Part 6 out of 31
He was a tall German, with fair beard, who breakfasted and dined in his
own room, and spoke to nobody.
A vague, curiosity attracted me to him. One day, I sat down by his side,
having taken up a book, too, to keep up appearances, a volume of Musset's
And I began to look through "Rolla."
Suddenly, my neighbor said to me, in good French:
"Do you know German, monsieur?"
"Not at all, monsieur."
"I am sorry for that. Since chance has thrown us side by side, I could
have lent you, I could have shown you, an inestimable thing--this book
which I hold in my hand."
"What is it, pray?"
"It is a copy of my master, Schopenhauer, annotated with his own hand.
All the margins, as you may see, are covered with his handwriting."
I took the book from him reverently, and I gazed at these forms
incomprehensible to me, but which revealed the immortal thoughts of the
greatest shatterer of dreams who had ever dwelt on earth.
And Musset's verses arose in my memory:
"Hast thou found out, Voltaire, that it is bliss to die,
And does thy hideous smile over thy bleached bones fly?"
And involuntarily I compared the childish sarcasm, the religious sarcasm
of Voltaire with the irresistible irony of the German philosopher whose
influence is henceforth ineffaceable.
Let us protest and let us be angry, let us be indignant, or let us be
enthusiastic, Schopenhauer has marked humanity with the seal of his
disdain and of his disenchantment.
A disabused pleasure-seeker, he overthrew beliefs, hopes, poetic ideals
and chimeras, destroyed the aspirations, ravaged the confidence of souls,
killed love, dragged down the chivalrous worship of women, crushed the
illusions of hearts, and accomplished the most gigantic task ever
attempted by scepticism. He spared nothing with his mocking spirit, and
exhausted everything. And even to-day those who execrate him seem to
carry in their own souls particles of his thought.
"So, then, you were intimately acquainted with Schopenhauer?" I said to
He smiled sadly.
"Up to the time of his death, monsieur."
And he spoke to me about the philosopher and told me about the almost
supernatural impression which this strange being made on all who came
He gave me an account of the interview of the old iconoclast with a
French politician, a doctrinaire Republican, who wanted to get a glimpse
of this man, and found him in a noisy tavern, seated in the midst of his
disciples, dry, wrinkled, laughing with an unforgettable laugh, attacking
and tearing to pieces ideas and beliefs with a single word, as a dog
tears with one bite of his teeth the tissues with which he plays.
He repeated for me the comment of this Frenchman as he went away,
astonished and terrified: "I thought I had spent an hour with the devil."
Then he added:
"He had, indeed, monsieur, a frightful smile, which terrified us even
after his death. I can tell you an anecdote about it that is not
generally known, if it would interest you."
And he began, in a languid voice, interrupted by frequent fits of
"Schopenhauer had just died, and it was arranged that we should watch, in
turn, two by two, till morning.
"He was lying in a large apartment, very simple, vast and gloomy. Two
wax candles were burning on the stand by the bedside.
"It was midnight when I went on watch, together with one of our comrades.
The two friends whom we replaced had left the apartment, and we came and
sat down at the foot of the bed.
"The face was not changed. It was laughing. That pucker which we knew
so well lingered still around the corners of the lips, and it seemed to
us that he was about to open his eyes, to move and to speak. His
thought, or rather his thoughts, enveloped us. We felt ourselves more
than ever in the atmosphere of his genius, absorbed, possessed by him.
His domination seemed to be even more sovereign now that he was dead.
A feeling of mystery was blended with the power of this incomparable
"The bodies of these men disappear, but they themselves remain; and in
the night which follows the cessation of their heart's pulsation I assure
you, monsieur, they are terrifying.
"And in hushed tones we talked about him, recalling to mind certain
sayings, certain formulas of his, those startling maxims which are like
jets of flame flung, in a few words, into the darkness of the Unknown
"'It seems to me that he is going to speak,' said my comrade. And we
stared with uneasiness bordering on fear at the motionless face, with its
eternal laugh. Gradually, we began to feel ill at ease, oppressed, on
the point of fainting. I faltered:
"'I don't know what is the matter with me, but, I assure you I am not
"And at that moment we noticed that there was an unpleasant odor from the
"Then, my comrade suggested that we should go into the adjoining room,
and leave the door open; and I assented to his proposal.
"I took one of the wax candles which burned on the stand, and I left the
second behind. Then we went and sat down at the other end of the
adjoining apartment, in such a position that we could see the bed and the
corpse, clearly revealed by the light.
"But he still held possession of us. One would have said that his
immaterial essence, liberated, free, all-powerful and dominating, was
flitting around us. And sometimes, too, the dreadful odor of the
decomposed body came toward us and penetrated us, sickening and
"Suddenly a shiver passed through our bones: a sound, a slight sound,
came from the death-chamber. Immediately we fixed our glances on him,
and we saw, yes, monsieur, we saw distinctly, both of us, something white
pass across the bed, fall on the carpet, and vanish under an armchair.
"We were on our feet before we had time to think of anything, distracted
by stupefying terror, ready to run away. Then we stared at each other.
We were horribly pale. Our hearts throbbed fiercely enough to have
raised the clothing on our chests. I was the first to speak:
"'Did you see?'
"'Yes, I saw.'
"'Can it be that he is not dead?'
"'Why, when the body is putrefying?'
"'What are we to do?'
"My companion said in a hesitating tone:
"'We must go and look.'
"I took our wax candle and entered first, glancing into all the dark
corners in the large apartment. Nothing was moving now, and I approached
the bed. But I stood transfixed with stupor and fright:
"Schopenhauer was no longer laughing! He was grinning in a horrible
fashion, with his lips pressed together and deep hollows in his cheeks.
I stammered out:
"'He is not dead!'
"But the terrible odor ascended to my nose and stifled me. And I no
longer moved, but kept staring fixedly at him, terrified as if in the
presence of an apparition.
"Then my companion, having seized the other wax candle, bent forward.
Next, he touched my arm without uttering a word. I followed his glance,
and saw on the ground, under the armchair by the side of the bed,
standing out white on the dark carpet, and open as if to bite,
Schopenhauer's set of artificial teeth.
"The work of decomposition, loosening the jaws, had made it jump out of
"I was really frightened that day, monsieur."
And as the sun was sinking toward the glittering sea, the consumptive
German rose from his seat, gave me a parting bow, and retired into the
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 3.
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
LITTLE LOUISE ROQUE
THE DISPENSER OF HOLY WATER
THE IMPOLITE SEX
A WEDDING GIFT
There were seven of us on a drag, four women and three men; one of the
latter sat on the box seat beside the coachman. We were ascending, at a
snail's pace, the winding road up the steep cliff along the coast.
Setting out from Etretat at break of day in order to visit the ruins of
Tancarville, we were still half asleep, benumbed by the fresh air of the
morning. The women especially, who were little accustomed to these early
excursions, half opened and closed their eyes every moment, nodding their
heads or yawning, quite insensible to the beauties of the dawn.
It was autumn. On both sides of the road stretched the bare fields,
yellowed by the stubble of wheat and oats which covered the soil like a
beard that had been badly shaved. The moist earth seemed to steam.
Larks were singing high up in the air, while other birds piped in the
The sun rose at length in front of us, bright red on the plane of the
horizon, and in proportion as it ascended, growing clearer from minute to
minute, the country seemed to awake, to smile, to shake itself like a
young girl leaving her bed in her white robe of vapor. The Comte
d'Etraille, who was seated on the box, cried:
"Look! look! a hare!" and he extended his arm toward the left, pointing
to a patch of clover. The animal scurried along, almost hidden by the
clover, only its large ears showing. Then it swerved across a furrow,
stopped, started off again at full speed, changed its course, stopped
anew, uneasy, spying out every danger, uncertain what route to take, when
suddenly it began to run with great bounds, disappearing finally in a
large patch of beet-root. All the men had waked up to watch the course
of the animal.
Rene Lamanoir exclaimed:
"We are not at all gallant this morning," and; regarding his neighbor,
the little Baroness de Serennes, who struggled against sleep, he said to
her in a low tone: "You are thinking of your husband, baroness. Reassure
yourself; he will not return before Saturday, so you have still four
She answered with a sleepy smile:
"How stupid you are!" Then, shaking off her torpor, she added: "Now, let
somebody say something to make us laugh. You, Monsieur Chenal, who have
the reputation of having had more love affairs than the Due de Richelieu,
tell us a love story in which you have played a part; anything you like."
Leon Chenal, an old painter, who had once been very handsome, very
strong, very proud of his physique and very popular with women, took his
long white beard in his hand and smiled. Then, after a few moments'
reflection, he suddenly became serious.
"Ladies, it will not be an amusing tale, for I am going to relate to you
the saddest love affair of my life, and I sincerely hope that none of my
friends may ever pass through a similar experience.
"I was twenty-five years of age and was pillaging along the coast of
Normandy. I call 'pillaging' wandering about, with a knapsack on one's
back, from inn to inn, under the pretext of making studies and sketching
landscapes. I knew nothing more enjoyable than that happy-go-lucky
wandering life, in which one is perfectly free, without shackles of any
kind, without care, without preoccupation, without thinking even of the
morrow. One goes in any direction one pleases, without any guide save
his fancy, without any counsellor save his eyes. One stops because a
running brook attracts one, because the smell of potatoes frying tickles
one's olfactories on passing an inn. Sometimes it is the perfume of
clematis which decides one in his choice or the roguish glance of the
servant at an inn. Do not despise me for my affection for these rustics.
