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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAbbe Mouret's Transgression (la Faute De L'abbe Mouret) - Book 1 - Chapter 12
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Abbe Mouret's Transgression (la Faute De L'abbe Mouret) - Book 1 - Chapter 12 Post by :Ericb Category :Long Stories Author :Emile Zola Date :May 2012 Read :2578

Click below to download : Abbe Mouret's Transgression (la Faute De L'abbe Mouret) - Book 1 - Chapter 12 (Format : PDF)

Abbe Mouret's Transgression (la Faute De L'abbe Mouret) - Book 1 - Chapter 12


Brother Archangias dined at the parsonage every Thursday. As a rule he came early so as to talk over parish matters. It was he who, for the last three months, had kept the Abbe informed of all the affairs of the valley. That Thursday, while waiting till La Teuse should call them, they strolled about in front of the church. The priest, on relating his interview with Bambousse, was surprised to find that the Brother thought the peasant's reply quite natural.

'The man's right,' said the Ignorantin.* 'You don't give away chattels like that. Rosalie is no great bargain, but it's always hard to see your own daughter throw herself away on a pauper.'

* A popular name in France for a Christian Brother.--ED.

'Still,' rejoined Abbe Mouret, 'a marriage is the only way of stopping the scandal.'

The Brother shrugged his big shoulders and laughed aggravatingly. 'Do you think you'll cure the neighbourhood with that marriage?' he exclaimed. 'Before another two years Catherine will be following her sister's example. They all go the same way, and as they end by marrying, they snap their fingers at every one. These Artauds flourish in it all, as on a congenial dungheap. There is only one possible remedy, as I have told you before: wring all the girls' necks if you don't want the country to be poisoned. No husbands, Monsieur le Cure, but a good thick stick!'

Then calming down a bit, he added: 'Let every one do with their own as they think best.'

He went on to speak about fixing the hours for the catechism classes; but Abbe Mouret replied in an absent-minded way, his eyes dwelling on the village at his feet in the setting sun. The peasants were wending their way homewards, silently and slowly, with the dragging steps of wearied oxen returning to their sheds. Before the tumble-down houses stood women calling to one another, carrying on bawling conversations from door to door, while bands of children filled the roadway with the riot of their big clumsy shoes, grovelling and rolling and pushing each other about. A bestial odour ascended from that heap of tottering houses, and the priest once more fancied himself in Desiree's poultry-yard, where life ever increased and multiplied. Here, too, was the same incessant travail, which so disturbed him. Since morning his mind had been running on that episode of Rosalie and Fortune, and now his thoughts returned to it, to the foul features of existence, the incessant, fated task of Nature, which sowed men broadcast like grains of wheat. The Artauds were a herd penned in between four ranges of hills, increasing, multiplying, spreading more and more thickly over the land with each successive generation.

'See,' cried Brother Archangias, interrupting his discourse to point to a tall girl who was letting her sweetheart snatch a kiss, 'there is another hussy over there!'

He shook his long black arms at the couple and made them flee. In the distance, over the crimson fields and the peeling rocks, the sun was dying in one last flare. Night gradually came on. The warm fragrance of the lavender became cooler on the wings of the light evening breeze which now arose. From time to time a deep sigh fell on the ear as if that fearful land, consumed by ardent passions, had at length grown calm under the soft grey rain of twilight. Abbe Mouret, hat in hand, delighted with the coolness, once more felt quietude descend upon him.

'Monsieur le Cure! Brother Archangias!' cried La Teuse. 'Come quick! The soup is on the table.'

It was cabbage soup, and its odoriferous steam filled the parsonage dining-room. The Brother seated himself and fell to, slowly emptying the huge plate that La Teuse had put down before him. He was a big eater, and clucked his tongue as each mouthful descended audibly into his stomach. Keeping his eyes on his spoon, he did not speak a word.

'Isn't my soup good, then, Monsieur le Cure?' the old servant asked the priest. 'You are only fiddling with your plate.'

'I am not a bit hungry, my good Teuse,' Serge replied, smiling.

