Part 19 out of 31
"How true it is!"
I was astonished. Had she understood?
Our boat had gradually approached the bank and become entangled in the
branches of a willow which impeded its progress. I placed my arm round
my companion's waist, and very gently approached my lips towards her
neck. But she repulsed me with an abrupt, angry movement.
"Have done, pray! How rude you are!"
I tried to draw her toward me. She resisted, caught hold of the tree,
and was near flinging us both into the water. I deemed it prudent to
cease my importunities.
"I would rather capsize you. I feel so happy. I want to dream. This is
so delightful." Then, in a slightly malicious tone, she added:
"Have you already forgotten the verses you repeated to me just now?"
She was right. I became silent.
She went on:
And I plied the oars once more.
I began to think the night long and my position ridiculous.
My companion said to me:
"Will you make me a promise?"
"Yes. What is it?"
"To remain quiet, well-behaved and discreet, if I permit you--"
"What? Say what you mean!"
"Here is what I mean: I want to lie down on my back at the bottom of the
boat with you by my side. But I forbid you to touch me, to embrace me--
in short--to caress me."
I promised. She said warningly:
"If you move, 'I'll capsize the boat."
And then we lay down side by side, our eyes turned toward the sky, while
the boat glided slowly through the water. We were rocked by its gentle
motion. The slight sounds of the night came to us more distinctly in the
bottom of the boat, sometimes causing us to start. And I felt springing
up within me a strange, poignant emotion, an infinite tenderness,
something like an irresistible impulse to open my arms in order to
embrace, to open my heart in order to love, to give myself, to give my
thoughts, my body, my life, my entire being to some one.
My companion murmured, like one in a dream:
"Where are we; Where are we going? It seems to me that I am leaving the
earth. How sweet it is! Ah, if you loved me--a little!!!"
My heart began to throb. I had no answer to give. It seemed to me that
I loved her. I had no longer any violent desire. I felt happy there by
her side, and that was enough for me.
And thus we remained for a long, long time without stirring. We had
clasped each other's hands; some delightful force rendered us motionless,
an unknown force stronger than ourselves, an alliance, chaste, intimate,
absolute, of our beings lying there side by side, belonging to each other
without contact. What was this? How do I know? Love, perhaps?
Little by little the dawn appeared. It was three o'clock in the morning.
Slowly a great brightness spread over the sky. The boat knocked up
against something. I rose up. We had come close to a tiny islet.
But I remained enchanted, in an ecstasy. Before us stretched the
firmament, red, pink, violet, spotted with fiery clouds resembling golden
vapor. The river was glowing with purple and three houses on one side of
it seemed to be burning.
I bent toward my companion. I was going to say, "Oh! look!" But I held
my tongue, quite dazed, and I could no longer see anything except her.
She, too, was rosy, with rosy flesh tints with a deeper tinge that was
partly a reflection of the hue of the sky. Her tresses were rosy; her
eyes were rosy; her teeth were rosy; her dress, her laces, her smile, all
were rosy. And in truth I believed, so overpowering was the illusion,
that the dawn was there in the flesh before me.
She rose softly to her feet, holding out her lips to me; and I moved
toward her, trembling, delirious feeling indeed that I was going to kiss
Heaven, to kiss happiness, to kiss a dream that had become a woman, to
kiss the ideal which had descended into human flesh.
She said to me: "You have a caterpillar in your hair." And, suddenly, I
felt as sad as if I had lost all hope in life.
That is all, madame. It is puerile, silly, stupid. But I am sure that
since that day it would be impossible for me to love. And yet--who can
[The young man upon whom this letter was found was yesterday taken out of
the Seine between Bougival and Marly. An obliging bargeman, who had
searched the pockets in order to ascertain the name of the deceased,
brought this paper to the author.]
Mademoiselle Source had adopted this boy under very sad circumstances.
She was at the time thirty-six years old. Being disfigured through
having as a child slipped off her nurse's lap into the fireplace and
burned her face shockingly, she had determined not to marry, for she did
not want any man to marry her for her money.
A neighbor of hers, left a widow just before her child was born, died in
giving birth, without leaving a sou. Mademoiselle Source took the new-
born 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,
and make her old age pleasant.
She had a little country place four leagues from Rennes, and she now
dispensed with a servant; her expenses having increased to more than
double 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 cooking herself, and sent out the
boy on errands, letting him also occupy himself in cultivating the
garden. He was gentle, timid, silent, and affectionate. And she
experienced a deep happiness, a fresh happiness when he kissed her
without surprise or horror at her disfigurement. He called her "Aunt,"
and treated her as a mother.
In the evening they both sat down at the fireside, and she made nice
little dainties 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 tender words
in his ear. She called him: "My little flower, my cherub, my adored
angel, my divine jewel." He softly accepted her caresses, hiding his
head on the old maid's shoulder. Although he was now nearly fifteen, he
had remained small and weak, and had a rather sickly appearance.
Sometimes Mademoiselle Source took 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 occupied with her adopted child. She
bought books for him to improve his mind, and he became passionately fond
He no longer climbed on her knee to pet 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 Tittle 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 or make any gesture. He read on,
interested, entirely absorbed in the story he was reading.
Seated opposite to him, she would gaze at him earnestly, astonished at
his studiousness, often on the point of bursting into tears.
She said to him occasionally: "You will fatigue yourself, my treasure!"
hoping 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 those
For two years he devoured an incalculable number of volumes. His
After this, he asked Mademoiselle Source several times for money, which
she gave him. As he always wanted more, she ended by refusing, for she
was both methodical and decided, and knew how to act rationally when it
was necessary to do so. By dint of entreaties he obtained a large sum
from her one night; but when he begged her for more 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, remaining 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 on 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 remained thus two or three hours opposite him, she felt as
if she were going insane, 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 wept when she was alone. What was the matter with him?
When she expressed a wish, he unmurmuringly carried it into execution.
When she wanted anything brought from the city, he immediately went there
to procure it. She had no complaint to make of him; no, indeed! And
Another year flitted by, and it seemed to her that a fresh change 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 manner the unknown thoughts of this
strange youth had changed.
It seemed to her that, until 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 would lower his head.
But the moment her back was turned she once more felt that his eyes were
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 hidden behind a bush, 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 vegetable bed, he kept continually watching her in a
surreptitious manner, as he worked.
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 recognize you. Do tell me what ails you,
and what you are thinking of."
He invariably replied, in a quiet, weary tone:
"Why, nothing ails me, aunt!"
And when she persisted:
"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 comfort you!"
He went away, with a tired air, murmuring:
"But there is nothing the matter with me, I assure you."
He had not grown much, having always a childish look, although his
features 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 self-contained, unapproachable being, in whom there
seemed always to be some active, dangerous mental labor going on.
Mademoiselle Source was quite conscious of all this, and she could not
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.
She feared everything, the night, the walls, the shadows thrown by the
moon on the white curtains of the windows, and, above all, she feared
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 frightful misfortune.
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 but look 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 that I care nothing for that. He is planning something,
I am certain of that--quite certain. I don't care to remain all alone
like that with him in the country."
The relatives, astonished at her words, declared that people would be
amazed, would not understand; 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 she
privately 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
put her down in the place where she usually alighted. 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 cross-road,
not far from the high road, a large splash of blood not yet dry. He said
to himself: "Hallo! some boozer must have had a nose bleed."
But he perceived ten paces farther on a pocket handkerchief also stained
with blood. He picked it up. The linen was fine, and the postman, in
alarm, made his way over to the ditch, where he fancied he saw a strange
Mademoiselle Source was lying at the bottom on the grass, her throat cut
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. After 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.
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, drawn up a long time before, which
had been left in the hands of a notary in Rennes, made him sole heir.
So he inherited everything.
