The Village Rector
Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 5
"Always the same nature," exclaimed Monsieur Bonnet. Then he bent down
to the prisoner's ear and whispered, "If you will reconcile yourself
this night with God so that your repentance will enable me to absolve
you, it will be to-morrow. We have already gained much in calming
you," he said, aloud.
Hearing these last words, Jean's lips turned pale, his eyes rolled up
in a violent spasm, and an angry shudder passed through his frame.
"Am I calm?" he asked himself. Happily his eyes encountered the
tearful face of Denise, and he recovered his self-control. "So be it,"
he said to the rector; "there is no one but you to whom I would
listen; they have known how to conquer me."
And he flung himself on his mother's breast.
"My son," said the mother, weeping, "listen to Monsieur Bonnet; he
risks his life, the dear rector, in going to you to--" she hesitated,
and then said, "to the gate of eternal life."
Then she kissed Jean's head and held it to her breast for some
"Will he, indeed, go with me?" asked Jean, looking at the rector, who
bowed his head in assent. "Well, yes, I will listen to him; I will do
all he asks of me."
"You promise it?" said Denise. "The saving of your soul is what we
seek. Besides, you would not have all Limoges and the village say that
a Tascheron knows not how to die a noble death? And then, too, think
that all you lose here you will regain in heaven, where pardoned souls
will meet again."
This superhuman effort parched the throat of the heroic girl. She was
silent after this, like her mother, but she had triumphed. The
criminal, furious at seeing his happiness torn from him by the law,
now quivered at the sublime Catholic truth so simply expressed by his
sister. All women, even young peasant-women like Denise, know how to
touch these delicate chords; for does not every woman seek to make
love eternal? Denise had touched two chords, each most sensitive.
Awakened pride called on the other virtues chilled by misery and
hardened by despair. Jean took his sister's hand and kissed it, and
laid it on his heart in a deeply significant manner; he applied it
both gently and forcibly.
"Yes," he said, "I must renounce all; this is the last beating of my
heart, its last thought. Keep them, Denise."
And he gave her one of those glances by which a man in crucial moments
tries to put his soul into the soul of another human being.
This thought, this word, was, in truth, a last testament, an unspoken
legacy, to be as faithfully transmitted as it was trustfully given. It
was so fully understood by mother, sister, and priest, that they all
with one accord turned their faces from each other, to hide their
tears and keep the secret of their thoughts in their own breasts.
Those few words were the dying agony of a passion, the farewell of a
soul to the glorious things of earth, in accordance with true Catholic
renunciation. The rector, comprehending the majesty of all great human
things, even criminal things, judged of this mysterious passion by the
enormity of the sin. He raised his eyes to heaven as if to invoke the
mercy of God. Thence come the consolations, the infinite tendernesses
of the Catholic religion,--so humane, so gentle with the hand that
descends to man, showing him the law of higher spheres; so awful, so
divine, with that other hand held out to lead him into heaven.
Denise had now significantly shown the rector the spot by which to
strike that rock and make the waters of repentance flow. But suddenly,
as though the memories evoked were dragging him backwards, Jean-
Francois gave the harrowing cry of the hyena when the hunters overtake
"No, no!" he cried, falling on his knees, "I will live! Mother, give
me your clothes; I can escape! Mercy, mercy! Go see the king; tell
He stopped, gave a horrible roar, and clung convulsively to the
"Go," said Monsieur Bonnet, in a low voice, to the agitated women.
Jean heard the words; he raised his head, gazed at his mother and
sister, then he stopped and kissed their feet.
"Let us say farewell now; do not come back; leave me alone with
Monsieur Bonnet. You need not be uneasy about me any longer," he said,
pressing his mother and his sister to him with a strength in which he
seemed to put all his life.
"How is it we do not die of this?" said Denise to her mother as they
passed through the wicket.
It was nearly eight o'clock when this parting took place. At the gate
of the prison the two women met the Abbe de Rastignac, who asked them
news of the prisoner.
"He will no doubt be reconciled with God," said Denise. "If repentance
has not yet begun, he is very near it."
The bishop was soon after informed that the clergy would triumph on
this occasion, and that the criminal would go to the scaffold with the
most edifying religious sentiments. The prelate, with whom was the
attorney-general, expressed a wish to see the rector. Monsieur Bonnet
did not reach the palace before midnight. The Abbe Gabriel, who made
many trips between the palace and the jail, judged it necessary to
fetch the rector in the episcopal coach; for the poor priest was in a
state of exhaustion which almost deprived him of the use of his legs.
The effect of his day, the prospect of the morrow, the sight of the
secret struggle he had witnessed, and the full repentance which had at
last overtaken his stubborn lamb when the great reckoning of eternity
was brought home to him,--all these things had combined to break down
Monsieur Bonnet, whose nervous, electrical nature entered into the
sufferings of others as though they were his own. Souls that resemble
that noble soul espouse so ardently the impressions, miseries,
passions, sufferings of those in whom they are interested, that they
actually feel them, and in a horrible manner, too; for they are able
to measure their extent,--a knowledge which escapes others who are
blinded by selfishness of heart or the paroxysm of grief. It is here
that a priest like Monsieur Bonnet becomes an artist who feels, rather
than an artist who judges.
When the rector entered the bishop's salon and found there the two
grand-vicars, the Abbe de Rastignac, Monsieur de Grandville, and the
/procureur-general/, he felt convinced that something more was
expected of him.
"Monsieur," said the bishop, "have you obtained any facts which you
can, without violating your duty, confide to the officers of the law
for their guidance?"
"Monseigneur, in order to give absolution to that poor, wandering
child, I waited not only till his repentance was as sincere and as
complete as the Church could wish, but I have also exacted from him
the restitution of the money."
"This restitution," said the /procureur-general/, "brings me here
to-night; it will, of course, be made in such a way as to throw light
on the mysterious parts of this affair. The criminal certainly had
"The interests of human justice," said the rector, "are not those for
which I act. I am ignorant of how the restitution will be made, but I
know it will take place. In sending for me to minister to my
parishioner, Monseigneur placed me under the conditions which give to
rectors in their parishes the same powers which Monseigneur exercises
in his diocese,--barring, of course, all questions of discipline and
"That is true," said the bishop. "But the question here is how to
obtain from the condemned man voluntary information which may
"My mission is to win souls to God," said Monsieur Bonnet.
Monsieur de Grancour shrugged his shoulders slightly, but his
colleague, the Abbe Dutheil nodded his head in sign of approval.
"Tascheron is no doubt endeavoring to shield some one, whom the
restitution will no doubt bring to light," said the /procureur-
"Monsieur," replied the rector, "I know absolutely nothing which would
either confute or justify your suspicion. Besides, the secrets of
confession are inviolable."
"Will the restitution really take place?" asked the man of law.
"Yes, monsieur," replied the man of God.
"That is enough for me," said the /procureur-general/, who relied on
the police to obtain the required information; as if passions and
personal interests were not tenfold more astute than the police.
The next day, this being market-day, Jean-Francois Tascheron was led
to execution in a manner to satisfy both the pious and the political
spirits of the town. Exemplary in behavior, pious and humble, he
kissed the crucifix, which Monsieur Bonnet held to his lips with a
trembling hand. The unhappy man was watched and examined; his glance
was particularly spied upon; would his eyes rove in search of some one
in the crowd or in a house? His discretion did, as a matter of fact,
hold firm to the last. He died as a Christian should, repentant and
The poor rector was carried away unconscious from the foot of the
scaffold, though he did not even see the fatal knife.
During the following night, on the high-road fifteen miles from
Limoges, Denise, though nearly exhausted by fatigue and grief, begged
her father to let her go again to Limoges and take with her Louis-
Marie Tascheron, one of her brothers.
"What more have you to do in that town?" asked her father, frowning.
"Father," she said, "not only must we pay the lawyer who defended him,
but we must also restore the money which he has hidden."
"You are right," said the honest man, pulling out a leathern pouch he
carried with him.
"No, no," said Denise, "he is no longer your son. It is not for those
who cursed him, but for those who loved him, to reward the lawyer."
"We will wait for you at Havre," said the father.
Denise and her brother returned to Limoges before daylight. When the
police heard, later, of this return they were never able to discover
where the brother and sister had hidden themselves.
Denise and Louis went to the upper town cautiously, about four o'clock
that afternoon, gliding along in the shadow of the houses. The poor
girl dared not raise her eyes, fearing to meet the glances of those
who had seen her brother's execution. After calling on Monsieur
Bonnet, who in spite of his weakness, consented to serve as father and
guardian to Denise in the matter, they all went to the lawyer's house
in the rue de la Comedie.
"Good-morning, my poor children," said the lawyer, bowing to Monsieur
Bonnet; "how can I be of service to you? Perhaps you would like me to
claim your brother's body and send it to you?"
"No, monsieur," replied Denise, weeping at an idea which had never yet
occurred to her. "I come to pay his debt to you--so far, at least, as
money can pay an eternal debt."
"Pray sit down," said the lawyer; noticing that Denise and the rector
were still standing.
Denise turned away to take from her corset two notes of five hundred
francs each, which were fastened by a pin to her chemise; then she sat
down and offered them to her brother's defender. The rector gave the
lawyer a flashing look which was instantly moistened by a tear.
"Keep the money for yourself, my poor girl," said the lawyer. "The
rich do not pay so generously for a lost cause."
"Monsieur," said Denise, "I cannot obey you."
"Then the money is not yours?" said the lawyer.
"You are mistaken," she replied, looking at Monsieur Bonnet as if to
know whether God would be angry at the lie.
The rector kept his eyes lowered.
"Well, then," said the lawyer, taking one note of five hundred francs
and offering the other to the rector, "I will share it with the poor.
Now, Denise, change this one, which is really mine," he went on,
giving her the note, "for your velvet ribbon and your gold cross. I
will hang the cross above my mantel to remind me of the best and
purest young girl's heart I have ever known in my whole experience as
"I will give it to you without selling it," cried Denise, taking off
her /jeannette/ and offering it to him.
"Monsieur," said the rector, "I accept the five hundred francs to pay
for the exhumation of the poor lad's body and its transportation to
Montegnac. God has no doubt pardoned him, and Jean will rise with my
flock on that last day when the righteous and the repentant will be
called together to the right hand of the Father."
"So be it," replied the lawyer.
He took Denise by the hand and drew her toward him to kiss her
forehead; but the action had another motive.