'Well! how can one wonder at it when you go on as you do! But you would have been hungry, if you hadn't lunched at past two o'clock.'

Brother Archangias, tilting into his spoon the last few drops of soup remaining in his plate, said gravely: 'You should be regular in your meals, Monsieur le Cure.'

At this moment Desiree, who also had finished her soup, sedately and in silence, rose and followed La Teuse to the kitchen. The Brother, then left alone with Abbe Mouret, cut himself some long strips of bread, which he ate while waiting for the next dish.

'So you made a long round to-day?' he asked the priest. But before the other could reply a noise of footsteps, exclamations, and ringing laughter, arose at the end of the passage, in the direction of the yard. A short altercation apparently took place. A flute-like voice which disturbed the Abbe rose in vexed and hurried accents, which finally died away in a burst of glee.

'What can it be?' said Serge, rising from his chair.

But Desiree bounded in again, carrying something hidden in her gathered-up skirt. And she burst out excitedly: 'Isn't she queer? She wouldn't come in at all. I caught hold of her dress; but she is awfully strong; she soon got away from me.'

'Whom on earth is she talking about?' asked La Teuse, running in from the kitchen with a dish of potatoes, across which lay a piece of bacon.

The girl sat down, and with the greatest caution drew from her skirt a blackbird's nest in which three wee fledglings were slumbering. She laid it on her plate. The moment the little birds felt the light, they stretched out their feeble necks and opened their crimson beaks to ask for food. Desiree clapped her hands, enchanted, seized with strange emotion at the sight of these hitherto unknown creatures.

'It's that Paradou girl!' exclaimed the Abbe suddenly, remembering everything.

La Teuse had gone to the window. 'So it is,' she said. 'I might have known that grasshopper's voice---- Oh! the gipsy! Look, she's stopped there to spy on us.'

Abbe Mouret drew near. He, too, thought that he could see Albine's orange-coloured skirt behind a juniper bush. But Brother Archangias, in a towering passion, raised himself on tiptoe behind him, and, stretching out his fist and wagging his churlish head, thundered forth: 'May the devil take you, you brigand's daughter! I will drag you right round the church by your hair if ever I catch you coming and casting your evil spells here!'

A peal of laughter, fresh as the breath of night, rang out from the path, followed by light hasty footsteps and the swish of a dress rustling through the grass like an adder. Abbe Mouret, standing at the window, saw something golden glide through the pine trees like a moonbeam. The breeze, wafted in from the open country, was now laden with that penetrating perfume of verdure, that scent of wildflowers, which Albine had scattered from her bare arms, unfettered bosom, and streaming tresses at the Paradou.

'An accursed soul! a child of perdition!' growled Brother Archangias, as he reseated himself at the dinner table. He fell greedily upon his bacon, and swallowed his potatoes whole instead of bread. La Teuse, however, could not persuade Desiree to finish her dinner. That big baby was lost in ecstasy over the nestlings, asking questions, wanting to know what food they ate, if they laid eggs, and how the cockbirds could be known.

The old servant, however, was troubled by a suspicion, and taking her stand on her sound leg, she looked the young cure in the face.

'So you know the Paradou people?' she said.

Thereupon he simply told the truth, relating the visit he had paid to old Jeanbernat. La Teuse exchanged scandalised glances with Brother Archangias. At first she answered nothing, but went round and round the table, limping frantically and stamping hard enough with her heels to split the flooring.

'You might have spoken to me of those people these three months past,' said the priest at last. 'I should have known at any rate what sort of people I was going to call upon.'

La Teuse stopped short as if her legs had just broken.

'Don't tell falsehoods, Monsieur le Cure,' she stuttered, 'don't tell them; you will only make your sin still worse. How dare you say I haven't spoken to you of the Philosopher, that heathen who is the scandal of the whole neighbourhood? The truth is, you never listen to me when I talk. It all goes in at one ear and out at the other. Ah, if you did listen to me, you'd spare yourself a good deal of trouble!'

'I, too, have spoken to you about those abominations,' affirmed the Brother.

