"And this arrangement also satisfied the curate," the monk went on, smiling; "for he left La Trappe at an earlier hour this morning and has been able to say his mass in a parish where he was expected.... By the way, he told me to make his excuses to you for not having been able to bid you good-bye."
Durtal bowed. "There is no doubt about it," he thought, "God wished to give me an unmistakable answer."
"And your health?"
"It is good, father; I am astounded; my digestion has never been so good as it is here; to say nothing of the fact that the neuralgia, which I feared so much, has spared me."
"That shows that Heaven protects you."
"Yes, indeed. But now that I remember it, I have long wished to ask you this—how are your offices arranged? They do not correspond with those printed in my prayer-book."
"No, they differ from yours, which belong to the Roman ritual. At the same time, the Vespers are almost similar, except sometimes the lessons, and then what may put you out is that ours are often preceded by the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. As a general rule we have a psalm less in the office, and the lessons are nearly always short.
"Except," Father Etienne went on, smiling, "in Compline, the very one you recite. Thus you may have noticed we know nothing of 'In manus tuas, Domine,' which is one of the few short lessons sung in parish churches.
"We have also a special Proper of Saints; we celebrate the commemoration of the Blessed of our order which you will not find in your books. In fact we follow the letter of the monastic breviary of Saint Benedict."
Durtal had finished his breakfast. He rose, fearing to trouble the father by his questions.
One word of the monk, however, was troubling his brain, that relating to the prior as a doctor; and before going out he spoke of this again to Father Etienne.
"No—the Reverend Father Maximin is not a doctor, but he understands simples very well, and he has a small pharmacy which is enough as long as no one is seriously ill."
"And in that case?"
"In that case the practitioner can be called in from one of the nearest towns, but no one is ever so ill as that; or else the end is approaching and the doctor's visit would be useless...."
"So on the whole the prior looks after soul and body at La Trappe."
The monk signified assent.
Durtal went out. He hoped to get rid of his suffocation by a long walk.
He took a road which he had not been along before, and came out on a glade where stood the ruins of an ancient convent, some bits of wall, truncated columns and capitals in the Roman style; unhappily these remains were in a deplorable condition, rough, covered with moss and riddled with holes like pumice stones.
He went on and came to the end of a long walk, at the top of which was a pond five or six times as large as the small one in the form of a cross, which he frequented.
The walk was planted with old oaks on each side, and in the middle, near a wooden bench, stood a cast-iron statue of the Virgin.
He groaned as he looked at it. The crime of the church followed him once more; even in this little chapel so full of divine compassion, all the statues came from the religious bazaars of Paris or Lyons.
He took his position below, near the pond whose banks were bordered by reeds surrounded by tufts of osiers; and he amused himself by examining the colours of these shrubs, with their smooth green leaves and stalks of citron yellow, or blood red, noticing the curling water which began to foam with a gust of wind. And the martins skimmed it, touching it with the tips of their wings from which drops of water fell like pearls of quicksilver. And the birds rose whirling above and giving out their cries of weet, weet, weet, while the dragon-flies shone brightly in the air which they slashed with blue flames.
"Peaceful refuge!" thought Durtal; "I ought to have come to rest here before." He sat down on a bed of moss and interested himself in the noiseless and active life of the waters. Now the splash and flash of the turn of a leaping carp; now great spiders skating on the surface, making little circles and driving one against another, stopping, going back and making new rounds; then, near him on the ground, Durtal noticed jumping, green grasshoppers with vermilion bellies, or, scaling the oaks, colonies of queer insects on whose backs a devil's head was painted in red lead on a black ground.
And above all that, if he raised his eyes, there was the silent upturned sea of heaven, a blue sea crested with surging white clouds like waves; and at the same time this firmament moved in the water where it billowed under a blueish gray glass.
Durtal felt himself expand as he smoked cigarettes; the melancholy which had oppressed him since the dawn began to melt away, and joy crept into him as he felt his soul was washed in the pool of the Sacraments and dried in the air of a cloister. And he was at once happy and uneasy; happy, for the meeting he had had with the father guest-master, had removed all the doubts he had entertained as to the supernatural side to the sudden change of a priest for a monk to communicate him; happy, also, to know that not only had Christ not repulsed him in spite of all the disorders of his life, but that He was encouraging him and giving him pledges, ratifying the signs of His favours by perceptible acts. And nevertheless he was uneasy, for he knew himself to be barren, and felt that it was necessary for him to be grateful for this goodness by a struggle with himself and an entirely new existence differing completely from that he had hitherto led.
"Well, we shall see!" and he went off to the office of Sext almost calmed, and thence to dinner, where he found M. Bruno.
"We will go for a walk to-day," said the oblate, rubbing his hands.
Durtal looked at him with astonishment.
"Yes, indeed, I thought that after a communion a little air outside the walls would do you good, and I proposed to the Reverend Father Abbot to free you from the rule for to-day, if the offer is not disagreeable to you."
"I gladly accept, and thank you sincerely for your kind attention," said Durtal.
They dined off a soup made with oil in which a stick of cabbage and some peas were swimming; it was not bad; but the bread made at La Trappe reminded him, when stale, of the bread in the siege of Paris, and made the soup turn sour.
Then they tasted an egg with sorrel and some rice steeped in milk.
"If it suits you," said the oblate, "we will begin by paying a visit to Dom Anselm, who has expressed a wish to know you."
And M. Bruno led Durtal through a labyrinth of passages and staircases to a small cell where the abbot was. He was dressed like the fathers in a white robe and a black scapular; only at the end of a violet cord he bore on his breast an abbot's cross of ivory, in the centre of which, under a round glass, some relics were inserted.
He gave his hand to Durtal and begged him to sit down.
Then he asked if the food seemed to be enough for him. And on receiving a reply in the affirmative from Durtal he inquired if the long silence did not weigh upon him too much.
"Not at all, this solitude suits me perfectly."
"Well," said the abbot, laughing, "you are one of the few laymen who have borne our rule so easily. Generally those who have tried to make a retreat here have been devoured by home sickness and spleen, and have had but one idea, to get away."
"Let us see," he said after a pause; "it is not possible, all the same, that such a sudden change of habits should not bring with it some painful privations; there must be at least one which you feel above all the others?"
"True, I feel the want of being able to light a cigarette whenever I like."
The abbot answered smiling, "But I suppose you have not been entirely without smoking, since you came here?"
"I should tell a lie if I said I had not smoked in secret."
"Why, bless me, tobacco was not foreseen by St. Benedict; there is no mention of it in his rule, and I am therefore free to allow its use; so smoke as many cigarettes as you like without being uneasy."
And Dom Anselm added:
"I hope shortly to have a little more time to myself, unless, indeed, I am obliged to keep my room, in that case I shall be happy to have a longer talk with you."
And the monk, who seemed exhausted, shook them by the hand.
Going down into the court with the oblate Durtal exclaimed,
"The Father Abbot is charming, and quite young."
"He is hardly forty."
"He appears to be really ill."
"Yes, he is not well, and he required no common energy to say his mass this morning; but let us see, we will first of all visit the grounds of La Trappe which you can hardly have been over completely, then we will leave the enclosure and push on to the farm."
They started, skirting the remains of the ancient abbey, and as they walked, turning by the piece of water near which Durtal had been seated in the morning, M. Bruno entered into explanations about the ruins.
"This monastery was founded in 1127 by St. Bernard, who installed the Blessed Humbert as abbot, an epileptic Cistercian, whom he had cured by a miracle. At that time there were apparitions in the convent; a legend relates that two angels came and cut one of the lilies planted in the cemetery every time one of the monks died.
"The second abbot was the Blessed Guerric, who was famous for his knowledge, his humility and his patience in enduring evils. We possess his relics and they are enclosed in the shrine under the high altar.
"But the most remarkable of the superiors, who succeeded each other here in the middle ages, was Peter Monoculus, whose story was written by his friend, the member of the synod, Thomas de Reuil.
"Pierre, called Monoculus, or the one-eyed, was a saint thirsting for austerities and sufferings. He was assailed by horrible temptations at which he laughed. Exasperated, the Devil attacked his body and, by fits of neuralgia, broke his skull, but Heaven came to his aid and cured it. By shedding tears from a spirit of penitence, Peter lost an eye, and he thanked our Lord for this blessing, 'I had' he said, 'two enemies; I have escaped the first, but the one I retain troubles me more than the one I have lost.'
"He worked miracles of healing. The king of France, Louis VII., venerated him so much that, on seeing the empty eyelid, he wished to kiss it. Monoculus died in 1186; they soaked linen cloths in his blood, and washed his entrails in wine which was distributed, for the mixture was a powerful remedy.
"The property of the abbey was then immense; it comprised all the country which surrounds us, kept up several lazar houses in the neighbourhood, and was the home of more than three hundred monks. Unfortunately what happened to others happened to Notre-Dame de l'Atre. Under the rule of abbots in commendam it declined, and it was dying with only six religious to look after it when the Revolution suppressed it. The church was then pulled down and afterwards replaced by the rotunda chapel.
"Only in 1875 the present house, which I think dates from 1733, was reconciled and became a monastery again. Trappists were brought here from Sainte Marie de la Mer, in the diocese of Toulouse, and this small colony has made Notre-Dame de l'Atre the Cistercian nursery you see.
"Such, in few words, is the history of the convent," said the oblate. "As for the ruins they are buried underground, and no doubt precious fragments might be discovered, but for want of money and men no excavations have been made.
