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The Grip of Desire by Hector France

Part 4 out of 6

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MATER SAEVA CUPIDINUM.

"Well, you have found it, this ephemeral happiness."

BABILLOT (_La Mascarade humaine_).

Sadness succeeds to joy, deception to illusion, the awakening to the dream,
the head-ache to the debauch.

When the crime is perpetrated, remorse, the avenging lash of virtue, comes
and scourges the conscience. "Come, up, vile thing! thou hast slept over
long."

And it exposes to the wretch the emptiness of pleasures, purchased at the
price of honour.

The dawn found the Cure of Althausen groaning secretly to himself on his
couch.

He had made himself guilty of an abominable wickedness, he had just
committed an inexcusable crime, he had succumbed cowardly, ignominiously;
he had betrayed his faith, abjured his priestly oaths, forgotten his
duties, prostituted his dignity on the withered breast of an old corrupted
maid-servant.

Suzanne, the adorable young girl, who in the first place had insensibly and
involuntarily drawn him on the road of perjury, for whom he would have
sacrificed honour, reputation, the universe and his God, he had abjured her
also in the arms of this drab.

And that was the wound which consumed his heart the most.

For as soon as we have yielded to the infernal temptation, the lying prism
vanishes, the halo disappears, and there only remains vice in all its
hideousness and repulsive nudity. It is then that we hear a threatening
voice mutter secretly in the depths of our being.

Happy is he who, already slipping on the fatal descent, listens to that
voice: "Stop, stop; there is still time, raise thyself up."

But most frequently we remain deaf to that importunate cry. And, weary of
crying in vain, conscience is silent. It no more casts its solemn serious
note into the intoxicating music of facile love.

And the wretch, devoured by insatiable desire, pursues his coarse and looks
not back. He goes on, he ever goes on, leaving right and left, like the
trees on the way-side, his vigour and his youth which he scatters behind
him. He set forth young, robust and strong, and he arrives at the
halting-place, worn-out, soiled and blemished. There is the ditch, and he
tumbles headlong into it. He falls into the common grave of cowardice and
infamy. The lowest depths receive him and restore him not again.

Seek no more, for there is no more; the worms which consume him to his gums
have already consumed his brain, and his heart is but gangrened. Disturb
not this corpse, it is only putrefaction.

The poet has said:

"Evil to him who has permitted lewdness
Beneath his breast its foremost nail to delve!
The pure man's heart is like a goblet deep:
Whe the first water poured therin is foul,
The sea itself could not wash out the spot,
So deep the chasm where the stain doth lie."

Marcel had not reached that point, but he felt that he was on a rapid
descent, and made these tardy reflections to himself:

"Shall I ever be able to see the light of day? Shall I ever dare to raise
my eyes after this filthy crime? Oh Heaven, Heaven, overwhelm me. Avenging
thunderbolt of omnipotent God, reduce me to ashes, restore me again to the
nothingness, from which I ought never to have come forth."

But Heaven did not overwhelm him that day, nor was there the slightest
rumbling of thunder. Nature continued her work peacefully, just as if no
minister of God had sinned. The sun, a glorious sun of Spring, came and
danced on his window, and he heard as usual the happy cries of the
pillaging sparrows as they fluttered in his garden.

There was a movement by his side, and he felt, close to his flesh, the
burning flesh of Veronica; she was awake and looking at him with a smile.
She felt no remorse; she was proud and happy, and her eyes burning with
pleasure and want of sleep were fixed on her new lover with restless
curiosity.

[PLATE IV: MATER SAEVA CUPIDINUM. ...he sprang out of bed, surfeited with
disgust.... And she rose also, and ran off to her room, laughing like a
madcap, and carrying her dress and petticoats under her arm.]

[Illustration]

Doubtless she was saying to herself: "Is it really possible? Am I then in
bed with this handsome priest? Is my dream then realised?"

And to assure herself that she was not dreaming, that she was really in the
Cure of Althausen's bed, she spoke to him in mincing tones:

--You say nothing, my handsome master. You seem to be dejected. What! you
are not tired out already?

And she put out her hand to give him a caress. But he sprang out of bed,
surfeited with disgust.

--Ah, true, she said, happiness makes us forgetful. I was forgetting your
Mass.

And she rose also, and ran off to her room, laughing like a madcap, and
carrying her dress and petticoats under her arm.

LV.

IN THE FOOT-PATH.

"'Tis the comer blest where God's creatures dwell,
The wild birds' haunt and the dragon-fly's home,
Where the queen-bee flies when she leaves her cell,
Where Spring in the verdant glades doth roam."

CAMILLE DELTHIL (_Les Rustiques_).

"Abomination of abomination!" murmured Marcel, and he went out in haste; he
would not remain another minute in that cursed house. It seemed to him that
the walls of his room reeked of debauchery, and that everything there was
impregnated with the odour of foul orgies.

He went out of the village, unconscious of his road, like a hunted
criminal; he tried to escape from himself, for that harsh officer, remorse,
had laid vigorous hold of his conscience. Be followed at random the
foot-paths, lined by gardens by which he had passed so many times with
placid brow and a clean heart; he walked on, he walked on, with bare head,
and blank and haggard eyes, thinking of nothing but his crime, seeing
nothing, hearing nothing, not oven the bell which summoned him to his
morning Mass, as it cheerfully filled the air with its silver notes.

The morning was as bright as the face of a bride. May was shedding its
perfumes and flowers on the paths, and displaying everywhere its marvellous
adornments of universal life,--labour and love. The children were already
tumbling about in the foot-paths, the birds were warbling in the hawthorn
hedges, and in the moist grass the grasshopper was saluting the rising sun.

And he, in the midst of all this joy and all this life, was walking on with
his head filled with vague ideas of suicide. A few peasants passed near him
and sainted him: he saw them not; he saw not the children who stopped still
and gazed in bewilderment at his strange appearance: he saw not Suzanne who
was approaching at the end of the path.

She was only a few paces away when he raised his head, and all his blood
rushed to his heart. Vision blessed and cursed at the same time. She, she
there, at the vary moment of the consummation of his shame. She before him
when he had just dug an abyss between them. What should he say? Would she
not read on his troubled face the shameful secret of the drama within? Was
not his crime written on his sullied brow in indelible soars? He would have
wished the earth to open under his feet.

Meanwhile she advanced blushing, perhaps as greatly agitated as himself.

And from the smile on her rosy lips, from the brightness of her dark eyes,
from the gram of her carriage, from the chaste swelling of her bosom, from
the folds of her dress which, blown by the morning breeze, revealed the
harmonious outlines of her fairy leg, from all those inexpressible maiden
charms, there breathed forth that _something_, for which there is no name
in the language of men, but which accelerates the beating of the heart,
which pours into the veins an unknown fluid, and bids us murmur low to the
stranger who passes by, and whom perhaps we may never see again: "My life
is thine, is thine!"

Mysterious sensation, which, in the golden days of youth, we have all
experienced once at least with ravishing delight.

And everything seemed to say to Marcel: "Fool! If thou hadst wished it, we
were thine. The delights of paradise were thine, and thou hast preferred
the impurities of hell!"

Oh, if he had been able, if he had dared, he would have cast himself at
this maiden's feet, he would have kissed her knees, he would have grovelled
on the ground and cried with tears: "Pardon! pardon! Fate has caused it
all. Almighty God will never pardon me, but it is thou whom I implore, and
what matters it, if thou, thou dost pardon me."

The feeling of the reality recalled him to himself. Who was aware of his
fault, and what was there, besides, in common between this young girl and
himself? One evening when alone with her, he had acted imprudently, that
was all, and it was now long ago. Then, through desperation and also to
show that he attached no importance to that act of imprudence which he had
almost forgotten, he assumed an icy demeanour.

She advanced with a smile, but she felt it congeal on her lips before this
insolent coldness, while he, gravely bowing to her as before, a stranger,
passed on.

LVI.

DOUBLE REMORSE.

"Ah, how much better are the love-tales
which we spelt in our eyes with
our hearts."

CAMILLE LEMONNIER (_Croquis d'automne_).

His Mass said, Marcel did not want to return to the parsonage. He made his
way slowly to the wood, absorbed by a world of thoughts. All was quite
changed since the day before, and what a revolution had been wrought in his
soul in one day.

The day before there was still time to stop, there was time to cast far
away temptations and impure desires, to avoid the infernal snares and
ambushes, to take refuge, according to the Apostle's advice, in the bosom
of God; now it was too late, it was no longer in his power; he found
himself hemmed in within the circle of abominations, and he did not see how
he could get forth.

A double remorse tormented him, and wrung his conscience with fierce
fingers.

On the one hand, there was his servant, become his accomplice and his
mistress, an odious thing; his servant defiling his couch, hitherto
immaculate; his couch of a virtuous priest.

Then, on the other, there was the fair pale face of Suzanne, full of
reproaches, surprised and sad. Why had he not stopped? What fury had urged
him forward, cold and scornful, when he burned to hear once again the sound
of that voice which stirred his heart!

And the memory of that meeting, at the very moment of the consummation of
his infamy, was the blow of the lash which laid bare the open wound of his
remorse. He did not curse his crime more than the inopportuneness and the
awkwardness of that crime.

What! be had given himself up to a despicable old woman, he had slaked the
thirst of that ghoul with his generous blood, he had abandoned to that
hell-hag the promises of his young body and his virgin soul, while a young
girl whose like he had never seen but in fairy tales and dreams, came to
him and seemed to say to him: "You may love me."