Abbe Mouret lightly shrugged his shoulders. 'Well, I didn't remember it,' he said. It was only when I found myself at the Paradou that I fancied I recollected certain tales. Besides, I should have gone to that unhappy man all the same as I thought him in danger of death.'

Brother Archangias, his mouth full, struck the table violently with his knife, and roared: 'Jeanbernat is a dog; he ought to die like a dog.' Then seeing the priest about to protest he cut him short: 'No, no, for him there is no God, no penitence, no mercy. It would be better to throw the host to the pigs than carry it to that scoundrel.'

Then he helped himself to more potatoes, and with his elbows on the table, his chin in his plate, began chewing furiously. La Teuse, her lips pinched, quite white with anger, contented herself with saying dryly: 'Let it be, his reverence will have his own way. He has secrets from us now.'

Silence reigned. For a moment one only heard the working of Brother Archangias's jaws, and the extraordinary rumbling of his gullet. Desiree, with her bare arms round the nest in her plate, smiled to the little ones, talking to them slowly and softly in a chirruping of her own which they seemed to understand.

'People say what they have done when they have nothing to hide,' suddenly cried La Teuse.

And then silence reigned again. What exasperated the old servant was the mystery the priest seemed to make about his visit to the Paradou. She deemed herself a woman who had been shamefully deceived. Her curiosity smarted. She again walked round the table, not looking at the Abbe, not addressing anybody, but comforting herself with soliloquy.

'That's it; that's why we have lunch so late! We go gadding about till two o'clock in the afternoon. We go into such disreputable houses that we don't even dare to tell what we've done. And then we tell lies, we deceive everybody.'

'But nobody,' gently interrupted Abbe Mouret, who was forcing himself to eat a little more, so as to prevent La Teuse from getting crosser than ever, 'nobody asked me if I had been to the Paradou. I have not had to tell any lies.'

La Teuse, however, went on as if she had never heard him.

'Yes, we go ruining our cassock in the dust, we come home rigged up like a thief. And if some kind person takes an interest in us, and questions us for our own good, we push her about and treat her like a good-for-nothing woman, whom we can't trust. We hide things like a slyboots, we'd rather die than breathe a word; we're not even considerate enough to enliven our home by relating what we've seen.'

She turned to the priest, and looked him full in the face.

'Yes, you take that to yourself. You are a close one, you're a bad man!'

Thereupon she fell to crying and the Abbe had to soothe her.

'Monsieur Caffin used to tell me everything,' she moaned out.

However, she soon grew calmer. Brother Archangias was finishing a big piece of cheese, apparently quite unruffled by the scene. In his opinion Abbe Mouret really needed being kept straight, and La Teuse was right in making him feel the reins. Having drunk a last glassful of the weak wine, the Brother threw himself back in his chair to digest his meal.

'Well now,' finally asked the old servant, 'what did you see at the Paradou? Tell us, at any rate.'

Abbe Mouret smiled and related in a few words how strangely Jeanbernat had received him. La Teuse, after overwhelming him with questions, broke out into indignant exclamations, while Brother Archangias clenched his fists and brandished them aloft.

'May Heaven crush him!' said he, 'and burn both him and his witch!'

In his turn the Abbe then endeavoured to elicit some fresh particulars about the people at the Paradou, and listened intently to the Brother's monstrous narrative.

'Yes, that little she-devil came and sat down in the school. It's a long time ago now, she might then have been about ten. Of course, I let her come; I thought her uncle was sending her to prepare for her first communion. But for two months she utterly revolutionised the whole class. She made herself worshipped, the minx! She knew all sorts of games, and invented all sorts of finery with leaves and shreds of rags. And how quick and clever she was, too, like all those children of hell! She was the top one at catechism. But one fine morning the old man burst in just in the middle of our lessons. He was going to smash everything, and shouted that the priests had taken his child from him. We had to get the rural policeman to turn him out. As to the little one, she bolted. I could see her through the window, in a field opposite, laughing at her uncle's frenzy. She had been coming to school for the last two months without his even suspecting it. He had regularly scoured the country after her.'

'She's never taken her first communion,' exclaimed La Teuse below her breath with a slight shudder.

