Father Matthew by Guy de Maupassant
We had just left Rouen and were galloping along the road to Jumieges.
The light carriage flew along across the level country. Presently the
horse slackened his pace to walk up the hill of Cantelen.
One sees there one of the most magnificent views in the world. Behind us
lay Rouen, the city of churches, with its Gothic belfries, sculptured
like ivory trinkets; before us Saint Sever, the manufacturing suburb,
whose thousands of smoking chimneys rise amid the expanse of sky,
opposite the thousand sacred steeples of the old city.
On the one hand the spire of the cathedral, the highest of human
monuments, on the other the engine of the power-house, its rival, and
almost as high, and a metre higher than the tallest pyramid in Egypt.
Before us wound the Seine, with its scattered islands and bordered by
white banks, covered with a forest on the right and on the left immense
meadows, bounded by another forest yonder in the distance.
Here and there large ships lay at anchor along the banks of the wide
river. Three enormous steam boats were starting out, one behind the
other, for Havre, and a chain of boats, a bark, two schooners and a brig,
were going upstream to Rouen, drawn by a little tug that emitted a cloud
of black smoke.
My companion, a native of the country, did not glance at this wonderful
landscape, but he smiled continually; he seemed to be amused at his
thoughts. Suddenly he cried:
"Ah, you will soon see something comical--Father Matthew's chapel. That
is a sweet morsel, my boy."
I looked at him in surprise. He continued:
"I will give you a whiff of Normandy that will stay by you. Father
Matthew is the handsomest Norman in the province and his chapel is one of
the wonders of the world, nothing more nor less. But I will first give
you a few words of explanation.
"Father Matthew, who is also called Father 'La Boisson,' is an old
sergeant-major who has come back to his native land. He combines in
admirable proportions, making a perfect whole, the humbug of the old
soldier and the sly roguery of the Norman. On his return to Normandy,
thanks to influence and incredible cleverness, he was made doorkeeper of
a votive chapel, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin and frequented chiefly
by young women who have gone astray . . . . He composed and had
painted a special prayer to his 'Good Virgin.' This prayer is a
masterpiece of unintentional irony, of Norman wit, in which jest is
blended with fear of the saint and with the superstitious fear of the
secret influence of something. He has not much faith in his protectress,
but he believes in her a little through prudence, and he is considerate
of her through policy.
"This is how this wonderful prayer begins:
"'Our good Madame Virgin Mary, natural protectress of girl mothers in
this land and all over the world, protect your servant who erred in a
moment of forgetfulness . . .'
"It ends thus:
"'Do not forget me, especially when you are with your holy spouse, and
intercede with God the Father that he may grant me a good husband, like
"This prayer, which was suppressed by the clergy of the district, is sold
by him privately, and is said to be very efficacious for those who recite
it with unction.
"In fact he talks of the good Virgin as the valet de chambre of a
redoubted prince might talk of his master who confided in him all his
little private secrets. He knows a number of amusing anecdotes at his
expense which he tells confidentially among friends as they sit over
"But you will see for yourself.
"As the fees coming from the Virgin did not appear sufficient to him, he
added to the main figure a little business in saints. He has them all,
or nearly all. There was not room enough in the chapel, so he stored
them in the wood-shed and brings them forth as soon as the faithful ask
for them. He carved these little wooden statues himself--they are
comical in the extreme--and painted them all bright green one year when
they were painting his house. You know that saints cure diseases, but
each saint has his specialty, and you must not confound them or make any
blunders. They are as jealous of each other as mountebanks.
"In order that they may make no mistake, the old women come and consult
"'For diseases of the ear which saint is the best?'
"'Why, Saint Osyme is good and Saint Pamphilius is not bad.' But that is
"As Matthew has some time to spare, he drinks; but he drinks like a
professional, with conviction, so much so that he is intoxicated
regularly every evening. He is drunk, but he is aware of it. He is so
well aware of it that he notices each day his exact degree of
intoxication. That is his chief occupation; the chapel is a secondary
"And he has invented--listen and catch on--he has invented the
"There is no such instrument, but Matthew's observations are as precise
as those of a mathematician. You may hear him repeating incessantly:
'Since Monday I have had more than forty-five,' or else 'I was between
fifty-two and fifty-eight,' or else 'I had at least sixty-six to
seventy,' or 'Hullo, cheat, I thought I was in the fifties and here I
find I had had seventy-five!'
"He never makes a mistake.
"He declares that he never reached his limit, but as he acknowledges that
his observations cease to be exact when he has passed ninety, one cannot
depend absolutely on the truth of that statement.
"When Matthew acknowledges that he has passed ninety, you may rest
assured that he is blind drunk.
"On these occasions his wife, Melie, another marvel, flies into a fury.
She waits for him at the door of the house, and as he enters she roars at
"'So there you are, slut, hog, giggling sot!'
