served to us, and, by way of wine, they quench their thirst with a sour and insipid liquid, which leaves half a glass full of sediment. They get a pint each, and if they are thirsty they can add water."
"And how often do they eat?"
"That depends. From the 14th September to Lent they only eat once a day, at half-past two—and during Lent this meal is put off till four o'clock. From Easter to the 14th September, when the Cistercian fast is less strict, dinner is at about half-past eleven, and to this may be added a light meal in the evening."
"It is frightful! to work for months on one meal a day, two hours after noon, after being up since two o'clock in the morning; having had no dinner the evening before."
"It is sometimes necessary to relax the rule a little, and when a monk fails from weakness he is not refused a morsel of bread.
"It would be well," continued M. Bruno, pensively, "to relax still further the grasp of these observances, for this question of food is becoming a veritable stumbling-block in recruiting for La Trappe; souls which delight in these cloisters are forced to fly them, because their bodies cannot stand the rule."
 The opinion of M. Bruno has been lately adopted by all the abbeys of the order. In a General Chapter of La Trappe, held from the 12th to the 18th September, 1894, in Holland, at Tilburg, it was decided that except in seasons of fasting, the monks might eat a little in the morning, dine at eleven, and sup in the evening.
Article CXVI. of the new constitutions, voted by this assembly of the Chapter and approved by the Holy See, is in effect thus conceived:—
"Diebus quibus non jejunatur a Sancto Pascha usque ad Idus Septembris, Dominicis per totum annum et omnibus festis Sermonis aut feriatis extra Quadrigesimam, omnes monachi mane accipiant mixtum, hora undecima prandeant et ad seram coenent."
"And the fathers lead the same life as the lay brothers?"
"Absolutely—they set the example; they all swallow the same pittance, and sleep in the same dormitory on similar beds; there is complete equality. Only, the fathers have the advantage of singing the office and obtaining more frequent communions."
"Among the lay brothers there are two who have interested me particularly, one quite young, a tall fair man with a pointed beard, the other a very old man, quite bent?"
"The young one is Brother Anacletus; this young man is a veritable column of prayer, and one of the most precious recruits whom Heaven has bestowed upon our abbey. As for old Simeon, he is a child of La Trappe, for he was brought up in an orphanage of the order. There you have an extraordinary soul, a true saint, who already lives absorbed in God. We will talk of him at greater length another day, for it is time we went down; the hour of Sext is near.
"Wait, here is the rosary which I am pleased to offer you. Allow me to add to it a medal of Saint Benedict." And he made over to Durtal a small wooden rosary, and the strange circle engraved with cabalistic letters, the amulet of Saint Benedict.
"Do you know the meaning of these signs?"
"Yes; I read it once in a pamphlet of Dom Gueranger."
"Good. And, by-the-bye, when do you communicate?"
"To-morrow; it is impossible!"
"Because there will be only a single mass to-morrow, that of five o'clock, and at that the rule prevents your communicating alone. Father Benedict, who usually says an earlier mass, went away this morning and will not return for two days. There is some mistake."
"But the prior positively declared to me that I should communicate to-morrow!" exclaimed Durtal. "Not all the fathers here, then, are priests?"
"No, in fact, as to priests, there is the abbot who is ill, the prior who will offer the sacrifice to-morrow at five o'clock, Father Benedict of whom I spoke to you, and another whom you have not seen and who is travelling. And then, if it had been possible, I also should have approached the Holy Table."
"Then, if the fathers are not all ordained, what difference is there between those who have obtained the priesthood and the simple lay brothers?"
"Education—to be a father a man must have studied, must know Latin, and in a word must not be what the lay brothers are, peasants or workmen. In any case I shall see the prior, and as to the communion to-morrow, I will let you know, after the office. But it is tiresome; it is a pity you could not have come up this morning, with us."
Durtal made a gesture of regret. He went into the chapel, dwelling on this misfortune and praying God not to delay his re-entry into grace any longer.
After Sext, the oblate came to rejoin him. "It is just as I thought," he said, "but nevertheless you will be admitted to take the Sacrament. The father prior has arranged with the curate who dines with us. He will say a mass to-morrow morning before leaving, and you will then communicate."
"Oh!" groaned Durtal.
