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CHAPTER III—A HARD BISHOPRIC FOR A GOOD BISHOP
The Bishop did not omit his pastoral visits because he had converted his
carriage into alms. The diocese of D—— is a fatiguing one.
There are very few plains and a great many mountains; hardly any roads, as
we have just seen; thirty-two curacies, forty-one vicarships, and two
hundred and eighty-five auxiliary chapels. To visit all these is quite a
The Bishop managed to do it. He went on foot when it was in the
neighborhood, in a tilted spring-cart when it was on the plain, and on a
donkey in the mountains. The two old women accompanied him. When the trip
was too hard for them, he went alone.
One day he arrived at Senez, which is an ancient episcopal city. He was
mounted on an ass. His purse, which was very dry at that moment, did not
permit him any other equipage. The mayor of the town came to receive him
at the gate of the town, and watched him dismount from his ass, with
scandalized eyes. Some of the citizens were laughing around him. "Monsieur
the Mayor," said the Bishop, "and Messieurs Citizens, I perceive that I
shock you. You think it very arrogant in a poor priest to ride an animal
which was used by Jesus Christ. I have done so from necessity, I assure
you, and not from vanity."
In the course of these trips he was kind and indulgent, and talked rather
than preached. He never went far in search of his arguments and his
examples. He quoted to the inhabitants of one district the example of a
neighboring district. In the cantons where they were harsh to the poor, he
said: "Look at the people of Briancon! They have conferred on the poor, on
widows and orphans, the right to have their meadows mown three days in
advance of every one else. They rebuild their houses for them gratuitously
when they are ruined. Therefore it is a country which is blessed by God.
For a whole century, there has not been a single murderer among them."
In villages which were greedy for profit and harvest, he said: "Look at
the people of Embrun! If, at the harvest season, the father of a family
has his son away on service in the army, and his daughters at service in
the town, and if he is ill and incapacitated, the cure recommends him to
the prayers of the congregation; and on Sunday, after the mass, all the
inhabitants of the village—men, women, and children—go to the
poor man's field and do his harvesting for him, and carry his straw and
his grain to his granary." To families divided by questions of money and
inheritance he said: "Look at the mountaineers of Devolny, a country so
wild that the nightingale is not heard there once in fifty years. Well,
when the father of a family dies, the boys go off to seek their fortunes,
leaving the property to the girls, so that they may find husbands." To the
cantons which had a taste for lawsuits, and where the farmers ruined
themselves in stamped paper, he said: "Look at those good peasants in the
valley of Queyras! There are three thousand souls of them. Mon Dieu! it is
like a little republic. Neither judge nor bailiff is known there. The
mayor does everything. He allots the imposts, taxes each person
conscientiously, judges quarrels for nothing, divides inheritances without
charge, pronounces sentences gratuitously; and he is obeyed, because he is
a just man among simple men." To villages where he found no schoolmaster,
he quoted once more the people of Queyras: "Do you know how they manage?"
he said. "Since a little country of a dozen or fifteen hearths cannot
always support a teacher, they have school-masters who are paid by the
whole valley, who make the round of the villages, spending a week in this
one, ten days in that, and instruct them. These teachers go to the fairs.
I have seen them there. They are to be recognized by the quill pens which
they wear in the cord of their hat. Those who teach reading only have one
pen; those who teach reading and reckoning have two pens; those who teach
reading, reckoning, and Latin have three pens. But what a disgrace to be
ignorant! Do like the people of Queyras!"
Thus he discoursed gravely and paternally; in default of examples, he
invented parables, going directly to the point, with few phrases and many
images, which characteristic formed the real eloquence of Jesus Christ.
And being convinced himself, he was persuasive.