The Three Cities Trilogy: Lourdes, Volume 5

Produced by Dagny [dagnypg@yahoo.com]
and David Widger [widger@cecomet.net]

THE THREE CITIES

LOURDES

BY

EMILE ZOLA
Volume 5.

TRANSLATED BY ERNEST A. VIZETELLY

THE FIFTH DAY

I

EGOTISM AND LOVE

AGAIN that night Pierre, at the Hotel of the Apparitions, was unable to
obtain a wink of sleep. After calling at the hospital to inquire after
Marie, who, since her return from the procession, had been soundly
enjoying the delicious, restoring sleep of a child, he had gone to bed
himself feeling anxious at the prolonged absence of M. de Guersaint. He
had expected him at latest at dinner-time, but probably some mischance
had detained him at Gavarnie; and he thought how disappointed Marie would
be if her father were not there to embrace her the first thing in the
morning. With a man like M. de Guersaint, so pleasantly heedless and so
hare-brained, everything was possible, every fear might be realised.

Perhaps this anxiety had at first sufficed to keep Pierre awake in spite
of his great fatigue; but afterwards the nocturnal noises of the hotel
had really assumed unbearable proportions. The morrow, Tuesday, was the
day of departure, the last day which the national pilgrimage would spend
at Lourdes, and the pilgrims no doubt were making the most of their time,
coming from the Grotto and returning thither in the middle of the night,
endeavouring as it were to force the grace of Heaven by their commotion,
and apparently never feeling the slightest need of repose. The doors
slammed, the floors shook, the entire building vibrated beneath the
disorderly gallop of a crowd. Never before had the walls reverberated
with such obstinate coughs, such thick, husky voices. Thus Pierre, a prey
to insomnia, tossed about on his bed and continually rose up, beset with
the idea that the noise he heard must have been made by M. de Guersaint
who had returned. For some minutes he would listen feverishly; but he
could only hear the extraordinary sounds of the passage, amid which he
could distinguish nothing precisely. Was it the priest, the mother and
her three daughters, or the old married couple on his left, who were
fighting with the furniture? or was it rather the larger family, or the
single gentleman, or the young single woman on his right, whom some
incomprehensible occurrences were leading into adventures? At one moment
he jumped from his bed, wishing to explore his absent friend’s empty
room, as he felt certain that some deeds of violence were taking place in
it. But although he listened very attentively when he got there, the only
sound he could distinguish was the tender caressing murmur of two voices.
Then a sudden recollection of Madame Volmar came to him, and he returned
shuddering to bed.

At length, when it was broad daylight and Pierre had just fallen asleep,
a loud knocking at his door awoke him with a start. This time there could
be no mistake, a loud voice broken by sobs was calling “Monsieur l’Abbe!
Monsieur l’Abbe! for Heaven’s sake wake up!”

Surely it must be M. de Guersaint who had been brought back dead, at
least. Quite scared, Pierre ran and opened the door, in his night-shirt,
and found himself in the presence of his neighbour, M. Vigneron.

“Oh! for Heaven’s sake, Monsieur l’Abbe, dress yourself at once!”
exclaimed the, assistant head-clerk. “Your holy ministry is required.”
And he began to relate that he had just got up to see the time by his
watch on the mantelpiece, when he had heard some most frightful sighs
issuing from the adjoining room, where Madame Chaise slept. She had left
the communicating door open in order to be more with them, as she
pleasantly expressed it. Accordingly he had hastened in, and flung the
shutters open so as to admit both light and air. “And what a sight,
Monsieur l’Abbe!” he continued. “Our poor aunt lying on her bed, nearly
purple in the face already, her mouth wide open in a vain effort to
breathe, and her hands fumbling with the sheet. It’s her heart complaint,
you know. Come, come at once, Monsieur l’Abbe, and help her, I implore
you!”

Pierre, utterly bewildered, could find neither his breeches nor his
cassock. “Of course, of course I’ll come with you,” said he. “But I have
not what is necessary for administering the last sacraments.”

M. Vigneron had assisted him to dress, and was now stooping down looking
for his slippers. “Never mind,” he said, “the mere sight of you will
assist her in her last moments, if Heaven has this affliction in store
for us. Here! put these on your feet, and follow me at once—oh! at
once!”

He went off like a gust of wind and plunged into the adjoining room. All
the doors remained wide open. The young priest, who followed him, noticed
nothing in the first room, which was in an incredible state of disorder,
beyond the half-naked figure of little Gustave, who sat on the sofa
serving him as a bed, motionless, very pale, forgotten, and shivering
amid this drama of inexorable death. Open bags littered the floor, the
greasy remains of supper soiled the table, the parents’ bed seemed
devastated by the catastrophe, its coverlets torn off and lying on the
floor. And almost immediately afterwards he caught sight of the mother,
who had hastily enveloped herself in an old yellow dressing-gown,
standing with a terrified look in the inner room.

“Well, my love, well, my love?” repeated M. Vigneron, in stammering
accents.

With a wave of her hand and without uttering a word Madame Vigneron drew
their attention to Madame Chaise, who lay motionless, with her head sunk
in the pillow and her hands stiffened and twisted. She was blue in the
face, and her mouth gaped, as though with the last great gasp that had
come from her.

Pierre bent over her. Then in a low voice he said: “She is dead!”

