Father Milon by Guy de Maupassant
For a month the hot sun has been parching the fields. Nature is expanding
beneath its rays; the fields are green as far as the eye can see. The big
azure dome of the sky is unclouded. The farms of Normandy, scattered over
the plains and surrounded by a belt of tall beeches, look, from a
distance, like little woods. On closer view, after lowering the
worm-eaten wooden bars, you imagine yourself in an immense garden, for
all the ancient apple-trees, as gnarled as the peasants themselves, are
in bloom. The sweet scent of their blossoms mingles with the heavy smell
of the earth and the penetrating odor of the stables. It is noon. The
family is eating under the shade of a pear tree planted in front of the
door; father, mother, the four children, and the help—two women and
three men are all there. All are silent. The soup is eaten and then a
dish of potatoes fried with bacon is brought on.
From time to time one of the women gets up and takes a pitcher down to
the cellar to fetch more cider.
The man, a big fellow about forty years old, is watching a grape vine,
still bare, which is winding and twisting like a snake along the side of
At last he says: "Father's vine is budding early this year. Perhaps we
may get something from it."
The woman then turns round and looks, without saying a word.
This vine is planted on the spot where their father had been shot.
It was during the war of 1870. The Prussians were occupying the whole
country. General Faidherbe, with the Northern Division of the army, was
The Prussians had established their headquarters at this farm. The old
farmer to whom it belonged, Father Pierre Milon, had received and
quartered them to the best of his ability.
For a month the German vanguard had been in this village. The French
remained motionless, ten leagues away; and yet, every night, some of the
Of all the isolated scouts, of all those who were sent to the outposts,
in groups of not more than three, not one ever returned.
They were picked up the next morning in a field or in a ditch. Even their
horses were found along the roads with their throats cut.
These murders seemed to be done by the same men, who could never be
The country was terrorized. Farmers were shot on suspicion, women were
imprisoned; children were frightened in order to try and obtain
information. Nothing could be ascertained.
But, one morning, Father Milon was found stretched out in the barn, with
a sword gash across his face.
Two Uhlans were found dead about a mile and a half from the farm. One of
them was still holding his bloody sword in his hand. He had fought, tried
to defend himself. A court-martial was immediately held in the open air,
in front of the farm. The old man was brought before it.
He was sixty-eight years old, small, thin, bent, with two big hands
resembling the claws of a crab. His colorless hair was sparse and thin,
like the down of a young duck, allowing patches of his scalp to be seen.
The brown and wrinkled skin of his neck showed big veins which
disappeared behind his jaws and came out again at the temples. He had the
reputation of being miserly and hard to deal with.
They stood him up between four soldiers, in front of the kitchen table,
which had been dragged outside. Five officers and the colonel seated
themselves opposite him.
The colonel spoke in French:
"Father Milon, since we have been here we have only had praise for you.
You have always been obliging and even attentive to us. But to-day a
terrible accusation is hanging over you, and you must clear the matter
up. How did you receive that wound on your face?"
The peasant answered nothing.
The colonel continued:
"Your silence accuses you, Father Milon. But I want you to answer me! Do
you understand? Do you know who killed the two Uhlans who were found this
morning near Calvaire?"
The old man answered clearly
The colonel, surprised, was silent for a minute, looking straight at the
prisoner. Father Milon stood impassive, with the stupid look of the
peasant, his eyes lowered as though he were talking to the priest. Just
one thing betrayed an uneasy mind; he was continually swallowing his
saliva, with a visible effort, as though his throat were terribly
The man's family, his son Jean, his daughter-in-law and his two
grandchildren were standing a few feet behind him, bewildered and
The colonel went on:
"Do you also know who killed all the scouts who have been found dead, for
a month, throughout the country, every morning?"
The old man answered with the same stupid look:
"You killed them all?"
"Uh huh! I did."
"You alone? All alone?"
"Tell me how you did it."
This time the man seemed moved; the necessity for talking any length of
time annoyed him visibly. He stammered:
"I dunno! I simply did it."
The colonel continued:
"I warn you that you will have to tell me everything. You might as well
make up your mind right away. How did you begin?"
The man cast a troubled look toward his family, standing close behind
him. He hesitated a minute longer, and then suddenly made up his mind to
obey the order.
"I was coming home one night at about ten o'clock, the night after you
got here. You and your soldiers had taken more than fifty ecus worth of
forage from me, as well as a cow and two sheep. I said to myself: 'As
much as they take from you; just so much will you make them pay back.'
And then I had other things on my mind which I will tell you. Just then I
noticed one of your soldiers who was smoking his pipe by the ditch behind
the barn. I went and got my scythe and crept up slowly behind him, so
that he couldn't hear me. And I cut his head off with one single blow,
just as I would a blade of grass, before he could say 'Booh!' If you
should look at the bottom of the pond, you will find him tied up in a
potato-sack, with a stone fastened to it.
