Part 4 out of 6
"Oh I as for me, I am as well as I could wish, but my mother is
"Yes, my mother!"
"What's the matter with her?"
"She is going to turn up her toes, that's what's the matter with
The old woman took her hands out of the water and asked with
sudden sympathy: "Is she as bad as all that?"
"The doctor says she will not last till morning."
"Then she certainly is very bad!" Honore hesitated, for he wanted
to make a few preliminary remarks before coming to his proposal,
but as he could hit upon nothing, he made up his mind suddenly.
"How much are you going to ask to stop with her till the end? You
know that I am not rich, and I cannot even afford to keep a
servant-girl. It is just that which has brought my poor mother to
this state, too much work and fatigue! She used to work for ten,
in spite of her ninety-two years. You don't find any made of that
La Rapet answered gravely: "There are two prices. Forty sous by
day and three francs by night for the rich, and twenty sous by
day, and forty by night for the others. You shall pay me the
twenty and forty." But the peasant reflected, for he knew his
mother well. He knew how tenacious of life, how vigorous and
unyielding she was. He knew, too, that she might last another
week, in spite of the doctor's opinion, and so he said
resolutely: "No, I would rather you would fix a price until the
end. I will take my chance, one way or the other. The doctor says
she will die very soon. If that happens, so much the better for
you, and so much the worse for me, but if she holds out till
to-morrow or longer, so much the better for me and so much the
worse for you!"
The nurse looked at the man in astonishment, for she had never
treated a death as a speculative job, and she hesitated, tempted
by the idea of the possible gain. But almost immediately she
suspected that he wanted to juggle her. "I can say nothing until
I have seen your mother," she replied.
"Then come with me and see her."
She washed her hands, and went with him immediately. They did not
speak on the road; she walked with short, hasty steps, while he
strode on with his long legs, as if he were crossing a brook at
every step. The cows lying down in the fields, overcome by the
heat, raised their heads heavily and lowed feebly at the two
passers-by, as if to ask them for some green grass.
When they got near the house, Honore Bontemps murmured: "Suppose
it is all over?" And the unconscious wish that it might be so
showed itself in the sound of his voice.
But the old woman was not dead. She was lying on her back, on her
wretched bed, her hands covered with a pink cotton counterpane,
horribly thin, knotty paws, like some strange animal's, or like
crabs' claws, hands closed by rheumatism, fatigue, and the work
of nearly a century which she had accomplished.
La Rapet went up to the bed and looked at the dying woman, felt
her pulse, tapped her on the chest, listened to her breathing,
and asked her questions, so as to hear her speak: then, having
looked at her for some time longer, she went out of the room,
followed by Honore. His decided opinion was, that the old woman
would not last out the night, and he asked: "Well?" And the
sick-nurse replied: "Well, she may last two days, perhaps three.
You will have to give me six francs, everything included."
"Six francs! six francs!" he shouted. "Are you out of your mind?
I tell you that she cannot last more than five or six hours!" And
they disputed angrily for some time, but as the nurse said she
would go home, as the time was slipping away, and as his wheat
would not come to the farmyard of its own accord, he agreed to
her terms at last:
"Very well, then, that is settled; six francs including
everything, until the corpse is taken out."
"That is settled, six francs."
And he went away, with long strides, to his wheat, which was
lying on the ground under the hot sun which ripens the grain,
while the sick-nurse returned to the house.
She had brought some work with her, for she worked without
stopping by the side of the dead and dying, sometimes for
herself, sometimes for the family, who employed her as seamstress
also, paying her rather more in that capacity. Suddenly she
"Have you received the last sacrament, Mother Bontemps?"
The old peasant woman said "No" with her head, and La Rapet, who
was very devout, got up quickly: "Good heavens, is it possible? I
will go and fetch the cure"; and she rushed off to the parsonage
so quickly, that the urchins in the street thought some accident
had happened, when they saw her trotting off like that.
The priest came immediately in his surplice, preceded by a
choir-boy, who rang a bell to announce the passage of the Host
through the parched and quiet country. Some men, working at a
distance, took off their large hats and remained motionless until
the white vestment had disappeared behind some farm buildings;
the women who were making up the sheaves stood up to make the
sign of the cross; the frightened black hens ran away along the
ditch until they reached a well-known hole through which they
suddenly disappeared, while a foal, which was tied up in a
meadow, took fright at the sight of the surplice and began to
gallop round at the length of its rope, kicking violently. The
choir-boy, in his red cassock, walked quickly, and the priest,
the square biretta on his bowed head, followed him, muttering
some prayers. Last of all came La Rapet, bent almost double, as
if she wished to prostrate herself; she walked with folded hands,
as if she were in church.
Honore saw them pass in the distance, and he asked: "Where is our
priest going to?" And his man, who was more acute, replied: "He
is taking the sacrament to your mother, of course!"
The peasant was not surprised and said: "That is quite possible,"
and went on with his work.
Mother Bontemps confessed, received absolution and extreme
unction, and the priest took his departure, leaving the two women
alone in the suffocating cottage. La Rapet began to look at the
dying woman, and to ask herself whether it could last much
The day was on the wane, and a cooler air came in stronger puffs,
making a view of Epinal, which was fastened to the wall by two
pins, flap up and down. The scanty window curtains, which had
formerly been white, but were now yellow and covered with
fly-specks, looked as it they were going to fly off, and seemed
to struggle to get away, like the old woman's soul.
Lying motionless, with her eyes open, the old mother seemed to
await the death which was so near, and which yet delayed its
coming; with perfect indifference. Her short breath whistled in
her throat. It would stop altogether soon, and there would be one
woman less in the world, one whom nobody would regret.
At nightfall Honore returned, and when he went up to the bed and
saw that his mother was still alive he asked: "How is she?" just
as he had done formerly, when she had been sick. Then he sent La
Rapet away, saying to her: "To-morrow morning at five o'clock,
without fail." And she replied: "To-morrow at five o'clock."
She came at daybreak, and found Honore eating his soup, which he
had made himself, before going to work.
"Well, is your mother dead?" asked the nurse.
"She is rather better, on the contrary," he replied, with a
malignant look out of the corner of his eyes. Then he went out.
La Rapet was seized with anxiety, and went up to the dying woman,
who was in the same state, lethargic and impassive, her eyes open
and her hands clutching the counterpane. The nurse perceived that
this might go on thus for two days, four days, eight days, even,
and her avaricious mind was seized with fear. She was excited to
fury against the cunning fellow who had tricked her, and against
the woman who would not die.
Nevertheless, she began to sew and waited with her eyes fixed on
the wrinkled face of Mother Bontemps. When Honore returned to
breakfast he seemed quite satisfied, and even in a bantering
humor, for he was carrying in his wheat under very favorable
La Rapet was getting exasperated; every passing minute now seemed
to her so much time and money stolen from her. She felt a mad
inclination to choke this old ass, this headstrong old fool, this
obstinate old wretch--to stop that short, rapid breath, which was
robbing her of her time and money, by squeezing her throat a
little. But then she reflected on the danger of doing so, and
other thoughts came into her head, so she went up to the bed and
said to her: "Have you ever seen the Devil?"
Mother Bontemps whispered: "No."
Then the sick-nurse began to talk and to tell her tales likely to
terrify her weak and dying mind. "Some minutes before one dies
the Devil appears," she said, "to all. He has a broom in his
hand, a saucepan on his head and he utters loud cries. When
anybody had seen him, all was over, and that person had only a
few moments longer to live"; and she enumerated all those to whom
the Devil had appeared that year: Josephine Loisel, Eulalie
Ratier, Sophie Padagnau, Seraphine Grospied.
Mother Bontemps, who was at last most disturbed in mind, moved
about, wrung her hands, and tried to turn her head to look at the
other end of the room. Suddenly La Rapet disappeared at the foot
of the bed. She took a sheet out of the cupboard and wrapped
herself up in it; then she put the iron pot on to her head, so
that its three short bent feet rose up like horns, took a broom
in her right hand and a tin pail in her left, which she threw up
suddenly, so that it might fall to the ground noisily.
Certainly when it came down, it made a terrible noise. Then,
climbing on to a chair, the nurse showed herself, gesticulating
and uttering shrill cries into the pot which covered her face,
while she menaced the old peasant woman, who was nearly dead,
with her broom.
Terrified, with a mad look on her face, the dying woman made a
superhuman effort to get up and escape; she even got her
shoulders and chest out of bed; then she fell back with a deep
sigh. All was over, and La Rapet calmly put everything back into
its place; the broom into the corner by the cupboard, the sheet
inside it, the pot on to the hearth, the pail on to the floor,
and the chair against the wall. Then with a professional air, she
closed the dead woman's enormous eyes, put a plate on the bed and
poured some holy water into it, dipped the twig of boxwood into
it, and kneeling down, she fervently repeated the prayers for the
dead, which she knew by heart, as a matter of business.
When Honore returned in the evening, he found her praying. He
calculated immediately that she had made twenty sous out of him,
for she had only spent three days and one night there, which made
five francs altogether, instead of the six which he owed her.
"Ah!" said Captain the Count de Garens, "I should rather think
that I do remember that Epiphany supper, during the war!
"At the time I was quarter-master of cavalry, and for a fort
night, I had been lurking about as a scout in front of the German
advanced guard. The evening before we had cut down a few Uhlans
and had lost three men, one of whom was that poor little
Raudeville. You remember Joseph de Raudeville well, of course.
