Émile Zola.

The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 1 online

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Produced by Dagny [[email protected]]
and David Widger [[email protected]]





Volume 1.



BEFORE perusing this work, it is as well that the reader should
understand M. Zola's aim in writing it, and his views - as distinct from
those of his characters - upon Lourdes, its Grotto, and its cures. A short
time before the book appeared M. Zola was interviewed upon the subject by
his friend and biographer, Mr. Robert H. Sherard, to whom he spoke as

"'Lourdes' came to be written by mere accident. In 1891 I happened to be
travelling for my pleasure, with my wife, in the Basque country and by
the Pyrenees, and being in the neighbourhood of Lourdes, included it in
my tour. I spent fifteen days there, and was greatly struck by what I
saw, and it then occurred to me that there was material here for just the
sort of novel that I like to write - a novel in which great masses of men
can be shown in motion - /un grand mouvement de foule/ - a novel the
subject of which stirred up my philosophical ideas.

"It was too late then to study the question, for I had visited Lourdes
late in September, and so had missed seeing the best pilgrimage, which
takes place in August, under the direction of the Peres de la
Misericorde, of the Rue de l'Assomption in Paris - the National
Pilgrimage, as it is called. These Fathers are very active, enterprising
men, and have made a great success of this annual national pilgrimage.
Under their direction thirty thousand pilgrims are transported to
Lourdes, including over a thousand sick persons.

"So in the following year I went in August, and saw a national
pilgrimage, and followed it during the three days which it lasts, in
addition to the two days given to travelling. After its departure, I
stayed on ten or twelve days, working up the subject in every detail. My
book is the story of such a national pilgrimage, and is, accordingly, the
story of five days. It is divided into five parts, each of which parts is
limited to one day.

"There are from ninety to one hundred characters in the story: sick
persons, pilgrims, priests, nuns, hospitallers, nurses, and peasants; and
the book shows Lourdes under every aspect. There are the piscinas, the
processions, the Grotto, the churches at night, the people in the
streets. It is, in one word, Lourdes in its entirety. In this canvas is
worked out a very delicate central intrigue, as in 'Dr. Pascal,' and
around this are many little stories or subsidiary plots. There is the
story of the sick person who gets well, of the sick person who is not
cured, and so on. The philosophical idea which pervades the whole book is
the idea of human suffering, the exhibition of the desperate and
despairing sufferers who, abandoned by science and by man, address
themselves to a higher Power in the hope of relief; as where parents have
a dearly loved daughter dying of consumption, who has been given up, and
for whom nothing remains but death. A sudden hope, however, breaks in
upon them: 'supposing that after all there should be a Power greater than
that of man, higher than that of science.' They will haste to try this
last chance of safety. It is the instinctive hankering after the lie
which creates human credulity.

"I will admit that I came across some instances of real cure. Many cases
of nervous disorders have undoubtedly been cured, and there have also
been other cures which may, perhaps be attributed to errors of diagnosis
on the part of doctors who attended the patients so cured. Often a
patient is described by his doctor as suffering from consumption. He goes
to Lourdes, and is cured. However, the probability is that the doctor
made a mistake. In my own case I was at one time suffering from a violent
pain in my chest, which presented all the symptoms of /angina pectoris/,
a mortal malady. It was nothing of the sort. Indigestion, doubtless, and,
as such, curable. Remember that most of the sick persons who go to
Lourdes come from the country, and that the country doctors are not
usually men of either great skill or great experience. But all doctors
mistake symptoms. Put three doctors together to discuss a case, and in
nine cases out of ten they will disagree in their diagnosis. Look at the
quantities of tumours, swellings, and sores, which cannot be properly
classified. These cures are based on the ignorance of the medical
profession. The sick pretend, believe, that they suffer from such and
such a desperate malady, whereas it is from some other malady that they
are suffering. And so the legend forms itself. And, of course, there must
be cures out of so large a number of cases. Nature often cures without
medical aid. Certainly, many of the workings of Nature are wonderful, but
they are not supernatural. The Lourdes miracles can neither be proved nor
denied. The miracle is based on human ignorance. And so the doctor who
lives at Lourdes, and who is commissioned to register the cures and to
tabulate the miracles, has a very careless time of it. A person comes,
and gets cured. He has but to get three doctors together to examine the
case. They will disagree as to what was the disease from which the
patient suffered, and the only explanation left which will be acceptable
to the public, with its hankering after the lie, is that a miracle has
been vouchsafed.

