Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Widger
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 4.
By Guy de Maupassant
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
THE STORY OF A FARM GIRL
THEODULE SABOT'S CONFESSION
THE WRONG HOUSE
THE DIAMOND NECKLACE
THE MARQUIS DE FUMEROL
THE TRIP OF THE HORLA
The warm autumn sun was beating down on the farmyard. Under the grass,
which had been cropped close by the cows, the earth soaked by recent
rains, was soft and sank in under the feet with a soggy noise, and the
apple trees, loaded with apples, were dropping their pale green fruit in
the dark green grass.
Four young heifers, tied in a line, were grazing and at times looking
toward the house and lowing. The fowls made a colored patch on the dung-
heap before the stable, scratching, moving about and cackling, while two
roosters crowed continually, digging worms for their hens, whom they were
calling with a loud clucking.
The wooden gate opened and a man entered. He might have been forty years
old, but he looked at least sixty, wrinkled, bent, walking slowly,
impeded by the weight of heavy wooden shoes full of straw. His long arms
hung down on both sides of his body. When he got near the farm a yellow
cur, tied at the foot of an enormous pear tree, beside a barrel which
served as his kennel, began at first to wag his tail and then to bark for
joy. The man cried:
The dog was quiet.
A peasant woman came out of the house. Her large, flat, bony body was
outlined under a long woollen jacket drawn in at the waist. A gray
skirt, too short, fell to the middle of her legs, which were encased in
blue stockings. She, too, wore wooden shoes, filled with straw. The
white cap, turned yellow, covered a few hairs which were plastered to the
scalp, and her brown, thin, ugly, toothless face had that wild, animal
expression which is often to be found on the faces of the peasants.
The man asked:
"How is he gettin' along?"
The woman answered:
"The priest said it's the end--that he will never live through the
Both of them went into the house.
After passing through the kitchen, they entered a low, dark room, barely
lighted by one window, in front of which a piece of calico was hanging.
The big beams, turned brown with age and smoke, crossed the room from one
side to the other, supporting the thin floor of the garret, where an army
of rats ran about day and night.
The moist, lumpy earthen floor looked greasy, and, at the back of the
room, the bed made an indistinct white spot. A harsh, regular noise, a
difficult, hoarse, wheezing breathing, like the gurgling of water from a
broken pump, came from the darkened couch where an old man, the father of
the peasant woman, was dying.
The man and the woman approached the dying man and looked at him with
calm, resigned eyes.
The son-in-law said:
"I guess it's all up with him this time; he will not last the night."
The woman answered:
"He's been gurglin' like that ever since midday." They were silent. The
father's eyes were closed, his face was the color of the earth and so dry
that it looked like wood. Through his open mouth came his harsh,
rattling breath, and the gray linen sheet rose and fell with each
The son-in-law, after a long silence, said:
"There's nothing more to do; I can't help him. It's a nuisance, just the
same, because the weather is good and we've got a lot of work to do."
His wife seemed annoyed at this idea. She reflected a few moments and
"He won't be buried till Saturday, and that will give you all day
The peasant thought the matter over and answered:
"Yes, but to-morrow I'll have to invite the people to the funeral. That
means five or six hours to go round to Tourville and Manetot, and to see
The woman, after meditating two or three minutes, declared:
"It isn't three o'clock yet. You could begin this evening and go all
round the country to Tourville. You can just as well say that he's dead,
seem' as he's as good as that now."
The man stood perplexed for a while, weighing the pros and cons of the
idea. At last he declared:
"Well, I'll go!"
He was leaving the room, but came back after a minute's hesitation:
"As you haven't got anythin' to do you might shake down some apples to
bake and make four dozen dumplings for those who come to the funeral, for
one must have something to cheer them. You can light the fire with the
wood that's under the shed. It's dry."
He left the room, went back into the kitchen, opened the cupboard, took
out a six-pound loaf of bread, cut off a slice, and carefully gathered
the crumbs in the palm of his hand and threw them into his mouth, so as
not to lose anything. Then, with the end of his knife, he scraped out a
little salt butter from the bottom of an earthen jar, spread it on his
bread and began to eat slowly, as he did everything.
He recrossed the farmyard, quieted the dog, which had started barking
again, went out on the road bordering on his ditch, and disappeared in
the direction of Tourville.
As soon as she was alone, the woman began to work. She uncovered the
meal-bin and made the dough for the dumplings. She kneaded it a long
time, turning it over and over again, punching, pressing, crushing it.
Finally she made a big, round, yellow-white ball, which she placed on the
corner of the table.
