For more than eighteen months now, Durtal had been living at Val-des-Saints. Tired of Chartres, where for a time he had settled, and harassed by desultory longings for the cIoister, he went to the Abbey of Solesmes.
The Abbé Plomb, one of the curates of Chartres Cathedral, gave him a letter of recommendation to his old acquaintance, the Abbot of this monastery, where Durtal Cordially received, staying there repeatedly for more a fortnight at a time, yet always coming away more uneasy, more irresolute than before. It cheered him, on his return, to meet again his old friends, the Abbé Gévresin and his housekeeper, Madame Bavoil. With a sigh of relief he took up his old quarters once more, and then the same thing occurred; by degrees he became captivated by the recollection of the conventualism of Solesmes, so utterly different from the life he had seen at La Trappe.
It was, in truth, no longer the iron rule of the Cistercians, with their perpetual silence, their black fast and never-ending abstinence, bound to sleep fully dressed in a dormitory, to rise at two o’clock in the morning and to work either at some handicraft or on the land. The Benedictines were allowed to speak, and on certain days to eat meat. They could undress for the night and each had his private cell; they rose at four o’clock to devote themseIves to mental rather than manual work, being far busier in libraries than in the workshop or the field.
The rule of St. Benedict, so sternly followed by the while monks, had been tempered by the black monks. It was flexible enough to adapt itself to the dissimilar needs of the two Orders, whose aim was not really one and the same. Self-denial and penance were the aims of the Trappists, whereas the Benedictines, properly so-called, devoted themselves to the divine service of praising God. Consequently the former, impelled thereto by St. Bernard, had intensified all that was strict and harsh in the rule; on the other hand, the latter took full advantage of its kindlier and more lenient side.
Guests, and those staying there in retreat, could not but notice this difference. In the same measure that his reception had seemed curt and austere when first Durtal had visited La Trappe, ten years ago, to be converted, so his welcome at Solesmes, when he went there to try his vocation, had been affable and friendly.
When among the Benedictines, he had taken advantage of their broadness; he had been allowed to rise, go out, attend services, etc., almost exactly as he liked; he had his meals with the monks, and not, as at the Cistercians, in a room apart; he was no longer kept at a distance, on the border-line of the community, and on the edge of the cloister, but was brought right into it, living with the Fathers, conversing and working with them. The duties of hospitality, so stressed by the Patriarch, were indeed faithfully observed by the black monks.
As soon as he got back to Chartres all this fatherly kindliness came again to his mind. In the course of time Solesmes became an enchanting vision, the more ideally beautiful the more remote it was.
"There is no place like Solesmes!" he exclaimed. "The only monastic life that I could live is the life seen there!"
And yet he could not forget, how, every time he left the Abbey and sat in the carriage conveying him to Sablé station, he had breathed deeply, as a man might do when relieved of an awful load; how, too, directly he was in the train, he said to himself, "Thank God Here I am, a free man again!" And yet, in spite of this, he really missed that feeling of discomfort and of restraint due to being with others, and was sorry for his deliverance from set hours and from unlooked-for distractions and inevitable minor worries. He found it difficult to analyse these feelings or to account for such abrupt changes. " Yes, certainly," he would declare, " Solesmes stands alone; there is no place like it in the whole of France; religion there has an artistic splendour to be met with nowhere else; the chant is perfect; the services are conducted with matchless pomp. Where else, too, could I ever hope to meet an Abbot, as broad-minded as Dom Delatte, or experts in musical palaeography more skilled or learned than Dom Mocquereau and Dom Cagin, or, for that matter, with any monks more helpful and engaging — quite so, but..."
By way of answer his whole being seemed to recoil with a sort of instinctive repulsion for this establishment, whose over-illuminated front threw into a darkness all the greater the humbler buildings that adjoined it ; and so he moved as warily as a cat that goes sniffing round an unfamiliar room, ready, at the slightest alarm, to take to its heels. And yet, as to the grounds of his suspicions, he could not but admit that he had not the shadow of a proof that the pervading spirit inside the cloister differed in temper from that seen from outside. What, then, is the meaning of this extraordinary hesitation?
"Come now, let us have it out: What is it that goes against the grain?" And to himself he replied, "Everything and nothing." Yet certain points for notice immediately obtruded themselves — for instance, the pomp and display seen at the Abbey. First of all: the very grandeur of this monastery, with its army of monks and novices, took away from it the intimacy and charm of such a less-imposing retreat as La Trappe de Notre-Dame-de-l’Atre. With its huge buildings, crowded with monks, Solesmes inevitably suggested barracks. One marched to church as if going on parade; the Abbot seemed like a general surrounded by his staff; the others mere humble privates. No; one could never feel at ease, nor be sure of the morrow, living in this religious garrison, the troops of which had something restless, timorous and apprehensive about them. Indeed, some fine day, if a member chanced to displease those over him he might find himself sent, like any mere parcel, right away to some other cloister.
Then, the unutterable dreariness of the recreations, of tedious talks that others overhear, the irritation produced by the want of that solitude which was the delight of La Trappe, but nowhere to be found at Solesmes, where there are neither ponds nor woods, where the garden is flat and cropped, and which has no winding path, no shady nook for meditation, out of sight, alone.
"Quite so," he ruminated, "but, to be just, I ought now to admit that, with the exception of the site (which I don’t like, though everybody else does), my other grievances are quite baseless. How, indeed, would it be possible to realize Solesmes as a whole, the solemnity of its services and the glory of its chant, without that serried mass of monks? How, if not with a hand of iron, can one control an army of nearly a hundred men, whose assorted tempers, by ever rubbing together, cannot fail to be warmed? Discipline there must be, and as strict, nay, even stricter in a monastery than in a camp. Finally, to other less efficiently staffed convents of the congregation help can occasionally be given by sending them the subjects they need; a master of the ceremonies, it may be, or a precentor, an infirmarian, or, in short, the specialist they may require.
"If the inmates of Solesmes dread such an exile, this only proves that they are happy in their Abbey. And what higher praise can one expect? In any case, such enforced departures are less often due to disfavour than to the need of lending persons to other houses in the interests of the Order. As regards my dislike of life in this evermoving crowd, a Father to whom I spoke quite openly about it judiciously replied: ’Where would the merit be if we did not suffer from being tossed hither and thither like a pebble on the shore of the great cloister?’
"Quite so; but that does not prevent me from preferring something else."
Reflecting thus, Durtal began to draw from his store arguments, stronger and more peremptory, to justify his misgivings.
"Supposing the Abbot allows me to work at my books in peace," he said to himself, " and agrees not to meddle with literary matters (and so broad-minded a man as he can be trusted in this), that would be no use, for I should be absolutely incapable of writing a book in this Abbey. On several occasions I tried to write, but the mornings and the afternoons are so broken up by services that all work of an artistic kind is out of the question. This sort of life, cut up into little slices, may be first-rate for collecting materials and for amassing notes, but for turning out good literary work, oh dear no!"
And he remembered certain distressing occasions when, playing truant from one service, he had endeavoured to work at a chapter only to be oppressed by the thought that, directly he had begun to get under way, he would have to leave his cell and go to chapel for another service. "Thus," he concluded, ’’ the cloister is useful for preparing materials for a book, but it is best written elsewhere."
Then, again, what exactly is involved by being an oblate? To this he had never yet got a plain answer. It depends upon the goodwill of Father Abbot; and, consequently, in every monastery the position of an oblate may de different, But this is absurd. Benedictine oblates were already in existence in the eighth century; their status is supposed to be defined by hoary, age-long regulations. Yet nobody appears to know where these regulations are to be found.
All very well to talk of the goodwill of an Abbot! Why, it is like surrendering oneself in fetters to a man of whom, after all, one knows nothing, except by hearsay. Whatever the Abbot might be, old and narrow-minded, young, masterful and versatile, to be shut up in a convent with him would be worse than being a monk. For a monk is at least protected by strict rules which his superior may not infringe. Finally, what a half-and-half — neither flesh nor fowl — sort of position is that of an oblate in a monastery! A sort of half-breed between Father and lay brother, he would in all likelihood be looked at askance by both.
The situation of a hooded oblate in an Abbey is not one to be envied.
"Besides that, there would always be the bad, heavy air of the cloister; no, I certainly could never bear that!" How often had he not repeated this phrase to himself! And yet, he still went back to Solesmes, for, as soon as he had settled down at Chartres, the old longing came over him for the divine-service, for those days so sublimely spaced by the intermittent Liturgy, to lead the soul to God and prevent the vacant mind from drifting out to sea.
At Chartres in the evenings he often felt as if he had forgotten to pray, as if he had wasted his day, his memory haunted by snatches of the chant, he felt eager to hear them once more, and to see again the splendid services from which he was now estranged.
Never till then had he felt so intensely the need of praying in common with others, of liturgical prayer, prayer for which the Church has appointed the time and the text. He said to himself that everything is in the Psalms: words of gladness as of contrition, words of adoration as of ecstasy; their verses fit all states of the soul, and correspond to every need. He began to realize the power inherent in these inspired prayers, a power they owed to their being prayers formulated by the Son of God, to he offered to His Father by the Psalmists who prefigured Him. Now that he was deprived of these, his whole being seemed shorn of strength; he was the prey of utter discouragement and dejection.
"Yes, indeed," he told his confessor, the Abbé Gévresin, "yes, I am haunted, as it were, by phantoms of the past; I have inoculated myself with the seductive poison of the Liturgy; it now runs in my spiritual veins and I shall never be rid of it. The church services affect me as morphine affects a drug-taker. This sounds foolish, but it is true."
"And what does the Abbot of Solesmes think of it all? " asked the old priest.
"Dom Delatte’s eyes twinkle and his mobile mouth quivers with just a touch of contempt as he listens to the tale of my instability. Perhaps he thinks, as I once thought, that it is all a matter of temptation."
"I think so, too," said the Abbé Gévresin.
"But you don’t think so now I Don’t forget how we besought Our Lady of the Crypt to enlighten us; and every time that I returned to Solesmes the impression was the same, yet not quite the same, for, added to it, there was an unreasoning aversion, a wish to draw back. Assuredly that was neither a sign of a vocation, nor an encouragement to pursue it..."
After a pause, Durtal continued, "There is, of course, the dreadful argument of certain whole-hoggers: reason tells you that the monastic life is superior to any other; there is no need to know more; that is enough; you must therefore enter the narrow path and muster courage and determination to suffer all the disillusions it entails and the sacrifices it demands.
"Obviously, such a theory is beyond the reach of the vulgar; it implies exceptional generosity of spirit, complete personal surrender, a faith equal to any and every test, and rare firmness of character and power of endurance.
"Moreover, it is much like jumping into the sea for the love of God and forcing Him to pull you out. It also puts the cart before the horse; it places Our Lord last instead of first, and amounts to a repudiating of the call, the divine touch, the prompting, the pull; it is really to obey one’s self, to inflict one’s views on Christ instead of waiting for His call.
"I shall certainly not take such a line; besides, the Holy Virgin, my mother, was not wont to lead me thus."
"Nor are you wrong in not wishing to tempt God," said the Abbé. "But if you don’t mind, let us view the matter from another side. There is nothing that obliges you to don the dress of an oblate and to shut yourself up in a cloister. You can lodge outside and yet attend the services.
"As I told you before, this is the only place that will suit your case; you have passed the age of illusions; you are too keen an observer to be able to spend the rest of your life continually side by side with monks; all too soon you would become aware of their hidden failings. Live near them, but not actually among them. The world’s opinion on monks ranges from one extreme to the other; and both extremes are equally foolish.
"Some imagine monks in the attitude of those in the coloured print; fat and chubby, a pasty in one hand, and a wicker-covered Chianti bottle in the other. Nothing ould be more false and silly. Others think of monks as angelic beings, soaring above this world of ours. That, too, is not one whit less false and silly. The truth is that they are men, most of them rather better than laymen, but, after all, just men with all a man’s frailties, save that, here and there, we find among them a real saint. But to go back to what I was saying: the more prudent course would be the middle one; to become an oblate, indeed, but to live outside, though near, the cloister, for instance at Solesmes."
"Hardly at Solesmes. There is not a single decent house to let there. Abbé Plomb who went there knows that. Solesmes is a dismal hole. Life outside the monastery would be simply horrid. No place to stroll about in; no shady walks in summer-time. Sablé, the nearest town, is of the very lowest type, and, as for the deadly slow trains from there to Le Mans and Paris, the less said the better. No, if it is to be Solesmes, then it must be the cloister or nothing."
"Then, why not go to some other monastery, where the country is more pleasant and to which one can get more easily; in Burgundy, for instance, there is Val-des-Saints, about which Abbé Plomb told you."
"Well, that is worth thinking over."
And in due time this was settled. One of the fathers from Val-des-Saints, passing through Chartres, had stayed with Abbé Plomb who had at once arranged an interview with Durtal. The two men were made for each other and straightway became chums.
Dom Felletin was over sixty-five years of age, yet still young and active, tall and strongly built, rosy-checked and with the blood showing through the skin; his complexion reminded one of a ripe apricot; his nose was rather full, and when he laughed the tip would move; with his clear blue eyes and firm mouth, this priest diffused a feeling of tranquil gaiety, the joy of a healthy, selfless, kind-hearted nature; full of enthusiasm for his Order, keenly interested in liturgy and mysticism, his great dream was to have groups of oblates forming a community around his own.
He pounced, so to speak, upon Durtal, and at his magic touch all questions were speedily solved. There was a nice house and old garden to let, cheap, quite near his monastery; nor did he forget to praise the Abbey for its homeliness and regularity of its services.
"Of course," he said, "at our place you will not find the exquisite art of Solesmes; we have not got a master like Father Mocquereau to lead the choir; but, still, mass is beautifully sung, and the ceremonies, as you will see, are fine. There, close to Val-des-Saints you have Dijon, a town full of medival treasures and ancient churches, and yet lively enough, and well-stocked with all modern conveniences,"
So Durtal, won over by this jovial priest, had spent a fortnight a his convent; and at the suggestion of the Abbot had rented the house and garden adjoining the cloister. It proved to be a very pleasant experience.
There was, indeed, a certain homeliness about the Abbey. It was not crowded like Solesmes, where he had often been oppressed by the sense of the many. At Val-des-Saints life was very different, especially in the rather too great freedom aIIowed to everyone, though Durtal himself, inasmuch as he had the advantage of it, was the last person to complain. The Abbot, Dom Anthime Bernard, was an old man of nearly eighty, known for his saintly character, and who, in spite of incessant worries, never failed to show kindness and courtesy to all. He received Durtal with open arms and at the end of a month told him that he might consider himself at home in the monastery, giving him a key of the enclosure to prove the truth of his statement. It is true that, apart from the friendship which soon linked him with some of the inmates of the cloister, Durtal, first as postulant, and then as oblate-novice, could avail himself of an exceptional position, which gave him a proper footing and introduced him to the Order of which, when his term of probation was over, he would be a member.
