The Maison Tellier by Guy de Maupassant
They went there every evening about eleven o'clock, just as they would go
to the club. Six or eight of them; always the same set, not fast men, but
respectable tradesmen, and young men in government or some other employ,
and they would drink their Chartreuse, and laugh with the girls, or else
talk seriously with Madame Tellier, whom everybody respected, and then
they would go home at twelve o'clock! The younger men would sometimes
It was a small, comfortable house painted yellow, at the corner of a
street behind Saint Etienne's Church, and from the windows one could see
the docks full of ships being unloaded, the big salt marsh, and, rising
beyond it, the Virgin's Hill with its old gray chapel.
Madame Tellier, who came of a respectable family of peasant proprietors
in the Department of the Eure, had taken up her profession, just as she
would have become a milliner or dressmaker. The prejudice which is so
violent and deeply rooted in large towns, does not exist in the country
places in Normandy. The peasant says:
"It is a paying-business," and he sends his daughter to keep an
establishment of this character just as he would send her to keep a
She had inherited the house from an old uncle, to whom it had belonged.
Monsieur and Madame Tellier, who had formerly been innkeepers near
Yvetot, had immediately sold their house, as they thought that the
business at Fecamp was more profitable, and they arrived one fine morning
to assume the direction of the enterprise, which was declining on account
of the absence of the proprietors. They were good people enough in their
way, and soon made themselves liked by their staff and their neighbors.
Monsieur died of apoplexy two years later, for as the new place kept him
in idleness and without any exercise, he had grown excessively stout, and
his health had suffered. Since she had been a widow, all the frequenters
of the establishment made much of her; but people said that, personally,
she was quite virtuous, and even the girls in the house could not
discover anything against her. She was tall, stout and affable, and her
complexion, which had become pale in the dimness of her house, the
shutters of which were scarcely ever opened, shone as if it had been
varnished. She had a fringe of curly false hair, which gave her a
juvenile look, that contrasted strongly with the ripeness of her figure.
She was always smiling and cheerful, and was fond of a joke, but there
was a shade of reserve about her, which her occupation had not quite made
her lose. Coarse words always shocked her, and when any young fellow who
had been badly brought up called her establishment a hard name, she was
angry and disgusted.
In a word, she had a refined mind, and although she treated her women as
friends, yet she very frequently used to say that "she and they were not
made of the same stuff."
Sometimes during the week she would hire a carriage and take some of her
girls into the country, where they used to enjoy themselves on the grass
by the side of the little river. They were like a lot of girls let out
from school, and would run races and play childish games. They had a cold
dinner on the grass, and drank cider, and went home at night with a
delicious feeling of fatigue, and in the carriage they kissed Madame'
Tellier as their kind mother, who was full of goodness and complaisance.
The house had two entrances. At the corner there was a sort of tap-room,
which sailors and the lower orders frequented at night, and she had two
girls whose special duty it was to wait on them with the assistance of
Frederic, a short, light-haired, beardless fellow, as strong as a horse.
They set the half bottles of wine and the jugs of beer on the shaky
marble tables before the customers, and then urged the men to drink.
The three other girls—there were only five of them—formed a
kind of aristocracy, and they remained with the company on the first
floor, unless they were wanted downstairs and there was nobody on the
first floor. The salon de Jupiter, where the tradesmen used to meet, was
papered in blue, and embellished with a large drawing representing Leda
and the swan. The room was reached by a winding staircase, through a
narrow door opening on the street, and above this door a lantern inclosed
in wire, such as one still sees in some towns, at the foot of the shrine
of some saint, burned all night long.
The house, which was old and damp, smelled slightly of mildew. At times
there was an odor of eau de Cologne in the passages, or sometimes from a
half-open door downstairs the noisy mirth of the common men sitting and
drinking rose to the first floor, much to the disgust of the gentlemen
who were there. Madame Tellier, who was on friendly terms with her
customers, did not leave the room, and took much interest in what was
going on in the town, and they regularly told her all the news. Her
serious conversation was a change from the ceaseless chatter of the three
women; it was a rest from the obscene jokes of those stout individuals
who every evening indulged in the commonplace debauchery of drinking a
glass of liqueur in company with common women.
The names of the girls on the first floor were Fernande, Raphaele, and
Rosa, the Jade. As the staff was limited, madame had endeavored that each
member of it should be a pattern, an epitome of the feminine type, so
that every customer might find as nearly as possible the realization of
his ideal. Fernande represented the handsome blonde; she was very tall,
rather fat, and lazy; a country girl, who could not get rid of her
freckles, and whose short, light, almost colorless, tow-like hair, like
combed-out hemp, barely covered her head.
Raphaele, who came from Marseilles, played the indispensable part of the
handsome Jewess, and was thin, with high cheekbones, which were covered
with rouge, and black hair covered with pomatum, which curled on her
forehead. Her eyes would have been handsome, if the right one had not had
a speck in it. Her Roman nose came down over a square jaw, where two
false upper teeth contrasted strangely with the bad color of the rest.
Rosa was a little roll of fat, nearly all body, with very short legs, and
from morning till night she sang songs, which were alternately risque or
sentimental, in a harsh voice; told silly, interminable tales, and only
stopped talking in order to eat, and left off eating in order to talk;
she was never still, and was active as a squirrel, in spite of her
embonpoint and her short legs; her laugh, which was a torrent of shrill
cries, resounded here and there, ceaselessly, in a bedroom, in the loft,
in the cafe, everywhere, and all about nothing.
