The Village Rector by Honore de Balzac
VIII. The Rector of Montegnac
The Abbe Gabriel glided softly through the church so as not to disturb the devotions of two groups of persons on the benches near the high altar, which was separated from the nave at the place where the lamp was hung by a rather common balustrade, also of chestnut wood, and covered with a cloth intended for the communion. On either side of the nave a score of peasants, men and women, absorbed in fervent prayer, paid no attention to the stranger when he passed up the narrow passage between the two rows of seats.
When the young abbe stood beneath the lamp, whence he could see the two little transepts which formed a cross, one of which led to the sacristy, the other to the cemetery, he noticed on the cemetery side a family clothed in black kneeling on the pavement, the transepts having no benches. The young priest knelt down on the step of the balustrade which separated the choir from the nave and began to pray, casting oblique glances at a scene which was soon explained to him. The gospel had been read. The rector, having removed his chasuble, came down from the altar and stood before the railing; the young abbe, who foresaw this movement, leaned back against the wall, so that Monsieur Bonnet did not see him. Ten o'clock was striking.
"Brethren," said the rector, in a voice of emotion, "at this very moment a child of this parish is paying his debt to human justice by enduring its last penalty, while we are offering the sacrifice of the mass for the peace of his soul. Let us unite in prayer to God, imploring Him not to turn His face from that child in these his last moments, and to grant to his repentance the pardon in heaven which is denied to him here below. The sin of this unhappy man, one of those on whom we most relied for good examples, can only be explained by his disregard of religious principles."
Here the rector was interrupted by sobs from the kneeling group in mourning garments, whom the Abbe Gabriel recognized, by this show of affection, as the Tascheron family, although he did not know them. First among them was an old couple (septuagenarians) standing by the wall, their faces seamed with deep-cut, rigid wrinkles, and bronzed like a Florentine medal. These persons, stoically erect like statues, in their old darned clothes, were doubtless the grandfather and the grandmother of the criminal. Their glazed and reddened eyes seemed to weep blood, their arms trembled so that the sticks on which they leaned tapped lightly on the pavement. Next, the father and the mother, their faces in their handkerchiefs, sobbed aloud. Around these four heads of the family knelt the two married sisters accompanied by their husbands, and three sons, stupefied with grief. Five little children on their knees, the oldest not seven years old, unable, no doubt, to understand what was happening, gazed and listened with the torpid curiosity that characterizes the peasantry, and is really the observation of physical things pushed to its highest limit. Lastly, the poor unmarried sister, imprisoned in the interests of justice, now released, a martyr to fraternal affection, Denise Tascheron, was listening to the priest's words with a look that was partly bewildered and partly incredulous. For her, her brother could not die. She well represented that one of the Three Marys who did not believe in the death of Christ, though she was present at the last agony. Pale, with dry eyes, like all those who have gone without sleep, her fresh complexion was already faded, less by toil and field labor than by grief; nevertheless, she had many of the beauties of a country maiden, --a plump, full figure, finely shaped arms, rounded cheeks, and clear, pure eyes, lighted at this instant with flashes of despair. Below the throat, a firm, fair skin, not tanned by the sun, betrayed the presence of a white and rosy flesh where the form was hidden.
The married daughters wept; their husbands, patient farmers, were grave and serious. The three brothers, profoundly sad, did not raise their eyes from the ground. In the midst of this dreadful picture of dumb despair and desolation, Denise and her mother alone showed symptoms of revolt.
The other inhabitants of the village united in the affliction of this respectable family with a sincere and Christian pity which gave the same expression to the faces of all,--an expression amounting to horror when the rector's words announced that the knife was then falling on the neck of a young man whom they all knew well from his very birth, and whom they had doubtless thought incapable of crime.
The sobs which interrupted the short and simple allocution which the pastor made to his flock overcame him so much that he stopped and said no more, except to invite all present to fervent prayer.
