Part 3 out of 6
"We had only been there about five minutes when our male
neighbor's float began to go down two or three times, and then he
pulled out a chub as thick as my thigh, rather less, perhaps, but
nearly as big! My heart beat, and the perspiration stood on my
forehead, and Melie said to me: 'Well, you sot, did you see
"Just then, Monsieur Bru, the grocer of Poissy, who was 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 usages of common politeness.'
"The little man in linen pretended not to hear, nor his fat lump
of a wife, either.
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.
"The tears were in my eyes, and then 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 burning, just to think of it.'
"But I said to myself: 'Let us wait until twelve o clock. Then
this poaching fellow will go to lunch, and I shall get my place
again. As for me, Monsieur le President, I lunch on the spot
every Sunday; we bring our provisions in 'Delila.' But there! At
twelve o'clock, the wretch produced a fowl out of a newspaper,
and while he was eating, actually he caught another chub!
"Melie and I had a morsel also, just a mouthful, 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 like that, 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
passion 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 straight
out for a woman. She suits me, and there are not many of her
"Well, I began to tease my wife, but she got angry immediately,
and very angry, and 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 only 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! Off you go, Bazaine!'
"Well, I felt that, 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 trickery. She said: 'That is
what one might call stolen fish, seeing that we baited the place
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 turn: 'Do you
mean to call us thieves, Madame?' And they began to explain, and
then they came to words. 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 prevent your husbands from fishing.'
"The fact is that neither of us moved any more than if we had
been two tree-stumps. We remained there, with our noses over the
water, as if we had heard nothing, but by Jove, we heard all the
same. 'You are a mere liar.'
" 'You are nothing better than a street-walker.'
" 'You are only a trollop.'
" 'You are a regular strumpet.'
"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 fallen on to 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, so 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 go
on--women among themselves, men among themselves--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,
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 the time. But unfortunately the fat woman
got the better of it, and she was drubbing Melie terribly. I know
that I ought not to have assisted her while the man was drinking
his fill, 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 viragoes. When I turned round, there was nothing to be seen,
and the water was as smooth as a lake. The others yonder kept
shouting: '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
boat-hooks, but it had taken over a quarter of an hour. He was
found at the bottom of the hole in eight feet of water, as I have
said, but he was dead, the poor little man in his linen suit!
There are the facts, such as I have sworn to. I am innocent, on
The witnesses having deposed to the same effect, the accused was
THREE PAGES FROM A SPORTSMAN'S BOOK
I have just read among the general news in one of the papers a
drama of passion. He killed her and then he killed himself, so he
must have loved her. What matters He or She? Their love alone
matters to me; and it does not interest me because it moves me or
astonishes me, or because it softens me or makes me think, but
because it recalls to my mind a remembrance of my youth, a
strange recollection of a hunting adventure where Love appeared
to me, as the Cross appeared to the early Christians, in the
midst of the heavens.
I was born with all the instincts and the senses of primitive
man, tempered by the arguments and the restraints of a civilized
being. I am passionately fond of shooting, yet the sight of the
wounded animal, of the blood on its feathers and on my hands,
affects my heart so as almost to make it stop.
That year the cold weather set in suddenly toward the end of
autumn, and I was invited by one of my cousins, Karl de Rauville,
to go with him and shoot ducks on the marshes, at daybreak.
My cousin was a jolly fellow of forty, with red hair, very stout
and bearded, a country gentleman, an amiable semi-brute, of a
happy disposition and endowed with that Gallic wit which makes
even mediocrity agreeable. He lived in a house, half farmhouse,
half chateau, situated in a broad valley through which a river
ran. The hills right and left were covered with woods, old
manorial woods where magnificent trees still remained, and where
the rarest feathered game in that part of France was to be found.
Eagles were shot there occasionally, and birds of passage, such
as rarely venture into our over-populated part of the country,
invariably lighted amid these giant oaks, as if they knew or
recognized some little corner of a primeval forest which had
remained there to serve them as a shelter during their short
In the valley there were large meadows watered by trenches and
separated by hedges; then, further on, the river, which up to
that point had been kept between banks, expanded into a vast
marsh. That marsh was the best shooting ground I ever saw. It was
my cousin's chief care, and he kept it as a preserve. Through the
rushes that covered it, and made it rustling and rough, narrow
passages had been cut, through which the flat-bottomed boats,
impelled and steered by poles, passed along silently over dead
water, brushing up against the reeds and making the swift fish
take refuge in the weeds, and the wild fowl, with their pointed,
black heads, dive suddenly.
I am passionately fond of the water: of the sea, though it is too
vast, too full of movement, impossi-ble to hold; of the rivers
which are so beautiful, but which pass on, and flee away and
above all of the marshes, where the whole unknown existence of
aquatic animals palpitates. The marsh is an entire world in
itself on the world of earth--a different world, which has its
own life, its settled inhabitants and its passing travelers, its
voices, its noises, and above all its mystery. Nothing is more
impressive, nothing more disquieting, more terrifying
occasionally, than a fen. Why should a vague terror hang over
these low plains covered with water? Is it the low rustling of
the rushes, the strange will-o'-the-wisp lights, the silence
which prevails on calm nights, the still mists which hang over
the surface like a shroud; or is it the almost inaudible
splashing, so slight and so gentle, yet sometimes more terrifying
than the cannons of men or the thunders of the skies, which make
these marshes resemble countries one has dreamed of, terrible
countries holding an unknown and dangerous secret?
No, something else belongs to it--another mystery, profounder and
graver, floats amid these thick mists, perhaps the mystery of the
creation itself! For was it not in stagnant and muddy water, amid
the heavy humidity of moist land under the heat of the sun, that
the first germ of life pulsated and expanded to the day?
I arrived at my cousin's in the evening. It was freezing hard
enough to split the stones.
During dinner, in the large room whose side-boards, walls, and
ceiling were covered with stuffed birds, with wings extended or
perched on branches to which they were nailed,--hawks, herons,
owls, nightjars, buzzards, tiercels, vultures, falcons,--my
cousin who, dressed in a sealskin jacket, himself resembled some
strange animal from a cold country, told me what preparations he
had made for that same night.
We were to start at half past three in the morning, so as to
arrive at the place which he had chosen for our watching-place at
about half past four. On that spot a hut had been built of lumps
of ice, so as to shelter us somewhat from the trying wind which
precedes daybreak, a wind so cold as to tear the flesh like a
saw, cut it like the blade of a knife, prick it like a poisoned
sting, twist it like a pair of pincers, and burn it like fire.
My cousin rubbed his hands: "I have never known such a frost," he
said; "it is already twelve degrees below zero at six o'clock in
I threw myself on to my bed immediately after we had finished our
meal, and went to sleep by the light of a bright fire burning in
At three o'clock he woke me. In my turn, I put on a sheepskin,
and found my cousin Karl covered with a bearskin. After having
each swallowed two cups of scalding coffee, followed by glasses
of liqueur brandy, we started, accompanied by a gamekeeper and
our dogs, Plongeon and Pierrot.
From the first moment that I got outside, I felt chilled to the
very marrow. It was one of those nights on which the earth seems
dead with cold. The frozen air becomes resisting and palpable,
such pain does it cause; no breath of wind moves it, it is fixed
and motionless; it bites you, pierces through you, dries you,
kills the trees, the plants, the insects, the small birds
themselves, who fall from the branches on to the hard ground, and
become stiff themselves under the grip of the-cold.
The moon, which was in her last quarter and was inclining all to
one side, seemed fainting in the midst of space, so weak that she
was unable to wane, forced to stay up yonder, seized and
paralyzed by the severity of the weather. She shed a cold,
mournful light over the world, that dying and wan light which she
gives us every month, at the end of her period.
Karl and I walked side by side, our backs bent, our hands in our
pockets and our guns under our arms. Our boots, which were
wrapped in wool so that we might be able to walk without slipping
on the frozen river, made no sound, and I looked at the white
vapor which our dogs' breath made.
We were soon on the edge of the marsh, and entered one of the
lanes of dry rushes which ran through the low forest.
Our elbows, which touched the long, ribbonlike leaves, left a
slight noise behind us, and I was seized, as I had never been
before, by the powerful and singular emotion which marshes cause
in me. This one was dead, dead from cold, since we were walking
on it, in the middle of its population of dried rushes.
Suddenly, at the turn of one of the lanes, I perceived the
ice-hut which had been constructed to shelter us. I went in, and
as we had nearly an hour to wait before the wandering birds would
awake, I rolled myself up in my rug in order to try and get warm.
Then, lying on my back, I began to look at the misshapen moon,
which had four horns through the vaguely transparent walls of
this polar house. But the frost of the frozen marshes, the cold
of these walls, the cold from the firmament penetrated me so
terribly that I began to cough. My cousin Karl became uneasy.
"No matter if we do not kill much to-day," he said: "I do not
want you to catch cold; we will light a fire." And he told the
gamekeeper to cut some rushes.
We made a pile in the middle of our hut which had a hole in the
middle of the roof to let out the smoke, and when the red flames
rose up to the clear, crystal blocks they began to melt, gently,
imperceptibly, as if they were sweating. Karl, who had remained
outside, called out to me: "Come and look here!" I went out of
the hut and remained struck with astonishment. Our hut, in the
shape of a cone, looked like an enormous diamond with a heart of
fire which had been suddenly planted there in the midst of the
frozen water of the marsh. And inside, we saw two fantastic
forms, those of our dogs, who were warming themselves at the
But a peculiar cry, a lost, a wandering cry, passed over our
heads, and the light from our hearth showed us the wild birds.
