She still spent the day at the old rectory

Jeanne le Hardouey, after leaving Nônon Cocouan, headed for the Clos by the path she often followed. Need I say now that she was one of those women whose impressions followed one another with the regularity that their naturalness imprints on strong beings? And yet the priest she had just seen, that tragic Scarred in a hood, and what this loafer had told him about it.of Nônon Cocouan, sank into her with power and prevented her from walking as fast as she would have done at any other time. The roads were deserted. The vespers had gone in different directions. Despite what she had said to Nonon, that she would go quickly once she was alone, she did not hurry, for no fear dominated her. It was not cold, however. The weather was mild, albeit rough. It was one of those soft days at the beginning of winter, when the wind blows from the south, and when the clouds, gray as iron and low to touch with the hand, seem to weigh on our heads. Jeanne saw nothing to justify Cocouan’s apprehensions.

[Pg 121]

She still spent the day at the old rectory. Everything there was solitary and silent. Only, under one of the large openings in the courtyard, arched like the arch of a bridge and formerly closed by colossal doors, now torn from their enormous hinges, remained rusty in the walls, she saw one of those prowling shepherds, the terror of the country, busy making a few thin goats graze on the rare grass that grew in the empty courtyards of this sort of mansion.

She recognized him. He was a shepherd who had, not long ago, presented himself to Master Thomas le Hardouey for work, and whom Master Thomas had rudely rejected, not wanting, he said, to employ people without confession. . Le Hardouey shared the prejudices of Master Tainnebouy against these people, which are, moreover, the universal prejudices of the region. But, as he was rich and powerful, he did not hide his antipathies, and he seemed to provoke the shepherds to an open struggle against him to overwhelm them.

He had more than once been heard to say, either at the mill, at Lendormi’s, or at the forge, at Dussaucey’s, the blacksmith, that at the first death of his animals, at the slightest misfortune that would happen and that one could impute to the shepherds, he would cleanse the[Pg 122] country for ever. Certainly such words, which many people found imprudent, were not ignored by the men against whom they had been uttered, and this could give to Jeanne, isolated in distant roads, the idea that the man driven out by her husband and that she would meet there by chance was quite capable of doing her a bad job ; but if this idea occurred to her, she showed nothing of it, and she was the first, according to the custom of the countryside when we meet, to speak to the shepherd.

He was sitting on one of those big stones like you find next to all the doors in Normandy. He was wrapped in his limousine with its big red and white stripes, a sort of coat that resembles a woman’s petticoat that one would hang around the neck. His immobility was such that his very eyes did not move and that one would willingly have taken him for a Druidic mummy, unearthed from some Gallic cave.

It was necessary that Jeanne, in order to gain in the direction in which she was walking, should pass in front of him, and he must have seen her coming at a distance of more than twenty paces; but his greenish eyes, which, like the eyes of certain fish, seemed to have been made to traverse denser environments than the element which surrounds us, did not testify[Pg 123] not by their expression that they had even noticed it.

“Say, the shepherd!” she cried to him, has it been a long time since the people coming out of vespers have passed by, and do you think that by crossing the Prairie aux Ajoncs which cuts the path from here to the Clos, I could still catch up?

But he didn’t answer. He didn’t make a move. Her eyes stayed in the direction they had when she had stood in front of him, and she felt compelled to repeat the question she had asked him, thinking he hadn’t heard her.

“Are you deaf, pasture?” she said to him, impatient like a woman who is used to being obeyed and for whom every word to inferiors was a command.

“Deaf for you, ver! finally said the shepherd, still motionless; deaf like a chickweed , deaf like a pebble, deaf like your husband and you were deaf to me, Mistress Hardouey! Why are you asking me something? Did you not deny me everything that day? I have nothing to tell you, nor have you had anything to give me. T’nez, he added, taking a long straw from the straw of his hooves and breaking it, the straw is broken! Do you believe that the two ends that[Pg 124] there and that I throw, the wind which blows can bring them together and reconnect them?

There was a tremor of anger in the guttural voice of this shepherd, who performed, without knowing it, centuries away, the old rite of war of the ancient Normans.

