Part 4 out of 6
(_Same setting as in_ Act I.)
(Monsieur de Petitpre, Mme. de Ronchard, M. Martinel, _and_ Leon.)
MME. DE RONCHARD [_walks about in an agitated manner_]
Seven minutes to midnight! It is nearly two hours since Jean left us!
LEON [_seated_ L.]
But, my dear Aunt, just allow a half hour in the carriage for going and
a half hour for returning, and there remains just one hour for the
business he had to attend to.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Was it so very long, then--the business that called him hence?
Yes, my dear Aunt; and now, why worry yourself by counting the minutes?
Your agitation will change nothing in the end, and will not hasten
Jean's return by a single second, or make the hands of the clock move
MME. DE RONCHARD
How can you ask me not to worry when my mind is full of anxiety, when my
heart is beating, and I feel the tears rising into my eyes?
But, my dear Aunt, you know very well you do not feel as badly as that.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Oh, you irritate me!
MARTINEL [_seated near the table_]
Don't torment yourself, Madame. True, the situation is a rather delicate
one, but it need not disquiet you or frighten us, if we know how to
bring to its consideration at this moment coolness and reason.
Just so, my dear Aunt, Monsieur Martinel speaks truly.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_crosses_ R.]
You ought to be beaten, you two! You know everything, and won't tell
anything. How annoying men are! There is never any means of making them
tell a secret.
Jean will come presently and will tell you everything. Have a little
Yes; let us be calm. Let us talk of other things, or be silent, if we
MME. DE RONCHARD
Be silent! That is about, the most difficult thing--
A SERVANT [_enters_ R.]
A gentleman wishes to see M. Martinel.
Pardon me for a moment. [_To the servant._] Very well, I am coming.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_approaches servant quickly_]
Baptiste, Baptiste! Who is asking for M. Martinel?
I do not know, Madame. It was the hall porter who came upstairs.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Well, run now and look without showing yourself, and come back and tell
us at once.
PETITPRE [_who has risen at the entrance of the servant_]
No, I will permit no spying; let us wait. We shall not have to wait long
now. [_To the servant._] You may go. [_Exit servant._]
MME. DE RONCHARD [_to_ Petitpre]
I do not understand you at all. You are absolutely calm. One would think
that your daughter's happiness was nothing to you. For myself, I am
That will do no good. [_Sits near the table_ R.] Let us talk--talk
reasonably, now that we are a family party and Monsieur Martinel is
MME. DE RONCHARD [_Sits_ R.]
If that man would only go back to Havre!
LEON [_Sits_ L. _of table_]
That would not change anything even if he could go back to Havre.
For my part, I think--
MME. DE RONCHARD [_interrupts_]
Do you wish to hear my opinion? Well, I think that they are preparing us
for some unpleasant surprise; that they wish to entrap us, as one might
But why? In whose interest? Jean Martinel is an honest man, and he loves
my child. Leon, whose judgment I admire, although he is my son--
Thank you, father!
Leon bears Jean as much affection as esteem. As to the uncle--
MME. DE RONCHARD
Don't talk about them, I pray. It is this woman who is seeking to entrap
us. She has played some little comedy, and she chooses to-day above all
others for its _denouement_. It is her stage climax; her masterpiece of
As in "The Ambigu."
MME. DE RONCHARD
Do not laugh. I know these women. I have suffered enough at their hands.
Oh, my poor Clarisse; if you really understood them, you would have held
your husband better than you did.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_rises_]
What do you mean by "understanding" them? Pardon me--to live with that
roisterer coming in upon me when and whence he pleased--I prefer my
broken life and my loneliness--with you!
No doubt you are right from your point of view of a married woman; but
there are other points of view, perhaps less selfish and certainly
superior, such as that of family interest.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Of family interest, indeed? Do you mean to say that I was wrong from the
point of view of the family interest--you, a magistrate!
My duties as a magistrate have made me very prudent, for I have seen
pass under my eyes many equivocal and terrible situations, which not
only agonized my conscience but gave me many cruel hours of indecision.
Man is often so little responsible and circumstances are often so
powerful. Our impenetrable nature is so capricious, our instincts are so
mysterious that we must be tolerant and even indulgent in the presence
of faults which are not really crimes, and which exhibit nothing vicious
or abandoned in the man himself.
MME. DE RONCHARD
So, then, to deceive one's wife is not deceitful, and you say such a
thing before your son? Truly, a pretty state of affairs! [_Crosses_ L.]
Oh, I have my opinion also about that, my dear Aunt.
It is not almost a crime,--it is one. But it is looked upon to-day as so
common a thing that one scarcely punishes it at all. It is punished by
divorce, which is a house of refuge for most men. The law prefers to
separate them with decency--timidly, rather than drag them apart as in
MME. DE RONCHARD
Your learned theories are revolting, and I wish--
Ah, here is Monsieur Martinel.
(_The same, and_ Monsieur Martinel.)
MARTINEL [_with great emotion_]
I come to fulfill an exceedingly difficult task. Jean, who has gone to
his own house, before daring to present himself here, has sent Doctor
Pellerin to me. I am commissioned by him to make you acquainted with the
sad position in which Jean finds himself,--in which we all find
MME. DE RONCHARD
Ah, ha! Now, I am going to learn something!
By a letter which you will read presently, we have learned this evening,
in this house, of a new misfortune. A woman of whose existence you are
all aware was at the point of death.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Did I not predict that she would do just this thing?
Let M. Martinel speak, my dear Aunt.
MME. DE RONCHARD
And now that this woman has seen him, how does she feel--his dying
patient? Better, without a doubt?
She died, Madame, died before his eyes.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Died this evening! Impossible!
Nevertheless, it is so, Madame.
Poor little Musotte!
There is a serious thing to be considered here. This woman left a child,
and that child's father is Jean.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_stupefied_]
MARTINEL [_to_ Petitpre]
Read the physician's letter, Monsieur. [_Hands_ Petitpre _the letter,
and_ Petitpre _reads it_.]
MME. DE RONCHARD
He had a child and he has never confessed it; has never said anything
about it; has hidden it from us! What infamy!
He would have told you in due time.
MME. DE RONCHARD
He would have told! That is altogether too strong--you are mocking us!
But, my dear Aunt, let my father answer. I shall go and find Gilberte.
She will be dying of anxiety. We have no right to hide the truth from
her any longer. I am going to acquaint her with it.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_accompanying him to the door_]
You have a pleasant task, but you will not succeed in arranging matters.
LEON [_at door_ L.]
In any case I shall not embroil them with each other as you would.
(Petitpre, Martinel, _and_ Madame de Ronchard.)
PETITPRE [_who has finished reading the letter_]
Then, Martinel, you say that your nephew was ignorant of the situation
of this woman.
Upon my honor.
MME. DE RONCHARD
It is incredible.
I will answer you in a word. If my nephew had known of this situation,
would he have done what he has this evening?
Explain yourself more clearly.
