The Hairpin and Other Stories
by Guy de Maupassant
I WILL NOT RECORD THE NAME EITHER OF THE COUNTRY OR OF the man concerned. It was far, very far from this part
of the world, on a fertile and scorching sea-coast. All morning we had
been following a coast clothed with crops and a blue sea clothed in
sunlight. Flowers thrust up their heads quite close to the waves,
rippling waves, so gentle, drowsing. It was hot--a relaxing heat,
redolent of the rich soil, damp and fruitful: one almost heard the
rising of the sap.
I had been told that, in the evening, I could obtain hospitality in the
house of a Frenchman, who lived at the end of a headland, in an orange
grove. Who was he? I did not yet know. He had arrived one morning, ten
years ago; he had bought a piece of ground, planted vines, sown seed; he
had worked, this man, passionately, furiously. l hen, month by month,
year by year, increasing his demesne, continually fertilising the lusty
and virgin soil, he had in this way amassed a fortune by his unsparing
Yet he went on working, all the time, people said. Up at dawn, going
over his fields until night, always on the watch, he seemed to be goaded
by a fixed idea, tortured by an insatiable lust for money, which nothing
lulls to sleep, and nothing can appease.
Now he seemed to be very rich.
The sun was just setting when I reached his dwelling. This was, indeed,
built at the end of an out-thrust cliff, in the midst of orange-trees.
It was a large plain-looking house, built four-square, and overlooking
As I approached, a man with a big beard appeared in the door way.
Greeting him, I asked him to give me shelter for the night. He held out
his hand to me, smiling.
"Come in, sir, and make yourself at home."
He led the way to a room, put a servant at my disposal, with the perfect
assurance and easy good manners of a man of the world; then he left me,
"We will dine as soon as you are quite ready to come down."
We did indeed dine alone, on a terrace facing the sea. At the beginning
of the meal, I spoke to him of this country, so rich, so far from the
world, so little known. He smiled, answering indifferently.
"Yes, it is a beautiful country. But no country is attractive that lies
so far from the country of one's heart."
"You regret France?"
"I regret Paris."
"Why not go back to it?"
"Oh, I shall go back to it."
Then, quite naturally, we began to talk of French society, of the
boulevards, and people, and things of Paris. He questioned me after the
manner of a man who knew all about it, mentioning names, all the names
familiar on the Vaudeville promenade.
"Who goes to Tortoni's now?"
"All the same people, except those who have died."
I looked at him closely, haunted by a vague memory. Assuredly I had seen
this face somewhere. But where? but when? He seemed weary though active,
melancholy though determined. His big fair beard fell to his chest, and
now and then he took hold of it below the chin and, holding it in his
closed hand, let the whole length of it run through his fingers. A
little bald, he had heavy eyebrows and a thick moustache that merged
into the hair covering his cheeks. Behind us the sun sank in the sea,
flinging over the coast a fiery haze. The orange-trees in full blossom
filled the air with their sweet, heady scent. He had eyes for nothing
but me, and with his intent gaze he seemed to peer through my eyes, to
see in the depths of my thoughts the far-off, familiar, and well-loved
vision of the wide, shady pavement that runs from the Madeleine to the
"Do you know Boutrelle?"
"Is he much changed?"
"Yes, he has gone quite white."
"And La Ridamie?"
"Always the same."
"And the women? Tell me about the woman. Let me see, Do you know Suzanne
"Yes, very stout. Done for."
"Ah! And Sophie Astier?"
"Poor girl! And is . . . do you know. . . ."
But he was abruptly silent. Then in a changed voice, his face grown
suddenly pale, he went on:
"No, it would be better for me not to speak of it any more, it tortures
Then, as if to change the trend of his thoughts, he rose.
"Shall we go in?"
"I am quite ready."
And he preceded me into the house.
The rooms on the ground floor were enormous, bare, gloomy, apparently
deserted. Napkins and glasses were scattered about the tables, left
there by the swan-skinned servants who prowled about this vast dwelling
all the time. Two guns were hanging from two nails on the wall, and in
the corners I saw spades, fishing-lines, dried palm leaves, objects of
all kinds, deposited there by people who happened to come into the
house, and remaining there within easy reach until someone happened to
go out or until they were wanted for a job of work.
My host smiled.
"It is the dwelling, or rather the hovel; of an exile," said he, "but my
room is rather more decent. Let's go there."
My first thought, when I entered the room, was that I was penetrating
into a second-hand dealer's, so full of things was it, all the
incongruous, strange, and varied things that one feels must be
mementoes. On the walls two excellent pictures by well-known artists,
hangings, weapons, swords and pistols, and then, right in the middle of
the most prominent panel, a square of white satin in a gold frame.
Surprised, I went closer to look at it and I saw a hairpin stuck in the
centre of the gleaming material.
My host laid his hand on my shoulder.
"There," he said, with a smile, "is the only thing I ever look at in
this place, and the only one I have seen for ten years. Monsieur
Prudhomme declared: 'This sabre is the finest day of my life!' As for
me, I can say: 'This pin is the whole of my life!'"
I sought for the conventional phrase; I ended by saying:
"Some woman has made you suffer?"
He went on harshly:
"I suffer yet, and frightfully. . . . But come on to my balcony. A name
came to my lips just now, that I dared not utter, because if you had
answered 'dead,' as you did for Sophie Astier, I should have blown out
my brains, this very day."
We had gone out on to a wide balcony looking towards two deep valleys,
one on the right and the other on the left, shut in by high sombre
mountains. It was that twilight hour when the vanished sun lights the
earth only by its reflection in the sky.
"Is Jeanne de Limours still alive?"
His eye was fixed on mine, full of shuddering terror.
"Very much alive . . . and prettier than ever."
"You know her?"
He took my hand:
"Talk to me about her."
"But there is nothing I can say: she is one of the women, or rather one
of the most charming and expensive gay ladies in Paris. She leads a
pleasant and sumptuous life, and that's all one can say."
He murmured: "I love her," as if he had said: "I am dying." Then
"Ah, for three years, what a distracting and glorious life we lived!
Five or six times I all but killed her; she tried to pierce my eyes with
that pin at which you have been looking. There, look at this little
white speck on my left eye. We loved each other! How can I explain such
a passion? You would not understand it.
"There must be a gentle love, born of the swift mutual union of two
hearts and two souls; but assuredly there exists a savage love, cruelly
tormenting, born of the imperious force which binds together two
discordant beings who adore while they hate.
"That girl ruined me in three years. I had four millions which she
devoured quite placidly, in her indifferent fashion, crunching them up
with a sweet smile that seemed to die from her eyes on to her lips.
"You know her? There is something irresistible about her. What is it? I
don't know. Is it those grey eyes whose glance thrusts like a gimlet and
remains in you like the barb of an arrow? It is rather that sweet smile,
indifferent and infinitely charming, that dwells on her face like a
mask. Little by little her slow grace invades one, rises from her like a
perfume, from her tall, slender body, which sways a little as she moves,
for she seems to glide rather than walk, from her lovely, drawling voice
that seems the music of her smile, from the very motion of her body,
too, a motion that is always restrained, always just right, taking the
eye with rapture, so exquisitely proportioned it is. For three years I
was conscious of no one but her. How I suffered! For she deceived me
with every one. Why? For no reason, for the mere sake of deceiving. And
when I discovered it, when I abused her as a light-o'-love and a loose
woman, she admitted it calmly. 'We're not married, are we?' she said.
"Since I have been here, I have thought of her so much that I have ended
by understanding her: that woman is Manon Lescaut come again. Manon
could not love without betraying for Manon, love, pleasure, and money
were all one."
He was silent. Then, some minutes later:
"When I had squandered my last sou for her, she said to me quite simply:
'You realise, my dear, that I cannot live on air and sunshine. I love
you madly, I love you more than anyone in the world, but one must live.
Poverty and I would never make good bedfellows.'
"And if I did but tell you what an agonising life I had lead with her!
When I looked at her, I wanted to kill her as sharply as I wanted to
embrace her. When I looked at her . . . I felt a mad impulse to open my
arms, to take her to me and strangle her. There lurked in her, behind
her eyes, something treacherous and for ever unattainable that made me
execrate her; and it is perhaps because of that that I loved her so. In
her, the Feminine, the detestable and distracting Feminine, was more
puissant than in any other woman. She was charged with it, surcharged as
with an intoxicating and venomous fluid. She was Woman, more essentially
than any one woman has ever been.
"And look you, when I went out with her, she fixed her glance on every
man, in such a way that she seemed to be giving each one of them her
undivided interest. That maddened me and yet held me to her the closer.
This woman, in the mere act of walking down the street, was owned by
every man in it, in spite of me, in spite of herself, by virtue of her
very nature, although she bore herself with a quiet and modest air. Do
"And what torture! At the theatre, in the restaurant, it seemed to me
that men possessed her under my very eyes. And as soon as I left her
company, other men did indeed possess her.
"It is ten years since I have seen her, and I love her more then ever."
Night had spread its wings upon the earth. The powerful scent of
orange-trees hung in the air.
I said to him:
"You will see her again?"
"By God, yes. I have here, in land and money, from seven to eight
hundred thousand francs. When the million is complete, I shall sell all
and depart. I shall have enough for one year with her--one entire
marvellous year. And then goodbye, my life will be over."
"Afterwards, I don't know. It will be the end. Perhaps I shall ask her
to keep me on as her body-servant."
SHE WAS ONE OF THOSE PRETTY AND
CHARMING GIRLS BORN, as though fate had blundered over her, into a
family of artisans. She had no marriage portion, no expectations, no
means of getting known, understood, loved, and wedded by a man of wealth
and distinction; and she let herself be married off to a little clerk in
the Ministry of Education. Her tastes were simple because she had never
been able to afford any other, but she was as unhappy as though she had
married beneath her; for women have no caste or class, their beauty,
grace, and charm serving them for birth or family. their natural
delicacy, their instinctive elegance, their nimbleness of wit, are their
only mark of rank, and put the slum girl on a level with the highest
lady in the land.
She suffered endlessly, feeling herself born for every delicacy and
luxury. She suffered from the poorness of her house, from its mean
walls, worn chairs, and ugly curtains. All these things, of which other
women of her class would not even have been aware, tormented and
insulted her. The sight of the little Breton girl who came to do the
work in her little house aroused heart-broken regrets and hopeless
dreams in her mind. She imagined silent antechambers, heavy with
Oriental tapestries, lit by torches in lofty bronze sockets, with two
tall footmen in knee-breeches sleeping in large arm-chairs, overcome by
the heavy warmth of the stove. She imagined vast saloons hung with
antique silks, exquisite pieces of furniture supporting priceless
ornaments, and small, charming, perfumed rooms, created just for little
parties of intimate friends, men who were famous and sought after, whose
homage roused every other woman's envious longings.
When she sat down for dinner at the round table covered with a
three-days-old cloth, opposite her husband, who took the cover off the
soup-tureen, exclaiming delightedly: "Aha! Scotch broth! What could be
better?" she imagined delicate meals, gleaming silver, tapestries
peopling the walls with folk of a past age and strange birds in faery
forests; she imagined delicate food served in marvellous dishes,
murmured gallantries, listened to with an inscrutable smile as one
trifled with the rosy flesh of trout or wings of asparagus chicken.
She had no clothes, no jewels, nothing. And these were the only things
she loved; she felt that she was made for them. She had longed so
eagerly to charm, to be desired, to be wildly attractive and sought
She had a rich friend, an old school friend whom she refused to visit,
because she suffered so keenly when she returned home. She would weep
whole days, with grief, regret, despair, and misery.
One evening her husband came home with an exultant air, holding a large
envelope in his hand.
" Here's something for you," he said.
Swiftly she tore the paper and drew out a printed card on which were
"The Minister of Education and Madame Ramponneau request the pleasure of
the company of Monsieur and Madame Loisel at the Ministry on the evening
of Monday, January the 18th."
Instead of being delighted, as her-husband hoped, she flung the
invitation petulantly across the table, murmuring:
"What do you want me to do with this?"
"Why, darling, I thought you'd be pleased. You never go out, and this is
a great occasion. I had tremendous trouble to get it. Every one wants
one; it's very select, and very few go to the clerks. You'll see all the
really big people there."
She looked at him out of furious eyes, and said impatiently: "And what
do you suppose I am to wear at such an affair?"
He had not thought about it; he stammered:
"Why, the dress you go to the theatre in. It looks very nice, to me...."
