Part 4 out of 5
He seemed to be changed, though she could not have told in what
manner. He appeared excited and his voice seemed deeper. And suddenly,
as though it were the most natural thing in the world, he said: "I
say, mother, as long as you have come to-day, I want to tell you that
I will not be at 'The Poplars' next Sunday, for we are going to have
She was amazed, smothering, as if he had announced his departure for
America. At last, recovering herself, she said: "Oh, Poulet, what is
the matter with you? Tell me what is going on."
He began to laugh, and kissing her, replied: "Why, nothing, nothing,
mamma. I am going to have a good time with my friends; I am just at
She had nothing to say, but when she was alone in the carriage all
manner of ideas came into her mind. She no longer recognized him, her
Poulet, her little Poulet of former days. She felt for the first time
that he was grown up, that he no longer belonged to her, that he was
going to live his life without troubling himself about the old people.
It seemed to her that one day had wrought this change in him. Was it
possible that this was her son, her poor little boy who had helped her
to replant the lettuce, this great big bearded youth who had a will of
For three months Paul came home only occasionally, and always seemed
impatient to get away again, trying to steal off an hour earlier each
evening. Jeanne was alarmed, but the baron consoled her, saying: "Let
him alone; the boy is twenty years old."
One morning, however, an old man, poorly dressed, inquired in
German-French for "Madame la Vicomtesse," and after many ceremonious
bows, he drew from his pocket a dilapidated pocketbook, saying: "Che un
betit bapier bour fous," and unfolding as he handed it to her a piece
of greasy paper. She read and reread it, looked at the Jew, read it
over again and asked: "What does it mean?"
He obsequiously explained: "I will tell you. Your son needed a little
money, and as I knew that you are a good mother, I lent him a trifle
to help him out."
Jeanne was trembling. "But why did he not ask me?" The Jew explained
at length that it was a question of a debt that must be paid before
noon the following day; that Paul not being of age, no one would have
lent him anything, and that his "honor would have been compromised"
without this little service that he had rendered the young man.
Jeanne tried to call the baron, but had not the strength to rise, she
was so overcome by emotion. At length she said to the usurer: "Would
you have the kindness to ring the bell?"
He hesitated, fearing some trap, and then stammered out: "If I am
intruding, I will call again." She shook her head in the negative. He
then rang, and they waited in silence, sitting opposite each other.
When the baron came in he understood the situation at once. The note
was for fifteen hundred francs. He paid one thousand, saying close to
the man's face: "And on no account come back." The other thanked him
and went his way.
The baron and Jeanne set out at once for Havre. On reaching the
college they learned that Paul had not been there for a month. The
principal had received four letters signed by Jeanne saying that his
pupil was not well and then to tell how he was getting along. Each
letter was accompanied by a doctor's certificate. They were, of
course, all forged. They were all dumbfounded, and stood there looking
at each other.
The principal, very much worried, took them to the commissary of
police. Jeanne and her father stayed at a hotel that night. The
following day the young man was found in the apartment of a courtesan
of the town. His grandfather and mother took him back to "The Poplars"
and not a word was exchanged between them during the whole journey.
A week later they discovered that he had contracted fifteen thousand
francs' worth of debts within the last three months. His creditors had
not come forward at first, knowing that he would soon be of age.
They entered into no discussion about it, hoping to win him back by
gentleness. They gave him dainty food, petted him, spoiled him. It was
spring and they hired a boat for him at Yport, in spite of Jeanne's
fears, so that he might amuse himself on the water.
They would not let him have a horse, for fear he should ride to Havre.
He was there with nothing to do and became irritable and occasionally
brutally so. The baron was worried at the discontinuance of his
studies. Jeanne, distracted at the idea of a separation, asked herself
what they could do with him.
One evening he did not come home. They learned that he had gone out in
a boat with two sailors. His mother, beside herself with anxiety, went
down to Yport without a hat in the dark. Some men were on the beach,
waiting for the boat to come in. There was a light on board an
incoming boat, but Paul was not on board. He had made them take him to
The police sought him in vain; he could not be found. The woman with
whom he had been found the first time had also disappeared without
leaving any trace; her furniture was sold and her rent paid. In Paul's
room at "The Poplars" were found two letters from this person, who
seemed to be madly in love with him. She spoke of a voyage to England,
having, she said, obtained the necessary funds.
The three dwellers in the château lived silently and drearily, their
minds tortured by all kinds of suppositions. Jeanne's hair, which had
become gray, now turned perfectly white. She asked in her innocence
why fate had thus afflicted her.
She received a letter from the Abbé Tolbiac: "Madame, the hand of God
is weighing heavily on you. You refused Him your child; He took him
from you in His turn to cast him into the hands of a prostitute. Will
not you open your eyes at this lesson from Heaven? God's mercy is
infinite. Perhaps He may pardon you if you return and fall on your
knees before Him. I am His humble servant. I will open to you the door
of His dwelling when you come and knock at it."
She sat a long time with this letter on her lap. Perhaps it was true
what the priest said. And all her religious doubts began to torment
her conscience. And in her cowardly hesitation, which drives to church
the doubting, the sorrowful, she went furtively one evening at
twilight to the parsonage, and kneeling at the feet of the thin abbé,
begged for absolution.
He promised her a conditional pardon, as God could not pour down all
His favors on a roof that sheltered a man like the baron. "You will
soon feel the effects of the divine mercy," he declared.
Two days later she did, indeed, receive a letter from her son, and in
her discouragement and grief she looked upon this as the commencement
of the consolation promised her by the abbé. The letter ran:
"My Dear Mamma: Do not be uneasy. I am in London, in good health, in
very great need of money. We have not a sou left, and we do not have
anything to eat some days. The one who is with me, and whom I love
with all my heart, has spent all that she had so as not to leave
me--five thousand francs--and you see that I am bound in honor to
return her this sum in the first place. So I wish you would be kind
enough to advance me fifteen thousand francs of papa's fortune, for I
shall soon be of age. This will help me out of very serious
"Good-by, my dear mamma. I embrace you with all my heart, and also
grandfather and Aunt Lison. I hope to see you soon.
"Vicomte Paul de Lamare."
He had written to her! He had not forgotten her then. She did not care
anything about his asking for money! She would send him some as long
as he had none. What did money matter? He had written to her! And she
ran, weeping for joy, to show this letter to the baron. Aunt Lison was
called and read over word by word this paper that told of him. They
discussed each sentence.
Jeanne, jumping from the most complete despair to a kind of
intoxication of hope, took Paul's part. "He will come back, he will
come back as he has written."
The baron, more calm, said: "All the same he left us for that
creature, so he must love her better than us, as he did not hesitate
A sudden and frightful pang struck Jeanne's heart, and immediately she
was filled with hatred of this woman who had stolen her son from her,
an unappeasable, savage hate, the hatred of a jealous mother. Until
now all her thoughts had been given to Paul. She scarcely took into
consideration that a girl had been the cause of his vagaries. But the
baron's words had suddenly brought before her this rival, had revealed
her fatal power, and she felt that between herself and this woman a
struggle was about to begin, and she also felt that she would rather
lose her son than share his affection with another. And all her joy
was at an end.
They sent him the fifteen thousand francs and heard nothing more from
him for five months.
Then a business man came to settle the details of Julien's
inheritance. Jeanne and the baron handed over the accounts without any
discussion, even giving up the interest that should come to his
mother. When Paul came back to Paris he had a hundred and twenty
thousand francs. He then wrote four letters in six months, giving his
news in concise terms and ending the letters with coldly affectionate
expressions. "I am working," he said; "I have obtained a position on
the stock exchange. I hope to go and embrace you at 'The Poplars' some
day, my dear parents."
He did not mention his companion, and this silence implied more than
if he had filled four pages with news of her. Jeanne, in these cold
letters, felt this woman in ambush, the implacable, eternal enemy of
mothers, the courtesan.
The three lonely beings discussed the best plan to follow in order to
rescue Paul, but could decide on nothing. A voyage to Paris? What good
would it do?
"Let his passion exhaust itself. He will come back then of his own
accord," said the baron.
Some time passed without any further news. But one morning they were
terrified at the receipt of a despairing letter:
"My Poor Mamma: I am lost. There is nothing left for me to do but to
blow out my brains unless you come to my aid. A speculation that gave
every prospect of success has fallen through, and I am eighty-five
thousand dollars in debt. I shall be dishonored if I do not pay
up--ruined--and it will henceforth be impossible for me to do
anything. I am lost. I repeat that I would rather blow out my brains
than undergo this disgrace. I should have done so already, probably,
but for the encouragement of a woman of whom I never speak to you,
and who is my providence.
"I embrace you from the bottom of my heart, my dear mamma--perhaps for
the last time. Good-by.
A package of business papers accompanying the letter gave the details
of the failure.
The baron answered by return mail that they would see what could be
done. Then he set out for Havre to get advice and he mortgaged some
property to raise the money which was sent to Paul.
The young man wrote three letters full of the most heartfelt thanks
and passionate affection, saying he was coming home at once to see his
But he did not come.
A whole year passed. Jeanne and the baron were about to set out for
Paris to try and make a last effort, when they received a line to say
that he was in London again, setting an enterprise on foot in
connection with steamboats under the name of "Paul de Lamare & Co." He
wrote: "This will give me an assured fortune, and perhaps great
wealth, and I am risking nothing. You can see at once what a splendid
thing it is. When I see you again I shall have a fine position in
society. There is nothing but business these days to help you out of
Three months later the steamboat company failed and the manager was
being sought for on account of certain irregularities in business
methods. Jeanne had a nervous attack that lasted several hours and
then she took to her bed.
The baron again went to Havre to make inquiries, saw some lawyers,
some business men, some solicitors and bailiffs and found that the
liabilities of the De Lamare concern were two hundred and thirty-five
thousand francs, and he once more mortgaged some property. The château
of "The Poplars" and the two farms and all that went with them were
mortgaged for a large sum.