The difficult question of the oblate’s status had, indeed, cropped up almost at once; but, though he had not clearly answered it, the Abbot at least found a common-sense way of meeting it.
"Begin your novitiate," he told Durtal, "and we will talk about it afterwards. Your noviceship, like that of the monks, will last a year and a day. During this time you will study the liturgy with Dom Felletin, and attend the Office. Meanwhile we shall no doubt have unearthed the necessary texts and regulations which you will have then to study with the Master of Novices."
Having agreed to this arrangement, every feast day served as a pretext to invite Durtal to dine at the monastery. With work and talk, the services of the church, and his researches in the monastic library, which contained nearly thirty thousand volumes, Durtal found occupation enough to save him from boredom. Then, occasionally, if he felt dull, he could take the train to Dijon. On other days he liked to dream away his time in the garden, part of which, despite the protests of the gardener, had been allowed to run to waste, being a veritable wilderness of weedy and wild flowers sprung up from nowhere. The tangle of it all amused Durtal, who preferred it to only pulling up the nettles and briars that threatened to choke the other plants. When spring came, so he thought, he would make a clearance of some of these intruders, so as to make room for a liturgical herb garden such as Walafrid Strabo once planted near his convent.
One thing only was unsatisfactory in his lonely retreat, and that was the attendance. Madame Vergognat, a peasant who kept house for him was quite impossible. Lazy and fond of a drop, she made poor food even more unpalatable by the careless way in which she cooked it; one day she would send up a sticky paste like gelatine, and the morrow break her master’s teeth on something as hard as wood. Durtal, who indeed could do nothing else, had resolved to make the best of this wretched food as a penance for his former sins. At this juncture a wire reached him telling of the sudden death of Abbé Gévresin. He instantly caught the express to Paris, and from there reached Chartres in time to look upon the lifeless features of the man whom, it may be, he had loved the most. He stayed on at Chartres a few days, and as Abbé Plomb could not take into his service Mme. Bavoil, the deceased’s housekeeper, having already brought in an aunt of his own, Durtal offered to take her into his home at Val-des-Saints, where she would be welcomed as a house-keeper and a friend.
He left Chartres without a definite reply to this offer, as Mme. Bavoil could not make up her mind. Then, some weeks after his return to Val-des-Saints, he received a letter from her, telling him that she was coming.
He went to meet her at Dijon Station, fully expecting to see her somewhat quaintly garbed, for Mme. Bavoil had original ideas about matters of dress. Yet he was literally stupefied when he beheld her at the door of the railway carriage, wearing an amazing bonnet with black ruchings, and brandishing a grey umbrella. On alighting, she dragged along a sort of tapestry carpet bag from which the neck of an uncorked bottle emerged; at the luggage-van again, there was much mirth among the porters when her strange box, a cross between a sideboard and a sarcophagus, was produced. It was long and huge; and,on closer examination, the lid of it appeared to be covered with pigs’ bristles sticking out in broad bands on the musty wooden framework.
"What is in there? ’’ he exclaimed in alarm.
"Why, my linen and my belongings,’’ she calmly replied.
And as, somewhat ashamed, he handed over this absurd piece of luggage to the attendants, she, puffing vigorously, pulled out of her pocket a huge check handkerchief and proceded to dust the tin crucifix that hung round her neck by a chain.
"Would you like to have something to eat or drink?" Durtal suggested, "we have plenty of time.’’
"You’re joking," was her reply, and from her bag she produced a crust of bread and the bottle which was still half full of water. "I’ve already been eating and drinking on the journey as you can see." So saying, she calmly poured the remaining water over her hands and, standing on the platform, shook them until they were dry.
"And now, my friend," she said,"I am at your service."
Durta wondered. The arrival at Val-des-Saints was an exciting one. Villagers at the doors of their cottages stared in amazement at this slim little woman, all dressed in black, who, while gesticulating, stopped to kiss the children, to ask their names and ages, and to bless them, making the sign of the cross on their foreheads with her thumb.
"WELL, Madame Bavoil, aren’t you surprised to find ourself sitting here with me next door to a monastery?"
"Oh! my friend, why should I he surprised? It’s a long while since anything surprised me. When the dear Abbé Gévresin died, I asked Our Lord what I should do; I said: ’Ought I to stop at Chartres, go back to Paris, or rejoin my good friend Durtal, who offers me a home? What is Thy will? As Thou hast appointed Thyself the Ruler of my soul and body, do Thou decide for me as seemeth best unto Thee yet, if it please Thee, spare me suspense; let Thy will soon be made clear to me.’"
"And so here you are."
"Well, that was the answer I thought I got. But what matters now is that I am here at Val-des-Saints, to look after your house and to be of service to you. So let us talk about this country and the sort of life that one leads here and see how one can get supplies to keep things going."
"The village you saw as you came out of the station just one big street with a few tracks abutting, with thatched cottages on either side, There are about two hundred houses in the place, which has a butcher’s shop, a baker’s and a grocer’s where you can also buy tobacco and haberdashery. From them can be got supplies, but, though cheap, they sell such wretched provisions that one has to go into Dijon every week to fetch others. But Mme. Vergognat, who till to-day has kept my pot boiling, will be able to tell you all about this better than I. She is coming in to-night, so you can ask her."
"The house seems rather a nice one, as far as I can judge at a glance, and you have a big garden, full of fine old trees," said Mme. Bavoil, after a pause. "That much is to the good. And what about your Benedictines?"
"They live over there; through the window you can see the long row of monastery casements and the church tower. It won’t be long, however, before you get to know the monks, for, whenever one of them goes to the village, he almost always calls in here to shake hands with me. It is cheering to be in touch with such good God-fearing folk."
"Are there many of them?"
"There are fifty, including the novices and lay-brothers."
"Why, this convent of Val-des-Saints is quite a large abbey, my friend!"
"Yes, it is one of the largest monasteries sprung from Solesmes, the biggest in Burgundy."
"Is it of ancient origin?"
"Yes, there was once a priory here which depended on the famous abbey of Saint-Seine, about five leagues from Dijon, of which the structure, now altered out of all recognition serves as a hydropathic establishment. Founded in 534 by the Saint of that name, Saint-Seine counted among its famous inmates St. Benedict of Aniane, the reformer of the Order of St. Benedict in the ninth century; its priory at Val-des-Saints was once a flourishing institution, but fell into decay and met an inglorious end in the Revolution. Its restoration dates only thirty years back. Dom Guéranger, the Abbot of Solesmes, to whom its ruins were given, rebuilt it, and filled it with monks. Thus, from being, as it was originally, quite a small priory, it became a powerful abbey."
"And that friend of Abbé Plomb, who came to see us at Chartres, Dom... what was it? Alas, I never can remember names..."
"Yes, that’s it! Is he here?"
"Yes, he is Master of Novices."
"I shall be pleased to pay my respects to him."
"You will see him; I told him you were coming."
"So, then, as to society, you have that of the monks; who else is there, besides?"
"Well, nobody much. In the village there is a queer, old bachelor, somewhat crusty, but a good fellow, nevertheless, Monsieur Lampre. He lives in a rather nice house next door to the monastery. He is always railing at the Benedictines, but doesn’t in the least mean what he says. When he calls a father ’a pious blockhead’ that only means that he is a monk whose ideas happen not to tally precisely with his own. The main thing is to know his little ways."
"How do the monks get on with him?"
"They know him well, and are fully aware that no one is more devoted to them than he. Of this he has often furnished them proof; first of all by giving them the Abbey itself, which was his property, and then by supplying them with handsome sums of money when their funds were at a low ebb. The fact of the matter is that he dreams of an ideal perfection which does not and cannot exist, and it vexes him to find that, after all, every monk remains but a human being. Nevertheless, in spite of such eccentricities, he is a good Catholic, both helpful and pious; a great authority, by the way, on monastic usages and customs. He has a library and specializes in works relating to the conventual life, and has an exceptionally fine collection of rare illuminated MSS.
"Besides M Lampre, the only layman whom to visit is a pleasure, there is also a lady oblate, Mademoiselle de Garambois, quite the kindliest and most charitable of old maids. In the person of a stout, somewhat elderly lady, she conceals a heart as youthful and as pure as that of a little child. She causes some slight amusement in the village and in the abbey on account of her mania for wearing the liturgical colour of the day in her dress. She is an animated ordo, a walking calendar; the ensign of the regiment. Everybody knows that it is the feast of a martyr when she adorns her hat with red, or that of a confessor when she hoists white ribbons. Unfortunately the number of church colours is limited, and this she deplores so deeply that they tease her about it. Yet everybody admires her sheer good nature and her untiring kindness of heart.
"When you see her you will soon discover her two pet crazes: cooking, and church-services. She simply raves about ceremonies, and dainty dishes. As regards both, she could give points to the most accomplished chef and the most learned monk."
"Well, at any rate, my friend, this lady oblate of yours is no commonplace person."
And how fond she is of her Benedictines! Formerly she thought she had the call to be a nun, and she went through the novitiate at the Abbey of St. Cecilia at Solesmes, but she fell ill, and by doctor’s orders was obliged to give up her plan. She consoles herself now by living in the neighbourhood of a monastery. The faded nun has blossomed anew as a lady oblate."
"But to understand the Liturgy like that she must be a scholar?"
"She has a knowledge of Latin which she got during her novitiate at Solesmes, and I think that she has read at it since. But, apart from treatises on Plain Song and the Mass, nothing interests her; though she holds forth jubilantly, as I have told you, about any tasty dish. Thus, one may call her the cordon bleu of the convent. She can repeat by heart the cooking recipes, and also the anthems of the Psalter."
"Why doesn’t she live at Solesmes where she began her novitiate?"
"Because, like myself, she could find no suitable house to live in; then, she is the niece of M. Lampre, the funny old fellow whom I spoke of. He is her only living relative, and she came here to be near him and the monastery."
"And so they live in the same house?"
"No, that would never do. Though they are attached, they would eat up one another, if they always lived together! I leave you to imagine how angry she gets when he says hard things about her dear monks."
"With the exception of these two persons, there is no one in this hole, I repeat, to whom one can speak. The peasants are rude and grasping; and, as for the bloated aristocracy, vegetating in their châteaux behind their armorial bearings, they are, intellectually, inferior even to the rustics. We take off our hats when we meet them, but that is all."
"How do they get on with the monastery?"
"Badly; they abuse it for reasons that are not exactly heroic though quite human. In the first place the Benedictines run the parish, the parish priest being one of the monks. The church of Val-des-Saints is both Abbey-church and parish-church. Thus the curé cannot accept invitations from the gentry and frequent their drawing-rooms as a secular priest might do; so it comes about that the country squires miss that pliant clergyman of their own, upon whom their wives could pounce, using him in their own interest. That is grievance number one. Then, among the local magnates there is a pompous old fogey more or less decked out in armorial bearings who is fond of singing in church snatches from operas which some pious scamp has adopted for church use. This Baron des Atours has repeatedly tried to obtain leave to warble his stuff in our choir during the month of May. But the monks naturally objected, for, thank Heaven, flashy music of the Gounod-Massenet type has not yet found its way into the monasteries.
"The Baron’s friends naturally took up arms on his behalf, nor will they ever forgive the Abbey for having prevented the aforesaid gentleman from desecrating our sanctuary with the sound of his cracked voice. That is grievance number two, and by no means the lesser one, either."
"Well, they seem to be a nice lot, your nobles!"
"They are the quintessence of imbecility, just sublimated foolishness. You must not forget, Madame Bavoil, that here we are in the provinces."
"And the peasants, are they, too, ill-disposed towards the monastery?"
"They get their living by it. They trade on it, and, in consequence, they hate it."
"But you seem to have brought me to a land of brigands!"
"No," replied Durtal, laughing, ’"there are no brigands in Val-des-Saints, but plenty paragons of vanity and models of stupidity. Perhaps that is worse. Howbeit, you have only to do as I do, and cut them all, then you will live in peace."
"What bell is that?" asked Madame Bavoil, as the ringing of one was heard.
"That is the bell for Vespers. It must be ten minutes to four," said Durtal, looking at his watch.
"Are we going to Vespers?"
"Yes, of course, especially as they are those of the Exaltation of the Cross."
"So, for my first attendance at church here I shall see a fine service?
"See, no; hear, yes. This festival is only a major double and not on such a scale of splendour as a double of the first class, such as Christmas, for instance. But, though you will not see so magnificent a ceremony, heightened and made brilliant by the profusion of lights in the choir, at any rate you will hear a most beautifully ordered Office, with wonderful anthems and a fiery hymn, all dyed in blood."
Chatting then, they reached the church.
"Oh what an ancient building it is," exclaimed Madame Bavoil, looking at the porch which seemed carved out of pumice-stone, covered over with yellow and bright green mosses.
"Yes, the belfry and the porch date from the fifteenth century, but all the rest of the church is modern. The interior has been restored inure or less haphazard; disfigured by hideous stations of the cross and lighted, except at the end, by plain windows. The church of Val-des-Saints is no more than a memory, a shadow of its former self. The apse, however, with its old stalls which came out of another abbey, and its altar which, though modern, is well executed, is not quite intolerable. Judge for yourself."
They went in. The nave, of fairly vast proportions, had no pillars and was crossed by a transept containing, on one side a lady-chapel, and on the other a chapel of St. Joseph. It was badly lighted; almost dark. At the end were two rows of stalls right and left of the sanctuary extending from the communion-rails to the Gothic altar which was set against a wall painted to resemble a brown curtain.
High up in this wall were stained glass windows of a modern type, decorated with figures, flabby in design and crude in colouring. In fairly bright weather one could make out Our Lord and His Mother robed in tubular mantles of garish reds and Prussian blue; then, St. Benignus of Dijon, wearing a pumpkin-coloured sugar-loaf head-dress and arrayed in a chasuble of sorrel green. There were also St. Bernard, swathed in a whitish mantle the colour of muddy rice-water, St. Benedict, St. Odilo of Cluny, St. Scholastica and St. Gertrude in black cowls reminding one of raisiné sec. This masterpiece had been painted and baked some twenty years ago by some Lavergne or other.
Undistressed by such affronts to her eye, Madame Bavoil, having finished her inspection, knelt down at a prie-dieu, and, taking out a pair of circular spectacles froma huge case, began to read a book well-stocked with coloured pictures of Saints. These she kissed.