-Let’s go! come on, no hard feelings, shepherd! replied Jeanne, seeing that she was alone with this irritated man who held in his hand a stick of holly, freshly cut in the hedges. Tell me what I ask of you, and when you pass by the Clos and my husband is away, I will put some white bread and a good piece of bacon in your bag.

“Keep your bread and bacon for your dogs! he resumed. It is not with meat or bread that one appeases a man’s anger. No no! the man who would depend on his belly to the point of eating the forgetfulness of insults with the bread thrown at him, would only have a gizzard instead of a heart. I’ll count later, Mistress Hardouey!

“Beware of threats, pasture! she said, more threatening than him and carried away by his determined character.

“Ah! I know very well, said the shepherd, with a deep gaze and a bitter mouth, that you are as tall as time, Mistress Hardouey! But you are not here under the beams[Pg 125] of your kitchen. You are in the old Presbytery, in a bad crossroads where a living soul will not pass until tomorrow morning. So what would stop me, if I wanted to? he added slowly, grinning a fierce smile that made his glassy eye shine, and showing his holly stick … But I don’t want to! No, I do not want! he said with explosion. Blows attract blows. Let go of this stone you have taken and be still. I won’t touch you! They would say that I murdered you, if I only put my hand on your bun, and I would soon be driving deep into Coutances prison. There are better and safer revenges. The horn takes a long time to come to the tauret and its blows are all the more deadly. Go! walk! he insisted in a sinister voice.

And he rose from his conical stone, began to whistle a strange tune that attracted a dog with long white hairs, straight and pointed like ridges, and of this particular species, called the shepherd , the most intelligent of dogs, but also most melancholy, and he went to gather his goats scattered in the yard.

Jeanne, too proud to add a word to those she had already said, passed and took the[Pg 126] Prairie aux Ajoncs, less worried about the shepherd’s declaration of war than struck by his last words. What did he mean, in fact, by these vespers which he told him to remember? What connection could there be between a religious ceremony and one of those shepherds who had perhaps not received baptism, itinerant pagans whom we never saw in churches and whom we had more than once met leading to graze their sheep on the sacred grass of cemeteries, much to the scandal of religious people? These vespers, it is true, were already marked for her by a singular point of reminder; the sight of this unknown priest who had placed in his heart sensations so unfamiliar to his calm and strong nature! A word from the shepherd, coinciding with the meeting of this martyr of the Blues, as Nônon had told him, the Blues against which Loup de Feuardent would have fought, if he had lived during the wars of the West, this word, coming after the impression it had received during vespers, redoubled it and made it ferment in her. It is sometimes such a weak thing that the mystery of the organization of the human head, that a circumstance (the most miserable of circumstances, a coincidence, a chance) disturbs it at first and ends up enslaving it. Jeanne returned to the Clos all thoughtful, unable to prevent herself from associating in her emotions is sometimes such a weak thing that the mystery of the organization of the human head that a circumstance (the most miserable of circumstances, a coincidence, a chance) troubles it at first and ends up enslaving it. Jeanne returned to the Clos all thoughtful, unable to prevent herself from associating in her emotions is sometimes such a weak thing that the mystery of the organization of the human head that a circumstance (the most miserable of circumstances, a coincidence, a chance) troubles it at first and ends up enslaving it. Jeanne returned to the Clos all thoughtful, unable to prevent herself from associating in her emotions[Pg 127] the idea of ​​the dark priest and the threats of the shepherd.

But her activity and her ordinary occupations drew her from before her , as they say, and were salutary distractions for her. She got rid of her blue pelisse and her black- pleated clogs , and she began to turn around her house, her forehead as serene as if nothing unusual had crossed her mind.

She gave her customary orders for the people’s supper, spoke to all of them as she was used to, and fixed each their share of work for the next day. Servants and day laborers, the people of Clos were numerous and formed a large table in the kitchen of master Thomas le Hardouey. While Joan watched all things with that watchful eye which is the attribute of domestic royalty as well as of other royalty, she heard that they were talking around the table of the priest in the black hood, who had almost terrified. in the procession all the parishioners of Blanchelande. This was the event of the day.

