Part 2 out of 3
Then he went back to his chair and sat down again, but almost immediately
he felt a longing to look out once more through the window. Since the
curtain had fallen down, the window made a sort of gap, fascinating and
terrible, on the dark landscape. In order not to yield to this dangerous
temptation, he undressed, blew out the light and closed his eyes.
Lying on his back motionless, his skin warm and moist, he awaited sleep.
Suddenly a great gleam of light flashed across his eyelids. He opened
them, believing that his dwelling was on fire. All was black as before,
and he leaned on his elbow to try to distinguish the window which had
still for him an unconquerable attraction. By dint of, straining his
eyes he could perceive some stars, and he rose, groped his way across the
room, discovered the panes with his outstretched hands, and placed his
forehead close to them. There below, under the trees, lay the body of
the little girl gleaming like phosphorus, lighting up the surrounding
Renardet uttered a cry and rushed toward his bed, where he lay till
morning, his head hidden under the pillow.
From that moment his life became intolerable. He passed his days in
apprehension of each succeeding night, and each night the vision came
back again. As soon as he had locked himself up in his room he strove to
resist it, but in vain. An irresistible force lifted him up and pushed
him against the window, as if to call the phantom, and he saw it at once,
lying first in the spot where the crime was committed in the position in
which it had been found.
Then the dead girl rose up and came toward him with little steps just as
the child had done when she came out of the river. She advanced quietly,
passing straight across the grass and over the bed of withered flowers.
Then she rose up in the air toward Renardet's window. She came toward
him as she had come on the day of the crime. And the man recoiled before
the apparition--he retreated to his bed and sank down upon it, knowing
well that the little one had entered the room and that she now was
standing behind the curtain, which presently moved. And until daybreak
he kept staring at this curtain with a fixed glance, ever waiting to see
his victim depart.
But she did not show herself any more; she remained there behind the
curtain, which quivered tremulously now and then.
And Renardet, his fingers clutching the clothes, squeezed them as he had
squeezed the throat of little Louise Roque.
He heard the clock striking the hours, and in the stillness the pendulum
kept ticking in time with the loud beating of his heart. And he
suffered, the wretched man, more than any man had ever suffered before.
Then, as soon as a white streak of light on the ceiling announced the
approaching day, he felt himself free, alone at last, alone in his room;
and he went to sleep. He slept several hours--a restless, feverish sleep
in which he retraced in dreams the horrible vision of the past night.
When he went down to the late breakfast he felt exhausted as after
unusual exertion, and he scarcely ate anything, still haunted as he was
by the fear of what he had seen the night before.
He knew well, however, that it was not an apparition, that the dead do
not come back, and that his sick soul, his soul possessed by one thought
alone, by an indelible remembrance, was the only cause of his torture,
was what brought the dead girl back to life and raised her form before
his eyes, on which it was ineffaceably imprinted. But he knew, too, that
there was no cure, that he would never escape from the savage persecution
of his memory, and he resolved to die rather than to endure these
tortures any longer.
Then he thought of how he would kill himself, It must be something simple
and natural, which would preclude the idea of suicide. For he clung to
his reputation, to the name bequeathed to him by his ancestors; and if
his death awakened any suspicion people's thoughts might be, perhaps,
directed toward the mysterious crime, toward the murderer who could not
be found, and they would not hesitate to accuse him of the crime.
A strange idea came into his head, that of allowing himself to be crushed
by the tree at the foot of which he had assassinated little Louise Roque.
So he determined to have the wood cut down and to simulate an accident.
But the beech tree refused to crush his ribs.
Returning to his house, a prey to utter despair, he had snatched up his
revolver, and then did not dare to fire it.
The dinner bell summoned him. He could eat nothing, and he went upstairs
again. And he did not know what to do. Now that he had escaped the
first time, he felt himself a coward. Presently he would be ready,
brave, decided, master of his courage and of his resolution; now he was
weak and feared death as much as he did the dead girl.
"I dare not venture it again--I dare not venture it."
Then he glanced with terror, first at the revolver on the table and next
at the curtain which hid his window. It seemed to him, moreover, that
something horrible would occur as soon as his life was ended. Something?
What? A meeting with her, perhaps. She was watching for him; she was
waiting for him; she was calling him; and it was in order to seize him in
her turn, to draw him toward the doom that would avenge her, and to lead
him to die, that she appeared thus every night.
He began to cry like a child, repeating:
"I will not venture it again--I will not venture it."
Then he fell on his knees and murmured:
"My God! my God!" without believing, nevertheless, in God. And he no
longer dared, in fact, to look at his window, where he knew the
apparition was hiding, nor at his table, where his revolver gleamed.
When he had risen up he said:
"This cannot last; there must be an end of it"
The sound of his voice in the silent room made a chill of fear pass
through his limbs, but as he could not bring himself to come to a
determination, as he felt certain that his finger would always refuse to
pull the trigger of his revolver, he turned round to hide his head under
the bedclothes and began to reflect.
He would have to find some way in which he could force himself to die, to
play some trick on himself which would not permit of any hesitation on
his part, any delay, any possible regrets. He envied condemned criminals
who are led to the scaffold surrounded by soldiers. Oh! if he could only
beg of some one to shoot him; if after confessing his crime to a true
friend who would never divulge it he could procure death at his hand.
But from whom could he ask this terrible service? From whom? He thought
of all the people he knew. The doctor? No, he would talk about it
afterward, most probably. And suddenly a fantastic idea entered his
mind. He would write to the magistrate, who was on terms of close
friendship with him, and would denounce himself as the perpetrator of the
crime. He would in this letter confess everything, revealing how his
soul had been tortured, how he had resolved to die, how he had hesitated
about carrying out his resolution and what means he had employed to
strengthen his failing courage. And in the name of their old friendship
he would implore of the other to destroy the letter as soon as he had
ascertained that the culprit had inflicted justice on himself. Renardet
could rely on this magistrate; he knew him to be true, discreet,
incapable of even an idle word. He was one of those men who have an
inflexible conscience, governed, directed, regulated by their reason
Scarcely had he formed this project when a strange feeling of joy took
possession of his heart. He was calm now. He would write his letter
slowly, then at daybreak he would deposit it in the box nailed to the
outside wall of his office; then he would ascend his tower to watch for
the postman's arrival; and when the man in the blue blouse had gone away,
he would cast himself head foremost on the rocks on which the foundations
rested, He would take care to be seen first by the workmen who had cut
down his wood. He could climb to the projecting stone which bore the
flagstaff displayed on festivals, He would smash this pole with a shake
and carry it along with him as he fell.
Who would suspect that it was not an accident? And he would be killed
outright, owing to his weight and the height of the tower.
Presently he got out of bed, went over to the table and began to write.
He omitted nothing, not a single detail of the crime, not a single detail
of the torments of his heart, and he ended by announcing that he had
passed sentence on himself, that he was going to execute the criminal,
and begged his friend, his old friend, to be careful that there should
never be any stain on his memory.
When he had finished this letter he saw that the day had dawned.
He closed, sealed it and wrote the address. Then he descended with light
steps, hurried toward the little white box fastened to the outside wall
in the corner of the farmhouse, and when he had thrown into it this
letter, which made his hand tremble, he came back quickly, drew the bolts
of the great door and climbed up to his tower to wait for the passing of
the postman, who was to bear away his death sentence.
He felt self-possessed now. Liberated! Saved!
A cold dry wind, an icy wind passed across his face. He inhaled it
eagerly with open mouth, drinking in its chilling kiss. The sky was red,
a wintry red, and all the plain, whitened with frost, glistened under the
first rays of the sun, as if it were covered with powdered glass.
Renardet, standing up, his head bare, gazed at the vast tract of country
before him, the meadows to the left and to the right the village whose
chimneys were beginning to smoke in preparation for the morning meal. At
his feet he saw the Brindille flowing amid the rocks, where he would soon
be crushed to death. He felt new life on that beautiful frosty morning.
The light bathed him, entered his being like a new-born hope. A thousand
recollections assailed him, recollections of similar mornings, of rapid
walks on the hard earth which rang beneath his footsteps, of happy days
of shooting on the edges of pools where wild ducks sleep. All the good
things that he loved, the good things of existence, rushed to his memory,
penetrated him with fresh desires, awakened all the vigorous appetites of
his active, powerful body.
And he was about to die! Why? He was going to kill himself stupidly
because he was afraid of a shadow-afraid of nothing! He was still rich
and in the prime of life. What folly! All he needed was distraction,
absence, a voyage in order to forget.
This night even he had not seen the little girl because his mind was
preoccupied and had wandered toward some other subject. Perhaps he would
not see her any more? And even if she still haunted him in this house,
certainly she would not follow him elsewhere! The earth was wide, the
future was long.
Why should he die?
His glance travelled across the meadows, and he perceived a blue spot in
the path which wound alongside the Brindille. It was Mederic coming to
bring letters from the town and to carry away those of the village.
Renardet gave a start, a sensation of pain shot through his breast, and
he rushed down the winding staircase to get back his letter, to demand it
back from the postman. Little did it matter to him now whether he was
seen, He hurried across the grass damp from the light frost of the
previous night and arrived in front of the box in the corner of the
farmhouse exactly at the same time as the letter carrier.
The latter had opened the little wooden door and drew forth the four
papers deposited there by the inhabitants of the locality.
Renardet said to him:
"Good-morrow, Monsieur le Maire."
