by Charles Chiniquy
The day following that of the meeting at which Mr. Tache had given his reasons for boasting that he had whipped the priest, I wrote to my mother: "For God's sake, come for me; I can stay here no longer. If you knew what my eyes have seen and my ears have heard for some time past, you would not delay your coming a single day."
Indeed, such was the impression left upon me by that flagellation, and by the speeches which I had heard, that had it not been for the crossing of the St. Lawrence, I would have started for Murray Bay on the day after the secret meeting at which I had heard things that so terribly frightened me. How I regretted the happy and peaceful days spent with my mother in reading the beautiful chapters of the Bible, so well chosen by her to instruct and interest me! What a difference there was between our conversations after these readings, and the conversations I heard at St. Thomas!
Happily my parents' desire to see me again was as great as mine to go back to them. So that a few weeks later my mother came for me. She pressed me to her heart, and brought me back to the arms of my father.
I arrived at home on the 17th of July, 1821, and spent the afternoon and evening till late by my father's side. With what pleasure did he see me working difficult problems in algebra, and even in geometry! for under my teacher, Mr. Jones, I had really made rapid progress in those branches. More than once I noticed tears of joy in my father's eyes when, taking my slate, he saw that my calculations were correct. He also examined me in grammar. "What an admirable teacher this Mr. Jones must be," he would say, "to have advanced a child so much in the short space of fourteen months!"
How sweet to me, but how short, were those hours of happiness passed between my good mother and my father! We had family worship. I read the fifteenth chapter of Luke, the return of the prodigal son. My mother then sang a hymn of joy and gratitude, and I went to bed with my heart full of happiness to take the sweetest sleep of my life. But, O God! what an awful awakening Thou hadst prepared for me!
About four o'clock in the morning heartrending screams fell upon my ear. I recognized my mother's voice.
"What is the matter, dear mother?"
"Oh, my dear child, you have no more a father! He is dead!"
In saying these words she lost consciousness and fell on the floor!
While a friend who had passed the night with us gave her proper care, I hastened to my father's bed. I pressed him to my heart, I kissed him, I covered him with my tears, I moved his head, I pressed his hands, I tried to lift him up on his pillow: I could not believe that he was dead! It seemed to me that even if dead he would come back to life—that God could not thus take my father away from me at the very moment when I had come back to him after so long an absence! I knelt to pray to God for the life of my father. But my tears and cries were useless. He was dead! He was already cold as ice!
Two days after he was buried. My mother was so overwhelmed with grief that she could not follow the funeral procession. I remained with her as her only earthly support. Poor mother! How many tears thou hast shed! What sobs came from thine afflicted heart in those days of supreme grief!
Though I was very young, I could understand the greatness of our loss, and I mingled my tears with those of my mother.
What pen can portray what takes place in the heart of a woman when God takes suddenly her husband away in the prime of his life, and leaves her alone, plunged in misery, with three small children, two of whom are even too young to know their loss! How long are the hours of the day for the poor widow who is left alone, and without means, among strangers! How painful the sleepless night to the heart which has lost everything! How empty a house is left by the eternal absence of him who was its master, support, and father! Every object in the house and every step she takes remind her of her loss and sinks the sword deeper which pierces her heart. Oh, how bitter are the tears which flow from her eyes when her youngest child, who as yet does not understand the mystery of death, throws himself into her arms and says: "Mamma, where is papa? Why does he not come back? I am lonely!"
My poor mother passed through those heart-rending trials. I heard her sobs during the long hours of the day, and also during the longer hours of the night. Many times I have seen her fall upon her knees to implore God to be merciful to her and to her three unhappy orphans. I could do nothing then to comfort her, but love her, pray and weep with her!
Only a few days had elapsed after the burial of my father when I saw Mr. Courtois, the parish priest, coming to our house (he who had tried to take away our Bible from us). He had the reputation of being rich, and as we were poor and unhappy since my father's death, my first thought was that he had come to comfort and to help us. I could see that my mother had the same hopes. She welcomed him as an angel from heaven. The least gleam of hope is so sweet to one who is unhappy!
