ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 3.
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
LITTLE LOUISE ROQUE
THE DISPENSER OF HOLY WATER
THE IMPOLITE SEX
A WEDDING GIFT
There were seven of us on a drag, four women and three men; one of the
latter sat on the box seat beside the coachman. We were ascending, at a
snail's pace, the winding road up the steep cliff along the coast.
Setting out from Etretat at break of day in order to visit the ruins of
Tancarville, we were still half asleep, benumbed by the fresh air of the
morning. The women especially, who were little accustomed to these early
excursions, half opened and closed their eyes every moment, nodding their
heads or yawning, quite insensible to the beauties of the dawn.
It was autumn. On both sides of the road stretched the bare fields,
yellowed by the stubble of wheat and oats which covered the soil like a
beard that had been badly shaved. The moist earth seemed to steam. Larks
were singing high up in the air, while other birds piped in the bushes.
The sun rose at length in front of us, bright red on the plane of the
horizon, and in proportion as it ascended, growing clearer from minute to
minute, the country seemed to awake, to smile, to shake itself like a
young girl leaving her bed in her white robe of vapor. The Comte
d'Etraille, who was seated on the box, cried:
"Look! look! a hare!" and he extended his arm toward the left, pointing
to a patch of clover. The animal scurried along, almost hidden by the
clover, only its large ears showing. Then it swerved across a furrow,
stopped, started off again at full speed, changed its course, stopped
anew, uneasy, spying out every danger, uncertain what route to take, when
suddenly it began to run with great bounds, disappearing finally in a
large patch of beet-root. All the men had waked up to watch the course of
Rene Lamanoir exclaimed:
"We are not at all gallant this morning," and; regarding his neighbor,
the little Baroness de Serennes, who struggled against sleep, he said to
her in a low tone: "You are thinking of your husband, baroness. Reassure
yourself; he will not return before Saturday, so you have still four
She answered with a sleepy smile:
"How stupid you are!" Then, shaking off her torpor, she added: "Now, let
somebody say something to make us laugh. You, Monsieur Chenal, who have
the reputation of having had more love affairs than the Due de Richelieu,
tell us a love story in which you have played a part; anything you like."
Leon Chenal, an old painter, who had once been very handsome, very
strong, very proud of his physique and very popular with women, took his
long white beard in his hand and smiled. Then, after a few moments'
reflection, he suddenly became serious.
"Ladies, it will not be an amusing tale, for I am going to relate to you
the saddest love affair of my life, and I sincerely hope that none of my
friends may ever pass through a similar experience.
"I was twenty-five years of age and was pillaging along the coast of
Normandy. I call 'pillaging' wandering about, with a knapsack on one's
back, from inn to inn, under the pretext of making studies and sketching
landscapes. I knew nothing more enjoyable than that happy-go-lucky
wandering life, in which one is perfectly free, without shackles of any
kind, without care, without preoccupation, without thinking even of the
morrow. One goes in any direction one pleases, without any guide save his
fancy, without any counsellor save his eyes. One stops because a running
brook attracts one, because the smell of potatoes frying tickles one's
olfactories on passing an inn. Sometimes it is the perfume of clematis
which decides one in his choice or the roguish glance of the servant at
an inn. Do not despise me for my affection for these rustics. These girls
have a soul as well as senses, not to mention firm cheeks and fresh lips;
while their hearty and willing kisses have the flavor of wild fruit. Love
is always love, come whence it may. A heart that beats at your approach,
an eye that weeps when you go away are things so rare, so sweet, so
precious that they must never be despised.
"I have had rendezvous in ditches full of primroses, behind the cow
stable and in barns among the straw, still warm from the heat of the day.
I have recollections of coarse gray cloth covering supple peasant skin
and regrets for simple, frank kisses, more delicate in their unaffected
sincerity than the subtle favors of charming and distinguished women.
"But what one loves most amid all these varied adventures is the country,
the woods, the rising of the sun, the twilight, the moonlight. These are,
for the painter, honeymoon trips with Nature. One is alone with her in
that long and quiet association. You go to sleep in the fields, amid
marguerites and poppies, and when you open your eyes in the full glare of
the sunlight you descry in the distance the little village with its
pointed clock tower which sounds the hour of noon.
"You sit down by the side of a spring which gushes out at the foot of an
oak, amid a growth of tall, slender weeds, glistening with life. You go
down on your knees, bend forward and drink that cold, pellucid water
which wets your mustache and nose; you drink it with a physical pleasure,
as though you kissed the spring, lip to lip. Sometimes, when you find a
deep hole along the course of these tiny brooks, you plunge in quite
naked, and you feel on your skin, from head to foot, as it were, an icy
and delicious caress, the light and gentle quivering of the stream.
"You are gay on the hills, melancholy on the edge of ponds, inspired when
the sun is setting in an ocean of blood-red clouds and casts red
reflections or the river. And at night, under the moon, which passes
across the vault of heaven, you think of a thousand strange things which
would never have occurred to your mind under the brilliant light of day.
"So, in wandering through the same country where we, are this year, I
came to the little village of Benouville, on the cliff between Yport and
Etretat. I came from Fecamp, following the coast, a high coast as
straight as a wall, with its projecting chalk cliffs descending
perpendicularly into the sea. I had walked since early morning on the
short grass, smooth and yielding as a carpet, that grows on the edge of
the cliff. And, singing lustily, I walked with long strides, looking
sometimes at the slow circling flight of a gull with its white curved
wings outlined on the blue sky, sometimes at the brown sails of a fishing
bark on the green sea. In short, I had passed a happy day, a day of
liberty and of freedom from care.
"A little farmhouse where travellers were lodged was pointed out to me, a
kind of inn, kept by a peasant woman, which stood in the centre of a
Norman courtyard surrounded by a double row of beeches.
"Leaving the coast, I reached the hamlet, which was hemmed in by great
trees, and I presented myself at the house of Mother Lecacheur.
"She was an old, wrinkled and stern peasant woman, who seemed always to
receive customers under protest, with a kind of defiance.
"It was the month of May. The spreading apple trees covered the court
with a shower of blossoms which rained unceasingly both upon people and
upon the grass.
"I said: 'Well, Madame Lecacheur, have you a room for me?'
"Astonished to find that I knew her name, she answered:
"'That depends; everything is let, but all the same I can find out."
"In five minutes we had come to an agreement, and I deposited my bag upon
the earthen floor of a rustic room, furnished with a bed, two chairs, a
table and a washbowl. The room looked into the large, smoky kitchen,
where the lodgers took their meals with the people of the farm and the
landlady, who was a widow.
"I washed my hands, after which I went out. The old woman was making a
chicken fricassee for dinner in the large fireplace in which hung the
iron pot, black with smoke.
"'You have travellers, then, at the present time?' said I to her.
"She answered in an offended tone of voice:
"'I have a lady, an English lady, who has reached years of maturity. She
occupies the other room.'
"I obtained, by means of an extra five sous a day, the privilege of
dining alone out in the yard when the weather was fine.
"My place was set outside the door, and I was beginning to gnaw the lean
limbs of the Normandy chicken, to drink the clear cider and to munch the
hunk of white bread, which was four days old but excellent.
"Suddenly the wooden gate which gave on the highway was opened, and a
strange lady directed her steps toward the house. She was very thin, very
tall, so tightly enveloped in a red Scotch plaid shawl that one might
have supposed she had no arms, if one had not seen a long hand appear
just above the hips, holding a white tourist umbrella. Her face was like
that of a mummy, surrounded with curls of gray hair, which tossed about
at every step she took and made me think, I know not why, of a pickled
herring in curl papers. Lowering her eyes, she passed quickly in front of
me and entered the house.
"That singular apparition cheered me. She undoubtedly was my neighbor,
the English lady of mature age of whom our hostess had spoken.
"I did not see her again that day. The next day, when I had settled
myself to commence painting at the end of that beautiful valley which you
know and which extends as far as Etretat, I perceived, on lifting my eyes
suddenly, something singular standing on the crest of the cliff, one
might have said a pole decked out with flags. It was she. On seeing me,
she suddenly disappeared. I reentered the house at midday for lunch and
took my seat at the general table, so as to make the acquaintance of this
odd character. But she did not respond to my polite advances, was
insensible even to my little attentions. I poured out water for her
persistently, I passed her the dishes with great eagerness. A slight,
almost imperceptible, movement of the head and an English word, murmured
so low that I did not understand it, were her only acknowledgments.
"I ceased occupying myself with her, although she had disturbed my
"At the end of three days I knew as much about her as did Madame
"She was called Miss Harriet. Seeking out a secluded village in which to
pass the summer, she had been attracted to Benouville some six months
before and did not seem disposed to leave it. She never spoke at table,
ate rapidly, reading all the while a small book of the Protestant
propaganda. She gave a copy of it to everybody. The cure himself had
received no less than four copies, conveyed by an urchin to whom she had
paid two sous commission. She said sometimes to our hostess abruptly,
without preparing her in the least for the declaration:
"'I love the Saviour more than all. I admire him in all creation; I adore
him in all nature; I carry him always in my heart.'
"And she would immediately present the old woman with one of her tracts
which were destined to convert the universe.
"In, the village she was not liked. In fact, the schoolmaster having
pronounced her an atheist, a kind of stigma attached to her. The cure,
who had been consulted by Madame Lecacheur, responded:
"'She is a heretic, but God does not wish the death of the sinner, and I
believe her to be a person of pure morals.'
"These words, 'atheist,' 'heretic,' words which no one can precisely
define, threw doubts into some minds. It was asserted, however, that this
English woman was rich and that she had passed her life in travelling
through every country in the world because her family had cast her off.
Why had her family cast her off? Because of her impiety, of course!
"She was, in fact, one of those people of exalted principles; one of
those opinionated puritans, of which England produces so many; one of
those good and insupportable old maids who haunt the tables d'hote of
every hotel in Europe, who spoil Italy, poison Switzerland, render the
charming cities of the Mediterranean uninhabitable, carry everywhere
their fantastic manias their manners of petrified vestals, their
indescribable toilets and a certain odor of india-rubber which makes one
believe that at night they are slipped into a rubber casing.
"Whenever I caught sight of one of these individuals in a hotel I fled
like the birds who see a scarecrow in a field.
"This woman, however, appeared so very singular that she did not
"Madame Lecacheur, hostile by instinct to everything that was not rustic,
felt in her narrow soul a kind of hatred for the ecstatic declarations of
the old maid. She had found a phrase by which to describe her, a term of
contempt that rose to her lips, called forth by I know not what confused
and mysterious mental ratiocination. She said: 'That woman is a
demoniac.' This epithet, applied to that austere and sentimental
creature, seemed to me irresistibly droll. I myself never called her
anything now but 'the demoniac,' experiencing a singular pleasure in
pronouncing aloud this word on perceiving her.
"One day I asked Mother Lecacheur: 'Well, what is our demoniac about
"To which my rustic friend replied with a shocked air:
"'What do you think, sir? She picked up a toad which had had its paw
crushed and carried it to her room and has put it in her washbasin and
bandaged it as if it were a man. If that is not profanation I should like
to know what is!'
"On another occasion, when walking along the shore she bought a large
fish which had just been caught, simply to throw it back into the sea
again. The sailor from whom she had bought it, although she paid him
handsomely, now began to swear, more exasperated, indeed, than if she had
put her hand into his pocket and taken his money. For more than a month
he could not speak of the circumstance without becoming furious and
denouncing it as an outrage. Oh, yes! She was indeed a demoniac, this
Miss Harriet, and Mother Lecacheur must have had an inspiration in thus
"The stable boy, who was called Sapeur, because he had served in Africa
in his youth, entertained other opinions. He said with a roguish air:
'She is an old hag who has seen life.'
"If the poor woman had but known!
"The little kind-hearted Celeste did not wait upon her willingly, but I
was never able to understand why. Probably her only reason was that she
was a stranger, of another race; of a different tongue and of another
religion. She was, in fact, a demoniac!
"She passed her time wandering about the country, adoring and seeking God
in nature. I found her one evening on her knees in a cluster of bushes.
Having discovered something red through the leaves, I brushed aside the
branches, and Miss Harriet at once rose to her feet, confused at having
been found thus, fixing on me terrified eyes like those of an owl
surprised in open day.
"Sometimes, when I was working among the rocks, I would suddenly descry
her on the edge of the cliff like a lighthouse signal. She would be
gazing in rapture at the vast sea glittering in the sunlight and the
boundless sky with its golden tints. Sometimes I would distinguish her at
the end of the valley, walking quickly with her elastic English step, and
I would go toward her, attracted by I know not what, simply to see her
illuminated visage, her dried-up, ineffable features, which seemed to
glow with inward and profound happiness.
"I would often encounter her also in the corner of a field, sitting on
the grass under the shadow of an apple tree, with her little religious
booklet lying open on her knee while she gazed out at the distance.
"I could not tear myself away from that quiet country neighborhood, to
which I was attached by a thousand links of love for its wide and
peaceful landscape. I was happy in this sequestered farm, far removed
from everything, but in touch with the earth, the good, beautiful, green
earth. And—must I avow it?—there was, besides, a little
curiosity which retained me at the residence of Mother Lecacheur. I
wished to become acquainted a little with this strange Miss Harriet and
to know what transpires in the solitary souls of those wandering old
"We became acquainted in a rather singular manner. I had just finished a
study which appeared to me to be worth something, and so it was, as it
sold for ten thousand francs fifteen years later. It was as simple,
however, as two and two make four and was not according to academic
rules. The whole right side of my canvas represented a rock, an enormous
rock, covered with sea-wrack, brown, yellow and red, across which the sun
poured like a stream of oil. The light fell upon the rock as though it
were aflame without the sun, which was at my back, being visible. That
was all. A first bewildering study of blazing, gorgeous light.
"On the left was the sea, not the blue sea, the slate-colored sea, but a
sea of jade, greenish, milky and solid beneath the deep-colored sky.
"I was so pleased with my work that I danced from sheer delight as I
carried it back to the inn. I would have liked the whole world to see it
at once. I can remember that I showed it to a cow that was browsing by
the wayside, exclaiming as I did so: 'Look at that, my old beauty; you
will not often see its like again.'
"When I had reached the house I immediately called out to Mother
Lecacheur, shouting with all my might:
"'Hullo, there! Mrs. Landlady, come here and look at this.'
"The rustic approached and looked at my work with her stupid eyes which
distinguished nothing and could not even tell whether the picture
represented an ox or a house.
"Miss Harriet just then came home, and she passed behind me just as I was
holding out my canvas at arm's length, exhibiting it to our landlady. The
demoniac could not help but see it, for I took care to exhibit the thing
in such a way that it could not escape her notice. She stopped abruptly
and stood motionless, astonished. It was her rock which was depicted, the
one which she climbed to dream away her time undisturbed.
"She uttered a British 'Aoh,' which was at once so accentuated and so
flattering that I turned round to her, smiling, and said:
"'This is my latest study, mademoiselle.'
"She murmured rapturously, comically and tenderly:
"'Oh! monsieur, you understand nature as a living thing.'
"I colored and was more touched by that compliment than if it had come
from a queen. I was captured, conquered, vanquished. I could have
embraced her, upon my honor.
"I took my seat at table beside her as usual. For the first time she
spoke, thinking aloud:
"'Oh! I do love nature.'
"I passed her some bread, some water, some wine. She now accepted these
with a little smile of a mummy. I then began to talk about the scenery.
"After the meal we rose from the table together and walked leisurely
across the courtyard; then, attracted doubtless by the fiery glow which
the setting sun cast over the surface of the sea, I opened the gate which
led to the cliff, and we walked along side by side, as contented as two
persons might be who have just learned to understand and penetrate each
other's motives and feelings.
"It was one of those warm, soft evenings which impart a sense of ease to
flesh and spirit alike. All is enjoyment, everything charms. The balmy
air, laden with the perfume of grasses and the smell of seaweed, soothes
the olfactory sense with its wild fragrance, soothes the palate with its
sea savor, soothes the mind with its pervading sweetness.
"We were now walking along the edge of the cliff, high above the
boundless sea which rolled its little waves below us at a distance of a
hundred metres. And we drank in with open mouth and expanded chest that
fresh breeze, briny from kissing the waves, that came from the ocean and
passed across our faces.
"Wrapped in her plaid shawl, with a look of inspiration as she faced the
breeze, the English woman gazed fixedly at the great sun ball as it
descended toward the horizon. Far off in the distance a three-master in
full sail was outlined on the blood-red sky and a steamship, somewhat
nearer, passed along, leaving behind it a trail of smoke on the horizon.
The red sun globe sank slowly lower and lower and presently touched the
water just behind the motionless vessel, which, in its dazzling
effulgence, looked as though framed in a flame of fire. We saw it plunge,
grow smaller and disappear, swallowed up by the ocean.
"Miss Harriet gazed in rapture at the last gleams of the dying day. She
seemed longing to embrace the sky, the sea, the whole landscape.
"She murmured: 'Aoh! I love—I love' I saw a tear in her eye. She
continued: 'I wish I were a little bird, so that I could mount up into
"She remained standing as I had often before seen her, perched on the
cliff, her face as red as her shawl. I should have liked to have sketched
her in my album. It would have been a caricature of ecstasy.
"I turned away so as not to laugh.
"I then spoke to her of painting as I would have done to a fellow artist,
using the technical terms common among the devotees of the profession.
She listened attentively, eagerly seeking to divine the meaning of the
terms, so as to understand my thoughts. From time to time she would
"'Oh! I understand, I understand. It is very interesting.'
"We returned home.
"The next day, on seeing me, she approached me, cordially holding out her
hand; and we at once became firm friends.
"She was a good creature who had a kind of soul on springs, which became
enthusiastic at a bound. She lacked equilibrium like all women who are
spinsters at the age of fifty. She seemed to be preserved in a pickle of
innocence, but her heart still retained something very youthful and
inflammable. She loved both nature and animals with a fervor, a love like
old wine fermented through age, with a sensuous love that she had never
bestowed on men.
"One thing is certain, that the sight of a bitch nursing her puppies, a
mare roaming in a meadow with a foal at its side, a bird's nest full of
young ones, screaming, with their open mouths and their enormous heads,
affected her perceptibly.
"Poor, solitary, sad, wandering beings! I love you ever since I became
acquainted with Miss Harriet.
"I soon discovered that she had something she would like to tell me, but
dare not, and I was amused at her timidity. When I started out in the
morning with my knapsack on my back, she would accompany me in silence as
far as the end of the village, evidently struggling to find words with
which to begin a conversation. Then she would leave me abruptly and walk
away quickly with her springy step.
"One day, however, she plucked up courage:
"I would like to see how you paint pictures. Are you willing? I have been
"And she blushed as if she had said something very audacious.
"I conducted her to the bottom of the Petit-Val, where I had begun a
"She remained standing behind me, following all my gestures with
concentrated attention. Then, suddenly, fearing perhaps that she was
disturbing me, she said: 'Thank you,' and walked away.
"But she soon became more friendly, and accompanied me every day, her
countenance exhibiting visible pleasure. She carried her camp stool under
her arm, not permitting me to carry it. She would remain there for hours,
silent and motionless, following with her eyes the point of my brush, in
its every movement. When I obtained unexpectedly just the effect I wanted
by a dash of color put on with the palette knife, she involuntarily
uttered a little 'Ah!' of astonishment, of joy, of admiration. She had
the most tender respect for my canvases, an almost religious respect for
that human reproduction of a part of nature's work divine. My studies
appeared to her a kind of religious pictures, and sometimes she spoke to
me of God, with the idea of converting me.
"Oh, he was a queer, good-natured being, this God of hers! He was a sort
of village philosopher without any great resources and without great
power, for she always figured him to herself as inconsolable over
injustices committed under his eyes, as though he were powerless to
"She was, however, on excellent terms with him, affecting even to be the
confidante of his secrets and of his troubles. She would say:
"'God wills' or 'God does not will,' just like a sergeant announcing to a
recruit: 'The colonel has commanded.'
"At the bottom of her heart she deplored my ignorance of the intentions
of the Eternal, which she endeavored to impart to me.
"Almost every day I found in my pockets, in my hat when I lifted it from
the ground, in my paintbox, in my polished shoes, standing in front of my
door in the morning, those little pious tracts which she no doubt,
received directly from Paradise.
"I treated her as one would an old friend, with unaffected cordiality.
But I soon perceived that she had changed somewhat in her manner, though,
for a while, I paid little attention to it.
"When I was painting, whether in my valley or in some country lane, I
would see her suddenly appear with her rapid, springy walk. She would
then sit down abruptly, out of breath, as though she had been running or
were overcome by some profound emotion. Her face would be red, that
English red which is denied to the people of all other countries; then,
without any reason, she would turn ashy pale and seem about to faint
away. Gradually, however, her natural color would return and she would
begin to speak.
"Then, without warning, she would break off in the middle of a sentence,
spring up from her seat and walk away so rapidly and so strangely that I
was at my wits' ends to discover whether I had done or said anything to
displease or wound her.
"I finally came to the conclusion that those were her normal manners,
somewhat modified no doubt in my honor during the first days of our
"When she returned to the farm, after walking for hours on the windy
coast, her long curls often hung straight down, as if their springs had
been broken. This had hitherto seldom given her any concern, and she
would come to dinner without embarrassment all dishevelled by her sister,
"But now she would go to her room and arrange the untidy locks, and when
I would say, with familiar gallantry, which, however, always offended
"'You are as beautiful as a star to-day, Miss Harriet,' a blush would
immediately rise to her cheeks, the blush of a young girl, of a girl of
"Then she would suddenly become quite reserved and cease coming to watch
me paint. I thought, 'This is only a fit of temper; it will blow over.'
But it did not always blow over, and when I spoke to her she would answer
me either with affected indifference or with sullen annoyance.
"She became by turns rude, impatient and nervous. I never saw her now
except at meals, and we spoke but little. I concluded at length that I
must have offended her in some way, and, accordingly, I said to her one
"'Miss Harriet, why is it that you do not act toward me as formerly? What
have I done to displease you? You are causing me much pain!'
"She replied in a most comical tone of anger:
"'I am just the same with you as formerly. It is not true, not true,' and
she ran upstairs and shut herself up in her room.
"Occasionally she would look at me in a peculiar manner. I have often
said to myself since then that those who are condemned to death must look
thus when they are informed that their last day has come. In her eye
there lurked a species of insanity, an insanity at once mystical and
violent; and even more, a fever, an aggravated longing, impatient and
impotent, for the unattained and unattainable.
"Nay, it seemed to me there was also going on within her a struggle in
which her heart wrestled with an unknown force that she sought to master,
and even, perhaps, something else. But what do I know? What do I know?
"It was indeed a singular revelation.
"For some time I had commenced to work, as soon as daylight appeared, on
a picture the subject of which was as follows:
"A deep ravine, enclosed, surmounted by two thickets of trees and vines,
extended into the distance and was lost, submerged in that milky vapor,
in that cloud like cotton down that sometimes floats over valleys at
daybreak. And at the extreme end of that heavy, transparent fog one saw,
or, rather, surmised, that a couple of human beings were approaching, a
human couple, a youth and a maiden, their arms interlaced, embracing each
other, their heads inclined toward each other, their lips meeting.
"A first ray of the sun, glistening through the branches, pierced that
fog of the dawn, illuminated it with a rosy reflection just behind the
rustic lovers, framing their vague shadows in a silvery background. It
was well done; yes, indeed, well done.
"I was working on the declivity which led to the Valley of Etretat. On
this particular morning I had, by chance, the sort of floating vapor
which I needed. Suddenly something rose up in front of me like a phantom;
it was Miss Harriet. On seeing me she was about to flee. But I called
after her, saying: 'Come here, come here, mademoiselle. I have a nice
little picture for you.'
"She came forward, though with seeming reluctance. I handed her my
sketch. She said nothing, but stood for a long time, motionless, looking
at it, and suddenly she burst into tears. She wept spasmodically, like
men who have striven hard to restrain their tears, but who can do so no
longer and abandon themselves to grief, though still resisting. I sprang
to my feet, moved at the sight of a sorrow I did not comprehend, and I
took her by the hand with an impulse of brusque affection, a true French
impulse which acts before it reflects.
"She let her hands rest in mine for a few seconds, and I felt them quiver
as if all her nerves were being wrenched. Then she withdrew her hands
abruptly, or, rather, snatched them away.