"I say, Mederic, I threw a letter into the box that I want back again.
I came to ask you to give it back to me."
"That's all right, Monsieur le Maire--you'll get it."
And the postman raised his eyes. He stood petrified at the sight of
Renardet's face. The mayor's cheeks were purple, his eyes were anxious
and sunken, with black circles round them, his hair was unbrushed, his
beard untrimmed, his necktie unfastened. It was evident that he had not
been in bed.
The postman asked:
"Are you ill, Monsieur le Maire?"
The other, suddenly comprehending that his appearance must be unusual,
lost countenance and faltered:
"Oh! no-oh! no. Only I jumped out of bed to ask you for this letter.
I was asleep. You understand?"
He said in reply:
"The one you are going to give back to me."
Mederic now began to hesitate. The mayor's attitude did not strike him
as natural. There was perhaps a secret in that letter, a political
secret. He knew Renardet was not a Republican, and he knew all the
tricks and chicanery employed at elections.
"To whom is it addressed, this letter of yours?"
"To Monsieur Putoin, the magistrate--you know, my friend, Monsieur
The postman searched through the papers and found the one asked for.
Then he began looking at it, turning it round and round between his
fingers, much perplexed, much troubled by the fear of either committing a
grave offence or of making an enemy of the mayor.
Seeing his hesitation, Renardet made a movement for the purpose of
seizing the letter and snatching it away from him. This abrupt action
convinced Mederic that some important secret was at stake and made him
resolve to do his duty, cost what it may.
So he flung the letter into his bag and fastened it up, with the reply:
"No, I can't, Monsieur le Maire. As long as it is for the magistrate, I
A dreadful pang wrung Renardet's heart and he murmured:
"Why, you know me well. You are even able to recognize my handwriting.
I tell you I want that paper."
"Look here, Mederic, you know that I'm incapable of deceiving you--I tell
you I want it."
"No, I can't."
A tremor of rage passed through Renardet's soul.
"Damn it all, take care! You know that I never trifle and that I could
get you out of your job, my good fellow, and without much delay, either,
And then, I am the mayor of the district, after all; and I now order you
to give me back that paper."
The postman answered firmly:
"No, I can't, Monsieur le Maire."
Thereupon Renardet, losing his head, caught hold of the postman's arms in
order to take away his bag; but, freeing himself by a strong effort, and
springing backward, the letter carrier raised his big holly stick.
Without losing his temper, he said emphatically:
"Don't touch me, Monsieur le Maire, or I'll strike. Take care, I'm only
doing my duty!"
Feeling that he was lost, Renardet suddenly became humble, gentle,
appealing to him like a whimpering child:
"Look here, look here, my friend, give me back that letter and I'll
recompense you--I'll give you money. Stop! stop! I'll give you a
hundred francs, you understand--a hundred francs!"
The postman turned on his heel and started on his journey.
Renardet followed him, out of breath, stammering:
"Mederic, Mederic, listen! I'll give you a thousand francs, you
understand--a thousand francs."
The postman still went on without giving any answer.
Renardet went on:
"I'll make your fortune, you understand--whatever you wish--fifty
thousand francs--fifty thousand francs for that letter! What does it
matter to you? You won't? Well, a hundred thousand--I say--a hundred
thousand francs. Do you understand? A hundred thousand francs--a
hundred thousand francs."
The postman turned back, his face hard, his eye severe:
"Enough of this, or else I'll repeat to the magistrate everything you
have just said to me."
Renardet stopped abruptly. It was all over. He turned back and rushed
toward his house, running like a hunted animal.
Then, in his turn, Mederic stopped and watched his flight with
stupefaction. He saw the mayor reenter his house, and he waited still,
as if something astonishing were about to happen.
In fact, presently the tall form of Renardet appeared on the summit of
the Fox's tower. He ran round the platform like a madman. Then he
seized the flagstaff and shook it furiously without succeeding in
breaking it; then, all of a sudden, like a diver, with his two hands
before him, he plunged into space.
Mederic rushed forward to his assistance. He saw the woodcutters going
to work and called out to them, telling them an accident had occurred.
At the foot of the walls they found a bleeding body, its head crushed on
a rock. The Brindille surrounded this rock, and over its clear, calm
waters could be seen a long red thread of mingled brains and blood.
There was not a breath of air stirring; a heavy mist was lying over the
river. It was like a layer of cotton placed on the water. The banks
themselves were indistinct, hidden behind strange fogs. But day was
breaking and the hill was becoming visible. In the dawning light of day
the plaster houses began to appear like white spots. Cocks were crowing
in the barnyard.
On the other side of the river, hidden behind the fogs, just opposite
Frette, a slight noise from time to time broke the dead silence of the
quiet morning. At times it was an indistinct plashing, like the cautious
advance of a boat, then again a sharp noise like the rattle of an oar and
then the sound of something dropping in the water. Then silence.
Sometimes whispered words, coming perhaps from a distance, perhaps from
quite near, pierced through these opaque mists. They passed by like wild
birds which have slept in the rushes and which fly away at the first
light of day, crossing the mist and uttering a low and timid sound which
wakes their brothers along the shores.
Suddenly along the bank, near the village, a barely perceptible shadow
appeared on the water. Then it grew, became more distinct and, coming
out of the foggy curtain which hung over the river, a flatboat, manned by
two men, pushed up on the grass.
The one who was rowing rose and took a pailful of fish from the bottom of
the boat, then he threw the dripping net over his shoulder. His
companion, who had not made a motion, exclaimed: "Say, Mailloche, get
your gun and see if we can't land some rabbit along the shore."
The other one answered: "All right. I'll be with you in a minute." Then
he disappeared, in order to hide their catch.
The man who had stayed in the boat slowly filled his pipe and lighted it.
His name was Labouise, but he was called Chicot, and was in partnership
with Maillochon, commonly called Mailloche, to practice the doubtful and
undefined profession of junk-gatherers along the shore.
They were a low order of sailors and they navigated regularly only in the
months of famine. The rest of the time they acted as junk-gatherers.
Rowing about on the river day and night, watching for any prey, dead or
alive, poachers on the water and nocturnal hunters, sometimes ambushing
venison in the Saint-Germain forests, sometimes looking for drowned
people and searching their clothes, picking up floating rags and empty
bottles; thus did Labouise and Maillochon live easily.
At times they would set out on foot about noon and stroll along straight
ahead. They would dine in some inn on the shore and leave again side by
side. They would remain away for a couple of days; then one morning they
would be seen rowing about in the tub which they called their boat.
At Joinville or at Nogent some boatman would be looking for his boat,
which had disappeared one night, probably stolen, while twenty or thirty
miles from there, on the Oise, some shopkeeper would be rubbing his
hands, congratulating himself on the bargain he had made when he bought a
boat the day before for fifty francs, which two men offered him as they
Maillochon reappeared with his gun wrapped up in rags. He was a man of
forty or fifty, tall and thin, with the restless eye of people who are
worried by legitimate troubles and of hunted animals. His open shirt
showed his hairy chest, but he seemed never to have had any more hair on
his face than a short brush of a mustache and a few stiff hairs under his
lower lip. He was bald around the temples. When he took off the dirty
cap that he wore his scalp seemed to be covered with a fluffy down, like
the body of a plucked chicken.
Chicot, on the contrary, was red, fat, short and hairy. He looked like a
raw beefsteak. He continually kept his left eye closed, as if he were
aiming at something or at somebody, and when people jokingly cried to
him, "Open your eye, Labouise!" he would answer quietly: "Never fear,
sister, I open it when there's cause to."
He had a habit of calling every one "sister," even his scavenger
He took up the oars again, and once more the boat disappeared in the
heavy mist, which was now turned snowy white in the pink-tinted sky.
"What kind of lead did you take, Maillochon?" Labouise asked.
"Very small, number nine; that's the best for rabbits."
They were approaching the other shore so slowly, so quietly that no noise
betrayed them. This bank belongs to the Saint-Germain forest and is the
boundary line for rabbit hunting. It is covered with burrows hidden
under the roots of trees, and the creatures at daybreak frisk about,
running in and out of the holes.
Maillochon was kneeling in the bow, watching, his gun hidden on the
floor. Suddenly he seized it, aimed, and the report echoed for some time
throughout the quiet country.
Labouise, in a few strokes, touched the beach, and his companion, jumping
to the ground, picked up a little gray rabbit, not yet dead.
Then the boat once more disappeared into the fog in order to get to the
other side, where it could keep away from the game wardens.
The two men seemed to be riding easily on the water. The weapon had
disappeared under the board which served as a hiding place and the rabbit
was stuffed into Chicot's loose shirt.
After about a quarter of an hour Labouise asked: "Well, sister, shall we
get one more?"
"It will suit me," Maillochon answered.
The boat started swiftly down the current. The mist, which was hiding
both shores, was beginning to rise. The trees could be barely perceived,
as through a veil, and the little clouds of fog were floating up from the
water. When they drew near the island, the end of which is opposite
Herblay, the two men slackened their pace and began to watch. Soon a
second rabbit was killed.
Then they went down until they were half way to Conflans. Here they
stopped their boat, tied it to a tree and went to sleep in the bottom of
From time to time Labouise would sit up and look over the horizon with
his open eye. The last of the morning mist had disappeared and the large
summer sun was climbing in the blue sky.