The two women on the ground floor, Lodise, who was nicknamed La Cocotte,
and Flora, whom they called Balancoise, because she limped a little, the
former always dressed as the Goddess of Liberty, with a tri-colored sash,
and the other as a Spanish woman, with a string of copper coins in her
carroty hair, which jingled at every uneven step, looked like cooks
dressed up for the carnival. They were like all other women of the lower
orders, neither uglier nor better looking than they usually are.
They looked just like servants at an inn, and were generally called "the
A jealous peace, which was, however, very rarely disturbed, reigned among
these five women, thanks to Madame Tellier's conciliatory wisdom, and to
her constant good humor, and the establishment, which was the only one of
the kind in the little town, was very much frequented. Madame Tellier had
succeeded in giving it such a respectable appearance, she was so amiable
and obliging to everybody, her good heart was so well known, that she was
treated with a certain amount of consideration. The regular customers
spent money on her, and were delighted when she was especially friendly
toward them, and when they met during the day, they would say: "Until
this evening, you know where," just as men say: "At the club, after
dinner." In a word, Madame Tellier's house was somewhere to go to, and
they very rarely missed their daily meetings there.
One evening toward the end of May, the first arrival, Monsieur Poulin,
who was a timber merchant, and had been mayor, found the door shut. The
lantern behind the grating was not alight; there was not a sound in the
house; everything seemed dead. He knocked, gently at first, but then more
loudly, but nobody answered the door. Then he went slowly up the street,
and when he got to the market place he met Monsieur Duvert, the gunmaker,
who was going to the same place, so they went back together, but did not
meet with any better success. But suddenly they heard a loud noise, close
to them, and on going round the house, they saw a number of English and
French sailors, who were hammering at the closed shutters of the taproom
with their fists.
The two tradesmen immediately made their escape, but a low "Pst!" stopped
them; it was Monsieur Tournevau, the fish curer, who had recognized them,
and was trying to attract their attention. They told him what had
happened, and he was all the more annoyed, as he was a married man and
father of a family, and only went on Saturdays. That was his regular
evening, and now he should be deprived of this dissipation for the whole
The three men went as far as the quay together, and on the way they met
young Monsieur Philippe, the banker's son, who frequented the place
regularly, and Monsieur Pinipesse, the collector, and they all returned
to the Rue aux Juifs together, to make a last attempt. But the
exasperated sailors were besieging the house, throwing stones at the
shutters, and shouting, and the five first-floor customers went away as
quickly as possible, and walked aimlessly about the streets.
Presently they met Monsieur Dupuis, the insurance agent, and then
Monsieur Vasse, the Judge of the Tribunal of Commerce, and they took a
long walk, going to the pier first of all, where they sat down in a row
on the granite parapet and watched the rising tide, and when the
promenaders had sat there for some time, Monsieur Tournevau said:
"This is not very amusing!"
"Decidedly not," Monsieur Pinipesse replied, and they started off to walk
After going through the street alongside the hill, they returned over the
wooden bridge which crosses the Retenue, passed close to the railway, and
came out again on the market place, when, suddenly, a quarrel arose
between Monsieur Pinipesse, the collector, and Monsieur Tournevau about
an edible mushroom which one of them declared he had found in the
As they were out of temper already from having nothing to do, they would
very probably have come to blows, if the others had not interfered.
Monsieur Pinipesse went off furious, and soon another altercation arose
between the ex-mayor, Monsieur Poulin, and Monsieur Dupuis, the insurance
agent, on the subject of the tax collector's salary and the profits which
he might make. Insulting remarks were freely passing between them, when a
torrent of formidable cries was heard, and the body of sailors, who were
tired of waiting so long outside a closed house, came into the square.
They were walking arm in arm, two and two, and formed a long procession,
and were shouting furiously. The townsmen hid themselves in a doorway,
and the yelling crew disappeared in the direction of the abbey. For a
long time they still heard the noise, which diminished like a storm in
the distance, and then silence was restored. Monsieur Poulin and Monsieur
Dupuis, who were angry with each other, went in different directions,
without wishing each other good-by.
The other four set off again, and instinctively went in the direction of
Madame Tellier's establishment, which was still closed, silent,
impenetrable. A quiet, but obstinate drunken man was knocking at the door
of the lower room, antd then stopped and called Frederic, in a low voice,
but finding that he got no answer, he sat down on the doorstep, and
waited the course of events.
The others were just going to retire, when the noisy band of sailors
reappeared at the end of the street. The French sailors were shouting the
"Marseillaise," and the Englishmen "Rule Britannia." There was a general
lurching against the wall, and then the drunken fellows went on their way
toward the quay, where a fight broke out between the two nations, in the
course of which an Englishman had his arm broken and a Frenchman his nose
The drunken man who had waited outside the door, was crying by that time,
as drunken men and children cry when they are vexed, and the others went
away. By degrees, calm was restored in the noisy town; here and there, at
moments, the distant sound of voices could be heard, and then died away
in the distance.
One man only was still wandering about, Monsieur Tournevau, the fish
curer, who was annoyed at having to wait until the following Saturday,
and he hoped something would turn up, he did not know what; but he was
exasperated at the police for thus allowing an establishment of such
public utility, which they had under their control, to be closed.