Though this scene was not of a nature to surprise a priest, Gabriel de Rastignac was too young not to be profoundly touched by it. As yet he had never exercised the priestly virtues; he knew himself called to other functions; he was not forced to enter the social breaches where the heart bleeds at the sight of woes: his mission was that of the higher clergy, who maintain the spirit of devotion, represent the highest intellect of the Church, and on eminent occasions display the priestly virtues on a larger stage,--like the illustrious bishops of Marseille and Meaux, and the archbishops of Arles and Cambrai.
This little assemblage of country people weeping and praying for him who, as they supposed, was then being executed on a public square, among a crowd of persons come from all parts to swell the shame of such a death,--this feeble counterpoise of prayer and pity, opposed to the ferocious curiosity and just maledictions of a multitude, was enough to move any soul, especially when seen in that poor church. The Abbe Gabriel was tempted to go up to the Tascherons and say,--
"Your son and brother is reprieved."
But he did not like to disturb the mass; and, moreover, he knew that a reprieve was only a delay of execution. Instead of following the service, he was irresistibly drawn to a study of the pastor from whom the clergy in Limoges expected the conversion of the criminal.
Judging by the parsonage, Gabriel de Rastignac had made himself a portrait of Monsieur Bonnet as a stout, short man with a strong and red face, framed for toil, half a peasant, and tanned by the sun. So far from that, the young abbe met his equal. Slight and delicate in appearance, Monsieur Bonnet's face struck the eyes at once as the typical face of passion given to the Apostles. It was almost triangular, beginning with a broad brow furrowed by wrinkles, and carried down from the temples to the chin in two sharp lines which defined his hollow cheeks. In this face, sallowed by tones as yellow as those of a church taper, shone two blue eyes that were luminous with faith, burning with eager hope. It was divided into two equal parts by a long nose, thin and straight, with well-cut nostrils, beneath which spoke, even when closed and voiceless, a large mouth, with strongly marked lips, from which issued, whenever he spoke aloud, one of those voices which go straight to the heart. The chestnut hair, which was thin and fine, and lay flat upon the head, showed a poor constitution maintained by a frugal diet. Will made the power of this man.
Such were his personal distinctions. His short hands might have indicated in another man a tendency to coarse pleasures, and perhaps he had, like Socrates, conquered his temptations. His thinness was ungraceful, his shoulders were too prominent, his knees knocked together. The body, too much developed for the extremities, gave him the look of a hump-backed man without a hump. In short, his appearance was not pleasing. None but those to whom the miracles of thought, faith, art are known could adore that flaming gaze of the martyr, that pallor of constancy, that voice of love,--distinctive characteristics of this village rector.
This man, worthy of the primitive Church, which exists no longer except in the pictures of the sixteenth century and in the pages of Martyrology, was stamped with the die of the human greatness which most nearly approaches the divine greatness through Conviction,--that indefinable something which embellishes the commonest form, gilds with glowing tints the faces of men vowed to any worship, no matter what, and brings into the face of a woman glorified by a noble love a sort of light. Conviction is human will attaining to its highest reach. At once both cause and effect, it impresses the coldest natures; it is a species of mute eloquence which holds the masses.
Coming down from the altar the rector caught the eye of the Abbe Gabriel and recognized him; so that when the bishop's secretary reached the sacristy Ursule, to whom her master had already given orders, was waiting for him with a request that he would follow her.
"Monsieur," said Ursule, a woman of canonical age, conducting the Abbe de Rastignac by the gallery through the garden, "Monsieur Bonnet told me to ask if you had breakfasted. You must have left Limoges very early to get here by ten o'clock. I will soon have breakfast ready for you. Monsieur l'abbe will not find a table like that of Monseigneur the bishop in this poor village, but we will do the best we can. Monsieur Bonnet will soon be in; he has gone to comfort those poor people, the Tascherons. Their son has met with a terrible end to-day."