This news broke his heart. That he should have come to La Trappe to receive the Eucharist from the hands of a priest of passage, from a jovial priest such as this man! "Ah, no, I have confessed to a monk, and I wished to receive the communion from a monk!" he exclaimed. "It would have been better to wait till Father Benedict returned—but what can I do? I can hardly explain to the prior how repugnant this unknown priest is to me, and how terribly painful it would be to me, after having gone through so much, to end by being thus reconciled in a cloister."
And he complained to God, telling Him that all the joy he might have felt in being purified and clean at last, was now spoilt by this disappointment.
He arrived at the refectory hanging his head.
The curate was there already. Seeing Durtal's sad demeanour, he charitably tried to cheer him, but the jokes he attempted produced the opposite effect. Durtal smiled in order to be polite, but his air was so wearied that M. Bruno, who saw it, turned the conversation and monopolized the priest.
Durtal was in a hurry for his dinner to be over. He had eaten his egg and was painfully swallowing a warm potato soup made with hot oil, which from its appearance might have been mistaken for vaseline; but he now cared little about his food.
He said to himself, "It is dreadful to carry away an irritating and painful recollection of a first communion—and I know it will haunt me for ever. I know well enough that from a theological point of view it does not matter whether I am dealing with a priest or a Trappist; both are but interpreters between God and me, but yet, I feel very well that it is not at all the same thing. For once at least I need a guarantee of certain holiness, and how can I have it with an ecclesiastic who hawks about jokes like a bagman?" He stopped, remembering that the Abbe Gevresin, fearing this mistrust, had specially sent him to a Trappist monastery. "What a run of ill-luck!" he said to himself.
He did not even hear the conversation which was going on beside him between the curate and the oblate.
He struggled with himself all alone, as he chewed, with his nose in his plate.
"I do not wish to communicate to-morrow," he went on, and he was shocked. He was cowardly, and becoming foolish at the last. Would not the Saviour give Himself to him all the same?
He rose from the table, stirred by a dull anguish, and he wandered in the park and went down the paths as chance led him.
Another idea was now growing in him, an idea that Heaven was inflicting a trial upon him. "I want humility," he repeated. "Well, it is to punish me that I am refused the joy of being sanctified by a monk. Christ has forgiven me, that is much. Why should He do more by taking note of my preferences and granting my wishes?"
This thought appeased him for a few minutes, and reproaching himself for rebelling, he accused himself of being unjust towards a priest who, after all, might be a saint.
"Ah, enough of that," he said; "I must accept the fact, and try for once to be a little humble! but I have to recite my rosary." He seated himself on the grass and began.
He had not reached the second bead, when misunderstanding again pursued him. He began again on the Pater and Ave, and went on thinking no more of the sense of his prayers, reflecting: "What ill-luck that the one monk who says mass every day should be away, so that I have to go through such a disappointment to-morrow!"
He was silent and had a moment of calm, when suddenly a new element of trouble burst upon him.
He looked at the rosary, of which he had told ten beads.
"Let me see, the prior told me to recite ten every day—ten beads or ten rosaries?"
"Beads," he said, and almost at the same moment answered, "Rosaries."
He remained perplexed.
"But that is idiotic, he could not have told me to go through the rosary ten times a day; that would amount to something like five hundred prayers on end; no one could do such a task without losing his wits. There is no doubt, it is clear he meant ten beads!
"But no! for if a confessor gives a penance, it must be admitted that he would proportion it to the greatness of the sins. And as I have such repugnance for these drops of devotion taken in globules, it is natural that he should gorge me with a large dose of the rosary!
"Still ... still ... it cannot be! I should not have even time for it all in Paris; it is absurd!"
And the idea that he was deceiving himself came intermittently charging back.
"Still, there must be no haggling; in ecclesiastical language 'ten' means ten beads; no doubt ... but I remember very well that after he pronounced the word rosary, the father expressed himself thus: 'you will say ten,' that means ten rosaries, for otherwise he would have specified ten ... of a rosary."
And so he thrust and parried with himself—"The father had no need to put the dots on all the i's, if he were using an ordinary phrase, known to everyone. This cavilling about the value of a word is ridiculous."
He tried to get rid of this torment by appealing to his reason; and suddenly there came out some argument which unsettled him.
