Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

The Grip of Desire by Hector France

Part 1 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.7 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

generously made available by the Bibliotheque nationale de France
(BnF/Gallica) at http://gallica.bnf.fr.

THE GRIP OF DESIRE

THE STORY OF A PARISH-PRIEST

TRANSLATED FROM THE FRENCH OF HECTOR FRANCE

[Illustration: Debut d'une serie de documents en couleur.]

Love is a familiar; love is a devil; there is
no evil angel but love. Yet was Samson so
tempted, and he had an excellent strength;
yet was Solomon so seduced, and he had a
very good wit.

_Love's Labour Lost_.

With an engraved portrait of the Author

Other Works in English

By
HECTOR FRANCE

Mansour's Chastisement, the Loves and
Intrigues of an Arab Don Juan, done into English
by ALFRED ALLINSON, and embellished with Seven
fine Engravings by THEVENIN, after Drawings by
BAZEILHAC.

Musk, Hashish and Blood, with Twenty-One
Engravings by PAUL AVRIL. (In the Press.)

The Attack on the Brothels, A Realistic
Account of the Civilizing of "Barbarians". With
Illustrations. (In Hand.)

The Daughter of the Christ; The most
original and philosophic work of the last twenty
years. This work will be sumptuously illustrated
by leading French Artists. (In Preparation.)

[Illustration: Fin d'une serie de documents en couleur.]

[Illustration: the author.]

[Illustration]

TO THE READER

The truth, the bitter truth.

DANTON.

Oh, sons and brothers, oh, poets
When the thing exists, speak the word.

V. HUGO.

I do not assert that all the personages in this story are models of virtue.
To some of them has been given a part which severe morality reproves. But I
am a realist and not an idealist, and for that I beg the reader a thousand
pardons. I have tried to paint what I saw and not that of which I dreamed.
If my figures are not chaste, the fault is not mine, but of those who
passed before me and whose features I sketched as my pen ran on.

You are warned therefore, Madam, that when you open this book, you will not
find a "Treatise on Morality". Here are only the simple and pastoral loves
of a poor and obscure village priest. An idyll in the shade of the
parsonage limes and under the motionless eye of the weather-cock on the
belfry.

If then you come across any word which offends your chaste ears, any
picture which distresses your modest eye, blame only your own curiosity.

HECTOR FRANCE.

LIST OF CHAPTERS.

Unto the pure all things are pure:
but unto them that are Defiled and
Unbelieving is nothing pure: but even
their mind and conscience is Defiled.
They profess that they know God;
but in Works they Deny Him, being
Abominable and Disobedient, and unto
every good work Reprobate.

ST. PAUL.

LIST OF CHAPTERS.

I. The Cure
II. The Confessional
III. The Parsonage
IV. Expectation
V. The Meeting
VI. The Look
VII. The Salute
VIII. The Fever
IX. During Vespers
X. In Parenthesis
XI. The Flesh
XII. The Temptation
XIII. The Resolution
XIV. The Captain
XV. Memories
XVI. The Epaulet
XVII. The Voltairian
XVIII. The Visit
XIX. Hard Words
XX. Kicks
XXI. The Past
XXII. The Servant
XXIII. The Letter
XXIV. The First Meeting
XXV. Love
XXVI. Of Young Girls in General
XXVII. Of Suzanne in Particular
XXVIII. The Shadow.
XXIX. Other Meetings
XXX. Seraphic Love
XXXI. The Virgin
XXXII. The Death's-Head
XXXIII. Frenzy
XXXIV. The Prohibition
XXXV. The Shelter
XXXVI. The Hot Wine
XXXVII. Tete-a-Tete
XXXVIII. The Kiss
XXXIX. The Devil in Petticoats
XL. Little Confessions
XLI. Moral Reflections
XLII. Memory Looking Back
XLIII. Espionage
XLIV. The Garret Window
XLV. Treacherous Manoeuvre
XLVI. The Letter
XLVII. Good News
XLVIII. Reconcilliation
XLIX. Confidences
L. Mammosa Virgo
LI. Chamber Morality
LII. The Posset
LIII. The Leg
LIV. Mater Saeva Cupidunum
LV. In the Foot-Path
LVI. Double Remorse
LVII. The Explosion
LVIII. Provocation
LIX. Acts and Words
LX. Talks
LXI. Le Pere Hyacinthe
LXII. The Happy Cure
LXIII. The Miracles
LXIV. The Two Augurs
LXV. Table-Talk
LXVI. Good Counsel
LXVII. In A Glass
LXVIII. The Rose Chamber
LXIX. The Gust of Wind
LXX. The Ambuscade
LXXI. The Breach
LXXII. The Assault
LXXIII. Audaces Fortuna Juvat
LXXIV. Before Mass
LXXV. During Mass
LXXVI. Awakening
LXXVII. Consolations
LXXVIII. False Alarms
LXXIX. In the _Diligence_
LXXX. An Old Acquaintance
LXXXI. A Little Confession
LXXXII. The Church-Woman
LXXXIII. Conventicle
LXXXIV. At the Palace
LXXXV. Little Pastimes
LXXXVI. Serious Talk
LXXXVII. The Seminary
LXXXVIII. The Fair One
LXXXIX. Love Again
XC. Le Cygne de la Croix
XCI. The Calves
XCII. The Scapular
XCIII. From the Dark to the Fair
XCIV. The Change
XCV. The Cure of St. Marie
XCVI. Finis Coronet Opus

[Illustration]

I.

THE CURE.

"I will sing thy praises on the harp, oh
Lord. But, my soul, whence cometh thy
sadness, and wherefore art thou troubled."

(The _Introito_ of the Mass).

The Cure of Althausen was reputed to be chaste. Was he so really? To tell
the truth, I never believed him so; at thirty men are not chaste; they may
try to be so; they rarely succeed. However that might be, he was a singular
man.

He had a profound reverence for common sense, and it was said that he
taught a strange doctrine to his flock; for example, that a day of work was
more pleasing to God than a day of prayer; that the temples were for those
who labour not, and that a good action was well worth a mass.

He maintained too that we purchase nothing with money in the other world,
and that the coins, so appreciated among ourselves, have no currency beyond
the grave, and a hundred other oddities of this kind, which in the good old
times would have brought him to the stake. The Bishop had severely
reprimanded him for all these heresies; but he seemed to pay no attention
to it. Every Sunday, from the height of his pulpit, he continued to brave
shamelessly the thunders of his Bishop and the thunders of heaven.

I went one day to hear him. His voice was sweet, persuasive, with a clear
and harmonious tone. He said simply: "Love one another. That is the true
religion of Christ. Love one another! everything is there: religion,
philosophy and morality. Charity, properly understood, that which comes
from the heart, is more pleasing to God than all the prayers. There are
people who in order to pray neglect their home duties, their duties as wife
and as mother. To them, I say of a truth, God remains deaf. He wills,
before aught else, that you should fulfil your duties to your own. Every
prayer which causes another to suffer is an impiety." Such was pretty near
the essence of his sermons: they were short and simple. No great sonorous
words, no pompous digressions, no Latin quotations which no one would have
understood, no declamations on Our Lady of Lourdes or of La Salotte, on the
miracle of Roses or the Immaculate Conception.

Thus he placed himself on a level with the simple souls who heard him,
addressed himself only to their good sense and to their heart, and did not
waste their time. He thought that after having worked hard throughout the
week, it was well to spend the Sunday in rest and not in fresh fatigue.

But that which struck me most in him was his intelligent and expressive
countenance, and I was astonished that a man hall-marked with such
originality, should consent to vegetate, obscure and future-less, in the
care of a poor village.

They said he was chaste. In truth that must be a task more arduous for him
than for any other, for he bore on his face the impress of ardent passions.
A disciple of Lavater would doubtless have sought for and found the secret
of hidden dramas in the fine pale face. From his looks, now full of
feverish ardour, now laden with sweet caresses, like the limpid eyes of a
bride, the desires of the flesh in rebellion against deadly duty, seemed to
burst forth with bold prolific thoughts.

One saw at times that his thoughts escaped in moments of forgetfulness from
the clerical fetter.

Wild, wandering and licentious, they plunged with delight into the ocean of
reverie. They left far behind them on the misty shore our conventions, our
prejudices and our follies, and all those toils of spider-web which beset
and catch and destroy so well the silly crowd, and which we call social
rules, opinion and propriety.

Then the priest was gone; the man alone remained, the man of thirty, robust
and full of life and yearning for all the joys of life. And beneath his
gold-embroidered chasuble, near that altar laden with lustres and with
flowers, amidst the floods of light and the floods of perfume, in that
atmosphere saturated with the intoxicating waves of incense and the breath
of maidens; surrounded by all those women, by all these girls on their
knees before him or hanging on his lips; before all these modest or burning
looks fixed upon his gaze, a strange sensation rose to his brain; the
perspiration stood upon his forehead, he blushed and grew pale by turns; a
shiver ran through his frame, and trying to subdue the ardour of his gaze,
he turned towards the crowd of young girls, and said to them in a trembling
voice:

--_Dominus vobiscum_.