For a long time, the people of the country boycotted him, as they still
suspected him. His house, 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 Rameau, was one of the first to take his part,
attracted by his smiling loquacity. He said at a dinner, at the tax
"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 his argument, the others who were present reflected, and they
recalled to mind the long conversations with this man who would almost
compel them to stop at the road corners to listen to his ideas, 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 in his company.
All doors were opened to him after a time.
He is to-day the mayor of his township.
He had seen better days, despite his present misery and infirmities.
At the age of fifteen both his legs had been crushed by a carriage on the
Varville highway. From that time forth he begged, dragging himself along
the roads and through the farmyards, supported by crutches which forced
his shoulders up to his ears. His head looked as if it were squeezed in
between two mountains.
A foundling, picked up out of a ditch by the priest of Les Billettes on
the eve of All Saints' Day and baptized, for that reason, Nicholas
Toussaint, reared by charity, utterly without education, crippled in
consequence of having drunk several glasses of brandy given him by the
baker (such a funny story!) and a vagabond all his life afterward--the
only thing he knew how to do was to hold out his hand for alms.
At one time the Baroness d'Avary allowed him to sleep in a kind of recess
spread with straw, close to the poultry yard in the farm adjoining the
chateau, and if he was in great need he was sure of getting a glass of
cider and a crust of bread in the kitchen. Moreover, the old lady often
threw him a few pennies from her window. But she was dead now.
In the villages people gave him scarcely anything--he was too well known.
Everybody had grown tired of seeing him, day after day for forty years,
dragging his deformed and tattered person from door to door on his wooden
crutches. But he could not make up his mind to go elsewhere, because he
knew no place on earth but this particular corner of the country, these
three or four villages where he had spent the whole of his miserable
existence. He had limited his begging operations and would not for
worlds have passed his accustomed bounds.
He did not even know whether the world extended for any distance beyond
the trees which had always bounded his vision. He did not ask himself
the question. And when the peasants, tired of constantly meeting him in
their fields or along their lanes, exclaimed: "Why don't you go to other
villages instead of always limping about here?" he did not answer, but
slunk away, possessed with a vague dread of the unknown--the dread of a
poor wretch who fears confusedly a thousand things--new faces, taunts,
insults, the suspicious glances of people who do not know him and the
policemen walking in couples on the roads. These last he always
instinctively avoided, taking refuge in the bushes or behind heaps of
stones when he saw them coming.
When he perceived them in the distance, 'With uniforms gleaming in the
sun, he was suddenly possessed with unwonted agility--the agility of a
wild animal seeking its lair. He threw aside his crutches, fell to the
ground like a limp rag, made himself as small as possible and crouched
like a bare under cover, his tattered vestments blending in hue with the
earth on which he cowered.
He had never had any trouble with the police, but the instinct to avoid
them was in his blood. He seemed to have inherited it from the parents
he had never known.
He had no refuge, no roof for his head, no shelter of any kind. In
summer he slept out of doors and in winter he showed remarkable skill in
slipping unperceived into barns and stables. He always decamped before
his presence could be discovered. He knew all the holes through which
one could creep into farm buildings, and the handling of his crutches
having made his arms surprisingly muscular he often hauled himself up
through sheer strength of wrist into hay-lofts, where he sometimes
remained for four or five days at a time, provided he had collected a
sufficient store of food beforehand.
He lived like the beasts of the field. He was in the midst of men, yet
knew no one, loved no one, exciting in the breasts of the peasants only a
sort of careless contempt and smoldering hostility. They nicknamed him
"Bell," because he hung between his two crutches like a church bell
between its supports.
For two days he had eaten nothing. No one gave him anything now. Every
one's patience was exhausted. Women shouted to him from their doorsteps
when they saw him coming:
"Be off with you, you good-for-nothing vagabond! Why, I gave you a piece
of bread only three days ago!"
And he turned on his crutches to the next house, where he was received in
the same fashion.
The women declared to one another as they stood at their doors:
"We can't feed that lazy brute all the year round!"
And yet the "lazy brute" needed food every day.
He had exhausted Saint-Hilaire, Varville and Les Billettes without
getting a single copper or so much as a dry crust. His only hope was in
Tournolles, but to reach this place he would have to walk five miles
along the highroad, and he felt so weary that he could hardly drag
himself another yard. His stomach and his pocket were equally empty, but
he started on his way.
It was December and a cold wind blew over the fields and whistled through
the bare branches of the trees; the clouds careered madly across the
black, threatening sky. The cripple dragged himself slowly along,
raising one crutch after the other with a painful effort, propping
himself on the one distorted leg which remained to him.
Now and then he sat down beside a ditch for a few moments' rest. Hunger
was gnawing his vitals, and in his confused, slow-working mind he had
only one idea-to eat-but how this was to be accomplished he did not know.
For three hours he continued his painful journey. Then at last the sight
of the trees of the village inspired him with new energy.
The first peasant he met, and of whom he asked alms, replied:
"So it's you again, is it, you old scamp? Shall I never be rid of you?"
And "Bell" went on his way. At every door he got nothing but hard words.
He made the round of the whole village, but received not a halfpenny for
Then he visited the neighboring farms, toiling through the muddy land, so
exhausted that he could hardly raise his crutches from the ground. He
met with the same reception everywhere. It was one of those cold, bleak
days, when the heart is frozen and the temper irritable, and hands do not
open either to give money or food.
When he had visited all the houses he knew, "Bell" sank down in the
corner of a ditch running across Chiquet's farmyard. Letting his
crutches slip to the ground, he remained motionless, tortured by hunger,
but hardly intelligent enough to realize to the full his unutterable
He awaited he knew not what, possessed with that vague hope which
persists in the human heart in spite of everything. He awaited in the
corner of the farmyard in the biting December wind, some mysterious aid
from Heaven or from men, without the least idea whence it was to arrive.
A number of black hens ran hither and thither, seeking their food in the
earth which supports all living things. Ever now and then they snapped
up in their beaks a grain of corn or a tiny insect; then they continued
their slow, sure search for nutriment.
"Bell" watched them at first without thinking of anything. Then a
thought occurred rather to his stomach than to his mind--the thought that
one of those fowls would be good to eat if it were cooked over a fire of
He did not reflect that he was going to commit a theft. He took up a
stone which lay within reach, and, being of skillful aim, killed at the
first shot the fowl nearest to him. The bird fell on its side, flapping
its wings. The others fled wildly hither and thither, and "Bell,"
picking up his crutches, limped across to where his victim lay.
Just as he reached the little black body with its crimsoned head he
received a violent blow in his back which made him let go his hold of his
crutches and sent him flying ten paces distant. And Farmer Chiquet,
beside himself with rage, cuffed and kicked the marauder with all the
fury of a plundered peasant as "Bell" lay defenceless before him.
The farm hands came up also and joined their master in cuffing the lame
beggar. Then when they were tired of beating him they carried him off
and shut him up in the woodshed, while they went to fetch the police.
"Bell," half dead, bleeding and perishing with hunger, lay on the floor.
Evening came--then night--then dawn. And still he had not eaten.
About midday the police arrived. They opened the door of the woodshed
with the utmost precaution, fearing resistance on the beggar's part, for
Farmer Chiquet asserted that he had been attacked by him and had had
great, difficulty in defending himself.
The sergeant cried:
"Come, get up!"
But "Bell" could not move. He did his best to raise himself on his
crutches, but without success. The police, thinking his weakness
feigned, pulled him up by main force and set him between the crutches.
Fear seized him--his native fear of a uniform, the fear of the game in
presence of the sportsman, the fear of a mouse for a cat-and by the
exercise of almost superhuman effort he succeeded in remaining upright.
"Forward!" said the sergeant. He walked. All the inmates of the farm
watched his departure. The women shook their fists at him the men
scoffed at and insulted him. He was taken at last! Good riddance!
