I was eight and a half when Léonie left school, and I took her place at the Benedictine Abbey in Lisieux. The girls of my class were all older than myself; one of them was fourteen, and, though not clever, she knew how to impose on the little ones. Seeing me so young, nearly always first in class, and a favourite with all the nuns, she was jealous, and used to pay me out in a thousand ways. Naturally timid and sensitive, I did not know how to defend myself, and could only cry in silence. Céline and my elder sisters did not know of my grief, and, not being advanced enough in virtue to rise above these troubles, I suffered considerably.
Every evening I went home, and then my spirits rose. I would climb on to Papa's knee, telling him what marks I had, and his caresses made me forget all my troubles. With what delight I announced the result of my first essay, for I won the maximum number of marks. In reward I received a silver coin which I put in my money box for the poor, and nearly every Thursday I was able to increase the fund.
Indeed, to be spoilt was a real necessity for me. The Little Flower had need to strike its tender roots deeper and deeper into the dearly loved garden of home, for nowhere else could it find the nourishment it required. Thursday was a holiday, but it was not like the holidays I had under Pauline, which I generally spent upstairs with Papa. Not knowing how to play like other children, I felt myself a dull companion. I tried my best to do as the others did, but without success.
After Céline, who was, so to say, indispensable to me, I sought the company of my little cousin Marie, because she left me free to choose the games I liked best. We were already closely united in heart and will, as if God were showing us in advance how one day in the Carmel we should embrace the same religious life.
Very often, at my uncle's house, we used to play at being two austere hermits, with only a poor hut, a little patch of corn, and a garden in which to grow a few vegetables. Our life was to be spent in continual contemplation, one praying while the other engaged in active duties. All was done with religious gravity and decorum. If we went out, the make-believe continued even in the street; the two hermits would say the Rosary, using their fingers to count on, so as not to display their devotion before those who might scoff. One day, however, the hermit Thérèse forgot herself -- before eating a cake, given her for lunch, she made a large Sign of the Cross, and some worldly folk did not repress a smile.
We were so bent on always doing the same thing that sometimes we carried it too far. Endeavouring one evening, on our way home from school, to imitate the modest demeanour of the hermits, I said to Marie: |Lead me, I am going to shut my eyes.| |So am I,| she answered. Being on the pavement we were in no fear of vehicles, and for a short while all went well, and we enjoyed walking with our eyes shut; but presently we both fell over some boxes standing at a shop door and knocked them down. The shopkeeper came out in a rage to replace them, but the would-be blind pair picked themselves up and ran off as fast as they could, with eyes wide open. Then the hermits had to listen to a well-deserved scolding from Jeanne, the maid, who seemed as vexed as the shopkeeper.
I have not yet told you how Céline and I altered when we came to Lisieux. She had now become the little romp, full of mischief, while Thérèse had turned into a very quiet little girl, far too much inclined to tears. I needed a champion, and who can say how courageously my dear little sister played that part. We used to enjoy making each other little presents, for, at that age, the simplicity of our hearts was unspoiled. Like the spring flowers they unfolded, glad to receive the morning dew, while the same soft breezes swayed their petals. Yes, our joys were mutual. I felt this especially on the happy day of Céline's First Communion; I was only seven years old, and had not yet begun school at the Abbey. How sweet is the remembrance of her preparation! Every evening during its last weeks my sisters talked to her of the great event. I listened, eager to prepare myself too, and my heart swelled with grief when I was told to go away because I was still too young. I thought that four years was not too long to spend in making ready to receive Our dear Lord. One evening I heard someone say to my happy little sister: |From the time of your First Communion you must begin an entirely new life.| At once I made a resolution not to wait till the time of my First Communion, but to begin with Céline. During her retreat she remained as a boarder at the Abbey, and it seemed to me she was away a long time; but at last the happy day came. What a delightful impression it has left on my mind -- it was like a foretaste of my own First Communion! How many graces I received that day! I look on it as one of the most beautiful of my life.
