Maupassant Short Stories, Vol. 4.
by Guy de Maupassant
The warm autumn sun was beating down on the farmyard. Under the grass,
which had been cropped close by the cows, the earth soaked by recent
rains, was soft and sank in under the feet with a soggy noise, and the
apple trees, loaded with apples, were dropping their pale green fruit in
the dark green grass.
Four young heifers, tied in a line, were grazing and at times looking
toward the house and lowing. The fowls made a colored patch on the dung-
heap before the stable, scratching, moving about and cackling, while two
roosters crowed continually, digging worms for their hens, whom they were
calling with a loud clucking.
The wooden gate opened and a man entered. He might have been forty years
old, but he looked at least sixty, wrinkled, bent, walking slowly,
impeded by the weight of heavy wooden shoes full of straw. His long arms
hung down on both sides of his body. When he got near the farm a yellow
cur, tied at the foot of an enormous pear tree, beside a barrel which
served as his kennel, began at first to wag his tail and then to bark for
joy. The man cried:
The dog was quiet.
A peasant woman came out of the house. Her large, flat, bony body was
outlined under a long woollen jacket drawn in at the waist. A gray
skirt, too short, fell to the middle of her legs, which were encased in
blue stockings. She, too, wore wooden shoes, filled with straw. The
white cap, turned yellow, covered a few hairs which were plastered to the
scalp, and her brown, thin, ugly, toothless face had that wild, animal
expression which is often to be found on the faces of the peasants.
The man asked:
"How is he gettin' along?"
The woman answered:
"The priest said it's the end--that he will never live through the
Both of them went into the house.
After passing through the kitchen, they entered a low, dark room, barely
lighted by one window, in front of which a piece of calico was hanging.
The big beams, turned brown with age and smoke, crossed the room from one
side to the other, supporting the thin floor of the garret, where an army
of rats ran about day and night.
The moist, lumpy earthen floor looked greasy, and, at the back of the
room, the bed made an indistinct white spot. A harsh, regular noise, a
difficult, hoarse, wheezing breathing, like the gurgling of water from a
broken pump, came from the darkened couch where an old man, the father of
the peasant woman, was dying.
The man and the woman approached the dying man and looked at him with
calm, resigned eyes.
The son-in-law said:
"I guess it's all up with him this time; he will not last the night."
The woman answered:
"He's been gurglin' like that ever since midday." They were silent. The
father's eyes were closed, his face was the color of the earth and so dry
that it looked like wood. Through his open mouth came his harsh,
rattling breath, and the gray linen sheet rose and fell with each
The son-in-law, after a long silence, said:
"There's nothing more to do; I can't help him. It's a nuisance, just the
same, because the weather is good and we've got a lot of work to do."
His wife seemed annoyed at this idea. She reflected a few moments and
He won't be buried till Saturday, and that will give you all day
The peasant thought the matter over and answered:
"Yes, but to-morrow I'll have to invite the people to the funeral. That
means five or six hours to go round to Tourville and Manetot, and to see
The woman, after meditating two or three minutes, declared:
"It isn't three o'clock yet. You could begin this evening and go all
round the country to Tourville. You can just as well say that he's dead,
seem' as he's as good as that now."
The man stood perplexed for a while, weighing the pros and cons of the
idea. At last he declared:
"Well, I'll go!"
He was leaving the room, but came back after a minute's hesitation:
"As you haven't got anythin' to do you might shake down some apples to
bake and make four dozen dumplings for those who come to the funeral, for
one must have something to cheer them. You can light the fire with the
wood that's under the shed. It's dry."
He left the room, went back into the kitchen, opened the cupboard, took
out a six-pound loaf of bread, cut off a slice, and carefully gathered
the crumbs in the palm of his hand and threw them into his mouth, so as
not to lose anything. Then, with the end of his knife, he scraped out a
little salt butter from the bottom of an earthen jar, spread it on his
bread and began to eat slowly, as he did everything.
He recrossed the farmyard, quieted the dog, which had started barking
again, went out on the road bordering on his ditch, and disappeared in
the direction of Tourville.
As soon as she was alone, the woman began to work. She uncovered the
meal-bin and made the dough for the dumplings. She kneaded it a long
time, turning it over and over again, punching, pressing, crushing it.
Finally she made a big, round, yellow-white ball, which she placed on the
corner of the table.
Then she went to get her apples, and, in order not to injure the tree
with a pole, she climbed up into it by a ladder. She chose the fruit
with care, only taking the ripe ones, and gathering them in her apron.
A voice called from the road:
"Hey, Madame Chicot!"
She turned round. It was a neighbor, Osime Favet, the mayor, on his way
to fertilize his fields, seated on the manure-wagon, with his feet
hanging over the side. She turned round and answered:
"What can I do for you, Maitre Osime?"
"And how is the father?"
"He is as good as dead. The funeral is Saturday at seven, because
there's lots of work to be done."
The neighbor answered:
"So! Good luck to you! Take care of yourself."
To his kind remarks she answered:"
"Thanks; the same to you."
And she continued picking apples.
When she went back to the house, she went over to look at her father,
expecting to find him dead. But as soon as she reached the door she
heard his monotonous, noisy rattle, and, thinking it a waste of time to
go over to him, she began to prepare her dumplings. She wrapped up the
fruit, one by one, in a thin layer of paste, then she lined them up on
the edge of the table. When she had made forty-eight dumplings, arranged
in dozens, one in front of the other, she began to think of preparing
supper, and she hung her kettle over the fire to cook potatoes, for she
judged it useless to heat the oven that day, as she had all the next day
in which to finish the preparations.
Her husband returned at about five. As soon as he had crossed the
threshold he asked:
"Is it over?"
"Not yet; he's still gurglin'."
They went to look at him. The old man was in exactly the same condition.
His hoarse rattle, as regular as the ticking of a clock, was neither
quicker nor slower. It returned every second, the tone varying a little,
according as the air entered or left his chest.
His son-in-law looked at him and then said:
"He'll pass away without our noticin' it, just like a candle."
They returned to the kitchen and started to eat without saying a word.
When they had swallowed their soup, they ate another piece of bread and
butter. Then, as soon as the dishes were washed, they returned to the
The woman, carrying a little lamp with a smoky wick, held it in front of
her father's face. If he had not been breathing, one would certainly
have thought him dead.
The couple's bed was hidden in a little recess at the other end of the
room. Silently they retired, put out the light, closed their eyes, and
soon two unequal snores, one deep and the other shriller, accompanied the
uninterrupted rattle of the dying man.
The rats ran about in the garret.
The husband awoke at the first streaks of dawn. His father-in-law was
still alive. He shook his wife, worried by the tenacity of the old man.
"Say, Phemie, he don't want to quit. What would you do?"
He knew that she gave good advice.
"You needn't be afraid; he can't live through the day. And the mayor
won't stop our burying him to-morrow, because he allowed it for Maitre
Renard's father, who died just during the planting season."
He was convinced by this argument, and left for the fields.
His wife baked the dumplings and then attended to her housework.
At noon the old man was not dead. The people hired for the day's work
came by groups to look at him. Each one had his say. Then they left
again for the fields.
At six o'clock, when the work was over, the father was still breathing.
At last his son-in-law was frightened.
"What would you do now, Phemie?"
She no longer knew how to solve the problem. They went to the mayor. He
promised that he would close his eyes and authorize the funeral for the
following day. They also went to the health officer, who likewise
promised, in order to oblige Maitre Chicot, to antedate the death
certificate. The man and the woman returned, feeling more at ease.
They went to bed and to sleep, just as they did the preceding day, their
sonorous breathing blending with the feeble breathing of the old man.
When they awoke, he was not yet dead.
Then they began to be frightened. They stood by their father, watching
him with distrust, as though he had wished to play them a mean trick, to
deceive them, to annoy them on purpose, and they were vexed at him for
the time which he was making them lose.
The son-in-law asked:
"What am I goin' to do?"
She did not know. She answered:
"It certainly is annoying!"
The guests who were expected could not be notified. They decided to wait
and explain the case to them.
Toward a quarter to seven the first ones arrived. The women in black,
their heads covered with large veils, looking very sad. Then men, ill at
ease in their homespun coats, were coming forward more slowly, in
couples, talking business.
Maitre Chicot and his wife, bewildered, received them sorrowfully, and
suddenly both of them together began to cry as they approached the first
group. They explained the matter, related their difficulty, offered
chairs, bustled about, tried to make excuses, attempting to prove that
everybody would have done as they did, talking continually and giving
nobody a chance to answer.
They were going from one person to another:
"I never would have thought it; it's incredible how he can last this
The guests, taken aback, a little disappointed, as though they had missed
an expected entertainment, did not know what to do, some remaining
seated. others standing. Several wished to leave. Maitre Chicot held
"You must take something, anyhow! We made some dumplings; might as well
make use of 'em."
The faces brightened at this idea. The yard was filling little by
little; the early arrivals were telling the news to those who had arrived
later. Everybody was whispering. The idea of the dumplings seemed to
cheer everyone up.
The women went in to take a look at the dying man. They crossed
themselves beside the bed, muttered a prayer and went out again. The
men, less anxious for this spectacle, cast a look through the window,
which had been opened.
Madame Chicot explained her distress:
"That's how he's been for two days, neither better nor worse. Doesn't he
sound like a pump that has gone dry?"
When everybody had had a look at the dying man, they thought of the
refreshments; but as there were too many people for the kitchen to hold,
the table was moved out in front of the door. The four dozen golden
dumplings, tempting and appetizing, arranged in two big dishes, attracted
the eyes of all. Each one reached out to take his, fearing that there
would not be enough. But four remained over.
Maitre Chicot, his mouth full, said:
"Father would feel sad if he were to see this. He loved them so much
when he was alive."
A big, jovial peasant declared:
"He won't eat any more now. Each one in his turn."
This remark, instead of making the guests sad, seemed to cheer them up.
It was their turn now to eat dumplings.
Madame Chicot, distressed at the expense, kept running down to the cellar
continually for cider. The pitchers were emptied in quick succession.
The company was laughing and talking loud now. They were beginning to
shout as they do at feasts.
Suddenly an old peasant woman who had stayed beside the dying man, held
there by a morbid fear of what would soon happen to herself, appeared at
the window and cried in a shrill voice:
"He's dead! he's dead!"
Everybody was silent. The women arose quickly to go and see.
He was indeed dead. The rattle had ceased. The men looked at each
other, looking down, ill at ease. They hadn't finished eating the
dumplings. Certainly the rascal had not chosen a propitious moment.
The Chicots were no longer weeping. It was over; they were relieved.
They kept repeating:
"I knew it couldn't 'last. If he could only have done it last night, it
would have saved us all this trouble."
Well, anyhow, it was over. They would bury him on Monday, that was all,
and they would eat some more dumplings for the occasion.
The guests went away, talking the matter over, pleased at having had the
chance to see him and of getting something to eat.
And when the husband and wife were alone, face to face, she said, her
face distorted with grief:
"We'll have to bake four dozen more dumplings! Why couldn't he have made
up his mind last night?"
The husband, more resigned, answered:
"Well, we'll not have to do this every day."
It was after dinner, and we were talking about adventures and accidents
which happened while out shooting.
An old friend, known to all of us, M. Boniface, a great sportsman and a
connoisseur of wine, a man of wonderful physique, witty and gay, and
endowed with an ironical and resigned philosophy, which manifested itself
in caustic humor, and never in melancholy, suddenly exclaimed:
"I know a story, or rather a tragedy, which is somewhat peculiar. It is
not at all like those which one hears of usually, and I have never told
it, thinking that it would interest no one.
"It is not at all sympathetic. I mean by that, that it does not arouse
the kind of interest which pleases or which moves one agreeably.
"Here is the story:
"I was then about thirty-five years of age, and a most enthusiastic
"In those days I owned a lonely bit of property in the neighborhood of
Jumieges, surrounded by forests and abounding in hares and rabbits.
I was accustomed to spending four or five days alone there each year,
there not being room enough to allow of my bringing a friend with me.
"I had placed there as gamekeeper, an old retired gendarme, a good man,
hot-tempered, a severe disciplinarian, a terror to poachers and fearing
nothing. He lived all alone, far from the village, in a little house, or
rather hut, consisting of two rooms downstairs, with kitchen and store-
room, and two upstairs. One of them, a kind of box just large enough to
accommodate a bed, a cupboard and a chair, was reserved for my use.
"Old man Cavalier lived in the other one. When I said that he was alone
in this place, I was wrong. He had taken his nephew with him, a young
scamp about fourteen years old, who used to go to the village and run
errands for the old man.
"This young scapegrace was long and lanky, with yellow hair, so light
that it resembled the fluff of a plucked chicken, so thin that he seemed
bald. Besides this, he had enormous feet and the hands of a giant.
"He was cross-eyed, and never looked at anyone. He struck me as being in
the same relation to the human race as ill-smelling beasts are to the
animal race. He reminded me of a polecat.
"He slept in a kind of hole at the top of the stairs which led to the two
"But during my short sojourns at the Pavilion--so I called the hut--
Marius would give up his nook to an old woman from Ecorcheville, called
Celeste, who used to come and cook for me, as old man Cavalier's stews
were not sufficient for my healthy appetite.
"You now know the characters and the locality. Here is the story:
"It was on the fifteenth of October, 1854--I shall remember that date as
long as I live.
"I left Rouen on horseback, followed by my dog Bock, a big Dalmatian
hound from Poitou, full-chested and with a heavy jaw, which could
retrieve among the bushes like a Pont-Andemer spaniel.
"I was carrying my satchel slung across my back and my gun diagonally
across my chest. It was a cold, windy, gloomy day, with clouds scurrying
across the sky.
"As I went up the hill at Canteleu, I looked over the broad valley of the
Seine, the river winding in and out along its course as far as the eye
could see. To the right the towers of Rouen stood out against the sky,
and to the left the landscape was bounded by the distant slopes covered
with trees. Then I crossed the forest of Roumare and, toward five
o'clock, reached the Pavilion, where Cavalier and Celeste were expecting
"For ten years I had appeared there at the same time, in the same manner;
and for ten years the same faces had greeted me with the same words:
"'Welcome, master! We hope your health is good.'
"Cavalier had hardly changed. He withstood time like an old tree; but
Celeste, especially in the past four years, had become unrecognizable.
"She was bent almost double, and, although still active, when she walked
her body was almost at right angles to her legs.
"The old woman, who was very devoted to me, always seemed affected at
seeing me again, and each time, as I left, she would say:
"'This may be the last time, master.'
"The sad, timid farewell of this old servant, this hopeless resignation
to the inevitable fate which was not far off for her, moved me strangely
"I dismounted, and while Cavalier, whom I had greeted, was leading my
horse to the little shed which served as a stable, I entered the kitchen,
which also served as dining-room, followed by Celeste.
"Here the gamekeeper joined us. I saw at first glance that something was
the matter. He seemed preoccupied, ill at ease, worried.
"I said to him:
"'Well, Cavalier, is everything all right?'
"'Yes and no. There are things I don't like.'
"'What? Tell me about it.'
"But he shook his head.
"'No, not yet, monsieur. I do not wish to bother you with my little
troubles so soon after your arrival.'
"I insisted, but he absolutely refused to give me any information before
dinner. From his expression, I could tell that it was something very
"Not knowing what to say to him, I asked:
"'How about game? Much of it this year?'
"'Oh, yes! You'll find all you want. Thank heaven, I looked out for
"He said this with so much seriousness, with such sad solemnity, that it
was really almost funny. His big gray mustache seemed almost ready ,to
drop from his lips.
"Suddenly I remembered that I had not yet seen his nephew.
"'Where is Marius? Why does he not show himself?'
"The "The gamekeeper started, looking me suddenly in the face:
" Well, monsieur, I had rather tell you the whole business right away;
it's on account of him that I am worrying.'
"'Ah! Well, where is he?'
"'Over in the stable, monsieur. I was waiting for the right time to
bring him out.'
"'What has he done?'
"The gamekeeper, however, hesitated, his voice altered and shaky, his
face suddenly furrowed by the deep lines of an old man.
"He continued slowly:
"'Well, I found out, last winter, that someone was poaching in the woods
of Roseraies, but I couldn't seem to catch the man. I spent night after
night on the lookout for him. In vain. During that time they began
poaching over by Ecorcheville. I was growing thin from vexation. But as
for catching the trespasser, impossible! One might have thought that the
rascal was forewarned of my plans.
"'But one day, while I was brushing Marius' Sunday trousers, I found
forty cents in his pocket. Where did he get it?
"'I thought the matter over for about a week, and I noticed that he used
to go out; he would leave the house just as I was coming home to go to
"'Then I started to watch him, without the slightest suspicion of the
real facts. One morning, just after I had gone to bed before him, I got
right up again, and followed him. For shadowing a man, there is nobody
like me, monsieur.
"'And I caught him, Marius, poaching on your land, monsieur; he my
nephew, I your keeper!
"'The blood rushed to my head, and I almost killed him on the spot, I hit
him so hard. Oh! yes, I thrashed him all right. And I promised him
that he would get another beating from my hand, in your presence, as an
"'There! I have grown thin from sorrow. You know how it is when one is
worried like that. But tell me, what would you have done? The boy has
no father or mother, and I am the last one of his blood; I kept him, I
couldn't drive him out, could I?
"'I told him that if it happened again I would have no more pity for him,
all would be over. There! Did I do right, monsieur?'
"I answered, holding out my hand:
"'You did well, Cavalier; you are an honest man.'
"'Thank you, monsieur. Now I am going to fetch him. I must give him his
thrashing, as an example.'
"I knew that it was hopeless to try and turn the old man from his idea.
I therefore let him have his own way.
"He got the rascal and brought him back by the ear.
"I was seated on a cane chair, with the solemn expression of a judge.
"Marius seemed to have grown; he was homelier even than the year before,
with his evil, sneaking expression.
"His big hands seemed gigantic.
"His uncle pushed him up to me, and, in his soldierly voice, said:
"'Beg the gentleman's pardon.'
"The boy didn't say a word.
"Then putting one arm round him, the former gendarme lifted him right off
the ground, and began to whack him with such force that I rose to stop
"The boy was now howling: 'Mercy! mercy! mercy! I promise----'
"Cavalier put him back on the ground and forced him to his knees:
"'Beg for pardon,' he said.
"With eyes lowered, the scamp murmured:
"'I ask for pardon!'
"Then his uncle lifted him to his feet, and dismissed him with a cuff
which almost knocked him down again.
"He made his escape, and I did not see him again that evening.
"Cavalier appeared overwhelmed.'
"'He is a bad egg,' he said.
"And throughout the whole dinner, he kept repeating:
"'Oh! that worries me, monsieur, that worries me.'
"I tried to comfort him, but in vain.
"I went to bed early, so that I might start out at daybreak.
"My dog was already asleep on the floor, at the foot of my bed, when I
put out the light.
"I was awakened toward midnight by the furious barking of my dog Bock. I
immediately noticed that my room was full of smoke. I jumped out of bed,
struck a light, ran to the door and opened it. A cloud of flames burst
in. The house was on fire.
"I quickly closed the heavy oak door and, drawing on my trousers, I first
lowered the dog through the window, by means of a rope made of my sheets;
then, having thrown out the rest of my clothes, my game-bag and my gun, I
in turn escaped the same way.
"I began to shout with all my might: 'Cavalier! Cavalier! Cavalier!'
"But the gamekeeper did not wake up. He slept soundly like an old
"However, I could see through the lower windows that the whole ground-
floor was nothing but a roaring furnace; I also noticed that it had been
filled with straw to make it burn readily.
"Somebody must purposely have set fire to the place!
"I continued shrieking wildly: 'Cavalier!'
"Then the thought struck me that the smoke might be suffocating him. An
idea came to me. I slipped two cartridges into my gun, and shot straight
at his window.
"The six panes of glass shattered into the room in a cloud of glass.
This time the old man had heard me, and he appeared, dazed, in his
nightshirt, bewildered by the glare which illumined the whole front of
"I cried to him:
"'Your house is on fire! Escape through the window! Quick! Quick!'
"The flames were coming out through all the cracks downstairs, were
licking along the wall, were creeping toward him and going to surround
him. He jumped and landed on his feet, like a cat.
"It was none too soon. The thatched roof cracked in the middle, right
over the staircase, which formed a kind of flue for the fire downstairs;
and an immense red jet jumped up into the air, spreading like a stream of
water and sprinkling a shower of sparks around the hut. In a few seconds
it was nothing but a pool of flames.
"Cavalier, thunderstruck, asked:
"'How did the fire start?'
"'Somebody lit it in the kitchen.'
"'Who could have started the fire?'
"And I, suddenly guessing, answered:
"The old man understood. He stammered:
"'Good God! That is why he didn't return.'
"A terrible thought flashed through my mind. I cried:
"'And Celeste! Celeste!'
"He did not answer. The house caved in before us, forming only an
enormous, bright, blinding brazier, an awe-inspiring funeral-pile, where
the poor woman could no longer be anything but a glowing ember, a glowing
ember of human flesh.
"We had not heard a single cry.
"As the fire crept toward the shed, I suddenly bethought me of my horse,
and Cavalier ran to free it.
"Hardly had he opened the door of the stable, when a supple, nimble body
darted between his legs, and threw him on his face. It was Marius,
running for all he was worth.
"The man was up in a second. He tried to run after the wretch, but,
seeing that he could not catch him, and maddened by an irresistible
anger, yielding to one of those thoughtless impulses which we cannot
foresee or prevent, he picked up my gun, which was lying on the ground.
near him, put it to his shoulder, and, before I could make a motion, he
pulled the trigger without even noticing whether or not the weapon was
"One of the cartridges which I had put in to announce the fire was still
intact, and the charge caught the fugitive right in the back,--throwing
him forward on the ground, bleeding profusely. He immediately began to
claw the earth with his hands and with his knees, as though trying to run
on all fours like a rabbit who has been mortally wounded, and sees the
"I rushed forward to the boy, but I could already hear the death-rattle.
