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The Grip of Desire by Hector France

Part 3 out of 6

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conscience exaggerated the gravity and the consequences of his imprudent
rapture.

--Yes, it is shame, it is shame.

--Do not despair in this way, said a jeering voice.

Marcel turned round, terror-struck.

His servant was behind him.

She had approached, noiselessly, and was looking at him with her strange,
green eyes.

--Shame lies in scandal, she added sententiously. Reassure yourself; that
pretty young lady will hold her tongue.

She spoke low, slowly, with perfect calm, and each word penetrated the
priest's heart like a steel blade.

Like all persons ashamed of having been caught, he put himself in a
passion.

--You! he cried. You here? Who called you? You were not gone to bed then?
What do you want? What have you just been doing? You are always listening
then at the doors?

--That is useful sometimes, the woman said sententiously.

--What, you dare to admit that wretched fault without blushing at it?

--There are many others who ought to blush and yet don't blush.

--What do you mean? Come, speak? what do you want?

--Only to talk with you. You have had a long talk with Mademoiselle Suzanne
Durand! you can well listen to me a little in my turn.

--What do you say? wicked creature! what do you say?

--Oh, Monsieur le Cure, you are wrong to call me wicked, I am not so.

--You are, at the very least, most indiscreet.

--Oh, sir, it is not my fault; it is quite involuntarily that I have been a
witness of what passed.

--Eh! what has passed then?

--Sir, don't question me, she said in a pitying tone, _I have heard and
seen_.

--You have seen! cried the priest in a stifled voice. What have you seen
then, wretched woman?

And mad with anger, with blazing eyes and clenched fists, he sprang upon
the servant, who was afraid and retreated to the door.

--Please, Monsieur le Cure, she implored, don't hurt me.

These words recalled the priest to himself.

--No, he said as he sat down again, no, Veronica, I shall not hurt you. I
flew into a passion, I was wrong; pardon me. Reassure yourself; see, I am
calm; come closer and let us talk. Come closer. Sit here, in front of me.

--I will do so. Ah! you frighten me....

--It is your fault, Veronica; why do you put me into such passion?

--It was not my intention; far from it. I wanted to talk with you very
peaceably, like the _other_, it is so nice.

--Please, enough of that subject.

--Oh, Monsieur le Cure, it is just about that I want to speak to you.

--Do not jest, Veronica. You have been, thanks to your culpable
indiscretion, witness of a momentary error, which will not be repeated any
more.

--A momentary error, which would have led you to some pretty things,
Monsieur le Cure. Good God! if Marianne had not arrived in time, who knows
what might have happened.

--It is not for you to blame me, Veronica. There is only God who is without
sin.

--I know that well. Therefore, I have not said that to you in order to
blame you. Quite the contrary, I was astonished that with a temperament ...
as strong as yours, you have remained free from fault till to-day.

--And, please God, I will always remain so.

--Oh! God does not ask for impossibilities, as my old master, Monsieur le
Cure Fortin, used to say: he was a good-natured man. He often repeated to
me: "You see, Veronica, provided appearances are saved, everything is
saved. God is content, he asks for no more."

--What, the Abbe Fortin said that?

--Yes, and many other things too. He was so honest, so delicate a man--not
more than you, however, Monsieur le Cure--but he understood his case better
than any other. He said again: "Beware of bad example, keep yourself from
scandal. Dirty linen should be washed at home." Good rules, are they not,
Monsieur Marcel?

--Certainly.

--He knew so well how to compassionate human infirmities. Ah! when nature
speaks, she speaks very loudly.

--Do you know anything about it, Veronica?

--Who does not know it? I can certainly acknowledge that to you, since you
are my Cure and my confessor.

--That is true, Veronica.

--And to whom should a poor servant acknowledge her secret thoughts, if not
to her Cure and her confessor? He is her only friend in this world, is he
not?

The Cure did not reply. He considered the strange shape the conversation
was taking, and cast a look of defiance at the woman.

--You do not answer, sir, she said. You do not look upon me as your friend,
that is wrong. Is it because I have surprised your secrets?

--I have no secrets.

--Yes?.... Suzanne?

--Enough on that subject. Do not revive my shame, since you call yourself
my friend.

--Oh! sir, it is precisely for that, it is because I do not want you to
distress yourself about so little. Listen to me, sir, I am older than you,
and although I am not so learned, I have the experience which, as they say,
is not picked up in books: well, this experience has taught me many things
which perhaps you do not suspect.

--Explain yourself.

--I would have explained already, if you had wished it. The other evening
you were quite sad, sitting by that fireless grate; you were thinking of I
don't know what, but certainly it was not of anything very lively, so much
so that it went to my heart. I suspected what was vexing you; I wanted to
speak to you, but you repulsed me almost brutally. Nevertheless, if you had
listened to me that day, what has just happened might not have occurred.

--I don't understand you.

--I will make myself understood ... if you allow me.

XL.

LITTLE CONFESSIONS.

"To relate one's misfortunes often
alleviates them."

CORNEILLE (_Polyeucte_).

The Cure laid his forehead between his hands, and rested his elbows on his
knees, a common attitude among confessors.

--I am listening to you, he said.

--I said to you, Monsieur le Cure, do not despair. You will excuse a poor
servant's boldness, but it is the friendship I have for you which has urged
me; nothing else, believe me; I am an honest girl, entirely devoted to my
masters. You are the fourth, Monsieur le Cure, yes, the fourth master.
Well! the three others have never had to complain about me a single moment
for indiscretion, or for idleness, or for want of attention, or for
anything, in fact, for anything. Never a harsh word. "You have done well,
Veronica; that's quite right, Veronica; do as you think proper, Veronica;
your advice is excellent, Veronica." Those are all the rough words which
have been said to me, Monsieur Marcel. Therefore, I repeat, really it went
to my heart to hear you speaking harshly sometimes to me, and to see that
you did not appear satisfied with me. I had not been accustomed to that.

And the servant, picking up the corner of her apron, burst into tears.

--Why! Veronica, are you mad? Why do you cry so? Who has made you suppose
that I was not satisfied with you? I may have spoken harshly to you, it is
possible; but it was in a moment of excitement or of impatience, which I
regret. You well know that I am not ill-natured.

--Oh, no, sir, that is just what grieves me. You are so kind to everybody.
You are only severe to me.

--You are wrong again, Veronica. I may have felt hurt at your indiscretion,
but that is all. Put yourself in my place, and you will allow that it is
humiliating for a priest....

--Do not speak of that again, Monsieur le Cure. You are very wrong to
disturb yourself about it, and if you had had confidence in me before, I
should have told you that all have acted like you, all have gone through
that, all, all.

--What do you mean?

--I mean that young and old have fallen into the same fault.... If we can
call it a fault, as Monsieur Fortin used to say. And the old still more
than the young. After that, perhaps you will say to me that it is the place
which is wicked.

--Be silent, Veronica. What you say is very wrong, for if I perfectly
understand you, you are bringing an infamous accusation against my
predecessors. Perhaps you think to palliate my fault thus in my own eyes. I
thank you for the intention, but it is an improper course, and the reproach
which you try to cast upon the worthy priests who have succeeded one
another in this parish, takes away none of my remorse.

--Monsieur Fortin had not so many scruples. He was, however, a most
respectable man, and one who never dared to look a young girl in her face,
he was so bashful. "Well," he often used to say, "God has well done all
that he has done, and He is too wise to be angry when we make use of His
benefits!"

--That is rather an elastic morality.

--It was Monsieur Fortin who taught me that. After all, that is perhaps
morality in word, you are ... morality in deed.

--Veronica, you are strangely misusing the rights which I have allowed you
to take.

--Do not put yourself in a rage, Monsieur le Cure, if I talk to you so. I
wanted to persuade you thoroughly that you can rely upon me in everything,
that I can keep a secret, though you sometimes call me a tattler, and that
I am not, after all, such a worthless girl as you believe. We like, when
the moment has come to get ourselves appreciated, to profit by it to our
utmost.

--Veronica, said Marcel, I hardly know what you want to arrive at; but I
wish to speak frankly to you, since you have behaved frankly towards me. I
recognize all the wisdom of your proceeding, although you will agree it has
something offensive and humiliating for me, but after all, it is preferable
that you should come and tell me this to my face, than that you should go
and chatter in the village and tattle without my knowledge.

--Oh, Monsieur le Cure, Veronica is not capable of that.

--Therefore, since you have discovered ... discovered a secret which would
ruin me, what do you calculate on making from this secret, and what do you
demand?

--I, Monsieur le Cure, cried the servant, I demand nothing ... oh! nothing.

--You are hesitating. Yes, you want something. Come, it is you now who hang
your head and blush, while it is I who am the culprit.... Come, place
yourself there, close to me.

