Toine by Guy de Maupassant
He was known for thirty miles round was father Toine—fat Toine,
Toine-my-extra, Antoine Macheble, nicknamed Burnt-Brandy—the
innkeeper of Tournevent.
It was he who had made famous this hamlet buried in a niche in the valley
that led down to the sea, a poor little peasants' hamlet consisting of
ten Norman cottages surrounded by ditches and trees.
The houses were hidden behind a curve which had given the place the name
of Tournevent. It seemed to have sought shelter in this ravine overgrown
with grass and rushes, from the keen, salt sea wind—the ocean wind
that devours and burns like fire, that drys up and withers like the
sharpest frost of winter, just as birds seek shelter in the furrows of
the fields in time of storm.
But the whole hamlet seemed to be the property of Antoine
Macheble, nicknamed Burnt-Brandy, who was called also Toine,
or Toine-My-Extra-Special, the latter in consequence of a phrase current
in his mouth:
"My Extra-Special is the best in France:"
His "Extra-Special" was, of course, his cognac.
For the last twenty years he had served the whole countryside with his
Extra-Special and his "Burnt-Brandy," for whenever he was asked: "What
shall I drink, Toine?" he invariably answered: "A burnt-brandy, my
son-in-law; that warms the inside and clears the head—there's
nothing better for your body."
He called everyone his son-in-law, though he had no daughter, either
married or to be married.
Well known indeed was Toine Burnt-Brandy, the stoutest man in all
Normandy. His little house seemed ridiculously small, far too small and
too low to hold him; and when people saw him standing at his door, as he
did all day long, they asked one another how he could possibly get
through the door. But he went in whenever a customer appeared, for it was
only right that Toine should be invited to take his thimbleful of
whatever was drunk in his wine shop.
His inn bore the sign: "The Friends' Meeting-Place"—and old Toine
was, indeed, the friend of all. His customers came from Fecamp and
Montvilliers, just for the fun of seeing him and hearing him talk; for
fat Toine would have made a tombstone laugh. He had a way of chaffing
people without offending them, or of winking to express what he didn't
say, of slapping his thighs when he was merry in such a way as to make
you hold your sides, laughing. And then, merely to see him drink was a
curiosity. He drank everything that was offered him, his roguish eyes
twinkling, both with the enjoyment of drinking and at the thought of the
money he was taking in. His was a double pleasure: first, that of
drinking; and second, that of piling up the cash.
You should have heard him quarrelling with his wife! It was worth paying
for to see them together. They had wrangled all the thirty years they had
been married; but Toine was good-humored, while his better-half grew
angry. She was a tall peasant woman, who walked with long steps like a
stork, and had a head resembling that of an angry screech-owl. She spent
her time rearing chickens in a little poultry-yard behind the inn, and
she was noted for her success in fattening them for the table.
Whenever the gentry of Fecamp gave a dinner they always had at least one
of Madame Toine's chickens to be in the fashion.
But she was born ill-tempered, and she went through life in a mood of
perpetual discontent. Annoyed at everyone, she seemed to be particularly
annoyed at her husband. She disliked his gaiety, his reputation, his rude
health, his embonpoint. She treated him as a good-for-nothing creature
because he earned his money without working, and as a glutton because he
ate and drank as much as ten ordinary men; and not a day went by without
her declaring spitefully:
"You'd be better in the stye along with the pigs! You're so fat it makes
me sick to look at you!"
And she would shout in his face:
"Wait! Wait a bit! We'll see! You'll burst one of these fine days like a
sack of corn-you old bloat, you!"
Toine would laugh heartily, patting his corpulent person, and replying:
"Well, well, old hen, why don't you fatten up your chickens like that?
And, rolling his sleeves back from his enormous arm, he said:
"That would make a fine wing now, wouldn't it?"
And the customers, doubled up with laughter, would thump the table with
their fists and stamp their feet on the floor.
The old woman, mad with rage, would repeat:
"Wait a bit! Wait a bit! You'll see what'll happen. He'll burst like a
sack of grain!"
And off she would go, amid the jeers and laughter of the drinkers.
Toine was, in fact, an astonishing sight, he was so fat, so heavy, so
red. He was one of those enormous beings with whom Death seems to be
amusing himself—playing perfidious tricks and pranks, investing
with an irresistibly comic air his slow work of destruction. Instead of
manifesting his approach, as with others, in white hairs, in emaciation,
in wrinkles, in the gradual collapse which makes the onlookers say: "Gad!
how he has changed!" he took a malicious pleasure in fattening Toine, in
making him monstrous and absurd, in tingeing his face with a deep
crimson, in giving him the appearance of superhuman health, and the
changes he inflicts on all were in the case of Toine laughable, comic,
amusing, instead of being painful and distressing to witness.
"Wait a bit! Wait a bit!" said his wife. "You'll see."
At last Toine had an apoplectic fit, and was paralyzed in consequence.
