"These ugly things are too heavy for your little hands," he said,
taking up the marble candlesticks which were partly covered with
He weighed them in his hand; then he looked at the almanac and took
it, saying, "This is ugly too. Why do you keep such a common thing in
your pretty room?"
"Oh, please let me have it, godfather."
"No, no, you shall have another to-morrow."
So saying he carried off this possible proof, shut himself up in his
study, looked for Saint Savinien and found, as the somnambulist had
told him, a little red dot at the 19th of October; he also saw another
before his own saint's day, Saint Denis, and a third before Saint
John, the abbe's patron. This little dot, no larger than a pin's head,
had been seen by the sleeping woman in spite of distance and other
obstacles! The old man thought till evening of these events, more
momentous for him than for others. He was forced to yield to evidence.
A strong wall, as it were, crumbled within him; for his life had
rested on two bases,--indifference in matters of religion and a firm
disbelief in magnetism. When it was proved to him that the senses--
faculties purely physical, organs, the effects of which could be
explained--attained to some of the attributes of the infinite,
magnetism upset, or at least it seemed to him to upset, the powerful
arguments of Spinoza. The finite and the infinite, two incompatible
elements according to that remarkable man, were here united, the one
in the other. No matter what power he gave to the divisibility and
mobility of matter he could not help recognizing that it possessed
qualities that were almost divine.
He was too old now to connect those phenomena to a system, and compare
them with those of sleep, of vision, of light. His whole scientific
belief, based on the assertions of the school of Locke and Condillac,
was in ruins. Seeing his hollow ideas in pieces, his scepticism
staggered. Thus the advantage in this struggle between the Catholic
child and the Voltairean old man was on Ursula's side. In the
dismantled fortress, above these ruins, shone a light; from the center
of these ashes issued the path of prayer! Nevertheless, the obstinate
old scientist fought his doubts. Though struck to the heart, he would
not decide, he struggled on against God.
But he was no longer the same man; his mind showed its vacillation. He
became unnaturally dreamy; he read Pascal, and Bossuet's sublime
"History of Species"; he read Bonald, he read Saint-Augustine; he
determined also to read the works of Swedenborg, and the late Saint-
Martin, which the mysterious stranger had mentioned to him. The
edifice within him was cracking on all sides; it needed but one more
shake, and then, his heart being ripe for God, he was destined to fall
into the celestial vineyard as fall the fruits. Often of an evening,
when playing with the abbe, his goddaughter sitting by, he would put
questions bearing on his opinions which seemed singular to the priest,
who was ignorant of the inward workings by which God was remaking that
"Do you believe in apparitions?" asked the sceptic of the pastor,
stopping short in the game.
"Cardan, a great philosopher of the sixteenth century said he had seen
some," replied the abbe.
"I know all those that scholars have discussed, for I have just reread
Plotinus. I am questioning you as a Catholic might, and I ask if you
think that dead men can return to the living."
"Jesus reappeared to his disciples after his death," said the abbe.
"The Church ought to have faith in the apparitions of the Savior. As
for miracles, they are not lacking," he continued, smiling. "Shall I
tell you the last? It took place in the eighteenth century."
"Pooh!" said the doctor.
"Yes, the blessed Marie-Alphonse of Ligouri, being very far from Rome,
knew of the death of the Pope at the very moment the Holy Father
expired; there were numerous witnesses of this miracle. The sainted
bishop being in ecstasy, heard the last words of the sovereign pontiff
and repeated them at the time to those about him. The courier who
brought the announcement of the death did not arrive till thirty hours
"Jesuit!" exclaimed old Minoret, laughing, "I did not ask you for
proofs; I asked you if you believed in apparitions."
"I think an apparition depends a good deal on who sees it," said the
abbe, still fencing with his sceptic.
"My friend," said the doctor, seriously, "I am not setting a trap for
you. What do you really believe about it?"
"I believe that the power of God is infinite," replied the abbe.
"When I am dead, if I am reconciled to God, I will ask Him to let me
appear to you," said the doctor, smiling.
