Read THE FOURTH DAY - II.  THE SERVICE AT THE GROTTO of Lourdes From the ''Three Cities'', free online book, by Emile Zola, on

ON that day, Monday, the crowd at the Grotto, was enormous.  It was the last day that the national pilgrimage would spend at Lourdes, and Father Fourcade, in his morning address, had said that it would be necessary to make a supreme effort of fervour and faith to obtain from Heaven all that it might be willing to grant in the way of grace and prodigious cure.  So, from two o’clock in the afternoon, twenty thousand pilgrims were assembled there, feverish, and agitated by the most ardent hopes.  From minute to minute the throng continued increasing, to such a point, indeed, that Baron Suire became alarmed, and came out of the Grotto to say to Berthaud:  “My friend, we shall be overwhelmed, that’s certain.  Double your squads, bring your men closer together.”

The Hospitality of Our Lady of Salvation was alone entrusted with the task of keeping order, for there were neither guardians nor policemen, of any sort present; and it was for this reason that the President of the Association was so alarmed.  However, Berthaud, under grave circumstances, was a leader whose words commanded attention, and who was endowed with energy that could be relied on.

“Be easy,” said he; “I will be answerable for everything.  I shall not move from here until the four-o’clock procession has passed by.”

Nevertheless, he signalled to Gerard to approach.

“Give your men the strictest instructions,” he said to him.  “Only those persons who have cards should be allowed to pass.  And place your men nearer each other; tell them to hold the cord tight.”

Yonder, beneath the ivy which draped the rock, the Grotto opened, with the eternal flaring of its candles.  From a distance it looked rather squat and misshapen, a very narrow and modest aperture for the breath of the Infinite which issued from it, turning all faces pale and bowing every head.  The statue of the Virgin had become a mere white spot, which seemed to move amid the quiver of the atmosphere, heated by the small yellow flames.  To see everything it was necessary to raise oneself; for the silver altar, the harmonium divested of its housing, the heap of bouquets flung there, and the votive offerings streaking the smoky walls were scarcely distinguishable from behind the railing.  And the day was lovely; never yet had a purer sky expanded above the immense crowd; the softness of the breeze in particular seemed delicious after the storm of the night, which had brought down the over-oppressive heat of the two first days.

Gerard had to fight his way with his elbows in order to repeat the orders to his men.  The crowd had already begun pushing.  “Two more men here!” he called.  “Come, four together, if necessary, and hold the rope well!”

The general impulse was instinctive and invincible; the twenty thousand persons assembled there were drawn towards the Grotto by an irresistible attraction, in which burning curiosity mingled with the thirst for mystery.  All eyes converged, every mouth, hand, and body was borne towards the pale glitter of the candles and the white moving speck of the marble Virgin.  And, in order that the large space reserved to the sick, in front of the railings, might not be invaded by the swelling mob, it had been necessary to inclose it with a stout rope which the bearers at intervals of two or three yards grasped with both hands.  Their orders were to let nobody pass excepting the sick provided with hospital cards and the few persons to whom special authorisations had been granted.  They limited themselves, therefore, to raising the cords and then letting them fall behind the chosen ones, without heeding the supplications of the others.  In fact they even showed themselves somewhat rough, taking a certain pleasure in exercising the authority with which they were invested for a day.  In truth, however, they were very much pushed about, and had to support each other and resist with all the strength of their loins to avoid being swept away.

While the benches before the Grotto and the vast reserved space were filling with sick people, handcarts, and stretchers, the crowd, the immense crowd, swayed about on the outskirts.  Starting from the Place du Rosaire, it extended to the bottom of the promenade along the Gave, where the pavement throughout its entire length was black with people, so dense a human sea that all circulation was prevented.  On the parapet was an interminable line of women ­most of them seated, but some few standing so as to see the better ­and almost all carrying silk parasols, which, with holiday-like gaiety, shimmered in the sunlight.  The managers had wished to keep a path open in order that the sick might be brought along; but it was ever being invaded and obstructed, so that the carts and stretchers remained on the road, submerged and lost until a bearer freed them.  Nevertheless, the great tramping was that of a docile flock, an innocent, lamb-like crowd; and it was only the involuntary pushing, the blind rolling towards the light of the candles that had to be contended against.  No accident had ever happened there, notwithstanding the excitement, which gradually increased and threw the people into the unruly delirium of faith.