He went off between his two guards. He mustered sufficient energy--the
energy of despair--to drag himself along until the evening, too dazed to
know what was happening to him, too frightened to understand.
People whom he met on the road stopped to watch him go by and peasants
"It's some thief or other."
Toward evening he reached the country town. He had never been so far
before. He did not realize in the least what he was there for or what
was to become of him. All the terrible and unexpected events of the last
two days, all these unfamiliar faces and houses struck dismay into his
He said not a word, having nothing to say because he understood nothing.
Besides, he had spoken to no one for so many years past that he had
almost lost the use of his tongue, and his thoughts were too
indeterminate to be put into words.
He was shut up in the town jail. It did not occur to the police that he
might need food, and he was left alone until the following day.
But when in the early morning they came to examine him he was found dead
on the floor. Such an astonishing thing!
Old Lecacheur appeared at the door of his house between five and a
quarter past five in the morning, his usual hour, to watch his men going
He was only half awake, his face was red, and with his right eye open and
the left nearly closed, he was buttoning his braces over his fat stomach
with some difficulty, at the same time looking into every corner of the
farmyard with a searching glance. The sun darted its oblique rays
through the beech trees by the side of the ditch and athwart the apple
trees outside, and was making the cocks crow on the dunghill, and the
pigeons coo on the roof. The smell of the cow stable came through the
open door, and blended in the fresh morning air with the pungent odor of
the stable, where the horses were neighing, with their heads turned
toward the light.
As soon as his trousers were properly fastened, Lecacheur came out, and
went, first of all, toward the hen house to count the morning's eggs, for
he had been afraid of thefts for some time; but the servant girl ran up
to him with lifted arms and cried:
"Master! master! they have stolen a rabbit during the night."
"Yes, master, the big gray rabbit, from the hutch on the left"; whereupon
the farmer completely opened his left eye, and said, simply:
"I must see about that."
And off he went to inspect it. The hutch had been broken open and the
rabbit was gone. Then he became thoughtful, closed his right eye again,
and scratched his nose, and after a little consideration, he said to the
frightened girl, who was standing stupidly before her master:
"Go and fetch the gendarmes; say I expect them as soon as possible."
Lecacheur was mayor of the village, Pavigny-le-Gras, and ruled it like a
master, on account of his money and position, and as soon as the servant
had disappeared in the direction of the village, which was only about
five hundred yards off, he went into the house to have his morning coffee
and to discuss the matter with his wife, whom he found on her knees in
front of the fire, trying to make it burn quickly, and as soon as he got
to the door, he said:
"Somebody has stolen the gray rabbit."
She turned round so suddenly that she found herself sitting on the floor,
and looking at her husband with distressed eyes, she said:
"What is it, Cacheux? Somebody has stolen a rabbit?"
"The big gray one."
"What a shame! Who can have done it?"
She was a little, thin, active, neat woman, who knew all about farming.
Lecacheur had his own ideas about the matter.
"It must be that fellow, Polyte."
His wife got up suddenly and said in a furious voice:
"He did it! he did it! You need not look for any one else. He did it!
You have said it, Cacheux!"
All her peasant's fury, all her avarice, all her rage of a saving woman
against the man of whom she had always been suspicious, and against the
girl whom she had always suspected, showed themselves in the contraction
of her mouth, and the wrinkles in the cheeks and forehead of her thin,
"And what have you done?" she asked.
"I have sent for the gendarmes."
This Polyte was a laborer, who had been employed on the farm for a few
days, and who had been dismissed by Lecacheur for an insolent answer. He
was an old soldier, and was supposed to have retained his habits of
marauding and debauchery front his campaigns in Africa. He did anything
for a livelihood, but whether he were a mason, a navvy, a reaper, whether
he broke stones or lopped trees, he was always lazy, and so he remained
nowhere for long, and had, at times, to change his neighborhood to obtain
From the first day that he came to the farm, Lecacheur's wife had
detested him, and now she was sure that he had committed the theft.
In about half an hour the two gendarmes arrived. Brigadier Senateur was
very tall and thin, and Gendarme Lenient short and fat. Lecacheur made
them sit down, and told them the affair, and then they went and saw the
scene of the theft, in order to verify the fact that the hutch had been
broken open, and to collect all the proofs they could. When they got
back to the kitchen, the mistress brought in some wine, filled their
glasses, and asked with a distrustful look:
"Shall you catch him?"
The brigadier, who had his sword between his legs, appeared thoughtful.
Certainly, he was sure of taking him, if he was pointed out to him, but
if not, he could not answer for being able to discover him, himself, and
after reflecting for a long time, he put this simple question:
"Do you know the thief?"
And Lecacheur replied, with a look of Normandy slyness in his eyes:
"As for knowing him, I do not, as I did not see him commit the theft.
If I had seen him, I should have made him eat it raw, skin and flesh,
without a drop of cider to wash it down. But as for saying who it is,
I cannot, although I believe it is that good-for-nothing Polyte."
Then he related at length his troubles with Polyte, his leaving his
service, his bad reputation, things which had been told him, accumulating
insignificant and minute proofs, and then, the brigadier, who had been
listening very attentively while he emptied his glass and filled it again
with an indifferent air, turned to his gendarme and said:
"We must go and look in the cottage of Severin's wife." At which the
gendarme smiled and nodded three times.
Then Madame Lecacheur came to them, and very quietly, with all a
peasant's cunning, questioned the brigadier in her turn. That shepherd
Severin, a simpleton, a sort of brute who had been brought up and had
grown up among his bleating flocks, and who knew scarcely anything
besides them in the world, had nevertheless preserved the peasant's
instinct for saving, at the bottom of his heart. For years and years he
must have hidden in hollow trees and crevices in the rocks all that he
earned, either as a shepherd or by curing animals' sprains--for the
bonesetter's secret had been handed down to him by the old shepherd whose
place he took-by touch or word, and one day he bought a small property,
consisting of a cottage and a field, for three thousand francs.
A few months later it became known that he was going to marry a servant,
notorious for her bad morals, the innkeeper's servant. The young fellows
said that the girl, knowing that he was pretty well off, had been to his
cottage every night, and had taken him, captured him, led him on to
matrimony, little by little night by night.
And then, having been to the mayor's office and to church, she now lived
in the house which her man had bought, while he continued to tend his
flocks, day and night, on the plains.
And the brigadier added:
"Polyte has been sleeping there for three weeks, for the thief has no
place of his own to go to!"
The gendarme made a little joke:
"He takes the shepherd's blankets."
Madame Lecacheur, who was seized by a fresh access of rage, of rage
increased by a married woman's anger against debauchery, exclaimed:
"It is she, I am sure. Go there. Ah, the blackguard thieves!"
But the brigadier was quite unmoved.
"One minute," he said. "Let us wait until twelve o'clock, as he goes and
dines there every day. I shall catch them with it under their noses."
The gendarme smiled, pleased at his chief's idea, and Lecacheur also
smiled now, for the affair of the shepherd struck him as very funny;
deceived husbands are always a joke.
Twelve o'clock had just struck when the brigadier, followed by his man,
knocked gently three times at the door of a little lonely house, situated
at the corner of a wood, five hundred yards from the village.
They had been standing close against the wall, so as not to be seen from
within, and they waited. As nobody answered, the brigadier knocked again
in a minute or two. It was so quiet that the house seemed uninhabited;
but Lenient, the gendarme, who had very quick ears, said that he heard
somebody moving about inside, and then Senateur got angry. He would not
allow any one to resist the authority of the law for a moment, and,
knocking at the door with the hilt of his sword, he cried out:
"Open the door, in the name of the law."
As this order had no effect, he roared out:
"If you do not obey, I shall smash the lock. I am the brigadier of the
gendarmerie, by G--! Here, Lenient."
