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John Galen Howard
1864-1931




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X~y^r-ix.



EDMOND AND JULES DE CONCOURT










Sister



Philomène




With
Seventy Illustrations by

Bl ELER



Geokc.k Routledge and Sons, Limited
New York -. 9 Lafayette Place



London ('lasgow and Manchester



SISTER PHILOMENE



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E. AND I. DE CONCOURT



SISTER PHILOMENE



Translatkd HY DAUkA ENSOR



SKVKN'I'V II,UTSTKATI<)NS HV HIKLKR




GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS, I-imitkh
New Yokk: q Lafayette Plack
London, Glasgow and Manchester



Press of J J. Little &Ca
Astor Place, New York



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W:ÈWi




SISTER PHILOMENE.



1.

The ward is vast and lofty, stretching out
and disappearing in the distance into endless
gloom.

It is night. A couple of stoves throw a
red glare from their open grates. At inter-
vals the faint and fading glimmer of night-
lights casts a streak of fire across the shining
floor. Beneath the flickering and uncertain
light the curtains to the right and left faintly



Sister Philomcnr.



gleam and whiten against the walls ; the beds
stand out vaguely — rows of beds with half-
shadowy outlines dimly revealed through the
darkness. At the further end of the ward
something lightens the depths of blackness,
something that bears the semblance of a
plaster Virgin.

The atmosphere is warm, a damp warmth,
heavy with a faint odor, a sickly smell of
heated ointment and boiled linseed.

All is hushed. Not a sound nor a move-
ment is heard. Night and silence reign over
all. From time to time the stillness is al-
most imperceptibly broken by a rustle of
sheets, a smothered yawn, a half-suppressed
groan, a gasp — then the ward again relapses
into a dull, mysterious peace.

At a little distance a stout young woman,
her hair ruffled with sleep, rouses herself
from the big, white-covered arm-chair in
which she has been dozing, wliile her feet
rested on the rung of a small chair in
front of her, which is faintly lit up by a
hand-lamp placed on it, together with a
small prayer-book. Slie passes like a shadow
across the lamp-liglit, goes up to a stove,
takes a ])oker from the hot ashes, stirs and
pokes thecoals two or tlirec times, then returns



Sister Philoinene.



to Ikt anvi-chair, replaces her feet on the bar
of the chair, and again stretches herself out.

The stirred-up fire gleams more vividly.
The night-lights, each in its glass cup, hang-
ing; from curved iron brackets, flicker and
brighten u}). The glimmer from the wicks
rises and falls like a regular breath on the
luminous and transparent oil, and the shades
swaying to the motion of the flame cast on
the beams of the ceiling great shadows of
ever-moving and agitated circles. Beneath,
to the right and left, the light falls softly
from the suspended glasses onto the foot of
the beds, on tlic bands of i)laited linen at
their head, and over the curtains, throwing
slanting shadows across bodies huddled up
under counterpanes. Shapes and outlines
quiver dimly in the uncertain light that sur-
rounds them, while between the beds the high
windows, thinly curtained, admit the bluish
twilight of a clear, cold winter sky.

The night-liglitsmark the receding perspec-
tive, and the outlines grow dim and blurred
as they are gradually lost in darkness. In
the intervening spaces, where the light of one
ceases and that of the next barely glimmers,
great black shadows rise up and meet at the
ceiling, throwing a veil of darkness over both



4 Sister Philomene.

sides of the ward. Further on the eye
catches sight of a confused whiteness, and
then again all is dark — a dense, opacjue dark-
ness in which all is swallowed up.

Out of the thickest of the gloom, at the
very end of the ward, a glimmer is seen, a
speck of tire appears. A light coming from
afar moves forward and increases, like the
distant light in a dark landscape toward
which the traveller gropes at night. The light
draws near ; now it is behind the great glass
door that closes the ward and separates it
from the next one ; it lights up the archway,
shines through the glass panels, then the door
opens, and a candle and two women in white
make their appearance.

" Ah ! the Mother going her rounds," mur-
murs a patient, half awake, closing her eyes
and turning away from the hght.

The two white-clad women move alonij
slowly and gently. They walk so softly
that their footsteps are scarcely heard on the
polished tiles. They advance with the candle
before them like phantoms in a ray of light.