From his very first words, however, I could see that our hopes were not to be realized. He tried to be sympathetic, and even said something about the confidence that we should have in God, especially in times of trial; but his words were cold and dry.
Turning to me, he said:
"Do you continue to read the Bible, my little boy?"
"Yes, sir," answered I, with a voice trembling with anxiety, for I feared that he would make another effort to take away that treasure, and I had no longer a father to defend it.
Then, addressing my mother, he said:
"Madam, I told you that it was not right for you or your child to read that book."
My mother cast down her eyes, and answered only by the tears which ran down her cheeks.
That question was followed by a long silence, and the priest then continued:
"Madam, there is something due for the prayers which have been sung, and the services which you requested to be offered for the repose of your husband's soul. I will be very much obliged to you if you pay me that little debt."
"Mr. Courtis," answered my mother, "my husband left me nothing but debts. I have only the work of my own hands to procure a living for my three children, the eldest of whom is before you. For these little orphans' sake, if not for mine, do not take from us the little that is left."
"But, madam, you do not reflect. Your husband died suddenly and without any preparation; he is therefore in the flames of purgatory. If you want him to be delivered, you must necessarily unite your personal sacrifices to the prayers of the Church and the masses which we offer."
"As I said, my husband has left me absolutely without means, and it is impossible for me to give you any money," replied my mother.
"But, madam, your husband was for a long time the only notary of Murray Bay. He surely must have made much money. I can scarcely think that he has left you without any means to help him now that his desolation and sufferings are far greater than yours."
"My husband did indeed coin much money, but he spent still more. Thanks to God, we have not been in want while he lived. But lately he got this house built, and what is still due on it makes me fear that I will lose it. He also bought a piece of land not long ago, only half of which is paid and I will, therefore, probably not be able to keep it. Hence I may soon, with my poor orphans, be deprived of everything that is left us. In the meantime I hope, sir, that you are not a man to take away from us our last piece of bread."
"But, madam, the masses offered for the rest of your husband's soul must be paid for," answered the priest.
My mother covered her face with her handkerchief and wept.
As for me, I did not mingle my tears with hers this time. My feelings were not those of grief, but of anger and unspeakable horror. My eyes were fixed on the face of that man who tortured my mother's heart. I looked with tearless eyes upon the man who added to my mother's anguish, and made her weep more bitterly than ever. My hands were clenched, as if ready to strike. All my muscles trembled; my teeth chattered as if from intense cold. My greatest sorrow was my weakness in the presence of that big man, and my not being able to send him away from our house, and driving him far away from my mother.
I felt inclined to say to him: "Are you not ashamed, you who are so rich, to come to take away the last piece of bread from our mouths?" But my physical and moral strength were not sufficient to accomplish the task before me, and I was filled with regret and disappointment.
After a long silence, my mother raised her eyes, reddened with tears, towards the priest and said:
"Sir, you see that cow in the meadow, not far from our house? Her milk and the butter made from it form the principal part of my children's food. I hope you will not take her away from us. If, however, such a sacrifice must be made to deliver my poor husband's soul from purgatory, take her as payment of the masses to be offered to extinguish those devouring flames."
The priest instantly arose, saying, "Very well, madam," and went out.
Our eyes anxiously followed him; but instead of walking towards the little gate which was in front of the house, he directed his steps towards the meadow, and drove the cow before him in the direction of his home.
At that sight I screamed with despair: "Oh, my mother! he is taking our cow away! What will become of us?"
Lord Nairn had given us that splendid cow when it was three months old. Her mother had been brought from Scotland, and belonged to one of the best breeds of that country. I fed her with my own hands, and had often shared my bread with her. I loved her as a child always loves an animal which he has brought up himself. She seemed to understand and love me also. From whatever distance she could see me, she would run to me to receive my caresses, and whatever else I might have to give her. My mother herself milked her; and her rich milk was such delicious and substantial food for us.