He stopped, stupefied and utterly at a loss when he saw that his wife
was beginning to cry. Two large tears ran slowly down from the corners
of her eyes towards the corners of her mouth.
"What's the matter with you? What's the matter with you?" he faltered.
But with a violent effort she overcame her grief and replied in a calm
voice, wiping her wet cheeks:
"Nothing. Only I haven't a dress and so I can't go to this party. Give
your invitation to some friend of yours whose wife will be turned out
better than I shall."
He was heart-broken.
"Look here, Mathilde," he persisted. :What would be the cost of a
suitable dress, which you could use on other occasions as well,
something very simple?"
She thought for several seconds, reckoning up prices and also wondering
for how large a sum she could ask without bringing upon herself an
immediate refusal and an exclamation of horror from the careful-minded
At last she replied with some hesitation:
"I don't know exactly, but I think I could do it on four hundred
He grew slightly pale, for this was exactly the amount he had been
saving for a gun, intending to get a little shooting next summer on the
plain of Nanterre with some friends who went lark-shooting there on
Nevertheless he said: "Very well. I'll give you four hundred francs. But
try and get a really nice dress with the money."
The day of the party drew near, and Madame Loisel seemed sad, uneasy and
anxious. Her dress was ready, however. One evening her husband said to
"What's the matter with you? You've been very odd for the last three
"I'm utterly miserable at not having any jewels, not a single stone, to
wear," she replied. "I shall look absolutely no one. I would almost
rather not go to the party."
"Wear flowers," he said. "They're very smart at this time of the year.
For ten francs you could get two or three gorgeous roses."
She was not convinced.
"No . . . there's nothing so humiliating as looking poor in the middle
of a lot of rich women."
"How stupid you are!" exclaimed her husband. "Go and see Madame
Forestier and ask her to lend you some jewels. You know her quite well
enough for that."
She uttered a cry of delight.
"That's true. I never thought of it."
Next day she went to see her friend and told her her trouble.
Madame Forestier went to her dressing-table, took up a large box,
brought it to Madame Loisel, opened it, and said:
"Choose, my dear."
First she saw some bracelets, then a pearl necklace, then a Venetian
cross in gold and gems, of exquisite workmanship. She tried the effect
of the jewels before the mirror, hesitating, unable to make up her mind
to leave them, to give them up. She kept on asking:
"Haven't you anything else?"
"Yes. Look for yourself. I don't know what you would like best."
Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin case, a superb diamond
necklace; her heart began to beat covetousIy. Her hands trembled as she
lifted it. She fastened it round her neck, upon her high dress, and
remained in ecstasy at sight of herself.
Then, with hesitation, she asked in anguish:
"Could you lend me this, just this alone?"
"Yes, of course."
She flung herself on her friend's breast, embraced her frenziedly, and
went away with her treasure. The day of the party arrived. Madame Loisel
was a success. She was the prettiest woman present, elegant, graceful,
smiling, and quite above herself with happiness. All the men stared at
her, inquired her name, and asked to be introduced to her. All the
Under-Secretaries of State were eager to waltz with her. The Minister
She danced madly, ecstatically, drunk with pleasure, with no thought for
anything, in the triumph of her beauty, in the pride of her success, in
a cloud of happiness made up of this universal homage and admiration, of
the desires she had aroused, of the completeness of a victory so dear to
her feminine heart.
She left about four o'clock in the morning. Since midnight her husband
had been dozing in a deserted little room, in company with three other
men whose wives were having a good time. He threw over her shoulders the
garments he had brought for them to go home in, modest everyday clothes,
whose poverty clashed with the beauty of the ball-dress. She was
conscious of this and was anxious to hurry away, so that she should not
be noticed by the other women putting on their costly furs.
Loisel restrained her.
"Wait a little. You'll catch cold in the open. I'm going to fetch a
But she did not listen to him and rapidly descended-the staircase. When
they were out in the street they could not find a cab; they began to
look for one, shouting at the drivers whom they saw passing in the
They walked down towards the Seine, desperate and shivering. At last
they found on the quay one of those old nightprowling carriages which
are only to be seen in Paris after dark, as though they were ashamed of
their shabbiness in the daylight.
It brought them to their door in the Rue des Martyrs, and sadly they
walked up to their own apartment. It was the end, for her. As for him,
he was thinking that he must be at the office at ten.
She took off the garments in which she had wrapped her shoulders, so as
to see herself in all her glory before the mirror. But suddenly she
uttered a cry. The necklace was no longer round her neck!
"What's the matter with you?" asked her husband, already half undressed.
She turned towards him in the utmost distress.
"I . . . I . . . I've no longer got Madame Forestier's necklace. . . ."
He started with astonishment.
"What! . . . Impossible!"
They searched in the folds of her dress, in the folds of the coat, in
the pockets, everywhere. They could not find it.
"Are you sure that you still had it on when you came away from the
ball?" he asked.
"Yes, I touched it in the hall at the Ministry."
"But if you had lost it in the street, we should have heard it fall."
"Yes. Probably we should. Did you take the number of the cab?"
"No. You didn't notice it, did you?"
They stared at one another, dumbfounded. At last Loisel put on his
"I'll go over all the ground we walked," he said, "and see if I can't
And he went out. She remained in her evening clothes, lacking strength
to get into bed, huddled on a chair, without volition or power of
Her husband returned about seven. He had found nothing.
He went to the police station, to the newspapers, to offer a reward, to
the cab companies, everywhere that a ray of hope impelled him.
She waited all day long, in the same state of bewilderment at this
Loisel came home at night, his face lined and pale; he had discovered
"You must write to your friend," he said, "and tell her that you've
broken the clasp of her necklace and are getting it mended. That will
give us time to look about us."
She wrote at his dictation.
By the end of a week they had lost all hope.
Loisel, who had aged five years, declared:
"We must see about replacing the diamonds."
Next day they took the box which had held the necklace and went to the
jewellers whose name was inside. He consulted his books.
"It was not I who sold this necklace, Madame; I must have merely
supplied the clasp."
Then they went from jeweller to jeweller, searching for another necklace
like the first, consulting their memories, both ill with remorse and
anguish of mind.
In a shop at the Palais-Royal they found a string of diamonds which
seemed to them exactly like the one they were looking for. It was worth
forty thousand francs. They were allowed to have it for thirty-six
They begged the jeweller not tO sell it for three days. And they
arranged matters on the understanding that it would be taken back for
thirty-four thousand francs, if the first one were found before the end
Loisel possessed eighteen thousand francs left to him by his father. He
intended to borrow the rest.
He did borrow it, getting a thousand from one man, five hundred from
another, five louis here, three louis there. He gave notes of hand,
entered into ruinous agreements, did business with usurers and the whole
tribe of money-lenders. He mortgaged the whole remaining years of his
existence, risked his signature without even knowing it he could honour
it, and, appalled at the agonising face of the future, at the black
misery about to fall upon him, at the prospect of every possible
physical privation and moral torture, he went to get the new necklace
and put down upon the jeweller's counter thirty-six thousand francs.
When Madame Loisel took back the necklace to Madame Forestier, the
latter said to her in a chilly voice:
"You ought to have brought it back sooner; I might have needed it."
She did not, as her friend had feared, open the case. If she had noticed
the substitution, what would she have thought? What would she have said?
Would she not have taken her for a thief?
Madame Loisel came to know the ghastly life of abject poverty. From the
very first she played her part heroically. This fearful debt must be
paid off. She would pay it. The servant was dismissed. They changed
their flat; they took a garret under the roof.
She came to know the heavy work of the house, the hateful duties of the
kitchen. She washed the plates, wearing out her pink nails on the coarse
pottery and the bottoms of pans. She washed the dirty linen, the shirts
and dish-cloths, and hung them out to dry on a string; every morning she
took the dustbin down into the street and carried up the water, stopping
on each landing to get her breath. And, clad like a poor woman, she went
to the fruiterer, to the grocer, to the butcher, a basket on her arm,
haggling, insulted, fighting for every wretched halfpenny of her money.
Every month notes had to be paid off, others renewed, time gained.
Her husband worked in the evenings at putting straight a merchant's
accounts, and often at night he did copying at twopence-halfpenny a
And this life lasted ten years.
At the end of ten years everything was paid off, everything, the
usurer's charges and the accumulation of superimposed interest.
Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become like all the other strong,
hard, coarse women of poor households. Her hair was badly done, her
skirts were awry, her hands were red. She spoke in a shrill voice, and
the water slopped all over the floor when she scrubbed it. But
sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she sat down by the
window and thought of that evening long ago, of the ball at which she
had been so beautiful and so much admired.
What would have happened if she had never lost those jewels. Who knows?
Who knows? How strange life is, how fickle! How little is needed to ruin
or to save!
One Sunday, as she had gone for a walk along the Champs-Elysees to
freshen herself after the labours of the week, she caught sight suddenly
of a woman who was taking a child out for a walk. It was Madame
Forestier, still young, still beautiful, still attractive.
Madame Loisel was conscious of some emotion. Should she speak to her?
Yes, certainly. And now that she had paid, she would tell her all. Why
She went up to her.
"Good morning, Jeanne."
The other did not recognise her, and was surprised at being thus
familiarly addressed by a poor woman.
"But . . . Madame . . ." she stammered. "I don't know . . . you must be
making a mistake."
"No . . . I am Mathilde Loisel."
Her friend uttered a cry.
"Oh! . . . my poor Mathilde, how you have changed! . . ."
"Yes, I've had some hard times since I saw you last; and many sorrows .
. . and all on your account."
"On my account! . . . How was that?"
"You remember the diamond necklace you lent me for the ball at the
"Well, I lost it."
"How could you? Why, you brought it back."
"I brought you another one just like it. And for the last ten years we
have been paying for it. You realise it wasn't easy for us; we had no
money. . . . Well, it's paid for at last, and I'm glad indeed."
Madame Forestier had halted.
"You say you bought a diamond necklace to replace mine?"
"Yes. You hadn't noticed it? They were very much alike."
And she smiled in proud and innocent happiness.
Madame Forestier, deeply moved, took her two hands.
"Oh, my poor Mathilde! But mine was imitation. It was worth at the very
most five hundred francs! . . . "
The Piece of String
ALONG ALL THE ROADS around
Goderville the peasants and their wives were coming toward the burgh
because it was market day. The men were proceeding with slow steps, the
whole body bent forward at each movement of their long twisted legs;
deformed by their hard work, by the weight on the plow which, at the
same time, raised the left shoulder and swerved the figure, by the
reaping of the wheat which made the knees spread to make a firm
"purchase," by all the slow and painful labors of the country. Their
blouses, blue, "stiff-starched," shining as if varnished, ornamented
with a little design in white at the neck and wrists, puffed about their
bony bodies, seemed like balloons ready to carry them off. From each of
them two feet protruded.
Some led a cow or a calf by a cord, and their wives, walking behind the
animal, whipped its haunches with a leafy branch to hasten its progress.
They carried large baskets on their arms from which, in some cases,
chickens and, in others, ducks thrust out their heads. And they walked
with a quicker, livelier step than their husbands. Their spare straight
figures were wrapped in a scanty little shawl pinned over their flat
bosoms, and their heads were enveloped in a white cloth glued to the
hair and surmounted by a cap.
Then a wagon passed at the jerky trot of a nag, shaking strangely, two
men seated side by side and a woman in the bottom of the vehicle, the
latter holding onto the sides to lessen the hard jolts.
In the public square of Goderville there was a crowd, a throng of human
beings and animals mixed together. The horns of the cattle, the tall
hats, with long nap, of the rich peasant and the headgear of the peasant
women rose above the surface of the assembly. And the clamorous, shrill,
screaming voices made a continuous and savage din which sometimes was
dominated by the robust lungs of some countryman's laugh or the long
lowing of a cow tied to the wall of a house.
All that smacked of the stable, the dairy and the dirt heap, hay and
sweat, giving forth that unpleasant odor, human and animal, peculiar to
the people of the field.
Maître Hauchecome of Breaute had just arrived at Goderville, and he was
directing his steps toward the public square when he perceived upon the
ground a little piece of string. Maître Hauchecome, economical like a
true Norman, thought that everything useful ought to be picked up, and
he bent painfully, for he suffered from rheumatism. He took the bit of
thin cord from the ground and began to roll it carefully when he noticed
Maître Malandain, the harness maker, on the threshold of his door,
looking at him. They had heretofore had business together on the subject
of a halter, and they were on bad terms, both being good haters. Maître
Hauchecome was seized with a sort of shame to be seen thus by his enemy,
picking a bit of a head. two arms and string out of the dirt. He
concealed his "find" quickly under his blouse, then in his trousers'
pocket; then he pretended to be still looking on the ground for
something which he did not find, and he went toward the market, his head
forward, bent double by his pains.
