Simon's Papa by Guy de Maupassant
Noon had just struck. The school door opened and the youngsters darted
out, jostling each other in their haste to get out quickly. But instead
of promptly dispersing and going home to dinner as usual, they stopped a
few paces off, broke up into knots, and began whispering.
The fact was that, that morning, Simon, the son of La Blanchotte, had,
for the first time, attended school.
They had all of them in their families heard talk of La Blanchotte; and,
although in public she was welcome enough, the mothers among themselves
treated her with a somewhat disdainful compassion, which the children had
imitated without in the least knowing why.
As for Simon himself, they did not know him, for he never went out, and
did not run about with them in the streets of the village, or along the
banks of the river. And they did not care for him; so it was with a
certain delight, mingled with considerable astonishment, that they met
and repeated to each other what had been said by a lad of fourteen or
fifteen who appeared to know all about it, so sagaciously did he wink.
"You know—Simon—well, he has no papa."
Just then La Blanchotte's son appeared in the doorway of the school.
He was seven or eight years old, rather pale, very neat, with a timid and
almost awkward manner.
He was starting home to his mother's house when the groups of his
schoolmates, whispering and watching him with the mischievous and
heartless eyes of children bent upon playing a nasty trick, gradually
closed in around him and ended by surrounding him altogether. There he
stood in their midst, surprised and embarrassed, not understanding what
they were going to do with him. But the lad who had brought the news,
puffed up with the success he had met with already, demanded:
"What is your name, you?"
He answered: "Simon."
"Simon what?" retorted the other.
The child, altogether bewildered, repeated: "Simon."
The lad shouted at him: "One is named Simon something—that is not a
The child, on the brink of tears, replied for the third time:
"My name is Simon."
The urchins began to laugh. The triumphant tormentor cried: "You can see
plainly that he has no papa."
A deep silence ensued. The children were dumfounded by this
extraordinary, impossible, monstrous thing—a boy who had not a
papa; they looked upon him as a phenomenon, an unnatural being, and they
felt that hitherto inexplicable contempt of their mothers for La
Blanchotte growing upon them. As for Simon, he had leaned against a tree
to avoid falling, and he remained as if prostrated by an irreparable
disaster. He sought to explain, but could think of nothing-to say to
refute this horrible charge that he had no papa. At last he shouted at
them quite recklessly: "Yes, I have one."
"Where is he?" demanded the boy.
Simon was silent, he did not know. The children roared, tremendously
excited; and those country boys, little more than animals, experienced
that cruel craving which prompts the fowls of a farmyard to destroy one
of their number as soon as it is wounded. Simon suddenly espied a little
neighbor, the son of a widow, whom he had seen, as he himself was to be
seen, always alone with his mother.
"And no more have you," he said; "no more have you a papa."
"Yes," replied the other, "I have one."
"Where is he?" rejoined Simon.
"He is dead," declared the brat, with superb dignity; "he is in the
cemetery, is my papa."
A murmur of approval rose among the little wretches as if this fact of
possessing a papa dead in a cemetery had caused their comrade to grow big
enough to crush the other one who had no papa at all. And these boys,
whose fathers were for the most part bad men, drunkards, thieves, and who
beat their wives, jostled each other to press closer and closer, as
though they, the legitimate ones, would smother by their pressure one who
The boy who chanced to be next Simon suddenly put his tongue out at him
with a mocking air and shouted at him:
"No papa! No papa!"
Simon seized him by the hair with both hands and set to work to disable
his legs with kicks, while he bit his cheek ferociously. A tremendous
struggle ensued between the two combatants, and Simon found himself
beaten, torn, bruised, rolled on the ground in the midst of the ring of
applauding schoolboys. As he arose, mechanically brushing with his hand
his little blouse all covered with dust, some one shouted at him:
"Go and tell your papa."
Then he felt a great sinking at his heart. They were stronger than he
was, they had beaten him, and he had no answer to give them, for he knew
well that it was true that he had no papa. Full of pride, he attempted
for some moments to struggle against the tears which were choking him. He
had a feeling of suffocation, and then without any sound he commenced to
weep, with great shaking sobs. A ferocious joy broke out among his
enemies, and, with one accord, just like savages in their fearful
festivals, they took each other by the hand and danced round him in a
circle, repeating as a refrain:
"No papa! No papa!"
But suddenly Simon ceased sobbing. He became ferocious. There were stones
under his feet; he picked them up and with all his strength hurled them
at his tormentors. Two or three were struck and rushed off yelling, and
so formidable did he appear that the rest became panic-stricken. Cowards,
as the mob always is in presence of an exasperated man, they broke up and
fled. Left alone, the little fellow without a father set off running
toward the fields, for a recollection had been awakened in him which
determined his soul to a great resolve. He made up his mind to drown
himself in the river.