"Well, on that day my captain ordered me to take six troopers and
occupy the village of Porterin, where there had been five fights
in three weeks, and to hold it all night. There were not twenty
houses left standing, nay, not a dozen, in that wasp's nest. So I
took ten troopers, and set out at about four o'clock; at five
o'clock, while it was still pitch dark, we reached the first
houses of Porterin. I halted and ordered Marchas--you know Pierre
de Marchas, who afterward married little Martel-Auvelin, the
daughter of the Marquis de Martel-Auvelin--to go alone into the
village and to report to me what he saw.
"I had chosen nothing but volunteers, and all of good family.
When on service it is pleasant not to be forced into intimacy
with unpleasant fellows. This Marchas was as sharp as possible,
as cunning as a fox, and as supple as a serpent. He could scent
the Prussians as well as a dog can scent a hare, could find
victuals where we should have died of hunger without him, and
could obtain information from everybody--information which was
always reliable--with incredible cleverness.
"In ten minutes he returned. 'All right,' he said; 'there have
been no Prussians here for three days. It is a sinister place, is
this village. I have been talking to a Sister of Mercy, who is
attending to four or five wounded men in an abandoned convent.'
"I ordered them to ride on, and we penetrated into the principal
street. On the right and left we could vaguely see roofless
walls, hardly visible in the profound darkness. Here and there a
light was burning in a room; some family had remained to keep its
house standing as long as they were able; a family of brave, or
of poor, people. The rain began to fall, a fine, icy-cold rain,
which froze us before it wetted us through, by merely touching
our cloaks. The horses stumbled against stones, against beams,
against furniture. Marchas guided us, going before us on foot,
and leading his horse by the bridle.
" 'Where are you taking us to?' I asked him. And he replied: 'I
have a place for us to lodge in, and a rare good one.' And soon
we stopped before a small house, evidently belonging to some
person of the middle class, completely shut up, built on to the
street with a garden in the rear.
"Marchas broke open the lock by means of a big stone, which he
picked up near the garden gate; then he mounted the steps,
smashed in the front door with his feet and shoulders, lighted a
bit of wax candle, which he was never without, and preceded us
into the comfortable apartments of some rich private individual,
guiding us with admirable assurance, just as if he had lived in
this house which he now saw for the first time.
"Two troopers remained outside to take care of our horses; then
Marchas said to stout Ponderel, who followed him: 'The stables
must be on the left; I saw that as we came in; go and put the
animals up there, for we do not want them,' and then turning to
me he said: 'Give your orders, confound it all!'
"Marchas always astonished me, and I replied with a laugh: 'I
shall post my sentinels at the country approaches and I will
return to you here.'
" 'How many men are you going to take?'
" 'Five. The others will relieve them at five o'clock in the
" 'Very well. Leave me four to look after provisions, to do the
cooking, and to set the table. I will go and find out where the
wine is hidden away.'
"I went off to reconnoiter the deserted streets, until they ended
in the open country, so as to post my sentries there.
"Half an hour later I was back, and found Marchas lounging in a
great armchair, the covering of which he had taken off, from love
of luxury as he said. He was warming his feet at the fire and
smoking an excellent cigar, whose perfume filled the room. He was
alone, his elbows resting on the arms of the chair, his cheeks
flushed, his eyes bright, and looking delighted.
"I heard the noise of plates and dishes in the next room, and
Marchas said to me, smiling in a beatific manner: 'This is
famous; I found the champagne under the flight of steps outside,
the brandy--fifty bottles of the very finest--in the kitchen
garden under a pear-tree, which did not look to me to be quite
straight, when I looked at it by the light of my lantern. As for
solids, we have two fowls, a goose, a duck, and three pigeons.
They are being cooked at this moment. It is a delightful part of
"I had sat down opposite to him, and the fire in the grate was
burning my nose and cheeks.
" 'Where did you find this wood?' I asked.
" 'Splendid wood,' he replied. 'The owner's carriage. It is the
paint which is causing all this flame, an essence of alcohol and
varnish. A capital house!'
"I laughed, for I found the creature was funny, and he went on:
'Fancy this being the Epiphany! I have had a bean put into the
goose, but there is no queen; it is really very annoying!' And I
repeated like an echo: 'It is annoying, but what do you want me
to do in the matter?'
" 'To find some, of course.'
" 'Some women. Women?--you must be mad!'
" 'I managed to find the brandy under the pear-tree, and the
champagne under the steps; and yet there was nothing to guide me,
while as for you, a petticoat is a sure sign. Go and look, old
"He looked so grave, so convinced, that I could not tell whether
he was joking or not. So I replied: 'Look here, Marchas, are you
having a joke with me?'
" 'I never joke on duty.'
" 'But where the devil do you expect me to find any women?'
" 'Where you like; there must be two or three remaining in the
neighborhood, so ferret them out and bring them here.'
"I got up, for it was too hot in front of the fire, and Marchas
went on: 'Do you want an idea?'
" 'Go and see the priest.'
" 'The priest? What for?'
" 'Ask him to supper, and beg him to bring a woman with him.'
" 'The priest! A woman! Ha! ha! ha!'
"But Marchas continued with extraordinary gravity: 'I am not
laughing; go and find the priest and tell him how we are
situated, and, as he must be horribly dull, he will come. But
tell him that we want one woman at least, a lady, of course,
since we are all men of the world. He is sure to have the names
of his female parishioners on the tips of his fingers, and if
there is one to suit us, and you manage it well, he will indicate
her to you.'
" 'Come, come, Marchas, what are you thinking of?'
" 'My dear Garens, you can do this quite well. It will be very
funny. We are well bred, by Jove! and we will put on our most
distinguished manners and our grandest style. Tell the abbe who
we are, make him laugh, soften him, seduce him, and persuade
" 'No, it is impossible.'
"He drew his chair close to mine, and as he knew my weak side,
the scamp continued: 'Just think what a swagger thing it will be
to do, and how amusing to tell about; the whole army will talk
about it, and it will give you a famous reputation.'
"I hesitated, for the adventure rather tempted me. He persisted:
'Come, my little Garens. You are in command of this detachment,
and you alone can go and call on the head of the church in this
neighborhood. I beg of you to go, and I promise you that after
the war, I will relate the whole affair in verse in the "Revue
des Deux Mondes." You owe this much to your men, for you have
made them march enough during the last month.'
"I got up at last and asked: 'Where is the parsonage?'
" 'Take the second turning at the end of the street; you will
then see an avenue, and at the end of the avenue you will find
the church. The parsonage is beside it.' As I departed he called
out: 'Tell him the bill of fare, to make him hungry!'
"I discovered the ecclesiastic's little house without any
difficulty; it was by the side of a large, ugly, brick church. As
there was neither bell nor knocker, I knocked at the door with my
fist, and a loud voice from inside asked: 'Who is there?' to
which I replied: 'A quartermaster of hussars.'
"I heard the noise of bolts, and of a key being turned. Then I
found myself face to face with a tall priest with a large
stomach, the chest of a prize-fighter, formidable hands
projecting from turned-up sleeves, a red face, and the looks of a
kind man. I gave him a military salute and said: 'Good day,
Monsieur le Cure.'
"He had feared a surprise, some marauders' ambush, and he smiled
as he replied: 'Good day, my friend; come in.' I followed him
into a small room, with a red tiled floor, in which a small fire
was burning, very different to Marchas's furnace. He gave me a
chair and said: 'What can I do for you?'
" 'Monsieur, allow me first of all to introduce myself'; and I
gave him my card, which he took and read half aloud: 'The Comte
"I continued: 'There are eleven of us here Monsieur l'Abbe, five
on grand guard, and six installed at the house of an unknown
inhabitant. The names of the six are, Garens (that is I), Pierre
de Marchas, Ludovic de Ponderel, Baron d'Etreillis, Karl
Massouligny, the painter's son, and Joseph Herbon, a young
musician. I have come to ask you, in their name and my own, to do
us the honor of supping with us. It is an Epiphany supper,
Monsieur le Cure, and we should like to make it a little
"The priest smiled and murmured: 'It seems to me to be hardly a
suitable occasion for amusing oneself.'
"I replied: 'We are fighting every day, Monsieur. Fourteen of our
comrades have been killed in a month, and three fell as late as
yesterday. That is war. We stake our life every moment; have we
not, therefore, the right to amuse ourselves freely? We are
Frenchmen, we like to laugh, and we can laugh everywhere. Our
fathers laughed on the scaffold! This evening we should like to
brighten ourselves up a little, like gentlemen, and not like
soldiers; you understand me, I hope. Are we wrong?'
"He replied quickly: 'You are quite right, my friend, and I
accept your invitation with great pleasure.' Then he called out:
"An old, bent, wrinkled, horrible, peasant woman appeared and
said: 'What do you want?'
" 'I shall not dine at home, my daughter.'
" 'Where are you going to dine then?'
" 'With some gentlemen, hussars.'
"I felt inclined to say: 'Bring your servant with you,' just to
see Marchas's face, but I did not venture to, and continued: 'Do
you know anyone among your parishioners, male or female, whom I
could invite as well?' He hesitated, reflected, and then said:
'No, I do not know anybody!'