"I recognized that tremor, for I had felt it, and I could not be
deceived. Ah! the love tremor of a woman, whether she be fifteen or fifty
years of age, whether she be of the people or of society, goes so
straight to my heart that I never have any hesitation in understanding
"Her whole frail being had trembled, vibrated, been overcome. I knew it.
She walked away before I had time to say a word, leaving me as surprised
as if I had witnessed a miracle and as troubled as if I had committed a
"I did not go in to breakfast. I went to take a turn on the edge of the
cliff, feeling that I would just as lief weep as laugh, looking on the
adventure as both comic and deplorable and my position as ridiculous,
believing her unhappy enough to go insane.
"I asked myself what I ought to do. It seemed best for me to leave the
place, and I immediately resolved to do so.
"Somewhat sad and perplexed, I wandered about until dinner time and
entered the farmhouse just when the soup had been served up.
"I sat down at the table as usual. Miss Harriet was there, eating away
solemnly, without speaking to any one, without even lifting her eyes. Her
manner and expression were, however, the same as usual.
"I waited patiently till the meal had been finished, when, turning toward
the landlady, I said: 'Well, Madame Lecacheur, it will not be long now
before I shall have to take my leave of you.'
"The good woman, at once surprised and troubled, replied in her drawling
voice: 'My dear sir, what is it you say? You are going to leave us after
I have become so accustomed to you?'
"I glanced at Miss Harriet out of the corner of my eye. Her countenance
did not change in the least. But Celeste, the little servant, looked up
at me. She was a fat girl, of about eighteen years of age, rosy, fresh,
as strong as a horse, and possessing the rare attribute of cleanliness. I
had kissed her at odd times in out-of-the-way corners, after the manner
of travellers—nothing more.
"The dinner being at length over, I went to smoke my pipe under the apple
trees, walking up and down from one end of the enclosure to the other.
All the reflections which I had made during the day, the strange
discovery of the morning, that passionate and grotesque attachment for
me, the recollections which that revelation had suddenly called up,
recollections at once charming and perplexing, perhaps also that look
which the servant had cast on me at the announcement of my
departure—all these things, mixed up and combined, put me now in a
reckless humor, gave me a tickling sensation of kisses on the lips and in
my veins a something which urged me on to commit some folly.
"Night was coming on, casting its dark shadows under the trees, when I
descried Celeste, who had gone to fasten up the poultry yard at the other
end of the enclosure. I darted toward her, running so noiselessly that
she heard nothing, and as she got up from closing the small trapdoor by
which the chickens got in and out, I clasped her in my arms and rained on
her coarse, fat face a shower of kisses. She struggled, laughing all the
time, as she was accustomed to do in such circumstances. Why did I
suddenly loose my grip of her? Why did I at once experience a shock? What
was it that I heard behind me?
"It was Miss Harriet, who had come upon us, who had seen us and who stood
in front of us motionless as a spectre. Then she disappeared in the
"I was ashamed, embarrassed, more desperate at having been thus surprised
by her than if she had caught me committing some criminal act.
"I slept badly that night. I was completely unnerved and haunted by sad
thoughts. I seemed to hear loud weeping, but in this I was no doubt
deceived. Moreover, I thought several times that I heard some one walking
up and down in the house and opening the hall door.
"Toward morning I was overcome by fatigue and fell asleep. I got up late
and did not go downstairs until the late breakfast, being still in a
bewildered state, not knowing what kind of expression to put on.
"No one had seen Miss Harriet. We waited for her at table, but she did
not appear. At length Mother Lecacheur went to her room. The English
woman had gone out. She must have set out at break of day, as she was
wont to do, in order to see the sun rise.
"Nobody seemed surprised at this, and we began to eat in silence.
"The weather was hot, very hot, one of those broiling, heavy days when
not a leaf stirs. The table had been placed out of doors, under an apple
tree, and from time to time Sapeur had gone to the cellar to draw a jug
of cider, everybody was so thirsty. Celeste brought the dishes from the
kitchen, a ragout of mutton with potatoes, a cold rabbit and a salad.
Afterward she placed before us a dish of strawberries, the first of the
"As I wished to wash and freshen these, I begged the servant to go and
draw me a pitcher of cold water.
"In about five minutes she returned, declaring that the well was dry. She
had lowered the pitcher to the full extent of the cord and had touched
the bottom, but on drawing the pitcher up again it was empty. Mother
Lecacheur, anxious to examine the thing for herself, went and looked down
the hole. She returned, announcing that one could see clearly something
in the well, something altogether unusual. But this no doubt was bundles
of straw, which a neighbor had thrown in out of spite.
"I wished to look down the well also, hoping I might be able to clear up
the mystery, and I perched myself close to the brink. I perceived
indistinctly a white object. What could it be? I then conceived the idea
of lowering a lantern at the end of a cord. When I did so the yellow
flame danced on the layers of stone and gradually became clearer. All
four of us were leaning over the opening, Sapeur and Celeste having now
joined us. The lantern rested on a black-and-white indistinct mass,
singular, incomprehensible. Sapeur exclaimed:
"'It is a horse. I see the hoofs. It must have got out of the meadow
during the night and fallen in headlong.'
"But suddenly a cold shiver froze me to the marrow. I first recognized a
foot, then a leg sticking up; the whole body and the other leg were
completely under water.
"I stammered out in a loud voice, trembling so violently that the lantern
danced hither and thither over the slipper:
"'It is a woman! Who-who-can it be? It is Miss Harriet!'
"Sapeur alone did not manifest horror. He had witnessed many such scenes
"Mother Lecacheur and Celeste began to utter piercing screams and ran
"But it was necessary to recover the corpse of the dead woman. I attached
the young man securely by the waist to the end of the pulley rope and
lowered him very slowly, watching him disappear in the darkness. In one
hand he held the lantern and a rope in the other. Soon I recognized his
voice, which seemed to come from the centre of the earth, saying:
"I then saw him fish something out of the water. It was the other leg. He
then bound the two feet together and shouted anew:
"I began to wind up, but I felt my arms crack, my muscles twitch, and I
was in terror lest I should let the man fall to the bottom. When his head
appeared at the brink I asked:
"'Well?' as if I expected he had a message from the drowned woman.
"We both got on the stone slab at the edge of the well and from opposite
sides we began to haul up the body.
"Mother Lecacheur and Celeste watched us from a distance, concealed from
view behind the wall of the house. When they saw issuing from the hole
the black slippers and white stockings of the drowned person they
"Sapeur seized the ankles, and we drew up the body of the poor woman. The
head was shocking to look at, being bruised and lacerated, and the long
gray hair, out of curl forevermore, hanging down tangled and disordered.
"'In the name of all that is holy! how lean she is,' exclaimed Sapeur in
a contemptuous tone.
"We carried her into the room, and as the women did not put in an
appearance I, with the assistance of the stable lad, dressed the corpse
"I washed her disfigured face. Under the touch of my finger an eye was
slightly opened and regarded me with that pale, cold look, that terrible
look of a corpse which seems to come from the beyond. I braided as well
as I could her dishevelled hair and with my clumsy hands arranged on her
head a novel and singular coiffure. Then I took off her dripping wet
garments, baring, not without a feeling of shame, as though I had been
guilty of some profanation, her shoulders and her chest and her long
arms, as slim as the twigs of a tree.
"I next went to fetch some flowers, poppies, bluets, marguerites and
fresh, sweet-smelling grass with which to strew her funeral couch.
"I then had to go through the usual formalities, as I was alone to attend
to everything. A letter found in her pocket, written at the last moment,
requested that her body be buried in the village in which she had passed
the last days of her life. A sad suspicion weighed on my heart. Was it
not on my account that she wished to be laid to rest in this place?
"Toward evening all the female gossips of the locality came to view the
remains of the defunct, but I would not allow a single person to enter. I
wanted to be alone, and I watched beside her all night.
"I looked at the corpse by the flickering light of the candles, at this
unhappy woman, unknown to us all, who had died in such a lamentable
manner and so far away from home. Had she left no friends, no relations
behind her? What had her infancy been? What had been her life? Whence had
she come thither alone, a wanderer, lost like a dog driven from home?
What secrets of sufferings and of despair were sealed up in that
unprepossessing body, in that poor body whose outward appearance had
driven from her all affection, all love?
"How many unhappy beings there are! I felt that there weighed upon that
human creature the eternal injustice of implacable nature! It was all
over with her, without her ever having experienced, perhaps, that which
sustains the greatest outcasts to wit, the hope of being loved once!
Otherwise why should she thus have concealed herself, fled from the face
of others? Why did she love everything so tenderly and so passionately,
everything living that was not a man?
"I recognized the fact that she believed in a God, and that she hoped to
receive compensation from the latter for all the miseries she had
endured. She would now disintegrate and become, in turn, a plant. She
would blossom in the sun, the cattle would browse on her leaves, the
birds would bear away the seeds, and through these changes she would
become again human flesh. But that which is called the soul had been
extinguished at the bottom of the dark well. She suffered no longer. She
had given her life for that of others yet to come.
"Hours passed away in this silent and sinister communion with the dead. A
pale light at length announced the dawn of a new day; then a red ray
streamed in on the bed, making a bar of light across the coverlet and
across her hands. This was the hour she had so much loved. The awakened
birds began to sing in the trees.
"I opened the window to its fullest extent and drew back the curtains
that the whole heavens might look in upon us, and, bending over the icy
corpse, I took in my hands the mutilated head and slowly, without terror
or disgust, I imprinted a kiss, a long kiss, upon those lips which had
never before been kissed."
Leon Chenal remained silent. The women wept. We heard on the box seat the
Count d'Atraille blowing his nose from time to time. The coachman alone
had gone to sleep. The horses, who no longer felt the sting of the whip,
had slackened their pace and moved along slowly. The drag, hardly
advancing at all, seemed suddenly torpid, as if it had been freighted
[Miss Harriet appeared in Le Gaulois, July 9, 1883, under the title
of Miss Hastings. The story was later revised, enlarged; and partly
reconstructed. This is what De Maupassant wrote to Editor Havard
March 15, 1884, in an unedited letter, in regard to the title of the
story that was to give its name to the volume:
"I do not believe that Hastings is a bad name, inasmuch as it is
known all over the world, and recalls the greatest facts in English
history. Besides, Hastings is as much a name as Duval is with us.
"The name Cherbuliez selected, Miss Revel, is no more like an
English name than like a Turkish name. But here is another name as
English as Hastings, and more euphonious; it is Miss Harriet.
I will ask you therefore to substitute Harriet for Hastings."
It was in regard to this very tittle that De Maupassant had a
disagreement with Audran and Boucheron director of the Bouffes
Parisiens in October, 1890 They had given this title to an operetta
about to be played at the Bouffes. It ended however, by their
ceding to De Maupassant, and the title of the operetta was changed
to Miss Helyett.]
LITTLE LOUISE ROQUE
The former soldier, Mederic Rompel, familiarly called Mederic by the
country folks, left the post office of Roily-le-Tors at the usual hour.
After passing through the village with his long stride, he cut across the
meadows of Villaume and reached the bank of the Brindille, following the
path along the water's edge to the village of Carvelin, where he
commenced to deliver his letters. He walked quickly, following the course
of the narrow river, which frothed, murmured and boiled in its grassy bed
beneath an arch of willows.
Mederic went on without stopping, with only this thought in his mind: "My
first letter is for the Poivron family, then I have one for Monsieur
Renardet; so I must cross the wood."
His blue blouse, fastened round his waist by a black leather belt, moved
in a quick, regular fashion above the green hedge of willow trees, and
his stout stick of holly kept time with his steady tread.
He crossed the Brindille on a bridge consisting of a tree trunk, with a
handrail of rope, fastened at either end to a stake driven into the
The wood, which belonged to Monsieur Renardet, the mayor of Carvelin and
the largest landowner in the district, consisted of huge old trees,
straight as pillars and extending for about half a league along the left
bank of the stream which served as a boundary to this immense dome of
foliage. Alongside the water large shrubs had grown up in the sunlight,
but under the trees one found nothing but moss, thick, soft and yielding,
from which arose, in the still air, an odor of dampness and of dead wood.
Mederic slackened his pace, took off his black cap adorned with red lace
and wiped his forehead, for it was by this time hot in the meadows,
though it was not yet eight o'clock in the morning.
He had just recovered from the effects of the heat and resumed his quick
pace when he noticed at the foot of a tree a knife, a child's small
knife. When he picked it up he discovered a thimble and also a needlecase
not far away.
Having taken up these objects, he thought: "I'll entrust them to the
mayor," and he resumed his journey, but now he kept his eyes open,
expecting to find something else.
All of a sudden he stopped short, as if he had struck against a wooden
barrier. Ten paces in front of him lay stretched on her back on the moss
a little girl, perfectly nude, her face covered with a handkerchief. She
was about twelve years old.
Meredic advanced on tiptoe, as if he apprehended some danger, and he
glanced toward the spot uneasily.
What was this? No doubt she was asleep. Then he reflected that a person
does not go to sleep naked at half-past seven in the morning under the
cool trees. So, then, she must be dead, and he must be face to face with
a crime. At this thought a cold shiver ran through his frame, although he
was an old soldier. And then a murder was such a rare thing in the
country, and, above all, the murder of a child, that he could not believe
his eyes. But she had no wound-nothing save a spot of blood on her leg.
How, then, had she been killed?
He stopped close to her and gazed at her, while he leaned on his stick.
Certainly he must know her, for he knew all the inhabitants of the
district; but, not being able to get a look at her face, he could not
guess her name. He stooped forward in order to take off the handkerchief
which covered her face, then paused, with outstretched hand, restrained
by an idea that occurred to him.
Had he the right to disarrange anything in the condition of the corpse
before the official investigation? He pictured justice to himself as a
kind of general whom nothing escapes and who attaches as much importance
to a lost button as to the stab of a knife in the stomach. Perhaps under
this handkerchief evidence could be found to sustain a charge of murder;
in fact, if such proof were there it might lose its value if touched by
an awkward hand.
Then he raised himself with the intention of hastening toward the mayor's
residence, but again another thought held him back. If the little girl
were still alive, by any chance, he could not leave her lying there in
this way. He sank on his knees very gently, a little distance from her,
through precaution, and extended his hand toward her foot. It was icy
cold, with the terrible coldness of death which leaves us no longer in
doubt. The letter carrier, as he touched her, felt his heart in his
mouth, as he said himself afterward, and his mouth parched. Rising up
abruptly, he rushed off under the trees toward Monsieur Renardet's house.
He walked on faster than ever, with his stick under his arm, his hands
clenched and his head thrust forward, while his leathern bag, filled with
letters and newspapers, kept flapping at his side.
The mayor's residence was at the end of the wood which served as a park,
and one side of it was washed by the Brindille.
It was a big square house of gray stone, very old, and had stood many a
siege in former days, and at the end of it was a huge tower, twenty
metres high, rising out of the water.
From the top of this fortress one could formerly see all the surrounding
country. It was called the Fox's tower, without any one knowing exactly
why; and from this appellation, no doubt, had come the name Renardet,
borne by the owners of this fief, which had remained in the same family,
it was said, for more than two hundred years. For the Renardets formed
part of the upper middle class, all but noble, to be met with so often in
the province before the Revolution.
The postman dashed into the kitchen, where the servants were taking
breakfast, and exclaimed:
"Is the mayor up? I want to speak to him at once."
Mederic was recognized as a man of standing and authority, and they
understood that something serious had happened.
As soon as word was brought to Monsieur Renardet, he ordered the postman
to be sent up to him. Pale and out of breath, with his cap in his hand,
Mederic found the mayor seated at a long table covered with scattered
He was a large, tall man, heavy and red-faced, strong as an ox, and was
greatly liked in the district, although of an excessively violent
disposition. Almost forty years old and a widower for the past six
months, he lived on his estate like a country gentleman. His choleric
temperament had often brought him into trouble from which the magistrates
of Roily-le-Tors, like indulgent and prudent friends, had extricated him.
Had he not one day thrown the conductor of the diligence from the top of
his seat because he came near running over his retriever, Micmac? Had he
not broken the ribs of a gamekeeper who abused him for having, gun in
hand, passed through a neighbor's property? Had he not even caught by the
collar the sub-prefect, who stopped over in the village during an
administrative circuit, called by Monsieur Renardet an electioneering
circuit, for he was opposed to the government, in accordance with family
The mayor asked:
"What's the matter now, Mederic?"
"I found a little girl dead in your wood."
Renardet rose to his feet, his face the color of brick.
"What do you say—a little girl?"
"Yes, m'sieu, a little girl, quite naked, on her back, with blood on her,
The mayor gave vent to an oath:
"By God, I'd make a bet it is little Louise Roque! I have just learned
that she did not go home to her mother last night. Where did you find
The postman described the spot, gave full details and offered to conduct
the mayor to the place.
But Renardet became brusque:
"No, I don't need you. Send the watchman, the mayor's secretary and the
doctor to me at once, and resume your rounds. Quick, quick, go and tell
them to meet me in the wood."
The letter carrier, a man used to discipline, obeyed and withdrew, angry
and grieved at not being able to be present at the investigation.
The mayor, in his turn, prepared to go out, took his big soft hat and
paused for a few seconds on the threshold of his abode. In front of him
stretched a wide sward, in which were three large beds of flowers in full
bloom, one facing the house and the others at either side of it. Farther
on the outlying trees of the wood rose skyward, while at the left, beyond
the Brindille, which at that spot widened into a pond, could be seen long
meadows, an entirely green flat sweep of country, intersected by trenches
and hedges of pollard willows.
To the right, behind the stables, the outhouses and all the buildings
connected with the property, might be seen the village, which was
wealthy, being mainly inhabited by cattle breeders.
Renardet slowly descended the steps in front of his house, and, turning
to the left, gained the water's edge, which he followed at a slow pace,
his hand behind his back. He walked on, with bent head, and from time to
time glanced round in search of the persons he had sent for.
When he stood beneath the trees he stopped, took off his hat and wiped
his forehead as Mederic had done, for the burning sun was darting its
fiery rays on the earth. Then the mayor resumed his journey, stopped once
more and retraced his steps. Suddenly, stooping down, he steeped his
handkerchief in the stream that glided along at his feet and spread it
over his head, under his hat. Drops of water flowed down his temples over
his ears, which were always purple, over his strong red neck, and made
their way, one after the other, under his white shirt collar.
As nobody had appeared, he began tapping with his foot, then he called
A voice at his right answered:
And the doctor appeared under the trees. He was a thin little man, an
ex-military surgeon, who passed in the neighborhood for a very skillful
practitioner. He limped, having been wounded while in the service, and
had to use a stick to assist him in walking.
Next came the watchman and the mayor's secretary, who, having been sent
for at the same time, arrived together. They looked scared, and hurried
forward, out of breath, walking and running alternately to hasten their
progress, and moving their arms up and down so vigorously that they
seemed to do more work with them than with their legs.
Renardet said to the doctor:
"You know what the trouble is about?"
"Yes, a child found dead in the wood by Mederic."
"That's quite correct. Come on!"
They walked along, side by side, followed by the two men.
Their steps made no sound on the moss. Their eyes were gazing ahead in
front of them.
Suddenly the doctor, extending his arm, said:
"See, there she is!"
Far ahead of them under the trees they saw something white on which the
sun gleamed down through the branches. As they approached they gradually
distinguished a human form lying there, its head toward the river, the
face covered and the arms extended as though on a crucifix.
"I am fearfully warm," said the mayor, and stooping down, he again soaked
his handkerchief in the water and placed it round his forehead.
The doctor hastened his steps, interested by the discovery. As soon as
they were near the corpse, he bent down to examine it without touching
it. He had put on his pince-nez, as one does in examining some curious
object, and turned round very quietly.
He said, without rising:
"Violated and murdered, as we shall prove presently. This little girl,
moreover, is almost a woman—look at her throat."
The doctor lightly drew away the handkerchief which covered her face,
which looked black, frightful, the tongue protruding, the eyes bloodshot.
He went on:
"By heavens! She was strangled the moment the deed was done."
He felt her neck.
"Strangled with the hands without leaving any special trace, neither the
mark of the nails nor the imprint of the fingers. Quite right. It is
little Louise Roque, sure enough!"
He carefully replaced the handkerchief.
"There's nothing for me to do. She's been dead for the last hour at
least. We must give notice of the matter to the authorities."
Renardet, standing up, with his hands behind his back, kept staring with
a stony look at the little body exposed to view on the grass. He
"What a wretch! We must find the clothes."
The doctor felt the hands, the arms, the legs. He said:
"She had been bathing no doubt. They ought to be at the water's edge."
The mayor thereupon gave directions:
"Do you, Principe" (this was his secretary), "go and find those clothes
for me along the stream. You, Maxime" (this was the watchman), "hurry on
toward Rouy-le-Tors and bring with you the magistrate with the gendarmes.
They must be here within an hour. You understand?"
The two men started at once, and Renardet said to the doctor:
"What miscreant could have done such a deed in this part of the country?"
The doctor murmured:
"Who knows? Any one is capable of that. Every one in particular and
nobody in general. No matter, it must be some prowler, some workman out
of employment. Since we have become a Republic we meet only this kind of
person along the roads."
Both of them were Bonapartists.
The mayor went on:
"Yes, it can only be a stranger, a passer-by, a vagabond without hearth
The doctor added, with the shadow of a smile on his face:
"And without a wife. Having neither a good supper nor a good bed, he
became reckless. You can't tell how many men there may be in the world
capable of a crime at a given moment. Did you know that this little girl
And with the end of his stick he touched one after the other the
stiffened fingers of the corpse, resting on them as on the keys of a
"Yes, the mother came last night to look for me about nine o'clock, the
child not having come home at seven to supper. We looked for her along
the roads up to midnight, but we did not think of the wood. However, we
needed daylight to carry out a thorough search."
"Will you have a cigar?" said the doctor.
"Thanks, I don't care to smoke. This thing affects me so."
They remained standing beside the corpse of the young girl, so pale on
the dark moss. A big blue fly was walking over the body with his lively,
jerky movements. The two men kept watching this wandering speck.
The doctor said:
"How pretty it is, a fly on the skin! The ladies of the last century had
good reason to paste them on their faces. Why has this fashion gone out?"
The mayor seemed not to hear, plunged as he was in deep thought.
But, all of a sudden, he turned round, surprised by a shrill noise. A
woman in a cap and blue apron was running toward them under the trees. It
was the mother, La Roque. As soon as she saw Renardet she began to
"My little girl! Where's my little girl?" so distractedly that she did
not glance down at the ground. Suddenly she saw the corpse, stopped
short, clasped her hands and raised both her arms while she uttered a
sharp, heartrending cry—the cry of a wounded animal. Then she
rushed toward the body, fell on her knees and snatched away the
handkerchief that covered the face. When she saw that frightful
countenance, black and distorted, she rose to her feet with a shudder,
then sinking to the ground, face downward, she pressed her face against
the ground and uttered frightful, continuous screams on the thick moss.
Her tall, thin frame, with its close-clinging dress, was palpitating,
shaken with spasms. One could see her bony ankles and her dried-up calves
covered with coarse blue stockings shaking horribly. She was digging the
soil with her crooked fingers, as though she were trying to make a hole
in which to hide herself.
The doctor, much affected, said in a low tone:
"Poor old woman!"
Renardet felt a strange sensation. Then he gave vent to a sort of loud
sneeze, and, drawing his handkerchief from his pocket, he began to weep
internally, coughing, sobbing and blowing his nose noisily.
"Damn—damn—damned pig to do this! I would like to seem him
Principe reappeared with his hands empty. He murmured:
"I have found nothing, M'sieu le Maire, nothing at all anywhere."
The mayor, alarmed, replied in a thick voice, drowned in tears:
"What is that you could not find?"
"The little girl's clothes."
"Well—well—look again, and find them—or you''ll have to
answer to me."
The man, knowing that the mayor would not brook opposition, set forth
again with hesitating steps, casting a timid side glance at the corpse.
Distant voices were heard under the trees, a confused sound, the noise of
an approaching crowd, for Mederic had, in the course of his rounds,
carried the news from door to door. The people of the neighborhood, dazed
at first, had gossiped about it in the street, from one threshold to
another. Then they gathered together. They talked over, discussed and
commented on the event for some minutes and had now come to see for
They arrived in groups, a little faltering and uneasy through fear of the
first impression of such a scene on their minds. When they saw the body
they stopped, not daring to advance, and speaking low. Then they grew
bolder, went on a few steps, stopped again, advanced once more, and
presently formed around the dead girl, her mother, the doctor and
Renardet a close circle, restless and noisy, which crowded forward at the
sudden impact of newcomers. And now they touched the corpse. Some of them
even bent down to feel it with their fingers. The doctor kept them back.
