Original Maupassant Short Stories, Vol. 2.
by Guy de Maupassant
THE COLONEL'S IDEAS
"Upon my word," said Colonel Laporte, "although I am old and gouty, my
legs as stiff as two pieces of wood, yet if a pretty woman were to tell
me to go through the eye of a needle, I believe I should take a jump at
it, like a clown through a hoop. I shall die like that; it is in the
blood. I am an old beau, one of the old school, and the sight of a
woman, a pretty woman, stirs me to the tips of my toes. There!
"We are all very much alike in France in this respect; we still remain
knights, knights of love and fortune, since God has been abolished whose
bodyguard we really were. But nobody can ever get woman out of our
hearts; there she is, and there she will remain, and we love her, and
shall continue to love her, and go on committing all kinds of follies on
her account as long as there is a France on the map of Europe; and even
if France were to be wiped off the map, there would always be Frenchmen
"When I am in the presence of a woman, of a pretty woman, I feel capable
of anything. By Jove! when I feel her looks penetrating me, her
confounded looks which set your blood on fire, I should like to do I
don't know what; to fight a duel, to have a row, to smash the furniture,
in order to show that I am the strongest, the bravest, the most daring
and the most devoted of men.
"But I am not the only one, certainly not; the whole French army is like
me, I swear to you. From the common soldier to the general, we all start
out, from the van to the rear guard, when there is a woman in the case, a
pretty woman. Do you remember what Joan of Arc made us do formerly?
Come. I will make a bet that if a pretty woman had taken command of the
army on the eve of Sedan, when Marshal MacMahon was wounded, we should
have broken through the Prussian lines, by Jove! and had a drink out of
"It was not a Trochu, but a Sainte-Genevieve, who was needed in Paris;
and I remember a little anecdote of the war which proves that we are
capable of everything in presence of a woman.
"I was a captain, a simple captain, at the time, and I was in command of
a detachment of scouts, who were retreating through a district which
swarmed with Prussians. We were surrounded, pursued, tired out and half
dead with fatigue and hunger, but we were bound to reach Bar-sur-Tain
before the morrow, otherwise we should be shot, cut down, massacred. I
do not know how we managed to escape so far. However, we had ten leagues
to go during the night, ten leagues through the night, ten leagues
through the snow, and with empty stomachs, and I thought to myself:
"'It is all over; my poor devils of fellows will never be able to do it.'
"We had eaten nothing since the day before, and the whole day long we
remained hidden in a barn, huddled close together, so as not to feel the
cold so much, unable to speak or even move, and sleeping by fits and
starts, as one does when worn out with fatigue.
"It was dark by five o'clock, that wan darkness of the snow, and I shook
my men. Some of them would not get up; they were almost incapable of
moving or of standing upright; their joints were stiff from cold and
"Before us there was a large expanse of flat, bare country; the snow was
still falling like a curtain, in large, white flakes, which concealed
everything under a thick, frozen coverlet, a coverlet of frozen wool One
might have thought that it was the end of the world.
"'Come, my lads, let us start.'
"They looked at the thick white flakes that were coming down, and they
seemed to think: 'We have had enough of this; we may just as well die
here!' Then I took out my revolver and said:
"'I will shoot the first man who flinches.' And so they set off, but very
slowly, like men whose legs were of very little use to them, and I sent
four of them three hundred yards ahead to scout, and the others followed
pell-mell, walking at random and without any order. I put the strongest
in the rear, with orders to quicken the pace of the sluggards with the
points of their bayonets in the back.
"The snow seemed as if it were going to bury us alive; it powdered our
kepis and cloaks without melting, and made phantoms of us, a kind of
spectres of dead, weary soldiers. I said to myself: 'We shall never get
out of this except by a, miracle.'
"Sometimes we had to stop for a few minutes, on account of those who
could not follow us, and then we heard nothing except the falling snow,
that vague, almost undiscernible sound made by the falling flakes. Some
of the men shook themselves, others did not move, and so I gave the order
to set off again. They shouldered their rifles, and with weary feet we
resumed our march, when suddenly the scouts fell back. Something had
alarmed them; they had heard voices in front of them. I sent forward six
men and a sergeant and waited.
"All at once a shrill cry, a woman's cry, pierced through the heavy
silence of the snow, and in a few minutes they brought back two
prisoners, an old man and a girl, whom I questioned in a low voice. They
were escaping from the Prussians, who had occupied their house during the
evening and had got drunk. The father was alarmed on his daughter's
account, and, without even telling their servants, they had made their
escape in the darkness. I saw immediately that they belonged to the
better class. I invited them to accompany us, and we started off again,
the old man who knew the road acting as our guide.
"It had ceased snowing, the stars appeared and the cold became intense.
The girl, who was leaning on her father's arm, walked unsteadily as
though in pain, and several times she murmured:
"'I have no feeling at all in my feet'; and I suffered more than she did
to see that poor little woman dragging herself like that through the
snow. But suddenly she stopped and said:
"'Father, I am so tired that I cannot go any further.'
"The old man wanted to carry her, but he could not even lift her up, and
she sank to the ground with a deep sigh. We all gathered round her, and,
as for me, I stamped my foot in perplexity, not knowing what to do, and
being unwilling to abandon that man and girl like that, when suddenly one
of the soldiers, a Parisian whom they had nicknamed Pratique, said:
"'Come, comrades, we must carry the young lady, otherwise we shall not
show ourselves Frenchmen, confound it!'
"I really believe that I swore with pleasure. 'That is very good of you,
my children,' I said; 'and I will take my share of the burden.'
"We could indistinctly see, through the darkness, the trees of a little
wood on the left. Several of the men went into it, and soon came back
with a bundle of branches made into a litter.
"'Who will lend his cape? It is for a pretty girl, comrades,' Pratique
said, and ten cloaks were thrown to him. In a moment the girl was lying,
warm and comfortable, among them, and was raised upon six shoulders. I
placed myself at their head, on the right, well pleased with my position.
"We started off much more briskly, as if we had had a drink of wine, and
I even heard some jokes. A woman is quite enough to electrify Frenchmen,
you see. The soldiers, who had become cheerful and warm, had almost
reformed their ranks, and an old 'franc-tireur' who was following the
litter, waiting for his turn to replace the first of his comrades who
might give out, said to one of his neighbors, loud enough for me to hear:
"'I am not a young man now, but by ---, there is nothing like the women
to put courage into you!'
"We went on, almost without stopping, until three o'clock in the morning,
when suddenly our scouts fell back once more, and soon the whole
detachment showed nothing but a vague shadow on the ground, as the men
lay on the snow. I gave my orders in a low voice, and heard the harsh,
metallic sound of the cocking, of rifles. For there, in the middle of
the plain, some strange object was moving about. It looked like some
enormous animal running about, now stretching out like a serpent, now
coiling itself into a ball, darting to the right, then to the left, then
stopping, and presently starting off again. But presently that wandering
shape came nearer, and I saw a dozen lancers at full gallop, one behind
the other. They had lost their way and were trying to find it.
"They were so near by that time that I could hear the loud breathing of
their horses, the clinking of their swords and the creaking of their
saddles, and cried: 'Fire!'
"Fifty rifle shots broke the stillness of the night, then there were four
or five reports, and at last one single shot was heard, and when the
smoke had cleared away, we saw that the twelve men and nine horses had
fallen. Three of the animals were galloping away at a furious pace, and
one of them was dragging the dead body of its rider, which rebounded
violently from the ground; his foot had caught in the stirrup.
"One of the soldiers behind me gave a terrible laugh and said: 'There
will be some widows there!'
"Perhaps he was married. A third added: 'It did not take long!'
"A head emerged from the litter.
"'What is the matter?' she asked; 'are you fighting?'
"'It is nothing, mademoiselle,' I replied; 'we have got rid of a dozen
"'Poor fellows!' she said. But as she was cold, she quickly disappeared
beneath the cloaks again, and we started off once more. We marched on
for a long time, and at last the sky began to grow lighter. The snow
became quite clear, luminous and glistening, and a rosy tint appeared in
the east. Suddenly a voice in the distance cried:
"'Who goes there?'
"The whole detachment halted, and I advanced to give the countersign.
We had reached the French lines, and, as my men defiled before the
outpost, a commandant on horseback, whom I had informed of what had taken
place, asked in a sonorous voice, as he saw the litter pass him: 'What
have you in there?'
"And immediately a small head covered with light hair appeared,
dishevelled and smiling, and replied:
"'It is I, monsieur.'
"At this the men raised a hearty laugh, and we felt quite light-hearted,
while Pratique, who was walking by the side of the litter, waved his kepi
"'Vive la France!' And I felt really affected. I do not know why,
except that I thought it a pretty and gallant thing to say.
"It seemed to me as if we had just saved the whole of France and had done
something that other men could not have done, something simple and really
patriotic. I shall never forget that little face, you may be sure; and
if I had to give my opinion about abolishing drums, trumpets and bugles,
I should propose to replace them in every regiment by a pretty girl, and
that would be even better than playing the 'Marseillaise: By Jove! it
would put some spirit into a trooper to have a Madonna like that, a live
Madonna, by the colonel's side."
He was silent for a few moments and then continued, with an air of
conviction, and nodding his head:
"All the same, we are very fond of women, we Frenchmen!"
Fifteen years had passed since I was at Virelogne. I returned there in
the autumn to shoot with my friend Serval, who had at last rebuilt his
chateau, which the Prussians had destroyed.
I loved that district. It is one of those delightful spots which have a
sensuous charm for the eyes. You love it with a physical love. We, whom
the country enchants, keep tender memories of certain springs, certain
woods, certain pools, certain hills seen very often which have stirred us
like joyful events. Sometimes our thoughts turn back to a corner in a
forest, or the end of a bank, or an orchard filled with flowers, seen but
a single time on some bright day, yet remaining in our hearts like the
image of certain women met in the street on a spring morning in their
light, gauzy dresses, leaving in soul and body an unsatisfied desire
which is not to be forgotten, a feeling that you have just passed by
At Virelogne I loved the whole countryside, dotted with little woods and
crossed by brooks which sparkled in the sun and looked like veins
carrying blood to the earth. You fished in them for crawfish, trout and
eels. Divine happiness! You could bathe in places and you often found
snipe among the high grass which grew along the borders of these small
I was stepping along light as a goat, watching my two dogs running ahead
of me, Serval, a hundred metres to my right, was beating a field of
lucerne. I turned round by the thicket which forms the boundary of the
wood of Sandres and I saw a cottage in ruins.
Suddenly I remembered it as I had seen it the last time, in 1869, neat,
covered with vines, with chickens before the door. What is sadder than a
dead house, with its skeleton standing bare and sinister?
I also recalled that inside its doors, after a very tiring day, the good
woman had given me a glass of wine to drink and that Serval had told me
the history of its people. The father, an old poacher, had been killed
by the gendarmes. The son, whom I had once seen, was a tall, dry fellow
who also passed for a fierce slayer of game. People called them "Les
Was that a name or a nickname?
I called to Serval. He came up with his long strides like a crane.
I asked him:
"What's become of those people?"
This was his story:
When war was declared the son Sauvage, who was then thirty-three years
old, enlisted, leaving his mother alone in the house. People did not
pity the old woman very much because she had money; they knew it.
She remained entirely alone in that isolated dwelling, so far from the
village, on the edge of the wood. She was not afraid, however, being of
the same strain as the men folk--a hardy old woman, tall and thin, who
seldom laughed and with whom one never jested. The women of the fields
laugh but little in any case, that is men's business. But they
themselves have sad and narrowed hearts, leading a melancholy, gloomy
life. The peasants imbibe a little noisy merriment at the tavern, but
their helpmates always have grave, stern countenances. The muscles of
their faces have never learned the motions of laughter.
Mother Sauvage continued her ordinary existence in her cottage, which was
soon covered by the snows. She came to the village once a week to get
bread and a little meat. Then she returned to her house. As there was
talk of wolves, she went out with a gun upon her shoulder--her son's gun,
rusty and with the butt worn by the rubbing of the hand--and she was a
strange sight, the tall "Sauvage," a little bent, going with slow strides
over the snow, the muzzle of the piece extending beyond the black
headdress, which confined her head and imprisoned her white hair, which
no one had ever seen.
One day a Prussian force arrived. It was billeted upon the inhabitants,
according to the property and resources of each. Four were allotted to
the old woman, who was known to be rich.
They were four great fellows with fair complexion, blond beards and blue
eyes, who had not grown thin in spite of the fatigue which they had
endured already and who also, though in a conquered country, had remained
kind and gentle. Alone with this aged woman, they showed themselves full
of consideration, sparing her, as much as they could, all expense and
fatigue. They could be seen, all four of them, making their toilet at
the well in their shirt-sleeves in the gray dawn, splashing with great
swishes of water their pink-white northern skin, while La Mere Sauvage
went and came, preparing their soup. They would be seen cleaning the
kitchen, rubbing the tiles, splitting wood, peeling potatoes, doing up
all the housework like four good sons around their mother.
But the old woman thought always of her own son, so tall and thin, with
his hooked nose and his brown eyes and his heavy mustache which made a
roll of black hair upon his lip. She asked every day of each of the
soldiers who were installed beside her hearth: "Do you know where the
French marching regiment, No. 23, was sent? My boy is in it."
They invariably answered, "No, we don't know, don't know a thing at all."
And, understanding her pain and her uneasiness--they who had mothers,
too, there at home--they rendered her a thousand little services. She
loved them well, moreover, her four enemies, since the peasantry have no
patriotic hatred; that belongs to the upper class alone. The humble,
those who pay the most because they are poor and because every new burden
crushes them down; those who are killed in masses, who make the true
cannon's prey because they are so many; those, in fine, who suffer most
cruelly the atrocious miseries of war because they are the feeblest and
offer least resistance--they hardly understand at all those bellicose
ardors, that excitable sense of honor or those pretended political
combinations which in six months exhaust two nations, the conqueror with
They said in the district, in speaking of the Germans of La Mere Sauvage:
"There are four who have found a soft place."
Now, one morning, when the old woman was alone in the house, she
observed, far off on the plain, a man coming toward her dwelling.
Soon she recognized him; it was the postman to distribute the letters.
He gave her a folded paper and she drew out of her case the spectacles
which she used for sewing. Then she read:
MADAME SAUVAGE: This letter is to tell you sad news. Your boy
Victor was killed yesterday by a shell which almost cut him in two.
I was near by, as we stood next each other in the company, and he
told me about you and asked me to let you know on the same day if
anything happened to him.
I took his watch, which was in his pocket, to bring it back to you
when the war is done.
Soldier of the 2d class, March. Reg. No. 23.
The letter was dated three weeks back.
She did not cry at all. She remained motionless, so overcome and
stupefied that she did not even suffer as yet. She thought: "There's
Victor killed now." Then little by little the tears came to her eyes and
the sorrow filled her heart. Her thoughts came, one by one, dreadful,
torturing. She would never kiss him again, her child, her big boy, never
again! The gendarmes had killed the father, the Prussians had killed the
son. He had been cut in two by a cannon-ball. She seemed to see the
thing, the horrible thing: the head falling, the eyes open, while he
chewed the corner of his big mustache as he always did in moments of
What had they done with his body afterward? If they had only let her
have her boy back as they had brought back her husband--with the bullet
in the middle of the forehead!
But she heard a noise of voices. It was the Prussians returning from the
village. She hid her letter very quickly in her pocket, and she received
them quietly, with her ordinary face, having had time to wipe her eyes.
They were laughing, all four, delighted, for they brought with them a
fine rabbit--stolen, doubtless--and they made signs to the old woman that
there was to be something good to east.
She set herself to work at once to prepare breakfast, but when it came to
killing the rabbit, her heart failed her. And yet it was not the first.
One of the soldiers struck it down with a blow of his fist behind the
The beast once dead, she skinned the red body, but the sight of the blood
which she was touching, and which covered her hands, and which she felt
cooling and coagulating, made her tremble from head to foot, and she kept
seeing her big boy cut in two, bloody, like this still palpitating
She sat down at table with the Prussians, but she could not eat, not even
a mouthful. They devoured the rabbit without bothering themselves about
her. She looked at them sideways, without speaking, her face so
impassive that they perceived nothing.
All of a sudden she said: "I don't even know your names, and here's a
whole month that we've been together." They understood, not without
difficulty, what she wanted, and told their names.
That was not sufficient; she had them written for her on a paper, with
the addresses of their families, and, resting her spectacles on her great
nose, she contemplated that strange handwriting, then folded the sheet
and put it in her pocket, on top of the letter which told her of the
death of her son.
When the meal was ended she said to the men:
"I am going to work for you."
And she began to carry up hay into the loft where they slept.
They were astonished at her taking all this trouble; she explained to
them that thus they would not be so cold; and they helped her. They
heaped the stacks of hay as high as the straw roof, and in that manner
they made a sort of great chamber with four walls of fodder, warm and
perfumed, where they should sleep splendidly.
At dinner one of them was worried to see that La Mere Sauvage still ate
nothing. She told him that she had pains in her stomach. Then she
kindled a good fire to warm herself, and the four Germans ascended to
their lodging-place by the ladder which served them every night for this
As soon as they closed the trapdoor the old woman removed the ladder,
then opened the outside door noiselessly and went back to look for more
bundles of straw, with which she filled her kitchen. She went barefoot
in the snow, so softly that no sound was heard. From time to time she
listened to the sonorous and unequal snoring of the four soldiers who
were fast asleep.
When she judged her preparations to be sufficient, she threw one of the
bundles into the fireplace, and when it was alight she scattered it over
all the others. Then she went outside again and looked.
In a few seconds the whole interior of the cottage was illumined with a
brilliant light and became a frightful brasier, a gigantic fiery furnace,
whose glare streamed out of the narrow window and threw a glittering beam
upon the snow.
Then a great cry issued from the top of the house; it was a clamor of men
shouting heartrending calls of anguish and of terror. Finally the
trapdoor having given way, a whirlwind of fire shot up into the loft,
pierced the straw roof, rose to the sky like the immense flame of a
torch, and all the cottage flared.
Nothing more was heard therein but the crackling of the fire, the
cracking of the walls, the falling of the rafters. Suddenly the roof
fell in and the burning carcass of the dwelling hurled a great plume of
sparks into the air, amid a cloud of smoke.
The country, all white, lit up by the fire, shone like a cloth of silver
tinted with red.
A bell, far off, began to toll.
