Part 9 out of 31
"'Thank you, monsieur. Now I am going to fetch him. I must give him his
thrashing, as an example.'
"I knew that it was hopeless to try and turn the old man from his idea.
I therefore let him have his own way.
"He got the rascal and brought him back by the ear.
"I was seated on a cane chair, with the solemn expression of a judge.
"Marius seemed to have grown; he was homelier even than the year before,
with his evil, sneaking expression.
"His big hands seemed gigantic.
"His uncle pushed him up to me, and, in his soldierly voice, said:
"'Beg the gentleman's pardon.'
"The boy didn't say a word.
"Then putting one arm round him, the former gendarme lifted him right off
the ground, and began to whack him with such force that I rose to stop
"The boy was now howling: 'Mercy! mercy! mercy! I promise----'
"Cavalier put him back on the ground and forced him to his knees:
"'Beg for pardon,' he said.
"With eyes lowered, the scamp murmured:
"'I ask for pardon!'
"Then his uncle lifted him to his feet, and dismissed him with a cuff
which almost knocked him down again.
"He made his escape, and I did not see him again that evening.
"Cavalier appeared overwhelmed.'
"'He is a bad egg,' he said.
"And throughout the whole dinner, he kept repeating:
"'Oh! that worries me, monsieur, that worries me.'
"I tried to comfort him, but in vain.
"I went to bed early, so that I might start out at daybreak.
"My dog was already asleep on the floor, at the foot of my bed, when I
put out the light.
"I was awakened toward midnight by the furious barking of my dog Bock. I
immediately noticed that my room was full of smoke. I jumped out of bed,
struck a light, ran to the door and opened it. A cloud of flames burst
in. The house was on fire.
"I quickly closed the heavy oak door and, drawing on my trousers, I first
lowered the dog through the window, by means of a rope made of my sheets;
then, having thrown out the rest of my clothes, my game-bag and my gun, I
in turn escaped the same way.
"I began to shout with all my might: 'Cavalier! Cavalier! Cavalier!'
"But the gamekeeper did not wake up. He slept soundly like an old
"However, I could see through the lower windows that the whole ground-
floor was nothing but a roaring furnace; I also noticed that it had been
filled with straw to make it burn readily.
"Somebody must purposely have set fire to the place!
"I continued shrieking wildly: 'Cavalier!'
"Then the thought struck me that the smoke might be suffocating him. An
idea came to me. I slipped two cartridges into my gun, and shot straight
at his window.
"The six panes of glass shattered into the room in a cloud of glass.
This time the old man had heard me, and he appeared, dazed, in his
nightshirt, bewildered by the glare which illumined the whole front of
"I cried to him:
"'Your house is on fire! Escape through the window! Quick! Quick!'
"The flames were coming out through all the cracks downstairs, were
licking along the wall, were creeping toward him and going to surround
him. He jumped and landed on his feet, like a cat.
"It was none too soon. The thatched roof cracked in the middle, right
over the staircase, which formed a kind of flue for the fire downstairs;
and an immense red jet jumped up into the air, spreading like a stream of
water and sprinkling a shower of sparks around the hut. In a few seconds
it was nothing but a pool of flames.
"Cavalier, thunderstruck, asked:
"'How did the fire start?'
"'Somebody lit it in the kitchen.'
"'Who could have started the fire?'
"And I, suddenly guessing, answered:
"The old man understood. He stammered:
"'Good God! That is why he didn't return.'
"A terrible thought flashed through my mind. I cried:
"'And Celeste! Celeste!'
"He did not answer. The house caved in before us, forming only an
enormous, bright, blinding brazier, an awe-inspiring funeral-pile, where
the poor woman could no longer be anything but a glowing ember, a glowing
ember of human flesh.
"We had not heard a single cry.
"As the fire crept toward the shed, I suddenly bethought me of my horse,
and Cavalier ran to free it.
"Hardly had he opened the door of the stable, when a supple, nimble body
darted between his legs, and threw him on his face. It was Marius,
running for all he was worth.
"The man was up in a second. He tried to run after the wretch, but,
seeing that he could not catch him, and maddened by an irresistible
anger, yielding to one of those thoughtless impulses which we cannot
foresee or prevent, he picked up my gun, which was lying on the ground.
near him, put it to his shoulder, and, before I could make a motion, he
pulled the trigger without even noticing whether or not the weapon was
"One of the cartridges which I had put in to announce the fire was still
intact, and the charge caught the fugitive right in the back,--throwing
him forward on the ground, bleeding profusely. He immediately began to
claw the earth with his hands and with his knees, as though trying to run
on all fours like a rabbit who has been mortally wounded, and sees the
"I rushed forward to the boy, but I could already hear the death-rattle.
He passed away before the fire was extinguished, without having said a
"Cavalier, still in his shirt, his legs bare, was standing near us,
"When the people from the village arrived, my gamekeeper was taken away,
like an insane man.
"I appeared at the trial as witness, and related the facts in detail,
without changing a thing. Cavalier was acquitted. He disappeared that
very day, leaving the country.
"I have never seen him since.
"There, gentlemen, that is my story."
THE STORY OF A FARM GIRL
As the weather was very fine, the people on the farm had hurried through
their dinner and had returned to the fields.
The servant, Rose, remained alone in the large kitchen, where the fire
was dying out on the hearth beneath the large boiler of hot water. From
time to time she dipped out some water and slowly washed her dishes,
stopping occasionally to look at the two streaks of light which the sun
threw across the long table through the window, and which showed the
defects in the glass.
Three venturesome hens were picking up the crumbs under the chairs, while
the smell of the poultry yard and the warmth from the cow stall came in
through the half-open door, and a cock was heard crowing in the distance.
When she had finished her work, wiped down the table, dusted the
mantelpiece and put the plates on the high dresser close to the wooden
clock with its loud tick-tock, she drew a long breath, as she felt rather
oppressed, without exactly knowing why. She looked at the black clay
walls, the rafters that were blackened with smoke and from which hung
spiders' webs, smoked herrings and strings of onions, and then she sat
down, rather overcome by the stale odor from the earthen floor, on which
so many things had been continually spilled and which the heat brought
out. With this there was mingled the sour smell of the pans of milk
which were set out to raise the cream in the adjoining dairy.
She wanted to sew, as usual, but she did not feel strong enough, and so
she went to the door to get a mouthful of fresh air, which seemed to do
The fowls were lying on the steaming dunghill; some of them were
scratching with one claw in search of worms, while the cock stood up
proudly in their midst. When he crowed, the cocks in all the neighboring
farmyards replied to him, as if they were uttering challenges from farm
The girl looked at them without thinking, and then she raised her eyes
and was almost dazzled at the sight of the apple trees in blossom. Just
then a colt, full of life and friskiness, jumped over the ditches and
then stopped suddenly, as if surprised at being alone.
She also felt inclined to run; she felt inclined to move and to stretch
her limbs and to repose in the warm, breathless air. She took a few
undecided steps and closed her eyes, for she was seized with a feeling of
animal comfort, and then she went to look for eggs in the hen loft.
There were thirteen of them, which she took in and put into the
storeroom; but the smell from the kitchen annoyed her again, and she went
out to sit on the grass for a time.
The farmyard, which was surrounded by trees, seemed to be asleep. The
tall grass, amid which the tall yellow dandelions rose up like streaks of
yellow light, was of a vivid, fresh spring green. The apple trees cast
their shade all round them, and the thatched roofs, on which grew blue
and yellow irises, with their sword-like leaves, steamed as if the
moisture of the stables and barns were coming through the straw.
The girl went to the shed, where the carts and buggies were kept. Close
to it, in a ditch, there was a large patch of violets, whose fragrance
was spread abroad, while beyond the slope the open country could be seen,
where grain was growing, with clumps of trees in places, and groups of
laborers here and there, who looked as small as dolls, and white horses
like toys, who were drawing a child's cart, driven by a man as tall as
She took up a bundle of straw, threw it into the ditch and sat down upon
it. Then, not feeling comfortable, she undid it, spread it out and lay
down upon it at full length on her back, with both arms under her head
and her legs stretched out.
Gradually her eyes closed, and she was falling into a state of delightful
languor. She was, in fact, almost asleep when she felt two hands on her
bosom, and she sprang up at a bound. It was Jacques, one of the farm
laborers, a tall fellow from Picardy, who had been making love to her for
a long time. He had been herding the sheep, and, seeing her lying down
in the shade, had come up stealthily and holding his breath, with
glistening eyes and bits of straw in his hair.
He tried to kiss her, but she gave him a smack in the face, for she was
as strong as he, and he was shrewd enough to beg her pardon; so they sat
down side by side and talked amicably. They spoke about the favorable
weather, of their master, who was a good fellow, then of their neighbors,
of all the people in the country round, of themselves, of their village,
of their youthful days, of their recollections, of their relations, who
had left them for a long time, and it might be forever. She grew sad as
she thought of it, while he, with one fixed idea in his head, drew closer
"I have not seen my mother for a long time," she said. "It is very hard
to be separated like that," and she directed her looks into the distance,
toward the village in the north which she had left.
