He thought of the Virgin, whose watchful care had so often preserved him from unexpected risk, easy slips, or greater falls. Was not She the bottomless Well of goodness, the Bestower of the gifts of good Patience, the Opener of dry and obdurate hearts?
Was She not, above all, the living and thrice Blessed Mother?
Bending for ever over the squalid bed of the soul, she washed the sores, dressed the wounds, strengthened the fainting weakness of converts. Through all the ages She was the eternal supplicant, eternally entreated;
at once merciful and thankful;
merciful to the woes She alleviated, and thankful to them too. She was indeed our debtor for our sins, since, but for the wickedness of man, Jesus would never have been born under the corrupt semblance of our image, and She would not have been the immaculate Mother of God. Thus our woe was the first cause of Her joy;
and this supremest good resulting from the very excess of Evil, this touching though superfluous bond, linking us to Her, was indeed the most bewildering of mysteries;
for Her gratitude would seem unneeded, since Her inexhaustible mercy was enough to attach Her to us for ever.
Thenceforth, in Her immense humility, She had at various times condescended to the masses;
She had appeared in the most remote spots, sometimes seeming to rise from the earth, sometimes floating over the abyss, descending on solitary mountain peaks, bringing multitudes to Her feet, and working cures;
then, as if weary of wandering to be adored, She wished—so it had seemed—to fix the worship in one place, and had deserted Her ancient haunts in favour of Lourdes.
That town was the second stage of Her progress through France in-the nineteenth century. Her first visit was to La Salette.
This was years ago. On the 19th of September, 1846, the Virgin had appeared to two children on a hill;
it was a Saturday, the day dedicated to Her, which, that year, was a fast day by reason of the Ember week. By another coincidence, this Saturday was the eve of the Festival of Our Lady of Seven Dolours, and the first vespers were being chanted when Mary appeared as from a shell of glory just above the ground.
And she appeared as Our Lady of Tears in that desert landscape of stubborn rocks and dismal hills. Weeping bitterly, She had uttered reproofs and threats;
and a spring, which never in the memory of man had flowed excepting at the melting of the snows, had never since been dried up.
The fame of this event spread far and wide;
frantic thousands scrambled up fearful paths to a spot so high that trees could not grow there. Caravans of the sick and dying were conveyed, God knows how, across ravines to drink the water and maimed limbs recovered, and tumours melted away to the chanting of canticles.
Then, by degrees, after the sordid debates of a contemptible lawsuit, the reputation of La Salette dwindled to nothing;
pilgrims were few, miracles were less often proclaimed. The Virgin, it would seem, was gone;
She had ceased to care for this spring of piety and these mountains.
At the present day few persons climb to La Salette but the natives of Dauphine, tourists wandering through the Alps, or invalids following the cure at the neighbouring mineral springs of La Mothe. Conversions and spiritual graces still abound there, but bodily healing there is next to none.
said Durtal to himself,
"the vision at La Salette became famous without its ever being known exactly why. It may be supposed to have grown up as follows: the report, confined at first to the village of Corps at the foot of the mountain, spread first throughout the department, was taken up by the adjacent provinces, filtered over all France, overflowed the frontier, trickled through Europe, and at last crossed the seas to land in the New World which, in its turn, felt the throb, and also came to this wilderness to hail the Virgin.
"And the circumstances attending these pilgrimages were such as might have daunted the determination of the most persevering. To reach the little inn, perched on high near the church, the lazy rumbling of slow trains must be endured for hours, and constant changes at stations;
days must be spent in the diligence, and nights in breeding-places of fleas at country inns;
and after flaying your back on the cardingcombs of impossible beds, you must rise at daybreak to start on a giddy climb, on foot or riding a mule, up zig-zag bridlepaths above precipices;
and at last, when you are there, there are no fir trees, no beeches, no pastures, no torrents;
nothing—nothing but total solitude, and silence unbroken even by the cry of a bird, for at that height no bird is to be found.
"What a scene!"
thought Durtal, calling up the memories of a journey he had made with the Abbe Gevresin and his housekeeper, since leaving La Trappe. He remembered the horrors of a spot he had passed between Saint Georges de Commiers and La Mure, and his alarm in the carriage as the train slowly travelled across the abyss.
