Singular thing

Master Thomas le Hardouey, on returning to Le Clos, found there in his wife’s place nothing but great anxiety, for Jeanne-Madelaine was not usually so late. She was missing from the Angelus which rings at seven in the evening. As it was thought that she had strayed, several farmhands had been sent to look for her with lanterns in different directions … When Master Thomas arrived in the courtyard of the Clos, everyone noticed that he did not come down. horse to ask for his wife, and that, abruptly all the lamentations he heard to his people, he went out,[Pg 234] belly down, from the court, on the same mare who had brought him, in the grip of one of those dark anger which bit their lips in silence, but which does not tell their secret.

The house where the thought and where he managed a gallop, blacker than the darkness that surrounded her was strictly closed oak shutters and the door to the thick leaves will let in no light piping which accuse the life of the vigil inside. The Hardouey shook it soon, but in vain, the best kicks ash he had ever given her fistfrom Cotentinais. He then knocked on the shutters as he knocked on the door. He called, blasphemed, grumbled, struck again; but knocks and noises struck the house and the silence, without damaging them either. The house resisted. The silence resumed deeper after the noise. Brandy and rage boiled under Master Thomas’ scalp. He was exhausting himself in terrible efforts. He even tried to set fire to this door, firm and hard as a citadel door, with his lighter and tinder, but the tinder died out. Then a fury, as the most violent have hardly one in their life, threw him out of him. This spinning spit, this baking heart, never left his mind; he still saw them. Yes he felt[Pg 235] really the point of Jeanne’s knife in his living heart, as it had taken place in the mirror, and he quivered under the darting blows of the knife, as that red heart quivered in the fire on its pal! His horse, which he had not tied up, returned to the Clos on his own.

The brandy he had drunk, perhaps, and also the helpless rage, for nothing tires the brain like the impossibility of satiating, caused him to fall into a sleep after an hour. deep, a kind of apoplectic sleep, on the very stone where he had sat with the obstinacy of a mastiff, and he slept there, all at once, that dreamless sleep that annihilates the being. whole. But around four o’clock, this country man, always early in the morning, woke up to the acute cold of the morning. The dew had penetrated his clothes. He was nailed down by sharp pains in his joints. When he regained his consciousness, he opened a dazed eye, in which the waves of black anger returned, on this house where he believed his wife to be unfaithful and the Chouan cursed. Singular thing! ever since he had believed himself betrayed by Jeanne, the idea of ​​Chouan had stifled in him the idea of ​​the priest, and it was the Blue, even more than the husband, who aspired to vengeance. Bonhomme Bouët’s house,[Pg 236] Fieffée by the abbot of the Cross-Jugan, appeared at the first rays of the dawn, like a casket of stones of a bluish granite, with the clear and strong lines, without vines around. She seemed to be sleeping under her closed shutters, like a sleeper under her eyelids. Master Thomas began to strike again with redoubled blows. He walked around this square house several times, like a wild beast stopped by a wall, trying to slip through some crack. This house seemed like a tomb that had nothing in common with life. It was petrified irony. Ah! very often things, with their eternal and stupid calm, insult us, we, creatures of flaming mud who we dissolve in vain with, in the fury of our desires, and we then conceive the story of this sacrilegious madman, who,

Around five o’clock, however, Thomas le Hardouey saw the housemaid of the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan, old Simone Mahé, from the bottom of the village of Blanchelande, who was heading towards the house he was guarding and knocking on the door. “Ah! he said, this damned door will finally open! ” Simone Mahé’s astonishment was not mediocre when she saw Maître Thomas in this place.

[Pg 237]

“Here,” she said, “do you want something from M. l’Abbe de la Croix-Jugan, Master Thomas le Hardouey?” He will be very sorry not to be there, but he left last night for Montsurvent.

“What time did he leave? said Le Hardouey, remembering the hour when he was on the moor and when he looked in the fatal mirror of the shepherds.

