ALTHOUGH doubtless very few persons in the crowd instituded comparisons of this nature, the idea that the waters of the Spring which had gushed forth at the Grotto might have the pwer of healing the sick, must have suggested itself to the mind of every one. From the morning of the same day, a rumor of several marvelous cures began to spread in all directions. Amid the contradictory versions which were being circulated, and taking into consideration the sincerity of some, the exaggeration voluntary or involuntary of others, the flat denial of many, the hesitations and uneasiness of a great number, the emotion of all, it was difficult at the first moment to distinguish truth from falsehood among the miraculous facts which were asserted on all sides, told as they were in differnet ways, with great blunders in names and confusion of persons, to say nothing of mixing up the circumstances of several episodes differing from and foreign to each other.
Did you ever in on of your country walks, throw suddenly a handful of corn into an ants’ nest? The terrified ants run from one side to the other in an extraordinary state of agitation. They keep coming and going to and fro, crossing each other, running against each other, alternately stopping and resuming their course suddenly changing the point towards which they were running, picking up a grain of corn and leaving it there, and wandering in every direction in a state of feverish disorder, a prey to indescribable confusion.
Very similar was the conduct of the multitude, both of inhabitants and strangers at Lourdes, in the state of stupefaction into which they were thrown by the superhuman wonders which reached them from Heaven. Such is always the conduct of the natural world, when it is suddenly visited by some manifestation from the supernatural world.
By degrees, however, order is restored in the ants’ nest, and its momentary agitation ceases.
There was, in the town, a poor workman known by every one; who, for many years, had dragged out a most miserable existence. His name was Louis Bourriette. Some twenty years before, a great misfortune had befallen him. As he was working in the neighborhood of Lourdes, raising stone with his brother Joseph, who was also a quarryman, a mine owing to some mismanagement had exploded close to them. Joseph was killed on the spot, and Louis, of whom we are now speaking, had his face ploughed with splinters of rock, and his right eye half destroyed. His life had been saved with the greatest difficulty. He suffered so terribly from the results of this accident, that he was attacked with a burning fever, and for some time force was obliged to be employed to keep him in his bed. However, he recovered by degrees, thanks to the skill and devoted care of those who attended him. But, the medical men, in spite of the most delicate operations and masterly treatment, failed entirely in effecting the cure of his right eye, which had unfortunately been injured internally. The poor man had returned to his ocupation of quarryman, but he was no longer fit for anything but the coarsest style of work, as his wounded eye was utterly unserviceable, and he could only see objects as it were through an impenetrable mist. When the poor workman wished to undertake any work requiring more than usual care, he was obliged to apply for assistance to others.
So far from time having brought any amelioration in his condition, his sight had diminished from year to year. This progressive deterioration had become still more sensible, and at the time we have now reached in our history, the evil had made such progress that his right eye was almost entirely lost. When Bourriette closed his left eye, he could not distinguish a man from a tree. The man and the tree were to him only a black and confused mass, scarcely perceptible as in the obscurity of night.
Most of the inhabitants of Lourdes had given Bourriette employment at one time or other. His state excited pity, and he was much liked by the brotherhood of quarrymen and stone-cutters, who form a numerous class in that part of the country.
This poor creature hearing about the miraculous Spring at the Grotto, called his daughter. “Go and bring me some of this water,” he said.
“Blessed Virgin, if she it is, has but to will my cure in order to effect it.”
Half an hour afterwards, the child brought him, in a basin, a small quantity of the water which, as we have explained above, was still dirty and impregnated with earth.
“Father,” observed the child, “it is only muddy water.”
“That does not matter,” replied the father, addressing himself to prayer.
He bathed with the water his weak eye, which he but a moment before considered gone forever.
Almost immediately he uttered a loud cry, and began to tremble in the excess of his emotion. A sudden miracle had been accomplished in regard to his sight. The air had already become clear around him and bathed in light. Nevertheless, objects appeared still as if surrounded with a light gauze, which hindered him from seeing them perfectly.
The mist was still before his eyes, but it was no longer dark as it had been for the last twenty years. It was penetrated by the sun, and instead of thick night it was to the eyes of the poor sick man, as the transparent vapor of morning.
Bourriette continued to pray, and at the same time washed his right eye with the salutary water. By degrees the light of day flooded his sight and he distinguished objects clearly.
Next day or the day after, he happened to meet on the public square of Lourdes with Doctor Dozons, who had never ceased to attend him since the commencement of his malady. He ran towards him saying, “I am cured.”
“Impossible,” exclaimed the Doctor. “Your organ of sight is injured to such an extent as to render your cure out of the question. The treatment I have prescribed for you is only intended to soothe your pain but can never restore you the use of your eye.”