"I persisted: 'Nobody? Come, Monsieur, think; it would be very
nice to have some ladies, I mean to say, some married couples! I
know nothing about your parishioners. The baker and his wife, the
grocer, the--the--the--watchmaker--the--shoemaker --the--the
chemist with his wife. We have a good spread, and plenty of wine,
and we should be enchanted to leave pleasant recollections of
ourselves behind us with the people here.'
"The priest thought again for a long time and then said
resolutely: 'No, there is nobody.'
"I began to laugh. 'By Jove, Monsieur le Cure, it is very vexing
not to have an Epiphany queen, for we have the bean. Come, think.
Is there not a married mayor, or a married deputy-mayor, or a
married municipal councilor, or schoolmaster?'
" 'No all the ladies have gone away.'
" 'What, is there not in the whole place some good tradesman's
wife with her good tradesman, to whom we might give this
pleasure, for it would be a pleasure to them, a great pleasure
under present circumstances?'
"But suddenly the cure began to laugh, and he laughed so
violently that he fairly shook, and exclaimed: 'Ha! ha! ha! I
have got what you want, yes. I have got what you want! Ha! ha!
ha! We will laugh and enjoy ourselves, my children, we will have
some fun. How pleased the ladies will be, I say, how delighted
they will be. Ha! ha! Where are you staying?'
"I described the house, and he understood where it was. 'Very
good,' he said. 'It belongs to Monsieur Bertin-Lavaille. I will
be there in half an hour, with four ladies. Ha! ha! ha! four
"He went out with me, still laughing, and left me, repeating:
'That is capital; in half an hour at Bertin-Lavaille's house.'
"I returned quickly, very much astonished and very much puzzled.
'Covers for how many?' Marchas asked, as soon as he saw me.
" 'Eleven. There are six of us hussars besides the priest and
"He was thunderstruck, and I triumphant, and he repeated 'Four
ladies! Did you say, four ladies?'
" 'I said four women.'
" 'Real women?'
" 'Real women.'
" 'Well, accept my compliments!'
" 'I will, for I deserve them.'
"He got out of his armchair, opened the door, and I saw a
beautiful, white tablecloth on a long table, round which three
hussars in blue aprons were setting out the plates and glasses.
'There are some women coming!' Marchas cried. And the three men
began to dance and to cheer with all their might.
"Everything was ready, and we were waiting. We waited for nearly
an hour, while a delicious smell of roast poultry pervaded the
whole house. At last, however, a knock against the shutters made
us all jump up at the same moment. Stout Ponderel ran to open the
door, and in less than a minute a little Sister of Mercy appeared
in the doorway. She was thin, wrinkled, and timid, and
successively saluted the four bewildered hussars who saw her
enter. Behind her, the noise of sticks sounded on the tiled floor
in the vestibule. As soon as she had come into the drawing-room I
saw three old heads in white caps, following each other one by
one, balancing themselves with different movements, one canting
to the right, while the other canted to the left. Then three
worthy women showed themselves, limping, dragging their legs
behind them, crippled by illness and deformed through old age,
three infirm old women, past service, the only three pensioners
who were able to walk in the establishment which Sister
"She had turned round to her invalids, full of anxiety for them,
and then seeing my quartermaster's stripes, she said to me: 'I am
much obliged to you for thinking of these poor women. They have
very little pleasure in life, and you are at the same time giving
them a great treat and doing them a great honor.'
"I saw the priest, who had remained in the obscurity of the
passage, and who was laughing heartily, and I began to laugh in
my turn, especially when I saw Marchas's face. Then, motioning
the nun to the seats, I said: 'Sit down, Sister: we are very
proud and very happy that you have accepted our unpretentious
"She took three chairs which stood against the wall, set them
before the fire, led her three old women to them, settled them on
them, took their sticks and shawls which she put into a corner,
and then, pointing to the first, a thin woman with an enormous
stomach, who was evidently suffering from the dropsy, she said:
'This is Mother Paumelle, whose husband was killed by falling
from a roof, and whose son died in Africa; she is sixty years
old.' Then she pointed to another, a tall woman, whose head shook
unceasingly: 'This is Mother Jean-Jean, who is sixty-seven. She
is nearly blind, for her face was terribly singed in a fire, and
her right leg was half burned off.'
"Then she pointed to the third, a sort of dwarf, with protruding,
round, stupid eyes, which she rolled incessantly in all
directions. 'This is La Putois, an idiot. She is only
"I bowed to the three women as if I were being presented to some
Royal Highness, and turning to the priest I said: 'You are an
excellent man, Monsieur l'Abbe, and we all owe you a debt of
"Everybody was laughing, in fact, except Marchas, who seemed
furious, and just then Karl Massouligny cried: 'Sister
Saint-Benedict, supper is on the table!'
"I made her go first with the priest, then I helped up Mother
Paumelle, whose arm I took and dragged her into the next room,
which was no easy task, for her swollen stomach seemed heavier
than a lump of iron.
"Stout Ponderel gave his arm to Mother Jean-Jean, who bemoaned
her crutch, and little Joseph Herbon took the idiot, La Putois,
to the dining-room, which was filled with the odor of the viands.
"As soon as we were opposite our plates, the Sister clapped her
hands three times, and, with the precision of soldiers presenting
arms, the women made a rapid sign of the cross, and then the
priest slowly repeated the 'Benedictus' in Latin. Then we sat
down, and the two fowls appeared, brought in by Marchas, who
chose to wait rather than to sit down as a guest at this
"But I cried: 'Bring the champagne at once!' and a cork flew out
with the noise of a pistol, and in spite of the resistance of the
priest and the kind Sister, the three hussars sitting by the side
of the three invalids, emptied their three full glasses down
their throats by force.
"Massouligny, who possessed the faculty of making himself at
home, and of being on good terms with everyone, wherever he was,
made love to Mother Paumelle, in the drollest manner. The
dropsical woman, who had retained her cheerfulness in spite of
her misfortunes, answered him banteringly in a high falsetto
voice which seemed to be assumed, and she laughed so heartily at
her neighbor's jokes that her large stomach looked as if it were
going to rise up and get on to the table. Little Herbon had
seriously undertaken the task of making the idiot drunk, and
Baron d'Etreillis whose wits were not always particularly sharp,
was questioning old Jean-Jean about the life, the habits, and the
rules in the hospital.
"The nun said to Massouligny in consternation: 'Oh! oh! you will
make her ill; pray do not make her laugh like that, Monsieur. Oh!
Monsieur.' Then she got up and rushed at Herbon to take a full
glass out of his hands which he was hastily emptying down La
Putois's throat, while the priest shook with laughter, and said
to the Sister: 'Never mind, just this once, it will not hurt her.
Do leave them alone.'
"After the two fowls they ate the duck, which was flanked by the
three pigeons and a blackbird, and then the goose appeared,
smoking, golden-colored, and diffusing a warm odor of hot,
browned fat meat. La Paumelle who was getting lively, clapped her
hands; La Jean-Jean left off answering the Baron's numerous
questions, and La Putois uttered grunts of pleasure, half cries
and half sighs, like little children do when one shows them
sweets. 'Allow me to carve this bird,' the cure said. 'I
understand these sort of operations better than most people.'
" 'Certainly, Monsieur l'Abbe,' and the Sister said: 'How would
it be to open the window a little; they are too warm, and I am
afraid they will be ill.'
"I turned to Marchas: 'Open the window for a minute.' He did so;
the cold outer air as it came in made the candles flare, and the
smoke from the goose--which the cure was scientifically carving,
with a table napkin round his neck--whirl about. We watched him
doing it, without speaking now, for we were interested in his
attractive handiwork, and also seized with renewed appetite at
the sight of that enormous golden-colored bird, whose limbs fell
one after another into the brown gravy at the bottom of the dish.
At that moment, in the midst of greedy silence which kept us all
attentive, the distant report of a shot came in at the open
"I started to my feet so quickly that my chair fell down behind
me, and I shouted: 'Mount, all of you! You, Marchas, will take
two men and go and see what it is. I shall expect you back here
in five minutes.' And while the three riders went off at full
gallop through the night, I got into the saddle with my three
remaining hussars, in front of the steps of the villa, while the
cure, the Sister, and the three old women showed their frightened
faces at the window.
"We heard nothing more, except the barking of a dog in the
distance. The rain had ceased, and it was cold, very cold. Soon I
heard the gallop of a horse, of a single horse, coming back. It
was Marchas, and I called out to him: 'Well?'
" 'It is nothing; Francois has wounded an old peasant who refused
to answer his challenge and who continued to advance in spite of
the order to keep off. They are bringing him here, and we shall
see what is the matter.'
"I gave orders for the horses to be put back into the stable, and
I sent my two soldiers to meet the others, and returned to the
house. Then the cure, Marchas and I took a mattress into the room
to put the wounded man on; the Sister tore up a table napkin in
order to make lint, while the three frightened women remained
huddled up in a corner.
"Soon I heard the rattle of sabers on the road, and I took a
candle to show a light to the men who were returning. They soon
appeared, carrying that inert, soft, long, and sinister object
which a human body becomes when life no longer sustains it.
"They put the wounded man on the mattress that had been prepared
for him, and I saw at the first glance that he was dying. He had
the death rattle, and was spitting up blood which ran out of the
corners of his mouth, forced out of his lungs by his gasps. The
man was covered with it! His cheeks, his beard, his hair, his
neck, and his clothes seemed to have been rubbed, to have been
dipped in a red tub; the blood had congealed on him, and had
become a dull color which was horrible to look at.
