News of Jeanne le Hardouey’s death spread throughout Blanchelande with the speed natural to tragic events.[Pg 253] which come upon us, as by the air, so much the echoes are electric and instantaneous! Had Jeanne-Madelaine drowned on purpose? Was she the victim of despair, an accident or a crime? Questions which arose, veiled and funereal, in all minds, problems which were stirred with feverish curiosity in all conversations, and which, many years later, were still agitated there with unspeakable terror, either at the vigil of the spinners, either in the fields on the furrow begun, when a circumstance brought back to memory the mysterious story of the woman to Master Thomas le Hardouey.
When Mother Ingou and Mother Mahé fled, terrified by the shepherd’s monstrous action, to seek help in the village, alas! quite useless, little Ingou, who shared the terror of the old women, had fled with them, but in a different direction. Accustomed to the path she made every day, she ran to the cottage at La Clotte.
What a night this one had spent! When she had tried to detain Jeanne, she had well sensed the bitter word that the unfortunate woman had thrown at her, tearing herself from her arms. I have what I deserve, she thought. Is it for me to speak of virtue? ” and all the memories of his life him[Pg 254] had fallen on the heart. Paralyzed, chained to her threshold for many years, what could she do: prevent, prevent? She had nothing powerful but the heart; and the heart when it is alone, great as it is, is useless. Ah! what she experienced was very painful! Grim forebodings had arisen in his soul. Insomnia often visited his hard pallet with all the specters of his youth, but of his long sleepless nights, none had had the character of that desolate night. It was no longer her that was in question. It was the only person she respected and loved in the land. It was from the only soul that had been interested in her fate and her loneliness since the contempt and horror of the world had spread their cruel deserts around her. Where had Jeanne-Madelaine gone? What had she done? This passion of which she still had the cries in the ears, and the Clotte knew the terrible empire of the passions! was she going to lose poor Jeanne? These cries were soon answered by the moans of the silversmiths, who, frightened doves and bristling with the grave, began to coo their funeral loves in the yews which then bordered the broken causeway of Broqueboeuf. Like all solitary imaginations and close to nature, La Clotte was superstitious. frightened turtledoves bristling with the grave, cooing their funeral loves in the yews which then bordered the broken causeway of Broqueboeuf. Like all solitary imaginations and close to nature, La Clotte was superstitious. frightened turtledoves bristling with the grave, cooing their funeral loves in the yews which then bordered the broken causeway of Broqueboeuf. Like all solitary imaginations and close to nature, La Clotte was superstitious.[Pg 255] In the greatest souls, there is a fold of weakness where superstitions sleep.
Worried, feverish, turned in vain from one side to the other, she rose up and lit her stifle. We believe, in long insomnia, burn, consume, with this lamp that we light, the long hours, the devouring thoughts, the memories. We don’t burn anything. Thoughts, memories, long hours, nothing disappears. Everything is left to you. La Clotte’s stifle, with its flickering glow, was as dark to his eyes as was to his ears the hoarse and distant cry of the silversmiths dying sadly in the night. The light itself doubled the visions she was obsessed with. This image of Judith killing Holofernes which she had between the curtains of her bed, this crudely illuminated image seemed to come alive under her fascinated gaze. The thick vermilion in this popular image looked like liquid blood, real blood! La Clotte, who was not shy, was shivering. This strong Stoic was afraid. She huffed her stifle. But darkness does not drown our dreams. The vision remains deep in the eyes, deep in the heart, in its merciless light. Sitting on her bed, rolled up in her wicked straitjacket, Nessus’ tunic of misery and abandonment that she shouldn’t[Pg 256] more stripping, she rested her forehead on her knees intertwined with her knotted hands, and remained thus, absorbed, bent, until dawn, when little Ingou turned the latch and suddenly opened the door, as if she was had been prosecuted:
“What a noise you make,” she said, “Petiote! And seeing the face of the child, she felt that the anxiety of her night was changing into a dreadful certainty.
“Ah! there is misfortune in Blanchelande! she said.
“There is,” said little Ingou, in a voice jerky with emotion and rush, that Mistress Hardouey is dead, and that I have just found her at the back of the washhouse.
A cry that was not senile, a cry of a lioness waking up, issued from that broken chest and stopped on La Clotte’s lips. Her bust, tilted on her knees, fell, thrown back onto the bed, and her head curled up in the blankets, as if an invisible ax had brought it down with one blow.
—Jesus-Mary! cried the child with a frightened anguish which fled from death and which seemed to find it again.
And she approached the bed from which every day she helped the paralytic to descend: and she[Pg 257] Saw her, her eyes fixed, her temples pale, the curved lines of her impassive and haughty lips trembling, trembling as when the sob that we devour accumulates in our hearts and is about to come out.
“Here, here, Mother Clotte,” said the child, “listen: here is the agony!”