"In addition to the broken columns and the capitals we passed, there remains from the old church a large statue of the Virgin which has been erected in one of the corridors of the abbey; besides this there are two angels fairly well preserved and which you may see down there at the end of the cloister in a small chapel, hidden behind a curtain of trees."
"A virgin, before which St. Bernard may possibly have knelt, ought surely to have been put in the church on the altar dedicated to Mary, for the coloured statue, which surmounts it, is of crying ugliness—like that one also," said Durtal, pointing out in the distance the cast-iron Madonna which towered above the pond.
The oblate bowed his head and did not reply.
"Do you know," exclaimed Durtal, who in the face of this silence did not persist and changed the conversation, "do you know that I envy you living here?"
"It is certain that I do not deserve this favour, for, on the whole, the cloister is less an expiation than a reward; it is the only place where, far from the world and near heaven, the only place where a man may give himself up to this mystic life which only develops in solitude and silence."
"Yes, and if possible, I envy you yet more that you should have had the courage to venture into regions which, I confess, frightened me. And I know so well that, in spite of the spring-board of prayers and fasts, in spite of the green house, or orchid house atmosphere, wherein mysticism is grown, I should wither away in these regions without ever expanding again."
The oblate smiled. "What do you know about it?" he replied, "the thing is not done in an hour; the orchid you speak of does not flower in a day; the advance is so slow, that mortifications space themselves out, fatigues are distributed over years, and, on the whole, are easily borne.
"As a general rule it is necessary, to cross the distance which separates us from the Creator, to go through three grades to attain that science of Christian perfection which is called mysticism; we must live in turn the life of Purification, of Illumination and of Unity—to join the uncreated Good and be poured out in Him.
"It matters little that these three grand phases of ascetic existence subdivide themselves into an infinity of stages; which are degrees according to Saint Bonaventure, dwelling places according to Saint Teresa, steps according to Saint Angela; they may vary in length and number, according to the will of the Lord and the temperament of those who go through them. It is not disputed that the journey of the soul towards God includes, first, perpendicular and breakneck roads—these are the roads of the life of Purification—next, narrower paths still, but well marked out and accessible—these are the paths of the life of Illumination—at length, a wide road almost smooth, the road of the life of unity, at the end of which the soul throws itself into the furnace of Love, and falls into the abyss of the most adorable Infinity!
"On the whole, these three ways are successively reserved to those who start in Christian asceticism, to those who practise it, and finally to those who attain to the supreme end, the death of self and the life in God.
"Long," pursued the oblate, "I have placed my desires beyond the horizon, yet I progress little; I am scarcely disengaged from the life of Purification, scarcely...."
"And you do not fear—how shall I say—material infirmities, for if at last you succeed in attaining the limits of contemplation, you risk the ruin of your body for ever. Experience seems to show, in effect, that the deified soul acts on the constitution and brings incurable troubles."
The oblate smiled. "In the first place I should, no doubt, fail to attain to the last degree of initiation, the extreme point of mysticism; then, supposing I attain it, what would corporal accidents be in the face of such results?
"Let me also assure you that these accidents are neither so frequent nor so certain as you seem to think.
"A man may be a great mystic, or an admirable saint, and not be the subject of visible phenomena for those who surround him. Would you not think, for example, that levitation, or the flight of bodies in the air, which seems to constitute the highest state of rapture, is one of the rarest? Whom can you quote to me? Saint Teresa, Saint Christina the Admirable, Saint Peter of Alcantara, Dominic of Mary Jesus, Agnes of Bohemia, Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament, the Blessed Gorardesca of Pisa, and above all Saint Joseph of Cupertino, who raised himself at will from the ground. But they are ten or twenty out of thousands of the elect!
"And note well that these gifts do not prove their superiority over other Saints. Saint Teresa declares expressly: it must not be imagined that anyone, blessed as he may be in this respect, is better than those who are not so blessed, for our Lord directs each one according to his particular need.
"And then the doctrine of the Church is seen in the untiring prudence shown in the canonization of the dead. Qualities and not extraordinary acts decide this; for the Church, miracles themselves are only secondary proofs, for she knows that the Spirit of Evil imitates them.
"In the lives of the Blessed you will find, too, the most unusual deeds, and more amazing phenomena than in the biographies of the Saints. These phenomena have rather hindered than helped them. After having beatified them for their virtues, the Church has put off—and no doubt for a long time—their promotion to the sovereign dignity of Saints.
"It is difficult, on the whole, to formulate an exact theory on this subject, for if the cause, if the mental action is the same in all mystics, it differs a little, as I have said, according to God's will and the character of the subjects; the difference of sex often changes the form of the mystic flow, though in essence it never varies; the rush of the Spirit from on High may produce different effects, but is none the less identical.
"The only observation we dare make in these matters is that women, as a rule, are more passive and less reserved, while men resist more violently the wishes of Heaven."
"That makes me think," said Durtal, "that even in religion there are souls which seem to have mistaken their sex. Saint Francis of Assisi, who was all love, had rather the feminine soul of a nun, and Saint Teresa, who was the most attentive of psychologists, had the virile soul of a monk. We might correctly speak of Saint Francis as a woman and Saint Teresa as a man."
The oblate smiled. "To return to your question," he resumed, "I do not at all believe that illness can be the necessary consequence of phenomena aroused by the impetuous force of mysticism."
"But look at Saint Colette, Lidwine, Saint Aldegonde, Jane-Mary of the Cross, Sister Emmerich and how many more who passed their existence, half paralyzed, upon a bed! They are a small minority. Besides, the Saints or Blessed ones whose names you quote were victims of substitution, expiating the sins of others, a part God had reserved to them; it is not, therefore, surprising that they were bed-ridden and cripples, and were constantly half dead.
"No, the truth is that mysticism can modify the needs of the body, without, for all that, having much effect on, or destroying the health. I know well, you would answer me with that terrible phrase of Saint Hildegarde, a phrase at once just and sinister: 'the Lord dwells not in the bodies of the healthy and vigorous,' and you might add, with Saint Teresa, that evils are more frequent in the last of the castles of the soul. Yes, but these saints hoist themselves on the summit of life and retain God in a permanent manner in their carnal shell. Having reached this point, nature, too feeble to support a perfect state, gives way, but, I assert again, these cases are an exception and not a rule. And, alas, such maladies are not contagious.
"I am quite aware," resumed the oblate, after a pause, "that the very existence of mysticism is resolutely denied by some who in consequence can never admit the possibility of any influence over the bodily organs, but the experience of this supernatural reality is from all time, and proofs abound.
"Let us take the stomach for example. Well, under the heavenly influence, it becomes transformed, omits all earthly nourishment and consumes the Holy Species only.
"Saint Catherine of Siena and Angela of Foligno lived for years exclusively on the Sacrament; and this gift devolved equally upon Saint Colette, Saint Lidwine, Dominic of Paradise, Saint Columba of Rieti, Mary Bagnesi, Rose of Lima, Saint Peter of Alcantara, Mother Agnes of Langeac and on many others.
"Under the divine impress the senses of smell and taste presented no less strange metamorphoses. Saint Philip Nevi, Saint Angela, Saint Margaret of Cortona recognized a special taste in unleavened bread, when after the consecration there was no longer any wheat, but the very flesh of Christ. Saint Pacomius knew heretics by their foul smell; Saint Catherine of Siena, Saint Joseph of Cupertino and Mother Agnes of Jesus discovered sins by their evil odours; Saint Hilarion, Saint Lutgarde, Gentilla of Ravenna, could tell merely by the scent of those whom they met what faults they had committed.
"And the Saints themselves, whether living or dead, exhaled powerful perfumes.
"When Saint Francis de Paul and Venturini of Bergamo offered the Sacrifice they smelt sweet. Saint Joseph of Cupertino secreted such fragrant odours that his track could be followed; and sometimes it was during illness that these aromas were diffused.
"The pus of Saint John of the Cross and of the Blessed Didee gave forth strong and distinct scent of lilies; Barthole, the tertiary, gnawed to the bones by leprosy, gave out pleasant emanations, and the same was the case with Lidwine, Ida of Louvain, Saint Colette, Saint Humiliana, Maria-Victoria of Genoa, Dominic of Paradise, whose wounds were boxes of perfume, whence fresh scents escaped.
"And thus we can enumerate organs and senses one after another, and declare marvellous effects. Without speaking of those faithful stigmata which open or shut according to the Proper of the liturgical year, what is more astounding than the gift of bilocation, the power of doubling oneself, of being in two places at the same time, at the same moment? And yet what numerous examples exist of this incredible fact: many are celebrated, amongst others those of Saint Antony of Padua, Saint Francis Xavier, Marie of Agreda, who was at the same time in her monastery in Spain and in Mexico when she was preaching to infidels, Mother Agnes of Jesus, who came to visit M. Olier at Paris without leaving her convent at Langeac. And, again, the action from on High seems singularly energetic when it takes hold of the central organ of circulation, the motor which drives the blood into all parts of the body.
"Numbers of the elect had such a burning heart that the linen they wore was singed; the fire which consumed Ursula Benincasa, the foundress of the Theatines, was so strong that this saint breathed columns of smoke as soon as she opened her mouth; Saint Catherine of Genoa dipped her feet or her hands in iced water and the water boiled; snow melted round Saint Peter of Alcantara, and, one day when the blessed Gerlach was crossing a forest in the depth of winter he advised his companion, who walked behind him, and who could not go on, as his legs were numb, to put his feet into his footsteps, and immediately he ceased to feel cold.