Nothing moves one so much as the first clamor of a life which one
does not see, which passes through the somber air so quickly and
so far off, just before the first streak of a winter's day
appears on the horizon. It seems to me, at this glacial hour of
dawn, as if that passing cry which is carried away by the wings
of a bird is the sigh of a soul from the world!
"Put out the fire," said Karl, "it is getting daylight."
The sky was, in fact, beginning to grow pale, and the flights of
ducks made long, rapid streaks which were soon obliterated on the
A stream of light burst out into the night; Karl had fired, and
the two dogs ran forward.
And then, nearly every minute, now he, now I, aimed rapidly as
soon as the shadow of a flying flock appeared above the rushes.
And Pierrot and Plongeon, out of breath but happy, retrieved the
bleeding birds, whose eyes still, occasionally, looked at us.
The sun had risen, and it was a bright day with a blue sky, and
we were thinking of taking our departure, when two birds with
extended necks and outstretched wings, glided rapidly over our
heads. I fired, and one of them fell almost at my feet. It was a
teal, with a silver breast, and then, in the blue space above me,
I heard a voice, the voice of a bird. It was a short, repeated,
heart-rending lament; and the bird, the little animal that had
been spared began to turn round in the blue sky, over our heads,
looking at its dead companion which I was holding in my hand.
Karl was on his knees, his gun to his shoulder watching it
eagerly, until it should be within shot. "You have killed the
duck," he said, "and the drake will not fly away."
He certainly did not fly away; he circled over our heads
continually, and continued his cries. Never have any groans of
suffering pained me so much as that desolate appeal, as that
lamentable reproach of this poor bird which was lost in space.
Occasionally he took flight under the menace of the gun which
followed his movements, and seemed ready to continue his flight
alone, but as he could not make up his mind to this, he returned
to find his mate.
"Leave her on the ground," Karl said to me, "he will come within
shot by and by." And he did indeed come near us, careless of
danger, infatuated by his animal love, by his affection for his
mate, which I had just killed.
Karl fired, and it was as if somebody had cut the string which
held the bird suspended. I saw something black descend, and I
heard the noise of a fall among the rushes. And Pierrot brought
it to me.
I put them--they were already cold--into the same game-bag, and I
returned to Paris the same evening.
Like all the little wooden inns in the higher Alps, tiny auberges
situated in the bare and rocky gorges which intersect the white
summits of the mountains, the inn of Schwarenbach is a refuge for
travelers who are crossing the Gemmi.
It is open six months in the year, and is inhabited by the family
of Jean Hauser. As soon as the snow begins to fall, and fills the
valley so as to make the road down to Loeche impassable, the
father, with mother, daughter, and the three sons depart, leaving
the house in charge of the old guide, Gaspard Hari, with the
young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, and Sam, the great mountain dog.
The two men and the dog remain till spring in their snowy prison,
with nothing before their eyes except immense, white slopes of
the Balmhorn, surrounded by light, glistening summits, and shut
up, blocked up, and buried by the snow which rises around them,
enveloping and almost burying the little house up to the eaves.
It was the day on which the Hauser family were going to return to
Loeche, as winter was approaching, and the descent was becoming
dangerous. Three mules started first, laden with baggage and led
by the three sons. Then the mother, Jeanne Hauser, and her
daughter Louise mounted a fourth mule, and set off in their turn.
The father followed them, accompanied by the two men in charge,
who were to escort the family as far as the brow of the descent.
First of all they skirted the small lake, now frozen over, at the
foot of the mass of rocks which stretched in front of the inn;
then they followed the valley, which was dominated on all sides
by snow-covered peaks.
A ray of sunlight glinted into that little white, glistening,
frozen desert, illuminating it with a cold and dazzling flame. No
living thing appeared among this ocean of hills; there was no
stir in that immeasurable solitude, no noise disturbed the
By degrees the young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, a tall, long-legged
Swiss, left daddy Hauser and old Gaspard behind, in order to
catch up with the mule which carried the two women. The younger
one looked at him as he approached, as if she would call him with
her sad eyes. She was a young, light-haired peasant girl, whose
milk-white cheeks and pale hair seemed to have lost their color
by long dwelling amid the ice. When Ulrich had caught up with the
animal which carried the women, he put his hand on the crupper,
and relaxed his speed. Mother Hauser began to talk to him, and
enumerated with minutest detail all that he would have to attend
to during the winter. It was the first winter he would spend up
there, while old Hari had already spent fourteen winters amid the
snow, at the inn of Schwarenbach.
Ulrich Kunsi listened, without appearing to understand, and
looked incessantly at the girl. From time to time he replied:
"Yes, Madame Hauser"; but his thoughts seemed far away, and his
calm features remained unmoved.
They reached Lake Daube, whose broad, frozen surface reached to
the bottom of the valley. On the right, the Daubenhorn showed its
black mass, rising up in a peak above the enormous moraines of
the Lommeon glacier, which soared above the Wildstrubel. As they
approached the neck of the Gemmi, where the descent to Loeche
begins, the immense horizon of the Alps of the Valais, from which
the broad, deep valley of the Rhone separated them, came in view.
In the distance, there was a group of white, unequal, flat or
pointed mountain summits, which glistened in the sun; the
Mischabel with its twin peaks, the huge group of the Weisshorn,
the heavy Brunegghorn, the lofty and formidable pyramid of Mont
Cervin, slayer of men, and the Dent Blanche, that terrible
Then beneath them, as at the bottom of a terrible abyss, they saw
Loeche, its houses looking like grains of sand which had been
thrown into that enormous crevice which finishes and closes the
Gemmi, and which opens, down below, on to the Rhone.
The mule stopped at the edge of the path, which turns and twists
continually, zigzagging fantastically and strangely along the
steep side of the mountain, as far as the almost invisible little
village at its feet. The women jumped into the snow, and the two
old men joined them.
"Well," father Hauser said, "good-bye, and keep up your spirits
till next year, my friends," and old Hari replied: "Till next
They embraced each other, and then Madame Hauser in her turn,
offered her cheek, and the girl did the same. When Ulrich Kunsi's
turn came, he whispered in Louise's ear:
"Do not forget those up yonder," and she replied: "No," in such a
low voice, that he guessed what she had said, without hearing it.
"Well, adieu," Jean Hauser repeated, "and don't fall ill." Then,
going before the two women, he commenced the descent, and soon
all three disappeared at the first turn in the road, while the
two men returned to the inn at Schwarenbach.
They walked slowly side by side, without speaking. The parting
was over, and they would be alone together for four or five
months. Then Gaspard Hari began to relate his life last winter.
He had remained with Michael Canol, who was too old now to stand
it; for an accident might happen during that long solitude. They
had not been dull, however; the only thing was to be resigned to
it from the first, and in the end one would find plenty of
distraction, games and other means of whiling away the time.
Ulrich Kunsi listened to him with his eyes on the ground, for in
thought he was with those who were descending to the village.
They soon came in sight of the inn, which was scarcely visible,
so small did it look, a mere black speck at the foot of that
enormous billow of snow. When they opened the door, Sam, the
great curly dog, began to romp round them.
"Come, my boy," old Gaspard said, "we have no women now, so we
must get our own dinner ready. Go and peel the potatoes." And
they both sat down on wooden stools, and began to put the bread
into the soup.
The next morning seemed very long to Kunsi. Old Hari smoked and
smoked beside the hearth, while the young man looked out of the
window at the snow-covered mountain opposite the house. In the
afternoon he went out, and going over the previous day's ground
again, he looked for the traces of the mule that had carried the
two women; then when he had reached the neck of the Gemmi, he
laid himself down on his stomach, and looked at Loeche.
The village, in its rocky pit, was not yet buried under the snow,
although the white masses came quite close to it, balked,
however, of their prey by the pine woods which protected the
hamlet. From his vantage point the low houses looked like
paving-stones in a large meadow. Hauser's little daughter was
there now in one of those gray-colored houses. In which? Ulrich
Kunsi was too far away to be able to make them out separately.
How he would have liked to go down while he was yet able!
But the sun had disappeared behind the lofty crest of the
Wildstrubel, and the young man returned to the chalet. Daddy Hari
was smoking, and, when he saw his mate come in, proposed a game
of cards to him. They sat down opposite each other for a long
time and played the simple game called brisque; then they had
supper and went to bed.
The following days were like the first, bright and cold, without
any more snow. Old Gaspard spent his afternoons in watching the
eagles and other rare birds which ventured on to those frozen
heights; while Ulrich journeyed regularly to the neck of the
Gemmi to look at the village. In the evening they played at
cards, dice, or dominoes, and lost and won trifling sums, just to
create an interest in the game.
One morning Hari, who was up first, called his companion. A
moving cloud of white spray, deep and light, was falling on them
noiselessly, and burying them by degrees under a dark, thick
coverlet of foam. This lasted four days and four nights. It was
necessary to free the door and the windows, to dig out a passage,
and to cut steps to get over this frozen powder, which a
twelve-hours' frost had made as hard as the granite of the
They lived like prisoners, not venturing outside their abode.
They had divided their duties and performed them regularly.
Ulrich Kunsi undertook the scouring, washing, and everything that
belonged to cleanliness. He also chopped up the wood, while
Gaspard Hari did the cooking and attended to the fire. Their
regular and monotonous work was relieved by long games at cards
or dice, but they never quarreled, and were always calm and
placid. They were never even impatient or ill-humored, nor did
they ever use hard words, for they had laid in a stock of
patience for this wintering on the top of the mountain.
Sometimes old Gaspard took his rifle and went after chamois, and
occasionally killed one. Then there was a feast in the inn at
Schwarenbach, and they reveled in fresh meat. One morning he went
out as usual. The thermometer outside marked eighteen degrees of
frost, and as the sun had not yet risen, the hunter hoped to
surprise the animals at the approaches to the Wildstrubel.