One evening as he was arranging the final details in the office of a
business man, he fell over on the floor with a stroke of apoplexy.
A man was sent on horseback to notify Jeanne, but when she arrived he
She took his body back to "The Poplars," so overcome that her grief
was numbness rather than despair.
Abbé Tolbiac refused to permit the body to be brought to the church,
despite the distracted entreaties of the two women. The baron was
interred at twilight without any religious ceremony.
Paul learned of the event through one of the men who was settling up
his affairs. He was still in hiding in England. He wrote to make
excuses for not having come home, saying that he had learned of his
grandfather's death too late. "However, now that you have helped me
out of my difficulties, my dear mamma, I shall go back to France and
hope to embrace you soon."
Jeanne was so crushed in spirit that she appeared not to understand
anything. Toward the end of the winter Aunt Lison, who was now
sixty-eight, had an attack of bronchitis that developed into pneumonia,
and she died quietly, murmuring with her last breath: "My poor
little Jeanne, I will ask God to take pity on you."
Jeanne followed her to the grave, and as the earth fell on her coffin
she sank to the ground, wishing that she might die also, so as not to
suffer, to think. A strong peasant woman lifted her up and carried her
away as if she had been a child.
When she reached the château Jeanne, who had spent the last five
nights at Aunt Lison's bedside, allowed herself to be put to bed
without resistance by this unknown peasant woman, who handled her with
gentleness and firmness, and she fell asleep from exhaustion, overcome
with weariness and suffering.
She awoke about the middle of the night. A night light was burning on
the mantelpiece. A woman was asleep in her easy chair. Who was this
woman? She did not recognize her, and leaning over the edge of her
bed, she sought to examine her features by the dim light of the wick
floating in oil in a tumbler of water.
It seemed to her that she had seen this face. But when, but where? The
woman was sleeping peacefully, her head to one side and her cap on the
floor. She might be about forty or forty-five. She was stout, with a
high color, squarely built and powerful. Her large hands hung down at
either side of the chair. Her hair was turning gray. Jeanne looked at
her fixedly, her mind in the disturbed condition of one awaking from a
feverish sleep after a great sorrow.
She had certainly seen this face! Was it in former days? Was it of
late years? She could not tell, and the idea distressed her, upset her
nerves. She rose noiselessly to take another look at the sleeping
woman, walking over on tiptoe. It was the woman who had lifted her up
in the cemetery and then put her to bed. She remembered this
But had she met her elsewhere at some other time of her life or did
she only imagine she recognized her amid the confused recollections of
the day before? And how did she come to be there in her room and why?
The woman opened her eyes and, seeing Jeanne, she rose to her feet
suddenly. They stood face to face, so close that they touched one
another. The stranger said crossly: "What! are you up? You will be
ill, getting up at this time of night. Go back to bed!"
"Who are you?" asked Jeanne.
But the woman, opening her arms, picked her up and carried her back to
her bed with the strength of a man. And as she laid her down gently
and drew the covers over her, she leaned over close to Jeanne and,
weeping as she did so, she kissed her passionately on the cheeks, her
hair, her eyes, the tears falling on her face as she stammered out:
"My poor mistress, Mam'zelle Jeanne, my poor mistress, don't you
"Rosalie, my girl!" cried Jeanne, throwing her arms round her neck and
hugging her as she kissed her, and they sobbed together, clasped in
each other's arms.
Rosalie was the first to regain her calmness. "Come," she said, "you
must be sensible and not catch cold." And she covered her up warm and
straightened the pillow under her former mistress' head. The latter
continued to sob, trembling all over at the recollections that were
awakened in her mind. She finally inquired: "How did you come back, my
"Pardi! do you suppose I was going to leave you all alone like that,
now?" replied Rosalie.
"Light a candle, so I may see you," said Jeanne. And when the candle
was brought to the bedside they looked at each other for some time
without speaking a word. Then Jeanne, holding out her hand to her
former maid, murmured: "I should not have recognized you, my girl, you
have changed greatly; did you know it? But not as much as I have." And
Rosalie, looking at this white-haired woman, thin and faded, whom she
had left a beautiful and fresh young woman, said: "That is true, you
have changed, Madame Jeanne, and more than you should. But remember,
however, that we have not seen each other for twenty-five years."
They were silent, thinking over the past. At length Jeanne said
hesitatingly: "Have you been happy?"
Rosalie, fearful of awakening certain painful souvenirs, stammered
out: "Why--yes--yes--madame. I have nothing much to complain of. I
have been happier than you have--that is sure. There was only one
thing that always weighed on my heart, and that was that I did not
stay here--" And she stopped suddenly, sorry she had referred to that
unintentionally. But Jeanne replied gently: "How could you help it, my
girl? One cannot always do as they wish. You are a widow now, also,
are you not?" Then her voice trembled with emotion as she said: "Have
you other--other children?"
"And he--your--your boy--what has become of him? Has he turned out
"Yes, madame, he is a good boy and works industriously. He has been
married for six months, and he can take my farm now, since I have come
back to you."
Jeanne murmured in a trembling voice: "Then you will never leave me
again, my girl?"
"No, indeed, madame, I have arranged all that."
Jeanne, in spite of herself, began to compare their lives, but without
any bitterness, for she was now resigned to the unjust cruelty of
fate. She said: "And your husband, how did he treat you?"
"Oh, he was a good man, madame, and not lazy; he knew how to make
money. He died of consumption."
Then Jeanne, sitting up in bed, filled with a longing to know more,
said: "Come, tell me everything, my girl, all about your life. It will
do me good just now."
Rosalie, drawing up her chair, began to tell about herself, her home,
her people, entering into those minute details dear to country people,
describing her yard, laughing at some old recollection that reminded
her of good times she had had, and raising her voice by degrees like a
farmer's wife accustomed to command. She ended by saying: "Oh, I am
well off now. I don't have to worry." Then she became confused again,
and said in a lower tone: "It is to you that I owe it, anyhow; and you
know I do not want any wages. No, indeed! No, indeed! And if you will
not have it so, I will go."
Jeanne replied: "You do not mean that you are going to serve me for
"Oh, yes, indeed, madame. Money! You give me money! Why, I have almost
as much as you. Do you know what is left to you will all your jumble
of mortgages and borrowing, and interests unpaid which are mounting up
every year? Do you know? No, is it not so? Well, then, I can promise
you that you have not even ten thousand francs income. Not ten
thousand, do you understand? But I will settle all that for you, and
She had begun talking loud again, carried away in her indignation at
these interests left unpaid, at this threatening ruin. And as a faint,
tender smile passed over the face of her mistress, she cried in a tone
of annoyance: "You must not laugh, madame, for without money we are
nothing but laborers."
Jeanne took hold of her hands and kept them in her own; then she said
slowly, still full of the idea that haunted her: "Oh, I have had no
luck. Everything has gone against me. Fate has a grudge against my
But Rosalie shook her head: "You must not say that, madame. You
married badly, that's all. One should not marry like that, anyway,
without knowing anything about one's intended."
And they went on talking about themselves just as two old friends
might have done.
The sun rose while they were still talking.
* * * * *
A NEW HOME
In a week's time Rosalie had taken absolute control of everything and
everyone in the château. Jeanne was quite resigned and obeyed
passively. Weak and dragging her feet as she walked, as little mother
had formerly done, she went out walking leaning on Rosalie's arm, the
latter lecturing her and consoling her with abrupt and tender words as
they walked slowly along, treating her mistress as though she were a
They always talked of bygone days, Jeanne with tears in her throat,
and Rosalie in the quiet tone of a phlegmatic peasant. The servant
kept referring to the subject of unpaid interests; and at last
requested Jeanne to give her up all the business papers that Jeanne,
in her ignorance of money matters, was hiding from her, out of
consideration for her son.
After that, for a week, Rosalie went to Fécamp every day to have
matters explained to her by a lawyer whom she knew.
One evening, after having put her mistress to bed, she sat down by the
bedside and said abruptly: "Now that you are settled quietly, madame,
we will have a chat." And she told her exactly how matters stood.
When everything was settled, there would be about seven thousand
francs of income left, no more.
"We cannot help it, my girl," said Jeanne. "I feel that I shall not
make old bones, and there will be quite enough for me."
But Rosalie was annoyed: "For you, madame, it might be; but M.
Paul--will you leave nothing for him?"
Jeanne shuddered. "I beg you not to mention him again. It hurts me too
much to think about him."
"But I wish to speak about him, because you see you are not brave,
Madame Jeanne. He does foolish things. Well! what of it? He will not
do so always; and then he will marry and have children. He will need
money to bring them up. Pay attention to me: you must sell 'The
Jeanne sprang up in a sitting posture. "Sell 'The Poplars'! Do you
mean it? Oh, never, never!"
But Rosalie was not disturbed. "I tell you that you will sell the
place, madame, because it must be done." And then she explained her
calculations, her plans, her reasons.
Once they had sold "The Poplars" and the two farms belonging to it to
a buyer whom she had found, they would keep four farms situated at St.
Leonard, which, free of all mortgage, would bring in an income of
eight thousand three hundred francs. They would set aside thirteen
hundred francs a year for repairs and for the upkeep of the property;
there would then remain seven thousand francs, five thousand of which
would cover the annual expenditures and the other two thousand would
be put away for a rainy day.
She added: "All the rest has been squandered; there is an end of it.
And then I am to keep the key, you understand. As for M. Paul, he will
have nothing left, nothing; he would take your last sou from you."
Jeanne, who was weeping silently, murmured:
"But if he has nothing to eat?"
"He can come and eat with us if he is hungry. There will always be a
bed and some stew for him. Do you believe he would have acted as he
has done if you had not given him a sou in the first place?"
"But he was in debt, he would have been disgraced."
"When you have nothing left, will that prevent him from making fresh
debts? You have paid his debts, that is all right; but you will not
pay any more; it is I who am telling you this. Now goodnight, madame."
And she left the room.