"I will add that certain of these phenomena, which make freethinkers smile, have been renewed and have been verified quite recently.
"Linen scorched by the fire of the heart has been observed by Dr. Imbert-Gourbeyre on the stigmatized Palma d'Oria, and phenomena of high mysticism, which no science can explain, were watched in the case of Louise Lateau, minute by minute, and noted and controlled by Professor Rohling, Dr. Lafebvre, Dr. Imbert Gourbeyre, Dr. de Nouee, by medical delegates from all countries....
"But here we are," said the oblate; "excuse me, I will go first to show you the way."
They had left the enclosure as he spoke, and cutting across the fields, reached an immense farm. Trappists bowed respectfully as they entered the court yard. M. Bruno, addressing himself to one of them, asked him to be good enough to take them over the property.
The lay brother took them to the cattle sheds, then to the stables, then to the poultry yard; Durtal, who was not interested in such sights, confined himself to admiring the grace of these good people. No one spoke, but they replied to questions by signs and winks.
"But how do they communicate with each other?" asked Durtal, when they were outside the farm.
"You have just seen; they correspond by signs; they have a simpler alphabet than that of the deaf and dumb, for each idea that they may require to express for their common work is foreseen.
"Thus the word 'wash' is translated by one hand tapping on the other; the word 'vegetable' by scratching the left forefinger; sleep is feigned by leaning the head upon the fist; drink by raising a closed hand to the lips. And for more spiritual expressions they employ a like method. Confession is translated by a finger kissed and laid upon the heart; holy water by five fingers of the left hand clasped on which a cross is made with the thumb of the right hand; fasting by fingers which close the mouth; the word 'yesterday' by turning the arm back towards the shoulder; shame by covering the eyes with the hand."
"But supposing they wished to indicate me, who am not one of themselves, how would they set about it?"
"They would use the sign of 'guest,' which they make by stretching out the hand and bringing it near the body."
"That means that I come to them from far, an open and even transparent fact if you like."
They went silently along a walk which led down into the labour fields.
"I have not noticed Brother Anacletus or old Simeon among these monks," exclaimed Durtal, suddenly.
"They are not occupied on the farm; Brother Anacletus is employed in the chocolate factory, and Brother Simeon looks after the pigs; both are working in the immediate neighbourhood of the monastery. If you like, we will go and wish Simeon good-morning."
And the oblate added, "You can tell them, when you go back to Paris, that you have seen a real saint, such as existed in the eleventh century; he carries us back to the time of St. Francis of Assisi; he is in some sense the reincarnation of that astonishing Juniper whose innocent exploits the Fioretti celebrate for us. You know that work?"
"Yes; after the Golden Legend it is the book on which the soul of the Middle Ages is most clearly impressed."
"But to return to Simeon; this old man is a saint of uncommon simplicity. Here is one proof out of a thousand. Several months ago I was in the prior's cell when Brother Simeon appeared. He made use of the ordinary formula in asking permission to speak, 'Benedicite.' Father Maximin replied 'Dominus,' and on this word, which permitted him to speak, the brother showed his glasses and said he could no longer see clearly.
"'That is not very surprising,' said the prior, 'you have been using the same glasses for nearly ten years, and since then your eyes may well have become weaker; never mind, we will find the number which suits your sight now.'
"As he spoke, Father Maximin mechanically moved the glass of the spectacles between his hands, and suddenly he laughed, showing me his fingers, which were black. He turned round, took a cloth, cleaned the spectacles, and replacing them on the brother's nose, said to him, 'Do you see, Brother Simeon?'
"And the old man, astonished, cried 'Yes ... I see!'
"But this is only one side of this good man. Another is the love of his beasts. When a sow is going to bring forth, he asks permission to pass the night by her, and delivers her, looking after her like his child, weeps when they sell his little pigs or when the big ones are sent to the slaughter-house! And how all the animals adore him!"
"Truly," the oblate went on, after a silence, "God loves simple souls above all, for he loads Brother Simeon with graces. Alone, here, he can reabsorb and even prevent the demoniacal accidents which arise in cloisters. Then we assist at strange performances: one fine morning all the pigs fall on their sides; they are ill and at the point of death.
"Simeon, who knows the origin of these evils, cries to the Devil: 'Wait, wait, and you will see!' He runs for holy water, and sprinkles them with it, praying the while, and all the beasts who were dying jump up, frisking about and wagging their tails.
"As for diabolic incursions into the convent itself, they are but too real, and sometimes are only driven back after persistent prayers and energetic fastings; at certain times in most convents the Demon sows a harvest of hobgoblins of whom no one knows how to get rid. Here, the father abbot, the prior, and all those who are priests have failed; it was necessary, to give efficacy to the exorcisms, that the humble lay brother should intervene; so, to forestall new attacks, he has obtained the right to wash the monastery with holy water and to use prayers whenever he thinks well to do so.
"He has the power of feeling where the Evil One is hidden, and he follows him, tracks him, and finally casts him out."
"Here is the piggery," continued M. Bruno, showing a tumble-down old place in front of the left wing of the cloister, surrounded by palisades; and he added,
"I warn you, the old man grunts like a pig, but he will not answer your questions except by signs."
"But he can speak to his animals?"
"Yes, to them only."
The oblate opened a small door, and the lay brother, all bent, lifted his head with difficulty.
"Good-day, brother," said M. Bruno; "here is a gentleman who would like to see your pupils."
There was a grunt of joy on the lips of the old man. He smiled and invited them by a sign to follow him.
He introduced them into a shed, and Durtal recoiled, deafened by horrible cries, suffocated by the pestilential heat of the liquid manure. All the pigs jumped up behind their barrier, and howled with joy at the sight of the brother.
"Peace, peace," said the old man, in a gentle voice; and lifting an arm over the paling, he caressed the snouts which, on smelling him, were almost suffocated by grunting.
He drew Durtal aside by the arm, and making him lean over the trellis work, showed him an enormous sow with a snub nose, of English breed, a monstrous animal surrounded by a company of sucking pigs which rushed, as if mad, at her teats.
"Yes, my beauty; go, my beauty," murmured the old man, stroking her bristles with his hand.
And the sow looked at him with little languishing eyes, and licked his fingers; she ended by screaming abominably when he went away.
And Brother Simeon showed off other pupils, pigs with ears like the mouth of a trumpet and corkscrew tails, sows whose stomachs trailed and whose feet seemed hardly outside their bodies, new-born pigs which sucked ravenously at the teats, larger ones, who delighted in chasing each other about and rolled in the mud, snorting.
Durtal complimented him on the beasts, and the old man was jubilant, wiping his face with his great hand; then, on the oblate inquiring about the litter of some sow, he felt his fingers in a row; replying to the observation that the animals were very greedy, by stretching his arms to heaven, showing the empty troughs, lifting ends of wood, tearing up tufts of grass which he carried to his lips, grunting as if he had his muzzle full.
Then he took them into the courtyard, placed them against the wall, opened a door beyond, and hid himself. A formidable boar passed like a waterspout, upset a wheelbarrow, scattering everything round him with a noise like a shell bursting; then he broke into a gallop all round the courtyard, and ended by taking a header into a sea of liquid manure. He wallowed, turned head over heels, kicked about with his four feet in the air, and got up black and disgusting as the inside of a chimney.
After this he halted, grunted a cheerful note, and wished to fawn on the monk, who checked him with a gesture.
"Your boar is splendid!" said Durtal.
And the lay brother looked on Durtal with moist eyes as he rubbed his neck with his hand, sighing.
"That means they are going to kill him soon," said the oblate.
And the old man acquiesced with a melancholy shake of his head.
They left him, thanking him for his kindness.
"When I think of how this being, who is devoted to the lowest duties, prays in church, I long to kneel before him and, like his pigs, kiss his hands!" exclaimed Durtal after a silence.
"Brother Simeon is an angelic being," replied the oblate. "He lives the Unitive life, his soul plunged, drowned in the divine essence. Under a rough exterior an absolutely white soul, a soul without sin, lives in this poor body; it is right that God should spoil him! As I have told you, He has given him all power over the Demon; and in certain cases He allows him also the power of healing by the imposition of hands. He has renewed here the wonderful cures of the ancient saints."
They ceased speaking, and, warned by the bells which were ringing for Vespers, they moved towards the church.
And, coming to himself again, trying to recover, Durtal remained astounded. Monastic life retarded time. How many weeks had he been at La Trappe, and how many days since had he approached the Sacraments? that was lost in the distance. Ah, life was double in these cloisters! And yet he was not tired of it; he had bent himself easily to the hard rule, and, in spite of the scanty meals, he felt no sick headaches or failing; he had never felt so well!—but what remained was a feeling of stifling, of restrained sighs, this burning melancholy for hours, and, more than all, this vague anxiety at listening again within himself, and hearing united in his person the voices of this Trinity, God, the Devil, and Man.
"This is not the peace of the soul I dreamed of—and it is even worse than at Paris," he said to himself, recalling the maddening trial of the rosary—"and yet—how can I explain it? I am happy here all the same."
Rising, somewhat earlier than his wont, Durtal went down to the chapel. The office of Matins was over, but some lay brothers, amongst whom was Brother Simeon, were praying on their knees on the ground.
The sight of this holy swine-herd threw Durtal into a long train of thought. He tried in vain to penetrate into the sanctuary of that soul, hidden like an invisible chapel behind the dunghill rampart of a body; he did not even succeed in representing to himself the docile and clinging soul of this man, who had attained the highest state to which the human creature can reach here below.
