Part 5 out of 6
felt his heart calm; he wanted to die in peace. What need had he to make
a confession to the deputy of God, since he had just done so to his son,
who constituted his own family?
He received the last rites, was purified and absolved, in the midst of
his friends and his servants on their bended knees, without any movement
of his face indicating that he still lived.
He expired about midnight, after four hours' convulsive movements, which
showed that he must have suffered dreadfully in his last moments.
It was on the following Tuesday that they buried him; the shooting had
opened on Sunday. On his return home, after having accompanied his
father to the cemetery, Cesar Hautot spent the rest of the day weeping.
He scarcely slept at all on the following night, and he felt so sad on
awakening that he asked himself how he could go on living.
However, he kept thinking until evening that, in order to obey the last
wish of his father, he ought to repair to Rouen next day, and see this
girl Catholine Donet, who resided in the Rue d'Eperlan in the third
story, second door. He had repeated to himself in a whisper, just as a
little boy repeats a prayer, this name and address a countless number of
times, so that he might not forget them, and he ended by lisping them
continually, without being able to stop or to think of what they were,
so much were his tongue and his mind possessed by the commission.
Accordingly, on the following day, about eight o'clock, he ordered
Graindorge to be yoked to the tilbury, and set forth at the quick
trotting pace of the heavy Norman horse, along the highroad from
Ainville to Rouen. He wore his black frock-coat, a tall silk hat on his
head, and breeches with straps; and he did not, on account of the
occasion, dispense with the handsome costume, the blue overalls which
swelled in the wind, protecting the cloth from dust and from stains, and
which was to be removed quickly the moment he jumped out of the coach.
He entered Rouen accordingly just as it was striking ten o'clock, drew
up, as he had usually done, at the Hotel des Bon-Enfants, in the Rue des
Trois-Marcs, submitted to the hugs of the landlord and his wife and
their five children, for they had heard the melancholy news. After that,
he had to tell them all the particulars about the accident, which caused
him to shed tears, to repel all the proffered attentions which they
sought to thrust upon him merely because he was wealthy, and to decline
even the breakfast they wanted him to partake of, thus wounding their
Then, having wiped the dust off his hat, brushed his coat and removed
the mud stains from his boots, he set forth in search of the Rue
d'Eperlan, without venturing to make inquiries from anyone, for fear of
being recognized and arousing suspicions.
At length, being unable to find the place, he saw a priest passing by,
and, trusting to the professional discretion which churchmen possess, he
questioned the ecclesiastic.
He had only a hundred steps farther to go; it was exactly the second
street to the right.
Then he hesitated. Up to that moment, he had obeyed, like a mere animal,
the expressed wish of the deceased. Now he felt quite agitated,
confused, humiliated, at the idea of finding himself--the son--in the
presence of this woman who had been his father's mistress. All the
morality which lies buried in our breasts, heaped up at the bottom of
our sensuous emotions by centuries of hereditary instruction, all that
he had been taught, since he had learned his catechism, about creatures
of evil life, the instinctive contempt which every man entertains for
them, even though he may marry one of them, all the narrow honesty of
the peasant in his character, was stirred up within him and held him
back, making him grow red with shame.
But he said to himself:
"I promised the father, I must not break my promise."
Then he gave a push to the door of the house bearing the number 18,
which stood ajar, discovered a gloomy-looking staircase, ascended three
flights, perceived a door, then a second door, came upon the string of a
bell, and pulled it. The ringing, which resounded in the apartment
before which he stood, sent a shiver through his frame. The door was
opened, and he found himself facing a young lady very well dressed, a
brunette with a fresh complexion, who gazed at him with eyes of
He did not know what to say to her, and she, who suspected nothing, and
who was waiting for him to speak, did not invite him to come in. They
stood looking thus at one another for nearly half a minute, at the end
of which she said in a questioning tone:
"You have something to tell me, Monsieur?"
He falteringly replied:
"I am M. Hautot's son."
She gave a start, turned pale, and stammered out as if she had known him
for a long time:
"And what next?"
"I have come to speak to you on the part of my father."
"Oh, my God!"
She then drew back so that he might enter. He shut the door and followed
her into the interior. Then he saw a little boy of four or five years
playing with a cat, seated on the floor in front of a stove, from which
rose the steam of dishes which were being kept hot.
"Take a seat," she said.
He sat down.
He no longer ventured to speak, keeping his eyes fixed on the table
which stood in the center of the room, with three covers laid on it, one
of which was for a child. He glanced at the chair which had its back
turned to the fire. They had been expecting him. That was his bread
which he saw, and which he recognized near the fork, for the crust had
been removed on account of Hautot's bad teeth. Then, raising his eyes,
he noticed on the wall his father's portrait, the large photograph taken
at Paris the year of the exhibition, the same as that which hung above
the bed in the sleeping apartment at Ainville.
The young woman again asked:
"Well, Monsieur Cesar?"
He kept staring at her. Her face was livid with anguish; and she waited,
her hands trembling with fear.
Then he took courage.
"Well, Mam'zelle, papa died on Sunday last just after he had opened the
She was so much overwhelmed that she did not move. After a silence of a
few seconds, she faltered in an almost inaudible tone:
"Oh! it is not possible!"
Then, on a sudden, tears showed themselves in her eyes, and covering her
face with her hands, she burst out sobbing.
At that point the little boy turned round, and, seeing his mother
weeping, began to howl. Then, realizing that this sudden trouble was
brought about by the stranger, he rushed at Cesar, caught hold of his
breeches with one hand and with the other hit him with all his strength
on the thigh. And Cesar remained agitated, deeply affected, with this
woman mourning for his father at one side of him, and the little boy
defending his mother at the other. He felt their emotion taking
possession of himself, and his eyes were beginning to brim over with the
same sorrow; so, to recover his self-command, he began to talk:
"Yes," he said, "the accident occurred on Sunday, at eight o'clock--"
And he told, as if she were listening to him, all the facts without
forgetting a single detail, mentioning the most trivial matters with the
minuteness of a countryman. And the child still kept assailing him,
making kicks at his ankles.
When he came to the time at which his father had spoken about her, her
attention was caught by hearing her own name, and, uncovering her face,
"Pardon me! I was not following you; I would like to know--if you do not
mind beginning over again."
He related everything at great length, with stoppages, breaks, and
reflections of his own from time to time. She listened to him eagerly
now perceiving with a woman's keen sensibility all the sudden changes of
fortune which his narrative indicated, and trembling with horror, every
now and then, exclaiming:
"Oh, my God!"
The little fellow, believing that she had calmed down, ceased beating
Cesar, in order to catch his mother's hand, and he listened, too, as if
When the narrative was finished, young Hautot continued:
"Now, we will settle matters together in accordance with his wishes.
Listen: I am well off, he has left me plenty of means. I don't want you
to have anything to complain about--"
But she quickly interrupted him:
"Oh! Monsieur Cesar, Monsieur Cesar, not today. I am cut to the
heart--another time--another day. No, not to-day. If I accept, listen!
'Tis not for myself--no, no, no, I swear to you. 'Tis for the child.
Besides this provision will be put to his account."
Thereupon Cesar scared, divined the truth, and stammering:
"So then--'tis his--the child?"
"Why, yes," she said.
And Hautot Junior gazed at his brother with a confused emotion, intense
After a lengthened silence, for she had begun to weep afresh, Cesar,
quite embarrassed, went on:
"Well, then, Mam'zelle Donet, I am going. When would you wish to talk
this over with me?"
"Oh! no, don't go! don't go! Don't leave me all alone with Emile. I
would die of grief. I have no longer anyone, anyone but my child. Oh!
what wretchedness, what wretchedness. Monsieur Cesar! Stop! Sit down
again. You will say something more to me. You will tell me what he was
doing over there all the week."
And Cesar resumed his seat, accustomed to obey.
She drew over another chair for herself in front of the stove, where the
dishes had all this time been simmering, took Emile upon her knees, and
asked Cesar a thousand questions about his father with reference to
matters of an intimate nature, which made him feel, without reasoning on
the subject, that she had loved Hautot with all the strength of her
frail woman's heart.
And, by the natural concatenation of his ideas--which were rather
limited in number--he recurred once more to the accident, and set about
telling the story over again with all the same details.
When he said: "He had a hole in his stomach--you could put your two
fists into it," she gave vent to a sort of shriek, and the tears gushed
forth again from her eyes.
Then, seized by the contagion of her grief, Cesar began to weep, too,
and as tears always soften the fibers of the heart, he bent over Emile
whose forehead was close to his own mouth and kissed him.
The mother, recovering her breath, murmured:
"Poor lad, he is an orphan now!"
"And so am I," said Cesar.
And they ceased to talk.
But suddenly the practical instinct of the housewife, accustomed to be
thoughtful about many things, revived in the young woman's breast.
"You have perhaps taken nothing all the morning, Monsieur Cesar."
"Oh! you must be hungry. You will eat a morsel."
"Thanks," he said, "I am not hungry; I have had too much trouble."
"In spite of sorrow, we must live. You will not refuse to let me get
something for you! And then you will remain a little longer. When you
are gone I don't know what will become of me."
He yielded after some further resistance, and, sitting down with his
back to the fire, facing her, he ate a plateful of tripe, which had been
bubbling in the stove, and drank a glass of red wine. But he would not
allow her to uncork the bottle of white wine. He several times wiped the
mouth of the little boy, who had smeared all his chin with sauce.
