It was pitch black when the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan crossed Blanchelande and returned to his house, located away from the village. He hadn’t met anyone. In Normandy, as they say, the peasants go to bed with the hens, and, moreover, the frightening scene of the morning had emptied the rue de Blanchelande, for the men huddle in their houses like animals in their den, when they Are afraid. Recalled by the death of La Clotte with the feeling of his priestly duties, the abbot of the Croix-Jugan waited until the next day, in spite of the impatience natural to his character, to inquire about an event in which the ardor of his head had given him a glimpse of the possibility of resuming arms. He then learned, through mother Mahé,
One of these catastrophes had such a character that the authority which was then reestablished in France, at the end of the revolution, had to be worried and severely affected. The murderers of La Clotte were prosecuted. Augé, who was judged according to the laws of the time, spent several months in the[Pg 291] Coutances prisons. As for his accomplices, they were too numerous to be prosecuted. The legislation was edgy, and by hitting too large an area, one would have feared rekindling a war in a country of which one was not sure. As for the death of Jeanne le Hardouey, it was considered a suicide. No charge, in fact, in the precise sense of the law, was raised against anyone. The only thing which, in the deep mystery of Jeanne’s death, resembled a presumption, was the disappearance of Master Thomas le Hardouey. If he was entirely innocent of the murder of his wife, why had he left so suddenly a country where he had large possessions, and his good land of Clos, the admiration and jealousy of other Cotentin farmers?
Was he dead? If he was, why hadn’t his family heard of his passing? If he lived, and if really, guilty or not, he had feared to be worried about the murder of his wife, the days and the months piling up one on the other with the oblivion following them, and the distractions which form the way of life and prevent men from thinking for long about the same thing, why did he not reappear? Several said they had seen him on the islands, on the island of Oléron and on Guernsey, but[Pg 292] they had not dared to speak to him. Was it a truth? Was it a mistake or a boast? because there are people who have always seen what we are talking about, as long as they have taken four steps. In any case, Maître le Hardouey was absent. His property was placed in sequestration, and so long a time passed that we ended by despairing of his return.
But what the ordinary train of life did not diminish and take away, like the rest, was the impression of mysterious terror, redoubled by the events of this history, which the great abbot inspired throughout the country. de la Croix-Jugan. If, like Master Thomas le Hardouey, the abbot had left the country, perhaps we would have lost almost those ideas which, in the general opinion of the country, had made him the cause of Jeanne-Madelaine’s misfortune. . But he remained under the eyes he had attracted so long and whose mistrust he seemed to brave. This circumstance of his stay in Blanchelande, the inflexible solitude in which he continued to live, and, let me know the word, the blackness of his physiognomy, over which a new darkness grew more and more thick,[Pg 293] Tainnebouy had found it established in all minds. Had Joan’s death touched the priest’s soul?
“When you told her that she had perished ,” Nônon had said to Mother Mahé, one morning when they were drawing water from the Colybeaux well, “what did you notice in him, Mother Mahé?”
” Rin more than usual,” replied Mother Mahé. He was in his large armchair on the edge of the hearth. Ma , I was sitting on my hooves and blowing the fire. I had his voice speaking to me above my head and I scarcely dared to turn around to see him, for although a dog looks well at a bishop, he is not a very easy man to stare at. I asked that he had arrived at La Clotte, and when I told her that she had had the heart to go to Mistress le Hardouey’s funeral, and that it was to the blessing of the grave that they had started to pierce it , oh! so … did he already know this death of Mistress Hardouey or was he ignoring it? but mèwho expected a pity on the part of who, like him, had known, and too well known, Mistress Hardouey, I was quite struck by the silence that fell in the room, because he did not answer so much only a bit of word. The wood that was setting creaked, creaked, and I was still huffing. The flame[Pg 294] was snoring; but I could not hear it ha i ‘n’ moved that could not terminal; so I ‘m’ ventured to r’tourner, but I n ‘me hardly lingered, my poor Nonon when I had seen her two eyes cat wild. I saw a little more in the room, but his eyes and his body didn’t move and I left him, still looking at the fire with his two fixed eyes, which would have been better than my old bellows to light my bundle.
“Is that all? said Noon sad and disappointed.