Jeanne did not sleep, she was so upset at the idea of selling "The
Poplars," of going away, of leaving this house to which all her life
When Rosalie came into the room next morning she said to her: "My poor
girl, I never could make up my mind to go away from here."
But the servant grew angry: "It will have to be, however, madame; the
lawyer will soon be here with the man who wants to buy the château.
Otherwise, in four years you will not have a rap left."
Jeanne was crushed, and repeated: "I could not do it; I never could."
An hour later the postman brought her a letter from Paul asking for
ten thousand francs. What should she do? At her wit's end, she
consulted Rosalie, who threw up her hands, exclaiming: "What was I
telling you, madame? Ah! You would have been in a nice fix, both of
you, if I had not come back." And Jeanne, bending to her servant's
will, wrote as follows to the young man:
"My Dear Son: I can do nothing more for you. You have ruined me; I am
even obliged to sell 'The Poplars.' But never forget that I shall
always have a home whenever you want to seek shelter with your old
mother, to whom you have caused much suffering. Jeanne."
When the notary arrived with M. Jeoffrin, a retired sugar refiner, she
received them herself, and invited them to look over the château.
A month later, she signed a deed of sale, and also bought herself a
little cottage in the neighborhood of Goderville, on the high road to
Montiviliers, in the hamlet of Batteville.
Then she walked up and down all alone until evening, in little
mother's avenue, with a sore heart and troubled mind, bidding
distracted and sobbing farewells to the landscape, the trees, the
rustic bench under the plane tree, to all those things she knew so
well and that seemed to have become part of her vision and her soul,
the grove, the mound overlooking the plain, where she had so often
sat, and from where she had seen the Comte de Fourville running toward
the sea on that terrible day of Julian's death, to an old elm whose
upper branches were missing, against which she had often leaned, and
to all this familiar garden spot.
Rosalie came out and took her by the arm to make her come into the
A tall young peasant of twenty-five was waiting outside the door. He
greeted her in a friendly manner as if he had known her for some time:
"Good-morning, Madame Jeanne. I hope you are well. Mother told me to
come and help you move. I would like to know what you are going to
take away, seeing that I shall do it from time to time so as not to
interfere with my farm work."
It was her maid's son, Julien's son, Paul's brother.
She felt as if her heart stopped beating; and yet she would have liked
to embrace this young fellow.
She looked at him, trying to find some resemblance to her husband or
to her son. He was ruddy, vigorous, with fair hair and his mother's
blue eyes. And yet he looked like Julien. In what way? How? She could
not have told, but there was something like him in the whole makeup of
The young man resumed: "If you could show me at once, I should be much
But she had not yet decided what she was going to take with her, as
her new home was very small; and she begged him to come back again at
the end of the week.
She was now entirely occupied with getting ready to move, which
brought a little variety into her very dreary and hopeless life. She
went from room to room, picking out the furniture which recalled
episodes in her life, old friends, as it were, who have a share in our
life and almost of our being, whom we have known since childhood, and
to which are linked our happy or sad recollections, dates in our
history; silent companions of our sad or sombre hours, who have grown
old and become worn at our side, their covers torn in places, their
joints shaky, their color faded.
She selected them, one by one, sometimes hesitating and troubled, as
if she were taking some important step, changing her mind every
instant, weighing the merits of two easy chairs or of some old
writing-desk and an old work table.
She opened the drawers, sought to recall things; then, when she had
said to herself, "Yes, I will take this," the article was taken down
into the dining-room.
She wished to keep all the furniture of her room, her bed, her
tapestries, her clock, everything.
She took away some of the parlor chairs, those that she had loved as a
little child; the fox and the stork, the fox and the crow, the ant and
the grasshopper, and the melancholy heron.
Then, while wandering about in all the corners of this dwelling she
was going to forsake, she went one day up into the loft, where she was
filled with amazement; it was a chaos of articles of every kind, some
broken, others tarnished only, others taken up there for no special
reason probably, except that they were tired of them or that they had
been replaced by others. She saw numberless knick-knacks that she
remembered, and that had disappeared suddenly, trifles that she had
handled, those old little insignificant articles that she had seen
every day without noticing, but which now, discovered in this loft,
assumed an importance as of forgotten relics, of friends that she had
She went from one to the other of them with a little pang, saying:
"Why, it was I who broke that china cup a few evenings before my
wedding. Ah! there is mother's little lantern and a cane that little
father broke in trying to open the gate when the wood was swollen with
There were also a number of things that she did not remember that had
belonged to her grandparents or to their parents, dusty things that
appeared to be exiled in a period that is not their own, and that
looked sad at their abandonment, and whose history, whose experiences
no one knows, for they never saw those who chose them, bought them,
owned them, and loved them; never knew the hands that had touched them
familiarly, and the eyes that looked at them with delight.
Jeanne examined carefully three-legged chairs to see if they recalled
any memories, a copper warming pan, a damaged foot stove that she
thought she remembered, and a number of housekeeping utensils unfit
She then put together all the things she wished to take, and going
downstairs, sent Rosalie up to get them. The servant indignantly
refused to bring down "that rubbish." But Jeanne, who had not much
will left, held her own this time, and had to be obeyed.
One morning the young farmer, Julien's son, Denis Lecoq, came with his
wagon for the first load. Rosalie went back with him in order to
superintend the unloading and placing of furniture where it was to
Rosalie had come back and was waiting for Jeanne, who had been out on
the cliff. She was enchanted with the new house, declaring it was much
more cheerful than this old box of a building, which was not even on
the side of the road.
Jeanne wept all the evening.
Ever since they heard that the château was sold, the farmers were not
more civil to her than necessary, calling her among themselves "the
crazy woman," without knowing exactly why, but doubtless because they
guessed with their animal instinct at her morbid and increasing
sentimentality, at all the disturbance of her poor mind that had
undergone so much sorrow.
The night before they left she chanced to go into the stable. A growl
made her start. It was Massacre, whom she had hardly thought of for
months. Blind and paralyzed, having reached a great age for an animal,
he existed in a straw bed, taken care of by Ludivine, who never forgot
him. She took him in her arms, kissed him, and carried him into the
house. As big as a barrel, he could scarcely carry himself along on
his stiff legs, and he barked like the wooden dogs that one gives to
The day of departure finally came. Jeanne had slept in Julien's old
room, as hers was dismantled. She got up exhausted and short of breath
as if she had been running. The carriage containing the trunks and the
rest of the furniture was in the yard ready to start. Another
two-wheeled vehicle was to take Jeanne and the servant. Old Simon and
Ludivine were to stay until the arrival of a new proprietor, and then
to go to some of their relations, Jeanne having provided a little
income for them. They had also saved up some money, and being now very
old and garrulous, they were not of much use in the house. Marius had
long since married and left.
About eight o'clock it began to rain, a fine icy rain, driven by a
light breeze. On the kitchen table, some cups of café au lait were
steaming. Jeanne sat down and sipped hers, then rising, she said,
She put on her hat and shawl, and while Rosalie was putting on her
overshoes, she said in a choking voice: "Do you remember, my girl, how
it rained when we left Rouen to come here?"
As she said this, she put her two hands to her breast and fell over on
her back, unconscious. She remained thus over an hour, apparently
dead. Then she opened her eyes and was seized with convulsions
accompanied by floods of tears.
When she was a little calmer she was so weak that she could not stand
up, and Rosalie, fearing another attack if they delayed their
departure, went to look for her son. They took her up and carried her
to the carriage, placed her on the wooden bench covered with leather;
and the old servant got in beside her, wrapped her up with a big
cloak, and holding an umbrella over her head, cried: "Quick, Denis,
let us be off." The young man climbed up beside his mother and whipped
up the horse, whose jerky pace made the two women bounce about
As they turned the corner to enter the village, they saw some one
stalking along the road; it was Abbé Tolbiac, who seemed to be
watching for them to go by. He stopped to let the carriage pass. He
was holding up his cassock with one hand, to keep it out of the mud,
and his thin legs, encased in black stockings, ended in a pair of
enormous muddy shoes.
Jeanne lowered her eyes so as not to meet his glance, and Rosalie, who
had heard all about him, flew into a rage. "Peasant! Peasant!" she
murmured; and then seizing her son's hand: "Give him a good slash with
But the young man, just as they were passing the priest, made the
wheel of the wagon, which was going at full speed, sink into a rut,
splashing the abbé with mud from head to foot.
Rosalie was delighted and turned round to shake her fist at him, while
the priest was wiping off the mud with his big handkerchief.
All at once Jeanne exclaimed: "We have forgotten Massacre!" They
stopped, and, getting down, Denis ran to fetch the dog, while Rosalie
held the reins. He presently reappeared, carrying in his arms the
shapeless and crippled animal, which he placed at the feet of the two
* * * * *
JEANNE IN PARIS
Two hours later the carriage stopped at a little brick house built in
the middle of a lot planted with pear trees at the side of the high
Four trellised arbors covered with honeysuckle and clematis formed the
four corners of the garden, which was divided into little beds of
vegetables separated by narrow paths bordered with fruit trees.
A very high box hedge enclosed the whole property, which was separated
by a field from the neighboring farm. There was a blacksmith's shop
about a hundred feet further along the road. There were no other
houses within three-quarters of a mile.
The house commanded a view of the level district of Caux, covered with
farms surrounded by their four double rows of tall trees which
enclosed the courtyard planted with apple trees.
As soon as they reached the house, Jeanne wanted to rest; but Rosalie
would not allow her to do so for fear she would begin to think of the
The carpenter from Goderville was there, and they began at once to
place the furniture that had already arrived while waiting for the
last load. This required a good deal of thought and planning.
At the end of an hour the wagon appeared at the gate and had to be
unloaded in the rain. When night fell the house was in utter disorder,
with things piled up anyhow. Jeanne, tired out, fell asleep as soon as
she got into bed.
