Part 24 out of 31
For the last eight days quaint-looking vehicles in which live the
families of strolling fair exhibitors, lottery managers, keepers of
shooting galleries and other forms of amusement or exhibitors of
curiosities whom the peasants call "wonder-makers" could be seen coming
along the roads drawn slowly by gray or sorrel horses.
The dirty wagons with their floating curtains, accompanied by a
melancholy-looking dog, who trotted, with his head down, between the
wheels, drew up one after the other on the green in front of the town
hall. Then a tent was erected in front of each ambulant abode, and
inside this tent could be seen, through the holes in the canvas,
glittering things which excited the envy or the curiosity of the village
As soon as the morning of the fete arrived all the booths were opened,
displaying their splendors of glass or porcelain, and the peasants on
their way to mass looked with genuine satisfaction at these modest shops
which they saw again, nevertheless, each succeeding year.
Early in the afternoon there was a crowd on the green. From every
neighboring village the farmers arrived, shaken along with their wives
and children in the two-wheeled open chars-a-bancs, which rattled along,
swaying like cradles. They unharnessed at their friends' houses and the
farmyards were filled with strange-looking traps, gray, high, lean,
crooked, like long-clawed creatures from the depths of the sea. And each
family, with the youngsters in front and the grown-up ones behind, came
to the assembly with tranquil steps, smiling countenances and open hands,
big hands, red and bony, accustomed to work and apparently tired of their
A clown was blowing a trumpet. The barrel-organ accompanying the
carrousel sent through the air its shrill jerky notes. The lottery-wheel
made a whirring sound like that of cloth tearing, and every moment the
crack of the rifle could be heard. And the slow-moving throng passed on
quietly in front of the booths resembling paste in a fluid condition,
with the motions of a flock of sheep and the awkwardness of heavy animals
who had escaped by chance.
The girls, holding one another's arms in groups of six or eight, were
singing; the youths followed them, making jokes, with their caps over
their ears and their blouses stiffened with starch, swollen out like blue
The whole countryside was there--masters, laboring men and women
Old Amable himself, wearing his old-fashioned green frock coat, had
wished to see the assembly, for he never failed to attend on such an
He looked at the lotteries, stopped in front of the shooting galleries to
criticize the shots and interested himself specially in a very simple
game which consisted in throwing a big wooden ball into the open mouth of
a mannikin carved and painted on a board.
Suddenly he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Daddy Malivoire, who
"Ha, daddy! Come and have a glass of brandy."
And they sat down at the table of an open-air restaurant.
They drank one glass of brandy, then two, then three, and old Amable once
more began wandering through the assembly. His thoughts became slightly
confused, he smiled without knowing why, he smiled in front of the
lotteries, in front of the wooden horses and especially in front of the
killing game. He remained there a long time, filled with delight, when
he saw a holiday-maker knocking down the gendarme or the cure, two
authorities whom he instinctively distrusted. Then he went back to the
inn and drank a glass of cider to cool himself. It was late, night came
on. A neighbor came to warn him:
"You'll get back home late for the stew, daddy."
Then he set out on his way to the farmhouse. A soft shadow, the warm
shadow of a spring night, was slowly descending on the earth.
When he reached the front door he thought he saw through the window which
was lighted up two persons in the house. He stopped, much surprised,
then he went in, and he saw Victor Lecoq seated at the table, with a
plate filled with potatoes before him, taking his supper in the very same
place where his son had sat.
And he turned round suddenly as if he wanted to go away. The night was
very dark now. Celeste started up and shouted at him:
"Come quick, daddy! Here's some good stew to finish off the assembly
He complied through inertia and sat down, watching in turn the man, the
woman and the child. Then he began to eat quietly as on ordinary days.
Victor Lecoq seemed quite at home, talked from time to time to Celeste,
took up the child in his lap and kissed him. And Celeste again served
him with food, poured out drink for him and appeared happy while speaking
to him. Old Amable's eyes followed them attentively, though he could not
hear what they were saying.
When he had finished supper (and he had scarcely eaten anything, there
was such a weight at his heart) he rose up, and instead of ascending to
his loft as he did every night he opened the gate of the yard and went
out into the open air.
When he had gone, Celeste, a little uneasy, asked:
"What is he going to do?"
Victor replied in an indifferent tone:
"Don't bother yourself. He'll come back when he's tired."
Then she saw after the house, washed the plates and wiped the table,
while the man quietly took off his clothes. Then he slipped into the
dark and hollow bed in which she had slept with Cesaire.
The yard gate opened and old Amable again appeared. As soon as he
entered the house he looked round on every side with the air of an old
dog on the scent. He was in search of Victor Lecoq. As he did not see
him, he took the candle off the table and approached the dark niche in
which his son had died. In the interior of it he perceived the man lying
under the bed clothes and already asleep. Then the deaf man noiselessly
turned round, put back the candle and went out into the yard.
Celeste had finished her work. She put her son into his bed, arranged
everything and waited for her father-in-law's return before lying down
She remained sitting on a chair, without moving her hands and with her
eyes fixed on vacancy.
As he did not come back, she murmured in a tone of impatience and
"This good-for-nothing old man will make us burn four sous' worth of
Victor answered from under the bed clothes:
"It's over an hour since he went out. We ought to see whether he fell
asleep on the bench outside the door."
"I'll go and see," she said.
She rose up, took the light and went out, shading the light with her hand
in order to see through the darkness.
She saw nothing in front of the door, nothing on the bench, nothing on
the dung heap, where the old man used sometimes to sit in hot weather.
But, just as she was on the point of going in again, she chanced to raise
her eyes toward the big apple tree, which sheltered the entrance to the
farmyard, and suddenly she saw two feet--two feet at the height of her
face belonging to a man who was hanging.
She uttered terrible cries:
"Victor! Victor! Victor!"
He ran out in his shirt. She could not utter another word, and turning
aside her head so as not to see, she pointed toward the tree with her
Not understanding what she meant, he took the candle in order to find
out, and in the midst of the foliage lit up from below he saw old Amable
hanging high up with a stable-halter round his neck.
A ladder was leaning against the trunk of the apple tree.
Victor ran to fetch a bill-hook, climbed up the tree and cut the halter.
But the old man was already cold and his tongue protruded horribly with a
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 10.
By Guy de Maupassant
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
THE FARMER'S WIFE
WALTER SCHNAFF'S ADVENTURE
THAT PIG OF A MORIN
A NORMANDY JOKE
"Well doctor, a little brandy?"
The old ship's surgeon, holding out his glass, watched it as it slowly
filled with the golden liquid. Then, holding it in front of his eyes, he
let the light from the lamp stream through it, smelled it, tasted a few
drops and smacked his lips with relish. Then he said:
"Ah! the charming poison! Or rather the seductive murderer, the
delightful destroyer of peoples!
"You people do not know it the way I do. You may have read that
admirable book entitled L'Assommoir, but you have not, as I have, seen
alcohol exterminate a whole tribe of savages, a little kingdom of
negroes--alcohol calmly unloaded by the barrel by red-bearded English
"Right near here, in a little village in Brittany near Pont-l'Abbe, I
once witnessed a strange and terrible tragedy caused by alcohol. I was
spending my vacation in a little country house left me by my father.
You know this flat coast where the wind whistles day and night, where one
sees, standing or prone, these giant rocks which in the olden times were
regarded as guardians, and which still retain something majestic and
imposing about them. I always expect to see them come to life and start
to walk across the country with the slow and ponderous tread of giants,
or to unfold enormous granite wings and fly toward the paradise of the
"Everywhere is the sea, always ready on the slightest provocation to rise
in its anger and shake its foamy mane at those bold enough to brave its
"And the men who travel on this terrible sea, which, with one motion of
its green back, can overturn and swallow up their frail barks--they go
out in the little boats, day and night, hardy, weary and drunk. They are
often drunk. They have a saying which says: 'When the bottle is full you
see the reef, but when it is empty you see it no more.'
"Go into one of their huts; you will never find the father there. If you
ask the woman what has become of her husband, she will stretch her arms
out over the dark ocean which rumbles and roars along the coast.
He remained, there one night, when he had had too much to drink; so did
her oldest son. She has four more big, strong, fair-haired boys. Soon
it will be their time.
"As I said, I was living in a little house near Pont-l'Abbe. I was there
alone with my servant, an old sailor, and with a native family which took
care of the grounds in my absence. It consisted of three persons, two
sisters and a man, who had married one of them, and who attended to the
"A short time before Christmas my gardener's wife presented him with a
boy. The husband asked me to stand as god-father. I could hardly deny
the request, and so he borrowed ten francs from me for the cost of the
christening, as he said.
"The second day of January was chosen as the date of the ceremony. For a
week the earth had been covered by an enormous white carpet of snow,
which made this flat, low country seem vast and limitless. The ocean
appeared to be black in contrast with this white plain; one could see it
rolling, raging and tossing its waves as though wishing to annihilate its
pale neighbor, which appeared to be dead, it was so calm, quiet and cold.
"At nine o'clock the father, Kerandec, came to my door with his sister-
in-law, the big Kermagan, and the nurse, who carried the infant wrapped
up in a blanket. We started for the church. The weather was so cold
that it seemed to dry up the skin and crack it open. I was thinking of
the poor little creature who was being carried on ahead of us, and I said
to myself that this Breton race must surely be of iron, if their children
were able, as soon as they were born, to stand such an outing.