He went back to it and examined the walls, trying to find out some
reason, and on the shutter he saw a notice stuck up. He struck a wax
match and read the following, in a large, uneven hand: "Closed on account
of the Confirmation."
Then he went away, as he saw it was useless to remain, and left the
drunken man lying on the pavement fast asleep, outside that inhospitable
The next day, all the regular customers, one after the other, found some
reason for going through the street, with a bundle of papers under their
arm to keep them in countenance, and with a furtive glance they all read
that mysterious notice:
"Closed on account of the Confirmation."
Madame Tellier had a brother, who was a carpenter in their native place,
Virville, in the Department of Eure. When she still kept the inn at
Yvetot, she had stood godmother to that brother's daughter, who had
received the name of Constance—Constance Rivet; she herself being a
Rivet on her father's side. The carpenter, who knew that his sister was
in a good position, did not lose sight of her, although they did not meet
often, for they were both kept at home by their occupations, and lived a
long way from each other. But as the girl was twelve years old, and going
to be confirmed, he seized that opportunity to write to his sister,
asking her to come and be present at the ceremony. Their old parents were
dead, and as she could not well refuse her goddaughter, she accepted the
invitation. Her brother, whose name was Joseph, hoped that by dint of
showing his sister attention, she might be induced to make her will in
the girl's favor, as she had no children of her own.
His sister's occupation did not trouble his scruples in the least, and,
besides, nobody knew anything about it at Virville. When they spoke of
her, they only said: "Madame Tellier is living at Fecamp," which might
mean that she was living on her own private income. It was quite twenty
leagues from Fecamp to Virville, and for a peasant, twenty leagues on
land is as long a journey as crossing the ocean would be to city people.
The people at Virville had never been further than Rouen, and nothing
attracted the people from Fecamp to a village of five hundred houses in
the middle of a plain, and situated in another department; at any rate,
nothing was known about her business.
But the Confirmation was coming on, and Madame Tellier was in great
embarrassment. She had no substitute, and did not at all care to leave
her house, even for a day; for all the rivalries between the girls
upstairs and those downstairs would infallibly break out. No doubt
Frederic would get drunk, and when he was in that state, he would knock
anybody down for a mere word. At last, however, she made up her mind to
take them all with her, with the exception of the man, to whom she gave a
holiday until the next day but one.
When she asked her brother, he made no objection, but undertook to put
them all up for a night, and so on Saturday morning the eight-o'clock
express carried off Madame Tellier and her companions in a second-class
carriage. As far as Beuzeville they were alone, and chattered like
magpies, but at that station a couple got in. The man, an old peasant,
dressed in a blue blouse with a turned-down collar, wide sleeves tight at
the wrist, ornamented with white embroidery, wearing an old high hat with
long nap, held an enormous green umbrella in one hand, and a large basket
in the other, from which the heads of three frightened ducks protruded.
The woman, who sat up stiffly in her rustic finery, had a face like a
fowl, with a nose that was as pointed as a bill. She sat down opposite
her husband and did not stir, as she was startled at finding herself in
such smart company.
There was certainly an array of striking colors in the carriage. Madame
Tellier was dressed in blue silk from head to foot, and had on a dazzling
red imitation French cashmere shawl. Fernande was puffing in a Scotch
plaid dress, of which her companions had laced the bodice as tight as
they could, forcing up her full bust, that was continually heaving up and
down. Raphaele, with a bonnet covered with feathers, so that it looked
like a bird's nest, had on a lilac dress with gold spots on it, and there
was something Oriental about it that suited her Jewish face. Rosa had on
a pink skirt with largo flounces, and looked like a very fat child, an
obese dwarf; while the two Pumps looked as if they had cut their dresses
out of old flowered curtains dating from the Restoration.
As soon as they were no longer alone in the compartment, the ladies put
on staid looks, and began to talk of subjects which might give others a
high opinion of them. But at Bolbeck a gentleman with light whiskers, a
gold chain, and wearing two or three rings, got in, and put several
parcels wrapped in oilcloth on the rack over his head. He looked inclined
for a joke, and seemed a good-hearted fellow.
"Are you ladies changing your quarters?" he said, and that question
embarrassed them all considerably. Madame Tellier, however, quickly
regained her composure, and said sharply, to avenge the honor of her
"I think you might try and be polite!"
He excused himself, and said: "I beg your pardon, I ought to have said
She could not think of a retort, so, perhaps thinking she had said
enough, madame gave him a dignified bow and compressed her lips.
Then the gentleman, who was sitting between Rosa and the old peasant,
began to wink knowingly at the ducks whose heads were sticking out of the
basket, and when he felt that he had fixed the attention of his public,
he began to tickle them under the bills and spoke funnily to them to make
the company smile.
"We have left our little pond, quack! quack! to make the acquaintance of
the little spit, qu-ack! qu-ack!"
The unfortunate creatures turned their necks away, to avoid his caresses,
and made desperate efforts to get out of their wicker prison, and then,
suddenly, all at once, uttered the most lamentable quacks of distress.
The women exploded with laughter. They leaned forward and pushed each
other, so as to see better; they were very much interested in the ducks,
and the gentleman redoubled his airs, his wit and his teasing.
