Part 2 out of 3
"Will you have a glass of brandy?" the peasant woman asked.
"No, thank you; I only want the skin of the rabbit that you are eating."
She pretended not to understand, but she was trembling.
The brigadier had taken a seat, and was calmly wiping his forehead.
"Come, come, you are not going to try and make us believe that you live
on couch grass. What were you eating there all by yourself for your
"I? Nothing whatever, I swear to you. A mite of butter on my bread."
"You are a novice, my good woman. A mite of butter on your bread.
You are mistaken; you ought to have said: a mite of butter on the rabbit.
By G--, your butter smells good! It is special butter, extra good butter,
butter fit for a wedding; certainly, not household butter!"
The gendarme was shaking with laughter, and repeated:
"Not household butter certainly."
As Brigadier Senateur was a joker, all the gendarmes had grown facetious,
and the officer continued:
"Where is your butter?"
"Yes, your butter."
"In the jar."
"Then where is the butter jar?"
"Here it is."
She brought out an old cup, at the bottom of which there was a layer of
rancid salt butter, and the brigadier smelled of it, and said, with a
shake of his head:
"It is not the same. I want the butter that smells of the rabbit. Come,
Lenient, open your eyes; look under the sideboard, my good fellow, and I
will look under the bed."
Having shut the door, he went up to the bed and tried to move it; but it
was fixed to the wall, and had not been moved for more than half a
century, apparently. Then the brigadier stooped, and made his uniform
crack. A button had flown off.
"Lenient," he said.
"Come here, my lad, and look under the bed; I am too tall. I will look
after the sideboard."
He got up and waited while his man executed his orders.
Lenient, who was short and stout, took off his kepi, laid himself on his
stomach, and, putting his face on the floor, looked at the black cavity
under the bed, and then, suddenly, he exclaimed:
"All right, here we are!"
"What have you got? The rabbit?"
"No, the thief."
"The thief! Pull him out, pull him out!"
The gendarme had put his arms under the bed and laid hold of something,
and he was pulling with all his might, and at last a foot, shod in a
thick boot, appeared, which he was holding in his right hand. The
brigadier took it, crying:
And Lenient, who was on his knees by that time, was pulling at the other
leg. But it was a hard job, for the prisoner kicked out hard, and arched
up his back under the bed.
"Courage! courage! pull! pull!" Senateur cried, and they pulled him
with all their strength, so that the wooden slat gave way, and he came
out as far as his head; but at last they got that out also, and they saw
the terrified and furious face of Polyte, whose arms remained stretched
out under the bed.
"Pull away!" the brigadier kept on exclaiming. Then they heard a strange
noise, and as the arms followed the shoulders, and the hands the arms,
they saw in the hands the handle of a saucepan, and at the end of the
handle the saucepan itself, which contained stewed rabbit.
"Good Lord! good Lord!" the brigadier shouted in his delight, while
Lenient took charge of the man; the rabbit's skin, an overwhelming proof,
was discovered under the mattress, and then the gendarmes returned in
triumph to the village with their prisoner and their booty.
A week later, as the affair had made much stir, Lecacheur, on going into
the mairie to consult the schoolmaster, was told that the shepherd
Severin had been waiting for him for more than an hour, and he found him
sitting on a chair in a corner, with his stick between his legs. When he
saw the mayor, he got up, took off his cap, and said:
"Good-morning, Maitre Cacheux"; and then he remained standing, timid and
"What do you want?" the former said.
"This is it, monsieur. Is it true that somebody stole one of your
rabbits last week?"
"Yes, it is quite true, Severin."
"Who stole the rabbit?"
"Polyte Ancas, the laborer."
"Right! right! And is it also true that it was found under my bed?"
"What do you mean, the rabbit?"
"The rabbit and then Polyte."
"Yes, my poor Severin, quite true, but who told you?"
"Pretty well everybody. I understand! And I suppose you know all about
marriages, as you marry people?"
"What about marriage?"
"With regard to one's rights."
"The husband's rights and then the wife's rights."
"Of course I do."
"Oh! Then just tell me, M'sieu Cacheux, has my wife the right to go to
bed with Polyte?"
"What, to go to bed with Polyte?"
"Yes, has she any right before the law, and, seeing that she is my wife,
to go to bed with Polyte?"
"Why, of course not, of course not."
"If I catch him there again, shall I have the right to thrash him and her
"Very well, then; I will tell you why I want to know. One night last
week, as I had my suspicions, I came in suddenly, and they were not
behaving properly. I chucked Polyte out, to go and sleep somewhere else;
but that was all, as I did not know what my rights were. This time I did
not see them; I only heard of it from others. That is over, and we will
not say any more about it; but if I catch them again--by G--, if I catch
them again, I will make them lose all taste for such nonsense, Maitre
Cacheux, as sure as my name is Severin."
When M. Antoine Leuillet married the widow, Madame Mathilde Souris, he
had already been in love with her for ten years.
M. Souris has been his friend, his old college chum. Leuillet was very
much attached to him, but thought he was somewhat of a simpleton. He
would often remark: "That poor Souris who will never set the world on
When Souris married Miss Mathilde Duval, Leuillet was astonished and
somewhat annoyed, as he was slightly devoted to her, himself. She was
the daughter of a neighbor, a former proprietor of a draper's
establishment who had retired with quite a small fortune. She married
Souris for his money.
Then Leuillet thought he would start a flirtation with his friend's wife.
He was a good-looking man, intelligent and also rich. He thought it
would be all plain sailing, but he was mistaken. Then he really began to
admire her with an admiration that his friendship for the husband obliged
him to keep within the bounds of discretion, making him timid and
embarrassed. Madame Souris believing that his presumptions had received
a wholesome check now treated him as a good friend. This went on for
One morning a messenger brought Leuillet a distracted note from the poor
woman. Souris had just died suddenly from the rupture of an aneurism.
He was dreadfully shocked, for they were just the same age. But almost
immediately a feeling of profound joy, of intense relief, of emancipation
filled his being. Madame Souris was free.
He managed, however, to assume the sad, sympathetic expression that was
appropriate, waited the required time, observed all social appearances.
At the end of fifteen months he married the widow.
This was considered to be a very natural, and even a generous action. It
was the act of a good friend of an upright man.
He was happy at last, perfectly happy.
They lived in the most cordial intimacy, having understood and
appreciated each other from the first. They had no secrets from one
another and even confided to each other their most secret thoughts.
Leuillet loved his wife now with a quiet and trustful affection; he loved
her as a tender, devoted companion who is an equal and a confidante.
But there lingered in his mind a strange and inexplicable bitterness
towards the defunct Souris, who had first been the husband of this woman,
who had had the flower of her youth and of her soul, and had even robbed
her of some of her poetry. The memory of the dead husband marred the
happiness of the living husband, and this posthumous jealousy tormented
his heart by day and by night.
The consequence was he talked incessantly of Souris, asked about a
thousand personal and secret minutia, wanted to know all about his habits
and his person. And he sneered at him even in his grave, recalling with
self-satisfaction his whims, ridiculing his absurdities, dwelling on his
He would call to his wife all over the house:
"Here I am, dear."
"Come here a moment."
She would come, always smiling, knowing well that he would say something
about Souris and ready to flatter her new husband's inoffensive mania.
"Tell me, do you remember one day how Souris insisted on explaining to me
that little men always commanded more affection than big men?"
And he made some remarks that were disparaging to the deceased, who was a
small man, and decidedly flattering to himself, Leuillet, who was a tall
Mme. Leuillet allowed him to think he was right, quite right, and she
laughed heartily, gently ridiculing her former husband for the sake of
pleasing the present one, who always ended by saying:
"All the same, what a ninny that Souris was!"
They were happy, quite happy, and Leuillet never ceased to show his
devotion to his wife.
One night, however, as they lay awake, Leuillet said as he kissed his
"See here, dearie."
"Was Souris--I don't exactly know how to say it--was Souris very loving?"
She gave him a kiss for reply and murmured "Not as loving as you are, mon
He was flattered in his self-love and continued:
"He must have been--a ninny--was he not?"
She did not reply. She only smiled slyly and hid her face in her
"He must have been a ninny and not--not--not smart?"
She shook her head slightly to imply, "No--not at all smart."
"He must have been an awful nuisance, eh?"
This time she was frank and replied:
He kissed her again for this avowal and said:
"What a brute he was! You were not happy with him?"
"No," she replied. "It was not always pleasant."
Leuillet was delighted, forming in his mind a comparison, much in his own
favor, between his wife's former and present position. He was silent for
a time, and then with a burst of laughter he asked:
"Will you be frank, very frank with me?"
"Why yes, my dear."
"Well then, tell me truly did you never feel tempted to--to--to deceive
that imbecile Souris?"
Mme. Leuillet said: "Oh!" pretending to be shocked and hid her face again
on her husband's shoulder. But he saw that she was laughing.
"Come now, own up," he persisted. "He looked like a ninny, that
creature! It would be funny, so funny! Good old Souris! Come, come,
dearie, you do not mind telling me, me, of all people."