However, Baron Suire again forced his way through the throng.  “Berthaud!  Berthaud!” he called, “see that the defile is conducted less rapidly.  There are women and children stifling.”

This time Berthaud gave a sign of impatience.  “Ah! hang it, I can’t be everywhere!  Close the gate for a moment if it’s necessary.”

It was a question of the march through the Grotto which went on throughout the afternoon.  The faithful were permitted to enter by the door on the left, and made their exit by that on the right.

“Close the gate!” exclaimed the Baron.  “But that would be worse; they would all get crushed against it!”

As it happened Gerard was there, thoughtlessly talking for an instant with Raymonde, who was standing on the other side of the cord, holding a bowl of milk which she was about to carry to a paralysed old woman; and Berthaud ordered the young fellow to post two men at the entrance gate of the iron railing, with instructions only to allow the pilgrims to enter by tens.  When Gerard had executed this order, and returned, he found Berthaud laughing and joking with Raymonde.  She went off on her errand, however, and the two men stood watching her while she made the paralysed woman drink.

“She is charming, and it’s settled, eh?” said Berthaud.  “You are going to marry her, aren’t you?”

“I shall ask her mother to-night.  I rely upon you to accompany me.”

“Why, certainly.  You know what I told you.  Nothing could be more sensible.  The uncle will find you a berth before six months are over.”

A push of the crowd separated them, and Berthaud went off to make sure whether the march through the Grotto was now being accomplished in a methodical manner, without any crushing.  For hours the same unbroken tide rolled in ­women, men, and children from all parts of the world, all who chose, all who passed that way.  As a result, the crowd was singularly mixed:  there were beggars in rags beside neat bourgeois, peasants of either sex, well dressed ladies, servants with bare hair, young girls with bare feet, and others with pomatumed hair and foreheads bound with ribbons.  Admission was free; the mystery was open to all, to unbelievers as well as to the faithful, to those who were solely influenced by curiosity as well as to those who entered with their hearts faint with love.  And it was a sight to see them, all almost equally affected by the tepid odour of the wax, half stifling in the heavy tabernacle air which gathered beneath the rocky vault, and lowering their eyes for fear of slipping on the gratings.  Many stood there bewildered, not even bowing, examining the things around with the covert uneasiness of indifferent folks astray amidst the redoubtable mysteries of a sanctuary.  But the devout crossed themselves, threw letters, deposited candles and bouquets, kissed the rock below the Virgin’s statue, or else rubbed their chaplets, medals, and other small objects of piety against it, as the contact sufficed to bless them.  And the defile continued, continued without end during days and months as it had done for years; and it seemed as if the whole world, all the miseries and sufferings of humanity, came in turn and passed in the same hypnotic, contagious kind of round, through that rocky nook, ever in search of happiness.

When Berthaud had satisfied himself that everything was working well, he walked about like a mere spectator, superintending his men.  Only one matter remained to trouble him:  the procession of the Blessed Sacrament, during which such frenzy burst forth that accidents were always to be feared.

This last day seemed likely to be a very fervent one, for he already felt a tremor of exalted faith rising among the crowd.  The treatment needed for miraculous care was drawing to an end; there had been the fever of the journey, the besetting influence of the same endlessly repeated hymns, and the stubborn continuation of the same religious exercises; and ever and ever the conversation had been turned on miracles, and the mind fixed on the divine illumination of the Grotto.  Many, not having slept for three nights, had reached a state of hallucination, and walked about in a rageful dream.  No repose was granted them, the continual prayers were like whips lashing their souls.  The appeals to the Blessed Virgin never ceased; priest followed priest in the pulpit, proclaiming the universal dolour and directing the despairing supplications of the throng, during the whole time that the sick remained with hands clasped and eyes raised to heaven before the pale, smiling, marble statue.

At that moment the white stone pulpit against the rock on the right of the Grotto was occupied by a priest from Toulouse, whom Berthaud knew, and to whom he listened for a moment with an air of approval.  He was a stout man with an unctuous diction, famous for his rhetorical successes.  However, all eloquence here consisted in displaying the strength of one’s lungs in a violent delivery of the phrase or cry which the whole crowd had to repeat; for the addresses were nothing more than so much vociferation interspersed with “Ayes” and “Paters.”

