For some time, despite the flourishing state of a rounded fortune

The same evening, almost at the same time when La Clotte, seated at her door, saw Jeanne-Madelaine coming towards her, master Thomas le Hardouey, mounted on his strong mare.[Pg 216] pace, crossed the Lessay moor. He was returning from Coutances, where he had spent several days getting along with these collective buyers of properties whose association later bore the expressive name of Bande noire . Although he had done what is called good business with his associates, and though there was reason to congratulate himself, Master Thomas le Hardouey had not, however, that day, in his air and on his face, the inexpressible je ne sais quoi that makes you say with complete confidence of conscience and glance: “Here is a happy rascal passing by!” It is true that he had never had, like Master Louis Tainnebouy, one of those cheerful and frank faces which are like the great open door of a soul into which anyone can enter.

On the contrary, never more than that evening had his snarling, wrinkled face resembled the bundles of nettles and thorns with which one plugs the holes of a hedge against the cattle. Her hard, hairless and engraved features were not softened by the tones of the warm golden light of a sun which was disappearing over the horizon of the moor, like a sparkling runner who had crossed her all day. For some time, despite the flourishing state of a rounded fortune, Maître le Hardouey had been harboring a bilious temper, caused by[Pg 217] health and the state of mind of his wife. Several times he had taken her to the doctor at Coutances, who had not understood much about Jeanne’s suffering, to this nameless state which, like all the diseases whose root is in our souls, deceives the eye. limited material observation. “What was wrong with his wife, that pearl of women ?” as they said in the country. Such was the fixed idea of ​​Master Thomas le Hardouey. One day, in this moor where he was walking, he had surprised her, sitting on the ground, her face, that almost haughty face! all in tears, and weeping like Hagar in the desert. And, when he had questioned her, she had had a wrathin which he held her for dead. It was then that he made up his mind not to ask her the slightest question. Only, what he did not accept with this subterranean manner of enraging, which was all the resignation of his character, was to soon see this incomparable housewife, so vigilant and so active, gradually let go of everything. who had filled and dominated his life, and let everything frighten out at Le Clos. Jeanne, devoured by a silent passion, had fallen into a stupor which almost resembled the beginning of paralysis. Add to all this his visits to La Clotte, his meetings at the old allée , as Hardouey used to say in his old Jacobin language,[Pg 218] with this Chouan about which we talked so much in the region, and finally the words of each, collected in crumbs, to the right and to the left, and you will have the secret of the troubles which thickened on the crossed eyebrows of Master Thomas.

He held the middle of the moor pretty well, and his horse walked briskly. He did not want the night to take him in these parts, then at the height of their ill fame, and whose appearance still troubles even the most intrepid hearts today. Strongly advanced towards Blanchelande, he calculated, by spurring his mount, what was left of day to get out of this expanse, after the sun, which was no more than a quivering point of gold in this place of the ‘horizon where the earth and the sky, said a great landscaper, intersect when the weather is clear, would have completely disappeared. The day, which had been magnificent and torrid, ended on the greyish ocean, without transparency and without mobility, of this deserted moor, with the languid majesty of melancholy which the end of the day on the open sea. No living being, man or beast, did not animate this gloomy plan, similar to the thick surface of a vat, which would have thrown the foam of a ruddy liquor over its edges, to the horizons. A deep silence reigned over these spaces that the footsteps of[Pg 219] the mare of pace and the monotonous hum of some gadfly, which bit her mane, alone disturbed. Master Thomas was trotting, thoughtful, his head plunged into the pit of his stomach and his back rounded like a sack of wheat, when a breath of the wind which came to his face brought him the broken sounds of a human voice and made him rise. suspicious eyes. He circled them around him, but from near and far he saw only the moor, fleeting to the eye, powdering. Strong mind as master Hardouey was, these human sounds without anyone, in these landages open to chimeras and monsters of the popular imagination, produced on his senses a singular and new effect, and undoubtedly disposed him to the unheard of scene. who would follow. The more he advanced, the more the voice

The dazzling purple of the setting sun was turning a harsher red, and the more this red light turned brown, the more the voice rose and became distinct, as if such sounds were coming out of the earth, just as will-o’-the-wisps come out of the swamps towards evening. These sounds, moreover, were sadder than frightening. Le Hardouey had heard them hanging around many times[Pg 220] on the lips of the spinners. It was a wanderer’s lament, of which he distinguished the following couplets:

We were more than five hundred beggars,
All five hundred of a gang,
I am the happiest,
Because I am in charge!
My throne is under a bush,
I have my staff for a scepter,
Toure loure la,
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!