He insisted on the "me" thinking that if she had wished to deceive Souris
she would have chosen him, and he was trembling in anticipation of her
avowal, sure that if she had not been a virtuous woman she would have
encouraged his own attentions.
But she did not answer, laughing still, as at the recollection of
something exceedingly comical.
Leuillet, in his turn began to laugh, thinking he might have been the
lucky man, and he muttered amid his mirth: "That poor Souris, that poor
Souris, oh, yes, he looked like a fool!"
Mme. Leuillet was almost in spasms of laughter.
"Come, confess, be frank. You know I will not mind."
Then she stammered out, almost choking with laughter: "Yes, yes."
"Yes, what?" insisted her husband. "Come, tell all."
She was quieter now and putting her mouth to her husband's ear, she
whispered: "Yes, I did deceive him."
He felt a chill run down his back and to his very bones, and he stammered
out, dumfounded: "You--you--deceived him--criminally?"
She still thought he was amused and replied: "Yes--yes, absolutely."
He was obliged to sit up to recover his breath, he was so shocked and
upset at what he had heard.
She had become serious, understanding too late what she had done.
"With whom?" said Leuillet at length.
She was silent seeking some excuse.
"A young man," she replied at length.
He turned suddenly toward her and said drily:
"I did not suppose it was the cook. I want to know what young man, do
She did not answer.
He snatched the covers from her face, repeating:
"I want to know what young man, do you hear?"
Then she said sorrowfully: "I was only in fun." But he was trembling
with rage. "What? How? You were only in fun? You were making fun of
me, then? But I am not satisfied, do you hear? I want the name of the
She did not reply, but lay there motionless.
He took her by the arm and squeezed it, saying: "Do you understand me,
finally? I wish you to reply when I speak to you."
"I think you are going crazy," she said nervously, "let me alone!"
He was wild with rage, not knowing what to say, exasperated, and he shook
her with all his might, repeating:
"Do you hear me, do you hear me?"
She made an abrupt effort to disengage herself and the tips of her
fingers touched her husband's nose. He was furious, thinking she had
tried to hit him, and he sprang upon her holding her down; and boxing her
ears with all his might, he cried: "Take that, and that, there, there,
When he was out of breath and exhausted, he rose and went toward the
dressing table to prepare a glass of eau sucree with orange flower, for
he felt as if he should faint.
She was weeping in bed, sobbing bitterly, for she felt as if her
happiness was over, through her own fault.
Then, amidst her tears, she stammered out:
"Listen, Antoine, come here, I told you a lie, you will understand,
And prepared to defend herself now, armed with excuses and artifice, she
raised her disheveled head with its nightcap all awry.
Turning toward her, he approached, ashamed of having struck her, but
feeling in the bottom of his heart as a husband, a relentless hatred
toward this woman who had deceived the former husband, Souris.
MY UNCLE JULES
A white-haired old man begged us for alms. My companion, Joseph
Davranche, gave him five francs. Noticing my surprised look, he said:
"That poor unfortunate reminds me of a story which I shall tell you, the
memory of which continually pursues me. Here it is:
"My family, which came originally from Havre, was not rich. We just
managed to make both ends meet. My father worked hard, came home late
from the office, and earned very little. I had two sisters.
"My mother suffered a good deal from our reduced circumstances, and she
often had harsh words for her husband, veiled and sly reproaches. The
poor man then made a gesture which used to distress me. He would pass
his open hand over his forehead, as if to wipe away perspiration which
did not exist, and he would answer nothing. I felt his helpless
suffering. We economized on everything, and never would accept an
invitation to dinner, so as not to have to return the courtesy. All our
provisions were bought at bargain sales. My sisters made their own
gowns, and long discussions would arise on the price of a piece of braid
worth fifteen centimes a yard. Our meals usually consisted of soup and
beef, prepared with every kind of sauce.
"They say it is wholesome and nourishing, but I should have preferred a
"I used to go through terrible scenes on account of lost buttons and torn
"Every Sunday, dressed in our best, we would take our walk along the
breakwater. My father, in a frock coat, high hat and kid gloves, would
offer his arm to my mother, decked out and beribboned like a ship on a
holiday. My sisters, who were always ready first, would await the signal
for leaving; but at the last minute some one always found a spot on my
father's frock coat, and it had to be wiped away quickly with a rag
moistened with benzine.
"My father, in his shirt sleeves, his silk hat on his head, would await
the completion of the operation, while my mother, putting on her
spectacles, and taking off her gloves in order not to spoil them, would
"Then we set out ceremoniously. My sisters marched on ahead, arm in arm.
They were of marriageable age and had to be displayed. I walked on the
left of my mother and my father on her right. I remember the pompous air
of my poor parents in these Sunday walks, their stern expression, their
stiff walk. They moved slowly, with a serious expression, their bodies
straight, their legs stiff, as if something of extreme importance
depended upon their appearance.
"Every Sunday, when the big steamers were returning from unknown and
distant countries, my father would invariably utter the same words:
"'What a surprise it would be if Jules were on that one! Eh?'
"My Uncle Jules, my father's brother, was the only hope of the family,
after being its only fear. I had heard about him since childhood, and it
seemed to me that I should recognize him immediately, knowing as much
about him as I did. I knew every detail of his life up to the day of his
departure for America, although this period of his life was spoken of
only in hushed tones.
"It seems that he had led a bad life, that is to say, he had squandered a
little money, which action, in a poor family, is one of the greatest
crimes. With rich people a man who amuses himself only sows his wild
oats. He is what is generally called a sport. But among needy families
a boy who forces his parents to break into the capital becomes a good-
for-nothing, a rascal, a scamp. And this distinction is just, although
the action be the same, for consequences alone determine the seriousness
of the act.
"Well, Uncle Jules had visibly diminished the inheritance on which my
father had counted, after he had swallowed his own to the last penny.
Then, according to the custom of the times, he had been shipped off to
America on a freighter going from Havre to New York.
"Once there, my uncle began to sell something or other, and he soon wrote
that he was making a little money and that he soon hoped to be able to
indemnify my father for the harm he had done him. This letter caused a
profound emotion in the family. Jules, who up to that time had not been
worth his salt, suddenly became a good man, a kind-hearted fellow, true
and honest like all the Davranches.
"One of the captains told us that he had rented a large shop and was
doing an important business.
"Two years later a second letter came, saying: 'My dear Philippe, I am
writing to tell you not to worry about my health, which is excellent.
Business is good. I leave to-morrow for a long trip to South America.
I may be away for several years without sending you any news. If I
shouldn't write, don't worry. When my fortune is made I shall return to
Havre. I hope that it will not be too long and that we shall all live
happily together . . . .'
"This letter became the gospel of the family. It was read on the
slightest provocation, and it was shown to everybody.
"For ten years nothing was heard from Uncle Jules; but as time went on my
father's hope grew, and my mother, also, often said:
"'When that good Jules is here, our position will be different. There is
one who knew how to get along!'
"And every Sunday, while watching the big steamers approaching from the
horizon, pouring out a stream of smoke, my father would repeat his
"'What a surprise it would be if Jules were on that one! Eh?'
"We almost expected to see him waving his handkerchief and crying:
"Thousands of schemes had been planned on the strength of this expected
return; we were even to buy a little house with my uncle's money
--a little place in the country near Ingouville. In fact, I wouldn't
swear that my father had not already begun negotiations.
"The elder of my sisters was then twenty-eight, the other twenty-six.
They were not yet married, and that was a great grief to every one.
"At last a suitor presented himself for the younger one. He was a clerk,
not rich, but honorable. I have always been morally certain that Uncle
Jules' letter, which was shown him one evening, had swept away the young
man's hesitation and definitely decided him.
"He was accepted eagerly, and it was decided that after the wedding the
whole family should take a trip to Jersey.
"Jersey is the ideal trip for poor people. It is not far; one crosses a
strip of sea in a steamer and lands on foreign soil, as this little
island belongs to England. Thus, a Frenchman, with a two hours' sail,
can observe a neighboring people at home and study their customs.
"This trip to Jersey completely absorbed our ideas, was our sole
anticipation, the constant thought of our minds.
"At last we left. I see it as plainly as if it had happened yesterday.
The boat was getting up steam against the quay at Granville; my father,
bewildered, was superintending the loading of our three pieces of
baggage; my mother, nervous, had taken the arm of my unmarried sister,
who seemed lost since the departure of the other one, like the last
chicken of a brood; behind us came the bride and groom, who always stayed
behind, a thing that often made me turn round.
"The whistle sounded. We got on board, and the vessel, leaving the
breakwater, forged ahead through a sea as flat as a marble table. We
watched the coast disappear in the distance, happy and proud, like all
who do not travel much.
"My father was swelling out his chest in the breeze, beneath his frock
coat, which had that morning been very carefully cleaned; and he spread
around him that odor of benzine which always made me recognize Sunday.
Suddenly he noticed two elegantly dressed ladies to whom two gentlemen
were offering oysters. An old, ragged sailor was opening them with his
knife and passing them to the gentlemen, who would then offer them to the
ladies. They ate them in a dainty manner, holding the shell on a fine
handkerchief and advancing their mouths a little in order not to spot
their dresses. Then they would drink the liquid with a rapid little
motion and throw the shell overboard.