“It is not you who have cured me,” replied the quarry-man with emotion, “it is the Blessed Virgin of the Grotto.”
The man of human science shrugged his shoulders.
“That Bernadette has ecstasies of an inexpressible nature, is certain; for I have devoted unwearied attention to establishing that fact. But it is impossible that the water, which, how I know not, has gushed forth at the Grotto, should cure suddenly maladies which are in their very nature incurable.”
On saying this he took a little tablet out of his pocket and wrote a few lines with a pencil on on of its pages.
Then with on hand he closed Bourriette’s left eye, which was still serviceable, and presented to his right eye, which he knew to be entirely deprived of sight, the little sentence he had just written.
“If you can read this I will believe you,” said the eminent physician with an air of triumph, strong as he felt himself to be from his extensive knowledge and profound medical experience.
Many persons who happened to be walking on the square at the time had formed a group around them.
Bourriette glanced at the paper with the eye, the sight of which but just now was extinct, and read immediately and without the slightest hesitation:
“Bourriette has an incurable amaurosis from which he can never recover.”
Had a thunderbolt fallen at the feet of the learned physician it could not have stupefied him more than did the voice of Bourriette as he read camly and without any effort the single line of small writing which was lightly traced in pencil on the page of the tablet.
Doctor Dozons was more than a merely scientific man, he was by nature conscientious. He frankly recognized and unhesitatingly proclaimed the agency of a superior power in this sudden cure of a malady deemed to be incurable.
“I cannot deny it,” he said; “it is a miracle, a true miracle, with all due deference to myself and my brethren of the faculty. This has quite upset me; but we can but submit to the imperious voice of a fact so clear and so entirely beyond the range of poor human science.”
Doctor Vergez, of Tarbes, Fellow and Professor of the Faculty at Montpellier, and resident Physician at the Baths at Baréges, being summoned to pronounce his opinion in the case, could not prevent himself from recognizing, and that in the most undeniable way―its supernatural character.
As we have already observed, Bourriette’s state had been notorious for upwards of twenty years, and the poor man himself was universally known in the town. Besides, this marvelous cure had not caused the disappearance of the deep traces or scars, which the accident had left on his face, so that every one had it in his power to verify the miracle which had just been accomplished. The poor quarry-man, almost mad with joy, recounted all the particularities of the event to any one who cared to listen to him.
He was not the only one who openly bore witness to an unexpected good fortune and loudly proclaimed his gratitude. Events of a similar nature had taken place in other houses in the town. Several persons residing at Lourdes, Marie Daube, Bernard Soubie, Fabien Baron, had all at once quitted their sick-bed, to which maladies of different kinds, but all pronounced incurable, had confined them, and they proclaimed publicly their cure by the water of the grotto. The hand of Jean Crassus, which had been paralyzed for ten years, had become straightened again and recovered all the vigor of life in the miraculous water.
Thus the accuracy of facts succeeded, among the different accounts in circulation, to the vague rumors of the first moment. The enthusiasm of the people was raised to the highest pitch, an enthusiasm at the same time touching and sound, which in the church expressed itself in fervent prayers, and around the Grotto in the canticles of thanksgiving which burst from the joyful lips of the pilgrims.
Towards evening, a great number of workmen belonging to the association of quarry-men, of which Bourriette was a member, repaired to the Rocks of Massabielle and laid out a path for visitors in the steep declivity near the Grotto. Before the hollow from which the spring now bubbled forth, they placed a balustrade formed of wood, beneath which they dug a small oval reservoir, about half a meter in depth, and in shape and length not very unlike an infant’s cradle.
The enthusiasm was momentarily increasing. Vast throngs were perpetually passing to and fro on the road leading to the miraculous spring of water. After sunset, when the first shadow of night began to fall on the earth, you might perceive that the same thought had occurred to a throng of believers, and the Grotto was all at once illuminated with a thousand lights. Rich and poor, children, men and women had brought spontaneously candles and tapers. During the whole night, this clear and mild light might be seen from the opposite side of the Gave. Thousands of small torches placed here and there without any apparent order seemed to give back on earth the glittering luster of the stars with which the firmament of heaven was so thickly studded.
Neither priests nor pontiffs nor leading men of any kind were to be found among those masses of people; and yet, without any one having given any signal, the moment the illumination lighted up the Grotto and the rocks, and shed a trembling reflection on the little reservoir of the miraculous Spring, the voices of all rose at the same time and mingled with each other in a chant, which seemed to proceed from a single soul. The Litany of the Blessed Virgin burst on the ear, interrupting the silence of night to celebrate the memory of our admirable Mother, in front of the rustic throne in order to crown the hearts of all Christians with joy. Mater admirabilis, Sedes Sapientiæ, Causa Nostræ lætitiæ ora pro nobis.