Part 26 out of 31
Melie did not reply.
Then Matthew winked his eye knowingly.
"She is not pleased with me, you see, because yesterday I was in the
My friend began to laugh. "In the nineties, Matthew! How did you manage
"I will tell you," said Matthew. "Last year I found only twenty rasieres
(an old dry measure) of apricots. There are no more, but those are the
only things to make cider of. So I made some, and yesterday I tapped the
barrel. Talk of nectar! That was nectar. You shall tell me what you
think of it. Polyte was here, and we sat down and drank a glass and
another without being satisfied (one could go on drinking it until to-
morrow), and at last, with glass after glass, I felt a chill at my
stomach. I said to Polyte: 'Supposing we drink a glass of cognac to warm
ourselves?' He agreed. But this cognac, it sets you on fire, so that we
had to go back to the cider. But by going from chills to heat and heat
to chills, I saw that I was in the nineties. Polyte was not far from his
The door opened and Melie appeared. At once, before bidding us good-day,
"Great hog, you have both of you reached your limit!"
"Don't say that, Melie; don't say that," said Matthew, getting angry.
"I have never reached my limit."
They gave us a delicious luncheon outside beneath two lime trees, beside
the little chapel and overlooking the vast landscape. And Matthew told
us, with a mixture of humor and unexpected credulity, incredible stories
We had drunk a good deal of delicious cider, sparkling and sweet, fresh
and intoxicating, which he preferred to all other drinks, and were
smoking our pipes astride our chairs when two women appeared.
They were old, dried up and bent. After greeting us they asked for Saint
Blanc. Matthew winked at us as he replied:
"I will get him for you." And he disappeared in his wood shed. He
remained there fully five minutes. Then he came back with an expression
of consternation. He raised his hands.
"I don't know where he is. I cannot find him. I am quite sure that I
had him." Then making a speaking trumpet of his hands, he roared once
"What's the matter?" replied his wife from the end of the garden.
"Where's Saint Blanc? I cannot find him in the wood shed."
Then Melie explained it this way:
"Was not that the one you took last week to stop up a hole in the rabbit
Matthew gave a start.
"By thunder, that may be!" Then turning to the women, he said:
They followed him. We did the same, almost choking with suppressed
Saint Blanc was indeed stuck into the earth like an ordinary stake,
covered with mud and dirt, and forming a corner for the rabbit hutch.
As soon as they perceived him, the two women fell on their knees, crossed
themselves and began to murmur an "Oremus." But Matthew darted toward
"Wait," he said, "you are in the mud; I will get you a bundle of straw."
He went to fetch the straw and made them a priedieu. Then, looking at
his muddy saint and doubtless afraid of bringing discredit on his
business, he added:
"I will clean him off a little for you."
He took a pail of water and a brush and began to scrub the wooden image
vigorously, while the two old women kept on praying.
When he had finished he said:
"Now he is all right." And he took us back to the house to drink another
As he was carrying the glass to his lips he stopped and said in a rather
"All the same, when I put Saint Blanc out with the rabbits I thought he
would not make any more money. For two years no one had asked for him.
But the saints, you see, they are never out of date."
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 11.
By Guy de Maupassant
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
THE ACCURSED BREAD
THE DIARY OF A MAD MAN
THE PENGUINS ROCK
Mme. Oreille was a very economical woman; she knew the value of a
centime, and possessed a whole storehouse of strict principles with
regard to the multiplication of money, so that her cook found the
greatest difficulty in making what the servants call their market-penny,
and her husband was hardly allowed any pocket money at all. They were,
however, very comfortably off, and had no children; but it really pained
Mme. Oreille to see any money spent; it was like tearing at her
heartstrings when she had to take any of those nice crown-pieces out of
her pocket; and whenever she had to spend anything, no matter how
necessary it might be, she slept badly the next night.
Oreille was continually saying to his wife:
"You really might be more liberal, as we have no children, and never
spend our income."
"You don't know what may happen," she used to reply. "It is better to
have too much than too little."
She was a little woman of about forty, very active, rather hasty,
wrinkled, very neat and tidy, and with a very short temper.
Her husband frequently complained of all the privations she made him
endure; some of them were particularly painful to him, as they touched
He was one of the head clerks in the War Office, and only stayed on there
in obedience to his wife's wish, to increase their income which they did
not nearly spend.
For two years he had always come to the office with the same old patched
umbrella, to the great amusement of his fellow clerks. At last he got
tired of their jokes, and insisted upon his wife buying him a new one.
She bought one for eight francs and a half, one of those cheap articles
which large houses sell as an advertisement. When the men in the office
saw the article, which was being sold in Paris by the thousand, they
began their jokes again, and Oreille had a dreadful time of it. They
even made a song about it, which he heard from morning till night all
over the immense building.
Oreille was very angry, and peremptorily told his wife to get him a new
one, a good silk one, for twenty francs, and to bring him the bill, so
that he might see that it was all right.
She bought him one for eighteen francs, and said, getting red with anger
as she gave it to her husband:
"This will last you for five years at least."
Oreille felt quite triumphant, and received a small ovation at the office
with his new acquisition.
When he went home in the evening his wife said to him, looking at the
"You should not leave it fastened up with the elastic; it will very
likely cut the silk. You must take care of it, for I shall not buy you a
new one in a hurry."
She took it, unfastened it, and remained dumfounded with astonishment and
rage; in the middle of the silk there was a hole as big as a six-penny-
piece; it had been made with the end of a cigar.
"What is that?" she screamed.
Her husband replied quietly, without looking at it:
"What is it? What do you mean?"
She was choking with rage, and could hardly get out a word.
"You--you--have--burned--your umbrella! Why--you must be--mad! Do you
wish to ruin us outright?"
He turned round, and felt that he was growing pale.
"What are you talking about?"
"I say that you have burned your umbrella. Just look here."
And rushing at him, as if she were going to beat him, she violently
thrust the little circular burned hole under his nose.
He was so utterly struck dumb at the sight of it that he could only
"What-what is it? How should I know? I have done nothing, I will swear.
I don't know what is the matter with the umbrella."
"You have been playing tricks with it at the office; you have been
playing the fool and opening it, to show it off!" she screamed.
"I only opened it once, to let them see what a nice one it was, that is
all, I swear."
But she shook with rage, and got up one of those conjugal scenes which
make a peaceable man dread the domestic hearth more than a battlefield
where bullets are raining.
She mended it with a piece of silk cut out of the old umbrella, which was
of a different color, and the next day Oreille went off very humbly with
the mended article in his hand. He put it into a cupboard, and thought
no more of it than of some unpleasant recollection.
But he had scarcely got home that evening when his wife took the umbrella
from him, opened it, and nearly had a fit when she saw what had befallen
it, for the disaster was irreparable. It was covered with small holes,
which evidently proceeded from burns, just as if some one had emptied the
ashes from a lighted pipe on to it. It was done for utterly,
She looked at it without a word, in too great a passion to be able to say
anything. He, also, when he saw the damage, remained almost dumfounded,
in a state of frightened consternation.
They looked at each other, then he looked at the floor; and the next
moment she threw the useless article at his head, screaming out in a
transport of the most violent rage, for she had recovered her voice by
"Oh! you brute! you brute! You did it on purpose, but I will pay you out
for it. You shall not have another."
And then the scene began again, and after the storm had raged for an
hour, he at last was able to explain himself. He declared that he could
not understand it at all, and that it could only proceed from malice or
A ring at the bell saved him; it was a friend whom they were expecting to
Mme. Oreille submitted the case to him. As for buying a new umbrella,
that was out of the question; her husband should not have another.
The friend very sensibly said that in that case his clothes would be
spoiled, and they were certainly worth more than the umbrella. But the
little woman, who was still in a rage, replied:
"Very well, then, when it rains he may have the kitchen umbrella, for I
will not give him a new silk one."
Oreille utterly rebelled at such an idea.
"All right," he said; "then I shall resign my post. I am not going to
the office with the kitchen umbrella."
The friend interposed.
"Have this one re-covered; it will not cost much."
But Mme. Oreille, being in the temper that she was, said:
"It will cost at least eight francs to re-cover it. Eight and eighteen
are twenty-six. Just fancy, twenty-six francs for an umbrella! It is
The friend, who was only a poor man of the middle classes, had an
"Make your fire assurance pay for it. The companies pay for all articles
that are burned, as long as the damage has been done in your own house."