And, indeed, the wind which came from Blanchelande’s side brought the sounds of the bell which sounded the death of Jeanne-Madelaine with these sublime intervals always longer as we advance in this dismal ringing which seems to distill death in the tunes and pour it by drop, with each bell ring, into our hearts.
Nothing at that moment, in the still peaceful countryside, moreover, prevented from hearing the poignant sounds of slowness and broken silence which end with a supreme and hail ringing like the last breath of life on the shore of the sea. eternity. The morning, gray before turning pink, began to fill with the first golden rays of the day and still retained something of the sonorous and vibrant calm of the nights. The sounds of the melancholy bell, ever rarer, passed through the door left open behind little Ingou and came to die on this pallet, where a haughty heart, which had resisted everything, finally broke.[Pg 258] in tears, and would understand what he had never understood, the burning, hungry need for prayer.
La Clotte rose at these sounds which said that Jeanne would never get up again.
“I am not worthy to pray for her,” she said then, as if she were alone; cry her, yes! And she passed her hands over her eyes where tears were rising, and she looked at her wet hands with painful pride, as if tears were a conquest for her! – Who would have told me that I would cry again ?. .. But to pray for her, I cannot, I was too impious; God would laugh to hear me if I prayed! He knows too well who I have been and who I am to listen to that soiled voice which never asked him for anything for Clotilde Mauduit, but which would ask him, if she dared, for his mercy for Jeanne-Madelaine de Feuardent!
And like the prey of a sudden idea: “Listen, Petiote,” she said, taking the child’s hands in hers, “you’re better than me. You are only a child; you have an innocent soul: at your age, I was told that God, come on earth, loved children and answered them. Kneel there and pray for her!
And with this sovereign gesture which she had always kept in the midst of the miseries of her life, she made the child fall on his knees on the edge of his bed.
“Yes, pray,” she said in a voice broken by tears, “I’ll cry while you pray!
“But above all pray loudly,” she continued, exalted in her grief, as she spoke, so that I can hear you! Yes, that I can hear you, if I cannot unite with you. Ah! speak to him then, she said impetuously, speak to him to this God of children, of the pure, of the patients, of the gentle, in short, of all that I am no longer!
“He is also the God of the wretched,” said the little girl, naively sublime and simply repeating what her priest had taught her.
“Ah! so it’s mine! said La Clotte, feeling the thunderbolt struck by God sometimes from the weak lips of a child. Hold on! hold on! I’m going to pray with you, my daughter …
And leaning on the kneeling child’s shoulder, she threw herself down from her bed. Paralytic whose soul was whole and who was recovering organs, she fell on her knees near the little girl, and they both prayed.
At that time, Mother Ingou and Mother Mahé returned to the washhouse, accompanied by all those curious from Blanchelande. Among these curious people were Barbe Causseron and Nônon Cocouan;[Pg 260] Noon really sorry. They found Jeanne’s corpse still lying in the tall grass, but the shepherd, whom the two old women had fled, had disappeared. Only, before disappearing, the horrible shepherd had performed on the corpse one of those acts which, when they are not a pious duty, are a sacrilege. He had cut Jeanne’s hair, that long chestnut hair “which made him, said Louis Tainnebouy, the most shining bun that has ever been rolled up on the back of a woman’s neck,” and to cut it, he had been obliged to shake it off. to serve as the only instrument he had at hand, this matchthat he had, as we have seen, soaked in the water of the wash-house. Also Jeanne-Madelaine’s hair had been “sawn off like a sheaf with a bad sickle,” added the herbage, and, in places, harshly pulled out. Was it a trophy of vengeance that this hair carried off by the wandering shepherd to show it to his nomadic tribe, like the Redskins and all the savages, because, to a certain depth, the unity of the human race is recognized by identity of customs? Was it rather a lust of a sordid soul, who seized the opportunity to sell dear a beautiful hair to these hair merchants who go away, crossing the countryside and harvesting, for a few pieces of silver, the hair?[Pg 261] poor young girls? or rather, as Master Tainnebouy believed, should this hair of a woman who died of a spell have been used for some spell and become in the hands of this shepherd some formidable talisman? It was Nônon Cocouan who was the first to notice the theft done to the noble head, resting on the grass.