--_Et cum spiritu tuo_, answered the choir of maidens. Oh, how willingly
instead of the name of God would he have cast to them his heart.

II.

THE CONFESSIONAL.

"In the course of the holy missions to
which I have consecrated a great portion
of my life, I have often come across
upright souls, disposed to make great
progress in perfection, if they had found
a skilful director."

THE REV. FATHER J.B. SCAROMELLI
(_The Spiritual Guide_).

However, almost in spite of myself, I was interested in this young priest,
and although disposed to believe that he was a knave like the rest, I was
sensible of something in him so upright and so loyal that I was, from the
very first, prejudiced in his favour.

And besides, these flashes of fiery passion which at times betrayed him,
could they serve as an accusation against him? Could one take offence at
his not having completely stifled at thirty years the fierce passions of
youth and his violent desires? Was it not a proof on the contrary of his
victorious struggles and of his energy?

And even though he should succumb before the imperious needs of potent
nature, which would be the more culpable, he or the women who surrounded
him, enveloped him with their gaze, encompassed him with their seductions;
he or the husbands and fathers who seemed tacitly to say to him: "You are
young, ardent, fall of passion and vigour, there is my daughter, there is
my wife, I hand them to you, receive their confessions, dive into their
looks, read in their soul, listen month to month to their most secret
confidences, but beware of touching their lips."

Fools! And when the priest succumbs and their shame is noised abroad, they
make a great uproar and complain to all the echoes, instead of bowing their
head and humbly saying: _mea culpa_.

What? silly fool, you cast the modesty of your young wife and the virginity
of your daughter as food for that envious celibate, you leave them alone in
the mysterious tete-a-tete of the confessional, with no obstacle between
his burning lust and the object of that lost, between those mouths which
speak so low![1]

What will stop them? Duty? Virtue? His duty to himself? Laughable
obstacles. Fragile plank on which you place your honour.

Her own virtue? Trust not to it overmuch, for he will know how to lead her
to the will of his appetite. He will form her in such a way that she will
pass by all the roads by which he will wish to guide her. It is a gate
which he will contrive sooner or later to force, however it may be bolted,
however it may be guarded by those sleepy gaolers which we call Principles.

The Confessional! Marvellous invention of greedy curiosity, satanic work of
some hoary sinner! Hallowed goad of concupiscence, blessed antechamber
which leads to the alcove, mysterious retreat where the priest sits between
husband and wife, listens to their private talk and stands by, panting at
all their excesses. Refuge more secret than the best padded boudoir.
Formidable entrenchment sacred to all! What jealous lover would dare to
lift that curtain of serge behind which are murmured so many secret
confidences?

It is there that the artless virgin utters her first confessions; there,
that the plighted maid reveals the beatings of her heart; there, that the
blushing bride unveils the secrets of the nuptial couch.

He, the man of God, he listens ... he collects all their voluptuous
nothings and out of them creates worlds. Do you see him give ear? His face
has kept its sanctimonious expression, but the fire gleams forth beneath
his drooping eye-lid. He is leaning near, as near as possible to those
stammering lips.... The penitent is silent. What! already? everything said
already? Oh! that is not enough. She has passed too quickly over certain
faults the remembrance of which covers her forehead with a blush. He is not
satisfied. He wishes to know further. He reproves gently, "Why hesitate?
God is full of pity; but in order that the pardon may be complete, the
confession must be complete," and anew he questions, he presses ... his
temples throb, his blood boils, his hands burn, the demon of the flesh
completely embraces him.

Come, incautious girl, speak, explain, give details, and by the confession
of your pleasant faults, plunge into ecstasy the ruttish confessor.

[Footnote 1: In the confessionals of the Church of St. Gudule at Brussels
and in those of the majority of Belgian churches an opening may be seen
contrived in the screen, through which it is easy for mouths to meet.]

III.

THE PARSONAGE.

"The pretty parsonage encircled with verdure,
With its white pigeons cooing on the roof,
Assumes to the sun a saucy air of sanctity
And permits a smell of cooking to go forth."

CAMILLE DELTHIL (_Les Rustiques_).

The parsonage is seated on the summit of the hill and overlooks a part of
the village and of the plain. The traveller perceives from far its white
outline in the midst of a nest of verdure, and feels delighted at the view.
Nothing more simple than this peaceful house. A single story above the
ground-floor, with four windows from which the panes shine cheerfully in
the first rays of the sun, and upon the red-tiled roof two attics with
pointed gable. The door, which one reaches by a broad stone stair, is
framed by two vines, their vigorous branches stretching up to the side of
the windows, yielding to the hand, when September is come, their velvety,
ruby bunches. Behind the house, a little garden surrounded by a hedge of
green, at once an orchard, flower and kitchen garden.

In front, two hundred paces away, the old church with its stained walls on
which the ivy clings, and its pointed belfry. The distance between is
partly filled by several rows of lime-trees, which, seen from a distance,
give to the parsonage the calm and cheerful look of those peaceful retreats
where we sometimes dream of burying our existence. "Is not this the
harbour!" says the tempest-beaten way-farer. "Oh! how happy must be the
dweller in this calm abode!"

He might enter; he was welcome. The door was open to all, and this house,
like that of the wise man, seemed to be of glass.

And all the women, young or old, knew hour by hour how their Cure spent his
time, and in spite of all the perseverance which, according to principle,
they had applied to discover some mystery in his life or the knot of a
secret intrigue, they acknowledged unanimously that no one could give less
hold for scandal than he.

Every day, when he had said mass, pruned his trees, watered his flowers,
visited some poor or sick person, he shut himself up with his books and
lived with them till the evening, until his servant came and said to him,
"It is time for supper." Then he rose, ate his supper in silence, after
putting aside the portion for the poor, and then returned to his books.
That was all his life.

On Sunday, if the weather was fine, he took his breviary, and walked with
slow steps along the high-road.

The children would stop their games and run forward to meet him in order to
receive a caress from him, while the young girls whispered together and
seemed to avoid him. The bolder ones met his gaze with a blush: perhaps
they too would have liked, just as the little children, to receive a caress
from the handsome Cure of Althausen. But he passed on without ever
stopping, answering their timid salutations with an almost frigid gravity.

He acted wisely. He was full of distrust of himself, and kept himself in
prudent reserve in face of the enemy. For he knew full well that the enemy
was there, in these sweet woman's eyes and those smiles which wished him
welcome.

Then the pagan intoxications of the Catholic rites were no more surrounding
him to over-excite him and betray the trouble of his heart and the straying
of his thoughts, and if he felt affected before the smiles of these
marriageable girls, he armed himself with force sufficient to thrust back
carefully to his inmost being his boldness and his desires.

It was no more the ardent passionate man who disclosed himself sometimes in
rapid moments of forgetfulness, it was the priest austere and calm, the
functionary salaried by the State to teach the religion of the State.

IV.

EXPECTATION.

"And the days and the hours glided on,
and withdrawn within itself, affected
by sorrows and joys unknown, the soul
stretched its mysterious wing over a
new life soon to dawn."

LAMENNAIS (_Une voix de prison_).

One of his greatest pleasures was to plunge into the woods which surround
the village. He sought silence and solitude there, and when he heard the
steps of a keeper or of some pedestrian, or even the happy voices of young
couples calling one another, he concealed himself behind the masses of
foliage, and hid himself with a kind of shame like a criminal. He wished to
be alone, completely alone, so as to dream at his ease. Then he stretched
himself in the sun on the warm grass, opened his breviary, the discreet
confidant of all wandering thoughts, the screen for the priest's looks and
thoughts, and listened to the insects' hum.

He followed the goings and comings of an ant or the capricious flight of a
bumble-bee; then with his eyes lost in space, immersed in the profundity
of nature, he dreamed....

One could have seen by his smile that he was wandering in spirit in the
laughing and limit-less garden of hope, pausing here and there on rosy
illusions and fair chimeras like a butterfly on flowers.

They were delicious hours which he passed thus, full of forgetfulness and
indolence. He enjoyed the present moment, the present, poor, humble and
obscure, but which held neither disquietude nor care.

Sometimes regrets for a past of which no one was aware came and knocked at
the door of his dreams, but he drove them for away, saying like Werther:

"The past is past."

The hand of time revolved without his giving heed, and often night
surprised him in his fantastic reveries. The good country-folk bad been
sorely puzzled by these solitary walks in the depths of the woods.

They talked at first of some scandalous intrigue, and the Cure had no
difficulty in discovering that he was followed and watched by rigid
parishioners, anxious about his morality and his virtue. More than once
through the foliage he believed he saw vigilant sentinels who watched him
carefully.

Lost labour! Never did those who tried with such unwearied perseverance to
detect his secret amours, have the pleasure of beholding _that mistress_
whom they would have been so happy to cover with shame and scorn.

They were obliged to renounce it, for his mistress then was that admirable
fairy, invisible and dumb to the common herd, who displays her beauties to
the gaze of a chosen race alone, as she murmurs her divine and chaste
sonnets in their ear.

