It was at the time of which Master Louis Tainnebouy, the brave farmer of Mont-de-Rauville, spoke to me in these terms, that one evening the old Clotte, who had spun at his door a good part of the survey, stopped , tired, the movement of her spinning wheel. She looked around and called out little Ingou.
—Petiote! she said.
But Petiote did not answer. The house of La Clotte, now destroyed, stood a few feet from the ground, on the road which led from Blanchelande to the village of Lessay, and it was only two or three shots away on the edge. opposite the path, than Mother Ingou’s cottage, whose little girl came every day to help La Clotte in her poor household. That day, this little one, who had put away the fact of old Clotte early, tempted by the beauty of the evening and these[Pg 202] last rays of the evening which advise vagrancy, had taken her rimless hooves in each hand, and had started to hurtle down the end of the sloping road which led to her mother’s, raising under her bare feet those beloved whirlwinds of dust to children of all countries. It was to procure this childish joy that little Ingou had forgotten to say “she was going” to La Clotte, and had not thought of putting her spinning wheel back into the house. Now La Clotte, crippled and who needed both hands to lean on his stick and painfully reach the back of his house, was quite incapable of retracting the spinning wheel which she had used part of the day. his threshold … “How shall I do?” she said to herself, when she saw Mistress the Hardouey coming towards her.
She was coming slowly, poor Jeanne. She no longer walked as before with that firm and rapid step that had been hers. There was something heavy and striking in his walk, of which nothing can give the idea. Her large white headdress, that batiste crest which suited her decided countenance so well, she no longer wore high and with a light brow. And without the black velvets which tied her under the chin, perhaps she would have fallen, so much the head that this headdress covered[Pg 203] bowed now under the fixed thought which it carried to its forehead, as the bull carries away the ax which struck it! Seeing this woman from afar coming, whose beauty and especially strength she had once known, the dry eyes of the proud Clotilde Mauduit who had cried, she said, all the tears of her body on the ruins of her youth , felt the wetness of a last tear, the last drop of pity. She knew the whole story of Jeanne. From the first day, if we remember it, she had suspected all that this fatal indifferent Jehoel, who had killed Dlaid Malgy in despair, would bring misfortune to Loup de Feuardent’s daughter, and she had warned him.
“Run away from this man,” she had said to him for some time, with the sort of bewilderment she sometimes had and which Jeanne-Madelaine believed the result of her ardently ulcerated character and the appalling loneliness of her life; a voice warns me, at night, when I am not asleep, a voice which is the voice of Dlaid, that if you do not run away from this man, he will one day be your destiny. Don’t say no! Jeanne de Feuardent! Would the daughter of gentlemen, these noble spouses of war, be afraid of a few wounds on a forehead that knows how to bear them? You are not one of those weak[Pg 204] hearts of woman, eternally trembling before scars and always ready to faint in vain horror. No, you are a Feuardent; you are descended from one of those Irish races, your father told me, in which the point of a sword was made to kiss the child who was born, even before he had tasted the mother’s milk. No, it is not the steel seams on a face cut open by bullets that could prevent you, you, from loving Jehoel!
Jeanne did not believe her, or perhaps did. But she did not avoid this man, in whom she attached a grandiose, ideal and passionate interest. Between her and him there was, to embellish this riddled face, the tragedy of its very ugliness, the past of the ancestors, the patrician blood which recognized itself and rushed forward to join together, feelings and a language that it did not know. not in the modest sphere where she lived, but which she had always dreamed of. She came to La Clotte more often. He also came there, and, as I have said, he devoted it to his perilous designs. It was then that Jeanne’s love for this civil war leader, great in his own way, like this Georges Cadoudal (about whom we spoke a lot at that time) was for his, deepened and festered with pain, of shame and despair;[Pg 205] For a moment hidden from the priest, the priest reappeared very quickly, severe, icy, imperturbable, finally Jehoel about whom we could say what Saint Thérèse said about the demon: “The unhappy one!” He does not like!” Joan’s sufferings were intolerable. She could only entrust them to La Clotte, who had predicted her misfortune and told Dlaide’s story. It was with this Outcast for the contempt of a whole country that she compensated herself for the courageous deceptions of her pride. La Clotte, in fact, the unrepentant enthusiast, La Garce de Haut-Mesnil , as the peasants of these parts used to say, alone understood this love, unacceptable to religious and quiet souls who should make opinion in all countries.
As for the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan, when the projects which he had so obstinately prepared had been betrayed once again by the fortune of his cause, which had become more fierce and blacker than ever, he stopped coming to the house. Clotte. He had nothing more to do there. Wasn’t everything for him lost? … So Jeanne-Madelaine saw only in church the terrifying genius of her destiny. Had religion taken hold of this priest, whose fate of arms no longer wanted? After having abdicated the hope of conquering, like Charles V the boredom of reigning, the former monk of Blanchelande was he, in his own[Pg 206] heart, a larger and more solitary cloister than the one he had left in his youth, and he took, in his cold oak stall, the measure of the coffin at the bottom of which he lay alive, reciting over it- even the prayers of the dead? … Who ever knew exactly what stirred in this soul? What is indisputable is that the funeral and terrible character of the whole person of the abbot increased in the eyes of the populations, who had always regarded him as a separate and formidable being, as the physiognomy of Jeanne marked better the upheavals and interior devourings to which she was a prey, as if the more the victim was tormented, the more sinister the executioner became!