The bells continued to ring for some time longer and then stopped. A few minutes afterwards, when four o’clock struck, they began to ring again. As the last waves of sound died away the measured tread of feet was heard. Madame Bavoil looked round. Coining through a door at the bottom of the church thes monks entered, two by two, followed by the Abbot, walking alone and known by his golden pectoral cross. Ascending the choir-steps beyond the communion-rails, they genuflected in couples before the altar, and then, rising, they went to their places, one to the left, on the side of the Gospel, and one to the right, on the side of the Epistle. Then, all kneeling, they made the sign of the Cross on their brows and lips, and, at a signal from the Abbot who rapped his desk, they all rose, and, bowing deeply, awaited the second rap which is the signal to begin the Office.
None was first chanted in simple psalmody and the monks as soon as it was over remained standing with bowed shoulders, waiting in silence for the Abbot’s signal to intone vespers.
The psalms were the Sunday ones, which, as they occurred so frequently in the liturgy of other days of the week, Durtal knew by heart. Usually he dwelt rather on the anthems, responsory and hymn. But that evening, he was dreaming and his dreams, though not of the Office, were not far removed, for it was the Office which had caused them. He mused once more on the story of the Exaltation of the Cross which he had read that morning in a collection of medival legends.
First of all in his imagination there rose up a blurred vision of an Asia, mad, weird, hideous to behold. As the vision grew clearer, he saw Chosroes, the robber of the holy Cross in the seventh century lie invaded Syria, captured and sacked Jerusalem, seized Zachiariah the High Priest, and took back in triumph to Persia the wood of the True Cross which St. Helena left in the Holy Place where Christ had suffered death.
When the tyrant had returned to his own home, his pride and arrogance burst all bounds. He sought to be worshipped as the Almighty and sent forth a decree that he was neither more nor less than God the Father.
In order the better to live up to his new role, he abdicated in favour of his son and built himself a tower all cased in plates of gold. Here, in a strange hail on the ground-floor, also covered with gold and precious stones, he shut himself up. Then, like the Almighty, lie wished to have his own firmament, so a ceiling was constructed at a giddy height and lighted in the daytime by a cleverly manipulated sun, and at night by an artificial moon round which twinkled the groups of sham stars. But this did not satisfy him. He grew tired of this fixed heaven, the mechanism of which used up hundreds of slaves lie insisted on reproducing the weather-changes, the storms and showers suitable to the seasons. A hydraulic apparatus was put up at the top of the tower winch at will could reproduce the gentle summer rain, the wild downpour, the mist of autumn, or the water-spout. He also made darts of lightning, whilst heavy chariots racing over the metal pavement of the subterranean passages of the tower, produced the reverberating thunder.
Believing himself to be in very truth the personification of God Almighty, he sat enthroned at the bottom of this well, that was all cased in gold and studded with gems and capped by its theatrical sky. On the right of his throne he set up the Cross of our Saviour; to the left, on an imitation dunghill of silver filigree he placed a cock. In this way he intended to represent the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
His former subjects marched past this painted, bedizened idol, motionless and clad in a gold mantle, on which countless gems sparkled in the light of the imitation heavenly bodies, flashing perpetually like a glowing brasier.
One can picture between the Cross and the cock that wizened face crowned with a blazing mitre, its wrinkled brow, its cheeks, daubed with paint, its curly, matted beard and — the only sign that it lived — the hollow vacuous eyes peering out from a shrine of gold, flattered by the countless prayers that rose up round it with the clouds of incense.
How long did this masquerade last? Fourteen years, according to the legend. But there came a time when the Emperor Heraclius raised a huge army and set out in quest of the Holy Cross. He met the troops of Chosroes near the Danube, defeated his son, and, pressing onwards, invaded Persia, where he sought out the aged monarch in his tower. Of his son’s defeat Chosroes knew nothing, for the people all hated him and no one dared break the bad news to him. Great was his fury when Heraclius and his court rushed in, sword in hand.
"Hear, O King!’’ cried the Emperor. "Thou hast done honour after thy fashion to the Cross of Chist. If thou wilt confess that thou art only mortal, and but the humble servant of the Most High, thy life shall be spared. l will but carry away the Cross of our Redeemer thee I will suffer to reign over thy people in peace. But if thou refuse my conditions, then woe is thee, for I will slay thee outright."
As he listened the old king’s eyes shone like blazing carbons, like the eyes of an old wolf at night, and he arose to curse his foe and reject his oiler with scorn. Then with one stroke of his sword Heraclius sent the old man’s head rolling along the pavement, while the corpse wttli its golden vestments fell forward in a pool of blood. The Emperor had the old king buried forthwith, and then razed his tower.
"Gloria Patri, el Filio, et Spiritui Sancto."
All the monks, standing in their places, bowed low, their foreheads almost touching the desks in front of them. Then, rising as one, they responded:
"Sicut erat in principio," seating themselves at the words "Et in saccula saeculorum. Amen."
"It is too bad of me to let my thoughts wander like this,’’ said Durtal to himself. "I ought to attend to the service. Why let an old legend like this distract me, a legend, by the way, that has not much foundation in reality? The facts of history are much simpler.
In A.D. 611 Chosroes, king of Persia, conquered Jerusalem, helped thereto by the Jews who wished to rebuild the Temple. He cut the throats of the Christians, took Zachariah, the Archpriest prisoner, and captured the wood of the True Cross. This resulted in a Crusade of the Catholics against Chosroes.
Landing in Cilicia, the Emperor Heraclius won the battle of Issus, returned to Constantinople, and, with the support of the Caucasian tribes, attacked Trebizond where, to avenge the murder of the priests of juda, he murdered the Magi. Then, having as allies the hordes of the Volga, he once more marched against the Persian army, and, after defeating it at Niniveh, fell back on Taurus. There the King’s son, Sisroës, who had just slain his father, came to sue for peace. His proposals were accepted. Zachariah the priest got his freedom and the Cross and the Roman Eagles captured by Chosroes at Jerusalem were restored.
Chosroes was accordingly killed by his son, and of the clockwork tower, and the cock, history knows nothing.
As for Heraclius, lie resolved to bring back the Cross to the Holy Sepulchre. When he reached Jerusalem he placed the Cross on his shoulder, intending to climb the height of Golgotha; but, when he reached the gate of the city leading to the mountain, he found himself unable to budge a step. Then the Patriarch Zachariah gently pointed out to him that, when Christ entered by that gate he was not decked in royal robes, but was clad simply and rode an ass, thus giving an example of humility to all his followers. The Emperor took the hint, doffed his purple robe and his sandals, borrowed the ragged clothes of a poor man, and then easily climbed the height of Calvary and placed the Holy Cross in the same spot from which Chosroes had taken it.
"Yet for all that," mused Durtal, ’’our valiant Heraclius made a bad end, for he helped to spread the heresy of the monothelites who, though they acknowledged in Christ both a divine and a human nature, believed that they had but one action and one will. He died, leaving a line of successors famous for their deeds of lust and crime.
"Enough of this let us get back to the Office." This time it was easy for him to attend. The choir was singing the hymn of Fortunatus, the Vexilla Regis; and as, strophe on strophe, the hymn of triumph marched to its majestic end, he felt thrilled to his very marrow. He listened in ecstasy to the cries of victory:
"Forward goes the Standard of the King, brightly shines the Mystery of the Cross;’’ to those cries of war and jubilation: "O beautiful and sparkling tree, stained with the purple blood of the King! Scale from whose arm there hung the Body that snatched from Tartarus its prey Hail, Cross, our only Hope!"
Then came the long anthem of the Magnificat, repeating the poet’s acclamations and praises: "O Cross, more radiant than the host of heaven, Sweet wood, sweet nails, bearers of a sweeter load"; then the Magificat itself, with solemn tone, and the Salve Requiem to remind the creature of the reality of sin, that life is not all the long hurrah, and that he must plead for forgiveness.
"I think that your services are most inspiring,’’ said Madame Bavoil, as they came out of church.
"Yes, aren’t they? Quite different from those in the Cathedrals of Paris or Chartres. But what is lacking in Benedictine choral services is a boy’s voice. Still, one can’t have everything. After having attended these services so long I ought to be bored with them, but I am not. Every day they seem new to me; and I even like listening to those four Sunday Psalms, of which we get an extra dose, as they are sung at almost every festival."
"Why does the Liturgy make so much of these Psalms? And why have you got four, instead of five, as we have? For you seem to leave out the last one."
"Yes, the Benedictine Vespers skip the last Roman Psalm, but they make up for it by a short lesson, which is generally a model of enchanting melody. As to why1 cannot tell. Doubtless because the monastic service has been kept intact from the first, whereas the Roman service, in the course of the ages, has undergone improvements, which ceased only when it reached its definite form. With regard to the reasons of the choice of the four Sunday Psalms in preference to others for so many festivals occurring on week-days, they are exph. ned by handbooks, though the explanations given are hardly convincing. We can understand the presence of the opening Psalm, Dixit Dominus Domino meo, which our Lord quoted to prove to the Pharisees His divinity. It is only right, then, that the Vespers, this Messianic song, should occupy the place of honour. The third, Beatus vir qui timet Dominum, was cited by St. Paul in his Epistle to the Corinthians to encourage them to give alms generously. This may be some sort of a reason. Yet those for using the other two Psalms are not so convincing. The second, however, the Confitebor tibi. Domine, speaking of the manna God showered on the Hebrews in the wilderness, contains an allusion to the Paschal food. Perhaps that is why it was retained as being suitable. The fourth Psalm, the Laudate, pueri, Dominum, is a fine song of praise which worthily brings the series to a close.
"Nevertheless, it remains true that Vespers have not that clear-cut character of an evening prayer so noticeable in Compline. Very likely Dom Cabrol is right when he states in his book, La Prière antique, that the Vesper Psalms, which are numbered consecutively in the Psalter, were chosen without regard to their meaning, simply because they followed. I wonder, do these explanations satisfy you?"
"Oh! my friend, I am sure I know nothing about it but, in my humble opinion, you seem to be looking for difficulties where there are none. Would not this be simpler? The first Psalm shows forth our Lord, to whom it is personally addressed. The Beatus vir applies to the just, that is, to St. Joseph, who is thus styled all through his Office; the Laudate, pueri, of which the wording recalls the Magnificat, applies to the Blessed Virgin. As for the second Psalm, the Confitebor, I had not guessed as much, but since you say that it relates to the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, all the better. With these Psalms I can pray to Jesus in His own Person and, under the sacred Eucharistic species, to St. Mary and to St. Joseph. More than that 1 do not ask nor do I feel anxious to know if the service is more, or less, adapted to the needs of evening prayer. But, to change our subject here we are in the middle of the village. That rather dirty-looking shop at the end of the street is, no doubt, the butcher’s where you get your meat?"
"Yes, we do; that is to say, we have the leavings of the monastery. One day the butcher kills an ox, or, to be more exact, a cow. Another day lie kills a sheep, and another day a calf, Of these animals the greater part is, of course, reserved for the monastery which, not counting its guests, has fifty mouths to feed. So we have to take what remains of the cow, the sheep and the calf, after the monastery has had what it wants, for you can well imagine that they won’t kill a beast just for us, for Monsieur Lampre or Mademoiselle de Garambois. Thus all of us, monks and laymen, have to eat of the same food and on the same day. This want of variety would not matter so much if only the butcher did not kill his beasts the night before, or even on the very morning of the day he sells the meat. For, oh dear! one has to chew the most unspeakable stuff, something between rubber and floss silk!"
"Up to a certain point, cooking improves meat that is too fresh,’’ said Madame Bavoil, ’’ but in that case we must dispense with grilled cutlets or juicy beefsteaks; indeed, one has to stew meat for hours in a casserole if it is like that bit of mutton you grumbled so much about at Chartres!" and Madame Bavoil smiled.
"It seems to me," she said, "that if Mademoiselle de Garambois is so fond of good food she would not buy meat of this butcher. How does she manage?"
"Oh she and her servant are always going into Dijon to get provisions."
"Ah! Then, if it comes to the worst, we can do the same. How long does it take to get there by train?"
"A good half-hour, and the train-service is not a convenient one. There is a train at 6.30 a.m. another at 10 o’clock; and another at 2 p.m. They leave Dijon at 6 a.m. and it a.m. at 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. Those are all."
"Do you often go to Dijon?"
"Sometimes. Dijon is a bright, charming town. There is a Gallery of Old Masters, a Moses’ Well that is most interesting, some quaint bye-streets and churches that I like. It also possesses an excellent ’ Black Virgin.’"
"Ah!" exclaimed Madame Bavoil, " so it has got a ’Black Virgin.’ I was somewhat unwilling to leave Chartres because of Notre Dame de Sous Terre and N.D. du Pilier, and now I shall find them here. It is not a modern Madonna, is it?"
"No; ’Our Lady of Supply,’ or of ’Good Hope,’ dates from the twelfth century, if I am not mistaken. In 1513 she saved the city of Dijon that Louis de la Trémouille, at the head of a small force, was defending against the Swiss. In memory of this event, a procession was held in her honour every year, on September 12th, until the middle of the eighteenth century, when it was discontinued why, I do not know. At any rate, it is certain that, in Burgundy, Our Lady of Good Hope is held in great veneration. If the matter is of interest to you I will lend you a book — a rather stodgy one — in which her miracles are recounted by a certain Abbé Gaudrillet, who calls himself ’Mépartist,’ priest of Notre Dame."
By this time they had reached home, where the housekeeper, Madame Vergognat, awaited them. Durtal introduced the two women to each other, secretly amused at the contrast between them. Madame Bavoil had not changed much, though her hair was thinner, and what remained of it was whiter; her features were still bony and sallow. Age had given angularity to her profile, but her dark eyes were the same, calm and yet sharp as a ferret. She always suggested something of the peasantwoman, and something of the candle-seller in a church, yet her face had a certain rapt look, a look of ecstasy, when prayer had touched her soul to flame.
The other woman was fat, red-faced and bumptious. Her eyes were pig-like, and grey and white bristles sprouted underneath her coarse nose. Her mouth, with its row of yellow teeth, was one that could laugh, yet it had a hard, pinched look when closed. At a glance one could easily sum her up as a specimen of the bibulous charwoman of the French soil. Madame Bavoil, with her black eyes, looked her through and through, and then, with a sigh that said much, politely expressed a hope that their relations would be most friendly, saying that she meant to call her in often for some of the rougher housework. This assurance served to dispel the frown on Madame Vergognat’s brow, but she nevertheless felt bound to appear more stupid than she really was, for fear of compromising herself in her replies.
"I understand you to say,’’ persisted Madame Bavoil, "that at Madame Catherine’s, here, I can buy needles and thread, and all kinds of haberdashery. Is that so?"
"Well, that all depends, my good lady. There’s thread and thread. Madame Catherine is most obliging. But you’d better see her yourself and tell her what you want."
Madame Bavoil tried to make sense of this reply. But in vain. So she asked another question as to the shape of the loaves sold in the village. Madame Vergognat apparently did not understand, so she cautiously replied, "I really cannot explain."