"But," said the Abbe Gabriel, when he could get in a word, "where is the house of those worthy persons? I must take Monsieur Bonnet at once to Limoges by order of the bishop. That unfortunate man will not be executed to-day; Monseigneur has obtained a reprieve for him."
"Ah!" exclaimed Ursule, whose tongue itched to spread the news about the village, "monsieur has plenty of time to carry them that comfort while I get breakfast ready. The Tascherons' house is beyond the village; follow the path below that terrace and it will take you there."
As soon as Ursule lost sight of the abbe she went down into the village to disseminate the news, and also to buy the things needed for the breakfast.
The rector had been informed, while in church, of a desperate resolution taken by the Tascherons as soon as they heard that Jean- Francois's appeal was rejected and that he had to die. These worthy souls intended to leave the country, and their worldly goods were to be sold that very morning. Delays and formalities unexpected by them had hitherto postponed the sale. They had been forced to remain in their home until the execution, and drink each day the cup of shame. This determination had not been made public until the evening before the day appointed for the execution. The Tascherons had expected to leave before that fatal day; but the proposed purchaser of their property was a stranger in those parts, and was prevented from clinching the bargain by a delay in obtaining the money. Thus the hapless family were forced to bear their trouble to its end. The feeling which prompted this expatriation was so violent in these simple souls, little accustomed to compromise with their consciences, that the grandfather and grandmother, the father and the mother, the daughters and their husbands and the sons, in short, all who bore and had borne the name of Tascheron or were closely allied to it made ready to leave the country.
This emigration grieved the whole community. The mayor entreated the rector to do his best to retain these worthy people. According to the new Code the father was not responsible for the son, and the crime of the father was no disgrace to the children. Together with other emancipations which have weakened paternal power, this system has led to the triumph of individualism, which is now permeating the whole of modern society. He who thinks on the things of the future sees the spirit of family destroyed, where the makers of the new Code have introduced freedom of will and equality. The Family must always be the basis of society. Necessarily temporary, incessantly divided, recomposed to dissolve again, without ties between the future and the past, it cannot fulfil that mission; the Family of the olden time no longer exists in France. Those who have proceeded to demolish the ancient edifice have been logical in dividing equally the family property, in diminishing the authority of the father, in suppressing great responsibilities; but is the reconstructed social state as solid, with its young laws still untried, as it was under a monarchy, in spite of the old abuses? In losing the solidarity of families, society has lost that fundamental force which Montesquieu discovered and named honor. It has isolated interests in order to subjugate them; it has sundered all to enfeeble all. Society reigns over units, over single figures agglomerated like grains of corn in a heap. Can the general interests of all take the place of Family? Time alone can answer that question.
Nevertheless, the old law still exists; its roots have struck so deep that you will find it still living, as we find perennials in polar regions. Remote places are still to be found in the provinces where what are now called prejudices exist, where the family suffers in the crime of a child or a father.
This sentiment made the place uninhabitable any longer to the Tascherons. Their deep religious feeling took them to church that morning; for how could they let the mass be offered to God asking Him to inspire their son with repentance that alone could restore to him life eternal, and not share in it? Besides, they wished to bid farewell to the village altar. But their minds were made up and their plans already carried out. When the rector who followed them from church reached the principal house he found their bags and bundles ready for the journey. The purchaser of the property was there with the money. The notary had drawn up the papers. In the yard behind the house was a carriole ready harnessed to carry away the older couple with the money, and the mother of Jean-Francois. The remainder of the family were to go on foot by night.
At the moment when the young abbe entered the low room in which the family were assembled the rector of Montegnac had exhausted all the resources of his eloquence. The old pair, now insensible to the violence of grief, were crouching in a corner on their bags and looking round on their old hereditary home, its furniture, and the new purchaser, and then upon each other as if to say:--
"Did we ever think this thing could happen?"