It was nature all radiant, which caressed his brow with the breeze, which
sang by his ear with the mysterious harmony of the woods, which gladdened
his sight with the flower of the fields, the verdant meadow, the golden
harvest. His loves were the hollow path which is lost in the mountain, the
old willow which leans over the edge of the pool, the sparrow which
chatters among the leaves, the splendours of the starry sky, the magic
mirages of the evening.

They were all the melodies which poets have made to vibrate on the strings
of lyres, and in those moments of delicious ecstasy he forgot the
vexations, the littlenesses and the miseries of the world, and if anyone
had asked him what was the aim of his life, he would have replied like
Anaxagoras:

"To love Nature, and to contemplate the sky."

But among his uncouth surroundings, who would have been capable of
understanding these sweet pleasures and that over-excitement of soul and
brain, by means of which he sought to benumb his senses and to change the
current of his heart, that heart which like the body has its imperious
needs.

He had reached that fatal epoch when man experiences an insatiable hunger
for love, and for want of a woman will nourish some monstrous fantasy, or
even, like the prisoner of Saintine, become enamoured of a flower.

V.

THE MEETING.

"Skilled physicians have remarked
that an emanation of infinitely projectile
forces continually takes place from the
eyes of impassioned persons, of lovers
or of lascivious women, which communicates
insensibly to those who listen to or behold
them, the same agitation by which they are
affected."

RESTIF DE LA BRETONNE (_Le Paysan perverte_).

One afternoon, while returning to the village, the Cure chanced to meet a
young girl who was unknown to him. She was but poorly dressed, and her
shoes were white with dust; but youth and gaiety shone forth beneath the
glow of her cheeks, her blue eye sparkled under the dark arch of her
eyebrows, and the voluptuous opulence of her shape made one forget the
poverty of her dress. From her straw hat with its faded ribbons escaped
heavy tresses which shone like gold.

Bending over his breviary, the Cure passed, casting a sidelong look, one of
those priestly looks which see without being seen; but the stranger
compelled him to raise his head. She had stood still and was fixing on him
smiling a bright and confident look.

On seeing this, the Cure stood still also.

Certainly, in the white flock of his congregation he counted just as lovely
creatures every Sunday, he encountered just as provoking smiles.
Nevertheless, he was troubled; he felt a secret flame course through his
veins; a kind of charm emanated front this girl. He remembered reading that
magnetic currents flow forth from certain women which inflame the senses,
and he took a step backwards; but the charm operated in spite of himself,
his eyes remained fixed on the seductive outlines of the figure of the
unknown. She enquired of him politely the way to the _Mairie_. In pointing
it out to her the Cure perhaps displayed more earnestness than was
necessary, he even took a few steps with her as far as the entrance to the
village, then he returned home, thinking of this pretty girl.

During supper his servant told him that some mountebanks had arrived in the
village, and that they were going to give a performance the same evening in
the market-place. In fact a drum was heard beating the call, and the hoarse
voice of the clown announcing "a grand acrobatic spectacle, accompanied
with dances and followed by a pantomime."

Involuntarily the Cure's thought turned to the stranger; he went upstairs
into his study and behind his half-closed shutters he could take part in
the spectacle.

As he expected, the pretty girl was there, and seen from this distance in
the night, half-lighted by a few smoky lamps, with her little bodice of
velvet, her gauze skirt spangled with gold, her flesh-coloured tights, she
was really charming. At that moment she was dancing, with wonderful
lightness and grace, some lascivious fandango, while she accompanied
herself with the castanets.

She was smiling at the crowd, delighting in the effect which she knew how
to produce with her sparkling eye and her white teeth and her rosy lips,
and the Cure was intoxicated by that smile. Then he cast his eyes over the
rough crowd, and ha was grieved at so much cost for such an audience:
_Margaritas ante porcos_, he murmured, _Margaritas ante porcos_.

In order to admire her better, he had taken a field-glass and lost none of
her gestures.

Her bosom was boldly bared, and he feasted his eyes upon the sweet furrow
of her breasts, he followed the delicious outline of her leg, and found his
heart melting before the undulating movements of her graceful bust and her
sturdy hips.

He abruptly left the window, took up a book at random and tried to read.

But this was in vain; his eyes only were reading, his thoughts were
elsewhere; they were in the market-place which was in frolic with the
dancer.

He wished to stop this libertine thought; he read aloud: "The fall is great
after great efforts. The soul risen so high in heroism and holiness falls
very heavily to the earth.... Sick and embittered it plunges into evil with
a savage hunger, as though to avenge itself for having believed."

At another time, he would have said: "It is a warning." But he saw not the
warning, he only saw the dancer, and he murmured: "How beautiful is she!"

He took the hundred paces round his table; but his body only was there, his
thoughts always were hovering on the market-place round the spangled
petticoat.

He returned to the window. All was over; the lamps were put out, the crowd
was slowly dispersing; five or six inquisitive ones were standing round the
heavy carriage of the company, from which some gleam of light escaped.

He remained a long time leaning on his elbow at his window, looking at
the stars and listening mechanically to all the noises outside. The
market-place became empty. Only the stamping of the horses was to be heard
fastened near by, in the thick shade of the old lime-trees. A slender
thread of light again filtered up to hint.

VI.

THE LOOK.

"His pupils glowed in the dim twilight,
like burning coals."

LEON CLAUDEL (_Les Va-nu-pieds_).

It was like a lover attracting him, a magic thread which fastened yonder
was unwinding itself to his eye. He could not withdraw it thence, and armed
with his glass he tried to reach the bottom of the mysterious light. Two or
three times he saw a figure which he thought he recognized, pass and repass
in the lighted square.

Then the devil tempted him, like Jesus on the mountain. He did not show him
the kingdoms of the earth, but he gave him a glimpse of the mountebank
undressed. "Go not there," his good angel cried to him. But the Cure turned
a deaf ear; he went down noiselessly from his room and ventured into the
market-place.

In order to approach the carriage, he displayed all the strategy of a
skilful general; he first walked the length of the parsonage, then crossed
the market-place, then little by little, artfully, disappeared beneath the
lime-trees.

[PLATE I: THE LOOK. No one could have detected him plunging his burning
gaze into the depth of the little room where the fair dancer, stripped of
her tights, appeared to him half-naked.]

[Illustration]

The house on wheels was only a few paces away, silent, motionless, crammed
up. Within those ten feet of planks was perceptible an excess of lives,
passions, miseries, joys, of comedies and dramas; quite a world in
miniature.

Breathings and rustlings issued now and then from this living coffin. It
wan the heavy slumber of fatigue, of fever, or of drink.

One window was lighted still, and the half-drawn curtain allowed a room to
be seen the size of a sentry-box.

He passed slowly by, and gave a look.

A strange emotion seized him: he would have wished not to have seen, and he
felt full of a delicious trouble at having seen.

He looked round him with alarm; he was quite alone. No one had detected
him, no one could have detected him, plunging his burning gaze into the
depth of the little room where the fair dancer, stripped of her tights,
appeared to him half-naked and dazzling like a goddess of Rubens.

VII.

THE SALUTE.

"She is fair, she is white, and her golden hair
Sweetly frames her rosy face:
The limpid look of her azure eyes
Beguiles near as much as her half-closed lip."

N. CHANNARD (_Poesies inedites_).

The next day, from break of dawn, the strolling players were already making
their preparations for departure.

He saw the fair dancer again.

No longer had she on her gauze dress with golden spangles, nor the tights
which displayed her shape, nor her glittering diadem, nor the imitation
pearls in her hair. She had resumed her poor dress of printed cotton, her
darned stockings and her coarse shoes; but there was still her blue eye
with its strange light, her pleasant face, her silky hair falling in thick
tresses on her sunburnt neck, and beneath her cotton bodice the figure of
an empress was outlined with the same opulence.

A knot of women was there, laughing and talking scandal. What were these
stupid peasants laughing at?

At length the heavy vehicle began to move, drawn by two broken-winded
horses.

The fair girl is at the little window and watches, inquisitive and smiling,
the silly scoffing crowd.

"Pass on, daughter of Bohemia, and despise these men who jest at your
poverty, these women who cast a look of scorn and hate. They scorn and hate
you, because they have not your splendid hair, nor the brightness of your
eyes, nor your white teeth, nor your fresh smile, nor your suppleness,
grace and vigour, nor your bewitching shape; despise them in your turn, but
envy them not, them who despise and envy you."

Thus the Cure murmured to himself as the carriage was passing by.

She is there still at her little window, like a youthfull picture by
Greuze. She lifts her eyes and recognizes the priest, and bows with that
smile which has already so affected him. What grace in that simple gesture!
What promises in those gentle eyes! In the midst of the hostile scornful
looks of that foolish crowd she has met a friendly face; she has read
sympathy and perhaps a secret admiration on the intelligent countenance of
the priest.

The Cure replied to her salute, and for a long while his gaze pursued the
carriage.

Meanwhile the good ladies whispered among themselves, and said to one
another with a scandalized air: "Did you see? He bowed to the mountebank!"

VIII.

THE FEVER.