The priest, who had just finished the Rosary, strove to increase his stature by stretching his short legs, whilst shouting the first appeal of the litanies which he improvised, and led in his own way, according to the inspiration which possessed him.

“Mary, we love thee!” he called.

And thereupon the crowd repeated in a lower, confused, and broken tone:  “Mary, we love thee!”

From that moment there was no stopping.  The voice of the priest rang out at full swing, and the voices of the crowd responded in a dolorous murmur: 

“Mary, thou art our only hope!”

“Mary, thou art our only hope!”

“Pure Virgin, make us purer, among the pure!”

“Pure Virgin, make us purer, among the pure!”

“Powerful Virgin, save our sick!”

“Powerful Virgin, save our sick!”

Often, when the priest’s imagination failed him, or he wished to thrust a cry home with greater force, he would repeat it thrice; while the docile crowd would do the same, quivering under the enervating effect of the persistent lamentation, which increased the fever.

The litanies continued, and Berthaud went back towards the Grotto.  Those who defiled through it beheld an extraordinary sight when they turned and faced the sick.  The whole of the large space between the cords was occupied by the thousand or twelve hundred patients whom the national pilgrimage had brought with it; and beneath the vast, spotless sky on that radiant day there was the most heart-rending jumble of sufferers that one could behold.  The three hospitals of Lourdes had emptied their chambers of horror.  To begin with, those who were still able to remain seated had been piled upon the benches.  Many of them, however, were propped up with cushions, whilst others kept shoulder to shoulder, the strong ones supporting the weak.  Then, in front of the benches, before the Grotto itself, were the more grievously afflicted sufferers lying at full length; the flagstones disappearing from view beneath this woeful assemblage, which was like a large, stagnant pool of horror.  There was an indescribable block of vehicles, stretchers, and mattresses.  Some of the invalids in little boxes not unlike coffins had raised themselves up and showed above the others, but the majority lay almost on a level with the ground.  There were some lying fully dressed on the check-patterned ticks of mattresses; whilst others had been brought with their bedding, so that only their heads and pale hands were seen outside the sheets.  Few of these pallets were clean.  Some pillows of dazzling whiteness, which by a last feeling of coquetry had been trimmed with embroidery, alone shone out among all the filthy wretchedness of all the rest ­a fearful collection of rags, worn-out blankets, and linen splashed with stains.  And all were pushed, squeezed, piled up by chance as they came, women, men, children, and priests, people in nightgowns beside people who were fully attired being jumbled together in the blinding light of day.

And all forms of disease were there, the whole frightful procession which, twice a day, left the hospitals to wend its way through horrified Lourdes.  There were the heads eaten away by eczema, the foreheads crowned with roseola, and the noses and mouths which elephantiasis had transformed into shapeless snouts.  Next, the dropsical ones, swollen out like leathern bottles; the rheumatic ones with twisted hands and swollen feet, like bags stuffed full of rags; and a sufferer from hydrocephalus, whose huge and weighty skull fell backwards.  Then the consumptive ones, with livid skins, trembling with fever, exhausted by dysentery, wasted to skeletons.  Then the deformities, the contractions, the twisted trunks, the twisted arms, the necks all awry; all the poor broken, pounded creatures, motionless in their tragic, marionette-like postures.  Then the poor rachitic girls displaying their waxen complexions and slender necks eaten into by sores; the yellow-faced, besotted-looking women in the painful stupor which falls on unfortunate creatures devoured by cancer; and the others who turned pale, and dared not move, fearing as they did the shock of the tumours whose weighty pain was stifling them.  On the benches sat bewildered deaf women, who heard nothing, but sang on all the same, and blind ones with heads erect, who remained for hours turned toward the statue of the Virgin which they could not see.  And there was also the woman stricken with imbecility, whose nose was eaten away, and who laughed with a terrifying laugh, displaying the black, empty cavern of her mouth; and then the epileptic woman, whom a recent attack had left as pale as death, with froth still at the corners of her lips.

