It must have been a solemn moment for the silence which suddenly seized these two women, after La Clotte’s story. La Clotte, wrinkling with anxious attention, in front of the dead pallor which had enveloped Jeanne and which seemed to be embedded to the depths of her flesh, looked at this face passing to the block of marble, and these heavy eyelids which rigidly covered with their opaque veils with missing eyes. Jeanne-Madelaine’s absorption in herself was so complete that, if she had not held herself erect, like a figure in bas-relief, on her seat without a back, one might have thought she had fainted.
La Clotte put one of his hands with slender fingers like the talon of a bird of prey, on the icy wall of that sweatless forehead, without the quivering of the epidermis, no longer having anything human, a real forehead of cataleptic.
“Ah! you are therefore here, O Jehoel de la Croix-Jugan! she cried.
Was this elated woman aware of what she was saying? … was she talking about the vision[Pg 167] interior which there was under the cupola of this closed forehead, in this living head, under its momentary bark of corpse, and which she felt curiously with her fingers, as the gravedigger of Hamlet touched and turned over his empty skull !. .. Or was she only talking about the return of the monk of Blanchelande in the country? … Whatever the case, this kind of evocation seemed to succeed, for a large shadow stood in the clear frame of the open door , and a sonorous voice answered from the threshold:
“Who then speaks of the Cross-Jugan and can say, if he has known him, who is it that was formerly called Jehoel?”
And the thickened shadow became a man who entered, wrapped in a carapousse carried so as to hide the lower part of his face, like the half-raised visor of an ancient helmet.
“Which of you has spoken, women? he said, seeing them both there. But his gaze, wandering from one to the other, soon came to rest on La Clotte.
—Clotilde Mauduit! he cried, so is it you? I was looking for you and I find you! I recognize you. The misfortunes of the times have not therefore abolished your memory, since you remember the former monk of Blanchelande, Jehoël de la Croix-Jugan …
“I learned when you entered that you had returned to Blanchelande, Brother Ranulphe,” said the old woman with troubled respect, due to the religion of her memories and also to the supernatural ascendancy of this man.
“There is no more brother Ranulphe, Clotilde! said the priest in a harsh voice, throwing these words like the last shovelful of earth on a coffin. Brother Ranulphe died with his order. The powerful canons of Saint-Norbert are finished. Coming here, only an hour ago, I saw the mutilated statue of our holy founder serving as a buttress to the door of a cabaret, and the ruins of the abbey that I was to rule are to dust. There is before you an obscure priest, isolated, helpless, defeated, who shed the blood of men and his as water, and who saved nothing, at the cost of his blood, and perhaps of his soul, of everything he wanted to save. Mad vanities of human will! There is nothing left of the past, Clotilde! Here you are old, crippled, I was told, paralyzed. The Sang-d’Aiglon castle in Haut-Mesnil was razed to the ground by the Colonnes Infernales. Here, see! this is black! he continued, slapping his sleeve with his hand; the white habit of the Premonstratensians will no longer shine in our impoverished and slave churches. And this … look again! he said with[Pg 169] a gesture of tragic majesty, detaching the black velvet chin strap that hid half of his face, what color and what shape has he become?
The kind of hood he wore fell, and his Gorgonian head appeared with its broad temples, which inexpressible pains had trepanned, and this face where the shining balls of the blunderbuss had cut like a scarred sun. Her eyes, two thought-warmers lit and suffocating with light, lit it all up, as lightning lights up a peak it has shattered. Blood crept like a ribbon of flame, her burnt eyelids, like the raw eyelids of a lion that has walked through the blaze. It was beautiful and it was awful!
La Clotte was stunned.
-Well! he said, proud, perhaps, of the effect that the thunderclap of his sublime ugliness always produced, do you recognize, Clotilde Mauduit, in this remainder of torture, Ranulphe de Blanchelande and Jéhoël de la Croix-Jugan?
As for Jeanne, she was no longer pale. From her pallor rose red spots everywhere, a seedling of fiery patches, as if life, for a moment repressed in the heart, came back to strike against its partition of flesh with fury.[Pg 170] At each word, at each gesture of the abbot, these frightful spots appeared. It was on the forehead, on the cheeks. Several were already showing on the neck and on the chest, and it was to believe, with all these disorders of complexion, that Master Tainnebouy was right, with his coarse physiology, and that she had turned blood !
“Yes,” said La Clotte, “I recognize you, in spite of everything.” You are still the same Jehoiel, who imposed on us all in our crazy youth! Ah! you lords, what can erase the mark of your race in you? And who wouldn’t recognize what you were, just by the bones of your bodies, when they were lying in the grave?
