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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAbbe Mouret's Transgression (la Faute De L'abbe Mouret) - Book 3 - Chapter 5
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Abbe Mouret's Transgression (la Faute De L'abbe Mouret) - Book 3 - Chapter 5 Post by :LloydM Category :Long Stories Author :Emile Zola Date :May 2012 Read :3282

Click below to download : Abbe Mouret's Transgression (la Faute De L'abbe Mouret) - Book 3 - Chapter 5 (Format : PDF)

Abbe Mouret's Transgression (la Faute De L'abbe Mouret) - Book 3 - Chapter 5


The Brother, who had already had his own meal, seated himself astride a chair, while the priest dined. Since Serge's return to Les Artaud, the Brother had thus spent most of his evenings at the parsonage; but never before had he imposed his presence upon the other in so rough a fashion. He stamped on the tiled floor with his heavy boots, his voice thundered and he smote the furniture, whilst he related how he had whipped some of his pupils that morning, or expounded his moral principles in terms as stern, as uncompromising as bludgeon-blows. Then feeling bored, he suggested that he and La Teuse should have a game at cards. They had endless bouts of 'Beggar-my-neighbour' together, that being the only game which La Teuse had ever been able to learn. Abbe Mouret would smilingly glance at the first few cards flung on the table and would then gradually sink into reverie, remaining for hours forgetful of his self-restraint, oblivious of his surroundings, beneath the suspicious glances of Brother Archangias.

That evening La Teuse felt so cross that she had talked of going to bed as soon as the cloth was removed. The Brother, however, wanted his game of cards. So he caught hold of her shoulders and sat her down, so roughly that the chair creaked beneath her. And forthwith he began to shuffle the cards. Desiree, who hated him, had gone off carrying her dessert, which she generally took upstairs with her every evening to eat in bed.

'I want the red cards,' said La Teuse.

Then the struggle began. The old woman at first won some of the Brother's best cards. But before long two aces fell together on the table.

'Here's a battle!' she cried, wild with excitement.

She threw down a nine, which rather alarmed her, but as the Brother, in his turn, only put down a seven, she picked up the cards with a triumphant air. At the end of half an hour, however, she had only gained two aces, so that the chances remained fairly equal. And a quarter of an hour later she lost an ace. The knaves and kings and queens were perpetually coming and going as the battle furiously progressed.

'It's a splendid game, eh?' said Brother Archangias, turning towards Abbe Mouret.

But when he saw him sitting there, so absorbed in his reverie, with such a gentle smile playing unconsciously round his lips, he roughly raised his voice:

'Why, Monsieur le Cure, you are not paying any attention to us! It isn't polite of you. We are only playing on your account. We were trying to amuse you. Come and watch the game. It would do you more good than dozing and dreaming away there. Where were you just now?'

The priest started. He said nothing, but with quivering eyelids tried to force himself to look at the game. The play went on vigorously. La Teuse won her ace back, and then lost it again. On some evenings they would fight in this way over the aces for quite four hours, and often they would go off to bed, angry at having failed to bring the contest to a decisive issue.

'But, dear me! I've only just remembered it!' suddenly cried La Teuse, who greatly feared that she was going to be beaten. 'His reverence has to go out to-night. He promised Fortune and Rosalie that he would go to bless their room, according to the custom. Make haste, Monsieur le Cure! The Brother will go with you.'

Abbe Mouret had already risen from his chair, and was looking for his hat. But Brother Archangias, still holding his cards, flew into a tantrum: 'Oh! don't bother about it,' said he. 'What does it want to be blessed for that pigsty of theirs? It is a custom that you should do away with. I can't see any sense in it. Stay here and let us finish the game. That is much the best thing to do.'

'No,' said the priest, 'I promised to go. Those good people might feel hurt if I didn't. You stay here and play your game out while you are waiting for me.'

La Teuse glanced uneasily at Brother Archangias.

'Well, yes, I will stay here,' cried the Brother. 'It is really too absurd.'

But before Abbe Mouret could open the door, he flung his cards on the table and rose to follow him. Then half turning back he called to La Teuse:

'I should have won. Leave the cards as they are, and we will play the game out to-morrow.'