Then she went to get her apples, and, in order not to injure the tree
with a pole, she climbed up into it by a ladder. She chose the fruit
with care, only taking the ripe ones, and gathering them in her apron.
A voice called from the road:
"Hey, Madame Chicot!"
She turned round. It was a neighbor, Osime Favet, the mayor, on his way
to fertilize his fields, seated on the manure-wagon, with his feet
hanging over the side. She turned round and answered:
"What can I do for you, Maitre Osime?"
"And how is the father?"
"He is as good as dead. The funeral is Saturday at seven, because
there's lots of work to be done."
The neighbor answered:
"So! Good luck to you! Take care of yourself."
To his kind remarks she answered:"
"Thanks; the same to you."
And she continued picking apples.
When she went back to the house, she went over to look at her father,
expecting to find him dead. But as soon as she reached the door she
heard his monotonous, noisy rattle, and, thinking it a waste of time to
go over to him, she began to prepare her dumplings. She wrapped up the
fruit, one by one, in a thin layer of paste, then she lined them up on
the edge of the table. When she had made forty-eight dumplings, arranged
in dozens, one in front of the other, she began to think of preparing
supper, and she hung her kettle over the fire to cook potatoes, for she
judged it useless to heat the oven that day, as she had all the next day
in which to finish the preparations.
Her husband returned at about five. As soon as he had crossed the
threshold he asked:
"Is it over?"
"Not yet; he's still gurglin'."
They went to look at him. The old man was in exactly the same condition.
His hoarse rattle, as regular as the ticking of a clock, was neither
quicker nor slower. It returned every second, the tone varying a little,
according as the air entered or left his chest.
His son-in-law looked at him and then said:
"He'll pass away without our noticin' it, just like a candle."
They returned to the kitchen and started to eat without saying a word.
When they had swallowed their soup, they ate another piece of bread and
butter. Then, as soon as the dishes were washed, they returned to the
The woman, carrying a little lamp with a smoky wick, held it in front of
her father's face. If he had not been breathing, one would certainly
have thought him dead.
The couple's bed was hidden in a little recess at the other end of the
room. Silently they retired, put out the light, closed their eyes, and
soon two unequal snores, one deep and the other shriller, accompanied the
uninterrupted rattle of the dying man.
The rats ran about in the garret.
The husband awoke at the first streaks of dawn. His father-in-law was
still alive. He shook his wife, worried by the tenacity of the old man.
"Say, Phemie, he don't want to quit. What would you do?"
He knew that she gave good advice.
"You needn't be afraid; he can't live through the day. And the mayor
won't stop our burying him to-morrow, because he allowed it for Maitre
Renard's father, who died just during the planting season."
He was convinced by this argument, and left for the fields.
His wife baked the dumplings and then attended to her housework.
At noon the old man was not dead. The people hired for the day's work
came by groups to look at him. Each one had his say. Then they left
again for the fields.
At six o'clock, when the work was over, the father was still breathing.
At last his son-in-law was frightened.
"What would you do now, Phemie?"
She no longer knew how to solve the problem. They went to the mayor. He
promised that he would close his eyes and authorize the funeral for the
following day. They also went to the health officer, who likewise
promised, in order to oblige Maitre Chicot, to antedate the death
certificate. The man and the woman returned, feeling more at ease.
They went to bed and to sleep, just as they did the preceding day, their
sonorous breathing blending with the feeble breathing of the old man.
When they awoke, he was not yet dead.
Then they began to be frightened. They stood by their father, watching
him with distrust, as though he had wished to play them a mean trick, to
deceive them, to annoy them on purpose, and they were vexed at him for
the time which he was making them lose.
The son-in-law asked:
"What am I goin' to do?"
She did not know. She answered:
"It certainly is annoying!"
The guests who were expected could not be notified. They decided to wait
and explain the case to them.
Toward a quarter to seven the first ones arrived. The women in black,
their heads covered with large veils, looking very sad. Then men, ill at
ease in their homespun coats, were coming forward more slowly, in
couples, talking business.
Maitre Chicot and his wife, bewildered, received them sorrowfully, and
suddenly both of them together began to cry as they approached the first
group. They explained the matter, related their difficulty, offered
chairs, bustled about, tried to make excuses, attempting to prove that
everybody would have done as they did, talking continually and giving
nobody a chance to answer.
They were going from one person to another:
"I never would have thought it; it's incredible how he can last this
The guests, taken aback, a little disappointed, as though they had missed
an expected entertainment, did not know what to do, some remaining
seated. others standing. Several wished to leave. Maitre Chicot held
"You must take something, anyhow! We made some dumplings; might as well
make use of 'em."
