Boule De Suif by Guy de Maupassant
For several days in succession fragments of a defeated army had passed
through the town. They were mere disorganized bands, not disciplined
forces. The men wore long, dirty beards and tattered uniforms; they
advanced in listless fashion, without a flag, without a leader. All
seemed exhausted, worn out, incapable of thought or resolve, marching
onward merely by force of habit, and dropping to the ground with fatigue
the moment they halted. One saw, in particular, many enlisted men,
peaceful citizens, men who lived quietly on their income, bending beneath
the weight of their rifles; and little active volunteers, easily
frightened but full of enthusiasm, as eager to attack as they were ready
to take to flight; and amid these, a sprinkling of red-breeched soldiers,
the pitiful remnant of a division cut down in a great battle; somber
artillerymen, side by side with nondescript foot-soldiers; and, here and
there, the gleaming helmet of a heavy-footed dragoon who had difficulty
in keeping up with the quicker pace of the soldiers of the line. Legions
of irregulars with high-sounding names "Avengers of Defeat," "Citizens of
the Tomb," "Brethren in Death"—passed in their turn, looking like
banditti. Their leaders, former drapers or grain merchants, or tallow or
soap chandlers—warriors by force of circumstances, officers by
reason of their mustachios or their money—covered with weapons,
flannel and gold lace, spoke in an impressive manner, discussed plans of
campaign, and behaved as though they alone bore the fortunes of dying
France on their braggart shoulders; though, in truth, they frequently
were afraid of their own men—scoundrels often brave beyond measure,
but pillagers and debauchees.
Rumor had it that the Prussians were about to enter Rouen.
The members of the National Guard, who for the past two months had been
reconnoitering with the utmost caution in the neighboring woods,
occasionally shooting their own sentinels, and making ready for fight
whenever a rabbit rustled in the undergrowth, had now returned to their
homes. Their arms, their uniforms, all the death-dealing paraphernalia
with which they had terrified all the milestones along the highroad for
eight miles round, had suddenly and marvellously disappeared.
The last of the French soldiers had just crossed the Seine on their way
to Pont-Audemer, through Saint-Sever and Bourg-Achard, and in their rear
the vanquished general, powerless to do aught with the forlorn remnants
of his army, himself dismayed at the final overthrow of a nation
accustomed to victory and disastrously beaten despite its legendary
bravery, walked between two orderlies.
Then a profound calm, a shuddering, silent dread, settled on the city.
Many a round-paunched citizen, emasculated by years devoted to business,
anxiously awaited the conquerors, trembling lest his roasting-jacks or
kitchen knives should be looked upon as weapons.
Life seemed to have stopped short; the shops were shut, the streets
deserted. Now and then an inhabitant, awed by the silence, glided swiftly
by in the shadow of the walls. The anguish of suspense made men even
desire the arrival of the enemy.
In the afternoon of the day following the departure of the French troops,
a number of uhlans, coming no one knew whence, passed rapidly through the
town. A little later on, a black mass descended St. Catherine's Hill,
while two other invading bodies appeared respectively on the Darnetal and
the Boisguillaume roads. The advance guards of the three corps arrived at
precisely the same moment at the Square of the Hotel de Ville, and the
German army poured through all the adjacent streets, its battalions
making the pavement ring with their firm, measured tread.
Orders shouted in an unknown, guttural tongue rose to the windows of the
seemingly dead, deserted houses; while behind the fast-closed shutters
eager eyes peered forth at the victors-masters now of the city, its
fortunes, and its lives, by "right of war." The inhabitants, in their
darkened rooms, were possessed by that terror which follows in the wake
of cataclysms, of deadly upheavals of the earth, against which all human
skill and strength are vain. For the same thing happens whenever the
established order of things is upset, when security no longer exists,
when all those rights usually protected by the law of man or of Nature
are at the mercy of unreasoning, savage force. The earthquake crushing a
whole nation under falling roofs; the flood let loose, and engulfing in
its swirling depths the corpses of drowned peasants, along with dead oxen
and beams torn from shattered houses; or the army, covered with glory,
murdering those who defend themselves, making prisoners of the rest,
pillaging in the name of the Sword, and giving thanks to God to the
thunder of cannon—all these are appalling scourges, which destroy
all belief in eternal justice, all that confidence we have been taught to
feel in the protection of Heaven and the reason of man.
Small detachments of soldiers knocked at each door, and then disappeared
within the houses; for the vanquished saw they would have to be civil to
At the end of a short time, once the first terror had subsided, calm was
again restored. In many houses the Prussian officer ate at the same table
with the family. He was often well-bred, and, out of politeness,
expressed sympathy with France and repugnance at being compelled to take
part in the war. This sentiment was received with gratitude; besides, his
protection might be needful some day or other. By the exercise of tact
the number of men quartered in one's house might be reduced; and why
should one provoke the hostility of a person on whom one's whole welfare
depended? Such conduct would savor less of bravery than of
fool-hardiness. And foolhardiness is no longer a failing of the citizens
of Rouen as it was in the days when their city earned renown by its
heroic defenses. Last of all-final argument based on the national
politeness—the folk of Rouen said to one another that it was only
right to be civil in one's own house, provided there was no public
exhibition of familiarity with the foreigner. Out of doors, therefore,
citizen and soldier did not know each other; but in the house both
chatted freely, and each evening the German remained a little longer
warming himself at the hospitable hearth.
Even the town itself resumed by degrees its ordinary aspect. The French
seldom walked abroad, but the streets swarmed with Prussian soldiers.
Moreover, the officers of the Blue Hussars, who arrogantly dragged their
instruments of death along the pavements, seemed to hold the simple
townsmen in but little more contempt than did the French cavalry officers
who had drunk at the same cafes the year before.
But there was something in the air, a something strange and subtle, an
intolerable foreign atmosphere like a penetrating odor—the odor of
invasion. It permeated dwellings and places of public resort, changed the
taste of food, made one imagine one's self in far-distant lands, amid
dangerous, barbaric tribes.
The conquerors exacted money, much money. The inhabitants paid what was
asked; they were rich. But, the wealthier a Norman tradesman becomes, the
more he suffers at having to part with anything that belongs to him, at
having to see any portion of his substance pass into the hands of
Nevertheless, within six or seven miles of the town, along the course of
the river as it flows onward to Croisset, Dieppedalle and Biessart,
boat-men and fishermen often hauled to the surface of the water the body
of a German, bloated in his uniform, killed by a blow from knife or club,
his head crushed by a stone, or perchance pushed from some bridge into
the stream below. The mud of the river-bed swallowed up these obscure
acts of vengeance—savage, yet legitimate; these unrecorded deeds of
bravery; these silent attacks fraught with greater danger than battles
fought in broad day, and surrounded, moreover, with no halo of romance.
For hatred of the foreigner ever arms a few intrepid souls, ready to die
for an idea.
At last, as the invaders, though subjecting the town to the strictest
discipline, had not committed any of the deeds of horror with which they
had been credited while on their triumphal march, the people grew bolder,
and the necessities of business again animated the breasts of the local
merchants. Some of these had important commercial interests at Havre
—occupied at present by the French army—and wished to attempt
to reach that port by overland route to Dieppe, taking the boat from
Through the influence of the German officers whose acquaintance they had
made, they obtained a permit to leave town from the general in command.
A large four-horse coach having, therefore, been engaged for the journey,
and ten passengers having given in their names to the proprietor, they
decided to start on a certain Tuesday morning before daybreak, to avoid
attracting a crowd.
The ground had been frozen hard for some time-past, and about three
o'clock on Monday afternoon—large black clouds from the north shed
their burden of snow uninterruptedly all through that evening and night.
At half-past four in the morning the travellers met in the courtyard of
the Hotel de Normandie, where they were to take their seats in the coach.
They were still half asleep, and shivering with cold under their wraps.
They could see one another but indistinctly in the darkness, and the
mountain of heavy winter wraps in which each was swathed made them look
like a gathering of obese priests in their long cassocks. But two men
recognized each other, a third accosted them, and the three began to
talk. "I am bringing my wife," said one. "So am I." "And I, too." The
first speaker added: "We shall not return to Rouen, and if the Prussians
approach Havre we will cross to England." All three, it turned out, had
made the same plans, being of similar disposition and temperament.
Still the horses were not harnessed. A small lantern carried by a
stable-boy emerged now and then from one dark doorway to disappear
immediately in another. The stamping of horses' hoofs, deadened by the
dung and straw of the stable, was heard from time to time, and from
inside the building issued a man's voice, talking to the animals and
swearing at them. A faint tinkle of bells showed that the harness was
being got ready; this tinkle soon developed into a continuous jingling,
louder or softer according to the movements of the horse, sometimes
stopping altogether, then breaking out in a sudden peal accompanied by a
pawing of the ground by an iron-shod hoof.