Suddenly, however, he seized her by the neck and kissed her again, but
she struck him so violently in the face with her clenched fist that his
nose began to bleed, and he got up and laid his head against the stem of
a tree. When she saw that, she was sorry, and going up to him, she said:
"Have I hurt you?" He, however, only laughed. "No, it was a mere
nothing; only she had hit him right on the middle of the nose. What a
devil!" he said, and he looked at her with admiration, for she had
inspired him with a feeling of respect and of a very different kind of
admiration which was the beginning of a real love for that tall, strong
wench. When the bleeding had stopped, he proposed a walk, as he was
afraid of his neighbor's heavy hand, if they remained side by side like
that much longer; but she took his arm of her own accord, in the avenue,
as if they had been out for an evening's walk, and said: "It is not nice
of you to despise me like that, Jacques." He protested, however. No, he
did not despise her. He was in love with her, that was all.
"So you really want to marry me?" she asked.
He hesitated and then looked at her sideways, while she looked straight
ahead of her. She had fat, red cheeks, a full bust beneath her cotton
jacket; thick, red lips; and her neck, which was almost bare, was covered
with small beads of perspiration. He felt a fresh access of desire, and,
putting his lips to her ear, he murmured: "Yes, of course I do."
Then she threw her arms round his neck and kissed him till they were both
out of breath. From that moment the eternal story of love began between
them. They plagued one another in corners; they met in the moonlight
beside the haystack and gave each other bruises on the legs, under the
table, with their heavy nailed boots. By degrees, however, Jacques
seemed to grow tired of her; he avoided her, scarcely spoke to her, and
did not try any longer to meet her alone, which made her sad and anxious;
and soon she found that she was enceinte.
At first she was in a state of consternation, but then she got angry, and
her rage increased every day because she could not meet him, as he
avoided her most carefully. At last, one night, when every one in the
farmhouse was asleep, she went out noiselessly in her petticoat, with
bare feet, crossed the yard and opened the door of the stable where
Jacques was lying in a large box of straw above his horses. He pretended
to snore when he heard her coming, but she knelt down by his side and
shook him until he sat up.
"What do you want?" he then asked her. And with clenched teeth, and
trembling with anger, she replied: "I want--I want you to marry me, as
you promised." But he only laughed and replied: "Oh! if a man were to
marry all the girls with whom he has made a slip, he would have more than
enough to do."
Then she seized him by the throat, threw him or his back, so that he
could not get away from her, and, half strangling him, she shouted into
"I am enceinte, do you hear? I am enceinte!"
He gasped for breath, as he was almost choked, and so they remained, both
of them, motionless and without speaking, in the dark silence, which was
only broken by the noise made by a horse as he, pulled the hay out of the
manger and then slowly munched it.
When Jacques found that she was the stronger, he stammered out: "Very
well, I will marry you, as that is the case." But she did not believe
his promises. "It must be at once," she said. "You must have the banns
put up." "At once," he replied. "Swear solemnly that you will." He
hesitated for a few moments and then said: "I swear it, by Heaven!"
Then she released her grasp and went away without another word.
She had no chance of speaking to him for several days; and, as the stable
was now always locked at night, she was afraid to make any noise, for
fear of creating a scandal. One morning, however, she saw another man
come in at dinner time, and she said: "Has Jacques left?" "Yes;" the man
replied; "I have got his place."
This made her tremble so violently that she could not take the saucepan
off the fire; and later, when they were all at work, she went up into her
room and cried, burying her head in the bolster, so that she might not be
heard. During the day, however, she tried to obtain some information
without exciting any suspicion, but she was so overwhelmed by the
thoughts of her misfortune that she fancied that all the people whom she
asked laughed maliciously. All she learned, however, was that he had
left the neighborhood altogether.
Then a cloud of constant misery began for her. She worked mechanically,
without thinking of what she was doing, with one fixed idea in her head:
"Suppose people were to know."
This continual feeling made her so incapable of reasoning that she did
not even try to think of any means of avoiding the disgrace that she knew
must ensue, which was irreparable and drawing nearer every day, and which
was as sure as death itself. She got up every morning long before the
others and persistently tried to look at her figure in a piece of broken
looking-glass, before which she did her hair, as she was very anxious to
know whether anybody would notice a change in her, and, during the day,
she stopped working every few minutes to look at herself from top to toe,
to see whether her apron did not look too short.
The months went on, and she scarcely spoke now, and when she was asked a
question, did not appear to understand; but she had a frightened look,
haggard eyes and trembling hands, which made her master say to her
occasionally: "My poor girl, how stupid you have grown lately."
In church she hid behind a pillar, and no longer ventured to go to
confession, as she feared to face the priest, to whom she attributed
superhuman powers, which enabled him to read people's consciences; and at
meal times the looks of her fellow servants almost made her faint with
mental agony; and she was always fancying that she had been found out by
the cowherd, a precocious and cunning little lad, whose bright eyes
seemed always to be watching her.
One morning the postman brought her a letter, and as she had never
received one in her life before she was so upset by it that she was
obliged to sit down. Perhaps it was from him? But, as she could not
read, she sat anxious and trembling with that piece of paper, covered
with ink, in her hand. After a time, however, she put it into her
pocket, as she did not venture to confide her secret to any one. She
often stopped in her work to look at those lines written at regular
intervals, and which terminated in a signature, imagining vaguely that
she would suddenly discover their meaning, until at last, as she felt
half mad with impatience and anxiety, she went to the schoolmaster, who
told her to sit down and read to her as follows:
"MY DEAR DAUGHTER: I write to tell you that I am very ill. Our neighbor,
Monsieur Dentu, begs you to come, if you can.
"From your affectionate mother,
"CESAIRE DENTU, Deputy Mayor."
She did not say a word and went away, but as soon as she was alone her
legs gave way under her, and she fell down by the roadside and remained
there till night.
When she got back, she told the farmer her bad news, and he allowed her
to go home for as long as she liked, and promised to have her work done
by a charwoman and to take her back when she returned.
Her mother died soon after she got there, and the next day Rose gave
birth to a seven-months child, a miserable little skeleton, thin enough
to make anybody shudder, and which seemed to be suffering continually, to
judge from the painful manner in which it moved its poor little hands,
which were as thin as a crab's legs; but it lived for all that. She said
she was married, but could not be burdened with the child, so she left it
with some neighbors, who promised to take great care of it, and she went
back to the farm.
But now in her heart, which had been wounded so long, there arose
something like brightness, an unknown love for that frail little creature
which she had left behind her, though there was fresh suffering in that
very love, suffering which she felt every hour and every minute, because
she was parted from her child. What pained her most, however, was the
mad longing to kiss it, to press it in her arms, to feel the warmth of
its little body against her breast. She could not sleep at night; she
thought of it the whole day long, and in the evening, when her work was
done, she would sit in front of the fire and gaze at it intently, as
people do whose thoughts are far away.
They began to talk about her and to tease-her about her lover. They
asked her whether he was tall, handsome and rich. When was the wedding
to be and the christening? And often she ran away to cry by herself, for
these questions seemed to hurt her like the prick of a pin; and, in order
to forget their jokes, she began to work still more energetically, and,
still thinking of her child, she sought some way of saving up money for
it, and determined to work so that her master would be obliged to raise
By degrees she almost monopolized the work and persuaded him to get rid
of one servant girl, who had become useless since she had taken to
working like two; she economized in the bread, oil and candles; in the
corn, which they gave to the chickens too extravagantly, and in the
fodder for the horses and cattle, which was rather wasted. She was as
miserly about her master's money as if it had been her own; and, by dint
of making good bargains, of getting high prices for all their produce,
and by baffling the peasants' tricks when they offered anything for sale,
he, at last, entrusted her with buying and selling everything, with the
direction of all the laborers, and with the purchase of provisions
necessary for the household; so that, in a short time, she became.
indispensable to him. She kept such a strict eye on everything about her
that, under her direction, the farm prospered wonderfully, and for five
miles around people talked of "Master Vallin's servant," and the farmer
himself said everywhere: "That girl is worth more than her weight in
But time passed by, and her wages remained the same. Her hard work was
accepted as something that was due from every good servant, and as a mere
token of good will; and she began to think rather bitterly that if the
farmer could put fifty or a hundred crowns extra into the bank every
month, thanks to her, she was still only earning her two hundred francs a
year, neither more nor less; and so she made up her mind to ask for an
increase of wages. She went to see the schoolmaster three times about
it, but when she got there, she spoke about something else. She felt a
kind of modesty in asking for money, as if it were something disgraceful;
but, at last, one day, when the farmer was having breakfast by himself in
the kitchen, she said to him, with some embarrassment, that she wished to
speak to him particularly. He raised his head in surprise, with both his
hands on the table, holding his knife, with its point in the air, in one,
and a piece of bread in the other, and he looked fixedly at, the girl,
who felt uncomfortable under his gaze, but asked for a week's holiday, so
that she might get away, as she was not very well. He acceded to her
request immediately, and then added, in some embarrassment himself:
"When you come back, I shall have something to say to you myself."