But the mayor, waking abruptly out of his torpor, flew into a rage, and
seizing Dr. Labarbe's stick, flung himself on his townspeople,
"Clear out—clear out—you pack of brutes—clear out!"
And in a second the crowd of sightseers had fallen back two hundred
Mother La Roque had risen to a sitting posture and now remained weeping,
with her hands clasped over her face.
The crowd was discussing the affair, and young lads' eager eyes curiously
scrutinized this nude young form. Renardet perceived this, and, abruptly
taking off his coat, he flung it over the little girl, who was entirely
hidden from view beneath the large garment.
The secretary drew near quietly. The wood was filled with people, and a
continuous hum of voices rose up under the tangled foliage of the tall
The mayor, in his shirt sleeves, remained standing, with his stick in his
hands, in a fighting attitude. He seemed exasperated by this curiosity on
the part of the people and kept repeating:
"If one of you come nearer I'll break his head just as I would a dog's."
The peasants were greatly afraid of him. They held back. Dr. Labarbe, who
was smoking, sat down beside La Roque and spoke to her in order to
distract her attention. The old woman at once removed her hands from her
face and replied with a flood of tearful words, emptying her grief in
copious talk. She told the whole story of her life, her marriage, the
death of her man, a cattle drover, who had been gored to death, the
infancy of her daughter, her wretched existence as a widow without
resources and with a child to support. She had only this one, her little
Louise, and the child had been killed—killed in this wood. Then she
felt anxious to see her again, and, dragging herself on her knees toward
the corpse, she raised up one corner of the garment that covered her;
then she let it fall again and began wailing once more. The crowd
remained silent, eagerly watching all the mother's gestures.
But suddenly there was a great commotion at the cry of "The gendarmes!
Two gendarmes appeared in the distance, advancing at a rapid trot,
escorting their captain and a little gentleman with red whiskers, who was
bobbing up and down like a monkey on a big white mare.
The watchman had just found Monsieur Putoin, the magistrate, at the
moment when he was mounting his horse to take his daily ride, for he
posed as a good horseman, to the great amusement of the officers.
He dismounted, along with the captain, and pressed the hands of the mayor
and the doctor, casting a ferret-like glance on the linen coat beneath
which lay the corpse.
When he was made acquainted with all the facts, he first gave orders to
disperse the crowd, whom the gendarmes drove out of the wood, but who
soon reappeared in the meadow and formed a hedge, a big hedge of excited
and moving heads, on the other side of the stream.
The doctor, in his turn, gave explanations, which Renardet noted down in
his memorandum book. All the evidence was given, taken down and commented
on without leading to any discovery. Maxime, too, came back without
having found any trace of the clothes.
This disappearance surprised everybody; no one could explain it except on
the theory of theft, and as her rags were not worth twenty sous, even
this theory was inadmissible.
The magistrate, the mayor, the captain and the doctor set to work
searching in pairs, putting aside the smallest branch along the water.
Renardet said to the judge:
"How does it happen that this wretch has concealed or carried away the
clothes, and has thus left the body exposed, in sight of every one?"
The other, crafty and sagacious, answered:
"Ha! ha! Perhaps a dodge? This crime has been committed either by a brute
or by a sly scoundrel. In any case, we'll easily succeed in finding him."
The noise of wheels made them turn their heads round. It was the deputy
magistrate, the doctor and the registrar of the court who had arrived in
their turn. They resumed their search, all chatting in an animated
Renardet said suddenly:
"Do you know that you are to take luncheon with me?"
Every one smilingly accepted the invitation, and the magistrate, thinking
that the case of little Louise Roque had occupied enough attention for
one day, turned toward the mayor.
"I can have the body brought to your house, can I not? You have a room in
which you can keep it for me till this evening?"
The other became confused and stammered:
"Yes—no—no. To tell the truth, I prefer that it should not
come into my house on account of—on account of my servants, who are
already talking about ghosts in—in my tower, in the Fox's tower.
You know—I could no longer keep a single one. No—I prefer not
to have it in my house."
The magistrate began to smile.
"Good! I will have it taken at once to Roily for the legal examination."
And, turning to his deputy, he said:
"I can make use of your trap, can I not?"
They all came back to the place where the corpse lay. Mother La Roque,
now seated beside her daughter, was holding her hand and was staring
right before her with a wandering, listless eye.
The two doctors endeavored to lead her away, so that she might not
witness the dead girl's removal, but she understood at once what they
wanted to do, and, flinging herself on the body, she threw both arms
round it. Lying on top of the corpse, she exclaimed:
"You shall not have it—it's mine—it's mine now. They have
killed her for me, and I want to keep her—you shall not have
All the men, affected and not knowing how to act, remained standing
around her. Renardet fell on his knees and said to her:
"Listen, La Roque, it is necessary, in order to find out who killed her.
Without this, we could not find out. We must make a search for the man in
order to punish him. When we have found him we'll give her up to you. I
promise you this."
This explanation bewildered the woman, and a feeling of hatred manifested
itself in her distracted glance.
"So then they'll arrest him?"
"Yes, I promise you that."
She rose up, deciding to let them do as they liked, but when the captain
"It is surprising that her clothes were not found," a new idea, which she
had not previously thought of, abruptly entered her mind, and she asked:
"Where are her clothes? They're mine. I want them. Where have they been
They explained to her that they had not been found. Then she demanded
them persistently, crying and moaning.
"They're mine—I want them. Where are they? I want them!"
The more they tried to calm her the more she sobbed and persisted in her
demands. She no longer wanted the body, she insisted on having the
clothes, as much perhaps through the unconscious cupidity of a wretched
being to whom a piece of silver represents a fortune as through maternal
And when the little body, rolled up in blankets which had been brought
out from Renardet's house, had disappeared in the vehicle, the old woman
standing under the trees, sustained by the mayor and the captain,
"I have nothing, nothing, nothing in the world, not even her little cap
—her little cap."
The cure, a young priest, had just arrived. He took it on himself to
accompany the mother, and they went away together toward the village. The
mother's grief was modified by the sugary words of the clergyman, who
promised her a thousand compensations. But she kept repeating: "If I had
only her little cap." This idea now dominated every other.
Renardet called from the distance:
"You will lunch with us, Monsieur l'Abbe—in an hour's time."
The priest turned his head round and replied:
"With pleasure, Monsieur le Maire. I'll be with you at twelve."
And they all directed their steps toward the house, whose gray front,
with the large tower built on the edge of the Brindille, could be seen
through the branches.
The meal lasted a long time. They talked about the crime. Everybody was
of the same opinion. It had been committed by some tramp passing there by
mere chance while the little girl was bathing.
Then the magistrates returned to Rouy, announcing that they would return
next day at an early hour. The doctor and the cure went to their
respective homes, while Renardet, after a long walk through the meadows,
returned to the wood, where he remained walking till nightfall with slow
steps, his hands behind his back.
He went to bed early and was still asleep next morning when the
magistrate entered his room. He was rubbing his hands together with a
"Ha! ha! You are still sleeping! Well, my dear fellow, we have news this
The mayor sat up in his bed.
"Oh! Something strange. You remember well how the mother clamored
yesterday for some memento of her daughter, especially her little cap?
Well, on opening her door this morning she found on the threshold her
child's two little wooden shoes. This proves that the crime was
perpetrated by some one from the district, some one who felt pity for
her. Besides, the postman, Mederic, brought me the thimble, the knife and
the needle case of the dead girl. So, then, the man in carrying off the
clothes to hide them must have let fall the articles which were in the
pocket. As for me, I attach special importance to the wooden shoes, as
they indicate a certain moral culture and a faculty for tenderness on the
part of the assassin. We will, therefore, if you have no objection, go
over together the principal inhabitants of your district."
The mayor got up. He rang for his shaving water and said:
"With pleasure, but it will take some time, and we may begin at once."
M. Putoin sat astride a chair.
Renardet covered his chin with a white lather while he looked at himself
in the glass. Then he sharpened his razor on the strop and continued:
"The principal inhabitant of Carvelin bears the name of Joseph Renardet,
mayor, a rich landowner, a rough man who beats guards and
The examining magistrate burst out laughing.
"That's enough. Let us pass on to the next."
"The second in importance is Pelledent, his deputy, a cattle breeder, an
equally rich landowner, a crafty peasant, very sly, very close-fisted on
every question of money, but incapable in my opinion of having
perpetrated such a crime."
"Continue," said M. Putoin.
Renardet, while proceeding with his toilet, reviewed the characters of
all the inhabitants of Carvelin. After two hours' discussion their
suspicions were fixed on three individuals who had hitherto borne a shady
reputation—a poacher named Cavalle, a fisherman named Paquet, who
caught trout and crabs, and a cattle drover named Clovis.
The search for the perpetrator of the crime lasted all summer, but he was
not discovered. Those who were suspected and arrested easily proved their
innocence, and the authorities were compelled to abandon the attempt to
capture the criminal.
But this murder seemed to have moved the entire country in a singular
manner. There remained in every one's mind a disquietude, a vague fear, a
sensation of mysterious terror, springing not merely from the
impossibility of discovering any trace of the assassin, but also and
above all from that strange finding of the wooden shoes in front of La
Roque's door the day after the crime. The certainty that the murderer had
assisted at the investigation, that he was still, doubtless, living in
the village, possessed all minds and seemed to brood over the
neighborhood like a constant menace.
The wood had also become a dreaded spot, a place to be avoided and
supposed to be haunted.
Formerly the inhabitants went there to spend every Sunday afternoon. They
used to sit down on the moss at the feet of the huge tall trees or walk
along the water's edge watching the trout gliding among the weeds. The
boy's used to play bowls, hide-and-seek and other games where the ground
had been cleared and levelled, and the girls, in rows of four or five,
would trip along, holding one another by the arms and screaming songs
with their shrill voices. Now nobody ventured there for fear of finding
some corpse lying on the ground.
Autumn arrived, the leaves began to fall from the tall trees, whirling
round and round to the ground, and the sky could be seen through the bare
branches. Sometimes, when a gust of wind swept over the tree tops, the
slow, continuous rain suddenly grew heavier and became a rough storm that
covered the moss with a thick yellow carpet that made a kind of creaking
sound beneath one's feet.
And the sound of the falling leaves seemed like a wail and the leaves
themselves like tears shed by these great, sorrowful trees, that wept in
the silence of the bare and empty wood, this dreaded and deserted wood
where wandered lonely the soul, the little soul of little Louise Roque.
The Brindille, swollen by the storms, rushed on more quickly, yellow and
angry, between its dry banks, bordered by two thin, bare, willow hedges.
And here was Renardet suddenly resuming his walks under the trees. Every
day, at sunset, he came out of his house, descended the front steps
slowly and entered the wood in a dreamy fashion, with his hands in his
pockets, and paced over the damp soft moss, while a legion of rooks from
all the neighboring haunts came thither to rest in the tall trees and
then flew off like a black cloud uttering loud, discordant cries.
Night came on, and Renardet was still strolling slowly under the trees;
then, when the darkness prevented him from walking any longer, he would
go back to the house and sink into his armchair in front of the glowing
hearth, stretching his damp feet toward the fire.
One morning an important bit of news was circulated through the district;
the mayor was having his wood cut down.
Twenty woodcutters were already at work. They had commenced at the corner
nearest to the house and worked rapidly in the master's presence.
And each day the wood grew thinner, losing its trees, which fell down one
by one, as an army loses its soldiers.
Renardet no longer walked up, and down. He remained from morning till
night, contemplating, motionless, with his hands behind his back, the
slow destruction of his wood. When a tree fell he placed his foot on it
as if it were a corpse. Then he raised his eyes to the next with a kind
of secret, calm impatience, as if he expected, hoped for something at the
end of this slaughter.
Meanwhile they were approaching the place where little Louise Roque had
been found. They came to it one evening in the twilight.
As it was dark, the sky being overcast, the woodcutters wanted to stop
their work, putting off till next day the fall of an enormous beech tree,
but the mayor objected to this and insisted that they should at once lop
and cut down this giant, which had sheltered the crime.
When the lopper had laid it bare and the woodcutters had sapped its base,
five men commenced hauling at the rope attached to the top.
The tree resisted; its powerful trunk, although notched to the centre,
was as rigid as iron. The workmen, all together, with a sort of
simultaneous motion,' strained at the rope, bending backward and uttering
a cry which timed and regulated their efforts.
Two woodcutters standing close to the giant remained with axes in their
grip, like two executioners ready to strike once more, and Renardet,
motionless, with his hand on the trunk, awaited the fall with an uneasy,
One of the men said to him:
"You are too near, Monsieur le Maire. When it falls it may hurt you."
He did not reply and did not move away. He seemed ready to catch the
beech tree in his open arms and to cast it on the ground like a wrestler.
All at once, at the base of the tall column of wood there was a rent
which seemed to run to the top, like a painful shock; it bent slightly,
ready to fall, but still resisting. The men, in a state of excitement,
stiffened their arms, renewed their efforts with greater vigor, and, just
as the tree came crashing down, Renardet suddenly made a forward step,
then stopped, his shoulders raised to receive the irresistible shock, the
mortal shock which would crush him to the earth.
But the beech tree, having deviated a little, only rubbed against his
loins, throwing him on his face, five metres away.
The workmen dashed forward to lift him up. He had already arisen to his
knees, stupefied, with bewildered eyes and passing his hand across his
forehead, as if he were awaking from an attack of madness.
When he had got to his feet once more the men, astonished, questioned
him, not being able to understand what he had done. He replied in
faltering tones that he had been dazed for a moment, or, rather, he had
been thinking of his childhood days; that he thought he would have time
to run under the tree, just as street boys rush in front of vehicles
driving rapidly past; that he had played at danger; that for the past
eight days he felt this desire growing stronger within him, asking
himself each time a tree began to fall whether he could pass beneath it
without being touched. It was a piece of stupidity, he confessed, but
every one has these moments of insanity and these temptations to boyish
He made this explanation in a slow tone, searching for his words, and
speaking in a colorless tone.
Then he went off, saying:
"Till to-morrow, my friends-till to-morrow."
As soon as he got back to his room he sat down at his table which his
lamp lighted up brightly, and, burying his head in his hands, he began to
He remained thus for a long time, then wiped his eyes, raised his head
and looked at the clock. It was not yet six o'clock.
"I have time before dinner."
And he went to the door and locked it. He then came back, and, sitting
down at his table, pulled out the middle drawer. Taking from it a
revolver, he laid it down on his papers in full view. The barrel of the
firearm glittered, giving out gleams of light.
Renardet gazed at it for some time with the uneasy glance of a drunken
man. Then he rose and began to pace up and down the room.
He walked from one end of the apartment to the other, stopping from time
to time, only to pace up and down again a moment afterward. Suddenly he
opened the door of his dressing-room, steeped a towel in the water
pitcher and moistened his forehead, as he had done on the morning of the
Then he, began walking up and down again. Each time he passed the table
the gleaming revolver attracted his glance, tempted his hand, but he kept
watching the clock and reflected:
"I have still time."
It struck half-past six. Then he took up the revolver, opened his mouth
wide with a frightful grimace and stuck the barrel into it as if he
wanted to swallow it. He remained in this position for some seconds
without moving, his finger on the trigger. Then, suddenly seized with a
shudder of horror, he dropped the pistol on the carpet.
He fell back on his armchair, sobbing:
"I cannot. I dare not! My God! my God! How can I have the courage to kill
There was a knock at the door. He rose up, bewildered. A servant said:
"Monsieur's dinner is ready."
"All right. I'm coming down."
Then he picked up the revolver, locked it up again in the drawer and
looked at himself in the mirror over the mantelpiece to see whether his
face did not look too much troubled. It was as red as usual, a little
redder perhaps. That was all. He went down and seated himself at table.
He ate slowly, like a man who wants to prolong the meal, who does not
want to be alone.
Then he smoked several pipes in the hall while the table was being
cleared. After that he went back to his room.
As soon as he had locked himself in he looked, under the bed, opened all
the closets, explored every corner, rummaged through all the furniture.
Then he lighted the candles on the mantelpiece, and, turning round
several times, ran his eye all over the apartment with an anguish of
terror that distorted his face, for he knew well that he would see her,
as he did every night—little Louise Roque, the little girl he had
attacked and afterward strangled.
Every night the odious vision came back again. First he seemed to hear a
kind of roaring sound, such as is made by a threshing machine or the
distant passage of a train over a bridge. Then he commenced to gasp, to
suffocate, and he had to unbutton his collar and his belt. He moved about
to make his blood circulate, he tried to read, he attempted to sing. It
was in vain. His thoughts, in spite of himself, went back to the day of
the murder and made him begin it all over again in all its most secret
details, with all the violent emotions he had experienced from the first
minute to the last.
He had felt on rising that morning, the morning of the horrible day, a
little dizziness and headache, which he attributed to the heat, so that
he remained in his room until breakfast time.
After the meal he had taken a siesta, then, toward the close of the
afternoon, he had gone out to breathe the fresh, soothing breeze under
the trees in the wood.
But, as soon as he was outside, the heavy, scorching air of the plain
oppressed him still more. The sun, still high in the heavens, poured down
on the parched soil waves of burning light. Not a breath of wind stirred
the leaves. Every beast and bird, even the grasshoppers, were silent.
Renardet reached the tall trees and began to walk over the moss where the
Brindille produced a slight freshness of the air beneath the immense roof
of branches. But he felt ill at ease. It seemed to him that an unknown,
invisible hand was strangling him, and he scarcely thought of anything,
having usually few ideas in his head. For the last three months only one
thought haunted him, the thought of marrying again. He suffered from
living alone, suffered from it morally and physically. Accustomed for ten
years past to feeling a woman near him, habituated to her presence every
moment, he had need, an imperious and perplexing need of such
association. Since Madame Renardet's death he had suffered continually
without knowing why, he had suffered at not feeling her dress brushing
past him, and, above all, from no longer being able to calm and rest
himself in her arms. He had been scarcely six months a widower and he was
already looking about in the district for some young girl or some widow
he might marry when his period of mourning was at an end.
He had a chaste soul, but it was lodged in a powerful, herculean body,
and carnal imaginings began to disturb his sleep and his vigils. He drove
them away; they came back again; and he murmured from time to time,
smiling at himself:
"Here I am, like St. Anthony."
Having this special morning had several of these visions, the desire
suddenly came into his breast to bathe in the Brindille in order to
refresh himself and cool his blood.
He knew of a large deep pool, a little farther down, where the people of
the neighborhood came sometimes to take a dip in summer. He went there.
Thick willow trees hid this clear body of water where the current rested
and went to sleep for a while before starting on its way again. Renardet,
as he appeared, thought he heard a light sound, a faint plashing which
was not that of the stream on the banks. He softly put aside the leaves
and looked. A little girl, quite naked in the transparent water, was
beating the water with both hands, dancing about in it and dipping
herself with pretty movements. She was not a child nor was she yet a
woman. She was plump and developed, while preserving an air of youthful
precocity, as of one who had grown rapidly. He no longer moved, overcome
with surprise, with desire, holding his breath with a strange, poignant
emotion. He remained there, his heart beating as if one of his sensuous
dreams had just been realized, as if an impure fairy had conjured up
before him this young creature, this little rustic Venus, rising from the
eddies of the stream as the real Venus rose from the waves of the sea.
Suddenly the little girl came out of the water, and, without seeing him,
came over to where he stood, looking for her clothes in order to dress
herself. As she approached gingerly, on account of the sharp-pointed
stones, he felt himself pushed toward her by an irresistible force, by a
bestial transport of passion, which stirred his flesh, bewildered his
mind and made him tremble from head to foot.
She remained standing some seconds behind the willow tree which concealed
him from view. Then, losing his reason entirely, he pushed aside the
branches, rushed on her and seized her in his arms. She fell, too
terrified to offer any resistance, too terror-stricken to cry out. He
seemed possessed, not understanding what he was doing.
He woke from his crime as one wakes from a nightmare. The child burst out
"Hold your tongue! Hold your tongue!" he said. "I'll give you money."
But she did not hear him and went on sobbing.
"Come now, hold your tongue! Do hold your tongue! Keep quiet!" he
She kept shrieking as she tried to free herself. He suddenly realized
that he was ruined, and he caught her by the neck to stop her mouth from
uttering these heartrending, dreadful screams. As she continued to
struggle with the desperate strength of a being who is seeking to fly
from death, he pressed his enormous hands on the little throat swollen
with screaming, and in a few seconds he had strangled her, so furiously
did he grip her. He had not intended to kill her, but only to make her
Then he stood up, overwhelmed with horror.
She lay before him, her face bleeding and blackned. He was about to rush
away when there sprang up in his agitated soul the mysterious and
undefined instinct that guides all beings in the hour of danger.
He was going to throw the body into the water, but another impulse drove
him toward the clothes, which he made into a small package. Then, as he
had a piece of twine in his pocket, he tied it up and hid it in a deep
portion of the stream, beneath the trunk of a tree that overhung the
Then he went off at a rapid pace, reached the meadows, took a wide turn
in order to show himself to some peasants who dwelt some distance away at
the opposite side of the district, and came back to dine at the usual
hour, telling his servants all that was supposed to have happened during
He slept, however, that night; he slept with a heavy, brutish sleep like
the sleep of certain persons condemned to death. He did not open his eyes
until the first glimmer of dawn, and he waited till his usual hour for
riding, so as to excite no suspicion.
Then he had to be present at the inquiry as to the cause of death. He did
so like a somnambulist, in a kind of vision which showed him men and
things as in a dream, in a cloud of intoxication, with that sense of
unreality which perplexes the mind at the time of the greatest
But the agonized cry of Mother Roque pierced his heart. At that moment he
had felt inclined to cast himself at the old woman's feet and to exclaim:
"I am the guilty one!"
But he had restrained himself. He went back, however, during the night to
fish up the dead girl's wooden shoes, in order to place them on her
As long as the inquiry lasted, as long as it was necessary to lead
justice astray he was calm, master of himself, crafty and smiling. He
discussed quietly with the magistrates all the suppositions that passed
through their minds, combated their opinions and demolished their
arguments. He even took a keen and mournful pleasure in disturbing their
investigations, in embroiling their ideas, in showing the innocence of
those whom they suspected.
But as soon as the inquiry was abandoned he became gradually nervous,
more excitable than he had been before, although he mastered his
irritability. Sudden noises made him start with fear; he shuddered at the
slightest thing and trembled sometimes from head to foot when a fly
alighted on his forehead. Then he was seized with an imperious desire for
motion, which impelled him to take long walks and to remain up whole
nights pacing up and down his room.
It was not that he was goaded by remorse. His brutal nature did not lend
itself to any shade of sentiment or of moral terror. A man of energy and
even of violence, born to make war, to ravage conquered countries and to
massacre the vanquished, full of the savage instincts of the hunter and
the fighter, he scarcely took count of human life. Though he respected
the Church outwardly, from policy, he believed neither in God nor the
devil, expecting neither chastisement nor recompense for his acts in
another life. His sole belief was a vague philosophy drawn from all the
ideas of the encyclopedists of the last century, and he regarded religion
as a moral sanction of the law, the one and the other having been
invented by men to regulate social relations. To kill any one in a duel,
or in war, or in a quarrel, or by accident, or for the sake of revenge,
or even through bravado would have seemed to him an amusing and clever
thing and would not have left more impression on his mind than a shot
fired at a hare; but he had experienced a profound emotion at the murder
of this child. He had, in the first place, perpetrated it in the heat of
an irresistible gust of passion, in a sort of tempest of the senses that
had overpowered his reason. And he had cherished in his heart, in his
flesh, on his lips, even to the very tips of his murderous fingers a kind
of bestial love, as well as a feeling of terrified horror, toward this
little girl surprised by him and basely killed. Every moment his thoughts
returned to that horrible scene, and, though he endeavored to drive this
picture from his mind, though he put it aside with terror, with disgust,
he felt it surging through his soul, moving about in him, waiting
incessantly for the moment to reappear.
Then, as evening approached, he was afraid of the shadow falling around
him. He did not yet know why the darkness seemed frightful to him, but he
instinctively feared it, he felt that it was peopled with terrors. The
bright daylight did not lend itself to fears. Things and beings were
visible then, and only natural things and beings could exhibit themselves
in the light of day. But the night, the impenetrable night, thicker than
walls and empty; the infinite night, so black, so vast, in which one
might brush against frightful things; the night, when one feels that a
mysterious terror is wandering, prowling about, appeared to him to
conceal an unknown threatening danger, close beside him.
