’By-the-bye, I forgot! that gadabout Vincent hasn’t come. Do you wish me to serve your mass, your reverence?’
The young priest eyed her sternly.
‘Well, it isn’t a sin,’ she continued, with her genial smile. ’I did serve a mass once, in Monsieur Caffin’s time. I serve it better, too, than ragamuffins who laugh like heathens at seeing a fly buzzing about the church. True I may wear a cap, I may be sixty years old, and as round as a tub, but I have more respect for our Lord than those imps of boys whom I caught only the other day playing at leap-frog behind the altar.’
The priest was still looking at her and shaking his head.
‘What a hole this village is!’ she grumbled. ’Not a hundred and fifty people in it! There are days, like to-day, when you wouldn’t find a living soul in Les Artaud. Even the babies in swaddling clothes are gone to the vineyards! And goodness knows what they do among such vines —vines that grow under the pebbles and look as dry as thistles! A perfect wilderness, three miles from any highway! Unless an angel comes down to serve your mass, your reverence, you’ve only got me to help you, on my honour! or one of Mademoiselle Desiree’s rabbits, no offence to your reverence!’
Just at that moment, however, Vincent, the Brichets’ younger son, gently opened the door of the sacristy. His shock of red hair and his little, glistening, grey eyes exasperated La Teuse.
‘Oh! the wretch!’ she cried. ’I’ll bet he’s just been up to some mischief! Come on, you scamp, since his reverence is afraid I might dirty our Lord!’
On seeing the lad, Abbe Mouret had taken up the amice. He kissed the cross embroidered in the centre of it, and for a second laid the cloth upon his head; then lowering it over the collar-band of his cassock, he crossed it and fastened the tapes, the right one over the left. He next donned the alb, the symbol of purity, beginning with the right sleeve. Vincent stooped and turned around him, adjusting the alb, in order that it should fall evenly all round him to a couple of inches from the ground. Then he presented the girdle to the priest, who fastened it tightly round his loins, as a reminder of the bonds wherewith the Saviour was bound in His Passion.
La Teuse remained standing there, feeling jealous and hurt and struggling to keep silence; but so great was the itching of her tongue, that she soon broke out once more: ’Brother Archangias has been here. He won’t have a single child at school to-day. He went off again like a whirlwind to pull the brats’ ears in the vineyards. You had better see him. I believe he has got something to say to you.’
Abbe Mouret silenced her with a wave of the hand. Then he repeated the usual prayers while he took the maniple—which he kissed before slipping it over his left forearm, as a symbol of the practice of good works—and while crossing on his breast the stole, the symbol of his dignity and power. La Teuse had to help Vincent in the work of adjusting the chasuble, which she fastened together with slender tapes, so that it might not slip off behind.