He passed away before the fire was extinguished, without having said a
"Cavalier, still in his shirt, his legs bare, was standing near us,
"When the people from the village arrived, my gamekeeper was taken away,
like an insane man.
"I appeared at the trial as witness, and related the facts in detail,
without changing a thing. Cavalier was acquitted. He disappeared that
very day, leaving the country.
"I have never seen him since.
"There, gentlemen, that is my story."
THE STORY OF A FARM GIRL
As the weather was very fine, the people on the farm had hurried through
their dinner and had returned to the fields.
The servant, Rose, remained alone in the large kitchen, where the fire
was dying out on the hearth beneath the large boiler of hot water. From
time to time she dipped out some water and slowly washed her dishes,
stopping occasionally to look at the two streaks of light which the sun
threw across the long table through the window, and which showed the
defects in the glass.
Three venturesome hens were picking up the crumbs under the chairs, while
the smell of the poultry yard and the warmth from the cow stall came in
through the half-open door, and a cock was heard crowing in the distance.
When she had finished her work, wiped down the table, dusted the
mantelpiece and put the plates on the high dresser close to the wooden
clock with its loud tick-tock, she drew a long breath, as she felt rather
oppressed, without exactly knowing why. She looked at the black clay
walls, the rafters that were blackened with smoke and from which hung
spiders' webs, smoked herrings and strings of onions, and then she sat
down, rather overcome by the stale odor from the earthen floor, on which
so many things had been continually spilled and which the heat brought
out. With this there was mingled the sour smell of the pans of milk
which were set out to raise the cream in the adjoining dairy.
She wanted to sew, as usual, but she did not feel strong enough, and so
she went to the door to get a mouthful of fresh air, which seemed to do
The fowls were lying on the steaming dunghill; some of them were
scratching with one claw in search of worms, while the cock stood up
proudly in their midst. When he crowed, the cocks in all the neighboring
farmyards replied to him, as if they were uttering challenges from farm
The girl looked at them without thinking, and then she raised her eyes
and was almost dazzled at the sight of the apple trees in blossom. Just
then a colt, full of life and friskiness, jumped over the ditches and
then stopped suddenly, as if surprised at being alone.
She also felt inclined to run; she felt inclined to move and to stretch
her limbs and to repose in the warm, breathless air. She took a few
undecided steps and closed her eyes, for she was seized with a feeling of
animal comfort, and then she went to look for eggs in the hen loft.
There were thirteen of them, which she took in and put into the
storeroom; but the smell from the kitchen annoyed her again, and she went
out to sit on the grass for a time.
The farmyard, which was surrounded by trees, seemed to be asleep. The
tall grass, amid which the tall yellow dandelions rose up like streaks of
yellow light, was of a vivid, fresh spring green. The apple trees cast
their shade all round them, and the thatched roofs, on which grew blue
and yellow irises, with their sword-like leaves, steamed as if the
moisture of the stables and barns were coming through the straw.
The girl went to the shed, where the carts and buggies were kept. Close
to it, in a ditch, there was a large patch of violets, whose fragrance
was spread abroad, while beyond the slope the open country could be seen,
where grain was growing, with clumps of trees in places, and groups of
laborers here and there, who looked as small as dolls, and white horses
like toys, who were drawing a child's cart, driven by a man as tall as
She took up a bundle of straw, threw it into the ditch and sat down upon
it. Then, not feeling comfortable, she undid it, spread it out and lay
down upon it at full length on her back, with both arms under her head
and her legs stretched out.
Gradually her eyes closed, and she was falling into a state of delightful
languor. She was, in fact, almost asleep when she felt two hands on her
bosom, and she sprang up at a bound. It was Jacques, one of the farm
laborers, a tall fellow from Picardy, who had been making love to her for
a long time. He had been herding the sheep, and, seeing her lying down
in the shade, had come up stealthily and holding his breath, with
glistening eyes and bits of straw in his hair.
He tried to kiss her, but she gave him a smack in the face, for she was
as strong as he, and he was shrewd enough to beg her pardon; so they sat
down side by side and talked amicably. They spoke about the favorable
weather, of their master, who was a good fellow, then of their neighbors,
of all the people in the country round, of themselves, of their village,
of their youthful days, of their recollections, of their relations, who
had left them for a long time, and it might be forever. She grew sad as
she thought of it, while he, with one fixed idea in his head, drew closer
"I have not seen my mother for a long time," she said. "It is very hard
to be separated like that," and she directed her looks into the distance,
toward the village in the north which she had left.
Suddenly, however, he seized her by the neck and kissed her again, but
she struck him so violently in the face with her clenched fist that his
nose began to bleed, and he got up and laid his head against the stem of
a tree. When she saw that, she was sorry, and going up to him, she said:
"Have I hurt you?" He, however, only laughed. "No, it was a mere
nothing; only she had hit him right on the middle of the nose. What a
devil!" he said, and he looked at her with admiration, for she had
inspired him with a feeling of respect and of a very different kind of
admiration which was the beginning of a real love for that tall, strong
wench. When the bleeding had stopped, he proposed a walk, as he was
afraid of his neighbor's heavy hand, if they remained side by side like
that much longer; but she took his arm of her own accord, in the avenue,
as if they had been out for an evening's walk, and said: "It is not nice
of you to despise me like that, Jacques." He protested, however. No, he
did not despise her. He was in love with her, that was all.
"So you really want to marry me?" she asked.
He hesitated and then looked at her sideways, while she looked straight
ahead of her. She had fat, red cheeks, a full bust beneath her cotton
jacket; thick, red lips; and her neck, which was almost bare, was covered
with small beads of perspiration. He felt a fresh access of desire, and,
putting his lips to her ear, he murmured: "Yes, of course I do."
Then she threw her arms round his neck and kissed him till they were both
out of breath. From that moment the eternal story of love began between
them. They plagued one another in corners; they met in the moonlight
beside the haystack and gave each other bruises on the legs, under the
table, with their heavy nailed boots. By degrees, however, Jacques
seemed to grow tired of her; he avoided her, scarcely spoke to her, and
did not try any longer to meet her alone, which made her sad and anxious;
and soon she found that she was enceinte.
At first she was in a state of consternation, but then she got angry, and
her rage increased every day because she could not meet him, as he
avoided her most carefully. At last, one night, when every one in the
farmhouse was asleep, she went out noiselessly in her petticoat, with
bare feet, crossed the yard and opened the door of the stable where
Jacques was lying in a large box of straw above his horses. He pretended
to snore when he heard her coming, but she knelt down by his side and
shook him until he sat up.
"What do you want?" he then asked her. And with clenched teeth, and
trembling with anger, she replied: "I want--I want you to marry me, as
you promised." But he only laughed and replied: "Oh! if a man were to
marry all the girls with whom he has made a slip, he would have more than
enough to do."
Then she seized him by the throat, threw him or his back, so that he
could not get away from her, and, half strangling him, she shouted into
"I am enceinte, do you hear? I am enceinte!"
He gasped for breath, as he was almost choked, and so they remained, both
of them, motionless and without speaking, in the dark silence, which was
only broken by the noise made by a horse as he, pulled the hay out of the
manger and then slowly munched it.
When Jacques found that she was the stronger, he stammered out: "Very
well, I will marry you, as that is the case." But she did not believe
his promises. "It must be at once," she said. "You must have the banns
put up." "At once," he replied. "Swear solemnly that you will." He
hesitated for a few moments and then said: "I swear it, by Heaven!"
Then she released her grasp and went away without another word.
She had no chance of speaking to him for several days; and, as the stable
was now always locked at night, she was afraid to make any noise, for
fear of creating a scandal. One morning, however, she saw another man
come in at dinner time, and she said: "Has Jacques left?" "Yes;" the man
replied; "I have got his place."
This made her tremble so violently that she could not take the saucepan
off the fire; and later, when they were all at work, she went up into her
room and cried, burying her head in the bolster, so that she might not be
heard. During the day, however, she tried to obtain some information
without exciting any suspicion, but she was so overwhelmed by the
thoughts of her misfortune that she fancied that all the people whom she
asked laughed maliciously. All she learned, however, was that he had
left the neighborhood altogether.
Then a cloud of constant misery began for her. She worked mechanically,
without thinking of what she was doing, with one fixed idea in her head:
"Suppose people were to know."
This continual feeling made her so incapable of reasoning that she did
not even try to think of any means of avoiding the disgrace that she knew
must ensue, which was irreparable and drawing nearer every day, and which
was as sure as death itself. She got up every morning long before the
others and persistently tried to look at her figure in a piece of broken
looking-glass, before which she did her hair, as she was very anxious to
know whether anybody would notice a change in her, and, during the day,
she stopped working every few minutes to look at herself from top to toe,
to see whether her apron did not look too short.
The months went on, and she scarcely spoke now, and when she was asked a
question, did not appear to understand; but she had a frightened look,
haggard eyes and trembling hands, which made her master say to her
occasionally: "My poor girl, how stupid you have grown lately."
In church she hid behind a pillar, and no longer ventured to go to
confession, as she feared to face the priest, to whom she attributed
superhuman powers, which enabled him to read people's consciences; and at
meal times the looks of her fellow servants almost made her faint with
mental agony; and she was always fancying that she had been found out by
the cowherd, a precocious and cunning little lad, whose bright eyes
seemed always to be watching her.
One morning the postman brought her a letter, and as she had never
received one in her life before she was so upset by it that she was
obliged to sit down. Perhaps it was from him? But, as she could not
read, she sat anxious and trembling with that piece of paper, covered
with ink, in her hand. After a time, however, she put it into her
pocket, as she did not venture to confide her secret to any one. She
often stopped in her work to look at those lines written at regular
intervals, and which terminated in a signature, imagining vaguely that
she would suddenly discover their meaning, until at last, as she felt
half mad with impatience and anxiety, she went to the schoolmaster, who
told her to sit down and read to her as follows:
"MY DEAR DAUGHTER: I write to tell you that I am very ill. Our neighbor,
Monsieur Dentu, begs you to come, if you can.
"From your affectionate mother,
"CESAIRE DENTU, Deputy Mayor."
She did not say a word and went away, but as soon as she was alone her
legs gave way under her, and she fell down by the roadside and remained
there till night.
When she got back, she told the farmer her bad news, and he allowed her
to go home for as long as she liked, and promised to have her work done
by a charwoman and to take her back when she returned.
Her mother died soon after she got there, and the next day Rose gave
birth to a seven-months child, a miserable little skeleton, thin enough
to make anybody shudder, and which seemed to be suffering continually, to
judge from the painful manner in which it moved its poor little hands,
which were as thin as a crab's legs; but it lived for all that. She said
she was married, but could not be burdened with the child, so she left it
with some neighbors, who promised to take great care of it, and she went
back to the farm.
But now in her heart, which had been wounded so long, there arose
something like brightness, an unknown love for that frail little creature
which she had left behind her, though there was fresh suffering in that
very love, suffering which she felt every hour and every minute, because
she was parted from her child. What pained her most, however, was the
mad longing to kiss it, to press it in her arms, to feel the warmth of
its little body against her breast. She could not sleep at night; she
thought of it the whole day long, and in the evening, when her work was
done, she would sit in front of the fire and gaze at it intently, as
people do whose thoughts are far away.
They began to talk about her and to tease-her about her lover. They
asked her whether he was tall, handsome and rich. When was the wedding
to be and the christening? And often she ran away to cry by herself, for
these questions seemed to hurt her like the prick of a pin; and, in order
to forget their jokes, she began to work still more energetically, and,
still thinking of her child, she sought some way of saving up money for
it, and determined to work so that her master would be obliged to raise
By degrees she almost monopolized the work and persuaded him to get rid
of one servant girl, who had become useless since she had taken to
working like two; she economized in the bread, oil and candles; in the
corn, which they gave to the chickens too extravagantly, and in the
fodder for the horses and cattle, which was rather wasted. She was as
miserly about her master's money as if it had been her own; and, by dint
of making good bargains, of getting high prices for all their produce,
and by baffling the peasants' tricks when they offered anything for sale,
he, at last, entrusted her with buying and selling everything, with the
direction of all the laborers, and with the purchase of provisions
necessary for the household; so that, in a short time, she became.
indispensable to him. She kept such a strict eye on everything about her
that, under her direction, the farm prospered wonderfully, and for five
miles around people talked of "Master Vallin's servant," and the farmer
himself said everywhere: "That girl is worth more than her weight in
But time passed by, and her wages remained the same. Her hard work was
accepted as something that was due from every good servant, and as a mere
token of good will; and she began to think rather bitterly that if the
farmer could put fifty or a hundred crowns extra into the bank every
month, thanks to her, she was still only earning her two hundred francs a
year, neither more nor less; and so she made up her mind to ask for an
increase of wages. She went to see the schoolmaster three times about
it, but when she got there, she spoke about something else. She felt a
kind of modesty in asking for money, as if it were something disgraceful;
but, at last, one day, when the farmer was having breakfast by himself in
the kitchen, she said to him, with some embarrassment, that she wished to
speak to him particularly. He raised his head in surprise, with both his
hands on the table, holding his knife, with its point in the air, in one,
and a piece of bread in the other, and he looked fixedly at, the girl,
who felt uncomfortable under his gaze, but asked for a week's holiday, so
that she might get away, as she was not very well. He acceded to her
request immediately, and then added, in some embarrassment himself:
"When you come back, I shall have something to say to you myself."
The child was nearly eight months old, and she did not recognize it. It
had grown rosy and chubby all over, like a little roll of fat. She threw
herself on it, as if it had been some prey, and kissed it so violently
that it began to scream with terror; and then she began to cry herself,
because it did not know her, and stretched out its arms to its nurse as
soon as it saw her. But the next day it began to know her, and laughed
when it saw her, and she took it into the fields, and ran about excitedly
with it, and sat down under the shade of the trees; and then, for the
first time in her life, she opened her heart to somebody, although he
could not understand her, and told him her troubles; how hard her work
was, her anxieties and her hopes, and she quite tired the child with the
violence of her caresses.
She took the greatest pleasure in handling it, in washing and dressing
it, for it seemed to her that all this was the confirmation of her
maternity; and she would look at it, almost feeling surprised 'that it
was hers, and would say to herself in a low voice as she danced it in her
arms: "It is my baby, it's my baby."
She cried all the way home as she returned to the farm and had scarcely
got in before her master called her into his room; and she went, feeling
astonished and nervous, without knowing why.
"Sit down there," he said. She sat down, and for some moments they
remained side by side, in some embarrassment, with their arms hanging at
their sides, as if they did not know what to do with them, and looking
each other in the face, after the manner of peasants.
The farmer, a stout, jovial, obstinate man of forty-five, who had lost
two wives, evidently felt embarrassed, which was very unusual with him;
but, at last, he made. up his mind, and began to speak vaguely,
hesitating a little, and looking out of the window as he talked. "How is
it, Rose," he said, "that you have never thought of settling in life?"
She grew as pale as death, and, seeing that she gave him no answer, he
went on: "You are a good, steady, active and economical girl; and a wife
like you would make a man's fortune."
She did not move, but looked frightened; she did not even try to
comprehend his meaning, for her thoughts were in a whirl, as if at the
approach of some great danger; so, after waiting for a few seconds, he
went on: "You see, a farm without a mistress can never succeed, even with
a servant like you." Then he stopped, for he did not know what else to
say, and Rose looked at him with the air of a person who thinks that he
is face to face with a murderer and ready to flee at the slightest
movement he may make; but, after waiting for about five minutes, he asked
her: "Well, will it suit you?" "Will what suit me, master?" And he said
quickly: "Why, to marry me, by Heaven!"
She jumped up, but fell back on her chair, as if she had been struck, and
there she remained motionless, like a person who is overwhelmed by some
great misfortune. At last the farmer grew impatient and said: "Come,
what more do you want?" She looked at him, almost in terror, then
suddenly the tears came into her eves and she said twice in a choking
voice: "I cannot, I cannot!" "Why not?" he asked. "Come, don't be
silly; I will give you until tomorrow to think it over."
And he hurried out of the room, very glad to have got through with the
matter, which had troubled him a good deal, for he had no doubt that she
would the next morning accept a proposal which she could never have
expected and which would be a capital bargain for him, as he thus bound a
woman to his interests who would certainly bring him more than if she had
the best dowry in the district.
Neither could there be any scruples about an unequal match between them,
for in the country every one is very nearly equal; the farmer works with
his laborers, who frequently become masters in their turn, and the female
servants constantly become the mistresses of the establishments without
its making any change in their life or habits.
Rose did not go to bed that night. She threw herself, dressed as she
was, on her bed, and she had not even the strength to cry left in her,
she was so thoroughly dumfounded. She remained quite inert, scarcely
knowing that she had a body, and without being at all able to collect her
thoughts, though, at moments, she remembered something of what had
happened, and then she was frightened at the idea of what might happen.
Her terror increased, and every time the great kitchen clock struck the
hour she broke out in a perspiration from grief. She became bewildered,
and had the nightmare; her candle went out, and then she began to imagine
that some one bad cast a spell over her, as country people so often
imagine, and she felt a mad inclination to run away, to escape and to
flee before her misfortune, like a ship scudding before the wind.
An owl hooted; she shivered, sat up, passed her hands over her face, her
hair, and all over her body, and then she went downstairs, as if she were
walking in her sleep. When she got into the yard she stooped down, so as
not to be seen by any prowling scamp, for the moon, which was setting,
shed a bright light over the fields. Instead of opening the gate she
scrambled over the fence, and as soon as she was outside she started off.
She went on straight before her, with a quick, springy trot, and from
time to time she unconsciously uttered a piercing cry. Her long shadow
accompanied her, and now and then some night bird flew over her head,
while the dogs in the farmyards barked as they heard her pass; one even
jumped over the ditch, and followed her and tried to bite her, but she
turned round and gave such a terrible yell that the frightened animal ran
back and cowered in silence in its kennel.
The stars grew dim, and the birds began to twitter; day was breaking.
The girl was worn out and panting; and when the sun rose in the purple
sky, she stopped, for her swollen feet refused to go any farther; but she
saw a pond in the distance, a large pond whose stagnant water looked like
blood under the reflection of this new day, and she limped on slowly with
her hand on her heart, in order to dip both her feet in it. She sat down
on a tuft of grass, took off her heavy shoes, which were full of dust,
pulled off her stockings and plunged her legs into the still water, from
which bubbles were rising here and there.
A feeling of delicious coolness pervaded her from head to foot, and
suddenly, while she was looking fixedly at the deep pool, she was seized
with dizziness, and with a mad longing to throw herself into it. All her
sufferings would be over in there, over forever. She no longer thought
of her child; she only wanted peace, complete rest, and to sleep forever,
and she got up with raised arms and took two steps forward. She was in
the water up to her thighs, and she was just about to throw her self in
when sharp, pricking pains in her ankles made her jump back, and she
uttered a cry of despair, for, from her knees to the tips of her feet,
long black leeches were sucking her lifeblood, and were swelling as they
adhered to her flesh. She did not dare to touch them, and screamed with
horror, so that her cries of despair attracted a peasant, who was driving
along at some distance, to the spot. He pulled off the leeches one by
one, applied herbs to the wounds, and drove the girl to her master's farm
in his gig.
She was in bed for a fortnight, and as she was sitting outside the door
on the first morning that she got up, the farmer suddenly came and
planted himself before her. "Well," he said, "I suppose the affair is
settled isn't it?" She did not reply at first, and then, as he remained
standing and looking at her intently with his piercing eyes, she said
with difficulty: "No, master, I cannot." He immediately flew into a
"You cannot, girl; you cannot? I should just like to know the reason
why?" She began to cry, and repeated: "I cannot." He looked at her, and
then exclaimed angrily: "Then I suppose you have a lover?" "Perhaps that
is it," she replied, trembling with shame.
The man got as red as a poppy, and stammered out in a rage: "Ah! So you
confess it, you slut! And pray who is the fellow? Some penniless, half-
starved ragamuffin, without a roof to his head, I suppose? Who is it, I
say?" And as she gave him no answer, he continued: "Ah! So you will not
tell me. Then I will tell you; it is Jean Baudu?' "No, not he," she
exclaimed. "Then it is Pierre Martin?" "Oh! no, master."
And he angrily mentioned all the young fellows in the neighborhood, while
she denied that he had hit upon the right one, and every moment wiped her
eyes with the corner of her blue apron. But he still tried to find it
out, with his brutish obstinacy, and, as it were, scratching at her heart
to discover her secret, just as a terrier scratches at a hole to try and
get at the animal which he scents inside it. Suddenly, however, the man
shouted: "By George! It is Jacques, the man who was here last year.
They used to say that you were always talking together, and that you
thought about getting married."
Rose was choking, and she grew scarlet, while her tears suddenly stopped
and dried up on her cheeks, like drops of water on hot iron, and she
exclaimed: "No, it is not he, it is not he!" "Is that really a fact?"
asked the cunning peasant, who partly guessed the truth; and she replied,
hastily: "I will swear it; I will swear it to you--" She tried to think
of something by which to swear, as she did not venture to invoke sacred
things, but he interrupted her: "At any rate, he used to follow you into
every corner and devoured you with his eyes at meal times. Did you ever
give him your promise, eh?"