This idolatrous vassal of her masters, this daughter of a finite society, then said the thoughts of Jeanne the mesallied, who, since the story of Caillemer, no longer saw in the scars of the former monk anything but the adornment made by war and despair at the martial front of a gentleman. This human oak tree, devastated by bullets at the top, still had the strong beauty of its trunk. Jehoel had lost only the silent lines of a once superb face; but on these broken lines he had a superhuman physiognomy, and, everywhere other than his face, in all the rest of his person, the imposing abbot was distinguished by the[Pg 171] forms and attitudes of the ancient Kings of the Sea, these immense Norman breeds that have kept all of what they have won, and were growing at the end of the ix th century, the great cry of which leaps story : A furore Normanorum libera nos, Domine!
“Yes, damn it can’t lie; look in your turn, abbé, said La Clotte. The woman here, who is not ashamed to be sitting on Clotilde Mauduit’s stepladder, don’t you recognize her by her father’s features? She is the daughter of Loup de Feuardent.
“Wolf of Feuardent!” the husband of the beautiful Louisine-à-la-ax ! dead before our civil wars! resumed the abbe, looking attentively at Jeanne, whose face was only scarlet from the circumference of her throat to her hair.
The idea of her marriage, of her voluntary fall into the arms of a peasant, melted her forehead in the heat of shame. She had already suffered from her misalliance, but not like today, in front of this priest-gentleman who had known her father. Fortunately for her, the night, which came and invaded, by slipping into it, the smoky cottage of La Clotte, saved her from the abbot’s gaze, when La Clotte spoke of her marriage with Hardouey and deplored it as a necessity. cruel and eternal sorrow. If the feeling of family was over[Pg 172] Strong in Jéhoël de la Croix-Jugan as the spirit of her priesthood, Jeanne knew nothing about it, at least that day. The priest let fall austere words on the misfortunes of the Nobility, but the night prevented to see the disdain or the condemnation of the man of race, with the pure blazon, to be molded in these features tattooed by lead, fire and ashes, and add the cold horrors of contempt to their other horrors. In the disposition of her soul, she would not have endured such a sight. Shall I make this character clearly understood? If we didn’t understand it, this story would be incredible. We would then have to come back to the ideas of Master Tainnebouy, and these ideas are no longer within the given of our time. For the observer who sinks into the mystery of human passion and its sources, they do not
However, the Abbé de la Croix-Jugan was seated at Clotilde Mauduit’s with the simplicity of highly born men, who feel themselves high enough in life to never be able to descend. Besides, La Clotte was no ordinary old woman for him. If he was an eagle, she was a hawk. She represented, in his eyes, memories of youth, those first hours of life, so dear to characters.[Pg 173] who do not forget, whether they were happy, insignificant or guilty! Then, we were at a time when social misfortune had mixed all ranks and where political thought was the only real environment. France, red with blood, was wiping itself off. La Clotte, aristocrat , as they said at the time of all those who respected the nobility, would, without his paralysis, have been thrown into the remand center at Coutances, to be carried to the scaffold from there. The abbot, Jeanne le Hardouey and she spoke therefore of the times which had just passed, and their passionate souls all three vibrated in unison. La Clotte had grudges greater perhaps than those of the terrible disfigured man who was there in front of her, and whose face had been so horribly torn by the Blues.
“They have done you a lot of harm,” she said to him; but I, who braved them and their guillotine, and who never wanted to wear their tricolor livery, let it be known that they did not spare me! They took me to four a day of decade, and they have me tousée on the market place, to Blanchelande with scissors a stable boy who had just cut the hair at his mares.
And this recalled outrage hollowed out the old woman’s voice, and gave her eyes an expression of indefinable cruelty.
“Yes,” she continued, “there was a group of four to do this cowardly shot! and, although I no longer had the use of my legs, they were obliged to tie me, with the rope of a halter, to the post where the horses are tied to shoe them. I had loved and pampered my body, but illness and age had shattered it. What were a few handfuls of gray hair more or less for me? I saw them fall, eyes dry and without saying a word; but I have never forgotten the clear sound and the coldness of the scissors against my ears, and that, which I hear and still feel, would prevent me, even at the point of death, from forgiving.
“Don’t complain, Clotilde Mauduit, they treated you like kings and queens! said this singular priest, who had the secret of consoling ulcerated souls with pride, as if he had been a minister of Lucifer, instead of being the humble priest of Jesus Christ.
-And I’m not complaining either, she said proudly, I have been avenged! All four died a dead male, out of bed, violently and without confession. My hair grew grayer and covered the injury done to the forehead of the one in Haut-Mesnil you called the Herodias. But the outraged heart remained more clumped than my head. Nothing repelled, nothing erased the trace of the insult felt,[Pg 175] and I understood that nothing tears the rage of the offense from the heart, not even the death of the offender.
“And you are right,” said the priest darkly, who should have, it seemed, spilled the oil of a word of mercy on this stubborn resentment, and who did not do so; which, by the way, belied a little the idea of this great penance and this edifying repentance of which the cure Caillemer had spoken the day before, at the evening meal, with Master Thomas le Hardouey.
