The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 3

Produced by Dagny []
and David Widger []




Volume 3.





AT seven o’clock on the morning of that fine, bright, warm August Sunday,
M. de Guersaint was already up and dressed in one of the two little rooms
which he had fortunately been able to secure on the third floor of the
Hotel of the Apparitions. He had gone to bed at eleven o’clock the night
before and had awoke feeling quite fresh and gay. As soon as he was
dressed he entered the adjoining room which Pierre occupied; but the
young priest, who had not returned to the hotel until past one in the
morning, with his blood heated by insomnia, had been unable to doze off
until daybreak and was now still slumbering. His cassock flung across a
chair, his other garments scattered here and there, testified to his
great weariness and agitation of mind.

“Come, come, you lazybones!” cried M. de Guersaint gaily; “can’t you hear
the bells ringing?”

Pierre awoke with a start, quite surprised to find himself in that little
hotel room into which the sunlight was streaming. All the joyous peals of
the bells, the music of the chiming, happy town, moreover, came in
through the window which he had left open.

“We shall never have time to get to the hospital before eight o’clock to
fetch Marie,” resumed M. de Guersaint, “for we must have some breakfast,

“Of course, make haste and order two cups of chocolate. I will get up at
once, I sha’n’t be long,” replied Pierre.

In spite of the fatigue which had already stiffened his joints, he sprang
out of bed as soon as he was alone, and made all haste with his toilet.
However, he still had his head in the washing basin, ducking it in the
fresh, cool water, when M. de Guersaint, who was unable to remain alone,
came back again. “I’ve given the order,” said he; “they will bring it up.
Ah! what a curious place this hotel is! You have of course seen the
landlord, Master Majeste, clad in white from head to foot and looking so
dignified in his office. The place is crammed, it appears; they have
never had so many people before. So it is no wonder that there should be
such a fearful noise. I was wakened up three times during the night.
People kept on talking in the room next to mine. And you, did you sleep

“No, indeed,” answered Pierre; “I was tired to death, but I couldn’t
close my eyes. No doubt it was the uproar you speak of that prevented

In his turn he then began to talk of the thin partitions, and the manner
in which the house had been crammed with people until it seemed as though
the floors and the walls would collapse with the strain. The place had
been shaking all night long; every now and then people suddenly rushed
along the passages, heavy footfalls resounded, gruff voices ascended
nobody knew whence; without speaking of all the moaning and coughing, the
frightful coughing which seemed to re-echo from every wall. Throughout
the night people evidently came in and went out, got up and lay down
again, paying no attention to time in the disorder in which they lived,
amid shocks of passion which made them hurry to their devotional
exercises as to pleasure parties.

“And Marie, how was she when you left her last night?” M. de Guersaint
suddenly inquired.

“A great deal better,” replied Pierre; “she had an attack of extreme
discouragement, but all her courage and faith returned to her at last.”

A pause followed; and then the girl’s father resumed with his tranquil
optimism: “Oh! I am not anxious. Things will go on all right, you’ll see.
For my own part, I am delighted. I had asked the Virgin to grant me her
protection in my affairs—you know, my great invention of navigable
balloons. Well, suppose I told you that she has already shown me her
favour? Yes, indeed yesterday evening while I was talking with Abbe des
Hermoises, he told me that at Toulouse he would no doubt be able to find
a person to finance me—one of his friends, in fact, who is extremely
wealthy and takes great interest in mechanics! And in this I at once saw
the hand of God!” M. de Guersaint began laughing with his childish laugh,
and then he added: “That Abbe des Hermoises is a charming man. I shall
see this afternoon if there is any means of my accompanying him on an
excursion to the Cirque de Gavarnie at small cost.”

Pierre, who wished to pay everything, the hotel bill and all the rest, at
once encouraged him in this idea. “Of course,” said he, “you ought not to
miss this opportunity to visit the mountains, since you have so great a
wish to do so. Your daughter will be very happy to know that you are

Their talk, however, was now interrupted by a servant girl bringing the
two cups of chocolate with a couple of rolls on a metal tray covered with
a napkin. She left the door open as she entered the room, so that a
glimpse was obtained of some portion of the passage. “Ah! they are
already doing my neighbour’s room!” exclaimed M. de Guersaint. “He is a
married man, isn’t he? His wife is with him?”

The servant looked astonished. “Oh, no,” she replied, “he is quite

“Quite alone? Why, I heard people talking in his room this morning.”

“You must be mistaken, monsieur,” said the servant; “he has just gone out
after giving orders that his room was to be tidied up at once.” And then,
while taking the cups of chocolate off the tray and placing them on the
table, she continued: “Oh! he is a very respectable gentleman. Last year
he was able to have one of the pavilions which Monsieur Majeste lets out
to visitors, in the lane by the side of the hotel; but this year he
applied too late and had to content himself with that room, which greatly
worried him, for it isn’t a large one, though there is a big cupboard in
it. As he doesn’t care to eat with everybody, he takes his meals there,
and he orders good wine and the best of everything, I can tell you.”

“That explains it all!” replied M. de Guersaint gaily; “he dined too well
last night, and I must have heard him talking in his sleep.”

Pierre had been listening somewhat inquisitively to all this chatter.
“And on this side, my side,” said he, “isn’t there a gentleman with two
ladies, and a little boy who walks about with a crutch?”

