Part 28 out of 31
He merely gave her a drunken nod, without understanding what she said.
Then one of the rowers came up with two fishing rods in his hands, and
the hope of catching a gudgeon, that great vision of the Parisian
shopkeeper, made Dufour's dull eyes gleam, and he politely allowed them
to do whatever they liked, while he sat in the shade under the bridge,
with his feet dangling over the river, by the side of the young man with
the yellow hair, who was sleeping soundly.
One of the boating men made a martyr of himself and took the mother.
"Let us go to the little wood on the Ile aux Anglais!" he called out as
he rowed off. The other boat went more slowly, for the rower was looking
at his companion so intently that by thought of nothing else, and his
emotion seemed to paralyze his strength, while the girl, who was sitting
in the bow, gave herself up to the enjoyment of being on the water. She
felt a disinclination to think, a lassitude in her limbs and a total
enervation, as if she were intoxicated, and her face was flushed and her
breathing quickened. The effects of the wine, which were increased by
the extreme heat, made all the trees on the bank seem to bow as she
passed. A vague wish for enjoyment and a fermentation of her blood
seemed to pervade her whole body, which was excited by the heat of the
day, and she was also disturbed at this tete-a-tete on the water, in a
place which seemed depopulated by the heat, with this young man who
thought her pretty, whose ardent looks seemed to caress her skin and were
as penetrating and pervading as the sun's rays.
Their inability to speak increased their emotion, and they looked about
them. At last, however, he made an effort and asked her name.
"Henriette," she said.
"Why, my name is Henri," he replied. The sound of their voices had
calmed them, and they looked at the banks. The other boat had passed
them and seemed to be waiting for them, and the rower called out:
"We will meet you in the wood; we are going as far as Robinson's, because
Madame Dufour is thirsty." Then he bent over his oars again and rowed
off so quickly that he was soon out of sight.
Meanwhile a continual roar, which they had heard for some time, came
nearer, and the river itself seemed to shiver, as if the dull noise were
rising from its depths.
"What is that noise?" she asked. It was the noise of the weir which cut
the river in two at the island, and he was explaining it to her, when,
above the noise of the waterfall, they heard the song of a bird, which
seemed a long way off.
"Listen!" he said; "the nightingales are singing during the day, so the
female birds must be sitting."
A nightingale! She had never heard one before, and the idea of listening
to one roused visions of poetic tenderness in her heart. A nightingale!
That is to say, the invisible witness of her love trysts which Juliet
invoked on her balcony; that celestial music which it attuned to human
kisses, that eternal inspirer of all those languorous romances which open
an ideal sky to all the poor little tender hearts of sensitive girls!
She was going to hear a nightingale.
"We must not make a noise," her companion said, "and then we can go into
the wood, and sit down close beside it."
The boat seemed to glide. They saw the trees on the island, the banks of
which were so low that they could look into the depths of the thickets.
They stopped, he made the boat fast, Henriette took hold of Henri's arm,
and they went beneath the trees.
"Stoop," he said, so she stooped down, and they went into an inextricable
thicket of creepers, leaves and reed grass, which formed an
undiscoverable retreat, and which the young man laughingly called "his
Just above their heads, perched in one of the trees which hid them, the
bird was still singing. He uttered trills and roulades, and then loud,
vibrating notes that filled the air and seemed to lose themselves on the
horizon, across the level country, through that burning silence which
weighed upon the whole landscape. They did not speak for fear of
frightening it away. They were sitting close together, and, slowly,
Henri's arm stole round the girl's waist and squeezed it gently. She
took that daring hand without any anger, and kept removing it whenever he
put it round her; without, however, feeling at all embarrassed by this
caress, just as if it had been something quite natural, which she was
resisting just as naturally.
She was listening to the bird in ecstasy. She felt an infinite longing
for happiness, for some sudden demonstration of tenderness, for the
revelation of superhuman poetry, and she felt such a softening at her
heart, and relaxation of her nerves, that she began to cry, without
knowing why. The young man was now straining her close to him, yet she
did not remove his arm; she did not think of it. Suddenly the
nightingale stopped, and a voice called out in the distance:
"Do not reply," he said in a low voice; "you will drive the bird away."
But she had no idea of doing so, and they remained in the same position
for some time. Madame Dufour had sat down somewhere or other, for from
time to time they heard the stout lady break out into little bursts of
The girl was still crying; she was filled with strange sensations.
Henri's head was on her shoulder, and suddenly he kissed her on the lips.
She was surprised and angry, and, to avoid him, she stood up.
They were both very pale when they left their grassy retreat. The blue
sky appeared to them clouded and the ardent sun darkened; and they felt
tile solitude and the silence. They walked rapidly, side by side,
without speaking or touching each other, for they seemed to have become
irreconcilable enemies, as if disgust and hatred had arisen between them,
and from time to time Henriette called out: "Mamma!"
By and by they heard a noise behind a bush, and the stout lady appeared,
looking rather confused, and her companion's face was wrinkled with
smiles which he could not check.
Madame Dufour took his arm, and they returned to the boats, and Henri,
who was ahead, walked in silence beside the young girl. At last they got
back to Bezons. Monsieur Dufour, who was now sober, was waiting for them
very impatiently, while the young man with the yellow hair was having a
mouthful of something to eat before leaving the inn. The carriage was
waiting in the yard, and the grandmother, who had already got in, was
very frightened at the thought of being overtaken by night before they
reached Paris, as the outskirts were not safe.
They all shook bands, and the Dufour family drove off.
"Good-by, until we meet again!" the oarsmen cried, and the answer they
got was a sigh and a tear.
Two months later, as Henri was going along the Rue des Martyrs, he saw
Dufour, Ironmonger, over a door, and so he went in, and saw the stout
lady sitting at the counter. They recognized each other immediately, and
after an interchange of polite greetings, he asked after them all.
"And how is Mademoiselle Henriette?" he inquired specially.
"Very well, thank you; she is married."
"Ah!" He felt a certain emotion, but said: "Whom did she marry?"
"That young man who accompanied us, you know; he has joined us in
"I remember him perfectly."
He was going out, feeling very unhappy, though scarcely knowing why, when
madame called him back.
"And how is your friend?" she asked rather shyly.
"He is very well, thank you."
"Please give him our compliments, and beg him to come and call, when he
is in the neighborhood."
She then added: "Tell him it will give me great pleasure."
"I will be sure to do so. Adieu!"
"Do not say that; come again very soon."
The next year, one very hot Sunday, all the details of that adventure,
which Henri had never forgotten, suddenly came back to him so clearly
that he returned alone to their room in the wood, and was overwhelmed
with astonishment when he went in. She was sitting on the grass, looking
very sad, while by her side, still in his shirt sleeves, the young man
with the yellow hair was sleeping soundly, like some animal.
She grew so pale when she saw Henri that at first he thought she was
going to faint; then, however, they began to talk quite naturally.
But when he told her that he was very fond of that spot, and went there
frequently on Sundays to indulge in memories, she looked into his eyes
for a long time.
"I too, think of it," she replied.
"Come, my dear," her husband said, with a yawn. "I think it is time for
us to be going."
The two young women appear to be buried under a blanket of flowers. They
are alone in the immense landau, which is filled with flowers like a
giant basket. On the front seat are two small hampers of white satin
filled with violets, and on the bearskin by which their knees are covered
there is a mass of roses, mimosas, pinks, daisies, tuberoses and orange
blossoms, interwoven with silk ribbons; the two frail bodies seem buried
under this beautiful perfumed bed, which hides everything but the
shoulders and arms and a little of the dainty waists.
The coachman's whip is wound with a garland of anemones, the horses'
traces are dotted with carnations, the spokes of the wheels are clothed
in mignonette, and where the lanterns ought to be are two enormous round
bouquets which look as though they were the eyes of this strange,
rolling, flower-bedecked creature.
The landau drives rapidly along the road, through the Rue d'Antibes,
preceded, followed, accompanied, by a crowd of other carriages covered
with flowers, full of women almost hidden by a sea of violets. It is the
flower carnival at Cannes.
The carriage reaches the Boulevard de la Fonciere, where the battle is
waged. All along the immense avenue a double row of flower-bedecked
vehicles are going and coming like an endless ribbon. Flowers are thrown
from one to the other. They pass through the air like balls, striking
fresh faces, bouncing and falling into the dust, where an army of
youngsters pick them up.
A thick crowd is standing on the sidewalks looking on and held in check
by the mounted police, who pass brutally along pushing back the curious
pedestrians as though to prevent the common people from mingling with the
In the carriages, people call to each other, recognize each other and
bombard each other with roses. A chariot full of pretty women, dressed
in red, like devils, attracts the eyes of all. A gentleman, who looks
like the portraits of Henry IV., is throwing an immense bouquet which is
held back by an elastic. Fearing the shock, the women hide their eyes
and the men lower their heads, but the graceful, rapid and obedient
missile describes a curve and returns to its master, who immediately
throws it at some new face.
The two young women begin to throw their stock of flowers by handfuls,
and receive a perfect hail of bouquets; then, after an hour of warfare,
a little tired, they tell the coachman to drive along the road which
follows the seashore.