"We came to the church, but the door was closed; the priest was late.
"Then the nurse sat down on one of the steps and began to undress the
child. At first I thought there must have been some slight accident, but
I saw that they were leaving the poor little fellow naked completely
naked, in the icy air. Furious at such imprudence, I protested:
"'Why, you are crazy! You will kill the child!'
"The woman answered quietly: 'Oh, no, sir; he must wait naked before the
"The father and the aunt looked on undisturbed. It was the custom. If
it were not adhered to misfortune was sure to attend the little one.
"I scolded, threatened and pleaded. I used force to try to cover the
frail creature. All was in vain. The nurse ran away from me through the
snow, and the body of the little one turned purple. I was about to leave
these brutes when I saw the priest coming across the country, followed.
by the sexton and a young boy. I ran towards him and gave vent to my
indignation. He showed no surprise nor did he quicken his pace in the
least. He answered:
"'What can you expect, sir? It's the custom. They all do it, and it's
of no use trying to stop them.'
"'But at least hurry up!' I cried.
"He answered: 'But I can't go any faster.'
"He entered the vestry, while we remained outside on the church steps.
I was suffering. But what about the poor little creature who was howling
from the effects of the biting cold.
"At last the door opened. He went into the church. But the poor child
had to remain naked throughout the ceremony. It was interminable. The
priest stammered over the Latin words and mispronounced them horribly.
He walked slowly and with a ponderous tread. His white surplice chilled
my heart. It seemed as though, in the name of a pitiless and barbarous
god, he had wrapped himself in another kind of snow in order to torture
this little piece of humanity that suffered so from the cold.
"Finally the christening was finished according to the rites and I saw
the nurse once more take the frozen, moaning child and wrap it up in the
"The priest said to me: 'Do you wish to sign the register?'
"Turning to my gardener, I said: "Hurry up and get home quickly so that
you can warm that child.' I gave him some advice so as to ward off, if
not too late, a bad attack of pneumonia. He promised to follow my
instructions and left with his sister-in-law and the nurse. I followed
the priest into the vestry, and when I had signed he demanded five francs
"As I had already given the father ten francs, I refused to pay twice.
The priest threatened to destroy the paper and to annul the ceremony.
I, in turn, threatened him with the district attorney. The dispute was
long, and I finally paid five francs.
"As soon as I reached home I went down to Kerandec's to find out whether
everything was all right. Neither father, nor sister-in-law, nor nurse
had yet returned. The mother, who had remained alone, was in bed,
shivering with cold and starving, for she had had nothing to eat since
the day before.
"'Where the deuce can they have gone?' I asked. She answered without
surprise or anger, 'They're going to drink something to celebrate: It was
the custom. Then I thought, of my ten francs which were to pay the
church and would doubtless pay for the alcohol.
"I sent some broth to the mother and ordered a good fire to be built in
the room. I was uneasy and furious and promised myself to drive out
these brutes, wondering with terror what was going to happen to the poor
"It was already six, and they had not yet returned. I told my servant to
wait for them and I went to bed. I soon fell asleep and slept like a
top. At daybreak I was awakened by my servant, who was bringing me my
"As soon as my eyes were open I asked: 'How about Kerandec?'
"The man hesitated and then stammered: 'Oh! he came back, all right,
after midnight, and so drunk that he couldn't walk, and so were Kermagan
and the nurse. I guess they must have slept in a ditch, for the little
one died and they never even noticed it.'
"I jumped up out of bed, crying:
"'What! The child is dead?'
"'Yes, sir. They brought it back to Mother Kerandec. When she saw it
she began to cry, and now they are making her drink to console her.'
"'What's that? They are making her drink!'
"'Yes, sir. I only found it out this morning. As Kerandec had no more
brandy or money, he took some wood alcohol, which monsieur gave him for
the lamp, and all four of them are now drinking that. The mother is
feeling pretty sick now.'
"I had hastily put on some clothes, and seizing a stick, with the
intention of applying it to the backs of these human beasts, I hastened
towards the gardener's house.
"The mother was raving drunk beside the blue body of her dead baby.
Kerandec, the nurse, and the Kermagan woman were snoring on the floor.
I had to take care of the mother, who died towards noon."
The old doctor was silent. He took up the brandy-bottle and poured out
another glass. He held it up to the lamp, and the light streaming
through it imparted to the liquid the amber color of molten topaz. With
one gulp he swallowed the treacherous drink.
THE FARMER'S WIFE
Said the Baron Rene du Treilles to me:
"Will you come and open the hunting season with me at my farm at
Marinville? I shall be delighted if you will, my dear boy. In the first
place, I am all alone. It is rather a difficult ground to get at, and
the place I live in is so primitive that I can invite only my most
I accepted his invitation, and on Saturday we set off on the train going
to Normandy. We alighted at a station called Almivare, and Baron Rene,
pointing to a carryall drawn by a timid horse and driven by a big
countryman with white hair, said:
"Here is our equipage, my dear boy."
The driver extended his hand to his landlord, and the baron pressed it
"Well, Maitre Lebrument, how are you?"
"Always the same, M'sieu le Baron."
We jumped into this swinging hencoop perched on two enormous wheels, and
the young horse, after a violent swerve, started into a gallop, pitching
us into the air like balls. Every fall backward on the wooden bench gave
me the most dreadful pain.
The peasant kept repeating in his calm, monotonous voice:
"There, there! All right all right, Moutard, all right!"
But Moutard scarcely heard, and kept capering along like a goat.
Our two dogs behind us, in the empty part of the hencoop, were standing
up and sniffing the air of the plains, where they scented game.
The baron gazed with a sad eye into the distance at the vast Norman
landscape, undulating and melancholy, like an immense English park, where
the farmyards, surrounded by two or four rows of trees and full of
dwarfed apple trees which hid the houses, gave a vista as far as the eye
could see of forest trees, copses and shrubbery such as landscape
gardeners look for in laying out the boundaries of princely estates.
And Rene du Treilles suddenly exclaimed:
"I love this soil; I have my very roots in it."
He was a pure Norman, tall and strong, with a slight paunch, and of the
old race of adventurers who went to found kingdoms on the shores of every
ocean. He was about fifty years of age, ten years less perhaps than the
farmer who was driving us.
The latter was a lean peasant, all skin and bone, one of those men who
live a hundred years.
After two hours' travelling over stony roads, across that green and
monotonous plain, the vehicle entered one of those orchard farmyards and
drew up before in old structure falling into decay, where an old maid-
servant stood waiting beside a young fellow, who took charge of the
We entered the farmhouse. The smoky kitchen was high and spacious. The
copper utensils and the crockery shone in the reflection of the hearth.
A cat lay asleep on a chair, a dog under the table. One perceived an
odor of milk, apples, smoke, that indescribable smell peculiar to old
farmhouses; the odor of the earth, of the walls, of furniture, the odor
of spilled stale soup, of former wash-days and of former inhabitants, the
smell of animals and of human beings combined, of things and of persons,
the odor of time, and of things that have passed away.
I went out to have a look at the farmyard. It was very large, full of
apple trees, dwarfed and crooked, and laden with fruit which fell on the
grass around them. In this farmyard the Norman smell of apples was as
strong as that of the bloom of orange trees on the shores of the south of
Four rows of beeches surrounded this inclosure. They were so tall that
they seemed to touch the clouds at this hour of nightfall, and their
summits, through which the night winds passed, swayed and sang a
mournful, interminable song.
I reentered the house.
The baron was warming his feet at the fire, and was listening to the
farmer's talk about country matters. He talked about marriages, births
and deaths, then about the fall in the price of grain and the latest news
about cattle. The "Veularde" (as he called a cow that had been bought at
the fair of Veules) had calved in the middle of June. The cider had not
been first-class last year. Apricots were almost disappearing from the
Then we had dinner. It was a good rustic meal, simple and abundant, long
and tranquil. And while we were dining I noticed the special kind of
friendly familiarity which had struck me from the start between the baron
and the peasant.
Outside, the beeches continued sighing in the night wind, and our two
dogs, shut up in a shed, were whining and howling in an uncanny fashion.
The fire was dying out in the big fireplace. The maid-servant had gone
to bed. Maitre Lebrument said in his turn:
"If you don't mind, M'sieu le Baron, I'm going to bed. I am not used to
staying up late."
The baron extended his hand toward him and said: "Go, my friend," in so
cordial a tone that I said, as soon as the man had disappeared:
"He is devoted to you, this farmer?"
"Better than that, my dear fellow! It is a drama, an old drama, simple
and very sad, that attaches him to me. Here is the story:
"You know that my father was colonel in a cavalry regiment. His orderly
was this young fellow, now an old man, the son of a farmer. When my
father retired from the army he took this former soldier, then about
forty; as his servant. I was at that time about thirty. We were living
in our old chateau of Valrenne, near Caudebec-en-Caux.
"At this period my mother's chambermaid was one of the prettiest girls
you could see, fair-haired, slender and sprightly in manner, a genuine
soubrette of the old type that no longer exists. To-day these creatures
spring up into hussies before their time. Paris, with the aid of the
railways, attracts them, calls them, takes hold of them, as soon as they
are budding into womanhood, these little sluts who in old times remained
simple maid-servants. Every man passing by, as recruiting sergeants did
formerly, looking for recruits, with conscripts, entices and ruins them--
these foolish lassies--and we have now only the scum of the female sex
for servant maids, all that is dull, nasty, common and ill-formed, too
ugly, even for gallantry.