He found out that it was through cowardice, idleness, desire for contradiction and the necessity of rebelling, that he did not wish to wind his ten reels. "Of the two interpretations I have chosen the one which would relieve me of all effort and trouble, it is really too easy!—that alone proves that I deceive myself when I try to persuade myself that the prior only ordered me to pick out ten beads!"
"Then a Pater, ten Aves, and a Gloria are nothing; it is not heavy as a penance!"
And then he answered himself, "But it is much for you, for you cannot even attempt so much without wandering."
He was turning on himself without advancing a step.
"I have never felt such hesitation," he said, trying to pull himself together; "I am not stupid and yet I am fighting against my good sense, for it is not a matter of doubt, I know it, I ought to say ten Aves and not one more!"
He remained nonplussed, almost frightened at his condition which was new to him.
And, to get out of the difficulty, to silence himself, he thought of a new idea to conciliate both parties, which seemed most concise and which presented at least a provisional solution.
"In any case," he reflected, "I cannot communicate to-morrow if I do not complete my penance to-day; in the doubt, the wisest course is to yoke myself to the ten rosaries; later I shall see; if necessary I shall be able to consult the prior. It is true that he will think me an idiot if I speak to him of these rosaries! so I shall not be able to ask him that!"
"But then, you see, you admit yourself, it can only be ten beads!"
He was furious with himself, and for silence' sake rushed upon the rosary.
He might well shut his eyes, and try to collect himself, it was impossible for him at the end of the second ten to follow his prayers; he hesitated, forgetting the large beads of the Paters, losing his way in the small beads of the Aves, stamping on the ground.
To check himself, he thought of transporting himself in imagination at each dose, into one of the chapels of the Virgin which he loved to attend in Paris, at Notre Dame des Victoires, at St. Sulpice, at St. Severin; but these Virgins were not numerous enough for him to dedicate each set of ten to them, so he evoked the Madonnas of the early masters, and, absorbed before their images, he turned the windlass of his prayers, not understanding what he mumbled, but praying the Mother of the Saviour to accept his paternosters, as she would receive the lost smoke of a censer forgotten before the altar.
"I cannot force myself any more," he said. He left this toil worried and crushed and wanting to take breath; there were still three rosaries to exhaust.
And as soon as he had stopped, the question of the Eucharist, which had been dropped, came up again.
"Better not to communicate than to communicate badly;" and it was impossible that after such debates and with such prejudices he could properly approach the Holy Table.
"Yes, but then what shall I do?—in reality, was it not monstrous of me to dispute the monk's orders, to wish to carry them out in my own way, to take them up at my convenience! If this goes on, I shall sin so much to-day that I shall have to confess again," he said.
To break through this feeling, he threw himself again upon his wheel, but then stupefied himself completely; the device he had tried to keep himself before the Virgin at least was used up. When he wished to abstract himself and to bring up a recollection of Memling, he could not succeed, and his lip-prayers, wearying him, distressed him.
"My soul is worn out," he thought, "I should do well to let it rest, while I stay quiet."
He wandered round the pond, not knowing what to do next.
"Suppose I go to my cell!" He went there, tried to become absorbed in the Little Office of the Virgin, and did not grasp a single word of the phrases he was reading. He went down and began to prowl about the park again.
"This is enough to drive me mad," he cried—and mournfully he exclaimed, "I ought to be happy, to pray in peace and prepare myself for to-morrow's act, yet never have I been so restless, so upset, so far from God!
"But I must finish this penance!" Despair seized him, and he was on the point of letting all go; he mortified himself again, and compelled himself to tell the beads.
He finished by despatching them; he was at the end of his powers. And he immediately found a new means of torture.
He reproached himself with having moaned the prayers negligently, without having even seriously tried to follow their meaning. And he was on the point of beginning the rosary over again, but in the face of the evident folly of this suggestion he pulled himself up, refused to listen, and then he worried himself again.
"It is none the less true that you have not literally fulfilled the task assigned you by the confessor, for your conscience reproaches you for your want of reflection and your wandering."
"But I am half dead!" he exclaimed. "I cannot go through the exercises again in this condition!"—and once again he ended, by giving a casting vote, and finding a new weakness.
By saying over another ten, thoughtfully pronouncing the prayers with care, he might make up for all the beads of the rosary which he had mumbled without understanding them.