The sun disappears behind Esterel, outlining the dark, rugged mountain
against the sunset sky. The clear blue sea, as calm as a mill-pond,
stretches out as far as the horizon, where it blends with the sky; and
the fleet, anchored in the middle of the bay, looks like a herd of
enormous beasts, motionless on the water, apocalyptic animals, armored
and hump-backed, their frail masts looking like feathers, and with eyes
which light up when evening approaches.
The two young women, leaning back under the heavy robes, look out lazily
over the blue expanse of water. At last one of them says:
"How delightful the evenings are! How good everything seems! Don't you
think so, Margot?"
"Yes, it is good. But there is always something lacking."
"What is lacking? I feel perfectly happy. I don't need anything else."
"Yes, you do. You are not thinking of it. No matter how contented we
may be, physically, we always long for something more--for the heart."
The other asked with a smile:
"A little love?"
They stopped talking, their eyes fastened on the distant horizon, then
the one called Marguerite murmured: "Life without that seems to me
unbearable. I need to be loved, if only by a dog. But we are all alike,
no matter what you may say, Simone."
"Not at all, my dear. I had rather not be loved at all than to be loved
by the first comer. Do you think, for instance, that it would be
pleasant to be loved by--by--"
She was thinking by whom she might possibly be loved, glancing across the
wide landscape. Her eyes, after traveling around the horizon, fell on
the two bright buttons which were shining on the back of the coachman's
livery, and she continued, laughing: "by my coachman?"
Madame Margot barely smiled, and said in a low tone of voice:
"I assure you that it is very amusing to be loved by a servant. It has
happened to me two or three times. They roll their eyes in such a funny
manner--it's enough to make you die laughing! Naturally, the more in
love they are, the more severe one must be with them, and then, some day,
for some reason, you dismiss them, because, if anyone should notice it,
you would appear so ridiculous."
Madame Simone was listening, staring straight ahead of her, then she
"No, I'm afraid that my footman's heart would not satisfy me. Tell me
how you noticed that they loved you."
"I noticed it the same way that I do with other men--when they get
"The others don't seem stupid to me, when they love me."
"They are idiots, my dear, unable to talk, to answer, to understand
"But how did you feel when you were loved by a servant? Were you--moved
"Moved? no, flattered--yes a little. One is always flattered to be
loved by a man, no matter who he may be."
"Yes, indeed, my dear! For instance, I will tell you of a peculiar
incident which happened to me. You will see how curious and complex our
emotions are, in such cases.
"About four years ago I happened to be without a maid. I had tried five
or six, one right after the other, and I was about ready to give up in
despair, when I saw an advertisement in a newspaper of a young girl
knowing how to cook, embroider, dress hair, who was looking for a
position and who could furnish the best of references. Besides all these
accomplishments, she could speak English.
"I wrote to the given address, and the next day the person in question
presented herself. She was tall, slender, pale, shy-looking. She had
beautiful black eyes and a charming complexion; she pleased me
immediately. I asked for her certificates; she gave me one in English,
for she came, as she said, from Lady Rymwell's, where she had been for
"The certificate showed that the young girl had left of her own free
will, in order to return to France, and the only thing which they had had
to find fault in her during her long period of service was a little
"This prudish English phrase even made me smile, and I immediately
engaged this maid.
"She came to me the same day. Her name was Rose.
"At the end of a month I would have been helpless without her. She was a
treasure, a pearl, a phenomenon.
"She could dress my hair with infinite taste; she could trim a hat better
than most milliners, and she could even make my dresses.
"I was astonished at her accomplishments. I had never before been waited
on in such a manner.
"She dressed me rapidly and with a surprisingly light touch. I never
felt her fingers on my skin, and nothing is so disagreeable to me as
contact with a servant's hand. I soon became excessively lazy; it was so
pleasant to be dressed from head to foot, and from lingerie to gloves, by
this tall, timid girl, always blushing a little, and never saying a word.
After my bath she would rub and massage me while I dozed a little on my
couch; I almost considered her more of a friend than a servant.
"One morning the janitor asked, mysteriously, to speak to me. I was
surprised, and told him to come in. He was a good, faithful man, an old
soldier, one of my husband's former orderlies.
"He seemed to be embarrassed by what he had to say to me. At last he
managed to mumble:
"'Madame, the superintendent of police is downstairs.'
"I asked quickly:
"'What does he wish?'
"'He wishes to search the house.'
"Of course the police are useful, but I hate them. I do not think that
it is a noble profession. I answered, angered and hurt:
"'Why this search? For what reason? He shall not come in.'
"The janitor continued:
"'He says that there is a criminal hidden in the house.'
"This time I was frightened and I told him to bring the inspector to me,
so that I might get some explanation. He was a man with good manners and
decorated with the Legion of Honor. He begged my pardon for disturbing
me, and then informed me that I had, among my domestics, a convict.
"I was shocked; and I answered that I could guarantee every servant in
the house, and I began to enumerate them.
"'The janitor, Pierre Courtin, an old soldier.'
"'It's not he.'
"'A stable-boy, son of farmers whom I know, and a groom whom you have
"'It's not he.'
"'Then, monsieur, you see that you must be mistaken.'
"'Excuse me, madame, but I am positive that I am not making a mistake.
"As the conviction of a notable criminal is at stake, would you be so kind
as to send for all your servants?"
"At first I refused, but I finally gave in, and sent downstairs for
everybody, men and women.
"The inspector glanced at them and then declared:
"'This isn't all.'
"'Excuse me, monsieur, there is no one left but my maid, a young girl
whom you could not possibly mistake for a convict.'
"'May I also see her?'
"I rang for Rose, who immediately appeared. She had hardly entered the
room, when the inspector made a motion, and two men whom I had not seen,
hidden behind the door, sprang forward, seized her and tied her hands
behind her back.
"I cried out in anger and tried to rush forward to defend her. The
inspector stopped me:
"'This girl, madame, is a man whose name is Jean Nicolas Lecapet,
condemned to death in 1879 for assaulting a woman and injuring her so
that death resulted. His sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life.
He escaped four months ago. We have been looking for him ever since.'
"I was terrified, bewildered. I did not believe him. The commissioner
"'I can prove it to you. His right arm is tattooed.'
"'The sleeve was rolled up. It was true. The inspector added, with bad
"'You can trust us for the other proofs.'
"And they led my maid away!
"Well, would you believe me, the thing that moved me most was not anger
at having thus been played upon, deceived and made ridiculous, it was not
the shame of having thus been dressed and undressed, handled and touched
by this man--but a deep humiliation--a woman's humiliation. Do you
"I am afraid I don't."
"Just think--this man had been condemned for--for assaulting a woman.
Well! I thought of the one whom he had assaulted--and--and I felt
humiliated--There! Do you understand now?"
Madame Margot did not answer. She was looking straight ahead, her eyes
fastened on the two shining buttons of the livery, with that sphinx-like
smile which women sometimes have.
There was a real mystery in this affair which neither the jury, nor the
president, nor the public prosecutor himself could understand.
The girl Prudent (Rosalie), servant at the Varambots', of Nantes, having
become enceinte without the knowledge of her masters, had, during the
night, killed and buried her child in the garden.
It was the usual story of the infanticides committed by servant girls.
But there was one inexplicable circumstance about this one. When the
police searched the girl Prudent's room they discovered a complete
infant's outfit, made by Rosalie herself, who had spent her nights for
the last three months in cutting and sewing it. The grocer from whom she
had bought her candles, out of her own wages, for this long piece of work
had come to testify. It came out, moreover, that the sage-femme of the
district, informed by Rosalie of her condition, had given her all
necessary instructions and counsel in case the event should happen at a
time when it might not be possible to get help. She had also procured a
place at Poissy for the girl Prudent, who foresaw that her present
employers would discharge her, for the Varambot couple did not trifle
There were present at the trial both the man and the woman, a middle-
class pair from the provinces, living on their income. They were so
exasperated against this girl, who had sullied their house, that they
would have liked to see her guillotined on the spot without a trial.
The spiteful depositions they made against her became accusations in
The defendant, a large, handsome girl of Lower Normandy, well educated
for her station in life, wept continuously and would not answer to
The court and the spectators were forced to the opinion that she had
committed this barbarous act in a moment of despair and madness, since
there was every indication that she had expected to keep and bring up her
The president tried for the last time to make her speak, to get some
confession, and, having urged her with much gentleness, he finally made
her understand that all these men gathered here to pass judgment upon her
were not anxious for her death and might even have pity on her.
Then she made up her mind to speak.
"Come, now, tell us, first, who is the father of this child?" he asked.
Until then she had obstinately refused to give his name.
But she replied suddenly, looking at her masters who had so cruelly
"It is Monsieur Joseph, Monsieur Varambot's nephew."
The couple started in their seats and cried with one voice--"That's not
true! She lies! This is infamous!"
The president had them silenced and continued, "Go on, please, and tell us
how it all happened."
Then she suddenly began to talk freely, relieving her pent-up heart, that
poor, solitary, crushed heart--laying bare her sorrow, her whole sorrow,
before those severe men whom she had until now taken for enemies and
"Yes, it was Monsieur Joseph Varambot, when he came on leave last year."
"What does Mr. Joseph Varambot do?"
"He is a non-commissioned officer in the artillery, monsieur. Well, he
stayed two months at the house, two months of the summer. I thought
nothing about it when he began to look at me, and then flatter me, and
make love to me all day long. And I let myself be taken in, monsieur.