"I am only asking a simple question," continued Madame Bavoil; " are the loaves that the baker sells round or long? Why, there must be some in the kitchen; fetch me a bit and we’ll see.’’
The other woman brought back a crust.
"It’s the long sort. That is all I wanted to know.’’
"Perhaps it is,’’ assented Madame Vergognat.
"Oh dear!" exclaimed Madame Bavoil, after she had gone, "are they all like this at Val-des-Saints?"
"No, the others are worse. That one is the best. Now you can see what a job it is to get a plain ’yes’ or ’no’ from any of them."
"Ah my friend! the Father Confessor must have a nice time with parishioners of this sort! How they must try to dodge him, and beat about the bush!
"They don’t need to beat about any bush, for the simple reason that they never go near the confessional.’’
"What? With a monastery in the village, do you mean to say that they don’t go to confession?"
"’I’m a good Republican; that’s why I don’t go to Mass,’ is a phrase that you’ll often hear in this part of the world. As for the morals of the peasantry, they are too shocking for words. Political agents have entirely corrupted them."
"Oh Lord!" exclaimed Madame Bavoil, clasping her hands, "What are we coming to? Here am I, compelled to live among the companions of the Prodigal Son, for, if my friend speaks truth, that is what they are!"
"You two belong to the family; I am not going to wash your hands any more," said the Abbot, laughing, to Durtal and M. Lampre. "Go straight to your places." And the Abbot, who stood at the door of the refectory, moved aside to let them pass. Next to him were two monks; one held an old china basin and ewer, and the other, a towel. A priest-visitor entered. The Abbot took the ewer, and in sign of welcome, poured a few drops of water on his fingers, and handed him over to the guestmaster, who beckoned him to follow and placed him next to Durtal.
The refectory was a huge room with the beams across the ceiling supported by quaintly-wrought brackets on which flowers and little animals were carved. Like the Chapter Hall, the oratory, and the guests’ reception room, the refectory dated from the fifteenth century, being all that remained of the original abbey, save for a great winding staircase and some old cellars. The other parts of the building had been erected in the seventeenth century, or quite recently.
The white walls of the refectory were panelled half-way up with pine; on each side a long bench ran along the panelling, whilst the tables, set closely together, leaving just room enough to pass, were fixed to a slightly raised floor on either side, so that the whole was like a street with wooden side-walks and the centre roadway entirely covered with square red tiles. The six large casements held lozenge panes of ground glass. At the further end of the room was the Abbot’s table which was like the others; only the panelling on the wall behind it was cone-shaped and surmounted by a cross at the point. This table was flanked by two others, one on the right for the Prior, and that on the left for the Sub-Prior. Like the Abbot, both these sat at meals alone. Facing them, at the other end of the room, near the door, a novice stood at a desk, ready to read aloud during the meal.
Everyone was standing.
Benedicite, said the Abbot.
Benedicite, repeated the two lines of monks.
In te sperant, Domine, et tu das escam illorum in temore opportuno. Aperis, tu, manum tuam et imples omne animal benedictione.
And at the "Gloria" of the Doxology all heads went down, to rise again at the "Kyrie Eleison," only again to bow during the silent recitation of the "Pater."
Then the Abbot’s voice was again heard:
Oremus. Benedic, Domine, nos et haec tua dona quae de tua largitate sumus sumpturi. Per Christum, etc. Amen.
Then the young novice from his desk intoned in a fresh, clear voice, "Jube, Domine, benedicere.
And the Abbot replied:
Mensae caelestis participes faciat nos Rex aeternae gloriae.
"Amen," said all the monks in unison, as each one unfolded his napkin, in which were rolled a knife, fork and spoon.
The guests’ table was in the centre of the room, near that of the Abbot, which overlooked it, for the Abbot’s table was on a raised platform, whereas the guests’ table was on the centre floor. A wide space separated it from that of the lay-brothers, which was near the reading-desk.
Two Fathers in blue aprons served the monks and the brothers. The guests were waited on by the guestmaster. The guests’ dinner (for in the monastery lunch is called dinner, and dinner, supper) consisted of meatbroth, thickened with semolina, boiled beef, mutton with haricot beans, a salad over-soaked in vinegar, custard and a small bit of cheese. The monks had the same fare, minus the mutton and the custard.
Some drank water with a little wine, and others, plain water. Silence was the rule, each monk being busily engaged with what was on his plate.
After having chanted, at dinner, a passage from the Bible, or, at supper, some articles from the Rule, the lector appointed for the week always went on to read extracts from some religious or semi-profane work, first announcing the author and title of the work, and the chapter. He always had to read in a sing-song monotone, so as to insure that the hearers took no pleasure in the manner of his delivery. It was a mere shower of grey words. At first nobody paid any attention; but as the first edge of their appetites became blunted, diners leaned back and listened, that is, if the subject happened to be interesting.
But alas! it was usually extremely tedious. Dry morsels of history, or, worse still, scraps from the Lives of the Saints, written in that unctuous style beloved of Catholics. Not seldom a smile would cross the face of the monks when they heard for the thousandth time the same old wearisome tales.
Those who had finished their meal wiped their knife and fork and spoon and, having washed them, they wrapped them up again in their napkin. The Abbot looked about to see that everyone had eaten his portion of cheese, and then, smartly tapping the table with his little hammer, he stopped the reading. The lector changed his tone and in a plaintive voice chanted the words: "Tu autem, Domine, miserere nobis."
With much shuffling of feet all arose and replied, "Deo Gratias."
The Abbot, in the somewhat tremulous voice of an old man, intoned:
"Confiteantur tibi, Domine, omnia opera tua." "Et sancti tui benedicant tibi," came the answer.
Then, as at the "Benedicite," all heads were bowed at the "Gloria," and the Abbot spoke the prayer:
Agimus tibi gratias, omnpotens Deus, pro universis beneficiis tuis, qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Then, turning, they all filed out of the refectory, the monks going first and the Abbot last. Passing through the cloister to the recitation of the "Miserere," they reached the chapel, where the service of grace ended.
On coming out of chapel, the Abbot, as was customary, asked his guests to take coffee with him.
The room set apart for such receptions was at the foot of the stairs leading to the cells. It was solidly built with walls of such huge thickness that in the embrasures of its two windows beds could have been placed. They were whitewashed and adorned with photography, showing views of the old portion of the abbey. Over the chimney-piece of coloured plaster hung a Crucifix, covered, seemingly, with just such tinfoil as that in which chocolate is wrapped. As furniture there were rush-bottom chairs and a large table of white wood covered with striped oil-cloth.
Round this table were grouped the Abbot, Dom de Fonneuve, the Prior, Dom Felletin, the Master of Novices, Dom Badole, the guest-master, the priest on a visit, and M. Lampre and Durtal, invited in honour of St. Placid’s feast.
Dom Badole was vainly hunting for a sugar-basin that all the while stood right in front of him. He was short and thick-set, and, had he worn a mob-cap, his sallow, wrinkled face might have been mistaken for that of some ultra-devout old maid, for he had just the same placid half-smile. His way of greeting with arms folded across his chest, his obsequious manner and affected politeness, were a trifle annoying; yet, strange to say, this man, so pleasant to others, towards himself was severity personified. When his day of chatttering and bowing and scraping was over, he was unsparing in his use of the discipline, chastising himself for his enforced neglect of the inner life amid the frivolous duties of attending on guests that came and went. He could never bring himself to reconcile his duties as host with the recollection demanded of a monk. At times one wondered, looking into his cold, pale blue eyes, eyes with just a suspicion of cruelty like those of a Siamese cat, if he would not also have willingly administered a dose of the discipline to those visitors who unwittingly caused him so much inward trouble. As a monk he was exemplary, and, as a priest, most pious; but slow of comprehension, and not of more than average intelligence. After having given him a trial in several other capacities, in which he had invariably proved a failure, he was allotted the easy task of looking after the guests, and when there were only two guests he got along tolerably well; but if there were more, he got flurried and asked for further assistance.
The Prior offered a singular contrast. Despite his seventy years, Dom de Fonneuve was hale and hearty. His lucid, vigorous mind and his fame as a scholar in the world of historians made of him the chief personality of this abbey. In summer, people came from all quarters of the globe to consult him. Texts were submitted to him which he deciphered as easily as child’s play. He would correct copyist’s blunders, detect interpolations, and, in the twinkling of an eye, re-established the original text. He was, to boot, a very mine of erudition; conversant with every volume in the library and able instantly to unearth information that another would have taken a week to discover. In that time he was one of the last survivors of that generation of giants trained by Dom Gueranger; with Dom Pitra he had gone through all the archives and all the libraries of Europe.
But what was better still than his matchless learning was his kindliness, his warmth of heart; he was a lover of souls, he yearned for them with almost passionate sympathy and wept for joy to think that he had been able to save even one. He had been nicknamed, not at all unjustly, "Mother of the Monastery," for he was indeed a man to whom you could tell your troubles, sure of coming away consoled. He had lived in several monasteries, had also been the victim of many an intrigue, yet he had preserved his childlike spirit, never believing evil of any one. Sincerely fond of his brethren, as the Rule commands, he was always ready to make it up with any monk who might have done him an injury, always ready to forgive and forget. From the depth of his nature there surged up a flood of affection that carried all before it, a desire to believe the best; such was his tenderness that a single, kindly word would bring tears to his eyes.
With his big, round head, sparkling eyes and lined forehead, he suggested sturdiness, not devoid of just a touch of good-tempered mischief. His was the face of one who enjoyed a laugh and was ready to laugh even at small things. His one fault was his hasty temper. At any sign of irregularity among the monks he was given to suddenly boiling over, like milk in the saucepan. He would reprimand them furiously, banging the table with his fist, and then, when the culprit had slunk away, would run after him, embrace him, and implore him to forgive his vehemence. Indeed, so eager was he to make amends for what in his fatherly kindness he deemed an outrage, that the delinquent could afterwards transgress with impunity. So fearful was he of losing his temper again and of again wounding the feelings of a brother, that he preferred to restrain himself and shut an eye...at least for a while.
The Abbot was of a calm disposition and more uniformly benevolent. He took no steps to reprove and let his Prior play the part of corrector-in-chief, well knowing that correction was but a prelude to petting. On both he smiled impartially. Nearly eighty years old, he thought it enough to set the example to the others. Newly shaven, he might be seen every morning in church half an hour before anyone else, making his meditation previous to matins; and the young monks who found it no easy thing to be out of bed at four o’clock of a winter’s morning, reverenced this tall, gaunt old man who, with his slight stoop, with his nose, and his spectacles, put one in mind of Cardinal Richard, Archbishop of Paris; they admired his pluck in refusing to avail himself of any of the comforts or privileges which his age and his infirmities would have amply justified him in accepting.
There was also a good deal of finesse beneath the quiet exterior of this good old man, ever so careful to withhold his hand. He was perfectly well aware of the fault of his flock and at times he could characterize them in a quaint way of his own.
"Father Titourne," he said, speaking of a professed monk who was always in the clouds and never in time for the Office, "Father Titourne suffers from a draught through the brain, and how can you expect me to help?"
"The monastery is ruled too laxly," growled M. Lampre.
"But you must admit that such leniency of government proves how virtuous the monks are," replied Durtal, "for, in the world, an institution governed in so easy-going a way would soon collapse. Yet here, everything goes on well."
M. Lampre could not but assent, but he still went on carping. He was a born grumbler, this chubby little old man of seventy, with his purple face, white hair, and stubbly beard. And yet he was both obliging and generous. He was also very religious, but liked a laugh and was not averse to an occasional ribald joke. Oddly enough he was the only Burgundian by birth among all those connected with the monastery.
The guest-master entered with a coffee-pot in his hand.
"The stove had gone out," he explained," and I did not want to offer you cold coffee. I am sorry that I am late; please excuse me, and do help yourselves to sugar."
He filled the tiny cups, and into liqueur-glasses, each the size of a thimble, he poured a few drops of white cognac.
"Well," said Dom de Fonneuve, addressing Durtal, "were you pleased with this morning’s ceremony?"
"Indeed, Father, I was. The novices did their part wonderfully well."
"I must tell them that, for they will be pleased to know that you thought so!" exclaimed the Prior.
The feast of St. Placid was an important event in Benedictine monasteries, for he was the patron saint of novices, and on his feast it was usual for the novices to take the Fathers’ places in the choir.
They took over the Office, intoned the anthems, sang all the choral music, and, in a word, acted as leaders of the choir.
"Yet, my dear Durtal," observed M. Lampre, "you must admit that, if Father Cantor had not come to the rescue during the Gloria and the Gradual they could never have got through."
"And you, in turn," said Durtal, "must admit that the plain-song of this Mass is difficult to sing, besides being pretentious and ugly. Is there in art anything more unmusical and incoherent than this so-called solemn Gloria, with its cellar-to-attic ascents, its switchback-like ups and downs? It is the same with the dancing "Credo," sung on great days which is far below the ordinary "Credo." In to-day’s mass the second phrase of the "Gradual" and the "Alleluia" are really the only two good things.
"How different it is from the frugal, straight-forward masses, from that heavenly plain-song, heard on smaller feasts Indeed, the more I hear it, the more I am convinced that Gregorian music does not lend itself to embellishment. The tender, plaintive Kyrie Eleisons used on ordinary days are spoilt when a more important festival provides an opportunity to dress them up. The only impression conveyed is that pure Gothic melodies have been covered with stucco, ornaments moulded in modern staves, sculptured neumes with plaster."
"Is it not true that the Solemn Masses are, musically speaking, vastly inferior to the Masses used on the lesser Saints’ Days? Remember, too, those feastless Saturdays, when the simple ’ Mass of St. Mary is sung, the Kyrie, No. 7, brief, plaintive, with its hint of the passing-bell the Gloria, calm, albeit cheerful, and so emphatic in its expression of praise ; the A gnus Dei, suggestive of a child’s prayer, with its simple melody, almost coaxing in tone — all that is admirable in its sobriety and candour; far above those complicated airs, those sentimental phrases, which, under pretence of expanding the simple tunes, have only distorted them, and which we have to endure, forsooth, because a saint happens to occupy a higher rank in the calendar!"
"The fact is," said the Prior, "that plain-song was made to be sung by the people. Hence it had to be easy to learn and to remember, minus needless vocal ornaments, and without uncalled-for difficulties. Your remark is correct; plain-song is made ugly by expanding it and by dressing it up, as it were, in a court train. The truth of this is proved by the fact that the boys and girls of the village who have been taught by Father Ramondoux, sing quite well at the Sunday High Mass when it is a simple Double, but are floored if the Office is of a higher grade, for instance, a Double of the first class." "Ah!" cried Durtal, recalling certain Masses, "the second phrase of the gradual, usually the best, certain Alleluias breathing a divine jubilation, even some entire Masses, from the Introit to the lte, missa est — for instance, that of the Blessed Sacrament, those of the Blessed Virgin, that of an Abbot, or the Dilexisti of the Common of Virgins — what master-pieces are they of musical inspiration!"