"My child," he whispered, "no one in Montegnac has five-hundred-franc
notes; they are rare even at Limoges, where they are only taken at a
discount. This money has been given to you; you will not tell me by
whom, and I don't ask you; but listen to me: if you have anything more
to do in this town relating to your poor brother, take care! You and
Monsieur Bonnet and your brother Louis will be followed by police-
spies. Your family is known to have left Montegnac, and as soon as you
are seen here you will be watched and surrounded before you are aware
"Alas!" she said. "I have nothing more to do here."
"She is cautious," thought the lawyer, as he parted from her.
"However, she is warned; and I hope she will get safely off."
During this last week in September, when the weather was as warm as in
summer, the bishop gave a dinner to the authorities of the place.
Among the guests were the /procureur-du-roi/ and the attorney-general.
Some lively discussions prolonged the party till a late hour. The
company played whist and backgammon, a favorite game with the clergy.
Toward eleven o'clock the /procureur-du-roi/ walked out upon the upper
terrace. From the spot where he stood he saw a light on that island to
which, on a certain evening, the attention of the bishop and the Abbe
Gabriel had been drawn,--Veronique's "Ile de France,"--and the gleam
recalled to the /procureur's/ mind the unexplained mysteries of the
Tascheron crime. Then, reflecting that there could be no legitimate
reason for a fire on that lonely island in the river at that time of
night, an idea, which had already struck the bishop and the secretary,
darted into his mind with the suddenness and brilliancy of the flame
itself which was shining in the distance.
"We have all been fools!" he cried; "but this will give us the
He returned to the salon, sought out Monsieur de Grandville, said a
few words in his ear, after which they both took leave. But the Abbe
de Rastignac accompanied them politely to the door; he watched them as
they departed, saw them go to the terrace, noticed the fire on the
island, and thought to himself, "She is lost!"
The emissaries of the law got there too late. Denise and Louis, whom
Jean had taught to dive, were actually on the bank of the river at a
spot named to them by Jean, but Louis Tascheron had already dived four
times, bringing up each time a bundle containing twenty thousand
francs' worth of gold. The first sum was wrapped in a foulard
handkerchief knotted by the four corners. This handkerchief, from
which the water was instantly wrung, was thrown into a great fire of
drift wood already lighted. Denise did not leave the fire until she
saw every particle of the handkerchief consumed. The second sum was
wrapped in a shawl, the third in a cambric handkerchief; these
wrappings were instantly burned like the foulard.
Just as Denise was throwing the wrapping of the fourth and last
package into the fire the gendarmes, accompanied by the commissary of
police, seized that incriminating article, which Denise let them take
without manifesting the least emotion. It was a handkerchief, on
which, in spite of its soaking in the river, traces of blood could
still be seen. When questioned as to what she was doing there, Denise
said she was taking the stolen gold from the river according to her
brother's instructions. The commissary asked her why she was burning
certain articles; she said she was obeying her brother's last
directions. When asked what those articles were she boldly answered,
without attempting to deceive: "A foulard, a shawl, a cambric
handkerchief, and the handkerchief now captured." The latter had
belonged to her brother.
This discovery and its attendant circumstances made a great stir in
Limoges. The shawl, more especially, confirmed the belief that
Tascheron had committed this crime in the interests of some love
"He protects that woman after his death," said one lady, hearing of
these last discoveries, rendered harmless by the criminal's
"There may be some husband in Limoges who will miss his foulard," said
the /procureur-du-roi/, with a laugh, "but he will not dare speak of
"These matters of dress are really so compromising," said old Madame
Perret, "that I shall make a search through my wardrobe this very
"Whose pretty little footmarks could he have taken such pains to
efface while he left his own?" said Monsieur de Grandville.
"Pooh! I dare say she was an ugly woman," said the /procureur-du-roi/.
"She has paid dearly for her sin," observed the Abbe de Grancour.
"Do you know what this affair shows?" cried Monsieur de Grandville.
"It shows what women have lost by the Revolution, which has levelled
all social ranks. Passions of this kind are no longer met with except
in men who still feel an enormous distance between themselves and
"You saddle love with many vanities," remarked the Abbe Dutheil.
"What does Madame Graslin think?" asked the prefect.
"What do you expect her to think?" said Monsieur de Grandville. "Her
child was born, as she predicted to me, on the morning of the
execution; she has not seen any one since then, for she is dangerously
A scene took place in another salon in Limoges which was almost
comical. The friends of the des Vanneaulx came to congratulate them on
the recovery of their property.
"Yes, but they ought to have pardoned that poor man," said Madame des
Vanneaulx. "Love, and not greed, made him steal the money; he was
neither vicious nor wicked."
"He was full of consideration for us," said Monsieur des Vanneaulx;
"and if I knew where his family had gone I would do something for
them. They are very worthy people, those Tascherons."
THIRD PHASE OF VERONIQUE'S LIFE
When Madame Graslin recovered from the long illness that followed the
birth of her child, which was not till the close of 1829, an illness
which forced her to keep her bed and remain in absolute retirement,
she heard her husband talking of an important piece of business he was
anxious to concede. The ducal house of Navarreins had offered for sale
the forest of Montegnac and the uncultivated lands around it.
Graslin had never yet executed the clause in his marriage contract
with his wife which obliged him to invest his wife's fortune in lands;
up to this time he had preferred to employ the money in his bank,
where he had fully doubled it. He now began to speak of this
investment. Hearing him discuss it Veronique appeared to remember the
name of Montegnac, and asked her husband to fulfil his engagement
about her property by purchasing these lands. Monsieur Graslin then
proposed to see the rector, Monsieur Bonnet, and inquire of him about
the estate, which the Duc de Navarreins was desirous of selling
because he foresaw the struggle which the Prince de Polignac was
forcing on between liberalism and the house of Bourbon, and he augured
ill of it; in fact, the duke was one of the boldest opposers of the
The duke had sent his agent to Limoges to negotiate the matter;
telling him to accept any good sum of money, for he remembered the
Revolution of 1789 too well not to profit by the lessons it had taught
the aristocracy. This agent had now been a month laying siege to
Graslin, the shrewdest and wariest business head in the Limousin,--the
only man, he was told by practical persons, who was able to purchase
so large a property and pay for it on the spot. The Abbe Dutheil wrote
a line to Monsieur Bonnet, who came to Limoges at once, and was taken
to the hotel Graslin.
Veronique determined to ask the rector to dinner; but the banker would
not let him go up to his wife's apartment until he had talked to him
in his office for over an hour and obtained such information as fully
satisfied him, and made him resolve to buy the forest and domains of
Montegnac at once for the sum of five hundred thousand francs. He
acquiesced readily in his wife's wish that this purchase and all
others connected with it should be in fulfilment of the clause of the
marriage contract relative to the investment of her dowry. Graslin was
all the more ready to do so because this act of justice cost him
nothing, he having doubled the original sum.
At this time, when Graslin was negotiating the purchase, the
Navarreins domains comprised the forest of Montegnac which contained
about thirty thousand acres of unused land, the ruins of the castle,
the gardens, park, and about five thousand acres of uncultivated land
on the plain beyond Montegnac. Graslin immediately bought other lands
in order to make himself master of the first peak in the chain of the
Correzan mountains on which the vast forest of Montegnac ended. Since
the imposition of taxes the Duc de Navarreins had never received more
than fifteen thousand francs per annum from this manor, once among the
richest tenures of the kingdom, the lands of which had escaped the
sale of "public domain" ordered by the Convention, on account probably
of their barrenness and the known difficulty of reclaiming them.
When the rector went at last to Madame Graslin's apartment, and saw
the woman noted for her piety and for her intellect of whom he had
heard speak, he could not restrain a gesture of amazement. Veronique
had now reached the third phase of her life, that in which she was to
rise into grandeur by the exercise of the highest virtues,--a phase in
which she became another woman. To the Little Virgin of Titian, hidden
at eleven years of age beneath a spotted mantle of small-pox, had
succeeded a beautiful woman, noble and passionate; and from that
woman, now wrung by inward sorrows, came forth a saint.
Her skin bore the yellow tinge which colors the austere faces of
abbesses who have been famous for their macerations. The attenuated
temples were almost golden. The lips had paled, the red of an opened
pomegranate was no longer on them, their color had changed to the pale
pink of a Bengal rose. At the corners of the eyes, close to the nose,
sorrows had made two shining tracks like mother-of-pearl, where tears
had flowed; tears which effaced the marks of small-pox and glazed the
skin. Curiosity was invincibly attracted to that pearly spot, where
the blue threads of the little veins throbbed precipitately, as though
they were swelled by an influx of blood brought there, as it were, to
feed the tears. The circle round the eyes was now a dark-brown that
was almost black above the eyelids, which were horribly wrinkled. The
cheeks were hollow; in their folds lay the sign of solemn thoughts.
The chin, which in youth was full and round, the flesh covering the
muscles, was now shrunken, to the injury of its expression, which told
of an implacable religious severity exercised by this woman upon
At twenty-nine years of age Veronique's hair was scanty and already
whitening. Her thinness was alarming. In spite of her doctor's advice
she insisted on suckling her son. The doctor triumphed in the result;
and as he watched the changes he had foretold in Veronique's
appearance, he often said:--
"See the effects of childbirth on a woman! She adores that child; I
have often noticed that mothers are fondest of the children who cost
Veronique's faded eyes were all that retained even a memory of her
youth. The dark blue of the iris still cast its passionate fires, to
which the woman's life seemed to have retreated, deserting the cold,
impassible face, and glowing with an expression of devotion when the
welfare of a fellow-being was concerned.
Thus the surprise, the dread of the rector ceased by degrees as he
went on explaining to Madame Graslin all the good that a large owner
of property could do at Montegnac provided he lived there. Veronique's
beauty came back to her for a moment as her eyes glowed with the light
of an unhoped-for future.
"I will live there," she said. "It shall be my work. I will ask
Monsieur Graslin for money, and I will gladly share in your religious
enterprise. Montegnac shall be fertilized; we will find some means to
water those arid plains. Like Moses, you have struck a rock from which
the waters will gush."
The rector of Montegnac, when questioned by his friends in Limoges
about Madame Graslin, spoke of her as a saint.
The day after the purchase was concluded Monsieur Graslin sent an
architect to Montegnac. The banker intended to restore the chateau,
gardens, terrace, and park, and also to connect the castle grounds
with the forest by a plantation. He set himself to make these
improvements with vainglorious activity.
A few months later Madame Graslin met with a great misfortune. In
August, 1830, Graslin, overtaken by the commercial and banking
disasters of that period, became involved by no fault of his own. He
could not endure the thought of bankruptcy, nor that of losing a
fortune of three millions acquired by forty years of incessant toil.