"My father was probably pleased with this delicate manner of eating
oysters on a moving ship. He considered it good form, refined, and,
going up to my mother and sisters, he asked:
"'Would you like me to offer you some oysters?'
"My mother hesitated on account of the expense, but my two sisters
immediately accepted. My mother said in a provoked manner:
"'I am afraid that they will hurt my stomach. Offer the children some,
but not too much, it would make them sick.' Then, turning toward me, she
"'As for Joseph, he doesn't need any. Boys shouldn't be spoiled.'
"However, I remained beside my mother, finding this discrimination
unjust. I watched my father as he pompously conducted my two sisters and
his son-in-law toward the ragged old sailor.
"The two ladies had just left, and my father showed my sisters how to eat
them without spilling the liquor. He even tried to give them an example,
and seized an oyster. He attempted to imitate the ladies, and
immediately spilled all the liquid over his coat. I heard my mother
"'He would do far better to keep quiet.'
"But, suddenly, my father appeared to be worried; he retreated a few
steps, stared at his family gathered around the old shell opener, and
quickly came toward us. He seemed very pale, with a peculiar look. In a
low voice he said to my mother:
"'It's extraordinary how that man opening the oysters looks like Jules.'
"Astonished, my mother asked:
"My father continued:
"'Why, my brother. If I did not know that he was well off in America, I
should think it was he.'
"Bewildered, my mother stammered:
"'You are crazy! As long as you know that it is not he, why do you say
such foolish things?'
"But my father insisted:
"'Go on over and see, Clarisse! I would rather have you see with your
"She arose and walked to her daughters. I, too, was watching the man.
He was old, dirty, wrinkled, and did not lift his eyes from his work.
"My mother returned. I noticed that she was trembling. She exclaimed
"'I believe that it is he. Why don't you ask the captain? But be very
careful that we don't have this rogue on our hands again!'
"My father walked away, but I followed him. I felt strangely moved.
"The captain, a tall, thin man, with blond whiskers, was walking along
the bridge with an important air as if he were commanding the Indian mail
"My father addressed him ceremoniously, and questioned him about his
profession, adding many compliments:
"'What might be the importance of Jersey? What did it produce? What was
the population? The customs? The nature of the soil?' etc., etc.
"'You have there an old shell opener who seems quite interesting. Do you
know anything about him?'
"The captain, whom this conversation began to weary, answered dryly:
"'He is some old French tramp whom I found last year in America, and I
brought him back. It seems that he has some relatives in Havre, but that
he doesn't wish to return to them because he owes them money. His name
is Jules--Jules Darmanche or Darvanche or something like that. It seems
that he was once rich over there, but you can see what's left of him
"My father turned ashy pale and muttered, his throat contracted, his eyes
"'Ah! ah! very well, very well. I'm not in the least surprised. Thank
you very much, captain.'
"He went away, and the astonished sailor watched him disappear. He
returned to my mother so upset that she said to him:
"'Sit down; some one will notice that something is the matter.'
"He sank down on a bench and stammered:
"'It's he! It's he!'
"Then he asked:
"'What are we going to do?'
"She answered quickly:
"'We must get the children out of the way. Since Joseph knows
everything, he can go and get them. We must take good care that our son-
in-law doesn't find out.'
"My father seemed absolutely bewildered. He murmured:
"'What a catastrophe!'
"Suddenly growing furious, my mother exclaimed:
"'I always thought that that thief never would do anything, and that he
would drop down on us again! As if one could expect anything from a
"My father passed his hand over his forehead, as he always did when his
wife reproached him. She added:
"'Give Joseph some money so that he can pay for the oysters. All that it
needed to cap the climax would be to be recognized by that beggar. That
would be very pleasant! Let's get down to the other end of the boat, and
take care that that man doesn't come near us!'
"They gave me five francs and walked away.
"Astonished, my sisters were awaiting their father. I said that mamma
had felt a sudden attack of sea-sickness, and I asked the shell opener:
"'How much do we owe you, monsieur?'
"I felt like laughing: he was my uncle! He answered:
"'Two francs fifty.'
"I held out my five francs and he returned the change. I looked at his
hand; it was a poor, wrinkled, sailor's hand, and I looked at his face,
an unhappy old face. I said to myself:
"'That is my uncle, the brother of my father, my uncle!'
"I gave him a ten-cent tip. He thanked me:
"'God bless you, my young sir!'
"He spoke like a poor man receiving alms. I couldn't help thinking that
he must have begged over there! My sisters looked at me, surprised at my
generosity. When I returned the two francs to my father, my mother asked
me in surprise:
"'Was there three francs' worth? That is impossible.'
"I answered in a firm voice
"'I gave ten cents as a tip.'
"My mother started, and, staring at me, she exclaimed:
"'You must be crazy! Give ten cents to that man, to that vagabond--'
"She stopped at a look from my father, who was pointing at his son-in-
law. Then everybody was silent.
"Before us, on the distant horizon, a purple shadow seemed to rise out of
the sea. It was Jersey.
"As we approached the breakwater a violent desire seized me once more to
see my Uncle Jules, to be near him, to say to him something consoling,
something tender. But as no one was eating any more oysters, he had
disappeared, having probably gone below to the dirty hold which was the
home of the poor wretch."
Curving like a crescent moon, the little town of Etretat, with its white
cliffs, its white, shingly beach and its blue sea, lay in the sunlight at
high noon one July day. At either extremity of this crescent its two
"gates," the smaller to the right, the larger one at the left, stretched
forth--one a dwarf and the other a colossal limb--into the water, and the
bell tower, almost as tall as the cliff, wide below, narrowing at the
top, raised its pointed summit to the sky.
On the sands beside the water a crowd was seated watching the bathers.
On the terrace of, the Casino another crowd, seated or walking, displayed
beneath the brilliant sky a perfect flower patch of bright costumes, with
red and blue parasols embroidered with large flowers in silk.
On the walk at the end of the terrace, other persons, the restful, quiet
ones, were walking slowly, far from the dressy throng.
A young man, well known and celebrated as a painter, Jean Sumner, was
walking with a dejected air beside a wheeled chair in which sat a young
woman, his wife. A manservant was gently pushing the chair, and the
crippled woman was gazing sadly at the brightness of the sky, the
gladness of the day, and the happiness of others.
They did not speak. They did not look at each other.
"Let us stop a while," said the young woman.
They stopped, and the painter sat down on a camp stool that the servant
Those who were passing behind the silent and motionless couple looked at
them compassionately. A whole legend of devotion was attached to them.
He had married her in spite of her infirmity, touched by her affection
for him, it was said.
Not far from there, two young men were chatting, seated on a bench and
looking out into the horizon.
"No, it is not true; I tell you that I am well acquainted with Jean
"But then, why did he marry her? For she was a cripple when she married,
was she not?"
"Just so. He married her--he married her--just as every one marries,
parbleu! because he was an idiot!"
"But why--but why, my friend? There is no why. People do stupid things
just because they do stupid things. And, besides, you know very well
that painters make a specialty of foolish marriages. They almost always
marry models, former sweethearts, in fact, women of doubtful reputation,
frequently. Why do they do this? Who can say? One would suppose that
constant association with the general run of models would disgust them
forever with that class of women. Not at all. After having posed them
they marry them. Read that little book, so true, so cruel and so
beautiful, by Alphonse Daudet: 'Artists' Wives.'
"In the case of the couple you see over there the accident occurred in a
special and terrible manner. The little woman played a frightful comedy,
or, rather, tragedy. She risked all to win all. Was she sincere? Did
she love Jean? Shall we ever know? Who is able to determine precisely
how much is put on and how much is real in the actions of a woman? They
are always sincere in an eternal mobility of impressions. They are
furious, criminal, devoted, admirable and base in obedience to intangible
emotions. They tell lies incessantly without intention, without knowing
or understanding why, and in spite of it all are absolutely frank in
their feelings and sentiments, which they display by violent, unexpected,
incomprehensible, foolish resolutions which overthrow our arguments, our
customary poise and all our selfish plans. The unforeseenness and
suddenness of their determinations will always render them undecipherable
enigmas as far as we are concerned. We continually ask ourselves:
"'Are they sincere? Are they pretending?'
"But, my friend, they are sincere and insincere at one and the same time,
because it is their nature to be extremists in both and to be neither one
nor the other.
"See the methods that even the best of them employ to get what they
desire. They are complex and simple, these methods. So complex that we
can never guess at them beforehand, and so simple that after having been
victimized we cannot help being astonished and exclaiming: 'What! Did
she make a fool of me so easily as that?'
"And they always succeed, old man, especially when it is a question of
"But this is Sumner's story:
"The little woman was a model, of course. She posed for him. She was
pretty, very stylish-looking, and had a divine figure, it seems. He
fancied that he loved her with his whole soul. That is another strange
thing. As soon as one likes a woman one sincerely believes that they
could not get along without her for the rest of their life. One knows
that one has felt the same way before and that disgust invariably
succeeded gratification; that in order to pass one's existence side by
side with another there must be not a brutal, physical passion which soon
dies out, but a sympathy of soul, temperament and temper. One should
know how to determine in the enchantment to which one is subjected
whether it proceeds from the physical, from a certain sensuous
intoxication, or from a deep spiritual charm.