He had not finished speaking when the door opened and Senateur saw before
him a fat girl, with a very red, blowzy face, with drooping breasts, a
big stomach and broad hips, a sort of animal, the wife of the shepherd
Severin, and he went into the cottage.
"I have come to pay you a visit, as I want to make a little search," he
said, and he looked about him. On the table there was a plate, a jug of
cider and a glass half full, which proved that a meal was in progress.
Two knives were lying side by side, and the shrewd gendarme winked at his
"It smells good," the latter said.
"One might swear that it was stewed rabbit," Lenient added, much amused.
"Will you have a glass of brandy?" the peasant woman asked.
"No, thank you; I only want the skin of the rabbit that you are eating."
She pretended not to understand, but she was trembling.
The brigadier had taken a seat, and was calmly wiping his forehead.
"Come, come, you are not going to try and make us believe that you live
on couch grass. What were you eating there all by yourself for your
"I? Nothing whatever, I swear to you. A mite of butter on my bread."
"You are a novice, my good woman. A mite of butter on your bread.
You are mistaken; you ought to have said: a mite of butter on the rabbit.
By G--, your butter smells good! It is special butter, extra good butter,
butter fit for a wedding; certainly, not household butter!"
The gendarme was shaking with laughter, and repeated:
"Not household butter certainly."
As Brigadier Senateur was a joker, all the gendarmes had grown facetious,
and the officer continued:
"Where is your butter?"
"Yes, your butter."
"In the jar."
"Then where is the butter jar?"
"Here it is."
She brought out an old cup, at the bottom of which there was a layer of
rancid salt butter, and the brigadier smelled of it, and said, with a
shake of his head:
"It is not the same. I want the butter that smells of the rabbit. Come,
Lenient, open your eyes; look under the sideboard, my good fellow, and I
will look under the bed."
Having shut the door, he went up to the bed and tried to move it; but it
was fixed to the wall, and had not been moved for more than half a
century, apparently. Then the brigadier stooped, and made his uniform
crack. A button had flown off.
"Lenient," he said.
"Come here, my lad, and look under the bed; I am too tall. I will look
after the sideboard."
He got up and waited while his man executed his orders.
Lenient, who was short and stout, took off his kepi, laid himself on his
stomach, and, putting his face on the floor, looked at the black cavity
under the bed, and then, suddenly, he exclaimed:
"All right, here we are!"
"What have you got? The rabbit?"
"No, the thief."
"The thief! Pull him out, pull him out!"
The gendarme had put his arms under the bed and laid hold of something,
and he was pulling with all his might, and at last a foot, shod in a
thick boot, appeared, which he was holding in his right hand. The
brigadier took it, crying:
And Lenient, who was on his knees by that time, was pulling at the other
leg. But it was a hard job, for the prisoner kicked out hard, and arched
up his back under the bed.
"Courage! courage! pull! pull!" Senateur cried, and they pulled him
with all their strength, so that the wooden slat gave way, and he came
out as far as his head; but at last they got that out also, and they saw
the terrified and furious face of Polyte, whose arms remained stretched
out under the bed.
"Pull away!" the brigadier kept on exclaiming. Then they heard a strange
noise, and as the arms followed the shoulders, and the hands the arms,
they saw in the hands the handle of a saucepan, and at the end of the
handle the saucepan itself, which contained stewed rabbit.
"Good Lord! good Lord!" the brigadier shouted in his delight, while
Lenient took charge of the man; the rabbit's skin, an overwhelming proof,
was discovered under the mattress, and then the gendarmes returned in
triumph to the village with their prisoner and their booty.
A week later, as the affair had made much stir, Lecacheur, on going into
the mairie to consult the schoolmaster, was told that the shepherd
Severin had been waiting for him for more than an hour, and he found him
sitting on a chair in a corner, with his stick between his legs. When he
saw the mayor, he got up, took off his cap, and said:
"Good-morning, Maitre Cacheux"; and then he remained standing, timid and
"What do you want?" the former said.
"This is it, monsieur. Is it true that somebody stole one of your
rabbits last week?"
"Yes, it is quite true, Severin."
"Who stole the rabbit?"
"Polyte Ancas, the laborer."
"Right! right! And is it also true that it was found under my bed?"
"What do you mean, the rabbit?"
"The rabbit and then Polyte."
"Yes, my poor Severin, quite true, but who told you?"
"Pretty well everybody. I understand! And I suppose you know all about
marriages, as you marry people?"
"What about marriage?"
"With regard to one's rights."
"The husband's rights and then the wife's rights."
"Of course I do."
"Oh! Then just tell me, M'sieu Cacheux, has my wife the right to go to
bed with Polyte?"
"What, to go to bed with Polyte?"
"Yes, has she any right before the law, and, seeing that she is my wife,
to go to bed with Polyte?"
"Why, of course not, of course not."
"If I catch him there again, shall I have the right to thrash him and her
"Very well, then; I will tell you why I want to know. One night last
week, as I had my suspicions, I came in suddenly, and they were not
behaving properly. I chucked Polyte out, to go and sleep somewhere else;
but that was all, as I did not know what my rights were. This time I did
not see them; I only heard of it from others. That is over, and we will
not say any more about it; but if I catch them again--by G--, if I catch
them again, I will make them lose all taste for such nonsense, Maitre
Cacheux, as sure as my name is Severin."
When M. Antoine Leuillet married the widow, Madame Mathilde Souris, he
had already been in love with her for ten years.
M. Souris has been his friend, his old college chum. Leuillet was very
much attached to him, but thought he was somewhat of a simpleton. He
would often remark: "That poor Souris who will never set the world on
When Souris married Miss Mathilde Duval, Leuillet was astonished and
somewhat annoyed, as he was slightly devoted to her, himself. She was
the daughter of a neighbor, a former proprietor of a draper's
establishment who had retired with quite a small fortune. She married
Souris for his money.
Then Leuillet thought he would start a flirtation with his friend's wife.
He was a good-looking man, intelligent and also rich. He thought it
would be all plain sailing, but he was mistaken. Then he really began to
admire her with an admiration that his friendship for the husband obliged
him to keep within the bounds of discretion, making him timid and
embarrassed. Madame Souris believing that his presumptions had received
a wholesome check now treated him as a good friend. This went on for
One morning a messenger brought Leuillet a distracted note from the poor
woman. Souris had just died suddenly from the rupture of an aneurism.
He was dreadfully shocked, for they were just the same age. But almost
immediately a feeling of profound joy, of intense relief, of emancipation
filled his being. Madame Souris was free.
He managed, however, to assume the sad, sympathetic expression that was
appropriate, waited the required time, observed all social appearances.
At the end of fifteen months he married the widow.
This was considered to be a very natural, and even a generous action. It
was the act of a good friend of an upright man.
He was happy at last, perfectly happy.
They lived in the most cordial intimacy, having understood and
appreciated each other from the first. They had no secrets from one
another and even confided to each other their most secret thoughts.
Leuillet loved his wife now with a quiet and trustful affection; he loved
her as a tender, devoted companion who is an equal and a confidante.
But there lingered in his mind a strange and inexplicable bitterness
towards the defunct Souris, who had first been the husband of this woman,
who had had the flower of her youth and of her soul, and had even robbed
her of some of her poetry. The memory of the dead husband marred the
happiness of the living husband, and this posthumous jealousy tormented
his heart by day and by night.
The consequence was he talked incessantly of Souris, asked about a
thousand personal and secret minutia, wanted to know all about his habits
and his person. And he sneered at him even in his grave, recalling with
self-satisfaction his whims, ridiculing his absurdities, dwelling on his
He would call to his wife all over the house:
"Here I am, dear."
"Come here a moment."
She would come, always smiling, knowing well that he would say something
about Souris and ready to flatter her new husband's inoffensive mania.