Rosa joined in, and leaning over her neighbor's legs, she kissed the
three animals on the head, and immediately all the girls wanted to kiss
them, in turn, and as they did so the gentleman took them on his knee,
jumped them up and down and pinched their arms. The two peasants, who
were even in greater consternation than their poultry, rolled their eyes
as if they were possessed, without venturing to move, and their old
wrinkled faces had not a smile, not a twitch.
Then the gentleman, who was a commercial traveller, offered the ladies
suspenders by way of a joke, and taking up one of his packages, he opened
it. It was a joke, for the parcel contained garters. There were blue
silk, pink silk, red silk, violet silk, mauve silk garters, and the
buckles were made of two gilt metal cupids embracing each other. The
girls uttered exclamations of delight and looked at them with that
gravity natural to all women when they are considering an article of
dress. They consulted one another by their looks or in a whisper, and
replied in the same manner, and Madame Tellier was longingly handling a
pair of orange garters that were broader and more imposing looking than
the rest; really fit for the mistress of such an establishment.
The gentleman waited, for he had an idea.
"Come, my kittens," he said, "you must try them on."
There was a torrent of exclamations, and they squeezed their petticoats
between their legs, but he quietly waited his time and said: "Well, if
you will not try them on I shall pack them up again."
And he added cunningly: "I offer any pair they like to those who will try
But they would not, and sat up very straight and looked dignified.
But the two Pumps looked so distressed that he renewed his offer to them,
and Flora, especially, visibly hesitated, and he insisted: "Come, my
dear, a little courage! Just look at that lilac pair; it will suit your
That decided her, and pulling up her dress she showed a thick leg fit for
a milkmaid, in a badly fitting, coarse stocking. The commercial traveller
stooped down and fastened the garter. When he had done this, he gave her
the lilac pair and asked: "Who next?"
"I! I!" they all shouted at once, and he began on Rosa, who uncovered a
shapeless, round thing without any ankle, a regular "sausage of a leg,"
as Raphaele used to say.
Lastly, Madame Tellier herself put out her leg, a handsome, muscular
Norman leg, and in his surprise and pleasure, the commercial traveller
gallantly took off his hat to salute that master calf, like a true French
The two peasants, who were speechless from surprise, glanced sideways out
of the corner of one eye, and they looked so exactly like fowls that the
man with the light whiskers, when he sat up, said: "Co—co—ri—co" under
their very noses, and that gave rise to another storm of amusement.
The old people got out at Motteville with their basket, their ducks and
their umbrella, and they heard the woman say to her husband as they went
"They are no good and are off to that cursed place, Paris."
The funny commercial traveller himself got out at Rouen, after behaving
so coarsely that Madame Tellier was obliged sharply to put him in his
right place, and she added, as a moral: "This will teach us not to talk
to the first comer."
At Oissel they changed trains, and at a little station further on
Monsieur Joseph Rivet was waiting for them with a large cart with a
number of chairs in it, drawn by a white horse.
The carpenter politely kissed all the ladies and then helped them into
Three of them sat on three chairs at the back, Raphaele, Madame Tellier
and her brother on the three chairs in front, while Rosa, who had no
seat, settled herself as comfortably as she could on tall Fernande's
knees, and then they set off.
But the horse's jerky trot shook the cart so terribly that the chairs
began to dance and threw the travellers about, to the right and to the
left, as if they were dancing puppets, which made them scream and make
They clung on to the sides of the vehicle, their bonnets fell on their
backs, over their faces and on their shoulders, and the white horse went
on stretching out his head and holding out his little hairless tail like
a rat's, with which he whisked his buttocks from time to time.
Joseph Rivet, with one leg on the shafts and the other doubled under him,
held the reins with his elbows very high, and kept uttering a kind of
clucking sound, which made the horse prick up its ears and go faster.
The green country extended on either side of the road, and here and there
the colza in flower presented a waving expanse of yellow, from which
arose a strong, wholesome, sweet and penetrating odor, which the wind
carried to some distance.
The cornflowers showed their little blue heads amid the rye, and the
women wanted to pick them, but Monsieur Rivet refused to stop.
Then, sometimes, a whole field appeared to be covered with blood, so
thick were the poppies, and the cart, which looked as if it were filled
with flowers of more brilliant hue, jogged on through fields bright with
wild flowers, and disappeared behind the trees of a farm, only to
reappear and to go on again through the yellow or green standing crops,
which were studded with red or blue.
One o'clock struck as they drove up to the carpenter's door. They were
tired out and pale with hunger, as they had eaten nothing since they left
home. Madame Rivet ran out and made them alight, one after another, and
kissed them as soon as they were on the ground, and she seemed as if she
would never tire of kissing her sister-in-law, whom she apparently wanted
to monopolize. They had lunch in the workshop, which had been cleared out
for the next day's dinner.
The capital omelet, followed by boiled chitterlings and washed down with
good hard cider, made them all feel comfortable.
Rivet had taken a glass so that he might drink with them, and his wife
cooked, waited on them, brought in the dishes, took them out and asked
each of them in a whisper whether they had everything they wanted. A
number of boards standing against the walls and heaps of shavings that
had been swept into the corners gave out a smell of planed wood, a smell
of a carpenter's shop, that resinous odor which penetrates to the lungs.