As he was rising up to go, he asked:
"When would you like me to come back to speak about this business to
you, Mam'zelle Donet?"
"If it is all the same to you, say next Thursday, Monsieur Cesar. In
that way I would lose none of my time, as I always have my Thursdays
"That will suit me--next Thursday."
"You will come to lunch. Won't you?"
"Oh! On that point I can't give you a promise."
"The reason I suggested it is that people can chat better when they are
eating. One has more time, too."
"Well, be it so. About twelve o'clock, then." And he took his departure,
after he had again kissed little Emile, and pressed Mademoiselle Donet's
The week appeared long to Cesar Hautot. He had never before found
himself alone, and the isolation seemed to him insupportable. Till now,
he had lived at his father's side, just like his shadow, followed him
into the fields, superintended the execution of his orders, and, when
they had been a short time separated, again met him at dinner. They had
spent the evenings smoking their pipes, face to face with one another,
chatting about horses, cows, or sheep, and the grip of their hands when
they rose up in the morning might have been regarded as a manifestation
of deep family affection on both sides.
Now Cesar was alone, he went vacantly through the process of dressing
the soil in autumn, every moment expecting to see the tall gesticulating
silhouette of his father rising up at the end of a plain. To kill time,
he entered the houses of his neighbors, told about the accident to all
who had not heard of it, and sometimes repeated it to the others. Then,
after he had finished his occupations and his reflections, he would sit
down at the side of the road, asking himself whether this kind of life
was going to last forever.
He frequently thought of Mademoiselle Donet. He liked her. He considered
her thoroughly respectable, a gentle and honest young woman, as his
father had said. Yes, undoubtedly she was an honest girl. He resolved to
act handsomely toward her, and to give her two thousand francs a year,
settling the capital on the child. He even experienced a certain
pleasure in thinking that he was going to see her on the following
Thursday and arrange this matter with her. And then the notion of this
brother, this little chap of five, who was his father's son, plagued
him, annoyed him a little, and at the same time, excited him. He had, as
it were, a family in this brat, sprung from a clandestine alliance, who
would never bear the name of Hautot, a family which he might take or
leave, just as he pleased, but which would recall his father.
And so, when he saw himself on the road to Rouen on Thursday morning,
carried along by Graindorge trotting with clattering foot-beats, he felt
his heart lighter, more at peace than he had hitherto felt it since his
On entering Mademoiselle Donet's apartment, he saw the table laid as on
the previous Thursday, with the sole difference that the crust had not
been removed from the bread. He pressed the young woman's hand, kissed
Emile on the cheeks, and sat down, more or less as if he were in his own
house, his heart swelling in the same way. Mademoiselle Donet seemed to
him a little thinner and paler. She must have grieved sorely. She wore
now an air of constraint in his presence, as if she understood what she
had not felt the week before under the first blow of her misfortune, and
she exhibited an excessive deference toward him, a mournful humility,
and made touching efforts to please him, as if to pay him back by her
attentions for the kindness he had manifested toward her. They were a
long time at lunch talking over the business which had brought him
there. She did not want so much money. It was too much. She earned
enough to live on herself, but she only wished that Emile might find a
few sous awaiting him when he grew big. Cesar held out, however, and
even added a gift of a thousand francs for herself for the expense of
When he had taken his coffee, she asked:
"Do you smoke?"
"Yes--I have my pipe."
He felt in his pocket. Good God! He had forgotten it! He was becoming
quite woe-begone about it when she offered him a pipe of his father's
that had been shut up in a cupboard. He accepted it, took it up in his
hand, recognized it, smelled it, spoke of its quality in a tone of
emotion, filled it with tobacco, and lighted it. Then he set Emile
astride on his knee, and made him play the cavalier, while she removed
the tablecloth and put the soiled plates at one end of the sideboard in
order to wash them as soon as he was gone.
About three o'clock, he rose up with regret, quite annoyed at the
thought of having to go.
"Well! Mademoiselle Donet," he said, "I wish you good evening, and am
delighted to have found you like this."
She remained standing before him, blushing, much affected, and gazed at
him while she thought of the other.
"Shall we not see one another again?" she said.
He replied simply:
"Why, yes, Mam'zelle, if it gives you pleasure."
"Certainly, Monsieur Cesar. Will next Thursday suit you then?"
"Yes, Mademoiselle Donet."
"You will come to lunch, of course?"
"Well--if you are so kind as to invite me, I can't refuse."
"It is understood, then, Monsieur Cesar--next Thursday, at twelve, the
same as to-day."
"Thursday at twelve, Mam'zelle Donet!"
The broad sunlight threw its burning rays on the fields, and under this
shower of flame life burst forth in glowing vegetation from the earth.
As far as the eye could see, the soil was green; and the sky was blue to
the verge of the horizon. The Norman farms scattered through the plain
seemed at a distance like little woods inclosed each in a circle of thin
beech-trees. Coming closer, on opening the worm-eaten stile, one fancied
that he saw a giant garden, for all the old apple-trees, as knotted as
the peasants, were in blossom. The weather-beaten black trunks, crooked,
twisted, ranged along the inclosure, displayed beneath the sky their
glittering domes, rosy and white. The sweet perfume of their blossoms
mingled with the heavy odors of the open stables and with the fumes of
the steaming dunghill, covered with hens and their chickens. It was
midday. The family sat at dinner in the shadow of the pear-tree planted
before the door--the father, the mother, the four children, the two
maidservants, and the three farm laborers. They scarcely uttered a word.
Their fare consisted of soup and of a stew composed of potatoes mashed
up in lard.
From time to time one of the maidservants rose up, and went to the
cellar to fetch a pitcher of cider.
The husband, a big fellow of about forty, stared at a vine-tree, quite
exposed to view, which stood close to the farmhouse, twining like a
serpent under the shutters the entire length of the wall.
He said, after a long silence:
"The father's vine-tree is blossoming early this year. Perhaps it will
bear good fruit."
The peasant's wife also turned round, and gazed at the tree without
This vine-tree was planted exactly in the place where the father of the
peasant had been shot.
It was during the war of 1870. The Prussians were in occupation of the
entire country. General Faidherbe, with the Army of the North, was at
Now the Prussian staff had taken up its quarters in this farmhouse. The
old peasant who owned it, Pere Milon, received them, and gave them the
best treatment he could.
For a whole month the German vanguard remained on the lookout in the
village. The French were posted ten leagues away without moving, and
yet, each night, some of the uhlans disappeared.
All the isolated scouts, those who were sent out on patrol, whenever
they started in groups of two or three, never came back.
They were picked up dead in the morning in a field, near a farmyard, in
a ditch. Their horses even were found lying on the roads with their
throats cut by a saber stroke. These murders seemed to have been
accomplished by the same men, who could not be discovered.
The country was terrorized. Peasants were shot on mere information,
women were imprisoned, attempts were made to obtain revelations from
children by fear.
But, one morning, Pere Milon was found stretched in his stable with a
gash across his face.
Two uhlans ripped open were seen lying three kilometers away from the
farmhouse. One of them still grasped in his hand his blood-stained
weapon. He had fought and defended himself.
A council of war having been immediately constituted, in the open air,
in front of the farmhouse, the old man was brought before it.
He was sixty-eight years old. He was small, thin, a little crooked, with
long hands resembling the claws of a crab. His faded hair, scanty and
slight, like the down on a young duck, allowed his scalp to be plainly
seen. The brown, crimpled skin of his neck showed the big veins which
sank under his jaws and reappeared at his temples. He was regarded in
the district as a miser and a hard man in business transactions.
He was placed standing between four soldiers in front of the kitchen
table, which had been carried out of the house for the purpose. Five
officers and the Colonel sat facing him. The Colonel was the first to
"Pere Milon," he said, in French, "since we came here we have had
nothing to say of you but praise. You have always been obliging, and
even considerate toward us. But to-day a terrible accusation rests on
you, and the matter must be cleared up. How did you get the wound on
The peasant gave no reply.
The Colonel went on:
"Your silence condemns you, Pere Milon. But I want you to answer me, do
you understand? Do you know who has killed the two uhlans who were found
this morning near the crossroads?"
The old man said in a clear voice:
"It was I!"
The Colonel, surprised, remained silent for a second, looking steadfully
at the prisoner. Pere Milon maintained his impassive demeanor, his air
of rustic stupidity, with downcast eyes, as if he were talking to his
cure. There was only one thing that could reveal his internal agitation,
the way in which he slowly swallowed his saliva with a visible effort,
as if he were choking.
The old peasant's family--his son Jean, his daughter-in-law, and two
little children stood ten paces behind, scared and dismayed.
The Colonel continued:
"Do you know also who killed all the scouts of our army whom we have
found every morning, for the past month, lying here and there in the
The old man answered with the same brutal impassiveness:
"It was I!"
"It is you, then, that killed them all?"
"All of them-yes, it was I."
"Tell me the way you managed to do it?"
This time the peasant appeared to be affected; the necessity of speaking
at some length incommoded him.
"I know myself. I did it the way I found easiest."
The Colonel proceeded:
"I warn you, you must tell me everything. You will do well, therefore,
to make up your mind about it at once. How did you begin it?"
The peasant cast an uneasy glance toward his family, who remained in a
listening attitude behind him. He hesitated for another second or so,
then all of a sudden he came to a resolution on the matter.