This time she looked her master straight in the face. "No, never, never;
I will solemnly swear to you that if he were to come to-day and ask me to
marry him I would have nothing to do with him." She spoke with such an
air of sincerity that the farmer hesitated, and then he continued, as if
speaking to himself:. "What, then? You have not had a misfortune, as
they call it, or it would have been known, and as it has no consequences,
no girl would refuse her master on that account. There must be something
at the bottom of it, however."
She could say nothing; she had not the strength to speak, and he asked
her again: "You will not?" "I cannot, master," she said, with a sigh,
and he turned on his heel.
She thought she had got rid of him altogether and spent the rest of the
day almost tranquilly, but was as exhausted as if she had been turning
the thrashing machine all day in the place of the old white horse, and
she went to bed as soon as she could and fell asleep immediately. In the
middle of the night, however, two hands touching the bed woke her. She .
trembled with fear, but immediately recognized the farmer's voice, when
he said to her: "Don't be frightened, Rose; I have come to speak to you."
She was surprised at first, but when he tried to take liberties with her
she understood and began to tremble violently, as she felt quite alone in
the darkness, still heavy from sleep, and quite unprotected, with that
man standing near her. She certainly did not consent, but she resisted
carelessly struggling against that instinct which is always strong in
simple natures and very imperfectly protected by the undecided will of
inert and gentle races. She turned her head now to the wall, and now
toward the room, in order to avoid the attentions which the farmer tried
to press on her, but she was weakened by fatigue, while he became brutal,
intoxicated by desire.
They lived together as man and wife, and one morning he said to her: "I
have put up our banns, and we will get married next month."
She did not reply, for what could she say? She did not resist, for what
could she do?
She married him. She felt as if she were in a pit with inaccessible
sides from which she could never get out, and all kinds of misfortunes
were hanging over her head, like huge rocks, which would fall on the
first occasion. Her husband gave her the impression of a man whom she
had robbed, and who would find it out some day or other. And then she
thought of her child, who was the cause of her misfortunes, but who was
also the cause of all her happiness on earth, and whom she went to see
twice a year, though she came back more unhappy each time.
But she gradually grew accustomed to her life, her fears were allayed,
her heart was at rest, and she lived with an easier mind, though still
with some vague fear floating in it. And so years went on, until the
child was six. She was almost happy now, when suddenly the farmer's
temper grew very bad.
For two or three years he seemed to have been nursing some secret
anxiety, to be troubled by some care, some mental disturbance, which was
gradually increasing. He remained sitting at table after dinner, with
his head in his hands, sad and devoured by sorrow. He always spoke
hastily, sometimes even brutally, and it even seemed as if he had a
grudge against his wife, for at times he answered her roughly, almost
One day, when a neighbor's boy came for some eggs, and she spoke rather
crossly to him, as she was very busy, her husband suddenly came in and
said to her in his unpleasant voice: "If that were your own child you
would not treat him so." She was hurt and did not reply, and then she
went back into the house, with all her grief awakened afresh; and at
dinner the farmer neither spoke to her nor looked at her, and he seemed
to hate her, to despise her, to know something about the affair at last.
In consequence she lost her composure, and did not venture to remain
alone with him after the meal was over, but left the room and hastened to
It was getting dusk; the narrow nave was in total darkness, but she heard
footsteps in the choir, for the sacristan was preparing the tabernacle
lamp for the night. That spot of trembling light, which was lost in the
darkness of the. arches, looked to Rose like her last hope, and with her
eyes fixed on it, she fell on her knees. The chain rattled as the little
lamp swung up into the air, and almost immediately the small bell rang
out the Angelus through the increasing mist. She went up to him, as he
was going out.
"Is Monsieur le Cure at home?" she asked. "Of course he is; this is his
dinnertime." She trembled as she rang the bell of the parsonage. The
priest was just sitting down to dinner, and he made her sit down also.
"Yes, yes, I know all about it; your husband has mentioned the matter to
me that brings you here." The poor woman nearly fainted, and the priest
continued: "What do you want, my child?" And he hastily swallowed
several spoonfuls of soup, some of which dropped on to his greasy
cassock. But Rose did not venture to say anything more, and she got up
to go, but the priest said: "Courage."
And she went out and returned to the farm without knowing what she was
doing. The farmer was waiting for her, as the laborers had gone away
during her absence, and she fell heavily at his feet, and, shedding a
flood of tears, she said to him: "What have you got against me?"
He began to shout and to swear: "What have I got against you? That I
have no children, by ---. When a man takes a wife it is not that they
may live alone together to the end of their days. That is what I have
against you. When a cow has no calves she is not worth anything, and
when a woman has no children she is also not worth anything."
She began to cry, and said: "It is not my fault! It is not my fault!"
He grew rather more gentle when he heard that, and added: "I do not say
that it is, but it is very provoking, all the same."
From that day forward she had only one thought: to have a child another
child; she confided her wish to everybody, and, in consequence of this, a
neighbor told her of an infallible method. This was, to make her husband
drink a glass of water with a pinch of ashes in it every evening. The
farmer consented to try it, but without success; so they said to each
other: "Perhaps there are some secret ways?" And they tried to find out.
They were told of a shepherd who lived ten leagues off, and so Vallin one
day drove off to consult him. The shepherd gave him a loaf on which he
had made some marks; it was kneaded up with herbs, and each of them was
to eat a piece of it, but they ate the whole loaf without obtaining any
results from it.
Next, a schoolmaster unveiled mysteries and processes of love which were
unknown in the country, but infallible, so he declared; but none of them
had the desired effect. Then the priest advised them to make a
pilgrimage to the shrine at Fecamp. Rose went with the crowd and
prostrated herself in the abbey, and, mingling her prayers with the
coarse desires of the peasants around her, she prayed that she might be
fruitful a second time; but it was in vain, and then she thought that she
was being punished for her first fault, and she was seized by terrible
grief. She was wasting away with sorrow; her husband was also aging
prematurely, and was wearing himself out in useless hopes.
Then war broke out between them; he called her names and beat her. They
quarrelled all day long, and when they were in their room together at
night he flung insults and obscenities at her, choking with rage, until
one night, not being able to think of any means of making her suffer more
he ordered her to get up and go and stand out of doors in the rain until
daylight. As she did not obey him, he seized her by the neck and began
to strike her in the face with his fists, but she said nothing and did
not move. In his exasperation he knelt on her stomach, and with clenched
teeth, and mad with rage, he began to beat her. Then in her despair she
rebelled, and flinging him against the wall with a furious gesture, she
sat up, and in an altered voice she hissed: "I have had a child, I have
had one! I had it by Jacques; you know Jacques. He promised to marry
me, but he left this neighborhood without keeping his word."
The man was thunderstruck and could hardly speak, but at last he
stammered out: "What are you saying? What are you saying?" Then she
began to sob, and amid her tears she continued: "That was the reason why
I did not want to marry you. I could not tell you, for you would have
left me without any bread for my child. You have never had any children,
so you cannot understand, you cannot understand!"
He said again, mechanically, with increasing surprise: "You have a child?
You have a child?"
"You took me by force, as I suppose you know? I did not want to marry
you," she said, still sobbing.
Then he got up, lit the candle, and began to walk up and down, with his
arms behind him. She was cowering on the bed and crying, and suddenly he
stopped in front of her, and said: "Then it is my fault that you have no
children?" She gave him no answer, and he began to walk up and down
again, and then, stopping again, he continued: "How old is your child?"
"Just six," she whispered. "Why did you not tell me about it?" he asked.
"How could I?" she replied, with a sigh.
He remained standing, motionless. "Come, get up," he said. She got up
with some difficulty, and then, when she was standing on the floor, he
suddenly began to laugh with the hearty laugh of his good days, and,
seeing how surprised she was, he added: "Very well, we will go and fetch
the child, as you and I can have none together."
She was so scared that if she had had the strength she would assuredly
have run away, but the farmer rubbed his hands and said: "I wanted to
adopt one, and now we have found one. I asked the cure about an orphan
some time ago."
Then, still laughing, he kissed his weeping and agitated wife on both
cheeks, and shouted out, as though she could not hear him: "Come along,
mother, we will go and see whether there is any soup left; I should not
mind a plateful."
She put on her petticoat and they went downstairs; and While she was
kneeling in front of the fireplace and lighting the fire under the
saucepan, he continued to walk up and down the kitchen with long strides,
"Well, I am really glad of this; I am not saying it for form's sake, but
I am glad, I am really very glad."
It was yesterday, the 31st of December.
I had just finished breakfast with my old friend Georges Garin when the
servant handed him a letter covered with seals and foreign stamps.
"Will you excuse me?"
And so he began to read the letter, which was written in a large English
handwriting, crossed and recrossed in every direction. He read them
slowly, with serious attention and the interest which we only pay to
things which touch our hearts.
Then he put the letter on the mantelpiece and said:
"That was a curious story! I've never told you about it, I think. Yet
it was a sentimental adventure, and it really happened to me. That was a
strange New Year's Day, indeed! It must have been twenty years ago, for
I was then thirty and am now fifty years old.
"I was then an inspector in the Maritime Insurance Company, of which I am
now director. I had arranged to pass New Year's Day in Paris--since it
is customary to make that day a fete--when I received a letter from the
manager, asking me to proceed at once to the island of Re, where a three-
masted vessel from Saint-Nazaire, insured by us, had just been driven
ashore. It was then eight o'clock in the morning. I arrived at the
office at ten to get my advices, and that evening I took the express,
which put me down in La Rochelle the next day, the 31st of December.
"I had two hours to wait before going aboard the boat for Re. So I made
a tour of the town. It is certainly a queer city, La Rochelle, with
strong characteristics of its own streets tangled like a labyrinth,
sidewalks running under endless arcaded galleries like those of the Rue
de Rivoli, but low, mysterious, built as if to form a suitable setting
for conspirators and making a striking background for those old-time
wars, the savage heroic wars of religion. It is indeed the typical old
Huguenot city, conservative, discreet, with no fine art to show, with no
wonderful monuments, such as make Rouen; but it is remarkable for its
severe, somewhat sullen look; it is a city of obstinate fighters, a city
where fanaticism might well blossom, where the faith of the Calvinists
became enthusiastic and which gave birth to the plot of the 'Four
"After I had wandered for some time about these curious streets, I went
aboard the black, rotund little steamboat which was to take me to the
island of Re. It was called the Jean Guiton. It started with angry
puffings, passed between the two old towers which guard the harbor,
crossed the roadstead and issued from the mole built by Richelieu, the
great stones of which can be seen at the water's edge, enclosing the town
like a great necklace. Then the steamboat turned to the right.
"It was one of those sad days which give one the blues, tighten the heart
and take away all strength and energy and force-a gray, cold day, with a
heavy mist which was as wet as rain, as cold as frost, as bad to breathe
as the steam of a wash-tub.
"Under this low sky of dismal fog the shallow, yellow, sandy sea of all
practically level beaches lay without a wrinkle, without a movement,
without life, a sea of turbid water, of greasy water, of stagnant water.
The Jean Guiton passed over it, rolling a little from habit, dividing the
smooth, dark blue water and leaving behind a few waves, a little
splashing, a slight swell, which soon calmed down.
"I began to talk to the captain, a little man with small feet, as round
as his boat and rolling in the same manner. I wanted some details of the
disaster on which I was to draw up a report. A great square-rigged
three-master, the Marie Joseph, of Saint-Nazaire, had gone ashore one
night in a hurricane on the sands of the island of Re.
"The owner wrote us that the storm had thrown the ship so far ashore that
it was impossible to float her and that they had to remove everything
which could be detached with the utmost possible haste. Nevertheless I
must examine the situation of the wreck, estimate what must have been her
condition before the disaster and decide whether all efforts had been
used to get her afloat. I came as an agent of the company in order to
give contradictory testimony, if necessary, at the trial.
"On receipt of my report, the manager would take what measures he might
think necessary to protect our interests.
"The captain of the Jean Guiton knew all about the affair, having been
summoned with his boat to assist in the attempts at salvage.
"He told me the story of the disaster. The Marie Joseph, driven by a
furious gale lost her bearings completely in the night, and steering by
chance over a heavy foaming sea--'a milk-soup sea,' said the captain--had
gone ashore on those immense sand banks which make the coasts of this
country look like limitless Saharas when the tide is low.
"While talking I looked around and ahead. Between the ocean and the
lowering sky lay an open space where the eye could see into the distance.
We were following a coast. I asked:
"'Is that the island of Re?'
"And suddenly the captain stretched his right hand out before us, pointed
to something almost imperceptible in the open sea, and said:
"'There's your ship!'
"'The Marie Joseph!'
"I was amazed. This black, almost imperceptible speck, which looked to
me like a rock, seemed at least three miles from land.
"'But, captain, there must be a hundred fathoms of water in that place.'
"He began to laugh.
"'A hundred fathoms, my child! Well, I should say about two!'
"He was from Bordeaux. He continued:
"'It's now nine-forty, just high tide. Go down along the beach with your
hands in your pockets after you've had lunch at the Hotel du Dauphin, and
I'll wager that at ten minutes to three, or three o'clock, you'll reach
the wreck without wetting your feet, and have from an hour and three-
quarters to two hours aboard of her; but not more, or you'll be caught.
The faster the sea goes out the faster it comes back. This coast is as
flat as a turtle! But start away at ten minutes to five, as I tell you,
and at half-past seven you will be again aboard of the Jean Guiton, which
will put you down this same evening on the quay at La Rochelle.'
"I thanked the captain and I went and sat down in the bow of the steamer
to get a good look at the little city of Saint-Martin, which we were now
"It was just like all small seaports which serve as capitals of the
barren islands scattered along the coast--a large fishing village, one
foot on sea and one on shore, subsisting on fish and wild fowl,
vegetables and shell-fish, radishes and mussels. The island is very low
and little cultivated, yet it seems to be thickly populated. However, I
did not penetrate into the interior.
"After breakfast I climbed across a little promontory, and then, as the
tide was rapidly falling, I started out across the sands toward a kind of
black rock which I could just perceive above the surface of the water,
out a considerable distance.
"I walked quickly over the yellow plain. It was elastic, like flesh and
seemed to sweat beneath my tread. The sea had been there very lately.
Now I perceived it at a distance, escaping out of sight, and I no longer
could distinguish the line which separated the sands from ocean. I felt
as though I were looking at a gigantic supernatural work of enchantment.
The Atlantic had just now been before me, then it had disappeared into
the sands, just as scenery disappears through a trap; and I was now
walking in the midst of a desert. Only the feeling, the breath of the
salt-water, remained in me. I perceived the smell of the wrack, the
smell of the sea, the good strong smell of sea coasts. I walked fast; I
was no longer cold. I looked at the stranded wreck, which grew in size
as I approached, and came now to resemble an enormous shipwrecked whale.
"It seemed fairly to rise out of the ground, and on that great, flat,
yellow stretch of sand assumed wonderful proportions. After an hour's
walk I at last reached it. It lay upon its side, ruined and shattered,
its broken bones showing as though it were an animal, its bones of tarred
wood pierced with great bolts. The sand had already invaded it, entering
it by all the crannies, and held it and refused to let it go. It seemed
to have taken root in it. The bow had entered deep into this soft,
treacherous beach, while the stern, high in air, seemed to cast at
heaven, like a cry of despairing appeal, the two white words on the black
planking, Marie Joseph.
"I climbed upon this carcass of a ship by the lowest side; then, having
reached the deck, I went below. The daylight, which entered by the
stove-in hatches and the cracks in the sides, showed me dimly long dark
cavities full of demolished woodwork. They contained nothing but sand,
which served as foot-soil in this cavern of planks.
"I began to take some notes about the condition of the ship. I was
seated on a broken empty cask, writing by the light of a great crack,
through which I could perceive the boundless stretch of the strand.
A strange shivering of cold and loneliness ran over my skin from time to
time, and I would often stop writing for a moment to listen to the
mysterious noises in the derelict: the noise of crabs scratching the
planking with their crooked claws; the noise of a thousand little
creatures of the sea already crawling over this dead body or else boring
into the wood.
"Suddenly, very near me, I heard human voices. I started as though I had
seen a ghost. For a second I really thought I was about to see drowned
men rise from the sinister depths of the hold, who would tell me about
their death. At any rate, it did not take me long to swing myself on
deck. There, standing by the bows, was a tall Englishman with three
young misses. Certainly they were a good deal more frightened at seeing
this sudden apparition on the abandoned three-master than I was at seeing
them. The youngest girl turned and ran, the two others threw their arms
round their father. As for him, he opened his mouth--that was the only
sign of emotion which he showed.
"Then, after several seconds, he spoke:
"'Mosieu, are you the owner of this ship.?'
"'May I go over it?'
"Then he uttered a long sentence in English, in which I only
distinguished the word 'gracious,' repeated several times.
"As he was looking for a place to climb up I showed him the easiest way,
and gave him a hand. He climbed up. Then we helped up the three girls,
who had now quite recovered their composure. They were charming,
especially the oldest, a blonde of eighteen, fresh as a flower, and very
dainty and pretty! Ah, yes! the pretty Englishwomen have indeed the
look of tender sea fruit. One would have said of this one that she had
just risen out of the sands and that her hair had kept their tint. They
all, with their exquisite freshness, make you think of the delicate
colors of pink sea-shells and of shining pearls hidden in the unknown
depths of the ocean.
"She spoke French a little better than her father and acted as
interpreter. I had to tell all about the shipwreck, and I romanced as
though I had been present at the catastrophe. Then the whole family
descended into the interior of the wreck. As soon as they had penetrated
into this sombre, dimly lit cavity they uttered cries of astonishment and
admiration. Suddenly the father and his three daughters were holding
sketch-books in their hands, which they had doubtless carried hidden
somewhere in their heavy weather-proof clothes, and were all beginning at
once to make pencil sketches of this melancholy and weird place.
"They had seated themselves side by side on a projecting beam, and the
four sketch-books on the eight knees were being rapidly covered with
little black lines which were intended to represent the half-opened hulk
of the Marie Joseph.
"I continued to inspect the skeleton of the ship, and the oldest girl
talked to me while she worked.
"They had none of the usual English arrogance; they were simple honest
hearts of that class of continuous travellers with which England covers
the globe. The father was long and thin, with a red face framed in white
whiskers, and looking like a living sandwich, a piece of ham carved like
a face between two wads of hair. The daughters, who had long legs like
young storks, were also thin-except the oldest. All three were pretty,
especially the tallest.
"She had such a droll way of speaking, of laughing, of understanding and
of not understanding, of raising her eyes to ask a question (eyes blue as
the deep ocean), of stopping her drawing a moment to make a guess at what
you meant, of returning once more to work, of saying 'yes' or 'no'--that
I could have listened and looked indefinitely.
"Suddenly she murmured:
"'I hear a little sound on this boat.'
"I listened and I immediately distinguished a low, steady, curious sound.
I rose and looked out of the crack and gave a scream. The sea had come
up to us; it would soon surround us!
"We were on deck in an instant. It was too late. The water circled us
about and was running toward the coast at tremendous speed. No, it did
not run, it glided, crept, spread like an immense, limitless blot. The
water was barely a few centimeters deep, but the rising flood had gone so
far that we no longer saw the vanishing line of the imperceptible tide.
"The Englishman wanted to jump. I held him back. Flight was impossible
because of the deep places which we had been obliged to go round on our
way out and into which we should fall on our return.
"There was a minute of horrible anguish in our hearts. Then the little
English girl began to smile and murmured:
"'It is we who are shipwrecked.'
"I tried to laugh, but fear held me, a fear which was cowardly and horrid
and base and treacherous like the tide. All the danger which we ran
appeared to me at once. I wanted to shriek: 'Help!' But to whom?
"The two younger girls were clinging to their father, who looked in
consternation at the measureless sea which hedged us round about.
"The night fell as swiftly as the ocean rose--a lowering, wet, icy night.
"'There's nothing to do but to stay on the ship:
"The Englishman answered:
"And we waited there a quarter of an hour, half an hour, indeed I don't
know how long, watching that creeping water growing deeper as it swirled
around us, as though it were playing on the beach, which it had regained.
"One of the young girls was cold, and we went below to shelter ourselves
from the light but freezing wind that made our skins tingle.
"I leaned over the hatchway. The ship was full of water. So we had to
cower against the stern planking, which shielded us a little.
"Darkness was now coming on, and we remained huddled together. I felt
the shoulder of the little English girl trembling against mine, her teeth
chattering from time to time. But I also felt the gentle warmth of her
body through her ulster, and that warmth was as delicious to me as a
kiss. We no longer spoke; we sat motionless, mute, cowering down like
animals in a ditch when a hurricane is raging. And, nevertheless,
despite the night, despite the terrible and increasing danger, I began to
feel happy that I was there, glad of the cold and the peril, glad of the
long hours of darkness and anguish that I must pass on this plank so near
this dainty, pretty little girl.
"I asked myself, 'Why this strange sensation of well-being and of joy?'
"Why! Does one know? Because she was there? Who? She, a little
unknown English girl? I did not love her, I did not even know her. And
for all that, I was touched and conquered. I wanted to save her, to
sacrifice myself for her, to commit a thousand follies! Strange thing!
How does it happen that the presence of a woman overwhelms us so? Is it
the power of her grace which enfolds us? Is it the seduction of her
beauty and youth, which intoxicates one like wine?
"Is it not rather the touch of Love, of Love the Mysterious, who seeks
constantly to unite two beings, who tries his strength the instant he has
put a man and a woman face to face?
"The silence of the darkness became terrible, the stillness of the sky
dreadful, because we could hear vaguely about us a slight, continuous
sound, the sound of the rising tide and the monotonous plashing of the
water against the ship.