I prowl by any road
And from village to village.
One gives me a piece of bread,
The other a piece of cheese …
And sometimes, by chance,
A small piece of bacon …
Toure loure la,
La, la, la, la, la, la , la, la!

I do not fear, for my part,
To fall in the alley,
Or that the heat of my sheets
Will engender gravel …
I sleep on the pavement,
My wallet by my side.
Toure loure la,
La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la!
At the last a of this verse, the Hardouey reached one of those folds of the ground that I had, if we remember, noticed in[Pg 221] my crossing with Louis Tainnebouy, and he noticed, very well hidden by this movement of the ground, as a boat is hidden by a swell, three evil faces of men lying stomach on the ground, like reptiles. Despite the poor man’s song that one of them sang and the costume they wore, which is the age-old costume of beggars in the country, they were not beggars, but shepherds. They wore the unbleached linen jacket the color of hemp, their rimless hooves lined with hay, the large hat yellowed by the rains, the bissac and the long forked and shod sticks. Bonds of shiny golden straw, firmly plaited, with which they tied the rebellious pig by the foot or the stubborn ox by the horns, to lead them, twisted around their forearms, like coarse bracelets, and they also had these ties which they themselves braided slung over their bags, and around their loins, over their girdles. By the stillness of their attitude, their blond hair like wicker bark, the drowsiness of their vague and heavy gazes, it was easy to recognize the wandering herdsmen, the lazzarones of the Norman moors, the men of nothing. -make eternal.

When they heard behind them, and near them, the footsteps of Le Hardouey’s horse, who,[Pg 222] Without seeing them, he trotted over their group, the nearest half stood up, using his stick, which he raised, and by this gesture frightened the mare, who swerved.

—Orvers [8] ! cried Thomas le Hardouey, recognizing the wandering tribe he had banished from Le Clos, is it to make the mounts of honest people stumble that you lie down like drunken dogs in their path? Cursed brood! will the country never be purged of you? …

[8]For Orvets, Norman dialect.

( Author’s Note. )

But the one who had risen by leaning on his stick, stuck in the ground, fell and squatted on the heels of his hooves, casting on the Hardouey an open and fixed gaze like the gaze of a toad. It was the shepherd met by Jeanne under the door of the old presbytery. He had a mysterious name like him and his whole race. He was called “the Shepherd”. No one in the country knew another name for him, and maybe he didn’t.

“Why don’t I sleep ichin?” he replied. The land belongs to everyone! he added with a sort of barbaric pride, as if he had, from the depths of his dust, proclaimed[Pg 223] in advance the threatening axiom of modern Communism. Crouching, as he was, on the heels of his hooves, the stick stuck in the ground like a spear, the spear of sharing, at the foot of which one day we must make the expropriation of mankind, this man would undoubtedly have struck the eye of an observer or an artist. His two companions, sprawled out on their stomachs, like animals sprawling in their huts or crawling beasts on a coat of arms, moved no more than sphinxes in the desert and watched the farmer on horseback, their four eyes faded under their whitish eyebrows . Maitre le Hardouey saw in all this only the reunion of three indolent, insolent, sly shepherds, a real human leprosy whom he despised greatly from the height of his horse and his own vigor; because he does not was not cold in the eyes, Master Hardouey, and he knew how to remove a bushel of wheat from the loins of a horse, as nimbly as he would have lowered his wife in her puffy coats! And this is why these three lazy people, with the complexion of albinos, who, with their long mollusk bodies, barred the path at this place of the moor, hardly frightened him … and yet … yes, however … Was it time? Was it the reputation of the place where he was? Was it the superstitions that enveloped these shepherds barred the path at this spot on the moor, scarcely frightened him … and yet … yes, yet … Was it time? Was it the reputation of the place where he was? Was it the superstitions that enveloped these shepherds barred the path at this spot on the moor, scarcely frightened him … and yet … yes, yet … Was it time? Was it the reputation of the place where he was? Was it the superstitions that enveloped these shepherds[Pg 224] contemplatives, whose origin was as unknown as that of the wind or as the abode of old moons? … but it was certain that the Hardouey did not feel, in his copper-colored saddle, as comfortable as in the great fireplace of the Clos, and in front of a pot of its famous bottled cider. And really, for him as for any other, this pale group, at ground level, lit obliquely by a glaucous red setting, had, in its striking tranquility and its reflections of crushed brick, something fascinating.

-Let’s go! he said, wanting only to frighten them and reacting to the chilling impression they gave him, come on, get up, Four-sous! On the way, you race of numb vipers! Get me out of the way, or …

He did not finish. But he snapped the leather lanyard he had on the hilt of his ash tree, and from the end he even touched the shoulder of the shepherd in front of him.