The moral malady which resulted from this anguish of mind aggravated
the inflammatory disease always ready to break forth in his blood. He
took to his bed. Since her confinement Veronique's regard for her
husband had developed, and had overthrown all the hopes of her
admirer, Monsieur de Grandville. She strove to save her husband's life
by unremitting care, with no result but that of prolonging for a few
months the poor man's tortures; but the respite was very useful to
Grossetete, who, foreseeing the end of his former clerk and partner,
obtained from him all the information necessary for the prompt
liquidation of the assets.
Graslin died in April, 1831, and the widow's grief yielded only to
Christian resignation. Veronique's first words, when the condition of
Monsieur Graslin's affairs were made known to her, were that she
abandoned her own fortune to pay the creditors; but it was found that
Graslin's own property was more than sufficient. Two months later, the
liquidation, of which Grossetete took charge, left to Madame Graslin
the estate of Montegnac and six hundred thousand francs, her whole
personal fortune. The son's name remained untainted, for Graslin had
injured no one's property, not even that of his wife. Francis Graslin,
the son, received about one hundred thousand francs.
Monsieur de Grandville, to whom Veronique's grandeur of soul and noble
qualities were well known, made her an offer of marriage; but, to the
surprise of all Limoges, Madame Graslin declined, under pretext that
the Church discouraged second marriages. Grossetete, a man of strong
common-sense and sure grasp of a situation, advised Veronique to
invest her property and what remained of Monsieur Graslin's in the
Funds; and he made the investment himself in one of the government
securities which offered special advantages at that time, namely, the
Three-per-cents, which were then quoted at fifty. The child Francis
received, therefore, six thousand francs a year, and his mother forty
thousand. Veronique's fortune was still the largest in the department.
When these affairs were all settled, Madame Graslin announced her
intention of leaving Limoges and taking up her residence at Montegnac,
to be near Monsieur Bonnet. She sent for the rector to consult about
the enterprise he was so anxious to carry on at Montegnac, in which
she desired to take part. But he endeavored unselfishly to dissuade
her, telling her that her place was in the world and in society.
"I was born of the people and I wish to return to the people," she
replied. On which the rector, full of love for his village, said no
more against Madame Graslin's apparent vocation; and the less because
she had actually put it out of her power to continue in Limoges,
having sold the hotel Graslin to Grossetete, who, to cover a sum that
was due to him, took it at its proper valuation.
The day of her departure, toward the end of August, 1831, Madame
Graslin's numerous friends accompanied her some distance out of the
town. A few went as far as the first relay. Veronique was in an open
carriage with her mother. The Abbe Dutheil (just appointed to a
bishopric) occupied the front seat of the carriage with old
Grossetete. As they passed through the place d'Aine, Veronique showed
signs of a sudden shock; her face contracted so that the play of the
muscles could be seen; she clasped her infant to her breast with a
convulsive motion, which old Madame Sauviat concealed by instantly
taking the child, for she seemed to be on the watch for her daughter's
agitation. Chance willed that Madame Graslin should pass through the
square in which stood the house she had formerly occupied with her
father and mother in her girlish days; she grasped her mother's hand
while great tears fell from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.
After leaving Limoges she turned and looked back, seeming to feel an
emotion of happiness which was noticed by all her friends. When
Monsieur de Grandville, then a young man of twenty-five, whom she
declined to take as a husband, kissed her hand with an earnest
expression of regret, the new bishop noticed the strange manner in
which the black pupil of Veronique's eyes suddenly spread over the
blue of the iris, reducing it to a narrow circle. The eye betrayed
unmistakably some violent inward emotion.
"I shall never see him again," she whispered to her mother, who
received this confidence without betraying the slightest feeling in
her old face.
Madame Graslin was at that instant under the observation of
Grossetete, who was directly in front of her; but, in spite of his
shrewdness, the old banker did not detect the hatred which Veronique
felt for the magistrate, whom she nevertheless received at her house.
But churchmen have far more perception than other men, and Monsieur
Dutheil suddenly startled Veronique with a priestly glance.
"Do you regret nothing in Limoges?" he asked her.
"Nothing, now that you are leaving it; and monsieur," she added,
smiling at Grossetete, who was bidding her adieu, "will seldom be
The bishop accompanied Madame Graslin as far as Montegnac.
"I ought to walk this road in sackcloth and ashes," she said in her
mother's ear as they went on foot up the steep slope of Saint-Leonard.
The old woman put her finger on her lips and glanced at the bishop,
who was looking at the child with terrible attention. This gesture,
and the luminous look in the prelate's eyes, sent a shudder through
Veronique's body. At the aspect of the vast plains stretching their
gray expanse before Montegnac the fire died out of her eyes, and an
infinite sadness overcame her. Presently she saw the village rector
coming to meet her, and together they returned to the carriage.
"There is your domain, madame," said Monsieur Bonnet, extending his
hand toward the barren plain.
A few moments more, and the village of Montegnac, with its hill, on
which the newly erected buildings struck the eye, came in sight,
gilded by the setting sun, and full of the poesy born of the contrast
between the beautiful spot and the surrounding barrenness, in which it
lay like an oasis in the desert. Madame Graslin's eyes filled suddenly
with tears. The rector called her attention to a broad white line like
a gash on the mountain side.
"See what my parishioners have done to testify their gratitude to the
lady of the manor," he said, pointing to the line, which was really a
road; "we can now drive up to the chateau. This piece of road has been
made by them without costing you a penny, and two months hence we
shall plant it with trees. Monseigneur will understand what trouble
and care and devotion were needed to accomplish such a change."
"Is it possible they have done that?" said the bishop.
"Without accepting any payment for their work, Monseigneur. The
poorest put their hands into it, knowing that it would bring a mother
At the foot of the hill the travellers saw the whole population of the
neighborhood, who were lighting fire-boxes and discharging a few guns;
then two of the prettiest of the village girls, dressed in white, came
forward to offer Madame Graslin flowers and fruit.
"To be thus received in this village!" she exclaimed, grasping the
rector's hand as if she stood on the brink of a precipice.
The crowd accompanied the carriage to the iron gates of the avenue.
From there Madame Graslin could see her chateau, of which as yet she
had only caught glimpses, and she was thunderstruck at the
magnificence of the building. Stone is rare in those parts, the
granite of the mountains being difficult to quarry. The architect
employed by Graslin to restore the house had used brick as the chief
substance of this vast construction. This was rendered less costly by
the fact that the forest of Montegnac furnished all the necessary wood
and clay for its fabrication. The framework of wood and the stone for
the foundations also came from the forest; otherwise the cost of the
restorations would have been ruinous. The chief expenses had been
those of transportation, labor, and salaries. Thus the money laid out
was kept in the village, and greatly benefited it.
At first sight, and from a distance, the chateau presents an enormous
red mass, threaded by black lines produced by the pointing, and edged
with gray; for the window and door casings, the entablatures, corner
stones, and courses between the stories, are of granite, cut in facets
like a diamond. The courtyard, which forms a sloping oval like that of
the Chateau de Versailles, is surrounded by brick walls divided into
panels by projecting buttresses. At the foot of these walls are groups
of rare shrubs, remarkable for the varied color of their greens. Two
fine iron gates placed opposite to each other lead on one side to a
terrace which overlooks Montegnac, on the other to the offices and a
The grand entrance-gate, to which the road just constructed led, is
flanked by two pretty lodges in the style of the sixteenth century.
The facade on the courtyard looking east has three towers,--one in the
centre, separated from the two others by the main building of the
house. The facade on the gardens, which is absolutely the same as the
others, looks westward. The towers have but one window on the facade;
the main building has three on either side of the middle tower. The
latter, which is square like a /campanile/, the corners being
vermiculated, is noticeable for the elegance of a few carvings
sparsely distributed. Art is timid in the provinces, and though, since
1829, ornamentation has made some progress at the instigation of
certain writers, landowners were at that period afraid of expenses
which the lack of competition and skilled workmen rendered serious.
The corner towers, which have three stories with a single window in
each, looking to the side, are covered with very high-pitched roofs
surrounded by granite balustrades, and on each pyramidal slope of
these roofs crowned at the top with the sharp ridge of a platform
surrounded with a wrought iron railing, is another window carved like
the rest. On each floor the corbels of the doors and windows are
adorned with carvings copied from those of the Genoese mansions. The
corner tower with three windows to the south looks down on Montegnac;
the other, to the north, faces the forest. From the garden front the
eye takes in that part of Montegnac which is still called Les
Tascherons, and follows the high-road leading through the village to
the chief town of the department. The facade on the courtyard has a
view of the vast plains semicircled by the mountains of the Correze,
on the side toward Montegnac, but ending in the far distance on a low
horizon. The main building has only one floor above the ground-floor,
covered with a mansarde roof in the olden style. The towers at each
end are three stories in height. The middle tower has a stunted dome
something like that on the Pavillon de l'Horloge of the palace of the
Tuileries, and in it is a single room forming a belvedere and
containing the clock. As a matter of economy the roofs had all been
made of gutter-tiles, the enormous weight of which was easily
supported by the stout beams and uprights of the framework cut in the
Before his death Graslin had laid out the road which the peasantry had
just built out of gratitude; for these restorations (which Graslin
called his folly) had distributed several hundred thousand francs
among the people; in consequence of which Montegnac had considerably
increased. Graslin had also begun, before his death, behind the
offices on the slope of the hill leading down to the plain, a number
of farm buildings, proving his intention to draw some profit from the
hitherto uncultivated soil of the plains. Six journeyman-gardeners,
who were lodged in the offices, were now at work under orders of a
head gardener, planting and completing certain works which Monsieur
Bonnet had considered indispensable.
The ground-floor apartments of the chateau, intended only for
reception-rooms, had been sumptuously furnished; the upper floor was
rather bare, Monsieur Graslin having stopped for a time the work of
"Ah, Monseigneur!" said Madame Graslin to the bishop, after going the
rounds of the house, "I who expected to live in a cottage! Poor
Monsieur Graslin was extravagant indeed!"
"And you," said the bishop, adding after a pause, as he noticed the
shudder than ran through her frame at his first words, "you will be
extravagant in charity?"
She took the arm of her mother, who was leading Francis by the hand,
and went to the long terrace at the foot of which are the church and
the parsonage, and from which the houses of the village can be seen in
tiers. The rector carried off Monseigneur Dutheil to show him the
different sides of the landscape. Before long the two priests came
round to the farther end of the terrace, where they found Madame
Graslin and her mother motionless as statues. The old woman was wiping
her eyes with a handkerchief, and her daughter stood with both hands
stretched beyond the balustrade as though she were pointing to the
"What is the matter, madame?" said the rector to Madame Sauviat.