The old "Sauvage" stood before her ruined dwelling, armed with her gun,
her son's gun, for fear one of those men might escape.
When she saw that it was ended, she threw her weapon into the brasier.
A loud report followed.
People were coming, the peasants, the Prussians.
They found the woman seated on the trunk of a tree, calm and satisfied.
A German officer, but speaking French like a son of France, demanded:
"Where are your soldiers?"
She reached her bony arm toward the red heap of fire which was almost out
and answered with a strong voice:
They crowded round her. The Prussian asked:
"How did it take fire?"
"It was I who set it on fire."
They did not believe her, they thought that the sudden disaster had made
her crazy. While all pressed round and listened, she told the story from
beginning to end, from the arrival of the letter to the last shriek of
the men who were burned with her house, and never omitted a detail.
When she had finished, she drew two pieces of paper from her pocket, and,
in order to distinguish them by the last gleams of the fire, she again
adjusted her spectacles. Then she said, showing one:
"That, that is the death of Victor." Showing the other, she added,
indicating the red ruins with a bend of the head: "Here are their names,
so that you can write home." She quietly held a sheet of paper out to
the officer, who held her by the shoulders, and she continued:
"You must write how it happened, and you must say to their mothers that
it was I who did that, Victoire Simon, la Sauvage! Do not forget."
The officer shouted some orders in German. They seized her, they threw
her against the walls of her house, still hot. Then twelve men drew
quickly up before her, at twenty paces. She did not move. She had
understood; she waited.
An order rang out, followed instantly by a long report. A belated shot
went off by itself, after the others.
The old woman did not fall. She sank as though they had cut off her
The Prussian officer approached. She was almost cut in two, and in her
withered hand she held her letter bathed with blood.
My friend Serval added:
"It was by way of reprisal that the Germans destroyed the chateau of the
district, which belonged to me."
I thought of the mothers of those four fine fellows burned in that house
and of the horrible heroism of that other mother shot against the wall.
And I picked up a little stone, still blackened by the flames.
I should say I did remember that Epiphany supper during the war!
exclaimed Count de Garens, an army captain.
I was quartermaster of cavalry at the time, and for a fortnight had been
scouting in front of the German advance guard. The evening before we had
cut down a few Uhlans and had lost three men, one of whom was that poor
little Raudeville. You remember Joseph de Raudeville, of course.
Well, on that day my commanding officer ordered me to take six troopers
and to go and occupy the village of Porterin, where there had been five
skirmishes in three weeks, and to hold it all night. There were not
twenty houses left standing, not a dozen houses in that wasps' nest. So
I took ten troopers and set out about four o'clock, and at five o'clock,
while it was still pitch dark, we reached the first houses of Porterin.
I halted and ordered Marchas--you know Pierre de Marchas, who afterward
married little Martel-Auvelin, the daughter of the Marquis de Martel-
Auvelin--to go alone into the village, and to report to me what he saw.
I had selected nothing but volunteers, all men of good family. It is
pleasant when on duty not to be forced to be on intimate terms with
unpleasant fellows. This Marchas was as smart as possible, cunning as a
fox and supple as a serpent. He could scent the Prussians as a dog can
scent a hare, could discover food where we should have died of hunger
without him, and obtained information from everybody, and information
which was always reliable, with incredible cleverness.
In ten minutes he returned. "All right," he said; "there have been no
Prussians here for three days. It is a sinister place, is this village.
I have been talking to a Sister of Mercy, who is caring for four or five
wounded men in an abandoned convent."
I ordered them to ride on, and we entered the principal street. On the
right and left we could vaguely see roofless walls, which were hardly
visible in the profound darkness. Here and there a light was burning in
a room; some family had remained to keep its house standing as well as
they were able; a family of brave or of poor people. The rain began to
fall, a fine, icy cold rain, which froze as it fell on our cloaks.
The horses stumbled against stones, against beams, against furniture.
Marchas guided us, going before us on foot, and leading his horse by the
"Where are you taking us to?" I asked him. And he replied: "I have a
place for us to lodge in, and a rare good one." And we presently stopped
before a small house, evidently belonging to some proprietor of the
middle class. It stood on the street, was quite inclosed, and had a
garden in the rear.
Marchas forced open the lock by means of a big stone which he picked up
near the garden gate; then he mounted the steps, smashed in the front
door with his feet and shoulders, lit a bit of wax candle, which he was
never without, and went before us into the comfortable apartments of some
rich private individual, guiding us with admirable assurance, as if he
lived in this house which he now saw for the first time.
Two troopers remained outside to take care of our horses, and Marchas
said to stout Ponderel, who followed him: "The stables must be on the
left; I saw that as we came in; go and put the animals up there, for we
do not need them"; and then, turning to me, he said: "Give your orders,
confound it all!"
This fellow always astonished me, and I replied with a laugh: "I will
post my sentinels at the country approaches and will return to you here."
"How many men are you going to take?"
"Five. The others will relieve them at five o'clock in the evening."
"Very well. Leave me four to look after provisions, to do the cooking
and to set the table. I will go and find out where the wine is hidden."
I went off, to reconnoitre the deserted streets until they ended in the
open country, so as to post my sentries there.
Half an hour later I was back, and found Marchas lounging in a great
easy-chair, the covering of which he had taken off, from love of luxury,
as he said. He was warming his feet at the fire and smoking an excellent
cigar, whose perfume filled the room. He was alone, his elbows resting
on the arms of the chair, his head sunk between his shoulders, his cheeks
flushed, his eyes bright, and looking delighted.
I heard the noise of plates and dishes in the next room, and Marchas said
to me, smiling in a con tented manner: "This is famous; I found the
champagne under the flight of steps outside, the brandy--fifty bottles of
the very finest in the kitchen garden under a pear tree, which did not
seem to me to be quite straight when I looked at it by the light of my
lantern. As for solids, we have two fowls, a goose, a duck, and three
pigeons. They are being cooked at this moment. It is a delightful
I sat down opposite him, and the fire in the grate was burning my nose
and cheeks. "Where did you find this wood?" I asked. "Splendid wood,"
he replied. "The owner's carriage. It is the paint which is causing all
this flame, an essence of punch and varnish. A capital house!"
I laughed, for I saw the creature was funny, and he went on: "Fancy this
being the Epiphany! I have had a bean put into the goose dressing; but
there is no queen; it is really very annoying!" And I repeated like an
echo: "It is annoying, but what do you want me to do in the matter?"
"To find some, of course." "Some women. Women?--you must be mad?" "I
managed to find the brandy under the pear tree, and the champagne under
the steps; and yet there was nothing to guide me, while as for you, a
petticoat is a sure bait. Go and look, old fellow."
He looked so grave, so convinced, that I could not tell whether he was
joking or not, and so I replied: "Look here, Marchas, are you having a
joke with me?" "I never joke on duty." "But where the devil do you
expect me to find any women?" "Where you like; there must be two or
three remaining in the neighborhood, so ferret them out and bring them
I got up, for it was too hot in front of the fire, and Marchas went off:
"Do you want an idea?" "Yes." "Go and see the priest." "The priest?
What for?" "Ask him to supper, and beg him to bring a woman with him."
"The priest! A woman! Ha! ha! ha!"
But Marchas continued with extraordinary gravity: "I am not laughing; go
and find the priest and tell him how we are situated, and, as he must be
horribly dull, he will come. But tell him that we want one woman at
least, a lady, of course, since we, are all men of the world. He is sure
to know his female parishioners on the tips of his fingers, and if there
is one to suit us, and you manage it well, he will suggest her to you."
"Come, come, Marchas, what are you thinking of?" "My dear Garens, you
can do this quite well. It will even be very funny. We are well bred,
by Jove! and we will put on our most distinguished manners and our
grandest style. Tell the abbe who we are, make him laugh, soften his
heart, coax him and persuade him!" "No, it is impossible."
He drew his chair close to mine, and as he knew my special weakness, the
scamp continued: "Just think what a swaggering thing it will be to do and
how amusing to tell about; the whole army will talk about it, and it will
give you a famous reputation."
I hesitated, for the adventure rather tempted me, and he persisted:
"Come, my little Garens. You are the head of this detachment, and you
alone can go and call on the head of the church in this neighborhood.
I beg of you to go, and I promise you that after the war I will relate
the whole affair in verse in the Revue de Deux Mondes. You owe this much
to your men, for you have made them march enough during the last month."
I got up at last and asked: "Where is the priest's house?" "Take the
second turning at the end of the street, you will see an avenue, and at
the end of the avenue you will find the church. The parsonage is beside
it." As I went out, he called out: "Tell him the bill of fare, to make
I discovered the ecclesiastic's little house without any difficulty; it
was by the side of a large, ugly brick church. I knocked at the door
with my fist, as there was neither bell nor knocker, and a loud voice
from inside asked: "Who is there?" To which I replied: "A quartermaster
I heard the noise of bolts and of a key being turned, and found myself
face to face with a tall priest with a large stomach, the chest of a
prizefighter, formidable hands projecting from turned-up sleeves, a red
face, and the look of a kind man. I gave him a military salute and said:
"Good-day, Monsieur le Cure."
He had feared a surprise, some marauders' ambush, and he smiled as he
replied: "Good-day, my friend; come in." I followed him into a small
room with a red tiled floor, in which a small fire was burning, very
different to Marchas' furnace, and he gave me a chair and said: "What can
I do for you?" "Monsieur, allow me first of all to introduce myself"; and
I gave him my card, which he took and read half aloud: "Le Comte de
I continued: "There are eleven of us here, Monsieur l'Abbe, five on
picket duty, and six installed at the house of an unknown inhabitant.
The names of the six are: Garens, myself; Pierre de Marchas, Ludovic de
Ponderel, Baron d'Streillis, Karl Massouligny, the painter's son, and
Joseph Herbon, a young musician. I have come to ask you, in their name
and my own, to do us the honor of supping with us. It is an Epiphany
supper, Monsieur le Cure, and we should like to make it a little
The priest smiled and murmured: "It seems to me to be hardly a suitable
occasion for amusing one's self." And I replied: "We are fighting during
the day, monsieur. Fourteen of our comrades have been killed in a month,
and three fell as late as yesterday. It is war time. We stake our life
at every moment; have we not, therefore, the right to amuse ourselves
freely? We are Frenchmen, we like to laugh, and we can laugh everywhere.
Our fathers laughed on the scaffold! This evening we should like to
cheer ourselves up a little, like gentlemen, and not like soldiers; you
understand me, I hope. Are we wrong?"
He replied quickly: "You are quite right, my friend, and I accept your
invitation with great pleasure." Then he called out: "Hermance!"
An old bent, wrinkled, horrible peasant woman appeared and said: "What do
you want?" "I shall not dine at home, my daughter." "Where are you
going to dine then?" "With some gentlemen, the hussars."
I felt inclined to say: "Bring your servant with you," just to see
Marchas' face, but I did not venture, and continued: "Do you know any one
among your parishioners, male or female, whom I could invite as well?"
He hesitated, reflected, and then said:, "No, I do not know anybody!"
I persisted: "Nobody! Come, monsieur, think; it would be very nice to
have some ladies, I mean to say, some married couples! I know nothing
about your parishioners. The baker and his wife, the grocer, the--the--
the--watchmaker--the--shoemaker--the--the druggist with Mrs. Druggist.
We have a good spread and plenty of wine, and we should be enchanted to
leave pleasant recollections of ourselves with the people here."
The priest thought again for a long time, and then said resolutely: "No,
there is nobody." I began to laugh. "By Jove, Monsieur le Cure, it is
very annoying not to have an Epiphany queen, for we have the bean. Come,
think. Is there not a married mayor, or a married deputy mayor, or a
married municipal councillor or a schoolmaster?" "No, all the ladies
have gone away." "What, is there not in the whole place some good
tradesman's wife with her good tradesman, to whom we might give this
pleasure, for it would be a pleasure to them, a great pleasure under
But, suddenly, the cure began to laugh, and laughed so violently that he
fairly shook, and presently exclaimed: "Ha! ha! ha! I have got what
you want, yes. I have got what you want! Ha! ha! ha! We will laugh
and enjoy ourselves, my children; we will have some fun. How pleased the
ladies will be, I say, how delighted they will be! Ha! ha! Where are
I described the house, and he understood where it was. "Very good," he
said. "It belongs to Monsieur Bertin-Lavaille. I will be there in half
an hour, with four ladies! Ha! ha! ha! four ladies!"
He went out with me, still laughing, and left me, repeating: "That is
capital; in half an hour at Bertin-Lavaille's house."
I returned quickly, very much astonished and very much puzzled. "Covers
for how many?" Marchas asked, as soon as he saw me. "Eleven. There are
six of us hussars, besides the priest and four ladies." He was
thunderstruck, and I was triumphant. He repeated: "Four ladies! Did you
say, four ladies?" "I said four women." "Real women?" "Real women."
"Well, accept my compliments!" "I will, for I deserve them."
He got out of his armchair, opened the door, and I saw a beautiful white
tablecloth on a long table, round which three hussars in blue aprons were
setting out the plates and glasses. "There are some women coming!"
Marchas cried. And the three men began to dance and to cheer with all
Everything was ready, and we were waiting. We waited for nearly an hour,
while a delicious smell of roast poultry pervaded the whole house. At
last, however, a knock against the shutters made us all jump up at the
same moment. Stout Ponderel ran to open the door, and in less than a
minute a little Sister of Mercy appeared in the doorway. She was thin,
wrinkled and timid, and successively greeted the four bewildered hussars
who saw her enter. Behind her, the noise of sticks sounded on the tiled
floor in the vestibule, and as soon as she had come into the drawing-
room, I saw three old heads in white caps, following each other one by
one, who came in, swaying with different movements, one inclining to the
right, while the other inclined to the left. And three worthy women
appeared, limping, dragging their legs behind them, crippled by illness
and deformed through old age, three infirm old women, past service, the
only three pensioners who were able to walk in the home presided over by
She had turned round to her invalids, full of anxiety for them, and then,
seeing my quartermaster's stripes, she said to me: "I am much obliged to
you for thinking of these poor women. They have very little pleasure in
life, and you are at the same time giving them a great treat and doing
them a great honor."
I saw the priest, who had remained in the dark hallway, and was laughing
heartily, and I began to laugh in my turn, especially when I saw Marchas'
face. Then, motioning the nun to the seats, I said:
"Sit down, sister; we are very proud and very happy that you have
accepted our unpretentious invitation."
She took three chairs which stood against the wall, set them before the
fire, led her three old women to them, settled them on them, took their
sticks and shawls, which she put into a corner, and then, pointing to the
first, a thin woman with an enormous stomach, who was evidently suffering
from the dropsy, she said: "This is Mother Paumelle; whose husband was
killed by falling from a roof, and whose son died in Africa; she is sixty
years old." Then she pointed to another, a tall woman, whose head
trembled unceasingly: "This is Mother Jean-Jean, who is sixty-seven. She
is nearly blind, for her face was terribly singed in a fire, and her
right leg was half burned off."
Then she pointed to the third, a sort of dwarf, with protruding, round,
stupid eyes, which she rolled incessantly in all directions, "This is La
Putois, an idiot. She is only forty-four."
I bowed to the three women as if I were being presented to some royal
highnesses, and turning to the priest, I said: "You are an excellent man,
Monsieur l'Abbe, to whom all of us here owe a debt of gratitude."
Everybody was laughing, in fact, except Marchas, who seemed furious, and
just then Karl Massouligny cried: "Sister Saint-Benedict, supper is on
I made her go first with the priest, then I helped up Mother Paumelle,
whose arm I took and dragged her into the next room, which was no easy
task, for she seemed heavier than a lump of iron.
Stout Ponderel gave his arm to Mother Jean-Jean, who bemoaned her crutch,
and little Joseph Herbon took the idiot, La Putois, to the dining-room,
which was filled with the odor of the viands.
As soon as we were opposite our plates, the sister clapped her hands
three times, and, with the precision of soldiers presenting arms, the
women made a rapid sign of the cross, and then the priest slowly repeated
the Benedictus in Latin. Then we sat down, and the two fowls appeared,
brought in by Marchas, who chose to wait at table, rather than to sit
down as a guest to this ridiculous repast.
But I cried: "Bring the champagne at once!" and a cork flew out with the
noise of a pistol, and in spite of the resistance of the priest and of
the kind sister, the three hussars, sitting by the side of the three
invalids, emptied their three full glasses down their throats by force.
Massouligny, who possessed the faculty of making himself at home, and of
being on good terms with every one, wherever he was, made love to Mother
Paumelle in the drollest manner. The dropsical woman, who had retained
her cheerfulness in spite of her misfortunes, answered him banteringly in
a high falsetto voice which appeared as if it were put on, and she
laughed so heartily at her neighbor's jokes that it was quite alarming.
Little Herbon had seriously undertaken the task of making the idiot
drunk, and Baron d'Streillis, whose wits were not always particularly
sharp, was questioning old Jean-Jean about the life, the habits, and the
rules of the hospital.
The nun said to Massouligny in consternation:
"Oh! oh! you will make her ill; pray do not make her laugh like that,
monsieur. Oh! monsieur--" Then she got up and rushed at Herbon to take
from him a full glass which he was hastily emptying down La Putois'
throat, while the priest shook with laughter, and said to the sister:
"Never mind; just this once, it will not hurt them. Do leave them
After the two fowls they ate the duck, which was flanked by the three
pigeons and the blackbird, and then the goose appeared, smoking, golden-
brown, and diffusing a warm odor of hot, browned roast meat. La
Paumelle, who was getting lively, clapped her hands; La Jean-Jean left
off answering the baron's numerous questions, and La Putois uttered.
grunts of pleasure, half cries and half sighs, as little children do when
one shows them candy. "Allow me to take charge of this animal," the cure
said. "I understand these sort of operations better than most people."
"Certainly, Monsieur l'Abbe," and the sister said: "How would it be to
open the window a little? They are too warm, and I am afraid they will
I turned to Marchas : "Open the window for a minute." He did so; the
cold outer air as it came in made the candles flare, and the steam from
the goose, which the cure was scientifically carving, with a table napkin
round his neck, whirl about. We watched him doing it, without speaking
now, for we were interested in his attractive handiwork, and seized with
renewed appetite at the sight of that enormous golden-brown bird, whose
limbs fell one after another into the brown gravy at the bottom of the
dish. At that moment, in the midst of that greedy silence which kept us
all attentive, the distant report of a shot came in at the open window.