I have gone back a little in order to recall these happy memories; but now I must tell you of the mournful parting which crushed my heart when Our Lord took from me my little Mother whom I loved so dearly. I told her once that I would like to go away with her to a far-off desert; she replied that it was her wish too, but that she was waiting till I was big enough to set out. This impossible promise I took in earnest, and what was my grief when I heard Pauline talking to Marie about soon entering the Carmel! I did not know the Carmel; but I knew that she was leaving me to enter a convent, and that she would not wait for me.
How can I describe the anguish I suffered! In a flash I saw life spread out before me as it really is, full of sufferings and frequent partings, and I shed bitter tears. At that time I did not know the joy of sacrifice; I was weak -- so weak that I look on it as a great grace that I was able to bear such a trial, one seemingly so much beyond my strength -- and yet live. I shall never forget how tenderly my little Mother consoled me, while explaining the religious life. Then one evening, when I was thinking over the picture she had drawn, I felt that the Carmel was the desert where God wished me also to hide. I felt this so strongly that I had not the least doubt about it; nor was it a childish dream, but the certainty of a Divine Call. This impression, which I cannot properly describe, left me with a feeling of great inward peace.
Next day I confided my desires to Pauline. They seemed to her as a proof of God's Will, and she promised to take me soon to the Carmel, to see the Mother Prioress and to tell her my secret. This solemn visit was fixed for a certain Sunday, and great was my embarrassment on hearing that my cousin Marie -- who was still young enough to be allowed to see the Carmelites -- was to come with us.
I had to contrive a means of being alone with the Reverend Mother, and this is what I planned. I told Marie, that, as we were to have the great privilege of seeing her, we must be very good and polite, and tell her our little secrets, and in order to do that, we must go out of the room in turns. Though she did not quite like it, because she had no secrets to confide, Marie took me at my word, and so I was able to be alone with you, dear Mother. You listened to my great disclosure, and believed in my vocation, but you told me that postulants were not received at the age of nine, and that I must wait till I was sixteen. In spite of my ardent desire to enter with Pauline and make my First Communion on her clothing day, I had to be resigned.
At last the 2nd of October came -- a day of tears, but also of blessings, when Our Lord gathered the first of His flowers, the chosen flower who, later on, was to become the Mother of her sisters. Whilst Papa, with my uncle and Marie, climbed the mountain of Carmel to offer his first sacrifice, my aunt took me to Mass, with my sisters and cousins. We were bathed in tears, and people gazed at us in astonishment when we entered the church, but that did not stop our crying. I even wondered how the sun could go on shining. Perhaps, dear Mother, you think I exaggerate my grief a little. I confess that this parting ought not to have upset me so much, but my soul was yet far from mature, and I had to pass through many trials before reaching the haven of peace, before tasting the delicious fruits of perfect love and of complete abandonment to God's Will.
In the afternoon of that October day, 1882, behind the grating of the Carmel, I saw my beloved Pauline, now become Sister Agnes of Jesus. Oh, how much I suffered in that parlour! As I am writing the story of my soul, it seems to me that I ought to tell you everything. Well, I acknowledge that I hardly counted the first pains of this parting, in comparison with those which followed. I, who had been accustomed to talk with my little Mother of all that was in my heart, could now scarcely snatch two or three minutes with her at the end of the family visits; even these short minutes were passed in tears, and I went away with my heart torn with grief.
I did not realise that it was impossible to give us each half an hour, and that of course Papa and Marie must have the largest share. I could not understand all this, and I said from the depths of my heart: |Pauline is lost to me.|
This suffering so affected me that I soon became seriously ill. The illness was undoubtedly the work of the devil, who, in his fury at this first entry into the Carmel, tried to avenge himself on me for the great harm my family was to do him in the future. However, he little knew that the Queen of Heaven was watching faithfully over her Little Flower, that she was smiling upon it from on high, ready to still the tempest just when the delicate and fragile stalk was in danger of being broken once and for all. At the close of the year 1882 I began to suffer from constant headaches; they were bearable, however, and did not prevent me from continuing my studies. This lasted till the Easter of 1883. Just then Papa went to Paris with my elder sisters, and confided Céline and me to the care of our uncle and aunt. One evening I was alone with my uncle, and he talked so tenderly of my Mother and of bygone days that I was deeply moved and began to cry. My sensitiveness touched him too; he was surprised that one of my age should feel as I did. So he determined to do all he could to divert my mind during the holidays.