What was it?
He knew ere long. As he sat in his armchair, rather late one evening when
he could not sleep, he thought he saw the curtain of his window move. He
waited, uneasily, with beating heart. The drapery did not stir; then, all
of a sudden, it moved once more. He did not venture to rise; he no longer
ventured to breathe, and yet he was brave. He had often fought, and he
would have liked to catch thieves in his house.
Was it true that this curtain did move? he asked himself, fearing that
his eyes had deceived him. It was, moreover, such a slight thing, a
gentle flutter of drapery, a kind of trembling in its folds, less than an
undulation caused by the wind.
Renardet sat still, with staring eyes and outstretched neck. He sprang to
his feet abruptly, ashamed of his fear, took four steps, seized the
drapery with both hands and pulled it wide apart. At first he saw nothing
but darkened glass, resembling plates of glittering ink. The night, the
vast, impenetrable night, stretched beyond as far as the invisible
horizon. He remained standing in front of this illimitable shadow, and
suddenly he perceived a light, a moving light, which seemed some distance
Then he put his face close to the window pane, thinking that a person
looking for crabs might be poaching in the Brindille, for it was past
midnight, and this light rose up at the edge of the stream, under the
trees. As he was not yet able to see clearly, Renardet placed his hands
over his eyes, and suddenly this light became an illumination, and he
beheld little Louise Roque naked and bleeding on the moss. He recoiled,
frozen with horror, knocked over his chair and fell over on his back. He
remained there some minutes in anguish of mind; then he sat up and began
to reflect. He had had a hallucination—that was all, a
hallucination due to the fact that a night marauder was walking with a
lantern in his hand near the water's edge. What was there astonishing,
besides, in the circumstance that the recollection of his crime should
sometimes bring before him the vision of the dead girl?
He rose from the ground, swallowed a glass of wine and sat down again. He
"What am I to do if this occurs again?"
And it would occur; he felt it; he was sure of it. Already his glance was
drawn toward the window; it called him; it attracted him. In order to
avoid looking at it, he turned his chair round. Then he took a book and
tried to read, but it seemed to him that he presently heard something
stirring behind him, and he swung round his armchair on one foot.
The curtain was moving again; unquestionably, it moved this time. He
could no longer have any doubt about it.
He rushed forward and grasped it so violently that he pulled it down with
its pole. Then he eagerly glued his face to the glass. He saw nothing.
All was black outside, and he breathed with the joy of a man whose life
has just been saved.
Then he went back to his chair and sat down again, but almost immediately
he felt a longing to look out once more through the window. Since the
curtain had fallen down, the window made a sort of gap, fascinating and
terrible, on the dark landscape. In order not to yield to this dangerous
temptation, he undressed, blew out the light and closed his eyes.
Lying on his back motionless, his skin warm and moist, he awaited sleep.
Suddenly a great gleam of light flashed across his eyelids. He opened
them, believing that his dwelling was on fire. All was black as before,
and he leaned on his elbow to try to distinguish the window which had
still for him an unconquerable attraction. By dint of, straining his eyes
he could perceive some stars, and he rose, groped his way across the
room, discovered the panes with his outstretched hands, and placed his
forehead close to them. There below, under the trees, lay the body of the
little girl gleaming like phosphorus, lighting up the surrounding
Renardet uttered a cry and rushed toward his bed, where he lay till
morning, his head hidden under the pillow.
From that moment his life became intolerable. He passed his days in
apprehension of each succeeding night, and each night the vision came
back again. As soon as he had locked himself up in his room he strove to
resist it, but in vain. An irresistible force lifted him up and pushed
him against the window, as if to call the phantom, and he saw it at once,
lying first in the spot where the crime was committed in the position in
which it had been found.
Then the dead girl rose up and came toward him with little steps just as
the child had done when she came out of the river. She advanced quietly,
passing straight across the grass and over the bed of withered flowers.
Then she rose up in the air toward Renardet's window. She came toward him
as she had come on the day of the crime. And the man recoiled before the
apparition—he retreated to his bed and sank down upon it, knowing
well that the little one had entered the room and that she now was
standing behind the curtain, which presently moved. And until daybreak he
kept staring at this curtain with a fixed glance, ever waiting to see his
But she did not show herself any more; she remained there behind the
curtain, which quivered tremulously now and then.
And Renardet, his fingers clutching the clothes, squeezed them as he had
squeezed the throat of little Louise Roque.
He heard the clock striking the hours, and in the stillness the pendulum
kept ticking in time with the loud beating of his heart. And he suffered,
the wretched man, more than any man had ever suffered before.
Then, as soon as a white streak of light on the ceiling announced the
approaching day, he felt himself free, alone at last, alone in his room;
and he went to sleep. He slept several hours—a restless, feverish
sleep in which he retraced in dreams the horrible vision of the past
When he went down to the late breakfast he felt exhausted as after
unusual exertion, and he scarcely ate anything, still haunted as he was
by the fear of what he had seen the night before.
He knew well, however, that it was not an apparition, that the dead do
not come back, and that his sick soul, his soul possessed by one thought
alone, by an indelible remembrance, was the only cause of his torture,
was what brought the dead girl back to life and raised her form before
his eyes, on which it was ineffaceably imprinted. But he knew, too, that
there was no cure, that he would never escape from the savage persecution
of his memory, and he resolved to die rather than to endure these
tortures any longer.
Then he thought of how he would kill himself, It must be something simple
and natural, which would preclude the idea of suicide. For he clung to
his reputation, to the name bequeathed to him by his ancestors; and if
his death awakened any suspicion people's thoughts might be, perhaps,
directed toward the mysterious crime, toward the murderer who could not
be found, and they would not hesitate to accuse him of the crime.
A strange idea came into his head, that of allowing himself to be crushed
by the tree at the foot of which he had assassinated little Louise Roque.
So he determined to have the wood cut down and to simulate an accident.
But the beech tree refused to crush his ribs.
Returning to his house, a prey to utter despair, he had snatched up his
revolver, and then did not dare to fire it.
The dinner bell summoned him. He could eat nothing, and he went upstairs
again. And he did not know what to do. Now that he had escaped the first
time, he felt himself a coward. Presently he would be ready, brave,
decided, master of his courage and of his resolution; now he was weak and
feared death as much as he did the dead girl.
"I dare not venture it again—I dare not venture it."
Then he glanced with terror, first at the revolver on the table and next
at the curtain which hid his window. It seemed to him, moreover, that
something horrible would occur as soon as his life was ended. Something?
What? A meeting with her, perhaps. She was watching for him; she was
waiting for him; she was calling him; and it was in order to seize him in
her turn, to draw him toward the doom that would avenge her, and to lead
him to die, that she appeared thus every night.
He began to cry like a child, repeating:
"I will not venture it again—I will not venture it."
Then he fell on his knees and murmured:
"My God! my God!" without believing, nevertheless, in God. And he no
longer dared, in fact, to look at his window, where he knew the
apparition was hiding, nor at his table, where his revolver gleamed. When
he had risen up he said:
"This cannot last; there must be an end of it"
The sound of his voice in the silent room made a chill of fear pass
through his limbs, but as he could not bring himself to come to a
determination, as he felt certain that his finger would always refuse to
pull the trigger of his revolver, he turned round to hide his head under
the bedclothes and began to reflect.
He would have to find some way in which he could force himself to die, to
play some trick on himself which would not permit of any hesitation on
his part, any delay, any possible regrets. He envied condemned criminals
who are led to the scaffold surrounded by soldiers. Oh! if he could only
beg of some one to shoot him; if after confessing his crime to a true
friend who would never divulge it he could procure death at his hand. But
from whom could he ask this terrible service? From whom? He thought of
all the people he knew. The doctor? No, he would talk about it afterward,
most probably. And suddenly a fantastic idea entered his mind. He would
write to the magistrate, who was on terms of close friendship with him,
and would denounce himself as the perpetrator of the crime. He would in
this letter confess everything, revealing how his soul had been tortured,
how he had resolved to die, how he had hesitated about carrying out his
resolution and what means he had employed to strengthen his failing
courage. And in the name of their old friendship he would implore of the
other to destroy the letter as soon as he had ascertained that the
culprit had inflicted justice on himself. Renardet could rely on this
magistrate; he knew him to be true, discreet, incapable of even an idle
word. He was one of those men who have an inflexible conscience,
governed, directed, regulated by their reason alone.
Scarcely had he formed this project when a strange feeling of joy took
possession of his heart. He was calm now. He would write his letter
slowly, then at daybreak he would deposit it in the box nailed to the
outside wall of his office; then he would ascend his tower to watch for
the postman's arrival; and when the man in the blue blouse had gone away,
he would cast himself head foremost on the rocks on which the foundations
rested, He would take care to be seen first by the workmen who had cut
down his wood. He could climb to the projecting stone which bore the
flagstaff displayed on festivals, He would smash this pole with a shake
and carry it along with him as he fell.
Who would suspect that it was not an accident? And he would be killed
outright, owing to his weight and the height of the tower.
Presently he got out of bed, went over to the table and began to write.
He omitted nothing, not a single detail of the crime, not a single detail
of the torments of his heart, and he ended by announcing that he had
passed sentence on himself, that he was going to execute the criminal,
and begged his friend, his old friend, to be careful that there should
never be any stain on his memory.
When he had finished this letter he saw that the day had dawned.
He closed, sealed it and wrote the address. Then he descended with light
steps, hurried toward the little white box fastened to the outside wall
in the corner of the farmhouse, and when he had thrown into it this
letter, which made his hand tremble, he came back quickly, drew the bolts
of the great door and climbed up to his tower to wait for the passing of
the postman, who was to bear away his death sentence.
He felt self-possessed now. Liberated! Saved!
A cold dry wind, an icy wind passed across his face. He inhaled it
eagerly with open mouth, drinking in its chilling kiss. The sky was red,
a wintry red, and all the plain, whitened with frost, glistened under the
first rays of the sun, as if it were covered with powdered glass.
Renardet, standing up, his head bare, gazed at the vast tract of country
before him, the meadows to the left and to the right the village whose
chimneys were beginning to smoke in preparation for the morning meal. At
his feet he saw the Brindille flowing amid the rocks, where he would soon
be crushed to death. He felt new life on that beautiful frosty morning.
The light bathed him, entered his being like a new-born hope. A thousand
recollections assailed him, recollections of similar mornings, of rapid
walks on the hard earth which rang beneath his footsteps, of happy days
of shooting on the edges of pools where wild ducks sleep. All the good
things that he loved, the good things of existence, rushed to his memory,
penetrated him with fresh desires, awakened all the vigorous appetites of
his active, powerful body.
And he was about to die! Why? He was going to kill himself stupidly
because he was afraid of a shadow-afraid of nothing! He was still rich
and in the prime of life. What folly! All he needed was distraction,
absence, a voyage in order to forget.
This night even he had not seen the little girl because his mind was
preoccupied and had wandered toward some other subject. Perhaps he would
not see her any more? And even if she still haunted him in this house,
certainly she would not follow him elsewhere! The earth was wide, the
future was long.
Why should he die?
His glance travelled across the meadows, and he perceived a blue spot in
the path which wound alongside the Brindille. It was Mederic coming to
bring letters from the town and to carry away those of the village.
Renardet gave a start, a sensation of pain shot through his breast, and
he rushed down the winding staircase to get back his letter, to demand it
back from the postman. Little did it matter to him now whether he was
seen, He hurried across the grass damp from the light frost of the
previous night and arrived in front of the box in the corner of the
farmhouse exactly at the same time as the letter carrier.
The latter had opened the little wooden door and drew forth the four
papers deposited there by the inhabitants of the locality.
Renardet said to him:
"Good-morrow, Monsieur le Maire."
"I say, Mederic, I threw a letter into the box that I want back again. I
came to ask you to give it back to me."
"That's all right, Monsieur le Maire—you'll get it."
And the postman raised his eyes. He stood petrified at the sight of
Renardet's face. The mayor's cheeks were purple, his eyes were anxious
and sunken, with black circles round them, his hair was unbrushed, his
beard untrimmed, his necktie unfastened. It was evident that he had not
been in bed.
The postman asked:
"Are you ill, Monsieur le Maire?"
The other, suddenly comprehending that his appearance must be unusual,
lost countenance and faltered:
"Oh! no-oh! no. Only I jumped out of bed to ask you for this letter. I
was asleep. You understand?"
He said in reply:
"The one you are going to give back to me."
Mederic now began to hesitate. The mayor's attitude did not strike him as
natural. There was perhaps a secret in that letter, a political secret.
He knew Renardet was not a Republican, and he knew all the tricks and
chicanery employed at elections.
"To whom is it addressed, this letter of yours?"
"To Monsieur Putoin, the magistrate—you know, my friend, Monsieur
The postman searched through the papers and found the one asked for. Then
he began looking at it, turning it round and round between his fingers,
much perplexed, much troubled by the fear of either committing a grave
offence or of making an enemy of the mayor.
Seeing his hesitation, Renardet made a movement for the purpose of
seizing the letter and snatching it away from him. This abrupt action
convinced Mederic that some important secret was at stake and made him
resolve to do his duty, cost what it may.
So he flung the letter into his bag and fastened it up, with the reply:
"No, I can't, Monsieur le Maire. As long as it is for the magistrate, I
A dreadful pang wrung Renardet's heart and he murmured:
"Why, you know me well. You are even able to recognize my handwriting. I
tell you I want that paper."
"Look here, Mederic, you know that I'm incapable of deceiving you—I
tell you I want it."
"No, I can't."
A tremor of rage passed through Renardet's soul.
"Damn it all, take care! You know that I never trifle and that I could
get you out of your job, my good fellow, and without much delay, either,
And then, I am the mayor of the district, after all; and I now order you
to give me back that paper."
The postman answered firmly:
"No, I can't, Monsieur le Maire."
Thereupon Renardet, losing his head, caught hold of the postman's arms in
order to take away his bag; but, freeing himself by a strong effort, and
springing backward, the letter carrier raised his big holly stick.
Without losing his temper, he said emphatically:
"Don't touch me, Monsieur le Maire, or I'll strike. Take care, I'm only
doing my duty!"
Feeling that he was lost, Renardet suddenly became humble, gentle,
appealing to him like a whimpering child:
"Look here, look here, my friend, give me back that letter and I'll
recompense you—I'll give you money. Stop! stop! I'll give you a
hundred francs, you understand—a hundred francs!"
The postman turned on his heel and started on his journey.
Renardet followed him, out of breath, stammering:
"Mederic, Mederic, listen! I'll give you a thousand francs, you
understand—a thousand francs."
The postman still went on without giving any answer.
Renardet went on:
"I'll make your fortune, you understand—whatever you
wish—fifty thousand francs—fifty thousand francs for that
letter! What does it matter to you? You won't? Well, a hundred
thousand—I say—a hundred thousand francs. Do you understand?
A hundred thousand francs—a hundred thousand francs."
The postman turned back, his face hard, his eye severe:
"Enough of this, or else I'll repeat to the magistrate everything you
have just said to me."
Renardet stopped abruptly. It was all over. He turned back and rushed
toward his house, running like a hunted animal.
Then, in his turn, Mederic stopped and watched his flight with
stupefaction. He saw the mayor reenter his house, and he waited still, as
if something astonishing were about to happen.
In fact, presently the tall form of Renardet appeared on the summit of
the Fox's tower. He ran round the platform like a madman. Then he seized
the flagstaff and shook it furiously without succeeding in breaking it;
then, all of a sudden, like a diver, with his two hands before him, he
plunged into space.
Mederic rushed forward to his assistance. He saw the woodcutters going to
work and called out to them, telling them an accident had occurred. At
the foot of the walls they found a bleeding body, its head crushed on a
rock. The Brindille surrounded this rock, and over its clear, calm waters
could be seen a long red thread of mingled brains and blood.
There was not a breath of air stirring; a heavy mist was lying over the
river. It was like a layer of cotton placed on the water. The banks
themselves were indistinct, hidden behind strange fogs. But day was
breaking and the hill was becoming visible. In the dawning light of day
the plaster houses began to appear like white spots. Cocks were crowing
in the barnyard.
On the other side of the river, hidden behind the fogs, just opposite
Frette, a slight noise from time to time broke the dead silence of the
quiet morning. At times it was an indistinct plashing, like the cautious
advance of a boat, then again a sharp noise like the rattle of an oar and
then the sound of something dropping in the water. Then silence.
Sometimes whispered words, coming perhaps from a distance, perhaps from
quite near, pierced through these opaque mists. They passed by like wild
birds which have slept in the rushes and which fly away at the first
light of day, crossing the mist and uttering a low and timid sound which
wakes their brothers along the shores.
Suddenly along the bank, near the village, a barely perceptible shadow
appeared on the water. Then it grew, became more distinct and, coming out
of the foggy curtain which hung over the river, a flatboat, manned by two
men, pushed up on the grass.
The one who was rowing rose and took a pailful of fish from the bottom of
the boat, then he threw the dripping net over his shoulder. His
companion, who had not made a motion, exclaimed: "Say, Mailloche, get
your gun and see if we can't land some rabbit along the shore."
The other one answered: "All right. I'll be with you in a minute." Then
he disappeared, in order to hide their catch.
The man who had stayed in the boat slowly filled his pipe and lighted it.
His name was Labouise, but he was called Chicot, and was in partnership
with Maillochon, commonly called Mailloche, to practice the doubtful and
undefined profession of junk-gatherers along the shore.
They were a low order of sailors and they navigated regularly only in the
months of famine. The rest of the time they acted as junk-gatherers.
Rowing about on the river day and night, watching for any prey, dead or
alive, poachers on the water and nocturnal hunters, sometimes ambushing
venison in the Saint-Germain forests, sometimes looking for drowned
people and searching their clothes, picking up floating rags and empty
bottles; thus did Labouise and Maillochon live easily.
At times they would set out on foot about noon and stroll along straight
ahead. They would dine in some inn on the shore and leave again side by
side. They would remain away for a couple of days; then one morning they
would be seen rowing about in the tub which they called their boat.
At Joinville or at Nogent some boatman would be looking for his boat,
which had disappeared one night, probably stolen, while twenty or thirty
miles from there, on the Oise, some shopkeeper would be rubbing his
hands, congratulating himself on the bargain he had made when he bought a
boat the day before for fifty francs, which two men offered him as they
Maillochon reappeared with his gun wrapped up in rags. He was a man of
forty or fifty, tall and thin, with the restless eye of people who are
worried by legitimate troubles and of hunted animals. His open shirt
showed his hairy chest, but he seemed never to have had any more hair on
his face than a short brush of a mustache and a few stiff hairs under his
lower lip. He was bald around the temples. When he took off the dirty cap
that he wore his scalp seemed to be covered with a fluffy down, like the
body of a plucked chicken.
Chicot, on the contrary, was red, fat, short and hairy. He looked like a
raw beefsteak. He continually kept his left eye closed, as if he were
aiming at something or at somebody, and when people jokingly cried to
him, "Open your eye, Labouise!" he would answer quietly: "Never fear,
sister, I open it when there's cause to."
He had a habit of calling every one "sister," even his scavenger
He took up the oars again, and once more the boat disappeared in the
heavy mist, which was now turned snowy white in the pink-tinted sky.
"What kind of lead did you take, Maillochon?" Labouise asked.
"Very small, number nine; that's the best for rabbits."
They were approaching the other shore so slowly, so quietly that no noise
betrayed them. This bank belongs to the Saint-Germain forest and is the
boundary line for rabbit hunting. It is covered with burrows hidden under
the roots of trees, and the creatures at daybreak frisk about, running in
and out of the holes.
Maillochon was kneeling in the bow, watching, his gun hidden on the
floor. Suddenly he seized it, aimed, and the report echoed for some time
throughout the quiet country.
Labouise, in a few strokes, touched the beach, and his companion, jumping
to the ground, picked up a little gray rabbit, not yet dead.
Then the boat once more disappeared into the fog in order to get to the
other side, where it could keep away from the game wardens.
The two men seemed to be riding easily on the water. The weapon had
disappeared under the board which served as a hiding place and the rabbit
was stuffed into Chicot's loose shirt.
After about a quarter of an hour Labouise asked: "Well, sister, shall we
get one more?"
"It will suit me," Maillochon answered.
The boat started swiftly down the current. The mist, which was hiding
both shores, was beginning to rise. The trees could be barely perceived,
as through a veil, and the little clouds of fog were floating up from the
water. When they drew near the island, the end of which is opposite
Herblay, the two men slackened their pace and began to watch. Soon a
second rabbit was killed.
Then they went down until they were half way to Conflans. Here they
stopped their boat, tied it to a tree and went to sleep in the bottom of
From time to time Labouise would sit up and look over the horizon with
his open eye. The last of the morning mist had disappeared and the large
summer sun was climbing in the blue sky.
On the other side of the river the vineyard-covered hill stretched out in
a semicircle. One house stood out alone at the summit. Everything was
Something was moving slowly along the tow-path, advancing with
difficulty. It was a woman dragging a donkey. The stubborn, stiff-jointed
beast occasionally stretched out a leg in answer to its companion's
efforts, and it proceeded thus, with outstretched neck and ears lying
flat, so slowly that one could not tell when it would ever be out of
The woman, bent double, was pulling, turning round occasionally to strike
the donkey with a stick.
As soon as he saw her, Labouise exclaimed: "Say, Mailloche!"
Mailloche answered: "What's the matter?"
"Want to have some fun?"
"Then hurry, sister; we're going to have a laugh."
Chicot took the oars. When he had crossed the river he stopped opposite
the woman and called:
The woman stopped dragging her donkey and looked.
Labouise continued: "What are you doing—going to the locomotive
The woman made no reply. Chicot continued:
"Say, your trotter's prime for a race. Where are you taking him at that
At last the woman answered: "I'm going to Macquart, at Champioux, to have
him killed. He's worthless."
Labouise answered: "You're right. How much do you think Macquart will
give you for him?"
The woman wiped her forehead on the back of her hand and hesitated,
saying: "How do I know? Perhaps three francs, perhaps four."
Chicot exclaimed: "I'll give you five francs and your errand's done!
The woman considered the matter for a second and then exclaimed: "Done!"
The two men landed. Labouise grasped the animal by the bridle. Maillochon
asked in surprise:
"What do you expect to do with that carcass?"
Chicot this time opened his other eye in order to express his gaiety. His
whole red face was grinning with joy. He chuckled: "Don't worry, sister.
I've got my idea."
He gave five francs to the woman, who then sat down by the road to see
what was going to happen. Then Labouise, in great humor, got the gun and
held it out to Maillochon, saying: "Each one in turn; we're going after
big game, sister. Don't get so near or you'll kill it right away! You
must make the pleasure last a little."
He placed his companion about forty paces from the victim. The ass,
feeling itself free, was trying to get a little of the tall grass, but it
was so exhausted that it swayed on its legs as if it were about to fall.
Maillochon aimed slowly and said: "A little pepper for the ears; watch,
Ghicot!" And he fired.
The tiny shot struck the donkey's long ears and he began to shake them in
order to get rid of the stinging sensation. The two men were doubled up
with laughter and stamped their feet with joy. The woman, indignant,
rushed forward; she did not want her donkey to be tortured, and she
offered to return the five francs. Labouise threatened her with a
thrashing and pretended to roll up his sleeves. He had paid, hadn't he?
Well, then, he would take a shot at her skirts, just to show that it
didn't hurt. She went away, threatening to call the police. They could
hear her protesting indignantly and cursing as she went her way.
Maillochon held out the gun to his comrade, saying: "It's your turn,
Labouise aimed and fired. The donkey received the charge in his thighs,
but the shot was so small and came from such a distance that he thought
he was being stung by flies, for he began to thrash himself with his
Labouise sat down to laugh more comfortably, while Maillochon reloaded
the weapon, so happy that he seemed to sneeze into the barrel. He stepped
forward a few paces, and, aiming at the same place that his friend had
shot at, he fired again. This time the beast started, tried to kick and
turned its head. At last a little blood was running. It had been wounded
and felt a sharp pain, for it tried to run away with a slow, limping,
Both men darted after the beast, Maillochon with a long stride, Labouise
with the short, breathless trot of a little man. But the donkey, tired
out, had stopped, and, with a bewildered look, was watching his two
murderers approach. Suddenly he stretched his neck and began to bray.