These old people, who had long resigned their authority to their son, the father of the criminal, were, like kings on their abdication, reduced to the passive role of subjects and children. Tascheron, the father, was standing up; he listened to the pastor, and replied to him in a low voice and by monosyllables. This man, who was about forty- eight years of age, had the noble face which Titian has given to so many of his Apostles,--a countenance full of faith, of grave and reflective integrity, a stern profile, a nose cut in a straight and projecting line, blue eyes, a noble brow, regular features, black, crisp, wiry hair, planted on his head with that symmetry which gives a charm to these brown faces, bronzed by toil in the open air. It was easy to see that the rector's appeals were powerless against that inflexible will.
Denise was leaning against the bread-box, looking at the notary, who was using that receptacle as a writing-table, seated before it in the grandmother's armchair. The purchaser was sitting on a stool beside him. The married sisters were laying a cloth upon the table, and serving the last meal the family were to take in its own house before expatriating itself to other lands and other skies. The sons were half-seated on the green serge bed. The mother, busy beside the fire, was beating an omelet. The grandchildren crowded the doorway, before which stood the incoming family of the purchaser.
The old smoky room with its blackened rafters, through the window of which was visible a well-kept garden planted by the two old people, seemed in harmony with the pent-up anguish which could be read on all their faces in diverse expressions. The meal was chiefly prepared for the notary, the purchaser, the menkind, and the children. The father and mother, Denise and her sisters, were too unhappy to eat. There was a lofty, stern resignation in the accomplishment of these last duties of rustic hospitality. The Tascherons, men of the olden time, ended their days in that house as they had begun them, by doing its honors. This scene, without pretension, though full of solemnity, met the eyes of the bishop's secretary when he approached the village rector to fulfil the prelate's errand.
"The son of these good people still lives," said Gabriel.
At these words, heard by all in the deep silence, the two old people rose to their feet as if the last trump had sounded. The mother dropped her pan upon the fire; Denise gave a cry of joy; all the others stood by in petrified astonishment.
"Jean-Francois is pardoned!" cried the whole village, now rushing toward the house, having heard the news from Ursule. "Monseigneur the bishop--"
"I knew he was innocent!" cried the mother.
"Will it hinder the purchase?" said the purchaser to the notary, who answered with a satisfying gesture.
The Abbe Gabriel was now the centre of all eyes; his sadness raised a suspicion of mistake. To avoid correcting it himself, he left the house, followed by the rector, and said to the crowd outside that the execution was only postponed for some days. The uproar subsided instantly into dreadful silence. When the Abbe Gabriel and the rector returned, the expression on the faces of the family was full of anguish; the silence of the crowd was understood.
"My friends, Jean-Francois is not pardoned," said the young abbe, seeing that the blow had fallen; "but the state of his soul has so distressed Monseigneur that he has obtained a delay in order to save your son in eternity."
"But he lives!" cried Denise.
The young abbe took the rector aside to explain to him the injurious situation in which the impenitence of his parishioner placed religion, and the duty the bishop imposed upon him.
"Monseigneur exacts my death," replied the rector. "I have already refused the entreaties of the family to visit their unhappy son. Such a conference and the sight of his death would shatter me like glass. Every man must work as he can. The weakness of my organs, or rather, the too great excitability of my nervous organization, prevents me from exercising these functions of our ministry. I have remained a simple rector expressly to be useful to my kind in a sphere in which I can really accomplish my Christian duty. I have carefully considered how far I could satisfy this virtuous family and do my pastoral duty to this poor son; but the very idea of mounting the scaffold with him, the mere thought of assisting in those fatal preparations, sends a shudder as of death through my veins. It would not be asked of a mother; and remember, monsieur, he was born in the bosom of my poor church."
"So," said the Abbe Gabriel, "you refuse to obey Monseigneur?"
"Monseigneur is ignorant of the state of my health; he does not know that in a constitution like mine nature refuses--" said Monsieur Bonnet, looking at the younger priest.
"There are times when we ought, like Belzunce at Marseille, to risk certain death," replied the Abbe Gabriel, interrupting him.