The one on the side nearest the beds walks
with her hands crossed. She is young. Her
countenance is sweet and calm and she has a
peaceful smile such as dreams silently impress



Sister Philomhie. 5

on a sleeping face. She wears the white veil
of a novice. Her woollen dress, which seems
yellow when contrasted with the cold white-
ness of the sheets and bed covers, is the white
robe of the Sisters of Saint Augustine.

By the side of the Sister steps the serving-
maid of the community, in a white bodice,
white petticoat, and night-cap. She it is who
carries the candle, and the light falling on her
face lends to her complexion the dull ivory
color of some ancient abbess standing out of
the dark background of an old portrait.

As the women pass along, the light pene-
trates through the half-drawn curtains, lights
up the beds, and displays for a moment the
open mouth, the pinched nostrils, the head
thrown back on a pillow, of some slumbering
woman, or passes over the thin face of a pa-
tient who has dragged her kerchief over her
eyes and holds her sheet up to her mouth
with her fist tightly closed against her cheek ;
or, again, it glances over the raised hoop that
supports the counterpane at the foot of a bed,
or vaguely indicates by the moulding of the
sheets the graceful outline of a slumbering
young woman as she lies with her left arm
thrown up and encircling her hair, pale as a
ghost in the surrounding gloom.



Sister Philomhic.



The Sister casts a glance on the sleeping
forms ; to those awake she nods, smiles a good-
night, goes up to their side and gently tucks
up the bed-clothes and raises their pillows.

As she passes, an inarticulate sound, a
grumbling moan, an angry groan issues from
one of the beds. The Sister goes up to it.
She raises the old woman in her arms, soothes
her by a few soft words uttered in a musical
voice, the coaxing voice that mothers and
nurses assume to make naughty children
obey. Then she turns the patient, bending
tenderly over lier back, and misshapen form.
She moves the poor old thing's emaciated
and bony legs aside, and arranges and smooths
the sheets. In answer to her caressing voice,
to her light, delicate touch, the patient only
gives vent to an impatient grumble, an ani-
mal-like growl.

" You shall have a i)oullice," says the Sister.

" I won't have one, I won't," the sick
woman tries to scream out in a hollow, con-
fused, and suffocated voice.

The Sister, with the same unvarying gen-
tle words and touch, lays her quietly down,
])ushes up her cap, and raises by little ta]:)s
on each side of her head tlie tumbled and
flattened ])illow.



Sùfer rhiIo!iù')i(\



Then she resumes her rounds. Here and
111 ere the sick people watch her curiously,
half raising themselves by means of the
wooden bars hanging over their beds, \vhich,
long after they have loosed their
hold, throw a dancing,
flitting shadow over the
top of the bed.

She stops before a bed
of which all the curtains
are tightly drawn together.
The folds fall stiff and
straight to the ground, the
strings of the curtain loops
droop loose and idly at
the corners. Above the
closely veiled couch the
written placard no longer
hangs on the black metal
plate. The Sister goes up to
the bed, draws aside a curtain, and
disappears for a few seconds behind it. Then
making the sign of the cross, she lets the
curtain fall once more into its former motion-
less folds.

The Sister's step becomes slower as she
approaches the door of the lying-in ward,
from whence issue little cries — cries hushed




I



I



8 Sister Fhilomene.



for a moment but to break forth stronger and
more persistent. The Sister listens to the
cheerfullv clamorous song from the awakened
cradles — a song that to her ears is like the
joyous twittering of a young brood. After
the mournful silence, after the plaintive
sounds of illness, suffering, agony, and death,
it seems to her that she hears life, living life,
calling aloud in the cries and wails of these
new-born infants. Suddenly she is sum-
moned to a bedside by a shriek of pain, fol-
lowed by sobs, like the sobs of a little child.
A light throws a glare within the bed-cur-
tains. A young man stands there, wearing
the resident student's skull-cap and a white
apron fastened to the button of his coat.

By the light of a taper held on high he ex-
amines a weeping and moaning patient. The
Sister draws near.

" No, not you," he says roughly, taking
from her hands the bandage she is bringing
and passing it with the taper to the nurse
standing at the other side of the bed. And
he rapidly moves his hands about the pa-
tient's l)ody, renewing the dressing.

The Sister does not answer the student,
but turns away and disappears at the further
end of the Saint-Thérèse ward.




UlSr



II.



The Sister's name in religion was Sister
Philomène ; on the civil registers it was
Marie Gaucher.