“Ah! the shepherd avenged himself to the end! she says. Indeed, this cut hair seemed to these peasants like one more murder. Each of them commented on this sudden death and felt sorry for the fate of a woman who had deserved the affection of all. The people of Clos, at the first rumor of their mistress’s death, had arrived. Only Jeanne’s husband, Master Hardouey, was still missing. Left the day before, as we know, when he was returning to Le Clos with such a fierce gallop, when he had been told his wife was absent, he had not reappeared … His horse alone had returned, covered with sweat, horsehair bristling, dragging his bridle in which he tripped his feet as he ran. Now, as Maître le Hardouey was not loved in Blanchelande, we were already wondering in a low voice, and covered words,
For a long time the rumors of the country must have put Hardouey in mind. This man, of a dark temperament, was more bilious, more morose, more grinchardthat never, said the gossips, and although he could silently quit a deep jealousy, he could equally have let it explode, striking some terrible blow. Such an opinion, moreover, encountered another in people’s minds. This former monk, leader of partisans, this haughty penitent, to whom were attached so many powerful and vague feelings and ideas, this Chouan who was accused of having disturbed Joan’s life and of having, we do not know how, lost his reason, also seemed capable of anything. If he hadn’t pushed her with the hand of the body into the wash-house where she had drowned, he had thrown her there with the hand of the spirit, breaking her heart with shame and despair. Of these two opinions, we wouldn’t have known which one should win,
However, Joan’s body had to remain exposed in the meadow, until the moment[Pg 263] where Blanchelande’s doctor and justice of the peace would come to do, in accordance with the law, what she energetically calls the lifting of the corpse. These men and women, who had come running to satisfy their curiosity with an unexpected and tragic spectacle, called to the fields by the work of the day, withdrew little by little, talking among themselves about an event of which they had to seek for a long time. causes. Of this flood of curious people that had passed, there remained next to the corpse only the grand valet du Clos, responsible for watching over the body of the dead until the arrival of the doctor and the justice of the peace, and Nônon Cocouan, who, of a spontaneous movement had been proposed for this pious guard. This whole story has said it enough: Nônon had always been devoted to Jeanne. In recent times, she had valiantly defended her against all those who accused her of having forgotten the wisdom of her life “in hauntings of perdition,” and by that was meant, in Blanchelande, his visits to La Clotte and his obscure relations with the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan. Noon, more than anyone, except La Clotte perhaps, was touched by this sudden death, and it was twice so, for stricken hearts can be guessed. While defending Jeanne, and although she had never received a confidence, Nônon had recognized the love that suffers, because formerly, in her youth,[Pg 264] she had also experienced it. The poor girl had taken for Jeanne-Madelaine a real fanaticism of silent pity. A great respect had prevented her from giving him such silent and expressive testimonies which press on the heart but without hurting it. Now, today that she could, she did it with mournful ardor. Devout as she was, she believed that Jeanne-Madelaine saw her from up there with her remains on earth. To be seen by those we loved in silence and to whom we could not say in life as we loved them, ah! this is one of those celestial appeasements which avenge all the impossibilities of existence, and which Religion gives as a price to those who have faith! Nônon Cocouan felt this aroma of the goodness of God mingling with the tears that she was pouring out on Jeanne, and softening them. The morning advanced with splendor. It was one of the most beautiful summer days that we had seen for a long time: the air was pure; the diaphanous washhouse; the herbs smelled good; the heat rose in the plants; the insects, attracted by Jeanne’s immobility, buzzed around this body stretched out with the grace of a cut flower, and Nônon, seated beside and at times kneeling, holding her rosary in her clasped hands, prayed to the one who still has pity, when God only remembers his righteousness; because the gift attracted by Joan’s immobility, buzzed around this body stretched out with the grace of a cut flower, and Noon, seated beside and at times kneeling, holding her rosary in her clasped hands, prayed to the one who still has pity, when God does not remembers that his righteousness; because the gift attracted by Joan’s immobility, buzzed around this body stretched out with the grace of a cut flower, and Noon, seated beside and at times kneeling, holding her rosary in her clasped hands, prayed to the one who still has pity, when God does not remembers that his righteousness; because the gift[Pg 265] what God did to his Mother, was to have pity longer than he! From time to time, this village mystique raised her eyes, still beautiful and of a blue that the fire of the heart had, by setting them on fire in the past, made more macerated and more chaste, towards that other eternal blue, which nothing tarnishes, neither centuries nor storms; towards this sky, of a sparkling azure then, through which she saw Jeanne lean towards her and affectionately smile at her. Sitting like her, on the ground, at some distance, the great valet du Clos stood in that overwhelmed stupor which the proximity of death causes to vulgar natures. To protect him from the sun which was becoming brighter, Nônon had covered Jeanne’s face with this red cotton apron which La Clotte had torn while trying to hold her back.
It was towards evening that the lifting of the corpse took place . After the completion of this legal act, the justice of the peace ordered the servant who accompanied him and the grand valet du Clos to transport Jeanne to the nearest house.[Pg 266] of the meadow. Mistress Hardouey’s funeral was set for the next day at the parish church of Blanchelande. In the uncertainty of the type of death of Jeanne, the charity of the good priest Caillemer did not have to regret having to apply this severe and profound canonical law, which refuses Christian burial to all. person who died of suicide and without repentance. He highly esteemed Jeanne-Madelaine, whom he called the nurse of his poor, and he would have been heartbroken not to bless her dust. God therefore saved this severe ordeal to the pastor’s tenderness, and Joan, justiciable of the mystery of her death to God alone, could be placed in the holy land.
