Part 4 out of 31
The war was over. The Germans occupied France. The whole country was
pulsating like a conquered wrestler beneath the knee of his victorious
The first trains from Paris, distracted, starving, despairing Paris, were
making their way to the new frontiers, slowly passing through the country
districts and the villages. The passengers gazed through the windows at
the ravaged fields and burned hamlets. Prussian soldiers, in their black
helmets with brass spikes, were smoking their pipes astride their chairs
in front of the houses which were still left standing. Others were
working or talking just as if they were members of the families. As you
passed through the different towns you saw entire regiments drilling in
the squares, and, in spite of the rumble of the carriage-wheels, you
could every moment hear the hoarse words of command.
M. Dubuis, who during the entire siege had served as one of the National
Guard in Paris, was going to join his wife and daughter, whom he had
prudently sent away to Switzerland before the invasion.
Famine and hardship had not diminished his big paunch so characteristic
of the rich, peace-loving merchant. He had gone through the terrible
events of the past year with sorrowful resignation and bitter complaints
at the savagery of men. Now that he was journeying to the frontier at
the close of the war, he saw the Prussians for the first time, although
he had done his duty on the ramparts and mounted guard on many a cold
He stared with mingled fear and anger at those bearded armed men,
installed all over French soil as if they were at home, and he felt in
his soul a kind of fever of impotent patriotism, at the same time also
the great need of that new instinct of prudence which since then has,
never left us. In the same railway carriage were two Englishmen, who had
come to the country as sightseers and were gazing about them with looks
of quiet curiosity. They were both also stout, and kept chatting in
their own language, sometimes referring to their guidebook, and reading
aloud the names of the places indicated.
Suddenly the train stopped at a little village station, and a Prussian
officer jumped up with a great clatter of his sabre on the double
footboard of the railway carriage. He was tall, wore a tightfitting
uniform, and had whiskers up to his eyes. His red hair seemed to be on
fire, and his long mustache, of a paler hue, stuck out on both sides of
his face, which it seemed to cut in two.
The Englishmen at once began staring, at him with smiles of newly
awakened interest, while M. Dubuis made a show of reading a newspaper.
He sat concealed in his corner like a thief in presence of a gendarme.
The train started again. The Englishmen went on chatting and looking out
for the exact scene of different battles; and all of a sudden, as one of
them stretched out his arm toward the horizon as he pointed out a
village, the Prussian officer remarked in French, extending his long legs
and lolling backward:
"I killed a dozen Frenchmen in that village and took more than a hundred
The Englishmen, quite interested, immediately asked:
"Ha! and what is the name of this village?"
The Prussian replied:
"Pharsbourg." He added: "We caught those French scoundrels by the ears."
And he glanced toward M. Dubuis, laughing conceitedly into his mustache.
The train rolled on, still passing through hamlets occupied by the
victorious army. German soldiers could be seen along the roads, on the
edges of fields, standing in front of gates or chatting outside cafes.
They covered the soil like African locusts.
The officer said, with a wave of his hand:
"If I had been in command, I'd have taken Paris, burned everything,
killed everybody. No more France!"
The Englishman, through politeness, replied simply:
He went on:
"In twenty years all Europe, all of it, will belong to us. Prussia is
more than a match for all of them."
The Englishmen, getting uneasy, no longer replied. Their faces, which
had become impassive, seemed made of wax behind their long whiskers.
Then the Prussian officer began to laugh. And still, lolling back, he
began to sneer. He sneered at the downfall of France, insulted the
prostrate enemy; he sneered at Austria, which had been recently
conquered; he sneered at the valiant but fruitless defence of the
departments; he sneered at the Garde Mobile and at the useless artillery.
He announced that Bismarck was going to build a city of iron with the
captured cannon. And suddenly he placed his boots against the thigh of
M. Dubuis, who turned away his eyes, reddening to the roots of his hair.
The Englishmen seemed to have become indifferent to all that was going
on, as if they were suddenly shut up in their own island, far from the
din of the world.
The officer took out his pipe, and looking fixedly at the Frenchman,
"You haven't any tobacco--have you?"
M. Dubuis replied:
The German resumed:
"You might go and buy some for me when the train stops."
And he began laughing afresh as he added:
"I'll give you the price of a drink."
The train whistled, and slackened its pace. They passed a station that
had been burned down; and then they stopped altogether.
The German opened the carriage door, and, catching M. Dubuis by the arm,
"Go and do what I told you--quick, quick!"
A Prussian detachment occupied the station. Other soldiers were standing
behind wooden gratings, looking on. The engine was getting up steam
before starting off again. Then M. Dubuis hurriedly jumped on the
platform, and, in spite of the warnings of the station master, dashed
into the adjoining compartment.
He was alone! He tore open his waistcoat, his heart was beating so
rapidly, and, gasping for breath, he wiped the perspiration from his
The train drew up at another station. And suddenly the officer appeared
at the carriage door and jumped in, followed close behind by the two
Englishmen, who were impelled by curiosity. The German sat facing the
Frenchman, and, laughing still, said:
"You did not want to do what I asked you?"
M. Dubuis replied:
The train had just left the station.
The officer said:
"I'll cut off your mustache to fill my pipe with."
And he put out his hand toward the Frenchman's face.
The Englishmen stared at them, retaining their previous impassive manner.
The German had already pulled out a few hairs, and was still tugging at
the mustache, when M. Dubuis, with a back stroke of his hand, flung aside
the officer's arm, and, seizing him by the collar, threw him down on the
seat. Then, excited to a pitch of fury, his temples swollen and his eyes
glaring, he kept throttling the officer with one hand, while with the
other clenched he began to strike him violent blows in the face. The
Prussian struggled, tried to draw his sword, to clinch with his
adversary, who was on top of him. But M. Dubuis crushed him with his
enormous weight and kept punching him without taking breath or knowing
where his blows fell. Blood flowed down the face of the German, who,
choking and with a rattling in his throat, spat out his broken teeth and
vainly strove to shake off this infuriated man who was killing him.
The Englishmen had got on their feet and came closer in order to see
better. They remained standing, full of mirth and curiosity, ready to
bet for, or against, either combatant.
Suddenly M. Dubuis, exhausted by his violent efforts, rose and resumed
his seat without uttering a word.
The Prussian did not attack him, for the savage assault had terrified and
astonished the officer as well as causing him suffering. When he was
able to breathe freely, he said:
"Unless you give me satisfaction with pistols I will kill you."
M. Dubuis replied:
"Whenever you like. I'm quite ready."
The German said:
"Here is the town of Strasbourg. I'll get two officers to be my seconds,
and there will be time before the train leaves the station."
M. Dubuis, who was puffing as hard as the engine, said to the Englishmen:
"Will you be my seconds?" They both answered together:
And the train stopped.
In a minute the Prussian had found two comrades, who brought pistols, and
they made their way toward the ramparts.
The Englishmen were continually looking at their watches, shuffling their
feet and hurrying on with the preparations, uneasy lest they should be
too late for the train.
M. Dubuis had never fired a pistol in his life.
They made him stand twenty paces away from his enemy. He was asked:
"Are you ready?"
While he was answering, "Yes, monsieur," he noticed that one of the
Englishmen had opened his umbrella in order to keep off the rays of the
A voice gave the signal:
M. Dubuis fired at random without delay, and he was amazed to see the
Prussian opposite him stagger, lift up his arms and fall forward, dead.
He had killed the officer.
One of the Englishmen exclaimed: "Ah!" He was quivering with delight,
with satisfied curiosity and joyous impatience. The other, who still
kept his watch in his hand, seized M. Dubuis' arm and hurried him in
double-quick time toward the station, his fellow-countryman marking time
as he ran beside them, with closed fists, his elbows at his sides, "One,
two; one, two!"
And all three, running abreast rapidly, made their way to the station
like three grotesque figures in a comic newspaper.
The train was on the point of starting. They sprang into their carriage.
Then the Englishmen, taking off their travelling caps, waved them three
times over their heads, exclaiming:
"Hip! hip! hip! hurrah!"
And gravely, one after the other, they extended their right hands to M.
Dubuis and then went back and sat down in their own corner.
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 2.
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 COLONEL'S IDEAS
THE QUESTION OF LATIN
THE BLIND MAN
A FAMILY AFFAIR
BESIDE SCHOPENHAUER'S CORPSE
THE COLONEL'S IDEAS
"Upon my word," said Colonel Laporte, "although I am old and gouty, my
legs as stiff as two pieces of wood, yet if a pretty woman were to tell
me to go through the eye of a needle, I believe I should take a jump at
it, like a clown through a hoop. I shall die like that; it is in the
blood. I am an old beau, one of the old school, and the sight of a
woman, a pretty woman, stirs me to the tips of my toes. There!
"We are all very much alike in France in this respect; we still remain
knights, knights of love and fortune, since God has been abolished whose
bodyguard we really were. But nobody can ever get woman out of our
hearts; there she is, and there she will remain, and we love her, and
shall continue to love her, and go on committing all kinds of follies on
her account as long as there is a France on the map of Europe; and even
if France were to be wiped off the map, there would always be Frenchmen
"When I am in the presence of a woman, of a pretty woman, I feel capable
of anything. By Jove! when I feel her looks penetrating me, her
confounded looks which set your blood on fire, I should like to do I
don't know what; to fight a duel, to have a row, to smash the furniture,
in order to show that I am the strongest, the bravest, the most daring
and the most devoted of men.