Now, the isolation into which the black abbot voluntarily relapsed, after the ruin of his last hopes, was the end of Joan’s courage. But the end of courage in Louisine-à-la-ax’s daughter was still a powerful thing. She was one of those natures à la Marius, who take their blood in their hand, and throw it while dying against their enemy, even Heaven! Nothing cowardly or elegiac entered into the makeup of this woman. When the last rays of the evening tinted her white headdress with a melancholy pink, on the road to Lessay, at this hour when the day[Pg 207] harmonizes with torn hearts, she felt nothing weak, nothing languid, nothing edgy in her. The plethora of his heart resembled the burning plethora of his face. Only she said to herself, resting her firm hand on her heart which was beating right down to her throat, that the last bubbling was about to spring from it; that after that the volcano would be empty and perhaps no longer smoke; and this thought, more than all the rest, troubled and weighed down her approach, for she had just taken the definitive resolution which is the supreme act of the desperate will, and which produces on the energetic soul the effect of the setting in motion. chapel on the Spanish condemned man.
“Ah! you are there, Mother Clotte! she said in a hoarse and harsh voice, the voice of great resolutions, reaching the old spinner, sitting in front of her spinning wheel at her threshold.
-My God! What’s new, Mademoiselle de Feuardent? suddenly cried La Clotte, struck by Jeanne’s air and voice. You are not like every day tonight, although every day is sad for you, my noble daughter. Looks like you’re going to make a mess. You look like two drops of water like the image of Judith who killed Holofernes, which I have at the head of my bed.
“Ah! said Jeanne with fierce exaltation.[Pg 208] and ironic; wait, Mother Clotte, I haven’t got any blood on my hands yet, to compare myself to a slayer; I still only have it in my face and it’s mine, which burns me, but which does not sink … If it had sank since we saw it there, I would be happier: I would be dead and now quiet, like Dlaïde Malgy, who sleeps so well in her grave over there! she added, stretching out her trembling arm towards the hedge, above which could be seen the blue roof of the steeple of Blanchelande, eaten away by the purple vapors of the evening. No, don’t compare me to Judith, Mother Clotte! Don’t they say that the spirit of God was in her? It is the spirit of evil that is in me! and there is so strong there this evening, this spirit of evil, known to you too, Clotilde Mauduit, in your youth, that I
“Let’s go home, my daughter, we could be heard at that door, and enough is said about you at Blanchelande,” said La Clotte, almost maternal.
And the paralytic took her staff beside her, and, with both hands on it, she passed the threshold of her door with the effort, painful to see, of an old snake half crushed by a cart wheel, which painfully crosses a rut, and goes back to his bush opposite.
Jeanne-Madelaine took the spinning wheel and followed La Clotte.
“Cattail finished,” she said, looking at the work the old woman had done, whose day had been laborious, pride ended and life ended. So everything ends, except to suffer? Who knows, she continued in a gloomy reverie and placing the spinning wheel in its usual place, if the thread rolled on this spindle will not soon be used to weave the death sheet of Jeanne de Feuardent? …
-Oh! my poor child, “said La Clotte,” what is the matter with you this evening?
“I’m going to tell you,” resumed Jeanne, with an air of mystery which resembled delirium and crime.
She sat down on her stool near La Clotte, put her elbow on her knee and her fiery cheek in her hand, and, as if about to begin some extraordinary story:
“Listen,” she said with a mad look. I love a priest; I love Father Jéhoël de la Croix-Jugan!
La Clotte clasped his two hands in anguish.
-Alas! I know it well, she said; this is where all your misfortune comes from.
-Oh! I love him and I am damned, resumed the unfortunate woman, because it is a crime without forgiveness.[Pg 210] than to love a priest! God cannot forgive such sacrilege! I am damned! but I want it to be too. I want him to fall to the bottom of hell with me. Hell will be good then! it will be better for me than life … He who feels nothing of what I feel, perhaps he will suspect what I am suffering, when the fires of hell will finally heat his terrible heart! Ah! you are not a saint, Jehoel: I will drag you into my eternal perdition! Ah! Clotilde Mauduit, you have seen many terrible things in your youth, but you have never seen anything like those which will happen near here this evening. You only have to listen, if you don’t sleep tonight; you will hear the soul of Dlaïde Malgy screaming louder than all the silversmiths on the Chaussée de Broquebœuf.
“Shut up, Jeanne de Feuardent, my daughter!” interrupted La Clotte with the gesture and accent of all-powerful tenderness; and she took Jeanne-Madelaine’s head and pressed it against her dry breast, with the movement of a mother who takes hold of a bleeding child and wants to prevent it from crying.