But God had decided otherwise. That very evening my headache became acute, and I was seized with a strange shivering which lasted all night. My aunt, like a real mother, never left me for a moment; all through my illness she lavished on me the most tender and devoted care. You may imagine my poor Father's grief when he returned from Paris to find me in this hopeless state; he thought I was going to die, but Our Lord might have said to him: |This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.|
Yes, God was glorified by means of this trial, by the wonderful resignation of my Father and sisters. And to Marie especially what suffering it brought, and how grateful I am to this dear sister! She seemed to divine my wants by instinct, for a mother's heart is more knowing than the science of the most skilful doctors.
And now Pauline's clothing day was drawing near; but, fearing to distress me, no one dared mention it in my presence, since it was taken for granted that I should not be well enough to be there. Deep down in my heart, however, I firmly believed that God would give me the consolation of seeing dear Pauline on that day. I was quite sure that this feast would be unclouded; I knew that Our Lord would not try His Spouse by depriving her of my presence, she had already suffered so much on account of my illness. And so it turned out. I was there, able to embrace my dear little Mother, to sit on her knee, and, hiding myself under her veil, to receive her loving caresses. I was able to feast my eyes upon her -- she looked so lovely in her veil and mantle of white. Truly it was a day of happiness in the midst of heavy trials; but this day, or rather this hour, passed only too quickly, and soon we were in the carriage which was to take us away from the Carmel. On reaching home I was made to lie down, though I did not feel at all tired; but next day I had a serious relapse, and became so ill that, humanly speaking, there was no hope of any recovery.
I do not know how to describe this extraordinary illness. I said things which I had never thought of; I acted as though I were forced to act in spite of myself; I seemed nearly always to be delirious; and yet I feel certain that I was never, for a minute, deprived of my reason. Sometimes I remained in a state of extreme exhaustion for hours together, unable to make the least movement, and yet, in spite of this extraordinary torpor, hearing the least whisper. I remember it still. And what fears the devil inspired! I was afraid of everything; my bed seemed to be surrounded by frightful precipices; nails in the wall took the terrifying appearance of long fingers, shrivelled and blackened with fire, making me cry out in terror. One day, while Papa stood looking at me in silence, the hat in his hand was suddenly transformed into some horrible shape, and I was so frightened that he went away sobbing.
But if God allowed the devil to approach me in this open way, Angels too were sent to console and strengthen me. Marie never left me, and never showed the least trace of weariness in spite of all the trouble I gave her -- for I could not rest when she was away. During meals, when Victoire took care of me, I never ceased calling tearfully |Marie! Marie!| When she wanted to go out, it was only if she were going to Mass or to see Pauline that I kept quiet. As for Léonie and my little Céline, they could not do enough for me. On Sundays they shut themselves up for hours with a poor child who seemed almost to have lost her reason. My own dear sisters, how much I made you suffer! My uncle and aunt were also devoted to me. My aunt came to see me every day, and brought me many little gifts. I could never tell you how my love for these dear ones increased during this illness. I understood better than ever what Papa had so often told us: |Always remember, children, that your uncle and aunt have devoted themselves to you in a way that is quite exceptional.| In his old age he experienced this himself, and now he must bless and protect those who lavished upon him such affectionate care.
When my sufferings grew less, my great delight was to weave garlands of daisies and forget-me-nots for Our Lady's statue. We were in the beautiful month of May, when all nature is clothed with the flowers of spring; the Little Flower alone drooped, and seemed as though it had withered for ever. Yet she too had a shining sun, the miraculous statue of the Queen of Heaven. How often did not the Little Flower turn towards this glorious Sun!
One day Papa came into my room in the deepest distress, and I watched him go up to Marie and give her some money, bidding her write to Paris, and have a novena of Masses said at the shrine of Our Lady of Victories, to obtain the cure of his poor little Queen. How touching were his faith and love! How much I longed to get up and tell him I was cured! Alas! my wishes could not work a miracle, and it needed one to restore me to health. Yes, it needed a great miracle, and this was wrought by Our Lady of Victories herself.
