Part 25 out of 31
"I married La Castris, monsieur. I will introduce you to her if you wish
it, but she does not get here till later. This garden, you see, is our
delight and our life. It is all that remains of former days. It seems
as though we could not exist if we did not have it. It is old and
distingue, is it not? I seem to breathe an air here that has not changed
since I was young. My wife and I pass all our afternoons here, but I
come in the morning because I get up early."
As soon as I had finished luncheon I returned to the Luxembourg, and
presently perceived my friend offering his arm ceremoniously to a very
old little lady dressed in black, to whom he introduced me. It was La
Castris, the great dancer, beloved by princes, beloved by the king,
beloved by all that century of gallantry that seems to have left behind
it in the world an atmosphere of love.
We sat down on a bench. It was the month of May. An odor of flowers
floated in the neat paths; a hot sun glided its rays between the branches
and covered us with patches of light. The black dress of La Castris
seemed to be saturated with sunlight.
The garden was empty. We heard the rattling of vehicles in the distance.
"Tell me," I said to the old dancer, "what was the minuet?"
He gave a start.
"The minuet, monsieur, is the queen of dances, and the dance of queens,
do you understand? Since there is no longer any royalty, there is no
longer any minuet."
And he began in a pompous manner a long dithyrambic eulogy which I could
not understand. I wanted to have the steps, the movements, the
positions, explained to me. He became confused, was amazed at his
inability to make me understand, became nervous and worried.
Then suddenly, turning to his old companion who had remained silent and
serious, he said:
"Elise, would you like--say--would you like, it would be very nice of
you, would you like to show this gentleman what it was?"
She turned eyes uneasily in all directions, then rose without saying a
word and took her position opposite him.
Then I witnessed an unheard-of thing.
They advanced and retreated with childlike grimaces, smiling, swinging
each other, bowing, skipping about like two automaton dolls moved by some
old mechanical contrivance, somewhat damaged, but made by a clever
workman according to the fashion of his time.
And I looked at them, my heart filled with extraordinary emotions, my
soul touched with an indescribable melancholy. I seemed to see before me
a pathetic and comical apparition, the out-of-date ghost of a former
They suddenly stopped. They had finished all the figures of the dance.
For some seconds they stood opposite each other, smiling in an
astonishing manner. Then they fell on each other's necks sobbing.
I left for the provinces three days later. I never saw them again.
When I returned to Paris, two years later, the nursery had been
destroyed. What became of them, deprived of the dear garden of former
days, with its mazes, its odor of the past, and the graceful windings of
Are they dead? Are they wandering among modern streets like hopeless
exiles? Are they dancing--grotesque spectres--a fantastic minuet in the
moonlight, amid the cypresses of a cemetery, along the pathways bordered
Their memory haunts me, obsesses me, torments me, remains with me like a
wound. Why? I do not know.
No doubt you think that very absurd?
The two old friends were walking in the garden in bloom, where spring was
bringing everything to life.
One was a senator, the other a member of the French Academy, both serious
men, full of very logical but solemn arguments, men of note and
They talked first of politics, exchanging opinions; not on ideas, but on
men, personalities in this regard taking the predominance over ability.
Then they recalled some memories. Then they walked along in silence,
enervated by the warmth of the air.
A large bed of wallflowers breathed out a delicate sweetness. A mass of
flowers of all species and color flung their fragrance to the breeze,
while a cytisus covered with yellow clusters scattered its fine pollen
abroad, a golden cloud, with an odor of honey that bore its balmy seed
across space, similar to the sachet-powders of perfumers.
The senator stopped, breathed in the cloud of floating pollen, looked at
the fertile shrub, yellow as the sun, whose seed was floating in the air,
"When one considers that these imperceptible fragrant atoms will create
existences at a hundred leagues from here, will send a thrill through the
fibres and sap of female trees and produce beings with roots, growing
from a germ, just as we do, mortal like ourselves, and who will be
replaced by other beings of the same order, like ourselves again!"
And, standing in front of the brilliant cytisus, whose live pollen was
shaken off by each breath of air, the senator added:
"Ah, old fellow, if you had to keep count of all your children you would
be mightily embarrassed. Here is one who generates freely, and then lets
them go without a pang and troubles himself no more about them."
"We do the same, my friend," said the academician.
"Yes, I do not deny it; we let them go sometimes," resumed the senator,
"but we are aware that we do, and that constitutes our superiority."
"No, that is not what I mean," said the other, shaking his head.
"You see, my friend, that there is scarcely a man who has not some
children that he does not know, children--'father unknown'--whom he has
generated almost unconsciously, just as this tree reproduces.
"If we had to keep account of our amours, we should be just as
embarrassed as this cytisus which you apostrophized would be in counting
up his descendants, should we not?
"From eighteen to forty years, in fact, counting in every chance cursory
acquaintanceship, we may well say that we have been intimate with two or
three hundred women.
"Well, then, my friend, among this number can you be sure that you have
not had children by at least one of them, and that you have not in the
streets, or in the bagnio, some blackguard of a son who steals from and
murders decent people, i.e., ourselves; or else a daughter in some
disreputable place, or, if she has the good fortune to be deserted by her
mother, as cook in some family?
"Consider, also, that almost all those whom we call 'prostitutes' have
one or two children of whose paternal parentage they are ignorant,
generated by chance at the price of ten or twenty francs. In every
business there is profit and loss. These wildings constitute the 'loss'
in their profession. Who generated them? You--I--we all did, the men
called 'gentlemen'! They are the consequences of our jovial little
dinners, of our gay evenings, of those hours when our comfortable
physical being impels us to chance liaisons.
"Thieves, marauders, all these wretches, in fact, are our children.
And that is better for us than if we were their children, for those
scoundrels generate also!
"I have in my mind a very horrible story that I will relate to you. It
has caused me incessant remorse, and, further than that, a continual
doubt, a disquieting uncertainty, that, at times, torments me
"When I was twenty-five I undertook a walking tour through Brittany with
one of my friends, now a member of the cabinet.
"After walking steadily for fifteen or twenty days and visiting the
Cotes-du-Nord and part of Finistere we reached Douarnenez. From there we
went without halting to the wild promontory of Raz by the bay of Les
Trepaases, and passed the night in a village whose name ends in 'of.'
The next morning a strange lassitude kept my friend in bed; I say bed
from habit, for our couch consisted simply of two bundles of straw.
"It would never do to be ill in this place. So I made him get up, and we
reached Andierne about four or five o'clock in the evening.
"The following day he felt a little better, and we set out again. But on
the road he was seized with intolerable pain, and we could scarcely get
as far as Pont Labbe.
"Here, at least, there was an inn. My friend went to bed, and the
doctor, who had been sent for from Quimper, announced that he had a high
fever, without being able to determine its nature.
"Do you know Pont Labbe? No? Well, then, it is the most Breton of all
this Breton Brittany, which extends from the promontory of Raz to the
Morbihan, of this land which contains the essence of the Breton manners,
legends and customs. Even to-day this corner of the country has scarcely
changed. I say 'even to-day,' for I now go there every year, alas!
"An old chateau laves the walls of its towers in a great melancholy pond,
melancholy and frequented by flights of wild birds. It has an outlet in
a river on which boats can navigate as far as the town. In the narrow
streets with their old-time houses the men wear big hats, embroidered
waistcoats and four coats, one on top of the other; the inside one, as
large as your hand, barely covering the shoulder-blades, and the outside
one coming to just above the seat of the trousers.
"The girls, tall, handsome and fresh have their bosoms crushed in a cloth
bodice which makes an armor, compresses them, not allowing one even to
guess at their robust and tortured neck. They also wear a strange
headdress. On their temples two bands embroidered in colors frame their
face, inclosing the hair, which falls in a shower at the back of their
heads, and is then turned up and gathered on top of the head under a
singular cap, often woven with gold or silver thread.
"The servant at our inn was eighteen at most, with very blue eyes, a pale
blue with two tiny black pupils, short teeth close together, which she
showed continually when she laughed, and which seemed strong enough to
"She did not know a word of French, speaking only Breton, as did most of
"As my friend did not improve much, and although he had no definite
malady, the doctor forbade him to continue his journey yet, ordering
complete rest. I spent my days with him, and the little maid would come
in incessantly, bringing either my dinner or some herb tea.
"I teased her a little, which seemed to amuse her, but we did not chat,
of course, as we could not understand each other.
"But one night, after I had stayed quite late with my friend and was
going back to my room, I passed the girl, who was going to her room.
It was just opposite my open door, and, without reflection, and more for
fun than anything else, I abruptly seized her round the waist, and before
she recovered from her astonishment I had thrown her down and locked her
in my room. She looked at me, amazed, excited, terrified, not daring to
cry out for fear of a scandal and of being probably driven out, first by
her employers and then, perhaps, by her father.
"I did it as a joke at first. She defended herself bravely, and at the
first chance she ran to the door, drew back the bolt and fled.
"I scarcely saw her for several days. She would not let me come near
her. But when my friend was cured and we were to get out on our travels
again I saw her coming into my room about midnight the night before our
departure, just after I had retired.
"She threw herself into my arms and embraced me passionately, giving me
all the assurances of tenderness and despair that a woman can give when
she does not know a word of our language.
"A week later I had forgotten this adventure, so common and frequent when
one is travelling, the inn servants being generally destined to amuse
travellers in this way.
"I was thirty before I thought of it again, or returned to Pont Labbe.
"But in 1876 I revisited it by chance during a trip into Brittany, which
I made in order to look up some data for a book and to become permeated
with the atmosphere of the different places.
"Nothing seemed changed. The chateau still laved its gray wall in the
pond outside the little town; the inn was the same, though it had been
repaired, renovated and looked more modern. As I entered it I was
received by two young Breton girls of eighteen, fresh and pretty, bound
up in their tight cloth bodices, with their silver caps and wide
embroidered bands on their ears.
"It was about six o'clock in the evening. I sat down to dinner, and as
the host was assiduous in waiting on me himself, fate, no doubt, impelled
me to say:
"'Did you know the former proprietors of this house? I spent about ten
days here thirty years ago. I am talking old times.'
"'Those were my parents, monsieur,' he replied.
