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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Father Le Blanc Makes a Call; and Preaches a Sermon
By Arthur Sherburne Hardy (1847–1930)
 
From ‘But Yet a Woman’

FATHER LE BLANC had a profound belief in human agencies. He loved to play the ministering angel, for his heart was a well of sympathy. There was even a latent chiding of Providence at the bottom of this well sometimes, when the sight of the poor and the suffering stirred its depths with pity for those lonely wayfarers who, neglected by this world, seem forgotten also of God. This was but one of those many themes which this mind, at once simple, honest, and profound, turned over and over reflectively, never seeing its one aspect except as on the way to the other. “The difficulty does not lie in believing the truths of the Church,” he once said, “but in those other things which we must believe also.” Or again, “Belief is an edifice never completed, because we do not yet comprehend its plan, and every day some workman brings a new stone from the quarry.” So that while Father Le Blanc was very devout, he was not a devotee. He flavored his religious belief with the salt of a good sense against which he endeavored to be on his guard, as he was even against his charity and compassion. The vision of Milton’s fallen Spirit, beating its wings vainly in a non-resisting air, drew from his heart a profound sigh.  1
  His thoughts turned very naturally to Stéphanie and her journey that day, for he was on the way to secure the nineteenth volume of the ‘Viaje de España’ of Pontz, for which he had been long on the search, and which awaited him at last on the Quai Voltaire. Those old books which filled the shelves of his room in the Rue Tiquetonne had left his purse a light one. “But,” said Father Le Blanc, “I am not poor, since I have what I want.”  2
  After possessing himself of his coveted book, he took up his way along the quai, with his treasure under his arm. “I have a mind to call on her,” he said, still thinking of Stéphanie. “The art of knowing when one is needed is more difficult than that of helping;” and he paused on the curbstone to watch a company of the line coming from the caserne of the Cité. A carriage, arrested a moment by the passage of the troops, approached the spot where he was standing, and he recognized M. De Marzac. The priest was evidently sauntering, and M. De Marzac called to his driver to stop.  3
  “I see you are out for a promenade,” he said. “Accept this seat beside me, and take a turn with me in the Bois.”  4
  Father Le Blanc was not in his second childhood, for he had not yet outgrown his first; consequently the temptation was a strong one. But M. De Marzac was no favorite of his, and not even the fine day nor this opportunity to enjoy it could counterbalance M. De Marzac’s company. Dislike at first sight is more common than love, as discord is more common than harmony. So he excused himself as about to make a visit. “Well, then, that decides it,” he said to himself, as he trudged down the quai with the gait of a man with an object in view. “Now I must go.”  5
  At the door of the hôtel in the Boulevard St. Germain he stopped a moment before entering, and took a deep inspiration. To tell the truth, the day was so fine he regretted going in-doors. “I feel that I have a pair of lungs,” he said, as he rang the porter’s bell.  6
  Stéphanie was not expecting a visit from Father Le Blanc, yet was glad to see him. She was in that period which lies after decision and before action, when, having made all her preparations for an early start in the express of the next morning, there was nothing to be done but sit down and wait for the hour of departure.  7
  “The air is so pure that I feared to find you were out. And you go to-morrow!”  8
  “Yes,” Stéphanie said, “Si Dios quiere, as the Spaniards say.”  9
  “But I shall be there before you. I leave this evening.”  10
  “This evening!”  11
  “And without fatigue,” said the priest mysteriously, drawing his volume from under his arm. “It is my nineteenth journey.”  12
  “You have been to Spain?” said Stéphanie, taking the book, but still perplexed.  13
  “Oh, never! except in those leaves which you are turning; and for two reasons,” he added laughingly: “the guide-books tell us that there are in Spain priests by the thousand, but not a single cook! Still, you perceive that I am about to follow you, and—who knows!—shall perhaps lodge at the same inn. That is a country in which nothing becomes obsolete, and I have no doubt but that if you inquire for it, they will show you in Toboso the very fonda at which Don Quixote dismounted.”  14
  Stéphanie thought she heard in this pleasantry something more than was said. Certainly Father Le Blanc had not even whispered, “Though you are going away, my child, I shall follow you in my thoughts and in my prayers;” and yet that is what she heard. Some of his most commonplace sentences were so many half-hidden channels, such as the brooks make under the grass of the meadows, into which overflowed the currents of his sympathy and kindliness. In spite of a strong natural reserve, an invincible trust in this homely face crowned with white hairs mastered her.  15
