ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 8.
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
THE LEGION OF HONOR
FOUND ON A DROWNED MAN
MY UNCLE JULES
THE FISHING HOLE
IN THE WOOD
THE PIECE OF STRING
How strange those old recollections are which haunt us, without our being
able to get rid of them.
This one is so very old that I cannot understand how it has clung so
vividly and tenaciously to my memory. Since then I have seen so many
sinister things, which were either affecting or terrible, that I am
astonished at not being able to pass a single day without the face of
Mother Bellflower recurring to my mind's eye, just as I knew her
formerly, now so long ago, when I was ten or twelve years old.
She was an old seamstress who came to my parents' house once a week,
every Thursday, to mend the linen. My parents lived in one of those
country houses called chateaux, which are merely old houses with gable
roofs, to which are attached three or four farms lying around them.
The village, a large village, almost a market town, was a few hundred
yards away, closely circling the church, a red brick church, black with
Well, every Thursday Mother Clochette came between half-past six and
seven in the morning, and went immediately into the linen-room and began
to work. She was a tall, thin, bearded or rather hairy woman, for she had
a beard all over her face, a surprising, an unexpected beard, growing in
improbable tufts, in curly bunches which looked as if they had been sown
by a madman over that great face of a gendarme in petticoats. She had
them on her nose, under her nose, round her nose, on her chin, on her
cheeks; and her eyebrows, which were extraordinarily thick and long, and
quite gray, bushy and bristling, looked exactly like a pair of mustaches
stuck on there by mistake.
She limped, not as lame people generally do, but like a ship at anchor.
When she planted her great, bony, swerving body on her sound leg, she
seemed to be preparing to mount some enormous wave, and then suddenly she
dipped as if to disappear in an abyss, and buried herself in the ground.
Her walk reminded one of a storm, as she swayed about, and her head,
which was always covered with an enormous white cap, whose ribbons
fluttered down her back, seemed to traverse the horizon from north to
south and from south to north, at each step.
I adored Mother Clochette. As soon as I was up I went into the linen-room
where I found her installed at work, with a foot-warmer under her feet.
As soon as I arrived, she made me take the foot-warmer and sit upon it,
so that I might not catch cold in that large, chilly room under the roof.
"That draws the blood from your throat," she said to me.
She told me stories, whilst mending the linen with her long crooked
nimble fingers; her eyes behind her magnifying spectacles, for age had
impaired her sight, appeared enormous to me, strangely profound, double.
She had, as far as I can remember the things which she told me and by
which my childish heart was moved, the large heart of a poor woman. She
told me what had happened in the village, how a cow had escaped from the
cow-house and had been found the next morning in front of Prosper Malet's
windmill, looking at the sails turning, or about a hen's egg which had
been found in the church belfry without any one being able to understand
what creature had been there to lay it, or the story of Jean-Jean Pila's
dog, who had been ten leagues to bring back his master's breeches which a
tramp had stolen whilst they were hanging up to dry out of doors, after
he had been in the rain. She told me these simple adventures in such a
manner, that in my mind they assumed the proportions of never-to-be
-forgotten dramas, of grand and mysterious poems; and the ingenious
stories invented by the poets which my mother told me in the evening, had
none of the flavor, none of the breadth or vigor of the peasant woman's
Well, one Tuesday, when I had spent all the morning in listening to
Mother Clochette, I wanted to go upstairs to her again during the day
after picking hazelnuts with the manservant in the wood behind the farm.
I remember it all as clearly as what happened only yesterday.
On opening the door of the linen-room, I saw the old seamstress lying on
the ground by the side of her chair, with her face to the ground and her
arms stretched out, but still holding her needle in one hand and one of
my shirts in the other. One of her legs in a blue stocking, the longer
one, no doubt, was extended under her chair, and her spectacles glistened
against the wall, as they had rolled away from her.
I ran away uttering shrill cries. They all came running, and in a few
minutes I was told that Mother Clochette was dead.
I cannot describe the profound, poignant, terrible emotion which stirred
my childish heart. I went slowly down into the drawing-room and hid
myself in a dark corner, in the depths of an immense old armchair, where
I knelt down and wept. I remained there a long time, no doubt, for night
came on. Suddenly somebody came in with a lamp, without seeing me,
however, and I heard my father and mother talking with the medical man,
whose voice I recognized.
He had been sent for immediately, and he was explaining the causes of the
accident, of which I understood nothing, however. Then he sat down and
had a glass of liqueur and a biscuit.
He went on talking, and what he then said will remain engraved on my mind
until I die! I think that I can give the exact words which he used.
"Ah!" said he, "the poor woman! She broke her leg the day of my arrival
here, and I had not even had time to wash my hands after getting off the
diligence before I was sent for in all haste, for it was a bad case, very
"She was seventeen, and a pretty girl, very pretty! Would any one believe
it? I have never told her story before, and nobody except myself and one
other person who is no longer living in this part of the country ever
knew it. Now that she is dead, I may be less discreet.
"Just then a young assistant-teacher came to live in the village; he was
a handsome, well-made fellow, and looked like a non-commissioned officer.
All the girls ran after him, but he paid no attention to them, partly
because he was very much afraid of his superior, the schoolmaster, old
Grabu, who occasionally got out of bed the wrong foot first.
"Old Grabu already employed pretty Hortense who has just died here, and
who was afterwards nicknamed Clochette. The assistant master singled out
the pretty young girl, who was, no doubt, flattered at being chosen by
this impregnable conqueror; at any rate, she fell in love with him, and
he succeeded in persuading her to give him a first meeting in the
hay-loft behind the school, at night, after she had done her day's
"She pretended to go home, but instead of going downstairs when she left
the Grabus' she went upstairs and hid among the hay, to wait for her
lover. He soon joined her, and was beginning to say pretty things to her,
when the door of the hay-loft opened and the schoolmaster appeared, and
asked: 'What are you doing up there, Sigisbert?' Feeling sure that he
would be caught, the young schoolmaster lost his presence of mind and
replied stupidly: 'I came up here to rest a little amongst the bundles of
hay, Monsieur Grabu.'
"The loft was very large and absolutely dark, and Sigisbert pushed the
frightened girl to the further end and said: 'Go over there and hide
yourself. I shall lose my position, so get away and hide yourself.'
"When the schoolmaster heard the whispering, he continued: 'Why, you are
not by yourself?' 'Yes, I am, Monsieur Grabu!' 'But you are not, for you
are talking.' 'I swear I am, Monsieur Grabu.' 'I will soon find out,' the
old man replied, and double locking the door, he went down to get a
"Then the young man, who was a coward such as one frequently meets, lost
his head, and becoming furious all of a sudden, he repeated: 'Hide
yourself, so that he may not find you. You will keep me from making a
living for the rest of my life; you will ruin my whole career. Do hide
yourself!' They could hear the key turning in the lock again, and
Hortense ran to the window which looked out on the street, opened it
quickly, and then said in a low and determined voice: 'You will come and
pick me up when he is gone,' and she jumped out.
"Old Grabu found nobody, and went down again in great surprise, and a
quarter of an hour later, Monsieur Sigisbert came to me and related his
adventure. The girl had remained at the foot of the wall unable to get
up, as she had fallen from the second story, and I went with him to fetch
her. It was raining in torrents, and I brought the unfortunate girl home
with me, for the right leg was broken in three places, and the bones had
come trough the flesh. She did not complain, and merely said, with
admirable resignation: 'I am punished, well punished!'
"I sent for assistance and for the work-girl's relatives and told them a,
made-up story of a runaway carriage which had knocked her down and lamed
her outside my door. They believed me, and the gendarmes for a whole
month tried in vain to find the author of this accident.
"That is all! And I say that this woman was a heroine and belonged to the
race of those who accomplish the grandest deeds of history.
"That was her only love affair, and she died a virgin. She was a martyr,
a noble soul, a sublimely devoted woman! And if I did not absolutely
admire her, I should not have told you this story, which I would never
tell any one during her life; you understand why."
The doctor ceased. Mamma cried and papa said some words which I did not
catch; then they left the room and I remained on my knees in the armchair
and sobbed, whilst I heard a strange noise of heavy footsteps and
something knocking against the side of the staircase.
They were carrying away Clochette's body.
My Little Darling: So you are crying from morning until night and from
night until morning, because your husband leaves you; you do not know
what to do and so you ask your old aunt for advice; you must consider her
quite an expert. I don't know as much as you think I do, and yet I am not
entirely ignorant of the art of loving, or, rather, of making one's self
loved, in which you are a little lacking. I can admit that at my age.
You say that you are all attention, love, kisses and caresses for him.
Perhaps that is the very trouble; I think you kiss him too much.
My dear, we have in our hands the most terrible power in the world: LOVE.
Man is gifted with physical strength, and he exercises force. Woman is
gifted with charm, and she rules with caresses. It is our weapon,
formidable and invincible, but we should know how to use it.
Know well that we are the mistresses of the world! To tell the history of
Love from the beginning of the world would be to tell the history of man
himself: Everything springs from it, the arts, great events, customs,
wars, the overthrow of empires.
In the Bible you find Delila, Judith; in fables we find Omphale, Helen;
in history the Sabines, Cleopatra and many others.
Therefore we reign supreme, all-powerful. But, like kings, we must make
use of delicate diplomacy.
Love, my dear, is made up of imperceptible sensations. We know that it is
as strong as death, but also as frail as glass. The slightest shock
breaks it, and our power crumbles, and we are never able to raise it
We have the power of making ourselves adored, but we lack one tiny thing,
the understanding of the various kinds of caresses. In embraces we lose
the sentiment of delicacy, while the man over whom we rule remains master
of himself, capable of judging the foolishness of certain words. Take
care, my dear; that is the defect in our armor. It is our Achilles' heel.
Do you know whence comes our real power? From the kiss, the kiss alone!
When we know how to hold out and give up our lips we can become queens.
The kiss is only a preface, however, but a charming preface. More
charming than the realization itself. A preface which can always be read
over again, whereas one cannot always read over the book.
Yes, the meeting of lips is the most perfect, the most divine sensation
given to human beings, the supreme limit of happiness: It is in the kiss
alone that one sometimes seems to feel this union of souls after which we
strive, the intermingling of hearts, as it were.
Do you remember the verses of Sully-Prudhomme:
Caresses are nothing but anxious bliss,
Vain attempts of love to unite souls through a kiss.
One caress alone gives this deep sensation of two beings welded into one
—it is the kiss. No violent delirium of complete possession is
worth this trembling approach of the lips, this first moist and fresh
contact, and then the long, lingering, motionless rapture.
Therefore, my dear, the kiss is our strongest weapon, but we must take
care not to dull it. Do not forget that its value is only relative,
purely conventional. It continually changes according to circumstances,
the state of expectancy and the ecstasy of the mind. I will call
attention to one example.
Another poet, Francois Coppee, has written a line which we all remember,
a line which we find delightful, which moves our very hearts.
After describing the expectancy of a lover, waiting in a room one
winter's evening, his anxiety, his nervous impatience, the terrible fear
of not seeing her, he describes the arrival of the beloved woman, who at
last enters hurriedly, out of breath, bringing with her part of the
winter breeze, and he exclaims:
Oh! the taste of the kisses first snatched through the veil.
Is that not a line of exquisite sentiment, a delicate and charming
observation, a perfect truth? All those who have hastened to a
clandestine meeting, whom passion has thrown into the arms of a man, well
do they know these first delicious kisses through the veil; and they
tremble at the memory of them. And yet their sole charm lies in the
circumstances, from being late, from the anxious expectancy, but from the
purely—or, rather, impurely, if you prefer—sensual point of
view, they are detestable.
Think! Outside it is cold. The young woman has walked quickly; the veil
is moist from her cold breath. Little drops of water shine in the lace.
The lover seizes her and presses his burning lips to her liquid breath.
The moist veil, which discolors and carries the dreadful odor of chemical
dye, penetrates into the young man's mouth, moistens his mustache. He
does not taste the lips of his beloved, he tastes the dye of this lace
moistened with cold breath. And yet, like the poet, we would all exclaim:
Oh! the taste of the kisses first snatched through the veil.
Therefore, the value of this caress being entirely a matter of
convention, we must be careful not to abuse it.
Well, my dear, I have several times noticed that you are very clumsy.
However, you were not alone in that fault; the majority of women lose
their authority by abusing the kiss with untimely kisses. When they feel
that their husband or their lover is a little tired, at those times when
the heart as well as the body needs rest, instead of understanding what
is going on within him, they persist in giving inopportune caresses, tire
him by the obstinacy of begging lips and give caresses lavished with
neither rhyme nor reason.
Trust in the advice of my experience. First, never kiss your husband in
public, in the train, at the restaurant. It is bad taste; do not give in
to your desires. He would feel ridiculous and would never forgive you.
Beware of useless kisses lavished in intimacy. I am sure that you abuse
them. For instance, I remember one day that you did something quite
shocking. Probably you do not remember it.
All three of us were together in the drawing-room, and, as you did not
stand on ceremony before me, your husband was holding you on his knees
and kissing you at great length on the neck, the lips and throat.
Suddenly you exclaimed: "Oh! the fire!" You had been paying no attention
to it, and it was almost out. A few lingering embers were glowing on the
hearth. Then he rose, ran to the woodbox, from which he dragged two
enormous logs with great difficulty, when you came to him with begging
"Kiss me!" He turned his head with difficulty and tried to hold up the
logs at the same time. Then you gently and slowly placed your mouth on
that of the poor fellow, who remained with his neck out of joint, his
sides twisted, his arms almost dropping off, trembling with fatigue and
tired from his desperate effort. And you kept drawing out this torturing
kiss, without seeing or understanding. Then when you freed him, you began
to grumble: "How badly you kiss!" No wonder!
Oh, take care of that! We all have this foolish habit, this unconscious
need of choosing the most inconvenient moments. When he is carrying a
glass of water, when he is putting on his shoes, when he is tying his
scarf—in short, when he finds himself in any uncomfortable position
—then is the time which we choose for a caress which makes him stop
for a whole minute in the middle of a gesture with the sole desire of
getting rid of us!
Do not think that this criticism is insignificant. Love, my dear, is a
delicate thing. The least little thing offends it; know that everything
depends on the tact of our caresses. An ill-placed kiss may do any amount
Try following my advice.
Your old aunt,
This story appeared in the Gaulois in November, 1882, under the pseudonym
THE LEGION OF HONOR
HOW HE GOT THE LEGION OF HONOR
From the time some people begin to talk they seem to have an
overmastering desire or vocation.
Ever since he was a child, M. Caillard had only had one idea in his head
—to wear the ribbon of an order. When he was still quite a small
boy he used to wear a zinc cross of the Legion of Honor pinned on his
tunic, just as other children wear a soldier's cap, and he took his
mother's hand in the street with a proud air, sticking out his little
chest with its red ribbon and metal star so that it might show to
His studies were not a success, and he failed in his examination for
Bachelor of Arts; so, not knowing what to do, he married a pretty girl,
as he had plenty of money of his own.
They lived in Paris, as many rich middle-class people do, mixing with
their own particular set, and proud of knowing a deputy, who might
perhaps be a minister some day, and counting two heads of departments
among their friends.
But M. Caillard could not get rid of his one absorbing idea, and he felt
constantly unhappy because he had not the right to wear a little bit of
colored ribbon in his buttonhole.
When he met any men who were decorated on the boulevards, he looked at
them askance, with intense jealousy. Sometimes, when he had nothing to do
in the afternoon, he would count them, and say to himself: "Just let me
see how many I shall meet between the Madeleine and the Rue Drouot."
Then he would walk slowly, looking at every coat with a practiced eye for
the little bit of red ribbon, and when he had got to the end of his walk
he always repeated the numbers aloud.
"Eight officers and seventeen knights. As many as that! It is stupid to
sow the cross broadcast in that fashion. I wonder how many I shall meet
And he returned slowly, unhappy when the crowd of passers-by interfered
with his vision.
He knew the places where most were to be found. They swarmed in the
Palais Royal. Fewer were seen in the Avenue de l'Opera than in the Rue de
la Paix, while the right side of the boulevard was more frequented by
them than the left.
They also seemed to prefer certain cafes and theatres. Whenever he saw a
group of white-haired old gentlemen standing together in the middle of
the pavement, interfering with the traffic, he used to say to himself:
"They are officers of the Legion of Honor," and he felt inclined to take
off his hat to them.
He had often remarked that the officers had a different bearing to the
mere knights. They carried their head differently, and one felt that they
enjoyed a higher official consideration and a more widely extended
Sometimes, however, the worthy man would be seized with a furious hatred
for every one who was decorated; he felt like a Socialist toward them.
Then, when he got home, excited at meeting so many crosses—just as
a poor, hungry wretch might be on passing some dainty provision
shop—he used to ask in a loud voice:
"When shall we get rid of this wretched government?"
And his wife would be surprised, and ask:
"What is the matter with you to-day?"
"I am indignant," he replied, "at the injustice I see going on around us.
Oh, the Communards were certainly right!"
After dinner he would go out again and look at the shops where the
decorations were sold, and he examined all the emblems of various shapes
and colors. He would have liked to possess them all, and to have walked
gravely at the head of a procession, with his crush hat under his arm and
his breast covered with decorations, radiant as a star, amid a buzz of
admiring whispers and a hum of respect.
But, alas! he had no right to wear any decoration whatever.
He used to say to himself: "It is really too difficult for any man to
obtain the Legion of Honor unless he is some public functionary. Suppose
I try to be appointed an officer of the Academy!"
But he did not know how to set about it, and spoke on the subject to his
wife, who was stupefied.
"Officer of the Academy! What have you done to deserve it?"
He got angry. "I know what I am talking about. I only want to know how to
set about it. You are quite stupid at times."
She smiled. "You are quite right. I don't understand anything about it."
An idea struck him: "Suppose you were to speak to M. Rosselin, the
deputy; he might be able to advise me. You understand I cannot broach the
subject to him directly. It is rather difficult and delicate, but coming
from you it might seem quite natural."
Mme. Caillard did what he asked her, and M. Rosselin promised to speak to
the minister about it; and then Caillard began to worry him, till the
deputy told him he must make a formal application and put forward his
"What were his charms?" he said. "He was not even a Bachelor of Arts."
However, he set to work and produced a pamphlet, with the title, "The
People's Right to Instruction," but he could not finish it for want of
He sought for easier subjects, and began several in succession. The first
was, "The Instruction of Children by Means of the Eye." He wanted
gratuitous theatres to be established in every poor quarter of Paris for
little children. Their parents were to take them there when they were
quite young, and, by means of a magic lantern, all the notions of human
knowledge were to be imparted to them. There were to be regular courses.
The sight would educate the mind, while the pictures would remain
impressed on the brain, and thus science would, so to say, be made
visible. What could be more simple than to teach universal history,
natural history, geography, botany, zoology, anatomy, etc., etc., in this
He had his ideas printed in pamphlets, and sent a copy to each deputy,
ten to each minister, fifty to the President of the Republic, ten to each
Parisian, and five to each provincial newspaper.
Then he wrote on "Street Lending-Libraries." His idea was to have little
pushcarts full of books drawn about the streets. Everyone would have a
right to ten volumes a month in his home on payment of one sou.
"The people," M. Caillard said, "will only disturb itself for the sake of
its pleasures, and since it will not go to instruction, instruction must
come to it," etc., etc.
His essays attracted no attention, but he sent in his application, and he
got the usual formal official reply. He thought himself sure of success,
but nothing came of it.
Then he made up his mind to apply personally. He begged for an interview
with the Minister of Public Instruction, and he was received by a young
subordinate, who was very grave and important, and kept touching the
knobs of electric bells to summon ushers, and footmen, and officials
inferior to himself. He declared to M. Caillard that his matter was going
on quite favorably, and advised him to continue his remarkable labors,
and M. Caillard set at it again.
M. Rosselin, the deputy, seemed now to take a great interest in his
success, and gave him a lot of excellent, practical advice. He, himself,
was decorated, although nobody knew exactly what he had done to deserve
such a distinction.
He told Caillard what new studies he ought to undertake; he introduced
him to learned societies which took up particularly obscure points of
science, in the hope of gaining credit and honors thereby; and he even
took him under his wing at the ministry.
One day, when he came to lunch with his friend—for several months
past he had constantly taken his meals there—he said to him in a
whisper as he shook hands: "I have just obtained a great favor for you.
The Committee of Historical Works is going to intrust you with a
commission. There are some researches to be made in various libraries in
Caillard was so delighted that he could scarcely eat or drink, and a week
later he set out. He went from town to town, studying catalogues,
rummaging in lofts full of dusty volumes, and was hated by all the
One day, happening to be at Rouen, he thought he should like to go and
visit his wife, whom he had not seen for more than a week, so he took the
nine o'clock train, which would land him at home by twelve at night.
He had his latchkey, so he went in without making any noise, delighted at
the idea of the surprise he was going to give her. She had locked herself
in. How tiresome! However, he cried out through the door:
"Jeanne, it is I!"
She must have been very frightened, for he heard her jump out of her bed
and speak to herself, as if she were in a dream. Then she went to her
dressing room, opened and closed the door, and went quickly up and down
her room barefoot two or three times, shaking the furniture till the
vases and glasses sounded. Then at last she asked:
"Is it you, Alexander?"
"Yes, yes," he replied; "make haste and open the door."
As soon as she had done so, she threw herself into his arms, exclaiming:
"Oh, what a fright! What a surprise! What a pleasure!"
He began to undress himself methodically, as he did everything, and took
from a chair his overcoat, which he was in the habit of hanging up in the
hall. But suddenly he remained motionless, struck dumb with
astonishment—there was a red ribbon in the buttonhole:
"Why," he stammered, "this—this—this overcoat has got the
ribbon in it!"
In a second, his wife threw herself on him, and, taking it from his
hands, she said:
"No! you have made a mistake—give it to me."
But he still held it by one of the sleeves, without letting it go,
repeating in a half-dazed manner:
"Oh! Why? Just explain—Whose overcoat is it? It is not mine, as it
has the Legion of Honor on it."
She tried to take it from him, terrified and hardly able to say:
"Listen—listen! Give it to me! I must not tell you! It is a secret.
Listen to me!"
But he grew angry and turned pale.
"I want to know how this overcoat comes to be here? It does not belong to
Then she almost screamed at him:
"Yes, it does; listen! Swear to me—well—you are decorated!"
She did not intend to joke at his expense.
He was so overcome that he let the overcoat fall and dropped into an
"I am—you say I am—decorated?"
"Yes, but it is a secret, a great secret."
She had put the glorious garment into a cupboard, and came to her husband
pale and trembling.
"Yes," she continued, "it is a new overcoat that I have had made for you.
But I swore that I would not tell you anything about it, as it will not
be officially announced for a month or six weeks, and you were not to
have known till your return from your business journey. M. Rosselin
managed it for you."
"Rosselin!" he contrived to utter in his joy. "He has obtained the
decoration for me? He—Oh!"
And he was obliged to drink a glass of water.
A little piece of white paper fell to the floor out of the pocket of the
overcoat. Caillard picked it up; it was a visiting card, and he read out:
"You see how it is," said his wife.
He almost cried with joy, and, a week later, it was announced in the
Journal Officiel that M. Caillard had been awarded the Legion of Honor on
account of his exceptional services.
The Bondels were a happy family, and although they frequently quarrelled
about trifles, they soon became friends again.
Bondel was a merchant who had retired from active business after saving
enough to allow him to live quietly; he had rented a little house at
Saint-Germain and lived there with his wife. He was a quiet man with very
decided opinions; he had a certain degree of education and read serious
newspapers; nevertheless, he appreciated the gaulois wit. Endowed with a
logical mind, and that practical common sense which is the master quality
of the industrial French bourgeois, he thought little, but clearly, and
reached a decision only after careful consideration of the matter in
hand. He was of medium size, with a distinguished look, and was beginning
to turn gray.
