TO change his weariness of the place, Durtal one sunny afternoon went to the further end of Chartres, to visit the ancient church of Saint Martin du Val. It dated from the tenth century, and had served as the chapel by turns of a Benedictine House and of a Capuchin convent. Restored without any too flagrant heresies, it was now included in the precincts of an Asylum, and was reached by crossing a yard where blind folk in white cotton caps sat nodding on benches in the shade of a few trees.
Its small, squat doorway and three little belfries, as if it had been built for a village of dwarfs, attested its Romanesque origin; and, as at Saint Radegonde at Poitiers and Notre Dame de la Couture at le Mans, the interior opened, under an altar very much raised above the ground, into a crypt lighted by loopholes borrowing their light from the ambulatory of the choir. The capitals of the columns, coarsely carved, resembled the idols of Oceania; under the pavement and in the tombs lay many of the Bishops of Chartres, and newly-consecrated prelates were supposed to spend the first night of their arrival at the See in prayer before these tombs, so as to imbue themselves with the virtues of their predecessors and enlist their support.
"The Manes of these Bishops might very well have whispered to their present successor, Monseigneur des Mofflaines, some plan for purifying the House of the Virgin by turning out the vile musician who degrades the Sanctuary on Sundays to the level of a music hall!" sighed Durtal. "But, alas! nothing disturbs the inertia of that aged, and invalid shepherd, who is, indeed, never to be seen either in his garden, in the cathedral, or in the town.
"Ah! But this is something better than all the vocal flourishes of the choristers!" said Durtal to himself as he listened to the bells aroused from silence to shed the blessed drops of sound over the city.
He called to mind the meanings ascribed to bells by the early symbolists. Durand of Mende compares the hardness of the metal to the power of the preacher, and thinks that the blows of the tongue against the side aim at showing the orator that he should punish himself and correct his own vices before he blames those of others. The wooden crossbeam to which the bell is suspended resembles in form the Cross of Christ, and the rope pulled by the ringer to set the bell going is allegorical of the knowledge of the Scripture which depends on the Cross itself.
According to Hugh of Saint Victor, the tongue of the bell is the sacerdotal tongue, which, striking on both sides of the body, declares the truth of both Testaments. Finally, to others the bell itself is the mouth of the Liturgy, and the tongue its tongue.
"In fact, the bell is the Church’s herald, its outer voice, as the priest is its inward voice," Durtal concluded.
While meditating in this wise, he had reached the cathedral, and for the hundredth time stood to admire those powerful abutments throwing out, with the strong curve of a projectile, flying buttresses like spoked wheels, and, as usual, he was amazed by the flight of the parabola, the grace of the trajectory, the sober strength of those curved supports. "Still," said he to himself, as he studied the parapet raised above them, bordering the roof of the nave, "the architect who was content to stamp out those trefoil arches, as if they were punched in that stone parapet, was less happily inspired than certain other master-masons or stone-workers who enclosed the little gutter-path they made round church roofs with scriptural or symbolical images. Such an one was he who built the cathedral at Troyes, where the top parapet is carved alternately into fleur de lys and Saint Peter’s keys; and he who at Caudebec sculptured the edge into gothic letters of a delightfully decorative character, spelling a hymn to the Virgin, thus crowning the church with a garland of prayer, wreathipg its head with a white chaplet of aspiration."
Durtal left the north side of the cathedral, went past the royal door and round the corner of the old tower. With one hand he held on his hat, and with the other grasped the skirts of his coat, which flapped about his legs. The storm blew permanently on this spot. There might be not a breath of air anywhere else in the town, but here, at this corner, winter and summer, there was always a blast that caught cloaks and skirts and lashed the face with icy thongs.
"That perhaps is the reason why the statues of the neighbouring north door, which’ are so incessantly scourged by the wind, stand in such shivering attitudes with narrow and tightly-drawn raiment, their arms and legs held close," thought Durtal, with a smile. "And is it not the same with that strange figure dwelling in companionship with a sow spinning — though it is not in fact a sow, but a hog — and an ass playing on a hurdy-gurdy on the storm-beaten wall of the old tower?"
These two animals, whose careless herd he seems to be, represent in their merry guise the old popular sayings: Ne sus Minerveum, and Asinus ad lyram, which may be freely rendered by "Every man to his trade," and "Never force a talent;" for we should but be as inept as a pig trying to be wise or an ass trying to strike the lyre.
But this angel with a nimbus, standing barefoot under a canopy, supporting a sun-dial against his breast, what does he mean, what is he doing?
A descendant of the royal women of the north porch, for he is like them in his slender shape, sheathed in a clinging robe with string-like pleats, he looks over our heads, and we wonder whether he is very impure or very chaste.
The upper part of the face is innocent, the hair cropped round the head; the face is beardless and the expression monastic, but between the nose and mouth there is a broad slope, and the lips, parting in a straight gash, wear a smile, which as we look seems just a little impudent, just a little vulgar, and we wonder what manner of angel this may be.
There is in this figure something of the recalcitrant seminarist, and also something of the virtuous postulant. If the sculptor took a young Brother for his model, he certainly did not choose a docile novice, such as he who no doubt served for the study of Joseph standing under the north door; he must have worked from one of the religious Gyrovagoi who so tormented St. Benedict. A strange figure is this angel, who has a father at Laon, behind the cathedral, and who anticipated by many centuries the puzzling seraphic types of the Renaissance.
"What a wind!" muttered Durtal, hastening back to the west front, where he went up the steps and pushed the door open.
The entrance to this immense and obscure church is always coercive; we instinctively bend the head and advance cautiously under the oppressive majesty of its vault. Durtal stopped when he had gone a few steps, dazzled by the illumination of the choir in contrast with the dark alley of the nave, which only gained a little light where it joined the transepts. The Christhad the legs and feet in shadow, the body in subdued light, and the head bathed in a torrent of glory; Durtal gazed up in the air at the motionless ranks of Patriarchs, and Apostles, and Bishops, and Saints in a glow as of dying fires, dimly lighted glass, guarding the Sacred Body at their feet, below them; they stood in rows along the upper storey in huge pointed settings, with wheels above them, showing to Jesus, nailed to earth, His army of faithful soldiers, His legions as enumerated in the Scriptures, the Legends, the Martyrology; Durtal could identify in the armed throng of the painted windows St. Laurence, St. Stephen, St. Giles, St. Nicholas of Myra, St. Martin, St. George of Cappadocia, St. Symphorian, St. Philip, St. Foix, St. Laumer, and how many more whose names he could not recollect — and paused in admiration near the transept, in front of a figure of Abraham fixed for ever in a threatening gesture, holding a sword over a crouching Isaac, the blade shining brightly against the infinite blue.
He stood admiring the conceptions and the craftsmanship of those thirteenth century glass-workers, their emphatic language, necessary at such great heights, the way in which they had made the pictures legible from .a distance by introducing a single figure in each, whenever that was possible, and painting it in massive outline, with contrasting colours, so as to be easily taken in at a glance when seen from below.
But the triumph of this art was neither in the choir, nor in the transepts of the church, nor in the nave; it was at the entrance, on the inner side of the wall, where on the outside stood the statues of the nameless queens. Durtal delighted in this glorious show, but he always postponed it a little to excite himself by expectancy, and revel in the leap of joy it gave him, repetition of the sensation not having yet availed to weaken it.
On this particular day, under a sunny sky, these three windows of the twelfth century blazed with splendour with their broad short blades, the blade of a claymore, flat wide panels of glass under the rose that held the most prominent place over the west door.
It was a twinkling sheet of cornflowers and sparks, a shifting maze of blue flames — a paler blue than that in which Abraham, at the end of the nave, brandished his knife; this pale, limpid blue resembled the flames of burning punch and of the ignited powder of sulphur, and the lightning flash of sapphires, but of quite young sapphires, as it were, still infantine and tremulous. And in the right hand pointed window he could distinguish in burning red the Stem of Jesse — figures piled up espalier fashion, in the blue fire of the sky; while to the left and in th middle, scenes were shown from the Life of Jesus — the Annunciation, Palm Sunday, the Transfiguration, the Last Supper, and the Supper at Emmaus; and above these three windows Christ hurled thunder from the heart of the great rose, the dead emerged from their graves at the trumpet-call, and St. Michael weighed souls.
"How did the glass-makers discover and compound that twelfth century blue?" wondered Durtal. "And why have their successors so long lost it, as well as their red?
"In the twelfth century glass-painters made use chiefly of three colours; first, blue — that ineffable, uncertain skyblue which is the glory of the Chartres windows; then red — a purplish red, full and important; and green — inferior in quality to the two others. For white they preferred a greenish tinge.
"In the following century the palette is more extensive, but the stain is darker; the glass, too, is thicker. And yet, what a glowing blue of pure, bold sapphire tone the artists of the furnace had at their command, and what a fine red they used, the colour of fresh blood! Yellow, of which they were less lavish, was, if I may judge from the robe of a king near the Abraham, in a window by the transept, a daring hue of bright lemon. But apart from these three colours, which have a sort of resonance, and burst forth like songs of joy in these transparent pictures, others grow more sober; the violets are like Orleans plums or purple egg-fruit, the browns are of the hue of burnt sugar, the chive-coloured greens turn dark.
"But what masterpieces of colour they achieved by the harmony and contrast of these tones, and with what skill did they handle the lead-lines, emphasizing certain details, punctuating and dividing these paragraphs of flame as if with lines of ink.
"And another thing which is amazing is the perfect agreement of all these various crafts, practised side by side, treating the same subjects, or supplementing each othereach, by its own mode of expression, under one guiding mind, contributing to the whole; with what a sense of fitness, with what skill were the posts distributed, the places assigned to each as beseemed the purpose of his craft, the requirements of his art.
