Page images
PDF
EPUB

selves with an interest, so Mademoiselle Angèle is everlastingly confessing sins, not to be rid of them, but for the excitement of the confession. It needs some sleek, subtle Abbé of a town to deal with the artificial difficulties of a soul like this. Good Baptiste is far too straightforward and simple. When Mademoiselle has gone away, with a flutter of prim skirts, he takes a long breath, puts some keys in his pocket, and goes out into the flooding sunshine and light with a sense of distasteful duty well through, and something false and complicated left behind. It is time for his déjeuner—and past it. A good authority has said that the besetting sin of the French curé is his love of good eating. Baptiste's figure certainly inclines to the comfortable. But, in his case, there are not only the frequent and faithfully kept fasts of his Church, but the fact of his being literally “passing rich on forty pounds a year,” which prevents much indulgence of the flesh. His déjeuner is, in fact, so scanty that only the capable Annette could make it look like a déjeuner at all. But the gray bread is freshly baked and the thin soup hot. M. Baptiste would be less well fed if he were an English curate, three times as well paid, spending half a dozen times as much on his feeding, in the land which has been well described as that where one eats, but never dines. When the meal is over, he feels in the pockets of his soutane for his one small cherished luxury—snuff. They are empty. He remembers that Pierre, the diligence driver, is to bring him a little packet from Saint-Manine to-day; and goes out into the Place, whither Pierre always climbs to take his glass of red wine at the rough table outside the mean auberge—superbly named the Hôtel de France. It is to be observed that M. le Curé never indulges in any kind of sport.

and has absolutely no exercise, but walking. The game of billiards in the café—the simple and frequent recreation of other Frenchmen—his office forbids him. His newspaper—it is the one newspaper Baptiste, anyhow, ever sees—is a halfpenny rag containing the local lies only. But he has, at least, sunshine, warmth, light, and the loveliness of some of the most noble and exquisite scenery in the world. If man has been meagre to him, God and Nature have dealt him some of their best gifts abundantly. Then, too, the people on the Place are nearly all his friends—and are all his spiritual children. The narrow bitterness of the division of sects does not trouble his ministrations. Such religion as the people have, is wholly Baptiste's religion. It is as a friend that every one greets him now as he comes on to the Plave—the patron of the Hôtel de France standing in his doorway, the girl leaning on the stone wall watching for the diligence, the children skipping. the old woman passing through with a great basket of faggots on her stately head, and Jacques leading his donkey, with a barrel of wine on the beast's patient back. M. le Curé, half-sitting on the wall, reads his breviary—a special office for one of those special days which occur so constantly in the Roman calendar— with the sun dancing and dazzling on the well-thumbed page, for it is the sun of early November and very brilliant and hot. He has but just put away the breviary and begun to enjoy himself with the local rag when, every one else being out of earshot, the girl leaning on the parapet approaches him timidly. Mariotte has seen a ghost! The apparition came that way, and went this, and did thus, and meant—it may be, can M. le Curé tell?—something sinister and terrible! Baptiste looks down the valley—where the diligence can be espied in the distance—and thinks a moment. He is one of the people whom thought, as it were, always distresses. But he learnt conscientiously long ago at Saint-Manine the treatment he was to mete out to the supernatural —not to deny, not to explain, only to soothe. Mariotte is to be assured that, under the protection of the saints, the ghost can do her no harm. Mariotte's friend goes away—relieved. Baptiste's own attitude towards the occult remains perhaps much like the attitude of persons far freer and bolder in thought and belief than he-"it may be so, my lord.” Five-and-twenty minutes later, the diligence having arrived at the auberge on the road below, Pierre, blowing and apoplectic, and still very fat though he peeled off three coats to make the ascent, reaches the Place. He has the snuff in his pocket. M. le Curé pays him therefor. He brings a little news from Saint-Manine; but not much. M. Baptiste is not so very keenly interested. Lead a narrow and simple life, and it grows narrower and simpler every day. M. le Curé's heart and ambitions are bound up, contained, fulfilled, in Laforge now. The seminary and his youth have faded a good deal from his mind. He, with the rest of the village, likes the rubicund Pierre because he is a cheerful incident in the day of Laforge, not because he brings news of a place which, after all, is not Laforge, and so really not very important. The Place is very pleasant and animated this afternoon. M. le Curé has enjoyed it. It is his play-time. The approach of a tall man with thin lips and eager eyes reminds him that that play-time is over. In the Catholic village, the schoolmaster and the curé stand respectively for Progress and for Retrogression, and are nearly always at enmity. But in this case Progress regards Retrogression as a child, with a slightly contemptuous and a