But sickness and suffering were no longer of consequence, since they were all there, seated or stretched with their eyes upon the Grotto.  The poor, fleshless, earthy-looking faces became transfigured, and began to glow with hope.  Anchylosed hands were joined, heavy eyelids found the strength to rise, exhausted voices revived as the priest shouted the appeals.  At first there was nothing but indistinct stuttering, similar to slight puffs of air rising, here and there above the multitude.  Then the cry ascended and spread through the crowd itself from one to the other end of the immense square.

“Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us!” cried the priest in his thundering voice.

And the sick and the pilgrims repeated louder and louder:  “Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us!”

Then the flow of the litany set in, and continued with increasing speed: 

“Most pure Mother, most chaste Mother, thy children are at thy feet!”

“Most pure Mother, most chaste Mother, thy children are at thy feet!”

“Queen of the Angels, say but a word, and our sick shall be healed!”

“Queen of the Angels, say but a word, and our sick shall be healed!”

In the second row of sufferers, near the pulpit, was M. Sabathier, who had asked to be brought there early, wishing to choose his place like an old habitue who knew the cosy corners.  Moreover, it seemed to him that it was of paramount importance that he should be as near as possible, under the very eyes of the Virgin, as though she required to see her faithful in order not to forget them.  However, for the seven years that he had been coming there he had nursed this one hope of being some day noticed by her, of touching her, and of obtaining his cure, if not by selection, at least by seniority.  This merely needed patience on his part without the firmness of his faith being in the least shaken by his way of thinking.  Only, like a poor, resigned man just a little weary of being always put off, he sometimes allowed himself diversions.  For instance, he had obtained permission to keep his wife near him, seated on a camp-stool, and he liked to talk to her, and acquaint her with his reflections.

“Raise me a little, my dear,” said he.  “I am slipping.  I am very uncomfortable.”

Attired in trousers and a coarse woollen jacket, he was sitting upon his mattress, with his back leaning against a tilted chair.

“Are you better?” asked his wife, when she had raised him.

“Yes, yes,” he answered; and then began to take an interest in Brother Isidore, whom they had succeeded in bringing in spite of everything, and who was lying upon a neighbouring mattress, with a sheet drawn up to his chin, and nothing protruding but his wasted hands, which lay clasped upon the blanket.

“Ah! the poor man,” said M. Sabathier.  “It’s very imprudent, but the Blessed Virgin is so powerful when she chooses!”

He took up his chaplet again, but once more broke off from his devotions on perceiving Madame Maze, who had just glided into the reserved space ­so slender and unobtrusive that she had doubtless slipped under the ropes without being noticed.  She had seated herself at the end of a bench and, very quiet and motionless, did not occupy more room there than a child.  And her long face, with its weary features, the face of a woman of two-and-thirty faded before her time, wore an expression of unlimited sadness, infinite abandonment.

“And so,” resumed M. Sabathier in a low voice, again addressing his wife after attracting her attention by a slight movement of the chin, “it’s for the conversion of her husband that this lady prays.  You came across her this morning in a shop, didn’t you?”

“Yes, yes,” replied Madame Sabathier.  “And, besides, I had some talk about her with another lady who knows her.  Her husband is a commercial-traveller.  He leaves her for six months at a time, and goes about with other people.  Oh! he’s a very gay fellow, it seems, very nice, and he doesn’t let her want for money; only she adores him, she cannot accustom herself to his neglect, and comes to pray the Blessed Virgin to give him back to her.  At this moment, it appears, he is close by, at Luchon, with two ladies ­two sisters.”

M. Sabathier signed to his wife to stop.  He was now looking at the Grotto, again becoming a man of intellect, a professor whom questions of art had formerly impassioned.  “You see, my dear,” he said, “they have spoilt the Grotto by endeavouring to make it too beautiful.  I am certain it looked much better in its original wildness.  It has lost its characteristic features ­and what a frightful shop they have stuck there, on the left!”

However, he now experienced sudden remorse for his thoughtlessness.  Whilst he was chatting away, might not the Blessed Virgin be noticing one of his neighbours, more fervent, more sedate than himself?  Feeling anxious on the point, he reverted to his customary modesty and patience, and with dull, expressionless eyes again began waiting for the good pleasure of Heaven.

Moreover, the sound of a fresh voice helped to bring him back to this annihilation, in which nothing was left of the cultured reasoner that he had formerly been.  It was another preacher who had just entered the pulpit, a Capuchin this time, whose guttural call, persistently repeated, sent a tremor through the crowd.