"Who has not had those troubled
nights, when the storm rages within,
when the soul, miserably oppressed
with shameful desires, floats in the
mud of a swamp?"

MICHELET (_L'Amour_).

He was quite aware of his imprudence, but was unable to withdraw his eyes
from the road, and his thoughts still followed the carriage long after it
had disappeared behind the tall poplars. It seemed to him that it was a
portion of himself which was going away for ever.

What! was the madman then beginning to cast his heart thus on the roads,
and could he feel smitten by this creature whom he had scarcely met?

No, it was not she whom he loved, but she had just made the over-full cup
run over. She or another, it was indifferent to him. His altered feelings
of desire needed at length to drink freely. He was thirsty, what signified
to him the vessel?

Hitherto he had only felt that ordinary confusion which the chaste man
experiences in presence of the woman, for hitherto his sight bad only
paused complacently upon pretty fresh faces, and if his thought wandered
beyond, he drove it back with care to his very inmost being; but now that
he had seen the naked breast of a pretty girl, that he had relished it with
his gaze, embraced it with his desire, that he had yielded to a fatal
forgetfulness, his flesh, so long subdued and humiliated, profited by that
moment of error, and subdued him in its turn.

A kind of frenzy had taken possession of his being in a moment, and in the
sleepless night which he had just passed, he had given himself up to an
absolute orgy in his over-excited imagination.

That wandering girl who had just disappeared, had carried away his modesty.

He felt his heart beating for her; but he felt that his heart was beating
for all alike; girls or women, he wanted them all, he defiled them all with
his thoughts.

And so, after ten years of struggles, the virtue of the Cure of Althausen
dissolved one evening before the naked breast of a rope-dancer, like snow
before the sun.

That day was a Sunday, and, as he did not come downstairs, his servant came
to warn him that the time for Mass was drawing near.

She stood struck with the strange look on his countenance, at the fatigue
displayed on his features, and anxiously enquired of him the cause.

The Cure assured her that she was mistaken, that he bad never felt better;
but at the same time he gave a glance at his mirror.

He was frightened at his face and he remained a long time thoughtful,
contemplating the gloomy fire of his own look.

That sinister countenance seemed to him to presage some approaching
calamity.

Thus, there are men whom fate has marked on the forehead with a fatal
stamp. The mysterious sign is not displayed at every time and before all;
but at certain epochs of life, when the unknown breath caresses the
predestinated or cursed head, the mark all at once appeals, like a tawny
light in the depth of night.

A curse! Fatality has moulded that man's brain, it has left its potent
impress on his skull.

--With what seal then am I marked? he cried. Is it that of reprobation
which God has stamped upon my face?

No, simpleton that thou art, it is the phosphorus of thy brain, which
catches fire from time to time.

IX.

DURING VESPERS.

"There is a beautiful girl of sixteen,
white as milk, rosy as a rose-bud, fresh
as a spring morning,--and chaste as
Vesta."

A. DELVAU (_Le Fumier d'Ennius_).

He went up into the pulpit, and preached a sermon on this text: "Blessed
are the pure in heart." He had prepared it the day before, previous to the
arrival of that enchanting player, and his thoughts had been since then too
occupied with very different subjects for him to search for another theme.

Bitter mockery! What could he say to these good people about hearts pure
and chaste? He tried, all the same, and said some excellent things. He
spoke above all about temptation, which, following the expression of a
Father of the Church, "is only, to commence with, an ant which tickles, and
finishes by becoming a devouring lion."

"Alas," he said, "how many, without meaning it, have been thus devoured,
beginning perhaps with this pious individual."

His sermon took great effect. An old woman wept, and several members of the
congregation appeared to sigh and think that it was a long time since they
had been devoured thus.

He had an inclination to laugh, as he came down from the pulpit, at the
words which he had just uttered on purity of heart, and he wondered that he
had been able to bring so much conviction and warmth to bear upon a subject
to which he was henceforth completely a stranger.

His own scepticism terrified him, and he saw that he had taken a long step
into evil Nevertheless he did concern himself at that, and from his place
near the pulpit he turned his impassioned gaze with more assurance on the
group of young girls.

Passion is a brutal level which equalizes us all. There remained in him
nothing more of the priest, there only remained the man full of desires,
and he flung his desires in riot upon that gyneceum which he thought
belonged to him.

In certain village churches, all the young girls are placed apart, near the
choir, sometimes even in the choir itself, under the eyes of the priest, as
if they wished to leave the most convenient choice to that never satiated
Priapus.

The handsome Cure of Althausen made his choice therefore at his ease and
without the least shame.

This one was fair and pale, that other dark and high in colour; this one
was thin and delicate, that one fat and plump; this one was prettier, that
other more graceful. He knew not upon which to stop. He would have wished
for them all, for they all had that provoking beauty which pleases the
devil so much: exuberant youth.

And he could not grow weary of contemplating all these fresh faces; his
look, more than once, encountered sweet looks, and then he experienced a
delicious shock which stirred his heart.

It was not only the faces which excited his longings. In spite of himself,
the opulent breast of the fair player entered his imagination and his
thoughts seemed to search each one's neckerchief, seeking this powerful
nourishment for his appetite. He bad tried to drive away these abominable
desires, but it was in vain: the forbidden fruit was there and something
seemed to tell him that he had only to stretch out his hand to seize it.

As he tried to escape from this diabolical hallucination, he remarked
all at once in the gallery set apart for the wives of the principal
inhabitants, a young girl, a stranger, whose beauty struck him.

She was pale and dark, and her full lips, of a brilliant red, were lightly
pencilled with a black down.

Her deep, burning eyes darted flames, and were fixed on the priest with a
persistency which made him blush.

The erotic fever which had possessed him disappeared at once. He was
ashamed of himself and of his secret thoughts, for it seemed to him that
this stranger read to the bottom of his soul.

This flaming look which he had caught sight of, weighed upon him like
remorse.

In the evening, at the _Salut_ he saw again the same face and the same
burning eyes, fastened on his own; but be thought he discovered that there
was nothing terrible about them, and that what in his trouble he had taken
for inquisition and wrath, might in reality be nothing but tenderness and
sweetness.

He made skilful enquiries regarding the stranger; she was Mademoiselle
Suzanne Durand, who had just completed her education at Saint-Denis, the
daughter of Captain Durand, "a bad parishioner," his servant told him, "who
paid little regard to the service and treated the priests as humbugs."

X.

IN PARENTHESIS.

"Is it meet for you to be among such
vicious people? Envy, anger and
avarice reign among some; modesty
is banished among others; these
abandon themselves to intemperance
and sloth, and the pride of these
rises to insolence. It is all over;
I will dwell no longer among the
seven deadly sins."

LE SAGE (_Gil-Blas_).

I must take my courage with both hands to continue to unfold before you the
events however simple of this simple tale. Already I hear the eternal flock
of hypocrites and fools protesting and crying out at outraged morality. I
know them, these indignant voices of the defenders of morality. They arise
every time that we unveil the vilenesses, that we expose the gangrenes of
our institutions; corrupt magistracy, vicious clergy, rotten army;
tottering tripod which holds up that worm-eaten scaffolding which is called
_social order_.

But the sages of the present day and a great number of those of former
times have always made me laugh, particularly where beneath the mask of the
venerable philosopher or the hood of the austere monk, I discovered the
grin of the rogue.

I shall stop my ears then to their clamours and I shall continue the task I
have undertaken.

Nevertheless, some sincere persons may object: "What sort then is this
cynical priest which you display to us? Is there nothing then remaining to
him, and in default of modesty and morality, in default of his energy,
which has foundered thus all at once, could he not still lay hold of the
wrecks of faith?"

Faith? It had fled away long ago, since the day when he had laid aside his
dress of catechumen, and, initiated in the secrets of the sanctuary, he had
laid hand on the priestly jugglings.

Then he had been filled with an infinite sorrow. But he had prudently
repressed it deep within, and in this centre of devout hypocrisy and holy
intrigue, he had covered himself again, like all the rest, with a varnish
of sanctity.

Faith! What priest is he who, amidst the religious pageants, the public
falsehoods and the private apostacies, the burlesque scenes behind the
stage preceding the solemn performance, what priest is he who has preserved
his faith?

What priest is he, upright and wishing to remain upright--there are such
lost in obscure positions--who has not said quietly to himself, in his
inmost being, all alone with his conscience, what the Cure of Althausen
often repeated to himself:

"Faith, bitter mockery! to believe by order, without examination and
without reply!

"Annihilation of the individual, murder of the thought, criminal denial of
the intelligence, the most sublime of man's gifts!

"Oh miseries of the soul! filth of the body! vileness of the spirit!
unfathomable depths of human folly! What am I and what are we, and whom do
we wish to deceive?

"What are we, we who say to others, 'Be just, humble, chaste, pitiful? Have
faith.' Oh! priests, my brethren, and you, my masters, you have tried to
close my soul as we close a book, to extinguish my thought like a too
lively flame and to bend my rebellious reason; but my soul unfolds in spite
of you; the book swollen with doubts, bursts under the clasp, my thought
rekindles at the first spark, and my reason rises to its full height to
protest from the deeps of darkness where you would bury it.