“My fairy, it was nightfall,” replied Mahé, “and he hadn’t thought of leaving his house all evening. I had left him there, saying his breviary, by the fireside; but he is such a restless man, and whose head gives so much occupation to his body, that he has often told me; “I will not go out this evening, Simone,” that I found him gone, the next day, from the boss-jaquet, and the key of the house under the stone where it was agreed that I will put it, to find it, when one of the two returns. Only this night, he did not leave, like a smoke, without our seeing him and without our knowing where he went, because I met him around ten o’clock on his passing black horse. in the lower part of the village. I would recognize the step of his horse and his way of sniffing when I don’t[Pg 238] de la Croix-Jugan which passes there. ” He who sees there in the night like a cat, because he was Chouan, you know! said to me with that voice of command which cuts your whistle, when he speaks: “It’s you, Simone!” M methe Comtesse de Montsurvent, who is ill, has just sent for me and I am leaving! You will find the key in the ordinary place. ” Come on, my dear Monsieur Le Hardouey, come and see me, and look there … under that stone. You are not a thief, you, and I can tell you that … That’s where he always puts his key. And you see it, there it is. – And indeed, she took a key from under a stone which she lifted in the little wall of the courtyard, and having turned it in the lock, they both entered, him and her. She, to do her usual housework; he, not quite knowing what instinct for mistrust he was obeying, but wanting to see.

It was the elementary construction of any house in Normandy, that the house of the good man Bouët, trusted by the abbot of the Croix-Jugan. There was quite simply a small corridor on the ground floor, with two rooms, one on the right, the other on the left, making kitchen and dining room, and, on the first floor, two bedrooms. Simone Mahé and the Hardouey entered the downstairs room, and when she had pushed[Pg 239] the shutters of the window, the Hardouey, who looked around him with an ardent investigation, recognized this room of the mirror which did not disappear from his memory and which he always saw again while closing his eyes.

“You are as pale as death,” said Simone. Would you have any trouble at home, Maître le Hardouey, if you came so early in the morning to speak to Monsieur l’Abbé de la Croix-Jugan? What is there? Do you have sick people at Le Clos? You know very well, she added with the mysterious air one assumes when speaking of dreadful things, which M. l’Abbé de la Croix-Jugan does not confess. He is in suspense .

But the Hardouey hardly listened to the chatter of Mahé. He had approached the fireplace, and with the end of his ash foot he stirred the ashes in the hearth strongly with an air so preoccupied and so fierce that Mahé began to be afraid.

“Yes,” he said, believing himself alone and speaking loudly, as in terrible preoccupations, there is the fire in which they made my heart cook, and it is under this crucifix that they ate it!

And with a kick of his ash foot he struck the crucifix with fury, knocked it down, and pushing it into the ashes, he went out uttering dreadful oaths. Mahe, as she said, had her arms and legs broken by such a spectacle.[Pg 240] She believed that the Hardouey was the prey of some abominable demon. She crossed herself with terror, but her fear growing stronger in this solitude, she hurried away.

“The bed is not unmade,” she said, “and if I stayed there all alone any longer, I believe on my soul that I would die of fright.

And turning back, she met Mother Ingou and her little girl, both of whom were going to wash their poor laundry at the washhouse. They wished each other a good day. The washhouse was not quite on the road that Simone Mahé had to follow to regain the lower part of the village, but strolling, which is to old women what the iron ring is in the nose of the buffalo. who is being led, made Mahé follow the path to the washhouse with the other gossip.

“I am from the aisi,” she said to him; Father de la Croix-Jugan has been at Montsurvent since last night. If you want me to help you, Mother Ingou, I can give you a blow with the beaters.

And she accompanied him less to help him, although she was not lacking in the kindness that poor people have among them, than to tell him what itched her tongue, and what she called the master’s whim. Thomas le Hardouey.