He was brought there in the midst of an immense crowd of people from the neighboring parishes of Lithaire and Neufmesnil. The bells of Blanchelande, which, according to the old Norman custom, had rung all day and the day before, had taught these campaigns that “someone rich” had died. Information going from mouth to mouth, we soon knew that it was Mistress Hardouey. In Normandy, still in my youth, of all the ceremonies which attracted populations to churches, the most solemn and which stirred the public imagination more, were funerals. The indifferent flocked there[Pg 267] as much as the interested parties; the ungodly as well as the pious people. It was not like in Scotland, where funeral meals could determine a kind of contest without elevation and without purity. In Normandy, there was no meal after the burial except for priests. The crowd was going back with an empty stomach as it had come, but it had come to see one of those shows which always moved and edified her, and she returned with her head full of good. thoughts, when it was not the heart. That day, Mistress le Hardouey’s funeral was not attractive just because it was a religious ceremony, or because the deceasedwas known for ten leagues around for the queen of housewives, but also because her sudden death had not been natural, and he hovered like the cloud of a crime above. So people came to Joan’s funeral even more to talk about her extraordinary and unexplained death than to fulfill a final duty to her. The jaserie , this eternal movement of the human tongue, does not stop either on a closed tomb or by following a coffin, and nothing freezes, not even religion and death, the implacable curiosity that Eve bequeathed to her. descent. For the first time perhaps, these peasants failed to reflect. What, above all, made them distracted,[Pg 268] because it seemed strange and terrible to them, who had in the bottom of their hearts the respect of the family, as Christianity did, it was not to see parents accompanying and following this beer. The family of Jeanne de Feuardent, whose noble pride she had wounded by marrying Thomas le Hardouey, had not come to his funeral, and, on the other hand, the parents of Le Hardouey, envious of the fortune that he had gathered, and wounded also by his marriage, which had estranged them from them, had not appeared in the procession, in spite of the invitation which had been taken care to send them. There was therefore a fairly large space between the beer, carried, according to the custom of the country, by the servants of the Clos, on worked napkins, the ends of which they held two by two,six whites and a four-pound loaf attended the ceremony, resin torch in hand. In living memory, at Blanchelande, no one had seen a funeral where this space, reserved for mourning, had remained empty. We remarked aloud. Maître le Hardouey had not returned to the Clos. All eyes were fixed on the place he should have occupied … Alas! there was yet another man whom the glances of the audience sought more than once in vain: it was the Abbe de la Croix-Jugan.[Pg 269] Left for Montsurvent the day before, as Mother Mahé had said to Le Hardouey, he had not returned from Countess Jacqueline. Throughout the funeral ceremony, his oak stall remained closed in the choir, and the dreaded hood that was seen there every Sunday was not there.
Was it this preoccupation with the crowd, divided between these two absent, which prevented any attention from a person whose presence, if it had been noticed, would have seemed as extraordinary as the simultaneous absence of the other two ?. .. In fact, impiety or physical suffering, La Clotte did not go to church. It was more than fifteen years since she had been seen there. It is also fair to say that we had not seen it elsewhere. She only went to her threshold. With a mind too firm to insult holy things, La Clotte seemed to despise them, never invoking them in her life. The Herodias of Haut-Mesnil, who had had with men all the ferocities of a beauty, powerful as a plague, became the ascetic of solitude and the Egyptian Mary of wounded pride, had not suspected the strength she would have found at the foot of a cross. When, on his Easter tour, Curé Caillemer entered and sat down at her house, to talk to her about the consolations she would draw[Pg 270] in the performance of her duties as a Christian, she smiled with bitter haughtiness. Rachel, selfish and sterile, who did not want to be comforted because her youth and her beauty were no more! She also smiled at the humble priest, a child of the parish, whom she had seen growing up behind the plow, on the neighboring furrow, and who did not bear on his forehead the mark of nobility that would have consecrated him, in the eyes of ‘a woman like her, more than the holy oil of the priesthood. This height, this smile, this desperate pride, but without a single complaint, this eternal attitude, for he always found it the same every year, this way of emptying his chalice of absinthe and holding it as she had held the glass. of the orgy, at the Château de Haut-Mesnil, all this imposed on the priest, and stopped on his timid lip the word that can convert. He said it himself. This woman, laden with iniquity, at the bottom of her dilapidated hovel and under the clothes of rigid poverty, troubled him more than the Countess of Montsurvent, in her castle and under the feudal canopy that she had had the courage to restore. in the room of carved oak of his ancestors, as if the waterspout of the revolution had not carried away all the rights and the signs which represented these rights! For all these reasons, the good priest had often asked himself she had had the courage to reestablish in the carved oak hall of her ancestors, as if the waterspout of the revolution had not taken away all the rights and the signs which represented those rights! For all these reasons, the good priest had often asked himself she had had the courage to reestablish in the carved oak hall of her ancestors, as if the waterspout of the revolution had not swept away all the rights and the signs which represented those rights! For all these reasons, the good priest had often asked himself[Pg 271] what would become of old Clotte … and if, after a whole life of scandal and proud unbelief, it was not high time for her to set the example of repentance!