Labouise, out of breath, had taken the gun. This time he walked right up
close, as he did not wish to begin the chase over again.
When the poor beast had finished its mournful cry, like a last call for
help, the man called: "Hey, Mailloche! Come here, sister; I'm going to
give him some medicine." And while the other man was forcing the animal's
mouth open, Chicot stuck the barrel of his gun down its throat, as if he
were trying to make it drink a potion. Then he said: "Look out, sister,
here she goes!"
He pressed the trigger. The donkey stumbled back a few steps, fell down,
tried to get up again and finally lay on its side and closed its eyes:
The whole body was trembling, its legs were kicking as if it were, trying
to run. A stream of blood was oozing through its teeth. Soon it stopped
moving. It was dead.
The two men went along, laughing. It was over too quickly; they had not
had their money's worth. Maillochon asked: "Well, what are we going to do
Labouise answered: "Don't worry, sister. Get the thing on the boat; we're
going to have some fun when night comes."
They went and got the boat. The animal's body was placed on the bottom,
covered with fresh grass, and the two men stretched out on it and went to
Toward noon Labouise drew a bottle of wine, some bread and butter and raw
onions from a hiding place in their muddy, worm-eaten boat, and they
began to eat.
When the meal was over they once more stretched out on the dead donkey
and slept. At nightfall Labouise awoke and shook his comrade, who was
snoring like a buzzsaw. "Come on, sister," he ordered.
Maillochon began to row. As they had plenty of time they went up the
Seine slowly. They coasted along the reaches covered with water-lilies,
and the heavy, mud-covered boat slipped over the lily pads and bent the
flowers, which stood up again as soon as they had passed.
When they reached the wall of the Eperon, which separates the
Saint-Germain forest from the Maisons-Laffitte Park, Labouise stopped his
companion and explained his idea to him. Maillochon was moved by a
prolonged, silent laugh.
They threw into the water the grass which had covered the body, took the
animal by the feet and hid it behind some bushes. Then they got into
their boat again and went to Maisons-Laffitte.
The night was perfectly black when they reached the wine shop of old man
Jules. As soon as the dealer saw them he came up, shook hands with them
and sat down at their table. They began to talk of one thing and another.
By eleven o'clock the last customer had left and old man Jules winked at
Labouise and asked: "Well, have you got any?"
Labouise made a motion with his head and answered: "Perhaps so, perhaps
The dealer insisted: "Perhaps you've not nothing but gray ones?"
Chicot dug his hands into his flannel shirt, drew out the ears of a
rabbit and declared: "Three francs a pair!"
Then began a long discussion about the price. Two francs sixty-five and
the two rabbits were delivered. As the two men were getting up to go, old
man Jules, who had been watching them, exclaimed:
"You have something else, but you won't say what."
Labouise answered: "Possibly, but it is not for you; you're too stingy."
The man, growing eager, kept asking: "What is it? Something big? Perhaps
we might make a deal."
Labouise, who seemed perplexed, pretended to consult Maillochon with a
glance. Then he answered in a slow voice: "This is how it is. We were in
the bushes at Eperon when something passed right near us, to the left, at
the end of the wall. Mailloche takes a shot and it drops. We skipped on
account of the game people. I can't tell you what it is, because I don't
know. But it's big enough. But what is it? If I told you I'd be lying,
and you know, sister, between us everything's above-board."
Anxiously the man asked: "Think it's venison?"
Labouise answered: "Might be and then again it might not!
Venison?—uh! uh!—might be a little big for that! Mind you, I
don't say it's a doe, because I don't know, but it might be."
Still the dealer insisted: "Perhaps it's a buck?"
Labouise stretched out his hand, exclaiming: "No, it's not that! It's not
a buck. I should have seen the horns. No, it's not a buck!"
"Why didn't you bring it with you?" asked the man.
"Because, sister, from now on I sell from where I stand. Plenty of people
will buy. All you have to do is to take a walk over there, find the thing
and take it. No risk for me."
The innkeeper, growing suspicious, exclaimed "Supposing he wasn't there!"
Labouise once more raised his hand and said:
"He's there, I swear!—first bush to the left. What it is, I don't
know. But it's not a buck, I'm positive. It's for you to find out what it
is. Twenty-five francs, cash down!"
Still the man hesitated: "Couldn't you bring it?"
Maillochon exclaimed: "No, indeed! You know our price! Take it or leave
The dealer decided: "It's a bargain for twenty francs!"
And they shook hands over the deal.
Then he took out four big five-franc pieces from the cash drawer, and the
two friends pocketed the money. Labouise arose, emptied his glass and
left. As he was disappearing in the shadows he turned round to exclaim:
"It isn't a buck. I don't know what it is!—but it's there. I'll
give you back your money if you find nothing!"
And he disappeared in the darkness. Maillochon, who was following him,
kept punching him in the back to express his joy.
As we were still talking about Pranzini, M. Maloureau, who had been
attorney general under the Empire, said: "Oh! I formerly knew a very
curious affair, curious for several reasons, as you will see.
"I was at that time imperial attorney in one of the provinces. I had to
take up the case which has remained famous under the name of the Moiron
"Monsieur Moiron, who was a teacher in the north of France, enjoyed an
excellent reputation throughout the whole country. He was a person of
intelligence, quiet, very religious, a little taciturn; he had married in
the district of Boislinot, where he exercised his profession. He had had
three children, who had died of consumption, one after the other. From
this time he seemed to bestow upon the youngsters confided to his care
all the tenderness of his heart. With his own money he bought toys for
his best scholars and for the good boys; he gave them little dinners and
stuffed them with delicacies, candy and cakes: Everybody loved this good
man with his big heart, when suddenly five of his pupils died, in a
strange manner, one after the other. It was supposed that there was an
epidemic due to the condition of the water, resulting from drought; they
looked for the causes without being able to discover them, the more so
that the symptoms were so peculiar. The children seemed to be attacked by
a feeling of lassitude; they would not eat, they complained of pains in
their stomachs, dragged along for a short time, and died in frightful
"A post-mortem examination was held over the last one, but nothing was
discovered. The vitals were sent to Paris and analyzed, and they revealed
the presence of no toxic substance.
"For a year nothing new developed; then two little boys, the best
scholars in the class, Moiron's favorites, died within four days of each
other. An examination of the bodies was again ordered, and in both of
them were discovered tiny fragments of crushed glass. The conclusion
arrived at was that the two youngsters must imprudently have eaten from
some carelessly cleaned receptacle. A glass broken over a pail of milk
could have produced this frightful accident, and the affair would have
been pushed no further if Moiron's servant had not been taken sick at
this time. The physician who was called in noticed the same symptoms he
had seen in the children. He questioned her and obtained the admission
that she had stolen and eaten some candies that had been bought by the
teacher for his scholars.
"On an order from the court the schoolhouse was searched, and a closet
was found which was full of toys and dainties destined for the children.
Almost all these delicacies contained bits of crushed glass or pieces of
"Moiron was immediately arrested; but he seemed so astonished and
indignant at the suspicion hanging over him that he was almost released.
How ever, indications of his guilt kept appearing, and baffled in my mind
my first conviction, based on his excellent reputation, on his whole
life, on the complete absence of any motive for such a crime.
"Why should this good, simple, religious man have killed little children,
and the very children whom he seemed to love the most, whom he spoiled
and stuffed with sweet things, for whom he spent half his salary in
buying toys and bonbons?
"One must consider him insane to believe him guilty of this act. Now,
Moiron seemed so normal, so quiet, so rational and sensible that it
seemed impossible to adjudge him insane.
"However, the proofs kept growing! In none of the candies that were
bought at the places where the schoolmaster secured his provisions could
the slightest trace of anything suspicious be found.
"He then insisted that an unknown enemy must have opened his cupboard
with a false key in order to introduce the glass and the needles into the
eatables. And he made up a whole story of an inheritance dependent on the
death of a child, determined on and sought by some peasant, and promoted
thus by casting suspicions on the schoolmaster. This brute, he claimed,
did not care about the other children who were forced to die as well.
"The story was possible. The man appeared to be so sure of himself and in
such despair that we should undoubtedly have acquitted him,
notwithstanding the charges against him, if two crushing discoveries had
not been made, one after the other.
"The first one was a snuffbox full of crushed glass; his own snuffbox,
hidden in the desk where he kept his money!
"He explained this new find in an acceptable manner, as the ruse of the
real unknown criminal. But a mercer from Saint-Marlouf came to the
presiding judge and said that a gentleman had several times come to his
store to buy some needles; and he always asked for the thinnest needles
he could find, and would break them to see whether they pleased him. The
man was brought forward in the presence of a dozen or more persons, and
immediately recognized Moiron. The inquest revealed that the schoolmaster
had indeed gone into Saint-Marlouf on the days mentioned by the
"I will pass over the terrible testimony of children on the choice of
dainties and the care which he took to have them eat the things in his
presence, and to remove the slightest traces.
"Public indignation demanded capital punishment, and it became more and
more insistent, overturning all objections.
"Moiron was condemned to death, and his appeal was rejected. Nothing was
left for him but the imperial pardon. I knew through my father that the
emperor would not grant it.
"One morning, as I was working in my study, the visit of the prison
almoner was announced. He was an old priest who knew men well and
understood the habits of criminals. He seemed troubled, ill at ease,
nervous. After talking for a few minutes about one thing and another, he
arose and said suddenly: 'If Moiron is executed, monsieur, you will have
put an innocent man to death.'
"Then he left without bowing, leaving me behind with the deep impression
made by his words. He had pronounced them in such a sincere and solemn
manner, opening those lips, closed and sealed by the secret of
confession, in order to save a life.
"An hour later I left for Paris, and my father immediately asked that I
be granted an audience with the emperor.
"The following day I was received. His majesty was working in a little
reception room when we were introduced. I described the whole case, and I
was just telling about the priest's visit when a door opened behind the
sovereign's chair and the empress, who supposed he was alone, appeared.
His majesty, Napoleon, consulted her. As soon as she had heard the
matter, she exclaimed: 'This man must be pardoned. He must, since he is
"Why did this sudden conviction of a religious woman cast a terrible
doubt in my mind?
"Until then I had ardently desired a change of sentence. And now I
suddenly felt myself the toy, the dupe of a cunning criminal who had
employed the priest and confession as a last means of defence.
"I explained my hesitancy to their majesties. The emperor remained
undecided, urged on one side by his natural kindness and held back on the
other by the fear of being deceived by a criminal; but the empress, who
was convinced that the priest had obeyed a divine inspiration, kept
repeating: 'Never mind! It is better to spare a criminal than to kill an
innocent man!' Her advice was taken. The death sentence was commuted to
one of hard labor.
"A few years later I heard that Moiron had again been called to the
emperor's attention on account of his exemplary conduct in the prison at
Toulon and was now employed as a servant by the director of the
"For a long time I heard nothing more of this man. But about two years
ago, while I was spending a summer near Lille with my cousin, De
Larielle, I was informed one evening, just as we were sitting down to
dinner, that a young priest wished to speak to me.
"I had him shown in and he begged me to come to a dying man who desired
absolutely to see me. This had often happened to me in my long career as
a magistrate, and, although I had been set aside by the Republic, I was
still often called upon in similar circumstances. I therefore followed
the priest, who led me to a miserable little room in a large tenement
"There I found a strange-looking man on a bed of straw, sitting with his
back against the wall, in order to get his breath. He was a sort of
skeleton, with dark, gleaming eyes.
"As soon as he saw me, he murmured: 'Don't you recognize me?'
"'I am Moiron.'
"I felt a shiver run through me, and I asked 'The schoolmaster?'
"'How do you happen to be here?'
"'The story is too long. I haven't time to tell it. I was going to die
—and that priest was brought to me—and as I knew that you
were here I sent for you. It is to you that I wish to confess—since
you were the one who once saved my life.'
"His hands clutched the straw of his bed through the sheet and he
continued in a hoarse, forcible and low tone: 'You see—I owe you
the truth—I owe it to you—for it must be told to some one
before I leave this earth.
"'It is I who killed the children—all of them. I did it—for
"'Listen. I was an honest, straightforward, pure man—adoring
God—this good Father—this Master who teaches us to love, and
not the false God, the executioner, the robber, the murderer who governs
the earth. I had never done any harm; I had never committed an evil act.
I was as good as it is possible to be, monsieur.
"'I married and had children, and I loved them as no father or mother
ever loved their children. I lived only for them. I was wild about them.
All three of them died! Why? why? What had I done? I was rebellious,
furious; and suddenly my eyes were opened as if I were waking up out of a
sleep. I understood that God is bad. Why had He killed my children? I
opened my eyes and saw that He loves to kill. He loves only that,
monsieur. He gives life but to destroy it! God, monsieur, is a murderer!
He needs death every day. And He makes it of every variety, in order the
better to be amused. He has invented sickness and accidents in order to
give Him diversion all through the months and the years; and when He
grows tired of this, He has epidemics, the plague, cholera, diphtheria,
smallpox, everything possible! But this does not satisfy Him; all these
things are too similar; and so from time to time He has wars, in order to
see two hundred thousand soldiers killed at once, crushed in blood and in
the mud, blown apart, their arms and legs torn off, their heads smashed
by bullets, like eggs that fall on the ground.
"'But this is not all. He has made men who eat each other. And then, as
men become better than He, He has made beasts, in order to see men hunt
them, kill them and eat them. That is not all. He has made tiny little
animals which live one day, flies who die by the millions in one hour,
ants which we are continually crushing under our feet, and so many, many
others that we cannot even imagine. And all these things are continually
killing each other and dying. And the good Lord looks on and is amused,
for He sees everything, the big ones as well as the little ones, those
who are in the drops of water and those in the other firmaments. He
watches them and is amused. Wretch!
"'Then, monsieur, I began to kill children played a trick on Him. He did
not get those. It was not He, but I! And I would have killed many others,
but you caught me. There!
"'I was to be executed. I! How He would have laughed! Then I asked for a
priest, and I lied. I confessed to him. I lied and I lived.
"'Now, all is over. I can no longer escape from Him. I no longer fear
Him, monsieur; I despise Him too much.'
"This poor wretch was frightful to see as he lay there gasping, opening
an enormous mouth in order to utter words which could scarcely be heard,
his breath rattling, picking at his bed and moving his thin legs under a
grimy sheet as though trying to escape.
"Oh! The mere remembrance of it is frightful!
"'You have nothing more to say?' I asked.
"'Farewell, monsieur, till some day——'
"I turned to the ashen-faced priest, whose dark outline stood out against
the wall, and asked: 'Are you going to stay here, Monsieur l'Abbe?'
"Then the dying man sneered: 'Yes, yes, He sends His vultures to the
"I had had enough of this. I opened the door and ran away."
THE DISPENSER OF HOLY WATER
We lived formerly in a little house beside the high road outside the
village. He had set up in business as a wheelwright, after marrying the
daughter of a farmer of the neighborhood, and as they were both
industrious, they managed to save up a nice little fortune. But they had
no children, and this caused them great sorrow. Finally a son was born,
whom they named Jean. They both loved and petted him, enfolding him with
their affection, and were unwilling to let him be out of their sight.
When he was five years old some mountebanks passed through the country
and set up their tent in the town hall square.
Jean, who had seen them pass by, made his escape from the house, and
after his father had made a long search for him, he found him among the
learned goats and trick dogs, uttering shouts of laughter and sitting on
the knees of an old clown.
Three days later, just as they were sitting down to dinner, the
wheelwright and his wife noticed that their son was not in the house.
They looked for him in the garden, and as they did not find him, his
father went out into the road and shouted at the top of his voice,
Night came on. A brown vapor arose making distant objects look still
farther away and giving them a dismal, weird appearance. Three tall
pines, close at hand, seemed to be weeping. Still there was no reply, but
the air appeared to be full of indistinct sighing. The father listened
for some time, thinking he heard a sound first in one direction, then in
another, and, almost beside himself, he ran, out into the night, calling
incessantly "Jean! Jean!"
He ran along thus until daybreak, filling the, darkness with his shouts,
terrifying stray animals, torn by a terrible anguish and fearing that he
was losing his mind. His wife, seated on the stone step of their home,
sobbed until morning.
They did not find their son. They both aged rapidly in their inconsolable
sorrow. Finally they sold their house and set out to search together.
They inquired of the shepherds on the hillsides, of the tradesmen passing
by, of the peasants in the villages and of the authorities in the towns.
But their boy had been lost a long time and no one knew anything about
him. He had probably forgotten his own name by this time and also the
name of his village, and his parents wept in silence, having lost hope.
Before long their money came to an end, and they worked out by the day in
the farms and inns, doing the most menial work, eating what was left from
the tables, sleeping on the ground and suffering from cold. Then as they
became enfeebled by hard work no one would employ them any longer, and
they were forced to beg along the high roads. They accosted passers-by in
an entreating voice and with sad, discouraged faces; they begged a morsel
of bread from the harvesters who were dining around a tree in the fields
at noon, and they ate in silence seated on the edge of a ditch. An
innkeeper to whom they told their story said to them one day:
"I know some one who had lost their daughter, and they found her in
They at once set out for Paris.
When they entered the great city they were bewildered by its size and by
the crowds that they saw. But they knew that Jean must be in the midst of
all these people, though they did not know how to set about looking for
him. Then they feared that they might not recognize him, for he was only
five years old when they last saw him.
They visited every place, went through all the streets, stopping whenever
they saw a group of people, hoping for some providential meeting, some
extraordinary luck, some compassionate fate.
They frequently walked at haphazard straight ahead, leaning one against
the other, looking so sad and poverty-stricken that people would give
them alms without their asking.
They spent every Sunday at the doors of the churches, watching the crowds
entering and leaving, trying to distinguish among the faces one that
might be familiar. Several times they thought they recognized him, but
always found they had made a mistake.
In the vestibule of one of the churches which they visited the most
frequently there was an old dispenser of holy Water who had become their
friend. He also had a very sad history, and their sympathy for him had
established a bond of close friendship between them. It ended by them all
three living together in a poor lodging on the top floor of a large house
situated at some distance, quite on the outskirts of the city, and the
wheelwright would sometimes take his new friend's place at the church
when the latter was ill.
Winter came, a very severe winter. The poor holy water sprinkler died and
the parish priest appointed the wheelwright, whose misfortunes had come
to his knowledge, to replace him. He went every morning and sat in the
same place, on the same chair, wearing away the old stone pillar by
continually leaning against it. He would gaze steadily at every man who
entered the church and looked forward to Sunday with as much impatience
as a schoolboy, for on that day the church was filled with people from
morning till night.
He became very old, growing weaker each day from the dampness of the
church, and his hope oozed away gradually.
He now knew by sight all the people who came to the services; he knew
their hours, their manners, could distinguish their step on the stone
His interests had become so contracted that the entrance of a stranger in
the church was for him a great event. One day two ladies came in; one was
old, the other young—a mother and daughter probably. Behind them
came a man who was following them. He bowed to them as they came out, and
after offering them some holy water, he took the arm of the elder lady.
"That must be the fiance of the younger one," thought the wheelwright.
And until evening he kept trying to recall where he had formerly seen a
young man who resembled this one. But the one he was thinking of must be
an old man by this time, for it seemed as if he had known him down home
in his youth.
The same man frequently came again to walk home with the ladies, and this
vague, distant, familiar resemblance which he could not place worried the
old man so much that he made his wife come with him to see if she could
help his impaired memory.
One evening as it was growing dusk the three strangers entered together.
When they had passed the old man said:
"Well, do you know him?"
His wife anxiously tried to ransack her memory. Suddenly she said in a
"Yes—yes—but he is darker, taller, stouter and is dressed
like a gentleman, but, father, all the same, it is your face when you
The old man started violently.
It was true. He looked like himself and also like his brother who was
dead, and like his father, whom he remembered while he was yet young. The
old couple were so affected that they could not speak. The three persons
came out and were about to leave the church.
The man touched his finger to the holy water sprinkler. Then the old man,
whose hand was trembling so that he was fairly sprinkling the ground with
holy water, exclaimed:
The young man stopped and looked at him.
He repeated in a lower tone:
The two women looked at them without understanding.
He then said for the third time, sobbing as he did so:
The man stooped down, with his face close to the old man's, and as a
memory of his childhood dawned on him he replied:
"Papa Pierre, Mamma Jeanne!"
He had forgotten everything, his father's surname and the name of his
native place, but he always remembered those two words that he had so
often repeated: "Papa Pierre, Mamma Jeanne."
He sank to the floor, his face on the old man's knees, and he wept,
kissing now his father and then his mother, while they were almost
breathless from intense joy.
The two ladies also wept, understanding as they did that some great
happiness had come to pass.
Then they all went to the young man's house and he told them his history.
The circus people had carried him off. For three years he traveled with
them in various countries. Then the troupe disbanded, and one day an old
lady in a chateau had paid to have him stay with her because she liked
his appearance. As he was intelligent, he was sent to school, then to
college, and the old lady having no children, had left him all her money.
He, for his part, had tried to find his parents, but as he could remember
only the two names, "Papa Pierre, Mamma Jeanne," he had been unable to do
so. Now he was about to be married, and he introduced his fiancee, who
was very good and very pretty.
When the two old people had told their story in their turn he kissed them
once more. They sat up very late that night, not daring to retire lest
the happiness they had so long sought should escape them again while they
But misfortune had lost its hold on them and they were happy for the rest
of their lives.
The lawyer had presented a plea of insanity. How could anyone explain
this strange crime otherwise?
One morning, in the grass near Chatou, two bodies had been found, a man
and a woman, well known, rich, no longer young and married since the
preceding year, the woman having been a widow for three years before.
They were not known to have enemies; they had not been robbed. They
seemed to have been thrown from the roadside into the river, after having
been struck, one after the other, with a long iron spike.
The investigation revealed nothing. The boatmen, who had been questioned,
knew nothing. The matter was about to be given up, when a young carpenter
from a neighboring village, Georges Louis, nicknamed "the Bourgeois,"
gave himself up.
To all questions he only answered this:
"I had known the man for two years, the woman for six months. They often
had me repair old furniture for them, because I am a clever workman."
And when he was asked:
"Why did you kill them?"
He would obstinately answer:
"I killed them because I wanted to kill them."
They could get nothing more out of him.
This man was undoubtedly an illegitimate child, put out to nurse and then
abandoned. He had no other name than Georges Louis, but as on growing up
he became particularly intelligent, with the good taste and native
refinement which his acquaintances did not have, he was nicknamed "the
Bourgeois," and he was never called otherwise. He had become remarkably
clever in the trade of a carpenter, which he had taken up. He was also
said to be a socialist fanatic, a believer in communistic and nihilistic
doctrines, a great reader of bloodthirsty novels, an influential
political agitator and a clever orator in the public meetings of workmen
or of farmers.
His lawyer had pleaded insanity.
Indeed, how could one imagine that this workman should kill his best
customers, rich and generous (as he knew), who in two years had enabled
him to earn three thousand francs (his books showed it)? Only one
explanation could be offered: insanity, the fixed idea of the unclassed
individual who reeks vengeance on two bourgeois, on all the bourgeoisie,
and the lawyer made a clever allusion to this nickname of "The
Bourgeois," given throughout the neighborhood to this poor wretch. He
"Is this irony not enough to unbalance the mind of this poor wretch, who
has neither father nor mother? He is an ardent republican. What am I
saying? He even belongs to the same political party, the members of
which, formerly shot or exiled by the government, it now welcomes with
open arms this party to which arson is a principle and murder an ordinary
"These gloomy doctrines, now applauded in public meetings, have ruined
this man. He has heard republicans—even women, yes, women—ask for the
blood of M. Gambetta, the blood of M. Grevy; his weakened mind gave way;
he wanted blood, the blood of a bourgeois!
"It is not he whom you should condemn, gentlemen; it is the Commune!"
Everywhere could be heard murmurs of assent. Everyone felt that the
lawyer had won his case. The prosecuting attorney did not oppose him.
Then the presiding judge asked the accused the customary question:
"Prisoner, is there anything that you wish to add to your defense?"
The man stood up.
He was a short, flaxen blond, with calm, clear, gray eyes. A strong,
frank, sonorous voice came from this frail-looking boy and, at the first
words, quickly changed the opinion which had been formed of him.
He spoke loud in a declamatory manner, but so distinctly that every word
could be understood in the farthest corners of the big hall:
"Your honor, as I do not wish to go to an insane asylum, and as I even
prefer death to that, I will tell everything.
"I killed this man and this woman because they were my parents.