She had no time to mourn for some days, as there was so much to be
done. She even took a certain pleasure in making her new house look
pretty, the thought that her son would come back there haunting her
continually. The tapestries from her old room were hung in the
dining-room, which also had to serve as a parlor; and she took special
pains with one of the two rooms on the first floor, which she thought
of as "Poulet's room."
She kept the other room herself, Rosalie sleeping above, next to the
loft. The little house, furnished with care, was very pretty, and
Jeanne was happy there at first, although she seemed to lack
something, but she did not know what.
One morning the lawyer's clerk from Fécamp brought her three thousand
six hundred francs, the price of the furniture left at "The Poplars,"
and valued by an upholsterer. She had a little thrill of pleasure at
receiving this money, and as soon as the man had gone, she ran to put
on her hat, so as to get to Goderville as quickly as possible to send
Paul this unexpected sum.
But as she was hurrying along the high road she met Rosalie coming
from market. The servant suspected something, without at once guessing
the facts; and when she discovered them, for Jeanne could hide nothing
from her, she placed her basket on the ground that she might get angry
with more comfort.
She began to scold with her fists on her hips; then taking hold of her
mistress with her right arm and taking her basket in her left, and
still fuming, she continued on her way to the house.
As soon as they were in the house the servant asked to have the money
handed over to her. Jeanne gave all but six hundred francs, which she
held back; but Rosalie soon saw through her tricks, and she was
obliged to hand it all over. However, she consented to her sending
this amount to the young man.
A few days later he wrote: "You have rendered me a great service, my
dear mother, for we were in the greatest distress."
Jeanne, however, could not get accustomed to Batteville. It seemed to
her as if she could not breathe as she did formerly, that she was more
lonely, more deserted, more lost than ever. She went out for a walk,
got as far as the hamlet of Verneuil, came back by the Trois-Mares,
came home, then suddenly wanted to start out again, as if she had
forgotten to go to the very place she intended.
And every day she did the same thing without knowing why. But one
evening a thought came to her unconsciously which revealed to her the
secret of her restlessness. She said as she was sitting down to
dinner: "Oh, how I long to see the sea!"
That was what she had missed so greatly, the sea, her big neighbor for
twenty-five years, the sea with its salt air, its rages, its scolding
voice, its strong breezes, the sea which she sought from her window at
"The Poplars" every morning, whose air she breathed day and night, the
sea which she felt close to her, which she had taken to loving
unconsciously as she would a person.
Winter was approaching, and Jeanne felt herself overcome by an
unconquerable discouragement. It was not one of those acute griefs
which seemed to wring the heart, but a dreary, mournful sadness.
Nothing roused her. No one paid any attention to her. The high road
before her door stretched to right and left with hardly any passersby.
Occasionally a dogcart passed rapidly, driven by a red-faced man, with
his blouse puffed out by the wind, making a sort of blue balloon;
sometimes a slow-moving wagon, or else two peasants, a man and a
woman, who came near, passed by, and disappeared in the distance.
As soon as the grass began to grow again, a young girl in a short
skirt passed by the gate every morning with two thin cows who browsed
along the side of the road. She came back every evening with the same
sleepy face, making a step every ten minutes as she walked behind the
Jeanne dreamed every night that she was still at "The Poplars." She
seemed to be there with father and little mother, and sometimes even
with Aunt Lison. She did over again things forgotten and done with,
thought she was supporting Madame Adelaide in her walk along the
avenue. And each awakening was attended with tears.
She thought continually of Paul, wondering what he was doing--how he
was--whether he sometimes thought of her. As she walked slowly in the
by-roads between the farms, she thought over all these things which
tormented her, but above all else, she cherished an intense jealousy
of the woman who had stolen her son from her. It was this hatred alone
which prevented her from taking any steps, from going to look for him,
to see him. It seemed to her that she saw that woman standing on the
doorsill asking: "What do you want here, madame?" Her mother's pride
revolted at the possibility of such a meeting. And her haughty pride
of a good woman whose character is blameless made her all the more
indignant at the cowardice of a man subjugated by an unworthy passion.
When autumn returned with its long rains, its gray sky, its dark
clouds, such a weariness of this kind of life came over her that she
determined to make a great effort to get her Poulet back; he must have
got over his infatuation by this time.
She wrote him an imploring letter:
"My Dear Child: I am going to entreat you to come back to me. Remember
that I am old and delicate, all alone the whole year round except for
a servant maid. I am now living in a little house on the main road. It
is very lonely, but if you were here all would be different for me. I
have only you in the world, and I have not seen you for seven years!
You were my life, my dream, my only hope, my one love, and you failed
me, you deserted me!
"Oh, come back, my little Poulet--come and embrace me. Come back to
your old mother, who holds out her despairing arms towards you.
He replied a few days later:
"My Dear Mother: I would ask nothing better than to go and see you,
but I have not a penny. Send me some money and I will come. I wanted,
in any case, to see you to talk to you about a plan that would make it
possible for me to do as you ask.
"The disinterestedness and love of the one who has been my companion
in the dark days through which I have passed can never be forgotten by
me. It is not possible for me to remain any longer without publicly
recognizing her love and her faithful devotion. She has very pleasing
manners, which you would appreciate. She is also educated and reads a
good deal. In fact, you cannot understand what she has been to me. I
should be a brute if I did not show her my gratitude. I am going,
therefore, to ask you to give me your permission to marry her. You
will forgive all my follies and we will all live together in your new
"If you knew her you would at once give your consent. I can assure you
that she is perfect and very distingué. You will love her, I am sure.
As for me, I could not live without her.
"I shall expect your reply with impatience, my dear mother, and we
both embrace you with all our heart.
"Vicomte Paul de Lamare."
Jeanne was crushed. She remained motionless, the letter on her lap,
seeing through the cunning of this girl who had had such a hold on her
son for so long, and had not let him come to see her once, biding her
time until the despairing old mother could no longer resist the desire
to clasp her son in her arms, and would weaken and grant all they
And grief at Paul's persistent preference for this creature wrung her
heart. She said: "He does not love me. He does not love me."
Rosalie just then entered the room. Jeanne faltered: "He wants to
marry her now."
The maid was startled. "Oh, madame, you will not allow that. M. Paul
must not pick up that rubbish."
And Jeanne, overcome with emotion, but indignant, replied: "Never
that, my girl. And as he will not come here, I am going to see him,
myself, and we shall see which of us will carry the day."
She wrote at once to Paul to prepare him for her visit, and to arrange
to meet him elsewhere than in the house inhabited by that baggage.
While awaiting a reply she made her preparations for departure.
Rosalie began to pack her mistress' clothes in an old trunk, but as
she was folding a dress, one of those she had worn in the country, she
exclaimed: "Why, you have nothing to put on your back. I will not
allow you to go like that. You would be a disgrace to everyone; and
the Parisian ladies would take you for a servant."
Jeanne let her have her own way, and the two women went together to
Goderville to choose some material, which was given a dressmaker in
the village. Then they went to the lawyer, M. Roussel, who spent a
fortnight in the capital every year, in order to get some information;
for Jeanne had not been in Paris for twenty-eight years.
He gave them lots of advice on how to avoid being run over, on methods
of protecting yourself from thieves, advising her to sew her money up
inside the lining of her coat, and to keep in her pocket only what she
absolutely needed. He spoke at length about moderate priced
restaurants, and mentioned two or three patronized by women, and told
them that they might mention his name at the Hotel Normandie.
Jeanne had never yet seen the railroad, though trains had been running
between Paris and Havre for six years, and were revolutionizing the
She received no answer from Paul, although she waited a week, then two
weeks, going every morning to meet the postman, asking him
hesitatingly: "Is there anything for me, Père Malandain?" And the man
always replied in his hoarse voice: "Nothing again, my good lady."
It certainly must be this woman who was keeping Paul from writing.
Jeanne, therefore, determined to set out at once. She wanted to take
Rosalie with her, but the maid refused for fear of increasing the
expense of the journey. She did not allow her mistress to take more
than three hundred francs, saying: "If you need more you can write to
me and I will go to the lawyer and ask him to send it to you. If I
give you any more, M. Paul will put it in his pocket."
One December morning Denis Lecoq came for them in his light wagon and
took them to the station. Jeanne wept as she kissed Rosalie good-by,
and got into the train. Rosalie was also affected and said: "Good-by,
madame, bon voyage, and come back soon!"
"Good-by, my girl."
A whistle and the train was off, beginning slowly and gradually going
with a speed that terrified Jeanne. In her compartment there were two
gentlemen leaning back in the two corners of the carriage.
She looked at the country as they swept past, the trees, the farms,
the villages, feeling herself carried into a new life, into a new
world that was no longer the life of her tranquil youth and of her
present monotonous existence.
She reached Paris that evening. A commissionaire took her trunk and
she followed him in great fear, jostled by the crowd and not knowing
how to make her way amid this mass of moving humanity, almost running
to keep up with the man for fear of losing sight of him.
On reaching the hotel she said at the desk: "I was recommended here by
The proprietress, an immense woman with a serious face, who was seated
at the desk, inquired:
"Who is he--M. Roussel?"
Jeanne replied in amazement: "Why, he is the lawyer at Goderville, who
stops here every year."
"That's very possible," said the big woman, "but I do not know him. Do
you wish a room?"
A boy took her satchel and led the way upstairs. She felt a pang at
her heart. Sitting down at a little table she sent for some luncheon,
as she had eaten nothing since daybreak. As she ate, she was thinking
sadly of a thousand things, recalling her stay here on the return from
her wedding journey, and the first indication of Julien's character
betrayed while they were in Paris. But she was young then, and
confident and brave. Now she felt old, embarrassed, even timid, weak
and disturbed at trifles. When she had finished her luncheon she went
over to the window and looked down on the street filled with people.
She wished to go out, but was afraid to do so. She would surely get
lost. She went to bed, but the noise, the feeling of being in a
strange city, kept her awake. About two o'clock in the morning, just
as she was dozing off, she heard a woman scream in an adjoining room;
she sat up in bed and then she thought she heard a man laugh. As
daylight dawned the thought of Paul came to her, and she dressed
herself before it was light.
