Sometime between deciding he didn't like preaching fire and brimstone to his congregation, and the Comte de Reynaud being found sleeping in the window display of the Chocolaterie covered in chocolate, Père Henri meets John.
Henri supposes that John is handsome in a conventional sort of way; he has a charismatic smile, an easy going disposition, and kind eyes that smile along with his mouth even sometimes when his mouth isn't smiling at all. Especially when he reminds Henri that his name is John and not Jean, because Henri has a tendency at first to make his new friend's name sound French. John is one of the `vile and iniquitous' that the Comte has Henri preaching about. Telling the congregation of the horrible temptations they bring with them when Henri would rather talk about tolerance and love.
He rides the river with Roux, and Henri thinks it would be wonderful to sail the rivers and seas, to end up in a new town, a big city, to see Elvis. Sometimes Henri wonders if he gave himself over to the Lord's service a bit prematurely, but then he says five Hail Mary's and ten Our Father's and knocks some sense back into his head by planning out his next sermon.
John sneaks into Sunday service through the side door that Henri leaves propped opened for him and so avoids the Comte who stands guard at the front door as he greets everyone as they walk in. He will sit and listen to the sermons and after, when everyone is gone, he will go with Henri to Henri's office and they'll talk about how different the Sermon was to the one that he'd heard Henri practicing all week. John is the only person other than the Comte to see Henri's sermons before the Comte makes his suggestions in wide red pen.
John comes to confession and confesses to hearing the most bawdy of tales, and in repeating them in the confessional of all places makes Henri's face flush with embarrassment, and has him hastily crossing himself. He offers to fix the squeak in the church's back door and Henri won't find out for months that it's a euphemism for, well, things a priest shouldn't be doing, let alone be doing with another man.
There is a squeak in the back door though, and Henri happily takes John up on his offer and they spend a few pleasant hours outside in the sunshine listening to the children laughing down in the woods behind the church while John dutifully oils the hinges on the door until it no longer squeaks.
They talk about music, and art and literature. John tells Henri of his travels, of the time he was in Paris and how big the city is in comparison to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, and Henri tells John of the time he was in school and the priests caught him with cigarettes that another classmate had asked him to hold onto. He confesses to John that he had felt rather flushed with a strange sense of excitement knowing he was breaking the rules and then flush with embarrassment when the head of the school bent him over the desk and strapped him for the transgression.
John tells him, lying shoulder pressed to shoulder in the grass a good distance away from the town and staring up at the clouds, about life living in a community that floats on the water and how quiet everything is, except when it isn't. Henri tells him about growing up as the third son of a butcher and how very little privacy he had being not only the third son, but also the youngest of three boys and two girls.
Days go by and each day that he has his friend, Henri feels more and more at ease with the world even as each day that goes by the Comte becomes more and more irrational, forcing a man to confess, forcing him to join the children's bible study, tearing Henri's sermon's to pieces and re-writing them from the beginning so that he can tell the people of the town just exactly why they should not associate with Vianne Rocher and her child, or with Roux and his troop of River Rats.
He confesses in the dark one night, lying by the river and watching the lights of the boats dance in their reflection off the water that he does not think he wishes to be a priest if this is the way that priests must be. He doesn't think there's anything to be learned by fearing the Lord and talking of him as though he will strike you down. He wants to tell people of His goodness and of His strength and of how He lived among the people, how He touched their lives. and John reaches down and tangles their fingers together and tells him that he should preach what he wants to preach, Henri is the priest after all, not the Comte, and then he distracts Henri with children's stories that he heard while in Ireland and it makes Henri wonder at the size of the world.
He isn't with Henri the night the fire breaks out, and Henri finds himself paralyzed with fear watching the boats burn in the distance and then he finds himself running, but by the time he reaches the water the fires have been doused. Serge Muscat is being held by the Comte and John is helping to settle the children as parents come to claim them one by one. When the last child is gone, Henri can't stop himself from pulling John into a tight embrace.
He confesses that he was worried sick. John laughs and tousles his hair and pushes him into the mud, reminding Henri that John is the one who travels the world, one should think he could handle a few children until their parents arrive. Henri rolls his eyes, but lets it go and tells him instead that the back door of the Church is still squeaking. John laughs and brings the oil can with him the next day.
When Roux and the rest leave, Henri feels a sort of kinship with Mlle. Rocher, especially since he at the least had a goodbye. John had come to the church, climbed up to his window, and knocked until Henri had opened it. Then he had climbed inside and said goodbye. They had shared their second embrace, and then John had been gone before there could be any real sadness.
Roux returns only days after the Comte is found in Mlle. Rocher's window display, and that Sunday he gives his sermon, finally the way he wants to preach.
"I'm not sure what the theme of my homily today ought to be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of Our Lord's divine transformation? Not really, no. I don't want to talk about His divinity. I'd rather talk about His humanity. I mean, you know, how He lived His life, here on Earth. His kindness, His tolerance... Listen, here's what I think. I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do... By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create... and who we include."
And in the back of the room he can see John, and John is smiling at him, and it makes Henri's heart happier than he thought he could be.
The squeak in the back door did get fixed, eventually.