"Now, listen, and judge me.
"A woman, having given birth to a boy, sent him out, somewhere, to a
nurse. Did she even know where her accomplice carried this innocent
little being, condemned to eternal misery, to the shame of an
illegitimate birth; to more than that—to death, since he was
abandoned and the nurse, no longer receiving the monthly pension, might,
as they often do, let him die of hunger and neglect!
"The woman who nursed me was honest, better, more noble, more of a mother
than my own mother. She brought me up. She did wrong in doing her duty.
It is more humane to let them die, these little wretches who are cast
away in suburban villages just as garbage is thrown away.
"I grew up with the indistinct impression that I was carrying some burden
of shame. One day the other children called me a 'b——-'. They
did not know the meaning of this word, which one of them had heard at
home. I was also ignorant of its meaning, but I felt the sting all the
"I was, I may say, one of the cleverest boys in the school. I would have
been a good man, your honor, perhaps a man of superior intellect, if my
parents had not committed the crime of abandoning me.
"This crime was committed against me. I was the victim, they were the
guilty ones. I was defenseless, they were pitiless. Their duty was to
love me, they rejected me.
"I owed them life—but is life a boon? To me, at any rate, it was a
misfortune. After their shameful desertion, I owed them only vengeance.
They committed against me the most inhuman, the most infamous, the most
monstrous crime which can be committed against a human creature.
"A man who has been insulted, strikes; a man who has been robbed, takes
back his own by force. A man who has been deceived, played upon,
tortured, kills; a man who has been slapped, kills; a man who has been
dishonored, kills. I have been robbed, deceived, tortured, morally
slapped, dishonored, all this to a greater degree than those whose anger
"I revenged myself, I killed. It was my legitimate right. I took their
happy life in exchange for the terrible one which they had forced on me.
"You will call me parricide! Were these people my parents, for whom I was
an abominable burden, a terror, an infamous shame; for whom my birth was
a calamity and my life a threat of disgrace? They sought a selfish
pleasure; they got an unexpected child. They suppressed the child. My
turn came to do the same for them.
"And yet, up to quite recently, I was ready to love them.
"As I have said, this man, my father, came to me for the first time two
years ago. I suspected nothing. He ordered two pieces of furniture. I
found out, later on, that, under the seal of secrecy, naturally, he had
sought information from the priest.
"He returned often. He gave me a lot of work and paid me well. Sometimes
he would even talk to me of one thing or another. I felt a growing
affection for him.
"At the beginning of this year he brought with him his wife, my mother.
When she entered she was trembling so that I thought her to be suffering
from some nervous disease. Then she asked for a seat and a glass of
water. She said nothing; she looked around abstractedly at my work and
only answered 'yes' and 'no,' at random, to all the questions which he
asked her. When she had left I thought her a little unbalanced.
"The following month they returned. She was calm, self-controlled. That
day they chattered for a long time, and they left me a rather large
order. I saw her three more times, without suspecting anything. But one
day she began to talk to me of my life, of my childhood, of my parents. I
answered: 'Madame, my parents were wretches who deserted me.' Then she
clutched at her heart and fell, unconscious. I immediately thought: 'She
is my mother!' but I took care not to let her notice anything. I wished
to observe her.
"I, in turn, sought out information about them. I learned that they had
been married since last July, my mother having been a widow for only
three years. There had been rumors that they had loved each other during
the lifetime of the first husband, but there was no proof of it. I was
the proof—the proof which they had at first hidden and then hoped
"I waited. She returned one evening, escorted as usual by my father. That
day she seemed deeply moved, I don't know why. Then, as she was leaving,
she said to me: 'I wish you success, because you seem to me to be honest
and a hard worker; some day you will undoubtedly think of getting
married. I have come to help you to choose freely the woman who may suit
you. I was married against my inclination once and I know what suffering
it causes. Now I am rich, childless, free, mistress of my fortune. Here
is your dowry.'
"She held out to me a large, sealed envelope.
"I looked her straight in the eyes and then said: 'Are you my mother?'
"She drew back a few steps and hid her face in her hands so as not to see
me. He, the man, my father, supported her in his arms and cried out to
me: 'You must be crazy!'
"I answered: 'Not in the least. I know that you are my parents. I cannot
be thus deceived. Admit it and I will keep the secret; I will bear you no
ill will; I will remain what I am, a carpenter.'
"He retreated towards the door, still supporting his wife who was
beginning to sob. Quickly I locked the door, put the key in my pocket and
continued: 'Look at her and dare to deny that she is my mother.'
"Then he flew into a passion, very pale, terrified at the thought that
the scandal, which had so far been avoided, might suddenly break out;
that their position, their good name, their honor might all at once be
lost. He stammered out: 'You are a rascal, you wish to get money from us!
That's the thanks we get for trying to help such common people!'
"My mother, bewildered, kept repeating: 'Let's get out of here, let's get
"Then, when he found the door locked, he exclaimed: 'If you do not open
this door immediately, I will have you thrown into prison for blackmail
"I had remained calm; I opened the door and saw them disappear in the
"Then I seemed to have been suddenly orphaned, deserted, pushed to the
wall. I was seized with an overwhelming sadness, mingled with anger,
hatred, disgust; my whole being seemed to rise up in revolt against the
injustice, the meanness, the dishonor, the rejected love. I began to run,
in order to overtake them along the Seine, which they had to follow in
order to reach the station of Chaton.
"I soon caught up with them. It was now pitch dark. I was creeping up
behind them softly, that they might not hear me. My mother was still
crying. My father was saying: 'It's all your own fault. Why did you wish
to see him? It was absurd in our position. We could have helped him from
afar, without showing ourselves. Of what use are these dangerous visits,
since we can't recognize him?'
"Then I rushed up to them, beseeching. I cried:
"'You see! You are my parents. You have already rejected me once; would
you repulse me again?'
"Then, your honor, he struck me. I swear it on my honor, before the law
and my country. He struck me, and as I seized him by the collar, he drew
from his pocket a revolver.
"The blood rushed to my head, I no longer knew what I was doing, I had my
compass in my pocket; I struck him with it as often as I could.
"Then she began to cry: 'Help! murder!' and to pull my beard. It seems
that I killed her also. How do I know what I did then?
"Then, when I saw them both lying on the ground, without thinking, I
threw them into the Seine.
"That's all. Now sentence me."
The prisoner sat down. After this revelation the case was carried over to
the following session. It comes up very soon. If we were jurymen, what
would we do with this parricide?
Dr. Bonnet, my old friend—one sometimes has friends older than
one's self—had often invited me to spend some time with him at
Riom, and, as I did not know Auvergne, I made up my mind to visit him in
the summer of 1876.
I arrived by the morning train, and the first person I saw on the
platform was the doctor. He was dressed in a gray suit, and wore a soft,
black, wide-brimmed, high-crowned felt hat, narrow at the top like a
chimney pot, a hat which hardly any one except an Auvergnat would wear,
and which reminded one of a charcoal burner. Dressed like that, the
doctor had the appearance of an old young man, with his spare body under
his thin coat, and his large head covered with white hair.
He embraced me with that evident pleasure which country people feel when
they meet long-expected friends, and, stretching out his arm, he said
"This is Auvergne!" I saw nothing before me except a range of mountains,
whose summits, which resembled truncated cones, must have been extinct
Then, pointing to the name of the station, he said:
"Riom, the fatherland of magistrates, the pride of the magistracy, and
which ought rather to be the fatherland of doctors."
"Why?" I, asked.
"Why?" he replied with a laugh. "If you transpose the letters, you have
the Latin word 'mori', to die. That is the reason why I settled here, my
And, delighted at his own joke, he carried me off, rubbing his hands.
As soon as I had swallowed a cup of coffee, he made me go and see the
town. I admired the druggist's house, and the other noted houses, which
were all black, but as pretty as bric-a-brac, with their facades of
sculptured stone. I admired the statue of the Virgin, the patroness of
butchers, and he told me an amusing story about this, which I will relate
some other time, and then Dr. Bonnet said to me:
"I must beg you to excuse me for a few minutes while I go and see a
patient, and then I will take you to Chatel-Guyon, so as to show you the
general aspect of the town, and all the mountain chain of the Puy-de-Dome
before lunch. You can wait for me outside; I shall only go upstairs and
come down immediately."
He left me outside one of those old, gloomy, silent, melancholy houses,
which one sees in the provinces, and this one appeared to look
particularly sinister, and I soon discovered the reason. All the large
windows on the first floor were boarded half way up. The upper part of
them alone could be opened, as if one had wished to prevent the people
who were locked up in that huge stone box from looking into the street.
When the doctor came down again, I told him how it struck me, and he
"You are quite right; the poor creature who is living there must never
see what is going on outside. She is a madwoman, or rather an idiot, what
you Normans would call a Niente. It is a miserable story, but a very
singular pathological case at the same time. Shall I tell you?"
I begged him to do so, and he continued:
"Twenty years ago the owners of this house, who were my patients, had a
daughter who was like all other girls, but I soon discovered that while
her body became admirably developed, her intellect remained stationary.
"She began to walk very early, but she could not talk. At first I thought
she was deaf, but I soon discovered that, although she heard perfectly,
she did not understand anything that was said to her. Violent noises made
her start and frightened her, without her understanding how they were
"She grew up into a superb woman, but she was dumb, from an absolute want
of intellect. I tried all means to introduce a gleam of intelligence into
her brain, but nothing succeeded. I thought I noticed that she knew her
nurse, though as soon as she was weaned, she failed to recognize her
mother. She could never pronounce that word which is the first that
children utter and the last which soldiers murmur when they are dying on
the field of battle. She sometimes tried to talk, but she produced
nothing but incoherent sounds.
"When the weather was fine, she laughed continually, and emitted low
cries which might be compared to the twittering of birds; when it rained
she cried and moaned in a mournful, terrifying manner, which sounded like
the howling of a dog before a death occurs in a house.
"She was fond of rolling on the grass, as young animals do, and of
running about madly, and she would clap her hands every morning, when the
sun shone into her room, and would insist, by signs, on being dressed as
quickly as possible, so that she might get out.
"She did not appear to distinguish between people, between her mother and
her nurse, or between her father and me, or between the coachman and the
cook. I particularly liked her parents, who were very unhappy on her
account, and went to see them nearly every day. I dined with them quite
frequently, which enabled me to remark that Bertha (they had called her
Bertha) seemed to recognize the various dishes, and to prefer some to
others. At that time she was twelve years old, but as fully formed in
figure as a girl of eighteen, and taller than I was. Then the idea struck
me of developing her greediness, and by this means of cultivating some
slight power of discrimination in her mind, and to force her, by the
diversity of flavors, if not to reason, at any rate to arrive at
instinctive distinctions, which would of themselves constitute a kind of
process that was necessary to thought. Later on, by appealing to her
passions, and by carefully making use of those which could serve our
purpose, we might hope to obtain a kind of reaction on her intellect, and
by degrees increase the unconscious action of her brain.
"One day I put two plates before her, one of soup, and the other of very
sweet vanilla cream. I made her taste each of them successively, and then
I let her choose for herself, and she ate the plate of cream. In a short
time I made her very greedy, so greedy that it appeared as if the only
idea she had in her head was the desire for eating. She perfectly
recognized the various dishes, and stretched out her hands toward those
that she liked, and took hold of them eagerly, and she used to cry when
they were taken from her. Then I thought I would try and teach her to
come to the dining-room when the dinner bell rang. It took a long time,
but I succeeded in the end. In her vacant intellect a vague correlation
was established between sound and taste, a correspondence between the two
senses, an appeal from one to the other, and consequently a sort of
connection of ideas—if one can call that kind of instinctive hyphen
between two organic functions an idea—and so I carried my
experiments further, and taught her, with much difficulty, to recognize
meal times by the clock.
"It was impossible for me for a long time to attract her attention to the
hands, but I succeeded in making her remark the clockwork and the
striking apparatus. The means I employed were very simple; I asked them
not to have the bell rung for lunch, and everybody got up and went into
the dining-room when the little brass hammer struck twelve o'clock, but I
found great difficulty in making her learn to count the strokes. She ran
to the door each time she heard the clock strike, but by degrees she
learned that all the strokes had not the same value as far as regarded
meals, and she frequently fixed her eyes, guided by her ears, on the dial
of the clock.
"When I noticed that, I took care every day at twelve, and at six
o'clock, to place my fingers on the figures twelve and six, as soon as
the moment she was waiting for had arrived, and I soon noticed that she
attentively followed the motion of the small brass hands, which I had
often turned in her presence.
"She had understood! Perhaps I ought rather to say that she had grasped
the idea. I had succeeded in getting the knowledge, or, rather, the
sensation, of the time into her, just as is the case with carp, who
certainly have no clocks, when they are fed every day exactly at the same
"When once I had obtained that result all the clocks and watches in the
house occupied her attention almost exclusively. She spent her time in
looking at them, listening to them, and in waiting for meal time, and
once something very funny happened. The striking apparatus of a pretty
little Louis XVI clock that hung at the head of her bed having got out of
order, she noticed it. She sat for twenty minutes with her eyes on the
hands, waiting for it to strike ten, but when the hands passed the figure
she was astonished at not hearing anything; so stupefied was she, indeed,
that she sat down, no doubt overwhelmed by a feeling of violent emotion
such as attacks us in the face of some terrible catastrophe. And she had
the wonderful patience to wait until eleven o'clock in order to see what
would happen, and as she naturally heard nothing, she was suddenly either
seized with a wild fit of rage at having been deceived and imposed upon
by appearances, or else overcome by that fear which some frightened
creature feels at some terrible mystery, and by the furious impatience of
a passionate individual who meets with some obstacle; she took up the
tongs from the fireplace and struck the clock so violently that she broke
it to pieces in a moment.
"It was evident, therefore, that her, brain did act and calculate,
obscurely it is true, and within very restricted limits, for I could
never succeed in making her distinguish persons as she distinguished the
time; and to stir her intellect, it was necessary to appeal to her
passions, in the material sense of the word, and we soon had another, and
alas! a very terrible proof of this!
"She had grown up into a splendid girl, a perfect type of a race, a sort
of lovely and stupid Venus. She was sixteen, and I have rarely seen such
perfection of form, such suppleness and such regular features. I said she
was a Venus; yes, a fair, stout, vigorous Venus, with large, bright,
vacant eyes, which were as blue as the flowers of the flax plant; she had
a large mouth with full lips, the mouth of a glutton, of a sensualist, a
mouth made for kisses. Well, one morning her father came into my
consulting room with a strange look on his face, and, sitting down
without even replying to my greeting, he said:
"'I want to speak to you about a very serious matter. Would it be
possible—would it be possible for Bertha to marry?'
"'Bertha to marry! Why, it is quite impossible!'
"'Yes, I know, I know,' he replied. 'But reflect, doctor. Don't you
think—perhaps—we hoped—if she had children—it would be a great shock
to her, but a great happiness, and—who knows whether maternity might not
rouse her intellect?'
"I was in a state of great perplexity. He was right, and it was possible
that such a new situation, and that wonderful instinct of maternity,
which beats in the hearts of the lower animals as it does in the heart of
a woman, which makes the hen fly at a dog's jaws to defend her chickens,
might bring about a revolution, an utter change in her vacant mind, and
set the motionless mechanism of her thoughts in motion. And then,
moreover, I immediately remembered a personal instance. Some years
previously I had owned a spaniel bitch who was so stupid that I could do
nothing with her, but when she had had puppies she became, if not exactly
intelligent, yet almost like many other dogs who had not been thoroughly
"As soon as I foresaw the possibility of this, the wish to get Bertha
married grew in me, not so much out of friendship for her and her poor
parents as from scientific curiosity. What would happen? It was a
singular problem. I said in reply to her father:
"'Perhaps you are right. You might make the attempt, but you will never
find a man to consent to marry her.'
"'I have found somebody,' he said, in a low voice.
"I was dumfounded, and said: 'Somebody really suitable? Some one of your
own rank and position in society?'
"'Decidedly,' he replied.
"'Oh! And may I ask his name?'
"'I came on purpose to tell you, and to consult you. It is Monsieur
Gaston du Boys de Lucelles.'
"I felt inclined to exclaim: 'The wretch!' but I held my tongue, and
after a few moments' silence I said:
"'Oh! Very good. I see nothing against it.'
"The poor man shook me heartily by the hand.
"'She is to be married next month,' he said.
"Monsieur Gaston du Boys de Lucelles was a scapegrace of good family,
who, after having spent all that he had inherited from his father, and
having incurred debts in all kinds of doubtful ways, had been trying to
discover some other means of obtaining money, and he had discovered this
method. He was a good-looking young fellow, and in capital health, but
fast; one of that odious race of provincial fast men, and he appeared to
me to be as suitable as anyone, and could be got rid of later by making
him an allowance. He came to the house to pay his addresses and to strut
about before the idiot girl, who, however, seemed to please him. He
brought her flowers, kissed her hands, sat at her feet, and looked at her
with affectionate eyes; but she took no notice of any of his attentions,
and did not make any distinction between him and the other persons who
were about her.
"However, the marriage took place, and you may guess how my curiosity was
aroused. I went to see Bertha the next day to try and discover from her
looks whether any feelings had been awakened in her, but I found her just
the same as she was every day, wholly taken up with the clock and dinner,
while he, on the contrary, appeared really in love, and tried to rouse
his wife's spirits and affection by little endearments and such caresses
as one bestows on a kitten. He could think of nothing better.
"I called upon the married couple pretty frequently, and I soon perceived
that the young woman knew her husband, and gave him those eager looks
which she had hitherto only bestowed on sweet dishes.
"She followed his movements, knew his step on the stairs or in the
neighboring rooms, clapped her hands when he came in, and her face was
changed and brightened by the flames of profound happiness and of desire.
"She loved him with her whole body and with all her soul to the very
depths of her poor, weak soul, and with all her heart, that poor heart of
some grateful animal. It was really a delightful and innocent picture of
simple passion, of carnal and yet modest passion, such as nature had
implanted in mankind, before man had complicated and disfigured it by all
the various shades of sentiment. But he soon grew tired of this ardent,
beautiful, dumb creature, and did not spend more than an hour during the
day with her, thinking it sufficient if he came home at night, and she
began to suffer in consequence. She used to wait for him from morning
till night with her eyes on the clock; she did not even look after the
meals now, for he took all his away from home, Clermont, Chatel-Guyon,
Royat, no matter where, as long as he was not obliged to come home.
"She began to grow thin; every other thought, every other wish, every
other expectation, and every confused hope disappeared from her mind, and
the hours during which she did not see him became hours of terrible
suffering to her. Soon he ceased to come home regularly of nights; he
spent them with women at the casino at Royat and did not come home until
daybreak. But she never went to bed before he returned. She remained
sitting motionless in an easy-chair, with her eyes fixed on the hands of
the clock, which turned so slowly and regularly round the china face on
which the hours were painted.
"She heard the trot of his horse in the distance and sat up with a start,
and when he came into the room she got up with the movements of an
automaton and pointed to the clock, as if to say: 'Look how late it is!'
"And he began to be afraid of this amorous and jealous, half-witted
woman, and flew into a rage, as brutes do; and one night he even went so
far as to strike her, so they sent for me. When I arrived she was
writhing and screaming in a terrible crisis of pain, anger, passion, how
do I know what? Can one tell what goes on in such undeveloped brains?
"I calmed her by subcutaneous injections of morphine, and forbade her to
see that man again, for I saw clearly that marriage would infallibly kill
her by degrees.
"Then she went mad! Yes, my dear friend, that idiot went mad. She is
always thinking of him and waiting for him; she waits for him all day and
night, awake or asleep, at this very moment, ceaselessly. When I saw her
getting thinner and thinner, and as she persisted in never taking her
eyes off the clocks, I had them removed from the house. I thus made it
impossible for her to count the hours, and to try to remember, from her
indistinct reminiscences, at what time he used to come home formerly. I
hope to destroy the recollection of it in time, and to extinguish that
ray of thought which I kindled with so much difficulty.
"The other day I tried an experiment. I offered her my watch; she took it
and looked at it for some time; then she began to scream terribly, as if
the sight of that little object had suddenly awakened her memory, which
was beginning to grow indistinct. She is pitiably thin now, with hollow
and glittering eyes, and she walks up and down ceaselessly, like a wild
beast in its cage; I have had gratings put on the windows, boarded them
up half way, and have had the seats fixed to the floor so as to prevent
her from looking to see whether he is coming.
"Oh! her poor parents! What a life they must lead!"
We had got to the top of the hill, and the doctor turned round and said
"Look at Riom from here."
The gloomy town looked like some ancient city. Behind it a green, wooded
plain studded with towns and villages, and bathed in a soft blue haze,
extended until it was lost in the distance. Far away, on my right, there
was a range of lofty mountains with round summits, or else cut off flat,
as if with a sword, and the doctor began to enumerate the villages, towns
and hills, and to give me the history of all of them. But I did not
listen to him; I was thinking of nothing but the madwoman, and I only saw
her. She seemed to be hovering over that vast extent of country like a
mournful ghost, and I asked him abruptly:
"What has become of the husband?"
My friend seemed rather surprised, but after a few moments' hesitation,
"He is living at Royat, on an allowance that they made him, and is quite
happy; he leads a very fast life."
As we were slowly going back, both of us silent and rather low-spirited,
an English dogcart, drawn by a thoroughbred horse, came up behind us and
passed us rapidly. The doctor took me by the arm.
"There he is," he said.
I saw nothing except a gray felt hat, cocked over one ear above a pair of
broad shoulders, driving off in a cloud of dust.
We never dreamed of such good fortune! The son of a provincial bailiff,
Jean Marin had come, as do so many others, to study law in the Quartier
Latin. In the various beer-houses that he had frequented he had made
friends with several talkative students who spouted politics as they
drank their beer. He had a great admiration for them and followed them
persistently from cafe to cafe, even paying for their drinks when he had
He became a lawyer and pleaded causes, which he lost. However, one
morning he read in the papers that one of his former comrades of the
Quartier had just been appointed deputy.
He again became his faithful hound, the friend who does the drudgery, the
unpleasant tasks, for whom one sends when one has need of him and with
whom one does not stand on ceremony. But it chanced through some
parliamentary incident that the deputy became a minister. Six months
later Jean Marin was appointed a state councillor.
He was so elated with pride at first that he lost his head. He would walk
through the streets just to show himself off, as though one could tell by
his appearance what position he occupied. He managed to say to the
shopkeepers as soon as he entered a store, bringing it in somehow in the
course of the most insignificant remarks and even to the news vendors and
"I, who am a state councillor—"
Then, in consequence of his position as well as for professional reasons
and as in duty bound through being an influential and generous man, he
felt an imperious need of patronizing others. He offered his support to
every one on all occasions and with unbounded generosity.
When he met any one he recognized on the boulevards he would advance to
meet them with a charmed air, would take their hand, inquire after their
health, and, without waiting for any questions, remark:
"You know I am state councillor, and I am entirely at your service. If I
can be of any use to you, do not hesitate to call on me. In my position
one has great influence."
Then he would go into some cafe with the friend he had just met and ask
for a pen and ink and a sheet of paper. "Just one, waiter; it is to write
a letter of recommendation."
And he wrote ten, twenty, fifty letters of recommendation a day. He wrote
them to the Cafe Americain, to Bignon's, to Tortoni's, to the Maison
Doree, to the Cafe Riche, to the Helder, to the Cafe Anglais, to the
Napolitain, everywhere, everywhere. He wrote them to all the officials of
the republican government, from the magistrates to the ministers. And he
was happy, perfectly happy.
One morning as he was starting out to go to the council it began to rain.
He hesitated about taking a cab, but decided not to do so and set out on
The rain came down in torrents, swamping the sidewalks and inundating the
streets. M. Marin was obliged to take shelter in a doorway. An old priest
was standing there—an old priest with white hair. Before he became
a councillor M. Marin did not like the clergy. Now he treated them with
consideration, ever since a cardinal had consulted him on an important
matter. The rain continued to pour down in floods and obliged the two men
to take shelter in the porter's lodge so as to avoid getting wet. M.
Marin, who was always itching to talk so as to let people know who he
"This is horrible weather, Monsieur l'Abbe."
The old priest bowed:
"Yes indeed, sir, it is very unpleasant when one comes to Paris for only
a few days."
"Ah! You come from the provinces?"
"Yes, monsieur. I am only passing through on my journey."
"It certainly is very disagreeable to have rain during the few days one
spends in the capital. We officials who stay here the year round, we
think nothing of it."
