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Perhaps one day she would confess her great fault

 Claire needed support. She found him near Abbe Remier. She could not long contain this dull anguish which tortured her. The parish priest of Bonnal received her with a kindness that gave him more confidence than learned words. Very quickly, he brought a bright light to this great soul, so simple, so made to become attached. Claire Lautier had to bend to the designs of Providence. She had to accept being separated one day from Simon, whom she had modeled with dignity. Such was the divine order. But he discovered, in this girl of old rustic stock, an extremely strong and holy feeling which prevailed over all.{143}others. She did not want, with a kind of obscure and sacred will, that Simon, whose mind was defenseless, should be involved in the life of a frivolous mother, fascinated by pleasure alone. Louise Lautier was not ready to listen to advice from on high like that of human wisdom. She was also enlightened by the terrible charm of sinners. She was only looking for easy voluptuousness and dreamed of marrying the man who had diverted her from the right path. How not to tremble at the thought that Simon, the son of the betrayed hero, would live near this man. Claire said:


“If I could believe that Louise was making amends, becoming better, everything would be smoothed out.


Perhaps one day she would confess her great fault, with those tears that purify and through which we see God. If this were so, Simon would find in her the light that renews the soul. Nothing announced it yet.{144}


Abbe Remier, who was on the lean of age, received this torment in him. Despite rough appearances, his brick-colored head, with white hair, he kept the same love for souls, as strong as on the day of Ordination, when the wind from heaven had brought him down on the steps of the altar. , in the death of the world.


Claire uttered cries that moved her:


"You see, Captain Lautier would say to me, 'You can let him go now'; but he is silent, and my brother is always near me.


So he kept silence for some time; then he found words of hope. If he had thought that Claire was gripped by a selfish thought, he would have endeavored to divert her from it. But he felt that she had given her life to save the child. And no merit was lost.


The season was becoming more beautiful, the sky was higher over the valley; the river does{145}knows a stream of ever-wonderful changing light. In the morning, mists rose; smoke like a great wood fire, blue vapor in which all things were enchanted. The tip of the juniper, which looks like a weapon, in winter, was a distaff for the sons of the dew; the claws of the bastard gorse held the gold in bloom, the stones seemed alive and soft to the touch. From an immense torn veil, the edges of which floated, the water sprang forth in its incorruptible youth. The fairies were spinning in the sun. And from the top of the Ages, from a point of fertility, the green rays of new wheat mingled with those of flowering rapeseed. The wheel of the horizon resumed its sliding with the season in motion.


During the Easter holidays, Simon, between two showers, ran in the fields, discovered in an uninhabited village a lane where opened low houses, with worm-eaten windows and without panes. The{146}the walls of the orchards had gradually crumbled and the brambles bound their stones. A mysterious ray sometimes gilded the blackened chimneys where the living no longer came to sit. But the child guessed an invisible presence there, the murmur of the fairies that people talk about under the mantle of the hearth, at evenings. When it was mild, and sunny enough not to be seized with fear, he stopped near these ruined doors and looked as if legendary beings were about to come out. For his pleasure and his dream, there were also high rocks where he climbed in order to see, down below, the water festivals.


On Sundays, he followed Jacquier who went along the river, a hazel stick in his hand. From noon to sunset, he never left it, admiring it as he cast his line through the aspens. Often the fellow would pull a trout or some white fish out of the water. Simon clapped his hands and amused the{147}old valet happier to see him laugh than to be happy fishing. Jacquier said:


“You know, Simon, it's not very easy. Fish are not crazy; I'll teach you how to shut their mouths.


They were coming back, when the sun had slipped behind the slope which was turning black.


Claire, now, did not lend herself to Simon's games. The time had passed when she began to croppetons making childish faces. She no longer placed two red apples or an orange in the tiny cart which she pulled by means of a string to bring it to him. Then he said, according to what was agreed:


“No, madam, it's too expensive, I won't take your fruits.


She amused herself by talking for a long time; then suddenly, feigning great anger, she exclaimed:


—Hey! well, sir, take them for nothing. I like this better. I have a long che{148}min to do and my oxen are tired.


