She was thin and light-blooded, with lively blue eyes and curly hair that seemed to surround her forehead like a golden cloud. A sculptor would hardly have greatly admired him, for his features were far from the classical rules. His eyes and mouth seemed a little too big, his neck too narrow and his nose too high. But every feature radiated life and formed a delightful whole that could easily have rivaled the glorified beauties. If his physical being was not fully developed, his soul was even more immature. The mistress of the Bontucq castle sometimes behaved like a schoolgirl and often did childish things.
As he sat lost in thought, however, his eyes took on a rare seriousness and a sad expression settled around his mouth. His father, a brilliant cavalier of Lannio of Bretague, had spent his life in inactivity more or less in romantic adventures, and had died at the age of forty, exhausted in body and mind. His mother, a prosperous Spanish woman from Wallodolid, inherited from a pneumonic family, died young, unable to bear all the troubles of an abandoned wife.
However, this couple had been very happy for almost 4 years. The wife was beautiful and the man seemed faithful to her. Geneviève was born and soon began to become her father. One day, the doctor noticed the first symptoms of lung disease in Mrs. Sartilly and advised the young couple to move to a less humid area than Lannion.
The farm in Brittany was sold and the farm in Bontucq-en-Béarn was bought. The wife had a wonderful time in Montségur, but the husband considered this apartment too far from the acacia groves in the forests of Boulogne. He would only be here during hunting times, when it is not considered appropriate to show off at the club.
When Mrs. Sartilly died, her husband did not shed a single tear.
He no longer had any feelings.
Geneviève was thus left alone in the castle of Bontucq. He was only 12 years old. He was appointed guardian, who became Lorenzo Miraléz, his mother’s younger brother. A destitute aunt who was a widow, Countess Enriquita Manzanil, moved in with him. She was the elder sister of Mrs. Sartilly and the guardian. This patroness of little Geneviève looked like a soldier and was as superstitious as a peasant. He was stubborn and hot-tempered, swearing at the workers and venting his anger to those outside.
Scared by both deaths, the young girl rarely went out. His circle of acquaintances became fewer and fewer. From time to time, his guardians visited Bontucq. He was the director of a shipping company and his wife was a charming concubine whose beautiful eyes had mesmerized him. But even these guests only stayed in Béarn for a couple of weeks on their way back from Luchon or Biarritz. Usually, Geneviève liked to walk singing in her park, play music, teach dogs or ride at flying speed on her trails. A couple of suitors had already asked for her hand in marriage. But the very thought of getting married made him turn pale. Remembering her mother’s suffering, she decided to remain single despite the hunt her millions would cause.
Such was the light, cheerful creature before whom Lazare had trembled, and upon whom he had not dared, fearing the stern rules of the monk, to raise his eyes.
The story of the bull, so simply told, and the sobriety of the young monk had made a deep impression on him. He felt happy to do a good deed.
He was still thinking about the funny adventure the night before when he threw half an apple to an invisible monk. Maybe he really disturbed that monk’s peace. What exactly had prompted him to do that? Geneviève had regretted this all night and this good deed was now a good reward for the monk and his ox.
When the clock had struck 11, Miss Sartilly suddenly left her light morning dress and put on a summer dress, took off her straw hat and went to the terrace. Here he held out his binoculars towards the village of Montségur to see already in the distance the bull for which the young monk had shed tears.
Before long, he noticed it, as well as the monk and his authorized treasurer. And when they had arrived nearer, Miss Sartilly chirped down the stairs, taking two steps in one step like a schoolgirl. He went to the gate to receive the pampered bull.
Joy shone from his eyes, his cheeks became glowing from breathing, and as soon as Brother Lazare looked at him, he guessed that he would give him a lot of resistance as he fixed his eyes on the ground. Lazare looked at the false legs of the treasurer, which was not forbidden to him!
Genaviève approached Martin. When he saw it, he exclaimed:
— But it is extremely beautiful. It has Andalusian eyes!
And his fine hand caressed the animal’s neck.
— Does it like sugar? Right? Do you think so? … Oh, it’s true — an ox that comes from a monastery must like radishes. We do have radishes. Come here!
He talked and babbled non-stop, happy to be able to say something like a child.
He went to the stable and said to the ox:
— Please follow me, dear guest. I’ll show you to your room.
He bent down and plucked a handful of grass to the bull, who smelled it and graciously accepted the offer.
— It’s terribly hungry! cried Geneviève. I’m crazy! Monsieur Peyroux, go quickly to the stable-ring and tell him to bring a good portion of hay.
Thus we came to the stable, whose fine interior looked much more strange than the bull standing in the dark stable of the monastery.
