The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 2

Produced by Dagny []
and David Widger []




Volume 2.





IT was twenty minutes past three by the clock of the Lourdes railway
station, the dial of which was illumined by a reflector. Under the
slanting roof sheltering the platform, a hundred yards or so in length,
some shadowy forms went to and fro, resignedly waiting. Only a red signal
light peeped out of the black countryside, far away.

Two of the promenaders suddenly halted. The taller of them, a Father of
the Assumption, none other indeed than the Reverend Father Fourcade,
director of the national pilgrimage, who had reached Lourdes on the
previous day, was a man of sixty, looking superb in his black cloak with
its large hood. His fine head, with its clear, domineering eyes and thick
grizzly beard, was the head of a general whom an intelligent
determination to conquer inflames. In consequence, however, of a sudden
attack of gout he slightly dragged one of his legs, and was leaning on
the shoulder of his companion, Dr. Bonamy, the practitioner attached to
the Miracle Verification Office, a short, thick-set man, with a
square-shaped, clean-shaven face, which had dull, blurred eyes and a
tranquil cast of features.

Father Fourcade had stopped to question the station-master whom he
perceived running out of his office. “Will the white train be very late,
monsieur?” he asked.

“No, your reverence. It hasn’t lost more than ten minutes; it will be
here at the half-hour. It’s the Bayonne train which worries me; it ought
to have passed through already.”

So saying, he ran off to give an order; but soon came back again, his
slim, nervous figure displaying marked signs of agitation. He lived,
indeed, in a state of high fever throughout the period of the great
pilgrimages. Apart from the usual service, he that day expected eighteen
trains, containing more than fifteen thousand passengers. The grey and
the blue trains which had started from Paris the first had already
arrived at the regulation hour. But the delay in the arrival of the white
train was very troublesome, the more so as the Bayonne express—which
passed over the same rails—had not yet been signalled. It was easy to
understand, therefore, what incessant watchfulness was necessary, not a
second passing without the entire staff of the station being called upon
to exercise its vigilance.

“In ten minutes, then?” repeated Father Fourcade.

“Yes, in ten minutes, unless I’m obliged to close the line!” cried the
station-master as he hastened into the telegraph office.

Father Fourcade and the doctor slowly resumed their promenade. The thing
which astonished them was that no serious accident had ever happened in
the midst of such a fearful scramble. In past times, especially, the most
terrible disorder had prevailed. Father Fourcade complacently recalled
the first pilgrimage which he had organised and led, in 1875; the
terrible endless journey without pillows or mattresses, the patients
exhausted, half dead, with no means of reviving them at hand; and then
the arrival at Lourdes, the train evacuated in confusion, no /materiel/
in readiness, no straps, nor stretchers, nor carts. But now there was a
powerful organisation; a hospital awaited the sick, who were no longer
reduced to lying upon straw in sheds. What a shock for those unhappy
ones! What force of will in the man of faith who led them to the scene of
miracles! The reverend Father smiled gently at the thought of the work
which he had accomplished.

Then, still leaning on the doctor’s shoulder, he began to question him:

“How many pilgrims did you have last year?” he asked.

“About two hundred thousand. That is still the average. In the year of
the Coronation of the Virgin the figure rose to five hundred thousand.
But to bring that about an exceptional occasion was needed with a great
effort of propaganda. Such vast masses cannot be collected together every

A pause followed, and then Father Fourcade murmured: “No doubt. Still the
blessing of Heaven attends our endeavours; our work thrives more and
more. We have collected more than two hundred thousand francs in
donations for this journey, and God will be with us, there will be many
cures for you to proclaim to-morrow, I am sure of it.” Then, breaking
off, he inquired: “Has not Father Dargeles come here?”

Dr. Bonamy waved his hand as though to say that he did not know. Father
Dargeles was the editor of the “Journal de la Grotte.” He belonged to the
Order of the Fathers of the Immaculate Conception whom the Bishop had
installed at Lourdes and who were the absolute masters there; though,
when the Fathers of the Assumption came to the town with the national
pilgrimage from Paris, which crowds of faithful Catholics from Cambrai,
Arras, Chartres, Troyes, Rheims, Sens, Orleans, Blois, and Poitiers
joined, they evinced a kind of affectation in disappearing from the
scene. Their omnipotence was no longer felt either at the Grotto or at
the Basilica; they seemed to surrender every key together with every
responsibility. Their superior, Father Capdebarthe, a tall, peasant-like
man, with a knotty frame, a big head which looked as if it had been
fashioned with a bill-hook, and a worn face which retained a ruddy
mournful reflection of the soil, did not even show himself. Of the whole
community you only saw little, insinuating Father Dargeles; but he was
met everywhere, incessantly on the look-out for paragraphs for his
newspaper. At the same time, however, although the Fathers of the
Immaculate Conception disappeared in this fashion, it could be divined
that they were behind the vast stage, like a hidden sovereign power,
coining money and toiling without a pause to increase the triumphant
prosperity of their business. Indeed, they turned even their humility to

“It’s true that we have had to get up early—two in the morning,” resumed
Father Fourcade gaily. “But I wished to be here. What would my poor
children have said, indeed, if I had not come?”

He was alluding to the sick pilgrims, those who were so much flesh for
miracle-working; and it was a fact that he had never missed coming to the
station, no matter what the hour, to meet that woeful white train, that
train which brought such grievous suffering with it.