"Then I told him why we had stayed over at that time, how my comrade had
been delayed by illness. He did not let me finish.
"'Oh, I recollect perfectly. I was about fifteen or sixteen. You slept
in the room at the end and your friend in the one I have taken for
myself, overlooking the street.'
"It was only then that the recollection of the little maid came vividly
to my mind. I asked: 'Do you remember a pretty little servant who was
then in your father's employ, and who had, if my memory does not deceive
me, pretty eyes and freshlooking teeth?'
"'Yes, monsieur; she died in childbirth some time after.'
"And, pointing to the courtyard where a thin, lame man was stirring up
the manure, he added:
"'That is her son.'
"I began to laugh:
"'He is not handsome and does not look much like his mother. No doubt he
looks like his father.'
"'That is very possible,' replied the innkeeper; 'but we never knew whose
child it was. She died without telling any one, and no one here knew of
her having a beau. Every one was hugely astonished when they heard she
was enceinte, and no one would believe it.'
"A sort of unpleasant chill came over me, one of those painful surface
wounds that affect us like the shadow of an impending sorrow. And I
looked at the man in the yard. He had just drawn water for the horses
and was carrying two buckets, limping as he walked, with a painful effort
of his shorter leg. His clothes were ragged, he was hideously dirty,
with long yellow hair, so tangled that it looked like strands of rope
falling down at either side of his face.
"'He is not worth much,' continued the innkeeper; 'we have kept him for
charity's sake. Perhaps he would have turned out better if he had been
brought up like other folks. But what could one do, monsieur? No
father, no mother, no money! My parents took pity on him, but he was not
their child, you understand.'
"I said nothing.
"I slept in my old room, and all night long I thought of this frightful
stableman, saying to myself: 'Supposing it is my own son? Could I have
caused that girl's death and procreated this being? It was quite
"I resolved to speak to this man and to find out the exact date of his
birth. A variation of two months would set my doubts at rest.
"I sent for him the next day. But he could not speak French. He looked
as if he could not understand anything, being absolutely ignorant of his
age, which I had inquired of him through one of the maids. He stood
before me like an idiot, twirling his hat in 'his knotted, disgusting
hands, laughing stupidly, with something of his mother's laugh in the
corners of his mouth and of his eyes.
"The landlord, appearing on the scene, went to look for the birth
certificate of this wretched being. He was born eight months and twenty-
six days after my stay at Pont Labbe, for I recollect perfectly that we
reached Lorient on the fifteenth of August. The certificate contained
this description: 'Father unknown.' The mother called herself Jeanne
"Then my heart began to beat rapidly. I could not utter a word, for I
felt as if I were choking. I looked at this animal whose long yellow
hair reminded me of a straw heap, and the beggar, embarrassed by my gaze,
stopped laughing, turned his head aside, and wanted to get away.
"All day long I wandered beside the little river, giving way to painful
reflections. But what was the use of reflection? I could be sure of
nothing. For hours and hours I weighed all the pros and cons in favor of
or against the probability of my being the father, growing nervous over
inexplicable suppositions, only to return incessantly to the same
horrible uncertainty, then to the still more atrocious conviction that
this man was my son.
"I could eat no dinner, and went to my room.
"I lay awake for a long time, and when I finally fell asleep I was haunted
by horrible visions. I saw this laborer laughing in my face and calling
me 'papa.' Then he changed into a dog and bit the calves of my legs, and
no matter how fast I ran he still followed me, and instead of barking,
talked and reviled me. Then he appeared before my colleagues at the
Academy, who had assembled to decide whether I was really his father; and
one of them cried out: 'There can be no doubt about it! See how he
resembles him.' And, indeed, I could see that this monster looked like
me. And I awoke with this idea fixed in my mind and with an insane
desire to see the man again and assure myself whether or not we had
"I joined him as he was going to mass (it was Sunday) and I gave him five
francs as I gazed at him anxiously. He began to laugh in an idiotic
manner, took the money, and then, embarrassed afresh at my gaze, he ran
off, after stammering an almost inarticulate word that, no doubt, meant
"My day passed in the same distress of mind as on the previous night.
I sent for the landlord, and, with the greatest caution, skill and tact,
I told him that I was interested in this poor creature, so abandoned by
every one and deprived of everything, and I wished to do something for
"But the man replied: 'Oh, do not think of it, monsieur; he is of no
account; you will only cause yourself annoyance. I employ him to clean
out the stable, and that is all he can do. I give him his board and let
him sleep with the horses. He needs nothing more. If you have an old
pair of trousers, you might give them to him, but they will be in rags in
"I did not insist, intending to think it over.
"The poor wretch came home that evening frightfully drunk, came near
setting fire to the house, killed a horse by hitting it with a pickaxe,
and ended up by lying down to sleep in the mud in the midst of the
pouring rain, thanks to my donation.
"They begged me next day not to give him any more money. Brandy drove
him crazy, and as soon as he had two sous in his pocket he would spend
it in drink. The landlord added: 'Giving him money is like trying to
kill him.' The man had never, never in his life had more than a few
centimes, thrown to him by travellers, and he knew of no destination for
this metal but the wine shop.
"I spent several hours in my room with an open book before me which I
pretended to read, but in reality looking at this animal, my son! my son!
trying to discover if he looked anything like me. After careful scrutiny
I seemed to recognize a similarity in the lines of the forehead and the
root of the nose, and I was soon convinced that there was a resemblance,
concealed by the difference in garb and the man's hideous head of hair.
"I could not stay here any longer without arousing suspicion, and I went
away, my heart crushed, leaving with the innkeeper some money to soften
the existence of his servant.
"For six years now I have lived with this idea in my mind, this horrible
uncertainty, this abominable suspicion. And each year an irresistible
force takes me back to Pont Labbe. Every year I condemn myself to the
torture of seeing this animal raking the manure, imagining that he
resembles me, and endeavoring, always vainly, to render him some
assistance. And each year I return more uncertain, more tormented, more
"I tried to have him taught, but he is a hopeless idiot. I tried to make
his life less hard. He is an irreclaimable drunkard, and spends in drink
all the money one gives him, and knows enough to sell his new clothes in
order to get brandy.
"I tried to awaken his master's sympathy, so that he should look after
him, offering to pay him for doing so. The innkeeper, finally surprised,
said, very wisely: 'All that you do for him, monsieur, will only help to
destroy him. He must be kept like a prisoner. As soon as he has any
spare time, or any comfort, he becomes wicked. If you wish to do good,
there is no lack of abandoned children, but select one who will
appreciate your attention.'
"What could I say?
"If I allowed the slightest suspicion of the doubts that tortured me to
escape, this idiot would assuredly become cunning, in order to blackmail
me, to compromise me and ruin me. He would call out 'papa,' as in my
"And I said to myself that I had killed the mother and lost this
atrophied creature, this larva of the stable, born and raised amid the
manure, this man who, if brought up like others, would have been like
"And you cannot imagine what a strange, embarrassed and intolerable
feeling comes over me when he stands before me and I reflect that he came
from myself, that he belongs to me through the intimate bond that links
father and son, that, thanks to the terrible law of heredity, he is my
own self in a thousand ways, in his blood and his flesh, and that he has
even the same germs of disease, the same leaven of emotions.
"I have an incessant restless, distressing longing to see him, and the
sight of him causes me intense suffering, as I look down from my window
and watch him for hours removing and carting the horse manure, saying to
myself: 'That is my son.'
"And I sometimes feel an irresistible longing to embrace him. I have
never even touched his dirty hand."
The academician was silent. His companion, a tactful man, murmured:
"Yes, indeed, we ought to take a closer interest in children who have no
A gust of wind passing through the tree shook its yellow clusters,
enveloping in a fragrant and delicate mist the two old men, who inhaled
in the fragrance with deep breaths.
The senator added: "It is good to be twenty-five and even to have
children like that."
THAT PIG OF A MORIN
"Here, my friend," I said to Labarbe, "you have just repeated those five
words, that pig of a Morin. Why on earth do I never hear Morin's name
mentioned without his being called a pig?"
Labarbe, who is a deputy, looked at me with his owl-like eyes and said:
"Do you mean to say that you do not know Morin's story and you come from
La Rochelle?" I was obliged to declare that I did not know Morin's story,
so Labarbe rubbed his hands and began his recital.
"You knew Morin, did you not, and you remember his large linen-draper's
shop on the Quai de la Rochelle?"
"Well, then. You must know that in 1862 or '63 Morin went to spend a
fortnight in Paris for pleasure; or for his pleasures, but under the
pretext of renewing his stock, and you also know what a fortnight in
Paris means to a country shopkeeper; it fires his blood. The theatre
every evening, women's dresses rustling up against you and continual
excitement; one goes almost mad with it. One sees nothing but dancers in
tights, actresses in very low dresses, round legs, fat shoulders, all
nearly within reach of one's hands, without daring, or being able, to
touch them, and one scarcely tastes food. When one leaves the city one's
heart is still all in a flutter and one's mind still exhilarated by a
sort of longing for kisses which tickles one's lips.
"Morin was in that condition when he took his ticket for La Rochelle by
the eight-forty night express. As he was walking up and down the
waiting-room at the station he stopped suddenly in front of a young lady
who was kissing an old one. She had her veil up, and Morin murmured with
delight: 'By Jove what a pretty woman!'
"When she had said 'good-by' to the old lady she went into the waiting-
room, and Morin followed her; then she went on the platform and Morin
still followed her; then she got into an empty carriage, and he again
followed her. There were very few travellers on the express. The engine
whistled and the train started. They were alone. Morin devoured her
with his eyes. She appeared to be about nineteen or twenty and was fair,
tall, with a bold look. She wrapped a railway rug round her and
stretched herself on the seat to sleep.
"Morin asked himself: 'I wonder who she is?' And a thousand conjectures,
a thousand projects went through his head. He said to himself: 'So many
adventures are told as happening on railway journeys that this may be one
that is going to present itself to me. Who knows? A piece of good luck
like that happens very suddenly, and perhaps I need only be a little
venturesome. Was it not Danton who said: "Audacity, more audacity and
always audacity"? If it was not Danton it was Mirabeau, but that does
not matter. But then I have no audacity, and that is the difficulty.