--Oh! Monsieur le Cure, I shall never presume.

--Presume then to-day. Have you not told me that you were my friend?...
Yes. Well then, place yourself there. Tell me, Veronica, what is your age?

--Mine, Monsieur le Cure. What a question! I am not too old; come, not so
old as you think. I am forty.

--Forty! why you are still of an age to get married.

--I quite think so.

--And you have never intended to do so?

--To get married? Oh, upon my word, if I had wanted to do so, I should not
have waited until now.

--I believe you, Veronica. You could have done very well before now. But
you may have changed your ideas. Our characters, our tastes change with
time, and a thing displeases us to-day, which will please us to-morrow.
There are often, it is true, certain considerations which stop us and make
us reflect. Perhaps you have not a round enough sum. With a little money,
at your age, you could still make an excellent match.

--And even without money, Monsieur le Cure. If I were willing, somebody has
been pestering me for a long time for that.

--And you are not willing. The person doubtless does not suit you?

--Oh, I have my choice.

--Well and good. We cannot use too much reflection upon a matter of this
importance. I am not rich, Veronica, but I should like to help you and to
increase, if it be possible, your little savings, your dowry in fact.

--You are very good, sir, but I do not wish to get married.

--Why so?

--It depends on tastes, you know.... You are in a great hurry then to get
rid of me, Monsieur le Cure.

--Not at all: do not believe it.

--Come, come, Monsieur le Cure. I see your intentions. You say to yourself:
"she holds a secret which may prove troublesome to me; with a little money
I will put a padlock on her tongue, I will get her married, and by this
means she will trouble me no more." Is it a bad guess?

--You have not guessed it the least in world, Veronica.

--Oh, it is! But it is a bad calculation, and for two reasons. In the first
place, if I marry, your secret is more in danger than if I remain single.
You know that a woman ought not to hide anything from her husband.

--There are certain things....

--No, nothing at all: no secret, or mystery. The husband ought to see all,
to know all, to be acquainted with all that concerns his wife. Ah! I know
how to live, though I am an old maid.

--You are a pearl, Veronica.

--You want to make fun of me; but others have said that to me before you,
and they were talking seriously. On the other hand, she continued, if you
keep me, you need not fear my slandering you, since I am in your hands and
the day you hear any rumour, you can turn me away.

--Your argument is just, and believe me that my words had but a single
object, not that of separating myself from you, but of being useful to you.
Since you are desirous of remaining with me, at which I am happy, let us
therefore try to live on good terms, and do you for your part forget my
weaknesses; I for mine will forget your inquisitiveness; and let us talk no
more about them.

--Oh yes, we will talk again.

--I consent to it. Let us therefore make peace, and give me your hand.

--Here it is, Monsieur le Cure.

--Ah, Veronica. _Errare humanum est_.

--Yes, I know, Monsieur Fortin often repeated it. That means to say that
the devil is sly, and the flesh is weak.

--It is something like that. So then I trust to your honesty.

--You can do so without fear.

--To your discretion.

--You can do so with all confidence.

--To your friendship for me. Have you really a little, Veronica?

--I have, sir, said the servant, affected. You ask me that: what must I
then do to convince you?

--Be discreet, that is all.

--Oh! you might require more than that. But could I also, in my turn, ask
something of you?

--Ask on.

--It will be perhaps very hard for you.

--Speak freely. What do you want? Are you not mistress here? Is not
everything at your disposal?

--Oh, no.

--No! You surprise me. Have I hurt you without knowing it? I do not
remember it, I assure you. Tell me then, that I may atone for my fault.

--I hardly know how to tell you.

--Is it then very serious?

--Not precisely, but....

--You are putting me on thorns. What is it then?

--Oh, nothing.

--What nothing? Do you wish to vex me, Veronica.

--I don't intend it; it is far from that.

--Speak then.

--Well no, I will say no more. You will guess it perhaps. But meanwhile....

--Meanwhile....

--It is quite understood between us that you will never see that little
hussy again.

--What hussy?

--That little hussy, who was here just now.

--Oh, Veronica! Veronica!

--It is for your interests, Monsieur le Cure, in short ... the proprieties.

--My dignity is as dear to me as it is to you, my daughter, be answered
sharply.

--Good-night, Monsieur le Cure; take counsel with your pillow.

XLI.

MORAL REFLECTIONS.

"Ah, poor grandmamma, what grand-dam's tales
You used to sing to me in praise of virtue;
Everywhere have I asked: 'What is this stranger?'
They laughed at me and said, 'Whence hast thou come?'"

G. MELOTTE (_Les Temps nouveaux_).

The Cure of Althausen had no need of reflection to understand the kind of
shameful bargain which his servant had allowed him to catch a glimpse of.

The lustful look of the woman had spoken too clearly, and when he had taken
her hand, he had felt it burn and tremble in his.

Then certain circumstances, certain facts to which he had not attended at
first, came back to his memory.

Two or three times, Veronica, on frivolous pretexts had entered his bedroom
at night; and each time, he remembered well, she was in somewhat indecent
undress, which contrasted strangely with her ordinarily severe appearance.

He recalled to himself all the stories of Cures' servants who shared their
masters' bed. Stories told in a whisper at certain _general repasts_, when
the priests of the district met together at the senior's house to observe
the feast of some saint or other--the great Saint Priapus perhaps--and
where lively talk and sprightly stories ran merrily round the table.

And what he had taken for jokes in bad taste, and refused to believe till
now, he began to understand.

For he could no longer doubt that he had set his servant's passions aflame,
and he must either expose himself to her venomous tongue and incur the
shame and scandal, or else appease the erotic rage of this kitchen
Messalina.

He tried to drive away this horrible thought, to believe that he had been
mistaken, to persuade himself that he was the dope of erroneous
appearances; he wished to convince himself that he had been the victim of
errors engendered by his own depravity, that he judged according to his
secret sentiments; his efforts were vain; the woman's feverish eyes, her
restless solicitude, her jealous rage, her incessant watching, the evidence
in short was there which contradicted all his hopes to the contrary.

And then, the latest confessions regarding his predecessors: "All have
acted like you, all," possessed his mind. Like him! What had they done?
They also had attempted then to seduce young girls, and perhaps had
consummated their infernal design. What? respectable priests, ministers of
the Gospel, pastors of God's flock! Was it possible? But was not he a
respectable priest and respected by all, a minister of God, a leader of the
holy flock, a pastor of men, and yet....

How then? where is virtue?

"Virtue," answered that voice which we have within ourselves, that voice
odious to hypocrites and deceivers, which the Church calls the Devil's
voice, and which is the voice of reason. Virtue? Of which do you speak,
fool? Without counting the _three theological_, there are fifty thousand
kinds of virtues. It is like happiness, institutions, reputations,
religions, morals, principles: Truth on this side the mount, error on that.

There are as many kinds of virtues as there are different peoples. History
swarms with virtuous people who have been so in their own way. Socrates was
virtuous, and yet what strange familiarities he allowed himself with the
young Alcibiades. The virtuous Brutus virtuously assassinated his father.
The virtuous Elizabeth of Hungary had herself whipped by her confessor, the
virtuous Conrad, and the virtuous Janicot doted on virtuous little boys;
and finally Monseigneur is virtuous, but his old lady friends look down and
smile when he talks of virtue.

See this priest of austere countenance and whitened hair. He too, during
long years, has believed in that virtue which forms his torment. Candid and
trustful, he felt the fervency of religion fill his heart from his youth.
He had faith, he was filled with the spirit of charity and love. He said
like the apostle: _Ubi charitas et amor, Deus ibi est_. And he believed
that God was with him, and that alone with God he was peacefully pursuing
his road. But he had counted without that troublesome guest who comes and
places himself as a third between the creature and the Creator, and who,
more powerful than the God of legend, quickly banishes him, for he is the
principle of life and the other is the principle of death; it is the
fruitful love and the other is the wasting barren love; it is present and
active, while the other is inert, dumb and in the clouds of your sickly
brain.

"It is in vain that in his successive halts from parish to parish, he has
resisted the thousand seductions which surround the priest, from the timid
gaze of the simple school-girl, smitten with a holy love for the young
curate, to the veiled smile of the languishing woman. In vain will he
attempt, like Fenelon formerly, to put the warmth of his heart and the
incitements of the flesh upon the wrong scent by carrying on a platonic
love with some chosen souls; what is the result in the end of his efforts
and his struggles? Now he is old; ought he not to be appeased? No, weighty
and imperious matter has regained the upper hand. He loves no longer, he is
not able to love any longer, but the fury urges him on. He seduces his
cook, or dishonours his niece."