Beneath was darkness increasing in spirals down to the vasty deeps;
above, as far as the eye could reach, piles of mountains invaded the sky. The train toiled up, snorting and turning round and round like a top;
then, going into a tunnel, was swallowed by the earth;
it seemed to be pushing the light of day away in front, till it suddenly came out into a clearing full of sunshine;
presently, as if it were retracing its road, it rushed into another burrow, and emerged with the strident yell of a steam whistle and deafening clatter of wheels, to fly up the winding ribbon of road cut in the living rock.
Suddenly the peaks parted, a wide opening brought the train out into broad daylight;
the scene lay clear before them, terrible on all sides.
"Le Drac !"
exclaimed the Abbe Gevresin, pointing to a sort of liquid serpent at the bottom of the precipice, writhing and tossing between rocks in the very jaws of the pit.
For now and again the reptile flung itself up on points of stone that rent it as it passed;
the waters changed as though poisoned by these fangs;
they lost their steely hue, and whitened with foam like a bran bath;
then the Drac hurried on faster, faster, flinging itself into the shadowy gorge;
lingered again on gravelly reaches, wallowing in the sun;
presently it gathered up its scattered rivulets and went on its way, scaly with scum like the iridescent dross on boiling lead, till, far away, the rippling rings spread and vanished, skinned and leaving behind them on the banks a white granulated cuticle of pebbles, a hide of dry sand.
Durtal, as he leaned out of the carriage window, looked straight down into the gulf;
on this narrow way with only one line of rails, the train on one side was close to the towering hewn rock, and on the other was the void. Great God!
if it should run off the rails!
"What a hash!"
And what was not less overwhelming than the appalling depth of the abyss was, as he looked up, the sight of the furious, frenzied assault of the peaks. Thus, in that carriage, he was literally between the earth and sky, and the ground over which it was moving was invisible, being covered for its whole width by the body of the train.
On they went, suspended in mid-air at a giddy height, along interminable balconies without parapets;
and below, the cliffs dropped avalanche-like, fell straight, bare, without a patch of vegetation or a tree. In places they looked as if they had been split down by the blows of an axe—huge growths of petrified wood;
in others they seemed sawn through shaley layers of slate.
And all round lay a wide amphitheatre of endless mountains, hiding the heavens, piled one above another, barring the way to the travelling clouds, stopping the onward march of the sky.
Some made a good show with their jagged grey crests, huge masses of oyster shells;
others, with scorched summits, like burnt pyramids of coke, were green half-way up. These bristled with pine woods to the very edge of the precipices, and they were scarred too with white crosses—the high roads, dotted in places with Nuremberg dogs, redroofed hamlets, sheepfolds that seemed on the verge of tumbling headlong, clinging on—how, it was impossible to guess, and flung here and there on patches of green carpet glued on to the steep hill-sides;
while other peaks towered higher still, like vast calcined hay-cocks, with doubtfully dead craters still brooding internal fires, and trailing smoky clouds which, as they blew off, really seemed to be coming out of their summits.
The landscape was ominous;
the sight of it was strangely discomfiting;
perhaps because it impugned the sense of the infinite that lurks within us. The firmament was no more than a detail, cast aside like needless rubbish on the desert peaks of the hills. The abyss was the all-important fact;
it made the sky look small and trivial, substituting the magnificence of its depths for the grandeur of eternal space. The eye, in fact, turned away with disappointment from the sky, which had lost its infinitude of depth, its immeasurable breadth, for the mountains seemed to touch it, pierce it, and uphold it;
they cut it up, sawing it with the jagged teeth of their pinnacles, showing mere tattered skirts of blue and rags of cloud.
The eye was involuntarily attracted to the ravines, and the head swam at the sight of those vast pits of blackness. This immensity in the wrong place, stolen from above and cast into the depths, was horrible. The Abbe had said that the Drac was one of the most formidable torrents in France;
at the moment it was dormant, almost dry;
but when the season of snows and storms comes it wakes up and flashes like a tide of silver, hisses and tosses, foams and leaps, and can in an instant swallow up villages and dams.
"It is hideous,"
"That bilious flood must carry fevers with it;
it is accursed and rotten with its soapy foam-flakes, its metallic hues, its scrap of rainbowcolour stranded in the mud."
Durtal now thought over all these details;
as he closed his eyes he could see the Drac and La Salette.
"they may well be proud of the pilgrims who venture to those desolate regions to pray where the vision actually appeared, for when once they are there they are packed on a little plot of ground no bigger than the Place Saint Sulpice, hemmed in on one side by a church of rough stone daubed with cement of the colour of Valnnais mustard, and on the other by a graveyard. The horizon is a circle of cones, of dry scoriae, like pumice, or covered with short grass;
above them, the glassy slope of perpetual ice and snow;
to walk on, a scanty growth of grass moth-eaten by sand. In two words, to sum up the scene, it was nature's scab, the leprosy of the earth.