"Architecture having finished the lower portion of the edifice, retires into the background to make way for Sculpture, giving it the fine opportunity of the doorways; and Sculpture, hitherto invisible at excessive heights, as a mere accessory, suddenly finds itself supreme. With due sense of justice it now comes forward where it can be seen, and the sister art retires, leaving it to address the multitude, giving it the noblest framework in those arched doorways, imitating a deeper perspective by their concentric arches, diminishing and retreating to the door-frames.
"In other instances Architecture does not give everything to one art, but divides the bounty of her great façadebetween sculpture and painting; reserving to the former the hollows and nooks where statues may find niches, and giving to glass-painters the tympanum of the great door, where at Chartres the image-maker has displayed the Triumph of Christ. This we see in the great west doors of Tours and of Reims.
"This plan of substituting glass for bas-reliefs had its disadvantages; seen from outside — their wrong side — these diaphanous pictures look like spiders’ nets on an enormous scale and thick with dust. With the light on them the windows are, in fact, grey or black; it is only by going inside and looking back that their fire can be seen flashing; the outside is here sacrificed to the inside. Why?
"Perhaps," said Durtal, answering himself, "it is symbolical of the soul having light inwardly, an allegory of the spiritual life-"
He took in all the windows of the nave with a rapid glance, and it struck him that their effect was a combination of the prison and the grave, with their coals of fire burning behind iron bars, some crossed like the windows of a gaol, and others twisting like black twigs and branches. Is not glass painting of all arts that in which God does most to help the artist, the art which man, unaided, can never make perfect, since the sky alone can give life to the colours by a beam of sunshine, and lend movement to the lines? In short, man fashions the form, prepares the body, and must wait till God infuses the soul.
"It is to-day a high-day of light and the Sun of Justice is visiting His Mother," he went on, as he walked to where the pillared thicket of the choir ended at the south transept, to look at the window known as Notre Dame de la belle Verrière, the figure, in blue, relieved against a mingled background of dead-leaf olive, brown, iris violet, plumgreen; She gazed out with her sad and pensive pout — a pout very cleverly restored by a modern glass-painter; and Durtal remembered that people had come to pray to Her, as he now went to pray to the Virgin of the Pillar and Notre Dame de Sous Terre.
Such devotion was a thing of the past; the men of our time need, it would seem, a more tangible, a more material Virgin than this slender, fragile image, hardly visible in dark weather; nevertheless, a few peasants still kept up the habit of kneeling and offering a taper before Her, and Durtal, who loved these old neglected Madonnas, joined them and invoked Her too.
Two other windows also appealed to him by the singularity, of the figures, perched very high up, in the depths of the apse, and serving as attendant pages, at a distance, to the Virgin holding Her Son in the centre light commanding the whole perspective of the cathedral; these each contained in a light-toned lancet, a barbarous and grotesque seraph, with sharply-marked features, white wings full of eyes, and robes with jagged, strap-like edges of a pale green colour; their legs were bare, and they were represented as floating. These two angels had jujube yellow aureoles tilted to the back like sailors’ hats; and this ragged attire, the feathers folded over the breast, the hat of glory, with their general expression of refractory wilfulness, suggested the idea that these beings were at once paupers, Apaches or Mohicans, and seamen.
As to the remaining windows, especially those which included several figures and were divided into several pictures, it would have needed a telescope and have taken many days of study only to make out the story they told, and discover the details; and months would not have sufficed for the task, since the glass had been in many cases repaired and often replaced without regard to order, so that it was especially difficult to decipher it.
An attempt had been made to count the number of figures represented in the cathedral windows; they were as many as 3889; in the mediaeval times everybody had been eager to present a glass picture to the Virgin. Not cardinals only, kings, bishops and princes, canons and nobles, but the corporations of the town also had contributed these panels of fire; the richest, such as the Guilds of Drapers and Furriers, of Goldsmiths and Money-changers, had each presented five to Our Lady, while the poorer companies of the Master Scavengers and Water-carriers, the Porters and Rag-pickers, each gave one.
Pondering on these things, Durtal wandered round the ambulatory and paused in front of a small stone Virgin ensconced at the foot of the stairs leading up to the chapel of Saint Fiat, constructed in the fourteenth century as a sort of outbuilding behind the apse. This Virgin, dating from the same period, had shrunk into the shade, effacing Herself; deferentially leaving the more important places to the senior Madonnas.
She carried an Infant playing with a bird, in allusion, no doubt, to the passage in the apocryphal Gospels of the Infancy, and of Thomas the Israelite, which shows us the Child Jesus amusing Himself by modelling birds out of clay, and giving them life by breathing upon them.
Then Durtal continued his walk through the chapels; stopping only to look at one which contained relics of opposite utility and double purpose: the shrines of Saint Fiat and Saint Taurinus. The bones of the former saint were displayed to secure dry weather in times of rain, and those of the second to invoke rain in times of drought. But what was far less comforting and more irritating even than this array of side-chapels, with their wretched adornment — with names that had been changed since their first dedication so that the tutelary protection earned by centuries of service had ceased to exist — was the choir, battered, dirty, degraded as if on. purpose.
In 1763 the old Chapter had thought fit to deface the Gothic columns, and to have them colour-washed by a Milanese lime-washer, of a yellowish pink speckled with grey; then they had abandoned to the town-museum some magnificent pieces of Flemish tapestry that screened the inner circuit of the choir aisles, and had put in their place bas-reliefs in marble executed by the dreadful bungler who had crushed the altar under the gigantic group of the Virgin. And mischance had helped. In 1789 the Sansculottes were intending to destroy this mountainous Assumption, and some ill-starred idiot saved it by placing a cap of liberty on the Virgin’s head!
To think that some beautiful windows were knocked out in order to get a better light for this mass of lard! If only there were the slightest hope of ever getting rid of it; but alas! all such hopes are vain. Some years ago, when Monseigneur Regnault was Bishop, the idea was indeed suggested — not of making away with this petrified lump of tallow, but at least of getting rid of the bas-reliefs.
Then the prelate — who stuffed his ears with cotton for fear of taking cold — set his face against it; and for reasons of equal importance, no doubt, the sacrilegious hideousness of this Assumption must be for ever endured, and the marble screens as well.
But though the interior of this choir was a disgrace, the groups round the ambulatory of the apse and the outer wall of the choir were well worth lingering over.
These figures under canopies and tabernacles carved by Jehan de Beauce began on the right by the south transept, went round the horse-shoe behind the altar, and ended at the north transept where the Black Virgin of the Pillar stands.
The subjects were the same as those treated in the small capitals of the royal doorway, outside the church, above the panegyric of the kings, saints, and queens. They were taken from the Apocryphal legends, the Gospel of the Childhood of Mary, and the Protoevangelist James the Less.
The first of these groups was executed by an artist named Jehan Soulas. The contract, dated January 2nd, 1518, between this sculptor and the delegates of the authorities conducting the works of the church, still existed. It set forth that Jehan Soulas, a master image-maker, dwelling in Paris at the cemetery of Saint Jehan in the parish of Saint Jehan en Grève, pledged himself to execute in good stone of the Tonnerre quarry, and better than the images that are round about the choir of Notre Dame de Paris, the four first groups, of which the subjects were prescribed and explained; in consideration of the sum of two hundred and eighty livres Tournois, which the Chapter of Chartres undertook to pay him as he might require.
Soulas, who had undoubtedly learned his craft from some Flemish artist, produced certain little genre pictures well adapted, by their spirit and liveliness, to cheer the soul that the solemnity of the windows might have depressed; for in this aisle they really seemed to let the light filter through Indian shawl-stuff, admitting only a few dull sparks and smoky gleams.
The second group, representing Saint Anna receiving from an unseen angel an order to go to meet Joachim at the Golden Gate, was a marvel of grace and subtle observation; the saint stood listening attentive in front of her fald-stool, by which lay a little dog; and a waiting-maid, seen in profile, carrying an empty pitcher, smiled with a knowing air and a wink in her eye. And in the next scene, where the husband and wife were embracing each other with the trepidation of a worthy old couple, stammering with joy and clasping trembling hands, the same woman, seen fullface this time, was so delighted at their happiness that she could not keep still, but, holding up her skirts, was almost in the act of dancing.
A little further on, the image-maker had represented the birth of Mary, a thoroughly Flemish scene in the background, a bed with curtains, on which Saint Anna reclined, watched by a maid, while the midwife and her attendant washed the infant in a basin.
But another of these bas-reliefs, close to the Renaissance clock, which interrupts the series of this history told in the choir-aisle, was even more astonishing. In this Mary was sewing at baby-clothes while reading, and Saint joseph, asleep in a chair, his head resting on his hand, was instructed in a dream of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. And he not only had his eyes shut, he was sleeping so soundly, so really, that one could see him breathe, one felt his body stretching, relaxing, in the perfect abandoment of his whole being. And how diligently the young mother stitched while she was absorbed in prayers, her nose in her book! Never, certainly, was life more closely apprehended, or expressed with greater certainty and truth to life caught in the act, at the instant, ere it moved.
Next to this domestic scene, and the Adoration of the Shepherds and Angels, came the Circumcision of Jesus, with a white paper apron pasted on by some low jester; then the Adoration of the Magi; and Jehan de Soulas and the pupils of his studio had finished the work on their side. They were succeeded by inferior craftsmen, François Marchant of Orleans, and Nicolas Guybert of Chartres and after them art went on sinking lower and lower, down to one Sieur Boudin, who had dared to sign his miserable puppets, down to the stupid conventionality of Jean de Dieu, Legros, Tuby, and Mazières, to the cold and pagan work of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But there was an improvement in the eight last groups opposite the Virgin of the Pillar — some simple figures carved by the pupils of Soulas; these, however, were to some extent wasted, since they stood in the shadow, and it was almost impossible to judge of them in that half-dead light.