It is very simple. If he had known sooner of the danger this woman was
in, do you think that he would have waited until the last moment, and
have chosen this very evening--this supreme moment--to say good-bye to
this poor, dying woman, and to reveal to you the existence of his
illegitimate son? No, men hide these unfortunate children when and how
they please. You know that as well as I, Monsieur. To run the risk of
throwing us all into such a state of emotion and threatening his own
future, as he has done, it would seem that Jean must be a madman, and he
is by no means that. Had he known sooner of this situation, do you think
that he would not have confided in me, and that I would have been so
stupid--yes, I--as not to avert this disaster? Why, I tell you it is as
clear as day.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_agitated, walks to and fro rapidly_ L.]
Clear as the day--clear as the day!
Yes, indeed. If we had not received this piece of news as a bomb which
destroys the power of reflection, if we could have taken time to reason
the thing out, to make plans, we could have hidden everything from you,
and the devil would have been in it before you would have known
anything! Our fault has been that of being too sincere and too loyal.
Yet, I do not regret it; it is always better to act openly in life.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Permit me, Monsieur--
Silence, Clarisse. [_To_ Martinel.] Be it so, Monsieur. There is no
question of your honor or of your loyalty, which have been absolutely
patent in this unfortunate affair. I willingly admit that your nephew
knew nothing of the situation, but how about the child? What is there to
prove that it is Jean's?
Jean alone can prove or disprove that. He believes it, and you know that
it is not to his interest to believe it. There is nothing very joyful
about such a complication--a poor, little foundling thrusting himself
upon one like a thunderbolt, without warning, and upon the very evening
of one's marriage. But Jean believes that the child is his, and I--and
all of us--must we not accept it as he has accepted it, as the child's
father has accepted it? Come, now. [_A short silence._] You ask me to
prove to you that this child belongs to Jean?
MME. DE RONCHARD AND PETITPRE [_together_]
Then first prove to me that it is not Jean's child.
MME. DE RONCHARD
You ask an impossibility.
And so do you. The principal judge in the matter, look you, is my nephew
himself. We others can do nothing but accept his decision.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Silence, Clarisse. Monsieur Martinel is right.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_ironically_]
Say that again.
There can be no better reason, Madame. [_To_ Petitpre.] I was quite sure
that you would understand me, Monsieur, for you are a man of sense.
MME. DE RONCHARD
And what am I, then?
You are a woman of the world, Madame.
MME. DE RONCHARD
And it is exactly as a woman of the world that I protest, Monsieur. You
have a very pretty way of putting things, but none the less this is a
fact: Jean Martinel brings to his bride, as a nuptial present, on the
day of his marriage, an illegitimate child. Well, I ask you, woman of
the world or not, can she accept such a thing?
My sister is in the right this time, Monsieur Martinel.
MME. DE RONCHARD
And by no means too soon.
It is evident that a situation exists patent and undeniable, which
places us in an awkward dilemma. We have wedded our daughter to a man
supposedly free from all ties and all complications in life, and then
comes--what you know has come. The consequences should be endured by
him, not by us. We have been wounded and deceived in our confidence, and
the consent that we have given to this marriage we should certainly have
refused, had we known the actual circumstances.
MME. DE RONCHARD
We should have refused? I should say so--not only once, but twice.
Besides, this child, if Jean brings it into the house, will certainly be
a cause of trouble among us all. Consider, Gilberte will probably become
a mother in her turn, and then what jealousies, what rivalries, what
hatred, perhaps, will arise between this intruder and her own children.
This child will be a veritable apple of discord.
Oh, no, no! he will not be a burden to anyone. Thanks to Jean's
liberality, this child's mother will have left him enough to live
comfortably, and, later, when he has become a man, he will travel, no
doubt. He will do as I have done; as nine-tenths of the human race do.
Well, until then, who will take care of it?
I, if it is agreeable. I am a free man, retired from business; and it
will give me something to do, something to distract me. I am ready to
take him with me at once, the poor little thing--[_looks at_ Mme. de
Ronchard] unless Madame, who is so fond of saving lost dogs--
MME. DE RONCHARD
That child! I! Oh, that would be a piece of foolishness.
Yet, Madame, if you care to have him, I will yield my right most
MME. DE RONCHARD
But Monsieur, I never said--
Not as yet, true, but perhaps you will say it before very long, for I am
beginning to understand you. You are an assumed man-hater and nothing
else. You have been unhappy in your married life and that has embittered
you--just as milk may turn upon its surface, but at the bottom of the
churn there is butter of fine quality.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_frowns_]
What a comparison!--milk--butter--pshaw! how vulgar!
Here is your daughter.
(_The same, and_ Gilberte _and_ Leon _who enter_ L.)
PETITPRE [_approaches Gilberte_]
Before seeing your husband again, if you decide to see him, it is
necessary that we should decide exactly what you are going to say to
GILBERTE [_greatly moved, sits_ L. _of table_]
I knew it was some great misfortune.
MARTINEL [_sits beside her_]
Yes, my child; but there are two kinds of misfortune--those that come
from the faults of men, and those that spring purely from the hazards of
fate; that is to say, destiny. In the first case, the man is guilty; in
the second case, he is a victim. Do you understand me?
A misfortune of which some one person is the victim can also wound
another person very cruelly. But will not the heart of this second
wounded and altogether innocent, person bestow a pardon upon the
involuntary author of her disaster?
GILBERTE [_in a sad voice_]
That depends upon the suffering which she undergoes.
MARTINEL Meanwhile, you knew that before Jean loved you, before he
conceived the idea of marrying you, he had--an intrigue. You accepted
the fact as one which had nothing exceptional about it.
I did accept it.
And now your brother may tell you the rest.
What shall I say to Jean?
I am too much agitated to tell you yet. This woman, of whom I did not
think at all, whose very existence was a matter of indifference to
me--her death has frightened me. It seems that she has come between Jean
and me, and will always remain there. Everything that I have heard of
her prophesies this estrangement. But you knew her--this woman did you
Yes, Madame, and I can say nothing but good of her. Your brother and I
have always looked upon her as irreproachable in her fidelity to Jean.
She loved him with a pure, devoted, absolute, and lasting affection. I
speak as a man who has deplored deeply this intrigue, for I look upon
myself as a father to Jean, but we must try to be just to everyone.
And did Jean love her very much, too?
Oh, yes, certainly he did, but his love began to wane. Between them
there was too much of a moral and social distance. He lived with her,
however, drawn to her by the knowledge of the deep and tender affection
which she bestowed upon him.
And Jean went to see her die?
He had just time to say farewell to her.
GILBERTE [_to herself_]
If I could only tell what passed between them at that moment! Ah, this
wretched death is worse for me than if she were alive!
MME. DE RONCHARD [_rises_ R. _and goes up stage_]
I really do not understand you, my dear. The woman has died--so much the
better for you. May God deliver you from all such!
No, my dear Aunt; the feeling I have just now is so painful that I would
sooner know her to be far away than to know her dead.
PETITPRE [_comes down_]
Yes, I admit that is the sentiment of a woman moved by a horrible
catastrophe; but there is one grave complication in the matter--that of
the child. Whatever may be done with it, he will none the less be the
son of my son-in-law and a menace to us all.
MME. DE RONCHARD
And a subject for ridicule. See what the world will say of us in a
Leave the world to itself, my dear Aunt, and let us occupy ourselves
with our own business. [_Goes to Gilberte_.] Now, Gilberte, is it the
idea of the child that moves you so deeply?
