Old Mongilet by Guy de Maupassant
In the office old Mongilet was considered a type. He was a good old
employee, who had never been outside Paris but once in his life.
It was the end of July, and each of us, every Sunday, went to roll in the
grass, or soak in the water in the country near by. Asnieres, Argenteuil,
Chatou, Borgival, Maisons, Poissy, had their habitues and their ardent
admirers. We argued about the merits and advantages of all these places,
celebrated and delightful to all Parsian employees.
Daddy Mongilet declared:
"You are like a lot of sheep! It must be pretty, this country you talk
"Well, how about you, Mongilet? Don't you ever go on an excursion?"
"Yes, indeed. I go in an omnibus. When I have had a good luncheon,
without any hurry, at the wine shop down there, I look up my route with a
plan of Paris, and the time table of the lines and connections. And then
I climb up on the box, open my umbrella and off we go. Oh, I see lots of
things, more than you, I bet! I change my surroundings. It is as though I
were taking a journey across the world, the people are so different in
one street and another. I know my Paris better than anyone. And then,
there is nothing more amusing than the entresols. You would not believe
what one sees in there at a glance. One guesses at domestic scenes simply
at sight of the face of a man who is roaring; one is amused on passing by
a barber's shop, to see the barber leave his customer whose face is
covered with lather to look out in the street. One exchanges heartfelt
glances with the milliners just for fun, as one has no time to alight.
Ah, how many things one sees!
"It is the drama, the real, the true, the drama of nature, seen as the
horses trot by. Heavens! I would not give my excursions in the omnibus
for all your stupid excursions in the woods."
"Come and try it, Mongilet, come to the country once just to see."
"I was there once," he replied, "twenty years ago, and you will never
catch me there again."
"Tell us about it, Mongilet."
"If you wish to hear it. This is how it was:
"You knew Boivin, the old editorial clerk, whom we called Boileau?"
"He was my office chum. The rascal had a house at Colombes and always
invited me to spend Sunday with him. He would say:
"'Come along, Maculotte [he called me Maculotte for fun]. You will see
what a nice excursion we will take.'
"I let myself be entrapped like an animal, and set out, one morning by
the 8 o'clock train. I arrived at a kind of town, a country town where
there is nothing to see, and I at length found my way to an old wooden
door with an iron bell, at the end of an alley between two walls.
"I rang, and waited a long time, and at last the door was opened. What
was it that opened it? I could not tell at the first glance. A woman or
an ape? The creature was old, ugly, covered with old clothes that looked
dirty and wicked. It had chicken's feathers in its hair and looked as
though it would devour me.
"'What do you want?' she said.
"'What do you want of him, of Mr. Boivin?'
"I felt ill at ease on being questioned by this fury. I stammered:
'Why-he expects me.'
"'Ah, it is you who have come to luncheon?'
"'Yes,' I stammered, trembling.
"Then, turning toward the house, she cried in an angry tone:
"'Boivin, here is your man!'
"It was my friend's wife. Little Boivin appeared immediately on the
threshold of a sort of barrack of plaster covered with zinc, that looked
like a foot stove. He wore white duck trousers covered with stains and a
dirty Panama hat.
"After shaking my hands warmly, he took me into what he called his
garden. It was at the end of another alleyway enclosed by high walls and
was a little square the size of a pocket handkerchief, surrounded by
houses that were so high that the sun, could reach it only two or three
hours in the day. Pansies, pinks, wallflowers and a few rose bushes were
languishing in this well without air, and hot as an oven from the
refraction of heat from the roofs.
"'I have no trees,' said Boivin, 'but the neighbors' walls take their
place. I have as much shade as in a wood.'
"Then he took hold of a button of my coat and said in a low tone:
"'You can do me a service. You saw the wife. She is not agreeable, eh?
To-day, as I had invited you, she gave me clean clothes; but if I spot
them all is lost. I counted on you to water my plants.'
"I agreed. I took off my coat, rolled up my sleeves, and began to work
the handle of a kind of pump that wheezed, puffed and rattled like a
consumptive as it emitted a thread of water like a Wallace drinking
fountain. It took me ten minutes to water it and I was in a bath of
perspiration. Boivin directed me:
"'Here—this plant—a little more; enough—now this one.'
"The watering pot leaked and my feet got more water than the flowers. The
bottoms of my trousers were soaking and covered with mud. And twenty
times running I kept it up, soaking my feet afresh each time, and
perspiring anew as I worked the handle of the pump. And when I was tired
out and wanted to stop, Boivin, in a tone of entreaty, said as he put his
hand on my arm:
"Just one more watering pot full—just one, and that will be all.'
"To thank me he gave me a rose, a big rose, but hardly had it touched my
button-hole than it fell to pieces, leaving only a hard little green knot
as a decoration. I was surprised, but said nothing.
"Mme. Boivin's voice was heard in the distance:
"'Are you ever coming? When you know that luncheon is ready!'
"We went toward the foot stove. If the garden was in the shade, the
house, on the other hand, was in the blazing sun, and the sweating room
in the Turkish bath is not as hot as was my friend's dining room.
"Three plates at the side of which were some half-washed forks, were
placed on a table of yellow wood in the middle of which stood an
earthenware dish containing boiled beef and potatoes. We began to eat.
"A large water bottle full of water lightly colored with wine attracted
my attention. Boivin, embarrassed, said to his wife:
"'See here, my dear, just on a special occasion, are you not going to
give us some plain wine?'
"She looked at him furiously.
"'So that you may both get tipsy, is that it, and stay here gabbing all
day? A fig for your special occasion!'
"He said no more. After the stew she brought in another dish of potatoes
cooked with bacon. When this dish was finished, still in silence, she
"'That is all! Now get out!'
"Boivin looked at her in astonishment.
"'But the pigeon—the pigeon you plucked this morning?'
"She put her hands on her hips:
"'Perhaps you have not had enough? Because you bring people here is no
reason why we should devour all that there is in the house. What is there
for me to eat this evening?'
"We rose. Solvin whispered
"'Wait for me a second, and we will skip.'
"He went into the kitchen where his wife had gone, and I overheard him
"'Give me twenty sous, my dear.'
"'What do you want with twenty sons?'
"'Why, one does not know what may happen. It is always better to have
"She yelled so that I should hear:
"'No, I will not give it to you! As the man has had luncheon here, the
least he can do is to pay your expenses for the day.'
"Boivin came back to fetch me. As I wished to be polite I bowed to the
mistress of the house, stammering:
"'Madame—many thanks—kind welcome.'
"'That's all right,' she replied. 'But do not bring him back drunk, for
you will have to answer to me, you know!'
"We set out. We had to cross a perfectly bare plain under the burning
sun. I attempted to gather a flower along the road and gave a cry of
pain. It had hurt my hand frightfully. They call these plants nettles.
And, everywhere, there was a smell of manure, enough to turn your
"Boivin said, 'Have a little patience and we will reach the river bank.'
"We reached the river. Here there was an odor of mud and dirty water, and
the sun blazed down on the water so that it burned my eyes. I begged
Boivin to go under cover somewhere. He took me into a kind of shanty
filled with men, a river boatmen's tavern.
"'This does not look very grand, but it is very comfortable.'
"I was hungry. I ordered an omelet. But to and behold, at the second
glass of wine, that beggar, Boivin, lost his head, and I understand why
his wife gave him water diluted.
"He got up, declaimed, wanted to show his strength, interfered in a
quarrel between two drunken men who were fighting, and, but for the
landlord, who came to the rescue, we should both have been killed.
"I dragged him away, holding him up until we reached the first bush where
I deposited him. I lay down beside him and, it seems, I fell asleep. We
must certainly have slept a long time, for it was dark when I awoke.
Boivin was snoring at my side. I shook him; he rose but he was still
drunk, though a little less so.
"We set out through the darkness across the plain. Boivin said he knew
the way. He made me turn to the left, then to the right, then to the
left. We could see neither sky nor earth, and found ourselves lost in the
midst of a kind of forest of wooden stakes, that came as high as our
noses. It was a vineyard and these were the supports. There was not a
single light on the horizon. We wandered about in this vineyard for about
an hour or two, hesitating, reaching out our arms without finding any
limit, for we kept retracing our steps.
"At length Boivin fell against a stake that tore his cheek and he
remained in a sitting posture on the ground, uttering with all his might
long and resounding hallos, while I screamed 'Help! Help!' as loud as I
could, lighting candle-matches to show the way to our rescuers, and also
to keep up my courage.
"At last a belated peasant heard us and put us on our right road. I took
Boivin to his home, but as I was leaving him on the threshold of his
garden, the door opened suddenly and his wife appeared, a candle in her
hand. She frightened me horribly.
"As soon as she saw her husband, whom she must have been waiting for
since dark, she screamed, as she darted toward me:
"'Ah, scoundrel, I knew you would bring him back drunk!'
"My, how I made my escape, running all the way to the station, and as I
thought the fury was pursuing me I shut myself in an inner room as the
train was not due for half an hour.
"That is why I never married, and why I never go out of Paris."