Oh! If one only knew, if one could only read people's minds! I will bet
that every day one passes by magnificent opportunities without knowing
it, though a gesture would be enough to let me know her mind.'
"Then he imagined to himself combinations which conducted him to triumph.
He pictured some chivalrous deed or merely some slight service which he
rendered her, a lively, gallant conversation which ended in a
"But he could find no opening, had no pretext, and he waited for some
fortunate circumstance, with his heart beating and his mind topsy-turvy.
The night passed and the pretty girl still slept, while Morin was
meditating his own fall. The day broke and soon the first ray of
sunlight appeared in the sky, a long, clear ray which shone on the face
of the sleeping girl and woke her. She sat up, looked at the country,
then at Morin and smiled. She smiled like a happy woman, with an
engaging and bright look, and Morin trembled. Certainly that smile was
intended for him; it was discreet invitation, the signal which he was
waiting for. That smile meant to say: 'How stupid, what a ninny, what a
dolt, what a donkey you are, to have sat there on your seat like a post
"'Just look at me, am I not charming? And you have sat like that for the
whole night, when you have been alone with a pretty woman, you great
"She was still smiling as she looked at him; she even began to laugh; and
he lost his head trying to find something suitable to say, no matter
what. But he could think of nothing, nothing, and then, seized with a
coward's courage, he said to himself:
"'So much the worse, I will risk everything,' and suddenly, without the
slightest warning, he went toward her, his arms extended, his lips
protruding, and, seizing her in his arms, he kissed her.
"She sprang up immediately with a bound, crying out: 'Help! help!' and
screaming with terror; and then she opened the carriage door and waved
her arm out, mad with terror and trying to jump out, while Morin, who was
almost distracted and feeling sure that she would throw herself out, held
her by the skirt and stammered: 'Oh, madame! oh, madame!'
"The train slackened speed and then stopped. Two guards rushed up at the
young woman's frantic signals. She threw herself into their arms,
stammering: 'That man wanted--wanted--to--to--' And then she fainted.
"They were at Mauze station, and the gendarme on duty arrested Morin.
When the victim of his indiscreet admiration had regained her
consciousness, she made her charge against him, and the police drew it
up. The poor linen draper did not reach home till night, with a
prosecution hanging over him for an outrage to morals in a public place."
"At that time I was editor of the Fanal des Charentes, and I used to meet
Morin every day at the Cafe du Commerce, and the day after his adventure.
he came to see me, as he did not know what to do. I did not hide my
opinion from him, but said to him: 'You are no better than a pig. No
decent man behaves like that.'
"He cried. His wife had given him a beating, and he foresaw his trade
ruined, his name dragged through the mire and dishonored, his friends
scandalized and taking no notice of him. In the end he excited my pity,
and I sent for my colleague, Rivet, a jocular but very sensible little
man, to give us his advice.
"He advised me to see the public prosecutor, who was a friend of mine,
and so I sent Morin home and went to call on the magistrate. He told me
that the woman who had been insulted was a young lady, Mademoiselle
Henriette Bonnel, who had just received her certificate as governess in
Paris and spent her holidays with her uncle and aunt, who were very
respectable tradespeople in Mauze. What made Morin's case all the more
serious was that the uncle had lodged a complaint, but the public
official had consented to let the matter drop if this complaint were
withdrawn, so we must try and get him to do this.
"I went back to Morin's and found him in bed, ill with excitement and
distress. His wife, a tall raw-boned woman with a beard, was abusing him
continually, and she showed me into the room, shouting at me: 'So you
have come to see that pig of a Morin. Well, there he is, the darling!'
And she planted herself in front of the bed, with her hands on her hips.
I told him how matters stood, and he begged me to go and see the girl's
uncle and aunt. It was a delicate mission, but I undertook it, and the
poor devil never ceased repeating: 'I assure you I did not even kiss her;
no, not even that. I will take my oath to it!'
"I replied: 'It is all the same; you are nothing but a pig.' And I took a
thousand francs which he gave me to employ as I thought best, but as I
did not care to venture to her uncle's house alone, I begged Rivet to go
with me, which he agreed to do on condition that we went immediately, for
he had some urgent business at La Rochelle that afternoon. So two hours
later we rang at the door of a pretty country house. An attractive girl
came and opened the door to us assuredly the young lady in question, and
I said to Rivet in a low voice: 'Confound it! I begin to understand
"The uncle, Monsieur Tonnelet, subscribed to the Fanal, and was a fervent
political coreligionist of ours. He received us with open arms and
congratulated us and wished us joy; he was delighted at having the two
editors in his house, and Rivet whispered to me: 'I think we shall be
able to arrange the matter of that pig of a Morin for him.'
"The niece had left the room and I introduced the delicate subject.
I waved the spectre of scandal before his eyes; I accentuated the
inevitable depreciation which the young lady would suffer if such an
affair became known, for nobody would believe in a simple kiss, and the
good man seemed undecided, but he could not make up his mind about
anything without his wife, who would not be in until late that evening.
But suddenly he uttered an exclamation of triumph: 'Look here, I have an
excellent idea; I will keep you here to dine and sleep, and when my wife
comes home I hope we shall be able to arrange matters:
"Rivet resisted at first, but the wish to extricate that pig of a Morin
decided him, and we accepted the invitation, and the uncle got up
radiant, called his niece and proposed that we should take a stroll in
his grounds, saying: 'We will leave serious matters until the morning.'
Rivet and he began to talk politics, while I soon found myself lagging a
little behind with 'the girl who was really charming--charming--and with
the greatest precaution I began to speak to her about her adventure and
try to make her my ally. She did not, however, appear the least
confused, and listened to me like a person who was enjoying the whole
thing very much.
"I said to her: 'Just think, mademoiselle, how unpleasant it will be for
you. You will have to appear in court, to encounter malicious looks, to
speak before everybody and to recount that unfortunate occurrence in the
railway carriage in public. Do you not think, between ourselves, that it
would have been much better for you to have put that dirty scoundrel back
in his place without calling for assistance, and merely to change your
carriage?' She began to laugh and replied: 'What you say is quite true,
but what could I do? I was frightened, and when one is frightened one
does not stop to reason with one's self. As soon as I realized the
situation I was very sorry, that I had called out, but then it was too
late. You must also remember that the idiot threw himself upon me like a
madman, without saying a word and looking like a lunatic. I did not even
know what he wanted of me.'
"She looked me full in the face without being nervous or intimidated and
I said to myself: 'She is a queer sort of girl, that: I can quite see how
that pig Morin came to make a mistake,' and I went on jokingly: 'Come,
mademoiselle, confess that he was excusable, for, after all, a man cannot
find himself opposite such a pretty girl as you are without feeling a
natural desire to kiss her.'
"She laughed more than ever and showed her teeth and said: 'Between the
desire and the act, monsieur, there is room for respect.' It was an odd
expression to use, although it was not very clear, and I asked abruptly:
'Well, now, suppose I were to kiss you, what would you do?' She stopped
to look at me from head to foot and then said calmly: 'Oh, you? That is
quite another matter.'
"I knew perfectly well, by Jove, that it was not the same thing at all,
as everybody in the neighborhood called me 'Handsome Labarbe'--I was
thirty years old in those days--but I asked her: 'And why, pray?' She
shrugged her shoulders and replied: 'Well! because you are not so stupid
as he is.' And then she added, looking at me slyly: 'Nor so ugly,
either: And before she could make a movement to avoid me I had implanted
a hearty kiss on her cheek. She sprang aside, but it was too late, and
then she said: 'Well, you are not very bashful, either! But don't do
that sort of thing again.'
"I put on a humble look and said in a low voice: 'Oh, mademoiselle! as
for me, if I long for one thing more than another it is to be summoned
before a magistrate for the same reason as Morin.'
"'Why?' she asked. And, looking steadily at her, I replied: 'Because you
are one of the most beautiful creatures living; because it would be an
honor and a glory for me to have wished to offer you violence, and
because people would have said, after seeing you: "Well, Labarbe has
richly deserved what he has got, but he is a lucky fellow, all the
"She began to laugh heartily again and said: 'How funny you are!' And
she had not finished the word 'funny' before I had her in my arms and was
kissing her ardently wherever I could find a place, on her forehead, on
her eyes, on her lips occasionally, on her cheeks, all over her head,
some part of which she was obliged to leave exposed, in spite of herself,
to defend the others; but at last she managed to release herself,
blushing and angry. 'You are very unmannerly, monsieur,' she said, 'and
I am sorry I listened to you.'
"I took her hand in some confusion and stammered out: 'I beg your pardon.
I beg your pardon, mademoiselle. I have offended you; I have acted like
a brute! Do not be angry with me for what I have done. If you knew--'
I vainly sought for some excuse, and in a few moments she said: 'There is
nothing for me to know, monsieur.' But I had found something to say, and
I cried: 'Mademoiselle, I love you!'
"She was really surprised and raised her eyes to look at me, and I went
on: 'Yes, mademoiselle, and pray listen to me. I do not know Morin, and
I do not care anything about him. It does not matter to me the least if
he is committed for trial and locked up meanwhile. I saw you here last
year, and I was so taken with you that the thought of you has never left
me since, and it does not matter to me whether you believe me or not.
I thought you adorable, and the remembrance of you took such a hold on me
that I longed to see you again, and so I made use of that fool Morin as a
pretext, and here I am. Circumstances have made me exceed the due limits
of respect, and I can only beg you to pardon me.'
"She looked at me to see if I was in earnest and was ready to smile
again. Then she murmured: 'You humbug!' But I raised my hand and said
in a sincere voice (and I really believe that I was sincere): 'I swear to
you that I am speaking the truth,' and she replied quite simply: 'Don't
"We were alone, quite alone, as Rivet and her uncle had disappeared down
a sidewalk, and I made her a real declaration of love, while I squeezed
and kissed her hands, and she listened to it as to something new and
agreeable, without exactly knowing how much of it she was to believe,
while in the end I felt agitated, and at last really myself believed what
I said. I was pale, anxious and trembling, and I gently put my arm round
her waist and spoke to her softly, whispering into the little curls over
her ears. She seemed in a trance, so absorbed in thought was she.
