“Well, then, science has fixed certain periods in all these various matters which simply cannot be lessened beyond a certain point. And miracle does not begin—authorized miracle, I mean—unless these periods are markedly shortened. Mere mental cures, therefore, do not come under the range of authorized miracle at all—though, of course, in many cases where there has been little or no suggestion, or where the temperament is not receptive, practically speaking, the miraculous element is most probably present. In the second class—organic nervous diseases—no miracle is proclaimed unless the cure is instantaneous, or very nearly so. In the third class, again, no miracle is proclaimed unless the cure is either instantaneous, or the period of it very considerably shortened beyond all known examples of natural cure by suggestion.”
“And you mean to say that such cures are frequent?”
The old priest smiled.
“Why, of course. There is an accumulation of evidence from the past hundred years which——”
“Oh yes; there’s the case of Pierre de Rudder, at Oostacker, in the nineteenth century. That’s the first of the series—the first, I mean, that has been scientifically examined. It’s in all the old books.”
“What was the matter with him?”
“Leg broken below the knee for eight years.”
“And how long did the cure take?”
There was silence again.
Monsignor was staring out and downwards at the flitting meadow-land far below. A flock of white birds moved across the darkening grey, like flying specks seen in the eye, yet it seemed with extraordinary slowness and deliberation, so great was the distance at which they flew. He sighed.
“You can examine the records,” said the priest presently; “and, better than that, you can examine some of the cases for yourself, and the certificates. They follow still the old system which Dr. Boissarie began nearly a century ago.”
“What about Zola?” demanded Monsignor abruptly.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Zola, the great French writer. I thought he had . . . had advanced some very sharp criticisms of Lourdes.”
“Er—when did he live?”
“Why, not long ago; nineteenth century, at the end.”
Father Jervis shook his head, smiling.
“I’ve never heard of him,” he said, “and I thought I knew Lourdes literature pretty well. I’ll enquire.”
“Look,” said the prelate suddenly; “what’s that place we’re coming to?”
He nodded forward with his head to where vast white lines and patches began to be visible on the lower slopes and at the foot of long spurs that had suddenly come into sight against the sunset.
“Why, that’s Lourdes.”
As the two priests came out next morning from the west doors of the tall church where they had said their masses, Monsignor stopped.