Part 5 out of 5
"When she saw us take up our position close to them she murmured: 'Are
there no other places on the river?' My wife, who was furious,
replied: 'People who have any manners make inquiries about the habits
of the neighborhood before occupying reserved spots.'
"As I did not want a fuss, I said to her: 'Hold your tongue, Mélie.
Let them alone, let them alone; we shall see.'
"Well, we fastened _Delila_ under the willows and had landed and
were fishing side by side, Mélie and I, close to the two others. But
here, monsieur, I must enter into details.
"We had only been there about five minutes when our neighbor's line
began to jerk twice, thrice, and then he pulled out a chub as thick as
my thigh; rather less, perhaps, but nearly as big! My heart beat, the
perspiration stood on my forehead and Mélie said to me: 'Well, you
sot, did you see that?'
"Just then Monsieur Bru, the grocer of Poissy, who is fond of gudgeon
fishing, passed in a boat and called out to me: 'So somebody has taken
your usual place, Monsieur Renard?' And I replied--: 'Yes, Monsieur
Bru, there are some people in this world who do not know the rules of
"The little man in linen pretended not to hear, nor his fat lump of a
Here the president interrupted him a second time: "Take care, you are
insulting the widow, Madame Flamèche, who is present."
Renard made his excuses: "I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon; my
anger carried me away. Well, not a quarter of an hour had passed when
the little man caught another chub, and another almost immediately,
and another five minutes later.
"Tears were in my eyes, and I knew that Madame Renard was boiling with
rage, for she kept on nagging at me: 'Oh, how horrid! Don't you see
that he is robbing you of your fish? Do you think that you will catch
anything? Not even a frog, nothing whatever. Why, my hands are
tingling, just to think of it.'
"But I said to myself: 'Let us wait until twelve o'clock. Then this
poacher will go to lunch and I shall get my place again. As for me,
Monsieur le Président, I lunch on that spot every Sunday. We bring our
provisions in _Delila_. But there! At noon the wretch produced a
chicken in a newspaper, and while he was eating, he actually caught
"Mélie and I had a morsel also, just a bite, a mere nothing, for our
heart was not in it.
"Then I took up my newspaper to aid my digestion. Every Sunday I read
the _Gil Blas_ in the shade by the side of the water. It is
Columbine's day, you know; Columbine, who writes the articles in
the _Gil Blas_. I generally put Madame Renard into a rage by
pretending to know this Columbine. It is not true, for I do not know
her and have never seen her, but that does not matter. She writes very
well, and then she says things that are pretty plain for a woman. She
suits me and there are not many of her sort.
"Well, I began to tease my wife, but she got angry immediately, and
very angry, so I held my tongue. At that moment our two witnesses who
are present here, Monsieur Ladureau and Monsieur Durdent, appeared on
the other side of the river. We knew each other by sight The little
man began to fish again and he caught so many that I trembled with
vexation and his wife said: 'It is an uncommonly good spot, and we
will come here always, Désiré.' As for me, a cold shiver ran down my
back, and Madame Renard kept repeating: 'You are not a man; you have
the blood of a chicken in your veins'; and suddenly I said to her:
'Look here, I would rather go away or I shall be doing something
"And she whispered to me, as if she had put a red-hot iron under my
nose: 'You are not a man. Now you are going to run away and surrender
your place! Go, then, Bazaine!'
"I felt hurt, but yet I did not move, while the other fellow pulled
out a bream. Oh, I never saw such a large one before, never! And then
my wife began to talk aloud, as if she were thinking, and you can see
her tricks. She said: 'That is what one might call stolen fish, seeing
that we set the bait ourselves. At any rate, they ought to give us
back the money we have spent on bait.'
"Then the fat woman in the cotton dress said in her turn: 'Do you mean
to call us thieves, madame?' Explanations followed and compliments
began to fly. Oh, Lord! those creatures know some good ones. They
shouted so loud that our two witnesses, who were on the other bank,
began to call out by way of a joke: 'Less noise over there; you will
interfere with your husbands' fishing.'
"The fact is that neither the little man nor I moved any more than if
we had been two tree stumps. We remained there, with our eyes fixed on
the water, as if we had heard nothing; but, by Jove! we heard all the
same. 'You are a thief! You are nothing better than a tramp! You are a
regular jade!' and so on and so on. A sailor could not have said more.
"Suddenly I heard a noise behind me and turned round. It was the other
one, the fat woman, who had attacked my wife with her parasol.
_Whack, whack!_ Mélie got two of them. But she was furious, and
she hits hard when she is in a rage. She caught the fat woman by the
hair and then _thump! thump!_ slaps in the face rained down like
ripe plums. I should have let them fight it out: women together, men
together. It does not do to mix the blows. But the little man in the
linen jacket jumped up like a devil and was going to rush at my wife.
Ah! no, no, not that, my friend! I caught the gentleman with the end
of my fist, and _crash! crash!_ One on the nose, the other in the
stomach. He threw up his arms and legs and fell on his back into the
river, just into the hole.
"I should have fished him out most certainly, Monsieur le Président,
if I had had time. But, to make matters worse, the fat woman had the
upper hand and was pounding Mélie for all she was worth. I know I
ought not to have interfered while the man was in the water, but I
never thought that he would drown and said to myself: 'Bah, it will
"I therefore ran up to the women to separate them and all I received
was scratches and bites. Good Lord, what creatures! Well, it took me
five minutes, and perhaps ten, to separate those two viragos. When I
turned round there was nothing to be seen. The water was as smooth as
a lake and the others yonder kept shouting: 'Fish him out! fish him
out!' It was all very well to say that, but I cannot swim and still
"At last the man from the dam came and two gentlemen with boathooks,
but over a quarter of an hour had passed. He was found at the bottom
of the hole, in eight feet of water, as I have said. There he was, the
poor little man, in his linen suit! Those are the facts such as I have
sworn to. I am innocent, on my honor."
The witnesses having given testimony to the same effect, the accused
* * * * *
The hotel guests slowly entered the dining-room and took their places.
The waiters did not hurry themselves, in order to give the late comers
a chance and thus avoid the trouble of bringing in the dishes a second
time. The old bathers, the habitués, whose season was almost over,
glanced, gazed toward the door whenever it opened, to see what new
faces might appear.
This is the principal distraction of watering places. People look
forward to the dinner hour in order to inspect each day's new
arrivals, to find out who they are, what they do, and what they think.
We always have a vague desire to meet pleasant people, to make
agreeable acquaintances, perhaps to meet with a love adventure. In
this life of elbowings, unknown strangers assume an extreme
importance. Curiosity is aroused, sympathy is ready to exhibit itself,
and sociability is the order of the day.
We cherish antipathies for a week and friendships for a month; we see
people with different eyes, when we view them through the medium of
acquaintanceship at watering places. We discover in men suddenly,
after an hour's chat, in the evening after dinner, under the trees in
the park where the healing spring bubbles up, a high intelligence and
astonishing merits, and a month afterward we have completely forgotten
these new friends, who were so fascinating when we first met them.
Permanent and serious ties are also formed here sooner than anywhere
else. People see each other every day; they become acquainted very
quickly, and their affection is tinged with the sweetness and
unrestraint of long-standing intimacies. We cherish in after years the
dear and tender memories of those first hours of friendship, the
memory of those first conversations in which a soul was unveiled, of
those first glances which interrogate and respond to questions and
secret thoughts which the mouth has not as yet uttered, the memory of
that first cordial confidence, the memory of that delightful sensation
of opening our hearts to those who seem to open theirs to us in
And the melancholy of watering places, the monotony of days that are
all alike, proves hourly an incentive to this heart expansion.
* * * * *
Well, this evening, as on every other evening, we awaited the
appearance of strange faces.
Only two appeared, but they were very remarkable, a man and a
woman--father and daughter. They immediately reminded me of some
of Edgar Poe's characters; and yet there was about them a charm,
the charm associated with misfortune. I looked upon them as the victims
of fate. The man was very tall and thin, rather stooped, with perfectly
white hair, too white for his comparatively youthful physiognomy;
and there was in his bearing and in his person that austerity
peculiar to Protestants. The daughter, who was probably twenty-four
or twenty-five, was small in stature, and was also very thin, very
pale, and she had the air of one who was worn out with utter lassitude.