He remembered, in fact, that eight days before, a poor devil who begged
for his livelihood had thrown himself into the water because he had no
more money. Simon had been there when they fished him out again; and the
wretched man, who usually seemed to him so miserable, and ugly, had then
struck him as being so peaceful with his pale cheeks, his long drenched
beard, and his open eyes full of calm. The bystanders had said:
"He is dead."
And some one had said:
"He is quite happy now."
And Simon wished to drown himself also, because he had no father, just
like the wretched being who had no money.
He reached the water and watched it flowing. Some fish were sporting
briskly in the clear stream and occasionally made a little bound and
caught the flies flying on the surface. He stopped crying in order to
watch them, for their maneuvers interested him greatly. But, at
intervals, as in a tempest intervals of calm alternate suddenly with
tremendous gusts of wind, which snap off the trees and then lose
themselves in the horizon, this thought would return to him with intense
"I am going to drown myself because I have no papa."
It was very warm, fine weather. The pleasant sunshine warmed the grass.
The water shone like a mirror. And Simon enjoyed some minutes of
happiness, of that languor which follows weeping, and felt inclined to
fall asleep there upon the grass in the warm sunshine.
A little green frog leaped from under his feet. He endeavored to catch
it. It escaped him. He followed it and lost it three times in succession.
At last he caught it by one of its hind legs and began to laugh as he saw
the efforts the creature made to escape. It gathered itself up on its
hind legs and then with a violent spring suddenly stretched them out as
stiff as two bars; while it beat the air with its front legs as though
they were hands, its round eyes staring in their circle of yellow. It
reminded him of a toy made of straight slips of wood nailed zigzag one on
the other; which by a similar movement regulated the movements of the
little soldiers fastened thereon. Then he thought of his home, and then
of his mother, and, overcome by sorrow, he again began to weep. A shiver
passed over him. He knelt down and said his prayers as before going to
bed. But he was unable to finish them, for tumultuous, violent sobs shook
his whole frame. He no longer thought, he no longer saw anything around
him, and was wholly absorbed in crying.
Suddenly a heavy hand was placed upon his shoulder, and a rough voice
"What is it that causes you so much grief, my little man?"
Simon turned round. A tall workman with a beard and black curly hair was
staring at him good-naturedly. He answered with his eyes and throat full
"They beat me—because—I—I have no—papa—no
"What!" said the man, smiling; "why, everybody has one."
The child answered painfully amid his spasms of grief:
"But I—I—I have none."
Then the workman became serious. He had recognized La Blanchotte's son,
and, although himself a new arrival in the neighborhood, he had a vague
idea of her history.
"Well," said he, "console yourself, my boy, and come with me home to your
mother. They will give you—a papa."
And so they started on the way, the big fellow holding the little fellow
by the hand, and the man smiled, for he was not sorry to see this
Blanchotte, who was, it was said, one of the prettiest girls of the
countryside, and, perhaps, he was saying to himself, at the bottom of his
heart, that a lass who had erred might very well err again.
They arrived in front of a very neat little white house.
"There it is," exclaimed the child, and he cried, "Mamma!"
A woman appeared, and the workman instantly left off smiling, for he saw
at once that there was no fooling to be done with the tall pale girl who
stood austerely at her door as though to defend from one man the
threshold of that house where she had already been betrayed by another.
Intimidated, his cap in his hand, he stammered out:
"See, madame, I have brought you back your little boy who had lost
himself near the river."
But Simon flung his arms about his mother's neck and told her, as he
again began to cry:
"No, mamma, I wished to drown myself, because the others had beaten me
—had beaten me—because I have no papa."
A burning redness covered the young woman's cheeks; and, hurt to the
quick, she embraced her child passionately, while the tears coursed down
her face. The man, much moved, stood there, not knowing how to get away.
But Simon suddenly ran to him and said:
"Will you be my papa?"
A deep silence ensued. La Blanchotte, dumb and tortured with shame,
leaned herself against the wall, both her hands upon her heart. The
child, seeing that no answer was made him, replied:
"If you will not, I shall go back and drown myself."
The workman took the matter as a jest and answered, laughing:
"Why, yes, certainly I will."
"What is your name," went on the child, "so that I may tell the others
when they wish to know your name?"
"Philip," answered the man:
Simon was silent a moment so that he might get the name well into his
head; then he stretched out his arms, quite consoled, as he said:
"Well, then, Philip, you are my papa."
The workman, lifting him from the ground, kissed him hastily on both
cheeks, and then walked away very quickly with great strides. When the
child returned to school next day he was received with a spiteful laugh,
and at the end of school, when the lads were on the point of
recommencing, Simon threw these words at their heads as he would have
done a stone: "He is named Philip, my papa."
Yells of delight burst out from all sides.