He kept saying to me that I was a handsome girl, that I was good company,
that I just suited him--and I, I liked him well enough. What could I do?
One listens to these things when one is alone--all alone--as I was. I am
alone in the world, monsieur. I have no one to talk to--no one to tell
my troubles to. I have no father, no mother, no brother, no sister,
nobody. And when he began to talk to me it was as if I had a brother who
had come back. And then he asked me to go with him to the river one
evening, so that we might talk without disturbing any one. I went--I
don't know--I don't know how it happened. He had his arm around me.
Really I didn't want to--no--no--I could not--I felt like crying, the
air was so soft--the moon was shining. No, I swear to you--I could not--
he did what he wanted. That went on three weeks, as long as he stayed.
I could have followed him to the ends of the world. He went away. I did
not know that I was enceinte. I did not know it until the month after--"
She began to cry so bitterly that they had to give her time to collect
Then the president resumed with the tone of a priest at the confessional:
"Come, now, go on."
She began to talk again: "When I realized my condition I went to see
Madame Boudin, who is there to tell you, and I asked her how it would be,
in case it should come if she were not there. Then I made the outfit,
sewing night after night, every evening until one o'clock in the morning;
and then I looked for another place, for I knew very well that I should
be sent away, but I wanted to stay in the house until the very last, so
as to save my pennies, for I have not got very much and I should need my
money for the little one."
"Then you did not intend to kill him?"
"Oh, certainly not, monsieur!"
"Why did you kill him, then?"
"It happened this way. It came sooner than I expected. It came upon me
in the kitchen, while I was doing the dishes. Monsieur and Madame
Varambot were already asleep, so I went up, not without difficulty,
dragging myself up by the banister, and I lay down on the bare floor.
It lasted perhaps one hour, or two, or three; I don't know, I had such
pain; and then I pushed him out with all my strength. I felt that he
came out and I picked him up.
"Ah! but I was glad, I assure you! I did all that Madame Boudin told me
to do. And then I laid him on my bed. And then such a pain griped me
again that I thought I should die. If you knew what it meant, you there,
you would not do so much of this. I fell on my knees, and then toppled
over backward on the floor; and it griped me again, perhaps one hour,
perhaps two. I lay there all alone--and then another one comes--another
little one--two, yes, two, like this. I took him up as I did the first
one, and then I put him on the bed, the two side by side. Is it
possible, tell me, two children, and I who get only twenty francs a
month? Say, is it possible? One, yes, that can be managed by going
without things, but not two. That turned my head. What do I know about
it? Had I any choice, tell me?
"What could I do? I felt as if my last hour had come. I put the pillow
over them, without knowing why. I could not keep them both; and then I
threw myself down, and I lay there, rolling over and over and crying
until I saw the daylight come into the window. Both of them were quite
dead under the pillow. Then I took them under my arms and went down the
stairs out in the vegetable garden. I took the gardener's spade and I
buried them under the earth, digging as deep a hole as I could, one here
and the other one there, not together, so that they might not talk of
their mother if these little dead bodies can talk. What do I know about
"And then, back in my bed, I felt so sick that I could not get up. They
sent for the doctor and he understood it all. I'm telling you the truth,
Your Honor. Do what you like with me; I'm ready."
Half of the jury were blowing their noses violently to keep from crying.
The women in the courtroom were sobbing.
The president asked her:
"Where did you bury the other one?"
"The one that you have?" she asked.
"Why, this one--this one was in the artichokes."
"Oh, then the other one is among the strawberries, by the well."
And she began to sob so piteously that no one could hear her unmoved.
The girl Rosalie Prudent was acquitted.
Monsieur Saval, who was called in Mantes "Father Saval," had just risen
from bed. He was weeping. It was a dull autumn day; the leaves were
falling. They fell slowly in the rain, like a heavier and slower rain.
M. Saval was not in good spirits. He walked from the fireplace to the
window, and from the window to the fireplace. Life has its sombre days.
It would no longer have any but sombre days for him, for he had reached
the age of sixty-two. He is alone, an old bachelor, with nobody about
him. How sad it is to die alone, all alone, without any one who is
devoted to you!
He pondered over his life, so barren, so empty. He recalled former days,
the days of his childhood, the home, the house of his parents; his
college days, his follies; the time he studied law in Paris, his father's
illness, his death. He then returned to live with his mother. They
lived together very quietly, and desired nothing more. At last the
mother died. How sad life is! He lived alone since then, and now, in
his turn, he, too, will soon be dead. He will disappear, and that will
be the end. There will be no more of Paul Saval upon the earth. What a
frightful thing! Other people will love, will laugh. Yes, people will
go on amusing themselves, and he will no longer exist! Is it not strange
that people can laugh, amuse themselves, be joyful under that eternal
certainty of death? If this death were only probable, one could then
have hope; but no, it is inevitable, as inevitable as that night follows
If, however, his life had been full! If he had done something; if he had
had adventures, great pleasures, success, satisfaction of some kind or
another. But no, nothing. He had done nothing, nothing but rise from
bed, eat, at the same hours, and go to bed again. And he had gone on
like that to the age of sixty-two years. He had not even taken unto
himself a wife, as other men do. Why? Yes, why was it that he had not
married? He might have done so, for he possessed considerable means.
Had he lacked an opportunity? Perhaps! But one can create
opportunities. He was indifferent; that was all. Indifference had been
his greatest drawback, his defect, his vice. How many men wreck their
lives through indifference! It is so difficult for some natures to get
out of bed, to move about, to take long walks, to speak, to study any
He had not even been loved. No woman had reposed on his bosom, in a
complete abandon of love. He knew nothing of the delicious anguish of
expectation, the divine vibration of a hand in yours, of the ecstasy of
What superhuman happiness must overflow your heart, when lips encounter
lips for the first time, when the grasp of four arms makes one being of
you, a being unutterably happy, two beings infatuated with one another.
M. Saval was sitting before the fire, his feet on the fender, in his
dressing gown. Assuredly his life had been spoiled, completely spoiled.
He had, however, loved. He had loved secretly, sadly, and indifferently,
in a manner characteristic of him in everything. Yes, he had loved his
old friend, Madame Sandres, the wife of his old companion, Sandres.
Ah! if he had known her as a young girl! But he had met her too late;
she was already married. Unquestionably, he would have asked her hand!
How he had loved her, nevertheless, without respite, since the first day
he set eyes on her!
He recalled his emotion every time he saw her, his grief on leaving her,
the many nights that he could not sleep, because he was thinking of her.
On rising in the morning he was somewhat more rational than on the
How pretty she was formerly, so dainty, with fair curly hair, and always
laughing. Sandres was not the man she should have chosen. She was now
fifty-two years of age. She seemed happy. Ah! if she had only loved him
in days gone by; yes, if she had only loved him! And why should she not
have loved him, he, Saval, seeing that he loved her so much, yes, she,
If only she could have guessed. Had she not guessed anything, seen
anything, comprehended anything? What would she have thought? If he had
spoken, what would she have answered?
And Saval asked himself a thousand other things. He reviewed his whole
life, seeking to recall a multitude of details.
He recalled all the long evenings spent at the house of Sandres, when the
latter's wife was young, and so charming.
He recalled many things that she had said to him, the intonations of her
voice, the little significant smiles that meant so much.
He recalled their walks, the three of them together, along the banks of
the Seine, their luncheon on the grass on Sundays, for Sandres was
employed at the sub-prefecture. And all at once the distinct
recollection came to him of an afternoon spent with her in a little wood
on the banks of the river.
They had set out in the morning, carrying their provisions in baskets.
It was a bright spring morning, one of those days which intoxicate one.
Everything smells fresh, everything seems happy. The voices of the birds
sound more joyous, and-they fly more swiftly. They had luncheon on the
grass, under the willow trees, quite close to the water, which glittered
in the sun's rays. The air was balmy, charged with the odors of fresh
vegetation; they drank it in with delight. How pleasant everything was
on that day!
After lunch, Sandres went to sleep on the broad of his back. "The best
nap he had in his life," said he, when he woke up.
Madame Sandres had taken the arm of Saval, and they started to walk along
the river bank.
She leaned tenderly on his arm. She laughed and said to him: "I am
intoxicated, my friend, I am quite intoxicated." He looked at her, his
heart going pit-a-pat. He felt himself grow pale, fearful that he might
have looked too boldly at her, and that the trembling of his hand had
revealed his passion.
She had made a wreath of wild flowers and water-lilies, and she asked
him: "Do I look pretty like that?"
As he did not answer--for he could find nothing to say, he would have
liked to go down on his knees--she burst out laughing, a sort of annoyed,
displeased laugh, as she said: "Great goose, what ails you? You might at
least say something."
He felt like crying, but could not even yet find a word to say.
All these things came back to him now, as vividly as on the day when they
took place. Why had she said this to him, "Great goose, what ails you?
You might at least say something!"
And he recalled how tenderly she had leaned on his arm. And in passing
under a shady tree he had felt her ear brushing his cheek, and he had
moved his head abruptly, lest she should suppose he was too familiar.
When he had said to her: "Is it not time to return?" she darted a
singular look at him. "Certainly," she said, "certainly," regarding him
at the same time in a curious manner. He had not thought of it at the
time, but now the whole thing appeared to him quite plain.