"Tell me, do you remember one day how Souris insisted on explaining to me
that little men always commanded more affection than big men?"
And he made some remarks that were disparaging to the deceased, who was a
small man, and decidedly flattering to himself, Leuillet, who was a tall
Mme. Leuillet allowed him to think he was right, quite right, and she
laughed heartily, gently ridiculing her former husband for the sake of
pleasing the present one, who always ended by saying:
"All the same, what a ninny that Souris was!"
They were happy, quite happy, and Leuillet never ceased to show his
devotion to his wife.
One night, however, as they lay awake, Leuillet said as he kissed his
"See here, dearie."
"Was Souris--I don't exactly know how to say it--was Souris very loving?"
She gave him a kiss for reply and murmured "Not as loving as you are, mon
He was flattered in his self-love and continued:
"He must have been--a ninny--was he not?"
She did not reply. She only smiled slyly and hid her face in her
"He must have been a ninny and not--not--not smart?"
She shook her head slightly to imply, "No--not at all smart."
"He must have been an awful nuisance, eh?"
This time she was frank and replied:
He kissed her again for this avowal and said:
"What a brute he was! You were not happy with him?"
"No," she replied. "It was not always pleasant."
Leuillet was delighted, forming in his mind a comparison, much in his own
favor, between his wife's former and present position. He was silent for
a time, and then with a burst of laughter he asked:
"Will you be frank, very frank with me?"
"Why yes, my dear."
"Well then, tell me truly did you never feel tempted to--to--to deceive
that imbecile Souris?"
Mme. Leuillet said: "Oh!" pretending to be shocked and hid her face again
on her husband's shoulder. But he saw that she was laughing.
"Come now, own up," he persisted. "He looked like a ninny, that
creature! It would be funny, so funny! Good old Souris! Come, come,
dearie, you do not mind telling me, me, of all people."
He insisted on the "me" thinking that if she had wished to deceive Souris
she would have chosen him, and he was trembling in anticipation of her
avowal, sure that if she had not been a virtuous woman she would have
encouraged his own attentions.
But she did not answer, laughing still, as at the recollection of
something exceedingly comical.
Leuillet, in his turn began to laugh, thinking he might have been the
lucky man, and he muttered amid his mirth: "That poor Souris, that poor
Souris, oh, yes, he looked like a fool!"
Mme. Leuillet was almost in spasms of laughter.
"Come, confess, be frank. You know I will not mind."
Then she stammered out, almost choking with laughter: "Yes, yes."
"Yes, what?" insisted her husband. "Come, tell all."
She was quieter now and putting her mouth to her husband's ear, she
whispered: "Yes, I did deceive him."
He felt a chill run down his back and to his very bones, and he stammered
out, dumfounded: "You--you--deceived him--criminally?"
She still thought he was amused and replied: "Yes--yes, absolutely."
He was obliged to sit up to recover his breath, he was so shocked and
upset at what he had heard.
She had become serious, understanding too late what she had done.
"With whom?" said Leuillet at length.
She was silent seeking some excuse.
"A young man," she replied at length.
He turned suddenly toward her and said drily:
"I did not suppose it was the cook. I want to know what young man, do
She did not answer.
He snatched the covers from her face, repeating:
"I want to know what young man, do you hear?"
Then she said sorrowfully: "I was only in fun." But he was trembling
with rage. "What? How? You were only in fun? You were making fun of
me, then? But I am not satisfied, do you hear? I want the name of the
She did not reply, but lay there motionless.
He took her by the arm and squeezed it, saying: "Do you understand me,
finally? I wish you to reply when I speak to you."
"I think you are going crazy," she said nervously, "let me alone!"
He was wild with rage, not knowing what to say, exasperated, and he shook
her with all his might, repeating:
"Do you hear me, do you hear me?"
She made an abrupt effort to disengage herself and the tips of her
fingers touched her husband's nose. He was furious, thinking she had
tried to hit him, and he sprang upon her holding her down; and boxing her
ears with all his might, he cried: "Take that, and that, there, there,
When he was out of breath and exhausted, he rose and went toward the
dressing table to prepare a glass of eau sucree with orange flower, for
he felt as if he should faint.
She was weeping in bed, sobbing bitterly, for she felt as if her
happiness was over, through her own fault.
Then, amidst her tears, she stammered out:
"Listen, Antoine, come here, I told you a lie, you will understand,
And prepared to defend herself now, armed with excuses and artifice, she
raised her disheveled head with its nightcap all awry.
Turning toward her, he approached, ashamed of having struck her, but
feeling in the bottom of his heart as a husband, a relentless hatred
toward this woman who had deceived the former husband, Souris.
MY UNCLE JULES
A white-haired old man begged us for alms. My companion, Joseph
Davranche, gave him five francs. Noticing my surprised look, he said:
"That poor unfortunate reminds me of a story which I shall tell you, the
memory of which continually pursues me. Here it is:
"My family, which came originally from Havre, was not rich. We just
managed to make both ends meet. My father worked hard, came home late
from the office, and earned very little. I had two sisters.
"My mother suffered a good deal from our reduced circumstances, and she
often had harsh words for her husband, veiled and sly reproaches. The
poor man then made a gesture which used to distress me. He would pass
his open hand over his forehead, as if to wipe away perspiration which
did not exist, and he would answer nothing. I felt his helpless
suffering. We economized on everything, and never would accept an
invitation to dinner, so as not to have to return the courtesy. All our
provisions were bought at bargain sales. My sisters made their own
gowns, and long discussions would arise on the price of a piece of braid
worth fifteen centimes a yard. Our meals usually consisted of soup and
beef, prepared with every kind of sauce.
"They say it is wholesome and nourishing, but I should have preferred a
"I used to go through terrible scenes on account of lost buttons and torn
"Every Sunday, dressed in our best, we would take our walk along the
breakwater. My father, in a frock coat, high hat and kid gloves, would
offer his arm to my mother, decked out and beribboned like a ship on a
holiday. My sisters, who were always ready first, would await the signal
for leaving; but at the last minute some one always found a spot on my
father's frock coat, and it had to be wiped away quickly with a rag
moistened with benzine.
"My father, in his shirt sleeves, his silk hat on his head, would await
the completion of the operation, while my mother, putting on her
spectacles, and taking off her gloves in order not to spoil them, would
"Then we set out ceremoniously. My sisters marched on ahead, arm in arm.
They were of marriageable age and had to be displayed. I walked on the
left of my mother and my father on her right. I remember the pompous air
of my poor parents in these Sunday walks, their stern expression, their
stiff walk. They moved slowly, with a serious expression, their bodies
straight, their legs stiff, as if something of extreme importance
depended upon their appearance.
"Every Sunday, when the big steamers were returning from unknown and
distant countries, my father would invariably utter the same words:
"'What a surprise it would be if Jules were on that one! Eh?'
"My Uncle Jules, my father's brother, was the only hope of the family,
after being its only fear. I had heard about him since childhood, and it
seemed to me that I should recognize him immediately, knowing as much
about him as I did. I knew every detail of his life up to the day of his
departure for America, although this period of his life was spoken of
only in hushed tones.
"It seems that he had led a bad life, that is to say, he had squandered a
little money, which action, in a poor family, is one of the greatest
crimes. With rich people a man who amuses himself only sows his wild
oats. He is what is generally called a sport. But among needy families
a boy who forces his parents to break into the capital becomes a good-
for-nothing, a rascal, a scamp. And this distinction is just, although
the action be the same, for consequences alone determine the seriousness
of the act.
"Well, Uncle Jules had visibly diminished the inheritance on which my
father had counted, after he had swallowed his own to the last penny.
Then, according to the custom of the times, he had been shipped off to
America on a freighter going from Havre to New York.