not unkindly tolerance. The brownskinned, bright-eyed children of Laforge also feel M. le Curé to be, in Some sort, one of themselves. They cling on to his hands and soutane. Having no means of finding out for himself, Baptiste consults Pierre to see if the hour for his class—preparatory to confirmation—has really come; and Pierre, on the irresponsible authority of a cheerful Italian watch, with the picture of a décolletée lady in a blue satin dress on the back of it, assures him that it is two o'clock. Pierre finishes his glass with the patron. The schoolmaster lights a very thin cigarette and reads a Socialist newspaper, which proposes to destroy all institutions and orders in time, but is careful to insist on M. le Curé's caste and profession being destroyed first. Meanwhile, M. Baptiste, with half the young idea of Laforge at his heels, has gone back to his church. As a teacher he is admirable. The round face with its kindly good temper, the sympathy and understanding with the youth he will never himself quite outgrow, make all children love him. Then, too, M. Baptiste is not confused by seeing more than one side of a question, and of the truth of what he teaches has never felt a doubt. “The more you know, the less you are sure,” is a sound, if a dismal, axiom. By the time the class is finished, and M. le Curé has dutifully admonished the offending youth who has been playing on its outskirts, and rewards a sobbing little girl with a sou for having a toothache, the autumnal afternoon is well advanced. Then there are Vespers, and perhaps a sick peasant to be visited; or a hurried baptism to be performed in a stone hut, three miles away along a path cut round the mountain. It is sunset and declining light before Baptiste is back at the presbytere he first left at six this morning; and the evening may well be

his own. In his little living-room, writes out of his own head--and heart. when Annette has served his modest If to-morrow be not Sunday, M. Bapsupper-to-night, because the sick tiste may indulge in a cigarette; and peasant lacked the barest necessaries sometimes in a nap. The light grows of death, it must be so modest as not dim. Monsieur moves the sputtering even to include the sour wine which, logs on the low fire on the hearth (it in this land of vineyards, is incredibly is only at this hour that his frugal Ancheap--M. le Curé spends his short nette allows him a fire at all) with the solitude.

broken toe of his broad shoe. Annette Does he feel it to be solitary? Does puts her head in at the door and says he dream in reality, as he al. "Bon soir, Mo'sieu” with a severity ways dreams in books, of the woman which means "Candles are dear, and his harsh vows forbid him to marry, there is no need to sit up late.” Then of children nearer and dearer than the she apparently bangs all the doors in children he taught this afternoon? the house, and retires, like a respectaVery seldom. If one is to violate a ble tornado, to her own home in the great fundamental law of Nature, one village. cannot begin too soon. It must be M. le Curé sits looking at the faces in considered-it is often forgotten-that the fire for another ten minutes. The Baptiste was trained and disciplined choice between bed and a candle befrom his boyhood for this maimed life; comes pressing. Bed is much cheaper. that he can hardly be said to renounce By half-past nine M. le Curé is enjoythe dear and common joys, for he has ing the “heavy honeydew of slumber," never expected to have them. Com- with a regular, peaceful snore, and pare him with his brother priest of the never a dream. Church of England (on whose poor On Sunday-the cheerful Sunday of stipend Baptiste would find himself the Catholic, when is kept the fête disgracefully rich), with his delicate Dieu and the fête of every one else as wife, his half-dozen hapless children, well-M. le Curé finds his church much and the consequent too engrossing fuller than on week-days. But his family cares, and it may well be congregation has not at all the air of thought-if its strong temptations can "one-long-service-and-get-it-all-done-forbe overcome that Baptiste's position the-rest-of-the-week” which distinis more dignified and contented, and guishes many Protestant worshippers. bis usefulness less hampered.

To-day he preaches his sermon. He Perhaps three times a year he writes has a manner naturally dramatic, a letter, to a sister living forty miles warm, eager, spontaneous. His disaway; nearly as often he takes down courses are both less frequent and less one of his four volumes of the “Lives foolish than his brother's of the Engof the Fathers" (left him by a distant lish Church-it may be, less foolish bepriestly relative), dusts it politely, and cause less frequent. Baptiste, at any puts it back again. The "Lives" would rate does not spend his time in exnot be exhilarating, very likely. But plaining away doubts which have to Baptiste books, of any sort, may oc- never existed in the minds of his hearcasionally be a duty, but are never a ers, nor in gallantly trying to reconcile recreation.

the very latest scientific theory with If to-morrow be Sunday, there is his the most ancient form of the Christian sermon to prepare and learn by rote. religion. If he attempted controversy, But he does not need books even for the thin-lipped schoolmaster, standing that. Knowing his people, he, wisely, in the dark shadows at the back of the

LIVING AGE. VOL. XXXV. 1817

church, would have his sneer and his answer ready enough. But M. Baptiste fortunately takes it to be his business—in spite of the busy symbolism that surrounds him and the highly Complicated dogmas of his great Church— to preach “simple Christ to simple men,” and is content if they leave him no wiser, but a little better. The only change in his devoted and monotonous life is occasionally to take déjeuner and perhaps a hand at cards, chez Mademoiselle Angèle. Mademoiselle carefully remembers to forget that she knew Baptiste as a grubby little peasant boy. Baptiste's own natural good breeding and simplicity cause him really to forget it. If his muslin lappets are tumbled and his large hands not too clean, he is happily free from the self-consciousness which would make such defects painful. True, Mademoiselle's simpering and affectation distress him a little. Bnt she has a cuisine so recherché, and, it being neither fast nor vigil, Providence, that good, kind Providence, must mean M. Baptiste to enjoy it! He does. He is delightfully polite and good-tempered. Certainly, he has nothing to talk of but Laforge. But he talks of it very pleasantly. Mademoiselle Angèle gives him the most welcome aumómes for his poor. When she is not digging up her soul, as it were, and looking at the roots (and so effectually preventing its growth, no doubt), she is really the most excellent of orielles filles. M. Baptiste, after the still more excellent coffee, takes his leave, feeling comfortable, satisfied, and welldisposed to all the world. Once, only once, there comes an upheaval in his life. One perfect winter's day there arrives in Laforge a certain Professor of Archaeology, with a large, wise, bald head, and near-sighted eyes look. ing for Roman remains through spectacles. He stays at the Hôtel de France.