"For I have followed you step by step in the tortuous ways of your dark
lives. I have listened to your words and I have seen your deeds, and the
deeds gave the lie to your words.

"Then I said to myself: Perhaps we are living in an evil period. The curse
is upon this age. And I have sought to relieve my thoughts in less gloomy
pictures. I have ransacked history to find there the golden age of
Catholicism. But the pages of Catholic history are stained with mire and
blood. The dealers of the temple, more powerful than Christ, have in their
turn driven him out of the sanctuary. Humanity, imprisoned in the round of
hypocritical conventions and nefarious laws, revolves unceasingly on
itself, the eternal Ixion fastened to the eternal wheel.

"Whither are we going? Whither are we going in the ocean of social
tempests, of political knaveries, of religious falsehoods? Centuries pass,
empires fall, nations disappear, religions, at first blazing torches, then
smoky harmful lamps, die out one by one, generations succeed generations
with hands stretched out towards the future whence the new light must
spring, and the future, gloomy gulf, will swallow up all, men and things,
worlds and gods.

"I have ransacked history and I have discovered that yesterday as to-day,
there were among those men who call themselves shepherds of souls, pride,
falsehood, injustice, thirst of riches, hatred and luxury, but neither
belief, nor truth, nor faith."

Do not cry out, saintly souls, virtuous prelates, gentle apostles, frank
and rosy curates, but let him among you who is without any of his sins,
rise up and cast the first stone at the Cure of Althausen.

XI.

THE FLESH.

"The man tries in vain, he must yield to his nature:
A woman excites him untying her girdle."

VICTOR HUGO.

Eight days had passed away.

Eight days, during which he had tried with supreme efforts to silence his
senses, and to chain down his wild thoughts.

He had become calmer and more master of himself.

The species of vertigo which had seized him is an accident frequent enough
among young priests, who in spite of all the seductions which surround them
and the occasions of falling, wish to remain steadfast in duty.

"For we do not deny ourselves the inclinations of nature with impunity, it
is an age at which the physical delights of love become necessary to every
well organized being, and it is never but at the expense of health, and of
the repose of the whole life, that we can he faithful to the vows of
perpetual chastity."[1]

The crisis, according to the temperament of the _subject_, is more or less
violent, and occurs again several times, until he finally yields to the
temptation, or again until madness seizes him.

Then everybody is terrified to learn one day in the _Gazette des Tribunaux_
the horrible details of some crime so abominable that one would believe it
sprung from the horrors of a nightmare.

Let them not be astonished! the wretch who has committed it was in reality
overcome by hallucination. In the struggles of the will against the
appetites, the reason expires.

Madness has clasped the brain, too feeble to strive against the flesh in
revolt, and the latter has avenged itself as the brute avenge itself by the
act of a brute.

"The torch of reason completely extinguished, the victim of senseless vows
has brought the piece to an end by a catastrophe which alarms modesty,
astonishes nature and disconcerts religion."[2]

Meanwhile, I repeat, the Cure seemed calmer: to the crisis had succeeded a
kind of depression and languor.

He resumed his studies with more eagerness, and only went out in order to
go from the parsonage to the church, conscientiously occupying himself in
his profession.

His senses were slumbering again.

But the mischievous devil was at his heels and did not lose sight of him.

The old serpent, says the apostle, finds the means of tempting by the very
virtues which we possess, even to making them the occasions of sin to us;
how would he not tempt us when it is sin itself which dwells in our heart?

[Footnote 1: _Dictionnaire des Sciences Medicales_. Vol. VI.]

[Footnote 2: The inconveniences of compulsory chastity are more or less
grave according to different cases: with youthful subjects, vigorous, and
fed on succulent foods, mental derangement under the most horrible forms,
such as Satyriasis, Priapism, Erotomania, Nymphomania and even death may
quickly result from it. Instances are numerous. (Sciences medicales).]

XII.

THE TEMPTATION.

"Alas! to return alone to our deserted home
With no open window to herald our approach,
If, when from the horizon we behold our roof,
We cannot say, 'My return gladdens my home'."

LAMARTINE (_Jocelin_).

It was at Sunday's Mass, in the sanctuary itself, that he waited for his
prey. The priest had scarcely reached the steps of the altar, his hands
laden with the holy vessels, when, lifting his eyes to the gallery, he
encountered the look he dreaded.

Suzanne Durand was there, fixing on him her eyes, filled with magnetic
force.

He returned once again full of trouble.

His servant, surprised at his agitation, overwhelmed him with inquisitive
questions; he escaped from her and hastened towards the woods. He cast
himself on the moss at the foot of an old oak and began to reflect. The
dark eyes followed him everywhere.

"Whither am I going?" he said to himself. "Why does the sight of this young
girl agitate my heart in this way?" And he examined his heart and found it
saturated with bitterness, disgust, weariness and regret, and in the midst
of all that, something unknown was springing up. It was like a germ of hope
which all at once had risen out of nothingness, a fleeting light which
flickered in the dense gloom of his life.

He heard the sound of a voice at some distance, a fresh, gay, melodious
voice, to which a deeper note was answering. Spring, youth and love were
mingling their accents together. Between the foliage he saw them slowly
passing. They did not see him. Absorbed in the contemplation of themselves,
arm in arm, with joined hands, their faces together, they passed along with
bright looks, and open hearts, rejoicing in the seventh heaven.

Now and again they stopped, and he all in play, took hold of her thick knot
of hair, drew her head backwards and gave her a long kiss on the lips. He
did not tire of it, but she pushed him back with all her strength, putting
her hand on his mouth and saying to him, "That's enough, naughty boy,
that's enough." The Cure knew them well. She was the best and prettiest
girl in his congregation, and he, the happy rogue, sang in the choir. And
he began to envy the happiness of this rustic; he would have wished to be
for a moment this rude ignorant peasant, and who knows, for a moment? why
not always? Would he not be happier going each morning to till the fruitful
soil, to sow the furrow, and then to cut the sheaves of the golden harvest,
than to vegetate as he was, casting his sterile grain upon arid souls.

After the hard toil of the day, when he returned in the evening to his roof
of thatch, he would meet with a smile of welcome, the smile of a loved
wife, which would compensate him for his fatigues.

He followed them with his eyes, full of envy and bitterness at heart, and
when they had buried themselves behind the young underwood, when he no
longer heard the sound of steps, or fresh bursts of laughter, he rose and
sadly resumed his way to the village.

Evening had come. The twilight was stretching its dark veil over all. The
peasants dressed in their Sunday clothes were chatting on their door-steps
while they waited for supper. Near the inns there rose the confused sound
of gamblers' voices and drunkards' songs; but here and there through the
windows he saw the bright fire of vine-twigs blazing merrily on the hearth,
while the mother or the eldest daughter poured the steaming soup into the
large blue-flowered plates ranged on the white wood table.

He saw it all, and he walked with slow steps to his solitary abode.

He thought of his life wasted, of the years of his prime which were passing
away, without leaving any more traces than the skimming of the swallow's
wing leaves upon the verdant brook.

Oh! the fleeting time which carries all away, the hour which glides away
dull and empty, the barren youth which flies, and the white hairs which
come with disillusion, discouragement and despair. "Stay, stay, oh youth;
stay but another day!"

But what matters his youth to him? What joys has it brought him; what
pleasures has he tasted? has he breathed the burning breath of life, of
that fair life at twenty which unfolds like a ripe pomegranate, and casts
to the warm sun its treasures and its perfumes?

XIII.

THE RESOLUTION.

"My life was blighted, my universe
was changed; I had entangled myself
without knowing it in an inextricable
drama. I must get out of it at any
cost, and I had no way of unravelling
it. I resolved by all means to find one."

J. JANIN (_L'Ans morte_).

He sat by his desolate hearth and began to think with terror of the eternal
solitude of that hearth. Alone! always alone! Already he had said to
himself very often that he had chosen the wrong road, that this arid and
desolate path was not the one needful to his ardent soul, that the hopes
with which he had formerly been deluded, were falsehoods in reality, and
that the God whom they had made him believe that he loved with such ardour,
left his soul empty and barren.

To love God! The love of God! High-sounding, hollow words which enable
hypocrites to take advantage of the common people; fantastic passion
kindled in the heart of fools for the amazement of the simple!

Ah! how willingly would he have replaced the worn-out vision of this
chimerical phantom with the likeness of some young girl, with sweet look
and smile, full of promise.

And the burning memory of the wanton player came and blended with the fresh
and radiant memory of the charming pupil of Saint-Denis.

"But why, priest, dost thou permit thy fevered guilty imagination to wander
thus? Pursue thy course, pursue it without stopping, without looking back;
henceforth it is too late to retrace thy path; anyhow be chaste, be chaste
under pain of shame and infamy.

"Thou must not be chaste in view of recompense like a slave, thou must be
chaste without expectance."[1]

He took up a book, his sovereign remedy in hours of temptation. It was the
life of St. Antony, written by his companion, St. Athanasius.

