Original Maupassant Short Stories, Vol. 7.
by Guy de Maupassant
THE FALSE GEMS
Monsieur Lantin had met the young girl at a reception at the house of the
second head of his department, and had fallen head over heels in love
She was the daughter of a provincial tax collector, who had been dead
several years. She and her mother came to live in Paris, where the
latter, who made the acquaintance of some of the families in her
neighborhood, hoped to find a husband for her daughter.
They had very moderate means, and were honorable, gentle, and quiet.
The young girl was a perfect type of the virtuous woman in whose hands
every sensible young man dreams of one day intrusting his happiness.
Her simple beauty had the charm of angelic modesty, and the imperceptible
smile which constantly hovered about the lips seemed to be the reflection
of a pure and lovely soul. Her praises resounded on every side. People
never tired of repeating: "Happy the man who wins her love! He could not
find a better wife."
Monsieur Lantin, then chief clerk in the Department of the Interior,
enjoyed a snug little salary of three thousand five hundred francs, and
he proposed to this model young girl, and was accepted.
He was unspeakably happy with her. She governed his household with such
clever economy that they seemed to live in luxury. She lavished the most
delicate attentions on her husband, coaxed and fondled him; and so great
was her charm that six years after their marriage, Monsieur Lantin
discovered that he loved his wife even more than during the first days of
He found fault with only two of her tastes: Her love for the theatre, and
her taste for imitation jewelry. Her friends (the wives of some petty
officials) frequently procured for her a box at the theatre, often for
the first representations of the new plays; and her husband was obliged
to accompany her, whether he wished it or not, to these entertainments
which bored him excessively after his day's work at the office.
After a time, Monsieur Lantin begged his wife to request some lady of her
acquaintance to accompany her, and to bring her home after the theatre.
She opposed this arrangement, at first; but, after much persuasion,
finally consented, to the infinite delight of her husband.
Now, with her love for the theatre, came also the desire for ornaments.
Her costumes remained as before, simple, in good taste, and always
modest; but she soon began to adorn her ears with huge rhinestones, which
glittered and sparkled like real diamonds. Around her neck she wore
strings of false pearls, on her arms bracelets of imitation gold, and
combs set with glass jewels.
Her husband frequently remonstrated with her, saying:
"My dear, as you cannot afford to buy real jewelry, you ought to appear
adorned with your beauty and modesty alone, which are the rarest
ornaments of your sex."
But she would smile sweetly, and say:
"What can I do? I am so fond of jewelry. It is my only weakness. We
cannot change our nature."
Then she would wind the pearl necklace round her fingers, make the facets
of the crystal gems sparkle, and say:
"Look! are they not lovely? One would swear they were real."
Monsieur Lantin would then answer, smilingly:
"You have bohemian tastes, my dear."
Sometimes, of an evening, when they were enjoying a tete-a-tote by the
fireside, she would place on the tea table the morocco leather box
containing the "trash," as Monsieur Lantin called it. She would examine
the false gems with a passionate attention, as though they imparted some
deep and secret joy; and she often persisted in passing a necklace around
her husband's neck, and, laughing heartily, would exclaim: "How droll you
look!" Then she would throw herself into his arms, and kiss him
One evening, in winter, she had been to the opera, and returned home
chilled through and through. The next morning she coughed, and eight
days later she died of inflammation of the lungs.
Monsieur Lantin's despair was so great that his hair became white in one
month. He wept unceasingly; his heart was broken as he remembered her
smile, her voice, every charm of his dead wife.
Time did not assuage his grief. Often, during office hours, while his
colleagues were discussing the topics of the day, his eyes would suddenly
fill with tears, and he would give vent to his grief in heartrending
sobs. Everything in his wife's room remained as it was during her
lifetime; all her furniture, even her clothing, being left as it was on
the day of her death. Here he was wont to seclude himself daily and
think of her who had been his treasure-the joy of his existence.
But life soon became a struggle. His income, which, in the hands of his
wife, covered all household expenses, was now no longer sufficient for
his own immediate wants; and he wondered how she could have managed to
buy such excellent wine and the rare delicacies which he could no longer
procure with his modest resources.
He incurred some debts, and was soon reduced to absolute poverty. One
morning, finding himself without a cent in his pocket, he resolved to
sell something, and immediately the thought occurred to him of disposing
of his wife's paste jewels, for he cherished in his heart a sort of
rancor against these "deceptions," which had always irritated him in the
past. The very sight of them spoiled, somewhat, the memory of his lost
To the last days of her life she had continued to make purchases,
bringing home new gems almost every evening, and he turned them over some
time before finally deciding to sell the heavy necklace, which she seemed
to prefer, and which, he thought, ought to be worth about six or seven
francs; for it was of very fine workmanship, though only imitation.
He put it in his pocket, and started out in search of what seemed a
reliable jeweler's shop. At length he found one, and went in, feeling a
little ashamed to expose his misery, and also to offer such a worthless
article for sale.
