was one person in Niger who believed that he had seen
a vision. It was old Pierre Moreau. He was a fisherman,
at least he spent most of his time in fishing, and lived
on the edge of a little marsh near the Blanche. He had
built his hut from slabs and untrimmed logs, and he
lived there utterly alone. He had come to the village
when he was already old, and because he had pulled two
fish out of the deep pool under the bridge he thought
he could not do better than stay for the summer. He
ended by staying altogether. He had grown so old that
in the winter he lived by charity as he could do no
work. No one paid much attention to him, no one thought
of his being sick; but one winter he lay in his hovel
and would have died if someone had not noticed the untrodden
snow piled around his cabin. It was then that he had
seen the vision. He was never tired of telling the story,
and once some boys who had stolen on him unnoticed heard
him repeating it to himself as if he was saying his
prayers. He would tell it to anyone who would listen,
as he leant against a pier of the bridge with his line
dangling in the water, or sat before his door smoking.
This is what he would say: “I’m old now,
but when I was young you couldn’t hold me, so
I ran off and did nothing but tramp round. But I got
tired, anyone would get tired, and I brought up here.
I never did any harm to anyone, but I never went to
church, and that is why the good God sent His angel
to save me. One winter I would have died. I could see
the snow getting higher and higher on my window, and
one night I expected to die. All of a sudden I was walking
in one of the places where I had lived, and the bells
were ringing. Crowds of people were going to church,
and I went to church; but then I saw the sea before
me; then it changed and I knew nothing. Soon I thought
I was back home, and my father was playing the fiddle
and keeping time with his foot. Then everything got
dark, and I thought I was going, when the place seemed
bright as day, and I looked up and saw one of the angels
of the good God bending over me. I thought I was dead
at first, but [Page 53] I saw that
I was in my own hut and the good angel of God made me
better, and I have never been sick since.” This
was the story as he at first told it, but he added a
clause afterwards which he raised his voice in delivering:
“You say that this one lived on the earth before
and that she is still here. I know that she is still
here, but she came first to me and she may stay, but
she is the good angel of God all the same.” This
good angel of God that came in a vision to old Pierre
Moreau was Sister Ste Colombe.
“Hush, child!” said
Madame LeBlanc to her granddaughter; “hush! here
comes Sister Ste Colombe.” “What makes her
“She sits up all night
with the sick.”
“Why do they call her
Sister Ste Colombe?”
“I don’t know; perhaps
it is because she is so quiet.”
“I know; old Pierre Moreau
told me; it is because she flew down from heaven like
“Well, who knows? God
“If I got sick would Sister
Ste Colombe come to nurse me?”
“If you had no one to
take care of you she would.”
“When I grow up I’d
like to be like Sister Ste Colombe.”
“Well, not everyone can
be good like her; but who knows?”
“But I’m better
“Yes, but Tertulien is
a very little boy.”
“Well, if he was to grow
up naughty, if I was as good as Sister Ste Colombe,
I could pray for him.”
“Perhaps it is so with
Sister Ste Colombe; who knows?”
The next afternoon the small
Tertulien Dorion rushed in to his mother. He had been
wandering away from home all the morning, and now came
in full of some marvel to soften the fact of his return.
“Come, look here; there’s
a man in our yard.”
“Mon dieu, the boy has
come back! Tertulien, where have you been?”
“And he’s lying
down,” said Tertulien, ignoring the question.
Sure enough, when his mother
went out to see, there was a man in the yard, and he
was lying on his back, with his hands over his eyes
to keep off the sun. He could not speak when she asked
him who he was, and for very pity she had her husband
carry him in and lay him on a rough mattress beside
the kitchen stove.
man was sick and wasted, and he looked as if he was
not far from death. Tertulien stopped running away,
and commenced to take a great interest in him. “Look,
here,” said he, “have you got a knife? I
know you [Page 54] haven’t, because
I’ve got it,” pulling it out of his pocket.
“You dropped it when you were coming in. Do you
want it back? Look here, did your mother ever whip you
for running off?” The man stirred under the coverlet.
sister tells on me sometimes; that little girl that
comes in here; did your sister ever tell on you?”