"The demons presented to his mind thoughts of impurity, but Antony repulsed
them by prayer. The devil excited his senses, but Antony blushed with
shame, as though the fault were his own, and strengthened his body by
faith, by prayer and by vigil. The devil, seeing himself vanquished thus,
took the shape of a young and lovely woman and imitated the most lascivious
actions in order to beguile him, but Antony raising his thoughts towards
heaven and considering the loftiness and excellence of the soul which is
given to us, extinguished these burning coals by which the devil hoped to
inflame his heart through this deception, and drove away the devilish
creature."

Marcel shrugged his shoulders and closed the book. How many times already
he had tried all those means without success.

He leant his burning forehead on his hands and, in self-contemplation,
tried to see to the bottom of his soul.

Chaste! always chaste! What! Was the flower of his youth wasted away thus,
in incessant, barren struggles? If only peace of heart, and a quiet
conscience remained to him; if quietude sat by his hearth, as his masters
many a time had promised him! But no, alone with himself, he felt himself
to be with an enemy.

For many years, it had been so, and a lying voice had cried to him without
ceasing: "Wait for happiness, for sweet pure joys, wait for it till
to-morrow: to-morrow all this fury will have passed away, these raging
blasts which rise to thy brain will have vanished; thy vanquished senses
will leave thee in peace, and calm and strong, thou shalt rejoice over an
untroubled conscience and over the satisfaction of duty fulfilled."

And he had waited in vain. Now he had reached ripe age, and the future is
visible ever more gloomy; to-morrow has come, as sad, as empty, and as
desolate as yesterday.

He was tired at last of waiting, patiently, humbly, resigned like the beast
of burden which awaits the slaughterhouse. Beasts of burden! Are we not
that, all we who with brow bent under humiliation, injustice, thankless
toil; with the heart embittered by tedious deception and tedious despair,
miseries of heart and miseries of body, wait, wait ever, wait vainly for a
more brilliant sun to shine at last, until at the end of the day there
rises before us the only guest we have never expected, on whom we counted
not,--the solution of the great problem, the radical cure for all our
ills--DEATH.

Death, which with its brutal hand, seizes us at the moment when perhaps at
last we are going to rest ourselves and rejoice.

No, that shall not be. He will not continue to vegetate without happiness
in these dull, common-place surroundings; to walk at random in this road
bristling with thorns; to pursue his disheartening career, enclosed by
miserable vices.

Nothing around him but stupid, vulgar prosiness, foolish moral
annihilation. No poetry, no golden ray, no rainbow! Everything most low,
unsightly, pitiful. Such was his lot as priest.

Complaints of the soul, wandering flashes of the imagination, criminal
aspirations of the heart, sinful desires ... these ... that was all.

Was this then life?

Was it for this that God had created him, that his mother had drawn him
painfully forth from her entrails, that nature had one day counted one
intelligent being the more?

Ah! he felt full well it was not so. He felt full well it was not so by his
thirst for emotions and enjoyment, by his altered lips, by his aspirations
for an unknown world. He was in haste to strip off for once at least this
old man's shell which enveloped him, this black, hideous, hardened covering
of the bad priest, beneath which he felt his vitality, his youth, his
strength, his heart of thirty, bounding, boiling, roaring, like burning
lava.

The next day be remembered that though it was nearly six months since he
had taken possession of his cure, his pastoral visits were not yet
completed.

In fact, he had gone everywhere, even to Captain Durand's. Only, he had
found the door closed and, after the information he received, he had fully
resolved not to go there again.

[Footnote 1: The Antigone of Soto.]

XIV.

THE CAPTAIN.

"The disposition of a man of sixty
is nearly always the happy or sad
reflection of his life. Young people
are such as Nature has made them;
old men have been fashioned by the
often awkward hands of society."

ED. ABOUT (_Trente et Quarante_).

The old Captain was in fact a bad parishioner, as his servant had told him,
and had only one good quality in the eyes of that careful housekeeper,
"that he was always shining like a new halfpenny."

Durand, in fact, was what is called in a regiment "a smart soldier," which
means to say "a clean soldier." And still, one of his most important
occupations was to brush his things. The son of peasants, without
patronage, fortune or backstairs influence, he had raised himself, a rare
and difficult thing nowadays; therefore he was proud of himself, and would
say to anyone who would listen to him: "I am the son of my own deeds."

He had been one of those serious-minded officers of whom Jules Noriac
speaks, who instead of dividing their many spare hours between the goddess
of play and the goddess of the bar, employ themselves in regimental
reforms.

The dimensions of a spur-rowel, the length and thickness of a
trouser-strap, the improvement of a whitening for belts which does not
fall off, were questions which had more importance and interest for him
than a question of State.

The slave of his duties, he was excessively severe in the service, and this
stiffness and severity he had brought, it was said, into his household.

With these military qualities; passive obedience, scrupulous cleanliness
and the vulgar courage necessary for a son of Mars, Durand, with a good
reputation and full of zeal, had had when very young, a rapid advance. At
one moment he had foreseen a brilliant future, but his ambitious hopes had
been quickly deceived. He saw the Baron de Chipotier, the Comte de
Boisflottant, and the son of Pillardin, the lucky millionaire, successively
come into the regiment, and these sprigs of lofty lineage, full of
brilliancy and loquacity, naturally eclipsed the modest qualities of the
obscure upstart soldier. Spending their life in cafes, overwhelmed with
debt, loved by the women, they laughed among themselves at all the
_minutiae_ of the service, which they treated as beneath their notice,
ridiculed their superiors, and especially the serious-minded officers.
Everything was forgiven them, they were rich. Durand was filled with
indignation; he saw everything he had respected become an object of sarcasm
to these young men, and his most cherished convictions turned into
ridicule. He was like those devout persons who, when they hear an unseemly
oath or an impious word, tremble and pray heaven not to cast its avenging
lightning; he asked himself if social order was not overthrown, if the army
was not marching to its ruin. He began to talk of his apprehensions, of
this pitiable state of things, and they laughed in his face. But when these
frivolous, turbulent, incapable officers became his chiefs, chiefs over
him, the studious, model officer, the upright man, the slave to the
regulations, he began to mistrust everything, society, France, the empire,
the justice of God, and himself. It was from this period that the crabbed
character dated, by which he was known.

He passed a long season thus, full of anger and jealousy: then the time for
his retirement arrived, that time to which all the forgotten, the obscure,
the pariahs of the army look forward during long years, and which casts
them forth into the social world, ignorant and strangers.

Then he had retired to his own village, dividing his time between the
tending of his garden, and the cares which were occasioned him by his
daughter Suzanne.

XV.

MEMORIES.

"Often risen from humble origin, he
has gained the respect of all and the
public esteem; but this cannot prevent
his having a restless spirit; he misses
the duty which has called him for
so long at the appointed hour. Around
him are scattered the memorials of
his regiment, his eye catches them
and a mist comes over it."

ERNEST BILLAUDEL (_Les Hommes d'epee_).

He was up by dawn, and the villagers on their way to their fields sometimes
stopped to cast an inquisitive look over his garden palings. They saw
him dressed in a linen jacket, with the glorious ribbon adorning his
button-hole, weeding his flower-garden, turning up his walks, pruning his
trees, clearing his flowers of caterpillars, watering his borders, with
great drops of sweat pouring down, bending over his labour like a negro
under the lash.

"What a pity!" they said, "for a rich man to give himself so much trouble!
If it only repaid him!" And they shouted to him: "Good-morning, Captain
Durand, how are you to-day?"--"Pretty well, thank you," replied Durand, in
a peevish tone.--"Still warm to-day, Captain; but you had it warmer in
Africa, didn't you?" At the word Africa, the old soldier's eyes brightened,
his forehead lost its wrinkles, and a smile came to his lips. All his past
rose before him. Africa, the Bedouins, the gunshots, the razzias, the bare
desert, the fresh oases, the life in camp, the glasses of absinthe, the
days of rain and sun, the ostrich chases, the watch for the jackal and the
races over the plain. All this, helter-skelter, in crowds, crossing,
following, multiplying, like the sheaves of sparks which burst forth from a
rocket.

Ah! Ah! that was the happy time. And then he would stop and forget his
work, his flowers, his grafts, and his espaliers; he would forget the
peasants who were there, laughing quietly and nudging one another, and
saying: "The old man is gone in the head."

For they understood nothing of the tear, which all at once trickled from
the corner of his eye-lid, a bitter drop which overflowed from the too full
cup of his heart.

Ah! youth has but one time, and they do well, who when the sun gilds their
brow, cast their sap to its warm caresses. The winter, gloomy shadow, will
come but too soon to freeze their slowly opened buds, leaving only a trunk,
dry and bare.

Then, when nothing more than a few warm cinders remain at the bottom of the
human engine, we try to warm ourselves again at this cold hearth, and to
search among those dying sparks which we call memories.

And these memories of a time for ever fled, these lights which gladden or
stir again your old heart sad and cold, these are the simple and fruitful
beliefs, the transports of the soul, the insane devotions, the ardent
passions, and all those orgies of heart and sense, all those frenzies of
imagination, and all those follies of youth, which cause the wise to cry
out so loudly, and which are the only feast-days of life.