“When you came by,” she said, “you haven’t met Master Hardouey, Mother Ingou?[Pg 241] Father de la Croix-Jugan’s door, paler than the linen you have on your back and your eyes all troubled. What is a man without religion, a purchaser of priestly goods, a terrorist coming to do so early at M. de la Croix-Jugan’s? that I told myself to my apart; but, my dear, my legs are shaking just thinking about it? It was nothing but the look he had. He came with me into Monsieur l’Abbé’s room, and so !!! …

And she related what she had seen, but with new and even more horrible circumstances, suddenly hatched on this flânière’s tongue, which sings of itself, like birds, a language in which the responsibility of these poor devils (Christianly, it must be believed at least) is for nothing.

“Ah! Said Mother Ingou, I really fear that you were scared! but you know well the sayings, Mother Mahé, on the wife of Master Hardouey and on the Abbe de la Croix-Jugan. And it was undoubtedly cha who held Hardouey so early in the morning.

So they didn’t stop. They collapsed. Like everyone else in Blanchelande and Lessay, they received the influence of the rumors which circulated about the former monk and about this mistress the Hardouey whom we had seen so brilliant of health and understanding, and[Pg 242] who had fallen, without anyone even knowing what she had, in a state so worthy of pity. They questioned the child who followed them and who wore the gray soap and the beaters, on the number of times she had seen Jeanne-Madelaine and the abbot of Croix-Jugan at La Clotte, on what they were doing. when they were there; but the little one knew nothing. The imagination of the two old women did not rest for this, and it filled all the gaps that there were in the depositions of the young child.

It was while gossiping in this way that they finally arrived at the washhouse, located sideways on the road, at the end of a small meadow that went downhill, to this natural washhouse that the men had not dug. and which was only a pool of rainwater, quite deep, on gravel.

“Here, there are people already, if my old eyes don’t deceive me,” said Mother Ingou, entering the meadow; the stone is taken and we will have to hope.

“She’s not a washing machine, Mother Ingou,” said Simone, “for coming in, I should have heard the sound of the beater.”

—Nenni-da! it is the shepherd of the old probythera who sharpens his tail on the stone of the wash-house, said little Ingou, whose swollen eyes unearthed the smallest nests in the trees.

[Pg 243]

“So won’t I go out of the country?” said Mother Mahé to her companion.

Neither of them liked these suspicious shepherds all over the country, but Misery unites her children and with her gaunt arms brings them together in life, as her daughter, Death, embraces hers in the tomb. The wandering shepherds caused less fear to ragged bearers like these two women than to those rich who had herds of cows whose milk they could turn their milk with their spells, and fields whose wheat they sometimes poured in one night. . Because one of those sinister herdsmen was there, when they thought he was perhaps far away, they were not afraid of it any more and they went down the slope of the meadow to him.

Besides, when they arrived at the washhouse, he had finished sharpening his knife on the stone where the washerwomen beat and wringed their laundry, and he was wiping it in the grass.

“You are coming early, Mother Ingou,” said the shepherd to the good woman, “and if you haven’t soaked your linen in dead water, here is your stone; wash!

“What do you mean with your deadly water, shepherd? said Mother Ingou, who lacked neither a certain common sense nor courage. Do you think you are scaring us?

[Pg 244]

—Now! said the shepherd, do what you like, but I tell you, mother, that if you soak your ichin laundry, it will smell of carrion for a long time, even when it is sequestered!

“There are nasty words so early in the morning, under that holy light blessed by God!” said the good woman with a naive poetry of which she certainly did not suspect. Leave us in peace, shepherd! I have never seen the water so beautiful as this morning.

And in fact, the washhouse, enclosed by one side in the grass, sparkled with beautiful reflections of agate, under the opal sky of a summer dawn. Its smooth, pure surface had neither a wrinkle, nor a stain, nor a vapor. As for the other side of the washhouse, as the rainwater which formed it was not contained by a basin paved for this purpose, it was going to get lost in a kind of large ditch covered with rushes, watercress and water lilies. .