At this moment the rector felt a hand pulling at his cassock; he heard sobs, and turning round he saw the whole family kneeling before him. Young and old, small and great, all were stretching their supplicating hands to him. One sole cry rose from their lips as he turned his face upon them:--
"Save his soul, at least!"
The old grandmother it was who had pulled his cassock and was wetting it with her tears.
"I shall obey, monsieur."
That said, the rector was forced to sit down, for his legs trembled under him. The young secretary explained the frenzied state of the criminal's mind.
"Do you think," he said, as he ended his account, "that the sight of his young sister would shake his determination?"
"Yes, I do," replied the rector. "Denise, you must go with us."
"And I, too," said the mother.
"No!" cried the father; "that child no longer exists for us, and you know it. None of us shall see him."
"Do not oppose what may be for his salvation," said the young abbe. "You will be responsible for his soul if you refuse us the means of softening it. His death may possibly do more injury than his life has done."
"She may go," said the father; "it shall be her punishment for opposing all the discipline I ever wished to give her son."
The Abbe Gabriel and Monsieur Bonnet returned to the parsonage, where Denise and her mother were requested to come in time to start for Limoges with the two ecclesiastics.
As the younger man walked along the path which followed the outskirts of upper Montegnac he was able to examine the village priest so warmly commended by the vicar-general less superficially than he did in church. He felt at once inclined in his favor, by the simple manners, the voice full of magic power, and the words in harmony with the voice of the village rector. The latter had only visited the bishop's palace once since the prelate had taken Gabriel de Rastignac as secretary. He had hardly seen this favorite, destined for the episcopate, though he knew how great his influence was. Nevertheless, he behaved with a dignified courtesy that plainly showed the sovereign independence which the Church bestows on rectors in their parishes. But the feelings of the young abbe, far from animating his face, gave it a stern expression; it was more than cold, it was icy. A man capable of changing the moral condition of a whole population must surely possess some powers of observation, and be more or less of a physiognomist; and even if the rector had no other science than that of goodness, he had just given proof of rare sensibility. He was therefore struck by the coldness with which the bishop's secretary met his courteous advances. Compelled to attribute this manner to some secret annoyance, the rector sought in his own mind to discover if he had wounded his guest, or in what way his conduct could seem blameworthy in the eyes of his superiors.
An awkward silence ensued, which the Abbe de Rastignac broke by a speech that was full of aristocratic assumption.
"You have a very poor church, monsieur," he said.
"It is too small," replied Monsieur Bonnet. "On the great fete-days the old men bring benches to the porch, and the young men stand outside in a circle; but the silence is so great that all can hear my voice."
Gabriel was silent for some moments.
"If the inhabitants are so religious how can you let the building remain in such a state of nudity?" he said at last.
"Alas, monsieur, I have not the courage to spend the money which is needed for the poor on decorating the church,--the poor are the church. I assure I should not be ashamed of my church if Monseigneur should visit it on the Fete-Dieu. The poor return on that day what they have received. Did you notice the nails which are placed at certain distances on the walls? They are used to hold a sort of trellis of iron wire on which the women fasten bouquets; the church is fairly clothed with flowers, and they keep fresh all day. My poor church, which you think so bare, is decked like a bride; it is filled with fragrance; even the floor is strewn with leaves, in the midst of which they make a path of scattered roses for the passage of the holy sacrament. That's a day on which I do not fear comparison with the pomps of Saint-Peter at Rome; the Holy Father has his gold, and I my flowers,--to each his own miracle. Ah! monsieur, the village of Montegnac is poor, but it is Catholic. In former times the inhabitants robbed travellers; now travellers may leave a sack full of money where they please and they will find it in my house."
"That result is to your glory," said Gabriel.
"It is not a question of myself," replied the rector, coloring at this labored compliment, "but of God's word, of the blessed bread--"
"Brown bread," remarked the abbe, smiling.
"White bread only suits the stomachs of the rich," replied the rector, modestly.