Paul lived in the Rue du Sauvage, in the old town. She wanted to go
there on foot so as to carry out Rosalie's economical advice. The
weather was delightful, the air cold enough to make her skin tingle.
People were hurrying along the sidewalks. She walked as fast as she
could, according to directions given her, along a street, at the end
of which she was to turn to the right and then to the left, when she
would come to a square where she must make fresh inquiries. She did
not find the square, and went into a baker's to ask her way, and he
directed her differently. She started off again, went astray, inquired
her way again, and finally got lost completely.
Half crazy, she now walked at random. She had made up her mind to call
a cab, when she caught sight of the Seine. She then walked along the
After about an hour she found the Rue Sauvage, a sort of dark alley.
She stopped at a door, so overcome that she could not move.
He was there, in that house--Poulet.
She felt her knees and hands trembling; but at last she entered the
door, and walking along a passage, saw the janitor's quarters. She
said, as she held out a piece of money: "Would you go up and tell M.
Paul de Lamare that an old lady, a friend of his mother's, is
downstairs, and wishes to see him?"
"He does not live here any longer, madame," replied the janitor.
A shudder went over her. She faltered:
"Oh! Where--where is he living now?"
"I do not know."
She grew dizzy as though she were about to fall over, and stood there
for some moments without being able to speak. At length, with a great
effort, she collected her senses and murmured:
"How long is it since he left?"
"About two weeks ago. They went off like that, one evening, and never
came back. They were in debt everywhere in the neighborhood, so you
can understand that they did not care to leave their address."
Jeanne saw lights before her eyes, flashes of flame, as though a gun
had been fired off in front of her eyes. But she had one fixed idea in
her mind, and that sustained her, and kept her outwardly calm and
rational. She wished to find Poulet and know all about him.
"Then he said nothing when he was going away?"
"Nothing at all; they ran off to escape their debts, that's all."
"But he surely sends someone to get his mail."
"More frequently than I send it. He never got more than ten letters a
year. I took one up to them, however, two days before they left."
That was probably her letter. She said abruptly: "Listen! I am his
mother, his own mother, and I have come to look for him. Here are ten
francs for you. If you can get any news or any particulars about him,
come and see me at the Hotel Normandie, Rue du Havre, and I will pay
"You may count on me, madame," he replied.
She left him and began to walk away without caring whither she went.
She hurried along as though she were on some important business,
knocking up against people with packages, crossing the streets without
paying attention to the approaching vehicles, and being sworn at by
the drivers, stumbling on the curb of the sidewalk, and tearing along
straight ahead in utter despair.
All at once she found herself in a garden, and was so tired that she
sat down on a bench to rest. She stayed there some time apparently,
weeping without being conscious of it, for passersby stopped to look
at her. Then she felt very cold, and rose to go on her way; but her
legs would scarcely carry her, she was so weak and distressed.
She wanted to go into a restaurant and get a cup of bouillon, but a
sort of shame, of fear, of modesty at her grief being observed held
her back. She would pause at the door, look in, see all the people
sitting at table eating, and would turn away, saying: "I will go into
the next one." But she had not the courage.
Finally she went into a bakery and bought a crescent and ate it as she
walked along. She was very thirsty, but did not know where to go to
get something to drink, so did without it.
Presently she found herself in another garden surrounded by arcades.
She recognized the Palais Royal. Being tired and warm, she sat down
here for an hour or two.
A crowd of people came in, a well-dressed crowd, chatting, smiling,
bowing to each other, that happy crowd of beautiful women and wealthy
men who live only for dress and amusement. Jeanne felt bewildered in
the midst of this brilliant assemblage, and got up to make her escape.
But suddenly the thought came to her that she might meet Paul in this
place; and she began to wander about, looking into the faces, going
and coming incessantly with her quick step from one end of the garden
to the other.
People turned round to look at her, others laughed as they pointed her
out. She noticed it and fled, thinking that they were doubtless amused
at her appearance and at her dress of green plaid, selected by
Rosalie, and made according to her ideas by the dressmaker at
She no longer dared even to ask her way of passersby, but at last she
ventured to do so and found her way back to the hotel.
The following day she went to the police department to ask them to
look for her child. They could promise her nothing, but said they
would do all they could. She wandered about the streets hoping that
she might come across him. And she felt more alone in this bustling
crowd, more lost, more wretched than in the lonely country.
That evening when she came back to the hotel she was informed that a
man had come to see her from M. Paul, and that he would come back
again the following day. Her heart began to beat violently and she
never closed her eyes that night. If it should be he! Yes, it
assuredly was, although she would not have recognized him from the
description they gave her.
About nine o'clock the following morning there was a knock at the
door. She cried: "Come in!" ready to throw herself into certain
outstretched arms. But an unknown person appeared; and while he
excused himself for disturbing her, and explained his business, which
was to collect a debt of Paul's, she felt the tears beginning to
overflow, and wiped them away with her finger before they fell on her
He had learned of her arrival through the janitor of the Rue Sauvage,
and as he could not find the young man, he had come to see his mother.
He handed her a paper, which she took without knowing what she was
doing and read the figures--ninety francs--which she paid without a
She did not go out that day.
The next day other creditors came. She gave them all that she had left
except twenty francs and then wrote to Rosalie to explain matters to
She passed her days wandering about, waiting for Rosalie's answer, not
knowing what to do, how to kill the melancholy, interminable hours,
having no one to whom she could say an affectionate word, no one who
knew her sorrow. She now longed to return home to her little house at
the side of the lonely high road. A few days before she thought she
could not live there, she was so overcome with grief, and now she felt
that she could never live anywhere else but there where her serious
character had been formed.
One evening the letter at last came, enclosing two hundred francs.
"Madame Jeanne: Come back at once, for I shall not send you any more.
As for M. Paul, it is I who will go and get him when we know where he
"With respect, your servant,
Jeanne set out for Batteville one very cold, snowy morning.
* * * * *
LIGHT AT EVENTIDE
Jeanne never went out now, never stirred about. She rose at the same
hour every day, looked out at the weather and then went downstairs and
sat before the parlor fire.
She would remain for days motionless, gazing into the fire, thinking
of nothing in particular. It would grow dark before she stirred,
except to put a fresh log on the fire. Rosalie would then bring in the
lamp and exclaim: "Come, Madame Jeanne, you must stir about or you
will have no appetite again this evening."
She lived over the past, haunted by memories of her early life and her
wedding journey down yonder in Corsica. Forgotten landscapes in that
isle now rose before her in the blaze of the fire, and she recalled
all the little details, all the little incidents, the faces she had
seen down there. The head of the guide, Jean Ravoli, haunted her, and
she sometimes seemed to hear his voice.
Then she remembered the sweet years of Paul's childhood, when they
planted salad together and when she knelt in the thick grass beside
Aunt Lison, each trying what they could do to please the child, and
her lips murmured: "Poulet, my little Poulet," as though she were
talking to him. Stopping at this word, she would try to trace it,
letter by letter, in space, sometimes for hours at a time, until she
became confused and mixed up the letters and formed other words, and
she became so nervous that she was almost crazy.
She had all the peculiarities of those who live a solitary life. The
least thing out of its usual place irritated her.
Rosalie often obliged her to walk and took her on the high road, but
at the end of twenty minutes she declared she could not take another
step and sat down on the side of the road.
She soon became averse to all movement and stayed in bed as late as
possible. Since her childhood she had retained one custom, that of
rising the instant she had drunk her café au lait in the morning. But
now she would lie down again and begin to dream, and as she was daily
growing more lazy, Rosalie would come and oblige her to get up and
almost force her to get dressed.
She seemed no longer to have any will power, and each time the maid
asked her a question or wanted her advice or opinion she would say:
"Do as you think best, my girl."
She imagined herself pursued by some persistent ill luck and was like
an oriental fatalist, and having seen her dreams all fade away and her
hopes crushed, she would sometimes hesitate a whole day or longer
before undertaking the simplest thing, for fear she might be on the
wrong road and it would turn out badly. She kept repeating: "Talk of
bad luck--I have never had any luck in life."
Then Rosalie would say: "What would you do if you had to work for your
living, if you were obliged to get up every morning at six o'clock to
go out to your work? Many people have to do that, nevertheless, and
when they grow too old they die of want."
Jeanne replied: "Remember that I am all alone; that my son has
deserted me." And Rosalie would get very angry: "That's another thing!
Well, how about the sons who are drafted into the army and those who
go to America?"
America to her was an undefined country, where one went to make a
fortune and whence one never returned. She continued: "There always
comes a time when people have to part, for old people and young people
are not made to live together." And she added fiercely: "Well, what
would you say if he were dead?"
Jeanne had nothing more to say.
One day in spring she had gone up to the loft to look for something
and by chance opened a box containing old calendars which had been
preserved after the manner of some country folks.
She took them up and carried them downstairs. They were of all sizes,
and she laid them out on the table in the parlor in regular order.
Suddenly she spied the earliest, the one she had brought with her to
"The Poplars." She gazed at it for some time, at the days crossed off
by her the morning she left Rouen, the day after she left the convent,
and she wept slow, sorrowful tears, the tears of an old woman at sight
of her wretched life spread out before her on this table.
One morning the maid came into her room earlier than usual, and
placing the bowl of café au lait on the little stand beside her bed,
she said: "Come, drink it quickly. Denis is waiting for us at the
door. We are going to 'The Poplars,' for I have something to attend
to down there."
Jeanne dressed herself with trembling hands, almost fainting at the
thought of seeing her dear home once more.
The sky was cloudless and the nag, who was inclined to be frisky,
would suddenly start off at a gallop every now and then. As they
entered the commune of Étouvent Jeanne's heart beat so that she could
They unharnessed the horse at the Couillard place, and while Rosalie
and her son were attending to their own affairs, the farmer and his
wife offered to let Jeanne go over the chateau, as the proprietor was
away and they had the keys.