“Yes, Monsieur l’Abbe, I know them. The aunt, Madame Chaise, took one of
the two rooms for herself; and Monsieur and Madame Vigneron with their
son Gustave have had to content themselves with the other one. This is
the second year they have come to Lourdes. They are very respectable
people too.”

Pierre nodded. During the night he had fancied he could recognise the
voice of M. Vigneron, whom the heat doubtless had incommoded. However,
the servant was now thoroughly started, and she began to enumerate the
other persons whose rooms were reached by the same passage; on the left
hand there was a priest, then a mother with three daughters, and then an
old married couple; whilst on the right lodged another gentleman who was
all alone, a young lady, too, who was unaccompanied, and then a family
party which included five young children. The hotel was crowded to its
garrets. The servants had had to give up their rooms the previous evening
and lie in a heap in the washhouse. During the night, also, some camp
bedsteads had even been set up on the landings; and one honourable
ecclesiastic, for lack of other accommodation, had been obliged to sleep
on a billiard-table.

When the girl had retired and the two men had drunk their chocolate, M.
de Guersaint went back into his own room to wash his hands again, for he
was very careful of his person; and Pierre, who remained alone, felt
attracted by the gay sunlight, and stepped for a moment on to the narrow
balcony outside his window. Each of the third-floor rooms on this side of
the hotel was provided with a similar balcony, having a carved-wood
balustrade. However, the young priest’s surprise was very great, for he
had scarcely stepped outside when he suddenly saw a woman protrude her
head over the balcony next to him—that of the room occupied by the
gentleman whom M. de Guersaint and the servant had been speaking of.

And this woman he had recognised: it was Madame Volmar. There was no
mistaking her long face with its delicate drawn features, its magnificent
large eyes, those brasiers over which a veil, a dimming /moire/, seemed
to pass at times. She gave a start of terror on perceiving him. And he,
extremely ill at ease, grieved that he should have frightened her, made
all haste to withdraw into his apartment. A sudden light had dawned upon
him, and he now understood and could picture everything. So this was why
she had not been seen at the hospital, where little Madame Desagneaux was
always asking for her. Standing motionless, his heart upset, Pierre fell
into a deep reverie, reflecting on the life led by this woman whom he
knew, that torturing conjugal life in Paris between a fierce
mother-in-law and an unworthy husband, and then those three days of
complete liberty spent at Lourdes, that brief bonfire of passion to which
she had hastened under the sacrilegious pretext of serving the divinity.
Tears whose cause he could not even explain, tears that ascended from the
very depths of his being, from his own voluntary chastity, welled into
his eyes amidst the feeling of intense sorrow which came over him.

“Well, are you ready?” joyously called M. de Guersaint as he came back,
with his grey jacket buttoned up and his hands gloved.

“Yes, yes, let us go,” replied Pierre, turning aside and pretending to
look for his hat so that he might wipe his eyes.

Then they went out, and on crossing the threshold heard on their left
hand an unctuous voice which they recognised; it was that of M. Vigneron,
who was loudly repeating the morning prayers. A moment afterwards came a
meeting which interested them. They were walking down the passage when
they were passed by a middle-aged, thick-set, sturdy-looking gentleman,
wearing carefully trimmed whiskers. He bent his back and passed so
rapidly that they were unable to distinguish his features, but they
noticed that he was carrying a carefully made parcel. And immediately
afterwards he slipped a key into the lock of the room adjoining M. de
Guersaint’s, and opening the door disappeared noiselessly, like a shadow.

M. de Guersaint had glanced round: “Ah! my neighbour,” said he; “he has
been to market and has brought back some delicacies, no doubt!”

Pierre pretended not to hear, for his companion was so light-minded that
he did not care to trust him with a secret which was not his own.
Besides, a feeling of uneasiness was returning to him, a kind of chaste
terror at the thought that the world and the flesh were there taking
their revenge, amidst all the mystical enthusiasm which he could feel
around him.

They reached the hospital just as the patients were being brought out to
be carried to the Grotto; and they found that Marie had slept well and
was very gay. She kissed her father and scolded him when she learnt that
he had not yet decided on his trip to Gavarnie. She should really be
displeased with him, she said, if he did not go. Still with the same
restful, smiling expression, she added that she did not expect to be
cured that day; and then, assuming an air of mystery, she begged Pierre
to obtain permission for her to spend the following night before the
Grotto. This was a favour which all the sufferers ardently coveted, but
which only a few favoured ones with difficulty secured. After protesting,
anxious as he felt with regard to the effect which a night spent in the
open air might have upon her health, the young priest, seeing how unhappy
she had suddenly become, at last promised that he would make the
application. Doubtless she imagined that she would only obtain a hearing
from the Virgin when they were alone together in the slumbering
peacefulness of the night. That morning, indeed, she felt so lost among
the innumerable patients who were heaped together in front of the Grotto,
that already at ten o’clock she asked to be taken back to the hospital,
complaining that the bright light tired her eyes. And when her father and
the priest had again installed her in the Sainte-Honorine Ward, she gave
them their liberty for the remainder of the day. “No, don’t come to fetch
me,” she said, “I shall not go back to the Grotto this afternoon—it
would be useless. But you will come for me this evening at nine o’clock,
won’t you, Pierre? It is agreed, you have given me your word.”

He repeated that he would endeavour to secure the requisite permission,

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