“No hand play! said the shepherd, in whose eyes there passed a gleam of phosphorus, there is quemin next to it, Master Hardouey. Do not burgage your quevâ sur us or bad luck will happen to you!

And as the Hardouey was pushing his mare, he extended his shod stick to the nostrils of the beast, which recoiled, sniffing.

[Pg 225]

The Hardouey turned pale with anger, and he lifted his ash foot, swearing the Holy Name.

“I have no husband for your anger at Talbot, Master the Hardouey,” said the shepherd with the calm of concentrated and ferocious joy, for I will make you as flattened and your heart as brazen as your wife, who was very high itou, when I want.

-My wife? said the troubled Hardouey, who lowered his stick.

-Vere! your wife, your half of arrogance and everything, and whose pride is now as joked as cha! he replied, striking a clod of earth with his iron pole, which he pulverized. Ask her if she knows the shepherd of the old probythera , you will hear what she will answer you!

“ Beggar’s dog, ” cried Master Thomas le Hardouey, “ what connection can there be between my wife and a lousy keeper of stingy pigs like you? …

But the shepherd opened his bag in front and took there, after looking for, an object which shone in his earthy hand.

“Don’t you know cha? he said.

The evening still had enough light for the Hardouey to discern very well an enamelled gold lapel pin which he had brought from La Guibray to his wife and which Jeanne was used to.[Pg 226] to wear, from behind to the cap of his headdress.

“Where did you steal this? he said, dismounting from his mare of pace, with the movement of a man caught in the hair by a thought which will drag him to hell.

-Fly! replied the shepherd, who began to sneer. You know if I stole it, you! you sons! he added, turning to his companions, who also laughed with the same throaty laugh. Mistress le Hardouey gave it to me herself, at the end of the moor, against the Butte-aux-Taupes, and tormented me enough – will you torment you to take it. Ah! the pride was gone. She was moaning then like a poor girl who is hungry and weeping at the end of a farm. Ver, she was hungry itou, but what kind of thing? a choine [9] blessed that everyone could shepherds would have been able to give him.

[9]Choine , bread , Norman. ( Author’s Note. )

And he resumed his sneer.

Thomas le Hardouey understood only too well. The cold sweat of the outrage that had to be concealed trickled down his drunken face. The words that came back to him about his wife, vague, it is true, without consistency, without clarity, like all the comments that come back, were therefore very positive and very bold, since these wretches[Pg 227] shepherds repeated them. The choine blessed, it was the odious priest! And who would have ever believed it? Jeanne-Madelaine, this woman of such great meaning in the past, had relations with these shepherds! She had resorted to their assistance! Humiliation of humiliations! The knife that hit him in the heart went all the way to the handle, and he couldn’t pull it out!

-You lie! son of a gouge! said the Hardouey, clutching the leather hilt of his ash foot in his clenched hand; you must prove to me what you are telling me.

-Vere! replied the imperturbable shepherd, with a strange fire which began to light up in his greenish eyes, as one sees a fire point in the evening, behind a dirty window. But what will you pay me, Master Hardouey, if I show you that what I am saying is the pure and true truth?

-Whatever you want! said the peasant devoured by the desire which loses those who feel it, the desire to see his destiny.

-Well! said the shepherd, come near, master, and watch ichin!

And he drew again from the bag from which he had taken the pin a little mirror, as big as the mirette of a village barber, surrounded by a blackened lead and crossed by a slit which cut it from left to right. The tinning was[Pg 228] livid and cast a cadaverous sheen. It is also true that the red impasto of the setting, which had become windy, was extinguished and that the moor began to be dark.

-What is it that you want? said the Hardouey; we can no longer see it.

‘Stop there and watch all the same,’ said the shepherd, ‘don’t get tired …

And the other shepherds, attracted by the charm, crouched down beside their companion, and the three of them, with Master Thomas, who was holding his mare’s bridle in his arm, which was receding and frightened, they had soon approached their heads above the mirror, immersed in the shadow of their tall hats.

“Always watch,” said the shepherd.

And he began to utter in a whisper strange words, unknown to Master Thomas le Hardouey, who trembled with chattering of his teeth, impatience, curiosity, and despite his muscles and his gross disdain of all belief, of a sort of supernatural fear.

-Véy’ous something at this hour? said the shepherd.

-Vere! replied the Hardouey, motionless in attention, apprehended, I am starting …

“Say what you see,” continued the shepherd.