On hearing this advice the little woman calmed down immediately, and
then, after a moment's reflection, she said to her husband:
"To-morrow, before going to your office, you will go to the Maternelle
Assurance Company, show them the state your umbrella is in, and make them
pay for the damage."
M. Oreille fairly jumped, he was so startled at the proposal.
"I would not do it for my life! It is eighteen francs lost, that is all.
It will not ruin us."
The next morning he took a walking-stick when he went out, and, luckily,
it was a fine day.
Left at home alone, Mme. Oreille could not get over the loss of her
eighteen francs by any means. She had put the umbrella on the dining-
room table, and she looked at it without being able to come to any
Every moment she thought of the assurance company, but she did not dare
to encounter the quizzical looks of the gentlemen who might receive her,
for she was very timid before people, and blushed at a mere nothing, and
was embarrassed when she had to speak to strangers.
But the regret at the loss of the eighteen francs pained her as if she
had been wounded. She tried not to think of it any more, and yet every
moment the recollection of the loss struck her painfully. What was she
to do, however? Time went on, and she could not decide; but suddenly,
like all cowards, on making a resolve, she became determined.
"I will go, and we will see what will happen."
But first of all she was obliged to prepare the umbrella so that the
disaster might be complete, and the reason of it quite evident. She took
a match from the mantelpiece, and between the ribs she burned a hole as
big as the palm of her hand; then she delicately rolled it up, fastened
it with the elastic band, put on her bonnet and shawl, and went quickly
toward the Rue de Rivoli, where the assurance office was.
But the nearer she got, the slower she walked. What was she going to
say, and what reply would she get?
She looked at the numbers of the houses; there were still twenty-eight.
That was all right, so she had time to consider, and she walked slower
and slower. Suddenly she saw a door on which was a large brass plate
with "La Maternelle Fire Assurance Office" engraved on it. Already! She
waited a moment, for she felt nervous and almost ashamed; then she walked
past, came back, walked past again, and came back again.
At last she said to herself:
"I must go in, however, so I may as well do it sooner as later."
She could not help noticing, however, how her heart beat as she entered.
She went into an enormous room with grated doors all round it, and above
them little openings at which a man's head appeared, and as a gentleman
carrying a number of papers passed her, she stopped him and said timidly:
"I beg your pardon, monsieur, but can you tell me where I must apply for
payment for anything that has been accidentally burned?"
He replied in a sonorous voice:
"The first door on the left; that is the department you want."
This frightened her still more, and she felt inclined to run away, to put
in no claim, to sacrifice her eighteen francs. But the idea of that sum
revived her courage, and she went upstairs, out of breath, stopping at
almost every other step.
She knocked at a door which she saw on the first landing, and a clear
voice said, in answer:
She obeyed mechanically, and found herself in a large room where three
solemn gentlemen, all with a decoration in their buttonholes, were
One of them asked her: "What do you want, madame?"
She could hardly get out her words, but stammered: "I have come--I have
come on account of an accident, something--".
He very politely pointed out a seat to her,
"If you will kindly sit down I will attend to you in a moment."
And, returning to the other two, he went on with the conversation.
"The company, gentlemen, does not consider that it is under any
obligation to you for more than four hundred thousand francs, and we can
pay no attention to your claim to the further sum of a hundred thousand,
which you wish to make us pay. Besides that, the surveyor's valuation--"
One of the others interrupted him:
"That is quite enough, monsieur; the law courts will decide between us,
and we have nothing further to do than to take our leave." And they went
out after mutual ceremonious bows.
Oh! if she could only have gone away with them, how gladly she would have
done it; she would have run away and given up everything. But it was too
late, for the gentleman came back, and said, bowing:
"What can I do for you, madame?"
She could scarcely speak, but at last she managed to say:
"I have come-for this."
The manager looked at the object which she held out to him in mute
With trembling fingers she tried to undo the elastic, and succeeding,
after several attempts, she hastily opened the damaged remains of the
"It looks to me to be in a very bad state of health," he said
"It cost me twenty francs," she said, with some hesitation.
He seemed astonished. "Really! As much as that?"
"Yes, it was a capital article, and I wanted you to see the condition it
"Yes, yes, I see; very well. But I really do not understand what it can
have to do with me."
She began to feel uncomfortable; perhaps this company did not pay for
such small articles, and she said:
"But--it is burned."
He could not deny it.
"I see that very well," he replied.
She remained open-mouthed, not knowing what to say next; then, suddenly
recollecting that she had left out the main thing, she said hastily:
"I am Mme. Oreille; we are assured in La Maternelle, and I have come to
claim the value of this damage."
"I only want you to have it re-covered," she added quickly, fearing a
The manager was rather embarrassed, and said: "But, really, madame, we do
not sell umbrellas; we cannot undertake such kinds of repairs."
The little woman felt her courage reviving; she was not going to give up
without a struggle; she was not even afraid any more, and said:
"I only want you to pay me the cost of repairing it; I can quite well get
it done myself."
The gentleman seemed rather confused.
"Really, madame, it is such a very small matter! We are never asked to
give compensation for such trivial losses. You must allow that we cannot
make good pocket-handkerchiefs, gloves, brooms, slippers, all the small
articles which are every day exposed to the chances of being burned."
She got red in the face, and felt inclined to fly into a rage.
"But, monsieur, last December one of our chimneys caught fire, and caused
at least five hundred francs' damage; M. Oreille made no claim on the
company, and so it is only just that it should pay for my umbrella now."
The manager, guessing that she was telling a lie, said, with a smile:
"You must acknowledge, madame, that it is very surprising that M. Oreille
should have asked no compensation for damages amounting to five hundred
francs, and should now claim five or six francs for mending an umbrella."
She was not the least put out, and replied:
"I beg your pardon, monsieur, the five hundred francs affected M.
Oreille's pocket, whereas this damage, amounting to eighteen francs,
concerns Mme. Oreille's pocket only, which is a totally different
As he saw that he had no chance of getting rid of her, and that he would
only be wasting his time, he said resignedly:
"Will you kindly tell me how the damage was done?"
She felt that she had won the victory, and said:
"This is how it happened, monsieur: In our hall there is a bronze stick
and umbrella stand, and the other day, when I came in, I put my umbrella
into it. I must tell you that just above there is a shelf for the
candlesticks and matches. I put out my hand, took three or four matches,
and struck one, but it missed fire, so I struck another, which ignited,
but went out immediately, and a third did the same."
The manager interrupted her to make a joke.
"I suppose they were government matches, then?"
She did not understand him, and went on:
"Very likely. At any rate, the fourth caught fire, and I lit my candle,
and went into my room to go to bed; but in a quarter of an hour I fancied
that I smelt something burning, and I have always been terribly afraid of
fire. If ever we have an accident it will not be my fault, I assure you.
I am terribly nervous since our chimney was on fire, as I told you; so I
got up, and hunted about everywhere, sniffing like a dog after game, and
at last I noticed that my umbrella was burning. Most likely a match had
fallen between the folds and burned it. You can see how it has damaged
The manager had taken his cue, and asked her: "What do you estimate the
She did not know what to say, as she was not certain what value to put on
it, but at last she replied:
"Perhaps you had better get it done yourself. I will leave it to you."
He, however, naturally refused.
"No, madame, I cannot do that. Tell me the amount of your claim, that is
all I want to know."
"Well, I think that--Look here, monsieur, I do not want to make any
money out of you, so I will tell you what we will do. I will take my
umbrella to the maker, who will re-cover it in good, durable silk, and I
will bring the bill to you. Will that suit you, monsieur?"
"Perfectly, madame; we will settle it so. Here is a note for the
cashier, who will repay you whatever it costs you."
He gave Mme. Oreille a slip of paper, who took it, got up and went out,
thanking him, for she was in a hurry to escape lest he should change his
She went briskly through the streets, looking out for a really good
umbrella maker, and when she found a shop which appeared to be a first-
class one, she went in, and said, confidently:
"I want this umbrella re-covered in silk, good silk. Use the very best
and strongest you have; I don't mind what it costs."
The coach for Havre was ready to leave Criquetot, and all the passengers
were waiting for their names to be called out, in the courtyard of the
Commercial Hotel kept by Monsieur Malandain, Jr.