“That’s all! ver! resumed Mahé, letting the chain of the well slide, which carried the bucket to the bottom of the cool and sonorous hole, echoing along its green walls.
“So he is not a creature like the others?” said Nônon dreamily, her beautiful arm outlined by the narrow sleeve of her just leaning on her stoneware jug, placed on the edge of the well.
And she slowly took away the filled jug, thinking that of all those who had loved Jeanne-Madelaine de Feuardent, she was the only one, she, who would have loved her, and would have done her no harm.
And maybe she was right. Indeed, La Clotte had deeply loved Jeanne-Madelaine, but his affection had had its danger for the unhappy woman. She had exalted[Pg 295] useless faculties and regrets by the passionate respect she had for the old name of Feuardent. There is no doubt, for those who know the tyranny of the habits of our soul, that this exaltation, maintained by the conversations of La Clotte, predisposed Jeanne-Madelaine to the sad love which ends her life. As for the abbot himself, with this soul closed like a fortress without loopholes and which gave no one the right to see in his thoughts and his feelings, is it reckless to believe that he had had for Jeanne de Feuardent that feeling that domineering souls have for the devoted souls who serve them? It is true that at the time of Joan’s death, the dedication of this noble woman had become unnecessary by the fact of a pacification which all the efforts and the vast intrigues of the old monk could not prevent. But whatever the case, moreover, the abbot’s life underwent no exterior modification, and no new indication could be drawn from habits which did not change. The Abbé de la Croix-Jugan remained what he had always been known, and neither more nor less. Cloistered in his house of bluish granite, where he received no one, he only left to go to Montsurvent, whose turrets, said the Blues du pays, still contained more than one nest of Abbé de la Croix-Jugan remained what he had always known, and neither more nor less. Cloistered in his house of bluish granite, where he received no one, he only left to go to Montsurvent, whose turrets, said the Blues du pays, still contained more than one nest of Abbé de la Croix-Jugan remained what he had always known, and neither more nor less. Cloistered in his house of bluish granite, where he received no one, he only left to go to Montsurvent, whose turrets, said the Blues du pays, still contained more than one nest of[Pg 296] royalist owls; but he never spent a whole week there, because one of the prescriptions of the penance that had been inflicted on him was to attend all Sunday services in the parish church of Blanchelande and not elsewhere. How many times, when we thought he was held back at Montsurvent by one of those unknown circumstances which we always took for plots, we saw him appear in the choir, his usual place, wrapped in his proud hood: and the spurs which raised the edges his alb and his cloak were enough to say that he had just left the saddle. The peasants showed each other these spurs so little suited to shoe the heels of a priest, and which the latter made vibrate with a step so bold and so firm! Apart from these absences of a few days, Father Jéhoël, this gloomy idler, to whom the imagination of the people understood nothing, killed the time of his empty days walking around, for hours on end, with his arms crossed and his head bowed, from one end of the room to the other end. It could be seen there through the panes of its windows; and more than once he wearied the patience of those who looked at this eternal and dark walker from afar.
Often, too, he rode on horseback, at the end of the day, and he plunged intrepidly into this Lessay moor, which made everything tremble.[Pg 297] ten leagues around. As we proceeded by astonishment and by questions about such a man, we wondered what he was going to look for in this desert at such late hours, and from where he did not return until late at night, and so advanced that it was not to be seen coming back. Only we said to each other in the village, from one door to the other, in the morning: “Did you hear the filly of Father de la Croix-Jugan tonight?” The good heads of the country, who believed that the former monk of Blanchelande would never succeed in shedding his old partisan skin, had several times tried to follow him and to spy on him from afar in his evening and night walks, in order to to make sure if, in this immense and desert steppe he did not stand, as in the past he did, war advice in moonlight or in shadows. But the black filly of the Abbe de la Croix-Jugan went as if she had had a thunderbolt in her veins and soon disoriented the gaze, losing herself in these spaces. And on this side, as on all the others, the former monk of Blanchelande remained the formidable enigma of which Master Louis Tainnebouy, many years after his death, as mysterious as his life, had not yet found the word.