“Ah! I see … I see as a room, says the big owner of the Clos, a room that I[Pg 229] do not know … Look, there it is the red day that it was doing earlier in the moor and which is no longer there.

“Always watch,” replied the shepherd monotonously.

“Ah! now, said the Hardouey after a silence, I see people in the room. They are two and lean against the fireplace. But their backs are turned, and the red day that lit the room has just died.

“Come on! watch, don’t get tired, the shepherd kept repeating, holding the mirror.

“Here I see again! said the farmer … A flame shines. Looks like they lit something … Ah! it’s fire in the fireplace … But Thomas le Hardouey’s voice choked and his body trembled convulsively.

“You have to say what you see,” said the implacable shepherd, “otherwise the fate will vanish.

” It’s them ,” said the Hardouey in a voice weak as that of a man who is about to pass. What are they doing there to that blazing fire? Ah! they stirred … The spit is put on and turns …

“And what’s with this spit that turns?” Asked the shepherd, with his icy voice, a voice of stone, the voice of fate! Do not tire, I tell you … Always watch, here we come at the end.

[Pg 230]

“I don’t know,” said the Hardouey, panting, “I don’t know… it looks like a heart… And God damn me! I think he just jumped on the spit when my wife pricked him with the tip of her knife.

“Ver, it’s a heart they bake,” said the shepherd, “and it’s yours, Master Thomas le Hardouey!”

The sight was so horrible that the Hardouey felt himself struck with a club on the head, and he fell to the ground like a stunned ox. As he fell, he got entangled in the reins of his horse, which he retained with the weight of his body, which was strong and powerful. Without this obstacle, there is no doubt that the terrified horse would have fled by firing with all four feet, as my friend Tainnebouy used to say; for for a long time the shadowy animal had felt all the paces of fear and bathed in its foam.

When Maitre le Hardouey came to his senses, it was late and the night deep. The wizarding shepherds had disappeared … Master the Hardouey saw a small fire against the earth. Was it a piece of tinder left behind by the shepherds, after having lit their copper burners with it? He did not have the courage to go and extinguish this small fire with his shoe. He wanted to get back on his horse, but he looked for a long time[Pg 231] stirrup. He was shaking, so was the horse. Finally, by dint of groping in this darkness, the man mounted the horse. It was the tremor on the tremor! The horse, which smelled of the stable, carried the rider away like a storm carries a mist, and the Hardouey almost broke his bridle when he stopped him in front of the door of the house, half forge, half tavern, which was on the road. , coming out of the moor, and called the forge at Dussaucey in the country.

The old blacksmith was still working, although it was nearly ten o’clock in the evening, for he had a shoddy pair of irons to deliver to a Marshal de Coutances for the next day.

He himself has told that he did not recognize Hardouey’s voice, when the latter called him from the door and asked him for a glass of brandy. The old blacksmith took the bottle from the smoky board, poured out the glass he was asked for and brought it to Master Thomas, who drank it greedily without getting out of the stirrup. The village Cyclops had placed on the stone of his door a piece of sizzling and smoky candle, and it was in this flickering light that he noticed that the Hardouey’s mare was flowing like a cloth that had been soaked in the river.

-What is it that you have exhausted your best?[Pg 232] mare like that? … he said to the owner of the Clos, who did not answer and who, mute as a black statue, held out, with a funereal air, his empty glass so that it could be refilled. . “It was a practice that Maître le Hardouey, had told the old blacksmith himself to Louis Tainnebouy in his youth, and he was quite a bit quinteux in the way of great people, although he was only enriched. I poured him a second mole , then a third … but he hissed them so quickly that at the fourth I looked at him fixedly and said to him: You and the mare are blowing like the great bellows of my forge, and you drink brandy as a hot iron drinks well water. Is what happened to you something to trathe moor tonight? But a bit of an answer. And he was still whistling the maupettes so well that he arrived quickly, from that train, to the bottom of the bro [10] . When he got there, that’s it, I said , snorting , because I didn’t really want to laugh. His air froze me like ice. Cha does so much, our master, I tell him. But he did not just put his hand to the purse so much, and he disappeared like lightning and as if the brandy he had sipped had passed through the belly of[Pg 233] his quevâ. After all, I wasn’t worried about the expense. I was reviewers, as they say. But when I returned to the forge, I said to Pierre Cloud, my apprentice, who was at the anvil: Hey boy! of course there is some misfortune brewing in Blanchelande. You will see, son! Here comes the Hardouey who returns to the Clos, as frightened as a Cain. You’d swear he’s wearing a murder straddling the knuckles of his eyebrows. “

Share