The child was nearly eight months old, and she did not recognize it. It
had grown rosy and chubby all over, like a little roll of fat. She threw
herself on it, as if it had been some prey, and kissed it so violently
that it began to scream with terror; and then she began to cry herself,
because it did not know her, and stretched out its arms to its nurse as
soon as it saw her. But the next day it began to know her, and laughed
when it saw her, and she took it into the fields, and ran about excitedly
with it, and sat down under the shade of the trees; and then, for the
first time in her life, she opened her heart to somebody, although he
could not understand her, and told him her troubles; how hard her work
was, her anxieties and her hopes, and she quite tired the child with the
violence of her caresses.
She took the greatest pleasure in handling it, in washing and dressing
it, for it seemed to her that all this was the confirmation of her
maternity; and she would look at it, almost feeling surprised 'that it
was hers, and would say to herself in a low voice as she danced it in her
arms: "It is my baby, it's my baby."
She cried all the way home as she returned to the farm and had scarcely
got in before her master called her into his room; and she went, feeling
astonished and nervous, without knowing why.
"Sit down there," he said. She sat down, and for some moments they
remained side by side, in some embarrassment, with their arms hanging at
their sides, as if they did not know what to do with them, and looking
each other in the face, after the manner of peasants.
The farmer, a stout, jovial, obstinate man of forty-five, who had lost
two wives, evidently felt embarrassed, which was very unusual with him;
but, at last, he made. up his mind, and began to speak vaguely,
hesitating a little, and looking out of the window as he talked. "How is
it, Rose," he said, "that you have never thought of settling in life?"
She grew as pale as death, and, seeing that she gave him no answer, he
went on: "You are a good, steady, active and economical girl; and a wife
like you would make a man's fortune."
She did not move, but looked frightened; she did not even try to
comprehend his meaning, for her thoughts were in a whirl, as if at the
approach of some great danger; so, after waiting for a few seconds, he
went on: "You see, a farm without a mistress can never succeed, even with
a servant like you." Then he stopped, for he did not know what else to
say, and Rose looked at him with the air of a person who thinks that he
is face to face with a murderer and ready to flee at the slightest
movement he may make; but, after waiting for about five minutes, he asked
her: "Well, will it suit you?" "Will what suit me, master?" And he said
quickly: "Why, to marry me, by Heaven!"
She jumped up, but fell back on her chair, as if she had been struck, and
there she remained motionless, like a person who is overwhelmed by some
great misfortune. At last the farmer grew impatient and said: "Come,
what more do you want?" She looked at him, almost in terror, then
suddenly the tears came into her eves and she said twice in a choking
voice: "I cannot, I cannot!" "Why not?" he asked. "Come, don't be
silly; I will give you until tomorrow to think it over."
And he hurried out of the room, very glad to have got through with the
matter, which had troubled him a good deal, for he had no doubt that she
would the next morning accept a proposal which she could never have
expected and which would be a capital bargain for him, as he thus bound a
woman to his interests who would certainly bring him more than if she had
the best dowry in the district.
Neither could there be any scruples about an unequal match between them,
for in the country every one is very nearly equal; the farmer works with
his laborers, who frequently become masters in their turn, and the female
servants constantly become the mistresses of the establishments without
its making any change in their life or habits.
Rose did not go to bed that night. She threw herself, dressed as she
was, on her bed, and she had not even the strength to cry left in her,
she was so thoroughly dumfounded. She remained quite inert, scarcely
knowing that she had a body, and without being at all able to collect her
thoughts, though, at moments, she remembered something of what had
happened, and then she was frightened at the idea of what might happen.
Her terror increased, and every time the great kitchen clock struck the
hour she broke out in a perspiration from grief. She became bewildered,
and had the nightmare; her candle went out, and then she began to imagine
that some one bad cast a spell over her, as country people so often
imagine, and she felt a mad inclination to run away, to escape and to
flee before her misfortune, like a ship scudding before the wind.
An owl hooted; she shivered, sat up, passed her hands over her face, her
hair, and all over her body, and then she went downstairs, as if she were
walking in her sleep. When she got into the yard she stooped down, so as
not to be seen by any prowling scamp, for the moon, which was setting,
shed a bright light over the fields. Instead of opening the gate she
scrambled over the fence, and as soon as she was outside she started off.
She went on straight before her, with a quick, springy trot, and from
time to time she unconsciously uttered a piercing cry. Her long shadow
accompanied her, and now and then some night bird flew over her head,
while the dogs in the farmyards barked as they heard her pass; one even
jumped over the ditch, and followed her and tried to bite her, but she
turned round and gave such a terrible yell that the frightened animal ran
back and cowered in silence in its kennel.
The stars grew dim, and the birds began to twitter; day was breaking.
The girl was worn out and panting; and when the sun rose in the purple
sky, she stopped, for her swollen feet refused to go any farther; but she
saw a pond in the distance, a large pond whose stagnant water looked like
blood under the reflection of this new day, and she limped on slowly with
her hand on her heart, in order to dip both her feet in it. She sat down
on a tuft of grass, took off her heavy shoes, which were full of dust,
pulled off her stockings and plunged her legs into the still water, from
which bubbles were rising here and there.
A feeling of delicious coolness pervaded her from head to foot, and
suddenly, while she was looking fixedly at the deep pool, she was seized
with dizziness, and with a mad longing to throw herself into it. All her
sufferings would be over in there, over forever. She no longer thought
of her child; she only wanted peace, complete rest, and to sleep forever,
and she got up with raised arms and took two steps forward. She was in
the water up to her thighs, and she was just about to throw her self in
when sharp, pricking pains in her ankles made her jump back, and she
uttered a cry of despair, for, from her knees to the tips of her feet,
long black leeches were sucking her lifeblood, and were swelling as they
adhered to her flesh. She did not dare to touch them, and screamed with
horror, so that her cries of despair attracted a peasant, who was driving
along at some distance, to the spot. He pulled off the leeches one by
one, applied herbs to the wounds, and drove the girl to her master's farm
in his gig.
She was in bed for a fortnight, and as she was sitting outside the door
on the first morning that she got up, the farmer suddenly came and
planted himself before her. "Well," he said, "I suppose the affair is
settled isn't it?" She did not reply at first, and then, as he remained
standing and looking at her intently with his piercing eyes, she said
with difficulty: "No, master, I cannot." He immediately flew into a
"You cannot, girl; you cannot? I should just like to know the reason
why?" She began to cry, and repeated: "I cannot." He looked at her, and
then exclaimed angrily: "Then I suppose you have a lover?" "Perhaps that
is it," she replied, trembling with shame.
The man got as red as a poppy, and stammered out in a rage: "Ah! So you
confess it, you slut! And pray who is the fellow? Some penniless, half-
starved ragamuffin, without a roof to his head, I suppose? Who is it, I
say?" And as she gave him no answer, he continued: "Ah! So you will not
tell me. Then I will tell you; it is Jean Baudu?"--"No, not he," she
exclaimed. "Then it is Pierre Martin?"--"Oh! no, master."
And he angrily mentioned all the young fellows in the neighborhood, while
she denied that he had hit upon the right one, and every moment wiped her
eyes with the corner of her blue apron. But he still tried to find it
out, with his brutish obstinacy, and, as it were, scratching at her heart
to discover her secret, just as a terrier scratches at a hole to try and
get at the animal which he scents inside it. Suddenly, however, the man
shouted: "By George! It is Jacques, the man who was here last year.
They used to say that you were always talking together, and that you
thought about getting married."
Rose was choking, and she grew scarlet, while her tears suddenly stopped
and dried up on her cheeks, like drops of water on hot iron, and she
exclaimed: "No, it is not he, it is not he!" "Is that really a fact?"
asked the cunning peasant, who partly guessed the truth; and she replied,
hastily: "I will swear it; I will swear it to you--" She tried to think
of something by which to swear, as she did not venture to invoke sacred
things, but he interrupted her: "At any rate, he used to follow you into
every corner and devoured you with his eyes at meal times. Did you ever
give him your promise, eh?"
This time she looked her master straight in the face. "No, never, never;
I will solemnly swear to you that if he were to come to-day and ask me to
marry him I would have nothing to do with him." She spoke with such an
air of sincerity that the farmer hesitated, and then he continued, as if
speaking to himself: "What, then? You have not had a misfortune, as
they call it, or it would have been known, and as it has no consequences,
no girl would refuse her master on that account. There must be something
at the bottom of it, however."
She could say nothing; she had not the strength to speak, and he asked
her again: "You will not?" "I cannot, master," she said, with a sigh,
and he turned on his heel.
She thought she had got rid of him altogether and spent the rest of the
day almost tranquilly, but was as exhausted as if she had been turning
the thrashing machine all day in the place of the old white horse, and
she went to bed as soon as she could and fell asleep immediately. In the
middle of the night, however, two hands touching the bed woke her. She
trembled with fear, but immediately recognized the farmer's voice, when
he said to her: "Don't be frightened, Rose; I have come to speak to you."
She was surprised at first, but when he tried to take liberties with her
she understood and began to tremble violently, as she felt quite alone in
the darkness, still heavy from sleep, and quite unprotected, with that
man standing near her. She certainly did not consent, but she resisted
carelessly struggling against that instinct which is always strong in
simple natures and very imperfectly protected by the undecided will of
inert and gentle races. She turned her head now to the wall, and now
toward the room, in order to avoid the attentions which the farmer tried
to press on her, but she was weakened by fatigue, while he became brutal,
intoxicated by desire.