We meet people like this from time to time, who seem too weak for
the tasks and the needs of daily life, too weak to move about, to
walk, to do all that we do every day. She was rather pretty, with a
transparent, spiritual beauty. And she ate with extreme slowness, as if
she were almost incapable of moving her arms.
It must have been she, assuredly, who had come to take the waters.
They sat facing me, on the opposite side of the table; and I at once
noticed that the father had a very singular, nervous twitching.
Every time he wanted to reach an object, his hand described a sort of
zigzag before it succeeded in reaching what it was in search of, and
after a little while this movement annoyed me so that I turned aside
my head in order not to see it.
I noticed, too, that the young girl, during meals, wore a glove on her
After dinner I went for a stroll in the park of the bathing
establishment. This led toward the little Auvergnese station of
Châtel-Guyon, hidden in a gorge at the foot of the high mountain, from
which flowed so many boiling springs, arising from the deep bed of
extinct volcanoes. Over yonder, above our heads, the domes of extinct
craters lifted their ragged peaks above the rest in the long mountain
chain. For Châtel-Guyon is situated at the entrance to the land of
Beyond it stretches out the region of peaks, and, farther on again,
the region of precipitous summits.
The "Puy de Dôme" is the highest of the domes, the Peak of Sancy is
the loftiest of the peaks, and Cantal is the most precipitous of these
It was a very warm evening, and I was walking up and down a shady
path, listening to the opening strains of the Casino band, which was
playing on an elevation overlooking the park.
And I saw the father and the daughter advancing slowly in my
direction. I bowed as one bows to one's hotel companions at a watering
place; and the man, coming to a sudden halt, said to me:
"Could you not, monsieur, tell us of a nice walk to take, short,
pretty, and not steep; and pardon my troubling you?"
I offered to show them the way toward the valley through which the
little river flowed, a deep valley forming a gorge between two tall,
craggy, wooded slopes.
They gladly accepted my offer.
And we talked, naturally, about the virtue of the waters.
"Oh," he said, "my daughter has a strange malady, the seat of which is
unknown. She suffers from incomprehensible nervous attacks. At one
time the doctors think she has an attack of heart disease, at another
time they imagine it is some affection of the liver, and at another
they declare it to be a disease of the spine. To-day this protean
malady, that assumes a thousand forms and a thousand modes of attack,
is attributed to the stomach, which is the great caldron and regulator
of the body. This is why we have come here. For my part, I am rather
inclined to think it is the nerves. In any case it is very sad."
Immediately the remembrance of the violent spasmodic movement of his
hand came back to my mind, and I asked him:
"But is this not the result of heredity? Are not your own nerves
He replied calmly:
"Mine? Oh, no--my nerves have always been very steady."
Then, suddenly, after a pause, he went on:
"Ah! You were alluding to the jerking movement of my hand every time I
try to reach for anything? This arises from a terrible experience
which I had. Just imagine, this daughter of mine was actually buried
I could only utter, "Ah!" so great were my astonishment and emotion.
"Here is the story. It is simple. Juliette had been subject for some
time to serious attacks of the heart. We believed that she had disease
of that organ, and were prepared for the worst.
"One day she was carried into the house cold, lifeless, dead. She had
fallen down unconscious in the garden. The doctor certified that life
was extinct. I watched by her side for a day and two nights. I laid
her with my own hands in the coffin, which I accompanied to the
cemetery, where she was deposited in the family vault. It is situated
in the very heart of Lorraine.
"I wished to have her interred with her jewels, bracelets, necklaces,
rings, all presents which she had received from me, and wearing her
first ball dress.
"You may easily imagine my state of mind when I re-entered our home.
She was the only one I had, for my wife had been dead for many years.
I found my way to my own apartment in a half-distracted condition,
utterly exhausted, and sank into my easy-chair, without the capacity
to think or the strength to move. I was nothing better now than a
suffering, vibrating machine, a human being who had, as it were, been
flayed alive; my soul was like an open wound.
"My old valet, Prosper, who had assisted me in placing Juliette in her
coffin, and aided me in preparing her for her last sleep, entered the
room noiselessly, and asked:
"'Does monsieur want anything?'
"I merely shook my head in reply.
"'Monsieur is wrong,' he urged. 'He will injure his health. Would
monsieur like me to put him to bed?'
"I answered: 'No, let me alone!'
"And he left the room.
"I know not how many hours slipped away. Oh, what a night, what a
night! It was cold. My fire had died out in the huge grate; and the
wind, the winter wind, an icy wind, a winter hurricane, blew with a
regular, sinister noise against the windows.
"How many hours slipped away? There I was without sleeping, powerless,
crushed, my eyes wide open, my legs stretched out, my body limp,
inanimate, and my mind torpid with despair. Suddenly the great
doorbell, the great bell of the vestibule, rang out.
"I started so that my chair cracked under me. The solemn, ponderous
sound vibrated through the empty country house as through a vault. I
turned round to see what the hour was by the clock. It was just two in
the morning. Who could be coming at such an hour?
"And, abruptly, the bell again rang twice. The servants, without
doubt, were afraid to get up. I took a wax candle and descended the
stairs. I was on the point of asking: 'Who is there?'
"Then I felt ashamed of my weakness, and I slowly drew back the heavy
bolts. My heart was throbbing wildly. I was frightened. I opened the
door brusquely, and in the darkness I distinguished a white figure,
standing erect, something that resembled an apparition.
"I recoiled, petrified with horror, faltering:
"'Who--who--who are you?'
"A voice replied:
"'It is I, father.'
"It was my daughter.
"I really thought I must be mad, and I retreated backward before this
advancing spectre. I kept moving away, making a sign with my hand,
as if to drive the phantom away, that gesture which you have
noticed--that gesture which has remained with me ever since.
"'Do not be afraid, papa,' said the apparition. 'I was not dead.
Somebody tried to steal my rings and cut one of my fingers; the blood
began to flow, and that restored me to life.'
"And, in fact, I could see that her hand was covered with blood.
"I fell on my knees, choking with sobs and with a rattling in my
"Then, when I had somewhat collected my thoughts, though I was still
so bewildered that I scarcely realized the awesome happiness that
had befallen me, I made her go up to my room and sit down in my
easy-chair; then I rang excitedly for Prosper to get him to rekindle
the fire and to bring some wine, and to summon assistance.
"The man entered, stared at my daughter, opened his mouth with a gasp
of alarm and stupefaction, and then fell back dead.
"It was he who had opened the vault, who had mutilated and then
abandoned my daughter; for he could not efface the traces of the
theft. He had not even taken the trouble to put back the coffin into
its place, feeling sure, besides, that he would not be suspected by
me, as I trusted him absolutely.
"You see, monsieur, that we are very unfortunate people."
* * * * *
He was silent.
The night had fallen, casting its shadows over the desolate, mournful
vale, and a sort of mysterious fear possessed me at finding myself by
the side of those strange beings, of this young girl who had come back
from the tomb, and this father with his uncanny spasm.
I found it impossible to make any comment on this dreadful story. I
"What a horrible thing!"
Then, after a minute's silence, I added:
"Let us go indoors. I think it is growing cool."
And we made our way back to the hotel.
* * * * *
IN THE WOOD
As the mayor was about to sit down to breakfast, word was brought to
him that the rural policeman, with two prisoners, was awaiting him at
the Hotel de Ville. He went there at once and found old Hochedur
standing guard before a middle-class couple whom he was regarding with
a severe expression on his face.
The man, a fat old fellow with a red nose and white hair, seemed
utterly dejected; while the woman, a little roundabout individual with
shining cheeks, looked at the official who had arrested them, with
"What is it? What is it, Hochedur?"
The rural policeman made his deposition: He had gone out that morning
at his usual time, in order to patrol his beat from the forest of
Champioux as far as the boundaries of Argenteuil. He had not noticed
anything unusual in the country except that it was a fine day, and
that the wheat was doing well, when the son of old Bredel, who was
going over his vines, called out to him: "Here, Daddy Hochedur, go and
have a look at the outskirts of the wood. In the first thicket you
will find a pair of pigeons who must be a hundred and thirty years old
He went in the direction indicated, entered the thicket, and there he
heard words which made him suspect a flagrant breach of morality.