"That's exactly the agreement Cardan made with his friend," answered
"Ursula," said Minoret, "if danger ever threatens you, call me, and I
"You have put into one sentence that beautiful elegy of 'Neere' by
Andre Chenier," said the abbe. "Poets are sublime because they clothe
both facts and feelings with ever-living images."
"Why do you speak of your death, dear godfather?" said Ursula in a
grieved tone. "We Christians do not die; the grave is the cradle of
"Well," said the doctor, smiling, "we must go out of the world, and
when I am no longer here you will be astonished at your fortune."
"When you are here no longer, my kind friend, my only consolation will
be to consecrate my life to you."
"To me, dead?"
"Yes. All the good works that I can do will be done in your name to
redeem your sins. I will pray God every day for his infinite mercy,
that he may not punish eternally the errors of a day. I know he will
summon among the righteous a soul so pure, so beautiful, as yours."
That answer, said with angelic candor, in a tone of absolute
certainty, confounded error and converted Denis Minoret as God
converted Saul. A ray of inward light overawed him; the knowledge of
this tenderness, covering his years to come, brought tears to his
eyes. This sudden effect of grace had something that seemed electrical
about it. The abbe clasped his hands and rose, troubled, from his
seat. The girl, astonished at her triumph, wept. The old man stood up
as if a voice had called him, looking into space as though his eyes
beheld the dawn; then he bent his knee upon his chair, clasped his
hands, and lowered his eyes to the ground as one humiliated.
"My God," he said in a trembling voice, raising his head, "if any one
can obtain my pardon and lead me to thee, surely it is this spotless
creature. Have mercy on the repentant old age that this pure child
presents to thee!"
He lifted his soul to God; mentally praying for the light of divine
knowledge after the gift of divine grace; then he turned to the abbe
and held out his hand.
"My dear pastor," he said, "I am become as a little child. I belong to
you; I give my soul to your care."
Ursula kissed his hands and bathed them with her tears. The old man
took her on his knee and called her gayly his godmother. The abbe,
deeply moved, recited the "Veni Creator" in a species of religious
ecstasy. The hymn served as the evening prayer of the three Christians
kneeling together for the first time.
"What has happened?" asked La Bougival, amazed at the sight.
"My godfather believes in God at last!" replied Ursula.
"Ah! so much the better; he only needed that to make him perfect,"
cried the old woman, crossing herself with artless gravity.
"Dear doctor," said the good priest, "you will soon comprehend the
grandeur of religion and the value of its practices; you will find its
philosophy in human aspects far higher than that of the boldest
The abbe, who showed a joy that was almost infantine, agreed to
catechize the old man and confer with him twice a week. Thus the
conversion attributed to Ursula and to a spirit of sordid calculation,
was the spontaneous act of the doctor himself. The abbe, who for
fourteen years had abstained from touching the wounds of that heart,
though all the while deploring them, was now asked for help, as a
surgeon is called to an injured man. Ever since this scene Ursula's
evening prayers had been said in common with her godfather. Day after
day the old man grew more conscious of the peace within him that
succeeded all his conflicts. Having, as he said, God as the
responsible editor of things inexplicable, his mind was at ease. His
dear child told him that he might know by how far he had advanced
already in God's kingdom. During the mass which we have seen him
attend, he had read the prayers and applied his own intelligence to
them; from the first, he had risen to the divine idea of the communion
of the faithful. The old neophyte understood the eternal symbol
attached to that sacred nourishment, which faith renders needful to
the soul after conveying to it her own profound and radiant essence.
When on leaving the church he had seemed in a hurry to get home, it
was merely that he might once more thank his dear child for having led
him to "enter religion,"--the beautiful expression of former days. He
was holding her on his knee in the salon and kissing her forehead
sacredly at the very moment when his relatives were degrading that
saintly influence with their shameless fears, and casting their vulgar
insults upon Ursula. His haste to return home, his assumed disdain for
their company, his sharp replies as he left the church were naturally
attributed by all the heirs to the hatred Ursula had excited against
them in the old man's mind.