And who knows? Perhaps the hour had come. The death of Jeanne, the last drop of bitterness, had already overflowed this heart which, for years, had carried its misery without stooping or trembling! What she would not have done for herself, this woman, who had never asked God for quarter, had done for Jeanne. She had prayed. She had rediscovered the humility of prayer and tears! Under the blow of Jeanne’s death, she had sworn to herself that, despite her paralysis, she would go to the church of Blanchelande; that she would accompany to her grave the one she called her child, and that if she could not walk, she would drag herself on her heart! Well! what she had sworn to herself she accomplished! On the morning of the day of the funeral, she got up at dawn, dressed with all the blackest things she had in her clothes, and with both hands on the staff without which she could not take a single step, she began the arduous journey which, for her, was a journey. It was about a league from his cottage to the steeple of Blanchelande; but a league for her,[Pg 272] it was far! She wasn’t walking; rather she crawled on the dead part of her being, which her powerful bust and an enthusiastic will dragged with a continuous effort. Poets have sometimes spoken of the union of death and life. She was the image of this union, but the life was so intense in her chest resting on her nervous hands, supported in turn by her gnarled staff … that one would have believed, at times, that this life was descending and took it all over again. She was going well slowly, but finally she was! His forehead was flushed with fatigue. Her austere face took on fiery tints like a bronze vase eaten away by an interior flame, the opaque sides of which, become transparent, are colored.
Sometimes, betrayed by her strength, defeated, but not in despair, she would stop, panting, on a hill or a heap of stones in the path, then get up and continue on her way to sit down again after a few steps. Hours passed. Blanchelande’s bell rang the funeral mass. The unfortunate woman heard it almost with bewilderment! She was measuring, and with what a look! through the air, the space that separated her from the church, what remained for her to devour with thought and to cross with her slow and cursed feet! “Oh![Pg 273] I will arrive!” she had said it to herself more than once with hope. Now she was saying to herself: “Will I arrive on time?” No traveler on horseback, no farmer with his cart, who, perhaps, had been touched by the deceived energy of this sublime cripple who was fainting and still going, and who would have taken her with them, did not pass on this lonely road. . Ah! his chest heaved with anxiety and mad anger! His heart stomped on his dead feet! Soon she could not even stop to take breath, and as she was broken in her body and she fell slump, not wanting to be delayed by her fall, the heroic volunteer began to tread on her hands, to through the stones, holding in her teeth the staff from which she could not part and which
When, half-dead, she crossed the cemetery gate, the priest who officiated sang the preface. The church was too full for her to enter. So she remained at the threshold of one of the small side doors which opened into a chapel of the Virgin, and there, squatting on the heels of her hooves, behind a few women.[Pg 274] standing upright and looking into this chapel, she mingled her prayer and her interior desolation with the magnificent psalmody that the Church sings on her dead, and with the croaking of crows whose black flocks then circled around the resounding bell tower. As she was acting in the name of a duty and, moreover, she was still the proud Clotte, she did not speak to these women who, with their backs turned, whispered among themselves and talked to each other about the dead woman, about Master Thomas. le Hardouey and Abbot de la Croix-Jugan. And that is also why, when she got up, squatting as she was, before mass was over, she was able to escape the gaze of these women who had not noticed her.
However, the mass being said, the carriers took again the beer on the trestles where it had been deposited, the priests started to assemble the nave while singing the last psalms, and emerged by the portal, followed by the crowd, in the cemetery, where the dug pit awaited the coffin. Pathetic and dreadful moment! the heart of the strongest man cannot resist it, when, ranged in a circle, their candles extinguished, at the edge of the half-open tomb, the priests pour the holy water, in a supreme requiescat , over the beer stripped of its black drapery, and on which the earth, pushed by[Pg 275] spades, crumbles with a mournful and dull noise. We had reached this terrible moment, and until then nothing had disturbed the imposing and heartbreaking ceremony. Only when the clergy, having blessed the coffin, had withdrawn, after an Amen followed by a gloomy and vast silence, leaving the crowd gathered around the pit which was being filled, and throwing in their turn the holy water, as he had done it before her, a woman, who was kneeling on the earth raised from the grave, and to whom no one had paid attention, stood up painfully, and, placing herself behind the man who was then sprinkling the grave, stepped forward to take the bottle brush he was holding; but, as he handed it to him, the man looked at the hand extended towards him and the being to whom that hand belonged.
