The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 4

Produced by Dagny []
and David Widger []




Volume 4.





AT the Hospital of Our Lady of Dolours, that morning, Marie remained
seated on her bed, propped up by pillows. Having spent the whole night at
the Grotto, she had refused to let them take her back there. And, as
Madame de Jonquiere approached her, to raise one of the pillows which was
slipping from its place, she asked: “What day is it, madame?”

“Monday, my dear child.”

“Ah! true. One so soon loses count of time. And, besides, I am so happy!

It is to-day that the Blessed Virgin will cure me!”

She smiled divinely, with the air of a day-dreamer, her eyes gazing into
vacancy, her thoughts so far away, so absorbed in her one fixed idea,
that she beheld nothing save the certainty of her hope. Round about her,
the Sainte-Honorine Ward was now quite deserted, all the patients,
excepting Madame Vetu, who lay at the last extremity in the next bed,
having already started for the Grotto. But Marie did not even notice her
neighbour; she was delighted with the sudden stillness which had fallen.
One of the windows overlooking the courtyard had been opened, and the
glorious morning sunshine entered in one broad beam, whose golden dust
was dancing over her bed and streaming upon her pale hands. It was indeed
pleasant to find this room, so dismal at nighttime with its many beds of
sickness, its unhealthy atmosphere, and its nightmare groans, thus
suddenly filled with sunlight, purified by the morning air, and wrapped
in such delicious silence! “Why don’t you try to sleep a little?”
maternally inquired Madame de Jonquiere. “You must be quite worn out by
your vigil.”

Marie, who felt so light and cheerful that she no longer experienced any
pain, seemed surprised.

“But I am not at all tired, and I don’t feel a bit sleepy. Go to sleep?
Oh! no, that would be too sad. I should no longer know that I was going
to be cured!”

At this the superintendent laughed. “Then why didn’t you let them take
you to the Grotto?” she asked. “You won’t know what to do with yourself
all alone here.”

“I am not alone, madame, I am with her,” replied Marie; and thereupon,
her vision returning to her, she clasped her hands in ecstasy. “Last
night, you know, I saw her bend her head towards me and smile. I quite
understood her, I could hear her voice, although she never opened her
lips. When the Blessed Sacrament passes at four o’clock I shall be

Madame de Jonquiere tried to calm her, feeling rather anxious at the
species of somnambulism in which she beheld her. However, the sick girl
went on: “No, no, I am no worse, I am waiting. Only, you must surely see,
madame, that there is no need for me to go to the Grotto this morning,
since the appointment which she gave me is for four o’clock.” And then the
girl added in a lower tone: “Pierre will come for me at half-past three.
At four o’clock I shall be cured.”

The sunbeam slowly made its way up her bare arms, which were now almost
transparent, so wasted had they become through illness; whilst her
glorious fair hair, which had fallen over her shoulders, seemed like the
very effulgence of the great luminary enveloping her. The trill of a bird
came in from the courtyard, and quite enlivened the tremulous silence of
the ward. Some child who could not be seen must also have been playing
close by, for now and again a soft laugh could be heard ascending in the
warm air which was so delightfully calm.

“Well,” said Madame de Jonquiere by way of conclusion, “don’t sleep then,
as you don’t wish to. But keep quite quiet, and it will rest you all the

Meantime Madame Vetu was expiring in the adjoining bed. They had not
dared to take her to the Grotto, for fear they should see her die on the
way. For some little time she had lain there with her eyes closed; and
Sister Hyacinthe, who was watching, had beckoned to Madame Desagneaux in
order to acquaint her with the bad opinion she had formed of the case.
Both of them were now leaning over the dying woman, observing her with
increasing anxiety. The mask upon her face had turned more yellow than
ever, and now looked like a coating of mud; her eyes too had become more
sunken, her lips seemed to have grown thinner, and the death rattle had
begun, a slow, pestilential wheezing, polluted by the cancer which was
finishing its destructive work. All at once she raised her eyelids, and
was seized with fear on beholding those two faces bent over her own.
Could her death be near, that they should thus be gazing at her? Immense
sadness showed itself in her eyes, a despairing regret of life. It was
not a vehement revolt, for she no longer had the strength to struggle;
but what a frightful fate it was to have left her shop, her surroundings,
and her husband, merely to come and die so far away; to have braved the
abominable torture of such a journey, to have prayed both day and night,
and then, instead of having her prayer granted, to die when others

However, she could do no more than murmur “Oh! how I suffer; oh! how I
suffer. Do something, anything, to relieve this pain, I beseech you.”

Little Madame Desagneaux, with her pretty milk-white face showing amidst
her mass of fair, frizzy hair, was quite upset. She was not used to
deathbed scenes, she would have given half her heart, as she expressed
it, to see that poor woman recover. And she rose up and began to question
Sister Hyacinthe, who was also in tears but already resigned, knowing as
she did that salvation was assured when one died well. Could nothing
really be done, however? Could not something be tried to ease the dying
woman? Abbe Judaine had come and administered the last sacrament to her a
couple of hours earlier that very morning. She now only had Heaven to
look to; it was her only hope, for she had long since given up expecting
aid from the skill of man.

“No, no! we must do something,” exclaimed Madame Desagneaux. And
thereupon she went and fetched Madame de Jonquiere from beside Marie’s
bed. “Look how this poor creature is suffering, madame!” she exclaimed.
“Sister Hyacinthe says that she can only last a few hours longer. But we
cannot leave her moaning like this. There are things which give relief.
Why not call that young doctor who is here?”