Advancing, therefore, on his hands and knees as if to surprise a
poacher, he had arrested the couple whom he found there.
The mayor looked at the culprits in astonishment, for the man was
certainly sixty, and the woman fifty-five at least, and he began to
question them, beginning with the man, who replied in such a weak
voice that he could scarcely be heard.
"What is your name?"
"Haberdasher, in the Rue des Martyrs, in Paris."
"What were you doing in the wood?"
The haberdasher remained silent, with his eyes on his fat paunch, and
his hands hanging at his sides, and the mayor continued:
"Do you deny what the officer of the municipal authorities states?"
"So you confess it?"
"What have you to say in your defence?"
"Where did you meet the partner in your misdemeanor?"
"She is my wife, monsieur."
"Then--then--you do not live together--in Paris?"
"I beg your pardon, monsieur, but we are living together!"
"But in that case--you must be mad, altogether mad, my dear sir, to
get caught playing lovers in the country at ten o'clock in the
The haberdasher seemed ready to cry with shame, and he muttered: "It
was she who enticed me! I told her it was very stupid, but when a
woman once gets a thing into her head--you know--you cannot get it
The mayor, who liked a joke, smiled and replied: "In your case, the
contrary ought to have happened. You would not be here, if she had had
the idea only in her head."
Then Monsieur Beaurain was seized with rage, and turning to his wife,
he said: "Do you see to what you have brought us with your poetry? And
now we shall have to go before the courts at our age, for a breach of
morals! And we shall have to shut up the shop, sell our good will, and
go to some other neighborhood! That's what it has come to."
Madame Beaurain got up, and without looking at her husband, she
explained herself without embarrassment, without useless modesty, and
almost without hesitation.
"Of course, monsieur, I know that we have made ourselves ridiculous.
Will you allow me to plead my cause like an advocate, or rather like a
poor woman? And I hope that you will be kind enough to send us home,
and to spare us the disgrace of a prosecution.
"Years ago, when I was young, I made Monsieur Beaurain's acquaintance
one Sunday in this neighborhood. He was employed in a draper's shop,
and I was a saleswoman in a ready-made clothing establishment. I
remember it as if it were yesterday. I used to come and spend Sundays
here occasionally with a friend of mine, Rose Levèque, with whom I
lived in the Rue Pigalle, and Rose had a sweetheart, while I had none.
He used to bring us here, and one Saturday he told me laughing that he
should bring a friend with him the next day. I quite understood what
he meant, but I replied that it would be no good; for I was virtuous,
"The next day we met Monsieur Beaurain at the railway station, and in
those days he was good-looking, but I had made up my mind not to
encourage him, and I did not. Well, we arrived at Bezons. It was a
lovely day, the sort of day that touches your heart. When it is fine
even now, just as it used to be formerly, I grow quite foolish, and
when I am in the country I utterly lose my head. The green grass, the
swallows flying so swiftly, the smell of the grass, the scarlet
poppies, the daisies, all that makes me crazy. It is like champagne
when one is not accustomed to it!
"Well, it was lovely weather, warm and bright, and it seemed to
penetrate your body through your eyes when you looked, and through
your mouth when you breathed. Rose and Simon hugged and kissed each
other every minute, and that gave me a queer feeling! Monsieur
Beaurain and I walked behind them, without speaking much, for when
people do not know each other, they do not find anything to talk
about. He looked timid, and I liked to see his embarrassment. At last
we got to the little wood; it was as cool as in a bath there, and we
four sat down. Rose and her lover teased me because I looked rather
stern, but you will understand that I could not be otherwise. And then
they began to kiss and hug again, without putting any more restraint
upon themselves than if we had not been there; and then they whispered
together, and got up and went off among the trees, without saying a
word. You may fancy what I looked like, alone with this young fellow
whom I saw for the first time. I felt so confused at seeing them go
that it gave me courage, and I began to talk. I asked him what his
business was, and he said he was a linen draper's assistant, as I told
you just now. We talked for a few minutes, and that made him bold, and
he wanted to take liberties with me, but I told him sharply to keep
his place. Is not that true, Monsieur Beaurain?"
Monsieur Beaurain, who was looking at his feet in confusion, did not
reply, and she continued: "Then he saw that I was virtuous, and he
began to make love to me nicely, like an honorable man, and from that
time he came every Sunday, for he was very much in love with me. I was
very fond of him also, very fond of him! He was a good-looking fellow,
formerly, and in short he married me the next September, and we
started in business in the Rue des Martyrs.
"It was a hard struggle for some years, monsieur. Business did not
prosper, and we could not afford many country excursions, and,
besides, we had got out of the way of them. One has other things in
one's head, and thinks more of the cash box than of pretty speeches,
when one is in business. We were growing old by degrees without
perceiving it, like quiet people who do not think much about love. One
does not regret anything as long as one does not notice what one has
"And then, monsieur, business became better, and we were tranquil as
to the future! Then, you see, I do not exactly know what went on in my
mind, no, I really do not know, but I began to dream like a little
boarding-school girl. The sight of the little carts full of flowers
which are drawn about the streets made me cry; the smell of violets
sought me out in my easy-chair, behind my cash box, and made my heart
beat! Then I would get up and go out on the doorstep to look at the
blue sky between the roofs. When one looks up at the sky from the
street, it looks like a river which is descending on Paris, winding as
it flows, and the swallows pass to and fro in it like fish. These
ideas are very stupid at my age! But how can one help it, monsieur,
when one has worked all one's life? A moment comes in which one
perceives that one could have done something else, and that one
regrets, oh! yes, one feels intense regret! Just think, for twenty
years I might have gone and had kisses in the woods, like other women.
I used to think how delightful it would be to lie under the trees and
be in love with some one! And I thought of it every day and every
night! I dreamed of the moonlight on the water, until I felt inclined
to drown myself.
"I did not venture to speak to Monsieur Beaurain about this at first.
I knew that he would make fun of me, and send me back to sell my
needles and cotton! And then, to speak the truth, Monsieur Beaurain
never said much to me, but when I looked in the glass, I also
understood quite well that I no longer appealed to any one!
"Well, I made up my mind, and I proposed to him an excursion into the
country, to the place where we had first become acquainted. He agreed
without mistrusting anything, and we arrived here this morning, about
"I felt quite young again when I got among the wheat, for a woman's
heart never grows old! And really, I no longer saw my husband as he is
at present, but just as he was formerly! That I will swear to you,
monsieur. As true as I am standing here I was crazy. I began to kiss
him, and he was more surprised than if I had tried to murder him. He
kept saying to me: 'Why, you must be mad! You are mad this morning!
What is the matter with you?' I did not listen to him, I only listened
to my own heart, and I made him come into the wood with me. That is
all. I have spoken the truth, Monsieur le Maire, the whole truth."
The mayor was a sensible man. He rose from his chair, smiled, and
said: "Go in peace, madame, and when you again visit our forests, be
* * * * *
It came to him one Sunday after mass. He was walking home from church
along the by-road that led to his house when he saw ahead of him
Martine, who was also going home.
Her father walked beside his daughter with the important gait of a
rich farmer. Discarding the smock, he wore a short coat of gray cloth
and on his head a round-topped hat with wide brim.
She, laced up in a corset which she wore only once a week, walked
along erect, with her squeezed-in waist, her broad shoulders and
prominent hips, swinging herself a little. She wore a hat trimmed with
flowers, made by a milliner at Yvetot, and displayed the back of her
full, round, supple neck, reddened by the sun and air, on which
fluttered little stray locks of hair.
Benoist saw only her back; but he knew well the face he loved,
without, however, having ever noticed it more closely than he did now.
Suddenly he said: "Nom d'un nom, she is a fine girl, all the same,
that Martine." He watched her as she walked, admiring her hastily,
feeling a desire taking possession of him. He did not long to see her
face again, no. He kept gazing at her figure, repeating to himself:
"Nom d'un nom, she is a fine girl."