-Oh! he said with a start, La Clotte!
And as if that outstretched hand had been plagued, he recoiled in horror.
“What are you doing here, old Tousée?” he continued, and for what new misfortune have you come out of your hole?
The name of La Clotte, his unexpected presence, the accent and the gesture of this man made pass in the crowd this attentive vibration which precedes, like a warning of what is to follow, the great scenes and the great misfortunes.
La Clotte had turned pale at the name of Tousée, which brutally reminded her of an outrage that she had never been able to forget. But as if she hadn’t heard, or as if the pain of Jeanne’s death had disarmed her of all anger:
-Given! May I bless her, she said slowly, and do not insult old age in the presence of death, she added with firm gentleness and imposing melancholy.
But the man she was talking to was rough and rude by nature, and the habits of his trade further increased his usual ferocity. He was a butcher from Blanchelande, brought up in execration of La Clotte. His name was Augé. Her father, a butcher like himself, was one of the four who had tied her to the market post and who in 1793 had dropped under ignoble scissors a hair of which she had been very proud. This man had died a violent death shortly after his insult, and his death, vaguely imputed to La Clotte by superstitious, passionate parents, and in whom party hatreds were added to the other hatred, was to return the relentless son.
“No,” he said, “you would spin the holy water, old witch! you never set foot in church, and there you are! Are you cheeky! And is this[Pg 277] to also harm her corpse that you come, you who can no longer drag your bones, to the funeral of a woman whom you have bewitched, and who died perhaps only because she had the weakness to haunt you?
The idea he was expressing suddenly seized the crowd, who had known Jeanne so unhappy, and who had been unable to explain to themselves either the distraction of her thoughts, the violence of her complexion, or her so mysterious death. than the last days of his life. A long and confused murmur circulated among these heads in a hurry in the cemetery and a pale ray of sunshine lit up. Through this instinctive growl, the words of witch and bewitched were heard like muffled cries which threatened to be piercing just now … Toupes which began to take and which were going to set everything on fire.
There were no longer any priests there; they had returned to the church; there was no longer a man there who, by the authority of his word and his character, could oppose this crowd and stop it by dominating it. Did La Clotte see the peril that surrounded her in the thick folds of this vast belt of men, irritated, ignorant, and for years unrelated to her, with her who looked at them from the height of her isolation, as one watches? from the top of a tower?
But if she saw him, his old blood, his[Pg 278] the old concubine blood of the lords of the country rose to her furrowed cheek like a last glow, in the presence of these men who, for her, were peasants and who were beginning to be agitated. Leaning on her staff of thorns, three paces from this half-open pit, she gave Augé, the butcher, one of those looks like she had in her youth, when, resting on the rump of Sang-d’s horse. ‘Aiglon de Haut-Mesnil, she passed through the village of Blanchelande, scandalized and silent.
“Shut up, son of an executioner,” she said; it was not so lucky for your father to touch the head of Clotilde Mauduit!
“Ah! I will complete my father’s work! said the butcher, put to his heart by the word from La Clotte. He only shaved you, old wolf, but I will take you by the mop and shell you like a sheep.
And joining the gesture to the threat, he raised his thick hand, accustomed to taking the ox by the horns to contain it under the knife. The threatened head remained erect … But a blow saved her from the injury. A stone thrown from the bosom of this crowd, which La Clotte’s inflexible disdain outraged, hit her forehead, from which blood spurted and knocked her down.
But overturned, eyes full of the blood of[Pg 279] her forehead open, she rose on her wrists to the full height of her bust.
“Cowards! she cried, when a second stone hissing from another side of the crowd struck her again in the chest and marked with a large rosette of blood the black handkerchief that covered the place of her breast.
This blood had, as always, its cruel fascination. Instead of calming this crowd, he intoxicated it and made it thirsty with drunkenness. Cries: ” Death, the old witch!” Arose and soon drowned out the other cries of those who said: ” Stop!” no! don’t kill her! The vertigo descended and spread, contagious, in those heads close together, in all these breasts which were touching. The flow of the crowd stirred and undulated, compact to suffocate everything. No escape was possible only to those who were placed in the last row of this pack men, and those curious, and who could not discern what was happening at the edge of the pit, looked over the shoulders of the others and increased the thrust. The priest and the priests, who heard the cries of this rioting crowd, left the church and wanted to enter the tomb, the scene of a drama which was becoming bloody. They couldn’t. “Come home, Monsieur le Cure,” said voices; you don’t have to do that! It is the witch of[Pg 280] La Clotte is this profaner whom we do justice to! I will return your purified cemetery to you tomorrow. ”
And, while saying this, each one threw his pebble in the direction of La Clotte, at the risk of injuring those who were ranged near her. The second stone, which had shattered her breast, had rolled her in the dust, crushed at Augé’s feet, but not passed out. Impatient to mingle with this martyrdom, but too close to her to stone her, the butcher pushed aside the fallen body with his foot.