On the other side of the river the vineyard-covered hill stretched out in
a semicircle. One house stood out alone at the summit. Everything was
Something was moving slowly along the tow-path, advancing with
difficulty. It was a woman dragging a donkey. The stubborn, stiff-
jointed beast occasionally stretched out a leg in answer to its
companion's efforts, and it proceeded thus, with outstretched neck and
ears lying flat, so slowly that one could not tell when it would ever be
out of sight.
The woman, bent double, was pulling, turning round occasionally to strike
the donkey with a stick.
As soon as he saw her, Labouise exclaimed: "Say, Mailloche!"
Mailloche answered: "What's the matter?"
"Want to have some fun?"
"Then hurry, sister; we're going to have a laugh."
Chicot took the oars. When he had crossed the river he stopped opposite
the woman and called:
The woman stopped dragging her donkey and looked.
Labouise continued: "What are you doing--going to the locomotive show?"
The woman made no reply. Chicot continued:
"Say, your trotter's prime for a race. Where are you taking him at that
At last the woman answered: "I'm going to Macquart, at Champioux, to have
him killed. He's worthless."
Labouise answered: "You're right. How much do you think Macquart will
give you for him?"
The woman wiped her forehead on the back of her hand and hesitated,
saying: "How do I know? Perhaps three francs, perhaps four."
Chicot exclaimed: "I'll give you five francs and your errand's done!
The woman considered the matter for a second and then exclaimed: "Done!"
The two men landed. Labouise grasped the animal by the bridle.
Maillochon asked in surprise:
"What do you expect to do with that carcass?"
Chicot this time opened his other eye in order to express his gaiety.
His whole red face was grinning with joy. He chuckled: "Don't worry,
sister. I've got my idea."
He gave five francs to the woman, who then sat down by the road to see
what was going to happen. Then Labouise, in great humor, got the gun and
held it out to Maillochon, saying: "Each one in turn; we're going after
big game, sister. Don't get so near or you'll kill it right away! You
must make the pleasure last a little."
He placed his companion about forty paces from the victim. The ass,
feeling itself free, was trying to get a little of the tall grass, but it
was so exhausted that it swayed on its legs as if it were about to fall.
Maillochon aimed slowly and said: "A little pepper for the ears; watch,
Ghicot!" And he fired.
The tiny shot struck the donkey's long ears and he began to shake them in
order to get rid of the stinging sensation. The two men were doubled up
with laughter and stamped their feet with joy. The woman, indignant,
rushed forward; she did not want her donkey to be tortured, and she
offered to return the five francs. Labouise threatened her with a
thrashing and pretended to roll up his sleeves. He had paid, hadn't he?
Well, then, he would take a shot at her skirts, just to show that it
didn't hurt. She went away, threatening to call the police. They could
hear her protesting indignantly and cursing as she went her way.
Maillochon held out the gun to his comrade, saying: "It's your turn,
Labouise aimed and fired. The donkey received the charge in his thighs,
but the shot was so small and came from such a distance that he thought
he was being stung by flies, for he began to thrash himself with his
Labouise sat down to laugh more comfortably, while Maillochon reloaded
the weapon, so happy that he seemed to sneeze into the barrel. He
stepped forward a few paces, and, aiming at the same place that his
friend had shot at, he fired again. This time the beast started, tried
to kick and turned its head. At last a little blood was running. It had
been wounded and felt a sharp pain, for it tried to run away with a slow,
limping, jerky gallop.
Both men darted after the beast, Maillochon with a long stride, Labouise
with the short, breathless trot of a little man. But the donkey, tired
out, had stopped, and, with a bewildered look, was watching his two
murderers approach. Suddenly he stretched his neck and began to bray.
Labouise, out of breath, had taken the gun. This time he walked right up
close, as he did not wish to begin the chase over again.
When the poor beast had finished its mournful cry, like a last call for
help, the man called: "Hey, Mailloche! Come here, sister; I'm going to
give him some medicine." And while the other man was forcing the
animal's mouth open, Chicot stuck the barrel of his gun down its throat,
as if he were trying to make it drink a potion. Then he said: "Look out,
sister, here she goes!"
He pressed the trigger. The donkey stumbled back a few steps, fell down,
tried to get up again and finally lay on its side and closed its eyes:
The whole body was trembling, its legs were kicking as if it were, trying
to run. A stream of blood was oozing through its teeth. Soon it stopped
moving. It was dead.
The two men went along, laughing. It was over too quickly; they had not
had their money's worth. Maillochon asked: "Well, what are we going to
Labouise answered: "Don't worry, sister. Get the thing on the boat;
we're going to have some fun when night comes."
They went and got the boat. The animal's body was placed on the bottom,
covered with fresh grass, and the two men stretched out on it and went to
Toward noon Labouise drew a bottle of wine, some bread and butter and raw
onions from a hiding place in their muddy, worm-eaten boat, and they
began to eat.
When the meal was over they once more stretched out on the dead donkey
and slept. At nightfall Labouise awoke and shook his comrade, who was
snoring like a buzzsaw. "Come on, sister," he ordered.
Maillochon began to row. As they had plenty of time they went up the
Seine slowly. They coasted along the reaches covered with water-lilies,
and the heavy, mud-covered boat slipped over the lily pads and bent the
flowers, which stood up again as soon as they had passed.
When they reached the wall of the Eperon, which separates the Saint-
Germain forest from the Maisons-Laffitte Park, Labouise stopped his
companion and explained his idea to him. Maillochon was moved by a
prolonged, silent laugh.
They threw into the water the grass which had covered the body, took the
animal by the feet and hid it behind some bushes. Then they got into
their boat again and went to Maisons-Laffitte.
The night was perfectly black when they reached the wine shop of old man
Jules. As soon as the dealer saw them he came up, shook hands with them
and sat down at their table. They began to talk of one thing and
another. By eleven o'clock the last customer had left and old man Jules
winked at Labouise and asked: "Well, have you got any?"
Labouise made a motion with his head and answered: "Perhaps so, perhaps
The dealer insisted: "Perhaps you've not nothing but gray ones?"
Chicot dug his hands into his flannel shirt, drew out the ears of a
rabbit and declared: "Three francs a pair!"
Then began a long discussion about the price. Two francs sixty-five and
the two rabbits were delivered. As the two men were getting up to go,
old man Jules, who had been watching them, exclaimed:
"You have something else, but you won't say what."
Labouise answered: "Possibly, but it is not for you; you're too stingy."
The man, growing eager, kept asking: "What is it? Something big?
Perhaps we might make a deal."
Labouise, who seemed perplexed, pretended to consult Maillochon with a
glance. Then he answered in a slow voice: "This is how it is. We were
in the bushes at Eperon when something passed right near us, to the left,
at the end of the wall. Mailloche takes a shot and it drops. We skipped
on account of the game people. I can't tell you what it is, because I
don't know. But it's big enough. But what is it? If I told you I'd be
lying, and you know, sister, between us everything's above-board."
Anxiously the man asked: "Think it's venison?"
Labouise answered: "Might be and then again it might not! Venison?--uh!
uh!--might be a little big for that! Mind you, I don't say it's a doe,
because I don't know, but it might be."
Still the dealer insisted: "Perhaps it's a buck?"
Labouise stretched out his hand, exclaiming: "No, it's not that! It's
not a buck. I should have seen the horns. No, it's not a buck!"
"Why didn't you bring it with you?" asked the man.
"Because, sister, from now on I sell from where I stand. Plenty of
people will buy. All you have to do is to take a walk over there, find
the thing and take it. No risk for me."
The innkeeper, growing suspicious, exclaimed "Supposing he wasn't there!"
Labouise once more raised his hand and said:
"He's there, I swear!--first bush to the left. What it is, I don't know.
But it's not a buck, I'm positive. It's for you to find out what it is.
Twenty-five francs, cash down!"
Still the man hesitated: "Couldn't you bring it?"
Maillochon exclaimed: "No, indeed! You know our price! Take it or leave
The dealer decided: "It's a bargain for twenty francs!"
And they shook hands over the deal.
Then he took out four big five-franc pieces from the cash drawer, and the
two friends pocketed the money. Labouise arose, emptied his glass and
left. As he was disappearing in the shadows he turned round to exclaim:
"It isn't a buck. I don't know what it is!--but it's there. I'll give
you back your money if you find nothing!"
And he disappeared in the darkness. Maillochon, who was following him,
kept punching him in the back to express his joy.
As we were still talking about Pranzini, M. Maloureau, who had been
attorney general under the Empire, said: "Oh! I formerly knew a very
curious affair, curious for several reasons, as you will see.
"I was at that time imperial attorney in one of the provinces. I had to
take up the case which has remained famous under the name of the Moiron
"Monsieur Moiron, who was a teacher in the north of France, enjoyed an
excellent reputation throughout the whole country. He was a person of
intelligence, quiet, very religious, a little taciturn; he had married in
the district of Boislinot, where he exercised his profession. He had had
three children, who had died of consumption, one after the other. From
this time he seemed to bestow upon the youngsters confided to his care
all the tenderness of his heart. With his own money he bought toys for
his best scholars and for the good boys; he gave them little dinners and
stuffed them with delicacies, candy and cakes: Everybody loved this good
man with his big heart, when suddenly five of his pupils died, in a
strange manner, one after the other. It was supposed that there was an
epidemic due to the condition of the water, resulting from drought; they
looked for the causes without being able to discover them, the more so
that the symptoms were so peculiar. The children seemed to be attacked
by a feeling of lassitude; they would not eat, they complained of pains
in their stomachs, dragged along for a short time, and died in frightful
"A post-mortem examination was held over the last one, but nothing was
discovered. The vitals were sent to Paris and analyzed, and they
revealed the presence of no toxic substance.