"Well, this girl was charming, and I often gave her a kiss in dark
corners; nothing more, I swear to you! She was virtuous, besides; and I
had some respect for my mother's house, which is more than can be said of
the blackguards of the present day.
"Now, it happened that my man-servant, the ex-soldier, the old farmer you
have just seen, fell madly in love with this girl, perfectly daft. The
first thing we noticed was that he forgot everything, he paid no
attention to anything.
"My father said incessantly:
"'See here, Jean, what's the matter with you? Are you ill?'
"'No, no, M'sieu le Baron. There's nothing the matter with me.'
"He grew thin; he broke glasses and let plates fall when waiting on the
table. We thought he must have been attacked by some nervous affection,
and sent for the doctor, who thought he could detect symptoms of spinal
disease. Then my father, full of anxiety about his faithful man-servant,
decided to place him in a private hospital. When the poor fellow heard
of my father's intentions he made a clean breast of it.
"'M'sieu le Baron'
"'Well, my boy?'
"'You see, the thing I want is not physic.'
"'Ha! what is it, then?'
"My father turned round and stared at him in astonishment.
"'What's that you say, eh?'
"'Marriage! So, then, you jackass, you're to love.'
"'That's how it is, M'sieu le Baron.'
"And my father began to laugh so immoderately that my mother called out
through the wall of the next room:
"'What in the world is the matter with you, Gontran?'
"'Come here, Catherine.'
"And when she came in he told her, with tears in his eyes from sheer
laughter, that his idiot of a servant-man was lovesick.
"But my mother, instead of laughing, was deeply affected.
"'Who is it that you have fallen in love with, my poor fellow?' she
"He answered without hesitation:
"'With Louise, Madame le Baronne.'
"My mother said with the utmost gravity: 'We must try to arrange this
matter the best way we can.'
"So Louise was sent for and questioned by my mother; and she said in
reply that she knew all about Jean's liking for her, that in fact Jean
had spoken to her about it several times, but that she did not want him.
She refused to say why.
"And two months elapsed during which my father and mother never ceased to
urge this girl to marry Jean. As she declared she was not in love with
any other man, she could not give any serious reason for her refusal. My
father at last overcame her resistance by means of a big present of
money, and started the pair of them on a farm--this very farm. I did not
see them for three years, and then I learned that Louise had died of
consumption. But my father and mother died, too, in their turn, and it
was two years more before I found myself face to face with Jean.
"At last one autumn day about the end of October the idea came into my
head to go hunting on this part of my estate, which my father had told me
was full of game.
"So one evening, one wet evening, I arrived at this house. I was shocked
to find my father's old servant with perfectly white hair, though he was
not more than forty-five or forty-six years of age. I made him dine with
me, at the very table where we are now sitting. It was raining hard.
We could hear the rain battering at the roof, the walls, and the windows,
flowing in a perfect deluge into the farmyard; and my dog was howling in
the shed where the other dogs are howling to-night.
"All of a sudden, when the servant-maid had gone to bed, the man said in
a timid voice:
"'M'sieu le Baron.'
"'What is it, my dear Jean?'
"'I have something to tell you.'
"'Tell it, my dear Jean.'
"'You remember Louise, my wife.'
"'Certainly, I remember her.'
"'Well, she left me a message for you.'
"'What was it?'
"'A--a--well, it was what you might call a confession.'
"'Ha--and what was it about?'
"'It was--it was--I'd rather, all the same, tell you nothing about it--
but I must--I must. Well, it's this--it wasn't consumption she died of
at all. It was grief--well, that's the long and short of it. As soon as
she came to live here after we were married, she grew thin; she changed
so that you wouldn't know her, M'sieu le Baron. She was just as I was
before I married her, but it was just the opposite, just the opposite.
"'I sent for the doctor. He said it was her liver that was affected--he
said it was what he called a "hepatic" complaint--I don't know these big
words, M'sieu le Baron. Then I bought medicine for her, heaps on heaps
of bottles that cost about three hundred francs. But she'd take none of
them; she wouldn't have them; she said: "It's no use, my poor Jean; it
wouldn't do me any good." I saw well that she had some hidden trouble;
and then I found her one time crying, and I didn't know what to do, no,
I didn't know what to do. I bought her caps, and dresses, and hair oil,
and earrings. Nothing did her any good. And I saw that she was going to
die. And so one night at the end of November, one snowy night, after she
had been in bed the whole day, she told me to send for the cure. So I
went for him. As soon as he came--
"Jean," she said, "I am going to make a confession to you. I owe it to
you, Jean. I have never been false to you, never! never, before or after
you married me. M'sieu le Cure is there, and can tell you so; he knows
my soul. Well, listen, Jean. If I am dying, it is because I was not
able to console myself for leaving the chateau, because I was too fond of
the young Baron Monsieur Rene, too fond of him, mind you, Jean, there was
no harm in it! This is the thing that's killing me. When I could see
him no more I felt that I should die. If I could only have seen him, I
might have lived, only seen him, nothing more. I wish you'd tell him
some day, by and by, when I am no longer here. You will tell him, swear
you, will, Jean--swear it--in the presence of M'sieu le Cure! It will
console me to know that he will know it one day, that this was the cause
of my death! Swear it!"
'Well, I gave her my promise, M'sieu It Baron, and on the faith of an
honest man I have kept my word.'
"And then he ceased speaking, his eyes filling with tears.
"Good God! my dear boy, you can't form any idea of the emotion that
filled me when I heard this poor devil, whose wife I had killed without
suspecting it, telling me this story on that wet night in this very
"I exclaimed: 'Ah! my poor Jean! my poor Jean!'
"He murmured: 'Well, that's all, M'sieu le Baron. I could not help it,
one way or the other--and now it's all over!'
"I caught his hand across the table, and I began to weep.
"He asked, 'Will you come and see her grave?' I nodded assent, for I
couldn't speak. He rose, lighted a lantern, and we walked through the
blinding rain by the light of the lantern.
"He opened a gate, and I saw some crosses of black wood.
"Suddenly he stopped before a marble slab and said: 'There it is,' and he
flashed the lantern close to it so that I could read the inscription:
"'TO LOUISE HORTENSE MARINET,
"'Wife of Jean-Francois Lebrument, Farmer,
"'SHE WAS A FAITHFUL WIFE. GOD REST HER SOUL.'
"We fell on our knees in the damp grass, he and I, with the lantern
between us, and I saw the rain beating on the white marble slab. And I
thought of the heart of her sleeping there in her grave. Ah! poor heart!
poor heart! Since then I come here every year. And I don't know why,
but I feel as if I were guilty of some crime in the presence of this man
who always looks as if he forgave me."
The peasant and the doctor stood on opposite sides of the bed, beside the
old, dying woman. She was calm and resigned and her mind quite clear as
she looked at them and listened to their conversation. She was going to
die, and she did not rebel at it, for her time was come, as she was
The July sun streamed in at the window and the open door and cast its hot
flames on the uneven brown clay floor, which had been stamped down by
four generations of clodhoppers. The smell of the fields came in also,
driven by the sharp wind and parched by the noontide heat. The grass-
hoppers chirped themselves hoarse, and filled the country with their
shrill noise, which was like that of the wooden toys which are sold to
children at fair time.
The doctor raised his voice and said: "Honore, you cannot leave your
mother in this state; she may die at any moment." And the peasant, in
great distress, replied: "But I must get in my wheat, for it has been
lying on the ground a long time, and the weather is just right for it;
what do you say about it, mother?" And the dying old woman, still
tormented by her Norman avariciousness, replied yes with her eyes and her
forehead, and thus urged her son to get in his wheat, and to leave her to
But the doctor got angry, and, stamping his foot, he said: "You are no
better than a brute, do you hear, and I will not allow you to do it, do
you understand? And if you must get in your wheat today, go and fetch
Rapet's wife and make her look after your mother; I will have it, do you
understand me? And if you do not obey me, I will let you die like a dog,
when you are ill in your turn; do you hear?"
The peasant, a tall, thin fellow with slow movements, who was tormented
by indecision, by his fear of the doctor and his fierce love of saving,
hesitated, calculated, and stammered out: "How much does La Rapet charge
for attending sick people?" "How should I know?" the doctor cried.
"That depends upon how long she is needed. Settle it with her, by
Heaven! But I want her to be here within an hour, do you hear?"
So the man decided. "I will go for her," he replied; "don't get angry,
doctor." And the latter left, calling out as he went: "Be careful, be
very careful, you know, for I do not joke when I am angry!" As soon as
they were alone the peasant turned to his mother and said in a resigned
voice: "I will go and fetch La Rapet, as the man will have it. Don't
worry till I get back."
And he went out in his turn.
La Rapet, old was an old washerwoman, watched the dead and the dying of
the neighborhood, and then, as soon as she had sewn her customers into
that linen cloth from which they would emerge no more, she went and took
up her iron to smooth out the linen of the living. Wrinkled like a last
year's apple, spiteful, envious, avaricious with a phenomenal avarice,
bent double, as if she had been broken in half across the loins by the
constant motion of passing the iron over the linen, one might have said
that she had a kind of abnormal and cynical love of a death struggle.