"From the artistic point of view, on this microscopic grand parade, close to the spring whose waters are caught in pipes with taps, three bronze statues stand in different spots. One, a Virgin, in the most preposterous garments, her headgear a sort of pastry-mould, a Mohican's bonnet, is on her knees weeping, with her face hidden in her hands. Then the same Woman, standing up, her hands ecclesiastically shrouded in her sleeves, looks at the two children to whom she is speaking;
Maximin, with hair curled like a poodle, twirling a cap like a raised pie, in his hand;
Melanie buried in a cap with deep frills and accompanied by a dog like a paper-weight—all in bronze. Finally the same Person, once more alone, standing on tip-toe, her eyes raised to heaven with a melodramatic expression.
"Never has the frightful appetite for the hideous that disgraces the Church in our day been so resolutely displayed as on this spot;
and if the soul suffered in the presence of the obtrusive outrage of this degrading work—perpetrated by one Barreme of Angers and cast in the steam foundries of Le Creusot — the body too had something to endure on this plateau under the crushing mass of hills that shut in the view.
"And yet it was hither that thousands of sick creatures had had themselves hauled up to face the cruel climate, where in summer the sun burns you to a cinder while, two yards away, in the shade of the church, you are frozen.
"The first and greatest miracle accomplished at La Salette was that of bringing such an invasion to this precipitous spot in the Alps, for everything combines to forbid it.
"But crowds came there year after year, till Lourdes took possession of them;
for it is since the apparition of the Virgin there that La Salette has fallen into disrepute.
"Twelve years after the vision at La Salette, the Virgin showed herself again, not in Dauphine this time, but in the depths of Gascony. After the Mother of Tears, Our Lady of Seven Dolours, it was Our Lady of Smiles, of the Immaculate Conception, the Sovereign Lady of Joy in Glory, who appeared;
and here again it was to a shepherdess that she revealed the existence of a spring that healed diseases.
"And here it is that consternation begins. Lourdes may be described as the exact opposite to La Salette;
the scenery is magnificent, the hills in the foreground are covered with verdure, the tamed mountains permit access to their heights;
on all sides there are shady avenues, fine trees, living waters, gentle slopes, broad roads devoid of danger and accessible to all;
instead of a wilderness, a town, where every requirement of the sick is provided for. Lourdes may be reached without adventures in warrens of vermin, without enduring nights in country inns, or days of jolting in wretched vehicles, without creeping along the face of a precipice;
and the traveller is at his destination when he gets out of the train.
"This town then was so admirably chosen for the resort of crowds, that it did not seem necessary that Providence should intervene with such strong measures to attract them.
"But God, who forced La Salette on the world without availing Himself of the means of fashionable notoriety, now changed His tactics;
with Lourdes, advertisement appeared on the scene.
"This it is that confounds the mind: Jesus condescending to make use of the wretched arts of human commerce;
adopting the repulsive tricks which we employ to float a manufacture or a business.
"And we wonder whether this may not be the sternest lesson in humility ever given to man, as well as the most vehement reproof hurled at the American abominations of our day — God reduced to lowering Himself once more to our level, to speaking our language, to using our own devices that He may make Himself heard and obeyed;
God no longer even trying to make us understand His purpose through Himself, or to uplift us to that height.
"In point of fact, the way in which the Lord set to work to promulgate the mercies peculiar to Lourdes is astounding. To make them known He is no longer content to spread the report of its miracles by word of mouth;
no, and it might be supposed that in His eyes Lourdes is harder to magnify than La Salette — He adopted strong measures from the first. He raised up a man whose book, translated into every language, carried the news of the vision to the most distant lands, and certified the truth of the cures effected at Lourdes.
"To the end that this work should stir up the masses, it was necessary that the writer destined to the task should be a clever organizer, and at the same time a man devoid of individuality of style and of any novel ideas. In a word, what was needed was a man devoid of talent;
and that is quite intelligible, since from the point of view of appreciating art the Catholic public is still a hundred feet beneath the profane public. And our Lord did the thing well;
he selected Henri Lasserre.
"Consequently the mine exploded as required, rending souls and bringing crowds out on to the road to Lourdes.