I started to my feet so quickly that my chair fell down behind me, and I
shouted: "To saddle, all of you! You, Marches, take two men and go and
see what it is. I shall expect you back here in five minutes." And
while the three riders went off at full gallop through the night, I got
into the saddle with my three remaining hussars, in front of the steps of
the villa, while the cure, the sister and the three old women showed
their frightened faces at the window.
We heard nothing more, except the barking of a dog in the distance. The
rain had ceased, and it was cold, very cold, and soon I heard the gallop
of a horse, of a single horse, coming back. It was Marchas, and I called
out to him: "Well?" "It is nothing; Francois has wounded an old peasant
who refused to answer his challenge: 'Who goes there?' and who continued
to advance in spite of the order to keep off; but they are bringing him
here, and we shall see what is the matter."
I gave orders for the horses to be put back in the stable, and I sent my
two soldiers to meet the others, and returned to the house. Then the
cure, Marchas, and I took a mattress into the room to lay the wounded man
on; the sister tore up a table napkin in order to make lint, while the
three frightened women remained huddled up in a corner.
Soon I heard the rattle of sabres on the road, and I took a candle to
show a light to the men who were returning; and they soon appeared,
carrying that inert, soft, long, sinister object which a human body
becomes when life no longer sustains it.
They put the wounded man on the mattress that had been prepared for him,
and I saw at the first glance that he was dying. He had the death rattle
and was spitting up blood, which ran out of the corners of his mouth at
every gasp. The man was covered with blood! His cheeks, his beard, his
hair, his neck and his clothes seemed to have been soaked, to have been
dipped in a red tub; and that blood stuck to him, and had become a dull
color which was horrible to look at.
The wounded man, wrapped up in a large shepherd's cloak, occasionally
opened his dull, vacant eyes, which seemed stupid with astonishment, like
those of animals wounded by a sportsman, which fall at his feet, more
than half dead already, stupefied with terror and surprise.
The cure exclaimed: "Ah, it is old Placide, the shepherd from Les
Moulins. He is deaf, poor man, and heard nothing. Ah! Oh, God! they
have killed the unhappy man!" The sister had opened his blouse and
shirt, and was looking at a little blue hole in his chest, which was not
bleeding any more. "There is nothing to be done," she said.
The shepherd was gasping terribly and bringing up blood with every last
breath, and in his throat, to the very depth of his lungs, they could
hear an ominous and continued gurgling. The cure, standing in front of
him, raised his right hand, made the sign of the cross, and in a slow and
solemn voice pronounced the Latin words which purify men's souls, but
before they were finished, the old man's body trembled violently, as if
something had given way inside him, and he ceased to breathe. He was
When I turned round, I saw a sight which was even more horrible than the
death struggle of this unfortunate man; the three old women were standing
up huddled close together, hideous, and grimacing with fear and horror.
I went up to them, and they began to utter shrill screams, while La Jean-
Jean, whose burned leg could no longer support her, fell to the ground at
Sister Saint-Benedict left the dead man, ran up to her infirm old women,
and without a word or a look for me, wrapped their shawls round them,
gave them their crutches, pushed them to the door, made them go out, and
disappeared with them into the dark night.
I saw that I could not even let a hussar accompany them, for the mere
rattle of a sword would have sent them mad with fear.
The cure was still looking at the dead man; but at last he turned round
to me and said:
"Oh! What a horrible thing!"
CHATEAU DE SOLLES,
July 30, 1883.
My Dear Lucy:
I have no news. We live in the drawing-room, looking out at the rain.
We cannot go out in this frightful weather, so we have theatricals.
How stupid they are, my dear, these drawing entertainments in the
repertory of real life! All is forced, coarse, heavy. The jokes are
like cannon balls, smashing everything in their passage. No wit, nothing
natural, no sprightliness, no elegance. These literary men, in truth,
know nothing of society. They are perfectly ignorant of how people think
and talk in our set. I do not mind if they despise our customs, our
conventionalities, but I do not forgive them for not knowing them. When
they want to be humorous they make puns that would do for a barrack; when
they try to be jolly, they give us jokes that they must have picked up on
the outer boulevard in those beer houses artists are supposed to
frequent, where one has heard the same students' jokes for fifty years.
So we have taken to Theatricals. As we are only two women, my husband
takes the part of a soubrette, and, in order to do that, he has shaved
off his mustache. You cannot imagine, my dear Lucy, how it changes him!
I no longer recognize him-by day or at night. If he did not let it grow
again I think I should no longer love him; he looks so horrid like this.
In fact, a man without a mustache is no longer a man. I do not care much
for a beard; it almost always makes a man look untidy. But a mustache,
oh, a mustache is indispensable to a manly face. No, you would never
believe how these little hair bristles on the upper lip are a relief to
the eye and good in other ways. I have thought over the matter a great
deal but hardly dare to write my thoughts. Words look so different on
paper and the subject is so difficult, so delicate, so dangerous that it
requires infinite skill to tackle it.
Well, when my husband appeared, shaven, I understood at once that I never
could fall in love with a strolling actor nor a preacher, even if it were
Father Didon, the most charming of all! Later when I was alone with him
(my husband) it was worse still. Oh, my dear Lucy, never let yourself be
kissed by a man without a mustache; their kisses have no flavor, none
whatever! They no longer have the charm, the mellowness and the snap-
yes, the snap--of a real kiss. The mustache is the spice.
Imagine placing to your lips a piece of dry--or moist--parchment. That
is the kiss of the man without a mustache. It is not worth while.
Whence comes this charm of the mustache, will you tell me? Do I know
myself? It tickles your face, you feel it approaching your mouth and it
sends a little shiver through you down to the tips of your toes.
And on your neck! Have you ever felt a mustache on your neck? It
intoxicates you, makes you feel creepy, goes to the tips of your fingers.
You wriggle, shake your shoulders, toss back your head. You wish to get
away and at the same time to remain there; it is delightful, but
irritating. But how good it is!
A lip without a mustache is like a body without clothing; and one must
wear clothes, very few, if you like, but still some clothing.
I recall a sentence (uttered by a politician) which has been running in
my mind for three months. My husband, who keeps up with the newspapers,
read me one evening a very singular speech by our Minister of
Agriculture, who was called M. Meline. He may have been superseded by
this time. I do not know.
I was paying no attention, but the name Meline struck me. It recalled,
I do not exactly know why, the 'Scenes de la vie de boheme'. I thought
it was about some grisette. That shows how scraps of the speech entered
my mind. This M. Meline was making this statement to the people of
Amiens, I believe, and I have ever since been trying to understand what
he meant: "There is no patriotism without agriculture!" Well, I have
just discovered his meaning, and I affirm in my turn that there is no
love without a mustache. When you say it that way it sounds comical,
does it not?
There is no love without a mustache!
"There is no patriotism without agriculture," said M. Meline, and he was
right, that minister; I now understand why.
From a very different point of view the mustache is essential. It gives
character to the face. It makes a man look gentle, tender, violent, a
monster, a rake, enterprising! The hairy man, who does not shave off his
whiskers, never has a refined look, for his features are concealed; and
the shape of the jaw and the chin betrays a great deal to those who
The man with a mustache retains his own peculiar expression and his
refinement at the same time.
And how many different varieties of mustaches there are! Sometimes they
are twisted, curled, coquettish. Those seem to be chiefly devoted to
Sometimes they are pointed, sharp as needles, and threatening. That kind
prefers wine, horses and war.
Sometimes they are enormous, overhanging, frightful. These big ones
generally conceal a fine disposition, a kindliness that borders on
weakness and a gentleness that savors of timidity.
But what I adore above all in the mustache is that it is French,
altogether French. It came from our ancestors, the Gauls, and has
remained the insignia of our national character.
It is boastful, gallant and brave. It sips wine gracefully and knows how
to laugh with refinement, while the broad-bearded jaws are clumsy in
everything they do.
I recall something that made me weep all my tears and also--I see it now
--made me love a mustache on a man's face.
It was during the war, when I was living with my father. I was a young
girl then. One day there was a skirmish near the chateau. I had heard
the firing of the cannon and of the artillery all the morning, and that
evening a German colonel came and took up his abode in our house. He
left the following day.
My father was informed that there were a number of dead bodies in the
fields. He had them brought to our place so that they might be buried
together. They were laid all along the great avenue of pines as fast as
they brought them in, on both sides of the avenue, and as they began to
smell unpleasant, their bodies were covered with earth until the deep
trench could be dug. Thus one saw only their heads which seemed to
protrude from the clayey earth and were almost as yellow, with their
I wanted to see them. But when I saw those two rows of frightful faces,
I thought I should faint. However, I began to look at them, one by one,
trying to guess what kind of men these had been.
The uniforms were concealed beneath the earth, and yet immediately, yes,
immediately, my dear, I recognized the Frenchmen by their mustache!
Some of them had shaved on the very day of the battle, as though they
wished to be elegant up to the last; others seemed to have a week's
growth, but all wore the French mustache, very plain, the proud mustache
that seems to say: "Do not take me for my bearded friend, little one; I
am a brother."
And I cried, oh, I cried a great deal more than I should if I had not
recognized them, the poor dead fellows.
It was wrong of me to tell you this. Now I am sad and cannot chatter any
longer. Well, good-by, dear Lucy. I send you a hearty kiss. Long live
The first thing I did was to look at the clock as I entered the waiting-
room of the station at Loubain, and I found that I had to wait two hours
and ten minutes for the Paris express.
I had walked twenty miles and felt suddenly tired. Not seeing anything
on the station walls to amuse me, I went outside and stood there racking
my brains to think of something to do. The street was a kind of
boulevard, planted with acacias, and on either side a row of houses of
varying shape and different styles of architecture, houses such as one
only sees in a small town, and ascended a slight hill, at the extreme end
of which there were some trees, as though it ended in a park.
From time to time a cat crossed the street and jumped over the gutters
carefully. A cur sniffed at every tree and hunted for scraps from the
kitchens, but I did not see a single human being, and I felt listless and
disheartened. What could I do with myself? I was already thinking of
the inevitable and interminable visit to the small cafe at the railway
station, where I should have to sit over a glass of undrinkable beer and
the illegible newspaper, when I saw a funeral procession coming out of a
side street into the one in which I was, and the sight of the hearse was
a relief to me. It would, at any rate, give me something to do for ten
Suddenly, however, my curiosity was aroused. The hearse was followed by
eight gentlemen, one of whom was weeping, while the others were chatting
together, but there was no priest, and I thought to myself:
"This is a non-religious funeral," and then I reflected that a town like
Loubain must contain at least a hundred freethinkers, who would have made
a point of making a manifestation. What could it be, then? The rapid
pace of the procession clearly proved that the body was to be buried
without ceremony, and, consequently, without the intervention of the
My idle curiosity framed the most complicated surmises, and as the hearse
passed me, a strange idea struck me, which was to follow it, with the
eight gentlemen. That would take up my time for an hour, at least, and I
accordingly walked with the others, with a sad look on my face, and, on
seeing this, the two last turned round in surprise, and then spoke to
each other in a low voice.
No doubt they were asking each other whether I belonged to the town, and
then they consulted the two in front of them, who stared at me in turn.
This close scrutiny annoyed me, and to put an end to it I went up to
them, and, after bowing, I said:
"I beg your pardon, gentlemen, for interrupting your conversation, but,
seeing a civil funeral, I have followed it, although I did not know the
deceased gentleman whom you are accompanying."
"It was a woman," one of them said.
I was much surprised at hearing this, and asked:
"But it is a civil funeral, is it not?"
The other gentleman, who evidently wished to tell me all about it, then
said: "Yes and no. The clergy have refused to allow us the use of the
On hearing this I uttered a prolonged "A-h!" of astonishment. I could
not understand it at all, but my obliging neighbor continued:
"It is rather a long story. This young woman committed suicide, and that
is the reason why she cannot be buried with any religious ceremony.
The gentleman who is walking first, and who is crying, is her husband."
I replied with some hesitation:
"You surprise and interest me very much, monsieur. Shall I be indiscreet
if I ask you to tell me the facts of the case? If I am troubling you,
forget that I have said anything about the matter."
The gentleman took my arm familiarly.
"Not at all, not at all. Let us linger a little behind the others, and I
will tell it you, although it is a very sad story. We have plenty of
time before getting to the cemetery, the trees of which you see up
yonder, for it is a stiff pull up this hill."
And he began:
"This young woman, Madame Paul Hamot, was the daughter of a wealthy
merchant in the neighborhood, Monsieur Fontanelle. When she was a mere
child of eleven, she had a shocking adventure; a footman attacked her and
she nearly died. A terrible criminal case was the result, and the man
was sentenced to penal servitude for life.
"The little girl grew up, stigmatized by disgrace, isolated, without any
companions; and grown-up people would scarcely kiss her, for they thought
that they would soil their lips if they touched her forehead, and she
became a sort of monster, a phenomenon to all the town. People said to
each other in a whisper: 'You know, little Fontanelle,' and everybody
turned away in the streets when she passed. Her parents could not even
get a nurse to take her out for a walk, as the other servants held aloof
from her, as if contact with her would poison everybody who came near
"It was pitiable to see the poor child go and play every afternoon. She
remained quite by herself, standing by her maid and looking at the other
children amusing themselves. Sometimes, yielding to an irresistible
desire to mix with the other children, she advanced timidly, with nervous
gestures, and mingled with a group, with furtive steps, as if conscious
of her own disgrace. And immediately the mothers, aunts and nurses would
come running from every seat and take the children entrusted to their
care by the hand and drag them brutally away.
"Little Fontanelle remained isolated, wretched, without understanding
what it meant, and then she began to cry, nearly heartbroken with grief,
and then she used to run and hide her head in her nurse's lap, sobbing.
"As she grew up, it was worse still. They kept the girls from her, as if
she were stricken with the plague. Remember that she had nothing to
learn, nothing; that she no longer had the right to the symbolical wreath
of orange-flowers; that almost before she could read she had penetrated
that redoubtable mystery which mothers scarcely allow their daughters to
guess at, trembling as they enlighten them on the night of their
"When she went through the streets, always accompanied by her governess,
as if, her parents feared some fresh, terrible adventure, with her eyes
cast down under the load of that mysterious disgrace which she felt was
always weighing upon her, the other girls, who were not nearly so
innocent as people thought, whispered and giggled as they looked at her
knowingly, and immediately turned their heads absently, if she happened
to look at them. People scarcely greeted her; only a few men bowed to
her, and the mothers pretended not to see her, while some young
blackguards called her Madame Baptiste, after the name of the footman who
had attacked her.
"Nobody knew the secret torture of her mind, for she hardly ever spoke,
and never laughed, and her parents themselves appeared uncomfortable in
her presence, as if they bore her a constant grudge for some irreparable
"An honest man would not willingly give his hand to a liberated convict,
would he, even if that convict were his own son? And Monsieur and Madame
Fontanelle looked on their daughter as they would have done on a son who
had just been released from the hulks. She was pretty and pale, tall,
slender, distinguished-looking, and she would have pleased me very much,
monsieur, but for that unfortunate affair.
"Well, when a new sub-prefect was appointed here, eighteen months ago, he
brought his private secretary with him. He was a queer sort of fellow,
who had lived in the Latin Quarter, it appears. He saw Mademoiselle
Fontanelle and fell in love with her, and when told of what occurred, he
'Bah! That is just a guarantee for the future, and I would rather it
should have happened before I married her than afterward. I shall live
tranquilly with that woman.'
"He paid his addresses to her, asked for her hand and married her, and
then, not being deficient in assurance, he paid wedding calls, as if
nothing had happened. Some people returned them, others did not; but,
at last, the affair began to be forgotten, and she took her proper place
"She adored her husband as if he had been a god; for, you must remember,
he had restored her to honor and to social life, had braved public
opinion, faced insults, and, in a word, performed such a courageous act
as few men would undertake, and she felt the most exalted and tender love
"When she became enceinte, and it was known, the most particular people
and the greatest sticklers opened their doors to her, as if she had been
definitely purified by maternity.
"It is strange, but so it is, and thus everything was going on as well as
possible until the other day, which was the feast of the patron saint of
our town. The prefect, surrounded by his staff and the authorities,
presided at the musical competition, and when he had finished his speech
the distribution of medals began, which Paul Hamot, his private
secretary, handed to those who were entitled to them.
"As you know, there are always jealousies and rivalries, which make
people forget all propriety. All the ladies of the town were there on the
platform, and, in his turn, the bandmaster from the village of Mourmillon
came up. This band was only to receive a second-class medal, for one
cannot give first-class medals to everybody, can one? But when the
private secretary handed him his badge, the man threw it in his face and
"'You may keep your medal for Baptiste. You owe him a first-class one,
also, just as you do me.'
"There were a number of people there who began to laugh. The common herd
are neither charitable nor refined, and every eye was turned toward that
poor lady. Have you ever seen a woman going mad, monsieur? Well, we
were present at the sight! She got up and fell back on her chair three
times in succession, as if she wished to make her escape, but saw that
she could not make her way through the crowd, and then another voice in
the crowd exclaimed:
"'Oh! Oh! Madame Baptiste!'
"And a great uproar, partly of laughter and partly of indignation, arose.
The word was repeated over and over again; people stood on tiptoe to see
the unhappy woman's face; husbands lifted their wives up in their arms,
so that they might see her, and people asked:
"'Which is she? The one in blue?'
"The boys crowed like cocks, and laughter was heard all over the place.
"She did not move now on her state chair, but sat just as if she had been
put there for the crowd to look at. She could not move, nor conceal
herself, nor hide her face. Her eyelids blinked quickly, as if a vivid
light were shining on them, and she breathed heavily, like a horse that
is going up a steep hill, so that it almost broke one's heart to see her.
Meanwhile, however, Monsieur Hamot had seized the ruffian by the throat,
and they were rolling on the ground together, amid a scene of
indescribable confusion, and the ceremony was interrupted.
"An hour later, as the Hamots were returning home, the young woman, who
had not uttered a word since the insult, but who was trembling as if all
her nerves had been set in motion by springs, suddenly sprang over the
parapet of the bridge and threw herself into the river before her husband
could prevent her. The water is very deep under the arches, and it was
two hours before her body was recovered. Of course, she was dead."
The narrator stopped and then added:
"It was, perhaps, the best thing she could do under the circumstances.