In reviewing this ambulatory, in parts so pleasing and in others so unsèemly, Durtal could not help recalling the details of a similar but more complete work — one that had not been wrought in succeeding ages and disfigured by discrepancies of talent and date. This work was at Amiens, and it, likewise, was the decoration of the outer aisle of a cathedral choir.
This story of the life of Saint Firmin, the first Bishop and patron saint of the city, and of the discovery and translation of his relics by Saint Salvo, was told in a series of groups that had been gilt and painted; then, to complete the circuit of the sanctuary, the life of the second patron of Amiens had been added, Saint John the Baptist; and in the scene of the Baptism of Christ a fair-haired angel was represented holding a napkin, an ingenuous and arch being, one of the most adorable seraphic faces ever carved or painted by Flemish art in France.
This legend of Saint Firmin was set forth, like that of the Birth of the Virgin at Chartres, in separate chapters of stone, surmounted in the same way with gothic canopies or tabernacles; and in the compartment where Saint Salvo, surrounded by the multitude, discerns the beams which radiate from a cloud to indicate the spot where the lost body of the Martyr had been buried, a man on his knees with clasped hands, seems to pant, uplifted in prayer, burning, projected by the leap of his soul, his face transfigured, turning a mere rustic into a saint in ecstasy, already dwelling in God far above the earth.
This worshipper was the masterpiece of the ambulatory at Amiens, as the sleeping Saint Joseph was of the bas-reliefs at Chartres.
"Take it for all in all," said Durtal to himself, "that work in the Picardy Cathedral is more explicit, more complete, more various, more eloquent even than that of the church in La Beauce. Irrespective of the fact that the unknown image-maker who created it was as highly gifted as Soulas with acute observation, and persuasive and decided simplemindedness and spirit, he had besides a peculiar and more noble vein of feeling. And then his subjects were not restricted to the presentment of two or three personages; he frequently grouped a swarming crowd, in which each man, woman, or child differed in individual character and feature from every other, and was conspicuously marked by that unlikeness, so clear and living was the realism of each small figure!
"After all," thought Durtal, looking once moreat the choir aisles ashe turned away, "though Soulas maybe inferior to the sculptor of Amiens, he is none the less a delightful artist and a true master, and his groups may console us for the ignominious work of Bridan and the atrocious decoration of the choir."
He then went to kneel before the Black Virgin, and returning to the North transept near which She stands, he gazed once more in amazement at the incandescent flowers of the windows; again he was captivated and moved by the five pointed windows under the rose, in which, on each side of the Mauresque Saint Anna, stood David and Solomon, a forbidding pair, in a furnace of purple, and Melchisedec and Aaron with tawny complexions and hairy faces, with enormous colourless eyes standing out passionless in a blaze of daylight.
The radiating rose-window above them was not of the vast diameter of those in Notre Dame de Paris, nor of the incomparable elegance of the star-patterned rose at Amiens. It was smaller and heavier, sparkling with flowers like saxifrages of flame, opening in the pierced wall.
Durtal turned on his heel to look at the South transept, where five great windows faced those on the North. There he saw, blazing like torches on each side of the Virgin placed exactly opposite Saint Ann, the four Evangelists borne on the shoulders of the four greater Prophets — Saint Matthew on Isaiah, Saint Luke on Jeremiah, Saint John on Ezekiel, Saint Mark on Daniel — each stranger than the other, with their eyes like the lenses of opera-glasses, their hair in ripples, their beards like the up-torn roots of trees; excepting Saint John, who was always represented as a beardless youth in the Latin Medival Church, to symbolize his virginity; but the most grotesque of these giants was perhaps Saint Luke, who, perched on Jeremiah’s back, gently scratches the prophet’s head, as if he were a parrot, while turning woeful, meditative eyes up to Heaven.
Durtal went down the nave, darker than the choir; the pavement sloped gently to the door, for in the Middle Ages it was washed every morning after the departure of the crowds who slept on it; and he looked down, in the middle, on the labyrinth marked out on the ground in lines of white stone and ribbons of blue stone, twisting in a spiral, like a watch-spring. This path our fathers devoutly paced, repeating special prayers during the hour they spent in doing so, and thus performing an imaginary pilgrimage to the Holy Land to earn indulgences.
When he was out in the square once more, he turned back to take in the splendid effect of the whole before going home. He felt at once happy and awe-stricken, carried out of himself by the tremendous and yet beautiful aspect of the church.
How grandiose and how aerial was this cathedral, sprung like a jet from the soul of a man who had formed it in his own image, to record his ascent in mystic paths, up and up by degrees in the light; passing through the contemplative life in the transept, soaring in the choir into the full glory of the unitive life, far away now from the purgatorial life, the dark passage of the nave.
And this assumption of a soul was attended, supported, by the bands of angels, the apostles, the prophets, and the righteous, all arrayed in their glorified bodies of flame, an escort of honour to the Cross lying low on the stones, and the image of the Mother enthroned in all the high places of this vast reliquary, opening the walls, as it seemed, to present to Her, as for a perpetual festival, their posies of gems that had blossomed in the fiery heat of the glass windows.
Nowhere else was the Virgin so well cared for, so cherished, so emphatically proclaimed the absolute mistress of the realm thus offered to Her; and one detail proved this. In every other cathedral kings, saints, bishops, and benefactors lay buried in the depths of the soil; not so at Chartres. Not a body had ever been buried there; this church had never been made a sarcophagus, because, as one of its historians — old Rouillard — says, "it has the preeminent distinction of being the couch or bed of the Virgin."
Thus it was Her home; here She was supreme amid the court of Her Elect, watching over the sacramental Body of Her Son in the sanctuary of the inmost chapel, where lamps were ever burning, guarding Him as She had done in His infancy; holding Him on Her knee in every carving, every painted window; seen in every storey of the building, between the ranks of saints, and sitting at last on a pillar, revealing herself to the poor and lowly, under the humble aspect of a sunburnt woman, scorched by the dog-days, tanned by wind and rain. Nay, She went lower still, down to the cellars of Her palace, waiting in the crypt to give audience to the waverers, the timid souls who were abashed by the sunlit splendour of Her Court.
How completely does this sanctuary — where the sweet and awful presence is ever felt of the Child who never leaves His Mother — lift the spirit above all realities, into the secret rapture of pure beauty!
"And how good must They both be," Durtal said to himself, as he looked round and found himself alone, "never to abandon this desert, never to weary of waiting for worshippers! But for the honest country folk who come at all hours to kiss the pillar, what a solitude it would be, even on Sunday, for this cathedral is never full. However, to be just, at the nine o’clock mass on Sundays the lower end of the nave is thronged," and he smiled, remembering that énd of the church packed with little girls brought in schools by Sisters, and with peasant women who, not being able to see there to read their prayers, would light ends of taper and crowd together closely, several looking over one book.
This familiarity, this childlike simplicity of piety, which the dreadful sacristans of Paris would never endure in a church, were so natural at Chartres, so thoroughly in harmony with the homely and unceremonious welcome of Our Lady!
"A thing to be ascertained," said Durtal, starting on a new line of thought, "is whether this church has preserved its surface uninjured, or whether it may not have been coloured in the thirteenth century. Some writers assert that, in Mediaeval times, the interiors of cathedrals were always painted. Is that the fact? Or, admitting that the statement is correct as to all Romanesque churches, is it equally so with regard to Gothic churches?
"For my part, I like to believe that the sanctuary of Chartres was never befooled with gaudiness, such as we have to endure at Saint Germain des Près, in Paris, and Notre Dame la Grande at Poitiers. In fact such colour can only be-conceived of — if at all — as used in small chapels; why stain the walls of a cathedral with motley? For this tattooing, so to speak, reduces the sense of space, brings down the roof, and makes the pillars clumsy; in short, it eliminates the mysterious soul of the nave, and destroys the sober majesty of the aisle with its feebly vulgar fret or guilloche, lozenges or crosses, scattered over the pillars and walls, in a paste of treacly yellow, endive-green, vinous purple, lava drab, brick red — a whole range of dull and dirty colours; to say nothing of the horror of a vault dotted with stars that look as if they had been cut out of gilt paper and stuck against a smalt background, a sky of washing-blue!
"It is endurable — if it must be — in the Sainte-Chapelle, because it is very small, an oratory, a shrine; it might even be intelligible in that wonderful church at Brou, which is a boudoir; its vaulting and pendants are in polychrome and gold, and the ground has been paved with enamelled tiles, of which visible traces remain round the tombs. This gaudiness of the roof and floor was in harmony with the filagree tracery of the walls, the heraldic glass, and the clear windows, the profusion of lace-like carving and coats of arms in the stone-work, blossoming with bunches of daisies mingling with labels, mottoes, monograms, Saint Francis’ girdles and knots. The colouring was in keeping with the alabaster retables, the black marble tombs, the pinnacled tabernacles with their crockets of curled and dentate foliage. We can then quite easily imagine the columns and walls painted, the ribs and bosses washed with gold, and making a harmonious whole of this bonbonnière, which indeed is a piece of jewelry rather than of architecture.
This building at Brou was the last effort of medival times, the last rocket flung up by the flamboyant Gothic style — a Gothic which though fallen from its glory struggled against death, fought against returning paganism and the invading Renaissance. The era of the great cathedrals ended in the production of this exquisite abortion, which was in its way a masterpiece, a gem of prettiness, of ingenuity, of tormented and coquettish taste.