The door suddenly closed. All noise ceased.
The frozen townsmen were silent; they remained motionless, stiff with
A thick curtain of glistening white flakes fell ceaselessly to the
ground; it obliterated all outlines, enveloped all objects in an icy
mantle of foam; nothing was to be heard throughout the length and breadth
of the silent, winter-bound city save the vague, nameless rustle of
falling snow—a sensation rather than a sound—the gentle
mingling of light atoms which seemed to fill all space, to cover the
The man reappeared with his lantern, leading by a rope a
melancholy-looking horse, evidently being led out against his
inclination. The hostler placed him beside the pole, fastened the traces,
and spent some time in walking round him to make sure that the harness
was all right; for he could use only one hand, the other being engaged in
holding the lantern. As he was about to fetch the second horse he noticed
the motionless group of travellers, already white with snow, and said to
them: "Why don't you get inside the coach? You'd be under shelter, at
This did not seem to have occurred to them, and they at once took his
advice. The three men seated their wives at the far end of the coach,
then got in themselves; lastly the other vague, snow-shrouded forms
clambered to the remaining places without a word.
The floor was covered with straw, into which the feet sank. The ladies at
the far end, having brought with them little copper foot-warmers heated
by means of a kind of chemical fuel, proceeded to light these, and spent
some time in expatiating in low tones on their advantages, saying over
and over again things which they had all known for a long time.
At last, six horses instead of four having been harnessed to the
diligence, on account of the heavy roads, a voice outside asked: "Is
every one there?" To which a voice from the interior replied: "Yes," and
they set out.
The vehicle moved slowly, slowly, at a snail's pace; the wheels sank into
the snow; the entire body of the coach creaked and groaned; the horses
slipped, puffed, steamed, and the coachman's long whip cracked
incessantly, flying hither and thither, coiling up, then flinging out its
length like a slender serpent, as it lashed some rounded flank, which
instantly grew tense as it strained in further effort.
But the day grew apace. Those light flakes which one traveller, a native
of Rouen, had compared to a rain of cotton fell no longer. A murky light
filtered through dark, heavy clouds, which made the country more
dazzlingly white by contrast, a whiteness broken sometimes by a row of
tall trees spangled with hoarfrost, or by a cottage roof hooded in snow.
Within the coach the passengers eyed one another curiously in the dim
light of dawn.
Right at the back, in the best seats of all, Monsieur and Madame Loiseau,
wholesale wine merchants of the Rue Grand-Pont, slumbered opposite each
other. Formerly clerk to a merchant who had failed in business, Loiseau
had bought his master's interest, and made a fortune for himself. He sold
very bad wine at a very low price to the retail-dealers in the country,
and had the reputation, among his friends and acquaintances, of being a
shrewd rascal a true Norman, full of quips and wiles. So well established
was his character as a cheat that, in the mouths of the citizens of
Rouen, the very name of Loiseau became a byword for sharp practice.
Above and beyond this, Loiseau was noted for his practical jokes of every
description—his tricks, good or ill-natured; and no one could
mention his name without adding at once: "He's an extraordinary
man—Loiseau." He was undersized and potbellied, had a florid face
with grayish whiskers.
His wife-tall, strong, determined, with a loud voice and decided manner
—represented the spirit of order and arithmetic in the business
house which Loiseau enlivened by his jovial activity.
Beside them, dignified in bearing, belonging to a superior caste, sat
Monsieur Carre-Lamadon, a man of considerable importance, a king in the
cotton trade, proprietor of three spinning-mills, officer of the Legion
of Honor, and member of the General Council. During the whole time the
Empire was in the ascendancy he remained the chief of the well-disposed
Opposition, merely in order to command a higher value for his devotion
when he should rally to the cause which he meanwhile opposed with
"courteous weapons," to use his own expression.
Madame Carre-Lamadon, much younger than her husband, was the consolation
of all the officers of good family quartered at Rouen. Pretty, slender,
graceful, she sat opposite her husband, curled up in her furs, and gazing
mournfully at the sorry interior of the coach.
Her neighbors, the Comte and Comtesse Hubert de Breville, bore one of the
noblest and most ancient names in Normandy. The count, a nobleman
advanced in years and of aristocratic bearing, strove to enhance by every
artifice of the toilet, his natural resemblance to King Henry IV, who,
according to a legend of which the family were inordinately proud, had
been the favored lover of a De Breville lady, and father of her child
—the frail one's husband having, in recognition of this fact, been
made a count and governor of a province.
A colleague of Monsieur Carre-Lamadon in the General Council, Count
Hubert represented the Orleanist party in his department. The story of
his marriage with the daughter of a small shipowner at Nantes had always
remained more or less of a mystery. But as the countess had an air of
unmistakable breeding, entertained faultlessly, and was even supposed to
have been loved by a son of Louis-Philippe, the nobility vied with one
another in doing her honor, and her drawing-room remained the most select
in the whole countryside—the only one which retained the old spirit
of gallantry, and to which access was not easy.
The fortune of the Brevilles, all in real estate, amounted, it was said,
to five hundred thousand francs a year.
These six people occupied the farther end of the coach, and represented
Society—with an income—the strong, established society of
good people with religion and principle.
It happened by chance that all the women were seated on the same side;
and the countess had, moreover, as neighbors two nuns, who spent the time
in fingering their long rosaries and murmuring paternosters and aves. One
of them was old, and so deeply pitted with smallpox that she looked for
all the world as if she had received a charge of shot full in the face.
The other, of sickly appearance, had a pretty but wasted countenance, and
a narrow, consumptive chest, sapped by that devouring faith which is the
making of martyrs and visionaries.
A man and woman, sitting opposite the two nuns, attracted all eyes.
The man—a well-known character—was Cornudet, the democrat,
the terror of all respectable people. For the past twenty years his big
red beard had been on terms of intimate acquaintance with the tankards of
all the republican cafes. With the help of his comrades and brethren he
had dissipated a respectable fortune left him by his father, an
old-established confectioner, and he now impatiently awaited the
Republic, that he might at last be rewarded with the post he had earned
by his revolutionary orgies. On the fourth of September—possibly as
the result of a practical joke—he was led to believe that he had
been appointed prefect; but when he attempted to take up the duties of
the position the clerks in charge of the office refused to recognize his
authority, and he was compelled in consequence to retire. A good sort of
fellow in other respects, inoffensive and obliging, he had thrown himself
zealously into the work of making an organized defence of the town. He
had had pits dug in the level country, young forest trees felled, and
traps set on all the roads; then at the approach of the enemy, thoroughly
satisfied with his preparations, he had hastily returned to the town. He
thought he might now do more good at Havre, where new intrenchments would
soon be necessary.
The woman, who belonged to the courtesan class, was celebrated for an
embonpoint unusual for her age, which had earned for her the sobriquet of
"Boule de Suif" (Tallow Ball). Short and round, fat as a pig, with puffy
fingers constricted at the joints, looking like rows of short sausages;
with a shiny, tightly-stretched skin and an enormous bust filling out the
bodice of her dress, she was yet attractive and much sought after, owing
to her fresh and pleasing appearance. Her face was like a crimson apple,
a peony-bud just bursting into bloom; she had two magnificent dark eyes,
fringed with thick, heavy lashes, which cast a shadow into their depths;
her mouth was small, ripe, kissable, and was furnished with the tiniest
of white teeth.
As soon as she was recognized the respectable matrons of the party began
to whisper among themselves, and the words "hussy" and "public scandal"
were uttered so loudly that Boule de Suif raised her head. She forthwith
cast such a challenging, bold look at her neighbors that a sudden silence
fell on the company, and all lowered their eyes, with the exception of
Loiseau, who watched her with evident interest.
But conversation was soon resumed among the three ladies, whom the
presence of this girl had suddenly drawn together in the bonds of
friendship—one might almost say in those of intimacy. They decided
that they ought to combine, as it were, in their dignity as wives in face
of this shameless hussy; for legitimized love always despises its
The three men, also, brought together by a certain conservative instinct
awakened by the presence of Cornudet, spoke of money matters in a tone
expressive of contempt for the poor. Count Hubert related the losses he
had sustained at the hands of the Prussians, spoke of the cattle which
had been stolen from him, the crops which had been ruined, with the easy
manner of a nobleman who was also a tenfold millionaire, and whom such
reverses would scarcely inconvenience for a single year. Monsieur
Carre-Lamadon, a man of wide experience in the cotton industry, had taken
care to send six hundred thousand francs to England as provision against
the rainy day he was always anticipating. As for Loiseau, he had managed
to sell to the French commissariat department all the wines he had in
stock, so that the state now owed him a considerable sum, which he hoped
to receive at Havre.