Ulrich, being alone, remained in bed until ten o'clock. He was of
a sleepy nature, but would not have dared to give way like that
to his inclination in the presence of the old guide, who was ever
an early riser. He breakfasted leisurely with Sam, who also spent
his days and nights in sleeping in front of the fire; then he
felt low-spirited and even frightened at the solitude, and was
seized by a longing for his daily game of cards, as one is by the
domination of an invincible habit. So he went out to meet his
companion, who was to return at four o'clock.
The snow had leveled the whole deep valley, filled up the
crevasses, obliterated all signs of the two lakes and covered the
rocks, so that between the high summits there was nothing but an
immense, white, regular, dazzling, and frozen surface. For three
weeks, Ulrich had not been to the edge of the precipice, from
which he had looked down on to the village, and he wanted to go
there before climbing the slopes which led to the Wildstrubel.
Loeche was now covered by the snow, and the houses could scarcely
be distinguished, hidden as they were by that white cloak.
Turning to the right, Ulrich reached the Lammern glacier. He
strode along with a mountaineer's long swinging pace, striking
the snow, which was as hard as a rock, with his iron-shod stick,
and with piercing eyes looking for the little black, moving speck
in the distance, on that enormous, white expanse.
When he reached the end of the glacier he stopped, and asked
himself whether the old man had taken that road, and then he
began to walk along the moraines with rapid and uneasy steps. The
day was declining; the snow was assuming a rosy tint, and a dry,
frozen wind blew in rough gusts over its crystal surface. Ulrich
uttered a long, shrill, vibrating call. His voice sped through
the deathlike silence in which the mountains were sleeping; it
reached into the distance, over the profound and motionless waves
of glacial foam, like the cry of a bird over the waves of the
sea; then it died away and nothing answered him.
He started off again. The sun had sunk behind the mountain tops,
which still were purpled with the reflection from the heavens;
but the depths of the valley were becoming gray, and suddenly the
young man felt frightened. It seemed to him as if the silence,
the cold, the solitude, the wintry death of these mountains were
taking possession of him, were stopping and freezing his blood,
making his limbs grow stiff, and turning him into a motionless
and frozen object; and he began to run rapidly toward the
dwelling. The old man, he thought, would have returned during his
absence. He had probably taken another road; and would, no doubt,
be sitting before the fire, with a dead chamois at his feet.
He soon came in sight of the inn, but no smoke rose from it.
Ulrich ran faster. Opening the door he met Sam who ran up to him
to greet him, but Gaspard Hari had not returned. Kunsi, in his
alarm, turned round suddenly, as if he had expected to find his
comrade hidden in a corner. Then he relighted the fire and made
the soup; hoping every moment to see the old man come in. From
time to time he went out to see if Gaspard were not in sight. It
was night now, that wan night of the mountain, a livid night,
with the crescent moon, yellow and dim, just disappearing behind
the mountain tops, and shining faintly on the edge of the
Then the young man went in and sat down to warm his hands and
feet, while he pictured to himself every possible sort of
accident. Gaspard might have broken a leg, have fallen into a
crevasse, have taken a false step and dislocated his ankle.
Perhaps he was lying on the snow, overcome and stiff with the
cold, in agony of mind, lost and perhaps shouting for help,
calling with all his might, in the silence of the night.
But where? The mountain was so vast, so rugged, so dangerous in
places, especially at that time of the year, that it would have
required ten or twenty guides walking for a week in all
directions, to find a man in that immense space. Ulrich Kunsi,
however, made up his mind to set out with Sam, if Gaspard did not
return by one in the morning; and he made his preparations.
He put provisions for two days into a bag, took his steel
climbing-irons, tied a long, thin, strong rope round his waist
and looked to see that his iron-shod stick and his ax, which
served to cut steps in the ice, were in order. Then he waited.
The fire was burning on the hearth, the great dog was snoring in
front of it, and the clock was ticking in its case of resounding
wood, as regularly as a heart beating.
He waited, his ears on the alert for distant sounds, and shivered
when the wind blew against the roof and the walls. It struck
twelve, and he trembled. Then, as he felt frightened and shivery,
he put some water on the fire, so that he might have hot coffee
before starting. When the clock struck one he got up, woke Sam,
opened the door and went off in the direction of the Wildstrubel.
For five hours he ascended, scaling the rocks by means of his
climbing-irons, cutting into the ice, advancing continually, and
occasionally hauling up the dog, who remained below at the foot
of some slope that was too steep for him, by means of the rope.
About six o'clock he reached one of the summits to which old
Gaspard often came after chamois, and he waited till it should be
The sky was growing pale overhead, and suddenly a strange light,
springing, nobody could tell whence, suddenly illuminated the
immense ocean of pale mountain peaks, which stretched for many
leagues around him. It seemed as if this vague brightness arose
from the snow itself, in order to spread itself into space. By
degrees the highest and most distant summits assumed a delicate,
fleshlike rose color, and the red sun appeared behind the
ponderous giants of the Bernese Alps.
Ulrich Kunsi set off again, walking like a hunter, stooping and
looking for any traces, and saying to his dog: "Seek old fellow,
He was descending the mountain now, scanning the depths closely,
and from time to time shouting, uttering a loud, prolonged
familiar cry which soon died away in that silent vastness. Then,
he put his ear to the ground, to listen. He thought he could
distinguish a voice, and so he began to run and shout again. But
he heard nothing more and sat down, worn out and in despair.
Toward midday he breakfasted and gave Sam, who was as tired as
himself, something to eat also; then he recommenced his search.
When evening came he was still walking, having traveled more than
thirty miles over the mountains. As he was too far away to return
home, and too tired to drag himself along any further, he dug a
hole in the snow and crouched in it with his dog, under a blanket
which he had brought with him. The man and the dog lay side by
side, warming themselves one against the other, but frozen to the
marrow, nevertheless. Ulrich scarcely slept, his mind haunted by
visions and his limbs shaking with cold.
Day was breaking when he got up. His legs were as stiff as iron
bars, and his spirits so low that he was ready to weep, while his
heart was beating so that he almost fell with excitement whenever
he thought he heard a noise.
Suddenly he imagined that he ALSO was going to die of cold in the
midst of this vast solitude. The terror of such a death roused
his energies and gave him renewed vigor. He was descending toward
the inn, falling down and getting up again, and followed at a
distance by Sam, who was limping on three legs. They did not
reach Schwarenbach until four o'clock in the afternoon. The house
was empty, and the young man made a fire, had something to eat,
and went to sleep, so worn-out that he did not think of anything
He slept for a long time, for a very long time, the unconquerable
sleep of exhaustion. But suddenly a voice, a cry, a name:
"Ulrich," aroused him from his profound slumber, and made him sit
up in bed. Had he been dreaming? Was it one of those strange
appeals which cross the dreams of disquieted minds? No, he heard
it still, that reverberating cry,--which had entered at his ears
and remained in his brain,--thrilling him to the tips of his
sinewy fingers. Certainly, somebody had cried out, and called:
"Ulrich!" There was somebody there, near the house, there could
be no doubt of that, and he opened the door and shouted: "Is it
you, Gaspard?" with all the strength of his lungs. But there was
no reply, no murmur, no groan, nothing. It was quite dark, and
the snow looked wan.
The wind had risen, that icy wind which cracks the rocks, and
leaves nothing alive on those deserted heights. It came in sudden
gusts, more parching and more deadly than the burning wind of the
desert, and again Ulrich shouted: "Gaspard! Gaspard! Gaspard!"
Then he waited again. Everything was silent on the mountain! Then
he shook with terror, and with a bound he was inside the inn. He
shut and bolted the door, and then fell into a chair, trembling
all over, for he felt certain that his comrade had called him at
the moment of dissolution.
He was certain of that, as certain as one is of conscious life or
of taste when eating. Old Gaspard Hari had been dying for two
days and three nights somewhere, in some hole, in one of those
deep, untrodden ravines whose whiteness is more sinister than
subterranean darkness. He had been dying for two days and three
nights and he had just then died, thinking of his comrade. His
soul, almost before it was released, had taken its flight to the
inn where Ulrich was sleeping, and it had called him by that
terrible and mysterious power which the spirits of the dead
possess. That voiceless soul had cried to the worn-out soul of
the sleeper; it had uttered its last farewell, or its reproach,
or its curse on the man who had not searched carefully enough.
And Ulrich felt that it was there, quite close to him, behind the
wall, behind the door which he had just fastened. It was
wandering about, like a night bird which skims a lighted window
with his wings, and the terrified young man was ready to scream
with horror. He wanted to run away, but did not dare go out; he
did not dare, and would never dare in the future, for that
phantom would remain there day and night, round the inn, as long
as the old man's body was not recovered and deposited in the
consecrated earth of a churchyard.
Daylight came, and Kunsi recovered some of his courage with the
return of the bright sun. He prepared his meal, gave his dog some
food, and then remained motionless on a chair, tortured at heart
as he thought of the old man lying on the snow. Then, as soon as
night once more covered the mountains, new terrors assailed him.
He now walked up and down the dark kitchen, which was scarcely
lighted by the flame of one candle. He walked from one end of it
to the other with great strides, listening, listening to hear the
terrible cry of the preceding night again break the dreary
silence outside. He felt himself alone, unhappy man, as no man
had ever been alone before! Alone in this immense desert of snow,
alone five thousand feet above the inhabited earth; above human
habitations, above that stirring, noisy, palpitating life, alone
under an icy sky! A mad longing impelled him to run away, no
matter where, to get down to Loeche by flinging himself over the
precipice; but he did not even dare to open the door, as he felt
sure that the other, the DEAD, man would bar his road, so that he
might not be obliged to remain up there alone.
Toward midnight, tired with walking, worn-out by grief and fear,
he fell into a doze in his chair, for he was afraid of his bed,
as one is of a haunted spot. But suddenly the strident cry of the
preceding evening pierced his ears, so shrill that Ulrich
stretched out his arms to repulse the ghost, and he fell on to
his back with his chair.
Sam, who was awakened by the noise, began to howl as frightened
dogs do, and trotted all about the house trying to find out where
the danger came from. When he got to the door, he sniffed beneath
it, smelling vigorously, with his coat bristling and his tail
stiff while he growled angrily. Kunsi, who was terrified, jumped
up, and holding his chair by one leg, cried: "Don't come in,
don't come in, or I shall kill you." And the dog, excited by this
threat, barked angrily at that invisible enemy who defied his
master's voice. By degrees, however, he quieted down, came back
and stretched himself in front of the fire. But he was uneasy,
and kept his head up, and growled between his teeth.
Ulrich, in turn, recovered his senses, but as he felt faint with
terror, he went and got a bottle of brandy out of the sideboard,
and drank off several glasses, one after another, at a gulp. His
ideas became vague, his courage revived, and a feverish glow ran
through his veins.
He ate scarcely anything the next day, and limited himself to
alcohol; so he lived for several days, like a drunken brute. As
soon as he thought of Gaspard Hari he began to drink again, and
went on drinking until he fell on to the floor, overcome by
intoxication. And there he remained on his face, dead drunk, his
limbs benumbed, and snoring with his face to the ground. But
scarcely had he digested the maddening and burning liquor, than
the same cry, "Ulrich," woke him like a bullet piercing his
brain, and he got up, still staggering, stretching out his hands
to save himself from falling, and calling to Sam to help him. And
the dog, who appeared to be going mad like his master, rushed to
the door, scratched it with his claws, and gnawed it with his
long white teeth, while the young man, his neck thrown back, and
his head in the air, drank the brandy in gulps, as if it were
cold water, so that it might by and by send his thoughts, his
frantic terror, and his memory, to sleep again.
In three weeks he had consumed all his stock of ardent spirits.
But his continual drunkenness only lulled his terror, which awoke
more furiously than ever, as soon as it was impossible for him to
calm it by drinking. His fixed idea, which had been intensified
by a month of drunkenness, and which was continually increasing
in his absolute solitude? pene-trated him like a gimlet. He now
walked about his house like a wild beast in its cage, putting his
eat to the door to listen if the other were there, and defying
him through the wall. Then as soon as he dozed, overcome by
fatigue, he heard the voice which made him leap to his feet.
At last one night, as cowards do when driven to extremity, he
sprang to the door and opened it, to see who was calling him, and
to force him to keep quiet. But such a gust of cold wind blew
into his face that it chilled him to the bone. He closed and
bolted the door again immediately, without noticing that Sam had
rushed out. Then, as he was shivering with cold, he threw some
wood on the fire, and sat down in front of it to warm himself.
But suddenly he started, for somebody was scratching at the wall,
and crying. In desperation he called out: "Go away!" but was
answered by another long, sorrowful wail.
Then all his remaining senses forsook him, from sheer fright. He
repeated: "Go away!" and turned round to find some corner in
which to hide, while the other person went round the house still
crying, and rubbing against the wall. Ulrich went to the oak
sideboard, which was full of plates and dishes and of provisions,
and lifting it up with superhuman strength, he dragged it to the
door, so as to form a barricade. Then piling up all the rest of
the furniture, the mattresses, paillasses, and chairs, he stopped
up the windows as men do when assailed by an enemy.
But the person outside now uttered long, plaintive, mournful
groans, to which the young man replied by similar groans, and
thus days and nights passed without their ceasing to howl at each
other. The one was continually walking round the house and
scraped the walls with his nails so vigorously that it seemed as
if he wished to destroy them, while the other, inside, followed
all his movements, stooping down, and holding his ear to the
walls, and replying to all his appeals with terrible cries. One
evening, however, Ulrich heard nothing more, and he sat down, so
overcome by fatigue that he went to sleep immediately, and awoke
in the morning without a thought, without any recollection of
what had happened, just as if his head had been emptied during
his heavy sleep. But he felt hungry, and he ate.
The winter was over, and the Gemmi pass was practicable again, so
the Hauser family started off to return to their inn. As soon as
they had reached the top of the ascent, the women mounted their
mule, and spoke about the two men who they would meet again
shortly. They were, indeed, rather surprised that neither of them
had come down a few days before, as soon as the road became
passable, in order to tell them all about their long winter
sojourn. At last, however, they saw the inn, still covered with
snow, like a quilt. The door and the windows were closed, but a
little smoke was coming out of the chimney, which reassured old
Hauser; on going up to the door, however, he saw the skeleton of
an animal which had been torn to pieces by the eagles, a large
skeleton lying on its side.
They all looked closely at it, and the mother said: "That must be
Sam." Then she shouted: "Hi! Gaspard!" A cry from the interior of
the house answered her, so sharp a cry that one might have
thought some animal uttered it. Old Hauser repeated: "Hi!
Gaspard!" and they heard another cry, similar to the first.
Then the three men, the father and the two sons, tried to open
the door, but it resisted their efforts. From the empty cow-stall
they took a beam to serve as a battering-ram, and hurled it
against the door with all their might. The wood gave way, and the
boards flew into splinters; then the house was shaken by a loud
voice, and inside, behind the sideboard which was overturned,
they saw a man standing upright, his hair falling on to his
shoulders and a beard descending to his breast, with shining eyes
and nothing but rags to cover him. They did not recognize him,
but Louise Hauser exclaimed: "It is Ulrich, mother." And her
mother declared that it was Ulrich, although his hair was white.
He allowed them to go up to him, and to touch him, but he did not
reply to any of their questions, and they were obliged to take
him to Loeche, where the doctors found that he was mad. Nobody
ever knew what had become of his companion.
Little Louise Hauser nearly died that summer of decline, which
the medical men attributed to the cold air of the mountains.
I was going to see my friend Simon Radevin once more, for I had
not seen him for fifteen years. Formerly he was my most intimate
friend, and I used to spend long, quiet, and happy evenings with
him. He was one of those men to whom one tells the most intimate
affairs of the heart, and in whom one finds, when quietly
talking, rare, clever, ingenious, and refined thoughts--thoughts
which stimulate and capture the mind.
For years we had scarcely been separated: we had lived, traveled,
thought, and dreamed together; had liked the same things with the
same liking, admired the same books, comprehended the same works,
shivered with the same sensations, and very often laughed at the
same individuals, whom we understood completely, by merely
exchanging a glance.
Then he married--quite unexpectedly married a little girl from
the provinces, who had come to Paris in search of a husband. How
ever could that little, thin, insipidly fair girl, with her weak
hands, her light, vacant eyes, and her clear, silly voice, who was
exactly like a hundred thousand marriageable dolls, have picked up
that intelligent, clever young fellow? Can anyone understand these
things? No doubt he had hoped for happiness, simple, quiet, and
long-enduring happiness, in the arms of a good, tender, and
faithful woman; he had seen all that in the transparent looks of
that schoolgirl with light hair.
He had not dreamed of the fact that an active, living, and
vibrating man grows tired as soon as he has comprehended the
stupid reality of a common-place life, unless indeed, he becomes
so brutalized as to be callous to externals.
What would he be like when I met him again? Still lively, witty,
light-hearted, and enthusiastic, or in a state of mental torpor
through provincial life? A man can change a great deal in the
course of fifteen years!
The train stopped at a small station, and as I got out of the
carriage, a stout, a very stout man with red cheeks and a big
stomach rushed up to me with open arms, exclaiming: "George!"
I embraced him, but I had not recognized him, and then I said, in
astonishment: "By Jove! You have not grown thin!"
And he replied with a laugh: "What did you expect? Good living, a
good table, and good nights! Eating and sleeping, that is my
I looked at him closely, trying to find the features I held so
dear in that broad face. His eyes alone had not altered, but I no
longer saw the same looks in them, and I said to myself: "If
looks be the reflection of the mind, the thoughts in that head
are not what they used to be--those thoughts which I knew so
Yet his eyes were bright, full of pleasure and friendship, but
they had not that clear, intelligent expression which tells
better than do words the value of the mind. Suddenly he said to
"Here are my two eldest children." A girl of fourteen, who was
almost a woman, and a boy of thirteen, in the dress of a pupil
from a lycee, came forward in a hesitating and awkward manner,
and I said in a low voice: "Are they yours?"
"Of course they are," he replied laughing.
"How many have you?"
"Five! There are three more indoors."
He said that in a proud, self-satisfied, almost triumphant
manner, and I felt profound pity, mingled with a feeling of vague
contempt for this vainglorious and simple reproducer of his
species, who spent his nights in his country house in uxorious
I got into a carriage, which he drove himself, and we set off
through the town, a dull, sleepy, gloomy town where nothing was
moving in the streets save a few dogs and two or three
maidservants. Here and there a shopkeeper standing at his door
took off his hat, and Simon returned the salute and told me the
man's name--no doubt to show me that he knew all the inhabitants
personally. The thought struck me that he was thinking of
becoming a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies, that dream of
all who have buried themselves in the provinces.
We were soon out of the town; the carriage turned into a garden
which had some pretensions to a park, and stopped in front of a
turreted house, which tried to pass for a chateau.
"That is my den," Simon said, so that he might be complimented on
it, and I replied that it was delightful.
A lady appeared on the steps, dressed up for a visitor, her hair
done for a visitor, and with phrases ready prepared for a
visitor. She was no longer the light-haired, insipid girl I had
seen in church fifteen years previously, but a stout lady in
curls and flounces, one of those ladies of uncertain age, without
intellect, without any of those things which constitute a woman.
In short she was a mother, a stout, commonplace mother, a human
layer and brood mare, a machine of flesh which procreates,
without mental care save for her children and her housekeeping
She welcomed me, and I went into the hall, where three children,
ranged according to their height, were ranked for review, like
firemen before a mayor. "Ah! ah! so there are the others?" said
I. And Simon, who was radiant with pleasure, named them: "Jean,
Sophie, and Gontran."
The door of the drawing-room was open. I went in, and in the
depths of an easy-chair I saw something trembling, a man, an old,
paralyzed man. Madame Radevin came forward and said: "This is my
grandfather, Monsieur; he is eighty-seven." And then she shouted
into the shaking old man's ears: "This is a friend of Simon's,
The old gentleman tried to say "Good day" to me, and he muttered:
"Oua, oua, oua," and waved his hand.
I took a seat saying: "You are very kind, Monsieur."
Simon had just come in, and he said with a laugh: "So! You have
made grandpapa's acquaintance. He is priceless, is that old man.
He is the delight of the children, and he is so greedy that he
almost kills himself at every meal. You have no idea what he
would eat if he were allowed to do as he pleased. But you will
see, you will see. He looks all the sweets over as if they were
so many girls. You have never seen anything funnier; you will see
I was then shown to my room to change my dress for dinner, and
hearing a great clatter behind me on the stairs, I turned round
and saw that all the children were following me behind their
father--to do me honor, no doubt.
My windows looked out on to a plain, a bare, interminable plain,
an ocean of grass, of wheat, and of oats, without a clump of
trees or any rising ground, a striking and melancholy picture of
the life which they must be leading in that house.
A bell rang; it was for dinner, and so I went downstairs. Madame
Radevin took my arm in a ceremonious manner, and we went into the
dining-room. A footman wheeled in the old man's arm-chair, who
gave a greedy and curious look at the dessert, as with difficulty
he turned his shaking head from one dish to the other.
Simon rubbed his hands, saying: "You will be amused." All the
children understood that I was going to be indulged with the
sight of their greedy grandfather and they began to laugh
accordingly, while their mother merely smiled and shrugged her
shoulders. Simon, making a speaking trumpet of his hands, shouted
at the old man: "This evening there is sweet rice-cream," and the
wrinkled face of the grandfather brightened, he trembled
violently all over, showing that he had understood and was very
pleased. The dinner began.
"Just look!" Simon whispered. The grandfather did not like the
soup, and refused to eat it; but he was made to, on account of
his health. The footman forced the spoon into his mouth, while
the old man blew energetically, so as not to swallow the soup,
which was thus scattered like a stream of water on to the table
and over his neighbors. The children shook with delight at the
spectacle, while their father, who was also amused, said: "Isn't
the old man funny?"
During the whole meal they were all taken up solely with him.
With his eyes he devoured the dishes which were put on the table,
and with trembling hands tried to seize them and pull them to
him. They put them almost within his reach to see his useless
efforts. his trembling clutches at them, the piteous appeal of
his whole nature, of his eyes, of his mouth, and of his nose as
he smelled them. He slobbered on to his table napkin with
eagerness, while uttering inarticulate grunts, and the whole
family was highly amused at this horrible and grotesque scene.
Then they put a tiny morsel on to his plate, which he ate with
feverish gluttony, in order to get something more as soon as
possible. When the rice-cream was brought in, he nearly had a
fit, and groaned with greediness. Gontran called out to him: "You
have eaten too much already; you will have no more." And they
pretended not to give him any. Then he began to cry--cry and
tremble more violently than ever, while all the children laughed.
At last, however, they gave him his helping, a very small piece.
As he ate the first mouthful of the pudding, he made a comical
and greedy noise in his throat, and a movement with his neck like
ducks do, when they swallow too large a morsel, and then, when he
had done, he began to stamp his feet, so as to get more.
I was seized with pity for this pitiable and ridiculous Tantalus,
and interposed on his behalf: "Please, will you not give him a
little more rice?"
But Simon replied: "Oh! no my dear fellow, if he were to eat too
much, it might harm him at his age."
I held my tongue, and thought over these words. Oh! ethics! Oh!
logic! Oh! wisdom! At his age! So they deprived him of his only
remaining pleasure out of regard for his health! His health! What
would he do with it, inert and trembling wreck that he was? They
were taking care of his life, so they said. His life? How many
days? Ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred? Why? For his own sake? Or
to preserve for some time longer, the spectacle of his impotent
greediness in the family.
There was nothing left for him to do in this life, nothing
whatever. He had one single wish left, one sole pleasure; why not
grant him that last solace constantly, until he died?
After playing cards for a long time, I went up to my room and to
bed: I was low-spirited and sad, sad, sad! I sat at my window,
but I heard nothing but the beautiful warbling of a bird in a
tree, somewhere in the distance. No doubt the bird was singing
thus in a low voice during the night, to lull his mate, who was
sleeping on her eggs.
And I thought of my poor friend's five children, and to myself
pictured him snoring by the side of his ugly wife,
How strange are those old recollections which haunt us, without
our being able to get rid of them!
This one is so very old that I cannot understand how it has clung
so vividly and tenaciously to my memory. Since then I have seen
so many sinister things, either affecting or terrible, that I am
astonished at not being able to pass a single day without the
face of Mother Bellflower recurring to my mind's eye, just as I
knew her formerly, long, long ago, when I was ten or twelve years
She was an old seamstress who came to my parents' house once a
week, every Thursday, to mend the linen. My parents lived in one
of those country houses called chateaux, which are merely old
houses with pointed roofs, to which are attached three or four
The village, a large village, almost a small market town, was a
few hundred yards off, and nestled round the church, a red brick
church, which had become black with age.
Well, every Thursday Mother Bellflower came between half past six
and seven in the morning, and went immediately into the
linen-room and began to work. She was a tall, thin, bearded or
rather hairy woman, for she had a beard all over her face, a
surprising, an unexpected beard, growing in improbable tufts, in
curly bunches which looked as if they had been sown by a madman
over that great face, the face of a gendarme in petticoats. She
had them on her nose, under her nose, round her nose, on her
chin, on her cheeks; and her eyebrows, which were extraordinarily
thick and long, and quite gray, bushy and bristling, looked
exactly like a pair of mustaches stuck on there by mistake.
She limped, but not like lame people generally do, but like a
ship pitching. When she planted her great, bony, vibrant body on
her sound leg, she seemed to be preparing to mount some enormous
wave, and then suddenly she dipped as if to disappear in an
abyss, and buried herself in the ground. Her walk reminded one of
a ship in a storm, and her head, which was always covered with an
enormous white cap, whose ribbons fluttered down her back, seemed
to traverse the horizon from North to South and from South to
North, at each limp.
I adored Mother Bellflower. As soon as I was up I used to go into
the linen-room, where I found her installed at work, with a
foot-warmer under her feet. As soon as I arrived, she made me
take the foot-warmer and sit upon it, so that I might not catch
cold in that large, chilly room under the roof.
"That draws the blood from your head," she would say to me.
She told me stories, while mending the linen with her long,
crooked, nimble fingers; behind her magnifying spectacles, for
age had impaired her sight, her eyes appeared enormous to me,
strangely profound, double.
As far as I can remember from the things which she told me and by
which my childish heart was moved, she had the large heart of a
poor woman. She told me what had happened in the village, how a
cow had escaped from the cowhouse and had been found the next
morning in front of Prosper Malet's mill, looking at the sails
turning, or about a hen's egg which had been found in the church
belfry without anyone being able to understand what creature had
been there to lay it, or the queer story of Jean Pila's dog, who
had gone ten leagues to bring back his master's breeches which a
tramp had stolen while they were hanging up to dry out of doors,
after he had been caught in the rain. She told me these simple
adventures in such a manner that in my mind they assumed the
proportions of never-to-be-forgotten dramas, of grand and
mysterious poems; and the ingenious stories invented by the
poets, which my mother told me in the evening, had none of the
flavor, none of the fullness or of the vigor of the peasant
Well, one Thursday when I had spent all the morning in listening
to Mother Clochette, I wanted to go upstairs to her again during
the day, after picking hazelnuts with the manservant in the wood
behind the farm. I remember it all as clearly as what happened
On opening the door of the linen-room, I saw the old seamstress
lying on the floor by the side of her chair, her face turned down
and her arms stretched out, but still holding her needle in one
hand and one of my shirts in the other. One of her legs in a blue
stocking, the longer one no doubt, was extended under her chair,
and her spectacles glistened by the wall, where they had rolled
away from her.
I ran away uttering shrill cries. They all came running, and in a
few minutes I was told that Mother Clochette was dead.
I cannot describe the profound, poignant, terrible emotion which
stirred my childish heart. I went slowly down into the
drawing-room and hid myself in a dark corner, in the depths of a
great, old arm-chair, where I knelt and wept. I remained there
for a long time no doubt, for night came on. Suddenly some one
came in with a lamp--without seeing me, however--and I heard my
father and mother talking with the medical man, whose voice I
He had been sent for immediately, and he was explaining the cause
of the accident, of which I understood nothing, however. Then he
sat down and had a glass of liqueur and a biscuit.
He went on talking, and what he then said will remain engraved on
my mind until I die! I think that I can give the exact words
which he used.
"Ah!" said he, "the poor woman! she broke her leg the day of my
arrival here. I had not even had time to wash my hands after
getting off the diligence before I was sent for in all haste, for
it was a bad case, very bad.
"She was seventeen, and a pretty girl, very pretty! Would anyone
believe it? I have never told her story before, in fact no one
but myself and one other person, who is no longer living in this
part of the country, ever knew it. Now that she is dead, I may be
"A young assistant teacher had just come to live in the village;
he was good-looking and had the bearing of a soldier. All the
girls ran after him, but he was disdainful. Besides that, he was
very much afraid of his superior, the schoolmaster, old Grabu,
who occasionally got out of bed the wrong foot first.
"Old Grabu already employed pretty Hortense, who has just died
here, and who was afterward nicknamed Clochette. The assistant
master singled out the pretty young girl, who was no doubt
flattered at being chosen by this disdainful conqueror; at any
rate, she fell in love with him, and he succeeded in persuading
her to give him a first meeting in the hayloft behind the school,
at night, after she had done her day's sewing.
"She pretended to go home, but instead of going downstairs when
she left the Grabus', she went upstairs and hid among the hay, to
wait for her lover. He soon joined her, and he was beginning to
say pretty things to her, when the door of the hayloft opened and
the schoolmaster appeared, and asked: 'What are you doing up
there, Sigisbert?' Feeling sure that he would be caught, the
young school-master lost his presence of mind and replied
stupidly: 'I came up here to rest a little among the bundles of
hay, Monsieur Grabu.'
"The loft was very large and absolutely dark. Sigisbert pushed
the frightened girl to the further end and said: 'Go there and
hide yourself. I shall lose my situation, so get away and hide
"When the schoolmaster heard the whispering, he continued: 'Why,
you are not by yourself?'
" 'Yes I am, Monsieur Grabu!'
" 'But you are not, for you are talking.'
" 'I swear I am, Monsieur Grabu.'
" 'I will soon find out,' the old man replied, and double-locking
the door, he went down to get a light.
"Then the young man, who was a coward such as one sometimes
meets, lost his head, and he repeated, having grown furious all
of a sudden: 'Hide yourself, so that he may not find you. You
will deprive me of my bread for my whole life; you will ruin my
whole career! Do hide yourself!'
"They could hear the key turning in the lock again, and Hortense
ran to the window which looked out on to the street, opened it
quickly, and then in a low and determined voice said: 'You will
come and pick me up when he is gone,' and she jumped out.
"Old Grabu found nobody, and went down again in great surprise. A
quarter of an hour later, Monsieur Sigisbert came to me and
related his adventure. The girl had remained at the foot of the
wall unable to get up, as she had fallen from the second story,
and I went with him to fetch her. It was raining in torrents, and
I brought the unfortunate girl home with me, for the right leg
was broken in three places, and the bones had come out through
the flesh. She did not complain, and merely said, with admirable
resignation: 'I am punished, well punished!'
"I sent for assistance and for the workgirl's friends and told
them a made-up story of a runaway carriage which had knocked her
down and lamed her, outside my door. They believed me, and the
gendarmes for a whole month tried in vain to find the author of
"That is all! Now I say that this woman was a heroine, and had
the fiber of those who accomplish the grandest deeds in history.
"That was her only love affair, and she died a virgin. She was a
martyr, a noble soul, a sublimely devoted woman! And if I did not
absolutely admire her, I should not have told you this story,
which I would never tell anyone during her life: you understand
The doctor ceased; mamma cried and papa said some words which I
did not catch; then they left the room, and I remained on my
knees in the armchair and sobbed, while I heard a strange noise
of heavy footsteps and something knocking against the side of the
They were carrying away Clochette's body.
My God! My God! I am going to write down at last what has
happened to me. But how can I? How dare I? The thing is so
bizarre, so inexplicable, so incomprehensible, so silly!
If I were not perfectly sure of what I have seen, sure that there
was not in my reasoning any defect, any error in my declarations,
any lacuna in the inflexible sequence of my observations, I
should believe myself to be the dupe of a simple hallucination,
the sport of a singular vision. After all, who knows?
Yesterday I was in a private asylum, but I went there
voluntarily, out of prudence and fear. Only one single human
being knows my history, and that is the doctor of the said
asylum. I am going to write to him. I really do not know why? To
disembarrass myself? Yea, I feel as though weighed down by an
Let me explain.
I have always been a recluse, a dreamer, a kind of isolated
philosopher, easy-going, content with but little, harboring
ill-feeling against no man, and without even a grudge against
heaven. I have constantly lived alone; consequently, a kind of
torture takes hold of me when I find myself in the presence of
others. How is this to be explained? I do not know. I am not
averse to going out into the world, to conversation, to dining
with friends, but when they are near me for any length of time,
even the most intimate of them, they bore me, fatigue me,
enervate me, and I experience an overwhelming, torturing desire
to see them get up and go, to take themselves away, and to leave
me by myself.
That desire is more than a craving; it is an irresistible
necessity. And if the presence of people with whom I find myself
were to be continued; if I were compelled, not only to listen,
but also to follow, for any length of time, their conversation, a
serious accident would assuredly take place. What kind of
accident? Ah! who knows? Perhaps a slight paralytic stroke?
I like solitude so much that I cannot even endure the vicinage of
other beings sleeping under the same roof. I cannot live in
Paris, because there I suffer the most acute agony. I lead a
moral life, and am therefore tortured in body and in nerves by
that immense crowd which swarms and lives even when it sleeps.
Ah! the sleeping of others is more painful still than their
conversation. And I can never find repose when I know and feel
that on the other side of a wall several existences are
undergoing these regular eclipses of reason.
Why am I thus? Who knows? The cause of it is very simple perhaps.
I get tired very soon of everything that does not emanate from
me. And there are many people in similar case.
We are, on earth, two distinct races. Those who have need of
others, whom others amuse, engage soothe, whom solitude harasses,
pains, stupefies, like the movement of a terrible glacier or the
traversing of the desert; and those, on the contrary, whom others
weary, tire, bore, silently torture, whom isolation calms and
bathes in the repose of independency, and plunges into the humors
of their own thoughts. In fine, there is here a normal, physical
phenomenon. Some are constituted to live a life outside of
themselves, others, to live a life within themselves. As for me,
my exterior associations are abruptly and painfully short-lived,
and, as they reach their limits, I experience in my whole body
and in my whole intelligence an intolerable uneasiness.
As a result of this, I became attached, or rather had become much
attached, to inanimate objects, which have for me the importance
of beings, and my house has or had become a world in which I
lived an active and solitary life, surrounded by all manner of
things, furniture, familiar knickknacks, as sympathetic in my
eyes as the visages of human beings. I had filled my mansion with
them; little by little, I had adorned it with them, and I felt an
inward content and satisfaction, was more happy than if I had
been in the arms of a beloved girl, whose wonted caresses had
become a soothing and delightful necessity.
I had had this house constructed in the center of a beautiful
garden, which hid it from the public high-ways, and which was
near the entrance to a city where I could find, on occasion, the
resources of society, for which, at moments, I had a longing. All
my domestics slept in a separate building, which was situated at
some considerable distance from my house, at the far end of the
kitchen garden, which in turn was surrounded by a high wall. The
obscure envelopment of night, in the silence of my concealed
habitation, buried under the leaves of great trees, was so
reposeful and so delicious, that before retiring to my couch I
lingered every evening for several hours in order to enjoy the
solitude a little longer.
One day "Signad" had been played at one of the city theaters. It
was the first time that I had listened to that beautiful,
musical, and fairy-like drama, and I had derived from it the
I returned home on foot with a light step, my head full of
sonorous phrases, and my mind haunted by delightful visions. It
was night, the dead of night, and so dark that I could hardly
distinguish the broad highway, and consequently I stumbled into
the ditch more than once. From the custom-house, at the barriers,
to my house, was about a mile, perhaps a little more--a leisurely
walk of about twenty minutes. It was one o'clock in the morning,
one o'clock or maybe half-past one; the sky had by this time
cleared somewhat and the crescent appeared, the gloomy crescent
of the last quarter of the moon. The crescent of the first
quarter is that which rises about five or six o'clock in the
evening and is clear, gay, and fretted with silver; but the one
which rises after midnight is reddish, sad, and desolating--it is
the true Sabbath crescent. Every prowler by night has made the same
observation. The first, though slender as a thread, throws a faint,
joyous light which rejoices the heart and lines the ground with
distinct shadows; the last sheds hardly a dying glimmer, and is so
wan that it occasions hardly any shadows.
In the distance, I perceived the somber mass of my garden, and, I
know not why, was seized with a feeling of uneasiness at the idea
of going inside. I slackened my pace, and walked very softly, the
thick cluster of trees having the appearance of a tomb in which
my house was buried.
I opened my outer gate and entered the long avenue of sycamores
which ran in the direction of the house, arranged vault-wise like
a high tunnel, traversing opaque masses, and winding round the
turf lawns, on which baskets of flowers, in the pale darkness,
could be indistinctly discerned.
While approaching the house, I was seized by a strange feeling. I
could hear nothing, I stood still. Through the trees there was
not even a breath of air stirring. "What is the matter with me?"
I said to myself. For ten years I had entered and re-entered in
the same way, without ever experiencing the least inquietude. I
never had any fear at nights. The sight of a man, a marauder, or
a thief would have thrown me into a fit of anger, and I would
have rushed at him without any hesitation. Moreover, I was
armed--I had my revolver. But I did not touch it, for I was
anxious to resist that feeling of dread with which I was seized.
What was it? Was it a presentiment--that mysterious presentiment
which takes hold of the senses of men who have witnessed
something which, to them, is inexplicable? Perhaps? Who knows?
In proportion as I advanced, I felt my skin quiver more and more,
and when I was close to the wall, near the outhouses of my large
residence, I felt that it would be necessary for me to wait a few
minutes before opening the door and going inside. I sat down,
then, on a bench, under the windows of my drawing-room. I rested
there, a little disturbed, with my head leaning against the wall,
my eyes wide open, under the shade of the foliage. For the first
few minutes, I did not observe anything unusual around me; I had
a humming noise in my ears, but that has happened often to me.
Sometimes it seemed to me that I heard trains passing, that I
heard clocks striking, that I heard a multitude on the march.
Very soon, those humming noises became more distinct, more
concentrated, more determinable, I was deceiving myself. It was
not the ordinary tingling of my arteries which transmitted to my
ears these rumbling sounds, but it was a very distinct, though
confused, noise which came, without any doubt whatever, from the
interior of my house. Through the walls I distinguished this
continued noise,--I should rather say agitation than noise,--an
indistinct moving about of a pile of things, as if people were
tossing about, displacing, and carrying away surreptitiously all
I doubted, however, for some considerable time yet, the evidence
of my ears. But having placed my ear against one of the
outhouses, the better to discover what this strange disturbance
was, inside my house, I became convinced, certain, that something
was taking place in my residence which was altogether abnormal
and incomprehensible. I had no fear, but I was--how shall I
express it--paralyzed by astonishment. I did not draw my
revolver, knowing very well that there was no need of my doing
I listened a long time, but could come to no resolution, my mind
being quite clear, though in myself I was naturally anxious. I
got up and waited, listening always to the noise, which gradually
increased, and at intervals grew very loud, and which seemed to
become an impatient, angry disturbance, a mysterious commotion.
Then, suddenly, ashamed of my timidity, I seized my bunch of
keys. I selected the one I wanted, guided it into the lock,
turned it twice, and pushing the door with all my might, sent it
banging against the partition.
The collision sounded like the report of a gun, and there
responded to that explosive noise, from roof to basement of my
residence, a formidable tumult. It was so sudden, so terrible, so
deafening, that I recoiled a few steps, and though I knew it to
be wholly useless, I pulled my revolver out of its case.
I continued to listen for some time longer. I could distinguish
now an extraordinary pattering upon the steps of my grand
staircase, on the waxed floors, on the carpets, not of boots, or
of naked feet, but of iron and wooden crutches, which resounded
like cymbals. Then I suddenly discerned, on the threshold of my
door, an armchair, my large reading easy-chair, which set off
waddling. It went away through my garden. Others followed it,
those of my drawing-room, then my sofas, dragging themselves
along like crocodiles on their short paws; then all my chairs,
bounding like goats, and the little foot-stools, hopping like
Oh! what a sensation! I slunk back into a clump of bushes where I
remained crouched up, watching, meanwhile, my furniture defile
past--for everything walked away, the one behind the other,
briskly or slowly, according to its weight or size. My piano, my
grand piano, bounded past with the gallop of a horse and a murmur
of music in its sides; the smaller articles slid along the gravel
like snails, my brushes, crystal, cups and saucers, which
glistened in the moonlight. I saw my writing desk appear, a rare
curiosity of the last century, which contained all the letters I
had ever received, all the history of my heart, an old history
from which I have suffered so much! Besides, there were inside of
it a great many cherished photographs.
Suddenly--I no longer had any fear--I threw myself on it, seized
it as one would seize a thief, as one would seize a wife about to
run away; but it pursued its irresistible course, and despite my
efforts and despite my anger, I could not even retard its pace.
As I was resisting in desperation that insuperable force, I was
thrown to the ground. It then rolled me over, trailed me along
the gravel, and the rest of my furniture, which followed it,
began to march over me, tramping on my legs and injuring them.
When I loosed my hold, other articles had passed over my body,
just as a charge of cavalry does over the body of a dismounted
Seized at last with terror, I succeeded in dragging myself out of
the main avenue, and in concealing myself again among the
shrubbery, so as to watch the disappearance of the most cherished
objects, the smallest, the least striking, the least unknown
which had once belonged to me.
I then heard, in the distance, noises which came from my
apartments, which sounded now as if the house were empty, a loud
noise of shutting of doors. They were being slammed from top to
bottom of my dwelling, even the door which I had just opened
myself unconsciously, and which had closed of itself, when the
last thing had taken its departure. I took flight also, running
toward the city, and only regained my self-composure, on reaching
the boulevards, where I met belated people. I rang the bell of a
hotel were I was known. I had knocked the dust off my clothes
with my hands, and I told the porter that I had lost my bunch of
keys, which included also that to the kitchen garden, where my
servants slept in a house standing by itself, on the other side
of the wall of the inclosure which protected my fruits and
vegetables from the raids of marauders.
I covered myself up to the eyes in the bed which was assigned to
me, but could not sleep; and I waited for the dawn listening to
the throbbing of my heart. I had given orders that my servants
were to be summoned to the hotel at daybreak, and my valet de
chambre knocked at my door at seven o'clock in the morning.
His countenance bore a woeful look.
"A great misfortune has happened during the night, Monsieur,"
"What is it?"
"Somebody has stolen the whole of Monsieur's furniture, all,
everything, even to the smallest articles."
This news pleased me. Why? Who knows? I was complete master of
myself, bent on dissimulating, on telling no one of anything I
had seen; determined on concealing and in burying in my heart of
hearts a terrible secret. I responded:
"They must then be the same people who have stolen my keys. The
police must be informed immediately. I am going to get up, and I
will join you in a few moments."
The investigation into the circumstances under which the robbery
might have been committed lasted for five months. Nothing was
found, not even the smallest of my knickknacks, nor the least
trace of the thieves. Good gracious! If I had only told them what
I knew--If I had said--I should have been locked up--I, not the
thieves--for I was the only person who had seen everything from
Yes! but I knew how to keep silence. I shall never refurnish my
house. That were indeed useless. The same thing would happen
again. I had no desire even to re-enter the house, and I did not
re-enter it; I never visited it again. I moved to Paris, to the
hotel, and consulted doctors in regard to the condition of my
nerves, which had disquieted me a good deal ever since that awful
They advised me to travel, and I followed their counsel.
I began by making an excursion into Italy. The sunshine did me
much good. For six months I wandered about from Genoa to Venice,
from Venice to Florence, from Florence to Rome, from Rome to
Naples. Then I traveled over Sicily, a country celebrated for its
scenery and its monuments, relics left by the Greeks and the
Normans. Passing over into Africa, I traversed at my ease that
immense desert, yellow and tranquil, in which camels, gazelles,
and Arab vagabonds roam about--where, in the rare and transparent
atmosphere, there hover no vague hauntings, where there is never
any night, but always day.
I returned to France by Marseilles, and in spite of all its
Provencal gaiety, the diminished clearness of the sky made me
sad. I experienced, in returning to the Continent, the peculiar
sensation of an illness which I believed had been cured, and a
dull pain which predicted that the seeds of the disease had not
I then returned to Paris. At the end of a month I was very
dejected. It was in the autumn, and I determined to make, before
winter came, an excursion through Normandy, a country with which
I was unacquainted.
I began my journey, in the best of spirits, at Rouen, and for
eight days I wandered about, passive, ravished, and enthusiastic,
in that ancient city, that astonishing museum of extraordinary
But one afternoon, about four o'clock, as I was sauntering slowly
through a seemingly unattractive street, by which there ran a
stream as black as the ink called "Eau de Robec," my attention,
fixed for the moment on the quaint, antique appearance of some of
the houses, was suddenly attracted by the view of a series of
second-hand furniture shops, which followed one another, door
Ah! they had carefully chosen their locality, these sordid
traffickers in antiquities, in that quaint little street,
overlooking the sinister stream of water, under those tile and
slate-pointed roofs on which still grinned the vanes of bygone
At the end of these grim storehouses you saw piled up sculptured
chests, Rouen, Sevres, and Moustier's pottery, painted statues,
others of oak, Christs, Virgins, Saints, church ornaments,
chasubles, capes, even sacred vases, and an old gilded wooden
tabernacle, where a god had hidden himself away. What singular
caverns there are in those lofty houses, crowded with objects of
every description, where the existence of things seems to be
ended, things which have survived their original possessors,
their century, their times, their fashions, in order to be bought
as curiosities by new generations.
My affection for antiques was awakened in that city of
antiquaries. I went from shop to shop, crossing in two strides
the rotten four plank bridges thrown over the nauseous current
of the "Eau de Robec."
Heaven protect me! What a shock! At the end of a vault, which was
crowded with articles of every description and which seemed to be
the entrance to the catacombs of a cemetery of ancient furniture,
I suddenly descried one of my most beautiful wardrobes. I
approached it, trembling in every limb, trembling to such an
extent that I dared not touch it, I put forth my hand, I
hesitated. Nevertheless it was indeed my wardrobe; a unique
wardrobe of the time of Louis XIII., recognizable by anyone who
had seen it only once. Casting my eyes suddenly a little farther,
toward the more somber depths of the gallery, I perceived three
of my tapestry covered chairs; and farther on still, my two Henry
II. tables, such rare treasures that people came all the way from
Paris to see them.
Think! only think in what a state of mind I now was! I advanced,
haltingly, quivering with emotion, but I advanced, for I am
brave--I advanced like a knight of the dark ages.
At every step I found something that belonged to me; my brushes,
my books, my tables, my silks, my arms, everything, except the
bureau full of my letters, and that I could not discover.
I walked on, descending to the dark galleries, in order to ascend
next to the floors above. I was alone; I called out, nobody
answered, I was alone; there was no one in that house--a house as
vast and tortuous as a labyrinth.
Night came on, and I was compelled to sit down in the darkness on
one of my own chairs, for I had no desire to go away. From time
to time I shouted, "Hallo, hallo, somebody."
I had sat there, certainly, for more than an hour when I heard
steps, steps soft and slow, I knew not where. I was unable to
locate them, but bracing myself up, I called out anew, whereupon
I perceived a glimmer of light in the next chamber.
"Who is there?" said a voice.
"A buyer," I responded.
"It is too late to enter thus into a shop."
"I have been waiting for you for more than an hour," I answered.
"You can come back to-morrow."
"To-morrow I must quit Rouen."
I dared not advance, and he did not come to me. I saw always the
glimmer of his light, which was shining on a tapestry on which
were two angels flying over the dead on a field of battle. It
belonged to me also. I said:
"Well, come here."
"I am at your service," he answered.
I got up and went toward him.
Standing in the center of a large room, was a little man, very
short, and very fat, phenomenally fat, a hideous phenomenon.
He had a singular straggling beard, white and yellow, and not a
hair on his head--not a hair!
As he held his candle aloft at arm's length in order to see me,
his cranium appeared to me to resemble a little moon, in that
vast chamber encumbered with old furniture. His features were
wrinkled and blown, and his eyes could not be seen.
I bought three chairs which belonged to myself, and paid at once
a large sum for them, giving him merely the number of my room at
the hotel. They were to be delivered the next day before nine
I then started off. He conducted me, with much politeness, as far
as the door.
I immediately repaired to the commissaire's office at the central
police depot, and told the commissaire of the robbery which had
been perpetrated and of the discovery I had just made. He
required time to communicate by telegraph with the authorities
who had originally charge of the case, for information, and he
begged me to wait in his office until an answer came back. An
hour later, an answer came back, which was in accord with my
"I am going to arrest and interrogate this man, at once," he said
to me, "for he may have conceived some sort of suspicion, and
smuggled away out of sight what belongs to you. Will you go and
dine and return in two hours: I shall then have the man here, and
I shall subject him to a fresh interrogation in your presence."
"Most gladly, Monsieur. I thank you with my whole heart."
I went to dine at my hotel and I ate better than I could have
believed. I was quite happy now, thinking that man was in the
hands of the police.
Two hours later I returned to the office of the police
functionary, who was waiting for me.
"Well, Monsieur," said he, on perceiving me, "we have not been
able to find your man. My agents cannot put their hands on him."
Ah! I felt my heart sinking.
"But you have at least found his house?" I asked.
"Yes, certainly; and what is more, it is now being watched and
guarded until his return. As for him, he has disappeared."
"Yes, disappeared. He ordinarily passes his evenings at the house
of a female neighbor, who is also a furniture broker, a queer
sort of sorceress, the widow Bidoin. She has not seen him this
evening and cannot give any information in regard to him. We must
wait until to-morrow."
I went away. Ah! how sinister the streets of Rouen seemed to me,
now troubled and haunted!
I slept so badly that I had a fit of nightmare every time I went
off to sleep.
As I did not wish to appear too restless or eager, I waited till
ten o'clock the next day before reporting myself to the police.
The merchant had not reappeared. His shop remained closed.
The commissary said to me:
"I have taken all the necessary steps. The court has been made
acquainted with the affair. We shall go together to that shop and
have it opened, and you shall point out to me all that belongs to
We drove there in a cab. Police agents were stationed round the
building; there was a locksmith, too, and the door of the shop
was soon opened.
On entering, I could not discover my wardrobes, my chairs, my
tables; I saw nothing, nothing of that which had furnished my
house, no, nothing, although on the previous evening, I could not
take a step without encountering something that belonged to me.
The chief commissary, much astonished, regarded me at first with
"My God, Monsieur," said I to him, "the disappearance of these
articles of furniture coincides strangely with that of the
"That is true. You did wrong in buying and paying for the
articles which were your own property, yesterday. It was that
which gave him the cue."
"What seems to me incomprehensible," I replied, "is that all the
places that were occupied by my furniture are now filled by other
"Oh!" responded the commissary, "he has had all night, and has no
doubt been assisted by accomplices. This house must communicate
with its neighbors. But have no fear, Monsieur; I will have the
affair promptly and thoroughly investigated. The brigand shall
not escape us for long, seeing that we are in charge of the den."
* * * * * * *
Ah! My heart, my heart, my poor heart, how it beats!
I remained a fortnight at Rouen. The man did not return. Heavens!
good heavens! That man, what was it that could have frightened
and surprised him!
But, on the sixteenth day, early in the morning, I received from
my gardener, now the keeper of my empty and pillaged house, the
following strange letter:
"I have the honor to inform Monsieur that something happened, the
evening before last, which nobody can understand, and the police
no more than the rest of us. The whole of the furniture has been
returned, not one piece is missing--everything is in its place,
up to the very smallest article. The house is now the same in
every respect as it was before the robbery took place. It is
enough to make one lose one's head. The thing took place during
the night Friday--Saturday. The roads are dug up as though the
whole fence had been dragged from its place up to the door. The
same thing was observed the day after the disappearance of the
"We are anxiously expecting Monsieur, whose very humble and
obedient servant, I am,
"Ah! no, no, ah! never, never, ah! no. I shall never return
I took the letter to the commissary of police.
"It is a very clever restitution," said he. "Let us bury the
hatchet. We shall nip the man one of these days."
* * * * * * *
But he has never been nipped. No. They have not nipped him, and I
am afraid of him now, as of some ferocious animal that has been
let loose behind me.
Inexplicable! It is inexplicable, this chimera of a moon-struck
skull! We shall never solve or comprehend it. I shall not return
to my former residence. What does it matter to me? I am afraid of
encountering that man again, and I shall not run the risk.
And even if he returns, if he takes possession of his shop, who
is to prove that my furniture was on his premises? There is only
my testimony against him; and I feel that that is not above
Ah! no! This kind of existence has become unendurable. I have not
been able to guard the secret of what I have seen. I could not
continue to live like the rest of the world, with the fear upon
me that those scenes might be re-enacted.
So I have come to consult the doctor who directs this lunatic
asylum, and I have told him everything.
After questioning me for a long time, he said to me:
"Will you consent, Monsieur, to remain here for some time?"
"Most willingly, Monsieur."
"You have some means?"
"Will you have isolated apartments?"
"Would you care to receive any friends?"
"No, Monsieur, no, nobody. The man from Rouen might take it into
his head to pursue me here, to be revenged on me."
* * * * * * *
I have been alone, alone, all, all alone, for three months. I am
growing tranquil by degrees. I have no longer any fears. If the
antiquary should become mad . . . and if he should be brought
into this asylum! Even prisons themselves are not places of
The peasant was standing opposite the doctor, by the bedside of
the dying old woman, and she, calmly resigned and quite lucid,
looked at them and listened to their talking. She was going to
die, and she did not rebel at it, for her life was over--she was
The July sun streamed in at the window and through the open door
and cast its hot flames on to the uneven brown clay floor, which
had been stamped down by four generations of clodhoppers. The
smell of the fields came in also, driven by the brisk wind, and
parched by the noontide heat. The grasshoppers chirped themselves
hoarse, filling the air with their shrill noise, like that of the
wooden crickets which are sold to children at fair time.
The doctor raised his voice and said: "Honore, you cannot leave
your mother in this state; she may die at any moment." And the
peasant, in great distress, replied: "But I must get in my wheat,
for it has been lying on the ground a long time, and the weather
is just right for it; what do you say about it, mother?" And the
dying woman, still possessed by her Norman avariciousness,
replied YES with her eyes and her forehead, and so urged her son
to get in his wheat, and to leave her to die alone. But the
doctor got angry, and stamping his foot he said: "You are no
better than a brute, do you hear, and I will not allow you to do
it. Do you understand? And if you must get in your wheat to-day,
go and fetch Rapet's wife and make her look after your mother. I
WILL have it. And if you do not obey me, I will let you die like
a dog, when you are ill in your turn; do you hear me?"
The peasant, a tall, thin fellow with slow movements, who was
tormented by indecision, by his fear of the doctor and his keen
love of saving, hesitated, calculated, and stammered out: "How
much does La Rapet charge for attending sick people?"
"How should I know?" the doctor cried. "That depends upon how
long she is wanted for. Settle it with her, by Jove! But I want
her to be here within an hour, do you hear."
So the man made up his mind. "I will go for her," he replied;
"don't get angry, doctor." And the latter left, calling out as he
went: "Take care, you know, for I do not joke when I am angry!"
And as soon as they were alone, the peasant turned to his mother,
and said in a resigned voice: "I will go and fetch La Rapet, as
the man will have it. Don't go off while I am away."
And he went out in his turn.
La Rapet, who was an old washerwoman, watched the dead and the
dying of the neighborhood, and then, as soon as she had sewn her
customers into that linen cloth from which they would emerge no
more, she went and took up her irons to smooth the linen of the
living. Wrinkled like a last year's apple, spiteful, envious,
avaricious with a phenomenal avarice, bent double, as if she had
been broken in half across the loins, by the constant movement of
the iron over the linen, one might have said that she had a kind
of monstrous and cynical affection for a death struggle. She
never spoke of anything but of the people she had seen die, of
the various kinds of deaths at which she had been present, and
she related, with the greatest minuteness, details which were
always the same, just like a sportsman talks of his shots.
When Honore Bontemps entered her cottage, he found her preparing
the starch for the collars of the village women, and he said:
"Good evening; I hope you are pretty well, Mother Rapet."
She turned her head round to look at him and said: "Fairly well,
fairly well, and you?"