"What a power of prayer he has," thought he, as he looked at the old man.
He remembered the details of his interview the evening before. "It is true," he thought, "that in this monk I find something of the charm of that brother Juniper, whose surprising simplicity has come down through the ages."
And he brought to mind the adventures of that Franciscan whom his companions left one day by himself in the convent, telling him to prepare dinner against their return.
Juniper reflected, "What an amount of time is spent in preparing food! The brothers who take turns in that work have not even time to pray"—and desiring to lighten the work of those who should succeed him in the kitchen, he determined to cook such plentiful dishes that the community might dine on them for a fortnight.
He lighted all the stoves, procured, we are not told how, enormous boilers, filled them with water, threw into them, pell-mell, eggs with their shells, chickens with their feathers, vegetables he had neglected to trim, and before a fire which would roast an ox, he exerted himself to pile up and stir the ridiculous jumble of his stock-pots.
When the brothers came home, and sat down in the refectory, he ran, his face browned and his hands burnt, and joyously served up his stew. The superior asked him if he were not mad, while he remained stupefied that no one gobbled up this astonishing mess. He declared in all humility that he thought he was doing a service to his brethren, and only when he observed that so much food would be wasted, did he weep hot tears, and declare himself a wretch; he cried that he was good for nothing but to spoil the property of Almighty God, while the monks smiled, admiring this debauch of charity, and the excess of Juniper's simplicity.
"Brother Simeon would be humble enough and simple enough to renew again such splendid jokes," thought Durtal, "but better still than the good Franciscan, he recalls the memory of that astonishing Saint Joseph of Cupertino, of whom the oblate spoke yesterday."
He, who called himself brother Ass, was a charming and poor creature, so modest, and so ignorant, that he was turned away wherever he went. He passed through life, with open mouth, thrusting himself eagerly against all the cloisters that repulsed him. He wandered about unable to perform even the lowest tasks. He was, to use a popular expression, a regular butter-fingers, and broke whatever he touched. They ordered him to go and fetch water, and he wandered without understanding, absorbed in God, and at the end, when no one thought about it any more, brought some after a month.
A monastery of Capucins which had received him, got rid of him. He went his way, vaguely, out of his orbit among the towns, stumbled into another convent where he employed himself in taking care of the animals, whom he adored, and he rose into a perpetual ecstasy, revealing himself as the most singular of wonder workers, putting the demons to flight, and healing the sick. He was at once idiotic and sublime; in the hagiography he stands alone, and seems to figure there to furnish a proof that the soul is identified with Eternal Wisdom, rather by ignorance than by science.
"He also loves animals," said Durtal to himself, as he looked at old Simeon; "and he too puts to flight the Evil One, and works cures by his sanctity.
"In a time when all men are exclusively haunted by the thoughts of luxury and lucre, the soul appears extraordinary when divested of its bark, as the candid and naked soul of this good monk. He is eighty years old and more, and he has led from his youth up the restricted life of the Trappists; he probably does not know in what time he lives, nor what latitudes he inhabits, whether he is in America or in France, for he has never read a newspaper, and outside rumours do not reach him.
"He does not even know the taste of flesh meat or wine; he has no notion of money, of which he does not suspect the value nor the appearance; he does not imagine how a woman is made; and save for the breeding of his pigs, he perhaps cannot even guess the meaning and the consequences of the sin of the flesh.
"He lives alone ringed round by silence, and buried in the shade; he meditates on the mortifications of the Fathers in the Desert, which are read to him as he eats, and the frenzy of their fasts makes him ashamed of his miserable repast, and he accuses himself that he is so well to do.
"Ah! this Father Simeon is innocent; he knows nothing that we know, and knows that of which all others are ignorant; his education has been taken in hand by the Lord Himself, who teaches him truths which we cannot comprehend, models his soul after heaven, infuses Himself into him, possesses him, and deifies him in the union of Blessedness.
"This puts us somewhat at a distance from hypocrites and devout persons; as far indeed as modern Catholicism is from Mysticism, for certainly that religion is as grovelling on the ground as Mysticism is high!
"And that is true. Instead of directing all our forces to that unknown end, of taking our soul to fashion it in that form of a dove which the Middle Ages gave to the pyxes; instead of making it the shrine where the Host reposes in the very image of the Holy Spirit, the Catholic confines himself to trying to conceal his conscience, to deceive his Judge by the fear of a salutary hell; he acts not by choice, but by fear: he with the aid of his clergy, and the help of his imbecile literature, and his feeble press, has made of religion a mere fetishism, a ridiculous worship composed of statuettes and alms boxes; candles and chromo-lithographs; he has materialized the ideal of Love, in inventing an entirely physical devotion to the Sacred Heart.
"What baseness of conception!" continued Durtal, who had come out of the chapel, and was strolling along the bank of the great pond. He looked at the reeds, which bent like an harvest still green, under a puff of wind; then he half saw as he leant forward, an old boat, which bore almost effaced on its blueish hull the name "Alleluia." This bark disappeared under the tufts of leaves round which were twined the bells of the convolvulus, a symbolic flower, since it widens out like a chalice, and has the dead white of a wafer.
The scent of the water, at once enticing and bitter, intoxicated him. "Ah!" he thought, "happiness certainly consists in being restricted to a place closely locked, a prison very confined, or a chapel always open," and he caught himself up: "Ah! there is Brother Anacletus;" the lay brother was coming towards him, bending under a hamper.
He passed before Durtal, smiling at him with his eyes: and while he went his way, Durtal thought, "This man is a true friend of mine; when I was suffering so much before my confession, he expressed all to me in a look. To-day when he believes me serener, and more joyous, he is content, and shows it to me by a smile; and I shall never speak to him, I shall never thank him, I shall never even know who he is, I shall perhaps never even see him again.
"In leaving this place, I shall keep a friend, for whom I too feel affection; yet neither of us has even exchanged a gesture with the other.
"After all," he thought, "does not this absolute reserve make our friendship more perfect? it is stamped in the eternal distance, it remains mysterious and incomplete, and more certain."
While thinking over these reflections, Durtal went towards the chapel, where the Office called him, and thence to the refectory.
He was surprised to find the table laid only for one. "What has happened to M. Bruno? Yet I may as well wait a while," and to kill time, he occupied himself by reading a printed card, hung upon the wall.
It was a sort of advertisement which began thus:
"Fellow sinners, you will die. Be ye always ready.
"Watch then, pray without ceasing, never forget the Four Last Things which you see here traced
"Death, the gate of Eternity, Judgment, which decides Eternity, Hell, the abode of unhappy Eternity, Paradise, the abode of blessed Eternity."
Father Etienne interrupted Durtal, telling him that M. Bruno had gone to Saint Landry to make some purchases, and would only return at bed-time at eight o'clock. "Dine then without waiting, and make haste, or all your dishes will be cold."
"And how is the father abbot?"
"Better, he keeps his room still, but he hopes to be able to come down a while, the day after to-morrow, and assist at least at some of the offices."
And the monk bowed and disappeared.
Durtal seated himself at table, ate some bean broth, swallowed a soft-boiled egg and a spoonful of warm beans, then once outside, he passed along the chapel, entered it, and knelt before the altar of the Virgin; but at once the spirit of blasphemy filled him; he wished, whatever it cost him, to insult the Virgin; it seemed to him that he would experience a sharp joy, an acute pleasure in soiling her; but he restrained himself, he wrinkled his face not to allow the coal-heaver's abuse, which was on his lips, to escape.
And he detested these abominations; he revolted against them, strove against them with horror; and the impulse became so irresistible, that in order to keep silence he was obliged to bite his lips till they bled.
"This is somewhat strong," he said, "to hear grumbling in oneself, the contrary of what one is thinking;" but he had need to call to his help all his will, he felt that he should yield, and spit out all these impurities; wherefore he fled, thinking, that should he find no means of resistance, it were better to vomit this filth in the court rather than in the church.
And so soon as he quitted the chapel this madness of blasphemy ceased; he walked along the pond astonished by the strange violence of the attack.
Little by little there came to him the unexplained intuition of a danger that menaced him. As a beast that scents a hidden enemy, he looked with precaution within himself, and ended by seeing a black point on the horizon of his soul, and suddenly, before he had time to reconnoitre, and take account of the danger he saw arising, this point extended, and covered him with its shadow; there was no more light in him.
He had that minute of unrest which precedes the storm, and in the anxious silence of his being, arguments fell like drops of rain.
The painful effects of the Sacrament justified themselves, had he not proceeded in such a way that his communion could not but be unfaithful? Evidently; instead of collecting and straining himself, he had passed an afternoon of revolt and anger; the very evening before he had unworthily judged an ecclesiastic whose only wrong was that he took pleasure in the vanity of easy jokes. Had he confessed this injustice, and these revolts? Not the least in the world; and after the communion still less; had he, as he should have done, shut himself up alone with his Guest? He had abandoned Him, without thinking more of Him; had quitted his innermost cell, had taken a walk in the wood, had not even been present at the Offices.
"But come, come, this blame is foolish. I communicated, just as I was, on the formal order of the confessor; as for the walk, I did not ask for it nor wish for it. M. Bruno, in agreement with the abbot of La Trappe, decided it would do me good; I have then nothing to reproach myself with; I am blameless.
"This does not prove that you would not have done better to spend the day in prayer, in the church.
"But," he cried, "with such a system one could not move, one could not eat, nor sleep, for one should never leave the church. There must be time for everything, or the devil take it all!