"Once there, my uncle began to sell something or other, and he soon wrote
that he was making a little money and that he soon hoped to be able to
indemnify my father for the harm he had done him. This letter caused a
profound emotion in the family. Jules, who up to that time had not been
worth his salt, suddenly became a good man, a kind-hearted fellow, true
and honest like all the Davranches.
"One of the captains told us that he had rented a large shop and was
doing an important business.
"Two years later a second letter came, saying: 'My dear Philippe, I am
writing to tell you not to worry about my health, which is excellent.
Business is good. I leave to-morrow for a long trip to South America.
I may be away for several years without sending you any news. If I
shouldn't write, don't worry. When my fortune is made I shall return to
Havre. I hope that it will not be too long and that we shall all live
happily together . . . .'
"This letter became the gospel of the family. It was read on the
slightest provocation, and it was shown to everybody.
"For ten years nothing was heard from Uncle Jules; but as time went on my
father's hope grew, and my mother, also, often said:
"'When that good Jules is here, our position will be different. There is
one who knew how to get along!'
"And every Sunday, while watching the big steamers approaching from the
horizon, pouring out a stream of smoke, my father would repeat his
"'What a surprise it would be if Jules were on that one! Eh?'
"We almost expected to see him waving his handkerchief and crying:
"Thousands of schemes had been planned on the strength of this expected
return; we were even to buy a little house with my uncle's money
--a little place in the country near Ingouville. In fact, I wouldn't
swear that my father had not already begun negotiations.
"The elder of my sisters was then twenty-eight, the other twenty-six.
They were not yet married, and that was a great grief to every one.
"At last a suitor presented himself for the younger one. He was a clerk,
not rich, but honorable. I have always been morally certain that Uncle
Jules' letter, which was shown him one evening, had swept away the young
man's hesitation and definitely decided him.
"He was accepted eagerly, and it was decided that after the wedding the
whole family should take a trip to Jersey.
"Jersey is the ideal trip for poor people. It is not far; one crosses a
strip of sea in a steamer and lands on foreign soil, as this little
island belongs to England. Thus, a Frenchman, with a two hours' sail,
can observe a neighboring people at home and study their customs.
"This trip to Jersey completely absorbed our ideas, was our sole
anticipation, the constant thought of our minds.
"At last we left. I see it as plainly as if it had happened yesterday.
The boat was getting up steam against the quay at Granville; my father,
bewildered, was superintending the loading of our three pieces of
baggage; my mother, nervous, had taken the arm of my unmarried sister,
who seemed lost since the departure of the other one, like the last
chicken of a brood; behind us came the bride and groom, who always stayed
behind, a thing that often made me turn round.
"The whistle sounded. We got on board, and the vessel, leaving the
breakwater, forged ahead through a sea as flat as a marble table. We
watched the coast disappear in the distance, happy and proud, like all
who do not travel much.
"My father was swelling out his chest in the breeze, beneath his frock
coat, which had that morning been very carefully cleaned; and he spread
around him that odor of benzine which always made me recognize Sunday.
Suddenly he noticed two elegantly dressed ladies to whom two gentlemen
were offering oysters. An old, ragged sailor was opening them with his
knife and passing them to the gentlemen, who would then offer them to the
ladies. They ate them in a dainty manner, holding the shell on a fine
handkerchief and advancing their mouths a little in order not to spot
their dresses. Then they would drink the liquid with a rapid little
motion and throw the shell overboard.
"My father was probably pleased with this delicate manner of eating
oysters on a moving ship. He considered it good form, refined, and,
going up to my mother and sisters, he asked:
"'Would you like me to offer you some oysters?'
"My mother hesitated on account of the expense, but my two sisters
immediately accepted. My mother said in a provoked manner:
"'I am afraid that they will hurt my stomach. Offer the children some,
but not too much, it would make them sick.' Then, turning toward me, she
"'As for Joseph, he doesn't need any. Boys shouldn't be spoiled.'
"However, I remained beside my mother, finding this discrimination
unjust. I watched my father as he pompously conducted my two sisters and
his son-in-law toward the ragged old sailor.
"The two ladies had just left, and my father showed my sisters how to eat
them without spilling the liquor. He even tried to give them an example,
and seized an oyster. He attempted to imitate the ladies, and
immediately spilled all the liquid over his coat. I heard my mother
"'He would do far better to keep quiet.'
"But, suddenly, my father appeared to be worried; he retreated a few
steps, stared at his family gathered around the old shell opener, and
quickly came toward us. He seemed very pale, with a peculiar look. In a
low voice he said to my mother:
"'It's extraordinary how that man opening the oysters looks like Jules.'
"Astonished, my mother asked:
"My father continued:
"'Why, my brother. If I did not know that he was well off in America, I
should think it was he.'
"Bewildered, my mother stammered:
"'You are crazy! As long as you know that it is not he, why do you say
such foolish things?'
"But my father insisted:
"'Go on over and see, Clarisse! I would rather have you see with your
"She arose and walked to her daughters. I, too, was watching the man.
He was old, dirty, wrinkled, and did not lift his eyes from his work.
"My mother returned. I noticed that she was trembling. She exclaimed
"'I believe that it is he. Why don't you ask the captain? But be very
careful that we don't have this rogue on our hands again!'
"My father walked away, but I followed him. I felt strangely moved.
"The captain, a tall, thin man, with blond whiskers, was walking along
the bridge with an important air as if he were commanding the Indian mail
"My father addressed him ceremoniously, and questioned him about his
profession, adding many compliments:
"'What might be the importance of Jersey? What did it produce? What was
the population? The customs? The nature of the soil?' etc., etc.
"'You have there an old shell opener who seems quite interesting. Do you
know anything about him?'
"The captain, whom this conversation began to weary, answered dryly:
"'He is some old French tramp whom I found last year in America, and I
brought him back. It seems that he has some relatives in Havre, but that
he doesn't wish to return to them because he owes them money. His name
is Jules--Jules Darmanche or Darvanche or something like that. It seems
that he was once rich over there, but you can see what's left of him
"My father turned ashy pale and muttered, his throat contracted, his eyes
"'Ah! ah! very well, very well. I'm not in the least surprised. Thank
you very much, captain.'
"He went away, and the astonished sailor watched him disappear. He
returned to my mother so upset that she said to him:
"'Sit down; some one will notice that something is the matter.'
"He sank down on a bench and stammered:
"'It's he! It's he!'
"Then he asked:
"'What are we going to do?'
"She answered quickly:
"'We must get the children out of the way. Since Joseph knows
everything, he can go and get them. We must take good care that our son-
in-law doesn't find out.'
"My father seemed absolutely bewildered. He murmured:
"'What a catastrophe!'
"Suddenly growing furious, my mother exclaimed:
"'I always thought that that thief never would do anything, and that he
would drop down on us again! As if one could expect anything from a
"My father passed his hand over his forehead, as he always did when his
wife reproached him. She added:
"'Give Joseph some money so that he can pay for the oysters. All that it
needed to cap the climax would be to be recognized by that beggar. That
would be very pleasant! Let's get down to the other end of the boat, and
take care that that man doesn't come near us!'
"They gave me five francs and walked away.
"Astonished, my sisters were awaiting their father. I said that mamma
had felt a sudden attack of sea-sickness, and I asked the shell opener:
"'How much do we owe you, monsieur?'
"I felt like laughing: he was my uncle! He answered:
"'Two francs fifty.'
"I held out my five francs and he returned the change. I looked at his
hand; it was a poor, wrinkled, sailor's hand, and I looked at his face,
an unhappy old face. I said to myself:
"'That is my uncle, the brother of my father, my uncle!'
"I gave him a ten-cent tip. He thanked me:
"'God bless you, my young sir!'
"He spoke like a poor man receiving alms. I couldn't help thinking that
he must have begged over there! My sisters looked at me, surprised at my
generosity. When I returned the two francs to my father, my mother asked
me in surprise:
"'Was there three francs' worth? That is impossible.'