It was a yellow wagon, mounted on wheels which had once been yellow, but
were now almost gray through the accumulation of mud. The front wheels
were very small, the back ones, high and fragile, carried the large body
of the vehicle, which was swollen like the belly of an animal. Three
white horses, with enormous heads and great round knees, were the first
things one noticed. They were harnessed ready to draw this coach, which
had something of the appearance of a monster in its massive structure.
The horses seemed already asleep in front of the strange vehicle.
The driver, Cesaire Horlaville, a little man with a big paunch, supple
nevertheless, through his constant habit of climbing over the wheels to
the top of the wagon, his face all aglow from exposure to the brisk air
of the plains, to rain and storms, and also from the use of brandy, his
eyes twitching from the effect of constant contact with wind and hail,
appeared in the doorway of the hotel, wiping his mouth on the back of his
hand. Large round baskets, full of frightened poultry, were standing in
front of the peasant women. Cesaire Horlaville took them one after the
other and packed them on the top of his coach; then more gently, he
loaded on those containing eggs; finally he tossed up from below several
little bags of grain, small packages wrapped in handkerchiefs, pieces of
cloth, or paper. Then he opened the back door, and drawing a list from
his pocket he called:
"Monsieur le cure de Gorgeville."
The priest advanced. He was a large, powerful, robust man with a red
face and a genial expression. He hitched up his cassock to lift his
foot, just as the women hold up their skirts, and climbed into the coach.
"The schoolmaster of Rollebose-les-Grinets."
The man hastened forward, tall, timid, wearing a long frock coat which
fell to his knees, and he in turn disappeared through the open door.
"Maitre Poiret, two seats."
Poiret approached, a tall, round-shouldered man, bent by the plow,
emaciated through abstinence, bony, with a skin dried by a sparing use of
water. His wife followed him, small and thin, like a tired animal,
carrying a large green umbrella in her hands.
"Maitre Rabot, two seats."
Rabot hesitated, being of an undecided nature. He asked:
"You mean me?"
The driver was going to answer with a jest, when Rabot dived head first
towards the door, pushed forward by a vigorous shove from his wife, a
tall, square woman with a large, round stomach like a barrel, and hands
as large as hams.
Rabot slipped into the wagon like a rat entering a hole.
A large peasant, heavier than an ox, made the springs bend, and was in
turn engulfed in the interior of the yellow chest.
Belhomme, tall and thin, came forward, his neck bent, his head hanging, a
handkerchief held to his ear as if he were suffering from a terrible
All these people wore the blue blouse over quaint and antique coats of a
black or greenish cloth, Sunday clothes which they would only uncover in
the streets of Havre. Their heads were covered by silk caps at high as
towers, the emblem of supreme elegance in the small villages of Normandy.
Cesaire Horlaville closed the door, climbed up on his box and snapped his
The three horses awoke and, tossing their heads, shook their bells.
The driver then yelling "Get up!" as loud as he could, whipped up his
horses. They shook themselves, and, with an effort, started off at a
slow, halting gait. And behind them came the coach, rattling its shaky
windows and iron springs, making a terrible clatter of hardware and
glass, while the passengers were tossed hither and thither like so many
At first all kept silent out of respect for the priest, that they might
not shock him. Being of a loquacious and genial disposition, he started
"Well, Maitre Caniveau," said he, "how are you getting along?"
The enormous farmer who, on account of his size, girth and stomach, felt
a bond of sympathy for the representative of the Church, answered with a
"Pretty well, Monsieur le cure, pretty well. And how are you?"
"Oh! I'm always well and healthy."
"And you, Maitre Poiret?" asked the abbe.
"Oh! I'd be all right only the colzas ain't a-goin' to give much this
year, and times are so hard that they are the only things worth while
"Well, what can you expect? Times are hard."
"Hub! I should say they were hard," sounded the rather virile voice of
Rabot's big consort.
As she was from a neighboring village, the priest only knew her by name.
"Is that you, Blondel?" he said.
"Yes, I'm the one that married Rabot."
Rabot, slender, timid, and self-satisfied, bowed smilingly, bending his
head forward as though to say: "Yes, I'm the Rabot whom Blondel married."
Suddenly Maitre Belhomme, still holding his handkerchief to his ear,
began groaning in a pitiful fashion. He was going "Oh-oh-oh!" and
stamping his foot in order to show his terrible suffering.
"You must have an awful toothache," said the priest.
The peasant stopped moaning for a minute and answered:
"No, Monsieur le cure, it is not the teeth. It's my ear-away down at the
bottom of my ear."
"Well, what have you got in your ear? A lump of wax?"
"I don't know whether it's wax; but I know that it is a bug, a big bug,
that crawled in while I was asleep in the haystack."
"A bug! Are you sure?"
"Am I sure? As sure as I am of heaven, Monsieur le cure! I can feel it
gnawing at the bottom of my ear! It's eating my head for sure! It's
eating my head! Oh-oh-oh!" And he began to stamp his foot again.
Great interest had been aroused among the spectators. Each one gave his
bit of advice. Poiret claimed that it was a spider, the teacher, thought
it might be a caterpillar. He had already seen such a thing once, at
Campemuret, in Orne, where he had been for six years. In this case the
caterpillar had gone through the head and out at the nose. But the man
remained deaf in that ear ever after, the drum having been pierced.
"It's more likely to be a worm," said the priest.
Maitre Belhomme, his head resting against the door, for he had been the
last one to enter, was still moaning.
"Oh--oh--oh! I think it must be an ant, a big ant--there it is biting
again. Oh, Monsieur le cure, how it hurts! how it hurts!"
"Have you seen the doctor?" asked Caniveau.
"I should say not!"
The fear of the doctor seemed to cure Belhomme. He straightened up
without, however, dropping his handkerchief.
"What! You have money for them, for those loafers? He would have come
once, twice, three times, four times, five times! That means two five-
franc pieces, two five-franc pieces, for sure. And what would he have
done, the loafer, tell me, what would he have done? Can you tell me?"
Caniveau was laughing.
"No, I don't know. Where are you going?"
"I am going to Havre, to see Chambrelan."
"Who is Chambrelan?"
"The healer, of course."
"The healer who cured my father."
"Yes, the healer who cured my father years ago."
"What was the matter with your father?"
"A draught caught him in the back, so that he couldn't move hand or
"Well, what did your friend Chambrelan do to him?"
"He kneaded his back with both hands as though he were making bread!
And he was all right in a couple of hours!"
Belhomme thought that Chambrelan must also have used some charm, but he
did not dare say so before the priest. Caniveau replied, laughing:
"Are you sure it isn't a rabbit that you have in your ear? He might have
taken that hole for his home. Wait, I'll make him run away."
Whereupon Caniveau, making a megaphone of his hands, began to mimic the
barking of hounds. He snapped, howled, growled, barked. And everybody
in the carriage began to roar, even the schoolmaster, who, as a rule,
never ever smiled.
However, as Belhomme seemed angry at their making fun of him, the priest
changed the conversation and turning to Rabot's big wife, said:
"You have a large family, haven't you?"
"Oh, yes, Monsieur le cure--and it's a pretty hard matter to bring them
Rabot agreed, nodding his head as though to say: "Oh, yes, it's a hard
thing to bring up!"
"How many children?"
She replied authoritatively in a strong, clear voice:
"Sixteen children, Monsieur le cure, fifteen of them by my husband!"
And Rabot smiled broadly, nodding his head. He was responsible for
fifteen, he alone, Rabot! His wife said so! Therefore there could be no
doubt about it. And he was proud!
And whose was the sixteenth? She didn't tell. It was doubtless the
first. Perhaps everybody knew, for no one was surprised. Even Caniveau
But Belhomme began to moan again:
"Oh-oh-oh! It's scratching about in the bottom of my ear! Oh, dear, oh,
The coach just then stopped at the Cafe Polyto. The priest said:
"If someone were to pour a little water into your ear, it might perhaps
drive it out. Do you want to try?"
"Sure! I am willing."
And everybody got out in order to witness the operation. The priest
asked for a bowl, a napkin and a glass of water, then he told the teacher
to hold the patient's head over on one side, and, as soon as the liquid
should have entered the ear, to turn his head over suddenly on the other
But Caniveau, who was already peering into Belhomme's ear to see if he
couldn't discover the beast, shouted:
"Gosh! What a mess! You'll have to clear that out, old man. Your
rabbit could never get through that; his feet would stick."