He took the apples or the orange and rushed, laughing, into Claire's arms. And how many such games, which she no longer seemed to remember!


When the fine months came, she attached herself to various jobs with the passion that carried her when she had learned of the death of Jacques Renaud. Hard work had saved her. In those moments, if she stopped toiling at home and in the fields, she felt she was going to fall and go to bed. So Simon was just born, and God sent him to him, this little Moses in the throes of the river. These songs, which she murmured on the rocking cradle, came back to her heart, these songs which become so poignant as the child takes on the age of adolescence and moves away.


She was powerless to hold him back to the Ages, well assured that she had done more than her duty. We can return the treasure of pure metal in its integrity,{149}but a long sheltered, cherished child was of the soul where the best part of his life would always live. And his hands which had saved him from the waters, as in the holy story, could they throw him back into the flood, when he was still defenseless?{150}


XIV

Summer was approaching. You could clearly see it in the fortified greenery of the valley, in this rolling foliage covering the slope. The river was also green, and its banks never ceased to live under the reflected aspens. She sometimes appeared like a large abandoned scythe curling up in the grass.


Claire pushed the brettes and the oxen in a pasture which bathed the Gartempe. In this place, high blackish rocks rose; and oaks tying their roots between the stones poured out a gravity, a sort of immense reverie. The flood, at this place, became the color of plowed earth. All noise ceased; only,{151}murmured the river which had the glistening of oil. The peace was so strong here that Claire was seized by it. Measuring the silence, a fish jumped, made white fires which died out little by little; or else they were bubbles, rockets of pearls which rose from depths where a green ray quivered.


Claire, seated in a fold in the meadow, hardly paid any attention to this life of the river, nor to the sudden flight of the kingfisher, beautiful as a handful of tender sunny leaves and which seems to detach itself from the leaning vines. The chattering of the water hen coming out of its hole no longer surprised her. It was all too familiar. Near Tant-Belle lying at her feet, she remained motionless, receiving peace from the air and the water while knitting some woolen stuff for Simon. She reflected that she was alone in this world and that, without the child, she would have been an aging woman, useless. She could go to the{152}dead, but this little one had to be saved. “I would give my life for him, she thought, and it would be with a big heart. If there's anything good in me, let it be for him... But I'm just a poor girl."


Now, with the tremor of being helpless, she isolated herself. Simon returning from class, she no longer spent her hours with him, leaning over his blond head, when he learned his lessons. She no longer read in her book to make her repeat the page designated by the master. She stayed more often alone in her room, near her brother's picture; and in a low voice she asked his advice. But nothing answered him. In front of Simon, she tried to become calmer, to contain her heart better. One evening, the child, who for a long time had guessed at this repression, from which he was suffering, rushed towards her crying:


“You love me less. Looks like you're hiding from me.{153}


She had the strength not to show her tears, but she stroked his head and sighed:


"How can you talk like that?" I'm getting old, that's all. Your mom is much younger than me.


He raised his grave face to her and asked:


"Does it bother you that I think of her, Mom Claire?" It's been a long time since she sent any letters. I hid my sorrow from you.


Claire was able to smile and hugged him:


“You have to think about her. I think about it as much as you.


The days flowed by in immense agricultural peace. The valley was greener. Hay time had come; the mechanical mower could not be used in these hilly lands. Jacquier left in the early morning, when the sun rose from the hills as soft to the eye as the feather of the wild pigeon. In his fists,{154}faulx turned in the tall grass, white with dew, and he sang to give himself heart. As the days were hot, with threats of storm, Claire and Jeannette withered without respite. The wired cart entered, gilded by the evening, under the gate of the barn where Jacquier, dripping with sweat, but very happy, unloaded it.


The rain came as the grass in the last meadow was almost dry. We had had time to make stacks which prevent the hay from spoiling. At the end of eight days, the sky clearing up, they were opened under a sieved sky of clouds, and which does not toast the grass, but wilts it little by little, keeping all its aroma. On Thursdays, Simon helped rake with those regular movements that leave no twigs.