"I came home one night about ten o'clock, and the next day you were
here. You and your soldiers gave me fifty crowns for forage with a cow
and two sheep. Said I to myself: 'As long as I get twenty crowns out of
them, I'll sell them the value of it.' But then I had other things in my
heart, which I'll tell you about now. I came across one of your
cavalrymen smoking his pipe near my dike, just behind my barn. I went
and took my scythe off the hook, and I came back with short steps from
behind, while he lay there without hearing anything. And I cut off his
head with one stroke, like a feather, while he only said 'Oof!' You have
only to look at the bottom of the pond; you'll find him there in a coal
bag with a big stone tied to it.
"I got an idea into my head. I took all he had on him from his boots to
his cap, and I hid them in the bakehouse in the Martin wood behind the
The old man stopped. The officers, speechless, looked at one another.
The examination was resumed, and this is what they were told.
Once he had accomplished this murder, the peasant lived with only one
thought: "To kill the Prussians!" He hated them with the sly and
ferocious hatred of a countryman who was at the same time covetous and
patriotic. He had got an idea into his head, as he put it. He waited for
a few days.
He was allowed to go and come freely, to go out and return just as he
pleased, as long as he displayed humility, submissiveness, and
complaisance toward the conquerors.
Now, every evening he saw the cavalrymen bearing dispatches leaving the
farmhouse; and he went out, one night, after discovering the name of the
village to which they were going, and after picking up by associating
with the soldiers the few words of German he needed.
He made his way through his farmyard, slipped into the wood, reached the
bakehouse, penetrated to the end of the long passage, and having found
the clothes of the soldier which he had hidden there, he put them on.
Then he went prowling about the fields, creeping along, keeping to the
slopes so as to avoid observation, listening to the least sounds,
restless as a poacher.
When he believed the time had arrived he took up his position at the
roadside, and hid himself in a clump of brushwood. He still waited. At
length, near midnight, he heard the galloping of a horse's hoofs on the
hard soil of the road. The old man put his ear to the ground to make
sure that only one cavalryman was approaching; then he got ready.
The uhlan came on at a very quick pace, carrying some dispatches. He
rode forward with watchful eyes and strained ears. As soon as he was no
more than ten paces away, Pere Milon dragged himself across the road,
groaning: "Hilfe! hilfe!" ("Help! help!").
The cavalryman drew up, recognized a German soldier dismounted, believed
that he was wounded, leaped down from his horse, drew near the prostrate
man, never suspecting anything, and, as he stooped over the stranger, he
received in the middle of the stomach the long, curved blade of the
saber. He sank down without any death throes, merely quivering with a
few last shudders.
Then the Norman, radiant with the mute joy of an old peasant, rose up,
and merely to please himself, cut the dead soldier's throat. After that,
he dragged the corpse to the dike and threw it in.
The horse was quietly waiting for its rider, Pere Milon got on the
saddle and started across the plain at the gallop.
At the end of an hour, he perceived two more uhlans approaching the
staff-quarters side by side. He rode straight toward them, crying:
"Hilfe! hilfe!" The Prussians let him come on, recognizing the uniform
without any distrust.
And like a cannon ball the old man shot between the two, bringing both
of them to the ground with his saber and a revolver. The next thing he
did was to cut the throats of the horses--the German horses! Then,
softly he re-entered the bakehouse and hid the horse he had ridden
himself in the dark passage. There he took off the uniform, put on once
more his own old clothes, and going to his bed, slept till morning.
For four days, he did not stir out, awaiting the close of the open
inquiry as to the cause of the soldiers' deaths; but, on the fifth day,
he started out again, and by a similar stratagem killed two more
Thenceforth, he never stopped. Each night he wandered about, prowled
through the country at random, cutting down some Prussians, sometimes
here, sometimes there, galloping through the deserted fields under the
moonlight, a lost uhlan, a hunter of men. Then, when he had finished his
task, leaving behind him corpses lying along the roads, the old horseman
went to the bakehouse where he concealed both the animal and the
uniform. About midday he calmly returned to the spot to give the horse a
feed of oats and some water, and he took every care of the animal,
exacting therefore the hardest work.
But, the night before his arrest, one of the soldiers he attacked put
himself on his guard, and cut the old peasant's face with a slash of a
He had, however, killed both of them. He had even managed to go back and
hide his horse and put on his everyday garb, but, when he reached the
stable, he was overcome by weakness and was not able to make his way
into the house.
He had been found lying on the straw, his face covered with blood.
When he had finished his story, he suddenly lifted his head and glanced
proudly at the Prussian officers.
The Colonel, tugging at his mustache, asked:
"Have you anything more to say?"
"No, nothing more; we are quits. I killed sixteen, not one more, not one
"You know you have to die?"
"I ask for no quarter!"
"Have you been a soldier?"
"Yes, I served at one time. And 'tis you killed my father, who was a
soldier of the first Emperor, not to speak of my youngest son Francois,
whom you killed last month near Evreux. I owed this to you, and I've
paid you back. 'Tis tit for tat!"
The officers stared at one another.
The old man went on:
"Eight for my father, eight for my son--that pays it off! I sought for
no quarrel with you. I don't know you! I only know where you came from.
You came to my house here and ordered me about as if the house was
yours. I have had my revenge, and I'm glad of it!"
And stiffening up his old frame, he folded his arms in the attitude of a
The Prussians held a long conference. A captain, who had also lost a son
the month before defended the brave old farmer.
Then the Colonel rose up, and, advancing toward Pere Milon, he said,
lowering his voice:
"Listen, old man! There is perhaps one way of saving your life--it is--"
But the old peasant was not listening to him, and, fixing his eyes
directly on the German officer, while the wind made the scanty hair move
to and fro on his skull, he made a frightful grimace, which shriveled up
his pinched countenance scarred by the saber-stroke, and, puffing out
his chest, he spat, with all his strength, right into the Prussian's
The Colonel, stupefied, raised his hand, and for the second time the
peasant spat in his face.
All the officers sprang to their feet and yelled out orders at the same
In less than a minute the old man, still as impassive as ever, was stuck
up against the wall and shot, while he cast a smile at Jean, his eldest
son, and then at his daughter-in-law and the two children, who were
staring with terror at the scene.
Mademoiselle Source had adopted this boy under very sad circumstances.
She was at the time thirty-six years old. She was disfigured, having in
her infancy slipped off her nurse's lap into the fireplace, and getting
her face so shockingly burned that it ever afterward presented a
frightful appearance. This deformity had made her resolve not to marry,
for she did not want any man to marry her for her money.
A female neighbor of hers, being left a widow during her pregnancy, died
in childbirth, without leaving a sou. Mademoiselle Source took the
newborn child, put him out to nurse, reared him, sent him to a
boarding-school, then brought him home in his fourteenth year, in order
to have in her empty house somebody who would love her, who would look
after her, who would make her old age pleasant.
She resided on a little property four leagues away from Rennes, and she
now dispensed with a servant. The expenses having increased to more than
double what they had been since this orphan's arrival, her income of
three thousand francs was no longer sufficient to support three persons.
She attended to the housekeeping and the cooking herself, and sent the
boy out on errands, letting him further occupy himself with cultivating
the garden. He was gentle, timid, silent, and caressing. And she
experienced a deep joy, a fresh joy at being embraced by him, without
any apparent surprise or repugnance being exhibited by him on account of
her ugliness. He called her "Aunt" and treated her as a mother.
In the evening they both sat down at the fireside, and she got nice
things ready for him. She heated some wine and toasted a slice of bread,
and it made a charming little meal before going to bed. She often took
him on her knees and covered him with kisses, murmuring in his ear with
passionate tenderness. She called him: "My little flower, my cherub, my
adored angel, my divine jewel." He softly accepted her caresses,
concealing his head on the old maid's shoulder. Although he was now
nearly fifteen years old, he had remained small and weak, and had a
rather sickly appearance.
Sometimes Mademoiselle Source brought him to the city to see two married
female relatives of hers, distant cousins, who were living in the
suburbs, and who were the only members of her family in existence. The
two women had always found fault with her for having adopted this boy,
on account of the inheritance; but for all that they gave her a cordial
welcome, having still hopes of getting a share for themselves, a third,
no doubt, if what she possessed were only equally divided.
She was happy, very happy, always taken up with her adopted child. She
bought books for him to improve his mind, and he devoted himself
ardently to reading.
He no longer now climbed on her knees to fondle her as he had formerly
done; but instead would go and sit down in his little chair in the
chimney-corner and open a volume. The lamp placed at the edge of the
little table, above his head, shone on his curly hair and on a portion
of his forehead; he did not move, he did not raise his eyes, he did not
make any gesture. He read on, interested, entirely absorbed in the
adventures which formed the subject of the book.
She, seated opposite to him, gazed at him with an eager, steady look,
astonished at his studiousness, jealous, often on the point of bursting
She said to him now and then: "You will fatigue yourself, my treasure!"
in the hope that he would raise his head and come across to embrace her;
but he did not even answer her; he had not heard or understood what she
was saying; he paid no attention to anything save what he read in these
For two years he devoured an incalculable number of volumes. His
After this, he asked Mademoiselle Source many times for money, which she
gave him. As he always wanted more, she ended by refusing, for she was
both regular and energetic and knew how to act rationally when it was
necessary to do so. By dint of entreaties he obtained a large sum one
night from her; but when he urged her to give him another sum a few days
later, she showed herself inflexible, and did not give way to him
further, in fact.
