I remember that it is my birthday; I ring for my people; and my maid answers the bell, alarmed by the idea that I am ill. I tell her to dress me that I may go to mass. I go to the Church of the Cordeliers, followed by my footman, and taking with me a little orphan whom I had adopted. The first part of the mass is celebrated without attracting my attention; but, at the second part the accusing voice of my conscience suddenly begins to speak. "What brings you here?" it says. "Do you come to reward God for making you the attractive person that you are, by mortally transgressing His laws every day of your life?" I hear that question, and I am unspeakably overwhelmed by it. I quit the chair on which I have hitherto been leaning carelessly, and I prostrate myself in an agony of remorse on the pavement of the church.
The mass over, I send home the footman and the orphan, remaining behind myself, plunged in inconceivable perplexity. At last I rouse myself on a sudden; I go to the sacristy; I demand a mass for my own proper advantage every day; I determine to attend it regularly; and, after three hours of agitation, I return home, resolved to enter on the path that leads to justification.
Six months passed. Every morning I went to my mass: every evening I spent in my customary dissipations.
Some of my friends indulged in considerable merriment at my expense when they found out my constant attendance at mass. Accordingly, I disguised myself as a boy, when I went to church, to escape observation. My disguise was found out, and the jokes against me were redoubled. Upon this, I began to think of the words of the Gospel, which declare the impossibility of serving two masters. I determined to abandon the service of Mammon.
The first vanity I gave up was the vanity of keeping a maid. By way of further accustoming myself to the retreat from the world which I now began to meditate, I declined all invitations to parties under the pretext of indisposition. But the nearer the Easter time approached at which I had settled in my own mind definitely to turn my back on worldly temptations and pleasures, the more violent became my internal struggles with myself. My health suffered under them to such an extent that I was troubled with perpetual attacks of retching and sickness, which, however, did not prevent me from writing my general confession, addressed to the vicar of Saint Sulpice, the parish in which I lived.
Just Heaven! what did I not suffer some days afterwards, when I united around me at dinner, for the last time, all the friends who had been dearest to me in the days of my worldly life! What words can describe the tumult of my heart when one of my guests said to me, "You are giving us too good a dinner for a Wednesday in Passion Week;" and when another answered, jestingly, "You forget that this is her farewell dinner to her friends!" I felt ready to faint while they were talking, and rose from table pretexting as an excuse, that I had a payment to make that evening, which I could not in honour defer any longer. The company rose with me, and saw me to the door. I got into my carriage, and the company returned to table. My nerves were in such a state that I shrieked at the first crack of the coachman's whip; and the company came running down again to know what was the matter. One of my servants cleverly stopped them from all hurrying out to the carriage together, by declaring that the scream proceeded from my adopted orphan. Upon this they returned quietly enough to their wine, and I drove off with my general confession to the vicar of Saint Sulpice.
My interview with the vicar lasted three hours. His joy at discovering that I was in a state of grace was extreme. My own emotions were quite indescribable. Late at night I returned to my own house, and found my guests all gone. I employed myself in writing farewell letters to the manager and company of the theatre, and in making the necessary arrangements for sending back my adopted orphan to his friends, with twenty pistoles. Finally, I directed the servants to say, if anybody enquired after me the next day, that I had gone out of town for some time; and after that, at five o'clock in the morning, I left my home in Paris never to return to it again.
By this time I had thoroughly recovered my tranquillity. I was as easy in my mind at leaving my house as I am now when I quit my cell to sing in the choir. Such already was the happy result of my perpetual masses, my general confession, and my three hours' interview with the vicar of Saint Sulpice.
Before taking leave of the world, I went to Versailles to say good-bye to my worthy patrons, Cardinal Fleury and the Duke de Gesvres. From them, I went to mass in the King's Chapel; and after that, I called on a lady of Versailles whom I had mortally offended, for the purpose of making my peace with her. She received me angrily enough. I told her I had not come to justify myself, but to ask her pardon. If she granted it, she would send me away happy.