"I interviewed a number of people at Lourdes, and could not find one who
would declare that he had witnessed a miracle. All the cases which I
describe in my book are real cases, in which I have only changed the
names of the persons concerned. In none of these instances was I able to
discover any real proof for or against the miraculous nature of the cure.
Thus, in the case of Clementine Trouve, who figures in my story as
Sophie - the patient who, after suffering for a long time from a horrid
open sore on her foot, was suddenly cured, according to current report,
by bathing her foot in the piscina, where the bandages fell off, and her
foot was entirely restored to a healthy condition - I investigated that
case thoroughly. I was told that there were three or four ladies living
in Lourdes who could guarantee the facts as stated by little Clementine.
I looked up those ladies. The first said No, she could not vouch for
anything. She had seen nothing. I had better consult somebody else. The
next answered in the same way, and nowhere was I able to find any
corroboration of the girl's story. Yet the little girl did not look like
a liar, and I believe that she was fully convinced of the miraculous
nature of her cure. It is the facts themselves which lie.

"Lourdes, the Grotto, the cures, the miracles, are, indeed, the creation
of that need of the Lie, that necessity for credulity, which is a
characteristic of human nature. At first, when little Bernadette came
with her strange story of what she had witnessed, everybody was against
her. The Prefect of the Department, the Bishop, the clergy, objected to
her story. But Lourdes grew up in spite of all opposition, just as the
Christian religion did, because suffering humanity in its despair must
cling to something, must have some hope; and, on the other hand, because
humanity thirsts after illusions. In a word, it is the story of the
foundation of all religions."

To the foregoing account of "Lourdes" as supplied by its author, it may
be added that the present translation, first made from early proofs of
the French original whilst the latter was being completed, has for the
purposes of this new American edition been carefully and extensively
revised by Mr. E. A. Vizetelly, - M. Zola's representative for all
English-speaking countries. "Lourdes" forms the first volume of the
"Trilogy of the Three Cities," the second being "Rome," and the third





THE pilgrims and patients, closely packed on the hard seats of a
third-class carriage, were just finishing the "Ave maris Stella," which
they had begun to chant on leaving the terminus of the Orleans line, when
Marie, slightly raised on her couch of misery and restless with feverish
impatience, caught sight of the Paris fortifications through the window
of the moving train.

"Ah, the fortifications!" she exclaimed, in a tone which was joyous
despite her suffering. "Here we are, out of Paris; we are off at last!"

Her delight drew a smile from her father, M. de Guersaint, who sat in
front of her, whilst Abbe Pierre Froment, who was looking at her with
fraternal affection, was so carried away by his compassionate anxiety as
to say aloud: "And now we are in for it till to-morrow morning. We shall
only reach Lourdes at three-forty. We have more than two-and-twenty
hours' journey before us."

It was half-past five, the sun had risen, radiant in the pure sky of a
delightful morning. It was a Friday, the 19th of August. On the horizon,
however, some small, heavy clouds already presaged a terrible day of
stormy heat. And the oblique sunrays were enfilading the compartments of
the railway carriage, filling them with dancing, golden dust.

"Yes, two-and-twenty hours," murmured Marie, relapsing into a state of
anguish. "/Mon Dieu/! what a long time we must still wait!"