"The old man, wrapped up in a large shepherd's cloak,
occasionally opened his dull, vacant eyes. They seemed stupid
with astonishment, like the eyes of hunted animals which fall at
the sportsman's feet, half dead before the shot, stupefied with
fear and surprise.
"The cure exclaimed: 'Ah! there is old Placide, the shepherd from
Les Marlins. He is deaf, poor man, and heard nothing. Ah! Oh,
God! they have killed the unhappy man!' The Sister had opened
his blouse and shirt and was looking at a little blue hole in
the middle of his chest, which was not bleeding any more. 'There
is nothing to be done,' she said.
"The shepherd was gasping terribly and bringing up blood with
every breath. In his throat to the very depth of his lungs, they
could hear an ominous and continued gurgling. The cure, standing
in front of him, raised his right hand, made the sign of the
cross, and in a slow and solemn voice pronounced the Latin words
which purify men's souls. But before they were finished, the old
man was shaken by a rapid shudder, as if something had broken
inside him; he no longer breathed. He was dead.
"When I turned round I saw a sight which was even more horrible
than the death struggle of this unfortunate man. The three old
women were standing up huddled close together, hideous, and
grimacing with fear and horror. I went up to them, and they began
to utter shrill screams, while La Jean-Jean, whose leg had been
burned and could not longer support her, fell to the ground at
"Sister Saint-Benedict left the dead man, ran up to her infirm
old women, and without a word or a look for me wrapped their
shawls round them, gave them their crutches, pushed them to the
door, made them go out, and disappeared with them into the dark
"I saw that I could not even let a hussar accompany them, for the
mere rattle of a sword would have sent them mad with fear.
"The cure was still looking at the dead man; but at last he
turned to me and said:
" 'Oh! What a horrible thing!' "
Noon had just struck. The school-door opened and the youngsters
streamed out tumbling over one another in their haste to get out
quickly. But instead of promptly dispersing and going home to
dinner as was their daily wont, they stopped a few paces off,
broke up into knots and set to whispering.
The fact was that that morning Simon, the son of La Blanchotte,
had, for the first time, attended school.
They had all of them in their families heard of La Blanchotte;
and although in public she was welcome enough, the mothers among
themselves treated her with compassion of a some what disdainful
kind, which the children had caught without in the least knowing
As for Simon himself, they did not know him, for he never went
abroad, and did not play around with them through the streets of
the village or along the banks of the river. So they loved him
but little; and it was with a certain delight, mingled with
astonishment that they gathered in groups this morning, repeating
to each other this sentence, concocted by a lad of fourteen or
fifteen who appeared to know all about it, so sagaciously did he
wink: "You know Simon --well, he has no papa."
La Blanchotte's son appeared in his turn upon the threshold of
He was seven or eight years old, rather pale, very neat, with a
timid and almost awkward manner.
He was making his way back to his mother's house when the various
groups of his schoolfellows, perpetually whispering, and watching
him with the mischievous and heartless eyes of children bent upon
playing a nasty trick, gradually surrounded him and ended by
inclosing him altogether. There he stood amid them, surprised and
embarrassed, not understanding what they were going to do with
him. But the lad who had brought the news, puffed up with the
success he had met with, demanded:
"What do you call yourself?"
He answered: "Simon."
"Simon what?" retorted the other.
The child, altogether bewildered, repeated: "Simon."
The lad shouted at him: "You must be named Simon something! That
is not a name--Simon indeed!"
And he, on the brink of tears, replied for the third time:
"I am named Simon."
The urchins began laughing. The lad triumphantly lifted up his
voice: "You can see plainly that he has no papa."
A deep silence ensued. The children were dumfounded by this
extraordinary, impossibly monstrous thing--a boy who had not a
papa; they looked upon him as a phenomenon, an unnatural being,
and they felt rising in them the hitherto inexplicable pity of
their mothers for La Blanchotte. As for Simon, he had propped
himself against a tree to avoid falling, and he stood there as if
paralyzed by an irreparable disaster. He sought to explain, but
he could think of no answer for them, no way to deny this
horrible charge that he had no papa. At last he shouted at them
quite recklessly: "Yes, I have one."
"Where is he?" demanded the boy.
Simon was silent, he did not know. The children shrieked,
tremendously excited. These sons of toil, nearly related to
animals, experienced the cruel craving which makes the fowls of a
farmyard destroy one of their own kind as soon as it is wounded.
Simon suddenly spied a little neighbor, the son of a widow, whom
he had always seen, as he himself was to be seen, quite alone
with his mother.
"And no more have you," he said, "no more have you a papa."
"Yes," replied the other, "I have one."
"Where is he?" rejoined Simon.
"He is dead," declared the brat with superb dignity, "he is in
the cemetery, is my papa."
A murmur of approval rose amid the scape-graces, as if the fact
of possessing a papa dead in a cemetery made their comrade big
enough to crush the other one who had no papa at all. And these
rogues, whose fathers were for the most part evil-doers,
drunkards, thieves, and ill-treaters of their wives hustled each
other as they pressed closer and closer to Simon as though they,
the legitimate ones, would stifle in their pressure one who was
beyond the law.
The lad next Simon suddenly put his tongue out at him with a
waggish air and shouted at him:
"No papa! No papa!"
Simon seized him by the hair with both hands and set to work to
demolish his legs with kicks, while he bit his cheek ferociously.
A tremendous struggle ensued between the two boys, and Simon
found himself beaten, torn, bruised, rolled on the ground in the
middle of the ring of applauding little vagabonds. As he arose,
mechanically brushing his little blouse all covered with dust
with his hand, some one shouted at him:
"Go and tell your papa."
He then felt a great sinking in his heart. They were stronger
than he, they had beaten him and he had no answer to give them,
for he knew it was true that he had no papa. Full of pride he
tried for some moments to struggle against the tears which were
suffocating him. He had a choking fit, and then without cries he
began to weep with great sobs which shook him incessantly. Then a
ferocious joy broke out among his enemies, and, just like savages
in fearful festivals, they took one another by the hand and
danced in a circle about him as they repeated in refrain:
"No papa! No papa!"
But suddenly Simon ceased sobbing. Frenzy overtook him. There
were stones under his feet; he picked them up and with all his
strength hurled them at his tormentors. Two or three were struck
and ran away yelling, and so formidable did he appear that the
rest became panic-stricken. Cowards, like a jeering crowd in the
presence of an exasperated man, they broke up and fled. Left
alone, the little thing without a father set off running toward
the fields, for a recollection had been awakened which nerved his
soul to a great determination. He made up his mind to drown
himself in the river.
He remembered, in fact, that eight days ago a poor devil who
begged for his livelihood had thrown himself into the water
because he had no more money. Simon had been there when they
fished him out again, and the sight of the fellow, who had seemed
to him so miserable and ugly, had then impressed him--his pale
cheeks, his long drenched beard, and his open eyes being full of
calm. The bystanders had said:
"He is dead."
And some one had added:
"He is quite happy now."
So Simon wished to drown himself also because he had no father,
just as the wretched being did who had no money.
He reached the water and watched it flowing. Some fishes were
rising briskly in the clear stream and occasionally made little
leaps and caught the flies on the surface. He stopped crying in
order to watch them, for their feeding interested him vastly.
But, at intervals, as in the lulls of a tempest, when tremendous
gusts of wind snap off trees and then die away, this thought
would return to him with intense pain:
"I am about to drown myself because I have no papa."
It was very warm and fine weather. The pleasant sunshine warmed
the grass; the water shone like a mirror; and Simon enjoyed for
some minutes the happiness of that languor which follows weeping,
desirous even of falling asleep there upon the grass in the
warmth of noon.
A little green frog leaped from under his feet. He endeavored to
catch it. It escaped him. He pursued it and lost it three times
following. At last he caught it by one of its hind legs and began
to laugh as he saw the efforts the creature made to escape. It
gathered itself up on its large legs and then with a violent
spring suddenly stretched them out as stiff as two bars.
Its eyes stared wide open in their round, golden circle, and it
beat the air with its front limbs, using them as though they were
hands. It reminded him of a toy made with straight slips of wood
nailed zig-zag one on the other, which by a similar movement
regulated the exercise of the little soldiers fastened thereon.
Then he thought of his home and of his mother, and overcome by
great sorrow he again began to weep. His limbs trembled; and he
placed himself on his knees and said his prayers as before going
to bed. But he was unable to finish them, for such hurried and
violent sobs overtook him that he was completely overwhelmed. He
thought no more, he no longer heeded anything around him but was
wholly given up to tears.
Suddenly a heavy hand was placed upon his shoulder, and a rough
voice asked him:
"What is it that causes you so much grief, my fine fellow?"
Simon turned round. A tall workman, with a black beard and hair
all curled, was staring at him good-naturedly. He answered with
his eyes and throat full of tears:
"They have beaten me because--I--I have no papa--no papa. "
"What!" said the man smiling, "why, everybody has one."
The child answered painfully amid his spasms of grief:
"But I--I--I have none."
Then the workman became serious. He had recognized La
Blanchotte's son, and although a recent arrival to the
neighborhood he had a vague idea of her history.
"Well," said he, "console yourself, my boy, and come with me home
to your mother. She will give you a papa."
