OUR LADY OF LOURDES
BY HENRI LASSERRE
To Read this story from the Actual Book
To Read this story from the Actual Book
ALTHOUGH the crowd was, as we have already stated, more particularly dense in the morning at the time of Bernadette’s arrival, it was not to be supposed that solitude reigned during the after part of the day at the Rocks of Massabielle. All the afternoon there was perpetual going to and fro on the road leading to the Grotto, which, from that time, was to be so celebrated. Every one examined it in all directions, many prayed in front of it, and some broke off fragments of it in order to keep them as pious souvenirs.
On that day, towards four o’clock, there were still five or six hundred persons, employed as above mentioned, on the banks of the Gave.
At the same moment, a heart-rending scene was passing round a cradle in a squalid house at Lourdes, in which resided Jean Beauhohorts, a day-laborer, and his wife Croisine Ducouts.
In the cradle there lay a child about two years old, who was sickly, and of a wretched constitution. He had never been able to walk, was constantly out of health, and, from his birth, had been wasted by slow fever of a consumptive nature, which nothing had succeeded in reducing. Not withstanding the skillful attention of a medical man of the place, M. Peyrus, the child was rapidly approaching his end. Death was spreading its livid hues on a countenance which had been reduced by protracted sufferings to a deplorable state of emaciation.
The Father and mother kept their eyes fixed on their dying child, the former, calm in his grief, while the latter seemed plunged in despair.
One of their neighbors, Franconnette Gozos was already busying herself in preparing a shroud for the poor chid’s burial, and, at the same time, using her best efforts to induce the mother to listen to some words of consolation.
The latter was crushed with grief, and anxiously watched the progress of the last agony of death. The child’s eyes had become glazed, his limbs were absolutely motionless, and his breathing was imperceptible.
“He is dead,” said the father.
“If he is not dead,” observed the neighbor, “he is on the point of death, my poor friend. Go and weep by the fire, while I, ere long, fold him up in his shroud.”
Croisine Ducouts, the mother of the child, did not appear to hear what was said to her. A sudden idea had just taken possession of her mind, and her tears ceased to flow.
“He is not dead!” she exclaimed; “and the Holy Virgin of the Grotto is going to effect his cure for me.”
“Grief has turned her head,” said Beauhohorts, sadly.
He and the neighbor endeavored in vain to disssuade the mother from her project. The latter had just taken the already motionless body of her child out of the cradle and wrapped it up in her apron.
“I will go at once to the Virgin!” she exclaimed making her way to the door.
“But my dear Croisine,” said her husband and Franconnette to her, “if our poor Justin is not quite dead, you are going to kill him outright.”
The mother, as if beside herself with grief, refused to listen to their expostulations.
“What matters it whether he dies here or at the Grotto! Allow me to implore the mercy of the Mother of God.”
Saying this she left the house, carrying the child in her arms.
As she had said, “she went at once to the Virgin.” She walked at a rapid pace, praying aloud, invoking Mary, and appearing to all who met her like an insane person.
It was about five o’clock in the evening, and there were some hundreds of persons before the Rocks of Massabielle.
The poor mother forced her way through the crowd, with her precious burden in her arms. At the entrance of the Grotto she prostrated herself and prayed, after which she dragged herself on her knees towards the miraculous Spring. Her face was burning, her eyes sparkling snd full of tears, and the state of disorder of her entire person proved the intensity of her grief.
She had reached the basin which had been dug by the quarry-men. The water was of an icy temperature.
“What is she going to do?” observed the spectators to themselves.
Croisine drew out of her apron the body of her dying child, which was in a state of complete nudity. She made the sign of the Cross on him and herself, and afterwards, without hesitation, and in a quick and determined manner, plunged the child up to his neck in the icy water of the Spring.
A cry of terror, and a murmur of indignation arose from the crowd.
“The woman is insane!” they exclaimed on all sides, pressing round her to hinder her putting her plan into execution.
“Would you kill your child?” said some one to her, rudely. It seemed as if she were deaf. She remained motionless as a statue,―the statue of Sorrow, Prayer, and Faith.
One of the by-standers touched her on the shoulder. The mother turned round on this, still keeping her child in the water of the Fountain.
“Let me alone, let me alone!” she exclaimed in a voice at once energetic and beseeching. “I wish to do all in my power,―God and the Blessed Virgin will do the rest.”
The complete immobility of the child and the cadaverous hues of his face, were remarked by several of those present.
“The child is already dead,” they said, “Let her alone; grief has turned the poor mother’s head.”
No; grief had not turned her head. It led her, on the contrary, into the path of the loftiest faith, of that absolute, unhesitating, undecaying faith which God has solemnly promised never to resist. The earthly mother felt within her, that she was addressing herself to the heart of that Mother who is in heaven. Thence arose her boundless confidence which neutralized the terrible reality of the dying body she held in her hands. Doubtless, she saw as plainly as the multitude around her, that ice-cold water, such as that in which she was plunging her child, was calculated, in ordinary circumstances infallibly to kill the little hapless being to whom she was so fondly attached, and suddenly to terminate his agony by the stroke of death. No matter! Her arm remained steady and her Faith was strong. For a whole quarter of an hour, before the astonished eyes of the multitude, in the midst of the cries, reproaches, and insults heaped upon her by the crowd of by-standers, she kept her child immersed in the mysterious water which had but lately gushed forth at a gesture from the all-powerful Mother of that God, who, for our sins, died and rose again.
What a sublime spectacle of Catholic faith! This woman precipitated her dying child into the most imminent of earthly dangers, to find in it, the name of the Virgin Mary, the cure which comes from heaven. Humanly speaking, she was urging him in the direction of death, in order to lead him supernaturally to life! Jesus commended the faith of the Centurion. Truly, that displayed by this poor mother strikes us as being still more worthy of admiration.