He was soon lost in the noisy and slowly moving crowd which was busy
with interminable bargainings. The peasants milked, went and came,
perplexed, always in fear of being cheated, not daring to decide,
watching the vender's eye, ever trying to find the trick in the man and
the flaw in the beast.
The women, having placed their great baskets at their feet, had taken
out the poultry which lay upon the ground, tied together by the feet,
with terrified eyes and scarlet crests.
They heard offers, stated their prices with a dry air and impassive
face, or perhaps, suddenly deciding on some proposed reduction, shouted
to the customer who was slowly going away: "All right, Maître Authirne,
I'll give it to you for that."
Then lime by lime the square was deserted, and the Angelus ringing at
noon, those who had stayed too long scattered to their shops.
At Jourdain's the great room was full of people eating, as the big court
was full of vehicles of all kinds, carts, gigs, wagons, dumpcarts,
yellow with dirt, mended and patched, raising their shafts to the sky
like two arms or perhaps with their shafts in the ground and their backs
in the air.
Just opposite the diners seated at the table the immense fireplace,
filled with bright flames, cast a lively heat on the backs of the row on
the right. Three spits were turning on which were chickens, pigeons and
legs of mutton, and an appetizing odor of roast beef and gravy dripping
over the nicely browned skin rose from the hearth, increased the
jovialness and made everybody's mouth water.
All the aristocracy of the plow ate there at Maître Jourdain's, tavern
keeper and horse dealer, a rascal who had money.
The dishes were passed and emptied, as were the jugs of yellow cider.
Everyone told his affairs, his purchases and sales. They discussed the
crops. The weather was favorable for the green things but not for the
Suddenly the drum beat in the court before the house. Everybody rose,
except a few indifferent persons, and ran to the door or to the windows,
their mouths still full and napkins in their hands.
After the public crier had ceased his drumbeating he called out in a
jerky voice, speaking his phrases irregularly:
"It is hereby made known to the inhabitants of Goderville, and in
general to all persons present at the market, that there was lost this
morning on the road to Benzeville, between nine and ten o'clock, a black
leather pocketbook containing five hundred francs and some business
papers. The finder is requested to return same with all haste to the
mayor's office or to Maître Fortune Houlbreque of Manneville; there will
be twenty francs reward."
Then the man went away. The heavy roll of the drum and the crier's voice
were again heard at a distance.
Then they began to talk of this event, discussing the chances that
Maître Houlbreque had of finding or not finding his pocketbook.
And the meal concluded. They were finishing their coffee when a chief of
the gendarmes appeared upon the threshold.
"Is Maître Hauchecome of Breaute here?"
Maître Hauchecome, seated at the other end of the table, replied:
"Here I am."
And the officer resumed:
"Maître Hauchecome, will you have the goodness to accompany me to the
mayor's office? The mayor would like to talk to you."
The peasant, surprised and disturbed, swallowed at a draught his tiny
glass of brandy, rose and, even more bent than in the morning, for the
first steps after each rest were specially difficult, set out,
repeating: "Here I am, here I am."
The mayor was awaiting him, seated on an armchair. He was the notary of
the vicinity, a stout, serious man with pompous phrases.
"Maître Hauchecome," said he, "you were seen this morning to pick up, on
the road to Benzeville, the pocketbook lost by Maître Houlbreque of
The countryman, astounded, looked at the mayor, already terrified by
this suspicion resting on him without his knowing why.
"Me? Me? Me pick up the pocketbook?"
"Yes, you yourself."
"Word of honor, I never heard of it."
"But you were seen."
"I was seen, me? Who says he saw me?"
"Monsieur Malandain, the harness maker."
The old man remembered, understood and flushed with anger.
"Ah, he saw me, the clodhopper, he saw me pick up this string here,
M'sieu the Mayor." And rummaging in his pocket, he drew out the little
piece of string.
But the mayor, incredulous, shook his head.
"You will not make me believe, Maître Hauchecome, that Monsieur
Malandain, who is a man worthy of credence, mistook this cord for a
The peasant, furious, lifted his hand, spat at one side to attest his
"It is nevertheless the truth of the good God, the sacred truth, M'sieu
the Mayor. I repeat it on my soul and my salvation."
The mayor resumed:
"After picking up the object you stood like a stilt, looking a long
while in the mud to see if any piece of money had fallen out."
The good old man choked with indignation and fear.
"How anyone can tell--how anyone can tell--such lies to take away an
honest man's reputation! How can anyone---"
There was no use in his protesting; nobody believed him. He was con.
fronted with Monsieur Malandain, who repeated and maintained his
affirmation. They abused each other for an hour. At his own request
Maître Hauchecome was searched; nothing was found on him.
Finally the mayor, very much perplexed, discharged him with the warning
that he would consult the public prosecutor and ask for further orders.
The news had spread. As he left the mayor's office the old man was sun
rounded and questioned with a serious or bantering curiosity in which
there was no indignation. He began to tell the story of the string. No
one believed him. They laughed at him.
He went along, stopping his friends, beginning endlessly his statement
and his protestations, showing his pockets turned inside out to prove
that he had nothing.
"Old rascal, get out!"
And he grew angry, becoming exasperated, hot and distressed at not
being believed, not knowing what to do and always repeating himself.
Night came. He must depart. He started on his way with three neighbors
to whom he pointed out the place where he had picked up the bit of
string, and all along the road he spoke of his adventure.
In the evening he took a turn in the village of Breaute in order to tell
it to everybody. He only met with incredulity.
It made him ill at night.
The next day about one o'clock in the afternoon Marius Paumelle, a hired
man in the employ of Maître Breton, husbandman at Ymanville, returned
the pocketbook and its contents to Maître Houlbreque of Manneville.
This man claimed to have found the object in the road, but not knowing
how to read, he had carried it to the house and given it to his
The news spread through the neighborhood. Maître Hauchecome was informed
of it. He immediately went the circuit and began to recount his story
completed by the happy climax. He was in triumph.
"What grieved me so much was not the thing itself as the lying. There is
nothing so shameful as to be placed under a cloud on account of a lie."
He talked of his adventure all day long; he told it on the highway to
people who were passing by, in the wineshop to people who were drinking
there and to persons coming out of church the following Sunday. He
stopped strangers to tell them about it. He was calm now, and yet
something disturbed him without his knowing exactly what it was. People
had the air of joking while they listened. They did not seem convinced.
He seemed to feel that remarks were being made behind his back.
On Tuesday of the next week he went to the market at Goderville, urged
solely by the necessity he felt of discussing the case.
Malandain, standing at his door, began to laugh on seeing him pass. Why?
He approached a farmer from Crequetot who did not let him finish and,
giving him a thump in the stomach, said to his face:
"You big rascal."
Then he turned his back on him.
Maître Hauchecome was confused; why was he called a big rascal?
When he was seated at the table in Jourdain's tavern he commenced to
explain "the affair."
A horse dealer from Monvilliers called to him:
"Come, come, old sharper, that's an old trick; I know all about your
piece of string!"
"But since the pocketbook was found."
But the other man replied:
"Shut up, papa, there is one that finds and there is one that reports.
At any rate you are mixed with it."
The peasant stood choking. He understood. They accused him of having had
the pocketbook returned by a confederate, by an accomplice.
He tried to protest. All the table began to laugh.
He could not finish his dinner and went away in the midst of jeers.
He went home ashamed and indignant, choking with anger and confusion,
the more dejected that he was capable, with his Norman cunning, of doing
what they had accused him of and ever boasting of it as of a good turn.
His innocence to him, in a confused way, was impossible to prove, as his
sharpness was known. And he was stricken to the heart by the injustice
of the suspicion.
Then he began to recount the adventures again, prolonging his history
every day, adding each time new reasons, more energetic protestations,
more solemn oaths which he imagined and prepared in his hours of
solitude, his whole mind given up to the story of the string. He was
believed so much the less as his defense was more complicated and his
arguing more subtile.
"Those are lying excuses," they said behind his back.
He felt it, consumed his heart over it and wore himself out with useless
efforts. He wasted away before their very eyes.
The wags now made him tell about the string to amuse them, as they make
a soldier who has been on a campaign tell about his battles. His mind,
touched to the depth, began to weaken.
Toward the end of December he took to his bed.
He died in the first days of January, and in the delirium of his death
struggles he kept claiming his innocence, reiterating:
"A piece of string, a piece of string--look--here it is, M'sieu the
An Affair of State
Paris had just heard of the
disaster of Sedan. The Republic was proclaimed. All France was panting
from a madness that lasted until the time of the commonwealth. Everybody
was playing at soldier from one end of the country to the other.
Capmakers became colonels, assuming the duties of generals; revolvers
and daggers were displayed on large rotund bodies enveloped in red
sashes; common citizens turned warriors, commanding battalions of noisy
volunteers and swearing like troopers to emphasize their importance.
The very fact of bearing arms and handling guns with a system excited a
people who hitherto had only handled scales and measures and made them
formidable to the first comer, without reason. They even executed a few
innocent people to prove that they knew how to kill, and in roaming
through virgin fields still belonging to the Prussians they shot stray
dogs, cows chewing the cud in peace or sick horses put out to pasture.
Each believed himself called upon to play a great role in military
affairs. The cafès of the smallest villages, full of tradesmen in
uniform, resembled barracks or field hospitals.
Now the town of Canneville did not yet know the exciting news of the
army and the capital. It had, however, been greatly agitated for a month
over an encounter between the rival political parties. The mayor,
Viscount de Varnetot, a small thin man, already old, remained true to
the Empire, especially since he saw rising up against him a powerful
adversary in the great, sanguine form of Dr. Massarel, head of the
Republican party in the district, venerable chief of the Masonic lodge,
president of the Society of Agriculture and the Fire Department and
organizer of the rural militia designed to save the country.
In two weeks he had induced sixty-three men to volunteer in defense of
their country--married men, fathers of families, prudent farmers and
merchants of the town. These he drilled every morning in front of the
Whenever the mayor happened to appear Commander Massarel, covered with
pistols, passing proudly up and down in front of his troops, would make
them shout, "Long live our country!" And this, they noticed, disturbed
the little viscount, who no doubt heard in it menace and defiance and
perhaps some odious recollection of the great Revolution.
On the morning of the fifth of September, in uniform, his revolver on
the table, the doctor gave consultation to an old peasant couple. The
husband had suffered with a varicose vein for seven years but had waited
until his wife had one too, so that they might go and hunt up a
physician together, guided by the postman when he should come with the
Dr Massarel opened the door, grew pale, straightened himself abruptly
and, raising his arms to heaven in a gesture of exaltation, cried out
with all his might, in the face of the amazed rustics:
"Long live the Republic! Long live the Republic! Long live the
Then he dropped into his armchair weak with emotion.
When the peasant explained that this sickness commenced with a feeling
as if ants were running up and down his legs the doctor exclaimed: "Hold
your peace. I have spent too much time with you stupid people. The
Republic is proclaimed! The Emperor is a prisoner! France is saved! Long
live the Republic!" And, running to the door, he bellowed: "Celeste!
The frightened maid hastened in. He stuttered, so rapidly did he try to
speak" "My boots, my saber--my cartridge box--and--the Spanish dagger
which is on my night table. Hurry now!"
The obstinate peasant, taking advantage of the moment's silence, began
again: "This seemed like some cysts that hurt me when I walked."
The exasperated physician shouted: "Hold your peace! For heaven's sake!
If you had washed your feet oftener, it would not have happened." Then,
seizing him by the neck, he hissed in his face: "Can you not comprehend
that we are living in a republic, stupid;"
But the professional sentiment calmed him suddenly, and he let the
astonished old couple out of the house, repeating all the time:
"Return tomorrow, return tomorrow, my friends; I have no more time
While equipping himself from head to foot he gave another series of
urgent orders to the maid:
"Run to Lieutenant Picard's and to Sublieutenant Pommel's and say to
them that I want them here immediately. Send Torcheboeuf to me too, with
his drum. Quick now! Quick!" And when Celeste was gone he collected his
thoughts and prepared to surmount the difficulties of the situation.
The three men arrived together. They were in their working clothes. The
commander, who had expected to see them in uniform, had a fit of
"You know nothing, then? The Emperor has been taken prisoner. A republic
is proclaimed. My position is delicate, not to say perilous."