And so they started on the way, the big one holding the little
one by the hand. The man smiled afresh, for he was not sorry to
see this Blanchotte, who by popular report was one of the
prettiest girls in the country-side--and, perhaps, he said to
himself, at the bottom of his heart, that a lass who had erred
once might very well err again.
They arrived in front of a very neat little white house.
"There it is," exclaimed the child, and he cried: "Mamma."
A woman appeared, and the workman instantly left off smiling, for
he at once perceived that there was no more fooling to be done
with the tall pale girl, who stood austerely at her door as
though to defend from one man the threshold of that house where she
had already been betrayed by another. Intimidated, his cap in his
hand, he stammered out:
"See, Madame, I have brought you back your little boy, who had
lost himself near the river."
But Simon flung his arms about his mother's neck and told her, as
he again began to cry:
"No, mamma, I wished to drown myself, because the others had
beaten me--had beaten me--because I have no papa."
A burning redness covered the young woman's cheeks, and, hurt to
the quick, she embraced her child passionately, while the tears
coursed down her face. The man, much moved, stood there, not
knowing how to get away. But Simon suddenly ran to him and said:
"Will you be my papa?"
A deep silence ensued. La Blanchotte, dumb and tortured with
shame, leaned against the wall, her hands upon her heart. The
child, seeing that no answer was made him, replied:
"If you do not wish it, I shall return to drown myself."
The workman took the matter as a jest and answered laughing:
"Why, yes, I wish it certainly."
"What is your name, then," went on the child, "so that I may tell
the others when they wish to know your name?"
"Philip," answered the man.
Simon was silent a moment so that he might get the name well into
his memory; then he stretched out his arms, quite consoled, and
"Well, then, Philip, you are my papa."
The workman, lifting him from the ground, kissed him hastily on
both cheeks, and then strode away quickly.
When the child returned to school next day he was received with a
spiteful laugh, and at the end of school, when the lads were on
the point of recommencing, Simon threw these words at their heads
as he would have done a stone: "He is named Philip, my papa."
Yells of delight burst out from all sides.
"Philip who? Philip what? What on earth is Philip? Where did you
pick up your Philip?"
Simon answered nothing; and immovable in faith he defied them
with his eye, ready to be martyred rather than fly before them.
The schoolmaster came to his rescue and he returned home to his
For a space of three months, the tall workman, Philip, frequently
passed by La Blanchotte's house, and sometimes made bold to speak
to her when he saw her sewing near the window. She answered him
civilly, always sedately, never joking with him, nor permitting
him to enter her house. Notwithstanding this, being, like all
men, a bit of a coxcomb, he imagined that she was often rosier
than usual when she chatted with him.
But a fallen reputation is so difficult to recover, and always
remains so fragile that, in spite of the shy reserve La
Blanchotte maintained, they already gossiped in the neighborhood.
As for Simon, he loved his new papa much, and walked with him
nearly every evening when the day's work was done. He went
regularly to school and mixed in a dignified way with his
schoolfellows without ever answering them back.
One day, however, the lad who had first attacked him said to him:
"You have lied. You have not a papa named Philip."
"Why do you say that?" demanded Simon, much disturbed.
The youth rubbed his hands. He replied:
"Because if you had one he would be your mamma's husband."
Simon was confused by the truth of this reasoning; nevertheless
"He is my papa all the same."
"That can very well be," exclaimed the urchin with a sneer, "but
that is not being your papa altogether."
La Blanchotte's little one bowed his head and went off dreaming
in the direction of the forge belonging to old Loizon, where
This forge was entombed in trees. It was very dark there, the red
glare of a formidable furnace alone lit up with great flashes
five blacksmiths, who hammered upon their anvils with a terrible
din. Standing enveloped in flame, they worked like demons, their
eyes fixed on the red-hot iron they were pounding; and their dull
ideas rising and falling with their hammers.
Simon entered without being noticed and quietly plucked his
friend by the sleeve. Philip turned round. All at once the work
came to a standstill and the men looked on very attentively.
Then, in the midst of this unaccustomed silence, rose the little
slender pipe of Simon:
"Philip, explain to me what the lad at La Michande has just told
me, that you are not altogether my papa."
"And why that?" asked the smith.
The child replied in all innocence:
"Because you are not my mamma's husband."
No one laughed. Philip remained standing, leaning his forehead
upon the back of his great hands, which held the handle of his
hammer upright upon the anvil. He mused. His four companions
watched him, and, like a tiny mite among these giants, Simon
anxiously waited. Suddenly, one of the smiths, voicing the
sentiment of all, said to Philip:
"All the same La Blanchotte is a good and honest girl, stalwart
and steady in spite of her misfortune, and one who would make a
worthy wife for an honest man."
"That is true," remarked the three others. The smith continued:
"Is it the girl's fault if she has fallen? She had been promised
marriage, and I know more than one who is much respected to-day
and has sinned every bit as much."
"That is true," responded the three men in chorus.
"How hard she has toiled, poor thing, to educate her lad all
alone, and how much she has wept since she no longer goes out,
save to church, God only knows."
"That also is true," said the others.
Then no more was heard save the roar of the bellows which fanned
the fire of the furnace. Philip hastily bent himself down to
"Go and tell your mamma that I shall come to speak to her."
Then he pushed the child out by the shoulders. He returned to his
work and in unison the five hammers again fell upon their anvils.
Thus they wrought the iron until nightfall, strong, powerful,
happy, like Vulcans satisfied. But as the great bell of a
cathedral resounds upon feast days above the jingling of the
other bells, so Philip's hammer, dominating the noise of the
others, clanged second after second with a deafening uproar. His
eye on the fire, he plied his trade vigorously, erect amid the
The sky was full of stars as he knocked at La Blanchotte's door.
He had his Sunday blouse on, a fresh shirt, and his beard was
trimmed. The young woman showed herself upon the threshold and
said in a grieved tone:
"It is ill to come thus when night has fallen, Mr. Philip."
He wished to answer, but stammered and stood confused before her.
"And you understand quite well that it will not do that I should
be talked about any more."
Then he said all at once:
"What does that matter to me, if you will be my wife!"
No voice replied to him, but he believed that he heard in the
shadow of the room the sound of a body falling. He entered very
quickly; and Simon, who had gone to his bed, distinguished the
sound of a kiss and some words that his mother said very softly.
Then he suddenly found himself lifted up by the hands of his
friend, who, holding him at the length of his herculean arms,
exclaimed to him:
"You will tell your school-fellows that your papa is Philip Remy,
the blacksmith, and that he will pull the ears of all who do you
On the morrow, when the school was full and lessons were about to
begin, little Simon stood up quite pale with trembling lips:
"My papa," said he in a clear voice, "is Philip Remy, the
blacksmith, and he has promised to box the ears of all who do me
This time no one laughed any longer, for he was very well known,
was Philip Remy, the blacksmith, and he was a papa of whom anyone
in the world would be proud.
WAITER, A "BOCK"
 Bavarian beer.
Why on this particular evening, did I enter a certain beer shop?
I cannot explain it. It was bitterly cold. A fine rain, a watery
mist floated about, veiling the gas jets in a transparent fog,
making the pavements under the shadow of the shop fronts glitter,
which revealed the soft slush and the soiled feet of the
I was going nowhere in particular; was simply having a short walk
after dinner. I had passed the Credit Lyonnais, the Rue Vivienne,
and several other streets. Suddenly I descried a large cafe,
which was more than half full. I walked inside, with no object in
mind. I was not the least thirsty.
By a searching glance I detected a place where I would not be too
much crowded. So I went and sat down by the side of a man who
seemed to me to be old, and who smoked a half-penny clay pipe,
which had become as black as coal. From six to eight beer
saucers were piled up on the table in front of him, indicating
the number of "bocks" he had already absorbed. With that same
glance I had recognized in him a "regular toper," one of those
frequenters of beer-houses, who come in the morning as soon as
the place is open, and only go away in the evening when it is
about to close. He was dirty, bald to about the middle of the
cranium, while his long gray hair fell over the neck of his frock
coat. His clothes, much too large for him, appeared to have been
made for him at a time when he was very stout. One could guess
that his pantaloons were not held up by braces, and that this man
could not take ten paces without having to pull them up and
readjust them. Did he wear a vest? The mere thought of his boots
and the feet they enveloped filled me with horror. The frayed
cuffs were as black at the edges as were his nails.
As soon as I had sat down near him, this queer creature said to
me in a tranquil tone of voice:
"How goes it with you?"
I turned sharply round to him and closely scanned his features,
whereupon he continued:
"I see you do not recognize me."
"No, I do not."
I was stupefied. It was Count Jean des Barrets, my old college
I seized him by the hand, so dumfounded that I could find nothing
to say. I, at length, managed to stammer out:
"And you, how goes it with you?"
He responded placidly:
"With me? Just as I like."
He became silent. I wanted to be friendly, and I selected this
"What are you doing now?"
"You see what I am doing," he answered, quite resignedly.
I felt my face getting red. I insisted:
"But every day?"
"Every day is alike to me," was his response, accompanied with a
thick puff of tobacco smoke.
He then tapped on the top of the marble table with a sou, to
attract the attention of the waiter, and called out:
"Waiter, two 'bocks.' "
A voice in the distance repeated:
"Two 'bocks,' instead of four."
Another voice, more distant still, shouted out:
"Here they are, sir, here they are."
Immediately there appeared a man with a white apron, carrying two
'bocks,' which he set down foaming on the table, the foam running
over the edge, on to the sandy floor.
Des Barrets emptied his glass at a single draught and replaced it
on the table, sucking in the drops of beer that had been left on
his mustache. He next asked:
"What is there new?"
"I know of nothing new, worth mentioning, really," I stammered:
"But nothing has grown old for me; I am a commercial man."
In an equable tone of voice, he said:
"Indeed--does that amuse you?"
"No, but what do you mean by that? Surely you must do something!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"I only mean, how do you pass your time!"
"What's the use of occupying myself with anything. For my part, I
do nothing at all, as you see, never anything. When one has not
got a sou one can understand why one has to go to work. What is
the good of working? Do you work for yourself, or for others? If
you work for yourself you do it for your own amusement, which is
all right; if you work for others, you reap nothing but
Then sticking his pipe into his mouth, he called out anew:
"Waiter, a 'bock.' It makes me thirsty to keep calling so. I am
not accustomed to that sort of thing. Yes, I do nothing; I let
things slide, and I am growing old. In dying I shall have nothing
to regret. If so, I should remember nothing, outside this
public-house. I have no wife, no children, no cares, no sorrows,
nothing. That is the very best thing that could happen to one."
He then emptied the glass which had been brought him, passed his
tongue over his lips, and resumed his pipe.
I looked at him stupefied and asked him:
"But you have not always been like that?"
"Pardon me, sir; ever since I left college."
"It is not a proper life to lead, my dear sir; it is simply
horrible. Come, you must indeed have done something, you must
have loved something, you must have friends."
"No; I get up at noon, I come here, I have my breakfast, I drink
my 'bock'; I remain until the evening, I have my dinner, I drink
'bock.' Then about one in the morning, I return to my couch,
because the place closes up. And it is this latter that embitters
me more than anything. For the last ten years, I have passed
six-tenths of my time on this bench, in my corner; and the other
four-tenths in my bed, never changing. I talk sometimes with the
"But on arriving in Paris what did you do at first?"
"I paid my devoirs to the Cafe de Medicis."
"Next? I crossed the water and came here."
"Why did you take even that trouble?"
"What do you mean? One cannot remain all one's life in the Latin
Quarter. The students make too much noise. But I do not move
about any longer. Waiter, a 'bock.' "
I now began to think that he was making fun of me, and I
"Come now, be frank. You have been the victim of some great
sorrow; despair in love, no doubt! It is easy to see that you are
a man whom misfortune has hit hard. What age are you?"
"I am thirty years of age, but I look to be forty-five at least."
I looked him straight in the face. His shrunken figure, badly
cared for, gave one the impression that he was an old man. On the
summit of his cranium, a few long hairs shot straight up from a
skin of doubtful cleanness. He had enormous eyelashes, a large
mustache, and a thick beard. Suddenly I had a kind of vision, I
know not why--the vision of a basin filled with noisome water,
the water which should have been applied to that poll. I said to
"Verily, you look to be more than that age. Of a certainty you
must have experienced some great disappointment."
"I tell you that I have not. I am old because I never take air.
There is nothing that vitiates the life of a man more than the
atmosphere of a cafe." I could not believe him.
"You must surely have been married as well? One could not get as
baldheaded as you are without having been much in love."
He shook his head, sending down his back little hairs from the
"No, I have always been virtuous."
And raising his eyes toward the luster, which beat down on our
heads, he said:
"If I am baldheaded, it is the fault of the gas. It is the enemy
of hair. Waiter, a 'bock.' You must be thirsty also?"
"No, thank you. But you certainly interest me. When did you have
your first discouragement? Your life is not normal, is not
natural. There is something under it all."
"Yes, and it dates from my infancy. I received a heavy blow when
I was very young. It turned my life into darkness, which will
last to the end."
"How did it come about?"
"You wish to know about it? Well, then, listen. You recall, of
course, the castle in which I was brought up, seeing that you
used to visit it for five or six months during the vacations? You
remember that large, gray building in the middle of a great park,
and the long avenues of oaks, which opened toward the four
cardinal points! You remember my father and my mother, both of
whom were ceremonious, solemn, and severe.
"I worshiped my mother; I was suspicious of my father; but I
respected both, accustomed always as I was to see everyone bow
before them. In the country, they were Monsieur le Comte and
Madame la Comtesse; and our neighbors, the Tannemares, the
Ravelets, the Brennevilles, showed the utmost consideration for
"I was then thirteen years old, happy, satisfied with everything,
as one is at that age, and full of joy and vivacity.
"Now toward the end of September, a few days before entering the
Lycee, while I was enjoying myself in the mazes of the park,
climbing the trees and swinging on the branches, I saw crossing
an avenue my father and mother, who were walking together.
"I recall the thing as though it were yesterday. It was a very
windy day. The whole line of trees bent under the pressure of the
wind, moaned and seemed to utter cries--cries dull, yet deep--so
that the whole forest groaned under the gale.
"Evening had come on, and it was dark in the thickets. The
agitation of the wind and the branches excited me, made me skip
about like an idiot, and howl in imitation of the wolves.
"As soon as I perceived my parents, I crept furtively toward
them, under the branches, in order to surprise them, as though I
had been a veritable wolf. But suddenly seized with fear, I
stopped a few paces from them. My father, a prey to the most
violent passion, cried:
" 'Your mother is a fool; moreover, it is not your mother that is
the question, it is you. I tell you that I want money, and I will
make you sign this.'
"My mother responded in a firm voice:
" 'I will not sign it. It is Jean's fortune, I shall guard it for
him and I will not allow you to devour it with strange women, as
you have your own heritage.'
"Then my father, full of rage, wheeled round and seized his wife
by the throat, and began to slap her full in the face with the
"My mother's hat fell off, her hair became disheveled and fell
down her back: she essayed to parry the blows, but could not
escape from them. And my father, like a madman, banged and banged
at her. My mother rolled over on the ground, covering her face in
both her hands. Then he turned her over on her back in order to
batter her still more, pulling away the hands which were covering
"As for me, my friend, it seemed as though the world had come to
an end, that the eternal laws had changed. I experienced the
overwhelming dread that one has in presence of things
supernatural, in presence of irreparable disaster. My boyish head
whirled round and soared. I began to cry with all my might,
without knowing why, a prey to terror, to grief, to a dreadful
bewilderment. My father heard me, turned round, and, on seeing
me, made as though he would rush at me. I believed that he wanted
to kill me, and I fled like a hunted animal, running straight in
front of me through the woods.
"I ran perhaps for an hour, perhaps for two, I know not. Darkness
had set in, I tumbled over some thick herbs, exhausted, and I lay
there lost, devoured by terror, eaten up by a sorrow capable of
breaking forever the heart of a child. I became cold, I became
hungry. At length day broke. I dared neither get up, walk, return
home, nor save myself, fearing to encounter my father whom I did
not wish to see again.
"I should probably have died of misery and of hunger at the foot
of a tree if the guard had not discovered me and led me away by
"I found my parents wearing their ordinary aspect. My mother
alone spoke to me:
" 'How you have frightened me, you naughty boy; I have been the
whole night sleepless.'
"I did not answer, but began to weep. My father did not utter a
"Eight days later I entered the Lycee.
"Well, my friend, it was all over with me. I had witnessed the
other side of things, the bad side; I have not been able to
perceive the good side since that day. What things have passed in
my mind, what strange phenomena have warped my ideas, I do not
know. But I no longer have a taste for anything, a wish for
anything, a love for anybody, a desire for anything whatever, no
ambition, no hope. And I can always see my poor mother lying on
the ground, in the avenue, while my father was maltreating her.
My mother died a few years after; my father lives still. I have
not seen him since. Waiter, a 'bock.' "
A waiter brought him his "bock," which he swallowed at a gulp.
But, in taking up his pipe again, trembling as he was, he broke
it. Then he made a violent gesture:
"Zounds! This is indeed a grief, a real grief. I have had it for
a month, and it was coloring so beautifully!"
Then he went off through the vast saloon, which was now full of
smoke and of people drinking, calling out:
"Waiter, a 'bock'--and a new pipe."
SEQUEL TO A DIVORCE
Certainly, although he had been engaged in the most
extraordinary, most unlikely, most extravagant, and funniest
cases, and had won legal games without a trump in his
hand--although he had worked out the obscure law of divorce, as
if it had been a Californian gold mine, Maitre Garrulier, the
celebrated, the only Garrulier, could not check a movement of
surprise, nor a disheartening shake of the head, nor a smile,
when the Countess de Baudemont explained her affairs to him for
the first time.
 Title given to advocates in France.
He had just opened his correspondence, and his slender hands, on
which he bestowed the greatest attention, buried themselves in a
heap of female letters, and one might have thought oneself in the
confessional of a fashionable preacher, so impregnated was the
atmosphere with delicate perfumes.
Immediately--even before she had said a word--with the sharp
glance of a practised man of the world, that look which made
beautiful Madame de Serpenoise say: "He strips your heart bare!"
the lawyer had classed her in the third category. Those who
suffer came into his first category, those who love, into the
second, and those who are bored, into the third--and she belonged
to the latter.
She was a pretty windmill, whose sails turned and flew round, and
fretted the blue sky with a delicious shiver of joy, as it were,
and had the brain of a bird, in which four correct and healthy
ideas cannot exist side by side, and in which all dreams and
every kind of folly are engulfed, like a great kaleidoscope.
Incapable of hurting a fly, emotional, charitable, with a feeling
of tenderness for the street girl who sells bunches of violets
for a penny, for a cab horse which a driver is ill-using, for a
melancholy pauper's funeral, when the body, without friends or
relations to follow it, is being conveyed to the common grave,
doing anything that might afford five minutes' amusement, not
caring if she made men miserable for the rest of their days, and
taking pleasure in kindling passions which consumed men's whole
being, looking upon life as too short to be anything else than
one uninterrupted round of gaiety and enjoyment, she thought that
people might find plenty of time for being serious and reasonable
in the evening of life, when they are at the bottom of the hill,
and their looking-glasses reveal a wrinkled face, surrounded with
A thorough-bred Parisian, whom one would follow to the end of the
world, like a poodle; a woman whom one adores with the head, the
heart, and the senses until one is nearly driven mad, as soon as
one has inhaled the delicate perfume that emanates from her dress
and hair, or touched her skin, and heard her laugh; a woman for
whom one would fight a duel and risk one's life without a
thought; for whom a man would remove mountains, and sell his soul
to the devil several times over, if the devil were still in the
habit of frequenting the places of bad repute on this earth.
She had perhaps come to see this Garrulier, whom she had so often
heard mentioned at five o'clock teas, so as to be able to
describe him to her female friends subsequently in droll phrases,
imitating his gestures and the unctuous inflections of his voice,
in order, perhaps, to experience some new sensation, or, perhaps,
for the sake of dressing like a woman who was going to try for a
divorce; and, certainly, the whole effect was perfect. She wore a
splendid cloak embroidered with jet--which gave an almost serious
effect to her golden hair, to her small slightly turned-up nose,
with its quivering nostrils, and to her large eyes, full of
enigma and fun--over a dark stuff dress, which was fastened at
the neck by a sapphire and a diamond pin.
The barrister did not interrupt her, but allowed her to get
excited and to chatter; to enumerate her causes for complaint
against poor Count de Baudemont, who certainly had no suspicion
of his wife's escapade, and who would have been very much
surprised if anyone had told him of it at that moment, when he
was taking his fencing lesson at the club.
When she had quite finished, he said coolly, as if he were
throwing a pail of water on some burning straw:
"But, Madame, there is not the slightest pretext for a divorce in
anything that you have told me here. The judges would ask me
whether I took the Law Courts for a theater, and intended to make
fun of them."
And seeing how disheartened she was,--that she looked like a
child whose favorite toy had been broken, that she was so pretty
that he would have liked to kiss her hands in his devotion, and
as she seemed to be witty, and very amusing, and as, moreover, he
had no objection to such visits being prolonged, when papers had
to be looked over, while sitting close together,--Maitre
Garrulier appeared to be considering. Taking his chin in his
hand, he said:
"However, I will think it over; there is sure to be some dark
spot that can be made out worse. Write to me, and come and see me
In the course of her visits, that black spot had increased so
much and Madame de Baudemont had followed her lawyer's advice so
punctually, and had played on the various strings so skillfully
that a few months later, after a lawsuit, which is still spoken
of in the Courts of Justice, and during the course of which the
President had to take off his spectacles, and to use his
pocket-handkerchief noisily, the divorce was pronounced in favor
of the Countess Marie Anne Nicole Bournet de Baudemont, nee de
Tanchart de Peothus.
The Count, who was nonplussed at such an adventure turning out so
seriously, first of all flew into a terrible rage, rushed off to
the lawyer's office and threatened to cut off his knavish ears
for him. But when his access of fury was over, and he thought of
it, he shrugged his shoulders and said:
"All the better for her, if it amuses her!"
Then he bought Baron Silberstein's yacht, and with some friends,
got up a cruise to Ceylon and India.
Marie Anne began by triumphing, and felt as happy as a schoolgirl
going home for the holidays; she committed every possible folly,
and soon, tired, satiated, and disgusted, began to yawn, cried,
and found out that she had sacrificed her happiness, like a
millionaire who has gone mad and has cast his banknotes and
shares into the river, and that she was nothing more than a
disabled waif and stray. Consequently, she now married again, as
the solitude of her home made her morose from morning till night;
and then, besides, she found a woman requires a mansion when she
goes into society, to race meetings, or to the theater.
And so, while she became a marchioness, and pronounced her second
"Yes," before a very few friends, at the office of the mayor of
the English urban district, malicious people in the Faubourg were
making fun of the whole affair, and affirming this and that,
whether rightly or wrongly, and comparing the present husband to
the former one, even declaring that he had partially been the
cause of the former divorce. Meanwhile Monsieur de Baudemont was
wandering over the four quarters of the globe trying to overcome
his homesickness, and to deaden his longing for love, which had
taken possession of his heart and of his body, like a slow
He traveled through the most out-of-the-way places, and the most
lovely countries, and spent months and months at sea, and plunged
into every kind of dissipation and debauchery. But neither the
supple forms nor the luxurious gestures of the bayaderes, nor the
large passive eyes of the Creoles, nor flirtations with English
girls with hair the color of new cider, nor nights of waking
dreams, when he saw new constellations in the sky, nor dangers
during which a man thinks it is all over with him, and mutters a
few words of prayer in spite of himself, when the waves are high,
and the sky black, nothing was able to make him forget that
little Parisian woman who smelled so sweet that she might have
been taken for a bouquet of rare flowers; who was so coaxing, so
curious, so funny; who never had the same caprice, the same
smile, or the same look twice, and who, at bottom, was worth more
than many others, either saints or sinners.
He thought of her constantly, during long hours of sleeplessness.
He carried her portrait about with him in the breast pocket of
his pea-jacket--a charming portrait in which she was smiling, and
showing her white teeth between her half-open lips. Her gentle
eyes with their magnetic look had a happy, frank expression, and
from the mere arrangement of her hair, one could see that she was
fair among the fair.
He used to kiss that portrait of the woman who had been his wife
as if he wished to efface it, would look at it for hours, and
then throw himself down on the netting and sob like a child as he
looked at the infinite expanse before him, seeming to see their
lost happiness, the joys of their perished affections, and the
divine remembrance of their love, in the monotonous waste of
green waters. And he tried to accuse himself for all that had
occurred, and not to be angry with her, to think that his
grievances were imaginary, and to adore her in spite of
everything and always.
And so he roamed about the world, tossed to and fro, suffering
and hoping he knew not what. He ventured into the greatest
dangers, and sought for death just as a man seeks for his
mistress, and death passed close to him without touching him,
perhaps amused at his grief and misery.
For he was as wretched as a stone-breaker, as one of those poor
devils who work and nearly break their backs over the hard flints
the whole day long, under the scorching sun or the cold rain; and
Marie Anne herself was not happy, for she was pining for the past
and remembered their former love.
At last, however, he returned to France, changed, tanned by
exposure, sun, and rain, and transformed as if by some witch's
Nobody would have recognized the elegant and effeminate clubman,
in this corsair with broad shoulders, a skin the color of tan,
with very red lips, who rolled a little in his walk; who seemed
to be stifled in his black dress-coat, but who still retained the
distinguished manners and bearing of a nobleman of the last
century, one of those who, when he was ruined, fitted out a
privateer, and fell upon the English wherever he met them, from
St. Malo to Calcutta. And wherever he showed himself his friends
"Why! Is that you? I should never have known you again!"
He was very nearly starting off again immediately; he even
telegraphed orders to Havre to get the steam-yacht ready for sea
directly, when he heard that Marie Anne had married again.
He saw her in the distance, at the Theatre Francais one Tuesday,
and when he noticed how pretty, how fair, how desirable she
was,--looking so melancholy, with all the appearance of an
unhappy soul that regrets something,--his determination grew
weaker, and he delayed his departure from week to week, and
waited, without knowing why, until, at last, worn out with the
struggle, watching her wherever she went, more in love with her
than he had ever been before, he wrote her long, mad, ardent
letters in which his passion overflowed like a stream of lava.
He altered his handwriting, as he remembered her restless brain,
and her many whims. He sent her the flowers which he knew she
liked best, and told her that she was his life, that he was dying
of waiting for her, of longing for her, for her his idol.
At last, very much puzzled and surprised, guessing--who
knows?--from the instinctive beating of her heart, and her
general emotion, that it must be he this time, he whose soul she
had tortured with such cold cruelty, and knowing that she could
make amends for the past and bring back their former love, she
replied to him, and granted him the meeting that he asked for.
She fell into his arms, and they both sobbed with joy and
ecstasy. Their kisses were those which lips give only when they
have lost each other and found each other again at last, when
they meet and exhaust themselves in each other's looks, thirsting
for tenderness, love, and enjoyment.
* * * * * * *
Last week Count de Baudemont carried off Marie Anne quietly and
coolly, just like one resumes possession of one's house on
returning from a journey, and drives out the intruders. And when
Maitre Garrulier was told of this unheard of scandal, he rubbed
his hands--the long, delicate hands of a sensual prelate--and
"That is absolutely logical, and I should like to be in their
THE MAD WOMAN
"I can tell you a terrible story about the Franco-Prussian war,"
Monsieur d'Endolin said to some friends assembled in the
smoking-room of Baron de Ravot's chateau. "You know my house in
the Faubourg de Cormeil, I was living there when the Prussians
came, and I had for a neighbor a kind of mad woman, who had lost
her senses in consequence of a series of misfortunes. At the age
of seven and twenty she had lost her father, her husband, and her
newly born child, all in the space of a month.
"When death has once entered into a house, it almost invariably
returns immediately, as if it knew the way, and the young woman,
overwhelmed with grief, took to her bed and was delirious for six
weeks. Then a species of calm lassitude succeeded that violent
crisis, and she remained motionless, eating next to nothing, and
only moving her eyes. Every time they tried to make her get up,
she screamed as if they were about to kill her, and so they ended
by leaving her continually in bed, and only taking her out to
wash her, to change her linen, and to turn her mattress.
"An old servant remained with her, to give her something to
drink, or a little cold meat, from time to time. What passed in
that despairing mind? No one ever knew, for she did not speak at
all now. Was she thinking of the dead? Was she dreaming sadly,
without any precise recollection of anything that had happened?
Or was her memory as stagnant as water without any current? But
however this may have been, for fifteen years she remained thus
inert and secluded.
"The war broke out, and in the beginning of December the Germans
came to Cormeil. I can remember it as if it were but yesterday.
It was freezing hard enough to split the stones, and I myself was
lying back in an armchair, being unable to move on account of the
gout, when I heard their heavy and regular tread, and could see
them pass from my window.
"They defiled past interminably, with that peculiar motion of a
puppet on wires, which belongs to them. Then the officers
billeted their men on the inhabitants, and I had seventeen of
them. My neighbor, the crazy woman, had a dozen, one of whom was
the Commandant, a regular violent, surly swashbuckler.
"During the first few days, everything went on as usual. The
officers next door had been told that the lady was ill, and they
did not trouble themselves about that in the least, but soon that
woman whom they never saw irritated them. They asked what
her illness was, and were told that she had been in bed for
fifteen years, in consequence of terrible grief. No doubt they
did not believe it, and thought that the poor mad creature would
not leave her bed out of pride, so that she might not come near
the Prussians, or speak to them or even see them.
"The Commandant insisted upon her receiving him. He was shown
into the room and said to her roughly: 'I must beg you to get up,
Madame, and to come downstairs so that we may all see you.' But
she merely turned her vague eyes on him, without replying, and so
he continued: 'I do not intend to tolerate any insolence, and if
you do not get up of your own accord, I can easily find means to
make you walk without any assistance.'
"But she did not give any signs of having heard him, and remained
quite motionless. Then he got furious, taking that calm silence
for a mark of supreme contempt; so he added: 'If you do not come
downstairs to-morrow--' And then he left the room.
"The next day the terrified old servant wished to dress her, but
the mad woman began to scream violently, and resisted with all
her might. The officer ran upstairs quickly, and the servant
threw herself at his feet and cried: 'She will not come down,
Monsieur, she will not. Forgive her, for she is so unhappy.'
"The soldier was embarrassed, as in spite of his anger, he did
not venture to order his soldiers to drag her out. But suddenly
he began to laugh, and gave some orders in German, and soon a
party of soldiers was seen coming out supporting a mattress as if
they were carrying a wounded man. On that bed, which had not been
unmade, the mad woman, who was still silent, was lying quite
quietly, for she was quite indifferent to anything that went on,
as long as they let her lie. Behind her, a soldier was carrying a
parcel of feminine attire, and the officer said, rubbing his
hands: 'We will just see whether you cannot dress yourself alone,
and take a little walk.'
"And then the procession went off in the direction of the forest
of Imauville; in two hours the soldiers came back alone, and
nothing more was seen of the mad woman. What had they done with
her? Where had they taken her to? No one knew.
"The snow was falling day and night, and enveloped the plain and
the woods in a shroud of frozen foam, and the wolves came and
howled at our very doors.
"The thought of that poor lost woman haunted me, and I made
several applications to the Prussian authorities in order to
obtain some information, and was nearly shot for doing so. When
spring returned, the army of occupation withdrew, but my
neighbor's house remained closed, and the grass grew thick in the
garden walks. The old servant had died during the winter, and
nobody troubled any longer about the occurrence; I alone thought
about it constantly. What had they done with the woman? Had she
escaped through the forest? Had somebody found her, and taken her
to a hospital, without being able to obtain any information from
her? Nothing happened to relieve my doubts; but by degrees, time
assuaged my fears.
"Well, in the following autumn the woodcock were very plentiful,
and as my gout had left me for a time, I dragged myself as far as
the forest. I had already killed four or five of the long-billed
birds, when I knocked over one which fell into a ditch full of
branches, and I was obliged to get into it, in order to pick it
up, and I found that it had fallen close to a dead, human body.
Immediately the recollection of the mad woman struck me like a
blow in the chest. Many other people had perhaps died in the wood
during that disastrous year, but though I do not know why, I was
sure, sure, I tell you, that I should see the head of that
"And suddenly I understood, I guessed everything. They had
abandoned her on that mattress in the cold, deserted wood; and,
faithful to her fixed idea, she had allowed herself to perish
under that thick and light counterpane of snow, without moving
either arms or legs.
"Then the wolves had devoured her, and the birds had built their
nests with the wool from her torn bed, and I took charge of her
bones. I only pray that our sons may never see any wars again."
IN VARIOUS ROLES
In the following reminiscences will frequently be mentioned a
lady who played a great part in the annals of the police from
1848 to 1866. We will call her "Wanda von Chabert." Born in
Galicia of German parents, and carefully brought up in every way,
when only sixteen she married, from love, a rich and handsome
officer of noble birth. The young couple, however, lived beyond
their means, and when the husband died suddenly, two years after
they were married, she was left anything but well off.
As Wanda had grown accustomed to luxury and amusement, a quiet
life in her parents' house did not suit her any longer. Even
while she was still in mourning for her husband, she allowed a
Hungarian magnate to make love to her. She went off with him at a
venture, and continued the same extravagant life which she had
led when her husband was alive, of her own volition. At the end
of two years, however, her lover left her in a town in North
Italy, almost without means. She was thinking of going on the
stage, when chance provided her with another resource, which
enabled her to reassert her position in society. She became a
secret police agent, and soon was one of their most valuable
members. In addition to the proverbial charm and wit of a Polish
woman, she also possessed high linguistic attainments, and spoke
Polish, Russian, French, German, English, and Italian, with
almost equal fluency and correctness. Then she had that
encyclopedic polish which impresses people much more than the
most profound learning of the specialist, She was very attractive
in appearance, and she knew how to set off her good looks by all
the arts of dress and coquetry.
In addition to this, she was a woman of the world in the widest
sense of the term; pleasure-loving, faithless, unstable, and
therefore never in any danger of really losing her heart, and
consequently her head. She used to change the place of her abode,
according to what she had to do. Sometimes she lived in Paris
among the Polish emigrants, in order to find out what they were
doing, and maintained intimate relations with the Tuileries and
the Palais Royal at the same time; sometimes she went to London
for a short time, or hurried off to Italy to watch the Hungarian
exiles, only to reappear suddenly in Switzerland, or at one of
the fashionable German watering-places.
In revolutionary circles, she was looked upon as an active member
of the great League of Freedom, and diplomatists regarded her as
an influential friend of Napoleon III.
She knew everyone, but especially those men whose names were to
be met with every day in the journals, and she counted Victor
Emmanuel, Rouher, Gladstone, and Gortschakoff among her friends
as well as Mazzini, Kossuth, Garibaldi, Mieroslawsky, and
In the spring of 185- she was at Vevey on the lovely lake of
Geneva, and went into raptures when talking to an old German
diplomatist about the beauties of nature, and about Calame,
Stifter, and Turgenev, whose "Diary of a Hunter," had just become
fashionable. One day a man appeared at the table d'hote, who
excited unusual attention, and hers especially, so that there was
nothing strange in her asking the proprietor of the hotel what
his name was. She was told that he was a wealthy Brazilian, and
that his name was Don Escovedo.
Whether it was an accident, or whether he responded to the
interest which the young woman felt for him, at any rate she
constantly met him whereever she went, whether taking a walk, or
on the lake or looking at the newspapers in the reading-room. At
last she was obliged to confess to herself that he was the
handsomest man she had ever seen. Tall slim, and yet muscular,
the young, beardless Brazilian had a head which any woman might
envy, features not only beautiful and noble, but also extremely
delicate, dark eyes which possessed a wonderful charm, and thick,
auburn, curly hair, which completed the attractiveness and the
strangeness of his appearance.
They soon became acquainted, through a Prussian officer whom the
Brazilian had asked for an introduction to the beautiful Polish
lady--for Frau von Chabert was taken for one in Vevey. She, cold
and designing as she was, blushed slightly when he stood before
her for the first time; and when he gave her his arm, he could
feel her hand tremble slightly on it. The same evening they went
out riding together, the next he was lying at her feet, and on
the third she was his. For four weeks the lovely Wanda and the
Brazilian lived together as if they had been in Paradise, but he
could not deceive her searching eyes any longer.
Her sharp and practiced eye had already discovered in him that
indefinable something which makes a man appear a suspicious
character. Any other woman would have been pained and horrified
at such a discovery, but she found the strange consolation in it
that her handsome adorer promised also to become a very
interesting object for pursuit, and so she began systematically