'Oh! they are all mixed now,' answered the old servant, who had lost no time in shuffling them together. 'Did you suppose that I was going to put your hand away under a glass case? And, besides, I might very well have won, for I still had an ace left.'

A few strides brought Brother Archangias up with Abbe Mouret, who was walking down the narrow path that led to the village. The Brother had undertaken the task of keeping watch over the Abbe's movements. He incessantly played the spy upon him, accompanying him everywhere, or, if he could not go in person, sending some school urchin to follow him. With that terrible laugh of his, he was wont to remark that he was 'God's gendarme.'

And, in truth, the Abbe seemed like a culprit ever guarded by the black shadow of the Brother's cassock; a culprit to be treated distrustfully, since in his weakness he might well lapse into fresh crime were he left free from surveillance for a single moment. Thus he was watched and guarded with all the spiteful eagerness that some jealous old maid might have displayed, the overreaching zeal of a gaoler who might carry precautions so far as to exclude even such rays of light as might creep through the chinks of the prison-house. Brother Archangias was always on the watch to keep out the sunlight, to prevent even a whiff of air from entering, to shut up his prison so completely that nothing from outside could gain access to it. He noted the Abbe's slightest fits of weakness, and by his glance divined his tender thoughts, which with a word he pitilessly crushed, as though they were poisonous vermin. The priest's intervals of silence, his smiles, the paling of his brow, the faint quivering of his limbs, were all noted by the Brother. But he never spoke openly of the transgression. His presence alone was a sufficient reproach. The manner in which he uttered certain words imparted to them all the sting of a whip stroke. With a mere gesture he expressed his utter disgust for the priest's sin. Like one of those betrayed husbands who enjoy torturing their wives with cruel allusions, he contented himself with recalling the scene at the Paradou, in an indirect fashion, by some word or phrase which sufficed to annihilate the Abbe, whenever the latter's flesh rebelled.

It was nearly ten o'clock and most of the villagers of Les Artaud had retired to rest. But from a brightly lighted house at the far end, near the mill, there still came sounds of merriment. While keeping the best rooms for his own use, old Bambousse had given a corner of his house to his daughter and son-in-law. They were all assembled there, drinking a last glass, while waiting for the priest.

'They are drunk,' growled Brother Archangias. 'Don't you hear the row they are making?'

Abbe Mouret made no reply. It was a lovely night and all looked bluish in the moonlight, which lent to the distant part of the valley the aspect of a sleeping lake. The priest slackened his pace that he might the more fully enjoy the charm of that soft radiance, and now and then he even stopped as he came upon some expanse of light, experiencing the delightful quiver which the proximity of fresh water brings one on a hot day. But the Brother continued striding along, grumbling and calling him.

'Come along; come along! It isn't good to loiter out of doors at this time of night. You would be much better in bed.'

All at once, however, just as they were entering the village, Archangias himself stopped short in the middle of the road. He was looking towards the heights, where the white lines of the roads vanished amidst black patches of pine-woods, and he growled to himself, like a dog that scents danger.

'Who can be coming down so late?' he muttered.

But the priest, who neither saw nor heard anything, was now, in his turn, anxious to press on.

'Stay! stay! there he is,' eagerly added Brother Archangias. 'He has just turned the corner. See! he is in the moonlight now. One can see him plainly. It is a tall man, with a stick.'

Then, after a moment's silence, he resumed, in a voice husky with fury: 'It is he, that beggar! I felt sure it was!'

Thereupon, the new-comer having now reached the bottom of the hill, Abbe Mouret saw that it was Jeanbernat. In spite of his eighty years, the old man set his feet down with such force, that his heavy, nailed boots sent sparks flying from the flints on the road. And he walked along as upright as an oak, without the aid of his stick, which he carried across his shoulder like a musket.

'Ah! the villain!' stammered the Brother, still standing motionless. 'May the fiend light all the blazes of hell under his feet!'

The priest, who felt greatly disturbed, and despaired of inducing his companion to come on, turned round to continue his journey, hoping that, by a quick walk to the Bambousses' house, he might yet manage to avoid Jeanbernat. But he had not taken five strides before he heard the bantering voice of the old man close behind him.