"Well, he believed himself in love; he made her no end of promises of
fidelity, and was devoted to her.
"She was really attractive, gifted with that fashionable flippancy that
little Parisians so readily affect. She chattered, babbled, made foolish
remarks that sounded witty from the manner in which they were uttered.
She used graceful gesture's which were calculated to attract a painter's
eye. When she raised her arms, when she bent over, when she got into a
carriage, when she held out her hand to you, her gestures were perfect
"For three months Jean never noticed that, in reality, she was like all
"He rented a little house for her for the summer at Andresy.
"I was there one evening when for the first time doubts came into my
"As it was a beautiful evening we thought we would take a stroll along
the bank of the river. The moon poured a flood of light on the trembling
water, scattering yellow gleams along its ripples in the currents and all
along the course of the wide, slow river.
"We strolled along the bank, a little enthused by that vague exaltation
that these dreamy evenings produce in us. We would have liked to
undertake some wonderful task, to love some unknown, deliciously poetic
being. We felt ourselves vibrating with raptures, longings, strange
aspirations. And we were silent, our beings pervaded by the serene and
living coolness of the beautiful night, the coolness of the moonlight,
which seemed to penetrate one's body, permeate it, soothe one's spirit,
fill it with fragrance and steep it in happiness.
"Suddenly Josephine (that is her name) uttered an exclamation:
"'Oh, did you see the big fish that jumped, over there?'
"He replied without looking, without thinking:
"She was angry.
"'No, you did not see it, for your back was turned.'
"'Yes, that's true. It is so delightful that I am not thinking of
"She was silent, but at the end of a minute she felt as if she must say
something and asked:
"'Are you going to Paris to-morrow?'
"'I do not know,' he replied.
"She was annoyed again.
"'Do you think it is very amusing to walk along without speaking? People
talk when they are not stupid.'
"He did not reply. Then, feeling with her woman's instinct that she was
going to make him angry, she began to sing a popular air that had
harassed our ears and our minds for two years:
"'Je regardais en fair.'
"'Please keep quiet.'
"She replied angrily:
"'Why do you wish me to keep quiet?'
"'You spoil the landscape for us!' he said.
"Then followed a scene, a hateful, idiotic scene, with unexpected
reproaches, unsuitable recriminations, then tears. Nothing was left
unsaid. They went back to the house. He had allowed her to talk without
replying, enervated by the beauty of the scene and dumfounded by this
storm of abuse.
"Three months later he strove wildly to free himself from those
invincible and invisible bonds with which such a friendship chains our
lives. She kept him under her influence, tyrannizing over him, making
his life a burden to him. They quarreled continually, vituperating and
finally fighting each other.
"He wanted to break with her at any cost. He sold all his canvases,
borrowed money from his friends, realizing twenty thousand francs (he was
not well known then), and left them for her one morning with a note of
"He came and took refuge with me.
"About three o'clock that afternoon there was a ring at the bell. I went
to the door. A woman sprang toward me, pushed me aside, came in and went
into my atelier. It was she!
"He had risen when he saw her coming.'
"She threw the envelope containing the banknotes at his feet with a truly
noble gesture and said in a quick tone:
"'There's your money. I don't want it!'
"She was very pale, trembling and ready undoubtedly to commit any folly.
As for him, I saw him grow pale also, pale with rage and exasperation,
ready also perhaps to commit any violence.
"'What do you want?'
"'I do not choose to be treated like a common woman. You implored me to
accept you. I asked you for nothing. Keep me with you!'
"He stamped his foot.
"'No, that's a little too much! If you think you are going--'
"I had seized his arm.
"'Keep still, Jean. . . Let me settle it.'
"I went toward her and quietly, little by little, I began to reason with
her, exhausting all the arguments that are used under similar
circumstances. She listened to me, motionless, with a fixed gaze,
obstinate and silent.
"Finally, not knowing what more to say, and seeing that there would be a
scene, I thought of a last resort and said:
"'He loves you still, my dear, but his family want him to marry some one,
and you understand--'
"She gave a start and exclaimed:
"'Ah! Ah! Now I understand:
"And turning toward him, she said:
"'You are--you are going to get married?'
"He replied decidedly" 'Yes.'
"She took a step forward.
"'If you marry, I will kill myself! Do you hear?'
"He shrugged his shoulders and replied:
"'Well, then kill yourself!'
"She stammered out, almost choking with her violent emotion:
"'What do you say? What do you say? What do you say? Say it again!'
"'Well, then kill yourself if you like!'
"With her face almost livid, she replied:
"'Do not dare me! I will throw myself from the window!'
"He began to laugh, walked toward the window, opened it, and bowing with
the gesture of one who desires to let some one else precede him, he said:
"'This is the way. After you!'
"She looked at him for a second with terrible, wild, staring eyes. Then,
taking a run as if she were going to jump a hedge in the country, she
rushed past me and past him, jumped over the sill and disappeared.
"I shall never forget the impression made on me by that open window after
I had seen that body pass through it to fall to the ground. It appeared
to me in a second to be as large as the heavens and as hollow as space.
And I drew back instinctively, not daring to look at it, as though I
feared I might fall out myself.
"Jean, dumfounded, stood motionless.
"They brought the poor girl in with both legs broken. She will never
"Jean, wild with remorse and also possibly touched with gratitude, made
up his mind to marry her.
"There you have it, old man."
It was growing dusk. The young woman felt chilly and wanted to go home,
and the servant wheeled the invalid chair in the direction of the
village. The painter walked beside his wife, neither of them having
exchanged a word for an hour.
This story appeared in Le Gaulois, December 17, 1883.
He was a journeyman carpenter, a good workman and a steady fellow,
twenty-seven years old, but, although the eldest son, Jacques Randel had
been forced to live on his family for two months, owing to the general
lack of work. He had walked about seeking work for over a month and had
left his native town, Ville-Avary, in La Manche, because he could find
nothing to do and would no longer deprive his family of the bread they
needed themselves, when he was the strongest of them all. His two
sisters earned but little as charwomen. He went and inquired at the town
hall, and the mayor's secretary told him that he would find work at the
Labor Agency, and so he started, well provided with papers and
certificates, and carrying another pair of shoes, a pair of trousers and
a shirt in a blue handkerchief at the end of his stick.
And he had walked almost without stopping, day and night, along
interminable roads, in sun and rain, without ever reaching that
mysterious country where workmen find work. At first he had the fixed
idea that he must only work as a carpenter, but at every carpenter's shop
where he applied he was told that they had just dismissed men on account
of work being so slack, and, finding himself at the end of his resources,
he made up his mind to undertake any job that he might come across on the
road. And so by turns he was a navvy, stableman, stonecutter; he split
wood, lopped the branches of trees, dug wells, mixed mortar, tied up
fagots, tended goats on a mountain, and all for a few pence, for he only
obtained two or three days' work occasionally by offering himself at a
shamefully low price, in order to tempt the avarice of employers and
And now for a week he had found nothing, and had no money left, and
nothing to eat but a piece of bread, thanks to the charity of some women
from whom he had begged at house doors on the road. It was getting dark,
and Jacques Randel, jaded, his legs failing him, his stomach empty, and
with despair in his heart, was walking barefoot on the grass by the side
of the road, for he was taking care of his last pair of shoes, as the
other pair had already ceased to exist for a long time. It was a
Saturday, toward the end of autumn. The heavy gray clouds were being
driven rapidly through the sky by the gusts of wind which whistled among
the trees, and one felt that it would rain soon. The country was
deserted at that hour on the eve of Sunday. Here and there in the fields
there rose up stacks of wheat straw, like huge yellow mushrooms, and the
fields looked bare, as they had already been sown for the next year.
Randel was hungry, with the hunger of some wild animal, such a hunger as
drives wolves to attack men. Worn out and weakened with fatigue, he took
longer strides, so as not to take so many steps, and with heavy head, the
blood throbbing in his temples, with red eyes and dry mouth, he grasped
his stick tightly in his hand, with a longing to strike the first
passerby who might be going home to supper.
He looked at the sides of the road, imagining he saw potatoes dug up and
lying on the ground before his eyes; if he had found any he would have
gathered some dead wood, made a fire in the ditch and have had a capital
supper off the warm, round vegetables with which he would first of all
have warmed his cold hands. But it was too late in the year, and he
would have to gnaw a raw beetroot which he might pick up in a field as he
had done the day before.
For the last two days he had talked to himself as he quickened his steps
under the influence of his thoughts. He had never thought much hitherto,
as he had given all his mind, all his simple faculties to his mechanical
work. But now fatigue and this desperate search for work which he could
not get, refusals and rebuffs, nights spent in the open air lying on the
grass, long fasting, the contempt which he knew people with a settled
abode felt for a vagabond, and that question which he was continually
asked, "Why do you not remain at home?" distress at not being able to use
his strong arms which he felt so full of vigor, the recollection of the
relations he had left at home and who also had not a penny, filled him by
degrees with rage, which had been accumulating every day, every hour,
every minute, and which now escaped his lips in spite of himself in
short, growling sentences.