Oh, no,--the poor little darling!
Such is the foolishness of women who know nothing of life.
Well, father, why, if we have so many different views,--according as we
are spectators or actors in the course of events,--why is there so much
difference between the life of the imagination and the actual life;
between that which one ought to do; that which you would that others
should do, and that which you do yourself. Yes, what has happened is
very painful; but the surprise of the event, its coincidence with the
nuptial day makes it still more painful. We magnify--everything in our
emotion, when it is ourselves that misfortune touches. Suppose, for a
moment, that you had read this in your daily newspaper--
MME. DE RONCHARD [_seated_ L. _of table, indignantly_]
In my daily newspaper!
Or in a romance. What emotion we should feel; what tears we should shed!
How your sympathy would quickly go out to the poor little child whose
birth was attained at the cost of his mother's life! How Jean would go
up in your esteem; how frank, how loyal, how stanch in his fealty you
would consider him; while, on the other hand, if he had deserted the
dying woman, and had spirited away the little one into some distant
village, you would not have had enough scorn for him, or enough insults
for him. You would look upon him as a being without heart and without
fear; and, you, my dear Aunt, thinking of the innumerable little bad
dogs who owe you their lives, you would cry out with forcible gestures:
"What a miserable scoundrel!"
MARTINEL [_seated_ L.]
That's perfectly true.
MME. DE RONCHARD
Dogs are worth more than men.
Little children are not men, my dear Aunt. They have not had time to
All that is very ingenious, Leon, and your special pleading is
MME. DE RONCHARD
Yes, if you would only plead like that at the Palais.
But this has nothing to do with a romance or with imaginary personages.
We have married Gilberte to a young man in the ordinary conditions of
MME. DE RONCHARD
Without enthusiasm, it is true, but nevertheless they are married, just
the same. Now, on the evening of his nuptials, he brings us a present--I
must say I do not care for a present which bawls.
What does that prove, unless it is that your son-in-law is a brave man?
What he has just done--risked his happiness in order to accomplish his
duty--does it not say better than anything else could, how capable of
devotion he is?
Clear as the day.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_aside_]
And this man from Havre admires him!
Then you maintain that Gilberte, on the day, of her entry upon married
life, should become the adopted mother of the son of her husband's
Exactly; just as I maintain all that is honorable and disinterested. And
you would think as I do if the thing did not concern your daughter.
No; it is an inexcusable situation.
Well, then, what do you propose to do?
Well, nothing less than a divorce. The scandal of this night is
MME. DE RONCHARD [_rises_]
Gilberte divorced! You don't dream of that, do you? Have all our friends
closing their doors on her, the greater part of her relatives lost to
her! Divorced! Come, come! in spite of your new law, that has not yet
come into our custom and shall not come in so soon. Religion forbids it;
the world accepts it only under protest; and when you have against you
both religion and the world--
But statistics prove--
MME. DE RONCHARD
Pshaw! Statistics! You can make them say what you wish. No, no divorce
for Gilberte. [_In a soft, low voice_.] Simply a legal separation--that
is admissible, at least, and it is good form. Let them separate. I am
separated--all fashionable people separate, and everything goes all
right, but as to divorce--
It seems to me that only one person has a right to speak in this matter,
and we are forgetting her too long. [_Turns to Gilberte_.] You have
heard everything, Gilberte; you are mistress of your own judgment and of
your decision. Upon a word from you depend either pardon or rupture. My
father has made his argument. What does your heart say? [_Gilberte tries
to speak, but stops and breaks down_.] Think always that in refusing to
pardon Jean you wound me, and if I see you unhappy from your
determination to say no, I shall suffer exceedingly. Monsieur Martinel
asks from you at once an answer for Jean. Let us do better. I will go
and find him. It is from your lips; it is, above all, in your eyes, that
he will learn his fate. [_Brings her gently to the front of the stage_.]
My little sister, my. dear little sister, don't be too proud; don't be
too haughty! Listen to that which your chagrin murmurs in your soul.
Listen well, but do not mistake it for pride.
But I have no pride. I do not know how I feel. I am ill. My joy has been
blighted, and it poisons me.
Take care! It takes so little in such moments as these to make wounds
which are incurable.
No, no! I am too much distressed. Perhaps I shall be hard, for I am
afraid of him and of myself. I am afraid of breaking off everything, or
of yielding everything.
I am going to find Jean.
No, I do not wish to see him. I forbid it!
Let me tell you something, my little Gilberte: You are less intelligent
than I thought.
Because in such moments as these it is necessary to say yes or no at
once. [_Jean appears at door_ R.]
(_The same, and_ Jean Martinel _standing at door_ R.)
GILBERTE [_with a stifled cry_]
It is he!
LEON [_goes up to_ Jean _and taking him by the hand_]
I am like a prisoner awaiting the decision of his judges--whether it be
acquittal or death. The moments through which I have just passed I shall
Your uncle and I have said all that we had to say. Now speak for
I do not know how. It must be to my wife alone. I dare not speak before
you all. I ask but a moment. After that I go, and I shall leave the
house if my wife's attitude indicates that I ought. I shall do exactly
what she would have me. I shall become that which she may order. But I
must hear from her _own_ lips her decision as to my life. [_To_
Gilberte.] You cannot refuse me that, Madame. It is the only prayer that
I shall ever make to you, I swear, if this request to you remains
ungranted. [_They stand face to face and look at each other_.]
No, I cannot refuse you. Father, Aunt, please leave me alone for a few
minutes with Monsieur Martinel. You can see that I am perfectly calm.
JEAN [_determinedly to_ M. Petitpre]
Monsieur, I shall not gainsay your will in anything. I shall do nothing
without your approval. I have not returned here to contest your
authority or to speak of rights; but I respectfully ask permission to
remain alone a few minutes with--my wife! Consider that this is perhaps
our last interview and that our future depends upon it.
MME. DE RONCHARD
It is solely the future of Gilberte which concerns me.
JEAN [_to_ Mme. de Ronchard]
I appeal simply to your heart, Madame; your heart, which has suffered.
Do not forget that your irritation and your bitterness against me come
from the misfortune that another man has inflicted upon you. Your life
has been broken by him. Do not wish the same for me. You have been
unhappy; married scarcely a year. [_Points to_ Gilberte.] Will you say
that she shall be married scarcely a day, and that later she shall talk
of her broken life--ceaselessly guarding in her mind the memory of this
evening's disaster? [_At a movement of_ Mme. de Ronchard.] I know you to
be kind, although you deny it, and I promise you, Madame, that if I
remain Gilberte's husband, I shall love you as a son, as a son worthy of
MME. DE RONCHARD [_very much moved_]
A son! He has stirred me deeply! [_Whispers to_ Petitpre.] Come away,
let us leave them alone. [_Embraces_ Gilberte.]
PETITPRE [_to_ Jean]
Well, so be it, Monsieur. [_Rises and exit_ C., _offering his arm to_
Mme. de Ronchard.]
MARTINEL [_to_ Leon]
They are going to talk with that [_touches his heart_]; it is the only
[_Exit with_ Leon C.]
SCENE VII. (Gilberte and Jean.)
You know all, do you not?