"Suddenly I heard the sound of sobs. The youngest of the girls was
crying. Her father tried to console her, and they began to talk in their
own tongue, which I did not understand. I guessed that he was reassuring
her and that she was still afraid.
"I asked my neighbor:
"'You are not too cold, are you, mademoiselle?'
"'Oh, yes. I am very cold.'
"I offered to give her my cloak; she refused it.
But I had taken it off and I covered her with it against her will. In
the short struggle her hand touched mine. It made a delicious thrill run
through my body.
"For some minutes the air had been growing brisker, the dashing of the
water stronger against the flanks of the ship. I raised myself; a great
gust of wind blew in my face. The wind was rising!
"The Englishman perceived this at the same time that I did and said
"'This is bad for us, this----'
"Of course it was bad, it was certain death if any breakers, however
feeble, should attack and shake the wreck, which was already so shattered
and disconnected that the first big sea would carry it off.
"So our anguish increased momentarily as the squalls grew stronger and
stronger. Now the sea broke a little, and I saw in the darkness white
lines appearing and disappearing, lines of foam, while each wave struck
the Marie Joseph and shook her with a short quiver which went to our
"The English girl was trembling. I felt her shiver against me. And I
had a wild desire to take her in my arms.
"Down there, before and behind us, to the left and right, lighthouses
were shining along the shore--lighthouses white, yellow and red,
revolving like the enormous eyes of giants who were watching us, waiting
eagerly for us to disappear. One of them in especial irritated me. It
went out every thirty seconds and it lit up again immediately. It was
indeed an eye, that one, with its lid incessantly lowered over its fiery
"From time to time the Englishman struck a match to see the hour; then he
put his watch back in his pocket. Suddenly he said to me, over the heads
of his daughters, with tremendous gravity:
"'I wish you a happy New Year, Mosieu.'
"It was midnight. I held out my hand, which he pressed. Then he said
something in English, and suddenly he and his daughters began to sing
'God Save the Queen,' which rose through the black and silent air and
vanished into space.
"At first I felt a desire to laugh; then I was seized by a powerful,
"It was something sinister and superb, this chant of the shipwrecked, the
condemned, something like a prayer and also like something grander,
something comparable to the ancient 'Ave Caesar morituri te salutant.'
"When they had finished I asked my neighbor to sing a ballad alone,
anything she liked, to make us forget our terrors. She consented, and
immediately her clear young voice rang out into the night. She sang
something which was doubtless sad, because the notes were long drawn out
and hovered, like wounded birds, above the waves.
"The sea was rising now and beating upon our wreck. As for me, I thought
only of that voice. And I thought also of the sirens. If a ship had
passed near by us what would the sailors have said? My troubled spirit
lost itself in the dream! A siren! Was she not really a siren, this
daughter of the sea, who had kept me on this worm-eaten ship and who was
soon about to go down with me deep into the waters?
"But suddenly we were all five rolling on the deck, because the Marie
Joseph had sunk on her right side. The English girl had fallen upon me,
and before I knew what I was doing, thinking that my last moment was
come, I had caught her in my arms and kissed her cheek, her temple and
"The ship did not move again, and we, we also, remained motionless.
"The father said, 'Kate!' The one whom I was holding answered 'Yes' and
made a movement to free herself. And at that moment I should have wished
the ship to split in two and let me fall with her into the sea.
"The Englishman continued:
"'A little rocking; it's nothing. I have my three daughters safe.'
"Not having seen the oldest, he had thought she was lost overboard!
"I rose slowly, and suddenly I made out a light on the sea quite close to
us. I shouted; they answered. It was a boat sent out in search of us by
the hotelkeeper, who had guessed at our imprudence.
"We were saved. I was in despair. They picked us up off our raft and
they brought us back to Saint-Martin.
"The Englishman began to rub his hand and murmur:
"'A good supper! A good supper!'
"We did sup. I was not gay. I regretted the Marie Joseph.
"We had to separate the next day after much handshaking and many promises
to write. They departed for Biarritz. I wanted to follow them.
"I was hard hit. I wanted to ask this little girl to marry me. If we
had passed eight days together, I should have done so! How weak and
incomprehensible a man sometimes is!
"Two years passed without my hearing a word from them. Then I received a
letter from New York. She was married and wrote to tell me. And since
then we write to each other every year, on New Year's Day. She tells me
about her life, talks of her children, her sisters, never of her husband!
Why? Ah! why? And as for me, I only talk of the Marie Joseph. That was
perhaps the only woman I have ever loved--no--that I ever should have
loved. Ah, well! who can tell? Circumstances rule one. And then--and
then--all passes. She must be old now; I should not know her. Ah! she
of the bygone time, she of the wreck! What a creature! Divine! She
writes me her hair is white. That caused me terrible pain. Ah! her
yellow hair. No, my English girl exists no longer. How sad it all is!"
THEODULE SABOT'S CONFESSION
When Sabot entered the inn at Martinville it was a signal for laughter.
What a rogue he was, this Sabot! There was a man who did not like
priests, for instance! Oh, no, oh, no! He did not spare them, the
Sabot (Theodule), a master carpenter, represented liberal thought in
Martinville. He was a tall, thin, than, with gray, cunning eyes, and
thin lips, and wore his hair plastered down on his temples. When he
said: "Our holy father, the pope" in a certain manner, everyone laughed.
He made a point of working on Sunday during the hour of mass. He killed
his pig each year on Monday in Holy Week in order to have enough black
pudding to last till Easter, and when the priest passed by, he always
said by way of a joke: "There goes one who has just swallowed his God off
The priest, a stout man and also very tall, dreaded him on account of his
boastful talk which attracted followers. The Abbe Maritime was a politic
man, and believed in being diplomatic. There had been a rivalry between
them for ten years, a secret, intense, incessant rivalry. Sabot was
municipal councillor, and they thought he would become mayor, which would
inevitably mean the final overthrow of the church.
The elections were about to take place. The church party was shaking in
its shoes in Martinville.
One morning the cure set out for Rouen, telling his servant that he was
going to see the archbishop. He returned in two days with a joyous,
triumphant air. And everyone knew the following day that the chancel of
the church was going to be renovated. A sum of six hundred francs had
been contributed by the archbishop out of his private fund. All the old
pine pews were to be removed, and replaced by new pews made of oak. It
would be a big carpentering job, and they talked about it that very
evening in all the houses in the village.
Theodule Sabot was not laughing.
When he went through the village the following morning, the neighbors,
friends and enemies, all asked him, jokingly:
"Are you going to do the work on the chancel of the church?"
He could find nothing to say, but he was furious, he was good and angry.
Ill-natured people added:
"It is a good piece of work; and will bring in not less than two or three
per cent. profit."
Two days later, they heard that the work of renovation had been entrusted
to Celestin Chambrelan, the carpenter from Percheville. Then this was
denied, and it was said that all the pews in the church were going to be
changed. That would be well worth the two thousand francs that had been
demanded of the church administration.
Theodule Sabot could not sleep for thinking about it. Never, in all the
memory of man, had a country carpenter undertaken a similar piece of
work. Then a rumor spread abroad that the cure felt very grieved that he
had to give this work to a carpenter who was a stranger in the community,
but that Sabot's opinions were a barrier to his being entrusted with the
Sabot knew it well. He called at the parsonage just as it was growing
dark. The servant told him that the cure was at church. He went to the
Two attendants on the altar of the Virgin, two soar old maids, were
decorating the altar for the month of Mary, under the direction of the
priest, who stood in the middle of the chancel with his portly paunch,
directing the two women who, mounted on chairs, were placing flowers
around the tabernacle.
Sabot felt ill at ease in there, as though he were in the house of his
greatest enemy, but the greed of gain was gnawing at his heart. He drew
nearer, holding his cap in his hand, and not paying any attention to the
"demoiselles de la Vierge," who remained standing startled, astonished,
motionless on their chairs.
"Good morning, monsieur le cure."
The priest replied without looking at him, all occupied as he was with
"Good morning, Mr. Carpenter.'
Sabot, nonplussed, knew not what to say next. But after a pause he
"You are making preparations?"
Abbe Maritime replied:
"Yes, we are near the month of Mary."
"Why, why," remarked Sabot and then was silent. He would have liked to
retire now without saying anything, but a glance at the chancel held him
back. He saw sixteen seats that had to be remade, six to the right and
eight to the left, the door of the sacristy occupying the place of two.
Sixteen oak seats, that would be worth at most three hundred francs, and
by figuring carefully one might certainly make two hundred francs on the
work if one were not clumsy.
Then he stammered out:
"I have come about the work."
The cure appeared surprised. He asked:
"The work to be done," murmured Sabot, in dismay.
Then the priest turned round and looking him straight in the eyes, said:
"Do you mean the repairs in the chancel of my church?"
At the tone of the abbe, Theodule Sabot felt a chill run down his back
and he once more had a longing to take to his heels. However, he replied
"Why, yes, monsieur le cure."
Then the abbe folded his arms across his large stomach and, as if filled
with amazement, said:
"Is it you--you--you, Sabot--who have come to ask me for this . . .
You--the only irreligious man in my parish! Why, it would be a scandal,
a public scandal! The archbishop would give me a reprimand, perhaps
He stopped a few seconds, for breath, and then resumed in a calmer tone:
"I can understand that it pains you to see a work of such importance
entrusted to a carpenter from a neighboring parish. But I cannot do
otherwise, unless--but no--it is impossible--you would not consent, and
unless you did, never."
Sabot now looked at the row of benches in line as far as the entrance
door. Christopher, if they were going to change all those!
And he asked:
"What would you require of me? Tell me."
The priest, in a firm tone replied:
"I must have an extraordinary token of your good intentions."
"I do not say--I do not say; perhaps we might come to an understanding,"
"You will have to take communion publicly at high mass next Sunday,"
declared the cure.
The carpenter felt he was growing pale, and without replying, he asked:
"And the benches, are they going to be renovated?"
The abbe replied with confidence:
"Yes, but later on."
"I do not say, I do not say. I am not calling it off, I am consenting to
religion, for sure. But what rubs me the wrong way is, putting it in
practice; but in this case I will not be refractory."
The attendants of the Virgin, having got off their chairs had concealed
themselves behind the altar; and they listened pale with emotion.
The cure, seeing he had gained the victory, became all at once very
friendly, quite familiar.
"That is good, that is good. That was wisely said, and not stupid, you
understand. You will see, you will see."
Sabot smiled and asked with an awkward air:
"Would it not be possible to put off this communion just a trifle?"
But the priest replied, resuming his severe expression:
"From the moment that the work is put into your hands, I want to be
assured of your conversion."
Then he continued more gently:
"You will come to confession to-morrow; for I must examine you at least
"Twice?" repeated Sabot.
The priest smiled.
"You understand perfectly that you must have a general cleaning up,
a thorough cleansing. So I will expect you to-morrow."
The carpenter, much agitated, asked:
"Where do you do that?"
"Why--in the confessional."
"In--that box, over there in the corner? The fact is--is--that it does
not suit me, your box."
"How is that?"
"Seeing that--seeing that I am not accustomed to that, and also I am
rather hard of hearing."
The cure was very affable and said.:
"Well, then! you shall come to my house and into my parlor. We will
have it just the two of us, tete-a-tete. Does that suit you?"
"Yes, that is all right, that will suit me, but your box, no."
"Well, then, to-morrow after the days work, at six o'clock."
"That is understood, that is all right, that is agreed on. To-morrow,
monsieur le cure. Whoever draws back is a skunk!"
And he held out his great rough hand which the priest grasped heartily
with a clap that resounded through the church.
Theodule Sabot was not easy in his mind all the following day. He had a
feeling analogous to the apprehension one experiences when a tooth has to
be drawn. The thought recurred to him at every moment: "I must go to
confession this evening." And his troubled mind, the mind of an atheist
only half convinced, was bewildered with a confused and overwhelming
dread of the divine mystery.
As soon as he had finished his work, he betook himself to the parsonage.
The cure was waiting for him in the garden, reading his breviary as he
walked along a little path. He appeared radiant and greeted him with a
"Well, here we are! Come in, come in, Monsieur Sabot, no one will eat
And Sabot preceded him into the house. He faltered:
"If you do not mind I should like to get through with this little matter
The cure replied:
"I am at your service. I have my surplice here. One minute and I will
listen to you."
The carpenter, so disturbed that he had not two ideas in his head,
watched him as he put on the white vestment with its pleated folds.
The priest beckoned to him and said:
"Kneel down on this cushion."
Sabot remained standing, ashamed of having to kneel. He stuttered:
"Is it necessary?"
But the abbe had become dignified.
"You cannot approach the penitent bench except on your knees."
And Sabot knelt down.
"Repeat the confiteor," said the priest.
"What is that?" asked Sabot.
"The confiteor. If you do not remember it, repeat after me, one by one,
the words I am going to say." And the cure repeated the sacred prayer,
in a slow tone, emphasizing the words which the carpenter repeated after
him. Then he said:
"Now make your confession."
But Sabot was silent, not knowing where to begin. The abbe then came to
"My child, I will ask you questions, since you don't seem familiar with
these things. We will take, one by one, the commandments of God. Listen
to me and do not be disturbed. Speak very frankly and never fear that
you may say too much.
"'One God alone, thou shalt adore,
And love him perfectly.'
Have you ever loved anything, or anybody, as well as you loved God? Have
you loved him with all your soul, all your heart, all the strength of
Sabot was perspiring with the effort of thinking. He replied:
"No. Oh, no, m'sieu le cure. I love God as much as I can. That is--
yes--I love him very much. To say that I do not love my children,
no--I cannot say that. To say that if I had to choose between them and
God, I could not be sure. To say that if I had to lose a hundred francs
for the love of God, I could not say about that. But I love him well,
for sure, I love him all the same." The priest said gravely "You must
love Him more than all besides." And Sabot, meaning well, declared "I
will do what I possibly can, m'sieu le cure." The abbe resumed:
"'God's name in vain thou shalt not take
Nor swear by any other thing.'
Did you ever swear?"
"No-oh, that, no! I never swear, never. Sometimes, in a moment of
anger, I may say sacre nom de Dieu! But then, I never swear."
"That is swearing," cried the priest, and added seriously:
"Do not do it again.
'Thy Sundays thou shalt keep
In serving God devoutly.'
What do you do on Sunday?"
This time Sabot scratched his ear.
"Why, I serve God as best I can, m'sieu le cure. I serve him--at home.
I work on Sunday."
The cure interrupted him, saying magnanimously:
"I know, you will do better in future. I will pass over the following
commandments, certain that you have not transgressed the two first. We
will take from the sixth to the ninth. I will resume:
"'Others' goods thou shalt not take
Nor keep what is not thine.'
Have you ever taken in any way what belonged to another?"
But Theodule Sabot became indignant.
"Of course not, of course not! I am an honest man, m'sieu le cure, I
swear it, for sure. To say that I have not sometimes charged for a few
more hours of work to customers who had means, I could not say that.
To say that I never add a few centimes to bills, only a few, I would not
say that. But to steal, no! Oh, not that, no!"
The priest resumed severely:
"To take one single centime constitutes a theft. Do not do it again.
'False witness thou shalt not bear,
Nor lie in any way.'
Have you ever told a lie?"
"No, as to that, no. I am not a liar. That is my quality. To say that
I have never told a big story, I would not like to say that. To say that
I have never made people believe things that were not true when it was to
my own interest, I would not like to say that. But as for lying, I am
not a liar."
The priest simply said:
"Watch yourself more closely." Then he continued:
"'The works of the flesh thou shalt not desire
Except in marriage only.'
Did you ever desire, or live with, any other woman than your wife?"
Sabot exclaimed with sincerity:
"As to that, no; oh, as to that, no, m'sieu le Cure. My poor wife,
deceive her! No, no! Not so much as the tip of a finger, either in
thought or in act. That is the truth."
They were silent a few seconds, then, in a lower tone, as though a doubt
had arisen in his mind, he resumed:
"When I go to town, to say that I never go into a house, you know, one of
the licensed houses, just to laugh and talk and see something different,
I could not say that. But I always pay, monsieur le cure, I always pay.
From the moment you pay, without anyone seeing or knowing you, no one can
get you into trouble."
The cure did not insist, and gave him absolution.
Theodule Sabot did the work on the chancel, and goes to communion every
THE WRONG HOUSE
Quartermaster Varajou had obtained a week's leave to go and visit his
sister, Madame Padoie. Varajou, who was in garrison at Rennes and was
leading a pretty gay life, finding himself high and dry, wrote to his
sister saying that he would devote a week to her. It was not that he
cared particularly for Mme. Padoie, a little moralist, a devotee, and
always cross; but he needed money, needed it very badly, and he
remembered that, of all his relations, the Padoies were the only ones
whom he had never approached on the subject.
Pere Varajou, formerly a horticulturist at Angers, but now retired from
business, had closed his purse strings to his scapegrace son and had
hardly seen him for two years. His daughter had married Padoie, a former
treasury clerk, who had just been appointed tax collector at Vannes.
Varajou, on leaving the train, had some one direct him to the house of
his brother-in-law, whom he found in his office arguing with the Breton
peasants of the neighborhood. Padoie rose from his seat, held out his
hand across the table littered with papers, murmured, "Take a chair. I
will be at liberty in a moment," sat down again and resumed his
The peasants did not understand his explanations, the collector did not
understand their line of argument. He spoke French, they spoke Breton,
and the clerk who acted as interpreter appeared not to understand either.
It lasted a long time, a very long lime. Varajou looked at his brother-
in-law and thought: "What a fool!" Padoie must have been almost fifty.
He was tall, thin, bony, slow, hairy, with heavy arched eyebrows. He
wore a velvet skull cap with a gold cord vandyke design round it. His
look was gentle, like his actions. His speech, his gestures, his
thoughts, all were soft. Varajou said to himself, "What a fool!"
He, himself, was one of those noisy roysterers for whom the greatest
pleasures in life are the cafe and abandoned women. He understood
nothing outside of these conditions of existence.
A boisterous braggart, filled with contempt for the rest of the world, he
despised the entire universe from the height of his ignorance. When he
said: "Nom d'un chien, what a spree!" he expressed the highest degree of
admiration of which his mind was capable.
Having finally got rid of his peasants, Padoie inquired:
"How are you?"
"Pretty well, as you see. And how are you?"
"Quite well, thank you. It is very kind of you to have thought of coming
to see us."
"Oh, I have been thinking of it for some time; but, you know, in the
military profession one has not much freedom."
"Oh, I know, I know. All the same, it is very kind of you."
"And Josephine, is she well?"
"Yes, yes, thank you; you will see her presently." "Where is she?"
"She is making some calls. We have a great many friends here; it is a
very nice town."
"I thought so."
The door opened and Mme. Padoie appeared. She went over to her brother
without any eagerness, held her cheek for him to kiss, and asked:
"Have you been here long?"
"No, hardly half an hour."
"Oh, I thought the train would be late. Will you come into the parlor?"
They went into the adjoining room, leaving Padoie to his accounts and his
taxpayers. As soon as they were alone, she said:
"I have heard nice things about you!"
"What have you heard?"
"It seems that you are behaving like a blackguard, getting drunk and
He appeared very much astonished.
"I! never in the world!"
"Oh, do not deny it, I know it."
He attempted to defend himself, but she gave him such a lecture that he
could say nothing more.
She then resumed:
"We dine at six o'clock, and you can amuse yourself until then. I cannot
entertain you, as I have so many things to do."
When he was alone he hesitated as to whether he should sleep or take a
walk. He looked first at the door leading to his room and then at the
hall door, and decided to go out. He sauntered slowly through the quiet
Breton town, so sleepy, so calm, so dead, on the shores of its inland bay
that is called "le Morbihan." He looked at the little gray houses, the
occasional pedestrians, the empty stores, and he murmured:
"Vannes is certainly not gay, not lively. It was a sad idea, my coming
He reached the harbor, the desolate harbor, walked back along a lonely,
deserted boulevard, and got home before five o'clock. Then he threw
himself on his bed to sleep till dinner time. The maid woke him,
knocking at the door.
"Dinner is ready, sir:"
He went downstairs. In the damp dining-room with the paper peeling from
the walls near the floor, he saw a soup tureen on a round table without
any table cloth, on which were also three melancholy soup-plates.
M. and Mme. Padoie entered the room at the same time as Varajou. They
all sat down to table, and the husband and wife crossed themselves over
the pit of their stomachs, after which Padoie helped the soup, a meat
soup. It was the day for pot-roast.
After the soup, they had the beef, which was done to rags, melted,
greasy, like pap. The officer ate slowly, with disgust, weariness and
Mme. Padoie said to her husband:
"Are you going to the judge's house this evening?"
"Do not stay late. You always get so tired when you go out. You are not
made for society, with your poor health."
She then talked about society in Vannes, of the excellent social circle
in which the Padoies moved, thanks to their religious sentiments.
A puree of potatoes and a dish of pork were next served, in honor of the
guest. Then some cheese, and that was all. No coffee.
When Varajou saw that he would have to spend the evening tete-a-tete with
his sister, endure her reproaches, listen to her sermons, without even a
glass of liqueur to help him to swallow these remonstrances, he felt that
he could not stand the torture, and declared that he was obliged to go to
the police station to have something attended to regarding his leave of
absence. And he made his escape at seven o'clock.
He had scarcely reached the street before he gave himself a shake like a
dog coming out of the water. He muttered:
"Heavens, heavens, heavens, what a galley slave's life!"
And he set out to look for a cafe, the best in the town. He found it on
a public square, behind two gas lamps. Inside the cafe, five or six men,
semi-gentlemen, and not noisy, were drinking and chatting quietly,
leaning their elbows on the small tables, while two billiard players
walked round the green baize, where the balls were hitting each other as
One heard them counting:
"Eighteen-nineteen. No luck. Oh, that's a good stroke! Well played!
