Madame Farner looked up in alarm as the priest arrived with her tearful daughter.
'What's happened Father?' she cried, embracing the girl.
'Why don't you go to your room and rest, Dominique,' he suggested gently, 'I'd like to talk to your mother.' She nodded and left them.
Madame Farner followed her daughter to the door then, confused, turned back to the priest.
'Why is she crying?'
'It's very complex,' he started to say, realising he barely understood himself what he was about to try and explain to this worried mother. 'It seems your daughter has had a strange experience, one which I feel has been brought on by some form of emotional disturbance.'
'Disturbance?' Monique Farner gasped. Father Benard went to her and led her to a chair he drew from beneath the kitchen table.
He sat across the table from her: 'Has Dominique been upset by anything lately; school, perhaps, friends, or even here at home?'
Her mother shook her head. 'Nothing to my knowledge. She is a very level headed girl and not easily upset.'
He thought for a moment then asked; 'What is her attitude to the church?'
Madame Farner looked even more confused.
'She's no different to other girls of her age. She says her rosary and attends regularly with the family but I wouldn't say she was particularly drawn to the church.' She leaned forward forcefully, unable to contain herself any longer. 'What is it, Father? You must tell me what has happened.'
'It is difficult to explain,' he said, but knew he would have to find the words. 'It would appear that Dominique has had a religious experience. It seems that she has had a vision.’
'Three times to my knowledge she has seen.... she thinks she has seen....' again he hesitated, fearful that the word miracle would slip into his explanation. 'She thinks she has seen the statue of the Madonna weeping.'
The words were spoken. He felt a chill run down his body and the hairs on his arms momentarily stand on end.
Monique Farner crossed herself. Her mouth opened, but she said nothing.
He looked at her, conscious of the magnitude of the information he was giving her, an ordinary housewife, mother of three girls and wife to Henri the carpenter, her experience of life outside her comfortable home limited to the romance of television. He was asking this simple, kind soul to comprehend the incomprehensible.
'I was with her when she last witnessed it. I saw nothing, but she was very disturbed by her experience,' he said. 'I think something deeply emotional has disturbed her and she is transferring her unhappiness to the stone Virgin and taking the blame for the sorrow on herself.'
They heard heavy steps on the threshold and Henri Farner appeared in the doorway.
'They told me they saw you come, with Dominique in tears,' he said as he shook the priest's hand. 'Is she in trouble?'
Father Benard shook his head and started to speak, but he was interrupted by Madame Farner.
'Sit down Henri,' she said and went on to explain what the priest had told her.
'Mon Dieu!' he gasped, when she had finished. 'It is a miracle.'
Father Benard looked up in dread. 'No Monsieur,' he cried, raising his hand to accentuate his words. 'You must not interpret what your daughter thought she saw in that way. The Church cannot accept such things so easily.'
'How else can you explain it?' Farner demanded. 'Dominique has obviously been chosen by the Holy Mother.'
Benard shook his head. 'Dominique thinks she has committed a sin of such magnitude that the Holy Virgin weeps for her. We must discover what is upsetting your daughter and absolve her to remove her guilt.'
'My daughter has committed no sin,' Farner cried angrily. 'You cannot explain away a vision such as this by accusing her of sin.'
Madame Farner covered her husband's hand with her own. 'Please, Henri, listen to Father Benard. Do not lose your temper.'
He shook her hand away. 'Look Monique, it is plain to see. The Holy Mother has chosen our daughter to tell the world that she weeps for our sins. She has chosen Dominique. It is a miracle.'
'But Dominique is so young,' Madame Farner begged.
'Saint Bernadette was only a girl when the Holy Virgin appeared to her,' he replied excitedly. 'Dominique is young, pure, a virgin to carry the Virgin's message.'
'Henri!' Father Benard cried, 'You do not know what you are saying.'
'I know that you are a man of God and should be heralding this wonderful event rather than trying to hide it behind worldly explanations.' He rose and moved towards the door.
'Where are you going,' his wife asked urgently.
'I am going to see Giles Leroy. The Mayor will know what to do.'
'No. Wait, please,' the priest begged, but Monsieur Farnet strode from the room and left the house.
'This is not good,' Benard sighed. 'A thing like this will get out of hand in no time.'
'Oh my poor Dominique,' Madame Farner said. 'What will become of her?'
'We must try and protect her as much as we can. There are those who will exploit this situation.'
The mother wiped a tear from the corners of her eyes. 'Is it possible, Father?' she asked tremulously. 'Could it possibly be a miracle?'
He shook his head. 'I don't know. Such a thing is beyond my experience. I felt something different, even special, when I saw Dominique's face gazing at the statue, but I suppose my faith is such that I would be deeply moved in the presence of such belief. I don't know how this thing will be proved one way or the other. I am only conscious of the hysteria that will be unleashed if it is not handled carefully.'
He stood wearily. 'Take care of Dominique. Do not let your husband's enthusiasm for a miracle cloud his judgement over her well being.'
'I do not want a miracle,' Madame Farner said. 'I only want a happy, healthy daughter.' She took his hand, 'Pray for us, Father. Pray for Dominique.'
'I will,' he said, and followed Henri Farner from the house.