There are some things which cannot be wiped out, and now you understand
why the clergy refused to have her taken into church. Ah! If it had been
a religious funeral the whole town would have been present, but you can
understand that her suicide added to the other affair and made families
abstain from attending her funeral; and then, it is not an easy matter
here to attend a funeral which is performed without religious rites."
We passed through the cemetery gates and I waited, much moved by what I
had heard, until the coffin had been lowered into the grave, before I
went up to the poor fellow who was sobbing violently, to press his hand
warmly. He looked at me in surprise through his tears and then said:
"Thank you, monsieur." And I was not sorry that I had followed the
THE QUESTION OF LATIN
This subject of Latin that has been dinned into our ears for some time
past recalls to my mind a story--a story of my youth.
I was finishing my studies with a teacher, in a big central town, at the
Institution Robineau, celebrated through the entire province for the
special attention paid there to the study of Latin.
For the past ten years, the Robineau Institute beat the imperial lycee of
the town at every competitive examination, and all the colleges of the
subprefecture, and these constant successes were due, they said, to an
usher, a simple usher, M. Piquedent, or rather Pere Piquedent.
He was one of those middle-aged men quite gray, whose real age it is
impossible to tell, and whose history we can guess at first glance.
Having entered as an usher at twenty into the first institution that
presented itself so that he could proceed to take first his degree of
Master of Arts and afterward the degree of Doctor of Laws, he found
himself so enmeshed in this routine that he remained an usher all his
life. But his love for Latin did not leave him and harassed him like an
unhealthy passion. He continued to read the poets, the prose writers,
the historians, to interpret them and penetrate their meaning, to comment
on them with a perseverance bordering on madness.
One day, the idea came into his head to oblige all the students in his
class to answer him in Latin only; and he persisted in this resolution
until at last they were capable of sustaining an entire conversation with
him just as they would in their mother tongue. He listened to them, as a
leader of an orchestra listens to his musicians rehearsing, and striking
his desk every moment with his ruler, he exclaimed:
"Monsieur Lefrere, Monsieur Lefrere, you are committing a solecism! You
forget the rule.
"Monsieur Plantel, your way of expressing yourself is altogether French
and in no way Latin. You must understand the genius of a language. Look
here, listen to me."
Now, it came to pass that the pupils of the Institution Robineau carried
off, at the end of the year, all the prizes for composition, translation,
and Latin conversation.
Next year, the principal, a little man, as cunning as an ape, whom he
resembled in his grinning and grotesque appearance, had had printed on
his programmes, on his advertisements, and painted on the door of his
"Latin Studies a Specialty. Five first prizes carried off in the five
classes of the lycee.
"Two honor prizes at the general examinations in competition with all the
lycees and colleges of France."
For ten years the Institution Robineau triumphed in the same fashion.
Now my father, allured by these successes, sent me as a day pupil to
Robineau's--or, as we called it, Robinetto or Robinettino's--and made me
take special private lessons from Pere Piquedent at the rate of five
francs per hour, out of which the usher got two francs and the principal
three francs. I was then eighteen, and was in the philosophy class.
These private lessons were given in a little room looking out on the
street. It so happened that Pere Piquedent, instead of talking Latin to
me, as he did when teaching publicly in the institution, kept telling me
his troubles in French. Without relations, without friends, the poor man
conceived an attachment to me, and poured out his misery to me.
He had never for the last ten or fifteen years chatted confidentially
with any one.
"I am like an oak in a desert," he said--"'sicut quercus in solitudine'."
The other ushers disgusted him. He knew nobody in the town, since he had
no time to devote to making acquaintances.
"Not even the nights, my friend, and that is the hardest thing on me.
The dream of my life is to have a room with my own furniture, my own
books, little things that belong to myself and which others may not
touch. And I have nothing of my own, nothing except my trousers and my
frock-coat, nothing, not even my mattress and my pillow! I have not four
walls to shut myself up in, except when I come to give a lesson in this
room. Do you see what this means--a man forced to spend his life without
ever having the right, without ever finding the time, to shut himself up
all alone, no matter where, to think, to reflect, to work, to dream? Ah!
my dear boy, a key, the key of a door which one can lock--this is
happiness, mark you, the only happiness!
"Here, all day long, teaching all those restless rogues, and during the
night the dormitory with the same restless rogues snoring. And I have to
sleep in the bed at the end of two rows of beds occupied by these
youngsters whom I must look after. I can never be alone, never! If I go
out I find the streets full of people, and, when I am tired of walking,
I go into some cafe crowded with smokers and billiard players. I tell
you what, it is the life of a galley slave."
"Why did you not take up some other line, Monsieur Piquedent?"
"What, my little friend? I am not a shoemaker, or a joiner, or a hatter,
or a baker, or a hairdresser. I only know Latin, and I have no diploma
which would enable me to sell my knowledge at a high price. If I were a
doctor I would sell for a hundred francs what I now sell for a hundred
sous; and I would supply it probably of an inferior quality, for my title
would be enough to sustain my reputation."
Sometimes he would say to me:
"I have no rest in life except in the hours spent with you. Don't be
afraid! you'll lose nothing by that. I'll make it up to you in the
class-room by making you speak twice as much Latin as the others."
One day, I grew bolder, and offered him a cigarette. He stared at me in
astonishment at first, then he gave a glance toward the door.
"If any one were to come in, my dear boy?"
"Well, let us smoke at the window," said I.
And we went and leaned our elbows on the windowsill looking on the
street, holding concealed in our hands the little rolls pf tobacco.
Just opposite to us was a laundry. Four women in loose white waists were
passing hot, heavy irons over the linen spread out before them, from
which a warm steam arose.
Suddenly, another, a fifth, carrying on her arm a large basket which made
her stoop, came out to take the customers their shirts, their
handkerchiefs, and their sheets. She stopped on the threshold as if she
were already fatigued; then, she raised her eyes, smiled as she saw us
smoking, flung at us, with her left hand, which was free, the sly kiss
characteristic of a free-and-easy working-woman, and went away at a slow
place, dragging her feet as she went.
She was a woman of about twenty, small, rather thin, pale, rather pretty,
with a roguish air and laughing eyes beneath her ill-combed fair hair.
Pere Piquedent, affected, began murmuring:
"What an occupation for a woman! Really a trade only fit for a horse."
And he spoke with emotion about the misery of the people. He had a heart
which swelled with lofty democratic sentiment, and he referred to the
fatiguing pursuits of the working class with phrases borrowed from Jean-
Jacques Rousseau, and with sobs in his throat.
Next day, as we were leaning our elbows on the same window sill, the same
woman perceived us and cried out to us:
"Good-day, scholars!" in a comical sort of tone, while she made a
contemptuous gesture with her hands.
I flung her a cigarette, which she immediately began to smoke. And the
four other ironers rushed out to the door with outstretched hands to get
And each day a friendly intercourse was established between the working-
women of the pavement and the idlers of the boarding school.
Pere Piquedent was really a comical sight. He trembled at being noticed,
for he might lose his position; and he made timid and ridiculous
gestures, quite a theatrical display of love signals, to which the women
responded with a regular fusillade of kisses.
A perfidious idea came into my mind. One day, on entering our room, I
said to the old usher in a low tone:
"You would not believe it, Monsieur Piquedent, I met the little
washerwoman! You know the one I mean, the woman who had the basket, and
I spoke to her!"
He asked, rather worried at my manner:
"What did she say to you?"
"She said to me--why, she said she thought you were very nice. The fact
of the matter is, I believe, I believe, that she is a little in love with
you." I saw that he was growing pale.
"She is laughing at me, of course. These things don't happen at my age,"
I said gravely:
"How is that? You are all right."
As I felt that my trick had produced its effect on him, I did not press
But every day I pretended that I had met the little laundress and that I
had spoken to her about him, so that in the end he believed me, and sent
her ardent and earnest kisses.
Now it happened that one morning, on my way to the boarding school, I
really came across her. I accosted her without hesitation, as if I had
known her for the last ten years.
"Good-day, mademoiselle. Are you quite well?"
"Very well, monsieur, thank you."
"Will you have a cigarette?"
"Oh! not in the street."
"You can smoke it at home."
"In that case, I will."
"Let me tell you, mademoiselle, there's something you don't know."
"What is that, monsieur?"
"The old gentleman--my old professor, I mean--"
"Yes, Pere Piquedent. So you know his name?"
"Faith, I do! What of that?"
"Well, he is in love with you!"
She burst out laughing wildly, and exclaimed:
"You are only fooling."
"Oh! no, I am not fooling! He keeps talking of you all through the
lesson. I bet that he'll marry you!
She ceased laughing. The idea of marriage makes every girl serious.
Then she repeated, with an incredulous air:
"This is humbug!"
"I swear to you, it's true."
She picked up her basket which she had laid down at her feet.
"Well, we'll see," she said. And she went away.
Presently when I had reached the boarding school, I took Pere Piquedent
aside, and said:
"You must write to her; she is infatuated with you."
And he wrote a long letter, tenderly affectionate, full of phrases and
circumlocutions, metaphors and similes, philosophy and academic
gallantry; and I took on myself the responsibility of delivering it to
the young woman.
She read it with gravity, with emotion; then she murmured:
"How well he writes! It is easy to see he has got education! Does he
really mean to marry me?"
I replied intrepidly: "Faith, he has lost his head about you!"
"Then he must invite me to dinner on Sunday at the Ile des Fleurs."
I promised that she should be invited.
Pere Piquedent was much touched by everything I told him about her.
"She loves you, Monsieur Piquedent, and I believe her to be a decent
girl. It is not right to lead her on and then abandon her."
He replied in a firm tone:
"I hope I, too, am a decent man, my friend."
I confess I had at the time no plan. I was playing a practical joke a
schoolboy joke, nothing more. I had been aware of the simplicity of the
old usher, his innocence and his weakness. I amused myself without
asking myself how it would turn out. I was eighteen, and I had been for
a long time looked upon at the lycee as a sly practical joker.
So it was agreed that Pere Piquedent and I should set out in a hack for
the ferry of Queue de Vache, that we should there pick up Angele, and
that I should take them into my boat, for in those days I was fond of
boating. I would then bring them to the Ile des Fleurs, where the three
of us would dine. I had inflicted myself on them, the better to enjoy my
triumph, and the usher, consenting to my arrangement, proved clearly that
he was losing his head by thus risking the loss of his position.
When we arrived at the ferry, where my boat had been moored since
morning, I saw in the grass, or rather above the tall weeds of the bank,
an enormous red parasol, resembling a monstrous wild poppy. Beneath the
parasol was the little laundress in her Sunday clothes. I was surprised.
She was really pretty, though pale; and graceful, though with a rather
Pere Piquedent raised his hat and bowed. She put out her hand toward
him, and they stared at one another without uttering a word. Then they
stepped into my boat, and I took the oars. They were seated side by side
near the stern.
The usher was the first to speak.
"This is nice weather for a row in a boat."
She dipped her hand into the water, skimming the surface, making a thin,
transparent film like a sheet of glass, which made a soft plashing along
the side of the boat.
When they were in the restaurant, she took it on herself to speak, and
ordered dinner, fried fish, a chicken, and salad; then she led us on
toward the isle, which she knew perfectly.
After this, she was gay, romping, and even rather tantalizing.
Until dessert, no question of love arose. I had treated them to
champagne, and Pere Piquedent was tipsy. Herself slightly the worse, she
called out to him:
He said abruptly:
"Mademoiselle, Monsieur Raoul has communicated my sentiments to you."
She became as serious as a judge.
"What is your reply?"
"We never reply to these questions!"
He puffed with emotion, and went on:
"Well, will the day ever come that you will like me?"
"You big stupid! You are very nice."
"In short, mademoiselle, do you think that, later on, we might--"
She hesitated a second; then in a trembling voice she said:
"Do you mean to marry me when you say that? For on no other condition,
"Well, that's all right, Monsieur Piquedent!"
It was thus that these two silly creatures promised marriage to each
other through the trick of a young scamp. But I did not believe that it
was serious, nor, indeed, did they, perhaps.
"You know, I have nothing, not four sous,," she said.
He stammered, for he was as drunk as Silenus:
"I have saved five thousand francs."
She exclaimed triumphantly:
"Then we can set up in business?"
He became restless.
"In what business?"
"What do I know? We shall see. With five thousand francs we could do
many things. You don't want me to go and live in your boarding school,
He had not looked forward so far as this, and he stammered in great
"What business could we set up in? That would not do, for all I know is
She reflected in her turn, passing in review all her business ambitions.
"You could not be a doctor?"
"No, I have no diploma."
"Or a chemist?"
"No more than the other."
She uttered a cry of joy. She had discovered it.
"Then we'll buy a grocer's shop! Oh! what luck! we'll buy a grocer's
shop. Not on a big scale, of course; with five thousand francs one does
not go far."
He was shocked at the suggestion.
"No, I can't be a grocer. I am--I am--too well known: I only know Latin,
that is all I know."
But she poured a glass of champagne down his throat. He drank it and was
We got back into the boat. The night was dark, very dark. I saw
clearly, however, that he had caught her by the waist, and that they were
hugging each other again and again.
It was a frightful catastrophe. Our escapade was discovered, with the
result that Pere Piquedent was dismissed. And my father, in a fit of
anger, sent me to finish my course of philosophy at Ribaudet's school.
Six months later I took my degree of Bachelor of Arts. Then I went to
study law in Paris, and did not return to my native town till two years
At the corner of the Rue de Serpent a shop caught my eye. Over the door
were the words: "Colonial Products--Piquedent" ; then underneath, so as
to enlighten the most ignorant: "Grocery."
"'Quantum mutatus ab illo!'"
Piquedent raised his head, left his female customer, and rushed toward me
with outstretched hands.
"Ah! my young friend, my young friend, here you are! What luck! what
A beautiful woman, very plump, abruptly left the cashier's desk and flung
herself on my breast. I had some difficulty in recognizing her, she had
grown so stout.
"So then you're doing well?"
Piquedent had gone back to weigh the groceries.
"Oh! very well, very well, very well. I have made three thousand francs
clear this year!"
"And what about Latin, Monsieur Piquedent?"
"Oh, good heavens! Latin, Latin, Latin--you see it does not keep the pot
It was nothing but an accident, an accident pure and simple. On that
particular evening the princess' rooms were open, and as they appeared
dark after the brilliantly lighted parlors, Baron d'Etraille, who was
tired of standing, inadvertently wandered into an empty bedroom.
He looked round for a chair in which to have a doze, as he was sure his
wife would not leave before daylight. As soon as he became accustomed to
the light of the room he distinguished the big bed with its azure-and-
gold hangings, in the middle of the great room, looking like a catafalque
in which love was buried, for the princess was no longer young. Behind
it, a large bright surface looked like a lake seen at a distance. It was
a large mirror, discreetly covered with dark drapery, that was very
rarely let down, and seemed to look at the bed, which was its accomplice.
One might almost fancy that it had reminiscences, and that one might see
in it charming female forms and the gentle movement of loving arms.
The baron stood still for a moment, smiling, almost experiencing an
emotion on the threshold of this chamber dedicated to love. But suddenly
something appeared in the looking-glass, as if the phantoms which he had
evoked had risen up before him. A man and a woman who had been sitting
on a low couch concealed in the shadow had arisen, and the polished
surface, reflecting their figures, showed that they were kissing each
other before separating.
Baron d'Etraille recognized his wife and the Marquis de Cervigne. He
turned and went away like a man who is fully master of himself, and
waited till it was day before taking away the baroness; but he had no
longer any thoughts of sleeping.
As soon as they were alone he said:
"Madame, I saw you just now in Princesse de Raynes' room; I need say no
more, and I am not fond either of reproaches, acts of violence, or of
ridicule. As I wish to avoid all such things, we shall separate without
any scandal. Our lawyers will settle your position according to my
orders. You will be free to live as you please when you are no longer
under my roof; but, as you will continue to bear my name, I must warn you
that should any scandal arise I shall show myself inflexible."
She tried to speak, but he stopped her, bowed, and left the room.
He was more astonished and sad than unhappy. He had loved her dearly
during the first period of their married life; but his ardor had cooled,
and now he often amused himself elsewhere, either in a theatre or in
society, though he always preserved a certain liking for the baroness.
She was very young, hardly four-and-twenty, small, slight--too slight--
and very fair. She was a true Parisian doll: clever, spoiled, elegant,
coquettish, witty, with more charm than real beauty. He used to say
familiarly to his brother, when speaking of her:
"My wife is charming, attractive, but--there is nothing to lay hold of.
She is like a glass of champagne that is all froth; when you get to the
wine it is very good, but there is too little of it, unfortunately."
He walked up and down the room in great agitation, thinking of a thousand
things. At one moment he was furious, and felt inclined to give the
marquis a good thrashing, or to slap his face publicly, in the club.
But he decided that would not do, it would not be good form; he would be
laughed at, and not his rival, and this thought wounded his vanity.
So he went to bed, but could not sleep. Paris knew in a few days that
the Baron and Baroness d'Etraille had agreed to an amicable separation on
account of incompatibility of temper. No one suspected anything, no one
laughed, and no one was astonished.
The baron, however, to avoid meeting his wife, travelled for a year, then
spent the summer at the seaside, and the autumn in shooting, returning to
Paris for the winter. He did not meet the baroness once.
He did not even know what people said about her. In any case, she took
care to respect appearances, and that was all he asked for.
He became dreadfully bored, travelled again, restored his old castle of
Villebosc, which took him two years; then for over a year he entertained
friends there, till at last, tired of all these so-called pleasures, he
returned to his mansion in the Rue de Lille, just six years after the
He was now forty-five, with a good crop of gray hair, rather stout, and
with that melancholy look characteristic of those who have been handsome,
sought after, and liked, but who are deteriorating, daily.
A month after his return to Paris, he took cold on coming out of his
club, and had such a bad cough that his medical man ordered him to Nice
for the rest of the winter.
He reached the station only a few minutes before the departure of the
train on Monday evening, and had barely time to get into a carriage, with
only one other occupant, who was sitting in a corner so wrapped in furs
and cloaks that he could not even make out whether it was a man or a
woman, as nothing of the figure could be seen. When he perceived that he
could not find out, he put on his travelling cap, rolled himself up in
his rugs, and stretched out comfortably to sleep.
He did not wake until the day was breaking, and looked at once at his
fellow-traveller, who had not stirred all night, and seemed still to be
M. d'Etraille made use of the opportunity to brush his hair and his
beard, and to try to freshen himself up a little generally, for a night's
travel does not improve one's appearance when one has attained a certain
A great poet has said:
"When we are young, our mornings are triumphant!"