"Sir," said he to the merchant, "I would like to know what this is
The man took the necklace, examined it, called his clerk, and made some
remarks in an undertone; he then put the ornament back on the counter,
and looked at it from a distance to judge of the effect.
Monsieur Lantin, annoyed at all these ceremonies, was on the point of
saying: "Oh! I know well 'enough it is not worth anything," when the
jeweler said: "Sir, that necklace is worth from twelve to fifteen
thousand francs; but I could not buy it, unless you can tell me exactly
where it came from."
The widower opened his eyes wide and remained gaping, not comprehending
the merchant's meaning. Finally he stammered: "You say--are you sure?'
The other replied, drily: "You can try elsewhere and see if any one will
offer you more. I consider it worth fifteen thousand at the most. Come
back; here, if you cannot do better."
Monsieur Lantin, beside himself with astonishment, took up the necklace
and left the store. He wished time for reflection.
Once outside, he felt inclined to laugh, and said to himself: "The fool!
Oh, the fool! Had I only taken him at his word! That jeweler cannot
distinguish real diamonds from the imitation article."
A few minutes after, he entered another store, in the Rue de la Paix. As
soon as the proprietor glanced at the necklace, he cried out:
"Ah, parbleu! I know it well; it was bought here."
Monsieur Lantin, greatly disturbed, asked:
"How much is it worth?"
"Well, I sold it for twenty thousand francs. I am willing to take it
back for eighteen thousand, when you inform me, according to our legal
formality, how it came to be in your possession."
This time, Monsieur Lantin was dumfounded. He replied:
"But--but--examine it well. Until this moment I was under the impression
that it was imitation."
The jeweler asked:
"What is your name, sir?"
"Lantin--I am in the employ of the Minister of the Interior. I live at
number sixteen Rue des Martyrs."
The merchant looked through his books, found the entry, and said: "That
necklace was sent to Madame Lantin's address, sixteen Rue des Martyrs,
July 20, 1876."
The two men looked into each other's eyes--the widower speechless with
astonishment; the jeweler scenting a thief. The latter broke the
"Will you leave this necklace here for twenty-four hours?" said he; "I
will give you a receipt."
Monsieur Lantin answered hastily: "Yes, certainly." Then, putting the
ticket in his pocket, he left the store.
He wandered aimlessly through the streets, his mind in a state of
dreadful confusion. He tried to reason, to understand. His wife could
not afford to purchase such a costly ornament. Certainly not.
But, then, it must have been a present!--a present!--a present, from
whom? Why was it given her?
He stopped, and remained standing in the middle of the street. A
horrible doubt entered his mind--She? Then, all the other jewels must
have been presents, too! The earth seemed to tremble beneath him--the
tree before him to be falling; he threw up his arms, and fell to the
ground, unconscious. He recovered his senses in a pharmacy, into which
the passers-by had borne him. He asked to be taken home, and, when he
reached the house, he shut himself up in his room, and wept until
nightfall. Finally, overcome with fatigue, he went to bed and fell into
a heavy sleep.
The sun awoke him next morning, and he began to dress slowly to go to the
office. It was hard to work after such shocks. He sent a letter to his
employer, requesting to be excused. Then he remembered that he had to
return to the jeweler's. He did not like the idea; but he could not
leave the necklace with that man. He dressed and went out.
It was a lovely day; a clear, blue sky smiled on the busy city below.
Men of leisure were strolling about with their hands in their pockets.
Monsieur Lantin, observing them, said to himself: "The rich, indeed, are
happy. With money it is possible to forget even the deepest sorrow. One
can go where one pleases, and in travel find that distraction which is
the surest cure for grief. Oh if I were only rich!"
He perceived that he was hungry, but his pocket was empty. He again
remembered the necklace. Eighteen thousand francs! Eighteen thousand
francs! What a sum!
He soon arrived in the Rue de la Paix, opposite the jeweler's. Eighteen
thousand francs! Twenty times he resolved to go in, but shame kept him
back. He was hungry, however--very hungry--and not a cent in his pocket.
He decided quickly, ran across the street, in order not to have time for
reflection, and rushed into the store.
The proprietor immediately came forward, and politely offered him a
chair; the clerks glanced at him knowingly.
"I have made inquiries, Monsieur Lantin," said the jeweler, "and if you
are still resolved to dispose of the gems, I am ready to pay you the
price I offered."
"Certainly, sir," stammered Monsieur Lantin.
Whereupon the proprietor took from a drawer eighteen large bills,
counted, and handed them to Monsieur Lantin, who signed a receipt; and,
with trembling hand, put the money into his pocket.
As he was about to leave the store, he turned toward the merchant, who
still wore the same knowing smile, and lowering his eyes, said:
"I have--I have other gems, which came from the same source. Will you
buy them, also?"
The merchant bowed: "Certainly, sir."
Monsieur Lantin said gravely: "I will bring them to you." An hour later,
he returned with the gems.