His wife, who was full of serious qualities, had also several faults. She
had a quick temper and a frankness that bordered upon violence. She bore
a grudge a long time. She had once been pretty, but had now become too
stout and too red; but in her neighborhood at Saint-Germain she still
passed for a very beautiful woman, who exemplified health and an
Their dissensions almost always began at breakfast, over some trivial
matter, and they often continued all day and even until the following
day. Their simple, common, limited life imparted seriousness to the most
unimportant matters, and every topic of conversation became a subject of
dispute. This had not been so in the days when business occupied their
minds, drew their hearts together, and gave them common interests and
But at Saint-Germain they saw fewer people. It had been necessary to make
new acquaintances, to create for themselves a new world among strangers,
a new existence devoid of occupations. Then the monotony of loneliness
had soured each of them a little; and the quiet happiness which they had
hoped and waited for with the coming of riches did not appear.
One June morning, just as they were sitting down to breakfast, Bondel
"Do you know the people who live in the little red cottage at the end of
the Rue du Berceau?"
Madame Bondel was out of sorts. She answered:
"Yes and no; I am acquainted with them, but I do not care to know them."
"Why not? They seem to be very nice."
"This morning I met the husband on the terrace and we took a little walk
Seeing that there was danger in the air, Bendel added: "It was he who
spoke to me first."
His wife looked at him in a displeased manner. She continued: "You would
have done just as well to avoid him."
"Because there are rumors about them."
"Oh! rumors such as one often hears!"
M. Bondel was, unfortunately, a little hasty. He exclaimed:
"My dear, you know that I abhor gossip. As for those people, I find them
She asked testily: "The wife also?"
"Why, yes; although I have barely seen her."
The discussion gradually grew more heated, always on the same subject for
lack of others. Madame Bondel obstinately refused to say what she had
heard about these neighbors, allowing things to be understood without
saying exactly what they were. Bendel would shrug his shoulders, grin,
and exasperate his wife. She finally cried out: "Well! that gentleman is
deceived by his wife, there!"
The husband answered quietly: "I can't see how that affects the honor of
She seemed dumfounded: "What! you don't see?—you don't
see?—well, that's too much! You don't see!—why, it's a public
scandal! he is disgraced!"
He answered: "Ah! by no means! Should a man be considered disgraced
because he is deceived, because he is betrayed, robbed? No, indeed! I'll
grant you that that may be the case for the wife, but as for him—"
She became furious, exclaiming: "For him as well as for her. They are
both in disgrace; it's a public shame."
Bondel, very calm, asked: "First of all, is it true? Who can assert such
a thing as long as no one has been caught in the act?"
Madame Bondel was growing uneasy; she snapped: "What? Who can assert it?
Why, everybody! everybody! it's as clear as the nose on your face.
Everybody knows it and is talking about it. There is not the slightest
He was grinning: "For a long time people thought that the sun revolved
around the earth. This man loves his wife and speaks of her tenderly and
reverently. This whole business is nothing but lies!"
Stamping her foot, she stammered: "Do you think that that fool, that
idiot, knows anything about it?"
Bondel did not grow angry; he was reasoning clearly: "Excuse me. This
gentleman is no fool. He seemed to me, on the contrary, to be very
intelligent and shrewd; and you can't make me believe that a man with
brains doesn't notice such a thing in his own house, when the neighbors,
who are not there, are ignorant of no detail of this liaison—for
I'll warrant that they know everything."
Madame Bondel had a fit of angry mirth, which irritated her husband's
nerves. She laughed: "Ha! ha! ha! they're all the same! There's not a man
alive who could discover a thing like that unless his nose was stuck into
The discussion was wandering to other topics now. She was exclaiming over
the blindness of deceived husbands, a thing which he doubted and which
she affirmed with such airs of personal contempt that he finally grew
angry. Then the discussion became an angry quarrel, where she took the
side of the women and he defended the men. He had the conceit to declare:
"Well, I swear that if I had ever been deceived, I should have noticed
it, and immediately, too. And I should have taken away your desire for
such things in such a manner that it would have taken more than one
doctor to set you on foot again!"
Boiling with anger, she cried out to him: "You! you! why, you're as big a
fool as the others, do you hear!"
He still maintained: "I can swear to you that I am not!"
She laughed so impertinently that he felt his heart beat and a chill run
down his back. For the third time he said:
"I should have seen it!"
She rose, still laughing in the same manner. She slammed the door and
left the room, saying: "Well! if that isn't too much!"
Bondel remained alone, ill at ease. That insolent, provoking laugh had
touched him to the quick. He went outside, walked, dreamed. The
realization of the loneliness of his new life made him sad and morbid.
The neighbor, whom he had met that morning, came to him with outstretched
hands. They continued their walk together. After touching on various
subjects they came to talk of their wives. Both seemed to have something
to confide, something inexpressible, vague, about these beings associated
with their lives; their wives. The neighbor was saying:
"Really, at times, one might think that they bear some particular
ill-will toward their husband, just because he is a husband. I love my
wife—I love her very much; I appreciate and respect her; well!
there are times when she seems to have more confidence and faith in our
friends than in me."
Bondel immediately thought: "There is no doubt; my wife was right!"
When he left this man he began to think things over again. He felt in his
soul a strange confusion of contradictory ideas, a sort of interior
burning; that mocking, impertinent laugh kept ringing in his ears and
seemed to say: "Why; you are just the same as the others, you fool!" That
was indeed bravado, one of those pieces of impudence of which a woman
makes use when she dares everything, risks everything, to wound and
humiliate the man who has aroused her ire. This poor man must also be one
of those deceived husbands, like so many others. He had said sadly:
"There are times when she seems to have more confidence and faith in our
friends than in me." That is how a husband formulated his observations on
the particular attentions of his wife for another man. That was all. He
had seen nothing more. He was like the rest—all the rest!
And how strangely Bondel's own wife had laughed as she said: "You, too
—you, too." How wild and imprudent these creatures are who can
arouse such suspicions in the heart for the sole purpose of revenge!
He ran over their whole life since their marriage, reviewed his mental
list of their acquaintances, to see whether she had ever appeared to show
more confidence in any one else than in himself. He never had suspected
any one, he was so calm, so sure of her, so confident.
But, now he thought of it, she had had a friend, an intimate friend, who
for almost a year had dined with them three times a week. Tancret, good
old Tancret, whom he, Bendel, loved as a brother and whom he continued to
see on the sly, since his wife, he did not know why, had grown angry at
the charming fellow.
He stopped to think, looking over the past with anxious eyes. Then he
grew angry at himself for harboring this shameful insinuation of the
defiant, jealous, bad ego which lives in all of us. He blamed and accused
himself when he remembered the visits and the demeanor of this friend
whom his wife had dismissed for no apparent reason. But, suddenly, other
memories returned to him, similar ruptures due to the vindictive
character of Madame Bondel, who never pardoned a slight. Then he laughed
frankly at himself for the doubts which he had nursed; and he remembered
the angry looks of his wife as he would tell her, when he returned at
night: "I saw good old Tancret, and he wished to be remembered to you,"
and he reassured himself.
She would invariably answer: "When you see that gentleman you can tell
him that I can very well dispense with his remembrances." With what an
irritated, angry look she would say these words! How well one could feel
that she did not and would not forgive—and he had suspected her
even for a second? Such foolishness!
But why did she grow so angry? She never had given the exact reason for
this quarrel. She still bore him that grudge! Was it?—But
no—no—and Bondel declared that he was lowering himself by
even thinking of such things.
Yes, he was undoubtedly lowering himself, but he could not help thinking
of it, and he asked himself with terror if this thought which had entered
into his mind had not come to stop, if he did not carry in his heart the
seed of fearful torment. He knew himself; he was a man to think over his
doubts, as formerly he would ruminate over his commercial operations, for
days and nights, endlessly weighing the pros and the cons.
He was already becoming excited; he was walking fast and losing his
calmness. A thought cannot be downed. It is intangible, cannot be caught,
cannot be killed.
Suddenly a plan occurred to him; it was bold, so bold that at first he
doubted whether he would carry it out.
Each time that he met Tancret, his friend would ask for news of Madame
Bondel, and Bondel would answer: "She is still a little angry." Nothing
more. Good Lord! What a fool he had been! Perhaps!
Well, he would take the train to Paris, go to Tancret, and bring him back
with him that very evening, assuring him that his wife's mysterious anger
had disappeared. But how would Madame Bondel act? What a scene there
would be! What anger! what scandal! What of it?—that would be
revenge! When she should come face to face with him, unexpectedly, he
certainly ought to be able to read the truth in their expressions.
He immediately went to the station, bought his ticket, got into the car,
and as soon as he felt him self being carried away by the train, he felt
a fear, a kind of dizziness, at what he was going to do. In order not to
weaken, back down, and return alone, he tried not to think of the matter
any longer, to bring his mind to bear on other affairs, to do what he had
decided to do with a blind resolution; and he began to hum tunes from
operettas and music halls until he reached Paris.
As soon as he found himself walking along the streets that led to
Tancret's, he felt like stopping, He paused in front of several shops,
noticed the prices of certain objects, was interested in new things, felt
like taking a glass of beer, which was not his usual custom; and as he
approached his friend's dwelling he ardently hoped not meet him. But
Tancret was at home, alone, reading. He jumped up in surprise, crying:
"Ah! Bondel! what luck!"
Bondel, embarrassed, answered: "Yes, my dear fellow, I happened to be in
Paris, and I thought I'd drop in and shake hands with you."
"That's very nice, very nice! The more so that for some time you have not
favored me with your presence very often."
"Well, you see—even against one's will, one is often influenced by
surrounding conditions, and as my wife seemed to bear you some ill-will"
"Jove! 'seemed'—she did better than that, since she showed me the
"What was the reason? I never heard it."
"Oh! nothing at all—a bit of foolishness—a discussion in
which we did not both agree."
"But what was the subject of this discussion?"
"A lady of my acquaintance, whom you may perhaps know by name, Madame
"Ah! really. Well, I think that my wife has forgotten her grudge, for
this very morning she spoke to me of you in very pleasant terms."
Tancret started and seemed so dumfounded that for a few minutes he could
find nothing to say. Then he asked: "She spoke of me—in pleasant
"You are sure?"
"Of course I am. I am not dreaming."
"And then—as I was coming to Paris I thought that I would please
you by coming to tell you the good news."
"Why, yes—why, yes—"
Bondel appeared to hesitate; then, after a short pause, he added: "I even
had an idea."
"What is it?"
"To take you back home with me to dinner."
Tancret, who was naturally prudent, seemed a little worried by this
proposition, and he asked: "Oh! really—is it possible? Are we not
exposing ourselves to—to—a scene?"
"No, no, indeed!"
"Because, you know, Madame Bendel bears malice for a long time."
"Yes, but I can assure you that she no longer bears you any
ill—will. I am even convinced that it will be a great pleasure for
her to see you thus, unexpectedly."
"Well, then! let us go along. I am delighted. You see, this
misunderstanding was very unpleasant for me."
They set out together toward the Saint-Lazare station, arm in arm. They
made the trip in silence. Both seemed absorbed in deep meditation. Seated
in the car, one opposite the other, they looked at each other without
speaking, each observing that the other was pale.
Then they left the train and once more linked arms as if to unite against
some common danger. After a walk of a few minutes they stopped, a little
out of breath, before Bondel's house. Bondel ushered his friend into the
parlor, called the servant, and asked: "Is madame at home?"
"Please ask her to come down at once."
They dropped into two armchairs and waited. Both were filled with the
same longing to escape before the appearance of the much-feared person.
A well-known, heavy tread could be heard descending the stairs. A hand
moved the knob, and both men watched the brass handle turn. Then the door
opened wide, and Madame Bondel stopped and looked to see who was there
before she entered. She looked, blushed, trembled, retreated a step, then
stood motionless, her cheeks aflame and her hands resting against the
sides of the door frame.
Tancret, as pale as if about to faint, had arisen, letting fall his hat,
which rolled along the floor. He stammered out: "Mon Dieu—madame—it is
I—I thought—I ventured—I was so sorry—"
As she did not answer, he continued: "Will you forgive me?"
Then, quickly, carried away by some impulse, she walked toward him with
her hands outstretched; and when he had taken, pressed, and held these
two hands, she said, in a trembling, weak little voice, which was new to
"Ah! my dear friend—how happy I am!"
And Bondel, who was watching them, felt an icy chill run over him, as if
he had been dipped in a cold bath.
FOUND ON A DROWNED MAN
Madame, you ask me whether I am laughing at you? You cannot believe that
a man has never been in love. Well, then, no, no, I have never loved,
Why is this? I really cannot tell. I have never experienced that
intoxication of the heart which we call love! Never have I lived in that
dream, in that exaltation, in that state of madness into which the image
of a woman casts us. I have never been pursued, haunted, roused to fever
heat, lifted up to Paradise by the thought of meeting, or by the
possession of, a being who had suddenly become for me more desirable than
any good fortune, more beautiful than any other creature, of more
consequence than the whole world! I have never wept, I have never
suffered on account of any of you. I have not passed my nights sleepless,
while thinking of her. I have no experience of waking thoughts bright
with thought and memories of her. I have never known the wild rapture of
hope before her arrival, or the divine sadness of regret when she went
from me, leaving behind her a delicate odor of violet powder.
I have never been in love.
I have also often asked myself why this is. And truly I can scarcely
tell. Nevertheless I have found some reasons for it; but they are of a
metaphysical character, and perhaps you will not be able to appreciate
I suppose I am too critical of women to submit to their fascination. I
ask you to forgive me for this remark. I will explain what I mean. In
every creature there is a moral being and a physical being. In order to
love, it would be necessary for me to find a harmony between these two
beings which I have never found. One always predominates; sometimes the
moral, sometimes the physical.
The intellect which we have a right to require in a woman, in order to
love her, is not the same as the virile intellect. It is more, and it is
less. A woman must be frank, delicate, sensitive, refined,
impressionable. She has no need of either power or initiative in thought,
but she must have kindness, elegance, tenderness, coquetry and that
faculty of assimilation which, in a little while, raises her to an
equality with him who shares her life. Her greatest quality must be tact,
that subtle sense which is to the mind what touch is to the body. It
reveals to her a thousand little things, contours, angles and forms on
the plane of the intellectual.
Very frequently pretty women have not intellect to correspond with their
personal charms. Now, the slightest lack of harmony strikes me and pains
me at the first glance. In friendship this is not of importance.
Friendship is a compact in which one fairly shares defects and merits. We
may judge of friends, whether man or woman, giving them credit for what
is good, and overlooking what is bad in them, appreciating them at their
just value, while giving ourselves up to an intimate, intense and
In order to love, one must be blind, surrender one's self absolutely, see
nothing, question nothing, understand nothing. One must adore the
weakness as well as the beauty of the beloved object, renounce all
judgment, all reflection, all perspicacity.
I am incapable of such blindness and rebel at unreasoning subjugation.
This is not all. I have such a high and subtle idea of harmony that
nothing can ever fulfill my ideal. But you will call me a madman. Listen
to me. A woman, in my opinion, may have an exquisite soul and charming
body without that body and that soul being in perfect harmony with one
another. I mean that persons who have noses made in a certain shape
should not be expected to think in a certain fashion. The fat have no
right to make use of the same words and phrases as the thin. You, who
have blue eyes, madame, cannot look at life and judge of things and
events as if you had black eyes. The shade of your eyes should
correspond, by a sort of fatality, with the shade of your thought. In
perceiving these things, I have the scent of a bloodhound. Laugh if you
like, but it is so.
And yet, once I imagined that I was in love for an hour, for a day. I had
foolishly yielded to the influence of surrounding circumstances. I
allowed myself to be beguiled by a mirage of Dawn. Would you like me to
tell you this short story?
I met, one evening, a pretty, enthusiastic little woman who took a poetic
fancy to spend a night with me in a boat on a river. I would have
preferred a room and a bed; however, I consented to the river and the
It was in the month of June. My fair companion chose a moonlight night in
order the better to stimulate her imagination.
We had dined at a riverside inn and set out in the boat about ten
o'clock. I thought it a rather foolish kind of adventure, but as my
companion pleased me I did not worry about it. I sat down on the seat
facing her; I seized the oars, and off we starred.
I could not deny that the scene was picturesque. We glided past a wooded
isle full of nightingales, and the current carried us rapidly over the
river covered with silvery ripples. The tree toads uttered their shrill,
monotonous cry; the frogs croaked in the grass by the river's bank, and
the lapping of the water as it flowed on made around us a kind of
confused murmur almost imperceptible, disquieting, and gave us a vague
sensation of mysterious fear.
The sweet charm of warm nights and of streams glittering in the moonlight
penetrated us. It was delightful to be alive and to float along thus, and
to dream and to feel at one's side a sympathetic and beautiful young
I was somewhat affected, somewhat agitated, somewhat intoxicated by the
pale brightness of the night and the consciousness of my proximity to a
"Come and sit beside me," she said.
She went on:
"Recite some poetry for me."
This appeared to be rather too much. I declined; she persisted. She
certainly wanted to play the game, to have a whole orchestra of
sentiment, from the moon to the rhymes of poets. In the end I had to
yield, and, as if in mockery, I repeated to her a charming little poem by
Louis Bouilhet, of which the following are the last verses:
"I hate the poet who with tearful eye
Murmurs some name while gazing tow'rds a star,
Who sees no magic in the earth or sky,
Unless Lizette or Ninon be not far.
"The bard who in all Nature nothing sees
Divine, unless a petticoat he ties
Amorously to the branches of the trees
Or nightcap to the grass, is scarcely wise.
"He has not heard the Eternal's thunder tone,
The voice of Nature in her various moods,
Who cannot tread the dim ravines alone,
And of no woman dream mid whispering woods."
I expected some reproaches. Nothing of the sort. She murmured:
"How true it is!"
I was astonished. Had she understood?
Our boat had gradually approached the bank and become entangled in the
branches of a willow which impeded its progress. I placed my arm round my
companion's waist, and very gently approached my lips towards her neck.
But she repulsed me with an abrupt, angry movement.
"Have done, pray! How rude you are!"
I tried to draw her toward me. She resisted, caught hold of the tree, and
was near flinging us both into the water. I deemed it prudent to cease my
"I would rather capsize you. I feel so happy. I want to dream. This is so
delightful." Then, in a slightly malicious tone, she added:
"Have you already forgotten the verses you repeated to me just now?"
She was right. I became silent.
She went on:
And I plied the oars once more.
I began to think the night long and my position ridiculous.
My companion said to me:
"Will you make me a promise?"
"Yes. What is it?"
"To remain quiet, well-behaved and discreet, if I permit you—"
"What? Say what you mean!"
"Here is what I mean: I want to lie down on my back at the bottom of the
boat with you by my side. But I forbid you to touch me, to embrace me
—in short—to caress me."
I promised. She said warningly:
"If you move, 'I'll capsize the boat."
And then we lay down side by side, our eyes turned toward the sky, while
the boat glided slowly through the water. We were rocked by its gentle
motion. The slight sounds of the night came to us more distinctly in the
bottom of the boat, sometimes causing us to start. And I felt springing
up within me a strange, poignant emotion, an infinite tenderness,
something like an irresistible impulse to open my arms in order to
embrace, to open my heart in order to love, to give myself, to give my
thoughts, my body, my life, my entire being to some one.
My companion murmured, like one in a dream:
"Where are we; Where are we going? It seems to me that I am leaving the
earth. How sweet it is! Ah, if you loved me—a little!!!"
My heart began to throb. I had no answer to give. It seemed to me that I
loved her. I had no longer any violent desire. I felt happy there by her
side, and that was enough for me.
And thus we remained for a long, long time without stirring. We had
clasped each other's hands; some delightful force rendered us motionless,
an unknown force stronger than ourselves, an alliance, chaste, intimate,
absolute, of our beings lying there side by side, belonging to each other
without contact. What was this? How do I know? Love, perhaps?
Little by little the dawn appeared. It was three o'clock in the morning.
Slowly a great brightness spread over the sky. The boat knocked up
against something. I rose up. We had come close to a tiny islet.
But I remained enchanted, in an ecstasy. Before us stretched the
firmament, red, pink, violet, spotted with fiery clouds resembling golden
vapor. The river was glowing with purple and three houses on one side of
it seemed to be burning.
I bent toward my companion. I was going to say, "Oh! look!" But I held my
tongue, quite dazed, and I could no longer see anything except her. She,
too, was rosy, with rosy flesh tints with a deeper tinge that was partly
a reflection of the hue of the sky. Her tresses were rosy; her eyes were
rosy; her teeth were rosy; her dress, her laces, her smile, all were
rosy. And in truth I believed, so overpowering was the illusion, that the
dawn was there in the flesh before me.
She rose softly to her feet, holding out her lips to me; and I moved
toward her, trembling, delirious feeling indeed that I was going to kiss
Heaven, to kiss happiness, to kiss a dream that had become a woman, to
kiss the ideal which had descended into human flesh.
She said to me: "You have a caterpillar in your hair." And, suddenly, I
felt as sad as if I had lost all hope in life.
That is all, madame. It is puerile, silly, stupid. But I am sure that
since that day it would be impossible for me to love. And yet—who
[The young man upon whom this letter was found was yesterday taken out of
the Seine between Bougival and Marly. An obliging bargeman, who had
searched the pockets in order to ascertain the name of the deceased,
brought this paper to the author.]
Mademoiselle Source had adopted this boy under very sad circumstances.
She was at the time thirty-six years old. Being disfigured through having
as a child slipped off her nurse's lap into the fireplace and burned her
face shockingly, she had determined not to marry, for she did not want
any man to marry her for her money.
A neighbor of hers, left a widow just before her child was born, died in
giving birth, without leaving a sou. Mademoiselle Source took the
new-born child, put him out to nurse, reared him, sent him to a
boarding-school, then brought him home in his fourteenth year, in order
to have in her empty house somebody who would love her, who would look
after her, and make her old age pleasant.
She had a little country place four leagues from Rennes, and she now
dispensed with a servant; her expenses having increased to more than
double since this orphan's arrival, her income of three thousand francs
was no longer sufficient to support three persons.
She attended to the housekeeping and cooking herself, and sent out the
boy on errands, letting him also occupy himself in cultivating the
garden. He was gentle, timid, silent, and affectionate. And she
experienced a deep happiness, a fresh happiness when he kissed her
without surprise or horror at her disfigurement. He called her "Aunt,"
and treated her as a mother.
In the evening they both sat down at the fireside, and she made nice
little dainties for him. She heated some wine and toasted a slice of
bread, and it made a charming little meal before going to bed. She often
took him on her knees and covered him with kisses, murmuring tender words
in his ear. She called him: "My little flower, my cherub, my adored
angel, my divine jewel." He softly accepted her caresses, hiding his head
on the old maid's shoulder. Although he was now nearly fifteen, he had
remained small and weak, and had a rather sickly appearance.
Sometimes Mademoiselle Source took him to the city, to see two married
female relatives of hers, distant cousins, who were living in the
suburbs, and who were the only members of her family in existence. The
two women had always found fault with her, for having adopted this boy,
on account of the inheritance; but for all that, they gave her a cordial
welcome, having still hopes of getting a share for themselves, a third,
no doubt, if what she possessed were only equally divided.
She was happy, very happy, always occupied with her adopted child. She
bought books for him to improve his mind, and he became passionately fond
He no longer climbed on her knee to pet her as he had formerly done; but,
instead, would go and sit down in his little chair in the chimney-corner
and open a volume. The lamp placed at the edge of the Tittle table above
his head shone on his curly hair, and on a portion of his forehead; he
did not move, he did not raise his eyes or make any gesture. He read on,
interested, entirely absorbed in the story he was reading.
Seated opposite to him, she would gaze at him earnestly, astonished at
his studiousness, often on the point of bursting into tears.