And all three eyed one another in friendly, well-disposed fashion.
Although of varying social status, they were united in the brotherhood of
money—in that vast freemasonry made up of those who possess, who
can jingle gold wherever they choose to put their hands into their
The coach went along so slowly that at ten o'clock in the morning it had
not covered twelve miles. Three times the men of the party got out and
climbed the hills on foot. The passengers were becoming uneasy, for they
had counted on lunching at Totes, and it seemed now as if they would
hardly arrive there before nightfall. Every one was eagerly looking out
for an inn by the roadside, when, suddenly, the coach foundered in a
snowdrift, and it took two hours to extricate it.
As appetites increased, their spirits fell; no inn, no wine shop could be
discovered, the approach of the Prussians and the transit of the starving
French troops having frightened away all business.
The men sought food in the farmhouses beside the road, but could not find
so much as a crust of bread; for the suspicious peasant invariably hid
his stores for fear of being pillaged by the soldiers, who, being
entirely without food, would take violent possession of everything they
About one o'clock Loiseau announced that he positively had a big hollow
in his stomach. They had all been suffering in the same way for some
time, and the increasing gnawings of hunger had put an end to all
Now and then some one yawned, another followed his example, and each in
turn, according to his character, breeding and social position, yawned
either quietly or noisily, placing his hand before the gaping void whence
issued breath condensed into vapor.
Several times Boule de Suif stooped, as if searching for something under
her petticoats. She would hesitate a moment, look at her neighbors, and
then quietly sit upright again. All faces were pale and drawn. Loiseau
declared he would give a thousand francs for a knuckle of ham. His wife
made an involuntary and quickly checked gesture of protest. It always
hurt her to hear of money being squandered, and she could not even
understand jokes on such a subject.
"As a matter of fact, I don't feel well," said the count. "Why did I not
think of bringing provisions?" Each one reproached himself in similar
Cornudet, however, had a bottle of rum, which he offered to his
neighbors. They all coldly refused except Loiseau, who took a sip, and
returned the bottle with thanks, saying: "That's good stuff; it warms one
up, and cheats the appetite." The alcohol put him in good humor, and he
proposed they should do as the sailors did in the song: eat the fattest
of the passengers. This indirect allusion to Boule de Suif shocked the
respectable members of the party. No one replied; only Cornudet smiled.
The two good sisters had ceased to mumble their rosary, and, with hands
enfolded in their wide sleeves, sat motionless, their eyes steadfastly
cast down, doubtless offering up as a sacrifice to Heaven the suffering
it had sent them.
At last, at three o'clock, as they were in the midst of an apparently
limitless plain, with not a single village in sight, Boule de Suif
stooped quickly, and drew from underneath the seat a large basket covered
with a white napkin.
From this she extracted first of all a small earthenware plate and a
silver drinking cup, then an enormous dish containing two whole chickens
cut into joints and imbedded in jelly. The basket was seen to contain
other good things: pies, fruit, dainties of all sorts-provisions, in
fine, for a three days' journey, rendering their owner independent of
wayside inns. The necks of four bottles protruded from among the food.
She took a chicken wing, and began to eat it daintily, together with one
of those rolls called in Normandy "Regence."
All looks were directed toward her. An odor of food filled the air,
causing nostrils to dilate, mouths to water, and jaws to contract
painfully. The scorn of the ladies for this disreputable female grew
positively ferocious; they would have liked to kill her, or throw, her
and her drinking cup, her basket, and her provisions, out of the coach
into the snow of the road below.
But Loiseau's gaze was fixed greedily on the dish of chicken. He said:
"Well, well, this lady had more forethought than the rest of us. Some
people think of everything."
She looked up at him.
"Would you like some, sir? It is hard to go on fasting all day."
"Upon my soul, I can't refuse; I cannot hold out another minute. All is
fair in war time, is it not, madame?" And, casting a glance on those
around, he added:
"At times like this it is very pleasant to meet with obliging people."
He spread a newspaper over his knees to avoid soiling his trousers, and,
with a pocketknife he always carried, helped himself to a chicken leg
coated with jelly, which he thereupon proceeded to devour.
Then Boule le Suif, in low, humble tones, invited the nuns to partake of
her repast. They both accepted the offer unhesitatingly, and after a few
stammered words of thanks began to eat quickly, without raising their
eyes. Neither did Cornudet refuse his neighbor's offer, and, in
combination with the nuns, a sort of table was formed by opening out the
newspaper over the four pairs of knees.
Mouths kept opening and shutting, ferociously masticating and devouring
the food. Loiseau, in his corner, was hard at work, and in low tones
urged his wife to follow his example. She held out for a long time, but
overstrained Nature gave way at last. Her husband, assuming his politest
manner, asked their "charming companion" if he might be allowed to offer
Madame Loiseau a small helping.
"Why, certainly, sir," she replied, with an amiable smile, holding out
When the first bottle of claret was opened some embarrassment was caused
by the fact that there was only one drinking cup, but this was passed
from one to another, after being wiped. Cornudet alone, doubtless in a
spirit of gallantry, raised to his own lips that part of the rim which
was still moist from those of his fair neighbor.
Then, surrounded by people who were eating, and well-nigh suffocated by
the odor of food, the Comte and Comtesse de Breville and Monsieur and
Madame Carre-Lamadon endured that hateful form of torture which has
perpetuated the name of Tantalus. All at once the manufacturer's young
wife heaved a sigh which made every one turn and look at her; she was
white as the snow without; her eyes closed, her head fell forward; she
had fainted. Her husband, beside himself, implored the help of his
neighbors. No one seemed to know what to do until the elder of the two
nuns, raising the patient's head, placed Boule de Suif's drinking cup to
her lips, and made her swallow a few drops of wine. The pretty invalid
moved, opened her eyes, smiled, and declared in a feeble voice that she
was all right again. But, to prevent a recurrence of the catastrophe, the
nun made her drink a cupful of claret, adding: "It's just hunger
—that's what is wrong with you."
Then Boule de Suif, blushing and embarrassed, stammered, looking at the
four passengers who were still fasting:
"'Mon Dieu', if I might offer these ladies and gentlemen——"
She stopped short, fearing a snub. But Loiseau continued:
"Hang it all, in such a case as this we are all brothers and sisters and
ought to assist each other. Come, come, ladies, don't stand on ceremony,
for goodness' sake! Do we even know whether we shall find a house in
which to pass the night? At our present rate of going we sha'n't be at
Totes till midday to-morrow."
They hesitated, no one daring to be the first to accept. But the count
settled the question. He turned toward the abashed girl, and in his most
distinguished manner said:
"We accept gratefully, madame."
As usual, it was only the first step that cost. This Rubicon once
crossed, they set to work with a will. The basket was emptied. It still
contained a pate de foie gras, a lark pie, a piece of smoked tongue,
Crassane pears, Pont-Leveque gingerbread, fancy cakes, and a cup full of
pickled gherkins and onions—Boule de Suif, like all women, being
very fond of indigestible things.
They could not eat this girl's provisions without speaking to her. So
they began to talk, stiffly at first; then, as she seemed by no means
forward, with greater freedom. Mesdames de Breville and Carre-Lamadon,
who were accomplished women of the world, were gracious and tactful. The
countess especially displayed that amiable condescension characteristic
of great ladies whom no contact with baser mortals can sully, and was
absolutely charming. But the sturdy Madame Loiseau, who had the soul of a
gendarme, continued morose, speaking little and eating much.
Conversation naturally turned on the war. Terrible stories were told
about the Prussians, deeds of bravery were recounted of the French; and
all these people who were fleeing themselves were ready to pay homage to
the courage of their compatriots. Personal experiences soon followed, and
Bottle le Suif related with genuine emotion, and with that warmth of
language not uncommon in women of her class and temperament, how it came
about that she had left Rouen.
"I thought at first that I should be able to stay," she said. "My house
was well stocked with provisions, and it seemed better to put up with
feeding a few soldiers than to banish myself goodness knows where. But
when I saw these Prussians it was too much for me! My blood boiled with
rage; I wept the whole day for very shame. Oh, if only I had been a man!
I looked at them from my window—the fat swine, with their pointed
helmets!—and my maid held my hands to keep me from throwing my
furniture down on them. Then some of them were quartered on me; I flew at
the throat of the first one who entered. They are just as easy to
strangle as other men! And I'd have been the death of that one if I
hadn't been dragged away from him by my hair. I had to hide after that.