And he had repulsed her in order to give himself up to the former: that
horrible creature, that hypocrite, that sorceress.

And now that his judgment was calm, he could not understand how he had
allowed himself to be carried away by such clumsy manoeuvres, that he had
fallen in so cowardly a way, and for such an object.

If, at least, it had been in the arms of the lovely school-girl! If his
virtue had melted under the kisses of her charming lips! But no, none of
all that: none of those unparalleled joys, of those ineffable delights, of
those divine and sweet pleasures.

Unclean touches, a withered body, an impure mouth. Lewdness instead of
love.

And his servant's caresses recurred to him and froze him like the infernal
spectres of a hideous nightmare.

He saw again her face, lighted up by amorous fever, her fiery lecherous
look, fastening on him with all the wild fury of her forty-five years, with
the cynicism of the sham saint who has thrown away her mask, and who, after
long fasting, continence and privation, finds at length the means of
glutting herself, and wallows more than any other in the sewer of
obscenities and Saturnalia.

He saw her again like the old courtesan of Horace,

...._Mulier nigris dignissima barris_

soliciting horribly her too avaricious caresses, and employing all the
arsenal of her filthy seduction to excite him.

Meanwhile the hours were passing away. The spirit travels in vain into the
land of phantoms; nature performs her modest functions without caring for
the wanderings of the spirit.

He felt by the pangs of his stomach that he had as yet only breakfasted on
the body of Christ, a meagre repast after a night consecrated to Venus. In
short, he was hungry, and he decided to return to the parsonage.

LVII.

THE EXPLOSION.

"What dost thou want with me, old
vixen, worthy to have black elephants
for thy lovers.... With what passion
dost thou reproach me for my disgust."

HORACE (_Epodes_).

Veronica was waiting for him with a puckered smile. At another time she
would have made a great uproar, for the hour for the meal had struck long
ago; but she did not wish to abuse her freshly conquered rights, and she
contended herself with asking in accents of soft reproach.

--How late you are. Where have you come from? I was beginning to be
anxious.

Marcel made no reply.

--You don't answer me. Why this silence? Are you vexed already? Where have
you come from?

--I have just been reading my breviary, replied Marcel sharply.

The servant smiled, and pointed out to him his breviary, lying on the
table.

--Why tell a lie? she said, I don't bear you any ill-will, because you went
towards the wood, although I should have preferred to see you return here
quickly. Ah, you are not like me, you have not my impatience. But men are
all like that; they do all they can to have a woman, and afterwards they
scorn her.

This sentence struck the Cure to the heart like a pin prick. It opened his
wounds, already bleeding overmuch, it recalled the shameful memory which he
wished to drive away, and which rose up obstinately before him.

--You are changing our parts in a strange manner, he cried indignantly.

--There you are vexed. Why are you vexed? What have I done to you? Have I
said anything wrong to you? Do you then regret? Ah, doubtless I am not
young enough or pretty enough for you.

--I pray; enough upon that shameful subject. You are revolting.

--What do you say? replied the woman, wounded to the quick.

--I have no need to repeat it, you heard me, I think.

--I heard you, it is true, but I thought I was mistaken. Ah! I am
revolting! revolting! Well, I am content to learn it from your mouth. But
it is not to-day that you ought to tell me that, sir, it was yesterday,
yesterday, she cried insolently.

--Yesterday! yesterday! Oh! let us forget yesterday, I implore you. I would
that there were between yesterday and to-day, the night and the oblivion of
the tomb.

--Yes? is that your thought? Well, for my part, I will forget nothing. Oh!
you are pleased to wish to forget, are you? Therefore, you give yourself up
to all your passions, you make use of a poor girl in order to satiate them,
and the next day, when you are tired and weary from your debauchery, with
no pity for the unhappy one who has trusted you, you say: "Let us forget."
Ah! I know you all well, you virtuous gentlemen, you fine priests who
preach continency and morality, you are all just the same, all of you, do
you hear?

--Veronica, be silent, in the name of Heaven.

--I will not be silent, I will not. So much the worse if they hear me. What
does that matter to me, poor unhappy creature that I am? It is not I who am
guilty, it is you. It is not I who am charged to teach morality, it is you.
It is not I who preach fine sermons on Sunday about chastity and purity and
morals, and who hide myself behind the shutters to watch half-naked
tumblers dancing in the market-place, who entice little girls at night
under some pretest or other, and who kiss them when the servant has turned
her back. Yes, yes, you have done that. I blush for you. And you are
Monsieur le Cure! Monsieur le Cure. If that wouldn't make the hens laugh.
Ah, what does it matter to me that they hear me telling you the truth, it
is not I who will be despised by everybody, it will be you. Have I gone and
sought for you, have I? You have made me tell you a lot of stories which
ought not to be told except in confession, you have made me sit down beside
you, drink brandy,... and then afterwards you have taken advantage of me.
Yes, you have taken advantage of your maid-servant, a poor girl who has
been all her life the victim of priests like you. No, I will not be silent,
I will cry it upon the house-tops, if I must. Ah! you have taken me like a
thing which one makes use of when convenient, and which one throws away,
when one has no more need of it: I understand you; but I have more
self-respect than that, although I am only a poor servant.

You want to forget. Very good. But I do not want to forget, and I shall not
forget. Oh, I well know what it is your want, Messieurs les Cures; you want
young girls, quite young girls, green fruit, which you pick like that at
the Confessional, or in some corner, without appearing to touch it, and all
the while praying to God. I am aware of that, you know. You cannot teach
any tricks to me. You did not get up early enough, my good master. Your
Suzanne! there is what would please you. You would not tell her that she is
revolting. Affected thing! But they will give you them, wait a little. _Go
and see if they are coming, Jean_. The little girls come like that and
throw themselves at your neck! You would allow it perhaps. That is what
would be revolting. But the mammas are watching, and the papas are opening
their eyes. You hear, Monsieur le Cure? The papas; that is what annoys you.
Papa Durand.

--Here! cried a voice of thunder from the bottom of the stair-case, and it
resounded in Marcel's ears like the trumpet of the last judgment.

Pale and terrified, he questioned Veronica with his eyes.

--It is he, she said, hurrying to the landing-place.

LVIII.

PROVOCATION.

"For her, for her I will drink the cup to the dregs."

A. DE VIGNY (_Chatterton_).

--A thousand pardons, said the Captain, but the door was open and I have
knocked twice. Monsieur le Cure, I have the honour to salute you. I am not
disturbing you?

--Not at all, Monsieur le Capitaine, quite the contrary, I am happy to see
you; please come in, stammered Marcel, trying to conceal his confusion, and
to look pleasantly at the old soldier. He eagerly brought forward an
arm-chair for him, the one on which Suzanne had sat.

"Ah," he thought, "if he knew that his daughter was there, at this same
place!"

The Captain sat down, and, tapping his cane on the floor, seemed to be
seeking for a way of entering on his subject; he appeared anxious, and
Marcel noticed that he no longer had his decisive scoffing manner.

--Monsieur le Cure, he said after a moment's silence, you must be a little
surprised to see me ... although, after what I believe I heard, I may not
be altogether a stranger here.

--My parishioners are no strangers, Captain.

--Parishioner! oh, I am hardly that. I was not making allusion to that
title, but to my name, which was uttered at the very moment when I was at
your door.

--Your name, Captain, said Marcel growing red; but there are several
persons of your name.

--That is what I said to myself. There is more than one donkey which is
called Neddy, and more than one _Papa_ Durand in the world. _Papa_! that
recalls to me my position as father, sir, and the purpose of my presence
here.

Marcel trembled.

--For you may guess that independently of the pleasure of paying you a
call, I have moreover another object in view.

--Proceed, Captain.

--Yes, sir. I wish to talk to you about my daughter.

--About your daughter! cried Marcel.

--About my daughter, if you allow me.

--Do so, I beg of you.

--Monsieur le Cure, you have been in this neighbourhood some six or eight
months. People have certainly spoken to you about me; they have told you
who I am; a miscreant, a man without religion, who regards neither law or
Gospel: that is to say, only worth hanging. In spite of that, you came to
see me. Very good. You know that I do not pick and choose my words, that I
do not seek a lot of little twisting ways to express my meaning. You have
had a proof of it. I am blunt, and even brutal, that is well known; but I
am open and true.

--I do not doubt it, Captain.

--After our little conversation the other day, you must have decided on my
sentiments with regard to those of your profession. Are those sentiments
right or wrong? That is my business. I am not come to begin a controversy,
I am come to ask for an explanation.

--Please go on, said Marcel alarmed.

--Not liking the priests, I should have wished to bring up my daughter in
these principles. You see I am straightforward. Unfortunately, like many
other things, her education has slipped out of my hands. We soldiers do not
accumulate property, and those who have the best share, if they have no
private fortune, remain as poor as Job. We are not able therefore to bring
up our children as we intend. The State, in its solicitude, is willing to
undertake this care: we are glad of it, and we are thankful to the State;
but our children slip out of our hands; they become what the State wishes
them to be, that is to say, its humble servants, and, if they are
daughters, anything but what their father has ever dreamed.

Marcel breathed again:

--The vocation of children, he said softly, is often in contradiction to
the wishes of parents, and that is precisely the sign of the real vocation
... to shatter obstacles. Where is the great artist, the great man, the
hero, the saint, the martyr, who has not had to struggle with his own
family?