The giant was put to bed in the little room behind the partition of the
drinking-room that he might hear what was said and talk to his friends,
for his head was quite clear although his enormous body was helplessly
inert. It was hoped at first that his immense legs would regain some
degree of power; but this hope soon disappeared, and Toine spent his days
and nights in the bed, which was only made up once a week, with the help
of four neighbors who lifted the innkeeper, each holding a limb, while
his mattress was turned.
He kept his spirits, nevertheless; but his gaiety was of a different
kind—more timid, more humble; and he lived in a constant, childlike
fear of his wife, who grumbled from morning till night:
"Look at him there—the great glutton! the good-for-nothing
creature, the old boozer! Serve him right, serve him right!"
He no longer answered her. He contented himself with winking behind the
old woman's back, and turning over on his other side—the only
movement of which he was now capable. He called this exercise a "tack to
the north" or a "tack to the south."
His great distraction nowadays was to listen to the conversations in the
bar, and to shout through the wall when he recognized a friend's voice:
"Hallo, my son-in-law! Is that you, Celestin?"
And Celestin Maloisel answered:
"Yes, it's me, Toine. Are you getting about again yet, old fellow?"
"Not exactly getting about," answered Toine. "But I haven't grown thin;
my carcass is still good."
Soon he got into the way of asking his intimates into his room to keep
him company, although it grieved him to see that they had to drink
without him. It pained him to the quick that his customers should be
drinking without him.
"That's what hurts worst of all," he would say: "that I cannot drink my
Extra-Special any more. I can put up with everything else, but going
without drink is the very deuce."
Then his wife's screech-owl face would appear at the window, and she
would break in with the words:
"Look at him! Look at him now, the good-for-nothing wretch! I've got to
feed him and wash him just as if he were a pig!"
And when the old woman had gone, a cock with red feathers would sometimes
fly up to the window sill and looking into the room with his round
inquisitive eye, would begin to crow loudly. Occasionally, too, a few
hens would flutter as far as the foot of the bed, seeking crumbs on the
floor. Toine's friends soon deserted the drinking room to come and chat
every afternoon beside the invalid's bed. Helpless though he was, the
jovial Toine still provided them with amusement. He would have made the
devil himself laugh. Three men were regular in their attendance at the
bedside: Celestin Maloisel, a tall, thin fellow, somewhat gnarled, like
the trunk of an apple-tree; Prosper Horslaville, a withered little man
with a ferret nose, cunning as a fox; and Cesaire Paumelle, who never
spoke, but who enjoyed Toine's society all the same.
They brought a plank from the yard, propped it upon the edge of the bed,
and played dominoes from two till six.
But Toine's wife soon became insufferable. She could not endure that her
fat, lazy husband should amuse himself at games while lying in his bed;
and whenever she caught him beginning a game she pounced furiously on the
dominoes, overturned the plank, and carried all away into the bar,
declaring that it was quite enough to have to feed that fat, lazy pig
without seeing him amusing himself, as if to annoy poor people who had to
work hard all day long.
Celestin Maloisel and Cesaire Paumelle bent their heads to the storm, but
Prosper Horslaville egged on the old woman, and was only amused at her
One day, when she was more angry than usual, he said:
"Do you know what I'd do if I were you?"
She fixed her owl's eyes on him, and waited for his next words.
Prosper went on:
"Your man is as hot as an oven, and he never leaves his bed—well,
I'd make him hatch some eggs."
She was struck dumb at the suggestion, thinking that Prosper could not
possibly be in earnest. But he continued:
"I'd put five under one arm, and five under the other, the same day that
I set a hen. They'd all come out at the same time; then I'd take your
husband's chickens to the hen to bring up with her own. You'd rear a fine
lot that way."
"Could it be done?" asked the astonished old woman.
"Could it be done?" echoed the man. "Why not? Since eggs can be hatched
in a warm box why shouldn't they be hatched in a warm bed?"
She was struck by this reasoning, and went away soothed and reflective.
A week later she entered Toine's room with her apron full of eggs, and
"I've just put the yellow hen on ten eggs. Here are ten for you; try not
to break them."
"What do you want?" asked the amazed Toine.
"I want you to hatch them, you lazy creature!" she answered.
He laughed at first; then, finding she was serious, he got angry, and
refused absolutely to have the eggs put under his great arms, that the
warmth of his body might hatch them.
But the old woman declared wrathfully:
"You'll get no dinner as long as you won't have them. You'll see what'll
Tome was uneasy, but answered nothing.
When twelve o'clock struck, he called out:
"Hullo, mother, is the soup ready?"
"There's no soup for you, lazy-bones," cried the old woman from her
He thought she must be joking, and waited a while. Then he begged,
implored, swore, "tacked to the north" and "tacked to the south," and
beat on the wall with his fists, but had to consent at last to five eggs
being placed against his left side; after which he had his soup.
When his friends arrived that afternoon they thought he must be ill, he
seemed so constrained and queer.