"It was emblematic of the soul of the sixteenth century, already devoid of reserve; the sanctuary, too brightly lighted, was secularized; we here see it fully blown, and it never folded up or veiled itself again. We discern in this a lady’s bower, all paint and gold; the little chapels (or pews) with chimney-places where Margaret of Austria could warm herself as she heard Mass, furnished with scented cushions, provided with sweetmeats and toys and dogs.
"Brou is a fine lady’s drawing-room, not the house for all corners. Then, naturally, with its screen-work, and the carving of the rood-loft stretching like a lace portal across the entrance to the choir, it invites, it almost requires some skilful tinting of the details, the touches of colour that complete it, and harmonize it finally with the elegance of the founder, the Princess Marguerite, whose presence is far more conspicuous in this little church than is that of the Virgin.
"Even then it would be satisfactory to know whether the walls and pillars at Brou ever were really painted; the contrary seems proven. But in any case, though a touch of rouge might not ill beseem this curious sanctum, it would not be so at Chartres, for the only suitable hue is the shining, greasy patina, grey turning to silver, stone-colour turning buff — the colouring given by age, by time helped by accumulated vapours of prayer and the fumes of incense and tapers!
And Durtal, arguing over his own reflections, ended by reverting, as he always did, to his own person, saying to himself,-
"Who knows that I may not some day bitterly regret this cathedral and all the sweet meditations it suggests; for, after all, I shall have no more opportunities for such long loitering, such relaxation of mind, since I shall be subject to the discipline of bells ringing for conventual drill if I suffer myself to be locked up in a cloister!
"Who knows whether, in the silence of a cell, I should not miss even the foolish cawing of those black jackdaws that croak without pause," he went on, looking up with a smile at the cloud of birds that settled on the towers; and he recalled a legend which tells that since the fire in 1836 these birds quit the cathedral every evening at the very hour when the conflagration began, and do not return till dawn, after spending the night in a wood at three leagues from Chartres.
This tale is as absurd as another, also dear to the old wives of the city, and which tells that if you spit on a certain square of stone, set with black cement into the pavement behind the choir, blood will exude.
"Hah, it is you, Madame Bavoil."
"Yes, our friend, I myself. I have just been on an errand for the Father, and am going home again to make the soup. And you, are you packing your trunks?"
"Why, are not you going off to a convent?" said she, laughing.
"Would not you like to see it?" exclaimed Durtal.
"Catch me at that! Enlisting as a private subject to a pious drill, one of a poor squad, whose every movement must mark time, and who, though he is not expected to keep his hands over the seam of his trowsers, is required to hide them under his scapulary -"
"Ta, ta, ta," interrupted the housekeeper, "I tell you once more, you are grudging, bargaining with God -"
"But before coming to so serious a decision it is quite necessary that I should argue all the pros and cons; in such a case some mental litigation is clearly permissible."
She shrugged her shoulders; and there was such peace in her face, such a glow of flame lurked behind the liquid blackness of her eyes, that Durtal stood looking at her, admiring the honesty and purity of a soul which could thus rise to the threshold of her eyes and come forth in her look.
"How happy you are!" he exclaimed.
A cloud dimmed her eyes, and she looked down.
"Envy no one, our friend," said she, "for each has his own struggles and griefs."
And when he had parted from her, Durtal, as he went home, thought of the disasters she had confessed, the cessation of her intercourse with Heaven, the fall of a soul that had been wont to soar above the clouds. How she must suffer!
"No, no," he said, "the service of the Lord is not all roses. If we study the lives of the Saints we see these Elect tormented by dreadful maladies, and the most painful trials. No, holiness on earth is no child’s play, life is not amusement. To Saints, indeed, even on earth excessive suffering finds compensation in excessive joys; but to other Christians, such small fry as we are, what distress and trouble! We question the everlasting silence and none answers; we wait and none comes. In vain do we proclaim Him as Illimitable, Incomprehensible, Unthinkable, and confess that every effort of our reason is vain, we cannot cease to wonder, and still less cease to suffer! And yet — and yet if we consider, the darkness about us is not absolutely impenetrable, there is light in places and we can discern some truths, such as this:
"God treats us as He treats plants. He is, in a certain sense, the soul’s year; but a year in which the order of the seasons is reversed; for the spiritual seasons begin with spring, followed by winter, and then autumn comes, followed by summer.
"The moment of conversion is the spring, the soul is joyful and Christ sows the good seed; then comes the cold and all is dark, the terror-stricken soul believes itself forsaken and bewails itself; but without its feeling it during the trials of the purgatorial life, the seed germinates in the contemplative peace of autumn and flourishes in the summer life of Union.
"Aye; but each one must be the helping gardener of his own soul, listening to the instructions of the Master who plans the task and directs the work. Alas, we are no more the humble labourers of the Middle Ages, who toiled, giving God thanks, who submitted without discussion to the Master’s orders. We, by our little faith, have exhausted the value of prayer, the panacea of aspirations; consequently many things seem to us unjust and cruel, and we rebel, we ask for pledges; we hesitate to begin our task, we want to be paid in advance, and our distrust makes us vile! — O Lord, give us grace to pray, and never dream of demanding an earnest of Thy favours! Give us grace to obey and be silent!
"And I may add," said Durtal to himself as he smiled on Madame Mesurat, who opened the door in answer to his ring, "Grant me, Lord, the grace not to be too much irritated by the buzzing of this great fly, the inexhaustible flow of this good woman’s tongue!"
"WHAT a fearful muddle, what a sea of ink is this menagerie of good and evil emblems!" exclaimed Durtal, laying down his pen.
He had harnessed himself that morning to the task of investigating the symbolical fauna of the Middle Ages. At first sight the subject had struck him as newer and less arduous, and certainly as less lengthy, than the article he had thought of writing on the Primitive German Painters. But he now sat dismayed before his books and notes, seeking a clue to guide him through the mass of contradictory evidence that lay before him.
"I must take things in their order," said he to himself, "if indeed any principle of selection is possible in such confusion."
The Beast-books of Mediaeval times knew all the monsters of paganism — Satyrs, Fauns Sphinxes, Harpies, Centaurs, Hydras, Pygmies, and Sirens; these were all regarded as various aspects of the Evil Spirit, so no research is needed as to their meaning; they are but a residuum of Antiquity. The true source of mystic zoology is not in mythology, but in the Bible, which classifies beasts as clean and unclean, makes them symbolize virtues and vices, some species being allegorical of heavenly personages, and other embodying the Devil.
Starting from this base, it may be observed that the liturgical interpreters of the animal world distinguished beasts from animals, including under the former head wild and untamable creatures, and under the second gentle and timid creatures and domestic animals.
The ornithologists of the Church, furthermore, represent birds as being the righteous, while Boetius; on the other hand, often quoted by Mediaeval writers, credited them with inconstancy, and Melito compares them in turn to Christ, to the Devil, and to the Jewish nation. It may be added that Richard of Saint Victor, disregarding these views, sees in winged fowl a symbol of the life of the soul, as in the four-footed beast he sees the life of the body— "And that gets us no further!" sighed Durtal.
"This is beside the mark. We must find some other symbolism, closer and clearer.
"Here the classification of naturalists would be useless, for a biped and a reptile not unfrequently bear the same interpretation as emblems. The simplest plan will be to divide the Church menagerie into two large classes, real beasts and monsters; there is no creature that we may not include in one or the other category."
Durtal paused to reflect:
"Nevertheless to arrive at a clearer notion and better appreciate the importance of certain families in Catholic Mythography, we had better first take out all those animals which symbolize God, the Virgin, and the Devil, setting them aside to be referred to when they may elucidate other figures; and at the same time weed out those which apply to the Evangelists and are combined in the figures of the Tetramorph.
"The surface thus being removed, we may investigate the remainder, the figurative language of ordinary or monstrous beings.
"The animal emblems of God are numerous; the Scriptures are filled with creatures emblematic of the Saviour. David compares Him, by comparing himself, to the pelican in the wilderness, to the owl in its nest, to a sparrow alone on the house-top, to the dove, to a thirsting hart; the Psalms are a treasury of analogies with His qualities and His names.
"Saint Isidor of Seville — Monseigneur Sainct Ysidore, as the naturalists of old are wont to call him — figures Jesus as a lamb by reason of his innocence, as a ram because He is the head of the Flock, even as a he-goat because the Redeemer was subject to the flesh of iniquity.
"Some took as His image the ox, the sheep, and the calf, as beasts meet for sacrifice, and others those animals that symbolize the elements the lion, the eagle, the dolphin, the salamander — the kings of the earth, air, water, and fire. Some again, as Saint Melito, saw Him in the kid,
the deer, and even in the camel, which, however, according to another passage of the same author, personifies a love of flattery and of vain praise. Others again find Him in the scarabus, as Saint Euchre does in the bee; still, the bee is regarded by Raban Maur as the unclean sinner. Christ’s Resurrection is, to yet other writers, symbolized by the Phcenix and the cock, and His wrath and power by the rhinoceros and the buffalo.
"The iconography of the Virgin is less puzzling; She may be symbolized by any chaste and gentle creature. The Anonymous Englishman in his Monastic Distinctions, compares Her to the bee, which we have seen so vilified by the Archbishop of Mayence, but the Virgin was most especally represented by the dove, the bird of all others whose Church functions are most onerous.
"All authorities agree in taking the dove as the image at once of the Virgin and of the Paraclete. According to Saint Mechtildis, it is the simplicity of the heart of Jesus; with others it signifies the preachers, the active religious life, as contrasted with the turtle dove, which personifies the contemplative life, since the ring-dove flies and coos in company, whereas the turtle dove rejoices apart and alone.
"To Bruno of Asti the dove is also an image of patience, a figure of the prophets.