And as soon as I could get an opportunity I left the place, and here I
She was warmly congratulated. She rose in the estimation of her
companions, who had not been so brave; and Cornudet listened to her with
the approving and benevolent smile of an apostle, the smile a priest
might wear in listening to a devotee praising God; for long-bearded
democrats of his type have a monopoly of patriotism, just as priests have
a monopoly of religion. He held forth in turn, with dogmatic
self-assurance, in the style of the proclamations daily pasted on the
walls of the town, winding up with a specimen of stump oratory in which
he reviled "that besotted fool of a Louis-Napoleon."
But Boule de Suif was indignant, for she was an ardent Bonapartist. She
turned as red as a cherry, and stammered in her wrath: "I'd just like to
have seen you in his place—you and your sort! There would have been
a nice mix-up. Oh, yes! It was you who betrayed that man. It would be
impossible to live in France if we were governed by such rascals as you!"
Cornudet, unmoved by this tirade, still smiled a superior, contemptuous
smile; and one felt that high words were impending, when the count
interposed, and, not without difficulty, succeeded in calming the
exasperated woman, saying that all sincere opinions ought to be
respected. But the countess and the manufacturer's wife, imbued with the
unreasoning hatred of the upper classes for the Republic, and instinct,
moreover, with the affection felt by all women for the pomp and
circumstance of despotic government, were drawn, in spite of themselves,
toward this dignified young woman, whose opinions coincided so closely
with their own.
The basket was empty. The ten people had finished its contents without
difficulty amid general regret that it did not hold more. Conversation
went on a little longer, though it flagged somewhat after the passengers
had finished eating.
Night fell, the darkness grew deeper and deeper, and the cold made Boule
de Suif shiver, in spite of her plumpness. So Madame de Breville offered
her her foot-warmer, the fuel of which had been several times renewed
since the morning, and she accepted the offer at once, for her feet were
icy cold. Mesdames Carre-Lamadon and Loiseau gave theirs to the nuns.
The driver lighted his lanterns. They cast a bright gleam on a cloud of
vapor which hovered over the sweating flanks of the horses, and on the
roadside snow, which seemed to unroll as they went along in the changing
light of the lamps.
All was now indistinguishable in the coach; but suddenly a movement
occurred in the corner occupied by Boule de Suif and Cornudet; and
Loiseau, peering into the gloom, fancied he saw the big, bearded democrat
move hastily to one side, as if he had received a well-directed, though
noiseless, blow in the dark.
Tiny lights glimmered ahead. It was Totes. The coach had been on the road
eleven hours, which, with the three hours allotted the horses in four
periods for feeding and breathing, made fourteen. It entered the town,
and stopped before the Hotel du Commerce.
The coach door opened; a well-known noise made all the travellers start;
it was the clanging of a scabbard, on the pavement; then a voice called
out something in German.
Although the coach had come to a standstill, no one got out; it looked as
if they were afraid of being murdered the moment they left their seats.
Thereupon the driver appeared, holding in his hand one of his lanterns,
which cast a sudden glow on the interior of the coach, lighting up the
double row of startled faces, mouths agape, and eyes wide open in
surprise and terror.
Beside the driver stood in the full light a German officer, a tall young
man, fair and slender, tightly encased in his uniform like a woman in her
corset, his flat shiny cap, tilted to one side of his head, making him
look like an English hotel runner. His exaggerated mustache, long and
straight and tapering to a point at either end in a single blond hair
that could hardly be seen, seemed to weigh down the corners of his mouth
and give a droop to his lips.
In Alsatian French he requested the travellers to alight, saying stiffly:
"Kindly get down, ladies and gentlemen."
The two nuns were the first to obey, manifesting the docility of holy
women accustomed to submission on every occasion. Next appeared the count
and countess, followed by the manufacturer and his wife, after whom came
Loiseau, pushing his larger and better half before him.
"Good-day, sir," he said to the officer as he put his foot to the ground,
acting on an impulse born of prudence rather than of politeness. The
other, insolent like all in authority, merely stared without replying.
Boule de Suif and Cornudet, though near the door, were the last to
alight, grave and dignified before the enemy. The stout girl tried to
control herself and appear calm; the democrat stroked his long russet
beard with a somewhat trembling hand. Both strove to maintain their
dignity, knowing well that at such a time each individual is always
looked upon as more or less typical of his nation; and, also, resenting
the complaisant attitude of their companions, Boule de Suif tried to wear
a bolder front than her neighbors, the virtuous women, while he, feeling
that it was incumbent on him to set a good example, kept up the attitude
of resistance which he had first assumed when he undertook to mine the
high roads round Rouen.
They entered the spacious kitchen of the inn, and the German, having
demanded the passports signed by the general in command, in which were
mentioned the name, description and profession of each traveller,
inspected them all minutely, comparing their appearance with the written
Then he said brusquely: "All right," and turned on his heel.
They breathed freely, All were still hungry; so supper was ordered. Half
an hour was required for its preparation, and while two servants were
apparently engaged in getting it ready the travellers went to look at
their rooms. These all opened off a long corridor, at the end of which
was a glazed door with a number on it.
They were just about to take their seats at table when the innkeeper
appeared in person. He was a former horse dealer—a large, asthmatic
individual, always wheezing, coughing, and clearing his throat. Follenvie
was his patronymic.
"Mademoiselle Elisabeth Rousset?"
Boule de Suif started, and turned round.
"That is my name."
"Mademoiselle, the Prussian officer wishes to speak to you immediately."
"Yes; if you are Mademoiselle Elisabeth Rousset."
She hesitated, reflected a moment, and then declared roundly:
"That may be; but I'm not going."
They moved restlessly around her; every one wondered and speculated as to
the cause of this order. The count approached:
"You are wrong, madame, for your refusal may bring trouble not only on
yourself but also on all your companions. It never pays to resist those
in authority. Your compliance with this request cannot possibly be
fraught with any danger; it has probably been made because some formality
or other was forgotten."
All added their voices to that of the count; Boule de Suif was begged,
urged, lectured, and at last convinced; every one was afraid of the
complications which might result from headstrong action on her part. She
"I am doing it for your sakes, remember that!"
The countess took her hand.
"And we are grateful to you."
She left the room. All waited for her return before commencing the meal.
Each was distressed that he or she had not been sent for rather than this
impulsive, quick-tempered girl, and each mentally rehearsed platitudes in
case of being summoned also.
But at the end of ten minutes she reappeared breathing hard, crimson with
"Oh! the scoundrel! the scoundrel!" she stammered.
All were anxious to know what had happened; but she declined to enlighten
them, and when the count pressed the point, she silenced him with much
"No; the matter has nothing to do with you, and I cannot speak of it."
Then they took their places round a high soup tureen, from which issued
an odor of cabbage. In spite of this coincidence, the supper was
cheerful. The cider was good; the Loiseaus and the nuns drank it from
motives of economy. The others ordered wine; Cornudet demanded beer. He
had his own fashion of uncorking the bottle and making the beer foam,
gazing at it as he inclined his glass and then raised it to a position
between the lamp and his eye that he might judge of its color. When he
drank, his great beard, which matched the color of his favorite beverage,
seemed to tremble with affection; his eyes positively squinted in the
endeavor not to lose sight of the beloved glass, and he looked for all
the world as if he were fulfilling the only function for which he was
born. He seemed to have established in his mind an affinity between the
two great passions of his life—pale ale and revolution—and
assuredly he could not taste the one without dreaming of the other.
Monsieur and Madame Follenvie dined at the end of the table. The man,
wheezing like a broken-down locomotive, was too short-winded to talk when
he was eating. But the wife was not silent a moment; she told how the
Prussians had impressed her on their arrival, what they did, what they
said; execrating them in the first place because they cost her money, and
in the second because she had two sons in the army. She addressed herself
principally to the countess, flattered at the opportunity of talking to a
lady of quality.
Then she lowered her voice, and began to broach delicate subjects. Her
husband interrupted her from time to time, saying:
"You would do well to hold your tongue, Madame Follenvie."
But she took no notice of him, and went on:
"Yes, madame, these Germans do nothing but eat potatoes and pork, and
then pork and potatoes. And don't imagine for a moment that they are
clean! No, indeed! And if only you saw them drilling for hours, indeed
for days, together; they all collect in a field, then they do nothing but
march backward and forward, and wheel this way and that. If only they
would cultivate the land, or remain at home and work on their high roads!
Really, madame, these soldiers are of no earthly use! Poor people have to
feed and keep them, only in order that they may learn how to kill! True,
I am only an old woman with no education, but when I see them wearing
themselves out marching about from morning till night, I say to myself:
When there are people who make discoveries that are of use to people, why
should others take so much trouble to do harm? Really, now, isn't it a
terrible thing to kill people, whether they are Prussians, or English, or
Poles, or French? If we revenge ourselves on any one who injures us we do
wrong, and are punished for it; but when our sons are shot down like
partridges, that is all right, and decorations are given to the man who
kills the most. No, indeed, I shall never be able to understand it."