These girls have a soul as well as senses, not to mention firm cheeks and
fresh lips; while their hearty and willing kisses have the flavor of wild
fruit. Love is always love, come whence it may. A heart that beats at
your approach, an eye that weeps when you go away are things so rare, so
sweet, so precious that they must never be despised.
"I have had rendezvous in ditches full of primroses, behind the cow
stable and in barns among the straw, still warm from the heat of the day.
I have recollections of coarse gray cloth covering supple peasant skin
and regrets for simple, frank kisses, more delicate in their unaffected
sincerity than the subtle favors of charming and distinguished women.
"But what one loves most amid all these varied adventures is the country,
the woods, the rising of the sun, the twilight, the moonlight. These
are, for the painter, honeymoon trips with Nature. One is alone with her
in that long and quiet association. You go to sleep in the fields, amid
marguerites and poppies, and when you open your eyes in the full glare of
the sunlight you descry in the distance the little village with its
pointed clock tower which sounds the hour of noon.
"You sit down by the side of a spring which gushes out at the foot of an
oak, amid a growth of tall, slender weeds, glistening with life. You go
down on your knees, bend forward and drink that cold, pellucid water
which wets your mustache and nose; you drink it with a physical pleasure,
as though you kissed the spring, lip to lip. Sometimes, when you find a
deep hole along the course of these tiny brooks, you plunge in quite
naked, and you feel on your skin, from head to foot, as it were, an icy
and delicious caress, the light and gentle quivering of the stream.
"You are gay on the hills, melancholy on the edge of ponds, inspired when
the sun is setting in an ocean of blood-red clouds and casts red
reflections or the river. And at night, under the moon, which passes
across the vault of heaven, you think of a thousand strange things which
would never have occurred to your mind under the brilliant light of day.
"So, in wandering through the same country where we, are this year, I
came to the little village of Benouville, on the cliff between Yport and
Etretat. I came from Fecamp, following the coast, a high coast as
straight as a wall, with its projecting chalk cliffs descending
perpendicularly into the sea. I had walked since early morning on the
short grass, smooth and yielding as a carpet, that grows on the edge of
the cliff. And, singing lustily, I walked with long strides, looking
sometimes at the slow circling flight of a gull with its white curved
wings outlined on the blue sky, sometimes at the brown sails of a fishing
bark on the green sea. In short, I had passed a happy day, a day of
liberty and of freedom from care.
"A little farmhouse where travellers were lodged was pointed out to me,
a kind of inn, kept by a peasant woman, which stood in the centre of a
Norman courtyard surrounded by a double row of beeches.
"Leaving the coast, I reached the hamlet, which was hemmed in by great
trees, and I presented myself at the house of Mother Lecacheur.
"She was an old, wrinkled and stern peasant woman, who seemed always to
receive customers under protest, with a kind of defiance.
"It was the month of May. The spreading apple trees covered the court
with a shower of blossoms which rained unceasingly both upon people and
upon the grass.
"I said: 'Well, Madame Lecacheur, have you a room for me?'
"Astonished to find that I knew her name, she answered:
"'That depends; everything is let, but all the same I can find out."
"In five minutes we had come to an agreement, and I deposited my bag upon
the earthen floor of a rustic room, furnished with a bed, two chairs, a
table and a washbowl. The room looked into the large, smoky kitchen,
where the lodgers took their meals with the people of the farm and the
landlady, who was a widow.
"I washed my hands, after which I went out. The old woman was making a
chicken fricassee for dinner in the large fireplace in which hung the
iron pot, black with smoke.
"'You have travellers, then, at the present time?' said I to her.
"She answered in an offended tone of voice:
"'I have a lady, an English lady, who has reached years of maturity. She
occupies the other room.'
"I obtained, by means of an extra five sous a day, the privilege of
dining alone out in the yard when the weather was fine.
"My place was set outside the door, and I was beginning to gnaw the lean
limbs of the Normandy chicken, to drink the clear cider and to munch the
hunk of white bread, which was four days old but excellent.
"Suddenly the wooden gate which gave on the highway was opened, and a
strange lady directed her steps toward the house. She was very thin,
very tall, so tightly enveloped in a red Scotch plaid shawl that one
might have supposed she had no arms, if one had not seen a long hand
appear just above the hips, holding a white tourist umbrella. Her face
was like that of a mummy, surrounded with curls of gray hair, which
tossed about at every step she took and made me think, I know not why, of
a pickled herring in curl papers. Lowering her eyes, she passed quickly
in front of me and entered the house.
"That singular apparition cheered me. She undoubtedly was my neighbor,
the English lady of mature age of whom our hostess had spoken.
"I did not see her again that day. The next day, when I had settled
myself to commence painting at the end of that beautiful valley which you
know and which extends as far as Etretat, I perceived, on lifting my eyes
suddenly, something singular standing on the crest of the cliff, one
might have said a pole decked out with flags. It was she. On seeing me,
she suddenly disappeared. I reentered the house at midday for lunch and
took my seat at the general table, so as to make the acquaintance of this
odd character. But she did not respond to my polite advances, was
insensible even to my little attentions. I poured out water for her
persistently, I passed her the dishes with great eagerness. A slight,
almost imperceptible, movement of the head and an English word, murmured
so low that I did not understand it, were her only acknowledgments.
"I ceased occupying myself with her, although she had disturbed my
"At the end of three days I knew as much about her as did Madame
"She was called Miss Harriet. Seeking out a secluded village in which to
pass the summer, she had been attracted to Benouville some six months
before and did not seem disposed to leave it. She never spoke at table,
ate rapidly, reading all the while a small book of the Protestant
propaganda. She gave a copy of it to everybody. The cure himself had
received no less than four copies, conveyed by an urchin to whom she had
paid two sous commission. She said sometimes to our hostess abruptly,
without preparing her in the least for the declaration:
"'I love the Saviour more than all. I admire him in all creation;
I adore him in all nature; I carry him always in my heart.'
"And she would immediately present the old woman with one of her tracts
which were destined to convert the universe.
"In, the village she was not liked. In fact, the schoolmaster having
pronounced her an atheist, a kind of stigma attached to her. The cure,
who had been consulted by Madame Lecacheur, responded:
"'She is a heretic, but God does not wish the death of the sinner, and I
believe her to be a person of pure morals.'
"These words, 'atheist,' 'heretic,' words which no one can precisely
define, threw doubts into some minds. It was asserted, however, that
this English woman was rich and that she had passed her life in
travelling through every country in the world because her family had cast
her off. Why had her family cast her off? Because of her impiety, of
"She was, in fact, one of those people of exalted principles; one of
those opinionated puritans, of which England produces so many; one of
those good and insupportable old maids who haunt the tables d'hote of
every hotel in Europe, who spoil Italy, poison Switzerland, render the
charming cities of the Mediterranean uninhabitable, carry everywhere
their fantastic manias their manners of petrified vestals, their
indescribable toilets and a certain odor of india-rubber which makes one
believe that at night they are slipped into a rubber casing.
"Whenever I caught sight of one of these individuals in a hotel I fled
like the birds who see a scarecrow in a field.
"This woman, however, appeared so very singular that she did not
"Madame Lecacheur, hostile by instinct to everything that was not rustic,
felt in her narrow soul a kind of hatred for the ecstatic declarations of
the old maid. She had found a phrase by which to describe her, a term of
contempt that rose to her lips, called forth by I know not what confused
and mysterious mental ratiocination. She said: 'That woman is a
demoniac.' This epithet, applied to that austere and sentimental
creature, seemed to me irresistibly droll. I myself never called her
anything now but 'the demoniac,' experiencing a singular pleasure in
pronouncing aloud this word on perceiving her.
"One day I asked Mother Lecacheur: 'Well, what is our demoniac about to-
"To which my rustic friend replied with a shocked air:
"'What do you think, sir? She picked up a toad which had had its paw
crushed and carried it to her room and has put it in her washbasin and
bandaged it as if it were a man. If that is not profanation I should
like to know what is!'
"On another occasion, when walking along the shore she bought a large
fish which had just been caught, simply to throw it back into the sea
again. The sailor from whom she had bought it, although she paid him
handsomely, now began to swear, more exasperated, indeed, than if she had
put her hand into his pocket and taken his money. For more than a month
he could not speak of the circumstance without becoming furious and
denouncing it as an outrage. Oh, yes! She was indeed a demoniac, this
Miss Harriet, and Mother Lecacheur must have had an inspiration in thus
"The stable boy, who was called Sapeur, because he had served in Africa
in his youth, entertained other opinions. He said with a roguish air:
'She is an old hag who has seen life.'
"If the poor woman had but known!
"The little kind-hearted Celeste did not wait upon her willingly, but I
was never able to understand why. Probably her only reason was that she
was a stranger, of another race; of a different tongue and of another
religion. She was, in fact, a demoniac!
"She passed her time wandering about the country, adoring and seeking God
in nature. I found her one evening on her knees in a cluster of bushes.
Having discovered something red through the leaves, I brushed aside the
branches, and Miss Harriet at once rose to her feet, confused at having
been found thus, fixing on me terrified eyes like those of an owl
surprised in open day.
"Sometimes, when I was working among the rocks, I would suddenly descry
her on the edge of the cliff like a lighthouse signal. She would be
gazing in rapture at the vast sea glittering in the sunlight and the
boundless sky with its golden tints. Sometimes I would distinguish her
at the end of the valley, walking quickly with her elastic English step,
and I would go toward her, attracted by I know not what, simply to see
her illuminated visage, her dried-up, ineffable features, which seemed to
glow with inward and profound happiness.