He appeared to be satisfied with her decision.
He again became quiet, as he had formerly been, loving to remain seated
for entire hours, without moving, plunged in deep reverie. He now did
not even talk to Madame Source, merely answering her remarks with short,
formal words. Nevertheless, he was agreeable and attentive in his manner
toward her; but he never embraced her now.
She had by this time grown slightly afraid of him when they sat facing
one another at night at opposite sides of the fireplace. She wanted to
wake him up, to make him say something, no matter what, that would break
this dreadful silence, which was like the darkness of a wood. But he did
not appear to listen to her, and she shuddered with the terror of a poor
feeble woman when she had spoken to him five or six times successively
without being able to get a word out of him.
What was the matter with him? What was going on in that closed-up head?
When she had been thus two or three hours sitting opposite him, she felt
herself getting daft, and longed to rush away and to escape into the
open country in order to avoid that mute, eternal companionship and also
some vague danger, which she could not define, but of which she had a
She frequently shed tears when she was alone. What was the matter with
him? When she gave expression to a desire, he unmurmuringly carried it
into execution. When she wanted to have anything brought to her from the
city, he immediately went there to procure it. She had no complaint to
make of him; no, indeed! And yet--
Another year flitted by, and it seemed to her that a new modification
had taken place in the mind of the young man. She perceived it; she felt
it; she divined it. How? No matter! She was sure she was not mistaken;
but she could not have explained in what the unknown thoughts of this
strange youth had changed.
It seemed to her that till now he had been like a person in a hesitating
frame of mind who had suddenly arrived at a determination. This idea
came to her one evening as she met his glance, a fixed, singular glance
which she had not seen in his face before.
Then he commenced to watch her incessantly, and she wished she could
hide herself in order to avoid that cold eye, riveted on her.
He kept staring at her, evening after evening for hours together, only
averting his eyes when she said, utterly unnerved:
"Do not look at me like that, my child!"
Then he bowed his head.
But the moment her back was turned, she once more felt that his eye was
upon her. Wherever she went he pursued her with his persistent gaze.
Sometimes, when she was walking in her little garden, she suddenly
noticed him squatted on the stump of a tree as if he were lying in wait
for her; and again when she sat in front of the house mending stockings
while he was digging some cabbage-bed, he kept watching her, as he
worked, in a sly, continuous fashion.
It was in vain that she asked him:
"What's the matter with you, my boy? For the last three years, you have
become very different. I don't find you the same. Tell me what ails you,
and what you are thinking of, I beg of you."
He invariably replied, in a quiet, weary tone:
"Why, nothing ails me, Aunt!"
And when she persisted, appealing to him thus: "Ah! my child, answer me,
answer me when I speak to you. If you knew what grief you caused me, you
would always answer, and you would not look at me that way. Have you any
trouble? Tell me, I'll console you!" he would turn away with a tired
"But there is nothing the matter with me, I assure you."
He had not grown much, having always a childish aspect, although the
features of his face were those of a man. They were, however, hard and
badly cut. He seemed incomplete, abortive, only half finished, and
disquieting as a mystery. He was a close impenetrable being, in whom
there seemed always to be some active, dangerous mental travail taking
Mademoiselle Source was quite conscious of all this, and she could not,
from that time forth, sleep at night, so great was her anxiety.
Frightful terrors, dreadful nightmares assailed her. She shut herself up
in her own room and barricaded the door, tortured by fear.
What was she afraid of? She could not tell.
Fear of everything, of the night, of the walls, of the shadows thrown by
the moon on the white curtains of the windows, and, above all, fear of
Why? What had she to fear? Did she know what it was? She could live this
way no longer! She felt certain that a misfortune threatened her, a
She set forth secretly one morning and went into the city to see her
relatives. She told them about the matter in a gasping voice. The two
women thought she was going mad and tried to reassure her.
"If you knew the way he looks at me from morning till night. He never
takes his eyes off me! At times I feel a longing to cry for help, to
call in the neighbors, so much am I afraid. But what could I say to
them? He does nothing to me except to keep looking at me."
The two female cousins asked:
"Is he ever brutal to you? Does he give you sharp answers?"
"No, never; he does everything I wish; he works hard; he is steady; but
I am so frightened I don't mind that much. He has something in his head,
I am certain of that--quite certain. I don't care to remain all alone
like that with him in the country."
The relatives, scared by her words, declared to her that they were
astonished and could not understand her; and they advised her to keep
silent about her fears and her plans, without, however, dissuading her
from coming to reside in the city, hoping in that way that the entire
inheritance would eventually fall into their hands.
They even promised to assist her in selling her house and in finding
another near them.
Mademoiselle Source returned home. But her mind was so much upset that
she trembled at the slightest noise, and her hands shook whenever any
trifling disturbance agitated her.
Twice she went again to consult her relatives, quite determined now not
to remain any longer in this way in her lonely dwelling. At last she
found a little cottage in the suburbs, which suited her, and privately
she bought it.
The signature of the contract took place on a Tuesday morning, and
Mademoiselle Source devoted the rest of the day to the preparations for
her change of residence.
At eight o'clock in the evening she got into the diligence which passed
within a few hundred yards of her house, and she told the conductor to
let her down in the place where it was his custom to stop for her. The
man called out to her as he whipped his horses:
"Good evening, Mademoiselle Source--good night!"
She replied as she walked on:
"Good evening, Pere Joseph." Next morning, at half past seven, the
postman who conveyed letters to the village, noticed at the crossroad,
not far from the highroad, a large splash of blood not yet dry. He said
to himself: "Hallo! some boozer must have been bleeding from the nose."
But he perceived ten paces farther on a pocket-handkerchief also stained
with blood. He picked them up. The linen was fine, and the postman, in
alarm, made his way over to the dike, where he fancied he saw a strange
Mademoiselle Source was lying at the foot on the grass, her throat cut
open with a knife.
An hour later, the gendarmes, the examining magistrate, and other
authorities made an inquiry as to the cause of death.
The two female relatives, called as witnesses, told all about the old
maid's fears and her last plans.
The orphan was arrested. Since the death of the woman who had adopted
him, he wept from morning till night, plunged, at least to all
appearance, in the most violent grief.
He proved that he had spent the evening up to eleven o'clock in a cafe.
Ten persons had seen him, having remained there till his departure.
Now the driver of the diligence stated that he had set down the murdered
woman on the road between half past nine and ten o'clock.
The accused was acquitted. A will, a long time made, which had been left
in the hands of a notary in Rennes, made him universal legatee. So he
For a long time the people of the country put him into quarantine, as
they still suspected him. His house, which was that of the dead woman,
was looked upon as accursed. People avoided him in the street.
But he showed himself so good-natured, so open, so familiar, that
gradually these horrible doubts were forgotten. He was generous,
obliging, ready to talk to the humblest about anything as long as they
cared to talk to him.
The notary, Maitre Rameay, was one of the first to take his part,
attracted by his smiling loquacity. He said one evening at a dinner at
the tax-collector's house:
"A man who speaks with such facility and who is always in good-humor
could not have such a crime on his conscience."
Touched by this argument, the others who were present reflected, and
they recalled to mind the long conversations with this man who made them
stop almost by force at the road corners to communicate his ideas to
them, who insisted on their going into his house when they were passing
by his garden, who could crack a joke better than the lieutenant of the
gendarmes himself, and who possessed such contagious gaiety that, in
spite of the repugnance with which he inspired them, they could not keep
from always laughing when in his company.
All doors were opened to him after a time.
He is, to-day, the mayor of his own community.
A LIVELY FRIEND
They had beer, constantly in each other's society for a whole winter in
Paris. After having lost sight of each other, as generally happens in
such cases, after leaving college, the two friends met again one night,
long years after, already old and white-haired, the one a bachelor, the
M. de Meroul lived six months in Paris and six months in his little
chateau at Tourbeville. Having married the daughter of a gentleman in
the district, he had lived a peaceful, happy life with the indolence of
a man who has nothing to do. With a calm temperament and a sedate mind,
without any intellectual audacity or tendency toward revolutionary
independence of thought, he passed his time in mildly regretting the
past, in deploring the morals and the institutions of to-day, and in
repeating every moment to his wife, who raised her eyes to heaven, and
sometimes her hands also, in token of energetic assent:
"Under what a government do we live, great God!"
Madame de Meroul mentally resembled her husband, just as if they had
been brother and sister. She knew by tradition that one ought, first of
all, to reverence the Pope and the King!
And she loved them and respected them from the bottom of her heart,
without knowing them, with a poetic exaltation, with a hereditary
devotion, with all the sensibility of a well-born woman. She was kindly
in every feeling of her soul. She had no child, and was incessantly
When M. de Meroul came across his old schoolfellow Joseph Mouradour at a
ball, he experienced from this meeting a profound and genuine delight,
for they had been very fond of one another in their youth.
After exclamations of astonishment over the changes caused by age in
their bodies and their faces, they had asked one another a number of
questions as to their respective careers.
Joseph Mouradour, a native of the south of France, had become a
councillor-general in his own neighborhood. Frank in his manners, he
spoke briskly and without any circumspection, telling all his thoughts
with sheer indifference to prudential considerations. He was a
Republican, of that race of good-natured Republicans who make their own
ease the law of their existence, and who carry freedom of speech to the
verge of brutality.