They lived together as man and wife, and one morning he said to her: "I
have put up our banns, and we will get married next month."
She did not reply, for what could she say? She did not resist, for what
could she do?
She married him. She felt as if she were in a pit with inaccessible
sides from which she could never get out, and all kinds of misfortunes
were hanging over her head, like huge rocks, which would fall on the
first occasion. Her husband gave her the impression of a man whom she
had robbed, and who would find it out some day or other. And then she
thought of her child, who was the cause of her misfortunes, but who was
also the cause of all her happiness on earth, and whom she went to see
twice a year, though she came back more unhappy each time.
But she gradually grew accustomed to her life, her fears were allayed,
her heart was at rest, and she lived with an easier mind, though still
with some vague fear floating in it. And so years went on, until the
child was six. She was almost happy now, when suddenly the farmer's
temper grew very bad.
For two or three years he seemed to have been nursing some secret
anxiety, to be troubled by some care, some mental disturbance, which was
gradually increasing. He remained sitting at table after dinner, with
his head in his hands, sad and devoured by sorrow. He always spoke
hastily, sometimes even brutally, and it even seemed as if he had a
grudge against his wife, for at times he answered her roughly, almost
One day, when a neighbor's boy came for some eggs, and she spoke rather
crossly to him, as she was very busy, her husband suddenly came in and
said to her in his unpleasant voice: "If that were your own child you
would not treat him so." She was hurt and did not reply, and then she
went back into the house, with all her grief awakened afresh; and at
dinner the farmer neither spoke to her nor looked at her, and he seemed
to hate her, to despise her, to know something about the affair at last.
In consequence she lost her composure, and did not venture to remain
alone with him after the meal was over, but left the room and hastened to
It was getting dusk; the narrow nave was in total darkness, but she heard
footsteps in the choir, for the sacristan was preparing the tabernacle
lamp for the night. That spot of trembling light, which was lost in the
darkness of the. arches, looked to Rose like her last hope, and with her
eyes fixed on it, she fell on her knees. The chain rattled as the little
lamp swung up into the air, and almost immediately the small bell rang
out the Angelus through the increasing mist. She went up to him, as he
was going out.
"Is Monsieur le Cure at home?" she asked. "Of course he is; this is his
dinnertime." She trembled as she rang the bell of the parsonage. The
priest was just sitting down to dinner, and he made her sit down also.
"Yes, yes, I know all about it; your husband has mentioned the matter to
me that brings you here." The poor woman nearly fainted, and the priest
continued: "What do you want, my child?" And he hastily swallowed
several spoonfuls of soup, some of which dropped on to his greasy
cassock. But Rose did not venture to say anything more, and she got up
to go, but the priest said: "Courage."
And she went out and returned to the farm without knowing what she was
doing. The farmer was waiting for her, as the laborers had gone away
during her absence, and she fell heavily at his feet, and, shedding a
flood of tears, she said to him: "What have you got against me?"
He began to shout and to swear: "What have I got against you? That I
have no children, by ---. When a man takes a wife it is not that they
may live alone together to the end of their days. That is what I have
against you. When a cow has no calves she is not worth anything, and
when a woman has no children she is also not worth anything."
She began to cry, and said: "It is not my fault! It is not my fault!"
He grew rather more gentle when he heard that, and added: "I do not say
that it is, but it is very provoking, all the same."
From that day forward she had only one thought: to have a child another
child; she confided her wish to everybody, and, in consequence of this, a
neighbor told her of an infallible method. This was, to make her husband
drink a glass of water with a pinch of ashes in it every evening. The
farmer consented to try it, but without success; so they said to each
other: "Perhaps there are some secret ways?" And they tried to find out.
They were told of a shepherd who lived ten leagues off, and so Vallin one
day drove off to consult him. The shepherd gave him a loaf on which he
had made some marks; it was kneaded up with herbs, and each of them was
to eat a piece of it, but they ate the whole loaf without obtaining any
results from it.
Next, a schoolmaster unveiled mysteries and processes of love which were
unknown in the country, but infallible, so he declared; but none of them
had the desired effect. Then the priest advised them to make a
pilgrimage to the shrine at Fecamp. Rose went with the crowd and
prostrated herself in the abbey, and, mingling her prayers with the
coarse desires of the peasants around her, she prayed that she might be
fruitful a second time; but it was in vain, and then she thought that she
was being punished for her first fault, and she was seized by terrible
grief. She was wasting away with sorrow; her husband was also aging
prematurely, and was wearing himself out in useless hopes.
Then war broke out between them; he called her names and beat her. They
quarrelled all day long, and when they were in their room together at
night he flung insults and obscenities at her, choking with rage, until
one night, not being able to think of any means of making her suffer more
he ordered her to get up and go and stand out of doors in the rain until
daylight. As she did not obey him, he seized her by the neck and began
to strike her in the face with his fists, but she said nothing and did
not move. In his exasperation he knelt on her stomach, and with clenched
teeth, and mad with rage, he began to beat her. Then in her despair she
rebelled, and flinging him against the wall with a furious gesture, she
sat up, and in an altered voice she hissed: "I have had a child, I have
had one! I had it by Jacques; you know Jacques. He promised to marry
me, but he left this neighborhood without keeping his word."
The man was thunderstruck and could hardly speak, but at last he
stammered out: "What are you saying? What are you saying?" Then she
began to sob, and amid her tears she continued: "That was the reason why
I did not want to marry you. I could not tell you, for you would have
left me without any bread for my child. You have never had any children,
so you cannot understand, you cannot understand!"
He said again, mechanically, with increasing surprise: "You have a child?
You have a child?"
"You took me by force, as I suppose you know? I did not want to marry
you," she said, still sobbing.
Then he got up, lit the candle, and began to walk up and down, with his
arms behind him. She was cowering on the bed and crying, and suddenly he
stopped in front of her, and said: "Then it is my fault that you have no
children?" She gave him no answer, and he began to walk up and down
again, and then, stopping again, he continued: "How old is your child?"
"Just six," she whispered. "Why did you not tell me about it?" he asked.
"How could I?" she replied, with a sigh.
He remained standing, motionless. "Come, get up," he said. She got up
with some difficulty, and then, when she was standing on the floor, he
suddenly began to laugh with the hearty laugh of his good days, and,
seeing how surprised she was, he added: "Very well, we will go and fetch
the child, as you and I can have none together."
She was so scared that if she had had the strength she would assuredly
have run away, but the farmer rubbed his hands and said: "I wanted to
adopt one, and now we have found one. I asked the cure about an orphan
some time ago."
Then, still laughing, he kissed his weeping and agitated wife on both
cheeks, and shouted out, as though she could not hear him: "Come along,
mother, we will go and see whether there is any soup left; I should not
mind a plateful."
She put on her petticoat and they went downstairs; and While she was
kneeling in front of the fireplace and lighting the fire under the
saucepan, he continued to walk up and down the kitchen with long strides,
"Well, I am really glad of this; I am not saying it for form's sake, but
I am glad, I am really very glad."
It was yesterday, the 31st of December.
I had just finished breakfast with my old friend Georges Garin when the
servant handed him a letter covered with seals and foreign stamps.
"Will you excuse me?"
And so he began to read the letter, which was written in a large English
handwriting, crossed and recrossed in every direction. He read them
slowly, with serious attention and the interest which we only pay to
things which touch our hearts.
Then he put the letter on the mantelpiece and said:
"That was a curious story! I've never told you about it, I think. Yet
it was a sentimental adventure, and it really happened to me. That was a
strange New Year's Day, indeed! It must have been twenty years ago, for
I was then thirty and am now fifty years old.
"I was then an inspector in the Maritime Insurance Company, of which I am
now director. I had arranged to pass New Year's Day in Paris--since it
is customary to make that day a fete--when I received a letter from the
manager, asking me to proceed at once to the island of Re, where a three-
masted vessel from Saint-Nazaire, insured by us, had just been driven
ashore. It was then eight o'clock in the morning. I arrived at the
office at ten to get my advices, and that evening I took the express,
which put me down in La Rochelle the next day, the 31st of December.
"I had two hours to wait before going aboard the boat for Re. So I made
a tour of the town. It is certainly a queer city, La Rochelle, with
strong characteristics of its own streets tangled like a labyrinth,
sidewalks running under endless arcaded galleries like those of the Rue
de Rivoli, but low, mysterious, built as if to form a suitable setting
for conspirators and making a striking background for those old-time
wars, the savage heroic wars of religion. It is indeed the typical old
Huguenot city, conservative, discreet, with no fine art to show, with no
wonderful monuments, such as make Rouen; but it is remarkable for its
severe, somewhat sullen look; it is a city of obstinate fighters, a city
where fanaticism might well blossom, where the faith of the Calvinists
became enthusiastic and which gave birth to the plot of the 'Four
"After I had wandered for some time about these curious streets, I went
aboard the black, rotund little steamboat which was to take me to the
island of Re. It was called the Jean Guiton. It started with angry
puffings, passed between the two old towers which guard the harbor,
crossed the roadstead and issued from the mole built by Richelieu, the
great stones of which can be seen at the water's edge, enclosing the town
like a great necklace. Then the steamboat turned to the right.