"For a year nothing new developed; then two little boys, the best
scholars in the class, Moiron's favorites, died within four days of each
other. An examination of the bodies was again ordered, and in both of
them were discovered tiny fragments of crushed glass. The conclusion
arrived at was that the two youngsters must imprudently have eaten from
some carelessly cleaned receptacle. A glass broken over a pail of milk
could have produced this frightful accident, and the affair would have
been pushed no further if Moiron's servant had not been taken sick at
this time. The physician who was called in noticed the same symptoms he
had seen in the children. He questioned her and obtained the admission
that she had stolen and eaten some candies that had been bought by the
teacher for his scholars.
"On an order from the court the schoolhouse was searched, and a closet
was found which was full of toys and dainties destined for the children.
Almost all these delicacies contained bits of crushed glass or pieces of
"Moiron was immediately arrested; but he seemed so astonished and
indignant at the suspicion hanging over him that he was almost released.
How ever, indications of his guilt kept appearing, and baffled in my mind
my first conviction, based on his excellent reputation, on his whole
life, on the complete absence of any motive for such a crime.
"Why should this good, simple, religious man have killed little children,
and the very children whom he seemed to love the most, whom he spoiled
and stuffed with sweet things, for whom he spent half his salary in
buying toys and bonbons?
"One must consider him insane to believe him guilty of this act. Now,
Moiron seemed so normal, so quiet, so rational and sensible that it
seemed impossible to adjudge him insane.
"However, the proofs kept growing! In none of the candies that were
bought at the places where the schoolmaster secured his provisions could
the slightest trace of anything suspicious be found.
"He then insisted that an unknown enemy must have opened his cupboard
with a false key in order to introduce the glass and the needles into the
eatables. And he made up a whole story of an inheritance dependent on
the death of a child, determined on and sought by some peasant, and
promoted thus by casting suspicions on the schoolmaster. This brute, he
claimed, did not care about the other children who were forced to die as
"The story was possible. The man appeared to be so sure of himself and
in such despair that we should undoubtedly have acquitted him,
notwithstanding the charges against him, if two crushing discoveries had
not been made, one after the other.
"The first one was a snuffbox full of crushed glass; his own snuffbox,
hidden in the desk where he kept his money!
"He explained this new find in an acceptable manner, as the ruse of the
real unknown criminal. But a mercer from Saint-Marlouf came to the
presiding judge and said that a gentleman had several times come to his
store to buy some needles; and he always asked for the thinnest needles
he could find, and would break them to see whether they pleased him. The
man was brought forward in the presence of a dozen or more persons, and
immediately recognized Moiron. The inquest revealed that the
schoolmaster had indeed gone into Saint-Marlouf on the days mentioned by
"I will pass over the terrible testimony of children on the choice of
dainties and the care which he took to have them eat the things in his
presence, and to remove the slightest traces.
"Public indignation demanded capital punishment, and it became more and
more insistent, overturning all objections.
"Moiron was condemned to death, and his appeal was rejected. Nothing was
left for him but the imperial pardon. I knew through my father that the
emperor would not grant it.
"One morning, as I was working in my study, the visit of the prison
almoner was announced. He was an old priest who knew men well and
understood the habits of criminals. He seemed troubled, ill at ease,
nervous. After talking for a few minutes about one thing and another, he
arose and said suddenly: 'If Moiron is executed, monsieur, you will have
put an innocent man to death.'
"Then he left without bowing, leaving me behind with the deep impression
made by his words. He had pronounced them in such a sincere and solemn
manner, opening those lips, closed and sealed by the secret of
confession, in order to save a life.
"An hour later I left for Paris, and my father immediately asked that I
be granted an audience with the emperor.
"The following day I was received. His majesty was working in a little
reception room when we were introduced. I described the whole case, and
I was just telling about the priest's visit when a door opened behind the
sovereign's chair and the empress, who supposed he was alone, appeared.
His majesty, Napoleon, consulted her. As soon as she had heard the
matter, she exclaimed: 'This man must be pardoned. He must, since he is
"Why did this sudden conviction of a religious woman cast a terrible
doubt in my mind?
"Until then I had ardently desired a change of sentence. And now I
suddenly felt myself the toy, the dupe of a cunning criminal who had
employed the priest and confession as a last means of defence.
"I explained my hesitancy to their majesties. The emperor remained
undecided, urged on one side by his natural kindness and held back on the
other by the fear of being deceived by a criminal; but the empress, who
was convinced that the priest had obeyed a divine inspiration, kept
repeating: 'Never mind! It is better to spare a criminal than to kill an
innocent man!' Her advice was taken. The death sentence was commuted to
one of hard labor.
"A few years later I heard that Moiron had again been called to the
emperor's attention on account of his exemplary conduct in the prison at
Toulon and was now employed as a servant by the director of the
"For a long time I heard nothing more of this man. "But about two years
ago, while I was spending a summer near Lille with my cousin, De
Larielle, I was informed one evening, just as we were sitting down to
dinner, that a young priest wished to speak to me.
"I had him shown in and he begged me to come to a dying man who desired
absolutely to see me. This had often happened to me in my long career as
a magistrate, and, although I had been set aside by the Republic, I was
still often called upon in similar circumstances. I therefore followed
the priest, who led me to a miserable little room in a large tenement
"There I found a strange-looking man on a bed of straw, sitting with his
back against the wall, in order to get his breath. He was a sort of
skeleton, with dark, gleaming eyes.
"As soon as he saw me, he murmured: 'Don't you recognize me?'
"'I am Moiron.'
"I felt a shiver run through me, and I asked 'The schoolmaster?'
"'How do you happen to be here?'
"'The story is too long. I haven't time to tell it. I was going to die
--and that priest was brought to me--and as I knew that you were here I
sent for you. It is to you that I wish to confess--since you were the
one who once saved my life.'
"His hands clutched the straw of his bed through the sheet and he
continued in a hoarse, forcible and low tone: 'You see--I owe you the
truth--I owe it to you--for it must be told to some one before I leave
"'It is I who killed the children--all of them. I did it--for revenge!
"'Listen. I was an honest, straightforward, pure man--adoring God--this
good Father--this Master who teaches us to love, and not the false God,
the executioner, the robber, the murderer who governs the earth. I had
never done any harm; I had never committed an evil act. I was as good as
it is possible to be, monsieur.
"'I married and had children, and I loved them as no father or mother
ever loved their children. I lived only for them. I was wild about
them. All three of them died! Why? why? What had I done? I was
rebellious, furious; and suddenly my eyes were opened as if I were waking
up out of a sleep. I understood that God is bad. Why had He killed my
children? I opened my eyes and saw that He loves to kill. He loves only
that, monsieur. He gives life but to destroy it! God, monsieur, is a
murderer! He needs death every day. And He makes it of every variety,
in order the better to be amused. He has invented sickness and accidents
in order to give Him diversion all through the months and the years; and
when He grows tired of this, He has epidemics, the plague, cholera,
diphtheria, smallpox, everything possible! But this does not satisfy
Him; all these things are too similar; and so from time to time He has
wars, in order to see two hundred thousand soldiers killed at once,
crushed in blood and in the mud, blown apart, their arms and legs torn
off, their heads smashed by bullets, like eggs that fall on the ground.
"'But this is not all. He has made men who eat each other. And then, as
men become better than He, He has made beasts, in order to see men hunt
them, kill them and eat them. That is not all. He has made tiny little
animals which live one day, flies who die by the millions in one hour,
ants which we are continually crushing under our feet, and so many, many
others that we cannot even imagine. And all these things are continually
killing each other and dying. And the good Lord looks on and is amused,
for He sees everything, the big ones as well as the little ones, those
who are in the drops of water and those in the other firmaments. He
watches them and is amused. Wretch!
"'Then, monsieur, I began to kill children played a trick on Him. He did
not get those. It was not He, but I! And I would have killed many
others, but you caught me. There!
"'I was to be executed. I! How He would have laughed! Then I asked for
a priest, and I lied. I confessed to him. I lied and I lived.
"'Now, all is over. I can no longer escape from Him. I no longer fear
Him, monsieur; I despise Him too much.'
"This poor wretch was frightful to see as he lay there gasping, opening
an enormous mouth in order to utter words which could scarcely be heard,
his breath rattling, picking at his bed and moving his thin legs under a
grimy sheet as though trying to escape.
"Oh! The mere remembrance of it is frightful!
"'You have nothing more to say?' I asked.
"'Farewell, monsieur, till some day----'
"I turned to the ashen-faced priest, whose dark outline stood out against
the wall, and asked: 'Are you going to stay here, Monsieur l'Abbe?'
"Then the dying man sneered: 'Yes, yes, He sends His vultures to the
"I had had enough of this. I opened the door and ran away."
THE DISPENSER OF HOLY WATER
We lived formerly in a little house beside the high road outside the
village. He had set up in business as a wheelwright, after marrying the
daughter of a farmer of the neighborhood, and as they were both
industrious, they managed to save up a nice little fortune. But they had
no children, and this caused them great sorrow. Finally a son was born,
whom they named Jean. They both loved and petted him, enfolding him with
their affection, and were unwilling to let him be out of their sight.
When he was five years old some mountebanks passed through the country
and set up their tent in the town hall square.