“Ah! I have the effect of a madwoman! said Jeanne more gently, which this male caress of a devoted heart appeased, and I am good in one sense, but in the other, I am not.[Pg 211] no … I tried everything to be loved by this priest. He didn’t even notice that I was in pain. He despised me like Dlaïde Malgy, like all of you, the girls of Haut-Mesnil, whom he scorned. Well! I will avenge you all. It will cost me my share of heaven, but I will avenge you. Oh! I was crazier than I am today, Mother Clotte. Six months ago, I didn’t tell you so … I went in secret to the shepherds. I had long made fun of them and their spells, but I went there with a low forehead, a low heart … I recognized the one I had seen under the door of the old rectory, who had made me this threat that I could never forget. I begged him, this beggar, this vagabond, this shepherd, as one should only pray to God, to have pity on me and take away the spell he had cast on me. I used up my knees in front of him, in the dust of the moor! I would have eaten, if he had wanted, of this dust! I gave her my earrings, my golden brown, myslavery , my pin, and money, and so forth, and I would give him my blood to find me a way to make Jehoel love me, if there was any. The miserable go-barefoot, after many refusals, sharpened by hatred and revenge, ended up telling me that I had to wear a shirt over my chest,[Pg 212] soak it with my sweat and have it taken to Jehoel. Will you believe it, Mother Clotte? … Jeanne de Feuardent did not take that for an insult! She thought it was a piece of advice … Does love stupefy us women enough! I cut and sewed this shirt with my desperate hands and I wore it on this body that the mere thought of Jehoel bathed in fire! I soaked it, crossed it … I would have soaked it with my blood if the Shepherd had said that it was blood he needed instead of sweat. Then, one evening when the door of Jehoel’s house was ajar and I heard him talking in his stable with his horses, the only living creatures he seemed to love, I thought. slipped in like a thief and threw the shirt on his bed, hoping that he would put it (finding it under his hand) without thinking about it. Did he put it on? I do not know. But, if he put it on, he didn’t put love with it!
Alas! he loved me no more. “It must not have dried up,” said the shepherd, sneering and turning the knife in my heart. It was asking me the impossible. The pasture took revenge. But the pillowcase I had over my eyes fell. I no longer went to the shepherd. And yet credulity still held me! In all the fairs and markets I consulted the card printers. They didn’t say[Pg 213] never only one thing was that I loved a dark man who had power greater than theirs and that dark man would kill me. Ah! I was already killed! Am I that Jeanne de Feuardent, once known in Blanchelande and Lessay? Does that unhappy face, dreadful as an apoplexy, say that I am a living woman? … Yes, I am killed. Jehoel killed me. But I will kill his soul! I won’t end up like that miserable gallless pigeon of Dlaïde Malgy, who only knew how to roll around at man’s feet and then die!
A strange smile crossed the lips of the ancient odalisque of the sultans of Haut-Mesnil, hearing this cry of the woman who knows the strength of the temptation that her sin has placed in her.
“Insane! she said, foolishly, so you don’t yet know La Croix-Jugan?
And with a force of gaze and affirmation that troubled Jeanne, despite the disorder of her whole being, she added:
“When you put yourself even lower than the Malgy at this man’s feet, you’ll never be able to do what you want!
“So it’s not a man?” said Jeanne with a bronze brow, so much the pure feelings of the woman, the chaste honor of all[Pg 214] his life, had disappeared in the flames of a stronger passion, alas! that fifteen years of wisdom and inflamed by eighteen months of atrocious combats!
“He is a priest,” replied La Clotte, ”
“The angels are well fallen! said Jeanne.
“Out of pride,” replied the old woman; none fell for love.
There was a moment of silence between these two women. Night, laden with bad thoughts, began to enter the cottage at La Clotte.
“He loves revenge,” said Jeanne Madelaine deeply, “and I am the wife of a Blue.
“What does he like, who knows, my daughter?” replied La Clotte, even deeper. He may never have loved other than his cause, and his cause is not in your arms! Ah! if he could crush all that is blue under your mattress, maybe he would lie down with you there. Yes! even at the end of the mass, the mouth stained with the blood of his God who would condemn him! But, to yourself alone, you have nothing to offer him but a heart which he disdains in his priestly thought, like a prey destined for the worms in the coffin.
“What if you were wrong, La Clotte?” said Jeanne, rising impetuously from her stool.
“No, Jeanne de Feuardent,” said old Clotte, with a gesture of Hecube, “no, I’m not mistaken. I know him. Do not degrade yourself for this man. Keep your heart big. Do not be ashamed, my daughter, to bring back only the rejects of contempt. And she grabbed Jeanne by the bottom of her red cotton apron to prevent her from going out.
“Ah! old age has made you cowardly, Clotilde Mauduit! said Jeanne, exasperated and in whom the last flash of reason was extinguished. When you were my age and you were in love, would you have trembled in the face of shame, and have you been stopped talking about contempt?
And she suddenly took off her apron, which tore and the shred of which remained in La Clotte’s clenched hands.
She had rushed out of the cottage, like a madwoman escaping from the hospital.