Hasten then, young man, hasten; take the good which comes to thee, and be
not decoyed by idle fancies; wait not till to-morrow to be glad. To-morrow
is the age of ripeness, of the falling fruit, the wrinkled brow, the faded
flower; it is the vanished locks; it is the blood which grows cold, the
smile which comes not back; it is in fine the worm of deceptions, which is
ever growing larger and gnawing what may be left of thy heart.

XVI.

THE EPAULET.

"Really, yes! I love my calling. This
active adventurous life is amusing,
do you see? there is something as
regards discipline itself which has its
charm; it is wholesome and relieves
the spirit to have one's life ordered in
advance with no possible dispute, and
consequently with no irresolution or
regret. Thence comes lightness of
heart and gaiety. We know what we
must do, we do it, and we are content."

EMILE AUGIER et JULES SANDEAU (_Le Gendre de M. Poirier_).

And Durand threw down his rake or his spade.

--Well! here you are already, cried the old housekeeper; breakfast is not
ready.

--My paper? he said shortly.

Sometimes the paper had not yet arrived; then he sat down near the window
and watched impatiently for the carrier. There he is, coming out of the
next street. He goes down with all haste to open the door himself, and take
the precious _Moniteur_.

For it is the _Moniteur de l'Armee_! and he unfolds it with the respect
which we owe to holy things, and he reads it all religiously from the first
article to the everlasting advertisement of _Rob Boyreau Laffecteur_. He
reads it all, not because he is studying tactics or has need of Rob, but
because he has set himself the task of reading it all. His servant brings
him his morning coffee and brandy, and he believes himself still at father
Etienne's or mother Gaspard's, at the garrison cafe; this makes him quite
sprightly.

"Come, mother Gaspard,
It is not late,
Another glass!
Come, mother Gaspard,
It is not late,
To midnight it wants a quarter!"

But it is not the long, tedious military articles which first attract his
eye, nor the ministerial decrees, nor the studies on the sabretache, nor
the biographies of celebrated skin breeches, nor the improvement of gaiter
buttons, nor the changes of police caps; PROMOTIONS AND CHANGES, that is
what he wants.

PROMOTIONS AND CHANGES! divine rubrics which have caused so many hearts to
beat.

You all recollect it, my old brothers in arms, who have waited long, like
me. Years and years have passed. At length the hour is come and the
newspaper which is going to transform your life. That folded paper gleams
with all the fires of hope, it glitters like a sun, for it contains the
magic word which out of nothing is going to make you everything, to draw
you out of the obscure ranks to place you in the brilliant phalanx, which,
from a passive despised instrument, is going to create you an active and
respected head.

How you are dazzled as you open it; with what palpitations and haste you
look for the blessed page, skipping the regiments, glancing over the ranks,
flying over the names in order to arrive at your own. Ah! you know well
where it ought to be; it is among the last; but what does it matter, it is
here above all that the last can arrive first.

Here it is! here it is at last! What intoxication! young and old, we all
were twenty once.

And meanwhile....

And meanwhile, the best days of your youth are lost in barren, vulgar,
common-place, at times repulsive occupations. Your spirit is extinguished,
your responsibility as an intelligent man is destroyed at settled hours by
the sound of the bugle or of the trumpet, those flourishes of gilded
servitude; and beneath the heavy hammer of passive obedience your temples
are already growing grey; you have wrinkles on your forehead and on your
heart, for you have reached that part of the cup of life, at which one
drinks little else than bitterness ... But you forget all that; a new life
full of enchantment is beginning. You are an officer! an officer! Ah! those
who have never borne the harness, do not know what fairy-land that magic
word contains. But you--you know it, and you took at your name, you spell
each letter of it and you say: "At last! It is I, it is really I!
Sub-lieutenant! I am sub-lieutenant!"

Thus, ten to fifteen years of struggles, tribulation, obstacles,
humiliations, devotion, dangers, in order to reach the salary of a grocer's
clerk!

But the old Captain, what was he looking for in the columns of the Service
newspaper?

He had nothing to expect. No new promotion could swell his aged breast. He
had completed his career. Like a rejected charger whose ear has been slit,
or whose right flank has been branded, he had been laid aside for ever.
Henceforth he had nothing else to do but to plant his cabbages, until his
legs were seized by anchylosis, absolutely forgotten.

And so with all those who go away.

Amidst the thousand incidents of military life, so filled in its leisure
and so empty in its employments, has anyone the time to give a thought to
the absent one who must return no more? His place is taken; a new face is
seated there where we used to see him, and his is no longer familiar to us.
A few years hence and his name will be known no more. The army is for the
young!

But does he forget? Does a man forget his youth, his glory, his dearest
memories, his whole life? Retired into some country nook, completely buried
in an obscure market-town, or become the modest citizen of some provincial
city, the old officer follows afar off with solicitude and envy the
different fortunes of his brothers in arms, living ever in thought amidst
that forgetful and ungrateful family which he loves as much as his own--the
Regiment.

And that is why you, brave veterans, understand it well, that is why
Captain Durand used to read the _Moniteur_.

XVII.

THE VOLTAIRIAN.

"For them religion is the most skillful
of juggling, the most favourable veil,
the most respectable disguise under
which man can conceal himself to lie
and deceive."

BARNUM (_Les Blagues de l'Univers_).

But, as I have said, he was a bad parishioner, a bunch of tare in the field
of God, a scabby sheep in the flock of the Lord.

Taking no heed of his religious duties, reading the _Siecle_, speaking evil
of priests and refusing the blessed bread, he was the scandal of the godly
and not one of them in the village augured any good of him.

Never did a publican from Belleville or a novice of freemasonry proclaim
with so much boldness his contempt for the things which everybody
venerates. He did not uncover himself in presence of funerals, saying he
did not want to bow to the dead; he called the church the priests' bank,
the altar a parade of mountebanks, the confessional the antechamber to the
brothel.

"That man will perish on the scaffold!" the former Cure of the village
cried out one day in righteous indignation.

How had he come by this hatred, vigorous as that which Alcestis demands
from virtuous souls against hypocrites and evil-doers? What had the
_black-coats_ done to him? He did not say, and perhaps he would have been
embarrassed to say. There are certain natures which will love at any price,
there are others on the contrary which need to hate. He was doubtless one
of the latter, and he discharged all his excess of gall on the servants of
Jesus.

"They are criminals," he cried, "all without exception, from the first to
the last. Hypocrisy engenders wickedness. It is a sore which spreads and
becomes leprosy. Everything which touches it catches it. Those who
associate with hypocrites become hypocrites, and then scoundrels, slowly
but surely by infection. That is the logic of the scab. It is not necessary
to dress up in a black gown and to swallow God in public to make a perfect
priestling, it is enough to rub against the priest's cap. Look at the
sacristans, the beadles, the lackeys of the Bishop's palace, the hirers of
chairs, the choir-men, the sellers of tapers, the tradesmen by appointment
to the religious houses, the beggar who stretches out his hand to you at
the door, and the man who hands you the holy-water sprinkler, have they not
all the same hypocritical face, the same cunning, devoutly sanctimonious
look? Well! scratch the skins of the godly and you will find the hide of
the scoundrel."

An honourable man and brutally frank like many old soldiers he had kept in
private life the tone and ways of barracks and camps. As he said himself,
he did not mince the truth to anybody, and he repeated readily, without
understanding it, the saying of Gonsalvo of Cordova, the great captain,
"_The cloth of honour should be coarsely woven_."

When one evening, on returning home, he found the card of the Cure, he
nearly fell backwards.

--What, he has had the audacity to come to my house, this holy water
merchant. They have not told him then what I am!

--Good heavens, I cried, my dear Captain, what has this poor man done to
you?

--To me! nothing at all. I don't know him. He is part of the holy
priesthood; that is enough for me. He is a scoundrel like the rest.

--But it is not enough to call a man scoundrel, you must prove that he is.

--Don't trouble me about your proofs. Do you suppose I am going to rummage
into this gentleman's private life and see what passes in his alcove? No,
indeed, I have no desire to do so, and I leave that care to my cook.

--Come, Captain, you admit that this is to vilify a man on rather slender
grounds. There are fagots and fagots, and so there are Cures and Cures.
This one, I assure you, is an excellent fellow.

--It may be so, but as I have no desire to make his acquaintance, I laugh
at his good qualities.

--Everybody is not of your opinion, and it appears that all the women are
distracted about him.

--Another reason why I detest him; women usually place their affections
very badly.

--And he turns the heads of all the girls.

--That is good! Oh, the good Cure. He reminds me of the one at Djidjelly
when I was a non-commissioned officer, the greatest girl-hunter that I have
ever known. The Kabyles used to call him _Bou-Zeb_, which means capable of
the thirteenth labour of Hercules, and they held him in high esteem, but
when he went near their tents they used to make all the women go inside.
Ah! that was a famous Cure! I wish that ours resembled him, and that he
would get a child out of all the girls, and that he would make cuckolds of
all the husbands.