Cornudet raised his voice:
"War is a barbarous proceeding when we attack a peaceful neighbor, but it
is a sacred duty when undertaken in defence of one's country."
The old woman looked down:
"Yes; it's another matter when one acts in self-defence; but would it not
be better to kill all the kings, seeing that they make war just to amuse
Cornudet's eyes kindled.
"Bravo, citizens!" he said.
Monsieur Carre-Lamadon was reflecting profoundly. Although an ardent
admirer of great generals, the peasant woman's sturdy common sense made
him reflect on the wealth which might accrue to a country by the
employment of so many idle hands now maintained at a great expense, of so
much unproductive force, if they were employed in those great industrial
enterprises which it will take centuries to complete.
But Loiseau, leaving his seat, went over to the innkeeper and began
chatting in a low voice. The big man chuckled, coughed, sputtered; his
enormous carcass shook with merriment at the pleasantries of the other;
and he ended by buying six casks of claret from Loiseau to be delivered
in spring, after the departure of the Prussians.
The moment supper was over every one went to bed, worn out with fatigue.
But Loiseau, who had been making his observations on the sly, sent his
wife to bed, and amused himself by placing first his ear, and then his
eye, to the bedroom keyhole, in order to discover what he called "the
mysteries of the corridor."
At the end of about an hour he heard a rustling, peeped out quickly, and
caught sight of Boule de Suif, looking more rotund than ever in a
dressing-gown of blue cashmere trimmed with white lace. She held a candle
in her hand, and directed her steps to the numbered door at the end of
the corridor. But one of the side doors was partly opened, and when, at
the end of a few minutes, she returned, Cornudet, in his shirt-sleeves,
followed her. They spoke in low tones, then stopped short. Boule de Suif
seemed to be stoutly denying him admission to her room. Unfortunately,
Loiseau could not at first hear what they said; but toward the end of the
conversation they raised their voices, and he caught a few words.
Cornudet was loudly insistent.
"How silly you are! What does it matter to you?" he said.
She seemed indignant, and replied:
"No, my good man, there are times when one does not do that sort of
thing; besides, in this place it would be shameful."
Apparently he did not understand, and asked the reason. Then she lost her
temper and her caution, and, raising her voice still higher, said:
"Why? Can't you understand why? When there are Prussians in the house!
Perhaps even in the very next room!"
He was silent. The patriotic shame of this wanton, who would not suffer
herself to be caressed in the neighborhood of the enemy, must have roused
his dormant dignity, for after bestowing on her a simple kiss he crept
softly back to his room. Loiseau, much edified, capered round the bedroom
before taking his place beside his slumbering spouse.
Then silence reigned throughout the house. But soon there arose from some
remote part—it might easily have been either cellar or
attic—a stertorous, monotonous, regular snoring, a dull, prolonged
rumbling, varied by tremors like those of a boiler under pressure of
steam. Monsieur Follenvie had gone to sleep.
As they had decided on starting at eight o'clock the next morning, every
one was in the kitchen at that hour; but the coach, its roof covered with
snow, stood by itself in the middle of the yard, without either horses or
driver. They sought the latter in the stables, coach-houses and barns
—but in vain. So the men of the party resolved to scour the country
for him, and sallied forth. They found them selves in the square, with
the church at the farther side, and to right and left low-roofed houses
where there were some Prussian soldiers. The first soldier they saw was
peeling potatoes. The second, farther on, was washing out a barber's
shop. An other, bearded to the eyes, was fondling a crying infant, and
dandling it on his knees to quiet it; and the stout peasant women, whose
men-folk were for the most part at the war, were, by means of signs,
telling their obedient conquerors what work they were to do: chop wood,
prepare soup, grind coffee; one of them even was doing the washing for
his hostess, an infirm old grandmother.
The count, astonished at what he saw, questioned the beadle who was
coming out of the presbytery. The old man answered:
"Oh, those men are not at all a bad sort; they are not Prussians, I am
told; they come from somewhere farther off, I don't exactly know where.
And they have all left wives and children behind them; they are not fond
of war either, you may be sure! I am sure they are mourning for the men
where they come from, just as we do here; and the war causes them just as
much unhappiness as it does us. As a matter of fact, things are not so
very bad here just now, because the soldiers do no harm, and work just as
if they were in their own homes. You see, sir, poor folk always help one
another; it is the great ones of this world who make war."
Cornudet indignant at the friendly understanding established between
conquerors and conquered, withdrew, preferring to shut himself up in the
"They are repeopling the country," jested Loiseau.
"They are undoing the harm they have done," said Monsieur Carre-Lamadon
But they could not find the coach driver. At last he was discovered in
the village cafe, fraternizing cordially with the officer's orderly.
"Were you not told to harness the horses at eight o'clock?" demanded the
"Oh, yes; but I've had different orders since."
"Not to harness at all."
"Who gave you such orders?"
"Why, the Prussian officer."
"I don't know. Go and ask him. I am forbidden to harness the horses, so I
don't harness them—that's all."
"Did he tell you so himself?"
"No, sir; the innkeeper gave me the order from him."
"Last evening, just as I was going to bed."
The three men returned in a very uneasy frame of mind.
They asked for Monsieur Follenvie, but the servant replied that on
account of his asthma he never got up before ten o'clock. They were
strictly forbidden to rouse him earlier, except in case of fire.
They wished to see the officer, but that also was impossible, although he
lodged in the inn. Monsieur Follenvie alone was authorized to interview
him on civil matters. So they waited. The women returned to their rooms,
and occupied themselves with trivial matters.
Cornudet settled down beside the tall kitchen fireplace, before a blazing
fire. He had a small table and a jug of beer placed beside him, and he
smoked his pipe—a pipe which enjoyed among democrats a
consideration almost equal to his own, as though it had served its
country in serving Cornudet. It was a fine meerschaum, admirably colored
to a black the shade of its owner's teeth, but sweet-smelling, gracefully
curved, at home in its master's hand, and completing his physiognomy. And
Cornudet sat motionless, his eyes fixed now on the dancing flames, now on
the froth which crowned his beer; and after each draught he passed his
long, thin fingers with an air of satisfaction through his long, greasy
hair, as he sucked the foam from his mustache.
Loiseau, under pretence of stretching his legs, went out to see if he
could sell wine to the country dealers. The count and the manufacturer
began to talk politics. They forecast the future of France. One believed
in the Orleans dynasty, the other in an unknown savior—a hero who
should rise up in the last extremity: a Du Guesclin, perhaps a Joan of
Arc? or another Napoleon the First? Ah! if only the Prince Imperial were
not so young! Cornudet, listening to them, smiled like a man who holds
the keys of destiny in his hands. His pipe perfumed the whole kitchen.
As the clock struck ten, Monsieur Follenvie appeared. He was immediately
surrounded and questioned, but could only repeat, three or four times in
succession, and without variation, the words:
"The officer said to me, just like this: 'Monsieur Follenvie, you will
forbid them to harness up the coach for those travellers to-morrow. They
are not to start without an order from me. You hear? That is
Then they asked to see the officer. The count sent him his card, on which
Monsieur Carre-Lamadon also inscribed his name and titles. The Prussian
sent word that the two men would be admitted to see him after his
luncheon—that is to say, about one o'clock.
The ladies reappeared, and they all ate a little, in spite of their
anxiety. Boule de Suif appeared ill and very much worried.
They were finishing their coffee when the orderly came to fetch the
Loiseau joined the other two; but when they tried to get Cornudet to
accompany them, by way of adding greater solemnity to the occasion, he
declared proudly that he would never have anything to do with the
Germans, and, resuming his seat in the chimney corner, he called for
another jug of beer.
The three men went upstairs, and were ushered into the best room in the
inn, where the officer received them lolling at his ease in an armchair,
his feet on the mantelpiece, smoking a long porcelain pipe, and enveloped
in a gorgeous dressing-gown, doubtless stolen from the deserted dwelling
of some citizen destitute of taste in dress. He neither rose, greeted
them, nor even glanced in their direction. He afforded a fine example of
that insolence of bearing which seems natural to the victorious soldier.
After the lapse of a few moments he said in his halting French:
"What do you want?"
"We wish to start on our journey," said the count.
"May I ask the reason of your refusal?"
"Because I don't choose."
"I would respectfully call your attention, monsieur, to the fact that
your general in command gave us a permit to proceed to Dieppe; and I do
not think we have done anything to deserve this harshness at your hands."
"I don't choose—that's all. You may go."
They bowed, and retired.