The young abbe took the hands of the older priest and pressed them cordially.
"Forgive me, monsieur," he said, suddenly making amends with a look in his beautiful blue eyes which went to the depths of the rector's soul. "Monseigneur told me to test your patience and your modesty, but I can't go any further; I see already how much injustice the praises of the liberals have done you."
Breakfast was ready; fresh eggs, butter, honey, fruits, cream, and coffee were served by Ursule in the midst of flowers, on a white cloth laid upon the antique table in that old dining-room. The window which looked upon the terrace was open; clematis, with its white stars relieved in the centre by the yellow bunch of their crisped stamens, clasped the railing. A jasmine ran up one side, nasturtiums clambered over the other. Above, the reddening foliage of a vine made a rich border that no sculptor could have rendered, so exquisite was the tracery of its lace-work against the light.
"Life is here reduced, you see, to its simplest expression," said the rector, smiling, though his face did not lose the look which the sadness of his heart conveyed to it. "If we had known of your arrival (but who could have foreseen your errand?) Ursule would have had some mountain trout for you; there's a brook in the forest where they are excellent. I forget, however, that this is August and the Gabou is dry. My head is confused with all these troubles."
"Then you like your life here?" said the young abbe.
"Yes, monsieur; if God wills, I shall die rector of Montegnac. I could have wished that my example were followed by certain distinguished men who have thought they did better things in becoming philanthropists. But modern philanthropy is an evil to society; the principles of the Catholic religion can alone cure the diseases which permeate social bodies. Instead of describing those diseases and extending their ravages by complaining elegies, they should put their hand to the work and enter the Lord's vineyard as simple laborers. My task is far from being accomplished here, monsieur. It is not enough to reform the people, whom I found in a frightful condition of impiety and wickedness; I wish to die in the midst of a generation of true believers."
"You have only done your duty, monsieur," said the young man, still coldly, for his heart was stirred with envy.
"Yes, monsieur," replied the rector, modestly, giving his companion a glance which seemed to say: Is this a further test? "I pray that all may do their duty throughout the kingdom."
This remark, full of deep meaning, was still further emphasized by a tone of utterance, which proved that in 1829 this priest, as grand in thought as he was noble in humility of conduct, and who subordinated his thoughts to those of his superiors, saw clearly into the destinies of both church and monarchy.
When the two afflicted women came the young abbe, very impatient to get back to Limoges, left the parsonage to see if the horses were harnessed. A few moments later he returned to say that all was ready. All four then started under the eyes of the whole population of Montegnac, which was gathered in the roadway before the post-house. The mother and sister kept silence. The two priests, seeing rocks ahead in many subjects, could neither talk indifferently nor allow themselves to be cheerful. While seeking for some neutral subject the carriage crossed the plain, the aspect of which dreary region seemed to influence the duration of their melancholy silence.
"How came you to adopt the ecclesiastical profession?" asked the Abbe Gabriel, suddenly, with an impulsive curiosity which seized him as soon as the carriage turned into the high-road.