--I am not speaking of a vocation, sir, but of prejudices, of fatal habits,
of disheartening nonsense, which children, and especially young girls,
imbibe in certain surroundings. The education which my daughter has
received, has inoculated her with ideas which I am far from blaming in a
woman--I have my religion myself too--but the abuse of which I resent. I am
not then at war with my daughter because she has her own, and her own is
more receptive, but what I blame with all my power, and what I am
determined to oppose with all my power is the excessive attendance at
church and on the priest ... on the priest, above all. You are a man, sir,
and you understand me, do you not?

--I understand, Captain, that you do not wish your daughter to go to
church.

--As little as possible, sir.

--Nevertheless, as a Christian and as a Catholic, she has duties to
perform.

--What do you mean by duties?

--Why, the first elements which the Catechism prescribes.

--I do not remember exactly what your catechism prescribes, but if you mean
by that the little box where they tell their sins, that is exactly what I
absolutely forbid.

--Nevertheless a young person has need of counsel.

--Undoubtedly; but that counsel I intend to give myself.

--There is also the priest's part, Captain.

--Allow me to have another opinion. Besides, the adviser is too young; that
is why, Monsieur le Cure, I ask you to abstain in the future from all
advice, and undertake to abandon any intention you may have with regard to
the direction of this young soul. Such is the purport of my visit.

--Monsieur le Capitaine, answered Marcel, relieved from a great weight, I
am an honourable man. Another perhaps might be offended at this proceeding.
I will take no offence at it. Another perhaps might answer: "It is a soul
to contend for with Satan; it is the struggle between the Church and the
family; an old struggle, sir, an eternal struggle. You are master to impose
your will among your own, just as among us, we are masters to act according
to our conscience. As a father of a family, your rights are sacred, but
they stop at the entrance to the holy place. You desire the struggle. It
lies between us." For myself I simply reply: "Let it be done according to
your wish, and may the will of God equally be done!"

--And what does that mean?

--That your daughter is and shall be in my eyes like all the souls which
Heaven has willed to entrust to my care. If she does not come to church, I
will not go to seek her; but if she comes there, I cannot ask her to
depart.

--You are really too good. And if she comes and kneels in the little box?

--Then the will of God will be stronger than the paternal will.

--That is no answer.

--Well! what can I do? humbly replied Marcel.

--Allow me, sir; I ask you what you would do in such a case.

--I make you the judge of it; can I treat your daughter differently to the
other ladies of the parish?

--That is to say that you will receive her confession?

--That will be my duty, Captain. I am frank also, you see.

--But, Monsieur le Cure, the first of your duties is not to encourage the
disobedience of children, and not to place yourself between a father and
his daughter.

--I place myself on no side, Captain. I confine myself, as far as I can, to
the very obscure and modest character of a poor priest. I am charged with
an office; is it possible, I ask you yourself, for me to repel those who
address themselves to that office?

--Very good, sir, said the Captain rising; I know henceforth what to rely
on.

--Pardon me, Captain, but allow me to say that your proceedings and
apprehensions appear to me a trifle superfluous; for indeed, if you have a
reproach to make your daughter, it is not that of excessive devotion, for
it is a long time since she has come to church.

--I have forbidden it to her, sir. But my daughter is grieved, and that
pains me. I came to address myself to you, man to man, and as you see, I am
disappointed.

--Believe me, Captain, let the thing alone. Do nothing in a hurry. Young
people are irritated by obstacles. They need freedom and diversion. Think
of this young lady's position, dropped from her school into the midst of
this solitude, having neither friends or companions any longer; at that
age, the family is not everything; books, walks, music are not sufficient,
What harm is there in her coming sometimes on Sunday, to hear Divine
Service? We do not conceal it from ourselves, sir, that many women whom we
see at service, come there for relaxation.

--And it is precisely that relaxation which ruins them.

--Not in the church, sir.

--Not there, no. But behind, in the sacristy, or at the back of some
well-closed room. Adieu, sir.

--I do not want to criticize your language, Captain But one word more, I
ask. Is your daughter acquainted with your proceeding?

--Why that question?

--Because then my task will be all traced out.

--What task?

--To avoid every sort....

--Of intercourse. Do what honour counsels you, and trust to me for the
rest. I will act with my daughter as it will be suitable for me to act. As
for you, you have asserted that any other priest _less honourable_ would
have said to me: "We are going to engage in the struggle, it lies between
us." I see now that in your mouth the word _honourable_ signifies _polite_,
for you have been polite, but the other alone would have been frank and
honourable. "Between us" is better, "between us" pleases me. It is plainer
and shorter. Again, I have the honour to salute you.

LIX.

ACTS AND WORDS.

"Intrigues of heavy dreams! We go
to the right; darkness: we go to the
left; darkness: in front; darkness ...
the thread which you think you hold,
escapes out of your hand, and, triumphant
for a moment, you set yourself
again to grope your way to the catastrophe,
which is a denseness of shadows."

CAMILLE LEMONNIERE (_Croquis d'automne_).

When the Captain had gone away, Marcel perceived the triumphant face of his
servant. Mad with shame and rage he shut himself up in his room, and asked
himself what was going to become of him. "What am I to do?" he said to
himself; "here is the punishment already."

Nevertheless, on serious reflection, he saw a way all traced out before
him; it was the ancient, the good, the old way which he had followed until
then, and into which the Captain had just brutally driven him back:

The way of his duty.

To forget Suzanne! He had that very morning, without wishing it, almost
unknowingly, commenced the rapture; the father's visit had just completed
the work.

To forget Suzanne! Yes, he would forget her, he must; not only his honour,
his reputation, but his very existence were involved in it. Material
impossibilities rose up before him in every direction where he tried to
deviate from the straight path. His servant! The father! He was compelled
to be an honourable man anyhow, not lost sight of, watched and spied upon
by these two enemies.

To forget Suzanne! How, after what had passed the previous day, would he
dream for a moment of remembering her? He was almost thankful to his
servant for having stopped him in time on a descent, at the end of which
was scandal and dishonour.

In any other circumstances his pride would have revolted at the menaces of
the foolish father, he would have been stung in his self-esteem, and he
would have disputed with him for his treasure. But where was his pride?
Where was his dignity? He had left all that on the lap of a cook.

Reputation was safe; that was henceforth the only good which he must keep
at any price.

"Come," said he, "keep it, have courage. Stand up, son of saints and
martyrs. Yield not, hesitate not, march forward, without being anxious for
what is on the right or left. Do thy duty in one direction, since in the
other thou hast failed. Is a man then lost because he has for one moment
deviated from his way? Is he dead for one false step? Peter denied his
master three times, thou hast done so but once!"[1]

The postman's ring drew him from his reverie. He ran to receive the letter,
recognized the writing, hastily put it into his pocket, took up his hat and
his breviary, and went out without saying a word.

When he was in the little hollow road which is at the bottom of the hill,
he turned round, and, certain that he was not being followed, only then did
he open the letter which follows:

"MONSIEUR LE CURE,

"Why are you vexed with me? If you have not seen me any more at Mass, it is
that I have had to contend with my father, and that I have been obliged to
yield. Nevertheless, I am unhappy, and more than ever have I need of your
counsel. You have said: 'We cannot serve two masters,' and 'it is very
difficult to render to Caesar that which is Caesar's, and to God that which
is God's.' One word, if you please, through the medium of Marianne to

"Your very devoted

"S.D."

He tore up the letter into the smallest fragments and returned home in all
haste.

A few hours after, Marianne received the following notice:

_"To-morrow evening at 7 o'clock, in honour of the Holy Virgin, there will
be Salutation and Benediction at the Chapel of St. Anne. The faithful are
besought to attend."_

[Footnote 1: Thou art man and not God, says the holy book of Consolation,
thou art flesh and not an angel. How canst thou always continue in very
virtue?]

LX.

TALKS.

"When from the hills fell balmy night,
'Neith the dark foliage of the lofty trees,
Starred by the moon-beams' placid light,
Often we wandered by the water's side."

CAMILLE DELTHIL (_Poesie inedite_).

As he expected, she did not fail to be at the meeting-place. She was
unaware of her father's proceedings; it was Marcel who informed her of
them. She was quite terrified; but he reassured her, and knew how to soothe
her young conscience; and meeting followed meeting. Dear and innocent
meetings. The most prudish old woman would have found nothing to find fault
with. The mystery, and their being forbidden, formed all their charm.

The Chapel of St. Anne, half-a-league distant from the village, was a
charming object for a walk. You cross the meadow as far as the little
river, bordered with willows, then the chapel is reached by a hollow lane
hedged with quicksets. The sweet month of May had begun. Three evenings a
week the little nave was in festal dress, and filled with light, and
perfumes and flowers.

Suzanne went no more to Mass, but she had said to her father:

--Will you not let me go instead and take a walk sometimes beside Saint
Anne's, to hear the music and the singing of the congregation?

--Marianne shall accompany you, replied Durand.

They were always the last to leave the chapel, and Marcel soon rejoined
them. It was at some winding of the path that he used to meet them _by
chance_, and every time he showed great surprise. They walked slowly along,
talking of one thing and another. The Spring, the latest books, the _good_
Captain's rheumatism, were themes of inexhaustible variety. The future
sometimes attracted their thoughts, her own future; and the priest tried to
cause a few fresh rays to shine into the young unquiet soul.

They talked also of the school and of friends who had gone out into the
world. One of them, a fair child with blue eyes, was her best-beloved and
the fairest of the fair, and Marcel sometimes felt jealous of these warm,
young-girl friendships.