Eleven. You should have played on the red. Twenty. Froze! Froze!
Twelve. Ha! Wasn't I right?"
"A demi-tasse and a small decanter of brandy, the best." Then he sat
down and waited for it.
He was accustomed to spending his evenings off duty with his companions,
amid noise and the smoke of pipes. This silence, this quiet, exasperated
him. He began to drink; first the coffee, then the brandy, and asked for
another decanter. He now wanted to laugh, to shout, to sing, to fight
some one. He said to himself:
"Gee, I am half full. I must go and have a good time."
And he thought he would go and look for some girls to amuse him. He
called the waiter:
"Tell me, where does one amuse oneself here?"
The man looked stupid, and replied:
"I do not know, sir. Here, I suppose!"
"How do you mean here? What do you call amusing oneself, yourself?"
"I do not know, sir, drinking good beer or good wine."
"Ah, go away, dummy, how about the girls?"
"The girls, ah! ah!"
"Yes, the girls, where can one find any here?"
"Why, yes, girls!"
The boy approached and lowering his voice, said: "You want to know where
"Why, yes, the devil!"
"You take the second street to the left and then the first to the right.
It is number fifteen."
"Thank you, old man. There is something for you."
"Thank you, sir."
And Varajou went out of the cafe, repeating, "Second to the left, first
to the right, number 15." But at the end of a few seconds he thought,
"second to the left yes. But on leaving the cafe must I walk to the
right or the left? Bah, it cannot be helped, we shall see."
And he walked on, turned down the second street to the left, then the
first to the right and looked for number 15. It was a nice looking
house, and one could see behind the closed blinds that the windows were
lighted up on the first floor. The hall door was left partly open, and a
lamp was burning in the vestibule. The non-commissioned officer thought
"This looks all right."
He went in and, as no one appeared, he called out:
"Hallo there, hallo!"
A little maid appeared and looked astonished at seeing a soldier. He
"Good-morning, my child. Are the ladies upstairs?"
"In the parlor?"
"May I go up?"
"The door opposite the stairs?"
He ascended the stairs, opened a door and saw sitting in a room well
lighted up by two lamps, a chandelier, and two candelabras with candles
in them, four ladies in evening dress, apparently expecting some one.
Three of them, the younger ones, remained seated, with rather a formal
air, on some crimson velvet chairs; while the fourth, who was about
forty-five, was arranging some flowers in a vase. She was very stout,
and wore a green silk dress with low neck and short sleeves, allowing her
red neck, covered with powder, to escape as a huge flower might from its
The officer saluted them, saying:
The older woman turned round, appeared surprised, but bowed.
He sat down. But seeing that they did not welcome him eagerly, he
thought that possibly only commissioned officers were admitted to the
house, and this made him uneasy. But he said:
"Bah, if one comes in, we can soon tell."
He then remarked:
"Are you all well?"
The large lady, no doubt the mistress of the house, replied:
"Very well, thank you!"
He could think of nothing else to say, and they were all silent. But at
last, being ashamed of his bashfulness, and with an awkward laugh, he
"Do not people have any amusement in this country? I will pay for a
bottle of wine."
He had not finished his sentence when the door opened, and in walked
Padoie dressed in a black suit.
Varajou gave a shout of joy, and rising from his seat, he rushed at his
brother-in-law, put his arms round him and waltzed him round the room,
"Here is Padoie! Here is Padoie! Here is Padoie!"
Then letting go of the tax collector he exclaimed as he looked him in the
"Oh, oh, oh, you scamp, you scamp! You are out for a good time, too.
Oh, you scamp! And my sister! Are you tired of her, say?"
As he thought of all that he might gain through this unexpected
situation, the forced loan, the inevitable blackmail, he flung himself on
the lounge and laughed so heartily that the piece of furniture creaked
The three young ladies, rising simultaneously, made their escape, while
the older woman retreated to the door looking as though she were about to
And then two gentlemen appeared in evening dress, and wearing the ribbon
of an order. Padoie rushed up to them.
"Oh, judge--he is crazy, he is crazy. He was sent to us as a
convalescent. You can see that he is crazy."
Varajou was sitting up now, and not being able to understand it all, he
guessed that he had committed some monstrous folly. Then he rose, and
turning to his brother-in-law, said:
"What house is this?"
But Padoie, becoming suddenly furious, stammered out:
"What house--what--what house is this? Wretch--scoundrel--villain--what
house, indeed? The house of the judge--of the judge of the Supreme
Court-of the Supreme Court--of the Supreme Court--Oh, oh--rascal!--
THE DIAMOND NECKLACE
The girl was one of those pretty and charming young creatures who
sometimes are born, as if by a slip of fate, into a family of clerks.
She had no dowry, no expectations, no way of being known, understood,
loved, married by any rich and distinguished man; so she let herself be
married to a little clerk of the Ministry of Public Instruction.
She dressed plainly because she could not dress well, but she was unhappy
as if she had really fallen from a higher station; since with women there
is neither caste nor rank, for beauty, grace and charm take the place of
family and birth. Natural ingenuity, instinct for what is elegant, a
supple mind are their sole hierarchy, and often make of women of the
people the equals of the very greatest ladies.
Mathilde suffered ceaselessly, feeling herself born to enjoy all
delicacies and all luxuries. She was distressed at the poverty of her
dwelling, at the bareness of the walls, at the shabby chairs, the
ugliness of the curtains. All those things, of which another woman of
her rank would never even have been conscious, tortured her and made her
angry. The sight of the little Breton peasant who did her humble
housework aroused in her despairing regrets and bewildering dreams. She
thought of silent antechambers hung with Oriental tapestry, illumined by
tall bronze candelabra, and of two great footmen in knee breeches who
sleep in the big armchairs, made drowsy by the oppressive heat of the
stove. She thought of long reception halls hung with ancient silk, of
the dainty cabinets containing priceless curiosities and of the little
coquettish perfumed reception rooms made for chatting at five o'clock
with intimate friends, with men famous and sought after, whom all women
envy and whose attention they all desire.
When she sat down to dinner, before the round table covered with a
tablecloth in use three days, opposite her husband, who uncovered the
soup tureen and declared with a delighted air, "Ah, the good soup!
I don't know anything better than that," she thought of dainty dinners,
of shining silverware, of tapestry that peopled the walls with ancient
personages and with strange birds flying in the midst of a fairy forest;
and she thought of delicious dishes served on marvellous plates and of
the whispered gallantries to which you listen with a sphinxlike smile
while you are eating the pink meat of a trout or the wings of a quail.
She had no gowns, no jewels, nothing. And she loved nothing but that.
She felt made for that. She would have liked so much to please, to be
envied, to be charming, to be sought after.
She had a friend, a former schoolmate at the convent, who was rich, and
whom she did not like to go to see any more because she felt so sad when
she came home.
But one evening her husband reached home with a triumphant air and
holding a large envelope in his hand.
"There," said he, "there is something for you."
She tore the paper quickly and drew out a printed card which bore these
The Minister of Public Instruction and Madame Georges Ramponneau
request the honor of M. and Madame Loisel's company at the palace of
the Ministry on Monday evening, January 18th.
Instead of being delighted, as her husband had hoped, she threw the
invitation on the table crossly, muttering:
"What do you wish me to do with that?"
"Why, my dear, I thought you would be glad. You never go out, and this
is such a fine opportunity. I had great trouble to get it. Every one
wants to go; it is very select, and they are not giving many invitations
to clerks. The whole official world will be there."
She looked at him with an irritated glance and said impatiently:
"And what do you wish me to put on my back?"
He had not thought of that. He stammered:
"Why, the gown you go to the theatre in. It looks very well to me."
He stopped, distracted, seeing that his wife was weeping. Two great
tears ran slowly from the corners of her eyes toward the corners of her
"What's the matter? What's the matter?" he answered.
By a violent effort she conquered her grief and replied in a calm voice,
while she wiped her wet cheeks:
"Nothing. Only I have no gown, and, therefore, I can't go to this ball.
Give your card to some colleague whose wife is better equipped than I
He was in despair. He resumed:
"Come, let us see, Mathilde. How much would it cost, a suitable gown,
which you could use on other occasions--something very simple?"
She reflected several seconds, making her calculations and wondering also
what sum she could ask without drawing on herself an immediate refusal
and a frightened exclamation from the economical clerk.
Finally she replied hesitating:
"I don't know exactly, but I think I could manage it with four hundred
He grew a little pale, because he was laying aside just that amount to
buy a gun and treat himself to a little shooting next summer on the plain
of Nanterre, with several friends who went to shoot larks there of a
But he said:
"Very well. I will give you four hundred francs. And try to have a
The day of the ball drew near and Madame Loisel seemed sad, uneasy,
anxious. Her frock was ready, however. Her husband said to her one
"What is the matter? Come, you have seemed very queer these last three
And she answered:
"It annoys me not to have a single piece of jewelry, not a single
ornament, nothing to put on. I shall look poverty-stricken. I would
almost rather not go at all."
"You might wear natural flowers," said her husband. "They're very
stylish at this time of year. For ten francs you can get two or three
She was not convinced.
"No; there's nothing more humiliating than to look poor among other women
who are rich."
"How stupid you are!" her husband cried. "Go look up your friend, Madame
Forestier, and ask her to lend you some jewels. You're intimate enough
with her to do that."
She uttered a cry of joy:
"True! I never thought of it."
The next day she went to her friend and told her of her distress.
Madame Forestier went to a wardrobe with a mirror, took out a large jewel
box, brought it back, opened it and said to Madame Loisel:
"Choose, my dear."
She saw first some bracelets, then a pearl necklace, then a Venetian gold
cross set with precious stones, of admirable workmanship. She tried on
the ornaments before the mirror, hesitated and could not make up her mind
to part with them, to give them back. She kept asking:
"Haven't you any more?"
"Why, yes. Look further; I don't know what you like."
Suddenly she discovered, in a black satin box, a superb diamond necklace,
and her heart throbbed with an immoderate desire. Her hands trembled as
she took it. She fastened it round her throat, outside her high-necked
waist, and was lost in ecstasy at her reflection in the mirror.
Then she asked, hesitating, filled with anxious doubt:
"Will you lend me this, only this?"
"Why, yes, certainly."
She threw her arms round her friend's neck, kissed her passionately, then
fled with her treasure.
The night of the ball arrived. Madame Loisel was a great success. She
was prettier than any other woman present, elegant, graceful, smiling and
wild with joy. All the men looked at her, asked her name, sought to be
introduced. All the attaches of the Cabinet wished to waltz with her.
She was remarked by the minister himself.
She danced with rapture, with passion, intoxicated by pleasure,
forgetting all in the triumph of her beauty, in the glory of her success,
in a sort of cloud of happiness comprised of all this homage, admiration,
these awakened desires and of that sense of triumph which is so sweet to
She left the ball about four o'clock in the morning. Her husband had
been sleeping since midnight in a little deserted anteroom with three
other gentlemen whose wives were enjoying the ball.
He threw over her shoulders the wraps he had brought, the modest wraps of
common life, the poverty of which contrasted with the elegance of the
ball dress. She felt this and wished to escape so as not to be remarked
by the other women, who were enveloping themselves in costly furs.
Loisel held her back, saying: "Wait a bit. You will catch cold outside.
I will call a cab."
But she did not listen to him and rapidly descended the stairs. When
they reached the street they could not find a carriage and began to look
for one, shouting after the cabmen passing at a distance.
They went toward the Seine in despair, shivering with cold. At last they
found on the quay one of those ancient night cabs which, as though they
were ashamed to show their shabbiness during the day, are never seen
round Paris until after dark.
It took them to their dwelling in the Rue des Martyrs, and sadly they
mounted the stairs to their flat. All was ended for her. As to him, he
reflected that he must be at the ministry at ten o'clock that morning.
She removed her wraps before the glass so as to see herself once more in
all her glory. But suddenly she uttered a cry. She no longer had the
necklace around her neck!
"What is the matter with you?" demanded her husband, already half
She turned distractedly toward him.
"I have--I have--I've lost Madame Forestier's necklace," she cried.
He stood up, bewildered.
They looked among the folds of her skirt, of her cloak, in her pockets,
everywhere, but did not find it.
"You're sure you had it on when you left the ball?" he asked.
"Yes, I felt it in the vestibule of the minister's house."
"But if you had lost it in the street we should have heard it fall. It
must be in the cab."
"Yes, probably. Did you take his number?"
"No. And you--didn't you notice it?"
They looked, thunderstruck, at each other. At last Loisel put on his
"I shall go back on foot," said he, "over the whole route, to see whether
I can find it."
He went out. She sat waiting on a chair in her ball dress, without
strength to go to bed, overwhelmed, without any fire, without a thought.
Her husband returned about seven o'clock. He had found nothing.
He went to police headquarters, to the newspaper offices to offer a
reward; he went to the cab companies--everywhere, in fact, whither he was
urged by the least spark of hope.
She waited all day, in the same condition of mad fear before this
Loisel returned at night with a hollow, pale face. He had discovered
"You must write to your friend," said he, "that you have broken the clasp
of her necklace and that you are having it mended. That will give us
time to turn round."
She wrote at his dictation.
At the end of a week they had lost all hope. Loisel, who had aged five
"We must consider how to replace that ornament."
The next day they took the box that had contained it and went to the
jeweler whose name was found within. He consulted his books.
"It was not I, madame, who sold that necklace; I must simply have
furnished the case."
Then they went from jeweler to jeweler, searching for a necklace like the
other, trying to recall it, both sick with chagrin and grief.
They found, in a shop at the Palais Royal, a string of diamonds that
seemed to them exactly like the one they had lost. It was worth forty
thousand francs. They could have it for thirty-six.
So they begged the jeweler not to sell it for three days yet. And they
made a bargain that he should buy it back for thirty-four thousand
francs, in case they should find the lost necklace before the end of
Loisel possessed eighteen thousand francs which his father had left him.
He would borrow the rest.
He did borrow, asking a thousand francs of one, five hundred of another,
five louis here, three louis there. He gave notes, took up ruinous
obligations, dealt with usurers and all the race of lenders. He
compromised all the rest of his life, risked signing a note without even
knowing whether he could meet it; and, frightened by the trouble yet to
come, by the black misery that was about to fall upon him, by the
prospect of all the physical privations and moral tortures that he was to
suffer, he went to get the new necklace, laying upon the jeweler's
counter thirty-six thousand francs.
When Madame Loisel took back the necklace Madame Forestier said to her
with a chilly manner:
"You should have returned it sooner; I might have needed it."
She did not open the case, as her friend had so much feared. If she had
detected the substitution, what would she have thought, what would she
have said? Would she not have taken Madame Loisel for a thief?
Thereafter Madame Loisel knew the horrible existence of the needy. She
bore her part, however, with sudden heroism. That dreadful debt must be
paid. She would pay it. They dismissed their servant; they changed
their lodgings; they rented a garret under the roof.
She came to know what heavy housework meant and the odious cares of the
kitchen. She washed the dishes, using her dainty fingers and rosy nails
on greasy pots and pans. She washed the soiled linen, the shirts and the
dishcloths, which she dried upon a line; she carried the slops down to
the street every morning and carried up the water, stopping for breath at
every landing. And dressed like a woman of the people, she went to the
fruiterer, the grocer, the butcher, a basket on her arm, bargaining,
meeting with impertinence, defending her miserable money, sou by sou.
Every month they had to meet some notes, renew others, obtain more time.
Her husband worked evenings, making up a tradesman's accounts, and late
at night he often copied manuscript for five sous a page.
This life lasted ten years.
At the end of ten years they had paid everything, everything, with the
rates of usury and the accumulations of the compound interest.
Madame Loisel looked old now. She had become the woman of impoverished
households--strong and hard and rough. With frowsy hair, skirts askew
and red hands, she talked loud while washing the floor with great swishes
of water. But sometimes, when her husband was at the office, she sat
down near the window and she thought of that gay evening of long ago, of
that ball where she had been so beautiful and so admired.
What would have happened if she had not lost that necklace? Who knows?
who knows? How strange and changeful is life! How small a thing is
needed to make or ruin us!
But one Sunday, having gone to take a walk in the Champs Elysees to
refresh herself after the labors of the week, she suddenly perceived a
woman who was leading a child. It was Madame Forestier, still young,
still beautiful, still charming.
Madame Loisel felt moved. Should she speak to her? Yes, certainly. And
now that she had paid, she would tell her all about it. Why not?
She went up.
The other, astonished to be familiarly addressed by this plain good-wife,
did not recognize her at all and stammered:
"But--madame!--I do not know---- You must have mistaken."
"No. I am Mathilde Loisel."
Her friend uttered a cry.
"Oh, my poor Mathilde! How you are changed!"
"Yes, I have had a pretty hard life, since I last saw you, and great
poverty--and that because of you!"
"Of me! How so?"
"Do you remember that diamond necklace you lent me to wear at the
"Well, I lost it."
"What do you mean? You brought it back."
"I brought you back another exactly like it. And it has taken us ten
years to pay for it. You can understand that it was not easy for us, for
us who had nothing. At last it is ended, and I am very glad."
Madame Forestier had stopped.
"You say that you bought a necklace of diamonds to replace mine?"
"Yes. You never noticed it, then! They were very similar."
And she smiled with a joy that was at once proud and ingenuous.
Madame Forestier, deeply moved, took her hands.
"Oh, my poor Mathilde! Why, my necklace was paste! It was worth at most
only five hundred francs!"
THE MARQUIS DE FUMEROL
Roger de Tourneville was whiffing a cigar and blowing out small clouds of
smoke every now and then, as he sat astride a chair amid a party of
friends. He was talking.
"We were at dinner when a letter was brought in which my father opened.
You know my father, who thinks that he is king of France ad interim.
I call him Don Quixote, because for twelve years he has been running a
tilt against the windmill of the Republic, without quite knowing whether
it was in the cause of the Bourbons or the Orleanists. At present he is
bearing the lance in the cause of the Orleanists alone, because there is
no one else left. In any case, he thinks himself the first gentleman of
France, the best known, the most influential, the head of the party; and
as he is an irremovable senator, he thinks that the thrones of the
neighboring kings are very insecure.
"As for my mother, she is my father's soul, she is the soul of the
kingdom and of religion, and the scourge of all evil-thinkers.
"Well, a letter was brought in while we were at dinner, and my father
opened and read it, and then he said to mother: 'Your brother is dying.'
She grew very pale. My uncle was scarcely ever mentioned in the house,
and I did not know him at all; all I knew from public talk was, that he
had led, and was still leading, a gay life. After having spent his
fortune in fast living, he was now in small apartments in the Rue des
"An ancient peer of France and former colonel of cavalry, it was said
that he believed in neither God nor devil. Not believing, therefore, in
a future life he had abused the present life in every way, and had become
a live wound in my mother's heart.
"'Give me that letter, Paul,' she said, and when she read it, I asked for
it in my turn. Here it is:
Monsieur le Comte, I think I ought to let you know that your
brother-in-law, the Comte Fumerol, is going to die. Perhaps you
would like to make some arrangements, and do not forget I told you.
"'We must take counsel,' papa murmured. 'In my position, I ought to
watch over your brother's last moments.'
"Mamma continued: 'I will send for Abbe Poivron and ask his advice, and
then I will go to my brother with the abbe and Roger. Remain here, Paul,
for you must not compromise yourself; but a woman can, and ought to do
these things. For a politician in your position, it is another matter.
It would be a fine thing for one of your opponents to be able to bring
one of your most laudable actions up against you.' 'You are right,' my
father said. 'Do as you think best, my dear wife.'
"A quarter of an hour, later, the Abbe Poivron came into the drawing-
room, and the situation was explained to him, analyzed and discussed in
all its bearings. If the Marquis de Fumerol, one of the greatest names
in France, were to die without the ministrations of religion, it would
assuredly be a terrible blow to the nobility in general, and to the Count
de Tourneville in particular, and the freethinkers would be triumphant.
The liberal newspapers would sing songs of victory for six months; my
mother's name would be dragged through the mire and brought into the
prose of Socialistic journals, and my father's name would be smirched.
It was impossible that such a thing should be.
"A crusade was therefore immediately decided upon, which was to be led by
the Abbe Poivron, a little, fat, clean, priest with a faint perfume about
him, a true vicar of a large church in a noble and rich quarter.
"The landau was ordered and we all three set out, my mother, the cure and
I, to administer the last sacraments to my uncle.
"It had been decided first of all we should see Madame Melanie who had
written the letter, and who was most likely the porter's wife, or my
uncle's servant, and I dismounted, as an advance guard, in front of a
seven-story house and went into a dark passage, where I had great
difficulty in finding the porter's den. He looked at me distrustfully,
and I said:
"'Madame Melanie, if you please.' 'Don't know her!' 'But I have received
a letter from her.' 'That may be, but I don't know her. Are you asking
for a lodger?' 'No, a servant probably. She wrote me about a place.'
'A servant?--a servant? Perhaps it is the marquis'. Go and see, the
fifth story on the left.'
"As soon as he found I was not asking for a doubtful character he became
more friendly and came as far as the corridor with me. He was a tall,
thin man with white whiskers, the manners of a beadle and majestic
"I climbed up a long spiral staircase, the railing of which I did not
venture to touch, and I gave three discreet knocks at the left-hand door
on the fifth story. It opened immediately, and an enormous dirty woman
appeared before me. She barred the entrance with her extended arms which
she placed against the two doorposts, and growled:
"'What do you want?' 'Are you Madame Melanie?' 'Yes.' 'I am the
Visconte de Tourneville.' 'Ah! All right! Come in.' 'Well, the fact
is, my mother is downstairs with a priest.' 'Oh! All right; go and
bring them up; but be careful of the porter.'