Then we wake up with a cool skin, a bright eye, and glossy hair.
As one grows older one wakes up in a very different condition. Dull
eyes, red, swollen cheeks, dry lips, hair and beard disarranged, impart
an old, fatigued, worn-out look to the face.
The baron opened his travelling case, and improved his looks as much as
The engine whistled, the train stopped, and his neighbor moved. No doubt
he was awake. They started off again, and then a slanting ray of
sunlight shone into the carriage and on the sleeper, who moved again,
shook himself, and then his face could be seen.
It was a young, fair, pretty, plump woman, and the baron looked at her in
amazement. He did not know what to think. He could really have sworn
that it was his wife, but wonderfully changed for the better: stouter--
why she had grown as stout as he was, only it suited her much better than
it did him.
She looked at him calmly, did not seem to recognize him, and then slowly
laid aside her wraps. She had that quiet assurance of a woman who is
sure of herself, who feels that on awaking she is in her full beauty and
The baron was really bewildered. Was it his wife, or else as like her as
any sister could be? Not having seen her for six years, he might be
She yawned, and this gesture betrayed her. She turned and looked at him
again, calmly, indifferently, as if she scarcely saw him, and then looked
out of the window again.
He was upset and dreadfully perplexed, and kept looking at her sideways.
Yes; it was surely his wife. How could he possibly have doubted it?
There could certainly not be two noses like that, and a thousand
recollections flashed through his mind. He felt the old feeling of the
intoxication of love stealing over him, and he called to mind the sweet
odor of her skin, her smile when she put her arms on to his shoulders,
the soft intonations of her voice, all her graceful, coaxing ways.
But how she had changed and improved! It was she and yet not she. She
seemed riper, more developed, more of a woman, more seductive, more
desirable, adorably desirable.
And this strange, unknown woman, whom he had accidentally met in a
railway carriage, belonged to him; he had only to say to her:
"I insist upon it."
He had formerly slept in her arms, existed only in her love, and now he
had found her again certainly, but so changed that he scarcely knew her.
It was another, and yet it was she herself. It was some one who had been
born and had formed and grown since he had left her. It was she, indeed;
she whom he had loved, but who was now altered, with a more assured smile
and greater self-possession. There were two women in one, mingling a
great part of what was new and unknown with many sweet recollections of
the past. There was something singular, disturbing, exciting about it
--a kind of mystery of love in which there floated a delicious confusion.
It was his wife in a new body and in new flesh which lips had never
And he thought that in a few years nearly every thing changes in us; only
the outline can be recognized, and sometimes even that disappears.
The blood, the hair, the skin, all changes and is renewed, and when
people have not seen each other for a long time, when they meet they find
each other totally different beings, although they are the same and bear
the same name.
And the heart also can change. Ideas may be modified and renewed, so
that in forty years of life we may, by gradual and constant
transformations, become four or five totally new and different beings.
He dwelt on this thought till it troubled him; it had first taken
possession of him when he surprised her in the princess' room. He was
not the least angry; it was not the same woman that he was looking at--
that thin, excitable little doll of those days.
What was he to do? How should he address her? and what could he say to
her? Had she recognized him?
The train stopped again. He got up, bowed, and ,said: "Bertha, do you
want anything I could bring you?"
She looked at him from head to foot, and answered, without showing the
slightest surprise, or confusion, or anger, but with the most perfect
"I do not want anything---thank you."
He got out and walked up and down the platform a little in order to
recover himself, and, as it were, to recover his senses after a fall.
What should he do now? If he got into another carriage it would look as
if he were running away. Should he be polite or importunate? That would
look as if he were asking for forgiveness. Should he speak as if he were
her master? He would look like a fool, and, besides, he really had no
right to do so.
He got in again and took his place.
During his absence she had hastily arranged her dress and hair, and was
now lying stretched out on the seat, radiant, and without showing any
He turned to her, and said: "My dear Bertha, since this singular chance
has brought up together after a separation of six years--a quite friendly
separation--are we to continue to look upon each other as irreconcilable
enemies? We are shut up together, tete-d-tete, which is so much the
better or so much the worse. I am not going to get into another
carriage, so don't you think it is preferable to talk as friends till the
end of our journey?"
She answered, quite calmly again:
"Just as you please."
Then he suddenly stopped, really not knowing what to say; but as he had
plenty of assurance, he sat down on the middle seat, and said:
"Well, I see I must pay my court to you; so much the better. It is,
however, really a pleasure, for you are charming. You cannot imagine how
you have improved in the last six years. I do not know any woman who
could give me that delightful sensation which I experienced just now when
you emerged from your wraps. I really could not have thought such a
Without moving her head or looking at him, she said: "I cannot say the
same with regard to you; you have certainly deteriorated a great deal."
He got red and confused, and then, with a smile of resignation, he said:
"You are rather hard."
"Why?" was her reply. "I am only stating facts. I don't suppose you
intend to offer me your love? It must, therefore, be a matter of perfect
indifference to you what I think about you. But I see it is a painful
subject, so let us talk of something else. What have you been doing
since I last saw you?"
He felt rather out of countenance, and stammered:
"I? I have travelled, done some shooting, and grown old, as you see.
She said, quite calmly: "I have taken care of appearances, as you ordered
He was very nearly saying something brutal, but he checked himself; and
kissed his wife's hand:
"And I thank you," he said.
She was surprised. He was indeed diplomatic, and always master of
He went on: "As you have acceded to my first request, shall we now talk
without any bitterness?"
She made a little movement of surprise.
"Bitterness? I don't feel any; you are a complete stranger to me; I am
only trying to keep up a difficult conversation."
He was still looking at her, fascinated in spite of her harshness, and he
felt seized with a brutal Beside, the desire of the master.
Perceiving that she had hurt his feelings, she said:
"How old are you now? I thought you were younger than you look."
"I am forty-five"; and then he added: "I forgot to ask after Princesse de
Raynes. Are you still intimate with her?"
She looked at him as if she hated him:
"Yes, I certainly am. She is very well, thank you."
They remained sitting side by side, agitated and irritated. Suddenly he
"My dear Bertha, I have changed my mind. You are my wife, and I expect
you to come with me to-day. You have, I think, improved both morally and
physically, and I am going to take you back again. I am your husband,
and it is my right to do so."
She was stupefied, and looked at him, trying to divine his thoughts; but
his face was resolute and impenetrable.
"I am very sorry," she said, "but I have made other engagements."
"So much the worse for you," was his reply. "The law gives me the power,
and I mean to use it."
They were nearing Marseilles, and the train whistled and slackened speed.
The baroness rose, carefully rolled up her wraps, and then, turning to
her husband, said:
"My dear Raymond, do not make a bad use of this tete-a tete which I had
carefully prepared. I wished to take precautions, according to your
advice, so that I might have nothing to fear from you or from other
people, whatever might happen. You are going to Nice, are you not?"
"I shall go wherever you go."
"Not at all; just listen to me, and I am sure that you will leave me in
peace. In a few moments, when we get to the station, you will see the
Princesse de Raynes and Comtesse Henriot waiting for me with their
husbands. I wished them to see as, and to know that we had spent the
night together in the railway carriage. Don't be alarmed; they will tell
it everywhere as a most surprising fact.
"I told you just now that I had most carefully followed your advice and
saved appearances. Anything else does not matter, does it? Well, in
order to do so, I wished to be seen with you. You told me carefully to
avoid any scandal, and I am avoiding it, for, I am afraid--I am afraid--"
She waited till the train had quite stopped, and as her friends ran up to
open the carriage door, she said:
"I am afraid"--hesitating--"that there is another reason--je suis
The princess stretched out her arms to embrace her,--and the baroness
said, painting to the baron, who was dumb with astonishment, and was
trying to get at the truth:
"You do not recognize Raymond? He has certainly changed a good deal, and
he agreed to come with me so that I might not travel alone. We take
little trips like this occasionally, like good friends who cannot live
together. We are going to separate here; he has had enough of me
She put out her hand, which he took mechanically, and then she jumped out
on to the platform among her friends, who were waiting for her.
The baron hastily shut the carriage door, for he was too much disturbed
to say a word or come to any determination. He heard his wife's voice
and their merry laughter as they went away.
He never saw her again, nor did he ever discover whether she had told him
a lie or was speaking the truth.
THE BLIND MAN
How is it that the sunlight gives us such joy? Why does this radiance
when it falls on the earth fill us with the joy of living? The whole sky
is blue, the fields are green, the houses all white, and our enchanted
eyes drink in those bright colors which bring delight to our souls. And
then there springs up in our hearts a desire to dance, to run, to sing,
a happy lightness of thought, a sort of enlarged tenderness; we feel a
longing to embrace the sun.
The blind, as they sit in the doorways, impassive in their eternal
darkness, remain as calm as ever in the midst of this fresh gaiety, and,
not understanding what is taking place around them, they continually
check their dogs as they attempt to play.
When, at the close of the day, they are returning home on the arm of a
young brother or a little sister, if the child says: "It was a very fine
day!" the other answers: "I could notice that it was fine. Loulou
wouldn't keep quiet."
I knew one of these men whose life was one of the most cruel martyrdoms
that could possibly be conceived.
He was a peasant, the son of a Norman farmer. As long as his father and
mother lived, he was more or less taken care of; he suffered little save
from his horrible infirmity; but as soon as the old people were gone, an
atrocious life of misery commenced for him. Dependent on a sister of
his, everybody in the farmhouse treated him as a beggar who is eating the
bread of strangers. At every meal the very food he swallowed was made a
subject of reproach against him; he was called a drone, a clown, and
although his brother-in-law had taken possession of his portion of the
inheritance, he was helped grudgingly to soup, getting just enough to
save him from starving.
His face was very pale and his two big white eyes looked like wafers.
He remained unmoved at all the insults hurled at him, so reserved that
one could not tell whether he felt them.
Moreover, he had never known any tenderness, his mother having always
treated him unkindly and caring very little for him; for in country
places useless persons are considered a nuisance, and the peasants would
be glad to kill the infirm of their species, as poultry do.
As soon as he finished his soup he went and sat outside the door in
summer and in winter beside the fireside, and did not stir again all the
evening. He made no gesture, no movement; only his eyelids, quivering
from some nervous affection, fell down sometimes over his white,
sightless orbs. Had he any intellect, any thinking faculty, any
consciousness of his own existence? Nobody cared to inquire.
For some years things went on in this fashion. But his incapacity for
work as well as his impassiveness eventually exasperated his relatives,
and he became a laughingstock, a sort of butt for merriment, a prey to
the inborn ferocity, to the savage gaiety of the brutes who surrounded
It is easy to imagine all the cruel practical jokes inspired by his
blindness. And, in order to have some fun in return for feeding him,
they now converted his meals into hours of pleasure for the neighbors and
of punishment for the helpless creature himself.
The peasants from the nearest houses came to this entertainment; it was
talked about from door to door, and every day the kitchen of the
farmhouse was full of people. Sometimes they placed before his plate,
when he was beginning to eat his soup, some cat or dog. The animal
instinctively perceived the man's infirmity, and, softly approaching,
commenced eating noiselessly, lapping up the soup daintily; and, when
they lapped the food rather noisily, rousing the poor fellow's attention,
they would prudently scamper away to avoid the blow of the spoon directed
at random by the blind man!
Then the spectators ranged along the wall would burst out laughing, nudge
each other and stamp their feet on the floor. And he, without ever
uttering a word, would continue eating with his right hand, while
stretching out his left to protect his plate.
Another time they made him chew corks, bits of wood, leaves or even
filth, which he was unable to distinguish.
After this they got tired even of these practical jokes, and the brother-
in-law, angry at having to support him always, struck him, cuffed him
incessantly, laughing at his futile efforts to ward off or return the
blows. Then came a new pleasure--the pleasure of smacking his face. And
the plough-men, the servant girls and even every passing vagabond were
every moment giving him cuffs, which caused his eyelashes to twitch
spasmodically. He did not know where to hide himself and remained with
his arms always held out to guard against people coming too close to him.
At last he was forced to beg.
He was placed somewhere on the high-road on market-days, and as soon as
he heard the sound of footsteps or the rolling of a vehicle, he reached
out his hat, stammering:
"Charity, if you please!"
But the peasant is not lavish, and for whole weeks he did not bring back
Then he became the victim of furious, pitiless hatred. And this is how
One winter the ground was covered with snow, and it was freezing hard.
His brother-in-law led him one morning a great distance along the high
road in order that he might solicit alms. The blind man was left there
all day; and when night came on, the brother-in-law told the people of
his house that he could find no trace of the mendicant. Then he added:
"Pooh! best not bother about him! He was cold and got someone to take
him away. Never fear! he's not lost. He'll turn up soon enough tomorrow
to eat the soup."
Next day he did not come back.
After long hours of waiting, stiffened with the cold, feeling that he was
dying, the blind man began to walk. Being unable to find his way along
the road, owing to its thick coating of ice, he went on at random,
falling into ditches, getting up again, without uttering a sound, his
sole object being to find some house where he could take shelter.
But, by degrees, the descending snow made a numbness steal over him, and
his feeble limbs being incapable of carrying him farther, he sat down in
the middle of an open field. He did not get up again.
The white flakes which fell continuously buried him, so that his body,
quite stiff and stark, disappeared under the incessant accumulation of
their rapidly thickening mass, and nothing was left to indicate the place
where he lay.
His relatives made a pretence of inquiring about him and searching for
him for about a week. They even made a show of weeping.
The winter was severe, and the thaw did not set in quickly. Now, one
Sunday, on their way to mass, the farmers noticed a great flight of
crows, who were whirling incessantly above the open field, and then
descending like a shower of black rain at the same spot, ever going and
The following week these gloomy birds were still there. There was a
crowd of them up in the air, as if they had gathered from all corners of
the horizon, and they swooped down with a great cawing into the shining
snow, which they covered like black patches, and in which they kept
pecking obstinately. A young fellow went to see what they were doing and
discovered the body of the blind man, already half devoured, mangled.
His wan eyes had disappeared, pecked out by the long, voracious beaks.
And I can never feel the glad radiance of sunlit days without sadly
remembering and pondering over the fate of the beggar who was such an
outcast in life- that his horrible death was a relief to all who had
They had loved each other before marriage with a pure and lofty love.
They had first met on the sea-shore. He had thought this young girl
charming, as she passed by with her light-colored parasol and her dainty
dress amid the marine landscape against the horizon. He had loved her,
blond and slender, in these surroundings of blue ocean and spacious sky.
He could not distinguish the tenderness which this budding woman awoke in
him from the vague and powerful emotion which the fresh salt air and the
grand scenery of surf and sunshine and waves aroused in his soul.
She, on the other hand, had loved him because he courted her, because he
was young, rich, kind, and attentive. She had loved him because it is
natural for young girls to love men who whisper sweet nothings to them.
So, for three months, they had lived side by side, and hand in hand.
The greeting which they exchanged in the morning before the bath, in the
freshness of the morning, or in the evening on the sand, under the stars,
in the warmth of a calm night, whispered low, very low, already had the
flavor of kisses, though their lips had never met.
Each dreamed of the other at night, each thought of the other on awaking,
and, without yet having voiced their sentiments, each longer for the
other, body and soul.
After marriage their love descended to earth. It was at first a
tireless, sensuous passion, then exalted tenderness composed of tangible
poetry, more refined caresses, and new and foolish inventions. Every
glance and gesture was an expression of passion.
But, little by little, without even noticing it, they began to get tired
of each other. Love was still strong, but they had nothing more to
reveal to each other, nothing more to learn from each other, no new tale
of endearment, no unexpected outburst, no new way of expressing the well-
known, oft-repeated verb.
They tried, however, to rekindle the dwindling flame of the first love.
Every day they tried some new trick or desperate attempt to bring back to
their hearts the uncooled ardor of their first days of married life.
They tried moonlight walks under the trees, in the sweet warmth of the
summer evenings: the poetry of mist-covered beaches; the excitement of
One morning Henriette said to Paul:
"Will you take me to a cafe for dinner?"
"To some well-known cafe?"
He looked at her with a questioning glance, seeing that she was thinking
of something which she did not wish to tell.
She went on:
"You know, one of those cafes--oh, how can I explain myself?--a sporty
He smiled: "Of course, I understand--you mean in one of the cafes which
are commonly called bohemian."
"Yes, that's it. But take me to one of the big places, one where you are
known, one where you have already supped--no--dined--well, you know--I---
-I--oh! I will never dare say it!"
"Go ahead, dearie. Little secrets should no longer exist between us."
"No, I dare not."
"Go on; don't be prudish. Tell me."
"Well, I--I--I want to be taken for your sweetheart--there! and I want
the boys, who do not know that you are married, to take me for such; and
you too--I want you to think that I am your sweetheart for one hour, in
that place which must hold so many memories for you. There! And I will
play that I am your sweetheart. It's awful, I know--I am abominably
ashamed, I am as red as a peony. Don't look at me!"
He laughed, greatly amused, and answered:
"All right, we will go to-night to a very swell place where I am well
Toward seven o'clock they went up the stairs of one of the big cafes on
the Boulevard, he, smiling, with the look of a conqueror, she, timid,
veiled, delighted. They were immediately shown to one of the luxurious
private dining-rooms, furnished with four large arm-chairs and a red
plush couch. The head waiter entered and brought them the menu. Paul
handed it to his wife.
"What do you want to eat?"
"I don't care; order whatever is good."
After handing his coat to the waiter, he ordered dinner and champagne.
The waiter looked at the young woman and smiled. He took the order and
"Will Monsieur Paul have his champagne sweet or dry?"
"Dry, very dry."
Henriette was pleased to hear that this man knew her husband's name.
They sat on the couch, side by side, and began to eat.
Ten candles lighted the room and were reflected in the mirrors all around
them, which seemed to increase the brilliancy a thousand-fold.
Henriette drank glass after glass in order to keep up her courage,
although she felt dizzy after the first few glasses. Paul, excited by
the memories which returned to him, kept kissing his wife's hands. His
eyes were sparkling.
She was feeling strangely excited in this new place, restless, pleased,
a little guilty, but full of life. Two waiters, serious, silent,
accustomed to seeing and forgetting everything, to entering the room only
when it was necessary and to leaving it when they felt they were
intruding, were silently flitting hither and thither.