She said to him occasionally: "You will fatigue yourself, my treasure!"
hoping that he would raise his head, and come across to embrace her; but
he did not even answer her; he had not heard or understood what she was
saying; he paid no attention to anything save what he read in those
For two years he devoured an incalculable number of volumes. His
After this, he asked Mademoiselle Source several times for money, which
she gave him. As he always wanted more, she ended by refusing, for she
was both methodical and decided, and knew how to act rationally when it
was necessary to do so. By dint of entreaties he obtained a large sum
from her one night; but when he begged her for more a few days later, she
showed herself inflexible, and did not give way to him further, in fact.
He appeared to be satisfied with her decision.
He again became quiet, as he had formerly been, remaining seated for
entire hours, without moving, plunged in deep reverie. He now did not
even talk to Madame Source, merely answering her remarks with short,
formal words. Nevertheless, he was agreeable and attentive in his manner
toward her; but he never embraced her now.
She had by this time grown slightly afraid of him when they sat facing
one another at night on opposite sides of the fireplace. She wanted to
wake him up, to make him say something, no matter what, that would break
this dreadful silence, which was like the darkness of a wood. But he did
not appear to listen to her, and she shuddered with the terror of a poor
feeble woman when she had spoken to him five or six times successively
without being able to get a word out of him.
What was the matter with him? What was going on in that closed-up head?
When she had remained thus two or three hours opposite him, she felt as
if she were going insane, and longed to rush away and to escape into the
open country in order to avoid that mute, eternal companionship and also
some vague danger, which she could not define, but of which she had a
She frequently wept when she was alone. What was the matter with him?
When she expressed a wish, he unmurmuringly carried it into execution.
When she wanted anything brought from the city, he immediately went there
to procure it. She had no complaint to make of him; no, indeed! And
Another year flitted by, and it seemed to her that a fresh change had
taken place in the mind of the young man. She perceived it; she felt it;
she divined it. How? No matter! She was sure she was not mistaken; but
she could not have explained in what manner the unknown thoughts of this
strange youth had changed.
It seemed to her that, until now, he had been like a person in a
hesitating frame of mind, who had suddenly arrived at a determination.
This idea came to her one evening as she met his glance, a fixed,
singular glance which she had not seen in his face before.
Then he commenced to watch her incessantly, and she wished she could hide
herself in order to avoid that cold eye riveted on her.
He kept staring at her, evening after evening, for hours together, only
averting his eyes when she said, utterly unnerved:
"Do not look at me like that, my child!"
Then he would lower his head.
But the moment her back was turned she once more felt that his eyes were
upon her. Wherever she went, he pursued her with his persistent gaze.
Sometimes, when she was walking in her little garden, she suddenly
noticed him hidden behind a bush, as if he were lying in wait for her;
and, again, when she sat in front of the house mending stockings while he
was digging some vegetable bed, he kept continually watching her in a
surreptitious manner, as he worked.
It was in vain that she asked him:
"What's the matter with you, my boy? For the last three years, you have
become very different. I don't recognize you. Do tell me what ails you,
and what you are thinking of."
He invariably replied, in a quiet, weary tone:
"Why, nothing ails me, aunt!"
And when she persisted:
"Ah! my child, answer me, answer me when I speak to you. If you knew what
grief you caused me, you would always answer, and you would not look at
me that way. Have you any trouble? Tell me! I'll comfort you!"
He went away, with a tired air, murmuring:
"But there is nothing the matter with me, I assure you."
He had not grown much, having always a childish look, although his
features were those of a man. They were, however, hard and badly cut. He
seemed incomplete, abortive, only half finished, and disquieting as a
mystery. He was a self-contained, unapproachable being, in whom there
seemed always to be some active, dangerous mental labor going on.
Mademoiselle Source was quite conscious of all this, and she could not
sleep at night, so great was her anxiety. Frightful terrors, dreadful
nightmares assailed her. She shut herself up in her own room, and
barricaded the door, tortured by fear.
What was she afraid of? She could not tell.
She feared everything, the night, the walls, the shadows thrown by the
moon on the white curtains of the windows, and, above all, she feared
What had she to fear? Did she know what it was?
She could live this way no longer! She felt certain that a misfortune
threatened her, a frightful misfortune.
She set forth secretly one morning, and went into the city to see her
relatives. She told them about the matter in a gasping voice. The two
women thought she was going mad and tried to reassure her.
"If you knew the way he looks at me from morning till night. He never
takes his eyes off me! At times, I feel a longing to cry for help, to
call in the neighbors, so much am I afraid. But what could I say to them?
He does nothing but look at me."
The two female cousins asked:
"Is he ever brutal to you? Does he give you sharp answers?"
"No, never; he does everything I wish; he works hard: he is steady; but I
am so frightened that I care nothing for that. He is planning something,
I am certain of that—quite certain. I don't care to remain all
alone like that with him in the country."
The relatives, astonished at her words, declared that people would be
amazed, would not understand; and they advised her to keep silent about
her fears and her plans, without, however, dissuading her from coming to
reside in the city, hoping in that way that the entire inheritance would
eventually fall into their hands.
They even promised to assist her in selling her house, and in finding
another, near them.
Mademoiselle Source returned home. But her mind was so much upset that
she trembled at the slightest noise, and her hands shook whenever any
trifling disturbance agitated her.
Twice she went again to consult her relatives, quite determined now not
to remain any longer in this way in her lonely dwelling. At last, she
found a little cottage in the suburbs, which suited her, and she
privately bought it.
The signature of the contract took place on a Tuesday morning, and
Mademoiselle Source devoted the rest of the day to the preparations for
her change of residence.
At eight o'clock in the evening she got into the diligence which passed
within a few hundred yards of her house, and she told the conductor to
put her down in the place where she usually alighted. The man called out
to her as he whipped his horses:
"Good evening, Mademoiselle Source—good night!"
She replied as she walked on:
"Good evening, Pere Joseph." Next morning, at half-past seven, the
postman who conveyed letters to the village noticed at the cross-road,
not far from the high road, a large splash of blood not yet dry. He said
to himself: "Hallo! some boozer must have had a nose bleed."
But he perceived ten paces farther on a pocket handkerchief also stained
with blood. He picked it up. The linen was fine, and the postman, in
alarm, made his way over to the ditch, where he fancied he saw a strange
Mademoiselle Source was lying at the bottom on the grass, her throat cut
with a knife.
An hour later, the gendarmes, the examining magistrate, and other
authorities made an inquiry as to the cause of death.
The two female relatives, called as witnesses, told all about the old
maid's fears and her last plans.
The orphan was arrested. After the death of the woman who had adopted
him, he wept from morning till night, plunged, at least to all
appearance, in the most violent grief.
He proved that he had spent the evening up to eleven o'clock in a cafe.
Ten persons had seen him, having remained there till his departure.
The driver of the diligence stated that he had set down the murdered
woman on the road between half-past nine and ten o'clock.
The accused was acquitted. A will, drawn up a long time before, which had
been left in the hands of a notary in Rennes, made him sole heir. So he
For a long time, the people of the country boycotted him, as they still
suspected him. His house, that of the dead woman, was looked upon as
accursed. People avoided him in the street.
But he showed himself so good-natured, so open, so familiar, that
gradually these horrible doubts were forgotten. He was generous,
obliging, ready to talk to the humblest about anything, as long as they
cared to talk to him.
The notary, Maitre Rameau, was one of the first to take his part,
attracted by his smiling loquacity. He said at a dinner, at the tax
"A man who speaks with such facility and who is always in good humor
could not have such a crime on his conscience."
Touched by his argument, the others who were present reflected, and they
recalled to mind the long conversations with this man who would almost
compel them to stop at the road corners to listen to his ideas, who
insisted on their going into his house when they were passing by his
garden, who could crack a joke better than the lieutenant of the
gendarmes himself, and who possessed such contagious gaiety that, in
spite of the repugnance with which he inspired them, they could not keep
from always laughing in his company.
All doors were opened to him after a time.
He is to-day the mayor of his township.
He had seen better days, despite his present misery and infirmities.
At the age of fifteen both his legs had been crushed by a carriage on the
Varville highway. From that time forth he begged, dragging himself along
the roads and through the farmyards, supported by crutches which forced
his shoulders up to his ears. His head looked as if it were squeezed in
between two mountains.
A foundling, picked up out of a ditch by the priest of Les Billettes on
the eve of All Saints' Day and baptized, for that reason, Nicholas
Toussaint, reared by charity, utterly without education, crippled in
consequence of having drunk several glasses of brandy given him by the
baker (such a funny story!) and a vagabond all his life
afterward—the only thing he knew how to do was to hold out his hand
At one time the Baroness d'Avary allowed him to sleep in a kind of recess
spread with straw, close to the poultry yard in the farm adjoining the
chateau, and if he was in great need he was sure of getting a glass of
cider and a crust of bread in the kitchen. Moreover, the old lady often
threw him a few pennies from her window. But she was dead now.
In the villages people gave him scarcely anything—he was too well
known. Everybody had grown tired of seeing him, day after day for forty
years, dragging his deformed and tattered person from door to door on his
wooden crutches. But he could not make up his mind to go elsewhere,
because he knew no place on earth but this particular corner of the
country, these three or four villages where he had spent the whole of his
miserable existence. He had limited his begging operations and would not
for worlds have passed his accustomed bounds.
He did not even know whether the world extended for any distance beyond
the trees which had always bounded his vision. He did not ask himself the
question. And when the peasants, tired of constantly meeting him in their
fields or along their lanes, exclaimed: "Why don't you go to other
villages instead of always limping about here?" he did not answer, but
slunk away, possessed with a vague dread of the unknown—the dread
of a poor wretch who fears confusedly a thousand things—new faces,
taunts, insults, the suspicious glances of people who do not know him and
the policemen walking in couples on the roads. These last he always
instinctively avoided, taking refuge in the bushes or behind heaps of
stones when he saw them coming.
When he perceived them in the distance, 'With uniforms gleaming in the
sun, he was suddenly possessed with unwonted agility—the agility of
a wild animal seeking its lair. He threw aside his crutches, fell to the
ground like a limp rag, made himself as small as possible and crouched
like a bare under cover, his tattered vestments blending in hue with the
earth on which he cowered.
He had never had any trouble with the police, but the instinct to avoid
them was in his blood. He seemed to have inherited it from the parents he
had never known.
He had no refuge, no roof for his head, no shelter of any kind. In summer
he slept out of doors and in winter he showed remarkable skill in
slipping unperceived into barns and stables. He always decamped before
his presence could be discovered. He knew all the holes through which one
could creep into farm buildings, and the handling of his crutches having
made his arms surprisingly muscular he often hauled himself up through
sheer strength of wrist into hay-lofts, where he sometimes remained for
four or five days at a time, provided he had collected a sufficient store
of food beforehand.
He lived like the beasts of the field. He was in the midst of men, yet
knew no one, loved no one, exciting in the breasts of the peasants only a
sort of careless contempt and smoldering hostility. They nicknamed him
"Bell," because he hung between his two crutches like a church bell
between its supports.
For two days he had eaten nothing. No one gave him anything now. Every
one's patience was exhausted. Women shouted to him from their doorsteps
when they saw him coming:
"Be off with you, you good-for-nothing vagabond! Why, I gave you a piece
of bread only three days ago!"
And he turned on his crutches to the next house, where he was received in
the same fashion.
The women declared to one another as they stood at their doors:
"We can't feed that lazy brute all the year round!"
And yet the "lazy brute" needed food every day.
He had exhausted Saint-Hilaire, Varville and Les Billettes without
getting a single copper or so much as a dry crust. His only hope was in
Tournolles, but to reach this place he would have to walk five miles
along the highroad, and he felt so weary that he could hardly drag
himself another yard. His stomach and his pocket were equally empty, but
he started on his way.
It was December and a cold wind blew over the fields and whistled through
the bare branches of the trees; the clouds careered madly across the
black, threatening sky. The cripple dragged himself slowly along, raising
one crutch after the other with a painful effort, propping himself on the
one distorted leg which remained to him.
Now and then he sat down beside a ditch for a few moments' rest. Hunger
was gnawing his vitals, and in his confused, slow-working mind he had
only one idea-to eat-but how this was to be accomplished he did not know.
For three hours he continued his painful journey. Then at last the sight
of the trees of the village inspired him with new energy.
The first peasant he met, and of whom he asked alms, replied:
"So it's you again, is it, you old scamp? Shall I never be rid of you?"
And "Bell" went on his way. At every door he got nothing but hard words.
He made the round of the whole village, but received not a halfpenny for
Then he visited the neighboring farms, toiling through the muddy land, so
exhausted that he could hardly raise his crutches from the ground. He met
with the same reception everywhere. It was one of those cold, bleak days,
when the heart is frozen and the temper irritable, and hands do not open
either to give money or food.
When he had visited all the houses he knew, "Bell" sank down in the
corner of a ditch running across Chiquet's farmyard. Letting his crutches
slip to the ground, he remained motionless, tortured by hunger, but
hardly intelligent enough to realize to the full his unutterable misery.
He awaited he knew not what, possessed with that vague hope which
persists in the human heart in spite of everything. He awaited in the
corner of the farmyard in the biting December wind, some mysterious aid
from Heaven or from men, without the least idea whence it was to arrive.
A number of black hens ran hither and thither, seeking their food in the
earth which supports all living things. Ever now and then they snapped up
in their beaks a grain of corn or a tiny insect; then they continued
their slow, sure search for nutriment.
"Bell" watched them at first without thinking of anything. Then a thought
occurred rather to his stomach than to his mind—the thought that
one of those fowls would be good to eat if it were cooked over a fire of
He did not reflect that he was going to commit a theft. He took up a
stone which lay within reach, and, being of skillful aim, killed at the
first shot the fowl nearest to him. The bird fell on its side, flapping
its wings. The others fled wildly hither and thither, and "Bell," picking
up his crutches, limped across to where his victim lay.
Just as he reached the little black body with its crimsoned head he
received a violent blow in his back which made him let go his hold of his
crutches and sent him flying ten paces distant. And Farmer Chiquet,
beside himself with rage, cuffed and kicked the marauder with all the
fury of a plundered peasant as "Bell" lay defenceless before him.
The farm hands came up also and joined their master in cuffing the lame
beggar. Then when they were tired of beating him they carried him off and
shut him up in the woodshed, while they went to fetch the police.
"Bell," half dead, bleeding and perishing with hunger, lay on the floor.
Evening came—then night—then dawn. And still he had not
About midday the police arrived. They opened the door of the woodshed
with the utmost precaution, fearing resistance on the beggar's part, for
Farmer Chiquet asserted that he had been attacked by him and had had
great, difficulty in defending himself.
The sergeant cried:
"Come, get up!"
But "Bell" could not move. He did his best to raise himself on his
crutches, but without success. The police, thinking his weakness feigned,
pulled him up by main force and set him between the crutches.
Fear seized him—his native fear of a uniform, the fear of the game
in presence of the sportsman, the fear of a mouse for a cat-and by the
exercise of almost superhuman effort he succeeded in remaining upright.
"Forward!" said the sergeant. He walked. All the inmates of the farm
watched his departure. The women shook their fists at him the men scoffed
at and insulted him. He was taken at last! Good riddance! He went off
between his two guards. He mustered sufficient energy—the energy of
despair—to drag himself along until the evening, too dazed to know
what was happening to him, too frightened to understand.
People whom he met on the road stopped to watch him go by and peasants
"It's some thief or other."
Toward evening he reached the country town. He had never been so far
before. He did not realize in the least what he was there for or what was
to become of him. All the terrible and unexpected events of the last two
days, all these unfamiliar faces and houses struck dismay into his heart.
He said not a word, having nothing to say because he understood nothing.
Besides, he had spoken to no one for so many years past that he had
almost lost the use of his tongue, and his thoughts were too
indeterminate to be put into words.
He was shut up in the town jail. It did not occur to the police that he
might need food, and he was left alone until the following day. But when
in the early morning they came to examine him he was found dead on the
floor. Such an astonishing thing!
Old Lecacheur appeared at the door of his house between five and a
quarter past five in the morning, his usual hour, to watch his men going
He was only half awake, his face was red, and with his right eye open and
the left nearly closed, he was buttoning his braces over his fat stomach
with some difficulty, at the same time looking into every corner of the
farmyard with a searching glance. The sun darted its oblique rays through
the beech trees by the side of the ditch and athwart the apple trees
outside, and was making the cocks crow on the dunghill, and the pigeons
coo on the roof. The smell of the cow stable came through the open door,
and blended in the fresh morning air with the pungent odor of the stable,
where the horses were neighing, with their heads turned toward the light.
As soon as his trousers were properly fastened, Lecacheur came out, and
went, first of all, toward the hen house to count the morning's eggs, for
he had been afraid of thefts for some time; but the servant girl ran up
to him with lifted arms and cried:
"Master! master! they have stolen a rabbit during the night."
"Yes, master, the big gray rabbit, from the hutch on the left"; whereupon
the farmer completely opened his left eye, and said, simply:
"I must see about that."
And off he went to inspect it. The hutch had been broken open and the
rabbit was gone. Then he became thoughtful, closed his right eye again,
and scratched his nose, and after a little consideration, he said to the
frightened girl, who was standing stupidly before her master:
"Go and fetch the gendarmes; say I expect them as soon as possible."
Lecacheur was mayor of the village, Pavigny-le-Gras, and ruled it like a
master, on account of his money and position, and as soon as the servant
had disappeared in the direction of the village, which was only about
five hundred yards off, he went into the house to have his morning coffee
and to discuss the matter with his wife, whom he found on her knees in
front of the fire, trying to make it burn quickly, and as soon as he got
to the door, he said:
"Somebody has stolen the gray rabbit."
She turned round so suddenly that she found herself sitting on the floor,
and looking at her husband with distressed eyes, she said:
"What is it, Cacheux? Somebody has stolen a rabbit?"
"The big gray one."
"What a shame! Who can have done it?"
She was a little, thin, active, neat woman, who knew all about farming.
Lecacheur had his own ideas about the matter.
"It must be that fellow, Polyte."
His wife got up suddenly and said in a furious voice:
"He did it! he did it! You need not look for any one else. He did it! You
have said it, Cacheux!"
All her peasant's fury, all her avarice, all her rage of a saving woman
against the man of whom she had always been suspicious, and against the
girl whom she had always suspected, showed themselves in the contraction
of her mouth, and the wrinkles in the cheeks and forehead of her thin,
"And what have you done?" she asked.
"I have sent for the gendarmes."
This Polyte was a laborer, who had been employed on the farm for a few
days, and who had been dismissed by Lecacheur for an insolent answer. He
was an old soldier, and was supposed to have retained his habits of
marauding and debauchery front his campaigns in Africa. He did anything
for a livelihood, but whether he were a mason, a navvy, a reaper, whether
he broke stones or lopped trees, he was always lazy, and so he remained
nowhere for long, and had, at times, to change his neighborhood to obtain
From the first day that he came to the farm, Lecacheur's wife had
detested him, and now she was sure that he had committed the theft.
In about half an hour the two gendarmes arrived. Brigadier Senateur was
very tall and thin, and Gendarme Lenient short and fat. Lecacheur made
them sit down, and told them the affair, and then they went and saw the
scene of the theft, in order to verify the fact that the hutch had been
broken open, and to collect all the proofs they could. When they got back
to the kitchen, the mistress brought in some wine, filled their glasses,
and asked with a distrustful look:
"Shall you catch him?"
The brigadier, who had his sword between his legs, appeared thoughtful.
Certainly, he was sure of taking him, if he was pointed out to him, but
if not, he could not answer for being able to discover him, himself, and
after reflecting for a long time, he put this simple question:
"Do you know the thief?"
And Lecacheur replied, with a look of Normandy slyness in his eyes:
"As for knowing him, I do not, as I did not see him commit the theft. If
I had seen him, I should have made him eat it raw, skin and flesh,
without a drop of cider to wash it down. But as for saying who it is, I
cannot, although I believe it is that good-for-nothing Polyte."
Then he related at length his troubles with Polyte, his leaving his
service, his bad reputation, things which had been told him, accumulating
insignificant and minute proofs, and then, the brigadier, who had been
listening very attentively while he emptied his glass and filled it again
with an indifferent air, turned to his gendarme and said:
"We must go and look in the cottage of Severin's wife." At which the
gendarme smiled and nodded three times.
Then Madame Lecacheur came to them, and very quietly, with all a
peasant's cunning, questioned the brigadier in her turn. That shepherd
Severin, a simpleton, a sort of brute who had been brought up and had
grown up among his bleating flocks, and who knew scarcely anything
besides them in the world, had nevertheless preserved the peasant's
instinct for saving, at the bottom of his heart. For years and years he
must have hidden in hollow trees and crevices in the rocks all that he
earned, either as a shepherd or by curing animals' sprains—for the
bonesetter's secret had been handed down to him by the old shepherd whose
place he took-by touch or word, and one day he bought a small property,
consisting of a cottage and a field, for three thousand francs.
A few months later it became known that he was going to marry a servant,
notorious for her bad morals, the innkeeper's servant. The young fellows
said that the girl, knowing that he was pretty well off, had been to his
cottage every night, and had taken him, captured him, led him on to
matrimony, little by little night by night.
And then, having been to the mayor's office and to church, she now lived
in the house which her man had bought, while he continued to tend his
flocks, day and night, on the plains.
And the brigadier added:
"Polyte has been sleeping there for three weeks, for the thief has no
place of his own to go to!"
The gendarme made a little joke:
"He takes the shepherd's blankets."
Madame Lecacheur, who was seized by a fresh access of rage, of rage
increased by a married woman's anger against debauchery, exclaimed:
"It is she, I am sure. Go there. Ah, the blackguard thieves!"
But the brigadier was quite unmoved.
"One minute," he said. "Let us wait until twelve o'clock, as he goes and
dines there every day. I shall catch them with it under their noses."
The gendarme smiled, pleased at his chief's idea, and Lecacheur also
smiled now, for the affair of the shepherd struck him as very funny;
deceived husbands are always a joke.
Twelve o'clock had just struck when the brigadier, followed by his man,
knocked gently three times at the door of a little lonely house, situated
at the corner of a wood, five hundred yards from the village.
They had been standing close against the wall, so as not to be seen from
within, and they waited. As nobody answered, the brigadier knocked again
in a minute or two. It was so quiet that the house seemed uninhabited;
but Lenient, the gendarme, who had very quick ears, said that he heard
somebody moving about inside, and then Senateur got angry. He would not
allow any one to resist the authority of the law for a moment, and,
knocking at the door with the hilt of his sword, he cried out:
"Open the door, in the name of the law."
As this order had no effect, he roared out:
"If you do not obey, I shall smash the lock. I am the brigadier of the
gendarmerie, by G—! Here, Lenient."
He had not finished speaking when the door opened and Senateur saw before
him a fat girl, with a very red, blowzy face, with drooping breasts, a
big stomach and broad hips, a sort of animal, the wife of the shepherd
Severin, and he went into the cottage.
"I have come to pay you a visit, as I want to make a little search," he
said, and he looked about him. On the table there was a plate, a jug of
cider and a glass half full, which proved that a meal was in progress.
Two knives were lying side by side, and the shrewd gendarme winked at his
"It smells good," the latter said.
"One might swear that it was stewed rabbit," Lenient added, much amused.
"Will you have a glass of brandy?" the peasant woman asked.
"No, thank you; I only want the skin of the rabbit that you are eating."
She pretended not to understand, but she was trembling.
The brigadier had taken a seat, and was calmly wiping his forehead.
"Come, come, you are not going to try and make us believe that you live
on couch grass. What were you eating there all by yourself for your
"I? Nothing whatever, I swear to you. A mite of butter on my bread."
"You are a novice, my good woman. A mite of butter on your bread. You are
mistaken; you ought to have said: a mite of butter on the rabbit. By
G—, your butter smells good! It is special butter, extra good
butter, butter fit for a wedding; certainly, not household butter!"
The gendarme was shaking with laughter, and repeated:
"Not household butter certainly."