"I would often encounter her also in the corner of a field, sitting on
the grass under the shadow of an apple tree, with her little religious
booklet lying open on her knee while she gazed out at the distance.
"I could not tear myself away from that quiet country neighborhood, to
which I was attached by a thousand links of love for its wide and
peaceful landscape. I was happy in this sequestered farm, far removed
from everything, but in touch with the earth, the good, beautiful, green
earth. And--must I avow it?--there was, besides, a little curiosity
which retained me at the residence of Mother Lecacheur. I wished to
become acquainted a little with this strange Miss Harriet and to know
what transpires in the solitary souls of those wandering old English
"We became acquainted in a rather singular manner. I had just finished a
study which appeared to me to be worth something, and so it was, as it
sold for ten thousand francs fifteen years later. It was as simple,
however, as two and two make four and was not according to academic
rules. The whole right side of my canvas represented a rock, an enormous
rock, covered with sea-wrack, brown, yellow and red, across which the sun
poured like a stream of oil. The light fell upon the rock as though it
were aflame without the sun, which was at my back, being visible. That
was all. A first bewildering study of blazing, gorgeous light.
"On the left was the sea, not the blue sea, the slate-colored sea, but a
sea of jade, greenish, milky and solid beneath the deep-colored sky.
"I was so pleased with my work that I danced from sheer delight as I
carried it back to the inn. I would have liked the whole world to see it
at once. I can remember that I showed it to a cow that was browsing by
the wayside, exclaiming as I did so: 'Look at that, my old beauty; you
will not often see its like again.'
"When I had reached the house I immediately called out to Mother
Lecacheur, shouting with all my might:
"'Hullo, there! Mrs. Landlady, come here and look at this.'
"The rustic approached and looked at my work with her stupid eyes which
distinguished nothing and could not even tell whether the picture
represented an ox or a house.
"Miss Harriet just then came home, and she passed behind me just as I was
holding out my canvas at arm's length, exhibiting it to our landlady.
The demoniac could not help but see it, for I took care to exhibit the
thing in such a way that it could not escape her notice. She stopped
abruptly and stood motionless, astonished. It was her rock which was
depicted, the one which she climbed to dream away her time undisturbed.
"She uttered a British 'Aoh,' which was at once so accentuated and so
flattering that I turned round to her, smiling, and said:
"'This is my latest study, mademoiselle.'
"She murmured rapturously, comically and tenderly:
"'Oh! monsieur, you understand nature as a living thing.'
"I colored and was more touched by that compliment than if it had come
from a queen. I was captured, conquered, vanquished. I could have
embraced her, upon my honor.
"I took my seat at table beside her as usual. For the first time she
spoke, thinking aloud:
"'Oh! I do love nature.'
"I passed her some bread, some water, some wine. She now accepted these
with a little smile of a mummy. I then began to talk about the scenery.
"After the meal we rose from the table together and walked leisurely
across the courtyard; then, attracted doubtless by the fiery glow which
the setting sun cast over the surface of the sea, I opened the gate which
led to the cliff, and we walked along side by side, as contented as two
persons might be who have just learned to understand and penetrate each
other's motives and feelings.
"It was one of those warm, soft evenings which impart a sense of ease to
flesh and spirit alike. All is enjoyment, everything charms. The balmy
air, laden with the perfume of grasses and the smell of seaweed, soothes
the olfactory sense with its wild fragrance, soothes the palate with its
sea savor, soothes the mind with its pervading sweetness.
"We were now walking along the edge of the cliff, high above the
boundless sea which rolled its little waves below us at a distance of a
hundred metres. And we drank in with open mouth and expanded chest that
fresh breeze, briny from kissing the waves, that came from the ocean and
passed across our faces.
"Wrapped in her plaid shawl, with a look of inspiration as she faced the
breeze, the English woman gazed fixedly at the great sun ball as it
descended toward the horizon. Far off in the distance a three-master in
full sail was outlined on the blood-red sky and a steamship, somewhat
nearer, passed along, leaving behind it a trail of smoke on the horizon.
The red sun globe sank slowly lower and lower and presently touched the
water just behind the motionless vessel, which, in its dazzling
effulgence, looked as though framed in a flame of fire. We saw it
plunge, grow smaller and disappear, swallowed up by the ocean.
"Miss Harriet gazed in rapture at the last gleams of the dying day. She
seemed longing to embrace the sky, the sea, the whole landscape.
"She murmured: 'Aoh! I love--I love' I saw a tear in her eye. She
continued: 'I wish I were a little bird, so that I could mount up into
"She remained standing as I had often before seen her, perched on the
cliff, her face as red as her shawl. I should have liked to have
sketched her in my album. It would have been a caricature of ecstasy.
"I turned away so as not to laugh.
"I then spoke to her of painting as I would have done to a fellow artist,
using the technical terms common among the devotees of the profession.
She listened attentively, eagerly seeking to divine the meaning of the
terms, so as to understand my thoughts. From time to time she would
"'Oh! I understand, I understand. It is very interesting.'
"We returned home.
"The next day, on seeing me, she approached me, cordially holding out her
hand; and we at once became firm friends.
"She was a good creature who had a kind of soul on springs, which became
enthusiastic at a bound. She lacked equilibrium like all women who are
spinsters at the age of fifty. She seemed to be preserved in a pickle of
innocence, but her heart still retained something very youthful and
inflammable. She loved both nature and animals with a fervor, a love
like old wine fermented through age, with a sensuous love that she had
never bestowed on men.
"One thing is certain, that the sight of a bitch nursing her puppies, a
mare roaming in a meadow with a foal at its side, a bird's nest full of
young ones, screaming, with their open mouths and their enormous heads,
affected her perceptibly.
"Poor, solitary, sad, wandering beings! I love you ever since I became
acquainted with Miss Harriet.
"I soon discovered that she had something she would like to tell me, but
dare not, and I was amused at her timidity. When I started out in the
morning with my knapsack on my back, she would accompany me in silence as
far as the end of the village, evidently struggling to find words with
which to begin a conversation. Then she would leave me abruptly and walk
away quickly with her springy step.
"One day, however, she plucked up courage:
"I would like to see how you paint pictures. Are you willing? I have
been very curious.'
"And she blushed as if she had said something very audacious.
"I conducted her to the bottom of the Petit-Val, where I had begun a
"She remained standing behind me, following all my gestures with
concentrated attention. Then, suddenly, fearing perhaps that she was
disturbing me, she said: 'Thank you,' and walked away.
"But she soon became more friendly, and accompanied me every day, her
countenance exhibiting visible pleasure. She carried her camp stool
under her arm, not permitting me to carry it. She would remain there for
hours, silent and motionless, following with her eyes the point of my
brush, in its every movement. When I obtained unexpectedly just the
effect I wanted by a dash of color put on with the palette knife, she
involuntarily uttered a little 'Ah!' of astonishment, of joy, of
admiration. She had the most tender respect for my canvases, an almost
religious respect for that human reproduction of a part of nature's work
divine. My studies appeared to her a kind of religious pictures, and
sometimes she spoke to me of God, with the idea of converting me.
"Oh, he was a queer, good-natured being, this God of hers! He was a sort
of village philosopher without any great resources and without great
power, for she always figured him to herself as inconsolable over
injustices committed under his eyes, as though he were powerless to
"She was, however, on excellent terms with him, affecting even to be the
confidante of his secrets and of his troubles. She would say:
"'God wills' or 'God does not will,' just like a sergeant announcing to a
recruit: 'The colonel has commanded.'
"At the bottom of her heart she deplored my ignorance of the intentions
of the Eternal, which she endeavored to impart to me.
"Almost every day I found in my pockets, in my hat when I lifted it from
the ground, in my paintbox, in my polished shoes, standing in front of my
door in the morning, those little pious tracts which she no doubt,
received directly from Paradise.
"I treated her as one would an old friend, with unaffected cordiality.
But I soon perceived that she had changed somewhat in her manner, though,
for a while, I paid little attention to it.
"When I was painting, whether in my valley or in some country lane, I
would see her suddenly appear with her rapid, springy walk. She would
then sit down abruptly, out of breath, as though she had been running or
were overcome by some profound emotion. Her face would be red, that
English red which is denied to the people of all other countries; then,
without any reason, she would turn ashy pale and seem about to faint
away. Gradually, however, her natural color would return and she would
begin to speak.
"Then, without warning, she would break off in the middle of a sentence,
spring up from her seat and walk away so rapidly and so strangely that I
was at my wits' ends to discover whether I had done or said anything to
displease or wound her.
"I finally came to the conclusion that those were her normal manners,
somewhat modified no doubt in my honor during the first days of our
"When she returned to the farm, after walking for hours on the windy
coast, her long curls often hung straight down, as if their springs had
been broken. This had hitherto seldom given her any concern, and she
would come to dinner without embarrassment all dishevelled by her sister,
"But now she would go to her room and arrange the untidy locks, and when I
would say, with familiar gallantry, which, however, always offended her:
"'You are as beautiful as a star to-day, Miss Harriet,' a blush would
immediately rise to her cheeks, the blush of a young girl, of a girl of
"Then she would suddenly become quite reserved and cease coming to watch
me paint. I thought, 'This is only a fit of temper; it will blow over.'