"But I am not the only one, certainly not; the whole French army is like
me, I swear to you. From the common soldier to the general, we all start
out, from the van to the rear guard, when there is a woman in the case, a
pretty woman. Do you remember what Joan of Arc made us do formerly?
Come. I will make a bet that if a pretty woman had taken command of the
army on the eve of Sedan, when Marshal MacMahon was wounded, we should
have broken through the Prussian lines, by Jove! and had a drink out of
"It was not a Trochu, but a Sainte-Genevieve, who was needed in Paris;
and I remember a little anecdote of the war which proves that we are
capable of everything in presence of a woman.
"I was a captain, a simple captain, at the time, and I was in command of
a detachment of scouts, who were retreating through a district which
swarmed with Prussians. We were surrounded, pursued, tired out and half
dead with fatigue and hunger, but we were bound to reach Bar-sur-Tain
before the morrow, otherwise we should be shot, cut down, massacred. I
do not know how we managed to escape so far. However, we had ten leagues
to go during the night, ten leagues through the night, ten leagues
through the snow, and with empty stomachs, and I thought to myself:
"'It is all over; my poor devils of fellows will never be able to do it.'
"We had eaten nothing since the day before, and the whole day long we
remained hidden in a barn, huddled close together, so as not to feel the
cold so much, unable to speak or even move, and sleeping by fits and
starts, as one does when worn out with fatigue.
"It was dark by five o'clock, that wan darkness of the snow, and I shook
my men. Some of them would not get up; they were almost incapable of
moving or of standing upright; their joints were stiff from cold and
"Before us there was a large expanse of flat, bare country; the snow was
still falling like a curtain, in large, white flakes, which concealed
everything under a thick, frozen coverlet, a coverlet of frozen wool One
might have thought that it was the end of the world.
"'Come, my lads, let us start.'
"They looked at the thick white flakes that were coming down, and they
seemed to think: 'We have had enough of this; we may just as well die
here!' Then I took out my revolver and said:
"'I will shoot the first man who flinches.' And so they set off, but very
slowly, like men whose legs were of very little use to them, and I sent
four of them three hundred yards ahead to scout, and the others followed
pell-mell, walking at random and without any order. I put the strongest
in the rear, with orders to quicken the pace of the sluggards with the
points of their bayonets in the back.
"The snow seemed as if it were going to bury us alive; it powdered our
kepis and cloaks without melting, and made phantoms of us, a kind of
spectres of dead, weary soldiers. I said to myself: 'We shall never get
out of this except by a, miracle.'
"Sometimes we had to stop for a few minutes, on account of those who
could not follow us, and then we heard nothing except the falling snow,
that vague, almost undiscernible sound made by the falling flakes. Some
of the men shook themselves, others did not move, and so I gave the order
to set off again. They shouldered their rifles, and with weary feet we
resumed our march, when suddenly the scouts fell back. Something had
alarmed them; they had heard voices in front of them. I sent forward six
men and a sergeant and waited.
"All at once a shrill cry, a woman's cry, pierced through the heavy
silence of the snow, and in a few minutes they brought back two
prisoners, an old man and a girl, whom I questioned in a low voice. They
were escaping from the Prussians, who had occupied their house during the
evening and had got drunk. The father was alarmed on his daughter's
account, and, without even telling their servants, they had made their
escape in the darkness. I saw immediately that they belonged to the
better class. I invited them to accompany us, and we started off again,
the old man who knew the road acting as our guide.
"It had ceased snowing, the stars appeared and the cold became intense.
The girl, who was leaning on her father's arm, walked unsteadily as
though in pain, and several times she murmured:
"'I have no feeling at all in my feet'; and I suffered more than she did
to see that poor little woman dragging herself like that through the
snow. But suddenly she stopped and said:
"'Father, I am so tired that I cannot go any further.'
"The old man wanted to carry her, but he could not even lift her up, and
she sank to the ground with a deep sigh. We all gathered round her, and,
as for me, I stamped my foot in perplexity, not knowing what to do, and
being unwilling to abandon that man and girl like that, when suddenly one
of the soldiers, a Parisian whom they had nicknamed Pratique, said:
"'Come, comrades, we must carry the young lady, otherwise we shall not
show ourselves Frenchmen, confound it!'
"I really believe that I swore with pleasure. 'That is very good of you,
my children,' I said; 'and I will take my share of the burden.'
"We could indistinctly see, through the darkness, the trees of a little
wood on the left. Several of the men went into it, and soon came back
with a bundle of branches made into a litter.
"'Who will lend his cape? It is for a pretty girl, comrades,' Pratique
said, and ten cloaks were thrown to him. In a moment the girl was lying,
warm and comfortable, among them, and was raised upon six shoulders. I
placed myself at their head, on the right, well pleased with my position.
"We started off much more briskly, as if we had had a drink of wine, and
I even heard some jokes. A woman is quite enough to electrify Frenchmen,
you see. The soldiers, who had become cheerful and warm, had almost
reformed their ranks, and an old 'franc-tireur' who was following the
litter, waiting for his turn to replace the first of his comrades who
might give out, said to one of his neighbors, loud enough for me to hear:
"'I am not a young man now, but by ---, there is nothing like the women
to put courage into you!'
"We went on, almost without stopping, until three o'clock in the morning,
when suddenly our scouts fell back once more, and soon the whole
detachment showed nothing but a vague shadow on the ground, as the men
lay on the snow. I gave my orders in a low voice, and heard the harsh,
metallic sound of the cocking, of rifles. For there, in the middle of
the plain, some strange object was moving about. It looked like some
enormous animal running about, now stretching out like a serpent, now
coiling itself into a ball, darting to the right, then to the left, then
stopping, and presently starting off again. But presently that wandering
shape came nearer, and I saw a dozen lancers at full gallop, one behind
the other. They had lost their way and were trying to find it.
"They were so near by that time that I could hear the loud breathing of
their horses, the clinking of their swords and the creaking of their
saddles, and cried: 'Fire!'
"Fifty rifle shots broke the stillness of the night, then there were four
or five reports, and at last one single shot was heard, and when the
smoke had cleared away, we saw that the twelve men and nine horses had
fallen. Three of the animals were galloping away at a furious pace, and
one of them was dragging the dead body of its rider, which rebounded
violently from the ground; his foot had caught in the stirrup.
"One of the soldiers behind me gave a terrible laugh and said: 'There
will be some widows there!'
"Perhaps he was married. A third added: 'It did not take long!'
"A head emerged from the litter.
"'What is the matter?' she asked; 'are you fighting?'
"'It is nothing, mademoiselle,' I replied; 'we have got rid of a dozen
"'Poor fellows!' she said. But as she was cold, she quickly disappeared
beneath the cloaks again, and we started off once more. We marched on
for a long time, and at last the sky began to grow lighter. The snow
became quite clear, luminous and glistening, and a rosy tint appeared in
the east. Suddenly a voice in the distance cried:
"'Who goes there?'
"The whole detachment halted, and I advanced to give the countersign.
We had reached the French lines, and, as my men defiled before the
outpost, a commandant on horseback, whom I had informed of what had taken
place, asked in a sonorous voice, as he saw the litter pass him: 'What
have you in there?'
"And immediately a small head covered with light hair appeared,
dishevelled and smiling, and replied:
"'It is I, monsieur.'
"At this the men raised a hearty laugh, and we felt quite light-hearted,
while Pratique, who was walking by the side of the litter, waved his kepi
"'Vive la France!' And I felt really affected. I do not know why,
except that I thought it a pretty and gallant thing to say.
"It seemed to me as if we had just saved the whole of France and had done
something that other men could not have done, something simple and really
patriotic. I shall never forget that little face, you may be sure; and
if I had to give my opinion about abolishing drums, trumpets and bugles,
I should propose to replace them in every regiment by a pretty girl, and
that would be even better than playing the 'Marseillaise: By Jove! it
would put some spirit into a trooper to have a Madonna like that, a live
Madonna, by the colonel's side."
He was silent for a few moments and then continued, with an air of
conviction, and nodding his head:
"All the same, we are very fond of women, we Frenchmen!"
Fifteen years had passed since I was at Virelogne. I returned there in
the autumn to shoot with my friend Serval, who had at last rebuilt his
chateau, which the Prussians had destroyed.
I loved that district. It is one of those delightful spots which have a
sensuous charm for the eyes. You love it with a physical love. We, whom
the country enchants, keep tender memories of certain springs, certain
woods, certain pools, certain hills seen very often which have stirred us
like joyful events. Sometimes our thoughts turn back to a corner in a
forest, or the end of a bank, or an orchard filled with flowers, seen but
a single time on some bright day, yet remaining in our hearts like the
image of certain women met in the street on a spring morning in their
light, gauzy dresses, leaving in soul and body an unsatisfied desire
which is not to be forgotten, a feeling that you have just passed by
At Virelogne I loved the whole countryside, dotted with little woods and
crossed by brooks which sparkled in the sun and looked like veins
carrying blood to the earth. You fished in them for crawfish, trout and
eels. Divine happiness! You could bathe in places and you often found
snipe among the high grass which grew along the borders of these small
I was stepping along light as a goat, watching my two dogs running ahead
of me, Serval, a hundred metres to my right, was beating a field of
lucerne. I turned round by the thicket which forms the boundary of the
wood of Sandres and I saw a cottage in ruins.
Suddenly I remembered it as I had seen it the last time, in 1869, neat,
covered with vines, with chickens before the door. What is sadder than a
dead house, with its skeleton standing bare and sinister?