"I went downstairs and came up again with my mother, who was followed by
the abbe, and I fancied that I heard other footsteps behind us. As soon
as we were in the kitchen, Melanie offered us chairs, and we all four sat
down to deliberate.
"'Is he very ill?' my mother asked. 'Oh! yes, madame; he will not be
here long.' 'Does he seem disposed to receive a visit from a priest?'
'Oh! I do not think so.' 'Can I see him?' 'Well--yes madame--only--
only--those young ladies are with him.' 'What young ladies?' 'Why--why
--his lady friends, of course.' 'Oh!' Mamma had grown scarlet, and the
Abbe Poivron had lowered his eyes.
"The affair began to amuse me, and I said: 'Suppose I go in first? I
shall see how he receives me, and perhaps I shall be able to prepare him
to receive you.'
"My mother, who did not suspect any trick, replied: 'Yes, go, my dear.'
But a woman's voice cried out: 'Melanie!'
"The servant ran out and said: 'What do you want, Mademoiselle Claire?'
'The omelette; quickly.' 'In a minute, mademoiselle.' And coming back
to us, she explained this summons.
"They had ordered a cheese omelette at two o'clock as a slight collation.
And she at once began to break the eggs into a salad bowl, and to whip
them vigorously, while I went out on the landing and pulled the bell, so
as to formally announce my arrival. Melanie opened the door to me, and
made me sit down in an ante-room, while she went to tell my uncle that I
had come; then she came back and asked me to go in, while the abbe hid
behind the door, so that he might appear at the first signal.
"I was certainly very much surprised at the sight of my uncle, for he was
very handsome, very solemn and very elegant, the old rake.
"Sitting, almost lying, in a large armchair, his legs wrapped in
blankets, his hands, his long, white hands, over the arms of the chair,
he was waiting for death with the dignity of a patriarch. His white
beard fell on his chest, and his hair, which was also white, mingled with
it on his cheeks.
"Standing behind his armchair, as if to defend him against me, were two
young women, who looked at me with bold eyes. In their petticoats and
morning wrappers, with bare arms, with coal black hair twisted in a knot
on the nape of their neck, with embroidered, Oriental slippers, which
showed their ankles and silk stockings, they looked like the figures in
some symbolical painting, by the side of the dying man. Between the
easy-chair and the bed, there was a table covered with a white cloth, on
which two plates, two glasses, two forks and two knives, were waiting for
the cheese omelette which had been ordered some time before of Melanie.
"My uncle said in a weak, almost breathless, but clear voice:
'Good-morning, my child; it is rather late in the day to come and see me;
our acquaintanceship will not last long.' I stammered out, 'It was not
my fault, uncle:' 'No; I know that,' he replied. 'It is your father and
mother's fault more than yours. How are they?' 'Pretty well, thank you.
When they heard that you were ill, they sent me to ask after you.'
'Ah! Why did they not come themselves?'
"I looked up at the two girls and said gently: 'It is not their fault if
they could not come, uncle. But it would be difficult for my father, and
impossible for my mother to come in here.' The old man did not reply,
but raised his hand toward mine, and I took the pale, cold hand and held
it in my own.
"The door opened, Melanie came in with the omelette and put it on the
table, and the two girls immediately sat down at the table, and began to
eat without taking their eyes off me. Then I said: 'Uncle, it would give
great pleasure to my mother to embrace you.' 'I also,' he murmured,
'should like----' He said no more, and I could think of nothing to
propose to him, and there was silence except for the noise of the plates
and that vague sound of eating.
"Now, the abbe, who was listening behind the door, seeing our
embarrassment, and thinking we had won the game, thought the time had
come to interpose, and showed himself. My uncle was so stupefied at
sight of him that at first he remained motionless; and then he opened his
mouth as if he meant to swallow up the priest, and shouted to him in a
strong, deep, furious voice: 'What are you doing here?'
"The abbe, who was used to difficult situations, came forward into the
room, murmuring: 'I have come in your sister's name, Monsieur le Marquis;
she has sent me. She would be happy, monsieur--'
"But the marquis was not listening. Raising one hand, he pointed to the
door with a proud, tragic gesture, and said angrily and breathing hard:
'Leave this room--go out--robber of souls. Go out from here, you
violator of consciences. Go out from here, you pick-lock of dying men's
"The abbe retreated, and I also went to the door, beating a retreat with
the priest; the two young women, who had the best of it, got up, leaving
their omelette only half eaten, and went and stood on either side of my
uncle's easy-chair, putting their hands on his arms to calm him, and to
protect him against the criminal enterprises of the Family, and of
"The abbe and I rejoined my mother in the kitchen, and Melanie again
offered us chairs. 'I knew quite well that this method would not work;
we must try some other means, otherwise he will escape us.' And they
began deliberating afresh, my mother being of one opinion and the abbe of
another, while I held a third.
"We had been discussing the matter in a low voice for half an hour,
perhaps, when a great noise of furniture being moved and of cries uttered
by my uncle, more vehement and terrible even than the former had been,
made us all four jump up.
"Through the doors and walls we could hear him shouting: 'Go out--out--
rascals--humbugs, get out, scoundrels--get out--get out!'
"Melanie rushed in, but came back immediately to call me to help her, and
I hastened in. Opposite to my uncle, who was terribly excited by anger,
almost standing up and vociferating, stood two men, one behind the other,
who seemed to be waiting till he should be dead with rage.
"By his ridiculous long coat, his long English shoes, his manners of a
tutor out of a position, his high collar, white necktie and straight
hair, his humble face of a false priest of a bastard religion, I
immediately recognized the first as a Protestant minister.
"The second was the porter of the house, who belonged to the reformed
religion and had followed us, and having seen our defeat, had gone to
fetch his own pastor, in hopes that he might meet a better reception.
My uncle seemed mad with rage! If the sight of the Catholic priest, of
the priest of his ancestors, had irritated the Marquis de Fumerol, who
had become a freethinker, the sight of his porter's minister made him
altogether beside himself. I therefore took the two men by the arm and
threw them out of the room so roughly that they bumped against each other
twice, between the two doors which led to the staircase; and then I
disappeared in my turn and returned to the kitchen, which was our
headquarters in order to take counsel with my mother and the abbe.
"But Melanie came back in terror, sobbing out:
'He is dying--he is dying--come immediately--he is dying.'
"My mother rushed out. My uncle had fallen to the ground, and lay full
length along the floor, without moving. I fancy he was already dead.
My mother was superb at that moment! She went straight up to the two
girls who were kneeling by the body and trying to raise it up, and
pointing to the door with irresistible authority, dignity and majesty,
she said: 'Now it is time for you to leave the room.'
"And they went out without a word of protest. I must add, that I was
getting ready to turn them out as unceremoniously as I had done the
parson and the porter.
"Then the Abbe Poivron administered the last sacraments to my uncle with
all the customary prayers, and remitted all his sins, while my mother
sobbed as she knelt near her brother. Suddenly, however, she exclaimed:
'He recognized me; he pressed my hand; I am sure he recognized me!!!--and
that he thanked me! Oh, God, what happiness!'
"Poor mamma! If she had known or guessed for whom those thanks were
"They laid my uncle on his bed; he was certainly dead this time.
"'Madame,' Melanie said, 'we have no sheets to bury him in; all the linen
belongs to these two young ladies,' and when I looked at the omelette
which they had not finished, I felt inclined to laugh and to cry at the
same time. There are some humorous moments and some humorous situations
in life, occasionally!
"We gave my uncle a magnificent fungal, with five speeches at the grave.
Baron de Croiselles, the senator, showed in admirable terms that God
always returns victorious into well-born souls which have temporarily
been led into error. All the members of the Royalist and Catholic party
followed the funeral procession with the enthusiasm of victors, as they
spoke of that beautiful death after a somewhat troublous life."
Viscount Roger ceased speaking; his audience was laughing. Then somebody
said: "Bah! That is the story of all conversions in extremis."
THE TRIP OF LE HORLA
On the morning of July 8th I received the following telegram: "Fine day.
Always my predictions. Belgian frontier. Baggage and servants left at
noon at the social session. Beginning of manoeuvres at three. So I will
wait for you at the works from five o'clock on. Jovis."
At five o'clock sharp I entered the gas works of La Villette. It might
have been mistaken for the colossal ruins of an old town inhabited by
Cyclops. There were immense dark avenues separating heavy gasometers
standing one behind another, like monstrous columns, unequally high and,
undoubtedly, in the past the supports of some tremendous, some fearful
The balloon was lying in the courtyard and had the appearance of a cake
made of yellow cloth, flattened on the ground under a rope. That is
called placing a balloon in a sweep-net, and, in fact, it appeared like
an enormous fish.
Two or three hundred people were looking at it, sitting or standing, and
some were examining the basket, a nice little square basket for a human
cargo, bearing on its side in gold letters on a mahogany plate the words:
Suddenly the people began to stand back, for the gas was beginning to
enter into the balloon through a long tube of yellow cloth, which lay on
the soil, swelling and undulating like an enormous worm. But another
thought, another picture occurs to every mind. It is thus that nature
itself nourishes beings until their birth. The creature that will rise
soon begins to move, and the attendants of Captain Jovis, as Le Horla
grew larger, spread and put in place the net which covers it, so that the
pressure will be regular and equally distributed at every point.
The operation is very delicate and very important, for the resistance of
the cotton cloth of which the balloon is made is figured not in
proportion to the contact surface of this cloth with the net, but in
proportion to the links of the basket.
Le Horla, moreover, has been designed by M. Mallet, constructed under his
own eyes and made by himself. Everything had been made in the shops of
M. Jovis by his own working staff and nothing was made outside.
We must add that everything was new in this balloon, from the varnish to
the valve, those two essential parts of a balloon. Both must render the
cloth gas-proof, as the sides of a ship are waterproof. The old
varnishes, made with a base of linseed oil, sometimes fermented and thus
burned the cloth, which in a short time would tear like a piece of paper.
The valves were apt to close imperfectly after being opened and when the
covering called "cataplasme" was injured. The fall of M. L'Hoste in the
open sea during the night proved the imperfection of the old system.
The two discoveries of Captain Jovis, the varnish principally, are of
inestimable value in the art of ballooning.
The crowd has begun to talk, and some men, who appear to be specialists,
affirm with authority that we shall come down before reaching the
fortifications. Several other things have been criticized in this novel
type of balloon with which we are about to experiment with so much
pleasure and success.
It is growing slowly but surely. Some small holes and scratches made in
transit have been discovered, and we cover them and plug them with a
little piece of paper applied on the cloth while wet. This method of
repairing alarms and mystifies the public.
While Captain Jovis and his assistants are busy with the last details,
the travellers go to dine in the canteen of the gas-works, according to
the established custom.
When we come out again the balloon is swaying, enormous and transparent,
a prodigious golden fruit, a fantastic pear which is still ripening,
covered by the last rays of the setting sun. Now the basket is attached,
the barometers are brought, the siren, which we will blow to our hearts'
content, is also brought, also the two trumpets, the eatables, the
overcoats and raincoats, all the small articles that can go with the men
in that flying basket.
As the wind pushes the balloon against the gasometers, it is necessary to
steady it now and then, to avoid an accident at the start.
Captain Jovis is now ready and calls all the passengers.
Lieutenant Mallet jumps aboard, climbing first on the aerial net between
the basket and the balloon, from which he will watch during the night the
movements of Le Horla across the skies, as the officer on watch, standing
on starboard, watches the course of a ship.
M. Etierine Beer gets in after him, then comes M. Paul Bessand, then M.
Patrice Eyries and I get in last.
But the basket is too heavy for the balloon, considering the long trip to
be taken, and M. Eyries has to get out, not without great regret.
M. Joliet, standing erect on the edge of the basket, begs the ladies, in
very gallant terms, to stand aside a little, for he is afraid he might
throw sand on their hats in rising. Then he commands:
"Let it loose," and, cutting with one stroke of his knife the ropes that
hold the balloon to the ground, he gives Le Horla its liberty.
In one second we fly skyward. Nothing can be heard; we float, we rise,
we fly, we glide. Our friends shout with glee and applaud, but we hardly
hear them, we hardly see them. We are already so far, so high! What?
Are we really leaving these people down there? Is it possible? Paris
spreads out beneath us, a dark bluish patch, cut by its streets, from
which rise, here and there, domes, towers, steeples, then around it the
plain, the country, traversed by long roads, thin and white, amidst green
fields of a tender or dark green, and woods almost black.
The Seine appears like a coiled snake, asleep, of which we see neither
head nor tail; it crosses Paris, and the entire field resembles an
immense basin of prairies and forests dotted here and there by mountains,
hardly visible in the horizon.
The sun, which we could no longer see down below, now reappears as though
it were about to rise again, and our balloon seems to be lighted; it must
appear like a star to the people who are looking up. M. Mallet every few
seconds throws a cigarette paper into-space and says quietly: "We are
rising, always rising," while Captain Jovis, radiant with joy, rubs his
hands together and repeats: "Eh? this varnish? Isn't it good?"
In fact, we can see whether we are rising or sinking only by throwing a
cigarette paper out of the basket now and then. If this paper appears to
fall down like a stone, it means that the balloon is rising; if it
appears to shoot skyward the balloon is descending.
The two barometers mark about five hundred meters, and we gaze with
enthusiastic admiration at the earth we are leaving and to which we are
not attached in any way; it looks like a colored map, an immense plan of
the country. All its noises, however, rise to our ears very distinctly,
easily recognizable. We hear the sound of the wheels rolling in the
streets, the snap of a whip, the cries of drivers, the rolling and
whistling of trains and the laughter of small boys running after one
another. Every time we pass over a village the noise of children's
voices is heard above the rest and with the greatest distinctness. Some
men are calling us; the locomotives whistle; we answer with the siren,
which emits plaintive, fearfully shrill wails like the voice of a weird
being wandering through the world.
We perceive lights here and there, some isolated fire in the farms, and
lines of gas in the towns. We are going toward the northwest, after
roaming for some time over the little lake of Enghien. Now we see a
river; it is the Oise, and we begin to argue about the exact spot we are
passing. Is that town Creil or Pontoise--the one with so many lights?
But if we were over Pontoise we could see the junction of the Seine and
the Oise; and that enormous fire to the left, isn't it the blast furnaces
of Montataire? So then we are above Creil. The view is superb; it is
dark on the earth, but we are still in the light, and it is now past ten
o'clock. Now we begin to hear slight country noises, the double cry of
the quail in particular, then the mewing of cats and the barking of dogs.
Surely the dogs have scented the balloon; they have seen it and have
given the alarm. We can hear them barking all over the plain and making
the identical noise they make when baying at the moon. The cows also
seem to wake up in the barns, for we can hear them lowing; all the beasts
are scared and moved before the aerial monster that is passing.
The delicious odors of the soil rise toward us, the smell of hay, of
flowers, of the moist, verdant earth, perfuming the air-a light air, in
fact, so light, so sweet, so delightful that I realize I never was so
fortunate as to breathe before. A profound sense of well-being, unknown
to me heretofore, pervades me, a well-being of body and spirit, composed
of supineness, of infinite rest, of forgetfulness, of indifference to
everything and of this novel sensation of traversing space without any of
the sensations that make motion unbearable, without noise, without shocks
and without fear.
At times we rise and then descend. Every few minutes Lieutenant Mallet,
suspended in his cobweb of netting, says to Captain Jovis : "We are
descending; throw down half a handful." And the captain, who is talking
and laughing with us, with a bag of ballast between his legs, takes a
handful of sand out of the bag and throws it overboard.
Nothing is more amusing, more delicate, more interesting than the
manoeuvring of a balloon. It is an enormous toy, free and docile, which
obeys with surprising sensitiveness, but it is also, and before all, the
slave of the wind, which we cannot control. A pinch of sand, half a
sheet of paper, one or two drops of water, the bones of a chicken which
we had just eaten, thrown overboard, makes it go up quickly.
A breath of cool, damp air rising from the river or the wood we are
traversing makes the balloon descend two hundred metres. It does not
vary when passing over fields of ripe grain, and it rises when it passes
The earth sleeps now, or, rather, men sleep on the earth, for the beasts
awakened by the sight of our balloon announce our approach everywhere.
Now and then the rolling of a train or the whistling of a locomotive is
plainly distinguishable. We sound our siren as we pass over inhabited
places; and the peasants, terrified in their beds, must surely tremble
and ask themselves if the Angel Gabriel is not passing by.
A strong and continuous odor of gas can be plainly observed. We must
have encountered a current of warm air, and the balloon expands, losing
its invisible blood by the escape-valve, which is called the appendix,
and which closes of itself as soon as the expansion ceases.
We are rising. The earth no longer gives back the echo of our trumpets;
we have risen almost two thousand feet. It is not light enough for us to
consult the instruments; we only know that the rice paper falls from us
like dead butterflies, that we are rising, always rising. We can no
longer see the earth; a light mist separates us from it; and above our
head twinkles a world of stars.
A silvery light appears before us and makes the sky turn pale, and
suddenly, as if it were rising from unknown depths behind the horizon
below us rises the moon on the edge of a cloud. It seems to be coming
from below, while we are looking down upon it from a great height,
leaning on the edge of our basket like an audience on a balcony. Clear
and round, it emerges from the clouds and slowly rises in the sky.
The earth no longer seems to exist, it is buried in milky vapors that
resemble a sea. We are now alone in space with the moon, which looks
like another balloon travelling opposite us; and our balloon, which
shines in the air, appears like another, larger moon, a world wandering
in the sky amid the stars, through infinity. We no longer speak, think
nor live; we float along through space in delicious inertia. The air
which is bearing us up has made of us all beings which resemble itself,
silent, joyous, irresponsible beings, intoxicated by this stupendous
flight, peculiarly alert, although motionless. One is no longer
conscious of one's flesh or one's bones; one's heart seems to have ceased
beating; we have become something indescribable, birds who do not even
have to flap their wings.
All memory has disappeared from our minds, all trouble from our thoughts;
we have no more regrets, plans nor hopes. We look, we feel, we wildly
enjoy this fantastic journey; nothing in the sky but the moon and
ourselves! We are a wandering, travelling world, like our sisters, the
planets; and this little world carries five men who have left the earth
and who have almost forgotten it. We can now see as plainly as in
daylight; we look at each other, surprised at this brightness, for we
have nothing to look at but ourselves and a few silvery clouds floating
below us. The barometers mark twelve hundred metres, then thirteen,
fourteen, fifteen hundred; and the little rice papers still fall about
Captain Jovis claims that the moon has often made balloons act thus, and
that the upward journey will continue.
We are now at two thousand metres; we go up to two thousand three hundred
and fifty; then the balloon stops: We blow the siren and are surprised
that no one answers us from the stars.
We are now going down rapidly. M. Mallet keeps crying: "Throw out more
ballast! throw out more ballast!" And the sand and stones that we throw
over come back into our faces, as if they were going up, thrown from
below toward the stars, so rapid is our descent.
Here is the earth! Where are we? It is now past midnight, and we are
crossing a broad, dry, well-cultivated country, with many roads and well
To the right is a large city and farther away to the left is another.
But suddenly from the earth appears a bright fairy light; it disappears,
reappears and once more disappears. Jovis, intoxicated by space,
exclaims: "Look, look at this phenomenon of the moon in the water. One
can see nothing more beautiful at night!"
Nothing indeed can give one an idea of the wonderful brightness of these
spots of light which are not fire, which do not look like reflections,
which appear quickly here or there and immediately go out again. These
shining lights appear on the winding rivers at every turn, but one hardly
has time to see them as the balloon passes as quickly as the wind.
We are now quite near the earth, and Beer exclaims:-- "Look at that!
What is that running over there in the fields? Isn't it a dog?" Indeed,
something is running along the ground with great speed, and this
something seems to jump over ditches, roads, trees with such ease that we
could not understand what it might be. The captain laughed: "It is the
shadow of our balloon. It will grow as we descend."
I distinctly hear a great noise of foundries in the distance. And,
according to the polar star, which we have been observing all night, 'and
which I have so often watched and consulted from the bridge of my little
yacht on the Mediterranean, we are heading straight for Belgium.
Our siren and our two horns are continually calling. A few cries from
some truck driver or belated reveler answer us. We bellow: "Where are
we?" But the balloon is going so rapidly that the bewildered man has not
even time to answer us. The growing shadow of Le Horla, as large as a
child's ball, is fleeing before us over the fields, roads and woods. It
goes along steadily, preceding us by about a quarter of a mile; and now I
am leaning out of the basket, listening to the roaring of the wind in the
trees and across the harvest fields. I say to Captain Jovis : "How the
He answers: "No, those are probably waterfalls." I insist, sure of my
ear that knows the sound of the wind, from hearing it so often whistle
through the rigging. Then Jovis nudges me; he fears to frighten his
happy, quiet passengers, for he knows full well that a storm is pursuing
At last a man manages to understand us; he answers: "Nord!" We get the
same reply from another.
Suddenly the lights of a town, which seems to be of considerable size,
appear before us. Perhaps it is Lille. As we approach it, such a
wonderful flow of fire appears below us that I think myself transported
into some fairyland where precious stones are manufactured for giants.
It seems that it is a brick factory. Here are others, two, three. The
fusing material bubbles, sparkles, throws out blue, red, yellow, green
sparks, reflections from giant diamonds, rubies, emeralds, turquoises,
sapphires, topazes. And near by are great foundries roaring like
apocalyptic lions; high chimneys belch forth their clouds of smoke and
flame, and we can hear the noise of metal striking against metal.