But it did not always blow over, and when I spoke to her she would answer
me either with affected indifference or with sullen annoyance.
"She became by turns rude, impatient and nervous. I never saw her now
except at meals, and we spoke but little. I concluded at length that I
must have offended her in some way, and, accordingly, I said to her one
"'Miss Harriet, why is it that you do not act toward me as formerly?
What have I done to displease you? You are causing me much pain!'
"She replied in a most comical tone of anger:
"'I am just the same with you as formerly. It is not true, not true,'
and she ran upstairs and shut herself up in her room.
"Occasionally she would look at me in a peculiar manner. I have often
said to myself since then that those who are condemned to death must look
thus when they are informed that their last day has come. In her eye
there lurked a species of insanity, an insanity at once mystical and
violent; and even more, a fever, an aggravated longing, impatient and
impotent, for the unattained and unattainable.
"Nay, it seemed to me there was also going on within her a struggle in
which her heart wrestled with an unknown force that she sought to master,
and even, perhaps, something else. But what do I know? What do I know?
"It was indeed a singular revelation.
"For some time I had commenced to work, as soon as daylight appeared, on
a picture the subject of which was as follows:
"A deep ravine, enclosed, surmounted by two thickets of trees and vines,
extended into the distance and was lost, submerged in that milky vapor,
in that cloud like cotton down that sometimes floats over valleys at
daybreak. And at the extreme end of that heavy, transparent fog one saw,
or, rather, surmised, that a couple of human beings were approaching, a
human couple, a youth and a maiden, their arms interlaced, embracing each
other, their heads inclined toward each other, their lips meeting.
"A first ray of the sun, glistening through the branches, pierced that
fog of the dawn, illuminated it with a rosy reflection just behind the
rustic lovers, framing their vague shadows in a silvery background. It
was well done; yes, indeed, well done.
"I was working on the declivity which led to the Valley of Etretat. On
this particular morning I had, by chance, the sort of floating vapor
which I needed. Suddenly something rose up in front of me like a
phantom; it was Miss Harriet. On seeing me she was about to flee. But I
called after her, saying: 'Come here, come here, mademoiselle. I have a
nice little picture for you.'
"She came forward, though with seeming reluctance. I handed her my
sketch. She said nothing, but stood for a long time, motionless, looking
at it, and suddenly she burst into tears. She wept spasmodically, like
men who have striven hard to restrain their tears, but who can do so no
longer and abandon themselves to grief, though still resisting. I sprang
to my feet, moved at the sight of a sorrow I did not comprehend, and I
took her by the hand with an impulse of brusque affection, a true French
impulse which acts before it reflects.
"She let her hands rest in mine for a few seconds, and I felt them quiver
as if all her nerves were being wrenched. Then she withdrew her hands
abruptly, or, rather, snatched them away.
"I recognized that tremor, for I had felt it, and I could not be
deceived. Ah! the love tremor of a woman, whether she be fifteen or
fifty years of age, whether she be of the people or of society, goes so
straight to my heart that I never have any hesitation in understanding
"Her whole frail being had trembled, vibrated, been overcome. I knew it.
She walked away before I had time to say a word, leaving me as surprised
as if I had witnessed a miracle and as troubled as if I had committed a
"I did not go in to breakfast. I went to take a turn on the edge of the
cliff, feeling that I would just as lief weep as laugh, looking on the
adventure as both comic and deplorable and my position as ridiculous,
believing her unhappy enough to go insane.
"I asked myself what I ought to do. It seemed best for me to leave the
place, and I immediately resolved to do so.
"Somewhat sad and perplexed, I wandered about until dinner time and
entered the farmhouse just when the soup had been served up.
"I sat down at the table as usual. Miss Harriet was there, eating away
solemnly, without speaking to any one, without even lifting her eyes.
Her manner and expression were, however, the same as usual.
"I waited patiently till the meal had been finished, when, turning toward
the landlady, I said: 'Well, Madame Lecacheur, it will not be long now
before I shall have to take my leave of you.'
"The good woman, at once surprised and troubled, replied in her drawling
voice: 'My dear sir, what is it you say? You are going to leave us after
I have become so accustomed to you?'
"I glanced at Miss Harriet out of the corner of my eye. Her countenance
did not change in the least. But Celeste, the little servant, looked up
at me. She was a fat girl, of about eighteen years of age, rosy, fresh,
as strong as a horse, and possessing the rare attribute of cleanliness.
I had kissed her at odd times in out-of-the-way corners, after the manner
of travellers--nothing more.
"The dinner being at length over, I went to smoke my pipe under the apple
trees, walking up and down from one end of the enclosure to the other.
All the reflections which I had made during the day, the strange
discovery of the morning, that passionate and grotesque attachment for
me, the recollections which that revelation had suddenly called up,
recollections at once charming and perplexing, perhaps also that look
which the servant had cast on me at the announcement of my departure--all
these things, mixed up and combined, put me now in a reckless humor, gave
me a tickling sensation of kisses on the lips and in my veins a something
which urged me on to commit some folly.
"Night was coming on, casting its dark shadows under the trees, when I
descried Celeste, who had gone to fasten up the poultry yard at the other
end of the enclosure. I darted toward her, running so noiselessly that
she heard nothing, and as she got up from closing the small trapdoor by
which the chickens got in and out, I clasped her in my arms and rained on
her coarse, fat face a shower of kisses. She struggled, laughing all the
time, as she was accustomed to do in such circumstances. Why did I
suddenly loose my grip of her? Why did I at once experience a shock?
What was it that I heard behind me?
"It was Miss Harriet, who had come upon us, who had seen us and who stood
in front of us motionless as a spectre. Then she disappeared in the
"I was ashamed, embarrassed, more desperate at having been thus surprised
by her than if she had caught me committing some criminal act.
"I slept badly that night. I was completely unnerved and haunted by sad
thoughts. I seemed to hear loud weeping, but in this I was no doubt
deceived. Moreover, I thought several times that I heard some one
walking up and down in the house and opening the hall door.
"Toward morning I was overcome by fatigue and fell asleep. I got up late
and did not go downstairs until the late breakfast, being still in a
bewildered state, not knowing what kind of expression to put on.
"No one had seen Miss Harriet. We waited for her at table, but she did
not appear. At length Mother Lecacheur went to her room. The English
woman had gone out. She must have set out at break of day, as she was
wont to do, in order to see the sun rise.
"Nobody seemed surprised at this, and we began to eat in silence.
"The weather was hot, very hot, one of those broiling, heavy days when
not a leaf stirs. The table had been placed out of doors, under an apple
tree, and from time to time Sapeur had gone to the cellar to draw a jug
of cider, everybody was so thirsty. Celeste brought the dishes from the
kitchen, a ragout of mutton with potatoes, a cold rabbit and a salad.
Afterward she placed before us a dish of strawberries, the first of the
"As I wished to wash and freshen these, I begged the servant to go and
draw me a pitcher of cold water.
"In about five minutes she returned, declaring that the well was dry.
She had lowered the pitcher to the full extent of the cord and had
touched the bottom, but on drawing the pitcher up again it was empty.
Mother Lecacheur, anxious to examine the thing for herself, went and
looked down the hole. She returned, announcing that one could see
clearly something in the well, something altogether unusual. But this no
doubt was bundles of straw, which a neighbor had thrown in out of spite.
"I wished to look down the well also, hoping I might be able to clear up
the mystery, and I perched myself close to the brink. I perceived
indistinctly a white object. What could it be? I then conceived the
idea of lowering a lantern at the end of a cord. When I did so the
yellow flame danced on the layers of stone and gradually became clearer.
All four of us were leaning over the opening, Sapeur and Celeste having
now joined us. The lantern rested on a black-and-white indistinct mass,
singular, incomprehensible. Sapeur exclaimed:
"'It is a horse. I see the hoofs. It must have got out of the meadow
during the night and fallen in headlong.'
"But suddenly a cold shiver froze me to the marrow. I first recognized a
foot, then a leg sticking up; the whole body and the other leg were
completely under water.
"I stammered out in a loud voice, trembling so violently that the lantern
danced hither and thither over the slipper:
"'It is a woman! Who-who-can it be? It is Miss Harriet!'
"Sapeur alone did not manifest horror. He had witnessed many such scenes
"Mother Lecacheur and Celeste began to utter piercing screams and ran
"But it was necessary to recover the corpse of the dead woman. I
attached the young man securely by the waist to the end of the pulley
rope and lowered him very slowly, watching him disappear in the darkness.
In one hand he held the lantern and a rope in the other. Soon I
recognized his voice, which seemed to come from the centre of the earth,
"I then saw him fish something out of the water. It was the other leg.
He then bound the two feet together and shouted anew:
"I began to wind up, but I felt my arms crack, my muscles twitch, and I
was in terror lest I should let the man fall to the bottom. When his
head appeared at the brink I asked:
"'Well?' as if I expected he had a message from the drowned woman.
"We both got on the stone slab at the edge of the well and from opposite
sides we began to haul up the body.
"Mother Lecacheur and Celeste watched us from a distance, concealed from
view behind the wall of the house. When they saw issuing from the hole
the black slippers and white stockings of the drowned person they
"Sapeur seized the ankles, and we drew up the body of the poor woman.
The head was shocking to look at, being bruised and lacerated, and the
long gray hair, out of curl forevermore, hanging down tangled and
"'In the name of all that is holy! how lean she is,' exclaimed Sapeur in
a contemptuous tone.