I also recalled that inside its doors, after a very tiring day, the good
woman had given me a glass of wine to drink and that Serval had told me
the history of its people. The father, an old poacher, had been killed
by the gendarmes. The son, whom I had once seen, was a tall, dry fellow
who also passed for a fierce slayer of game. People called them "Les
Was that a name or a nickname?
I called to Serval. He came up with his long strides like a crane.
I asked him:
"What's become of those people?"
This was his story:
When war was declared the son Sauvage, who was then thirty-three years
old, enlisted, leaving his mother alone in the house. People did not
pity the old woman very much because she had money; they knew it.
She remained entirely alone in that isolated dwelling, so far from the
village, on the edge of the wood. She was not afraid, however, being of
the same strain as the men folk--a hardy old woman, tall and thin, who
seldom laughed and with whom one never jested. The women of the fields
laugh but little in any case, that is men's business. But they
themselves have sad and narrowed hearts, leading a melancholy, gloomy
life. The peasants imbibe a little noisy merriment at the tavern, but
their helpmates always have grave, stern countenances. The muscles of
their faces have never learned the motions of laughter.
Mother Sauvage continued her ordinary existence in her cottage, which was
soon covered by the snows. She came to the village once a week to get
bread and a little meat. Then she returned to her house. As there was
talk of wolves, she went out with a gun upon her shoulder--her son's gun,
rusty and with the butt worn by the rubbing of the hand--and she was a
strange sight, the tall "Sauvage," a little bent, going with slow strides
over the snow, the muzzle of the piece extending beyond the black
headdress, which confined her head and imprisoned her white hair, which
no one had ever seen.
One day a Prussian force arrived. It was billeted upon the inhabitants,
according to the property and resources of each. Four were allotted to
the old woman, who was known to be rich.
They were four great fellows with fair complexion, blond beards and blue
eyes, who had not grown thin in spite of the fatigue which they had
endured already and who also, though in a conquered country, had remained
kind and gentle. Alone with this aged woman, they showed themselves full
of consideration, sparing her, as much as they could, all expense and
fatigue. They could be seen, all four of them, making their toilet at
the well in their shirt-sleeves in the gray dawn, splashing with great
swishes of water their pink-white northern skin, while La Mere Sauvage
went and came, preparing their soup. They would be seen cleaning the
kitchen, rubbing the tiles, splitting wood, peeling potatoes, doing up
all the housework like four good sons around their mother.
But the old woman thought always of her own son, so tall and thin, with
his hooked nose and his brown eyes and his heavy mustache which made a
roll of black hair upon his lip. She asked every day of each of the
soldiers who were installed beside her hearth: "Do you know where the
French marching regiment, No. 23, was sent? My boy is in it."
They invariably answered, "No, we don't know, don't know a thing at all."
And, understanding her pain and her uneasiness--they who had mothers,
too, there at home--they rendered her a thousand little services. She
loved them well, moreover, her four enemies, since the peasantry have no
patriotic hatred; that belongs to the upper class alone. The humble,
those who pay the most because they are poor and because every new burden
crushes them down; those who are killed in masses, who make the true
cannon's prey because they are so many; those, in fine, who suffer most
cruelly the atrocious miseries of war because they are the feeblest and
offer least resistance--they hardly understand at all those bellicose
ardors, that excitable sense of honor or those pretended political
combinations which in six months exhaust two nations, the conqueror with
They said in the district, in speaking of the Germans of La Mere Sauvage:
"There are four who have found a soft place."
Now, one morning, when the old woman was alone in the house, she
observed, far off on the plain, a man coming toward her dwelling.
Soon she recognized him; it was the postman to distribute the letters.
He gave her a folded paper and she drew out of her case the spectacles
which she used for sewing. Then she read:
MADAME SAUVAGE: This letter is to tell you sad news. Your boy
Victor was killed yesterday by a shell which almost cut him in two.
I was near by, as we stood next each other in the company, and he
told me about you and asked me to let you know on the same day if
anything happened to him.
I took his watch, which was in his pocket, to bring it back to you
when the war is done.
Soldier of the 2d class, March. Reg. No. 23.
The letter was dated three weeks back.
She did not cry at all. She remained motionless, so overcome and
stupefied that she did not even suffer as yet. She thought: "There's
Victor killed now." Then little by little the tears came to her eyes and
the sorrow filled her heart. Her thoughts came, one by one, dreadful,
torturing. She would never kiss him again, her child, her big boy, never
again! The gendarmes had killed the father, the Prussians had killed the
son. He had been cut in two by a cannon-ball. She seemed to see the
thing, the horrible thing: the head falling, the eyes open, while he
chewed the corner of his big mustache as he always did in moments of
What had they done with his body afterward? If they had only let her
have her boy back as they had brought back her husband--with the bullet
in the middle of the forehead!
But she heard a noise of voices. It was the Prussians returning from the
village. She hid her letter very quickly in her pocket, and she received
them quietly, with her ordinary face, having had time to wipe her eyes.
They were laughing, all four, delighted, for they brought with them a
fine rabbit--stolen, doubtless--and they made signs to the old woman that
there was to be something good to east.
She set herself to work at once to prepare breakfast, but when it came to
killing the rabbit, her heart failed her. And yet it was not the first.
One of the soldiers struck it down with a blow of his fist behind the
The beast once dead, she skinned the red body, but the sight of the blood
which she was touching, and which covered her hands, and which she felt
cooling and coagulating, made her tremble from head to foot, and she kept
seeing her big boy cut in two, bloody, like this still palpitating
She sat down at table with the Prussians, but she could not eat, not even
a mouthful. They devoured the rabbit without bothering themselves about
her. She looked at them sideways, without speaking, her face so
impassive that they perceived nothing.
All of a sudden she said: "I don't even know your names, and here's a
whole month that we've been together." They understood, not without
difficulty, what she wanted, and told their names.
That was not sufficient; she had them written for her on a paper, with
the addresses of their families, and, resting her spectacles on her great
nose, she contemplated that strange handwriting, then folded the sheet
and put it in her pocket, on top of the letter which told her of the
death of her son.
When the meal was ended she said to the men:
"I am going to work for you."
And she began to carry up hay into the loft where they slept.
They were astonished at her taking all this trouble; she explained to
them that thus they would not be so cold; and they helped her. They
heaped the stacks of hay as high as the straw roof, and in that manner
they made a sort of great chamber with four walls of fodder, warm and
perfumed, where they should sleep splendidly.
At dinner one of them was worried to see that La Mere Sauvage still ate
nothing. She told him that she had pains in her stomach. Then she
kindled a good fire to warm herself, and the four Germans ascended to
their lodging-place by the ladder which served them every night for this
As soon as they closed the trapdoor the old woman removed the ladder,
then opened the outside door noiselessly and went back to look for more
bundles of straw, with which she filled her kitchen. She went barefoot
in the snow, so softly that no sound was heard. From time to time she
listened to the sonorous and unequal snoring of the four soldiers who
were fast asleep.
When she judged her preparations to be sufficient, she threw one of the
bundles into the fireplace, and when it was alight she scattered it over
all the others. Then she went outside again and looked.
In a few seconds the whole interior of the cottage was illumined with a
brilliant light and became a frightful brasier, a gigantic fiery furnace,
whose glare streamed out of the narrow window and threw a glittering beam
upon the snow.
Then a great cry issued from the top of the house; it was a clamor of men
shouting heartrending calls of anguish and of terror. Finally the
trapdoor having given way, a whirlwind of fire shot up into the loft,
pierced the straw roof, rose to the sky like the immense flame of a
torch, and all the cottage flared.
Nothing more was heard therein but the crackling of the fire, the
cracking of the walls, the falling of the rafters. Suddenly the roof
fell in and the burning carcass of the dwelling hurled a great plume of
sparks into the air, amid a cloud of smoke.
The country, all white, lit up by the fire, shone like a cloth of silver
tinted with red.
A bell, far off, began to toll.
The old "Sauvage" stood before her ruined dwelling, armed with her gun,
her son's gun, for fear one of those men might escape.
When she saw that it was ended, she threw her weapon into the brasier.
A loud report followed.
People were coming, the peasants, the Prussians.
They found the woman seated on the trunk of a tree, calm and satisfied.
A German officer, but speaking French like a son of France, demanded:
"Where are your soldiers?"
She reached her bony arm toward the red heap of fire which was almost out
and answered with a strong voice:
They crowded round her. The Prussian asked:
"How did it take fire?"
"It was I who set it on fire."
They did not believe her, they thought that the sudden disaster had made
her crazy. While all pressed round and listened, she told the story from
beginning to end, from the arrival of the letter to the last shriek of
the men who were burned with her house, and never omitted a detail.
When she had finished, she drew two pieces of paper from her pocket, and,
in order to distinguish them by the last gleams of the fire, she again
adjusted her spectacles. Then she said, showing one:
"That, that is the death of Victor." Showing the other, she added,
indicating the red ruins with a bend of the head: "Here are their names,
so that you can write home." She quietly held a sheet of paper out to
the officer, who held her by the shoulders, and she continued:
"You must write how it happened, and you must say to their mothers that
it was I who did that, Victoire Simon, la Sauvage! Do not forget."
The officer shouted some orders in German. They seized her, they threw
her against the walls of her house, still hot. Then twelve men drew
quickly up before her, at twenty paces. She did not move. She had
understood; she waited.
An order rang out, followed instantly by a long report. A belated shot
went off by itself, after the others.