"I got an idea. I took all his clothes, from his boots to his cap, and
hid them away in the little wood behind the yard."
The old man stopped. The officers remained speechless, looking at each
other. The questioning began again, and this is what they learned.
Once this murder committed, the man had lived with this one thought:
"Kill the Prussians!" He hated them with the blind, fierce hate of the
greedy yet patriotic peasant. He had his idea, as he said. He waited
He was allowed to go and come as he pleased, because he had shown himself
so humble, submissive and obliging to the invaders. Each night he saw the
outposts leave. One night he followed them, having heard the name of the
village to which the men were going, and having learned the few words of
German which he needed for his plan through associating with the
He left through the back yard, slipped into the woods, found the dead
man's clothes and put them on. Then he began to crawl through the fields,
following along the hedges in order to keep out of sight, listening to
the slightest noises, as wary as a poacher.
As soon as he thought the time ripe, he approached the road and hid
behind a bush. He waited for a while. Finally, toward midnight, he heard
the sound of a galloping horse. The man put his ear to the ground in
order to make sure that only one horseman was approaching, then he got
An Uhlan came galloping along, carrying des patches. As he went, he was
all eyes and ears. When he was only a few feet away, Father Milon dragged
himself across the road, moaning: "Hilfe! Hilfe!" ( Help! Help!) The
horseman stopped, and recognizing a German, he thought he was wounded and
dismounted, coming nearer without any suspicion, and just as he was
leaning over the unknown man, he received, in the pit of his stomach, a
heavy thrust from the long curved blade of the sabre. He dropped without
suffering pain, quivering only in the final throes. Then the farmer,
radiant with the silent joy of an old peasant, got up again, and, for his
own pleasure, cut the dead man's throat. He then dragged the body to the
ditch and threw it in.
The horse quietly awaited its master. Father Milon mounted him and
started galloping across the plains.
About an hour later he noticed two more Uhlans who were returning home,
side by side. He rode straight for them, once more crying "Hilfe! Hilfe!"
The Prussians, recognizing the uniform, let him approach without
distrust. The old man passed between them like a cannon-ball, felling
them both, one with his sabre and the other with a revolver.
Then he killed the horses, German horses! After that he quickly returned
to the woods and hid one of the horses. He left his uniform there and
again put on his old clothes; then going back into bed, he slept until
For four days he did not go out, waiting for the inquest to be
terminated; but on the fifth day he went out again and killed two more
soldiers by the same stratagem. From that time on he did not stop. Each
night he wandered about in search of adventure, killing Prussians,
sometimes here and sometimes there, galloping through deserted fields, in
the moonlight, a lost Uhlan, a hunter of men. Then, his task
accomplished, leaving behind him the bodies lying along the roads, the
old farmer would return and hide his horse and uniform.
He went, toward noon, to carry oats and water quietly to his mount, and
he fed it well as he required from it a great amount of work.
But one of those whom he had attacked the night before, in defending
himself slashed the old peasant across the face with his sabre.
However, he had killed them both. He had come back and hidden the horse
and put on his ordinary clothes again; but as he reached home he began to
feel faint, and had dragged himself as far as the stable, being unable to
reach the house.
They had found him there, bleeding, on the straw.
When he had finished his tale, he suddenly lifted up his head and looked
proudly at the Prussian officers.
The colonel, who was gnawing at his mustache, asked:
"You have nothing else to say?"
"Nothing more; I have finished my task; I killed sixteen, not one more or
"Do you know that you are going to die?"
"I haven't asked for mercy."
"Have you been a soldier?"
"Yes, I served my time. And then, you had killed my father, who was a
soldier of the first Emperor. And last month you killed my youngest son,
Francois, near Evreux. I owed you one for that; I paid. We are quits."
The officers were looking at each other.
The old man continued:
"Eight for my father, eight for the boy—we are quits. I did not
seek any quarrel with you. I don't know you. I don't even know where you
come from. And here you are, ordering me about in my home as though it
were your own. I took my revenge upon the others. I'm not sorry."
And, straightening up his bent back, the old man folded his arms in the
attitude of a modest hero.
The Prussians talked in a low tone for a long time. One of them, a
captain, who had also lost his son the previous month, was defending the
poor wretch. Then the colonel arose and, approaching Father Milon, said
in a low voice:
"Listen, old man, there is perhaps a way of saving your life, it is
But the man was not listening, and, his eyes fixed on the hated officer,
while the wind played with the downy hair on his head, he distorted his
slashed face, giving it a truly terrible expression, and, swelling out
his chest, he spat, as hard as he could, right in the Prussian's face.
The colonel, furious, raised his hand, and for the second time the man
spat in his face.
All the officers had jumped up and were shrieking orders at the same
In less than a minute the old man, still impassive, was pushed up against
the wall and shot, looking smilingly the while toward Jean, his eldest
son, his daughter-in-law and his two grandchildren, who witnessed this
scene in dumb terror.