As Brigadier Senateur was a joker, all the gendarmes had grown facetious,
and the officer continued:
"Where is your butter?"
"Yes, your butter."
"In the jar."
"Then where is the butter jar?"
"Here it is."
She brought out an old cup, at the bottom of which there was a layer of
rancid salt butter, and the brigadier smelled of it, and said, with a
shake of his head:
"It is not the same. I want the butter that smells of the rabbit. Come,
Lenient, open your eyes; look under the sideboard, my good fellow, and I
will look under the bed."
Having shut the door, he went up to the bed and tried to move it; but it
was fixed to the wall, and had not been moved for more than half a
century, apparently. Then the brigadier stooped, and made his uniform
crack. A button had flown off.
"Lenient," he said.
"Come here, my lad, and look under the bed; I am too tall. I will look
after the sideboard."
He got up and waited while his man executed his orders.
Lenient, who was short and stout, took off his kepi, laid himself on his
stomach, and, putting his face on the floor, looked at the black cavity
under the bed, and then, suddenly, he exclaimed:
"All right, here we are!"
"What have you got? The rabbit?"
"No, the thief."
"The thief! Pull him out, pull him out!"
The gendarme had put his arms under the bed and laid hold of something,
and he was pulling with all his might, and at last a foot, shod in a
thick boot, appeared, which he was holding in his right hand. The
brigadier took it, crying:
And Lenient, who was on his knees by that time, was pulling at the other
leg. But it was a hard job, for the prisoner kicked out hard, and arched
up his back under the bed.
"Courage! courage! pull! pull!" Senateur cried, and they pulled him with
all their strength, so that the wooden slat gave way, and he came out as
far as his head; but at last they got that out also, and they saw the
terrified and furious face of Polyte, whose arms remained stretched out
under the bed.
"Pull away!" the brigadier kept on exclaiming. Then they heard a strange
noise, and as the arms followed the shoulders, and the hands the arms,
they saw in the hands the handle of a saucepan, and at the end of the
handle the saucepan itself, which contained stewed rabbit.
"Good Lord! good Lord!" the brigadier shouted in his delight, while
Lenient took charge of the man; the rabbit's skin, an overwhelming proof,
was discovered under the mattress, and then the gendarmes returned in
triumph to the village with their prisoner and their booty.
A week later, as the affair had made much stir, Lecacheur, on going into
the mairie to consult the schoolmaster, was told that the shepherd
Severin had been waiting for him for more than an hour, and he found him
sitting on a chair in a corner, with his stick between his legs. When he
saw the mayor, he got up, took off his cap, and said:
"Good-morning, Maitre Cacheux"; and then he remained standing, timid and
"What do you want?" the former said.
"This is it, monsieur. Is it true that somebody stole one of your rabbits
"Yes, it is quite true, Severin."
"Who stole the rabbit?"
"Polyte Ancas, the laborer."
"Right! right! And is it also true that it was found under my bed?"
"What do you mean, the rabbit?"
"The rabbit and then Polyte."
"Yes, my poor Severin, quite true, but who told you?"
"Pretty well everybody. I understand! And I suppose you know all about
marriages, as you marry people?"
"What about marriage?"
"With regard to one's rights."
"The husband's rights and then the wife's rights."
"Of course I do."
"Oh! Then just tell me, M'sieu Cacheux, has my wife the right to go to
bed with Polyte?"
"What, to go to bed with Polyte?"
"Yes, has she any right before the law, and, seeing that she is my wife,
to go to bed with Polyte?"
"Why, of course not, of course not."
"If I catch him there again, shall I have the right to thrash him and her
"Very well, then; I will tell you why I want to know. One night last
week, as I had my suspicions, I came in suddenly, and they were not
behaving properly. I chucked Polyte out, to go and sleep somewhere else;
but that was all, as I did not know what my rights were. This time I did
not see them; I only heard of it from others. That is over, and we will
not say any more about it; but if I catch them again—by G—,
if I catch them again, I will make them lose all taste for such nonsense,
Maitre Cacheux, as sure as my name is Severin."
When M. Antoine Leuillet married the widow, Madame Mathilde Souris, he
had already been in love with her for ten years.
M. Souris has been his friend, his old college chum. Leuillet was very
much attached to him, but thought he was somewhat of a simpleton. He
would often remark: "That poor Souris who will never set the world on
When Souris married Miss Mathilde Duval, Leuillet was astonished and
somewhat annoyed, as he was slightly devoted to her, himself. She was the
daughter of a neighbor, a former proprietor of a draper's establishment
who had retired with quite a small fortune. She married Souris for his
Then Leuillet thought he would start a flirtation with his friend's wife.
He was a good-looking man, intelligent and also rich. He thought it would
be all plain sailing, but he was mistaken. Then he really began to admire
her with an admiration that his friendship for the husband obliged him to
keep within the bounds of discretion, making him timid and embarrassed.
Madame Souris believing that his presumptions had received a wholesome
check now treated him as a good friend. This went on for nine years.
One morning a messenger brought Leuillet a distracted note from the poor
woman. Souris had just died suddenly from the rupture of an aneurism. He
was dreadfully shocked, for they were just the same age. But almost
immediately a feeling of profound joy, of intense relief, of emancipation
filled his being. Madame Souris was free.
He managed, however, to assume the sad, sympathetic expression that was
appropriate, waited the required time, observed all social appearances.
At the end of fifteen months he married the widow.
This was considered to be a very natural, and even a generous action. It
was the act of a good friend of an upright man.
He was happy at last, perfectly happy.
They lived in the most cordial intimacy, having understood and
appreciated each other from the first. They had no secrets from one
another and even confided to each other their most secret thoughts.
Leuillet loved his wife now with a quiet and trustful affection; he loved
her as a tender, devoted companion who is an equal and a confidante. But
there lingered in his mind a strange and inexplicable bitterness towards
the defunct Souris, who had first been the husband of this woman, who had
had the flower of her youth and of her soul, and had even robbed her of
some of her poetry. The memory of the dead husband marred the happiness
of the living husband, and this posthumous jealousy tormented his heart
by day and by night.
The consequence was he talked incessantly of Souris, asked about a
thousand personal and secret minutia, wanted to know all about his habits
and his person. And he sneered at him even in his grave, recalling with
self-satisfaction his whims, ridiculing his absurdities, dwelling on his
He would call to his wife all over the house:
"Here I am, dear."
"Come here a moment."
She would come, always smiling, knowing well that he would say something
about Souris and ready to flatter her new husband's inoffensive mania.
"Tell me, do you remember one day how Souris insisted on explaining to me
that little men always commanded more affection than big men?"
And he made some remarks that were disparaging to the deceased, who was a
small man, and decidedly flattering to himself, Leuillet, who was a tall
Mme. Leuillet allowed him to think he was right, quite right, and she
laughed heartily, gently ridiculing her former husband for the sake of
pleasing the present one, who always ended by saying:
"All the same, what a ninny that Souris was!"
They were happy, quite happy, and Leuillet never ceased to show his
devotion to his wife.
One night, however, as they lay awake, Leuillet said as he kissed his
"See here, dearie."
"Was Souris—I don't exactly know how to say it—was Souris
She gave him a kiss for reply and murmured "Not as loving as you are, mon
He was flattered in his self-love and continued:
"He must have been—a ninny—was he not?"
She did not reply. She only smiled slyly and hid her face in her
"He must have been a ninny and not—not—not smart?"
She shook her head slightly to imply, "No—not at all smart."
"He must have been an awful nuisance, eh?"
This time she was frank and replied:
He kissed her again for this avowal and said:
"What a brute he was! You were not happy with him?"
"No," she replied. "It was not always pleasant."
Leuillet was delighted, forming in his mind a comparison, much in his own
favor, between his wife's former and present position. He was silent for
a time, and then with a burst of laughter he asked:
"Will you be frank, very frank with me?"
"Why yes, my dear."
"Well then, tell me truly did you never feel tempted to—to—to
deceive that imbecile Souris?"
Mme. Leuillet said: "Oh!" pretending to be shocked and hid her face again
on her husband's shoulder. But he saw that she was laughing.
"Come now, own up," he persisted. "He looked like a ninny, that creature!
It would be funny, so funny! Good old Souris! Come, come, dearie, you do
not mind telling me, me, of all people."
He insisted on the "me" thinking that if she had wished to deceive Souris
she would have chosen him, and he was trembling in anticipation of her
avowal, sure that if she had not been a virtuous woman she would have
encouraged his own attentions.
But she did not answer, laughing still, as at the recollection of
something exceedingly comical.
Leuillet, in his turn began to laugh, thinking he might have been the
lucky man, and he muttered amid his mirth: "That poor Souris, that poor
Souris, oh, yes, he looked like a fool!"
Mme. Leuillet was almost in spasms of laughter.
"Come, confess, be frank. You know I will not mind."
Then she stammered out, almost choking with laughter: "Yes, yes."
"Yes, what?" insisted her husband. "Come, tell all."
She was quieter now and putting her mouth to her husband's ear, she
whispered: "Yes, I did deceive him."
He felt a chill run down his back and to his very bones, and he stammered
out, dumfounded: "You—you—deceived him—criminally?"
She still thought he was amused and replied: "Yes—yes, absolutely."
He was obliged to sit up to recover his breath, he was so shocked and
upset at what he had heard.
She had become serious, understanding too late what she had done.
"With whom?" said Leuillet at length.
She was silent seeking some excuse.
"A young man," she replied at length.
He turned suddenly toward her and said drily:
"I did not suppose it was the cook. I want to know what young man, do you
She did not answer.
He snatched the covers from her face, repeating:
"I want to know what young man, do you hear?"
Then she said sorrowfully: "I was only in fun." But he was trembling with
rage. "What? How? You were only in fun? You were making fun of me, then?
But I am not satisfied, do you hear? I want the name of the young man!"
She did not reply, but lay there motionless.
He took her by the arm and squeezed it, saying: "Do you understand me,
finally? I wish you to reply when I speak to you."
"I think you are going crazy," she said nervously, "let me alone!"
He was wild with rage, not knowing what to say, exasperated, and he shook
her with all his might, repeating:
"Do you hear me, do you hear me?"
She made an abrupt effort to disengage herself and the tips of her
fingers touched her husband's nose. He was furious, thinking she had
tried to hit him, and he sprang upon her holding her down; and boxing her
ears with all his might, he cried: "Take that, and that, there, there,
When he was out of breath and exhausted, he rose and went toward the
dressing table to prepare a glass of eau sucree with orange flower, for
he felt as if he should faint.
She was weeping in bed, sobbing bitterly, for she felt as if her
happiness was over, through her own fault.
Then, amidst her tears, she stammered out:
"Listen, Antoine, come here, I told you a lie, you will understand,
And prepared to defend herself now, armed with excuses and artifice, she
raised her disheveled head with its nightcap all awry.
Turning toward her, he approached, ashamed of having struck her, but
feeling in the bottom of his heart as a husband, a relentless hatred
toward this woman who had deceived the former husband, Souris.
MY UNCLE JULES
A white-haired old man begged us for alms. My companion, Joseph
Davranche, gave him five francs. Noticing my surprised look, he said:
"That poor unfortunate reminds me of a story which I shall tell you, the
memory of which continually pursues me. Here it is:
"My family, which came originally from Havre, was not rich. We just
managed to make both ends meet. My father worked hard, came home late
from the office, and earned very little. I had two sisters.
"My mother suffered a good deal from our reduced circumstances, and she
often had harsh words for her husband, veiled and sly reproaches. The
poor man then made a gesture which used to distress me. He would pass his
open hand over his forehead, as if to wipe away perspiration which did
not exist, and he would answer nothing. I felt his helpless suffering. We
economized on everything, and never would accept an invitation to dinner,
so as not to have to return the courtesy. All our provisions were bought
at bargain sales. My sisters made their own gowns, and long discussions
would arise on the price of a piece of braid worth fifteen centimes a
yard. Our meals usually consisted of soup and beef, prepared with every
kind of sauce.
"They say it is wholesome and nourishing, but I should have preferred a
"I used to go through terrible scenes on account of lost buttons and torn
"Every Sunday, dressed in our best, we would take our walk along the
breakwater. My father, in a frock coat, high hat and kid gloves, would
offer his arm to my mother, decked out and beribboned like a ship on a
holiday. My sisters, who were always ready first, would await the signal
for leaving; but at the last minute some one always found a spot on my
father's frock coat, and it had to be wiped away quickly with a rag
moistened with benzine.
"My father, in his shirt sleeves, his silk hat on his head, would await
the completion of the operation, while my mother, putting on her
spectacles, and taking off her gloves in order not to spoil them, would
"Then we set out ceremoniously. My sisters marched on ahead, arm in arm.
They were of marriageable age and had to be displayed. I walked on the
left of my mother and my father on her right. I remember the pompous air
of my poor parents in these Sunday walks, their stern expression, their
stiff walk. They moved slowly, with a serious expression, their bodies
straight, their legs stiff, as if something of extreme importance
depended upon their appearance.
"Every Sunday, when the big steamers were returning from unknown and
distant countries, my father would invariably utter the same words:
"'What a surprise it would be if Jules were on that one! Eh?'
"My Uncle Jules, my father's brother, was the only hope of the family,
after being its only fear. I had heard about him since childhood, and it
seemed to me that I should recognize him immediately, knowing as much
about him as I did. I knew every detail of his life up to the day of his
departure for America, although this period of his life was spoken of
only in hushed tones.
"It seems that he had led a bad life, that is to say, he had squandered a
little money, which action, in a poor family, is one of the greatest
crimes. With rich people a man who amuses himself only sows his wild
oats. He is what is generally called a sport. But among needy families a
boy who forces his parents to break into the capital becomes a
good-for-nothing, a rascal, a scamp. And this distinction is just,
although the action be the same, for consequences alone determine the
seriousness of the act.
"Well, Uncle Jules had visibly diminished the inheritance on which my
father had counted, after he had swallowed his own to the last penny.
Then, according to the custom of the times, he had been shipped off to
America on a freighter going from Havre to New York.
"Once there, my uncle began to sell something or other, and he soon wrote
that he was making a little money and that he soon hoped to be able to
indemnify my father for the harm he had done him. This letter caused a
profound emotion in the family. Jules, who up to that time had not been
worth his salt, suddenly became a good man, a kind-hearted fellow, true
and honest like all the Davranches.
"One of the captains told us that he had rented a large shop and was
doing an important business.
"Two years later a second letter came, saying: 'My dear Philippe, I am
writing to tell you not to worry about my health, which is excellent.
Business is good. I leave to-morrow for a long trip to South America. I
may be away for several years without sending you any news. If I
shouldn't write, don't worry. When my fortune is made I shall return to
Havre. I hope that it will not be too long and that we shall all live
happily together . . . .'
"This letter became the gospel of the family. It was read on the
slightest provocation, and it was shown to everybody.
"For ten years nothing was heard from Uncle Jules; but as time went on my
father's hope grew, and my mother, also, often said:
"'When that good Jules is here, our position will be different. There is
one who knew how to get along!'
"And every Sunday, while watching the big steamers approaching from the
horizon, pouring out a stream of smoke, my father would repeat his
"'What a surprise it would be if Jules were on that one! Eh?'
"We almost expected to see him waving his handkerchief and crying:
"Thousands of schemes had been planned on the strength of this expected
return; we were even to buy a little house with my uncle's money—a
little place in the country near Ingouville. In fact, I wouldn't swear
that my father had not already begun negotiations.
"The elder of my sisters was then twenty-eight, the other twenty-six.
They were not yet married, and that was a great grief to every one.
"At last a suitor presented himself for the younger one. He was a clerk,
not rich, but honorable. I have always been morally certain that Uncle
Jules' letter, which was shown him one evening, had swept away the young
man's hesitation and definitely decided him.
"He was accepted eagerly, and it was decided that after the wedding the
whole family should take a trip to Jersey.
"Jersey is the ideal trip for poor people. It is not far; one crosses a
strip of sea in a steamer and lands on foreign soil, as this little
island belongs to England. Thus, a Frenchman, with a two hours' sail, can
observe a neighboring people at home and study their customs.
"This trip to Jersey completely absorbed our ideas, was our sole
anticipation, the constant thought of our minds.
"At last we left. I see it as plainly as if it had happened yesterday.
The boat was getting up steam against the quay at Granville; my father,
bewildered, was superintending the loading of our three pieces of
baggage; my mother, nervous, had taken the arm of my unmarried sister,
who seemed lost since the departure of the other one, like the last
chicken of a brood; behind us came the bride and groom, who always stayed
behind, a thing that often made me turn round.
"The whistle sounded. We got on board, and the vessel, leaving the
breakwater, forged ahead through a sea as flat as a marble table. We
watched the coast disappear in the distance, happy and proud, like all
who do not travel much.
"My father was swelling out his chest in the breeze, beneath his frock
coat, which had that morning been very carefully cleaned; and he spread
around him that odor of benzine which always made me recognize Sunday.
Suddenly he noticed two elegantly dressed ladies to whom two gentlemen
were offering oysters. An old, ragged sailor was opening them with his
knife and passing them to the gentlemen, who would then offer them to the
ladies. They ate them in a dainty manner, holding the shell on a fine
handkerchief and advancing their mouths a little in order not to spot
their dresses. Then they would drink the liquid with a rapid little
motion and throw the shell overboard.
"My father was probably pleased with this delicate manner of eating
oysters on a moving ship. He considered it good form, refined, and, going
up to my mother and sisters, he asked:
"'Would you like me to offer you some oysters?'
"My mother hesitated on account of the expense, but my two sisters
immediately accepted. My mother said in a provoked manner:
"'I am afraid that they will hurt my stomach. Offer the children some,
but not too much, it would make them sick.' Then, turning toward me, she
"'As for Joseph, he doesn't need any. Boys shouldn't be spoiled.'
"However, I remained beside my mother, finding this discrimination
unjust. I watched my father as he pompously conducted my two sisters and
his son-in-law toward the ragged old sailor.
"The two ladies had just left, and my father showed my sisters how to eat
them without spilling the liquor. He even tried to give them an example,
and seized an oyster. He attempted to imitate the ladies, and immediately
spilled all the liquid over his coat. I heard my mother mutter:
"'He would do far better to keep quiet.'
"But, suddenly, my father appeared to be worried; he retreated a few
steps, stared at his family gathered around the old shell opener, and
quickly came toward us. He seemed very pale, with a peculiar look. In a
low voice he said to my mother:
"'It's extraordinary how that man opening the oysters looks like Jules.'
"Astonished, my mother asked:
"My father continued:
"'Why, my brother. If I did not know that he was well off in America, I
should think it was he.'
"Bewildered, my mother stammered:
"'You are crazy! As long as you know that it is not he, why do you say
such foolish things?'
"But my father insisted:
"'Go on over and see, Clarisse! I would rather have you see with your own
"She arose and walked to her daughters. I, too, was watching the man. He
was old, dirty, wrinkled, and did not lift his eyes from his work.
"My mother returned. I noticed that she was trembling. She exclaimed
"'I believe that it is he. Why don't you ask the captain? But be very
careful that we don't have this rogue on our hands again!'
"My father walked away, but I followed him. I felt strangely moved.
"The captain, a tall, thin man, with blond whiskers, was walking along
the bridge with an important air as if he were commanding the Indian mail
"My father addressed him ceremoniously, and questioned him about his
profession, adding many compliments:
"'What might be the importance of Jersey? What did it produce? What was
the population? The customs? The nature of the soil?' etc., etc.
"'You have there an old shell opener who seems quite interesting. Do you
know anything about him?'
"The captain, whom this conversation began to weary, answered dryly:
"'He is some old French tramp whom I found last year in America, and I
brought him back. It seems that he has some relatives in Havre, but that
he doesn't wish to return to them because he owes them money. His name is
Jules—Jules Darmanche or Darvanche or something like that. It seems
that he was once rich over there, but you can see what's left of him
"My father turned ashy pale and muttered, his throat contracted, his eyes
"'Ah! ah! very well, very well. I'm not in the least surprised. Thank you
very much, captain.'
"He went away, and the astonished sailor watched him disappear. He
returned to my mother so upset that she said to him:
"'Sit down; some one will notice that something is the matter.'
"He sank down on a bench and stammered:
"'It's he! It's he!'
"Then he asked:
"'What are we going to do?'
"She answered quickly:
"'We must get the children out of the way. Since Joseph knows everything,
he can go and get them. We must take good care that our son-in-law
doesn't find out.'
"My father seemed absolutely bewildered. He murmured:
"'What a catastrophe!'
"Suddenly growing furious, my mother exclaimed:
"'I always thought that that thief never would do anything, and that he
would drop down on us again! As if one could expect anything from a
"My father passed his hand over his forehead, as he always did when his
wife reproached him. She added:
"'Give Joseph some money so that he can pay for the oysters. All that it
needed to cap the climax would be to be recognized by that beggar. That
would be very pleasant! Let's get down to the other end of the boat, and
take care that that man doesn't come near us!'
"They gave me five francs and walked away.
"Astonished, my sisters were awaiting their father. I said that mamma had
felt a sudden attack of sea-sickness, and I asked the shell opener:
"'How much do we owe you, monsieur?'
"I felt like laughing: he was my uncle! He answered:
"'Two francs fifty.'
"I held out my five francs and he returned the change. I looked at his
hand; it was a poor, wrinkled, sailor's hand, and I looked at his face,
an unhappy old face. I said to myself:
"'That is my uncle, the brother of my father, my uncle!'
"I gave him a ten-cent tip. He thanked me:
"'God bless you, my young sir!'
"He spoke like a poor man receiving alms. I couldn't help thinking that
he must have begged over there! My sisters looked at me, surprised at my
generosity. When I returned the two francs to my father, my mother asked
me in surprise:
"'Was there three francs' worth? That is impossible.'
"I answered in a firm voice
"'I gave ten cents as a tip.'
"My mother started, and, staring at me, she exclaimed:
"'You must be crazy! Give ten cents to that man, to that vagabond—'
"She stopped at a look from my father, who was pointing at his
son-in-law. Then everybody was silent.
"Before us, on the distant horizon, a purple shadow seemed to rise out of
the sea. It was Jersey.
"As we approached the breakwater a violent desire seized me once more to
see my Uncle Jules, to be near him, to say to him something consoling,
something tender. But as no one was eating any more oysters, he had
disappeared, having probably gone below to the dirty hold which was the
home of the poor wretch."
Curving like a crescent moon, the little town of Etretat, with its white
cliffs, its white, shingly beach and its blue sea, lay in the sunlight at
high noon one July day. At either extremity of this crescent its two
"gates," the smaller to the right, the larger one at the left, stretched
forth—one a dwarf and the other a colossal limb—into the
water, and the bell tower, almost as tall as the cliff, wide below,
narrowing at the top, raised its pointed summit to the sky.
On the sands beside the water a crowd was seated watching the bathers. On
the terrace of, the Casino another crowd, seated or walking, displayed
beneath the brilliant sky a perfect flower patch of bright costumes, with
red and blue parasols embroidered with large flowers in silk.
On the walk at the end of the terrace, other persons, the restful, quiet
ones, were walking slowly, far from the dressy throng.
A young man, well known and celebrated as a painter, Jean Sumner, was
walking with a dejected air beside a wheeled chair in which sat a young
woman, his wife. A manservant was gently pushing the chair, and the
crippled woman was gazing sadly at the brightness of the sky, the
gladness of the day, and the happiness of others.
They did not speak. They did not look at each other.
"Let us stop a while," said the young woman.
They stopped, and the painter sat down on a camp stool that the servant
Those who were passing behind the silent and motionless couple looked at
them compassionately. A whole legend of devotion was attached to them. He
had married her in spite of her infirmity, touched by her affection for
him, it was said.
Not far from there, two young men were chatting, seated on a bench and
looking out into the horizon.