“Holy Virgin of virgins, be blessed!”

“Holy Virgin of virgins, be blessed!”

“Holy Virgin of virgins, turn not thy face from thy children!”

“Holy Virgin of virgins, turn not thy face from thy children!”

“Holy Virgin of virgins, breathe upon our sores, and our sores shall heal!”

“Holy Virgin of virgins, breathe upon our sores, and our sores shall heal!”

At the end of the first bench, skirting the central path, which was becoming crowded, the Vigneron family had succeeded in finding room for themselves.  They were all there:  little Gustave, seated in a sinking posture, with his crutch between his legs; his mother, beside him, following the prayers like a punctilious bourgeoise; his aunt, Madame Chaise, on the other side, so inconvenienced by the crowd that she was stifling; and M. Vigneron, who remained silent and, for a moment, had been examining Madame Chaise attentively.

“What is the matter with you, my dear?” he inquired.  “Do you feel unwell?”

She was breathing with difficulty.  “Well, I don’t know,” she answered; “but I can’t feel my limbs, and my breath fails me.”

At that very moment the thought had occurred to him that all the agitation, fever, and scramble of a pilgrimage could not be very good for heart-disease.  Of course he did not desire anybody’s death, he had never asked the Blessed Virgin for any such thing.  If his prayer for advancement had already been granted through the sudden death of his chief, it must certainly be because Heaven had already ordained the latter’s death.  And, in the same way, if Madame Chaise should die first, leaving her fortune to Gustave, he would only have to bow before the will of God, which generally requires that the aged should go off before the young.  Nevertheless, his hope unconsciously became so keen that he could not help exchanging a glance with his wife, to whom had come the same involuntary thought.

“Gustave, draw back,” he exclaimed; “you are inconveniencing your aunt.”  And then, as Raymonde passed, he asked; “Do you happen to have a glass of water, mademoiselle?  One of our relatives here is losing consciousness.”

But Madame Chaise refused the offer with a gesture.  She was getting better, recovering her breath with an effort.  “No, I want nothing, thank you,” she gasped.  “There, I’m better ­still, I really thought this time that I should stifle!”

Her fright left her trembling, with haggard eyes in her pale face.  She again joined her hands, and begged the Blessed Virgin to save her from other attacks and cure her; while the Vignerons, man and wife, honest folk both of them, reverted to the covert prayer for happiness that they had come to offer up at Lourdes:  a pleasant old age, deservedly gained by twenty years of honesty, with a respectable fortune which in later years they would go and enjoy in the country, cultivating flowers.  On the other hand, little Gustave, who had seen and noted everything with his bright eyes and intelligence sharpened by suffering, was not praying, but smiling at space, with his vague enigmatical smile.  What could be the use of his praying?  He knew that the Blessed Virgin would not cure him, and that he would die.

However, M. Vigneron could not remain long without busying himself about his neighbours.  Madame Dieulafay, who had come late, had been deposited in the crowded central pathway; and he marvelled at the luxury about the young woman, that sort of coffin quilted with white silk, in which she was lying, attired in a pink dressing-gown trimmed with Valenciennes lace.  The husband in a frock-coat, and the sister in a black gown of simple but marvellous elegance, were standing by; while Abbe Judaine, kneeling near the sufferer, finished offering up a fervent prayer.

When the priest had risen, M. Vigneron made him a little room on the bench beside him; and he then took the liberty of questioning him.  “Well, Monsieur Cure, does that poor young woman feel a little better?”

Abbe Judaine made a gesture of infinite sadness.

“Alas! no.  I was full of so much hope!  It was I who persuaded the family to come.  Two years ago the Blessed Virgin showed me such extraordinary grace by curing my poor lost eyes, that I hoped to obtain another favour from her.  However, I will not despair.  We still have until to-morrow.”

M. Vigneron again looked towards Madame Dieulafay and examined her face, still of a perfect oval and with admirable eyes; but it was expressionless, with ashen hue, similar to a mask of death, amidst the lace.  “It’s really very sad,” he murmured.