-Vère, continued the shepherd while Mother Ingou untied her parcel at the edge of the wash-house and Simone Mahé and the little one, less courageous, began to look with concern at this unhappy shepherd, planted there, standing, in front of them. the iau is beautiful, like many things, but basically … bad! When a while ago I was sharpening my coutet on this stone, I said to myself:[Pg 245] the water that smells of death and that will spoil my bread, and that’s why you saw me wipe it so hard in the herbs and prick it in the earth, because the earth is beneficial, when you have run down the meadow . Create it yourself if you go, Mother Ingou, he said, extending his staff towards the washhouse with a fiery assurance, but I am sure as in my life that there is something dead, animal or person, which starts to rust in this iau.

And bending over, leaning on his pole, towards the limpid tablecloth, he took this diaphanous water in his hand, and brought it up to Mother Ingou’s face:

“Old people are stubborn! he said wryly. But if you are not punishable, judge for yourself, old mule, if this iau does not smell bad.

“Come on! said Mother Ingou, it’s your hand that smells like me, shepherd! it is not the iau.

And raising her coats, she knelt near the polished stone and she rolled part of the linen she had brought on her back in the water; then turning around:

-Well! she said to Simone and her little girl, are you frozen? Get to work, Petiote! On my greetings, Mother Mahé, I created you more heartedly than cha.

[Pg 246]

And she plunged her arms and hands into this water, fresh as dew, which fell, in a thousand silver rays, around her beater.

Simone Mahé and the little girl approached and decided to follow her example, but they looked like cats who meet a pond and who do not know how to go about it so as not to wet their paws as they pass.

“And where is the shepherd?” said Mother Ingou again, looking behind her between two strokes of the beat that the morning echo repeated.

All three looked: he was no longer there. He had disappeared as if he had flown away.

“So he had four-leaf clover under his tongue , which makes him invisible, because he was there a while ago and he is no longer there,” said Mahé, visited that morning by all kinds of terror. It looked like an old ball covered in needles, and in which you always stick one more.

“Are you creating all this nonsense?” Mother Ingou replied, wringing her linen in her dry hands. Four-leaf clover! … who has never seen one, four-leaf clover! Here is an idea! Have we played enough in Blanchelande, when the man[Pg 247] Bouët went one day, with one of those shepherds who make sorcerers, to look for this so-called clover and verbena in the Centsous oak grove, after midnight, in the moonlight, and walking backwards?

“The laughs don’t matter,” said Mother Mahé, “what about the four-leaf clover? And why not? My late father, who was not unearthed yesterday morning, told me many times that there were …

But suddenly they were interrupted by the shepherd’s throaty laughter. He had, without being seen, turned around the half-circular pond, and he was showing his pale face above the reeds, which on this side were of a certain height.

“Hey! hey! the laundry rooms! he shouted at them, look out for ichin! and see if I wasn’t right in saying the iau was rotten. Do you know cha?

And over the wash-house, he handed them a white object which hung from his iron pole.

-Holy Virgin! cried Mother Ingou, it’s Jeanne le Hardouey’s headdress!

“Ah! may the good Lord have mercy on us! Simone added. There has never been such a headdress in Blanchelande, and here it is! Queu misfortune! my God! Oh! it is quite certain that the one who wore it[Pg 248] perished, and that it must be at the bottom of the washhouse!

And at the risk of falling into it themselves, they leaned over its surface and reached the torn and wet headdress that dangled from the shepherd’s iron pole. They examined him. It was, in fact, Jeanne’s headdress, its quilted and embroidered bottom, its large butterflies and its beautiful lace from Caen. They touched her, brought her closer to their eyes, admired her, then lamented, and soon, mixing the loss of the woman with the loss of the headdress, they poured out all kinds of lamentations.

As for the shepherd, he had entered the water up to his knees, and he was probing the wash-house all around him with his staff.

“She’s not on your side. There she is … he cried to the three weeping women on the other side. She’s there! I have it! I can feel her under my pole. Come on, Mother Ingou, come by ichin! you are the most hearted and the strongest. If I could stick my pole under it, I would lift it from the vases at the back and bring it closer to the edge, which is not very high on that side. Maybe I would have it together.