As he stumbled over the stones which tripped his bare feet, he grumbled:
"How wretched! how miserable! A set of hogs--to let a man die of hunger
--a carpenter--a set of hogs--not two sous--not two sous--and now it is
raining--a set of hogs!"
He was indignant at the injustice of fate, and cast the blame on men, on
all men, because nature, that great, blind mother, is unjust, cruel and
perfidious, and he repeated through his clenched teeth:
"A set of hogs" as he looked at the thin gray smoke which rose from the
roofs, for it was the dinner hour. And, without considering that there
is another injustice which is human, and which is called robbery and
violence, he felt inclined to go into one of those houses to murder the
inhabitants and to sit down to table in their stead.
He said to himself: "I have no right to live now, as they are letting me
die of hunger, and yet I only ask for work--a set of hogs!" And the pain
in his limbs, the gnawing in his heart rose to his head like terrible
intoxication, and gave rise to this simple thought in his brain: "I have
the right to live because I breathe and because the air is the common
property of everybody. So nobody has the right to leave me without
A fine, thick, icy cold rain was coming down, and he stopped and
murmured: "Oh, misery! Another month of walking before I get home." He
was indeed returning home then, for he saw that he should more easily
find work in his native town, where he was known--and he did not mind
what he did--than on the highroads, where everybody suspected him. As
the carpentering business was not prosperous, he would turn day laborer,
be a mason's hodman, a ditcher, break stones on the road. If he only
earned a franc a day, that would at any rate buy him something to eat.
He tied the remains of his last pocket handkerchief round his neck to
prevent the cold rain from running down his back and chest, but he soon
found that it was penetrating the thin material of which his clothes were
made, and he glanced about him with the agonized look of a man who does
not know where to hide his body and to rest his head, and has no place of
shelter in the whole world.
Night came on and wrapped the country in obscurity, and in the distance,
in a meadow, he saw a dark spot on the grass; it was a cow, and so he got
over the ditch by the roadside and went up to her without exactly knowing
what he was doing. When he got close to her she raised her great head to
him, and he thought: "If I only had a jug I could get a little milk." He
looked at the cow and the cow looked at him and then, suddenly giving her
a kick in the side, he said: "Get up!"
The animal got up slowly, letting her heavy udders bang down. Then the
man lay down on his back between the animal's legs and drank for a long
time, squeezing her warm, swollen teats, which tasted of the cowstall,
with both hands, and he drank as long as she gave any milk. But the icy
rain began to fall more heavily, and he saw no place of shelter on the
whole of that bare plain. He was cold, and he looked at a light which
was shining among the trees in the window of a house.
The cow had lain down again heavily, and he sat down by her side and
stroked her head, grateful for the nourishment she had given him. The
animal's strong, thick breath, which came out of her nostrils like two
jets of steam in the evening air, blew on the workman's face, and he
said: "You are not cold inside there!" He put his hands on her chest and
under her stomach to find some warmth there, and then the idea struck him
that he might pass the night beside that large, warm animal. So he found
a comfortable place and laid his head on her side, and then, as he was
worn out with fatigue, fell asleep immediately.
He woke up, however, several times, with his back or his stomach half
frozen, according as he put one or the other against the animal's flank.
Then he turned over to warm and dry that part of his body which had
remained exposed to the night air, and soon went soundly to sleep again.
The crowing of a cock woke him; the day was breaking, it was no longer
raining, and the sky was bright. The cow was resting with her muzzle on
the ground, and he stooped down, resting on his hands, to kiss those
wide, moist nostrils, and said: "Good-by, my beauty, until next time.
You are a nice animal. Good-by." Then he put on his shoes and went off,
and for two hours walked straight before him, always following the same
road, and then he felt so tired that he sat down on the grass. It was
broad daylight by that time, and the church bells were ringing; men in
blue blouses, women in white caps, some on foot, some in carts, began to
pass along the road, going to the neighboring villages to spend Sunday
with friends or relations.
A stout peasant came in sight, driving before him a score of frightened,
bleating sheep, with the help of an active dog. Randel got up, and
raising his cap, said: "You do not happen to have any work for a man who
is dying of hunger?" But the other, giving an angry look at the vagabond,
replied: "I have no work for fellows whom I meet on the road."
And the carpenter went back and sat down by the side of the ditch again.
He waited there for a long time, watching the country people pass and
looking for a kind, compassionate face before he renewed his request, and
finally selected a man in an overcoat, whose stomach was adorned with a
gold chain. "I have been looking for work," he said, "for the last two
months and cannot find any, and I have not a sou in my pocket." But the
would-be gentleman replied: "You should have read the notice which is
stuck up at the entrance to the village: 'Begging is prohibited within
the boundaries of this parish.' Let me tell you that I am the mayor, and
if you do not get out of here pretty quickly I shall have you arrested."
Randel, who was getting angry, replied: "Have me arrested if you like; I
should prefer it, for, at any rate, I should not die of hunger." And he
went back and sat down by the side of his ditch again, and in about a
quarter of an hour two gendarmes appeared on the road. They were walking
slowly side by side, glittering in the sun with their shining hats, their
yellow accoutrements and their metal buttons, as if to frighten
evildoers, and to put them to flight at a distance. He knew that they
were coming after him, but he did not move, for he was seized with a
sudden desire to defy them, to be arrested by them, and to have his
They came on without appearing to have seen him, walking heavily, with
military step, and balancing themselves as if they were doing the goose
step; and then, suddenly, as they passed him, appearing to have noticed
him, they stopped and looked at him angrily and threateningly, and the
brigadier came up to him and asked: "What are you doing here?" "I am
resting," the man replied calmly. "Where do you come from?" "If I had
to tell you all the places I have been to it would take me more than an
hour." "Where are you going to?" "To Ville-Avary." "Where is that?"
"In La Manche." "Is that where you belong?" "It is." "Why did you
leave it?" "To look for work."
The brigadier turned to his gendarme and said in the angry voice of a man
who is exasperated at last by an oft-repeated trick: "They all say that,
these scamps. I know all about it." And then he continued: "Have you
any papers?" "Yes, I have some." "Give them to me."
Randel took his papers out of his pocket, his certificates, those poor,
worn-out, dirty papers which were falling to pieces, and gave them to the
soldier, who spelled them through, hemming and hawing, and then, having
seen that they were all in order, he gave them back to Randel with the
dissatisfied look of a man whom some one cleverer than himself has
After a few moments' further reflection, he asked him: "Have you any
money on you?" "No." "None whatever?" "None." "Not even a sou?" "Not
even a son!" "How do you live then?" "On what people give me." "Then you
beg?" And Randel answered resolutely: "Yes, when I can."
Then the gendarme said: "I have caught you on the highroad in the act of
vagabondage and begging, without any resources or trade, and so I command
you to come with me." The carpenter got up and said: "Wherever you
please." And, placing himself between the two soldiers, even before he
had received the order to do so, he added: "Well, lock me up; that will
at any rate put a roof over my head when it rains."
And they set off toward the village, the red tiles of which could be seen
through the leafless trees, a quarter of a league off. Service was about
to begin when they went through the village. The square was full of
people, who immediately formed two lines to see the criminal pass.
He was being followed by a crowd of excited children. Male and female
peasants looked at the prisoner between the two gendarmes, with hatred in
their eyes and a longing to throw stones at him, to tear his skin with
their nails, to trample him under their feet. They asked each other
whether he had committed murder or robbery. The butcher, who was an ex-
'spahi', declared that he was a deserter. The tobacconist thought that
he recognized him as the man who had that very morning passed a bad half-
franc piece off on him, and the ironmonger declared that he was the
murderer of Widow Malet, whom the police had been looking for for six
In the municipal court, into which his custodians took him, Randel saw
the mayor again, sitting on the magisterial bench, with the schoolmaster
by his side. "Aha! aha!" the magistrate exclaimed, "so here you are
again, my fine fellow. I told you I should have you locked up. Well,
brigadier, what is he charged with?"
"He is a vagabond without house or home, Monsieur le Maire, without any
resources or money, so he says, who was arrested in the act of begging,
but he is provided with good testimonials, and his papers are all in
"Show me his papers," the mayor said. He took them, read them, reread,
returned them and then said: "Search him." So they searched him, but
found nothing, and the mayor seemed perplexed, and asked the workman:
"What were you doing on the road this morning?" "I was looking for work."
"Work? On the highroad?" "How do you expect me to find any if I hide in
They looked at each other with the hatred of two wild beasts which belong
to different hostile species, and the magistrate continued: "I am going
to have you set at liberty, but do not be brought up before me again."
To which the carpenter replied: "I would rather you locked me up; I have
had enough running about the country." But the magistrate replied
severely: "be silent." And then he said to the two gendarmes: "You will
conduct this man two hundred yards from the village and let him continue
"At any rate, give me something to eat," the workman said, but the other
grew indignant: "Have we nothing to do but to feed you? Ah! ah! ah!
that is rather too much!" But Randel went on firmly: "If you let me
nearly die of hunger again, you will force me to commit a crime, and
then, so much the worse for you other fat fellows."