"Where are we?"
The voice of some joker or of a crazy person answers: "In a balloon!"
"Where are we?"
We were not mistaken. We are already out of sight of the town, and we
see Roubaix to the right, then some well-cultivated, rectangular fields,
of different colors according to the crops, some yellow, some gray or
brown. But the clouds are gathering behind us, hiding the moon, whereas
toward the east the sky is growing lighter, becoming a clear blue tinged
with red. It is dawn. It grows rapidly, now showing us all the little
details of the earth, the trains, the brooks, the cows, the goats. And
all this passes beneath us with surprising speed. One hardly has time to
notice that other fields, other meadows, other houses have already
disappeared. Cocks are crowing, but the voice of ducks drowns
everything. One might think the world to be peopled, covered with them,
they make so much noise.
The early rising peasants are waving their arms and crying to us: "Let
yourselves drop!" But we go along steadily, neither rising nor falling,
leaning over the edge of the basket and watching the world fleeing under
Jovis sights another city far off in the distance. It approaches;
everywhere are old church spires. They are delightful, seen thus from
above. Where are we? Is this Courtrai? Is it Ghent?
We are already very near it, and we see that it is surrounded by water
and crossed in every direction by canals. One might think it a Venice of
the north. Just as we are passing so near to a church tower that our
long guy-rope almost touches it, the chimes begin to ring three o'clock.
The sweet, clear sounds rise to us from this frail roof which we have
almost touched in our wandering course. It is a charming greeting, a
friendly welcome from Holland. We answer with our siren, whose raucous
voice echoes throughout the streets.
It was Bruges. But eve have hardly lost sight of it when my neighbor,
Paul Bessand, asks me: "Don't you see something over there, to the right,
in front of us? It looks like a river."
And, indeed, far ahead of us stretches a bright highway, in the light of
the dawning day. Yes, it looks like a river, an immense river full of
"Get ready for the descent," cried the captain. He makes M. Mallet leave
his net and return to the basket; then we pack the barometers and
everything that could be injured by possible shocks. M. Bessand
exclaims: "Look at the masts over there to the left! We are at the sea!"
Fogs had hidden it from us until then. The sea was everywhere, to the
left and opposite us, while to our right the Scheldt, which had joined
the Moselle, extended as far as the sea, its mouths vaster than a lake.
It was necessary to descend within a minute or two. The rope to the
escape-valve, which had been religiously enclosed in a little white bag
and placed in sight of all so that no one would touch it, is unrolled,
and M. Mallet holds it in his hand while Captain Jovis looks for a
Behind us the thunder was rumbling and not a single bird followed our mad
"Pull!" cried Jovis.
We were passing over a canal. The basket trembled and tipped over
slightly. The guy-rope touched the tall trees on both banks. But our
speed is so great that the long rope now trailing does not seem to slow
down, and we pass with frightful rapidity over a large farm, from which
the bewildered chickens, pigeons and ducks fly away, while the cows, cats
and dogs run, terrified, toward the house.
Just one-half bag of ballast is left. Jovis throws it overboard, and Le
Horla flies lightly across the roof.
The captain once more cries: "The escape-valve!"
M. Mallet reaches for the rope and hangs to it, and we drop like an
arrow. With a slash of a knife the cord which retains the anchor is cut,
and we drag this grapple behind us, through a field of beets. Here are
"Take care! Hold fast! Look out for your heads!"
We pass over them. Then a strong shock shakes us. The anchor has taken
"Look out! Take a good hold! Raise yourselves by your wrists. We are
going to touch ground."
The basket does indeed strike the earth. Then it flies up again. Once
more it falls and bounds upward again, and at last it settles on the
ground, while the balloon struggles madly, like a wounded beast.
Peasants run toward us, but they do not dare approach. They were a long
time before they decided to come and deliver us, for one cannot set foot
on the ground until the bag is almost completely deflated.
Then, almost at the same time as the bewildered men, some of whom showed
their astonishment by jumping, with the wild gestures of savages, all the
cows that were grazing along the coast came toward us, surrounding our
balloon with a strange and comical circle of horns, big eyes and blowing
With the help of the accommodating and hospitable Belgian peasants, we
were able in a short time to pack up all our material and carry it to the
station at Heyst, where at twenty minutes past eight we took the train
The descent occurred at three-fifteen in the morning, preceding by only a
few seconds the torrent of rain and the blinding lightning of the storm
which had been chasing us before it.
Thanks to Captain Jovis, of whom I had heard much from my colleague, Paul
Ginisty--for both of them had fallen together and voluntarily into the
sea opposite Mentone--thanks to this brave man, we were able to see, in a
single night, from far up in the sky, the setting of the sun, the rising
of the moon and the dawn of day and to go from Paris to the mouth of the
Scheldt through the skies.
[This story appeared in "Figaro" on July 16, 1887, under the title:
"From Paris to Heyst.]
The two friends were getting near the end of their dinner. Through the
cafe windows they could see the Boulevard, crowded with people. They
could feel the gentle breezes which are wafted over Paris on warm summer
evenings and make you feel like going out somewhere, you care not where,
under the trees, and make you dream of moonlit rivers, of fireflies and
One of the two, Henri Simon, heaved a deep sigh and said:
"Ah! I am growing old. It's sad. Formerly, on evenings like this, I
felt full of life. Now, I only feel regrets. Life is short!"
He was perhaps forty-five years old, very bald and already growing stout.
The other, Pierre Carnier, a trifle older, but thin and lively, answered:
"Well, my boy, I have grown old without noticing it in the least. I have
always been merry, healthy, vigorous and all the rest. As one sees
oneself in the mirror every day, one does not realize the work of age,
for it is slow, regular, and it modifies the countenance so gently that
the changes are unnoticeable. It is for this reason alone that we do not
die of sorrow after two or three years of excitement. For we cannot
understand the alterations which time produces. In order to appreciate
them one would have to remain six months without seeing one's own face--
then, oh, what a shock!
"And the women, my friend, how I pity the poor beings! All their joy,
all their power, all their life, lies in their beauty, which lasts ten
"As I said, I aged without noticing it; I thought myself practically a
youth, when I was almost fifty years old. Not feeling the slightest
infirmity, I went about, happy and peaceful.
"The revelation of my decline came to me in a simple and terrible manner,
which overwhelmed me for almost six months--then I became resigned.
"Like all men, I have often been in love, but most especially once.
"I met her at the seashore, at Etretat, about twelve years ago, shortly
after the war. There is nothing prettier than this beach during the
morning bathing hour. It is small, shaped like a horseshoe, framed by
high while cliffs, which are pierced by strange holes called the
'Portes,' one stretching out into the ocean like the leg of a giant, the
other short and dumpy. The women gather on the narrow strip of sand in
this frame of high rocks, which they make into a gorgeous garden of
beautiful gowns. The sun beats down on the shores, on the multicolored
parasols, on the blue-green sea; and all is gay, delightful, smiling.
You sit down at the edge of the water and you watch the bathers. The
women come down, wrapped in long bath robes, which they throw off
daintily when they reach the foamy edge of the rippling waves; and they
run into the water with a rapid little step, stopping from time to time
for a delightful little thrill from the cold water, a short gasp.
"Very few stand the test of the bath. It is there that they can be
judged, from the ankle to the throat. Especially on leaving the water
are the defects revealed, although water is a powerful aid to flabby
"The first time that I saw this young woman in the water, I was
delighted, entranced. She stood the test well. There are faces whose
charms appeal to you at first glance and delight you instantly. You seem
to have found the woman whom you were born to love. I had that feeling
and that shock.
"I was introduced, and was soon smitten worse than I had ever been
before. My heart longed for her. It is a terrible yet delightful thing
thus to be dominated by a young woman. It is almost torture, and yet
infinite delight. Her look, her smile, her hair fluttering in the wind,
the little lines of her face, the slightest movement of her features,
delighted me, upset me, entranced me. She had captured me, body and
soul, by her gestures, her manners, even by her clothes, which seemed to
take on a peculiar charm as soon as she wore them. I grew tender at the
sight of her veil on some piece of furniture, her gloves thrown on a
chair. Her gowns seemed to me inimitable. Nobody had hats like hers.
"She was married, but her husband came only on Saturday, and left on
Monday. I didn't cencern myself about him, anyhow. I wasn't jealous of
him, I don't know why; never did a creature seem to me to be of less
importance in life, to attract my attention less than this man.
"But she! how I loved her! How beautiful, graceful and young she was!
She was youth, elegance, freshness itself! Never before had I felt so
strongly what a pretty, distinguished, delicate, charming, graceful being
woman is. Never before had I appreciated the seductive beauty to be
found in the curve of a cheek, the movement of a lip, the pinkness of an
ear, the shape of that foolish organ called the nose.
"This lasted three months; then I left for America, overwhelmed with
sadness. But her memory remained in me, persistent, triumphant. From
far away I was as much hers as I had been when she was near me. Years
passed by, and I did not forget her. The charming image of her person
was ever before my eyes and in my heart. And my love remained true to
her, a quiet tenderness now, something like the beloved memory of the
most beautiful and the most enchanting thing I had ever met in my life.
"Twelve years are not much in a lifetime! One does not feel them slip
by. The years follow each other gently and quickly, slowly yet rapidly,
each one is long and yet so soon over! They add up so rapidly, they
leave so few traces behind them, they disappear so completely, that, when
one turns round to look back over bygone years, one sees nothing and yet
one does not understand how one happens to be so old. It seemed to me,
really, that hardly a few months separated me from that charming season
on the sands of Etretat.
"Last spring I went to dine with some friends at Maisons-Laffitte.
"Just as the train was leaving, a big, fat lady, escorted by four little
girls, got into my car. I hardly looked at this mother hen, very big,
very round, with a face as full as the moon framed in an enormous,
"She was puffing, out of breath from having been forced to walk quickly.
The children began to chatter. I unfolded my paper and began to read.
"We had just passed Asnieres, when my neighbor suddenly turned to me and
"'Excuse me, sir, but are you not Monsieur Garnier?'
"Then she began to laugh, the pleased laugh of a good woman; and yet it
"'You do not seem to recognize me.'
"I hesitated. It seemed to me that I had seen that face somewhere; but
where? when? I answered:
"'Yes--and no. I certainly know you, and yet I cannot recall your name.'
"She blushed a little:
"'Madame Julie Lefevre.'
"Never had I received such a shock. In a second it seemed to me as
though it were all over with me! I felt that a veil had been torn from
my eyes and that I was going to make a horrible and heartrending
"So that was she! That big, fat, common woman, she! She had become the
mother of these four girls since I had last her. And these little beings
surprised me as much as their mother. They were part of her; they were
big girls, and already had a place in life. Whereas she no longer
counted, she, that marvel of dainty and charming gracefulness. It seemed
to me that I had seen her but yesterday, and this is how I found her
again! Was it possible? A poignant grief seized my heart; and also a
revolt against nature herself, an unreasoning indignation against this
brutal, infariious act of destruction.
"I looked at her, bewildered. Then I took her hand in mine, and tears
came to my eyes. I wept for her lost youth. For I did not know this fat
"She was also excited, and stammered:
"'I am greatly changed, am I not? What can you expect--everything has
its time! You see, I have become a mother, nothing but a good mother.
Farewell to the rest, that is over. Oh! I never expected you to
recognize me if we met. You, too, have changed. It took me quite a
while to be sure that I was not mistaken. Your hair is all white. Just
think! Twelve years ago! Twelve years! My oldest girl is already ten.'
"I looked at the child. And I recognized in her something of her
mother's old charm, but something as yet unformed, something which
promised for the future. And life seemed to me as swift as a passing
"We had reached. Maisons-Laffitte. I kissed my old friend's hand. I
had found nothing utter but the most commonplace remarks. I was too much
upset to talk.
"At night, alone, at home, I stood in front of the mirror for a long
time, a very long time. And I finally remembered what I had been,
finally saw in my mind's eye my brown mustache, my black hair and the
youthful expression of my face. Now I was old. Farewell!"
This is what the old Marquis d'Arville told us after St. Hubert's dinner
at the house of the Baron des Ravels.
We had killed a stag that day. The marquis was the only one of the
guests who had not taken part in this chase. He never hunted.
During that long repast we had talked about hardly anything but the
slaughter of animals. The ladies themselves were interested in bloody
and exaggerated tales, and the orators imitated the attacks and the
combats of men against beasts, raised their arms, romanced in a
M. d Arville talked well, in a certain flowery, high-sounding, but
effective style. He must have told this story frequently, for he told it
fluently, never hesitating for words, choosing them with skill to make
his description vivid.
Gentlemen, I have never hunted, neither did my father, nor my
grandfather, nor my great-grandfather. This last was the son of a man
who hunted more than all of you put together. He died in 1764. I will
tell you the story of his death.
His name was Jean. He was married, father of that child who became my
great-grandfather, and he lived with his younger brother, Francois
d'Arville, in our castle in Lorraine, in the midst of the forest.
Francois d'Arville had remained a bachelor for love of the chase.
They both hunted from one end of the year to the other, without stopping
and seemingly without fatigue. They loved only hunting, understood
nothing else, talked only of that, lived only for that.
They had at heart that one passion, which was terrible and inexorable.
It consumed them, had completely absorbed them, leaving room for no other
They had given orders that they should not be interrupted in the chase
for any reason whatever. My great-grandfather was born while his father
was following a fox, and Jean d'Arville did not stop the chase, but
exclaimed: "The deuce! The rascal might have waited till after the view-
His brother Franqois was still more infatuated. On rising he went to see
the dogs, then the horses, then he shot little birds about the castle
until the time came to hunt some large game.
In the countryside they were called M. le Marquis and M. le Cadet, the
nobles then not being at all like the chance nobility of our time, which
wishes to establish an hereditary hierarchy in titles; for the son of a
marquis is no more a count, nor the son of a viscount a baron, than a son
of a general is a colonel by birth. But the contemptible vanity of today
finds profit in that arrangement.
My ancestors were unusually tall, bony, hairy, violent and vigorous.
The younger, still taller than the older, had a voice so strong that,
according to a legend of which he was proud, all the leaves of the forest
shook when he shouted.
When they were both mounted to set out hunting, it must have been a
superb sight to see those two giants straddling their huge horses.
Now, toward the midwinter of that year, 1764, the frosts were excessive,
and the wolves became ferocious.
They even attacked belated peasants, roamed at night outside the houses,
howled from sunset to sunrise, and robbed the stables.
And soon a rumor began to circulate. People talked of a colossal wolf
with gray fur, almost white, who had eaten two children, gnawed off a
woman's arm, strangled all the watch dogs in the district, and even come
without fear into the farmyards. The people in the houses affirmed that
they had felt his breath, and that it made the flame of the lights
flicker. And soon a panic ran through all the province. No one dared go
out any more after nightfall. The darkness seemed haunted by the image
of the beast.
The brothers d'Arville determined to find and kill him, and several times
they brought together all the gentlemen of the country to a great hunt.
They beat the forests and searched the coverts in vain; they never met
him. They killed wolves, but not that one. And every night after a
battue the beast, as if to avenge himself, attacked some traveller or
killed some one's cattle, always far from the place where they had looked
Finally, one night he stole into the pigpen of the Chateau d'Arville and
ate the two fattest pigs.
The brothers were roused to anger, considering this attack as a direct
insult and a defiance. They took their strong bloodhounds, used to
pursue dangerous animals, and they set off to hunt, their hearts filled
From dawn until the hour when the empurpled sun descended behind the
great naked trees, they beat the woods without finding anything.
At last, furious and disgusted, both were returning, walking their horses
along a lane bordered with hedges, and they marvelled that their skill as
huntsmen should be baffled by this wolf, and they were suddenly seized
with a mysterious fear.
The elder said:
"That beast is not an ordinary one. You would say it had a mind like a
The younger answered:
"Perhaps we should have a bullet blessed by our cousin, the bishop, or
pray some priest to pronounce the words which are needed."
Then they were silent.
"Look how red the sun is. The great wolf will do some harm to-night."
He had hardly finished speaking when his horse reared; that of Franqois
began to kick. A large thicket covered with dead leaves opened before
them, and a mammoth beast, entirely gray, jumped up and ran off through
Both uttered a kind of grunt of joy, and bending over the necks of their
heavy horses, they threw them forward with an impulse from all their
body, hurling them on at such a pace, urging them, hurrying them away,
exciting them so with voice and with gesture and with spur that the
experienced riders seemed to be carrying the heavy beasts between 4
their thighs and to bear them off as if they were flying.
Thus they went, plunging through the thickets, dashing across the beds of
streams, climbing the hillsides, descending the gorges, and blowing the
horn as loud as they could to attract their people and the dogs.
And now, suddenly, in that mad race, my ancestor struck his forehead
against an enormous branch which split his skull; and he fell dead on the
ground, while his frightened horse took himself off, disappearing in the
gloom which enveloped the woods.
The younger d'Arville stopped quick, leaped to the earth, seized his
brother in his arms, and saw that the brains were escaping from the wound
with the blood.
Then he sat down beside the body, rested the head, disfigured and red, on
his knees, and waited, regarding the immobile face of his elder brother.
Little by little a fear possessed him, a strange fear which he had never
felt before, the fear of the dark, the fear of loneliness, the fear of
the deserted wood, and the fear also of the weird wolf who had just
killed his brother to avenge himself upon them both.
The gloom thickened; the acute cold made the trees crack. Francois got
up, shivering, unable to remain there longer, feeling himself growing
faint. Nothing was to be heard, neither the voice of the dogs nor the
sound of the horns-all was silent along the invisible horizon; and this
mournful silence of the frozen night had something about it terrific and
He seized in his immense hands the great body of Jean, straightened it,
and laid it across the saddle to carry it back to the chateau; then he
went on his way softly, his mind troubled as if he were in a stupor,
pursued by horrible and fear-giving images.
And all at once, in the growing darkness a great shape crossed his path.
It was the beast. A shock of terror shook the hunter; something cold,
like a drop of water, seemed to glide down his back, and, like a monk
haunted of the devil, he made a great sign of the cross, dismayed at this
abrupt return of the horrible prowler. But his eyes fell again on the
inert body before him, and passing abruptly from fear to anger, he shook
with an indescribable rage.
Then he spurred his horse and rushed after the wolf.
He followed it through the copses, the ravines, and the tall trees,
traversing woods which he no longer recognized, his eyes fixed on the
white speck which fled before him through the night.
His horse also seemed animated by a force and strength hitherto unknown.
It galloped straight ahead with outstretched neck, striking against
trees, and rocks, the head and the feet of the dead man thrown across the
saddle. The limbs tore out his hair; the brow, beating the huge trunks,
spattered them with blood; the spurs tore their ragged coats of bark.
Suddenly the beast and the horseman issued from the forest and rushed
into a valley, just as the moon appeared above the mountains. The valley
here was stony, inclosed by enormous rocks.
Francois then uttered a yell of joy which the echoes repeated like a peal
of thunder, and he leaped from his horse, his cutlass in his hand.
The beast, with bristling hair, the back arched, awaited him, its eyes
gleaming like two stars. But, before beginning battle, the strong
hunter, seizing his brother, seated him on a rock, and, placing stones
under his head, which was no more than a mass of blood, he shouted in the
ears as if he was talking to a deaf man: "Look, Jean; look at this!"
Then he attacked the monster. He felt himself strong enough to overturn
a mountain, to bruise stones in his hands. The beast tried to bite him,
aiming for his stomach; but he had seized the fierce animal by the neck,
without even using his weapon, and he strangled it gently, listening to
the cessation of breathing in its throat and the beatings of its heart.
He laughed, wild with joy, pressing closer and closer his formidable
embrace, crying in a delirium of joy, "Look, Jean, look!" All resistance
ceased; the body of the wolf became limp. He was dead.
Franqois took him up in his arms and carried him to the feet of the elder
brother, where he laid him, repeating, in a tender voice: "There, there,
there, my little Jean, see him!"
Then he replaced on the saddle the two bodies, one upon the other, and
He returned to the chateau, laughing and crying, like Gargantua at the
birth of Pantagruel, uttering shouts of triumph, and boisterous with joy
as he related the death of the beast, and grieving and tearing his beard
in telling of that of his brother.
And often, later, when he talked again of that day, he would say, with
tears in his eyes: "If only poor Jean could have seen me strangle the
beast, he would have died content, that I am sure!"
The widow of my ancestor inspired her orphan son with that horror of the
chase which has transmitted itself from father to son as far down as
The Marquis d'Arville was silent. Some one asked:
"That story is a legend, isn't it?"
And the story teller answered:
"I swear to you that it is true from beginning to end."
Then a lady declared, in a little, soft voice
"All the same, it is fine to have passions like that."
Resembling in appearance all the wooden hostelries of the High Alps
situated at the foot of glaciers in the barren rocky gorges that
intersect the summits of the mountains, the Inn of Schwarenbach serves as
a resting place for travellers crossing the Gemini Pass.
It remains open for six months in the year and is inhabited by the family
of Jean Hauser; then, as soon as the snow begins to fall and to fill the
valley so as to make the road down to Loeche impassable, the father and
his three sons go away and leave the house in charge of the old guide,
Gaspard Hari, with the young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, and Sam, the great
The two men and the dog remain till the spring in their snowy prison,
with nothing before their eyes except the immense white slopes of the
Balmhorn, surrounded by light, glistening summits, and are shut in,
blocked up and buried by the snow which rises around them and which
envelops, binds and crushes the little house, which lies piled on the
roof, covering the windows and blocking up the door.