And he tried to turn the crank, but as soon as he had got out the Pater, he wandered; he was obstinate in wishing to grind out the Aves, but then his mind gave way and became thoroughly distracted.
He stopped, thinking, "What is the use of it? besides, would one set of ten, however well said, be equal to five hundred prayers that have missed fire? and then why one set of ten and not two, why not three? it is absurd!"
He grew angry; "After all," he concluded, "these repetitions are absurd; Christ positively declared that we should not use vain repetitions in our prayers. Then what is the object of this wheel of Aves?"
"If I dwell upon such ideas, if I cavil at the injunctions of the monk, I am lost," said he suddenly; and by an effort of will, he stifled the revolt which was rumbling in him.
He took refuge in his cell; the hours lengthened interminably; he killed the time by recapitulating all the same objections with all the same answers. It was a repetition of which he was himself ashamed.
"So much is certain, that I am the victim of an aberration," he said. "I do not speak of the Eucharist; there my thoughts may not be exact, but at least they are not maddening, while as for this question of paternosters!"
He confused himself so much that he felt hammered like an anvil between these two opposing ideas, and finally sank drowsily on a chair.
Thus he passed the time till the hour of vespers and supper. After this meal he returned to the park.
And then the slumbering dispute revived and all came back. A furious battle was raging within him. He remained there, immovable, astounded, listening to himself, when a rapid footstep approached and M. Bruno said to him,
"Take care, you are possessed by the devil!"
And as Durtal, stupefied, did not answer,
"Yes," he said, "God sometimes allows me intuitions, and I am certain at this moment that the devil is working in you. Let us see, what is wrong with you?"
"I ... I do not know myself;" and Durtal told him of the extraordinary conflict about the rosary which had been raging in him since the morning.
"But this is madness," exclaimed the oblate; "it is ten beads the prior ordered you to tell; ten rosaries would be impossible."
"I know it ... and yet I doubt still."
"Always the same tactics," said M. Bruno; "contriving to render disgusting the thing you ought to do. Yes, the devil wished to make the rosary odious to you by crushing you with it. And what is there besides? You do not wish to communicate to-morrow?"
"True," replied Durtal.
"I thought as much, when I was watching you at supper. Ah! well, after conversions the Evil One is at work; and it is nothing, believe me; he was harder on me than that."
He slipped his arm under Durtal's, and leading him to the auditorium, begged him to wait, and disappeared.
Some minutes afterwards, the prior entered.
"Well," said he, "M. Bruno tells me that you are suffering. What is it, exactly?"
"It is so stupid that I am ashamed to explain myself."
"You will never astonish a monk," said the prior, smiling.
"Well, I know precisely, I am certain that you gave me ten beads of the rosary to recite every day for a month, and, since this morning, I have been arguing with myself against all common sense, to convince myself that my daily penance is to be the rosary ten times."
"Hand me your rosary," said the monk, "and look at these ten beads; well, that is all I prescribed for you, and all you have to recite. So you have told all the beads ten times to-day?"
Durtal signified assent.
"And naturally you were perplexed, you lost all patience, and ended up by rambling."
And seeing Durtal's pitiful smile,
"Well, listen to me," declared the father, in an energetic tone, "I absolutely forbid you for the future to begin a prayer again; it has been badly said; so much the worse, go on, do not repeat it.
"I need not ask you if the idea of abstaining from communion occurred to you, for that comes of itself; it is there that the enemy directs all his efforts. Do not listen to the devil's voice which would keep you away; whatever happens you will communicate to-morrow. You should have no scruple, for I command you to receive the Sacrament; I take it all upon myself.
"And now another question; what sort of nights have you?"
Durtal told him of the awful night of his arrival at La Trappe, and of the feeling of being spied upon which had awakened him the day before.
"We have long known these manifestations, they are without imminent danger; do not therefore let them trouble you. At the same time, if they continue you will let me know, and we will not neglect attending to them."
And the Trappist left quietly, while Durtal remained thinking.
"I never doubted that those phenomena were satanic," he thought, "but I did not understand these attacks upon the soul, this charge at full speed against my reason which remains untouched, and yet is overcome; that is remarkable; if only this lesson may be useful to me so that I may not be unhorsed on the first alarm!"
He went up to his cell again and a great peace fell upon him. All had died down at the voice of the monk; he now only felt surprise at having been off the rails for hours; he understood now that he had been assailed unawares and that the struggle had not been with himself.
