After Dark

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Author: Wilkie Collins

Chapter V.

THE events foretold by the good priest happened sooner even than he had anticipated. A new government ruled the destinies of France, and the persecution ceased in Brittany.

Among other propositions which were then submitted to the Parliament, was one advocating the restoration of the road-side crosses throughout the province. It was found, however, on inquiry, that these crosses were to be counted by thousands, and that the mere cost of wood required to re-erect them necessitated an expenditure of money which the bankrupt nation could ill afford to spare. While this project was under discussion, and before it was finally rejected, one man had undertaken the task which the Government shrank from attempting. When Gabriel left the cottage, taking his brother and sisters to live with his wife and himself at the farmhouse, Francois Sarzeau left it also, to perform in highway and byway his promise to Father Paul. For months and months he labored without intermission at his task; still, always doing good, and rendering help and kindness and true charity to any whom he could serve. He walked many a weary mile, toiled through many a hard day’s work, humbled himself even to beg of others, to get wood enough to restore a single cross. No one ever heard him complain, ever saw him impatient, ever detected him in faltering at his task. The shelter in an outhouse, the crust of bread and drink of water, which he could always get from the peasantry, seemed to suffice him. Among the people who watched his perseverance, a belief began to gain ground that his life would be miraculously prolonged until he had completed his undertaking from one end of Brittany to the other. But this was not to be.

He was seen one cold autumn evening, silently and steadily at work as usual, setting up a new cross on the site of one which had been shattered to splinters in the troubled times. In the morning he was found lying dead beneath the sacred symbol which his own hands had completed and erected in its place during the night. They buried him where he lay; and the priest who consecrated the ground allowed Gabriel to engrave his father’s epitaph in the wood of the cross. It was simply the initial letters of the dead man’s name, followed by this inscription: "Pray for the repose of his soul: he died penitent, and the doer of good works."

Once, and once only, did Gabriel hear anything of Father Paul. The good priest showed, by writing to the f armhouse, that he had not forgotten the family so largely indebted to him for their happiness. The letter was dated "Rome." Father Paul said that such services as he had been permitted to render to the Church in Brittany had obtained for him a new and a far more glorious trust than any he had yet held. He had been recalled from his curacy, and appointed to be at the head of a mission which was shortly to be dispatched to convert the inhabitants of a savage and far distant land to the Christian faith. He now wrote, as his brethren with him were writing, to take leave of all friends forever in this world, before setting out—for it was well known to the chosen persons intrusted with the new mission that they could only hope to advance its object by cheerfully risking their own lives for the sake of their religion. He gave his blessing to Francois Sarzeau, to Gabriel, and to his family; and bade them affectionately farewell for the last time.

There was a postscript to the letter, which was addressed to Perrine, and which she often read afterward with tearful eyes. The writer begged that, if she should have any children, she would show her friendly and Christian remembrance of him by teaching them to pray (as he hoped she herself would pray) that a blessing might attend Father Paul’s labors in the distant land.

The priest’s loving petition was never forgotten. When Perrine taught its first prayer to her first child, the little creature was instructed to end the few simple words pronounced at its mother’s knees, with, "God bless Father Paul."

In those words the nun concluded her narrative. After it was ended, she pointed to the old wooden cross, and said to me:

"That was one of the many that he made. It was found, a few years since, to have suffered so much from exposure to the weather that it was unfit to remain any longer in its old place. A priest in Brittany gave it to one of the nuns in this convent. Do you wonder now that the Mother Superior always calls it a Relic?"

"No," I answered. "And I should have small respect indeed for the religious convictions of any one who could hear the story of that wooden cross, and not feel that the Mother Superior’s name for it is the very best that could have been chosen."

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Chicago: Wilkie Collins, "Chapter 5," After Dark, trans. Evans, Sebastian in After Dark Original Sources, accessed May 28, 2024, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UI5KAYTA5E16JBF.

MLA: Collins, Wilkie. "Chapter 5." After Dark, translted by Evans, Sebastian, in After Dark, Original Sources. 28 May. 2024. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UI5KAYTA5E16JBF.

Harvard: Collins, W, 'Chapter 5' in After Dark, trans. . cited in , After Dark. Original Sources, retrieved 28 May 2024, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=UI5KAYTA5E16JBF.