The old woman did not fall. She sank as though they had cut off her
The Prussian officer approached. She was almost cut in two, and in her
withered hand she held her letter bathed with blood.
My friend Serval added:
"It was by way of reprisal that the Germans destroyed the chateau of the
district, which belonged to me."
I thought of the mothers of those four fine fellows burned in that house
and of the horrible heroism of that other mother shot against the wall.
And I picked up a little stone, still blackened by the flames.
I should say I did remember that Epiphany supper during the war!
exclaimed Count de Garens, an army captain.
I was quartermaster of cavalry at the time, and for a fortnight had been
scouting in front of the German advance guard. The evening before we had
cut down a few Uhlans and had lost three men, one of whom was that poor
little Raudeville. You remember Joseph de Raudeville, of course.
Well, on that day my commanding officer ordered me to take six troopers
and to go and occupy the village of Porterin, where there had been five
skirmishes in three weeks, and to hold it all night. There were not
twenty houses left standing, not a dozen houses in that wasps' nest. So
I took ten troopers and set out about four o'clock, and at five o'clock,
while it was still pitch dark, we reached the first houses of Porterin.
I halted and ordered Marchas--you know Pierre de Marchas, who afterward
married little Martel-Auvelin, the daughter of the Marquis de Martel-
Auvelin--to go alone into the village, and to report to me what he saw.
I had selected nothing but volunteers, all men of good family. It is
pleasant when on duty not to be forced to be on intimate terms with
unpleasant fellows. This Marchas was as smart as possible, cunning as a
fox and supple as a serpent. He could scent the Prussians as a dog can
scent a hare, could discover food where we should have died of hunger
without him, and obtained information from everybody, and information
which was always reliable, with incredible cleverness.
In ten minutes he returned. "All right," he said; "there have been no
Prussians here for three days. It is a sinister place, is this village.
I have been talking to a Sister of Mercy, who is caring for four or five
wounded men in an abandoned convent."
I ordered them to ride on, and we entered the principal street. On the
right and left we could vaguely see roofless walls, which were hardly
visible in the profound darkness. Here and there a light was burning in
a room; some family had remained to keep its house standing as well as
they were able; a family of brave or of poor people. The rain began to
fall, a fine, icy cold rain, which froze as it fell on our cloaks.
The horses stumbled against stones, against beams, against furniture.
Marchas guided us, going before us on foot, and leading his horse by the
"Where are you taking us to?" I asked him. And he replied: "I have a
place for us to lodge in, and a rare good one." And we presently stopped
before a small house, evidently belonging to some proprietor of the
middle class. It stood on the street, was quite inclosed, and had a
garden in the rear.
Marchas forced open the lock by means of a big stone which he picked up
near the garden gate; then he mounted the steps, smashed in the front
door with his feet and shoulders, lit a bit of wax candle, which he was
never without, and went before us into the comfortable apartments of some
rich private individual, guiding us with admirable assurance, as if he
lived in this house which he now saw for the first time.
Two troopers remained outside to take care of our horses, and Marchas
said to stout Ponderel, who followed him: "The stables must be on the
left; I saw that as we came in; go and put the animals up there, for we
do not need them"; and then, turning to me, he said: "Give your orders,
confound it all!"
This fellow always astonished me, and I replied with a laugh: "I will
post my sentinels at the country approaches and will return to you here."
"How many men are you going to take?"
"Five. The others will relieve them at five o'clock in the evening."
"Very well. Leave me four to look after provisions, to do the cooking
and to set the table. I will go and find out where the wine is hidden."
I went off, to reconnoitre the deserted streets until they ended in the
open country, so as to post my sentries there.
Half an hour later I was back, and found Marchas lounging in a great
easy-chair, the covering of which he had taken off, from love of luxury,
as he said. He was warming his feet at the fire and smoking an excellent
cigar, whose perfume filled the room. He was alone, his elbows resting
on the arms of the chair, his head sunk between his shoulders, his cheeks
flushed, his eyes bright, and looking delighted.
I heard the noise of plates and dishes in the next room, and Marchas said
to me, smiling in a con tented manner: "This is famous; I found the
champagne under the flight of steps outside, the brandy--fifty bottles of
the very finest in the kitchen garden under a pear tree, which did not
seem to me to be quite straight when I looked at it by the light of my
lantern. As for solids, we have two fowls, a goose, a duck, and three
pigeons. They are being cooked at this moment. It is a delightful
I sat down opposite him, and the fire in the grate was burning my nose
and cheeks. "Where did you find this wood?" I asked. "Splendid wood,"
he replied. "The owner's carriage. It is the paint which is causing all
this flame, an essence of punch and varnish. A capital house!"
I laughed, for I saw the creature was funny, and he went on: "Fancy this
being the Epiphany! I have had a bean put into the goose dressing; but
there is no queen; it is really very annoying!" And I repeated like an
echo: "It is annoying, but what do you want me to do in the matter?"
"To find some, of course." "Some women. Women?--you must be mad?" "I
managed to find the brandy under the pear tree, and the champagne under
the steps; and yet there was nothing to guide me, while as for you, a
petticoat is a sure bait. Go and look, old fellow."
He looked so grave, so convinced, that I could not tell whether he was
joking or not, and so I replied: "Look here, Marchas, are you having a
joke with me?" "I never joke on duty." "But where the devil do you
expect me to find any women?" "Where you like; there must be two or
three remaining in the neighborhood, so ferret them out and bring them
I got up, for it was too hot in front of the fire, and Marchas went off:
"Do you want an idea?" "Yes." "Go and see the priest." "The priest?
What for?" "Ask him to supper, and beg him to bring a woman with him."
"The priest! A woman! Ha! ha! ha!"
But Marchas continued with extraordinary gravity: "I am not laughing; go
and find the priest and tell him how we are situated, and, as he must be
horribly dull, he will come. But tell him that we want one woman at
least, a lady, of course, since we, are all men of the world. He is sure
to know his female parishioners on the tips of his fingers, and if there
is one to suit us, and you manage it well, he will suggest her to you."
"Come, come, Marchas, what are you thinking of?" "My dear Garens, you
can do this quite well. It will even be very funny. We are well bred,
by Jove! and we will put on our most distinguished manners and our
grandest style. Tell the abbe who we are, make him laugh, soften his
heart, coax him and persuade him!" "No, it is impossible."
He drew his chair close to mine, and as he knew my special weakness, the
scamp continued: "Just think what a swaggering thing it will be to do and
how amusing to tell about; the whole army will talk about it, and it will
give you a famous reputation."
I hesitated, for the adventure rather tempted me, and he persisted:
"Come, my little Garens. You are the head of this detachment, and you
alone can go and call on the head of the church in this neighborhood.
I beg of you to go, and I promise you that after the war I will relate
the whole affair in verse in the Revue de Deux Mondes. You owe this much
to your men, for you have made them march enough during the last month."
I got up at last and asked: "Where is the priest's house?" "Take the
second turning at the end of the street, you will see an avenue, and at
the end of the avenue you will find the church. The parsonage is beside
it." As I went out, he called out: "Tell him the bill of fare, to make
I discovered the ecclesiastic's little house without any difficulty; it
was by the side of a large, ugly brick church. I knocked at the door
with my fist, as there was neither bell nor knocker, and a loud voice
from inside asked: "Who is there?" To which I replied: "A quartermaster
I heard the noise of bolts and of a key being turned, and found myself
face to face with a tall priest with a large stomach, the chest of a
prizefighter, formidable hands projecting from turned-up sleeves, a red
face, and the look of a kind man. I gave him a military salute and said:
"Good-day, Monsieur le Cure."
He had feared a surprise, some marauders' ambush, and he smiled as he
replied: "Good-day, my friend; come in." I followed him into a small
room with a red tiled floor, in which a small fire was burning, very
different to Marchas' furnace, and he gave me a chair and said: "What can
I do for you?" "Monsieur, allow me first of all to introduce myself"; and
I gave him my card, which he took and read half aloud: "Le Comte de
I continued: "There are eleven of us here, Monsieur l'Abbe, five on
picket duty, and six installed at the house of an unknown inhabitant.
The names of the six are: Garens, myself; Pierre de Marchas, Ludovic de
Ponderel, Baron d'Streillis, Karl Massouligny, the painter's son, and
Joseph Herbon, a young musician. I have come to ask you, in their name
and my own, to do us the honor of supping with us. It is an Epiphany
supper, Monsieur le Cure, and we should like to make it a little
The priest smiled and murmured: "It seems to me to be hardly a suitable
occasion for amusing one's self." And I replied: "We are fighting during
the day, monsieur. Fourteen of our comrades have been killed in a month,
and three fell as late as yesterday. It is war time. We stake our life
at every moment; have we not, therefore, the right to amuse ourselves
freely? We are Frenchmen, we like to laugh, and we can laugh everywhere.
Our fathers laughed on the scaffold! This evening we should like to
cheer ourselves up a little, like gentlemen, and not like soldiers; you
understand me, I hope. Are we wrong?"
He replied quickly: "You are quite right, my friend, and I accept your
invitation with great pleasure." Then he called out: "Hermance!"
An old bent, wrinkled, horrible peasant woman appeared and said: "What do
you want?" "I shall not dine at home, my daughter." "Where are you
going to dine then?" "With some gentlemen, the hussars."
I felt inclined to say: "Bring your servant with you," just to see
Marchas' face, but I did not venture, and continued: "Do you know any one
among your parishioners, male or female, whom I could invite as well?"