"Just as you like, my friend. If you are tired let us go back."
And he had answered: "I am not fatigued; but Sandres may be awake now."
And she had said: "If you are afraid of my husband's being awake, that is
another thing. Let us return."
On their way back she remained silent, and leaned no longer on his arm.
At that time it had never occurred to him, to ask himself "why." Now he
seemed to apprehend something that he had not then understood.
M. Saval felt himself blush, and he got up at a bound, as if he were
thirty years younger and had heard Madame Sandres say, "I love you."
Was it possible? That idea which had just entered his mind tortured him.
Was it possible that he had not seen, had not guessed?
Oh! if that were true, if he had let this opportunity of happiness pass
without taking advantage of it!
He said to himself: "I must know. I cannot remain in this state of
doubt. I must know!" He thought: "I am sixty-two years of age, she is
fifty-eight; I may ask her that now without giving offense."
He started out.
The Sandres' house was situated on the other side of the street, almost
directly opposite his own. He went across and knocked at the door, and a
little servant opened it.
"You here at this hour, Saval! Has some accident happened to you?"
"No, my girl," he replied; "but go and tell your mistress that I want to
speak to her at once."
"The fact is madame is preserving pears for the winter, and she is in the
preserving room. She is not dressed, you understand."
"Yes, but go and tell her that I wish to see her on a very important
The little servant went away, and Saval began to walk, with long, nervous
strides, up and down the drawing-room. He did not feel in the least
embarrassed, however. Oh! he was merely going to ask her something, as
he would have asked her about some cooking recipe. He was sixty-two
years of age!
The door opened and madame appeared. She was now a large woman, fat and
round, with full cheeks and a sonorous laugh. She walked with her arms
away from her sides and her sleeves tucked up, her bare arms all covered
with fruit juice. She asked anxiously:
"What is the matter with you, my friend? You are not ill, are you?"
"No, my dear friend; but I wish to ask you one thing, which to me is of
the first importance, something which is torturing my heart, and I want
you to promise that you will answer me frankly."
She laughed, "I am always frank. Say on."
"Well, then. I have loved you from the first day I ever saw you. Can
you have any doubt of this?"
She responded, laughing, with something of her former tone of voice.
"Great goose! what ails you? I knew it from the very first day!"
Saval began to tremble. He stammered out: "You knew it? Then . . ."
"Then--what did you think? What--what--what would you have answered?"
She broke into a peal of laughter. Some of the juice ran off the tips of
her fingers on to the carpet.
"I? Why, you did not ask me anything. It was not for me to declare
He then advanced a step toward her.
"Tell me--tell me . . . . You remember the day when Sandres went to
sleep on the grass after lunch . . . when we had walked together as
far as the bend of the river, below . . ."
He waited, expectantly. She had ceased to laugh, and looked at him,
straight in the eyes.
"Yes, certainly, I remember it."
He answered, trembling all over:
"Well--that day--if I had been--if I had been--venturesome--what would
you have done?"
She began to laugh as only a happy woman can laugh, who has nothing to
regret, and responded frankly, in a clear voice tinged with irony:
"I would have yielded, my friend."
She then turned on her heels and went back to her jam-making.
Saval rushed into the street, cast down, as though he had met with some
disaster. He walked with giant strides through the rain, straight on,
until he reached the river bank, without thinking where he was going.
He then turned to the right and followed the river. He walked a long
time, as if urged on by some instinct. His clothes were running with
water, his hat was out of shape, as soft as a rag, and dripping like a
roof. He walked on, straight in front of him. At last, he came to the
place where they had lunched on that day so long ago, the recollection of
which tortured his heart. He sat down under the leafless trees, and
A SISTER'S CONFESSION
Marguerite de Therelles was dying. Although she was-only fifty-six years
old she looked at least seventy-five. She gasped for breath, her face
whiter than the sheets, and had spasms of violent shivering, with her
face convulsed and her eyes haggard as though she saw a frightful vision.
Her elder sister, Suzanne, six years older than herself, was sobbing on
her knees beside the bed. A small table close to the dying woman's couch
bore, on a white cloth, two lighted candles, for the priest was expected
at any moment to administer extreme unction and the last communion.
The apartment wore that melancholy aspect common to death chambers; a
look of despairing farewell. Medicine bottles littered the furniture;
linen lay in the corners into which it had been kicked or swept. The
very chairs looked, in their disarray, as if they were terrified and had
run in all directions. Death--terrible Death--was in the room, hidden,
awaiting his prey.
This history of the two sisters was an affecting one. It was spoken of
far and wide; it had drawn tears from many eyes.
Suzanne, the elder, had once been passionately loved by a young man,
whose affection she returned. They were engaged to be married, and the
wedding day was at hand, when Henry de Sampierre suddenly died.
The young girl's despair was terrible, and she took an oath never to
marry. She faithfully kept her vow and adopted widow's weeds for the
remainder of her life.
But one morning her sister, her little sister Marguerite, then only
twelve years old, threw herself into Suzanne's arms, sobbing: "Sister, I
don't want you to be unhappy. I don't want you to mourn all your life.
I'll never leave you--never, never, never! I shall never marry, either.
I'll stay with you always--always!"
Suzanne kissed her, touched by the child's devotion, though not putting
any faith in her promise.
But the little one kept her word, and, despite her parents'
remonstrances, despite her elder sister's prayers, never married.
She was remarkably pretty and refused many offers. She never left her
They spent their whole life together, without a single day's separation.
They went everywhere together and were inseparable. But Marguerite was
pensive, melancholy, sadder than her sister, as if her sublime sacrifice
had undermined her spirits. She grew older more quickly; her hair was
white at thirty; and she was often ill, apparently stricken with some
unknown, wasting malady.
And now she would be the first to die.
She had not spoken for twenty-four hours, except to whisper at daybreak:
"Send at once for the priest."
And she had since remained lying on her back, convulsed with agony, her
lips moving as if unable to utter the dreadful words that rose in her
heart, her face expressive of a terror distressing to witness.
Suzanne, distracted with grief, her brow pressed against the bed, wept
bitterly, repeating over and over again the words:
"Margot, my poor Margot, my little one!"
She had always called her "my little one," while Marguerite's name for
the elder was invariably "sister."
A footstep sounded on the stairs. The door opened. An acolyte appeared,
followed by the aged priest in his surplice. As soon as she saw him the
dying woman sat up suddenly in bed, opened her lips, stammered a few
words and began to scratch the bed-clothes, as if she would have made
hole in them.
Father Simon approached, took her hand, kissed her on the forehead and
said in a gentle voice:
"May God pardon your sins, my daughter. Be of good courage. Now is the
moment to confess them--speak!"
Then Marguerite, shuddering from head to foot, so that the very bed shook
with her nervous movements, gasped:
"Sit down, sister, and listen."
The priest stooped toward the prostrate Suzanne, raised her to her feet,
placed her in a chair, and, taking a hand of each of the sisters,
"Lord God! Send them strength! Shed Thy mercy upon them."
And Marguerite began to speak. The words issued from her lips one by
one--hoarse, jerky, tremulous.
"Pardon, pardon, sister! pardon me! Oh, if only you knew how I have
dreaded this moment all my life!"
Suzanne faltered through her tears:
"But what have I to pardon, little one? You have given me everything,
sacrificed all to me. You are an angel."
But Marguerite interrupted her:
"Be silent, be silent! Let me speak! Don't stop me! It is terrible.
Let me tell all, to the very end, without interruption. Listen. You
Suzanne trembled and looked at her sister. The younger one went on:
"In order to understand you must hear everything. I was twelve years
old--only twelve--you remember, don't you? And I was spoilt; I did just
as I pleased. You remember how everybody spoilt me? Listen. The first
time he came he had on his riding boots; he dismounted, saying that he
had a message for father. You remember, don't you? Don't speak.
Listen. When I saw him I was struck with admiration. I thought him so
handsome, and I stayed in a corner of the drawing-room all the time he
was talking. Children are strange--and terrible. Yes, indeed, I dreamt
"He came again--many times. I looked at him with all my eyes, all my
heart. I was large for my age and much more precocious than--any one
suspected. He came often. I thought only of him. I often whispered to
"'Henry-Henry de Sampierre!'
"Then I was told that he was going to marry you. That was a blow! Oh,
sister, a terrible blow--terrible! I wept all through three sleepless
"He came every afternoon after lunch. You remember, don't you? Don't
answer. Listen. You used to make cakes that he was very fond of--with
flour, butter and milk. Oh, I know how to make them. I could make them
still, if necessary. He would swallow them at one mouthful and wash them
down with a glass of wine, saying: 'Delicious!' Do you remember the way
he said it?
"I was jealous--jealous! Your wedding day was drawing near. It was only
a fortnight distant. I was distracted. I said to myself: 'He shall not
marry Suzanne--no, he shall not! He shall marry me when I am old enough!
I shall never love any one half so much.' But one evening, ten days
before the wedding, you went for a stroll with him in the moonlight
before the house--and yonder--under the pine tree, the big pine tree--he
kissed you--kissed you--and held you in his arms so long--so long! You
remember, don't you? It was probably the first time. You were so pale
when you carne back to the drawing-room!
"I saw you. I was there in the shrubbery. I was mad with rage! I would
have killed you both if I could!