The afternoon was wretched. They could not understand the caprice of this
German, and the strangest ideas came into their heads. They all
congregated in the kitchen, and talked the subject to death, imagining
all kinds of unlikely things. Perhaps they were to be kept as hostages
—but for what reason? or to be extradited as prisoners of war? or
possibly they were to be held for ransom? They were panic-stricken at
this last supposition. The richest among them were the most alarmed,
seeing themselves forced to empty bags of gold into the insolent
soldier's hands in order to buy back their lives. They racked their
brains for plausible lies whereby they might conceal the fact that they
were rich, and pass themselves off as poor—very poor. Loiseau took
off his watch chain, and put it in his pocket. The approach of night
increased their apprehension. The lamp was lighted, and as it wanted yet
two hours to dinner Madame Loiseau proposed a game of trente et un. It
would distract their thoughts. The rest agreed, and Cornudet himself
joined the party, first putting out his pipe for politeness' sake.
The count shuffled the cards—dealt—and Boule de Suif had thirty-one
to start with; soon the interest of the game assuaged the anxiety of the
players. But Cornudet noticed that Loiseau and his wife were in league to
They were about to sit down to dinner when Monsieur Follenvie appeared,
and in his grating voice announced:
"The Prussian officer sends to ask Mademoiselle Elisabeth Rousset if she
has changed her mind yet."
Boule de Suif stood still, pale as death. Then, suddenly turning crimson
with anger, she gasped out:
"Kindly tell that scoundrel, that cur, that carrion of a Prussian, that I
will never consent—you understand?—never, never, never!"
The fat innkeeper left the room. Then Boule de Suif was surrounded,
questioned, entreated on all sides to reveal the mystery of her visit to
the officer. She refused at first; but her wrath soon got the better of
"What does he want? He wants to make me his mistress!" she cried.
No one was shocked at the word, so great was the general indignation.
Cornudet broke his jug as he banged it down on the table. A loud outcry
arose against this base soldier. All were furious. They drew together in
common resistance against the foe, as if some part of the sacrifice
exacted of Boule de Suif had been demanded of each. The count declared,
with supreme disgust, that those people behaved like ancient barbarians.
The women, above all, manifested a lively and tender sympathy for Boule
de Suif. The nuns, who appeared only at meals, cast down their eyes, and
They dined, however, as soon as the first indignant outburst had
subsided; but they spoke little and thought much.
The ladies went to bed early; and the men, having lighted their pipes,
proposed a game of ecarte, in which Monsieur Follenvie was invited to
join, the travellers hoping to question him skillfully as to the best
means of vanquishing the officer's obduracy. But he thought of nothing
but his cards, would listen to nothing, reply to nothing, and repeated,
time after time: "Attend to the game, gentlemen! attend to the game!" So
absorbed was his attention that he even forgot to expectorate. The
consequence was that his chest gave forth rumbling sounds like those of
an organ. His wheezing lungs struck every note of the asthmatic scale,
from deep, hollow tones to a shrill, hoarse piping resembling that of a
young cock trying to crow.
He refused to go to bed when his wife, overcome with sleep, came to fetch
him. So she went off alone, for she was an early bird, always up with the
sun; while he was addicted to late hours, ever ready to spend the night
with friends. He merely said: "Put my egg-nogg by the fire," and went on
with the game. When the other men saw that nothing was to be got out of
him they declared it was time to retire, and each sought his bed.
They rose fairly early the next morning, with a vague hope of being
allowed to start, a greater desire than ever to do so, and a terror at
having to spend another day in this wretched little inn.
Alas! the horses remained in the stable, the driver was invisible. They
spent their time, for want of something better to do, in wandering round
Luncheon was a gloomy affair; and there was a general coolness toward
Boule de Suif, for night, which brings counsel, had somewhat modified the
judgment of her companions. In the cold light of the morning they almost
bore a grudge against the girl for not having secretly sought out the
Prussian, that the rest of the party might receive a joyful surprise when
they awoke. What more simple?
Besides, who would have been the wiser? She might have saved appearances
by telling the officer that she had taken pity on their distress. Such a
step would be of so little consequence to her.
But no one as yet confessed to such thoughts.
In the afternoon, seeing that they were all bored to death, the count
proposed a walk in the neighborhood of the village. Each one wrapped
himself up well, and the little party set out, leaving behind only
Cornudet, who preferred to sit over the fire, and the two nuns, who were
in the habit of spending their day in the church or at the presbytery.
The cold, which grew more intense each day, almost froze the noses and
ears of the pedestrians, their feet began to pain them so that each step
was a penance, and when they reached the open country it looked so
mournful and depressing in its limitless mantle of white that they all
hastily retraced their steps, with bodies benumbed and hearts heavy.
The four women walked in front, and the three men followed a little in
Loiseau, who saw perfectly well how matters stood, asked suddenly "if
that trollop were going to keep them waiting much longer in this
Godforsaken spot." The count, always courteous, replied that they could
not exact so painful a sacrifice from any woman, and that the first move
must come from herself. Monsieur Carre-Lamadon remarked that if the
French, as they talked of doing, made a counter attack by way of Dieppe,
their encounter with the enemy must inevitably take place at Totes. This
reflection made the other two anxious.
"Supposing we escape on foot?" said Loiseau.
The count shrugged his shoulders.
"How can you think of such a thing, in this snow? And with our wives?
Besides, we should be pursued at once, overtaken in ten minutes, and
brought back as prisoners at the mercy of the soldiery."
This was true enough; they were silent.
The ladies talked of dress, but a certain constraint seemed to prevail
Suddenly, at the end of the street, the officer appeared. His tall,
wasp-like, uniformed figure was outlined against the snow which bounded
the horizon, and he walked, knees apart, with that motion peculiar to
soldiers, who are always anxious not to soil their carefully polished
He bowed as he passed the ladies, then glanced scornfully at the men, who
had sufficient dignity not to raise their hats, though Loiseau made a
movement to do so.
Boule de Suif flushed crimson to the ears, and the three married women
felt unutterably humiliated at being met thus by the soldier in company
with the girl whom he had treated with such scant ceremony.
Then they began to talk about him, his figure, and his face. Madame
Carre-Lamadon, who had known many officers and judged them as a
connoisseur, thought him not at all bad-looking; she even regretted that
he was not a Frenchman, because in that case he would have made a very
handsome hussar, with whom all the women would assuredly have fallen in
When they were once more within doors they did not know what to do with
themselves. Sharp words even were exchanged apropos of the merest
trifles. The silent dinner was quickly over, and each one went to bed
early in the hope of sleeping, and thus killing time.
They came down next morning with tired faces and irritable tempers; the
women scarcely spoke to Boule de Suif.
A church bell summoned the faithful to a baptism. Boule de Suif had a
child being brought up by peasants at Yvetot. She did not see him once a
year, and never thought of him; but the idea of the child who was about
to be baptized induced a sudden wave of tenderness for her own, and she
insisted on being present at the ceremony.
As soon as she had gone out, the rest of the company looked at one
another and then drew their chairs together; for they realized that they
must decide on some course of action. Loiseau had an inspiration: he
proposed that they should ask the officer to detain Boule de Suif only,
and to let the rest depart on their way.
Monsieur Follenvie was intrusted with this commission, but he returned to
them almost immediately. The German, who knew human nature, had shown him
the door. He intended to keep all the travellers until his condition had
been complied with.
Whereupon Madame Loiseau's vulgar temperament broke bounds.
"We're not going to die of old age here!" she cried. "Since it's that
vixen's trade to behave so with men I don't see that she has any right to
refuse one more than another. I may as well tell you she took any lovers
she could get at Rouen—even coachmen! Yes, indeed, madame—the
coachman at the prefecture! I know it for a fact, for he buys his wine of
us. And now that it is a question of getting us out of a difficulty she
puts on virtuous airs, the drab! For my part, I think this officer has
behaved very well. Why, there were three others of us, any one of whom he
would undoubtedly have preferred. But no, he contents himself with the
girl who is common property. He respects married women. Just think. He is
master here. He had only to say: 'I wish it!' and he might have taken us
by force, with the help of his soldiers."
The two other women shuddered; the eyes of pretty Madame Carre-Lamadon
glistened, and she grew pale, as if the officer were indeed in the act of
laying violent hands on her.
The men, who had been discussing the subject among themselves, drew near.
Loiseau, in a state of furious resentment, was for delivering up "that
miserable woman," bound hand and foot, into the enemy's power. But the
count, descended from three generations of ambassadors, and endowed,
moreover, with the lineaments of a diplomat, was in favor of more tactful
"We must persuade her," he said.
Then they laid their plans.