  “You are very good to think of me, father,” she said, in a voice so full that it brought straight from his heart the message he had come to deliver.  16
  “All who suffer are my children; and you suffer—and that grieves me. The Master who took upon himself the sorrows of the world, bade his followers imitate him. Why will you not lean a little upon me, daughter? I am an old man who has traveled the path before you.”  17
  She turned her eyes upon him, and they said, “I do not speak; but read, and comfort me.”  18
  “Sorrow is a very real thing,” he continued in a voice full of sweetness and authority. “It is neither a morbid nor an unhealthy state. When it seems deepest,—when after the world has failed us, self also proves insufficient,—it may even be a blessed one. I do not chide, I even agree with you. But I wish you also to agree with me. Be our life wide or narrow, whether we live humbly or sit on a throne, whether we dwell in our own thoughts, in the midst of action or in the search of pleasure, we come to the verdict of the Hebrew king,—that verdict which I read in your face and which broods over your life. All is emptiness and vanity! It is not the range but the depth of our experience which convinces us, and from the first we apprehend this truth dimly. We own this sad statue of Sorrow in the block from the outset, before experience chisels it out for us; and in our first search for happiness, when we look on the splendors of the young world for what they do not contain, it is this intimation of what they cannot yield, and the capacity of our own natures, which both allure and deceive us.”  19
  She seemed to be listening to the story of her own life.  20
  “And as we live on, this conviction deepens. The voices without echo and reinforce those within. We are ever looking to something better than we have or are, and whether we attain it or lose it, there is no rest for our feet. It is the man who is fooled and deluded that is to be pitied. He who finds life and self sufficient is either a monster or a caricature. Do you not see that I do not argue with your tears? But do not think to dry them in Spain, my child. Sorrow is the handmaid of God, not of Satan. She would lead us, as she did the Psalmist, to say, ‘Who will show us any good?’ that after having said this, we may also say with him, ‘Lord, lift thou the light of thy countenance upon us.’”  21
  “All else is a broken cistern,” said Father Le Blanc, taking up his thoughts after a pause. “See how time deceives us! He covers the sore, he even heals the wound, but he gives no immunity from a fresh one.” Stéphanie’s eyes fell. “God only renders us superior to calamity. Honestly,” said he, lifting his hands as if he appealed to his own conscience, “priest of God though I am, in understanding I am as a child. I cannot explain—I testify. I witness to you this mystery, that out of the very hurt which brings me low, the spiritual life is developed. And,” he added, as he would the benediction to a discourse at St. Eustache, “blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are they which mourn, blessed are they which hunger and thirst, for these are they which shall be filled; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  22
  How much soever of gratefulness she felt for these words, she could not answer them. Had he held her hand, her answer would have been a pressure. But Father Le Blanc was not hurt by her silence. Though words bubbled easily over his lips, none better knew the difficulty of sometimes saying, “Thank you.” He sat quietly, smoothing the wrinkles of his soutane over his broad knee, with his eyes on the floor.  23
  “When you return,” he said at last, looking up, “I shall ask you all the questions which are not answered in my nineteen volumes. Think of it, at my age! never to have seen the sea. Yet I have lain stretched out on its yellow sands in the sun, listening to the music of its blue waves—in the Rue Tiquetonne! And when I go to my window at night, it is to stand on the summit of some high cliff, and the roar of the city is that of the sea at its base. Chained as we are to our little patrimony in the Rue Tiquetonne, the imagination is a free rover in space and time. I wager you are surprised to hear an old man talk of imagination,” he said, taking her share of the conversation, and putting in her mouth the replies which he wished to answer,—“imagination, which is supposed to belong only to youth. I say, rather, youth belongs to imagination, which is then a wild Barbary colt, and carries one wherever it wills; but at my age it has become domesticated, and it is on its back that I have ridden, as did Sancho on that of his patient donkey, over all the byways of Spain. And when you see some worthy colleague of mine on his ass, plodding before you with a shovel hat on his head a metre in length, you will say to yourself, ‘There is my friend ahead of me.’”  24
  Her hands crossed on her knees, plunged in a delicious revery which this voice penetrated without disturbing, Stéphanie raised her eyes to his face and smiled.  25
  He took his book from the table where she had laid it, and put it under his arm again. He had dropped his few seeds of comfort, and was ready to permit God to water them. So he sought an excuse to go.  26