Yes. And I have been deeply wounded.
I hope you do not accuse me of lying or of any other dissimulation.
Do you blame me for having left you this evening?
I blame no one who does his duty.
You did not know this woman--and she is dead.
It is just because she is dead that she troubles me thus.
Impossible; you must have another reason. [_With hesitation._] The
No, no! don't deceive yourself. The poor little darling! it is not his
fault. No, I suffer from something which is peculiar to myself, which
can come only from me, and which I cannot confess to you. It is a sorrow
deep in my heart, so keen, when I felt it spring to birth under the
words of my brother and your uncle, that, should I ever experience it
again when living with you as your wife, I should never be able to
What is it?
I cannot tell it. [_Sits_ L.]
Listen to me. It is necessary that at this moment there should not be
between us the shadow of a misunderstanding. All our life depends upon
it. You are my wife, but I admit that you are absolutely free after what
has happened. I will do as you wish. I am ready to agree to everything
you desire, even to a divorce if you demand it. But what will happen to
me after that I do not know, for I love you so that the thought of
losing you after winning you will throw me mercilessly into some
desperate resolve. [_Sees_ Gilberte _moved._] I do not seek to soften
you, to move you--I simply tell you the naked truth. I feel, and I have
felt during the whole night, through all the shocks and horrible
emotions of the drama that has just been enacted, that you hold for me
the keenest wound. If you banish me now, I am a lost man.
GILBERTE [_much moved_]
Do you really love me as much as that?
With a love that I feel is ineffaceable.
Did you love her?
I did indeed love her. I experienced a tender attachment for a gentle
and devoted girl. [_In a low voice, with passion._] Listen: that which I
am going to tell you is unworthy, perhaps infamous, but I am only a
human being, feeble as anyone else. Well, just now, in the presence of
this poor, dying girl, my eyes were filled with tears and my sobs choked
me--all my being vibrated with sorrow; but at the bottom of my soul, in
the depths of my being, I thought only of you.
GILBERTE [_rises quickly_]
Do you mean that?
I cannot lie to you.
Well, do you know what made me suffer just now when my brother told me
of this intrigue and death? I can tell it to you now. I was jealous! It
was unworthy of me, wasn't it? Jealous of this poor, dead woman! But he
spoke so well of her as to move me, and I felt that she loved you so
much that you might find me perhaps indifferent and cold after her, and
that hurt me so! I had so much fear of experiencing that that I thought
of renouncing you.
And now?--Gilberte! Gilberte!
GILBERTE [_extends her hands_]
I am here, Jean! take me!
Ah, how grateful I am. [_Kisses her hands; then immediately after, with
emotion._] But here another anguish seizes me. I have promised this poor
woman to take and cherish this child in my own home. [Gilberte _makes a
movement_.] That is not all. Do you know what her last thought, her last
prayer was? She entreated me to commend the child to you.
To you, Gilberte.
GILBERTE [_profoundly moved_]
She did this, the poor woman? Did she believe that I would take--
She hoped it, and in that hope her death was made easier.
GILBERTE [_in exalted mood, crosses_ R.]
Yes, I will take it! where is it?
At my house.
At your house? You must go to it immediately.
What! leave you now, at this moment?
We will go together, since I was to have accompanied you to your house
Oh, Gilberte! But your father will not let us go.
Well, do you know what we must do, since my packing is finished, and my
maid awaits me at your house? You must carry me off.
Carry you off?
Give me my cloak and let us go. All can be explained tomorrow. [_Shows
the cloak that she had left upon the chair in the first act._] My cloak,
JEAN [_picks up the cloak quickly and throws it over her shoulders_]
You are the most adorable creature! [Gilberte _takes his arm and they go
toward door_ R.]
(_Enter_ Mme. de Ronchard, M. Petitpre, M. Martinel, _and_ Leon C.)
MME. DE RONCHARD
Well, what are they doing? Are they going away now?
Why, what does it mean?
Yes; father, I am going away. I am going with my husband; but I shall be
here to-morrow to ask pardon for this hurried flight, and to explain to
you the reason for it.
Were you going without saying good-bye to us--without embracing us?
Yes, in order to avoid more discussions.
She is right. Let them go.
GILBERTE [_throws herself upon_ Petitpre's _neck_]
Till to-morrow, father; till to-morrow, my dear Aunt. Good night, all; I
have had enough of emotion and fatigue.
MME. DE RONCHARD [_goes to_ Gilberte _and embraces her_]
Yes, run along, darling--there is a little one over there who waits for
THE LANCER'S WIFE
THE LANCER'S WIFE
It was after Bourbaki's defeat in the east of France. The army, broken
up, decimated and worn out, had been obliged to retreat into
Switzerland, after that terrible campaign. It was only the short
duration of the struggle that saved a hundred and fifty thousand men
from certain death. Hunger, the terrible cold, and forced marches in the
snow without boots, over bad mountainous roads, had caused the
_francs-tireurs_ especially the greatest suffering, for we were without
tents and almost without food, always in front when we were marching
toward Belfort, and in the rear when returning by the Jura. Of our
brigade, that had numbered twelve hundred men on the first of January,
there remained only twenty-two pale, thin, ragged wretches, when at
length we succeeded in reaching Swiss territory.
There we were safe and could rest. Everybody knows what sympathy was
shown to the unfortunate French army, and how well it was cared for. We
all gained fresh life, and those who had been rich and happy before the
war declared that they had never experienced a greater feeling of
comfort than they did then. Just think. We actually had something to eat
every day, and could sleep every night.
Meanwhile, the war continued in the east of France, which had been
excluded from the armistice. Besancon still kept the enemy in check, and
the latter had their revenge by ravaging the Comte Franche. Sometimes we
heard that they had approached quite close to the frontier, and we saw
Swiss troops, who were to form a line of observation between us and the
Germans, set out on their march.
But this hurt our pride, and as we regained health and strength the
longing for fighting laid hold of us. It was disgraceful and irritating
to know that within two or three leagues of us the Germans were
victorious and insolent, to feel that we were protected by our
captivity, and to feel that on that account we were powerless against
One day, our captain took five or six of us aside, and spoke to us about
it, long and earnestly. He was a fine fellow, that captain. He had been
a sub-lieutenant in the Zouaves, was tall and thin and as hard as steel,
and during the whole campaign had given a great deal of trouble to the
Germans. He fretted in inactivity and could not accustom himself to the
idea of being a prisoner and of doing nothing.
"Confound it!" he said to us, "does it not pain you to know that there
are a lot of uhlans within two hours of us? Does it not almost drive you
mad to know that those beggarly wretches are walking about as masters in
our mountains, where six determined men might kill a whole troop any
day? I cannot endure it any longer, and I must go there."
"But how can you manage it, Captain?"
"How? It is not very difficult! Just as if we had not done a thing or
two within the last six months, and got out of woods that were guarded
by men very different from the Swiss. The day that you wish to cross
over into France, I will undertake to get you there."
"That may be; but what shall we do in France without any arms?"
"Without arms? We will get them over yonder, by Jove!"
"You are forgetting the treaty," another soldier said; "we shall run the
risk of doing the Swiss an injury, if Manteuffel learns that they have
allowed prisoners to return to France."