They wanted to see the little girl, but she had gone to church and would
not be back again until evening, so they all went out for a stroll in the
It was a small village, through which the highroad passed. Ten or a dozen
houses on either side of the single street were inhabited by the butcher,
the grocer, the carpenter, the innkeeper, the shoemaker and the baker.
The church was at the end of the street and was surrounded by a small
churchyard, and four immense lime-trees, which stood just outside the
porch, shaded it completely. It was built of flint, in no particular
style, and had a slate-roofed steeple. When you got past it, you were
again in the open country, which was varied here and there by clumps of
trees which hid the homesteads.
Rivet had given his arm to his sister, out of politeness, although he was
in his working clothes, and was walking with her in a dignified manner.
His wife, who was overwhelmed by Raphaele's gold-striped dress, walked
between her and Fernande, and roly-poly Rosa was trotting behind with
Louise and Flora, the Seesaw, who was limping along, quite tired out.
The inhabitants came to their doors, the children left off playing, and a
window curtain would be raised, so as to show a muslin cap, while an old
woman with a crutch, who was almost blind, crossed herself as if it were
a religious procession, and they all gazed for a long time at those
handsome ladies from town, who had come so far to be present at the
confirmation of Joseph Rivet's little girl, and the carpenter rose very
much in the public estimation.
As they passed the church they heard some children singing. Little shrill
voices were singing a hymn, but Madame Tellier would not let them go in,
for fear of disturbing the little cherubs.
After the walk, during which Joseph Rivet enumerated the principal landed
proprietors, spoke about the yield of the land and the productiveness of
the cows and sheep, he took his tribe of women home and installed them in
his house, and as it was very small, they had to put them into the rooms,
two and two.
Just for once Rivet would sleep in the workshop on the shavings; his wife
was to share her bed with her sister-in-law, and Fernande and Raphaele
were to sleep together in the next room. Louise and Flora were put into
the kitchen, where they had a mattress on the floor, and Rosa had a
little dark cupboard to herself at the top of the stairs, close to the
loft, where the candidate for confirmation was to sleep.
When the little girl came in she was overwhelmed with kisses; all the
women wished to caress her with that need of tender expansion, that habit
of professional affection which had made them kiss the ducks in the
They each of them took her on their knees, stroked her soft, light hair
and pressed her in their arms with vehement and spontaneous outbursts of
affection, and the child, who was very good and religious, bore it all
As the day had been a fatiguing one for everybody, they all went to bed
soon after dinner. The whole village was wrapped in that perfect
stillness of the country, which is almost like a religious silence, and
the girls, who were accustomed to the noisy evenings of their
establishment, felt rather impressed by the perfect repose of the
sleeping village, and they shivered, not with cold, but with those little
shivers of loneliness which come over uneasy and troubled hearts.
As soon as they were in bed, two and two together, they clasped each
other in their arms, as if to protect themselves against this feeling of
the calm and profound slumber of the earth. But Rosa, who was alone in
her little dark cupboard, felt a vague and painful emotion come over her.
She was tossing about in bed, unable to get to sleep, when she heard the
faint sobs of a crying child close to her head, through the partition.
She was frightened, and called out, and was answered by a weak voice,
broken by sobs. It was the little girl, who was always used to sleeping
in her mother's room, and who was afraid in her small attic.
Rosa was delighted, got up softly so as not to awaken any one, and went
and fetched the child. She took her into her warm bed, kissed her and
pressed her to her bosom, lavished exaggerated manifestations of
tenderness on her, and at last grew calmer herself and went to sleep. And
till morning the candidate for confirmation slept with her head on Rosa's
At five o'clock the little church bell, ringing the Angelus, woke the
women, who usually slept the whole morning long.
The villagers were up already, and the women went busily from house to
house, carefully bringing short, starched muslin dresses or very long wax
tapers tied in the middle with a bow of silk fringed with gold, and with
dents in the wax for the fingers.
The sun was already high in the blue sky, which still had a rosy tint
toward the horizon, like a faint remaining trace of dawn. Families of
fowls were walking about outside the houses, and here and there a black
cock, with a glistening breast, raised his head, which was crowned by his
red comb, flapped his wings and uttered his shrill crow, which the other
Vehicles of all sorts came from neighboring parishes, stopping at the
different houses, and tall Norman women dismounted, wearing dark dresses,
with kerchiefs crossed over the bosom, fastened with silver brooches a
hundred years old.
The men had put on their blue smocks over their new frock-coats or over
their old dress-coats of green-cloth, the two tails of which hung down
below their blouses. When the horses were in the stable there was a
double line of rustic conveyances along the road: carts, cabriolets,
tilburies, wagonettes, traps of every shape and age, tipping forward on
their shafts or else tipping backward with the shafts up in the air.
The carpenter's house was as busy as a bee-hive. The women, in
dressing-jackets and petticoats, with their thin, short hair, which
looked faded and worn, hanging down their backs, were busy dressing the
child, who was standing quietly on a table, while Madame Tellier was
directing the movements of her battalion. They washed her, did her hair,
dressed her, and with the help of a number of pins, they arranged the
folds of her dress and took in the waist, which was too large.
Then, when she was ready, she was told to sit down and not to move, and
the women hurried off to get ready themselves.