"As to the beasts symbolizing Hell and evil, they are almost without number; the whole creation of monsters is to be found there. Then among real animals we find: the serpent — the aspic of Scripture, the scorpion, the wolf as mentioned by Jesus Himself, the leopard noted by Saint Melito as being allied to Antichrist, the she-tiger representing the sins of arrogance, the hyena, the jackal, the bear, the wild-boar, which, in the Psalms, is said to destroy the vineyard of the Lord, the fox, described as a hypocritical persecutor by Peter of Capua and as a promoter of heresy by Raban Maur. All beasts of prey; and the hog, the toad — the instrument of witchcraft, the he-goat — the image of Satan himself, the dog, the cat, the ass — under whose form the Devil is seen in trials for witchcraft in the Middle Ages, the leech, on which the anonymous writer of Clairvaux casts contumely; the raven that went forth from the ark and did not return — it represents malice, and the dove which came back is virtue, Saint Ambrose tells us; and the partridge which, according to the same writer, steals and hatches eggs she did not lay.
"If we may believe Saint Theobald, the Devil is also symbolized by the spider, for it dreads the sun as much as the Evil. One dreads the Church, and is more apt to weave its net by night than by day, thus imitating Satan, who attacks man when he knows him to be sleeping and powerless to defend himself.
"The Prince of Darkness is also to be seen as the lion and the eagle interpreted in an evil sense.
"This," reflected Durtal, "is the same fact as we find in the expressive symbolism of colours and flowers; constantly a double meaning. The two antagonistic interpretations are almost invariably met with in the lore of hieroglyphics, excepting only in that of gems.
"Thus it is that the lion, defined by Saint Hildegarde as the image of zeal for God, the lion, figuring the Son Himself, becomes to Hugh of Saint Victor the emblem of cruelty. Basing their argument on a text in the Psalms, certain writers identify it with Lucifer. He is in fact the lion who seeks whom he may devour, the lion who rushes on his victim. David speaks of him with the dragon to be trodden under foot, and Saint Peter in his first Epistle describes him as roaring in quest of a Christian to devour.
"It is the same with the eagle, which Hugh of Saint Victor calls the standard of Pride. Chosen by Bruno of Asti, Saint Isidor and Saint Anselm to represent the Saviour, the Fisher of Men, because he pounces from the highest sky on fish swimming on the surface of the water and carries them up, the eagle, classed in Leviticus and Deuteronomy with the unclean beasts, is transformed, as being a bird of prey, into a personification of the Devil snatching away souls to gnaw and tear them.
"Thus every ferocious beast or bird and every reptile is a manifestation of the Evil One," Durtal concluded.
To pass to the Tetramorph. The evangelistic animals are well known:-
Saint Matthew, who expatiates on the subject of the Incarnation and sets forth the human genealogy of the Messiah, is symbolized by a man.
Saint Mark, who more especially devotes his book to the miracles of the Son, saying less about His doctrine than about His acts and His resurrection, has the Lion for his attribute.
Saint Luke, who writes more especially of the virtues of Jesus, of His patience, meekness, and mercy, and who dwells at length on His sacrifice, is distinguished by the Ox or Calf.
Saint John, who preaches above all else the Divinity of the Word, is represented by the Eagle.
And the meaning assigned to the ox, the lion, and the eagle, is in perfect accordance with the character and personal aim of each Gospel.
The lion, emblematical of Omnipotence, is also the apt allegory of the Resurrection. All the primitive naturalists, Saint Epiphanius, Saint Anselm, Saint Yves of Chartres, Saint Bruno of Asti, Saint Isidor, Adamantius, all accept the legend that the lion-cub after its birth remains lifeless for three days; then on the fourth day it awakes as it hears its father’s roar and springs full of life out of the den. Thus Christ, rising at the end of three days, escapes from the tomb at the call of His Father.
The belief still prevailed that the lion sleeps with its eyes open; hence it became the emblem of vigilance, and Saint Hilary and Saint Augustine read in this manner of taking repose an allusion to the Divine nature, which was not extinguished even in the sepulchre, though the human nature of the Redeemer was in truth dead.
Finally, as it was considered certain that this animal effaced the traces of its steps in the sand of the desert with its tail, Raban Maur, Saint Epiphanius, and Saint Isidor regarded it as signifying the Saviour veiling His Godhead under the forms of the flesh.
"Not an ordinary beast — the lion!" exclaimed Durtal. "Well," he went on, consulting his notes, "the ox is less pretentious! It is the paragon of strength with humility; according to Saint Paul it is emblematical of the priesthood; of the preacher, according to Raban Maur; of the Bishop, according to Peter Cantor, because, says this writer, the prelate wears a mitre of which the two horns resemble those of an ox, and he uses these horns, which are the wisdom of the Two Testaments, to rip up heretics. Still, in spite of these more orless ingenious interpretations, the ox is in fact the beast of immolation and sacrifice.
Turning to the eagle, it is, as we have seen, the Messiah pouncing on souls to catch them; but other meanings are ascribed to it by Saint Isidor and by Vincent of Beauvais. If we believe them, the eagle that desires to test the prowess of his eaglets takes them in his talons and carries them out into the sun, compelling them to look with their eyes as they begin to open, on the blazing orb. The eagle which is dazzled by the fire is dropped and cast away by the parent bird. Thus doth God reject the soul which cannot gaze on him with the contemplative eye of love!
The eagle, again, is typical of the Resurrection; Saint Epiphanius and Saint Isidor explain it thus: The eagle in old age flies up so near to the.sun that its feathers catch fire; revived by the flames, it drops into the nearest spring, bathes in it three times and comes out regenerate: is not this indeed the paraphrase of the Psalmist’s verse, "Thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s"? Saint Madalene of Pazzi, however, regards it differently, and takes it to typify faith leaning on charity.
"I shall have to find a place for all these documents in my article," sighed Durtal, placing these notes in a separate wrapper.
Now for the chimerical fauna introduced from the East, imported into Europe by the Crusaders, and travestied by the illuminators of missals and by image-makers.
Foremost, the dragon, which we already find rampant and busy in mythology and in the Bible.
Durtal rose and went into his library to find a book, "Traditions tératologiques," by Berger de Xivrey. It contained long extracts from the "Romance of Alexander," which was the delight of the grown-up children of the Middle Ages.
"Dragons," says this narrative, "are larger than all other serpents, and longer... They fly through the air, which is darkened by the disgorging of their stench and venom.
This venom is so deadly that if a man should be touched by it or come nigh it, it would seem to him a burning fire, and would raise his skin in great blisters, as though he had been scalded." And the author adds: "The sea is swollen up by their venom."
Dragons have a crest, sharp talons, and a hissing throat, and are almost unconquerable. Albertus Magnus tells us, however, that magicians, when they wish to subdue them, beat as loudly as they can on drums, and that the dragon, imagining that it is the roll of thunder, which they greatly dread, let themselves be handled quietly and are taken.
The enemy of this winged reptile is the elephant, which sometimes succeeds in crushing it by falling on it with all its weight; but most times it is killed by the dragon, which feeds on its blood, of which the freshness allays the intolerable burning caused by its own venom.
Next to this monster comes the gryphon, a combination of the quadruped and the bird, for it has the body of the lion and the head and talons of the eagle. Then the basilisk, regarded as the king of serpents; it is four feet long, and has a tail as thick as a tree, and spotted with white. Its head bears a tuft in shape like a crown; it has a strident voice, and its eye is murderous, "A look," says the "Romance of Alexander,’ "so piercing, that it is pestilential and deadly to all beasts, whether venomous or no." Its breath is no less fetid, nor less dangerous, for, "by its breath are all things infected, and when it is dying it is fain to disgorge it; it stinks so that all other beasts flee from it."
Its most formidable foe is the weasel, which bites its throat, "though it be a beast no bigger than a rat," for "God bath made nothing without reason and remedy," the pious Mediaeval writer concludes.
Why the weasel? There is nothing to show; nor was this little creature, who did such good service, honoured by our forefathers as having a favourable meaning.
It is symbolical of dissimulation and depravity, and taken to typify the degrading life of the mountebank. It may also be remembered that this carnivorous beast, which was supposed to carry its young in the mouth and give birth to them through the ear, is numbered among the unclean animals in the Bible.
"This zoological homceopathy is rather inconsistent," observed Durtal, "unless the similar interpretation given to these two creatures, hating each other, may signify that the Devil devours himself."
Next we have the phoenix, "a bird of very fine plumage resembling the peacock it is very solitary, and feeds on the seeds of the ash;"its colour, moreover, is of purple overshot
with gold; and because it is said to rise again from its ashes, it is always typical of the Resurrection of Christ.
The unicorn was one of the most amazing creatures in mystical natural history.
"It is a very cruel beast, with a great and thick body after the fashion of a horse; it bath for a weapon a great horn, half a fathom in length, so sharp and so hard that there is nothing it cannot pierce...When men need to take it they bring a virgin maid to the place where they, know that it has its abode. When the unicorn sees her and knows that she is a virgin, it lieth down to sleep in her lap, doing her no harm; then come the hunters and kill it...Likewise, if she be not a pure maid the unicorn will not sleep, but killeth the damsel who is not pure."
Whence we conclude that the unicorn is one of the emblems of chastity, as also is another very strange beast of which Saint Isidor speaks: the porphyrion.
This has one foot like that of the partridge, and the other webbed like that of a goose, its peculiarity consists in mourning over adultery, and loving its master so faithfully that it dies of pity in his arms when it learns that his wife has deceived him. So that this species was soon extinct!
"There must be some more fabulous beasts to be included," murmured Durtal, again turning over his papers.
