France - In La Perche
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
I had been for weeks traveling alone through Europe. For days I was in France, where I wandered about mostly by myself, unable to speak with the people because of not understanding their language. I had been happy, but yet I was lonely. It suddenly occurred to me, "Why, here, I need not longer be lonely; in Paris, not far off, are two dear friends, James 'R. Hopkins and his wife. I will telegraph them; they shall come down and spend Sunday with me." The telegram was sent. The answer came back that they would be on the Sunday morning train. A thrill of joy went through me as I read their telegram. That night I slept well; my very dreams were happy ones; my subconsciousness was possessed with the idea that only very good things were going to hap-pen to me. I awoke early and lay awhile planning the day. Everything I planned was tinged with joy. I was resolved that this should be a red-letter day of my life. Bells called from the great church near-by. I got up and went out into the street. Women and a few men were hurrying along to early service —to some mass as I supposed. I followed them and going into the vast old church, dropped on my own knees and sought to attune my own soul to the universe, meanwhile remembering my loved ones in America.
After breakfast I was again in the street. There were many children, dressed alike, the little girls in long white veils, with wreaths of white flowers on their heads. The veils were like brides' veils. They were going towards the old church. It was evidently the great day of their first communion. I followed them and found a place in a great church packed with people. The children were kneeling together at the front in the chancel. The service proceeded. The music was grand, reaching the soul ; the words of the chanting I did not know. We remained constantly on our knees, on little foot-stools provided. The fatherly old priest did his mysterious acts at the altar where many candles blazed. The flock of white-veiled little girls and the quiet and subdued little boys kneeled in their places. The attitude of all that vast mass of people was one of love for those children. One could look back over one's own life and see the blotches in it and pray. But what is this happening? The old priest has taken a tall candle and lit it from the lights of the altar. He comes with it to the group of assembled children. He smiles tenderly and upon them. Now you see that each child has a candle, long and white; the good old priest holds his lighted one down and the little ones lean theirs toward his and seek to get a light. When once a few of theirs are lit the others lean theirs toward that one and seek to borrow each one his own light. Some little trembling hands fail to hold their candles still enough to catch the flame. Motherly women hovering near come to steady the little hands till they have secured their coveted lights. Some of the candles lose their fire and must be lit again by trembling hands.
The beauty and significance of it all overwhelmed me; tears came to my eyes. "Ah," I cried; "was it not always so? Do we not all take our light from one another? Is it not hard to get our candles properly lit, and do they not go out oft-times and need to be lit again '" It was a scene of wonderful beauty—the vast, dim old church, with its histories of human life and human hopes and human suffering and human joy; the vast concourse of people, come together because of their love of children, and their desire to live better lives. The children, just as children are everywhere, were merry, innocent and mischievous. They were just at life's threshold, timidly entering, hesitant, shy, half afraid, helped as much as any one can be helped by those who had gone on years and years ago, but who, after all, may have been less wise than the little ones themselves.
I came away from the old church before the close of the service, because it was near train time, and with a heart stirred down well to its deepest depths I hastened to the railway station. The train drew in, on time, and at a window stood and beckoned to me Edna and James Hopkins. I pushed eagerly through the crowd and seized their hands. I should have liked well enough to hug them, so glad was 1 to see them. This gladness seemed something physical; all my nerves and muscles awakened, eager to do something to give my old friends joy.
We walked through the quaint streets of the old town of Nogent-le-Rotrou. It seemed to me that I owned the place, in a way; as though I had lived long there. What happiness it was to point out to my friends this old church and that old castle and this or that quaint street or market square.
We all went chatting along together, like happy children, asking questions, telling little incidents and revealing ourselves to one another as men and women rarely do save in times when they are very glad.