"Years went by. The fame of the sanctuary is an established fact. Indisputable cures are effected by supernatural means and certified by clinical authorities, whose good faith and scientific skill are above suspicion. Lourdes has its fill;
and yet, little by little, in the long run, though pilgrims do not cease to flow thither, the commotion about the Grotto is diminishing. It is dying out, if not in the religious world, at any rate in the wider world of the careless or the doubting, who must be convinced. And our Lord thinks it desirable to revive attention to the benefits dispensed by His Mother.
"Lasserre was not such an instrument as could renew the half-exhausted vogue enjoyed by Lourdes. The public was soaked in his book;
it had swallowed it in every vehicle and in every form;
the end was achieved;
this budding-knife of miracles was a tool that might now be laid aside.
"What was now wanted was a book entirely unlike his;
a book that would influence the vaster public, whom his homely prosiness would never reach. Lourdes must make its way through denser and less malleable strata, to a public of higher class, and harder to please. It was requisite, therefore, that this new book should be written by a man or talent, whose style nevertheless should not be so transcendental as to scare folks. And it was an advantage that the writer should be very well known, so that his enormous editions might counterpoise those of Lasserre.
"Now in all the realm of literature there was but one man who could fulfil these imperative conditions: Emile Zola. In vain should we seek another. He alone with his battering push, his enormous sale, his blatant advertisement, could launch Lourdes once more.
"It mattered little that he would deny supernatural agency and endeavour to explain inexplicable cures by the meanest hypotheses;
it mattered little that he mixed mortar of the medical muck of a Charcot to make his wretched theory hold together;
the great thing was that noisy debates should arise about the book of which more than a hundred and fifty thousand copies proclaimed the name or Lourdes throughout the world.
"And then the very disorder of his arguments, the poor resort to a 'breath that heals the people,' invented in contradiction to all the data of positive science on which he prided himself, with the purpose of making these extraordinary cures intelligible — cures which he had seen, and of which he dared not deny the reality or the frequency — were admirable means of persuading unprejudiced and candid inquirers of the authenticity of the recoveries effected year after year at Lourdes.
"This avowed testimony to such amazing facts was enough to give a fresh impetus to the masses. It must be remarked, too, that the book betrays no hostility to the Virgin, of whom it speaks only in respectful terms on the whole;
so is it not very credible that the scandal to which this work gave rise was profitable?
"To sum up: it may be asserted that Lasserre and Zola were both useful instruments;
one devoid of talent, and for that very reason penetrating to the very lowest strata of the Catholic methodists;
the other, on the contrary, making himself welcome to a more intelligent and cultivated public, by those splendid passages where the flaming multitude of processions moves on, and amid a cyclone of anguish, the triumphant faith of the white ranks is exultant.
She is fond of Her Lourdes, is Our Lady, and pets it. She seems to have centred all Her powers there, all Her favours;
Her other sanctuaries are perishing that this one may live!
"Why, above all, have created La Salette and then sacrificed it, as it were?
"That She should have appeared there is quite intelligible,"
thought Durtal, answering himself.
"The Virgin is more highly venerated in Dauphine than in any other province;
chapels dedicated to Her worship swarm in those parts, and She meant perhaps to reward their zeal by Her gracious presence.
"On the other hand, She appeared there with a special and very definite end in view: to preach repentance to mankind, and especially to priests. She ratified by certain miracles the evidence of this mission which She confided to Melanie, and then, that being accomplished, She could desert the spot where She had, no doubt, never intended to remain.
"And after all,"
he went on, after a moment's reflection,
"may we not admit an even simpler solution, namely, this :—
"Mary vouchsafes to appear under various aspects to satisfy the tastes and eravings of each soul. At La Salette, where She descended in a distressful spot, all in tears, She revealed Herself no doubt to certain persons, more especially to the souls in love with sorrow, the mystical souls that delight in reviving the anguish of the Passion and following the Mother in Her heart-breaking way to the Cross. She would thus seem less attractive to the vulgar who do not love woe or weeping;
it may be added that they still less love reproof and threats. The Virgin of La Salette could not become popular, by reason of Her aspect and address, while She of Lourdes, who appeared smiling, and prophesied no catastrophes, was easy of access to the hopes and gladness of the crowd.
"She was, in short, in that sanctuary, the Virgin of the world at large, not the Virgin of mystics and artists, the Virgin of the few, as at La Salette.
"What a mystery is this direct intervention of the Christ's Mother on earth !"
thought Durtal. And he went on:
"It is clear, on reflection, that the churches founded by Her may be classed in two very distinct groups.