Dead! The word rang through the room where a heavy silence reigned, and
the husband and wife looked at each other in amazement, bewilderment. So
it was over? The aunt had died before Gustave, and the youngster
inherited her five hundred thousand francs. How many times had they dwelt
on that dream; whose sudden realisation dumfounded them? How many times
had despair overcome them when they feared that the poor child might
depart before her? Dead! Good heavens! was it their fault? Had they
really prayed to the Blessed Virgin for this? She had shown herself so
good to them that they trembled at the thought that they had not been
able to express a wish without its being granted. In the death of the
chief clerk, so suddenly carried off so that they might have his place,
they had already recognised the powerful hand of Our Lady of Lourdes. Had
she again loaded them with favours, listening even to the unconscious
dreams of their desire? Yet they had never desired anyone’s death; they
were worthy people incapable of any bad action, loving their relations,
fulfilling their religious duties, going to confession, partaking of the
communion like other people without any ostentation. Whenever they
thought of those five hundred thousand francs, of their son who might be
the first to go, and of the annoyance it would be to them to see another
and far less worthy nephew inherit that fortune, it was merely in the
innermost recesses of their hearts, in short, quite innocently and
naturally. Certainly they /had/ thought of it when they were at the
Grotto, but was not the Blessed Virgin wisdom itself? Did she not know
far better than ourselves what she ought to do for the happiness of both
the living and the dead?

Then Madame Vigneron in all sincerity burst into tears and wept for the
sister whom she loved so much. “Ah! Monsieur l’Abbe,” she said, “I saw
her expire; she passed away before my eyes. What a misfortune that you
were not here sooner to receive her soul! She died without a priest; your
presence would have consoled her so much.”

A prey also to emotion, his eyes full of tears, Vigneron sought to
console his wife. “Your sister was a saint,” said he; “she communicated
again yesterday morning, and you need have no anxiety concerning her; her
soul has gone straight to heaven. No doubt, if Monsieur l’Abbe had been
here in time she would have been glad to see him. But what would you?
Death was quicker. I went at once, and really there is nothing for us to
reproach ourselves with.”

Then, turning towards the priest, he added “Monsieur l’Abbe, it was her
excessive piety which certainly hastened her end. Yesterday, at the
Grotto, she had a bad attack, which was a warning. And in spite of her
fatigue she obstinately followed the procession afterwards. I thought
then that she could not last long. Yet, out of delicacy, one did not like
to say anything to her, for fear of frightening her.”

Pierre gently knelt down and said the customary prayers, with that human
emotion which was his nearest approach to faith in the presence of
eternal life and eternal death, both so pitiful. Then, as he remained
kneeling a little longer, he overheard snatches of the conversation
around him.

Little Gustave, forgotten on his couch amid the disorder of the other
room, must have lost patience, for he had begun to cry and call out,
“Mamma! mamma! mamma!”

At length Madame Vigneron went to quiet him, and it occurred to her to
carry him in her arms to kiss his poor aunt for the last time. But at
first he struggled and refused, crying so much that M. Vigneron was
obliged to interfere and try to make him ashamed of himself. What! he who
was never frightened of anything! who bore suffering with the courage of
a grown-up man! And to think it was a question of kissing his poor aunt,
who had always been so kind, whose last thought must most certainly have
been for him!

“Give him to me,” said he to his wife; “he’s going to be good.”

Gustave ended by clinging to his father’s neck. He came shivering in his
night-shirt, displaying his wretched little body devoured by scrofula. It
seemed indeed as though the miraculous water of the piscinas, far from
curing him, had freshened the sore on his back; whilst his scraggy leg
hung down inertly like a dry stick.

“Kiss her,” resumed M. Vigneron.

The child leant forward and kissed his aunt on the forehead. It was not
death which upset him and caused him to struggle. Since he had been in
the room he had been looking at the dead woman with an air of quiet
curiosity. He did not love her, he had suffered on her account so long.
He had the ideas and feelings of a man, and the weight of them was
stifling him as, like his complaint, they developed and became more
acute. He felt full well that he was too little, that children ought not
to understand what only concerns their elders.

However, his father, seating himself out of the way, kept him on his
knee, whilst his mother closed the window and lit the two candles on the
mantelpiece. “Ah! my poor dear,” murmured M. Vigneron, feeling that he
must say something, “it’s a cruel loss for all of us. Our trip is now
completely spoilt; this is our last day, for we start this afternoon. And
the Blessed Virgin, too, was showing herself so kind to us.”

However, seeing his son’s surprised look, a look of infinite sadness and
reproach, he hastened to add: “Yes, of course, I know that she hasn’t yet
quite cured you. But we must not despair of her kindness. She loves us so
well, she shows us so many favours that she will certainly end by curing
you, since that is now the only favour that remains for her to grant us.”

Madame Vigneron, who was listening, drew near and said: “How happy we
should have been to have returned to Paris all three hale and hearty!
Nothing is ever perfect!”

“I say!” suddenly observed Monsieur Vigneron, “I sha’n’t be able to leave
with you this afternoon, on account of the formalities which have to be
gone through. I hope that my return ticket will still be available
to-morrow!”

They were both getting over the frightful shock, feeling a sense of
relief in spite of their affection for Madame Chaise; and, in fact, they
were already forgetting her, anxious above all things to leave Lourdes as
soon as possible, as though the principal object of their journey had
been attained. A decorous, unavowed delight was slowly penetrating them.

“When I get back to Paris there will be so much for me to do,” continued
M. Vigneron. “I, who now only long for repose! All the same I shall
remain my three years at the Ministry, until I can retire, especially now
that I am certain of the retiring pension of chief clerk. But
afterwards—oh! afterwards I certainly hope to enjoy life a bit. Since
this money has come to us I shall purchase the estate of Les Billottes,
that superb property down at my native place which I have always been
dreaming of. And I promise you that I sha’n’t find time hanging heavy on
my hands in the midst of my horses, my dogs, and my flowers!”

Little Gustave was still on his father’s knee, his night-shirt tucked up,

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