— This here is Rosina’s — the donkey’s — apartment. I hope your ox will have a good time here — said Miss Sartilly. We can buy it a mate to keep it company. And when it has worked nicely, it gets 24 small tights around its neck like the kind oxen at my aunt’s place. Is that good?
Lazare was as if paralyzed. He couldn’t have imagined that
Martin in his old days could have such a benefactor.
— Miss Sartilly, I cannot find words to express my gratitude, but I will pray for you all my life. I will return to the monastery and will probably spend the rest of my days there. But since you have been so excellently good to the monk, I dare to offer one more prayer. The monastery has a reception room and sometimes guests get to say a few words to the monks they know. Send your cheapest servant to me sometime to tell me about my former comrade. That would make me so happy! … Farewell, Miss Sartilly! … Goodbye, Martin!
Lazare patted the animal, as he had done many times before, and fearing that he would burst into tears, he hurried out of the stable straight to the gate of the castle to return to the monastery of Montségur.
It was almost twelve o’clock. Lazare hurried his way. But as he got closer to the monastery, he got an increasingly nervous feeling.
Reality began to step in front of him more and more clearly. Now that Martin was safe, its master felt that calamity was approaching. And when he reached the foot of the wall, he became quite desperate. Now he saw his actions and their consequences in full light…
He had only intended to leave for a couple of hours, and now it had been 15 hours! Naturally, everyone had noticed his departure and he would probably be kicked out of the monastery.
— What could become of me, he thought, sending the wall and intending to climb over it, as he did when defecating. But what good does it do? It would only make matters worse. Best to be honest. And he decided to go in through the great gate.
— The prior is waiting for you, the gatekeeper told him.
He went across the yard. The numerous monks he passed shunned him as if he were unclean.
He went inside the main building of the monastery. When he saw the door of the chapel, he thought: »You can no longer pray here». And when they saw the monastery’s garden and the monks from the window, they seemed to say: »You are not allowed to work here anymore.»
He entered the prior’s room, closed his eyes and stood motionless for a few seconds.
Priori was sitting at his desk. He turned. And Lazare crossed his arms.
— Monsieur Etienne Hontarrède, here are the 490 francs that belong to you. You can see why they are caused in this book. Please provide a receipt for them.
Lazare heard the words, and when the pen was handed to him, he mechanically wrote his name on the old, yellowing paper.
— Now go to the gatekeeper — continued the prior. — There you can change the monk’s suit into your regular clothes. Stay bye! God’s peace be with you!
That’s when Lazare was met with a crippling feeling. It felt as if his veins had opened and the fluid of his life had quietly begun to flow. He didn’t even try to apologize, because he felt that he lacked the strength to do so. A few hours later, he found himself by the side of a road, with boots on, a hat on his head, and a small black book in his hand.
In a few of his pockets he had bills and small change and in another he found a rosary and a piece of black bread. Then he burst into tears.
The next morning, when Miss Sartilly and her aunt returned from mass, they were surprised to see a man sitting quite motionless in the grass between the castle enclosure and the monastery wall.
— But that’s our donut from yesterday! — exclaimed the young girl.
— He no longer has his monk’s suit, said Countess Manzanil.
They both stopped
Noticing them, Lazare had gotten up.
— Good day — said Geneviève. — Why are you dressed like that? Aren’t you in a monastery anymore?
— No, Miss Sartilly; yesterday I was driven out of there because of Martin — muttered Lazare, lowering his head.
— Ahl — And where have you spent the night?
— Here under the trees.
— Indeed. And where are you going to spend the next night?
— I don’t know that yet.
The young lady looked at him for a few blinks and crocheted:
— Come to Bontucq, and we’ll see if we can’t do something for you.
Lazare submissively followed both women.
— Tell me what you could do? — asks Geneviève.
After hearing the words, Lazare’s forehead brightened and sudden joy seemed to fill his eyes.
— I can plow and harrow. I know how to cut grape bushes and wheat too, harvest corn and hay, take care of oxen and horses and drive them… If you could give me some work, whatever you want with one of your orders, I would undertake to do my job conscientiously without any pay, as long as I could get a bundle of straw to ground and nail hard bread a day to eat.
An hour later, Monsieur Peyroux gave the scythe to the former monk and showed him a place in the hay meadow.
With what enthusiasm Lazare took up his work! With full force, he threw his scythe and let out a fanfare-like sound as he sharpened his weapon.
After doing that job, he got a shovel with which he could start digging the ground.