He called at his friend's address in Paris, and was immediately a
favorite, on account of his easy cordiality, in spite of his advanced
opinions. Madame de Meroul exclaimed:
"What a pity! such a charming man!"
M. de Meroul said to his friend, in a sincere and confidential tone:
"You cannot imagine what a wrong you do to our country." He was attached
to his friend nevertheless, for no bonds are more solid than those of
childhood renewed in later life. Joseph Mouradour chaffed the husband
and wife, called them "my loving turtles," and occasionally gave vent to
loud declarations against people who were behind the age, against all
sorts of prejudices and traditions.
When he thus directed the flood of his democratic eloquence, the married
pair, feeling ill at ease, kept silent through a sense of propriety and
good-breeding; then the husband tried to turn off the conversation in
order to avoid any friction. Joseph Mouradour did not want to know
anyone unless he was free to say what he liked.
Summer came round. The Merouls knew no greater pleasure than to receive
their old friends in their country house at Tourbeville. It was an
intimate and healthy pleasure, the pleasure of homely gentlefolk who had
spent most of their lives in the country. They used to go to the nearest
railway station to meet some of their guests, and drove them to the
house in their carriage, watching for compliments on their district, on
the rapid vegetation, on the condition of the roads in the department,
on the cleanliness of the peasants' houses, on the bigness of the cattle
they saw in the fields, on everything that met the eye as far as the
edge of the horizon.
They liked to have it noticed that their horse trotted in a wonderful
manner for an animal employed a part of the year in field-work; and they
awaited with anxiety the newcomer's opinion on their family estate,
sensitive to the slightest word, grateful for the slightest gracious
Joseph Mouradour was invited, and he announced his arrival. The wife and
the husband came to meet the train, delighted to have the opportunity of
doing the honors of their house.
As soon as he perceived them, Joseph Mouradour jumped out of his
carriage with a vivacity which increased their satisfaction. He grasped
their hands warmly, congratulated them, and intoxicated them with
He was quite charming in his manner as they drove along the road to the
house; he expressed astonishment at the height of the trees, the
excellence of the crops, and the quickness of the horse.
When he placed his foot on the steps in front of the chateau, M. de
Meroul said to him with a certain friendly solemnity:
"Now you are at home."
Joseph Mouradour answered: "Thanks, old fellow; I counted on that. For
my part, besides, I never put myself out with my friends. That's the
only hospitality I understand."
Then he went up to his own room, where he put on the costume of a
peasant, as he was pleased to describe it, and he came down again not
very long after, attired in blue linen, with yellow boots, in the
careless rig-out of a Parisian out for a holiday. He seemed, too, to
have become more common, more jolly, more familiar, having assumed along
with his would-be rustic garb a free and easy swagger which he thought
suited the style of dress. His new apparel somewhat shocked M. and
Madame de Meroul, who even at home on their estate always remained
serious and respectable, as the particle "de" before their name exacted
a certain amount of ceremonial even with their intimate friends.
After lunch they went to visit the farms; and the Parisian stupefied the
respectable peasants by talking to them as if he were a comrade of
In the evening, the cure dined at the house--a fat old priest, wearing
his Sunday suit, who had been specially asked that day in order to meet
When Joseph saw him he made a grimace, then he stared at the priest in
astonishment as if he belonged to some peculiar race of beings, the like
of which he had never seen before at such close quarters. He told a few
stories allowable enough with a friend after dinner, but apparently
somewhat out of place in the presence of an ecclesiastic. He did not
say, "Monsieur l'Abbe," but merely "Monsieur"; and he embarrassed the
priest with philosophical views as to the various superstitions that
prevailed on the surface of the globe.
"Your God, Monsieur, is one of those persons whom we must respect, but
also one of those who must be discussed. Mine is called Reason; he has
from time immemorial been the enemy of yours."
The Merouls, greatly put out, attempted to divert his thoughts. The cure
left very early.
Then the husband gently remarked:
"You went a little too far with that priest."
But Joseph immediately replied:
"That's a very good joke, too! Am I to bother my brains about a
devil-dodger? At any rate, do me the favor of not ever again having such
an old fogy to dinner. Confound his impudence!"
"But, my friend, remember his sacred character."
Joseph Mouradour interrupted him:
"Yes, I know. We must treat them like girls who get roses for being well
behaved! That's all right, my boy! When these people respect my
convictions, I will respect theirs!"
This was all that happened that day.
Next morning Madame de Meroul, on entering her drawing-room, saw lying
on the table three newspapers which made her draw back in horror, "Le
Voltaire," "La Republique Francaise," and "La Justice."
Presently Joseph Mouradour, still in his blue blouse, appeared on the
threshold, reading "L'Intransigeant" attentively. He exclaimed:
"Here is a splendid article by Rochefort. That fellow is marvelous."
He read the article in a loud voice, laying so much stress on its most
striking passages that he did not notice the entrance of his friend.
M. de Meroul had a paper in each hand: "Le Gaulois" for himself and "Le
Clarion" for his wife.
The ardent prose of the master-writer who overthrew the empire,
violently declaimed, recited in the accent of the south, rang through
the peaceful drawing-room, shook the old curtains with their rigid
folds, seemed to splash the walls, the large upholstered chairs, the
solemn furniture fixed in the same position for the past century, with a
hail of words, rebounding, impudent, ironical, and crushing.
The husband and the wife, the one standing, the other seated, listened
in a state of stupor, so scandalized that they no longer even ventured
to make a gesture. Mouradour flung out the concluding passage in the
article as one sets off a stream of fireworks; then in an emphatic tone
"That's a stinger, eh?"
But suddenly he perceived the two prints belonging to his friend, and he
seemed himself for a moment overcome with astonishment. Then he came
across to his host with great strides, demanding in an angry tone:
"What do you want to do with these papers?"
M. de. Meroul replied in a hesitating voice:
"Why, these--these are my--my newspapers."
"Your newspapers! Look here, now, you are only laughing at me! You will
do me the favor to read mine, to stir you up with a few new ideas, and,
as for yours--this is what I do with them--"
And before his host, filled with confusion, could prevent him, he seized
the two newspapers and flung them out through the window. Then he
gravely placed "La Justice" in the hands of Madame de Meroul and "Le
Voltaire" in those of her husband, himself sinking into an armchair to
The husband and the wife, through feelings of delicacy, made a show of
reading a little, then they handed back the Republican newspapers which
they touched with their finger-tips as if they had been poisoned.
Then Mouradour burst out laughing, and said:
"A week of this sort of nourishment, and I'll have you converted to my
At the end of a week, in fact, he ruled the house. He had shut the door
on the cure, whom Madame de Meroul went to see in secret. He gave orders
that neither the "Gaulois" nor the "Clarion" were to be admitted into
the house, which a manservant went to get in a mysterious fashion at the
post-office, and which, on his entrance, were hidden away under the sofa
cushions. He regulated everything just as he liked, always charming,
always good-natured, a jovial and all-powerful tyrant.
Other friends were about to come on a visit, religious people with
Legitimist opinions. The master and mistress of the chateau considered
it would be impossible to let them meet their lively guest, and not
knowing what to do, announced to Joseph Mouradour one evening that they
were obliged to go away from home for a few days about a little matter
of business, and they begged of him to remain in the house alone.
He showed no trace of emotion, and replied:
"Very well; 'tis all the same to me; I'll wait here for you as long as
you like. What I say is this--there need be no ceremony between friends.
You're quite right to look after your own affairs--why the devil
shouldn't you? I'll not take offense at your doing that, quite the
contrary. It only makes me feel quite at my ease with you. Go, my
friends--I'll wait for you."
M. and Madame de Meroul started next morning.
He is waiting for them.
THE BLIND MAN
How is it that the sunlight gives us such joy? Why does this radiance
when it falls on the earth fill us so much with the delight of living?
The sky is all blue, the fields are all green, the houses all white; and
our ravished eyes drink in those bright colors which bring mirthfulness
to our souls. And then there springs up in our hearts a desire to dance,
a desire to run, a desire to sing, a happy lightness of thought, a sort
of enlarged tenderness; we feel a longing to embrace the sun.
The blind, as they sit in the doorways, impassive in their eternal
darkness, remain as calm as ever in the midst of this fresh gaiety, and,
not comprehending what is taking place around them, they continue every
moment to stop their dogs from gamboling.
When, at the close of the day, they are returning home on the arm of a
young brother or a little sister, if the child says: "It was a very fine
day!" the other answers: "I could notice that 'twas fine. Lulu wouldn't
I have known one of these men whose life was one of the most cruel
martyrdoms that could possibly be conceived.
He was a peasant, the son of a Norman farmer. As long as his father and
mother lived, he was more or less taken care of; he suffered little save
from his horrible infirmity; but as soon as the old people were gone, a
life of atrocious misery commenced for him. A dependent on a sister of
his, everybody in the farmhouse treated him as a beggar who is eating
the bread of others. At every meal the very food he swallowed was made a
subject of reproach against him; he was called a drone, a clown; and
although his brother-in-law had taken possession of his portion of the
inheritance, the soup was given to him grudgingly--just enough to save
him from dying.