"We carried her into the room, and as the women did not put in an
appearance I, with the assistance of the stable lad, dressed the corpse
"I washed her disfigured face. Under the touch of my finger an eye was
slightly opened and regarded me with that pale, cold look, that terrible
look of a corpse which seems to come from the beyond. I braided as well
as I could her dishevelled hair and with my clumsy hands arranged on her
head a novel and singular coiffure. Then I took off her dripping wet
garments, baring, not without a feeling of shame, as though I had been
guilty of some profanation, her shoulders and her chest and her long
arms, as slim as the twigs of a tree.
"I next went to fetch some flowers, poppies, bluets, marguerites and
fresh, sweet-smelling grass with which to strew her funeral couch.
"I then had to go through the usual formalities, as I was alone to attend
to everything. A letter found in her pocket, written at the last moment,
requested that her body be buried in the village in which she had passed
the last days of her life. A sad suspicion weighed on my heart. Was it
not on my account that she wished to be laid to rest in this place?
"Toward evening all the female gossips of the locality came to view the
remains of the defunct, but I would not allow a single person to enter.
I wanted to be alone, and I watched beside her all night.
"I looked at the corpse by the flickering light of the candles, at this
unhappy woman, unknown to us all, who had died in such a lamentable
manner and so far away from home. Had she left no friends, no relations
behind her? What had her infancy been? What had been her life? Whence
had she come thither alone, a wanderer, lost like a dog driven from home?
What secrets of sufferings and of despair were sealed up in that
unprepossessing body, in that poor body whose outward appearance had
driven from her all affection, all love?
"How many unhappy beings there are! I felt that there weighed upon that
human creature the eternal injustice of implacable nature! It was all
over with her, without her ever having experienced, perhaps, that which
sustains the greatest outcasts to wit, the hope of being loved once!
Otherwise why should she thus have concealed herself, fled from the face
of others? Why did she love everything so tenderly and so passionately,
everything living that was not a man?
"I recognized the fact that she believed in a God, and that she hoped to
receive compensation from the latter for all the miseries she had
endured. She would now disintegrate and become, in turn, a plant. She
would blossom in the sun, the cattle would browse on her leaves, the
birds would bear away the seeds, and through these changes she would
become again human flesh. But that which is called the soul had been
extinguished at the bottom of the dark well. She suffered no longer.
She had given her life for that of others yet to come.
"Hours passed away in this silent and sinister communion with the dead.
A pale light at length announced the dawn of a new day; then a red ray
streamed in on the bed, making a bar of light across the coverlet and
across her hands. This was the hour she had so much loved. The awakened
birds began to sing in the trees.
"I opened the window to its fullest extent and drew back the curtains
that the whole heavens might look in upon us, and, bending over the icy
corpse, I took in my hands the mutilated head and slowly, without terror
or disgust, I imprinted a kiss, a long kiss, upon those lips which had
never before been kissed."
Leon Chenal remained silent. The women wept. We heard on the box seat
the Count d'Atraille blowing his nose from time to time. The coachman
alone had gone to sleep. The horses, who no longer felt the sting of the
whip, had slackened their pace and moved along slowly. The drag, hardly
advancing at all, seemed suddenly torpid, as if it had been freighted
[Miss Harriet appeared in Le Gaulois, July 9, 1883, under the title
of Miss Hastings. The story was later revised, enlarged; and partly
reconstructed. This is what De Maupassant wrote to Editor Havard
March 15, 1884, in an unedited letter, in regard to the title of the
story that was to give its name to the volume:
"I do not believe that Hastings is a bad name, inasmuch as it is
known all over the world, and recalls the greatest facts in English
history. Besides, Hastings is as much a name as Duval is with us.
"The name Cherbuliez selected, Miss Revel, is no more like an
English name than like a Turkish name. But here is another name as
English as Hastings, and more euphonious; it is Miss Harriet.
I will ask you therefore to substitute Harriet for Hastings."
It was in regard to this very tittle that De Maupassant had a
disagreement with Audran and Boucheron director of the Bouffes
Parisiens in October, 1890 They had given this title to an operetta
about to be played at the Bouffes. It ended however, by their
ceding to De Maupassant, and the title of the operetta was changed
to Miss Helyett.]
LITTLE LOUISE ROQUE
The former soldier, Mederic Rompel, familiarly called Mederic by the
country folks, left the post office of Roiiy-le-Tors at the usual hour.
After passing through the village with his long stride, he cut across the
meadows of Villaume and reached the bank of the Brindille, following the
path along the water's edge to the village of Carvelin, where he
commenced to deliver his letters. He walked quickly, following the
course of the narrow river, which frothed, murmured and boiled in its
grassy bed beneath an arch of willows.
Mederic went on without stopping, with only this thought in his mind: "My
first letter is for the Poivron family, then I have one for Monsieur
Renardet; so I must cross the wood."
His blue blouse, fastened round his waist by a black leather belt, moved
in a quick, regular fashion above the green hedge of willow trees, and
his stout stick of holly kept time with his steady tread.
He crossed the Brindille on a bridge consisting of a tree trunk, with a
handrail of rope, fastened at either end to a stake driven into the
The wood, which belonged to Monsieur Renardet, the mayor of Carvelin and
the largest landowner in the district, consisted of huge old trees,
straight as pillars and extending for about half a league along the left
bank of the stream which served as a boundary to this immense dome of
foliage. Alongside the water large shrubs had grown up in the sunlight,
but under the trees one found nothing but moss, thick, soft and yielding,
from which arose, in the still air, an odor of dampness and of dead wood.
Mederic slackened his pace, took off his black cap adorned with red lace
and wiped his forehead, for it was by this time hot in the meadows,
though it was not yet eight o'clock in the morning.
He had just recovered from the effects of the heat and resumed his quick
pace when he noticed at the foot of a tree a knife, a child's small
knife. When he picked it up he discovered a thimble and also a
needlecase not far away.
Having taken up these objects, he thought: "I'll entrust them to the
mayor," and he resumed his journey, but now he kept his eyes open,
expecting to find something else.
All of a sudden he stopped short, as if he had struck against a wooden
barrier. Ten paces in front of him lay stretched on her back on the moss
a little girl, perfectly nude, her face covered with a handkerchief. She
was about twelve years old.
Meredic advanced on tiptoe, as if he apprehended some danger, and he
glanced toward the spot uneasily.
What was this? No doubt she was asleep. Then he reflected that a person
does not go to sleep naked at half-past seven in the morning under the
cool trees. So, then, she must be dead, and he must be face to face with
a crime. At this thought a cold shiver ran through his frame, although
he was an old soldier. And then a murder was such a rare thing in the
country, and, above all, the murder of a child, that he could not believe
his eyes. But she had no wound-nothing save a spot of blood on her leg.
How, then, had she been killed?
He stopped close to her and gazed at her, while he leaned on his stick.
Certainly he must know her, for he knew all the inhabitants of the
district; but, not being able to get a look at her face, he could not
guess her name. He stooped forward in order to take off the handkerchief
which covered her face, then paused, with outstretched hand, restrained
by an idea that occurred to him.
Had he the right to disarrange anything in the condition of the corpse
before the official investigation? He pictured justice to himself as a
kind of general whom nothing escapes and who attaches as much importance
to a lost button as to the stab of a knife in the stomach. Perhaps under
this handkerchief evidence could be found to sustain a charge of murder;
in fact, if such proof were there it might lose its value if touched by
an awkward hand.
Then he raised himself with the intention of hastening toward the mayor's
residence, but again another thought held him back. If the little girl
were still alive, by any chance, he could not leave her lying there in
this way. He sank on his knees very gently, a little distance from her,
through precaution, and extended his hand toward her foot. It was icy
cold, with the terrible coldness of death which leaves us no longer in
doubt. The letter carrier, as he touched her, felt his heart in his
mouth, as he said himself afterward, and his mouth parched. Rising up
abruptly, he rushed off under the trees toward Monsieur Renardet's house.
He walked on faster than ever, with his stick under his arm, his hands
clenched and his head thrust forward, while his leathern bag, filled with
letters and newspapers, kept flapping at his side.
The mayor's residence was at the end of the wood which served as a park,
and one side of it was washed by the Brindille.
It was a big square house of gray stone, very old, and had stood many a
siege in former days, and at the end of it was a huge tower, twenty
metres high, rising out of the water.
From the top of this fortress one could formerly see all the surrounding
country. It was called the Fox's tower, without any one knowing exactly
why; and from this appellation, no doubt, had come the name Renardet,
borne by the owners of this fief, which had remained in the same family,
it was said, for more than two hundred years. For the Renardets formed
part of the upper middle class, all but noble, to be met with so often in
the province before the Revolution.
The postman dashed into the kitchen, where the servants were taking
breakfast, and exclaimed:
"Is the mayor up? I want to speak to him at once."
Mederic was recognized as a man of standing and authority, and they
understood that something serious had happened.
As soon as word was brought to Monsieur Renardet, he ordered the postman
to be sent up to him. Pale and out of breath, with his cap in his hand,
Mederic found the mayor seated at a long table covered with scattered
He was a large, tall man, heavy and red-faced, strong as an ox, and was
greatly liked in the district, although of an excessively violent
disposition. Almost forty years old and a widower for the past six
months, he lived on his estate like a country gentleman. His choleric
temperament had often brought him into trouble from which the magistrates
of Roiiy-le-Tors, like indulgent and prudent friends, had extricated him.