In the evening, he was shown a soft bed, from which you could hear Martin’s whining. And when the monastery bell rang at night, calling the monks to prayer, Lazare prayed by his bed with joined hands, closed eyes and a heart full of joy. With ever-increasing devotion, he prayed and gave thanks for his present happiness. It seemed as if the crucified Christ was no longer bleeding, nor the grieving mother of God with pierced hearts, but that something white, free, spirit-like had joined his soul, as if he had heard the voice of a sweet angel — like a young innocent girl, a good and merciful vein giving him new comfort, relief of mind, for which he earned the gratitude of his whole soul.
* * * * *
The days roll by. Lazare was happy. He worked hard. His current escape did not bother him as much as he had thought, nor was his remorse as deep as he had thought. The monastery bell at night no longer bothered him. If any sadness still surfaced from the past, he grabbed his hands even harder and soon drowned his sadness in his eager work.
He was almost non-stop together with Martin. The manager of Bontucq had bought another similar bull from the market and given it to Lazare to ride, and Martin did not seem at all jealous of the pats that comrade »Jean« also received from their common master.
Lazare continued in Bontucq the same life of denial as in the monastery. He did not partake of meat or wine, butter or fatty utensils, but sometimes, when he was satisfied with himself and his conduct, allowed himself a few apples for pleasure.
Down there, he had decided to lie down in his full clothes, as in the monastery, but when he heard the servants making fun of his linen, he gave up that intention. For an orthodox monk, purity is a sin, because the purity of the soul must be in stark contrast to the purity of the shirt. Lazare soon renounced this article of faith.
So one day he went to the village market and bought some fancy underwear, decorated handkerchiefs, a fashionable neckerchief and even gloves. But to atone for this sin of vanity, he slept for two nights on the bare floor.
While working near the castle, he sometimes heard light steps approaching in the sandy passage, and he guessed that it was Miss Sartilly who was coming. That’s when he felt a tingling sensation and he wanted to cross his arms like he used to when the communion bread was melting in his mouth.
The young girl passed by him almost every day and he had even spoken to her a couple of times. Next time to ask his real name.
— Etienne, — he answered — Etienne Hontarrède.
— Well, how are we going to call you, Etienne or Lazares?
— The name the lady wants to give, I will keep.
— In that case, it’s Lazare. I like it better.
Next time Miss Sartilly asked if she would enjoy herself in Bontucq.
And Lazare replied that he could not think of a more pleasant life.
A few days after this, Geneviève asked to carry her parasol to the castle.
And he felt proud of this task.
When Miss Sartilly had spoken, the ex-monk had made a curious observation: he had been ashamed of his clogs, his coat, his rough hands, and his badly cut beard. And it had made him sad.
One day Miss Sartilly said to him:
— You can read, can’t you, Lazare?
— Yes, miss.
— Good. Go up to the castle and ask me for Lamartine ‘s Méditations .
— The first ones or the new ones? — he asked.
— Ah, you are such a connoisseur of literature! That’s not what you told me. The first ones, the first ones.
And the young man quickly left to hide his blush.
Another time, Geneviève passed him with a blue paper in her hand.
— Have you not seen Countess Manzanil go home, Mr. Lazare?
— No, miss.
— It was sad. I have received a Spanish email and there is a word in it that I do not understand.
— Maybe I could be of help to the ladies?
— So you know Spanish?
— I have studied it.
– Is that so! Then tell me what »el agradecimento» means.
— »El agradecimento» I think means gratitude.
— So, yes, that’s how it must be. That’s right, now I remember it. But you have learned so much! — exclaimed the young girl. — Do you know any other living languages?
– A few
— And Italian.
— Ah! …
Geneviève’s eyes narrowed in surprise.
— Why didn’t you tell me that right away! I would have tried to find a suitable place for you in Orthe or Pau.
— I like working at Bontucq just as much, Miss Sartilly — replied Lazare quietly.
He had become very pale.
But at the same time she became a countess.
— I can tell you great news, aunt — exclaimed Geneviève happily. Mr. Lazare, who plants turnips here, knows Spanish, English and Italian.
— I have never suspected that — answered the countess mockingly. That man really seems learned. You must have been the foreman of some wine cellar, right?
— No, Madam Countess, I have not had that honor.
— Then you have been a home or dance teacher in a castle?
— Not even that. But I have had both a home and a dance teacher in my own home.
Countess Manzanil oikasihe.
— How, castle squire? You? That was remarkable. Tell us a little about it!
Then you could hear the crunching of the heads of cabbage being eaten by the cows that got loose behind Lazare.
— Sorry, said the former monk and went to drive the cows away.
And the countess returned to the castle, letting out a raucous laugh.