The man never answered; he brought his arms over his
chest and drew them tight. “I don’t mind
that,” said Tertulien. “How yellow you are,
and your face is full of holes. Why aren’t you
fat, like me? You’re just like old Pierre Moreau.
Perhaps Sister Ste Colombe might come and take care
of you if you haven’t been bad?”
child prattled on, the man watching him with dull eyes,
but never speaking. He had not opened his lips since
he came in. He kept his teeth clenched so that the muscles
of his jaws stood out under his skin. He lay propped
up by the back of a chair with a pillow for his head.
He never seemed to sleep.
Dorion sent for the curé, but the man hardly
looked at him. He would not answer the questions; the
grip of his hands and jaws only got a trifle tighter.
Father Campeau sat down beside him quietly, and stayed
for an hour; neither he nor the man spoke. The neighbours
came in by twos and threes to look and wonder at him.
The women were half frightened at his grimness and his
silence. Tertulien brought in all the neighbours’
children one by one and exhibited him to them. “See
his eyes,” said Tertulien; “this is his
knife, he gave it to me; you needn’t be afraid.
He can’t speak, but he’s a good old man.”
third day Tertulien was alone with him, when he raised
his arms, and waved them about in the air. Then they
dropped on the coverlet, his eyelids sank, he seemed
to sleep. His breathing was gentle and regular, his
eyes were not quite shut, his hands had relaxed by his
side. Tertulien crept close up to him; he had never
seen him asleep before, and he peered into his face.
The man commenced to talk, in his waking doze. He saw
Tertulien. “You are brave, go and see for yourself.
Anyone will show you the way. The house has a gable
and there is a dove-cote in the yard.”
was afraid to move; he was fascinated by the gleam through
the half-shut lids. “There is no need for so much
noise. Good-bye, we say, and we never come back.”
Then the eyes shut and the man slept. He slept soundly,
and when Tertulien came back he had slipped away from
the chair and pillow. He went and told his mother. She
stooped over the sleeper to raise him. His rough shirt
was open. She noticed a sort of little hollow on his
breast, chaffed and callous, where something must have
pressed; slipping out of sight down his side was a leather
cord. She raised him gently and smoothed the hair back
from his forehead. [Page 55]
night, when the sun had commenced to go down, the man
woke. Tertulien had just come in and was standing close
to him. He reached out his hand suddenly and caught
the little boy by the arm and drew him close. Then he
kissed him once firmly and let him go. Tertulien did
not move; he threw his arms about the man’s neck
and gave him a child’s kiss, full on the lips.
Then such a strange look stole across the worn face,
that Tertulien in fear ran for his mother.
“Mon Dieu,” she
said, “run, run for someone.” Tertulien
ran to the door and his mother hurried after him. “Run,
Tertulien; call Sister Ste Colombe.” She was coming
up the street with a bowl in her hands. The sunlight
had glorified everything about her; even the bowl that
she held was gilded. Her wan, transparent face shone
beneath her wimple. Sparrows fluttered across her path.
Tertulien, half-abashed, could only point to the door
where his mother stood, and Sister Ste Colombe hurried
on. Madame Dorion went back to prepare the man. She
found him with his head resting on the floor, and, with
a cry, she knelt behind him, raising his head and letting
it rest in the hollow of her hands. Sister Ste Colombe
was coming along the passage. She put down her bowl.
Tertulien was pulling at her dress. She reached the
door. She saw Madame Dorion holding up the half-dead
face. She tottered and sank down, holding her hands
to her side. One sharp pang seemed to cross her face,
her lips moved. Tertulien, who was lingering at the
door, heard some half-articulated name, and the look
of pain was transfigured to a smile of ineffable peace.
“Jesu, pity us,”
cried Madame Dorion, but added softly, as she dropped
her eyes to the head in her hands, and caught the light
that shone from the face, “Hush, hush; he has
Outside the last light lingered
in the sky. The vesper bell rang softly from St. Joseph’s.
The disturbed swallows, eddying far into the glow, swept
round the steeple, their sharp twitterings seeming to
fall from each bell stroke like a shower of sparks from
a whirling torch; until the ringing ceased and they
slipped one by one into their vibrating nests. Then
the drowsy hum of the bell faded off, with the waning
light, leaving the night voiceless and dim.
And Sister Ste Colombe?
She was in very truth a good
angel of God.