THE BISHOP IN THE PRESENCE OF AN UNKNOWN LIGHT
At an epoch a little later than the date of the letter cited in the preceding pages, he did a
thing which, if the whole town was to be believed, was even more hazardous than his
trip across the mountains infested with bandits.
In the country near D---- a man lived quite alone. This man, we will state at once, was a
former member of the Convention. His name was G----
Member of the Convention, G---- was mentioned with a sort of horror in the little world of
D---- A member of the Convention--can you imagine such a thing? That existed from the
time when people called each other thou, and when they said "citizen." This man was
almost a monster. He had not voted for the death of the king, but almost. He was a
quasi-regicide. He had been a terrible man. How did it happen that such a man had not
been brought before a provost's court, on the return of the legitimate princes? They
need not have cut off his head, if you please; clemency must be exercised, agreed; but
a good banishment for life. An example, in short, etc. Besides, he was an atheist, like all
the rest of those people. Gossip of the geese about the vulture.
Was G---- a vulture after all? Yes; if he were to be judged by the element of ferocity in
this solitude of his. As he had not voted for the death of the king, he had not been
included in the decrees of exile, and had been able to remain in France.
He dwelt at a distance of three-quarters of an hour from the city, far from any hamlet, far
from any road, in some hidden turn of a very wild valley, no one knew exactly where. He
had there, it was said, a sort of field, a hole, a lair. There were no neighbors, not even
passers-by. Since he had dwelt in that valley, the path which led thither had
disappeared under a growth of grass. The locality was spoken of as though it had been
the dwelling of a hangman.
Nevertheless, the Bishop meditated on the subject, and from time to time he gazed at
the horizon at a point where a clump of trees marked the valley of the former member of
the Convention, and he said, "There is a soul yonder which is lonely."
And he added, deep in his own mind, "I owe him a visit."
But, let us avow it, this idea, which seemed natural at the first blush, appeared to him
after a moment's reflection, as strange, impossible, and almost repulsive. For, at
bottom, he shared the general impression, and the old member of the Convention
inspired him, without his being clearly conscious of the fact himself, with that sentiment
which borders on hate, and which is so well expressed by the word estrangement.