He hesitated, reflected, and then said: "No, I do not know anybody!"
I persisted: "Nobody! Come, monsieur, think; it would be very nice to
have some ladies, I mean to say, some married couples! I know nothing
about your parishioners. The baker and his wife, the grocer, the--the--
the--watchmaker--the--shoemaker--the--the druggist with Mrs. Druggist.
We have a good spread and plenty of wine, and we should be enchanted to
leave pleasant recollections of ourselves with the people here."
The priest thought again for a long time, and then said resolutely: "No,
there is nobody." I began to laugh. "By Jove, Monsieur le Cure, it is
very annoying not to have an Epiphany queen, for we have the bean. Come,
think. Is there not a married mayor, or a married deputy mayor, or a
married municipal councillor or a schoolmaster?" "No, all the ladies
have gone away." "What, is there not in the whole place some good
tradesman's wife with her good tradesman, to whom we might give this
pleasure, for it would be a pleasure to them, a great pleasure under
But, suddenly, the cure began to laugh, and laughed so violently that he
fairly shook, and presently exclaimed: "Ha! ha! ha! I have got what
you want, yes. I have got what you want! Ha! ha! ha! We will laugh
and enjoy ourselves, my children; we will have some fun. How pleased the
ladies will be, I say, how delighted they will be! Ha! ha! Where are
I described the house, and he understood where it was. "Very good," he
said. "It belongs to Monsieur Bertin-Lavaille. I will be there in half
an hour, with four ladies! Ha! ha! ha! four ladies!"
He went out with me, still laughing, and left me, repeating: "That is
capital; in half an hour at Bertin-Lavaille's house."
I returned quickly, very much astonished and very much puzzled. "Covers
for how many?" Marchas asked, as soon as he saw me. "Eleven. There are
six of us hussars, besides the priest and four ladies." He was
thunderstruck, and I was triumphant. He repeated: "Four ladies! Did you
say, four ladies?" "I said four women." "Real women?" "Real women."
"Well, accept my compliments!" "I will, for I deserve them."
He got out of his armchair, opened the door, and I saw a beautiful white
tablecloth on a long table, round which three hussars in blue aprons were
setting out the plates and glasses. "There are some women coming!"
Marchas cried. And the three men began to dance and to cheer with all
Everything was ready, and we were waiting. We waited for nearly an hour,
while a delicious smell of roast poultry pervaded the whole house. At
last, however, a knock against the shutters made us all jump up at the
same moment. Stout Ponderel ran to open the door, and in less than a
minute a little Sister of Mercy appeared in the doorway. She was thin,
wrinkled and timid, and successively greeted the four bewildered hussars
who saw her enter. Behind her, the noise of sticks sounded on the tiled
floor in the vestibule, and as soon as she had come into the drawing-
room, I saw three old heads in white caps, following each other one by
one, who came in, swaying with different movements, one inclining to the
right, while the other inclined to the left. And three worthy women
appeared, limping, dragging their legs behind them, crippled by illness
and deformed through old age, three infirm old women, past service, the
only three pensioners who were able to walk in the home presided over by
She had turned round to her invalids, full of anxiety for them, and then,
seeing my quartermaster's stripes, she said to me: "I am much obliged to
you for thinking of these poor women. They have very little pleasure in
life, and you are at the same time giving them a great treat and doing
them a great honor."
I saw the priest, who had remained in the dark hallway, and was laughing
heartily, and I began to laugh in my turn, especially when I saw Marchas'
face. Then, motioning the nun to the seats, I said:
"Sit down, sister; we are very proud and very happy that you have
accepted our unpretentious invitation."
She took three chairs which stood against the wall, set them before the
fire, led her three old women to them, settled them on them, took their
sticks and shawls, which she put into a corner, and then, pointing to the
first, a thin woman with an enormous stomach, who was evidently suffering
from the dropsy, she said: "This is Mother Paumelle; whose husband was
killed by falling from a roof, and whose son died in Africa; she is sixty
years old." Then she pointed to another, a tall woman, whose head
trembled unceasingly: "This is Mother Jean-Jean, who is sixty-seven. She
is nearly blind, for her face was terribly singed in a fire, and her
right leg was half burned off."
Then she pointed to the third, a sort of dwarf, with protruding, round,
stupid eyes, which she rolled incessantly in all directions, "This is La
Putois, an idiot. She is only forty-four."
I bowed to the three women as if I were being presented to some royal
highnesses, and turning to the priest, I said: "You are an excellent man,
Monsieur l'Abbe, to whom all of us here owe a debt of gratitude."
Everybody was laughing, in fact, except Marchas, who seemed furious, and
just then Karl Massouligny cried: "Sister Saint-Benedict, supper is on
I made her go first with the priest, then I helped up Mother Paumelle,
whose arm I took and dragged her into the next room, which was no easy
task, for she seemed heavier than a lump of iron.
Stout Ponderel gave his arm to Mother Jean-Jean, who bemoaned her crutch,
and little Joseph Herbon took the idiot, La Putois, to the dining-room,
which was filled with the odor of the viands.
As soon as we were opposite our plates, the sister clapped her hands
three times, and, with the precision of soldiers presenting arms, the
women made a rapid sign of the cross, and then the priest slowly repeated
the Benedictus in Latin. Then we sat down, and the two fowls appeared,
brought in by Marchas, who chose to wait at table, rather than to sit
down as a guest to this ridiculous repast.
But I cried: "Bring the champagne at once!" and a cork flew out with the
noise of a pistol, and in spite of the resistance of the priest and of
the kind sister, the three hussars, sitting by the side of the three
invalids, emptied their three full glasses down their throats by force.
Massouligny, who possessed the faculty of making himself at home, and of
being on good terms with every one, wherever he was, made love to Mother
Paumelle in the drollest manner. The dropsical woman, who had retained
her cheerfulness in spite of her misfortunes, answered him banteringly in
a high falsetto voice which appeared as if it were put on, and she
laughed so heartily at her neighbor's jokes that it was quite alarming.
Little Herbon had seriously undertaken the task of making the idiot
drunk, and Baron d'Streillis, whose wits were not always particularly
sharp, was questioning old Jean-Jean about the life, the habits, and the
rules of the hospital.
The nun said to Massouligny in consternation:
"Oh! oh! you will make her ill; pray do not make her laugh like that,
monsieur. Oh! monsieur--" Then she got up and rushed at Herbon to take
from him a full glass which he was hastily emptying down La Putois'
throat, while the priest shook with laughter, and said to the sister:
"Never mind; just this once, it will not hurt them. Do leave them
After the two fowls they ate the duck, which was flanked by the three
pigeons and the blackbird, and then the goose appeared, smoking, golden-
brown, and diffusing a warm odor of hot, browned roast meat. La
Paumelle, who was getting lively, clapped her hands; La Jean-Jean left
off answering the baron's numerous questions, and La Putois uttered.
grunts of pleasure, half cries and half sighs, as little children do when
one shows them candy. "Allow me to take charge of this animal," the cure
said. "I understand these sort of operations better than most people."
"Certainly, Monsieur l'Abbe," and the sister said: "How would it be to
open the window a little? They are too warm, and I am afraid they will
I turned to Marchas: "Open the window for a minute." He did so; the
cold outer air as it came in made the candles flare, and the steam from
the goose, which the cure was scientifically carving, with a table napkin
round his neck, whirl about. We watched him doing it, without speaking
now, for we were interested in his attractive handiwork, and seized with
renewed appetite at the sight of that enormous golden-brown bird, whose
limbs fell one after another into the brown gravy at the bottom of the
dish. At that moment, in the midst of that greedy silence which kept us
all attentive, the distant report of a shot came in at the open window.
I started to my feet so quickly that my chair fell down behind me, and I
shouted: "To saddle, all of you! You, Marches, take two men and go and
see what it is. I shall expect you back here in five minutes." And
while the three riders went off at full gallop through the night, I got
into the saddle with my three remaining hussars, in front of the steps of
the villa, while the cure, the sister and the three old women showed
their frightened faces at the window.
We heard nothing more, except the barking of a dog in the distance. The
rain had ceased, and it was cold, very cold, and soon I heard the gallop
of a horse, of a single horse, coming back. It was Marchas, and I called
out to him: "Well?" "It is nothing; Francois has wounded an old peasant
who refused to answer his challenge: 'Who goes there?' and who continued
to advance in spite of the order to keep off; but they are bringing him
here, and we shall see what is the matter."
I gave orders for the horses to be put back in the stable, and I sent my
two soldiers to meet the others, and returned to the house. Then the
cure, Marchas, and I took a mattress into the room to lay the wounded man
on; the sister tore up a table napkin in order to make lint, while the
three frightened women remained huddled up in a corner.
Soon I heard the rattle of sabres on the road, and I took a candle to
show a light to the men who were returning; and they soon appeared,
carrying that inert, soft, long, sinister object which a human body
becomes when life no longer sustains it.
They put the wounded man on the mattress that had been prepared for him,
and I saw at the first glance that he was dying. He had the death rattle
and was spitting up blood, which ran out of the corners of his mouth at
every gasp. The man was covered with blood! His cheeks, his beard, his
hair, his neck and his clothes seemed to have been soaked, to have been
dipped in a red tub; and that blood stuck to him, and had become a dull
color which was horrible to look at.
The wounded man, wrapped up in a large shepherd's cloak, occasionally
opened his dull, vacant eyes, which seemed stupid with astonishment, like
those of animals wounded by a sportsman, which fall at his feet, more
than half dead already, stupefied with terror and surprise.