The priest in turn examined the passage and saw that it was too narrow
and too congested for him to attempt to expel the animal. It was the
teacher who cleared out this passage by means of a match and a bit of
cloth. Then, in the midst of the general excitement, the priest poured
into the passage half a glass of water, which trickled over the face
through the hair and down the neck of the patient. Then the schoolmaster
quickly twisted the head round over the bowl, as though he were trying to
unscrew it. A couple of drops dripped into the white bowl. All the
passengers rushed forward. No insect had come out.
However, Belhomme exclaimed: "I don't feel anything any more." The
priest triumphantly exclaimed: "Certainly it has been drowned."
Everybody was happy and got back into the coach.
But hardly had they started when Belhomme began to cry out again. The
bug had aroused itself and had become furious. He even declared that it
had now entered his head and was eating his brain. He was howling with
such contortions that Poirat's wife, thinking him possessed by the devil,
began to cry and to cross herself. Then, the pain abating a little, the
sick man began to tell how it was running round in his ear. With his
finger he imitated the movements of the body, seeming to see it, to
follow it with his eyes: "There is goes up again! Oh--oh--oh--what
Caniveau was getting impatient. "It's the water that is making the bug
angry. It is probably more accustomed to wine."
Everybody laughed, and he continued: "When we get to the Cafe Bourbeux,
give it some brandy, and it won't bother you any more, I wager."
But Belhomme could contain himself no longer; he began howling as though
his soul were being torn from his body. The priest was obliged to hold
his head for him. They asked Cesaire Horlaville to stop at the nearest
house. It was a farmhouse at the side of the road. Belhomme was carried
into it and laid on the kitchen table in order to repeat the operation.
Caniveau advised mixing brandy and water in order to benumb and perhaps
kill the insect. But the priest preferred vinegar.
They poured the liquid in drop by drop this time, that it might penetrate
down to the bottom, and they left it several minutes in the organ that
the beast had chosen for its home.
A bowl had once more been brought; Belhomme was turned over bodily by the
priest and Caniveau, while the schoolmaster was tapping on the healthy
ear in order to empty the other.
Cesaire Horlaville himself, whip in hand, had come in to observe the
Suddenly, at the bottom of the bowl appeared a little brown spot, no
bigger than a tiny seed. However, it was moving. It was a flea! First
there were cries of astonishment and then shouts of laughter. A flea!
Well, that was a good joke, a mighty good one! Caniveau was slapping his
thigh, Cesaire Horlaville snapped his whip, the priest laughed like a
braying donkey, the teacher cackled as though he were sneezing, and the
two women were giving little screams of joy, like the clucking of hens.
Belhomme had seated himself on the table and had taken the bowl between
his knees; he was observing, with serious attention and a vengeful anger
in his eye, the conquered insect which was twisting round in the water.
He grunted, "You rotten little beast!" and he spat on it.
The driver, wild with joy, kept repeating: "A flea, a flea, ah! there you
are, damned little flea, damned little flea, damned little flea!" Then
having calmed down a little, he cried: "Well, back to the coach! We've
lost enough time."
The steamer was crowded with people and the crossing promised to be good.
I was going from Havre to Trouville.
The ropes were thrown off, the whistle blew for the last time, the whole
boat started to tremble, and the great wheels began to revolve, slowly at
first, and then with ever-increasing rapidity.
We were gliding along the pier, black with people. Those on board were
waving their handkerchiefs, as though they were leaving for America, and
their friends on shore were answering in the same manner.
The big July sun was shining down on the red parasols, the light dresses,
the joyous faces and on the ocean, barely stirred by a ripple. When we
were out of the harbor, the little vessel swung round the big curve and
pointed her nose toward the distant shore which was barely visible
through the early morning mist. On our left was the broad estuary of the
Seine, her muddy water, which never mingles with that of the ocean,
making large yellow streaks clearly outlined against the immense sheet of
the pure green sea.
As soon as I am on a boat I feel the need of walking to and fro, like a
sailor on watch. Why? I do not know. Therefore I began to thread my
way along the deck through the crowd of travellers. Suddenly I heard my
name called. I turned around. I beheld one of my old friends, Henri
Sidoine, whom I had not seen for ten years.
We shook hands and continued our walk together, talking of one thing or
another. Suddenly Sidoine, who had been observing the crowd of
passengers, cried out angrily:
"It's disgusting, the boat is full of English people!"
It was indeed full of them. The men were standing about, looking over
the ocean with an all-important air, as though to say: "We are the
English, the lords of the sea! Here we are!"
The young girls, formless, with shoes which reminded one of the naval
constructions of their fatherland, wrapped in multi-colored shawls, were
smiling vacantly at the magnificent scenery. Their small heads, planted
at the top of their long bodies, wore English hats of the strangest
And the old maids, thinner yet, opening their characteristic jaws to the
wind, seemed to threaten one with their long, yellow teeth. On passing
them, one could notice the smell of rubber and of tooth wash.
Sidoine repeated, with growing anger:
"Disgusting! Can we never stop their coming to France?"
I asked, smiling:
"What have you got against them? As far as I am concerned, they don't
He snapped out:
"Of course they don't worry you! But I married one of them."
I stopped and laughed at him.
"Go ahead and tell me about it. Does she make you very unhappy?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
"No, not exactly."
"Then she--is not true to you?"
"Unfortunately, she is. That would be cause for a divorce, and I could
get rid of her."
"Then I'm afraid I don't understand!"
"You don't understand? I'm not surprised. Well, she simply learned how
to speak French--that's all! Listen.
"I didn't have the least desire of getting married when I went to spend
the summer at Etretat two years ago. There is nothing more dangerous
than watering-places. You have no idea how it suits young girls. Paris
is the place for women and the country for young girls.
"Donkey rides, surf-bathing, breakfast on the grass, all these things are
traps set for the marriageable man. And, really, there is nothing
prettier than a child about eighteen, running through a field or picking
flowers along the road.
"I made the acquaintance of an English family who were stopping at the
same hotel where I was. The father looked like those men you see over
there, and the mother was like all other Englishwomen.
"They had two sons, the kind of boys who play rough games with balls,
bats or rackets from morning till night; then came two daughters, the
elder a dry, shrivelled-up Englishwoman, the younger a dream of beauty,
a heavenly blonde. When those chits make up their minds to be pretty,
they are divine. This one had blue eyes, the kind of blue which seems to
contain all the poetry, all the dreams, all the hopes and happiness of
"What an infinity of dreams is caused by two such eyes! How well they
answer the dim, eternal question of our heart!
"It must not be forgotten either that we Frenchmen adore foreign women.
As soon as we meet a Russian, an Italian, a Swede, a Spaniard, or an
Englishwoman with a pretty face, we immediately fall in love with her.
We enthuse over everything which comes from outside--clothes, hats,
gloves, guns and--women. But what a blunder!
"I believe that that which pleases us in foreign women is their accent.
As soon as a woman speaks our language badly we think she is charming,
if she uses the wrong word she is exquisite and if she jabbers in an
entirely unintelligible jargon, she becomes irresistible.
"My little English girl, Kate, spoke a language to be marvelled at.
At the beginning I could understand nothing, she invented so many new
words; then I fell absolutely in love with this queer, amusing dialect.
All maimed, strange, ridiculous terms became delightful in her mouth.
Every evening, on the terrace of the Casino, we had long conversations
which resembled spoken enigmas.
"I married her! I loved her wildly, as one can only love in a dream.
For true lovers only love a dream which has taken the form of a woman.
"Well, my dear fellow, the most foolish thing I ever did was to give my
wife a French teacher. As long as she slaughtered the dictionary and
tortured the grammar I adored her. Our conversations were simple. They
revealed to me her surprising gracefulness and matchless elegance; they
showed her to me as a wonderful speaking jewel, a living doll made to be
kissed, knowing, after a fashion, how to express what she loved. She
reminded me of the pretty little toys which say 'papa' and 'mamma' when
you pull a string.
"Now she talks--badly--very badly. She makes as many mistakes as ever--
but I can understand her.
"I have opened my doll to look inside--and I have seen. And now I have
to talk to her!
"Ah! you don't know, as I do, the opinions, the ideas, the theories of a
well-educated young English girl, whom I can blame in nothing, and who
repeats to me from morning till night sentences from a French reader
prepared in England for the use of young ladies' schools.
"You have seen those cotillon favors, those pretty gilt papers, which
enclose candies with an abominable taste. I have one of them. I tore it
open. I wished to eat what was inside and it disgusted me so that I feel
nauseated at seeing her compatriots.