Now, one of those nights, affirmed Master Tainnebouy,[Pg 298] on the saying of the shepherds who had told it, some time after the conclusion of this story, one of those nights during which the abbot of the Cross-Jugan wandered in the moor, according to his customs, several of the tribe of these shepherds without fire or place, who were taken for sabbath runners, found themselves sitting in a circle on square stones which they had rolled with their hooves to the foot of a small mound called the Butte aux sorciers. When they had no flocks to lead and consequently stables to share with the sheep they returned in the evening, the shepherds slept in the moor, under the stars. If it was cold or damp, they formed a sort of low, coarse tent with their limousines and the canvas of their long bags stretched out on their iron sticks, planted in the ground. That night, they had lit a fire with patches of cider marc, collected at the doors of the presses, and peat stolen from the farms, and they were heating themselves on this flameless fire which gives only a red embers. and smoky, but persistent. The moon, in its first quarter, had set early.
“The pale is no longer there! one of them said. The abbot must be in the moor. It is he who will have scared her.
-Vere! said another, who pressed his ear to the ground, I heard on the side of the sur  the footsteps of his quevâ, but he is far away!
Sure for south . ( Author’s Note. )
And he listened again.
-Here! he said, there is another step closer, and a man’s step; someone bold to prowl the moor at such an hour, after us and that enraged Abbot de la Croix-Jugan!
And, as he stopped speaking, the two dogs, sleeping on the edge of the embers, their noses stretched out on their paws, began to growl.
“Peace, Blackmaw! said the shepherd who had spoken first, and who was none other than the Shepherd of the old Presbytery. There are no sheep to steal, my animals; sleep.
It was dark as in the mouth of this dog he had just named Blackmouth, and which bore this characteristic sign of the ferocity of his race. The shepherds saw a vague shadow looming near them in the chiaroscuro of a brown sky. Only, as the purity of the air in the night doubles the value of the sound and makes the slightest nuances distinct:
-He is therefore still of this world, this abbot[Pg 300] de la Croix-Jugan? said a voice behind the shepherds, and you, who know everything, pastures of the devil, would you say to whom would pay you this good news, if he has to come out soon?
“Ah! So here you are back! Master the Hardouey, said the shepherd, without even turning around in the direction of his voice, and his hands still stretched out on the embers, it has been thirteen months since the Clos has been silent about you! How late you are , master! and how your wife’s bones have become soft, hoping for you !
Was it really the Hardouey who was there in the shadows? We could have doubted it, because he was violent and he did not respond.
“Ah! I we are therefore softened itou? resumed the shepherd, continuing his abominable irony, and taking up the heart of this silent man, like Ugolino the skull of his enemy, in order to drive in an insatiable tooth.
If it was Hardouey, this man, rifled in body and soul, said Tainnebouy, to return the insult and pay it in cash, on the spot, to whoever threw it at him, he was therefore well changed so as not to boil of anger at hearing the provocative and derisory words of this miserable shepherd!
-Shut up, damn, he said in a broken tone … but with a bitter melancholy, the[Pg 301] dead are the dead … and the living, it is believed that they live, and the worms are there, although they still speak and stir. I didn’t come to talk with you about the one who died …
“So why did you come back?” said the shepherd, incisive and calm as power, still seated on his stone and his hands stretched out on his brazier.
“I have come,” replied Thomas le Hardouey, in a voice where the resolution crushed hoarse tremors, to sell my soul to Satan, your master, shepherd! I believed for a long time that there was no soul, that there was no Satan either. But what the priests had never known how to do, you did, you! I believe in the demon, and I believe in your spells, scoundrels of hell! It is wrong to despise you, to regard you as vermin … to shrug your shoulders when you are called wizards. You forced me to believe the rumors that said what you were … You have power . I have experienced it … well! I come to deliver my life and my soul, for all eternity, to the Cursed One, your master,
The three shepherds laughed with[Pg 302] contempt, looking at each other with their shining eyes in the uncertain reflections of the blaze.
“If you have nothing to say to us, Master Hardouey,” continued the shepherd of the old Presbytery, “you can go back to the country where you come from and never set foot in the moor again, for spells cannot nothing about the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan.
“So you have no power,” said Hardouey, “you are then nothing more than stable servants, filthy pig scavengers ?”
“Of course! I don’t have any against li, said the shepherd, he has a stronger sign on li than we do!
-What sign? replied the former owner of the Clos. Is it his breviary or his priestly tonsure? …
But the shepherds remained silent, indifferent to what Hardouey said about the loss of their power, and to his insulting deductions.