Then, like the severed head of Charlotte Corday who opened her eyes when the executioner’s bellows soiled her virginal cheek, La Clotte reopened her eyes full of blood to Augé’s outrage, and in a faltering voice:
“Augé,” she said, “I’m going to die; but I forgive you, if you want to drag me to Mademoiselle de Feuardent’s grave and throw me there with her, so that the vassal may sleep with the masters she loved so much!
– I ‘g’n’a could masters nor ladies of Feuardent replied Augé, Blue again become suddenly and burning passions of his father. No, you will not be buried with the one you have bewitched with your spells, cursed girl of the devil, and I will give you to my dogs!
And he snatched it up again with his shoe, which had been shod above his heart. Then with a booming voice:
“Here it is crushed in its venom, the viper!” he said. Come on, boys! who has a hurdle that I can drag its carcass on?
The question slipped from mouth to mouth, and suddenly, with this electricity which is faster and even more incomprehensible than lightning, hundreds of arms brought back for answer, passing from one to the other, the gate of the cemetery, torn from its hinges, onto which the lifeless body of La Clotte was thrown. Panting men harnessed themselves to this gate and began to drag, like wild horses or tigers, the chariot of vengeance and ignominy, which galloped over the graves, over the stones, with its burden. Distraught with ferocity, hatred, revolted fear, for man reacts against the fear of his soul, and then he becomes mad for audacity! they passed like the roaring wind of a waterspout in front of the gate of the church, where stood the priests rigid with horror and livid;delirium tremens crowds that had become animal again and deaf as plagues, they roared through the frightened town and took the path to the moor … Where were they going? they don’t[Pg 282] did not know. They were going like the hurricane. They were going as the lava flows.
Only, something less rare than one would think, if one knew the convulsive changes of the masses, as they advanced in their terrible execution, they became less numerous, less ardent, less furious! This crowd, this legion, this immense multiple animal, with several heads, with several arms, was losing its fleece of men in the thickets of the road. Its ranks were thinning. We could see some detach from others and run away in silence. We could see some staying at the bend of a road, and not joining the frantic and clamoring troop, seized with shivers, remorse, horror slowly coming, but finally felt and frozen. It was only a handful of men left, the dregs of the waves that had only been foaming for a moment. Awareness of the crime returned to them, on this human bottom and bottom which persists in crime, when the blows of violence have passed! and still going, but less quickly, she grew so strong in them, this consciousness, that she stopped them short of her arm, strong and cold as steel. The fear of the crime they had just committed, and which had gradually decimated their number, also took hold of the latter who were dragging on their iron hurdle this woman killed by them, murdered! Another fear was added to also took these last who dragged on his iron hurdle this woman killed by them, murdered! Another fear was added to also took these last who dragged on his iron hurdle this woman killed by them, murdered! Another fear was added to[Pg 283] this fear. They entered the moor, the moor, the land of mysteries, the possession of spirits, the moor incessantly surveyed by herdsmen and wizards! They no longer dared to look at this corpse soiled with blood and mud which beat their heels. They left him and fled, scattering as the clouds that have wreaked havoc on a land disperse, without anyone knowing where they have passed.
Silence spread in these countryside, which suddenly became lonely. It was all the deeper as it followed screams. The steeple of Blanchelande, whose noisy ringing had stopped after twenty-four hours of continual flight, was no more than a silent arrow on which the shadow rose as the sun bent over the horizon. No noise came from the village. The dreadful spectacle which had furrowed him, like a vision of blood and anger, had left the weight of consternation on those houses whose doors still seemed to be guarded by the terror of the morning. The afternoon lengthened in gloomy sadness; and when the evening of that day of fatal memory began to fall on the earth, no one heard, in the bluish distance,[Pg 284] returning to the mill, seated on their bags, their feet dangling on the side of their mares. One would have said that Blanchelande was dead at the end of his road … For anyone who was practicing this country which was usually lively and animated at these times, there was something extraordinary which was not visible, but which felt … The Abbé de la Croix-Jugan, returning that evening from Countess Jacqueline, perhaps had the feeling that I am trying to convey. He had crossed the Lessay moor on his filly, black as his clothes, and since he had been advancing towards the place of this moor where solitude ended, he had not met a living soul. Suddenly his ardent mount, which carried in the wind, swerved and reared up, neighing … This roused him from his reverie, for this man, overturned under the debris of
“This is Blue’s job! he said, putting his finger on half the truth by the fact of his eternal concern, the bandits will have killed old Chouanne.
And he emptied the stirrup, approached La Clotte’s body, took off his buckskin glove, and turned his bleeding face towards him. A moment passed, he questioned the arteries. By a prodigy of vital force such as is sometimes encountered in exceptional organizations, La Clotte, fainting, stirred. She wasn’t dead yet, but she was dying.