"It was one of those sad days which give one the blues, tighten the heart
and take away all strength and energy and force-a gray, cold day, with a
heavy mist which was as wet as rain, as cold as frost, as bad to breathe
as the steam of a wash-tub.
"Under this low sky of dismal fog the shallow, yellow, sandy sea of all
practically level beaches lay without a wrinkle, without a movement,
without life, a sea of turbid water, of greasy water, of stagnant water.
The Jean Guiton passed over it, rolling a little from habit, dividing the
smooth, dark blue water and leaving behind a few waves, a little
splashing, a slight swell, which soon calmed down.
"I began to talk to the captain, a little man with small feet, as round
as his boat and rolling in the same manner. I wanted some details of the
disaster on which I was to draw up a report. A great square-rigged
three-master, the Marie Joseph, of Saint-Nazaire, had gone ashore one
night in a hurricane on the sands of the island of Re.
"The owner wrote us that the storm had thrown the ship so far ashore that
it was impossible to float her and that they had to remove everything
which could be detached with the utmost possible haste. Nevertheless I
must examine the situation of the wreck, estimate what must have been her
condition before the disaster and decide whether all efforts had been
used to get her afloat. I came as an agent of the company in order to
give contradictory testimony, if necessary, at the trial.
"On receipt of my report, the manager would take what measures he might
think necessary to protect our interests.
"The captain of the Jean Guiton knew all about the affair, having been
summoned with his boat to assist in the attempts at salvage.
"He told me the story of the disaster. The Marie Joseph, driven by a
furious gale lost her bearings completely in the night, and steering by
chance over a heavy foaming sea--'a milk-soup sea,' said the captain--had
gone ashore on those immense sand banks which make the coasts of this
country look like limitless Saharas when the tide is low.
"While talking I looked around and ahead. Between the ocean and the
lowering sky lay an open space where the eye could see into the distance.
We were following a coast. I asked:
"'Is that the island of Re?'
"And suddenly the captain stretched his right hand out before us, pointed
to something almost imperceptible in the open sea, and said:
"'There's your ship!'
"'The Marie Joseph!'
"I was amazed. This black, almost imperceptible speck, which looked to
me like a rock, seemed at least three miles from land.
"'But, captain, there must be a hundred fathoms of water in that place.'
"He began to laugh.
"'A hundred fathoms, my child! Well, I should say about two!'
"He was from Bordeaux. He continued:
"'It's now nine-forty, just high tide. Go down along the beach with your
hands in your pockets after you've had lunch at the Hotel du Dauphin, and
I'll wager that at ten minutes to three, or three o'clock, you'll reach
the wreck without wetting your feet, and have from an hour and three-
quarters to two hours aboard of her; but not more, or you'll be caught.
The faster the sea goes out the faster it comes back. This coast is as
flat as a turtle! But start away at ten minutes to five, as I tell you,
and at half-past seven you will be again aboard of the Jean Guiton, which
will put you down this same evening on the quay at La Rochelle.'
"I thanked the captain and I went and sat down in the bow of the steamer
to get a good look at the little city of Saint-Martin, which we were now
"It was just like all small seaports which serve as capitals of the
barren islands scattered along the coast--a large fishing village, one
foot on sea and one on shore, subsisting on fish and wild fowl,
vegetables and shell-fish, radishes and mussels. The island is very low
and little cultivated, yet it seems to be thickly populated. However, I
did not penetrate into the interior.
"After breakfast I climbed across a little promontory, and then, as the
tide was rapidly falling, I started out across the sands toward a kind of
black rock which I could just perceive above the surface of the water,
out a considerable distance.
"I walked quickly over the yellow plain. It was elastic, like flesh and
seemed to sweat beneath my tread. The sea had been there very lately.
Now I perceived it at a distance, escaping out of sight, and I no longer
could distinguish the line which separated the sands from ocean. I felt
as though I were looking at a gigantic supernatural work of enchantment.
The Atlantic had just now been before me, then it had disappeared into
the sands, just as scenery disappears through a trap; and I was now
walking in the midst of a desert. Only the feeling, the breath of the
salt-water, remained in me. I perceived the smell of the wrack, the
smell of the sea, the good strong smell of sea coasts. I walked fast; I
was no longer cold. I looked at the stranded wreck, which grew in size
as I approached, and came now to resemble an enormous shipwrecked whale.
"It seemed fairly to rise out of the ground, and on that great, flat,
yellow stretch of sand assumed wonderful proportions. After an hour's
walk I at last reached it. It lay upon its side, ruined and shattered,
its broken bones showing as though it were an animal, its bones of tarred
wood pierced with great bolts. The sand had already invaded it, entering
it by all the crannies, and held it and refused to let it go. It seemed
to have taken root in it. The bow had entered deep into this soft,
treacherous beach, while the stern, high in air, seemed to cast at
heaven, like a cry of despairing appeal, the two white words on the black
planking, Marie Joseph.
"I climbed upon this carcass of a ship by the lowest side; then, having
reached the deck, I went below. The daylight, which entered by the
stove-in hatches and the cracks in the sides, showed me dimly long dark
cavities full of demolished woodwork. They contained nothing but sand,
which served as foot-soil in this cavern of planks.
"I began to take some notes about the condition of the ship. I was
seated on a broken empty cask, writing by the light of a great crack,
through which I could perceive the boundless stretch of the strand.
A strange shivering of cold and loneliness ran over my skin from time to
time, and I would often stop writing for a moment to listen to the
mysterious noises in the derelict: the noise of crabs scratching the
planking with their crooked claws; the noise of a thousand little
creatures of the sea already crawling over this dead body or else boring
into the wood.
"Suddenly, very near me, I heard human voices. I started as though I had
seen a ghost. For a second I really thought I was about to see drowned
men rise from the sinister depths of the hold, who would tell me about
their death. At any rate, it did not take me long to swing myself on
deck. There, standing by the bows, was a tall Englishman with three
young misses. Certainly they were a good deal more frightened at seeing
this sudden apparition on the abandoned three-master than I was at seeing
them. The youngest girl turned and ran, the two others threw their arms
round their father. As for him, he opened his mouth--that was the only
sign of emotion which he showed.
"Then, after several seconds, he spoke:
"'Mosieu, are you the owner of this ship?'
"'May I go over it?'
"Then he uttered a long sentence in English, in which I only
distinguished the word 'gracious,' repeated several times.
"As he was looking for a place to climb up I showed him the easiest way,
and gave him a hand. He climbed up. Then we helped up the three girls,
who had now quite recovered their composure. They were charming,
especially the oldest, a blonde of eighteen, fresh as a flower, and very
dainty and pretty! Ah, yes! the pretty Englishwomen have indeed the
look of tender sea fruit. One would have said of this one that she had
just risen out of the sands and that her hair had kept their tint. They
all, with their exquisite freshness, make you think of the delicate
colors of pink sea-shells and of shining pearls hidden in the unknown
depths of the ocean.
"She spoke French a little better than her father and acted as
interpreter. I had to tell all about the shipwreck, and I romanced as
though I had been present at the catastrophe. Then the whole family
descended into the interior of the wreck. As soon as they had penetrated
into this sombre, dimly lit cavity they uttered cries of astonishment and
admiration. Suddenly the father and his three daughters were holding
sketch-books in their hands, which they had doubtless carried hidden
somewhere in their heavy weather-proof clothes, and were all beginning at
once to make pencil sketches of this melancholy and weird place.
"They had seated themselves side by side on a projecting beam, and the
four sketch-books on the eight knees were being rapidly covered with
little black lines which were intended to represent the half-opened hulk
of the Marie Joseph.
"I continued to inspect the skeleton of the ship, and the oldest girl
talked to me while she worked.
"They had none of the usual English arrogance; they were simple honest
hearts of that class of continuous travellers with which England covers
the globe. The father was long and thin, with a red face framed in white
whiskers, and looking like a living sandwich, a piece of ham carved like
a face between two wads of hair. The daughters, who had long legs like
young storks, were also thin-except the oldest. All three were pretty,
especially the tallest.
"She had such a droll way of speaking, of laughing, of understanding and
of not understanding, of raising her eyes to ask a question (eyes blue as
the deep ocean), of stopping her drawing a moment to make a guess at what
you meant, of returning once more to work, of saying 'yes' or 'no'--that
I could have listened and looked indefinitely.
"Suddenly she murmured:
"'I hear a little sound on this boat.'
"I listened and I immediately distinguished a low, steady, curious sound.
I rose and looked out of the crack and gave a scream. The sea had come
up to us; it would soon surround us!
"We were on deck in an instant. It was too late. The water circled us
about and was running toward the coast at tremendous speed. No, it did
not run, it glided, crept, spread like an immense, limitless blot. The
water was barely a few centimeters deep, but the rising flood had gone so
far that we no longer saw the vanishing line of the imperceptible tide.
"The Englishman wanted to jump. I held him back. Flight was impossible
because of the deep places which we had been obliged to go round on our
way out and into which we should fall on our return.