"In these the ornament is perfect; the ’Common of the Saints,’ I think, might be likened to a set of jewel-cases in which all the gems are set out in order; on red velvet for the Martyrs, on white velvet for the Saints who do not bear that title. Each jewel-case contains a collection of pieces Introit, Kyrie, Gloria, Gradual, Alleluia, Offertory, Sanctus and Communion; a musical whole that is the analogue of a lady’s set of jewels, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, rings, in which stones and settings are all matched and in perfect harmony."
"It amounts to this," said the Abbot,"the mediocre is the exception, and it is the admirable that predominates. You instance a Gloria that is hideous, or a few hymns whose melodies are muddled and tasteless. But, what is that when set beside the imposing mass of really fine music to be found in our service-books?"
"You are right, my Lord Abbot; criticism can only single out a few pieces for blame, and those, I may add, are the least ancient ones, or those which have undergone most alteration. For, the simpler the Gregorian chant, the more likely it is to be untouched and ancient. The only misfortune is that, on great festivals, heralded by chimes of bells, when the music ought to match the pomp and ceremony of a beautiful service — just on those very festivals one has to listen to the worst specimens of the chant."
"All the same," remarked the Prior, "we must be thankful to Dom Pothier and the Solesmes School for having revived these ancient melodies which are the Church’s own music and, in fact, her only music, for all the cleverest musicians, from Palestrina to the masters of our own day, when they sought to set to music the themes of the Liturgy, never succeeded in composing anything to equal the music of our Kyrie, our ’ Pater,’ or even of our ’Credo,’ to say nothing of the ’Te Deum,’ and of the Lessons and Gospels of Holy Week."
"The first thing to find out," said M. Lampre, "is whether the Palestrina music, that has been dinned into our ears ever since the cheap success of the choir of St. Gervais, is Church music at all. Personally, I doubt it. This method of making the voices gallop along, one after the other, till they all end in a dead heat savours too much of the steeple-chase. It is music fit indeed for the paddock or the race-course, not for the House of God; for it does not in the least express the cry of the soul, nor render a prayer."
"His excess of fugue and counterpoint does not appeal to me either," said the Prior. "Such music suggests the theatre or concert-hall; it has in it too much of the composer, is too vain-glorious; it is music, as it were, conceived in sin. How then, can it interest either worshippers or priest?"
"Except by pandering to the auto-liturgical taste of both," observed Durtal, with a smile.
"To go back to our novices," said Dom Felletin who thought it best to change the conversation — to which the secular priest and the guest-master were not listening, being engaged in a discussion on the crisis in viticulture — if you bear in mind, that, owing to lack of time, they had only had two choir-practices, you must admit that, apart from their failure in the Gloria, they did remarkably well."
"Yes, indeed, Father; and how fine Brother Blanche looked in his heavy cope, wielding the precentor’s baton!"
The Abbot smiled. "He’s a good boy, isn’t he? And so are the others. It is a positive blessing to have such lads as those in an abbey First there is this Brother Blanche. He is a real angel for piety; he loves archology and is heads over heels in love with the Liturgy. He has also got a very good voice. We shall help him to cultivate his talents, and some day he will do credit to our monastery. Then there is Brother Gèdre, who is equally good and works hard at his Greek. If we find that he has the makings of a good Greek scholar, that will be splendid, for we want one. Brother Sourche is the cleverest and the most able of all but he has a restless mind and a leaning towards rationalism, but, no doubt, the atmosphere of the cloister will cure him. Brother Marigot and Brother Vénérand are not so quick. They find theology difficult, and make little progress; but they are very docile and obedient. Later on, various house-duties will be entrusted to them which do not require intellectual effort nor any special aptitude. As for the novices who came to us from the secular priesthood, they are excellent ; and we have every reason to be pleased with them."
"My Lord Abbot, you are forgetting Brother de Chambéon," said Dom Felletin.
"What a saintly man!" exclaimed the Abbot after a pause, "What an instance of a vocation received late in life! At the age of fifty-five Monsieur de Chambéon withdrew from the world where he occupied a distinguished place in order to be admitted into our novitiate, He became a child again and lived with lads of eighteen to twenty, setting an example to them all. He is the Brother Excitator; he has to be on his feet before anyone else, to ring the bell and wake the others. He polishes the stairs and trims the lamps, and does other even more menial tasks. And all so simply, almost making an excuse for monopolizing the work that others find unpleasant. ’I don’t need so much sleep at my age,’ he says, ’ and I am more used to house-work than these young fellows.’ In short, he always invents excellent reasons for imposing upon himself all the drudgery."
"To me it is profoundly edifying," said the Prior, "to see him, with his grey hair, laughing and joking with our youngsters."
"By the way," said the guest-master, who had exhausted the topic of viticulture,"what is there in the newspapers? Do they still talk of strangling us in the noose of some new law?"
"Indeed they do," replied M. Lampre. "They talk about it more and more. The Masonic press is merciless persecution is the order of the day."
"Bah!" exclaimed the Prior, "they would never dare to do it. Parliament would never pass such a law. To interfere with the Religious Orders is a tough job and there is nobody big enough to tackle it. In my opinion, the journalists are merely bent on pleasing the vulgar with threats that will come to nothing."
"I wonder," replied Durtal. " Look how the assault on the Church has been methodically pushed on for years with unabating fury. The freedom allowed to Catholics has steadily been curtailed. The Dreyfus business advanced the cause of Freemasonry and Socialism by over twenty years. It was, in fact, nothing more than a pretext for throttling the Church; Jews and Protestants are all up in arms. Their journals sound the death-knell of the monk. Having made such headway, do you suppose that they will stop? And to spur on the Lodges, there is now a man who curses God, just as a demon might."
"The Sieur Brisson," said M. Lampre.
"Ah!" reflected the Prior, " what evil deeds must that man have done to hate our Lord like this?"
"Well," said the Abbot in conclusion, " I agree with Dom de Fonneuve that the storm is not yet ready to burst; moreover, our prayers will help to avert it. Meanwhile I think that we can sleep safely in our beds."
The cups and the liqueur glasses had long been empty. The Abbot’s rising was the signal for the others to take their departure. He went back to his cell ; so did the Prior. Dom Badole accompanied his guest, while M. Lampre and Durtal followed Dom Felletin into the garden. The monks’ recreation-time, prolonged on account of the Festival, was not yet over. In an avenue of hornbeams the Fathers were walking in two ranks face to face, one stepping back and the other forward reversing when they reached the end of the path; and at the other end of the garden the novices were doing likewise.
The garden, roughly quadrangular, was situated behind the Abbey, and extended well into the country beyond. Coming out of the cloister, always on the same level, you passed several square plots-some set with beans and cabbages and others with flowers. All the plots had a spindleshaped pear-tree at each of their four corners. Between them ran little paths, edged with box, leading to the avenues of trees. Beyond these lay meadows and orchards flanked by a row of poplars behind which was the boundary wall.
In the arrangement straight lines predominated too much, but the vegetation made up for it by its richness; the meadows were fresh and green, while vine-branches in careless disorder ramped the walls of which the coping was clothed in emerald mosses and brimstone-hued lichens.
The alley assigned to the novices was on the right; hedged in by straggling vines, it ended in a grotto above which stood a statue of St. Joseph. This grotto was divided into two cage-like compartments. One contained ravens in memory of St. Benedict’s pet. In the other there were doves in honour of St. Scholastica, whose soul had flown to Heaven in this shape.
The afternoon wore its colours of bronze and blue. The day was one when round young Autumn’s lips, as yet almost unscathed, a smile hovered, recalling that of some vanished spring. The veil of clouds was suddenly drawn aside and, as the sun’s rays fell through the vine-leaves, the ground was paved with large flakes of light and shadow. It was as if one trod upon a carpet of black lace laid on a floor of light-coloured pebbles. To screen themselves from the sun the novices either drew up their hoods, or threw over their heads the back portion of their scapulars. They were chatting merrily with Father Emonot, their under-master, or "Father Zelator" to give him his right title.
Formerly curate at a church in Lyons, Father Emonot was a little man full of nerves, with a bald head carried well backwards on a short neck, with a bilious complexion, and eyes that, thanks to his spectacles, could never be fixed. The subject of the conversation was, needless to say, the evening-office which the novices were again to conduct.
"It’s no use," sighed Blanche, the little novice, "I am always in a blue funk when I have to intone the anthem. I’m no good unless I am singing with the rest of the choir. And then, you know, to hear in the silent church only one’s own voice, why, it at once makes you shiver all over."
"Don’t be so modest, little brother," said Durtal, as the novices surrounded him, " you sang very well."
The lad blushed with pleasure. "All the same, I felt choked," he said, looking down. "My throat seemed stuffed with wool and I was stifled. Ah! and that cope, when you’re not used to it! What a weight it is on your shoulders and arms! It makes one feel so strange and uncomfortable!"
"Like a recruit feels in his sentry-box," ventured Brother Aymé.
"Your comparisons always remind one of the barrackroom and have nothing monastic about them," said the Father Zelator to the last speaker, whose appearance, suggestive of Paris and the Boulevards, was hardly in keeping with his associates.
He was only a postulant and was not expected to stay long. He was sharp and also deeply religious, but after his year in the army he had come back with rather free manners, and a craze for imitating military music which served to exasperate so timorous and straight-laced a person as Father Emonot.
Indeed, the latter would have got rid of him if Dom Felletin had not pleaded the culprit’s cause in the Chapter.
"Come, come," he said, "don’t let us take the matter so seriously. Brother Aymé will behave better in time. Being with us will have its effect. Let us wait and see."
A bell rang. The recreation time had come to an end. The novices ceased talking and in the charge of the Father Zelator went back to the abbey. Dom Felletin stayed with M. Lampre and Durtal, and they went towards the meadow.
"Those two will never manage to understand each other!" said M. Lampre.
"You see," replied the other, "Dom Emonot can’t abide frivolity, yet after many devotional exercises these young folk must get some relaxation. I don’t deny that this postulant’s manners are open to objection, but they may improve. His most annoying trick is that of imitating with puffed-out cheeks the playing of the ophicleide, then again, he always says the first silly thing that comes into his head, also he loves a joke. His jokes are innocent enough, no doubt, yet only the other day one of them made the Father Zelator quite red with anger; he reported it to the Abbot, who, however, only smiled." "What other bit of tomfoolery of his do you know of?"
"Well, I had just been lecturing to them on Chapter XX of the Rule which states that no one is to be so bold as to deem anything his own, nor even speak of it as such. This is the explanation of the monks’ use of " our" for "my;" they must not say ’my book, my scapular, my fork,’ but ’ our book’ ’ our scapular’ ’ our fork.’ Of course, it stands to reason that this only applies to articles and things we use.
"But when the lecture was over, Brother Aymé at once trod on little Blanche’s foot, saying, by way of apology, ’Brother, I am afraid I trod on our foot’."
"Father Emonot who overheard this nonsense thought that it was disrespectful towards myself. Just imagine!"
"It was a somewhat feeble joke, but not enough to hang a cat for," said Durtal.
"I can’t see why the deuce you have such a narrow-minded Novice-Master as Emonot," exclaimed M. Lampre.
Father Felletin laughed. "Each of us serves to complete the other," he said. "Father Emonot has what I lack as Novice-Master. He is orderly, observant and always on the alert. This is just what is needed in a community that consists of two groups, the elderly novices who entered when already priests, and the youngsters. This division sometimes creates a little ill-feeling, the elder ones thinking themselves superior to the younger, and the younger quoting the Rule to rebut any such claim. Now our Father Zelator has a knack of obviating all such petty discords. There has not been one since he came. He treats all as equal, but with such fine tact that no one can grumble. You, my dear Durtal, who, in your quality of oblate-novice, have the run of the novices’ quarters, you must admit that the wax-floors of the corridor are kept well rubbed, that there is not a speck of dust anywhere, and that all the cells are clean and tidy.
"Father Emonot has insisted on fresh air and cleanliness everywhere; he has also made the novices do manual work, which is good for their health and was prescribed by our Patriarch. Before he came, all they did in this way was to clean the Fathers’ boots on Saturdays. In short, he has trained all his pupils by a discipline excellent alike for body and for soul."
"He’s just a drill-sergeant!" grunted M. Lampre.
"Ah! well, they’re wanted. I am getting old, and if I am still of some use in giving conferences, and as spiritual director, I am no good whatever on the practical side. Slovenliness, dirt and disorder would be the rule were I not seconded by such a Zelator; he may be narrow-minded and scrupulous, but, after all, he is a very holy monk."
"In short," said Durtal, with a laugh, "if they had not got him to scold them now and then, your pupils would be too happy, and the monastery would be too much like the garden of Eden!"
A bell clanged, "That’s the first bell for Vespers. Good-bye," said Dom Felletin as he withdrew.
After service, when they had got out of church, M. Lampre walked part of the way with Durtal, and resumed the conversation.
"Believe me," he said, "Dom Felletin in his turn will have a lot of worry if he persists in keeping that Zelator. I know the man through and through; I admit he is a religious and a holy man. He does not hesitate to mortify his own body if by so doing he can save his disciples from temptation; if during the day he has made them unhappy, at night he will go and pray before their door. Yet, with all his virtues, he, like the guest-master, is far too fussy and scrupulous, and for this the others suffer. Then, what is worse in my opinion, his conception of the Benedictine life is an appalling one so far as the future of the order is concerned. He thinks that a monk’s life should be one of passive obedience..."
"Yes, but what of that?" interposed Durtal.
"Allow me to finish what I was saying — that it mainly consists in skilful performance of the solemn offices in choirs. In his opinion the clearest sign of a vocation is that a novice should please Dom d’Auberoche, the master of ceremonies, should know how to carry the acolyte’s candle quite straight, and, with his fingers sufficiently apart, to reveal the sham turquoises and imitation gems that adorn it.
"His dream is to produce others as fatuous as himself; he passes candidates who would not stand the ghost of a chance even in third-rate seminaries. His recruiting methods are beneath contempt; he admits pupils whom all other institutions refuse, people who want to be monks because they are unfit for anything else; yet these he marks out for the priesthood if only they fall in with all his fads and fancies. Dom Felletin may say what he likes, but the result is that an unsatisfactory class of novices is imposed on the Abbot, who fondly imagines that the prosperity of a monastery consists in an ever-increasing number of postulants. What the intellectual level of the Benedictines will be in a few years’ time, if this sort of thing goes on, goodness only knows!"