The women drew together; they lowered their voices, and the discussion
became general, each giving his or her opinion. But the conversation was
not in the least coarse. The ladies, in particular, were adepts at
delicate phrases and charming subtleties of expression to describe the
most improper things. A stranger would have understood none of their
allusions, so guarded was the language they employed. But, seeing that
the thin veneer of modesty with which every woman of the world is
furnished goes but a very little way below the surface, they began rather
to enjoy this unedifying episode, and at bottom were hugely delighted
—feeling themselves in their element, furthering the schemes of
lawless love with the gusto of a gourmand cook who prepares supper for
Their gaiety returned of itself, so amusing at last did the whole
business seem to them. The count uttered several rather risky witticisms,
but so tactfully were they said that his audience could not help smiling.
Loiseau in turn made some considerably broader jokes, but no one took
offence; and the thought expressed with such brutal directness by his
wife was uppermost in the minds of all: "Since it's the girl's trade, why
should she refuse this man more than another?" Dainty Madame
Carre-Lamadon seemed to think even that in Boule de Suif's place she
would be less inclined to refuse him than another.
The blockade was as carefully arranged as if they were investing a
fortress. Each agreed on the role which he or she was to play, the
arguments to be used, the maneuvers to be executed. They decided on the
plan of campaign, the stratagems they were to employ, and the surprise
attacks which were to reduce this human citadel and force it to receive
the enemy within its walls.
But Cornudet remained apart from the rest, taking no share in the plot.
So absorbed was the attention of all that Boule de Suif's entrance was
almost unnoticed. But the count whispered a gentle "Hush!" which made the
others look up. She was there. They suddenly stopped talking, and a vague
embarrassment prevented them for a few moments from addressing her. But
the countess, more practiced than the others in the wiles of the
drawing-room, asked her:
"Was the baptism interesting?"
The girl, still under the stress of emotion, told what she had seen and
heard, described the faces, the attitudes of those present, and even the
appearance of the church. She concluded with the words:
"It does one good to pray sometimes."
Until lunch time the ladies contented themselves with being pleasant to
her, so as to increase her confidence and make her amenable to their
As soon as they took their seats at table the attack began. First they
opened a vague conversation on the subject of self-sacrifice. Ancient
examples were quoted: Judith and Holofernes; then, irrationally enough,
Lucrece and Sextus; Cleopatra and the hostile generals whom she reduced
to abject slavery by a surrender of her charms. Next was recounted an
extraordinary story, born of the imagination of these ignorant
millionaires, which told how the matrons of Rome seduced Hannibal, his
lieutenants, and all his mercenaries at Capua. They held up to admiration
all those women who from time to time have arrested the victorious
progress of conquerors, made of their bodies a field of battle, a means
of ruling, a weapon; who have vanquished by their heroic caresses hideous
or detested beings, and sacrificed their chastity to vengeance and
All was said with due restraint and regard for propriety, the effect
heightened now and then by an outburst of forced enthusiasm calculated to
A listener would have thought at last that the one role of woman on earth
was a perpetual sacrifice of her person, a continual abandonment of
herself to the caprices of a hostile soldiery.
The two nuns seemed to hear nothing, and to be lost in thought. Boule de
Suif also was silent.
During the whole afternoon she was left to her reflections. But instead
of calling her "madame" as they had done hitherto, her companions
addressed her simply as "mademoiselle," without exactly knowing why, but
as if desirous of making her descend a step in the esteem she had won,
and forcing her to realize her degraded position.
Just as soup was served, Monsieur Follenvie reappeared, repeating his
phrase of the evening before:
"The Prussian officer sends to ask if Mademoiselle Elisabeth Rousset has
changed her mind."
Boule de Suif answered briefly:
But at dinner the coalition weakened. Loiseau made three unfortunate
remarks. Each was cudgeling his brains for further examples of
self-sacrifice, and could find none, when the countess, possibly without
ulterior motive, and moved simply by a vague desire to do homage to
religion, began to question the elder of the two nuns on the most
striking facts in the lives of the saints. Now, it fell out that many of
these had committed acts which would be crimes in our eyes, but the
Church readily pardons such deeds when they are accomplished for the
glory of God or the good of mankind. This was a powerful argument, and
the countess made the most of it. Then, whether by reason of a tacit
understanding, a thinly veiled act of complaisance such as those who wear
the ecclesiastical habit excel in, or whether merely as the result of
sheer stupidity—a stupidity admirably adapted to further their
designs—the old nun rendered formidable aid to the conspirator.
They had thought her timid; she proved herself bold, talkative, bigoted.
She was not troubled by the ins and outs of casuistry; her doctrines were
as iron bars; her faith knew no doubt; her conscience no scruples. She
looked on Abraham's sacrifice as natural enough, for she herself would
not have hesitated to kill both father and mother if she had received a
divine order to that effect; and nothing, in her opinion, could displease
our Lord, provided the motive were praiseworthy. The countess, putting to
good use the consecrated authority of her unexpected ally, led her on to
make a lengthy and edifying paraphrase of that axiom enunciated by a
certain school of moralists: "The end justifies the means."
"Then, sister," she asked, "you think God accepts all methods, and
pardons the act when the motive is pure?"
"Undoubtedly, madame. An action reprehensible in itself often derives
merit from the thought which inspires it."
And in this wise they talked on, fathoming the wishes of God, predicting
His judgments, describing Him as interested in matters which assuredly
concern Him but little.
All was said with the utmost care and discretion, but every word uttered
by the holy woman in her nun's garb weakened the indignant resistance of
the courtesan. Then the conversation drifted somewhat, and the nun began
to talk of the convents of her order, of her Superior, of herself, and of
her fragile little neighbor, Sister St. Nicephore. They had been sent for
from Havre to nurse the hundreds of soldiers who were in hospitals,
stricken with smallpox. She described these wretched invalids and their
malady. And, while they themselves were detained on their way by the
caprices of the Prussian officer, scores of Frenchmen might be dying,
whom they would otherwise have saved! For the nursing of soldiers was the
old nun's specialty; she had been in the Crimea, in Italy, in Austria;
and as she told the story of her campaigns she revealed herself as one of
those holy sisters of the fife and drum who seem designed by nature to
follow camps, to snatch the wounded from amid the strife of battle, and
to quell with a word, more effectually than any general, the rough and
insubordinate troopers—a masterful woman, her seamed and pitted
face itself an image of the devastations of war.
No one spoke when she had finished for fear of spoiling the excellent
effect of her words.
As soon as the meal was over the travellers retired to their rooms,
whence they emerged the following day at a late hour of the morning.
Luncheon passed off quietly. The seed sown the preceding evening was
being given time to germinate and bring forth fruit.
In the afternoon the countess proposed a walk; then the count, as had
been arranged beforehand, took Boule de Suif's arm, and walked with her
at some distance behind the rest.
He began talking to her in that familiar, paternal, slightly contemptuous
tone which men of his class adopt in speaking to women like her, calling
her "my dear child," and talking down to her from the height of his
exalted social position and stainless reputation. He came straight to the
"So you prefer to leave us here, exposed like yourself to all the
violence which would follow on a repulse of the Prussian troops, rather
than consent to surrender yourself, as you have done so many times in
The girl did not reply.
He tried kindness, argument, sentiment. He still bore himself as count,
even while adopting, when desirable, an attitude of gallantry, and making
pretty—nay, even tender—speeches. He exalted the service she
would render them, spoke of their gratitude; then, suddenly, using the
"And you know, my dear, he could boast then of having made a conquest of
a pretty girl such as he won't often find in his own country."
Boule de Suif did not answer, and joined the rest of the party.
As soon as they returned she went to her room, and was seen no more. The
general anxiety was at its height. What would she do? If she still
resisted, how awkward for them all!
The dinner hour struck; they waited for her in vain. At last Monsieur
Follenvie entered, announcing that Mademoiselle Rousset was not well, and
that they might sit down to table. They all pricked up their ears. The
count drew near the innkeeper, and whispered:
"Is it all right?"
Out of regard for propriety he said nothing to his companions, but merely
nodded slightly toward them. A great sigh of relief went up from all
breasts; every face was lighted up with joy.
"By Gad!" shouted Loiseau, "I'll stand champagne all round if there's any
to be found in this place." And great was Madame Loiseau's dismay when
the proprietor came back with four bottles in his hands. They had all
suddenly become talkative and merry; a lively joy filled all hearts. The
count seemed to perceive for the first time that Madame Carre-Lamadon was
charming; the manufacturer paid compliments to the countess. The
conversation was animated, sprightly, witty, and, although many of the
jokes were in the worst possible taste, all the company were amused by
them, and none offended—indignation being dependent, like other
emotions, on surroundings. And the mental atmosphere had gradually become
filled with gross imaginings and unclean thoughts.