  “I am like a schoolboy,” he said, tapping the volume, “with a new copy-book, who cannot rest till he has written something on the first page. What a good friend this book will be! I count upon him in advance;” and his eyes spoke to hers; “he will not speak unless I question him; we shall perchance differ profoundly, but he will not reproach me; I shall rifle his pockets and put him aside at my pleasure, yet he will not feel neglected. I shall invite him to-night to a tête-à-tête before my fire, and fall asleep while he is doing his best to entertain me; but when I awake, his countenance will be unruffled. Doubtless because all the while he is aware that I still prize him. What strange things we do to those whom we love! Absolutely, madame,” said Father Le Blanc, rising, and with a self-accusing gesture, “I am an inveterate sermonizer, and I have not given you even the opportunity to interrupt me.”  27
  Stéphanie followed him to the door of the room, and at the threshold put her hand softly upon his arm.  28
  “Thanks, father, for this visit,” she said. Her voice was low; it was all she said, but her look and that gesture were more eloquent than words.  29
  “I say to you as they will say to you in Spain,” replied Father Le Blanc, “go your way with God, my daughter.”  30
  When he had gone she went to the window and watched him as he crossed the court-yard, following him out through the gates, where he stopped to say something to the porter, who touched his hat to him. She seated herself there in the wide-open window which projected over the area, as did its counterpart at the other end of the room over the garden in the rear. Flanked by two long and narrow projections, this court-yard with its large paving-blocks of stone was not very inviting in its aspect. It was in the other window, overhanging the garden, whose casement the trees brushed, over which the vines swayed with the wind, that she loved to sit. But her thoughts were far away.  31
  It was still early in the afternoon, but the sun went slowly down behind the tall roofs of the neighboring houses before she rose to do what greatly surprised Lizette, who thought madame altogether too much of a saint for a woman who neglected mass and confession. When madame was dressed, and Lizette had taken her place beside her in the carriage, she wondered at the route taken by the coachman, whose instructions she had not overheard. She supposed they were going to the Bois or the Parc Monceau. And still greater was her surprise when she found herself a little later in St. Eustache, placing a chair for madame at the vesper service.  32
  It was nearly over. Father Le Blanc himself in the pulpit was finishing his exhortation…. The words of the preacher gathered force from the immense space in which they were uttered; from those dim, aspiring vaults into which they were gathered, and where they died away without a confusing murmur.  33
  Break your theological rocks, O ritual-hating brother, on the King’s highway, and worship him after your own fashion. For every wayfaring heart overfed upon these symbols, you shall show us one starved on your formulæ. Not only for thy weaker brother, to whom God has not given the brains of the doctors in the Temple, shall these vaults of stone be the very arches of heaven; not only for thy frailer sister, in the keeping of whose warm heart God has placed the sacred things of this life, shall the incense of this swinging censer be the very fragrance of celestial fields; but unto many of thine own dignity also shall this star above the altar be the very star of Bethlehem….  34
  “My children,” Father Le Blanc was saying, “you put all your treasures into earthen vessels. Your aspirations, so noble, soar upward like the branches of the tree, but your roots are in the earth, that you must certainly leave. All your faith which will not take denial; all your hopes which will not be gainsaid; all your wide-embracing affections, you place in humanity,—in a few frail hearts which cannot meet the infinity of your need and of your desire. And all these things which must fail you and pass away, which you have perchance already gauged and found wanting,—why will you put them in the place of heaven, to which you go to live forever; in the place of God, whose love knows no variableness nor shadow of turning? It is not I who undervalue them; it is you who overestimate them. Measure them rightly, and I shall no longer be to you a prophet of woe or a sorrowful comforter. Love them without sacrificing yourself to them. Make them the rivers that water your life, and also the rivers that bear you to the infinite sea into which they shall be merged. Then shall this life cease to be for you a vale of tears walled about with tombs, and become the pathway to your abiding country. Its beauties shall not satiate, if you see behind them the world of spiritual beauty. What will it matter to you that its fetters chafe, that the soul discovers it is imprisoned, when that end, in which every beauty of flesh and color is engulfed, is not an end but a beginning? ‘Verily, verily, I say unto you, whoso loseth his life for My sake shall find it!’”  35
  “For My sake,” thought Stéphanie.  36
  And Father Le Blanc, who had not seen this listener,—who, having sown the seed, had left it humbly to God,—was thus himself permitted to water it.  37
 
 
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