He reflected for some minutes before the astonished faces of his
subordinates and then continued:
"It is necessary to act, not to hesitate. Minutes now are worth hours at
other times. Everything depends upon promptness of decision. You,
Picard, go and find the curate and get him to ring the bell to bring the
people together, while I get ahead of them. You, Torcheboeuf, beat the
call to assemble the militia in arms, in the square, from even as far as
the hamlets of Gerisaie and Salmare. You, Pommel, put on your uniform at
once, that is, the jacket and cap. We, together, are going to take
possession of the mairie and summon Monsieur de Varnetot to transfer his
authority to me. Do you understand?"
"Act, then, and promptly. I will accompany you to your house, Pommel,
Since we are to work together."
Five minutes later the commander and his subaltern, armed to the teeth,
appeared in the square just at the moment when the little Viscount de
Varnetot, with hunting gaiters on and his rifle on his shoulder,
appeared by another street, walking rapidly and followed by three guards
in green jackets, each carrying a knife at his side and a gun over his
While the doctor slapped, half stupefied, the four men entered the
mayor's house and the door closed behind them.
"We are forestalled," murmured the doctor; "it will be necessary now to
wait for reinforcements; nothing can be done for a quarter of an hour."
Here Lieutenant Picard appeared. "The curate refuses to obey," said he;
"he has even shut himself up in the church with the beadle and the
On the other side of the square, opposite the white closed front of the
mairie, the church, mute and black, showed its great oak door with the
Then, as the puzzled inhabitants put their noses out of the windows or
came out upon the steps of their houses, the rolling of a drum was
heard, and Torcheboeuf suddenly appeared, beating with fury the three
quick strokes of the call to arms. He crossed the square with
disciplined step and then disappeared on a road leading to the country.
The commander drew his sword, advanced alone to the middle distance
between the two buildings where the enemy was barricaded and, waving his
weapon above his head, roared at the top of his lungs: "Long live the
Republic! Death to traitors!" Then he fell back where his officers were.
The butcher, the baker and the apothecary, feeling a little uncertain,
put up their shutters and closed their shops. The grocery alone remained
Meanwhile the men of the militia were arriving little by little,
variously clothed but all wearing caps, the cap constituting the whole
uniform of the corps. They were armed with their old rusty guns, guns
that had hung on chimney pieces in kitchens for thirty years, and looked
quite like a detachment of country soldiers.
When there were about thirty around him the commander explained in a few
words the state of affairs. Then, turning toward his major, he said:
"Now we must act."
While the inhabitants collected, talked over and discussed the matter
the doctor quickly formed his plan of campaign.
"Lieutenant Picard, you advance to the windows of the mayor's house and
order Monsieur de Varnetot to turn over the town hall to me in the name
of the Republic."
But the lieutenant was a master mason and refused.
"You are a scamp, you are. Trying to make a target of me! Those fellows
in there are good shots, you know that. No, thanks! Execute your
The commander turned red. "I order you to go in the name of discipline,"
"I am not spoiling my features without knowing why," the lieutenant
Men of influence, in a group near by, were heard laughing. One of them
called out: "You are right, Picard, it is not the proper time." The
doctor, under his breath, muttered: "Cowards!" And placing his sword and
his revolver in the hands of a soldier, he advanced with measured step,
his eye fixed on the windows as if he expected to see a gun or a cannon
pointed at him.
When he was within a few steps of the building the doors at the two
extremities, affording an entrance to two schools, opened, and a flood
of little creatures, boys on one side, girls on the other, poured out
and began playing in the open space, chattering around the doctor like a
flock of birds. He scarcely knew what to make of it.
As soon as the last were out the doors closed. The greater part of the
little monkeys finally scattered, and then the commander called out in a
"Monsieur de Varnetot?" A window in the first story opened and M. de
The commander began: "Monsieur, you are aware of the great events which
have changed the system of government. The party you represent no longer
exists. The side I represent now comes into power. Under these sad but
decisive circumstances I come to demand you, in the name of the
Republic, to put in my hand the authority vested in you by the outgoing
M. de Varnetot replied: "Doctor Massarel, I am mayor of Canneville, so
placed by the proper authorities, and mayor of Canneville I shall remain
until the title is revoked and replaced by an order from my superiors.
As mayor, I am at home in the mairie, and there I shall stay.
Furthermore, just try to put me out." And he closed the window.
The commander returned to his troops. But before explaining anything,
measuring Lieutenant Picard from head to foot, he said:
"You are a numskull, you are--a goose, the disgrace of the army. I shall
The lieutenant replied: "I'll attend to that myself." And he went over
to a group of muttering civilians.
Then the doctor hesitated. What should he do? Make an assault? Would his
men obey him? And then was he surely in the right? An idea burst upon
him. He ran to the telegraph office on the other side of the square and
hurriedly sent three dispatches: "To the Members of the Republican
Government at Paris"; "To the New Republican Prefect of the Lower Seine
at Rouen"; "To the New Republican Subprefect of Dieppe."
He exposed the situation fully; told of the danger run by the
commonwealth from remaining in the hands of the monarchistic mayor,
offered his devout services, asked for orders and signed his name,
following it up with all his titles. Then he returned to his army corps
and, drawing ten francs out of his pocket, said:
"Now, my friends, go and eat and drink a little something. Only leave
here a detachment of ten men, so that no one leaves the mayor's house."
Ex-Lieutenant Picard, chatting with the watchmaker, overheard this. With
a sneer he remarked: "Pardon me, but if they go out, there will be an
opportunity for you to go in. Otherwise I can't see how you are to get
The doctor made no reply but went away to luncheon. In the afternoon he
disposed of offices all about town, having the air of knowing of an
impending surprise. Many times he passed before the doors of the mairie
and of the church without noticing anything suspicious; one could have
believed the two buildings empty.
The butcher, the baker and the apothecary reopened their shops and stood
gossiping on the steps. If the Emperor had been taken prisoner, there
must be a traitor somewhere. They did not feel sure of the revenue of a
Night came on. Toward nine o'clock the doctor returned quietly and alone
to the mayor's residence, persuaded that his adversary had retired. And
as he was trying to force an entrance with a few blows of a pickax the
loud voice of a guard demanded suddenly: "Who goes there?" M. Massarel
beat a retreat at the top of his speed.
Another day dawned without any change in the situation. The militia in
arms occupied the square. The inhabitants stood around awaiting the
solution. People from neighboring villages came to look on. Finally the
doctor, realizing that his reputation was at stake, resolved to settle
the thing in one way or another. He had just decided that it must be
something energetic when the door of the telegraph office opened and the
little servant of the directress appeared, holding in her hand two
She went directly to the commander and gave him one of the dispatches;
then, crossing the square, intimidated by so many eyes fixed upon her,
with lowered head and mincing steps, she rapped gently at the door of
the barricaded house as if ignorant that a part of the army was
The door opened slightly; the hand of a man received the message, and
the girl returned, blushing and ready to weep from being stared at.
The doctor demanded with stirring voice: "A little silence, if you
please." And after the populace became quiet he continued proudly:
Here is a communication which I have received from the government." And,
raising the dispatch, he read:
"Old mayor deposed. Advise us what is most necessary. Instructions
"For the Subprefect, "SAPIN, Counselor."
He had triumphed. His heart was beating with joy. His hand trembled,
when Picard, his old subaltern, cried out to him from the neighboring
"That's all right; but if the others in there won't go out, your paper
hasn't a leg to stand on." The doctor grew a little pale. If they would
not go out--in fact, he must go ahead now. It was not only his right but
his duty. And he looked anxiously at the house of the mayoralty, hoping
that he might see the door open and his adversary show himself. But the
door remained closed. What was to be done? The crowd was increasing,
surrounding the militia. Some laughed.
One thought, especially, tortured the doctor. If he should make an
assault, he must march at the head of his men; and as with him dead all
contest would cease, it would be at him and at him alone that M. de
Varnetot and the three guards would aim. And their aim was good, very
good! Picard had reminded him of that.
But an idea shone in upon him, and turning to Pommel, he said: "Go,
quickly, and ask the apothecary to send me a napkin and a pole."
The lieutenant hurried off. The doctor was going to make a political
banner, a white one, that would, perhaps, rejoice the heart of that old
legitimist, the mayor.
Pommel returned with the required linen and a broom handle. With some
pieces of string they improvised a standard, which Massarel seized in
both hands. Again he advanced toward the house of mayoralty, bearing the
standard before him. When in front of the door, he called out: "Monsieur
The door opened suddenly, and M. de Varnetot and the three guards
appeared on the threshold. The doctor recoiled instinctively. Then he
saluted his enemy courteously and announced, almost strangled by
emotion: "I have come, sir, to communicate to you the instructions I
have just received."
That gentleman, without any salutation whatever, replied: "I am going to
withdraw, sir, but you must understand that it is not because of fear or
in obedience to an odious government that has usurped the power." And,
biting off each word, he declared: "I do not wish to have the appearance
of serving the Republic for a single day. That is all."
Massarel, amazed, made no reply; and M. de Varnetot, walking off at a
rapid pace, disappeared around the corner, followed closely by his
escort. Then the doctor, slightly dismayed, returned to the crowd. When
he was near enough to be heard he cried: "Hurrah! Hurrah! The Republic
triumphs all along the line!"
But no emotion was manifested. The doctor tried again. "The people are
free! You are free and independent! Do you understand? Be proud of it!"
The listless villagers looked at him with eyes unlit by glory. In his
turn he looked at them, indignant at their indifference, seeking for
some word that could make a grand impression, electrify this placid
country and make good his mission. The inspiration came, and turning to
Pommel, he said "Lieutenant, go and get the bust of the ex-emperor,
which is in the Council Hall, and bring it to me with a chair."
And soon the man reappears, carrying on his right shoulder Napoleon II
in plaster and holding in his left hand a straw-bottomed chair.
Massarel met him, took the chair, placed it on the ground, put the white
image upon it, fell back a few steps and called out in sonorous voice:
"Tyrant! Tyrant! Here do you fall! Fall in the dust and in the mire. An
expiring country groans under your feet. Destiny has called you to
Avenger. Defeat and shame cling to you. You fall conquered, a prisoner
to the Prussians, and upon the ruins of the crumbling Empire the young
and radiant Republic arises, picking up your broken sword."
He awaited applause. But there was no voice, no sound. The bewildered
peasants remained silent. And the bust, with its pointed mustaches
extending beyond the cheeks on each side, the bust, so motionless and
well groomed as to be fit for a hairdresser's sign, seemed to be looking
at M. Massarel with a plaster smile, a smile ineffaceable and mocking.
They remained thus face to face, Napoleon on the chair, the doctor in
front of him about three steps away. Suddenly the commander grew angry.
What was to be done? What was there that would move this people and
bring about a definite victory in opinion? His hand happened to rest on
his hip and to come in contact there with the butt end of his revolver
under his red sash. No inspiration, no further word would come. But he
drew his pistol, advanced two steps and, taking aim, fired at the late
monarch. The ball entered the forehead, leaving a little black hole like
a spot, nothing more. There was no effect. Then he fired a second shot,
which made a second hole, then a third; and then, without stopping, he
emptied his revolver. The brow of Napoleon disappeared in white powder,
but the eyes, the nose and the fine points of the mustaches remained
intact. Then, exasperated, the doctor overturned the chair with a blow
of his fist and, resting a foot on the remainder of the bust in a
position of triumph, he shouted: "So let all tyrants perish!"
Still no enthusiasm was manifest, and as the spectators seemed to be in
a kind of stupor from astonishment the commander called to the
You may now go to your homes." And he went toward his own house with
great strides, as if he were pursued.
His maid, when he appeared, told him that some patients had been waiting
in his office for three hours. He hastened in. There were the two
varicose-vein patients, who had returned at daybreak, obstinate but
The old man immediately began his explanation: "This began by a feeling
like ants running up and down the legs."
IN THE OFFICE OLD MONGILET WAS LOOKED
ON AS A "character." He was an old employee, a good-natured creature,
who had never been outside Paris but once in his life.
It was the end of July, and we all went every Sunday to roll in the
grass, or bathe in the river in the country near by. Asnieres,
Argenteuil, Chatou, Bougival, Maisons, Poissy, had their habitues and
their ardent admirers. We argued about the merits and advantages of all
these places, celebrated and delightful to all employees in Paris.
Old Mongilet would say:
"You are like a lot of sheep! A nice place, this country you talk of!"
And we would ask:
"Well, how about you, Mongilet? Don't you ever go on an excursion?"
