By R. V. Risley
ON the slope of a little hill, overlooking a quaint old town in
Provence, there is an ancient cloistered monastery, sur-
rounded by gardens. The buildings, soft-coloured in their red
tiles and creamy stucco, have lain for centuries asleep upon the
vineyarded hillside ; they are ancient and cracked with the sun,
and their gardens are as old as they. In these gardens, which are
enclosed by a high white wall, from the gate of which one can
look down over the roofs of the village, and see the tower of the
little church, calm-faced priests pace in reverie through the long
summer afternoons, while the rose leaves fall silently, and the
ancient poplars turn up their silvery leaves.
The whole place seems asleep. There is a feeling of being
haunted, in the old gardens ; and sitting on the smooth stone
benches one drowses back into memories. Through the long day
the silence is broken only by the faint sound of the bell of the
little church, or by the occasional bleating of sheep in the distance.
Some of the priests are young, some are very old. And among
these latter is one who sits apart on a great stone seat, under a
huge knarled rose tree ; sometimes he is found making rude toys
for children, with his delicate white hands ; sometimes he sits
idly, raising his head once or twice during the afternoon, and
gazing out through the gateway over the roofs of the village ; he
never has gone outside since he first came to the monastery, and
the others touch their foreheads when they speak of him, and say,
” We do not understand.”
This is the tale of his coming. Why he told it to me I do not
know ; I have thought sometimes it was because he felt the dim
need of one outside the monastery, some one who came from the
” What man is I do not know ; I think nobody knows. We
have no standard, no comparison ; we are too near to ourselves, I
think that we are nearer to nature than most of us believe, though
why that should make us further from God, as many say, I do not
see. We can only wonder how these things are ; how can we
expect to do otherwise ?
” I was born in the village here. My father was the owner of
many vineyards, and had been a student in his youth. I was
brought up for the priesthood. I studied at Avignon with an
old curé. I entered the Church, and was sent to be priest
” I lived in a little house with a garden, at the edge of the
village ; you cannot see it, it is under the hill. In the early
morning I would go to the church, then afterwards I would come
home to my coffee. Till noon I would sit in my garden and
read. In the afternoon I would read, or go to the church, or visit
the townsfolk. In the evening, when there was no service, I
would sit in my study and pass the hours until bed-time in
work, or in conversation with whoever came to see me. It is
about myself, pardon then, that I mention it so often. A quiet
life, with little of amusement or excitement in it ; yet a peaceful
one, with few cares, and much time for study. So the years went
on, until I was forty years old.
” Perhaps you from the world will understand these things, my
friends who have passed their lives in the monastery do not.”
The old man waved a rose-leaf from the back of his hand, where
it had fallen, and glanced kindly at two young brothers of the
order who were pacing slowly, with bowed heads and thoughtful
faces, down one of the side paths.
” An old man,” he continued, turning again to me, ” has but
one tale worth telling. Hates and successes, failures or honours
come to seem small as the shadow of his end grows larger ; only
kindness stays. I hope,” and his voice grew reverent,” that you,
from the places that are so far away, will find my meaning. I
say this because the story seems angry.”
Then raising his head, he told me in a low voice, most
straightforwardly, this that follows. Occasionally a priest would
pass by and glance at us where we sat, under the shade of the
old rose-tree, or sometimes a bird would twitter in the branches
somewhere near us. Otherwise there was silence.
“It was when I was forty years old, one morning as I passed
down the high street. It was sunny, and the freshness of the open
air seemed strange to me, for I had been up all night at my
studies. A face looked out at me from the open window of one of
the houses, as I passed. Along the window ledge stood a row of
little rose-trees in full blossom, and the face that smiled at me
from over their branches was half-shadowed by a wide-brimmed
hat. Now this was a pretty picture, that I had seen before—
Pierre the farmer’s daughter watering her roses of a morning.
Yet when I had bowed and smiled, and was walking on down the
street, the face, and especially the laughter of the eyes, stayed
with me. For three days I did not see the face again.
” Then, walking in the afternoon to see some of the townsfolk,
I met the daughter of Pierre the farmer again. She had a large
basket of green things ; with other people I would have stopped
and spoken, and if I had walked with them, carried their basket.
I bowed, smiled as one whose thoughts are far away, and passed on.