My mother also cried out with grief as she saw the priest taking away the only means heaven had left her to feed her children.
Throwing myself into her arms, I asked her: "Why have you given away our cow? What will become of us? We shall surely die of hunger?"
"Dear child," she answered. "I did not think the priest would be so cruel as to take away the last resource which God had left us. Ah! if I had believed him to be so unmerciful I would never have spoken to him as I did. As you say, my dear child, what will become of us? But have you not often read to me in your Bible that God is the Father of the widow and the orphan? We shall pray to that God who is willing to be your father and mine: He will listen to us, and see our tears. Let us kneel down and ask Him to be merciful to us, and to give us back the support which the priest deprived us."
We both knelt down. She took my right hand with her left, and, lifting the other hand towards heaven, she offered a prayer to the God of mercies for her poor children such as I have never since heard. Her words were often choked by her sobs. But when she could not speak with her voice, she spoke with her burning eyes raised to heaven, and with her hand uplifted. I also prayed to God with her, and repeated her words, which were broken by my sobs.
When her prayer was ended she remained for a long time pale and trembling. Cold sweat was flowing on her face, and she fell on the floor. I thought she was going to die. I ran for cold water, which I gave her, saying: "Dear mother! Oh, do not leave me alone upon earth!" After drinking a few drops she felt better, and taking my hand, she put it to her trembling lips; then drawing me near her, and pressing me to her bosom, she said: "Dear child, if ever you become a priest, I ask of you never to be so hard-hearted towards poor widows as are the priests of to-day." When she said these words, I felt her burning tears falling upon my cheek.
The memory of these tears has never left me. I felt them constantly during the twenty-five years I spent in preaching the inconceivable superstitions of Rome.
I was not better, naturally, than many of the other priests. I believed, as they did, the impious fables of purgatory; and as well as they (I confess it to my shame), if I refused to take, or if I gave back the money of the poor, I accepted the money which the rich gave me for the masses I said to extinguish the flames of that fabulous place. But the remembrance of my mother's words and tears has kept me from being so cruel and unmerciful towards the poor widows as Romish priests are, for the most part, obliged to be.
When my heart, depraved by the false and impious doctrines of Rome, was tempted to take money from widows and orphans, under pretense of my long prayers, I then heard the voice of my mother, from the depth of her sepulchre, saying, "My dear child, do not be cruel towards poor widows and orphans, as are the priests of to-day." If, during the days of my priesthood at Quebec, at Beauport, and Kamarouska, I have given almost all that I had to feed and clothe the poor, especially the widows and orphans, it was not owing to my being better than others, but it was because my mother had spoken to me with words never to be forgotten. The Lord, I believe, had put into my mother's mouth those words, so simple but so full of eloquence and beauty, as one of His great mercies towards me. Those tears the hand of Rome has never been able to wipe off: those words of my mother the sophisms of Popery could not make me forget.
How long, O Lord, shall that insolent enemy of the gospel, the Church of Rome, be permitted to fatten herself upon the tears of the widow and of the orphan by means of that cruel and impious invention of paganism—purgatory? Wilt Thou not be merciful unto so many nations which are still the victims of that great imposture? Oh, do remove the veil which covers the eyes of the priests and people of Rome, as Thou hast removed it from mine! Make them to understand that their hopes of purification must not rest on these fabulous fires, but only on the blood of the Lamb shed on Calvary to save the world.
>God had heard the poor widow's prayer. A few days after the priest had taken our cow she received a letter from each of her two sisters, Genevieve and Catherine.
The former, who was married to Etienne Eschenbach, of St. Thomas, told her to sell all she had and come, with her children, to live with her.
"We have no family," she said, "and God has given us the good things of this life in abundance. We shall be happy to share them with you and your children."