The cure exclaimed: "Ah, it is old Placide, the shepherd from Les
Moulins. He is deaf, poor man, and heard nothing. Ah! Oh, God! they
have killed the unhappy man!" The sister had opened his blouse and
shirt, and was looking at a little blue hole in his chest, which was not
bleeding any more. "There is nothing to be done," she said.
The shepherd was gasping terribly and bringing up blood with every last
breath, and in his throat, to the very depth of his lungs, they could
hear an ominous and continued gurgling. The cure, standing in front of
him, raised his right hand, made the sign of the cross, and in a slow and
solemn voice pronounced the Latin words which purify men's souls, but
before they were finished, the old man's body trembled violently, as if
something had given way inside him, and he ceased to breathe. He was
When I turned round, I saw a sight which was even more horrible than the
death struggle of this unfortunate man; the three old women were standing
up huddled close together, hideous, and grimacing with fear and horror.
I went up to them, and they began to utter shrill screams, while La Jean-
Jean, whose burned leg could no longer support her, fell to the ground at
Sister Saint-Benedict left the dead man, ran up to her infirm old women,
and without a word or a look for me, wrapped their shawls round them,
gave them their crutches, pushed them to the door, made them go out, and
disappeared with them into the dark night.
I saw that I could not even let a hussar accompany them, for the mere
rattle of a sword would have sent them mad with fear.
The cure was still looking at the dead man; but at last he turned round
to me and said:
"Oh! What a horrible thing!"
CHATEAU DE SOLLES,
July 30, 1883.
My Dear Lucy:
I have no news. We live in the drawing-room, looking out at the rain.
We cannot go out in this frightful weather, so we have theatricals.
How stupid they are, my dear, these drawing entertainments in the
repertory of real life! All is forced, coarse, heavy. The jokes are
like cannon balls, smashing everything in their passage. No wit, nothing
natural, no sprightliness, no elegance. These literary men, in truth,
know nothing of society. They are perfectly ignorant of how people think
and talk in our set. I do not mind if they despise our customs, our
conventionalities, but I do not forgive them for not knowing them. When
they want to be humorous they make puns that would do for a barrack; when
they try to be jolly, they give us jokes that they must have picked up on
the outer boulevard in those beer houses artists are supposed to
frequent, where one has heard the same students' jokes for fifty years.
So we have taken to Theatricals. As we are only two women, my husband
takes the part of a soubrette, and, in order to do that, he has shaved
off his mustache. You cannot imagine, my dear Lucy, how it changes him!
I no longer recognize him-by day or at night. If he did not let it grow
again I think I should no longer love him; he looks so horrid like this.
In fact, a man without a mustache is no longer a man. I do not care much
for a beard; it almost always makes a man look untidy. But a mustache,
oh, a mustache is indispensable to a manly face. No, you would never
believe how these little hair bristles on the upper lip are a relief to
the eye and good in other ways. I have thought over the matter a great
deal but hardly dare to write my thoughts. Words look so different on
paper and the subject is so difficult, so delicate, so dangerous that it
requires infinite skill to tackle it.
Well, when my husband appeared, shaven, I understood at once that I never
could fall in love with a strolling actor nor a preacher, even if it were
Father Didon, the most charming of all! Later when I was alone with him
(my husband) it was worse still. Oh, my dear Lucy, never let yourself be
kissed by a man without a mustache; their kisses have no flavor, none
whatever! They no longer have the charm, the mellowness and the snap-
yes, the snap--of a real kiss. The mustache is the spice.
Imagine placing to your lips a piece of dry--or moist--parchment. That
is the kiss of the man without a mustache. It is not worth while.
Whence comes this charm of the mustache, will you tell me? Do I know
myself? It tickles your face, you feel it approaching your mouth and it
sends a little shiver through you down to the tips of your toes.
And on your neck! Have you ever felt a mustache on your neck? It
intoxicates you, makes you feel creepy, goes to the tips of your fingers.
You wriggle, shake your shoulders, toss back your head. You wish to get
away and at the same time to remain there; it is delightful, but
irritating. But how good it is!
A lip without a mustache is like a body without clothing; and one must
wear clothes, very few, if you like, but still some clothing.
I recall a sentence (uttered by a politician) which has been running in
my mind for three months. My husband, who keeps up with the newspapers,
read me one evening a very singular speech by our Minister of
Agriculture, who was called M. Meline. He may have been superseded by
this time. I do not know.
I was paying no attention, but the name Meline struck me. It recalled,
I do not exactly know why, the 'Scenes de la vie de boheme'. I thought
it was about some grisette. That shows how scraps of the speech entered
my mind. This M. Meline was making this statement to the people of
Amiens, I believe, and I have ever since been trying to understand what
he meant: "There is no patriotism without agriculture!" Well, I have
just discovered his meaning, and I affirm in my turn that there is no
love without a mustache. When you say it that way it sounds comical,
does it not?
There is no love without a mustache!
"There is no patriotism without agriculture," said M. Meline, and he was
right, that minister; I now understand why.
From a very different point of view the mustache is essential. It gives
character to the face. It makes a man look gentle, tender, violent, a
monster, a rake, enterprising! The hairy man, who does not shave off his
whiskers, never has a refined look, for his features are concealed; and
the shape of the jaw and the chin betrays a great deal to those who
The man with a mustache retains his own peculiar expression and his
refinement at the same time.
And how many different varieties of mustaches there are! Sometimes they
are twisted, curled, coquettish. Those seem to be chiefly devoted to
Sometimes they are pointed, sharp as needles, and threatening. That kind
prefers wine, horses and war.
Sometimes they are enormous, overhanging, frightful. These big ones
generally conceal a fine disposition, a kindliness that borders on
weakness and a gentleness that savors of timidity.
But what I adore above all in the mustache is that it is French,
altogether French. It came from our ancestors, the Gauls, and has
remained the insignia of our national character.
It is boastful, gallant and brave. It sips wine gracefully and knows how
to laugh with refinement, while the broad-bearded jaws are clumsy in
everything they do.
I recall something that made me weep all my tears and also--I see it now
--made me love a mustache on a man's face.
It was during the war, when I was living with my father. I was a young
girl then. One day there was a skirmish near the chateau. I had heard
the firing of the cannon and of the artillery all the morning, and that
evening a German colonel came and took up his abode in our house. He
left the following day.
My father was informed that there were a number of dead bodies in the
fields. He had them brought to our place so that they might be buried
together. They were laid all along the great avenue of pines as fast as
they brought them in, on both sides of the avenue, and as they began to
smell unpleasant, their bodies were covered with earth until the deep
trench could be dug. Thus one saw only their heads which seemed to
protrude from the clayey earth and were almost as yellow, with their
I wanted to see them. But when I saw those two rows of frightful faces,
I thought I should faint. However, I began to look at them, one by one,
trying to guess what kind of men these had been.
The uniforms were concealed beneath the earth, and yet immediately, yes,
immediately, my dear, I recognized the Frenchmen by their mustache!
Some of them had shaved on the very day of the battle, as though they
wished to be elegant up to the last; others seemed to have a week's
growth, but all wore the French mustache, very plain, the proud mustache
that seems to say: "Do not take me for my bearded friend, little one; I
am a brother."
And I cried, oh, I cried a great deal more than I should if I had not
recognized them, the poor dead fellows.
It was wrong of me to tell you this. Now I am sad and cannot chatter any
longer. Well, good-by, dear Lucy. I send you a hearty kiss. Long live
The first thing I did was to look at the clock as I entered the waiting-
room of the station at Loubain, and I found that I had to wait two hours
and ten minutes for the Paris express.
I had walked twenty miles and felt suddenly tired. Not seeing anything
on the station walls to amuse me, I went outside and stood there racking
my brains to think of something to do. The street was a kind of
boulevard, planted with acacias, and on either side a row of houses of
varying shape and different styles of architecture, houses such as one
only sees in a small town, and ascended a slight hill, at the extreme end
of which there were some trees, as though it ended in a park.
From time to time a cat crossed the street and jumped over the gutters
carefully. A cur sniffed at every tree and hunted for scraps from the
kitchens, but I did not see a single human being, and I felt listless and
disheartened. What could I do with myself? I was already thinking of
the inevitable and interminable visit to the small cafe at the railway
station, where I should have to sit over a glass of undrinkable beer and
the illegible newspaper, when I saw a funeral procession coming out of a
side street into the one in which I was, and the sight of the hearse was
a relief to me. It would, at any rate, give me something to do for ten
Suddenly, however, my curiosity was aroused. The hearse was followed by
eight gentlemen, one of whom was weeping, while the others were chatting
together, but there was no priest, and I thought to myself:
"This is a non-religious funeral," and then I reflected that a town like
Loubain must contain at least a hundred freethinkers, who would have made
a point of making a manifestation. What could it be, then? The rapid
pace of the procession clearly proved that the body was to be buried
without ceremony, and, consequently, without the intervention of the
My idle curiosity framed the most complicated surmises, and as the hearse
passed me, a strange idea struck me, which was to follow it, with the
eight gentlemen. That would take up my time for an hour, at least, and I
accordingly walked with the others, with a sad look on my face, and, on
seeing this, the two last turned round in surprise, and then spoke to
each other in a low voice.
No doubt they were asking each other whether I belonged to the town, and
then they consulted the two in front of them, who stared at me in turn.