"I answered in a firm voice
"'I gave ten cents as a tip.'
"My mother started, and, staring at me, she exclaimed:
"'You must be crazy! Give ten cents to that man, to that vagabond--'
"She stopped at a look from my father, who was pointing at his son-in-
law. Then everybody was silent.
"Before us, on the distant horizon, a purple shadow seemed to rise out of
the sea. It was Jersey.
"As we approached the breakwater a violent desire seized me once more to
see my Uncle Jules, to be near him, to say to him something consoling,
something tender. But as no one was eating any more oysters, he had
disappeared, having probably gone below to the dirty hold which was the
home of the poor wretch."
Curving like a crescent moon, the little town of Etretat, with its white
cliffs, its white, shingly beach and its blue sea, lay in the sunlight at
high noon one July day. At either extremity of this crescent its two
"gates," the smaller to the right, the larger one at the left, stretched
forth--one a dwarf and the other a colossal limb--into the water, and the
bell tower, almost as tall as the cliff, wide below, narrowing at the
top, raised its pointed summit to the sky.
On the sands beside the water a crowd was seated watching the bathers.
On the terrace of, the Casino another crowd, seated or walking, displayed
beneath the brilliant sky a perfect flower patch of bright costumes, with
red and blue parasols embroidered with large flowers in silk.
On the walk at the end of the terrace, other persons, the restful, quiet
ones, were walking slowly, far from the dressy throng.
A young man, well known and celebrated as a painter, Jean Sumner, was
walking with a dejected air beside a wheeled chair in which sat a young
woman, his wife. A manservant was gently pushing the chair, and the
crippled woman was gazing sadly at the brightness of the sky, the
gladness of the day, and the happiness of others.
They did not speak. They did not look at each other.
"Let us stop a while," said the young woman.
They stopped, and the painter sat down on a camp stool that the servant
Those who were passing behind the silent and motionless couple looked at
them compassionately. A whole legend of devotion was attached to them.
He had married her in spite of her infirmity, touched by her affection
for him, it was said.
Not far from there, two young men were chatting, seated on a bench and
looking out into the horizon.
"No, it is not true; I tell you that I am well acquainted with Jean
"But then, why did he marry her? For she was a cripple when she married,
was she not?"
"Just so. He married her--he married her--just as every one marries,
parbleu! because he was an idiot!"
"But why--but why, my friend? There is no why. People do stupid things
just because they do stupid things. And, besides, you know very well
that painters make a specialty of foolish marriages. They almost always
marry models, former sweethearts, in fact, women of doubtful reputation,
frequently. Why do they do this? Who can say? One would suppose that
constant association with the general run of models would disgust them
forever with that class of women. Not at all. After having posed them
they marry them. Read that little book, so true, so cruel and so
beautiful, by Alphonse Daudet: 'Artists' Wives.'
"In the case of the couple you see over there the accident occurred in a
special and terrible manner. The little woman played a frightful comedy,
or, rather, tragedy. She risked all to win all. Was she sincere? Did
she love Jean? Shall we ever know? Who is able to determine precisely
how much is put on and how much is real in the actions of a woman? They
are always sincere in an eternal mobility of impressions. They are
furious, criminal, devoted, admirable and base in obedience to intangible
emotions. They tell lies incessantly without intention, without knowing
or understanding why, and in spite of it all are absolutely frank in
their feelings and sentiments, which they display by violent, unexpected,
incomprehensible, foolish resolutions which overthrow our arguments, our
customary poise and all our selfish plans. The unforeseenness and
suddenness of their determinations will always render them undecipherable
enigmas as far as we are concerned. We continually ask ourselves:
"'Are they sincere? Are they pretending?'
"But, my friend, they are sincere and insincere at one and the same time,
because it is their nature to be extremists in both and to be neither one
nor the other.
"See the methods that even the best of them employ to get what they
desire. They are complex and simple, these methods. So complex that we
can never guess at them beforehand, and so simple that after having been
victimized we cannot help being astonished and exclaiming: 'What! Did
she make a fool of me so easily as that?'
"And they always succeed, old man, especially when it is a question of
"But this is Sumner's story:
"The little woman was a model, of course. She posed for him. She was
pretty, very stylish-looking, and had a divine figure, it seems. He
fancied that he loved her with his whole soul. That is another strange
thing. As soon as one likes a woman one sincerely believes that they
could not get along without her for the rest of their life. One knows
that one has felt the same way before and that disgust invariably
succeeded gratification; that in order to pass one's existence side by
side with another there must be not a brutal, physical passion which soon
dies out, but a sympathy of soul, temperament and temper. One should
know how to determine in the enchantment to which one is subjected
whether it proceeds from the physical, from a certain sensuous
intoxication, or from a deep spiritual charm.
"Well, he believed himself in love; he made her no end of promises of
fidelity, and was devoted to her.
"She was really attractive, gifted with that fashionable flippancy that
little Parisians so readily affect. She chattered, babbled, made foolish
remarks that sounded witty from the manner in which they were uttered.
She used graceful gesture's which were calculated to attract a painter's
eye. When she raised her arms, when she bent over, when she got into a
carriage, when she held out her hand to you, her gestures were perfect
"For three months Jean never noticed that, in reality, she was like all
"He rented a little house for her for the summer at Andresy.
"I was there one evening when for the first time doubts came into my
"As it was a beautiful evening we thought we would take a stroll along
the bank of the river. The moon poured a flood of light on the trembling
water, scattering yellow gleams along its ripples in the currents and all
along the course of the wide, slow river.
"We strolled along the bank, a little enthused by that vague exaltation
that these dreamy evenings produce in us. We would have liked to
undertake some wonderful task, to love some unknown, deliciously poetic
being. We felt ourselves vibrating with raptures, longings, strange
aspirations. And we were silent, our beings pervaded by the serene and
living coolness of the beautiful night, the coolness of the moonlight,
which seemed to penetrate one's body, permeate it, soothe one's spirit,
fill it with fragrance and steep it in happiness.
"Suddenly Josephine (that is her name) uttered an exclamation:
"'Oh, did you see the big fish that jumped, over there?'
"He replied without looking, without thinking:
"She was angry.
"'No, you did not see it, for your back was turned.'
"'Yes, that's true. It is so delightful that I am not thinking of
"She was silent, but at the end of a minute she felt as if she must say
something and asked:
"'Are you going to Paris to-morrow?'
"'I do not know,' he replied.
"She was annoyed again.
"'Do you think it is very amusing to walk along without speaking? People
talk when they are not stupid.'
"He did not reply. Then, feeling with her woman's instinct that she was
going to make him angry, she began to sing a popular air that had
harassed our ears and our minds for two years:
"'Je regardais en fair.'
"'Please keep quiet.'
"She replied angrily:
"'Why do you wish me to keep quiet?'
"'You spoil the landscape for us!' he said.
"Then followed a scene, a hateful, idiotic scene, with unexpected
reproaches, unsuitable recriminations, then tears. Nothing was left
unsaid. They went back to the house. He had allowed her to talk without
replying, enervated by the beauty of the scene and dumfounded by this
storm of abuse.
"Three months later he strove wildly to free himself from those
invincible and invisible bonds with which such a friendship chains our
lives. She kept him under her influence, tyrannizing over him, making
his life a burden to him. They quarreled continually, vituperating and
finally fighting each other.
"He wanted to break with her at any cost. He sold all his canvases,
borrowed money from his friends, realizing twenty thousand francs (he was
not well known then), and left them for her one morning with a note of
"He came and took refuge with me.
"About three o'clock that afternoon there was a ring at the bell. I went
to the door. A woman sprang toward me, pushed me aside, came in and went
into my atelier. It was she!
"He had risen when he saw her coming.'
