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   Chapter 3 No.3

Abbe Mouret's Transgression By Emile Zola Characters: 7252

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


Le Teuse hastily put out the candles, but lingered to make one last attempt to drive away the sparrows, and so when she returned to the sacristy with the Missal she no longer found Abbe Mouret there. Having washed his hands and put away the sacred vessels and vestments, he was now standing in the dining room, breakfasting off a cup of milk.

'You really ought to prevent your sister from scattering bread in the church,' said La Teuse on coming in. 'It was last winter she hit upon that pretty prank. She said the sparrows were cold, and that God might well give them some food. You see, she'll end by making us sleep with all her fowls and rabbits.'

'We should be all the warmer,' pleasantly replied the young priest. 'You are always grumbling, La Teuse. Do let our poor Desiree pet her animals. She has no other pleasure, poor innocent!'

The servant took her stand in the centre of the room.

'I do believe you yourself wouldn't mind a bit if the magpies actually built their nests in the church. You never can see anything, everything seems just what it ought to be to you. Your sister is precious lucky in having had you to take charge of her when you left the seminary. No father, no mother. I should like to know who would let her mess about as she does in a farmyard.'

Then softening, she added in a gentler tone: 'To be sure, it would be a pity to cross her. She hasn't a touch of malice in her. She's like a child of ten, although she's one of the finest grown girls in the neighbourhood. And I have to put her to bed, as you know, every night, and send her to sleep with stories, just like a little child.'

Abbe Mouret had remained standing, finishing the cup of milk he held between his fingers, which were slightly reddened by the chill atmosphere of the dining-room-a large room with painted grey walls, a floor of square tiles, and having no furniture beyond a table and a few chairs. La Teuse picked up a napkin which she had laid at a corner of the table in readiness for breakfast.

'It isn't much linen you dirty,' she muttered. 'One would think you could never sit down, that you are always just about to start off. Ah! if you had known Monsieur Caffin, the poor dead priest whose place you have taken! What a man he was for comfort! Why, he couldn't have digested his food, if he had eaten standing. A Norman he was, from Canteleu, like myself. I don't thank him, I tell you, for having brought me to such a wild-beast country as this. When first we came, O, Lord! how bored we were! But the poor priest had had some uncomfortable tales going about him at home.... Why, sir, didn't you sweeten your milk, then? Aren't those the two lumps of sugar?'

The priest put down his cup.

'Yes, I must have forgotten, I believe,' he said.

La Teuse stared at him and shrugged her shoulders. She folded up inside the napkin a slice of stale home-made bread which had also been left untouched on the table. Then just as the priest was about to go out, she ran after him and knelt down at his feet, exclaiming: 'Stop, your shoe-laces are not even fastened. I cannot imagine how your feet can stand those peasant shoes, you're such a little, tender man and look as if you had been preciously spoilt! Ah, the bishop must have known a deal about you, to go and give you the poorest living in the department.'

'But it was I who chose Les Artaud,' said the priest, breaking into another smile. 'You are very bad-tempered this morning, La Teuse. Are we not happy here? We have got all we want, and our life is as peaceful as if in paradise.'

She then restrained herself and laughed in her tur

n, saying: 'You are a holy man, Monsieur le Cure. But come and see what a splendid wash I have got. That will be better than squabbling with one another.'

The priest was obliged to follow, for she might prevent him going out at all if he did not compliment her on her washing. As he left the dining-room he stumbled over a heap of rubbish in the passage.

'What is this?' he asked.

Oh, nothing,' said La Teuse in her grimest tone. 'It's only the parsonage coming down. However, you are quite content, you've got all you want. Good heavens! there are holes and to spare. Just look at that ceiling, now. Isn't it cracked all over? If we don't get buried alive one of these days, we shall owe a precious big taper to our guardian angel. However, if it suits you-It's like the church. Those broken panes ought to have been replaced these two years. In winter our Lord gets frozen with the cold. Besides, it would keep out those rascally sparrows. I shall paste paper over the holes. You see if I don't.'

'A capital idea,' murmured the priest, 'they might very well be pasted over. As to the walls, they are stouter than we think. In my room, the floor has only given way slightly in front of the window. The house will see us all buried.'

On reaching the little open shed near the kitchen, in order to please La Teuse he went into ecstasies over the washing; he even had to dip his fingers into it and feel it. This so pleased the old woman that her attentions became quite motherly. She no longer scolded, but ran to fetch a clothes-brush, saying: 'You surely are not going out with yesterday's mud on your cassock! If you had left it out on the banister, it would be clean now-it's still a good one. But do lift it up well when you cross any field. The thistles tear everything.'

While speaking she kept turning him round like a child, shaking him from head to foot with her energetic brushing.

'There, there, that will do,' he said, escaping from her at last. 'Take care of Desiree, won't you? I will tell her I am going out.'

But at this minute a fresh clear voice called to him: 'Serge! Serge!'

Desiree came flying up, her cheeks ruddy with glee, her head bare, her black locks twisted tightly upon her neck, and her hands and arms smothered up to the elbows with manure. She had been cleaning out her poultry house. When she caught sight of her brother just about to go out with his breviary under his arm, she laughed aloud, and kissed him on his mouth, with her arms thrown back behind her to avoid soiling him.

'No, no,' she hurriedly exclaimed, 'I should dirty you. Oh! I am having such fun! You must see the animals when you come back.'

Thereupon she fled away again. Abbe Mouret then said that he would be back about eleven for luncheon, and as he started, La Teuse, who had followed him to the doorstep, shouted after him her last injunctions.

'Don't forget to see Brother Archangias. And look in also at the Brichets'; the wife came again yesterday about that wedding. Just listen, Monsieur le Cure! I met their Rosalie. She'd ask nothing better than to marry big Fortune. Have a talk with old Bambousse; perhaps he will listen to you now. And don't come back at twelve o'clock, like the other day. Come, say you'll be back at eleven, won't you?'

But the priest turned round no more. So she went in again, growling between her teeth:

'When does he ever listen to me? Barely twenty-six years old and does just as he likes. To be sure, he's an old man of sixty for holiness; but then he has never known life; he knows nothing, it's no trouble to him to be as good as a cherub!'

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