After the fires of Saint John, the wheat turned more yellow; the wind rushed through it, like smoke. No unnecessary and eating plants; in the wet season they had been carefully weeded.{155}


A little longer, and the ear would be cut. Jacquier rested a little. Sitting on an oak block in front of the barn, he was twisting straw into ties that would hold the sheaves firmly.{156}


XV

The wheat was brought in in good condition and piled up on the barge while waiting for the threshing. In this country which is divided by hedges where slashed oaks rise, the earth appeared in its nudity, with its undulations, its plateaus, where the mirrors of water made their gleam, according to the day. On the parched and scorched fields, the heather, the broom crossed their colors; the flowering chestnut groves formed tall clusters of green gold in the distance. The air was heavier, but in torrid hours the wind carried a spring breeze.


Claire, this year, could not take a well-earned rest. Her heart, that she{157}had suffocated with work, made him feel his weight again. It had been a long time since Louise had written, and Simon was worried about that.


One morning in August, the postman brought a letter in which Claire recognized Madame Lautier's handwriting. She was alone at home, Jeannette and Jacquier working in the fields. She dared not tear the envelope and her hands were shaking. She whispered:


"I'm losing my mind...


She went to her bedroom and locked the door. She was finally able to read the letter. Louise Lautier told him that his friend had decided to marry him. He accepted that Simon lived near them; he would look at him a bit like his son. It was she who had demanded it.


Claire came and sat down at the window; she was looking at a fixed point which, little by little, disappeared into a sort of mist. She dropped her heavy head into her clenched fists. It was in her like a{158}hole suddenly opened to which his thoughts turned. She raised her forehead; an ardor hollowed out his eyes; she was breathing with difficulty and she rested her hands on her knees, while the letter had slipped at her feet. She stayed like that for some time. Suddenly she knelt down with a rush before the portrait of Captain Lautier.


—My brother, come to my aid, the one who took your wife from you is going to steal your child. He will touch it with his hands, the one that hit you on the back, when you were there. My brother, you see me, at this hour, like that, all crushed. You will not allow these things to happen.


She stood up, exhausted. There was an extraordinary silence around her, so strong, so cruel that she wanted to chase it away by shouting for days and nights.


She picked up the letter to read it to the end. Louise Lautier would pick up Simon in the fall. The marriage is{159}would do at the beginning of winter. Everything was ready. Simon would be rich. They would both lead very happy lives. And Claire, we could never forget her. We thought that she would go to Paris for this party which would take place in a large church. There would be heaps of flowers, magnificent songs, and the most succulent dishes would be eaten, washed down with famous wines. Louise would order a silk dress for Claire such as one does not see at Bonnal.


She tore up the sheets; she began to moan for a long time, her hands over her mouth, but her eyes remained without tears. The hour was approaching when Simon was to return from class; she pulled herself together, opened the door and came into the room. She lit the fire and prepared the evening meal. Then she went out into the yard. She heard the child's footsteps from afar. Soon she saw him push the barrier. She smiled at him, took her bag and looked at him eagerly. She put him{160}many questions to which he had no time to answer. She regarded him with dilated eyes; he would leave in the fall; she could not follow him, but she would always see him in her heart in the light of this evening. She would keep within her that light shadow of the hair on the forehead so pure, that fold of the mouth so graceful which lit up the soul, and that way of tilting the head a little, as Captain Lautier did when he was content and peaceful. .


When he entered the house, she drew him close to her:


“Simon, your mom wrote. She will take you to Paris with her. I will not be able to follow you; you will still stay, here, everywhere...


He looked at her, astonished:


"So you want to leave me, Mama Claire?" I couldn't live away from you. You will come with us.


She stretched out her arm on her small shoulders and she looked away, as{161}if something terrible happened. She was afraid; but he did not look her in the eyes and he repeated:


“You will come with us.


She whispered, and something choked her:


“I will not live with you. That can not be; I will come to see you sometimes.


-Oh! often!


—Often, if you want... Later, we'll see... You don't know yet.


Jeannette and Jacquier were returning from the fields. Claire thought: “When God closes one path, he opens another. His will be done.”