The faces brightened at this idea. The yard was filling little by
little; the early arrivals were telling the news to those who had arrived
later. Everybody was whispering. The idea of the dumplings seemed to
cheer everyone up.
The women went in to take a look at the dying man. They crossed
themselves beside the bed, muttered a prayer and went out again. The
men, less anxious for this spectacle, cast a look through the window,
which had been opened.
Madame Chicot explained her distress:
"That's how he's been for two days, neither better nor worse. Doesn't he
sound like a pump that has gone dry?"
When everybody had had a look at the dying man, they thought of the
refreshments; but as there were too many people for the kitchen to hold,
the table was moved out in front of the door. The four dozen golden
dumplings, tempting and appetizing, arranged in two big dishes, attracted
the eyes of all. Each one reached out to take his, fearing that there
would not be enough. But four remained over.
Maitre Chicot, his mouth full, said:
"Father would feel sad if he were to see this. He loved them so much
when he was alive."
A big, jovial peasant declared:
"He won't eat any more now. Each one in his turn."
This remark, instead of making the guests sad, seemed to cheer them up.
It was their turn now to eat dumplings.
Madame Chicot, distressed at the expense, kept running down to the cellar
continually for cider. The pitchers were emptied in quick succession.
The company was laughing and talking loud now. They were beginning to
shout as they do at feasts.
Suddenly an old peasant woman who had stayed beside the dying man, held
there by a morbid fear of what would soon happen to herself, appeared at
the window and cried in a shrill voice:
"He's dead! he's dead!"
Everybody was silent. The women arose quickly to go and see.
He was indeed dead. The rattle had ceased. The men looked at each
other, looking down, ill at ease. They hadn't finished eating the
dumplings. Certainly the rascal had not chosen a propitious moment.
The Chicots were no longer weeping. It was over; they were relieved.
They kept repeating:
"I knew it couldn't 'last. If he could only have done it last night, it
would have saved us all this trouble."
Well, anyhow, it was over. They would bury him on Monday, that was all,
and they would eat some more dumplings for the occasion.
The guests went away, talking the matter over, pleased at having had the
chance to see him and of getting something to eat.
And when the husband and wife were alone, face to face, she said, her
face distorted with grief:
"We'll have to bake four dozen more dumplings! Why couldn't he have made
up his mind last night?"
The husband, more resigned, answered:
"Well, we'll not have to do this every day."
It was after dinner, and we were talking about adventures and accidents
which happened while out shooting.
An old friend, known to all of us, M. Boniface, a great sportsman and a
connoisseur of wine, a man of wonderful physique, witty and gay, and
endowed with an ironical and resigned philosophy, which manifested itself
in caustic humor, and never in melancholy, suddenly exclaimed:
"I know a story, or rather a tragedy, which is somewhat peculiar. It is
not at all like those which one hears of usually, and I have never told
it, thinking that it would interest no one.
"It is not at all sympathetic. I mean by that, that it does not arouse
the kind of interest which pleases or which moves one agreeably.
"Here is the story:
"I was then about thirty-five years of age, and a most enthusiastic
"In those days I owned a lonely bit of property in the neighborhood of
Jumieges, surrounded by forests and abounding in hares and rabbits.
I was accustomed to spending four or five days alone there each year,
there not being room enough to allow of my bringing a friend with me.
"I had placed there as gamekeeper, an old retired gendarme, a good man,
hot-tempered, a severe disciplinarian, a terror to poachers and fearing
nothing. He lived all alone, far from the village, in a little house, or
rather hut, consisting of two rooms downstairs, with kitchen and store-
room, and two upstairs. One of them, a kind of box just large enough to
accommodate a bed, a cupboard and a chair, was reserved for my use.
"Old man Cavalier lived in the other one. When I said that he was alone
in this place, I was wrong. He had taken his nephew with him, a young
scamp about fourteen years old, who used to go to the village and run
errands for the old man.
"This young scapegrace was long and lanky, with yellow hair, so light
that it resembled the fluff of a plucked chicken, so thin that he seemed
bald. Besides this, he had enormous feet and the hands of a giant.
"He was cross-eyed, and never looked at anyone. He struck me as being in
the same relation to the human race as ill-smelling beasts are to the
animal race. He reminded me of a polecat.
"He slept in a kind of hole at the top of the stairs which led to the two
"But during my short sojourns at the Pavilion--so I called the hut--
Marius would give up his nook to an old woman from Ecorcheville, called
Celeste, who used to come and cook for me, as old man Cavalier's stews
were not sufficient for my healthy appetite.