"I have married a parrot to whom some old English governess might have
taught French. Do you understand?"
The harbor of Trouville was now showing its wooden piers covered with
"Where is your wife?"
"I took her back to Etretat."
"And you, where are you going?"
"I? Oh, I am going to rest up here at Trouville."
Then, after a pause, he added:
"You have no idea what a fool a woman can be at times!"
THE ACCURSED BREAD
Daddy Taille had three daughters: Anna, the eldest, who was scarcely ever
mentioned in the family; Rose, the second girl, who was eighteen, and
Clara, the youngest, who was a girl of fifteen.
Old Taille was a widower and a foreman in M. Lebrument's button
manufactory. He was a very upright man, very well thought of,
abstemious; in fact, a sort of model workman. He lived at Havre, in the
When Anna ran away from home the old man flew into a fearful rage.
He threatened to kill the head clerk in a large draper's establishment in
that town, whom he suspected. After a time, when he was told by various
people that she was very steady and investing money in government
securities, that she was no gadabout, but was a great friend of Monsieur
Dubois, who was a judge of the Tribunal of Commerce, the father was
He even showed some anxiety as to how she was getting on, and asked some
of her old friends who had been to see her, and when told that she had
her own furniture, and that her mantelpiece was covered with vases and
the walls with pictures, that there were clocks and carpets everywhere,
he gave a broad contented smile. He had been working for thirty years to
get together a wretched five or six thousand francs. This girl was
evidently no fool.
One fine morning the son of Touchard, the cooper, at the other end of the
street, came and asked him for the hand of Rose, the second girl. The
old man's heart began to beat, for the Touchards were rich and in a good
position. He was decidedly lucky with his girls.
The marriage was agreed upon, and it was settled that it should be a
grand affair, and the wedding dinner was to be held at Sainte-Adresse, at
Mother Jusa's restaurant. It would cost a lot certainly, but never mind,
it did not matter just for once in a way.
But one morning, just as the old man was going home to luncheon with his
two daughters, the door opened suddenly, and Anna appeared. She was well
dressed and looked undeniably pretty and nice. She threw her arms round
her father's neck before he could say a word, then fell into her sisters'
arms with many tears and then asked for a plate, so that she might share
the family soup. Taille was moved to tears in his turn and said several
"That is right, dear, that is right."
Then she told them about herself. She did not wish Rose's wedding to
take place at Sainte-Adresse--certainly not. It should take place at her
house and would cost her father nothing. She had settled everything and
arranged everything, so it was "no good to say any more about it--there!"
"Very well, my dear! very well!" the old man said; "we will leave it
so." But then he felt some doubt. Would the Touchards consent? But
Rose, the bride-elect, was surprised and asked: "Why should they object,
I should like to know? Just leave that to me; I will talk to Philip
She mentioned it to her lover the very same day, and he declared it would
suit him exactly. Father and Mother Touchard were naturally delighted at
the idea of a good dinner which would cost them nothing and said:
"You may be quite sure that everything will be in first-rate style."
They asked to be allowed to bring a friend, Madame Florence, the cook on
the first floor, and Anna agreed to everything.
The wedding was fixed for the last Tuesday of the month.
After the civil formalities and the religious ceremony the wedding party
went to Anna's house. Among those whom the Tailles had brought was a
cousin of a certain age, a Monsieur Sauvetanin, a man given to
philosophical reflections, serious, and always very self-possessed, and
Madame Lamondois, an old aunt.
Monsieur Sautevanin had been told off to give Anna his arm, as they were
looked upon as the two most important persons in the company.
As soon as they had arrived at the door of Anna's house she let go her
companion's arm, and ran on ahead, saying: "I will show you the way," and
ran upstairs while the invited guests followed more slowly; and, when
they got upstairs, she stood on one side to let them pass, and they
rolled their eyes and turned their heads in all directions to admire this
mysterious and luxurious dwelling.
The table was laid in the drawing-room, as the dining-room had been
thought too small. Extra knives, forks and spoons had been hired from a
neighboring restaurant, and decanters stood full of wine under the rays
of the sun which shone in through the window.
The ladies went into the bedroom to take off their shawls and bonnets,
and Father Touchard, who was standing at the door, made funny and
suggestive signs to the men, with many a wink and nod. Daddy Taille, who
thought a great deal of himself, looked with fatherly pride at his
child's well-furnished rooms and went from one to the other, holding his
hat in his hand, making a mental inventory of everything, and walking
like a verger in a church.
Anna went backward and forward, ran about giving orders and hurrying on
the wedding feast. Soon she appeared at the door of the dining-room and
cried: "Come here, all of you, for a moment," and as the twelve guests
entered the room they saw twelve glasses of Madeira on a small table.
Rose and her husband had their arms round each other's waists and were
kissing each other in every corner. Monsieur Sauvetanin never took his
eyes off Anna.
They sat down, and the wedding breakfast began, the relations sitting at
one end of the table and the young people at the other. Madame Touchard,
the mother, presided on the right and the bride on the left. Anna looked
after everybody, saw that the glasses were kept filled and the plates
well supplied. The guests evidently felt a certain respectful
embarrassment at the sight of all the sumptuousness of the rooms and at
the lavish manner in which they were treated. They all ate heartily of
the good things provided, but there were no jokes such as are prevalent.
at weddings of that sort; it was all too grand, and it made them feel
uncomfortable. Old Madame Touchard, who was fond of a bit of fun, tried
to enliven matters a little, and at the beginning of the dessert she
exclaimed: "I say, Philip, do sing us something." The neighbors in their
street considered that he had the finest voice in all Havre.
The bridegroom got up, smiled, and, turning to his sister-in-law, from
politeness and gallantry, tried to think of something suitable for the
occasion, something serious and correct, to harmonize with the
seriousness of the repast.
Anna had a satisfied look on her face, and leaned back in her chair to
listen, and all assumed looks of attention, though prepared to smile
should smiles he called for.
The singer announced "The Accursed Bread," and, extending his right arm,
which made his coat ruck up into his neck, he began.
It was decidedly long, three verses of eight lines each, with the last
line and the last but one repeated twice.
All went well for the first two verses; they were the usual commonplaces
about bread gained by honest labor and by dishonesty. The aunt and the
bride wept outright. The cook, who was present, at the end of the first
verse looked at a roll which she held in her hand, with streaming eyes,
as if it applied to her, while all applauded vigorously. At the end of
the second verse the two servants, who were standing with their backs to
the wall, joined loudly in the chorus, and the aunt and the bride wept
Daddy Taille blew his nose with the noise of a trombone, and old Touchard
brandished a whole loaf half over the table, and the cook shed silent
tears on the crust which she was still holding.
Amid the general emotion Monsieur Sauvetanin said:
"That is the right sort of song; very different from the nasty, risky
things one generally hears at weddings."
Anna, who was visibly affected, kissed her hand to her sister and pointed
to her husband with an affectionate nod, as if to congratulate her.
Intoxicated by his success, the young man continued, and unfortunately
the last verse contained words about the "bread of dishonor" gained by
young girls who had been led astray. No one took up the refrain about
this bread, supposed to be eaten with tears, except old Touchard and the
two servants. Anna had grown deadly pale and cast down her eyes, while
the bridegroom looked from one to the other without understanding the
reason for this sudden coldness, and the cook hastily dropped the crust
as if it were poisoned.
Monsieur Sauvetanin said solemnly, in order to save the situation: "That
last couplet is not at all necessary"; and Daddy Taille, who had got red
up to his ears, looked round the table fiercely.
Then Anna, her eyes swimming in tears, told the servants in the faltering
voice of a woman trying to stifle her sobs, to bring the champagne.
All the guests were suddenly seized with exuberant joy, and all their
faces became radiant again. And when old Touchard, who had seen, felt
and understood nothing of what was going on, and pointing to the guests
so as to emphasize his words, sang the last words of the refrain:
"Children, I warn you all to eat not of that bread," the whole company,
when they saw the champagne bottles, with their necks covered with gold
foil, appear, burst out singing, as if electrified by the sight:
"Children, I warn you all to eat not of that bread."
The marriage of Maitre Simon Lebrument with Mademoiselle Jeanne Cordier
was a surprise to no one. Maitre Lebrument had bought out the practice
of Maitre Papillon; naturally, he had to have money to pay for it; and
Mademoiselle Jeanne Cordier had three hundred thousand francs clear in
currency, and in bonds payable to bearer.