"Come," said the captain, "those are all poor reasons. I mean to go and
kill some Prussians; that is all I care about. If you do not wish to do
as I do, well and good; only say so at once. I can quite well go by
myself; I do not require anybody's company."
Naturally we all protested, and as it was quite impossible to make the
captain alter his mind, we felt obliged to promise to go with him. We
liked him too much to leave him in the lurch, since he had never failed
us in any extremity; and so the expedition was decided on.
The captain had a plan of his own, a plan he had been cogitating over
for some time. A man in that part of the country, whom he knew, was
going to lend him a cart, and six suits of peasants' clothes. We could
hide under some straw at the bottom of the wagon, which would be loaded
with Gruyere cheese. This cheese he was supposed to be going to sell in
France. The captain told the sentinels that he was taking two friends
with him to protect his goods, in case anyone should try to rob him,
which did not seem an extraordinary precaution. A Swiss officer seemed
to look at the wagon in a knowing manner, but that was in order to
impress his soldiers. In a word, neither officers nor men made it out.
"Get on," the captain said to the horses, as he cracked his whip, while
our men quietly smoked their pipes. I was half suffocated in my box,
which only admitted the air through some holes in front, while at the
same time I was nearly frozen, for it was terribly cold.
"Get on," the captain said again, and the wagon loaded with Gruyere
cheese entered France.
The Prussian lines were very badly guarded, as the enemy trusted to the
watchfulness of the Swiss. The sergeant spoke North German, while our
captain spoke the bad German of the "Four Cantons"; so they could not
understand each other. The sergeant, however, pretended to be very
intelligent, and in order to make us believe that he understood us, they
allowed us to continue our journey, and after traveling for seven hours,
being continually stopped in the same manner, we arrived at a small
village of the Jura, in ruins, at nightfall.
What were we going to do? Our only arms were the captain's whip, our
uniforms, the peasants' blouses, and our food the Gruyere cheese. Our
sole riches consisted in our ammunition, packets of cartridges which we
had stowed away inside some of the huge cheeses. We had about a thousand
of them, just two hundred each; but then we wanted rifles, and they must
be _chassepots_; luckily, however, the captain was a bold man of an
inventive mind, and this was the plan that he hit upon:
While three of us remained hidden in a cellar in the abandoned village,
he continued his journey as far as Besancon with the empty wagon and one
man. The town was invested, but one can always make one's way into a
town among the hills by crossing the table-land till within about ten
miles of the walls, and then by following paths and ravines on foot.
They left their wagon at Omans, among the Germans, and escaped out of it
at night on foot, so as to gain the heights which border the river
Doubs; the next day they entered Besancon, where there were plenty of
_chassepots_. There were nearly forty thousand of them left in the
arsenal, and General Roland, a brave marine, laughed at the captain's
daring project, but let him have six rifles and wished him "good luck."
There he also found his wife, who had been through all the war with us
before the campaign in the east, and who had been only prevented by
illness from continuing with Bourbaki's army. She had recovered,
however, in spite of the cold, which was growing more and more intense,
and in spite of the numberless privations that awaited her, she insisted
on accompanying her husband. He was obliged to give way to her, and all
three, the captain, his wife, and our comrade, started on their
Going was nothing in comparison to returning. They were obliged to
travel by night, so as to avoid meeting anybody, as the possession of
six rifles would have made them liable to suspicion. But in spite of
everything, a week after leaving us, the captain and his "two men" were
back with us again. The campaign was about to begin.
The first night of his arrival, the captain began it himself. Under the
pretext of examining the country round, he went along the highroad. I
must tell you that the little village which served as our fortress was a
small collection of poor, badly built houses, which had been deserted
long before. It lay on a steep slope, which terminated in a wooded
plain. The country people sold wood; they sent it down the ravines,
which are called _coulees_ locally, and which led down to the plain, and
there they stacked it into piles, which were sold thrice a year to the
wood merchants. The spot where this market was held was indicated by two
small houses by the side of the highroad, which served for
public-houses. The captain had gone down there by one of these
He had been gone about half an hour, and we were on the lookout at the
top of the ravine, when we heard a shot. The captain had ordered us not
to stir, and only to come to him when we heard him blow his trumpet. It
was made of a goat's horn, and could be heard a league off, but it gave
no sound, and in spite of our cruel anxiety, we were obliged to wait in
silence, with our rifles by our side.
To go down these _coulees_ is easy, you need only let yourself glide
down; but it is more difficult to get up again. You have to scramble up
by catching hold of the hanging branches of the trees, and sometimes on
all fours, by sheer strength. A whole mortal hour passed, and still the
captain did not come, nothing moved in the brushwood. The captain's wife
began to grow impatient; what could he be doing? Why did he not call us?
Did the shot that we had heard proceed from an enemy, and had he killed
or wounded our leader, her husband? They did not know what to think, but
I myself fancied that either he was dead or that his enterprise was
successful. I was merely anxious and curious to know which.
Suddenly, we heard the sound of his trumpet, and were much surprised
that instead of coming from below, as we had expected, it came from the
village behind us. What did that mean? It was a mystery to us, but the
same idea struck us all, that he had been killed, and that the Prussians
were blowing the trumpet to draw us into an ambush. We therefore
returned to the cottage, keeping a careful lookout, with our fingers on
the trigger and hiding under the branches. But his wife, in spite of our
entreaties, rushed on, leaping like a tigress. She thought that she had
to avenge her husband, and had fixed the bayonet to her rifle. We lost
sight of her at the moment that we heard the trumpet again, and a few
moments later we heard her calling out to us:
"Come on! come on! he is alive! it is he!"
We hastened on, and saw the captain smoking his pipe at the entrance of
the village, but strangely enough he was on horseback.
"Ah!" said he to us, "you see that there is something to be done here.
Here I am on horseback already; I knocked over a uhlan yonder, and took
his horse; I suppose they were guarding the wood, but it was by drinking
and swilling in clover. One of them, the sentry at the door, had not
time to see me before I gave him a sugarplum in his stomach, and then,
before the others could come out, I jumped on to the horse and was off
like a shot. Eight or ten of them followed me, I think, but I took the
crossroads through the wood; I have got scratched and torn a bit, but
here I am. And now, my good fellows, attention, and take care! Those
brigands will not rest until they have caught us, and we must receive
them with rifle bullets. Come along; let us take up our posts!"
We set out. One of us took up his position a good way from the village
of the crossroads; I was posted at the entrance of the main street,
where the road from the level country enters the village, while the two
others, with the captain and his wife, took up positions in the middle
of the village, near the church, whose tower served for an observatory
We had not been in our places long before we heard a shot followed by
another; then two, then three. The first was evidently a
_chassepot_,--one recognized it by the sharp report, which sounds like
the crack of a whip,--while the other three came from the lancers'
The captain was furious. He had given orders to the outpost to let the
enemy pass, and merely to follow them at a distance if they marched
toward the village, and to join me when they had gone well between the
houses. Then they were to appear suddenly, take the patrol between two
fires, and not allow a single man to escape, for posted as we were, the
six of us could have hemmed in ten Prussians, if needful.