This close scrutiny annoyed me, and to put an end to it I went up to
them, and, after bowing, I said:
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen, for interrupting your conversation, but,
seeing a civil funeral, I have followed it, although I did not know the
deceased gentleman whom you are accompanying."
"It was a woman," one of them said.
I was much surprised at hearing this, and asked:
"But it is a civil funeral, is it not?"
The other gentleman, who evidently wished to tell me all about it, then
said: "Yes and no. The clergy have refused to allow us the use of the
On hearing this I uttered a prolonged "A-h!" of astonishment. I could
not understand it at all, but my obliging neighbor continued:
"It is rather a long story. This young woman committed suicide, and that
is the reason why she cannot be buried with any religious ceremony.
The gentleman who is walking first, and who is crying, is her husband."
I replied with some hesitation:
"You surprise and interest me very much, monsieur. Shall I be indiscreet
if I ask you to tell me the facts of the case? If I am troubling you,
forget that I have said anything about the matter."
The gentleman took my arm familiarly.
"Not at all, not at all. Let us linger a little behind the others, and I
will tell it you, although it is a very sad story. We have plenty of
time before getting to the cemetery, the trees of which you see up
yonder, for it is a stiff pull up this hill."
And he began:
"This young woman, Madame Paul Hamot, was the daughter of a wealthy
merchant in the neighborhood, Monsieur Fontanelle. When she was a mere
child of eleven, she had a shocking adventure; a footman attacked her and
she nearly died. A terrible criminal case was the result, and the man
was sentenced to penal servitude for life.
"The little girl grew up, stigmatized by disgrace, isolated, without any
companions; and grown-up people would scarcely kiss her, for they thought
that they would soil their lips if they touched her forehead, and she
became a sort of monster, a phenomenon to all the town. People said to
each other in a whisper: 'You know, little Fontanelle,' and everybody
turned away in the streets when she passed. Her parents could not even
get a nurse to take her out for a walk, as the other servants held aloof
from her, as if contact with her would poison everybody who came near
"It was pitiable to see the poor child go and play every afternoon. She
remained quite by herself, standing by her maid and looking at the other
children amusing themselves. Sometimes, yielding to an irresistible
desire to mix with the other children, she advanced timidly, with nervous
gestures, and mingled with a group, with furtive steps, as if conscious
of her own disgrace. And immediately the mothers, aunts and nurses would
come running from every seat and take the children entrusted to their
care by the hand and drag them brutally away.
"Little Fontanelle remained isolated, wretched, without understanding
what it meant, and then she began to cry, nearly heartbroken with grief,
and then she used to run and hide her head in her nurse's lap, sobbing.
"As she grew up, it was worse still. They kept the girls from her, as if
she were stricken with the plague. Remember that she had nothing to
learn, nothing; that she no longer had the right to the symbolical wreath
of orange-flowers; that almost before she could read she had penetrated
that redoubtable mystery which mothers scarcely allow their daughters to
guess at, trembling as they enlighten them on the night of their
"When she went through the streets, always accompanied by her governess,
as if, her parents feared some fresh, terrible adventure, with her eyes
cast down under the load of that mysterious disgrace which she felt was
always weighing upon her, the other girls, who were not nearly so
innocent as people thought, whispered and giggled as they looked at her
knowingly, and immediately turned their heads absently, if she happened
to look at them. People scarcely greeted her; only a few men bowed to
her, and the mothers pretended not to see her, while some young
blackguards called her Madame Baptiste, after the name of the footman who
had attacked her.
"Nobody knew the secret torture of her mind, for she hardly ever spoke,
and never laughed, and her parents themselves appeared uncomfortable in
her presence, as if they bore her a constant grudge for some irreparable
"An honest man would not willingly give his hand to a liberated convict,
would he, even if that convict were his own son? And Monsieur and Madame
Fontanelle looked on their daughter as they would have done on a son who
had just been released from the hulks. She was pretty and pale, tall,
slender, distinguished-looking, and she would have pleased me very much,
monsieur, but for that unfortunate affair.
"Well, when a new sub-prefect was appointed here, eighteen months ago,
he brought his private secretary with him. He was a queer sort of fellow,
who had lived in the Latin Quarter, it appears. He saw Mademoiselle
Fontanelle and fell in love with her, and when told of what occurred, he
"'Bah! That is just a guarantee for the future, and I would rather it
should have happened before I married her than afterward. I shall live
tranquilly with that woman.'
"He paid his addresses to her, asked for her hand and married her, and
then, not being deficient in assurance, he paid wedding calls, as if
nothing had happened. Some people returned them, others did not; but,
at last, the affair began to be forgotten, and she took her proper place
"She adored her husband as if he had been a god; for, you must remember,
he had restored her to honor and to social life, had braved public
opinion, faced insults, and, in a word, performed such a courageous act
as few men would undertake, and she felt the most exalted and tender love
"When she became enceinte, and it was known, the most particular people
and the greatest sticklers opened their doors to her, as if she had been
definitely purified by maternity.
"It is strange, but so it is, and thus everything was going on as well as
possible until the other day, which was the feast of the patron saint of
our town. The prefect, surrounded by his staff and the authorities,
presided at the musical competition, and when he had finished his speech
the distribution of medals began, which Paul Hamot, his private
secretary, handed to those who were entitled to them.
"As you know, there are always jealousies and rivalries, which make
people forget all propriety. All the ladies of the town were there on the
platform, and, in his turn, the bandmaster from the village of Mourmillon
came up. This band was only to receive a second-class medal, for one
cannot give first-class medals to everybody, can one? But when the
private secretary handed him his badge, the man threw it in his face and
"'You may keep your medal for Baptiste. You owe him a first-class one,
also, just as you do me.'
"There were a number of people there who began to laugh. The common herd
are neither charitable nor refined, and every eye was turned toward that
poor lady. Have you ever seen a woman going mad, monsieur? Well, we
were present at the sight! She got up and fell back on her chair three
times in succession, as if she wished to make her escape, but saw that
she could not make her way through the crowd, and then another voice in
the crowd exclaimed:
"'Oh! Oh! Madame Baptiste!'
"And a great uproar, partly of laughter and partly of indignation, arose.
The word was repeated over and over again; people stood on tiptoe to see
the unhappy woman's face; husbands lifted their wives up in their arms,
so that they might see her, and people asked:
"'Which is she? The one in blue?'
"The boys crowed like cocks, and laughter was heard all over the place.
"She did not move now on her state chair, but sat just as if she had been
put there for the crowd to look at. She could not move, nor conceal
herself, nor hide her face. Her eyelids blinked quickly, as if a vivid
light were shining on them, and she breathed heavily, like a horse that
is going up a steep hill, so that it almost broke one's heart to see her.
Meanwhile, however, Monsieur Hamot had seized the ruffian by the throat,
and they were rolling on the ground together, amid a scene of
indescribable confusion, and the ceremony was interrupted.
"An hour later, as the Hamots were returning home, the young woman, who
had not uttered a word since the insult, but who was trembling as if all
her nerves had been set in motion by springs, suddenly sprang over the
parapet of the bridge and threw herself into the river before her husband
could prevent her. The water is very deep under the arches, and it was
two hours before her body was recovered. Of course, she was dead."
The narrator stopped and then added:
"It was, perhaps, the best thing she could do under the circumstances.
There are some things which cannot be wiped out, and now you understand
why the clergy refused to have her taken into church. Ah! If it had been
a religious funeral the whole town would have been present, but you can
understand that her suicide added to the other affair and made families
abstain from attending her funeral; and then, it is not an easy matter
here to attend a funeral which is performed without religious rites."
We passed through the cemetery gates and I waited, much moved by what I
had heard, until the coffin had been lowered into the grave, before I
went up to the poor fellow who was sobbing violently, to press his hand
warmly. He looked at me in surprise through his tears and then said:
"Thank you, monsieur." And I was not sorry that I had followed the
THE QUESTION OF LATIN
This subject of Latin that has been dinned into our ears for some time
past recalls to my mind a story--a story of my youth.
I was finishing my studies with a teacher, in a big central town, at the
Institution Robineau, celebrated through the entire province for the
special attention paid there to the study of Latin.
For the past ten years, the Robineau Institute beat the imperial lycee of
the town at every competitive examination, and all the colleges of the
subprefecture, and these constant successes were due, they said, to an
usher, a simple usher, M. Piquedent, or rather Pere Piquedent.
He was one of those middle-aged men quite gray, whose real age it is
impossible to tell, and whose history we can guess at first glance.
Having entered as an usher at twenty into the first institution that
presented itself so that he could proceed to take first his degree of
Master of Arts and afterward the degree of Doctor of Laws, he found
himself so enmeshed in this routine that he remained an usher all his
life. But his love for Latin did not leave him and harassed him like an
unhealthy passion. He continued to read the poets, the prose writers,
the historians, to interpret them and penetrate their meaning, to comment
on them with a perseverance bordering on madness.
One day, the idea came into his head to oblige all the students in his
class to answer him in Latin only; and he persisted in this resolution
until at last they were capable of sustaining an entire conversation with
him just as they would in their mother tongue. He listened to them, as a
leader of an orchestra listens to his musicians rehearsing, and striking
his desk every moment with his ruler, he exclaimed:
"Monsieur Lefrere, Monsieur Lefrere, you are committing a solecism! You
forget the rule.
"Monsieur Plantel, your way of expressing yourself is altogether French
and in no way Latin. You must understand the genius of a language. Look
here, listen to me."