"Nothing," replied Madame Graslin, turning round and advancing a few
steps to meet the priests; "I did not know that I should have the
cemetery under my eyes."
"You can put it elsewhere; the law gives you that right."
"The law!" she exclaimed with almost a cry.
Again the bishop looked fixedly at Veronique. Disturbed by the dark
glance with which the priest had penetrated the veil of flesh that
covered her soul, dragging thence a secret hidden in the grave of that
cemetery, she said to him suddenly:--
The priest laid his hand over his eyes and was silent for a moment as
"Help my daughter," cried the old mother; "she is fainting."
"The air is so keen, it overcomes me," said Madame Graslin, as she
fell unconscious into the arms of the two priests, who carried her
into one of the lower rooms of the chateau.
When she recovered consciousness she saw the priests on their knees
praying for her.
"May the angel you visited you never leave you!" said the bishop,
blessing her. "Farewell, my daughter."
Overcome by those words Madame Graslin burst into tears.
"Tears will save her!" cried her mother.
"In this world and in the next," said the bishop, turning round as he
left the room.
The room to which they had carried Madame Graslin was on the first
floor above the ground-floor of the corner tower, from which the
church and cemetery and southern side of Montegnac could be seen. She
determined to remain there, and did so, more or less uncomfortably,
with Aline her maid and little Francis. Madame Sauviat, naturally,
took another room near hers.
It was several days before Madame Graslin recovered from the violent
emotion which overcame her on that first evening, and her mother
induced her to stay in bed at least during the mornings. At night,
Veronique would come out and sit on a bench of the terrace from which
her eyes could rest on the church and cemetery. In spite of Madame
Sauviat's mute but persistent opposition, Madame Graslin formed an
almost monomaniacal habit of sitting in the same place, where she
seemed to give way to the blackest melancholy.
"Madame will die," said Aline to the old mother.
Appealed to by Madame Sauviat, the rector, who had wished not to seem
intrusive, came henceforth very frequently to visit Madame Graslin; he
needed only to be warned that her soul was sick. This true pastor took
care to pay his visits at the hour when Veronique came out to sit at
the corner of the terrace with her child, both in deep mourning.
THE RECTOR AT WORK
It was now the beginning of October, and Nature was growing dull and
sad. Monsieur Bonnet, perceiving in Veronique from the moment of her
arrival at Montegnac the existence of an inward wound, thought it
wisest to wait for the voluntary and complete confidence of a woman
who would sooner or later become his penitent.
One evening Madame Graslin looked at the rector with eyes almost
glazed with that fatal indecision often observable in persons who are
cherishing the thought of death. From that moment Monsieur Bonnet
hesitated no longer; he set before him the duty of arresting the
progress of this cruel moral malady.
At first there was a brief struggle of empty words between the priest
and Veronique, in which they both sought to veil their real thoughts.
In spite of the cold, Veronique was sitting on the granite bench
holding Francis on her knee. Madame Sauviat was standing at the corner
of the terrace, purposely so placed as to hide the cemetery. Aline was
waiting to take the child away.
"I had supposed, madame," said the rector, who was now paying his
seventh visit, "that you were only melancholy; but I see," sinking his
voice to a whisper, "that your soul is in despair. That feeling is
neither Christian nor Catholic."
"But," she replied, looking to heaven with piercing eyes and letting a
bitter smile flicker on her lips, "what other feeling does the Church
leave to a lost soul unless it be despair?"
As he heard these words the rector realized the vast extent of the
ravages in her soul.
"Ah!" he said, "you are making this terrace your hell, when it ought
to be your Calvary from which to rise to heaven."
"I have no pride left to place me on such a pedestal," she answered,
in a tone which revealed the self-contempt that lay within her.
Here the priest, by one of those inspirations which are both natural
and frequent in noble souls, the man of God lifted the child in his
arms and kissed its forehead, saying, in a fatherly voice, "Poor
little one!" Then he gave it himself to the nurse, who carried it
Madame Sauviat looked at her daughter, and saw the efficacy of the
rector's words; for Veronique's eyes, long dry, were moist with tears.
The old woman made a sign to the priest and disappeared.
"Let us walk," said the rector to Veronique leading her along the
terrace to the other end, from which Les Tascherons could be seen.
"You belong to me; I must render account to God for your sick soul."
"Give me time to recover from my depression," she said to him.
"Your depression comes from injurious meditation," he replied,
"Yes," she said, with the simplicity of a grief which has reached the
point of making no attempt at concealment.
"I see plainly that you have fallen into the gulf of apathy," he
cried. "If there is a degree of physical suffering at which all sense
of modesty expires, there is also a degree of moral suffering in which
all vigor of soul is lost; I know that."
She was surprised to hear that subtle observation and to find such
tender pity from this village rector; but, as we have seen already,
the exquisite delicacy which no passion had ever touched gave him the
true maternal spirit for his flock. This /mens devinior/, this
apostolic tenderness, places the priest above all other men and makes
him, in a sense, divine. Madame Graslin had not as yet had enough
experience of Monsieur Bonnet to know this beauty hidden in his soul
like a spring, from which flowed grace and purity and true life.
"Ah! monsieur," she cried, giving herself wholly up to him by a
gesture, a look, such as the dying give.
"I understand you," he said. "What is to be done? What will you
They walked in silence the whole length of the balustrade, facing
toward the plain. The solemn moment seemed propitious to the bearer of
good tidings, the gospel messenger, and he took it.
"Suppose yourself now in the presence of God," he said, in a low
voice, mysteriously; "what would you say to Him?"
Madame Graslin stopped as though struck by a thunderbolt; she
shuddered; then she said simply, in tones that brought tears to the
"I should say, as Jesus Christ said: 'Father, why hast thou forsaken
"Ah! Magdalen, that is the saying I expected of you," cried Monsieur
Bonnet, who could not help admiring her. "You see you are forced to
appeal to God's justice; you invoke it! Listen to me, madame. Religion
is, by anticipation, divine justice. The Church claims for herself the
right to judge the actions of the soul. Human justice is a feeble
image of divine justice; it is but a pale imitation of it applied to
the needs of society."
"What do you mean by that?"
"You are not the judge of your own case, you are dependent upon God,"
said the priest; "you have neither the right to condemn yourself nor
the right to absolve yourself. God, my child, is a great reverser of
"Ah!" she exclaimed.
"He /sees/ the origin of things, where we see only the things
Veronique stopped again, struck by these ideas, that were new to her.
"To you," said the brave priest, "to you whose soul is a great one, I
owe other words than those I ought to give to my humble parishioners.
You, whose mind and spirit are so cultivated, you can rise to the
sense divine of the Catholic religion, expressed by images and words
to the poor and childlike. Listen to me attentively, for what I am
about to say concerns you; no matter how extensive is the point of
view at which I place myself for a moment, the case is yours. /Law/,
invented to protect society, is based on equality. Society, which is
nothing but an assemblage of acts, is based on inequality. There is
therefore lack of harmony between act and law. Ought society to march
on favored or repressed by law? In other words, ought law to be in
opposition to the interior social movement for the maintenance of
society, or should it be based on that movement in order to guide it?
All legislators have contented themselves with analyzing acts,
indicating those that seemed to them blamable or criminal, and
attaching punishments to such or rewards to others. That is human law;
it has neither the means to prevent sin, nor the means to prevent the
return to sinfulness of those it punishes. Philanthropy is a sublime
error; it tortures the body uselessly, it produces no balm to heal the
soul. Philanthropy gives birth to projects, emits ideas, confides the
execution of them to man, to silence, to labor, to rules, to things
mute and powerless. Religion is above these imperfections, for it
extends man's life beyond this world. Regarding us all as degraded
from our high estate, religion has opened to us an inexhaustible
treasure of indulgence. We are all more or less advanced toward our
complete regeneration; no one is sinless; the Church expects wrong-
doing, even crime. Where society sees a criminal to be expelled from
its bosom, the Church sees a soul to save. More, far more than that!
Inspired by God, whom she studies and contemplates, the Church admits
the inequalities of strength, she allows for the disproportion of
burdens. If she finds us unequal in heart, in body, in mind, in
aptitude, and value, she makes us all equal by repentance. Hence
equality is no longer a vain word, for we can be, we are, all equal
through feeling. From the formless fetichism of savages to the
graceful inventions of Greece, or the profound and metaphysical
doctrines of Egypt and India, whether taught in cheerful or in
terrifying worship, there is a conviction in the soul of man--that of
his fall, that of his sin--from which comes everywhere the idea of
sacrifice and redemption. The death of the Redeemer of the human race
is an image of what we have to do for ourselves,--redeem our faults,
redeem our errors, redeem our crimes! All is redeemable; Catholicism
itself is in that word; hence its adorable sacraments, which help the
triumph of grace and sustain the sinner. To weep, to moan like
Magdalen in the desert, is but the beginning; the end is Action.
Monasteries wept and prayed; they prayed and civilized; they were the
active agents of our divine religion. They built, planted, cultivated
Europe; all the while saving the treasures of learning, knowledge,
human justice, politics, and art. We shall ever recognize in Europe
the places where those radiant centres once were. Nearly all our
modern towns are the children of monasteries. If you believe that God
will judge you, the Church tells you by my voice that sin can be
redeemed by works of repentance. The mighty hand of God weighs both
the evil done and the value of benefits accomplished. Be yourself like
those monasteries; work here the same miracles. Your prayers must be
labors. From your labors must come the good of those above whom you
are placed by fortune, by superiority of mind; even this natural
position of your dwelling is the image of your social situation."
As he said the last words, the priest and Madame Graslin turned to
walk back toward the plains, and the rector pointed both to the
village at the foot of the hill, and to the chateau commanding the
whole landscape. It was then half-past four o'clock; a glow of yellow
sunlight enveloped the balustrade and the gardens, illuminated the
chateau, sparkled on the gilded railings of the roof, lighted the long
plain cut in two by the high-road,--a sad, gray ribbon, not bordered
there by the fringe of trees which waved above it elsewhere on either
When Veronique and Monsieur Bonnet had passed the main body of the
chateau, they could see--beyond the courtyard, the stables, and the
offices--the great forest of Montegnac, along which the yellow glow
was gliding like a soft caress. Though this last gleam of the setting
sun touched the tree-tops only, it enabled the eye to see distinctly
the caprices of that marvellous tapestry which nature makes of a
forest in autumn. The oaks were a mass of Florentine bronze, the
walnuts and the chestnuts displayed their blue-green tones, the early
trees were putting on their golden foliage, and all these varied
colors were shaded with the gray of barren spots. The trunks of trees
already stripped of leafage showed their light-gray colonnades; the
russet, tawny, grayish colors, artistically blended by the pale
reflections of an October sun, harmonized with the vast uncultivated
plain, green as stagnant water.
