Father Courcy stood up and opened his old black bag. He took out a small metal cup. He filled it carefully at the spring. He made the sign of the cross over it.
“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” he murmured, “blessed and holy is this water.” Then he held the cup toward the soldier. “Come, let us share it and make our vows together.”
The bright drops trembled and fell from the bottom of the cup. The soldier sat still, his head in his hands.
“No,” he answered, heavily, “I cannot take it. I am not worthy. Can a man take a sacrament without confessing his sins?”
Father Courcy looked at him with pitying eyes. “I see,” he said, slowly; “I see, my son. You have a burden on your heart. Well, I will stay with you and try to lift it. But first I shall make my own vow.”
He raised the cup toward the sky. A tiny brown wren sang canticles of rapture in the thicket. A great light came into the priest’s face—a sun-ray from the east, far beyond the tree-tops.
“Blessed Jeanne d’Arc, I drink from thy fountain in thy name. I vow my life to thy cause. Aid me, aid this my son, to fight valiantly for freedom and for France. In the name of God, amen.”
The soldier looked up at him. Wonder, admiration, and shame were struggling in the look. Father Courcy wiped the empty cup carefully and put it back in his bag. Then he sat down beside the soldier, laying a fatherly hand on his shoulder.
“Now, my son, you shall tell me what is on your heart.”
For a long time the soldier remained silent. His head was bowed. His shoulders drooped. His hands trembled between his knees. He was wrestling with himself.
“No,” he cried, at last, “I cannot, I dare not tell you. Unless, perhaps”—his voice faltered—“you could receive it under the seal of confession? But no. How could you do that? Here in the green woods? In the open air, beside a spring? Here is no confessional.”
“Why not?” asked Father Courcy. “It is a good place, a holy place. Heaven is over our heads and very near. I will receive your confession here.”
The soldier knelt among the flowers. The priest pronounced the sacred words. The soldier began his confession:
“I, Pierre Duval, a great sinner, confess my fault, my most grievous fault, and pray for pardon.” He stopped for a moment and then continued, “But first I must tell you, Father, just who I am and where I come from and what brings me here.”
“Go on, Pierre Duval, go on. That is what I am waiting to hear. Be simple and very frank.”