Three years had passed since Piero Maironi, an artist, had renounced the world, and with it his love for Jeanne Dessalle. Maironi, whose wife was in a lunatic asylum, had fallen in love with Jeanne, who was separated from her husband. Before Maironi’s wife died, however, she regained her sanity and called Piero to her side. There he had recovered his sense of honor, and on the night she died, he had a prophetic vision concerning his life. He disappeared immediately from the knowledge of his family and friends, and none of his old associates had seen him since. Jeanne had received a message from him that told of his sorrow at the sin they had shared. In spite of his message she could not quite accept his decision but still hoped to see him and renew his love for her. Her husband had since died, and she thought that if Piero could come to her without guilt he might renounce the holy life he was supposed to have embraced.
With a new friend, Noemi d’Arxel, Jeanne began to travel over Italy in search of Piero. In the hope that he had not yet taken his final vows as a monk, she sought him everywhere. Jeanne herself could not accept God. She knew that this fact would be a hindrance to the relations she hoped to establish with her former lover, but she was too intelligent and too honest to pretend to believe in order to influence him.
At last Jeanne and Noemi found Piero at Jenne. He was a gardener in the monastery of Santa Scholastica, where he was the pupil and servant of Don Clemente, a Benedictine monk of rare humility and virtue. Piero was now called Benedetto, and no one but Don Clemente knew his real identity. To the people he was known as the Saint of Jenne, and many were cured of afflictions by merely touching his garments. Benedetto claimed no miracles; in fact, he begged people not to glorify him. Benedetto was a true man of God. He wanted only to pray and to serve others and to rid the Church of her faults. For this last desire he was often reviled, because many dignitaries of the Church could not stand to have their souls bared to the public. Loving the Church with his whole heart, Benedetto sorrowed when he saw corruption and greed weakening it from within. In spite of his sincerity and his humility, he was sometimes hated, sometimes worshipped by those who knew him.
Although Jeanne managed to see Benedetto alone, the interview was not a satisfactory one. He asked her first if she now believed, and honesty made her answer that she did not. Then he asked her if she would promise to live for the poor and to love the afflicted. When she answered that she would, he told her that he would call her to his side at a certain hour in the future. Until then she must never try to see him again. After Benedetto left her, Jeanne was lost in sorrow.
Even though he worked only for the good of others, ruining his health by his frugal habits, Benedetto was forced to leave Jenne...
(The entire section is 1194 words.)