It was not until forty days after this appalling drama, the story of which, even in the mouth of the peasant who told me, seemed to me as pathetic as that of the murder of this Medici struck in the church of Florence, during the conspiracy of the Pazzi, which provided the Italian historians with the occasion of such a terrible page, that the bishop of Coutances, accompanied by a numerous clergy, came to reopen and rededicate the church of Blanchelande; imposing ceremony, the solemnity of which was to make the memory of this famous Easter mass, interrupted by a murder, even deeper in all minds.
As for the murderer , everyone believed that it was Master Thomas le Hardouey; but of certain and material proof that it was, we never had any. The shepherds recounted what had happened at night on the moor; but they hated Hardouey, and perhaps they took revenge on him even to his memory. Were they telling the truth? They were pagans to whom we should not put too much faith.
Le Hardouey, undoubtedly, had more than anyone else an interest in revenge in killing the abbot.[Pg 324] de la Croix-Jugan. The lead ingot, which had passed right through the abbot’s head and which had struck the base of a large silver candlestick placed to the left of the tabernacle, was recognized to be a piece of lead torn from one of the choir windows with the point of a knife; and this circumstance seemed to confirm the story of the shepherds.
So the Hardouey had done what he had said; for it was also recognized that the lead had been chewed with the teeth, either to force it to enter the barrel of the gun, or to render the wound fatal. Except for this uncertain notion, all information failed to justice. Questioned by her, the people who heard mass at the gate (and they were mostly women) replied that they had only heard the firearm over their heads, kneeling as they were and their foreheads lowered to the ground. moment of the Elevation.
Their surprise, their fear had been so great that the man who had fired the rifle had had time to run to the stile of the cemetery and to cross it before being recognized. Alone, an old beggar woman, who could not kneel because of the condition of her poor legs, and who had remained standing, her hands on her staff and her loins against the black trunk of the yew, suddenly saw at the gate a large[Pg 325] back of a man, and above this back a piece of rifle lying in cheek and shining in the sun. When the blow was gone, the man turned around, but he had, she said, a black pancake on his face, and he was running wild like a cat being chased by a quien . All of this, she added, happened so quickly, and she had been so gripped , that she couldn’t even scream.
If it was Hardouey, moreover, it was not discovered either in Blanchelande, or in Lessay, or in any of the neighboring parishes, and its disappearance, which has always lasted since that time, remained as mysterious as it had been. been after the death of his wife. Only, if he had remained in the spirit of the world , said Tainnebouy, whom the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan had misled Jeanne-Madelaine, he remained as acquired in the opinion of the whole country as Hardouey had been the assassin, by revenge, of the former monk.
Such had been the story of Master Louis Tainnebouy on this abbot of the Croix-Jugan, whose name had remained in the country the object of a sinister tradition. I have already said it, but it seems necessary to me to insist: the farmer of Mont-de-Rauville omitted in his account many features which I later owed to the Countess Jacqueline de Montsurvent; only these details, which all had to do with the way of seeing and[Pg 326] feeling of the countess and at her height of social situation, did not bear on the substance and the dramatic circumstances of the story that my Cotentinais had told me. In this respect the identity was complete; only the way of looking at these circumstances was different.
And yet, in the ideas of the feudal centenary, of this decrepit from whom old age had torn the last exaltations, if there had ever been any in this character to which civil wars had given the thread and the cold of steel , the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan was, as much as in the appreciations of the honest farmer, one of those enigmatic and formidable characters who, once seen, cannot be forgotten.
Maître Tainnebouy spoke of it a great deal through hearsay, and having seen it once or twice from the end of the church in Blanchelande at the other end, but the old countess had known him … ‘had not only seen at this distance that transforms the floating sticks; she had elbowed him in that implacable level of life which overthrows pedestals and shrinks the greatest men.