Toward the middle of the dinner, Henriette was well under the influence
of champagne. She was prattling along fearlessly, her cheeks flushed,
her eyes glistening.
"Come, Paul; tell me everything."
"I don't dare tell you."
"Have you loved many women before me?"
He hesitated, a little perplexed, not knowing whether he should hide his
adventures or boast of them.
"Oh! please tell me. How many have you loved?"
"I don't know. How do you expect me to know such things?"
"Haven't you counted them?"
"Of course not."
"Then you must have loved a good many!"
"About how many? Just tell me about how many."
"But I don't know, dearest. Some years a good many, and some years only
"How many a year, did you say?"
"Sometimes twenty or thirty, sometimes only four or five."
"Oh! that makes more than a hundred in all!"
"Yes, just about."
"Oh! I think that is dreadful!"
"Because it's dreadful when you think of it--all those women--and always
--always the same thing. Oh! it's dreadful, just the same--more than a
He was surprised that she should think that dreadful, and answered, with
the air of superiority which men take with women when they wish to make
them understand that they have said something foolish:
"That's funny! If it is dreadful to have a hundred women, it's dreadful
to have one."
"Oh, no, not at all!"
"Because with one woman you have a real bond of love which attaches you
to her, while with a hundred women it's not the same at all. There is no
real love. I don't understand how a man can associate with such women."
"But they are all right."
"No, they can't be!"
"Yes, they are!"
"Oh, stop; you disgust me!"
"But then, why did you ask me how many sweethearts I had had?"
"That's no reason!"
"What were they-actresses, little shop-girls, or society women?"
"A few of each."
"It must have been rather monotonous toward the last."
"Oh, no; it's amusing to change."
She remained thoughtful, staring at her champagne glass. It was full--
she drank it in one gulp; then putting it back on the table, she threw
her arms around her husband's neck and murmured in his ear:
"Oh! how I love you, sweetheart! how I love you!"
He threw his arms around her in a passionate embrace. A waiter, who was
just entering, backed out, closing the door discreetly. In about five
minutes the head waiter came back, solemn and dignified, bringing the
fruit for dessert. She was once more holding between her fingers a full
glass, and gazing into the amber liquid as though seeking unknown things.
She murmured in a dreamy voice:
"Yes, it must be fun!"
A FAMILY AFFAIR
The small engine attached to the Neuilly steam-tram whistled as it passed
the Porte Maillot to warn all obstacles to get out of its way and puffed
like a person out of breath as it sent out its steam, its pistons moving
rapidly with a noise as of iron legs running. The train was going along
the broad avenue that ends at the Seine. The sultry heat at the close of
a July day lay over the whole city, and from the road, although there was
not a breath of wind stirring, there arose a white, chalky, suffocating,
warm dust, which adhered to the moist skin, filled the eyes and got into
the lungs. People stood in the doorways of their houses to try and get a
breath of air.
The windows of the steam-tram were open and the curtains fluttered in the
wind. There were very few passengers inside, because on warm days people
preferred the outside or the platforms. They consisted of stout women in
peculiar costumes, of those shopkeepers' wives from the suburbs, who made
up for the distinguished looks which they did not possess by ill-assumed
dignity; of men tired from office-work, with yellow faces, stooped
shoulders, and with one shoulder higher than the other, in consequence
of, their long hours of writing at a desk. Their uneasy and melancholy
faces also spoke of domestic troubles, of constant want of money,
disappointed hopes, for they all belonged to the army of poor, threadbare
devils who vegetate economically in cheap, plastered houses with a tiny
piece of neglected garden on the outskirts of Paris, in the midst of
those fields where night soil is deposited.
A short, corpulent man, with a puffy face, dressed all in black and
wearing a decoration in his buttonhole, was talking to a tall, thin man,
dressed in a dirty, white linen suit, the coat all unbuttoned, with a
white Panama hat on his head. The former spoke so slowly and
hesitatingly that it occasionally almost seemed as if he stammered; he
was Monsieur Caravan, chief clerk in the Admiralty. The other, who had
formerly been surgeon on board a merchant ship, had set up in practice in
Courbevoie, where he applied the vague remnants of medical knowledge
which he had retained after an adventurous life, to the wretched
population of that district. His name was Chenet, and strange rumors
were current as to his morality.
Monsieur Caravan had always led the normal life of a man in a Government
office. For the last thirty years he had invariably gone the same way to
his office every morning, and had met the same men going to business at
the same time, and nearly on the same spot, and he returned home every
evening by the same road, and again met the same faces which he had seen
growing old. Every morning, after buying his penny paper at the corner
of the Faubourg Saint Honore, he bought two rolls, and then went to his
office, like a culprit who is giving himself up to justice, and got to
his desk as quickly as possible, always feeling uneasy; as though he were
expecting a rebuke for some neglect of duty of which he might have been
Nothing had ever occurred to change the monotonous order of his
existence, for no event affected him except the work of his office,
perquisites, gratuities, and promotion. He never spoke of anything but
of his duties, either at the office, or at home--he had married the
portionless daughter of one of his colleagues. His mind, which was in a
state of atrophy from his depressing daily work, had no other thoughts,
hopes or dreams than such as related to the office, and there was a
constant source of bitterness that spoilt every pleasure that he might
have had, and that was the employment of so many naval officials,
tinsmiths, as they were called because of their silver-lace as first-
class clerks; and every evening at dinner he discussed the matter hotly
with his wife, who shared his angry feelings, and proved to their own
satisfaction that it was in every way unjust to give places in Paris to
men who ought properly to have been employed in the navy.
He was old now, and had scarcely noticed how his life was passing, for
school had merely been exchanged for the office without any intermediate
transition, and the ushers, at whom he had formerly trembled, were
replaced by his chiefs, of whom he was terribly afraid. When he had to
go into the rooms of these official despots, it made him tremble from
head to foot, and that constant fear had given him a very awkward manner
in their presence, a humble demeanor, and a kind of nervous stammering.
He knew nothing more about Paris than a blind man might know who was led
to the same spot by his dog every day; and if he read the account of any
uncommon events or scandals in his penny paper, they appeared to him like
fantastic tales, which some pressman had made up out of his own head, in
order to amuse the inferior employees. He did not read the political
news, which his paper frequently altered as the cause which subsidized it
might require, for he was not fond of innovations, and when he went
through the Avenue of the Champs-Elysees every evening, he looked at the
surging crowd of pedestrians, and at the stream of carriages, as a
traveller might who has lost his way in a strange country.
As he had completed his thirty years of obligatory service that year, on
the first of January, he had had the cross of the Legion of Honor
bestowed upon him, which, in the semi-military public offices, is a
recompense for the miserable slavery--the official phrase is, loyal
services--of unfortunate convicts who are riveted to their desk. That
unexpected dignity gave him a high and new idea of his own capacities,
and altogether changed him. He immediately left off wearing light
trousers and fancy waistcoats, and wore black trousers and long coats, on
which his ribbon, which was very broad, showed off better. He got shaved
every morning, manicured his nails more carefully, changed his linen
every two days, from a legitimate sense of what was proper, and out of
respect for the national Order, of which he formed a part, and from that
day he was another Caravan, scrupulously clean, majestic and
At home, he said, "my cross," at every moment, and he had become so proud
of it, that he could not bear to see men wearing any other ribbon in
their button-holes. He became especially angry on seeing strange orders:
"Which nobody ought to be allowed to wear in France," and he bore Chenet
a particular grudge, as he met him on a tram-car every evening, wearing a
decoration of one kind or another, white, blue, orange, or green.
The conversation of the two men, from the Arc de Triomphe to Neuilly, was
always the same, and on that day they discussed, first of all, various
local abuses which disgusted them both, and the Mayor of Neuilly received
his full share of their censure. Then, as invariably happens in the
company of medical man Caravan began to enlarge on the chapter of
illness, as in that manner, he hoped to obtain a little gratuitous
advice, if he was careful not to show his hand. His mother had been
causing him no little anxiety for some time; she had frequent and
prolonged fainting fits, and, although she was ninety, she would not take
care of herself.
Caravan grew quite tender-hearted when he mentioned her great age, and
more than once asked Doctor Chenet, emphasizing the word doctor--although
he was not fully qualified, being only an Offcier de Sante--whether he
had often met anyone as old as that. And he rubbed his hands with
pleasure; not, perhaps, that he cared very much about seeing the good
woman last forever here on earth, but because the long duration of his
mother's life was, as it were an earnest of old age for himself, and he
"In my family, we last long, and I am sure that, unless I meet with an
accident, I shall not die until I am very old."
The doctor looked at him with pity, and glanced for a moment at his
neighbor's red face, his short, thick neck, his "corporation," as Chenet
called it to himself, his two fat, flabby legs, and the apoplectic
rotundity of the old official; and raising the white Panama hat from his
head, he said with a snigger:
"I am not so sure of that, old fellow; your mother is as tough as nails,
and I should say that your life is not a very good one."
This rather upset Caravan, who did not speak again until the tram put
them down at their destination, where the two friends got out, and Chenet
asked his friend to have a glass of vermouth at the Cafe du Globe,
opposite, which both of them were in the habit of frequenting. The
proprietor, who was a friend of theirs, held out to them two fingers,
which they shook across the bottles of the counter; and then they joined
three of their friends, who were playing dominoes, and who had been there
since midday. They exchanged cordial greetings, with the usual question:
"Anything new?" And then the three players continued their game, and
held out their hands without looking up, when the others wished them
"Good-night," and then they both went home to dinner.
Caravan lived in a small two-story house in Courbevaie, near where the
roads meet; the ground floor was occupied by a hair-dresser. Two bed
rooms, a dining-room and a kitchen, formed the whole of their apartments,
and Madame Caravan spent nearly her whole time in cleaning them up, while
her daughter, Marie-Louise, who was twelve, and her son, Phillip-Auguste,
were running about with all the little, dirty, mischievous brats of the
neighborhood, and playing in the gutter.
Caravan had installed his mother, whose avarice was notorious in the
neighborhood, and who was terribly thin, in the room above them. She was
always cross, and she never passed a day without quarreling and flying
into furious tempers. She would apostrophize the neighbors, who were
standing at their own doors, the coster-mongers, the street-sweepers, and
the street-boys, in the most violent language; and the latter, to have
their revenge, used to follow her at a distance when she went out, and
call out rude things after her.
A little servant from Normandy, who was incredibly giddy and thoughtless,
performed the household work, and slept on the second floor in the same
room as the old woman, for fear of anything happening to her in the
When Caravan got in, his wife, who suffered from a chronic passion for
cleaning, was polishing up the mahogany chairs that were scattered about
the room with a piece of flannel. She always wore cotton gloves, and
adorned her head with a cap ornamented with many colored ribbons, which
was always tilted over one ear; and whenever anyone caught her polishing,
sweeping, or washing, she used to say:
"I am not rich; everything is very simple in my house, but cleanliness is
my luxury, and that is worth quite as much as any other."
As she was gifted with sound, obstinate, practical common sense, she led
her husband in everything. Every evening during dinner, and afterwards
when they were in their room, they talked over the business of the office
for a long time, and although she was twenty years younger than he was,
he confided everything to her as if she took the lead, and followed her
advice in every matter.
She had never been pretty, and now she had grown ugly; in addition to
that, she was short and thin, while her careless and tasteless way of
dressing herself concealed her few small feminine attractions, which
might have been brought out if she had possessed any taste in dress.
Her skirts were always awry, and she frequently scratched herself, no
matter on what part of her person, totally indifferent as to who might
see her, and so persistently, that anyone who saw her might think that
she was suffering from something like the itch. The only adornments that
she allowed herself were silk ribbons, which she had in great profusion,
and of various colors mixed together, in the pretentious caps which she
wore at home.
As soon as she saw her husband she rose and said, as she kissed his
"Did you remember Potin, my dear?"
He fell into a chair, in consternation, for that was the fourth time on
which he had forgotten a commission that he had promised to do for her.
"It is a fatality," he said; "it is no good for me to think of it all day
long, for I am sure to forget it in the evening."
But as he seemed really so very sorry, she merely said, quietly:
"You will think of it to-morrow, I dare say. Anything new at the
"Yes, a great piece of news; another tinsmith has been appointed second
chief clerk." She became very serious, and said:
"So he succeeds Ramon; this was the very post that I wanted you to have.
And what about Ramon?"
"He retires on his pension."
She became furious, her cap slid down on her shoulder, and she continued:
"There is nothing more to be done in that shop now. And what is the name
of the new commissioner?"
She took up the Naval Year Book, which she always kept close at hand, and
looked him up.
"'Bonassot-Toulon. Born in 1851. Student Commissioner in 1871. Sub-
Commissioner in 1875.' Has he been to sea?" she continued. At that
question Caravan's looks cleared up, and he laughed until his sides
"As much as Balin--as much as Baffin, his chief." And he added an old
office joke, and laughed more than ever:
"It would not even do to send them by water to inspect the Point-du-Jour,
for they would be sick on the penny steamboats on the Seine."
But she remained as serious as if she had not heard him, and then she
said in a low voice, as she scratched her chin:
"If we only had a Deputy to fall back upon. When the Chamber hears
everything that is going on at the Admiralty, the Minister will be turned
She was interrupted by a terrible noise on the stairs. Marie-Louise and
Philippe-Auguste, who had just come in from the gutter, were slapping
each other all the way upstairs. Their mother rushed at them furiously,
and taking each of them by an arm she dragged them into the room, shaking
them vigorously; but as soon as they saw their father, they rushed up to
him, and he kissed them affectionately, and taking one of them on each
knee, began to talk to them.
Philippe-Auguste was an ugly, ill-kempt little brat, dirty from head to
foot, with the face of an idiot, and Marie-Louise was already like her
mother--spoke like her, repeated her words, and even imitated her
movements. She also asked him whether there was anything fresh at the
office, and he replied merrily:
"Your friend, Ramon, who comes and dines here every Sunday, is going to
leave us, little one. There is a new second head-clerk."
She looked at her father, and with a precocious child's pity, she said:
"Another man has been put over your head again."
He stopped laughing, and did not reply, and in order to create a
diversion, he said, addressing his wife, who was cleaning the windows:
"How is mamma, upstairs?"
Madame Caravan left off rubbing, turned round. pulled her cap up, as it
had fallen quite on to her back, and said with trembling lips:
"Ah! yes; let us talk about your mother, for she has made a pretty
scene. Just imagine: a short time ago Madame Lebaudin, the hairdresser's
wife, came upstairs to borrow a packet of starch of me, and, as I was not
at home, your mother chased her out as though she were a beggar; but I
gave it to the old woman. She pretended not to hear, as she always does
when one tells her unpleasant truths, but she is no more deaf than I am,
as you know. It is all a sham, and the proof of it is, that she went up
to her own room immediately, without saying a word."
Caravan, embarrassed, did not utter a word, and at that moment the little
servant came in to announce dinner. In order to let his mother know, he
took a broom-handle, which always stood in a corner, and rapped loudly on
the ceiling three times, and then they went into the dining-room. Madame
Caravan, junior, helped the soup, and waited for the old woman, but she
did not come, and as the soup was getting cold, they began to eat slowly,
and when their plates were empty, they waited again, and Madame Caravan,
who was furious, attacked her husband:
"She does it on purpose, you know that as well as I do. But you always
Not knowing which side to take, he sent Marie-Louise to fetch her
grandmother, and he sat motionless, with his eyes cast down, while his
wife tapped her glass angrily with her knife. In about a minute, the
door flew open suddenly, and the child came in again, out of breath and
very pale, and said hurriedly:
"Grandmamma has fallen on the floor."
Caravan jumped up, threw his table-napkin down, and rushed upstairs,
while his wife, who thought it was some trick of her mother-in-law's,
followed more slowly, shrugging her shoulders, as if to express her
doubt. When they got upstairs, however, they found the old woman lying
at full length in the middle of the room; and when they turned her over,
they saw that she was insensible and motionless, while her skin looked
more wrinkled and yellow than usual, her eyes were closed, her teeth
clenched, and her thin body was stiff.
Caravan knelt down by her, and began to moan.
"My poor mother! my poor mother!" he said. But the other Madame Caravan
"Bah! She has only fainted again, that is all, and she has done it to
prevent us from dining comfortably, you may be sure of that."
They put her on the bed, undressed her completely, and Caravan, his wife,
and the servant began to rub her; but, in spite of their efforts, she did
not recover consciousness, so they sent Rosalie, the servant, to fetch
Doctor Chenet. He lived a long way off, on the quay, going towards
Suresnes, and so it was a considerable time before he arrived. He came
at last, however, and, after having looked at the old woman, felt her
pulse, and listened for a heart beat, he said: "It is all over."
Caravan threw himself on the body, sobbing violently; he kissed his
mother's rigid face, and wept so that great tears fell on the dead
woman's face like drops of water, and, naturally, Madame Caravan, junior,
showed a decorous amount of grief, and uttered feeble moans as she stood
behind her husband, while she rubbed her eyes vigorously.
But, suddenly, Caravan raised himself up, with his thin hair in disorder,
and, looking very ugly in his grief, said:
"But--are you sure, doctor? Are you quite sure?"
The doctor stooped over the body, and, handling it with professional
dexterity, as a shopkeeper might do, when showing off his goods, he said:
"See, my dear friend, look at her eye."
He raised the eyelid, and the old woman's eye appeared altogether
unaltered, unless, perhaps, the pupil was rather larger, and Caravan felt
a severe shock at the sight. Then Monsieur Chenet took her thin arm,
forced the fingers open, and said, angrily, as if he had been
"Just look at her hand; I never make a mistake, you may be quite sure of
Caravan fell on the bed, and almost bellowed, while his wife, still
whimpering, did what was necessary.
She brought the night-table, on which she spread a towel and placed four
wax candles on it, which she lighted; then she took a sprig of box, which
was hanging over the chimney glass, and put it between the four candles,
in a plate, which she filled with clean water, as she had no holy water.
But, after a moment's rapid reflection, she threw a pinch of salt into
the water, no doubt thinking she was performing some sort of act of
consecration by doing that, and when she had finished, she remained
standing motionless, and the doctor, who had been helping her, whispered
"We must take Caravan away."
She nodded assent, and, going up to her husband, who was still on his
knees, sobbing, she raised him up by one arm, while Chenet took him by
They put him into a chair, and his wife kissed his forehead, and then
began to lecture him. Chenet enforced her words and preached firmness,
courage, and resignation--the very things which are always wanting in
such overwhelming misfortunes--and then both of them took him by the arms
again and led him out.