The large diamond earrings were worth twenty thousand francs; the
bracelets, thirty-five thousand; the rings, sixteen thousand; a set of
emeralds and sapphires, fourteen thousand; a gold chain with solitaire
pendant, forty thousand--making the sum of one hundred and forty-three
The jeweler remarked, jokingly:
"There was a person who invested all her savings in precious stones."
Monsieur Lantin replied, seriously:
"It is only another way of investing one's money."
That day he lunched at Voisin's, and drank wine worth twenty francs a
bottle. Then he hired a carriage and made a tour of the Bois. He gazed
at the various turnouts with a kind of disdain, and could hardly refrain
from crying out to the occupants:
"I, too, am rich!--I am worth two hundred thousand francs."
Suddenly he thought of his employer. He drove up to the bureau, and
entered gaily, saying:
"Sir, I have come to resign my position. I have just inherited three
hundred thousand francs."
He shook hands with his former colleagues, and confided to them some of
his projects for the future; he then went off to dine at the Cafe
He seated himself beside a gentleman of aristocratic bearing; and, during
the meal, informed the latter confidentially that he had just inherited a
fortune of four hundred thousand francs.
For the first time in his life, he was not bored at the theatre, and
spent the remainder of the night in a gay frolic.
Six months afterward, he married again. His second wife was a very
virtuous woman; but had a violent temper. She caused him much sorrow.
I can tell you neither the name of the country, nor the name of the man.
It was a long, long way from here on a fertile and burning shore. We had
been walking since the morning along the coast, with the blue sea bathed
in sunlight on one side of us, and the shore covered with crops on the
other. Flowers were growing quite close to the waves, those light,
gentle, lulling waves. It was very warm, a soft warmth permeated with
the odor of the rich, damp, fertile soil. One fancied one was inhaling
I had been told, that evening, that I should meet with hospitality at the
house of a Frenchman who lived in an orange grove at the end of a
promontory. Who was he? I did not know. He had come there one morning
ten years before, and had bought land which he planted with vines and
sowed with grain. He had worked, this man, with passionate energy, with
fury. Then as he went on from month to month, year to year, enlarging
his boundaries, cultivating incessantly the strong virgin soil, he
accumulated a fortune by his indefatigable labor.
But he kept on working, they said. Rising at daybreak, he would remain
in the fields till evening, superintending everything without ceasing,
tormented by one fixed idea, the insatiable desire for money, which
nothing can quiet, nothing satisfy. He now appeared to be very rich.
The sun was setting as I reached his house. It was situated as
described, at the end of a promontory in the midst of a grove of orange
trees. It was a large square house, quite plain, and overlooked the sea.
As I approached, a man wearing a long beard appeared in the doorway.
Having greeted him, I asked if he would give me shelter for the night.
He held out his hand and said, smiling:
"Come in, monsieur, consider yourself at home."
He led me into a room, and put a man servant at my disposal with the
perfect ease and familiar graciousness of a man-of-the-world. Then he
left me saying:
"We will dine as soon as you are ready to come downstairs."
We took dinner, sitting opposite each other, on a terrace facing the sea.
I began to talk about this rich, distant, unknown land. He smiled, as he
"Yes, this country is beautiful. But no country satisfies one when they
are far from the one they love."
"You regret France?"
"I regret Paris."
"Why do you not go back?"
"Oh, I will return there."
And gradually we began to talk of French society, of the boulevards, and
things Parisian. He asked me questions that showed he knew all about
these things, mentioned names, all the familiar names in vaudeville known
on the sidewalks.
"Whom does one see at Tortoni's now?
"Always the same crowd, except those who died." I looked at him
attentively, haunted by a vague recollection. I certainly had seen that
head somewhere. But where? And when? He seemed tired, although he was
vigorous; and sad, although he was determined. His long, fair beard fell
on his chest. He was somewhat bald and had heavy eyebrows and a thick
The sun was sinking into the sea, turning the vapor from the earth into a
fiery mist. The orange blossoms exhaled their powerful, delicious
fragrance. He seemed to see nothing besides me, and gazing steadfastly
he appeared to discover in the depths of my mind the far-away, beloved
and well-known image of the wide, shady pavement leading from the
Madeleine to the Rue Drouot.
"Do you know Boutrelle?"
"Has he changed much?"
"Yes, his hair is quite white."
"And La Ridamie?"
"The same as ever."
"And the women? Tell me about the women. Let's see. Do you know
"Yes, very much. But that is over."
"Ah! And Sophie Astier?"
"Poor girl. Did you--did you know--"
But he ceased abruptly: And then, in a changed voice, his face suddenly
turning pale, he continued:
"No, it is best that I should not speak of that any more, it breaks my
Then, as if to change the current of his thoughts he rose.
"Would you like to go in?" he said.
"Yes, I think so."
And he preceded me into the house. The downstairs rooms were enormous,
bare and mournful, and had a deserted look. Plates and glasses were
scattered on the tables, left there by the dark-skinned servants who
wandered incessantly about this spacious dwelling.