He did not disdain to talk of fashions; it is one way of pleasing, and he
admired aloud the elegant cut of the waist, the twig of lilac fastened to
the body of her dress, and the graceful art which had twined her long jetty
plaits. She smiled and said: "What, you too; you too; you pay attention to
these woman's trifles!"

But what matters the topic of their conversations, all they could say was
not worth the joyous note which sang at the bottom of their hearts.

When they drew near the village he bowed to her respectfully, and each one
returned by a different way.

Marianne was then profuse in her praises:

-What a fine Cure! she said, so kind and civil. If your father only knew
him better!

And Suzanne, who returned very thoughtful, said once: "The Cure! can it be?
It is the Cure then."

LXI.

LE PERE HYACINTHE.

"She still preserved for herself that
little scene; thus, little by little, we
accumulate within ourselves all the
elements of the inner life."

EMILE LECLERCQ (_Une fille du peuple_).

She had shown Marcel the portrait of her beloved Rose. "Yes, she is very
pretty," he had replied, "but I prefer dark girls ..." Suzanne blushed. He
opened his breviary and drew out a card.

--Are you going to show me a dark girl? she said.

He handed it to her without answering.

It was the photograph of a man of about forty, with strongly-marked and
characteristic features. The eyes, prominent and slightly veiled, were
surrounded with a dark ring, a token of struggle, fatigue and deception. A
profile out of a picture of Holbein in every-day dress.

--It is a priest, she cried.

--It is a priest, indeed, answered Marcel. We are recognized in any
costume. We cannot conceal our identity. Do you know who that is?

--Is it not that monk who has made such a noise? That Dominican who has
married, and broken with the Church?

--Yes, Mademoiselle.

The young girl regarded it with curiosity.

--It must have been a violent passion to come to that, she said.

--No, it was an idea well resolved upon and matured. No transport of youth
carried him away. See, he is no longer young, and the companion he has
chosen is very nearly his own age, and he had for her only a tender and
holy feeling.

--Why then this uproar and scandal?

--In order to protest aloud against a rule which he did not approve. In our
days there are so many cowardly and degenerate characters, that we cannot
too greatly admire those who have the courage to proclaim their opinion in
the presence of the mob, especially when those opinions shock the
brutalized mob; for my part I admire this man; but what I admire still more
is the woman who has dared to put her hand in his, and brave the derision
of the vulgar, and the calumnies of hypocrites.

--But his vows?

--What is a vow when it is a question of the duty which your conscience
dictates? I heard him say one day: "If, after reaching middle age, I have
decided after long reflection to choose a companion, it is not in response
to the cry of the senses, but in order to sanctify my life." He has taken
back the word which he had given, as we all do, at an age when we are
ignorant of the import, and the consequence of that word. Be assured that
his conscience does not reproach him, for you can see on this fine
countenance that his conscience is at rest. Besides, is it the case that
God enjoins celibacy? The celibacy of priests dates only from the year
1010: Christ never speaks about it.

--And so he has broken with all his past, his relations, his world; he has
ruined what you men call his future. He must begin his life again.

--And he begins it again in accordance with his inclinations, his needs and
his heart: It is never too late to change the road when we discover that we
have taken the wrong way. It takes longer time, there is more hardship, but
what matters it, provided we attain happiness, the end which we all have in
view. Ah, Mademoiselle, how many, like he, would wish to begin their life
again, if they found a courageous soul who was willing to accompany them?
The future, do you say? But the future, the present, the past, the whole
life lies in the sweet union of hearts. To devote oneself, to renounce
everything, to give up everything, even one's illusions, one's beliefs,
one's dreams for the loved object, is not a sacrifice: it is the sweetest
of joys and the noblest of duties.

He stopped, fearing that he had gone too far, and did not dare to look at
Suzanne.

She answered coldly. "Ah, Monsieur le Cure, you approve of that! I did not
think you would have approved of Pere Hyacinth; truly, I am astonished."

_Monsieur le Cure_! It was the first time Suzanne had called him _Monsieur
le Cure_. That name wounded him like an affront. He remembered what he was,
and what he must not cease to be in the eyes of the young girl: the Cure!
nothing but the Cure.

And he was sick at heart for several days.

But one fine morning, on coming out from Mass, his countenance lit up, he
uttered a cry of joy and fell into the arms of Abbe Ridoux.

LXII.

THE HAPPY CURE

"Such was Socrates said to have
been, because the outside beholders,
and those estimating him by his external
appearance, would not have given the
slice of an onion, so plain was he in
his person, and ridiculous in his bearing ...
simple in habits, poor in fortune,
unfortunate with women, unfit
for all the offices of the republic,
always laughing, always drinking with
one or another, always sporting, always
concealing his divine wisdom."

RABELAIS (_Gargantua_).

Monsieur Ridoux was a very good fellow, but he was not handsome. A big
nose, a big belly, blinking eyes, an enormous mouth, hair on end, the arm
of a chimpanzee, and the legs of a Greenlander. At first sight, he gave me
the impression of a monkey with young.

But what is a man's outward form? The vessel, more or less regular, filled
with a baneful or beneficent liquid, and you all know that the shape of the
flagon has no influence on the quality of the wine.

The outward form is the wrapper of the goods: very often that wrapper is
brilliant and gilded, of satin or watered silk, and the goods are
adulterated and spoiled. At other times the wrapper is rough and coarse,
but it enfolds precious commodities.

The stamp of genius is usually found only on countenances with fantastic
features. Have you ever seen on the fair insipid faces of our _young
swells_ the imprint of a powerful and fertile intelligence?

The body nearly always is adorned at the expense of the mind.

Of all the deformities of nature, the hunchbacks are intellectual in
proportion as the handsome men are not.

Enquire of the army its opinion on its pre-eminently _fine man_, the
drum-major.

Vincent Voiture, who had, as he confessed himself, the silly face of a
dreaming sheep, used to say that nature usually likes to place the most
precious souls in ill-favoured, puny bodies, as jewellers set the richest
diamonds in a small quantity of gold.

Accordingly, the pitiful wrapper of the Abbe Ridoux covered an excellent
soul. With his ugly face and his old stained cassock, he reminded me of
those dirty bottles, coated with spider-webs and dust, which we place
daintily on the table on days of rejoicing, and which lord it majestically
among the glittering decanters, soon to be despised, when their dusty sides
appear.

Thus Monsieur Ridoux lorded it amongst his curates, younger, handsomer,
fresher, more tasty than himself, and eclipsed them by all the brilliancy
of his good-sense, his tact, and his experience.

He had certainly his little failings!... Who can say that he is exempt from
them? But his mind was sound. A good companion, besides, and of a cheerful
disposition. "We have reached a period," he used to say, "when the priest
must lay aside the stern front and the anathema. There is already much to
obtain pardon for in the colour of his robe. Let us be cheerful, let us be
insinuating, let us be compassionate to human weaknesses. Let us sin, if
need be, with discretion and propriety; but, in heaven's name, let us not
terrify. Let us promise paradise to all. There are always plenty enough
whose life is a hell."

In that he was not of Veuillot's opinion, that rigid saint, who wished to
see all the world damned for the love of God.

Therefore, on seeing this cheerful countenance, this openness of manner,
this freedom of speech, this unrestrained good-nature, even those who had
been warned, could not help saying: "Well indeed! this Cure has a pleasant
phiz!"

Slanderous tongues, Voltairians--who is sheltered from the stings of that
race of vipers?--slanderous tongues affirmed that beneath this Rabelaisian
exterior, he was profoundly vicious, artful, and hypocritical. Marcel, who
had been brought up by him, and was acquainted with the most secret details
of his inmost life, has always assured me that he was nothing of the kind,
and that his uncle Ridoux, endowed with the ugliness of Socrates, had also
his wisdom.

Nevertheless, I would not dare to assert that he did not like to pinch the
young girls' chins, especially of those who had made their first communion
and were near to the marriageable age; a familiarity which, thanks to his
gray hairs, and the development of his abdomen, he thought was permitted
him, but which, however, is not always without danger.

Cazotte, a wise man, used to say to his daughters: "When you are alone with
young people, distrust yourselves; but if you find yourselves with old men,
distrust them, and avoid allowing them to take hold of your chin."

Cazotte was right, for old men begin with that. I would not dare either to
assert that the charms of his cook were safe from his indiscreet curiosity,
for it is there too that old men finish; and we must swear not at all.
Everybody knows the wise man's precept: "When in doubt, abstain."

At the period of which I am speaking to you, he reigned in a good parish,
well frequented by devout ladies, both young and middle-aged, where from
the height of his pulpit he laid down his laws to his kneeling people,
without hindrance or control.

He was happy, as all wise men ought to be. Happy to be in the world,
satisfied to be a Cure. "It is the first of professions," he often used to
say, and there is not one of them which can be compared to it.

"I am a village Cure,
Where I live most modestly;
I'm no important person,
But I'm happy and content
No, I do not envy aught,
For my wants they are but small.
How I love to pass my days
Within the house of God!"