She never spoke of anything but of the people she had seen die, of the
various kinds of deaths at which she had been present, and she related
with the greatest minuteness details which were always similar, just as a
sportsman recounts his luck.
When Honore Bontemps entered her cottage, he found her preparing the
starch for the collars of the women villagers, and he said: "Good-
evening; I hope you are pretty well, Mother Rapet?"
She turned her head round to look at him, and said: "As usual, as usual,
and you?" "Oh! as for me, I am as well as I could wish, but my mother is
not well." "Your mother?" "Yes, my mother!" "What is the matter with
her?" "She is going to turn up her toes, that's what's the matter with
The old woman took her hands out of the water and asked with sudden
sympathy: "Is she as bad as all that?" "The doctor says she will not
last till morning." "Then she certainly is very bad!" Honore hesitated,
for he wanted to make a few preparatory remarks before coming to his
proposition; but as he could hit upon nothing, he made up his mind
"How much will you ask to stay with her till the end? You know that I am
not rich, and I can not even afford to keep a servant girl. It is just
that which has brought my poor mother to this state--too much worry and
fatigue! She did the work of ten, in spite of her ninety-two years. You
don't find any made of that stuff nowadays!"
La Rapet answered gravely: "There are two prices: Forty sous by day and
three francs by night for the rich, and twenty sous by day and forty by
night for the others. You shall pay me the twenty and forty." But the,
peasant reflected, for he knew his mother well. He knew how tenacious of
life, how vigorous and unyielding she was, and she might last another
week, in spite of the doctor's opinion; and so he said resolutely: "No, I
would rather you would fix a price for the whole time until the end.
I will take my chance, one way or the other. The doctor says she will
die very soon. If that happens, so much the better for you, and so much
the worse for her, but if she holds out till to-morrow or longer, so much
the better for her and so much the worse for you!"
The nurse looked at the man in astonishment, for she had never treated a
death as a speculation, and she hesitated, tempted by the idea of the
possible gain, but she suspected that he wanted to play her a trick.
"I can say nothing until I have seen your mother," she replied.
"Then come with me and see her."
She washed her hands, and went with him immediately.
They did not speak on the road; she walked with short, hasty steps, while
he strode on with his long legs, as if he were crossing a brook at every
The cows lying down in the fields, overcome by the heat, raised their
heads heavily and lowed feebly at the two passers-by, as if to ask them
for some green grass.
When they got near the house, Honore Bontemps murmured: "Suppose it is
all over?" And his unconscious wish that it might be so showed itself in
the sound of his voice.
But the old woman was not dead. She was lying on her back, on her
wretched bed, her hands covered with a purple cotton counterpane,
horribly thin, knotty hands, like the claws of strange animals, like
crabs, half closed by rheumatism, fatigue and the work of nearly a
century which she had accomplished.
La Rapet went up to the bed and looked at the dying woman, felt her
pulse, tapped her on the chest, listened to her breathing, and asked her
questions, so as to hear her speak; and then, having looked at her for
some time, she went out of the room, followed by Honore. Her decided
opinion was that the old woman would not last till night. He asked:
"Well?" And the sick-nurse replied: "Well, she may last two days, perhaps
three. You will have to give me six francs, everything included."
"Six francs! six francs!" he shouted. "Are you out of your mind? I tell
you she cannot last more than five or six hours!" And they disputed
angrily for some time, but as the nurse said she must go home, as the
time was going by, and as his wheat would not come to the farmyard of its
own accord, he finally agreed to her terms.
"Very well, then, that is settled; six francs, including everything,
until the corpse is taken out."
And he went away, with long strides, to his wheat which was lying on the
ground under the hot sun which ripens the grain, while the sick-nurse
went in again to the house.
She had brought some work with her, for she worked without ceasing by the
side of the dead and dying, sometimes for herself, sometimes for the
family which employed her as seamstress and paid her rather more in that
capacity. Suddenly, she asked: "Have you received the last sacraments,
The old peasant woman shook her head, and La Rapet, who was very devout,
got up quickly:
"Good heavens, is it possible? I will go and fetch the cure"; and she
rushed off to the parsonage so quickly that the urchins in the street
thought some accident had happened, when they saw her running.
The priest came immediately in his surplice, preceded by a choir boy who
rang a bell to announce the passage of the Host through the parched and
quiet country. Some men who were working at a distance took off their
large hats and remained motionless until the white vestment had
disappeared behind some farm buildings; the women who were making up the
sheaves stood up to make the sign of the cross; the frightened black hens
ran away along the ditch until they reached a well-known hole, through
which they suddenly disappeared, while a foal which was tied in a meadow
took fright at the sight of the surplice and began to gallop round and
round, kicking cut every now and then. The acolyte, in his red cassock,
walked quickly, and the priest, with his head inclined toward one
shoulder and his square biretta on his head, followed him, muttering some
prayers; while last of all came La Rapet, bent almost double as if she
wished to prostrate herself, as she walked with folded hands as they do
Honore saw them pass in the distance, and he asked: "Where is our priest
going?" His man, who was more intelligent, replied: "He is taking the
sacrament to your mother, of course!"
The peasant was not surprised, and said: "That may be," and went on with
Mother Bontemps confessed, received absolution and communion, and the
priest took his departure, leaving the two women alone in the suffocating
room, while La Rapet began to look at the dying woman, and to ask herself
whether it could last much longer.
The day was on the wane, and gusts of cooler air began to blow, causing a
view of Epinal, which was fastened to the wall by two pins, to flap up
and down; the scanty window curtains, which had formerly been white, but
were now yellow and covered with fly-specks, looked as if they were going
to fly off, as if they were struggling to get away, like the old woman's
Lying motionless, with her eyes open, she seemed to await with
indifference that death which was so near and which yet delayed its
coming. Her short breathing whistled in her constricted throat. It
would stop altogether soon, and there would be one woman less in the
world; no one would regret her.
At nightfall Honore returned, and when he went up to the bed and saw that
his mother was still alive, he asked: "How is she?" just as he had done
formerly when she had been ailing, and then he sent La Rapet away, saying
to her: "To-morrow morning at five o'clock, without fail." And she
replied: "To-morrow, at five o'clock."
She came at daybreak, and found Honore eating his soup, which he had made
himself before going to work, and the sick-nurse asked him: "Well, is
your mother dead?" "She is rather better, on the contrary," he replied,
with a sly look out of the corner of his eyes. And he went out.
La Rapet, seized with anxiety, went up to the dying woman, who remained
in the same state, lethargic and impassive, with her eyes open and her
hands clutching the counterpane. The nurse perceived that this might go
on thus for two days, four days, eight days, and her avaricious mind was
seized with fear, while she was furious at the sly fellow who had tricked
her, and at the woman who would not die.
Nevertheless, she began to work, and waited, looking intently at the
wrinkled face of Mother Bontemps. When Honore returned to breakfast he
seemed quite satisfied and even in a bantering humor. He was decidedly
getting in his wheat under very favorable circumstances.
La Rapet was becoming exasperated; every minute now seemed to her so much
time and money stolen from her. She felt a mad inclination to take this
old woman, this, headstrong old fool, this obstinate old wretch, and to
stop that short, rapid breath, which was robbing her of her time and
money, by squeezing her throat a little. But then she reflected on the
danger of doing so, and other thoughts came into her head; so she went up
to the bed and said: "Have you ever seen the Devil?" Mother Bontemps
Then the sick-nurse began to talk and to tell her tales which were likely
to terrify the weak mind of the dying woman. Some minutes before one
dies the Devil appears, she said, to all who are in the death throes.
He has a broom in his hand, a saucepan on his head, and he utters loud
cries. When anybody sees him, all is over, and that person has only a
few moments longer to live. She then enumerated all those to whom the
Devil had appeared that year: Josephine Loisel, Eulalie Ratier, Sophie
Padaknau, Seraphine Grospied.
Mother Bontemps, who had at last become disturbed in mind, moved about,
wrung her hands, and tried to turn her head to look toward the end of the
room. Suddenly La Rapet disappeared at the foot of the bed. She took a
sheet out of the cupboard and wrapped herself up in it; she put the iron
saucepan on her head, so that its three short bent feet rose up like
horns, and she took a broom in her right hand and a tin pail in her left,
which she threw up suddenly, so that it might fall to the ground noisily.
When it came down, it certainly made a terrible noise. Then, climbing
upon a chair, the nurse lifted up the curtain which hung at the bottom of
the bed, and showed herself, gesticulating and uttering shrill cries into
the iron saucepan which covered her face, while she menaced the old
peasant woman, who was nearly dead, with her broom.
Terrified, with an insane expression on her face, the dying woman made a
superhuman effort to get up and escape; she even got her shoulders and
chest out of bed; then she fell back with a deep sigh. All was over, and
La Rapet calmly put everything back into its place; the broom into the
corner by the cupboard the sheet inside it, the saucepan on the hearth,
the pail on the floor, and the chair against the wall. Then, with
professional movements, she closed the dead woman's large eyes, put a
plate on the bed and poured some holy water into it, placing in it the
twig of boxwood that had been nailed to the chest of drawers, and
kneeling down, she fervently repeated the prayers for the dead, which she
knew by heart, as a matter of business.
And when Honore returned in the evening he found her praying, and he
calculated immediately that she had made twenty sows out of him, for she
had only spent three days and one night there, which made five francs
altogether, instead of the six which he owed her.