The next day, which was a Thursday, Claire, in the afternoon, took the child with her to the meadow, to the water's edge. She made him sit close to her, putting her hands on his head and speaking little. The light and the heat of the air erased, this evening, all sorrow. A faint wind, which carried the scent of juniper and heated heather,{162} bleached the leaves of the aspen. Claire, in these moments, accepted a great truce and received this peace. She remained motionless for a long time, her gaze fixed on the leaves on which beat a green ray. She would have liked the sky to lift her to the ground, very gently, because of her wounded heart. Simon was surprised by this immobility and the weight of this once so light hand which weighed heavily on him. He asked:


“I would like to fish. I wore my line and everything.


She seemed to wake up and she became animated with gaiety. So many memories were dawning! She remembered such a day; she had cut him his first hazel stick, short and thin so that his little arm could support it. He stamped his foot as he cast his line where no fish caught. She could see the tip of his tongue glinting as he stuck it out. On returning home, he had cried for not bringing back the slightest{163}fry. So Jacquier had told her that he would teach her to sing the song that tames the studs. He had begun to laugh and stamp his feet with joy.


She came to the shore near him. He had kneaded balls of his mixture of earth to throw them at the place where he was fishing. When the cork slipped on the water, Claire would warn him when to cast his line. In one hour, he thus took about twenty gudgeons. He threaded them through the gills in a cane tied at the end. He says:


“I'm happy with you, Mama Claire.


She nodded, wanting to taste the present happiness in silence. As the sun was setting, Jacquier appeared. He carried a long pole.


"You'll see, child, how they are tamed!"


He untied a flat boat from the shore. He went up there, and, with a blow of his pole, he{164}pushed on the wave. With a strong, delicate movement, he unrolled his line, the end of which touched the water. He let it go for a while, then he pulled it back quickly and started again in perfect rhythm. Sometimes a fish seemed to leap out of the current, but it was hooked. The booty was piling up little by little. The boat, under the thrust of the pole, was advancing; and from time to time the pole bent. You could hear the sound of water crumpling, a gleam of scales sprang up in a dripping of white fires. Claire and Simon watched Jacquier. It was receding, and the voracious chub's 'bluff' could no longer be heard, but the liquid path starred where the line touched. The evening reddening the shore, Jacquier brought back the boat where he had rested his stick. His pole streamed with silver,


He jumped into the short meadow and threw{165}Simon's feet over twenty fish. Claire didn't look at them, only the child's eyes full of joy.


Jacquier collected his loot in a bucket lined with ferns. The hour was advanced. Claire and Simon went back to the Ages. The good man taught the child how to kill the otter. The river had to be frozen; then she came out of the water and went into the fields to look for some food. It was time to watch her. In the old days, when he was younger and didn't fear the cold so much, he had shot a lot of them. It was a beast with much softer hair than velvet, and the rain didn't catch on. When they got home, Jeannette had just dipped the soup.


"Prepare the frying pan, I bring you brave citizens!" exclaimed Jacquier.


Immediately, Claire and Jeannette began to scale the fish and gut them.{166}Jacquier filled his pipe with tobacco and lit it. He wanted to tell a joke[A] to make Simon laugh.


[A] Mischievous story.


“I have done my job. The rest is up to the women, all the household stuff. Once upon a time there was a husband who had the ants in his legs and never found anything under his roof that he liked. One day when he had just mowed a piece of meadow, he got angry and growled so much that his wife said to him: “Why do the valiant do like that? Tomorrow, we will change jobs, you will work at home and I in the fields. I will hear the birds sing. He accepted and laughed in his hair. We would see if she would gain in the exchange. For him, these household trinkets would be nothing. Nice job, he says, twenty women don't do as much work in ten days as a good peasant like me in three.{167}couple of hours. At the morning pike, she left for the fields, the scythe on her shoulder. He whipped the cream for the butter, but after a while he had the pee, and he didn't want to drink milk, it's far too sweet for a proud throat. He had a rough throat: if he had nothing else, he had this. So he went to the cellar to draw cider. While he was filling the bottle, he heard that a too valiant piglet entered the house, just like his own. He was afraid he would knock over the churn and ran to chase him away, but he forgot to put the falsetto back on. The cider didn't forget to flow and it was sparkling as hell. The churn had fallen off and the pig was smeared with cream, his lips white, as if our wigmaker had rubbed his hair with soap powder. The pig thought life was good. When he saw this, the man was less pleased than the pig. He no longer thought of{168}the barrel, he was as angry as a guinea-cock with a rump gone to the nettles. He chased the pig and chased it so valiantly that he kicked a wooden bar and fell on his rather long nose. He got up and hit the pig so bravely with the wooden bar that the animal was killed dead. Too bad, that would make blood sausage. Finally he noticed that he had passed the falsetto in the buttonhole of his fart in the air. He descended the cellar steps four at a time. The cider had made a small pond where we could splash around. Having put the falsetto back on, so that the cider no longer goes into the barrel, I think, he went back up to the kitchen. He had trouble seeing this cider that the earth was drinking and not him, the poor thing. There was still some cream left. He filled the churn with it and began whipping her again.