And yet those most courageous natures exist, for they have resisted to the
end. We blame them, we are wrong. Who would have been capable of such
efforts and sacrifices? Who would sustain during ten, fifteen, twenty
years, similar straggles between the imperious requirements of nature and
the miserable duties of convention? They, therefore, who see their hair
fall before their virtue are very rare.

The crowd of priests strike themselves against the obstacles of the road
from the first steps, they tear their catechumen's robe with the white
thorns of May, and when they have arrived at the end of their career, they
have stopped many a time under some mysterious thicket, unknown by the
vulgar, relishing the forbidden fruit.

Let us leave them in peace. It is not I who will disturb their sweet
tete-a-tete.

XLII.

MEMORY LOOKING BACK.

"Man can do nothing against Destiny.
We go, time flies, and that which must
arrive, arrives."

LEON CLADEL (_L'Homme de la Croix-aux-Baufs_).

Marcel was one of those energetic natures who believe that struggle is one
of the conditions of life. He had valiantly accepted the task which was
incumbent upon him.

But there are hours of discouragement and exhaustion, in which the boldest
and the strongest succumb, and he had reached one of those hours.

And then, it is so difficult to struggle without ceasing, especially when
we catch no glimpse of calmer days. Weariness quickly comes and we sink
down on the road.

Then a friendly hand should be stretched towards us, should lift us up and
say to us "Courage." But Marcel could not lean on any friendly hand.

He had no one to whom he could confide his struggles, his vexations, and
the apprehension of his coming weaknesses.

Although his life as priest had been spotless up to then, his brethren held
aloof from him, for there was a bad mark against him at the Bishop's
Palace. It had been attached at the commencement of his career. He was one
of those catechumens on whom from the very first the most brilliant hopes
are founded. Knowledge, intelligence, respectful obedience, appearance of
piety, sympathetic face, everything was present in him.

The Bishop, a frivolous old man, a great lover of little girls, who
combined the sinecure of his bishopric with that of almoner to a
second-hand empress, whose name will remain celebrated in the annals of
devout gallantry or of gallant devotion, the Bishop, a worthy pastor for
such a sheep, passed the greater portion of his time in the intrigues of
petticoats and sacristies, and left to the young secretary the care of
matters spiritual.

It was he who, like Gil-Blas, composed the mandates and sometimes the
sermons of Monseigneur.

This confidence did not fail to arouse secret storms in the episcopal
guest-chamber.

A Grand-Vicar, jealous of the influence which the young Abbe was assuming
over his master's mind, had resolved upon his dismissal and fall.

With a church-man's tortuous diplomacy, he pried into the young man's
heart, as yet fresh and inexperienced.

He insinuated himself into the most hidden recesses of his conscience,
seized, so to say, in their flight the timid fleeting transports of his
thought, of his vigorous imagination, and soon discovered with secret
satisfaction that he was straying from the ancient path of orthodoxy.

Marcel, indeed, belonged to that younger generation of the clergy which
believes that everything which alienates the Church from new ideas, brings
it nearer to its ruin. And the day when the foolish Pius IX presumed to
proclaim and define, to the great joy of free-thinkers and the enemies of
Catholicism, the ridiculous dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the
presence of two hundred dumb complaisant prelates, on that day he
experienced profound grief. According to his ideas this was the severest
blow which had been inflicted on the foundations of the Church for
centuries.

He had studied theology deeply, but he had not confined himself to the
letter; he believed he saw something beyond.

--The letter killeth, he said, the spirit giveth life.

--The spirit giveth life when it is wholesome and pure, the Grand-Vicar
answered him with a smile, but is it healthy in a young man who believes
himself to be wiser than his elders?

Marcel then without mistrust and urged by questions, developed his
theories. He believed in the absolute equality of men before God, in the
transmutation of souls: and the resurrection of the flesh seemed to him
the utmost absurdity. He quite thought that there were future rewards and
penalties, but he had too much faith in the goodness of God to suppose
that the expiation could be eternal. He allied himself in that to the
Universalists, who were, he said, the most reasonable sect of American
Protestantism.

--Reasonable! reasonable! repeated the Grand-Vicar scoffingly; in truth, my
poor friend, you make me doubt your reason. Can there be anything
reasonable in the turpitude of heresy?

Then he hurried to find the Bishop:

--I have emptied our young man's bag, he said to him. Do you know,
Monseigneur, what there was at the bottom?

--Oh, oh. Has he been inclined to debauchery? He is so young.

--Would to heaven it were only that, Monseigneur. But it is a hundred times
worse.

--What do you tell me? Must I fear then for all my little sheep? We must
look after him then.

--I repeat, Monseigneur, that that would be nothing.... It is the
abomination of abomination, a whole world of turpitude, heresies in embryo.

--Heresies! Oh, oh! That is serious.

--Heresies which would make the cursed shades of John Huss, Wickliffe,
Luther and Calvin himself tremble, if they appeared again.

--What do you say?

--I tell you, Monseigneur, that you have warmed a viper in your bosom.

--Ah, well, I will drive out this wicked viper.

The Bishop, who kept two nieces in the episcopal seraglio, would willingly
have pardoned his secretary if he had been accused of immorality, but he
could not carry his condescension so far as heresy. He wanted, however, to
assure himself personally, and as Marcel was incapable of lying, he quickly
recognized the sad reality.

The young Abbe was severely punished. He was compelled to make an apology,
to retract his horrible ideas, to stifle the germ of these infant
monstrosities; then he was condemned to spend six months in one of those
ecclesiastical prisons called _houses of retreat_, where the guilty priest
is exposed to every torment and every vexation.

He was definitely marked and classed as a dangerous individual.

His enemy, the Grand-Vicar, pursued him with his indefatigable hatred, so
far that from disgrace to disgrace he had reached the cure of Althausen.

XLIII.

ESPIONAGE.

"A sunbeam had traversed his heart;
it had just disappeared."

ERNEST DAUDET (_Les Duperies de l'Amour_).

Since the fatal evening when the secret of his new-born love had been
discovered by his servant, Marcel had observed the woman on his steps,
watching his slightest proceedings, scrutinizing his most innocent
gestures.

He encountered everywhere her keen inquisitive look.

He wished at first to meet it with the greatest circumspection and the most
absolute reserve. He avoided all conversation which he thought might lead
him into the way of fresh confidences, and he affected an icy coldness.

But he was soon obliged to renounce this means.

The woman, irritated, suddenly became sullen and angry, and made the Cure
pay dear for the reserve which he imposed on himself. The dinner was burnt,
the soup tasted only of warm water, his bed was hard, his socks were full
of holes, his shoes badly cleaned, finally, he was several times awakened
with a start by terrible noises during the night.

He attempted a few remonstrances. Veronica replied with sharpness and
threatened to leave him.

--You can look for another maid, she said to him; as for me, I have had
enough of it.

--Oh! you old hussy, he thought; I would soon pack you off to the devil, if
I were not afraid of your cursed tongue.

Then, for the sake of peace he changed his tactics. He was affable and
smiling and spoke to her gently; and the servant's manners changed
directly.

She also became like she had been before, attentive and submissive.

Several days passed thus in a continual constraint and hidden anger; at the
same time, a restlessness consumed him, which he used all his power to
conceal.

He had not seen Suzanne again, either at the morning Masses, or in her
usual walks. He looked forward to Sunday; but at High Mass her place
remained empty; he reckoned on Vespers: Vespers, and then Compline passed
without her. In vain he searched the nave and the galleries, his sorrowing
gaze did not find Suzanne, and he chanted the _Laudate pueri dominum_ with
the voice of the _De profundis_.

Where was she? He had no other thought. Her father had prevented her from
coming to church, without any doubt; but why had he not seen her as before
upon the roads, which they both liked? He made a thousand conjectures, and
with his thoughts completely absorbed in Suzanne, he forgot aught else. He
saw no longer those attractive members of his congregation, who admired him
in secret as they accompanied him with their fresh voices, and were
astonished at the mysterious trouble which agitated their sweet pastor; he
forgot even the odious spy who watched him in some corner of the church,
and whom he would meet again at his house.

Ashamed of himself, he recalled with a blush the hand he had kissed in a
moment of frenzy, which must have let Suzanne suspect what was the plague
which consumed his heart, and he would have sacrificed ten years of his
life to become again what he was in the eyes of this young girl, hardly a
month ago; only a stranger.

Unaccustomed to the world, he did not yet know women well enough to be
aware that they are full of indulgence for follies committed for their
sake, and more ready to excuse an insult than to pardon indifference. Under
these circumstances vanity takes the place of courage, and gives to the
commonest girl the instincts of a patrician. There is no ill-made woman but
wishes to see the world at her feet.

And the espionage which laid so heavy on him, became every day more
irritating and more insupportable.

In vain he fled from the house, and walked on straight before him; far,
very far, as far as possible, he felt his servant's gaze following him, and
weighing upon him with all the burden of her furious and clear-sighted
jealousy.