“Five-and-twenty minutes past three—only another five minutes now,”
exclaimed Dr. Bonamy repressing a yawn as he glanced at the clock; for,
despite his obsequious air, he was at bottom very much annoyed at having
had to get out of bed so early. However, he continued his slow promenade
with Father Fourcade along that platform which resembled a covered walk,
pacing up and down in the dense night which the gas jets here and there
illumined with patches of yellow light. Little parties, dimly outlined,
composed of priests and gentlemen in frock-coats, with a solitary officer
of dragoons, went to and fro incessantly, talking together the while in
discreet murmuring tones. Other people, seated on benches, ranged along
the station wall, were also chatting or putting their patience to proof
with their glances wandering away into the black stretch of country
before them. The doorways of the offices and waiting-rooms, which were
brilliantly lighted, looked like great holes in the darkness, and all was
flaring in the refreshment-room, where you could see the marble tables
and the counter laden with bottles and glasses and baskets of bread and

On the right hand, beyond the roofing of the platform, there was a
confused swarming of people. There was here a goods gate, by which the
sick were taken out of the station, and a mass of stretchers, litters,
and hand-carts, with piles of pillows and mattresses, obstructed the
broad walk. Three parties of bearers were also assembled here, persons of
well-nigh every class, but more particularly young men of good society,
all wearing red, orange-tipped crosses and straps of yellow leather. Many
of them, too, had adopted the Bearnese cap, the convenient head-gear of
the region; and a few, clad as though they were bound on some distant
expedition, displayed wonderful gaiters reaching to their knees. Some
were smoking, whilst others, installed in their little vehicles, slept or
read newspapers by the light of the neighbouring gas jets. One group,
standing apart, were discussing some service question.

Suddenly, however, one and all began to salute. A paternal-looking man,
with a heavy but good-natured face, lighted by large blue eyes, like
those of a credulous child, was approaching. It was Baron Suire, the
President of the Hospitality of Our Lady of Salvation. He possessed a
great fortune and occupied a high position at Toulouse.

“Where is Berthaud?” he inquired of one bearer after another, with a busy
air. “Where is Berthaud? I must speak to him.”

The others answered, volunteering contradictory information. Berthaud was
their superintendent, and whilst some said that they had seen him with
the Reverend Father Fourcade, others affirmed that he must be in the
courtyard of the station inspecting the ambulance vehicles. And they
thereupon offered to go and fetch him.

“No, no, thank you,” replied the Baron. “I shall manage to find him

Whilst this was happening, Berthaud, who had just seated himself on a
bench at the other end of the station, was talking with his young friend,
Gerard de Peyrelongue, by way of occupation pending the arrival of the
train. The superintendent of the bearers was a man of forty, with a
broad, regular-featured, handsome face and carefully trimmed whiskers of
a lawyer-like pattern. Belonging to a militant Legitimist family and
holding extremely reactionary opinions, he had been Procureur de la
Republique (public prosecutor) in a town of the south of France from the
time of the parliamentary revolution of the twenty-fourth of May* until
that of the decree of the Religious Communities,** when he had resigned
his post in a blusterous fashion, by addressing an insulting letter to
the Minister of Justice. And he had never since laid down his arms, but
had joined the Hospitality of Our Lady of Salvation as a sort of protest,
repairing year after year to Lourdes in order to “demonstrate”; convinced
as he was that the pilgrimages were both disagreeable and hurtful to the
Republic, and that God alone could re-establish the Monarchy by one of
those miracles which He worked so lavishly at the Grotto. Despite all
this, however, Berthaud possessed no small amount of good sense, and
being of a gay disposition, displayed a kind of jovial charity towards
the poor sufferers whose transport he had to provide for during the three
days that the national pilgrimage remained at Lourdes.

* The parliamentary revolution of May, 1873, by which M. Thiers
was overthrown and Marshal MacMahon installed in his place with
the object of restoring the Monarchy in France.—Trans.

** M. Grevy’s decree by which the Jesuits were expelled.—Trans.

“And so, my dear Gerard,” he said to the young man seated beside him,
“your marriage is really to come off this year?”

“Why yes, if I can find such a wife as I want,” replied the other. “Come,
cousin, give me some good advice.”

Gerard de Peyrelongue, a short, thin, carroty young man, with a
pronounced nose and prominent cheek-bones, belonged to Tarbes, where his
father and mother had lately died, leaving him at the utmost some seven
or eight thousand francs a year. Extremely ambitious, he had been unable
to find such a wife as he desired in his native province—a
well-connected young woman capable of helping him to push both forward
and upward in the world; and so he had joined the Hospitality, and betook
himself every summer to Lourdes, in the vague hope that amidst the mass
of believers, the torrent of devout mammas and daughters which flowed
thither, he might find the family whose help he needed to enable him to
make his way in this terrestrial sphere. However, he remained in
perplexity, for if, on the one hand, he already had several young ladies
in view, on the other, none of them completely satisfied him.

“Eh, cousin? You will advise me, won’t you?” he said to Berthaud. “You
are a man of experience. There is Mademoiselle Lemercier who comes here
with her aunt. She is very rich; according to what is said she has over a
million francs. But she doesn’t belong to our set, and besides I think
her a bit of a madcap.”

Berthaud nodded. “I told you so; if I were you I should choose little

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