“I don’t know his Christian name,” said the tall valet, a fine talker with curly hair, who ate an enormous buckwheat pancake buttered with goose fat, “but God[Pg 128] punish if he was wronged by calling him the abbot of the shattered ghoul !

“I have seen rifle shots in my life,” said the drummer in the barn, who had served under General Pichegru, “but I cannot believe that these are real marks of rifle shots fired by men. If the devil has a factory in the arsenal of his hell, they must mark like that those they reach and that they do not sleep forever on the floor. Besides, he looks more like a soldier than a priest, that hood! I saw him on Saturday, around four o’clock in the morning, galloping in the path which is under the Chesnaie-Centsous, a path of perdition where more than a pair of carts pour in per winter; he was riding a filly who seemed to have fire under her stomach. By the demon’s flet ! I affie youand certify that there were not in all the army of Holland, of the time when I was there, many dozen captains of dragoons as brazenly screwed in their saddles as he. to what Nônon Cocouan had said to Jeanne about the arrival of the foreign priest at the priest of Blanchelande. But, apart from this detail, the Clos servants knew much less than Nônon about this abbot, whose unexpected presence[Pg 129] and the grandiose ugliness had nevertheless stirred this population, so little outside, occupied with work and gain, faithful to the spirit of its fathers, whose ancient battle cry was: sheathing! heavy to lift consequently, and which does not have, like the populations of the South, a natural inclination towards the emotion and the dramatic interest.

Now, it was said that, that evening, Jeanne could not part with the thought of the fatal being she had seen under these priestly clothes, so little made for him. She was pushing her away like a fateful obsession, and everything around her was rejecting her. There are sometimes in life these intertwining of circumstances which seem to give the right to believe in fate! The servants going out or going to bed, after their evening meal, Jeanne-Madelaine ordered her husband’s supper and hers.

Usually, master Thomas le Hardouey, when he was not at the fairs and markets of the neighboring townships, hardly returned to the Clos until around seven o’clock, to have dinner alone with his wife or a friend in third, some farmer from the area. , invited to come and chat, at the vigil. The Clos house they lived in was an old manor house, a little dilapidated towards the wings, separated from the farm, placed at the end of a second courtyard, and although this manor was divided[Pg 130] in several apartments, that there was a dining room and a company salon where Jeanne had stored, with painful pride, all the movable wealth that she had from her father, that is to say a few old portraits family of the Feuardents, however, she and her husband ate on a separate table in their kitchen, not believing that they would derogate from their dignity as masters or compromise their authority, while remaining under the eyes of their people.

It is an idea of ​​the present time, when domestic power has been degraded like all other powers, to believe that by withdrawing from common life, we safeguard a respect that no longer exists. We must not be deceived: when we shelter ourselves with so much care against contact with our inferiors, we only preserve our own delicacies, and who says delicacy always means a little weakness in some way. Certainly if morals were strong as they once were, man would not believe that isolating himself from his servants was a means of making himself respected or feared more. Respect is much more personal than you might think. We are all more or less soldiers or leaders in life; well! have we ever seen that soldiers in the field were less submissive to their leaders,[Pg 131] closely with them? Jeanne le Hardouey and her husband had therefore retained the ancient feudal custom of living among their servants, a custom which is no longer kept today (if it still is) by a few farmers representing the ancient customs of the country. . Jeanne-Madelaine de Feuardent, raised in the country, the daughter of Louisine-à-la-ax, had none of the false pride or pusillanimous repugnance which characterizes the women of the cities. While old Gotton was preparing supper, she set the table herself. She was unfolding one of those beautiful worked tablecloths, dazzling with whiteness and smelling of the thyme on which they had been spread, when Maître le Hardouey entered, followed by the priest of Blanchelande, whom he had met, he said, at the bottom of the room. avenue leading to Clos.

“Jeanne,” he said, “here is Monsieur le Cure whom I met on my tour after Vespers, and whom I hired, as it is Sunday, to come and have supper with us.

Jeanne greeted the parish priest as she had been accustomed to doing. She saw him often, and often she had given him money or wheat for the poor in the parish; because, religious of education and royal at heart, Jeanne was a chaplain, as the beggars used to say[Pg 132] of the country, who took off their gray woolen caps when they spoke of her.

