by Guy de Maupassant
PAOLO SAVERINI'S WIDOW LIVED ALONE
WITH HER SON IN A poor little house on the ramparts of Bonifacio. The
town, built on a spur of the mountains, in places actually overhanging
the sea, looks across a channel bristling with reefs, to the lower
shores of Sardinia. At its foot, on the other side and almost completely
surrounding it, is the channel that serves as its harbour, cut in the
cliff like a gigantic corridor. Through a long circuit between steep
walls, the channel brings to the very foot of the first houses the
little Italian or Sardinian fishing-boats, and, every fortnight, the old
steamboat that runs to and from Ajaccio.
Upon the white mountain the group of houses form a whiter patch still.
They look like the nests of wild birds, perched so upon the rock,
dominating that terrible channel through which hardly ever a ship risks
a passage. The unresting wind harasses the sea and eats away the bare
shore, clad with a sparse covering of grass; it rushes into the ravine
and ravages its two sides. The trailing wisps of white foam round the
black points of countless rocks that everywhere pierce the waves, look
like rags of canvas floating and heaving on the surface of the water.
The widow Saverini's house held for dear life to the very edge of the
cliff; its three windows looked out over this wild and desolate scene.
She lived there alone with her son Antoine and their bitch Semillante, a
large, thin animal with long, shaggy hair, of the sheep-dog breed. The
young man used her for hunting.
One evening, after a quarrel, Antoine Saverini was treacherously slain
by a knife-thrust from Nicolas Ravolati, who got away to Sardinia the
When his old mother received his body, carried home by bystanders, she
did not weep, but for a long time stayed motionless, looking at it;
then, stretching out her wrinkled hand over the body, she swore vendetta
against him. She would have no one stay with her, and shut herself up
with the body, together with the howling dog. The animal howled
continuously, standing at the foot of the bed, her head thrust towards
her master, her tail held tightly between her legs. She did not stir,
nor did the mother, who crouched over the body with her eyes fixed
steadily upon it, and wept great silent tears.
The young man, lying on his back, clad in his thick serge coat with a
hole torn across the front, looked as though he slept; but everywhere
there was blood; on the shirt, torn off for the first hasty dressing; on
his waistcoat, on his breeches, on his face, on his hands. Clots of
blood had congealed in his beard and in his hair.
The old mother began to speak to him. At the sound of her voice the dog
"There, there, you shall be avenged, my little one, my boy, my poor
child. Sleep, sleep, you shall be avenged, do you hear! Your mother
swears it! And your mother always keeps her word; you know she does."
Slowly she bent over him, pressing her cold lips on the dead lips.
Then Semillante began to howl once more. She uttered long cries,
monotonous, heart-rending, horrible cries.
They remained there, the pair of them, the woman and the dog, till
Antoine Saverini was buried next day, and before long there was no more
talk of him in Bonifacio.
He had left neither brothers nor close cousins. No man was there to
carry on the vendetta. Only his mother, an old woman, brooded over it.
On the other side of the channel she watched from morning till night a
white speck on the coast. It was a little Sardinian village, Longosardo,
where Corsican bandits fled for refuge when too hard pressed. They
formed almost the entire population of this hamlet, facing the shores of
their own country, and there they awaited a suitable moment to come
home, to return to the maquis of Corsica. She knew that Nicolas Ravolati
had taken refuge in this very village.
All alone, all day long, sitting by the window, she looked over there
and pondered revenge. How could she do it without another's help, so
feeble as she was, so near to death? But she had promised, she had sworn
upon the body. She could not forget, she could not wait. What was she to
do? She could no longer sleep at night, she had no more sleep nor peace;
obstinately she searched for a way. The dog slumbered at her feet and
sometimes, raising her head, howled into the empty spaces. Since her
master had gone, she often howled thus, as though she were calling him,
as though her animal soul, inconsolable, had retained an ineffaceable
memory of him.
One night, as Semillante was beginning to moan again, the mother had a
sudden idea, an idea quite natural to a vindictive and ferocious savage.