“And if you had seen her last summer!” resumed the priest.  “They have their country seat at Saligny, my parish, and I often dined with them.  I cannot help feeling sad when I look at her elder sister, Madame Jousseur, that lady in black who stands there, for she bears a strong resemblance to her; and the poor sufferer was even prettier, one of the beauties of Paris.  And now compare them together ­observe that brilliancy, that sovereign grace, beside that poor, pitiful creature ­it oppresses one’s heart ­ah! what a frightful lesson!”

He became silent for an instant.  Saintly man that he was naturally, altogether devoid of passions, with no keen intelligence to disturb him in his faith, he displayed a naïve admiration for beauty, wealth, and power, which he had never envied.  Nevertheless, he ventured to express a doubt, a scruple, which troubled his usual serenity.  “For my part, I should have liked her to come here with more simplicity, without all that surrounding of luxury, because the Blessed Virgin prefers the humble ­But I understand very well that there are certain social exigencies.  And, then, her husband and sister love her so!  Remember that he has forsaken his business and she her pleasures in order to come here with her; and so overcome are they at the idea of losing her that their eyes are never dry, they always have that bewildered look which you can notice.  So they must be excused for trying to procure her the comfort of looking beautiful until the last hour.”

M. Vigneron nodded his head approvingly.  Ah! it was certainly not the wealthy who had the most luck at the Grotto!  Servants, country folk, poor beggars, were cured, while ladies returned home with their ailments unrelieved, notwithstanding their gifts and the big candles they had burnt.  And, in spite of himself, Vigneron then looked at Madame Chaise, who, having recovered from her attack, was now reposing with a comfortable air.

But a tremor passed through the crowd and Abbe Judaine spoke again:  “Here is Father Massias coming towards the pulpit.  He is a saint; listen to him.”

They knew him, and were aware that he could not make his appearance without every soul being stirred by sudden hope, for it was reported that the miracles were often brought to pass by his great fervour.  His voice, full of tenderness and strength, was said to be appreciated by the Virgin.

All heads were therefore uplifted and the emotion yet further increased when Father Fourcade was seen coming to the foot of the pulpit, leaning on the shoulder of his well-beloved brother, the preferred of all; and he stayed there, so that he also might hear him.  His gouty foot had been paining him more acutely since the morning, so that it required great courage on his part to remain thus standing and smiling.  The increasing exaltation of the crowd made him happy, however; he foresaw prodigies and dazzling cures which would redound to the glory of Mary and Jesus.

Having ascended the pulpit, Father Massias did not at once speak.  He seemed, very tall, thin, and pale, with an ascetic face, elongated the more by his discoloured beard.  His eyes sparkled, and his large eloquent mouth protruded passionately.

“Lord, save us, for we perish!” he suddenly cried; and in a fever, which increased minute by minute, the transported crowd repeated:  “Lord, save us, for we perish!”

Then he opened his arms and again launched forth his flaming cry, as if he had torn it from his glowing heart:  “Lord, if it be Thy will, Thou canst heal me!”

“Lord, if it be Thy will, Thou canst heal me!”

“Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed!”

“Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only say the word, and I shall be healed!”

Marthe, Brother Isidore’s sister, had now begun to talk in a whisper to Madame Sabathier, near whom she had at last seated herself.  They had formed an acquaintance at the hospital; and, drawn together by so much suffering, the servant had familiarly confided to the bourgeoise how anxious she felt about her brother; for she could plainly see that he had very little breath left in him.  The Blessed Virgin must be quick indeed if she desired to save him.  It was already a miracle that they had been able to bring him alive as far as the Grotto.

In her resignation, poor, simple creature that she was, she did not weep; but her heart was so swollen that her infrequent words came faintly from her lips.  Then a flood of past memories suddenly returned to her; and with her utterance thickened by prolonged silence, she began to relieve her heart:  “We were fourteen at home, at Saint Jacut, near Vannes.  He, big as he was, has always been delicate, and that was why he remained with our priest, who ended by placing him among the Christian Brothers.  The elder ones took over the property, and, for my part, I preferred going out to service.  Yes, it was a lady who took me with her to Paris, five years ago already.  Ah! what a lot of trouble there is in life!  Everyone has so much trouble!”

“You are quite right, my girl,” replied Madame Sabathier, looking the while at her husband, who was devoutly repeating each of Father Massias’s appeals.