Now, it came to pass that the pupils of the Institution Robineau carried
off, at the end of the year, all the prizes for composition, translation,
and Latin conversation.
Next year, the principal, a little man, as cunning as an ape, whom he
resembled in his grinning and grotesque appearance, had had printed on
his programmes, on his advertisements, and painted on the door of his
"Latin Studies a Specialty. Five first prizes carried off in the five
classes of the lycee.
"Two honor prizes at the general examinations in competition with all the
lycees and colleges of France."
For ten years the Institution Robineau triumphed in the same fashion.
Now my father, allured by these successes, sent me as a day pupil to
Robineau's--or, as we called it, Robinetto or Robinettino's--and made me
take special private lessons from Pere Piquedent at the rate of five
francs per hour, out of which the usher got two francs and the principal
three francs. I was then eighteen, and was in the philosophy class.
These private lessons were given in a little room looking out on the
street. It so happened that Pere Piquedent, instead of talking Latin to
me, as he did when teaching publicly in the institution, kept telling me
his troubles in French. Without relations, without friends, the poor man
conceived an attachment to me, and poured out his misery to me.
He had never for the last ten or fifteen years chatted confidentially
with any one.
"I am like an oak in a desert," he said--"'sicut quercus in solitudine'."
The other ushers disgusted him. He knew nobody in the town, since he had
no time to devote to making acquaintances.
"Not even the nights, my friend, and that is the hardest thing on me.
The dream of my life is to have a room with my own furniture, my own
books, little things that belong to myself and which others may not
touch. And I have nothing of my own, nothing except my trousers and my
frock-coat, nothing, not even my mattress and my pillow! I have not four
walls to shut myself up in, except when I come to give a lesson in this
room. Do you see what this means--a man forced to spend his life without
ever having the right, without ever finding the time, to shut himself up
all alone, no matter where, to think, to reflect, to work, to dream? Ah!
my dear boy, a key, the key of a door which one can lock--this is
happiness, mark you, the only happiness!
"Here, all day long, teaching all those restless rogues, and during the
night the dormitory with the same restless rogues snoring. And I have to
sleep in the bed at the end of two rows of beds occupied by these
youngsters whom I must look after. I can never be alone, never! If I go
out I find the streets full of people, and, when I am tired of walking,
I go into some cafe crowded with smokers and billiard players. I tell
you what, it is the life of a galley slave."
"Why did you not take up some other line, Monsieur Piquedent?"
"What, my little friend? I am not a shoemaker, or a joiner, or a hatter,
or a baker, or a hairdresser. I only know Latin, and I have no diploma
which would enable me to sell my knowledge at a high price. If I were a
doctor I would sell for a hundred francs what I now sell for a hundred
sous; and I would supply it probably of an inferior quality, for my title
would be enough to sustain my reputation."
Sometimes he would say to me:
"I have no rest in life except in the hours spent with you. Don't be
afraid! you'll lose nothing by that. I'll make it up to you in the
class-room by making you speak twice as much Latin as the others."
One day, I grew bolder, and offered him a cigarette. He stared at me in
astonishment at first, then he gave a glance toward the door.
"If any one were to come in, my dear boy?"
"Well, let us smoke at the window," said I.
And we went and leaned our elbows on the windowsill looking on the
street, holding concealed in our hands the little rolls of tobacco.
Just opposite to us was a laundry. Four women in loose white waists were
passing hot, heavy irons over the linen spread out before them, from
which a warm steam arose.
Suddenly, another, a fifth, carrying on her arm a large basket which made
her stoop, came out to take the customers their shirts, their
handkerchiefs, and their sheets. She stopped on the threshold as if she
were already fatigued; then, she raised her eyes, smiled as she saw us
smoking, flung at us, with her left hand, which was free, the sly kiss
characteristic of a free-and-easy working-woman, and went away at a slow
place, dragging her feet as she went.
She was a woman of about twenty, small, rather thin, pale, rather pretty,
with a roguish air and laughing eyes beneath her ill-combed fair hair.
Pere Piquedent, affected, began murmuring:
"What an occupation for a woman! Really a trade only fit for a horse."
And he spoke with emotion about the misery of the people. He had a heart
which swelled with lofty democratic sentiment, and he referred to the
fatiguing pursuits of the working class with phrases borrowed from Jean-
Jacques Rousseau, and with sobs in his throat.
Next day, as we were leaning our elbows on the same window sill, the same
woman perceived us and cried out to us:
"Good-day, scholars!" in a comical sort of tone, while she made a
contemptuous gesture with her hands.
I flung her a cigarette, which she immediately began to smoke. And the
four other ironers rushed out to the door with outstretched hands to get
And each day a friendly intercourse was established between the working-
women of the pavement and the idlers of the boarding school.
Pere Piquedent was really a comical sight. He trembled at being noticed,
for he might lose his position; and he made timid and ridiculous
gestures, quite a theatrical display of love signals, to which the women
responded with a regular fusillade of kisses.
A perfidious idea came into my mind. One day, on entering our room, I
said to the old usher in a low tone:
"You would not believe it, Monsieur Piquedent, I met the little
washerwoman! You know the one I mean, the woman who had the basket, and
I spoke to her!"
He asked, rather worried at my manner:
"What did she say to you?"
"She said to me--why, she said she thought you were very nice. The fact
of the matter is, I believe, I believe, that she is a little in love with
you." I saw that he was growing pale.
"She is laughing at me, of course. These things don't happen at my age,"
I said gravely:
"How is that? You are all right."
As I felt that my trick had produced its effect on him, I did not press
But every day I pretended that I had met the little laundress and that I
had spoken to her about him, so that in the end he believed me, and sent
her ardent and earnest kisses.
Now it happened that one morning, on my way to the boarding school, I
really came across her. I accosted her without hesitation, as if I had
known her for the last ten years.
"Good-day, mademoiselle. Are you quite well?"
"Very well, monsieur, thank you."
"Will you have a cigarette?"
"Oh! not in the street."
"You can smoke it at home."
"In that case, I will."
"Let me tell you, mademoiselle, there's something you don't know."
"What is that, monsieur?"
"The old gentleman--my old professor, I mean--"
"Yes, Pere Piquedent. So you know his name?"
"Faith, I do! What of that?"
"Well, he is in love with you!"
She burst out laughing wildly, and exclaimed:
"You are only fooling."
"Oh! no, I am not fooling! He keeps talking of you all through the
lesson. I bet that he'll marry you!"
She ceased laughing. The idea of marriage makes every girl serious.
Then she repeated, with an incredulous air:
"This is humbug!"
"I swear to you, it's true."
She picked up her basket which she had laid down at her feet.
"Well, we'll see," she said. And she went away.
Presently when I had reached the boarding school, I took Pere Piquedent
aside, and said:
"You must write to her; she is infatuated with you."
And he wrote a long letter, tenderly affectionate, full of phrases and
circumlocutions, metaphors and similes, philosophy and academic
gallantry; and I took on myself the responsibility of delivering it to
the young woman.
She read it with gravity, with emotion; then she murmured:
"How well he writes! It is easy to see he has got education! Does he
really mean to marry me?"
I replied intrepidly: "Faith, he has lost his head about you!"
"Then he must invite me to dinner on Sunday at the Ile des Fleurs."
I promised that she should be invited.
Pere Piquedent was much touched by everything I told him about her.
"She loves you, Monsieur Piquedent, and I believe her to be a decent
girl. It is not right to lead her on and then abandon her."
He replied in a firm tone:
"I hope I, too, am a decent man, my friend."
I confess I had at the time no plan. I was playing a practical joke a
schoolboy joke, nothing more. I had been aware of the simplicity of the
old usher, his innocence and his weakness. I amused myself without
asking myself how it would turn out. I was eighteen, and I had been for
a long time looked upon at the lycee as a sly practical joker.
So it was agreed that Pere Piquedent and I should set out in a hack for
the ferry of Queue de Vache, that we should there pick up Angele, and
that I should take them into my boat, for in those days I was fond of
boating. I would then bring them to the Ile des Fleurs, where the three
of us would dine. I had inflicted myself on them, the better to enjoy my
triumph, and the usher, consenting to my arrangement, proved clearly that
he was losing his head by thus risking the loss of his position.
When we arrived at the ferry, where my boat had been moored since
morning, I saw in the grass, or rather above the tall weeds of the bank,
an enormous red parasol, resembling a monstrous wild poppy. Beneath the
parasol was the little laundress in her Sunday clothes. I was surprised.
She was really pretty, though pale; and graceful, though with a rather
Pere Piquedent raised his hat and bowed. She put out her hand toward
him, and they stared at one another without uttering a word. Then they
stepped into my boat, and I took the oars. They were seated side by side
near the stern.
The usher was the first to speak.
"This is nice weather for a row in a boat."
She dipped her hand into the water, skimming the surface, making a thin,
transparent film like a sheet of glass, which made a soft plashing along
the side of the boat.
When they were in the restaurant, she took it on herself to speak, and
ordered dinner, fried fish, a chicken, and salad; then she led us on
toward the isle, which she knew perfectly.
After this, she was gay, romping, and even rather tantalizing.
Until dessert, no question of love arose. I had treated them to
champagne, and Pere Piquedent was tipsy. Herself slightly the worse, she
called out to him:
He said abruptly:
"Mademoiselle, Monsieur Raoul has communicated my sentiments to you."
She became as serious as a judge.
"What is your reply?"
"We never reply to these questions!"
He puffed with emotion, and went on:
"Well, will the day ever come that you will like me?"