“Promise to go back to the army and fight as well as you can.”
“Alas! that is what I cannot do. My mind is shaken to pieces. Whither shall I turn? I can decide nothing. I am broken. I repent of my great sin. Father, for the love of God, speak the word of absolution.”
Pierre lay on his face, motionless, his arms stretched out. The priest rose and went to the spring. He scooped up a few drops in the hollow of his hand. He sprinkled it like holy water upon the soldier’s head. A couple of tears fell with it.
“God have pity on you, my son, and bring you back to yourself. The word of absolution is not for me to speak while you think of forsaking France. Put that thought away from you, do penance for it, and you will be absolved from your great sin.”
Pierre turned over and lay looking up at the priest’s face and at the blue sky with white clouds drifting across it. He sighed. “Ah, if that could only be! But I have not the strength. It is impossible.”
“All things are possible to him that believeth. Strength will come. Perhaps Jeanne d’Arc herself will help you.”
“She would never speak to a man like me. She is a great saint, very high in heaven.”
“She was a farmer’s lass, a peasant like yourself. She would speak to you, gladly and kindly, if you saw her, and in your own language, too. Trust her.”
“But I do not know enough about her.”
“Listen, Pierre. I have thought for you. I will appoint the first part of your penance. You shall take the risk of being recognized and caught. You shall go down to that village there and visit the places that belong to her—her basilica, her house, her church. Then you shall come back here and wait until you know—until you surely know what you must do. Will you promise this?”
Pierre had risen and looked up at the priest with tear-stained face. But his eyes were quieter. “Yes, Father, I can promise you this much faithfully.”
“Now I must go my way. Farewell, my son. Peace in war be with you.” He held out his hand.
Pierre took it reverently. “And with you, Father,” he murmured.
The Absolving Dream
Antoine Courcy was one of those who are fitted and trained by nature for the cure of souls. If you had spoken to him of psychiatry he would not have understood you. The long word would have been Greek to him. But the thing itself he knew well. The preliminary penance which he laid upon Pierre Duval was remedial. It belonged to the true healing art, which works first in the spirit.
When the broken soldier went down the hill, in the blaze of the mid-morning sunlight, towards Domremey, there was much misgiving and confusion in his thoughts. He did not comprehend why he was going, except that he had promised. He was not sure that some one might not know him, or perhaps out of mere curiosity stop him and question him. It was a reluctant journey.