” That night I quarrelled with Aquinus, drank three cups of coffee,
which kept me awake, and was cross all the next day—till evening ;
then as I came down the steps of the church, she and her father passed
by. That evening after I had reached my garden gate, I turned,
and instead of going to my books, went down the street again to
a neighbour’s, where I stayed till late and talked much. The next
morning I took a walk in the fields ; when it came to an hour
before noon, at which time I knew she would be in the market, I
went across to where I saw some mowers in the distance, and sat
with them till the market was over. Then I went back to the
town ; and met her by accident, just in front of my own door ; I
bowed crossly and went in.
“That night after my dinner, I sat down to my books in my
study, with my cup of black coffee by my side on the desk. I
opened a book of philosophy, then going to the shelves, I took
down some rolls of manuscript, on which I was working, and
spread them out by the side of the books and the coffee. Then I
settled myself down to work. I had a splendid evening ; my
brain was firm and clear ; my thoughts came rapidly, and a fluency
of expression followed them that surprised myself. I worked till
eleven o’clock, then I laid aside my books ; I sat awhile in my
chair. After a short time I dreamily gathered up my manuscripts
and carried them towards the shelf. As I lifted them to their
place, my eyes fell upon the black sleeve of my cassock. 1 turned
uncertainly, and walked towards the open fire ; hesitating, I slowly
threw them into the flames one by one. I watched them burn.
Then I went back to my chair and sat down ; my housekeeper
found me there when she came to dust my books in the morning.
“For two weeks I saw her face in church ; at the end of that
time I went to her father, and offered to teach her Latin. The
next morning she came to my house, and took possession of a
great arm-chair in my study, and our lessons began. Yes, it was
weak. But we have more possibilities in our natures than we
think for ; I do not know.
” Sometimes I would sit after she was gone, with my head in my
hands, dejectedly, and my very spirit would seem broken within
me. I, the priest ! At other times I would pace my study,
my hands clenched behind my back, my head sunk on my
“Can I ever forget the morning when I tried to go away ! It
was after our lesson was over, I was bundling my papers on my
desk. I said suddenly, ‘I am going away !’ Her eyes grew
serious in a moment, and her mouth drooped a little.
“I turned my head. ‘I am going away,’ I said again, not look-
ing at her. I heard her feet slip to the floor as she got down from
the great chair, on the arm of which she had been sitting.
Coming behind me, she put her hand timidly on my shoulder,
and said, sadly, ‘I’m so sorry, I was enjoying the lessons so
” That night I lay awake, tormenting myself with doubts, and
striving for courage to overcome the excuses that thronged to my
bidding, why I should not go on the morrow. All night I lay
and struggled with it, and when the night was over at last, I was
“But when in the fresh morning, I, sitting pale at my books,
heard her light feet come dancing up the gravelled walk, and when
her laughing voice, breathless for haste, greeted me with its happy
good-morning, followed on the instant by the anxious question,
‘If I were going to-day, and for how long ? ‘—well, I turned to
her with a smile. ‘Going to-day ? No. It was only a notion ;
I will tell you before I go.’
“I think it was three days after this that I first noticed Jean.
It was in the afternoon, and I was sitting alone in my garden
with the gate open, a thing I often did now, for sometimes she
would pass by, and seeing me sitting there, come in for a moment.
Sitting that afternoon, suddenly I saw her on the other side of the
shady road, walking past with a young farmer ; he was the son of
a neighbour, and an honest straightforward fellow.
“‘She would not have passed by with him if she cared for him !’
I argued to myself, wiping the sweat from my forehead. Then
a little demon would whisper, ‘ Why ? ‘ and then I would wipe
the sweat from my forehead again. The next day I did not speak
to her about it, nor the next ; and after a few weeks the pain grew
more distant, and things went on as before.
” At the end of that time she told me in the middle of the lesson,
that she and Jean would marry when autumn came—then she
” I gave her some good advice, and after a few minutes made her
return to the lesson. It was a verb we were learning, ‘rideo.’
” That night when all were asleep, I walked in my study.
Around me rose the faces of my old books that had become
stranger-like. On the desk lay scattered the sheets of paper of our
work that morning ; in the corner her big chair. All this by the
light of the great brass lamp hung overhead.