Then her father helped her to lie down again in the narrow box, a kind of
wooden gutter, in which she had been living for seven years past. Making
an exception in her favour, the railway officials had consented to take
as luggage the two pairs of wheels which could be removed from the box,
or fitted to it whenever it became necessary to transport her from place
to place. Packed between the sides of this movable coffin, she occupied
the room of three passengers on the carriage seat; and for a moment she
lay there with eyes closed. Although she was three-and-twenty; her ashen,
emaciated face was still delicately infantile, charming despite
everything, in the midst of her marvellous fair hair, the hair of a
queen, which illness had respected. Clad with the utmost simplicity in a
gown of thin woollen stuff, she wore, hanging from her neck, the card
bearing her name and number, which entitled her to /hospitalisation/, or
free treatment. She herself had insisted on making the journey in this
humble fashion, not wishing to be a source of expense to her relatives,
who little by little had fallen into very straitened circumstances. And
thus it was that she found herself in a third-class carriage of the
"white train," the train which carried the greatest sufferers, the most
woeful of the fourteen trains going to Lourdes that day, the one in
which, in addition to five hundred healthy pilgrims, nearly three hundred
unfortunate wretches, weak to the point of exhaustion, racked by
suffering, were heaped together, and borne at express speed from one to
the other end of France.

Sorry that he had saddened her, Pierre continued to gaze at her with the
air of a compassionate elder brother. He had just completed his thirtieth
year, and was pale and slight, with a broad forehead. After busying
himself with all the arrangements for the journey, he had been desirous
of accompanying her, and, having obtained admission among the
Hospitallers of Our Lady of Salvation as an auxiliary member, wore on his
cassock the red, orange-tipped cross of a bearer. M. de Guersaint on his
side had simply pinned the little scarlet cross of the pilgrimage on his
grey cloth jacket. The idea of travelling appeared to delight him;
although he was over fifty he still looked young, and, with his eyes ever
wandering over the landscape, he seemed unable to keep his head still - a
bird-like head it was, with an expression of good nature and

However, in spite of the violent shaking of the train, which constantly
drew sighs from Marie, Sister Hyacinthe had risen to her feet in the
adjoining compartment. She noticed that the sun's rays were streaming in
the girl's face.

"Pull down the blind, Monsieur l'Abbe," she said to Pierre. "Come, come,
we must install ourselves properly, and set our little household in

Clad in the black robe of a Sister of the Assumption, enlivened by a
white coif, a white wimple, and a large white apron, Sister Hyacinthe
smiled, the picture of courageous activity. Her youth bloomed upon her
small, fresh lips, and in the depths of her beautiful blue eyes, whose
expression was ever gentle. She was not pretty, perhaps, still she was
charming, slender, and tall, the bib of her apron covering her flat chest
like that of a young man; one of good heart, displaying a snowy
complexion, and overflowing with health, gaiety, and innocence.

"But this sun is already roasting us," said she; "pray pull down your
blind as well, madame."

Seated in the corner, near the Sister, was Madame de Jonquiere, who had
kept her little bag on her lap. She slowly pulled down the blind. Dark,
and well built, she was still nice-looking, although she had a daughter,
Raymonde, who was four-and-twenty, and whom for motives of propriety she
had placed in the charge of two lady-hospitallers, Madame Desagneaux and
Madame Volmar, in a first-class carriage. For her part, directress as she
was of a ward of the Hospital of Our Lady of Dolours at Lourdes, she did
not quit her patients; and outside, swinging against the door of her
compartment, was the regulation placard bearing under her own name those
of the two Sisters of the Assumption who accompanied her. The widow of a
ruined man, she lived with her daughter on the scanty income of four or
five thousand francs a year, at the rear of a courtyard in the Rue
Vanneau. But her charity was inexhaustible, and she gave all her time to
the work of the Hospitality of Our Lady of Salvation, an institution
whose red cross she wore on her gown of carmelite poplin, and whose aims
she furthered with the most active zeal. Of a somewhat proud disposition,
fond of being flattered and loved, she took great delight in this annual
journey, from which both her heart and her passion derived contentment.

"You are right, Sister," she said, "we will organise matters. I really
don't know why I am encumbering myself with this bag."

And thereupon she placed it under the seat, near her.

"Wait a moment," resumed Sister Hyacinthe; "you have the water-can
between your legs - it is in your way."

"No, no, it isn't, I assure you. Let it be. It must always be somewhere."