Had he not one day thrown the conductor of the diligence from the top of
his seat because he came near running over his retriever, Micmac? Had he
not broken the ribs of a gamekeeper who abused him for having, gun in
hand, passed through a neighbor's property? Had he not even caught by
the collar the sub-prefect, who stopped over in the village during an
administrative circuit, called by Monsieur Renardet an electioneering
circuit, for he was opposed to the government, in accordance with family
The mayor asked:
"What's the matter now, Mederic?"
"I found a little girl dead in your wood."
Renardet rose to his feet, his face the color of brick.
"What do you say--a little girl?"
"Yes, m'sieu, a little girl, quite naked, on her back, with blood on her,
The mayor gave vent to an oath:
"By God, I'd make a bet it is little Louise Roque! I have just learned
that she did not go home to her mother last night. Where did you find
The postman described the spot, gave full details and offered to conduct
the mayor to the place.
But Renardet became brusque:
"No, I don't need you. Send the watchman, the mayor's secretary and the
doctor to me at once, and resume your rounds. Quick, quick, go and tell
them to meet me in the wood."
The letter carrier, a man used to discipline, obeyed and withdrew, angry
and grieved at not being able to be present at the investigation.
The mayor, in his turn, prepared to go out, took his big soft hat and
paused for a few seconds on the threshold of his abode. In front of him
stretched a wide sward, in which were three large beds of flowers in full
bloom, one facing the house and the others at either side of it. Farther
on the outlying trees of the wood rose skyward, while at the left, beyond
the Brindille, which at that spot widened into a pond, could be seen long
meadows, an entirely green flat sweep of country, intersected by trenches
and hedges of pollard willows.
To the right, behind the stables, the outhouses and all the buildings
connected with the property, might be seen the village, which was
wealthy, being mainly inhabited by cattle breeders.
Renardet slowly descended the steps in front of his house, and, turning
to the left, gained the water's edge, which he followed at a slow pace,
his hand behind his back. He walked on, with bent head, and from time to
time glanced round in search of the persons he had sent for.
When he stood beneath the trees he stopped, took off his hat and wiped
his forehead as Mederic had done, for the burning sun was darting its
fiery rays on the earth. Then the mayor resumed his journey, stopped
once more and retraced his steps. Suddenly, stooping down, he steeped
his handkerchief in the stream that glided along at his feet and spread
it over his head, under his hat. Drops of water flowed down his temples
over his ears, which were always purple, over his strong red neck, and
made their way, one after the other, under his white shirt collar.
As nobody had appeared, he began tapping with his foot, then he called
A voice at his right answered:
And the doctor appeared under the trees. He was a thin little man, an
ex-military surgeon, who passed in the neighborhood for a very skillful
practitioner. He limped, having been wounded while in the service, and
had to use a stick to assist him in walking.
Next came the watchman and the mayor's secretary, who, having been sent
for at the same time, arrived together. They looked scared, and hurried
forward, out of breath, walking and running alternately to hasten their
progress, and moving their arms up and down so vigorously that they
seemed to do more work with them than with their legs.
Renardet said to the doctor:
"You know what the trouble is about?"
"Yes, a child found dead in the wood by Mederic."
"That's quite correct. Come on!"
They walked along, side by side, followed by the two men.
Their steps made no sound on the moss. Their eyes were gazing ahead in
front of them.
Suddenly the doctor, extending his arm, said:
"See, there she is!"
Far ahead of them under the trees they saw something white on which the
sun gleamed down through the branches. As they approached they gradually
distinguished a human form lying there, its head toward the river, the
face covered and the arms extended as though on a crucifix.
"I am fearfully warm," said the mayor, and stooping down, he again soaked
his handkerchief in the water and placed it round his forehead.
The doctor hastened his steps, interested by the discovery. As soon as
they were near the corpse, he bent down to examine it without touching
it. He had put on his pince-nez, as one does in examining some curious
object, and turned round very quietly.
He said, without rising:
"Violated and murdered, as we shall prove presently. This little girl,
moreover, is almost a woman--look at her throat."
The doctor lightly drew away the handkerchief which covered her face,
which looked black, frightful, the tongue protruding, the eyes bloodshot.
He went on:
"By heavens! She was strangled the moment the deed was done."
He felt her neck.
"Strangled with the hands without leaving any special trace, neither the
mark of the nails nor the imprint of the fingers. Quite right. It is
little Louise Roque, sure enough!"
He carefully replaced the handkerchief.
"There's nothing for me to do. She's been dead for the last hour at
least. We must give notice of the matter to the authorities."
Renardet, standing up, with his hands behind his back, kept staring with
a stony look at the little body exposed to view on the grass. He
"What a wretch! We must find the clothes."
The doctor felt the hands, the arms, the legs. He said:
"She had been bathing no doubt. They ought to be at the water's edge."
The mayor thereupon gave directions:
"Do you, Principe" (this was his secretary), "go and find those clothes
for me along the stream. You, Maxime" (this was the watchman), "hurry on
toward Rouy-le-Tors and bring with you the magistrate with the gendarmes.
They must be here within an hour. You understand?"
The two men started at once, and Renardet said to the doctor:
"What miscreant could have done such a deed in this part of the country?"
The doctor murmured:
"Who knows? Any one is capable of that. Every one in particular and
nobody in general. No matter, it must be some prowler, some workman out
of employment. Since we have become a Republic we meet only this kind of
person along the roads."
Both of them were Bonapartists.
The mayor went on:
"Yes, it can only be a stranger, a passer-by, a vagabond without hearth
The doctor added, with the shadow of a smile on his face:
"And without a wife. Having neither a good supper nor a good bed, he
became reckless. You can't tell how many men there may be in the world
capable of a crime at a given moment. Did you know that this little girl
And with the end of his stick he touched one after the other the
stiffened fingers of the corpse, resting on them as on the keys of a
"Yes, the mother came last night to look for me about nine o'clock, the
child not having come home at seven to supper. We looked for her along
the roads up to midnight, but we did not think of the wood. However, we
needed daylight to carry out a thorough search."
"Will you have a cigar?" said the doctor.
"Thanks, I don't care to smoke. This thing affects me so."
They remained standing beside the corpse of the young girl, so pale on
the dark moss. A big blue fly was walking over the body with his lively,
jerky movements. The two men kept watching this wandering speck.
The doctor said:
"How pretty it is, a fly on the skin! The ladies of the last century had
good reason to paste them on their faces. Why has this fashion gone
The mayor seemed not to hear, plunged as he was in deep thought.
But, all of a sudden, he turned round, surprised by a shrill noise. A
woman in a cap and blue apron was running toward them under the trees.
It was the mother, La Roque. As soon as she saw Renardet she began to
"My little girl! Where's my little girl?" so distractedly that she did
not glance down at the ground. Suddenly she saw the corpse, stopped
short, clasped her hands and raised both her arms while she uttered a
sharp, heartrending cry--the cry of a wounded animal. Then she rushed
toward the body, fell on her knees and snatched away the handkerchief
that covered the face. When she saw that frightful countenance, black
and distorted, she rose to her feet with a shudder, then sinking to the
ground, face downward, she pressed her face against the ground and
uttered frightful, continuous screams on the thick moss.
Her tall, thin frame, with its close-clinging dress, was palpitating,
shaken with spasms. One could see her bony ankles and her dried-up
calves covered with coarse blue stockings shaking horribly. She was
digging the soil with her crooked fingers, as though she were trying to
make a hole in which to hide herself.
The doctor, much affected, said in a low tone:
"Poor old woman!"
Renardet felt a strange sensation. Then he gave vent to a sort of loud
sneeze, and, drawing his handkerchief from his pocket, he began to weep
internally, coughing, sobbing and blowing his nose noisily.
"Damn--damn--damned pig to do this! I would like to seem him
Principe reappeared with his hands empty. He murmured:
"I have found nothing, M'sieu le Maire, nothing at all anywhere."
The mayor, alarmed, replied in a thick voice, drowned in tears:
"What is that you could not find?"
"The little girl's clothes."
"Well--well--look again, and find them--or you''ll have to answer to me."
The man, knowing that the mayor would not brook opposition, set forth
again with hesitating steps, casting a timid side glance at the corpse.
Distant voices were heard under the trees, a confused sound, the noise of
an approaching crowd, for Mederic had, in the course of his rounds,
carried the news from door to door. The people of the neighborhood,
dazed at first, had gossiped about it in the street, from one threshold
to another. Then they gathered together. They talked over, discussed
and commented on the event for some minutes and had now come to see for
They arrived in groups, a little faltering and uneasy through fear of the
first impression of such a scene on their minds. When they saw the body
they stopped, not daring to advance, and speaking low. Then they grew
bolder, went on a few steps, stopped again, advanced once more, and
presently formed around the dead girl, her mother, the doctor and
Renardet a close circle, restless and noisy, which crowded forward at the
sudden impact of newcomers. And now they touched the corpse. Some of
them even bent down to feel it with their fingers. The doctor kept them
back. But the mayor, waking abruptly out of his torpor, flew into a
rage, and seizing Dr. Labarbe's stick, flung himself on his townspeople,
"Clear out--clear out--you pack of brutes--clear out!"
And in a second the crowd of sightseers had fallen back two hundred
Mother La Roque had risen to a sitting posture and now remained weeping,
with her hands clasped over her face.
The crowd was discussing the affair, and young lads' eager eyes curiously
scrutinized this nude young form. Renardet perceived this, and, abruptly
taking off his coat, he flung it over the little girl, who was entirely
hidden from view beneath the large garment.