Maitre Lebrument was a handsome man. He was stylish, although in a
provincial way; but, nevertheless, he was stylish--a rare thing at
Mademoiselle Cordier was graceful and fresh-looking, although a trifle
awkward; nevertheless, she was a handsome girl, and one to be desired.
The marriage ceremony turned all Boutigny topsy-turvy. Everybody admired
the young couple, who quickly returned home to domestic felicity, having
decided simply to take a short trip to Paris, after a few days of
This tete-a-tete was delightful, Maitre Lebrument having shown just the
proper amount of delicacy. He had taken as his motto: "Everything comes
to him who waits." He knew how to be at the same time patient and
energetic. His success was rapid and complete.
After four days, Madame Lebrument adored her husband. She could not get
along without him. She would sit on his knees, and taking him by the
ears she would say: "Open your mouth and shut your eyes." He would open
his mouth wide and partly close his eyes, and he would try to nip her
fingers as she slipped some dainty between his teeth. Then she would
give him a kiss, sweet and long, which would make chills run up and down
his spine. And then, in his turn, he would not have enough caresses to
please his wife from morning to night and from night to morning.
When the first week was over, he said to his young companion:
"If you wish, we will leave for Paris next Tuesday. We will be like two
lovers, we will go to the restaurants, the theatres, the concert halls,
She was ready to dance for joy.
"Oh! yes, yes. Let us go as soon as possible."
"And then, as we must forget nothing, ask your father to have your dowry
ready; I shall pay Maitre Papillon on this trip."
"All right: I will tell him to-morrow morning."
And he took her in his arms once more, to renew those sweet games of love
which she had so enjoyed for the past week.
The following Tuesday, father-in-law and mother-in-law went to the
station with their daughter and their son-in-law who were leaving for the
The father-in-law said:
"I tell you it is very imprudent to carry so much money about in a
pocketbook." And the young lawyer smiled.
"Don't worry; I am accustomed to such things. You understand that, in my
profession, I sometimes have as much as a million about me. In this
manner, at least we avoid a great amount of red tape and delay. You
The conductor was crying:
"All aboard for Paris!"
They scrambled into a car, where two old ladies were already seated.
Lebrument whispered into his wife's ear:
"What a bother! I won't be able to smoke."
She answered in a low voice
"It annoys me too, but not an account of your cigar."
The whistle blew and the train started. The trip lasted about an hour,
during which time they did not say very much to each other, as the two
old ladies did not go to sleep.
As soon as they were in front of the Saint-Lazare Station, Maitre
Lebrument said to his wife:
"Dearie, let us first go over to the Boulevard and get something to eat;
then we can quietly return and get our trunk and bring it to the hotel."
She immediately assented.
"Oh! yes. Let's eat at the restaurant. Is it far?"
"Yes, it's quite a distance, but we will take the omnibus."
She was surprised:
"Why don't we take a cab?"
He began to scold her smilingly:
"Is that the way you save money? A cab for a five minutes' ride at six
cents a minute! You would deprive yourself of nothing."
"That's so," she said, a little embarrassed.
A big omnibus was passing by, drawn by three big horses, which were
trotting along. Lebrument called out:
The heavy carriage stopped. And the young lawyer, pushing his wife, said
to her quickly:
"Go inside; I'm going up on top, so that I may smoke at least one
cigarette before lunch."
She had no time to answer. The conductor, who had seized her by the arm
to help her up the step, pushed her inside, and she fell into a seat,
bewildered, looking through the back window at the feet of her husband as
he climbed up to the top of the vehicle.
And she sat there motionless, between a fat man who smelled of cheap
tobacco and an old woman who smelled of garlic.
All the other passengers were lined up in silence--a grocer's boy, a
young girl, a soldier, a gentleman with gold-rimmed spectacles and a big
silk hat, two ladies with a self-satisfied and crabbed look, which seemed
to say: "We are riding in this thing, but we don't have to," two sisters
of charity and an undertaker. They looked like a collection of
The jolting of the wagon made them wag their heads and the shaking of the
wheels seemed to stupefy them--they all looked as though they were
The young woman remained motionless.
"Why didn't he come inside with me?" she was saying to herself. An
unaccountable sadness seemed to be hanging over her. He really need not
have acted so.
The sisters motioned to the conductor to stop, and they got off one after
the other, leaving in their wake the pungent smell of camphor. The bus
started tip and soon stopped again. And in got a cook, red-faced and out
of breath. She sat down and placed her basket of provisions on her
knees. A strong odor of dish-water filled the vehicle.
"It's further than I imagined," thought Jeanne.
The undertaker went out, and was replaced by a coachman who seemed to
bring the atmosphere of the stable with him. The young girl had as a
successor a messenger, the odor of whose feet showed that he was
The lawyer's wife began to feel ill at ease, nauseated, ready to cry
without knowing why.
Other persons left and others entered. The stage went on through
interminable streets, stopping at stations and starting again.
"How far it is!" thought Jeanne. "I hope he hasn't gone to sleep! He
has been so tired the last few days."
Little by little all the passengers left. She was left alone, all alone.
The conductor cried:
Seeing that she did not move, he repeated:
She looked at him, understanding that he was speaking to her, as there
was no one else there. For the third time the man said:
Then she asked:
"Where are we?"
He answered gruffly:
"We're at Vaugirard, of course! I have been yelling it for the last half
"Is it far from the Boulevard?" she said.
"The Boulevard des Italiens."
"We passed that a long time ago!"
"Would you mind telling my husband?"
"Your husband! Where is he?"
"On the top of the bus."
"On the top! There hasn't been anybody there for a long time."
She started, terrified.
"What? That's impossible! He got on with me. Look well! He must be
The conductor was becoming uncivil:
"Come on, little one, you've talked enough! You can find ten men for
every one that you lose. Now run along. You'll find another one
Tears were coming to her eyes. She insisted:
"But, monsieur, you are mistaken; I assure you that you must be mistaken.
He had a big portfolio under his arm."
The man began to laugh:
"A big portfolio! Oh, yes! He got off at the Madeleine. He got rid of
you, all right! Ha! ha! ha!"
The stage had stopped. She got out and, in spite of herself, she looked
up instinctively to the roof of the bus. It was absolutely deserted.
Then she began to cry, and, without thinking that anybody was listening
or watching her, she said out loud:
"What is going to become of me?"
An inspector approached:
"What's the matter?"
The conductor answered, in a bantering tone of voice:
"It's a lady who got left by her husband during the trip."
The other continued:
"Oh! that's nothing. You go about your business."
Then he turned on his heels and walked away.
She began to walk straight ahead, too bewildered, too crazed even to
understand what had happened to her. Where was she to go? What could
she do? What could have happened to him? How could he have made such a
mistake? How could he have been so forgetful?
She had two francs in her pocket. To whom could she go? Suddenly she
remembered her cousin Barral, one of the assistants in the offices of the
Ministry of the Navy.
She had just enough to pay for a cab. She drove to his house. He met
her just as he was leaving for his office. He was carrying a large
portfolio under his arm, just like Lebrument.
She jumped out of the carriage.
"Henry!" she cried.
He stopped, astonished:
"Jeanne! Here--all alone! What are you doing? Where have you come
Her eyes full of tears, she stammered:
"My husband has just got lost!"
"On an omnibus."
"On an omnibus?"
Weeping, she told him her whole adventure.
He listened, thought, and then asked:
"Was his mind clear this morning?"
"Good. Did he have much money with him?"
"Yes, he was carrying my dowry."
"Your dowry! The whole of it?"
"The whole of it--in order to pay for the practice which he bought."
"Well, my dear cousin, by this time your husband must be well on his way
She could not understand. She kept repeating:
"My husband--you say--"
"I say that he has disappeared with your--your capital--that's all!"
She stood there, a prey to conflicting emotions, sobbing.
"Then he is--he is--he is a villain!"
And, faint from excitement, she leaned her head on her cousin's shoulder
As people were stopping to look at them, he pushed her gently into the
vestibule of his house, and, supporting her with his arm around her
waist, he led her up the stairs, and as his astonished servant opened the
door, he ordered:
"Sophie, run to the restaurant and get a luncheon for two. I am not
going to the office to-day."
THE DIARY OF A MADMAN
He was dead--the head of a high tribunal, the upright magistrate whose
irreproachable life was a proverb in all the courts of France.