“And then,” continued Marthe, “there I learned last month that Isidore, who had returned from a hot climate where he had been on a mission, had brought a bad sickness back with him.  And, when I ran to see him, he told me he should die if he did not leave for Lourdes, but that he couldn’t make the journey, because he had nobody to accompany him.  Then, as I had eighty francs saved up, I gave up my place, and we set out together.  You see, madame, if I am so fond of him, it’s because he used to bring me gooseberries from the parsonage, whereas all the others beat me.”

She relapsed into silence for a moment, her countenance swollen by grief, and her poor eyes so scorched by watching that no tears could come from them.  Then she began to stutter disjointed words:  “Look at him, madame.  It fills one with pity.  Ah! my God, his poor cheeks, his poor chin, his poor face ­”

It was, in fact, a lamentable spectacle.  Madame Sabathier’s heart was quite upset when she observed Brother Isidore so yellow, cadaverous, steeped in a cold sweat of agony.  Above the sheet he still only showed his clasped hands and his face encircled with long scanty hair; but if those wax-like hands seemed lifeless, if there was not a feature of that long-suffering face that stirred, its eyes were still alive, inextinguishable eyes of love, whose flame sufficed to illumine the whole of his expiring visage ­the visage of a Christ upon the cross.  And never had the contrast been so clearly marked between his low forehead and unintelligent, loutish, peasant air, and the divine splendour which came from his poor human mask, ravaged and sanctified by suffering, sublime at this last hour in the passionate radiance of his faith.  His flesh had melted, as it were; he was no longer a breath, nothing but a look, a light.

Since he had been set down there his eyes had not strayed from the statue of the Virgin.  Nothing else existed around him.  He did not see the enormous multitude, he did not even hear the wild cries of the priests, the incessant cries which shook this quivering crowd.  His eyes alone remained to him, his eyes burning with infinite tenderness, and they were fixed upon the Virgin, never more to turn from her.  They drank her in, even unto death; they made a last effort of will to disappear, die out in her.  For an instant, however, his mouth half opened and his drawn visage relaxed as an expression of celestial beatitude came over it.  Then nothing more stirred, his eyes remained wide open, still obstinately fixed upon the white statue.

A few seconds elapsed.  Marthe had felt a cold breath, chilling the roots of her hair.  “I say, madame, look!” she stammered.

Madame Sabathier, who felt anxious, pretended that she did not understand.  “What is it, my girl?”

“My brother! look!  He no longer moves.  He opened his mouth, and has not stirred since.”  Then they both shuddered, feeling certain he was dead.  He had, indeed, just passed away, without a rattle, without a breath, as if life had escaped in his glance, through his large, loving eyes, ravenous with passion.  He had expired gazing upon the Virgin, and nothing could have been so sweet; and he still continued to gaze upon her with his dead eyes, as though with ineffable delight.

“Try to close his eyes,” murmured Madame Sabathier.  “We shall soon know then.”

Marthe had already risen, and, leaning forward, so as not to be observed, she endeavoured to close the eyes with a trembling finger.  But each time they reopened, and again looked at the Virgin with invincible obstinacy.  He was dead, and Marthe had to leave his eyes wide open, steeped in unbounded ecstasy.

“Ah! it’s finished, it’s quite finished, madame!” she stuttered.

Two tears then burst from her heavy eyelids and ran down her cheeks; while Madame Sabathier caught hold of her hand to keep her quiet.  There had been whisperings, and uneasiness was already spreading.  But what course could be adopted?  It was impossible to carry off the corpse amidst such a mob, during the prayers, without incurring the risk of creating a disastrous effect.  The best plan would be to leave it there, pending a favourable moment.  The poor fellow scandalised no one, he did not seem any more dead now than he had seemed ten minutes previously, and everybody would think that his flaming eyes were still alive, ardently appealing to the divine compassion of the Blessed Virgin.