"Then her hand touched mine, and she pressed it, and I gently squeezed
her waist with a trembling, and gradually firmer, grasp. She did not
move now, and I touched her cheek with my lips, and suddenly without
seeking them my lips met hers. It was a long, long kiss, and it would
have lasted longer still if I had not heard a hm! hm! just behind me, at
which she made her escape through the bushes, and turning round I saw
Rivet coming toward me, and, standing in the middle of the path, he said
without even smiling: 'So that is the way you settle the affair of that
pig of a Morin.' And I replied conceitedly: 'One does what one can, my
dear fellow. But what about the uncle? How have you got on with him?
I will answer for the niece.' 'I have not been so fortunate with him,'
"Whereupon I took his arm and we went indoors."
"Dinner made me lose my head altogether. I sat beside her, and my hand
continually met hers under the tablecloth, my foot touched hers and our
"After dinner we took a walk by moonlight, and I whispered all the tender
things I could think of to her. I held her close to me, kissed her every
moment, while her uncle and Rivet were arguing as they walked in front of
us. They went in, and soon a messenger brought a telegram from her aunt,
saying that she would not return until the next morning at seven o'clock
by the first train.
"'Very well, Henriette,' her uncle said, 'go and show the gentlemen their
rooms.' She showed Rivet his first, and he whispered to me: 'There was no
danger of her taking us into yours first.' Then she took me to my room,
and as soon as she was alone with me I took her in my arms again and
tried to arouse her emotion, but when she saw the danger she escaped out
of the room, and I retired very much put out and excited and feeling
rather foolish, for I knew that I should not sleep much, and I was
wondering how I could have committed such a mistake, when there was a
gentle knock at my door, and on my asking who was there a low voice
"I dressed myself quickly and opened the door, and she came in.
'I forgot to ask you what you take in the morning,' she said; 'chocolate,
tea or coffee?' I put my arms round her impetuously and said, devouring
her with kisses: 'I will take--I will take--'
"But she freed herself from my arms, blew out my candle and disappeared
and left me alone in the dark, furious, trying to find some matches, and
not able to do so. At last I got some and I went into the passage,
feeling half mad, with my candlestick in my hand.
"What was I about to do? I did not stop to reason, I only wanted to find
her, and I would. I went a few steps without reflecting, but then I
suddenly thought: 'Suppose I should walk into the uncle's room what
should I say?' And I stood still, with my head a void and my heart
beating. But in a few moments I thought of an answer: 'Of course, I
shall say that I was looking for Rivet's room to speak to him about an
important matter,' and I began to inspect all the doors, trying to find
hers, and at last I took hold of a handle at a venture, turned it and
went in. There was Henriette, sitting on her bed and looking at me in
tears. So I gently turned the key, and going up to her on tiptoe I said:
'I forgot to ask you for something to read, mademoiselle.'
"I was stealthily returning to my room when a rough hand seized me and a
voice--it was Rivet's--whispered in my ear: 'So you have not yet quite
settled that affair of Morin's?'
"At seven o'clock the next morning Henriette herself brought me a cup of
chocolate. I never have drunk anything like it, soft, velvety, perfumed,
delicious. I could hardly take away my lips from the cup, and she had
hardly left the room when Rivet came in. He seemed nervous and
irritable, like a man who had not slept, and he said to me crossly:
"'If you go on like this you will end by spoiling the affair of that pig
of a Morin!'
"At eight o'clock the aunt arrived. Our discussion was very short, for
they withdrew their complaint, and I left five hundred francs for the
poor of the town. They wanted to keep us for the day, and they arranged
an excursion to go and see some ruins. Henriette made signs to me to
stay, behind her parents' back, and I accepted, but Rivet was determined
to go, and though I took him aside and begged and prayed him to do this
for me, he appeared quite exasperated and kept saying to me: 'I have had
enough of that pig of a Morin's affair, do you hear?'
"Of course I was obliged to leave also, and it was one of the hardest
moments of my life. I could have gone on arranging that business as long
as I lived, and when we were in the railway carriage, after shaking hands
with her in silence, I said to Rivet: 'You are a mere brute!' And he
replied: 'My dear fellow, you were beginning to annoy me confoundedly.'
"On getting to the Fanal office, I saw a crowd waiting for us, and as
soon as they saw us they all exclaimed: 'Well, have you settled the
affair of that pig of a Morin?' All La Rochelle was excited about it,
and Rivet, who had got over his ill-humor on the journey, had great
difficulty in keeping himself from laughing as he said: 'Yes, we have
managed it, thanks to Labarbe: And we went to Morin's.
"He was sitting in an easy-chair with mustard plasters on his legs and
cold bandages on his head, nearly dead with misery. He was coughing with
the short cough of a dying man, without any one knowing how he had caught
it, and his wife looked at him like a tigress ready to eat him, and as
soon as he saw us he trembled so violently as to make his hands and knees
shake, so I said to him immediately: 'It is all settled, you dirty scamp,
but don't do such a thing again.'
"He got up, choking, took my hands and kissed them as if they had
belonged to a prince, cried, nearly fainted, embraced Rivet and even
kissed Madame Morin, who gave him such a push as to send him staggering
back into his chair; but he never got over the blow; his mind had been
too much upset. In all the country round, moreover, he was called
nothing but 'that pig of a Morin,' and that epithet went through him like
a sword-thrust every time he heard it. When a street boy called after
him 'Pig!' he turned his head instinctively. His friends also
overwhelmed him with horrible jokes and used to ask him, whenever they
were eating ham, 'Is it a bit of yourself?' He died two years later.
"As for myself, when I was a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies in
1875, I called on the new notary at Fousserre, Monsieur Belloncle, to
solicit his vote, and a tall, handsome and evidently wealthy lady
received me. 'You do not know me again?' she said. And I stammered out:
'Why--no--madame.' 'Henriette Bonnel.' 'Ah!' And I felt myself turning
pale, while she seemed perfectly at her ease and looked at me with a
"As soon as she had left me alone with her husband he took both my hands,
and, squeezing them as if he meant to crush them, he said: 'I have been
intending to go and see you for a long time, my dear sir, for my wife has
very often talked to me about you. I know--yes, I know under what
painful circumstances you made her acquaintance, and I know also how
perfectly you behaved, how full of delicacy, tact and devotion you showed
yourself in the affair--' He hesitated and then said in a lower tone, as
if he had been saying something low and coarse, 'in the affair of that
pig of a Morin.'"
They called him Saint Anthony, because his name was Anthony, and also,
perhaps, because he was a good fellow, jovial, a lover of practical
jokes, a tremendous eater and a heavy drinker and a gay fellow, although
he was sixty years old.
He was a big peasant of the district of Caux, with a red face, large
chest and stomach, and perched on two legs that seemed too slight for the
bulk of his body.
He was a widower and lived alone with his two men servants and a maid on
his farm, which he conducted with shrewd economy. He was careful of his
own interests, understood business and the raising of cattle, and
farming. His two sons and his three daughters, who had married well,
were living in the neighborhood and came to dine with their father once a
month. His vigor of body was famous in all the countryside. "He is as
strong as Saint Anthony," had become a kind of proverb.
At the time of the Prussian invasion Saint Anthony, at the wine shop,
promised to eat an army, for he was a braggart, like a true Norman, a bit
of a, coward and a blusterer. He banged his fist on the wooden table,
making the cups and the brandy glasses dance, and cried with the assumed
wrath of a good fellow, with a flushed face and a sly look in his eye:
"I shall have to eat some of them, nom de Dieu!" He reckoned that the
Prussians would not come as far as Tanneville, but when he heard they
were at Rautot he never went out of the house, and constantly watched the
road from the little window of his kitchen, expecting at any moment to
see the bayonets go by.
One morning as he was eating his luncheon with the servants the door
opened and the mayor of the commune, Maitre Chicot, appeared, followed by
a soldier wearing a black copper-pointed helmet. Saint Anthony bounded
to his feet and his servants all looked at him, expecting to see him
slash the Prussian. But he merely shook hands with the mayor, who said:
"Here is one for you, Saint Anthony. They came last night. Don't do
anything foolish, above all things, for they talked of shooting and
burning everything if there is the slightest unpleasantness, I have given
you warning. Give him something to eat; he looks like a good fellow.
Good-day. I am going to call on the rest. There are enough for all."
And he went out.
Father Anthony, who had turned pale, looked at the Prussian. He was a
big, young fellow with plump, white skin, blue eyes, fair hair, unshaven
to his cheek bones, who looked stupid, timid and good. The shrewd Norman
read him at once, and, reassured, he made him a sign to sit down. Then
he said: "Will you take some soup?"
The stranger did not understand. Anthony then became bolder, and pushing
a plateful of soup right under his nose, he said: "Here, swallow that,
The soldier answered "Ya," and began to eat greedily, while the farmer,
triumphant, feeling he had regained his reputation, winked his eye at the
servants, who were making strange grimaces, what with their terror and
their desire to laugh.
When the Prussian had devoured his soup, Saint Anthony gave him another
plateful, which disappeared in like manner; but he flinched at the third
which the farmer tried to insist on his eating, saying: "Come, put that
into your stomach; 'twill fatten you or it is your own fault, eh, pig!"
The soldier, understanding only that they wanted to make him eat all his
soup, laughed in a contented manner, making a sign to show that he could
not hold any more.
Then Saint Anthony, become quite familiar, tapped him on the stomach,
saying: "My, there is plenty in my pig's belly!" But suddenly he began
to writhe with laughter, unable to speak. An idea had struck him which
made him choke with mirth. "That's it, that's it, Saint Anthony and his
pig. There's my pig!" And the three servants burst out laughing in
The old fellow was so pleased that he had the brandy brought in, good
stuff, 'fil en dix', and treated every one. They clinked glasses with
the Prussian, who clacked his tongue by way of flattery to show that he
enjoyed it. And Saint Anthony exclaimed in his face: "Eh, is not that
superfine? You don't get anything like that in your home, pig!"
From that time Father Anthony never went out without his Prussian. He
had got what he wanted. This was his vengeance, the vengeance of an old
rogue. And the whole countryside, which was in terror, laughed to split
its sides at Saint Anthony's joke. Truly, there was no one like him when
it came to humor. No one but he would have thought of a thing like that.
