When the bells had caught their breath, they struck one more resounding blow in the bosom of nature that hasn't brains enough to know whether it is "natural" or "naturalized," but will always manage somehow to make both ends meet.
The Procession of the Lord in Heaven could be heard approaching. There was a flourish of trumpets, and it appeared.
First two choirboys in red carrying the censer and the old silver cross in the customary bored fashion.
Then, stamping like a drove of cattle, schoolboys filed past, two by two, dressed in their Sunday best by poor mamas who had outdone themselves. With their hymnbooks open in their hats, they dragged their litany slowly toward the bushy acacias of the Promenade. The first two, clearly the sons of influential citizens, hoisted a worn silk banner, the tassels of which were held by two sons of less influential citizens. The father of one of them rushed forth from the crowd, and with proper parish pride adjusted the careful parting in his darling Eliacin's hair with his small brush. The last four members of the flock, tall and rather pale in their black communion suits, bore on their shoulders the shafts of a Pietà in the style of the rue Saint-Sulpice. Four precentors in discolored top hats, with glaring gloves and brilliant sashes, kept an eye on everything, strutting about like sergeants at arms.
Then came some little girls, looking like barley-sugar angels, in white frocks with blue sashes, their curls wreathed with lilies of the valley, their bare arms carrying baskets of petals to strew in their path, while well-heeled matrons shaded them with maternal umbrellas.
Then boarding-school girls, in an odd array of simple dresses, singing softly.
Then a group of white-gowned virgins, winners of the Rose, some congregation of the Children of Mary, looking exceedingly proper with their wreaths and gloves, carrying a banner here and there, and here and there a plaster statue, and other vague relics.
Dressed in white, too, a procession of first communicants in long pleated veils with lowered eyes, hands touching in a pious point, murmuring together things they had learned by heart (Ah! when one's heart is in such things!...)
Then on the heels of the fire brigade came the band, advancing in close formation. The band was composed of ham-smoked peasants in frock coats and top hats; brasses dented in homeward journeys from wedding dances, clarinets in the style of Jocrisse at the fair, a bruised bass drum in slings, and dog-eared music fastened to their instruments. At the moment they were in the act of dismembering the Wedding March from Mendelssohn's Midsummer Night's Dream.
After the band, four carefully selected flower girls came by, scattering rose petals from their baskets. And finally, on the shoulders of four hefty fellows, the gold-fringed pink canopy sheltering the ecclesiastic who was to officiate. Pompous to behold from without but paralyzed from within, he held out to the faithful along the way the legendary monstrance of the Most Holy Sacrament.
And the canopy came to a stop before the altar of the Hôtel de France!
O hushed steps of edifying unction, silence in the full light of day, bell sounding sacred and shrill at the moment of elevation, censer swinging as during mass! The Holy Sacrament was obviously the high point of the procession.
The gentlemen had removed their hats, a number of ladies had knelt on the edge of the pavement. No elegant sceptic said a word.
O silence in the full light of day, bell sounding sacred and shrill at the moment of elevation, censers raised through clouds of homage! Everybody was in heaven.
But for Ruth, the unfortunate and symbolical heroine I have created, this tantalizing silence, this bell as relentless and shrill as the bells on Judgment Day, must surely record that grief of griefs in those unjust valleys beyond the grave where the Suicide wanders, the Suicide who loved too much, the Suicide with the hole in his head.
She unclasps her feverishly devout hands, and clutching her brother's arm, sets about moaning again from the depths of her somnambulistic limbo.
"Blood, blood, there on the grass!... All the perfumes of Arabia... O Patrick, if I only knew why!... Why I should be chosen rather than another in this wide world where our sex is in the majority?"
Patrick could cry out once and for all in front of everybody: "You began it!" But no, he caresses her hands, gently gives her the smelling salts, and waits quietly, although he can already feel her growing faint.
The Priest who bears the Holy Sacrament turns noticeably toward the wealthy young invalid for a moment, and favors her with a remote movement of his consecrated lips.
And at the same moment a little girl is thrust forward through the crowd by a tense and beaming. young man. Red with shame, as if obeying some dreadful command, she climbs the steps and scatters all the roses in her basket around the chaise longue of the fainting gift. The child almost loses her balance as she goes back down.
There are moments in this life that are absolutely heart-rending, heart-rending for all classes of society. This was not one of them, but there are such moments and the exception only confirms the rule.
The procession again got under way. The Holy Sacrament now went on to cense the Hôtel d'Angleterre's hysterical rococo polychrome Saint Theresa, before censing in turn the armed altar of the Duchess H. While the hymns began again at the head, the tail of the procession filed past.
It filed past, the tail of the procession. First, the household of the fallen queen; then in two columns, a whole senate of citizens, hats in hand, marked by the indelible stigmata of their callings, from apoplectic butchers to pale pastry cooks. Then bowed and wrinkled peasants with unsightly skulls, their caps in their hands. A few had crutches, while others walked alone, reciting their prayers. Then came the Sisters of Charity, with long flowing sleeves, their winged headdresses quivering like Holy Ghosts hideously starched by a religion that had taken flight on its own ceremonies. Then a few ladies with parasols, and some servant girls. Then some peasant women with old-fashioned shawls and sunburned goitres. At intervals someone was telling his beads while his neighbors murmured the responses.
And the Corpus Christi procession ended by ending, stupidly lopped off by a timid group of servant girls.
And the general public poured after them, amid the dust and trampled flowers, toward their déjeuners à la carte.
the meantime, while they are taking down the altar...
All good things come to an end!
Ruth revives, and looks about in a state of exultation, one hand on the enamel plaque that locks her sexless breast, the other pointing around her:
"O Patrick, Patrick! Look at the roses in its place! No more blood, but roses of a blood redeemed forever! Oh, give me one to touch..."
"Yes, it's really true!" says Patrick without thinking, so instinctively tender, and wholly his sister's. "Oh, indeed, blood changed into roses!..."
"Then he is saved, Patrick?"
"He is saved."
She fills her hands with petals and sinks her face in them, sobbing.
"Oh, the poor creature. Now I won't have to worry about him any more."
All of which ends up in a coughing fit that must be treated with the same old benzoin syrup.
And so, thanks to the roses, roses so appropriately scattered at such a happy moment by a nameless little girl, Ruth was exorcised of her hallucinations, and from that day on could devote herself fully and purely to her consumption, whose record she again took up with a pen dipped in a blue-flowered copy of a Delft inkwell.
Needless to say she never knew that the very evening of this same Corpus Christi Day, the brother of the little gift with the basket of miraculous roses also killed himself for her sake, in a hotel room with no other witness to the state of his poor heart than the Lord in Heaven.
But the Miracle of the Roses was worked in all the glory of blood and roses. Hallelujah!