'Hie! Cure! wait for me. Are you afraid of me?'

And as Abbe Mouret stopped, he came up and continued: 'Ah! those cassocks of yours are tiresome things, aren't they? They prevent your getting along too quickly. It's such a fine clear night, too, that one can recognise you by your gown a long way off. When I was right at the top of the hill, I said to myself, "Surely that is the little priest down yonder." Oh! yes, I still have very good eyes. . . . Well, so you never come to see us now?'

'I have had so much to do,' murmured the priest, who had turned very pale.

'Well, well, every one's free to please himself. If I've mentioned the matter, it's only because I want you to know that I don't bear you any grudge for being a priest. We wouldn't even talk about your religion, it's all one and the same to me. But the little one thinks that it's I who prevents your coming. I said to her, "The priest is an idiot," and I think so, indeed. Did I try to eat you during your illness? Why, I didn't even go upstairs to see you. Every one's free, you know.'

He spoke on in the most unconcerned manner, pretending that he did not notice the presence of Brother Archangias; but as the latter suddenly broke into an angry grunt, he added, 'Why, Cure, so you bring your pig out with you?'

'Take care, you bandit!' hissed the Brother, clenching his fists.

Jeanbernat, whose stick was still raised, then pretended to recognise him.

'Hands off!' he cried. 'Ah! it's you, you soul-saver! I ought to have known you by your smell. We have a little account to settle together, remember. I have sworn to cut off your ears in the middle of your school. It will amuse the children you are poisoning.'

The Brother fell back before the raised staff, a flood of abuse rising to his lips; but he began to stammer and went on disjointedly:

'I will set the gendarmes after you, scoundrel! You spat on the church; I saw you. You give the plague to the poor people who merely pass your door. At Saint-Eutrope you made a girl die by forcing her to chew a consecrated wafer which you had stolen. At Beage you went and dug up the bodies of little dead children and carried them away on your back. You are an old sorcerer! Everybody knows it, you scoundrel! You are the disgrace of the district. Whoever strangles you will gain heaven for the deed.'

The old man listened with a sneer, twirling the while his staff between his fingers. And between the Brother's successive insults he ejaculated in an undertone:

'Go on, go on; relieve yourself, you viper. I'll break your back for you by-and-by.'

Abbe Mouret tried to interfere, but Brother Archangias pushed him away, exclaiming: 'You are led by him yourself! Didn't he make you trample upon the cross? Deny it, if you dare!' Then again, turning to Jeanbernat, he yelled: 'Ah! Satan, you must have chuckled and no mistake when you held a priest in your grasp! May Heaven curse those who abetted you in that sacrilege! What was it you did, at night, while he slept? You came and moistened his tonsure with your saliva, eh? so that his hair might grow more quickly. And then you breathed upon his chin and his cheeks that his beard might grow a hand's breadth in a single night. And you rubbed all your philters into his body, and breathed into his mouth the lasciviousness of a dog. You turned him into a brute-beast, Satan.'

'He's idiotic,' said Jeanbernat, resting his stick on his shoulder. 'He quite bores me.'

The Brother, however, growing bolder, thrust his fists under the old man's nose.

'And that drab of yours!' he cried, 'you can't deny that you set her on to damn the priest.'

Then he suddenly sprang backwards, with a shriek, for the old man, swinging his stick with all his strength, had just broken it over his back. Retreating yet a little further, Archangias picked from a heap of stones beside the road a piece of flint twice the size of a man's fist, and threw it at Jeanbernat. It would surely have split the other's forehead open if he had not bent down. He, however, now likewise crossed over to a heap of stones, sheltered himself behind it, and provided himself with missiles; and from one heap to the other a terrible combat began, with a perfect hail of flints. The moon now shone very brightly, and their dark shadows fell distinctly on the ground.

'Yes, yes, you set that hussy on to ruin him!' repeated the Brother, wild with rage. 'Ah! you are astonished that I know all about it! You hope for some monstrous result from it all. Every morning you make the thirteen signs of hell over that minx of yours! You would like her to become the mother of Antichrist. You long for Antichrist, you villain! But may this stone blind you!'