“Heartless! he said.
But they let go of the insult, stubbornly silent and motionless like the stones on which they sat.
“Ah! at least, continued the Hardouey, after a pause, if you cannot do with him what you did with me and … with her,[Pg 303] can you not show me his fate in your mirror and tell me if he should burden the earth with the weight of his body for a very long time?
The silence and the stillness of the shepherds had something more irritating, more insolent, more implacable than the most outrageous words. It was like the indifference of this deaf fate which crushes you, without hearing your debris fall!
“Brutes! resumed Thomas le Hardouey, are you not answering? And his voice rose to bursts of anger! I will do without you; and the expression he used he accompanied with a blasphemy. — Keep your mirrors and your witchcraft. I will know for myself what day he must die, this Abbot of Croix-Jugan!
“Ask for it, Master Thomas,” said the shepherd sarcastically. Here comes! do you hear her filly neighing?
And, indeed, the rider and the horse, launched at a triple gallop, passed through the darkness like a whirlwind, and curled the shepherds and the Hardouey so closely, that they felt the ventilation of this rapid passage, and that she ran over the embers in a small flame which was immediately extinguished.
“Try to catch up with him, Master Thomas!” cried the shepherd, who took cruel pleasure in blowing Hardouey’s anger.
The latter struck a stone on the road with his staff, which threw fire and broke under the force of the blow.
-Vere! resumed the shepherd, strike the stones. Dogs bite them, and your fury has no more meaning than the anger of dogs. Are you afraid that a man like this abbe, more soldier than priest, will fall under an ash foot like a faraud at the fairs of Varanguebec or of Créance? There is only one bullet that can kill a La Croix-Jugan, Master Thomas! and bullets, the Blues do not melt!
– Is that the prognosis for the abbot, shepherd? said the Hardouey, clenching his rough hand on the shepherd’s shoulder and shaking him like a branch. Her eyes, dilated with crazed desire, shone in the shadows like two coals.
-Vere! said the shepherd, from whom so much violence tore the oracle, he has between his eyebrows the M who says that we will die a terrible death. He will die as he lived. The bullets have already made a bed on her face to the last that will lie there, to lay her beneath her forever. He is the foggy  of the bullets! but the[Pg 305] bride can be slow in coming, at this hour, when the Chouans and the Blues do not send each other lead, as in the past, in the night air!
Bruman , fiancé, the daughter- in- law’s man .
( Author’s Note. )
“Ah! I will find some! cried Maitre le Hardouey, with the joy of a man in whom the idea of a certain vengeance flowed in the end, which no event would disturb, since it was a destiny; I will find some, shepherd, when I have to tear it with my nails from the windows of the church of Blanchelande and chew it to mold it into a ball, like putty, with my teeth. In the meantime, here’s for your trouble, since at last you chatted , stubborn mouth!
And he threw, in the middle of the circle of shepherds, something which sounded like silver as it fell into the fire which scattered … Then he walked away, at full speed, into the moor, almost melting into it. , so little noise he got lost in it! He knew the spaces and the paths full of betrayals. How many preoccupations and cruel images had already followed him there! That night, the terrifying moorland had said its last word to him, with the shepherd’s last word. He went through it with a heart so full that he must not have heard the old patoise chant of the shepherds who began to sing it hypocritically, counting[Pg 306] perhaps the pieces they had taken out of the fire:
Tire read read, my cauche (my shoe) currycomb!
Tire read read, mend the year!
Tire read read, I have no needle!
Tire read read, buy it!
Tire read read, I have no money! etc., etc.
When they told this story to Master Tainnebouy, they said that they had left the money in the embers, the customs of their tribe not allowing them to take money for any prognosis.. As we did not find it there, and yet we usually found very well, in the morning, the circles of ash which marked, in the moor, the places where the shepherds had lit their peat during the night, it is said that this sorcerer’s fire, very related to the fire of hell, had melted it, unless, however, some discreet passer-by had picked it up, without boasting of its windfall. Because Normandy is no longer quite in the time of its glorious Duke, where you could hang from the branch of an oak, when you passed through a forest, a gold bracelet or a silver necklace , annoying for the road, and, a year later, find them there!