The church bell began to ring again, and its tinkle was lost in the air,
like a feeble voice which is soon drowned in space. The candidates came
out of the houses and went toward the parochial building, which
contained the two schools and the mansion house, and which stood quite at
one end of the village, while the church was situated at the other.
The parents, in their very best clothes, followed their children, with
embarrassed looks, and those clumsy movements of a body bent by toil.
The little girls disappeared in a cloud of muslin, which looked like
whipped cream, while the lads, who looked like embryo waiters in a cafe
and whose heads shone with pomatum, walked with their legs apart, so as
not to get any dust or dirt on their black trousers.
It was something for a family, to be proud of, when a large number of
relatives, who had come from a distance, surrounded the child, and the
carpenter's triumph was complete.
Madame Tellier's regiment, with its leader at its head, followed
Constance; her father gave his arm to his sister, her mother walked by
the side of Raphaele, Fernande with Rosa and Louise and Flora together,
and thus they proceeded majestically through the village, like a
general's staff in full uniform, while the effect on the village was
At the school the girls ranged themselves under the Sister of Mercy and
the boys under the schoolmaster, and they started off, singing a hymn as
they went. The boys led the way, in two files, between the two rows of
vehicles, from which the horses had been taken out, and the girls
followed in the same order; and as all the people in the village had
given the town ladies the precedence out of politeness, they came
immediately behind the girls, and lengthened the double line of the
procession still more, three on the right and three on the left, while
their dresses were as striking as a display of fireworks.
When they went into the church the congregation grew quite excited. They
pressed against each other, turned round and jostled one another in order
to see, and some of the devout ones spoke almost aloud, for they were so
astonished at the sight of those ladies whose dresses were more elaborate
than the priest's vestments.
The mayor offered them his pew, the first one on the right, close to the
choir, and Madame Tellier sat there with her sister-in-law, Fernande and
Raphaele. Rosa, Louise and Flora occupied the second seat, in company
with the carpenter.
The choir was full of kneeling children, the girls on one side and the
boys on the other, and the long wax tapers which they held looked like
lances pointing in all directions, and three men were standing in front
of the lectern, singing as loud as they could.
They prolonged the syllables of the sonorous Latin indefinitely, holding
on to "Amens" with interminable "a-a's," which the reed stop of the organ
sustained in a monotonous, long-drawn-out tone.
A child's shrill voice took up the reply, and from time to time a priest
sitting in a stall and wearing a biretta got up, muttered something and
sat down again, while the three singers continued, their eyes fixed on
the big book of plain chant lying open before them on the outstretched
wings of a wooden eagle.
Then silence ensued and the service went on. Toward the close Rosa, with
her head in both hands, suddenly thought of her mother, her village
church and her first communion. She almost fancied that that day had
returned, when she was so small anti was almost hidden in her white
dress, and she began to cry.
First of all she wept silently, and the tears dropped slowly from her
eyes, but her emotion in creased with her recollections, and she began to
sob. She took out her pocket handkerchief, wiped her eyes and held it to
her mouth, so as not to scream, but it was in vain. A sort of rattle
escaped her throat, and she was answered by two other profound,
heartbreaking sobs, for her two neighbors, Louise and Flora, who were
kneeling near her, overcome by similar recollections, were sobbing by her
side, amid a flood of tears; and as tears are contagious, Madame Tellier
soon in turn found that her eyes were wet, and on turning to her
sister-in-law, she saw that all the occupants of her seat were also
Soon, throughout the church, here and there, a wife, a mother, a sister,
seized by the strange sympathy of poignant emotion, and affected at the
sight of those handsome ladies on their knees, shaken with sobs was
moistening her cambric pocket handkerchief and pressing her beating heart
with her left hand.
Just as the sparks from an engine will set fire to dry grass, so the
tears of Rosa and of her companions infected the whole congregation in a
moment. Men, women, old men and lads in new smocks were soon all sobbing,
and something superhuman seemed to be hovering over their heads—a
spirit, the powerful breath of an invisible and all powerful Being.
Suddenly a species of madness seemed to pervade the church, the noise of
a crowd in a state of frenzy, a tempest of sobs and stifled cries. It
came like gusts of wind which blow the trees in a forest, and the priest,
paralyzed by emotion, stammered out incoherent prayers, without finding
words, ardent prayers of the soul soaring to heaven.
The people behind him gradually grew calmer. The cantors, in all the
dignity of their white surplices, went on in somewhat uncertain voices,
and the reed stop itself seemed hoarse, as if the instrument had been
weeping; the priest, however, raised his hand to command silence and went
and stood on the chancel steps, when everybody was silent at once.
After a few remarks on what had just taken place, and which he attributed
to a miracle, he continued, turning to the seats where the carpenter's
guests were sitting; "I especially thank you, my dear sisters, who have
come from such a distance, and whose presence among us, whose evident
faith and ardent piety have set such a salutary example to all. You have
edified my parish; your emotion has warmed all hearts; without you, this
great day would not, perhaps, have had this really divine character. It
is sufficient, at times, that there should be one chosen lamb, for the
Lord to descend on His flock."
His voice failed him again, from emotion, and he said no more, but
concluded the service.
They now left the church as quickly as possible; the children themselves
were restless and tired with such a prolonged tension of the mind. The
parents left the church by degrees to see about dinner.