"There was a minute of horrible anguish in our hearts. Then the little
English girl began to smile and murmured:
"'It is we who are shipwrecked.'
"I tried to laugh, but fear held me, a fear which was cowardly and horrid
and base and treacherous like the tide. All the danger which we ran
appeared to me at once. I wanted to shriek: 'Help!' But to whom?
"The two younger girls were clinging to their father, who looked in
consternation at the measureless sea which hedged us round about.
"The night fell as swiftly as the ocean rose--a lowering, wet, icy night.
"'There's nothing to do but to stay on the ship:
"The Englishman answered:
"And we waited there a quarter of an hour, half an hour, indeed I don't
know how long, watching that creeping water growing deeper as it swirled
around us, as though it were playing on the beach, which it had regained.
"One of the young girls was cold, and we went below to shelter ourselves
from the light but freezing wind that made our skins tingle.
"I leaned over the hatchway. The ship was full of water. So we had to
cower against the stern planking, which shielded us a little.
"Darkness was now coming on, and we remained huddled together. I felt
the shoulder of the little English girl trembling against mine, her teeth
chattering from time to time. But I also felt the gentle warmth of her
body through her ulster, and that warmth was as delicious to me as a
kiss. We no longer spoke; we sat motionless, mute, cowering down like
animals in a ditch when a hurricane is raging. And, nevertheless,
despite the night, despite the terrible and increasing danger, I began to
feel happy that I was there, glad of the cold and the peril, glad of the
long hours of darkness and anguish that I must pass on this plank so near
this dainty, pretty little girl.
"I asked myself, 'Why this strange sensation of well-being and of joy?'
"Why! Does one know? Because she was there? Who? She, a little
unknown English girl? I did not love her, I did not even know her. And
for all that, I was touched and conquered. I wanted to save her, to
sacrifice myself for her, to commit a thousand follies! Strange thing!
How does it happen that the presence of a woman overwhelms us so? Is it
the power of her grace which enfolds us? Is it the seduction of her
beauty and youth, which intoxicates one like wine?
"Is it not rather the touch of Love, of Love the Mysterious, who seeks
constantly to unite two beings, who tries his strength the instant he has
put a man and a woman face to face?
"The silence of the darkness became terrible, the stillness of the sky
dreadful, because we could hear vaguely about us a slight, continuous
sound, the sound of the rising tide and the monotonous plashing of the
water against the ship.
"Suddenly I heard the sound of sobs. The youngest of the girls was
crying. Her father tried to console her, and they began to talk in their
own tongue, which I did not understand. I guessed that he was reassuring
her and that she was still afraid.
"I asked my neighbor:
"'You are not too cold, are you, mademoiselle?'
"'Oh, yes. I am very cold.'
"I offered to give her my cloak; she refused it.
"But I had taken it off and I covered her with it against her will. In
the short struggle her hand touched mine. It made a delicious thrill run
through my body.
"For some minutes the air had been growing brisker, the dashing of the
water stronger against the flanks of the ship. I raised myself; a great
gust of wind blew in my face. The wind was rising!
"The Englishman perceived this at the same time that I did and said
"'This is bad for us, this----'
"Of course it was bad, it was certain death if any breakers, however
feeble, should attack and shake the wreck, which was already so shattered
and disconnected that the first big sea would carry it off.
"So our anguish increased momentarily as the squalls grew stronger and
stronger. Now the sea broke a little, and I saw in the darkness white
lines appearing and disappearing, lines of foam, while each wave struck
the Marie Joseph and shook her with a short quiver which went to our
"The English girl was trembling. I felt her shiver against me. And I
had a wild desire to take her in my arms.
"Down there, before and behind us, to the left and right, lighthouses
were shining along the shore--lighthouses white, yellow and red,
revolving like the enormous eyes of giants who were watching us, waiting
eagerly for us to disappear. One of them in especial irritated me. It
went out every thirty seconds and it lit up again immediately. It was
indeed an eye, that one, with its lid incessantly lowered over its fiery
"From time to time the Englishman struck a match to see the hour; then he
put his watch back in his pocket. Suddenly he said to me, over the heads
of his daughters, with tremendous gravity:
"'I wish you a happy New Year, Mosieu.'
"It was midnight. I held out my hand, which he pressed. Then he said
something in English, and suddenly he and his daughters began to sing
'God Save the Queen,' which rose through the black and silent air and
vanished into space.
"At first I felt a desire to laugh; then I was seized by a powerful,
"It was something sinister and superb, this chant of the shipwrecked, the
condemned, something like a prayer and also like something grander,
something comparable to the ancient 'Ave Caesar morituri te salutant.'
"When they had finished I asked my neighbor to sing a ballad alone,
anything she liked, to make us forget our terrors. She consented, and
immediately her clear young voice rang out into the night. She sang
something which was doubtless sad, because the notes were long drawn out
and hovered, like wounded birds, above the waves.
"The sea was rising now and beating upon our wreck. As for me, I thought
only of that voice. And I thought also of the sirens. If a ship had
passed near by us what would the sailors have said? My troubled spirit
lost itself in the dream! A siren! Was she not really a siren, this
daughter of the sea, who had kept me on this worm-eaten ship and who was
soon about to go down with me deep into the waters?
"But suddenly we were all five rolling on the deck, because the Marie
Joseph had sunk on her right side. The English girl had fallen upon me,
and before I knew what I was doing, thinking that my last moment was
come, I had caught her in my arms and kissed her cheek, her temple and
"The ship did not move again, and we, we also, remained motionless.
"The father said, 'Kate!' The one whom I was holding answered 'Yes' and
made a movement to free herself. And at that moment I should have wished
the ship to split in two and let me fall with her into the sea.
"The Englishman continued:
"'A little rocking; it's nothing. I have my three daughters safe.'
"Not having seen the oldest, he had thought she was lost overboard!
"I rose slowly, and suddenly I made out a light on the sea quite close to
us. I shouted; they answered. It was a boat sent out in search of us by
the hotelkeeper, who had guessed at our imprudence.
"We were saved. I was in despair. They picked us up off our raft and
they brought us back to Saint-Martin.
"The Englishman began to rub his hand and murmur:
"'A good supper! A good supper!'
"We did sup. I was not gay. I regretted the Marie Joseph.
"We had to separate the next day after much handshaking and many promises
to write. They departed for Biarritz. I wanted to follow them.
"I was hard hit. I wanted to ask this little girl to marry me. If we
had passed eight days together, I should have done so! How weak and
incomprehensible a man sometimes is!
"Two years passed without my hearing a word from them. Then I received a
letter from New York. She was married and wrote to tell me. And since
then we write to each other every year, on New Year's Day. She tells me
about her life, talks of her children, her sisters, never of her husband!
Why? Ah! why? And as for me, I only talk of the Marie Joseph. That was
perhaps the only woman I have ever loved--no--that I ever should have
loved. Ah, well! who can tell? Circumstances rule one. And then--and
then--all passes. She must be old now; I should not know her. Ah! she
of the bygone time, she of the wreck! What a creature! Divine! She
writes me her hair is white. That caused me terrible pain. Ah! her
yellow hair. No, my English girl exists no longer. How sad it all is!"
THEODULE SABOT'S CONFESSION
When Sabot entered the inn at Martinville it was a signal for laughter.
What a rogue he was, this Sabot! There was a man who did not like
priests, for instance! Oh, no, oh, no! He did not spare them, the
Sabot (Theodule), a master carpenter, represented liberal thought in
Martinville. He was a tall, thin, than, with gray, cunning eyes, and
thin lips, and wore his hair plastered down on his temples. When he
said: "Our holy father, the pope" in a certain manner, everyone laughed.
He made a point of working on Sunday during the hour of mass. He killed
his pig each year on Monday in Holy Week in order to have enough black
pudding to last till Easter, and when the priest passed by, he always
said by way of a joke: "There goes one who has just swallowed his God off
The priest, a stout man and also very tall, dreaded him on account of his
boastful talk which attracted followers. The Abbe Maritime was a politic
man, and believed in being diplomatic. There had been a rivalry between
them for ten years, a secret, intense, incessant rivalry. Sabot was
municipal councillor, and they thought he would become mayor, which would
inevitably mean the final overthrow of the church.
The elections were about to take place. The church party was shaking in
its shoes in Martinville.
One morning the cure set out for Rouen, telling his servant that he was
going to see the archbishop. He returned in two days with a joyous,
triumphant air. And everyone knew the following day that the chancel of
the church was going to be renovated. A sum of six hundred francs had
been contributed by the archbishop out of his private fund. All the old
pine pews were to be removed, and replaced by new pews made of oak. It
would be a big carpentering job, and they talked about it that very
evening in all the houses in the village.
Theodule Sabot was not laughing.
When he went through the village the following morning, the neighbors,
friends and enemies, all asked him, jokingly:
"Are you going to do the work on the chancel of the church?"
He could find nothing to say, but he was furious, he was good and angry.
Ill-natured people added:
"It is a good piece of work; and will bring in not less than two or three
per cent. profit."