Advocates, young counsellors, judges had greeted him at sight of his
large, thin, pale face lighted up by two sparkling deep-set eyes, bowing
low in token of respect.
He had passed his life in pursuing crime and in protecting the weak.
Swindlers and murderers had no more redoubtable enemy, for he seemed to
read the most secret thoughts of their minds.
He was dead, now, at the age of eighty-two, honored by the homage and
followed by the regrets of a whole people. Soldiers in red trousers had
escorted him to the tomb and men in white cravats had spoken words and
shed tears that seemed to be sincere beside his grave.
But here is the strange paper found by the dismayed notary in the desk
where he had kept the records of great criminals! It was entitled:
20th June, 1851. I have just left court. I have condemned Blondel to
death! Now, why did this man kill his five children? Frequently one
meets with people to whom the destruction of life is a pleasure. Yes,
yes, it should be a pleasure, the greatest of all, perhaps, for is not
killing the next thing to creating? To make and to destroy! These two
words contain the history of the universe, all the history of worlds, all
that is, all! Why is it not intoxicating to kill?
25th June. To think that a being is there who lives, who walks, who
runs. A being? What is a being? That animated thing, that bears in it
the principle of motion and a will ruling that motion. It is attached to
nothing, this thing. Its feet do not belong to the ground. It is a
grain of life that moves on the earth, and this grain of life, coming I
know not whence, one can destroy at one's will. Then nothing--nothing
more. It perishes, it is finished.
26th June. Why then is it a crime to kill? Yes, why? On the contrary,
it is the law of nature. The mission of every being is to kill; he kills
to live, and he kills to kill. The beast kills without ceasing, all day,
every instant of his existence. Man kills without ceasing, to nourish
himself; but since he needs, besides, to kill for pleasure, he has
invented hunting! The child kills the insects he finds, the little
birds, all the little animals that come in his way. But this does not
suffice for the irresistible need to massacre that is in us. It is not
enough to kill beasts; we must kill man too. Long ago this need was
satisfied by human sacrifices. Now the requirements of social life have
made murder a crime. We condemn and punish the assassin! But as we
cannot live without yielding to this natural and imperious instinct of
death, we relieve ourselves, from time to time, by wars. Then a whole
nation slaughters another nation. It is a feast of blood, a feast that
maddens armies and that intoxicates civilians, women and children, who
read, by lamplight at night, the feverish story of massacre.
One might suppose that those destined to accomplish these butcheries of
men would be despised! No, they are loaded with honors. They are clad
in gold and in resplendent garments; they wear plumes on their heads and
ornaments on their breasts, and they are given crosses, rewards, titles
of every kind. They are proud, respected, loved by women, cheered by the
crowd, solely because their mission is to shed human blood; They drag
through the streets their instruments of death, that the passer-by, clad
in black, looks on with envy. For to kill is the great law set by nature
in the heart of existence! There is nothing more beautiful and honorable
30th June. To kill is the law, because nature loves eternal youth. She
seems to cry in all her unconscious acts: "Quick! quick! quick!" The more
she destroys, the more she renews herself.
2d July. A human being--what is a human being? Through thought it is a
reflection of all that is; through memory and science it is an abridged
edition of the universe whose history it represents, a mirror of things
and of nations, each human being becomes a microcosm in the macrocosm.
3d July. It must be a pleasure, unique and full of zest, to kill; to
have there before one the living, thinking being; to make therein a
little hole, nothing but a little hole, to see that red thing flow which
is the blood, which makes life; and to have before one only a heap of
limp flesh, cold, inert, void of thought!
5th August. I, who have passed my life in judging, condemning, killing
by the spoken word, killing by the guillotine those who had killed by the
knife, I, I, if I should do as all the assassins have done whom I have
smitten, I--I--who would know it?
10th August. Who would ever know? Who would ever suspect me, me, me,
especially if I should choose a being I had no interest in doing away
15th August. The temptation has come to me. It pervades my whole being;
my hands tremble with the desire to kill.
22d August. I could resist no longer. I killed a little creature as an
experiment, for a beginning. Jean, my servant, had a goldfinch in a cage
hung in the office window. I sent him on an errand, and I took the
little bird in my hand, in my hand where I felt its heart beat. It was
warm. I went up to my room. From time to time I squeezed it tighter;
its heart beat faster; this was atrocious and delicious. I was near
choking it. But I could not see the blood.
Then I took scissors, short-nail scissors, and I cut its throat with
three slits, quite gently. It opened its bill, it struggled to escape
me, but I held it, oh! I held it--I could have held a mad dog--and I saw
the blood trickle.
And then I did as assassins do--real ones. I washed the scissors, I
washed my hands. I sprinkled water and took the body, the corpse, to the
garden to hide it. I buried it under a strawberry-plant. It will never
be found. Every day I shall eat a strawberry from that plant. How one
can enjoy life when one knows how!
My servant cried; he thought his bird flown. How could he suspect me?
25th August. I must kill a man! I must----
30th August. It is done. But what a little thing! I had gone for a
walk in the forest of Vernes. I was thinking of nothing, literally
nothing. A child was in the road, a little child eating a slice of bread
He stops to see me pass and says, "Good-day, Mr. President."
And the thought enters my head, "Shall I kill him?"
I answer: "You are alone, my boy?"
"All alone in the wood?"
The wish to kill him intoxicated me like wine. I approached him quite
softly, persuaded that he was going to run away. And, suddenly, I seized
him by the throat. He looked at me with terror in his eyes--such eyes!
He held my wrists in his little hands and his body writhed like a feather
over the fire. Then he moved no more. I threw the body in the ditch,
and some weeds on top of it. I returned home, and dined well. What a
little thing it was! In the evening I was very gay, light, rejuvenated;
I passed the evening at the Prefect's. They found me witty. But I have
not seen blood! I am tranquil.
31st August. The body has been discovered. They are hunting for the
assassin. Ah! ah!
1st September. Two tramps have been arrested. Proofs are lacking.
2d September. The parents have been to see me. They wept! Ah! ah!
6th October. Nothing has been discovered. Some strolling vagabond must
have done the deed. Ah! ah! If I had seen the blood flow, it seems to
me I should be tranquil now! The desire to kill is in my blood; it is
like the passion of youth at twenty.
20th October. Yet another. I was walking by the river, after breakfast.
And I saw, under a willow, a fisherman asleep. It was noon. A spade was
standing in a potato-field near by, as if expressly, for me.
I took it. I returned; I raised it like a club, and with one blow of the
edge I cleft the fisherman's head. Oh! he bled, this one! Rose-colored
blood. It flowed into the water, quite gently. And I went away with a
grave step. If I had been seen! Ah! ah! I should have made an
25th October. The affair of the fisherman makes a great stir. His
nephew, who fished with him, is charged with the murder.
26th October. The examining magistrate affirms that the nephew is
guilty. Everybody in town believes it. Ah! ah!
27th October. The nephew makes a very poor witness. He had gone to the
village to buy bread and cheese, he declared. He swore that his uncle
had been killed in his absence! Who would believe him?
28th October. The nephew has all but confessed, they have badgered him
so. Ah! ah! justice!
15th November. There are overwhelming proofs against the nephew, who was
his uncle's heir. I shall preside at the sessions.
25th January. To death! to death! to death! I have had him condemned to
death! Ah! ah! The advocate-general spoke like an angel! Ah! ah! Yet
another! I shall go to see him executed!
10th March. It is done. They guillotined him this morning. He died
very well! very well! That gave me pleasure! How fine it is to see a
man's head cut off
Now, I shall wait, I can wait. It would take such a little thing to let
myself be caught.
The manuscript contained yet other pages, but without relating any new
Alienist physicians to whom the awful story has been submitted declare
that there are in the world many undiscovered madmen as adroit and as
much to be feared as this monstrous lunatic.
There was a masquerade ball at the Elysee-Montmartre that evening. It
was the 'Mi-Careme', and the crowds were pouring into the brightly
lighted passage which leads to the dance ball, like water flowing through
the open lock of a canal. The loud call of the orchestra, bursting like
a storm of sound, shook the rafters, swelled through the whole
neighborhood and awoke, in the streets and in the depths of the houses,
an irresistible desire to jump, to get warm, to have fun, which slumbers
within each human animal.
The patrons came from every quarter of Paris; there were people of all
classes who love noisy pleasures, a little low and tinged with debauch.