One Sunday, during the novena, Marie went into the garden, leaving me with Léonie, who was reading by the window. After a short time I began to call: |Marie! Marie!| very softly. Léonie, accustomed to hear me fret like this, took no notice, so I called louder, until Marie came back to me. I saw her come into the room quite well, but, for the first time, I failed to recognise her. I looked all round and glanced anxiously into the garden, still calling: |Marie! Marie!| Her anguish was perhaps greater than mine, and that was unutterable. At last, after many fruitless efforts to make me recognise her, she whispered a few words to Léonie, and went away pale and trembling. Léonie presently carried me to the window. There I saw the garden, and Marie walking up and down, but still I did not recognise her; she came forward, smiling, and held out her arms to me calling tenderly: |Thérèse, dear little Thérèse!| This last effort failing, she came in again and knelt in tears at the foot of my bed; turning towards the statue of Our Lady, she entreated her with the fervour of a mother who begs the life of her child and will not be refused. Léonie and Céline joined her, and that cry of faith forced the gates of Heaven. I too, finding no help on earth and nearly dead with pain, turned to my Heavenly Mother, begging her from the bottom of my heart to have pity on me. Suddenly the statue seemed to come to life and grow beautiful, with a divine beauty that I shall never find words to describe. The expression of Our Lady's face was ineffably sweet, tender, and compassionate; but what touched me to the very depths of my soul was her gracious smile. Then, all my pain vanished, two big tears started to my eyes and fell silently. . . .
They were indeed tears of unmixed heavenly joy. |Our Blessed Lady has come to me, she has smiled at me. How happy I am, but I shall tell no one, or my happiness will leave me!| Such were my thoughts. Looking around, I recognised Marie; she seemed very much overcome, and looked lovingly at me, as though she guessed that I had just received a great grace.
Indeed her prayers had gained me this unspeakable favour -- a smile from the Blessed Virgin! When she saw me with my eyes fixed on the statue, she said to herself: |Thérèse is cured!| And it was true. The Little Flower had come to life again -- a bright ray from its glorious Sun had warmed and set it free for ever from its cruel enemy. |The dark winter is past, the rain is over and gone,| and Our Lady's Little Flower gathered such strength that five years later it opened wide its petals on the fertile mountain of Carmel.
As I said before, Marie was convinced that Our Blessed Lady, while restoring my bodily health, had granted me some hidden grace. So, when I was alone with her, I could not resist her tender and pressing inquiries. I was so astonished to find my secret already known, without my having said a word, that I told her everything. Alas! as I had foreseen, my joy was turned into bitterness. For four years the remembrance of this grace was a cause of real pain to me, and it was only in the blessed sanctuary of Our Lady of Victories, at my Mother's feet, that I once again found peace. There it was restored to me in all its fulness, as I will tell you later.
This is how my joy was changed into sadness. When Marie had heard the childish, but perfectly sincere, account of the grace I had received, she begged my leave to tell them at the Carmel, and I did not like to refuse her. My first visit there after my illness was full of joy at seeing Pauline clothed in the habit of Our Lady of Carmel. It was a happy time for us both, we had so much to say, we had both suffered so much. My heart was so full that I could hardly speak.
You were there, dear Mother, and plainly showed your affection for me; I saw several other Sisters too, and you must remember how they questioned me about my cure. Some asked if Our Lady was holding the Infant Jesus in her arms, others if the Angels were with her, and so on. All these questions distressed and grieved me, and I could only make one answer: |Our Lady looked very beautiful; I saw her come towards me and smile.| But noticing that the nuns thought something quite different had happened from what I had told them, I began to persuade myself that I had been guilty of an untruth.
If only I had kept my secret I should have kept my happiness also. But Our Lady allowed this trouble to befall me for the good of my soul; perhaps without it vanity would have crept into my heart, whereas now I was humbled, and I looked on myself with feelings of contempt. My God, Thou alone knowest all that I suffered!