Two days later, they heard that the work of renovation had been entrusted
to Celestin Chambrelan, the carpenter from Percheville. Then this was
denied, and it was said that all the pews in the church were going to be
changed. That would be well worth the two thousand francs that had been
demanded of the church administration.
Theodule Sabot could not sleep for thinking about it. Never, in all the
memory of man, had a country carpenter undertaken a similar piece of
work. Then a rumor spread abroad that the cure felt very grieved that he
had to give this work to a carpenter who was a stranger in the community,
but that Sabot's opinions were a barrier to his being entrusted with the
Sabot knew it well. He called at the parsonage just as it was growing
dark. The servant told him that the cure was at church. He went to the
Two attendants on the altar of the Virgin, two soar old maids, were
decorating the altar for the month of Mary, under the direction of the
priest, who stood in the middle of the chancel with his portly paunch,
directing the two women who, mounted on chairs, were placing flowers
around the tabernacle.
Sabot felt ill at ease in there, as though he were in the house of his
greatest enemy, but the greed of gain was gnawing at his heart. He drew
nearer, holding his cap in his hand, and not paying any attention to the
"demoiselles de la Vierge," who remained standing startled, astonished,
motionless on their chairs.
"Good morning, monsieur le cure."
The priest replied without looking at him, all occupied as he was with
"Good morning, Mr. Carpenter."
Sabot, nonplussed, knew not what to say next. But after a pause he
"You are making preparations?"
Abbe Maritime replied:
"Yes, we are near the month of Mary."
"Why, why," remarked Sabot and then was silent. He would have liked to
retire now without saying anything, but a glance at the chancel held him
back. He saw sixteen seats that had to be remade, six to the right and
eight to the left, the door of the sacristy occupying the place of two.
Sixteen oak seats, that would be worth at most three hundred francs, and
by figuring carefully one might certainly make two hundred francs on the
work if one were not clumsy.
Then he stammered out:
"I have come about the work."
The cure appeared surprised. He asked:
"The work to be done," murmured Sabot, in dismay.
Then the priest turned round and looking him straight in the eyes, said:
"Do you mean the repairs in the chancel of my church?"
At the tone of the abbe, Theodule Sabot felt a chill run down his back
and he once more had a longing to take to his heels. However, he replied
"Why, yes, monsieur le cure."
Then the abbe folded his arms across his large stomach and, as if filled
with amazement, said:
"Is it you--you--you, Sabot--who have come to ask me for this . . .
You--the only irreligious man in my parish! Why, it would be a scandal,
a public scandal! The archbishop would give me a reprimand, perhaps
He stopped a few seconds, for breath, and then resumed in a calmer tone:
"I can understand that it pains you to see a work of such importance
entrusted to a carpenter from a neighboring parish. But I cannot do
otherwise, unless--but no--it is impossible--you would not consent, and
unless you did, never."
Sabot now looked at the row of benches in line as far as the entrance
door. Christopher, if they were going to change all those!
And he asked:
"What would you require of me? Tell me."
The priest, in a firm tone replied:
"I must have an extraordinary token of your good intentions."
"I do not say--I do not say; perhaps we might come to an understanding,"
"You will have to take communion publicly at high mass next Sunday,"
declared the cure.
The carpenter felt he was growing pale, and without replying, he asked:
"And the benches, are they going to be renovated?"
The abbe replied with confidence:
"Yes, but later on."
"I do not say, I do not say. I am not calling it off, I am consenting to
religion, for sure. But what rubs me the wrong way is, putting it in
practice; but in this case I will not be refractory."
The attendants of the Virgin, having got off their chairs had concealed
themselves behind the altar; and they listened pale with emotion.
The cure, seeing he had gained the victory, became all at once very
friendly, quite familiar.
"That is good, that is good. That was wisely said, and not stupid, you
understand. You will see, you will see."
Sabot smiled and asked with an awkward air:
"Would it not be possible to put off this communion just a trifle?"
But the priest replied, resuming his severe expression:
"From the moment that the work is put into your hands, I want to be
assured of your conversion."
Then he continued more gently:
"You will come to confession to-morrow; for I must examine you at least
"Twice?" repeated Sabot.
The priest smiled.
"You understand perfectly that you must have a general cleaning up,
a thorough cleansing. So I will expect you to-morrow."
The carpenter, much agitated, asked:
"Where do you do that?"
"Why--in the confessional."
"In--that box, over there in the corner? The fact is--is--that it does
not suit me, your box."
"How is that?"
"Seeing that--seeing that I am not accustomed to that, and also I am
rather hard of hearing."
The cure was very affable and said:
"Well, then! you shall come to my house and into my parlor. We will
have it just the two of us, tete-a-tete. Does that suit you?"
"Yes, that is all right, that will suit me, but your box, no."
"Well, then, to-morrow after the days work, at six o'clock."
"That is understood, that is all right, that is agreed on. To-morrow,
monsieur le cure. Whoever draws back is a skunk!"
And he held out his great rough hand which the priest grasped heartily
with a clap that resounded through the church.
Theodule Sabot was not easy in his mind all the following day. He had a
feeling analogous to the apprehension one experiences when a tooth has to
be drawn. The thought recurred to him at every moment: "I must go to
confession this evening." And his troubled mind, the mind of an atheist
only half convinced, was bewildered with a confused and overwhelming
dread of the divine mystery.
As soon as he had finished his work, he betook himself to the parsonage.
The cure was waiting for him in the garden, reading his breviary as he
walked along a little path. He appeared radiant and greeted him with a
"Well, here we are! Come in, come in, Monsieur Sabot, no one will eat
And Sabot preceded him into the house. He faltered:
"If you do not mind I should like to get through with this little matter
The cure replied:
"I am at your service. I have my surplice here. One minute and I will
listen to you."
The carpenter, so disturbed that he had not two ideas in his head,
watched him as he put on the white vestment with its pleated folds.
The priest beckoned to him and said:
"Kneel down on this cushion."
Sabot remained standing, ashamed of having to kneel. He stuttered:
"Is it necessary?"
But the abbe had become dignified.
"You cannot approach the penitent bench except on your knees."
And Sabot knelt down.
"Repeat the confiteor," said the priest.
"What is that?" asked Sabot.
"The confiteor. If you do not remember it, repeat after me, one by one,
the words I am going to say." And the cure repeated the sacred prayer,
in a slow tone, emphasizing the words which the carpenter repeated after
him. Then he said:
"Now make your confession."
But Sabot was silent, not knowing where to begin. The abbe then came to
"My child, I will ask you questions, since you don't seem familiar with
these things. We will take, one by one, the commandments of God. Listen
to me and do not be disturbed. Speak very frankly and never fear that
you may say too much.
"'One God alone, thou shalt adore,
And love him perfectly.'
"Have you ever loved anything, or anybody, as well as you loved God? Have
you loved him with all your soul, all your heart, all the strength of
Sabot was perspiring with the effort of thinking. He replied:
"No. Oh, no, m'sieu le cure. I love God as much as I can. That is--
yes--I love him very much. To say that I do not love my children,
no--I cannot say that. To say that if I had to choose between them and
God, I could not be sure. To say that if I had to lose a hundred francs
for the love of God, I could not say about that. But I love him well,
for sure, I love him all the same." The priest said gravely "You must
love Him more than all besides." And Sabot, meaning well, declared "I
will do what I possibly can, m'sieu le cure." The abbe resumed:
"'God's name in vain thou shalt not take
Nor swear by any other thing.'
"Did you ever swear?"
"No-oh, that, no! I never swear, never. Sometimes, in a moment of
anger, I may say sacre nom de Dieu! But then, I never swear."
"That is swearing," cried the priest, and added seriously:
"Do not do it again.
"'Thy Sundays thou shalt keep
In serving God devoutly.'
"What do you do on Sunday?"
This time Sabot scratched his ear.
"Why, I serve God as best I can, m'sieu le cure. I serve him--at home.
I work on Sunday."
The cure interrupted him, saying magnanimously:
"I know, you will do better in future. I will pass over the following
commandments, certain that you have not transgressed the two first. We
will take from the sixth to the ninth. I will resume:
"'Others' goods thou shalt not take
Nor keep what is not thine.'
"Have you ever taken in any way what belonged to another?"
But Theodule Sabot became indignant.
"Of course not, of course not! I am an honest man, m'sieu le cure, I
swear it, for sure. To say that I have not sometimes charged for a few
more hours of work to customers who had means, I could not say that.
To say that I never add a few centimes to bills, only a few, I would not
say that. But to steal, no! Oh, not that, no!"
The priest resumed severely:
"To take one single centime constitutes a theft. Do not do it again.
'False witness thou shalt not bear,
Nor lie in any way.'
Have you ever told a lie?"
"No, as to that, no. I am not a liar. That is my quality. To say that
I have never told a big story, I would not like to say that. To say that
I have never made people believe things that were not true when it was to
my own interest, I would not like to say that. But as for lying, I am
not a liar."
The priest simply said:
"Watch yourself more closely." Then he continued:
"'The works of the flesh thou shalt not desire
Except in marriage only.'
"Did you ever desire, or live with, any other woman than your wife?"