"That confounded Piedelot has roused them," the captain said, "and they
will not venture to come on blindfold any longer. And then I am quite
sure that he has managed to get wounded himself somehow or other, for we
hear nothing of him. It serves him right; why did he not obey orders?"
And then, after a moment, he grumbled in his beard: "After all, I am
sorry for the poor fellow; he is so brave and shoots so well!"
The captain was right in his conjectures. We waited until evening,
without seeing the uhlans; they had retreated after the first attack,
but unfortunately we had not seen Piedelot either. Was he dead or a
prisoner? When night came the captain proposed that we should go out and
look for him, and so the three of us started. At the crossroads we found
a broken rifle and some blood, while the ground was trampled down. But
we did not find either a wounded man or a dead body, although we
searched every thicket. At midnight we returned without having
discovered anything of our unfortunate comrade.
"It is very strange," the captain growled. "They must have killed him
and thrown him into the bushes somewhere; they cannot possibly have
taken him prisoner, as he would have called out for help. I cannot
understand it all." Just as he said that, bright, red flames shot up in
the direction of the inn on the highroad, which illuminated the sky.
"Scoundrels! cowards!" shouted the captain. "I will bet that they have
set fire to the two houses in the market-place, in order to have their
revenge, and then they will scuttle off without saying a word. They will
be satisfied with having killed a man and setting fire to two houses.
All right. It shall not pass over like that. We must go for them; they
will not like to leave their illuminations in order to fight."
"It would be a great stroke of luck if we could set Piedelot free at the
same time," said some one.
The five of us set off, full of rage and hope. In twenty minutes we had
got to the bottom of the _coulee_, and had not yet seen anyone when
within a hundred yards of the inn. The fire was behind the house, and so
all that we saw of it was the reflection above the roof. However, we
were walking rather slowly, as we were afraid of a trap, when suddenly
we heard Piedelot's well-known voice. It had a strange sound, however,
for it was at the same time dull and vibrant, stifled and clear, as if
he was calling out as loud as he could with a gag in his mouth. He
seemed to be hoarse and panting, and the unlucky fellow kept exclaiming:
We sent all thoughts of prudence to the devil and in two bounds were at
the back of the inn, where a terrible sight met our eyes.
Piedelot was being burned alive. He was writhing in the middle of a heap
of fagots, against a stake to which they had fastened him, and the
flames were licking him with their sharp tongues. When he saw us, his
tongue seemed to stick in his throat, he drooped his head, and seemed as
if he were going to die. It was only the affair of a moment to upset the
burning pile, to scatter the embers, and to cut the ropes that fastened
Poor fellow! In what a terrible state we found him. The evening before
he had had his left arm broken, and it seemed as if he had been badly
beaten since then, for his whole body was covered with wounds, bruises,
and blood. The flames had also begun their work on him, and he had two
large burns, one on his loins, and the other on his right thigh, and his
beard and his hair were scorched. Poor Piedelot!
Nobody knows the terrible rage we felt at this sight! We would have
rushed headlong at a hundred thousand Prussians. Our thirst for
vengeance was intense; but the cowards had run away, leaving their crime
behind them. Where could we find them now? Meanwhile, however, the
captain's wife was looking after Piedelot, and dressing his wounds as
best she could, while the captain himself shook hands with him
excitedly. In a few minutes he came to himself.
"Good morning, Captain, good morning, all of you," he said. "Ah! the
scoundrels, the wretches! Why, twenty of them came to surprise us."
"Twenty, do you say?"
"Yes, there was a whole band of them, and that is why I disobeyed
orders, Captain, and fired on them, for they would have killed you all.
So I preferred to stop them. That frightened them, and they did not
venture to go further than the crossroads. They were such cowards. Four
of them shot at me at twenty yards, as if I had been a target, and then
they slashed me with their swords. My arm was broken, so that I could
only use my bayonet with one hand."
"But why did you not call for help?"
"I took good care not to do that, for you would all have come, and you
would neither have been able to defend me nor yourselves, being only
five against twenty."
"You know that we should not have allowed you to have been taken, poor
"I preferred to die by myself, don't you see! I did not want to bring
you there, for it would have been a mere ambush."
"Well, we will not talk about it any more. Do you feel rather easier?"
"No, I am suffocating. I know that I cannot live much longer. The
brutes! They tied me to a tree, and beat me till I was half dead, and
then they shook my broken arm, but I did not make a sound. I would
rather have bitten my tongue out than have called out before them. Now I
can say what I am suffering and shed tears; it does one good. Thank you,
my kind friends."
"Poor Piedelot! But we will avenge you, you may be sure!"
"Yes, yes, I want you to do that. Especially, there is a woman among
them, who passes as the wife of the lancer whom the captain killed
yesterday. She is dressed like a lancer, and it was she who tortured me
the most yesterday, and suggested burning me. In fact it was she who set
fire to the wood. Oh! the wretch, the brute--Ah! how I am suffering! My
loins, my arms!" and he fell back panting and exhausted, writhing in his
terrible agony, while the captain's wife wiped the perspiration from his
forehead. We all shed tears of grief and rage, as if we had been
children. I will not describe the end to you; he died half an hour
later, but before that he told us in which direction the enemy had gone.
When he was dead, we gave ourselves time to bury him, and then we set
out in pursuit of them, with our hearts full of fury and hatred.
"We will throw ourselves on the whole Prussian army, if it be needful,"
the captain said, "but we will avenge Piedelot. We must catch those
scoundrels. Let us swear to die, rather than not to find them, and if I
am killed first, these are my orders: all the prisoners that you make
are to be shot immediately, and as for the lancer's wife, she is to be
violated before she is put to death."
"She must not be shot, because she is a woman," the captain's wife said.
"If you survive, I am sure that you would not shoot a woman. Outraging
her will be quite sufficient. But if you are killed in this pursuit, I
want one thing, and that is to fight with her; I will kill her with my
own hands, and the others can do what they like with her if she kills
"We will outrage her! We will burn her! We will tear her to pieces!
Piedelot shall be avenged, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth!"
The next morning we unexpectedly fell on an outpost of uhlans four
leagues away. Surprised by our sudden attack, they were not able to
mount their horses, nor even to defend themselves, and in a few moments
we had five prisoners, corresponding to our own number. The captain
questioned them, and from their answers we felt certain that they were
the same whom we had encountered the previous day. Then a very curious
operation took place. One of us was told off to ascertain their sex, and
nothing can depict our joy when we discovered what we were seeking among
them, the female executioner who had tortured our friend.
The four others were shot on the spot, with their backs toward us and
close to the muzzles of our rifles, and then we turned our attention to
the woman. What were we going to do with her? I must acknowledge that we
were all of us in favor of shooting her. Hatred, and the wish to avenge
Piedelot had extinguished all pity in us, and we had forgotten that we
were going to shoot a woman. But a woman reminded us of it, the
captain's wife; at her entreaties, therefore, we determined to keep her
a prisoner. The captain's poor wife was to be severely punished for this
act of clemency.
The next day we heard that the armistice had been extended to the
eastern part of France, and we had to put an end to our little campaign.
Two of us, who belonged to the neighborhood, returned home. So there
remained only four of us, all told: the captain, his wife, and two men.