A thought came into the rector's mind as he looked at this fine
spectacle, mute in other ways,--for not a tree rustled, not a bird
chirped, death was on the plain, silence in the forest; here and there
a little smoke from the village chimneys, that was all. The chateau
seemed as gloomy as its mistress. By some strange law all things about
a dwelling imitate the one who rules there; the owner's spirit hovers
over it. Madame Graslin--her mind grasped by the rector's words, her
soul struck by conviction, her heart affected in its tenderest
emotions by the angelic quality of that pure voice--stopped short. The
rector raised his arm and pointed to the forest. Veronique looked
"Do you not think it has a vague resemblance to social life?" he said.
"To each its destiny. How many inequalities in that mass of trees!
Those placed the highest lack earth and moisture; they die first."
"Some there are whom the shears of the woman gathering fagots cut
short in their prime," she said bitterly.
"Do not fall back into those thoughts," said the rector sternly,
though with indulgence still. "The misfortune of this forest is that
it has never been cut. Do you see the phenomenon these masses
Veronique, to whose mind the singularities of the forest nature
suggested little, looked obediently at the forest and then let her
eyes drop gently back upon the rector.
"You do not notice," he said, perceiving from that look her total
ignorance, "the lines where the trees of all species still hold their
"Ah! true," she said. "I see them now. Why is it?"
"In that," replied the rector, "lies the future of Montegnac, and your
own fortune, an immense fortune, as I once explained to Monsieur
Graslin. You see the furrows of those three dells, the mountain
streams of which flow into the torrent of the Gabou. That torrent
separates the forest of Montegnac from the district which on this side
adjoins ours. In September and October it goes dry, but in November it
is full of water, the volume of which would be greatly increased by a
partial clearing of the forest, so as to send all the lesser streams
to join it. As it is, its waters do no good; but if one or two dams
were made between the two hills on either side of it, as they have
done at Riquet, and at Saint-Ferreol--where they have made immense
reservoirs to feed the Languedoc canal--this barren plain could be
fertilized by judicious irrigation through trenches and culverts
managed by watergates; sending the water when needed over these lands,
and diverting it at other times to our little river. You could plant
fine poplars along these water-courses and raise the finest cattle on
such pasturage as you would then obtain. What is grass, but sun and
water? There is quite soil enough on the plains to hold the roots; the
streams will furnish dew and moisture; the poplars will hold and feed
upon the mists, returning their elements to the herbage; these are the
secrets of the fine vegetation of valleys. If you undertook this work
you would soon see life and joy and movement where silence now reigns,
where the eye is saddened by barren fruitlessness. Would not that be a
noble prayer to God? Such work would be a better occupation of your
leisure than the indulgence of melancholy thoughts."
Veronique pressed the rector's hand, answering with four brief words,
but they were grand ones:--
"It shall be done."
"You conceive the possibility of this great work," he went on; "but
you cannot execute it. Neither you nor I have the necessary knowledge
to accomplish an idea which might have come to all, but the execution
of which presents immense difficulties; for simple as it may seem, the
matter requires the most accurate science with all its resources.
Seek, therefore, at once for the proper human instruments who will
enable you within the next dozen years to get an income of six or
seven thousand louis out of the six thousand acres you irrigate and
fertilize. Such an enterprise will make Montegnac at some future day
the most prosperous district in the department. The forest, as yet,
yields you no return, but sooner or later commerce will come here in
search of its fine woods--those treasures amassed by time; the only
ones the production of which cannot be hastened or improved upon by
man. The State may some day provide a way of transport from this
forest, for many of the trees would make fine masts for the navy; but
it will wait until the increasing population of Montegnac makes a
demand upon its protection; for the State is like fortune, it comes
only to the rich. This estate, well managed, will become, in the
course of time, one of the finest in France; it will be the pride of
your grandson, who may then find the chateau paltry, comparing it with
"Here," said Veronique, "is a future for my life."
"A beneficent work such as that will redeem wrongdoing," said the
Seeing that she understood him, he attempted to strike another blow on
this woman's intellect, judging rightly that in her the intellect led
the heart, whereas in other women the heart is their road to
"Do you know," he said after a pause, "the error in which you are
She looked at him timidly.
"Your repentance is as yet only a sense of defeat endured,--which is
horrible, for it is nothing else than the despair of Satan; such,
perhaps, was the repentance of mankind before the coming of Jesus
Christ. But our repentance, the repentance of Christians, is the
horror of a soul struck down on an evil path, to whom, by this very
shock, God has revealed Himself. You are like the pagan Orestes; make
yourself another Paul."
"Your words have changed me utterly," she cried. "Now--oh! now I want
"The spirit conquers," thought the modest rector, as he joyfully took
his leave. He had cast nourishment before a soul hunted into secret
despair by giving to its repentance the form of a good and noble
THE SOUL OF FORESTS
Veronique wrote to Monsieur Grossetete on the morrow. A few days later
she received from Limoges three saddle-horses sent by her old friend.
Monsieur Bonnet found at Veronique's request, a young man, son of the
postmaster, who was delighted to serve Veronique and earn good wages.
This young fellow, small but active, with a round face, black eyes and
hair, and named Maurice Champion, pleased Veronique very much and was
immediately inducted into his office, which was that of taking care of
the horses and accompanying his mistress on her excursions.
The head-forester of Montegnac was a former cavalry-sergeant in the
Royal guard, born at Limoges, whom the Duc de Navarreins had sent to
his estate at Montegnac to study its capabilities and value, in order
that he might derive some profit from it. Jerome Colorat found nothing
but waste land utterly barren, woods unavailable for want of
transportation, a ruined chateau, and enormous outlays required to
restore the house and gardens. Alarmed, above all, by the beds of
torrents strewn with granite rocks which seamed the forest, this
honest but unintelligent agent was the real cause of the sale of the
"Colorat," said Madame Graslin to her forester, for whom she had sent,
"I shall probably ride out every morning, beginning with to-morrow.
You know all the different parts of the land that belonged originally
to this estate and those which Monsieur Graslin added to it: I wish
you to go with me and point them out; for I intend to visit every part
of the property myself."
The family within the chateau saw with joy the change that now
appeared in Veronique's behavior. Without being told to do so, Aline
got out her mistress's riding-habit and put it in good order for use.
The next day Madame Sauviat felt unspeakable relief when her daughter
left her room dressed to ride out.
Guided by the forester and Champion, who found their way by
recollection, for the paths were scarcely marked on these unfrequented
mountains, Madame Graslin started on the first day for the summits,
intending to explore those only, so as to understand the watershed and
familiarize herself with the lay of the ravines, the natural path of
the torrents when they tore down the slopes. She wished to measure the
task before her,--to study the land and the water-ways, and find for
herself the essential points of the enterprise which the rector had
suggested to her. She followed Colorat, who rode in advance; Champion
was a few steps behind her.
So long as they were making their way through parts that were dense
with trees, going up and down undulations of ground lying near to each
other and very characteristic of the mountains of France, Veronique
was lost in contemplation of the marvels of the forest. First came the
venerable centennial trees, which amazed her till she grew accustomed
to them; next, the full-grown younger trees reaching to their natural
height; then, in some more open spot, a solitary pine-tree of enormous
height; or--but this was rare--one of those flowing shrubs, dwarf
elsewhere, but here attaining to gigantic development, and often as
old as the soil itself. She saw, with a sensation quite unspeakable, a
cloud rolling along the face of the bare rocks. She noticed the white
furrows made down the mountain sides by the melting snows, which
looked at a distance like scars and gashes. Passing through a gorge
stripped of vegetation, she nevertheless admired, in the cleft flanks
of the rocky slope, aged chestnuts as erect as the Alpine fir-trees.
The rapidity with which she advanced left her no time to take in all
the varied scene, the vast moving sands, the quagmires boasting a few
scattered trees, fallen granite boulders, overhanging rocks, shaded
valleys, broad open spaces with moss and heather still in bloom
(though some was dried), utter solitudes overgrown with juniper and
caper-bushes; sometimes uplands with short grass, small spaces
enriched by an oozing spring,--in short, much sadness, many splendors,
things sweet, things strong, and all the singular aspects of
mountainous Nature in the heart of France.
As she watched these many pictures, varied in form but all inspired
with the same thought, the awful sadness of this Nature, so wild, so
ruined, abandoned, fruitless, barren, filled her soul and answered to
her secret feelings. And when, through an opening among the trees, she
caught a glimpse of the plain below her, when she crossed some arid
ravine over gravel and stones, where a few stunted bushes alone could
grow, the spirit of this austere Nature came to her, suggesting
observations new to her mind, derived from the many significations of
this varied scene.
There is no spot in a forest which does not have its significance; not
a glade, not a thicket but has its analogy with the labyrinth of human
thought. Who is there among those whose minds are cultivated or whose
hearts are wounded who can walk alone in a forest and the forest not
speak to him? Insensibly a voice lifts itself, consoling or terrible,
but oftener consoling than terrifying. If we seek the causes of the
sensation--grave, simple, sweet, mysterious--that grasps us there,
perhaps we shall find it in the sublime and artless spectacle of all
these creations obeying their destiny and immutably submissive. Sooner
or later the overwhelming sense of the permanence of Nature fills our
hearts and stirs them deeply, and we end by being conscious of God. So
it was with Veronique; in the silence of those summits, from the odor
of the woods, the serenity of the air, she gathered--as she said that
evening to Monsieur Bonnet--the certainty of God's mercy. She saw the
possibility of an order of deeds higher than any to which her
aspirations had ever reached. She felt a sort of happiness within her;
it was long, indeed since she had known such a sense of peace. Did she
owe that feeling to the resemblance she found between that barren
landscape and the arid, exhausted regions of her soul? Had she seen
those troubles of nature with a sort of joy, thinking that Nature was
punished though it had not sinned? At any rate, she was powerfully
affected; Colorat and Champion, following her at a little distance,
thought her transfigured.
At a certain sport Veronique was struck with the stern harsh aspect of
the steep and rocky beds of the dried-up torrents. She found herself
longing to hear the sound of water splashing through those scorched
"The need to love!" she murmured.