—Clotilde Mauduit! said the priest in his sonorous voice.
-Who’s calling me? she whispered in a weak voice. Who? I can no longer see it.
“It is Jehoël de la Croix-Jugan, Clotilde,” replied the abbot. And he lifted her up and leaned her head against a hillock. Yes it’s me. Recognize me, Clotilde. I come to save you.
“No,” she said, still weak, and she smiled with a disdain that no longer had bitterness, “you came to see me die … They killed me …”
“Who killed you? who? said the priest impetuously. They’re the Blues, aren’t they, my daughter? he insisted with an ardor in which all his hatred burned.
-Blues! she said as if lost, the Blues! Augé is a Blue; he is his father’s son. But all were there … all overwhelmed me … Blanchelande … whole.
Her voice grew unintelligible; the names no longer came out. Alone, her chin was still moving … She brought her hand to her chest and made that dreadful gesture of those who are dying, when they seem to push the spiders away from their coffins with their convulsive fingers. Whoever has seen death knows this frightful trepidation.
The abbot knew her. He saw that death was near.
He questioned the dying woman again, but she did not hear him. She had the absorption of agony … He, who did not know the reason for this terrible death which he had there in front of his eyes, was thinking of the Blues, his fixed thoughts, and he said to himself that any party crime could rekindle the extinct war. The mutilated corpse of old Clotte seemed to him as good as any other for putting on the end of a fork and making a flag which would bring the Norman peasants back to battle.
“What’s going on? he said with an explosion, already quivering, throbbing and hitting the earth with his boots with the rider, with the silver spurs. The leader, the inflexible partisan, rose up, once again indomitable, in the priest, and forgetting, he, the minister of a God of mercy, that there was a dying woman who had not yet passed away, he ‘took off on horseback as[Pg 287] if he had heard the charge beat. When he fell back into his saddle, his hand feverishly stroked the butt of the pistols which garnished the castings … The sun, which was setting in front of him, lit up his face surrounded by its black velvet chin strap and chopped by d infernal wounds, to which the fire of his thought made rise that scarlet that a famous blind man compared to the sound of the trumpet. He thrust his spurs into the sides of the filly, who leapt to break her strap. By a movement quicker than thought, he drew one of the pistols from his casings and raised it in the air, his finger on his tongue, as if the enemy had been four paces away, visionary by dint of bellicose hope! These pistols were his old companions. They had never left his belt during the war. When Mother Hecquet had saved him, she had buried them in her cabin. They were his Chouan pistols. On their rifled cannon, there was a cross anchored with fleur-de-lys which said that the Chouan was fighting for the Savior, his God, and his Lord the King of France.
This cross which the setting sun made sparkle in his eyes reminded him of the austere duty of his whole life, which he had so often failed.
“Ah! he said, plunging the gun back into the saddle casts, so you’ll always be the same[Pg 288] sinner, foolish Jehoel! So thirst for the blood of the enemy will always dry up your ungodly mouth? So you will always forget that you are a priest? This woman is going to die and you are thinking of killing, instead of talking to her about her God and absolving her. Down with your horse, executioner, and pray!
And he got off his filly like the first time.
“Clotilde Mauduit, are you dead? he said to her, approaching her.
Was it a supreme convulsion, but it writhed on the dust like a branch of dry wood in the fire. It seemed that the priest’s voice galvanized his last hour.
“If you can hear me,” he said, “my daughter! think of the terrible God you are going to ascend to. Do, by thought, an act of contrition, O sinner! and although I am unworthy and penitent, but priest of the God who binds and who looses, I will absolve and bless you.
And with outstretched hands, he slowly pronounced the sacramental words of absolution on that forehead already offended by the shadows of death. Singular priest, who recalled those bishops of Poland, who say mass, booted and spurred like soldiers, with pistols on the altar. Never had a more haughty being on his feet recited more merciful words about a more haughty being overthrown. When this[Pg 289] was finished: “She passed,” he said, and he unfastened his coat and spread it over the corpse. Then he took two broken branches from a ravine and placed them in the shape of a cross over the mantle. The sun had set in a bank of dark mist: “Farewell, Clotilde Mauduit,” he said, “O accomplice of my mad youth, here you are buried in my hands!” If a great heart saved, you would be saved; but pride has led your life astray like mine. Sleep in peace, tonight, under the cloak of the monk of Blanchelande. We will pick you up tomorrow. ” He climbed back on his horse, staring again at that black shape littering the ground. His horse, which knew his imperious knee, shuddered at being contained and wanted to rush forward, but he held it back … His hand, lowered on the pommel of the saddle, accidentally encountered the butt of the pistols: “Shut up, he said, temptations of war! ” And leading at a walk this filly, whom he usually hurled in gallops that they called insane, he went away, reciting in a low voice, in the falling shadows, the prayers that are said for the dead.