"You now know the characters and the locality. Here is the story:
"It was on the fifteenth of October, 1854--I shall remember that date as
long as I live.
"I left Rouen on horseback, followed by my dog Bock, a big Dalmatian
hound from Poitou, full-chested and with a heavy jaw, which could
retrieve among the bushes like a Pont-Andemer spaniel.
"I was carrying my satchel slung across my back and my gun diagonally
across my chest. It was a cold, windy, gloomy day, with clouds scurrying
across the sky.
"As I went up the hill at Canteleu, I looked over the broad valley of the
Seine, the river winding in and out along its course as far as the eye
could see. To the right the towers of Rouen stood out against the sky,
and to the left the landscape was bounded by the distant slopes covered
with trees. Then I crossed the forest of Roumare and, toward five
o'clock, reached the Pavilion, where Cavalier and Celeste were expecting
"For ten years I had appeared there at the same time, in the same manner;
and for ten years the same faces had greeted me with the same words:
"'Welcome, master! We hope your health is good.'
"Cavalier had hardly changed. He withstood time like an old tree; but
Celeste, especially in the past four years, had become unrecognizable.
"She was bent almost double, and, although still active, when she walked
her body was almost at right angles to her legs.
"The old woman, who was very devoted to me, always seemed affected at
seeing me again, and each time, as I left, she would say:
"'This may be the last time, master.'
"The sad, timid farewell of this old servant, this hopeless resignation
to the inevitable fate which was not far off for her, moved me strangely
"I dismounted, and while Cavalier, whom I had greeted, was leading my
horse to the little shed which served as a stable, I entered the kitchen,
which also served as dining-room, followed by Celeste.
"Here the gamekeeper joined us. I saw at first glance that something was
the matter. He seemed preoccupied, ill at ease, worried.
"I said to him:
"'Well, Cavalier, is everything all right?'
"'Yes and no. There are things I don't like.'
"'What? Tell me about it.'
"But he shook his head.
"'No, not yet, monsieur. I do not wish to bother you with my little
troubles so soon after your arrival.'
"I insisted, but he absolutely refused to give me any information before
dinner. From his expression, I could tell that it was something very
"Not knowing what to say to him, I asked:
"'How about game? Much of it this year?'
"'Oh, yes! You'll find all you want. Thank heaven, I looked out for
"He said this with so much seriousness, with such sad solemnity, that it
was really almost funny. His big gray mustache seemed almost ready to
drop from his lips.
"Suddenly I remembered that I had not yet seen his nephew.
"'Where is Marius? Why does he not show himself?'
"The "The gamekeeper started, looking me suddenly in the face:
" Well, monsieur, I had rather tell you the whole business right away;
it's on account of him that I am worrying.'
"'Ah! Well, where is he?'
"'Over in the stable, monsieur. I was waiting for the right time to
bring him out.'
"'What has he done?'
"The gamekeeper, however, hesitated, his voice altered and shaky, his
face suddenly furrowed by the deep lines of an old man.
"He continued slowly:
"'Well, I found out, last winter, that someone was poaching in the woods
of Roseraies, but I couldn't seem to catch the man. I spent night after
night on the lookout for him. In vain. During that time they began
poaching over by Ecorcheville. I was growing thin from vexation. But as
for catching the trespasser, impossible! One might have thought that the
rascal was forewarned of my plans.
"'But one day, while I was brushing Marius' Sunday trousers, I found
forty cents in his pocket. Where did he get it?
"'I thought the matter over for about a week, and I noticed that he used
to go out; he would leave the house just as I was coming home to go to
"'Then I started to watch him, without the slightest suspicion of the
real facts. One morning, just after I had gone to bed before him, I got
right up again, and followed him. For shadowing a man, there is nobody
like me, monsieur.
"'And I caught him, Marius, poaching on your land, monsieur; he my
nephew, I your keeper!
"'The blood rushed to my head, and I almost killed him on the spot, I hit
him so hard. Oh! yes, I thrashed him all right. And I promised him
that he would get another beating from my hand, in your presence, as an
"'There! I have grown thin from sorrow. You know how it is when one is
worried like that. But tell me, what would you have done? The boy has
no father or mother, and I am the last one of his blood; I kept him, I
couldn't drive him out, could I?
"'I told him that if it happened again I would have no more pity for him,
all would be over. There! Did I do right, monsieur?'
"I answered, holding out my hand:
"'You did well, Cavalier; you are an honest man.'
"'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?"