"Yes, indeed. I go in an omnibus. When I have had a good luncheon,
without any hurry, at the wine shop below, I look up my route with a
plan of Paris and the time-table of the lines and connections. And then
I climb up on top of the bus, open my umbrella and off we go. Oh, I see
lots of things, more than you, I bet! I change my surroundings. It is as
though I were taking a journey across the world, the people are so
different in one street and another. I know my Paris better than anyone.
And then, there is nothing more amusing than the entresols. You would
not believe what one sees in there at a glance. One can guess a domestic
scene simply by seeing the face of a man shouting; one is amused on
passing by a barber's shop to see the barber leave his customer all
covered with lather to look out in the street. One exchanges heartfelt
glances with the milliners just for fun, as one has no time to alight.
Ah, how many things one sees!
"It is the drama, real, true, natural drama that one sees as the horses
trot by. Heavens I I would not give my excursions in the omnibus for all
your stupid excursions in the woods."
"Come and try it, Mongilet, come to the country once just to see."
"I was there once," he replied, "twenty years ago, and you will never
catch me there again."
"Tell us about it, Mongilet."
"If you wish to hear it. This is how it was: You knew Boivin, the old
clerk, whom we called Boileau?"
"He was my office chum. The rascal had a house at Colombes and always
invited me to spend Sunday with him. He would say:
"'Come alone, Maculotte (he called me Maculotte for fun). You will see
what a nice walk we shall take.'
"I let myself be trapped like an animal, and set out one morning by the
eight o'clock train. I arrived at a kind of town, a country town where
there is nothing to see, and I at length found my way to an old wooden
door with an iron bell, at the end of an alley between two walls.
"I rang, and waited a long time, and at last the door was opened. What
was it that opened it? I could not tell at the first glance. A woman or
an ape? The creature was old, ugly, covered with old clothes that looked
dirty and wicked. It had chickens' feathers in its hair and looked as
though it would devour me.
"'What do you want?' she said.
"'What do you want of him, of M. Boivin?'
"I felt ill at ease on being questioned by this fury. I stammered:
'Why--he expects me.'
"'Ah, it is you who are coming to lunch?'
"'Yes,' I stammered, trembling.
"Then, turning toward the house, she cried in an angry tone:
"'Boivin, here is your man!'
"It was my friend's wife. Little Boivin appeared immediately on the
threshold of a sort of barrack of plaster covered with zinc, that looked
like a foot-warmer. He wore white duck trousers covered with stains and
a dirty Panama-hat.
"After shaking my hands warmly, he took me into what he called his
garden. It was at the end of another alleyway enclosed by high walls and
was a little square the size of a pockethandkerchief, surrounded by
houses that were so high that the sun could reach it only two or three
hours in the day. Pansies, pinks, wallflowers and a few rose bushes were
languishing in this airless well which was as hot as an oven from the
refraction of heat from the roofs.
"'I have no trees,' said Boivin, 'but the neighbours' walls take their
place. I have as much shade as in a wood.'
"Then he took hold of a button of my coat and said in a low tone:
"'You can do me a service. You saw the wife. She is not agreeable, eh?
To-day, as I had invited you, she gave me clean clothes; but if I spot
them all is lost. I counted on you to water my plants.'
"I agreed. I took off my coat, rolled up my sleeves, and began to work
the handle of a kind of pump that wheezed, puffed and rattled like a
consumptive as it emitted a thread of water like a Wallace
drinking-fountain. It took me ten minutes to fill the watering-pot, and
I was in a bath of perspiration. Boivin directed me:
"'Here--this plant--a little more; enough--now this one.'
"The watering-pot leaked and my feet got more water than the flowers.
The bottoms of my trousers were soaking and covered with mud. And twenty
times running I kept it up, soaking my feet afresh each time, and
perspiring anew as I worked the handle of the pump. And when I was tired
out and wanted to stop, Boivin, in a tone of entreaty, said as he put
his hand on my arm:
"'Just one more watering-potful--just one, and that will be all.'
"To thank me he gave me a rose, a big rose, but hardly had it touched my
buttonhole than it fell to pieces, leaving of my decoration only a hard
little green knot. I was surprised, but said nothing.
"Mme Boivin's voice was heard in the distance: 'Are you ever coming? I
tell you lunch is ready!'
"We went towards the foot-warmer. If the garden was in the shade, the
house, on the other hand, was in the blazing sun, and the sweating-room
of a Turkish bath is not so hot as my friend's dining-room was.
"Three plates, at the side of which were some half-washed forks, were
placed in a table of yellow wood. In the middle stood an earthenware
dish containing warmed-up boiled beef and potatoes. We began to eat.
"A large water-bottle full of water lightly coloured with wine attracted
my attention. Boivin, embarrassed, said to his wife:
"'See here, my dear, just on a special occasion, are you not going to
give us a little undiluted wine?'
"She looked at him furiously.
"'So that you may both get tipsy, is that it, and stay here gabbing all
day? A fine special occasion!'
"He said no more. After the stew she brought in another dish of potatoes
cooked with bacon. When this dish was finished, still in silence, she
"'That is all! Now get out!'
"Boivin looked at her in astonishment.
"'But the pigeon--the pigeon you plucked this morning?'
"She put her hands on her hips:
"'Perhaps you have not had enough? Because you bring people here is no
reason why we should devour all that there is in the house. What is
there for me to eat this evening?'
"We rose. Boivin whispered:
"'Wait for me a second, and we will skip.'
"He went into the kitchen where his wife had gone, and I overheard him
"'Give me twenty sous, my dear.'
"'What do you want with twenty sous?'
"'Why, one does not know what may happen. It is always better to have
"She yelled so that I should hear:
"'No, I will not give it to you!
As the man has had luncheon here, the least he can do is to pay your
expenses for the day.'
"Boivin came back to fetch me. As I wished to be polite I bowed to the
mistress of the house, stammering:
"'Madame--many thanks--kind welcome.'
"'That's all right,' she replied. 'But do not bring him back drunk, for
you will have to answer to me, you know!'
"We set out. We had to cross a perfectly bare plain under the burning
sun. I attempted to gather a flower along the road and gave a cry of
pain. It had hurt my hand frightfully. They call these plants nettles.
And, everywhere, there was a smell of manure, enough to turn your
"Boivin said, 'Have a little patience and we will reach the river bank.'
"We reached the river. Here there was an odour of mud and dirty water,
and the sun blazed down on the water so that it burned my eyes. I begged
Boivin to go under cover somewhere. He took me into a kind of shanty
filled with men, a river boatmen's tavern.
"'This does not look very grand, but it is very comfortable.'
"I was hungry. I ordered an omelet. But lo and behold, at the second
glass of wine, that cursed Boivin lost his head, and I understand why
his wife gave him water in his wine.
"He got up, declaimed, wanted to show his strength, interfered in a
quarrel between two drunken men who were fighting, and, but for the
landlord, who came to the rescue, we should both have been killed.
"I dragged him away, holding him up until we reached the first bush,
where I deposited him. I lay down beside him and apparently I fell
asleep. We must certainly have slept a long time, for it was dark when I
awoke. Boivin was snoring at my side. I shook him; he rose, but he was
still drunk, though a little less so.
"We set out through the darkness across the plain. Boivin said he knew
the way. He made me turn to the left, then to the right, then to the
left. We could see neither sky nor earth, and found ourselves lost in
the midst of a kind of forest of wooden stakes, that came as high as our
noses. It was a vineyard and these were the supports. There was not a
single light on the horizon. We wandered about in this vineyard for
about an hour or two, hesitating, reaching out our arms without coming
to the end, for we kept retracing our steps.
"At length Boivin fell against a stake that tore his cheek and he
remained in a sitting posture on the ground, uttering with all his might
long and resounding hellos, while I screamed 'Help! Help!' as loud as I
could, lighting wax-matches to show the way to our rescuers, and also to
keep up my courage.
"At last a belated peasant heard us and put us on our right road. I took
Boivin to his home, but as I was leaving him on the threshold of his
garden, the door opened suddenly and his wife appeared, a candle in her
hand. She frightened me horribly.
"As soon as she saw her husband, whom she must have been waiting for
since dark, she screamed, as she darted toward me:
"'Ah, scoundrel, I knew you would bring him back drunk!'
"My, how I made my escape, running all the way to the station, and as I
thought the fury was pursuing me I shut myself in an inner room, as the
train was not due for half an hour.
"That is why I never married, and why I never go out of Paris."
SOCIETY CALLED HIM HANDSOME SIGNOLES. HIS
NAME was Viscount Gontran-Joseph de Signoles.
An orphan, and possessed of an adequate income, he cut a dash, as the
saying is. He had a good figure and a good carriage, a sufficient flow
of words to pass for wit, a certain natural grace, an air of nobility
and pride, a gallant moustache and an eloquent eye, attributes which
He was in demand in drawing-rooms, sought after for valses, and in men
he inspired that smiling hostility which is reserved for vital and
attractive rivals. He had been suspected of several love-affairs of a
sort calculated to create a good opinion of a youngster. He lived a
happy, care-free life, in the most complete well-being of body and mind.
He was known to be a fine swordsman and a still finer shot with the
"When I come to fight a duel," he would say, "I shall choose pistols.
With that weapon, I'm sure of killing my man."
One evening, he went to the theatre with two ladies, quite young,
friends of his, whose husbands were also of the party, and after the
performance he invited them to take ices at Tortoni's.
They had been sitting there for a few minutes when he noticed a
gentleman at a neighbouring table staring obstinately at one of the
ladies of the party. She seemed embarrassed and ill at ease, and bent
her head. At last she said to her husband:
"There's a man staring at me. I don't know him; do you?"
The husband, who had seen nothing, raised his eyes, but declared:
"No, not in the least."
Half smiling, half in anger, she replied:
"It's very annoying; the creature's spoiling my ice."
Her husband shrugged his shoulders.
"Deuce take him, don't appear to notice it. If we had to deal with all
the discourteous people one meets, we'd never have done with them."
But the Viscount had risen abruptly. He could not permit this stranger
to spoil an ice of his giving. It was to him that the insult was
addressed, since it was at his invitation and on his account that his
friends had come to the cafe. The affair was no business of anyone but
He went up to the man and said:
"You have a way of looking at those ladies, sir, which I cannot stomach.
Please be so good as to set a limit to your persistence."
"You hold your tongue," replied the other.
"Take care, sir," retorted the Viscount, clenching his teeth;" you'll
force me to overstep the bounds of common politeness."
The gentleman replied with a single word, a vile word which rang across
the cafe from one end to the other, and, like the release of a spring,
jerked every person present into an abrupt movement. All those with
their backs towards him turned round, all the rest raised their heads;
three waiters spun round on their heels like tops; the two ladies behind
the counter started, then the whole upper half of their bodies twisted
round, as though they were a couple of automata worked by the same
There was a profound silence. Then suddenly a sharp noise resounded in
the air. The Viscount had boxed his adversary's ears. Every one rose to
intervene. Cards were exchanged.
Back in his home, the Viscount walked for several minutes up and down
his room with long quick strides. He was too excited to think. A
solitary idea dominated his mind: "a duel"; but as yet the idea stirred
in him no emotion of any kind. He had done what he was compelled to do;
he had shown himself to be what he ought to be. People would talk of it,
would approve of him, congratulate him. He repeated aloud, speaking as a
man speaks in severe mental distress:
"What a hound the fellow is!"
Then he sat down and began to reflect. In the morning he must find
seconds. Whom should he choose? He searched his mind for the most
important and celebrated names of his acquaintance. At last he decided
on the Marquis de la Tour-Noire and Colonel Bourdin, an aristocrat and a
soldier; they would do excellently. Their names would look well in the
papers. He realised that he was thirsty, and drank three glasses of
water one after the other; then he began to walk up and down again. He
felt full of energy. If he played the gallant, showed himself
determined, insisted on the most strict and dangerous arrangements,
demanded a serious duel, a thoroughly serious duel, a positively
terrible duel, his adversary would probably retire and apologist.
He took up once more the card which he had taken from his pocket and
thrown down upon the table, and read it again as he had read it before,
in the cafe, at a glance, and in the cab, by the light of each gas-lamp,
on his way home.
"Georges Lamil, 51 rue Moncey." Nothing more.
He examined the grouped letters; they seemed to him mysterious, full of
confused meaning. Georges Lamil? Who was this man? What did he do? Why
had he looked at the woman in that way? Was it not revolting that a
stranger, an unknown man, could thus disturb a man's life, without
warning, just because he chose to fix his insolent eyes upon a woman?
Again the Viscount repeated aloud:
"What a hound!"