Ashamed of the words, which seemed to come to her like a voice, she
pushed her horse boldly toward the first peak of the Correze, where,
in spite of the forester's advice, she insisted on going. Telling her
attendants to wait for her she went on alone to the summit, which is
called the Roche-Vive, and stayed there for some time, studying the
surrounding country. After hearing the secret voice of the many
creations asking to live she now received within her the touch, the
inspiration, which determined her to put into her work that wonderful
perseverance displayed by Nature, of which she had herself already
given many proofs.
She fastened her horse to a tree and seated herself on a large rock,
letting her eyes rove over the broad expanse of barren plain, where
Nature seemed a step-mother,--feeling in her heart the same stirrings
of maternal love with which at times she gazed upon her infant.
Prepared by this train of emotion, these half involuntary meditations
(which, to use her own fine expression, winnowed her heart), to
receive the sublime instruction offered by the scene before her, she
awoke from her lethargy.
"I understood then," she said afterwards to the rector, "that our
souls must be ploughed and cultivated like the soil itself."
The vast expanse before her was lighted by a pale November sun.
Already a few gray clouds chased by a chilly wind were hurrying from
the west. It was then three o'clock. Veronique had taken more than
four hours to reach the summit, but, like all others who are harrowed
by an inward misery, she paid no heed to external circumstances. At
this moment her being was actually growing and magnifying with the
sublime impetus of Nature itself.
"Do not stay here any longer, madame," said a man, whose voice made
her quiver, "or you will soon be unable to return; you are six miles
from any dwelling, and the forest is impassable at night. But that is
not your greatest danger. Before long the cold on this summit will
become intense; the reason of this is unknown, but it has caused the
death of many persons."
Madame Graslin saw before her a man's face, almost black with sunburn,
in which shone eyes that were like two tongues of flame. On either
side of this face hung a mass of brown hair, and below it was a fan-
shaped beard. The man was raising respectfully one of those enormous
broad-brimmed hats which are worn by the peasantry of central France,
and in so doing displayed a bald but splendid forehead such as we
sometimes see in wayside beggars. Veronique did not feel the slightest
fear; the situation was one in which all the lesser considerations
that make a woman timid had ceased.
"Why are you here?" she asked.
"My home is near by," he answered.
"What can you do in such a desert?" she said.
"But how? what means of living are there?"
"I earn a little something by watching that part of the forest," he
answered, pointing to the other side of the summit from the one that
overlooked Montegnac. Madame Graslin then saw the muzzle of a gun and
also a game-bag. If she had had any fears this would have put an end
"Then you are a keeper?" she said.
"No, madame; in order to be a keeper we must take a certain oath; and
to take an oath we must have civic rights."
"Who are you, then?"
"I am Farrabesche," he said, with deep humility, lowering his eyes to
Madame Graslin, to whom the name told nothing, looked at the man and
noticed in his face, the expression of which was now very gentle, the
signs of underlying ferocity; irregular teeth gave to the mouth, the
lips blood-red, an ironical expression full of evil audacity; the dark
and prominent cheek-bones had something animal about them. The man was
of middle height, with strong shoulders, a thick-set neck, and the
large hairy hands of violent men capable of using their strength in a
brutal manner. His last words pointed to some mystery, to which his
bearing, the expression of his countenance, and his whole person, gave
a sinister meaning.
"You must be in my service, then?" said Veronique in a gentle voice.
"Have I the honor of speaking to Madame Graslin?" asked Farrabesche.
"Yes, my friend," she answered.
Farrabesche instantly disappeared, with the rapidity of a wild animal,
after casting a glance at his mistress that was full of fear.
Veronique hastened to mount her horse and rejoin the servants, who
were beginning to be uneasy about her; for the strange unhealthiness
of the Roche-Vive was well known throughout the neighborhood. Colorat
begged his mistress to go down into the little valley which led to the
plain. It would be dangerous, he said, to return by the hills, or by
the tangled paths they had followed in the morning, where, even with
his knowledge of the country, they were likely to be lost in the dusk.
Once on the plain Veronique rode slowly.
"Who is this Farrabesche whom you employ?" she asked her forester.
"Has madame met him?" cried Colorat.
"Yes, but he ran away from me."
"Poor man! perhaps he does not know how kind madame is."
"But what has he done?"
"Ah! madame, Farrabesche is a murderer," replied Champion, simply.
"Then they pardoned him!" said Veronique, in a trembling voice.
"No, madame," replied Colorat, "Farrabesche was tried and condemned to
ten years at the galleys; he served half his time, and then he was
released on parole and came here in 1827. He owes his life to the
rector, who persuaded him to give himself up to justice. He had been
condemned to death by default, and sooner or later he must have been
taken and executed. Monsieur Bonnet went to find him in the woods, all
alone, at the risk of being killed. No one knows what he said to
Farrabesche. They were alone together two days; on the third day the
rector brought Farrabesche to Tulle, where he gave himself up.
Monsieur Bonnet went to see a good lawyer and begged him to do his
best for the man. Farrabesche escaped with ten years in irons. The
rector went to visit him in prison, and that dangerous fellow, who
used to be the terror of the whole country, became as gentle as a
girl; he even let them take him to the galleys without a struggle. On
his return he settled here by the rector's advice; no one says a word
against him; he goes to mass every Sunday and all the feast-days.
Though his place is among us he slips in beside the wall and sits
alone. He goes to the altar sometimes and prays, but when he takes the
holy sacrament he always kneels apart."
"And you say that man killed another man?"
"One!" exclaimed Colorat; "he killed several! But he is a good man all
"Is that possible?" exclaimed Veronique, letting the bridle fall on
the neck of her horse.
"Well, you see, madame," said the forester, who asked no better than
to tell the tale, "Farrabesche may have had good reason for what he
did. He was the last of the Farrabesches,--an old family of the
Correze, don't you know! His elder brother, Captain Farrabesche, died
ten years earlier in Italy, at Montenotte, a captain when he was only
twenty-two years old. Wasn't that ill-luck? and such a lad, too! knew
how to read and write, and bid fair to be a general. The family
grieved terribly, and good reason, too. As for me, I heard all about
his death, for I was serving at that time under L'AUTRE. Oh! he made a
fine death, did Captain Farrabesche; he saved the army and the Little
Corporal. I was then in the division of General Steingel, a German,--
that is, an Alsacian,--a famous good general but rather short-sighted,
and that was the reason why he was killed soon after Captain
Farrabesche. The younger brother--that's this one--was only six years
old when he heard of his brother's death. The second brother served
too; but only as a private soldier; he died a sergeant in the first
regiment of the Guard, at the battle of Austerlitz, where, d'ye see,
madame, they manoeuvred just as quietly as they might in the Carrousel.
I was there! oh! I had the luck of it! went through it all without a
scratch! Now this Farrabesche of ours, though he's a brave fellow,
took it into his head he wouldn't go to the wars; in fact, the army
wasn't a healthy place for one of his family. So when the conscription
caught him in 1811 he ran away,--a refractory, that's what they called
them. And then it was he went and joined a party of /chauffeurs/, or
maybe he was forced to; at any rate he /chauffed/! Nobody but the
rector knows what he really did with those brigands--all due respect
to them! Many a fight he had with the gendarmes and the soldiers too;
I'm told he was in seven regular battles--"
"They say he killed two soldiers and three gendarmes," put in
"Who knows how many?--he never told," went on Colorat. "At last,
madame, they caught nearly all his comrades, but they never could
catch him; hang him! he was so young and active, and knew the country
so well, he always escaped. The /chauffeurs/ he consorted with kept
themselves mostly in the neighborhood of Brives and Tulle; sometimes
they came down this way, because Farrabesche knew such good hiding-
places about here. In 1814 the conscription took no further notice of
him, because it was abolished; but for all that, he was obliged to
live in the woods in 1815; because, don't you see? as he hadn't enough
to live on, he helped to stop a mail-coach over there, down that
gorge; and then it was they condemned him. But, as I told you just
now, the rector persuaded him to give himself up. It wasn't easy to
convict him, for nobody dared testify against him; and his lawyer and
Monsieur Bonnet worked so hard they got him sentenced for ten years
only; which was pretty good luck after being a /chauffeur/--for he did
"Will you tell me what /chauffeur/ means?"
"If you wish it, madame, I will tell you what they did, as far as I
know about it from others, for I never was /chauffed/ myself. It
wasn't a good thing to do, but necessity knows no law. Well, this is
how it was: seven or eight would go to some farmer or land-owner who
was thought to have money; the farmer would build a good fire and give
them a supper, lasting half through the night, and then, when the
feast was over, if the master of the house wouldn't give them the sum
demanded, they just fastened his feet to the spit, and didn't unfasten
them till they got it. That's how it was. They always went masked.
Among all their expeditions they sometimes made unlucky ones. Hang it,
there'll always be obstinate, miserly old fellows in the world! One of
them, a farmer, old Cochegrue, so mean he'd shave an egg, held out; he
let them roast his feet. Well, he died of it. The wife of Monsieur
David, near Brives, died of terror at merely seeing those fellows tie
her husband's feet. She died saying to David: 'Give them all you
have.' He wouldn't, and so she just pointed out the hiding-place. The
/chauffeurs/ (that's why they call them /chauffeurs/,--warmers) were
the terror of the whole country for over five years. But you must get
it well into your head,--oh, excuse me, madame, but you must know that
more than one young man of good family belonged to them, though
somehow they were never the ones to be caught."
Madame Graslin listened without interrupting or replying. There was
silence for a few moments, and then little Champion, jealous of the
right to amuse his mistress, wanted to tell her what he knew of the
"Madame ought to know more about Farrabesche; he hasn't his equal at
running, or at riding a horse. He can kill an ox with a blow of his
fist; nobody can shoot like him; he can carry seven hundred feet as
straight as a die,--there! One day they surprised him with three of
his comrades; two were wounded, one was killed,--good! Farrabesche was
all but taken. Bah! he just sprang on the horse of one of the
gendarmes behind the man, pricked the horse with his knife, made it
run with all its might, and so disappeared, holding the gendarme tight
round the body. But he held him so tight that after a time he threw
the body on the ground and rode away alone on the horse and master of
the horse; and he had the cheek to go and sell it not thirty miles
from Limoges! After that affair he hid himself for three months and
was never seen. The authorities offered a hundred golden louis to
whoever would deliver him up."
