As the devil, one day, was passing through the
city of Bruges, he came in front of the Ursuline convent. The nuns, assembled in
the chapel, were singing hymns of praise.
The devil has always been a dilettante.
“Zounds!” said he, “there are some of the most charming voices I have ever
heard. I will go in for a moment, and hear the conclusion of the singing.” So he
While listening to the music, the devil, who,
as everybody knows, has great curiosity, felt a wish to learn whether the nuns
were pretty women as well as fine singers. He began to scrutinize them; and
being a connoisseur in such matters, his eye rested upon a nun stationed near
the entrance of the choir, by the high altar.
A figure more emblematic of beauty, innocence,
and repose, was never presented to the contemplation of painter or devil. Her
large, mild eyes, and her look of fixed tranquility, roused the devil’s vanity.
“There,” said he, “is a charming creature; happy in repeating her paternosters;
having no care beyond the walls of the convent; an example and a model to all
the sisterhood. It would be a clever thing now to open her eyes, and to make a
little demon of the saint.”
No sooner said than done. See the devil
already changed to a gallant cavalier, who is twisting his moustache, and
looking earnestly at the Ursuline.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to have
the devil’s eye fastened on yours, and not experience a sort of nervous
irritation. No one escapes this effect: the nun felt it. With a kind of
mechanical movement, she turned her eyes toward the handsome cavalier, and then
let them fall again languidly on her missal. During the rest of the performance,
the devil had his labor for his pains.
Still he did not give up as beaten.
At the hour when the nuns went into the
garden, to enjoy the warm, pure atmosphere of a pleasant spring-day, the devil
slipped in under the trees. He looked round for the nun, and found her sitting
on the grassy bank, under the fragrant shade of an arbor of lilacs. She seemed
to be indulging in one of those wild reveries, which are the dangerous offspring
of the odorous evening air.
“The occasion favors us,” said the devil to
himself. “Let us proceed.”
He drew from his pocket the heart of a young
woman who had died for love, and burning it under the form of a seraglio
pastille, he filled the air with perfume.
Instantly evoked by this magic charm, desires
came to flit about the nun. The breeze played in her hair, as if caressing it.
The clusters of the lilac rested wooingly upon her head. The flowers, the
waters, the birds, all became vocal, and talked to her of love.
The nun at length arose, and pressed her hand
to her head. “The charm works well,” said the devil to himself: “in less than an
hour she is mine.” But the nun, as if exhausted, had sunk down upon the turf
“Whew!” said she, after a moment of repose,
“it is very warm here. I must go to the refectory.” During all this magic spell
of Satan, she had been conscious of nothing but a slight elevation of
temperature. The devil was in a rage.
He determined that he would not be balked.
That evening, he found his way into the nun’s
cell, under the yellow cover of a fashionable romance. He assumed the form of an
octavo, and spread himself out, wide open, on the desk for prayer. He had
selected the most startling page in the book – a love-scene, all panting,
rustling, astounding. In every age, these splendid specimens of rhetoric have
thrown the imagination of readers into confusion, and have served the purposed
of Messire Satanas.
The young woman took the book and read the
page which had been opened for her. She then stretched out her arms with a
careless air, yawned, and fell asleep on her couch.
This time the devil was provoked.
Nothing remained but to try the power of dreams. He
summoned the whole throng; he gave them their instructions; and resolved himself
to superintend their operations. He leaned over the bed of the young maiden. The
dreams came, each in his turn, and rested on her heart. But there was nothing
which indicated that she was in the slightest degree disturbed by them. Her
sleep was quiet – her color unaltered – her pulse as regular as usual. It seems,
even, that towards midnight she began to snore.
“Clearly,” said the devil, “here is a nun who
is not constituted like nuns in general. I could have revolutionized a whole
convent with a single one of the means which I have employed against her. She
must have some secret charm, by which she is protected. One would suppose that a
frigid atmosphere circles round her; that some mysterious influence relaxes her
nerves, stupefies her wits, and exhausts her bodily powers. It is strange: I
feel a sort of desire to sleep myself,” added the devil, as he rubbed his eyes.
“What can it mean? Am I yielding to the influences of the romance which I had to
As he said these words, the devil fell asleep.
He did not awake until the hour of matins,
just as the nun left her cell to resort to the chapel. The devil had to shake
himself for a long time before he could get his eyes open; nor did he fully
recover the use of his faculties, till he was seventeen
kilometres distant from Bruges.
The devil, cunning as he is, had no idea who
his adversary was.
Being upon the earth, – incapable of loving
and of being loved, – taking no part in the pains or the pleasures of mankind, –
pale and mournful, – the cold Water-lily could find no refuge but in a convent.
The languid and monotonous life of the nuns suited her exactly. The absence of
all the virtues, was in her esteemed a virtue. Sister Nénuphar died in the odor
of sanctity. The nuns of Bruges procured her canonization.