"Philip who? Philip what? What on earth is Philip? Where did you pick up
Simon answered nothing; and, immovable in his faith, he defied them with
his eye, ready to be martyred rather than fly before them. The school
master came to his rescue and he returned home to his mother.
During three months, the tall workman, Philip, frequently passed by La
Blanchotte's house, and sometimes he made bold to speak to her when he
saw her sewing near the window. She answered him civilly, always
sedately, never joking with him, nor permitting him to enter her house.
Notwithstanding, being, like all men, a bit of a coxcomb, he imagined
that she was often rosier than usual when she chatted with him.
But a lost reputation is so difficult to regain and always remains so
fragile that, in spite of the shy reserve of La Blanchotte, they already
gossiped in the neighborhood.
As for Simon he loved his new papa very much, and walked with him nearly
every evening when the day's work was done. He went regularly to school,
and mixed with great dignity with his schoolfellows without ever
answering them back.
One day, however, the lad who had first attacked him said to him:
"You have lied. You have not a papa named Philip."
"Why do you say that?" demanded Simon, much disturbed.
The youth rubbed his hands. He replied:
"Because if you had one he would be your mamma's husband."
Simon was confused by the truth of this reasoning; nevertheless, he
"He is my papa, all the same."
"That can very well be," exclaimed the urchin with a sneer, "but that is
not being your papa altogether."
La Blanchotte's little one bowed his head and went off dreaming in the
direction of the forge belonging to old Loizon, where Philip worked. This
forge was as though buried beneath trees. It was very dark there; the red
glare of a formidable furnace alone lit up with great flashes five
blacksmiths; who hammered upon their anvils with a terrible din. They
were standing enveloped in flame, like demons, their eyes fixed on the
red-hot iron they were pounding; and their dull ideas rose and fell with
Simon entered without being noticed, and went quietly to pluck his friend
by the sleeve. The latter turned round. All at once the work came to a
standstill, and all the men looked on, very attentive. Then, in the midst
of this unaccustomed silence, rose the slender pipe of Simon:
"Say, Philip, the Michaude boy told me just now that you were not
altogether my papa."
"Why not?" asked the blacksmith,
The child replied with all innocence:
"Because you are not my mamma's husband."
No one laughed. Philip remained standing, leaning his forehead upon the
back of his great hands, which supported the handle of his hammer
standing upright upon the anvil. He mused. His four companions watched
him, and Simon, a tiny mite among these giants, anxiously waited.
Suddenly, one of the smiths, answering to the sentiment of all, said to
"La Blanchotte is a good, honest girl, and upright and steady in spite of
her misfortune, and would make a worthy wife for an honest man."
"That is true," remarked the three others.
The smith continued:
"Is it the girl's fault if she went wrong? She had been promised
marriage; and I know more than one who is much respected to-day, and who
sinned every bit as much."
"That is true," responded the three men in chorus.
"How hard she has toiled, poor thing, to bring up her child all alone,
and how she has wept all these years she has never gone out except to
church, God only knows."
"This is also true," said the others.
Then nothing was heard but the bellows which fanned the fire of the
furnace. Philip hastily bent himself down to Simon:
"Go and tell your mother that I am coming to speak to her this evening."
Then he pushed the child out by the shoulders. He returned to his work,
and with a single blow the five hammers again fell upon their anvils.
Thus they wrought the iron until nightfall, strong, powerful, happy, like
contented hammers. But just as the great bell of a cathedral resounds
upon feast days above the jingling of the other bells, so Philip's
hammer, sounding above the rest, clanged second after second with a
deafening uproar. And he stood amid the flying sparks plying his trade
The sky was full of stars as he knocked at La Blanchotte's door. He had
on his Sunday blouse, a clean shirt, and his beard was trimmed. The young
woman showed herself upon the threshold, and said in a grieved tone:
"It is ill to come thus when night has fallen, Mr. Philip."
He wished to answer, but stammered and stood confused before her.
"You understand, do you not, that it will not do for me to be talked
"What does that matter to me, if you will be my wife!"
No voice replied to him, but he believed that he heard in the shadow of
the room the sound of a falling body. He entered quickly; and Simon, who
had gone to bed, distinguished the sound of a kiss and some words that
his mother murmured softly. Then, all at once, he found himself lifted up
by the hands of his friend, who, holding him at the length of his
herculean arms, exclaimed:
"You will tell them, your schoolmates, that your papa is Philip Remy, the
blacksmith, and that he will pull the ears of all who do you any harm."
On the morrow, when the school was full and lessons were about to begin,
little Simon stood up, quite pale with trembling lips:
"My papa," said he in a clear voice, "is Philip Remy, the blacksmith, and
he has promised to pull the ears of all who does me any harm."
This time no one laughed, for he was very well known, was Philip Remy,
the blacksmith, and was a papa of whom any one in the world would have