He felt that lynx eye pierce the walls and watch him everywhere, even when
he had put between himself and the parsonage, the streets, the gardens, the
width of the village and the depth of the woods.

She received him on his return with a smile on her lips, but her eager eye
searched him from head to foot, studied his looks, his gestures, the folds
of his cassock and even the dust on his shoes; as though she wished to
strip him and bare his heart in order to feast upon his secret conflicts.

XLIV.

THE GARRET WINDOW.

"Do I direct my love? It directs me.
And I could abide it if I would!...
And I would, after all, that I could not."

V. SARDOU (_Nos Intimes_).

Other days passed, and then others.

From a garret-window in the loft of the parsonage, the eye commanded a view
of the whole village. Over the roofs could be seen the house of Captain
Durand, quite at the bottom of the hill. Marcel went up there several
times, and with his gaze fixed on that white wall which concealed the sweet
object which had torn from him his tranquillity and his peaceful toil, he
forgot himself and was lost in his thoughts.

Then his eyes wandered over the verdant plain, and the length of the stream
edged with willows which wound along as far as the wood, side by side with
the little path, where often he had met with Suzanne.

Sometimes the keen April wind blew violently through the ill-closed timber
and the cracks of the roofing. It shook the joists and filled the loft with
that shrill sinister sound, which is like an echo of the lamentable
complaint of the dead, and it appeared to him that these groanings of the
tempest mingled with the groanings of his soul.

But he soon discovered that the garret-window was also a post of
observation for Veronica, for to their mutual embarrassment, they caught
one another climbing cautiously up the wooden stair-case, or slipping under
the dusty joists. Again he was caught in fault. What business had he in
that loft?

He resumed his walks and prolonged them as much as possible; he resumed his
pastoral visits with a zeal which charmed the feminine portion of his
flock; but nowhere did he see or hear anything of Suzanne. That name filled
his heart, and he dreaded the least suspicion, the slightest comment.

He was seen always abroad. He fled from his house, his books, his flowers,
that little home which he loved so well when it was quiet, and where now he
heard the muttering storms; he suspected some infernal plot.

And the remembrance of that hand which was surrendered to him, and on which
he had placed his lips, that remembrance consumed his heart. He saw again
Suzanne's emotion, her large dark eyes full of amazement, yet without
anger, and he would have wished to see them again, were it only for a
second, in order to read in them the impression which his presence left
there.

XLV.

TREACHEROUS MANOEUVRE.

"He stepped more lightly than a
bird; love traced out his progress."

CHAMPFLEURY (_La Comedie Academique_).

"I must know," he said to himself, "where I stand."

And one morning, after saying Mass, he went out of the village.

He took the opposite direction to the part where Captain Durand dwelt. But
after following the high road for some time, sure that he was not being
watched, he retraced his steps, quickly entered the little path, hedged
with quicksets, which runs by the side of the gardens, and rapidly made the
circuit of Althausen.

Hitherto in his walks, he had avoided, from shame as much as from fear, the
Captain's house, now he directed his steps thither, with head erect,
resolute and assuming a careless air, as if the peasants whom he met could
suspect his secret agitation.

He hurried his steps, desirous of settling the question one way or the
other.

To discover Suzanne! that was his only desire, and his heart beat as though
it would break.

In spite of the reproaches and invectives which he addressed and the fine
argument which he formed for himself, he had fallen again more than ever
under the yoke, precisely because he saw obstacles accumulating.

Love had taken absolute possession of his heart, it had hollowed out its
nest therein, like the viper in the old Norway ballads, and while ever
increasing, consumed it.

To see Suzanne, simply the hem of her gown, or her pretty spring hat
crowned with bluebirds, to pass near the spot where she breathed and to
inhale there some emanation from her, was his promised treat.

And he walked along joyously, his step was light, and he no longer felt the
load of his grief; his apprehensions and anxiety disappeared, and he was
filled with a wild hope.

A few steps more and he would see behind the clump of old chestnuts the
little house, always so smart and white.

Ah! he knew it well. Many a time he had passed in front of it and behind
it, pensive and indifferent, without dreaming that the sanctuary of a
goddess was there, the only one henceforth whom his heart could adore.

There was a little garden, surrounded with palings, with two paths which
crossed, and placed in the middle, a statue of the Little Corporal in a bed
of China-asters. In one corner an arbour of honeysuckle, where more than
once he had caught sight of a crabbed face.

Perhaps the maid with the sweet eyes will be sitting beneath that arbour
embroidering thoughtfully some chosen pattern.

What shall he do if Suzanne is there? Will he dare to look at her?

Yes, he must! He must read the expression in her look. And if that look
is sweet and free from anger, shall he stop? Certainly. Why should he
hesitate? What is there surprising in a priest, stopping to talk to a young
girl? Is he not her Cure? More than that, her Confessor. Her confessor! Has
he still the right to call himself so? And the weather-beaten soldier, the
disciple of Voltaire, the malevolent, unmannerly father? Come, another
blunder! he sees clearly that he cannot dream of stopping. And then, after
what he has done, what would he dare to say? He will pass by therefore
rapidly, without even turning his head; she will see him, and that is
enough.

He quickens his step, then he slackens it. Where will she be. Here are the
old chestnut-trees, and behind is the white house, the corner of paradise.

What is that open window, garnished with flowers, that room hung with rose,
and at the back those white curtains which the morning sun is gilding? Oh,
that he might melt into those subtle rays, and penetrate, like a ray of
love, into that chaste virgin conch.

Now he is near the garden. His heart is beating. He looks. A sound of
footsteps on the path, and the rustling of a dress make him start. Is it
she?

He turns round.

Veronica is behind him.

XLVI.

THE LETTER.

"Let them take but one step within
your door. They will soon have taken
four."

LA FONTAINE (_Fables_).

She was red and out of breath, and her large breasts rose and fell like the
bellows of a forge, while her air of triumph said clearly to Marcel: "Ah,
ah, I have caught you here."

--Come, Monsieur le Cure, it is quite a quarter-of-an-hour that I have been
looking for you. I ought to have thought before where to find you. Somebody
is waiting for you.

--Who!

But the servant avoided making any reply, as she took the lead towards
home. The Cure followed her hanging his head.

He reached the parsonage directly after her.

--Who is waiting for me then? he said again.

--It's the postman, she replied with an air of frankness; he could not wait
till to-morrow. He had a letter for you ... for _you_ only, she added,
lingering over these words with a scornful smile.

Marcel blushed.

--Another mystery, Veronica went on. Ah, Jesus! My God! What a lot of
mysteries there are here. Really it's worse than the Catechism. Your
letters for you only! Isn't that enough to humiliate me? You have reason
then to complain of my discretion that you tell the postman to hand your
letters to _yourself only_. Holy Virgin! it's a pretty thing. What can they
think of me then at the Post-office? They will surely say that I read your
letters before you do. Upon my word. Your letters don't matter to me. Would
they not say...? Ah, Lord Jesus. To make a poor servant suffer martyrdom in
this way?

--There you are with your recrimination again!

-Oh, Monsieur le Cure, I make no recriminations, I complain that is all: I
certainly have the right to complain; my other masters never acted in that
way with me.

--Your masters acted as they thought proper, and I also do as I wish.

--I see very well, that you don't ask advice from anyone.... And with the
insolence of a servant who has got on a footing with her master, she added:
You have gone again to the part where Durand lives? After what has
happened, are you not afraid of compromising yourself?

--Mind your own business, you silly woman, and leave me alone for once. I
consider you are very impudent in trying to scrutinize my actions.

--My business! Well, Monsieur le Cure, yours is mine just a bit, since I am
your confidante. As to being impudent, I shall never be so much as others I
know.

--Insolent woman.

--Ah, you can insult me, Monsieur le Cure. I let you do as you like with
me.

--Veronica, said Marcel, this life is unendurable. I hate to be surrounded
with incessant spying; what do you want to arrive at? tell me, what do you
want to arrive at?

And the Cure approached her, his fists clenched, and with glaring eyes.

--Take care of yourself, woman, for I am beginning to get tired.

--I am so too: I am tired, cried Veronica.

Marcel's wrath passed all bounds.

--Yes. I understand, you ought indeed to be so. Tired of odious spying;
tired of your unwholesome curiosity; tired of your useless
narrow-mindedness. Do not drive me too far for your own sake, I warn you.
Twice already you have made me beside myself, beware, you miserable woman,
beware of doing it a third time.

--Be quiet, Monsieur le Cure, said Veronica softly, be quiet.

--Oh, you are driving me mad, cried Marcel, throwing himself into an
arm-chair, and covering his face with his hands.

The servant came near him:

--It is you who are making me ill with your fits of anger, she said with
solicitude: shall I make you a little tea?