The priest did not reply. He was looking at the street where the rain
seemed to be falling less heavily. And with a sudden resolve he raised
his cassock just as women raise their skirts in stepping across water.
M. Marin, seeing him start away, exclaimed:
"You will get drenched, Monsieur l'Abbe. Wait a few moments longer; the
rain will be over."
The good man stopped irresistibly and then said:
"But I am in a great hurry. I have an important engagement."
M. Marin seemed quite worried.
"But you will be absolutely drenched. Might I ask in which direction you
The priest appeared to hesitate. Then he said:
"I am going in the direction of the Palais Royal."
"In that case, if you will allow me, Monsieur l'Abbe, I will offer you
the shelter of my umbrella: As for me, I am going to the council. I am a
councillor of state."
The old priest raised his head and looked at his neighbor and then
"I thank you, monsieur. I shall be glad to accept your offer."
M. Marin then took his arm and led him away. He directed him, watched
over him and advised him.
"Be careful of that stream, Monsieur l'Abbe. And be very careful about
the carriage wheels; they spatter you with mud sometimes from head to
foot. Look out for the umbrellas of the people passing by; there is
nothing more dangerous to the eyes than the tips of the ribs. Women
especially are unbearable; they pay no heed to where they are going and
always jab you in the face with the point of their parasols or umbrellas.
And they never move aside for anybody. One would suppose the town
belonged to them. They monopolize the pavement and the street. It is my
opinion that their education has been greatly neglected."
And M. Marin laughed.
The priest did not reply. He walked along, slightly bent over, picking
his steps carefully so as not to get mud on his boots or his cassock.
M. Marin resumed:
"I suppose you have come to Paris to divert your mind a little?"
The good man replied:
"No, I have some business to attend to."
"Ali! Is it important business? Might I venture to ask what it is? If I
can be of any service to you, you may command me."
The priest seemed embarrassed. He murmured:
"Oh, it is a little personal matter; a little difficulty with—with
my bishop. It would not interest you. It is a matter of internal
regulation—an ecclesiastical affair."
M. Marin was eager.
"But it is precisely the state council that regulates all those things.
In that case, make use of me."
"Yes, monsieur, it is to the council that I am going. You are a thousand
times too kind. I have to see M. Lerepere and M. Savon and also perhaps
M. Marin stopped short.
"Why, those are my friends, Monsieur l'Abbe, my best friends, excellent
colleagues, charming men. I will speak to them about you, and very
highly. Count upon me."
The cure thanked him, apologizing for troubling him, and stammered out a
thousand grateful promises.
M. Marin was enchanted.
"Ah, you may be proud of having made a stroke of luck, Monsieur l'Abbe.
You will see—you will see that, thanks to me, your affair will go
They reached the council hall. M. Marin took the priest into his office,
offered him a chair in front of the fire and sat down himself at his desk
and began to write.
"My dear colleague, allow me to recommend to you most highly a venerable
and particularly worthy and deserving priest, M. L'Abbe——"
He stopped and asked:
"Your name, if you please?"
"M. l'Abbe Ceinture, who needs your good office in a little matter which
he will communicate to you.
"I am pleased at this incident which gives me an opportunity, my dear
And he finished with the usual compliments.
When he had written the three letters he handed them to his protege, who
took his departure with many protestations of gratitude.
M. Marin attended to some business and then went home, passed the day
quietly, slept well, woke in a good humor and sent for his newspapers.
The first he opened was a radical sheet. He read:
"OUR CLERGY AND OUR GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS
"We shall never make an end of enumerating the misdeeds of the clergy. A
certain priest, named Ceinture, convicted of conspiracy against the
present government, accused of base actions to which we will not even
allude, suspected besides of being a former Jesuit, metamorphosed into a
simple priest, suspended by a bishop for causes that are said to be
unmentionable and summoned to Paris to give an explanation of his
conduct, has found an ardent defender in the man named Marin, a
councillor of state, who was not afraid to give this frocked malefactor
the warmest letters of recommendation to all the republican officials,
"We call the, attention of the ministry to the unheard of attitude of
this councillor of state——"
M. Marin bounded out of bed, dressed himself and hastened to his
colleague, Petitpas, who said to him:
"How now? You were crazy to recommend to me that old conspirator!"
M. Marin, bewildered, stammered out:
"Why no—you see—I was deceived. He looked such an honest man.
He played me a trick—a disgraceful trick! I beg that you will
sentence him severely, very severely. I am going to write. Tell me to
whom I should write about having him punished. I will go and see the
attorney-general and the archbishop of Paris—yes, the archbishop."
And seating himself abruptly at M. Petitpas' desk, he wrote:
"Monseigneur, I have the honor to bring to your grace's notice the fact
that I have recently been made a victim of the intrigues and lies of a
certain Abbe Ceinture, who imposed on my kind-heartedness.
"Deceived by the representations of this ecclesiastic, I was
Then, having signed and sealed his letter, he turned to his colleague and
"See here; my dear friend, let this be a warning to you never to
recommend any one again."
"Bah!" exclaimed Karl Massouligny, "the question of complaisant husbands
is a difficult one. I have seen many kinds, and yet I am unable to give
an opinion about any of them. I have often tried to determine whether
they are blind, weak or clairvoyant. I believe that there are some which
belong to each of these categories.
"Let us quickly pass over the blind ones. They cannot rightly be called
complaisant, since they do not know, but they are good creatures who
cannot see farther than their nose. It is a curious and interesting thing
to notice the ease with which men and women can, be deceived. We are
taken in by the slightest trick of those who surround us, by our
children, our friends, our servants, our tradespeople. Humanity is
credulous, and in order to discover deceit in others, we do not display
one-tenth the shrewdness which we use when we, in turn, wish to deceive
some one else.
"Clairvoyant husbands may be divided into three classes: Those who have
some interest, pecuniary, ambitious or otherwise, in their wife's having
love affairs. These ask only to safeguard appearances as much as
possible, and they are satisfied.
"Next come those who get angry. What a beautiful novel one could write
"Finally the weak ones! Those who are afraid of scandal.
"There are also those who are powerless, or, rather, tired, who flee from
the duties of matrimony through fear of ataxia or apoplexy, who are
satisfied to see a friend run these risks.
"But I once met a husband of a rare species, who guarded against the
common accident in a strange and witty manner.
"In Paris I had made the acquaintance of an elegant, fashionable couple.
The woman, nervous, tall, slender, courted, was supposed to have had many
love adventures. She pleased me with her wit, and I believe that I
pleased her also. I courted her, a trial courting to which she answered
with evident provocations. Soon we got to tender glances, hand pressures,
all the little gallantries which precede the final attack.
"Nevertheless, I hesitated. I consider that, as a rule, the majority of
society intrigues, however short they may be, are not worth the trouble
which they give us and the difficulties which may arise. I therefore
mentally compared the advantages and disadvantages which I might expect,
and I thought I noticed that the husband suspected me.
"One evening, at a ball, as I was saying tender things to the young woman
in a little parlor leading from the big hall where the dancing was going
on, I noticed in a mirror the reflection of some one who was watching me.
It was he. Our looks met and then I saw him turn his head and walk away.
"I murmured: 'Your husband is spying on us.'
"She seemed dumbfounded and asked: 'My husband?'
"'Yes, he has been watching us for some time:
"'Nonsense! Are you sure?'
"'How strange! He is usually extraordinarily pleasant to all my.
"'Perhaps he guessed that I love you!'
"'Nonsense! You are not the first one to pay attention to me. Every woman
who is a little in view drags behind her a herd of admirers.'
"'Yes. But I love you deeply.'
"'Admitting that that is true, does a husband ever guess those things?'
"'Then he is not jealous?'
"She thought for an instant and then continued: 'No. I do not think that
I ever noticed any jealousy on his part.'
"'Has he never-watched you?'
"'No. As I said, he is always agreeable to my friends.'
"From that day my courting became much more assiduous. The woman did not
please me any more than before, but the probable jealousy of her husband
tempted me greatly.
"As for her, I judged her coolly and clearly. She had a certain worldly
charm, due to a quick, gay, amiable and superficial mind, but no real,
deep attraction. She was, as I have already said, an excitable little
being, all on the surface, with rather a showy elegance. How can I
explain myself? She was an ornament, not a home.
"One day, after taking dinner with her, her husband said to me, just as I
was leaving: 'My dear friend' (he now called me 'friend'), 'we soon leave
for the country. It is a great pleasure to my wife and myself to
entertain people whom we like. We would be very pleased to have you spend
a month with us. It would be very nice of you to do so.'
"I was dumbfounded, but I accepted.
"A month later I arrived at their estate of Vertcresson, in Touraine.
They were waiting for me at the station, five miles from the chateau.
There were three of them, she, the husband and a gentleman unknown to me,
the Comte de Morterade, to whom I was introduced. He appeared to be
delighted to make my acquaintance, and the strangest ideas passed through
my mind while we trotted along the beautiful road between two hedges. I
was saying to myself: 'Let's see, what can this mean? Here is a husband
who cannot doubt that his wife and I are on more than friendly terms, and
yet he invites me to his house, receives me like an old friend and seems
to say: "Go ahead, my friend, the road is clear!"'
"Then I am introduced to a very pleasant gentleman, who seems already to
have settled down in the house, and—and who is perhaps trying to
get out of it, and who seems as pleased at my arrival as the husband
"Is it some former admirer who wishes to retire? One might think so.
But, then, would these two men tacitly have come to one of these infamous
little agreements so common in society? And it is proposed to me that I
should quietly enter into the pact and carry it out. All hands and arms
are held out to me. All doors and hearts are open to me.
"And what about her? An enigma. She cannot be ignorant of everything.
However—however—Well, I cannot understand it.
"The dinner was very gay and cordial. On leaving the table the husband
and his friend began to play cards, while I went out on the porch to look
at the moonlight with madame. She seemed to be greatly affected by
nature, and I judged that the moment for my happiness was near. That
evening she was really delightful. The country had seemed to make her
more tender. Her long, slender waist looked pretty on this stone porch
beside a great vase in which grew some flowers. I felt like dragging her
out under the trees, throwing myself at her feet and speaking to her
words of love.
"Her husband's voice called 'Louise!'
"'You are forgetting the tea.'
"'I'll go and see about it, my friend.'
"We returned to the house, and she gave us some tea. When the two men had
finished playing cards, they were visibly tired. I had to go to my room.
I did not get to sleep till late, and then I slept badly.
"An excursion was decided upon for the following afternoon, and we went
in an open carriage to visit some ruins. She and I were in the back of
the vehicle and they were opposite us, riding backward. The conversation
was sympathetic and agreeable. I am an orphan, and it seemed to me as
though I had just found my family, I felt so at home with them.
"Suddenly, as she had stretched out her foot between her husband's legs,
he murmured reproachfully: 'Louise, please don't wear out your old shoes
yourself. There is no reason for being neater in Paris than in the
"I lowered my eyes. She was indeed wearing worn-out shoes, and I noticed
that her stockings were not pulled up tight.
"She had blushed and hidden her foot under her dress. The friend was
looking out in the distance with an indifferent and unconcerned look.
"The husband offered me a cigar, which I accepted. For a few days it was
impossible for me to be alone with her for two minutes; he was with us
everywhere. He was delightful to me, however.
"One morning he came to get me to take a walk before breakfast, and the
conversation happened to turn on marriage. I spoke a little about
solitude and about how charming life can be made by the affection of a
woman. Suddenly he interrupted me, saying: 'My friend, don't talk about
things you know nothing about. A woman who has no other reason for loving
you will not love you long. All the little coquetries which make them so
exquisite when they do not definitely belong to us cease as soon as they
become ours. And then—the respectable women—that is to say
our wives—are—are not—in fact do not understand their
profession of wife. Do you understand?'
"He said no more, and I could not guess his thoughts.
"Two days after this conversation he called me to his room quite early,
in order to show me a collection of engravings. I sat in an easy chair
opposite the big door which separated his apartment from his wife's, and
behind this door I heard some one walking and moving, and I was thinking
very little of the engravings, although I kept exclaiming: 'Oh, charming!
"He suddenly said: 'Oh, I have a beautiful specimen in the next room.
I'll go and get it.'
"He ran to the door quickly, and both sides opened as though for a
"In a large room, all in disorder, in the midst of skirts, collars,
waists lying around on the floor, stood a tall, dried-up creature. The
lower part of her body was covered with an old, worn-out silk petticoat,
which was hanging limply on her shapeless form, and she was standing in
front of a mirror brushing some short, sparse blond hairs. Her arms
formed two acute angles, and as she turned around in astonishment I saw
under a common cotton chemise a regular cemetery of ribs, which were
hidden from the public gaze by well-arranged pads.
"The husband uttered a natural exclamation and came back, closing the
doors, and said: 'Gracious! how stupid I am! Oh, how thoughtless! My wife
will never forgive me for that!'
"I already felt like thanking him. I left three days later, after
cordially shaking hands with the two men and kissing the lady's fingers.
She bade me a cold good-by."
Karl Massouligny was silent. Some one asked: "But what was the friend?"
"I don't know—however—however he looked greatly distressed to
see me leaving so soon."
The defendants, Cesaire-Isidore Brument and Prosper-Napoleon Cornu,
appeared before the Court of Assizes of the Seine-Inferieure, on a charge
of attempted murder, by drowning, of Mme. Brument, lawful wife of the
first of the aforenamed.
The two prisoners sat side by side on the traditional bench. They were
two peasants; the first was small and stout, with short arms, short legs,
and a round head with a red pimply face, planted directly on his trunk,
which was also round and short, and with apparently no neck. He was a
raiser of pigs and lived at Cacheville-la-Goupil, in the district of
Cornu (Prosper-Napoleon) was thin, of medium height, with enormously long
arms. His head was on crooked, his jaw awry, and he squinted. A blue
blouse, as long as a shirt, hung down to his knees, and his yellow hair,
which was scanty and plastered down on his head, gave his face a
worn-out, dirty look, a dilapidated look that was frightful. He had been
nicknamed "the cure" because he could imitate to perfection the chanting
in church, and even the sound of the serpent. This talent attracted to
his cafe—for he was a saloon keeper at Criquetot—a great many
customers who preferred the "mass at Cornu" to the mass in church.
Mme. Brument, seated on the witness bench, was a thin peasant woman who
seemed to be always asleep. She sat there motionless, her hands crossed
on her knees, gazing fixedly before her with a stupid expression.
The judge continued his interrogation.
"Well, then, Mme. Brument, they came into your house and threw you into a
barrel full of water. Tell us the details. Stand up."
She rose. She looked as tall as a flag pole with her cap which looked
like a white skull cap. She said in a drawling tone:
"I was shelling beans. Just then they came in. I said to myself, 'What is
the matter with them? They do not seem natural, they seem up to some
mischief.' They watched me sideways, like this, especially Cornu, because
he squints. I do not like to see them together, for they are two
good-for-nothings when they are in company. I said: 'What do you want
with me?' They did not answer. I had a sort of mistrust——"
The defendant Brument interrupted the witness hastily, saying:
"I was full."
Then Cornu, turning towards his accomplice said in the deep tones of an
"Say that we were both full, and you will be telling no lie."
The judge, severely:
"You mean by that that you were both drunk?"
Brument: "There can be no question about it."
Cornu: "That might happen to anyone."
The judge to the victim: "Continue your testimony, woman Brument."
"Well, Brument said to me, 'Do you wish to earn a hundred sous?' 'Yes,' I
replied, seeing that a hundred sous are not picked up in a horse's
tracks. Then he said: 'Open your eyes and do as I do,' and he went to
fetch the large empty barrel which is under the rain pipe in the corner,
and he turned it over and brought it into my kitchen, and stuck it down
in the middle of the floor, and then he said to me: 'Go and fetch water
until it is full.'
"So I went to the pond with two pails and carried water, and still more
water for an hour, seeing that the barrel was as large as a vat, saving
your presence, m'sieu le president.
"All this time Brument and Cornu were drinking a glass, and then another
glass, and then another. They were finishing their drinks when I said to
them: 'You are full, fuller than this barrel.' And Brument answered me.
'Do not worry, go on with your work, your turn will come, each one has
his share.' I paid no attention to what he said as he was full.
"When the barrel was full to the brim, I said: 'There, that's done.'
"And then Cornu gave me a hundred sous, not Brument, Cornu; it was Cornu
gave them to me. And Brument said: 'Do you wish to earn a hundred sous
more?' 'Yes,' I said, for I am not accustomed to presents like that. Then
he said: 'Take off your clothes!
"'Take off my clothes?'
"'Yes,' he said.
"'How many shall I take off?'
"'If it worries you at all, keep on your chemise, that won't bother us.'
"A hundred sous is a hundred sous, and I have to undress myself; but I
did not fancy undressing before those two good-for-nothings. I took off
my cap, and then my jacket, and then my skirt, and then my sabots.
Brument said, 'Keep on your stockings, also; we are good fellows.'
"And Cornu said, too, 'We are good fellows.'
"So there I was, almost like mother Eve. And they got up from their
chairs, but could not stand straight, they were so full, saving your
presence, M'sieu le president.
"I said to myself: 'What are they up to?'
"And Brument said: 'Are you ready?'
"And Cornu said: 'I'm ready!'
"And then they took me, Brument by the head, and Cornu by the feet, as
one might take, for instance, a sheet that has been washed. Then I began
"And Brument said: 'Keep still, wretched creature!'
"And they lifted me up in the air and put me into the barrel, which was
full of water, so that I had a check of the circulation, a chill to my
"And Brument said: 'Is that all?'
"Cornu said: 'That is all.'
"Brument said: 'The head is not in, that will make a difference in the
"Cornu said: 'Put in her head.'
"And then Brument pushed down my head as if to drown me, so that the
water ran into my nose, so that I could already see Paradise. And he
pushed it down, and I disappeared.
"And then he must have been frightened. He pulled me out and said: 'Go
and get dry, carcass.'
"As for me, I took to my heels and ran as far as M. le cure's. He lent me
a skirt belonging to his servant, for I was almost in a state of nature,
and he went to fetch Maitre Chicot, the country watchman who went to
Criquetot to fetch the police who came to my house with me.
"Then we found Brument and Cornu fighting each other like two rams.
"Brument was bawling: 'It isn't true, I tell you that there is at least a
cubic metre in it. It is the method that was no good.'
"Cornu bawled: 'Four pails, that is almost half a cubic metre. You need
not reply, that's what it is.'
"The police captain put them both under arrest. I have no more to tell."
She sat down. The audience in the court room laughed. The jurors looked
at one another in astonishment. The judge said:
"Defendant Cornu, you seem to have been the instigator of this infamous
plot. What have you to say?"
And Cornu rose in his turn.
"Judge," he replied, "I was full."
The Judge answered gravely:
"I know it. Proceed."
"I will. Well, Brument came to my place about nine o'clock, and ordered
two drinks, and said: 'There's one for you, Cornu.' I sat down opposite
him and drank, and out of politeness, I offered him a glass. Then he
returned the compliment and so did I, and so it went on from glass to
glass until noon, when we were full.
"Then Brument began to cry. That touched me. I asked him what was the
matter. He said: 'I must have a thousand francs by Thursday.' That cooled
me off a little, you understand. Then he said to me all at once: 'I will
sell you my wife.'
"I was full, and I was a widower. You understand, that stirred me up. I
did not know his wife, but she was a woman, wasn't she? I asked him: 'How
much would you sell her for?'
"He reflected, or pretended to reflect. When one is full one is not very
clear-headed, and he replied: 'I will sell her by the cubic metre.'
"That did not surprise me, for I was as drunk as he was, and I knew what
a cubic metre is in my business. It is a thousand litres, that suited me.
"But the price remained to be settled. All depends on the quality. I
said: 'How much do you want a cubic metre?'
"He answered: 'Two thousand francs.'
"I gave a bound like a rabbit, and then I reflected that a woman ought
not to measure more than three hundred litres. So I said: 'That's too
"He answered: 'I cannot do it for less. I should lose by it.'
"You understand, one is not a dealer in hogs for nothing. One understands
one's business. But, if he is smart, the seller of bacon, I am smarter,
seeing that I sell them also. Ha, Ha, Ha! So I said to him: 'If she were
new, I would not say anything, but she has been married to you for some
time, so she is not as fresh as she was. I will give you fifteen hundred
francs a cubic metre, not a sou more. Will that suit you?'
"He answered: 'That will do. That's a bargain!'
"I agreed, and we started out, arm in arm. We must help each other in
"But a fear came to me: 'How can you measure her unless you put her into
"Then he explained his idea, not without difficulty for he was full. He
said to me: 'I take a barrel, and fill it with water to the brim. I put
her in it. All the water that comes out we will measure, that is the way
to fix it.'
"I said: 'I see, I understand. But this water that overflows will run
away; how are you going to gather it up?'
"Then he began stuffing me and explained to me that all we should have to
do would be to refill the barrel with the water his wife had displaced as
soon as she should have left. All the water we should pour in would be
the measure. I supposed about ten pails; that would be a cubic metre. He
isn't a fool, all the same, when he is drunk, that old horse.
"To be brief, we reached his house and I took a look at its mistress. A
beautiful woman she certainly was not. Anyone can see her, for there she
is. I said to myself: 'I am disappointed, but never mind, she will be of
value; handsome or ugly, it is all the same, is it not, monsieur le
president?' And then I saw that she was as thin as a rail. I said to
myself: 'She will not measure four hundred litres.' I understand the
matter, it being in liquids.
"She told you about the proceeding. I even let her keep on her chemise
and stockings, to my own disadvantage.
"When that was done she ran away. I said: 'Look out, Brument! she is
"He replied: 'Do not be afraid. I will catch her all right. She will have
to come back to sleep, I will measure the deficit.'
"We measured. Not four pailfuls. Ha, Ha, Ha!"
The witness began to laugh so persistently that a gendarme was obliged to
punch him in the back. Having quieted down, he resumed:
"In short, Brument exclaimed: 'Nothing doing, that is not enough.' I
bawled and bawled, and bawled again, he punched me, I hit back. That
would have kept on till the Day of judgment, seeing we were both drunk.
"Then came the gendarmes! They swore at us, they took us off to prison. I
He sat down.
Brument confirmed in every particular the statements of his accomplice.
The jury, in consternation, retired to deliberate.
At the end of an hour they returned a verdict of acquittal for the
defendants, with some severe strictures on the dignity of marriage, and
establishing the precise limitations of business transactions.
Brument went home to the domestic roof accompanied by his wife.
Cornu went back to his business.
THE IMPOLITE SEX
Madame de X. to Madame de L.
My Dear Aunt:
I am coming to see you without anyone knowing it. I shall be at Les
Fresnes on the 2d of September, the day before the hunting season opens,
as I do not want to miss it, so that I may tease these gentlemen. You are
too good, aunt, and you will allow them, as you usually do when there are
no strange guests, to come to table, under pretext of fatigue, without
dressing or shaving for the occasion.
They are delighted, of course, when I am not present. But I shall be
there and will hold a review, like a general, at dinner time; and, if I
find a single one of them at all careless in dress, no matter how little,
I mean to send them down to the kitchen with the servants.
The men of to-day have so little consideration for others and so little
good manners that one must be always severe with them. We live indeed in
an age of vulgarity. When they quarrel, they insult each other in terms
worthy of longshoremen, and, in our presence, they do not conduct
themselves even as well as our servants. It is at the seaside that you
see this most clearly. They are to be found there in battalions, and you
can judge them in the lump. Oh! what coarse beings they are!
Just imagine, in a train, a gentleman who looked well, as I thought at
first sight, thanks to his tailor, carefully took off his boots in order
to put on a pair of old shoes! Another, an old man who was probably some
wealthy upstart (these are the most ill-bred), while sitting opposite to
me, had the delicacy to place his two feet on the seat quite close to me.
This is a positive fact.
At the watering-places the vulgarity is unrestrained. I must here make
one admission—that my indignation is perhaps due to the fact that I
am not accustomed to associate, as a rule, with the sort of people one
comes across here, for I should be less shocked by their manners if I had
the opportunity of observing them oftener. In the office of the hotel I
was nearly thrown down by a young man who snatched the key over my head.
Another knocked against me so violently without begging my pardon or
lifting his hat, coming away from a ball at the Casino, that it gave me a
pain in the chest. It is the same way with all of them. Watch them
addressing ladies on the terrace; they scarcely ever bow. They merely
raise their hands to their headgear. But, indeed, as they are all more or
less bald, it is the best plan.