"Another time," added Colorat, "when the prefect of Tulle offered a
hundred louis for him, he made one of his own cousins, Giriex of
Vizay, earn them. His cousin denounced him, and appeared to deliver
him up. Oh, yes, he delivered him sure enough! The gendarmes were
delighted, and took him to Tulle; there they put him in the prison of
Lubersac, from which he escaped that very night, profiting by a hole
already begun by one of his accomplices who had been executed. All
these adventures gave Farrabesche a fine reputation. The /chauffeurs/
had lots of outside friends; people really loved them. They were not
skinflints like those of to-day; they spent their money royally, those
fellows! Just fancy, madame, one evening Farrabesche was chased by
gendarmes; well, he escaped them by staying twenty minutes under water
in the pond of a farm-yard. He breathed air through a straw which he
kept above the surface of the pool, which was half muck. But,
goodness! what was that little disagreeableness to a man who spends
his nights in the tree-tops, where the sparrows can hardly hold
themselves, watching the soldiers going to and fro in search of him
below? Farrabesche was one of the half-dozen /chauffeurs/ whom the
officers of justice could never lay hands on. But as he belonged to
the region and was brought up with them, and had, as they said, only
fled the conscription, all the women were on his side,--and that's a
great deal, you know."
"Is it really certain that Farrabesche did kill several persons?"
asked Madame Graslin.
"Yes, certain," replied Colorat; "it is even said that it was he who
killed the traveller by the mail-coach in 1812; but the courier and
the postilion, the only witnesses who could have identified him, were
dead before he was tried."
"Tried for the robbery?" asked Madame Graslin.
"Yes, they took everything; amongst it twenty-five thousand francs
belonging to the government."
Madame Graslin rode silently after that for two or three miles. The
sun had now set, the moon was lighting the gray plain, which looked
like an open sea. Champion and Colorat began to wonder at Madame
Graslin, whose silence seemed strange to them, and they were greatly
astonished to see the shining track of tears upon her cheeks; her eyes
were red and full of tears, which were falling drop by drop as she
"Oh, madame," said Colorat, "don't pity him! The lad has had his day.
He had pretty girls in love with him; and now, though to be sure he is
closely watched by the police, he is protected by the respect and
good-will of the rector; for he has really repented. His conduct at
the galleys was exemplary. Everybody knows he is as honest as the most
honest man among us. Only he is proud; he doesn't choose to expose
himself to rebuff; so he lives quietly by himself and does good in his
own way. He has made a nursery of about ten acres for you on the other
side of the Roche-Vive; he plants in the forests wherever he thinks
there's a chance of making a tree grow; he trims the tree and cuts out
the dead wood, and ties it up into bundles for the poor. All the poor
people know they can get their wood from him all cut and ready to
burn; so they go and ask him for it, instead of taking it themselves
and injuring your forest. He is another kind of /chauffeur/ now, and
warms his poor neighbors to their comfort and not to their harm. Oh,
Farrabesche loves your forest! He takes care of it as if it were his
"And he lives--all alone?" exclaimed Madame Graslin, adding the two
last words hastily.
"Excuse me, not quite alone, madame; he takes care of a boy about
fifteen years old," said Maurice Champion.
"Yes, that's so," said Colorat; "La Curieux gave birth to the child
some little time before Farrabesche was condemned."
"Is it his child?" asked Madame Graslin.
"People think so."
"Why didn't he marry her?"
"How could he? They would certainly have arrested him. As it was, when
La Curieux heard he was sentenced to the galleys the poor girl left
this part of the country."
"Was she a pretty girl?"
"Oh!" said Maurice, "my mother says she was very like another girl who
has also left Montegnac for something the same reason,--Denise
"She loved him?" said Madame Graslin.
"Ha, yes! because he /chauffed/; women do like things that are out of
the way. However, nothing ever did surprise the community more than
that love affair. Catherine Curieux lived as virtuous a life as a holy
virgin; she passed for a pearl of purity in her village of Vizay,
which is really a small town in the Correze on the line between the
two departments. Her father and mother are farmers to the Messieurs
Brezac. Catherine Curieux was about seventeen when Farrabesche was
sent to the galleys. The Farrabesches were an old family from the same
region, who settled in the commune of Montegnac; they hired their farm
from the village. The father and mother Farrabesche are dead, but
Catherine's three sisters are married, one in Aubusson, another in
Limoges, and a third in Saint-Leonard."
"Do you think Farrabesche knows where Catherine Curieux is?" asked
"If he did know he'd break his parole. Oh! he'd go to her. As soon as
he came back from the galleys he got Monsieur Bonnet to ask for the
little boy whom the grandfather and grandmother were taking care of;
and Monsieur Bonnet obtained the child."
"Does no one know what became of the mother?"
"No one," said Colorat. "The girl felt that she was ruined; she was
afraid to stay in her own village. She went to Paris. What is she
doing there? Well, that's the question; but you might as well hunt for
a marble among the stones on that plain as look for her there."
They were now riding up the ascent to the chateau as Colorat pointed
to the plain below. Madame Sauviat, evidently uneasy, Aline and the
other servants were waiting at the gate, not knowing what to think of
this long absence.
"My dear," said Madame Sauviat, helping her daughter to dismount, "you
must be very tired."
"No, mother," replied Madame Graslin, in so changed a voice that
Madame Sauviat looked closely at her and then saw the mark of tears.
Madame Graslin went to her own rooms with Aline, who took her orders
for all that concerned her personal life. She now shut herself up and
would not even admit her mother; when Madame Sauviat asked to enter,
Aline stopped her, saying, "Madame has gone to sleep."
The next day Veronique rode out attended by Maurice only. In order to
reach the Roche-Vive as quickly as possible she took the road by which
she had returned the night before. As they rode up the gorge which
lies between the mountain peak and the last hill of the forest (for,
seen from the plain, the Roche-Vive looks isolated) Veronique
requested Maurice to show her the house in which Farrabesche lived and
then to hold the horses and wait for her; she wished to go alone.
Maurice took her to a path which led down on the other side of the
Roche-Vive and showed her the thatched roof of a dwelling half buried
in the mountain, below which lay the nursery grounds. It was then
about mid-day. A light smoke issued from the chimney. Veronique
reached the cottage in a few moments, but she did not make her
presence known at once. She stood a few moments lost in thoughts known
only to herself as she gazed on the modest dwelling which stood in the
middle of a garden enclosed with a hedge of thorns.
Beyond the lower end of the garden lay several cares of meadow land
surrounded by an evergreen hedge; the eye looked down on the flattened
tops of fruit trees, apple, pear, and plum trees scattered here and
there among these fields. Above the house, toward the crest of the
mountain where the soil became sandy, rose the yellow crowns of a
splendid grove of chestnuts. Opening the railed gate made of half-
rotten boards which enclosed the premises, Madame Graslin saw a
stable, a small poultry-yard and all the picturesque and living
accessories of poor homes, which have so much of rural poesy about
them. Who could see without emotion the linen fluttering on the
hedges, the bunches of onions hanging from the eaves, the iron
saucepans drying in the sun, the wooden bench overhung with
honeysuckle, the stone-crop clinging to the thatch, as it does on the
roofs of nearly all the cottages in France, revealing a humble life
that is almost vegetative?
It was impossible for Veronique to come upon her keeper without his
receiving due notice; two fine hunting dogs began to bark as soon as
the rustling of her habit was heard on the dried leaves. She took the
end of it over her arm and advanced toward the house. Farrabesche and
his boy, who were sitting on a wooden bench outside the door, rose and
uncovered their heads, standing in a respectful attitude, but without
the least appearance of servility.
"I have heard," said Veronique, looking attentively at the boy, "that
you take much care of my interests; I wished to see your house and the
nurseries, and ask you a few questions relating to the improvements I
intend to make."
"I am at madame's orders," replied Farrabesche.
Veronique admired the boy, who had a charming face of a perfect oval,
rather sunburned and brown but very regular in features, the forehead
finely modelled, orange-colored eyes of extreme vivacity, black hair
cut straight across the brow and allowed to hang down on either side
of the face. Taller than most boys of his age, the little fellow was
nearly five feet high. His trousers, like his shirt, were of coarse
gray linen, his waistcoat, of rough blue cloth with horn buttons much
worn and a jacket of the cloth so oddly called Maurienne velvet, with
which the Savoyards like to clothe themselves, stout hob-nailed shoes,
and no stockings. This costume was exactly like that of his father,
except that Farrabesche had on his head the broad-brimmed felt hat of
the peasantry, while the boy had only a brown woollen cap.
Though intelligent and animated, the child's face was instinct with
the gravity peculiar to all human beings of any age who live in
solitude; he seemed to put himself in harmony with the life and the
silence of the woods. Both Farrabesche and his son were specially
developed on their physical side, possessing many of the
characteristics of savages,--piercing sight, constant observation,
absolute self-control, a keen ear, wonderful agility, and an
intelligent manner of speaking. At the first glance the boy gave his
father Madame Graslin recognized one of those unbounded affections in
which instinct blends with thought, and a most active happiness
strengthens both the will of the instinct and the reasoning of
"This must be the child I have heard of," said Veronique, motioning to
"Have you made no attempt to find his mother?" asked Veronique, making
a sign to Farrabesche to follow her a little distance.
"Madame may not be aware that I am not allowed to go beyond the
district in which I reside."
"Have you never received any news of her?"
"At the expiration of my term," he answered, "I received from the
Commissioner a thousand francs, sent to him quarterly for me in little
sums which police regulations did not allow me to receive till the day
I left the galleys. I think that Catherine alone would have thought of
me, as it was not Monsieur Bonnet who sent this money; therefore I
have kept it safely for Benjamin."
"And Catherine's parents?"
"They have never inquired for her since she left. Besides they did
enough in taking charge of the little one."
"Well, Farrabesche," said Veronique, returning toward the house. "I
will make it my business to know if Catherine still lives; and if so,
what is her present mode of life."
"Oh! madame, whatever that may be," said the man gently, "it would be
happiness for me if I could have her for my wife. It is for her to
object, not me. Our marriage would legitimatize this poor boy, who as
yet knows nothing of his position."
The look the father threw upon the lad explained the life of these two
beings, abandoned, or voluntarily isolated; they were all in all to
each other, like two compatriots adrift upon a desert.
"Then you love Catherine?" said Veronique.
"Even if I did not love her, madame," he replied, "she is to me, in my
situation, the only woman there is in the world."
Madame Graslin turned hurriedly and walked away under the chestnut
trees, as if attacked by some sharp pain; the keeper, thinking she was
moved by a sudden caprice, did not venture to follow her.
THE TORRENT OF THE GABOU
Veronique remained for some minutes under the chestnut trees,
apparently looking at the landscape. Thence she could see that portion
of the forest which clothes the side of the valley down which flows
the torrent of the Gabou, now dry, a mass of stones, looking like a
huge ditch cut between the wooded mountains of Montegnac and another
chain of parallel hills beyond,--the latter being much steeper and
without vegetation, except for heath and juniper and a few sparse
trees toward their summit.