The mayor had risen and he repeated: "Take him away immediately or I
shall end by getting angry."
The two gendarmes thereupon seized the carpenter by the arms and dragged
him out. He allowed them to do it without resistance, passed through the
village again and found himself on the highroad once more; and when the
men had accompanied him two hundred yards beyond the village, the
brigadier said: "Now off with you and do not let me catch you about here
again, for if I do, you will know it."
Randel went off without replying or knowing where he was going. He
walked on for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, so stupefied that
he no longer thought of anything. But suddenly, as he was passing a
small house, where the window was half open, the smell of the soup and
boiled meat stopped him suddenly, and hunger, fierce, devouring,
maddening hunger, seized him and almost drove him against the walls of
the house like a wild beast.
He said aloud in a grumbling voice: "In Heaven's name! they must give me
some this time!" And he began to knock at the door vigorously with his
stick, and as no one came he knocked louder and called out: "Hey! hey!
you people in there, open the door!" And then, as nothing stirred, he
went up to the window and pushed it wider open with his hand, and the
close warm air of the kitchen, full of the smell of hot soup, meat and
cabbage, escaped into the cold outer air, and with a bound the carpenter
was in the house. Two places were set at the table, and no doubt the
proprietors of the house, on going to church, had left their dinner on
the fire, their nice Sunday boiled beef and vegetable soup, while there
was a loaf of new bread on the chimney-piece, between two bottles which
Randel seized the bread first of all and broke it with as much violence
as if he were strangling a man, and then he began to eat voraciously,
swallowing great mouthfuls quickly. But almost immediately the smell of
the meat attracted him to the fireplace, and, having taken off the lid of
the saucepan, he plunged a fork into it and brought out a large piece of
beef tied with a string. Then he took more cabbage, carrots and onions
until his plate was full, and, having put it on the table, he sat down
before it, cut the meat into four pieces, and dined as if he had been at
home. When he had eaten nearly all the meat, besides a quantity of
vegetables, he felt thirsty and took one of the bottles off the
Scarcely had he poured the liquor into his glass when he saw it was
brandy. So much the better; it was warming and would instill some fire
into his veins, and that would be all right, after being so cold; and he
drank some. He certainly enjoyed it, for he had grown unaccustomed to
it, and he poured himself out another glassful, which he drank at two
gulps. And then almost immediately he felt quite merry and light-hearted
from the effects of the alcohol, just as if some great happiness filled
He continued to eat, but more slowly, and dipping his bread into the
soup. His skin had become burning, and especially his forehead, where
the veins were throbbing. But suddenly the church bells began to ring.
Mass was over, and instinct rather than fear, the instinct of prudence,
which guides all beings and makes them clear-sighted in danger, made the
carpenter get up. He put the remains of the loaf into one pocket and the
brandy bottle into the other, and he furtively went to the window and
looked out into the road. It was still deserted, so he jumped out and
set off walking again, but instead of following the highroad he ran
across the fields toward a wood he saw a little way off.
He felt alert, strong, light-hearted, glad of what he had done, and so
nimble that he sprang over the enclosure of the fields at a single bound,
and as soon as he was under the trees he took the bottle out of his
pocket again and began to drink once more, swallowing it down as lie
walked, and then his ideas began to get confused, his eyes grew dim, and
his legs as elastic as springs, and he started singing the old popular
"Oh! what joy, what joy it is,
To pick the sweet, wild strawberries."
He was now walking on thick, damp, cool moss, and that soft carpet under
his feet made him feel absurdly inclined to turn head over heels as he
used to do when a child, so he took a run, turned a somersault, got up
and began over again. And between each time he began to sing again:
"Oh! what joy, what joy it is,
To pick the sweet, wild strawberries."
Suddenly he found himself above a deep road, and in the road he saw a
tall girl, a servant, who was returning to the village with two pails of
milk. He watched, stooping down, and with his eyes as bright as those of
a dog who scents a quail, but she saw him raised her head and said: "Was
that you singing like that?" He did not reply, however, but jumped down
into the road, although it was a fall of at least six feet and when she
saw him suddenly standing in front of her, she exclaimed: "Oh! dear, how
you frightened me!"
But he did not hear her, for he was drunk, he was mad, excited by another
requirement which was more imperative than hunger, more feverish than
alcohol; by the irresistible fury of the man who has been deprived of
everything for two months, and who is drunk; who is young, ardent and
inflamed by all the appetites which nature has implanted in the vigorous
flesh of men.
The girl started back from him, frightened at his face, his eyes, his
half-open mouth, his outstretched hands, but he seized her by the
shoulders, and without a word, threw her down in the road.
She let her two pails fall, and they rolled over noisily, and all the
milk was spilt, and then she screamed lustily, but it was of no avail in
that lonely spot.
When she got up the thought of her overturned pails suddenly filled her
with fury, and, taking off one of her wooden sabots, she threw it at the
man to break his head if he did not pay her for her milk.
But he, mistaking the reason of this sudden violent attack, somewhat
sobered, and frightened at what he had done, ran off as fast as he could,
while she threw stones at him, some of which hit him in the back.
He ran for a long time, very long, until he felt more tired than he had
ever been before. His legs were so weak that they could scarcely carry
him; all his ideas were confused, he lost recollection of everything and
could no longer think about anything, and so he sat down at the foot of a
tree, and in five minutes was fast asleep. He was soon awakened,
however, by a rough shake, and, on opening his eyes, he saw two cocked
hats of shiny leather bending over him, and the two gendarmes of the
morning, who were holding him and binding his arms.
"I knew I should catch you again," said the brigadier jeeringly. But
Randel got up without replying. The two men shook him, quite ready to
ill treat him if he made a movement, for he was their prey now. He had
become a jailbird, caught by those hunters of criminals who would not let
him go again.
"Now, start!" the brigadier said, and they set off. It was late
afternoon, and the autumn twilight was setting in over the land, and in
half an hour they reached the village, where every door was open, for the
people had heard what had happened. Peasants and peasant women and
girls, excited with anger, as if every man had been robbed and every
woman attacked, wished to see the wretch brought back, so that they might
overwhelm him with abuse. They hooted him from the first house in the
village until they reached the Hotel de Ville, where the mayor was
waiting for him to be himself avenged on this vagabond, and as soon as he
saw him approaching he cried:
"Ah! my fine fellow! here we are!" And he rubbed his hands, more
pleased than he usually was, and continued: "I said so. I said so, the
moment I saw him in the road."
And then with increased satisfaction:
"Oh, you blackguard! Oh, you dirty blackguard! You will get your twenty
years, my fine fellow!"
THE FISHING HOLE
"Cuts and wounds which caused death." Such was the charge upon which
Leopold Renard, upholsterer, was summoned before the Court of Assizes.
Round him were the principal witnesses, Madame Flameche, widow of the
victim, and Louis Ladureau, cabinetmaker, and Jean Durdent, plumber.
Near the criminal was his wife, dressed in black, an ugly little woman,
who looked like a monkey dressed as a lady.
This is how Renard (Leopold) recounted the drama.
"Good heavens, it is a misfortune of which I was the prime victim all the
time, and with which my will has nothing to do. The facts are their own
commentary, Monsieur le President. I am an honest man, a hard-working
man, an upholsterer, living in the same street for the last sixteen
years, known, liked, respected and esteemed by all, as my neighbors can
testify, even the porter's wife, who is not amiable every day. I am fond
of work, I am fond of saving, I like honest men and respectable
amusements. That is what has ruined me, so much the worse for me; but as
my will had nothing to do with it, I continue to respect myself.
"Every Sunday for the last five years my wife and I have spent the day at
Passy. We get fresh air, and, besides, we are fond of fishing. Oh! we
are as fond of it as we are of little onions. Melie inspired me with
that enthusiasm, the jade, and she is more enthusiastic than I am, the
scold, seeing that all the mischief in this business is her fault, as you
will see immediately.
"I am strong and mild tempered, without a pennyworth of malice in me.
But she! oh! la! la! she looks like nothing; she is short and thin.
Very well, she does more mischief than a weasel. I do not deny that she
has some good qualities; she has some, and very important ones for a man
in business. But her character! Just ask about it in the neighborhood,
and even the porter's wife, who has just sent me about my business--she
will tell you something about it.
"Every day she used to find fault with my mild temper: 'I would not put
up with this! I would not put up with that.' If I had listened to her,
Monsieur le President, I should have had at least three hand-to-hand
fights a month . . . ."
Madame Renard interrupted him: "And for good reasons, too; they laugh
best who laugh last."
He turned toward her frankly: "Well, I can't blame you, since you were
not the cause of it."
Then, facing the President again, he said:
"I will continue. We used to go to Passy every Saturday evening, so as
to begin fishing at daybreak the next morning. It is a habit which has
become second nature with us, as the saying is. Three years ago this
summer I discovered a place, oh! such a spot. Oh, dear, dear! In the
shade, eight feet of water at least and perhaps ten, a hole with cavities
under the bank, a regular nest for fish and a paradise for the fisherman.
I might look upon that fishing hole as my property, Monsieur le
President, as I was its Christopher Columbus. Everybody in the
neighborhood knew it, without making any opposition. They would say:
'That is Renard's place'; and nobody would have gone there, not even
Monsieur Plumeau, who is well known, be it said without any offense, for
poaching on other people's preserves.
"Well, I returned to this place of which I felt certain, just as if I had
owned it. I had scarcely got there on Saturday, when I got into Delila,
with my wife. Delila is my Norwegian boat, which I had built by
Fournaire, and which is light and safe. Well, as I said, we got into the
boat and we were going to set bait, and for setting bait there is none to
be compared with me, and they all know it. You want to know with what I
bait? I cannot answer that question; it has nothing to do with the
accident. I cannot answer; that is my secret. There are more than three
hundred people who have asked me; I have been offered glasses of brandy
and liqueur, fried fish, matelotes, to make me tell. But just go and try
whether the chub will come. Ah! they have tempted my stomach to get at
my secret, my recipe. Only my wife knows, and she will not tell it any
more than I will. Is not that so, Melie?"
The president of the court interrupted him.
"Just get to the facts as soon as you can," and the accused continued:
"I am getting to them, I am getting to them. Well, on Saturday, July 8,
we left by the twenty-five past five train and before dinner we went to
set bait as usual. The weather promised to keep fine and I said to
Melie: 'All right for tomorrow.' And she replied: 'If looks like it,'
We never talk more than that together.
"And then we returned to dinner. I was happy and thirsty, and that was
the cause of everything. I said to Melie: 'Look here, Melie, it is fine
weather, suppose I drink a bottle of 'Casque a meche'.' That is a weak
white wine which we have christened so, because if you drink too much of
it it prevents you from sleeping and takes the place of a nightcap. Do
you understand me?
"She replied: 'You can do as you please, but you will be ill again and
will not be able to get up tomorrow.' That was true, sensible and
prudent, clearsighted, I must confess. Nevertheless I could not resist,
and I drank my bottle. It all came from that.
"Well, I could not sleep. By Jove! it kept me awake till two o'clock in
the morning, and then I went to sleep so soundly that I should not have
heard the angel sounding his trump at the last judgment.
"In short, my wife woke me at six o'clock and I jumped out of bed,
hastily put on my trousers and jersey, washed my face and jumped on board
Delila. But it was too late, for when I arrived at my hole it was
already occupied! Such a thing had never happened to me in three years,
and it made me feel as if I were being robbed under my own eyes. I said
to myself: 'Confound it all! confound it!' And then my wife began to nag
at me. 'Eh! what about your 'Casque a meche'? Get along, you drunkard!
Are you satisfied, you great fool?' I could say nothing, because it was
all true, but I landed all the same near the spot and tried to profit by
what was left. Perhaps after all the fellow might catch nothing and go
"He was a little thin man in white linen coat and waistcoat and a large
straw hat, and his wife, a fat woman, doing embroidery, sat behind him.
"When she saw us take up our position close to them she murmured: 'Are
there no other places on the river?' My wife, who was furious, replied:
'People who have any manners make inquiries about the habits of the
neighborhood before occupying reserved spots.'
"As I did not want a fuss, I said to her: 'Hold your tongue, Melie. Let
them alone, let them alone; we shall see.'
"Well, we fastened Delila under the willows and had landed and were
fishing side by side, Melie and I, close to the two others. But here,
monsieur, I must enter into details.
"We had only been there about five minutes when our neighbor's line began
to jerk twice, thrice; and then he pulled out a chub as thick as my
thigh; rather less, perhaps, but nearly as big! My heart beat, the
perspiration stood on my forehead and Melie said to me: 'Well, you sot,
did you see that?'
"Just then Monsieur Bru, the grocer of Poissy, who is fond of gudgeon
fishing, passed in a boat and called out to me: 'So somebody has taken
your usual place, Monsieur Renard?' And I replied: 'Yes, Monsieur Bru,
there are some people in this world who do not know the rules of common
"The little man in linen pretended not to hear, nor his fat lump of a
Here the president interrupted him a second time: "Take care, you are
insulting the widow, Madame Flameche, who is present."
Renard made his excuses: "I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon; my anger
carried me away. Well, not a quarter of an hour had passed when the
little man caught another chub, and another almost immediately, and
another five minutes later.
"Tears were in my eyes, and I knew that Madame Renard was boiling with
rage, for she kept on nagging at me: 'Oh, how horrid! Don't you see that
he is robbing you of your fish? Do you think that you will catch
anything? Not even a frog, nothing whatever. Why, my hands are
tingling, just to think of it.'
"But I said to myself: 'Let us wait until twelve o'clock. Then this
poacher will go to lunch and I shall get my place again. As for me,
Monsieur le President, I lunch on that spot every Sunday. We bring our
provisions in Delila. But there! At noon the wretch produced a chicken
in a newspaper, and while he was eating, he actually caught another chub!
"Melie and I had a morsel also, just a bite, a mere nothing, for our
heart was not in it.
"Then I took up my newspaper to aid my digestion. Every Sunday I read
the Gil Blas in the shade by the side of the water. It is Columbine's
day, you know; Columbine, who writes the articles in the Gil Blas.
I generally put Madame Renard into a rage by pretending to know this
Columbine. It is not true, for I do not know her and have never seen
her, but that does not matter. She writes very well, and then she says
things that are pretty plain for a woman. She suits me and there are not
many of her sort.
"Well, I began to tease my wife, but she got angry immediately, and very
angry, so I held my tongue. At that moment our two witnesses who are
present here, Monsieur Ladureau and Monsieur Durdent, appeared on the
other side of the river. We knew each other by sight. The little man
began to fish again and he caught so many that I trembled with vexation
and his wife said: 'It is an uncommonly good spot, and we will come here
always, Desire.' As for me, a cold shiver ran down my back, and Madame
Renard kept repeating: 'You are not a man; you have the blood of a
chicken in your veins'; and suddenly I said to her: 'Look here, I would
rather go away or I shall be doing something foolish.'
"And she whispered to me, as if she had put a red-hot iron under my nose:
'You are not a man. Now you are going to run away and surrender your
place! Go, then, Bazaine!'
"I felt hurt, but yet I did not move, while the other fellow pulled out a
bream: Oh, I never saw such a large one before, never! And then my wife
began to talk aloud, as if she were thinking, and you can see her tricks.
She said: 'That is what one might call stolen fish, seeing that we set
the bait ourselves. At any rate, they ought to give us back the money we
have spent on bait.'
"Then the fat woman in the cotton dress said in her turn: 'Do you mean to
call us thieves, madame?' Explanations followed and compliments began to
fly. Oh, Lord! those creatures know some good ones. They shouted so
loud that our two witnesses, who were on the other bank, began to call
out by way of a joke: 'Less noise over there; you will interfere with
your husbands' fishing.'
"The fact is that neither the little man nor I moved any more than if we
had been two tree stumps. We remained there, with our eyes fixed on the
water, as if we had heard nothing; but, by Jove! we heard all the same.
'You are a thief! You are nothing better than a tramp! You are a
regular jade!' and so on and so on. A sailor could not have said more.
"Suddenly I heard a noise behind me and turned round. It was the other
one, the fat woman, who had attacked my wife with her parasol. Whack,
whack! Melie got two of them. But she was furious, and she hits hard
when she is in a rage. She caught the fat woman by the hair and then
thump! thump! slaps in the face rained down like ripe plums. I should
have let them fight it out: women together, men together. It does not do
to mix the blows. But the little man in the linen jacket jumped up like
a devil and was going to rush at my wife. Ah! no, no, not that, my
friend! I caught the gentleman with the end of my fist, and crash!
crash! One on the nose, the other in the stomach. He threw up his arms
and legs and fell on his back into the river, just into the hole.
"I should have fished him out most certainly, Monsieur le President, if I
had had time. But, to make matters worse, the fat woman had the upper
hand and was pounding Melie for all she was worth. I know I ought not to
have interfered while the man was in the water, but I never thought that
he would drown and said to myself: 'Bah, it will cool him.'
"I therefore ran up to the women to separate them and all I received was
scratches and bites. Good Lord, what creatures! Well, it took me five
minutes, and perhaps ten, to separate those two viragos. When I turned
round there was nothing to be seen.
"The water was as smooth as a lake and the others yonder kept shouting:
'Fish him out! fish him out!' It was all very well to say that, but I
cannot swim and still less dive.
"At last the man from the dam came and two gentlemen with boathooks, but
over a quarter of an hour had passed. He was found at the bottom of the
hole, in eight feet of water, as I have said. There he was, the poor
little man, in his linen suit! Those are the facts such as I have sworn
to. I am innocent, on my honor."
The witnesses having given testimony to the same effect, the accused was
The hotel guests slowly entered the dining-room and took their places.
The waiters did not hurry themselves, in order to give the late comers a
chance and thus avoid the trouble of bringing in the dishes a second
time. The old bathers, the habitues, whose season was almost over,
glanced, gazed toward the door whenever it opened, to see what new faces
This is the principal distraction of watering places. People look
forward to the dinner hour in order to inspect each day's new arrivals,
to find out who they are, what they do, and what they think. We always
have a vague desire to meet pleasant people, to make agreeable
acquaintances, perhaps to meet with a love adventure. In this life of
elbowings, unknown strangers assume an extreme importance. Curiosity is
aroused, sympathy is ready to exhibit itself, and sociability is the
order of the day.
We cherish antipathies for a week and friendships for a month; we see
people with different eyes, when we view them through the medium of
acquaintanceship at watering places. We discover in men suddenly, after
an hour's chat, in the evening after dinner, under the trees in the park
where the healing spring bubbles up, a high intelligence and astonishing
merits, and a month afterward we have completely forgotten these new
friends, who were so fascinating when we first met them.
Permanent and serious ties are also formed here sooner than anywhere
else. People see each other every day; they become acquainted very
quickly, and their affection is tinged with the sweetness and unrestraint
of long-standing intimacies. We cherish in after years the dear and
tender memories of those first hours of friendship, the memory of those
first conversations in which a soul was unveiled, of those first glances
which interrogate and respond to questions and secret thoughts which the
mouth has not as yet uttered, the memory of that first cordial
confidence, the memory of that delightful sensation of opening our hearts
to those who seem to open theirs to us in return.
And the melancholy of watering places, the monotony of days that are all
alike, proves hourly an incentive to this heart expansion.
Well, this evening, as on every other evening, we awaited the appearance
of strange faces.
Only two appeared, but they were very remarkable, a man and a woman--
father and daughter. They immediately reminded me of some of Edgar Poe's
characters; and yet there was about them a charm, the charm associated
with misfortune. I looked upon them as the victims of fate. The man was
very tall and thin, rather stooped, with perfectly white hair, too white
for his comparatively youthful physiognomy; and there was in his bearing
and in his person that austerity peculiar to Protestants. The daughter,
who was probably twenty-four or twenty-five, was small in stature, and
was also very thin, very pale, and she had the air of one who was worn
out with utter lassitude. We meet people like this from time to time,
who seem too weak for the tasks and the needs of daily life, too weak to
move about, to walk, to do all that we do every day. She was rather
pretty; with a transparent, spiritual beauty. And she ate with extreme
slowness, as if she were almost incapable of moving her arms.
It must have been she, assuredly, who had come to take the waters.
They sat facing me, on the opposite side of the table; and I at once
noticed that the father had a very singular, nervous twitching.
Every time he wanted to reach an object, his hand described a sort of
zigzag before it succeeded in reaching what it was in search of, and
after a little while this movement annoyed me so that I turned aside my
head in order not to see it.
I noticed, too, that the young girl, during meals, wore a glove on her
After dinner I went for a stroll in the park of the bathing
establishment. This led toward the little Auvergnese station of Chatel-
Guyon, hidden in a gorge at the foot of the high mountain, from which
flowed so many boiling springs, arising from the deep bed of extinct
volcanoes. Over yonder, above our heads, the domes of extinct craters
lifted their ragged peaks above the rest in the long mountain chain. For
Chatel-Guyon is situated at the entrance to the land of mountain domes.
Beyond it stretches out the region of peaks, and, farther on again the
region of precipitous summits.
The "Puy de Dome" is the highest of the domes, the Peak of Sancy is the
loftiest of the peaks, and Cantal is the most precipitous of these
It was a very warm evening, and I was walking up and down a shady path,
listening to the opening, strains of the Casino band, which was playing
on an elevation overlooking the park.
And I saw the father and the daughter advancing slowly in my direction.
I bowed as one bows to one's hotel companions at a watering place; and
the man, coming to a sudden halt, said to me:
"Could you not, monsieur, tell us of a nice walk to take, short, pretty,
and not steep; and pardon my troubling you?"
I offered to show them the way toward the valley through which the little
river flowed, a deep valley forming a gorge between two tall, craggy,
They gladly accepted my offer.
And we talked, naturally, about the virtue of the waters.
"Oh," he said, "my daughter has a strange malady, the seat of which is
unknown. She suffers from incomprehensible nervous attacks. At one time
the doctors think she has an attack of heart disease, at another time
they imagine it is some affection of the liver, and at another they
declare it to be a disease of the spine. To-day this protean malady,
that assumes a thousand forms and a thousand modes of attack, is
attributed to the stomach, which is the great caldron and regulator of
the body. This is why we have come here. For my part, I am rather
inclined to think it is the nerves. In any case it is very sad."
Immediately the remembrance of the violent spasmodic movement of his hand
came back to my mind, and I asked him:
"But is this not the result of heredity? Are not your own nerves
He replied calmly:
"Mine? Oh, no-my nerves have always been very steady."
Then, suddenly, after a pause, he went on:
"Ah! You were alluding to the jerking movement of my hand every time I
try to reach for anything? This arises from a terrible experience which
I had. Just imagine, this daughter of mine was actually buried alive!"
I could only utter, "Ah!" so great were my astonishment and emotion.
"Here is the story. It is simple. Juliette had been subject for some
time to serious attacks of the heart. We believed that she had disease
of that organ, and were prepared for the worst.
"One day she was carried into the house cold, lifeless, dead. She had
fallen down unconscious in the garden. The doctor certified that life
was extinct. I watched by her side for a day and two nights. I laid her
with my own hands in the coffin, which I accompanied to the cemetery,
where she was deposited in the family vault. It is situated in the very
heart of Lorraine.
"I wished to have her interred with her jewels, bracelets, necklaces,
rings, all presents which she had received from me, and wearing her first
"You may easily imagine my state of mind when I re-entered our home.
She was the only one I had, for my wife had been dead for many years.
I found my way to my own apartment in a half-distracted condition,
utterly exhausted, and sank into my easy-chair, without the capacity to
think or the strength to move. I was nothing better now than a
suffering, vibrating machine, a human being who had, as it were, been
flayed alive; my soul was like an open wound.
"My old valet, Prosper, who had assisted me in placing Juliette in her
coffin, and aided me in preparing her for her last sleep, entered the
room noiselessly, and asked:
"'Does monsieur want anything?'
"I merely shook my head in reply.
"'Monsieur is wrong,' he urged. 'He will injure his health. Would
monsieur like me to put him to bed?'
"I answered: 'No, let me alone!'
"And he left the room.
"I know not how many hours slipped away. Oh, what a night, what a night!
It was cold. My fire had died out in the huge grate; and the wind, the
winter wind, an icy wind, a winter hurricane, blew with a regular,
sinister noise against the windows.
"How many hours slipped away? There I was without sleeping, powerless,
crushed, my eyes wide open, my legs stretched out, my body limp,
inanimate, and my mind torpid with despair. Suddenly the great doorbell,
the great bell of the vestibule, rang out.
"I started so that my chair cracked under me. The solemn, ponderous
sound vibrated through the empty country house as through a vault.
I turned round to see what the hour was by the clock. It was just two in
the morning. Who could be coming at such an hour?
"And, abruptly, the bell again rang twice. The servants, without doubt,
were afraid to get up. I took a wax candle and descended the stairs.
I was on the point of asking: 'Who is there?'
"Then I felt ashamed of my weakness, and I slowly drew back the heavy
bolts. My heart was throbbing wildly. I was frightened. I opened the
door brusquely, and in the darkness I distinguished a white figure,
standing erect, something that resembled an apparition.
"I recoiled petrified with horror, faltering:
"'Who-who-who are you?'
"A voice replied:
"'It is I, father.'
"It was my daughter.
"I really thought I must be mad, and I retreated backward before this
advancing spectre. I kept moving away, making a sign with my hand,' as
if to drive the phantom away, that gesture which you have noticed--that
gesture which has remained with me ever since.
"'Do not be afraid, papa,' said the apparition. 'I was not dead.
Somebody tried to steal my rings and cut one of my fingers; the blood
began to flow, and that restored me to life.'
"And, in fact, I could see that her hand was covered with blood.
"I fell on my knees, choking with sobs and with a rattling in my throat.
"Then, when I had somewhat collected my thoughts, though I was still so
bewildered that I scarcely realized the awesome happiness that had
befallen me, I made her go up to my room and sit dawn in my easy-chair;
then I rang excitedly for Prosper to get him to rekindle the fire and to
bring some wine, and to summon assistance.
"The man entered, stared at my daughter, opened his mouth with a gasp of
alarm and stupefaction, and then fell back dead.
"It was he who had opened the vault, who had mutilated and then abandoned
my daughter; for he could not efface the traces of the theft. He had not
even taken the trouble to put back the coffin into its place, feeling
sure, besides, that he would not be suspected by me, as I trusted him
"You see, monsieur, that we are very unfortunate people."
He was silent.
The night had fallen, casting its shadows over the desolate, mournful
vale, and a sort of mysterious fear possessed me at finding myself by the
side of those strange beings, of this young girl who had come back from
the tomb, and this father with his uncanny spasm.
I found it impossible to make any comment on this dreadful story. I only
"What a horrible thing!"
Then, after a minute's silence, I added:
"Let us go indoors. I think it is growing cool."
And we made our way back to the hotel.