"I said to myself: 'He shall never marry Suzanne--never! He shall marry
no one! I could not bear it.' And all at once I began to hate him
"Then do you know what I did? Listen. I had seen the gardener prepare
pellets for killing stray dogs. He would crush a bottle into small
pieces with a stone and put the ground glass into a ball of meat.
"I stole a small medicine bottle from mother's room. I ground it fine
with a hammer and hid the glass in my pocket. It was a glistening
powder. The next day, when you had made your little cakes; I opened them
with a knife and inserted the glass. He ate three. I ate one myself. I
threw the six others into the pond. The two swans died three days later.
You remember? Oh, don't speak! Listen, listen. I, I alone did not die.
But I have always been ill. Listen--he died--you know--listen--that was
not the worst. It was afterward, later--always--the most terrible--
"My life, all my life--such torture! I said to myself: 'I will never
leave my sister. And on my deathbed I will tell her all.' And now I
have told. And I have always thought of this moment--the moment when all
would be told. Now it has come. It is terrible--oh!--sister--
"I have always thought, morning and evening, day and night: 'I shall have
to tell her some day!' I waited. The horror of it! It is done. Say
nothing. Now I am afraid--I am afraid! Oh! Supposing I should see him
again, by and by, when I am dead! See him again! Only to think of it!
I dare not--yet I must. I am going to die. I want you to forgive me.
I insist on it. I cannot meet him without your forgiveness. Oh, tell
her to forgive me, Father! Tell her. I implore you! I cannot die
She was silent and lay back, gasping for breath, still plucking at the
sheets with her fingers.
Suzanne had hidden her face in her hands and did not move. She was
thinking of him whom she had loved so long. What a life of happiness
they might have had together! She saw him again in the dim and distant
past-that past forever lost. Beloved dead! how the thought of them
rends the heart! Oh! that kiss, his only kiss! She had retained the
memory of it in her soul. And, after that, nothing, nothing more
throughout her whole existence!
The priest rose suddenly and in a firm, compelling voice said:
"Mademoiselle Suzanne, your sister is dying!"
Then Suzanne, raising her tear-stained face, put her arms round her
sister, and kissing her fervently, exclaimed:
"I forgive you, I forgive you, little one!"
Throughout the whole countryside the Lucas farn, was known as "the
Manor." No one knew why. The peasants doubtless attached to this word,
"Manor," a meaning of wealth and of splendor, for this farm was
undoubtedly the largest, richest and the best managed in the whole
The immense court, surrounded by five rows of magnificent trees, which
sheltered the delicate apple trees from the harsh wind of the plain,
inclosed in its confines long brick buildings used for storing fodder and
grain, beautiful stables built of hard stone and made to accommodate
thirty horses, and a red brick residence which looked like a little
Thanks for the good care taken, the manure heaps were as little offensive
as such things can be; the watch-dogs lived in kennels, and countless
poultry paraded through the tall grass.
Every day, at noon, fifteen persons, masters, farmhands and the women
folks, seated themselves around the long kitchen table where the soup was
brought in steaming in a large, blue-flowered bowl.
The beasts-horses, cows, pigs and sheep-were fat, well fed and clean.
Maitre Lucas, a tall man who was getting stout, would go round three
times a day, overseeing everything and thinking of everything.
A very old white horse, which the mistress wished to keep until its
natural death, because she had brought it up and had always used it, and
also because it recalled many happy memories, was housed, through sheer
kindness of heart, at the end of the stable.
A young scamp about fifteen years old, Isidore Duval by name, and called,
for convenience, Zidore, took care of this pensioner, gave him his
measure of oats and fodder in winter, and in summer was supposed to
change his pasturing place four times a day, so that he might have plenty
of fresh grass.
The animal, almost crippled, lifted with difficulty his legs, large at
the knees and swollen above the hoofs. His coat, which was no longer
curried, looked like white hair, and his long eyelashes gave to his eyes
a sad expression.
When Zidore took the animal to pasture, he had to pull on the rope with
all his might, because it walked so slowly; and the youth, bent over and
out of breath, would swear at it, exasperated at having to care for this
The farmhands, noticing the young rascal's anger against Coco, were
amused and would continually talk of the horse to Zidore, in order to
exasperate him. His comrades would make sport with him. In the village
he was called Coco-Zidore.
The boy would fume, feeling an unholy desire to revenge himself on the
horse. He was a thin, long-legged, dirty child, with thick, coarse,
bristly red hair. He seemed only half-witted, and stuttered as though
ideas were unable to form in his thick, brute-like mind.
For a long time he had been unable to understand why Coco should be kept,
indignant at seeing things wasted on this useless beast. Since the horse
could no longer work, it seemed to him unjust that he should be fed;
he revolted at the idea of wasting oats, oats which were so expensive,
on this paralyzed old plug. And often, in spite of the orders of Maitre
Lucas, he would economize on the nag's food, only giving him half
measure. Hatred grew in his confused, childlike mind, the hatred of a
stingy, mean, fierce, brutal and cowardly peasant.
When summer came he had to move the animal about in the pasture. It was
some distance away. The rascal, angrier every morning, would start, with
his dragging step, across the wheat fields. The men working in the
fields would shout to him, jokingly:
"Hey, Zidore, remember me to Coco."
He would not answer; but on the way he would break off a switch, and, as
soon as he had moved the old horse, he would let it begin grazing; then,
treacherously sneaking up behind it, he would slash its legs. The animal
would try to escape, to kick, to get away from the blows, and run around
in a circle about its rope, as though it had been inclosed in a circus
ring. And the boy would slash away furiously, running along behind, his
teeth clenched in anger.
Then he would go away slowly, without turning round, while the horse
watched him disappear, his ribs sticking out, panting as a result of his
unusual exertions. Not until the blue blouse of the young peasant was
out of sight would he lower his thin white head to the grass.
As the nights were now warm, Coco was allowed to sleep out of doors, in
the field behind the little wood. Zidore alone went to see him.
The boy threw stones at him to amuse himself. He would sit down on an
embankment about ten feet away and would stay there about half an hour,
from time to time throwing a sharp stone at the old horse, which remained
standing tied before his enemy, watching him continually and not daring
to eat before he was gone.
This one thought persisted in the mind of the young scamp: "Why feed this
horse, which is no longer good for anything?" It seemed to him that this
old nag was stealing the food of the others, the goods of man and God,
that he was even robbing him, Zidore, who was working.
Then, little by little, each day, the boy began to shorten the length of
rope which allowed the horse to graze.
The hungry animal was growing thinner, and starving. Too feeble to break
his bonds, he would stretch his head out toward the tall, green, tempting
grass, so near that he could smell, and yet so far that he could not
But one morning Zidore had an idea: it was, not to move Coco any more.
He was tired of walking so far for that old skeleton. He came, however,
in order to enjoy his vengeance. The beast watched him anxiously. He
did not beat him that day. He walked around him with his hands in his
pockets. He even pretended to change his place, but he sank the stake in
exactly the same hole, and went away overjoyed with his invention.
The horse, seeing him leave, neighed to call him back; but the rascal
began to run, leaving him alone, entirely alone in his field, well tied
down and without a blade of grass within reach.
Starving, he tried to reach the grass which he could touch with the end
of his nose. He got on his knees, stretching out his neck and his long,
drooling lips. All in vain. The old animal spent the whole day in
useless, terrible efforts. The sight of all that green food, which
stretched out on all sides of him, served to increase the gnawing pangs
The scamp did not return that day. He wandered through the woods in
search of nests.
The next day he appeared upon the scene again. Coco, exhausted, had lain
down. When he saw the boy, he got up, expecting at last to have his
But the little peasant did not even touch the mallet, which was lying on
the ground. He came nearer, looked at the animal, threw at his head a
clump of earth which flattened out against the white hair, and he started
off again, whistling.
The horse remained standing as long as he could see him; then, knowing
that his attempts to reach the near-by grass would be hopeless, he once
more lay down on his side and closed his eyes.
The following day Zidore did not come.
When he did come at last, he found Coco still stretched out; he saw that
he was dead.
Then he remained standing, looking at him, pleased with what he had done,
surprised that it should already be all over. He touched him with his
foot, lifted one of his legs and then let it drop, sat on him and
remained there, his eyes fixed on the grass, thinking of nothing. He
returned to the farm, but did not mention the accident, because he wished
to wander about at the hours when he used to change the horse's pasture.
He went to see him the next day. At his approach some crows flew away.
Countless flies were walking over the body and were buzzing around it.
When he returned home, he announced the event. The animal was so old
that nobody was surprised. The master said to two of the men:
"Take your shovels and dig a hole right where he is."
The men buried the horse at the place where he had died of hunger.
And the grass grew thick, green and vigorous, fed by the poor body.
DEAD WOMAN'S SECRET
The woman had died without pain, quietly, as a woman should whose life
had been blameless. Now she was resting in her bed, lying on her back,
her eyes closed, her features calm, her long white hair carefully
arranged as though she had done it up ten minutes before dying. The
whole pale countenance of the dead woman was so collected, so calm, so
resigned that one could feel what a sweet soul had lived in that body,
what a quiet existence this old soul had led, how easy and pure the death
of this parent had been.