Sabot exclaimed with sincerity:
"As to that, no; oh, as to that, no, m'sieu le Cure. My poor wife,
deceive her! No, no! Not so much as the tip of a finger, either in
thought or in act. That is the truth."
They were silent a few seconds, then, in a lower tone, as though a doubt
had arisen in his mind, he resumed:
"When I go to town, to say that I never go into a house, you know, one of
the licensed houses, just to laugh and talk and see something different,
I could not say that. But I always pay, monsieur le cure, I always pay.
From the moment you pay, without anyone seeing or knowing you, no one can
get you into trouble."
The cure did not insist, and gave him absolution.
Theodule Sabot did the work on the chancel, and goes to communion every
THE WRONG HOUSE
Quartermaster Varajou had obtained a week's leave to go and visit his
sister, Madame Padoie. Varajou, who was in garrison at Rennes and was
leading a pretty gay life, finding himself high and dry, wrote to his
sister saying that he would devote a week to her. It was not that he
cared particularly for Mme. Padoie, a little moralist, a devotee, and
always cross; but he needed money, needed it very badly, and he
remembered that, of all his relations, the Padoies were the only ones
whom he had never approached on the subject.
Pere Varajou, formerly a horticulturist at Angers, but now retired from
business, had closed his purse strings to his scapegrace son and had
hardly seen him for two years. His daughter had married Padoie, a former
treasury clerk, who had just been appointed tax collector at Vannes.
Varajou, on leaving the train, had some one direct him to the house of
his brother-in-law, whom he found in his office arguing with the Breton
peasants of the neighborhood. Padoie rose from his seat, held out his
hand across the table littered with papers, murmured, "Take a chair. I
will be at liberty in a moment," sat down again and resumed his
The peasants did not understand his explanations, the collector did not
understand their line of argument. He spoke French, they spoke Breton,
and the clerk who acted as interpreter appeared not to understand either.
It lasted a long time, a very long lime. Varajou looked at his brother-
in-law and thought: "What a fool!" Padoie must have been almost fifty.
He was tall, thin, bony, slow, hairy, with heavy arched eyebrows. He
wore a velvet skull cap with a gold cord vandyke design round it. His
look was gentle, like his actions. His speech, his gestures, his
thoughts, all were soft. Varajou said to himself, "What a fool!"
He, himself, was one of those noisy roysterers for whom the greatest
pleasures in life are the cafe and abandoned women. He understood
nothing outside of these conditions of existence.
A boisterous braggart, filled with contempt for the rest of the world, he
despised the entire universe from the height of his ignorance. When he
said: "Nom d'un chien, what a spree!" he expressed the highest degree of
admiration of which his mind was capable.
Having finally got rid of his peasants, Padoie inquired:
"How are you?"
"Pretty well, as you see. And how are you?"
"Quite well, thank you. It is very kind of you to have thought of coming
to see us."
"Oh, I have been thinking of it for some time; but, you know, in the
military profession one has not much freedom."
"Oh, I know, I know. All the same, it is very kind of you."
"And Josephine, is she well?"
"Yes, yes, thank you; you will see her presently." "Where is she?"
"She is making some calls. We have a great many friends here; it is a
very nice town."
"I thought so."
The door opened and Mme. Padoie appeared. She went over to her brother
without any eagerness, held her cheek for him to kiss, and asked:
"Have you been here long?"
"No, hardly half an hour."
"Oh, I thought the train would be late. Will you come into the parlor?"
They went into the adjoining room, leaving Padoie to his accounts and his
taxpayers. As soon as they were alone, she said:
"I have heard nice things about you!"
"What have you heard?"
"It seems that you are behaving like a blackguard, getting drunk and
He appeared very much astonished.
"I! never in the world!"
"Oh, do not deny it, I know it."
He attempted to defend himself, but she gave him such a lecture that he
could say nothing more.
She then resumed:
"We dine at six o'clock, and you can amuse yourself until then. I cannot
entertain you, as I have so many things to do."
When he was alone he hesitated as to whether he should sleep or take a
walk. He looked first at the door leading to his room and then at the
hall door, and decided to go out. He sauntered slowly through the quiet
Breton town, so sleepy, so calm, so dead, on the shores of its inland bay
that is called "le Morbihan." He looked at the little gray houses, the
occasional pedestrians, the empty stores, and he murmured:
"Vannes is certainly not gay, not lively. It was a sad idea, my coming
He reached the harbor, the desolate harbor, walked back along a lonely,
deserted boulevard, and got home before five o'clock. Then he threw
himself on his bed to sleep till dinner time. The maid woke him,
knocking at the door.
"Dinner is ready, sir:"
He went downstairs. In the damp dining-room with the paper peeling from
the walls near the floor, he saw a soup tureen on a round table without
any table cloth, on which were also three melancholy soup-plates.
M. and Mme. Padoie entered the room at the same time as Varajou. They
all sat down to table, and the husband and wife crossed themselves over
the pit of their stomachs, after which Padoie helped the soup, a meat
soup. It was the day for pot-roast.
After the soup, they had the beef, which was done to rags, melted,
greasy, like pap. The officer ate slowly, with disgust, weariness and
Mme. Padoie said to her husband:
"Are you going to the judge's house this evening?"
"Do not stay late. You always get so tired when you go out. You are not
made for society, with your poor health."
She then talked about society in Vannes, of the excellent social circle
in which the Padoies moved, thanks to their religious sentiments.
A puree of potatoes and a dish of pork were next served, in honor of the
guest. Then some cheese, and that was all. No coffee.
When Varajou saw that he would have to spend the evening tete-a-tete with
his sister, endure her reproaches, listen to her sermons, without even a
glass of liqueur to help him to swallow these remonstrances, he felt that
he could not stand the torture, and declared that he was obliged to go to
the police station to have something attended to regarding his leave of
absence. And he made his escape at seven o'clock.
He had scarcely reached the street before he gave himself a shake like a
dog coming out of the water. He muttered:
"Heavens, heavens, heavens, what a galley slave's life!"
And he set out to look for a cafe, the best in the town. He found it on
a public square, behind two gas lamps. Inside the cafe, five or six men,
semi-gentlemen, and not noisy, were drinking and chatting quietly,
leaning their elbows on the small tables, while two billiard players
walked round the green baize, where the balls were hitting each other as
One heard them counting:
"Eighteen-nineteen. No luck. Oh, that's a good stroke! Well played!
Eleven. You should have played on the red. Twenty. Froze! Froze!
Twelve. Ha! Wasn't I right?"
"A demi-tasse and a small decanter of brandy, the best." Then he sat
down and waited for it.
He was accustomed to spending his evenings off duty with his companions,
amid noise and the smoke of pipes. This silence, this quiet, exasperated
him. He began to drink; first the coffee, then the brandy, and asked for
another decanter. He now wanted to laugh, to shout, to sing, to fight
some one. He said to himself:
"Gee, I am half full. I must go and have a good time."
And he thought he would go and look for some girls to amuse him. He
called the waiter:
"Tell me, where does one amuse oneself here?"
The man looked stupid, and replied:
"I do not know, sir. Here, I suppose!"
"How do you mean here? What do you call amusing oneself, yourself?"
"I do not know, sir, drinking good beer or good wine."
"Ah, go away, dummy, how about the girls?"
"The girls, ah! ah!"
"Yes, the girls, where can one find any here?"
"Why, yes, girls!"
The boy approached and lowering his voice, said: "You want to know where
"Why, yes, the devil!"
"You take the second street to the left and then the first to the right.
It is number fifteen."
"Thank you, old man. There is something for you."
"Thank you, sir."
And Varajou went out of the cafe, repeating, "Second to the left, first
to the right, number 15." But at the end of a few seconds he thought,
"second to the left yes. But on leaving the cafe must I walk to the
right or the left? Bah, it cannot be helped, we shall see."
And he walked on, turned down the second street to the left, then the
first to the right and looked for number 15. It was a nice looking
house, and one could see behind the closed blinds that the windows were
lighted up on the first floor. The hall door was left partly open, and a
lamp was burning in the vestibule. The non-commissioned officer thought
"This looks all right."
He went in and, as no one appeared, he called out:
"Hallo there, hallo!"
A little maid appeared and looked astonished at seeing a soldier. He
"Good-morning, my child. Are the ladies upstairs?"
"In the parlor?"
"May I go up?"
"The door opposite the stairs?"
He ascended the stairs, opened a door and saw sitting in a room well
lighted up by two lamps, a chandelier, and two candelabras with candles
in them, four ladies in evening dress, apparently expecting some one.
Three of them, the younger ones, remained seated, with rather a formal
air, on some crimson velvet chairs; while the fourth, who was about
forty-five, was arranging some flowers in a vase. She was very stout,
and wore a green silk dress with low neck and short sleeves, allowing her
red neck, covered with powder, to escape as a huge flower might from its
The officer saluted them, saying:
The older woman turned round, appeared surprised, but bowed.
He sat down. But seeing that they did not welcome him eagerly, he
thought that possibly only commissioned officers were admitted to the
house, and this made him uneasy. But he said:
"Bah, if one comes in, we can soon tell."
He then remarked:
"Are you all well?"
The large lady, no doubt the mistress of the house, replied:
"Very well, thank you!"