She meditated on it till morning, then, rising at the approach of day,
she went to church. She prayed, kneeling on the stones, prostrate before
God, begging Him to aid her, to sustain her, to grant her poor worn-out
body the strength necessary to avenge her son.
Then she returned home. There stood in the yard an old barrel with its
sides stove in, which held the rain-water; she overturned it, emptied
it, and fixed it to the ground with stakes and stones; then she chained
up Semillante in this kennel, and went into the house.
Next she began to walk up and down her room, taking no rest, her eyes
still turned to the coast of Sardinia. He was there, the murderer.
All day long and all night long the dog howled. In the morning the old
woman took her some water in a bowl, but nothing else; no soup, no
Another day went by. Semillante, exhausted, was asleep. Next day her
eyes were shining, her hair on end, and she tugged desperately at the
Again the old woman gave her nothing to eat. The animal, mad with
hunger, barked hoarsely. Another night went by.
When day broke, Mother Saverini went to her neighbour to ask him to give
her two trusses of straw. She took the old clothes her husband had worn
and stuffed them with the straw into the likeness of a human figure.
Having planted a post in the ground opposite Semillante's kennel, she
tied the dummy figure to it, which looked now as though it were
standing. Then she fashioned a head with a roll of old linen.
The dog, surprised, looked at this straw man, and was silent, although
devoured with hunger.
Then the woman went to the pork-butcher and bought a long piece of black
pudding. She returned home, lit a wood fire in her yard, close to the
kennel, and grilled the black pudding. Semillante, maddened, leapt about
and foamed at the mouth, her eyes fixed on the food, the flavour of
which penetrated to her very stomach.
Then with the smoking sausage the mother made a collar for the straw
man. She spent a long time lashing it round his neck, as though to stuff
it right in. When it was done, she unchained the dog.
With a tremendous bound the animal leapt upon the dummy's throat and
with her paws on his shoulders began to rend it. She fell back with a
piece of the prey in her mouth, then dashed at it again, sank her teeth
into the cords, tore away a few fragments of food, fell back again, and
leapt once more, ravenous.
With great bites she rent away the face, and tore the whole neck to
The old woman watched, motionless and silent, a gleam in her eyes. Then
she chained up her dog again, made her go without food for two more
days, and repeated the strange performance.
For three months she trained the dog to this struggle, the conquest of a
meal by fangs. She no longer chained her up, but launched her upon the
dummy with a sign.
She had taught the dog to rend and devour it without hiding food in its
throat. Afterwards she would reward the dog with the gift of the black
pudding she had cooked for her.
As soon as she saw the man, Semillante would tremble, then turn her eyes
towards her mistress, who would cry "Off!" in a whistling tone, raising
When she judged that the time was come, Mother Saverini went to
confession and took communion one Sunday morning with an ecstatic
fervour; then, putting on a man's clothes, like an old ragged beggar,
she bargained with a Sardinian fisherman, who took her, accompanied by
the dog, to the other side of the straits.
In a canvas bag she had a large piece of black pudding. Semillante had
had nothing to eat for two days. Every minute the old woman made her
smell the savoury food, stimulating her hunger with it.
They came to Longosardo. The Corsican woman was limping slightly. She
went to the baker's and inquired for Nicolas Ravolati's house. He had
resumed his old occupation, that of a joiner. He was working alone at
the back of his shop.
The old woman pushed open the door and called him:
He turned round; then, letting go of her dog, she cried:
"Off, off, bite him, bite him!"
The maddened beast dashed forward and seized his throat.
The man put out his arms, clasped the dog, and rolled upon the ground.
For a few minutes he writhed, beating the ground with his feet; then he
remained motionless while Semillante nuzzled at his throat and tore it
out in ribbons.
Two neighbours, sitting at their doors, plainly recollected having seen
a poor old man come out with a lean black dog which ate, as it walked,
something brown that its master was giving to it.
In the evening the old woman returned home. That night she slept well.