That evening we waited for Jeanne-Madelaine at the Clos. She was regular in her habits and usually always returned before her husband. That evening, exceptionally, it was the husband who came home first. Mistress le Hardouey was not seen attending her people’s meal, and Maitre Thomas was heard several times asking where his wife had gone. More astonished than worried, however, he sat down to table, after a quarter of an hour of prolonged waiting. That’s when she came home.
“You are very sorry, Jeanne,” said Hardouey, seeing her and taking off her clogs in the corner of the door.
-Yes, she said, the night surprised us at[Pg 176] La Clotte, and it is so dark that we have twice lost our way on our way.
-That you? replied the Hardouey very naturally.
She hesitated; but, overcoming a repugnance that we all know, when it comes to pronouncing aloud the name which we read eternally in our thoughts, and whose syllables frighten us, as if they were going to betray our secret, she added:
“Me and that Abbot de la Croix-Jugan, whom Monsieur le Cure spoke to us about yesterday, and who came to La Clotte while I was there.”
She had put her pelisse on a chair, and she sat down opposite her husband, who grew worried. She hadn’t lost the dark colors that the sight of Jehoel had spread over her face.
“He left me at the end of the avenue,” she added; I begged him to come into our home, but he refused me …
“Like me yesterday,” said the Hardouey bitterly. No doubt he was still going to see the Comtesse de Montsurvent.
The hateful irony of the common man who believes himself to be scorned creaked in these few words. They found a sad echo in Jeanne’s heart, for she too was thinking of disdain[Pg 177] of the priest, and she suffered from it all the more because it seemed to her legitimate.
Hatred throngs like love. It is subject to the same mysterious laws. The former village Jacobin, the purchaser of Church property, master Hardouey, had felt, at first sight, that the despoiled monk, the defeated Chouans chief, this abbot of Croix-Jugan whom events brought back to Blanchelande, was always to be his enemy, his implacable enemy, and that political pacifications had lied to the hearts of men.
He said nothing, but he cut off a piece of bread at the edge, which he handed to his wife with a movement whose agitated and fierce abruptness would have terrified a being weaker and of a more nervous imagination than Jeanne de Feuardent.
Master Thomas le Hardouey did not like to see his wife go to La Clotte, on which he shared all the opinions of the country. It took Jeanne’s character and the empire of that character over a grossly passionate man like Hardouey for him to endure the visits his wife paid to this old woman, who was only good, he thought, to go upstairs. head to a wise woman, and he never spoke of it except with concentrated resentment.
“Ah! old Clotte is a Chouanne,[Pg 178] he said, and it is too fair that a former chief of Chouans should go and visit her, as soon as he is disembarked in the country! She hid more than one in her blankets, the old gouge! and the owls only fall on the tree where other owls have already perched. “” But as Jeanne assumed that severe air which always required her: “You too, Jeannine,” he added, laughing with a smile. look false, you are a little aristocrat; it is native to you, and you enjoy yourself all too well with people like this vision of Bréha de la Clotte and this newcomer to Abbot.
“They knew my father,” said Jeanne gravely. This word produced the effect it always produced between them, a silence. Her father’s name was like a sacred shield that Jeanne-Madelaine raised between her and her husband, and which covered her entirely; for, enemy of the nobles as he was, like all men of popular extraction who hate the nobility only out of vanity or jealousy, Thomas le Hardouey was, at bottom, very flattered to have married a girl by birth. ; and the respect she had for the memory of her father, in spite of himself, he shared it.
Moreover, that day and the following days, there was no question at Le Clos, either of the Abbot of Croix-Jugan or of La Clotte. We didn’t talk about it[Pg 179] more. Jeanne-Madelaine shut himself in his thoughts turn throat, Tainnebouy said, and continued to care for his household and his tenure as before. The months passed: the times of fairs came and she went. She finally showed herself the same as she had been until then and had always been known. She was so strong! Only the blood that she had spun, believed Master Tainnebouy, spoke for her! It had risen from her heart to her head the day she had met the Abbe de la Croix-Jugan at La Clotte, and he never came back down. Like a human torch, which the eyes of this extraordinary priest would have lighted, a violent color, fiery blotches of his uplifted blood, settled down on the beautiful face of Jeanne-Madelaine. “It seemed, sir,” the herbager Tainnebouy told me, “that it had been plunged head first into a cauldron of beef blood.” She was still beautiful, but she was frightening as she seemed to be in pain! And the Countess Jacqueline de Montsurvent added that there were times when, over the purple of that burning face, it passed like clouds, of a darker purple, almost purple, or almost black;[Pg 180] palings! Apart from that, which touched on the disease, and which ended up worrying Master Thomas le Hardouey and making him consult the doctor of Coutances, nothing was known, for a long time, of the change in Jeanne-Madelaine’s life; and yet this life had become a hidden hell, of which that cruel red color which she wore on her face was the glow.