He said his prayers and lay down. And, suddenly, the assault began again by new tactics he had not guessed at.
"No doubt I shall communicate to-morrow," he said to himself; "but ... but ... am I prepared for such an act? I ought to have collected my thoughts in the day-time, I ought to have thanked the Lord for having absolved me, and I have lost my time in nonsense."
"Why did I not say that just now to Father Maximin? how is it I did not think of it? Then I ought to have confessed again. And this priest who will give me the communion, this priest!"
The horror which he felt for this man increased suddenly and became so vehement that he was astonished. "Ah, but there I am again knocked about by the enemy," he said, and he went on:
"All that shall not prevent me from receiving the Heavenly Bread to-morrow, for I have quite decided; only how frightful it is that the Spirit of Malice should be allowed to oppress and harass me without respite while I have no sign from Heaven which does not interfere, and I know nothing.
"Ah! Lord, if I were only certain this communion would please Thee! Give me a sign, show me that I may ally myself with Thee without remorse; let the impossible take place so that, to-morrow, it may be a monk and not this priest...."
And he stopped himself, astonished at his boldness, asking himself how he dared ask for, and indicate a sign.
"It is idiotic!" he exclaimed; "in the first place, no one has a right to claim such favours from God; and then, as He will not grant my prayer, what shall I have gained? I shall infer from the refusal that my communion will be worth nothing!"
And he prayed the Lord to forget his wish, excused himself for having formed it, and wished to convince himself that He should not take it into account, and, helped by the agitations of the day, he ended by falling asleep as he prayed.
When he left his cell he said to himself, "This morning I shall communicate," and these words, which should have thrilled him through and through, woke no zeal in him. He remained dull, tired and caring for nothing, feeling cold in the depth of his being.
Nevertheless a fear stimulated him when he was outside. "I do not know," he said to himself, "when I must leave my seat and go to kneel before the priest; I know that the congregation should communicate after the celebrant; but at what moment exactly ought I to move? It is indeed another misfortune that I should have to go up, alone, towards this Table which so disturbs me; otherwise I shall only have to follow the others and at least be sure of not doing anything improperly."
He scrutinized the chapel as he went in, looking round for M. Bruno who, had he been by his side, might have kept off his scruples, but the oblate could not be found. Durtal sat down, disabled, dreaming of the sign he had asked for the evening before, endeavouring to throw off the recollection, thinking of it all the same.
He wished to examine himself and collect himself, and he was praying Heaven to forgive him his mental vacillations when M. Bruno came in, and went to kneel before the statue of the Virgin.
Almost at the same minute a brother, who had a beard like seaweed growing from a face like a pear, took up to the altar of St. Joseph a small rustic table on which he placed a basin, a towel, two vases and a napkin.
Before these preparations, which recalled the imminence of the Sacrifice, Durtal stiffened himself and succeeded by an effort in keeping back his anxieties and overthrowing his troubles, and escaping from himself he ardently implored Our Lady to intervene so that he might, for this hour at least, without wandering, pray in peace.
And when he had finished his prayer he lifted his eyes and looked with a start at the priest who was advancing, preceded by a lay brother, to celebrate mass.
This was not the curate whom he knew, but another, younger, very tall, with a majestic air, with cheeks pale and shaven, and a bald head.
Durtal was watching him solemnly marching towards the altar with his eyes cast down when he suddenly noticed a violet flame light up his fingers.
"He wears an episcopal ring, he is a bishop," thought Durtal, who leant forward to see the colour of the vestment underneath the chasuble and alb. It was white.
"Then it is a monk," he said, astounded; and, mechanically, he turned towards the statue of the Virgin, summoning the oblate by a hasty glance, who came to sit beside him.
"Who is he?"
"Dom Anselm, the abbot of the monastery."
"He who was ill?"
"Yes, he will give us communion."
Durtal fell upon his knees, suffocated, almost trembling: he was not dreaming! Heaven was answering him by the sign on which he had fixed.
He ought to abase himself before God, to be overwhelmed at His feet, to spread himself in a passion of gratitude; he knew and wished it! And without knowing how, he was exercising himself in seeking natural causes which might account for the substitution of a monk for the priest.