"She threw the envelope containing the banknotes at his feet with a truly
noble gesture and said in a quick tone:
"'There's your money. I don't want it!'
"She was very pale, trembling and ready undoubtedly to commit any folly.
As for him, I saw him grow pale also, pale with rage and exasperation,
ready also perhaps to commit any violence.
"'What do you want?'
"'I do not choose to be treated like a common woman. You implored me to
accept you. I asked you for nothing. Keep me with you!'
"He stamped his foot.
"'No, that's a little too much! If you think you are going--'
"I had seized his arm.
"'Keep still, Jean. . . Let me settle it.'
"I went toward her and quietly, little by little, I began to reason with
her, exhausting all the arguments that are used under similar
circumstances. She listened to me, motionless, with a fixed gaze,
obstinate and silent.
"Finally, not knowing what more to say, and seeing that there would be a
scene, I thought of a last resort and said:
"'He loves you still, my dear, but his family want him to marry some one,
and you understand--'
"She gave a start and exclaimed:
"'Ah! Ah! Now I understand:
"And turning toward him, she said:
"'You are--you are going to get married?'
"He replied decidedly" 'Yes.'
"She took a step forward.
"'If you marry, I will kill myself! Do you hear?'
"He shrugged his shoulders and replied:
"'Well, then kill yourself!'
"She stammered out, almost choking with her violent emotion:
"'What do you say? What do you say? What do you say? Say it again!'
"'Well, then kill yourself if you like!'
"With her face almost livid, she replied:
"'Do not dare me! I will throw myself from the window!'
"He began to laugh, walked toward the window, opened it, and bowing with
the gesture of one who desires to let some one else precede him, he said:
"'This is the way. After you!'
"She looked at him for a second with terrible, wild, staring eyes. Then,
taking a run as if she were going to jump a hedge in the country, she
rushed past me and past him, jumped over the sill and disappeared.
"I shall never forget the impression made on me by that open window after
I had seen that body pass through it to fall to the ground. It appeared
to me in a second to be as large as the heavens and as hollow as space.
And I drew back instinctively, not daring to look at it, as though I
feared I might fall out myself.
"Jean, dumfounded, stood motionless.
"They brought the poor girl in with both legs broken. She will never
"Jean, wild with remorse and also possibly touched with gratitude, made
up his mind to marry her.
"There you have it, old man."
It was growing dusk. The young woman felt chilly and wanted to go home,
and the servant wheeled the invalid chair in the direction of the
village. The painter walked beside his wife, neither of them having
exchanged a word for an hour.
This story appeared in Le Gaulois, December 17, 1883.
He was a journeyman carpenter, a good workman and a steady fellow,
twenty-seven years old, but, although the eldest son, Jacques Randel had
been forced to live on his family for two months, owing to the general
lack of work. He had walked about seeking work for over a month and had
left his native town, Ville-Avary, in La Manche, because he could find
nothing to do and would no longer deprive his family of the bread they
needed themselves, when he was the strongest of them all. His two
sisters earned but little as charwomen. He went and inquired at the town
hall, and the mayor's secretary told him that he would find work at the
Labor Agency, and so he started, well provided with papers and
certificates, and carrying another pair of shoes, a pair of trousers and
a shirt in a blue handkerchief at the end of his stick.
And he had walked almost without stopping, day and night, along
interminable roads, in sun and rain, without ever reaching that
mysterious country where workmen find work. At first he had the fixed
idea that he must only work as a carpenter, but at every carpenter's shop
where he applied he was told that they had just dismissed men on account
of work being so slack, and, finding himself at the end of his resources,
he made up his mind to undertake any job that he might come across on the
road. And so by turns he was a navvy, stableman, stonecutter; he split
wood, lopped the branches of trees, dug wells, mixed mortar, tied up
fagots, tended goats on a mountain, and all for a few pence, for he only
obtained two or three days' work occasionally by offering himself at a
shamefully low price, in order to tempt the avarice of employers and
And now for a week he had found nothing, and had no money left, and
nothing to eat but a piece of bread, thanks to the charity of some women
from whom he had begged at house doors on the road. It was getting dark,
and Jacques Randel, jaded, his legs failing him, his stomach empty, and
with despair in his heart, was walking barefoot on the grass by the side
of the road, for he was taking care of his last pair of shoes, as the
other pair had already ceased to exist for a long time. It was a
Saturday, toward the end of autumn. The heavy gray clouds were being
driven rapidly through the sky by the gusts of wind which whistled among
the trees, and one felt that it would rain soon. The country was
deserted at that hour on the eve of Sunday. Here and there in the fields
there rose up stacks of wheat straw, like huge yellow mushrooms, and the
fields looked bare, as they had already been sown for the next year.
Randel was hungry, with the hunger of some wild animal, such a hunger as
drives wolves to attack men. Worn out and weakened with fatigue, he took
longer strides, so as not to take so many steps, and with heavy head, the
blood throbbing in his temples, with red eyes and dry mouth, he grasped
his stick tightly in his hand, with a longing to strike the first
passerby who might be going home to supper.
He looked at the sides of the road, imagining he saw potatoes dug up and
lying on the ground before his eyes; if he had found any he would have
gathered some dead wood, made a fire in the ditch and have had a capital
supper off the warm, round vegetables with which he would first of all
have warmed his cold hands. But it was too late in the year, and he
would have to gnaw a raw beetroot which he might pick up in a field as he
had done the day before.
For the last two days he had talked to himself as he quickened his steps
under the influence of his thoughts. He had never thought much hitherto,
as he had given all his mind, all his simple faculties to his mechanical
work. But now fatigue and this desperate search for work which he could
not get, refusals and rebuffs, nights spent in the open air lying on the
grass, long fasting, the contempt which he knew people with a settled
abode felt for a vagabond, and that question which he was continually
asked, "Why do you not remain at home?" distress at not being able to use
his strong arms which he felt so full of vigor, the recollection of the
relations he had left at home and who also had not a penny, filled him by
degrees with rage, which had been accumulating every day, every hour,
every minute, and which now escaped his lips in spite of himself in
short, growling sentences.
As he stumbled over the stones which tripped his bare feet, he grumbled:
"How wretched! how miserable! A set of hogs--to let a man die of hunger
--a carpenter--a set of hogs--not two sous--not two sous--and now it is
raining--a set of hogs!"
He was indignant at the injustice of fate, and cast the blame on men, on
all men, because nature, that great, blind mother, is unjust, cruel and
perfidious, and he repeated through his clenched teeth:
"A set of hogs" as he looked at the thin gray smoke which rose from the
roofs, for it was the dinner hour. And, without considering that there
is another injustice which is human, and which is called robbery and
violence, he felt inclined to go into one of those houses to murder the
inhabitants and to sit down to table in their stead.
He said to himself: "I have no right to live now, as they are letting me
die of hunger, and yet I only ask for work--a set of hogs!" And the pain
in his limbs, the gnawing in his heart rose to his head like terrible
intoxication, and gave rise to this simple thought in his brain: "I have
the right to live because I breathe and because the air is the common
property of everybody. So nobody has the right to leave me without
A fine, thick, icy cold rain was coming down, and he stopped and
murmured: "Oh, misery! Another month of walking before I get home." He
was indeed returning home then, for he saw that he should more easily
find work in his native town, where he was known--and he did not mind
what he did--than on the highroads, where everybody suspected him. As
the carpentering business was not prosperous, he would turn day laborer,
be a mason's hodman, a ditcher, break stones on the road. If he only
earned a franc a day, that would at any rate buy him something to eat.
He tied the remains of his last pocket handkerchief round his neck to
prevent the cold rain from running down his back and chest, but he soon
found that it was penetrating the thin material of which his clothes were
made, and he glanced about him with the agonized look of a man who does
not know where to hide his body and to rest his head, and has no place of
shelter in the whole world.