--I don't want anything.

--Come, Monsieur Marcel, be yourself. I am not what you think, no, I am
not.

--It is my wish that you leave me, Veronica.

--Everything I do is for your interest, Monsieur le Cure, you will
understand it one day.

--Leave me, I say.

The servant withdrew.

--It cannot last thus, he thought. What a scandalous scene! And what a
horrible fatality thrusts me into this ridiculous and miserable situation!
Ah, the apostle is right: "As soon as we leave the straight path, we fall
into the abyss." And I am in the abyss, for I am the laughing-stock of this
servant. What will become of me with this creature? How can I get rid of
her? Can I turn her out? She would proclaim everywhere what she has
discovered.... Ah, if it were only a question of myself alone! What a
dilemma I am involved in! But that letter, that letter! Suzanne!... dear
Suzanne ... no doubt it is she who has written to me, my heart tells me so
loudly.

He waited with feverish impatience for the postman's return.

Expecting news from Suzanne, and fearing with good reason his servant's
inquisitiveness, he had indeed asked him for the future to deliver his
letters to himself only.

He sought for various pretexts to send Veronica away, but the woman too
discovered excellent reasons for not going out.

She was present therefore, in spite of her master, at the delivery of the
mysterious letter.

Marcel's countenance at first displayed deep disappointment, but as he read
on, it was lighted up by a ray of joy.

XLVII.

GOOD NEWS.

"Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia
O filii et filiae...
Et Maria Magdalena
Et Jacobi, et Salome!
Alleluia."

(_Easter-Mass Hymn_).

"Rejoice, my son, and sing with me _Hosannah! Hosannah!_ The ways of the
Lord are infinite.

"Your personal enemy, Saint Anastasius Gobin, Grand-Vicar, Arch-Priest,
Notary Apostolic and, like the ancient slave, as vile as anyone, _non tum
vilis quam nullus_, has just left Nancy secretly, and in disgrace, like a
guilty wretch as he is.

"Ah, my poor friend, let us veil our faces like the daughters of Sion. It
is written: 'If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die.' Anastasius Gobin
has lived too much after the flesh. Alas! we know it, and you know it.
_Nemo melius judicare potest quam tu_, as Brutus said to Cicero; so you
will not share in the astonishment of the Cathedral worshippers. I will
relate the matter to you in private.

"_Ergo_. You are henceforth safe from his persecution for ever; it is now
only a question of regaining Monseigneur's favour. The serpent is no longer
there to whisper perfidious insinuations into his too complaisant ear. When
the beast is dead, the venom is dead.

"I hope that adversity has been of use to you. You have experienced what it
costs not to be sufficiently yielding. Now the future is yours; nothing has
been lost except a few years, and those few years have brought, I hope,
experience and knowledge of life. Courage then. _Filii Sion exultate et
laetimini in Domino Deo nostro_.

"I have faith more than ever in your lucky star, and I hope that you will
form the consolation and the pride of my declining years. Yes, my friend,
you will do honour to your old master. _Tu quoque Marcellus eris_!

"As for myself, I am going to move heaven and earth for you, or, what is
worth more, I am going to stir up the arriere-ban of the sacristies.

"I know some worthy sheep of influence, who, for my sake, will do anything
in their power. I have shown your photograph to the old Comtesse de
Montluisant; she finds it charming, yes charming! and she has promised that
before six months, Monseigneur shall swear by the Abbe Marcel alone.

"That is rather too much to presume, for the old man is as obstinate as an
Auvergne mule; but what I can promise you is a change of cure--that at
length you shall leave your Thebaid.

"Once again then, my dear fellow, courage. As soon as I have a few days to
dispose of after Easter, I will hurry to you. And while we are tasting your
wine, provided it is good (which I doubt, you dreadful stoic), we will
discuss what is best to do.

"Have patience then till then. _Vos enim ad libertatem vocati estis,
fratres_, said St. Paul to the Galatians. I say so to you.

"I embrace you tenderly,

"Your spiritual Father

"MARCEL RIDOUX

"_Cure of St. Nicholas_."

XLVIII.

RECONCILIATION.

"The fair Egle chooses her part on a sudden
In the twinkling of an eye, she becomes charming."

CHAMPFORT (_Contes_).

"Here is salvation," said Marcel to himself, "the solution of the problem,
the end of my misery and shame, the blow which severs this infernal knot
which enfolds me and was about to hurry me on to my ruin. God be blessed!"
And he turned joyfully to his servant who was watching him:

--Good news! Veronica.

--I congratulate you, sir, she said, perplexed and disturbed. Are you
nominated to a better cure? Does Monseigneur give notice of his visit?

--Better than that, Veronica. My excellent and worthy uncle, the Abbe
Ridoux, gives notice of his.

--Monsieur le Cure of Saint Nicholas?

--Himself. Do you know him?

--Certainly. He came one day to see Monsieur Fortin (may God keep his soul)
regarding a collection for his church. Ah, he has a fine church, it
appears, and a famous saint is buried there. My poor defunct master was in
the habit of saying that there was not a more agreeable man anywhere in the
world, and I easily credited it, for he was always in a good temper. It's
he then who has written to you. Well, if he comes here, it will make a
little diversion, for we don't often laugh.

--That is wrong, Veronica. A gentle gaiety ought to prevail in the priest's
house. Gaiety is the mark of a pure heart and a quiet conscience. Where
there is hatred and division there is more room for the spirit of darkness.
Our Saviour has said: "Every house divided against itself shall perish."

--He has said so, yes, Monsieur le Cure.

--We must not perish, Veronica.

--I have no wish to do so; therefore I do not cause the war.

--Listen, Veronica. It would be lamentable and scandalous that my uncle
might possibly be troubled on his arrival here by our little domestic
differences, and particularly that he might suspect the nature of them. We
are both of us a little in the wrong; by our each ascribing it to oneself,
it will be easy for us to come to an understanding; will it not, Veronica?

--Oh, Monsieur le Cure, we can come to an understanding directly, if you
wish it. God says that we must forgive, and I have no malice.

--Then it is agreed, we will talk of our little mutual complaints after
supper.

--I ask for nothing better; I am quite at your service.

--And we will celebrate the good news.

--I will take my share in the celebration. Ah, Monsieur le Cure, you do not
know me yet; I hope that you will know me better, and you will see that I
am not an ill-natured girl. My heart is as young as another's, and when we
must laugh, provided that it is decent and without offence, I know how to
laugh, and do not give up my share.

--Good, said Marcel to himself, let me flatter this woman. That is the only
way of preventing any rumour. I must leave Althausen, I will pass her on to
my successor, but I do not want to have an enemy behind me. If you have my
secret, you old hypocrite, I will have yours, and I will know what there is
at the bottom of your bag of iniquity.

XLIX.

CONFIDENCES.

"To thee I wish to confide this secret,
Speak of it to no-one, we must be discreet
They love too much to laugh in this unbelieving age."

BABILLOT (_La Mascarade humaine_).

That evening, contrary to his usual custom, the Cure of Althausen had
coffee served after dinner, and told his servant to lay two cups.

--You have asked somebody then? she enquired.

--Yes, replied Marcel, I ask you, Veronica.

The woman smiled.

She went and assured herself that the door below was shut and that the
shutters were quite closed, put together a bundle of wood which she placed
partly on the hearth, and without further invitation, sat down facing her
master.

--We are at home, and inquisitive people will not trouble us.

Marcel was offended at thus being placed on a footing of equality with his
servant. Nevertheless he did not allow it to be seen. "It is my fault," he
thought, and he answered quietly:

--We have no reason to dread inquisitive persons, we are not going to do
anything wrong.

--Ah, Jesus, no. But, you know, if they saw your servant sitting at your
table, they would not wait to look for the why and wherefore, they would
begin to chatter.

--It is true.

--And one likes to be at home when one has anything to say, is it not so,
Monsieur le Cure?

Marcel bent his head:

--You are a girl of sense, and that is why I can behave to you as one
cannot usually with a ... common housekeeper. I am sure that you understand
me. Then, after a moment's hesitation:

--Twice already I have flown into a passion with you, Veronica; it is a
serious fault, and I hope you will consent to forgive it.

--Do not speak of that, Monsieur le Cure, I deserved everything that you
have said to me. It is for me to ask your pardon for not behaving properly
towards you.

--I acknowledge all that you do in my interest: I know how to appreciate
all your good qualities, so I pardon you freely.

--Monsieur le Cure is too good.

--No, I am not too good. For if I were so, I should have behaved
differently towards you. But you know, there is always a little germ of
ingratitude at the bottom of a man's heart. After all, I have considered,
and I believe that with a little good will on one side and on the other, we
can come to an understanding.

--Yes, I am easy to accommodate.

