For Father de la Croix-Jugan, legend came after history.
-I admit, I said to the Cotentin herbarium, when he had finished his tragic story, I admit that[Pg 331] these are strange and horrible things; but what relation, Master Louis Tainnebouy, does this Easter mass have to the one we heard ringing two hours ago, and which you called the mass of the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan?
“What’s the connection, sir? said Master Tainnebouy, it is not very difficult to see him after what I have heard so much about …
“And what did you hear, Master Louis?” I left again, because I want, since you have told me so much, to know everything that has to do with the history of the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan?
“You are within your rights, sir,” said the Cotentinais, whose words did not have the same degree of liveliness as they had when he told me his story. Besides, you have heard the nine blows of Blanchelande, you must know why they rang. Since I told you all this, I have to finish, although maybe it would have been better not to start.
It was obvious that the farmer of Mont-de-Rauville, that good head so reasonable, so calm and with a sense so strengthened by the practice of life, was the prey of a secret terror which undoubtedly came from the child whom he had lost in the cradle after hearing the nine blows of Blanchelande, and that, in all[Pg 332] case, for one reason or another, he repented of having gossiped over the dead.
He overcame his repugnance, however, and resumed:
—It was a year, to the day, that the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan had died: it was therefore Easter day of the following year. The year had been spent talking a lot about him and watching on the farms, and returning late from fairs and markets, and everywhere …
It was a die-hard work that never ended, and the ears of which I had myself had terribly beaten and hackneyed in my youth. That yes, this mill lasted a long time!
I saw, in those times, and in Lessay, a white tauret which had black horns intertwined and curved on its muffle like the old hood of the monk, and which for this reason was called the monk of Blanchelande , we were so imbued with the history of the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan! The nickname, moreover, had brought bad luck to the beast, for it had gutted itself on the iron stake of a barrier in a fit of fury, and some said that it had been wrong and great wrong, and that ‘we had been punished for giving an anima a nickname which had been the name of a priest.
It was therefore Easter Day, and Father Caillemer had recommended to the advocate of[Pg 333] morning that Abbot de la Croix-Jugan, whose death had so terrified Blanchelande. People were fuller of him than ever.
Pierre Cloud, this companion at Dussaucey le Forgeron, who had poured so much taupettes at Le Hardouey, the evening he returned to Le Clos to not find his wife, was returning from Lessay where he had spent the day, and where he had lingered a little too long to peck with good boys … But he had not taken enough not to see his way; and besides those who accused him of having sunburn in his eyes have since agreed that he had spoken the pure and holy truth, and that his eyes had not been matched .
It was a black night as soot, but good weather all the same, and Pierre Cloud was walking very quietly, and perhaps of all the people of Blanchelande the one who thought the least of the Abbe de la Croix-Jugan. He had left the night before and had therefore not attended the preaching of Caillemer, nor heard in the cabarets of Blanchelande as we talked about that day, of the former monk, who was murdered there. was just one year old … Now, as he was not far from the cemetery, he had to cross to reach the village, and he walked along the hedge of thorns planted on the wall of Lover’s garden Hébert, the big liquor maker[Pg 334] from the village, which supplied all the priests in the canton, he heard the ringing of those nine bells that I heard this night ringing in the moor, and he stopped, as you did, sir. .
I heard it said to himself that those nine blows froze his sweat on his back and he let himself fall to the ground, apologize, sir, as if the clapper of the bell had fallen on his head, thick as on the anvil the hammer!
But as the bell was silent and did not ring again, and he could not stay there until daylight while his wife hoped to do so at home, he thought he had raised his elbow too much with Lessay’s friends, and he recovered. on his way to Blanchelande, when, arriving at the cemetery stile, he felt a devil of trembling in his calves and noticed a great light which lit the three windows of the choir of the church.
He thought at first that it was the lamp that sent that glow to the windows; but the lamp could not give a light so red “that it looked like the fire in my forge,” he told me when I both said. These blazing stained-glass windows made him believe that he had not dreamed, when he had heard the bell.
‘I’m not more blind than I am ,’ he thought. Que that there is therefore in the church, at such an hour, for such a light to shine there, especially since it is silent, the old church, as after Compline, and the other windows of its low sides do not allow a bit of clarity to pass? I’m between Sunday and Easter Monday, but it’s starting to be late for Hello. What is there then? ”
And he remained perched on his stile, watching, on the grass of the tombs that it was blushing, that violent glow which was going to perhaps break into a thousand pieces the stained-glass windows against which it seemed to be lit …
– “But look,” he said, “priests have ideas of their own, which are not like the others. Who knows what they are forging in the church at this hour when we sleep everywhere? I want to go to cha! ”
And he descended from the stile and resolutely advanced very close to the gate.
I told you, sir; it was the old gate torn from the ruins of the abbey. The Blues had pierced him with more than one bullet, he was riddled with holes through which we could adjust his eye. Pierre Cloud therefore watched there, as he had watched so many times, prowling around there on Sundays, when he wanted to know where[Pg 336] it was at Mass, and then he saw something that made his hair stand on end, like a hedgehog seized by a snake. He saw, clearly, by the back, the abbot of the Cross-Jugan, standing at the foot of the high altar. There was no one in the church, black as a wood, with its columns. But the altar was lighted, and it was the torchlight that made the windows red that Pierre Cloud had seen from the stile. The Abbe de la Croix-Jugan was, as he had a year ago on such a day, hoodless and his head bare; but this head, of which Pierre Cloud could only see the neck at this moment, had blood on the tonsure, and this blood, which also plastered the chasuble, was not fresh and runny, as it was, a year ago. , when the priests had carried him away in their arms.