At dessert even the women indulged in discreetly worded allusions. Their
glances were full of meaning; they had drunk much. The count, who even in
his moments of relaxation preserved a dignified demeanor, hit on a
much-appreciated comparison of the condition of things with the
termination of a winter spent in the icy solitude of the North Pole and
the joy of shipwrecked mariners who at last perceive a southward track
opening out before their eyes.
Loiseau, fairly in his element, rose to his feet, holding aloft a glass
"I drink to our deliverance!" he shouted.
All stood up, and greeted the toast with acclamation. Even the two good
sisters yielded to the solicitations of the ladies, and consented to
moisten their lips with the foaming wine, which they had never before
tasted. They declared it was like effervescent lemonade, but with a
"It is a pity," said Loiseau, "that we have no piano; we might have had a
Cornudet had not spoken a word or made a movement; he seemed plunged in
serious thought, and now and then tugged furiously at his great beard, as
if trying to add still further to its length. At last, toward midnight,
when they were about to separate, Loiseau, whose gait was far from
steady, suddenly slapped him on the back, saying thickly:
"You're not jolly to-night; why are you so silent, old man?"
Cornudet threw back his head, cast one swift and scornful glance over the
assemblage, and answered:
"I tell you all, you have done an infamous thing!"
He rose, reached the door, and repeating: "Infamous!" disappeared.
A chill fell on all. Loiseau himself looked foolish and disconcerted for
a moment, but soon recovered his aplomb, and, writhing with laughter,
"Really, you are all too green for anything!"
Pressed for an explanation, he related the "mysteries of the corridor,"
whereat his listeners were hugely amused. The ladies could hardly contain
their delight. The count and Monsieur Carre-Lamadon laughed till they
cried. They could scarcely believe their ears.
"What! you are sure? He wanted——"
"I tell you I saw it with my own eyes."
"And she refused?"
"Because the Prussian was in the next room!"
"Surely you are mistaken?"
"I swear I'm telling you the truth."
The count was choking with laughter. The manufacturer held his sides.
"So you may well imagine he doesn't think this evening's business at all
And all three began to laugh again, choking, coughing, almost ill with
Then they separated. But Madame Loiseau, who was nothing if not spiteful,
remarked to her husband as they were on the way to bed that "that
stuck-up little minx of a Carre-Lamadon had laughed on the wrong side of
her mouth all the evening."
"You know," she said, "when women run after uniforms it's all the same to
them whether the men who wear them are French or Prussian. It's perfectly
The next morning the snow showed dazzling white tinder a clear winter
sun. The coach, ready at last, waited before the door; while a flock of
white pigeons, with pink eyes spotted in the centres with black, puffed
out their white feathers and walked sedately between the legs of the six
horses, picking at the steaming manure.
The driver, wrapped in his sheepskin coat, was smoking a pipe on the box,
and all the passengers, radiant with delight at their approaching
departure, were putting up provisions for the remainder of the journey.
They were waiting only for Boule de Suif. At last she appeared.
She seemed rather shamefaced and embarrassed, and advanced with timid
step toward her companions, who with one accord turned aside as if they
had not seen her. The count, with much dignity, took his wife by the arm,
and removed her from the unclean contact.
The girl stood still, stupefied with astonishment; then, plucking up
courage, accosted the manufacturer's wife with a humble "Good-morning,
madame," to which the other replied merely with a slight and insolent
nod, accompanied by a look of outraged virtue. Every one suddenly
appeared extremely busy, and kept as far from Boule de Suif as if tier
skirts had been infected with some deadly disease. Then they hurried to
the coach, followed by the despised courtesan, who, arriving last of all,
silently took the place she had occupied during the first part of the
The rest seemed neither to see nor to know her—all save Madame
Loiseau, who, glancing contemptuously in her direction, remarked, half
aloud, to her husband:
"What a mercy I am not sitting beside that creature!"
The lumbering vehicle started on its way, and the journey began afresh.
At first no one spoke. Boule de Suif dared not even raise her eyes. She
felt at once indignant with her neighbors, and humiliated at having
yielded to the Prussian into whose arms they had so hypocritically cast
But the countess, turning toward Madame Carre-Lamadon, soon broke the
"I think you know Madame d'Etrelles?"
"Yes; she is a friend of mine."
"Such a charming woman!"
"Delightful! Exceptionally talented, and an artist to the finger tips.
She sings marvellously and draws to perfection."
The manufacturer was chatting with the count, and amid the clatter of the
window-panes a word of their conversation was now and then
Loiseau, who had abstracted from the inn the timeworn pack of cards,
thick with the grease of five years' contact with half-wiped-off tables,
started a game of bezique with his wife.
The good sisters, taking up simultaneously the long rosaries hanging from
their waists, made the sign of the cross, and began to mutter in unison
interminable prayers, their lips moving ever more and more swiftly, as if
they sought which should outdistance the other in the race of orisons;
from time to time they kissed a medal, and crossed themselves anew, then
resumed their rapid and unintelligible murmur.
Cornudet sat still, lost in thought.
Ah the end of three hours Loiseau gathered up the cards, and remarked
that he was hungry.
His wife thereupon produced a parcel tied with string, from which she
extracted a piece of cold veal. This she cut into neat, thin slices, and
both began to eat.
"We may as well do the same," said the countess. The rest agreed, and she
unpacked the provisions which had been prepared for herself, the count,
and the Carre-Lamadons. In one of those oval dishes, the lids of which
are decorated with an earthenware hare, by way of showing that a game pie
lies within, was a succulent delicacy consisting of the brown flesh of
the game larded with streaks of bacon and flavored with other meats
chopped fine. A solid wedge of Gruyere cheese, which had been wrapped in
a newspaper, bore the imprint: "Items of News," on its rich, oily
The two good sisters brought to light a hunk of sausage smelling strongly
of garlic; and Cornudet, plunging both hands at once into the capacious
pockets of his loose overcoat, produced from one four hard-boiled eggs
and from the other a crust of bread. He removed the shells, threw them
into the straw beneath his feet, and began to devour the eggs, letting
morsels of the bright yellow yolk fall in his mighty beard, where they
looked like stars.
Boule de Suif, in the haste and confusion of her departure, had not
thought of anything, and, stifling with rage, she watched all these
people placidly eating. At first, ill-suppressed wrath shook her whole
person, and she opened her lips to shriek the truth at them, to overwhelm
them with a volley of insults; but she could not utter a word, so choked
was she with indignation.
No one looked at her, no one thought of her. She felt herself swallowed
up in the scorn of these virtuous creatures, who had first sacrificed,
then rejected her as a thing useless and unclean. Then she remembered her
big basket full of the good things they had so greedily devoured: the two
chickens coated in jelly, the pies, the pears, the four bottles of
claret; and her fury broke forth like a cord that is overstrained, and
she was on the verge of tears. She made terrible efforts at self-control,
drew herself up, swallowed the sobs which choked her; but the tears rose
nevertheless, shone at the brink of her eyelids, and soon two heavy drops
coursed slowly down her cheeks. Others followed more quickly, like water
filtering from a rock, and fell, one after another, on her rounded bosom.
She sat upright, with a fixed expression, her face pale and rigid, hoping
desperately that no one saw her give way.
But the countess noticed that she was weeping, and with a sign drew her
husband's attention to the fact. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say:
"Well, what of it? It's not my fault." Madame Loiseau chuckled
triumphantly, and murmured:
"She's weeping for shame."
The two nuns had betaken themselves once more to their prayers, first
wrapping the remainder of their sausage in paper:
Then Cornudet, who was digesting his eggs, stretched his long legs under
the opposite seat, threw himself back, folded his arms, smiled like a man
who had just thought of a good joke, and began to whistle the
The faces of his neighbors clouded; the popular air evidently did not
find favor with them; they grew nervous and irritable, and seemed ready
to howl as a dog does at the sound of a barrel-organ. Cornudet saw the
discomfort he was creating, and whistled the louder; sometimes he even
hummed the words:
Amour sacre de la patrie,
Conduis, soutiens, nos bras vengeurs,
Liberte, liberte cherie,
Combats avec tes defenseurs!
The coach progressed more swiftly, the snow being harder now; and all the
way to Dieppe, during the long, dreary hours of the journey, first in the
gathering dusk, then in the thick darkness, raising his voice above the
rumbling of the vehicle, Cornudet continued with fierce obstinacy his
vengeful and monotonous whistling, forcing his weary and
exasperated-hearers to follow the song from end to end, to recall every
word of every line, as each was repeated over and over again with
And Boule de Suif still wept, and sometimes a sob she could not restrain
was heard in the darkness between two verses of the song.