No doubt it was very simple; for on the whole, before admitting a kind of miracle.... "anyhow, I will keep an open mind, for after the ceremony I wish to clear the matter up."
And he repelled the insinuations which crept into him. Well! what interest could there be in the motive of this change? there clearly must be a motive, but it was only a consequence, an accessory; the important point was the supernatural will which had produced it. "In any case you have obtained more than you asked; you have even a better than the simple monk you wished for, you have the abbot of La Trappe himself!" And he cried: "Oh, to believe, to believe like these poor lay brothers, not to be endowed with a soul which is blown about by every wind; to have the faith of a child, an immovable faith, a faith which cannot be rooted up! Ah, Father, Father, bury it, rivet it in me!"
And such was his enthusiasm that he came out of himself; all around him seemed to disappear and he cried, stammering, to Christ: "Lord, go not far from me. Let Thy pity curb Thy justice; be unjust, forgive me; receive Thy poor bedesman for communion, the poor in spirit!"
M. Bruno touched his arm, and with a glance invited him to accompany him. They went up to the altar and knelt upon the flagstones, then, when the priest had blessed them, they knelt closer on the single step, and the lay brother handed them a napkin, for there was no bar or cloth.
And the abbot of La Trappe gave them the communion.
They returned to their places. Durtal was in a state of absolute torpor; the Sacrament had, in a manner, anaesthetized his mind; he fell on his knees at his bench, incapable even of unravelling what might be moving within him, unable to rally and pull himself together.
And all of a sudden the impression came over him that he was suffocating and wanted air; the mass was finished; he rushed out and ran to his walk; there he wished to take an account of himself and he found nothing.
And in front of the cross pond, in whose waters the Christ was drowning, there came over him an infinite melancholy, a vast sadness.
It was a true syncope of the soul; it lost consciousness; and when it came to itself, he was astonished that he had not felt an unknown transport of joy; then he dwelt on a troublesome recollection, on the all too human side of the deglutition of a God; the Host had stuck against his palate, and he had had to seek it with his tongue and roll it about like a pancake in order to swallow it.
Ah! it was still too material! he only wanted a fluid, a perfume, a fire, a breath!
And he tried to explain to himself the treatment that the Saviour made him follow.
All his anticipations had returned; it was the absolution and not the communion which had worked. When with the confessor he had very clearly perceived the presence of the Redeemer; all his being had, in a manner, been injected with divine effluvia, and the Eucharist had only brought him suffocation and trouble.
It seemed that the effects of the two Sacraments had changed places the one with the other; they had worked the wrong way with him; Christ had been perceptible to his soul before and not afterwards.
"But it is easy enough to see," he reflected, "that the great question for me is to have an absolute certainty of my forgiveness! By a special favour, Jesus has ratified my faith in the healing power of Penance. Why should He have done more?"
"And then, what bounties would He reserve for His saints? After all I am astonishing. It is too much that I should wish to be treated as He certainly treats Brother Anacletus and Brother Simeon."
"I have obtained more than I deserve. And what an answer I had, this very morning? Yes, indeed, but why should such advances end suddenly in this recoil?"
And making his way towards the abbey to eat his bread and cheese, he said to himself: "My error towards God is to be always arguing, when I ought to adore stupidly as these monks here do. Ah! to be able to keep silence, silence to one's self, that is indeed a grace!"
He reached the refectory, which, as a rule, he had to himself, M. Bruno never coming to the meal at seven o'clock in the morning. He was beginning to cut himself a piece of bread, when the father guest-master appeared.
He had a whetstone and some knives in his hand, and smiling at Durtal, he said: "I am going to polish the knives of the monastery, for they want it badly." And he placed them on a table in a small room attached to the refectory.
"Well, are you satisfied?" he said, on coming back.
"Certainly—but, what happened this morning, how is it I was communicated by the abbot of La Trappe, when I should have been by the curate who dines with me?"
"Ah!" exclaimed the monk, "I was as much surprised as you. On waking, the Father Abbot suddenly declared that he must say mass this morning. He got up in spite of the observations of the prior, who as a doctor, forbade him to leave his bed. Neither I, nor any one else, knows what took him. Then they told him that a retreatant would communicate and he answered 'Just so, I shall communicate him.' And then M. Bruno took the opportunity of also approaching the Sacrament, for he loves to receive our Saviour from the hands of Dom Anselm."