"And mind you, it is not only here that brain-power is at a low ebb," continued M. Lampre, after a pause, "in the other abbeys it is just the same. Their recruits are drawn from the secular clergy, who often provide us with scholarly novices, but chiefly from the mercantile, military and naval classes, from the nobility and the men of law. Obviously people of this character are far superior to Brothers Marigot and Vénérand, those favourite pupils of Father Emonot; but, all the same, are they fitted by their earlier education to become what 1 call real, true Benedictines? What rubbish! Novitiates such as these will never give us a Dom Pitra, a Dom Pothier, a Dom Mocquereau, a Dom Chamart or a Dom de Fonneuve, monks worthy to carry on the tradition of St. Maur!"
"Ah!" exclaimed Durtal, "but supposing they only aspired to sanctity Would that not be even better than scholarship? We hear a lot about St. Maur, of which the tradition has been inherited by the congregation of Solesmes, but just think a little : there’s Father Mabillon, and Father Monfaucon, Father Martène, Father Luc d’Achery and Father Ruinart, to name five. But there is no St. Mabillon, no St. Monfaucon, no St. Martène, no St. Luc d’Achery, no St. Ruinart! The community of St. Maur has never given to Heaven a single saint! Is that a matter for congratulation?
"Then, again, as to Benedictine learning: with the exception of musical palography, does not the École des Chartes surpass it utterly? The truth is that its place is now taken by the laity.
"It is not to learning but rather to art that the Order of St. Benedict should look if it would uphold the standard of its ancient fame. It ought to get artists in order to revive religious art, now at its dying gasp; it ought to do for literature and art what Dom Gueranger did for the Liturgy, and Dom Pothier for church music. The Abbot of Solesmes saw this, and did his best to make some headway in this direction. Among his monks he had an architect of talent to whom he entrusted the task of erecting the new buildings of the Monastery; and Dom Mellet hewed out of granite a monument admirable in its simplicity and strength, the only specimen of real monastic architecture produced in our time. What is now wanted is men of letters, sculptors, painters; in short, what we should revive is, not the tradition of St. Maur, but that of Cluny...True, in my humble opinion the oblates are far more likely to bring about this result than the Fathers.
"Perhaps you are right, but, apart from this question of art, allow me to tell you that your preference for piety, rather than for learning, would work havoc in an abbey, for, after all, nothing is more risky than to admit and ordain a slow-witted man simply because he leads a godly life. Godliness, saintliness even, may disappear; but stupidity, never! That is the one thing that remains!"
"But such discussions are really a waste of breath if you come to think of it; for the future of the Order is threatened with dangers far more grave. In spite of the Abbot’s optimisim, I greatly fear that before very long his monks will be dispersed and driven out of France. Thus all that they can do, therefore, is to spend their time in prayer, waiting for the catastrophe..."
"Alas!" exclaimed M. Lampre.
On this they parted. As he walked along, Durtal thought to himself: "What an odd man is this M. Lampre! He cannot bring himself to see that a monastery is a microcosm, a human society in miniature, a picture in little, of ordinary life. In a convent there cannot be only St. Benedicts and St. Bernards any more than there can be only men of genius and talent in the world. Meaner characters are needed to do meaner work ; so it has always been, and so it will ever be. We are for ever being told of the greatness of the coenobites of St. Maur; yet, how many of them knew nothing of either scholarship or research ; how many of them by performing lowly tasks allowed the Mabillons to work in peace, and helped and supported them by their prayers! And where, or in what class of society, could M. Lampre find such an assemblage of all the virtues as in our monastery? For there is not one monk who is not fervent. I am not thinking only of the Abbot, of Dom de Fonneuve or Dom Felletin, but of the others, too. Of course, among them there are some that are thick-headed and incapable, but they are excellent priests for all that; before abusing them, would it not be as well to ask ourselves if our Lord does not delight more in those souls that escape the perils of the mind and the dangers of a vain-glorious learning? And how charming the novices are! When I see that lad of seventeen, little Brother Blanche, with his frank, open face, clear blue eyes and merry smile, I can picture to myself the utter innocence of his soul that rejoices in God. Nor is he the only one, for his companions are just as simple and as pious as he."
And, as he walked on, Durtal continued to muse; "I have often noticed this: a new novice comes looking shy and awkward, his eyes the same as those of anyone else. But wait a few weeks; let him get over his home-sickness, which will last a fortnight more or less — for all have to contend with this; in fact they are warned that it is inevitable — well, once the depression has worn off, the novice’s face has a quite different look. It becomes brighter, and as it were, cleaner, and the difference is in the eyes. This change alone almost suffices to show whether the novice has a vocation. It would really seem as if the cloister had given a lustre to eyes that before were dull; as if it had cleansed them from the dust of the world.
"It is strange indeed, but it is true.
"Then, how happy are these lads! Most of them know nothing of life; they will come gently into bloom, like plants housed in a conservatory, embedded in suitable mould, where neither frost nor wind can touch them. Of course, that cannot prevent Satan from attacking them, like a worm that gnaws their roots; but the gardeners here are clever men, and Father de Fonneuve and Dom Felletin have old secret remedies to effect a cure."
"Good gracious! How silly of me!" he suddenly exclaimed. "I quite forgot to get what Madame Bavoil asked me to bring her. Now I shall have to go back to the monastery."
He turned back and at the lodge-gate of the monastery exchanged a word of greeting with Brother Arsène, the pay-brother, who combined the function of tailor with that of door-keeper.
"Is Father Pharmacist in?"
"To be sure, M. Durtal; when he is not at church, he is always busy with his herbs in his room; he never stirs from it."
In order to allow the country women to enter the pharmacy, which, gratis and for the glory of God, made up their prescriptions, the cell of Father Philagone Miné was situated near the porter’s lodge, outside the enclosure.
Durtal lifted the latch, but in spite of Brother Arsène’s assurance, the room was empty.
Thinking that its occupant could not be far off, Durtal took a rush chair and began to make a mental inventory of the contents of the room.
It was the weirdest abode imaginable. The hovel, with its lime-washed walls, had once been a kitchen; it still contained the cooking range, on which, in copper saucepans, mysterious potions were simmering; on shelves of white deal stood phials and packets duly labelled; opposite the window, the cracked panes of which had been mended with stars of varnished paper, a cretonne curtain, greasy as a dish-cloth, hid a small iron bed. Near this, on the top of a disused sewing-machine was a basin, and beneath it a stone jug propped up on the uneven floor by a wooden wedge. But where the Father’s ingenuity was especially noticeable was in the other quaint details. Of an old pan of scales, hooked on to a peg in the wall, he had made a soap-dish; it held two pieces of soap and, to preserve the balance, he used one piece one day and the other the next. The top bar of the balance, adroitly fixed to the stone wall, bristled with hooks on which hung drying towels. Not an inch of space was wasted in this queer den. Facing the shelves that held the bottles and packets there were others nailed higgledy-piggledy to rickety uprights forming pigeon holes, no two of which were the same; wherever these shelves were not too far apart, sheets of cardboard served to connect them; in and on these there was a regular jumble of bottles, crockery, and statues of saints; old engravings and modern coloured prints were pasted on the walls near the fire-place, all so blackened by smoke as to be unrecognizable; then there were also strange utensils, mortars and retorts, broken lamps, and a variety of bowls and basins which, together with bits of charcoal, lay about in every corner, the whole overlaid with dust.
"Aha!" thought Durtal, "before he became a Benedictine, Father Mine kept a chemist’s shop in Paris. What sort of customers can he have had, I wonder, if his shop was as dirty and untidy as this?"
"Now here he comes," said Durtal, as the shuffling sound of old slippers was heard.
The monk entered. He was the oldest inmate of the house, older indeed than the Abbot, being over eighty-two. On his head were knobs and freckles like excrescences on the gnarled mossy stump of some old tree ; his eyes were dull and rheumy and reminded one of frosted windowpanes, owing to advanced cataract; his hooked nose over-hung a firm mouth, in which the remaining teeth formed embattlements; his complexion was fresh and his face, though lined, was not unduly wrinkled. Apart from failing eyesight and his tottering gait, the old monk was wonderfully hale. His hearing and speech were unimpaired, and he had none of the infirmities of an octogenarian.
He looked both venerable and droll. In the convent they called him "Dom Alchemist," not because he was trying to find the Philosopher’s Stone — in which, however, he believed — but because his quaint ways, his perpetual air of abstraction, his studies in the medival pharmaccpea, his hatred for the prescriptions of modern doctors, and his contempt for new remedies, seemed to justify such a nickname.
He put his stick in the corner and wished Durtal good-day.
"I say, Father, I have come to ask you for a piece of court-plaster for my house-keeper who has grazed her finger."
"Very well, young man; " — Father Mine addressed everyone under sixty in this way — and while searching for the court-plaster on one of the shelves, he observed, more to himself than to Durtal, "I wonder how they used that powder that medical men in the Middle Ages praised so highly, labelling it ’Lamprey-powder,’ because it was made of the calcined head of that fish?"
"I am sure I don’t know," replied Durtal.
"Yes," went on the old mad, disregarding the interruption, " the list of remedies I copied out, from a work compiled by a Dijon apothecary in the 15th century, is a most curious one. We find in it those old-fashioned cures which certainly had their uses, and at any rate did not poison people like the alkaloids used by modern druggists. But I can’t make out all of it, I know that the ointment called’ Anthos’ is nothing more than rosemary ointment, that Goliamenin is the red fuller’s earth of Armenia. But what in the name of goodness was Samendene, and for what did it serve?"
And he looked at Durtal as he jerked his head.
In default of something better, Durtal ventured to suggest "Perhaps, Father, you would find the information you want in some volumes in the library upstairs."
The old man jumped, and then he let himself go.
"The library indeed! Don’t talk to me about the library! Would you believe it! I’ve never been able to make them buy a collection of our ancient codices and formularies. Whenever I let them know that such books are on the market they always tell me that they can’t afford them. Can’t afford them, indeed! I am ashamed to say that we Benedictines have not even got that volume by one of our great ancestors of St. Maur, Dom Nicholas Alexander. Botanical and Pharmaceutical Dictionary! No, pharmacy doesn’t interest the Fathers, but their health interests them, right enough. When they come and ask me for remedies, then they think there may, after all, be something in pharmacy. Yet pharmacy owes much to our Order. Wasn’t it our monks in the old days who used to heal the sick in the villages that clustered about our abbeys?"
Durtal, who had already heard these grievances, was about to beat a retreat, but the old man barred his exit.
He was just about to continue his plaint when the door opened and Dom Ramondoux, the choir-master, walked in. He shook hands with Durtal who, though he detested his brazen-voiced singing, liked him for his frankness and friendliness, and for being a man in whom one could trust. His character was, however, more attractive than his appearance.
Dom Ramondoux was a native of Auvergne, a jovial, loquacious fellow, bull-necked, broad-chested and with a goodly paunch. He had glaucous goggle-eyes, a short snub nose and pendulous cheeks, while huge tufts of red hair stuck out from his nostrils and the cavities of his ears.
"My voice is out of order," he said to Father Miné, and as the latter shrugged his shoulders, he exclaimed: "Just listen!" and opening his huge mouth there came forth a fearsome wheezing.
"I saw in this newspaper," he said, producing one, "an advertisement of pastilles that are supposed to strengthen the vocal cords and to cure singers’ sore throat. Could you get some for me?"
"Pastilles!" exclaimed Dom Miné, scornfully. "Pastilles! What are they, do you suppose? Just creosoted sweets, that is all. 1 never keep such stuff, and on no account will I deal in it. But if you really wish to have your throat attended to, though I can’t see that there’s any need, I will make you up a mixture of nitrated lemonade."
"Do you imagine that I want to poison myself with your old nostrums?" cried Father Ramondoux.
Durtal felt disinclined to hear more, so he took advantage of the discussion to get away.
THE house in which Durtal lived was an old building the colour of pumice stone, with a brown, tiled roof and brown shutters. It was built on a very simple plan. Three shaky steps led one to the front-door, with its copper peep-hole past a bell, the handle of which was shaped like a roe-deer’s hoof, and into a passage, with two large rooms on the right and two small ones on the left. The size of the latter was explained by a staircase between them leading up to the first-floor.
The ground-floor room on the left was really meant to be a dining-room and the other, beyond the staircase, was the kitchen and had a door opening on to a courtyard; while on the right were a drawing-room and a bedroom. But Durtal preferred to live on the first floor because of the dampness of the walls on the ground floor. On the first floor the plan of the rooms was the same as below, that is, two large rooms on the right and two smaller ones on the left, for the staircase continued its course right up to the big garret immediately under the roof. The rooms were accordingly redistributed as follows: downstairs on the left as you came in, the dining-room was made a spare room, the drawing-room was used as a dining-room, while Madame Bavoil had the bedroom, as it was close to her kitchen. Upstairs, the study corresponded to the dining-room below, Durtal’s room to that of Madame Bavoil; of the room over the kitchen he had made a dressing-room and in the empty room corresponding to the spare room below, as well as all along the passage he had put up shelves for the books which were far too many for the limited accommodation. The room that he really lived in was his study, a large room covered from floor to ceiling with volumes. Good Abbé Gévresin had left him his library, and these books, added to his own, filled all available space in other rooms, two of the walls even of his bedroom being lined with row and row of old volumes.
From one of his windows he could see the garden and the adjoining church and abbey, while from another he got a view of the countryside, all brown with the faded vines.
It was All Saints’ Day, a grey cold morning, and the landscape looked sad. After lunch, Durtal strolled about the garden with Mme. Bavoil to choose a place for putting in certain plants that had been ordered from Dijon and which were expected shortly.
In the large garden, walled in with unmortared stone, there were silver poplars, chestnut trees, cypresses and several sorts of pine; but there was one huge tree which dwarfed the rest, a splendid cedar with blueish foliage. Unfortunately it had made a void round its base, killing all the trees growing too near its root or its branches, so that it stood alone on a barren patch of soil strewed with its dead leaves, where no plant or flower dared show itself.
In front of the house was the lawn; farther off was a tangled background of flowers and shrubs, intersected by little paths edged with thyme; but the really charming part of the garden was the part next to the enclosing wall.
Here the path was bordered on one side by the wall, on which saxifrage and valerian formed a network mingling with the white begony and its red berries, whilst on the other side of the path were laburnums, overgrown box-trees, chestnut-trees, limes and elms ; the year before Durtal had replaced certain old stumps by mountain ash, medlars, quinces and a few of those maples of which the leaves are blood-red in spring, but, when faded, change their colour to bronze.