He found the wyvern, a sort of Melusina, half woman and half serpent; a very cruel beast, full of malice and devoid of pity, Saint Ambrose tells us; the manicoris, with the face of a man, the tawny eyes and crimson mane of a lion, a scorpion’s tail, and the flight of an eagle this sort is insatiable by human flesh. The leoncerote, offspring of the male hyena and the lioness, having the body of an ass, the legs of a deer, the breast of a wild beast, a camel’s head, and armed with terrible fangs; the tharanda, which, according to Hugh of Saint Victor, has the shape of the ox, the profile of the stag, the fur of the bear, and which changes colour like the cameleon; finally, the sea-monk, the most puzzling of all, since Vincent of Beauvais describes it as having its body covered with scales, and it is furnished, in lieu of arms, with fins all over claws, besides having a monk’s shaven head ending in the snout of a carp.
Others were also invented, as for instance the gargoyles, hybrid monsters, signifying the vomiting forth of sin ejected from the sanctuary; reminding the passer-by who sees them pouring forth the water from the gutter, that when seen outside the church, they are the voidance of the spirit, the cloaca of the soul!
"But," said Durtal to himself, "that seems to me enough of the matter. From the point of view of symbolism this menagerie is not particularly interesting since these monsters — the wyvern, the manicoris, the leoncerote, the tharanda and sea-monk — all mean the same thing, and all embody, the Spirit of Evil."
He took out his watch.
"Come," said he, "I have still time enough before dinner to go through the list of real animals."
And he turned over his notes on birds.
"The cock," said he, "is prayer, watchfulness, the preacher, the Resurrection, since it is the first to wake at daybreak; the peacock, that has, as an old writer says, "the voice of a devil and the feathers of an angel," is a mass of contradictory symbols it typifies pride, and, according to Saint Antony of Padua, immortality, as well as vigilance by reason of the eyes in its tail. The pelican is the image of contemplation and of charity; of love, too, according to Saint Madalene of Pazzi; the sparrow symbolizes penitential solitude; the swallow, sin; the swan, pride, according to Raban Maur; diligence and solicitude according to Thomas de Catimpré; the nightingale is mentioned by Saint Mechtildis as meaning the tender soul; and the same saint compares the lark to persons who do good works with cheerfulness; it is to be noted too that in the windows of Bourges the lark means charity to the sick.
Here are others specified by Hugh of Saint Victor. To him the vulture means idleness; the kite, rapacity; the raven, detraction; the white owl, hypochondria; the common owl, ignorance; the magpie, chattering talk; and the hoopoe, sluttishness and evil report.
"This is all a sorry medley!" said Durtal, "and I fear it will be the same with the mammalia and other beasts!"
He compared a few passages. The ox, the lamb, thesheep, we have seen. The sheep is the type of timidity and meekness, and Saint Pacomius embodies in him the monk who lives punctual and obedient, and loving his brethren. Saint Melito on his part ascribes hypocrisy to the ostrich, temporal power to the rhinoceros, human frailty to the spider; we may also mention among the crustacea, the crab as symbolizing heresy, and the synagogue, because it walks backwards and away from the path of righteousness. Among fish, the whale is the emblem of the tomb, just as Jonas, who came out of it after three days, is typical of Jesus risen from the dead. Among rodents the beaver is the image of Christian prudence, because, says the legend, when he is pursued by hunters he tears with his teeth the pouch containing castoreum and flings it at the foe. For this reason it is likewise the animal representative of the text in the Gospel which declares that a man must cut off the offending member which is an occasion of sin.
Let us pause before the den of wild beasts.
According to Hugh of Saint Victor the wolf is avarice the fox is cunning; Adamantius says that the wild boar represents blind rage; the leopard wrath, ambush and daring; the tiger, and the hyena, which can change its sex at will and imitate the voice of man, signifies hypocrisy; while Saint Hildegarde shows that the panther, by reason of the beauty of its spots, is typical of vain-glory.
We need not dwell on the bull, the bison and the buffalo the symbolists regard them as emblems of brute force and pride; while the goat and boar-pig are vessels of lust and filth.
They divide this honour with the toad, an unclean reptile; the habitation of the Devil, who assumes its form to show himself to the female saints — for instance to Saint Theresa. As to the hapless frog it is equally defamed because of its likeness to the toad.
The stag is in better odour. Saint Jerome and Cassiodorus say it exemplifies the Christian who overcomes sin by the sacrament of penance, or by martyrdom. Representing God in the Psalms, it is also taken as the heathen desiring baptism; a legend attributes to it so vehement a horror of the Serpent, in other words of the Devil, that whenever it can it attacks and devours him, but if it subsequently goes for three hours without drinking, it dies; hence after that meal it runs to and fro in the forest seeking a spring of which, if it finds one, it drinks, and is then many years younger. The she-goat is sometimes held in illfame as being akin to the he-goat, but it more often is regarded as the Well-Beloved, to which the Bride in Canticles compares it. The hedgehog, hiding in crannies, is interpreted by Saint Melito as the sinner, by Peter of Capua as the penitent. As to the horse, as a creature of vanity and pride, it is opposed by Peter Cantor and Adamantius to the ox, which is all gravity and simplicity. It is well, however, to observe that to confuse the matter, by presenting the horse under another aspect, Saint Eucher compares it to a saint, and the Anonymous Monk of Clairvaux identifies the Devil with the ox. The poor ass is no better treated by Hugh of Saint Victor, who accuses it of stupidity, by Saint Gregory the Great, who taxes it with laziness, and Peter of Capua, who speaks of its lust. It must, however, be observed that Saint Melito compares it with Christ for its humility, and that the exegetists explain the ass’s foal ridden by Christ on Palm Sunday as an image of the Gentiles, as they interpret the she-ass that threw Him to mean the Jews.
Finally, two domestic animals dear to man, the cat and the dog, are generally contemned by the mystics. The dog, typical of sin, says Peter Cantor, and the most quarrelsome of beasts, adds Hugh of Saint Victor, is the creature that returns to his vomit; it also prefigures the reprobates of whom the Apocalypse speaks, who are to be driven out of the heavenly Jerusalem; Saint Melito speaks of it as the apostate, and Saint Pacomius as the rapacious monk, but Raban Maur redeems it a little from this condemnation by specifying it as emblematic of confessors.
The cat, which is but once mentioned in the Bible — in the Book of Baruch — is invariably abhorred by the primitive naturalists, who accuse it of embodying treachery and hypocrisy, and of lending its skin to the Devil, to enable him to appear in its shape to sorcerers.
Durtal turned over a few more pages, discovering that the hare typified timidity and cowardice, and the snail laziness; noting the opinion of Adamantius, who ascribes levity and a mocking spirit to the monkey; that of Peter of Capua and of the Anonymous writer of Clairvaux, that the lizard, which crawls and hides in cracks in the walls, is, as well as the serpent, an emblem of evil and he recorded the special ascription of ingratitude by Christ Himself to the viper, for He gives the name to the Jewish race. Durtal then hastily dressed, fearing to be late, as he was dining with the Abbé Gévresin and the Abbé Plomb. Pursued by Madame Mesurat, who insisted on dealing him one more blow with the clothes-brush, he rushed downstairs, and was soon at his friend’s door.
Madame Bavoil, who opened it, appeared in a cap all askew and hair loose, up-turned sleeves and scorched arms, with cheeks crimson from the kitchen fire. She confessed to the concoction of a dish of beef à la mode softened by calf’s foot jelly and strengthened by a dash of brandy, and fled, alarmed by the impatient call of a saucepan, of which the contents were boiling over on the hot plates of the stove, with a noise like cats swearing.
Durtal found the old Abbe tormented by rheumatism, but as ever, patient and cheerful. They talked a little while; then, seeing that Durtal was looking at some little lumps of gum lying on his writing table, the Abbé said,-
"That is incense from the Carmel of Chartres."
"Yes, the Carmelites are accustomed to burn none but genuine true incense. So I begged them to trust me with a specimen that I might procure the same quality for our cathedral."
"It is everywhere adulterated, I suppose?"
"Yes. This substance is found in commerce under three forms: male incense, which is the best if unadulterated; female incense, which is mixed with reddish fragments and dry grains called marrons; finally incense in powder, which is for the most part a mixture of inferior resin and benzoin."
"And what have you there?"
"This is male incense; do you see those oblong tears, those almost transparent drops of faded amber? how different from that which they use at Notre Dame; it is earthy, broken, full of scraps, and it is safe to wager that those knobs are crystals of carbonate of lime and not beads of pure resin."
"Why," said Durtal, "this substance suggests to me the idea of a symbolism of odours; has it ever been worked out?"
"I doubt it; but in any case it would be very simple. The aromatic substances used in the Liturgy are reduced to three, frankincense, myrrh, and balm.
"Their meaning is known to you. Incense is the Divinity of the Son, and our prayers which rise up like vapours in the presence of the Most High, as the Psalmist says. Myrrh is repentance, the sufferings of Jesus, His death, the martyrs, and also, according to Monsieur Olier, the type of the Virgin who heals the souls of sinners as myrrh cauterizes the festering of wounds; balm is another word for virtue.
"But though there are few Liturgical savours, it is not so with regard to mystical effluences which vary infinitely. We have, however, but little information on the subject.
"We merely know that the odour of sanctity is antithetical to that of the Devil; that many of the Elect have diffused, during their lifetime and after their death, an exquisite fragrance which cannot be analyzed; such were Madalene of Pazzi, Saint Etienne de Muret, Saint Philip Neri, Saint Paternianus, Saint Omer, the Venerable Francis Olympus, Jeanne de Matel and many more.
"We know too that our sins stink, each according to its nature; and the proof of this is that the saints could detect the state of men’s consciences merely by the smell of their bodies. Do you remember how Saint Joseph of Cupertino exclaimed to a sinner whom he met: ’My friend, you smell very badly; go and wash.’