But what exasperates and disgusts me particularly is the liberty they
take of talking in public, without any kind of precaution, about the most
revolting adventures. When two men are together, they relate to each
other, in the broadest language and with the most abominable comments
really horrible stories, without caring in the slightest degree whether a
woman's ear is within reach of their voices. Yesterday, on the beach, I
was forced to leave the place where I was sitting in order not to be any
longer the involuntary confidante of an obscene anecdote, told in such
immodest language that I felt just as humiliated as indignant at having
heard it. Would not the most elementary good-breeding teach them to speak
in a lower tone about such matters when we are near at hand. Etretat is,
moreover, the country of gossip and scandal. From five to seven o'clock
you can see people wandering about in quest of scandal, which they retail
from group to group. As you remarked to me, my dear aunt, tittle-tattle
is the mark of petty individuals and petty minds. It is also the
consolation of women who are no longer loved or sought after. It is
enough for me to observe the women who are fondest of gossiping to be
persuaded that you are quite right.
The other day I was present at a musical evening at the Casino, given by
a remarkable artist, Madame Masson, who sings in a truly delightful
manner. I took the opportunity of applauding the admirable Coquelin, as
well as two charming vaudeville performers, M——and Meillet.
I met, on this occasion, all the bathers who were at the beach. It is no
great distinction this year.
Next day I went to lunch at Yport. I noticed a tall man with a beard,
coming out of a large house like a castle. It was the painter, Jean Paul
Laurens. He is not satisfied apparently with imprisoning the subjects of
his pictures, he insists on imprisoning himself.
Then I found myself seated on the shingle close to a man still young, of
gentle and refined appearance, who was reading poetry. But he read it
with such concentration, with such passion, I may say, that he did not
even raise his eyes towards me. I was somewhat astonished and asked the
proprietor of the baths, without appearing to be much concerned, the name
of this gentleman. I laughed to myself a little at this reader of rhymes;
he seemed behind the age, for a man. This person, I thought, must be a
simpleton. Well, aunt, I am now infatuated about this stranger. Just
fancy, his name is Sully Prudhomme! I went back and sat down beside him
again so as to get a good look at him. His face has an expression of
calmness and of penetration. Somebody came to look for him, and I heard
his voice, which is sweet and almost timid. He would certainly not tell
obscene stories aloud in public or knock up against ladies without
apologizing. He is assuredly a man of refinement, but his refinement is
of an almost morbid, sensitive character, I will try this winter to get
an introduction to him.
I have no more news, my dear aunt, and I must finish this letter in
haste, as the mail will soon close. I kiss your hands and your cheeks.
Your devoted niece,
BERTHE DE X.
P. S.—I should add, however, by way of justification of French
politeness, that our fellow-countrymen are, when travelling, models of
good manners in comparison with the abominable English, who seem to have
been brought up in a stable, so careful are they not to discommode
themselves in any way, while they always discommode their neighbors.
Madame de L. to Madame de X.
LES FRESNES, Saturday.
My Dear Child:
Many of the things you have said to me are very sensible, but that does
not prevent you from being wrong. Like you, I used formerly to feel very
indignant at the impoliteness of men, who, as I supposed, constantly
treated me with neglect; but, as I grew older and reflected on
everything, putting aside coquetry, and observing things without taking
any part in them myself, I perceived this much—that if men are not
always polite, women are always indescribably rude.
We imagine that we should be permitted to do anything, my darling, and at
the same time we consider that we have a right to the utmost respect, and
in the most flagrant manner we commit actions devoid of that elementary
good-breeding of which you speak so feelingly.
I find, on the contrary, that men consider us much more than we consider
them. Besides, darling, men must needs be, and are, what we make them. In
a state of society, where women are all true gentlewomen, all men would
Come now; just observe and reflect.
Look at two women meeting in the street. What an attitude each assumes
towards the other! What disparaging looks! What contempt they throw into
each glance! How they toss their heads while they inspect each other to
find something to condemn! And, if the footpath is narrow, do you think
one woman would make room for another, or would beg pardon as she sweeps
by? Never! When two men jostle each other by accident in some narrow
lane, each of them bows and at the same time gets out of the other's way,
while we women press against each other stomach to stomach, face to face,
insolently staring each other out of countenance.
Look at two women who are acquaintances meeting on a staircase outside
the door of a friend's drawing-room, one of them just leaving, the other
about to go in. They begin to talk to each other and block up all the
landing. If anyone happens to be coming up behind them, man or woman, do
you imagine that they will put themselves half an inch out of their way?
I was waiting myself, with my watch in my hands, one day last winter at a
certain drawing-room door. And, behind me, two gentlemen were also
waiting without showing any readiness, as I did, to lose their temper.
The reason was that they had long grown accustomed to our unconscionable
The other day, before leaving Paris, I went to dine with no less a person
than your husband, in the Champs Elysees, in order to enjoy the fresh
air. Every table was occupied. The waiter asked us to wait and there
would soon be a vacant table.
At that moment I noticed an elderly lady of noble figure, who, having
paid for her dinner, seemed on the point of going away. She saw me,
scanned me from head to foot, and did not budge. For more than a quarter
of an hour she sat there, immovable, putting on her gloves, and calmly
staring at those who were waiting like myself. Now, two young men who
were just finishing their dinner, having seen me in their turn, hastily
summoned the waiter, paid what they owed, and at once offered me their
seats, even insisting on standing while waiting for their change. And,
bear in mind, my fair niece, that I am no longer pretty, like you, but
old and white-haired.
It is we, you see, who should be taught politeness, and the task would be
such a difficult one that Hercules himself would not be equal to it. You
speak to me about Etretat and about the people who indulged in
"tittle-tattle" along the beach of that delightful watering-place. It is
a spot now lost to me, a thing of the past, but I found much amusement
therein days gone by.
There were only a few of us, people in good society, really good society,
and a few artists, and we all fraternized. We paid little attention to
gossip in those days.
As we had no monotonous Casino, where people only gather for show, where
they whisper, where they dance stupidly, where they succeed in thoroughly
boring one another, we sought some other way of passing our evenings
pleasantly. Now, just guess what came into the head of one of our
husbands? Nothing less than to go and dance each night in one of the
farm-houses in the neighborhood.
We started out in a group with a street-organ, generally played by Le
Poittevin, the painter, with a cotton nightcap on his head. Two men
carried lanterns. We followed in procession, laughing and chattering like
a pack of fools.
We woke up the farmer and his servant-maids and farm hands. We got them
to make onion soup (horror!), and we danced under the apple trees, to the
sound of the barrel-organ. The cocks waking up began to crow in the
darkness of the out-houses; the horses began prancing on the straw of
their stables. The cool air of the country caressed our cheeks with the
smell of grass and of new-mown hay.
How long ago it is! How long ago it is! It is thirty years since then!
I do not want you, my darling, to come for the opening of the hunting
season. Why spoil the pleasure of our friends by inflicting on them
fashionable toilettes on this day of vigorous exercise in the country?
This is the way, child, that men are spoiled. I embrace you. Your old
GENEVIEVE DE L.
A WEDDING GIFT
For a long time Jacques Bourdillere had sworn that he would never marry,
but he suddenly changed his mind. It happened suddenly, one summer, at
One morning as he lay stretched out on the sand, watching the women
coming out of the water, a little foot had struck him by its neatness and
daintiness. He raised his eyes and was delighted with the whole person,
although in fact he could see nothing but the ankles and the head
emerging from a flannel bathrobe carefully held closed. He was supposed
to be sensual and a fast liver. It was therefore by the mere grace of the
form that he was at first captured. Then he was held by the charm of the
young girl's sweet mind, so simple and good, as fresh as her cheeks and
He was presented to the family and pleased them. He immediately fell
madly in love. When he saw Berthe Lannis in the distance, on the long
yellow stretch of sand, he would tingle to the roots of his hair. When he
was near her he would become silent, unable to speak or even to think,
with a kind of throbbing at his heart, and a buzzing in his ears, and a
bewilderment in his mind. Was that love?
He did not know or understand, but he had fully decided to have this
child for his wife.
Her parents hesitated for a long time, restrained by the young man's bad
reputation. It was said that he had an old sweetheart, one of these
binding attachments which one always believes to be broken off and yet
which always hold.
Besides, for a shorter or longer period, he loved every woman who came
within reach of his lips.
Then he settled down and refused, even once, to see the one with whom he
had lived for so long. A friend took care of this woman's pension and
assured her an income. Jacques paid, but he did not even wish to hear of
her, pretending even to ignore her name. She wrote him letters which he
never opened. Every week he would recognize the clumsy writing of the
abandoned woman, and every week a greater anger surged within him against
her, and he would quickly tear the envelope and the paper, without
opening it, without reading one single line, knowing in advance the
reproaches and complaints which it contained.
As no one had much faith in his constancy, the test was prolonged through
the winter, and Berthe's hand was not granted him until the spring. The
wedding took place in Paris at the beginning of May.
The young couple had decided not to take the conventional wedding trip,
but after a little dance for the younger cousins, which would not be
prolonged after eleven o'clock, in order that this day of lengthy
ceremonies might not be too tiresome, the young pair were to spend the
first night in the parental home and then, on the following morning, to
leave for the beach so dear to their hearts, where they had first known
and loved each other.
Night had come, and the dance was going on in the large parlor. 'The two
had retired into a little Japanese boudoir hung with bright silks and
dimly lighted by the soft rays of a large colored lantern hanging from
the ceiling like a gigantic egg. Through the open window the fresh air
from outside passed over their faces like a caress, for the night was
warm and calm, full of the odor of spring.
They were silent, holding each other's hands and from time to time
squeezing them with all their might. She sat there with a dreamy look,
feeling a little lost at this great change in her life, but smiling,
moved, ready to cry, often also almost ready to faint from joy, believing
the whole world to be changed by what had just happened to her, uneasy,
she knew not why, and feeling her whole body and soul filled with an
indefinable and delicious lassitude.
He was looking at her persistently with a fixed smile. He wished to
speak, but found nothing to say, and so sat there, expressing all his
ardor by pressures of the hand. From time to time he would murmur:
"Berthe!" And each time she would raise her eyes to him with a look of
tenderness; they would look at each other for a second and then her look,
pierced and fascinated by his, would fall.
They found no thoughts to exchange. They had been left alone, but
occasionally some of the dancers would cast a rapid glance at them, as
though they were the discreet and trusty witnesses of a mystery.
A door opened and a servant entered, holding on a tray a letter which a
messenger had just brought. Jacques, trembling, took this paper,
overwhelmed by a vague and sudden fear, the mysterious terror of swift
He looked for a longtime at the envelope, the writing on which he did not
know, not daring to open it, not wishing to read it, with a wild desire
to put it in his pocket and say to himself: "I'll leave that till
to-morrow, when I'm far away!" But on one corner two big words,
underlined, "Very urgent," filled him with terror. Saying, "Please excuse
me, my dear," he tore open the envelope. He read the paper, grew
frightfully pale, looked over it again, and, slowly, he seemed to spell
it out word for word.
When he raised his head his whole expression showed how upset he was. He
stammered: "My dear, it's—it's from my best friend, who has had a
very great misfortune. He has need of me immediately—for a matter
of life or death. Will you excuse me if I leave you for half an hour?
I'll be right back."
Trembling and dazed, she stammered: "Go, my dear!" not having been his
wife long enough to dare to question him, to demand to know. He
disappeared. She remained alone, listening to the dancing in the
He had seized the first hat and coat he came to and rushed downstairs
three steps at a time. As he was emerging into the street he stopped
under the gas-jet of the vestibule and reread the letter. This is what it
SIR: A girl by the name of Ravet, an old sweetheart of yours, it
seems, has just given birth to a child that she says is yours. The
mother is about to die and is begging for you. I take the liberty to
write and ask you if you can grant this last request to a woman who
seems to be very unhappy and worthy of pity.
Yours truly, DR. BONNARD.
When he reached the sick-room the woman was already on the point of
death. He did not recognize her at first. The doctor and two nurses were
taking care of her. And everywhere on the floor were pails full of ice
and rags covered with blood. Water flooded the carpet; two candles were
burning on a bureau; behind the bed, in a little wicker crib, the child
was crying, and each time it would moan the mother, in torture, would try
to move, shivering under her ice bandages.
She was mortally wounded, killed by this birth. Her life was flowing from
her, and, notwithstanding the ice and the care, the merciless hemorrhage
continued, hastening her last hour.
She recognized Jacques and wished to raise her arms. They were so weak
that she could not do so, but tears coursed down her pallid cheeks. He
dropped to his knees beside the bed, seized one of her hands and kissed
it frantically. Then, little by little, he drew close to the thin face,
which started at the contact. One of the nurses was lighting them with a
candle, and the doctor was watching them from the back of the room.
Then she said in a voice which sounded as though it came from a distance:
"I am going to die, dear. Promise to stay to the end. Oh! don't leave me
now. Don't leave me in my last moments!"
He kissed her face and her hair, and, weeping, he murmured: "Do not be
uneasy; I will stay."
It was several minutes before she could speak again, she was so weak. She
continued: "The little one is yours. I swear it before God and on my
soul. I swear it as I am dying! I have never loved another man but you
—promise to take care of the child."
He was trying to take this poor pain-racked body in his arms. Maddened by
remorse and sorrow, he stammered: "I swear to you that I will bring him
up and love him. He shall never leave me."
Then she tried to kiss Jacques. Powerless to lift her head, she held out
her white lips in an appeal for a kiss. He approached his lips to respond
to this piteous entreaty.
As soon as she felt a little calmer, she murmured: "Bring him here and
let me see if you love him."
He went and got the child. He placed him gently on the bed between them,
and the little one stopped crying. She murmured: "Don't move any more!"
And he was quiet. And he stayed there, holding in his burning hand this
other hand shaking in the chill of death, just as, a while ago, he had
been holding a hand trembling with love. From time to time he would cast
a quick glance at the clock, which marked midnight, then one o'clock,
The physician had returned. The two nurses, after noiselessly moving
about the room for a while, were now sleeping on chairs. The child was
asleep, and the mother, with eyes shut, appeared also to be resting.
Suddenly, just as pale daylight was creeping in behind the curtains, she
stretched out her arms with such a quick and violent motion that she
almost threw her baby on the floor. A kind of rattle was heard in her
throat, then she lay on her back motionless, dead.
The nurses sprang forward and declared: "All is over!"
He looked once more at this woman whom he had so loved, then at the
clock, which pointed to four, and he ran away, forgetting his overcoat,
in the evening dress, with the child in his arms.
After he had left her alone the young wife had waited, calmly enough at
first, in the little Japanese boudoir. Then, as she did not see him
return, she went back to the parlor with an indifferent and calm
appearance, but terribly anxious. When her mother saw her alone she
asked: "Where is your husband?" She answered: "In his room; he is coming
After an hour, when everybody had questioned her, she told about the
letter, Jacques' upset appearance and her fears of an accident.
Still they waited. The guests left; only the nearest relatives remained.
At midnight the bride was put to bed, sobbing bitterly. Her mother and
two aunts, sitting around the bed, listened to her crying, silent and in
despair. The father had gone to the commissary of police to see if he
could obtain some news.
At five o'clock a slight noise was heard in the hall. A door was softly
opened and closed. Then suddenly a little cry like the mewing of a cat
was heard throughout the silent house.
All the women started forward and Berthe sprang ahead of them all,
pushing her way past her aunts, wrapped in a bathrobe.
Jacques stood in the middle of the room, pale and out of breath, holding
an infant in his arms. The four women looked at him, astonished; but
Berthe, who had suddenly become courageous, rushed forward with anguish
in her heart, exclaiming: "What is it? What's the matter?"
He looked about him wildly and answered shortly:
"I—I have a child and the mother has just died."
And with his clumsy hands he held out the screaming infant.
Without saying a word, Berthe seized the child, kissed it and hugged it
to her. Then she raised her tear-filled eyes to him, asking: "Did you say
that the mother was dead?" He answered: "Yes—just now—in my
arms. I had broken with her since summer. I knew nothing. The physician
sent for me."
Then Berthe murmured: "Well, we will bring up the little one."
"To the Abbe Louis d'Ennemare, at Soissons.
"My Dear Abbe.
"My marriage with your cousin is broken off in the most stupid way, all
on account of an idiotic trick which I almost involuntarily played my
intended. In my perplexity I turn to you, my old school chum, for you may
be able to help me out of the difficulty. If you can, I shall be grateful
to you until I die.
"You know Gilberte, or, rather, you think you know her, but do we ever
understand women? All their opinions, their ideas, their creeds, are a
surprise to us. They are all full of twists and turns, cf the unforeseen,
of unintelligible arguments, of defective logic and of obstinate ideas,
which seem final, but which they alter because a little bird came and
perched on the window ledge.
"I need not tell you that your cousin is very religious, as she was
brought up by the White (or was it the Black?) Ladies at Nancy. You know
that better than I do, but what you perhaps do not know is, that she is
just as excitable about other matters as she is about religion. Her head
flies away, just as a leaf is whirled away by the wind; and she is a true
woman, or, rather, girl, for she is moved or made angry in a moment,
starting off at a gallop in affection, just as she does in hatred, and
returning in the same manner; and she is pretty—as you know, and
more charming than I can say—as you will never know.
"Well, we became engaged, and I adored her, as I adore her still, and she
appeared to love me.
"One evening, I received a telegram summoning me to Cologne for a
consultation, which might be followed by a serious and difficult
operation, and as I had to start the next morning, I went to wish
Gilberte good-by, and tell her why I could not dine with them on
Wednesday, but would do so on Friday, the day of my return. Ah! Beware of
Fridays, for I assure you they are unlucky!
"When I told her that I had to go to Germany, I saw that her eyes filled
with tears, but when I said I should be back very soon, she clapped her
hands, and said:
"'I am very glad you are going, then! You must bring me back something; a
mere trifle, just a souvenir, but a souvenir that you have chosen for me.
You must guess what I should like best, do you hear? And then I shall see
whether you have any imagination.'
"She thought for a few moments, and then added:
"'I forbid you to spend more than twenty francs on it. I want it for the
intention, and for a remembrance of your penetration, and not for its
"And then, after another moment's silence, she said, in a low voice, and
with downcast eyes:
"'If it costs you nothing in money, but is something very ingenious and
pretty, I will—I will kiss you.'
"The next day I was in Cologne. It was a case of a terrible accident,
which had plunged a whole family into despair, and a difficult amputation
was necessary. They lodged me in the house; I might say, they almost
locked me up, and I saw nobody but people in tears, who almost deafened
me with their lamentations; I operated on a man who appeared to be in a
moribund state, and who nearly died under my hands, and with whom I
remained two nights; and then, when I saw that there was a chance of his
recovery, I drove to the station. I had, however, made a mistake in the
trains, and I had an hour to wait, and so I wandered about the streets,
still thinking of my poor patient, when a man accosted me. I do not know
German, and he was totally ignorant of French, but at last I made out
that he was offering me some relics. I thought of Gilberte, for I knew
her fanatical devotion, and here was my present ready to hand, so I
followed the man into a shop where religious objects were for sale, and I
bought a small piece of a bone of one of the Eleven Thousand Virgins.
"The pretended relic was inclosed in a charming old silver box, and that
determined my choice, and, putting my purchase into my pocket, I went to
the railway station, and so on to Paris.
"As soon as I got home, I wished to examine my purchase again, and on
taking hold of it, I found that the box was open, and the relic missing!
I searched in vain in my pocket, and turned it inside out; the small bit
of bone, which was no bigger than half a pin, had disappeared.
"You know, my dear little Abbe, that my faith is not very fervent, but,
as my friend, you are magnanimous enough to put up with my lukewarmness,
and to leave me alone, and to wait for the future, so you say. But I
absolutely disbelieve in the relics of secondhand dealers in piety, and
you share my doubts in that respect. Therefore, the loss of that bit of
sheep's carcass did not grieve me, and I easily procured a similar
fragment, which I carefully fastened inside my jewel-box, and then I went
to see my intended.
"As soon as she saw me, she ran up to me, smiling and eager, and, said to
"'What have you brought me?'
"I pretended to have forgotten, but she did not believe me, and I made
her beg, and even beseech me. But when I saw that she was devoured by
curiosity, I gave her the sacred silver box. She appeared overjoyed.
"'A relic! Oh! A relic!'
"And she kissed the box passionately, so that I was ashamed of my
deception. She was not quite satisfied, however, and her uneasiness soon
turned to terrible fear, and looking straight into my eyes, she said:
"'Are you sure-that it is genuine?'
"'How can you be so certain?'
"I was trapped; for to say that I had bought it of a man in the streets
would be my destruction. What was I to say? A wild idea struck me, and I
said, in a low, mysterious voice:
"'I stole it for you.'
"She looked at me with astonishment and delight in her large eyes.
"'Oh! You stole it? Where?'
"'In the cathedral; in the very shrine of the Eleven Thousand Virgins.'
"Her heart beat with pleasure, and she murmured:
"'Oh! Did you really do that-for me? Tell me-all about it!'
"That was the climax; I could not retract what I had said. I made up a
fanciful story; with precise details: I had given the custodian of the
building a hundred francs to be allowed to go about the building by
myself; the shrine was being repaired, but I happened to be there at the
breakfast hour of the workmen and clergy; by removing a small panel, I
had been enabled to seize a small piece of bone (oh! so small), among a
quantity of others (I said a quantity, as I thought of the amount that
the remains of the skeletons of eleven thousand virgins must produce).
Then I went to a goldsmith's and bought a casket worthy of the relic; and
I was not sorry to let her know that the silver box cost me five hundred
"But she did not think of that; she listened to me, trembling, in an
ecstasy, and whispering: 'How I love you!' she threw herself into my
"Just note this: I had committed sacrilege for her sake. I had committed
a theft; I had violated a church; I had violated a shrine; violated and
stolen holy relics, and for that she adored me, thought me perfect,
tender, divine. Such is woman, my dear Abbe, every woman.
"For two months I was the most admirable of lovers. In her room, she had
made a kind of magnificent chapel in which to keep this bit of mutton
chop, which, as she thought, had made me commit that divine love-crime,
and she worked up her religious enthusiasm in front of it every morning
and evening. I had asked her to keep the matter secret, for fear, as I
said, that I might be arrested, condemned, and given over to Germany, and
she kept her promise.
"Well, at the beginning of the summer, she was seized with an
irresistible desire to see the scene of my exploit, and she teased her
father so persistently (without telling him her secret reason), that he
took her to Cologne, but without telling me of their trip, according to
his daughter's wish.
"I need not tell you that I had not seen the interior of the cathedral. I
do not know where the tomb (if there be a tomb) of the Eleven Thousand
Virgins is; and then, it appears, it is unapproachable, alas!
"A week afterward, I received ten lines, breaking off our engagement, and
then an explanatory letter from her father, whom she had, somewhat late,
taken into her confidence.
"At the sight of the shrine, she had suddenly seen through my trickery
and my lie, and at the same time discovered my real innocence of any
crime. Having asked the keeper of the relics whether any robbery had been
committed, the man began to laugh, and pointed out to them how impossible
such a crime was. But, from the moment that I had not plunged my profane
hand into venerable relics, I was no longer worthy of my fair-haired,
"I was forbidden the house; I begged and prayed in vain; nothing could
move the fair devotee, and I became ill from grief. Well, last week, her
cousin, Madame d'Arville, who is your cousin also, sent me word that she
should like to see me, and when I called, she told me on what conditions
I might obtain my pardon, and here they are. I must bring her a relic, a
real, authentic relic of some virgin and martyr, certified to be such by
our Holy Father, the Pope, and I am going mad from embarrassment and
"I will go to Rome, if needful, but I cannot call on the Pope
unexpectedly, to tell him my stupid misadventure; and, besides, I doubt
whether they allow private individuals to have relics. Could not you give
me an introduction to some cardinal, or even to some French prelate who
possesses some remains of a female saint? Or, perhaps, you may have the
precious object she wants in your collection?
"Help me out of my difficulty, my dear Abbe, and I promise you that I
will be converted ten years sooner than I otherwise should be!
"Madame d'Arville, who takes the matter seriously, said to me the other
"'Poor Gilberte will never marry.'
"My dear old schoolmate, will you allow your cousin to die the victim of
a stupid piece of subterfuge on my part? Pray prevent her from being
virgin eleven thousand and one.
"Pardon me, I am unworthy, but I embrace you, and love you with all my
"Your old friend,