There was a crowd outside, a noisy crowd, a babel of loud voices, where
the shrill Norman accent was discernible. The villagers formed two ranks,
and when the children appeared, each family took possession of their own.
The whole houseful of women caught hold of Constance, surrounded her and
kissed her, and Rosa was especially demonstrative. At last she took hold
of one hand, while Madame Tellier took the other, and Raphaele and
Fernande held up her long muslin skirt, so that it might not drag in the
dust; Louise and Flora brought up the rear with Madame Rivet; and the
child, who was very silent and thoughtful, set off for home in the midst
of this guard of honor.
Dinner was served in the workshop on long boards supported by trestles,
and through the open door they could see all the enjoyment that was going
on in the village. Everywhere they were feasting, and through every
window were to be seen tables surrounded by people in their Sunday best,
and a cheerful noise was heard in every house, while the men sat in their
shirt-sleeves, drinking glass after glass of cider.
In the carpenter's house the gaiety maintained somewhat of an air of
reserve, the consequence of the emotion of the girls in the morning, and
Rivet was the only one who was in a jolly mood, and he was drinking to
excess. Madame Tellier looked at the clock every moment, for, in order
not to lose two days running, they must take the 3:55 train, which would
bring them to Fecamp by dark.
The carpenter tried very hard to distract her attention, so as to keep
his guests until the next day, but he did not succeed, for she never
joked when there was business on hand, and as soon as they had had their
coffee she ordered her girls to make haste and get ready, and then,
turning to her brother, she said:
"You must put in the horse immediately," and she herself went to finish
her last preparations.
When she came down again, her sister-in-law was waiting to speak to her
about the child, and a long conversation took place, in which, however,
nothing was settled. The carpenter's wife was artful and pretended to be
very much affected, and Madame Tellier, who was holding the girl on her
knee, would not pledge herself to anything definite, but merely gave
vague promises—she would not forget her, there was plenty of time,
and besides, they would meet again.
But the conveyance did not come to the door and the women did not come
downstairs. Upstairs they even heard loud laughter, romping, little
screams, and much clapping of hands, and so, while the carpenter's wife
went to the stable to see whether the cart was ready, madame went
Rivet, who was very drunk, was plaguing Rosa, who was half choking with
laughter. Louise and Flora were holding him by the arms and trying to
calm him, as they were shocked at his levity after that morning's
ceremony; but Raphaele and Fernande were urging him on, writhing and
holding their sides with laughter, and they uttered shrill cries at every
rebuff the drunken fellow received.
The man was furious, his face was red, and he was trying to shake off the
two women who were clinging to him, while he was pulling Rosa's skirt
with all his might and stammering incoherently.
But Madame Tellier, who was very indignant, went up to her brother,
seized him by the shoulders, and threw him out of the room with such
violence that he fell against the wall in the passage, and a minute
afterward they heard him pumping water on his head in the yard, and when
he reappeared with the cart he was quite calm.
They started off in the same way as they had come the day before, and the
little white horse started off with his quick, dancing trot. Under the
hot sun, their fun, which had been checked during dinner, broke out
again. The girls now were amused at the jolting of the cart, pushed their
neighbors' chairs, and burst out laughing every moment.
There was a glare of light over the country, which dazzled their eyes,
and the wheels raised two trails of dust along the highroad. Presently,
Fernande, who was fond of music, asked Rosa to sing something, and she
boldly struck up the "Gros Cure de Meudon," but Madame Tellier made her
stop immediately, as she thought it a very unsuitable song for such a
day, and she added:
"Sing us something of Beranger's." And so, after a moment's hesitation,
Rosa began Beranger's song "The Grandmother" in her worn-out voice, and
all the girls, and even Madame Tellier herself, joined in the chorus:
"How I regret
My dimpled arms,
My nimble legs,
And vanished charms."
"That is first rate," Rivet declared, carried away by the rhythm, and
they shouted the refrain to every verse, while Rivet beat time on the
shaft with his foot, and with the reins on the back of the horse, who, as
if he himself were carried away by the rhythm, broke into a wild gallop,
and threw all the women in a heap, one on top of the other, on the bottom
of the conveyance.
They got up, laughing as if they were mad, and the Gong went on, shouted
at the top of their voices, beneath the burning sky, among the ripening
grain, to the rapid gallop of the little horse, who set off every time
the refrain was sung, and galloped a hundred yards, to their great
delight, while occasionally a stone-breaker by the roadside sat up and
looked at the load of shouting females through his wire spectacles.
When they got out at the station, the carpenter said:
"I am sorry you are going; we might have had some good times together."
But Madame Tellier replied very sensibly: "Everything has its right time,
and we cannot always be enjoying ourselves." And then he had a sudden
"Look here, I will come and see you at Fecamp next month." And he gave
Rosa a roguish and knowing look.
"Come," his sister replied, "you must be sensible; you may come if you
like, but you are not to be up to any of your tricks."
He did not reply, and as they heard the whistle of the train, he
immediately began to kiss them all. When it came to Rosa's turn, he tried
to get to her mouth, which she, however, smiling with her lips closed,
turned away from him each time by a rapid movement of her head to one
side. He held her in his arms, but he could not attain his object, as his
large whip, which he was holding in his hand and waving behind the girl's
back in desperation, interfered with his movements.
"Passengers for Rouen, take your seats!" a guard cried, and they got in.