He was a born joker!
He went to see his neighbors every day, arm in arm with his German, whom
he introduced in a jovial manner, tapping him on the shoulder: "See, here
is my pig; look and see if he is not growing fat, the animal!"
And the peasants would beam with smiles. "He is so comical, that
reckless fellow, Antoine!"
"I will sell him to you, Cesaire, for three pistoles" (thirty francs).
"I will take him, Antoine, and I invite you to eat some black pudding."
"What I want is his feet."
"Feel his belly; you will see that it is all fat."
And they all winked at each other, but dared not laugh too loud, for fear
the Prussian might finally suspect they were laughing at him. Anthony,
alone growing bolder every day, pinched his thighs, exclaiming, "Nothing
but fat"; tapped him on the back, shouting, "That is all bacon"; lifted
him up in his arms as an old Colossus that could have lifted an anvil,
declaring, "He weighs six hundred and no waste."
He had got into the habit of making people offer his "pig" something to
eat wherever they went together. This was the chief pleasure, the great
diversion every day. "Give him whatever you please, he will swallow
everything." And they offered the man bread and butter, potatoes, cold
meat, chitterlings, which caused the remark, "Some of your own, and
The soldier, stupid and gentle, ate from politeness, charmed at these
attentions, making himself ill rather than refuse, and he was actually
growing fat and his uniform becoming tight for him. This delighted Saint
Anthony, who said: "You know, my pig, that we shall have to have another
cage made for you."
They had, however, become the best friends in the world, and when the old
fellow went to attend to his business in the neighborhood the Prussian
accompanied him for the simple pleasure of being with him.
The weather was severe; it was freezing hard. The terrible winter of
1870 seemed to bring all the scourges on France at one time.
Father Antoine, who made provision beforehand, and took advantage of
every opportunity, foreseeing that manure would be scarce for the spring
farming, bought from a neighbor who happened to be in need of money all
that he had, and it was agreed that he should go every evening with his
cart to get a load.
So every day at twilight he set out for the farm of Haules, half a league
distant, always accompanied by his "pig." And each time it was a
festival, feeding the animal. All the neighbors ran over there as they
would go to high mass on Sunday.
But the soldier began to suspect something, be mistrustful, and when they
laughed too loud he would roll his eyes uneasily, and sometimes they
lighted up with anger.
One evening when he had eaten his fill he refused to swallow another
morsel, and attempted to rise to leave the table. But Saint Anthony
stopped him by a turn of the wrist and, placing his two powerful hands on
his shoulders, he sat him down again so roughly that the chair smashed
A wild burst of laughter broke forth, and Anthony, beaming, picked up his
pig, acted as though he were dressing his wounds, and exclaimed: "Since
you will not eat, you shall drink, nom de Dieu!" And they went to the
wine shop to get some brandy.
The soldier rolled his eyes, which had a wicked expression, but he drank,
nevertheless; he drank as long as they wanted him, and Saint Anthony held
his head to the great delight of his companions.
The Norman, red as a tomato, his eyes ablaze, filled up the glasses and
clinked, saying: "Here's to you!". And the Prussian, without speaking a
word, poured down one after another glassfuls of cognac.
It was a contest, a battle, a revenge! Who would drink the most, nom
d'un nom! They could neither of them stand any more when the liter was
emptied. But neither was conquered. They were tied, that was all. They
would have to begin again the next day.
They went out staggering and started for home, walking beside the dung
cart which was drawn along slowly by two horses.
Snow began to fall and the moonless night was sadly lighted by this dead
whiteness on the plain. The men began to feel the cold, and this
aggravated their intoxication. Saint Anthony, annoyed at not being the
victor, amused himself by shoving his companion so as to make him fall
over into the ditch. The other would dodge backwards, and each time he
did he uttered some German expression in an angry tone, which made the
peasant roar with laughter. Finally the Prussian lost his temper, and
just as Anthony was rolling towards him he responded with such a terrific
blow with his fist that the Colossus staggered.
Then, excited by the brandy, the old man seized the pugilist round the
waist, shook him for a few moments as he would have done with a little
child, and pitched him at random to the other side of the road. Then,
satisfied with this piece of work, he crossed his arms and began to laugh
But the soldier picked himself up in a hurry, his head bare, his helmet
having rolled off, and drawing his sword he rushed over to Father
When he saw him coming the peasant seized his whip by the top of the
handle, his big holly wood whip, straight, strong and supple as the sinew
of an ox.
The Prussian approached, his head down, making a lunge with his sword,
sure of killing his adversary. But the old fellow, squarely hitting the
blade, the point of which would have pierced his stomach, turned it
aside, and with the butt end of the whip struck the soldier a sharp blow
on the temple and he fell to the ground.
Then he, gazed aghast, stupefied with amazement, at the body, twitching
convulsively at first and then lying prone and motionless. He bent over
it, turned it on its back, and gazed at it for some time. The man's eyes
were closed, and blood trickled from a wound at the side of his forehead.
Although it was dark, Father Anthony could distinguish the bloodstain on
the white snow.
He remained there, at his wit's end, while his cart continued slowly on
What was he to do? He would be shot! They would burn his farm, ruin his
district! What should he do? What should he do? How could he hide the
body, conceal the fact of his death, deceive the Prussians? He heard
voices in the distance, amid the utter stillness of the snow. All at
once he roused himself, and picking up the helmet he placed it on his
victim's head. Then, seizing him round the body, he lifted him up in his
arms, and thus running with him, he overtook his team, and threw the body
on top of the manure. Once in his own house he would think up some plan.
He walked slowly, racking his brain, but without result. He saw, he
felt, that he was lost. He entered his courtyard. A light was shining
in one of the attic windows; his maid was not asleep. He hastily backed
his wagon to the edge of the manure hollow. He thought that by
overturning the manure the body lying on top of it would fall into the
ditch and be buried beneath it, and he dumped the cart.
As he had foreseen, the man was buried beneath the manure. Anthony
evened it down with his fork, which he stuck in the ground beside it.
He called his stableman, told him to put up the horses, and went to his
He went to bed, still thinking of what he had best do, but no ideas came
to him. His apprehension increased in the quiet of his room. They would
shoot him! He was bathed in perspiration from fear, his teeth chattered,
he rose shivering, not being able to stay in bed.
He went downstairs to the kitchen, took the bottle of brandy from the
sideboard and carried it upstairs. He drank two large glasses, one after
another, adding a fresh intoxication to the late one, without quieting
his mental anguish. He had done a pretty stroke of work, nom de Dieu,
He paced up and down, trying to think of some stratagem, some
explanations, some cunning trick, and from time to time he rinsed his
mouth with a swallow of "fil en dix" to give him courage.
But no ideas came to him, not one.
Towards midnight his watch dog, a kind of cross wolf called "Devorant,"
began to howl frantically. Father Anthony shuddered to the marrow of his
bones, and each time the beast began his long and lugubrious wail the old
man's skin turned to goose flesh.
He had sunk into a chair, his legs weak, stupefied, done up, waiting
anxiously for "Devorant" to set up another howl, and starting
convulsively from nervousness caused by terror.
The clock downstairs struck five. The dog was still howling. The
peasant was almost insane. He rose to go and let the dog loose, so that
he should not hear him. He went downstairs, opened the hall door, and
stepped out into the darkness. The snow was still falling. The earth
was all white, the farm buildings standing out like black patches. He
approached the kennel. The dog was dragging at his chain. He unfastened
it. "Devorant" gave a bound, then stopped short, his hair bristling, his
legs rigid, his muzzle in the air, his nose pointed towards the manure
Saint Anthony, trembling from head to foot, faltered:
"What's the matter with you, you dirty hound?" and he walked a few steps
forward, gazing at the indistinct outlines, the sombre shadow of the
Then he saw a form, the form of a man sitting on the manure heap!
He gazed at it, paralyzed by fear, and breathing hard. But all at once
he saw, close by, the handle of the manure fork which was sticking in the
ground. He snatched it up and in one of those transports of fear that
will make the greatest coward brave he rushed forward to see what it was.
It was he, his Prussian, come to life, covered with filth from his bed of
manure which had kept him warm. He had sat down mechanically, and
remained there in the snow which sprinkled down, all covered with dirt
and blood as he was, and still stupid from drinking, dazed by the blow
and exhausted from his wound.
He perceived Anthony, and too sodden to understand anything, he made an
attempt to rise. But the moment the old man recognized him, he foamed
with rage like a wild animal.
"Ah, pig! pig!" he sputtered. "You are not dead! You are going to
denounce me now--wait--wait!"
And rushing on the German with all the strength of leis arms he flung the
raised fork like a lance and buried the four prongs full length in his
The soldier fell over on his back, uttering a long death moan, while the
old peasant, drawing the fork out of his breast, plunged it over and over
again into his abdomen, his stomach, his throat, like a madman, piercing
the body from head to foot, as it still quivered, and the blood gushed
out in streams.
Finally he stopped, exhausted by his arduous work, swallowing great
mouthfuls of air, calmed down at the completion of the murder.
As the cocks were beginning to crow in the poultry yard and it was near
daybreak, he set to work to bury the man.
He dug a hole in the manure till he reached the earth, dug down further,
working wildly, in a frenzy of strength with frantic motions of his arms
When the pit was deep enough he rolled the corpse into it with the fork,
covered it with earth, which he stamped down for some time, and then put
back the manure, and he smiled as he saw the thick snow finishing his
work and covering up its traces with a white sheet.
He then stuck the fork in the manure and went into the house. His
bottle, still half full of brandy stood on the table. He emptied it at a
draught, threw himself on his bed and slept heavily.
He woke up sober, his mind calm and clear, capable of judgment and
At the end of an hour he was going about the country making inquiries
everywhere for his soldier. He went to see the Prussian officer to find
out why they had taken away his man.
As everyone knew what good friends they were, no one suspected him. He
even directed the research, declaring that the Prussian went to see the
girls every evening.
An old retired gendarme who had an inn in the next village, and a pretty
daughter, was arrested and shot.
It was the end of the dinner that opened the shooting season. The
Marquis de Bertrans with his guests sat around a brightly lighted table,
covered with fruit and flowers. The conversation drifted to love.