"No, it is not true; I tell you that I am well acquainted with Jean
"But then, why did he marry her? For she was a cripple when she married,
was she not?"
"Just so. He married her—he married her—just as every one
marries, parbleu! because he was an idiot!"
"But why—but why, my friend? There is no why. People do stupid
things just because they do stupid things. And, besides, you know very
well that painters make a specialty of foolish marriages. They almost
always marry models, former sweethearts, in fact, women of doubtful
reputation, frequently. Why do they do this? Who can say? One would
suppose that constant association with the general run of models would
disgust them forever with that class of women. Not at all. After having
posed them they marry them. Read that little book, so true, so cruel and
so beautiful, by Alphonse Daudet: 'Artists' Wives.'
"In the case of the couple you see over there the accident occurred in a
special and terrible manner. The little woman played a frightful comedy,
or, rather, tragedy. She risked all to win all. Was she sincere? Did she
love Jean? Shall we ever know? Who is able to determine precisely how
much is put on and how much is real in the actions of a woman? They are
always sincere in an eternal mobility of impressions. They are furious,
criminal, devoted, admirable and base in obedience to intangible
emotions. They tell lies incessantly without intention, without knowing
or understanding why, and in spite of it all are absolutely frank in
their feelings and sentiments, which they display by violent, unexpected,
incomprehensible, foolish resolutions which overthrow our arguments, our
customary poise and all our selfish plans. The unforeseenness and
suddenness of their determinations will always render them undecipherable
enigmas as far as we are concerned. We continually ask ourselves:
"'Are they sincere? Are they pretending?'
"But, my friend, they are sincere and insincere at one and the same time,
because it is their nature to be extremists in both and to be neither one
nor the other.
"See the methods that even the best of them employ to get what they
desire. They are complex and simple, these methods. So complex that we
can never guess at them beforehand, and so simple that after having been
victimized we cannot help being astonished and exclaiming: 'What! Did she
make a fool of me so easily as that?'
"And they always succeed, old man, especially when it is a question of
"But this is Sumner's story:
"The little woman was a model, of course. She posed for him. She was
pretty, very stylish-looking, and had a divine figure, it seems. He
fancied that he loved her with his whole soul. That is another strange
thing. As soon as one likes a woman one sincerely believes that they
could not get along without her for the rest of their life. One knows
that one has felt the same way before and that disgust invariably
succeeded gratification; that in order to pass one's existence side by
side with another there must be not a brutal, physical passion which soon
dies out, but a sympathy of soul, temperament and temper. One should know
how to determine in the enchantment to which one is subjected whether it
proceeds from the physical, from a certain sensuous intoxication, or from
a deep spiritual charm.
"Well, he believed himself in love; he made her no end of promises of
fidelity, and was devoted to her.
"She was really attractive, gifted with that fashionable flippancy that
little Parisians so readily affect. She chattered, babbled, made foolish
remarks that sounded witty from the manner in which they were uttered.
She used graceful gesture's which were calculated to attract a painter's
eye. When she raised her arms, when she bent over, when she got into a
carriage, when she held out her hand to you, her gestures were perfect
"For three months Jean never noticed that, in reality, she was like all
"He rented a little house for her for the summer at Andresy.
"I was there one evening when for the first time doubts came into my
"As it was a beautiful evening we thought we would take a stroll along
the bank of the river. The moon poured a flood of light on the trembling
water, scattering yellow gleams along its ripples in the currents and all
along the course of the wide, slow river.
"We strolled along the bank, a little enthused by that vague exaltation
that these dreamy evenings produce in us. We would have liked to
undertake some wonderful task, to love some unknown, deliciously poetic
being. We felt ourselves vibrating with raptures, longings, strange
aspirations. And we were silent, our beings pervaded by the serene and
living coolness of the beautiful night, the coolness of the moonlight,
which seemed to penetrate one's body, permeate it, soothe one's spirit,
fill it with fragrance and steep it in happiness.
"Suddenly Josephine (that is her name) uttered an exclamation:
"'Oh, did you see the big fish that jumped, over there?'
"He replied without looking, without thinking:
"She was angry.
"'No, you did not see it, for your back was turned.'
"'Yes, that's true. It is so delightful that I am not thinking of
"She was silent, but at the end of a minute she felt as if she must say
something and asked:
"'Are you going to Paris to-morrow?'
"'I do not know,' he replied.
"She was annoyed again.
"'Do you think it is very amusing to walk along without speaking? People
talk when they are not stupid.'
"He did not reply. Then, feeling with her woman's instinct that she was
going to make him angry, she began to sing a popular air that had
harassed our ears and our minds for two years:
"'Je regardais en fair.'
"'Please keep quiet.'
"She replied angrily:
"'Why do you wish me to keep quiet?'
"'You spoil the landscape for us!' he said.
"Then followed a scene, a hateful, idiotic scene, with unexpected
reproaches, unsuitable recriminations, then tears. Nothing was left
unsaid. They went back to the house. He had allowed her to talk without
replying, enervated by the beauty of the scene and dumfounded by this
storm of abuse.
"Three months later he strove wildly to free himself from those
invincible and invisible bonds with which such a friendship chains our
lives. She kept him under her influence, tyrannizing over him, making his
life a burden to him. They quarreled continually, vituperating and
finally fighting each other.
"He wanted to break with her at any cost. He sold all his canvases,
borrowed money from his friends, realizing twenty thousand francs (he was
not well known then), and left them for her one morning with a note of
"He came and took refuge with me.
"About three o'clock that afternoon there was a ring at the bell. I went
to the door. A woman sprang toward me, pushed me aside, came in and went
into my atelier. It was she!
"He had risen when he saw her coming.'
"She threw the envelope containing the banknotes at his feet with a truly
noble gesture and said in a quick tone:
"'There's your money. I don't want it!'
"She was very pale, trembling and ready undoubtedly to commit any folly.
As for him, I saw him grow pale also, pale with rage and exasperation,
ready also perhaps to commit any violence.
"'What do you want?'
"'I do not choose to be treated like a common woman. You implored me to
accept you. I asked you for nothing. Keep me with you!'
"He stamped his foot.
"'No, that's a little too much! If you think you are going—'
"I had seized his arm.
"'Keep still, Jean. . . Let me settle it.'
"I went toward her and quietly, little by little, I began to reason with
her, exhausting all the arguments that are used under similar
circumstances. She listened to me, motionless, with a fixed gaze,
obstinate and silent.
"Finally, not knowing what more to say, and seeing that there would be a
scene, I thought of a last resort and said:
"'He loves you still, my dear, but his family want him to marry some one,
and you understand—'
"She gave a start and exclaimed:
"'Ah! Ah! Now I understand:
"And turning toward him, she said:
"'You are—you are going to get married?'
"He replied decidedly" 'Yes.'
"She took a step forward.
"'If you marry, I will kill myself! Do you hear?'
"He shrugged his shoulders and replied:
"'Well, then kill yourself!'
"She stammered out, almost choking with her violent emotion:
"'What do you say? What do you say? What do you say? Say it again!'
"'Well, then kill yourself if you like!'
"With her face almost livid, she replied:
"'Do not dare me! I will throw myself from the window!'
"He began to laugh, walked toward the window, opened it, and bowing with
the gesture of one who desires to let some one else precede him, he said:
"'This is the way. After you!'
"She looked at him for a second with terrible, wild, staring eyes. Then,
taking a run as if she were going to jump a hedge in the country, she
rushed past me and past him, jumped over the sill and disappeared.
"I shall never forget the impression made on me by that open window after
I had seen that body pass through it to fall to the ground. It appeared
to me in a second to be as large as the heavens and as hollow as space.
And I drew back instinctively, not daring to look at it, as though I
feared I might fall out myself.
"Jean, dumfounded, stood motionless.
"They brought the poor girl in with both legs broken. She will never walk
"Jean, wild with remorse and also possibly touched with gratitude, made
up his mind to marry her.
"There you have it, old man."
It was growing dusk. The young woman felt chilly and wanted to go home,
and the servant wheeled the invalid chair in the direction of the
village. The painter walked beside his wife, neither of them having
exchanged a word for an hour.
This story appeared in Le Gaulois, December 17, 1883.
He was a journeyman carpenter, a good workman and a steady fellow,
twenty-seven years old, but, although the eldest son, Jacques Randel had
been forced to live on his family for two months, owing to the general
lack of work. He had walked about seeking work for over a month and had
left his native town, Ville-Avary, in La Manche, because he could find
nothing to do and would no longer deprive his family of the bread they
needed themselves, when he was the strongest of them all. His two sisters
earned but little as charwomen. He went and inquired at the town hall,
and the mayor's secretary told him that he would find work at the Labor
Agency, and so he started, well provided with papers and certificates,
and carrying another pair of shoes, a pair of trousers and a shirt in a
blue handkerchief at the end of his stick.
And he had walked almost without stopping, day and night, along
interminable roads, in sun and rain, without ever reaching that
mysterious country where workmen find work. At first he had the fixed
idea that he must only work as a carpenter, but at every carpenter's shop
where he applied he was told that they had just dismissed men on account
of work being so slack, and, finding himself at the end of his resources,
he made up his mind to undertake any job that he might come across on the
road. And so by turns he was a navvy, stableman, stonecutter; he split
wood, lopped the branches of trees, dug wells, mixed mortar, tied up
fagots, tended goats on a mountain, and all for a few pence, for he only
obtained two or three days' work occasionally by offering himself at a
shamefully low price, in order to tempt the avarice of employers and
And now for a week he had found nothing, and had no money left, and
nothing to eat but a piece of bread, thanks to the charity of some women
from whom he had begged at house doors on the road. It was getting dark,
and Jacques Randel, jaded, his legs failing him, his stomach empty, and
with despair in his heart, was walking barefoot on the grass by the side
of the road, for he was taking care of his last pair of shoes, as the
other pair had already ceased to exist for a long time. It was a
Saturday, toward the end of autumn. The heavy gray clouds were being
driven rapidly through the sky by the gusts of wind which whistled among
the trees, and one felt that it would rain soon. The country was deserted
at that hour on the eve of Sunday. Here and there in the fields there
rose up stacks of wheat straw, like huge yellow mushrooms, and the fields
looked bare, as they had already been sown for the next year.
Randel was hungry, with the hunger of some wild animal, such a hunger as
drives wolves to attack men. Worn out and weakened with fatigue, he took
longer strides, so as not to take so many steps, and with heavy head, the
blood throbbing in his temples, with red eyes and dry mouth, he grasped
his stick tightly in his hand, with a longing to strike the first
passerby who might be going home to supper.
He looked at the sides of the road, imagining he saw potatoes dug up and
lying on the ground before his eyes; if he had found any he would have
gathered some dead wood, made a fire in the ditch and have had a capital
supper off the warm, round vegetables with which he would first of all
have warmed his cold hands. But it was too late in the year, and he would
have to gnaw a raw beetroot which he might pick up in a field as he had
done the day before.
For the last two days he had talked to himself as he quickened his steps
under the influence of his thoughts. He had never thought much hitherto,
as he had given all his mind, all his simple faculties to his mechanical
work. But now fatigue and this desperate search for work which he could
not get, refusals and rebuffs, nights spent in the open air lying on the
grass, long fasting, the contempt which he knew people with a settled
abode felt for a vagabond, and that question which he was continually
asked, "Why do you not remain at home?" distress at not being able to use
his strong arms which he felt so full of vigor, the recollection of the
relations he had left at home and who also had not a penny, filled him by
degrees with rage, which had been accumulating every day, every hour,
every minute, and which now escaped his lips in spite of himself in
short, growling sentences.
As he stumbled over the stones which tripped his bare feet, he grumbled:
"How wretched! how miserable! A set of hogs—to let a man die of
hunger—a carpenter—a set of hogs—not two sous—not two sous—and
now it is raining—a set of hogs!"
He was indignant at the injustice of fate, and cast the blame on men, on
all men, because nature, that great, blind mother, is unjust, cruel and
perfidious, and he repeated through his clenched teeth:
"A set of hogs" as he looked at the thin gray smoke which rose from the
roofs, for it was the dinner hour. And, without considering that there is
another injustice which is human, and which is called robbery and
violence, he felt inclined to go into one of those houses to murder the
inhabitants and to sit down to table in their stead.
He said to himself: "I have no right to live now, as they are letting me
die of hunger, and yet I only ask for work—a set of hogs!" And the
pain in his limbs, the gnawing in his heart rose to his head like
terrible intoxication, and gave rise to this simple thought in his brain:
"I have the right to live because I breathe and because the air is the
common property of everybody. So nobody has the right to leave me without
A fine, thick, icy cold rain was coming down, and he stopped and
murmured: "Oh, misery! Another month of walking before I get home." He
was indeed returning home then, for he saw that he should more easily
find work in his native town, where he was known—and he did not
mind what he did—than on the highroads, where everybody suspected
him. As the carpentering business was not prosperous, he would turn day
laborer, be a mason's hodman, a ditcher, break stones on the road. If he
only earned a franc a day, that would at any rate buy him something to
He tied the remains of his last pocket handkerchief round his neck to
prevent the cold rain from running down his back and chest, but he soon
found that it was penetrating the thin material of which his clothes were
made, and he glanced about him with the agonized look of a man who does
not know where to hide his body and to rest his head, and has no place of
shelter in the whole world.
Night came on and wrapped the country in obscurity, and in the distance,
in a meadow, he saw a dark spot on the grass; it was a cow, and so he got
over the ditch by the roadside and went up to her without exactly knowing
what he was doing. When he got close to her she raised her great head to
him, and he thought: "If I only had a jug I could get a little milk." He
looked at the cow and the cow looked at him and then, suddenly giving her
a kick in the side, he said: "Get up!"
The animal got up slowly, letting her heavy udders bang down. Then the
man lay down on his back between the animal's legs and drank for a long
time, squeezing her warm, swollen teats, which tasted of the cowstall,
with both hands, and he drank as long as she gave any milk. But the icy
rain began to fall more heavily, and he saw no place of shelter on the
whole of that bare plain. He was cold, and he looked at a light which was
shining among the trees in the window of a house.
The cow had lain down again heavily, and he sat down by her side and
stroked her head, grateful for the nourishment she had given him. The
animal's strong, thick breath, which came out of her nostrils like two
jets of steam in the evening air, blew on the workman's face, and he
said: "You are not cold inside there!" He put his hands on her chest and
under her stomach to find some warmth there, and then the idea struck him
that he might pass the night beside that large, warm animal. So he found
a comfortable place and laid his head on her side, and then, as he was
worn out with fatigue, fell asleep immediately.
He woke up, however, several times, with his back or his stomach half
frozen, according as he put one or the other against the animal's flank.
Then he turned over to warm and dry that part of his body which had
remained exposed to the night air, and soon went soundly to sleep again.
The crowing of a cock woke him; the day was breaking, it was no longer
raining, and the sky was bright. The cow was resting with her muzzle on
the ground, and he stooped down, resting on his hands, to kiss those
wide, moist nostrils, and said: "Good-by, my beauty, until next time. You
are a nice animal. Good-by." Then he put on his shoes and went off, and
for two hours walked straight before him, always following the same road,
and then he felt so tired that he sat down on the grass. It was broad
daylight by that time, and the church bells were ringing; men in blue
blouses, women in white caps, some on foot, some in carts, began to pass
along the road, going to the neighboring villages to spend Sunday with
friends or relations.
A stout peasant came in sight, driving before him a score of frightened,
bleating sheep, with the help of an active dog. Randel got up, and
raising his cap, said: "You do not happen to have any work for a man who
is dying of hunger?" But the other, giving an angry look at the vagabond,
replied: "I have no work for fellows whom I meet on the road."
And the carpenter went back and sat down by the side of the ditch again.
He waited there for a long time, watching the country people pass and
looking for a kind, compassionate face before he renewed his request, and
finally selected a man in an overcoat, whose stomach was adorned with a
gold chain. "I have been looking for work," he said, "for the last two
months and cannot find any, and I have not a sou in my pocket." But the
would-be gentleman replied: "You should have read the notice which is
stuck up at the entrance to the village: 'Begging is prohibited within
the boundaries of this parish.' Let me tell you that I am the mayor, and
if you do not get out of here pretty quickly I shall have you arrested."
Randel, who was getting angry, replied: "Have me arrested if you like; I
should prefer it, for, at any rate, I should not die of hunger." And he
went back and sat down by the side of his ditch again, and in about a
quarter of an hour two gendarmes appeared on the road. They were walking
slowly side by side, glittering in the sun with their shining hats, their
yellow accoutrements and their metal buttons, as if to frighten
evildoers, and to put them to flight at a distance. He knew that they
were coming after him, but he did not move, for he was seized with a
sudden desire to defy them, to be arrested by them, and to have his
They came on without appearing to have seen him, walking heavily, with
military step, and balancing themselves as if they were doing the goose
step; and then, suddenly, as they passed him, appearing to have noticed
him, they stopped and looked at him angrily and threateningly, and the
brigadier came up to him and asked: "What are you doing here?" "I am
resting," the man replied calmly. "Where do you come from?" "If I had to
tell you all the places I have been to it would take me more than an
hour." "Where are you going to?" "To Ville-Avary." "Where is that?" "In
La Manche." "Is that where you belong?" "It is." "Why did you leave it?"
"To look for work."
The brigadier turned to his gendarme and said in the angry voice of a man
who is exasperated at last by an oft-repeated trick: "They all say that,
these scamps. I know all about it." And then he continued: "Have you any
papers?" "Yes, I have some." "Give them to me."
Randel took his papers out of his pocket, his certificates, those poor,
worn-out, dirty papers which were falling to pieces, and gave them to the
soldier, who spelled them through, hemming and hawing, and then, having
seen that they were all in order, he gave them back to Randel with the
dissatisfied look of a man whom some one cleverer than himself has
After a few moments' further reflection, he asked him: "Have you any
money on you?" "No." "None whatever?" "None." "Not even a sou?" "Not even
a son!" "How do you live then?" "On what people give me." "Then you beg?"
And Randel answered resolutely: "Yes, when I can."
Then the gendarme said: "I have caught you on the highroad in the act of
vagabondage and begging, without any resources or trade, and so I command
you to come with me." The carpenter got up and said: "Wherever you
please." And, placing himself between the two soldiers, even before he
had received the order to do so, he added: "Well, lock me up; that will
at any rate put a roof over my head when it rains."
And they set off toward the village, the red tiles of which could be seen
through the leafless trees, a quarter of a league off. Service was about
to begin when they went through the village. The square was full of
people, who immediately formed two lines to see the criminal pass. He was
being followed by a crowd of excited children. Male and female peasants
looked at the prisoner between the two gendarmes, with hatred in their
eyes and a longing to throw stones at him, to tear his skin with their
nails, to trample him under their feet. They asked each other whether he
had committed murder or robbery. The butcher, who was an ex-'spahi',
declared that he was a deserter. The tobacconist thought that he
recognized him as the man who had that very morning passed a bad
half-franc piece off on him, and the ironmonger declared that he was the
murderer of Widow Malet, whom the police had been looking for for six
In the municipal court, into which his custodians took him, Randel saw
the mayor again, sitting on the magisterial bench, with the schoolmaster
by his side. "Aha! aha!" the magistrate exclaimed, "so here you are
again, my fine fellow. I told you I should have you locked up. Well,
brigadier, what is he charged with?"
"He is a vagabond without house or home, Monsieur le Maire, without any
resources or money, so he says, who was arrested in the act of begging,
but he is provided with good testimonials, and his papers are all in
"Show me his papers," the mayor said. He took them, read them, reread,
returned them and then said: "Search him." So they searched him, but
found nothing, and the mayor seemed perplexed, and asked the workman:
"What were you doing on the road this morning?" "I was looking for work."
"Work? On the highroad?" "How do you expect me to find any if I hide in
They looked at each other with the hatred of two wild beasts which belong
to different hostile species, and the magistrate continued: "I am going
to have you set at liberty, but do not be brought up before me again." To
which the carpenter replied: "I would rather you locked me up; I have had
enough running about the country." But the magistrate replied severely:
"be silent." And then he said to the two gendarmes: "You will conduct
this man two hundred yards from the village and let him continue his
"At any rate, give me something to eat," the workman said, but the other
grew indignant: "Have we nothing to do but to feed you? Ah! ah! ah! that
is rather too much!" But Randel went on firmly: "If you let me nearly die
of hunger again, you will force me to commit a crime, and then, so much
the worse for you other fat fellows."
The mayor had risen and he repeated: "Take him away immediately or I
shall end by getting angry."
The two gendarmes thereupon seized the carpenter by the arms and dragged
him out. He allowed them to do it without resistance, passed through the
village again and found himself on the highroad once more; and when the
men had accompanied him two hundred yards beyond the village, the
brigadier said: "Now off with you and do not let me catch you about here
again, for if I do, you will know it."
Randel went off without replying or knowing where he was going. He walked
on for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, so stupefied that he no
longer thought of anything. But suddenly, as he was passing a small
house, where the window was half open, the smell of the soup and boiled
meat stopped him suddenly, and hunger, fierce, devouring, maddening
hunger, seized him and almost drove him against the walls of the house
like a wild beast.
He said aloud in a grumbling voice: "In Heaven's name! they must give me
some this time!" And he began to knock at the door vigorously with his
stick, and as no one came he knocked louder and called out: "Hey! hey!
you people in there, open the door!" And then, as nothing stirred, he
went up to the window and pushed it wider open with his hand, and the
close warm air of the kitchen, full of the smell of hot soup, meat and
cabbage, escaped into the cold outer air, and with a bound the carpenter
was in the house. Two places were set at the table, and no doubt the
proprietors of the house, on going to church, had left their dinner on
the fire, their nice Sunday boiled beef and vegetable soup, while there
was a loaf of new bread on the chimney-piece, between two bottles which
Randel seized the bread first of all and broke it with as much violence
as if he were strangling a man, and then he began to eat voraciously,
swallowing great mouthfuls quickly. But almost immediately the smell of
the meat attracted him to the fireplace, and, having taken off the lid of
the saucepan, he plunged a fork into it and brought out a large piece of
beef tied with a string. Then he took more cabbage, carrots and onions
until his plate was full, and, having put it on the table, he sat down
before it, cut the meat into four pieces, and dined as if he had been at
home. When he had eaten nearly all the meat, besides a quantity of
vegetables, he felt thirsty and took one of the bottles off the
Scarcely had he poured the liquor into his glass when he saw it was
brandy. So much the better; it was warming and would instill some fire
into his veins, and that would be all right, after being so cold; and he
drank some. He certainly enjoyed it, for he had grown unaccustomed to it,
and he poured himself out another glassful, which he drank at two gulps.
And then almost immediately he felt quite merry and light-hearted from
the effects of the alcohol, just as if some great happiness filled his
He continued to eat, but more slowly, and dipping his bread into the
soup. His skin had become burning, and especially his forehead, where the
veins were throbbing. But suddenly the church bells began to ring. Mass
was over, and instinct rather than fear, the instinct of prudence, which
guides all beings and makes them clear-sighted in danger, made the
carpenter get up. He put the remains of the loaf into one pocket and the
brandy bottle into the other, and he furtively went to the window and
looked out into the road. It was still deserted, so he jumped out and set
off walking again, but instead of following the highroad he ran across
the fields toward a wood he saw a little way off.
He felt alert, strong, light-hearted, glad of what he had done, and so
nimble that he sprang over the enclosure of the fields at a single bound,
and as soon as he was under the trees he took the bottle out of his
pocket again and began to drink once more, swallowing it down as he
walked, and then his ideas began to get confused, his eyes grew dim, and
his legs as elastic as springs, and he started singing the old popular
"Oh! what joy, what joy it is,
To pick the sweet, wild strawberries."
He was now walking on thick, damp, cool moss, and that soft carpet under
his feet made him feel absurdly inclined to turn head over heels as he
used to do when a child, so he took a run, turned a somersault, got up
and began over again. And between each time he began to sing again:
"Oh! what joy, what joy it is,
To pick the sweet, wild strawberries."