Then he remained standing stock-still, lost in thought, his eyes still
fixed upon the card. A fury against this scrap of paper awoke in him, a
fury of hatred in which was mingled a queer sensation of uneasiness.
This sort of thing was so stupid! He took up an open knife which lay
close at hand and thrust it through the middle of the printed name, as
though he had stabbed a man.
So he must fight. Should he choose swords or pistols?--for he regarded
himself as the insulted party. With swords there would be less risk, but
with pistols there was a chance that his adversary might withdraw. It is
very rare that a duel with swords is fatal, for mutual prudence is apt
to restrain combatants from engaging at sufficiently close quarters for
a point to penetrate deeply. With pistols he ran a grave risk of death;
but he might also extricate himself from the affair with all the honours
of the situation and without actually coming to a meeting.
"I must be firm," he said. "He will take fright."
The sound of his voice set him trembling, and he looked round. He felt
very nervous. He drank another glass of water, then began to undress for
As soon as he was in bed, he blew out the light and closed his eyes.
"I've the whole of to-morrow," he thought, "in which to set my affairs
in order. I'd better sleep now, so that I shall be quite calm."
He was very warm in the blankets, but he could not manage to compose
himself to sleep. He turned this way and that, lay for five minutes upon
his back, turned on to his left side, then rolled over on to his right.
He was still thirsty. He got up to get a drink. A feeling of uneasiness
crept over him:
"Is it possible that I'm afraid?"
Why did his heart beat madly at each familiar sound in his room? When
the clock was about to strike, the faint squeak of the rising spring
made him start; so shaken he was that for several seconds afterwards he
had to open his mouth to get his breath.
He began to reason with himself on the possibility of his being afraid.
"Shall I be afraid?"
No, of course he would not be afraid, since he was resolved to see the
matter through, and had duly made up his mind to fight and not to
tremble. But he felt so profoundly distressed that he wondered:
"Can a man be afraid in spite of himself?"
He was attacked by this doubt, this uneasiness, this terror; suppose a
force more powerful than himself, masterful, irresistible, overcame him,
what would happen? Yes, what might not happen? Assuredly he would go to
the place of the meeting, since he was quite ready to go. But supposing
he trembled? Supposing he fainted? He thought of the scene, of his
reputation, his good name.
There came upon him a strange need to get up and look at himself in the
mirror. He relit his candle. When he saw his face reflected in the
polished glass, he scarcely recognised it, it seemed to him as though he
had never yet seen himself. His eyes looked to him enormous; and he was
pale; yes, without doubt he was pale, very pale.
He remained standing in front of the mirror. He put out his tongue, as
though to ascertain the state of his health, and abruptly the thought
struck him like a bullet:
"The day after to-morrow, at this very hour, I may be dead."
His heart began again its furious beating.
"The day after to-morrow, at this very hour, I may be dead. This person
facing me, this me I see in the mirror, will be no more. Why, here I am,
I look at myself, I feel myself alive, and in twenty-four hours I shall
be lying in that bed, dead, my eyes closed, cold, inanimate, vanished."
He turned back towards the bed, and distinctly saw himself lying on his
back in the very sheets he had just left. He had the hollow face of a
corpse, his hands had the slackness of hands that will never make
At that he was afraid of his bed, and, to get rid of the sight of it,
went into the smoking-room. Mechanically he picked up a cigar, lit it,
and began to walk up and down again. He was cold; he went to the bell to
wake his valet; but he stopped, even as he raised his hand to the rope.
"He will see that I am afraid."
He did not ring; he lit the fire. His hands shook a little, with a
nervous tremor, whenever they touched anything. His brain whirled, his
troubled thoughts became elusive, transitory, and gloomy; his mind
suffered all the effects of intoxication, as though he were actually
Over and over again he thought:
"What shall I do? What is to become of me?"
His whole body trembled, seized with a jerky shuddering; he got up and,
going to the window, drew back the curtains.
Dawn was at hand, a summer dawn. The rosy sky touched the town, its
roofs and walls, with its own hue. A broad descending ray, like the
caress of the rising sun, enveloped the awakened world; and with the
light, hope--a gay, swift, fierce hope--filled the Viscount's heart! Was
he mad, that he had allowed himself to be struck down by fear, before
anything was settled even, before his seconds had seen those of this
Georges Lamil, before he knew whether he was going to fight?
He washed, dressed, and walked out with a firm step.
He repeated to himself, as he walked:
"I must be energetic, very energetic. I must prove that I am not
His seconds, the Marquis and the Colonel, placed themselves at his
disposal, and after hearty handshakes discussed the conditions.
"You are anxious for a serious duel? " asked the Colonel.
"Yes, a very serious one," replied the Viscount.
"You still insist on pistols?" said the Marquis.
"You will leave us free to arrange the rest?"
In a dry, jerky voice the Viscount stated:
"Twenty paces; at the signal, raising the arm, and not lowering it.
Exchange of shots till one is seriously wounded."
"They are excellent conditions," declared the Colonel in a tone of
satisfaction. "You shoot well, you have every chance."
They departed. The Viscount went home to wait for them. His agitation,
momentarily quietened, was now growing minute by minute. He felt a
strange shivering, a ceaseless vibration, down his arms, down his legs,
in his chest; he could not keep still in one place, neither seated nor
standing. There was not the least moistening of saliva in his mouth, and
at every instant he made a violent movement of his tongue, as though to
prevent it sticking to his palate.
He was eager to have breakfast, but could not eat. Then the idea came to
him to drink in order to give himself courage, and he sent for a
decanter of rum, of which he swallowed six liqueur glasses full one
after the other.
A burning warmth flooded through his body, followed immediately by a
sudden dizziness of the mind and spirit.
"Now I know what to do," he thought. "Now it is all right."
But by the end of an hour he had emptied the decanter, and his state of
agitation had once more become intolerable. He was conscious of a wild
need to roll on the ground, to scream, to bite. Night was falling.
The ringing of a bell gave him such a shock that he had not strength to
rise and welcome his seconds.
He did not even dare to speak to them, to say "Good evening" to them, to
utter a single word, for fear they guessed the whole thing by the
alteration in his voice.
"Everything is arranged in accordance with the conditions you fixed,"
observed the Colonel. "At first your adversary claimed the privileges of
the insulted party, but he yielded almost at once, and has accepted
everything. His seconds are two military men."
"Thank you," said the Viscount.
"Pardon us," interposed the Marquis, "if we merely come in and leave
again immediately, but we have a thousand things to see to. We must have
a good doctor, since the combat is not to end until a serious wound is
inflicted, and you know that pistol bullets are no laughing-matter. We
must appoint the ground, near a house to which we may carry the wounded
man if necessary, etc. In fact, we shall be occupied for two or three
hours arranging all that there is to arrange."
"Thank you," said the Viscount a second time.
"You are all right?" asked the Colonel. "You are calm?"
"Yes, quite calm, thank you."
The two men retired.
When he realised that he was once more alone, he thought that he was
going mad. His servant had lit the lamps, and he sat down at the table
to write letters. After tracing, at the head of a sheet: "This is my
will," he rose shivering and walked away, feeling incapable of
connecting two ideas, of taking a resolution, of making any decision
So he was going to fight! He could no longer avoid it. Then what was the
matter with him? He wished to fight, he had absolutely decided upon this
plan of action and taken his resolve, and he now felt clearly, in spite
of every effort of mind and forcing of will, that he could not retain
even the strength necessary to get him to the place of meeting. He tried
to picture the duel, his own attitude and the bearing of his adversary.
From time to time his teeth chattered in his mouth with a slight
clicking noise. He tried to read, and took down Chateauvillard's code of
duelling. Then he wondered:
"Does my adversary go to shooting-galleries? Is he well known? Is he
classified anywhere? How can I find out?"
He bethought himself of Baron Vaux's book on marksmen with the pistol,
and ran through it from end to end. Georges Lamil was not mentioned in
it. Yet if the man were not a good shot, he would surely not have
promptly agreed to that dangerous weapon and those fatal conditions?
He opened, in passing, a case by Gastinne Renette standing on a small
table, and took out one of the pistols, then placed himself as though to
shoot and raised his arm. But he was trembling from head to foot and the
barrel moved in every direction.
At that, he said to himself:
"It's impossible. I cannot fight in this state."
He looked at the end of the barrel, at the little, black, deep hole that
spits death; he thought of the disgrace, of the whispers at the club, of
the laughter in drawing-rooms, of the contempt of women, of the
allusions in the papers, of the insults which cowards would fling at
He was still looking at the weapon, and, raising the hammer, caught a
glimpse of a cap gleaming beneath it like a tiny red flame; By good
fortune or forgetfulness, the pistol had been left loaded. At the
knowledge, he was filled with a confused inexplicable sense of joy.
If, when face to face with the other man, he did not show a proper
gallantry and calm, he would be lost for ever. He would be sullied,
branded with a mark of infamy, hounded out of society. And he would not
be able to achieve that calm, that swaggering poise; he knew it, he felt
it. Yet he was brave, since he wanted to fight I ... He was brave,
The thought which hovered in him did not even fulfil itself in his mind;
but, opening his mouth wide, he thrust in the barrel of his pistol with
savage gesture until it reached his throat, and pressed on the trigger.
When his valet ran in, at the sound of the report, he found him lying
dead upon his back. A shower of blood had splashed the white paper on
the table, and made a great red mark beneath these four words:
"This is my will."
THE NOON SUN POURED FIERCELY DOWN UPON
THE FIELDS. They stretched in undulating folds between the clumps of
trees that marked each farmhouse; the different crops, ripe rye and
yellowing wheat, pale-green oats, dark-green clover, spread a vast
striped cloak, soft and rippling, over the naked body of the earth.
In the distance, on the crest of a slope, was an endless line of cows,
ranked like soldiers, some lying down, others standing, their large eyes
blinking in the burning light, chewing the cud and grazing on a field of
clover as broad as a lake.
Two women, mother and daughter, were walking with a swinging step, one
behind the other, towards this regiment of cattle. Each carried two zinc
pails, slung outwards from the body on a hoop from a cask; at each step
the metal sent out a dazzling white flash under the sun that struck full
The women did not speak. They were on their way to milk the cows. When
they arrive, they set down one of their pails and approach the first two
cows, making them stand up with a kick in the ribs from wooden-shod
feet. The beast rises slowly, first on its forelegs, then with more
difficulty raises its large hind quarters, which seem to be weighted
down by the enormous udder of livid pendulous flesh.
The two Malivoires, mother and daughter, kneeling beneath the animal's
belly, tug with a swift movement of their hands at the swollen teat,
which at each squeeze sends a slender jet of milk into the pail. The
yellowish froth mounts to the brim, and the women go from cow to cow
until they reach the end of the long line.
As soon as they finish milking a beast, they change its position, giving
it a fresh patch of grass on which to graze.
Then they start on their way home, more slowly now, weighed down by the
load of milk, the mother in front, the daughter behind.
Abruptly the latter halts, sets down her burden, Sits down, and begins
Madame Malivoire, missing the sound of steps behind her, turns round and
is quite amazed.
"What's the matter with you?" she said.
Her daughter Celeste, a tall girl with flaming red hair and flaming
cheeks, flecked with freckles as though sparks of fire had fallen upon
her face one day as she worked in the sun, murmurs, moaning softly, like
a beaten child:
"I can't carry the milk any further."
Her mother looked at her suspiciously.
"What's the matter with you?" she repeated.
"It drags too heavy, I can't," replied Celeste, who had collapsed and
was lying on the ground between the two pails, hiding her eyes in her
"What's the matter with you, then?" said her mother for the third time.
The girl moaned:
"I think there's a baby on the way." And she broke into sobs.
The old woman now in her turn set down her load, so amazed that she
could find nothing to say. At last she stammered:
"You . . . you . . . you're going to have a baby, you clod! How can that
The Malivoires were prosperous farmers, wealthy and of a certain
position, widely respected, good business folk, of some importance in
"I think I am, all the same," faltered Celeste.
The frightened mother looked at the weeping girl grovelling at her feet.
After a few seconds she cried:
"You're going to have a baby! A baby! Where did you get it, you slut?"
Celeste, shaken with emotion, murmured:
"I think it was in Polyte's coach."
The old woman tried to understand, tried to imagine, to realise who
could have brought this misfortune upon her daughter. If the lad was
well off and of decent position, an arrangement might be come to. The
damage could still be repaired. Celeste was not the first to be in the
same way, but it was annoying all the same, seeing their position and
the way people talked.