'And may this one bung your mouth up!' retorted Jeanbernat, who was now quite calm again. 'Is he cracked, the silly fellow, with all those stories of his? . . . Shall I have to break your head for you, before I can get on my way? Is it your catechism that has turned your brain?'

'Catechism, indeed! Do you know what catechism is taught to accursed ones like you? Ah! I will show you how to make the sign of the cross. --This stone is for the Father, and this for the Son, and this for the Holy Ghost. Ah! you are still standing. Wait a bit, wait a bit. Amen!' Then he threw a handful of small pebbles like a volley of grape-shot. Jeanbernat, who was struck upon the shoulder, dropped the stones he was holding, and quietly stepped forwards, while Brother Archangias picked two fresh handfuls from the heap, blurting out:

I am going to exterminate you. It is God who wills it. God is acting through my arm.'

'Will you be quiet!' said the old man, grasping him by the nape of the neck.

Then came a short struggle amidst the dust of the road, all bluish with moonlight. The Brother, finding himself the weaker of the two, tried to bite. But Jeanbernat's sinewy limbs were like coils of rope which pinioned him so tightly that he could almost feel them cutting into his flesh. He panted and ceased to struggle, meditating some act of treachery.

The old man, having got the other under him, scoffingly exclaimed: 'I have a good mind to break one of your arms. You see that it isn't you who are the stronger, but that it is I who am exterminating you. . . . Now I'm going to cut your ears off. You have tried my endurance too far.'

Jeanbernat calmly drew his knife from his pocket. But Abbe Mouret, who had several times attempted to part the combatants, now raised such strenuous opposition to the old man's design that he consented to defer the operation till another time.

'You are acting foolishly, Cure,' said he. 'It would do this scoundrel good to be well bled; but, since it seems to displease you, I'll wait a little longer; I shall be meeting him again in some quiet corner.'

And as the Brother broke out into a growl, Jeanbernat cried threateningly: 'If you don't keep still I will cut your ears off at once!'

'But you are sitting on his chest,' said the priest, 'get up and let him breathe.'

'No, no; he would begin his tomfoolery again. I will give him his liberty when I go away, but not before. . . . Well, I was telling you, Cure, when this good-for-nothing interrupted us, that you would be very welcome yonder. The little one is mistress, you know; I don't attempt to interfere with her any more than I do with my salad-plants. There are only fools like this croaker here who see any harm in it. Where did you see anything wrong, scoundrel? It was yourself who imagined it, villain that you are!'

And thereupon he gave the Brother another shaking. 'Let him get up,' begged Abbe Mouret.

'By-and-by. The little one has not been well for a long time. I did not notice anything myself, but she told me; and now I am on my way to tell your uncle Pascal, at Plassans. I like the night for walking; it is quiet, and, as a rule, one isn't delayed by meeting people. . . . Yes, yes, the little one is quite ailing.'

The priest could not find a word to say. He staggered, and his head sank.

'It made her so happy to look after you,' continued the old man. 'While I smoked my pipe I used to hear her laugh. That was quite sufficient for me. Girls are like the hawthorns; when they break out into blossom, they do all they can. Well, now, you will come, if your heart prompts you to it. I am sure it would please the little one. Good night, Cure.'

He got up slowly, keeping a firm grasp of the Brother's wrists, to guard against any treacherous attack. Then he proceeded on his way, with swinging strides, without once turning his head. The Brother silently crept to the heap of stones, and waited till the old man was some distance off. Then, with both hands, and with mad violence, he again began flinging stones, but they fell harmlessly upon the dusty road. Jeanbernat did not condescend to notice them, but went his way, upright like a tree, through the clear night.

'The accursed one!--Satan carries him on!' shrieked Brother Archangias, as he hurled his last stone. 'An old scoundrel, that the least touch ought to upset! But he is baked in hell's fire. I smelt his claws.'

The Brother stamped with impotent rage on the scattered flints. Then he suddenly attacked Abbe Mouret. 'It was all your fault,' he cried; 'you ought to have helped me, and, between us, we could have strangled him.'