The Heart of God could not but be touched by an act of faith, at once so simple and so grand. Our Father, who is, at the same time, so invisible and so manifest, bent Himself, doubtless, at the same time as the Blessed Virgin, over so moving and religious a scene, and He blessed the Christian woman, who believed with all the fervor of primitive times.
The child had remained motionless as a corpse, during this long immersion. The mother wrapped him once more in her apron, and hastily returned home.
His body was cold as ice.
“You see now that he is dead,” said the father.
“No,” said Croisine, “he is not dead! The Blessed Virgin will effect his recovery.”
With these words the poor woman laid the child down in his cradle. He had scarcely been there a few moments, when the mother, having bent her ear attentively over him, suddenly exclaimed:
“He is breathing!”
Beauhohorts advanced rapidly and listened in his turn. Little Justin was certainly breathing. His eyes were closed, and he slept a calm and deep slumber.
The mother did not weep. During the evening and following night, she came every moment to listen to her child’s respiration, which became stronger and more regular, and she waited with anxiety for the moment of his awaking.
This took place at break of day.
The child’s emaciation had not disappeared, but there was some color in his cheeks, and his features wore an air of repose. The mild ray of life sparkled in his laughing eyes, which were turned towards his mother.
During his slumber, deep as that sent of yore by God upon Adam, the mysterious and omnipotent hand, from which every thing good emanates, had re-animated and strengthened―we dare not say resuscitated―his body, which, but a short time before was motionless and cold.
The child sought his mother’s breast and drew from it long draughts. Though he had never walked, he wished to leave his cradle and walk about the room. But Croisine, notwithstanding the courage and entire faith she had displayed the previous day, dared not trust too much in his recovery, and trembled at the thought of the danger he had escaped. She resisted the repeated solicitations of the child, and refused to remove him from the cradle.
Thus the day passed by. The child constantly demanded nourishment from his mother’s breasts. Night at length came, and was passed as calmly as the one preceding it. The father and mother left the house at day-break, in order to proceed to their daily toil, and their little Justin was still sleeping in his cradle.
When the mother opened the door on her return, she almost fainted at the sight presented to her view.
The cradle was empty. Justin had risen without any assistance from where his mother had laid him; he was on his legs going to and fro, touching the different articles of furniture, and disarranging the chairs. In short, the little paralyzed child was walking.
A mother’s heart alone can imagine the cry of joy emitted by Croisine at such a spectacle. She wished to rush forward, but could not, so great was her emotion. Her limbs trembled. Her sense of happiness seemed to deprive her of strength, and she supported herself against the door. A vague fear, however, in spite of herself, was mingled with her beaming happiness.
“Take care, you will fall down!” she cried out with anxiety.
He did not fall; his step was firm, and he ran and threw himself into the arms of his mother, who embraced him with tears in her eyes.
“He was cured from yesterday,” thought she to herself; “since he wished to leave his cradle and walk, and I, like an infidel, have hindered him, owing to my want of faith.”
“You now see that he was not dead, and that the Blessed Virgin has saved him,” she observed to her husband, on his return home.
Such were the words of this happy mother.
Franconnette Gozos, who had, only two nights since, been present at what was supposed to be poor Justin’s death-agony, and had arranged the shroud for his interment, happened to arrive at the same time, and could scarcely believe her eyes. She was never tired of gazing at the child, as if she wished to convince herself of his identity.
“It is certainly he!” she exclaimed. “It is certainly poor little Justin!”
They knelt down.
His mother joined the child’s hands to raise them towards heaven; and, all together, they offered thanksgivings to the Mother of Mercies.
His malady never returned. Justin grew rapidly and suffered from no relapse. Since that period, eleven years have elapsed. The writer of these pages determined to see him, not very long since. He is strong and in good health; only his mother grieves that he sometimes plays truant when sent to school, and reproaches him with gadding about more than he ought.
M. Peyrus, the medical man, who had attended the child, frankly allowed the impossibility of explaining this extraordinary occurrence according to the ordinary rules of medical science.
The Doctors Vergez and Dozons undertook, separately, an examination of this fact so highly interesting, both as regards Science and Truth, and, like M. Peyrus, they could but attribute it to the omnipotent agency of God. All united in establishing three circumstances which manifestly impressed on this cure a supernatural character,―the duration of the immersion,―its immediate effect―and the faculty of walking displayed as soon as the child had quitted his cradle.
The conclusions of M. Vergez’s report were unmistakable on this head.
“A bath of cold water for a quarter of an hour’s duration, in the month of February, inflicted on a child in the agony of death, must, in his opinion, and according to all the data, theoretical and experimental, of medical science, produce immediate death. For,” added the skillful physician, “if affusions of cold water, especially when applied repeatedly, may be of the utmost service in severe adynamic affections, their use is subject to certain rules which cannot be transgressed without exposing life to real danger. As a general rule, the duration of the application of cold water should not exceed a few minutes, because the depression occasioned by cold would destroy all power of reaction in the system.
“Now, the woman Ducouts, having plunged her child in the water of the Fountain, kept him in it for upwards of a quarter of an hour. She therefore sought the cure of her son by means absolutely condemned by experience and the rationale of medical science, and yet she did not on that account obtain it less immediately; for, a few moments later, he fell into a calm and deep sleep which lasted for about twelve hours. And in order that this fact should stand out in the clearest light, and that not the slightest incertitude should hover over the reality and instantaneousness of its production, the child, who had never walked, escaped from his cradle, and commenced walking about with the confidence which is usually only the result of practice, showing by this that this cure was effected without any intermediate state of convalescence, in a manner altogether “Supernatural.”