Marie Gaucher was the daughter- of a
tailoress who, married to a locksmith, earned
a couple of shillings a day by working for
the big shops. Marie was born in an hour of
distress, one January morning, by a gay win-
ter's sun ushered into the world between
two oaths of the |)arish midwife, who was







lo Sister P/iilornhic.



annoyed at having been called away from a
patient boarding at her house.

She began life a tiny thing, not weighing
the usual weight of a new-born child, without
strength for life's struggle, antl was fed with
the poor milk of a mother whose existence
was spent in toiling late and early at her
eternal stitching. The child lived all the
same, and was four years old when her mother
died.

Her father had left them a year before
with a fellow-workman who was starting for
Africa, and had not been heard of since.

The little child was adopted by an aunt,
an elder sister of hfr mother's, in the service
of a widow lady, a Madame de Viry, in the
Chaussée d'Antin. She had been living there
twenty years, had closed the eyes of Monsieur
de Viry, and assisted at the birth of the son
of the house, little Henry. She was one of
those old-fashioned servants who take root
in the family circle. Therefore, when one
evening, as she was helping her mistress to
undress, she spoke of her niece, Madame de
Viry did not even give her time to utter a re-
quest, and the very day of the mother's fu-
neral the child was brought Imme to the Rue
Chaussée d'Antin. She looked upon the



Sister PJiiloinenc. 1 1



apartment, new as it was to her, witliout any
surprise; showed no curiijsity at tlie siglit of
the furniture, carj^ets, mahogany cabinets, nor
at the clock wicli its classical bronze figures,
and the family portraits in their gilt frames.
In a very short time the comforts of this home
caused the sickly bud to expand and blossom.
Her character, at first unsociable and shy,
soon toned down; her ])rattle and laugh be-
came less constrained, lier manners more nat-
ural and fearless ; the ill-grown, puny child
began to thrill with the active brightness of a
bird. Madame de Viry, who had accepted
her widowhood as an austere duty and had
retired from society in order to devote herself
more entirely to her son, enjoyed the presence
of the child, whose romjjs and noise and bright
blue eyes filled and warmed her saddened
and solitary life. Then, again, Madame de
Viry had lost a little girl of the same age,
and mothers love to caress even the shadow
of their child.

The little girl became over-excited by the
indulgence shown to her. Tolerated in the
drawing-room like a jx-t lapdog, she soon
thought it her proper place and joined in
little Henry's games on the footing of equality
natural to children. The familiarity with



12 Sister Philomene.



which the child was treated and her pretty,
dainty manners flattered her aunt's vanity,
and she felt a secret pride at her being kept
out of the kitchen and playing the lady.
Marie's little audacities and encroaching
ways, her childish conceit that increased by
constant association with her superiors,
lier nascent coquetry that already revelled
in the faded ribbons and discarded frocks
bestowed on her by Madame de Viry — all
this delighted the old woman, who, with the
vulgar affection of a woman of the people,
loved to surround the little thing with a
respectful tenderness, as though the child
were of a different class from her own, des-
tined to a higher sphere. Marie was at the
age when social barriers seem not to exist,
and she was full of illusions; she put on airs
with her aunt's friends and the servants of
the house, and showed a kind of severe
reserve toward the neighboring coal-mer-
chant's children who invited her to play in
the street. On one occasion she had been
allowed to dine with Henry in honor of his
having gained a prize at school, and in con-
sequence she refused the following day to eat
with her aunt in the kitchen. On another oc-
casion, not being ])ermitted to join a chil-



Sister Philomine. 13



dren's party, given every Shrove Tuesday by
Madame de Viry, she remained all day long
sulkily seated on a chair in the anteroom,
hiding and struggling to suppress her tears.
She was wounded by a thousand trifles which
she failed to understand and yet suffered
from ; the slightest neglect, words heedlessly
uttered by Madame de Viry, idle observations
betraying social differences, all that she in-
stinctively felt placed her in the position of an
inferior in the household, bitterly humiliated
her. At the end of two years Madame de
Viry noticed the evil, saw the irritation of the
child, and thought it necessary to change her
life and surroundings. Her aunt yielded to
Madame de Viry 's arguments, though with, a
heavy heart, hardly understanding her rea-
sons, and the mistress and maid settled that
on the following Monday the little one should
enter the orphanage kept by the Sisters of
Saint * * *^ situated at the top of the Fau-
bourg Saint-Denis.