In springtime, lilacs in profusion scattered their perfume round these pathways, and, as May reached its close, one walked on chestnut spikes and pods fallen from the laburnums as on a carpet all white and pink, splashed with gold. In summer it was the shady haunt of humming bees, whilst within recesses of the underwood the birds held their conference. In autumn, when the wind was high, the poplars gave forth a sound as of the sea; the tossing pines mimicked distant cavalry; the moist earth, covered with rotting leaves, gave forth a strange odour; there were gaps among the flowers, the shrubberies looked less dense, and dead twigs strewed the ground.
One seemed far away from everything, in these "breviary-walks,’’ as Durtal called them, and, indeed, they really appeared as though designed for quiet Meditation on the lives of the Saints whose virtues are set forth in the lessons.
These walks owed their charm to the vegetation having been left untouched; plants of every sort were to be seen, sown by the agency either of birds or of the wind, Durtal on closer examination had found the plant called Honesty, with its round green silicles called by the vuIgar ’’Pope’s Pennies" — all dotted like dominoes by the seeds inside and, when dry, like discs of silvered parchment; herb basi1, suggestive of the kitchen sauces; borage, rough and hairy, with its lovely blue star of a blossom; mullein, pale. of foliage, with its sulphur-yellow pagoda-shaped spike, the whole plant velvet-like and seemingly all dusted with meal. Everything seemed to flourish in this wilderness; sweetbrier and brambles, sow-thistles, which, if their stalks be bruised, stain the fingers with a sticky milky juice; coltsfoot, with its enormous, decorative leaves.
But, on that particular afternoon, Madame Bavoil was not disposed to pay any heed to the charm of the place. No sooner had they finished their stroll than she said to Durtal: ’’This is all very well, but it is high time you fixed upon the right spot for your kitchien-garden, for it is really too bad having to go all the way to Dijon to buy vegetables when we might just as well grow them at home!"
While admitting that his housekeeper was right, Durtal did his best to defend his wilderness. At last they settled upon a plot of ground at the further end of the estate, still Madame Bavoil was anxious to get the lion’s share.
"Of course," she ventured "you will also let me have that part which you have left wild?"
"Certainly not! Why, that’s just where I am going to put my liturgical flora and the medicinal herbs of Walafrid Strabo."
"Come, come, my friend, do be reasonable, you don’t want much room for those few herbs; give me the list and let me count them."
Durtal grunted, but all the same handed Madame Bavoil a bit of paper that he took from his pocket. Having breathed on her spectacles and rubbed them vigorously with her handkerchief, she proceeded to read:
"Sage, rue, southernwood, squirting cucumber, melon, wormwood, horehound, fennel, orrisroot, spignel, chervil, lily, poppy, clary, mint, fleabane, celery, betony, agrimony, hemp-agrimony, ephedra, cat-mint, radish and rose. Twenty-four plants," she went on as she reckoned them on her fingers, and then she laughingly asked: "What precisely is cat-mint and where does it grow?"
"Father Miné assured me that is not a mint at all but simply Napeta; there will be no difficulty in finding some. But what are you smiling at now?"
"Because I think that this garden of yours will be dreadfully ugly. Except for the parti-coloured sage that you bought, which is pretty enough with its pink, white and green leaves, except for the poppy, iris, rose and lily, all the rest of your herbs are very uninteresting to look at, in fact, about the ugliest things that grow; and, what is more, they will be choked by the melon and, above all, by the squirting cucumber with their trailing stems."
"Well, all the more reason to make the plot bigger so as to protect these unfortunate flowers from all assaults of the cucumber."
"As for your little liturgical garden," went on Madame Bavoil, ignoring his last remark, "you will want even less space than for your collection of medicinal herbs, because, as soon as one plant begins to grow, the other will have faded, for these plants don’t bloom at the same time; as you will never have your rows all filled at once, then why waste so much space on them?"
Durtal, in his turn, ignored this observation, for, though he did not tell Madame Bavoil, he had, the year before, already made an experiment of this sort with lamentable results. He refused, however, to give in. He said to himself, "I can carry out my plans in some other way; the thing would be to get hold of plants that are easy to grow, and that might stand for those on my list that won’t live in this too mild climate. But really, to complete my list, I ought to plough through the whole of Migu’s Pathology, and that would be no joke!"
Turning to Madame Bavoil, he said, "After all, there is no hurry about this kitchen garden; I shall think it over and we can see about it later. At present we have got to find a site for Walafrid Strabo’s."
"But, by the way, who, may I ask, is this Strabo that you are always talking about?"
"Strabo, or Strabus, which means "the squint-eyed," is the name, or rather the nickname, of a monk, a disciple of Rabanus Maurus who in the ninth century was Abbot of the monastery of Reichenau, on one of the islands of Lake Constance. He wrote numerous works, including two Lives of Saints in verse, that of St. Blatmaic and that of St. Mammes; but one only of his poems has survived, the ’Hortulus,’ the one, as it happens, in which he describes the garden of his Abbey. Happening one day to ask Father Philogone Miné about the virtues attributed to the various plants mentioned by Strabo, he read me a neat little lesson: ’This author would be totally forgotten had he written nothing but religious poetry and liturgical studies; to his pharmaceutical poem alone it is that he owes his fame. You, who think you can write, just you meditate a little upon this truth, for it may help you in your future work, young man.’"
"Young man? Why, you are over fifty, and turning grey!"
"I admit the imputation," replied Durtal, laughing.
"Well, well, since you won’t be happy otherwise, you may have your Strabo’s garden, but, in his list of herbs, it strikes me there are some that never have been cultivated for remedial purposes. Radishes, cucumbers, chervil, for instance, have no place in materia medica, but belong to the kitchen."
"I beg your pardon, Madame Bavoil. The apothecaries of the middle ages used them in certain cases; melons, gherkins, cucumbers and, in fact, the whole tribe, possessed, according to them, virtues, which, perhaps, are not altogether imaginary. They believed that a melon plaster was good for inflammation of the eyes; that immature gherkins served to check vomiting due to an over-heated ventricle; that a liniment prepared from their leaves, steeped in wine, was soothing in cases of acute mania. As for the virtues of the radish, they are doubtful; on the other hand, chervil is well-known as a diuretic, and as a remedy when the flow of milk from the breasts is stopped. The melon, apart from its other qualities, has always been regarded as a laxative, and still has that reputation...
"Moreover, I really don’t care a rap whether Strabo’s favourite plants have medicinal properties or not. The plot of ground will appeal to me in quite another way; the colours, the forms that more or less charm my eye, will serve rather as a ladder, as a vehicle, to take me to the land of dreams and there indulge my fancy. I can perfectly imagine Walafrid, the good Benedictine Abbot pruning and watering his plants, and expounding their various virtues to his phantom monks amid enchanted surroundings in a dreamland abbey of which the azure waters of a lake reflect the inverted picture, all a-shiver as the breeze moves over it."
"Oh! well, if it amuses you, I am quite satisfied," replied Madame Bavoil, " only, if we get another day or two of such wretched weather as this, the garden will be utterly ruined."
They were walking slowly along one of the paths.
"There will still be some late-flowering plants, such as chrysanthemums," said Durtal, " then, those untamed plants that you despise so much are very hardy." And he pointed to the catchflys whose white stars seemed shut up within the neck of a pale green bottle striped with yet greener stripes ; to the wild pink and white gladioli, blue veronicas, and splendid holly-bushes, dark-leaved, with vermilion berries. But if these plants survived, others were dying or dead. The withered sunflowers were horrid to look at; at the end of their shrivelled stalks, burnt as by a flame, there hung a few blackened leaves and a flower-head crumpled up like a bath-sponge that mournfully swayed in the breeze.
"Oh! the juniper berries are ripe," cried Durtal, who began to chew the little blue balls with their taste of sugared turpentine.
"You would do well to wait till the frost has wrinkled them," said Madame Bavoil. Then, after a pause, she went on:
"You surely see that all this wants thoroughly cleaning up," and she pointed to the wild flowers growing in the beds from which all garden flowers had disappeared. There was the pink persicaria with its reddish stems and long, spotted leaves; spurges, which at the tips of their little flesh-coloured stems bore green tiinbvls with centres of a green turning to yellow; viper’s bugloss, clothed with stiff greyish hairs, whose violet flowers grew in spikes nestling among the rough leaves.
"Wants cleaning up? You don’t seem to realize that these are the last of the flowers to keep the field. Moreover, though they are not down on Strtbo’s list, thirsty poor little things, at which you turn up your nose, have also medicinal virtues.
"The knotgrass is full of tannin, and therefore an excellent remedy for gastric disorders. Sponge is a good cauterizer, and removes warts; viper’s hitgloss contains nitrate of potassium, and, like borage, it yields a decoction good for inducing perspiration. They all have their uses, even that red dead nettle, whose leaves, when rubbed, smell so strong-here, just smell a bit. In the Middle Ages they used it, pounded up with salt, for bruises."
"I know how nasty it smells!" said Madame Bavoil, pushing away his hand. "But, my friend, how learned you are in all this lore!"
"All I know I got from books. The fact is, having a garden, I thought it would be nice to buy all sorts of horticultural dictionaries, old and new; and, thanks to the coloured plates, I managed to identify each plant by name. Nothing more than that. Moreover, let me tell you that, outside the creed of the pharmaceutical flora, my knowledge of botany is nil."
"Was it in Dijon that you unearthed these books?"
"Not all! The second-hand booksellers in Paris, in the provinces and in Belgium send me their catalogues, and in them I hunt for my books. It is the only sort of hunting that I care for. It is also great fun. But how often, aiming from such a distance, you miss the game that another sportsman kills who has the luck to be nearer! But how delightful it is when a parcel of books comes, and you find in it the birds that you have been stalking from afar!
"After all, leaving out the monastery and the garden, what other distraction is there in Val-des-Saints?"
"You are right. Tell me, was it you who planted these Christmas-roses all along the paths?"
"Yes, I was thinking of the winter. With its cedar and its pines the garden in winter is green above, but the ground below looks melancholy, black and bare, with its dead leaves. So from Dijon I brought back some specimens of this kind of hellebore which has taken very kindly to the soil. Here are some of another kind with notched leaves. Their leaves are almost black and they are supposed to bear green blossoms, but instead they finally die."
"Upon my word, it’s as if you were trying to make a collection of all the poisonous plants you could find."
"Well, if to the spurge and the hellebore you add yonder deadly nightshade with its red-currant-like berries, and the hemlock which grows everywhere, though I certainly never sowed any, there would certainly be enough to poison a whole regiment."
"I have no doubt that among your ugly batch of plants you have your favourite?"
"Of course I have; it is the greater celandine. Look, there it is," said Durtal, pointing to one that had outlived the rest of its kind.
"I congratulate you! It is not at all bad!"
"Nor is it such a wretched plant as you may think; its leaves of dull bluish green are graceful and served as a model to mediaeval craftsmen who imitated them on the capitals of cathedral pillars. Its blossom is like a bright-yellow star, and its fruit is a tiny pod in which, when you open it, you find dazzling rows of little pearls. Then, look here, when you break its white, hairy stem, you see the fine orange-coloured juice that comes out ; it is even more efficacious than the milk of the spurge in curing warts. In the Middle Ages, among the canting crew, beggars, anxious to excite the pity of passers-by, used to mix the juice of these two plants, and produce loathsome sores, which, however, were quite painless. To malingerers, the celandine was indeed a godsend!
"In mediaeval times it was also the subject of some weird legends. Folk firmly bqlieved that, if placed on a sick man’s head, it would sing if he were going to die, and weep if he were going to recover. It was also thought that if little swallows lost their sight their mother could restore it to them by just smearing their eyes with the juice of this plant. Hence the celandine is both decorative and medieval, useful and of ill-fame; can you therefore wonder that this flower is my favourite?"
But Madame Bavoil had ceased to listen. From where she stood on the rising ground she could look over the wall to the road.
"There comes Mademoiselle de Garambois!" she exclaimed.
They both went to meet her, reaching the gate at the same time as she.
"Good-day, brother!" she said to Durtal, "Good-day, mother Bavoil. Here, do take this," and she held out a parcel; "I’ve brought you something nice,"
"Oh, you naughty thing!" cried Madame Bavoil, laughing; "more sweet stuff, I expect, and in little pots, too. I can feel them through the paper. I am sure it must be jam."
"No, you’re wrong," replied Mlle. de Garambois, as Durtal led the way to the study.
"Oh! I am so tired," she said. "I feel quite stupid.’’
Then, with a quaint pout, she sat down, first glancing at herself in the mirror. "But let us talk seriously. Would you believe it! A friend of mine who lives in the south has sent me some pots of graisserons which she made herself and are perfectly delicious."
"Graisserons! What may that be?"
"Well, rillettes of minced goose, if you prefer it. Now then, listen while I tell you the various ways in which they ought to be eaten.
"The vulgar way is to spread them with butter on maize bread, the bread having been first toasted."
"But where on earth am I to get maize bread?" exclaimed Madame Bavoil.
"Well, if this kind of bread is not to be had," continued Mlle. de Garambois, imperturbably, "you must cut thin slices of ordinary bread, buttering them first, and then, putting on them the potted goose, you must toast them; but epicures are not agreed as to whether it is better to toast the bread before or after the rillettes have been spread on them. That important question is for you to decide.
"Other people, I confess, eat them cold and quite unbaked. Such folk are unworthy to taste so dainty a dish. As for the real gourmet, he refuses to touch these rillettes unless they are prepared according to the recipe I am going to give you. Now, Madame Bavoil, listen carefully!
"First, cut some slices of bread of the thickness of a finger; toast, but do not burn them; then pour over them a little old red wine and a spoonful or so of consommé; then you cover the slices with the grasserons, adding the thinnest possible layer of mustard and butter; you flavour with pepper and nutmeg to your taste, and then the slices are consigned to the grill just long enough to brown the lower side.
"Finally you serve them on a hot plate after soaking them in good brandy which you ignite; your slices blaze much as a pudding or a pancake might, and they are just divine !" concluded Mlle. de Garambois who flung herself back in her chair and gazed heavenwards.
"Gracious me! Can such a thing be?" sighed Madame Bavoil, clasping her hands.
"Can what be?" asked Mlle. de Garambois, laughing.
"That a God-fearing woman should be thus tempted by the demon of gluttony, and should tell such stories."
"I am not a story-teller; I don’t invent. I simply tell people about the inventions of others."
Durtal, smilingly, was scrutinizing his sister-oblate. Her physiognomy was always a riddle to him, for he could never explain the wonderful youth and charm which at certain moments transformed a face that at other times was the face of a woman of fifty who looked her age.
Mlle. de Garambois was very stout and walked with a somewhat roiling gait. Gowned by the best Paris dressmakers, she had a very smart appearance and wore clothes that would have suited a young woman, though in her case this did not seem so very ridiculous, for when she smiled she might really have been but seventeen. She had been very pretty, and still kept her good complexion, eyes bright as a child’s, and a mouth and chin that, for their mutinous charm were positively fascinating.