Then they both set their house in order as they expressed it, so that for
a day and a night they might live with their patients as comfortably as
possible. The worry was that they had not been able to take Marie into
their compartment, as she wished to have Pierre and her father near her;
however neighbourly intercourse was easy enough over the low partition.
Moreover the whole carriage, with its five compartments of ten seats
each, formed but one moving chamber, a common room as it were which the
eye took in at a glance from end to end. Between its wooden walls, bare
and yellow, under its white-painted panelled roof, it showed like a
hospital ward, with all the disorder and promiscuous jumbling together of
an improvised ambulance. Basins, brooms, and sponges lay about,
half-hidden by the seats. Then, as the train only carried such luggage as
the pilgrims could take with them, there were valises, deal boxes, bonnet
boxes, and bags, a wretched pile of poor worn-out things mended with bits
of string, heaped up a little bit everywhere; and overhead the litter
began again, what with articles of clothing, parcels, and baskets hanging
from brass pegs and swinging to and fro without a pause.

Amidst all this frippery the more afflicted patients, stretched on their
narrow mattresses, which took up the room of several passengers, were
shaken, carried along by the rumbling gyrations of the wheels; whilst
those who were able to remain seated, leaned against the partitions,
their faces pale, their heads resting upon pillows. According to the
regulations there should have been one lady-hospitaller to each
compartment. However, at the other end of the carriage there was but a
second Sister of the Assumption, Sister Claire des Anges. Some of the
pilgrims who were in good health were already getting up, eating and
drinking. One compartment was entirely occupied by women, ten pilgrims
closely pressed together, young ones and old ones, all sadly, pitifully
ugly. And as nobody dared to open the windows on account of the
consumptives in the carriage, the heat was soon felt and an unbearable
odour arose, set free as it were by the jolting of the train as it went
its way at express speed.

They had said their chaplets at Juvisy; and six o'clock was striking, and
they were rushing like a hurricane past the station of Bretigny, when
Sister Hyacinthe stood up. It was she who directed the pious exercises,
which most of the pilgrims followed from small, blue-covered books.

"The Angelus, my children," said she with a pleasant smile, a maternal
air which her great youth rendered very charming and sweet.

Then the "Aves" again followed one another, and were drawing to an end
when Pierre and Marie began to feel interested in two women who occupied
the other corner seats of their compartment. One of them, she who sat at
Marie's feet, was a blonde of slender build and /bourgeoise/ appearance,
some thirty and odd years of age, and faded before she had grown old. She
shrank back, scarcely occupying any room, wearing a dark dress, and
showing colourless hair, and a long grief-stricken face which expressed
unlimited self-abandonment, infinite sadness. The woman in front of her,
she who sat on the same seat as Pierre, was of the same age, but belonged
to the working classes. She wore a black cap and displayed a face ravaged
by wretchedness and anxiety, whilst on her lap she held a little girl of
seven, who was so pale, so wasted by illness, that she scarcely seemed
four. With her nose contracted, her eyelids lowered and showing blue in
her waxen face, the child was unable to speak, unable to give utterance
to more than a low plaint, a gentle moan, which rent the heart of her
mother, leaning over her, each time that she heard it.

"Would she eat a few grapes?" timidly asked the lady, who had hitherto
preserved silence. "I have some in my basket."

"Thank you, madame," replied the woman, "she only takes milk, and
sometimes not even that willingly. I took care to bring a bottleful with

Then, giving way to the desire which possesses the wretched to confide
their woes to others, she began to relate her story. Her name was
Vincent, and her husband, a gilder by trade, had been carried off by
consumption. Left alone with her little Rose, who was the passion of her
heart, she had worked by day and night at her calling as a dressmaker in
order to bring the child up. But disease had come, and for fourteen
months now she had had her in her arms like that, growing more and more
woeful and wasted until reduced almost to nothingness. She, the mother,
who never went to mass, entered a church, impelled by despair to pray for
her daughter's cure; and there she had heard a voice which had told her
to take the little one to Lourdes, where the Blessed Virgin would have
pity on her. Acquainted with nobody, not knowing even how the pilgrimages
were organised, she had had but one idea - to work, save up the money
necessary for the journey, take a ticket, and start off with the thirty
sous remaining to her, destitute of all supplies save a bottle of milk
for the child, not having even thought of purchasing a crust of bread for

"What is the poor little thing suffering from?" resumed the lady.