– “I don’t remember,” said Pierre Cloud, “of ever having had much fear in my life, but this time I was amazed . I heard a voice whispering to me, “Enough, boy,” advising me to go away. But I was stuck like an earthen post, at that damned gate, and I was eager to see … There was only him at the altar … No respondent, no deacon, no choir. . He was alone. He himself rang the silver bell that was on the steps when he started[Pg 337] the Introïbo . He answered himself as if he had been two characters! At Kyrie eleison he didn’t sing … it was a low mass he said … and he was going fast. I only thought of looking. All my life was gathered in this hole in the portal … Suddenly, at the first Dominus vobis cum which forced him to turn around, I was forced to stick my fingers in the holes which surrounded the one I was watching through, for not to fall backwards … I saw that his face was even more horrible than it had been during his lifetime, for it was very similar to those which roll in cemeteries when one digs old graves and ancient bones are unearthed there.snouted face of the abbot were engravées in his bones. The eyes alone were alive there as in a head of flesh and they burned like two candles. Ah! I thought that they saw my eye through the hole in the portal, and that their fire was going to knock me out by burning me … But I was devilish to see until the end … and I was watching! He continued to mutter his prayer, still answering himself and ringing in the places where it was necessary to ring; but the more he advanced, the more he became confused … He embarrassed himself, he stopped … One would have wagered that he had forgotten his knowledge … Ver! I didn’t know! Nevertheless he was still going,[Pg 338] stopping at every word like a stutterer, and resuming … when, arriving at the preface , he stopped short … He took his skull in his skeletal hands , like a lost man trying to remember something that can save him and that does not remember it! A kind of wrathHe burst into his chest … he wanted to consecrate, but he let the chalice fall on the altar … He touched it as if he had devoured his hands. He looked like he was going crazy. Real! a mad death! Can the dead ever go mad? It was more than horrible! I expected to see the demon come out from under the altar, pounce on him and win him! The last few times he turned around he had tears, big tears that looked like molten lead, down his face. He was crying, ah! but he was crying as if he had been alive! It is God who punishes him, I said to myself, and what a punishment! … And the bad thoughts came back to me; you know all these scares that had been traced to the fame of this priest and of Jeanne le Hardouey. No doubt he was damned, but he suffered to pity the demon himself. Real! by Saint Paterne, bishop of Avranches, it was worse for him than hell, it was mass which he insisted on completing and which turned in his memory and on his lips! He had it as a way of[Pg 339] sweat of blood mingled with his tears which streamed, lit by the candles, on his face and almost on his chest, like lead in the gully of a bullet mold or vitriol. When I would tell you that he began this impossible mass more than twenty times, I would not lie to you. He was exhausted there. He had the broth in his mouth like a man who falls from a height badly; but he did not fall, he remained straight. He still prayed, but he still scrambled his Mass, and from time to time he twisted his arms above his head and held them up towards the tabernacle like two pincers, as if he had asked for mercy from an angry God who was not listening!
“I was so appalled by such a spectacle that I did not go away. I forgot everything, my wife who was waiting, what time it was, and I stayed glued to this portal until daylight … the sacristy, always weeping, and never having been able to go further than the Consecration … The doors of the sacristy opened by themselves before him, turning slowly on their hinges, as if they had been oiled wool … The candles went out as the doors of the sacristy had opened, without anyone! The nave was beginning to turn white. It was all in the church[Pg 340] quiet and as usual. I went from there , crushed in body and mind … and all things, I said nothing to my wife. It was later that I talked about it for my part, because it was talked about in the parish. One morning, the sacristan Grouard had, at the opening , found holy water in the stoups of the doors which was boiling and smoking like tar. It was only little by little that it calmed down and grew cold: but it seems that during the mass of this cursed priest, it was still boiling! ”
Such was the saying of Pierre Cloud himself, – added Master Louis Tainnebouy, whose voice had undergone, repeating them to me, the same alterations as when he had begun to speak to me about this nocturnal mass, – and there you are, sir, this that they call the mass of the abbot of the Cross-Jugan!
I admit that this last part of the story, this supernatural atonement, struck me as more tragic than the story itself. Was this the hour at which a believer in this dreadful sight was telling it to me? Was it the scene of this dramatic story, which we then trampled under our feet? Was it the nine knocks heard and whose sound waves still struck our ears and thereby poured cold into our hearts? Was it finally all this combined and confused in me that associated me with the impression[Pg 341] true of this man so robust in body and mind? But I agree that I ceased to be a moment of the xix th century, and that I believed everything I was told Tainnebouy, as he believed.
Later, I wanted to justify my belief, by a series of habits and manias of this sad time, and I returned to live a few months in the vicinity of Blanchelande. I was determined to spend a night in the portal holes, like Pierre Cloud, the blacksmith, and see with my own eyes what he had seen. But as the epochs were very irregular and distant when the nine strokes of the mass of the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan sounded, although they could still be heard ringing sometimes, the elders of the country told me, my business having obliged me to leave the country, I could never carry out my project.