"And who was it, you slut?" she repeated.
Celeste, resolved to make a clean breast of it, stammered:
"I think it was Polyte."
At that Madame Malivoire, mad with rage, rushed upon her daughter and
began to beat her with such fury that her hat fell off in the effort.
With great blows of the fist she struck her on the head, on the back,
all over her body; Celeste, prostrate between the two pails, which
afforded her some slight protection, shielded just her face with her
All the cows, disturbed, had stopped grazing and turned round, staring
with their great eyes. The last one mooed, stretching out its muzzle
towards the women.
After beating her daughter till she was out of breath, Madame Malivoire
stopped, exhausted; her spirits reviving a little, she tried to get a
thorough understanding of the situation.
"--- Polyte! Lord save us, it's not possible! How could you, with a
carrier? You must have lost your wits. He must have played you a trick,
Celeste, still prostrate, murmured in the dust:
"I didn't pay my fare!"
And the old Norman woman understood.
Every week, on Wednesday and on Saturday, Celeste went to town with the
farm produce, poultry, cream, and eggs.
She started at seven with her two huge baskets on her arm, the dairy
produce in one, the chickens in the other, and went to the main road to
wait for the coach to Yvetot.
She set down her wares and sat in the ditch, while the chickens with
their short pointed beaks and the ducks with their broad flat bills
thrust their heads between the wicker bars and looked about them with
their round, stupid, surprised eyes.
Soon the bus, a sort of yellow box with a black leather cap on the top,
came up, jerking and quivering with the trotting of the old white horse.
Polyte the coachman, a big, jolly fellow, stout though still young, and
so burnt up by sun and wind, soaked by rain, and coloured with brandy
that his face and neck were brick-red, cracked his whip and shouted from
"Morning, Mam'selle Celeste. In good health, I hope?"
She gave him her baskets, one after the other, which he stowed in the
boot; then she got in, lifting her leg high up to reach the step, and
exposing a sturdy leg clad in a blue stocking.
Every time Polyte repeated the same joke: "Well, it's not got any
She laughed, thinking this funny.
Then he uttered a "Gee up, old girl!" which started off the thin horse.
Then Celeste, reaching for her purse in the depths of her pocket, slowly
took out fivepence, threepence for herself and twopence for the baskets,
and handed them to Polyte over his shoulder.
He took them, saying:
"Aren't we going to have our little bit of sport to-day?"
And he laughed heartily, turning round towards her so as to stare at her
at his ease.
She found it a big expense, the half-franc for a journey of two miles.
And when she had no coppers she felt it still more keenly; it was hard
to make up her mind to part with a silver coin.
One day, as she was paying, she asked:
"From a good customer like me you oughtn't to take more than
He burst out laughing.
"Threepence, my beauty; why, you're worth more than that."
She insisted on the point.
"But you make a good two francs a month out of me."
He whipped up his horse and exclaimed:
"Look here, I'm an obliging fellow! We'll call it quits for a bit of
"What do you mean?" she asked with an air of innocence.
He was so amused that he laughed till he coughed.
"A bit of sport is a bit of sport, damn it; a game for a lad and a lass,
a dance for two without music."
She understood, blushed, and declared:
"I don't care for that sort of game, Monsieur Polyte."
But he was in no way abashed, and repeated, with growing merriment:
"You'll come to it some day, my beauty, a bit of sport for a lad and a
And since that day he had taken to asking her, each time that she paid
"Aren't we going to have our bit of sport to-day?"
She, too, joked about it by this time, and replied:
"Not to-day, Monsieur Polyte, but Saturday, for certain!"
And amid peals of laughter he answered:
"Saturday, then, my beauty."
But inwardly she calculated that, during the two years the affair had
been going on, she had paid Polyte forty-eight whole francs, and in the
country forty-eight francs is not a sum which can be picked up on the
roadside; she also calculated that in two more years she would have paid
nearly a hundred francs.
To such purpose she meditated that, one spring day as they jogged on
alone, when he made his customary inquiry: "Aren't we going to have our
bit of sport yet?" She replied:
"Yes, if you like, Monsieur Polyte."
He was not at all surprised, and clambered over the back of his seat,
murmuring with a complacent air:
"Come along, then. I knew you'd come to it some day."
The old white horse trotted so gently that she seemed to be dancing upon
the same spot, deaf to the voice which cried at intervals, from the
depths of the vehicle: "Gee up, old girl! Gee up, then!"
Three months later Celeste discovered that she was going to have a
All this she had told her mother in a tearful voice. Pale with fury, the
old woman asked:
"Well, what did it cost?"
"Four months; that makes eight francs, doesn't it?" replied Celeste.
At that the peasant woman's fury was utterly unleashed, and, falling
once more upon her daughter, she beat her a second time until she was
out of breath. Then she rose and said:
"Have you told him about the baby?"
"No, of course not."
"Why haven't you told him?"
"Because very likely he'd have made me pay for all the free rides!"
The old woman pondered awhile, then picked up her milkpails.
"Come on, get up, and try to walk home," she said, and, after a pause,
"And don't tell him as long as he doesn't notice anything, and we'll
make six or eight months' fares out of him."
And Celeste, who had risen, still crying, dishevelled and swollen round
the eyes, started off again with dragging steps, murmuring:
"Of course I won't say."
THE TWO YOUNG WOMEN had the appearance
of being buried in a bed of flowers. They were alone in an immense
landau filled with bouquets like a giant basket. Upon the seat before
them were two small hampers full of Nice violets, and upon the bearskin
which covered their knees was a heap of roses, gillyflowers,
marguerites, tuberoses and orange flowers, bound together with silk
ribbons, which seemed to crush the two delicate bodies, only allowing to
appear above the spread-out, perfumed bed the shoulders, arms and a
little of their bodices, one of which was blue and the other lilac.
The coachman's whip bore a sheath of anemones; the horses' heads were
decorated with wallflowers; the spokes of the wheels were clothed in
mignonette, and in place of lanterns, there were two round, enormous
bouquets, which seemed like the two eyes of this strange, rolling,
The landau went along Antibes Street at a brisk trot, preceded, followed
and accompanied by a crowd of other garlanded carriages full of women
concealed under a billow of violets. For it was the Flower Festival at
They arrived at the Fonciere Boulevard where the battle took place. The
whole length of the immense avenue, a double line of bedecked equipages
was going and coming, like a ribbon without end. They threw flowers from
one to the other. Flowers passed in the air like balls, hit the fair
faces, hovered and fell in the dust where an army of street urchins
A compact crowd, clamorous but orderly' looked on, standing in rows upon
the sidewalks and held in place by policemen on horseback who passed
along, pushing back the curious brutally with their feet, in order that
the villains might not mingle with the rich.
Now the people in the carriages recognized each other, called to each
other and bombarded one another with roses. A chariot full of pretty
young women, clothed in red like devils, attracted and held all eyes.
One gentleman who resembled the portraits of Henry IV, threw repeatedly,
with joyous ardor, a huge bouquet retained by an elastic. At the threat
of the blow the women lowered their heads and hid their eyes, but the
gracious projectile only described a curve and again returned to its
master, who immediately threw it again to a new face.
The two young women emptied their arsenal with full hands and received a
shower of bouquets; then after an hour of battle, a little wearied at
the last, they ordered the coachman to take the road to the Juan Gulf,
which skirts the sea.
The sun disappeared behind the Esterel, outlining in black upon a
background of fire the lacy silhouette of the stretched-out mountain.
The calm sea was spread out blue and clear as far as the horizon, where
it mingled with the sky and with the squadron anchored in the middle of
the gulf, having the appearance of a troop of monstrous beasts,
unmovable upon the water, apocalyptic animals, humpbacked and clothed in
coats of mail, capped with thin masts like plumes and with eyes that
lighted up when night came on.
The young women, stretched out under the fur robe, looked upon it
languidly. Finally one of them said:
"How delicious these evenings are! Everything seems good. Is it not so,
The other replied: "Yes, it is good. But there is always something,
What is it? For my part, I am completely happy. I have need of nothing."
"Yes? You think so, perhaps. But whatever well-being surrounds our
bodies, we always desire something more--for the heart."
Said the other, smiling: "A little love?"
They were silent, looking straight before them; then the one called
Marguerite said: "Life does not seem supportable to me without that. I
need to be loved, if only by a dog. And we are all so, whatever you may
"No, no, my dear. I prefer not to be loved at all than to be loved by no
one of importance. Do you think, for example, that it would be agreeable
to me to be loved by--by---"
She looked for someone by whom she could possibly be loved, casting her
eyes over the neighboring country. Her eyes, after having made the tour
of the whole horizon, fell upon the two metal buttons shining on the
coachman's back, and she continued, laughing, "By my coachman?"
Mlle Marguerite scarcely smiled as she replied:
"I can assure you it is very amusing to be loved by a domestic. This has
happened to me two or three times. They roll their eyes so queerly that
one is dying to laugh. Naturally, the more one is loved, the more severe
she becomes, since otherwise, one puts herself in the way of being made
ridiculous for some very slight cause, if anyone happened to observe
Mlle Simone listened, her look fixed straight before her; then she
"No, decidedly, the heart of my valet at my feet would not appear to me
sufficient. But tell me how you perceived that you were loved."
"I perceived it in them as I do in other men; they become so stupid!"
"But others do not appear so stupid to me when they are in love."
"Idiots, my dear, incapable of chatting, of answering, of comprehending
"And you? What effect did it have on you to be loved by a domestic? Were
"Moved? No. Flattered? Yes, a little. One is always flattered by the
love of a man, whoever he may be."
"Oh, now, Margot!"
"Yes, my dear. Wait! I will tell you a singular adventure that happened
to me. You will see what curious things take place among us in such
"It was four years ago in the autumn, when I found myself without a
maid. I had tried five or six, one after the other, all of them
incompetent, and almost despaired of finding one, when I read in the
advertisements of a newspaper of a young girl knowing how to sew,
embroider and dress hair, who was seeking a place and could furnish the
best of references. She could also speak English.
"I wrote to the address given, and the next day the person in question
presented herself. She was rather tall, thin, a little pale, with a very
timid air. She had beautiful black eyes, a charming color, and she
pleased me at once. I asked for her references; she gave me one written
in English, because she had come, she said, from the house of Lady
Ryswell, where she had been for ten years.
"The certificate attested that the girl was returning to France of her
own will and that she had nothing to reproach her for during her long
service with her, except a little of the French coquettishness.
"The modest turn of the English phrase made me smile a little, and I
engaged the maid immediately. She came to my house the same day; she
called herself Rose.
"At the end of a month I adored her. She was a treasure, a pearl,
"She could dress my hair with exquisite taste; she could flute the lace
of a cap better than the best of the professionals, and she could make
frocks. I was amazed at her ability. Never had I been so well served.
"She dressed me rapidly with an astonishing lightness of hand. I never
felt her fingers upon my skin, and nothing is more disagreeable to me
than contact with a maid's hand. I immediately got into excessively idle
habits, so pleasant was it to let her dress me from head to foot, from
chemise to gloves--this tall, timid girl, always blushing a little and
never speaking. After my bath she would rub me and massage me while I
slept a little while on my divan; indeed, I came to look upon her more
as a friend in poorer circumstances than a servant.
"One morning the concierge, with some show of mystery, said he wished to
speak to me. I was surprised but let him enter. He was an old soldier,
once orderly for my husband.
"He appeared to hesitate at what he was going to say. Finally he said
stammeringly: 'Madame, the police captain for this district is
"I asked: 'What does he want?'
"'He wants to search the house.'
"Certainly the police are necessary, but I do detest them. I never can
make it seem a noble profession. And I answered, irritated as well as
"'Why search here? For what purpose? There has been no burglary?'
"'He thinks that a criminal is concealed somewhere here.'
"I began to be a little afraid and ordered the police captain to be
brought that I might have some explanation. He was a man rather well
brought up and decorated with the Legion of Honor. He excused himself,
asked my pardon. then asserted that I had among my servants a convict!
"I was thunderstruck and answered that I could vouch for every one of
them and that I would make a review of them for his satisfaction.
"'There is Peter Courtin, an old soldier.'
"It was not he.
"'The coachman, Francis Pingau, a peasant, son of my father's farmer.'
"It was not he.
"'A stableboy, also from Champagne and also a son of peasants I had
known, and no more except the footman, whom you have seen.'
"It was not any of them.
"'Then, sir, you see that you have been deceived.'
"'Pardon me, madame, but I am sure I am not deceived. As he has not at
all the appearance of a criminal, will you have the goodness to have all
your servants appear here before you and me, all of them?'