"No doubt, but a more diligent soul would have refused that excursion, just because it was pleasant; would have avoided it, out of mortification, in a spirit of penance."
"Evidently, but" ... these scruples tortured him; "the fact is," he said, "I might have employed my afternoon more wholesomely than that;" to believe that he had spent it ill was but a step, and he made it. He pelted himself for an hour, sweating with agony, heaping on himself imaginary sins, and entering so far on that road that he ended by suddenly realizing his position and understanding he was out of the right track.
The story of the rosary returned to his memory, and then he blamed himself for allowing himself to be again driven into a corner by the demon. He began to breathe again, to regain his footing, when other attacks equally formidable presented themselves.
It was no longer an insinuation of arguments which ran drop by drop, but a furious rain, which threw itself like an avalanche on his soul. The storm, of which the wave of scruples was only the prelude, burst in its fulness; and in the panic of the first moment, in the violence of the tempest, the enemy unmasked his batteries, and struck him to the heart.
He had got no good from that communion, but he was also too young at it. Ah! indeed, was he to believe that because a priest uttered five Latin words over a bit of unleavened bread, that bread was transubstantiated into the flesh of Christ? That a child should accept such nonsense, might be possible, but that a man past forty should listen to such formidable shams, was excessive; almost disquieting.
And these insinuations lashed him like hail showers: how could bread made of wheat before, have only the appearance of wheat afterwards; what is flesh that is neither seen nor felt; what is a body, which has such ubiquity as to be at the same time on the altars of divers countries; what is that power which is annihilated when the Host is not made of pure wheat?
And this became a regular deluge which overwhelmed him, and yet like an impenetrable pile, that Faith he had acquired without ever having known how, remained immovable, disappeared under torrents of interrogation, but never stirred.
He revolted, and said to himself: "This only proves that the sacramental darkness of the Eucharist cannot be sounded. Moreover, if it were intelligible, it would not be divine. If the God whom we serve could be comprehended by reason, He could not be worth the trouble of serving, said Tauler; and the 'Imitation' declares plainly also at the end of the IVth book that if the works of God were such as man's intelligence could easily grasp, they would cease to be marvellous, and could not be qualified as ineffable."
And a mocking voice replied,
"That is what you call answering, avowing that there is nothing to answer."
"In fact," said Durtal, who reflected, "I have been present at spiritualistic experiences, where no trickery was possible. It was quite evident that there was no fluid from the spectators, no suggestion of persons surrounding the table who dictated the responses; then in giving its raps, the table expressed itself suddenly in English, though no one spoke that language, then a few minutes later, addressing itself to me, who was at a distance from it, and consequently was not touching it, it told me this time in French, facts which I had forgotten, and I alone could know. I am then certainly obliged to suppose an element of the supernatural, using a table in guise of an interpreter, to accept if not the evocation of the dead, but at least the proved existence of ghosts.
"Then it is not more impossible, more surprising that Christ should substitute Himself for a piece of bread, than that a ghost should hide and brag in the foot of a table. These phenomena equally put our senses to rout; but if one of them be undeniable, and spiritualistic manifestation certainly is so, what motives can we invoke to deny the other, which is moreover attested by thousands of saints?
"After all," he went on with a smile, "we have already demonstration by the absurd, but this may be called demonstration by the abject, for if the Eucharistic mystery is sublime, it is not the same with spiritualism, which is after all only the latrine of the supernatural!"
"If this were the only enigma," began the voice again, "but all the Catholic doctrines are on the same model; examine religion from its birth, and see if it do not always issue by an absurd dogma.
"Here is a God, infinitely perfect, infinitely good, a God who is not ignorant of past, present, or future. He knew then that Eve would sin; therefore of two things, one; either He is not good, in that He submitted her to that proof knowing that she had not power to stand it; or again, He was not certain of her defeat; in that case He is not omniscient, He is not perfect."
Durtal gave no answer to this dilemma; which is in fact difficult to resolve.
"Yet," he thought, "we may at once exclude one of these two propositions, the latter; for it is childish to concern ourselves about the future, when we have to do with God; we judge Him by our miserable understanding, and there is for Him neither present nor past, nor future; He sees them all at the same moment in light uncreate. For Him distance has no figure, and space is nought. It is consequently impossible to doubt that the Serpent will conquer. This amputated dilemma is then out of order."
"Be it so, but the other alternative remains; what do you make of His goodness?"
"His goodness?" And Durtal had need to repeat again the arguments drawn from free will, and the promised coming of the Saviour; and he was obliged to admit that these answers were weak.
And the voice became more pressing,
"Then you admit original sin?"
"I am obliged to admit it, because it exists. What are heredity and atavism, save, under another name, the terrible sin of the beginning?"
"And does it appear to you just that innocent generations should make amends now and always for the sin of the first man?"
And as Durtal did not reply, the voice insinuated gently,
"This law is so iniquitous that it seems as if the Creator were ashamed of it, and that in order to punish Himself for His ferocity, and not to make Himself for ever execrated by His creature, He wished to suffer on the Cross, and expiate His crime in the person of His own Son."
"But," cried Durtal, exasperated, "God could not commit a crime and punish Himself: were that so, Jesus would be the Redeemer of His Father, and not ours; it is madness!"
Little by little he recovered his balance; he recited slowly the Apostles' Creed, while the objections which demolished it, pressed one after the other within him.
"There is one fact certain," he said to himself, for in all this tumult, he was perfectly lucid, "that for the moment we are two persons in one. I can follow my reasonings, and I hear on the other side, the sophisms my double breathes in me. This duality has never appeared so clear to me."
And the attack grew feebler, on this reflection; it might have been believed that the enemy now discovered was beating a retreat.
But nothing of the kind; after a short truce, the assault began again on another point.
"Are you very sure that you have not suggested and shown the blow to yourself? By having wished, you have ended by begetting belief, and by implanting in yourself a fixed idea, disguised under the name of grace, round which everything now clings. You complain that you did not experience sensible joys after your communion; this simply proves that you were not careful enough, or that, tired by the excess of the evening before, your imagination showed itself unready to play the infatuating fairy story you expected from yourself after the mass.
"Moreover, you ought to know that in these questions all depends on the more or less feverish activity of the brain and the senses; see what takes place in the case of women, who deceive themselves more easily than men; for that again declares the difference of conformations, the variety between the sexes; Christ gives Himself carnally under the appearances of bread; that is mystical marriage, the divine union consummated by the way of the lips; He is indeed the spouse of women, while we men, without willing it, by the very lodestone of our nature, are more attracted by the Virgin. But she does not give herself, like her Son, to us; she does not reside in the Sacrament; possession is in her case impossible; she is our Mother, but she is not our Spouse, as he is the Spouse of virgins.
"We conceive, therefore, that women are more violently duped, that they adore better, and imagine more easily the more they are petted. Moreover, M. Bruno said to you yesterday, 'Woman is more passive, less rebellious to the action of Heaven ...'
"Well, what has that to do with me; what does that prove? that the more we love the better we are loved: but if that axiom is false, from the earthly point of view, it is certainly exact from the divine point of view; which would be monstrous, and would come to this, that the Lord would not treat the soul of a Poor Clare better than mine."
There was again a time of rest, and the attack turned and rushed on a new place.
"Then you believe in an eternal hell? You suppose a God more cruel than yourself, a God who has created people, without their having been consulted, without their having asked to be born; and after having suffered during their existence, they will be again punished without mercy after their death; but consider, if you were to see your worst enemy in torture, you would be taken by pity, and would ask pardon for him. You would pardon, and the Almighty be implacable; you will admit this is to have a singular idea of Him."
Durtal was silent; hell going on infinitely became in fact wearisome. The reply that it is legitimate, that punishment should be infinite, because rewards are so, was not decisive, since indeed it were the property of perfect goodness, to abridge the chastisements and prolong the joys.
"But, in fact," he said to himself, "Saint Catherine of Genoa has elucidated the question. She explains very well that God sends a ray of mercy, a current of pity into hell, that no damned soul suffers as much as it deserves to suffer; that if expiation ought not to cease, it may be modified, and weakened, and become at length less rigorous, less intense.
"She remarks also, that at the moment of its separation from the body, the soul becomes obstinate or yields; if it remain hardened and shows no contrition for its faults, its guilt cannot be remitted, since, after death, free will subsists no more; the will which we possess at the moment of quitting the world remains invariable.
"If, on the contrary, it does not persist in those impenitent sentiments, a part of the repression will no doubt be removed; and consequently is not devoted to a continual gehenna, as that which deliberately, while there is yet time, will not return to amendment, refuses in fact to lay aside its sins.
"Let us add that according to the saint, God does not even make the soul empty to be never polluted by sin, for it goes there of itself; it is led there by the very nature of its sins, it flings itself in as into its own good; is, if one may say so, naturally engulfed there.
"In fact we may imagine to ourselves a very small hell, and a very large purgatory; may imagine that hell is scantily peopled, is only reserved for cases of rare wickedness, that in reality the crowd of disincarnate souls presses into Purgatory and there endures punishments proportioned to the misdeeds it has willed here below. These ideas have nothing which cannot be sustained, and they have the advantage of being in accord with the ideas of mercy and justice."
"Exactly," replied the voice in railing tones. "Man then will do well to constrain himself; he may steal, rob, kill his father, and violate his daughter; the price is the same; provided he repent at the last minute, he is saved!"