He meets M. le Curé on the Place, and readily accepts his invitation to pass an evening with him by the wood fire in the presbytere. As they sit, M. le Professeur tells his host of the lands in which he has travelled—wide, wonderful, enchanted lands. Baptiste listens, delighted. Then the guest goes on to politics, to science, to speculation. Words like “Ultramontanism” and “obscurantism” roll glibly off his tongue. M. le Curé pushes his chair back a little, bewildered. The professor speaks easily of what have been to his hearer the supreme certainties of religion and life, as moot points only: of Infallibility as more than fallible; of a future where, it may be, the very bulwarks of the great faith shall have been swept away. He talks, as the talker always does, for himself, not his hearer. He is so clever and stupid that he is perfectly unconscious of the confusion, the terror even, he has raised in his host's honest mind. He bids him good-night cheerfully. M. Baptiste forgets how dear candles are, and sits, staring at the gray ashes on the hearth, till the couple he has produced for his visitor are burnt to their Sockets and have flickered into darkness. If it were, indeed, as M. le Professeur implied it might be! If the one true Church were not the Truth after all! If, behind the deep, intense, mocking blue of the sky, there were really no answer nor any that hear, and “the hope of the world were a lie!" The horror of one cut adrift— lost on a gray and pitiless sea—overwhelms M. le Curé's soul. When he creeps up to bed, the dawn is showing pearl and rose in the east. For the first time in all his life, anxious and awful thoughts keep him awake. For a day or two he performs his duties as a man in a dream. But habit and education are strong. M. le Professeur—still quite unconscious of

what he has done—returns to Paris. The fears lift, slowly, from Baptiste's soul—as he so often has seen the clouds lift from the mountains and leave the peaks clear and serene against the sky. He perceives, with an infinite relief, that he has only been tempted of the devil—not to the common sins of the flesh, but to the subtler sin of a presumptuous mind. “Believe What I tell you, because I tell you” has been well said to be the first and last word of his Church. Before his rough Crucifix, M. le Curé confesses the intellectual vanity and wickedness which made him question, even for a moment, her divine pronouncements. For a few years he looks back on that temptation of his soul as a traveller looks back on some awful chasm, narrowly shunned. Then, gradually, he forgets. The calm life of Laforge, the daily round of honest duties, his own narrow and sensible mind, blot out the impression. In the greatest of all consolations for the uncertainty of the future—work in the present—he grows old. His bishop, who can remove him to a better or Worse cure at his discretion, forgets all about him. The fierce political whirlwinds which fell many great trees, leave this modest shrub unharmed. The children he has taught in the church are children no more. M. le Curé makes the steep The Cornhill Magazine.

ascent to that church with less ease than he used; the busy wrinkles grow thick round his pleasant eyes, and his ruddy face shrivels a little like a winter apple. The advanced schoolmaster gets a post in a town which is much better worth upsetting than ever Laforge could have been. Annette dies. Many of M. le Curé's friends lie now in the sunny, untidy, graveyard on the mountain slope, wtih its rude, ill-made wooden crosses and poor, loving little offerings of sham immortelles. The day cannot be far away when M. le Curé must lie there too. Well, he has done his work. If he has not brought enlightenment—and he has not—he has brought peace. If he has taught but an illiberal creed, he has taught it devoutly and intensely, in season and out of season, faithfully and from his heart. He has continued the noble tradition of his Church, and has helped to make it—more than any other in the world—the Church of the peasant and the poor. If indeed the faith of that Church be realized, in that kingdom where they. that have riches shall hardly enter, where there shall be not many wise and not many prudent, and where men shall be judged, not for their lack of ten talents, but for their use of the one committed to their trust, M. le Curé's place may well be a high one. S. G. Tallentyre.

SOME RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN PLANT-GROWING.

There is an element of uncanniness about some of the recent developments in plant-growing. The honorable profession of gardening, coeval, we are led to believe, with man's own origin, is being lured down strange by-paths in these latter days, straying far from Nature's obvious course that has sufficed it for so many ages, and it is dif

ficult to see yet the precise bourne at which it will arrive. All through the centuries, till now, man has been content to rear his plant children out of Mother Earth, trusting to pure water and fresh sunshine to ensure their healthy development; the ordinary routine of day and night, and the natural course of the seasons, Summer

« PreviousContinue »