The secretary drew near quietly. The wood was filled with people, and a
continuous hum of voices rose up under the tangled foliage of the tall
The mayor, in his shirt sleeves, remained standing, with his stick in his
hands, in a fighting attitude. He seemed exasperated by this curiosity
on the part of the people and kept repeating:
"If one of you come nearer I'll break his head just as I would a dog's."
The peasants were greatly afraid of him. They held back. Dr. Labarbe,
who was smoking, sat down beside La Roque and spoke to her in order to
distract her attention. The old woman at once removed her hands from her
face and replied with a flood of tearful words, emptying her grief in
copious talk. She told the whole story of her life, her marriage, the
death of her man, a cattle drover, who had been gored to death, the
infancy of her daughter, her wretched existence as a widow without
resources and with a child to support. She had only this one, her little
Louise, and the child had been killed--killed in this wood. Then she
felt anxious to see her again, and, dragging herself on her knees toward
the corpse, she raised up one corner of the garment that covered her;
then she let it fall again and began wailing once more. The crowd
remained silent, eagerly watching all the mother's gestures.
But suddenly there was a great commotion at the cry of "The gendarmes!
Two gendarmes appeared in the distance, advancing at a rapid trot,
escorting their captain and a little gentleman with red whiskers, who was
bobbing up and down like a monkey on a big white mare.
The watchman had just found Monsieur Putoin, the magistrate, at the
moment when he was mounting his horse to take his daily ride, for he
posed as a good horseman, to the great amusement of the officers.
He dismounted, along with the captain, and pressed the hands of the mayor
and the doctor, casting a ferret-like glance on the linen coat beneath
which lay the corpse.
When he was made acquainted with all the facts, he first gave orders to
disperse the crowd, whom the gendarmes drove out of the wood, but who
soon reappeared in the meadow and formed a hedge, a big hedge of excited
and moving heads, on the other side of the stream.
The doctor, in his turn, gave explanations, which Renardet noted down in
his memorandum book. All the evidence was given, taken down and
commented on without leading to any discovery. Maxime, too, came back
without having found any trace of the clothes.
This disappearance surprised everybody; no one could explain it except on
the theory of theft, and as her rags were not worth twenty sous, even
this theory was inadmissible.
The magistrate, the mayor, the captain and the doctor set to work
searching in pairs, putting aside the smallest branch along the water.
Renardet said to the judge:
"How does it happen that this wretch has concealed or carried away the
clothes, and has thus left the body exposed, in sight of every one?"
The other, crafty and sagacious, answered:
"Ha! ha! Perhaps a dodge? This crime has been committed either by a
brute or by a sly scoundrel. In any case, we'll easily succeed in
The noise of wheels made them turn their heads round. It was the deputy
magistrate, the doctor and the registrar of the court who had arrived in
their turn. They resumed their search, all chatting in an animated
Renardet said suddenly:
"Do you know that you are to take luncheon with me?"
Every one smilingly accepted the invitation, and the magistrate, thinking
that the case of little Louise Roque had occupied enough attention for
one day, turned toward the mayor.
"I can have the body brought to your house, can I not? You have a room
in which you can keep it for me till this evening?"
The other became confused and stammered:
"Yes--no--no. To tell the truth, I prefer that it should not come into my
house on account of--on account of my servants, who are already talking
about ghosts in--in my tower, in the Fox's tower. You know--I could no
longer keep a single one. No--I prefer not to have it in my house."
The magistrate began to smile.
"Good! I will have it taken at once to Roily for the legal examination."
And, turning to his deputy, he said:
"I can make use of your trap, can I not?"
They all came back to the place where the corpse lay. Mother La Roque,
now seated beside her daughter, was holding her hand and was staring
right before her with a wandering, listless eye.
The two doctors endeavored to lead her away, so that she might not
witness the dead girl's removal, but she understood at once what they
wanted to do, and, flinging herself on the body, she threw both arms
round it. Lying on top of the corpse, she exclaimed:
"You shall not have it--it's mine--it's mine now. They have killed her
for me, and I want to keep her--you shall not have her----"
All the men, affected and not knowing how to act, remained standing
around her. Renardet fell on his knees and said to her:
"Listen, La Roque, it is necessary, in order to find out who killed her.
Without this, we could not find out. We must make a search for the man
in order to punish him. When we have found him we'll give her up to you.
I promise you this."
This explanation bewildered the woman, and a feeling of hatred manifested
itself in her distracted glance.
"So then they'll arrest him?"
"Yes, I promise you that."
She rose up, deciding to let them do as they liked, but when the captain
"It is surprising that her clothes were not found," a new idea, which she
had not previously thought of, abruptly entered her mind, and she asked:
"Where are her clothes? They're mine. I want them. Where have they
They explained to her that they had not been found. Then she demanded
them persistently, crying and moaning.
"They're mine--I want them. Where are they? I want them!"
The more they tried to calm her the more she sobbed and persisted in her
demands. She no longer wanted the body, she insisted on having the
clothes, as much perhaps through the unconscious cupidity of a wretched
being to whom a piece of silver represents a fortune as through maternal
And when the little body, rolled up in blankets which had been brought
out from Renardet's house, had disappeared in the vehicle, the old woman
standing under the trees, sustained by the mayor and the captain,
"I have nothing, nothing, nothing in the world, not even her little cap--
her little cap."
The cure, a young priest, had just arrived. He took it on himself to
accompany the mother, and they went away together toward the village.
The mother's grief was modified by the sugary words of the clergyman, who
promised her a thousand compensations. But she kept repeating: "If I had
only her little cap." This idea now dominated every other.
Renardet called from the distance:
"You will lunch with us, Monsieur l'Abbe--in an hour's time."
The priest turned his head round and replied:
"With pleasure, Monsieur le Maire. I'll be with you at twelve."
And they all directed their steps toward the house, whose gray front,
with the large tower built on the edge of the Brindille, could be seen
through the branches.
The meal lasted a long time. They talked about the crime. Everybody was
of the same opinion. It had been committed by some tramp passing there
by mere chance while the little girl was bathing.
Then the magistrates returned to Rouy, announcing that they would return
next day at an early hour. The doctor and the cure went to their
respective homes, while Renardet, after a long walk through the meadows,
returned to the wood, where he remained walking till nightfall with slow
steps, his hands behind his back.
He went to bed early and was still asleep next morning when the
magistrate entered his room. He was rubbing his hands together with a
"Ha! ha! You are still sleeping! Well, my dear fellow, we have news
The mayor sat up in his bed.
"Oh! Something strange. You remember well how the mother clamored
yesterday for some memento of her daughter, especially her little cap?
Well, on opening her door this morning she found on the threshold her
child's two little wooden shoes. This proves that the crime was
perpetrated by some one from the district, some one who felt pity for
her. Besides, the postman, Mederic, brought me the thimble, the knife and
the needle case of the dead girl. So, then, the man in carrying off the
clothes to hide them must have let fall the articles which were in the
pocket. As for me, I attach special importance to the wooden shoes, as
they indicate a certain moral culture and a faculty for tenderness on the
part of the assassin. We will, therefore, if you have no objection, go
over together the principal inhabitants of your district."
The mayor got up. He rang for his shaving water and said:
"With pleasure, but it will take some time, and we may begin at once."
M. Putoin sat astride a chair.
Renardet covered his chin with a white lather while he looked at himself
in the glass. Then he sharpened his razor on the strop and continued:
"The principal inhabitant of Carvelin bears the name of Joseph Renardet,
mayor, a rich landowner, a rough man who beats guards and coachmen--"
The examining magistrate burst out laughing.
"That's enough. Let us pass on to the next."
"The second in importance is Pelledent, his deputy, a cattle breeder, an
equally rich landowner, a crafty peasant, very sly, very close-fisted on
every question of money, but incapable in my opinion of having
perpetrated such a crime."
"Continue," said M. Putoin.
Renardet, while proceeding with his toilet, reviewed the characters of
all the inhabitants of Carvelin. After two hours' discussion their
suspicions were fixed on three individuals who had hitherto borne a shady
reputation--a poacher named Cavalle, a fisherman named Paquet, who caught
trout and crabs, and a cattle drover named Clovis.
The search for the perpetrator of the crime lasted all summer, but he was
not discovered. Those who were suspected and arrested easily proved
their innocence, and the authorities were compelled to abandon the
attempt to capture the criminal.
But this murder seemed to have moved the entire country in a singular
manner. There remained in every one's mind a disquietude, a vague fear,
a sensation of mysterious terror, springing not merely from the
impossibility of discovering any trace of the assassin, but also and
above all from that strange finding of the wooden shoes in front of La
Roque's door the day after the crime. The certainty that the murderer
had assisted at the investigation, that he was still, doubtless, living
in the village, possessed all minds and seemed to brood over the
neighborhood like a constant menace.
The wood had also become a dreaded spot, a place to be avoided and
supposed to be haunted.
Formerly the inhabitants went there to spend every Sunday afternoon.
They used to sit down on the moss at the feet of the huge tall trees or
walk along the water's edge watching the trout gliding among the weeds.
The boy's used to play bowls, hide-and-seek and other games where the
ground had been cleared and levelled, and the girls, in rows of four or
five, would trip along, holding one another by the arms and screaming
songs with their shrill voices. Now nobody ventured there for fear of
finding some corpse lying on the ground.