Jean, who had seen them pass by, made his escape from the house, and
after his father had made a long search for him, he found him among the
learned goats and trick dogs, uttering shouts of laughter and sitting on
the knees of an old clown.
Three days later, just as they were sitting down to dinner, the
wheelwright and his wife noticed that their son was not in the house.
They looked for him in the garden, and as they did not find him, his
father went out into the road and shouted at the top of his voice,
Night came on. A brown vapor arose making distant objects look still
farther away and giving them a dismal, weird appearance. Three tall
pines, close at hand, seemed to be weeping. Still there was no reply,
but the air appeared to be full of indistinct sighing. The father
listened for some time, thinking he heard a sound first in one direction,
then in another, and, almost beside himself, he ran, out into the night,
calling incessantly "Jean! Jean!"
He ran along thus until daybreak, filling the, darkness with his shouts,
terrifying stray animals, torn by a terrible anguish and fearing that he
was losing his mind. His wife, seated on the stone step of their home,
sobbed until morning.
They did not find their son. They both aged rapidly in their
inconsolable sorrow. Finally they sold their house and set out to search
They inquired of the shepherds on the hillsides, of the tradesmen passing
by, of the peasants in the villages and of the authorities in the towns.
But their boy had been lost a long time and no one knew anything about
him. He had probably forgotten his own name by this time and also the
name of his village, and his parents wept in silence, having lost hope.
Before long their money came to an end, and they worked out by the day in
the farms and inns, doing the most menial work, eating what was left from
the tables, sleeping on the ground and suffering from cold. Then as they
became enfeebled by hard work no one would employ them any longer, and
they were forced to beg along the high roads. They accosted passers-by
in an entreating voice and with sad, discouraged faces; they begged a
morsel of bread from the harvesters who were dining around a tree in the
fields at noon, and they ate in silence seated on the edge of a ditch.
An innkeeper to whom they told their story said to them one day:
"I know some one who had lost their daughter, and they found her in
They at once set out for Paris.
When they entered the great city they were bewildered by its size and by
the crowds that they saw. But they knew that Jean must be in the midst
of all these people, though they did not know how to set about looking
for him. Then they feared that they might not recognize him, for he was
only five years old when they last saw him.
They visited every place, went through all the streets, stopping whenever
they saw a group of people, hoping for some providential meeting, some
extraordinary luck, some compassionate fate.
They frequently walked at haphazard straight ahead, leaning one against
the other, looking so sad and poverty-stricken that people would give
them alms without their asking.
They spent every Sunday at the doors of the churches, watching the crowds
entering and leaving, trying to distinguish among the faces one that
might be familiar. Several times they thought they recognized him, but
always found they had made a mistake.
In the vestibule of one of the churches which they visited the most
frequently there was an old dispenser of holy Water who had become their
friend. He also had a very sad history, and their sympathy for him had
established a bond of close friendship between them. It ended by them
all three living together in a poor lodging on the top floor of a large
house situated at some distance, quite on the outskirts of the city, and
the wheelwright would sometimes take his new friend's place at the church
when the latter was ill.
Winter came, a very severe winter. The poor holy water sprinkler died
and the parish priest appointed the wheelwright, whose misfortunes had
come to his knowledge, to replace him. He went every morning and sat in
the same place, on the same chair, wearing away the old stone pillar by
continually leaning against it. He would gaze steadily at every man who
entered the church and looked forward to Sunday with as much impatience
as a schoolboy, for on that day the church was filled with people from
morning till night.
He became very old, growing weaker each day from the dampness of the
church, and his hope oozed away gradually.
He now knew by sight all the people who came to the services; he knew
their hours, their manners, could distinguish their step on the stone
His interests had become so contracted that the entrance of a stranger in
the church was for him a great event. One day two ladies came in; one
was old, the other young--a mother and daughter probably. Behind them
came a man who was following them. He bowed to them as they came out,
and after offering them some holy water, he took the arm of the elder
"That must be the fiance of the younger one," thought the wheelwright.
And until evening he kept trying to recall where he had formerly seen a
young man who resembled this one. But the one he was thinking of must be
an old man by this time, for it seemed as if he had known him down home
in his youth.
The same man frequently came again to walk home with the ladies, and this
vague, distant, familiar resemblance which he could not place worried the
old man so much that he made his wife come with him to see if she could
help his impaired memory.
One evening as it was growing dusk the three strangers entered together.
When they had passed the old man said:
"Well, do you know him?"
His wife anxiously tried to ransack her memory. Suddenly she said in a
"Yes--yes--but he is darker, taller, stouter and is dressed like a
gentleman, but, father, all the same, it is your face when you were
The old man started violently.
It was true. He looked like himself and also like his brother who was
dead, and like his father, whom he remembered while he was yet young.
The old couple were so affected that they could not speak. The three
persons came out and were about to leave the church.
The man touched his finger to the holy water sprinkler. Then the old
man, whose hand was trembling so that he was fairly sprinkling the ground
with holy water, exclaimed:
The young man stopped and looked at him.
He repeated in a lower tone:
The two women looked at them without understanding.
He then said for the third time, sobbing as he did so:
The man stooped down, with his face close to the old man's, and as a
memory of his childhood dawned on him he replied:
"Papa Pierre, Mamma Jeanne!"
He had forgotten everything, his father's surname and the name of his
native place, but he always remembered those two words that he had so
often repeated: "Papa Pierre, Mamma Jeanne."
He sank to the floor, his face on the old man's knees, and he wept,
kissing now his father and then his mother, while they were almost
breathless from intense joy.
The two ladies also wept, understanding as they did that some great
happiness had come to pass.
Then they all went to the young man's house and he told them his history.
The circus people had carried him off. For three years he traveled with
them in various countries. Then the troupe disbanded, and one day an old
lady in a chateau had paid to have him stay with her because she liked
his appearance. As he was intelligent, he was sent to school, then to
college, and the old lady having no children, had left him all her money.
He, for his part, had tried to find his parents, but as he could remember
only the two names, "Papa Pierre, Mamma Jeanne," he had been unable to do
so. Now he was about to be married, and he introduced his fiancee, who
was very good and very pretty.
When the two old people had told their story in their turn he kissed them
once more. They sat up very late that night, not daring to retire lest
the happiness they had so long sought should escape them again while they
But misfortune had lost its hold on them and they were happy for the rest
of their lives.
The lawyer had presented a plea of insanity. How could anyone explain
this strange crime otherwise?
One morning, in the grass near Chatou, two bodies had been found, a man
and a woman, well known, rich, no longer young and married since the
preceding year, the woman having been a widow for three years before.
They were not known to have enemies; they had not been robbed. They
seemed to have been thrown from the roadside into the river, after having
been struck, one after the other, with a long iron spike.
The investigation revealed nothing. The boatmen, who had been
questioned, knew nothing. The matter was about to be given up, when a
young carpenter from a neighboring village, Georges Louis, nicknamed "the
Bourgeois," gave himself up.
To all questions he only answered this:
"I had known the man for two years, the woman for six months. They often
had me repair old furniture for them, because I am a clever workman."
And when he was asked:
"Why did you kill them?"
He would obstinately answer:
"I killed them because I wanted to kill them."
They could get nothing more out of him.
This man was undoubtedly an illegitimate child, put out to nurse and then
abandoned. He had no other name than Georges Louis, but as on growing up
he became particularly intelligent, with the good taste and native
refinement which his acquaintances did not have, he was nicknamed "the
Bourgeois," and he was never called otherwise. He had become remarkably
clever in the trade of a carpenter, which he had taken up. He was also
said to be a socialist fanatic, a believer in communistic and nihilistic
doctrines, a great reader of bloodthirsty novels, an influential
political agitator and a clever orator in the public meetings of workmen
or of farmers.
His lawyer had pleaded insanity.
Indeed, how could one imagine that this workman should kill his best
customers, rich and generous (as he knew), who in two years had enabled
him to earn three thousand francs (his books showed it)? Only one
explanation could be offered: insanity, the fixed idea of the unclassed
individual who reeks vengeance on two bourgeois, on all the bourgeoisie,
and the lawyer made a clever allusion to this nickname of "The
Bourgeois," given throughout the neighborhood to this poor wretch.
"Is this irony not enough to unbalance the mind of this poor wretch, who
has neither father nor mother? He is an ardent republican. What am I
saying? He even belongs to the same political party, the members of
which, formerly shot or exiled by the government, it now welcomes with
open arms this party to which arson is a principle and murder an ordinary
"These gloomy doctrines, now applauded in public meetings, have ruined
this man. He has heard republicans--even women, yes, women---ask for the
blood of M. Gambetta, the blood of M. Grevy; his weakened mind gave way;
he wanted blood, the blood of a bourgeois!
"It is not he whom you should condemn, gentlemen; it is the Commune!"
Everywhere could be heard murmurs of assent. Everyone felt that the
lawyer had won his case. The prosecuting attorney did not oppose him.
Then the presiding judge asked the accused the customary question:
"Prisoner, is there anything that you wish to add to your defense?"
The man stood up.
He was a short, flaxen blond, with calm, clear, gray eyes. A strong,
frank, sonorous voice came from this frail-looking boy and, at the first
words, quickly changed the opinion which had been formed of him.
He spoke loud in a declamatory manner, but so distinctly that every word
could be understood in the farthest corners of the big hall:
"Your honor, as I do not wish to go to an insane asylum, and as I even
prefer death to that, I will tell everything.