His face was very pale and his two big white eyes were like wafers. He
remained unmoved in spite of the insults inflicted upon him, so shut up
in himself that one could not tell whether he felt them at all.
Moreover, he had never known any tenderness; his mother had always
treated him very unkindly, caring scarcely at all for him; for in
country places the useless are obnoxious, and the peasants would be
glad, like hens, to kill the infirm of their species.
As soon as the soup had been gulped down, he went to the door in summer
time and sat down, to the chimney-corner in winter time, and, after
that, never stirred till night. He made no gesture, no movement; only
his eyelids, quivering from some nervous affection, fell down sometimes
over his white sightless orbs. Had he any intellect, any thinking
faculty, any consciousness of his own existence? Nobody cared to inquire
as to whether he had or no.
For some years things went on in this fashion But his incapacity for
doing anything as well as his impassiveness eventually exasperated his
relatives, and he became a laughing-stock, a sort of martyred buffoon, a
prey given over to native ferocity, to the savage gaiety of the brutes
who surrounded him.
It is easy to imagine all the cruel practical jokes inspired by his
blindness. And, in order to have some fun in return for feeding him,
they now converted his meals into hours of pleasure for the neighbors
and of punishment for the helpless creature himself.
The peasants from the nearest houses came to this entertainment; it was
talked about from door to door, and every day the kitchen of the
farmhouse was full of people. For instance, they put on the table in
front of his plate, when he was beginning to take the soup, a cat or a
dog. The animal instinctively scented out the man's infirmity, and,
softly approaching, commenced eating noiselessly, lapping up the soup
daintily; and, when a rather loud licking of the tongue awakened the
poor fellow's attention, it would prudently scamper away to avoid the
blow of the spoon directed at it by the blind man at random!
Then the spectators, huddled against the walls, burst out laughing,
nudged each other, and stamped their feet on the floor. And he, without
ever uttering a word, would continue eating with the aid of his right
hand, while stretching out his left to protect and defend his plate.
At another time they made him chew corks, bits of wood, leaves, or even
filth, which he was unable to distinguish.
After this, they got tired even of these practical jokes; and the
brother-in-law, mad at having to support him always, struck him, cuffed
him incessantly, laughing at the useless efforts of the other to ward
off or return the blows. Then came a new pleasure--the pleasure of
smacking his face. And the plowmen, the servant-girls, and even every
passing vagabond were every moment giving him cuffs, which caused his
eyelashes to twitch spasmodically. He did not know where to hide himself
and remained with his arms always held out to guard against people
coming too close to him.
At last he was forced to beg.
He was placed somewhere on the highroad on market-days, and, as soon as
he heard the sound of footsteps or the rolling of a vehicle, he reached
out his hat, stammering:
"Charity, if you please!"
But the peasant is not lavish, and, for whole weeks, he did not bring
back a sou.
Then he became the victim of furious, pitiless hatred. And this is how
One winter, the ground was covered with snow, and it froze horribly. Now
his brother-in-law led him one morning at this season a great distance
along the highroad in order that he might solicit alms. The blind man
was left there all day, and, when night came on, the brother-in-law told
the people of his house that he could find no trace of the mendicant.
Then he added:
"Pooh! best not bother about him! He was cold, and got some one to take
him away. Never fear! he's not lost. He'll turn up soon enough to-morrow
to eat the soup."
Next day he did not come back.
After long hours of waiting, stiffened with the cold, feeling that he
was dying, the blind man began to walk. Being unable to find his way
along the road, owing to its thick coating of ice, he went on at random,
falling into dikes, getting up again, without uttering a sound, his sole
object being to find some house where he could take shelter.
But by degrees the descending snow made a numbness steal over him, and
his feeble limbs being incapable of carrying him farther, he had to sit
down in the middle of an open field. He did not get up again.
The white flakes which kept continually falling buried him, so that his
body, quite stiff and stark, disappeared under the incessant
accumulation of their rapidly thickening mass; and nothing any longer
indicated the place where the corpse was lying.
His relatives made pretense of inquiring about him and searching for him
for about a week. They even made a show of weeping.
The winter was severe, and the thaw did not set in quickly. Now, one
Sunday, on their way to mass, the farmers noticed a great flight of
crows, who were whirling endlessly above the open field, and then, like
a shower of black rain, descended in a heap at the same spot, ever going
The following week these gloomy birds were still there. There was a
crowd of them up in the air, as if they had gathered from all corners of
the horizon; and they swooped down with a great cawing into the shining
snow, which they filled curiously with patches of black, and in which
they kept rummaging obstinately. A young fellow went to see what they
were doing, and discovered the body of the blind man, already half
devoured, mangled. His wan eyes had disappeared, pecked out by the long
And I can never feel the glad radiance of sunlit days without sadly
remembering and gloomily pondering over the fate of the beggar so
deprived of joy in life that his horrible death was a relief for all
those who had known him.
THE IMPOLITE SEX
MADAME DE X. TO MADAME DE L.
MY DEAR AUNT,--I am going to pay you a visit without making much fuss
about it. I shall be at Les Fresnes on the second of September, the day
before the hunting season opens; I do not want to miss it, so that I may
tease these gentlemen. You are very obliging, Aunt, and I would like you
to allow them to dine with you, as you usually do when there are no
strange guests, without dressing or shaving for the occasion, on the
ground that they are fatigued.
They are delighted, of course, when I am not present. But I shall be
there, and I shall hold a review, like a general, at the dinner-hour;
and, if I find a single one of them at all careless in dress, no matter
how little, I mean to send him down to the kitchen to the servant-maids.
The men of to-day have so little consideration for others and so little
good manners that one must be always severe with them. We live indeed in
an age of vulgarity. When they quarrel with one another, they attack one
another with insults worthy of street porters, and, in our presence,
they do not conduct themselves even as well as our servants. It is at
the seaside that you see this most clearly. They are to be found there
in battalions, and you can judge them in the lump. Oh, what coarse
beings they are!
Just imagine, in a train, one of them, a gentleman who looked well as I
thought, at first sight, thanks to his tailor, was dainty enough to take
off his boots in order to put on a pair of old shoes! Another, an old
man, who was probably some wealthy upstart (these are the most
ill-bred), while sitting opposite to me, had the delicacy to place his
two feet on the seat quite close to me. This is a positive fact.
At the watering-places, there is an unrestrained outpouring of
unmannerliness. I must here make one admission--that my indignation is
perhaps due to the fact that I am not accustomed to associate as a rule
with the sort of people one comes across here, for I should be less
shocked by their manners if I had the opportunity of observing them
oftener. In the inquiry-office of the hotel I was nearly thrown down by
a young man, who snatched the key over my head. Another knocked against
me so violently without begging my pardon or lifting his hat, coming
away from a ball at the Casino, that he gave me a pain in the chest. It
is the same way with all of them. Watch them addressing ladies on the
terrace: they scarcely ever bow. They merely raise their hands to their
headgear. But indeed, as they are all more or less bald, it is the best
But what exasperates and disgusts me especially is the liberty they take
of talking publicly, without any precaution whatsoever, about the most
revolting adventures. When two men are together, they relate to each
other, in the broadest language and with the most abominable comments,
really horrible stories, without caring in the slightest degree whether
a woman's ear is within reach of their voices. Yesterday, on the beach,
I was forced to go away from the place where I sat in order not to be
any longer the involuntary confidant of an obscene anecdote, told in
such immodest language that I felt as much humiliated as I was indignant
at having heard it. Would not the most elementary good-breeding have
taught them to speak in a lower tone about such matters when we are near
at hand? Etretat is, moreover, the country of gossip and scandal. From
five to seven o'clock you can see people wandering about in quest of
nasty stories about others, which they retail from group to group. As
you remarked to me, my dear Aunt, tittle-tattle is the mark of petty
individuals and petty minds. It is also the consolation of women who are
no longer loved or sought after. It is enough for me to observe the
women who are fondest of gossiping to be persuaded that you are quite
The other day I was present at a musical evening at the Casino, given by
a remarkable artist, Madame Masson, who sings in a truly delightful
manner. I took the opportunity of applauding the admirable Coquelin, as
well as two charming boarders of the Vaudeville, M---- and Meillet. I
was able, on the occasion, to see all the bathers collected together
this year on the beach. There were not many persons of distinction among
One day I went to lunch at Yport. I noticed a tall man with a beard who
was coming out of a large house like a castle. It was the painter, Jean
Paul Laurens. He is not satisfied apparently with imprisoning the
subjects of his pictures; he insists on imprisoning himself.
Then I found myself seated on the shingle close to a man still young, of
gentle and refined appearance, who was reading some verses. But he read
them with such concentration, with such passion, I may say, that he did
not even raise his eyes toward me. I was somewhat astonished, and I
asked the conductor of the baths, without appearing to be much
concerned, the name of this gentleman. I laughed inwardly a little at
this reader of rhymes: he seemed behind the age, for a man. This person,
I thought, must be a simpleton. Well, Aunt, I am now infatuated about
this stranger. Just fancy, his name is Sully Prudhomme! I turned round
to look at him at my ease, just where I sat. His face possesses the two
qualities of calmness and elegance. As somebody came to look for him, I
was able to hear his voice, which is sweet and almost timid. He would
certainly not tell obscene stories aloud in public, or knock against
ladies without apologizing. He is sure to be a man of refinement, but
his refinement is of an almost morbid, vibrating character. I will try
this winter to get an introduction to him.