Suddenly he found himself above a deep road, and in the road he saw a
tall girl, a servant, who was returning to the village with two pails of
milk. He watched, stooping down, and with his eyes as bright as those of
a dog who scents a quail, but she saw him raised her head and said: "Was
that you singing like that?" He did not reply, however, but jumped down
into the road, although it was a fall of at least six feet and when she
saw him suddenly standing in front of her, she exclaimed: "Oh! dear, how
you frightened me!"
But he did not hear her, for he was drunk, he was mad, excited by another
requirement which was more imperative than hunger, more feverish than
alcohol; by the irresistible fury of the man who has been deprived of
everything for two months, and who is drunk; who is young, ardent and
inflamed by all the appetites which nature has implanted in the vigorous
flesh of men.
The girl started back from him, frightened at his face, his eyes, his
half-open mouth, his outstretched hands, but he seized her by the
shoulders, and without a word, threw her down in the road.
She let her two pails fall, and they rolled over noisily, and all the
milk was spilt, and then she screamed lustily, but it was of no avail in
that lonely spot.
When she got up the thought of her overturned pails suddenly filled her
with fury, and, taking off one of her wooden sabots, she threw it at the
man to break his head if he did not pay her for her milk.
But he, mistaking the reason of this sudden violent attack, somewhat
sobered, and frightened at what he had done, ran off as fast as he could,
while she threw stones at him, some of which hit him in the back.
He ran for a long time, very long, until he felt more tired than he had
ever been before. His legs were so weak that they could scarcely carry
him; all his ideas were confused, he lost recollection of everything and
could no longer think about anything, and so he sat down at the foot of a
tree, and in five minutes was fast asleep. He was soon awakened, however,
by a rough shake, and, on opening his eyes, he saw two cocked hats of
shiny leather bending over him, and the two gendarmes of the morning, who
were holding him and binding his arms.
"I knew I should catch you again," said the brigadier jeeringly. But
Randel got up without replying. The two men shook him, quite ready to ill
treat him if he made a movement, for he was their prey now. He had become
a jailbird, caught by those hunters of criminals who would not let him go
"Now, start!" the brigadier said, and they set off. It was late
afternoon, and the autumn twilight was setting in over the land, and in
half an hour they reached the village, where every door was open, for the
people had heard what had happened. Peasants and peasant women and girls,
excited with anger, as if every man had been robbed and every woman
attacked, wished to see the wretch brought back, so that they might
overwhelm him with abuse. They hooted him from the first house in the
village until they reached the Hotel de Ville, where the mayor was
waiting for him to be himself avenged on this vagabond, and as soon as he
saw him approaching he cried:
"Ah! my fine fellow! here we are!" And he rubbed his hands, more pleased
than he usually was, and continued: "I said so. I said so, the moment I
saw him in the road."
And then with increased satisfaction:
"Oh, you blackguard! Oh, you dirty blackguard! You will get your twenty
years, my fine fellow!"
THE FISHING HOLE
"Cuts and wounds which caused death." Such was the charge upon which
Leopold Renard, upholsterer, was summoned before the Court of Assizes.
Round him were the principal witnesses, Madame Flameche, widow of the
victim, and Louis Ladureau, cabinetmaker, and Jean Durdent, plumber.
Near the criminal was his wife, dressed in black, an ugly little woman,
who looked like a monkey dressed as a lady.
This is how Renard (Leopold) recounted the drama.
"Good heavens, it is a misfortune of which I was the prime victim all the
time, and with which my will has nothing to do. The facts are their own
commentary, Monsieur le President. I am an honest man, a hard-working
man, an upholsterer, living in the same street for the last sixteen
years, known, liked, respected and esteemed by all, as my neighbors can
testify, even the porter's wife, who is not amiable every day. I am fond
of work, I am fond of saving, I like honest men and respectable
amusements. That is what has ruined me, so much the worse for me; but as
my will had nothing to do with it, I continue to respect myself.
"Every Sunday for the last five years my wife and I have spent the day at
Passy. We get fresh air, and, besides, we are fond of fishing. Oh! we are
as fond of it as we are of little onions. Melie inspired me with that
enthusiasm, the jade, and she is more enthusiastic than I am, the scold,
seeing that all the mischief in this business is her fault, as you will
"I am strong and mild tempered, without a pennyworth of malice in me. But
she! oh! la! la! she looks like nothing; she is short and thin. Very
well, she does more mischief than a weasel. I do not deny that she has
some good qualities; she has some, and very important ones for a man in
business. But her character! Just ask about it in the neighborhood, and
even the porter's wife, who has just sent me about my business—she
will tell you something about it.
"Every day she used to find fault with my mild temper: 'I would not put
up with this! I would not put up with that.' If I had listened to her,
Monsieur le President, I should have had at least three hand-to-hand
fights a month . . . ."
Madame Renard interrupted him: "And for good reasons, too; they laugh
best who laugh last."
He turned toward her frankly: "Well, I can't blame you, since you were
not the cause of it."
Then, facing the President again, he said:
"I will continue. We used to go to Passy every Saturday evening, so as to
begin fishing at daybreak the next morning. It is a habit which has
become second nature with us, as the saying is. Three years ago this
summer I discovered a place, oh! such a spot. Oh, dear, dear! In the
shade, eight feet of water at least and perhaps ten, a hole with cavities
under the bank, a regular nest for fish and a paradise for the fisherman.
I might look upon that fishing hole as my property, Monsieur le
President, as I was its Christopher Columbus. Everybody in the
neighborhood knew it, without making any opposition. They would say:
'That is Renard's place'; and nobody would have gone there, not even
Monsieur Plumeau, who is well known, be it said without any offense, for
poaching on other people's preserves.
"Well, I returned to this place of which I felt certain, just as if I had
owned it. I had scarcely got there on Saturday, when I got into Delila,
with my wife. Delila is my Norwegian boat, which I had built by
Fournaire, and which is light and safe. Well, as I said, we got into the
boat and we were going to set bait, and for setting bait there is none to
be compared with me, and they all know it. You want to know with what I
bait? I cannot answer that question; it has nothing to do with the
accident. I cannot answer; that is my secret. There are more than three
hundred people who have asked me; I have been offered glasses of brandy
and liqueur, fried fish, matelotes, to make me tell. But just go and try
whether the chub will come. Ah! they have tempted my stomach to get at my
secret, my recipe. Only my wife knows, and she will not tell it any more
than I will. Is not that so, Melie?"
The president of the court interrupted him.
"Just get to the facts as soon as you can," and the accused continued: "I
am getting to them, I am getting to them. Well, on Saturday, July 8, we
left by the twenty-five past five train and before dinner we went to set
bait as usual. The weather promised to keep fine and I said to Melie:
'All right for tomorrow.' And she replied: 'If looks like it,' We never
talk more than that together.
"And then we returned to dinner. I was happy and thirsty, and that was
the cause of everything. I said to Melie: 'Look here, Melie, it is fine
weather, suppose I drink a bottle of 'Casque a meche'.' That is a weak
white wine which we have christened so, because if you drink too much of
it it prevents you from sleeping and takes the place of a nightcap. Do
you understand me?
"She replied: 'You can do as you please, but you will be ill again and
will not be able to get up tomorrow.' That was true, sensible and
prudent, clear-sighted, I must confess. Nevertheless I could not resist,
and I drank my bottle. It all came from that.
"Well, I could not sleep. By Jove! it kept me awake till two o'clock in
the morning, and then I went to sleep so soundly that I should not have
heard the angel sounding his trump at the last judgment.
"In short, my wife woke me at six o'clock and I jumped out of bed,
hastily put on my trousers and jersey, washed my face and jumped on board
Delila. But it was too late, for when I arrived at my hole it was already
occupied! Such a thing had never happened to me in three years, and it
made me feel as if I were being robbed under my own eyes. I said to
myself: 'Confound it all! confound it!' And then my wife began to nag at
me. 'Eh! what about your 'Casque a meche'? Get along, you drunkard! Are
you satisfied, you great fool?' I could say nothing, because it was all
true, but I landed all the same near the spot and tried to profit by what
was left. Perhaps after all the fellow might catch nothing and go away.
"He was a little thin man in white linen coat and waistcoat and a large
straw hat, and his wife, a fat woman, doing embroidery, sat behind him.
"When she saw us take up our position close to them she murmured: 'Are
there no other places on the river?' My wife, who was furious, replied:
'People who have any manners make inquiries about the habits of the
neighborhood before occupying reserved spots.'
"As I did not want a fuss, I said to her: 'Hold your tongue, Melie. Let
them alone, let them alone; we shall see.'
"Well, we fastened Delila under the willows and had landed and were
fishing side by side, Melie and I, close to the two others. But here,
monsieur, I must enter into details.
"We had only been there about five minutes when our neighbor's line began
to jerk twice, thrice; and then he pulled out a chub as thick as my
thigh; rather less, perhaps, but nearly as big! My heart beat, the
perspiration stood on my forehead and Melie said to me: 'Well, you sot,
did you see that?'
"Just then Monsieur Bru, the grocer of Poissy, who is fond of gudgeon
fishing, passed in a boat and called out to me: 'So somebody has taken
your usual place, Monsieur Renard?' And I replied: 'Yes, Monsieur Bru,
there are some people in this world who do not know the rules of common
"The little man in linen pretended not to hear, nor his fat lump of a
Here the president interrupted him a second time: "Take care, you are
insulting the widow, Madame Flameche, who is present."
Renard made his excuses: "I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon; my anger
carried me away. Well, not a quarter of an hour had passed when the
little man caught another chub, and another almost immediately, and
another five minutes later.
"Tears were in my eyes, and I knew that Madame Renard was boiling with
rage, for she kept on nagging at me: 'Oh, how horrid! Don't you see that
he is robbing you of your fish? Do you think that you will catch
anything? Not even a frog, nothing whatever. Why, my hands are tingling,
just to think of it.'
"But I said to myself: 'Let us wait until twelve o'clock. Then this
poacher will go to lunch and I shall get my place again. As for me,
Monsieur le President, I lunch on that spot every Sunday. We bring our
provisions in Delila. But there! At noon the wretch produced a chicken in
a newspaper, and while he was eating, he actually caught another chub!
"Melie and I had a morsel also, just a bite, a mere nothing, for our
heart was not in it.
"Then I took up my newspaper to aid my digestion. Every Sunday I read the
Gil Blas in the shade by the side of the water. It is Columbine's day,
you know; Columbine, who writes the articles in the Gil Blas. I generally
put Madame Renard into a rage by pretending to know this Columbine. It is
not true, for I do not know her and have never seen her, but that does
not matter. She writes very well, and then she says things that are
pretty plain for a woman. She suits me and there are not many of her
"Well, I began to tease my wife, but she got angry immediately, and very
angry, so I held my tongue. At that moment our two witnesses who are
present here, Monsieur Ladureau and Monsieur Durdent, appeared on the
other side of the river. We knew each other by sight. The little man
began to fish again and he caught so many that I trembled with vexation
and his wife said: 'It is an uncommonly good spot, and we will come here
always, Desire.' As for me, a cold shiver ran down my back, and Madame
Renard kept repeating: 'You are not a man; you have the blood of a
chicken in your veins'; and suddenly I said to her: 'Look here, I would
rather go away or I shall be doing something foolish.'
"And she whispered to me, as if she had put a red-hot iron under my nose:
'You are not a man. Now you are going to run away and surrender your
place! Go, then, Bazaine!'
"I felt hurt, but yet I did not move, while the other fellow pulled out a
bream: Oh, I never saw such a large one before, never! And then my wife
began to talk aloud, as if she were thinking, and you can see her tricks.
She said: 'That is what one might call stolen fish, seeing that we set
the bait ourselves. At any rate, they ought to give us back the money we
have spent on bait.'
"Then the fat woman in the cotton dress said in her turn: 'Do you mean to
call us thieves, madame?' Explanations followed and compliments began to
fly. Oh, Lord! those creatures know some good ones. They shouted so loud
that our two witnesses, who were on the other bank, began to call out by
way of a joke: 'Less noise over there; you will interfere with your
"The fact is that neither the little man nor I moved any more than if we
had been two tree stumps. We remained there, with our eyes fixed on the
water, as if we had heard nothing; but, by Jove! we heard all the same.
'You are a thief! You are nothing better than a tramp! You are a regular
jade!' and so on and so on. A sailor could not have said more.
"Suddenly I heard a noise behind me and turned round. It was the other
one, the fat woman, who had attacked my wife with her parasol. Whack,
whack! Melie got two of them. But she was furious, and she hits hard when
she is in a rage. She caught the fat woman by the hair and then thump!
thump! slaps in the face rained down like ripe plums. I should have let
them fight it out: women together, men together. It does not do to mix
the blows. But the little man in the linen jacket jumped up like a devil
and was going to rush at my wife. Ah! no, no, not that, my friend! I
caught the gentleman with the end of my fist, and crash! crash! One on
the nose, the other in the stomach. He threw up his arms and legs and
fell on his back into the river, just into the hole.
"I should have fished him out most certainly, Monsieur le President, if I
had had time. But, to make matters worse, the fat woman had the upper
hand and was pounding Melie for all she was worth. I know I ought not to
have interfered while the man was in the water, but I never thought that
he would drown and said to myself: 'Bah, it will cool him.'
"I therefore ran up to the women to separate them and all I received was
scratches and bites. Good Lord, what creatures! Well, it took me five
minutes, and perhaps ten, to separate those two viragos. When I turned
round there was nothing to be seen.
"The water was as smooth as a lake and the others yonder kept shouting:
'Fish him out! fish him out!' It was all very well to say that, but I
cannot swim and still less dive.
"At last the man from the dam came and two gentlemen with boathooks, but
over a quarter of an hour had passed. He was found at the bottom of the
hole, in eight feet of water, as I have said. There he was, the poor
little man, in his linen suit! Those are the facts such as I have sworn
to. I am innocent, on my honor."
The witnesses having given testimony to the same effect, the accused was
The hotel guests slowly entered the dining-room and took their places.
The waiters did not hurry themselves, in order to give the late comers a
chance and thus avoid the trouble of bringing in the dishes a second
time. The old bathers, the habitues, whose season was almost over,
glanced, gazed toward the door whenever it opened, to see what new faces
This is the principal distraction of watering places. People look forward
to the dinner hour in order to inspect each day's new arrivals, to find
out who they are, what they do, and what they think. We always have a
vague desire to meet pleasant people, to make agreeable acquaintances,
perhaps to meet with a love adventure. In this life of elbowings, unknown
strangers assume an extreme importance. Curiosity is aroused, sympathy is
ready to exhibit itself, and sociability is the order of the day.
We cherish antipathies for a week and friendships for a month; we see
people with different eyes, when we view them through the medium of
acquaintanceship at watering places. We discover in men suddenly, after
an hour's chat, in the evening after dinner, under the trees in the park
where the healing spring bubbles up, a high intelligence and astonishing
merits, and a month afterward we have completely forgotten these new
friends, who were so fascinating when we first met them.
Permanent and serious ties are also formed here sooner than anywhere
else. People see each other every day; they become acquainted very
quickly, and their affection is tinged with the sweetness and unrestraint
of long-standing intimacies. We cherish in after years the dear and
tender memories of those first hours of friendship, the memory of those
first conversations in which a soul was unveiled, of those first glances
which interrogate and respond to questions and secret thoughts which the
mouth has not as yet uttered, the memory of that first cordial
confidence, the memory of that delightful sensation of opening our hearts
to those who seem to open theirs to us in return.
And the melancholy of watering places, the monotony of days that are all
alike, proves hourly an incentive to this heart expansion.
Well, this evening, as on every other evening, we awaited the appearance
of strange faces.
Only two appeared, but they were very remarkable, a man and a woman
—father and daughter. They immediately reminded me of some of Edgar
Poe's characters; and yet there was about them a charm, the charm
associated with misfortune. I looked upon them as the victims of fate.
The man was very tall and thin, rather stooped, with perfectly white
hair, too white for his comparatively youthful physiognomy; and there was
in his bearing and in his person that austerity peculiar to Protestants.
The daughter, who was probably twenty-four or twenty-five, was small in
stature, and was also very thin, very pale, and she had the air of one
who was worn out with utter lassitude. We meet people like this from time
to time, who seem too weak for the tasks and the needs of daily life, too
weak to move about, to walk, to do all that we do every day. She was
rather pretty; with a transparent, spiritual beauty. And she ate with
extreme slowness, as if she were almost incapable of moving her arms.
It must have been she, assuredly, who had come to take the waters.
They sat facing me, on the opposite side of the table; and I at once
noticed that the father had a very singular, nervous twitching.
Every time he wanted to reach an object, his hand described a sort of
zigzag before it succeeded in reaching what it was in search of, and
after a little while this movement annoyed me so that I turned aside my
head in order not to see it.
I noticed, too, that the young girl, during meals, wore a glove on her
After dinner I went for a stroll in the park of the bathing
establishment. This led toward the little Auvergnese station of
Chatel-Guyon, hidden in a gorge at the foot of the high mountain, from
which flowed so many boiling springs, arising from the deep bed of
extinct volcanoes. Over yonder, above our heads, the domes of extinct
craters lifted their ragged peaks above the rest in the long mountain
chain. For Chatel-Guyon is situated at the entrance to the land of
Beyond it stretches out the region of peaks, and, farther on again the
region of precipitous summits.
The "Puy de Dome" is the highest of the domes, the Peak of Sancy is the
loftiest of the peaks, and Cantal is the most precipitous of these
It was a very warm evening, and I was walking up and down a shady path,
listening to the opening, strains of the Casino band, which was playing
on an elevation overlooking the park.
And I saw the father and the daughter advancing slowly in my direction. I
bowed as one bows to one's hotel companions at a watering place; and the
man, coming to a sudden halt, said to me:
"Could you not, monsieur, tell us of a nice walk to take, short, pretty,
and not steep; and pardon my troubling you?"
I offered to show them the way toward the valley through which the little
river flowed, a deep valley forming a gorge between two tall, craggy,
They gladly accepted my offer.
And we talked, naturally, about the virtue of the waters.
"Oh," he said, "my daughter has a strange malady, the seat of which is
unknown. She suffers from incomprehensible nervous attacks. At one time
the doctors think she has an attack of heart disease, at another time
they imagine it is some affection of the liver, and at another they
declare it to be a disease of the spine. To-day this protean malady, that
assumes a thousand forms and a thousand modes of attack, is attributed to
the stomach, which is the great caldron and regulator of the body. This
is why we have come here. For my part, I am rather inclined to think it
is the nerves. In any case it is very sad."
Immediately the remembrance of the violent spasmodic movement of his hand
came back to my mind, and I asked him:
"But is this not the result of heredity? Are not your own nerves somewhat
He replied calmly:
"Mine? Oh, no-my nerves have always been very steady."
Then, suddenly, after a pause, he went on:
"Ah! You were alluding to the jerking movement of my hand every time I
try to reach for anything? This arises from a terrible experience which I
had. Just imagine, this daughter of mine was actually buried alive!"
I could only utter, "Ah!" so great were my astonishment and emotion.
"Here is the story. It is simple. Juliette had been subject for some time
to serious attacks of the heart. We believed that she had disease of that
organ, and were prepared for the worst.
"One day she was carried into the house cold, lifeless, dead. She had
fallen down unconscious in the garden. The doctor certified that life was
extinct. I watched by her side for a day and two nights. I laid her with
my own hands in the coffin, which I accompanied to the cemetery, where
she was deposited in the family vault. It is situated in the very heart
"I wished to have her interred with her jewels, bracelets, necklaces,
rings, all presents which she had received from me, and wearing her first
"You may easily imagine my state of mind when I re-entered our home. She
was the only one I had, for my wife had been dead for many years. I found
my way to my own apartment in a half-distracted condition, utterly
exhausted, and sank into my easy-chair, without the capacity to think or
the strength to move. I was nothing better now than a suffering,
vibrating machine, a human being who had, as it were, been flayed alive;
my soul was like an open wound.
"My old valet, Prosper, who had assisted me in placing Juliette in her
coffin, and aided me in preparing her for her last sleep, entered the
room noiselessly, and asked:
"'Does monsieur want anything?'
"I merely shook my head in reply.
"'Monsieur is wrong,' he urged. 'He will injure his health. Would
monsieur like me to put him to bed?'
"I answered: 'No, let me alone!'
"And he left the room.
"I know not how many hours slipped away. Oh, what a night, what a night!
It was cold. My fire had died out in the huge grate; and the wind, the
winter wind, an icy wind, a winter hurricane, blew with a regular,
sinister noise against the windows.
"How many hours slipped away? There I was without sleeping, powerless,
crushed, my eyes wide open, my legs stretched out, my body limp,
inanimate, and my mind torpid with despair. Suddenly the great doorbell,
the great bell of the vestibule, rang out.
"I started so that my chair cracked under me. The solemn, ponderous sound
vibrated through the empty country house as through a vault. I turned
round to see what the hour was by the clock. It was just two in the
morning. Who could be coming at such an hour?
"And, abruptly, the bell again rang twice. The servants, without doubt,
were afraid to get up. I took a wax candle and descended the stairs. I
was on the point of asking: 'Who is there?'
"Then I felt ashamed of my weakness, and I slowly drew back the heavy
bolts. My heart was throbbing wildly. I was frightened. I opened the door
brusquely, and in the darkness I distinguished a white figure, standing
erect, something that resembled an apparition.
"I recoiled petrified with horror, faltering:
"'Who-who-who are you?'
"A voice replied:
"'It is I, father.'
"It was my daughter.
"I really thought I must be mad, and I retreated backward before this
advancing spectre. I kept moving away, making a sign with my hand,' as if
to drive the phantom away, that gesture which you have noticed—that
gesture which has remained with me ever since.
"'Do not be afraid, papa,' said the apparition. 'I was not dead. Somebody
tried to steal my rings and cut one of my fingers; the blood began to
flow, and that restored me to life.'
"And, in fact, I could see that her hand was covered with blood.
"I fell on my knees, choking with sobs and with a rattling in my throat.
"Then, when I had somewhat collected my thoughts, though I was still so
bewildered that I scarcely realized the awesome happiness that had
befallen me, I made her go up to my room and sit dawn in my easy-chair;
then I rang excitedly for Prosper to get him to rekindle the fire and to
bring some wine, and to summon assistance.
"The man entered, stared at my daughter, opened his mouth with a gasp of
alarm and stupefaction, and then fell back dead.
"It was he who had opened the vault, who had mutilated and then abandoned
my daughter; for he could not efface the traces of the theft. He had not
even taken the trouble to put back the coffin into its place, feeling
sure, besides, that he would not be suspected by me, as I trusted him
"You see, monsieur, that we are very unfortunate people."
He was silent.
The night had fallen, casting its shadows over the desolate, mournful
vale, and a sort of mysterious fear possessed me at finding myself by the
side of those strange beings, of this young girl who had come back from
the tomb, and this father with his uncanny spasm.
I found it impossible to make any comment on this dreadful story. I only
"What a horrible thing!"
Then, after a minute's silence, I added:
"Let us go indoors. I think it is growing cool."
And we made our way back to the hotel.
IN THE WOOD
As the mayor was about to sit down to breakfast, word was brought to him
that the rural policeman, with two prisoners, was awaiting him at the
Hotel de Ville. He went there at once and found old Hochedur standing
guard before a middle-class couple whom he was regarding with a severe
expression on his face.
The man, a fat old fellow with a red nose and white hair, seemed utterly
dejected; while the woman, a little roundabout individual with shining
cheeks, looked at the official who had arrested them, with defiant eyes.
"What is it? What is it, Hochedur?"