--Let us save appearances, that is essential.

--You are talking to me like Monsieur Fortin. That suits me. No one could
ever reproach me for setting a bad example.

--I know it, Veronica; your behaviour is full of decency and dignity: it is
well for the outside world, and as Monsieur Fortin used to say to you, we
must wash our dirty linen at home.

--Poor Monsieur Fortin.

--That is what we will do henceforth. Come, Veronica. I have made all my
disclosures to you, or very nearly. I have confessed to you my errors, and
you know some of my faults as well as I do. Will you not make your little
confession to me in your turn? You have finished your coffee? Take a little
brandy? There! now sit close to me.

--Monsieur le Cure, one only confesses on one's knees.

--At the confessional before the priest, yes; but it is not thus that I
mean, it is not by right of this that I wish to know your little secrets,
but by right of a friend.

--I am quite confused, Monsieur le Cure.

--There is no Cure here, there is a friend, a brother, anything you wish,
but not a priest. Are you willing?

--I am quite willing.

--You were talking to me lately about my predecessors, and, according to
you, their conduct was not irreproachable. What is there then to say
regarding them? Oh, don't blush. Answer me.

--What do you want me to tell you?

--They committed faults then?...

--I have told you so, sir,--sometimes--like you.

--Ah, Veronica, the greatest saint is he who sins only seven times a day.

--Seven times!

--Seven times, quite as much. You find, no doubt, that I sin much more, but
I am far from being a saint. As to my predecessors, were they no greater
saints?

--Saints! Ah, Jesus! Do you wish me to tell you, sir? Well, between
ourselves, I believe that there are none but in the calendar.

--Oh, Veronica, Veronica.

--Yes, sir, I believe it in my soul and conscience, and I can add another
thing still. If, before they canonized all these saints, they had consulted
their servant, perhaps they would not have found a single one of them.

--What! you, the pious Veronica, you say such things?

--One is pious and staid and everything you wish, but one sees what one
sees. Monsieur Fortin was accustomed to say that no one is a great man to
his _valet de chambre_; and I add, that no one is a saint to his cook. I
tell you so.

--But that is blasphemy, Veronica.

--Blasphemy possibly, but it is the truth, Monsieur Marcel.

--Have you then surprised my predecessors in some act of culpable weakness?

--Oh, holy Virgin! I did not surprise them, it was they on the contrary who
surprised me.

--You!... And how then?

--Monsieur le Cure, you don't understand me. You were speaking of their
weakness, I meant to say that they had taken advantage of mine.

--Ah, here we are, thought Marcel. Is it possible? What! of your weakness?
these ecclesiastics?

--Sir. You are an ecclesiastic too and yet ... if Mademoiselle Suzanne
Durand....

--Don't go on, Veronica. I have asked you not to recall that remembrance to
me. It is wrong of you to forget that.

--Sweet Jesus! I don't want to offend you. I wanted to make you understand
that since you, you have erred, the others....

--And what have they done?

--Ah, it is very simple, Lord Jesus!

--Let us see.

--I hardly know if I ought to tell you that, I am quite ashamed of it.

--Come, let us see, speak ... you have nothing to be afraid of before me
... speak, Veronica, speak.

--Where must I begin?

--Where you like; at the beginning, I suppose.

--There are several of them.

--Several beginnings?

--Yes; I have had three masters, you know.

--Well, with the last one, with Monsieur Fortin, that worthy man whom I
knew slightly.

--He was no better than the rest, Jesus! no.

--The Abbe Fortin?

--Lord God, yes, the Abbe Fortin!

--What has he done then?

--My God ... you know well, that which one does when one ... is a man ...
and has a warm temperament.

--To you, Veronica, to you?

--Alas, sweet Jesus. Ah, Monsieur le Cure, I am so good-natured, I don't
know how to resist. And then, you know, it is so hard for a poor servant to
resist her master, particularly when he is a priest, who holds all your
confidence, and possesses all your secrets, and with whom you live in a
certain kind of intimacy; and besides a priest is cautious, and one may be
quite sure that nothing of what goes on inside the parsonage, will get out
through the parsonage door.

--Assuredly; he will not go and noise his faults abroad.

--And so with us, the priests' servants, who could be more cautious than we
are? We have as much in it as our masters, have we not? and a sin concealed
is a sin half pardoned.

--Yes, Veronica, it was said long ago: "The scandal of the world is what
causes the offence. And 'tis not sinning to sin in silence."

--Those are words of wisdom; who is it who said so?

--A very clever man, called Monsieur Tartuffe.

--I see that. Be must have been a priest, at least?

--He was not an ecclesiastic, but he was somewhat of a churchman.

--That is just as I thought. Certainly we must hide our faults. Who would
believe in us without that? I say _us_, for I am also somewhat a
church-_woman_.

--Undoubtedly.

--I have spent my life among ecclesiastics. My father was beadle at St.
Eprive's and my mother the Cure's housekeeper.

--That is your title.

--Is it not? Then I have the honour to be your maid-servant, and I am the
head of the association of the Holy Virgin.

--No one could contest your claims, Veronica; add to that you are a worthy
and cautious person, and let us return to Monsieur Fortin. Ah, I cannot
contain my astonishment. Monsieur Fortin!... And how did he go to work to
... seduce you? He must have used much deceit.

--All the angels of heavens are witnesses to it, sir, and you shall judge.

L.

MAMMOSA VIRGO!

"The monk could not refrain from admiring
the freshness and plumpness of
this woman. For a long time he made
his eyes speak, and he managed it so
well that in the end he inspired the
lady with the same desire with which
he was burning."

BOCCACIO (_La Decameron_).

Veronica took several sips of the brandy which remained at the bottom of
the cup, collected her thoughts for a moment, and casting her eyes down
with a modest air, she proceeded:

--The good Monsieur Fortin, as perhaps you know, used to drink a little of
an evening.

--Oh, he used to drink!

--Yes, not every day, but every now and then; two or three times a week:
but you know ... quite nicely, properly, without making any noise; he was
gayer than usual, that was all. But when he reached that point, though he
was ordinarily as timid as a lay-brother, he became as bold as a gendarme,
and he was very ... how shall I say?... very enterprising. I may say that
between ourselves, Monsieur le Cure, you understand that strangers never
knew anything about it. If by chance anyone came and asked for him at these
times, I used to say that he had gone out, or that he was ill. One day, I
was finely put out. Christopher Gilquin's daughter came to call him to her
mother who was at the point of death. He took it into his head to try and
kiss her. The little one, who was hardly fifteen, did not know what it
meant. I made her understand that it was to console her, and through pure
affection for her and for her mamma. It passed muster. But when she had
gone I gave it to him finely, and I made him go to bed ... and sharply too.

--And he obeyed you?

--I should think so, and without a word. He saw very well he was wrong. One
evening then ... I had been in his service hardly six months--I must tell
you first that he had looked at me very queerly for some time; I let him do
so and said to myself: "Here is another of them who will do like the rest."
And I waited for it to happen. I was better-looking then than I am now: I
was ten years younger, Monsieur le Cure.

--Ten years younger! but you were thirty then. How could you be a Cure's
servant at that age? Our rules are opposed to it.

--I passed as his relation. And that was tolerated. Besides, when
Monseigneur made his visitation, I did not show myself ... for form's sake,
for Monseigneur knew very well that I was there. I met him once on the
stairs; he took hold of my chin, looked at me very hard, and said in a sly
way: "Here is this little _spiritual sister_ then; faith, she is a pretty
little rogue." I was so bashful. I asked Monsieur Fortin what a _spiritual
sister_ was, and he told me that they used formerly to call women so who
lived with priests. They say that all had two or three _spiritual sisters_.
What indecency! I should not have allowed that.

--Spiritual sister is not exactly the expression, said Marcel, it is
_adoptive sister_, because they were adopted.[1] Alas, Veronica, the clergy
were slightly dissolute in former times: it is no longer so in our days, in
which so many holy ecclesiastics give an example of the rarest virtues.

--Oh, three wives, Monsieur le Cure! three wives! sweet Jesus! they must
have torn out each other's eyes.

--No, Veronica. They agreed very well among themselves. They had different
ideas at that time to what we have now.

--One evening then Monsieur Fortin had drunk at table a little more than
usual. I was going to bring the dessert and I leaned over to take up a dish
which was before him. As the dish was heavy and rather far from my hand, I
supported myself on the back of his chair, and involuntarily I rubbed
against his body with my stomach. "Oh, oh," he said, "if that happens again
I shall pinch that big breast."

--What! Monsieur Fortin used that expression?

--Yes, sir, and many others besides. I blush when I think of it.... Then I
looked at him quite astounded. He began to laugh. I went to look for the
cheese, and I passed again beside him on purpose, and supported myself on
his chair again to place it on the table. "Ah," he cried, "she is beginning
again. _O, mammosa virgo_!"--he repeated it so many times to me that I
remember it--"so much the worse, I keep my promises." And he pinched me.