The latter, married in Kamouraska to the Hon. Amaable Dionne wrote: "We have learned the sad news of your husband's death. We have lately lost our only son. We wish to fill the vacant place with Charles, your eldest. Send him to us. We shall bring him up as our own child, and before long he will be your support. In the meantime, sell by auction all you have, and go to St. Thomas with your two younger children. There Genevieve and myself will supply your wants."
In a few days all our furniture was sold. Unfortunately, though I had carefully concealed my cherished Bible, it disappeared. I could never discover what became of it. Had mother herself, frightened by the threats of the priest, relinquished that treasure? or had some of our relatives, believing it to be their duty, destroyed it? I do not know. I deeply felt that loss, which was then irreparable to me.
On the following day, in the midst of bitter tears and sobs, I bade farewell to my poor mother and young brothers. They went to St. Thomas on board a schooner, and I crossed in a sloop to Kamouraska.
My uncle and aunt Dionne welcomed me with every mark of the most sincere affection. Having soon made known to them that I wished to become a priest, I begun to study Latin under the direction of Rev. Mr. Morin, vicar of Kamouraska. That priest was esteemed to be a learned man. He was about forty or fifty years old, and had been priest of a parish in the district of Montreal. But, as is the case with the majority of priests, his vows of celibacy had not proved a sufficient guarantee against the charms of one of his beautiful parishioners. This had caused a great scandal. He consequently lost his position, and the bishop had sent him to Kamouraska, where his past conduct was not so generally known. He was very good to me, and I soon loved him with sincere affection.
One day, about the beginning of the year 1882, he called me aside and said:
"Mr. Varin (the parish priest) is in the habit of giving a great festival on his birthday. Now, the principal citizens of the village wish on that occasion to present him with a bouquet. I am appointed to write an address, and to choose some one to deliver it before the priest. You are the one whom I have chosen. What do you think of it?"
"But I am very young," I replied.
"Your youth will only give more interest to what we wish to say and do," said the priest.
"Well, I have no objection to do so, provided the piece be not too long, and that I have it sufficiently soon to learn it well."
It was already prepared. The time of delivering it soon came. The best society of Kamouraska, composed of about fifteen gentlemen and as many ladies, were assembled in the beautiful parlours of the parsonage. Mr. Varin was in their midst. Suddenly Squire Paschal Tache, the seigneur of the parish, and his lady entered the room, holding me by each hand, and placed me in the midst of the guests. My head was crowned with flowers, for I was to represent the angel of the parish, whom the people had chosen to give to their pastor the expression of public admiration and gratitude. When the address was finished, I presented to the priest the beautiful bouquet of symbolical flowers prepared by the ladies for the occasion.
Mr. Varin was a small but well-built man. His thin lips were ever ready to smile graciously. The remarkable whiteness of his skin was still heightened by the red colour of his cheeks. Intelligence and goodness beamed from his expressive black eyes. Nothing could be more amiable and gracious than his conversation during the first quarter of an hour passed in his company. He was passionately fond of these little fetes, and the charm of his manners could not be surpassed as the host of the evening.
He was moved to tears before hearing half of the address, and the eyes of many were moistened when the pastor, with a voice trembling and full of emotion, expressed his joy and gratitude at being so highly appreciated by his parishioners.
As soon as the happy pastor had expressed his thanks, the ladies sang two or three beautiful songs. The door of the dining-room was then opened, and we could see a long table laden with the most delicious meats and wines that Canada could offer.
I had never before been present at a priest's dinner. The honourable position given me at that little fete permitted me to see it in all its details, and nothing could equal the curiosity with which I sought to hear and see all that was said and done by these guests.
Besides Mr. Varin and his vicar, there were three other priests, who were artistically placed in the midst of the most beautiful ladies of the company. The ladies, after honouring us with their presence for an hour or so, left the table and retired to the drawing-room. Scarcely had the last lady disappeared when Mr. Varin rose and said:
"Gentlemen, let us drink to the health of these amiable ladies, whose presence has thrown so many charms over the first part of our little fete."