"One group where She has revealed Herself to certain persons, where waters spring and bodily ills are healed: La Salette and Lourdes.
"The other, where She has never been gazed on by human beings, or where Her appearance occurred in immemorial times, in forgotten centuries, the dead ages. In those chapels prayer alone is in force, and Mary answers it without the help of any waters. Indeed, She effects more moral than physical cures. Notre Dame de Fourvieres at Lyon, Notre Dame de Sous-Terre at Chartres, Notre Dame des Victoires at Paris, to mention only three.
"Wherefore this difference?
None can understand, and probably none will ever know. At most may we suppose that in compassion for the everlasting craving of our hapless souls wearied with prayer without sight, She would fain confirm our faith and help to gather in the flock by showing Herself.
"In all this obscurity,"
Durtal went on,
"is it at least possible to discern some dim landmarks, some vague law?
"As we gaze into the darkness, two spots of light appear,"
he replied to himself.
"In the first place, this: She appears to none but the poor and humble;
She addresses the simple souls who have in a way handed down the primitive occupation, the biblical function of the Patriarchs;
She unveils herself to the children of the soil, to the shepherds, to girls as they watch the flock. Both at La Salette and at Lourdes She chose little pastors for Her confidants, and this is intelligible, since, by acting thus, she confirms the kmown will of Her Son;
the first to behold the infant Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem were in fact shepherds, and it was from among men of the lowest class that Christ chose His apostles.
"And is not the water that serves as a medium of cure prefigured in the Sacred Books — in the Old Testament by the River Jordan, which cleansed Naaman of his leprosy;
and in the New by the probationary pool stirred by an angel?
"Another law seems no less probable. The Virgin is, as far as possible, considerate of the temperament and individual character of the persons She appears to. She places Herself on the level of their intellect, is incarnate in the only material form that they can conceive of. She assumes the simple aspect these poor creatures love, accepting the blue and white robes, the crown and wreaths of roses, the trinkets and garlands and frippery of a first Communion, the ugliest garb.
"There is not indeed a single case where the shepherd maids who saw Her described Her otherwise than as a 'beautiful lady' with the features of the Virgin of a village altar, a Madonna of the Saint-Sulpice shops, a street-corner Queen.
"These two rules are more or less universal,"
said Durtal to himself.
"As to the Son, it would seem that He never now will reveal Himself in human form to the masses. Since His appearance to the
Blessed Mary Margaret, whom He employed as a mouthpiece to address the people, He has been silent. He keeps in the background, giving precedence to His Mother.
"He, it is true, reserves for Himself a dwelling in the secret places, the hidden regions, the strongholds of the soul, as Saint Theresa calls them;
but His presence is unseen and His words spoken within us, and generally not apprehended by means of the senses."
Durtal ceased speaking, confessing to himself how inane were these reflections, how powerless the human reason to investigate the inconceivable purposes of the Almighty;
and again his thoughts turned to that journey to Dauphine which haunted his memory.
but the chain of the High Alps and the peaks of La Salette,"
said he to himself;
"that huge white hotel, that church coloured with dirty yellow lime-wash, vaguely Byzantine and vaguely Romanesque in its architecture, and that little cell with the plaster Christ nailed to a flat back wooden Cross — that tiny Sanctuary plainly white-washed, and so small that one could step across it in any direction—they were pregnant with her presence, all the same!"
"Surely She revisited that spot, in spite of Her apparent desertion, to comfort all comers;
She seemed so close at hand, so attentive and so grieving, in the evening as one sat alone by the light of a candle, that the soul seemed to burst open like a pod shedding the fruit of sin, the seeds of evil deeds;
and repentance, that had been so tardily evolved, and sometimes so indefinite, became so suddenly despotic and unmistakable that the penitent dropped on his knees by the bed, and buried his head sobbing in the sheets. Ah, those were evenings of mortal dulness and yet sweetly sad!
The soul was rent, its very fibres laid bare, but was not the Virgin at hand, so pitiful, so motherly that after the worst was over She took the bleeding soul in her arms and rocked it to sleep like a sick child.
"Then, during the day, the church afforded a refuge from the frenzy of giddiness that came over one;
the eye, bewildered by the precipices on every side, distracted by the sight of the clouds that suddenly gathered below and steamed off in white fleece from the sides of the rocks, found rest under the shelter of those walls.