Meantime, at the other end of the village, the uproar in the Bambousses' house had become greater than ever. The rhythmic tapping of glasses on a table could be distinctly heard. The priest resumed his walk without raising his head, making his way towards the flood of bright light that streamed out of the window like the flare of a fire of vine-cuttings. The Brother followed him gloomily; his cassock soiled with dust, and one of his cheeks bleeding from a stone-cut. And, after a short interval of silence, he asked, in his harsh voice: 'Shall you go?'

Then as Abbe Mouret did not answer, he went on: 'Take care! You are lapsing into sin again. It was sufficient for that man to pass by to send a thrill through your whole body. I saw you by the light of the moon looking as pale as a girl. Take care! take care! Do you hear me? Another time God will not pardon you--you will sink into the lowest abyss! Ah! wretched piece of clay that you are, filth is mastering you!'

Thereupon, the priest at last raised his head. Big tears were streaming from his eyes, and it was in gentle heartbroken accents that he spoke: 'Why do you speak to me like that?--You are always with me, and you know my ceaseless struggles. Do not doubt me, leave me strength to master myself.'

Those simple words, bathed with silent tears, fell on the night air with such an expression of superhuman suffering, that even Brother Archangias, in spite of all his harshness, felt touched. He made no reply, but shook his dusty cassock, and wiped his bleeding cheek. When they reached the Bambousses' house, he refused to go inside. He seated himself, a few yards away, on the body of an overturned cart, where he waited for the Abbe with dog-like patience.

'Ah! here is Monsieur le Cure!' cried all the company of Bambousses and Brichets as Serge entered.

They filled their glasses once more. Abbe Mouret was compelled to take one, too. There had been no regular wedding-feast; but, in the evening, after dinner, a ten-gallon 'Dame Jane' had been placed upon the table, and they were making it their business to empty it before going to bed. There were ten of them, and old Bambousse was already with one hand tilting over the jar whence only a thread of red liquor now flowed. Rosalie, in a very sportive frame of mind, was dipping her baby's chin into her glass, while big Fortune showed off his strength by lifting up the chairs with his teeth. All the company passed into the bedroom. Custom required that the priest should there drink the glass of wine which had been poured out for him. It brought good luck, and prevented quarrels in the household. In Monsieur Coffin's time, it had always been a very merry ceremony, for the old priest loved a joke. He had even gained a reputation for the skilful way in which he could drain his glass, without leaving a single drop at the bottom of it; and the Artaud women pretended that every drop undrunk meant a year's less love for the newly married pair. But with Abbe Mouret they dare not joke so freely. However, he drank his wine at one gulp, which seemed to greatly please old Bambousse. Mother Brichet looked at the bottom of the glass and saw but a drop or two of the liquid remaining there. Then, after a few jokes, they all returned to the living room, where Vincent and Catherine had remained by themselves. Vincent, standing upon a chair, was clasping the huge jar in his arms, and draining the last drops of wine into Catherine's open mouth.

'We are much obliged to you, Monsieur le Cure,' said old Bambousse, as he escorted the priest to the door. 'Well, they're married now, so I suppose you are satisfied. And they are not likely to complain, I'm sure. . . . Good night, sleep well, your reverence.'

Brother Archangias had slowly risen from his seat on the old cart.

'May the devil pile hot coals over them, and roast them!' he murmured.

Then without again opening his lips he accompanied Abbe Mouret to the parsonage. And he waited outside till the door was closed. Even then he did not go off without twice looking round to make sure that the Abbe was not coming out again. As for the priest, when he reached his bedroom, he threw himself in his clothes upon his bed, clasping his hands to his ears, and pressing his face to the pillow, in order that he might shut out all sound and sight. And thus stilling his senses he fell into death-like slumber.

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BOOK III CHAPTER IVAbbe Mouret spent his days at the parsonage. He shunned the long walks which he had been wont to take before his illness. The scorched soil of Les Artaud, the ardent heat of that valley where the vines could never even grow straight, distressed him. On two occasions, in the morning, he had attempted to go out and read his breviary as he strolled along the road; but he had not gone beyond the village. He had returned home, overcome by the perfumes, the heat, the breadth of the landscape. It was only in the evening, in the