Following the example of Mr. Varin each guest filled and emptied his long wine glass in honour of the ladies.
Squire Tache then proposed "The health of the most venerable and beloved priest of Canada, the Rev. Mr. Varin." Again the glasses were filled and emptied, except mine; for I had been placed at the side of my uncle Dionne, who, sternly looking at me as soon as I had emptied my first glass, said: "If you drink another I will send you from the table. A little boy like you should not drink, but only touch the glass with his lips."
It would have been difficult to count the healths which were drank after the ladies had left us. After each health a song or a story was called for, several of which were followed by applause, shouts of joy, and convulsive laughter.
When my turn to propose a health came, I wished to be excused, but they would not exempt me. So I had to say about whose health I was most interested. I rose, and turning to Mr. Varin, I said, "Let us drink to the health of our Holy Father, the Pope."
Nobody had yet thought of our Holy Father the Pope, and the name, mentioned under such circumstances by a child, appeared so droll to the priests and their merry guests that they burst into laughter, stamped their feet, and shouted, "Bravo! bravo! To the health of the Pope!" Everyone stood up, and at the invitation of Mr. Varin, the glasses were filled and emptied as usual.
So many healths could not be drunk without their natural effect—intoxication. The first that was overcome was a priest, Noel by name. He was a tall man, and a great drinker. I had noticed more than once, that instead of taking his wine glass he drank from a large tumbler. The first symptoms of his intoxication, instead of drawing sympathy from his friends, only increased their noisy bursts of laughter. He endeavored to take a bottle to fill his glass, but his hand shook, and the bottle, falling on the floor, was broken to pieces. Wishing to keep up his merriment he began to sing a Bacchic song, but could not finish. He dropped his head on the table, quite overcome, and trying to rise, he fell heavily upon his chair. While all this took place the other priests and all the guests looked at him, laughing loudly. At last, making a desperate effort, he rose, but after taking two or three steps, fell headlong on the floor. His two neighbours went to help him, but they were not in a condition to help him. Twice they rolled with him under the table. At length another, less affected by the fumes of wine, took him by the feet and dragged him into an adjoining room, where they left him.
This first scene seemed strange enough to me, for I had never before seen a priest intoxicated. But what astonished me most was the laughter of the other priests over that spectacle. Another scene, however, soon followed, which made me sadder. My young companion and friend, Achilles Tache, had not been warned, as I had, only to touch the wine with his lips. More than once he had emptied his glass. He also rolled upon the floor before the eyes of his father, who was too full of wine to help him. He cried aloud, "I am choking!" I tried to lift him up, but was not strong enough. I ran for his mother. She came, accompanied by another lady, but the vicar had carried him into another room, where he fell asleep after having thrown off the wine he had taken.
Poor Achilles! he was learning, in the house of his own priest, to take the first step of that life of debauchery and drunkenness which twelve or fifteen years later was to rob him of his manor, take from him his wife and children, and to make him fall a victim to the bloody hand of a murderer upon the solitary shores of Kamouraska!
This first and sad experience which I made of the real and intimate life of the Roman Catholic priest was so deeply engraved on my memory that I still remember with shame the bacchic song which that priest Morin had taught me, and which I sang on that occasion. It commenced with these Latin words: -
Ego, in arte Bacchi, Multum profeci: Decies pintum vini Hodie bibi.
I also remember one sung by Mr. Varin. Here it is: -
Savez-vous pourquoi, mes amis, (bis) Nous sommes tous si rejouis? (bis) Amis n'endoutez pas, C'est qu'un repas N'est bon. Qu' apprete sans facon, Mangeons a la gamelle. Vive le son, vive le son, Mangeons a la gamelle, Vive le son du flacon!
When the priests and their friends had sung, laughed, and drank for more than an hour, Mr. Vain rose and said, "The ladies must not be left alone all the evening. Will not our joy and happiness be doubled if they are pleased to share them with us."
