"THE Spirit of the LORD hath filled the world: and that which containeth all things hath knowledge of the voice." Of what voice? And I might give you a great many answers: but that of which I am now going to tell you is the voice of truth. You have heard, I dare say, that it has been often debated whether under any circumstance--as, for example, to save the life of an innocent man,--a lie was to be justified. The wife of Grotius contrived her husband's escape from prison in a large chest which was said to contain books; when the soldiers stopped her and asked her what could be in it to make it so heavy, and she answered, "You know what large works my husband is in the habit of using;" was she right or wrong?
We may leave all these questions to be decided by that Judge Who is not only more just, but more merciful than we are. But of this I am sure: that to speak the exact truth, whatever it may cost, is a higher action than to dissemble for the sake of gaining any good whatever. And now I am going to tell you a story which will show you how, even in this world, the exactest and most rigorous truth sometimes answers best.
You have heard of the first French Revolution: when it seemed as if the desperate wickedness of the human heart were all let loose at once. You know how, week after week, in the principal cities of France, the guillotine sent its one or two hundred daily to the judgment-seat of GOD; how every cruelty that heart can conceive was practised on defenceless women and children; but how, above all, search was made for those priests who, remaining firm to their king as well as to their Church, would not take the constitutional oath. Hundreds of them,--and there were Bishops among them,--died martyrs: hundreds more were thrown into prison and there perished by hunger or fever or neglect. Multitudes escaped into foreign countries, especially into England, and there lived on such a subsistence as they could gain from charity. One of the most distinguished priests in the centre of France was Monsieur Peillon, director of the seminary at Clermont. With one of his pupils he determined to escape into Spain. After a long and dangerous journey they reached Bayonne; and when they rode out of the little inn in its suburbs, and knew that there lay but thirty miles between themselves and the frontier, they began to breathe more freely. They had passed through the city, they hoped without exciting suspicion. They had passed the glorious cathedral, founded, they say, by our own Black Prince, but now desecrated to the worship of the devil, by the inscription in large staring letters on the western facade, Temple tie la raison. And now the noble chain of the Pyrenees, not more than forty miles off, raised itself up on the horizon, the three-headed summit of the Trois Couronnes rising above the rest. To their right, the blue waves of the Bay of Biscay came rolling in in all their majesty,--sometimes in the little cove around which the little fishing village is built, sometimes dashing against the bare, bleak promontory, scarred, seamed and scooped by their fury.
"One more night in France," said the Priest, as the autumn sun began almost to touch the western waves; "one more night in France, and then farewell to it, till GOD knows when."
"I had hoped that we should be over the frontier to-night," observed Adrian Pichon, for that was the name of his companion. "But after so many nights of danger, one more may well be endured."
"He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep," said the good Father. "It is a beautiful land, after all," he continued, turning round in the saddle,--and looking backwards along the road they had come. "Many and many an exile has travelled this way, who shall never re-travel it."
"GOD has provided some better things," said Adrian, "for us, my Father: or my mind greatly deceives me. But what? Shall we draw rein here? We shall hardly find accommodation in this little town."
"No," said Father Peillon. "I have an introduction to a landlord in the next village, who will take what care of us he may. This place is too well watched for emigrants, and too large in itself to make a stay here desirable."
As he spoke, they rode into the little seaport town of S. Jean de Luz, with its quaint gables, curious flat roofs, and projecting Swiss-like eaves; to the right of the narrow street an old, crazy octagonal turret projects into the curtailed space; before tower the Three Crowns,--the intense blue of the mountain contrasting with the red grey of the deserted building. Beyond this, a creek of the bay was rippling and glowing in the last western shafts of the setting sun; the nets, and craft, and tackle of the little town are there; then the travellers wind higher and higher along the western slopes of one of the mountain spurs; and now all before is a desolate heath.
"That must be our destination for to-night," said the Priest, pointing to a low dark church on the hill side; "that must be Urugni."
"Are you sure of your man?" inquired the younger traveller.
"Quite sure," replied the Father. "I have a letter to him from M.--------, at Le Puy. He is thoroughly to be depended on, and he will help us out of the country."