This took place towards the end of Lent in 18 … The shepherds, naturally uncommunicative with the defiant populations who employed them,[Pg 307] out of habit or terror, they did not say then that they had seen the Hardouey in the moor (which they said later), and nowhere, neither in Blanchelande nor in Lessay, was it suspected that Jeanne’s husband would have reappeared, even for an hour, in the country.
However, Easter day arrived, and this year it must have been more solemn in Blanchelande than in all the neighboring parishes. Here’s why. The time for the penance that his ecclesiastical superiors had inflicted on the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan had elapsed. Three years of the outwardly regular life he had led at Blanchelande had seemed a sufficient expiation for his life as a partisan and for his suicide. In the minds of those who had the right to judge him, the rumors that had circulated about the former monk and Joan did not deserve any belief. Now, when there is no real reason for scandal, the Church is too strong and too maternal in her justice to take into account an opinion which would be nothing more than human respect in the manner of the world, if we listened to him. She then pronounces with her ordinary majesty: “Woe to him who is scandalized!” and resists the fury of tongues and their confusion. Such had been his conduct with the Abbe de la Croix-Jugan. She hadn’t pulled him from Blanchelande to send him[Pg 308] on another point in the diocese where he would not have scandalized anyone, said people of worldly wisdom, who understand nothing of the profound practices of the Church. Calm, imperturbable, informed, she had, at the end of these three years, handed over to the abbot her full priestly powers, and it was he who was to sing high mass at Easter in the church of Blanchelande, after a so long an interruption in the exercise of his sacred ministry.
When we heard this news in the country, we promised ourselves to attend this mass celebrated by the Chouan monk, whose wounds and life, poorly lit by the reflections of the fire of an extinct war, had fascinated the region of ‘curiosity mixed with dread. The Bishop of Coutances is said to have come himself to celebrate his episcopal mass at Blanchelande, which he had not aroused with curiosity comparable to that which the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan inspired. Cut out himself to be a bishop; in name, character and ability, it was said, to rise to the first ranks in the Church, he would not remain, doubtless, in Blanchelande. The popular imagination already covered with the purple mantle of the cardinalate that arrogant shoulder which finally broke the black hood of penance, like the powerful movement of[Pg 309] we thought he was taken. The Countess of Montsurvent, who never left her castle and who only heard prayers in her chapel, came to this mass where all the nobility of the surroundings met to honor, in the person of the abbot, the gentleman and warlord.
Easter day fell very late that year. It was April, April 16, because that date has remained famous. It was a beautiful spring day, said the old hundred-year-old Countess to me, when I told her about it and she put the shreds of her memories over the story of my brave herbage Tainnebouy. The church of Blanchelande could hardly contain the crowd which pressed under its arches. The weather is always good on Easter day, affirm, with a Christian superstition which does not lack grace, the peasants of Cotentin. They associate in their spirit the resurrection of Christ with the resurrection of nature, and accept as an immutable fact, which has its law in their belief, the simultaneity which the Church has established between the feasts of her ritual and the movement of the seasons. . Christmas snows, the plaintive breeze of Good Friday, the Easter sun are proverbial expressions in the Cotentin. So the sun was shining that day, and[Pg 310] lit the church with its first happy rays, which are not the same as those on other days of the year. O carried away charm of the first days, which is so sweet only because it is so quickly dissipated and the memory is more distant!