Kneeling beside the bed, her son, a magistrate with inflexible
principles, and her daughter, Marguerite, known as Sister Eulalie, were
weeping as though their hearts would break. She had, from childhood up,
armed them with a strict moral code, teaching them religion, without
weakness, and duty, without compromise. He, the man, had become a judge
and handled the law as a weapon with which he smote the weak ones without
pity. She, the girl, influenced by the virtue which had bathed her in
this austere family, had become the bride of the Church through her
loathing for man.
They had hardly known their father, knowing only that he had made their
mother most unhappy, without being told any other details.
The nun was wildly-kissing the dead woman's hand, an ivory hand as white
as the large crucifix lying across the bed. On the other side of the
long body the other hand seemed still to be holding the sheet in the
death grasp; and the sheet had preserved the little creases as a memory
of those last movements which precede eternal immobility.
A few light taps on the door caused the two sobbing heads to look up, and
the priest, who had just come from dinner, returned. He was red and out
of breath from his interrupted digestion, for he had made himself a
strong mixture of coffee and brandy in order to combat the fatigue of the
last few nights and of the wake which was beginning.
He looked sad, with that assumed sadness of the priest for whom death is
a bread winner. He crossed himself and approaching with his professional
gesture: "Well, my poor children! I have come to help you pass these
last sad hours." But Sister Eulalie suddenly arose. "Thank you,
father, but my brother and I prefer to remain alone with her. This is
our last chance to see her, and we wish to be together, all three of us,
as we--we--used to be when we were small and our poor mo--mother----"
Grief and tears stopped her; she could not continue.
Once more serene, the priest bowed, thinking of his bed. "As you wish,
my children." He kneeled, crossed himself, prayed, arose and went out
quietly, murmuring: "She was a saint!"
They remained alone, the dead woman and her children. The ticking of the
clock, hidden in the shadow, could be heard distinctly, and through the
open window drifted in the sweet smell of hay and of woods, together with
the soft moonlight. No other noise could be heard over the land except
the occasional croaking of the frog or the chirping of some belated
insect. An infinite peace, a divine melancholy, a silent serenity
surrounded this dead woman, seemed to be breathed out from her and to
appease nature itself.
Then the judge, still kneeling, his head buried in the bed clothes, cried
in a voice altered by grief and deadened by the sheets and blankets:
"Mamma, mamma, mamma!" And his sister, frantically striking her forehead
against the woodwork, convulsed, twitching and trembling as in an
epileptic fit, moaned: "Jesus, Jesus, mamma, Jesus!" And both of them,
shaken by a storm of grief, gasped and choked.
The crisis slowly calmed down and they began to weep quietly, just as on
the sea when a calm follows a squall.
A rather long time passed and they arose and looked at their dead.
And the memories, those distant memories, yesterday so dear, to-day so
torturing, came to their minds with all the little forgotten details,
those little intimate familiar details which bring back to life the one
who has left. They recalled to each other circumstances, words, smiles,
intonations of the mother who was no longer to speak to them. They saw
her again happy and calm. They remembered things which she had said, and
a little motion of the hand, like beating time, which she often used when
emphasizing something important.
And they loved her as they never had loved her before. They measured the
depth of their grief, and thus they discovered how lonely they would find
It was their prop, their guide, their whole youth, all the best part of
their lives which was disappearing. It was their bond with life, their
mother, their mamma, the connecting link with their forefathers which
they would thenceforth miss. They now became solitary, lonely beings;
they could no longer look back.
The nun said to her brother: "You remember how mamma used always to read
her old letters; they are all there in that drawer. Let us, in turn,
read them; let us live her whole life through tonight beside her! It
would be like a road to the cross, like making the acquaintance of her
mother, of our grandparents, whom we never knew, but whose letters are
there and of whom she so often spoke, do you remember?"
Out of the drawer they took about ten little packages of yellow paper,
tied with care and arranged one beside the other. They threw these
relics on the bed and chose one of them on which the word "Father" was
written. They opened and read it.
It was one of those old-fashioned letters which one finds in old family
desk drawers, those epistles which smell of another century. The first
one started: "My dear," another one: "My beautiful little girl," others:
"My dear child," or: "My dear (laughter)." And suddenly the nun began to
read aloud, to read over to the dead woman her whole history, all her
tender memories. The judge, resting his elbow on the bed, was listening
with his eyes fastened on his mother. The motionless body seemed happy.
Sister Eulalie, interrupting herself, said suddenly:
"These ought to be put in the grave with her; they ought to be used as a
shroud and she ought to be buried in it." She took another package, on
which no name was written. She began to read in a firm voice: "My adored
one, I love you wildly. Since yesterday I have been suffering the
tortures of the damned, haunted by our memory. I feel your lips against
mine, your eyes in mine, your breast against mine. I love you, I love
you! You have driven me mad. My arms open, I gasp, moved by a wild
desire to hold you again. My whole soul and body cries out for you,
wants you. I have kept in my mouth the taste of your kisses--"
The judge had straightened himself up. The nun stopped reading. He
snatched the letter from her and looked for the signature. There was
none, but only under the words, "The man who adores you," the name
"Henry." Their father's name was Rene. Therefore this was not from him.
The son then quickly rummaged through the package of letters, took one
out and read: "I can no longer live without your caresses." Standing
erect, severe as when sitting on the bench, he looked unmoved at the dead
woman. The nun, straight as a statue, tears trembling in the corners of
her eyes, was watching her brother, waiting. Then he crossed the room
slowly, went to the window and stood there, gazing out into the dark
When he turned around again Sister Eulalie, her eyes dry now, was still
standing near the bed, her head bent down.
He stepped forward, quickly picked up the letters and threw them pell-
mell back into the drawer. Then he closed the curtains of the bed.
When daylight made the candles on the table turn pale the son slowly left
his armchair, and without looking again at the mother upon whom he had
passed sentence, severing the tie that united her to son and daughter, he
said slowly: "Let us now retire, sister."
A HUMBLE DRAMA
Meetings that are unexpected constitute the charm of traveling. Who has
not experienced the joy of suddenly coming across a Parisian, a college
friend, or a neighbor, five hundred miles from home? Who has not passed
a night awake in one of those small, rattling country stagecoaches, in
regions where steam is still a thing unknown, beside a strange young
woman, of whom one has caught only a glimpse in the dim light of the
lantern, as she entered the carriage in front of a white house in some
small country town?
And the next morning, when one's head and ears feel numb with the
continuous tinkling of the bells and the loud rattling of the windows,
what a charming sensation it is to see your pretty neighbor open her
eyes, startled, glance around her, arrange her rebellious hair with her
slender fingers, adjust her hat, feel with sure hand whether her corset
is still in place, her waist straight, and her skirt not too wrinkled.
She glances at you coldly and curiously. Then she leans back and no
longer seems interested in anything but the country.
In spite of yourself, you watch her; and in spite of yourself you keep on
thinking of her. Who is she? Whence does she come? Where is she going?
In spite of yourself you spin a little romance around her. She is
pretty; she seems charming! Happy he who . . . Life might be
delightful with her. Who knows? She is perhaps the woman of our dreams,
the one suited to our disposition, the one for whom our heart calls.
And how delicious even the disappointment at seeing her get out at the
gate of a country house! A man stands there, who is awaiting her, with
two children and two maids. He takes her in his arms and kisses as he
lifts her out. Then she stoops over the little ones, who hold up their
hands to her; she kisses them tenderly; and then they all go away
together, down a path, while the maids catch the packages which the
driver throws down to them from the coach.
Adieu! It is all over. You never will see her again! Adieu to the
young woman who has passed the night by your side. You know her no more,
you have not spoken to her; all the same, you feel a little sad to see
her go. Adieu!
I have had many of these souvenirs of travel, some joyous and some sad.
Once I was in Auvergne, tramping through those delightful French
mountains, that are not too high, not too steep, but friendly and
familiar. I had climbed the Sancy, and entered a little inn, near a
pilgrim's chapel called Notre-Dame de Vassiviere, when I saw a queer,
ridiculous-looking old woman breakfasting alone at the end table.
She was at least seventy years old, tall, skinny, and angular, and her
white hair was puffed around her temples in the old-fashioned style.
She was dressed like a traveling Englishwoman, in awkward, queer
clothing, like a person who is indifferent to dress. She was eating an
omelet and drinking water.
Her face was peculiar, with restless eyes and the expression of one with
whom fate has dealt unkindly. I watched her, in spite of myself,
thinking: "Who is she? What is the life of this woman? Why is she
wandering alone through these mountains?"
She paid and rose to leave, drawing up over her shoulders an astonishing
little shawl, the two ends of which hung over her arms. From a corner of
the room she took an alpenstock, which was covered with names traced with
a hot iron; then she went out, straight, erect, with the long steps of a
letter-carrier who is setting out on his route.
A guide was waiting for her at the door, and both went away. I watched
them go down the valley, along the road marked by a line of high wooden
crosses. She was taller than her companion, and seemed to walk faster
Two hours later I was climbing the edge of the deep funnel that incloses
Lake Pavin in a marvelous and enormous basin of verdure, full of trees,
bushes, rocks, and flowers. This lake is so round that it seems as if
the outline had been drawn with a pair of compasses, so clear and blue
that one might deem it a flood of azure come down from the sky, so
charming that one would like to live in a but on the wooded slope which
dominates this crater, where the cold, still water is sleeping.