"But no, contrition takes away the eternity of punishment only, and not punishment itself; everyone must be punished or rewarded according to his works. He who will be soiled by a parricide or an incest will bear a chastisement different in pain and length to him who has not committed them; equality in expiatory suffering, in reparative pain, does not exist.
"Moreover this idea of a purgative life after death is so natural, so certain, that all religions assume it. All consider the soul is a sort of air balloon, which cannot mount and attain its last end in space except by throwing away its ballast. In the religions of the East, the soul is re-incarnistic; in order to purify itself it rubs itself against a new body, like a blade in sandstone troughs, to brighten it. For us Catholics it undergoes no terrestrial avatar, but it lightens and scours itself, clears itself in the Purgatory, where God transforms it, draws it out, extracts it little by little from the dross of its sins, till it can raise itself and lose itself in Him.
"To have done with this irritating question of a perpetual hell, why not conceive that divine justice hesitates in the majority of cases to pronounce inexorable decrees? Humanity is for the most part composed of unconscious rascals and fools, who do not take any count of the reach of their faults. These are saved by their complete want of comprehension. As for others who rot, knowing what they do, they are evidently more blameworthy, but society which hates superior beings takes on itself their punishment, humiliates and persecutes them; and it is therefore allowed us to hope that our Lord will pity these poor souls so miserably pelted during their stay upon earth by a horde of fools."
"Then there is every advantage in being imbecile, since one is spared both on earth and in heaven?"
"Ah! certainly, and yet ... and yet.... What is the good of discussion, since we cannot frame for ourselves the least idea of the infinite justice of a God?"
"Moreover, this is enough, these debates overwhelm me." He tried to distract his thoughts from these subjects, and would feign to break the obsession, betake himself to Paris; but five minutes had not passed before his double returned to the charge.
He entered once more on that halting dilemma which had so recently assailed the goodness of the Creator in regard to the sins of man. "Purgatory is then exorbitant, for after all," said he, "God knew that man would yield to temptations; then why allow them, and above all why condemn them? Is that goodness, is that justice?"
"But it is a sophism," cried Durtal, growing angry. "God has left to every man his liberty; no one is tempted beyond his power. If in certain cases, he allows the seduction to overpass our means of resistance, it is to recall us to humility, to bring us back to Him by remorse, for other causes which we know not, which it is not His business to show us. Then probably those transgressions are appreciated in a different way to those which we have practised with our full accord."
"The liberty of man! it is a pretty thing. Yes, let us speak of it, and atavism, and our surroundings and diseases of the brain, and of the marrow. Is a man driven by the impulses of sickness, overwhelmed by troubles of the generative organs, responsible for his acts?"
"But what can be said if under these conditions these acts are imputed to him on high. It is after all idiotic always to compare divine justice to man's tribunals; for it is exactly the contrary; human judgments are often so infamous that they attest the existence of another equity. Rather than the proofs of a theodicy, the magistrature proves God; for without Him, how can be satisfied that instinct of justice so innate in each of us, that even the humblest beast possesses it?"
"Yet," replied the voice, "all this does not hinder the change of character according as the stomach does its work ill or well; slander, anger, envy are accumulated bile, or faulty digestion; good temper, joy, come from a free circulation of blood, the expansion of the body at will; mystics are anemo-nervous people; your ecstatics are hysterical patients badly-fed, madhouses are full of them; they depend on science when visions begin."
All at once Durtal recovered himself, the material arguments were but little disquieting, for none could remain standing: all confounded the function and the organ, the lodger and the lodging, the clock and the hour. Their assertions rested on no base. To liken the happy lucidity and unequalled genius of a Saint Teresa to the extravagances of nymphomaniacs and other mad women were so obtuse, so clumsy, that it could only raise a smile!
The mystery would remain complete; no doctor has been able to discover or could discover the psyche in those round or fusiform cells, in the white matter or grey substance of the brain. They would recognize more or less justly the organs which the soul uses to pull the strings of the puppet, which it is condemned to move, but itself remains invisible; it has gone, when after death they force open the rooms of its habitation.
"No; these newsmongers have no effect on me," Durtal assured himself.
"But does this one do any better? Do you believe in the utility of life, in the necessity of this endless chain, this towage of sufferings, to be prolonged for the most part after death? True goodness would have consisted in inventing nothing, creating nothing, in leaving all as it was, in nothingness, in peace."
The attack turned round on itself, and after apparent variations, returned always to the same starting point.
Durtal lowered his head, for this argument dismasted him; all the replies which could be imagined were remarkably weak, and the least feeble, that which consists in denying to ourselves the right to judge because we only see the details of the divine plan, because we can possess no general view of it cannot avail against that terrible phrase of Schopenhauer: "If God made the world I would not be that God, for the misery of the world would break my heart!"
"There is no haggling in the matter," he said to himself. "I can quite understand that sorrow is the true disinfectant of souls, yet I am obliged to ask myself why the Creator has not invented a less atrocious way of purifying us?
"Ah! when I think of the sufferings shut up in madhouses, and hospital wards, I am revolted, and inclined to doubt everything.
"If, again, grief were an antiseptic for future misdeeds or a detersive for past faults, one might again understand, but now it falls indifferently on the bad and on the good; it is blind. The best proof is the Virgin who was without spot, and who had not like her Son to expiate for us. She consequently ought not to be punished; yet she too underwent at the foot of Calvary the punishment exacted by this horrible law.
"Good; but then," replied Durtal, after a silence of reflection, "if the innocent Virgin has given us an example, by what right do we who are culpable dare to complain?
"No; we must therefore resolve to dwell in darkness, to live surrounded by enigmas. Money, love, nothing is clear; chance if it exist is as mysterious as Providence, and indeed still more so; it is inexplicable. God is at least an origin of the unknown, a key.
"An origin which is itself another secret, a key which opens nothing!
"Ah! it is irritating," he said to himself, "to be thus harassed in every sense. Enough of it; besides these are questions which a theologian is alone able to discuss; I am unarmed, the game is not equal; I will not answer any more."
And he could not but hear a vague laughter which arose in him.
He quitted the garden, and directed his steps towards the chapel, but the fear of being seized again by the madness of blasphemy turned him away from it. Knowing not whither to go, he regained his cell, saying to himself, that he ought not to wrangle thus; yes, but how could he help hearing the cavils which rose he knew not whence? He almost shouted aloud: "Be silent, let the other speak!"
When he was in his chamber he desired to pray, and fell on his knees at his bedside.
This was abominable; for memories of Florence recurred to him. He rose, but the old aberrations returned.
He thought of that creature, her strange tastes, her mania for biting his ears, for drinking toilet scents in little glasses, for nibbling bread and butter with caviare, and dates. She was so wild, and so strange; a fool no doubt, but obscure.
"And if she were in this room, before you, what would you do?"
He stammered to himself: "I would try not to yield."
"You lie; admit then that you would send your conversion, the monastery, all, to the devil."
He grew pale at the thought; the possibility of his cowardice was a punishment. To have communicated, when one was no more certain of the future, no more certain of oneself, was almost a sacrilege, he thought.
And he became angry. Up till now he had kept right, but the vision of Florence subdued him. He threw himself, in desperation, on a chair, no longer knowing what would become of him, gathering what of courage remained to him to descend to the church, where the Office was beginning.
He dragged himself there, and held himself down, assailed by filthy temptations, disgusted with himself, feeling his will yielding, wounded in every part.
And when he was in the court he remained overwhelmed, asking himself where he could take shelter. Every place had become hostile to him; in his cell were carnal memories, outside were temptations against Faith, "or rather," he cried, "I carry these with me always. My God, my God! I was yesterday so tranquil."
He strolled by chance into an alley, when a new phenomenon arose.
He had had, up to this hour, in the sky within him, a rain of scruples, a tempest of doubts, a thunderstroke of lust; now was silence and death.
Complete darkness was within him.
He sought his soul by groping for it, and found it inert, without consciousness, almost icy. He had a body living and healthy; all his intelligence, all his reason, and his other powers, his other faculties, were benumbed little by little, and stopped. In his being there was manifested an effect at once analogous and contrary to that which curara produces on the organism, when it circulates in the network of the blood; the members are paralyzed, no pain is experienced, but cold rises, the soul ends by being sequestered alive in a corpse; in this case it was the living body that detained a dead soul.
Harassed by fear, he disengaged himself with a supreme effort, he would make a visit to himself, see where he was, and like a sailor who descends into the hold in a ship that has sprung a leak, he had to step backwards, for the gangway was cut, the steps opened upon an abyss.
In spite of the terror which rushed upon him, he hung fascinated over the hole, and by fixing the black point he distinguished appearances; in a light as of eclipse in rarefied air, he perceived at the basis of himself the panorama of his soul, a desert twilight on the horizons that approached the night, and under this doubtful light there seemed something like bare fields, a marsh heaped with rubbish and cinders; the place of the sins torn up by the confessor remained visible, but besides the dry darnel of dead vices which grew still, nothing budded.
He saw himself exhausted; he knew that he had no further force to extirpate the last roots, and he fancied that he had again to sow the seed of virtues, to till this arid soil, manure this dead ground. He felt himself incapable of all work, and had at the same time the conviction that God rejected him, that God would aid him no more. This certainty tore him to pieces. It could not be expressed, for nothing could translate the anxiety, the anguish of a state through which he must have passed who could understand it. The terror of a child who has never left its mother's petticoats, and who is deserted, without warning, in the open country in a fog, could only give a vestige of an idea of it, and again by reason of his age the child after having felt desolate would end by growing calmer, by distracting himself from his grief, no longer seeing the danger which surrounds him, while in this state is danger, clinging and absolute, the immovable thought of abandonment, obstinate fear, which nothing diminishes, nothing appeases.