--Where?

--Where he had said. He made no error. I blushed for shame and drew back as
quickly as possible: "How can he," I said to myself, "use Latin words to
deceive poor women?" Then he cried: "Are you ticklish?"--Yes, sir. "Ah, you
are ticklish. The big Veronica is ticklish! Who would have believed it?"
And he laughed, but I saw clearly that his laugh was put on, and that
something else preoccupied him. And from that moment, each time that I
passed near him and stooped down to clear away, he tried to pinch me where
he could: "And there," he said, "are you ticklish? are you ticklish there?"
I was so stupefied that I could not get over it. "It is a little too much,
Holy Mother of God," I said to myself, "a man like him! to pinch me in this
way! who would believe it! One would not credit it, if one saw it! Ah, I
will see how far he will go, and to-morrow I will give him an account." At
last, when I saw that he would not stop it, and that he was going too far,
I said to him severely: Monsieur le Cure, if you continue to tease me in
this way, you shall see something.

--What shall I see? he said getting up suddenly, I want to see it directly.
Ah, _mammosa virgo_! you threaten your master! Wait, wait, I will teach you
respect.

And, pretending to punish me, he caught hold of as much as he could grasp
with both hands; yes, sir, as much as he could. Ah, I was very angry, God
can tell you so.

--And did he stop?

--Not at all, sir; quite the contrary. I escaped from his hands, and I
turned round the table saying: "Ah, sweet Jesus, what is going to happen?
Divine Saviour! How far will he dare to go?" To complete the misfortune, I
let the lamp fall, and it went out. Then he put himself into a great
passion, and soon caught me. "You have upset the oil," he cried. "I will
teach you to spill the oil." He held me with all his might. Then I got
angry in earnest, in earnest, you know.

--Well?

--Well, that was useless. I was taken like a poor fly. It was too late. It
was all over.

--All over!

--All over. Monsieur Fortin let me go then. Ah! sir, if you knew how
ashamed I was.

[Footnote 1: They are still called _sisters agapetae_ or _subintroduced_
women. Perhaps it is not unnecessary to recall the fact that Gregory VII
was the first of the popes to impose celibacy on the clergy. He nullified
acts performed by married priests and compelled them to choose between
their wives and the priesthood. In spite of this, and in spite of
excommunication with which he threatened them, many kept their wives
secretly, the rest contented themselves with concubines. Besides, the
majority of the bishops, who lived after the same manner, tolerated for
bribes infractions of the rule by the lower and higher clergy. The Council
of Paris, in 1212, forbade them to receive money, proceeding from this
source. At the present time, however, the Catholic priests of the
Greeks-United, those of Libar and different Oriental communions, all under
papal authority, not only may, but must take wives.

St. Paul said: "Choose for priest him who shall have but one wife." Would
he find many of them at the present time?]

LI.

CHAMBER MORALITY.

"Practise moderation and prudence
with regard to certain virtues which
may ruin the health of the body."

THE REV. FATHER LAURENT SCUPOLI (_Le Combat Spirituel_).

--What a strange story, said Marcel. Oh, Veronica. But did you not make
more resistance?

--Resistance! I was lame from it for more than a fortnight. I walked like a
duck. People said to me: "What is the matter with you, Mademoiselle
Veronica? They say you have broken something!" Ah, if they had suspected
what it was.

--What a scandal! Monsieur Fortin!

--He was stronger than I; but I don't give him all the blame. We must be
just. It was my fault too. That is what comes of playing with fire.

--But it seems to me, Veronica, that you displayed a little willingness.

--Ah, Monsieur le Cure, you are scolding me for telling you all this so
plainly. Was it not better for me to act thus, than to let Monsieur Fortin
run right and left and expose himself to all sorts of affronts, as some do?
That man had a temperament of fire. And that temperament must have expended
itself on someone. The business about little Gilquin made me reflect. I
sacrificed myself, and I acted as much in his interests as in the interests
of religion.

--And does not temperament speak in you also, Veronica?

--Ah, that is only told in confession.

--Nevertheless it is fine to rule your passions, to be chaste.

--Ah, yes, as you were saying once when I came in: "Chaste without hope."
All that is rubbish. God has well done all that he has done; I can't get
away from that.

--How can you bring the holy name of God into these abominable things?

--Abominable! that is rubbish again. Monsieur Fortin and I often asked
ourselves what evil that could do to God, when neither of us did any to
other people. Monsieur Fortin used to say to me: "Are we doing evil to our
neighbours, Veronica?" "Not that I know of, Monsieur le Cure." "Are we
causing a scandal?" "Ah, Jesus, no, Monsieur le Cure." "Are we setting a
bad example?" "No, Monsieur le Cure, no." "Are we populating the land with
orphans?" "Oh, as to that, no." "Well then, in what way can we be offending
God?" That was very well said all the same, the more so as his health
depended on it.

--But, replied Marcel, wishing to change the conversation which was verging
upon dangerous ground, have you not told me that you have been in the
service of ecclesiastics for nearly five-and-twenty years. That appears to
me to be very extraordinary for, after all, you are hardly forty.

--Thirty-nine, corrected Veronica, who was past forty-five.

--Reason the more.

--That is true, Monsieur le Cure, but I began early. At fifteen I went to
the Abbe Braqueminet's.

--I was acquainted with a Braqueminet, who was Bishop _in partibus_. A very
worthy prelate.

--That he is, sir; he went to America.

--Come! this is too much, Veronica; you want to make a fool of me. At
fifteen, do you say, that is too much! At thirty you were with the Abbe
Fortin. I have no objection to that, since you passed as his relation,
although with regard to this, our rules are precise, and we cannot take a
housekeeper, till she is over a certain age. Sometimes, it is true, they
smuggle in a few years: but fifteen years!

--It is the exact truth, however, sir. I was fifteen years old, and no more
at the Abbe Braqueminet's, and you will believe me, when I tell you that I
was his niece.

-Monseigneur Braqueminet's niece! you, Veronica?

-Yes, sir, his niece; the Holy Virgin who hears me, will tell you that I
was his niece, and I will explain to you how.

LII.

THE POSSET.

"This little maid, so fair, with teasing ways,
Was made to be a lovely man's support.
For many a foolish thing in former days
He did to gain a face less fair than thine."

BERANGER (_la Celibataire_).

My father, as I have told you, was beadle at Saint Eprive's, and my mother
was servant to Monsieur le Cure. These were two good situations, but they
had a number of children, and not much time to attend to them. Therefore
when I was thirteen, they entrusted me to an old aunt who was willing to
take charge of me. She was servant to Monsieur Braqueminet, who was then at
Mirecourt. She placed me at first with a lady who made me look after her
little children. At the end of a year Monsieur l'Abbe had a change, and
went away to a village near Saint-Die. He said to my aunt: "You cannot
leave Veronica alone at Mirecourt; she will soon be fifteen; she is tall
and nice-looking; she will run too much risk, and we must take her with us;
but as it would make these foolish peasants chatter if their Cure had a
strange young girl in the house, she shall pass as my niece. What do you
say to this proposal?" My aunt was delighted and agreed to it directly, and
all the more because I would have to assist her in the household work, and
that her labour would thus be lightened. They took me away from my
situation, they taught me my lesson, and I went away with them, very
pleased to be Monsieur le Cure's niece. Ah! that was the best time of my
life. My aunt spoilt me, Monsieur le Cure was excessively fond of me, I had
all my wishes. All the ladies in the neighbourhood spoke to me civilly, the
Collector's wife, the lawyer's wife, the Mayoress, the wife of the
exciseman, they all, in short, made much of me. Mademoiselle Veronica here!
Mademoiselle Veronica there! I had my place in the gallery. They invited me
to dinner and they were rivals as to who should make me little presents, as
if I were really his true niece; everybody believed it, and my aunt
herself, by dint of hearing it said, ended by believing it herself, for she
never called me anything else than Mademoiselle Veronica.

Unfortunately after some time my aunt died. When we had both of us wept
copiously for her, Monsieur le Cure said to me: "Now your aunt is dead,
Veronica, what are you going to do?" I made no answer and burst again into
tears. "You must not cry like that, little one, you will spoil your pretty
eyes; will you remain with me? will you continue to be my niece?" That was
my dream; I asked for nothing more. I thanked Monsieur Braqueminet with all
my soul, and told him that as he wanted me to be his niece, I would remain
his niece all my life.--"That is agreed," he said to me, "you shall keep my
little house for me, and I will take another maid-servant for the heavy
work only." For he was so nice to me that he would not allow me to fatigue
myself in anything. Ah, the men, Monsieur le Cure, who can trust the men!
See what he has made of me after all his fine promises: a poor servant,
nothing more.