There was a slight whistle, followed by a loud whistle from the engine,
which noisily puffed cut its first jet of steam, while the wheels began
to turn a little with a visible effort, and Rivet left the station and
ran along by the track to get another look at Rosa, and as the carriage
passed him, he began to crack his whip and to jump, while he sang at the
top of his voice:
"How I regret
My dimpled arms,
My nimble legs,
And vanished charms."
And then he watched a white pocket-handkerchief, which somebody was
waving, as it disappeared in the distance.
They slept the peaceful sleep of a quiet conscience, until they got to
Rouen, and when they returned to the house, refreshed and rested, Madame
Tellier could not help saying:
"It was all very well, but I was longing to get home."
They hurried over their supper, and then, when they had put on their
usual evening costume, waited for their regular customers, and the little
colored lamp outside the door told the passers-by that Madame Tellier had
returned, and in a moment the news spread, nobody knew how or through
Monsieur Philippe, the banker's son, even carried his friendliness so far
as to send a special messenger to Monsieur Tournevau, who was in the
bosom of his family.
The fish curer had several cousins to dinner every Sunday, and they were
having coffee, when a man came in with a letter in his hand. Monsieur
Tournevau was much excited; he opened the envelope and grew pale; it
contained only these words in pencil:
"The cargo of cod has been found; the ship has come into port; good
business for you. Come immediately."
He felt in his pockets, gave the messenger two sons, and suddenly
blushing to his ears, he said: "I must go out." He handed his wife the
laconic and mysterious note, rang the bell, and when the servant came in,
he asked her to bring him has hat and overcoat immediately. As soon as he
was in the street, he began to hurry, and the way seemed to him to be
twice as long as usual, in consequence of his impatience.
Madame Tellier's establishment had put on quite a holiday look. On the
ground floor, a number of sailors were making a deafening noise, and
Louise and Flora drank with one and the other, and were being called for
in every direction at once.
The upstairs room was full by nine o'clock. Monsieur Vasse, the Judge of
the Tribunal of Commerce, Madame Tellier's regular but Platonic wooer,
was talking to her in a corner in a low voice, and they were both
smiling, as if they were about to come to an understanding.
Monsieur Poulin, the ex-mayor, was talking to Rosa, and she was running
her hands through the old gentleman's white whiskers.
Tall Fernande was on the sofa, her feet on the coat of Monsieur
Pinipesse, the tax collector, and leaning back against young Monsieur
Philippe, her right arm around his neck, while she held a cigarette in
her left hand.
Raphaele appeared to be talking seriously with Monsieur Dupuis, the
insurance agent, and she finished by saying: "Yes, I will, yes."
Just then, the door opened suddenly, and Monsieur Tournevau came in, and
was greeted with enthusiastic cries of "Long live Tournevau!" And
Raphaele, who was dancing alone up and down the room, went and threw
herself into his arms. He seized her in a vigorous embrace and, without
saying a word, lifted her up as if she had been a feather.
Rosa was chatting to the ex-mayor, kissing him and puffing; both his
whiskers at the same time, in order to keep his head straight.
Fernanae and Madame Tellier remained with the four men, and Monsieur
Philippe exclaimed: "I will pay for some champagne; get three bottles,
Madame Tellier." And Fernande gave him a hug, and whispered to him: "Play
us a waltz, will you?" So he rose and sat down at the old piano in the
corner, and managed to get a hoarse waltz out of the depths of the
The tall girl put her arms round the tax collector, Madame Tellier let
Monsieur Vasse take her round the waist, and the two couples turned
round, kissing as they danced. Monsieur Vasse, who had formerly danced in
good society, waltzed with such elegance that Madame Tellier was quite
Frederic brought the champagne; the first cork popped, and Monsieur
Philippe played the introduction to a quadrille, through which the four
dancers walked in society fashion, decorously, with propriety,
deportment, bows and curtsies, and then they began to drink.
Monsieur Philippe next struck up a lively polka, and Monsieur Tournevau
started off with the handsome Jewess, whom he held without letting her
feet touch the ground. Monsieur Pinipesse and Monsieur Vasse had started
off with renewed vigor, and from time to time one or other couple would
stop to toss off a long draught of sparkling wine, and that dance was
threatening to become never-ending, when Rosa opened the door.
"I want to dance," she exclaimed. And she caught hold of Monsieur Dupuis,
who was sitting idle on the couch, and the dance began again.
But the bottles were empty. "I will pay for one," Monsieur Tournevau
said. "So will I," Monsieur Vasse declared. "And. I will do the same,"
Monsieur Dupuis remarked.
They all began to clap their hands, and it soon became a regular ball,
and from time to time Louise and Flora ran upstairs quickly and had a few
turns, while their customers downstairs grew impatient, and then they
returned regretfully to the tap-room. At midnight they were still
Madame Tellier let them amuse themselves while she had long private talks
in corners with Monsieur Vasse, as if to settle the last details of
something that had already been settled.
At last, at one o'clock, the two married men, Monsieur Tournevau and
Monsieur Pinipesse, declared that they were going home, and wanted to
pay. Nothing was charged for except the champagne, and that cost only six
francs a bottle, instead of ten, which was the usual price, and when they
expressed their surprise at such generosity, Madame Tellier, who was
beaming, said to them:
"We don't have a holiday every day."