All the pews in the church were occupied by families who rent them out year round. Dressed in their finest clothes, the peasants thronged into the side chapels, and on all sides one saw only red belts and vests with copper buttons, the age-old adornment of these low Norman farauds. In the main aisle of the nave, it was only a somewhat stormy sea of these headdresses that were later called by the dazzling name of comets, and which gave the young girls of the country an air of heroic mutiny that no other woman’s hairstyle has ever given like this one! All those white headdresses so close to each other, that a bad-tempered preacher one day compared quite exactly to a flock of geese in a swamp, were stirred by the desire to finally see once without his hood this famous Abbot of Goule-Fracassée, as they used to say in the country. Popular nickname that at another time his race would have kept, if he had not been the last of his race! The only bench that was empty in this[Pg 311] A crowd of benches which were overflowing were the bench, locked by the key, of Mistress Hardouey. No one had been seen there since the woman’s death and the husband’s inexplicable disappearance. This empty bench recalled, that Sunday better than ever, the whole story that I told. He made one think more of this dead woman , of whom we always thought and whose memory infallibly brought into the mind the idea of the abbot of the Cross-Jugan, of this white monk of the abbey in ruins, who was going to sing high mass for the first time. It was thought that the tragedy of the bewitching of Jeanne had begun at this bench, at a procession like this one, and that the misfortune had come from this first glance, issued from these holes through which , says Bossuet,God pours light into the head of man , and which, under the scarred forehead of the priest and the tip of his hood, looked like two hell holes; the mouth on fire of the Devil’s oven , said these peasants who knew how to paint with a word, like Zurbaran with a stroke. When we referred to the rumors which had circulated over the Abbe, and whose echo did not die, we were panting to see what face he would have, as we passed along the bench of his victim (because we believed him to be his victim) , the day he was going to say mass, and consecrate the body and blood of[Pg 312] Our Lord Jesus Christ. It was a test! So there was playing in all these heads a drama whose last act had arrived and which was coming to an end. So it would be impossible for me to paint the kind of quiver of curiosity which suddenly circulated in this crowd when the red banner of the parish, which was to open the march of the procession, began to float at the entrance of the choir, and when the first ringing of the doorbell announced, at the gate, that the procession was about to leave. Who does not know, moreover, the eternal love of man for shows and even for shows he has already seen? This banner, which hardly ever comes out except at great feasts, and from which fall, like its tassels of gold and ruddy silk, I do not know what influence of joy and triumph on the faithful, the silver cross, with its velarium embroidered by virginal hands, that kind of obelisk of white wax called the paschal candle and which dominates the cross of its lighted point, the primroses which strewn the nave, these first primroses of the year which the priests spread on the altars washed on Holy Saturday and whose fragrant debris of the day before mingled with the strong and invigorating scent of the cut boxwood, all these details also had their holy emotion. The year that the priests spread over the washed altars of Holy Saturday and whose fragrant debris of the day before mingled with the strong and invigorating scent of cut boxwood, all these details also had their holy emotion. The year that the priests spread over the washed altars of Holy Saturday and whose fragrant debris of the day before mingled with the strong and invigorating scent of cut boxwood, all these details also had their holy emotion. The[Pg 313] The procession sparkled with magnificent ornaments given by the Countess de Montsurvent and which were then worn for the first time. She had wanted her great abbot of the Cross-Jugan (as she used to call him) to say her first mass, since her penance, only in a purple and splendor worthy of him! As is customary, he came last in this solemn crowd, preceded by the parish priest of Varenguebec and the Abbé Caillemer, both as dalmatic, for they were to assist him as deacon and sub-deacon at the altar. The crowd craned its necks as he passed, and several young girls even climbed onto the benches of their benches when he stepped into the nave. The blue day which then entered through the wide open gate and which shed its light up to at the end of the choir in its mystery of dark stained-glass windows, and turning its vivid whiteness around the pillars, struck right in the face that extraordinary face that one wanted to see, all the while shuddering to look at it, and which produced the magnetic horror of the abysses. Only (without really thinking about it) the Abbe de la Croix-Jugan must have impatient this curiosity, eager to finally contemplate him in all of his appalling physiognomy. As an officiant, he wore the stole, the alb and the cope, but he had kept his Abbé de la Croix-Jugan must have made this curiosity impatient, eager to finally contemplate him in all of his appalling features. As an officiant, he wore the stole, the alb and the cope, but he had kept his Abbé de la Croix-Jugan must have made this curiosity impatient, eager to finally contemplate him in all of his appalling features. As an officiant, he wore the stole, the alb and the cope, but he had kept his[Pg 314] black hood, stapling his yoke over it, so that his head had not left its usual frame, closed by the black velvet bar of the kind of chin strap he always wore.
“Who was surprised and had a broken nose?” said Master Tainnebouy to me, who claimed to keep all these details from Nônon herself, it was Blanchelande’s daughters, sir! When he passed by the bench of the unfortunate woman whose loss he had caused, no one noticed so much that he had a heart in the air in his face. Nothing was seen there, neither stringo nor stringuette , and we wondered in a low voice if he had a license from the Pope, the old devil, to say mass in a hood. But don’t worry, sir! what followed proved that he had none, and the girls and boys of Blanchelande, and many others, saw more at this mass than they would have liked. ”
So, for a moment, curiosity and universal expectation were deceived. The Abbé de la Croix-Jugan had nothing new except his cope, which was fastened to his chest with a clasp of precious stones, of a prodigious brilliance in the eyes of these dazzled peasants.