The Englishwoman was standing there like a statue, gazing upon the
transparent sheet down in the dead volcano. She was straining her eyes
to penetrate below the surface down to the unknown depths, where
monstrous trout which have devoured all the other fish are said to live.
As I was passing close by her, it seemed to me that two big tears were
brimming her eyes. But she departed at a great pace, to rejoin her
guide, who had stayed behind in an inn at the foot of the path leading to
I did not see her again that day.
The next day, at nightfall, I came to the chateau of Murol. The old
fortress, an enormous tower standing on a peak in the midst of a large
valley, where three valleys intersect, rears its brown, uneven, cracked
surface into the sky; it is round, from its large circular base to the
crumbling turrets on its pinnacles.
It astonishes the eye more than any other ruin by its simple mass, its
majesty, its grave and imposing air of antiquity. It stands there,
alone, high as a mountain, a dead queen, but still the queen of the
valleys stretched out beneath it. You go up by a slope planted with
firs, then you enter a narrow gate, and stop at the foot of the walls, in
the first inclosure, in full view of the entire country.
Inside there are ruined halls, crumbling stairways, unknown cavities,
dungeons, walls cut through in the middle, vaulted roofs held up one
knows not how, and a mass of stones and crevices, overgrown with grass,
where animals glide in and out.
I was exploring this ruin alone.
Suddenly I perceived behind a bit of wall a being, a kind of phantom,
like the spirit of this ancient and crumbling habitation.
I was taken aback with surprise, almost with fear, when I recognized the
old lady whom I had seen twice.
She was weeping, with big tears in her eyes, and held her handkerchief in
I turned around to go away, when she spoke to me, apparently ashamed to
have been surprised in her grief.
"Yes, monsieur, I am crying. That does not happen often to me."
"Pardon me, madame, for having disturbed you," I stammered, confused, not
knowing what to say. "Some misfortune has doubtless come to you."
"Yes. No--I am like a lost dog," she murmured, and began to sob, with
her handkerchief over her eyes.
Moved by these contagious tears, I took her hand, trying to calm her.
Then brusquely she told me her history, as if no longer ably to bear her
"Oh! Oh! Monsieur--if you knew--the sorrow in which I live--in what
"Once I was happy. I have a house down there--a home. I cannot go back
to it any more; I shall never go back to it again, it is too hard to
"I have a son. It is he! it is he! Children don't know. Oh, one has
such a short time to live! If I should see him now I should perhaps not
recognize him. How I loved him? How I loved him! Even before he was
born, when I felt him move. And after that! How I have kissed and
caressed and cherished him! If you knew how many nights I have passed in
watching him sleep, and how many in thinking of him. I was crazy about
him. When he was eight years old his father sent him to boarding-school.
That was the end. He no longer belonged to me. Oh, heavens! He came to
see me every Sunday. That was all!
"He went to college in Paris. Then he came only four times a year, and
every time I was astonished to see how he had changed, to find him taller
without having seen him grow. They stole his childhood from me, his
confidence, and his love which otherwise would not have gone away from
me; they stole my joy in seeing him grow, in seeing him become a little
"I saw him four times a year. Think of it! And at every one of his
visits his body, his eye, his movements, his voice his laugh, were no
longer the same, were no longer mine. All these things change so quickly
in a child; and it is so sad if one is not there to see them change; one
no longer recognizes him.
"One year he came with down on his cheek! He! my son! I was dumfounded
--would you believe it? I hardly dared to kiss him. Was it really he,
my little, little curly head of old, my dear; dear child, whom I had held
in his diapers or my knee, and who had nursed at my breast with his
little greedy lips--was it he, this tall, brown boy, who no longer knew
how to kiss me, who seemed to love me as a matter of duty, who called me
'mother' for the sake of politeness, and who kissed me on the forehead,
when I felt like crushing him in my arms?
"My husband died. Then my parents, and then my two sisters. When Death
enters a house it seems as if he were hurrying to do his utmost, so as
not to have to return for a long time after that. He spares only one or
two to mourn the others.
"I remained alone. My tall son was then studying law. I was hoping to
live and die near him, and I went to him so that we could live together.
But he had fallen into the ways of young men, and he gave me to
understand that I was in his way. So I left. I was wrong in doing so,
but I suffered too much in feeling myself in his way, I, his mother! And
I came back home.
"I hardly ever saw him again.
"He married. What a joy! At last we should be together for good.
I should have grandchildren. His wife was an Englishwoman, who took a
dislike to me. Why? Perhaps she thought that I loved him too much.
"Again I was obliged to go away. And I was alone. Yes, monsieur.
"Then he went to England, to live with them, with his wife's parents.
Do you understand? They have him--they have my son for themselves.
They have stolen him from me. He writes to me once a month. At first he
came to see me. But now he no longer comes.
"It is now four years since I saw him last. His face then was wrinkled
and his hair white. Was that possible? This man, my son, almost an old
man? My little rosy child of old? No doubt I shall never see him again.
"And so I travel about all the year. I go east and west, as you see,
with no companion.
"I am like a lost dog. Adieu, monsieur! don't stay here with me for it
hurts me to have told you all this."
I went down the hill, and on turning round to glance back, I saw the old
woman standing on a broken wall, looking out upon the mountains, the long
valley and Lake Chambon in the distance.
And her skirt and the queer little shawl which she wore around her thin
shoulders were fluttering tike a flag in the wind.
We were just leaving the asylum when I saw a tall, thin man in a corner
of the court who kept on calling an imaginary dog. He was crying in a
soft, tender voice: "Cocotte! Come here, Cocotte, my beauty!" and
slapping his thigh as one does when calling an animal. I asked the
physician, "Who is that man?" He answered: "Oh! he is not at all
interesting. He is a coachman named Francois, who became insane after
drowning his dog."
I insisted: "Tell me his story. The most simple and humble things are
sometimes those which touch our hearts most deeply."
Here is this man's adventure, which was obtained from a friend of his, a
There was a family of rich bourgeois who lived in a suburb of Paris.
They had a villa in the middle of a park, at the edge of the Seine.
Their coachman was this Francois, a country fellow, somewhat dull, kind-
hearted, simple and easy to deceive.
One evening, as he was returning home, a dog began to follow him. At
first he paid no attention to it, but the creature's obstinacy at last
made him turn round. He looked to see if he knew this dog. No, he had
never seen it. It was a female dog and frightfully thin. She was
trotting behind him with a mournful and famished look, her tail between
her legs, her ears flattened against her head and stopping and starting
whenever he did.
He tried to chase this skeleton away and cried:
"Run along! Get out! Kss! kss!" She retreated a few steps, then sat
down and waited. And when the coachman started to walk again she
followed along behind him.
He pretended to pick up some stones. The animal ran a little farther
away, but came back again as soon as the man's back was turned.
Then the coachman Francois took pity on the beast and called her. The
dog approached timidly. The man patted her protruding ribs, moved by the
beast's misery, and he cried: "Come! come here!" Immediately she began
to wag her tail, and, feeling herself taken in, adopted, she began to run
along ahead of her new master.
He made her a bed on the straw in the stable, then he ran to the kitchen
for some bread. When she had eaten all she could she curled up and went
When his employers heard of this the next day they allowed the coachman
to keep the animal. It was a good beast, caressing and faithful,
intelligent and gentle.
Nevertheless Francois adored Cocotte, and he kept repeating: "That beast
is human. She only lacks speech."
He had a magnificent red leather collar made for her which bore these
words engraved on a copper plate: "Mademoiselle Cocotte, belonging to the
She was remarkably prolific and four times a year would give birth to a
batch of little animals belonging to every variety of the canine race.
Francois would pick out one which he would leave her and then he would
unmercifully throw the others into the river. But soon the cook joined
her complaints to those of the gardener. She would find dogs under the
stove, in the ice box, in the coal bin, and they would steal everything
they came across.
Finally the master, tired of complaints, impatiently ordered Francois to
get rid of Cocotte. In despair the man tried to give her away. Nobody
wanted her. Then he decided to lose her, and he gave her to a teamster,
who was to drop her on the other side of Paris, near Joinville-le-Pont.
Cocotte returned the same day. Some decision had to be taken. Five
francs was given to a train conductor to take her to Havre. He was to
drop her there.
Three days later she returned to the stable, thin, footsore and tired
The master took pity on her and let her stay. But other dogs were
attracted as before, and one evening, when a big dinner party was on,
a stuffed turkey was carried away by one of them right under the cook's
nose, and she did not dare to stop him.
This time the master completely lost his temper and said angrily to
Francois: "If you don't throw this beast into the water before--to-morrow
morning, I'll put you out, do you hear?"
The man was dumbfounded, and he returned to his room to pack his trunk,
preferring to leave the place. Then he bethought himself that he could
find no other situation as long as he dragged this animal about with him.
He thought of his good position, where he was well paid and well fed, and
he decided that a dog was really not worth all that. At last he decided
to rid himself of Cocotte at daybreak.
He slept badly. He rose at dawn, and taking a strong rope, went to get
the dog. She stood up slowly, shook herself, stretched and came to
welcome her master.
Then his courage forsook him, and he began to pet her affectionately,
stroking her long ears, kissing her muzzle and calling her tender names.
But a neighboring clock struck six. He could no longer hesitate.