“Of course we will,” replied the superintendent. “We will send for him at

They seldom thought of the doctor in the wards. It only occurred to the
ladies to send for him when a case was at its very worst, when one of
their patients was howling with pain. Sister Hyacinthe, who herself felt
surprised at not having thought of Ferrand, whom she believed to be in an
adjoining room, inquired if she should fetch him.

“Certainly,” was the reply. “Bring him as quickly as possible.”

When the Sister had gone off, Madame de Jonquiere made Madame Desagneaux
help her in slightly raising the dying woman’s head, thinking that this
might relieve her. The two ladies happened to be alone there that
morning, all the other lady-hospitallers having gone to their devotions
or their private affairs. However, from the end of the large deserted
ward, where, amidst the warm quiver of the sunlight such sweet
tranquillity prevailed, there still came at intervals the light laughter
of the unseen child.

“Can it be Sophie who is making such a noise?” suddenly asked the
lady-superintendent, whose nerves were somewhat upset by all the worry of
the death which she foresaw. Then quickly walking to the end of the ward,
she found that it was indeed Sophie Couteau—the young girl so
miraculously healed the previous year—who, seated on the floor behind a
bed, had been amusing herself, despite her fourteen years, in making a
doll out of a few rags. She was now talking to it, so happy, so absorbed
in her play, that she laughed quite heartily. “Hold yourself up,
mademoiselle,” said she. “Dance the polka, that I may see how you can do
it! One! two! dance, turn, kiss the one you like best!”

Madame de Jonquiere, however, was now coming up. “Little girl,” she said,
“we have one of our patients here in great pain, and not expected to
recover. You must not laugh so loud.”

“Ah! madame, I didn’t know,” replied Sophie, rising up, and becoming
quite serious, although still holding the doll in her hand. “Is she going
to die, madame?”

“I fear so, my poor child.”

Thereupon Sophie became quite silent. She followed the superintendent,
and seated herself on an adjoining bed; whence, without the slightest
sign of fear, but with her large eyes burning with curiosity, she began
to watch Madame Vetu’s death agony. In her nervous state, Madame
Desagneaux was growing impatient at the delay in the doctor’s arrival;
whilst Marie, still enraptured, and resplendent in the sunlight, seemed
unconscious of what was taking place about her, wrapt as she was in
delightful expectancy of the miracle.

Not having found Ferrand in the small apartment near the linen-room which
he usually occupied, Sister Hyacinthe was now searching for him all over
the building. During the past two days the young doctor had become more
bewildered than ever in that extraordinary hospital, where his assistance
was only sought for the relief of death pangs. The small medicine-chest
which he had brought with him proved quite useless; for there could be no
thought of trying any course of treatment, as the sick were not there to
be doctored, but simply to be cured by the lightning stroke of a miracle.
And so he mainly confined himself to administering a few opium pills, in
order to deaden the severer sufferings. He had been fairly amazed when
accompanying Doctor Bonamy on a round through the wards. It had resolved
itself into a mere stroll, the doctor, who had only come out of
curiosity, taking no interest in the patients, whom he neither questioned
nor examined. He solely concerned himself with the pretended cases of
cure, stopping opposite those women whom he recognised from having seen
them at his office where the miracles were verified. One of them had
suffered from three complaints, only one of which the Blessed Virgin had
so far deigned to cure; but great hopes were entertained respecting the
other two. Sometimes, when a wretched woman, who the day before had
claimed to be cured, was questioned with reference to her health, she
would reply that her pains had returned to her. However, this never
disturbed the doctor’s serenity; ever conciliatory, the good man declared
that Heaven would surely complete what Heaven had begun. Whenever there
was an improvement in health, he would ask if it were not something to be
thankful for. And, indeed, his constant saying was: “There’s an
improvement already; be patient!” What he most dreaded were the
importunities of the lady-superintendents, who all wished to detain him
to show him sundry extraordinary cases. Each prided herself on having the
most serious illnesses, the most frightful, exceptional cases in her
ward; so that she was eager to have them medically authenticated, in
order that she might share in the triumph should cure supervene. One
caught the doctor by the arm and assured him that she felt confident she
had a leper in her charge; another entreated him to come and look at a
young girl whose back, she said, was covered with fish’s scales; whilst a
third, whispering in his ear, gave him some terrible details about a
married lady of the best society. He hastened away, however, refusing to
see even one of them, or else simply promising to come back later on when
he was not so busy. As he himself said, if he listened to all those
ladies, the day would pass in useless consultations. However, he at last
suddenly stopped opposite one of the miraculously cured inmates, and,
beckoning Ferrand to his side, exclaimed: “Ah! now here is an interesting
cure!” and Ferrand, utterly bewildered, had to listen to him whilst he
described all the features of the illness, which had totally disappeared
at the first immersion in the piscina.

At last Sister Hyacinthe, still wandering about, encountered Abbe
Judaine, who informed her that the young doctor had just been summoned to
the Family Ward. It was the fourth time he had gone thither to attend to
Brother Isidore, whose sufferings were as acute as ever, and whom he
could only fill with opium. In his agony, the Brother merely asked to be
soothed a little, in order that he might gather together sufficient
strength to return to the Grotto in the afternoon, as he had not been
able to do so in the morning. However, his pains increased, and at last
he swooned away.

When the Sister entered the ward she found the doctor seated at the
missionary’s bedside. “Monsieur Ferrand,” she said, “come up-stairs with
me to the Sainte-Honorine Ward at once. We have a patient there at the
point of death.”

He smiled at her; indeed, he never beheld her without feeling brighter

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