Old Baron des Ravots had for forty years been the champion sportsman of
his province. But a stroke of paralysis had kept him in his chair for
the last five or six years. He could now only shoot pigeons from the
window of his drawing-room or from the top of his high doorsteps.
He spent his time in reading.
He was a good-natured business man, who had much of the literary spirit
of a former century. He worshipped anecdotes, those little risque
anecdotes, and also true stories of events that happened in his
neighborhood. As soon as a friend came to see him he asked:
"Well, anything new?"
And he knew how to worm out information like an examining lawyer.
On sunny days he had his large reclining chair, similar to a bed, wheeled
to the hall door. A man servant behind him held his guns, loaded them
and handed them to his master. Another valet, hidden in the bushes, let
fly a pigeon from time to time at irregular intervals, so that the baron
should be unprepared and be always on the watch.
And from morning till night he fired at the birds, much annoyed if he
were taken by surprise and laughing till he cried when the animal fell
straight to the earth or, turned over in some comical and unexpected
manner. He would turn to the man who was loading the gun and say, almost
choking with laughter:
"Did that get him, Joseph? Did you see how he fell?" Joseph invariably
"Oh, monsieur le baron never misses them."
In autumn, when the shooting season opened, he invited his friends as he
had done formerly, and loved to hear them firing in the distance. He
counted the shots and was pleased when they followed each other rapidly.
And in the evening he made each guest give a faithful account of his day.
They remained three hours at table telling about their sport.
They were strange and improbable adventures in which the romancing spirit
of the sportsmen delighted. Some of them were memorable stories and were
repeated regularly. The story of a rabbit that little Vicomte de Bourril
had missed in his vestibule convulsed them with laughter each year anew.
Every five minutes a fresh speaker would say:
"I heard 'birr! birr!' and a magnificent covey rose at ten paces from
me. I aimed. Pif! paf! and I saw a shower, a veritable shower of
birds. There were seven of them!"
And they all went into raptures, amazed, but reciprocally credulous.
But there was an old custom in the house called "The Story of the Snipe."
Whenever this queen of birds was in season the same ceremony took place
at each dinner. As they worshipped this incomparable bird, each guest
ate one every evening, but the heads were all left in the dish.
Then the baron, acting the part of a bishop, had a plate brought to him
containing a little fat, and he carefully anointed the precious heads,
holding them by the tip of their slender, needle-like beak. A lighted
candle was placed beside him and everyone was silent in an anxiety of
Then he took one of the heads thus prepared, stuck a pin through it and
stuck the pin on a cork, keeping the whole contrivance steady by means of
little crossed sticks, and carefully placed this object on the neck of a
bottle in the manner of a tourniquet.
All the guests counted simultaneously in a loud tone--
And the baron with a fillip of the finger made this toy whirl round.
The guest to whom the long beak pointed when the head stopped became the
possessor of all the heads, a feast fit for a king, which made his
neighbors look askance.
He took them one by one and toasted them over the candle. The grease
sputtered, the roasting flesh smoked and the lucky winner ate the head,
holding it by the beak and uttering exclamations of enjoyment.
And at each head the diners, raising their glasses, drank to his health.
When he had finished the last head he was obliged, at the baron's orders,
to tell an anecdote to compensate the disappointed ones.
Here are some of the stories.
I knew that tall young fellow, Rene de Bourneval. He was an agreeable
man, though rather melancholy and seemed prejudiced against everything,
was very skeptical, and he could with a word tear down social hypocrisy.
He would often say:
"There are no honorable men, or, at least, they are only relatively so
when compared with those lower than themselves."
He had two brothers, whom he never saw, the Messieurs de Courcils. I
always supposed they were by another father, on account of the difference
in the name. I had frequently heard that the family had a strange
history, but did not know the details. As I took a great liking to Rene
we soon became intimate friends, and one evening, when I had been dining
with him alone, I asked him, by chance: "Are you a son of the first or
second marriage?" He grew rather pale, and then flushed, and did not
speak for a few moments; he was visibly embarrassed. Then he smiled in
the melancholy, gentle manner, which was peculiar to him, and said:
"My dear friend, if it will not weary you, I can give you some very
strange particulars about my life. I know that you are a sensible man,
so I do not fear that our friendship will suffer by my I revelations; and
should it suffer, I should not care about having you for my friend any
"My mother, Madame de Courcils, was a poor little, timid woman, whom her
husband had married for the sake of her fortune, and her whole life was
one of martyrdom. Of a loving, timid, sensitive disposition, she was
constantly being ill-treated by the man who ought to have been my father,
one of those boors called country gentlemen. A month after their
marriage he was living a licentious life and carrying on liaisons with
the wives and daughters of his tenants. This did not prevent him from
having three children by his wife, that is, if you count me in. My
mother said nothing, and lived in that noisy house like a little mouse.
Set aside, unnoticed, nervous, she looked at people with her bright,
uneasy, restless eyes, the eyes of some terrified creature which can
never shake off its fear. And yet she was pretty, very pretty and fair,
a pale blonde, as if her hair had lost its color through her constant
"Among the friends of Monsieur de Courcils who constantly came to her
chateau, there was an ex-cavalry officer, a widower, a man who was
feared, who was at the same time tender and violent, capable of the most
determined resolves, Monsieur de Bourneval, whose name I bear. He was a
tall, thin man, with a heavy black mustache. I am very like him. He was
a man who had read a great deal, and his ideas were not like those of
most of his class. His great-grandmother had been a friend of
J. J. Rousseau's, and one might have said that he had inherited something
of this ancestral connection. He knew the Contrat Social, and the
Nouvelle Heloise by heart, and all those philosophical books which
prepared in advance the overthrow of our old usages, prejudices,
superannuated laws and imbecile morality.
"It seems that he loved my mother, and she loved him, but their liaison
was carried on so secretly that no one guessed at its existence. The
poor, neglected, unhappy woman must have clung to him in despair, and in
her intimacy with him must have imbibed all his ways of thinking,
theories of free thought, audacious ideas of independent love; but being
so timid she never ventured to speak out, and it was all driven back,
condensed, shut up in her heart.
"My two brothers were very hard towards her, like their father, and never
gave her a caress, and, accustomed to seeing her count for nothing in the
house, they treated her rather like a servant. I was the only one of her
sons who really loved her and whom she loved.
"When she died I was seventeen, and I must add, in order that you may
understand what follows, that a lawsuit between my father and mother had
been decided in my mother's favor, giving her the bulk of the property,
and, thanks to the tricks of the law, and the intelligent devotion of a
lawyer to her interests, the right to make her will in favor of whom she
"We were told that there was a will at the lawyer's office and were
invited to be present at the reading of it. I can remember it, as if it
were yesterday. It was an imposing scene, dramatic, burlesque and
surprising, occasioned by the posthumous revolt of that dead woman, by
the cry for liberty, by the demands of that martyred one who had been
crushed by our oppression during her lifetime and who, from her closed
tomb, uttered a despairing appeal for independence.
"The man who believed he was my father, a stout, ruddy-faced man, who
looked like a butcher, and my brothers, two great fellows of twenty and
twenty-two, were waiting quietly in their chairs. Monsieur de Bourneval,
who had been invited to be present, came in and stood behind me. He was
very pale and bit his mustache, which was turning gray. No doubt he was
prepared for what was going to happen. The lawyer double-locked the door
and began to read the will, after having opened, in our presence, the
envelope, sealed with red wax, of the contents of which he was ignorant."
My friend stopped talking abruptly, and rising, took from his writing-
table an old paper, unfolded it, kissed it and then continued: "This is
the will of my beloved mother:
"'I, the undersigned, Anne Catherine-Genevieve-Mathilde de
Croixluce, the legitimate wife of Leopold-Joseph Gontran de Councils
sound in body and mind, here express my last wishes.
"I first of all ask God, and then my dear son Rene to pardon me for
the act I am about to commit. I believe that my child's heart is
great enough to understand me, and to forgive me. I have suffered
my whole life long. I was married out of calculation, then
despised, misunderstood, oppressed and constantly deceived by my
"'I forgive him, but I owe him nothing.
"'My elder sons never loved me, never petted me, scarcely treated me
as a mother, but during my whole life I did my duty towards them,
and I owe them nothing more after my death. The ties of blood
cannot exist without daily and constant affection. An ungrateful
son is less than, a stranger; he is a culprit, for he has no right
to be indifferent towards his mother.
"'I have always trembled before men, before their unjust laws, their
inhuman customs, their shameful prejudices. Before God, I have no
longer any fear. Dead, I fling aside disgraceful hypocrisy; I dare
to speak my thoughts, and to avow and to sign the secret of my
"'I therefore leave that part of my fortune of which the law allows
me to dispose, in trust to my dear lover, Pierre-Germer-Simon de
Bourneval, to revert afterwards to our dear son Rene.
"'(This bequest is specified more precisely in a deed drawn
up by a notary.)
"'And I declare before the Supreme Judge who hears me, that I should
have cursed heaven and my own existence, if I had not found the
deep, devoted, tender, unshaken affection of my lover; if I had not
felt in his arms that the Creator made His creatures to love,
sustain and console each other, and to weep together in the hours of
"'Monsieur de Courcils is the father of my two eldest sons; Rene,
alone, owes his life to Monsieur de Bourneval. I pray the Master of
men and of their destinies, to place father and son above social
prejudices, to make them love each other until they die, and to love
me also in my coffin.