I have no more news to tell you, my dear Aunt, and I must interrupt this
letter in haste, as the post-hour is near. I kiss your hands and your
Your devoted niece,
BERTHE DE X.
P.S.--I should add, however, by way of justification of French
politeness, that our fellow-countrymen are, when traveling, models of
good manners in comparison with the abominable English, who seem to have
been brought up by stable-boys, so much do they take care not to
incommode themselves in any way, while they always incommode their
MADAME DE L. TO MADAME DE X.
LES FRESNES, Saturday.
My dear child,--Many of the things you have said to me are very
reasonable, but that does not prevent you from being wrong. Like you, I
used formerly to feel very indignant at the impoliteness of men, who, as
I supposed, constantly treated me with neglect; but, as I grew older and
reflected on everything, putting aside coquetry and observing things
without taking any part in them myself, I perceived this much--that if
men are not always polite, women are always indescribably rude.
We imagine that we should be permitted to do anything, my darling, and
at the same time we consider that we have a right to the utmost respect,
and in the most flagrant manner we commit actions devoid of that
elementary good-breeding of which you speak with passion.
I find, on the contrary, that men have, for us, much consideration, as
compared with our bearing toward them. Besides, darling, men must needs
be, and are, what we make them. In a state of society where women are
all true gentlewomen all men would become gentlemen.
Mark my words; just observe and reflect.
Look at two women meeting in the street. What an attitude each assumes
toward the other! What disparaging looks! What contempt they throw into
each glance! How they toss their heads while they inspect each other to
find something to condemn! And, if the footpath is narrow, do you think
one woman will make room for another, or will beg pardon as she sweeps
by? Never! When two men jostle each other by accident in some narrow
lane, each of them bows and at the same time gets out of the other's
way, while we women press against each other, stomach to stomach, face
to face, insolently staring each other out of countenance.
Look at two women who are acquaintances meeting on a staircase before
the drawing-room door of a friend of theirs to whom one has just paid a
visit, and to whom the other is about to pay a visit. They begin to talk
to each other, and block up the passage. If anyone happens to be coming
up behind them, man or woman, do you imagine that they will put
themselves half an inch out of their way? Never! never!
I was waiting myself, with my watch in my hands, one day last winter, at
a certain drawing-room door. Behind me two gentlemen were also waiting
without showing any readiness to lose their temper, like me. The reason
was that they had long grown accustomed to our unconscionable insolence.
The other day, before leaving Paris, I went to dine with no less a
person than your husband in the Champs-Elysees, in order to enjoy the
open air. Every table was occupied. The waiter asked us not to go, and
there would soon be a vacant table.
At that moment, I noticed an elderly lady of noble figure, who, having
paid the amount of her check, seemed on the point of going away. She saw
me, scanned me from head to foot, and did not budge. For more than a
full quarter of an hour she sat there, immovable, putting on her gloves,
and calmly staring at those who were waiting like myself. Now, two young
men who were just finishing their dinner, having seen me in their turn,
quickly summoned the waiter in order to pay whatever they owed, and at
once offered me their seats, even insisting on standing while waiting
for their change. And, bear in mind, my fair niece, that I am no longer
pretty, like you, but old and white-haired.
It is we (do you see?) who should be taught politeness; and the task
would be such a difficult one that Hercules himself would not be equal
to it. You speak to me about Etretat, and about the people who indulge
in "tittle-tattle" along the beach of that delightful watering-place. It
is a spot now lost to me, a thing of the past, but I found much
amusement there in days gone by.
There were only a few of us, people in good society, really good
society, and a few artists, and we all fraternized. We paid little
attention to gossip in those days.
Well, as we had no insipid Casino, where people only gather for show,
where they talk in whispers, where they dance stupidly, where they
succeed in thoroughly boring one another, we sought some other way of
passing our evenings pleasantly. Now, just guess what came into the head
of one of our husbandry? Nothing less than to go and dance each night in
one of the farmhouses in the neighborhood.
We started out in a group with a street-organ, generally played by Le
Poittevin, the painter, with a cotton nightcap on his head. Two men
carried lanterns. We followed in procession, laughing and chattering
like a pack of fools.
We woke up the farmer and his servant-maids and laboring men. We got
them to make onion-soup (horror!), and we danced under the apple-trees,
to the sound of the barrel-organ. The cocks waking up began to crow in
the darkness of the outhouses; the horses began prancing on the straw of
their stables. The cool air of the country caressed our cheeks with the
smell of grass and of new-mown hay.
How long ago it is! How long ago it is. It is thirty years since then!
I do not want you, my darling, to come for the opening of the hunting
season. Why spoil the pleasure of our friends by inflicting on them
fashionable toilettes after a day of vigorous exercise in the country?
This is the way, child, that men are spoiled. I embrace you.
Your old aunt,
GENEVIEVE DE L.
Let us say that her name was Madame Anserre so as not to reveal her real
She was one of those Parisian comets which leave, as it were, a trail of
fire behind them. She wrote verses and novels; she had a poetic heart,
and was rarely beautiful. She opened her doors to very few--only to
exceptional people, those who are commonly described as princes of
something or other. To be a visitor at her house constituted a claim, a
genuine claim to intellect: at least this was the estimate set on her
invitations. Her husband played the part of an obscure satellite. To be
the husband of a comet is not an easy thing. This husband had, however,
an original idea, that of creating a State within a State, of possessing
a merit of his own, a merit of the second order, it is true; but he did,
in fact, in this fashion, on the days when his wife held receptions,
hold receptions also on his own account. He had his special set who
appreciated him, listened to him, and bestowed on him more attention
than they did on his brilliant partner.
He had devoted himself to agriculture--to agriculture in the Chamber.
There are in the same way generals in the Chamber--those who are born,
who live, and who die, on the round leather chairs of the War Office,
are all of this sort, are they not? Sailors in the Chamber,--viz., in
the Admiralty,--colonizers in the Chamber, etc., etc. So he had studied
agriculture, had studied it deeply, indeed, in its relations to the
other sciences, to political economy, to the Fine Arts--we dress up the
Fine Arts with every kind of science, and we even call the horrible
railway bridges "works of art." At length he reached the point when it
was said of him: "He is a man of ability." He was quoted in the
technical reviews; his wife had succeeded in getting him appointed a
member of a committee at the Ministry of Agriculture.
This latest glory was quite sufficient for him.
Under the pretext of diminishing the expenses, he sent out invitations
to his friends for the day when his wife received hers, so that they
associated together, or rather did not--they formed two distinct groups.
Madame, with her escort of artists, academicians, and ministers,
occupied a kind of gallery, furnished and decorated in the style of the
Empire. Monsieur generally withdrew with his agriculturists into a
smaller portion of the house used as a smoking-room and ironically
described by Madame Anserre as the Salon of Agriculture.
The two camps were clearly separate. Monsieur, without jealousy,
moreover, sometimes penetrated into the Academy, and cordial
hand-shakings were exchanged; but the Academy entertained infinite
contempt for the Salon of Agriculture, and it was rarely that one of the
princes of science, of thought, or of anything else, mingled with the
These receptions occasioned little expense--a cup of tea, a cake, that
was all. Monsieur, at an earlier period, had claimed two cakes, one for
the Academy, and one for the agriculturists, but Madame having rightly
suggested that this way of acting seemed to indicate two camps, two
receptions, two parties, Monsieur did not press the matter, so that they
used only one cake, of which Madame Anserre did the honors at the
Academy, and which then passed into the Salon de Agriculture.
Now, this cake was soon, for the Academy, a subject of observation well
calculated to arouse curiosity. Madame Anserre never cut it herself.
That function always fell to the lot of one or other of the illustrious
guests. The particular duty, which was supposed to carry with it
honorable distinction, was performed by each person for a pretty long
period, in one case for three months, scarcely ever for more; and it was
noticed that the privilege of "cutting the cake" carried with it a heap
of other marks of superiority--a sort of royalty, or rather very
The reigning cutter spoke in a haughty tone, with an air of marked
command; and all the favors of the mistress of the house were for him
These happy individuals were in moments of intimacy described in hushed
tones behind doors as the "favorites of the cake," and every change of
favorite introduced into the Academy a sort of revolution. The knife was
a scepter, the pastry an emblem; the chosen ones were congratulated. The
agriculturists never cut the cake. Monsieur himself was always excluded,
although he ate his share.
The cake was cut in succession by poets, by painters, and by novelists.
A great musician had the privilege of measuring the portions of the cake
for some time; an ambassador succeeded him. Sometimes a man less well
known, but elegant and sought after, one of those who are called
according to the different epochs, "true gentleman," or "perfect
knight," or "dandy," or something else, seated himself, in his turn,
before the symbolic cake. Each of them, during this ephemeral reign,
exhibited greater consideration toward the husband; then, when the hour
of his fall had arrived, he passed on the knife toward the other, and
mingled once more with the crowd of followers and admirers of the
"beautiful Madame Anserre."
This state of things lasted a long time; but comets do not always shine
with the same brilliance. Everything gets worn out in society. One would
have said that gradually the eagerness of the cutters grew feebler; they
seemed to hesitate at times when the tray was held out to them; this
office, once so much coveted, became less and less desired. It was
retained for a shorter time; they appeared to be less proud of it.