Immediately there arose an animated discussion, the same eternal
discussion as to whether it were possible to love more than once.
Examples were given of persons who had loved once; these were offset by
those who had loved violently many times. The men agreed that passion,
like sickness, may attack the same person several times, unless it
strikes to kill. This conclusion seemed quite incontestable. The women,
however, who based their opinion on poetry rather than on practical
observation, maintained that love, the great passion, may come only once
to mortals. It resembles lightning, they said, this love. A heart once
touched by it becomes forever such a waste, so ruined, so consumed, that
no other strong sentiment can take root there, not even a dream. The
marquis, who had indulged in many love affairs, disputed this belief.
"I tell you it is possible to love several times with all one's heart and
soul. You quote examples of persons who have killed themselves for love,
to prove the impossibility of a second passion. I wager that if they
had not foolishly committed suicide, and so destroyed the possibility of
a second experience, they would have found a new love, and still another,
and so on till death. It is with love as with drink. He who has once
indulged is forever a slave. It is a thing of temperament."
They chose the old doctor as umpire. He thought it was as the marquis
had said, a thing of temperament.
"As for me," he said, "I once knew of a love which lasted fifty-five
years without one day's respite, and which ended only with death." The
wife of the marquis clasped her hands.
"That is beautiful! Ah, what a dream to be loved in such a way! What
bliss to live for fifty-five years enveloped in an intense, unwavering
affection! How this happy being must have blessed his life to be so
The doctor smiled.
"You are not mistaken, madame, on this point the loved one was a man.
You even know him; it is Monsieur Chouquet, the chemist. As to the
woman, you also know her, the old chair-mender, who came every year to
the chateau." The enthusiasm of the women fell. Some expressed their
contempt with "Pouah!" for the loves of common people did not interest
them. The doctor continued: "Three months ago I was called to the
deathbed of the old chair-mender. The priest had preceded me. She
wished to make us the executors of her will. In order that we might
understand her conduct, she told us the story of her life. It is most
singular and touching: Her father and mother were both chair-menders.
She had never lived in a house. As a little child she wandered about
with them, dirty, unkempt, hungry. They visited many towns, leaving
their horse, wagon and dog just outside the limits, where the child
played in the grass alone until her parents had repaired all the broken
chairs in the place. They seldom spoke, except to cry, 'Chairs! Chairs!
"When the little one strayed too far away, she would be called back by
the harsh, angry voice of her father. She never heard a word of
affection. When she grew older, she fetched and carried the broken
chairs. Then it was she made friends with the children in the street,
but their parents always called them away and scolded them for speaking
to the barefooted child. Often the boys threw stones at her. Once a
kind woman gave her a few pennies. She saved them most carefully.
"One day--she was then eleven years old--as she was walking through a
country town she met, behind the cemetery, little Chouquet, weeping
bitterly, because one of his playmates had stolen two precious liards
(mills). The tears of the small bourgeois, one of those much-envied
mortals, who, she imagined, never knew trouble, completely upset her.
She approached him and, as soon as she learned the cause of his grief,
she put into his hands all her savings. He took them without hesitation
and dried his eyes. Wild with joy, she kissed him. He was busy counting
his money, and did not object. Seeing that she was not repulsed, she
threw her arms round him and gave him a hug--then she ran away.
"What was going on in her poor little head? Was it because she had
sacrificed all her fortune that she became madly fond of this youngster,
or was it because she had given him the first tender kiss? The mystery
is alike for children and for those of riper years. For months she
dreamed of that corner near the cemetery and of the little chap.
She stole a sou here and, there from her parents on the chair money or
groceries she was sent to buy. When she returned to the spot near the
cemetery she had two francs in her pocket, but he was not there. Passing
his father's drug store, she caught sight of him behind the counter.
He was sitting between a large red globe and a blue one. She only loved
him the more, quite carried away at the sight of the brilliant-colored
globes. She cherished the recollection of it forever in her heart.
The following year she met him near the school. playing marbles.
She rushed up to him, threw her arms round him, and kissed him so
passionately that he screamed, in fear. To quiet him, she gave him all
her money. Three francs and twenty centimes! A real gold mine, at which
he gazed with staring eyes.
"After this he allowed her to kiss him as much as she wished. During the
next four years she put into his hands all her savings, which he pocketed
conscientiously in exchange for kisses. At one time it was thirty sons,
at another two francs. Again, she only had twelve sous. She wept with
grief and shame, explaining brokenly that it had been a poor year. The
next time she brought five francs, in one whole piece, which made her
laugh with joy. She no longer thought of any one but the boy, and he
watched for her with impatience; sometimes he would run to meet her.
This made her heart thump with joy. Suddenly he disappeared. He had
gone to boarding school. She found this out by careful investigation.
Then she used great diplomacy to persuade her parents to change their
route and pass by this way again during vacation. After a year of
scheming she succeeded. She had not seen him for two years, and scarcely
recognized him, he was so changed, had grown taller, better looking and
was imposing in his uniform, with its brass buttons. He pretended not to
see her, and passed by without a glance. She wept for two days and from
that time loved and suffered unceasingly.
"Every year he came home and she passed him, not daring to lift her eyes.
He never condescended to turn his head toward her. She loved him madly,
hopelessly. She said to me:
"'He is the only man whom I have ever seen. I don't even know if another
exists.' Her parents died. She continued their work.
"One day, on entering the village, where her heart always remained, she
saw Chouquet coming out of his pharmacy with a young lady leaning on his
arm. She was his wife. That night the chairmender threw herself into
the river. A drunkard passing the spot pulled her out and took her to
the drug store. Young Chouquet came down in his dressing gown to revive
her. Without seeming to know who she was he undressed her and rubbed
her; then he said to her, in a harsh voice:
"'You are mad! People must not do stupid things like that.' His voice
brought her to life again. He had spoken to her! She was happy for a
long time. He refused remuneration for his trouble, although she
"All her life passed in this way. She worked, thinking always of him.
She began to buy medicines at his pharmacy; this gave her a chance to
talk to him and to see him closely. In this way, she was still able to
give him money.
"As I said before, she died this spring. When she had closed her
pathetic story she entreated me to take her earnings to the man she
loved. She had worked only that she might leave him something to remind
him of her after her death. I gave the priest fifty francs for her
funeral expenses. The next morning I went to see the Chouquets. They
were finishing breakfast, sitting opposite each other, fat and red,
important and self-satisfied. They welcomed me and offered me some
coffee, which I accepted. Then I began my story in a trembling voice,
sure that they would be softened, even to tears. As soon as Chouquet
understood that he had been loved by 'that vagabond! that chair-mender!
that wanderer!' he swore with indignation as though his reputation had
been sullied, the respect of decent people lost, his personal honor,
something precious and dearer to him than life, gone. His exasperated
wife kept repeating: 'That beggar! That beggar!'
"Seeming unable to find words suitable to the enormity, he stood up and
began striding about. He muttered: 'Can you understand anything so
horrible, doctor? Oh, if I had only known it while she was alive, I
should have had her thrown into prison. I promise you she would not have
"I was dumfounded; I hardly knew what to think or say, but I had to
finish my mission. 'She commissioned me,' I said, 'to give you her
savings, which amount to three thousand five hundred francs. As what I
have just told you seems to be very disagreeable, perhaps you would
prefer to give this money to the poor.'
"They looked at me, that man and woman,' speechless with amazement.
I took the few thousand francs from out of my pocket. Wretched-looking
money from every country. Pennies and gold pieces all mixed together.
Then I asked:
"'What is your decision?'
"Madame Chouquet spoke first. 'Well, since it is the dying woman's wish,
it seems to me impossible to refuse it.'
"Her husband said, in a shamefaced manner: 'We could buy something for
our children with it.'
"I answered dryly: 'As you wish.'
"He replied: 'Well, give it to us anyhow, since she commissioned you to
do so; we will find a way to put it to some good purpose.'
"I gave them the money, bowed and left.
"The next day Chouquet came to me and said brusquely:
"'That woman left her wagon here--what have you done with it?'
"'Nothing; take it if you wish.'
"'It's just what I wanted,' he added, and walked off. I called him back
"'She also left her old horse and two dogs. Don't you need them?'
"He stared at me surprised: 'Well, no! Really, what would I do with
"'Dispose of them as you like.'
"He laughed and held out his hand to me. I shook it. What could I do?
The doctor and the druggist in a country village must not be at enmity.
I have kept the dogs. The priest took the old horse. The wagon is
useful to Chouquet, and with the money he has bought railroad stock.
That is the only deep, sincere love that I have ever known in all my
The doctor looked up. The marquise, whose eyes were full of tears,
sighed and said:
"There is no denying the fact, only women know how to love."
Mme. Lefevre was a country dame, a widow, one of these half peasants,
with ribbons and bonnets with trimming on them, one of those persons who
clipped her words and put on great airs in public, concealing the soul of
a pretentious animal beneath a comical and bedizened exterior, just as
the country-folks hide their coarse red hands in ecru silk gloves.
She had a servant, a good simple peasant, called Rose.
The two women lived in a little house with green shutters by the side of
the high road in Normandy, in the centre of the country of Caux. As they
had a narrow strip of garden in front of the house, they grew some
One night someone stole twelve onions. As soon as Rose became aware of
the theft, she ran to tell madame, who came downstairs in her woolen
petticoat. It was a shame and a disgrace! They had robbed her, Mme.
Lefevre! As there were thieves in the country, they might come back.
And the two frightened women examined the foot tracks, talking, and
supposing all sorts of things.
"See, they went that way! They stepped on the wall, they jumped into the
And they became apprehensive for the future. How could they sleep in
The news of the theft spread. The neighbor came, making examinations and
discussing the matter in their turn, while the two women explained to
each newcomer what they had observed and their opinion.
A farmer who lived near said to them:
"You ought to have a dog."
That is true, they ought to have a dog, if it were only to give the
alarm. Not a big dog. Heavens! what would they do with a big dog? He
would eat their heads off. But a little dog (in Normandy they say
"quin"), a little puppy who would bark.