“No time since, have I looked well!” this heap of precious stones did not burst com ‘cha on the breasts of our priests, ”they said to the countess.[Pg 315] de Montsurvent, who explained the phenomenon, a little by the imagination, a little by the cloak of the hood which made a repellent to the white brilliance of the gems, but who could not help smiling at these incredible superstitions.
The procession circled the church, along the cemetery walls, and entered through the gate, which remained open. There were so many people in Blanchelande that day, and the weather was so mild and almost so hot, that many people gathered at the gate and from there heard mass. There were some even under the yew planted in front of the gate.
However, after the time taken to sing the Introit , during which the officiant will put on the sacred ornaments, the doors of the sacristy opened and the abbot of the Cross-Jugan, preceded by the choirboys carrying the torches, Thuriferers and Deacons, appeared on the threshold, in chasuble, and walked slowly towards the altar. The curiosity that had taken place in the church when the procession had passed began again, but this time without disappointment. The hood had disappeared and the ideal head of the abbot could be seen without any veil …
Never would the fancy of a statuary, the dream of a great artist gone mad, have combined what the chance of a blunderbuss charge[Pg 316] and the tearing of the bands of his wounds by the hand of the Blues had produced on this figure, formerly so divinely beautiful, that it was compared to that of the martial Archangel of battles. The most famous wounds of which history speaks, what were they compared to the vestiges implied on the face of the abbot of the Cross-Jugan, near these stigmata which said so atrociously the sublime word of the Duke of Guise to his son ?
“The sons of great races must know how to build fame on the ruins of their own bodies!”
For the first time, we judged in all its lightning splendor the disaster of this head, usually half hidden, but already, by what we saw, terrifying! The abbe’s hair, cut very short, invaded by the first flakes of premature snow, shimmered on his temples and revealed the planes of his livid cheeks, plowed with iron. It was quite a massacre, Tainnebouy told me with savage poetry, but this massacre expressed such an implacable challenge to fate, that if the eyes looked away from it, it was almost like the eyes of Moses turned away from the burning bush that contained God! There was, indeed, by dint of soul, like a god in this man higher than life, and who seemed[Pg 317] to have conquered death by resisting it. Although he was preparing to offer the Holy Sacrifice and he came forward with downcast eyes, collected air and clasped hands, those hands which had carried the sword forbidden to priests, and whose nervous and veined curve revealed the power of the hawks in their embrace, he was always the leader made to command and train after him. With his tall stature, the flamboyant whiteness of his gold-coated chasuble, which the sun, falling through one of the windows of the choir, suddenly seemed to set ablaze, he no longer appeared a man, but the column of flames marching forward. Israel and who led him into the wilderness. The old Countess de Montsurvent still spoke of that moment, of the depths of her hundred years, as if he had been in front of her,
No one, then, thought of his crimes. No one dared to keep in a fold of his subjugated soul a bad thought against him. He was worthy of the powers given to him by the Church, and the calm of his greatness, when he ascended the steps of the altar, answered of his innocence. Ephemeral impression, but for the moment all-powerful! We forgot Jeanne le Hardouey.[Pg 318] We forgot everything we believed there was only a moment.
Glimpsed at the altar through the azure smoke of the censers, which vomited tongues of fire from their silver urns, swayed before his terrible face, on which the feeling of the mass he was singing began to throw lightning strangers, who were fixed there like rays of aureole and made the glare of the torches pale, it was the culminating and concentric point where the fervent and respectful attention of the crowd came to end. The deep timbre of his voice resounded in all breasts. The slowness of his gesture, his inspired lip, the way in which he turned, with open arms, towards the faithful, to send them the peace of the Lord, all those sublime attitudes of the priest who prays and who is going to consecrate, and in which the sublime of his person, his, his
Mass was advancing, however, in the midst of alleluia of enthusiasm of this great day … He had sung the Preface. The priests who assisted him later said that they had never heard such accents emerge from a mouth of flesh. It was not the song of the swan, of this soft bird of the earth which has no place[Pg 319] in the Christian sky, but the last cries of the Evangelist’s eagle, which was going to rise towards the Eternal Peaks, since it was going to die! He consecrated, they said again, as the Saints consecrate, and truly, if he had ever been guilty, they believed him more than forgiven. They believed that Isaiah’s coal had consumed all of the old man in his consuming purification, when, kneeling beside him, and holding the brim of his pontiff’s tunic, the deacons saw him raise the spotless host of his two hands stretched out to God. The whole crowd bowed in silent worship. The O salutaris hostia! was about to emerge, with her silvery voice, from that august and profound silence … She did not come out … A shot fired from the open gate and the abbot of the Cross-Jugan fell with his head on the altar. .
