There are few problems more profound than that of the courage with which men like him continue their self-imposed penal-servitude until they become too infirm to work and are sent to die in some refuge for aged freres. They have accepted celibacy and poverty, that they may the better devote their lives to the instruction of children. They have no sacerdotal state or ideal, no ecclesiastical nor social ambition to help them. They must be always humble; they must not even be learned, for much knowledge in their case would be considered a dangerous thing. Their minds must not rise above their work. They guide dirty little fists in the formation of pot-hooks, and when they have led the boys’ intelligence up a few more steps of scholarship the end is achieved. The boy goes out into the world and refreshes his mind with new occupation; but the poor Brother remains chained to his dreary task, which is always the same and is never done.
And what are the wages in return for such a life? Food that many a workman would consider insufficiently generous for his condition, a bed to lie upon and clothes which call down upon the wearer the sarcasms of the town-bred youth. What a land of contrast is France!
There are three Brothers here, but this one, the eldest, is the head. Others come and go, but he remains. Most of his spare time is given to the garden. When the eight o’clock bell begins to swing he will leave his lettuces and soon perch himself on the little platform behind his shabby old desk in the dingy schoolroom, which even in the holidays cannot get rid of its ancient redolence of boys. The school-house, now so much like a prison, was once a mansion, and the most modern part of it is of the period which we should call in England Tudor. A Gothic doorway leads into a hall arched and groined, the inner wall being the bare rock, as is the case with most of the houses at Roc-Amadour. A gutter cut in the stone floor to carry off the drippings formed by the condensation of the air upon the cold surface shows that these half-rock dwellings have their drawbacks.
I leave Roc-Amadour and take my way up the valley. Nature has now reached all that can be attained in vernal pride and beauty here. In a little while she will have put on the careworn look of the Southern summer. Many a plant now in splendid bloom, animated by the spirit of loveliness that presides over the law of reproduction, will soon be casting its seed and bringing its brief destiny to a close. Now all is coquetry, beauty, and ravishment. The rock-hiving bees, unconscious instruments of a great purpose, are yellow with pollen and laden with honey. They find more, infinitely more, nectar than they can carry away. The days are long, and every hour is full of joy. But already the tide is at the turn. The nightingale’s rapturous song has become a lazy twitter; the bird has done with courtship; it has a family in immediate prospect, if not one already screaming for food, and the musician has half lost his passion for music. It will come again next year. How swiftly all this life and colour of spring passes away! So much to be looked at and so little time!