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The herbal tea, by Léon Bloy

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Herbal tea

Jacques judged himself simply ignoble. It was odious to remain there, in the darkness, like a sacrilegious spy, while this woman, so completely unknown to him, confessed herself.

But then it would have been necessary to leave at once, as soon as the priest in surplice had come with her, or at least make a little noise so that they might be warned of the presence of a stranger. Now it was too late, and the horrible indiscretion could only get worse.

Despoiled, seeking, like the woodlouses, a cool place at the end of that heaty day, he had had the fancy, not very conformable to his ordinary fantasies, to enter the old church and had sat down in this dark, behind this confessional to dream, watching extinguish the large rose window.

After a few minutes, without knowing how or why, he became the most involuntary witness of a confession.

It is true that the words did not come to him distinctly, and that, in short, he heard only a whisper. But the colloquy, towards the end, seemed to be animated.

A few syllables here and there detached, emerging from the opaque river of this penitential chatter, and the young man who, by a miracle, was the opposite of a perfect rude man, was quite afraid of surprising confessions which were obviously not destined to him.

Suddenly this prediction was realized. A violent upheaval appeared to occur. The motionless waves rumbled in divisiveness, as if to let a monster rise, and the listener, crushed with terror, heard these words uttered with impatience:

I tell you, father, that I have put poison in his herbal tea!

Then, nothing. The woman whose face was invisible rose from the prie-dieu and silently disappeared into the thicket of darkness.

As far as the priest was concerned, he did not move more than a dead man, and slow minutes passed before he opened the door and went off in his turn with the heavy step of a stunned man.

It took the persistent chime of the beadle’s keys and the injunction to go out, long buried in the nave, so that Jacques would get up himself, so stunned was this word that resounded in him like a clamor.

He had perfectly recognized the voice of his mother! Oh! Impossible to be mistaken. He had even recognized his gait when the shadow of the woman had risen a few steps from him.

But then, what! Everything crumbled, everything fell, everything was a monstrous joke!

He lived alone with this mother, who saw almost no one and went out only to go to the offices. He had grown accustomed to venerating her with all her soul, as a unique example of righteousness and goodness.

As far as he could see in the past, nothing disturbing, nothing oblique, not a withdrawal, not a single detour. A beautiful white road as far as the eye can see, under a pale sky. For the poor woman’s existence had been very melancholy.

Since the death of her husband, killed at Champigny, and of which the young man scarcely remembered, she had not ceased to wear mourning, devoting herself exclusively to the education of her son, whom she never left a single day. She had never wanted to send him to the schools, dreading contact for him, taking charge of his education, building his soul with pieces of his own. He even possessed of this regimen an anxious sensibility, and singularly vibrating nerves which exposed him to ridiculous pains, – perhaps also to real dangers.

When adolescence had arrived, the predicted cares that she could not prevent had made her a little sadder, without altering her sweetness. No reproaches or mute scenes.

She had accepted, as so many others, what is inevitable.

Finally, everyone spoke of her with respect and he alone in the world, her dear son, now found himself forced to despise her – to despise her on both knees and eyes in tears, as the angels despise God if he did not keep his promises! …

Really, it was to go mad, it was to yell in the street. His mother ! A poisoner! It was senseless, it was a million times absurd, it was absolutely impossible and yet it was certain. Did she not come to declare it herself? He would have ripped off his head.

But whose poisoning? Good God ! He knew no one who had died poisoned in his entourage. It was not his father who had received a package of grape shot in his stomach. It was not him, either, that she would have tried to kill. He had never been sick, had never needed herbal tea and knew he was adored. The first time he was late in the evening, and certainly not for personal reasons, she had been sick herself with anxiety.

Was it an act prior to his birth? Her father had married her for her beauty, when she was barely twenty. Had this marriage been preceded by some adventure that might involve a crime?

No, however. This limpid past was known to him, told him a hundred times and the testimonies were too certain. Why, then, this terrible confession? Why, above all, oh! Why should he have witnessed it?

Soaked with horror and despair, he returned home.

His mother hurried to kiss him.

— How late you are, my dear child! And how pale you are! Would you be sick?

— No, he replied, I am not ill, but this great heat fatigues me, and I think I can not eat. And you, Mom, do you feel any discomfort? You are out, no doubt, to seek a little freshness? It seems to have seen you from a distance on the quay.

— I went out, really, but you could not see me on the quay. I have been to confess, which you no longer do it, I think, for a long time, a bad subject.

Jacques was astonished not to be choked, not to fall backwards, struck by lightning, as can be seen in the good novels he had read.

So it was true that she had been confessing! He had not, therefore, fallen asleep in the church, and this abominable catastrophe was not a nightmare, as he had for a moment, madly conceived.

He did not fall, but he became much paler and his mother was frightened.

— What’s the matter, my little Jacques? she said to him. You suffer, you hide something from your mother. You should have more confidence in her who only loves you and has only you …

How you look at me! My dear treasure. But what do you have? You’re scaring me !…

She took him lovingly in her arms.

— Listen to me, great child. I am not a curious, you know, and I do not want to be your judge. Do not tell me anything, if you do not want to tell me anything, but let me take care of you. You’re going to go to bed right away. Meanwhile, I will prepare you a good little light meal that I will bring you myself, is it not? And if you have a fever this night, I will make you HERBAL TEA…

Jacques, this time, rolled on the ground.

— Finally ! She sighed, a little weary, extending her hand to a bell.

Jacques had an aneurysm in the last period and his mother had a lover who did not want to be stepfather. This simple drama was accomplished three years ago in the neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. The house which was the theater belongs to a contractor of demolitions.

Translated by Nicolae Sfetcu

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