But if he had complained, it would have been very hard, and everybody in
the diocese, from Monseigneur the Bishop to his sexton, would have risen
with indignation and called him, "Ungrateful wretch." For Ridoux was
favoured above all his colleagues; above all his colleagues Divine
Providence bad overwhelmed him with its favours. He possessed in his
parish, in his very church, at his door, beneath his eyes, beneath his
hand, a real blessing from Heaven, a grace of God, a Pactolus always
rolling down a mine of Peru, a secret of an alchemist, the veritable
philosopher's stone caught sight of by Nicolas Flamel, and vainly sought
for till the time of Cagliostro, a marvel which made him at once honoured
and envied, which made his name celebrated, which gave him a preponderant
voice in the Chapter and a place in the episcopal Council, which swelled
his heart with pride and his money-bag with crowns; he had in the choir of
his church behind the mother altar, in a splendid glass-case, laid on a bed
of blue velvet ... an old yellow skeleton! The relics of a saint.

But there are saints and saints; those which do miracles, and those which
do them not, those which work and those which rest.

Monsieur Ridoux's saint worked.

LXIII.

THE MIRACLES.

"Miracles have served for the foundation,
and will serve for the continuation
of the Church until Antichrist,
until the end."

(_Pensees de PASCAL_).

The miserable herd of free-thinkers, people who have no faith, those who
are still plunged in the rut of unbelief, are ignorant perhaps that all the
saints have done miracles, that they have all begun in that way, that that
is the condition _sine qua non_, for entrance into the blessed
confraternity.

No money, no Swiss; no miracles, no saint. It is in vain that during all
your life you shall have been a model of candour and virtue; it is in vain
that you shall edify the universe by your piety and your good works, that
you shall have resisted like St. Antony the temptations of the flesh, that
you shall have covered yourself with hair-cloth like St. Theresa, with
venom like St. Veuillot, with filth like St. Alacoque or with lice like St.
Labre: it is in vain that you shall have been beaten with rods like St.
Roche, been scourged by your Confessor like St. Elizabeth, that finally you
shall have sinned only six instead of seven times a day; if at your death
you should not succeed in performing some fine miracle, you will never be
admitted into the Calendar.

The Pope causes your shade to appear before his sacred tribunal, and
according as the number of the dead whom you have raised to life is judged
sufficient or not, as the touch of your tibia or coccyx has cured the itch
or scrofula or not, you are admitted or excluded.

It is a difficult profession to be a saint, and is not for anyone who
wishes it.

Therefore, the candidates who die in the odour of sanctity hasten to
accomplish their regular total of prodigies, in order that our father the
Pope may be pleased to assign them a place in the highest heaven.

They have hardly closed their eyes before they begin to _operate_. Allured
by the hope of being crowned with a glorious halo, they display infinite
zeal, and we have seen them, from their tooth-stumps to their prepuce,
effecting the most marvellous miracles.

That of Jesus Christ--I speak of the prepuce--is preserved thus in several
churches; all of which contend for the honour of possessing the veritable
one. It is not yet exactly known which is the best; but all without
distinction work wonders, and at certain seasons of the year, are kissed by
pious young women.[1]

But this noble zeal of the saints lasts but for a time, and this is a proof
of the imperfection of human kind, that our faults and whims follow us even
beyond the tomb.

The saints, themselves, fall into all the little meannesses so common with
the most ordinary sinners. Like candidates who solicit the votes of the mob
in order to gain power, and make the most brilliant promises which they
hasten to forget as soon as they have climbed the stairs, so the candidates
for canonization perform marvels at first, but once admitted into the
seventh heaven, they appear to trouble themselves no more concerning lowly
mortals.

Or perhaps miraculous properties are like all other faculties, as they grow
old they become worn-out, and an _elect_ who has stoutly brought the dead
to life when he was only an aspirant for honours, is now only capable of
curing the ringworm.

But, as I have said, it was a zealous candidate that the Abbe Ridoux had in
his church. His bones had been there for fifty years, and as the longed-for
time for his canonization had not yet arrived, and he had as yet only the
rank of _blessed_, his zeal had not grown cold.

Each saint, we all know, has his medical speciality, like Ricord, for
instance, or Dr. Ollivier.

Suppose you are suffering from ophthalmia, and instead of consulting a
physician, you pray to God, in hopes that God will cure you.

You are wrong, that does not concern God. It is the business of St. Claire,
who has the principal management of the sight of the faithful.

You are paralyzed, and you commend yourself to your patron saint. "You must
not address yourself to me, that one answers. Go to the other office. See
St. Marcel (or _Marchel_), to make the impotent walk is entrusted to him."

And so one after another:

St. Cloud cures the boils; St. Cornet, the deaf; St. Denis, anemia; St.
Marcou, diseases in the neck; St. Eutropus, the dropsy; St. Aignan, the
ringworm, and it is generally admitted that we ought to pray on All Saints
Day to be preserved from a cough.[2]

And observe how the good people of France are always the most enlightened
and intelligent people in the universe!

The speciality of Monsieur Ridoux's candidate was broken legs, girls in
complaints of childhood, and fluxes of the womb. That was what he healed,
but he must not be asked for anything else; besides fluxes of the womb,
sprains, and girls in complaints of childhood, he did not attend to
anything.

That is conceivable; one cannot do everything.

It is quite unnecessary to state that he did not give all his consultations
free, and that he did not work for fame alone. No one was constrained to
pay, it is true; but it would have been a very unhandsome thing not to make
a preliminary contribution to Monsieur le Cure's poor-box.

Little presents have always maintained friendship, and there is nothing
like sterling silver to predispose the benevolence of the saints and the
love of heaven in our favour.

While on the contrary:

A poorly furnished niche affronts the saint:
The God deserts, and when we enter, shows
His anger from the door of his poor shrine.

He no longer worked every-day, but on fete-days.

All the cripples came from twenty leagues round, and there were miracles
then for crutches.

As in the time of Paris the deacon, when Cardinal de Noailles kept a
register of the wonders of St. Medard's Cemetery, a churchwarden of the
place, assisted by two secretaries and the corporal of Gendarmes,
religiously inscribed the miraculous cures of the saint on a magnificent
volume.

_Credible_ witnesses attested these prodigies and, if necessary, gave
details to the incredulous.

If all were not cured, they had the hope of being so, which was a
consolation.

"And then," whispered Monsieur Ridoux in the ear of sceptics, "if the
touching of these blessed bones produces no benefit, you are sure it will
do no harm, and you cannot say the same of your doctor's drugs."

[Footnote 1: The Holy Prepuce is at Rome in the Church of St. John Lateran;
it is also at St. James of Compostelia in Spain; at Anvers; in the Abbey of
St. Corneille at Compiegne; at Our Lady of the Dove, in the diocese of
Chartres, in the Cathedral of Puy-en-Velay; and in several other places
(Voltaire, Dictionnaire philosophique).

The Able X...., author of _Maudit_ also places the holy fragment in the
church of Chanoux (Vienne) and asserts that a Bishop of Chalone in the 18th
century threw a pattern of it into the river.]

[Footnote 2: Ainsi parchait a Sinay un caphar, qui Sainct Antoine mettoit
le feu es jambes; Sainct Eutrope faisait les hydropiques; Sainct Gildas les
fols; Sainct Genou les gouttes. Mais je le punis en tel exemple, quoi qu'il
m'appelast heretique, que depuis ce temps caphar quiconque n'est ause
entrer en mes terres.

Et m'esbahi si vostre roi les laisse perscher par son royaulme tels
scandales. Car plus sont a punir que ceulx qui par art magique ou sultre
engin auraient mis la peste par le pays. La peste ne tue que le corps, mais
tels imposteurs empoisennent les ames. (Rabelais).]

LXIV.

THE TWO AUGURS.

"I am surprised that two augurs
can look at one another without laughing."

CATO.

--Ave Marcellus! said the old Cure, giving his nephew a paternal embrace;
how are you, my poor boy?

--I am very well, replied Marcel.

--No! your servant has told me that you have been unwell for some time.

--She is really too kind. You have been talking to her then?

--Yes, while waiting for you. She seems to me a worthy and intelligent
person, but a little irritated with you. Do you live badly together?

Marcel coloured.

--Come, the blush of holy modesty is covering your face. Don't do so,
child, don't we all know what it is, my dear fellow?

--Indeed, much you ought to know what these women are. They are
cross-grained and stubborn, and claim to be the mistresses of the house,
especially with priests younger than themselves.

--That is the inconvenience of our condition, Monsieur le Cure. What will
you? We must pass it over. But, tell me, she is not so _old_ as that. Ah,
come, the maiden's blush again! I do not want to offend your virtuous
feelings any longer, and I am going to talk to you about something else.
You know I have centred all my ambition on you, that I occupy myself about
you only, and that together with my saint and my salvation, you are the
sole object of my care. Therefore, you can explain my indignation and wrath
at seeing my pupil buried in this frightful village, at seeing you
extinguishing your brilliant qualities, having no other stimulant for your
intellect than your Sunday sermons and your stupid peasants, no other
emotion than your disputes with your cook. I have therefore asked of the
Lord one thing only, only one. _Unam petii a Domino, hanc requiram_. You
know what it is--your promotion. Well, Monsieur le Cure. I come to tell you
that everything is going as it were on wheels.

--Really? said Marcel indifferently.

--Just think. The day before yesterday a letter reached me from the Palace.
It was Monseigneur's secretary, little Gaudinet, who wrote to me. You know
Gaudinet?

--No, uncle.

He is not a bad fellow, but a devil to intrigue. Well, as he knows the
interest I take in you, and as he wants to creep up my sleeve, because he
hopes soon to take the place of one of my curates, he wrote to me that
Monseigneur had spoken of you with interest, and that he proposed to put an
end to your exile. I recognize there the Comtesse de Montluisant's good
offices. You see that she has lost no time, and so we will do the same; we
most strike the iron while it is hot; you are going to get your bag and
baggage, and take yourself off to Nancy.