It was enough for her to look merry for crow’s-feet and wrinkles to disappear. She had a wide mouth in which shone wonderful teeth; and on her chin a saucy little dimple. Leaning slightly forward, with her two hands on the arms of the chair — her favourite position — Mlle. de Garambois could toss her head with all the vivacity of a girl. In fact, she had a child’s gaiety and a child’s innocence. But, besides that, she was by nature so kind and charitable that, though walking was a trial to her, she would go from end to end of the village to bandage the wounds or change the linen of the sick. This woman, personally so refined and particular, who at ,home would certainly have objected to wash up the tea-things, felt no repugnance, or rather, overcame it, When it was a matter of service to others; and Heaven knows what unpleasant duties she had to perform when visiting sick peasant-folk and neglected women and children!
"You’ve missed your vocation," her uncle, M. Lampre, used to say to her sometimes, "you ought to have been a hospital nurse."
"Then I should not have had my Church services;" and then, poking fun at herself, she added with her bright smile, "nor my nice little dinners!"
She was on quite good terms with Madame Bavoil, whom at times, however, she drove to the verge of despair.
"She has in her all the makings of a saint," said the latter, "and yet the devil, who has a hold on her through this wretched sin of gluttony, checks her progress. One is for ever telling her so, but she always turns a deaf ear." And, gently, kindly and persistently, she tried to cure her, but Mlle. de Garambois treated all such remonstrances with levity, pretending to be more of a gourmande than she really was, in order to tease her.
"Well," she went on, "now that you are initiated in my recipe, let me sum it up again in brief: toast the slices, pour soup and wine over them, add butter and mustard, heat them up again, soak them in brandy, and and apply a match. I hope you quite understand."
"Do you imagine for a moment that I am going to worry about cooking such a messy dish as that? M. Durtal will eat them, simply fried with butter."
"They would not be bad even like that. Oh, by the way, you were at High Mass this morning; how well the Abbot got through the service!"
"Yes," said Durtal, "with his tall figure, transparent complexion and long slender fingers he might have come down from a stained-glass window."
"I suppose," said Madame Bavoil, " those blazing jewels in his mitre are imitation ones?"
"No, indeed! They are genuine enough. A monk, now dead, who entered the monastery after his wife’s decease gave all her many jewels, in order to make this mitre. That is why it is encrusted with diamonds, aquamarines, sapphires and other priceless stones." "Dear me!"
"As for the other two mitres — for the rubrics presuppose Abbots like Bishops to have three mitres — they were paid for out of the funds of the Abbey, hence they are quite ordinary ones. The better of the two, styled ’Auriphrygiata’ in the Ceremonial of Bishops, is simply cut out of cloth of gold. The other, the so-called ’simple’ mitre, is made of cardboard, covered with satin or silk, and looks like a white paper sugar-loaf."
"When do they wear that one?"
"The Abbot wears it at services for the dead, in Holy Week, and when admitting candidates to the habit; in other words it is used only on minor occasions or as a sign of mourning."
"As regards wealth of ritual, our services here are quite as good as those at Solesmes," said Mlle. de Garambois, "but, of course, we are lucky to have got such a first-rate master of ceremonies who so thoroughly understands his duties."
"And, better still, is a man of taste," added Durtal.
"You mean the tall distinguished looking, slightly bald man?" asked Madame Bavoil.
"Yes, Father d’Auberoche. He is devoted to his work and never spares himself. I am sure that to make this festival of All Hallows a success, he never slept the night through. But, then, note how perfectly it went off. His little group of choristers and novices did their parts without the slightest hitch. And even their very attitudes were perfectly in keeping with tradition. For instance, take that little detail of the mappa, or vimpa, the satin scarf worn shawl-wise by the bearers of the crosier and mitre, under the long ends of which they hide their hands when they have to carry these insignia. As regards the crosier, no great difficulty occurs, but in the case of the mitre, it is different. The scarf has to be folded and held after the way in which St. Denis held his cut-off head; a mere nothing, if you like, but, unless this pose is correctly reproduced, the medieval effect is lost. Well, Dom Auberoche not only taught the mitrebearer the right attitude, but he himself arranged the foldings of the scarf, making it to look just like the work of a thirteenth century sculptor. He could give points to Paris costumiers ; there is nobody like him in the whole congregation."
"He still is quite young," observed Madame Bavoil.
"Yes, about thirty-four. He belongs to a great family which has given saints to the Church. He has, what in Art is called ’line,’ and always seems to have stepped out of a stained-glass window. Besides being a highly-mortified religious, he is a scholar whom it is very interesting to hear holding forth on things liturgical, or on their symbolism. Unfortunately one sees little of him. First of all, he is very busy with his studies and his rehearsals then again he is what is called a ’ solitary,’ that is, a monk who likes to keep his cell."
"Ah! if only the singing in this Abbey were equal to the ceremonial, I should never regret Solesmes;" sighed Mlle. de Garambois.
"Yes, Father Ramondoux has a voice too much like a coal-man’s. Yet, strange to say, he knows his business, and teaches plain-song to his pupils excellently well; only he himself practises exactly the contrary to what he teaches in his lessons."
"Yet, in spite of these imperfections, how many smaller monasteries would envy us the splendid ceremony we had this morning! What a grand Liturgy it was! And that epistle taken from the Apocalypse — a glimpse of Heaven, or, rather, an ideal picture by some old Flemish master; in fact, painters of the Flemish school have chosen this text of St. John, with its procession of angels, elders and saints. Then, the Introit, the famous ’Gaudeamus,’ sung only at the most joyous festivals, how fine it is! This rippling melody, scarcely able to contain itself for joy, which yet stops before the end of the phrase, at the ’Gaudent Angeli,’ as if exhausted, or, perhaps, also as if fearful of being lacking in sufficient deference; but which then bursts out again in ecstasy, and ends in an accent of prostration, reminding us of the elders of the Apocalypse, on their faces before the Throne. All this cannot but have been composed under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. It is admirably simple, caressing the ear with an artistry beyond compare. What musician will ever express such perfectly spiritual exaltation?"
"Hark at our brother working himself up again!" said Mlle. de Garambois, laughingly. "But to return to the ceremonial side, are you aware, Madame Bavoil, that our friend here is one of Dom d’Auberoche’s best pupils?"
Smiling at Durtal, who looked at her somewhat surprised, she continued, "I am not talking at random, for though I was not actually present on the day when you took the habit, I heard from this Father himself immediately after that you looked your part wonderfully well; in short, that you had what you just now called ’line’."
"All right, Mademoiselle, go on. I can see you are laughing at me."
"Yes, do tell us all about it!" cried Madame Bavoil, "for this mystery-maker has never said a word to me about that ceremony, nor how it went off. All that one can get out of him is, ’H’m. Yes, it wasn’t so bad,’ and that’s all. Come now, you know all about it; do tell me more."
"You will set me right, won’t you, if I make a mistake," said Mlle. de Garambois to Durtal, who, rolling up a cigarette, affected an air of indifference.
"It was last year, on the feast of St. Joseph, that is to say, nearly eight months ago, the day before the eve of St. Benedict’s day. That day was chosen for the receiving of the habit, so that the ceremony of profession might take place the following year on St. Benedict’s day itself, the period of novitiate lasting a year and a day. Is that correct?"
"After the second Vespers of St. Joseph, they went into the Chapel of the novitiate which no stranger, no, not even a monk, may enter save by leave of the Master of Novices and of the Father Abbot. For the novitiate is forbidden ground."
"Forbidden particularly to women," said Madame Bavoil.
"Women I should think so! The Rule is stringent. Any woman, dare she put but the tip of her toe inside the enclosure of an abbey, is ipso facto excommunicated. But, to go on. With the chapel where the scene took place it stands to reason I am unacquainted; perhaps our brother, M, Durtal, will describe it for us when I have done. Assembled in this chapel were a few professed monks, the novices, the Novice-Master and the Father Zelator, the Master of Ceremonies, and, in the absence of the Abbot, the Prior, who officiated. Am I still right?"
Durtal again nodded assent.
"The candles were lit; a large black scapular of the Order, a little shorter, however, than that of the Fathers, lay on the altar folded up on a silver plate and covered with flowers."
"Anemones," broke in Durtal. "The choice of these was due to the graceful suggestion of Dom d’Auberoche, who thinks, as I think too, that this plant was the true lily of the Scriptures, and the symbol of the Blessed Virgin."
"Aha! so now my friend has decided to talk," remarked Madame Bavoil, who was eagerly drinking it all in.
"I might add," continued Durtal, " that the shrine containing the relics of St. Benedict had been transferred to the chapel for the occasion. It stood on the epistle side of the altar, on a credence table, surrounded by a flaming hedge of tapers,"
"Good! I knew that already, for the same ceremony was performed for me, but in my case it took place in one of the chapels of the public church. Let me continue. Dom de Fonneuve, in a cowl and a white stole, stood on the predella of the high altar, between Dom Felletin and Dom d’Auberoche, and you knelt on the lowest step.
"The Prior began with the ’Adjuterium nostrum in nomine Domini,’ and proceeded through the versicles, the responses being chanted by the monks and novice, present. Then, with some lengthy prayers he blessed the scapular and, after having sprinkled it with holy water, he turned to you. You got up, and, bowing low, ascended the altar-steps where you again knelt down. He then vested you in the monastic habit, saying in Latin, " May the Lord clothe you with the new man created in the image of God, in justice and in holy truth. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, etc.
"After this he again faced the altar and you went back and knelt on its lowest step. More versicles and responses were chanted, and after the Kyrie Eleison, the Pater, and certain short prayers, there came a long final one, beginning ’O God, whose will it was that our Blessed Father, St. Benedict...’ I’ve forgotten the rest; at any rate it implores the saint to protect you, and to grant you perseverance."
"At the close of the ceremony, you kissed the relic, which Father d’Auberoche brought to you, and while your name was being inscribed in the monastic register you embraced in turn — at least I presume you did — your new brothers."
"Yes. That’s done as they do it on the stage, by just pressing cheeks together, and then shaking hands. Now, if you want to know exactly what I think," proceeded Durtal, " this ceremony is all mere imitation; in other words, modern. The ritual was conceived by the Prior of the Monastery of St. Mary in Paris. It was he who first instituted and organized meetings of oblates after the Pope’s letter urging the Benedictines to re-establish this olden institution. The main thing, indeed, has not been forgotten, and at his profession the oblate has to recite the famous "Suscipe" that is, in a way, the open-sesame into the Order, opening wide a door hitherto half-closed. But, after all, however ingeniously arranged the ceremony, however apt the liturgical prayers used in it, it is not the real thing as performed in the Middle Ages. That lost ceremonial is what we ought to try and unearth."
"But Dom Guéranger himself also drew up a rite for this occasion," said Mlle. de Garambois, "and, no doubt, he compiled it like that for his monks from some ancient ceremonial, belonging, for instance, to the Congregation of St. Maur."
"I much doubt it. What Dom Guéranger wrote out was merely a draft which he would have remodelled, had he lived. Father du Bourg, in drawing up his ritual utilized and improved upon this draft by instituting two ceremonies instead of Dom Guéranger’s one. In Dom Guéranger’s plan a person became an oblate without any probation, by the mere reception of the monastic habit; the novitiate established by the Prior of Paris is all to the good, for it safeguards both the postulant and the Community."
"But tell me; you have gone in for research; did you discover anything yourself?"
"I came across much interesting matter concerning the life and customs of the oblates in the Middle Ages, but hardly anything about the ritual side. In that field my harvest was practically a failure."
"Come, now," interposed Madame Bavoil, whom the discussion had ceased to interest, "as M. Durtal has vouchsafed to tell us so much, I should like him to tell us something more. What is the chapel of the novitiate like?"
"Simply a tiny hall where the Master of Novices, the Father Zelator and the novices who happen to be priests, say their mass every morning. Father Felletin did his best to see that the things purchased for this chapel should be suitable, and in this he was backed by Dom d’Auberoche, who, as Master of Ceremonies, spends as much time in the novitiate as in the monastery. The altar is of oak, of antique shape; the reliquaries are unpretentious but copied from old models and so are the candlesticks in pale-coloured brass; the statue of the Blessed Virgin and that of St. Benedict are seventeenth-century carvings, not up to much, indeed, but far better than the things now sold in the Rue St. Sulpice.
"In this connection it is only right to praise these two monks who did their best to counteract the influence of Dom Emonot, whose taste is that of a Caribbee, and of some of the other monks who are not much better.
"To end the story, Madame Bavoil, let me inform you that, the next day, after Matins, I went to holy communion with the novices in that selfsame chapel. Now I have told you all; are you satisfied?"
"Of course I am, though I do think that you might have satisfied my curiosity before. By the way, when do you make your profession?"
"On St. Benedict’s day, next year, in five months’ time."
"And when do you make yours, Mademoiselle de Garambois?"
"I? Why, I finished my novitiate and made my profession over a year ago. And, let me tell you, dear sir, that you, as a man, owe me great respect."
"Have I ever failed in this regard?" replied Durtal, laughing.
"Yes, certainly, by assuming a somewhat mocking air, just now when your sister in St. Benedict gave you some admirable recipes for the kitchen."
"You may bet your last franc that good mother Bavoil here has forgotten every single word of all you told her about your wonderful way of serving up rillettes! But to show you how much more attentive I was and how much I appreciate your advice, I should be delighted if you could come to lunch any day that suits you. We will see if we can’t get your uncle, too. The worst of it is that we can’t hope to coax our Director, Father Felletin, to join us."
"I’ve thought of a dodge," cried Mlle. de Garambois. "Let’s have the lunch on Thursday, the day the monks take their walk. Dom Felletin can either manage to lose his novices, or else bring them along with him. If he can’t lunch, at least he can take coffee with us."
"Why can’t he lunch?"
"Because it’s forbidden, Madame Bavoil. If he lived in another village, then perhaps he might, but, in the locality where the abbey is situated, the Rule is strict; it simply can’t be done."
"If Father Felietin is shy about asking leave, I’ll go and see the Abbot myself. I feel sure he will say, ’ Yes,’" said Durtal.
"Very well. Now I must go. It is nearly time for Vespers. Good-bye."
With these words Mlle. de Garambois left them, but she had hardly got outside the garden gate when she came back, and called out: "Don’t forget an important detail: no salt must be added to the rillettes; they are seasoned already."
"Don’t worry about that, you greedy thing!" cried Madame Bavoil, shaking her head in despair as she watched the other disappear. "The worst of it is," she continued, addressing Durtal, "this sort of thing is catching."
"What do you mean?"
"Why, hearing her always chattering about good food and nice dishes, your mouth waters, too."
"It would be rather fun if you caught the complaint, as well."
Madame Bavoil made an indignant gesture, then shrugged her shoulders, and smiled.