These hills, desolate of aspect, belong to the neighboring domain and
are in the department of the Correze. A country road, following the
undulations of the valley, serves to mark the line between the
arrondissement of Montegnac and the two estates. This barren slope
supports, like a wall, a fine piece of woodland which stretches away
in the distance from its rocky summit. Its barrenness forms a complete
contrast to the other slope, on which is the cottage of Farrabesche.
On the one side, harsh, disfigured angularities, on the other,
graceful forms and curving outlines; there, the cold, dumb stillness
of unfruitful earth held up by horizontal blocks of stone and naked
rock, here, trees of various greens, now stripped for the most part of
foliage, but showing their fine straight many-colored trunks on every
slope and terrace of the land; their interlacing branches swaying to
the breeze. A few more persistent trees, oaks, elms, beeches, and
chestnuts, still retained their yellow, bronzed, or crimsoned foliage.
Toward Montegnac, where the valley widened immensely, the two slopes
form a horse-shoe; and from the spot where Veronique now stood leaning
against a tree she could see the descending valleys lying like the
gradations of an ampitheatre, the tree-tops rising from each tier like
persons in the audience. This fine landscape was then on the other
side of her park, though it afterwards formed part of it. On the side
toward the cottage near which she stood the valley narrows more and
more until it becomes a gorge, about a hundred feet wide.
The beauty of this view, over which Madame Graslin's eyes now roved
mechanically, recalled her presently to herself. She returned to the
cottage where the father and son were standing, silently awaiting her
and not seeking to explain her singular absence.
She examined the house, which was built with more care than its
thatched roof seemed to warrant. It had, no doubt, been abandoned ever
since the Navarreins ceased to care for this domain. No more hunts, no
more game-keepers. Though the house had been built for over a hundred
years, the walls were still good, notwithstanding the ivy and other
sorts of climbing-plants which clung to them. When Farrabesche
obtained permission to live there he tiled the room on the lower floor
and put in furniture. Veronique saw, as she entered, two beds, a large
walnut wardrobe, a bread-box, dresser, table, three chairs, and on the
dresser a few brown earthenware dishes and other utensils necessary to
life. Above the fireplace were two guns and two gamebags. A number of
little things evidently made by the father for the child touched
Veronique's heart--the model of a man-of-war, of a sloop, a carved
wooden cup, a wooden box of exquisite workmanship, a coffer inlaid in
diaper pattern, a crucifix, and a splendid rosary. The chaplet was
made of plum-stones, on each of which was carved a head of marvellous
delicacy,--of Jesus Christ, of the apostles, the Madonna, Saint John
the Baptist, Saint Joseph, Saint Anne, the two Magdalens, etc.
"I do that to amuse the little one in the long winter evenings," he
said, as if excusing himself.
The front of the house was covered with jessamine and roses, trained
to the wall and wreathing the windows of the upper floor, where
Farrabesche stored his provisions. He bought little except bread,
salt, sugar, and a few such articles, for he kept chickens, ducks, and
two pigs. Neither he nor the boy drank wine.
"All that I have heard of you and all that I now see," said Madame
Graslin at last, "make me feel an interest in your welfare which will
not, I hope, be a barren one."
"I recognize Monsieur Bonnet's kindness in what you say," cried
Farrabesche, in a tone of feeling.
"You are mistaken; the rector has not yet spoken of you to me; chance
--or God--has done it."
"Yes, madame, God! God alone can do miracles for a miserable man like
"If you have been a miserable man," said Madame Graslin, lowering her
voice that the child might not hear her (an act of womanly delicacy
which touched his heart), "your repentance, your conduct, and the
rector's esteem have now fitted you to become a happier man. I have
given orders to finish the building of the large farmhouse which
Monsieur Graslin intended to establish near the chateau. I shall make
you my farmer, and you will have an opportunity to use all your
faculties, and also to employ your son. The /procureur-general/ in
Limoges shall be informed about you, and the humiliating police-
inspection you are now subjected to shall be removed. I promise you."
At these words Farrabesche fell on his knees, as if struck down by the
realization of a hope he had long considered vain. He kissed the hem
of Madame Graslin's habit, then her feet. Seeing the tears in his
father's eyes, the boy wept too, without knowing why.
"Rise, Farrabesche," said Madame Graslin, "you do not know how natural
it is that I should do for you what I have promised. You planted those
fine trees, did you not?" she went on, pointing to the groups of
Northern pine, firs, and larches at the foot of the dry and rocky hill
"Is the earth better there?"
"The water in washing down among the rocks brings a certain amount of
soil, which it deposits. I have profited by this; for the whole of the
level of the valley belongs to you,--the road is your boundary."
"Is there much water at the bottom of that long valley?"
"Oh, madame," cried Farrabesche, "before long, when the rains begin,
you will hear the torrent roar even at the chateau; but even that is
nothing to what happens in spring when the snows melt. The water then
rushes down from all parts of the forest behind Montegnac, from those
great slopes which are back of the hills on which you have your park.
All the water of these mountains pours into this valley and makes a
deluge. Luckily for you, the trees hold the earth; otherwise the land
would slide into the valley."
"Where are the springs?" asked Madame Graslin, giving her full
attention to what he said.
Farrabesche pointed to a narrow gorge which seemed to end the valley
just below his house. "They are mostly on a clay plateau lying between
the Limousin and the Correze; they are mere green pools during the
summer, and lose themselves in the soil. No one lives in that
unhealthy region. The cattle will not eat the grass or reeds that grow
near the brackish water. That vast tract, which has more than three
thousand acres in it, is an open common for three districts; but, like
the plains of Montegnac, no use can be made of it. This side on your
property, as I showed you, there is a little earth among the stones,
but over there is nothing but sandy rock."
"Send your boy for the horses; I will ride over and see it for
Benjamin departed, after Madame Graslin had shown him the direction in
which he would find Maurice and the horses.
"You who know, so they tell me, every peculiarity of the country
thoroughly," continued Madame Graslin, "explain to me how it is that
the streams of my forest which are on the side of the mountain toward
Montegnac, and ought therefore to send their waters down there, do not
do so, neither in regular water-courses nor in sudden torrents after
rains and the melting of the snows."
"Ah, madame," said Farrabesche, "the rector, who thinks all the time
about the welfare of Montegnac, has guessed the reason, but he can't
find any proof of it. Since your arrival, he has made me trace the
path of the water from point to point through each ravine and valley.
I was returning yesterday, when I had the honor of meeting you, from
the base of the Roche-Vive, where I carefully examined the lay of the
land. Hearing the horses' feet, I came up to see who was there.
Monsieur Bonnet is not only a saint, madame; he is a man of great
knowledge. 'Farrabesche,' he said to me (I was then working on the
road the village has just built to the chateau, and the rector came to
me and pointed to that chain of hills from Montegnac to Roche-Vive),--
'Farrabesche,' he said, 'there must be some reason why that water-shed
does not send any of its water to the plain; Nature must have made
some sluiceway which carries it elsewhere.' Well, madame, that idea is
so simple you would suppose any child might have thought it; yet no
one since Montegnac existed, neither the great lords, nor their
bailiffs, nor their foresters, nor the poor, nor the rich, none of
those who saw that plain barren for want of water, ever asked
themselves why the streams which now feed the Gabou do not come there.
The three districts above, which have constantly been afflicted with
fevers in consequence of stagnant water, never looked for the remedy;
I myself, who live in the wilds, never dreamed of it; it needed a man
The tears filled his eyes as he said the word.
"All that men of genius discover," said Madame Graslin, "seems so
simple that every one thinks they might have discovered it themselves.
But," she added, as if to herself, "genius has this fine thing about
it,--it resembles all the world, but no one resembles it."
"I understood Monsieur Bonnet at once," continued Farrabesche; "it did
not take him many words to tell me what I had to do. Madame, this fact
I tell you of is all the more singular because there are, toward the
plain, great rents and fissures in the mountain, gorges and ravines
down which the water flows; but, strange to say, these clefts and
ravines and gorges all send their streams into a little valley which
is several feet below the level of your plain. To-day I have
discovered the reason of this phenomenon: from the Roche-Vive to
Montegnac, at the foot of the mountains, runs a shelf or barricade of
rock, varying in height from twenty to thirty feet; there is not a
break in it from end to end; and it is formed of a species of rock
which Monsieur Bonnet calls schist. The soil above it, which is of
course softer than rock, has been hollowed out by the action of the
water, which is turned at right angles by the barricade of rock, and
thus flows naturally into the Gabou. The trees and underbrush of the
forest conceal this formation and the hollowing out of the soil. But
after following the course of the water, as I have done by the traces
left of its passage, it is easy to convince any one of the fact. The
Gabou thus receives the water-shed of both mountains,--that which
ought to go down the mountain face on which your park and garden are
to the plain, and that which comes down the rocky slopes before us.
According to Monsieur Bonnet the present state of things will crease
when the water-shed toward the plain gains a natural outlet, and is
dammed toward the Gabou by the earth and rocks which the mountain
torrents bring down with them. It will take a hundred years to do
that, however; and besides, it isn't desirable. If your soil will not
take up more water than the great common you are now going to see,
Montegnac would be full of stagnant pools, breeding fever in the
"I suppose that the places Monsieur Bonnet showed me the other day
where the foliage of the trees is still green mark the present
conduits by which the water falls into the Gabou?"
"Yes, madame. Between Roche-Vive and Montegnac there are three
distinct mountains with three hollows between them, down which the
waters, stopped by the schist barrier, turn off into the Gabou. The
belt of trees still green at the foot of the hill above the barrier,
which looks, at a distance, like a part of the plain, is really the
water-sluice the rector supposed, very justly, that Nature had made
"Well, what has been to the injury of Montegnac shall soon be its
prosperity," said Madame Graslin, in a tone of deep intention. "And
inasmuch as you have been the first instrument employed on the work,
you shall share in it; you shall find me faithful, industrious
workmen; lack of money can always be made up by devotion and good
Benjamin and Maurice came up as Veronique ended these words; she
mounted her horse and signed to Farrabesche to mount the other.
"Guide me," she said, "to the place where the waters spread out in
pools over that waste land."
"There is all the more reason why madame should go there," said
Farrabesche, "because the late Monsieur Graslin, under the rector's
advice, bought three hundred acres at the opening of that gorge, on
which the waters have left sediment enough to make good soil over
quite a piece of ground. Madame will also see the opposite side of the
Roche-Vive, where there are fine woods, among which Monsieur Graslin
would no doubt have put a farm had he lived; there's an excellent
place for one, where the spring which rises just by my house loses
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