The day of her departure there was a ter-
rible scene. The child piteously sobbed and
clung to the furniture and to Madame de
Viry's skirts. She resisted and struggled with
all her might even in her aunt's arms, who
was at last obliged to carry her bodily off,



14 Sister Philomene.



Once she had entered the convent gates, all
the violence of her despair vanished, and her
grief became like that of a grown-up per-
son — silent and frigid. When the Sisters took
off her embroidered cap and the silk frock
made out of her mother's wedding dress
that her aunt had had dyed, and replaced
them by a formal little plaited linen cap and
a plain green merino frock, she was seized
with a fit of trembling, but her eyes remained
dry. However, when she went to bed she
broke down, and midnight was long past be-
fore she fell asleep. The black veil of her
closed but sleepless eyelids seemed flecked
with visions of the past, fleeting and fugitive
as the fiery sparks that start and flit across a
burning paper. There passed before her in a
transient gleam the corner of the drawing-
room in which she used to i)ut her doll, and
against a dark background past memories
rose up and met her gaze. At one moment
the large wine-basket in which her aunt laid
her before carrying her up-stairs to bed stood
before her, almost within touch, and the
sheet of her crib assumed the shape of the
dinner napkins on which she slept in that
basket ; or again she recalled the morning
romps, when, returning with her aunt from



Sisfef Philomène. 15

marketing, she had jumped like a big dog on
Monsieur Henry's bed, putting her little icy-
cold hands round his neck, till the sleepy
fellow, half angrily, half laughingly, opened
one eye, and pushed her off onto the carpet.

The next day, as there was already a little
girl called Marie in the convent, and two of
the same name might cause confusion, she
was informed that in future she would be
called Philomène.

This was indeed a desperate blow for the
child ; she had been less hurt even by being
deprived of the frock she had come in. But
now it seemed to her that she was being
stripped of all her past life, wrenched away
from the happy days she had spent at
]\Iadame de Viry's. She hated the name of
Philomène, which was for her the convent
baptism, the beginning of a life she loathed
and dreaded ; and for a long time she re-
fused to answer to her new name.

At first the Sisters petted and strove to
amuse her, but she opposed a sullen resist-
ance, a stolid passivity and dull despair to all
their coaxing and kindly attentions. The
high, bare walls of the quiet house, full of
peace, but also full of silence, seemed but
dead to her, and here in the midst of the



1 6 Sister Philoinhie.



Sisters, who appeared to her stern and ter-
rible even in their gentleness, she drew mor-
bidly within herself. The atmosphere she
breathed fell cold and chill upon her heart,
and she gathered to herself all her tender
feelings, as though to cheer and warm herself.
She thought of her aunt's kisses, which were
not like the kisses of the Sisters, in which she
instinctively felt a conventional compassion
that failed to satisfy her cravings. For the
first time in her life she realized how cold a
caress may be.

However, little by little the child's grief
calmed down. Habit and c/i/iin softened her
regrets, lulled her by the monotonous hours,
the discipline and unchangeable routine, the
sameness of each succeeding day, in a life
totally devoid of incidents and ever the
same from morning till night ; getting up at
five, cleaning the house, all the little ones
taking their share, some sweeping, some
making the beds, while others dragged the
rugs into the yard and shook the dust of
them into each other's faces. Then, at nine,
soup, and lessons till twelve — reading, writing,
sacred history, and the four rules of arith-
metic ; at twelve, a dinner composed of soup
and the meat from it. which thev nicknamed



Sister Philomhir.



17



collet ; at one o'clock, a bell that summoned
them back from the play-ground to the work-
room, w here the
needlework that
helped to maintain
the establish-
ment was car-
ried on, the
youngest hem-
ming kitchen
cloths and the
more skilful
girls making
button - holes ;
at three, a slice
of bread and a
short recrea-
tion that l)roke
the stitching,
which was then
resumed till
seven o'clock ; after

that they had a supper of vegetables and
played till bed-time at nine.

Philomène now no longer cried ; she forgot
her plans of running away and was indeed
changed as though she had passed through
some severe illness. She who had formerly




1 8 Sister rhilovùiir.

been so lively, so turbulent, and so expansive
had now lost all the spriglitliness and vivac-
ity of her character. During the recreations
the Sisters liad almost to force her to play.
She became singularly quiet, slow even ; her
voice drawling, her accent whining. She had
the subdued, sad, depressed attitudes and
gestures of a half-starved, shivering child.
They were not dissatisfied with her at the
convent ; she worked steadily, but Avithout
zeal. The Sisters only found fault witli her
for being; a little lazv.