He was crying like a great child, with convulsive sobs; his arms hanging
down, and his legs weak, and he went downstairs without knowing what he
was doing, and moving his feet mechanically. They put him into the chair
which he always occupied at dinner, in front of his empty soup plate.
And there he sat, without moving, his eyes fixed on his glass, and so
stupefied with grief, that he could not even think.
In a corner, Madame Caravan was talking with the doctor and asking what
the necessary formalities were, as she wanted to obtain practical
information. At last, Monsieur Chenet, who appeared to be waiting for
something, took up his hat and prepared to go, saying that he had not
dined yet; whereupon she exclaimed:
"What! you have not dined? Why, stay here, doctor; don't go. You shall
have whatever we have, for, of course, you understand that we do not fare
sumptuously." He made excuses and refused, but she persisted, and said:
"You really must stay; at times like this, people like to have friends
near them, and, besides that, perhaps you will be able to persuade my
husband to take some nourishment; he must keep up his strength."
The doctor bowed, and, putting down his hat, he said:
"In that case, I will accept your invitation, madame."
She gave Rosalie, who seemed to have lost her head, some orders, and then
sat down, "to pretend to eat," as she said, "to keep the doctor company."
The soup was brought in again, and Monsieur Chenet took two helpings.
Then there came a dish of tripe, which exhaled a smell of onions, and
which Madame Caravan made up her mind to taste.
"It is excellent," the doctor said, at which she smiled, and, turning to
her husband, she said:
"Do take a little, my poor Alfred, only just to put something in your
stomach. Remember that you have got to pass the night watching by her!"
He held out his plate, docilely, just as he would have gone to bed, if he
had been told to, obeying her in everything, without resistance and
without reflection, and he ate; the doctor helped himself three times,
while Madame Caravan, from time to time, fished out a large piece at the
end of her fork, and swallowed it with a sort of studied indifference.
When a salad bowl full of macaroni was brought in, the doctor said:
"By Jove! That is what I am very fond of." And this time, Madame
Caravan helped everybody. She even filled the saucers that were being
scraped by the children, who, being left to themselves, had been drinking
wine without any water, and were now kicking each other under the table.
Chenet remembered that Rossini, the composer, had been very fond of that
Italian dish, and suddenly he exclaimed:
"Why! that rhymes, and one could begin some lines like this:
The Maestro Rossini
Was fond of macaroni."
Nobody listened to him, however. Madame Caravan, who had suddenly grown
thoughtful, was thinking of all the probable consequences of the event,
while her husband made bread pellets, which he put on the table-cloth,
and looked at with a fixed, idiotic stare. As he was devoured by thirst,
he was continually raising his glass full of wine to his lips, and the
consequence was that his mind, which had been upset by the shock and
grief, seemed to become vague, and his ideas danced about as digestion
The doctor, who, meanwhile, had been drinking away steadily, was getting
visibly drunk, and Madame Caravan herself felt the reaction which follows
all nervous shocks, and was agitated and excited, and, although she had
drunk nothing but water, her head felt rather confused.
Presently, Chenet began to relate stories of death that appeared comical
to him. For in that suburb of Paris, that is full of people from the
provinces, one finds that indifference towards death which all peasants
show, were it even their own father or mother; that want of respect, that
unconscious brutality which is so common in the country, and so rare in
Paris, and he said:
"Why, I was sent for last week to the Rue du Puteaux, and when I went, I
found the patient dead and the whole family calmly sitting beside the bed
finishing a bottle of aniseed cordial, which had been bought the night
before to satisfy the dying man's fancy."
But Madame Caravan was not listening; she was continually thinking of the
inheritance, and Caravan was incapable of understanding anything further.
Coffee was presently served, and it had been made very strong to give
them courage. As every cup was well flavored with cognac, it made all
their faces red, and confused their ideas still more. To make matters
still worse, Chenet suddenly seized the brandy bottle and poured out
"a drop for each of them just to wash their mouths out with," as he
termed it, and then, without speaking any more, overcome in spite of
themselves, by that feeling of animal comfort which alcohol affords after
dinner, they slowly sipped the sweet cognac, which formed a yellowish
syrup at the bottom of their cups.
The children had fallen asleep, and Rosalie carried them off to bed.
Caravan, mechanically obeying that wish to forget oneself which possesses
all unhappy persons, helped himself to brandy again several times, and
his dull eyes grew bright. At last the doctor rose to go, and seizing
his friend's arm, he said:
"Come with me; a little fresh air will do you good. When one is in
trouble, one must not remain in one spot."
The other obeyed mechanically, put on his hat, took his stick, and went
out, and both of them walked arm-in-arm towards the Seine, in the
The air was warm and sweet, for all the gardens in the neighborhood were
full of flowers at this season of the year, and their fragrance, which is
scarcely perceptible during the day, seemed to awaken at the approach of
night, and mingled with the light breezes which blew upon them in the
The broad avenue with its two rows of gas lamps, that extended as far as
the Arc de Triomphe, was deserted and silent, but there was the distant
roar of Paris, which seemed to have a reddish vapor hanging over it.
It was a kind of continual rumbling, which was at times answered by the
whistle of a train in the distance, travelling at full speed to the
ocean, through the provinces.
The fresh air on the faces of the two men rather overcame them at first,
made the doctor lose his equilibrium a little, and increased Caravan's
giddiness, from which he had suffered since dinner. He walked as if he
were in a dream; his thoughts were paralyzed, although he felt no great
grief, for he was in a state of mental torpor that prevented him from
suffering, and he even felt a sense of relief which was increased by the
mildness of the night.
When they reached the bridge, they turned to the right, and got the fresh
breeze from the river, which rolled along, calm and melancholy, bordered
by tall poplar trees, while the stars looked as if they were floating on
the water and were-moving with the current. A slight white mist that
floated over the opposite banks, filled their lungs with a sensation of
cold, and Caravan stopped suddenly, for he was struck by that smell from
the water which brought back old memories to his mind. For, in his mind,
he suddenly saw his mother again, in Picardy, as he had seen her years
before, kneeling in front of their door, and washing the heaps of linen
at her side in the stream that ran through their garden. He almost
fancied that he could hear the sound of the wooden paddle with which she
beat the linen in the calm silence of the country, and her voice, as she
called out to him: "Alfred, bring me some soap." And he smelled that
odor of running water, of the mist rising from the wet ground, that
marshy smell, which he should never forget, and which came back to him on
this very evening on which his mother had died.
He stopped, seized with a feeling of despair. A sudden flash seemed to
reveal to him the extent of his calamity, and that breath from the river
plunged him into an abyss of hopeless grief. His life seemed cut in
half, his youth disappeared, swallowed up by that death. All the former
days were over and done with, all the recollections of his youth had been
swept away; for the future, there would be nobody to talk to him of what
had happened in days gone by, of the people he had known of old, of his
own part of the country, and of his past life; that was a part of his
existence which existed no longer, and the rest might as well end now.
And then he saw "the mother" as she was when young, wearing well-worn
dresses, which he remembered for such a long time that they seemed
inseparable from her; he recollected her movements, the different tones
of her voice, her habits, her predilections, her fits of anger, the
wrinkles on her face, the movements of her thin fingers, and all her
well-known attitudes, which she would never have again, and clutching
hold of the doctor, he began to moan and weep. His thin legs began to
tremble, his whole stout body was shaken by his sobs, all he could say
"My mother, my poor mother, my poor mother!"
But his companion, who was still drunk, and who intended to finish the
evening in certain places of bad repute that he frequented secretly, made
him sit down on the grass by the riverside, and left him almost
immediately, under the pretext that he had to see a patient.
Caravan went on crying for some time, and when he had got to the end of
his tears, when his grief had, so to say, run out, he again felt relief,
repose and sudden tranquillity.
The moon had risen, and bathed the horizon in its soft light.
The tall poplar trees had a silvery sheen on them, and the mist on the
plain looked like drifting snow; the river, in which the stars were
reflected, and which had a sheen as of mother-of-pearl, was gently
rippled by the wind. The air was soft and sweet, and Caravan inhaled it
almost greedily, and thought that he could perceive a feeling of
freshness, of calm and of superhuman consolation pervading him.
He actually resisted that feeling of comfort and relief, and kept on
saying to himself: "My poor mother, my poor mother!" and tried to make
himself cry, from a kind of conscientious feeling; but he could not
succeed in doing so any longer, and those sad thoughts, which had made
him sob so bitterly a shore time before, had almost passed away. In a
few moments, he rose to go home, and returned slowly, under the influence
of that serene night, and with a heart soothed in spite of himself.
When he reached the bridge, he saw that the last tramcar was ready to
start, and behind it were the brightly lighted windows of the Cafe du
Globe. He felt a longing to tell somebody of his loss, to excite pity,
to make himself interesting. He put on a woeful face, pushed open the
door, and went up to the counter, where the landlord still was. He had
counted on creating a sensation, and had hoped that everybody would get
up and come to him. with outstretched hands, and say: "Why, what is the
matter with you?" But nobody noticed his disconsolate face, so he rested
his two elbows on the counter, and, burying his face in his hands, he
murmured: "Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!"
The landlord looked at him and said: "Are you ill, Monsieur Caravan?"
"No, my friend," he replied, "but my mother has just died."
"Ah!" the other exclaimed, and as a customer at the other end of the
establishment asked for a glass of Bavarian beer, he went to attend to
him, leaving Caravan dumfounded at his want of sympathy.
The three domino players were sitting at the same table which they had
occupied before dinner, totally absorbed in their game, and Caravan went
up to them, in search of pity, but as none of them appeared to notice him
he made up his mind to speak.
"A great misfortune has happened to me since I was here," he said.
All three slightly raised their heads at the same instant, but keeping
their eyes fixed on the pieces which they held in their hands.
"What do you say?"
"My mother has just died"; whereupon one of them said:
"Oh! the devil," with that false air of sorrow which indifferent people
assume. Another, who could not find anything to say, emitted a sort of
sympathetic whistle, shaking his head at the same time, and the third
turned to the game again, as if he were saying to himself: "Is that all!"
Caravan had expected some of these expressions that are said to "come
from the heart," and when he saw how his news was received, he left the
table, indignant at their calmness at their friend's sorrow, although
this sorrow had stupefied him so that he scarcely felt it any longer.
When he got home his wife was waiting for him in her nightgown, and
sitting in a low chair by the open window, still thinking of the
"Undress yourself," she said; "we can go on talking."
He raised his head, and looking at the ceiling, said:
"But--there is nobody upstairs."
"I beg your pardon, Rosalie is with her, and you can go and take her
place at three o'clock in the morning, when you have had some sleep."
He only partially undressed, however, so as to be ready for anything that
might happen, and after tying a silk handkerchief round his head, he lay
down to rest, and for some time neither of them spoke. Madame Caravan
Her nightcap was adorned with a red bow, and was pushed rather to one
side, as was the way with all the caps she wore, and presently she turned
towards him and said:
"Do you know whether your mother made a will?"
He hesitated for a moment, and then replied:
"I--I do not think so. No, I am sure that she did not."
His wife looked at him, and she said, in a law, angry tone:
"I call that infamous; here we have been wearing ourselves out for ten
years in looking after her, and have boarded and lodged her! Your sister
would not have done so much for her, nor I either, if I had known how I
was to be rewarded! Yes, it is a disgrace to her memory! I dare say
that you will tell me that she paid us, but one cannot pay one's children
in ready money for what they do; that obligation is recognized after
death; at any rate, that is how honorable people act. So I have had all
my worry and trouble for nothing! Oh, that is nice! that is very nice!"
Poor Caravan, who was almost distracted, kept on repeating:
"My dear, my dear, please, please be quiet."
She grew calmer by degrees, and, resuming her usual voice and manner, she
"We must let your sister know to-morrow."
He started, and said:
"Of course we must; I had forgotten all about it; I will send her a
telegram the first thing in the morning."
"No," she replied, like a woman who had foreseen everything; "no, do not
send it before ten or eleven o'clock, so that we may have time to turn
round before she comes. It does not take more than two hours to get here
from Charenton, and we can say that you lost your head from grief. If we
let her know in the course of the day, that will be soon enough, and will
give us time to look round."
Caravan put his hand to his forehead, and, in the came timid voice in
which he always spoke of his chief, the very thought of whom made him
tremble, he said:
"I must let them know at the office."
"Why?" she replied. "On occasions like this, it is always excusable to
forget. Take my advice, and don't let him know; your chief will not be
able to say anything to you, and you will put him in a nice fix.
"Oh! yes, that I shall, and he will be in a terrible rage, too, when he
notices my absence. Yes, you are right; it is a capital idea, and when I
tell him that my mother is dead, he will be obliged to hold his tongue."
And he rubbed his hands in delight at the joke, when he thought of his
chief's face; while upstairs lay the body of the dead old woman, with the
servant asleep beside it.
But Madame Caravan grew thoughtful, as if she were preoccupied by
something which she did not care to mention, and at last she said:
"Your mother had given you her clock, had she not--the girl playing at
cup and ball?"
He thought for a moment, and then replied:
"Yes, yes; she said to me (but it was a long time ago, when she first
came here): 'I shall leave the clock to you, if you look after me well.'"
Madame Caravan was reassured, and regained her serenity, and said:
"Well, then, you must go and fetch it out of her room, for if we get your
sister here, she will prevent us from taking it."
"Do you think so?"
That made her angry.
"I certainly think so; once it is in our possession, she will know
nothing at all about where it came from; it belongs to us. It is just
the same with the chest of drawers with the marble top, that is in her
room; she gave it me one day when she was in a good temper. We will
bring it down at the same time."
Caravan, however, seemed incredulous, and said:
"But, my dear, it is a great responsibility!"
She turned on him furiously.
"Oh! Indeed! Will you never change? You would let your children die of
hunger, rather than make a move. Does not that chest of drawers belong
to us, as she gave it to me? And if your sister is not satisfied, let
her tell me so, me! I don't care a straw for your sister. Come, get up,
and we will bring down what your mother gave us, immediately."
Trembling and vanquished, he got out of bed and began to put on his
trousers, but she stopped him:
"It is not worth while to dress yourself; your underwear is quite enough.
I mean to go as I am."
They both left the room in their night clothes, went upstairs quite
noiselessly, opened the door and went into the room, where the four
lighted tapers and the plate with the sprig of box alone seemed to be
watching the old woman in her rigid repose, for Rosalie, who was lying
back in the easy chair with her legs stretched out, her hands folded in
her lap, and her head on one side, was also quite motionless, and was
snoring with her mouth wide open.
Caravan took the clock, which was one of those grotesque objects that
were produced so plentifully under the Empire. A girl in gilt bronze was
holding a cup and ball, and the ball formed the pendulum.
"Give that to me," his wife said, "and take the marble slab off the chest
He put the marble slab on his shoulder with considerable effort, and they
left the room. Caravan had to stoop in the doorway, and trembled as he
went downstairs, while his wife walked backwards, so as to light him, and
held the candlestick in one hand, carrying the clock under the other arm.
When they were in their own room, she heaved a sigh.
"We have got over the worst part of the job," she said; "so now let us go
and fetch the other things."
But the bureau drawers were full of the old woman's wearing apparel,
which they must manage to hide somewhere, and Madame Caravan soon thought
of a plan.
"Go and get that wooden packing case in the vestibule; it is hardly worth
anything, and we may just as well put it here."
And when he had brought it upstairs they began to fill it. One by one
they took out all the collars, cuffs, chemises, caps, all the well-worn
things that had belonged to the poor woman lying there behind them, and
arranged them methodically in the wooden box in such a manner as to
deceive Madame Braux, the deceased woman's other child, who would be
coming the next day.
When they had finished, they first of all carried the bureau drawers
downstairs, and the remaining portion afterwards, each of them holding an
end, and it was some time before they could make up their minds where it
would stand best; but at last they decided upon their own room, opposite
the bed, between the two windows, and as soon as it was in its place
Madame Caravan filled it with her own things. The clock was placed on
the chimney-piece in the dining-room, and they looked to see what the
effect was, and were both delighted with it and agreed that nothing could
be better. Then they retired, she blew out the candle, and soon
everybody in the house was asleep.
It was broad daylight when. Caravan opened his eyes again. His mind was
rather confused when he woke up, and he did not clearly remember what had
happened for a few minutes; when he did, he felt a weight at his heart,
and jumped out of bed, almost ready to cry again.
He hastened to the room overhead, where Rosalie was still sleeping in the
same position as the night before, not having awakened once. He sent her
to do her work, put fresh tapers in the place of those that had burnt
out, and then he looked at his mother, revolving in his brain those
apparently profound thoughts, those religious and philosophical
commonplaces which trouble people of mediocre intelligence in the
presence of death.
But, as his wife was calling him, he went downstairs. She had written
out a list of what had to be done during the morning, and he was
horrified when be saw the memorandum:
1. Report the death at the mayor's office.
2. See the doctor who had attended her.
3. Order the coffin.
4. Give notice at the church.
5. Go to the undertaker.
6. Order the notices of her death at the printer's.
7. Go to the lawyer.
8. Telegraph the news to all the family.
Besides all this, there were a number of small commissions; so he took
his hat and went out. As the news had spread abroad, Madame Caravan's
female friends and neighbors soon began to come in and begged to be
allowed to see the body. There had been a scene between husband and wife
at the hairdresser's on the ground floor about the matter, while a
customer was being shaved. The wife, who was knitting steadily, said:
"Well, there is one less, and as great a miser as one ever meets with.
I certainly did not care for her; but, nevertheless, I must go and have a
look at her."
The husband, while lathering his patient's chin, said: "That is another
queer fancy! Nobody but a woman would think of such a thing. It is not
enough for them to worry you during life, but they cannot even leave you
at peace when you are dead:" But his wife, without being in the least
disconcerted, replied: "The feeling is stronger than I am, and I must go.
It has been on me since the morning. If I were not to see her, I should
think about it all my life; but when I have had a good look at her, I
shall be satisfied."
The knight of the razor shrugged his shoulders and remarked in a low
voice to the gentleman whose cheek he was scraping: "I just ask you, what
sort of ideas do you think these confounded females have? I should not
amuse myself by going to see a corpse!" But his wife had heard him and
replied very quietly: "But it is so, it is so." And then, putting her
knitting on the counter, she went upstairs to the first floor, where she
met two other neighbors, who had just come, and who were discussing the
event with Madame Caravan, who was giving them the details, and they all
went together to the death chamber. The four women went in softly, and,
one after the other, sprinkled the bed clothes with the salt water, knelt
down, made the sign of the cross while they mumbled a prayer. Then they
rose from their knees and looked for some time at the corpse with round,
wide-open eyes and mouths partly open, while the daughter-in-law of the
dead woman, with her handkerchief to her face, pretended to be sobbing
When she turned about to walk away whom should she perceive standing
close to the door but Marie-Louise and Philippe-Auguste, who were
curiously taking stock of all that was going on. Then, forgetting her
pretended grief, she threw herself upon them with uplifted hands, crying
out in a furious voice, "Will you get out of this, you horrid brats!"
Ten minutes later, going upstairs again with another contingent of
neighbors, she prayed, wept profusely, performed all her duties, and
found once more her two children, who had followed her upstairs. She
again boxed their ears soundly, but the next time she paid no heed to
them, and at each fresh arrival of visitors the two urchins always
followed in the wake, kneeling down in a corner and imitating slavishly
everything they saw their mother do.
When the afternoon came the crowds of inquisitive people began to
diminish, and soon there were no more visitors. Madame Caravan,
returning to her own apartments, began to make the necessary preparations
for the funeral ceremony, and the deceased was left alone.
The window of the room was open. A torrid heat entered, along with
clouds of dust; the flames of the four candles were flickering beside the
immobile corpse, and upon the cloth which covered the face, the closed
eyes, the two stretched-out hands, small flies alighted, came, went and
careered up and down incessantly, being the only companions of the old
woman for the time being.
Marie-Louise and Philippe-Auguste, however, had now left the house and
were running up and down the street. They were soon surrounded by their
playmates, by little girls especially, who were older and who were much
more interested in all the mysteries of life, asking questions as if they
were grown people.
"Then your grandmother is dead?" "Yes, she died yesterday evening."
"What does a dead person look like?"
Then Marie began to explain, telling all about the candles, the sprig of
box and the face of the corpse. It was not long before great curiosity
was aroused in the minds of all the children, and they asked to be
allowed to go upstairs to look at the departed.
Marie-Louise at once organized a first expedition, consisting of five
girls and two boys--the biggest and the most courageous. She made them
take off their shoes so that they might not be discovered. The troupe
filed into the house and mounted the stairs as stealthily as an army of
Once in the chamber, the little girl, imitating her mother, regulated the
ceremony. She solemnly walked in advance of her comrades, went down on
her knees, made the sign of the cross, moved her lips as in prayer, rose,
sprinkled the bed, and while the children, all crowded together, were
approaching--frightened and curious and eager to look at the face and
hands of the deceased--she began suddenly to simulate sobbing and to bury
her eyes in her little handkerchief. Then, becoming instantly consoled,
on thinking of the other children who were downstairs waiting at the
door, she ran downstairs followed by the rest, returning in a minute with
another group, then a third; for all the little ragamuffins of the
countryside, even to the little beggars in rags, had congregated in order
to participate in this new pleasure; and each time she repeated her
mother's grimaces with absolute perfection.
At length, however, she became tired. Some game or other drew the
children away from the house, and the old grandmother was left alone,
forgotten suddenly by everybody.
The room was growing dark, and upon the dry and rigid features of the
corpse the fitful flames of the candles cast patches of light.
Towards 8 o'clock Caravan ascended to the chamber of death, closed the
windows and renewed the candles. He was now quite composed on entering
the room, accustomed already to regard the corpse as though it had been
there for months. He even went the length of declaring that, as yet,
there were no signs of decomposition, making this remark just at the
moment when he and his wife were about to sit down at table. "Pshaw!"
she responded, "she is now stark and stiff; she will keep for a year."
The soup was eaten in silence. The children, who had been left to
themselves all day, now worn out by fatigue, were sleeping soundly on
their chairs, and nobody ventured to break the silence.
Suddenly the flame of the lamp went down. Madame Caravan immediately
turned up the wick, a hollow sound ensued, and the light went out. They
had forgotten to buy oil. To send for it now to the grocer's would keep
back the dinner, and they began to look for candles, but none were to be
found except the tapers which had been placed upon the table upstairs in
the death chamber.
Madame Caravan, always prompt in her decisions, quickly despatched Marie-
Louise to fetch two, and her return was awaited in total darkness.
The footsteps of the girl who had ascended the stairs were distinctly
heard. There was silence for a few seconds and then the child descended
precipitately. She threw open the door and in a choking voice murmured:
"Oh! papa, grandmamma is dressing herself!"
Caravan bounded to his feet with such precipitance that his chair fell
over against the wall. He stammered out: "You say? . . . . What are you
But Marie-Louise, gasping with emotion, repeated: "Grand--grand--
grandmamma is putting on her clothes, she is coming downstairs."
Caravan rushed boldly up the staircase, followed by his wife, dumfounded;
but he came to a standstill before the door of the second floor, overcome
with terror, not daring to enter. What was he going to see? Madame
Caravan, more courageous, turned the handle of the door and stepped
forward into the room.
The old woman was standing up. In awakening from her lethargic sleep,
before even regaining full consciousness, in turning upon her side and
raising herself on her elbow, she had extinguished three of the candles
which burned near the bed. Then, gaining strength, she got off the bed
and began to look for her clothes. The absence of her chest of drawers
had at first worried her, but, after a little, she had succeeded in
finding her things at the bottom of the wooden box, and was now quietly
dressing. She emptied the plateful of water, replaced the sprig of box
behind the looking-glass, and arranged the chairs in their places, and
was ready to go downstairs when there appeared before her her son and
Caravan rushed forward, seized her by the hands, embraced her with tears
in his eyes, while his wife, who was behind him, repeated in a
hypocritical tone of voice: "Oh, what a blessing! oh, what a blessing!"
But the old woman, without being at all moved, without even appearing to
understand, rigid as a statue, and with glazed eyes, simply asked: "Will
dinner soon be ready?"
He stammered out, not knowing what he said:
"Oh, yes, mother, we have been waiting for you."
And with an alacrity unusual in him, he took her arm, while Madame
Caravan, the younger, seized the candle and lighted them downstairs,
walking backwards in front of them, step by step, just as she had done
the previous night for her husband, who was carrying the marble.
On reaching the first floor, she almost ran against people who were
ascending the stairs. It was the Charenton family, Madame Braux,
followed by her husband.
The wife, tall and stout, with a prominent stomach, opened wide her
terrified eyes and was ready to make her escape. The husband, a
socialist shoemaker, a little hairy man, the perfect image of a monkey,
murmured quite unconcerned: "Well, what next? Is she resurrected?"
As soon as Madame Caravan recognized them, she made frantic gestures to
them; then, speaking aloud, she said: "Why, here you are! What a
But Madame Braux, dumfounded, understood nothing. She responded in a low
voice: "It was your telegram that brought us; we thought that all was
Her husband, who was behind her, pinched her to make her keep silent.
He added with a sly laugh, which his thick beard concealed: "It was very
kind of you to invite us here. We set out post haste," which remark
showed the hostility which had for a long time reigned between the
households. Then, just as the old woman reached the last steps, he
pushed forward quickly and rubbed his hairy face against her cheeks,
shouting in her ear, on account of her deafness: "How well you look,
mother; sturdy as usual, hey!"
Madame Braux, in her stupefaction at seeing the old woman alive, whom
they all believed to be dead, dared not even embrace her; and her
enormous bulk blocked up the passageway and hindered the others from
advancing. The old woman, uneasy and suspicious, but without speaking,
looked at everyone around her; and her little gray eyes, piercing and
hard, fixed themselves now on one and now on the other, and they were so
full of meaning that the children became frightened.
Caravan, to explain matters, said: "She has been somewhat ill, but she is
better now; quite well, indeed, are you not, mother?"
Then the good woman, continuing to walk, replied in a husky voice, as
though it came from a distance: "It was syncope. I heard you all the
An embarrassing silence followed. They entered the dining-room, and in a
few minutes all sat down to an improvised dinner.
Only M. Braux had retained his self-possession. His gorilla features
grinned wickedly, while he let fall some words of double meaning which
painfully disconcerted everyone.
But the door bell kept ringing every second, and Rosalie, distracted,
came to call Caravan, who rushed out, throwing down his napkin. His
brother-in-law even asked him whether it was not one of his reception
days, to which he stammered out in answer: "No, only a few packages;
A parcel was brought in, which he began to open carelessly, and the
mourning announcements with black borders appeared unexpectedly.
Reddening up to the very eyes, he closed the package hurriedly and pushed
it under his waistcoat.
His mother had not seen it! She was looking intently at her clock which
stood on the mantelpiece, and the embarrassment increased in midst of a
dead silence. Turning her wrinkled face towards her daughter, the old
woman, in whose eyes gleamed malice, said: "On Monday you must take me
away from here, so that I can see your little girl. I want so much to
see her." Madame Braux, her features all beaming, exclaimed: "Yes,
mother, that I will," while Madame Caravan, the younger, who had turned
pale, was ready to faint with annoyance. The two men, however, gradually
drifted into conversation and soon became embroiled in a political
discussion. Braux maintained the most revolutionary and communistic
doctrines, his eyes glowing, and gesticulating and throwing about his
arms. "Property, sir," he said, "is a robbery perpetrated on the working
classes; the land is the common property of every man; hereditary rights
are an infamy and a disgrace." But here he suddenly stopped, looking as
if he had just said something foolish, then added in softer tones: "But
this is not the proper moment to discuss such things."
The door was opened and Dr. Chenet appeared. For a moment he seemed
bewildered, but regaining his usual smirking expression of countenance,
he jauntily approached the old woman and said: "Aha! mamma; you are
better to-day. Oh! I never had any doubt but you would come round again;
in fact, I said to myself as I was mounting the staircase, 'I have an
idea that I shall find the old lady on her feet once more';" and as he
patted her gently on the back: "Ah! she is as solid as the Pont-Neuf,
she will bury us all; see if she does not."
He sat down, accepted the coffee that was offered him, and soon began to
join in the conversation of the two men, backing up Braux, for he himself
had been mixed up in the Commune.
The old woman, now feeling herself fatigued, wished to retire. Caravan
rushed forward. She looked him steadily in the eye and said: "You, you
must carry my clock and chest of drawers upstairs again without a
moment's delay." "Yes, mamma," he replied, gasping; "yes, I will do so."
The old woman then took the arm of her daughter and withdrew from the
room. The two Caravans remained astounded, silent, plunged in the
deepest despair, while Braux rubbed his hands and sipped his coffee
Suddenly Madame Caravan, consumed with rage, rushed at him, exclaiming:
"You are a thief, a footpad, a cur! I would spit in your face! I--I--
would----" She could find nothing further to say, suffocating as she was
with rage, while he went on sipping his coffee with a smile.
His wife returning just then, Madame Caravan attacked her sister-in-law,
and the two women--the one with her enormous bulk, the other epileptic
and spare, with changed voices and trembling hands flew at one another
with words of abuse.
Chenet and Braux now interposed, and the latter, taking his better half
by the shoulders, pushed her out of the door before him, shouting: "Go
on, you slut; you talk too much"; and the two were heard in the street
quarrelling until they disappeared from sight.
M. Chenet also took his departure, leaving the Caravans alone, face to
face. The husband fell back on his chair, and with the cold sweat
standing out in beads on his temples, murmured: "What shall I say to my
BESIDE SCHOPENHAUER'S CORPSE
He was slowly dying, as consumptives die. I saw him each day, about two
o'clock, sitting beneath the hotel windows on a bench in the promenade,
looking out on the calm sea. He remained for some time without moving,
in the heat of the sun, gazing mournfully at the Mediterranean. Every
now and then, he cast a glance at the lofty mountains with beclouded
summits that shut in Mentone; then, with a very slow movement, he would
cross his long legs, so thin that they seemed like two bones, around
which fluttered the cloth of his trousers, and he would open a book,
always the same book. And then he did not stir any more, but read on,
read on with his eye and his mind; all his wasting body seemed to read,
all his soul plunged, lost, disappeared, in this book, up to the hour
when the cool air made him cough a little. Then, he got up and reentered
He was a tall German, with fair beard, who breakfasted and dined in his
own room, and spoke to nobody.
A vague, curiosity attracted me to him. One day, I sat down by his side,
having taken up a book, too, to keep up appearances, a volume of Musset's
And I began to look through "Rolla."
Suddenly, my neighbor said to me, in good French:
"Do you know German, monsieur?"
"Not at all, monsieur."
"I am sorry for that. Since chance has thrown us side by side, I could
have lent you, I could have shown you, an inestimable thing--this book
which I hold in my hand."
"What is it, pray?"
"It is a copy of my master, Schopenhauer, annotated with his own hand.
All the margins, as you may see, are covered with his handwriting."
I took the book from him reverently, and I gazed at these forms
incomprehensible to me, but which revealed the immortal thoughts of the
greatest shatterer of dreams who had ever dwelt on earth.
And Musset's verses arose in my memory:
"Hast thou found out, Voltaire, that it is bliss to die,
And does thy hideous smile over thy bleached bones fly?"
And involuntarily I compared the childish sarcasm, the religious sarcasm
of Voltaire with the irresistible irony of the German philosopher whose
influence is henceforth ineffaceable.
Let us protest and let us be angry, let us be indignant, or let us be
enthusiastic, Schopenhauer has marked humanity with the seal of his
disdain and of his disenchantment.
A disabused pleasure-seeker, he overthrew beliefs, hopes, poetic ideals
and chimeras, destroyed the aspirations, ravaged the confidence of souls,
killed love, dragged down the chivalrous worship of women, crushed the
illusions of hearts, and accomplished the most gigantic task ever
attempted by scepticism. He spared nothing with his mocking spirit, and
exhausted everything. And even to-day those who execrate him seem to
carry in their own souls particles of his thought.
"So, then, you were intimately acquainted with Schopenhauer?" I said to
He smiled sadly.
"Up to the time of his death, monsieur."
And he spoke to me about the philosopher and told me about the almost
supernatural impression which this strange being made on all who came
He gave me an account of the interview of the old iconoclast with a
French politician, a doctrinaire Republican, who wanted to get a glimpse
of this man, and found him in a noisy tavern, seated in the midst of his
disciples, dry, wrinkled, laughing with an unforgettable laugh, attacking
and tearing to pieces ideas and beliefs with a single word, as a dog
tears with one bite of his teeth the tissues with which he plays.
He repeated for me the comment of this Frenchman as he went away,
astonished and terrified: "I thought I had spent an hour with the devil."
Then he added:
"He had, indeed, monsieur, a frightful smile, which terrified us even
after his death. I can tell you an anecdote about it that is not
generally known, if it would interest you."
And he began, in a languid voice, interrupted by frequent fits of
"Schopenhauer had just died, and it was arranged that we should watch, in
turn, two by two, till morning.
"He was lying in a large apartment, very simple, vast and gloomy. Two
wax candles were burning on the stand by the bedside.
"It was midnight when I went on watch, together with one of our comrades.
The two friends whom we replaced had left the apartment, and we came and
sat down at the foot of the bed.
"The face was not changed. It was laughing. That pucker which we knew
so well lingered still around the corners of the lips, and it seemed to
us that he was about to open his eyes, to move and to speak. His
thought, or rather his thoughts, enveloped us. We felt ourselves more
than ever in the atmosphere of his genius, absorbed, possessed by him.
His domination seemed to be even more sovereign now that he was dead.
A feeling of mystery was blended with the power of this incomparable
"The bodies of these men disappear, but they themselves remain; and in
the night which follows the cessation of their heart's pulsation I assure
you, monsieur, they are terrifying.
"And in hushed tones we talked about him, recalling to mind certain
sayings, certain formulas of his, those startling maxims which are like
jets of flame flung, in a few words, into the darkness of the Unknown
"'It seems to me that he is going to speak,' said my comrade. And we
stared with uneasiness bordering on fear at the motionless face, with its
eternal laugh. Gradually, we began to feel ill at ease, oppressed, on
the point of fainting. I faltered:
"'I don't know what is the matter with me, but, I assure you I am not
"And at that moment we noticed that there was an unpleasant odor from the
"Then, my comrade suggested that we should go into the adjoining room,
and leave the door open; and I assented to his proposal.
"I took one of the wax candles which burned on the stand, and I left the
second behind. Then we went and sat down at the other end of the
adjoining apartment, in such a position that we could see the bed and the
corpse, clearly revealed by the light.
"But he still held possession of us. One would have said that his
immaterial essence, liberated, free, all-powerful and dominating, was
flitting around us. And sometimes, too, the dreadful odor of the
decomposed body came toward us and penetrated us, sickening and
"Suddenly a shiver passed through our bones: a sound, a slight sound,
came from the death-chamber. Immediately we fixed our glances on him,
and we saw, yes, monsieur, we saw distinctly, both of us, something white
pass across the bed, fall on the carpet, and vanish under an armchair.
"We were on our feet before we had time to think of anything, distracted
by stupefying terror, ready to run away. Then we stared at each other.
We were horribly pale. Our hearts throbbed fiercely enough to have
raised the clothing on our chests. I was the first to speak:
"'Did you see?'
"'Yes, I saw.'
"'Can it be that he is not dead?'
"'Why, when the body is putrefying?'
"'What are we to do?'
"My companion said in a hesitating tone:
"'We must go and look.'
"I took our wax candle and entered first, glancing into all the dark
corners in the large apartment. Nothing was moving now, and I approached
the bed. But I stood transfixed with stupor and fright:
Schopenhauer was no longer laughing! He was grinning in a horrible
fashion, with his lips pressed together and deep hollows in his cheeks.
I stammered out:
"'He is not dead!'
"But the terrible odor ascended to my nose and stifled me. And I no
longer moved, but kept staring fixedly at him, terrified as if in the
presence of an apparition.
"Then my companion, having seized the other wax candle, bent forward.
Next, he touched my arm without uttering a word. I followed his glance,
and saw on the ground, under the armchair by the side of the bed,
standing out white on the dark carpet, and open as if to bite,
Schopenhauer's set of artificial teeth.
"The work of decomposition, loosening the jaws, had made it jump out of
"I was really frightened that day, monsieur."
And as the sun was sinking toward the glittering sea, the consumptive
German rose from his seat, gave me a parting bow, and retired into the