"And finally, to make up for the horrors of the scene and of the statues, to mitigate the grotesqueness of the inn-servants, who had beards like sappers and clothes like little boys — the caps, and holland blouses with belts, and shiny black breeches, like cast iron, of the children at the Saint Nicolas school in Paris — extraordinary characters, souls of divine simplicity expanded there."
And Durtal recollected the admirable scene he had watched there one morning. He was sitting on the little plateau, in the icy shade of the churh, gazing before him at the graveyard and the motionless swell of mountain tops. Far away, in the very sky, a string of beads moved on, one by one, on the ribbon of path that edged the precipice. And by degrees these specks, at first merely dark, assumed the bright hues of dresses, assumed the form of coloured bells surmounted by white knobs, and at last took shape as a line of peasant women wearing white caps. And still in single file they came down the square. After crossing themselves as they passed the cemetery, they went each to drink a cup of water at the spring and then turned round;
and Durtal, who was watching them, saw this:
At their head walked an old woman of at least a hundred, very tall and still upright, her head covered by a sort of hood from which her stiff, wavy hair escaped in tangled grey locks like iron wire. Her face was shrivelled like the peel of an onion, and so thin that, looking at her in profile, daylight could be seen through her skin.
She knelt down at the foot of the first statue, and behind her, her companions, girls of about eighteen for the most part, clasped their hands and shut their eyes;
and slowly a change came over them.
Under the breath of prayer, the soul, buried under the ashes of worldly cares, flamed up, and the air that fanned it made it glow like an inward fire, lighting up the thick cheeks, the stolid, heavy features. It smoothed out the crackled surface of wrinkles, softened in the younger women the vulgarity of chapped red lips, gave colour to the dull brown flesh, overflowed in the smile on lips half parted in silent prayer, in timid kisses offered with simple good faith, and returned no doubt in an ineffable thrill by the Holy Child they had cherished from His birth, who, since the martyrdom of Calvary, had grown to be the Spouse of Sorrows.
They felt, perhaps, something of the raptures of the Blessed Virgin who is Mother and Wife and at the same time the beatified Handmaid of God. And in the silence a voice as from the remotest ages arose, and the ancestress said,
and they all repeated the prayer, and then dragged themselves on their knees up the steps of the way of crosses, where the fourteen upright posts, each with its cast metal bas-relief, bordered a serpentine path, dividing the statues from the groups. Thus they went forward, stopping long enough to recite an
on each step they climbed, and then, helping themselves with their hands, they mounted to the next. And when the rosary was ended the old woman rose, and they solemnly followed her into the church, where they all prayed a long time, prostrate before the altar;
and the grandmother stood up, gave each holy water at the door, led her flock to the spring where they all drank again, and then they went away, without speaking a word, one after another up the narrow path, ending as black specks just as they had come, and vanishing on the horizon.
"Those women have been two days and two nights crossing the mountains,"
said a priest, coming up to Durtal.
"They started from the depths of Savoy, and have travelled almost without rest to spend a few minutes here;
they will sleep to night in a cow-house or a cave, as chance may direct, and to-morrow by daybreak they will start again on their weariful way."
Durtal was overpowered by the radiant splendour of such faith.
It was possible, then, to find souls ever young, souls ever new, souls as of undying children, watching where absolute solitude was not, outside cloister walls, in the waste places of these peaks and gorges, and amid this race of stern and rugged peasants. Here were women who, without knowing it even, lived the contemplative life in union with God, while they dug the barren slopes of a little plot at some prodigious elevation. They were Leah and Rachel, Martha and Mary in one;
and these women believed guilelessly, entirely, as man believed in the middle ages. These beings, with their rough-hewn feelings, their shapeless ideas, hardly able to express themselves, hardly knowing how to read, wept with love in the presence of the Inaccessible, whom they compelled by their humility and single-heartedness to appear, to become actual to their mind.
"Yes, it was but just that the Virgin should cherish them and choose them above all others to be Her vessels of election.
"Yes. For they are unburdened with the dreadful weight of doubt, they are endowed with almost total ignorance of evil.
"And yet are there not some souls too experienced, alas!
in the culture of wrong-doing, who nevertheless find mercy at Her feet?
Has not the Virgin other sanctuaries less frequented, less well known, which yet have outlived the wear of time, the various caprice of the ages;
very ancient churches where She welcomes you if you love Her in solitude and silence?
"And Durtal, coming back to Chartres once more, looked about him at the persons who were waiting in the warm shade of the indefinite forest till the Virgin should awake, to worship Her.