"To return to the odour of sanctity: in certain persons it has been known to assume a natural character almost identical with certain familiar scents. Saint Treverius exhaled a fragrance compounded of roses, lilies, balm, and incense; Saint Rose of Viterbo smelt of roses; Saint Cajetan of orange-blossom; Saint Catherine of Ricci of violets; Saint Theresa by turns of lily, jasmine and violet; Saint Thomas Aquinas of incense; Saint Francis of Paul of musk; — I mention these at random as they occur to me.
"Yes, and Saint Lydwine, when so ill, diffused a fragrance which also imparted a flavour. Her wounds exhaled a cheerful savour of spice and the very essence of Flemish home cooking — a refined extract of cinnamon."
"On the other hand," the Abbe went on, "the stench of wizards and witches was notorious in the Middle Ages. On this point all exorcists and writers on Demonology are agreed; and it is almost invariably recorded that after an apparition of the devil a foul odour of sulphur was left in the cells, even when the Saints had succeeded in dislodging him.
"But the essential odour of the devil is amply recorded in the life of Christina of Stumbela. You are not ignorant, I suppose, of the exploits in which Satan indulged against that saint?"
"Indeed, I am, Monsieur l’Abbé."
"Then I may tell you that the narrative of these assaults has been preserved by the Bollandists, who have included the life of this pious woman in their biographies. It was written by Peter of Dacia, a Dominican, and her confessor.
"Christina was born early in the thirteenth century — 1242, I believe — at Stumbela, near Cologne.
"She was persecuted by the devil from her infancy. He exhausted the armoury of his arts against her, appeared to her under the form of a cock, a bull, an apostle; covered her with lice, filled her bed with vermin, poisoned her blood, and as he could not make her deny God, he invented fresh torments.
"He turned the food she put into her mouth into a toad, a snake, a spider, and disgusted her so effectually with all food, that she was dying for want of it. She spent her days in vomiting, and prayer to God to rescue her, but He was silent.
"Still, to sustain her in such trials, the Sacrament was left to her. Satan, knowing this, determined to deprive her of this sustenance, and appeared in the form of these creatures even in the host when she received it. Finally, to conquer her, he took the form of a huge toad, and established himself in her bosom. At first Christina fainted with fright, but then God intervened; by His order she wrapped her hand in her sleeve, slipped it between her body and the belly of the reptile, tore away the toad, and flung it on the stones.
"It was dashed to pieces, with a noise, said the saint, like an old shoe.
"These persecutions continued till Advent in 1268; and from that time the plague of filth began.
"Peter of Dacia relates that one evening Christina’s father came to fetch him from his convent in Cologne, and begged him to go with him to his daughter, tormented by the devil. He and another Dominican, Brother Wipert, set out, and on arriving at Stumbela they found in the haunted hut the Priest of the district, the Reverend Father Godefried, Prior of the Benedictines of Brunwilre, and Cellarer of that convent. As they stood warming themselves they discoursed of the pestilential incursions of the devil, when suddenly the performance was repeated. They were all bespattered with filth, Christina being caked with it, to use the Friar’s expression; and ’strange to say,’ adds Peter of Dacia, ’this matter, which was but warm, burned Christina, raising blisters on her skin.’
"This continued for three days. At length, one evening, Friar Wipert, quite exasperated, began to recite the prayers for exorcism; but a ’terrific uproar shook the room, the candles went out, and he was hit in the eye by something so hard that he exclaimed, ’Woe is me! I am blind of an eye!’
"He was led, feeling his way, into an adjoining room, where the garments they changed were dried, and where water was constantly heated for their ablutions; he was cleansed, and his eye washed. It had suffered no serious injury, and he returned to the other room to say Matins with the two Benedictines and Peter of Dacia. But before chanting the service he went up to the patient’s bed and clasped his hands in amazement.
"She was covered with filth indeed, but all was changed. The smell, which had been supernaturally foul, was changed to angelic fragrance; Christina’s saintly resignation had routed the tempter of souls; and they all joined in praising God. What do you say to that narrative?"
"It is astounding, certainly; but is this the only instance of such infernal filth?"
"No; in the next century analogous circumstances haunted Elizabeth de Reute, and likewise the Blessed Bétha. Here again Satan allowed himself such filthy sport. It may also be noted that in modern times acts of the same kind were observed in the house of the Curé d’Ars."
"But in all this I see nothing to illustrate the symbolism of perfumes," remarked Durtal. "At any rate, the subject would seem to be narrow or ill-defined, and the number of odours that can be named is small.
"There are certain essences mentioned in the Old Testament prefiguring the Virgin. Some of them are interpreted in other senses, as spikenard, cassia, and cinnamon. The first represents strength of soul; the second, sound doctrine; and the third, the sweet savour of virtue. Then there is the essence ot cedar, which in the thirteenth century symbolized the Doctors of the Church; and there are three specifically liturgical perfumes: incense, balm, and myrrh; besides the odour of sanctity, which in the case of some saints could be analyzed; and the demoniacal stench, from a mere animal smell to the horrible nastiness of rotten eggs and sulphur.
"We must now inquire whether the personal fragrance of the Elect is in harmony with the qualities or acts of which each was, on earth, the example or the doer; and it would seem to have been so, when we remark that Saint Thomas Aquinas, who composed the admirable sequence on the Holy Sacrament, exhaled a perfume of incense, and that Saint Catherine of.Ricci, who was a model of humility, smelt of violets, the emblem of that virtue, but -"
The Abbé Plomb now came in, and being informed by Durtal of the subject under discussion, he said,-
"But you have omitted from your diabolical flavours the most conspicuous."
"How is that, Monsieur l’Abbé?"
"Certainly, for you have taken no account of the false fragrance which Satan can diffuse. In fact, his baleful effluvia are of two kinds: one characterized by the stench of sulphurous waters and drains; the other by a false odour of sanctity, delicious gusts of sweetness and temptation. This is how the Evil One tried to seduce Dominico de Gusman; he bathed him in delicious vapours, hoping thus to inspire him with notions of vain-glory; thus, too, did he to Jourdain of Saxony, who exhaled a sweet odour when saying Mass. God showed him that this phenomenon was of infernal origin, and it then ceased.
"And I recollect a singular anecdote told by Quercetanus concerning a mistress of Charlemagne’s who died. The king, who worshipped her, could not bear to have her body interred, though it was decomposing, exhaling, however, a perfume of violets and roses. The body was examined, and in its mouth a ring was found, which was removed. The demoniacal enchantment forthwith ceased, the body became foul, and Charlemagne allowed it to be buried.
"We may add to this diabolical odour of seduction another, which is, on the contrary, fetid, and is used to annoy the believer, to hinder him in prayer, to estrange him from his fellows, and drive him, if possible, to despair; still, this smell with which the devil infects a being may be included in the category of the smells of temptation-not, indeed, to pride, but to weakness and fear.
"Meanwhile, I have something else for you," said the Abbé, addressing Durtal. "Here are the titles I have collected for you of some works on the symbolical animals of the Middle Ages. You have read De Bestiis et aliis rebus, by Hugh of Saint Victor?"
"Very good; you may further consult Albertus Magnus, Bartholomew de Glanville, and Pierre de Bressuire. I have noted on this paper a series of such beast-books: those of Hildebert, Philippe de Thann, Guillaume de Normandie, Gautier de Metz, and Richard de Fournival. Only you would have to go to Paris to procure them in the public libraries."
"And that would not help me much," replied Durtal. "I have, ere now, looked through many of these works, and they contain no information that can be of use from the point of view of symbolism. They are mere fabulous descriptions of animals, legends as to their origin and habits. The Spicilegium Solesmense and the Analecta of Dom Pitra are far more instructive. By his help, with that of Saint Isidor, Saint Epiphanius, and Hugh of Saint Victor, we can decipher the figurative meaning of monsters.
"They are all alike; there has been no complete or serious work produced on symbolism since the Middle Ages, for the Abbé Auber’s work on the subject is a delusion. In vain will you seek for a treatise on flowers which even alludes to the Catholic significance of plants. I do not, of course, mean those silly books compiled for lovers, and called the Language of Flowers, which you may find on the bookstalls with old cookery-books and dream-books. It is the same with regard to colours; nothing proven or authentic has been written concerning infernal or celestial hues; for in fact the treatise by Frédéric Portal is worthless. To explain Angelico’s work I had to hunt here and there through the Mystics, to discover where I might the meanings they ascribe to colours; and I see plainly that I must do the same for my article on the emblematical fauna. There is, on. the whole, nothing to be found in technical works; it is in the Bible and in the Liturgy, the fountain-head of symbolical lore, that I must cast my net. By the way, Monsieur l’Abbé, had you not some remarks to communicate on the zoology of the Scriptures?"
"Yes, we will go-"
"To dinner, if you please," said Madame Bavoil.
The Abbé Gévresin said grace, and when they had eaten the soup the housekeeper served the beef.
It was strengthening, tender, savoury to its inmost fibre, penetrated by the rich and highly-flavoured sauce.
"You don’t get the like at La Trappe, our friend, eh?" said Madame Bavoil.
"Nor will he get anything so good at any other religious retreat," said the Abbé Plomb.
"Do not discourage me beforehand," said Durtal, laughing; "let me enjoy this without a pang — there is a time for all things."
"Then you are fully determined," said the Abbé Gévresin, "to write a paper for your Review on allegorical beasts?" -
"Yes, Monsieur l’Abbé."
"I have made a list for you from the works of Fillion and of Lesêtre of the blunders made by the translators of the Bible when they disguised real beasts under chimerical names," said the Abbé Plomb. "This, in a few words, is the upshot of my researches.