She went off alone, and when she reached the side of the chateau from
which there was a view of the sea she turned round to look. Nothing
had changed on the outside. When she turned the heavy lock and went
inside the first thing she did was to go up to her old room, which she
did not recognize, as it had been newly papered and furnished. But the
view from the window was the same, and she stood and gazed out at the
landscape she had so loved.
She then wandered all over the house, walking quietly all alone in
this silent abode as though it were a cemetery. All her life was
buried here. She went down to the drawing-room, which was dark with
its closed shutters. As her eyes became accustomed to the dim light
she recognized some of the old hangings. Two easy chairs were drawn up
before the fire, as if some one had just left them, and as Jeanne
stood there, full of old memories, she suddenly seemed to see her
father and mother sitting there, warming their feet at the fire.
She started back in terror and knocked up against the edge of the
door, against which she leaned to support herself, still staring at
The vision had vanished.
She remained bewildered for some minutes. Then she slowly recovered
her composure and started to run away, for fear she might become
insane. She chanced to look at the door against which she had been
leaning and saw there "Poulet's ladder."
All the little notches were there showing the age and growth of her
child. Here was the baron's writing, then hers, a little smaller, and
then Aunt Lison's rather shaky characters. And she seemed to see her
boy of long ago with his fair hair standing before her, leaning his
little forehead against the door while they measured his height.
And she kissed the edge of the door in a frenzy of affection.
But some one was calling her outside. It was Rosalie's voice: "Madame
Jeanne, Madame Jeanne, they are waiting breakfast for you." She went
out in a dream and understood nothing of what they were saying to her.
She ate what they gave her, heard them talking, but about what she
knew not, let them kiss her on the cheeks and kissed them in return
and then got into the carriage.
When they lost sight of the château behind the tall trees she felt a
wrench at her heart, convinced that she had bid a last farewell to her
When they reached Batteville and just as she was going into her new
house, she saw something white under the door. It was a letter that
the postman had slipped under the door while she was out. She
recognized Paul's writing and opened it, trembling with anxiety. He
"My Dear Mother: I have not written sooner because I did not wish you
to make a useless journey to Paris when it was my place to go and see
you. I am just now in great sorrow and in great straits. My wife is
dying after giving birth to a little girl three days ago, and I have
not one sou. I do not know what to do with the child, whom my
janitor's wife is bringing up on the bottle as well as she can, but I
fear I shall lose her. Could you not take charge of it? I absolutely
do not know what to do, and I have no money to put her out to nurse.
Answer by return mail.
"Your son, who loves you,
Jeanne sank into a chair and had scarcely strength to call Rosalie.
When the maid came into the room they read the letter over together
and then remained silent for some time, face to face.
At last Rosalie said: "I am going to fetch the little one, madame. We
cannot leave it like that."
"Go, my girl," replied Jeanne.
Then they were silent until the maid said: "Put on your hat, madame,
and we will go to Goderville to see the lawyer. If she is going to
die, the other one, M. Paul must marry her for the little one's sake
Jeanne, without replying, put on her hat. A deep, inexpressible joy
filled her heart, a treacherous joy that she sought to hide at any
cost, one of those things of which one is ashamed, although cherishing
it in one's soul--her son's sweetheart was going to die.
The lawyer gave the servant minute instructions, making her repeat
them several times. Then, sure that she could make no mistake, she
said: "Do not be afraid. I will see to it now."
She set out for Paris that very night.
Jeanne passed two days in such a troubled condition that she could not
think. The third morning she received merely a line from Rosalie
saying she would be back on the evening train. That was all.
About three o'clock she drove in a neighbor's light wagon to the
station at Beuzeville to meet Rosalie.
She stood on the platform, looking at the railroad track as it
disappeared on the horizon. She looked at the clock. Ten minutes
still--five minutes still--two minutes more. Then the hour of the
train's arrival, but it was not in sight. Presently, however, she saw
a cloud of white smoke and gradually it drew up in the station. She
looked anxiously and at last perceived Rosalie carrying a sort of
white bundle in her arms.
She wanted to go over toward her, but her knees seemed to grow weak
and she was afraid of falling.
But the maid had seen her and came forward with her usual calm manner
and said: "How do you do, madame? Here I am back again, but not
without some difficulty."
"Well?" faltered Jeanne.
"Well," answered Rosalie, "she died last night. They were married and
here is the little girl." And she held out the child, who could not be
seen under her wraps.
Jeanne took it mechanically and they left the station and got into the
"M. Paul will come as soon as the funeral is over--to-morrow about
this time, I believe," resumed Rosalie.
Jeanne murmured "Paul" and then was silent.
The wagon drove along rapidly, the peasant clacking his tongue to urge
on the horse. Jeanne looked straight ahead of her into the clear sky
through which the swallows darted in curves. Suddenly she felt a
gentle warmth striking through to her skin; it was the warmth of the
little being who was asleep on her lap.
Then she was overcome with an intense emotion, and uncovering gently
the face of the sleeping infant, she raised it to her lips and kissed
But Rosalie, happy though grumpy, stopped her; "Come, come, Madame
Jeanne, stop that; you will make it cry."
And then she added, probably in answer to her own thoughts: "Life,
after all, is not as good or as bad as we believe it to be."
* * * * *
He was a journeyman carpenter, a good workman and a steady fellow,
twenty-seven years old, but, although the eldest son, Jacques Randel
had been forced to live on his family for two months, owing to the
general lack of work. He had walked about seeking work for over a
month and had left his native town, Ville-Avary, in La Manche, because
he could find nothing to do and would no longer deprive his family of
the bread they needed themselves, when he was the strongest of them
all. His two sisters earned but little as charwomen. He went and
inquired at the town hall, and the mayor's secretary told him that he
would find work at the Labor Agency, and so he started, well provided
with papers and certificates, and carrying another pair of shoes, a
pair of trousers and a shirt in a blue handkerchief at the end of his
And he had walked almost without stopping, day and night, along
interminable roads, in sun and rain, without ever reaching that
mysterious country where workmen find work. At first he had the fixed
idea that he must only work as a carpenter, but at every carpenter's
shop where he applied he was told that they had just dismissed men on
account of work being so slack, and, finding himself at the end of his
resources, he made up his mind to undertake any job that he might come
across on the road. And so by turns he was a navvy, stableman,
stonecutter; he split wood, lopped the branches of trees, dug wells,
mixed mortar, tied up fagots, tended goats on a mountain, and all for
a few pence, for he only obtained two or three days' work occasionally
by offering himself at a shamefully low price, in order to tempt the
avarice of employers and peasants.
And now for a week he had found nothing, and had no money left, and
nothing to eat but a piece of bread, thanks to the charity of some
women from whom he had begged at house doors on the road. It was
getting dark, and Jacques Randel, jaded, his legs failing him, his
stomach empty, and with despair in his heart, was walking barefoot on
the grass by the side of the road, for he was taking care of his last
pair of shoes, as the other pair had already ceased to exist for a
long time. It was a Saturday, toward the end of autumn. The heavy gray
clouds were being driven rapidly through the sky by the gusts of wind
which whistled among the trees, and one felt that it would rain soon.
The country was deserted at that hour on the eve of Sunday. Here and
there in the fields there rose up stacks of wheat straw, like huge
yellow mushrooms, and the fields looked bare, as they had already been
sown for the next year.
Randel was hungry, with the hunger of some wild animal, such a hunger
as drives wolves to attack men. Worn out and weakened with fatigue, he
took longer strides, so as not to take so many steps, and with heavy
head, the blood throbbing in his temples, with red eyes and dry mouth,
he grasped his stick tightly in his hand, with a longing to strike the
first passerby who might be going home to supper.
He looked at the sides of the road, imagining he saw potatoes dug up
and lying on the ground before his eyes; if he had found any he would
have gathered some dead wood, made a fire in the ditch and have had a
capital supper off the warm, round vegetables with which he would
first of all have warmed his cold hands. But it was too late in the
year, and he would have to gnaw a raw beetroot which he might pick up
in a field as he had done the day before.
For the last two days he had talked to himself as he quickened his
steps under the influence of his thoughts. He had never thought much
hitherto, as he had given all his mind, all his simple faculties to
his mechanical work. But now fatigue and this desperate search for
work which he could not get, refusals and rebuffs, nights spent in the
open air lying on the grass, long fasting, the contempt which he knew
people with a settled abode felt for a vagabond, and that question
which he was continually asked, "Why do you not remain at home?"
distress at not being able to use his strong arms which he felt so
full of vigor, the recollection of the relations he had left at home
and who also had not a penny, filled him by degrees with rage, which
had been accumulating every day, every hour, every minute, and which
now escaped his lips in spite of himself in short, growling sentences.
As he stumbled over the stones which tripped his bare feet, he
grumbled: "How wretched! how miserable! A set of hogs--to let a man
die of hunger--a carpenter--a set of hogs--not two sous--not two
sous--and now it is raining--a set of hogs!"
He was indignant at the injustice of fate, and cast the blame on men,
on all men, because nature, that great, blind mother, is unjust, cruel
and perfidious, and he repeated through his clenched teeth: "A set of
hogs" as he looked at the thin gray smoke which rose from the roofs,
for it was the dinner hour. And, without considering that there is
another injustice which is human, and which is called robbery and
violence, he felt inclined to go into one of those houses to murder
the inhabitants and to sit down to table in their stead.
He said to himself: "I have no right to live now, as they are letting
me die of hunger, and yet I only ask for work--a set of hogs!" And the
pain in his limbs, the gnawing in his heart rose to his head like
terrible intoxication, and gave rise to this simple thought in his
brain: "I have the right to live because I breathe and because the air
is the common property of everybody. So nobody has the right to leave
me without bread!"