Two rifles were banging from two nails, on the wall; and in the corners
of the rooms were spades, fishing poles, dried palm leaves, every
imaginable thing set down at random when people came home in the evening
and ready to hand when they went out at any time, or went to work.
My host smiled as he said:
"This is the dwelling, or rather the kennel, of an exile, but my own room
is cleaner. Let us go there."
As I entered I thought I was in a second-hand store, it was so full of
things of all descriptions, strange things of various kinds that one felt
must be souvenirs. On the walls were two pretty paintings by well-known
artists, draperies, weapons, swords and pistols, and exactly in the
middle, on the principal panel, a square of white satin in a gold frame.
Somewhat surprised, I approached to look at it, and perceived a hairpin
fastened in the centre of the glossy satin. My host placed his hand on
"That," said he, "is the only ,thing that I look at here, and the only
thing that I have seen for ten years. M. Prudhomme said: 'This sword is
the most memorable day of my life.' I can say: 'This hairpin is all my
I sought for some commonplace remark, and ended by saying:
"You have suffered on account of some woman?"
He replied abruptly:
"Say, rather, that I am suffering like a wretch.
But come out on my balcony. A name rose to my lips just now which I
dared not utter; for if you had said 'Dead' as you did of Sophie Astier,
I should have fired a bullet into my brain, this very day."
We had gone out on the wide balcony from whence we could see two gulfs,
one to the right and the other to the left, enclosed by high gray
mountains. It was just twilight and the reflection of the sunset still
lingered in the sky.
"Is Jeanne de Limours still alive?"
His eyes were fastened on mine and were full of a trembling anxiety. I
"Parbleu--she is prettier than ever."
"Do you know her?" Yes."
He hesitated and then said:
He took my hand.
"Tell me about her," he said.
"Why, I have nothing to tell. She is one of the most charming women, or,
rather, girls, and the most admired in Paris. She leads a delightful
existence and lives like a princess, that is all."
"I love her," he murmured in a tone in which he might have said "I am
going to die." Then suddenly he continued:
"Ah! For three years we lived in a state of terror and delight. I
almost killed her five or six times. She tried to pierce my eyes with
that hairpin that you saw just now. Look, do you see that little white
spot beneath my left eye? We loved each other. How can I explain that
infatuation? You would not understand it."
"There must be a simple form of love, the result of the mutual impulse of
two hearts and two souls. But there is also assuredly an atrocious form,
that tortures one cruelly, the result of the occult blending of two
unlike personalities who detest each other at the same time that they
adore one another."
"In three years this woman had ruined me. I had four million francs
which she squandered in her calm manner, quietly, eat them up with a
gentle smile that seemed to fall from her eyes on to her lips."
"You know her? There is something irresistible about her. What is it?
I do not know. Is it those gray eyes whose glance penetrates you like a
gimlet and remains there like the point of an arrow? It is more likely
the gentle, indifferent and fascinating smile that she wears like a mask.
Her slow grace pervades you little by little; exhales from her like a
perfume, from her slim figure that scarcely sways as she passes you, for
she seems to glide rather than walk; from her pretty voice with its
slight drawl that would seem to be the music of her smile; from her
gestures, also, which are never exaggerated, but always appropriate, and
intoxicate your vision with their harmony. For three years she was the
only being that existed for me on the earth! How I suffered; for she
deceived me as she deceived everyone! Why? For no reason; just for the
pleasure of deceiving. And when I found it out, when I treated her as a
common girl and a beggar, she said quietly: 'Are we married?'
"Since I have been here I have thought so much about her that at last I
understand her. She is Manon Lescaut come back to life. It is Manon,
who could not love without deceiving; Marion for whom love, amusement,
money, are all one."
He was silent. After a few minutes he resumed:
"When I had spent my last sou on her she said simply:
"'You understand, my dear boy, that I cannot live on air and weather.
I love you very much, better than anyone, but I must live. Poverty and
I could not keep house together."
"And if I should tell you what a horrible life I led with her! When I
looked at her I would just as soon have killed her as kissed her. When I
looked at her . . . I felt a furious desire to open my arms to embrace
and strangle her. She had, back of her eyes, something false and
intangible that made me execrate her; and that was, perhaps, the reason I
loved her so well. The eternal feminine, the odious and seductive
feminine, was stronger in her than in any other woman. She was full of
it, overcharged, as with a venomous and intoxicating fluid. She was a
woman to a greater extent than any one has ever been."
"And when I went out with her she would look at all men in such a manner
that she seemed to offer herself to each in a single glance. This
exasperated me, and still it attached me to her all the more. This
creature in just walking along the street belonged to everyone, in spite
of me, in spite of herself, by the very fact of her nature, although she
had a modest, gentle carriage. Do you understand?
"And what torture! At the theatre, at the restaurant she seemed to
belong to others under my very eyes. And as soon as I left her she did
belong to others.
"It is now ten years since I saw her and I love her better than ever."
Night spread over the earth. A strong perfume of orange blossoms
pervaded the air. I said:
"Will you see her again?"
"Parbleu! I now have here, in land and money, seven to eight thousand
francs. When I reach a million I shall sell out and go away. I shall
have enough to live on with her for a year--one whole year. And then,
good-bye, my life will be finished."
"But after that?" I asked.
"After that, I do not know. That will be all, I may possibly ask her to
take me as a valet de chambre."
"The Comtesse Samoris."
"That lady in black over there?"
"The very one. She's wearing mourning for her daughter, whom she
"You don't mean that seriously? How did she die?"
"Oh! it is a very simple story, without any crime in it, any violence."
"Then what really happened?"
"Almost nothing. Many courtesans are born to be virtuous women, they
say; and many women called virtuous are born to be courtesans--is that
not so? Now, Madame Samoris, who was born a courtesan, had a daughter
born a virtuous woman, that's all."
"I don't quite understand you."
"I'll--explain what I mean. The comtesse is nothing but a common,
ordinary parvenue originating no one knows where. A Hungarian or
Wallachian countess or I know not what. She appeared one winter in
apartments she had taken in the Champs Elysees, that quarter for
adventurers and adventuresses, and opened her drawing-room to the first
comer or to any one that turned up.
"I went there. Why? you will say. I really can't tell you. I went
there, as every one goes to such places because the women are facile and
the men are dishonest. You know that set composed of filibusters with
varied decorations, all noble, all titled, all unknown at the embassies,
with the exception of those who are spies. All talk of their honor
without the slightest occasion for doing so, boast of their ancestors,
tell you about their lives, braggarts, liars, sharpers, as dangerous as
the false cards they have up their sleeves, as delusive as their names--
in short, the aristocracy of the bagnio.
"I adore these people. They are interesting to study, interesting to
know, amusing to understand, often clever, never commonplace like public
functionaries. Their wives are always pretty, with a slight flavor of
foreign roguery, with the mystery of their existence, half of it perhaps
spent in a house of correction. They have, as a rule, magnificent eyes
and incredible hair. I adore them also.
"Madame Samoris is the type of these adventuresses, elegant, mature and
still beautiful. Charming feline creatures, you feel that they are
vicious to the marrow of their bones. You find them very amusing when
you visit them; they give card parties; they have dances and suppers; in
short, they offer you all the pleasures of social life.
"And she had a daughter--a tall, fine-looking girl, always ready for
amusement, always full of laughter and reckless gaiety--a true
adventuress' daughter--but, at the same time, an innocent,
unsophisticated, artless girl, who saw nothing, knew nothing, understood
nothing of all the things that happened in her father's house.
"The girl was simply a puzzle to me. She was a mystery. She lived amid
those infamous surroundings with a quiet, tranquil ease that was either
terribly criminal or else the result of innocence. She sprang from the
filth of that class like a beautiful flower fed on corruption."
"How do you know about them?"
"How do I know? That's the funniest part of the business! One morning
there was a ring at my door, and my valet came up to tell me that
M. Joseph Bonenthal wanted to speak to me. I said directly:
'And who is this gentleman?' My valet replied: 'I don't know, monsieur;
perhaps 'tis some one that wants employment.' And so it was. The man
wanted me to take him as a servant. I asked him where he had been last.
He answered: 'With the Comtesse Samoris.' 'Ah!' said I, 'but my house is
not a bit like hers.' 'I know that well, monsieur,' he said, 'and that's
the very reason I want to take service with monsieur. I've had enough of
these people: a man may stay a little while with them, but he won't
remain long with them.' I required an additional man servant at the time
and so I took him.
"A month later Mademoiselle Yvette Samoris died mysteriously, and here
are all the details of her death I could gather from Joseph, who got them
from his sweetheart, the comtesse's chambermaid.
"It was a ball night, and two newly arrived guests were chatting behind a
door. Mademoiselle Yvette, who had just been dancing, leaned against
this door to get a little air.
"They did not see her approaching, but she heard what they were saying.
And this was what they said:
"'But who is the father of the girl?'
"'A Russian, it appears; Count Rouvaloff. He never comes near the mother
"'And who is the reigning prince to-day?'
"'That English prince standing near the window; Madame Samoris adores
him. But her adoration of any one never lasts longer than a month or six
weeks. Nevertheless, as you see, she has a large circle of admirers.
All are called--and nearly all are chosen. That kind of thing costs a
good deal, but--hang it, what can you expect?'
"'And where did she get this name of Samoris?'
"'From the only man perhaps that she ever loved--a Jewish banker from
Berlin who goes by the name of Samuel Morris.'
"'Good. Thanks. Now that I know what kind of woman she is and have seen
her, I'm off!'
"What a shock this was to the mind of a young girl endowed with all the
instincts of a virtuous woman! What despair overwhelmed that simple
soul! What mental tortures quenched her unbounded gaiety, her delightful
laughter, her exultant satisfaction with life! What a conflict took
place in that youthful heart up to the moment when the last guest had
left! Those were things that Joseph could not tell me. But, the same
night, Yvette abruptly entered her mother's room just as the comtesse was
getting into bed, sent out the lady's maid, who was close to the door,
and, standing erect and pale and with great staring eyes, she said:
"'Mamma, listen to what I heard a little while ago during the ball.'
"And she repeated word for word the conversation just as I told it to
"The comtesse was so stunned that she did not know what to say in reply
at first. When she recovered her self-possession she denied everything
and called God to witness that there was no truth in the story.
"The young girl went away, distracted but not convinced. And she began
to watch her mother.
"I remember distinctly the strange alteration that then took place in
her. She became grave and melancholy. She would fix on us her great
earnest eyes as if she wanted to read what was at the bottom of our
hearts. We did not know what to think of her and used to imagine that
she was looking out for a husband.
"One evening she overheard her mother talking to her admirer and later
saw them together, and her doubts were confirmed. She was heartbroken,
and after telling her mother what she had seen, she said coldly, like a
man of business laying down the terms of an agreement:
"'Here is what I have determined to do, mamma: We will both go away to
some little town, or rather into the country. We will live there quietly
as well as we can. Your jewelry alone may be called a fortune. If you
wish to marry some honest man, so much the better; still better will it
be if I can find one. If you don't consent to do this, I will kill
"This time the comtesse ordered her daughter to go to bed and never to
speak again in this manner, so unbecoming in the mouth of a child toward
"Yvette's answer to this was: 'I give you a month to reflect. If, at the
end of that month, we have not changed our way of living, I will kill
myself, since there is no other honorable issue left to my life.'
"And she left the room.
"At the end of a month the Comtesse Samoris had resumed her usual
entertainments, as though nothing had occurred. One day, under the
pretext that she had a bad toothache, Yvette purchased a few drops of
chloroform from a neighboring chemist. The next day she purchased more,
and every time she went out she managed to procure small doses of the
narcotic. She filled a bottle with it.
"One morning she was found in bed, lifeless and already quite cold, with
a cotton mask soaked in chloroform over her face.
"Her coffin was covered with flowers, the church was hung in white.
There was a large crowd at the funeral ceremony.
"Ah! well, if I had known--but you never can know--I would have married
that girl, for she was infernally pretty."
"And what became of the mother?"
"Oh! she shed a lot of tears over it. She has only begun to receive
visits again for the past week."
"And what explanation is given of the girl's death?"
"Oh! they pretended that it was an accident caused by a new stove, the
mechanism of which got out of order. As a good many such accidents have
occurred, the thing seemed probable enough."
The widow of Paolo Saverini lived alone with her son in a poor little
house on the outskirts of Bonifacio. The town, built on an outjutting
part of the mountain, in places even overhanging the sea, looks across
the straits, full of sandbanks, towards the southernmost coast of
Sardinia. Beneath it, on the other side and almost surrounding it, is a
cleft in the cliff like an immense corridor which serves as a harbor, and
along it the little Italian and Sardinian fishing boats come by a
circuitous route between precipitous cliffs as far as the first houses,
and every two weeks the old, wheezy steamer which makes the trip to
On the white mountain the houses, massed together, makes an even whiter
spot. They look like the nests of wild birds, clinging to this peak,
overlooking this terrible passage, where vessels rarely venture. The
wind, which blows uninterruptedly, has swept bare the forbidding coast;
it drives through the narrow straits and lays waste both sides. The pale
streaks of foam, clinging to the black rocks, whose countless peaks rise
up out of the water, look like bits of rag floating and drifting on the
surface of the sea.
The house of widow Saverini, clinging to the very edge of the precipice,
looks out, through its three windows, over this wild and desolate
She lived there alone, with her son Antonia and their dog "Semillante," a
big, thin beast, with a long rough coat, of the sheep-dog breed. The
young man took her with him when out hunting.
One night, after some kind of a quarrel, Antoine Saverini was
treacherously stabbed by Nicolas Ravolati, who escaped the same evening
When the old mother received the body of her child, which the neighbors
had brought back to her, she did not cry, but she stayed there for a long
time motionless, watching him. Then, stretching her wrinkled hand over
the body, she promised him a vendetta. She did not wish anybody near
her, and she shut herself up beside the body with the dog, which howled
continuously, standing at the foot of the bed, her head stretched towards
her master and her tail between her legs. She did not move any more than
did the mother, who, now leaning over the body with a blank stare, was
weeping silently and watching it.
The young man, lying on his back, dressed in his jacket of coarse cloth,
torn at the chest, seemed to be asleep. But he had blood all over him;
on his shirt, which had been torn off in order to administer the first
aid; on his vest, on his trousers, on his face, on his hands. Clots of
blood had hardened in his beard and in his hair.
His old mother began to talk to him. At the sound of this voice the dog
"Never fear, my boy, my little baby, you shall be avenged. Sleep, sleep;
you shall be avenged. Do you hear? It's your mother's promise! And she
always keeps her word, your mother does, you know she does."
Slowly she leaned over him, pressing her cold lips to his dead ones.
Then Semillante began to howl again with a long, monotonous, penetrating,
The two of them, the woman and the dog, remained there until morning.
Antoine Saverini was buried the next day and soon his name ceased to be
mentioned in Bonifacio.
He had neither brothers nor cousins. No man was there to carry on the
vendetta. His mother, the old woman, alone pondered over it.
On the other side of the straits she saw, from morning until night, a
little white speck on the coast. It was the little Sardinian village
Longosardo, where Corsican criminals take refuge when they are too
closely pursued. They compose almost the entire population of this
hamlet, opposite their native island, awaiting the time to return, to go
back to the "maquis." She knew that Nicolas Ravolati had sought refuge
in this village.
All alone, all day long, seated at her window, she was looking over there
and thinking of revenge. How could she do anything without help--she, an
invalid and so near death? But she had promised, she had sworn on the
body. She could not forget, she could not wait. What could she do? She
no longer slept at night; she had neither rest nor peace of mind; she
thought persistently. The dog, dozing at her feet, would sometimes lift
her head and howl. Since her master's death she often howled thus, as
though she were calling him, as though her beast's soul, inconsolable
too, had also retained a recollection that nothing could wipe out.
One night, as Semillante began to howl, the mother suddenly got hold of
an idea, a savage, vindictive, fierce idea. She thought it over until
morning. Then, having arisen at daybreak she went to church. She
prayed, prostrate on the floor, begging the Lord to help her, to support
her, to give to her poor, broken-down body the strength which she needed
in order to avenge her son.
She returned home. In her yard she had an old barrel, which acted as a
cistern. She turned it over, emptied it, made it fast to the ground with
sticks and stones. Then she chained Semillante to this improvised kennel
and went into the house.
She walked ceaselessly now, her eyes always fixed on the distant coast of
Sardinia. He was over there, the murderer.
All day and all night the dog howled. In the morning the old woman
brought her some water in a bowl, but nothing more; no soup, no bread.
Another day went by. Semillante, exhausted, was sleeping. The following
day her eyes were shining, her hair on end and she was pulling wildly at
All this day the old woman gave her nothing to eat. The beast, furious,
was barking hoarsely. Another night went by.
Then, at daybreak, Mother Saverini asked a neighbor for some straw. She
took the old rags which had formerly been worn by her husband and stuffed
them so as to make them look like a human body.
Having planted a stick in the ground, in front of Semillante's kennel,
she tied to it this dummy, which seemed to be standing up. Then she made
a head out of some old rags.
The dog, surprised, was watching this straw man, and was quiet, although
famished. Then the old woman went to the store and bought a piece of
black sausage. When she got home she started a fire in the yard, near
the kennel, and cooked the sausage. Semillante, frantic, was jumping
about, frothing at the mouth, her eyes fixed on the food, the odor of
which went right to her stomach.
Then the mother made of the smoking sausage a necktie for the dummy. She
tied it very tight around the neck with string, and when she had finished
she untied the dog.
With one leap the beast jumped at the dummy's throat, and with her paws
on its shoulders she began to tear at it. She would fall back with a
piece of food in her mouth, then would jump again, sinking her fangs into
the string, and snatching few pieces of meat she would fall back again
and once more spring forward. She was tearing up the face with her teeth
and the whole neck was in tatters.
The old woman, motionless and silent, was watching eagerly. Then she
chained the beast up again, made her fast for two more days and began
this strange performance again.
For three months she accustomed her to this battle, to this meal
conquered by a fight. She no longer chained her up, but just pointed to
She had taught her to tear him up and to devour him without even leaving
any traces in her throat.
Then, as a reward, she would give her a piece of sausage.
As soon as she saw the man, Semillante would begin to tremble. Then she
would look up to her mistress, who, lifting her finger, would cry, "Go!"
in a shrill tone.
When she thought that the proper time had come, the widow went to
confession and, one Sunday morning she partook of communion with an
ecstatic fervor. Then, putting on men's clothes and looking like an old
tramp, she struck a bargain with a Sardinian fisherman who carried her
and her dog to the other side of the straits.
In a bag she had a large piece of sausage. Semillante had had nothing to
eat for two days. The old woman kept letting her smell the food and
whetting her appetite.
They got to Longosardo. The Corsican woman walked with a limp. She went
to a baker's shop and asked for Nicolas Ravolati. He had taken up his
old trade, that of carpenter. He was working alone at the back of his
The old woman opened the door and called:
He turned around. Then releasing her dog, she cried:
"Go, go! Eat him up! eat him up!"
The maddened animal sprang for his throat. The man stretched out his
arms, clasped the dog and rolled to the ground. For a few seconds he
squirmed, beating the ground with his feet. Then he stopped moving,
while Semillante dug her fangs into his throat and tore it to ribbons.
Two neighbors, seated before their door, remembered perfectly having seen
an old beggar come out with a thin, black dog which was eating something
that its master was giving him.
At nightfall the old woman was at home again. She slept well that night.