He was dead.
Cries of fear crossed the crowd, shrill, brief, and everything stopped, even the bell which rang the sacrament of Mass and which fell silent, as if the cold of immense terror had risen to the bell tower and would have seized it!
Ah! who could worthily relate this unique scene in the most appalling spectacles? The Abbé de la Croix-Jugan, cast down on the altar, torn by the deacons from the sacred entablature he soiled with his blood, and lying on[Pg 320] the last steps, in his priestly garments, in the midst of distraught priests and overturned torches; the crowd raised, all heads turned, some wanting to see what was happening at the altar, others looking where the shot had come from; the double ebb of this crowd, which oscillated from the choir to the gate, all this formed an inexpressible disorder, as if the fire had broken out in the church or the lightning had melted the lead of the steeple!
“Father de la Croix-Jugan has just been assassinated!” Such was the word which flew from mouth to mouth. The Countess de Montsurvent, who had the courage of those in her household, tried to penetrate as far as the choir, but could not pierce the gathered crowd.
“Close the doors! stop the assassin! ” cried the voices. But we had seen neither a weapon nor a man. The gunshot had been heard. He had left the gate, probably pulled over the heads of the prostrate faithful; and whoever had shot him had been able to escape, thanks to the first moment of surprise and confusion. We looked for him, we wondered.
Chaos took hold of this church, which echoed, there were only a few minutes, joyous songs of hallelujah … There were two distinct scenes in this chaos: the crowd which swelled[Pg 321] at the portal; and at the gate of the sanctuary, in the choir, the priests thrown out of their stalls, and the cantors, pale, terrified, surrounding the inanimate body, and the two deacons, standing near, pale as shrouds, in prey to the indignation and horror! A dreadful crime ended in a sacrilege! The host, tinted with blood, had fallen beside the chalice. The priest of Varenguebec took her and gave her Communion.
Then this cure of Varenguebec, who was a powerful man, a robust priest, commanded silence, in a thundering voice, and, strange thing, due, no doubt, to the impression of such a spectacle, he did so. obtained. Then he stripped off his dalmatic, and having only his alb, stained with the blood that had gushed on all sides on the altar, he ascended the pulpit and said:
“My brothers, the church is profaned. The abbot of the Cross-Jugan has just been assassinated while offering the divine sacrifice. We will take his body to the presbytery and we will have it buried in the parish of Neuf-Mesnil. The church of Blanchelande will remain closed until the moment when Our Lord of Coutances will solemnly reopen and purify it. He alone, from his episcopal right, and not us, the humble priest, can here wash the place of a detestable sacrilege. Come on, my brothers, come home[Pg 322] in your homes, dismayed and collected. God’s judgments are terrible and his ways hidden. Come on, Mass is said: Ite, missa est! ”
And he stepped down from the pulpit. The deepest silence continued to reign in the assembled assembly, but slowly. The most curious remained to see the priests extinguish the torches and veil the holy tabernacle. Even the choir lamp was extinguished, this lamp which burned night and day, the image of perpetual adoration. Then, the priests removed on their intertwined arms the body of the abbot of the Cross-Jugan, in his bloody chasuble, while reciting in a low voice the De profundis.. The last remaining on the threshold of the deserted church, the priest Caillemer closed the doors, as under the seven seals of the Lord’s anger. Stopped for a moment in the cemetery, a few people were summoned to come out and the gates were closed, as the doors of the church had been. Strange and wonderful Easter day! the vivid memory was to be passed on to the next generation. One would have said that we were going back to the Middle Ages and that the parish of Blanchelande had been put under interdiction.