Madame Anserre was prodigal of smiles and civilities. Alas! no one was
found any longer to cut it voluntarily. The newcomers seemed to decline
the honor. The "old favorites" reappeared one by one like dethroned
princes who have been replaced for a brief spell in power. Then, the
chosen ones became few, very few. For a month (oh, prodigy!) M, Anserre
cut open the cake; then he looked as if he were getting tired of it; and
one evening Madame Anserre, the beautiful Madame Anserre, was seen
cutting it herself. But this appeared to be very wearisome to her, and,
next day, she urged one of her guests so strongly to do it that he did
not dare to refuse.
The symbol was too well known, however; the guests stared at one another
with scared, anxious faces. To cut the cake was nothing, but the
privileges to which this favor had always given a claim now frightened
people; therefore, the moment the dish made its appearance the
academicians rushed pellmell into the Salon of Agriculture, as if to
shelter themselves behind the husband, who was perpetually smiling. And
when Madame Anserre, in a state of anxiety, presented herself at the
door with a cake in one hand and the knife in the other, they all seemed
to form a circle around her husband as if to appeal to him for
Some years more passed. Nobody cut the cake now; but yielding to an old
inveterate habit, the lady who had always been gallantly called "the
beautiful Madame Anserre" looked out each evening for some devotee to
take the knife, and each time the same movement took place around her, a
general flight, skillfully arranged and full of combined maneuvers that
showed great cleverness, in order to avoid the offer that was rising to
But, one evening, a young man presented himself at her reception--an
innocent, unsophisticated youth. He knew nothing about the mystery of
the cake; accordingly, when it appeared, and when all the rest ran away,
when Madame Anserre took from the manservant's hands the dish and the
pastry, he remained quietly by her side.
She thought that perhaps he knew about the matter; she smiled, and in a
tone which showed some emotion, said:
"Will you be kind enough, dear Monsieur, to cut this cake?"
He displayed the utmost readiness, and took off his gloves, flattered at
such an honor being conferred on him.
"Oh, to be sure, Madame, with the greatest pleasure."
Some distance away in the corner of the gallery, in the frame of the
door which led into the Salon of the Agriculturists, faces which
expressed utter amazement were staring at him. Then, when the spectators
saw the newcomer cutting without any hesitation, they quickly came
An old poet jocosely slapped the neophyte on the shoulder.
"Bravo, young man!" he whispered in his ear.
The others gazed at him with curiosity. Even the husband appeared to be
surprised. As for the young man, he was astonished at the consideration
which they suddenly seemed to show toward him; above all, he failed to
comprehend the marked attentions, the manifest favor, and the species of
mute gratitude which the mistress of the house bestowed on him.
It appears, however, that he eventually found out.
At what moment, in what place, was the revelation made to him? Nobody
could tell; but, when he again presented himself at the reception, he
had a preoccupied air, almost a shamefaced look, and he cast around him
a glance of uneasiness.
The bell rang for tea. The manservant appeared. Madame Anserre, with a
smile, seized the dish, casting a look about her for her young friend;
but he had fled so precipitately that no trace of him could be seen any
longer. Then, she went looking everywhere for him, and ere long she
discovered him in the Salon of the Agriculturists. With his arm locked
in that of the husband, he was consulting that gentleman as to the means
employed for destroying phylloxera.
"My dear Monsieur," she said to him, "will you be so kind as to cut this
cake for me?"
He reddened to the roots of his hair, and hanging down his head,
stammered out some excuses. Thereupon M. Anserre took pity on him, and
turning toward his wife, said:
"My dear, you might have the goodness not to disturb us. We are talking
about agriculture. So get your cake cut by Baptiste."
And since that day nobody has ever cut Madame Anserre's cake.
THE CORSICAN BANDIT
The road, with a gentle winding, reached the middle of the forest. The
huge pine-trees spread above our heads a mournful-looking vault, and
gave forth a kind of long, sad wail, while at either side their
straight, slender trunks formed, as it were, an army of organ-pipes,
from which seemed to issue the low, monotonous music of the wind through
After three hours' walking there was an opening in this row of tangled
branches. Here and there an enormous pine-parasol, separated from the
others, opening like an immense umbrella, displayed its dome of dark
green; then, all of a sudden, we gained the boundary of the forest, some
hundreds of meters below the defile which leads into the wild valley of
On the two projecting heights which commanded a view of this pass, some
old trees, grotesquely twisted, seemed to have mounted with painful
efforts, like scouts who had started in advance of the multitude heaped
together in the rear. When we turned round we saw the entire forest
stretched beneath our feet, like a gigantic basin of verdure, whose
edges, which seemed to reach the sky, were composed of bare racks
shutting in on every side.
We resumed our walk, and, ten minutes later, we found ourselves in the
Then I beheld an astonishing landscape. Beyond another forest, a valley,
but a valley such as I had never seen before, a solitude of stone ten
leagues long, hollowed out between two high mountains, without a field
or a tree to be seen. This was the Niolo valley, the fatherland of
Corsican liberty, the inaccessible citadel, from which the invaders had
never been able to drive out the mountaineers.
My companion said to me: "It is here, that all our bandits have taken
Ere long we were at the further end of this chasm, so wild, so
Not a blade of grass, not a plant--nothing but granite. As far as our
eyes could reach we saw in front of us a desert of glittering stone,
heated like an oven by a burning sun which seemed to hang for that very
purpose right above the gorge. When we raised our eyes toward the crests
we stood dazzled and stupefied by what we saw. They looked red and
notched like festoons of coral, for all the summits are made of
porphyry; and the sky overhead seemed violet, lilac, discolored by the
vicinity of these strange mountains. Lower down the granite was of
scintillating gray, and under our feet it seemed rasped, pounded; we
were walking over shining powder. At our right, along a long and
irregular course, a tumultuous torrent ran with a continuous roar. And
we staggered along under this heat, in this light, in this burning,
arid, desolate valley cut by this ravine of turbulent water which seemed
to be ever hurrying onward, without being able to fertilize these rocks,
lost in this furnace which greedily drank it up without being penetrated
or refreshed by it.
But suddenly there was visible at our right a little wooden cross sunk
in a little heap of stones. A man had been killed there; and I said to
"Tell me about your bandits."
"I knew the most celebrated of them, the terrible St. Lucia. I will tell
you his history.
"His father was killed in a quarrel by a young man of the same district,
it is said; and St. Lucia was left alone with his sister. He was a weak
and timid youth, small, often ill, without any energy. He did not
proclaim the _vendetta_ against the assassin of his father. All his
relatives came to see him, and implored of him to take vengeance; he
remained deaf to their menaces and their supplications.
"Then, following the old Corsican custom, his sister, in her
indignation, carried away his black clothes, in order that he might not
wear mourning for a dead man who had not been avenged. He was insensible
to even this outrage, and rather than take down from the rack his
father's gun, which was still loaded, he shut himself up, not daring to
brave the looks of the young men of the district.
"He seemed to have even forgotten the crime, and he lived with his
sister in the obscurity of their dwelling.
"But, one day, the man who was suspected of having committed the murder
was about to get married. St. Lucia did not appear to be moved by this
news; but, no doubt out of sheer bravado, the bridegroom, on his way to
the church, passed before the two orphans' house.
"The brother and the sister, at their window, were eating little fried
cakes when the young man saw the bridal procession moving past the
house. Suddenly he began to tremble, rose up without uttering a word,
made the sign of the cross, took the gun which was hanging over the
fireplace, and went out.
"When he spoke of this later on, he said: 'I don't know what was the
matter with me; it was like fire in my blood; I felt that I should do
it, that in spite of everything, I could not resist, and I concealed the
gun in a cave on the road to Corte.'
"An hour later, he came back, with nothing in his hand, and with his
habitual sad air of weariness. His sister believed that there was
nothing further in his thoughts.
"But when night fell he disappeared.
"His enemy had, the same evening, to repair to Corte on foot,
accompanied by his two bridesmen.
"He was pursuing his way, singing as he went, when St. Lucia stood
before him, and looking straight in the murderer's face, exclaimed: 'Now
is the time!' and shot him point-blank in the chest.
"One of the bridesmen fled; the other stared at the young man, saying:
"'What have you done, St. Lucia?'
"Then he was going to hasten to Corte for help, but St. Lucia said in a
"'If you move another step, I'll shoot you through the legs.'
"The other, aware that till now he had always appeared timid, said to
him: 'You would not dare to do it!' and he was hurrying off when he
fell, instantaneously, his thigh shattered by a bullet.
"And St. Lucia, coming over to where he lay, said:
"'I am going to look at your wound; if it is not serious, I'll leave you
there; if it is mortal, I'll finish you off.'
"He inspected the wound, considered it mortal, and slowly re-loading his
gun, told the wounded man to say a prayer, and shot him through the
"Next day he was in the mountains.
"And do you know what this St. Lucia did after this?
"All his family were arrested by the gendarmes. His uncle, the cure, who
was suspected of having incited him to this deed of vengeance, was
himself put into prison, and accused by the dead man's relatives. But he
escaped, took a gun in his turn, and went to join his nephew in the
"Next, St. Lucia killed, one after the other, his uncle's accusers, and
tore out their eyes to teach the others never to state what they had
seen with their eyes.
"He killed all the relatives, all the connections of his enemy's family.
He massacred during his life fourteen gendarmes, burned down the houses
of his adversaries, and was up to the day of his death the most terrible