"I hesitated at first, then I yielded, summoning all my people, men and
"He looked at them all for an instant, then declared:
"'This is not all.'
"'Your pardon, sir,' I replied; 'this is all, except my own maid who
could not possibly be confounded with a convict.'
"He asked: 'Could I see her too?'
"I rang and Rose appeared immediately. Scarcely had she entered when he
gave a signal, and two men, whom I had not seen, concealed behind the
door, threw themselves upon her, seized her hands and bound them with
"I uttered a cry of fury and was going to try and defend her. The
captain stopped me:
"'This girl, madame, is a man who calls himself John Nicholas Lecapet,
condemned to death in 1879 for assassination preceded by violation. His
sentence was changed to life imprisonment. He escaped four months ago.
We have been on the search for him ever since.'
"I was dismayed, struck dumb. I could not believe it. The policeman
"'I can only give you one proof. His right arm is tattooed.'
"His sleeve was rolled up. It was true. The policeman added, certainly
in bad taste:
"'Doubtless you will be satisfied without the other proofs.'
"And he led away my maid!
"Well, if you will believe it, the feeling which was uppermost in me was
that of anger at having been played with in this way, deceived and made
ridiculous; it was not shame at having been dressed, undressed, handled
and touched by this man, but--a--profound humiliation--the humiliation
of a woman. Do you understand?"
"No, not exactly."
"Let us see. Think a minute. He had been condemned--for violation, this
young man--and that--that humiliated me--there! Now do you understand?"
And Mlle Simone did not reply. She looked straight before her, with her
eyes singularly fixed upon the two shining buttons of the livery and
with that sphinx's smile that women have sometimes.
PAOLO SAVERINI'S WIDOW LIVED ALONE
WITH HER SON IN A poor little house on the ramparts of Bonifacio. The
town, built on a spur of the mountains, in places actually overhanging
the sea, looks across a channel bristling with reefs, to the lower
shores of Sardinia. At its foot, on the other side and almost completely
surrounding it, is the channel that serves as its harbour, cut in the
cliff like a gigantic corridor. Through a long circuit between steep
walls, the channel brings to the very foot of the first houses the
little Italian or Sardinian fishing-boats, and, every fortnight, the old
steamboat that runs to and from Ajaccio.
Upon the white mountain the group of houses form a whiter patch still.
They look like the nests of wild birds, perched so upon the rock,
dominating that terrible channel through which hardly ever a ship risks
a passage. The unresting wind harasses the sea and eats away the bare
shore, clad with a sparse covering of grass; it rushes into the ravine
and ravages its two sides. The trailing wisps of white foam round the
black points of countless rocks that everywhere pierce the waves, look
like rags of canvas floating and heaving on the surface of the water.
The widow Saverini's house held for dear life to the very edge of the
cliff; its three windows looked out over this wild and desolate scene.
She lived there alone with her son Antoine and their bitch Semillante, a
large, thin animal with long, shaggy hair, of the sheep-dog breed. The
young man used her for hunting.
One evening, after a quarrel, Antoine Saverini was treacherously slain
by a knife-thrust from Nicolas Ravolati, who got away to Sardinia the
When his old mother received his body, carried home by bystanders, she
did not weep, but for a long time stayed motionless, looking at it;
then, stretching out her wrinkled hand over the body, she swore vendetta
against him. She would have no one stay with her, and shut herself up
with the body, together with the howling dog. The animal howled
continuously, standing at the foot of the bed, her head thrust towards
her master, her tail held tightly between her legs. She did not stir,
nor did the mother, who crouched over the body with her eyes fixed
steadily upon it, and wept great silent tears.
The young man, lying on his back, clad in his thick serge coat with a
hole torn across the front, looked as though he slept; but everywhere
there was blood; on the shirt, torn off for the first hasty dressing; on
his waistcoat, on his breeches, on his face, on his hands. Clots of
blood had congealed in his beard and in his hair.
The old mother began to speak to him. At the sound of her voice the dog
"There, there, you shall be avenged, my little one, my boy, my poor
child. Sleep, sleep, you shall be avenged, do you hear! Your mother
swears it! And your mother always keeps her word; you know she does."
Slowly she bent over him, pressing her cold lips on the dead lips.
Then Semillante began to howl once more. She uttered long cries,
monotonous, heart-rending, horrible cries.
They remained there, the pair of them, the woman and the dog, till
Antoine Saverini was buried next day, and before long there was no more
talk of him in Bonifacio.
He had left neither brothers nor close cousins. No man was there to
carry on the vendetta. Only his mother, an old woman, brooded over it.
On the other side of the channel she watched from morning till night a
white speck on the coast. It was a little Sardinian village, Longosardo,
where Corsican bandits fled for refuge when too hard pressed. They
formed almost the entire population of this hamlet, facing the shores of
their own country, and there they awaited a suitable moment to come
home, to return to the maquis of Corsica. She knew that Nicolas Ravolati
had taken refuge in this very village.
All alone, all day long, sitting by the window, she looked over there
and pondered revenge. How could she do it without another's help, so
feeble as she was, so near to death? But she had promised, she had sworn
upon the body. She could not forget, she could not wait. What was she to
do? She could no longer sleep at night, she had no more sleep nor peace;
obstinately she searched for a way. The dog slumbered at her feet and
sometimes, raising her head, howled into the empty spaces. Since her
master had gone, she often howled thus, as though she were calling him,
as though her animal soul, inconsolable, had retained an ineffaceable
memory of him.
One night, as Semillante was beginning to moan again, the mother had a
sudden idea, an idea quite natural to a vindictive and ferocious savage.
She meditated on it till morning, then, rising at the approach of day,
she went to church. She prayed, kneeling on the stones, prostrate before
God, begging Him to aid her, to sustain her, to grant her poor worn-out
body the strength necessary to avenge her son.
Then she returned home. There stood in the yard an old barrel with its
sides stove in, which held the rain-water; she overturned it, emptied
it, and fixed it to the ground with stakes and stones; then she chained
up Semillante in this kennel, and went into the house.
Next she began to walk up and down her room, taking no rest, her eyes
still turned to the coast of Sardinia. He was there, the murderer.
All day long and all night long the dog howled. In the morning the old
woman took her some water in a bowl, but nothing else; no soup, no
Another day went by. Semillante, exhausted, was asleep. Next day her
eyes were shining, her hair on end, and she tugged desperately at the
Again the old woman gave her nothing to eat. The animal, mad with
hunger, barked hoarsely. Another night went by.
When day broke, Mother Saverini went to her neighbour to ask him to give
her two trusses of straw. She took the old clothes her husband had worn
and stuffed them with the straw into the likeness of a human figure.
Having planted a post in the ground opposite Semillante's kennel, she
tied the dummy figure to it, which looked now as though it were
standing. Then she fashioned a head with a roll of old linen.
The dog, surprised, looked at this straw man, and was silent, although
devoured with hunger.
Then the woman went to the pork-butcher and bought a long piece of black
pudding. She returned home, lit a wood fire in her yard, close to the
kennel, and grilled the black pudding. Semillante, maddened, leapt about
and foamed at the mouth, her eyes fixed on the food, the flavour of
which penetrated to her very stomach.
Then with the smoking sausage the mother made a collar for the straw
man. She spent a long time lashing it round his neck, as though to stuff
it right in. When it was done, she unchained the dog.
With a tremendous bound the animal leapt upon the dummy's throat and
with her paws on his shoulders began to rend it. She fell back with a
piece of the prey in her mouth, then dashed at it again, sank her teeth
into the cords, tore away a few fragments of food, fell back again, and
leapt once more, ravenous.
With great bites she rent away the face, and tore the whole neck to
The old woman watched, motionless and silent, a gleam in her eyes. Then
she chained up her dog again, made her go without food for two more
days, and repeated the strange performance.
For three months she trained the dog to this struggle, the conquest of a
meal by fangs. She no longer chained her up, but launched her upon the
dummy with a sign.
She had taught the dog to rend and devour it without hiding food in its
throat. Afterwards she would reward the dog with the gift of the black
pudding she had cooked for her.
As soon as she saw the man, Semillante would tremble, then turn her eyes
towards her mistress, who would cry "Off!" in a whistling tone, raising
When she judged that the time was come, Mother Saverini went to
confession and took communion one Sunday morning with an ecstatic
fervour; then, putting on a man's clothes, like an old ragged beggar,
she bargained with a Sardinian fisherman, who took her, accompanied by
the dog, to the other side of the straits.
In a canvas bag she had a large piece of black pudding. Semillante had
had nothing to eat for two days. Every minute the old woman made her
smell the savoury food, stimulating her hunger with it.
They came to Longosardo. The Corsican woman was limping slightly. She
went to the baker's and inquired for Nicolas Ravolati's house. He had
resumed his old occupation, that of a joiner. He was working alone at
the back of his shop.
The old woman pushed open the door and called him:
He turned round; then, letting go of her dog, she cried:
"Off, off, bite him, bite him!"
The maddened beast dashed forward and seized his throat.
The man put out his arms, clasped the dog, and rolled upon the ground.
For a few minutes he writhed, beating the ground with his feet; then he
remained motionless while Semillante nuzzled at his throat and tore it
out in ribbons.
Two neighbours, sitting at their doors, plainly recollected having seen
a poor old man come out with a lean black dog which ate, as it walked,
something brown that its master was giving to it.
In the evening the old woman returned home. That night she slept well.
HOW STRANGE are those old recollections
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, 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 long, 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 pointed
roofs, to which are attached three or four adjacent farms.
The village, a large village, almost a small market town, was a few
hundred yards off and nestled round the church, a red brick church,
which had become black with age.
Well, every Thursday Mother Bellflower 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, the 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 like lame people generally do, but like a ship pitching.
When she planted her great bony, vibrant 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 ship in a storm, 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 limp.
I adored Mother Bellflower. As soon as I was up I used to go 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
"That draws the blood from your head," she would say to me.
She told me stories while mending the linen with her long, crooked,
nimble fingers; behind her magnifying spectacles, for age had impaired
her sight, her eyes appeared enormous to me, strangely profound, double.
As far as I can remember from the things which she told me and by which
my childish heart was moved, she had 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 mill looking at the sails turning, or about a hen's egg which
had been found in the church belfry without anyone being able to
understand what creature had been there to lay it, or the queer story of
Jean Pila's dog who had gone ten leagues to bring back his master's
breeches which a tramp had stolen while they were hanging up to dry out
of doors after he had been caught 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 fullness or of the vigor of
the peasant woman's narratives.
Well, one Thursday 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 floor by the side of her chair, her face turned down 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 by
the wall, where 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 a great old armchair, where I
knelt and wept. I remained there for a long time, no doubt, for night
came on. Suddenly someone came in with a lamp--without seeing me,
however--and heard my father and mother talking with the medical man,
whose voice recognized.
He had been sent for immediately, and he was explaining the cause 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!" he said. "The poor woman! she broke her leg the day of my arrival
here. 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,
"She was seventeen and a pretty girl, very pretty! Would anyone believe
it? I have never told her story before; in fact, no one but 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.
"A young assistant teacher had just come to live in the village; he was
good looking and had the bearing of a soldier. All the girls ran after
him, but he was disdainful. Besides that, 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 afterward nicknamed Clochette. The assistant master singled out
the pretty young girl who was no doubt flattered at being chosen by this
disdainful conqueror; at any rate, she fell in love with him, and he
succeeded in persuading her to give him a first meeting in the hayloft
behind the school at night after she had done her day's sewing.
"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 he was beginning to say pretty things to
her, when the door of the hayloft 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 among the bundles of
hay, Monsieur Grabu.'
The loft was very large and absolutely dark. Sigisbert pushed the
frightened girl to the farther end and said: 'Go, there and hide
yourself. I shall lose my situation, 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 light.
"Then the young man, who was a coward such as one sometimes meets, lost
his head, and he repeated, having grown furious all of a sudden: 'Hide
yourself, so that he may not find you. You will deprive me of my bread
for my whole 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 onto the street, opened it quickly and then
in a low and determined voice said: '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! 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 out through the flesh. She did not complain and merely
said with admirable resignation: 'I am punished, well punished!'
"I sent for assistance and for the workgirl's friends 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 kind the author of this accident.
"That is all! Now I say that this woman was a heroine and had the fiber
of those who accomplish the grandest deeds in 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 anyone 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, while I heard a strange noise of heavy footsteps
and something knocking against the side of the staircase.
They were carrying away Clochette's body.