A fine, thick, icy cold rain was coming down, and he stopped and
murmured: "Oh, misery! Another month of walking before I get home." He
was indeed returning home then, for he saw that he should more easily
find work in his native town, where he was known--and he did not mind
what he did--than on the highroads, where everybody suspected him. As
the carpentering business was not prosperous, he would turn day
laborer, be a mason's hodman, a ditcher, break stones on the road. If
he only earned a franc a day, that would at any rate buy him something
He tied the remains of his last pocket handkerchief round his neck to
prevent the cold rain from running down his back and chest, but he
soon found that it was penetrating the thin material of which his
clothes were made, and he glanced about him with the agonized look of
a man who does not know where to hide his body and to rest his head,
and has no place of shelter in the whole world.
Night came on and wrapped the country in obscurity, and in the
distance, in a meadow, he saw a dark spot on the grass; it was a cow,
and so he got over the ditch by the roadside and went up to her
without exactly knowing what he was doing. When he got close to her
she raised her great head to him, and he thought: "If I only had a jug
I could get a little milk." He looked at the cow and the cow looked at
him, and then, suddenly giving her a kick in the side, he said: "Get
The animal got up slowly, letting her heavy udders hang down. Then the
man lay down on his back between the animal's legs and drank for a
long time, squeezing her warm, swollen teats, which tasted of the
cowstall, with both hands, and he drank as long as she gave any milk.
But the icy rain began to fall more heavily, and he saw no place of
shelter on the whole of that bare plain. He was cold, and he looked at
a light which was shining among the trees in the window of a house.
The cow had lain down again heavily, and he sat down by her side and
stroked her head, grateful for the nourishment she had given him. The
animal's strong, thick breath, which came out of her nostrils like two
jets of steam in the evening air, blew on the workman's face, and he
said: "You are not cold inside there!" He put his hands on her chest
and under her stomach to find some warmth there, and then the idea
struck him that he might pass the night beside that large, warm
animal. So he found a comfortable place and laid his head on her side,
and then, as he was worn out with fatigue, fell asleep immediately.
He woke up, however, several times, with his back or his stomach half
frozen, according as he put one or the other against the animal's
flank. Then he turned over to warm and dry that part of his body which
had remained exposed to the night air, and soon went soundly to sleep
The crowing of a cock woke him; the day was breaking, it was no longer
raining, and the sky was bright. The cow was resting with her muzzle
on the ground, and he stooped down, resting on his hands, to kiss
those wide, moist nostrils, and said: "Good-by, my beauty, until next
time. You are a nice animal. Good-by." Then he put on his shoes and
went off, and for two hours walked straight before him, always
following the same road, and then he felt so tired that he sat down on
the grass. It was broad daylight by that time, and the church bells
were ringing; men in blue blouses, women in white caps, some on foot,
some in carts, began to pass along the road, going to the neighboring
villages to spend Sunday with friends or relations.
A stout peasant came in sight, driving before him a score of
frightened, bleating sheep, with the help of an active dog. Randel got
up, and raising his cap, said: "You do not happen to have any work for
a man who is dying of hunger?" But the other, giving an angry look at
the vagabond, replied: "I have no work for fellows whom I meet on the
And the carpenter went back and sat down by the side of the ditch
again. He waited there for a long time, watching the country people
pass and looking for a kind, compassionate face before he renewed his
request, and finally selected a man in an overcoat, whose stomach was
adorned with a gold chain. "I have been looking for work," he said,
"for the last two months and cannot find any, and I have not a sou in
my pocket." But the would-be gentleman replied: "You should have read
the notice which is stuck up at the entrance to the village: 'Begging
is prohibited within the boundaries of this parish.' Let me tell you
that I am the mayor, and if you do not get out of here pretty quickly
I shall have you arrested."
Randel, who was getting angry, replied: "Have me arrested if you like;
I should prefer it, for, at any rate, I should not die of hunger." And
he went back and sat down by the side of his ditch again, and in about
a quarter of an hour two gendarmes appeared on the road. They were
walking slowly side by side, glittering in the sun with their shining
hats, their yellow accoutrements and their metal buttons, as if to
frighten evildoers, and to put them to flight at a distance. He knew
that they were coming after him, but he did not move, for he was
seized with a sudden desire to defy them, to be arrested by them, and
to have his revenge later.
They came on without appearing to have seen him, walking heavily, with
military step, and balancing themselves as if they were doing the
goose step; and then, suddenly, as they passed him, appearing to have
noticed him, they stopped and looked at him angrily and threateningly,
and the brigadier came up to him and asked: "What are you doing here?"
"I am resting," the man replied calmly. "Where do you come from?" "If
I had to tell you all the places I have been to it would take me more
than an hour." "Where are you going to?" "To Ville-Avary." "Where is
that?" "In La Manche." "Is that where you belong?" "It is." "Why did
you leave it?" "To look for work."
The brigadier turned to his gendarme and said in the angry voice of a
man who is exasperated at last by an oft-repeated trick: "They all say
that, these scamps. I know all about it." And then he continued: "Have
you any papers?" "Yes, I have some." "Give them to me."
Randel took his papers out of his pocket, his certificates, those
poor, worn-out, dirty papers which were falling to pieces, and gave
them to the soldier, who spelled them through, hemming and hawing, and
then, having seen that they were all in order, he gave them back to
Randel with the dissatisfied look of a man whom some one cleverer than
himself has tricked.
After a few moments' further reflection, he asked him: "Have you any
money on you?" "No." "None whatever?" "None." "Not even a sou?" "Not
even a sou!" "How do you live then?" "On what people give me." "Then
you beg?" And Randel answered resolutely: "Yes, when I can."
Then the gendarme said: "I have caught you on the highroad in the act
of vagabondage and begging, without any resources or trade, and so I
command you to come with me." The carpenter got up and said: "Wherever
you please." And, placing himself between the two soldiers, even
before he had received the order to do so, he added: "Well, lock me
up; that will at any rate put a roof over my head when it rains."
And they set off toward the village, the red tiles of which could be
seen through the leafless trees, a quarter of a league off. Service
was about to begin when they went through the village. The square was
full of people, who immediately formed two lines to see the criminal
pass. He was being followed by a crowd of excited children. Male and
female peasants looked at the prisoner between the two gendarmes, with
hatred in their eyes and a longing to throw stones at him, to tear his
skin with their nails, to trample him under their feet. They asked
each other whether he had committed murder or robbery. The butcher,
who was an ex-spahi, declared that he was a deserter. The tobacconist
thought that he recognized him as the man who had that very morning
passed a bad half-franc piece off on him, and the ironmonger declared
that he was the murderer of Widow Malet, whom the police had been
looking for for six months.
In the municipal court, into which his custodians took him, Randel saw
the mayor again, sitting on the magisterial bench, with the
schoolmaster by his side. "Aha! aha!" the magistrate exclaimed, "so
here you are again, my fine fellow. I told you I should have you
locked up. Well, brigadier, what is he charged with?"
"He is a vagabond without house or home, Monsieur le Maire, without
any resources or money, so he says, who was arrested in the act of
begging, but he is provided with good testimonials, and his papers are
all in order."
"Show me his papers," the mayor said. He took them, read them, reread,
returned them and then said: "Search him." So they searched him, but
found nothing, and the mayor seemed perplexed, and asked the workman:
"What were you doing on the road this morning?" "I was looking for
work." "Work? On the highroad?" "How do you expect me to find any if I
hide in the woods?"
They looked at each other with the hatred of two wild beasts which
belong to different hostile species, and the magistrate continued: "I
am going to have you set at liberty, but do not be brought up before
me again." To which the carpenter replied: "I would rather you locked
me up; I have had enough running about the country." But the
magistrate replied severely: "Be silent." And then he said to the two
gendarmes: "You will conduct this man two hundred yards from the
village and let him continue his journey."
"At any rate, give me something to eat," the workman said, but the
other grew indignant: "Have we nothing to do but to feed you? Ah! ah!
ah! that is rather too much!" But Randel went on firmly: "If you let
me nearly die of hunger again, you will force me to commit a crime,
and then, so much the worse for you other fat fellows."
The mayor had risen and he repeated: "Take him away immediately or I
shall end by getting angry."
The two gendarmes thereupon seized the carpenter by the arms and
dragged him out. He allowed them to do it without resistance, passed
through the village again and found himself on the highroad once more;
and when the men had accompanied him two hundred yards beyond the
village, the brigadier said: "Now off with you and do not let me catch
you about here again, for if I do, you will know it."
Randel went off without replying or knowing where he was going. He
walked on for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes, so stupefied
that he no longer thought of anything. But suddenly, as he was passing
a small house, where the window was half open, the smell of the soup
and boiled meat stopped him suddenly, and hunger, fierce, devouring,
maddening hunger, seized him and almost drove him against the walls of
the house like a wild beast.
He said aloud in a grumbling voice: "In Heaven's name! they must give
me some this time!" And he began to knock at the door vigorously with
his stick, and as no one came he knocked louder and called out: "Hey!
hey! you people in there, open the door!" And then, as nothing
stirred, he went up to the window and pushed it wider open with his
hand, and the close warm air of the kitchen, full of the smell of hot
soup, meat and cabbage, escaped into the cold outer air, and with a
bound the carpenter was in the house. Two places were set at the
table, and no doubt the proprietors of the house, on going to church,
had left their dinner on the fire, their nice Sunday boiled beef
and vegetable soup, while there was a loaf of new bread on the
chimney-piece, between two bottles which seemed full.
Randel seized the bread first of all and broke it with as much
violence as if he were strangling a man, and then he began to eat
voraciously, swallowing great mouthfuls quickly. But almost
immediately the smell of the meat attracted him to the fireplace, and,
having taken off the lid of the saucepan, he plunged a fork into it
and brought out a large piece of beef tied with a string. Then he took
more cabbage, carrots and onions until his plate was full, and, having
put it on the table, he sat down before it, cut the meat into four
pieces, and dined as if he had been at home. When he had eaten nearly
all the meat, besides a quantity of vegetables, he felt thirsty and
took one of the bottles off the mantelpiece.