--Already?

--Why already? Have you any business here which detains you then?

--Nothing ... absolutely nothing; but what shall I do at Nancy?

--That is just why I have come, you impatient young man, to point out to
you what line of conduct to follow, and, as I know, you are rather more
scrupulous than there is any need for in our profession, to assist you in
removing certain scruples which might stand in the way of your promotion.

--Heavens! What scruples?

--We will talk about them at table. Meanwhile, this is the question. I have
told you that I will move heaven and earth for you; you, however, must help
me a little on your side, for whatever I may do, I can effect nothing
without you. In his letter, Gaudinet informs me that the parish of St.
Mary, Nancy, is deprived of its pastor. It came into my head directly that
you must take the place of the defunct. It is an excellent parish, very
prominent, splendid surplice fees, devout ladies, sisters, elderly
spinsters to plunge into saintly jubilation, a host of Capuchins,
everything indeed which constitutes a _blessing from heaven_ for a poor
priest. You are young, you are handsome, you are intelligent, you are
energetic; while you are waiting for something better, I promise you an
existence there, of which the most ambitions of village Cures has never
dared to dream. But we most hasten, time presses; Gaudinet tells me that
there are already at least a dozen candidates in earnest; and although old
Collard's intentions (and he intends to atone for his former injustice)
regarding you are favourable, you are well aware that he allows himself to
be led by the nose, and generally the last one who talks to him is right.
You must be then both the first and the last, and you must not let him
slip; not you, but your second, your aide-de-camp, your _fideicommissum_,
or rather your protectress, the Comtesse de Montluisant.

--But I do not know this lady.

--It is precisely for that reason that it is indispensable for you to
hasten to go and see her, in order to make her acquaintance. You have only
to present yourself, and I assure you even if you were not sent by me, she
would receive you with the greatest pleasure. For, between ourselves be it
said, she is an elderly coquette, but she is good-natured and knows how to
remember her old friends. You will have therefore to be amiable,
insinuating, respectful, assiduous. You might even tell her that she is
charming, and that one sees she has been very pretty; which is true. Old
ladies dote on young people, and devout old ladies on young priests,
especially on those with a figure and face like yours. "The face is
everywhere the first letter of introduction," said Bernardin de
Saint-Pierre, and I assure that with Madame de Montluisant, you will not
require another. Ah, the Comtesse de Montluisant, my friend, there is a
precious soul! What a misfortune that she is a little over-ripe! It is all
the same to you, and if you are wise, you will pass over that defect, which
she amply atones for by her amiable qualities. She has the complete mastery
of Monseigneur. She is the Maintenon of that old Louis XIV. Be to her what
she is to him, and have the mastery of her in your turn. I was talking to
you a little while ago about scruples; for once you must leave them at home
or put them in the bottom of your cassock. _Dixi_! You have understood me I
hope.

--No, uncle, I don't understand you.

--Are you talking seriously?

--I declare, uncle, that I don't understand you.

--_O rara avis in terris_, oh phoenix! oh pearl! you don't understand me!!!
Well, I am come expressly, however, to make myself understood. Must I put
the dots on the i's for you? You don't understand me, you say? Surely, you
are making fun of me. Come, look me straight in the face; in the white of
my eyes ... yes, like that, and dare to tell me that you have not
understood me, and keep serious. Ah, ah, you are laughing, you are
laughing. You see you cannot look at me without laughing.

LXV.

TABLE TALK.

"I allow that it is necessary to be
virtuous in order to be happy, but I
assert that it is necessary to be happy
in order to be virtuous."

CH. LEMESLES (_Tablettes d'un sceptique_).

They sat down to table. It was an excellent meal, and the worthy Ridoux
tried to make it cheerful, but a vague feeling of sorrow oppressed Marcel.

That departure, which he had so eagerly desired before, and the hope of
which he had clung to as one lays hold of a means of safety, he could not
think of without grief, when he saw it near and practicable. Undoubtedly he
would leave without regret this village, where his youth was buried, where
his abilities were rendered unfruitful, where his sanguine aspirations were
slowly killing themselves.... But Suzanne?

That sweet name which he murmured low with love. That sweet young girl the
sight of whom was as pleasant as a sun-beam, he was going to leave her for
ever.

It was for his good, his honour, his quiet, his future; he knew it, he felt
it, but he was full of sorrow.

Meanwhile, he overwhelmed his uncle with marks of attention and friendship;
he made every effort to cope with his guest's cheerful discourse, who,
after relating the flight of the Grand-Vicar, surprised in criminal
conversation with the wife of the Captain of Gendarmerie, acquainted him
all the little ecclesiastical scandals. But he gave only a partial
attention; his thoughts were absorbed in his inmost preoccupations. Now and
again only did he let fall a few observations in reply: "How horrible," or
"How shocking," or again: "How abominable!"

Ridoux did not appear at first to pay attention to his nephew's gloomy
thoughts. He laughed and joked all alone, but he did not miss a mouthful.
Old priests are generally greedy. Good cheer is one of the joys which is
left to them.

With no serious preoccupation, with no anxiety for the future, exempt from
family cares, they transfer all their solicitude to themselves, and make a
divinity of their belly.

But when his appetite, sharpened by his journey, was appeased, he examined
Marcel with curiosity, and what he observed, combined with a few indiscreet
words of Veronica, confirmed him in his suspicions, that a drama was being
enacted in the young man's soul.

--Do you know, he said to him, that you are a pitiable companion. You
scarcely eat, you scarcely speak, you do not drink, and you laugh still
less. Why, what's the matter with you? Are you not gratified at my visit?

--Forgive me, uncle, but I am rather poorly, said Marcel; that is my
excuse.

--That is what the maid-servant told me, but you declared to me that you
were quite well.

--How can you suppose that I am not happy to see you? You know my feelings
well.

--I know that you have excellent feelings. But I find you quite changed. It
is scarcely a year since I saw you, and you bear marks of weariness. You
stoop like an old man. Look at me, always the same, firm as a rock. "God
smites the wicked with many plagues, but he encompasseth with his help
those that hope in him." Second penitential psalm. You are not wicked: what
plague consumes you? Ambition? Patience, everything will be changed, since
your enemy is vanquished. Is it your conscience which is ill at ease? But
conscience should be cheerful; that is its true sign. Is it anything else?
Come, tell me.

--Well yes, uncle, there is something. The same complaint as before, you
know, when I hesitated to enter the seminary, when I had doubts about my
vocation. You ended my hesitation and silenced my doubts; you have made a
priest of me; well, now more than ever, I have moments of lassitude which
make me disgusted with my calling.

--Really?

--Yes, there are hours when this priest's robe devours me, like the robe of
Nessus; I wish that I could tear it off, but I feel that I should tear off
pieces of my flesh at the same time, for it is too late, and it has become
a portion of myself. I am ashamed to make this confession to you, but you
wished it, and I have opened my heart to you.

--May it not be that the heart is sick? Come. I see that I am come to take
you away from here at a seasonable time.

--Do not believe that, uncle.

--So much the better, if I am mistaken. I should be delighted to be
mistaken. To be in love, my son, is the greatest act of stupidity which a
priest can commit. Make use of women, if you will, for your health and your
satisfaction, and not for theirs. Otherwise you are a lost man.

--In truth, uncle, you have singular theories, cried Marcel. Have you not
then taken your calling seriously?

--My calling? I have taken it so seriously that you will never see me
handling it but in the practical way. Therefore, among those who surround
me I enjoy a fine reputation for wisdom. To be wise is to be happy, and I
have contrived so as to pass my existence in the most pleasant manner
possible. I counsel you to make as much of it, and I am going to tell what
I mean by being wise: Make use of the things of life with moderation,
discretion, and prudence. Now, what constitutes life? Spirit and matter.
Well, I wisely make the enjoyments of matter and spirit march abreast. I
obtain the equilibrium: health of body and health of soul. As soon as the
equilibrium is broken, the mental faculties are deranged, or the
constitution declines. You are in one of these two cases, my dear fellow.

--I!

--Yes, you. And, in spite of all your denials, I wager that you are in
love. Ah, ah, ah. It is a good story. He keeps his countenance like a
thrashed donkey. Come, drink, cheer up; honour the Lord in his benefits.
Your glass is always full. Enjoy yourself, you don't entertain your uncle
every day.

Marcel emptied his glass.

--Is she possessed of a husband?

--But uncle, I don't know, what you want to talk about.

--Oh, how well dissimulation is grafted in this young man's heart. I
congratulate you on it: it is good for strangers, for the profane.... But
I, Marcel, I, am I a stranger?

"Brought up in the Seraglio, I know its windings."

Come, another drop of this wine which could make the dead laugh.

--Listen, uncle, you are my second father, my master, my first director, my
only true friend. Yes, I want to ask your advice. I am afraid of soiling
one day the robe which I wear, I am afraid of becoming an object of shame
and compassion. Ah, I am unhappy.

--Here we are, cried Ridoux. Speak. The only point is to understand one
another.

LXVI.

GOOD COUNSEL.

"Ah, my friend, have not all young
people ridiculous passions? My son is
enamoured of virtue!... The customs
of the word, the need of pleasure,
and the facilities of satisfying himself
will bring him insensibly to a moderate
state of feeling, and at thirty he will
be just like any other man; he will
enjoy life, and shut his eyes to many
things which shock him to-day."