"I killed this man and this woman because they were my parents.
"Now, listen, and judge me.
"A woman, having given birth to a boy, sent him out, somewhere, to a
nurse. Did she even know where her accomplice carried this innocent
little being, condemned to eternal misery, to the shame of an
illegitimate birth; to more than that--to death, since he was abandoned
and the nurse, no longer receiving the monthly pension, might, as they
often do, let him die of hunger and neglect!
"The woman who nursed me was honest, better, more noble, more of a mother
than my own mother. She brought me up. She did wrong in doing her duty.
It is more humane to let them die, these little wretches who are cast
away in suburban villages just as garbage is thrown away.
"I grew up with the indistinct impression that I was carrying some burden
of shame. One day the other children called me a 'b-----'. They did not
know the meaning of this word, which one of them had heard at home.
I was also ignorant of its meaning, but I felt the sting all the same.
"I was, I may say, one of the cleverest boys in the school. I would have
been a good man, your honor, perhaps a man of superior intellect, if my
parents had not committed the crime of abandoning me.
"This crime was committed against me. I was the victim, they were the
guilty ones. I was defenseless, they were pitiless. Their duty was to
love me, they rejected me.
"I owed them life--but is life a boon? To me, at any rate, it was a
misfortune. After their shameful desertion, I owed them only vengeance.
They committed against me the most inhuman, the most infamous, the most
monstrous crime which can be committed against a human creature.
"A man who has been insulted, strikes; a man who has been robbed, takes
back his own by force. A man who has been deceived, played upon,
tortured, kills; a man who has been slapped, kills; a man who has been
dishonored, kills. I have been robbed, deceived, tortured, morally
slapped, dishonored, all this to a greater degree than those whose anger
"I revenged myself, I killed. It was my legitimate right. I took their
happy life in exchange for the terrible one which they had forced on me.
"You will call me parricide! Were these people my parents, for whom I
was an abominable burden, a terror, an infamous shame; for whom my birth
was a calamity and my life a threat of disgrace? They sought a selfish
pleasure; they got an unexpected child. They suppressed the child. My
turn came to do the same for them.
"And yet, up to quite recently, I was ready to love them.
"As I have said, this man, my father, came to me for the first time two
years ago. I suspected nothing. He ordered two pieces of furniture.
I found out, later on, that, under the seal of secrecy, naturally, he had
sought information from the priest.
"He returned often. He gave me a lot of work and paid me well.
Sometimes he would even talk to me of one thing or another. I felt a
growing affection for him.
"At the beginning of this year he brought with him his wife, my mother.
When she entered she was trembling so that I thought her to be suffering
from some nervous disease. Then she asked for a seat and a glass of
water. She said nothing; she looked around abstractedly at my work and
only answered 'yes' and 'no,' at random, to all the questions which he
asked her. When she had left I thought her a little unbalanced.
"The following month they returned. She was calm, self-controlled. That
day they chattered for a long time, and they left me a rather large
order. I saw her three more times, without suspecting anything. But one
day she began to talk to me of my life, of my childhood, of my parents.
I answered: 'Madame, my parents were wretches who deserted me.' Then she
clutched at her heart and fell, unconscious. I immediately thought: 'She
is my mother!' but I took care not to let her notice anything. I wished
to observe her.
"I, in turn, sought out information about them. I learned that they had
been married since last July, my mother having been a widow for only
three years. There had been rumors that they had loved each other during
the lifetime of the first husband, but there was no proof of it. I was
the proof--the proof which they had at first hidden and then hoped to
"I waited. She returned one evening, escorted as usual by my father.
That day she seemed deeply moved, I don't know why. Then, as she was
leaving, she said to me: 'I wish you success, because you seem to me to
be honest and a hard worker; some day you will undoubtedly think of
getting married. I have come to help you to choose freely the woman who
may suit you. I was married against my inclination once and I know what
suffering it causes. Now I am rich, childless, free, mistress of my
fortune. Here is your dowry.'
"She held out to me a large, sealed envelope.
"I looked her straight in the eyes and then said: 'Are you my mother?'
"She drew back a few steps and hid her face in her hands so as not to see
me. He, the man, my father, supported her in his arms and cried out to
me: 'You must be crazy!'
"I answered: 'Not in the least. I know that you are my parents. I
cannot be thus deceived. Admit it and I will keep the secret; I will
bear you no ill will; I will remain what I am, a carpenter.'
"He retreated towards the door, still supporting his wife who was
beginning to sob. Quickly I locked the door, put the key in my pocket
and continued: 'Look at her and dare to deny that she is my mother.'
"Then he flew into a passion, very pale, terrified at the thought that
the scandal, which had so far been avoided, might suddenly break out;
that their position, their good name, their honor might all at once be
lost. He stammered out: 'You are a rascal, you wish to get money from
us! That's the thanks we get for trying to help such common people!'
"My mother, bewildered, kept repeating: 'Let's get out of here, let's get
"Then, when he found the door locked, he exclaimed: 'If you do not open
this door immediately, I will have you thrown into prison for blackmail
"I had remained calm; I opened the door and saw them disappear in the
"Then I seemed to have been suddenly orphaned, deserted, pushed to the
wall. I was seized with an overwhelming sadness, mingled with anger,
hatred, disgust; my whole being seemed to rise up in revolt against the
injustice, the meanness, the dishonor, the rejected love. I began to
run, in order to overtake them along the Seine, which they had to follow
in order to reach the station of Chaton.
"I soon caught up with them. It was now pitch dark. I was creeping up
behind them softly, that they might not hear me. My mother was still
crying. My father was saying: 'It's all your own fault. Why did you
wish to see him? It was absurd in our position. We could have helped
him from afar, without showing ourselves. Of what use are these
dangerous visits, since we can't recognize him?'
"Then I rushed up to them, beseeching. I cried:
"'You see! You are my parents. You have already rejected me once; would
you repulse me again?'
"Then, your honor, he struck me. I swear it on my honor, before the law
and my country. He struck me, and as I seized him by the collar, he drew
from his pocket a revolver.
"The blood rushed to my head, I no longer knew what I was doing, I had my
compass in my pocket; I struck him with it as often as I could.
"Then she began to cry: 'Help! murder!' and to pull my beard. It seems
that I killed her also. How do I know what I did then?
"Then, when I saw them both lying on the ground, without thinking, I
threw them into the Seine.
"That's all. Now sentence me."
The prisoner sat down. After this revelation the case was carried over
to the following session. It comes up very soon. If we were jurymen,
what would we do with this parricide?
Dr. Bonnet, my old friend--one sometimes has friends older than one's
self--had often invited me to spend some time with him at Riom, and, as I
did not know Auvergne, I made up my mind to visit him in the summer of
I arrived by the morning train, and the first person I saw on the
platform was the doctor. He was dressed in a gray suit, and wore a soft,
black, wide-brimmed, high-crowned felt hat, narrow at the top like a
chimney pot, a hat which hardly any one except an Auvergnat would wear,
and which reminded one of a charcoal burner. Dressed like that, the
doctor had the appearance of an old young man, with his spare body under
his thin coat, and his large head covered with white hair.
He embraced me with that evident pleasure which country people feel when
they meet long-expected friends, and, stretching out his arm, he said
"This is Auvergne!" I saw nothing before me except a range of mountains,
whose summits, which resembled truncated cones, must have been extinct
Then, pointing to the name of the station, he said:
"Riom, the fatherland of magistrates, the pride of the magistracy, and
which ought rather to be the fatherland of doctors."
"Why?" I, asked.
"Why?" he replied with a laugh. "If you transpose the letters, you have
the Latin word 'mori', to die. That is the reason why I settled here, my
And, delighted at his own joke, he carried me off, rubbing his hands.
As soon as I had swallowed a cup of coffee, he made me go and see the
town. I admired the druggist's house, and the other noted houses, which
were all black, but as pretty as bric-a-brac, with their facades of
sculptured stone. I admired the statue of the Virgin, the patroness of
butchers, and he told me an amusing story about this, which I will relate
some other time, and then Dr. Bonnet said to me:
"I must beg you to excuse me for a few minutes while I go and see a
patient, and then I will take you to Chatel-Guyon, so as to show you the
general aspect of the town, and all the mountain chain of the Puy-de-Dome
before lunch. You can wait for me outside; I shall only go upstairs and
come down immediately."
He left me outside one of those old, gloomy, silent, melancholy houses,
which one sees in the provinces, and this one appeared to look
particularly sinister, and I soon discovered the reason. All the large
windows on the first floor were boarded half way up. The upper part of
them alone could be opened, as if one had wished to prevent the people
who were locked up in that huge stone box from looking into the street.
When the doctor came down again, I told him how it struck me, and he
"You are quite right; the poor creature who is living there must never
see what is going on outside. She is a madwoman, or rather an idiot,
what you Normans would call a Niente. It is a miserable story, but a
very singular pathological case at the same time. Shall I tell you?"
I begged him to do so, and he continued:
"Twenty years ago the owners of this house, who were my patients, had a
daughter who was like all other girls, but I soon discovered that while
her body became admirably developed, her intellect remained stationary.
"She began to walk very early, but she could not talk. At first I
thought she was deaf, but I soon discovered that, although she heard
perfectly, she did not understand anything that was said to her. Violent
noises made her start and frightened her, without her understanding how
they were caused.