The rural policeman made his deposition: He had gone out that morning at
his usual time, in order to patrol his beat from the forest of Champioux
as far as the boundaries of Argenteuil. He had not noticed anything
unusual in the country except that it was a fine day, and that the wheat
was doing well, when the son of old Bredel, who was going over his vines,
called out to him: "Here, Daddy Hochedur, go and have a look at the
outskirts of the wood. In the first thicket you will find a pair of
pigeons who must be a hundred and thirty years old between them!"
He went in the direction indicated, entered the thicket, and there he
heard words which made him suspect a flagrant breach of morality.
Advancing, therefore, on his hands and knees as if to surprise a poacher,
he had arrested the couple whom he found there.
The mayor looked at the culprits in astonishment, for the man was
certainly sixty, and the woman fifty-five at least, and he began to
question them, beginning with the man, who replied in such a weak voice
that he could scarcely be heard.
"What is your name?"
"Haberdasher, in the Rue des Martyrs, in Paris."
"What were you doing in the wood?"
The haberdasher remained silent, with his eyes on his fat paunch, and his
hands hanging at his sides, and the mayor continued:
"Do you deny what the officer of the municipal authorities states?"
"So you confess it?"
"What have you to say in your defence?"
"Where did you meet the partner in your misdemeanor?"
"She is my wife, monsieur."
"Then—then—you do not live together-in Paris?"
"I beg your pardon, monsieur, but we are living together!"
"But in that case—you must be mad, altogether mad, my dear sir, to
get caught playing lovers in the country at ten o'clock in the morning."
The haberdasher seemed ready to cry with shame, and he muttered: "It was
she who enticed me! I told her it was very stupid, but when a woman once
gets a thing into her head—you know—you cannot get it out."
The mayor, who liked a joke, smiled and replied: "In your case, the
contrary ought to have happened. You would not be here, if she had had
the idea only in her head."
Then Monsieur Beauain was seized with rage and turning to his wife, he
said: "Do you see to what you have brought us with your poetry? And now
we shall have to go before the courts at our age, for a breach of morals!
And we shall have to shut up the shop, sell our good will, and go to some
other neighborhood! That's what it has come to."
Madame Beaurain got up, and without looking at her husband, she explained
herself without embarrassment, without useless modesty, and almost
"Of course, monsieur, I know that we have made ourselves ridiculous. Will
you allow me to plead my cause like an advocate, or rather like a poor
woman? And I hope that you will be kind enough to send us home, and to
spare us the disgrace of a prosecution.
"Years ago, when I was young, I made Monsieur Beaurain's acquaintance one
Sunday in this neighborhood. He was employed in a draper's shop, and I
was a saleswoman in a ready-made clothing establishment. I remember it as
if it were yesterday. I used to come and spend Sundays here occasionally
with a friend of mine, Rose Leveque, with whom I lived in the Rue
Pigalle, and Rose had a sweetheart, while I had none. He used to bring us
here, and one Saturday he told me laughing that he should bring a friend
with him the next day. I quite understood what he meant, but I replied
that it would be no good; for I was virtuous, monsieur.
"The next day we met Monsieur Beaurain at the railway station, and in
those days he was good-looking, but I had made up my mind not to
encourage him, and I did not. Well, we arrived at Bezons. It was a lovely
day, the sort of day that touches your heart. When it is fine even now,
just as it used to be formerly, I grow quite foolish, and when I am in
the country I utterly lose my head. The green grass, the swallows flying
so swiftly, the smell of the grass, the scarlet poppies, the daisies, all
that makes me crazy. It is like champagne when one is not accustomed to
"Well, it was lovely weather, warm and bright, and it seemed to penetrate
your body through your eyes when you looked and through your mouth when
you breathed. Rose and Simon hugged and kissed each other every minute,
and that gave me a queer feeling! Monsieur Beaurain and I walked behind
them, without speaking much, for when people do not know each other, they
do not find anything to talk about. He looked timid, and I liked to see
his embarrassment. At last we got to the little wood; it was as cool as
in a bath there, and we four sat down. Rose and her lover teased me
because I looked rather stern, but you will understand that I could not
be otherwise. And then they began to kiss and hug again, without putting
any more restraint upon themselves than if we had not been there; and
then they whispered together, and got up and went off among the trees,
without saying a word. You may fancy what I looked like, alone with this
young fellow whom I saw for the first time. I felt so confused at seeing
them go that it gave me courage, and I began to talk. I asked him what
his business was, and he said he was a linen draper's assistant, as I
told you just now. We talked for a few minutes, and that made him bold,
and he wanted to take liberties with me, but I told him sharply to keep
his place. Is not that true, Monsieur Beaurain?"
Monsieur Beaurain, who was looking at his feet in confusion, did not
reply, and she continued: "Then he saw that I was virtuous, and he began
to make love to me nicely, like an honorable man, and from that time he
came every Sunday, for he was very much in love with me. I was very fond
of him also, very fond of him! He was a good-looking fellow, formerly,
and in short he married me the next September, and we started in business
in the Rue des Martyrs.
"It was a hard struggle for some years, monsieur. Business did not
prosper, and we could not afford many country excursions, and, besides,
we had got out of the way of them. One has other things in one's head,
and thinks more of the cash box than of pretty speeches, when one is in
business. We were growing old by degrees without perceiving it, like
quiet people who do not think much about love. One does not regret
anything as long as one does not notice what one has lost.
"And then, monsieur, business became better, and we were tranquil as to
the future! Then, you see, I do not exactly know what went on in my mind,
no, I really do not know, but I began to dream like a little
boarding-school girl. The sight of the little carts full of flowers which
are drawn about the streets made me cry; the smell of violets sought me
out in my easy-chair, behind my cash box, and made my heart beat! Then I
would get up and go out on the doorstep to look at the blue sky between
the roofs. When one looks up at the sky from the street, it looks like a
river which is descending on Paris, winding as it flows, and the swallows
pass to and fro in it like fish. These ideas are very stupid at my age!
But how can one help it, monsieur, when one has worked all one's life? A
moment comes in which one perceives that one could have done something
else, and that one regrets, oh! yes, one feels intense regret! Just
think, for twenty years I might have gone and had kisses in the woods,
like other women. I used to think how delightful it would be to lie under
the trees and be in love with some one! And I thought of it every day and
every night! I dreamed of the moonlight on the water, until I felt
inclined to drown myself.
"I did not venture to speak to Monsieur Beaurain about this at first. I
knew that he would make fun of me, and send me back to sell my needles
and cotton! And then, to speak the truth, Monsieur Beaurain never said
much to me, but when I looked in the glass, I also understood quite well
that I no longer appealed to any one!
"Well, I made up my mind, and I proposed to him an excursion into the
country, to the place where we had first become acquainted. He agreed
without mistrusting anything, and we arrived here this morning, about
"I felt quite young again when I got among the wheat, for a woman's heart
never grows old! And really, I no longer saw my husband as he is at
present, but just as he was formerly! That I will swear to you, monsieur.
As true as I am standing here I was crazy. I began to kiss him, and he
was more surprised than if I had tried to murder him. He kept saying to
me: 'Why, you must be mad! You are mad this morning! What is the matter
with you?' I did not listen to him, I only listened to my own heart, and
I made him come into the wood with me. That is all. I have spoken the
truth, Monsieur le Maire, the whole truth."
The mayor was a sensible man. He rose from his chair, smiled, and said:
"Go in peace, madame, and when you again visit our forests, be more
It came to him one Sunday after mass. He was walking home from church
along the by-road that led to his house when he saw ahead of him Martine,
who was also going home.
Her father walked beside his daughter with the important gait of a rich
farmer. Discarding the smock, he wore a short coat of gray cloth and on
his head a round-topped hat with wide brim.
She, laced up in a corset which she wore only once a week, walked along
erect, with her squeezed-in waist, her broad shoulders and prominent
hips, swinging herself a little. She wore a hat trimmed with flowers,
made by a milliner at Yvetot, and displayed the back of her full, round,
supple neck, reddened by the sun and air, on which fluttered little stray
locks of hair.
Benoist saw only her back; but he knew well the face he loved, without,
however, having ever noticed it more closely than he did now.
Suddenly he said: "Nom d'un nom, she is a fine girl, all the same, that
Martine." He watched her as she walked, admiring her hastily, feeling a
desire taking possession of him. He did not long to see her face again,
no. He kept gazing at her figure, repeating to himself: "Nom d'un nom,
she is a fine girl."
Martine turned to the right to enter "La Martiniere," the farm of her
father, Jean Martin, and she cast a glance behind her as she turned
round. She saw Benoist, who looked to her very comical. She called out:
"Good-morning, Benoist." He replied: "Good-morning, Martine;
good-morning, mait Martin," and went on his way.
When he reached home the soup was on the table. He sat down opposite his
mother beside the farm hand and the hired man, while the maid servant
went to draw some cider.
He ate a few spoonfuls, then pushed away his plate. His mother said:
"Don't you feel well?"
"No. I feel as if I had some pap in my stomach and that takes away my
He watched the others eating, as he cut himself a piece of bread from
time to time and carried it lazily to his mouth, masticating it slowly.
He thought of Martine. "She is a fine girl, all the same." And to think
that he had not noticed it before, and that it came to him, just like
that, all at once, and with such force that he could not eat.
He did not touch the stew. His mother said:
"Come, Benoist, try and eat a little; it is loin of mutton, it will do
you good. When one has no appetite, they should force themselves to eat."
He swallowed a few morsels, then, pushing away his plate, said:
"No. I can't go that, positively."
When they rose from table he walked round the farm, telling the farm hand
he might go home and that he would drive up the animals as he passed by
The country was deserted, as it was the day of rest. Here and there in a
field of clover cows were moving along heavily, with full bellies,
chewing their cud under a blazing sun. Unharnessed plows were standing at
the end of a furrow; and the upturned earth ready for the seed showed
broad brown patches of stubble of wheat and oats that had lately been
A rather dry autumn wind blew across the plain, promising a cool evening
after the sun had set. Benoist sat down on a ditch, placed his hat on his
knees as if he needed to cool off his head, and said aloud in the
stillness of the country: "If you want a fine girl, she is a fine girl."
He thought of it again at night, in his bed, and in the morning when he
He was not sad, he was not discontented, he could not have told what
ailed him. It was something that had hold of him, something fastened in
his mind, an idea that would not leave him and that produced a sort of
tickling sensation in his heart.
Sometimes a big fly is shut up in a room. You hear it flying about,
buzzing, and the noise haunts you, irritates you. Suddenly it stops; you
forget it; but all at once it begins again, obliging you to look up. You
cannot catch it, nor drive it away, nor kill it, nor make it keep still.
As soon as it settles for a second, it starts off buzzing again.
The recollection of Martine disturbed Benoist's mind like an imprisoned
Then he longed to see her again and walked past the Martiniere several
times. He saw her, at last, hanging out some clothes on a line stretched
between two apple trees.
It was a warm day. She had on only a short skirt and her chemise, showing
the curves of her figure as she hung up the towels. He remained there,
concealed by the hedge, for more than an hour, even after she had left.
He returned home more obsessed with her image than ever.
For a month his mind was full of her, he trembled when her name was
mentioned in his presence. He could not eat, he had night sweats that
kept him from sleeping.
On Sunday, at mass, he never took his eyes off her. She noticed it and
smiled at him, flattered at his appreciation.
One evening, he suddenly met her in the road. She stopped short when she
saw him coming. Then he walked right up to her, choking with fear and
emotion, but determined to speak to her. He began falteringly:
"See here, Martine, this cannot go on like this any longer."
She replied as if she wanted to tease him:
"What cannot go on any longer, Benoist?"
"My thinking of you as many hours as there are in the day," he answered.
She put her hands on her hips.
"I do not oblige you to do so."
"Yes, it is you," he stammered; "I cannot sleep, nor rest, nor eat, nor
"What do you need to cure you of all that?" she asked.
He stood there in dismay, his arms swinging, his eyes staring, his mouth
She hit him a punch in the stomach and ran off.
From that day they met each other along the roadside, in by-roads or else
at twilight on the edge of a field, when he was going home with his
horses and she was driving her cows home to the stable.
He felt himself carried, cast toward her by a strong impulse of his heart
and body. He would have liked to squeeze her, strangle her, eat her, make
her part of himself. And he trembled with impotence, impatience, rage, to
think she did not belong to him entirely, as if they were one being.
People gossiped about it in the countryside. They said they were engaged.
He had, besides, asked her if she would be his wife, and she had answered
They, were waiting for an opportunity to talk to their parents about it.
But, all at once, she stopped coming to meet him at the usual hour. He
did not even see her as he wandered round the farm. He could only catch a
glimpse of her at mass on Sunday. And one Sunday, after the sermon, the
priest actually published the banns of marriage between Victoire-Adelaide
Martin and Josephin-Isidore Vallin.
Benoist felt a sensation in his hands as if the blood had been drained
off. He had a buzzing in the ears; and could hear nothing; and presently
he perceived that his tears were falling on his prayer book.
For a month he stayed in his room. Then he went back to his work.
But he was not cured, and it was always in his mind. He avoided the roads
that led past her home, so that he might not even see the trees in the
yard, and this obliged him to make a great circuit morning and evening.
She was now married to Vallin, the richest farmer in the district.
Benoist and he did not speak now, though they had been comrades from
One evening, as Benoist was passing the town hall, he heard that she was
enceinte. Instead of experiencing a feeling of sorrow, he experienced, on
the contrary, a feeling of relief. It was over, now, all over. They were
more separated by that than by her marriage. He really preferred that it
should be so.
Months passed, and more months. He caught sight of her, occasionally,
going to the village with a heavier step than usual. She blushed as she
saw him, lowered her head and quickened her pace. And he turned out of
his way so as not to pass her and meet her glance.
He dreaded the thought that he might one morning meet her face to face,
and be obliged to speak to her. What could he say to her now, after all
he had said formerly, when he held her hands as he kissed her hair beside
her cheeks? He often thought of those meetings along the roadside. She
had acted horridly after all her promises.
By degrees his grief diminished, leaving only sadness behind. And one day
he took the old road that led past the farm where she now lived. He
looked at the roof from a distance. It was there, in there, that she
lived with another! The apple trees were in bloom, the cocks crowed on
the dung hill. The whole dwelling seemed empty, the farm hands had gone
to the fields to their spring toil. He stopped near the gate and looked
into the yard. The dog was asleep outside his kennel, three calves were
walking slowly, one behind the other, towards the pond. A big turkey was
strutting before the door, parading before the turkey hens like a singer
at the opera.
Benoist leaned against the gate post and was suddenly seized with a
desire to weep. But suddenly, he heard a cry, a loud cry for help coming
from the house. He was struck with dismay, his hands grasping the wooden
bars of the gate, and listened attentively. Another cry, a prolonged,
heartrending cry, reached his ears, his soul, his flesh. It was she who
was crying like that! He darted inside, crossed the grass patch, pushed
open the door, and saw her lying on the floor, her body drawn up, her
face livid, her eyes haggard, in the throes of childbirth.
He stood there, trembling and paler than she was, and stammered:
"Here I am, here I am, Martine!"
She replied in gasps:
"Oh, do not leave me, do not leave me, Benoist!"
He looked at her, not knowing what to say, what to do. She began to cry
"Oh, oh, it is killing me. Oh, Benoist!"
She writhed frightfully.
Benoist was suddenly seized with a frantic longing to help her, to quiet
her, to remove her pain. He leaned over, lifted her up and laid her on
her bed; and while she kept on moaning he began to take off her clothes,
her jacket, her skirt and her petticoat. She bit her fists to keep from
crying out. Then he did as he was accustomed to doing for cows, ewes, and
mares: he assisted in delivering her and found in his hands a large
infant who was moaning.
He wiped it off and wrapped it up in a towel that was drying in front of
the fire, and laid it on a bundle of clothes ready for ironing that was
on the table. Then he went back to the mother.
He took her up and placed her on the floor again, then he changed the
bedclothes and put her back into bed. She faltered:
"Thank you, Benoist, you have a noble heart." And then she wept a little
as if she felt regretful.
He did not love her any longer, not the least bit. It was all over. Why?
How? He could not have said. What had happened had cured him better than
ten years of absence.
She asked, exhausted and trembling:
"What is it?"
He replied calmly:
"It is a very fine girl."
Then they were silent again. At the end of a few moments, the mother, in
a weak voice, said:
"Show her to me, Benoist."
He took up the little one and was showing it to her as if he were holding
the consecrated wafer, when the door opened, and Isidore Vallin appeared.
He did not understand at first, then all at once he guessed.
Benoist, in consternation, stammered out:
"I was passing, I was just passing by when f heard her crying out, and I
came—there is your child, Vallin!"
Then the husband, his eyes full of tears, stepped forward, took the
little mite of humanity that he held out to him, kissed it, unable to
speak from emotion for a few seconds; then placing the child on the bed,
he held out both hands to Benoist, saying:
"Your hand upon it, Benoist. From now on we understand each other. If you
are willing, we will be a pair of friends, a pair of friends!" And
Benoist replied: "Indeed I will, certainly, indeed I will."
Compte de Lormerin had just finished dressing. He cast a parting glance
at the large mirror which occupied an entire panel in his dressing-room
He was really a fine-looking man still, although quite gray. Tall,
slight, elegant, with no sign of a paunch, with a small mustache of
doubtful shade, which might be called fair, he had a walk, a nobility, a
"chic," in short, that indescribable something which establishes a
greater difference between two men than would millions of money. He
"Lormerin is still alive!"
And he went into the drawing-room where his correspondence awaited him.
On his table, where everything had its place, the work table of the
gentleman who never works, there were a dozen letters lying beside three
newspapers of different opinions. With a single touch he spread out all
these letters, like a gambler giving the choice of a card; and he scanned
the handwriting, a thing he did each morning before opening the
It was for him a moment of delightful expectancy, of inquiry and vague
anxiety. What did these sealed mysterious letters bring him? What did
they contain of pleasure, of happiness, or of grief? He surveyed them
with a rapid sweep of the eye, recognizing the writing, selecting them,
making two or three lots, according to what he expected from them. Here,
friends; there, persons to whom he was indifferent; further on,
strangers. The last kind always gave him a little uneasiness. What did
they want from him? What hand had traced those curious characters full of
thoughts, promises, or threats?
This day one letter in particular caught his eye. It was simple,
nevertheless, without seeming to reveal anything; but he looked at it
uneasily, with a sort of chill at his heart. He thought: "From whom can
it be? I certainly know this writing, and yet I can't identify it."
He raised it to a level with his face, holding it delicately between two
fingers, striving to read through the envelope, without making up his
mind to open it.
Then he smelled it, and snatched up from the table a little magnifying
glass which he used in studying all the niceties of handwriting. He
suddenly felt unnerved. "Whom is it from? This hand is familiar to me,
very familiar. I must have often read its tracings, yes, very often. But
this must have been a long, long time ago. Whom the deuce can it be from?
Pooh! it's only somebody asking for money."
And he tore open the letter. Then he read:
MY DEAR FRIEND: You have, without doubt, forgotten me, for it is now
twenty-five years since we saw each other. I was young; I am old.
When I bade you farewell, I left Paris in order to follow into the
provinces my husband, my old husband, whom you used to call "my
hospital." Do you remember him? He died five years ago, and now I
am returning to Paris to get my daughter married, for I have a
daughter, a beautiful girl of eighteen, whom you have never seen.
I informed you of her birth, but you certainly did not pay much
attention to so trifling an event.
You are still the handsome Lormerin; so I have been told. Well, if
you still recollect little Lise, whom you used to call Lison, come
and dine with her this evening, with the elderly Baronne de Vance
your ever faithful friend, who, with some emotion, although happy,
reaches out to you a devoted hand, which you must clasp, but no
longer kiss, my poor Jaquelet.
LISE DE VANCE.
Lormerin's heart began to throb. He remained sunk in his armchair with
the letter on his knees, staring straight before him, overcome by a
poignant emotion that made the tears mount up to his eyes!
If he had ever loved a woman in his life it was this one, little Lise,
Lise de Vance, whom he called "Ashflower," on account of the strange
color of her hair and the pale gray of her eyes. Oh! what a dainty,
pretty, charming creature she was, this frail baronne, the wife of that
gouty, pimply baron, who had abruptly carried her off to the provinces,
shut her up, kept her in seclusion through jealousy, jealousy of the
Yes, he had loved her, and he believed that he too, had been truly loved.
She familiarly gave him, the name of Jaquelet, and would pronounce that
word in a delicious fashion.
A thousand forgotten memories came back to him, far, off and sweet and
melancholy now. One evening she had called on him on her way home from a
ball, and they went for a stroll in the Bois de Boulogne, she in evening
dress, he in his dressing-jacket. It was springtime; the weather was
beautiful. The fragrance from her bodice embalmed the warm air-the odor
of her bodice, and perhaps, too, the fragrance of her skin. What a divine
night! When they reached the lake, as the moon's rays fell across the
branches into the water, she began to weep. A little surprised, he asked
"I don't know. The moon and the water have affected me. Every time I see
poetic things I have a tightening at the heart, and I have to cry."
He smiled, affected himself, considering her feminine emotion charming
—the unaffected emotion of a poor little woman, whom every
sensation overwhelms. And he embraced her passionately, stammering:
"My little Lise, you are exquisite."
What a charming love affair, short-lived and dainty, it had been and over
all too quickly, cut short in the midst of its ardor by this old brute of
a baron, who had carried off his wife, and never let any one see her
Lormerin had forgotten, in fact, at the end of two or three months. One
woman drives out another so quickly in Paris, when one is a bachelor! No
matter; he had kept a little altar for her in his heart, for he had loved
her alone! He assured himself now that this was so.
He rose, and said aloud: "Certainly, I will go and dine with her this
And instinctively he turned toward the mirror to inspect himself from
head to foot. He reflected: "She must look very old, older than I look."
And he felt gratified at the thought of showing himself to her still
handsome, still fresh, of astonishing her, perhaps of filling her with
emotion, and making her regret those bygone days so far, far distant!
He turned his attention to the other letters. They were of no importance.
The whole day he kept thinking of this ghost of other days. What was she
like now? How strange it was to meet in this way after twenty-five years!
But would he recognize her?
He made his toilet with feminine coquetry, put on a white waistcoat,
which suited him better with the coat than a black one, sent for the
hairdresser to give him a finishing touch With the curling iron, for he
had preserved his hair, and started very early in order to show his
eagerness to see her.
The first thing he saw on entering a pretty drawing-room newly furnished
was his own portrait, an old faded photograph, dating from the days when
he was a beau, hanging on the wall in an antique silk frame.
He sat down and waited. A door opened behind him. He rose up abruptly,
and, turning round, beheld an old woman with white hair who extended both
hands toward him.
He seized them, kissed them one after the other several times; then,
lifting up his head, he gazed at the woman he had loved.
Yes, it was an old lady, an old lady whom he did not recognize, and who,
while she smiled, seemed ready to weep.
He could not abstain from murmuring:
"Is it you, Lise?"
"Yes, it is I; it is I, indeed. You would not have known me, would you? I
have had so much sorrow—so much sorrow. Sorrow has consumed my
life. Look at me now—or, rather, don't look at me! But how handsome
you have kept—and young! If I had by chance met you in the street I
would have exclaimed: 'Jaquelet!'. Now, sit down and let us, first of
all, have a chat. And then I will call my daughter, my grown-up daughter.
You'll see how she resembles me—or, rather, how I resembled
her—no, it is not quite that; she is just like the 'me' of former
days—you shall see! But I wanted to be alone with you first. I
feared that there would be some emotion on my side, at the first moment.
Now it is all over; it is past. Pray be seated, my friend."
He sat down beside her, holding her hand; but he did not know what to
say; he did not know this woman—it seemed to him that he had never
seen her before. Why had he come to this house? What could he talk about?
Of the long ago? What was there in common between him and her? He could
no longer recall anything in presence of this grandmotherly face. He
could no longer recall all the nice, tender things, so sweet, so bitter,
that had come to his mind that morning when he thought of the other, of
little Lise, of the dainty Ashflower. What, then, had become of her, the
former one, the one he had loved? That woman of far-off dreams, the
blonde with gray eyes, the young girl who used to call him "Jaquelet" so
They remained side by side, motionless, both constrained, troubled,
profoundly ill at ease.