"Then Matthew, who is not laughing any longer, plants himself opposite
her and says in a severe tone:
"'Be still, Melie; this is no time to talk; wait till to-morrow.'
"If she keeps on shouting at him, he goes up to her and says in a shaky
"'Don't bawl any more. I have had about ninety; I am not counting any
more. Look out, I am going to hit you!'
"Then Melie beats a retreat.
"If, on the following day, she reverts to the subject, he laughs in her
face and says:
"'Come, come! We have said enough. It is past. As long as I have not
reached my limit there is no harm done. But if I go, past that I will
allow you to correct me, my word on it!'"
We had reached the top of the hill. The road entered the delightful
forest of Roumare.
Autumn, marvellous autumn, blended its gold and purple with the remaining
traces of verdure. We passed through Duclair. Then, instead of going on
to Jumieges, my friend turned to the left and, taking a crosscut, drove
in among the trees.
And presently from the top of a high hill we saw again the magnificent
valley of the Seine and the winding river beneath us.
At our right a very small slate-covered building, with a bell tower as
large as a sunshade, adjoined a pretty house with green Venetian blinds,
and all covered with honeysuckle and roses.
"Here are some friends!" cried a big voice, and Matthew appeared on the
threshold. He was a man about sixty, thin and with a goatee and long,
My friend shook him by the hand and introduced me, and Matthew took us
into a clean kitchen, which served also as a dining-room. He said:
"I have no elegant apartment, monsieur. I do not like to get too far
away from the food. The saucepans, you see, keep me company." Then,
turning to my friend:
"Why did you come on Thursday? You know quite well that this is the day
I consult my Guardian Saint. I cannot go out this afternoon."
And running to the door, he uttered a terrific roar: "Melie!" which must
have startled the sailors in the ships along the stream in the valley
Melie did not reply.
Then Matthew winked his eye knowingly.
"She is not pleased with me, you see, because yesterday I was in the
My friend began to laugh. "In the nineties, Matthew! How did you manage
"I will tell you," said Matthew. "Last year I found only twenty rasieres
(an old dry measure) of apricots. There are no more, but those are the
only things to make cider of. So I made some, and yesterday I tapped the
barrel. Talk of nectar! That was nectar. You shall tell me what you
think of it. Polyte was here, and we sat down and drank a glass and
another without being satisfied (one could go on drinking it until to-
morrow), and at last, with glass after glass, I felt a chill at my
stomach. I said to Polyte: 'Supposing we drink a glass of cognac to warm
ourselves?' He agreed. But this cognac, it sets you on fire, so that we
had to go back to the cider. But by going from chills to heat and heat
to chills, I saw that I was in the nineties. Polyte was not far from his
The door opened and Melie appeared. At once, before bidding us good-day,
"Great hog, you have both of you reached your limit!"
"Don't say that, Melie; don't say that," said Matthew, getting angry.
"I have never reached my limit."
They gave us a delicious luncheon outside beneath two lime trees, beside
the little chapel and overlooking the vast landscape. And Matthew told
us, with a mixture of humor and unexpected credulity, incredible stories
We had drunk a good deal of delicious cider, sparkling and sweet, fresh
and intoxicating, which he preferred to all other drinks, and were
smoking our pipes astride our chairs when two women appeared.
They were old, dried up and bent. After greeting us they asked for Saint
Blanc. Matthew winked at us as he replied:
"I will get him for you." And he disappeared in his wood shed. He
remained there fully five minutes. Then he came back with an expression
of consternation. He raised his hands.
"I don't know where he is. I cannot find him. I am quite sure that I
had him." Then making a speaking trumpet of his hands, he roared once
"What's the matter?" replied his wife from the end of the garden.
"Where's Saint Blanc? I cannot find him in the wood shed."
Then Melie explained it this way:
"Was not that the one you took last week to stop up a hole in the rabbit
Matthew gave a start.
"By thunder, that may be!" Then turning to the women, he said:
They followed him. We did the same, almost choking with suppressed
Saint Blanc was indeed stuck into the earth like an ordinary stake,
covered with mud and dirt, and forming a corner for the rabbit hutch.
As soon as they perceived him, the two women fell on their knees, crossed
themselves and began to murmur an "Oremus." But Matthew darted toward
"Wait," he said, "you are in the mud; I will get you a bundle of straw."
He went to fetch the straw and made them a priedieu. Then, looking at
his muddy saint and doubtless afraid of bringing discredit on his
business, he added:
"I will clean him off a little for you."
He took a pail of water and a brush and began to scrub the wooden image
vigorously, while the two old women kept on praying.
When he had finished he said:
"Now he is all right." And he took us back to the house to drink another
As he was carrying the glass to his lips he stopped and said in a rather
"All the same, when I put Saint Blanc out with the rabbits I thought he
would not make any more money. For two years no one had asked for him.
But the saints, you see, they are never out of date."