Clochette by Guy de Maupassant
How strange those old recollections are which haunt us, without our being
able to get rid of them.
This one is so very old that I cannot understand how it has clung so
vividly and tenaciously to my memory. Since then I have seen so many
sinister things, which were either affecting or terrible, that I am
astonished at not being able to pass a single day without the face of
Mother Bellflower recurring to my mind's eye, just as I knew her
formerly, now so long ago, when I was ten or twelve years old.
She was an old seamstress who came to my parents' house once a week,
every Thursday, to mend the linen. My parents lived in one of those
country houses called chateaux, which are merely old houses with gable
roofs, to which are attached three or four farms lying around them.
The village, a large village, almost a market town, was a few hundred
yards away, closely circling the church, a red brick church, black with
Well, every Thursday Mother Clochette came between half-past six and
seven in the morning, and went immediately into the linen-room and began
to work. She was a tall, thin, bearded or rather hairy woman, for she had
a beard all over her face, a surprising, an unexpected beard, growing in
improbable tufts, in curly bunches which looked as if they had been sown
by a madman over that great face of a gendarme in petticoats. She had
them on her nose, under her nose, round her nose, on her chin, on her
cheeks; and her eyebrows, which were extraordinarily thick and long, and
quite gray, bushy and bristling, looked exactly like a pair of mustaches
stuck on there by mistake.
She limped, not as lame people generally do, but like a ship at anchor.
When she planted her great, bony, swerving body on her sound leg, she
seemed to be preparing to mount some enormous wave, and then suddenly she
dipped as if to disappear in an abyss, and buried herself in the ground.
Her walk reminded one of a storm, as she swayed about, and her head,
which was always covered with an enormous white cap, whose ribbons
fluttered down her back, seemed to traverse the horizon from north to
south and from south to north, at each step.
I adored Mother Clochette. As soon as I was up I went into the linen-room
where I found her installed at work, with a foot-warmer under her feet.
As soon as I arrived, she made me take the foot-warmer and sit upon it,
so that I might not catch cold in that large, chilly room under the roof.
"That draws the blood from your throat," she said to me.
She told me stories, whilst mending the linen with her long crooked
nimble fingers; her eyes behind her magnifying spectacles, for age had
impaired her sight, appeared enormous to me, strangely profound, double.
She had, as far as I can remember the things which she told me and by
which my childish heart was moved, the large heart of a poor woman. She
told me what had happened in the village, how a cow had escaped from the
cow-house and had been found the next morning in front of Prosper Malet's
windmill, looking at the sails turning, or about a hen's egg which had
been found in the church belfry without any one being able to understand
what creature had been there to lay it, or the story of Jean-Jean Pila's
dog, who had been ten leagues to bring back his master's breeches which a
tramp had stolen whilst they were hanging up to dry out of doors, after
he had been in the rain. She told me these simple adventures in such a
manner, that in my mind they assumed the proportions of never-to-be
-forgotten dramas, of grand and mysterious poems; and the ingenious
stories invented by the poets which my mother told me in the evening, had
none of the flavor, none of the breadth or vigor of the peasant woman's
Well, one Tuesday, when I had spent all the morning in listening to
Mother Clochette, I wanted to go upstairs to her again during the day
after picking hazelnuts with the manservant in the wood behind the farm.
I remember it all as clearly as what happened only yesterday.
On opening the door of the linen-room, I saw the old seamstress lying on
the ground by the side of her chair, with her face to the ground and her
arms stretched out, but still holding her needle in one hand and one of
my shirts in the other. One of her legs in a blue stocking, the longer
one, no doubt, was extended under her chair, and her spectacles glistened
against the wall, as they had rolled away from her.
I ran away uttering shrill cries. They all came running, and in a few
minutes I was told that Mother Clochette was dead.
I cannot describe the profound, poignant, terrible emotion which stirred
my childish heart. I went slowly down into the drawing-room and hid
myself in a dark corner, in the depths of an immense old armchair, where
I knelt down and wept. I remained there a long time, no doubt, for night
came on. Suddenly somebody came in with a lamp, without seeing me,
however, and I heard my father and mother talking with the medical man,
whose voice I recognized.