Jacquier stopped, tapped his pipe against the tip of his hooves to make it come out.{169}the ashes. He garnished it with tobacco which he lit with an ember. Simon exclaimed:


“It's not over, we must continue, Jacquier.


Jacquier looked at him out of the corner of his eye and said:


“I'll cut off the tip of your nose, he's too curious.


“You'll cut it off for me afterwards, but tell me.


—The man, while he was churning, remembered that the cow was in the stable, and that her belly must have been as hollow as the bagpipes of the late Bontier. It was late and she hadn't eaten anything wet or dry. And no time to take her to the meadow! On the house there was grass; it was not a roof like ours. He had the idea of ​​bringing the cow up there. And this roof, it was leaning against a hill. But the calf was frolicking. Our Jean-wife took the churn on her back. That way, we wouldn't overturn it. He went to give the poor animal a drink. As he bent his back to{170}draw water from the well, the cream ran down his neck and greased him well. Then, by means of a sort of bridge which joined the hillside to the house, he pushed the cow onto the roof. He thought of everything. We are small near these men. There aren't many left around here. As it was mid-day, he left this churn to the demon. They were both scrambled. He made porridge; with what, I don't know. He hung the pot in the fireplace. As he had become cautious, he thought the cow might take a fall and break the back bar. He climbed up next to her and put a fairly strong rope around her neck, and it occurred to him to drop one end of it through the chimney flue. He tied it at the hock, and the water was boiling in the pot. He was very quiet for a little while, he was doing a brave job.{171}the man by the chimney pipe. He remained there completely hanging and he mewed like a master cat whose tail has been crushed; he swept the chimney by force, while the cow swam through the air. The woman, seeing that her valiant man was not bringing food, returned home. When she saw her cow bellowing and rowing with her feet, she thought she was going crazy, cut the rope and suddenly the man tumbled onto the pot. This day was enough for him; the next day he went to mow, singing a brave little song.


Simon was choking with laughter. Claire, happy to see him so cheerful, said to Jacquier:


“You alone can tell such stories.


“I think so,” he growled. Today we prefer to talk about the city's sales pitches. But I haven't forgotten what my old people taught me.


The fish were rolled up in a towel, powdered with flour. Jeanette put{172}dry branches in the fire and put the pan on its support. She filled it with rapeseed oil which fizzed around the crust of bread she had thrown into it. When it was burnt enough, the fish took turns basking in it.


After the soup, which was served on the cherry table, they were eaten crisp like fresh loaves. Claire, as usual, saw to it that Simon ate well. She brushed off worry. She listened to the little one who told stories he had learned from his books. The beautiful day left its reflection in her, a little of its great light. The shutters had not been closed, the first stars traced living signs on the panes. The murmur of the river rose in silence and peace. Claire, while the child was talking, looked at the smallest things, the polished copper candlesticks, the oil lamps no longer in use, the rifle hanging above{173}from the fireplace, the shiny plates of the dresser and, in a corner, under a mirror, the oak cradle where her mother had thrown her. Simon, in turn, had slept there. On this nest, now empty, and perhaps forever, returned all the songs murmured by faithful lips, to the breath of memory that could not be killed.


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