“Do you see this place?” She said to me the day I spoke to her about it, and she pointed to me with her finger, white as wax and laden with[Pg 327] rings up to the first phalanx, a sort of ebony pulpit, secular in shape, placed in front of his canopy; —that was where he sat when he came to Montsurvent. No one will do it anymore. He spent many hours there! When he arrived in the courtyard, I, who am always alone in this empty room, with the portraits of the Montsurvent and the Toustain (the old countess Jacqueline was a Toustain), I recognized the sound of her horse’s hoof, and I quivered in my old marrowless bones and in my red lace, like a bride waiting for her groom. Were we not betrothed to the same dead things? … Old Soutyras, for everything is old around me, announced it, raising it in front of him with an arm trembling with terror. he inspired everyone with the door that is over there, and then he entered, his forehead under his cloak, and he came to kiss me with his mutilated lips that solitary hand, to which the kisses of respect have failed since old age and revolution have fallen on my haggard head. Then he would sit down … and, after a few words, he sank into his silence and I into mine! Because, since the Chouannerie was over and there was no longer any hope of uprising in this miserable country where the peasants only fight for their manure, he Then he would sit down … and, after a few words, he sank into his silence and I into mine! Because, since the Chouannerie was over and there was no longer any hope of uprising in this miserable country where the peasants only fight for their manure, he Then he would sit down … and, after a few words, he sank into his silence and I into mine! Because, since the Chouannerie was over and there was no longer any hope of uprising in this miserable country where the peasants only fight for their manure, he[Pg 328] had nothing more to teach me, and we no longer needed to talk.
-What! I cried, countess, believing that at least this grandiosity severe intimacy between this man so virile, vanquished, and this woman dispossessed of everything except life, let out in this solitude proud cries of rage and regret. , you weren’t even talking! And you have lived like this for years?
“Only two years,” she said, “while he remained at Blanchelande, when all hope was lost, until his death … What did we have to say to each other?” Without speaking, we got along … Yes! however, he spoke to me once more, she said, changing her mind and lowering a head who was shaking, as if she had been looking for a lost object between her comb and her chest, with a last movement of a woman who seeks her memories there where she used to put her love letters in her youth, it was when this unhappy and fatal Duke of Enghien …
She hesitated, and this hesitation seemed to me so sublime that I spared her the trouble of finishing it.
“Yes,” I said to him, “I understand …
“Ah! yes, you understand, she said with a vague flash at the bottom of her eyes of a cold and erased blue, swimming in an almost sepulchral white, you understand; but I can well[Pg 329] say it: a hundred years of pain paves the way to utter everything.
She stopped, then she continued:
“That day he came earlier than usual. He did not kiss my hand and said to me: “The Duc d’Enghien is dead, shot in the ditches of Vincennes … The royalists will not have the heart to avenge him!” Me, I uttered a cry, my last cry! He gave me the details of this terrible death, and he paced back and forth giving them to me. When it was over, he sat down and resumed his silence that he has not broken now. So, she added again after a pause, it doesn’t make much of a difference to me whether he’s alive or dead, as he is now. Old people live in their thoughts. I can always see him! … Ask La Vasselin, if I haven’t told her very often in the evening, when she comes to bring me my bitter orange syrup: “Hey, Vasselin, is there no one there … on the black chair? I still believe that Father de la Croix-Jugan is seated there! … ”
In truth, this trappist silence extended between these two loners who remained the last of a society which was no longer, this friendship or this habit of a man of coming to sit regularly in the same place, and which struck a chord. contagion of his silence a woman enough[Pg 330] haughty so that nothing could ever have much influence on her, yes, in truth, it was all like the last nail stroke of the painter who finished me and made me turn this face of the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan, of this be cut out to overwhelm the imagination of others and be counted among those exceptional individuals who may not find their framework in written history, but who find it in history which is not written, because History has its rapsodes like Poetry. Hidden and collective Homers, who go off sowing their legend in the minds of crowds! The generations which succeed one another come for a long time to graze on this marvelous laburnum of a naive and delighted lip, until the hour when the last leaf is carried away by the last memory, and when oblivion s’