PIGAULT-LEBRUN (_Le Blanc et le Noir_).

At that moment Veronica came in to serve coffee.

In honour of her master's guest, she had put on her black dress of
Associate and her silver medal; and on her head she wore coquettishly an
embroidered cap, trimmed with tulle of dazzling whiteness.

The old Cure threw himself into his arm-chair with his head back, in order
to contemplate her with admiration. She went and came, clearing the table,
and he followed her movements with the eye of a connoisseur, estimating the
value of an article.

He smiled sanctimoniously, and the smile and attention, which the bashful
Veronica noticed, made her blush and cast her eyes modestly down.

-Eh! Eh! he seemed to say, here is a girl who is still fit to adorn a bed.

When the servant had left the room, he rose, drew the screen between the
table and the door, and then came and sat down again facing Marcel.

--I don't understand, he said, why a man should go and search away from
home, amid perils and obstacles, for a pleasure which he can obtain
comfortably, quietly, with no fear or disquietude, at his own fire-side.

--To what are you pleased to allude?

--There is a girl, Ridoux continued, who certainly has merit, and I am
convinced that many younger ones are not worth as much as she. She is
there, in your hands, at your door, in your home; ready, I am sure, to
satisfy all your requirements. Avail yourself of her willingness? No? Make
use of this blessing which you possess? Again, no. You throw it aside to
run after phantoms. Alas, all the men of your age are the same: like the
dog in the fable, they let go their prey to seize the shadow. You are like
the fool, who spends his life in vainly following fortune to the four
quarters of the world, and who, when he returns to his hearth wearied,
worn-out and aged, finds it sitting at his door. But he is too late to be
able to enjoy it.

That girl is really very well: handsome, fresh, very well-preserved, with a
decent and respectable appearance. Why then do you disdain her? Why? Tell
me. Because she is a few years older than you? But that is just what you
young priests require. You require women of that age: matrons with more
sense than yourselves. She is staid, she is ripe, she is experienced, a
mistress of love's science, and above all, she has a great quality, an
inestimable quality, she is cautious and will never compromise you.

--Uncle, I implore you.

--Let me finish.

Another thing which is very valuable. She is full of little attentions for
her master. Ah, you are not aware with what tender solicitude, with what
kindness, with what jealous affection an old mistress surrounds you. She
fears more for your health than for her own, she is acquainted with your
tastes and knows how to anticipate them, she satisfies all your desires,
and lends herself to all your fancies.

--What a conversation! If anyone heard us....

--Be easy. I have drawn the screen.

The young mistress is fickle, egotistical, capricious; she exacts
adoration, and most frequently loves you for a whim and for want of
occupation.

The old one devotes herself entirely to you and does not ask you (sublime
self-denial!), that you should love her, but only that you should let her
love you. Balzac extolled the women of thirty; that was because he had not
tasted those of forty. Ah! the women of forty!

They are the only women who are of value to the priest, my friend. You have
had the good fortune to meet one here, and instead of profiting by it, of
thinking yourself fortunate, of thanking heaven and piously and devoutly
enjoying the good which God grants you, you cast it away, you disdain, you
despise it; and why? For some giddy little thing who will bring upon you
every kind of vexation and unpleasantness. _Dixi_. You can speak now.

Marcel made no reply. With his elbows resting on the table and his head in
his hands, he stared at his uncle.

He asked himself if he was really awake, if it was really his adopted
father, the mentor of his childhood, the wise and virtuous Cure of St.
Nicholas, who was talking to him so.

He knew the worthy man's somewhat eccentric character, his coarse
witticisms in bad taste, but he never could have believed that he would
have stated such theories before him with a cynisism like that. He quite
understood that a man might commit faults, he even excused _in petto_
certain crimes, and he excused them the more willingly because he himself
had been guilty of them; but he did not understand how a man could dare to
talk about them.

He was rather of that class of persons who are modest in words, but not in
deeds, who are offended at the talk, while they delight in the acts. We
hear them utter cries of horror and indignation at the slightest equivocal
word, we see them stop their ears at the recital of a racy tale, chastely
cover their face before the figure of the Callipygean Venus, treating
Moliere as obscene and Rabelais as debauched; yet, out of sight, sheltered
by the curtains of the alcove, they love to strip in silence some
lascivious Maritorne, and cautiously abandon themselves to disgusting
orgies with Phrynes whom they chance to encounter.

Therefore the Cure of Althausen was offended and indignant at his uncle's
cynicism, who had so crudely broached the chapter about the love of
middle-aged women to him, who the evening before had abandoned himself to
all the furies of a long-repressed passion, in the arms of a debauched old
maid-servant.

At the same he felt that his brain was confused and that he was gradually
losing the exact idea of things. The wine he had drunk was more than he was
accustomed to; it was rising to his head and he was becoming intoxicated.

--Well, said Ridoux, you give me no answer and you stare at me like an
earthen-ware dog.

--What answer do you wish me to give you? except that I believe I am
dreaming; in truth, I believe I am dreaming.

--Be more sincere. I do not like hypocrisy.

--You talk of a giddy little thing; I know no giddy thing. As to the rest,
I have not quite made out what it is you wanted to tell me. I think that
you have intended to make a joke about your old women.

--Ah, you, you never understand anything. Where did you come from?

--Why, from your school, from the seminary, and neither you nor my masters
taught me that there.

--To me! to me! to me! you speak in such a manner to me? Oh clever fox!
_Alopex, alopex_. Well, you are sharper than I am, cried the old Cure,
striking the table and looking at Marcel with astonishment mingled with
admiration. Why should I concern myself about your future? You will
succeed, my dear fellow, you will succeed. Oh, oh, you are a master. A
gray-beard like I cannot teach you anything. Jesus, Mary, Joseph! That is
my nephew! My dear old Ridoux, Cure of St. Nicholas, allow me to
congratulate you. Monsieur le Cure of Althausen, I swear you will become a
bishop. Monseigneur, I drink your health!

LXVII.

IN A GLASS.

"The fumes of the wine were working
in my veins; it was one of those
moments of intoxication when everything
one sees, everything one hears,
speaks to us of the beloved."

A. DE MUSSET (_Confession d'un enfant du Siecle_).

They conversed for a long time still, and they drank too, so much so that
Marcel went to his room with his brain charged with the fumes of the wine.
He opened his window and breathed with delight the fresh air of night.
While he gazed on the stars which were rising slowly in the sky, he tried
to analyze the new sensation which he experienced. "How a few mouthfuls of
liquor alter a man," he said to himself.

He felt himself to be totally different, and he allowed his thoughts to
wander in an ocean of delights. His ardent and ecstatic imagination
launched itself into space. Bright unknown worlds rose before him with
their atmosphere saturated with warmth, with caresses, and with perfumes.
He saw the future, and it appeared to him radiant. There were sons without
number and feasts without end; the entire universe belonged to him. He flew
from planet to planet without effort or fatigue, borne by a mysterious wing
into the fields of the Infinite.

He discovered an unknown audacity, and all obstacles subsided before his
powerful will. No more barriers, no more bolts, no more doors, no more
pretences, no more social chains, no more terrible father, no more
servant-mistress; Suzanne alone remained in all her youthful grace and her
chaste nudity. For, after having wandered in boundless space, it was
towards her that his hopes, his desires, his aspirations inclined. There
was the soul and the body; happiness and life, sacred symbolical wedlock,
the chosen vessel, the nubile maid ready for the husband. And he murmured
the Song of Songs:

"Let her kiss me with kisses of her mouth,
For her teats are better than wine."

And it was at the very moment when he was about perhaps to be able to taste
this exquisite cup, that he must go away. Go away! that is to say, leave
her, she who had just cast a ray into his life. Go away, to obey a culpable
ambition; to lose for ever this ravishing young girl! And the promises
which he had made to himself; and the unsatisfied desires, and the
boundless joys, the delicious troubles, the sweet evening talks, the hand
sometimes squeezed in a moment of audacity; of all that but the memory
would remain. Of all the intoxications of soul, of heart, of sense; of all
those joys which should repay him for his wasted youth, for his fair years
lost, he would preserve but remorse ... remorse for having so senselessly
let them go.

And all at once in the whirlwind of his ideas, he seized one as it passed
by. He noticed during the day the Captain entering the _diligence_ for Vic.
It was, in fact, the time at which he drew his pay. He could not return
till the following day. Suzanne then was alone with the old maid-servant.
She went to bed late, he knew; perhaps she was still awake. He looked at
his watch, it was not yet eleven o'clock; he still had a chance of seeing
her. He cherished this idea; it pleased him and he was surprised that he
had not thought of it before. Yes, certainly, he must see her, in order
that she might keep the remembrance of him, as he was bearing away the
memory of her.

What would be more delightful than to say to himself: "I hold the thoughts
of a beautiful young girl, I hold her simple confidences; I possess the
treasure of her sweet secrets."

And although there would never be between her and him but the pure and
chaste sympathy of two souls, was not that enough, was not that a
compensation, sufficient for the step which he was venturing?

And with the audacity of conception and the temerity of conduct of a man on
the border of intoxication, he determined to put his fine project into
execution immediately. His sense became inflamed the more he thought of it,
and what had at first presented itself to him as a vague desire, soon
became firmly fixed in his brain, and, in less than ten seconds, he had
conceived the plan and weighed all the chances.