This liberality, which was sometimes exercised without the knowledge of Master Hardouey, was a reason for the priest to come frequently to the Clos. He was hardly attracted there by the master of the house, who had bought church property, and whose reputation was, for this reason, far from good.

Time, which throws on all things, grain by grain, an impalpable dust, which, without history, would end up covering the highest events, Time has already shed its leveling sand on many circumstances of such an era. not far away, and we no longer have the correct note given by the feelings of the time. A purchaser of Church property almost inspired the horror that the sacrilegious thief inspires, and it is hardly the immortal reason of the statesman which understands well today what was wrong. great and sacred an opinion which seems excessive to the cowardly and lost minds of the present generation. At the end of these civil wars, the priest of Blanchelande needed to remember his ministry of peace and mercy, so as not to regard Thomas le Hardouey as an enemy. So it was only in consideration of Jeanne that he accepted the courtesies of the rich man.[Pg 133] owner, his parishioner. The latter did them, moreover, a little out of deference to his wife, and also by that spirit of coarse pomp and noisy hospitality, the attribute of all upstarts. The parish priest, on the other hand, had in him all that makes one forgive for being a priest with irreligious, narrow-minded and sensual minds, as Hardouey was and as he came out of the bosom of the eighteenth century. Abbé Caillemer was what we call a full-fledged man, of jovial humor, round-minded as well as belly, having faith and manners, despite his love for bottled cider, the gloria.and the coffee pusher, three small pitfalls against which, alas! sometimes comes to fail the male severity of a clergy born poor, and whose youth has not known the first pleasures of life. Father Caillemer added to all these vulgar qualities of not having, in his exterior being, that character of priestly dignity that the lower class of spirits cannot suffer, because it imposes on it, and which it is obliged to uphold. respect it.

-When I met Monsieur le Cure, said the farmer, sitting down at his table, sparkling with tin pots, and addressing his wife, he was not alone, he had a colleague with him. . What if it wasn’t a colleague, and I wasn’t afraid to disrespect[Pg 134] to Monsieur le Cure, I would say that he looks more like a devil than a priest. I also invited him to our meal, although, by my faith, Jeannine, you might well have been bold as you are, to be afraid of it.

Jeanne smiled, but the cheekbone of her cheek was burning.

“I know,” she said; I saw him at vespers and at salvation.

“It is the Abbe de la Croix-Jugan, my dear madame,” said the cure, tying his napkin under his chin so as not to spoil, while eating, his beautiful Sunday cassock, and you are wrong to take it for granted. pride, as I have already said, the master Hardouey refusal he did dinner with us tonight, because I know from a reliable source, he is invited for eight days at M me the Countess of Montsurvent.

“Humph! said the Hardouey in a defiant and incredulous tone, do not say that this one is not proud, Monsieur le Cure. I was not unearthed yesterday morning, and still know myself by the air of men … But God of God! where did he get his terrible wounds, which turned his face like a plow to the plow over a field?

“Ah! holy mother of God! said the priest, who swallowed ore profundo a large spoonful of[Pg 135] cabbage soup is quite a tragic story!

And, gossip as he was, he began the story of Father de la Croix-Jugan.

“He was,” he told his hosts, “the fourth son of the Marquis de la Croix-Jugan, one of the oldest names in Cotentin, along with the Toustains, Hautemers and Hautevilles. According to the custom of the nobility of France, the elder of the Croix-Jugan had succeeded to the considerable possessions of his father, and, later, had emigrated. The youngest, entered the King’s House, was, at the beginning of the Revolution, lieutenant in the bodyguards, and had been, on August 10, massacred while defending the Porte de Marie-Antoinette. The third, on the cradle of which the ribbon of the Order of Malta had been placed, had gone, around fifteen, to join his uncle the Commander, and to begin what were called the caravans. Finally, the last of all, the one in question, obliged to be a priest to obey the law of the noble families of this time,

“And a good abbey, Blanchelande!” said Master Hardouey, and that was worth a lot to the abbe! This was a house of blessing[Pg 136] for those who lived there. They did not laugh there with the tips of their teeth, like Saint Medard, and they did not sing only plainsong, as in your church, Monsieur le Cure. We spent time there happily at the time when the Talaru led the diocese like a drunkard leads his mare, and jarnigoi! This is no lie, Monsieur le Curé, because I saw this bishop of the old regime and all the monks of the abbey! ..

