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Durand! you can well listen to me a little in my turn.

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

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

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

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

- Eh! what has passed then?

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

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

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

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

These words recalled the priest to himself.

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

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

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

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

- Please, enough of that subject.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- What, the Abbé Fortin said that?

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

- Certainly.

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

- Do you know anything about it, Veronica?

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

- That is true, Veronica.

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

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

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

- I have no secrets.

- Yes?.... Suzanne?

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

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

- Explain yourself.

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

- I don't understand you.

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




XL.


LITTLE CONFESSIONS.

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

CORNEILLE (_Polyeucte_).

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

- I am listening to you, he said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

- What do you mean?

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

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

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

- That is rather an elastic morality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- I quite think so.

- And you have never intended to do so?

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

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

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

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

- Oh, I have my choice.

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

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

- Why so?

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

- Not at all: do not believe it.

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

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

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

- There are certain things....

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

- You are a pearl, Veronica.

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

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

- Oh yes, we will talk again.

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

- Here it is, Monsieur le Curé.

- Ah, Veronica. _Errare humanum est_.

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

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

- You can do so without fear.

- To your discretion.

- You can do so with all confidence.

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

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

- Be discreet, that is all.

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

- Ask on.

- It will be perhaps very hard for you.

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

- Oh, no.

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

- I hardly know how to tell you.

- Is it then very serious?

- Not precisely, but....

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

- Oh, nothing.

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

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

- Speak then.

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

- Meanwhile....

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

- What hussy?

- That little hussy, who was here just now.

- Oh, Veronica! Veronica!

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

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

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




XLI.


MORAL REFLECTIONS.

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

G. MELOTTE (_Les Temps nouveaux_).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How then? where is virtue?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




XLII.


MEMORY LOOKING BACK.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he hurried to find the Bishop:

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

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

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

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

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


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