“‘Good God,’ I said aloud, ‘is a priest not still a man ? Do
not the ties of human kind apply to him ? If Thou art love, or
kindness, or anything of good, why is it that the service of Thee
should make me desolate of all the best of humanity ? I am
a priest—a priest—yet more than a priest, a man ! Is there
anything but man in the world ? Is not man sufficient unto
himself? The universe is but the reflection of what is behind
his eyes. If this thing is the work of Thy hands, oh, God,
how can it be evil ? And if Thou doest unkindness, or evil,
knowing all things, then our worship of Thee is devil-worship, not
the worship of God !
” Thus I stood in my agony and argued with God.
“‘But,’ said I again, my hands thrust in my robe, ‘if I were a
man and not priest, what have I to do with her ? What do
I know of laughter—I the studious priest ! I am a bowed
old, book-killed man, twice her age. I have nothing to do
with laughter ! Circumstance, digger of graves to humanity.’
” I fell on my knees, and lifted my hands in the glare of the
lamp-light, I spoke to God.
“‘I am a priest, Thy priest. I am a man, Thy man. Yes, I
am an old man. Take me away. What have I left in life ?
Why should I remain ? What is Thy will ?’
” My arms sank to my sides ; I waited. Then as I waited my
eyes rested on the paper-strewn table, and out of the disorder a
word in her hand-writing took shape, the word ‘rideo,’ written
on an old exercise sheet. I got up from my knees, and leaving
the lamp burning went out of the room, shutting the door
” The next morning when I came down, a little late, to the
lesson, for I had over-slept, Jean was sitting on a small stool,
where his big bulk looked extremely ridiculous, gazing devotedly
at his sweet-heart in her usual place, knitting her brows over a
difficult piece of Latin.
” Good-morning,’ I said grimly, ‘has he also come to study
” She jumped out of her chair. ‘No, of course not ! I brought
him here to receive your blessing, father. And then afterwards I
thought, if he might stay—I promise he won’t be a bit of
and hear me recite.’
” The great bulk precipitated itself on to its knees, at this point,
and she taking it for granted that I consented, arranged herself
beside it. So I raised my hands and extended them over them,
and said, sanctimoniously, ‘Bless you—bless you, my children !’
” Then she rose and the bulk erected itself, establishing itself in
a comfortable chair, at my invitation, and we began the lesson.
That is, we began after she had whispered to him. ‘The father is
so funny this morning !’
” After this I used to have this pleasant surprise often. Jean
would appear to hear her recite—his supervision of her studies
was really quite husbandly.
” One morning I was the appreciative listener to a long account
of a certain wedding-dress. That night I had a hard struggle to
keep to my new lesson of the word. But I conquered at last, and
was able to smile as grimly as ever in the morning.
” I think my sermons at this time must have contained some
curious theology. I seemed to be possessed by a devil of
satire, that never rested from thrusting shafts of the finest
ridicule at all religious things. I found matter of ridicule in
every sentence of the church-service, and used sometimes to
laugh when I was alone at some sacrilegious thought that would
come to me. And this tinged my conversation, I know ; people
who had stopped to speak with me in the street, would turn
and look after me when I had gone on. Sometimes I would
burst out laughing at the most unlikely moments ; at dinner when
somebody was telling a serious story, or when alone, walking
in my garden.
” I had not prayed, or had recourse to God in any way, since
the night when I read the word. In this state I was pacing
one afternoon, up and down a path in my garden, chuckling to
myself over some irreverent thought, when I saw my old house-
keeper pass by, evidently in search of me. A whim brought
it into my head to hide myself in the bushes, where I stood
laughing, and in a moment here came by Jean—with her.
They passed in front of the place where I was hidden, and my
insane fit of laughter redoubled as I saw them go. Then having
reached the end of the path, they turned back and came past again ;
this time I heard their words. Jean was speaking, and he was
telling her how much he loved her ; his quantities were rather
vague, in the usual peasantlike style. And she would laugh—I
remember—she would laugh and answer him softly. Then my
laughter grew even more in its exquisite amusement, as they
passed out of sight, and out of hearing. Again they returned,
passing by me. They were still talking ; this time about their
house and how they would live, and again she answered him softly,
seeming to take a pride in his very ignorance ! This time my
laughter was almost audible. Again they passed, talking of them-
selves, of their love, of their life. Again the inclination to laughter
came, but the laughter died away in my throat ; the cold sweat was
running down my forehead, and I shook as I stood in the bushes.