--Why so?

--To teach these idiots to let their wives and their daughters be idle and
dance attendance at the churches, and relate all the details of their
household and their little sins to these bullies, as to their grand-dad.

--I grant there is some danger when the confidant is a handsome bachelor.

--There is no need to be handsome, sir. With the women, the cassock gives
charms to the ugliest. I have known a sweet and lovely creature become mad
after one of these rogues who had a head like a pitchfork. He did with her
what he wished. He made her devout, shrewish, and the worst of whores. Yes,
yes, they say that the red breeches get over the women, but the black gown
bewitches them. Explain that if you can. They want to know what is
underneath that wicked cassock. Something strange, mysterious, monstrous
attracts them. Women love enormities, and besides it must be said,
especially and above all, forbidden fruit.

The Captain had mounted his favourite hobby, I could only let him go on.

--They are vice incarnate, and know how to employ every means to seduce.
Religion, the confessional, the bible, the Mass, Vespers, the New
Testament, all the holy business is an auxiliary for them. For instance,
conceive anything more disgusting than that pardon promised beforehand to
guilty women. Play the whore all your life, deceive your husband, have
fifty lovers, provided that at the end you lament your faults, God will
have only tenderness for you, and will receive you with open arms. I should
like to know if by chance their Jesus had taken a wife, what would have
been his opinion then of the woman taken in adultery; but he remained
single and consequently incompetent to decide upon that delicate matter.
All that, you see, is an encouragement to debauchery and a stimulant to
lewdness. A devout woman, when she is young and pretty, is on a slope which
leads quite straight to Monsieur le Cure's bed.

XVIII.

THE VISIT.

"Stupefied, the pedant closed his
mouth, and opened his eyes."

LEON CLADEL (Titi Foyssac IV).

If there are any beings as blind as the husbands, they are certainly the
fathers; with the latter, as with the former, blindness reaches its utmost
limits. Since Moliere no one laughs at them any more, and I don't know why,
for they always deserve to be laughed at, while all the sarcasms have
fallen on the head of the unhappy husbands.

Folly and injustice! Conjugal love is as respectable as paternal affection.
Love is as good as affection, and what the heart chooses is quite as good
as what the blood gives you.

Why then do they complain if it is papa who is deceived, and laugh if it is
a husband. Exactly the contrary ought to occur. Paternal love is egotistic.
It is for the most part vanity and self-love. The father looks for his own
likeness in his offspring, and if he believes himself to be an eagle, his
son naturally must be an eaglet. Most frequently he is only a foolish
gosling, but the father insists on finding on him an eagle's plumes. If
then he is deceived in his hopes, which are only a deduction from his own
infatuation, it is certainly permissible to laugh at it.

While the husband....

This is what I observed to Durand, which put him in a great passion.

--Because my daughter has gone to Mass? And you say: "fathers are blind."
Here is a self-contradictory individual. One can see plainly that you are
not a father, or you would alter your theories. Hang it! You can't say I am
enchanted at it, but you must put yourself in a man's place. She is a
child, who leaves school, mark that well, where she was obliged, compelled
to perform her religious duties, and one does not break off in a couple of
days the habits of ten years like that. Give her time to reach it. I reason
with her; hang it, I can't do everything in a day. When she goes from time
to time to Mass, on Sunday, it does not follow that she is becoming
religious. I am a free-thinker, but I am a father also, and what would you
have a father do when two pretty arms take hold of your neck and a sweet
little coaxing voice whispers to you, "Let me go there, my darling papa."
Hang it, one is not made of wood, after all!

--Neither is the Cure made of wood.

--You make one shiver. Can my daughter have anything in common with your
peasants' Cure? I say again that it is purely for diversion that she goes
to Mass. And I understand it. Where can she show her new dress? And what
place is more favourable for this little display than going into and coming
out of church?

--Then the Church is a spectacle like another. There are chants, music,
tapers, perfumes, flowers, the half-light which comes through the coloured
windows.

--Without speaking of the fellows covered with gold-tinsel who repeat in
unknown language the pater-nosters to which no one listens. It is enough to
make one burst with laughing, and, if I had not my cabbages to plant, I
would go myself now and again and entertain myself at these masquerades
which are as good as the theatres at the fair, and to complete the
resemblance, it only costs a couple of sous.

--But the principal person of the troop attracts the looks, and the danger
is there.

--Your priestling is young then?

--And vigorous. Strong appetites. When I see him rambling in the village, I
begin to say: "Good people, the cock is loose, take care of your hens." It
is like your Cure of Djidjelly.

--I am easy on that ground. The black cock will not come and rub his wings
here. He knows now that he has mistaken the door; they have informed him
regarding me, and he will not be so rude as to come again.

But just at that moment the servant came into the room quite scared, and
said:

--Here is Monsieur le Cure.

--Who? what? said Durand; and turning towards me, Shall I receive him?
Well, we shall have a laugh!

He was still undecided, when Marcel glided into the room.

XIX.

HARD WORDS.

"I will speak, Madame, with the liberty
of a soldier who knows but ill how to
varnish the truth."

RACINE (_Britannicus_).

The old soldier, upright, with his hand leaning on the back of his
arm-chair, let the priest come forward with all the agreeableness of a
mastiff which is making ready to bite.

The latter bowed gravely, and, although he felt himself to be in hostile
quarters, took the seat offered him with an easy air.

Meanwhile his bearing and pleasant look produced their usual effect.

Imbued with the theories of the army, which of all surroundings is that in
which one judges most by the appearance, where a good carriage is the first
condition of success, where in fact they salute the stripes and not the
man, the Captain was, in presence of this handsome young fellow, recalled
to less aggressive sentiments.

--Hang it! he said to himself, what a splendid cuirassier this fellow would
have made! What devil of an idea has shoved him into a cassock?

War being the most sublime of arts, as Maurice de Saxe remarked, there are
few old officers who understand how a man can choose another profession by
inclination.

--I come, Monsieur le Capitaine, said Marcel, to pay you my visit as
pastor, although perhaps a little late. But you are aware doubtless that I
have had the honour of knocking once already at your door.

--You should not have troubled yourself, my dear sir, and you should adhere
to that; I belong so little to the holy flock.

--I owe myself to all, said Marcel smiling, to the bad sheep--I mean to the
wandering sheep, just as to the good ones; to watch over the one, to bring
back and cure the others.

--Oh! Oh! Well, sir shepherd, you are losing your time finely, for I am a
worn-out goat.

--There will be more joys in heaven over one sinner that repenteth....

--That is the story of the 99 just persons that you are going to tell us;
we know it, and, let me tell you, it is not encouraging for the 99 just
persons.

The Cure, seeing himself on dangerous ground, hastened to leap elsewhere.

--This is a charming little house, Captain; it is a sweet retreat after
toilsome and glorious years, for you have had numerous campaigns, have you
not?

--Fifteen years in Africa, thirty-two campaigns, thirty years' service, two
wounds, one of them received at Rome when we fought for that old bully Pius
IX.

Marcel had gone astray again; he quickly seized hold of the wounds.

--Ah! two wounds! And are they still painful?

--Sometimes, when the weather is stormy. And yours?

--Mine, Captain! but I have none. I have not had like you the honour of
shedding any blood for our Holy Father.

--A pretty cuckoo. It doesn't matter, you may have got a wound somewhere
else.

--Where? enquired Marcel simply.

--How do I know? We get them right and left, when we are least thinking of
it.

--Like all accidents.

--Well, if you had been the chaplain of my regiment, you would have had a
famous accident. He was a right worthy apostle. He wanted to teach the
catechism to the daughter of our cantiniere, a bud of sixteen, and the
little one put so much ardour into the study that the Holy Spirit made her
hatch. Her parents beat her unmercifully, and the poor girl died of grief.
Our hero, who knew how to get himself out of it with unction as white as
snow, did not all the same betake himself to Paradise. A pretty Italian
gave him his reckoning. _Quinte_, _quatorze_ and the _point_. Game
finished. He died in the hospital pulling an ugly face. That was the best
action of his life. Well, old boy, what do you say to that?

--I have not exactly understood, replied Marcel, trying to keep his
countenance.

--You are very hard of understanding. I will tell you another story and I
will be clearer. I see what you want--the dots on the i's.

Marcel rose up alarmed.

--No, no, cried Durand. Don't get up. Don't go away. Since you are here, we
must talk a little. Stay, it will not be long. It is the story of a cousin
of mine, or rather a cousin of my wife. Another of your confraternity. He
was curate or deacon, or canon, in fact I don't know what rank in your
regiment. At any rate, a bitter hypocrite; you will see. Under pretence of
relationship, he used to pay us frequent visits. You can think if that
suited me, who already adored the cassock! Besides, on principle, I
detested cousins. It is the sore of households, gentlemen; you must avoid
it like the plague. Monsieur le Cure, if you have a pretty servant, beware
of cousins. I only say that. My wife used to say to me: "What has this poor
boy done to you that you receive him so badly? Are you jealous of him? Ah!
I know very well, it is because he belongs to my family, and you cannot

Book of the day: