Part 3 out of 3
IN THE WOOD
As the mayor was about to sit down to breakfast, word was brought to him
that the rural policeman, with two prisoners, was awaiting him at the
Hotel de Ville. He went there at once and found old Hochedur standing
guard before a middle-class couple whom he was regarding with a severe
expression on his face.
The man, a fat old fellow with a red nose and white hair, seemed utterly
dejected; while the woman, a little roundabout individual with shining
cheeks, looked at the official who had arrested them, with defiant eyes.
"What is it? What is it, Hochedur?"
The rural policeman made his deposition: He had gone out that morning at
his usual time, in order to patrol his beat from the forest of Champioux
as far as the boundaries of Argenteuil. He had not noticed anything
unusual in the country except that it was a fine day, and that the wheat
was doing well, when the son of old Bredel, who was going over his vines,
called out to him: "Here, Daddy Hochedur, go and have a look at the
outskirts of the wood. In the first thicket you will find a pair of
pigeons who must be a hundred and thirty years old between them!"
He went in the direction indicated, entered the thicket, and there he
heard words which made him suspect a flagrant breach of morality.
Advancing, therefore, on his hands and knees as if to surprise a poacher,
he had arrested the couple whom he found there.
The mayor looked at the culprits in astonishment, for the man was
certainly sixty, and the woman fifty-five at least, and he began to
question them, beginning with the man, who replied in such a weak voice
that he could scarcely be heard.
"What is your name?"
"Haberdasher, in the Rue des Martyrs, in Paris."
"What were you doing in the wood?"
The haberdasher remained silent, with his eyes on his fat paunch, and his
hands hanging at his sides, and the mayor continued:
"Do you deny what the officer of the municipal authorities states?"
"So you confess it?"
"What have you to say in your defence?"
"Where did you meet the partner in your misdemeanor?"
"She is my wife, monsieur."
"Then--then--you do not live together-in Paris?"
"I beg your pardon, monsieur, but we are living together!"
"But in that case--you must be mad, altogether mad, my dear sir, to get
caught playing lovers in the country at ten o'clock in the morning."
The haberdasher seemed ready to cry with shame, and he muttered: "It was
she who enticed me! I told her it was very stupid, but when a woman once
gets a thing into her head--you know--you cannot get it out."
The mayor, who liked a joke, smiled and replied: "In your case, the
contrary ought to have happened. You would not be here, if she had had
the idea only in her head."
Then Monsieur Beauain was seized with rage and turning to his wife, he
said: "Do you see to what you have brought us with your poetry? And now
we shall have to go before the courts at our age, for a breach of morals!
And we shall have to shut up the shop, sell our good will, and go to some
other neighborhood! That's what it has come to."
Madame Beaurain got up, and without looking at her husband, she explained
herself without embarrassment, without useless modesty, and almost
"Of course, monsieur, I know that we have made ourselves ridiculous.
Will you allow me to plead my cause like an advocate, or rather like a
poor woman? And I hope that you will be kind enough to send us home, and
to spare us the disgrace of a prosecution.
"Years ago, when I was young, I made Monsieur Beaurain's acquaintance one
Sunday in this neighborhood. He was employed in a draper's shop, and I
was a saleswoman in a ready-made clothing establishment. I remember it
as if it were yesterday. I used to come and spend Sundays here
occasionally with a friend of mine, Rose Leveque, with whom I lived in
the Rue Pigalle, and Rose had a sweetheart, while I had none. He used to
bring us here, and one Saturday he told me laughing that he should bring
a friend with him the next day. I quite understood what he meant, but I
replied that it would be no good; for I was virtuous, monsieur.
"The next day we met Monsieur Beaurain at the railway station, and in
those days he was good-looking, but I had made up my mind not to
encourage him, and I did not. Well, we arrived at Bezons. It was a
lovely day, the sort of day that touches your heart. When it is fine
even now, just as it used to be formerly, I grow quite foolish, and when
I am in the country I utterly lose my head. The green grass, the
swallows flying so swiftly, the smell of the grass, the scarlet poppies,
the daisies, all that makes me crazy. It is like champagne when one is
not accustomed to it!
"Well, it was lovely weather, warm and bright, and it seemed to penetrate
your body through your eyes when you looked and through your mouth when
you breathed. Rose and Simon hugged and kissed each other every minute,
and that gave me a queer feeling! Monsieur Beaurain and I walked behind
them, without speaking much, for when people do not know each other, they
do not find anything to talk about. He looked timid, and I liked to see
his embarrassment. At last we got to the little wood; it was as cool as
in a bath there, and we four sat down. Rose and her lover teased me
because I looked rather stern, but you will understand that I could not
be otherwise. And then they began to kiss and hug again, without putting
any more restraint upon themselves than if we had not been there; and
then they whispered together, and got up and went off among the trees,
without saying a word. You may fancy what I looked like, alone with this
young fellow whom I saw for the first time. I felt so confused at seeing
them go that it gave me courage, and I began to talk. I asked him what
his business was, and he said he was a linen draper's assistant, as I
told you just now. We talked for a few minutes, and that made him bold,
and he wanted to take liberties with me, but I told him sharply to keep
his place. Is not that true, Monsieur Beaurain?"
Monsieur Beaurain, who was looking at his feet in confusion, did not
reply, and she continued: "Then he saw that I was virtuous, and he began
to make love to me nicely, like an honorable man, and from that time he
came every Sunday, for he was very much in love with me. I was very fond
of him also, very fond of him! He was a good-looking fellow, formerly,
and in short he married me the next September, and we started in business
in the Rue des Martyrs.
"It was a hard struggle for some years, monsieur. Business did not
prosper, and we could not afford many country excursions, and, besides,
we had got out of the way of them. One has other things in one's head,
and thinks more of the cash box than of pretty speeches, when one is in
business. We were growing old by degrees without perceiving it, like
quiet people who do not think much about love. One does not regret
anything as long as one does not notice what one has lost.
"And then, monsieur, business became better, and we were tranquil as to
the future! Then, you see, I do not exactly know what went on in my
mind, no, I really do not know, but I began to dream like a little
boarding-school girl. The sight of the little carts full of flowers
which are drawn about the streets made me cry; the smell of violets
sought me out in my easy-chair, behind my cash box, and made my heart
beat! Then I would get up and go out on the doorstep to look at the blue
sky between the roofs. When one looks up at the sky from the street, it
looks like a river which is descending on Paris, winding as it flows, and
the swallows pass to and fro in it like fish. These ideas are very
stupid at my age! But how can one help it, monsieur, when one has worked
all one's life? A moment comes in which one perceives that one could
have done something else, and that one regrets, oh! yes, one feels
intense regret! Just think, for twenty years I might have gone and had
kisses in the woods, like other women. I used to think how delightful it
would be to lie under the trees and be in love with some one! And I
thought of it every day and every night! I dreamed of the moonlight on
the water, until I felt inclined to drown myself.
"I did not venture to speak to Monsieur Beaurain about this at first.
I knew that he would make fun of me, and send me back to sell my needles
and cotton! And then, to speak the truth, Monsieur Beaurain never said
much to me, but when I looked in the glass, I also understood quite well
that I no longer appealed to any one!
"Well, I made up my mind, and I proposed to him an excursion into the
country, to the place where we had first become acquainted. He agreed
without mistrusting anything, and we arrived here this morning, about
"I felt quite young again when I got among the wheat, for a woman's heart
never grows old! And really, I no longer saw my husband as he is at
present, but just as he was formerly! That I will swear to you,
monsieur. As true as I am standing here I was crazy. I began to kiss
him, and he was more surprised than if I had tried to murder him.
He kept saying to me: 'Why, you must be mad! You are mad this morning!
What is the matter with you?' I did not listen to him, I only listened to
my own heart, and I made him come into the wood with me. That is all.
I have spoken the truth, Monsieur le Maire, the whole truth."
The mayor was a sensible man. He rose from his chair, smiled, and said:
"Go in peace, madame, and when you again visit our forests, be more
It came to him one Sunday after mass. He was walking home from church
along the by-road that led to his house when he saw ahead of him Martine,
who was also going home.
Her father walked beside his daughter with the important gait of a rich
farmer. Discarding the smock, he wore a short coat of gray cloth and on
his head a round-topped hat with wide brim.
She, laced up in a corset which she wore only once a week, walked along
erect, with her squeezed-in waist, her broad shoulders and prominent
hips, swinging herself a little. She wore a hat trimmed with flowers,
made by a milliner at Yvetot, and displayed the back of her full, round,
supple neck, reddened by the sun and air, on which fluttered little stray
locks of hair.
Benoist saw only her back; but he knew well the face he loved, without,
however, having ever noticed it more closely than he did now.
Suddenly he said: "Nom d'un nom, she is a fine girl, all the same, that
Martine." He watched her as she walked, admiring her hastily, feeling a
desire taking possession of him. He did not long to see her face again,
no. He kept gazing at her figure, repeating to himself: "Nom d'un nom,
she is a fine girl."
Martine turned to the right to enter "La Martiniere," the farm of her
father, Jean Martin, and she cast a glance behind her as she turned
round. She saw Benoist, who looked to her very comical. She called out:
"Good-morning, Benoist." He replied: "Good-morning, Martine; good-
morning, mait Martin," and went on his way.
When he reached home the soup was on the table. He sat down opposite his
mother beside the farm hand and the hired man, while the maid servant
went to draw some cider.
He ate a few spoonfuls, then pushed away his plate. His mother said:
"Don't you feel well?"
"No. I feel as if I had some pap in my stomach and that takes away my
He watched the others eating, as he cut himself a piece of bread from
time to time and carried it lazily to his mouth, masticating it slowly.
He thought of Martine. "She is a fine girl, all the same." And to think
that he had not noticed it before, and that it came to him, just like
that, all at once, and with such force that he could not eat.
He did not touch the stew. His mother said:
"Come, Benoist, try and eat a little; it is loin of mutton, it will do
you good. When one has no appetite, they should force themselves to
He swallowed a few morsels, then, pushing away his plate, said:
"No. I can't go that, positively."
When they rose from table he walked round the farm, telling the farm hand
he might go home and that he would drive up the animals as he passed by
The country was deserted, as it was the day of rest. Here and there in a
field of clover cows were moving along heavily, with full bellies,
chewing their cud under a blazing sun. Unharnessed plows were standing
at the end of a furrow; and the upturned earth ready for the seed showed
broad brown patches of stubble of wheat and oats that had lately been
A rather dry autumn wind blew across the plain, promising a cool evening
after the sun had set. Benoist sat down on a ditch, placed his hat on
his knees as if he needed to cool off his head, and said aloud in the
stillness of the country: "If you want a fine girl, she is a fine girl."
He thought of it again at night, in his bed, and in the morning when he
He was not sad, he was not discontented, he could not have told what
ailed him. It was something that had hold of him, something fastened in
his mind, an idea that would not leave him and that produced a sort of
tickling sensation in his heart.
Sometimes a big fly is shut up in a room. You hear it flying about,
buzzing, and the noise haunts you, irritates you. Suddenly it stops; you
forget it; but all at once it begins again, obliging you to look up.
You cannot catch it, nor drive it away, nor kill it, nor make it keep
still. As soon as it settles for a second, it starts off buzzing again.
The recollection of Martine disturbed Benoist's mind like an imprisoned
Then he longed to see her again and walked past the Martiniere several
times. He saw her, at last, hanging out some clothes on a line stretched
between two apple trees.
It was a warm day. She had on only a short skirt and her chemise,
showing the curves of her figure as she hung up the towels. He remained
there, concealed by the hedge, for more than an hour, even after she had
left. He returned home more obsessed with her image than ever.
For a month his mind was full of her, he trembled when her name was
mentioned in his presence. He could not eat, he had night sweats that
kept him from sleeping.
On Sunday, at mass, he never took his eyes off her. She noticed it and
smiled at him, flattered at his appreciation.
One evening, he suddenly met her in the road. She stopped short when she
saw him coming. Then he walked right up to her, choking with fear and
emotion, but determined to speak to her. He began falteringly:
"See here, Martine, this cannot go on like this any longer."
She replied as if she wanted to tease him:
"What cannot go on any longer, Benoist?"
"My thinking of you as many hours as there are in the day," he answered.
She put her hands on her hips.
"I do not oblige you to do so."
"Yes, it is you," he stammered; "I cannot sleep, nor rest, nor eat, nor
"What do you need to cure you of all that?" she asked.
He stood there in dismay, his arms swinging, his eyes staring, his mouth
She hit him a punch in the stomach and ran off.
From that day they met each other along the roadside, in by-roads or else
at twilight on the edge of a field, when he was going home with his
horses and she was driving her cows home to the stable.
He felt himself carried, cast toward her by a strong impulse of his heart
and body. He would have liked to squeeze her, strangle her, eat her,
make her part of himself. And he trembled with impotence, impatience,
rage, to think she did not belong to him entirely, as if they were one
People gossiped about it in the countryside. They said they were
engaged. He had, besides, asked her if she would be his wife, and she
had answered "Yes."
They, were waiting for an opportunity to talk to their parents about it.
But, all at once, she stopped coming to meet him at the usual hour. He
did not even see her as he wandered round the farm. He could only catch
a glimpse of her at mass on Sunday. And one Sunday, after the sermon,
the priest actually published the banns of marriage between Victoire-
Adelaide Martin and Josephin-Isidore Vallin.
Benoist felt a sensation in his hands as if the blood had been drained
off. He had a buzzing in the ears; and could hear nothing; and presently
he perceived that his tears were falling on his prayer book.
For a month he stayed in his room. Then he went back to his work.
But he was not cured, and it was always in his mind. He avoided the
roads that led past her home, so that he might not even see the trees in
the yard, and this obliged him to make a great circuit morning and
She was now married to Vallin, the richest farmer in the district.
Benoist and he did not speak now, though they had been comrades from
One evening, as Benoist was passing the town hall, he heard that she was
enceinte. Instead of experiencing a feeling of sorrow, he experienced,
on the contrary, a feeling of relief. It was over, now, all over. They
were more separated by that than by her marriage. He really preferred
that it should be so.
Months passed, and more months. He caught sight of her, occasionally,
going to the village with a heavier step than usual. She blushed as she
saw him, lowered her head and quickened her pace. And he turned out of
his way so as not to pass her and meet her glance.
He dreaded the thought that he might one morning meet her face to face,
and be obliged to speak to her. What could he say to her now, after all
he had said formerly, when he held her hands as he kissed her hair beside
her cheeks? He often thought of those meetings along the roadside. She
had acted horridly after all her promises.
By degrees his grief diminished, leaving only sadness behind. And one
day he took the old road that led past the farm where she now lived.
He looked at the roof from a distance. It was there, in there, that she
lived with another! The apple trees were in bloom, the cocks crowed on
the dung hill. The whole dwelling seemed empty, the farm hands had gone
to the fields to their spring toil. He stopped near the gate and looked
into the yard. The dog was asleep outside his kennel, three calves were
walking slowly, one behind the other, towards the pond. A big turkey was
strutting before the door, parading before the turkey hens like a singer
at the opera.
Benoist leaned against the gate post and was suddenly seized with a
desire to weep. But suddenly, he heard a cry, a loud cry for help coming
from the house. He was struck with dismay, his hands grasping the wooden
bars of the gate, and listened attentively. Another cry, a prolonged,
heartrending cry, reached his ears, his soul, his flesh. It was she who
was crying like that! He darted inside, crossed the grass patch, pushed
open the door, and saw her lying on the floor, her body drawn up, her
face livid, her eyes haggard, in the throes of childbirth.
He stood there, trembling and paler than she was, and stammered:
"Here I am, here I am, Martine!"
She replied in gasps:
"Oh, do not leave me, do not leave me, Benoist!"
He looked at her, not knowing what to say, what to do. She began to cry
"Oh, oh, it is killing me. Oh, Benoist!"
She writhed frightfully.
Benoist was suddenly seized with a frantic longing to help her, to quiet
her, to remove her pain. He leaned over, lifted her up and laid her on
her bed; and while she kept on moaning he began to take off her clothes,
her jacket, her skirt and her petticoat. She bit her fists to keep from
crying out. Then he did as he was accustomed to doing for cows, ewes,
and mares: he assisted in delivering her and found in his hands a large
infant who was moaning.
He wiped it off and wrapped it up in a towel that was drying in front of
the fire, and laid it on a bundle of clothes ready for ironing that was
on the table. Then he went back to the mother.
He took her up and placed her on the floor again, then he changed the
bedclothes and put her back into bed. She faltered:
"Thank you, Benoist, you have a noble heart." And then she wept a little
as if she felt regretful.
He did not love her any longer, not the least bit. It was all over.
Why? How? He could not have said. What had happened had cured him
better than ten years of absence.
She asked, exhausted and trembling:
"What is it?"
He replied calmly:
"It is a very fine girl."
Then they were silent again. At the end of a few moments, the mother, in
a weak voice, said:
"Show her to me, Benoist."
He took up the little one and was showing it to her as if he were holding
the consecrated wafer, when the door opened, and Isidore Vallin appeared.
He did not understand at first, then all at once he guessed.
Benoist, in consternation, stammered out:
"I was passing, I was just passing by when f heard her crying out, and I
came--there is your child, Vallin!"
Then the husband, his eyes full of tears, stepped forward, took the
little mite of humanity that he held out to him, kissed it, unable to
speak from emotion for a few seconds; then placing the child on the bed,
he held out both hands to Benoist, saying:
"Your hand upon it, Benoist. From now on we understand each other. If
you are willing, we will be a pair of friends, a pair of friends!" And
Benoist replied: "Indeed I will, certainly, indeed I will."
Compte de Lormerin had just finished dressing. He cast a parting glance
at the large mirror which occupied an entire panel in his dressing-room
He was really a fine-looking man still, although quite gray. Tall,
slight, elegant, with no sign of a paunch, with a small mustache of
doubtful shade, which might be called fair, he had a walk, a nobility, a
"chic," in short, that indescribable something which establishes a
greater difference between two men than would millions of money. He
"Lormerin is still alive!"
And he went into the drawing-room where his correspondence awaited him.
On his table, where everything had its place, the work table of the
gentleman who never works, there were a dozen letters lying beside three
newspapers of different opinions. With a single touch he spread out all
these letters, like a gambler giving the choice of a card; and he scanned
the handwriting, a thing he did each morning before opening the
It was for him a moment of delightful expectancy, of inquiry and vague
anxiety. What did these sealed mysterious letters bring him? What did
they contain of pleasure, of happiness, or of grief? He surveyed them
with a rapid sweep of the eye, recognizing the writing, selecting them,
making two or three lots, according to what he expected from them. Here,
friends; there, persons to whom he was indifferent; further on,
strangers. The last kind always gave him a little uneasiness. What did
they want from him? What hand had traced those curious characters full
of thoughts, promises, or threats?
This day one letter in particular caught his eye. It was simple,
nevertheless, without seeming to reveal anything; but he looked at it
uneasily, with a sort of chill at his heart. He thought: "From whom can
it be? I certainly know this writing, and yet I can't identify it."
He raised it to a level with his face, holding it delicately between two
fingers, striving to read through the envelope, without making up his
mind to open it.
Then he smelled it, and snatched up from the table a little magnifying
glass which he used in studying all the niceties of handwriting. He
suddenly felt unnerved. "Whom is it from? This hand is familiar to me,
very familiar. I must have often read its tracings, yes, very often.
But this must have been a long, long time ago. Whom the deuce can it be
from? Pooh! it's only somebody asking for money."
And he tore open the letter. Then he read:
MY DEAR FRIEND: You have, without doubt, forgotten me, for it is now
twenty-five years since we saw each other. I was young; I am old.
When I bade you farewell, I left Paris in order to follow into the
provinces my husband, my old husband, whom you used to call "my
hospital." Do you remember him? He died five years ago, and now I
am returning to Paris to get my daughter married, for I have a
daughter, a beautiful girl of eighteen, whom you have never seen.
I informed you of her birth, but you certainly did not pay much
attention to so trifling an event.
You are still the handsome Lormerin; so I have been told. Well, if
you still recollect little Lise, whom you used to call Lison, come
and dine with her this evening, with the elderly Baronne de Vance
your ever faithful friend, who, with some emotion, although happy,
reaches out to you a devoted hand, which you must clasp, but no
longer kiss, my poor Jaquelet.
LISE DE VANCE.
Lormerin's heart began to throb. He remained sunk in his armchair with
the letter on his knees, staring straight before him, overcome by a
poignant emotion that made the tears mount up to his eyes!
If he had ever loved a woman in his life it was this one, little Lise,
Lise de Vance, whom he called "Ashflower," on account of the strange
color of her hair and the pale gray of her eyes. Oh! what a dainty,
pretty, charming creature she was, this frail baronne, the wife of that
gouty, pimply baron, who had abruptly carried her off to the provinces,
shut her up, kept her in seclusion through jealousy, jealousy of the
Yes, he had loved her, and he believed that he too, had been truly loved.
She familiarly gave him, the name of Jaquelet, and would pronounce that
word in a delicious fashion.
A thousand forgotten memories came back to him, far, off and sweet and
melancholy now. One evening she had called on him on her way home from a
ball, and they went for a stroll in the Bois de Boulogne, she in evening
dress, he in his dressing-jacket. It was springtime; the weather was
beautiful. The fragrance from her bodice embalmed the warm air-the odor
of her bodice, and perhaps, too, the fragrance of her skin. What a
divine night! When they reached the lake, as the moon's rays fell across
the branches into the water, she began to weep. A little surprised, he
asked her why.
"I don't know. The moon and the water have affected me. Every time I
see poetic things I have a tightening at the heart, and I have to cry."
He smiled, affected himself, considering her feminine emotion charming--
the unaffected emotion of a poor little woman, whom every sensation
overwhelms. And he embraced her passionately, stammering:
"My little Lise, you are exquisite."
What a charming love affair, short-lived and dainty, it had been and over
all too quickly, cut short in the midst of its ardor by this old brute of
a baron, who had carried off his wife, and never let any one see her
Lormerin had forgotten, in fact, at the end of two or three months. One
woman drives out another so quickly in Paris, when one is a bachelor! No
matter; he had kept a little altar for her in his heart, for he had loved
her alone! He assured himself now that this was so.
He rose, and said aloud: "Certainly, I will go and dine with her this
And instinctively he turned toward the mirror to inspect himself from
head to foot. He reflected: "She must look very old, older than I look."
And he felt gratified at the thought of showing himself to her still
handsome, still fresh, of astonishing her, perhaps of filling her with
emotion, and making her regret those bygone days so far, far distant!
He turned his attention to the other letters. They were of no
The whole day he kept thinking of this ghost of other days. What was she
like now? How strange it was to meet in this way after twenty-five
years! But would he recognize her?
He made his toilet with feminine coquetry, put on a white waistcoat,
which suited him better with the coat than a black one, sent for the
hairdresser to give him a finishing touch With the curling iron, for he
had preserved his hair, and started very early in order to show his
eagerness to see her.
The first thing he saw on entering a pretty drawing-room newly furnished
was his own portrait, an old faded photograph, dating from the days when
he was a beau, hanging on the wall in an antique silk frame.
He sat down and waited. A door opened behind him. He rose up abruptly,
and, turning round, beheld an old woman with white hair who extended both
hands toward him.
He seized them, kissed them one after the other several times; then,
lifting up his head, he gazed at the woman he had loved.
Yes, it was an old lady, an old lady whom he did not recognize, and who,
while she smiled, seemed ready to weep.
He could not abstain from murmuring:
"Is it you, Lise?"
"Yes, it is I; it is I, indeed. You would not have known me, would you?
I have had so much sorrow--so much sorrow. Sorrow has consumed my life.
Look at me now--or, rather, don't look at me! But how handsome you have
kept--and young! If I had by chance met you in the street I would have
exclaimed: 'Jaquelet!'. Now, sit down and let us, first of all, have a
chat. And then I will call my daughter, my grown-up daughter. You'll
see how she resembles me--or, rather, how I resembled her--no, it is not
quite that; she is just like the 'me' of former days--you shall see! But
I wanted to be alone with you first. I feared that there would be some
emotion on my side, at the first moment. Now it is all over; it is past.
Pray be seated, my friend."
He sat down beside her, holding her hand; but he did not know what to
say; he did not know this woman--it seemed to him that he had never seen
her before. Why had he come to this house? What could he talk about?
Of the long ago? What was there in common between him and her? He could
no longer recall anything in presence of this grandmotherly face. He
could no longer recall all the nice, tender things, so sweet, so bitter,
that had come to his mind that morning when he thought of the other, of
little Lise, of the dainty Ashflower. What, then, had become of her, the
former one, the one he had loved? That woman of far-off dreams, the
blonde with gray eyes, the young girl who used to call him "Jaquelet" so
They remained side by side, motionless, both constrained, troubled,
profoundly ill at ease.
As they talked only commonplaces, awkwardly and spasmodically and slowly,
she rose and pressed the button of the bell.
"I am going to call Renee," she said.
There was a tap at the door, then the rustle of a dress; then a young
"Here I am, mamma!"
Lormerin remained bewildered as at the sight of an apparition.
Then, turning toward the mother:
"Oh! it is you!"
In fact, it was she, she whom he had known in bygone days, the Lise who
had vanished and come back! In her he found the woman he had won twenty-
five years before. This one was even younger, fresher, more childlike.
He felt a wild desire to open his arms, to clasp her to his heart again,
murmuring in her ear:
A man-servant announced:
"Dinner is ready, madame."
And they proceeded toward the dining-room.
What passed at this dinner? What did they say to him, and what could he
say in reply? He found himself plunged in one of those strange dreams
which border on insanity. He gazed at the two women with a fixed idea in
his mind, a morbid, self-contradictory idea:
"Which is the real one?"
The mother smiled again repeating over and over:
"Do you remember?" And it was in the bright eyes of the young girl that
he found again his memories of the past. Twenty times he opened his
mouth to say to her: "Do you remember, Lison?" forgetting this white-
haired lady who was looking at him tenderly.
And yet, there were moments when, he no longer felt sure, when he lost
his head. He could see that the woman of to-day was not exactly the
woman of long ago. The other one, the former one, had in her voice, in
her glances, in her entire being, something which he did not find again.
And he made prodigious efforts of mind to recall his lady love, to seize
again what had escaped from her, what this resuscitated one did not
The baronne said:
"You have lost your old vivacity, my poor friend."
"There are many other things that I have lost!"
But in his heart, touched with emotion, he felt his old love springing to
life once more, like an awakened wild beast ready to bite him.
The young girl went on chattering, and every now and then some familiar
intonation, some expression of her mother's, a certain style of speaking
and thinking, that resemblance of mind and manner which people acquire by
living together, shook Lormerin from head to foot. All these things
penetrated him, making the reopened wound of his passion bleed anew.
He got away early, and took a turn along the boulevard. But the image of
this young girl pursued him, haunted him, quickened his heart, inflamed
his blood. Apart from the two women, he now saw only one, a young one,
the old one come back out of the past, and he loved her as he had loved
her in bygone years. He loved her with greater ardor, after an interval
of twenty-five years.
He went home to reflect on this strange and terrible thing, and to think
what he should do.
But, as he was passing, with a wax candle in his hand, before the glass,
the large glass in which he had contemplated himself and admired himself
before he started, he saw reflected there an elderly, gray-haired man;
and suddenly he recollected what he had been in olden days, in the days
of little Lise. He saw himself charming and handsome, as he had been
when he was loved! Then, drawing the light nearer, he looked at himself
more closely, as one inspects a strange thing with a magnifying glass,
tracing the wrinkles, discovering those frightful ravages, which he had
not perceived till now.
And he sat down, crushed at the sight of himself, at the sight of his
lamentable image, murmuring:
"All over, Lormerin!"
Everybody in Fecamp knew Mother Patin's story. She had certainly been
unfortunate with her husband, for in his lifetime he used to beat her,
just as wheat is threshed in the barn.
He was master of a fishing bark and had married her, formerly, because
she was pretty, although poor.
Patin was a good sailor, but brutal. He used to frequent Father Auban's
inn, where he would usually drink four or five glasses of brandy, on
lucky days eight or ten glasses and even more, according to his mood.
The brandy was served to the customers by Father Auban's daughter, a
pleasing brunette, who attracted people to the house only by her pretty
face, for nothing had ever been gossiped about her.
Patin, when he entered the inn, would be satisfied to look at her and to
compliment her politely and respectfully. After he had had his first
glass of brandy he would already find her much nicer; at the second he
would wink; at the third he would say. "If you were only willing,
Mam'zelle Desiree----" without ever finishing his sentence; at the fourth
he would try to hold her back by her skirt in order to kiss her; and when
he went as high as ten it was Father Auban who brought him the remaining
The old innkeeper, who knew all the tricks of the trade, made Desiree
walk about between the tables in order to increase the consumption of
drinks; and Desiree, who was a worthy daughter of Father Auban, flitted
around among the benches and joked with them, her lips smiling and her
Patin got so well accustomed to Desiree's face that he thought of it even
while at sea, when throwing out his nets, in storms or in calms, on
moonlit or dark evenings. He thought of her while holding the tiller in
the stern of his boat, while his four companions were slumbering with
their heads on their arms. He always saw her, smiling, pouring out the
yellow brandy with a peculiar shoulder movement and then exclaiming as
she turned away: "There, now; are you satisfied?"
He saw her so much in his mind's eye that he was overcome by an
irresistible desire to marry her, and, not being able to hold out any
longer, he asked for her hand.
He was rich, owned his own vessel, his nets and a little house at the
foot of the hill on the Retenue, whereas Father Auban had nothing. The
marriage was therefore eagerly agreed upon and the wedding took place as
soon as possible, as both parties were desirous for the affair to be
concluded as early as convenient.
Three days after the wedding Patin could no longer understand how he had
ever imagined Desiree to be different from other women. What a fool he
had been to encumber himself with a penniless creature, who had
undoubtedly inveigled him with some drug which she had put in his brandy!
He would curse all day lung, break his pipe with his teeth and maul his
crew. After he had sworn by every known term at everything that came his
way he would rid himself of his remaining anger on the fish and lobsters,
which he pulled from the nets and threw into the baskets amid oaths and
foul language. When he returned home he would find his wife, Father
Auban's daughter, within reach of his mouth and hand, and it was not long
before he treated her like the lowest creature in the world. As she
listened calmly, accustomed to paternal violence, he grew exasperated at
her quiet, and one evening he beat her. Then life at his home became
For ten years the principal topic of conversation on the Retenue was
about the beatings that Patin gave his wife and his manner of cursing at
her for the least thing. He could, indeed, curse with a richness of
vocabulary in a roundness of tone unequalled by any other man in Fecamp.
As soon as his ship was sighted at the entrance of the harbor, returning
from the fishing expedition, every one awaited the first volley he would
hurl from the bridge as soon as he perceived his wife's white cap.
Standing at the stern he would steer, his eye fixed on the bows and on
the sail, and, notwithstanding the difficulty of the narrow passage and
the height of the turbulent waves, he would search among the watching
women and try to recognize his wife, Father Auban's daughter, the wretch!
Then, as soon as he saw her, notwithstanding the noise of the wind and
waves, he would let loose upon her with such power and volubility that
every one would laugh, although they pitied her greatly. When he arrived
at the dock he would relieve his mind, while unloading the fish, in such
an expressive manner that he attracted around him all the loafers of the
neighborhood. The words left his mouth sometimes like shots from a
cannon, short and terrible, sometimes like peals of thunder, which roll
and rumble for five minutes, such a hurricane of oaths that he seemed to
have in his lungs one of the storms of the Eternal Father.
When he left his ship and found himself face to face with her, surrounded
by all the gossips of the neighborhood, he would bring up a new cargo of
insults and bring her back to their dwelling, she in front, he behind,
she weeping, he yelling at her.
At last, when alone with her behind closed doors, he would thrash her on
the slightest pretext. The least thing was sufficient to make him raise
his hand, and when he had once begun he did not stop, but he would throw
into her face the true motive for his anger. At each blow he would roar:
"There, you beggar! There, you wretch! There, you pauper! What a
bright thing I did when I rinsed my mouth with your rascal of a father's
apology for brandy."
The poor woman lived in continual fear, in a ceaseless trembling of body
and soul, in everlasting expectation of outrageous thrashings.
This lasted ten years. She was so timorous that she would grow pale
whenever she spoke to any one, and she thought of nothing but the blows
with which she was threatened; and she became thinner, more yellow and
drier than a smoked fish.
One night, when her husband was at sea, she was suddenly awakened by the
wild roaring of the wind!
She sat up in her bed, trembling, but, as she hear nothing more, she lay
down again; almost immediately there was a roar in the chimney which
shook the entire house; it seemed to cross the heavens like a pack of
furious animals snorting and roaring.
Then she arose and rushed to the harbor. Other women were arriving from
all sides, carrying lanterns. The men also were gathering, and all were
watching the foaming crests of the breaking wave.
The storm lasted fifteen hours. Eleven sailors never returned; Patin was
In the neighborhood of Dieppe the wreck of his bark, the Jeune-Amelie,
was found. The bodies of his sailors were found near Saint-Valery, but
his body was never recovered. As his vessel seemed to have been cut in
two, his wife expected and feared his return for a long time, for if
there had been a collision he alone might have been picked up and carried
Little by little she grew accustomed to the thought that she was rid of
him, although she would start every time that a neighbor, a beggar or a
peddler would enter suddenly.
One afternoon, about four years after the disappearance of her husband,
while she was walking along the Rue aux Juifs, she stopped before the
house of an old sea captain who had recently died and whose furniture was
for sale. Just at that moment a parrot was at auction. He had green
feathers and a blue head and was watching everybody with a displeased
look. "Three francs!" cried the auctioneer. "A bird that can talk like
a lawyer, three francs!"
A friend of the Patin woman nudged her and said:
"You ought to buy that, you who are rich. It would be good company for
you. That bird is worth more than thirty francs. Anyhow, you can always
sell it for twenty or twenty-five!"
Patin's widow added fifty centimes, and the bird was given her in a
little cage, which she carried away. She took it home, and, as she was
opening the wire door in order to give it something to drink, he bit her
finger and drew blood.
"Oh, how naughty he is!" she said.
Nevertheless she gave it some hemp-seed and corn and watched it pruning
its feathers as it glanced warily at its new home and its new mistress.
On the following morning, just as day was breaking, the Patin woman
distinctly heard a loud, deep, roaring voice calling: "Are you going to
get up, carrion?"
Her fear was so great that she hid her head under the sheets, for when
Patin was with her as soon as he would open his eyes he would shout those
well-known words into her ears.
Trembling, rolled into a ball, her back prepared for the thrashing which
she already expected, her face buried in the pillows, she murmured: "Good
Lord! he is here! Good Lord! he is here! Good Lord! he has come
Minutes passed; no noise disturbed the quiet room. Then, trembling, she
stuck her head out of the bed, sure that he was there, watching, ready to
beat her. Except for a ray of sun shining through the window, she saw
nothing, and she said to her self: "He must be hidden."
She waited a long time and then, gaining courage, she said to herself: "I
must have dreamed it, seeing there is nobody here."
A little reassured, she closed. her eyes, when from quite near a furious
voice, the thunderous voice of the drowned man, could be heard crying:
"Say! when in the name of all that's holy are you going to get up, you
She jumped out of bed, moved by obedience, by the passive obedience of a
woman accustomed to blows and who still remembers and always will
remember that voice! She said: "Here I am, Patin; what do you want?"
Put Patin did not answer. Then, at a complete loss, she looked around
her, then in the chimney and under the bed and finally sank into a chair,
wild with anxiety, convinced that Patin's soul alone was there, near her,
and that he had returned in order to torture her.
Suddenly she remembered the loft, in order to reach which one had to take
a ladder. Surely he must have hidden there in order to surprise her. He
must have been held by savages on some distant shore, unable to escape
until now, and he had returned, worse that ever. There was no doubting
the quality of that voice. She raised her head and asked: "Are you up
Patin did not answer. Then, with a terrible fear which made her heart
tremble, she climbed the ladder, opened the skylight, looked, saw
nothing, entered, looked about and found nothing. Sitting on some straw,
she began to cry, but while she was weeping, overcome by a poignant and
supernatural terror, she heard Patin talking in the room below.
He seemed less angry and he was saying: "Nasty weather! Fierce wind!
Nasty weather! I haven't eaten, damn it!"
She cried through the ceiling: "Here I am, Patin; I am getting your meal
ready. Don't get angry."
She ran down again. There was no one in the room. She felt herself
growing weak, as if death were touching her, and she tried to run and get
help from the neighbors, when a voice near her cried out: "I haven't had
my breakfast, by G--!"
And the parrot in his cage watched her with his round, knowing, wicked
eye. She, too, looked at him wildly, murmuring: "Ah! so it's you!"
He shook his head and continued: "Just you wait! I'll teach you how to
What happened within her? She felt, she understood that it was he, the
dead man, who had come back, who had disguised himself in the feathers of
this bird in order to continue to torment her; that he would curse, as
formerly, all day long, and bite her, and swear at her, in order to
attract the neighbors and make them laugh. Then she rushed for the cage
and seized the bird, which scratched and tore her flesh with its claws
and beak. But she held it with all her strength between her hands. She
threw it on the ground and rolled over it with the frenzy of one
possessed. She crushed it and finally made of it nothing but a little
green, flabby lump which no longer moved or spoke. Then she wrapped it
in a cloth, as in a shroud, and she went out in her nightgown, barefoot;
she crossed the dock, against which the choppy waves of the sea were
beating, and she shook the cloth and let drop this little, dead thing,
which looked like so much grass. Then she returned, threw herself on her
knees before the empty cage, and, overcome by what she had done, kneeled
and prayed for forgiveness, as if she had committed some heinous crime.
THE PIECE OF STRING
It was market-day, and from all the country round Goderville the peasants
and their wives were coming toward the town. The men walked slowly,
throwing the whole body forward at every step of their long, crooked
legs. They were deformed from pushing the plough which makes the left-
shoulder higher, and bends their figures side-ways; from reaping the
grain, when they have to spread their legs so as to keep on their feet.
Their starched blue blouses, glossy as though varnished, ornamented at
collar and cuffs with a little embroidered design and blown out around
their bony bodies, looked very much like balloons about to soar, whence
issued two arms and two feet.
Some of these fellows dragged a cow or a calf at the end of a rope. And
just behind the animal followed their wives beating it over the back with
a leaf-covered branch to hasten its pace, and carrying large baskets out
of which protruded the heads of chickens or ducks. These women walked
more quickly and energetically than the men, with their erect, dried-up
figures, adorned with scanty little shawls pinned over their flat bosoms,
and their heads wrapped round with a white cloth, enclosing the hair and
surmounted by a cap.
Now a char-a-banc passed by, jogging along behind a nag and shaking up
strangely the two men on the seat, and the woman at the bottom of the
cart who held fast to its sides to lessen the hard jolting.
In the market-place at Goderville was a great crowd, a mingled multitude
of men and beasts. The horns of cattle, the high, long-napped hats of
wealthy peasants, the headdresses of the women came to the surface of
that sea. And the sharp, shrill, barking voices made a continuous, wild
din, while above it occasionally rose a huge burst of laughter from the
sturdy lungs of a merry peasant or a prolonged bellow from a cow tied
fast to the wall of a house.
It all smelled of the stable, of milk, of hay and of perspiration, giving
off that half-human, half-animal odor which is peculiar to country folks.
Maitre Hauchecorne, of Breaute, had just arrived at Goderville and was
making his way toward the square when he perceived on the ground a little
piece of string. Maitre Hauchecorne, economical as are all true Normans,
reflected that everything was worth picking up which could be of any use,
and he stooped down, but painfully, because he suffered from rheumatism.
He took the bit of thin string from the ground and was carefully
preparing to roll it up when he saw Maitre Malandain, the harness maker,
on his doorstep staring at him. They had once had a quarrel about a
halter, and they had borne each other malice ever since. Maitre
Hauchecorne was overcome with a sort of shame at being seen by his enemy
picking up a bit of string in the road. He quickly hid it beneath his
blouse and then slipped it into his breeches, pocket, then pretended to
be still looking for something on the ground which he did not discover
and finally went off toward the market-place, his head bent forward and
his body almost doubled in two by rheumatic pains.
He was at once lost in the crowd, which kept moving about slowly and
noisily as it chaffered and bargained. The peasants examined the cows,
went off, came back, always in doubt for fear of being cheated, never
quite daring to decide, looking the seller square in the eye in the
effort to discover the tricks of the man and the defect in the beast.
The women, having placed their great baskets at their feet, had taken out
the poultry, which lay upon the ground, their legs tied together, with
terrified eyes and scarlet combs.
They listened to propositions, maintaining their prices in a decided
manner with an impassive face or perhaps deciding to accept the smaller
price offered, suddenly calling out to the customer who was starting to
"All right, I'll let you have them, Mait' Anthime."
Then, little by little, the square became empty, and when the Angelus
struck midday those who lived at a distance poured into the inns.
At Jourdain's the great room was filled with eaters, just as the vast
court was filled with vehicles of every sort--wagons, gigs, chars-a-
bancs, tilburies, innumerable vehicles which have no name, yellow with
mud, misshapen, pieced together, raising their shafts to heaven like two
arms, or it may be with their nose on the ground and their rear in the
Just opposite to where the diners were at table the huge fireplace, with
its bright flame, gave out a burning heat on the backs of those who sat
at the right. Three spits were turning, loaded with chickens, with
pigeons and with joints of mutton, and a delectable odor of roast meat
and of gravy flowing over crisp brown skin arose from the hearth, kindled
merriment, caused mouths to water.
All the aristocracy of the plough were eating there at Mait' Jourdain's,
the innkeeper's, a dealer in horses also and a sharp fellow who had made
a great deal of money in his day.
The dishes were passed round, were emptied, as were the jugs of yellow
cider. Every one told of his affairs, of his purchases and his sales.
They exchanged news about the crops. The weather was good for greens,
but too wet for grain.
Suddenly the drum began to beat in the courtyard before the house. Every
one, except some of the most indifferent, was on their feet at once and
ran to the door, to the windows, their mouths full and napkins in their
When the public crier had finished his tattoo he called forth in a jerky
voice, pausing in the wrong places:
"Be it known to the inhabitants of Goderville and in general to all
persons present at the market that there has been lost this morning on
the Beuzeville road, between nine and ten o'clock, a black leather
pocketbook containing five hundred francs and business papers. You are
requested to return it to the mayor's office at once or to Maitre Fortune
Houlbreque, of Manneville. There will be twenty francs reward."
Then the man went away. They heard once more at a distance the dull
beating of the drum and the faint voice of the crier. Then they all
began to talk of this incident, reckoning up the chances which Maitre
Houlbreque had of finding or of not finding his pocketbook again.
The meal went on. They were finishing their coffee when the corporal of
gendarmes appeared on the threshold.
"Is Maitre Hauchecorne, of Breaute, here?"
Maitre Hauchecorne, seated at the other end of the table answered:
"Here I am, here I am."
And he followed the corporal.
The mayor was waiting for him, seated in an armchair. He was the notary
of the place, a tall, grave man of pompous speech.
"Maitre Hauchecorne," said he, "this morning on the Beuzeville road, you
were seen to pick up the pocketbook lost by Maitre Houlbreque, of
The countryman looked at the mayor in amazement frightened already at
this suspicion which rested on him, he knew not why.
"I--I picked up that pocketbook?"
"I swear I don't even know anything about it."
"You were seen."
"I was seen--I? Who saw me?"
"M. Malandain, the harness-maker."
Then the old man remembered, understood, and, reddening with anger, said:
"Ah! he saw me, did he, the rascal? He saw me picking up this string
here, M'sieu le Maire."
And fumbling at the bottom of his pocket, he pulled out of it the little
end of string.
But the mayor incredulously shook his head:
"You will not make me believe, Maitre Hauchecorne, that M. Malandain, who
is a man whose word can be relied on, has mistaken this string for a
The peasant, furious, raised his hand and spat on the ground beside him
as if to attest his good faith, repeating:
"For all that, it is God's truth, M'sieu le Maire. There! On my soul's
salvation, I repeat it."
The mayor continued:
"After you picked up the object in question, you even looked about for
some time in the mud to see if a piece of money had not dropped out of
The good man was choking with indignation and fear.
"How can they tell--how can they tell such lies as that to slander an
honest man! How can they?"
His protestations were in vain; he was not believed.
He was confronted with M. Malandain, who repeated and sustained his
testimony. They railed at one another for an hour. At his own request
Maitre Hauchecorne was searched. Nothing was found on him.
At last the mayor, much perplexed, sent him away, warning him that he
would inform the public prosecutor and ask for orders.
The news had spread. When he left the mayor's office the old man was
surrounded, interrogated with a curiosity which was serious or mocking,
as the case might be, but into which no indignation entered. And he
began to tell the story of the string. They did not believe him. They
He passed on, buttonholed by every one, himself buttonholing his
acquaintances, beginning over and over again his tale and his
protestations, showing his pockets turned inside out to prove that he had
nothing in them.
They said to him:
"You old rogue!"
He grew more and more angry, feverish, in despair at not being believed,
and kept on telling his story.
The night came. It was time to go home. He left with three of his
neighbors, to whom he pointed out the place where he had picked up the
string, and all the way he talked of his adventure.
That evening he made the round of the village of Breaute for the purpose
of telling every one. He met only unbelievers.
He brooded over it all night long.
The next day, about one in the afternoon, Marius Paumelle, a farm hand of
Maitre Breton, the market gardener at Ymauville, returned the pocketbook
and its contents to Maitre Holbreque, of Manneville.
This man said, indeed, that he had found it on the road, but not knowing
how to read, he had carried it home and given it to his master.
The news spread to the environs. Maitre Hauchecorne was informed. He
started off at once and began to relate his story with the denoument. He
"What grieved me," said he, "was not the thing itself, do you understand,
but it was being accused of lying. Nothing does you so much harm as
being in disgrace for lying."
All day he talked of his adventure. He told it on the roads to the
people who passed, at the cabaret to the people who drank and next Sunday
when they came out of church. He even stopped strangers to tell them
about it. He was easy now, and yet something worried him without his
knowing exactly what it was. People had a joking manner while they
listened. They did not seem convinced. He seemed to feel their remarks
behind his back.
On Tuesday of the following week he went to market at Goderville,
prompted solely by the need of telling his story.
Malandain, standing on his doorstep, began to laugh as he saw him pass.
He accosted a farmer of Criquetot, who did not let hire finish, and
giving him a punch in the pit of the stomach cried in his face: "Oh, you
great rogue!" Then he turned his heel upon him.
Maitre Hauchecorne remained speechless and grew more and more uneasy.
Why had they called him "great rogue"?
When seated at table in Jourdain's tavern he began again to explain the
A horse dealer of Montivilliers shouted at him:
"Get out, get out, you old scamp! I know all about your old string."
"But since they found it again, the pocketbook!"
But the other continued:
"Hold your tongue, daddy; there's one who finds it and there's another
who returns it. And no one the wiser."
The farmer was speechless. He understood at last. They accused him of
having had the pocketbook brought back by an accomplice, by a
He tried to protest. The whole table began to laugh.
He could not finish his dinner, and went away amid a chorus of jeers.
He went home indignant, choking with rage, with confusion, the more cast
down since with his Norman craftiness he was, perhaps, capable of having
done what they accused him of and even of boasting of it as a good trick.
He was dimly conscious that it was impossible to prove his innocence, his
craftiness being so well known. He felt himself struck to the heart by
the injustice of the suspicion.
He began anew to tell his tale, lengthening his recital every day, each
day adding new proofs, more energetic declarations and more sacred oaths,
which he thought of, which he prepared in his hours of solitude, for his
mind was entirely occupied with the story of the string. The more he
denied it, the more artful his arguments, the less he was believed.
"Those are liars proofs," they said behind his back.
He felt this. It preyed upon him and he exhausted himself in useless
He was visibly wasting away.
Jokers would make him tell the story of "the piece of string" to amuse
them, just as you make a soldier who has been on a campaign tell his
story of the battle. His mind kept growing weaker and about the end of
December he took to his bed.
He passed away early in January, and, in the ravings of death agony, he
protested his innocence, repeating:
"A little bit of string--a little bit of string. See, here it is, M'sieu