"Oh, it must be consumption of the bowels, madame! But the doctors have
names they give it. At first she only had slight pains in the stomach.
Then her stomach began to swell and she suffered, oh, so dreadfully! it
made one cry to see her. Her stomach has gone down now, only she's worn
out; she has got so thin that she has no legs left her, and she's wasting
away with continual sweating."

Then, as Rose, raising her eyelids, began to moan, her mother leant over
her, distracted and turning pale. "What is the matter, my jewel, my
treasure?" she asked. "Are you thirsty?"

But the little girl was already closing her dim eyes of a hazy sky-blue
hue, and did not even answer, but relapsed into her torpor, quite white
in the white frock she wore - a last coquetry on the part of her mother,
who had gone to this useless expense in the hope that the Virgin would be
more compassionate and gentle to a little sufferer who was well dressed,
so immaculately white.

There was an interval of silence, and then Madame Vincent inquired: "And
you, madame, it's for yourself no doubt that you are going to Lourdes?
One can see very well that you are ill."

But the lady, with a frightened look, shrank woefully into her corner,
murmuring: "No, no, I am not ill. Would to God that I were! I should
suffer less."

Her name was Madame Maze, and her heart was full of an incurable grief.
After a love marriage to a big, gay fellow with ripe, red lips, she had
found herself deserted at the end of a twelvemonth's honeymoon. Ever
travelling, following the profession of a jeweller's bagman, her husband,
who earned a deal of money, would disappear for six months at a stretch,
deceive her from one frontier to the other of France, at times even
carrying creatures about with him. And she worshipped him; she suffered
so frightfully from it all that she had sought a remedy in religion, and
had at last made up her mind to repair to Lourdes, in order to pray the
Virgin to restore her husband to her and make him amend his ways.

Although Madame Vincent did not understand the other's words, she
realised that she was a prey to great mental affliction, and they
continued looking at one another, the mother, whom the sight of her dying
daughter was killing, and the abandoned wife, whom her passion cast into
throes of death-like agony.

However, Pierre, who, like Marie, had been listening to the conversation,
now intervened. He was astonished that the dressmaker had not sought free
treatment for her little patient. The Association of Our Lady of
Salvation had been founded by the Augustine Fathers of the Assumption
after the Franco-German war, with the object of contributing to the
salvation of France and the defence of the Church by prayer in common and
the practice of charity; and it was this association which had promoted
the great pilgrimage movement, in particular initiating and unremittingly
extending the national pilgrimage which every year, towards the close of
August, set out for Lourdes. An elaborate organisation had been gradually
perfected, donations of considerable amounts were collected in all parts
of the world, sufferers were enrolled in every parish, and agreements
were signed with the railway companies, to say nothing of the active help
of the Little Sisters of the Assumption and the establishment of the
Hospitality of Our Lady of Salvation, a widespread brotherhood of the
benevolent, in which one beheld men and women, mostly belonging to
society, who, under the orders of the pilgrimage managers, nursed the
sick, helped to transport them, and watched over the observance of good
discipline. A written request was needed for the sufferers to obtain
hospitalisation, which dispensed them from making the smallest payment in
respect either of their journey or their sojourn; they were fetched from
their homes and conveyed back thither; and they simply had to provide a
few provisions for the road. By far the greater number were recommended
by priests or benevolent persons, who superintended the inquiries
concerning them and obtained the needful papers, such as doctors'
certificates and certificates of birth. And, these matters being settled,
the sick ones had nothing further to trouble about, they became but so
much suffering flesh, food for miracles, in the hands of the hospitallers
of either sex.

"But you need only have applied to your parish priest, madame," Pierre
explained. "This poor child is deserving of all sympathy. She would have
been immediately admitted."

"I did not know it, monsieur l'Abbe."

"Then how did you manage?"

"Why, Monsieur l'Abbe, I went to take a ticket at a place which one of my
neighbours, who reads the newspapers, told me about."

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