As soon as everyone had left, Mme. Lefevre discussed this idea of a dog
for some time. On reflection she made a thousand objections, terrified
at the idea of a bowl full of soup, for she belonged to that race of
parsimonious country women who always carry centimes in their pocket to
give alms in public to beggars on the road and to put in the Sunday
Rose, who loved animals, gave her opinion and defended it shrewdly. So
it was decided that they should have a dog, a very small dog.
They began to look for one, but could find nothing but big dogs, who
would devour enough soup to make one shudder. The grocer of Rolleville
had one, a tiny one, but he demanded two francs to cover the cost of
sending it. Mme. Lefevre declared that she would feed a "quin," but
would not buy one.
The baker, who knew all that occurred, brought in his wagon one morning a
strange little yellow animal, almost without paws, with the body of a
crocodile, the head of a fox, and a curly tail--a true cockade, as big as
all the rest of him. Mme. Lefevre thought this common cur that cost
nothing was very handsome. Rose hugged it and asked what its name was.
"Pierrot," replied the baker.
The dog was installed in an old soap box and they gave it some water
which it drank. They then offered it a piece of bread. He ate it. Mme.
Lefevre, uneasy, had an idea.
"When he is thoroughly accustomed to the house we can let him run. He
can find something to eat, roaming about the country."
They let him run, in fact, which did not prevent him from being famished.
Also he never barked except to beg for food, and then he barked
Anyone might come into the garden, and Pierrot would run up and fawn on
each one in turn and not utter a bark.
Mme. Lefevre, however, had become accustomed to the animal. She even
went so far as to like it and to give it from time to time pieces of
bread soaked in the gravy on her plate.
But she had not once thought of the dog tax, and when they came to
collect eight francs--eight francs, madame--for this puppy who never even
barked, she almost fainted from the shock.
It was immediately decided that they must get rid of Pierrot. No one
wanted him. Every one declined to take him for ten leagues around. Then
they resolved, not knowing what else to do, to make him "piquer du mas."
"Piquer du mas" means to eat chalk. When one wants to get rid of a dog
they make him "Piquer du mas."
In the midst of an immense plain one sees a kind of hut, or rather a very
small roof standing above the ground. This is the entrance to the clay
pit. A big perpendicular hole is sunk for twenty metres underground and
ends in a series of long subterranean tunnels.
Once a year they go down into the quarry at the time they fertilize the
ground. The rest of the year it serves as a cemetery for condemned dogs,
and as one passed by this hole plaintive howls, furious or despairing
barks and lamentable appeals reach one's ear.
Sportsmen's dogs and sheep dogs flee in terror from this mournful place,
and when one leans over it one perceives a disgusting odor of
Frightful dramas are enacted in the darkness.
When an animal has suffered down there for ten or twelve days, nourished
on the foul remains of his predecessors, another animal, larger and more
vigorous, is thrown into the hole. There they are, alone, starving, with
glittering eyes. They watch each other, follow each other, hesitate in
doubt. But hunger impels them; they attack each other, fight desperately
for some time, and the stronger eats the weaker, devours him alive.
When it was decided to make Pierrot "piquer du mas" they looked round for
an executioner. The laborer who mended the road demanded six sous to
take the dog there. That seemed wildly exorbitant to Mme. Lefevre. The
neighbor's hired boy wanted five sous; that was still too much. So Rose
having observed that they had better carry it there themselves, as in
that way it would not be brutally treated on the way and made to suspect
its fate, they resolved to go together at twilight.
They offered the dog that evening a good dish of soup with a piece of
butter in it. He swallowed every morsel of it, and as he wagged his tail
with delight Rose put him in her apron.
They walked quickly, like thieves, across the plain. They soon perceived
the chalk pit and walked up to it. Mme. Lefevre leaned over to hear if
any animal was moaning. No, there were none there; Pierrot would be
alone. Then Rose, who was crying, kissed the dog and threw him into the
chalk pit, and they both leaned over, listening.
First they heard a dull sound, then the sharp, bitter, distracting cry of
an animal in pain, then a succession of little mournful cries, then
despairing appeals, the cries of a dog who is entreating, his head raised
toward the opening of the pit.
He yelped, oh, how he yelped!
They were filled with remorse, with terror, with a wild inexplicable
fear, and ran away from the spot. As Rose went faster Mme. Lefevre
cried: "Wait for me, Rose, wait for me!"
At night they were haunted by frightful nightmares.
Mme. Lefevre dreamed she was sitting down at table to eat her soup, but
when she uncovered the tureen Pierrot was in it. He jumped out and bit
She awoke and thought she heard him yelping still. She listened, but she
She fell asleep again and found herself on a high road, an endless road,
which she followed. Suddenly in the middle of the road she perceived a
basket, a large farmer's basket, lying there, and this basket frightened
She ended by opening it, and Pierrot, concealed in it, seized her hand
and would not let go. She ran away in terror with the dog hanging to the
end of her arm, which he held between his teeth.
At daybreak she arose, almost beside herself, and ran to the chalk pit.
He was yelping, yelping still; he had yelped all night. She began to sob
and called him by all sorts of endearing names. He answered her with all
the tender inflections of his dog's voice.
Then she wanted to see him again, promising herself that she would give
him a good home till he died.
She ran to the chalk digger, whose business it was to excavate for chalk,
and told him the situation. The man listened, but said nothing. When
she had finished he said:
"You want your dog? That will cost four francs." She gave a jump. All
her grief was at an end at once.
"Four francs!" she said. "You would die of it! Four francs!"
"Do you suppose I am going to bring my ropes, my windlass, and set it up,
and go down there with my boy and let myself be bitten, perhaps, by your
cursed dog for the pleasure of giving it back to you? You should not
have thrown it down there."
She walked away, indignant. Four francs!
As soon as she entered the house she called Rose and told her of the
quarryman's charges. Rose, always resigned, repeated:
"Four francs! That is a good deal of money, madame." Then she added:
"If we could throw him something to eat, the poor dog, so he will not die
Mme. Lefevre approved of this and was quite delighted. So they set out
again with a big piece of bread and butter.
They cut it in mouthfuls, which they threw down one after the other,
speaking by turns to Pierrot. As soon as the dog finished one piece he
yelped for the next.
They returned that evening and the next day and every day. But they made
only one trip.
One morning as they were just letting fall the first mouthful they
suddenly heard a tremendous barking in the pit. There were two dogs
there. Another had been thrown in, a large dog.
"Pierrot!" cried Rose. And Pierrot yelped and yelped. Then they began
to throw down some food. But each time they noticed distinctly a
terrible struggle going on, then plaintive cries from Pierrot, who had
been bitten by his companion, who ate up everything as he was the
It was in vain that they specified, saying:
"That is for you, Pierrot." Pierrot evidently got nothing.
The two women, dumfounded, looked at each other and Mme. Lefevre said in
a sour tone:
"I could not feed all the dogs they throw in there! We must give it up."
And, suffocating at the thought of all the dogs living at her expense,
she went away, even carrying back what remained of the bread, which she
ate as she walked along.
Rose followed her, wiping her eyes on the corner of her blue apron.
A NORMANDY JOKE
It was a wedding procession that was coming along the road between the
tall trees that bounded the farms and cast their shadow on the road.
At the head were the bride and groom, then the family, then the invited
guests, and last of all the poor of the neighborhood. The village
urchins who hovered about the narrow road like flies ran in and out of
the ranks or climbed up the trees to see it better.
The bridegroom was a good-looking young fellow, Jean Patu, the richest
farmer in the neighborhood, but he was above all things, an ardent
sportsman who seemed to take leave of his senses in order to satisfy that
passion, and who spent large sums on his dogs, his keepers, his ferrets
and his guns. The bride, Rosalie Roussel, had been courted by all the
likely young fellows in the district, for they all thought her handsome
and they knew that she would have a good dowry. But she had chosen Patu;
partly, perhaps, because she liked him better than she did the others,
but still more, like a careful Normandy girl, because he had more crown
As they entered the white gateway of the husband's farm, forty shots
resounded without their seeing those who fired, as they were hidden in
the ditches. The noise seemed to please the men, who were slouching
along heavily in their best clothes, and Patu left his wife, and running
up to a farm servant whom he perceived behind a tree, took his gun and
fired a shot himself, as frisky as a young colt. Then they went on,
beneath the apple trees which were heavy with fruit, through the high
grass and through the midst of the calves, who looked at them with their
great eyes, got up slowly and remained standing, with their muzzles
turned toward the wedding party.
The men became serious when they came within measurable distance of the
wedding dinner. Some of them, the rich ones, had on tall, shining silk
hats, which seemed altogether out of place there; others had old head-
coverings with a long nap, which might have been taken for moleskin,
while the humblest among them wore caps. All the women had on shawls,
which they wore loosely on their back, holding the tips ceremoniously
under their arms. They were red, parti-colored, flaming shawls, and
their brightness seemed to astonish the black fowls on the dung-heap, the
ducks on the side of the pond and the pigeons on the thatched roofs.
The extensive farm buildings seemed to be waiting there at the end of
that archway of apple trees, and a sort of vapor came out of open door
and windows and an almost overpowering odor of eatables was exhaled from
the vast building, from all its openings and from its very walls. The
string of guests extended through the yard; but when the foremost of them
reached the house, they broke the chain and dispersed, while those behind
were still coming in at the open gate. The ditches were now lined with
urchins and curious poor people, and the firing did not cease, but came
from every side at once, and a cloud of smoke, and that odor which has
the same intoxicating effect as absinthe, blended with the atmosphere.
The women were shaking their dresses outside the door, to get rid of the
dust, were undoing their cap-strings and pulling their shawls over their
arms, and then they went into the house to lay them aside altogether for
the time. The table was laid in the great kitchen that would hold a
hundred persons; they sat down to dinner at two o'clock; and at eight
o'clock they were still eating, and the men, in their shirt-sleeves, with
their waistcoats unbuttoned and with red faces, were swallowing down the
food and drink as if they had been whirlpools. The cider sparkled
merrily, clear and golden in the large glasses, by the side of the dark,
blood-colored wine, and between every dish they made a "hole," the
Normandy hole, with a glass of brandy which inflamed the body and put
foolish notions into the head. Low jokes were exchanged across the table
until the whole arsenal of peasant wit was exhausted. For the last
hundred years the same broad stories had served for similar occasions,
and, although every one knew them, they still hit the mark and made both
rows of guests roar with laughter.