"I did not look upon the priesthood as a profession," replied the rector, simply. "I cannot understand how a man can become a priest for any other reason than the undefinable power of vocation. I know that many men have served in the Lord's vineyard who have previously worn out their hearts in the service of passion; some have loved hopelessly, others have had their love betrayed; men have lost the flower of their lives in burying a precious wife or an adored mistress; some have been disgusted with social life at a period when uncertainty hovers over everything, even over feelings, and doubt mocks tender certainties by calling them beliefs; others abandon politics at a period when power seems to be an expiation and when the governed regard obedience as fatality. Many leave a society without banners; where opposing forces only unite to overthrow good. I do not think that any man would give himself to God from a covetous motive. Some men have looked upon the priesthood as a means of regenerating our country; but, according to my poor lights, a priest-patriot is a meaningless thing. The priest can only belong to God. I did not wish to offer our Father--who nevertheless accepts all--the wreck of my heart and the fragments of my will; I gave myself to him whole. In one of those touching theories of pagan religion, the victim sacrificed to the false gods goes to the altar decked with flowers. The significance of that custom has always deeply touched me. A sacrifice is nothing without grace. My life is simple and without the very slightest romance. My father, who has made his own way in the world, is a stern, inflexible man; he treats his wife and his children as he treats himself. I have never seen a smile upon his lips. His iron hand, his stern face, his gloomy, rough activity, oppressed us all--wife, children, clerks and servants--under an almost savage despotism. I could--I speak for myself only--I could have accommodated myself to this life if the power thus exercised had had an equal repression; but, captious and vacillating, he treated us all with intolerable alternations. We were always ignorant whether we were doing right or whether he considered us to blame; and the horrible expectancy which results from that is torture in domestic life. A street life seems better than a home under such circumstances. Had I been alone in the house I would have borne all from my father without murmuring; but my heart was torn by the bitter, unceasing anguish of my dear mother, whom I ardently loved and whose tears put me sometimes into a fury in which I nearly lost my reason. My school days, when boys are usually so full of misery and hard work, were to me a golden period. I dreaded holidays. My mother herself preferred to come and see me. When I had finished my philosophical course and was forced to return home and become my father's clerk, I could not endure it more than a few months; my mind, bewildered by the fever of adolescence, threatened to give way. On a sad autumn evening as I was walking alone with my mother along the Boulevard Bourdon, then one of the most melancholy parts of Paris, I poured my heart into hers, and I told her that I saw no possible life before me except in the Church. My tastes, my ideas, all that I most loved would be continually thwarted so long as my father lived. Under the cassock of a priest he would be forced to respect me, and I might thus on certain occasions become the protector of my family. My mother wept much. Just at this period my eldest brother (since a general and killed at Leipzig) had entered the army as a private soldier, driven from his home for the same reasons that made me wish to be a priest. I showed my mother that her best means of protection would be to marry my sister, as soon as she was old enough, to some man of strong character, and to look for help to this new family. Under pretence of avoiding the conscription without costing my father a penny to buy me off, I entered the seminary of Saint-Sulpice at the age of nineteen. Within those celebrated old buildings I found a peace and happiness that were troubled only by the thought of my mother and my sister's sufferings. Their domestic misery, no doubt, went on increasing; for whenever they saw me they sought to strengthen my resolution. Perhaps I had been initiated into the secrets of charity, such as our great Saint Paul defines it, by my own trials. At any rate, I longed to stanch the wounds of the poor in some forgotten corner of the earth, and to prove by my example, if God would deign to bless my efforts, that the Catholic religion, judged by its actions for humanity, is the only true, the only beneficent and noble civilizing force. During the last days of my diaconate, grace, no doubt, enlightened me. I have fully forgiven my father, regarding him as the instrument of my destiny. My mother, though I wrote her a long and tender letter, explaining all things and proving to her that the finger of God was guiding me, my poor mother wept many tears as she saw my hair cut off by the scissors of the Church. She knew herself how many pleasures I renounced, but she did not know the secret glories to which I aspired. Women are so tender! After I once belonged to God I felt a boundless peace; I felt no needs, no vanities, none of those cares which trouble men so much. I knew that Providence would take care of me as a thing of its own. I entered a world from which all fear is banished; where the future is certain; where all things are divine, even the silence. This quietude is one of the benefactions of grace. My mother could not conceive that a man could espouse a church. Nevertheless, seeing me happy, with a cloudless brow, she grew happier herself. After I was ordained I came to the Limousin to visit one of my paternal relations, who chanced to speak to me of the then condition of Montegnac. A thought darted into my mind with the vividness of lightning, and I said to myself inwardly: 'Here is thy vineyard!' I came here, and you see, monsieur, that my history is very simple and uneventful."
At this instant Limoges came into sight, bathed in the last rays of the setting sun. When the women saw it they could not restrain their tears; they wept aloud.