He decided that nothing was more simple, and that the only serious
difficulty was to get out of the house without being heard. He still felt a
few scruples; he poured himself out a glass of brandy.

--Let me swallow some courage, he said. What a singular piece of machinery
is man, who imbibes in a few drops of liquid the dose of bravery which he
lacks, and spirit which he needs.

And, in fact, he soon felt a generous warmth which ascended to his head;
and his heart became anew surrounded little by little with that triple
breast plate of brass, _robur triplex_, without which there is no hero.

He listened inside and out. All sounds were hushed; in the parsonage as in
the village, everybody was asleep. He heard only the croaking of a legion
of frogs which were sporting in the neighbouring marsh, and, far away, the
bark of some farm-dog.

The night was splendid. The moon was rising behind the woods. That was a
serious obstacle; but are there any serious obstacles for a man
over-excited by drink? He did not even think of it; his mind was cheerful
and content. If anyone encountered him in the night, wandering along the
roads, what could they say? Had he not a perfect right like anybody else to
take, the fresh air of evening? And, besides, might he not have been
summoned by a sick person?

On the other hand, no more favourable moment would ever present itself for
talking with Suzanne. His uncle was snoring in the next room, and his
servant, supposing she was still awake, would she dare, while there was a
guest at the parsonage, to come and assure herself if he was in his bed?

He took off his shoes, opened the door noiselessly and glided into the
street.

He rapidly went round the parsonage, and he put on his shoes again only
when he was at some distance, under the discreet shade of the limes.

Then he walked boldly on, keeping to the middle of the road, on the side,
however, where the houses cast their shadow, and advanced with the step of
a man who is going to accomplish a duty.

He arrived without any hindrance at the Captain's house. It was fully
lighted up by the pale moon-light, and all the shutters were closed.
Consequently, the side looking upon the garden was in the shadow, and there
was Suzanne's room, the room hung with rose.

So he pursued his way at a rapid pace, entered the little path, bordered
with hawthorn, and soon reached the clump of old chestnut-trees.

LXVIII.

THE ROSE CHAMBER.

"They are women already, they were
so when they were born, but one
guesses them so still, one reads it
in their little thought, one comes
across an end of thread here and
there, which is like a revelation ...
They are ... But forgive me, young
ladies, I am afraid of going too far."

G. DROZ (_Entre nous_).

What man is there who has not experienced a delicious emotion on entering
for the first time a young girl's room? Who has not breathed with
voluptuous delight its sweet and chaste perfumes, and felt his heart soften
in its fresh and fragrant atmosphere?

How pretty, neat, and harmonious is everything there. The most
insignificant objects, the most common articles of furniture, have a
mysterious and secret aspect there which makes one dream; one contemplates
with transport all those nothings, all those little trifles, all those
trinkets which young girls delight in, and because they have been touched
by a white hand, they appear clothed in enchanting colours.

The fairy who lodges in this place has left a _something_ of herself on all
which surrounds her, and _that something_ transforms all into jewels, even
the least pin.

But that which above all else arrests the gaze, that which drives the blood
to the head and causes the heart to beat, is the bed.

The young girl's bed, the sanctuary, the delicious nest of love.

There is the pillow on which her head reposes ... And then the question
comes: What passes in the young head when, softly leaning on the warm down,
she lets her thoughts travel into the land of dreams?

When slumber soft on all
Around thee is outpoured;
Oh Pepita, charming maid,
My love, of what think'st thou?

Here is the place of her body. Yes, it is there, beneath the discreet
eider-down, that she hides her naked charms. And we begin to dream as well,
and we say to ourselves that we would give much to be able to penetrate
into this sanctuary at the hour when the divinity is going to bed.

Happy Gyges, lend me your ring that I may assist mutely and invisibly at
the sweet mysteries of the night toilette.

She is here! She has given and received the evening kiss. "Sleep well," her
father and mother have said, and the child replies: "Oh, yes, I am very
sleepy."

Then she quickly shuts the door and breathes a sigh of satisfaction. She is
in her own room, she is alone!

Alone! do you believe it? If so, you would be greatly mistaken, for this is
the time when she receives her own visitors, and often there is a numerous
company.

Oh, be reassured: these guests will not be able to compromise her; they are
secret, silent and invisible for all else but her; she alone sees them,
talks to them and listens to them.

It is at the summons of her thought that they hasten there, passive and
obedient. Then she passes them in review one by one; she examines them from
head to foot, she clothes and unclothes them at her will; never has a
Captain of infantry, under orders for parade, made a more minute inspection
of his conscripts.

Sometimes they come all in a crowd, giving themselves up with her, in the
mysterious comers of her imagination, to the wildest frolics. Young people
with a stiff collar, beardless sublieutenants, coxcombs with red hands,
swells with white cuffs, little heads of wax and little souls of cardboard,
run up, ran up, ye pretty puppets.

Dance my loves
You are but dolls.

And she makes them dance on every cord and every tune.

But soon the figures are effaced and blend into one. The pomatumed band
disappear into space, whence there rises clearly the image of the chosen
one.

He is young, he is dark or fair: she has seen him to-day; she looked at
him, he smiled at her, he thinks her pretty.

Is she then always pretty? And quickly she goes to her mirror. Heavens! how
badly her hair is done. How badly that ribbon sets! If she had put it in
another place? And that little wandering lock; decidedly it must set off
that. "Perhaps he would like me better if, instead of plaits, I had curls,
and if instead of the brown dress, I put on the blue?"

He. Who is he? He is the imaginary lover, the handsome young man whom she
has met in the street, he who turned round to look at her, or the one who
was so charming at the last ball, or again the one who has just passed the
window.

Who is he? Does she know? It is the one she is waiting for. The first who
presents himself who is _handsome, young, intelligent and rich_. What does
the rest matter provided he possesses all these qualities, and all these
qualities he must possess.

Often she has never even seen him, but he is charming, and she feels that
she loves him already.

And there are the brilliant displays of the future appearing, the enchanted
palaces which are built out of the chapters of novels which never will be
finished.

And thus every evening--wild adventures in the young brain, intrigues in
embryo, meetings full of mystery, delightful terrors with phantom lovers,
until at length a very palpable one presents himself, and comes and knocks
at the door of reality.

Sometimes he is very far from the cherished dream. He is neither young, nor
handsome, nor rich, nor intelligent. She rather makes a face, but she ends
by taking him. It is a man.

And meanwhile mamma has said as she kisses her daughter's forehead, "Sleep
well, my daughter," and she murmurs to papa, "What an angel of candour!"

LXIX.

THE GUST OF WIND.

"I turned my eyes instinctively towards
the lighted window, and through
the curtains which were drawn, I
distinctly caught sight of a woman,
dressed in white, with her hair undone,
and moving like one who knows that
she is alone."

G. DROZ (_Monsieur, Madame, et Bebe_).

Suzanne's room ... but why should I describe the room?... let me describe
Suzanne to you at this secret hour: I am sure that you would prefer me to
do so.

The young people who read this, will do well to skip this chapter, it
interests the men alone. Like the preacher who one day turned the women out
of church, as he wanted to keep the men only, I warn over-chaste young
ladies that these lines may shock....

Suzanne was preparing to go to bed.

To go to bed! That is not done quickly. You have, Mesdames, so many little
things to do before going to bed. So Suzanne was going to and fro in her
small room, attending to all these little details.

She was in a short petticoat, with her legs and arms bare and her little
feet in slippers. I warned you that I had borrowed the ring of Gyges and I
can tell you that I saw her calf and right above the knee, and all was like
a sculptor's model. Beneath the thin, partly-open cambric her budding bosom
rose and fell, marking a voluptuous valley on which, like the Shulamite's
lover, one would never be weary to let one's kisses wander.

But on seeing the white plump shoulders, the graceful throat, and the neck
on which was twisted a mass of little brown curls, and the back of velvet
which had no other covering than the thick rolls of half-loosed hair, and
the delicate hips which the little half-revealing petticoat closely
pressed, one asked oneself where the kisses would run on for the longest
time.

She was delicious like this and under every aspect, and undoubtedly she
knew it, for every time she passed before the large glass of her wardrobe,
she looked at herself in it and smiled. And she was quite right, for it was
indeed the sweetest of sights.

A pretty woman is never insensible to the sight of her own charms. See
therefore, what a love they have for mirrors. Habit, which palls in so many
things, never palls in this; for her it is a sight always charming and
always fresh. Very different to the forgetful lover or the sated husband,
whose eyes and senses are so quickly habituated, she never grows weary of
finding out that she is pretty, and making herself so; in truth a constant
homage, earnest and conscientious.

Suzanne then examined herself full face, in profile, in three-quarters
view, and behind, attentively and conscientiously, like an amateur judging
a work of art, who cries at length, "Yes, it is all good, it is all
perfect, there is nothing amiss." One could have believed that she saw
herself again for the first time after many years.

At length, when the survey was completed, and the toilette finished, she
let her petticoat slip down, opened her bed, put one knee upon it, and, the
upper part of her body leaning forward on her hands, prepared to get in.

The lamp on the night-table, close beside her, threw its light no longer on
her face.

But at the same instant a little zephyr taking her astern, caused the white
tissue which English-women never mention, to gently undulate.

She noticed then that she had forgotten to shut her window.

"Heavens," cried Marcel to himself, for it was he, who perched on the rise
of the road and armed with his good opera-glass, had just been witness of
what I have narrated.

LXX.

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