“Come, come, Master Thomas,” said the priest, interrupting in a friendly way the disrespectful memories of his parishioner, “I don’t want to know what you claim to have seen, and, moreover, you are a bit of a bad tongue and perhaps- be poor eyesight and poor memory on top of that. I know that there has been much abuse and much sin, even in the Church, and that our lord of Talaru, who had been a cavalry officer, had not sufficiently forgotten the spirit of his first estate. But to all sin, mercy, especially since he died like a saint in the sorrows of emigration! God granted him the grace to atone, by his death, for the scandal he had caused during his life.

“I’m not saying no … but anyway … enough! said the Hardouey, who saw Jeanne’s eye turn a darker blue as he looked at it. Still, it is not in[Pg 137] singing matins or vespers that he has marked his face in this way, your abbot of the Croix-Jugan!

-I think so! replied the priest, clasping his hands on his flap with compunction. Ah! my dear friends, how fragile creatures we are! he continued with the sad anointing he had when he made his sermon; but also this Revolution, daughter of Satan, had thrown back all heads, and it must bear the weight of many iniquities. Father de la Croix-Jugan, who was called Brother Ranulphe in Blanchelande, would he ever have left his monastery without the persecution of the Church? Instead of emigrating, like the rest of us, who said mass in Jersey or Guernsey, he forgot that the Church hated blood, and he went to fight with the lords and gentlemen in Vendée and Maine. , and, later, in this side of the low country.

-Oh! Oh! So he would have chouanné, Monsieur l’Abbé? said Master Thomas le Hardouey, with an expression of irony which showed how much he was dominated by the passions of the time, half appeased, but still burning; for he was a fellow clever enough not to risk imprudence and to turn his tongue seven times in his mouth before uttering the least compromising word.

[Pg 138]

“Yes, he chouanné,” replied the Caillemer gravely, “which hardly suited a man of his profession, a Levite, a priest.” It’s the truth. But, Blessed Virgin! it is also the truth that the good Lord punished him for it and wrote him, in rather deep letters, a terrible punishment on the face.

Moreover, circumstances have gone so far beyond the limits of human prudence, and the cause for which the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan was fighting was so sacred, since it was that of our holy religion, that we would not have still nothing to say if he had only chouanné, but …

“Hey! but? … said the Hardouey, his eyes sparkling with hateful curiosity, holding his glass up to his mouth, but not drinking.

“But …” continued the priest, lowering his voice, as if he had a painful confession to make.

Jeanne had a sort of shiver which ran through the roots of her hair, pulled up straight under the lace of her headdress, and which revealed the seven points of her imperious forehead.

“There is worse,” continued the priest, “than to shed the blood of the enemies of the Lord and of his Church, although it is not for a priest to do and the Holy Canons defend him. And, if I say this, my dear parishioners, this[Pg 139] is not that I forget the precept of charity, but it is good, sometimes, for example, to proclaim the truth. Moreover, if the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan was a great culprit, he is now a great penitent. Undoubtedly carried away by the passions of this soldier’s life which he led, he lost himself for a moment in human ways. After the fight at La Fosse, he believed the cause of his party to be desperate, and, completely forgetting that he was a Christian and a priest, he dared, with his consecrated hands, to accomplish the execrable crime of suicide on his person. , which ended the life of the infamous Judas.

-How? ‘Or’ What! is it he who plowed his face like that? … said the Hardouey.

“It’s him,” replied the cure, “but it’s not him alone.

And he recounted the scene which had taken place at Marie Hecquet’s, how this brave woman had saved the suicide and rescued him from death. Jeanne listened to this story with passionate horror, visible only by the parting of her beautiful mouth and the contraction of her eyebrows. She did not utter those interjections by which weak souls relieve themselves. She remained silent, and the reverie that had seized her at vespers began again.

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