At one end of the table four young fellows, who were neighbors, were
preparing some practical jokes for the newly married couple, and they
seemed to have got hold of a good one by the way they whispered and
laughed, and suddenly one of them, profiting by a moment of silence,
exclaimed: "The poachers will have a good time to-night, with this moon!
I say, Jean, you will not be looking at the moon, will you?" The
bridegroom turned to him quickly and replied: "Only let them come, that's
all!" But the other young fellow began to laugh, and said: "I do not
think you will pay much attention to them!"
The whole table was convulsed with laughter, so that the glasses shook,
but the bridegroom became furious at the thought that anybody would
profit by his wedding to come and poach on his land, and repeated:
"I only say-just let them come!"
Then there was a flood of talk with a double meaning which made the bride
blush somewhat, although she was trembling with expectation; and when
they had emptied the kegs of brandy they all went to bed. The young
couple went into their own room, which was on the ground floor, as most
rooms in farmhouses are. As it was very warm, they opened the window and
closed the shutters. A small lamp in bad taste, a present from the
bride's father, was burning on the chest of drawers, and the bed stood
ready to receive the young people.
The young woman had already taken off her wreath and her dress, and she
was in her petticoat, unlacing her boots, while Jean was finishing his
cigar and looking at her out of the corners of his eyes. Suddenly, with
a brusque movement, like a man who is about to set to work, he took off
his coat. She had already taken off her boots, and was now pulling off
her stockings, and then she said to him: "Go and hide yourself behind the
curtains while I get into bed."
He seemed as if he were about to refuse; but at last he did as she asked
him, and in a moment she unfastened her petticoat, which slipped down,
fell at her feet and lay on the ground. She left it there, stepped over
it in her loose chemise and slipped into the bed, whose springs creaked
beneath her weight. He immediately went up to the bed, and, stooping
over his wife, he sought her lips, which she hid beneath the pillow, when
a shot was heard in the distance, in the direction of the forest of
Rapees, as he thought.
He raised himself anxiously, with his heart beating, and running to the
window, he opened the shutters. The full moon flooded the yard with
yellow light, and the reflection of the apple trees made black shadows at
their feet, while in the distance the fields gleamed, covered with the
ripe corn. But as he was leaning out, listening to every sound in the
still night, two bare arms were put round his neck, and his wife
whispered, trying to pull him back: "Do leave them alone; it has nothing
to do with you. Come to bed."
He turned round, put his arms round her, and drew her toward him, but
just as he was laying her on the 'bed, which yielded beneath her weight,
they heard another report, considerably nearer this time, and Jean,
giving way to his tumultuous rage, swore aloud: "Damn it! They will
think I do not go out and see what it is because of you! Wait, wait a
few minutes!" He put on his shoes again, took down his gun, which was
always hanging within reach against the wall, and, as his wife threw
herself on her knees in her terror, imploring him not to go, he hastily
freed himself, ran to the window and jumped into the yard.
She waited one hour, two hours, until daybreak, but her husband did not
return. Then she lost her head, aroused the house, related how angry
Jean was, and said that he had gone after the poachers, and immediately
all the male farm-servants, even the boys, went in search of their
master. They found him two leagues from the farm, tied hand and foot,
half dead with rage, his gun broken, his trousers turned inside out, and
with three dead hares hanging round his neck, and a placard on his chest
with these words: "Who goes on the chase loses his place."
In later years, when he used to tell this story of his wedding night,
he usually added: "Ah! as far as a joke went it was a good joke. They
caught me in a snare, as if I had been a rabbit, the dirty brutes, and
they shoved my head into a bag. But if I can only catch them some day
they had better look out for themselves!"
That is how they amuse themselves in Normandy on a wedding day.
We had just left Rouen and were galloping along the road to Jumieges.
The light carriage flew along across the level country. Presently the
horse slackened his pace to walk up the hill of Cantelen.
One sees there one of the most magnificent views in the world. Behind us
lay Rouen, the city of churches, with its Gothic belfries, sculptured
like ivory trinkets; before us Saint Sever, the manufacturing suburb,
whose thousands of smoking chimneys rise amid the expanse of sky,
opposite the thousand sacred steeples of the old city.
On the one hand the spire of the cathedral, the highest of human
monuments, on the other the engine of the power-house, its rival, and
almost as high, and a metre higher than the tallest pyramid in Egypt.
Before us wound the Seine, with its scattered islands and bordered by
white banks, covered with a forest on the right and on the left immense
meadows, bounded by another forest yonder in the distance.
Here and there large ships lay at anchor along the banks of the wide
river. Three enormous steam boats were starting out, one behind the
other, for Havre, and a chain of boats, a bark, two schooners and a brig,
were going upstream to Rouen, drawn by a little tug that emitted a cloud
of black smoke.
My companion, a native of the country, did not glance at this wonderful
landscape, but he smiled continually; he seemed to be amused at his
thoughts. Suddenly he cried:
"Ah, you will soon see something comical--Father Matthew's chapel. That
is a sweet morsel, my boy."
I looked at him in surprise. He continued:
"I will give you a whiff of Normandy that will stay by you. Father
Matthew is the handsomest Norman in the province and his chapel is one of
the wonders of the world, nothing more nor less. But I will first give
you a few words of explanation.
"Father Matthew, who is also called Father 'La Boisson,' is an old
sergeant-major who has come back to his native land. He combines in
admirable proportions, making a perfect whole, the humbug of the old
soldier and the sly roguery of the Norman. On his return to Normandy,
thanks to influence and incredible cleverness, he was made doorkeeper of
a votive chapel, a chapel dedicated to the Virgin and frequented chiefly
by young women who have gone astray . . . . He composed and had
painted a special prayer to his 'Good Virgin.' This prayer is a
masterpiece of unintentional irony, of Norman wit, in which jest is
blended with fear of the saint and with the superstitious fear of the
secret influence of something. He has not much faith in his protectress,
but he believes in her a little through prudence, and he is considerate
of her through policy.
"This is how this wonderful prayer begins:
"'Our good Madame Virgin Mary, natural protectress of girl mothers in
this land and all over the world, protect your servant who erred in a
moment of forgetfulness . . .'
"It ends thus:
"'Do not forget me, especially when you are with your holy spouse, and
intercede with God the Father that he may grant me a good husband, like
"This prayer, which was suppressed by the clergy of the district, is sold
by him privately, and is said to be very efficacious for those who recite
it with unction.
"In fact he talks of the good Virgin as the valet de chambre of a
redoubted prince might talk of his master who confided in him all his
little private secrets. He knows a number of amusing anecdotes at his
expense which he tells confidentially among friends as they sit over
"But you will see for yourself.
"As the fees coming from the Virgin did not appear sufficient to him, he
added to the main figure a little business in saints. He has them all,
or nearly all. There was not room enough in the chapel, so he stored
them in the wood-shed and brings them forth as soon as the faithful ask
for them. He carved these little wooden statues himself--they are
comical in the extreme--and painted them all bright green one year when
they were painting his house. You know that saints cure diseases, but
each saint has his specialty, and you must not confound them or make any
blunders. They are as jealous of each other as mountebanks.
"In order that they may make no mistake, the old women come and consult
"'For diseases of the ear which saint is the best?'
"'Why, Saint Osyme is good and Saint Pamphilius is not bad.' But that is
"As Matthew has some time to spare, he drinks; but he drinks like a
professional, with conviction, so much so that he is intoxicated
regularly every evening. He is drunk, but he is aware of it. He is so
well aware of it that he notices each day his exact degree of
intoxication. That is his chief occupation; the chapel is a secondary
"And he has invented--listen and catch on--he has invented the
"There is no such instrument, but Matthew's observations are as precise
as those of a mathematician. You may hear him repeating incessantly:
'Since Monday I have had more than forty-five,' or else 'I was between
fifty-two and fifty-eight,' or else 'I had at least sixty-six to
seventy,' or 'Hullo, cheat, I thought I was in the fifties and here I
find I had had seventy-five!'
"He never makes a mistake.
"He declares that he never reached his limit, but as he acknowledges that
his observations cease to be exact when he has passed ninety, one cannot
depend absolutely on the truth of that statement.
"When Matthew acknowledges that he has passed ninety, you may rest
assured that he is blind drunk.
"On these occasions his wife, Melie, another marvel, flies into a fury.
She waits for him at the door of the house, and as he enters she roars at
"'So there you are, slut, hog, giggling sot!'
"Then Matthew, who is not laughing any longer, plants himself opposite
her and says in a severe tone:
"'Be still, Melie; this is no time to talk; wait till to-morrow.'
"If she keeps on shouting at him, he goes up to her and says in a shaky
"'Don't bawl any more. I have had about ninety; I am not counting any
more. Look out, I am going to hit you!'
"Then Melie beats a retreat.
"If, on the following day, she reverts to the subject, he laughs in her
face and says:
"'Come, come! We have said enough. It is past. As long as I have not
reached my limit there is no harm done. But if I go, past that I will
allow you to correct me, my word on it!'"
We had reached the top of the hill. The road entered the delightful
forest of Roumare.
Autumn, marvellous autumn, blended its gold and purple with the remaining
traces of verdure. We passed through Duclair. Then, instead of going on
to Jumieges, my friend turned to the left and, taking a crosscut, drove
in among the trees.
And presently from the top of a high hill we saw again the magnificent
valley of the Seine and the winding river beneath us.
At our right a very small slate-covered building, with a bell tower as
large as a sunshade, adjoined a pretty house with green Venetian blinds,
and all covered with honeysuckle and roses.
"Here are some friends!" cried a big voice, and Matthew appeared on the
threshold. He was a man about sixty, thin and with a goatee and long,
My friend shook him by the hand and introduced me, and Matthew took us
into a clean kitchen, which served also as a dining-room. He said:
"I have no elegant apartment, monsieur. I do not like to get too far
away from the food. The saucepans, you see, keep me company." Then,
turning to my friend:
"Why did you come on Thursday? You know quite well that this is the day
I consult my Guardian Saint. I cannot go out this afternoon."
And running to the door, he uttered a terrific roar: "Melie!" which must
have startled the sailors in the ships along the stream in the valley