He had been sent for immediately, and he was explaining the causes of the
accident, of which I understood nothing, however. Then he sat down and
had a glass of liqueur and a biscuit.
He went on talking, and what he then said will remain engraved on my mind
until I die! I think that I can give the exact words which he used.
"Ah!" said he, "the poor woman! She broke her leg the day of my arrival
here, and I had not even had time to wash my hands after getting off the
diligence before I was sent for in all haste, for it was a bad case, very
"She was seventeen, and a pretty girl, very pretty! Would any one believe
it? I have never told her story before, and nobody except myself and one
other person who is no longer living in this part of the country ever
knew it. Now that she is dead, I may be less discreet.
"Just then a young assistant-teacher came to live in the village; he was
a handsome, well-made fellow, and looked like a non-commissioned officer.
All the girls ran after him, but he paid no attention to them, partly
because he was very much afraid of his superior, the schoolmaster, old
Grabu, who occasionally got out of bed the wrong foot first.
"Old Grabu already employed pretty Hortense who has just died here, and
who was afterwards nicknamed Clochette. The assistant master singled out
the pretty young girl, who was, no doubt, flattered at being chosen by
this impregnable conqueror; at any rate, she fell in love with him, and
he succeeded in persuading her to give him a first meeting in the
hay-loft behind the school, at night, after she had done her day's
"She pretended to go home, but instead of going downstairs when she left
the Grabus' she went upstairs and hid among the hay, to wait for her
lover. He soon joined her, and was beginning to say pretty things to her,
when the door of the hay-loft opened and the schoolmaster appeared, and
asked: 'What are you doing up there, Sigisbert?' Feeling sure that he
would be caught, the young schoolmaster lost his presence of mind and
replied stupidly: 'I came up here to rest a little amongst the bundles of
hay, Monsieur Grabu.'
"The loft was very large and absolutely dark, and Sigisbert pushed the
frightened girl to the further end and said: 'Go over there and hide
yourself. I shall lose my position, so get away and hide yourself.'
"When the schoolmaster heard the whispering, he continued: 'Why, you are
not by yourself?' 'Yes, I am, Monsieur Grabu!' 'But you are not, for you
are talking.' 'I swear I am, Monsieur Grabu.' 'I will soon find out,' the
old man replied, and double locking the door, he went down to get a
"Then the young man, who was a coward such as one frequently meets, lost
his head, and becoming furious all of a sudden, he repeated: 'Hide
yourself, so that he may not find you. You will keep me from making a
living for the rest of my life; you will ruin my whole career. Do hide
yourself!' They could hear the key turning in the lock again, and
Hortense ran to the window which looked out on the street, opened it
quickly, and then said in a low and determined voice: 'You will come and
pick me up when he is gone,' and she jumped out.
"Old Grabu found nobody, and went down again in great surprise, and a
quarter of an hour later, Monsieur Sigisbert came to me and related his
adventure. The girl had remained at the foot of the wall unable to get
up, as she had fallen from the second story, and I went with him to fetch
her. It was raining in torrents, and I brought the unfortunate girl home
with me, for the right leg was broken in three places, and the bones had
come trough the flesh. She did not complain, and merely said, with
admirable resignation: 'I am punished, well punished!'
"I sent for assistance and for the work-girl's relatives and told them a,
made-up story of a runaway carriage which had knocked her down and lamed
her outside my door. They believed me, and the gendarmes for a whole
month tried in vain to find the author of this accident.
"That is all! And I say that this woman was a heroine and belonged to the
race of those who accomplish the grandest deeds of history.
"That was her only love affair, and she died a virgin. She was a martyr,
a noble soul, a sublimely devoted woman! And if I did not absolutely
admire her, I should not have told you this story, which I would never
tell any one during her life; you understand why."
The doctor ceased. Mamma cried and papa said some words which I did not
catch; then they left the room and I remained on my knees in the armchair
and sobbed, whilst I heard a strange noise of heavy footsteps and
something knocking against the side of the staircase.
They were carrying away Clochette's body.