"There was never any mythological fauna in the Sacred Books. The Hebrew text was misread by those who translated it into Greek and Latin, and the strange zoology that we find in certain chapters of Isaiah and Job is easily reduced tc the nomenclature of well-known creatures.
"Thus the onocentaurs and. sirens, spoken of by the Prophet, are neither more nor less than jackals, if we examine the Hebrew original. The lamia, a vampire, half woman and half serpent like the wyvern, is a night bird, the white or the screech owl; the satyrs and fauns, the hairy beasts spoken of in the Vulgate, are, after all, no more than wild goats — ’ schirim,’ as they are called in the Mosaic original.
"The reptile so frequently mentioned in the Bible under the name of ’dragon’ is indicated in the original by various words, which sometimes mean the serpent or the crocodile, sometimes the jackal, and sometimes the whale; and the
famous unicorn of the Scriptures is merely the primaeval bull or auroch, which is to be seen on the Assyrian bas-reliefs — a race now dying out, lingering only in the remotest parts of Lithuania and the Caucasus."
"And Behemoth and Leviathan, spoken of by Job?"
"The word Behemoth is a plural form in Hebrew meaning Excellence. It designates a prodigious and enormous beast — the rhinoceros, perhaps, or the hippopotamus. As to Leviathan, it was a huge reptile, a gigantic python."
"That is a pity," said Durtal. "Imaginary zoology was far more amusing! — Why, what is this vegetable?" he inquired, as he tasted a curious stew of greens.
"Dandelions cut up and boiled with shreds of bacon," replied Madame Bavoil. "Do you like the dish, our friend?
"Indeed I do. Your dandelions are to garden spinach and chicory what the wild duck is to the tame, or the hare to the rabbit. And it is a fact that garden plants are generally poor and tasteless, while those that grow wild have a certain astringency and pleasant bitter flavour. It ’is the venison of vegetables that you have given us, Madame Bavoil!"
"I fancy," said the Abbé Plomb, who had been thoughtful, "that just as we tried to compile a mystic flora the other day, we might make a list of the deadly sins as represented by animals."
"Obviously, and with very little trouble. Pride is embodied in the bull, the peacock, the lion, the eagle, the horse, the swan, and the wild ass-according to Vincent de Beauvais. Avarice by the wolf, and, says Saint Theobald, by the spider; for lust, we have the he-goat, the boar, the toad, the ass, and the fly, which, Saint Gregory the Great tells, typifies the turbulent cravings of the senses; for envy, the sparrow-hawk, the owl, and screech-owl; for greediness, the hog and the dog; for anger, the lion and wild boar, and, according to Adamaritius, the leopard; for sloth, the vulture, the snail, the she-ass, and, Raban Maur says, the mule.
"As to the virtues antithetical to these vices, humility may be typified by the ox and the ass; indifference to worldly possessions by the pelican, the emblem of the contemplative life; chastity by the dove and the elephant, though it is true that this interpretation of Peter of Capua is contradicted by other mystics, who accuse the elephant of pride, and speak of him as an ’enormous sinner’; charity by the lark and the pelican; temperance by the camel, which, taken in another sense, typifies under the name of garnal extravagant fury; vigilance by the lion, the peacock, the ant — quoted by the Abbess Herrade and the Anonymous monk of Clairvaux — and especially by the cock, to which Saint Eucher attributes this virtue in common with all other symbolists.
"I may add that the dove alone epitomizes all these qualities and is the synthesis of all virtue."
"Yes, and she alone is never spoken of as having any evil significance."
"A distinction she shares with white and blue, the only colours which are exempt from the law of antithesis and are never ascribed to any vice," said Durtal.
"The dove!" cried Madame Bavoil, who was changing the plates;" she plays a beautiful part in the story, of Noah’s Ark. Ah! our friend, you should hear what Mother Jeanne de Matel says of her."
"What does she say, Madame Bavoil?"
"The admirable Jeanne begins by saying that original sin produced in human nature the deluge of sin from which the Virgin alone was exempted by the Father, who chose Her to be His one Dove.
"Then she relates how Lucifer, represented by the raven, escaped from the ark through the window of free will; then God, to whom Mary had belonged from all eternity, opened the window of the Will of His Providence, and from His own bosom, from the heavenly Ark, He sent the original dove on the earth where she gathered a spray of the olive of His mercy, took her flight back to the Ark of Heaven, and offered this branch for the whole human race; She then implored Divine grace to abate the deluge of sin, and besought the Heavenly Noah to descend from that high Ark; then, without quitting the bosom of the Father from whom He is inseparable, He came down."
"Et Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis," the Abbe Gévresin added, in conclusion.
"This prefiguration of the Word by Noah is certainly curious," remarked Durtal.
"Animals are also introduced in the iconography of the saints," the Abbé Plomb resumed. "So far as I can recollect, the ass is the attribute of Saint Marcellus, of Saint John Chrysostom, of Saint Germain, of Saint Aubert, of Saint Frances of Rome, and of some others; the stag of Saint Hubert and Saint Rieul; the cock of Saint Landry and Saint Vitus; the raven of Saint Benedict, Saint Apollinarius, Saint Vincent, Saint Ida, Saint Expeditus; the deer of Saint Henry; the wolf of Saint Waast, Saint Norbert, Saint Remaclus, and Saint Arnold; the spider betokens Saint Conrad and Saint Felix of Nola; the dog accompanies Saint Godfrey, Saint Bernard, Saint Roch, Saint Margaret of Cortona, and Saint Dominic, when it bears a burning torch in its mouth; the doe is the badge of Saint Giles, Saint Leu, Saint Genevieve of Brabant, and Saint Maximus; the pig of Saint Anthony; the dolphin of Saint Adrian, of Saint Lucian, and Saint Basil; the swan of Saint Cuthbert and Saint Hugh; the rat is seen with Saint Goutran and Saint Gertrude; the ox with Saint Cornelius, Saint Eustachius, Saint Honorius, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Lucy, Saint Blandma, Saint Bridget, Saint Sylvester, Saint Sebaldus, Saint Saturninus; the dove belongs to Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Remi, Saint Ambrose, Saint Hilary, Saint Ursula, Saint Aldegonde, and Saint Scholastica, whose soul flew up to Heaven under that form.
"And the list might be indefinitely extended. Shall you mention in your article these accompaniments to the saints?"
"In point of fact," replied Durtal, "most of these attributes are based on history or legend, and not on symbolism; so I shall not devote any particular attention to them."
There was a silence.
Then, abruptly, the Abbé Plomb, looking at his brother priest, said to Durtal,-
"I am going to Solesmes again a week hence, and I told the Reverend Father Abbot that I should take you with me."
Then, seeing Durtal’s amazement, he smiled. "But I will not leave you there," he went on, "unless you wish not to return to Chartres. I only propose that you should pay a visit there, just long enough to breathe the atmosphere of the convent, to make acquaintance with the Benedictine Fathers, and try their life."
Durtal was silent, somewhat scared; for this proposal, simple enough as it was, that he should go to live for some days in a cloister, had startled him into a strange, a grotesque notion that if he should accept, it would be playing away his last card, risking a decisive step, taking a sort of pledge before God to settle there and end his days in His immediate presence.
But what was most strange was that this idea, so imperative and overpowering that it excluded all possible reflection, bereft him of all his powers of self-protection, left him dis armed at the mercy of he knew not what — this idea, which nothing justified, was not centred, not fixed on Solesmes; whither he should retreat was for the moment of small importance; that was not the question; the only point to settle was whether he meant to yield at all to a vague impulse, to obey unformulated orders which were nevertheless positive, and give an earnest to God, Who seemed to be harassing him without any sufficient explanation.
He felt himself inexorably condemned, tacitly compelled to pronounce his decision then and there.
He tried to struggle, to reason, to recover his selfpossession; but the very effort was fatal. He felt a sort of inward syncope, as though, while his body was still upright, his soul was fainting within him with fatigue and terror.
"But this is madness!" he cried. "Madness!"
"Why, what is the matter?" cried the two priests.
"I beg your pardon. Nothing."
"Are you in pain?"
"No, it is nothing."
There was an awkward pause which he was determined to break.
"Did you ever take laughing gas?" said he; "the gas which sends you to sleep and is used in surgery for short operations? No? Well, you feel a buzzing in your brain, and just as you hear a great noise of falling waters you lose consciousness. That is what I am feeling; only the experience is not in my brain, but in my soul, which is giddy and helpless, on the point of fainting away."
"I should like to think," said the Abbé Plomb, "that it is not the thought of a visit to Solesmes that has thus upset you."
Durtal had not courage enough to own the truth; he was afraid of seeming ridiculous if he confessed to such a panic; so to avoid a direct answer he vaguely shook his head.
"And I cannot help wondering why you should hesitate, for you will be welcomed with open arms. The Father Abbot is a man of the highest merit, and, moreover, no enemy to art. Besides — and this I hope will suffice to reassure you he is a most simple and kind-hearted monk."
"But I have to finish my article."
The two priests laughed.
"You have a week before you to write your article in."
"And then, to get any benefit from a monastery, I ought not be in the state of dryness and diffusion in which I find myself vegetating," Durtal went on with difficulty.
"The saints themselves are not free from distractions," replied the Abbé Gévresin. "For instance, think of the monk of whom Tauler speaks, who, on quitting his cell in the month of May, would cover his face with his hood, that he might not see the country, and so be hindered from contemplating his soul."
"Oh, our friend, must that gentle Jesus, as the Venerable Jeanne says, be for ever the poor man pining for admittance at the door of our heart? Come, just a little goodwill — open yours to Him," cried Madame Bavoil.
And Durtal, finally driven into his last intrenchments, by a nod signified acquiescence in the wish of all his friends. But he did it with deep reluctance, for he could not rid himself of a distracting idea that this concession implied a vow on his part to God!