They turned off the main track, and presently stopped at a little country auberge, bearing the then not uncommon sign,--railroads have everywhere obliterated it for Hotel de la Station, and the like,--of La Reine Pedauque, "Queen Goose-foot." Giles Chantonnay was a little shy at first of the new comers; but the letter and a word or two from the Priest reassured him, and he promised supper with the least possible delay.
"Oh! you will have no difficulty about passports at the frontier. They are not very strict. At Bayonne they keep a much better look-out,--and I wonder that you passed so easily there,--for that is, in real point of fact, the frontier. To-morrow night, good Father, with GOD'S help, you will sleep as safely as ever you did in your life. But here is the best we have in the house--your ride must have given you an appetite; I will look to your horses."
Accordingly, our travellers did ample justice to the meal set before them; stewed kid, and fish from S. Jean de Luz. The landlord had returned, and was standing by the window. Twilight was deepening; but still the long rise from the little town along the heathy side of the Pyrennean spur was evidently visible.
"Why," he said in a minute or two, "what is this? It never can be, surely.--And yet I don't know what to say.--If it is, we are all lost together!"
"What is it?" inquired Father Peillon, rising and going to the window.
"Look yonder, Father,--no, there, down in the valley. What do you make out?"
"Soldiers on horseback, I should say, certainly," replied the Priest.
"They are the Blues, as sure as I am an honest man," cried Chantonnay.
"If they are likely to be seeking for us, we will leave your house," said the Priest. "At all events we will bring no trouble on one who has been kind to us."
"No--that you shall not," cried the honest host. "Parbleu! how fast they are galloping! You must hide as best you may. Under that bed. There is nothing upstairs that would conceal you. Quick! quick! Perhaps they may not be seeking you, after all--but I sadly sadly fear it. Ah! so; that's well! Pardon, Monsieur! Oh, Adrian! your foot is beyond the hangings. I will leave the supper as it is, and tell them, if they ask for you, that two such as you had been here, but that you left before twilight, and that you must be already between the frontiers."
"Yes! yes! that will do very well," cried Adrian.
"No, it will NOT do," said Father Peillon, looking out from under the bed. "Listen, mon ami. If they do not oblige you to speak, say nothing; but if they do, tell the exact truth, and say that we are under this bed. If you say anything else, I will come out at once and give myself up."
And now the galloping of the horses was heard close at hand. They drew rein before the auberge door; and out of the twelve who composed the party, the sergeant and one or two others leapt to the ground and strode into the cottage.
"Hollo! citoyen!" cried the former. "You have an insermente Priest here. Where is he?"
"If you won't reply it will be short work," said the sergeant. "A file of muskets--and, you know the rest."
Still no answer; but poor Chantonnay turned dreadfully pale.
"You will have it,--will you?" thundered the sergeant. "Come, tell me--they are here--you cannot deny it; why, there is the very supper upon the table to prove it."
What between the threat of the sergeant and Father Peillon's declaration, the poor landlord was utterly bewildered.
"They are here," he said at length.
"Oh, they arc, are they?" cried the sergeant. "And pray whereabouts?"
"Under that bed," said Chantonnay.
"Do you take me for a fool?" said the sergeant angrily. "Some of you search upstairs, and some look into the outhouses."
Nothing was to be found upstairs; but the horses in the stable told their own tale.
"They must have left them behind--they are the two that I saw at Bayonne,--and gone on on foot. Mount, my men, we shall catch them before the frontier. And as for you, citoyen, I have a good mind to have you shot for telling me so impudent a lie about the bed."
"Better look under it, sergeant," said one of the soldiers who had not yet mounted.
"Look under it! nonsense! And give the rogue the pleasure of laughing at us. No, no; mount at once."
They rode off on the southern road.
"Now, my friend," said the good Priest, as five minutes later he emerged from the hiding-place, "let that be a lesson to you that GOD can work His own purposes without a falsehood on your part."
"So it shall, Father," answered the landlord. "But they will be back in an hour. Let me show you the path across the hill; and you shall cross the river as soon as it gets dark by the Isle of Pheasants."