And Mother Ingou left the headdress in the hands of Simone and Petiote and ran to the shepherd. What he had foreseen happened. By striving[Pg 249] much, he was able to lift the body of the drowned woman and put it against the edge.

-Wait! I see her! said Mother Ingou, pushing aside the reeds, and lying down on the grass and plunging her hands into the water in the ditch, she grabbed poor Jeanne by the hair.

“Ah! how heavy it is! she said, calling the child and Simone to her aid; and, all three, with the help of the shepherd, they succeeded in removing the blued body of Jeanne-Madelaine and laying it down in the grass of the meadow.

-Well! said the shepherd almost threateningly, was she lying? Now, are you sure what I was saying, Mother Ingou? Will you now crawl as much as the shepherds could ? She didn’t, he said, pointing to Jeanne’s body, didn’t want to fear it and she ended up testing it, and her husband, who was even rougher and worse than her, had been crying there since yesterday. evening, more than in the good Lord!

“What do you mean by that, shepherd?” said the good woman.

“I say what I say,” replied the shepherd. The Hardouey had driven the shepherds from Clos. The shepherds took revenge on Enui [11] . Here is the Nayée woman and the man …

[11]Today , Norman. ( Author’s Note. )

[Pg 250]

“What about the man?” Interrupted Mahé, who had just left. “There was only a moment, Master Thomas le Hardouey.

“The man,” continued the shepherd, “is running through the country at this hour, like a quêva with a tintouin!

And the two gossips shuddered. The shepherd’s accent was more terrible than the power he spoke of and in which they began to believe, struck as they were by the horrible spectacle they then had before their eyes.

“Really,” he cried, “there she is dead, lying at my feet, an order of slime!” “And with his impious hoof he pushed this beautiful body, which had once stood up and so proud.” One day it thought it was turning fate and appease me by offering me the bacon and the choine which she would have given me as to a beggar, in hiding from her man, but I did not want to rin! rin that the fate … A spell to be cast! and she got it! Ah! I knew what was holding her, when no one doubted it from Blanchelande to Lessay. I knew she would make a bad ending … but when I ironed my ichin coutet and purified it in the earth, so that it wouldn’t smell of death, I didn’t know what was rotting in it. she. Without cha I wouldn’t have wiped my match; I always wanted to find the taste of revenge on it, stronger than the taste of my bread!

[Pg 251]

And with trembling hands he took the knife of which he was speaking from his bag, opened it and plunged it impetuously into the water of the wash-house. He drew it out dripping, plunged it again. Never did a drunken assassin watch the blood of his victim on the blade of his dagger, as he watched the water which rolled on the handle and the blade of this vile and coarse knife. Then lost, mad, and as delirious at the sight, he brought it to his lips, and at the risk of cutting them, he passed, over the entire width of this blade, a tongue all shining with the thirst for vengeance. hellish. While licking her, he accompanied her with a ferocious growl. With his square head, his spiky yellow hairs and the muzzle he lengthened by greedily drinking this water which had such a terrible flavor for him,

“It’s good cha,” he said. Its good! he murmured, and as if these few drops picked up by his greedy tongue had aroused in him new thirsts more difficult to quench, he took, without letting go of his knife, some water in his hand, and he drank it with a lengthy.

[Pg 252]

-Oh! this is the best baire I have ever had in my life! he cried in a dazzling voice, and I kiss him, he added with appalling irony, to your health, Jeanne le Hardouey, the damned priest! It tastes like your cursed flesh, and it would be even better if you had rotten longer in this place where you swam!

And, awful libation! he drank it frantically several times. He bent down on the wash-house to draw it, and he rose and stooped again, and with a movement so convulsive, that one would have said he was having the jiggles of the Saint-Vitus dance. This water intoxicated him. “ Supe, supe! He said to himself, drinking and talking to himself in his wild patois, ” supe!” Her face of crushed white lead had a devilish expression, so that the old women thought they saw the devil who usually only prowls the earth at night, appearing, pale, in that light, in broad daylight, and they fled, leaving their laundry there, as far as Blanchelande, to seek help.

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