One dare not advance nor retreat; rather cast oneself on the ground, with bowed head, and wait the end of what we know not, and be assured that the menaces we ignore, and those at which we guess, are removed. Durtal was at this point; he could not return on his steps, for the way he had quitted horrified him. He would rather have died than return to Paris, there to begin again his carnal experiences, to live again his hours of libertinage and lassitude; but if he could not again retrace his road, neither could he advance, for the road ended in a blind alley. If earth repulsed him, heaven at the same time was closed for him.
He was lying, half on his side, in the darkness, in the shade, he knew not where.
And this state was aggravated by an absolute failure to understand the causes which brought him there, was exaggerated by the memory of graces before received.
Durtal remembered the sweetness of the beginning, the caress of the divine touches, the steady progress without obstacles, the encounter with a solitary priest, his being sent to La Trappe, the very ease with which he bent to the monastic life, the absolution which had such truly sensible effects, the rapid and clear answer that he might communicate without fear.
And suddenly, without his will, he had in fact failed. He who had till then held him by the hand, refused to guide him, cast him off into the darkness without a word.
"All is over," he thought; "I am condemned to float here below, like a waif which no one wants; no shore is henceforward accessible, for if the world refuses me, I disgust God. Ah! Lord, remember the garden of Gethsemani, the tragic defection of the Father whom Thou didst implore in unspeakable pangs." In the silence which received his cry he gave way, and yet he desired to react against this desolation, endeavoured to escape from his despair; he prayed, and had again that very precise sensation that his petitions did not carry, were not even heard. He called her who superintends allegiance, the Mediatrix of pardon, to his aid, and he was persuaded that the Virgin heard him no longer.
He was silent and discouraged, while the shade grew still more dense, and complete darkness covered him. He did not then suffer any longer in the true sense of the word, but it was worse, for this was annihilation in the void, the giddiness of a man who is bent over a gulf; and the scraps of reasoning which he could gather and knit together in this breaking up, ended by branching out into scruples.
He sought for any sins which since his communion might justify such a trial, and he could not find them. He even tried to magnify his small faults, enlarge his want of patience; he wished to convince himself that he had taken a certain pleasure in finding the image of Florence in his cell, and he tortured himself so violently that he reanimated the soul, which had half fainted, by these moxas, and placed it again, without wishing it, in that acute state of scruples, in which it was when the crisis declared itself.
And in these brawling reflections he did not lose the sad faculty of analysis. He said to himself while gauging himself at a glance: "I am like the litter in a circus, trodden down by all the sorrows which go and come to play their parts. Doubts about Faith, which seemed to stretch into every sense, turned in fact in the same circle. And now scruples, from which I thought myself freed, reappear and course through me."
How should he explain this? Was he who inflicted this torture on him the Spirit of Malice, or God?
That he had been bruised by the Evil One was certain, the very nature of his attacks showed his handiwork, but how could this abandonment of God be explained, for in fact, the Demon could not prevent the Saviour from assisting him, and he was quite obliged to conclude that if he were martyrized by the one, the Other took no interest in him, let him be, and retired from him completely?
This certainty deduced from precise observations, this reasoned assurance, finished him. He cried out from the anguish of it, looking at the pond by which he was walking, wishing he might fall in, thinking that death by drowning were preferable to such a life.
Then he trembled before the water which attracted him, and carried away his sorrows to the charm of the woods. He tried to wear himself out by long walking, but he wearied himself without effect, and he ended by sinking down worn and broken at the refectory table.
He looked at his plate, with no courage to eat, no desire to drink; he breathed hard, and, exhausted as he was, could not keep in one place. He rose and wandered in the court till Compline, and there in the chapel, where at least he hoped to find some solace, was the crowning point of all; the mine went off; the soul, sapped since the morning, exploded.
On his knees, desolate, he tried again to invoke help, and nothing came; he choked, immured in so deep a trench, under a vault so thick, that every appeal was stifled, and no sound vibrated. Without courage, he wept with his head in his hands, and while he complained to God that He had brought him thither to punish him in a Trappist monastery, ignoble visions assailed him.
Fluids passed before his face, and peopled the space with priapisms. He did not see them with the eyes of his body, which were in no degree hallucinated, but perceived them outside him, and felt them within him; in a word, the touch was external, and the vision internal.
He tried to gaze on the statue of Saint Joseph, before which he kept himself, and to see nothing but it, but his eyes seemed to revolve, to see only within, and were filled with indecencies. It was a medley of apparitions with undecided outlines, and confused colours, which gained precision only in those parts coveted by the secular infamy of man. And this changed again. The human forms vanished. There remained only, in invisible landscapes of flesh, marshes reddened by the fires of what sunset it was impossible to say, marshes shuddering under the divided shelter of the grasses. Then the sensual spot grew smaller still, but remained, and this time did not move; it was the growth of an unclean flood, the spreading of the daisy of darkness, the unfolding of the lotos of the caverns, hidden at the bottom of the valley.
And there, burning gasps excited Durtal, enwrapped him, stifled him with furious gasps which drank his mouth.
He looked in spite of himself, unable to withdraw himself from the outrages imposed by these violations, but the body was still and remained calm, while the soul revolted with a groan; the temptation was then of no effect; but if the tricks only succeeded in suggesting to him disgust and horror, they made him suffer beyond measure, while they delayed; all the days of his shameful existence came to the surface, all these enticements to greedy desires crucified him. Joined to the sum of sorrows accumulated since the dawn, the overcharge of these sorrows overwhelmed him, and a cold sweat bathed him from head to foot.
He was in agony, and suddenly, as though he had come to overlook his ministers, and to see if his orders were carried out, the executioner himself entered on the scene. Durtal did not see him, but felt him, and it was indescribable. Since he had the impression of a real demoniac presence, his whole soul trembled and desired to fly, like a terrified bird that clings to the window-panes.
And it fell back exhausted; then unlikely as it may appear, the parts of his life were inverted, the body was upright, and held its own, commanding the terrified soul, repressed this panic in a furious tension.
Durtal perceived very plainly and clearly for the first time the distinction, the separation of the soul from the body, and for the first time also, he was conscious of the phenomenon of a body, which had so tortured its companion by its needs and wants, to forget all its hatred in the common danger, and hinder her who resisted it, the habit of sinking.
He saw that in a flash, and suddenly all vanished. It seemed that the Demon had taken himself off, the wall of darkness which encompassed Durtal opened, and light issued from all parts; with an immense impulse the "Salve Regina," springing up from the choir, swept aside the phantoms, and put the goblins to flight.
The elevated cordial of this chant restored him. He took courage, and began again to hope that this frightful desertion might cease; he prayed, and his petitions found vent; he understood that they were at last heard.
The Office was at an end; he gained the guest-house, and when he appeared so worn out and pale before Father Etienne and the oblate, they cried: "What is the matter with you?"
He sank on a chair, and endeavoured to describe to them the terrible Calvary he had climbed. "This has lasted," he said, "for more than nine hours; I wonder that I have not gone mad;" and he added, "Yet I never could have believed that the soul could suffer so much."
The face of the father was illuminated. He pressed Durtal's hands and said,
"Rejoice, my brother, you have been treated here like a monk."
"How is that?" said Durtal, surprised.
"Yes, this agony, for there is no other word to define the horror of the state, is one of the most serious trials which God inflicts on us; it is one of the operations of the purgative life. Be happy, for it is a great grace which Jesus does to you."
"And this proves that your conversion is good," affirmed the oblate.
"God! But it was not He at any rate who insinuated doubts about the Faith, who caused to be born in me that madness of scruples, who raised in me that spirit of blasphemy, who caressed my face with disgusting apparitions."
"No, but He allows it. It is frightful, I know it," said the guest-master. "God conceals Himself, and however you may call on Him, He does not answer you. You think yourself deserted, yet He is very near you; and while He effaces Himself, Satan advances. He twists you about, places a microscope over your faults, his malice gnaws your brain like a dull file, and when to all this are joined, to try you to the utmost, impure visions...."
The Trappist stopped; then, speaking to himself, he said, slowly,
"It would be nothing to be in presence of a real temptation, of a true woman in flesh and bone, but these appearances on which imagination works, are horrible!"
"And I used to think there was peace in the cloister!"
"No, we are here on this earth to strive, and it is just in the cloister that the Lowest works; there, souls escape him, and he will at all price conquer them. No place on earth is more haunted by him than a cell, no one is more harassed than a monk."
"A story which is told in the Lives of the Fathers in the Desert, is typical from this point of view. One demon only was charged to watch a town; and he went to sleep while two or three hundred demons who had orders to guard a monastery had no rest, but behaved themselves, here is the place for the phrase, like very devils.
"And indeed, the mission to increase the sin of the towns is a sinecure, for Satan holds them, though they are not aware of it; all then he has to do is to torment them so as to take from them trust in God, since all obey him without his taking the least trouble about it.
"And so he keeps his legions to besiege convents where resistance is determined. And indeed, you see the way in which he conducts the attack."
"Ah!" exclaimed Durtal, "it is not he who makes you suffer the most; for what is worse than scruples, worse than temptations against purity, or against the Faith, is the supposed abandonment of Heaven; no, nothing can describe that."
"That is what mystical theology calls 'the Night Obscure,'" answered M. Bruno.