"'These are my last thoughts, and my last wish.
"'MATHILDE DE CROIXLUCE.'"
"Monsieur de Courcils had risen and he cried:
"'It is the will of a madwoman.'
"Then Monsieur de Bourneval stepped forward and said in a loud,
penetrating voice: 'I, Simon de Bourneval, solemnly declare that this
writing contains nothing but the strict truth, and I am ready to prove it
by letters which I possess.'
"On hearing that, Monsieur de Courcils went up to him, and I 'thought
that they were going to attack each other. There they stood, both of
them tall, one stout and the other thin, both trembling. My mother's
husband stammered out: 'You are a worthless wretch!' And the other
replied in a loud, dry voice: 'We will meet elsewhere, monsieur.
I should have already slapped your ugly face and challenged you long
since if I had not, before everything else, thought of the peace of mind
during her lifetime of that poor woman whom you caused to suffer so
"Then, turning to me, he said: 'You are my son; will you come with me?
I have no right to take you away, but I shall assume it, if you are
willing to come with me: I shook his hand without replying, and we went
out together. I was certainly three parts mad.
"Two days later Monsieur de Bourneval killed Monsieur de Courcils in a
duel. My brothers, to avoid a terrible scandal, held their tongues.
I offered them and they accepted half the fortune which my mother had
left me. I took my real father's name, renouncing that which the law
gave me, but which was not really mine. Monsieur de Bourneval died three
years later and I am still inconsolable."
He rose from his chair, walked up and down the room, and, standing in
front of me, said:
"Well, I say that my mother's will was one of the most beautiful, the
most loyal, as well as one of the grandest acts that a woman could
perform. Do you not think so?"
I held out both hands to him, saying:
"I most certainly do, my friend."
WALTER SCHNAFFS' ADVENTURE
Ever since he entered France with the invading army Walter Schnaffs had
considered himself the most unfortunate of men. He was large, had
difficulty in walking, was short of breath and suffered frightfully with
his feet, which were very flat and very fat. But he was a peaceful,
benevolent man, not warlike or sanguinary, the father of four children
whom he adored, and married to a little blonde whose little tendernesses,
attentions and kisses he recalled with despair every evening. He liked
to rise late and retire early, to eat good things in a leisurely manner
and to drink beer in the saloon. He reflected, besides, that all that is
sweet in existence vanishes with life, and he maintained in his heart a
fearful hatred, instinctive as well as logical, for cannon, rifles,
revolvers and swords, but especially for bayonets, feeling that he was
unable to dodge this dangerous weapon rapidly enough to protect his big
And when night fell and he lay on the ground, wrapped in his cape beside
his comrades who were snoring, he thought long and deeply about those he
had left behind and of the dangers in his path. "If he were killed what
would become of the little ones? Who would provide for them and bring
them up?" Just at present they were not rich, although he had borrowed
when he left so as to leave them some money. And Walter Schnaffs wept
when he thought of all this.
At the beginning of a battle his legs became so weak that he would have
fallen if he had not reflected that the entire army would pass over his
body. The whistling of the bullets gave him gooseflesh.
For months he had lived thus in terror and anguish.
His company was marching on Normandy, and one day he was sent to
reconnoitre with a small detachment, simply to explore a portion of the
territory and to return at once. All seemed quiet in the country;
nothing indicated an armed resistance.
But as the Prussians were quietly descending into a little valley
traversed by deep ravines a sharp fusillade made them halt suddenly,
killing twenty of their men, and a company of sharpshooters, suddenly
emerging from a little wood as large as your hand, darted forward with
bayonets at the end of their rifles.
Walter Schnaffs remained motionless at first, so surprised and bewildered
that he did not even think of making his escape. Then he was seized with
a wild desire to run away, but he remembered at once that he ran like a
tortoise compared with those thin Frenchmen, who came bounding along like
a lot of goats. Perceiving a large ditch full of brushwood covered with
dead leaves about six paces in front of him, he sprang into it with both
feet together, without stopping to think of its depth, just as one jumps
from a bridge into the river.
He fell like an arrow through a thick layer of vines and thorny brambles
that tore his face and hands and landed heavily in a sitting posture on a
bed of stones. Raising his eyes, he saw the sky through the hole he had
made in falling through. This aperture might betray him, and he crawled
along carefully on hands and knees at the bottom of this ditch beneath
the covering of interlacing branches, going as fast as he could and
getting away from the scene of the skirmish. Presently he stopped and
sat down, crouched like a hare amid the tall dry grass.
He heard firing and cries and groans going on for some time. Then the
noise of fighting grew fainter and ceased. All was quiet and silent.
Suddenly something stirred, beside him. He was frightfully startled. It
was a little bird which had perched on a branch and was moving the dead
leaves. For almost an hour Walter Schnaffs' heart beat loud and rapidly.
Night fell, filling the ravine with its shadows. The soldier began to
think. What was he to do? What was to become of him? Should he rejoin
the army? But how? By what road? And he began over again the horrible
life of anguish, of terror, of fatigue and suffering that he had led
since the commencement of the war. No! He no longer had the courage!
He would not have the energy necessary to endure long marches and to face
the dangers to which one was exposed at every moment.
But what should he do? He could not stay in this ravine in concealment
until the end of hostilities. No, indeed! If it were not for having to
eat, this prospect would not have daunted him greatly. But he had to
eat, to eat every day.
And here he was, alone, armed and in uniform, on the enemy's territory,
far from those who would protect him. A shiver ran over him.
All at once he thought: "If I were only a prisoner!" And his heart
quivered with a longing, an intense desire to be taken prisoner by the
French. A prisoner, he would be saved, fed, housed, sheltered from
bullets and swords, without any apprehension whatever, in a good, well-
kept prison. A prisoner! What a dream:
His resolution was formed at once.
"I will constitute myself a prisoner."
He rose, determined to put this plan into execution without a moment's
delay. But he stood motionless, suddenly a prey to disturbing
reflections and fresh terrors.
Where would he make himself a prisoner and how? In What direction? And
frightful pictures, pictures of death came into his mind.
He would run terrible danger in venturing alone through the country with
his pointed helmet.
Supposing he should meet some peasants. These peasants seeing a Prussian
who had lost his way, an unprotected Prussian, would kill him as if he
were a stray dog! They would murder him with their forks, their picks,
their scythes and their shovels. They would make a stew of him, a pie,
with the frenzy of exasperated, conquered enemies.
If he should meet the sharpshooters! These sharpshooters, madmen without
law or discipline, would shoot him just for amusement to pass an hour; it
would make them laugh to see his head. And he fancied he was already
leaning against a wall in-front of four rifles whose little black
apertures seemed to be gazing at him.
Supposing he should meet the French army itself. The vanguard would take
him for a scout, for some bold and sly trooper who had set off alone to
reconnoitre, and they would fire at him. And he could already hear, in
imagination, the irregular shots of soldiers lying in the brush, while he
himself, standing in the middle of the field, was sinking to the earth,
riddled like a sieve with bullets which he felt piercing his flesh.
He sat down again in despair. His situation seemed hopeless.
It was quite a dark, black and silent night. He no longer budged,
trembling at all the slight and unfamiliar sounds that occur at night.
The sound of a rabbit crouching at the edge of his burrow almost made him
run. The cry of an owl caused him positive anguish, giving him a nervous
shock that pained like a wound. He opened his big eyes as wide as
possible to try and see through the darkness, and he imagined every
moment that he heard someone walking close beside him.
After interminable hours in which he suffered the tortures of the damned,
he noticed through his leafy cover that the sky was becoming bright. He
at once felt an intense relief. His limbs stretched out, suddenly
relaxed, his heart quieted down, his eyes closed; he fell asleep.
When he awoke the sun appeared to be almost at the meridian. It must be
noon. No sound disturbed the gloomy silence. Walter Schnaffs noticed
that he was exceedingly hungry.
He yawned, his mouth watering at the thought of sausage, the good sausage
the soldiers have, and he felt a gnawing at his stomach.
He rose from the ground, walked a few steps, found that his legs were
weak and sat down to reflect. For two or three hours he again considered
the pros and cons, changing his mind every moment, baffled, unhappy, torn
by the most conflicting motives.
Finally he had an idea that seemed logical and practical. It was to
watch for a villager passing by alone, unarmed and with no dangerous
tools of his trade, and to run to him and give himself up, making him
understand that he was surrendering.
He took off his helmet, the point of which might betray him, and put his
head out of his hiding place with the utmost caution.
No solitary pedestrian could be perceived on the horizon. Yonder, to the
right, smoke rose from the chimney of a little village, smoke from
kitchen fires! And yonder, to the left, he saw at the end of an avenue
of trees a large turreted chateau. He waited till evening, suffering
frightfully from hunger, seeing nothing but flights of crows, hearing
nothing but the silent expostulation of his empty stomach.
And darkness once more fell on him.
He stretched himself out in his retreat and slept a feverish sleep,
haunted by nightmares, the sleep of a starving man.
Dawn again broke above his head and he began to make his observations.
But the landscape was deserted as on the previous day, and a new fear
came into Walter Schnaffs' mind--the fear of death by hunger! He
pictured himself lying at full length on his back at the bottom of his
hiding place, with his two eyes closed, and animals, little creatures of
all kinds, approached and began to feed on his dead body, attacking it
all over at once, gliding beneath his clothing to bite his cold flesh,
and a big crow pecked out his eyes with its sharp beak.