"She grew up into a superb woman, but she was dumb, from an absolute want
of intellect. I tried all means to introduce a gleam of intelligence
into her brain, but nothing succeeded. I thought I noticed that she knew
her nurse, though as soon as she was weaned, she failed to recognize her
mother. She could never pronounce that word which is the first that
children utter and the last which soldiers murmur when they are dying on
the field of battle. She sometimes tried to talk, but she produced
nothing but incoherent sounds.
"When the weather was fine, she laughed continually, and emitted low
cries which might be compared to the twittering of birds; when it rained
she cried and moaned in a mournful, terrifying manner, which sounded like
the howling of a dog before a death occurs in a house.
"She was fond of rolling on the grass, as young animals do, and of
running about madly, and she would clap her hands every morning, when the
sun shone into her room, and would insist, by signs, on being dressed as
quickly as possible, so that she might get out.
"She did not appear to distinguish between people, between her mother and
her nurse, or between her father and me, or between the coachman and the
cook. I particularly liked her parents, who were very unhappy on her
account, and went to see them nearly every day. I dined with them quite
frequently, which enabled me to remark that Bertha (they had called her
Bertha) seemed to recognize the various dishes, and to prefer some to
others. At that time she was twelve years old, but as fully formed in
figure as a girl of eighteen, and taller than I was. Then the idea
struck me of developing her greediness, and by this means of cultivating
some slight power of discrimination in her mind, and to force her, by the
diversity of flavors, if not to reason, at any rate to arrive at
instinctive distinctions, which would of themselves constitute a kind of
process that was necessary to thought. Later on, by appealing to her
passions, and by carefully making use of those which could serve our
purpose, we might hope to obtain a kind of reaction on her intellect, and
by degrees increase the unconscious action of her brain.
"One day I put two plates before her, one of soup, and the other of very
sweet vanilla cream. I made her taste each of them successively, and
then I let her choose for herself, and she ate the plate of
cream. In a short time I made her very greedy, so greedy that it
appeared as if the only idea she had in her head was the desire for
eating. She perfectly recognized the various dishes, and stretched out
her hands toward those that she liked, and took hold of them eagerly, and
she used to cry when they were taken from her. Then I thought I would
try and teach her to come to the dining-room when the dinner bell rang.
It took a long time, but I succeeded in the end. In her vacant intellect
a vague correlation was established between sound and taste, a
correspondence between the two senses, an appeal from one to the other,
and consequently a sort of connection of ideas--if one can call that kind
of instinctive hyphen between two organic functions an idea--and so I
carried my experiments further, and taught her, with much difficulty, to
recognize meal times by the clock.
"It was impossible for me for a long time to attract her attention to the
hands, but I succeeded in making her remark the clockwork and the
striking apparatus. The means I employed were very simple; I asked them
not to have the bell rung for lunch, and everybody got up and went into
the dining-room when the little brass hammer struck twelve o'clock, but I
found great difficulty in making her learn to count the strokes. She ran
to the door each time she heard the clock strike, but by degrees she
learned that all the strokes had not the same value as far as regarded
meals, and she frequently fixed her eyes, guided by her ears, on the dial
of the clock.
"When I noticed that, I took care every day at twelve, and at six
o'clock, to place my fingers on the figures twelve and six, as soon as
the moment she was waiting for had arrived, and I soon noticed that she
attentively followed the motion of the small brass hands, which I had
often turned in her presence.
"She had understood! Perhaps I ought rather to say that she had grasped
the idea. I had succeeded in getting the knowledge, or, rather, the
sensation, of the time into her, just as is the case with carp, who
certainly have no clocks, when they are fed every day exactly at the same
"When once I had obtained that result all the clocks and watches in the
house occupied her attention almost exclusively. She spent her time in
looking at them, listening to them, and in waiting for meal time, and
once something very funny happened. The striking apparatus of a pretty
little Louis XVI clock that hung at the head of her bed having got out of
order, she noticed it. She sat for twenty minutes with her eyes on the
hands, waiting for it to strike ten, but when the hands passed the figure
she was astonished at not hearing anything; so stupefied was she, indeed,
that she sat down, no doubt overwhelmed by a feeling of violent emotion
such as attacks us in the face of some terrible catastrophe. And she had
the wonderful patience to wait until eleven o'clock in order to see what
would happen, and as she naturally heard nothing, she was suddenly either
seized with a wild fit of rage at having been deceived and imposed upon
by appearances, or else overcome by that fear which some frightened
creature feels at some terrible mystery, and by the furious impatience of
a passionate individual who meets with some obstacle; she took up the
tongs from the fireplace and struck the clock so violently that she broke
it to pieces in a moment.
"It was evident, therefore, that her, brain did act and calculate,
obscurely it is true, and within very restricted limits, for I could
never succeed in making her distinguish persons as she distinguished the
time; and to stir her intellect, it was necessary to appeal to her
passions, in the material sense of the word, and we soon had another, and
alas! a very terrible proof of this!
"She had grown up into a splendid girl, a perfect type of a race, a sort
of lovely and stupid Venus. She was sixteen, and I have rarely seen such
perfection of form, such suppleness and such regular features. I said
she was a Venus; yes, a fair, stout, vigorous Venus, with large, bright,
vacant eyes, which were as blue as the flowers of the flax plant; she had
a large mouth with full lips, the mouth of a glutton, of a sensualist, a
mouth made for kisses. Well, one morning her father came into my
consulting room with a strange look on his face, and, sitting down
without even replying to my greeting, he said:
"'I want to speak to you about a very serious matter. Would it be
possible--would it be possible for Bertha to marry?'
"'Bertha to marry! Why, it is quite impossible!'
"'Yes, I know, I know,' he replied. 'But reflect, doctor. Don't you
think--perhaps--we hoped--if she had children--it would be a great shock
to her, but a great happiness, and--who knows whether maternity might not
rouse her intellect?'
"I was in a state of great perplexity. He was right, and it was possible
that such a new situation, and that wonderful instinct of maternity,
which beats in the hearts of the lower animals as it does in the heart of
a woman, which makes the hen fly at a dog's jaws to defend her chickens,
might bring about a revolution, an utter change in her vacant mind, and
set the motionless mechanism of her thoughts in motion. And then,
moreover, I immediately remembered a personal instance. Some years
previously I had owned a spaniel bitch who was so stupid that I could do
nothing with her, but when she had had puppies she became, if not exactly
intelligent, yet almost like many other dogs who had not been thoroughly
"As soon as I foresaw the possibility of this, the wish to get Bertha
married grew in me, not so much out of friendship for her and her poor
parents as from scientific curiosity. What would happen? It was a
singular problem. I said in reply to her father:
"'Perhaps you are right. You might make the attempt, but you will never
find a man to consent to marry her.'
"'I have found somebody,' he said, in a low voice.
"I was dumfounded, and said: 'Somebody really suitable? Some one of your
own rank and position in society?'
"'Decidedly,' he replied.
"'Oh! And may I ask his name?'
"'I came on purpose to tell you, and to consult you. It is Monsieur
Gaston du Boys de Lucelles.'
"I felt inclined to exclaim: 'The wretch!' but I held my tongue, and
after a few moments' silence I said:
"'Oh! Very good. I see nothing against it.'
"The poor man shook me heartily by the hand.
"'She is to be married next month,' he said.
"Monsieur Gaston du Boys de Lucelles was a scapegrace of good family,
who, after having spent all that he had inherited from his father, and
having incurred debts in all kinds of doubtful ways, had been trying to
discover some other means of obtaining money, and he had discovered this
method. He was a good-looking young fellow, and in capital health, but
fast; one of that odious race of provincial fast men, and he appeared to
me to be as suitable as anyone, and could be got rid of later by making
him an allowance. He came to the house to pay his addresses and to strut
about before the idiot girl, who, however, seemed to please him. He
brought her flowers, kissed her hands, sat at her feet, and looked at her
with affectionate eyes; but she took no notice of any of his attentions,
and did not make any distinction between him and the other persons who
were about her.
"However, the marriage took place, and you may guess how my curiosity was
aroused. I went to see Bertha the next day to try and discover from her
looks whether any feelings had been awakened in her, but I found her just
the same as she was every day, wholly taken up with the clock and dinner,
while he, on the contrary, appeared really in love, and tried to rouse
his wife's spirits and affection by little endearments and such caresses
as one bestows on a kitten. He could think of nothing better.
"I called upon the married couple pretty frequently, and I soon perceived
that the young woman knew her husband, and gave him those eager looks
which she had hitherto only bestowed on sweet dishes.
"She followed his movements, knew his step on the stairs or in the
neighboring rooms, clapped her hands when he came in, and her face was
changed and brightened by the flames of profound happiness and of desire.
"She loved him with her whole body and with all her soul to the very
depths of her poor, weak soul, and with all her heart, that poor heart of
some grateful animal. It was really a delightful and innocent picture of
simple passion, of carnal and yet modest passion, such as nature had
implanted in mankind, before man had complicated and disfigured it by all
the various shades of sentiment. But he soon grew tired of this ardent,
beautiful, dumb creature, and did not spend more than an hour during the
day with her, thinking it sufficient if he came home at night, and she
began to suffer in consequence. She used to wait for him from morning
till night with her eyes on the clock; she did not even look after the
meals now, for he took all his away from home, Clermont, Chatel-Guyon,
Royat, no matter where, as long as he was not obliged to come home.