The passive life of tlie convent had, how-
ever, only outwardly affected the child's ar-
dent nature. The quieter her body the more
restless her brain. The whole week before the
first Sunday of each month, the day her aunt
came to see her, she was in a state of fever.
When on that day the little girl was sent for
to the parlor, she reached it so trembling and
pale with emotion that two or three times her
aunt had feared lest she sliould faint. Then
all she had to relate since her aunt's previous
visit hurried to her lips, strangling and chok-
ing her utterance ; she Vi'ould begin phrases
and suddenly stop short, gazing anxiously up
into her aunt's face. And clinging to the old
woman, who laughed but felt more inclined



Sister Philomene.



19



■'i



to cry, half-seated on lier aunt's chair, throw-
ing her arms round her neck, she coaxed and
forced her to put her cheek against her own,
and thus raising her
eyes and looking into
her aunt's face at
each question, she
asked about the
concierge of the
house, the butter-
w Oman of
the street,
Madame de
V i r y , and
Monsieur
He n ry , in-
(| u i r i n g if
she was for-
gotten, if
they still
spoke of her, if Mon-
sieur Henrv remem-
bered her, and when

it would be his birthday that she might write
to him. At one o'clock they parted. But
the parlor door was hardly closed and the
little one alone, when she would again half
()l)en the door, and putting her head in, with



y





I



20



S/s/rr Philomefie.



a sad and roguish smile she Avoiild wave a
last kiss to her aunt.

If by chance her aunt missed the twelve
o'clock visit, from twelve to one the child felt
as each one of her companions was summoned
a painful shock, a blow at her heart, and she
continued uneasy and restless the whole time
of vespers. On the bench where she sat side
by side with her playmates, one of a long
row of small, white, motionless caps, her head
was to be seen in constant agitation, turning
and twisting round, displaying her anxious
little countenance and eager, searching gaze,
till at last she would catch sight of the blue
ribbons in her aunt's cap amid the throng of
other caps. On quitting the church the old
woman would wait for her and return with
her from the church door to the convent
gates, the child insisting on her walking in
the ranks and leaning on her arm in the
street.

The Church loves to surround childhood
with pretty and fresh faces. She knows how
these little beings, in whom the soul is called to
life through the senses, are impressed by the
outward appearance of those around them ;
she therefore strives to appeal to their eyes, to
attract them by the charm of the women who



Sister Philomene.



21



teach and tend them. The C'huich chooses
for these duties the Sisters whose counte-
nances are most pleasing and cheerful, forit
seems as though she wished, by the smiling
faces of the younger Sisters, to replace the
absent mother's
smile for the poor
little orphans.

Of the ten ^ ,\

Sisters who
had charge
of these or-
phans, nearly
all were
young, nearly
all p r e 1 1 y ;
those even
who had not regu-
lar features had a
gentle glance, a

sweet smile that made them sympathetic and
charming. One only formed an exception, and
she, poor thing, was utterly devoid of grace.

This Sister was slightly humpbacked, one
shoulder being higher than the other, spoke
with a strong provincial accent that made her
thoroughly ridiculous, and, moreover, had a
face like a mask.



I




2 2 Sister Philonene.



It was impossible to see or hear her with-
out recaUing Punch to mind. I'hc children
had nicknamed her Sister Carabosse. With
the gestures of a man, she crossed her legs,
stuck her arms akiml)o in speaking, and stood
with her hands behind her back. Her man-
ners, too, were abrupt and rough, and at first
sight her thick, black eyebrows inspired fear.
Notwithstanding appearances, however, Sister
Marguerite was the best of creatures. The
small allowance her family — small land-owners
in Périgord — gave her was entirely spent on
cakes for the children when taken out walk-
ing. Seeing this little girl remain surly and
lonely among companions of her own age,
not joining even in their games, the kind
Sister comprehended that there existed some
wounded feeling, some need for consolation in
the child whom the other Sisters, rebuffed in
their first advances, now abandoned to her
isolation. Instinctively she attached herself
to Philomène, occupied herself with her dur-
ing playtime, bought her a skipping-rope, and
lightened her sewing task — in short, Philo-
mène became her favorite, her adoj^ted pro-
tégée. One day after lunch, without any ap-
parent cause, Philomène threw herself into
the Sister's arms and burst into tears, find-



Sister Philomene. 23


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