'No, never,' rejoined Brother Archangias. 'She must be sixteen now. She's growing up like a brute beast. I have seen her running on all fours in a thicket near La Palud.'

'On all fours,' muttered the servant, turning towards the window with superstitious anxiety.

Abbe Mouret attempted to express some doubt, but the Brother burst out: 'Yes, on all fours! And she jumped like a wild cat. If I had only had a gun I could have put a bullet in her. We kill creatures that are far more pleasing to God than she is. Besides, every one knows she comes caterwauling every night round Les Artaud. She howls like a beast. If ever a man should fall into her clutches, she wouldn't leave him a scrap of skin on his bones, I know.'

The Brother's hatred of womankind was boiling over. He banged the table with his fist, and poured forth all his wonted abuse.

'The devil's in them. They reek of the devil! And that's what bewitches fools.'

The priest nodded approvingly. Brother Archangias's outrageous violence and La Teuse's loquacious tyranny were like castigation with thongs, which it often rejoiced him to find lashing his shoulders. He took a pious delight in sinking into abasement beneath their coarse speech. He seemed to see the peace of heaven behind contempt of the world and degradation of his whole being. It was delicious to inflict mortification upon his body, to drag his susceptible nature through a gutter.

'There is nought but filth,' he muttered as he folded up his napkin.

La Teuse began to clear the table and wished to remove the plate on which Desiree had laid the blackbird's nest. You are not going to bed here, I suppose, mademoiselle,' she said. 'Do leave those nasty things.'

Desiree, however, defended her plate. She covered the nest with her bare arms, no longer gay, but cross at being disturbed.

'I hope those birds are not going to be kept,' exclaimed Brother Archangias. 'It would bring bad luck. You must wring their necks.'

And he already stretched out his big hands; but the girl rose and stepped back quivering, hugging the nest to her bosom. She stared fixedly at the Brother, her lips curling upwards, like those of a wolf about to bite.

'Don't touch the little things,' she stammered. 'You are ugly.'

With such singular contempt did she emphasise that last word that Abbe Mouret started as if the Brother's ugliness had just struck him for the first time. The latter contented himself with growling. He had always felt a covert hatred for Desiree, whose lusty physical development offended him. When she had left the room, still walking backwards, and never taking her eyes from him, he shrugged his shoulders and muttered between his teeth some coarse abuse which no one heard.

'She had better go to bed,' said La Teuse. 'She would only bore us by-and-by in church.'

'Has any one come yet?' asked Abbe Mouret.

'Oh, the girls have been outside a long time with armfuls of boughs. I am just going to light the lamps. We can begin whenever you like.'

A few seconds later she could be heard swearing in the sacristy because the matches were damp. Brother Archangias, who remained alone with the priest, sourly inquired: 'For the month of Mary, eh?'

'Yes,' replied Abbe Mouret. 'The last few days the girls about here were hard at work and couldn't come as usual to decorate the Lady Chapel. So the ceremony was postponed till to-night.'

'A nice custom,' muttered the Brother. 'When I see them all putting up their boughs I feel inclined to knock them down and make them confess their misdeeds before touching the altar. It's a shame to allow women to rustle their dresses so near the holy relics.'

The Abbe made an apologetic gesture. He had only been at Les Artaud a little while, he must follow the customs.

'Whenever you like, Monsieur le Cure, we're ready!' now called out La Teuse.

But Brother Archangias detained him a minute. 'I am off,' he said. 'Religion isn't a prostitute that it should be decorated with flowers and laces.'

He walked slowly to the door. Then once more he stopped, and lifting one of his hairy fingers added: 'Beware of your devotion to the Virgin.'

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BOOK I CHAPTER XIAbout six o'clock there came a sudden wakening. A noise of doors opening and closing, accompanied by bursts of laughter, shook the whole house. Desiree appeared, her hair all down and her arms still half bare. 'Serge! Serge!' she called. And catching sight of her brother in the garden, she ran up to him and sat down for a minute on the ground at his feet, begging him to follow her: 'Do come and see the animals! You haven't seen the animals yet, have you? If you only knew how beautiful they are now!' She had to beg