Martine turned to the right to enter "La Martinière," the farm of her
father, Jean Martin, and she cast a glance behind her as she turned
round. She saw Benoist, who looked to her very comical. She called
out: "Good-morning, Benoist." He replied: "Good-morning, Martine;
good-morning, mait' Martin," and went on his way.
When he reached home the soup was on the table. He sat down opposite
his mother beside the farm hand and the hired man, while the maid
servant went to draw some cider.
He ate a few spoonfuls, then pushed away his plate. His mother said:
"Don't you feel well?"
"No. I feel as if I had some pap in my stomach and that takes away my
He watched the others eating, as he cut himself a piece of bread from
time to time and carried it lazily to his mouth, masticating it
slowly. He thought of Martine. "She is a fine girl, all the same." And
to think that he had not noticed it before, and that it came to him,
just like that, all at once, and with such force that he could not
He did not touch the stew. His mother said:
"Come, Benoist, try and eat a little; it is loin of mutton, it will do
you good. When one has no appetite, they should force themselves to
He swallowed a few morsels, then, pushing away his plate, said:
"No. I can't go that, positively."
When they rose from table he walked round the farm, telling the farm
hand he might go home and that he would drive up the animals as he
passed by them.
The country was deserted, as it was the day of rest. Here and there in
a field of clover cows were moving along heavily, with full bellies,
chewing their cud under a blazing sun. Unharnessed plows were standing
at the end of a furrow; and the upturned earth ready for the seed
showed broad brown patches of stubble of wheat and oats that had
lately been harvested.
A rather dry autumn wind blew across the plain, promising a cool
evening after the sun had set. Benoist sat down on a ditch, placed his
hat on his knees as if he needed to cool off his head, and said aloud
in the stillness of the country: "If you want a fine girl, she is a
He thought of it again at night, in his bed, and in the morning when
He was not sad, he was not discontented, he could not have told what
ailed him. It was something that had hold of him, something fastened
in his mind, an idea that would not leave him and that produced a sort
of tickling sensation in his heart.
Sometimes a big fly is shut up in a room. You hear it flying about,
buzzing, and the noise haunts you, irritates you. Suddenly it stops;
you forget it; but all at once it begins again, obliging you to look
up. You cannot catch it, nor drive it away, nor kill it, nor make it
keep still. As soon as it settles for a second, it starts off buzzing
The recollection of Martine disturbed Benoist's mind like an
Then he longed to see her again and walked past the Martinière several
times. He saw her, at last, hanging out some clothes on a line
stretched between two apple trees.
It was a warm day. She had on only a short skirt and her chemise,
showing the curves of her figure as she hung up the towels. He
remained there, concealed by the hedge, for more than an hour, even
after she had left. He returned home more obsessed with her image than
For a month his mind was full of her, he trembled when her name was
mentioned in his presence. He could not eat, he had night sweats that
kept him from sleeping.
On Sunday, at mass, he never took his eyes off her. She noticed it and
smiled at him, flattered at his appreciation.
One evening, he suddenly met her in the road. She stopped short when
she saw him coming. Then he walked right up to her, choking with fear
and emotion, but determined to speak to her. He began falteringly:
"See here, Martine, this cannot go on like this any longer."
She replied as if she wanted to tease him:
"What cannot go on any longer, Benoist?"
"My thinking of you as many hours as there are in the day," he
She put her hands on her hips.
"I do not oblige you to do so."
"Yes, it is you," he stammered; "I cannot sleep, nor rest, nor eat,
"What do you need to cure you of all that?" she asked.
He stood there in dismay, his arms swinging, his eyes staring, his
She hit him a punch in the stomach and ran off.
From that day they met each other along the roadside, in by-roads or
else at twilight on the edge of a field, when he was going home with
his horses and she was driving her cows home to the stable.
He felt himself carried, cast toward her by a strong impulse of his
heart and body. He would have liked to squeeze her, strangle her, eat
her, make her part of himself. And he trembled with impotence,
impatience, rage, to think she did not belong to him entirely, as if
they were one being.
People gossiped about it in the countryside. They said they were
engaged. He had, besides, asked her if she would be his wife, and she
had answered "Yes."
They were waiting for an opportunity to talk to their parents about
But, all at once, she stopped coming to meet him at the usual hour. He
did not even see her as he wandered round the farm. He could only
catch a glimpse of her at mass on Sunday. And one Sunday, after the
sermon, the priest actually published the banns of marriage between
Victoire-Adelaide-Martin and Joséphin-Isidore Vallin.
Benoist felt a sensation in his hands as if the blood had been drained
off. He had a buzzing in the ears, and could hear nothing; and
presently he perceived that his tears were falling on his prayer book.
For a month he stayed in his room. Then he went back to his work.
But he was not cured, and it was always in his mind. He avoided the
roads that led past her home, so that he might not even see the trees
in the yard, and this obliged him to make a great circuit morning and
She was now married to Vallin, the richest farmer in the district.
Benoist and he did not speak now, though they had been comrades from
One evening, as Benoist was passing the town hall, he heard that she
was enceinte. Instead of experiencing a feeling of sorrow, he
experienced, on the contrary, a feeling of relief. It was over, now,
all over. They were more separated by that than by her marriage. He
really preferred that it should be so.
Months passed, and more months. He caught sight of her, occasionally,
going to the village with a heavier step than usual. She blushed as
she saw him, lowered her head and quickened her pace. And he turned
out of his way so as not to pass her and meet her glance.
He dreaded the thought that he might one morning meet her face to
face, and be obliged to speak to her. What could he say to her now,
after all he had said formerly, when he held her hands as he kissed
her hair beside her cheeks? He often thought of those meetings along
the roadside. She had acted horridly after all her promises.
By degrees his grief diminished, leaving only sadness behind. And one
day he took the old road that led past the farm where she now lived.
He looked at the roof from a distance. It was there, in there, that
she lived with another! The apple trees were in bloom, the cocks
crowed on the dunghill. The whole dwelling seemed empty, the farm
hands had gone to the fields to their spring toil. He stopped near the
gate and looked into the yard. The dog was asleep outside his kennel,
three calves were walking slowly, one behind the other, towards the
pond. A big turkey was strutting before the door, parading before the
turkey hens like a singer at the opera.
Benoist leaned against the gate post and was suddenly seized with a
desire to weep. But suddenly, he heard a cry, a loud cry for help
coming from the house. He was struck with dismay, his hands grasping
the wooden bars of the gate, and listened attentively. Another cry, a
prolonged, heartrending cry, reached his ears, his soul, his flesh. It
was she who was crying like that! He darted inside, crossed the grass
patch, pushed open the door, and saw her lying on the floor, her body
drawn up, her face livid, her eyes haggard, in the throes of
He stood there, trembling and paler than she was, and stammered:
"Here I am, here I am, Martine!"
She replied in gasps:
"Oh, do not leave me, do not leave me, Benoist!"
He looked at her, not knowing what to say, what to do. She began to
cry out again:
"Oh, oh, it is killing me. Oh, Benoist!"
She writhed frightfully.
Benoist was suddenly seized with a frantic longing to help her, to
quiet her, to remove her pain. He leaned over, lifted her up and laid
her on her bed; and while she kept on moaning he began to take off her
clothes, her jacket, her skirt and her petticoat. She bit her fists to
keep from crying out. Then he did as he was accustomed to doing for
cows, ewes, and mares: he assisted in delivering her and found in his
hands a large infant who was moaning.
He wiped it off and wraped it up in a towel that was drying in front
of the fire, and laid it on a bundle of clothes ready for ironing that
was on the table. Then he went back to the mother.
He took her up and placed her on the floor again, then he changed the
bedclothes and put her back into bed. She faltered:
"Thank you, Benoist, you have a noble heart." And then she wept a
little as if she felt regretful.
He did not love her any longer, not the least bit. It was all over.
Why? How? He could not have said. What had happened had cured him
better than ten years of absence.
She asked, exhausted and trembling:
"What is it?"
He replied calmly:
"It is a very fine girl."
Then they were silent again. At the end of a few moments, the mother,
in a weak voice, said:
"Show her to me, Benoist."
He took up the little one and was showing it to her as if he were
holding the consecrated wafer, when the door opened, and Isidore
He did not understand at first, then all at once he guessed.
Benoist, in consternation, stammered out:
"I was passing, I was just passing by when I heard her crying out, and
I came--there is your child, Vallin!"
Then the husband, his eyes full of tears, stepped forward, took the
little mite of humanity that he held out to him, kissed it, unable to
speak from emotion for a few seconds; then placing the child on the
bed, he held out both hands to Benoist, saying:
"Your hand upon it, Benoist. From now on we understand each other. If
you are willing, we will be a pair of friends, a pair of friends!"
And Benoist replied:
"Indeed I will, certainly, indeed I will."
* * * * *
Comte de Lormerin had just finished dressing. He cast a parting
glance at the large mirror which occupied an entire panel in his
dressing-room and smiled.
He was really a fine-looking man still, although quite gray. Tall,
slight, elegant, with no sign of a paunch, with a small mustache of
doubtful shade, which might be called fair, he had a walk, a nobility,
a "chic," in short, that indescribable something which establishes a
greater difference between two men than would millions of money. He
"Lormerin is still alive!"
And he went into the drawing-room where his correspondence awaited
On his table, where everything had its place, the work table of the
gentleman who never works, there were a dozen letters lying beside
three newspapers of different opinions. With a single touch he spread
out all these letters, like a gambler giving the choice of a card; and
he scanned the handwriting, a thing he did each morning before opening
It was for him a moment of delightful expectancy, of inquiry and vague
anxiety. What did these sealed mysterious letters bring him? What did
they contain of pleasure, of happiness, or of grief? He surveyed them
with a rapid sweep of the eye, recognizing the writing, selecting
them, making two or three lots, according to what he expected from
them. Here, friends; there, persons to whom he was indifferent;
further on, strangers. The last kind always gave him a little
uneasiness. What did they want from him? What hand had traced those
curious characters full of thoughts, promises, or threats?
This day one letter in particular caught his eye. It was simple,
nevertheless, without seeming to reveal anything; but he looked at it
uneasily, with a sort of chill at his heart. He thought: "From whom
can it be? I certainly know this writing, and yet I can't identify
He raised it to a level with his face, holding it delicately between
two fingers, striving to read through the envelope, without making up
his mind to open it.
Then he smelled it, and snatched up from the table a little magnifying
glass which he used in studying all the niceties of handwriting. He
suddenly felt unnerved. "Whom is it from? This hand is familiar to me,
very familiar. I must have often read its tracings, yes, very often.
But this must have been a long, long time ago. Whom the deuce can it
be from? Pooh! it's only somebody asking for money."
And he tore open the letter. Then he read:
My Dear Friend: You have, without doubt, forgotten me, for it is now
twenty-five years since we saw each other. I was young; I am old. When
I bade you farewell, I left Paris in order to follow into the
provinces my husband, my old husband, whom you used to call "my
hospital." Do you remember him? He died five years ago, and now I am
returning to Paris to get my daughter married, for I have a daughter,
a beautiful girl of eighteen, whom you have never seen. I informed you
of her birth, but you certainly did not pay much attention to so
trifling an event.
You are still the handsome Lormerin; so I have been told. Well if you
still recollect little Lise, whom you used to call Lison, come and
dine with her this evening, with the elderly Baronne de Vance, your
ever faithful friend, who, with some emotion, although happy, reaches
out to you a devoted hand, which you must clasp, but no longer kiss,
my poor Jaquelet.
Lise de Vance.
Lormerin's heart began to throb. He remained sunk in his armchair with
the letter on his knees, staring straight before him, overcome by a
poignant emotion that made the tears mount up to his eyes! If he had
ever loved a woman in his life it was this one, little Lise, Lise de
Vance, whom he called "Ashflower," on account of the strange color of
her hair and the pale gray of her eyes. Oh! what a dainty, pretty,
charming creature she was, this frail baronne, the wife of that gouty,
pimply baron, who had abruptly carried her off to the provinces, shut
her up, kept her in seclusion through jealousy, jealousy of the
Yes, he had loved her, and he believed that he, too, had been truly
loved. She familiarly gave him the name of Jaquelet, and would
pronounce that word in a delicious fashion.
A thousand forgotten memories came back to him, far off and sweet and
melancholy now. One evening she had called on him on her way home from
a ball, and they went for a stroll in the Bois de Boulogne, she in
evening dress, he in his dressing-jacket. It was springtime; the
weather was beautiful. The fragrance from her bodice embalmed the warm
air--the odor of her bodice, and perhaps, too, the fragrance of her
skin. What a divine night! When they reached the lake, as the moon's
rays fell across the branches into the water, she began to weep. A
little surprised, he asked her why.
"I don't know. The moon and the water have affected me. Every time I
see poetic things I have a tightening at the heart, and I have to
He smiled, affected himself, considering her feminine emotion
charming--the unaffected emotion of a poor little woman whom every
sensation overwhelms. And he embraced her passionately, stammering:
"My little Lise, you are exquisite."
What a charming love affair, short-lived and dainty, it had been and
over all too quickly, cut short in the midst of its ardor by this old
brute of a baron, who had carried off his wife, and never let any one
see her afterward.
Lormerin had forgotten, in fact, at the end of two or three months.
One woman drives out another so quickly in Paris, when one is a
bachelor! No matter; he had kept a little altar for her in his heart,
for he had loved her alone! He assured himself now that this was so.
He rose, and said aloud: "Certainly, I will go and dine with her this
And instinctively he turned toward the mirror to inspect himself from
head to foot. He reflected: "She must look very old, older than I
look." And he felt gratified at the thought of showing himself to her
still handsome, still fresh, of astonishing her, perhaps of filling
her with emotion, and making her regret those bygone days so far, far
He turned his attention to the other letters. They were of no
The whole day he kept thinking of this ghost of other days. What was
she like now? How strange it was to meet in this way after twenty-five
years! But would he recognize her?
He made his toilet with feminine coquetry, put on a white waistcoat,
which suited him better with the coat than a black one, sent for the
hairdresser to give him a finishing touch with the curling iron, for
he had preserved his hair, and started very early in order to show his
eagerness to see her.
The first thing he saw on entering a pretty drawing-room newly
furnished was his own portrait, an old faded photograph, dating from
the days when he was a beau, hanging on the wall in an antique silk
He sat down and waited. A door opened behind him. He rose up abruptly,
and, turning round, beheld an old woman with white hair who extended
both hands toward him.
He seized them, kissed them one after the other several times; then,
lifting up his head, he gazed at the woman he had loved.
Yes, it was an old lady, an old lady whom he did not recognize, and
who, while she smiled, seemed ready to weep.
He could not abstain from murmuring:
"Is it you, Lise?"
"Yes, it is I; it is I, indeed. You would not have known me, would
you? I have had so much sorrow--so much sorrow. Sorrow has consumed my
life. Look at me now--or, rather, don't look at me! But how handsome
you have kept--and young! If I had by chance met you in the street I
would have exclaimed: 'Jaquelet!' Now, sit down and let us, first of
all, have a chat. And then I will call my daughter, my grown-up
daughter. You'll see how she resembles me--or, rather, how I resembled
her--no, it is not quite that; she is just like the 'me' of former
days--you shall see! But I wanted to be alone with you first. I feared
that there would be some emotion on my side, at the first moment. Now
it is all over; it is past. Pray be seated, my friend."
He sat down beside her, holding her hand; but he did not know what to
say; he did not know this woman--it seemed to him that he had never
seen her before. Why had he come to this house? What could he talk
about? Of the long ago? What was there in common between him and her?
He could no longer recall anything in presence of this grandmotherly
face. He could no longer recall all the nice, tender things, so sweet,
so bitter, that had come to his mind that morning when he thought of
the other, of little Lise, of the dainty Ashflower. What, then, had
become of her, the former one, the one he had loved? That woman of
far-off dreams, the blonde with gray eyes, the young girl who used to
call him "Jaquelet" so prettily?
They remained side by side, motionless, both constrained, troubled,
profoundly ill at ease.
As they talked only commonplaces, awkwardly and spasmodically and
slowly, she rose and pressed the button of the bell.
"I am going to call Renée," she said.
There was a tap at the door, then the rustle of a dress; then a young
"Here I am, mamma!"
Lormerin remained bewildered as at the sight of an apparition.
Then, turning toward the mother:
"Oh! it is you!"
In fact, it was she, she whom he had known in bygone days, the Lise
who had vanished and come back! In her he found the woman he had won
twenty-five years before. This one was even younger, fresher, more
He felt a wild desire to open his arms, to clasp her to his heart
again, murmuring in her ear:
A man-servant announced:
"Dinner is ready, madame."
And they proceeded toward the dining-room.
What passed at this dinner? What did they say to him, and what could
he say in reply? He found himself plunged in one of those strange
dreams which border on insanity. He gazed at the two women with a
fixed idea in his mind, a morbid, self-contradictory idea:
"Which is the real one?"
The mother smiled, repeating over and over again:
"Do you remember?" And it was in the bright eyes of the young girl
that he found again his memories of the past. Twenty times he opened
his mouth to say to her: "Do you remember, Lison?" forgetting this
white-haired lady who was looking at him tenderly.
And yet, there were moments when he no longer felt sure, when he lost
his head. He could see that the woman of to-day was not exactly the
woman of long ago. The other one, the former one, had in her voice, in
her glances, in her entire being, something which he did not find
again. And he made prodigious efforts of mind to recall his lady love,
to seize again what had escaped from her, what this resuscitated one
did not possess.
The baronne said:
"You have lost your old vivacity, my poor friend."
"There are many other things that I have lost!"
But in his heart, touched with emotion, he felt his old love springing
to life once more, like an awakened wild beast ready to bite him.
The young girl went on chattering, and every now and then some
familiar intonation, some expression of her mother's, a certain style
of speaking and thinking, that resemblance of mind and manner which
people acquire by living together, shook Lormerin from head to foot.
All these things penetrated him, making the reopened wound of his
passion bleed anew.
He got away early, and took a turn along the boulevard. But the image
of this young girl pursued him, haunted him, quickened his heart,
inflamed his blood. Apart from the two women, he now saw only one, a
young one, the old one come back out of the past, and he loved her as
he had loved her in bygone years. He loved her with greater ardor,
after an interval of twenty-five years.
He went home to reflect on this strange and terrible thing, and to
think what he should do.
But, as he was passing, with a wax candle in his hand, before the
glass, the large glass in which he had contemplated himself and
admired himself before he started, he saw reflected there an elderly,
gray-haired man; and suddenly he recollected what he had been in olden
days, in the days of little Lise. He saw himself charming and
handsome, as he had been when he was loved! Then, drawing the light
nearer, he looked at himself more closely, as one inspects a strange
thing with a magnifying glass, tracing the wrinkles, discovering those
frightful ravages, which he had not perceived till now.
And he sat down, crushed at the sight of himself, at the sight of his
lamentable image, murmuring:
"All over, Lormerin!"
* * * * *
Everybody in Fécamp knew Mother Patin's story. She had certainly been
unfortunate with her husband, for in his lifetime he used to beat her,
just as wheat is threshed in the barn.
He was master of a fishing bark and had married her, formerly, because
she was pretty, although poor.
Patin was a good sailor, but brutal. He used to frequent Father
Auban's inn, where he would usually drink four or five glasses of
brandy, on lucky days eight or ten glasses and even more, according to
his mood. The brandy was served to the customers by Father Auban's
daughter, a pleasing brunette, who attracted people to the house only
by her pretty face, for nothing had ever been gossiped about her.
Patin, when he entered the inn, would be satisfied to look at her and
to compliment her politely and respectfully. After he had had his
first glass of brandy he would already find her much nicer; at the
second he would wink; at the third he would say: "If you were only
willing, Mam'zelle Désirée----" without ever finishing his sentence;
at the fourth he would try to hold her back by her skirt in order to
kiss her; and when he went as high as ten it was Father Auban who
brought him the remaining drinks.
The old innkeeper, who knew all the tricks of the trade, made Désirée
walk about between the tables in order to increase the consumption of
drinks; and Désirée, who was a worthy daughter of Father Auban,
flitted around among the benches and joked with them, her lips smiling
and her eyes sparkling.
Patin got so well accustomed to Désirée's face that he thought of it
even while at sea, when throwing out his nets, in storms or in calms,
on moonlit or dark evenings. He thought of her while holding the
tiller in the stern of his boat, while his four companions were
slumbering with their heads on their arms. He always saw her, smiling,
pouring out the yellow brandy with a peculiar shoulder movement and
then exclaiming as she turned away: "There, now; are you satisfied?"
He saw her so much in his mind's eye that he was overcome by an
irresistible desire to marry her, and, not being able to hold out any
longer, he asked for her hand.
He was rich, owned his own vessel, his nets and a little house at the
foot of the hill on the Retenue, whereas Father Auban had nothing. The
marriage was therefore eagerly agreed upon and the wedding took place
as soon as possible, as both parties were desirous for the affair to
be concluded as early as convenient.
Three days after the wedding Patin could no longer understand how he
had ever imagined Désirée to be different from other women. What a
fool he had been to encumber himself with a penniless creature, who
had undoubtedly inveigled him with some drug which she had put in his
He would curse all day long, break his pipe with his teeth and maul
his crew. After he had sworn by every known term at everything that
came his way he would rid himself of his remaining anger on the fish
and lobsters, which he pulled from the nets and threw into the baskets
amid oaths and foul language. When he returned home he would find his
wife, Father Auban's daughter, within reach of his mouth and hand, and
it was not long before he treated her like the lowest creature in the
world. As she listened calmly, accustomed to paternal violence, he
grew exasperated at her quiet, and one evening he beat her. Then life
at his home became unbearable.
For ten years the principal topic of conversation on the Retenue was
about the beatings that Patin gave his wife and his manner of cursing
at her for the least thing. He could, indeed, curse with a richness of
vocabulary in a roundness of tone unequalled by any other man in
Fécamp. As soon as his ship was sighted at the entrance of the harbor,
returning from the fishing expedition, every one awaited the first
volley he would hurl from the bridge as soon as he perceived his
wife's white cap.
Standing at the stern, he would steer, his eye fixed on the bows and
on the sail, and, notwithstanding the difficulty of the narrow passage
and the height of the turbulent waves, he would search among the
watching women and try to recognize his wife, Father Auban's daughter,
Then, as soon as he saw her, notwithstanding the noise of the wind and
waves, he would let loose upon her with such power and volubility that
every one would laugh, although they pitied her greatly. When he
arrived at the dock he would relieve his mind, while unloading the
fish, in such an expressive manner that he attracted around him all
the loafers of the neighborhood. The words left his mouth sometimes
like shots from a cannon, short and terrible, sometimes like peals of
thunder, which roll and rumble for five minutes, such a hurricane of
oaths that he seemed to have in his lungs one of the storms of the
When he left his ship and found himself face to face with her,
surrounded by all the gossips of the neighborhood, he would bring up a
new cargo of insults and bring her back to their dwelling, she in
front, he behind, she weeping, he yelling at her.
At last, when alone with her behind closed doors, he would thrash her
on the slightest pretext. The least thing was sufficient to make him
raise his hand, and when he had once begun he did not stop, but he
would throw into her face the true motive for his anger. At each blow
he would roar: "There, you beggar! There, you wretch! There, you
pauper! What a bright thing I did when I rinsed my mouth with your
rascal of a father's apology for brandy!"
The poor woman lived in continual fear, in a ceaseless trembling of
body and soul, in everlasting expectation of outrageous thrashings.
This lasted ten years. She was so timorous that she would grow pale
whenever she spoke to any one, and she thought of nothing but the
blows with which she was threatened; and she became thinner, more
yellow and drier than a smoked fish.
One night, when her husband was at sea, she was suddenly awakened by
the wild roaring of the wind! She sat up in her bed, trembling, but,
as she heard nothing more, she lay down again; almost immediately
there was a roar in the chimney which shook the entire house; it
seemed to cross the heavens like a pack of furious animals snorting
Then she arose and rushed to the harbor. Other women were arriving
from all sides, carrying lanterns. The men also were gathering, and
all were watching the foaming crests of the breaking waves.
The storm lasted fifteen hours. Eleven sailors never returned; Patin
was among them.
In the neighborhood of Dieppe the wreck of his bark, the
_Jeune-Amélie_, was found. The bodies of his sailors were found
near Saint-Valéry, but his body was never recovered. As his vessel
seemed to have been cut in two, his wife expected and feared his return
for a long time, for if there had been a collision he alone might have
been picked up and carried afar off.
Little by little she grew accustomed to the thought that she was rid
of him, although she would start every time that a neighbor, a beggar
or a peddler would enter suddenly.
One afternoon, about four years after the disappearance of her
husband, while she was walking along the Rue aux Juifs, she stopped
before the house of an old sea captain who had recently died and whose
furniture was for sale. Just at that moment a parrot was at auction.
He had green feathers and a blue head and was watching everybody with
a displeased look. "Three francs!" cried the auctioneer. "A bird that
can talk like a lawyer, three francs!"
A friend of the Patin woman nudged her and said: "You ought to buy
that, you who are rich. It would be good company for you. That bird is
worth more than thirty francs. Anyhow, you can always sell it for
twenty or twenty-five!"
Patin's widow added fifty centimes, and the bird was given her in a
little cage, which she carried away. She took it home, and, as she was
opening the wire door in order to give it something to drink, he bit
her finger and drew blood.
"Oh, how naughty he is!" she said.
Nevertheless she gave it some hemp-seed and corn and watched it
pruning its feathers as it glanced warily at its new home and its new
On the following morning, just as day was breaking, the Patin woman
distinctly heard a loud, deep, roaring voice calling: "Are you going
to get up, carrion?"
Her fear was so great that she hid her head under the sheets, for when
Patin was with her as soon as he would open his eyes he would shout
those well-known words into her ears.
Trembling, rolled into a ball, her back prepared for the thrashing
which she already expected, her face buried in the pillows, she
murmured: "Good Lord! he is here! Good Lord! he is here! Good Lord! he
has come back!"
Minutes passed; no noise disturbed the quiet room. Then, trembling,
she stuck her head out of the bed, sure that he was there, watching,
ready to beat her. Except for a ray of sun shining through the window,
she saw nothing, and she said to herself: "He must be hidden."
She waited a long time and then, gaining courage, she said to herself:
"I must have dreamed it, seeing there is nobody here."
A little reassured, she closed her eyes, when from quite near a
furious voice, the thunderous voice of the drowned man, could be heard
crying: "Say! when in the name of all that's holy are you going to get
up, you b----?"
She jumped out of bed, moved by obedience, by the passive obedience of
a woman accustomed to blows and who still remembers and always will
remember that voice! She said: "Here I am, Patin; what do you want?"
But Patin did not answer. Then, at a complete loss, she looked around
her, then in the chimney and under the bed and finally sank into a
chair, wild with anxiety, convinced that Patin's soul alone was there,
near her, and that he had returned in order to torture her.
Suddenly she remembered the loft, in order to reach which one had to
take a ladder. Surely he must have hidden there in order to surprise
her. He must have been held by savages on some distant shore, unable
to escape until now, and he had returned, worse that ever. There was
no doubting the quality of that voice. She raised her head and asked:
"Are you up there, Patin?"
Patin did not answer. Then, with a terrible fear which made her heart
tremble, she climbed the ladder, opened the skylight, looked, saw
nothing, entered, looked about and found nothing. Sitting on some
straw, she began to cry, but while she was weeping, overcome by a
poignant and supernatural terror, she heard Patin talking in the room
below. He seemed less angry and he was saying: "Nasty weather! Fierce
wind! Nasty weather! I haven't eaten, damn it!"
She cried through the ceiling: "Here I am, Patin; I am getting your
meal ready. Don't get angry."
She ran down again. There was no one in the room. She felt herself
growing weak, as if death were touching her, and she tried to run and
get help from the neighbors, when a voice near her cried out: "I
haven't had my breakfast, by G----!"
And the parrot in his cage watched her with his round, knowing, wicked
eye. She, too, looked at him wildly, murmuring: "Ah! so it's you!"
He shook his head and continued: "Just you wait! I'll teach you how to
What happened within her? She felt, she understood that it was he, the
dead man, who had come back, who had disguised himself in the feathers
of this bird in order to continue to torment her; that he would curse,
as formerly, all day long, and bite her, and swear at her, in order to
attract the neighbors and make them laugh. Then she rushed for the
cage and seized the bird, which scratched and tore her flesh with its
claws and beak. But she held it with all her strength between her
hands. She threw it on the ground and rolled over it with the frenzy
of one possessed. She crushed it and finally made of it nothing but a
little green, flabby lump which no longer moved or spoke. Then she
wrapped it in a cloth, as in a shroud, and she went out in her
nightgown, barefoot; she crossed the dock, against which the choppy
waves of the sea were beating, and she shook the cloth and let drop
this little dead thing, which looked like so much grass. Then she
returned, threw herself on her knees before the empty cage, and,
overcome by what she had done, kneeled and prayed for forgiveness, as
if she had committed some heinous crime.
* * * * *
THE PIECE OF STRING
It was market-day, and from all the country round Goderville the
peasants and their wives were coming toward the town. The men walked
slowly, throwing the whole body forward at every step of their long,
crooked legs. They were deformed from pushing the plough which makes
the left shoulder higher, and bends their figures sideways; from
reaping the grain, when they have to spread their legs so as to keep
on their feet. Their starched blue blouses, glossy as though
varnished, ornamented at collar and cuffs with a little embroidered
design and blown out around their bony bodies, looked very much like
balloons about to soar, whence issued two arms and two feet.
Some of these fellows dragged a cow or a calf at the end of a rope.
And just behind the animal followed their wives beating it over the
back with a leaf-covered branch to hasten its pace, and carrying large
baskets out of which protruded the heads of chickens or ducks. These
women walked more quickly and energetically than the men, with their
erect, dried-up figures, adorned with scanty little shawls pinned over
their flat bosoms, and their heads wrapped round with a white cloth,
enclosing the hair and surmounted by a cap.
Now a char-à-banc passed by, jogging along behind a nag and shaking up
strangely the two men on the seat, and the woman at the bottom of the
cart who held fast to its sides to lessen the hard jolting.
In the market-place at Goderville was a great crowd, a mingled
multitude of men and beasts. The horns of cattle, the high,
long-napped hats of wealthy peasants, the headdresses of the women
came to the surface of that sea. And the sharp, shrill, barking voices
made a continuous, wild din, while above it occasionally rose a huge
burst of laughter from the sturdy lungs of a merry peasant or a
prolonged bellow from a cow tied fast to the wall of a house.
It all smelled of the stable, of milk, of hay and of perspiration
giving off that half-human, half-animal odor which is peculiar to
Maître Hauchecorne, of Bréauté, had just arrived at Goderville and was
making his way toward the square when he perceived on the ground a
little piece of string. Maître Hauchecorne, economical as are all true
Normans, reflected that everything was worth picking up which could be
of any use, and he stooped down, but painfully, because he suffered
from rheumatism. He took the bit of thin string from the ground and
was carefully preparing to roll it up when he saw Maître Malandain,
the harness maker, on his doorstep staring at him. They had once had a
quarrel about a halter, and they had borne each other malice ever
since. Maître Hauchecorne was overcome with a sort of shame at being
seen by his enemy picking up a bit of string in the road. He quickly
hid it beneath his blouse and then slipped it into his breeches
pocket, then pretended to be still looking for something on the
ground which he did not discover and finally went off toward the
market-place, his head bent forward and his body almost doubled in
two by rheumatic pains.
He was at once lost in the crowd, which kept moving about slowly and
noisily as it chaffered and bargained. The peasants examined the cows,
went off, came back, always in doubt for fear of being cheated, never
quite daring to decide, looking the seller square in the eye in the
effort to discover the tricks of the man and the defect in the beast.
The women, having placed their great baskets at their feet, had taken
out the poultry, which lay upon the ground, their legs tied together,
with terrified eyes and scarlet combs.
They listened to propositions, maintaining their prices in a decided
manner with an impassive face or perhaps deciding to accept the
smaller price offered, suddenly calling out to the customer who was
starting to go away:
"All right, I'll let you have them, Maît' Anthime."
Then, little by little, the square became empty, and when the Angelus
struck midday those who lived at a distance poured into the inns.
At Jourdain's the great room was filled with eaters, just as the vast
court was filled with vehicles of every sort--wagons, gigs,
chars-à-bancs, tilburies, innumerable vehicles which have no name,
yellow with mud, misshapen, pieced together, raising their shafts to
heaven like two arms, or it may be with their nose, on the ground and
their rear in the air.
Just opposite to where the diners were at table the huge fireplace,
with its bright flame, gave out a burning heat on the backs of those
who sat at the right. Three spits were turning, loaded with chickens,
with pigeons and with joints of mutton, and a delectable odor of roast
meat and of gravy flowing ever crisp brown skin arose from the hearth,
kindled merriment, caused mouths to water.
All the aristocracy of the plough were eating there at Maît'
Jourdain's, the innkeeper's, a dealer in horses also and a sharp
fellow who had made a great deal of money in his day.
The dishes were passed round, were emptied, as were the jugs of yellow
cider. Every one told of his affairs, of his purchases and his sales.
They exchanged news about the crops. The weather was good for greens,
but too wet for grain.
Suddenly the drum began to beat in the courtyard before the house.
Every one, except some of the most indifferent, was on their feet at
once and ran to the door, to the windows, their mouths full and
napkins in their hand.
When the public crier had finished his tattoo he called forth in a
jerky voice, pausing in the wrong places:
"Be it known to the inhabitants of Goderville and in general to all
persons present at the market that there has been lost this morning on
the Beuzeville road, between nine and ten o'clock, a black leather
pocketbook containing five hundred francs and business papers. You are
requested, to return it to the mayor's office at once or to Maitre
Fortuné Houlbrèque, of Manneville. There will be twenty francs
Then the man went away. They heard once more at a distance the dull
beating of the drum and the faint voice of the crier. Then they all
began to talk of this incident, reckoning up the chances which Maître
Houlbrèque had of finding or of not finding his pocketbook again.
The meal went on. They were finishing their coffee when the corporal
of gendarmes appeared on the threshold.
"Is Maître Hauchecorne, of Bréauté, here?"
Maître Hauchecorne, seated at the other end of the table, answered:
"Here I am, here I am."
And he followed the corporal.
The mayor was waiting for him, seated in an armchair. He was the
notary of the place, a tall, grave man of pompous speech.
"Maître Hauchecorne," said he, "this morning on the Beuzeville road,
you were seen to pick up the pocketbook lost by Maître Houlbrèque, of
The countryman looked at the mayor in amazement, frightened already at
this suspicion which rested on him, he knew not why.
"I--I picked up that pocketbook?"
"I swear I don't even know anything about it."
"You were seen."
"I was seen--I? Who saw me?"
"M. Malandain, the harness-maker."
Then the old man remembered, understood, and, reddening with anger,
"Ah! he saw me, did he, the rascal? He saw me picking up this string
here, M'sieu le Maire."
And fumbling at the bottom of his pocket, he pulled out of it the
little end of string.
But the mayor incredulously shook his head:
"You will not make me believe, Maitre Hauchecorne, that M. Malandain,
who is a man whose word can be relied on, has mistaken this string for
The peasant, furious, raised his hand and spat on the ground beside
him as if to attest his good faith, repeating:
"For all that, it is God's truth, M'sieu le Maire. There! On my soul's
salvation, I repeat it."
The mayor continued:
"After you picked up the object in question, you even looked about for
some time in the mud to see if a piece of money had not dropped out of
The good man was choking with indignation and fear.
"How can they tell--how can they tell such lies as that to slander an
honest man! How can they?"
His protestations were in vain; he was not believed.
He was confronted with M. Malandain, who repeated and sustained his
testimony. They railed at one another for an hour. At his own request
Maitre Hauchecorne was searched. Nothing was found on him.
At last the mayor, much perplexed, sent him away, warning him that he
would inform the public prosecutor and ask for orders.
The news had spread. When he left the mayor's office the old man was
surrounded, interrogated with a curiosity which was serious or
mocking, as the case might be, but into which no indignation entered.
And he began to tell the story of the string. They did not believe
him. They laughed.
He passed on, buttonholed by every one, himself buttonholing his
acquaintances, beginning over and over again his tale and his
protestations, showing his pockets turned inside out to prove that he
had nothing in them.
They said to him:
"You old rogue!"
He grew more and more angry, feverish, in despair at not being
believed, and kept on telling his story.
The night came. It was time to go home. He left with three of his
neighbors, to whom he pointed out the place where he had picked up the
string, and all the way he talked of his adventure.
That evening he made the round of the village of Breauté for the
purpose of telling every one. He met only unbelievers.
He brooded over it all night long.
The next day, about one in the afternoon, Marius Paumelle, a farm hand
of Maitre Breton, the market gardener at Ymauville, returned the
pocketbook and its contents to Maitre Holbrèque, of Manneville.
This man said, indeed, that he had found it on the road, but not
knowing how to read, he had carried it home and given it to his
The news spread to the environs. Maître Hauchecorne was informed. He
started off at once and began to relate his story with the dénoûment.
He was triumphant.
"What grieved me," said he, "was not the thing itself, do you
understand, but it was being accused of lying. Nothing does you so
much harm as being in disgrace for lying."
All day he talked of his adventure. He told it on the roads to the
people who passed, at the cabaret to the people who drank and next
Sunday when they came out of church. He even stopped strangers to tell
them about it. He was easy now, and yet something worried him without
his knowing exactly what it was. People had a joking manner while they
listened. They did not seem convinced. He seemed to feel their remarks
behind his back.
On Tuesday of the following week he went to market at Goderville,
prompted solely by the need of telling his story.
Malandain, standing on his doorstep, began to laugh as he saw him
He accosted a farmer of Criquetot, who did not let him finish, and
giving him a punch in the pit of the stomach, cried in his face: "Oh,
you great rogue!" Then he turned his heel upon him.
Maître Hauchecorne remained speechless and grew more and more uneasy.
Why had they called him "great rogue"?
When seated at table in Jourdain's tavern he began again to explain
the whole affair.
A horse dealer of Montivilliers shouted at him:
"Get out, get out, you old scamp! I know all about your old string."
"But since they found it again, the pocketbook!"
But the other continued:
"Hold your tongue, daddy; there's one who finds it and there's another
who returns it. And no one the wiser."
The farmer was speechless. He understood at last. They accused him of
having had the pocketbook brought back by an accomplice, by a
He tried to protest. The whole table began to laugh.
He could not finish his dinner, and went away amid a chorus of jeers.
He went home indignant, choking with rage, with confusion, the more
cast down since with his Norman craftiness he was, perhaps, capable of
having done what they accused him of and even of boasting of it as a
good trick. He was dimly conscious that it was impossible to prove his
innocence, his craftiness being so well known. He felt himself struck
to the heart by the injustice of the suspicion.
He began anew to tell his tale, lengthening his recital every day,
each day adding new proofs, more energetic declarations and more
sacred oaths, which he thought of, which he prepared in his hours of
solitude, for his mind was entirely occupied with the story of the
string. The more he denied it, the more artful his arguments, the less
he was believed.
"Those are liars' proofs," they said behind his back.
He felt this. It preyed upon him and he exhausted himself in useless
He was visibly wasting away.
Jokers would make him tell the story of "the piece of string" to amuse
them, just as you make a soldier who has been on a campaign tell his
story of the battle. His mind kept growing weaker and about the end of
December he took to his bed.
He passed away early in January, and, in the ravings of death agony,
he protested his innocence, repeating:
"A little bit of string--a little bit of string. See, here it is,
M'sieu le Maire."