M. MADELEINE IN MOURNING
At the beginning of 1820 the newspapers announced the death
of M. Myriel, Bishop of D----, surnamed "Monseigneur Bienvenu,"
who had died in the odor of sanctity at the age of eighty-two.
The Bishop of D---- --to supply here a detail which the papers omitted--
had been blind for many years before his death, and content to be blind,
as his sister was beside him.
Let us remark by the way, that to be blind and to be loved, is,
in fact, one of the most strangely exquisite forms of happiness
upon this earth, where nothing is complete. To have continually at
one's side a woman, a daughter, a sister, a charming being, who is
there because you need her and because she cannot do without you;
to know that we are indispensable to a person who is necessary to us;
to be able to incessantly measure one's affection by the amount
of her presence which she bestows on us, and to say to ourselves,
"Since she consecrates the whole of her time to me, it is because I
possess the whole of her heart"; to behold her thought in lieu
of her face; to be able to verify the fidelity of one being amid
the eclipse of the world; to regard the rustle of a gown as the sound
of wings; to hear her come and go, retire, speak, return, sing,
and to think that one is the centre of these steps, of this speech;
to manifest at each instant one's personal attraction; to feel
one's self all the more powerful because of one's infirmity;
to become in one's obscurity, and through one's obscurity, the star
around which this angel gravitates,--few felicities equal this.
The supreme happiness of life consists in the conviction that one
is loved; loved for one's own sake--let us say rather, loved in
spite of one's self; this conviction the blind man possesses.
To be served in distress is to be caressed. Does he lack anything?
No. One does not lose the sight when one has love. And what love!
A love wholly constituted of virtue! There is no blindness where
there is certainty. Soul seeks soul, gropingly, and finds it.
And this soul, found and tested, is a woman. A hand sustains you;
it is hers: a mouth lightly touches your brow; it is her mouth:
you hear a breath very near you; it is hers. To have everything
of her, from her worship to her pity, never to be left, to have
that sweet weakness aiding you, to lean upon that immovable reed,
to touch Providence with one's hands, and to be able to take
it in one's arms,--God made tangible,--what bliss! The heart,
that obscure, celestial flower, undergoes a mysterious blossoming.
One would not exchange that shadow for all brightness!
The angel soul is there, uninterruptedly there; if she departs,
it is but to return again; she vanishes like a dream, and reappears
like reality. One feels warmth approaching, and behold! she is there.
One overflows with serenity, with gayety, with ecstasy; one is a
radiance amid the night. And there are a thousand little cares.
Nothings, which are enormous in that void. The most ineffable
accents of the feminine voice employed to lull you, and supplying
the vanished universe to you. One is caressed with the soul.
One sees nothing, but one feels that one is adored. It is a paradise
It was from this paradise that Monseigneur Welcome had passed
to the other.
The announcement of his death was reprinted by the local journal
of M. sur M. On the following day, M. Madeleine appeared clad
wholly in black, and with crape on his hat.
This mourning was noticed in the town, and commented on. It seemed
to throw a light on M. Madeleine's origin. It was concluded that some
relationship existed between him and the venerable Bishop. "He has
gone into mourning for the Bishop of D----" said the drawing-rooms;
this raised M. Madeleine's credit greatly, and procured for him,
instantly and at one blow, a certain consideration in the noble
world of M. sur M. The microscopic Faubourg Saint-Germain of the
place meditated raising the quarantine against M. Madeleine,
the probable relative of a bishop. M. Madeleine perceived the
advancement which he had obtained, by the more numerous courtesies
of the old women and the more plentiful smiles of the young ones.
One evening, a ruler in that petty great world, who was curious
by right of seniority, ventured to ask him, "M. le Maire is doubtless
a cousin of the late Bishop of D----?"
He said, "No, Madame."
"But," resumed the dowager, "you are wearing mourning for him."
He replied, "It is because I was a servant in his family in my youth."
Another thing which was remarked, was, that every time that he
encountered in the town a young Savoyard who was roaming about the
country and seeking chimneys to sweep, the mayor had him summoned,
inquired his name, and gave him money. The little Savoyards told
each other about it: a great many of them passed that way.