Only a few persons among those around knew the truth.  M. Sabathier, quite scared, had made a questioning sign to his wife, and on being answered by a prolonged affirmative nod, he had returned to his prayers without any rebellion, though he could not help turning pale at the thought of the mysterious almighty power which sent death when life was asked for.  The Vignerons, who were very much interested, leaned forward, and whispered as though in presence of some street accident, one of those petty incidents which in Paris the father sometimes related on returning home from the Ministry, and which sufficed to occupy them all, throughout the evening.  Madame Jousseur, for her part, had simply turned round and whispered a word or two in M. Dieulafay’s ear, and then they had both reverted to the heart-rending contemplation of their own dear invalid; whilst Abbe Judaine, informed by M. Vigneron, knelt down, and in a low, agitated voice recited the prayers for the dead.  Was he not a Saint, that missionary who had returned from a deadly climate, with a mortal wound in his side, to die there, beneath the smiling gaze of the Blessed Virgin?  And Madame Maze, who also knew what had happened, suddenly felt a taste for death, and resolved that she would implore Heaven to suppress her also, in unobtrusive fashion, if it would not listen to her prayer and give her back her husband.

But the cry of Father Massias rose into a still higher key, burst forth with a strength of terrible despair, with a rending like that of a sob:  “Jesus, son of David, I am perishing, save me!”

And the crowd sobbed after him in unison “Jesus, son of David, I am perishing, save me!”

Then, in quick succession, and in higher and higher keys, the appeals went on proclaiming the intolerable misery of the world: 

“Jesus, son of David, take pity on Thy sick children!”

“Jesus, son of David, take pity on Thy sick children!”

“Jesus, son of David, come, heal them, that they may live!”

“Jesus, son of David, come, heal them, that they may live!”

It was delirium.  At the foot of the pulpit Father Fourcade, succumbing to the extraordinary passion which overflowed from all hearts, had likewise raised his arms, and was shouting the appeals in his thundering voice as though to compel the intervention of Heaven.  And the exaltation was still increasing beneath this blast of desire, whose powerful breath bowed every head in turn, spreading even to the young women who, in a spirit of mere curiosity, sat watching the scene from the parapet of the Gave; for these also turned pale under their sunshades.

Miserable humanity was clamouring from the depths of its abyss of suffering, and the clamour swept along, sending a shudder down every spine, for one and all were plunged in agony, refusing to die, longing to compel God to grant them eternal life.  Ah! life, life! that was what all those unfortunates, who had come so far, amid so many obstacles, wanted ­that was the one boon they asked for in their wild desire to live it over again, to live it always!  O Lord, whatever our misery, whatever the torment of our life may be, cure us, grant that we may begin to live again and suffer once more what we have suffered already.  However unhappy we may be, to be is what we wish.  It is not heaven that we ask Thee for, it is earth; and grant that we may leave it at the latest possible moment, never leave it, indeed, if such be Thy good pleasure.  And even when we no longer implore a physical cure, but a moral favour, it is still happiness that we ask Thee for; happiness, the thirst for which alone consumes us.  O Lord, grant that we may be happy and healthy; let us live, ay, let us live forever!

This wild cry, the cry of man’s furious desire for life, came in broken accents, mingled with tears, from every breast.

“O Lord, son of David, heal our sick!”

“O Lord, son of David, heal our sick!”

Berthaud had twice been obliged to dash forward to prevent the cords from giving way under the unconscious pressure of the crowd.  Baron Suire, in despair, kept on making signs, begging someone to come to his assistance; for the Grotto was now invaded, and the march past had become the mere trampling of a flock rushing to its passion.  In vain did Gerard again leave Raymonde and post himself at the entrance gate of the iron railing, so as to carry out the orders, which were to admit the pilgrims by tens.  He was hustled and swept aside, while with feverish excitement everybody rushed in, passing like a torrent between the flaring candles, throwing bouquets and letters to the Virgin, and kissing the rock, which the pressure of millions of inflamed lips had polished.  It was faith run wild, the great power that nothing henceforth could stop.

And now, whilst Gerard stood there, hemmed in against the iron railing, he heard two countrywomen, whom the advance was bearing onward, raise loud exclamations at sight of the sufferers lying on the stretchers before them.  One of them was so greatly impressed by the pallid face of Brother Isidore, whose large dilated eyes were still fixed on the statue of the Virgin, that she crossed herself, and, overcome by devout admiration, murmured:  “Oh! look at that one; see how he is praying with his whole heart, and how he gazes on Our Lady of Lourdes!”

The other peasant woman thereupon replied “Oh! she will certainly cure him, he is so beautiful!”

Indeed, as the dead man lay there, his eyes still fixedly staring whilst he continued his prayer of love and faith, his appearance touched every heart.  No one in that endless, streaming throng could behold him without feeling edified.