They started the daily game of dominoes. But Tome appeared to take no
pleasure in it, and reached forth his hand very slowly, and with great
"What's wrong with your arm?" asked Horslaville.
"I have a sort of stiffness in the shoulder," answered Toine.
Suddenly they heard people come into the inn. The players were silent.
It was the mayor with the deputy. They ordered two glasses of
Extra-Special, and began to discuss local affairs. As they were talking
in somewhat low tones Toine wanted to put his ear to the wall, and,
forgetting all about his eggs, he made a sudden "tack to the north,"
which had the effect of plunging him into the midst of an omelette.
At the loud oath he swore his wife came hurrying into the room, and,
guessing what had happened, stripped the bedclothes from him with
lightning rapidity. She stood at first without moving or uttering a
syllable, speechless with indignation at sight of the yellow poultice
sticking to her husband's side.
Then, trembling with fury, she threw herself on the paralytic, showering
on him blows such as those with which she cleaned her linen on the
seashore. Tome's three friends were choking with laughter, coughing,
spluttering and shouting, and the fat innkeeper himself warded his wife's
attacks with all the prudence of which he was capable, that he might not
also break the five eggs at his other side.
Tome was conquered. He had to hatch eggs, he had to give up his games of
dominoes and renounce movement of any sort, for the old woman angrily
deprived him of food whenever he broke an egg.
He lay on his back, with eyes fixed on the ceiling, motionless, his arms
raised like wings, warming against his body the rudimentary chickens
enclosed in their white shells.
He spoke now only in hushed tones; as if he feared a noise as much as
motion, and he took a feverish interest in the yellow hen who was
accomplishing in the poultry-yard the same task as he.
"Has the yellow hen eaten her food all right?" he would ask his wife.
And the old woman went from her fowls to her husband and from her husband
to her fowls, devoured by anxiety as to the welfare of the little
chickens who were maturing in the bed and in the nest.
The country people who knew the story came, agog with curiosity, to ask
news of Toine. They entered his room on tiptoe, as one enters a
sick-chamber, and asked:
"Well! how goes it?"
"All right," said Toine; "only it keeps me fearfully hot."
One morning his wife entered in a state of great excitement, and
"The yellow hen has seven chickens! Three of the eggs were addled."
Toine's heart beat painfully. How many would he have?
"Will it soon be over?" he asked, with the anguish of a woman who is
about to become a mother.
"It's to be hoped so!" answered the old woman crossly, haunted by fear of
They waited. Friends of Toine who had got wind that his time was drawing
near arrived, and filled the little room.
Nothing else was talked about in the neighboring cottages. Inquirers
asked one another for news as they stood at their doors.
About three o'clock Toine fell asleep. He slumbered half his time
nowadays. He was suddenly awakened by an unaccustomed tickling under his
right arm. He put his left hand on the spot, and seized a little creature
covered with yellow down, which fluttered in his hand.
His emotion was so great that he cried out, and let go his hold of the
chicken, which ran over his chest. The bar was full of people at the
time. The customers rushed to Toine's room, and made a circle round him
as they would round a travelling showman; while Madame Toine picked up
the chicken, which had taken refuge under her husband's beard.
No one spoke, so great was the tension. It was a warm April day. Outside
the window the yellow hen could be heard calling to her newly-fledged
Toine, who was perspiring with emotion and anxiety, murmured:
"I have another now—under the left arm."
His' wife plunged her great bony hand into the bed, and pulled out a
second chicken with all the care of a midwife.
The neighbors wanted to see it. It was passed from one to another, and
examined as if it were a phenomenon.
For twenty minutes no more hatched out, then four emerged at the same
moment from their shells.
There was a great commotion among the lookers-on. And Toine smiled with
satisfaction, beginning to take pride in this unusual sort of paternity.
There were not many like him! Truly, he was a remarkable specimen of
"That makes six!" he declared. "Great heavens, what a christening we'll
And a loud laugh rose from all present. Newcomers filled the bar. They
asked one another:
"How many are there?"
Toine's wife took this new family to the hen, who clucked loudly,
bristled her feathers, and spread her wings wide to shelter her growing
brood of little ones.
"There's one more!" cried Toine.
He was mistaken. There were three! It was an unalloyed triumph! The last
chicken broke through its shell at seven o'clock in the evening. All the
eggs were good! And Toine, beside himself with joy, his brood hatched
out, exultant, kissed the tiny creature on the back, almost suffocating
it. He wanted to keep it in his bed until morning, moved by a mother's
tenderness toward the tiny being which he had brought to life, but the
old woman carried it away like the others, turning a deaf ear to her
The delighted spectators went off to spread the news of the event, and
Horslaville, who was the last to go, asked:
"You'll invite me when the first is cooked, won't you, Toine?"
At this idea a smile overspread the fat man's face, and he answered:
"Certainly I'll invite you, my son-in-law."