We belonged to Besancon, which was still being besieged in spite of the
"Let us stop here," said the captain. "I cannot believe that the war is
going to end like this. The devil take it! Surely there are men still
left in France, and now is the time to prove what they are made of. The
spring is coming on, and the armistice is only a trap laid for the
Prussians. During the time that it lasts, a new army will be formed, and
some fine morning we shall fall upon them again. We shall be ready, and
we have a hostage--let us remain here."
We fixed our quarters there. It was terribly cold, and we did not go out
much, as somebody had always to keep the female prisoner in sight.
She was sullen and never spoke save to refer to her husband, whom the
captain had killed. She looked at him continually with fierce eyes, and
we felt that she was tortured by a wild longing for revenge. That seemed
to us to be the most suitable punishment for the terrible torments that
she had made Piedelot suffer, for impotent vengeance is such intense
Alas! we who knew how to avenge our comrade ought to have known that
this woman would find a way to avenge her husband, and should have been
on our guard. It is true that one of us kept watch every night, and that
at first we tied her by a long rope to the great oak bench that was
fastened to the wall. But, by and by, as she had never tried to escape,
in spite of her hatred for us, we relaxed our extreme prudence and
allowed her to sleep somewhere else, and without being tied. What had we
to fear? She was at the end of the room, a man was on guard at the door,
and between her and the sentinel the captain's wife and two other men
used to lie. She was alone and unarmed against four, so there could be
One night when we were asleep, and the captain was on guard, the
lancer's wife was lying more quietly in her corner than usual. She had
even smiled during the evening for the first time since she had been our
prisoner. Suddenly, however, in the middle of the night, we were
awakened by a terrible cry. We got up, groping about. Scarcely were we
up when we stumbled over a furious couple who were rolling about and
fighting on the ground. It was the captain and the lancer's wife. We
threw ourselves on to them and separated them in a moment. She was
shouting and laughing, and he seemed to have the death rattle. All this
took place in the dark. Two of us held her, and when a light was struck,
a terrible sight met our eyes. The captain was lying on the floor in a
pool of blood, with an enormous wound in his throat, and his sword
bayonet, that had been taken from his rifle, was sticking in the red,
gaping wound. A few minutes afterward he died, without having been able
to utter a word.
His wife did not shed a tear. Her eyes were dry, her throat was
contracted, and she looked at the lancer's wife steadfastly, and with a
calm ferocity that inspired fear.
"This woman belongs to me," she said to us suddenly. "You swore to me
not a week ago to let me kill her as I chose if she killed my husband,
and you must keep your oath. You must fasten her securely to the
fireplace, upright against the back of it, and then you can go where you
like, but far from here. I will take my revenge on her to myself. Leave
the captain's body, and we three, he, she, and I, will remain here."
We obeyed and went away. She promised to write to us to Geneva, as we
were returning there.
Two days later, I received the following letter, dated the day after we
had left. It had been written at an inn on the highroad:
"I am writing to you, according to my promise. For the moment I am at
this inn, where I have just handed my prisoner over to a Prussian
"I must tell you, my friend, that this poor woman left two children in
Germany. She had followed her husband, whom she adored, as she did not
wish him to be exposed to the risks of war by himself, and as her
children were with their grandparents. I have learned all this since
yesterday, and it has turned my ideas of vengeance into more humane
feelings. At the very moment when I felt pleasure in insulting this
woman, and in threatening her with the most fearful torments--in
recalling Piedelot, who had been burned alive, and in threatening her
with a similar death, she looked at me coldly, and said:
"'Why should you reproach me, Frenchwoman? You think that you will do
right in avenging your husband's death, is not that so?'
"'Yes,' I replied.
"'Very well then; in killing him, I did what you are going to do in
burning me. I avenged my husband, for your husband killed him.'
"'Well,' I replied, 'as you approve of this vengeance, prepare to endure
"'I do not fear it.'
"And in fact she did not seem to have lost courage. Her face was calm,
and she looked at me without trembling, while I brought wood and dried
leaves together, and feverishly threw on to them the powder from some
cartridges, to make her funeral pile the more cruel.
"I hesitated in my thoughts of persecution for a moment. But the
captain's body was there, pale and covered with blood, and he seemed to
be looking at me with large, glassy eyes, and I applied myself to my
work again after kissing his pale lips. Suddenly, however, on raising my
head, I saw that she was crying, and I felt rather surprised.
"'So you are frightened?' I said to her.
"'No, but when I saw you kiss your husband, I thought of mine, of all
whom I love.'
"She continued to sob, but stopping suddenly she said to me in broken
words, and in a low voice:
"'Have you any children?'
"A shiver ran over me, for I guessed that this poor woman had some. She
asked me to look in a pocketbook which was in her bosom, and in it I saw
two photographs of quite young children, a boy and a girl, with those
kind, gentle, chubby faces that German children have. In it there were
also two locks of light hair and a letter in a large childish hand,
beginning with German words which meant: 'My dear little mother.'
"I could not restrain my tears, my dear friend, and so I untied her, and
without venturing to look at the face of my poor, dead husband, who was
not to be avenged, I went with her as far as the inn. She is free; I
have just left her, and she kissed me with tears. I am going upstairs to
my husband; come as soon as possible, my dear friend, to look for our
I set off with all speed, and when I arrived there was a Prussian patrol
at the cottage. When I asked what it all meant, I was told that there
was a captain of _francs-tireurs_ and his wife inside, both dead. I gave
their names; they saw that I knew them, and I begged to be allowed to
undertake their funeral.
"Somebody has already undertaken it," was the reply. "Go in if you wish
to, as you knew them. You can settle about their funeral with their
I went in. The captain and his wife were lying side by side on a bed,
and were covered by a sheet. I raised it, and saw that the woman had
inflicted a wound in her throat similar to that from which her husband
At the side of the bed there sat, watching and weeping, the woman who
had been mentioned to me as their last friend. It was the lancer's wife.
HAUTOT SENIOR AND HAUTOT JUNIOR
In front of the building, half farmhouse, half manor-house, one of those
rural habitations of a mixed character which were all but seigneurial,
and which are at the present time occupied by large cultivators, the
dogs, lashed beside the apple-trees in the orchard near the house, kept
barking and howling at the sight of the shooting-bags carried by the
gamekeepers and the boys. In the spacious dining-room kitchen, Hautot
Senior and Hautot Junior, M. Bermont, the tax-collector, and M. Mondaru,
the notary, were taking a bite and drinking some wine before going out
to shoot, for it was the opening day.
Hautot Senior, proud of all his possessions, talked boastfully
beforehand of the game which his guests were going to find on his lands.
He was a big Norman, one of those powerful, ruddy, bony men, who can
lift wagonloads of apples on their shoulders. Half peasant, half
gentleman, rich, respected, influential, invested with authority, he
made his son Cesar go as far as the third form at school, so that he
might be an educated man, and there he had brought his studies to a stop
for fear of his becoming a fine gentleman and paying no attention to the
Cesar Hautot, almost as tall as his father, but thinner, was a good son,
docile, content with everything, full of admiration, respect, and
deference for the wishes and opinions of his sire.
