“As he can descend no further, he tries returning on the way by which he has come, but now remorse overtakes him, overwhelms him, and wrenches him without respite. His nights are nights of expiation. Besieged by phantoms, he howls like a wounded beast. He is found rushing along the solitary corridors of the chateau. He weeps, throws himself on his knees, swears to God that he will do penance. He promises to found pious institutions. He does establish, at Machecoul, a boys’ academy in honour of the Holy Innocents. He speaks of shutting himself up in a cloister, of going to Jerusalem, begging his bread on the way.
“But in this fickle and aberrated mind ideas superpose themselves on each other, then pass away, and those which disappear leave their shadow on those which follow. Abruptly, even while weeping with distress, he precipitates himself into new debauches and, raving with delirium, hurls himself upon the child brought to him, gouges out the eyes, runs his finger around the bloody, milky socket, then he seizes a spiked club and crushes the skull. And while the gurgling blood runs over him, he stands, smeared with spattered brains, and grinds his teeth and laughs. Like a hunted beast he flees into the wood, while his henchmen remove the crimson stains from the ground and dispose prudently of the corpse and the reeking garments.
“He wanders in the forests surrounding Tiffauges, dark, impenetrable forests like those which Brittany still can show at Carnoet. He sobs as he walks along. He attempts to thrust aside the phantoms which accost him. Then he looks about him and beholds obscenity in the shapes of the aged trees. It seems that nature perverts itself before him, that his very presence depraves it. For the first time he understands the motionless lubricity of trees. He discovers priapi in the branches.
“Here a tree appears to him as a living being, standing on its root-tressed head, its limbs waving in the air and spread wide apart, subdivided and re-subdivided into haunches, which again are divided and re-subdivided. Here between two limbs another branch is jammed, in a stationary fornication which is reproduced in diminished scale from bough to twig to the top of the tree. There it seems the trunk is a phallus which mounts and disappears into a skirt of leaves or which, on the contrary, issues from a green clout and plunges into the glossy belly of the earth.
“Frightful images rise before him. He sees the skin of little boys, the lucid white skin, vellum-like, in the pale, smooth bark of the slender beeches. He recognizes the pachydermatous skin of the beggar boys in the dark and wrinkled envelope of the old oaks. Beside the bifurcations of the branches there are yawning holes, puckered orifices in the bark, simulating emunctoria, or the protruding anus of a beast. In the joints of the branches there are other visions, elbows, armpits furred with grey lichens. Even in the trunks there are incisions which spread out into great lips beneath tufts of brown, velvety moss.