He opened the door, calling: "Come!" The beast wagged her tail,
understanding that she was to be taken out.
They reached the beach, and he chose a place where the water seemed deep.
Then he knotted the rope round the leather collar and tied a heavy stone
to the other end. He seized Cocotte in his arms and kissed her madly, as
though he were taking leave of some human being. He held her to his
breast, rocked her and called her "my dear little Cocotte, my sweet
little Cocotte," and she grunted with pleasure.
Ten times he tried to throw her into the water and each time he lost
But suddenly he made up his mind and threw her as far from him as he
could. At first she tried to swim, as she did when he gave her a bath,
but her head, dragged down by the stone, kept going under, and she looked
at her master with wild, human glances as she struggled like a drowning
person. Then the front part of her body sank, while her hind legs waved
wildly out of the water. Finally those also disappeared.
Then, for five minutes, bubbles rose to the surface as though the river
were boiling, and Francois, haggard, his heart beating, thought that he
saw Cocotte struggling in the mud, and, with the simplicity of a peasant,
he kept saying to himself: "What does the poor beast think of me now?"
He almost lost his mind. He was ill for a month and every night he
dreamed of his dog. He could feel her licking his hands and hear her
barking. It was necessary to call in a physician. At last he recovered,
and toward the 2nd of June his employers took him to their estate at
Biesard, near Rouen.
There again he was near the Seine. He began to take baths. Each morning
he would go down with the groom and they would swim across the river.
One day, as they were disporting themselves in the water, Francois
suddenly cried to his companion: "Look what's coming! I'm going to give
you a chop!"
It was an enormous, swollen corpse that was floating down with its feet
sticking straight up in the air.
Francois swam up to it, still joking: "Whew! it's not fresh. What a
catch, old man! It isn't thin, either!" He kept swimming about at a
distance from the animal that was in a state of decomposition. Then,
suddenly, he was silent and looked at it: attentively. This time he came
near enough to touch, it. He looked fixedly at the collar, then he
stretched out his arm, seized the neck, swung the corpse round and drew
it up close to him and read on the copper which had turned green and
which still stuck to the discolored leather: "Mademoiselle Cocotte,
belonging to the coachman Francois."
The dead dog had come more than a hundred miles to find its master.
He let out a frightful shriek and began to swim for the beach with all
his might, still howling; and as soon as he touched land he ran away
wildly, stark naked, through the country. He was insane!
THE CORSICAN BANDIT
The road ascended gently through the forest of Aitone. The large pines
formed a solemn dome above our heads, and that mysterious sound made by
the wind in the trees sounded like the notes of an organ.
After walking for three hours, there was a clearing, and then at
intervals an enormous pine umbrella, and then we suddenly came to the
edge of the forest, some hundred meters below, the pass leading to the
wild valley of Niolo.
On the two projecting heights which commanded a view of this pass, some
old trees, grotesquely twisted, seemed to have mounted with painful
efforts, like scouts sent in advance of the multitude in the rear. When
we turned round, we saw the entire forest stretched beneath our feet,
like a gigantic basin of verdure, inclosed by bare rocks whose summits
seemed to reach the sky.
We resumed our walk, and, ten minutes later, found ourselves in the pass.
Then I beheld a remarkable landscape. Beyond another forest stretched a
valley, but a valley such as I had never seen before; a solitude of
stone, ten leagues long, hollowed out between two high mountains, without
a field or a tree to be seen. This was the Niolo valley, the fatherland
of Corsican liberty, the inaccessible citadel, from which the invaders
had never been able to drive out the mountaineers.
My companion said to me: "This is where all our bandits have taken
Ere long we were at the further end of this gorge, so wild, so
Not a blade of grass, not a plant-nothing but granite. As far as our
eyes could reach, we saw in front of us a desert of glittering stone,
heated like an oven by a burning sun, which seemed to hang for that very
purpose right above the gorge. When we raised our eyes towards the
crests, we stood dazzled and stupefied by what we saw. They looked like
a festoon of coral; all the summits are of porphyry; and the sky overhead
was violet, purple, tinged with the coloring of these strange mountains.
Lower down, the granite was of scintillating gray, and seemed ground to
powder beneath our feet. At our right, along a long and irregular
course, roared a tumultuous torrent. And we staggered along under this
heat, in this light, in this burning, arid, desolate valley cut by this
torrent of turbulent water which seemed to be ever hurrying onward,
without fertilizing the rocks, lost in this furnace which greedily drank
it up without being saturated or refreshed by it.
But, suddenly, there was visible at our right a little wooden cross sunk
in a little heap of stones. A man had been killed there; and I said to
"Tell me about your bandits."
"I knew the most celebrated of them, the terrible St. Lucia. I will tell
you his history.
"His father was killed in a quarrel by a young man of the district, it is
said; and St. Lucia was left alone with his sister. He was a weak, timid
youth, small, often ill, without any energy. He did not proclaim
vengeance against the assassin of his father. All his relatives came to
see him, and implored of him to avenge his death; he remained deaf to
their menaces and their supplications.
"Then, following the old Corsican custom, his sister, in her indignation
carried away his black clothes, in order that he might not wear mourning
for a dead man who had not been avenged. He was insensible to even this
affront, and rather than take down from the rack his father's gun, which
was still loaded, he shut himself up, not daring to brave the looks of
the young men of the district.
"He seemed to have even forgotten the crime, and lived with his sister in
the seclusion of their dwelling.
"But, one day, the man who was suspected of having committed the murder,
was about to get married. St. Lucia did not appear to be moved by this
news, but, out of sheer bravado, doubtless, the bridegroom, on his way to
the church, passed before the house of the two orphans.
"The brother and the sister, at their window, were eating frijoles, when
the young man saw the bridal procession going by. Suddenly he began to
tremble, rose to his feet without uttering a word, made the sign of the
cross, took the gun which was hanging over the fireplace, and went out.
"When he spoke of this later on, he said: 'I don't know what was the
matter with me; it was like fire in my blood; I felt that I must do it,
that, in spite of everything, I could not resist, and I concealed the gun
in a cave on the road to Corte.
"An hour later, he came back, with nothing in his hand, and with his
habitual air of sad weariness. His sister believed that there was
nothing further in his thoughts.
"But when night fell he disappeared.
"His enemy had, the same evening, to repair to Corte on foot, accompanied
by his two groomsmen.
"He was walking along, singing as he went, when St. Lucia stood before
him, and looking straight in the murderer's face, exclaimed: 'Now is the
time!' and shot him point-blank in the chest.
"One of the men fled; the other stared at, the young man, saying:
"'What have you done, St. Lucia?' and he was about to hasten to Corte for
help, when St. Lucia said in a stern tone:
"'If you move another step, I'll shoot you in the leg.'
"The other, aware of his timidity hitherto, replied: 'You would not dare
to do it!' and was hurrying off when he fell instantaneously, his thigh
shattered by a bullet.
"And St. Lucia, coming over to where he lay, said:
"'I am going to look at your wound; if it is not serious, I'll leave you
there; if it is mortal I'll finish you off."
"He inspected the wound, considered it mortal, and slowly reloading his
gun, told the wounded man to say a prayer, and shot him through the head.
"Next day he was in the mountains.
"And do you know what this St. Lucia did after this?
"All his family were arrested by the gendarmes. His uncle, the cure, who
was suspected of having incited him to this deed of vengeance, was
himself put in prison, and accused by the dead man's relatives. But he
escaped, took a gun in his turn, and went to join his nephew in the
"Next, St. Lucia killed, one after the other, his uncle's accusers, and
tore out their eyes to teach the others never to state what they had seen
with their eyes.
"He killed all the relatives, all the connections of his enemy's family.
He slew during his life fourteen gendarmes, burned down the houses of his
adversaries, and was, up to the day of his death, the most terrible of
all the bandits whose memory we have preserved."
The sun disappeared behind Monte Cinto and the tall shadow of the granite
mountain went to sleep on the granite of the valley. We quickened our
pace in order to reach before night the little village of Albertaccio,
nothing but a pile of stones welded into the stone flanks of a wild
gorge. And I said as I thought of the bandit:
"What a terrible custom your vendetta is!"
My companion answered with an air of resignation:
"What would you have? A man must do his duty!"
The seventeenth of July, one thousand eight hundred and eighty-three, at
half-past two in the morning, the watchman in the cemetery of Besiers,
who lived in a small cottage on the edge of this field of the dead, was
awakened by the barking of his dog, which was shut up in the kitchen.
Going down quickly, he saw the animal sniffing at the crack of the door
and barking furiously, as if some tramp had been sneaking about the
house. The keeper, Vincent, therefore took his gun and went out.
His dog, preceding him, at once ran in the direction of the Avenue
General Bonnet, stopping short at the monument of Madame Tomoiseau.
The keeper, advancing cautiously, soon saw a faint light on the side of
the Avenue Malenvers, and stealing in among the graves, he came upon a
horrible act of profanation.
A man had dug up the coffin of a young woman who had been buried the
evening before and was dragging the corpse out of it.
A small dark lantern, standing on a pile of earth, lighted up this
Vincent sprang upon the wretch, threw him to the ground, bound his hands
and took him to the police station.
It was a young, wealthy and respected lawyer in town, named Courbataille.
He was brought into court. The public prosecutor opened the case by