As they talked only commonplaces, awkwardly and spasmodically and slowly,
she rose and pressed the button of the bell.
"I am going to call Renee," she said.
There was a tap at the door, then the rustle of a dress; then a young
"Here I am, mamma!"
Lormerin remained bewildered as at the sight of an apparition.
Then, turning toward the mother:
"Oh! it is you!"
In fact, it was she, she whom he had known in bygone days, the Lise who
had vanished and come back! In her he found the woman he had won
twenty-five years before. This one was even younger, fresher, more
He felt a wild desire to open his arms, to clasp her to his heart again,
murmuring in her ear:
A man-servant announced:
"Dinner is ready, madame."
And they proceeded toward the dining-room.
What passed at this dinner? What did they say to him, and what could he
say in reply? He found himself plunged in one of those strange dreams
which border on insanity. He gazed at the two women with a fixed idea in
his mind, a morbid, self-contradictory idea:
"Which is the real one?"
The mother smiled again repeating over and over:
"Do you remember?" And it was in the bright eyes of the young girl that
he found again his memories of the past. Twenty times he opened his mouth
to say to her: "Do you remember, Lison?" forgetting this white-haired
lady who was looking at him tenderly.
And yet, there were moments when, he no longer felt sure, when he lost
his head. He could see that the woman of to-day was not exactly the woman
of long ago. The other one, the former one, had in her voice, in her
glances, in her entire being, something which he did not find again. And
he made prodigious efforts of mind to recall his lady love, to seize
again what had escaped from her, what this resuscitated one did not
The baronne said:
"You have lost your old vivacity, my poor friend."
"There are many other things that I have lost!"
But in his heart, touched with emotion, he felt his old love springing to
life once more, like an awakened wild beast ready to bite him.
The young girl went on chattering, and every now and then some familiar
intonation, some expression of her mother's, a certain style of speaking
and thinking, that resemblance of mind and manner which people acquire by
living together, shook Lormerin from head to foot. All these things
penetrated him, making the reopened wound of his passion bleed anew.
He got away early, and took a turn along the boulevard. But the image of
this young girl pursued him, haunted him, quickened his heart, inflamed
his blood. Apart from the two women, he now saw only one, a young one,
the old one come back out of the past, and he loved her as he had loved
her in bygone years. He loved her with greater ardor, after an interval
of twenty-five years.
He went home to reflect on this strange and terrible thing, and to think
what he should do.
But, as he was passing, with a wax candle in his hand, before the glass,
the large glass in which he had contemplated himself and admired himself
before he started, he saw reflected there an elderly, gray-haired man;
and suddenly he recollected what he had been in olden days, in the days
of little Lise. He saw himself charming and handsome, as he had been when
he was loved! Then, drawing the light nearer, he looked at himself more
closely, as one inspects a strange thing with a magnifying glass, tracing
the wrinkles, discovering those frightful ravages, which he had not
perceived till now.
And he sat down, crushed at the sight of himself, at the sight of his
lamentable image, murmuring:
"All over, Lormerin!"
Everybody in Fecamp knew Mother Patin's story. She had certainly been
unfortunate with her husband, for in his lifetime he used to beat her,
just as wheat is threshed in the barn.
He was master of a fishing bark and had married her, formerly, because
she was pretty, although poor.
Patin was a good sailor, but brutal. He used to frequent Father Auban's
inn, where he would usually drink four or five glasses of brandy, on
lucky days eight or ten glasses and even more, according to his mood. The
brandy was served to the customers by Father Auban's daughter, a pleasing
brunette, who attracted people to the house only by her pretty face, for
nothing had ever been gossiped about her.
Patin, when he entered the inn, would be satisfied to look at her and to
compliment her politely and respectfully. After he had had his first
glass of brandy he would already find her much nicer; at the second he
would wink; at the third he would say. "If you were only willing,
Mam'zelle Desiree——" without ever finishing his sentence; at
the fourth he would try to hold her back by her skirt in order to kiss
her; and when he went as high as ten it was Father Auban who brought him
the remaining drinks.
The old innkeeper, who knew all the tricks of the trade, made Desiree
walk about between the tables in order to increase the consumption of
drinks; and Desiree, who was a worthy daughter of Father Auban, flitted
around among the benches and joked with them, her lips smiling and her
Patin got so well accustomed to Desiree's face that he thought of it even
while at sea, when throwing out his nets, in storms or in calms, on
moonlit or dark evenings. He thought of her while holding the tiller in
the stern of his boat, while his four companions were slumbering with
their heads on their arms. He always saw her, smiling, pouring out the
yellow brandy with a peculiar shoulder movement and then exclaiming as
she turned away: "There, now; are you satisfied?"
He saw her so much in his mind's eye that he was overcome by an
irresistible desire to marry her, and, not being able to hold out any
longer, he asked for her hand.
He was rich, owned his own vessel, his nets and a little house at the
foot of the hill on the Retenue, whereas Father Auban had nothing. The
marriage was therefore eagerly agreed upon and the wedding took place as
soon as possible, as both parties were desirous for the affair to be
concluded as early as convenient.
Three days after the wedding Patin could no longer understand how he had
ever imagined Desiree to be different from other women. What a fool he
had been to encumber himself with a penniless creature, who had
undoubtedly inveigled him with some drug which she had put in his brandy!
He would curse all day lung, break his pipe with his teeth and maul his
crew. After he had sworn by every known term at everything that came his
way he would rid himself of his remaining anger on the fish and lobsters,
which he pulled from the nets and threw into the baskets amid oaths and
foul language. When he returned home he would find his wife, Father
Auban's daughter, within reach of his mouth and hand, and it was not long
before he treated her like the lowest creature in the world. As she
listened calmly, accustomed to paternal violence, he grew exasperated at
her quiet, and one evening he beat her. Then life at his home became
For ten years the principal topic of conversation on the Retenue was
about the beatings that Patin gave his wife and his manner of cursing at
her for the least thing. He could, indeed, curse with a richness of
vocabulary in a roundness of tone unequalled by any other man in Fecamp.
As soon as his ship was sighted at the entrance of the harbor, returning
from the fishing expedition, every one awaited the first volley he would
hurl from the bridge as soon as he perceived his wife's white cap.
Standing at the stern he would steer, his eye fixed on the bows and on
the sail, and, notwithstanding the difficulty of the narrow passage and
the height of the turbulent waves, he would search among the watching
women and try to recognize his wife, Father Auban's daughter, the wretch!
Then, as soon as he saw her, notwithstanding the noise of the wind and
waves, he would let loose upon her with such power and volubility that
every one would laugh, although they pitied her greatly. When he arrived
at the dock he would relieve his mind, while unloading the fish, in such
an expressive manner that he attracted around him all the loafers of the
neighborhood. The words left his mouth sometimes like shots from a
cannon, short and terrible, sometimes like peals of thunder, which roll
and rumble for five minutes, such a hurricane of oaths that he seemed to
have in his lungs one of the storms of the Eternal Father.
When he left his ship and found himself face to face with her, surrounded
by all the gossips of the neighborhood, he would bring up a new cargo of
insults and bring her back to their dwelling, she in front, he behind,
she weeping, he yelling at her.
At last, when alone with her behind closed doors, he would thrash her on
the slightest pretext. The least thing was sufficient to make him raise
his hand, and when he had once begun he did not stop, but he would throw
into her face the true motive for his anger. At each blow he would roar:
"There, you beggar! There, you wretch! There, you pauper! What a bright
thing I did when I rinsed my mouth with your rascal of a father's apology
The poor woman lived in continual fear, in a ceaseless trembling of body
and soul, in everlasting expectation of outrageous thrashings.
This lasted ten years. She was so timorous that she would grow pale
whenever she spoke to any one, and she thought of nothing but the blows
with which she was threatened; and she became thinner, more yellow and
drier than a smoked fish.
One night, when her husband was at sea, she was suddenly awakened by the
wild roaring of the wind!
She sat up in her bed, trembling, but, as she hear nothing more, she lay
down again; almost immediately there was a roar in the chimney which
shook the entire house; it seemed to cross the heavens like a pack of
furious animals snorting and roaring.
Then she arose and rushed to the harbor. Other women were arriving from
all sides, carrying lanterns. The men also were gathering, and all were
watching the foaming crests of the breaking wave.
The storm lasted fifteen hours. Eleven sailors never returned; Patin was
In the neighborhood of Dieppe the wreck of his bark, the Jeune-Amelie,
was found. The bodies of his sailors were found near Saint-Valery, but
his body was never recovered. As his vessel seemed to have been cut in
two, his wife expected and feared his return for a long time, for if
there had been a collision he alone might have been picked up and carried
Little by little she grew accustomed to the thought that she was rid of
him, although she would start every time that a neighbor, a beggar or a
peddler would enter suddenly.
One afternoon, about four years after the disappearance of her husband,
while she was walking along the Rue aux Juifs, she stopped before the
house of an old sea captain who had recently died and whose furniture was
for sale. Just at that moment a parrot was at auction. He had green
feathers and a blue head and was watching everybody with a displeased
look. "Three francs!" cried the auctioneer. "A bird that can talk like a
lawyer, three francs!"
A friend of the Patin woman nudged her and said:
"You ought to buy that, you who are rich. It would be good company for
you. That bird is worth more than thirty francs. Anyhow, you can always
sell it for twenty or twenty-five!"
Patin's widow added fifty centimes, and the bird was given her in a
little cage, which she carried away. She took it home, and, as she was
opening the wire door in order to give it something to drink, he bit her
finger and drew blood.
"Oh, how naughty he is!" she said.
Nevertheless she gave it some hemp-seed and corn and watched it pruning
its feathers as it glanced warily at its new home and its new mistress.
On the following morning, just as day was breaking, the Patin woman
distinctly heard a loud, deep, roaring voice calling: "Are you going to
get up, carrion?"
Her fear was so great that she hid her head under the sheets, for when
Patin was with her as soon as he would open his eyes he would shout those
well-known words into her ears.
Trembling, rolled into a ball, her back prepared for the thrashing which
she already expected, her face buried in the pillows, she murmured: "Good
Lord! he is here! Good Lord! he is here! Good Lord! he has come back!"
Minutes passed; no noise disturbed the quiet room. Then, trembling, she
stuck her head out of the bed, sure that he was there, watching, ready to
beat her. Except for a ray of sun shining through the window, she saw
nothing, and she said to her self: "He must be hidden."
She waited a long time and then, gaining courage, she said to herself: "I
must have dreamed it, seeing there is nobody here."
A little reassured, she closed her eyes, when from quite near a furious
voice, the thunderous voice of the drowned man, could be heard crying:
"Say! when in the name of all that's holy are you going to get up, you
She jumped out of bed, moved by obedience, by the passive obedience of a
woman accustomed to blows and who still remembers and always will
remember that voice! She said: "Here I am, Patin; what do you want?"
Put Patin did not answer. Then, at a complete loss, she looked around
her, then in the chimney and under the bed and finally sank into a chair,
wild with anxiety, convinced that Patin's soul alone was there, near her,
and that he had returned in order to torture her.
Suddenly she remembered the loft, in order to reach which one had to take
a ladder. Surely he must have hidden there in order to surprise her. He
must have been held by savages on some distant shore, unable to escape
until now, and he had returned, worse that ever. There was no doubting
the quality of that voice. She raised her head and asked: "Are you up
Patin did not answer. Then, with a terrible fear which made her heart
tremble, she climbed the ladder, opened the skylight, looked, saw
nothing, entered, looked about and found nothing. Sitting on some straw,
she began to cry, but while she was weeping, overcome by a poignant and
supernatural terror, she heard Patin talking in the room below.
He seemed less angry and he was saying: "Nasty weather! Fierce wind!
Nasty weather! I haven't eaten, damn it!"
She cried through the ceiling: "Here I am, Patin; I am getting your meal
ready. Don't get angry."
She ran down again. There was no one in the room. She felt herself
growing weak, as if death were touching her, and she tried to run and get
help from the neighbors, when a voice near her cried out: "I haven't had
my breakfast, by G—!"
And the parrot in his cage watched her with his round, knowing, wicked
eye. She, too, looked at him wildly, murmuring: "Ah! so it's you!"
He shook his head and continued: "Just you wait! I'll teach you how to
What happened within her? She felt, she understood that it was he, the
dead man, who had come back, who had disguised himself in the feathers of
this bird in order to continue to torment her; that he would curse, as
formerly, all day long, and bite her, and swear at her, in order to
attract the neighbors and make them laugh. Then she rushed for the cage
and seized the bird, which scratched and tore her flesh with its claws
and beak. But she held it with all her strength between her hands. She
threw it on the ground and rolled over it with the frenzy of one
possessed. She crushed it and finally made of it nothing but a little
green, flabby lump which no longer moved or spoke. Then she wrapped it in
a cloth, as in a shroud, and she went out in her nightgown, barefoot; she
crossed the dock, against which the choppy waves of the sea were beating,
and she shook the cloth and let drop this little, dead thing, which
looked like so much grass. Then she returned, threw herself on her knees
before the empty cage, and, overcome by what she had done, kneeled and
prayed for forgiveness, as if she had committed some heinous crime.
THE PIECE OF STRING
It was market-day, and from all the country round Goderville the peasants
and their wives were coming toward the town. The men walked slowly,
throwing the whole body forward at every step of their long, crooked
legs. They were deformed from pushing the plough which makes the
left-shoulder higher, and bends their figures side-ways; from reaping the
grain, when they have to spread their legs so as to keep on their feet.
Their starched blue blouses, glossy as though varnished, ornamented at
collar and cuffs with a little embroidered design and blown out around
their bony bodies, looked very much like balloons about to soar, whence
issued two arms and two feet.
Some of these fellows dragged a cow or a calf at the end of a rope. And
just behind the animal followed their wives beating it over the back with
a leaf-covered branch to hasten its pace, and carrying large baskets out
of which protruded the heads of chickens or ducks. These women walked
more quickly and energetically than the men, with their erect, dried-up
figures, adorned with scanty little shawls pinned over their flat bosoms,
and their heads wrapped round with a white cloth, enclosing the hair and
surmounted by a cap.
Now a char-a-banc passed by, jogging along behind a nag and shaking up
strangely the two men on the seat, and the woman at the bottom of the
cart who held fast to its sides to lessen the hard jolting.
In the market-place at Goderville was a great crowd, a mingled multitude
of men and beasts. The horns of cattle, the high, long-napped hats of
wealthy peasants, the head-dresses of the women came to the surface of
that sea. And the sharp, shrill, barking voices made a continuous, wild
din, while above it occasionally rose a huge burst of laughter from the
sturdy lungs of a merry peasant or a prolonged bellow from a cow tied
fast to the wall of a house.
It all smelled of the stable, of milk, of hay and of perspiration, giving
off that half-human, half-animal odor which is peculiar to country folks.
Maitre Hauchecorne, of Breaute, had just arrived at Goderville and was
making his way toward the square when he perceived on the ground a little
piece of string. Maitre Hauchecorne, economical as are all true Normans,
reflected that everything was worth picking up which could be of any use,
and he stooped down, but painfully, because he suffered from rheumatism.
He took the bit of thin string from the ground and was carefully
preparing to roll it up when he saw Maitre Malandain, the harness maker,
on his doorstep staring at him. They had once had a quarrel about a
halter, and they had borne each other malice ever since. Maitre
Hauchecorne was overcome with a sort of shame at being seen by his enemy
picking up a bit of string in the road. He quickly hid it beneath his
blouse and then slipped it into his breeches, pocket, then pretended to
be still looking for something on the ground which he did not discover
and finally went off toward the market-place, his head bent forward and
his body almost doubled in two by rheumatic pains.
He was at once lost in the crowd, which kept moving about slowly and
noisily as it chaffered and bargained. The peasants examined the cows,
went off, came back, always in doubt for fear of being cheated, never
quite daring to decide, looking the seller square in the eye in the
effort to discover the tricks of the man and the defect in the beast.
The women, having placed their great baskets at their feet, had taken out
the poultry, which lay upon the ground, their legs tied together, with
terrified eyes and scarlet combs.
They listened to propositions, maintaining their prices in a decided
manner with an impassive face or perhaps deciding to accept the smaller
price offered, suddenly calling out to the customer who was starting to
"All right, I'll let you have them, Mait' Anthime."
Then, little by little, the square became empty, and when the Angelus
struck midday those who lived at a distance poured into the inns.
At Jourdain's the great room was filled with eaters, just as the vast
court was filled with vehicles of every sort—wagons, gigs,
chars-a-bancs, tilburies, innumerable vehicles which have no name, yellow
with mud, misshapen, pieced together, raising their shafts to heaven like
two arms, or it may be with their nose on the ground and their rear in
Just opposite to where the diners were at table the huge fireplace, with
its bright flame, gave out a burning heat on the backs of those who sat
at the right. Three spits were turning, loaded with chickens, with
pigeons and with joints of mutton, and a delectable odor of roast meat
and of gravy flowing over crisp brown skin arose from the hearth, kindled
merriment, caused mouths to water.
All the aristocracy of the plough were eating there at Mait' Jourdain's,
the innkeeper's, a dealer in horses also and a sharp fellow who had made
a great deal of money in his day.
The dishes were passed round, were emptied, as were the jugs of yellow
cider. Every one told of his affairs, of his purchases and his sales.
They exchanged news about the crops. The weather was good for greens, but
too wet for grain.
Suddenly the drum began to beat in the courtyard before the house. Every
one, except some of the most indifferent, was on their feet at once and
ran to the door, to the windows, their mouths full and napkins in their
When the public crier had finished his tattoo he called forth in a jerky
voice, pausing in the wrong places:
"Be it known to the inhabitants of Goderville and in general to all
persons present at the market that there has been lost this morning on
the Beuzeville road, between nine and ten o'clock, a black leather
pocketbook containing five hundred francs and business papers. You are
requested to return it to the mayor's office at once or to Maitre Fortune
Houlbreque, of Manneville. There will be twenty francs reward."
Then the man went away. They heard once more at a distance the dull
beating of the drum and the faint voice of the crier. Then they all began
to talk of this incident, reckoning up the chances which Maitre
Houlbreque had of finding or of not finding his pocketbook again.
The meal went on. They were finishing their coffee when the corporal of
gendarmes appeared on the threshold.
"Is Maitre Hauchecorne, of Breaute, here?"
Maitre Hauchecorne, seated at the other end of the table answered:
"Here I am, here I am."
And he followed the corporal.
The mayor was waiting for him, seated in an armchair. He was the notary
of the place, a tall, grave man of pompous speech.
"Maitre Hauchecorne," said he, "this morning on the Beuzeville road, you
were seen to pick up the pocketbook lost by Maitre Houlbreque, of
The countryman looked at the mayor in amazement frightened already at
this suspicion which rested on him, he knew not why.
"I—I picked up that pocketbook?"
"I swear I don't even know anything about it."
"You were seen."
"I was seen—I? Who saw me?"
"M. Malandain, the harness-maker."
Then the old man remembered, understood, and, reddening with anger, said:
"Ah! he saw me, did he, the rascal? He saw me picking up this string
here, M'sieu le Maire."
And fumbling at the bottom of his pocket, he pulled out of it the little
end of string.
But the mayor incredulously shook his head:
"You will not make me believe, Maitre Hauchecorne, that M. Malandain, who
is a man whose word can be relied on, has mistaken this string for a
The peasant, furious, raised his hand and spat on the ground beside him
as if to attest his good faith, repeating:
"For all that, it is God's truth, M'sieu le Maire. There! On my soul's
salvation, I repeat it."
The mayor continued:
"After you picked up the object in question, you even looked about for
some time in the mud to see if a piece of money had not dropped out of
The good man was choking with indignation and fear.
"How can they tell—how can they tell such lies as that to slander
an honest man! How can they?"
His protestations were in vain; he was not believed.
He was confronted with M. Malandain, who repeated and sustained his
testimony. They railed at one another for an hour. At his own request
Maitre Hauchecorne was searched. Nothing was found on him.
At last the mayor, much perplexed, sent him away, warning him that he
would inform the public prosecutor and ask for orders.
The news had spread. When he left the mayor's office the old man was
surrounded, interrogated with a curiosity which was serious or mocking,
as the case might be, but into which no indignation entered. And he began
to tell the story of the string. They did not believe him. They laughed.
He passed on, buttonholed by every one, himself buttonholing his
acquaintances, beginning over and over again his tale and his
protestations, showing his pockets turned inside out to prove that he had
nothing in them.
They said to him:
"You old rogue!"
He grew more and more angry, feverish, in despair at not being believed,
and kept on telling his story.
The night came. It was time to go home. He left with three of his
neighbors, to whom he pointed out the place where he had picked up the
string, and all the way he talked of his adventure.
That evening he made the round of the village of Breaute for the purpose
of telling every one. He met only unbelievers.
He brooded over it all night long.
The next day, about one in the afternoon, Marius Paumelle, a farm hand of
Maitre Breton, the market gardener at Ymauville, returned the pocketbook
and its contents to Maitre Holbreque, of Manneville.
This man said, indeed, that he had found it on the road, but not knowing
how to read, he had carried it home and given it to his master.
The news spread to the environs. Maitre Hauchecorne was informed. He
started off at once and began to relate his story with the denoument. He
"What grieved me," said he, "was not the thing itself, do you understand,
but it was being accused of lying. Nothing does you so much harm as being
in disgrace for lying."
All day he talked of his adventure. He told it on the roads to the people
who passed, at the cabaret to the people who drank and next Sunday when
they came out of church. He even stopped strangers to tell them about it.
He was easy now, and yet something worried him without his knowing
exactly what it was. People had a joking manner while they listened. They
did not seem convinced. He seemed to feel their remarks behind his back.
On Tuesday of the following week he went to market at Goderville,
prompted solely by the need of telling his story.
Malandain, standing on his doorstep, began to laugh as he saw him pass.
He accosted a farmer of Criquetot, who did not let hire finish, and
giving him a punch in the pit of the stomach cried in his face: "Oh, you
great rogue!" Then he turned his heel upon him.
Maitre Hauchecorne remained speechless and grew more and more uneasy. Why
had they called him "great rogue"?
When seated at table in Jourdain's tavern he began again to explain the
A horse dealer of Montivilliers shouted at him:
"Get out, get out, you old scamp! I know all about your old string."
"But since they found it again, the pocketbook!"
But the other continued:
"Hold your tongue, daddy; there's one who finds it and there's another
who returns it. And no one the wiser."
The farmer was speechless. He understood at last. They accused him of
having had the pocketbook brought back by an accomplice, by a
He tried to protest. The whole table began to laugh.
He could not finish his dinner, and went away amid a chorus of jeers.
He went home indignant, choking with rage, with confusion, the more cast
down since with his Norman craftiness he was, perhaps, capable of having
done what they accused him of and even of boasting of it as a good trick.
He was dimly conscious that it was impossible to prove his innocence, his
craftiness being so well known. He felt himself struck to the heart by
the injustice of the suspicion.
He began anew to tell his tale, lengthening his recital every day, each
day adding new proofs, more energetic declarations and more sacred oaths,
which he thought of, which he prepared in his hours of solitude, for his
mind was entirely occupied with the story of the string. The more he
denied it, the more artful his arguments, the less he was believed.
"Those are liars proofs," they said behind his back.
He felt this. It preyed upon him and he exhausted himself in useless
He was visibly wasting away.
Jokers would make him tell the story of "the piece of string" to amuse
them, just as you make a soldier who has been on a campaign tell his
story of the battle. His mind kept growing weaker and about the end of
December he took to his bed.
He passed away early in January, and, in the ravings of death agony, he
protested his innocence, repeating:
"A little bit of string—a little bit of string. See, here it is,
M'sieu le Maire."