--Had he then any reason to complain of you?

--To complain of me! ah, sweet Paschal Lamb! Never has he said a word of
reproach. But since I am in the mood to tell you everything, I may as well
do so at once. It was he who had my innocence.

--What! it was not the Abbe Fortin then?

-No, Monsieur le Cure, it was the Abbe Braqueminet.

--And how did he go to work to have your innocence?

--Ah, he was a very clever man. First he knew how to inspire affection, he
was so kind to me. It was I who managed everything. I was mistress of all,
although so young, and, pray believe me, everything proceeded well. But ...
one fine day a real niece turned up, no one knows whence ... and, faith, I
was obliged to retire. I might have made an exposure, but I preferred to
sacrifice myself.

--Was she younger than you then?

--The same age, sir, but she was fresh fruit. She appeared so innocent that
one would have given her the sacrament without confession. Monsieur
Braqueminet, he undertook to give her the Sacrament.... Yes, he undertook
it, that man!...

--But was she really his niece?

--Yes, sir, his own sister's daughter. I have had proofs of it; do you
think I should have gone away, without that? This sister hated me, and I
thoroughly returned it; but when I saw her daughter arrive, I said to
myself: I am well revenged.

--But your innocence.... how did he have it?

--Ah, you are anxious to know that. I must tell you everything then!
everything! this is how it happened. He suffered a little from his chest,
and every evening my aunt used to carry him up a posset. When my aunt was
dead, I was obliged to take her place, for the servant we had taken was
married, and went home at the end of the day. He knew very well what he was
doing, and I, poor little lamb of God, believed everything. I was like a
new-born child. It is not right to be so silly as that. God has punished me
for it: it is quite right. I don't complain at it. So I used to take him up
his posset every evening. Then he used to kiss me and squeeze me to his
heart, calling me his dear niece, and charging me to be good:

--You will always be good? he used to say to me.

--Yes, uncle.

--Always! you promise me.

--Yes, uncle.

--Ah, let me kiss you for that kind promise. I found that he kissed me for
rather a long time and although it was very pleasant to me, still it used
to give me reason for reflection: "How can he love me so much, I thought,
when he is not my uncle?"

You can judge by that if I was not silly. But it is perfectly conceivable,
for I had never been to school, so who was there then to teach me
naughtiness. A young girl's brain is active, and I formed a thousand
fancies of every kind. "Perhaps he has some interest concealed underneath,"
I said artlessly to myself, "and perhaps he does not love me as he wishes
me to believe." I was hardly fifteen, and you see I was quite candid and
simple. I thought I would pretend to be ill, in order to make a trial of
him, and see if he would be grieved and if he would come and nurse me. So
one evening, when he had finished supper, I told him that I was not well,
and that I was going to bed. He was reading his newspaper and did not
appear to hear me. At least he made no reply. I went away very sadly and
sorrowfully, thinking that his affection for me was not very great, as he
did not give the least attention to my complaints. In short, I went to bed.

"He will go to bed too very soon," I said to myself, "he will call for his
posset and he will be obliged to get up to see why I do not bring it to
him."

Indeed, about an hour after, I heard his bell. I wrapped myself up in the
sheets and pretended to be asleep. He rang a second time. "Veronica,
Veronica," he cried, "my posset; what are you doing then? Have you
forgotten it? Veronica!"

I turned a deaf ear.

LIII.

THE LEG.

"One is compelled sometimes to say to oneself,
'On what does ruin or safety depend?'"

J. TOURGUENEFF (_Les eaux printanieres_).

Then I heard him come upstairs cautiously and stop at the door of my room.
All at once he opened it. He remained standing still for a moment, then he
came near my bed on tip-toe.

I half-opened my eyes quickly, and the first thing I saw was his naked
legs--my word, he had a very well-made leg! I looked again and saw that he
was covered with an old black cloak which served him as a dressing-gown.

I closed my eyes again quickly, and, without giving an account of my
feelings, I was overcome by a strong emotion.

My uncle passed his hand over my forehead. He found it burning, for he
cried out directly: "But she is really ill, she is really ill, poor child."
Then leaning over me: "Little one, little one, where are you in pain?"

I pretended to wake up with a start, and I stared wildly at him, as if I
was much surprised to see him there. We women have the instinct of deceit
from birth; believe me, what I tell you is true, Monsieur le Cure.

--It is possible, Veronica.

--Well, then be said to me, "Where are you in pain, little one?" I put my
finger on the pit of my stomach, and replied in a feeble voice "Here."

He put his hand there, and I saw that he moved it about with complacency on
that part.

This touch seemed to make him beside himself, "Oh, the pretty little girl,
the pretty little girl!" he said, "she is ill, poor dear child." And his
hand continued to caress me.

You may think how I was trembling. Although he did it very decently, I said
to myself that it was not altogether proper, but I took good care not to
utter a word. A girl is inquisitive, you know, and I was not displeased to
see what he would come to.

"Will you have a fomentation?" he said to me after a moment. "No, uncle," I
answered, "I feel I am getting better, it is not worth while; I am even
going to get up to make you your posset." "To get up, do you dream of
it?... All the same, perhaps you are right, there is still some fire in my
room: will you come there? you will warm yourself better than in your bed."
"I will, if it does not disturb you." "Disturb me! no, no, don't be afraid
of disturbing me; come, put on a dress and come."

I sat up in bed, thinking that he would go out of the room to let me dress,
but he remained standing in front of me, and his looks frightened me.

I remained sitting on the bed, without stirring. "Well, well, little girl,
you are not getting up?"

"I dare not get up before you, uncle." "Are you silly? What are you afraid
of? Are you not my niece? Come, come, out of bed, little stupid." He said
that in a gentle insinuating voice, and I dared not hesitate any more. I
put one leg out of bed. He followed my movements with the greatest
attention; "Well, well, and that other leg?"

I put out the other leg, blushing all over with shame, and I wanted to take
my petticoat.

But he came near directly and said: "Oh, the lovely little lass, how pretty
she is like this.... You will always be good, will you not?"

"Yes, uncle."

"How pretty you are when you are good. You will always be so? You promise?"

"Yes, uncle."

"Oh, I want to kiss you for that kind promise."

--I held out my cheek to him without resistance, but it was my mouth which
received the kiss. It was followed by a thousand others. One is not of
iron, Monsieur le Cure, and that was how ... I ... lost my innocence.

--What, Veronica, you fell so easily! They say that it is only the first
step which is painful, but it seems hardly to have been painful to you.

--Oh, Monsieur le Cure, we women are full of faults, and we deserve only
eternal damnation.

--I do not say that, Veronica. Certainly in this circumstance all the fault
lies on your seducer, but I should have preferred more struggle on your
part.

--You men are very good with your struggle. To hear you, we never make
enough resistance. Would one not say that the poor women are made of
another paste than you, and that they ought to be harder?

--No, but it is necessary to know how to govern one's passions. That is the
noble, the lofty, the meritorious thing. Resist temptation, everything lies
in that.

[PLATE III: THE LEG. "Oh, the lovely little lass, how pretty she is like
this..."]

[Illustration]

--Everything lies in that, I know it well; but what would you? I had lost
my head entirely like Monsieur Braqueminet. And I did not know what he
wanted, or what he was going to do. I only understood when it was too late.

--Ah, Veronica, you singular woman, you have made me quite beside myself
with your stories.

--It was you who wished it.

--The Abbe Fortin! the Abbe Braqueminet! God of heaven! and who besides?

--The Abbe Marcel!

--Yes, it is true, I also ... I have been on the point of transgressing.
Ah! temptation is sometimes very strong, Veronica, my good Veronica; the
noble thing is to resist.

The greatest saints have succumbed. St. Origen was obliged to employ a
grand means, you know what, my daughter?

--Monsieur Fortin has told me. But you must not act like that saint; that
would be a pity, it would be better to succumb, dear Monsieur Marcel. How I
like your name, Marcel, Marcel, it is so soft to the mouth.

--To resist temptation like Jesus on the mountain....

--There was but one Jesus.

--Like St. Antony in the desert....

--That is rubbish; in the desert no one could tempt him.

--Leave the room, Veronica; since you have talked to me, I understand the
fault of your former masters; leave the room.

--Are you afraid of me then? Angels of heaven, a woman like me. Is it
possible? Ah, I should have been very proud of it.

--Proud to make me sin?

--Sin! Sin! Monsieur le Cure: why do we call that a sin?

She came nearer to him. He wished to rise from his chair, but his hand went
astray, he never knew how, on his servant's waist.

Oh vow of chastity, sentiments of modesty, manly dignity and priestly
virtue, where were you, where were you?

LIV.

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