He almost became crazy, thinking he was going to faint and would not be
able to walk. And he was just preparing to rush off to the village,
determined to dare anything, to brave everything, when he perceived three
peasants walking to the fields with their forks across their shoulders,
and he dived back into his hiding place.
But as soon as it grew dark he slowly emerged from the ditch and started
off, stooping and fearful, with beating heart, towards the distant
chateau, preferring to go there rather than to the village, which seemed
to him as formidable as a den of tigers.
The lower windows were brilliantly lighted. One of them was open and
from it escaped a strong odor of roast meat, an odor which suddenly
penetrated to the olfactories and to the stomach of Walter Schnaffs,
tickling his nerves, making him breathe quickly, attracting him
irresistibly and inspiring his heart with the boldness of desperation.
And abruptly, without reflection, he placed himself, helmet on head, in
front of the window.
Eight servants were at dinner around a large table. But suddenly one of
the maids sat there, her mouth agape, her eyes fixed and letting fall her
glass. They all followed the direction of her gaze.
They saw the enemy!
Good God! The Prussians were attacking the chateau!
There was a shriek, only one shriek made up of eight shrieks uttered in
eight different keys, a terrific screaming of terror, then a tumultuous
rising from their seats, a jostling, a scrimmage and a wild rush to the
door at the farther end. Chairs fell over, the men knocked the women
down and walked over them. In two seconds the room was empty, deserted,
and the table, covered with eatables, stood in front of Walter Schnaffs,
lost in amazement and still standing at the window.
After some moments of hesitation he climbed in at the window and
approached the table. His fierce hunger caused him to tremble as if he
were in a fever, but fear still held him back, numbed him. He listened.
The entire house seemed to shudder. Doors closed, quick steps ran along
the floor above. The uneasy Prussian listened eagerly to these confused
sounds. Then he heard dull sounds, as though bodies were falling to the
ground at the foot of the walls, human beings jumping from the first
Then all motion, all disturbance ceased, and the great chateau became as
silent as the grave.
Walter Schnaffs sat down before a clean plate and began to eat. He took
great mouthfuls, as if he feared he might be interrupted before he had
swallowed enough. He shovelled the food into his mouth, open like a
trap, with both hands, and chunks of food went into his stomach, swelling
out his throat as it passed down. Now and then he stopped, almost ready
to burst like a stopped-up pipe. Then he would take the cider jug and
wash down his esophagus as one washes out a clogged rain pipe.
He emptied all the plates, all the dishes and all the bottles. Then,
intoxicated with drink and food, besotted, red in the face, shaken by
hiccoughs, his mind clouded and his speech thick, he unbuttoned his
uniform in order to breathe or he could not have taken a step. His eyes
closed, his mind became torpid; he leaned his heavy forehead on his
folded arms on the table and gradually lost all consciousness of things
The last quarter of the moon above the trees in the park shed a faint
light on the landscape. It was the chill hour that precedes the dawn.
Numerous silent shadows glided among the trees and occasionally a blade
of steel gleamed in the shadow as a ray of moonlight struck it.
The quiet chateau stood there in dark outline. Only two windows were
still lighted up on the ground floor.
Suddenly a voice thundered:
"Forward! nom d'un nom! To the breach, my lads!"
And in an instant the doors, shutters and window panes fell in beneath a
wave of men who rushed in, breaking, destroying everything, and took the
house by storm. In a moment fifty soldiers, armed to the teeth, bounded
into the kitchen, where Walter Schnaffs was peacefully sleeping, and
placing to his breast fifty loaded rifles, they overturned him, rolled
him on the floor, seized him and tied his head and feet together.
He gasped in amazement, too besotted to understand, perplexed, bruised
and wild with fear.
Suddenly a big soldier, covered with gold lace, put his foot on his
"You are my prisoner. Surrender!"
The Prussian heard only the one word "prisoner" and he sighed, "Ya, ya,
He was raised from the floor, tied in a chair and examined with lively
curiosity by his victors, who were blowing like whales. Several of them
sat down, done up with excitement and fatigue.
He smiled, actually smiled, secure now that he was at last a prisoner.
Another officer came into the room and said:
"Colonel, the enemy has escaped; several seem to have been wounded. We
are in possession."
The big officer, who was wiping his forehead, exclaimed: "Victory!"
And he wrote in a little business memorandum book which he took from his
"After a desperate encounter the Prussians were obliged to beat a
retreat, carrying with them their dead and wounded, the number of whom is
estimated at fifty men. Several were taken prisoners."
The young officer inquired:
"What steps shall I take, colonel?"
"We will retire in good order," replied the colonel, "to avoid having to
return and make another attack with artillery and a larger force of men."
And he gave the command to set out.
The column drew up in line in the darkness beneath the walls of the
chateau and filed out, a guard of six soldiers with revolvers in their
hands surrounding Walter Schnaffs, who was firmly bound.
Scouts were sent ahead to reconnoitre. They advanced cautiously, halting
from time to time.
At daybreak they arrived at the district of La Roche-Oysel, whose
national guard had accomplished this feat of arms.
The uneasy and excited inhabitants were expecting them. When they saw
the prisoner's helmet tremendous shouts arose. The women raised their 10
arms in wonder, the old people wept. An old grandfather threw his crutch
at the Prussian and struck the nose of one of their own defenders.
The colonel roared:
"See that the prisoner is secure!"
At length they reached the town hall. The prison was opened and Walter
Schnaffs, freed from his bonds, cast into it. Two hundred armed men
mounted guard outside the building.
Then, in spite of the indigestion that had been troubling him for some
time, the Prussian, wild with joy, began to dance about, to dance
frantically, throwing out his arms and legs and uttering wild shouts
until he fell down exhausted beside the wall.
He was a prisoner-saved!
That was how the Chateau de Charnpignet was taken from the enemy after
only six hours of occupation.
Colonel Ratier, a cloth merchant, who had led the assault at the head of
a body of the national guard of La Roche-Oysel, was decorated with an
The following paragraphs recently appeared in the papers:
"Boulogne-Sur-Mer, January 22.--Our correspondent writes:
"A fearful accident has thrown our sea-faring population, which has
suffered so much in the last two years, into the greatest consternation.
The fishing smack commanded by Captain Javel, on entering the harbor was
wrecked on the rocks of the harbor breakwater.
"In spite of the efforts of the life boat and the shooting of life lines
from the shore four sailors and the cabin boy were lost.
"The rough weather continues. Fresh disasters are anticipated."
Who is this Captain Javel? Is he the brother of the one-armed man?
If the poor man tossed about in the waves and dead, perhaps, beneath his
wrecked boat, is the one I am thinking of, he took part, just eighteen
years ago, in another tragedy, terrible and simple as are all these
fearful tragedies of the sea.
Javel, senior, was then master of a trawling smack.
The trawling smack is the ideal fishing boat. So solidly built that it
fears no weather, with a round bottom, tossed about unceasingly on the
waves like a cork, always on top, always thrashed by the harsh salt winds
of the English Channel, it ploughs the sea unweariedly with bellying
sail, dragging along at its side a huge trawling net, which scours the
depths of the ocean, and detaches and gathers in all the animals asleep
in the rocks, the flat fish glued to the sand, the heavy crabs with their
curved claws, and the lobsters with their pointed mustaches.
When the breeze is fresh and the sea choppy, the boat starts in to trawl.
The net is fastened all along a big log of wood clamped with iron and is
let down by two ropes on pulleys at either end of the boat. And the
boat, driven by the wind and the tide, draws along this apparatus which
ransacks and plunders the depths of the sea.
Javel had on board his younger brother, four sailors and a cabin boy. He
had set sail from Boulogne on a beautiful day to go trawling.
But presently a wind sprang up, and a hurricane obliged the smack to run
to shore. She gained the English coast, but the high sea broke against
the rocks and dashed on the beach, making it impossible to go into port,
filling all the harbor entrances with foam and noise and danger.
The smack started off again, riding on the waves, tossed, shaken,
dripping, buffeted by masses of water, but game in spite of everything;
accustomed to this boisterous weather, which sometimes kept it roving
between the two neighboring countries without its being able to make port
At length the hurricane calmed down just as they were in the open, and
although the sea was still high the captain gave orders to cast the net.
So it was lifted overboard, and two men in the bows and two in the stern
began to unwind the ropes that held it. It suddenly touched bottom, but
a big wave made the boat heel, and Javel, junior, who was in the bows
directing the lowering of the net, staggered, and his arm was caught in
the rope which the shock had slipped from the pulley for an instant. He
made a desperate effort to raise the rope with the other hand, but the
net was down and the taut rope did not give.
The man cried out in agony. They all ran to his aid. His brother left
the rudder. They all seized the rope, trying to free the arm it was
bruising. But in vain. "We must cut it," said a sailor, and he took
from his pocket a big knife, which, with two strokes, could save young
But if the rope were cut the trawling net would be lost, and this net was
worth money, a great deal of money, fifteen hundred francs. And it
belonged to Javel, senior, who was tenacious of his property.
"No, do not cut, wait, I will luff," he cried, in great distress. And he
ran to the helm and turned the rudder. But the boat scarcely obeyed it,
being impeded by the net which kept it from going forward, and prevented
also by the force of the tide and the wind.