” Again they passed. I could hear their words ; I had never
heard them speak so before. I held on to the bushes and groaned
with merriment. Again I saw them coming ; I could not stand
it. I broke through the undergrowth, and, running between the
trees, gained the house. I ran up the stairs, avoiding the study,
and, rushing into my own room, threw myself on to the bed, and,
like a child, stuffing the pillow into my mouth, burst into tears,
through which would break spasmodic laughter, occasionally—I,
a grown man and a priest !
” Well, the next day, coming down to the lesson, I was just as
usual. Now, Jean seemed to have found a particular liking for
me, or rather a particular interest in me—probably because of my
having told him, one day, some stories of the torments of hell,
which impressed him greatly.
” So he would come frequently to ask me questions about the
growing of flowers, in which I had taken an interest.
” I never wrote now. My books on the shelves remained where
they were. I took one of them down one day aimlessly ; but it
was my Aquinus—the one I used on that evening long ago, when
I had burned my manuscript ; looking at it, I grew so sad that I
put it back on the shelf without reading it.
” I spent my days either sitting in my garden, or walking in the
streets of the town or through the fields.
” The months slipped by, and it came time to give up the Latin
lessons ; she was busy at home. But Jean came frequently, to
console me for her absence, I believe, and, probably with the same
intention, told me, in his drawling voice, the details of the pre-
parations and the plans for the ceremony.
“So the time went on, till it was the day before the wedding.
” I was down in the church, superintending its decorations of
roses, when one of the farmers came to me, as I stood high upon
a ladder, with a request that I would come to bless his fields on
“‘But,’ I said, ‘there is this wedding; I cannot do both;
could I not come the next day?’ But the farmer excused him-
self. He was going away on a journey the next day ; I could do
it late in the afternoon, after the wedding was over; it was such a
magnificent crop, and would the good father be so kind ? I
consented. Yes, I would come to bless his fields—after the wed-
ding was over. I do not understand how it was—I felt dull and
incapable of sensation.
The Yellow Book—Vol. IX. H
” It was so the next day. I dimly remember having my
coffee in the morning, and some time after my housekeeper bring-
ing me my vestments nicely brushed. Then I remember going
to the church, I remember putting on my robes in the little
room behind the altar. Of the ceremony itself I can recollect
little. There was a great cruel wall of faces between me and
the far-away light of the open door. There was a figure in white,
in which for some reason or other I felt an interest ; and, also,
there was a large figure, towards whom I felt dimly friendly. The
organ sounded far away ; the choir of children’s voices joined in.
Then I remember some words, and a short time afterwards the
welcome sunlight of the open door, as I passed down the aisle of
the deserted church. I went home and drank a cup of coffee, and
sat pleasantly by the great front window, drumming on the table
where my empty coffee-cup stood. After a while, the people for
whom I was waiting appeared—the farmers to conduct me to the
fields I was to bless. I got up, and, with one of them before me
carrying the bag of my holy robes, I walked forth to bless the fields.
” As we went, I listened to their conversation—of horses, or
dogs, and crops : then they began to talk of the wedding ; they
talked of how pretty she looked, and of Jean, and of how much
land and stock his father owned. They all agreed that the
marriage was most suitable.
” It was one of those still afternoons in the autumn, when the
rife world seemed luxuriant, full of joy and growth. The faint
blue sky was cloudless, and the fields of rippling corn shone in
the afternoon sunlight.
” A great joyous stillness hung over the maternal earth ; as we
passed by, gaudy flowers of crimson or yellow nodded to us over
the old fences, and by the sides of the winding road trivial weeds
flaunted their many colours. The farmers, proud of the honour
of escorting their priest, trod along a little in front, their heavy
boots crushing the soft clods of earth in the road. Sometimes the
shrill voice of a cricket would come from the field we were passing.
“After a time the journey ended ; by the edge of the rise of a
little hill stood the cottage of the farmer who led us. I was
shown into the sitting-room and, with many bows of hospi-
tality, left to put on my robes, while the farmers gathered, waiting
about the door outside. On the chimney-piece were arranged
flowers in vases and pots, the thought of the daughter of the
house, whom I had confirmed. The attention touched me, and I
went up and smelled of them. Then, taking the priest’s robes
out of the bag, I put them on, and, going to the doorway, called
to the farmers that I was ready.
” Outside the door we formed in procession, the farmer whose
fields I was to bless leading with a scythe, to cut away possible
brambles. We passed through a place in the fence, and entered
on the long swath that had been mown through the fields, to a
slight elevation in their centre.
” Now, for the first time that day, I wakened. The scent of the
newly cut corn seemed to get in my head, and the wide horizon-
line of waving yellow made me angry. All the unreality of the
day broke up and disappeared. The pain, the despair, the torture
came back again, rushing. For a moment I thought the feeling
would smother me ; but its first intensity grew less after a little
while, and I found myself walking mechanically through the lane
of yellow, with the bare-headed farmers behind me. I looked
abroad over the far-stretching fields, and the sight of their still
joy tormented me. I shut my eyes and strove against the agony.
Something repeating in my head, ‘She is sitting at her marriage
feast !—She is sitting at her marriage feast !’
” I opened my eyes and looked forth over the fields. Their
happiness seemed so to torment me. We were pacing stolidly
on, and far in front went the figure of the farmer, bending some-
times to brush a thistle or tassel of corn out of the path.
“‘Why,’ I said to myself, ‘should I be so sad, while this tor-
turing corn is so joyous ?’ On either side rose the solid wall of
straight stalks, surmounted by their full heads, that rustled and
bent to our passage. Far away on the horizon the golden fields
bent in platoons and squadrons as the breeze touched them. The
whole weight of the misery of the past long months broke on me
“I tried to laugh, I repeated to myself over and over again, the
word ‘rideo,’ but the incessant voice in my head kept repeating,
‘She is sitting at her marriage feast—she is sitting at her marriage
“‘Why,’ I said again to myself, in a whisper, ‘should these
fields be so joyous and I so sad ?’
” The farmers thought I was murmuring prayers, and I heard
their muttered ‘Amens’ behind me. I pressed my hands hard
to my sides. We walked on, the sun was growing low in the
West. Soon we had come to the edge of the little rise in the
middle of the fields.
” As we mounted towards the cleared circle that had been mown
on the summit for my reception, the agony at my heart died
down, and a feeling of almost indifference came to me. But in a
moment we stood looking out upon the wide-spread corn. The
red sun was sinking, by its light the yellow was touched into the
colour of flame on the horizon. I stood silent, while the farmers
arranged themselves, kneeling behind me. Then slowly I
advanced to the centre of the circle.
“The glory of the setting sun was reflected on my embroidered
robes, and the fields shimmered below me in a great ocean of
crimson and gold. It was perfectly still. I raised my hands and
looked into the fading glory in the West. And somehow the
pain came back again, the longing and the agony, the sickness
and the despair of soul. Raising my hands high in the air, with
the kneeling peasants behind me, and the light of the dying sun
reflected on my holy robes, I stood aloft, and I cursed the happy
fields ! I cursed their light and their planting, I cursed their
content and their joy, I cursed the seed from which they had
sprung, and I cursed their glory and their fruition. I cursed the
light of the sun when it rose upon them in the morning, and I
cursed the light of the sun when it shone upon them, when the
dusk came. I cursed their sowing and their harvest, I cursed
their stalks and their bearded heads. I cursed their growing and
their increase, I cursed them through the dark hours of the night. I
stood there tall in my holy robes, and I cursed the corn ear by ear !
” The sunset glowed and gathered in the West, and faded away,
and I stood there tall in the twilight, cursing.
” Well, the farmers pulled me down at last, and carried me away
through the fields. I do not remember how I came here. Only
something of a rumbling waggon, and a wild creature who lay
still on the straw in the bottom.
” That is all.”
The old man ceased speaking, and his head sunk on his breast ;
then with a slight sigh he took up the child’s toy he was making,
and worked on it with his white old hands, looking ever out
through the gate-way over the village.
” What do you see ? ” I asked.
” Her children,” he answered. Then holding up the small
wooden cart, nearly finished, ” I am afraid they do not like
them much, they are badly finished,” he said smiling, ” I never see
them play with them before the other children.”
Risley, R. V. “Rideo.” The Yellow Book, vol. 9, April 1896, pp. 118-131. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV9_risley_rideo/