And Durtal exclaimed,
"Ah! now I am with you; I remember.... That is why Saint John of the Cross declares that it is impossible to describe the sorrows of that night, and why he exaggerates nothing when he says, that one is then plunged alive into hell.
"And I doubted the veracity of his books, I accused him of excess; rather he minimized. Only one must have felt this oneself to believe it."
"And you have seen nothing," the oblate replied quietly; "you have passed through the first portion of that night, through the night of the senses; it is terrible enough, as I know by experience, but it is nothing in comparison with the Night of the Spirit which sometimes succeeds it. That is the exact image of the sufferings which our Lord endured in the Garden of Olives, when, sweating blood, He cried at the end of His force, 'Lord, let this chalice pass from me.'
"This is so terrible ..." and M. Bruno was silent and grew pale. "Whoever has undergone that martyrdom," he said, after a pause, "knows beforehand what awaits the damned in another life."
"But," said the monk, "the hour of bed-time has struck. There exists but one remedy for all these evils, the Holy Eucharist; to-morrow, Sunday, the community approaches the Sacrament; you must join us."
"But I cannot communicate in the state in which I am...."
"Well, then, be up to-night, at three o'clock. I will come for you to your cell, and will take you to Father Maximin, who confesses us at that time."
And without waiting for his answer, the guest-master pressed his hand and went.
"He is right," said the oblate; "it is the true remedy."
And when he had regained his room, Durtal thought,
"I now understand why the Abbe Gevresin made such a point of lending me Saint John of the Cross; he knew that I should enter into the 'Night Obscure'; he did not dare warn me clearly, for fear of alarming me, and yet he would put me on my guard against despair, and aid me by the remembrance here of that reading. Only how could he think that in such a shipwreck I should remember anything!
"All this makes me think that I have omitted to write to him, and that to-morrow I must keep my promise by sending him a letter."
And he thought again of Saint John of the Cross, that extraordinary Carmelite who described so placidly that terrible phase of the mystic genesis.
He took count of the lucidity, the power of spirit of this saint, explaining the most obscure vicissitude of the soul and the least known, catching and following the operations of God, who dealt with that soul, pressed it in His hands, squeezed it like a sponge, then let it suck up again, fill itself out with sorrows, then wrung it again; making it drip tears of blood to cleanse it.
"No," said Durtal, in a whisper, "I will not take the place of these good people."
"But I assure you it is quite the same to them."
And while Durtal was still refusing to go before the lay brothers who were waiting their turn for confession, Father Etienne insisted: "I will stay with you, and as soon as the cell is free, you will enter."
Durtal was then on the landing of a staircase on every step of which was posted a brother kneeling or standing, his head wrapped in his hood, his face turned to the wall. All were sifting and closely examining their souls.
"Of what sins can they really accuse themselves?" thought Durtal. "Who knows?" he continued, perceiving Brother Anacletus, his head sunk on his breast, and his hands joined, "who knows if he does not reproach himself for the discreet affection he has for me; for in monasteries all friendship is forbidden!"
And he called to memory in the "Way of Perfection" of Saint Teresa, a page at once glowing and icy in which she cries out on the nothingness of human ties, declares that friendship is a weakness, and asserts clearly that every nun who desires to see her relations is imperfect.
"Come," said Father Etienne, who interrupted these reflections, and pushed him towards the door of the cell out of which a monk came. Father Maximin was there, seated close to a prie-Dieu.
Durtal knelt, and told him briefly his scruples and strifes of the evening before.
"What has happened to you is not surprising after a conversion; indeed, it is a good sign, for those persons alone for whom God has views are submitted to these proofs," said the monk slowly, when Durtal had ended his story.
And he continued,
"Now that you have no more grave sins, the Demon endeavours to drown you by spitting at you. In fact, in these episodes of malice at bay, there is for you temptation and no sin.
"You have, if I may sum up what you have said, undergone temptation of the flesh, and of Faith, and you have been tortured by scruples.
"Let us leave on one side the sensual visions; such as they have been were produced independently of your will, painful no doubt, but ineffectual.
"Doubts about Faith are more dangerous.
"Steep yourself in this truth that besides prayer there exists but one efficacious remedy against this evil, to despise it.
"Satan is pride; despise him, and at once his audacity gives way; he speaks; shrug your shoulders and he is silent. You must not discuss with him; however good a reasoner you may be, you will be worsted, for he is a most tricky dialectician."
"Yes, but what can I do? I do not wish to listen to him, but I hear him all the same. I was obliged to answer him if only to refute him."
"And it was just on that he counted to subdue you; keep this carefully in your mind; in order to let you give him an easy throw, he will present you at need grotesque arguments, and so soon as he sees you confident, simply satisfied with the excellence of your replies, he will involve you in sophisms so specious that you will fight in vain to solve them.
"No; I repeat to you, had you the best reasons to oppose to him, do not riposte, refuse the strife."
The prior was silent; then he began again, quietly,
"There are two ways of getting rid of a thing which troubles you—to throw it far away, or let it fall. To throw it to a distance demands an effort of which one may not be capable; to let it fall imposes no fatigue, is simple, without danger, within the reach of all.
"To throw to a distance implies again a certain interest, a certain animation, perhaps even a certain fear; to let it fall is indifference, complete contempt; believe me, use this means and Satan will fly.
"This weapon of contempt will be also all-powerful to conquer the assault of scruples, if in combats of this nature the person assailed sees clear. Unfortunately, the peculiarity of scruples is to alarm people, to make them lose at once the clearing breeze, and then it is indispensable to have recourse to a priest to defend oneself.
"Indeed," pursued the monk, who had interrupted himself a moment to think—"the closer one looks the less one sees; one becomes short-sighted the moment one observes; it is necessary to place oneself at a certain point of view to distinguish objects, for when they are very close they become as confused as if they were far. Therefore in such a case we must have recourse to the confessor, who is neither too distant, nor too near, who holds himself precisely at the spot where objects detach themselves in their relief. Only it is with scruples as with certain maladies which, when they are not taken in time, become almost incurable.
"Do not allow them, then, to become implanted in you; scruple cannot resist being told as soon as it begins. The moment you formulate it before the priest it dissolves; it is a kind of mirage which a word effaces.
"You will object to me," continued the monk, after a silence, "that it is very mortifying to avow delusions which generally are absurd; but it is for this very reason that the demon suggests to you less clever arguments than foolish. He takes hold of you thus by vanity, by false shame."
The monk was silent again; then he continued,
"Scruples not treated, scruples not cured, lead to discouragement which is the worst of temptations; for in other cases Satan attacks one virtue only in particular, and he shows himself; while in this case he attacks all at once, and he hides himself.
"And this is so true that if you are seduced by lust, by the love of money, or by pride, you can, in examining yourself, give yourself account of the nature of the temptation which exhausts you; in discouragement, on the contrary, your understanding is obscured to such a degree that you do not even suspect that the state in which you succumb is only a diabolic manoeuvre which you must combat; and you let go all, you give up the only arm which can save you, prayer, from which the demon turns you aside as a vain thing.
"Never hesitate, then, to cut the evil at its root, to take care of a scruple as soon as it is born.
"Now tell me; you have nothing else to confess?"
"No, except the indesire for the Eucharist, the languor in which I now faint."
"There is some fatigue in your case, for no one can endure such a shock with impunity; do not be uneasy about that, have confidence, do not attempt to present yourself before God all neat and trim; go to Him simply, naturally, in undress even, just as you are; do not forget that if you are a servant you are also a son; have good courage, our Lord will dispel all these nightmares."
And when he had received absolution, Durtal went down to the church to await the hour of mass.
And when the moment for communion came, he followed M. Bruno behind the lay brothers. All were kneeling on the pavement, and one after the other rose to exchange the kiss of peace, and reach the altar.
Though he repeated to himself the counsels of Father Maximin, though he exhorted himself to dismiss all his unrest, Durtal could not help thinking as he saw these monks approach the Table, "The Lord will find a change when I advance in my turn; after having descended into the sanctuaries, He will be reduced to visit hovel." And sincerely, humbly, he was sorry for Him.
And as the first time that he approached this peace-giving mystery, he experienced a sensation of stifling, as if his heart were too large when he returned to his place. As soon as the mass was over, he quitted the chapel and escaped into the park.
Then gently, without sensible effects, the Sacrament worked; Christ opened, little by little, his closed house and gave it air, light entered into Durtal in a flood. From the windows of his senses which had looked till then into he knew not what cesspool, into what enclosure, dank, and steeped in shadow; he now looked suddenly, through a burst of light, on a vista which lost itself in heaven.
His vision of nature was modified; the surroundings were transformed; the fog of sadness which visited them vanished; the sudden clearness of his soul was repeated in its surroundings.
He had the sensation of expansion, the almost childlike joy of a sick man who takes his first outing, of the convalescent, who having long crawled in a chamber, sets foot without; all grew young again. These alleys, this wood, through which he had wandered so much, which he began to know in all their windings, and in every corner, began to appear to him in a new aspect. A restrained joy, a repressed gladness emanated from this site, which appeared to him, instead of extending as formerly, to draw near and gather round the crucifix, to turn, as it were, with attention towards the liquid cross.
The trees rustled trembling, in a whisper of prayers, inclining towards the Christ, who no longer twisted His painful arms in the mirror of the pool, but He constrained these waters, and displayed them before Him, blessing them.
They were themselves different; the dark fluid was covered with monastic visions, in white robes, which the reflections of clouds left there in passing, and the swan scattered them, in a splash of sunlight, making as he swam great oily circles round him.