There were clerks and girls--girls of every description, some wearing
common cotton, some the finest batiste; rich girls, old and covered with
diamonds, and poor girls of sixteen, full of the desire to revel, to
belong to men, to spend money. Elegant black evening suits, in search of
fresh or faded but appetizing novelty, wandering through the excited
crowds, looking, searching, while the masqueraders seemed moved above all
by the desire for amusement. Already the far-famed quadrilles had
attracted around them a curious crowd. The moving hedge which encircled
the four dancers swayed in and out like a snake, sometimes nearer and
sometimes farther away, according to the motions of the performers. The
two women, whose lower limbs seemed to be attached to their bodies by
rubber springs, were making wonderful and surprising motions with their
legs. Their partners hopped and skipped about, waving their arms about.
One could imagine their panting breath beneath their masks.
One of them, who had taken his place in the most famous quadrille, as
substitute for an absent celebrity, the handsome "Songe-au-Gosse," was
trying to keep up with the tireless "Arete-de-Veau" and was making
strange fancy steps which aroused the joy and sarcasm of the audience.
He was thin, dressed like a dandy, with a pretty varnished mask on his
face. It had a curly blond mustache and a wavy wig. He looked like a
wax figure from the Musee Grevin, like a strange and fantastic caricature
of the charming young man of fashion plates, and he danced with visible
effort, clumsily, with a comical impetuosity. He appeared rusty beside
the others when he tried to imitate their gambols: he seemed overcome by
rheumatism, as heavy as a great Dane playing with greyhounds. Mocking
bravos encouraged him. And he, carried away with enthusiasm, jigged
about with such frenzy that suddenly, carried away by a wild spurt, he
pitched head foremost into the living wall formed by the audience, which
opened up before him to allow him to pass, then closed around the
inanimate body of the dancer, stretched out on his face.
Some men picked him up and carried him away, calling for a doctor. A
gentleman stepped forward, young and elegant, in well-fitting evening
clothes, with large pearl studs. "I am a professor of the Faculty of
Medicine," he said in a modest voice. He was allowed to pass, and he
entered a small room full of little cardboard boxes, where the still
lifeless dancer had been stretched cut on some chairs. The doctor at
first wished to take off the mask, and he noticed that it was attached in
a complicated manner, with a perfect network of small metal wires which
cleverly bound it to his wig and covered the whole head. Even the neck
was imprisoned in a false skin which continued the chin and was painted
the color of flesh, being attached to the collar of the shirt.
All this had to be cut with strong scissors. When the physician had slit
open this surprising arrangement, from the shoulder to the temple, he
opened this armor and found the face of an old man, worn out, thin and
wrinkled. The surprise among those who had brought in this seemingly
young dancer was so great that no one laughed, no one said a word.
All were watching this sad face as he lay on the straw chairs, his eyes
closed, his face covered with white hair, some long, falling from the
forehead over the face, others short, growing around the face and the
chin, and beside this poor head, that pretty little, neat varnished,
The man regained consciousness after being inanimate for a long time, but
he still seemed to be so weak and sick that the physician feared some
dangerous complication. He asked: "Where do you live?"
The old dancer seemed to be making an effort to remember, and then he
mentioned the name of the street, which no one knew. He was asked for
more definite information about the neighborhood. He answered with a
great slowness, indecision and difficulty, which revealed his upset state
of mind. The physician continued:
"I will take you home myself."
Curiosity had overcome him to find out who this strange dancer, this
phenomenal jumper might be. Soon the two rolled away in a cab to the
other side of Montmartre.
They stopped before a high building of poor appearance. They went up a
winding staircase. The doctor held to the banister, which was so grimy
that the hand stuck to it, and he supported the dizzy old man, whose
forces were beginning to return. They stopped at the fourth floor.
The door at which they had knocked was opened by an old woman, neat
looking, with a white nightcap enclosing a thin face with sharp features,
one of those good, rough faces of a hard-working and faithful woman. She
"For goodness sake! What's the matter?"
He told her the whole affair in a few words. She became reassured and
even calmed the physician himself by telling him that the same thing had
happened many times. She said: "He must be put to bed, monsieur, that is
all. Let him sleep and tomorrow he will be all right."
The doctor continued: "But he can hardly speak."
"Oh! that's just a little drink, nothing more; he has eaten no dinner,
in order to be nimble, and then he took a few absinthes in order to work
himself up to the proper pitch. You see, drink gives strength to his
legs, but it stops his thoughts and words. He is too old to dance as he
does. Really, his lack of common sense is enough to drive one mad!"
The doctor, surprised, insisted:
"But why does he dance like that at his age?"
She shrugged her shoulders and turned red from the anger which was slowly
rising within her and she cried out:
"Ah! yes, why? So that the people will think him young under his mask;
so that the women will still take him for a young dandy and whisper nasty
things into his ears; so that he can rub up against all their dirty
skins, with their perfumes and powders and cosmetics. Ah! it's a fine
business! What a life I have had for the last forty years! But we must
first get him to bed, so that he may have no ill effects. Would you mind
helping me? When he is like that I can't do anything with him alone."
The old man was sitting on his bed, with a tipsy look, his long white
hair falling over his face. His companion looked at him with tender yet
indignant eyes. She continued:
"Just see the fine head he has for his age, and yet he has to go and
disguise himself in order to make people think that he is young. It's a
perfect shame! Really, he has a fine head, monsieur! Wait, I'll show it
to you before putting him to bed."
She went to a table on which stood the washbasin a pitcher of water, soap
and a comb and brush. She took the brush, returned to the bed and pushed
back the drunkard's tangled hair. In a few seconds she made him look
like a model fit for a great painter, with his long white locks flowing
on his neck. Then she stepped back in order to observe him, saying:
"There! Isn't he fine for his age?"
"Very," agreed the doctor, who was beginning to be highly amused.
She added: "And if you had known him when he was twenty-five! But we
must get him to bed, otherwise the drink will make him sick. Do you mind
drawing off that sleeve? Higher-like that-that's right. Now the
trousers. Wait, I will take his shoes off--that's right. Now, hold him
upright while I open the bed. There--let us put him in. If you think
that he is going to disturb himself when it is time for me to get in you
are mistaken. I have to find a little corner any place I can. That
doesn't bother him! Bah! You old pleasure seeker!"
As soon as he felt himself stretched out in his sheets the old man closed
his eyes, opened them closed them again, and over his whole face appeared
an energetic resolve to sleep. The doctor examined him with an ever-
increasing interest and asked: "Does he go to all the fancy balls and try
to be a young man?" "To all of them, monsieur, and he comes back to me in
the morning in a deplorable condition. You see, it's regret that leads
him on and that makes him put a pasteboard face over his own. Yes, the
regret of no longer being what he was and of no longer making any
He was sleeping now and beginning to snore. She looked at him with a
pitying expression and continued: "Oh! how many conquests that man has
made! More than one could believe, monsieur, more than the finest
gentlemen of the world, than all the tenors and all the generals."
"Really? What did he do?"
"Oh! it will surprise you at first, as you did not know him in his palmy
days. When I met him it was also at a ball, for he has always frequented
them. As soon as I saw him I was caught--caught like a fish on a hook.
Ah! how pretty he was, monsieur, with his curly raven locks and black
eyes as large as saucers! Indeed, he was good looking! He took me away
that evening and I never have left him since, never, not even for a day,
no matter what he did to me! Oh! he has often made it hard for me!"
The doctor asked: "Are you married?"
She answered simply: "Yes, monsieur, otherwise he would have dropped me
as he did the others. I have been his wife and his servant, everything,
everything that he wished. How he has made me cry--tears which I did not
show him; for he would tell all his adventures to me--to me, monsieur--
without understanding how it hurt me to listen."
"But what was his business?"
"That's so. I forgot to tell you. He was the foreman at Martel's--a
foreman such as they never had had--an artist who averaged ten francs an
"Martel?--who is Martel?"
"The hairdresser, monsieur, the great hairdresser of the Opera, who had
all the actresses for customers. Yes, sir, all the smartest actresses
had their hair dressed by Ambrose and they would give him tips that made
a fortune for him. Ah! monsieur, all the women are alike, yes, all of
them. When a man pleases their fancy they offer themselves to him. It
is so easy--and it hurt me so to hear about it. For he would tell me
everything--he simply could not hold his tongue--it was impossible.
Those things please the men so much! They seem to get even more
enjoyment out of telling than doing.