M. Bermont, the tax-collector, a stout little man, who showed on his red
cheeks a thin network of violet veins resembling the tributaries and the
winding courses of rivers on maps, asked:
"And hares--are there any hares on it?"
Hautot Senior answered: "As many as you like, especially in the
"Which direction shall we begin in?" asked the notary, a jolly notary,
fat and pale, big-paunched too, and strapped up in an entirely new
hunting costume bought at Rouen.
"Well, that way, through these grounds. We will drive the partridges
into the plain, and we will beat there again."
And Hautot Senior rose up. They all followed his example, took their
guns out of the corners, examined the locks, stamped with their feet in
order to feel themselves firmer in their boots which were rather hard,
not having as yet been rendered flexible by the heat of the blood. Then
they went out; and the dogs, standing erect at the ends of their
leashes, gave vent to piercing howls while beating the air with their
They set forth for the lands referred to. These consisted of a little
glen, or rather a long undulating stretch of inferior soil, which had on
that account remained uncultivated, furrowed with mountain-torrents,
covered with ferns, an excellent preserve for game.
The sportsmen took up their positions at some distance from each other,
Hautot Senior posting himself at the right, Hautot Junior at the left,
and the two guests in the middle. The keeper and those who carried the
game-bags followed. It was the anxious moment when the first shot is
awaited, when the heart beats a little, while the nervous finger keeps
feeling at the trigger every second.
Suddenly the shot went off. Hautot Senior had fired. They all stopped,
and saw a partridge breaking off from a covey which was rushing along at
great speed to fall down into a ravine under a thick growth of
brushwood. The sportsman, becoming excited, rushed forward with rapid
strides, thrusting aside the briers which stood in his path, and
disappeared in his turn into the thicket in quest of his game.
Almost at the same instant, a second shot was heard.
"Ha! ha! the rascal!" exclaimed M. Bermont, "he will unearth a hare down
They all waited, with their eyes riveted on the heap of branches through
which their gaze failed to penetrate.
The notary, making a speaking-trumpet of his hands, shouted:
"Have you got them?"
Hautot Senior made no response.
Then Cesar, turning toward the keeper, said to him:
"Just go and assist him, Joseph. We must keep walking in a straight
line. We'll wait."
And Joseph, an old stump of a man, lean and knotty, all of whose joints
formed protuberances, proceeded at an easy pace down the ravine,
searching at every opening through which a passage could be effected
with the cautiousness of a fox. Then, suddenly, he cried:
"Oh! come! come! an unfortunate thing has occurred."
They all hurried forward, plunging through the briers.
The elder Hautot, who had fallen on his side, in a fainting condition,
kept both his hands over his stomach, from which flowed down upon the
grass through the linen vest torn by the lead, long streamlets of blood.
As he was laying down his gun, in order to seize the partridge within
reach of him, he had let the firearm fall, and the second discharge,
going off with the shock, had torn open his entrails. They drew him out
of the trench; they removed his clothes and they saw a frightful wound,
through which the intestines came out. Then, after having bandaged him
the best way they could, they brought him back to his own house, and
awaited the doctor, who had been sent for, as well as a priest.
When the doctor arrived, he gravely shook his head, and, turning toward
young Hautot, who was sobbing on a chair:
"My poor boy," said he, "this does not look well."
But, when the dressing was finished, the wounded man moved his fingers,
opened his mouth, then his eyes, cast around him troubled, haggard
glances, then appeared to search about in his memory, to recollect, to
understand, and he murmured:
"Ah! good God! this has done for me!"
The doctor held his hand.
"Why no, why no, some days of rest merely--it will be nothing."
"It has done for me! My stomach is split open! I know it well."
Then, all of a sudden:
"I want to talk to the son, if I have the time."
Hautot Junior, in spite of himself, shed tears, and kept repeating like
a little boy:
"P'pa, p'pa, poor p'pa!"
But the father, in a firmer tone:
"Come! stop crying--this is not the time for it. I have to talk to you.
Sit down there quite close to me. It will be quickly done, and I shall
be more calm. As for the rest of you, kindly give me one minute."
They all went out, leaving the father and son face to face.
As soon as they were alone:
"Listen, son! you are twenty-four years; one can say things like this to
you. And then there is not such mystery about these matters as we import
into them. You know well that your mother has been seven years dead,
isn't that so? and that I am not more than forty-five years myself,
seeing that I got married at nineteen? Is not that true?"
The son faltered:
"Yes, it is true."
"So then your mother has been seven years dead, and I have remained a
widower. Well! a man like me cannot remain without a wife at
thirty-eight, isn't that true?"
The son replied:
"Yes, it is true."
The father, out of breath, quite pale, and his face contracted with
suffering, went on:
"God! what pain I feel! Well, you understand. Man is not made to live
alone, but I did not want to take a successor to your mother, since I
promised her not to do so. Then--you understand?"
"So, I kept a young girl at Rouen, Rue d'Eperlan 18, in the third story,
the second door,--I tell you all this, don't forget,--but a young girl,
who has been very nice to me, loving, devoted, a true woman, eh? You
comprehend, my lad?"
"So then, if I am carried off, I owe something to her, something
substantial, that will place her in a safe position. You understand?"
"I tell you that she is an honest girl, and that, but for you, and the
remembrance of your mother, and again but for the house in which we
three lived, I would have brought her here, and then married her, for
certain--listen--listen, my lad. I might have made a will--I haven't
done so. I did not wish to do so--for it is not necessary to write down
things--things of this sort--it is too hurtful to the legitimate
children--and then it embroils everything--it ruins everyone! Look you,
the stamped paper, there's no need of it--never make use of it. If I am
rich, it is because I have not made waste of what I have during my own
life. You understand, my son?"
"Listen again--listen well to me! So then, I have made no will--I did
not desire to do so--and then I knew what you were; you have a good
heart; you are not niggardly, not too near, in any way; I said to myself
that when my end approached I would tell you all about it, and that I
would beg of you not to forget the girl. And then listen again! When I
am gone, make your way to the place at once--and make such arrangements
that she may not blame my memory. You have plenty of means. I leave it
to you--I leave you enough. Listen! You won't find her at home every day
in the week. She works at Madame Moreau's in the Rue Beauvoisine. Go
there on a Thursday. That is the day she expects me. It has been my day
for the past six years. Poor little thing! she will weep!--I say all
this to you because I have known you so well, my son. One does not tell
these things in public either to the notary or to the priest. They
happen--everyone knows that--but they are not talked about, save in case
of necessity. Then there is no outsider in the secret, nobody except the
family, because the family consists of one person alone. You
"Do you promise?"
"Do you swear it?"
"I beg of you, I implore of you, so do not forget. I bind you to it."
"You will go yourself. I want you to make sure of everything."
"And, then, you will see--you will see what she will explain to you. As
for me, I can say no more to you. You have vowed to do it."
"That's good, my son. Embrace me. Farewell. I am going to break up, I'm
sure. Tell them they may come in."
Young Hautot embraced his father, groaning while he did so; then, always
docile, he opened the door, and the priest appeared in a white surplice,
carrying the holy oils.
But the dying man had closed his eyes and he refused to open them again,
he refused to answer, he refused to show, even by a sign, that he
He had spoken enough, this man; he could speak no more. Besides he now