the angel that st peter had sent to st andrew returned to heaven.
as he flew through the gate, he was noticed by the archangel st michael.
st michael always took an interest in the doings of lesser angels and he asked him where he had been and what he had been doing.
the angel, whose name was gustave, had not been sworn to any secrecy by st peter. and in any wise he was an angel and incapable of anything but truth. so he told st michael readily what he had been about.
st michael was not pleased by what he heard. he thought st peter was using his power, and the power of heaven, in a frivolous and unseemly way.
at the same time he realized that st peter had powerful friends, and could not be taken to task without due consideration.
this was not the first time that the new breed of saints had made their presence felt - st michael and the other archangels who had been in heaven since its inception felt that the new saints did not always show them the respect their aeons of experience deserved.
st michael resolved to discuss the matter with st gabriel and st raphael before proceeding with any complaint or action.
“the devil take us!” cried the comtesse at this point in marie’s story. “child, you make heaven sound like the court of poor marie antoinette - not even that, the court of some backwater kingdom like portugal or sardinia! what next, the angels running their flaming swords through one another over some pretty face, or pretty foot?”
for an instant marie seemed almost flustered by the comtesse’s outburst. but quickly perceiving that the comtesse was amused rather than scandalized, she only replied with her customary gravity:
“i am telling madame the story as i heard it from father paul.” she hesitated . “or perhaps from old gervaise, may her soul rest in peace. yes, i think it must have been from gervaise.”
marie resumed her tale.
st gabriel and st raphael agreed with st michael that st peter had perhaps used his power frivolously , but rather than confront him directly, or complain about him to the blessed virgin or any of her attendant angels, they resolved to play a prank upon st peter themselves, which might perhaps cure him of his bumptious ways.
and so st gabriel went to the gate of heaven and told st peter in the politest way possible that his protege, the emperor nero, was having trouble in his new role as a shepherd boy, which peter had assigned him in playing his prank on andrew.
somewhat embarrassed at being caught out in this undignified pastime by the eminent archangel, st peter neither protested nor enquired as to where gabriel had received his information, but without further ado left his post at heaven’s gate to st linus and made his way to earth, to the snowy countryside where st andrew was being entertained in the shepherd’s hut by nero.
no sooner had peter arrived back on earth than he heard the gate of heaven clang shut behind him. he saw a light in the sky and saw the three archangels looking down on him with gentle smiles.
“peter,” st michael addressed him, “we have decided that since you enjoy a good jape, and enjoy involving yourself in the affairs of earth, you will enjoy the task we have for you. therefore we command you to stay upon the earth and take to the roads of earth as a poor beggar, with one companion, asking pennies from travelers to build a beautiful new cathedral of our lady in the jungles of brazil, which shall be a beacon to the faithful throughout the world.
your companion will, of course, be your old familiar, the emperor nero.
we estimate that the two of you will take about two thousand years to complete your task.”
and with that the three heavenly emissaries disappeared, leaving st peter to his thoughts in the wind and snow.
if peter had learned nothing else, it was to accept the decrees of heaven. espying the light in the shepherd’s hut, he made his way to it and knocked upon its door.
imagine the amused perplexity of nero and the astonishment of st andrew, when peter burst in upon them.
he explained to nero - who was no doubt delighted to absent the regions of hell for a couple of thousand years - the change in their plans, and that the jape they were playing on andrew must be suspended.
peter tearfully apologized to andrew for his intended mischief, insisting he had only meant a bit of fun. st andrew of course forgave him.
andrew, after his astonishment had passed, bade peter goodbye and made his way to the northern kingdom through regions still stormy, but now quite devoid of wolves - perhaps st michael or st gabriel had seen to that - where he converted the king and his subjects to the true faith, to which they remain steadfast to this day.
and where the king, in his gratitude, erected a glorious basilica to our lady of the snows, which is even now the most beautiful in the regions just below the north pole.
and so it is that to this day - for the two thousand years are not yet up - a traveler anywhere on this earth may encounter two bedraggled wayfarers - one whitehaired and bent, the other darkhaired and curiously merry, begging alms for the construction of the cathedral in the jungle.
and, as atheism and blasphemy have made their way across the surface of the earth, making it more likely that their appeal be met with incredulity and jeers, it may be imagined that the original estimate of two thousand years to complete their task may prove only too optimistic.
marie folded her hands, indicating that her tale was over.
“i must say,” the comtesse told her. “that seems a bit hard on poor peter. robespierre was not half so harsh to poor king louis and marie antoinette.”
“the ways of heaven are not for us to question, madame,” marie replied. “and, besides, it may only be a story.”
“how true. and a most entertaining story.” the comtesse looked into the fire. “look here, it is time for my nap.” she stood up. “there is no need for you to accompany me. finish your tea, keep the fire going, and when i awake i will tell you a story. what do you say to that?”