Javel, junior, had sunk on his knees, his teeth clenched, his eyes
haggard. He did not utter a word. His brother came back to him, in
dread of the sailor's knife.
"Wait, wait," he said. "We will let down the anchor."
They cast anchor, and then began to turn the capstan to loosen the
moorings of the net. They loosened them at length and disengaged the
imprisoned arm, in its bloody woolen sleeve.
Young Javel seemed like an idiot. They took off his jersey and saw a
horrible sight, a mass of flesh from which the blood spurted as if from a
pump. Then the young man looked at his arm and murmured: "Foutu" (done
Then, as the blood was making a pool on the deck of the boat, one of the
sailors cried: "He will bleed to death, we must bind the vein."
So they took a cord, a thick, brown, tarry cord, and twisting it around
the arm above the wound, tightened it with all their might. The blood
ceased to spurt by slow degrees, and, presently, stopped altogether.
Young Javel rose, his arm hanging at his side. He took hold of it with
the other hand, raised it, turned it over, shook it. It was all mashed,
the bones broken, the muscles alone holding it together. He looked at it
sadly, reflectively. Then he sat down on a folded sail and his comrades
advised him to keep wetting the arm constantly to prevent it from
They placed a pail of water beside him, and every few minutes he dipped a
glass into it and bathed the frightful wound, letting the clear water
trickle on to it.
"You would be better in the cabin," said his brother. He went down, but
came up again in an hour, not caring to be alone. And, besides, he
preferred the fresh air. He sat down again on his sail and began to
bathe his arm.
They made a good haul. The broad fish with their white bellies lay
beside him, quivering in the throes of death; he looked at them as he
continued to bathe his crushed flesh.
As they were about to return to Boulogne the wind sprang up anew, and the
little boat resumed its mad course, bounding and tumbling about, shaking
up the poor wounded man.
Night came on. The sea ran high until dawn. As the sun rose the English
coast was again visible, but, as the weather had abated a little, they
turned back towards the French coast, tacking as they went.
Towards evening Javel, junior, called his comrades and showed them some
black spots, all the horrible tokens of mortification in the portion of
the arm below the broken bones.
The sailors examined it, giving their opinion.
"That might be the 'Black,'" thought one.
"He should put salt water on it," said another.
They brought some salt water and poured it on the wound. The injured man
became livid, ground his teeth and writhed a little, but did not exclaim.
Then, as soon as the smarting had abated, he said to his brother:
"Give me your knife."
The brother handed it to him.
"Hold my arm up, quite straight, and pull it."
They did as he asked them.
Then he began to cut off his arm. He cut gently, carefully, severing al
the tendons with this blade that was sharp as a razor. And, presently,
there was only a stump left. He gave a deep sigh and said:
"It had to be done. It was done for."
He seemed relieved and breathed loud. He then began again to pour water
on the stump of arm that remained.
The sea was still rough and they could not make the shore.
When the day broke, Javel, junior, took the severed portion of his arm
and examined it for a long time. Gangrene had set in. His comrades also
examined it and handed it from one to the other, feeling it, turning it
over, and sniffing at it.
"You must throw that into the sea at once," said his brother.
But Javel, junior, got angry.
"Oh, no! Oh, no! I don't want to. It belongs to me, does it not, as it
is my arm?"
And he took and placed it between his feet.
"It will putrefy, just the same," said the older brother. Then an idea
came to the injured man. In order to preserve the fish when the boat was
long at sea, they packed it in salt, in barrels. He asked:
"Why can I not put it in pickle?"
"Why, that's a fact," exclaimed the others.
Then they emptied one of the barrels, which was full from the haul of the
last few days; and right at the bottom of the barrel they laid the
detached arm. They covered it with salt, and then put back the fish one
One of the sailors said by way of joke:
"I hope we do not sell it at auction."
And everyone laughed, except the two Javels.
The wind was still boisterous. They tacked within sight of Boulogne
until the following morning at ten o'clock. Young Javel continued to
bathe his wound. From time to time he rose and walked from one end to
the other of the boat.
His brother, who was at the tiller, followed him with glances, and shook
At last they ran into harbor.
The doctor examined the wound and pronounced it to be in good condition.
He dressed it properly and ordered the patient to rest. But Javel would
not go to bed until he got back his severed arm, and he returned at once
to the dock to look for the barrel which he had marked with a cross.
It was emptied before him and he seized the arm, which was well preserved
in the pickle, had shrunk and was freshened. He wrapped it up in a towel
he had brought for the purpose and took it home.
His wife and children looked for a long time at this fragment of their
father, feeling the fingers, and removing the grains of salt that were
under the nails. Then they sent for a carpenter to make a little coffin.
The next day the entire crew of the trawling smack followed the funeral
of the detached arm. The two brothers, side by side, led the procession;
the parish beadle carried the corpse under his arm.
Javel, junior, gave up the sea. He obtained a small position on the
dock, and when he subsequently talked about his accident, he would say
confidentially to his auditors:
"If my brother had been willing to cut away the net, I should still have
my arm, that is sure. But he was thinking only of his property."
Great misfortunes do not affect me very much, said John Bridelle, an old
bachelor who passed for a sceptic. I have seen war at quite close
quarters; I walked across corpses without any feeling of pity. The great
brutal facts of nature, or of humanity, may call forth cries of horror or
indignation, but do not cause us that tightening of the heart, that
shudder that goes down your spine at sight of certain little heartrending
The greatest sorrow that anyone can experience is certainly the loss of a
child, to a mother; and the loss of his mother, to a man. It is intense,
terrible, it rends your heart and upsets your mind; but one is healed of
these shocks, just as large bleeding wounds become healed. Certain
meetings, certain things half perceived, or surmised, certain secret
sorrows, certain tricks of fate which awake in us a whole world of
painful thoughts, which suddenly unclose to us the mysterious door of
moral suffering, complicated, incurable; all the deeper because they
appear benign, all the more bitter because they are intangible, all the
more tenacious because they appear almost factitious, leave in our souls
a sort of trail of sadness, a taste of bitterness, a feeling of
disenchantment, from which it takes a long time to free ourselves.
I have always present to my mind two or three things that others would
surely not have noticed, but which penetrated my being like fine, sharp
You might not perhaps understand the emotion that I retained from these
hasty impressions. I will tell you one of them. She was very old, but
as lively as a young girl. It may be that my imagination alone is
responsible for my emotion.
I am fifty. I was young then and studying law. I was rather sad,
somewhat of a dreamer, full of a pessimistic philosophy and did not care
much for noisy cafes, boisterous companions, or stupid girls. I rose
early and one of my chief enjoyments was to walk alone about eight
o'clock in the morning in the nursery garden of the Luxembourg.
You people never knew that nursery garden. It was like a forgotten
garden of the last century, as pretty as the gentle smile of an old lady.
Thick hedges divided the narrow regular paths,--peaceful paths between
two walls of carefully trimmed foliage. The gardener's great shears were
pruning unceasingly these leafy partitions, and here and there one came
across beds of flowers, lines of little trees looking like schoolboys out
for a walk, companies of magnificent rose bushes, or regiments of fruit
An entire corner of this charming spot was in habited by bees. Their
straw hives skillfully arranged at distances on boards had their
entrances--as large as the opening of a thimble--turned towards the sun,
and all along the paths one encountered these humming and gilded flies,
the true masters of this peaceful spot, the real promenaders of these
I came there almost every morning. I sat down on a bench and read.
Sometimes I let my book fall on my knees, to dream, to listen to the life
of Paris around me, and to enjoy the infinite repose of these old-
But I soon perceived that I was not the only one to frequent this spot as
soon as the gates were opened, and I occasionally met face to face, at a
turn in the path, a strange little old man.
He wore shoes with silver buckles, knee-breeches, a snuff-colored frock
coat, a lace jabot, and an outlandish gray hat with wide brim and long-
haired surface that might have come out of the ark.
He was thin, very thin, angular, grimacing and smiling. His bright eyes
were restless beneath his eyelids which blinked continuously. He always
carried in his hand a superb cane with a gold knob, which must have been
for him some glorious souvenir.
This good man astonished me at first, then caused me the intensest
interest. I watched him through the leafy walls, I followed him at a
distance, stopping at a turn in the hedge so as not to be seen.
And one morning when he thought he was quite alone, he began to make the
most remarkable motions. First he would give some little springs, then
make a bow; then, with his slim legs, he would give a lively spring in
the air, clapping his feet as he did so, and then turn round cleverly,
skipping and frisking about in a comical manner, smiling as if he had an
audience, twisting his poor little puppet-like body, bowing pathetic and
ridiculous little greetings into the empty air. He was dancing.
I stood petrified with amazement, asking myself which of us was crazy, he
He stopped suddenly, advanced as actors do on the stage, then bowed and
retreated with gracious smiles, and kissing his hand as actors do, his
trembling hand, to the two rows of trimmed bushes.
Then he continued his walk with a solemn demeanor.
After that I never lost sight of him, and each morning he began anew his
I was wildly anxious to speak to him. I decided to risk it, and one day,
after greeting him, I said:
"It is a beautiful day, monsieur."
"Yes, sir, the weather is just as it used to be."
A week later we were friends and I knew his history. He had been a
dancing master at the opera, in the time of Louis XV. His beautiful cane
was a present from the Comte de Clermont. And when we spoke about
dancing he never stopping talking.
One day he said to me: