A Normandy Joke by Guy de Maupassant
It was a wedding procession that was coming along the road between the
tall trees that bounded the farms and cast their shadow on the road. At
the head were the bride and groom, then the family, then the invited
guests, and last of all the poor of the neighborhood. The village urchins
who hovered about the narrow road like flies ran in and out of the ranks
or climbed up the trees to see it better.
The bridegroom was a good-looking young fellow, Jean Patu, the richest
farmer in the neighborhood, but he was above all things, an ardent
sportsman who seemed to take leave of his senses in order to satisfy that
passion, and who spent large sums on his dogs, his keepers, his ferrets
and his guns. The bride, Rosalie Roussel, had been courted by all the
likely young fellows in the district, for they all thought her handsome
and they knew that she would have a good dowry. But she had chosen Patu;
partly, perhaps, because she liked him better than she did the others,
but still more, like a careful Normandy girl, because he had more crown
As they entered the white gateway of the husband's farm, forty shots
resounded without their seeing those who fired, as they were hidden in
the ditches. The noise seemed to please the men, who were slouching along
heavily in their best clothes, and Patu left his wife, and running up to
a farm servant whom he perceived behind a tree, took his gun and fired a
shot himself, as frisky as a young colt. Then they went on, beneath the
apple trees which were heavy with fruit, through the high grass and
through the midst of the calves, who looked at them with their great
eyes, got up slowly and remained standing, with their muzzles turned
toward the wedding party.
The men became serious when they came within measurable distance of the
wedding dinner. Some of them, the rich ones, had on tall, shining silk
hats, which seemed altogether out of place there; others had old
head-coverings with a long nap, which might have been taken for moleskin,
while the humblest among them wore caps. All the women had on shawls,
which they wore loosely on their back, holding the tips ceremoniously
under their arms. They were red, parti-colored, flaming shawls, and their
brightness seemed to astonish the black fowls on the dung-heap, the ducks
on the side of the pond and the pigeons on the thatched roofs.
The extensive farm buildings seemed to be waiting there at the end of
that archway of apple trees, and a sort of vapor came out of open door
and windows and an almost overpowering odor of eatables was exhaled from
the vast building, from all its openings and from its very walls. The
string of guests extended through the yard; but when the foremost of them
reached the house, they broke the chain and dispersed, while those behind
were still coming in at the open gate. The ditches were now lined with
urchins and curious poor people, and the firing did not cease, but came
from every side at once, and a cloud of smoke, and that odor which has
the same intoxicating effect as absinthe, blended with the atmosphere.
The women were shaking their dresses outside the door, to get rid of the
dust, were undoing their cap-strings and pulling their shawls over their
arms, and then they went into the house to lay them aside altogether for
the time. The table was laid in the great kitchen that would hold a
hundred persons; they sat down to dinner at two o'clock; and at eight
o'clock they were still eating, and the men, in their shirt-sleeves, with
their waistcoats unbuttoned and with red faces, were swallowing down the
food and drink as if they had been whirlpools. The cider sparkled
merrily, clear and golden in the large glasses, by the side of the dark,
blood-colored wine, and between every dish they made a "hole," the
Normandy hole, with a glass of brandy which inflamed the body and put
foolish notions into the head. Low jokes were exchanged across the table
until the whole arsenal of peasant wit was exhausted. For the last
hundred years the same broad stories had served for similar occasions,
and, although every one knew them, they still hit the mark and made both
rows of guests roar with laughter.
At one end of the table four young fellows, who were neighbors, were
preparing some practical jokes for the newly married couple, and they
seemed to have got hold of a good one by the way they whispered and
laughed, and suddenly one of them, profiting by a moment of silence,
exclaimed: "The poachers will have a good time to-night, with this moon!
I say, Jean, you will not be looking at the moon, will you?" The
bridegroom turned to him quickly and replied: "Only let them come, that's
all!" But the other young fellow began to laugh, and said: "I do not
think you will pay much attention to them!"
The whole table was convulsed with laughter, so that the glasses shook,
but the bridegroom became furious at the thought that anybody would
profit by his wedding to come and poach on his land, and repeated: "I
only say-just let them come!"
Then there was a flood of talk with a double meaning which made the bride
blush somewhat, although she was trembling with expectation; and when
they had emptied the kegs of brandy they all went to bed. The young
couple went into their own room, which was on the ground floor, as most
rooms in farmhouses are. As it was very warm, they opened the window and
closed the shutters. A small lamp in bad taste, a present from the
bride's father, was burning on the chest of drawers, and the bed stood
ready to receive the young people.
The young woman had already taken off her wreath and her dress, and she
was in her petticoat, unlacing her boots, while Jean was finishing his
cigar and looking at her out of the corners of his eyes. Suddenly, with a
brusque movement, like a man who is about to set to work, he took off his
coat. She had already taken off her boots, and was now pulling off her
stockings, and then she said to him: "Go and hide yourself behind the
curtains while I get into bed."
He seemed as if he were about to refuse; but at last he did as she asked
him, and in a moment she unfastened her petticoat, which slipped down,
fell at her feet and lay on the ground. She left it there, stepped over
it in her loose chemise and slipped into the bed, whose springs creaked
beneath her weight. He immediately went up to the bed, and, stooping over
his wife, he sought her lips, which she hid beneath the pillow, when a
shot was heard in the distance, in the direction of the forest of Rapees,
as he thought.
He raised himself anxiously, with his heart beating, and running to the
window, he opened the shutters. The full moon flooded the yard with
yellow light, and the reflection of the apple trees made black shadows at
their feet, while in the distance the fields gleamed, covered with the
ripe corn. But as he was leaning out, listening to every sound in the
still night, two bare arms were put round his neck, and his wife
whispered, trying to pull him back: "Do leave them alone; it has nothing
to do with you. Come to bed."
He turned round, put his arms round her, and drew her toward him, but
just as he was laying her on the 'bed, which yielded beneath her weight,
they heard another report, considerably nearer this time, and Jean,
giving way to his tumultuous rage, swore aloud: "Damn it! They will think
I do not go out and see what it is because of you! Wait, wait a few
minutes!" He put on his shoes again, took down his gun, which was always
hanging within reach against the wall, and, as his wife threw herself on
her knees in her terror, imploring him not to go, he hastily freed
himself, ran to the window and jumped into the yard.
She waited one hour, two hours, until daybreak, but her husband did not
return. Then she lost her head, aroused the house, related how angry Jean
was, and said that he had gone after the poachers, and immediately all
the male farm-servants, even the boys, went in search of their master.
They found him two leagues from the farm, tied hand and foot, half dead
with rage, his gun broken, his trousers turned inside out, and with three
dead hares hanging round his neck, and a placard on his chest with these
words: "Who goes on the chase loses his place."
In later years, when he used to tell this story of his wedding night, he
usually added: "Ah! as far as a joke went it was a good joke. They caught
me in a snare, as if I had been a rabbit, the dirty brutes, and they
shoved my head into a bag. But if I can only catch them some day they had
better look out for themselves!"
That is how they amuse themselves in Normandy on a wedding day.