"She began to grow thin; every other thought, every other wish, every
other expectation, and every confused hope disappeared from her mind, and
the hours during which she did not see him became hours of terrible
suffering to her. Soon he ceased to come home regularly of nights; he
spent them with women at the casino at Royat and did not come home until
daybreak. But she never went to bed before he returned. She remained
sitting motionless in an easy-chair, with her eyes fixed on the hands of
the clock, which turned so slowly and regularly round the china face on
which the hours were painted.
"She heard the trot of his horse in the distance and sat up with a start,
and when he came into the room she got up with the movements of an
automaton and pointed to the clock, as if to say: 'Look how late it is!'
"And he began to be afraid of this amorous and jealous, half-witted
woman, and flew into a rage, as brutes do; and one night he even went so
far as to strike her, so they sent for me. When I arrived she was
writhing and screaming in a terrible crisis of pain, anger, passion, how
do I know what? Can one tell what goes on in such undeveloped brains?
"I calmed her by subcutaneous injections of morphine, and forbade her to
see that man again, for I saw clearly that marriage would infallibly kill
her by degrees.
"Then she went mad! Yes, my dear friend, that idiot went mad. She is
always thinking of him and waiting for him; she waits for him all day and
night, awake or asleep, at this very moment, ceaselessly. When I saw her
getting thinner and thinner, and as she persisted in never taking her
eyes off the clocks, I had them removed from the house. I thus made it
impossible for her to count the hours, and to try to remember, from her
indistinct reminiscences, at what time he used to come home formerly. I
hope to destroy the recollection of it in time, and to extinguish that
ray of thought which I kindled with so much difficulty.
"The other day I tried an experiment. I offered her my watch; she took
it and looked at it for some time; then she began to scream terribly, as
if the sight of that little object had suddenly awakened her memory,
which was beginning to grow indistinct. She is pitiably thin now, with
hollow and glittering eyes, and she walks up and down ceaselessly, like a
wild beast in its cage; I have had gratings put on the windows, boarded
them up half way, and have had the seats fixed to the floor so as to
prevent her from looking to see whether he is coming.
"Oh! her poor parents! What a life they must lead!"
We had got to the top of the hill, and the doctor turned round and said
"Look at Riom from here."
The gloomy town looked like some ancient city. Behind it a green, wooded
plain studded with towns and villages, and bathed in a soft blue haze,
extended until it was lost in the distance. Far away, on my right, there
was a range of lofty mountains with round summits, or else cut off flat,
as if with a sword, and the doctor began to enumerate the villages, towns
and hills, and to give me the history of all of them. But I did not
listen to him; I was thinking of nothing but the madwoman, and I only saw
her. She seemed to be hovering over that vast extent of country like a
mournful ghost, and I asked him abruptly:
"What has become of the husband?"
My friend seemed rather surprised, but after a few moments' hesitation,
"He is living at Royat, on an allowance that they made him, and is quite
happy; he leads a very fast life."
As we were slowly going back, both of us silent and rather low-spirited,
an English dogcart, drawn by a thoroughbred horse, came up behind us and
passed us rapidly. The doctor took me by the arm.
"There he is," he said.
I saw nothing except a gray felt hat, cocked over one ear above a pair of
broad shoulders, driving off in a cloud of dust.
We never dreamed of such good fortune! The son of a provincial bailiff,
Jean Marin had come, as do so many others, to study law in the Quartier
Latin. In the various beer-houses that he had frequented he had made
friends with several talkative students who spouted politics as they
drank their beer. He had a great admiration for them and followed them
persistently from cafe to cafe, even paying for their drinks when he had
He became a lawyer and pleaded causes, which he lost. However, one
morning he read in the papers that one of his former comrades of the
Quartier had just been appointed deputy.
He again became his faithful hound, the friend who does the drudgery, the
unpleasant tasks, for whom one sends when one has need of him and with
whom one does not stand on ceremony. But it chanced through some
parliamentary incident that the deputy became a minister. Six months
later Jean Marin was appointed a state councillor.
He was so elated with pride at first that he lost his head. He would
walk through the streets just to show himself off, as though one could
tell by his appearance what position he occupied. He managed to say to
the shopkeepers as soon as he entered a store, bringing it in somehow in
the course of the most insignificant remarks and even to the news vendors
and the cabmen:
"I, who am a state councillor--"
Then, in consequence of his position as well as for professional reasons
and as in duty bound through being an influential and generous man, he
felt an imperious need of patronizing others. He offered his support to
every one on all occasions and with unbounded generosity.
When he met any one he recognized on the boulevards he would advance to
meet them with a charmed air, would take their hand, inquire after their
health, and, without waiting for any questions, remark:
"You know I am state councillor, and I am entirely at your service. If I
can be of any use to you, do not hesitate to call on me. In my position
one has great influence."
Then he would go into some cafe with the friend he had just met and ask
for a pen and ink and a sheet of paper. "Just one, waiter; it is to
write a letter of recommendation."
And he wrote ten, twenty, fifty letters of recommendation a day. He
wrote them to the Cafe Americain, to Bignon's, to Tortoni's, to the
Maison Doree, to the Cafe Riche, to the Helder, to the Cafe Anglais, to
the Napolitain, everywhere, everywhere. He wrote them to all the
officials of the republican government, from the magistrates to the
ministers. And he was happy, perfectly happy.
One morning as he was starting out to go to the council it began to rain.
He hesitated about taking a cab, but decided not to do so and set out on
The rain came down in torrents, swamping the sidewalks and inundating the
streets. M. Marin was obliged to take shelter in a doorway. An old
priest was standing there--an old priest with white hair. Before he
became a councillor M. Marin did not like the clergy. Now he treated
them with consideration, ever since a cardinal had consulted him on an
important matter. The rain continued to pour down in floods and obliged
the two men to take shelter in the porter's lodge so as to avoid getting
wet. M. Marin, who was always itching to talk so as to let people know
who he was, remarked:
"This is horrible weather, Monsieur l'Abbe."
The old priest bowed:
"Yes indeed, sir, it is very unpleasant when one comes to Paris for only
a few days."
"Ah! You come from the provinces?"
"Yes, monsieur. I am only passing through on my journey."
"It certainly is very disagreeable to have rain during the few days one
spends in the capital. We officials who stay here the year round, we
think nothing of it."
The priest did not reply. He was looking at the street where the rain
seemed to be falling less heavily. And with a sudden resolve he raised
his cassock just as women raise their skirts in stepping across water.
M. Marin, seeing him start away, exclaimed:
"You will get drenched, Monsieur l'Abbe. Wait a few moments longer; the
rain will be over."
The good man stopped irresistibly and then said:
"But I am in a great hurry. I have an important engagement."
M. Marin seemed quite worried.
"But you will be absolutely drenched. Might I ask in which direction you
The priest appeared to hesitate. Then he said:
"I am going in the direction of the Palais Royal."
"In that case, if you will allow me, Monsieur l'Abbe, I will offer you
the shelter of my umbrella: As for me, I am going to the council. I am a
councillor of state."
The old priest raised his head and looked at his neighbor and then
"I thank you, monsieur. I shall be glad to accept your offer."
M. Marin then took his arm and led him away. He directed him, watched
over him and advised him.
"Be careful of that stream, Monsieur l'Abbe. And be very careful about
the carriage wheels; they spatter you with mud sometimes from head to
foot. Look out for the umbrellas of the people passing by; there is
nothing more dangerous to the eyes than the tips of the ribs. Women
especially are unbearable; they pay no heed to where they are going and
always jab you in the face with the point of their parasols or umbrellas.
And they never move aside for anybody. One would suppose the town
belonged to them. They monopolize the pavement and the street. It is my
opinion that their education has been greatly neglected."
And M. Marin laughed.
The priest did not reply. He walked along, slightly bent over, picking
his steps carefully so as not to get mud on his boots or his cassock.
M. Marin resumed:
"I suppose you have come to Paris to divert your mind a little?"
The good man replied:
"No, I have some business to attend to."
"Ali! Is it important business? Might I venture to ask what it is? If
I can be of any service to you, you may command me."
The priest seemed embarrassed. He murmured:
"Oh, it is a little personal matter; a little difficulty with--with my
bishop. It would not interest you. It is a matter of internal
regulation--an ecclesiastical affair."
M. Marin was eager.
"But it is precisely the state council that regulates all those things.
In that case, make use of me."
"Yes, monsieur, it is to the council that I am going. You are a thousand
times too kind. I have to see M. Lerepere and M. Savon and also perhaps
M. Marin stopped short.
"Why, those are my friends, Monsieur l'Abbe, my best friends, excellent
colleagues, charming men. I will speak to them about you, and very
highly. Count upon me."
The cure thanked him, apologizing for troubling him, and stammered out a
thousand grateful promises.
M. Marin was enchanted.
"Ah, you may be proud of having made a stroke of luck, Monsieur l'Abbe.
You will see--you will see that, thanks to me, your affair will go along
They reached the council hall. M. Marin took the priest into his office,
offered him a chair in front of the fire and sat down himself at his desk
and began to write.
"My dear colleague, allow me to recommend to you most highly a venerable
and particularly worthy and deserving priest, M. L'Abbe----"
He stopped and asked:
"Your name, if you please?"
"M. l'Abbe Ceinture, who needs your good office in a little matter which
he will communicate to you.
"I am pleased at this incident which gives me an opportunity, my dear
And he finished with the usual compliments.
When he had written the three letters he handed them to his protege, who
took his departure with many protestations of gratitude.