This proposition was received with applause, and we passed into the drawing-room, where the ladies awaited us.
Several pieces of music, well executed, gave new life to this part of the entertainment. This resource, however, was soon exhausted. Besides, some of the ladies could well see that their husbands were half drunk, and they felt ashamed. Madam Tache could not conceal the grief she felt, caused by what had happened to her dear Achilles. Had she some presentiment, as may persons have, of the tears which she was to shed one day on his account? Was the vision of a mutilated and bloody corpse—the corpse of her own drunken son fallen dead, under the blow of an assassin's dagger, before her eyes?
Mr. Varin feared nothing more than an interruption in those hours of lively pleasure, of which his life was full, and which took place in his parsonage.
"Well, well, ladies and gentlemen, let us entertain no dark thoughts of this evening, the happiest of my life. Let us play blind man's bluff."
"Let us play blind man's bluff!" was repeated by everybody.
On hearing this noise, the gentlemen who were half asleep by the fumes of wine seemed to awaken as if from a long dream. Young gentlemen clapped their hands; ladies, young and old, congratulated one another on the happy idea.
"But whose eyes shall be covered first?" asked the priest.
"Yours, Mr. Varin," cried all the ladies. "We look to you for the good example, and we shall follow it."
"The power and unanimity of the jury by which I am condemned cannot be resisted. I feel that there is no appeal. I must submit."
Immediately one of the ladies placed her nicely-perfumed handkerchief over the eyes of her priest, took him by the hand, led him to an angle of the room, and having pushed him gently with her delicate hand, said, "Mr. Blindman! Let everyone flee! Woe to him who is caught!"
There is nothing more curious and comical than to see a man walk when he is under the influence of wine, especially if he wishes nobody to notice it. How stiff and straight he keeps his legs! How varied and complicated, in order to keep his equilibrium, are his motions to right and left! Such was the position of priest Varin. He was not very drunk. Though he had taken a large quantity of wine he did not fall. He carried with wonderful courage the weight with which he was laden. The wine which he had drank would have intoxicated three ordinary men; but such was his capacity for drinking that he could still walk without falling. However, his condition was sadly betrayed by each step he took and by each word he spoke. Nothing, therefore, was more comical than the first steps of the poor priest in his efforts to lay hold of somebody in order to pass his band to him.
He would take one forward and two backward steps, and would then stagger to the right and to the left. Everybody laughed to tears. One after another they would all either pinch him or touch him gently on his hand, arm, or shoulder, and, passing rapidly off, would exclaim, "Run away!" The priest went to the right and then to the left, threw his arms suddenly now here and then there. His legs evidently bent under their burden; he panted, perspired, coughed, and everyone began to fear that the trial might be carried too far, and beyond propriety. But suddenly, by a happy turn he caught the arm of a lady who in teasing him had come too near. In vain the lady tries to escape. She struggles, turns round, but the priest's hand holds her firmly.
While holding his victim with his right hand he wishes to touch her head with his left, in order to know and name the pretty bird he has caught. But at that moment his legs gave way. He falls, and drags with him his beautiful parishioner. She turns upon him in order to escape, but he soon turns on her in order to hold her better.
All this, though the affair of a moment, was long enough to cause the ladies to blush and cover their faces. Never in all my life did I see anything so shameful as that scene. This ended the game.
Everyone felt ashamed. I make a mistake when I say everyone, because the men were almost all too intoxicated to blush. The priests also were either too drunk or too much accustomed to see such scenes to be ashamed.
On the following day every one of those priests celebrated mass, and ate what they called the body and blood, the soul and divinity of Jesus Christ, just as if they had spent the previous evening in prayer and meditation on the laws of God! Mr. Varin was the arch-priest of the important part of the diocese of Quebec from La Riviere Ouelle to Gaspe.
Thus, O perfidious Church of Rome, thou deceivest the nations who follow thee, and ruinest even the priests whom thou makest thy slaves. 50year03.htm