Scarcely had he poured the liquor into his glass when he saw it was
brandy. So much the better; it was warming and would instill some fire
into his veins, and that would be all right, after being so cold; and
he drank some. He certainly enjoyed it, for he had grown unaccustomed
to it, and he poured himself out another glassful, which he drank
at two gulps. And then almost immediately he felt quite merry and
light-hearted from the effects of the alcohol, just as if some great
happiness filled his heart.
He continued to eat, but more slowly, and dipping his bread into the
soup. His skin had become burning, and especially his forehead, where
the veins were throbbing. But suddenly the church bells began to ring.
Mass was over, and instinct rather than fear, the instinct of
prudence, which guides all beings and makes them clear-sighted in
danger, made the carpenter get up. He put the remains of the loaf into
one pocket and the brandy bottle into the other, and he furtively went
to the window and looked out into the road. It was still deserted, so
he jumped out and set off walking again, but instead of following the
highroad he ran across the fields toward a wood he saw a little way
He felt alert, strong, light-hearted, glad of what he had done, and so
nimble that he sprang over the enclosure of the fields at a single
bound, and as soon as he was under the trees he took the bottle out of
his pocket again and began to drink once more, swallowing it down as
he walked, and then his ideas began to get confused, his eyes grew
dim, and his legs as elastic as springs, and he started singing the
old popular song:
_"Oh! what joy, what joy it is,
To pick the sweet, wild strawberries."_
He was now walking on thick, damp, cool moss, and that soft carpet
under his feet made him feel absurdly inclined to turn head over heels
as he used to do when a child, so he took a run, turned a somersault,
got up and began over again. And between each time he began to sing
_"Oh! what joy, what joy it is,
To pick the sweet, wild strawberries."_
Suddenly he found himself above a deep road, and in the road he saw a
tall girl, a servant, who was returning to the village with two pails
of milk. He watched, stooping down, and with his eyes as bright as
those of a dog who scents a quail, but she saw him, raised her head
and said: "Was that you singing like that?" He did not reply, however,
but jumped down into the road, although it was a fall of at least six
feet and when she saw him suddenly standing in front of her, she
exclaimed: "Oh! dear, how you frightened me!"
But he did not hear her, for he was drunk, he was mad, excited by
another requirement which was more imperative than hunger, more
feverish than alcohol; by the irresistible fury of the man who has
been deprived of everything for two months, and who is drunk; who is
young, ardent and inflamed by all the appetites which nature has
implanted in the vigorous flesh of men.
The girl started back from him, frightened at his face, his eyes, his
half-open mouth, his outstretched hands, but he seized her by the
shoulders, and without a word, threw her down in the road.
She let her two pails fall, and they rolled over noisily, and all the
milk was spilt, and then she screamed lustily, but it was of no avail
in that lonely spot.
When she got up the thought of her overturned pails suddenly filled
her with fury, and, taking off one of her wooden sabots, she threw it
at the man to break his head if he did not pay her for her milk.
But he, mistaking the reason of this sudden violent attack, somewhat
sobered, and frightened at what he had done, ran off as fast as he
could, while she threw stones at him, some of which hit him in the
He ran for a long time, very long, until he felt more tired than he
had ever been before. His legs were so weak that they could scarcely
carry him; all his ideas were confused, he lost recollection of
everything and could no longer think about anything, and so he sat
down at the foot of a tree, and in five minutes was fast asleep. He
was soon awakened, however, by a rough shake, and, on opening his
eyes, he saw two cocked hats of shiny leather bending over him, and
the two gendarmes of the morning, who were holding him and binding his
"I knew I should catch you again," said the brigadier jeeringly. But
Randel got up without replying. The two men shook him, quite ready to
ill treat him if he made a movement, for he was their prey now. He had
become a jailbird, caught by those hunters of criminals who would not
let him go again.
"Now, start!" the brigadier said, and they set off. It was late
afternoon, and the autumn twilight was setting in over the land, and
in half an hour they reached the village, where every door was open,
for the people had heard what had happened. Peasants and peasant women
and girls, excited with anger, as if every man had been robbed and
every woman attacked, wished to see the wretch brought back, so that
they might overwhelm him with abuse. They hooted him from the first
house in the village until they reached the Hotel de Ville, where the
mayor was waiting for him to be himself avenged on this vagabond, and
as soon as he saw him approaching he cried:
"Ah! my fine fellow! here we are!" And he rubbed his hands, more
pleased than he usually was, and continued: "I said so. I said so, the
moment I saw him in the road."
And then with increased satisfaction:
"Oh, you blackguard! Oh, you dirty blackguard! You will get your
twenty years, my fine fellow!"
* * * * *
THE FISHING HOLE
"Cuts and wounds which caused death." Such was the charge upon which
Leopold Renard, upholsterer, was summoned before the Court of Assizes.
Round him were the principal witnesses, Madame Flamèche, widow of the
victim, and Louis Ladureau, cabinetmaker, and Jean Durdent, plumber.
Near the criminal was his wife, dressed in black, an ugly little
woman, who looked like a monkey dressed as a lady.
This is how Renard (Leopold) recounted the drama:
"Good heavens, it is a misfortune of which I was the prime victim all
the time, and with which my will has nothing to do. The facts are
their own commentary, Monsieur le Président. I am an honest man, a
hard-working man, an upholsterer, living in the same street for the
last sixteen years, known, liked, respected and esteemed by all, as my
neighbors can testify, even the porter's wife, who is not amiable
every day. I am fond of work, I am fond of saving, I like honest men
and respectable amusements. That is what has ruined me, so much the
worse for me; but as my will had nothing to do with it, I continue to
"Every Sunday for the last five years my wife and I have spent the day
at Passy. We get fresh air, and, besides, we are fond of fishing. Oh!
we are as fond of it as we are of little onions. Mélie inspired me
with that enthusiasm, the jade, and she is more enthusiastic than I
am, the scold, seeing that all the mischief in this business is her
fault, as you will see immediately.
"I am strong and mild tempered, without a pennyworth of malice in me.
But she! oh! la! la! she looks like nothing; she is short and thin.
Very well, she does more mischief than a weasel. I do not deny that
she has some good qualities; she has some, and very important ones for
a man in business. But her character! Just ask about it in the
neighborhood, and even the porter's wife, who has just sent me about
my business ... she will tell you something about it.
"Every day she used to find fault with my mild temper: 'I would not
put up with this! I would not put up with that.' If I had listened
to her, Monsieur le Président, I should have had at least three
hand-to-hand fights a month...."
Madame Renard interrupted him: "And for good reasons, too; they laugh
best who laugh last."
He turned toward her frankly: "Well, I can't blame you, since you were
not the cause of it."
Then, facing the President again, he said:
"I will continue. We used to go to Passy every Saturday evening, so as
to begin fishing at daybreak the next morning. It is a habit which has
become second nature with us, as the saying is. Three years ago this
summer I discovered a place, oh! such a spot. Oh, dear, dear! In the
shade, eight feet of water at least and perhaps ten, a hole with
cavities under the bank, a regular nest for fish and a paradise for
the fisherman. I might look upon that fishing hole as my property,
Monsieur le Président, as I was its Christopher Columbus. Everybody in
the neighborhood knew it, without making any opposition. They would
say: 'That is Renard's place'; and nobody would have gone there, not
even Monsieur Plumeau, who is well known, be it said without any
offense, for poaching on other people's preserves.
"Well, I returned to this place of which I felt certain, just as if I
had owned it. I had scarcely got there on Saturday, when I got into
_Delila_, with my wife. _Delila_ is my Norwegian boat, which
I had built by Fournaire, and which is light and safe. Well, as I
said, we got into the boat and we were going to set bait, and for
setting bait there is none to be compared with me, and they all know
it. You want to know with what I bait? I cannot answer that question;
it has nothing to do with the accident. I cannot answer; that is my
secret. There are more than three hundred people who have asked me; I
have been offered glasses of brandy and liqueur, fried fish,
matelotes, to make me tell. But just go and try whether the chub will
come. Ah! they have tempted my stomach to get at my secret, my recipe.
Only my wife knows, and she will not tell it any more than I will. Is
not that so, Mélie?"
The president of the court interrupted him.
"Just get to the facts as soon as you can," and the accused continued:
"I am getting to them, I am getting to them. Well, on Saturday, July
8, we left by the twenty-five past five train and before dinner we
went to set bait as usual. The weather promised to keep fine and I
said to Mélie: 'All right for tomorrow.' And she replied: 'It looks
like it.' We never talk more than that together.
"And then we returned to dinner. I was happy and thirsty, and that was
the cause of everything. I said to Mélie: 'Look here, Mélie, it is
fine weather, suppose I drink a bottle of _Casque à mèche_.' That
is a weak white wine which we have christened so, because if you drink
too much of it it prevents you from sleeping and takes the place of a
nightcap. Do you understand me?
"She replied: 'You can do as you please, but you will be ill again and
will not be able to get up tomorrow.' That was true, sensible and
prudent, clearsighted, I must confess. Nevertheless I could not
resist, and I drank my bottle. It all came from that.
"Well, I could not sleep. By Jove! it kept me awake till two o'clock
in the morning, and then I went to sleep so soundly that I should not
have heard the angel sounding his trump at the last Judgment.
"In short, my wife woke me at six o'clock and I jumped out of bed,
hastily put on my trousers and jersey, washed my face and jumped on
board _Delila_. But it was too late, for when I arrived at my
hole it was already occupied! Such a thing had never happened to me in
three years, and it made me feel as if I were being robbed under my
own eyes. I said to myself: 'Confound it all! confound it!' And then
my wife began to nag at me. 'Eh! what about your _Casque à
mèche?_ Get along, you drunkard! Are you satisfied, you great
fool?' I could say nothing, because it was all true, but I landed all
the same near the spot and tried to profit by what was left. Perhaps
after all the fellow might catch nothing and go away.
"He was a little thin man in white linen coat and waistcoat and a
large straw hat, and his wife, a fat woman, doing embroidery, sat