Autumn arrived, the leaves began to fall from the tall trees, whirling
round and round to the ground, and the sky could be seen through the bare
branches. Sometimes, when a gust of wind swept over the tree tops, the
slow, continuous rain suddenly grew heavier and became a rough storm that
covered the moss with a thick yellow carpet that made a kind of creaking
sound beneath one's feet.
And the sound of the falling leaves seemed like a wail and the leaves
themselves like tears shed by these great, sorrowful trees, that wept in
the silence of the bare and empty wood, this dreaded and deserted wood
where wandered lonely the soul, the little soul of little Louise Roque.
The Brindille, swollen by the storms, rushed on more quickly, yellow and
angry, between its dry banks, bordered by two thin, bare, willow hedges.
And here was Renardet suddenly resuming his walks under the trees. Every
day, at sunset, he came out of his house, descended the front steps
slowly and entered the wood in a dreamy fashion, with his hands in his
pockets, and paced over the damp soft moss, while a legion of rooks from
all the neighboring haunts came thither to rest in the tall trees and
then flew off like a black cloud uttering loud, discordant cries.
Night came on, and Renardet was still strolling slowly under the trees;
then, when the darkness prevented him from walking any longer, he would
go back to the house and sink into his armchair in front of the glowing
hearth, stretching his damp feet toward the fire.
One morning an important bit of news was circulated through the district;
the mayor was having his wood cut down.
Twenty woodcutters were already at work. They had commenced at the
corner nearest to the house and worked rapidly in the master's presence.
And each day the wood grew thinner, losing its trees, which fell down one
by one, as an army loses its soldiers.
Renardet no longer walked up, and down. He remained from morning till
night, contemplating, motionless, with his hands behind his back, the
slow destruction of his wood. When a tree fell he placed his foot on it
as if it were a corpse. Then he raised his eyes to the next with a kind
of secret, calm impatience, as if he expected, hoped for something at the
end of this slaughter.
Meanwhile they were approaching the place where little Louise Roque had
been found. They came to it one evening in the twilight.
As it was dark, the sky being overcast, the woodcutters wanted to stop
their work, putting off till next day the fall of an enormous beech tree,
but the mayor objected to this and insisted that they should at once lop
and cut down this giant, which had sheltered the crime.
When the lopper had laid it bare and the woodcutters had sapped its base,
five men commenced hauling at the rope attached to the top.
The tree resisted; its powerful trunk, although notched to the centre,
was as rigid as iron. The workmen, all together, with a sort of
simultaneous motion,' strained at the rope, bending backward and uttering
a cry which timed and regulated their efforts.
Two woodcutters standing close to the giant remained with axes in their
grip, like two executioners ready to strike once more, and Renardet,
motionless, with his hand on the trunk, awaited the fall with an uneasy,
One of the men said to him:
"You are too near, Monsieur le Maire. When it falls it may hurt you."
He did not reply and did not move away. He seemed ready to catch the
beech tree in his open arms and to cast it on the ground like a wrestler.
All at once, at the base of the tall column of wood there was a rent
which seemed to run to the top, like a painful shock; it bent slightly,
ready to fall, but still resisting. The men, in a state of excitement,
stiffened their arms, renewed their efforts with greater vigor, and, just
as the tree came crashing down, Renardet suddenly made a forward step,
then stopped, his shoulders raised to receive the irresistible shock, the
mortal shock which would crush him to the earth.
But the beech tree, having deviated a little, only rubbed against his
loins, throwing him on his face, five metres away.
The workmen dashed forward to lift him up. He had already arisen to his
knees, stupefied, with bewildered eyes and passing his hand across his
forehead, as if he were awaking from an attack of madness.
When he had got to his feet once more the men, astonished, questioned
him, not being able to understand what he had done. He replied in
faltering tones that he had been dazed for a moment, or, rather, he had
been thinking of his childhood days; that he thought he would have time
to run under the tree, just as street boys rush in front of vehicles
driving rapidly past; that he had played at danger; that for the past
eight days he felt this desire growing stronger within him, asking
himself each time a tree began to fall whether he could pass beneath it
without being touched. It was a piece of stupidity, he confessed, but
every one has these moments of insanity and these temptations to boyish
He made this explanation in a slow tone, searching for his words, and
speaking in a colorless tone.
Then he went off, saying:
"Till to-morrow, my friends-till to-morrow."
As soon as he got back to his room he sat down at his table which his
lamp lighted up brightly, and, burying his head in his hands, he began to
He remained thus for a long time, then wiped his eyes, raised his head
and looked at the clock. It was not yet six o'clock.
"I have time before dinner."
And he went to the door and locked it. He then came back, and, sitting
down at his table, pulled out the middle drawer. Taking from it a
revolver, he laid it down on his papers in full view. The barrel of the
firearm glittered, giving out gleams of light.
Renardet gazed at it for some time with the uneasy glance of a drunken
man. Then he rose and began to pace up and down the room.
He walked from one end of the apartment to the other, stopping from time
to time, only to pace up and down again a moment afterward. Suddenly he
opened the door of his dressing-room, steeped a towel in the water
pitcher and moistened his forehead, as he had done on the morning of the
Then he, began walking up and down again. Each time he passed the table
the gleaming revolver attracted his glance, tempted his hand, but he kept
watching the clock and reflected:
"I have still time."
It struck half-past six. Then he took up the revolver, opened his mouth
wide with a frightful grimace and stuck the barrel into it as if he
wanted to swallow it. He remained in this position for some seconds
without moving, his finger on the trigger. Then, suddenly seized with a
shudder of horror, he dropped the pistol on the carpet.
He fell back on his armchair, sobbing:
"I cannot. I dare not! My God! my God! How can I have the courage to
There was a knock at the door. He rose up, bewildered. A servant said:
"Monsieur's dinner is ready."
"All right. I'm coming down."
Then he picked up the revolver, locked it up again in the drawer and
looked at himself in the mirror over the mantelpiece to see whether his
face did not look too much troubled. It was as red as usual, a little
redder perhaps. That was all. He went down and seated himself at table.
He ate slowly, like a man who wants to prolong the meal, who does not
want to be alone.
Then he smoked several pipes in the hall while the table was being
cleared. After that he went back to his room.
As soon as he had locked himself in he looked, under the bed, opened all
the closets, explored every corner, rummaged through all the furniture.
Then he lighted the candles on the mantelpiece, and, turning round
several times, ran his eye all over the apartment with an anguish of
terror that distorted his face, for he knew well that he would see her,
as he did every night--little Louise Roque, the little girl he had
attacked and afterward strangled.
Every night the odious vision came back again. First he seemed to hear a
kind of roaring sound, such as is made by a threshing machine or the
distant passage of a train over a bridge. Then he commenced to gasp, to
suffocate, and he had to unbutton his collar and his belt. He moved
about to make his blood circulate, he tried to read, he attempted to
sing. It was in vain. His thoughts, in spite of himself, went back to
the day of the murder and made him begin it all over again in all its
most secret details, with all the violent emotions he had experienced
from the first minute to the last.
He had felt on rising that morning, the morning of the horrible day, a
little dizziness and headache, which he attributed to the heat, so that
he remained in his room until breakfast time.
After the meal he had taken a siesta, then, toward the close of the
afternoon, he had gone out to breathe the fresh, soothing breeze under
the trees in the wood.
But, as soon as he was outside, the heavy, scorching air of the plain
oppressed him still more. The sun, still high in the heavens, poured
down on the parched soil waves of burning light. Not a breath of wind
stirred the leaves. Every beast and bird, even the grasshoppers, were
silent. Renardet reached the tall trees and began to walk over the moss
where the Brindille produced a slight freshness of the air beneath the
immense roof of branches. But he felt ill at ease. It seemed to him
that an unknown, invisible hand was strangling him, and he scarcely
thought of anything, having usually few ideas in his head. For the last
three months only one thought haunted him, the thought of marrying again.
He suffered from living alone, suffered from it morally and physically.
Accustomed for ten years past to feeling a woman near him, habituated to
her presence every moment, he had need, an imperious and perplexing need
of such association. Since Madame Renardet's death he had suffered
continually without knowing why, he had suffered at not feeling her dress
brushing past him, and, above all, from no longer being able to calm and
rest himself in her arms. He had been scarcely six months a widower and
he was already looking about in the district for some young girl or some
widow he might marry when his period of mourning was at an end.
He had a chaste soul, but it was lodged in a powerful, herculean body,
and carnal imaginings began to disturb his sleep and his vigils. He
drove them away; they came back again; and he murmured from time to time,
smiling at himself:
"Here I am, like St. Anthony."
Having this special morning had several of these visions, the desire
suddenly came into his breast to bathe in the Brindille in order to
refresh himself and cool his blood.
He knew of a large deep pool, a little farther down, where the people of
the neighborhood came sometimes to take a dip in summer. He went there.
Thick willow trees hid this clear body of water where the current rested
and went to sleep for a while before starting on its way again.
Renardet, as he appeared, thought he heard a light sound, a faint
plashing which was not that of the stream on the banks. He softly put
aside the leaves and looked. A little girl, quite naked in the
transparent water, was beating the water with both hands, dancing about
in it and dipping herself with pretty movements. She was not a child nor
was she yet a woman. She was plump and developed, while preserving an
air of youthful precocity, as of one who had grown rapidly. He no longer
moved, overcome with surprise, with desire, holding his breath with a
strange, poignant emotion. He remained there, his heart beating as if