It was the day on which the Hauser family were going to return to Loeche,
as winter was approaching, and the descent was becoming dangerous. Three
mules started first, laden with baggage and led by the three sons. Then
the mother, Jeanne Hauser, and her daughter Louise mounted a fourth mule
and set off in their turn and the father followed them, accompanied by
the two men in charge, who were to escort the family as far as the brow
of the descent. First of all they passed round the small lake, which was
now frozen over, at the bottom of the mass of rocks which stretched in
front of the inn, and then they followed the valley, which was dominated
on all sides by the snow-covered summits.
A ray of sunlight fell into that little white, glistening, frozen desert
and illuminated it with a cold and dazzling flame. No living thing
appeared among this ocean of mountains. There was no motion in this
immeasurable solitude and no noise disturbed the profound silence.
By degrees the young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, a tall, long-legged Swiss, left
old man Hauser and old Gaspard behind, in order to catch up the mule
which bore the two women. The younger one looked at him as he approached
and appeared to be calling him with her sad eyes. She was a young,
fairhaired little peasant girl, whose milk-white cheeks and pale hair
looked as if they had lost their color by their long abode amid the ice.
When he had got up to the animal she was riding he put his hand on the
crupper and relaxed his speed. Mother Hauser began to talk to him,
enumerating with the minutest details all that he would have to attend to
during the winter. It was the first time that he was going to stay up
there, while old Hari had already spent fourteen winters amid the snow,
at the inn of Schwarenbach.
Ulrich Kunsi listened, without appearing to understand and looked
incessantly at the girl. From time to time he replied: "Yes, Madame
Hauser," but his thoughts seemed far away and his calm features remained
They reached Lake Daube, whose broad, frozen surface extended to the end
of the valley. On the right one saw the black, pointed, rocky summits of
the Daubenhorn beside the enormous moraines of the Lommern glacier, above
which rose the Wildstrubel. As they approached the Gemmi pass, where the
descent of Loeche begins, they suddenly beheld the immense horizon of the
Alps of the Valais, from which the broad, deep valley of the Rhone
In the distance there was a group of white, unequal, flat, or pointed
mountain summits, which glistened in the sun; the Mischabel with its two
peaks, the huge group of the Weisshorn, the heavy Brunegghorn, the lofty
and formidable pyramid of Mount Cervin, that slayer of men, and the Dent-
Blanche, that monstrous coquette.
Then beneath them, in a tremendous hole, at the bottom of a terrific
abyss, they perceived Loeche, where houses looked as grains of sand which
had been thrown into that enormous crevice that is ended and closed by
the Gemmi and which opens, down below, on the Rhone.
The mule stopped at the edge of the path, which winds and turns
continually, doubling backward, then, fantastically and strangely, along
the side of the mountain as far as the almost invisible little village at
its feet. The women jumped into the snow and the two old men joined
them. "Well," father Hauser said, "good-by, and keep up your spirits
till next year, my friends," and old Hari replied: "Till next year."
They embraced each other and then Madame Hauser in her turn offered her
cheek, and the girl did the same.
When Ulrich Kunsi's turn came, he whispered in Louise's ear, "Do not
forget those up yonder," and she replied, "No," in such a low voice that
he guessed what she had said without hearing it. "Well, adieu," Jean
Hauser repeated, "and don't fall ill." And going before the two women,
he commenced the descent, and soon all three disappeared at the first
turn in the road, while the two men returned to the inn at Schwarenbach.
They walked slowly, side by side, without speaking. It was over, and
they would be alone together for four or five months. Then Gaspard Hari
began to relate his life last winter. He had remained with Michael
Canol, who was too old now to stand it, for an accident might happen
during that long solitude. They had not been dull, however; the only
thing was to make up one's mind to it from the first, and in the end one
would find plenty of distraction, games and other means of whiling away
Ulrich Kunsi listened to him with his eyes on the ground, for in his
thoughts he was following those who were descending to the village. They
soon came in sight of the inn, which was, however, scarcely visible, so
small did it look, a black speck at the foot of that enormous billow of
snow, and when they opened the door Sam, the great curly dog, began to
romp round them.
"Come, my boy," old Gaspard said, "we have no women now, so we must get
our own dinner ready. Go and peel the potatoes." And they both sat down
on wooden stools and began to prepare the soup.
The next morning seemed very long to Kunsi. Old Hari smoked and spat on
the hearth, while the young man looked out of the window at the snow-
covered mountain opposite the house.
In the afternoon he went out, and going over yesterday's ground again, he
looked for the traces of the mule that had carried the two women. Then
when he had reached the Gemmi Pass, he laid himself down on his stomach
and looked at Loeche.
The village, in its rocky pit, was not yet buried under the snow, from
which it was sheltered by the pine woods which protected it on all sides.
Its low houses looked like paving stones in a large meadow from above.
Hauser's little daughter was there now in one of those gray-colored
houses. In which? Ulrich Kunsi was too far away to be able to make them
out separately. How he would have liked to go down while he was yet
But the sun had disappeared behind the lofty crest of the Wildstrubel and
the young man returned to the chalet. Daddy Hari was smoking, and when
he saw his mate come in he proposed a game of cards to him, and they sat
down opposite each other, on either side of the table. They played for a
long time a simple game called brisque and then they had supper and went
The following days were like the first, bright and cold, without any
fresh snow. Old Gaspard spent his afternoons in watching the eagles and
other rare birds which ventured on those frozen heights, while Ulrich
returned regularly to the Gemmi Pass to look at the village. Then they
played cards, dice or dominoes and lost and won a trifle, just to create
an interest in the game.
One morning Hari, who was up first, called his companion. A moving, deep
and light cloud of white spray was falling on them noiselessly and was by
degrees burying them under a thick, heavy coverlet of foam. That lasted
four days and four nights. It was necessary to free the door and the
windows, to dig out a passage and to cut steps to get over this frozen
powder, which a twelve hours' frost had made as hard as the granite of
They lived like prisoners and did not venture outside their abode. They
had divided their duties, which they performed regularly. Ulrich Kunsi
undertook the scouring, washing and everything that belonged to
cleanliness. He also chopped up the wood while Gaspard Hari did the
cooking and attended to the fire. Their regular and monotonous work was
interrupted by long games at cards or dice, and they never quarrelled,
but were always calm and placid. They were never seen impatient or ill-
humored, nor did they ever use hard words, for they had laid in a stock
of patience for their wintering on the top of the mountain.
Sometimes old Gaspard took his rifle and went after chamois, and
occasionally he killed one. Then there was a feast in the inn at
Schwarenbach and they revelled in fresh meat. One morning he went out as
usual. The thermometer outside marked eighteen degrees of frost, and as
the sun had not yet risen, the hunter hoped to surprise the animals at
the approaches to the Wildstrubel, and Ulrich, being alone, remained in
bed until ten o'clock. He was of a sleepy nature, but he would not have
dared to give way like that to his inclination in the presence of the old
guide, who was ever an early riser. He breakfasted leisurely with Sam,
who also spent his days and nights in sleeping in front of the fire; then
he felt low-spirited and even frightened at the solitude, and was-seized
by a longing for his daily game of cards, as one is by the craving of a
confirmed habit, and so he went out to meet his companion, who was to
return at four o'clock.
The snow had levelled the whole deep valley, filled up the crevasses,
obliterated all signs of the two lakes and covered the rocks, so that
between the high summits there was nothing but an immense, white,
regular, dazzling and frozen surface. For three weeks Ulrich had not
been to the edge of the precipice from which he had looked down on the
village, and he wanted to go there before climbing the slopes which led
to Wildstrubel. Loeche was now also covered by the snow and the houses
could scarcely be distinguished, covered as they were by that white
Then, turning to the right, he reached the Loemmern glacier. He went
along with a mountaineer's long strides, striking the snow, which was as
hard as a rock, with his ironpointed stick, and with his piercing eyes he
looked for the little black, moving speck in the distance, on that
enormous, white expanse.
When he reached the end of the glacier he stopped and asked himself
whether the old man had taken that road, and then he began to walk along
the moraines with rapid and uneasy steps. The day was declining, the
snow was assuming a rosy tint, and a dry, frozen wind blew in rough gusts
over its crystal surface. Ulrich uttered a long, shrill, vibrating call.
His voice sped through the deathlike silence in which the mountains were
sleeping; it reached the distance, across profound and motionless waves
of glacial foam, like the cry of a bird across the waves of the sea.
Then it died away and nothing answered him.
He began to walk again. The sun had sunk yonder behind the mountain
tops, which were still purple with the reflection from the sky, but the
depths of the valley were becoming gray, and suddenly the young man felt
frightened. It seemed to him as if the silence, the cold, the solitude,
the winter death of these mountains were taking possession of him, were
going to stop and to freeze his blood, to make his limbs grow stiff and
to turn him into a motionless and frozen object, and he set off running,
fleeing toward his dwelling. The old man, he thought, would have
returned during his absence. He had taken another road; he would, no
doubt, be sitting before the fire, with a dead chamois at his feet.
He soon came in sight of the inn, but no smoke rose from it. Ulrich
walked faster and opened the door. Sam ran up to him to greet him, but
Gaspard Hari had not returned. Kunsi, in his alarm, turned round
suddenly, as if he had expected to find his comrade hidden in a corner.
Then he relighted the fire and made the soup, hoping every moment to see
the old man come in. From time to time he went out to see if he were not
coming. It was quite night now, that wan, livid night of the mountains,
lighted by a thin, yellow crescent moon, just disappearing behind the
Then the young man went in and sat down to warm his hands and feet, while
he pictured to himself every possible accident. Gaspard might have
broken a leg, have fallen into a crevasse, taken a false step and
dislocated his ankle. And, perhaps, he was lying on the snow, overcome
and stiff with the cold, in agony of mind, lost and, perhaps, shouting
for help, calling with all his might in the silence of the night..
But where? The mountain was so vast, so rugged, so dangerous in places,
especially at that time of the year, that it would have required ten or
twenty guides to walk for a week in all directions to find a man in that
immense space. Ulrich Kunsi, however, made up his mind to set out with
Sam if Gaspard did not return by one in the morning, and he made his
He put provisions for two days into a bag, took his steel climbing iron,
tied a long, thin, strong rope round his waist, and looked to see that
his ironshod stick and his axe, which served to cut steps in the ice,
were in order. Then he waited. The fire was burning on the hearth, the
great dog was snoring in front of it, and the clock was ticking, as
regularly as a heart beating, in its resounding wooden case.
He waited, with his ears on the alert for distant sounds, and he shivered
when the wind blew against the roof and the walls. It struck twelve and
he trembled: Then, frightened and shivering, he put some water on the
fire, so that he might have some hot coffee before starting, and when the
clock struck one he got up, woke Sam, opened the door and went off in the
direction of the Wildstrubel. For five hours he mounted, scaling the
rocks by means of his climbing irons, cutting into the ice, advancing
continually, and occasionally hauling up the dog, who remained below at
the foot of some slope that was too steep for him, by means of the rope.
It was about six o'clock when he reached one of the summits to which old
Gaspard often came after chamois, and he waited till it should be
The sky was growing pale overhead, and a strange light, springing nobody
could tell whence, suddenly illuminated the immense ocean of pale
mountain summits, which extended for a hundred leagues around him. One
might have said that this vague brightness arose from the snow itself and
spread abroad in space. By degrees the highest distant summits assumed a
delicate, pink flesh color, and the red sun appeared behind the ponderous
giants of the Bernese Alps.
Ulrich Kunsi set off again, walking like a hunter, bent over, looking for
tracks, and saying to his dog: "Seek, old fellow, seek!"
He was descending the mountain now, scanning the depths closely, and from
time to time shouting, uttering aloud, prolonged cry, which soon died
away in that silent vastness. Then he put his ear to the ground to
listen. He thought he could distinguish a voice, and he began to run and
shouted again, but he heard nothing more and sat down, exhausted and in
despair. Toward midday he breakfasted and gave Sam, who was as tired as
himself, something to eat also, and then he recommenced his search.
When evening came he was still walking, and he had walked more than
thirty miles over the mountains. As he was too far away to return home
and too tired to drag himself along any further, he dug a hole in the
snow and crouched in it with his dog under a blanket which he had brought
with him. And the man and the dog lay side by side, trying to keep warm,
but frozen to the marrow nevertheless. Ulrich scarcely slept, his mind
haunted by visions and his limbs shaking with cold.
Day was breaking when he got up. His legs were as stiff as iron bars and
his spirits so low that he was ready to cry with anguish, while his heart
was beating so that he almost fell over with agitation, when he thought
he heard a noise.
Suddenly he imagined that he also was going to die of cold in the midst
of this vast solitude, and the terror of such a death roused his energies
and gave him renewed vigor. He was descending toward the inn, falling
down and getting up again, and followed at a distance by Sam, who was
limping on three legs, and they did not reach Schwarenbach until four
o'clock in the afternoon. The house was empty and the young man made a
fire, had something to eat and went to sleep, so worn out that he did not
think of anything more.
He slept for a long time, for a very long time, an irresistible sleep.
But suddenly a voice, a cry, a name, "Ulrich!" aroused him from his
profound torpor and made him sit up in bed. Had he been dreaming? Was
it one of those strange appeals which cross the dreams of disquieted
minds? No, he heard it still, that reverberating cry-which had entered
his ears and remained in his flesh-to the tips of his sinewy fingers.
Certainly somebody had cried out and called "Ulrich!" There was somebody
there near the house, there could be no doubt of that, and he opened the
door and shouted, "Is it you, Gaspard?" with all the strength of his
lungs. But there was no reply, no murmur, no groan, nothing. It was
quite dark and the snow looked wan.
The wind had risen, that icy wind that cracks the rocks and leaves
nothing alive on those deserted heights, and it came in sudden gusts,
which were more parching and more deadly than the burning wind of the
desert, and again Ulrich shouted: "Gaspard! Gaspard! Gaspard." And
then he waited again. Everything was silent on the mountain.
Then he shook with terror and with a bound he was inside the inn, when he
shut and bolted the door, and then he fell into a chair trembling all
over, for he felt certain that his comrade had called him at the moment
he was expiring.
He was sure of that, as sure as one is of being alive or of eating a
piece of bread. Old Gaspard Hari had been dying for two days and three
nights somewhere, in some hole, in one of those deep, untrodden ravines
whose whiteness is more sinister than subterranean darkness. He had been
dying for two days and three nights and be had just then died, thinking
of his comrade. His soul, almost before it was released, had taken its
flight to the inn where Ulrich was sleeping, and it had called him by
that terrible and mysterious power which the spirits of the dead have to
haunt the living. That voiceless soul had cried to the worn-out soul of
the sleeper; it had uttered its last farewell, or its reproach, or its
curse on the man who had not searched carefully enough.
And Ulrich felt that it was there, quite close to him, behind the wall,
behind the door which be had just fastened. It was wandering about, like
a night bird which lightly touches a lighted window with his wings, and
the terrified young man was ready to scream with horror. He wanted to
run away, but did not dare to go out; he did not dare, and he should
never dare to do it in the future, for that phantom would remain there
day and night, round the inn, as long as the old man's body was not
recovered and had not been deposited in the consecrated earth of a
When it was daylight Kunsi recovered some of his courage at the return of
the bright sun. He prepared his meal, gave his dog some food and then
remained motionless on a chair, tortured at heart as he thought of the
old man lying on the snow, and then, as soon as night once more covered
the mountains, new terrors assailed him. He now walked up and down the
dark kitchen, which was scarcely lighted by the flame of one candle, and
he walked from one end of it to the other with great strides, listening,
listening whether the terrible cry of the other night would again break
the dreary silence outside. He felt himself alone, unhappy man, as no
man had ever been alone before! He was alone in this immense desert of
Snow, alone five thousand feet above the inhabited earth, above human
habitation, above that stirring, noisy, palpitating life, alone under an
icy sky! A mad longing impelled him to run away, no matter where, to get
down to Loeche by flinging himself over the precipice; but he did not
even dare to open the door, as he felt sure that the other, the dead man,
would bar his road, so that he might not be obliged to remain up there
Toward midnight, tired with walking, worn out by grief and fear, he at
last fell into a doze in his chair, for he was afraid of his bed as one
is of a haunted spot. But suddenly the strident cry of the other evening
pierced his ears, and it was so shrill that Ulrich stretched out his arms
to repulse the ghost, and he fell backward with his chair.
Sam, who was awakened by the noise, began to howl as frightened dogs do
howl, and he walked all about the house trying to find out where the
danger came from. When he got to the door, he sniffed beneath it,
smelling vigorously, with his coat bristling and his tail stiff, while he
growled angrily. Kunsi, who was terrified, jumped up, and, holding his
chair by one leg, he cried: "Don't come in, don't come in, or I shall
kill you." And the dog, excited by this threat, barked angrily at that
invisible enemy who defied his master's voice. By degrees, however, he
quieted down and came back and stretched himself in front of the fire,
but he was uneasy and kept his head up and growled between his teeth.
Ulrich, in turn, recovered his senses, but as he felt faint with terror,
he went and got a bottle of brandy out of the sideboard, and he drank off
several glasses, one after anther, at a gulp. His ideas became vague,
his courage revived and a feverish glow ran through his veins.
He ate scarcely anything the next day and limited himself to alcohol, and
so he lived for several days, like a drunken brute. As soon as he
thought of Gaspard Hari, he began to drink again, and went on drinking
until he fell to the ground, overcome by intoxication. And there he
remained lying on his face, dead drunk, his limbs benumbed, and snoring
loudly. But scarcely had he digested the maddening and burning liquor
than the same cry, "Ulrich!" woke him like a bullet piercing his brain,
and he got up, still staggering, stretching out his hands to save himself
from falling, and calling to Sam to help him. And the dog, who appeared
to be going mad like his master, rushed to the door, scratched it with
his claws and gnawed it with his long white teeth, while the young man,
with his head thrown back drank the brandy in draughts, as if it had been
cold water, so that it might by and by send his thoughts, his frantic
terror, and his memory to sleep again.
In three weeks he had consumed all his stock of ardent spirits. But his
continual drunkenness only lulled his terror, which awoke more furiously
than ever as soon as it was impossible for him to calm it. His fixed
idea then, which had been intensified by a month of drunkenness, and
which was continually increasing in his absolute solitude, penetrated him
like a gimlet. He now walked about the house like a wild beast in its
cage, putting his ear to the door to listen if the other were there and
defying him through the wall. Then, as soon as he dozed, overcome by
fatigue, he heard the voice which made him leap to his feet.
At last one night, as cowards do when driven to extremities, he sprang to
the door and opened it, to see who was calling him and to force him to
keep quiet, but such a gust of cold wind blew into his face that it
chilled him to the bone, and he closed and bolted the door again
immediately, without noticing that Sam had rushed out. Then, as he was
shivering with cold, he threw some wood on the fire and sat down in front
of it to warm himself, but suddenly he started, for somebody was
scratching at the wall and crying. In desperation he called out: "Go
away!" but was answered by another long, sorrowful wail.
Then all his remaining senses forsook him from sheer fright. He
repeated: "Go away!" and turned round to try to find some corner in which
to hide, while the other person went round the house still crying and
rubbing against the wall. Ulrich went to the oak sideboard, which was
full of plates and dishes and of provisions, and lifting it up with
superhuman strength, he dragged it to the door, so as to form a
barricade. Then piling up all the rest of the furniture, the mattresses,
palliasses and chairs, he stopped up the windows as one does when
assailed by an enemy.
But the person outside now uttered long, plaintive, mournful groans, to
which the young man replied by similar groans, and thus days and nights
passed without their ceasing to howl at each other. The one was
continually walking round the house and scraped the walls with his nails
so vigorously that it seemed as if he wished to destroy them, while the
other, inside, followed all his movements, stooping down and holding his
ear to the walls and replying to all his appeals with terrible cries.
One evening, however, Ulrich heard nothing more, and he sat down, so
overcome by fatigue, that he went to sleep immediately and awoke in the
morning without a thought, without any recollection of what had happened,
just as if his head had been emptied during his heavy sleep, but he felt
hungry, and he ate.
The winter was over and the Gemmi Pass was practicable again, so the
Hauser family started off to return to their inn. As soon as they had
reached the top of the ascent the women mounted their mule and spoke
about the two men whom they would meet again shortly. They were, indeed,
rather surprised that neither of them had come down a few days before, as
soon as the road was open, in order to tell them all about their long
winter sojourn. At last, however, they saw the inn, still covered with
snow, like a quilt. The door and the window were closed, but a little
smoke was coming out of the chimney, which reassured old Hauser. On
going up to the door, however, he saw the skeleton of an animal which had
been torn to pieces by the eagles, a large skeleton lying on its side.
They all looked close at it and the mother said:
"That must be Sam," and then she shouted: "Hi, Gaspard!" A cry from the
interior of the house answered her and a sharp cry that one might have
thought some animal had uttered it. Old Hauser repeated, "Hi, Gaspard!"
and they heard another cry similar to the first.
Then the three men, the father and the two sons, tried to open the door,
but it resisted their efforts. From the empty cow-stall they took a beam
to serve as a battering-ram and hurled it against the door with all their
might. The wood gave way and the boards flew into splinters. Then the
house was shaken by a loud voice, and inside, behind the side board which
was overturned, they saw a man standing upright, with his hair falling on
his shoulders and a beard descending to his breast, with shining eyes,
and nothing but rags to cover him. They did not recognize him, but
Louise Hauser exclaimed:
"It is Ulrich, mother." And her mother declared that it was Ulrich,
although his hair was white.
He allowed them to go up to him and to touch him, but he did not reply to
any of their questions, and they were obliged to take him to Loeche,
where the doctors found that he was mad, and nobody ever found out what
had become of his companion.
Little Louise Hauser nearly died that summer of decline, which the
physicians attributed to the cold air of the mountains.