MY TWENTY-FIVE DAYS
I had just taken possession of my room in the hotel, a narrow den between
two papered partitions, through which I could hear every sound made by my
neighbors; and I was beginning to arrange my clothes and linen in the
wardrobe with a long mirror, when I opened the drawer which is in this
piece of furniture. I immediately noticed a roll of paper. Having
opened it, I spread it out before me, and read this title:
My Twenty-five Days.
It was the diary of a guest at the watering place, of the last occupant
of my room, and had been forgotten at the moment of departure.
These notes may be of some interest to sensible and healthy persons who
never leave their own homes. It is for their benefit that I transcribe
them without altering a letter.
"CHATEL-GUYON, July 15th.
"At the first glance it is not lively, this country. However, I am going
to spend twenty-five days here, to have my liver and stomach treated, and
to get thin. The twenty-five days of any one taking the baths are very
like the twenty-eight days of the reserves; they are all devoted to
fatigue duty, severe fatigue duty. To-day I have done nothing as yet;
I have been getting settled. I have made the acquaintance of the
locality and of the doctor. Chatel-Guyon consists of a stream in which
flows yellow water, in the midst of several hillocks on which are a
casino, some houses, and some stone crosses. On the bank of the stream,
at the end of the valley, may be seen a square building surrounded by a
little garden; this is the bathing establishment. Sad people wander
around this building--the invalids. A great silence reigns in the walks
shaded by trees, for this is not a pleasure resort, but a true health
resort; one takes care of one's health as a business, and one gets well,
so it seems.
"Those who know affirm, even, that the mineral springs perform true
miracles here. However, no votive offering is hung around the cashier's
"From time to time a gentleman or a lady comes over to a kiosk with a
slate roof, which shelters a woman of smiling and gentle aspect, and a
spring boiling in a basin of cement: Not a word is exchanged between the
invalid and the female custodian of the healing water. She hands the
newcomer a little glass in which air bubbles sparkle in the transparent
liquid. The guest drinks and goes off with a grave step to resume his
interrupted walk beneath the trees.
"No noise in the little park, no breath of air in the leaves; no voice
passes through this silence. One ought to write at the entrance to this
district: 'No one laughs here; they take care of their health.'
"The people who chat resemble mutes who merely open their mouths to
simulate sounds, so afraid are they that their voices might escape.
"In the hotel, the same silence. It is a big hotel, where you dine
solemnly with people of good position, who have nothing to say to each
other. Their manners bespeak good breeding, and their faces reflect the
conviction of a superiority of which it might be difficult for some to
give actual proofs.
"At two o'clock I made my way up to the Casino, a little wooden but
perched on a hillock, which one reaches by a goat path. But the view
from that height is admirable. Chatel-Guyon is situated in a very narrow
valley, exactly between the, plain and the mountain. I perceive, at the
left, the first great billows of the mountains of Auvergne, covered with
woods, and here and there big gray patches, hard masses of lava, for we
are at the foot of the extinct volcanoes. At the right, through the
narrow cut of the valley, I discover a plain, infinite as the sea,
steeped in a bluish fog which lets one only dimly discern the villages,
the towns, the yellow fields of ripe grain, and the green squares of
meadowland shaded with apple trees. It is the Limagne, an immense level,
always enveloped in a light veil of vapor.
"The night has come. And now, after having dined alone, I write these
lines beside my open window. I hear, over there, in front of me, the
little orchestra of the Casino, which plays airs just as a foolish bird
might sing all alone in the desert.
"A dog barks at intervals. This great calm does one good. Goodnight.
"July 16th.--Nothing new. I have taken a bath and then a shower bath.
I have swallowed three glasses of water, and I have walked along the
paths in the park, a quarter of an hour between each glass, then half an
hour after the last. I have begun my twenty-five days.
"July 17th.--Remarked two mysterious, pretty women who are taking their
baths and their meals after every one else has finished.
"July 18th.--Nothing new.
"July 19th.--Saw the two pretty women again. They have style and a
little indescribable air which I like very much.
"July 20th.--Long walk in a charming wooded valley, as far as the
Hermitage of Sans-Souci. This country is delightful, although sad; but
so calm; so sweet, so green. One meets along the mountain roads long
wagons loaded with hay, drawn by two cows at a slow pace or held back by
them in going down the slopes with a great effort of their heads, which
are yoked together. A man with a big black hat on his head is driving
them with a slender stick, tipping them on the side or on the forehead;
and often with a simple gesture, an energetic and serious gesture, he
suddenly halts them when the excessive load precipitates their journey
down the too rugged descents.
"The air is good to inhale in these valleys. And, if it is very warm,
the dust bears with it a light odor of vanilla and of the stable, for so
many cows pass over these routes that they leave reminders everywhere.
And this odor is a perfume, when it would be a stench if it came from
"July 21st.--Excursion to the valley of the Enval. It is a narrow gorge
inclosed by superb rocks at the very foot of the mountain. A stream
flows amid the heaped-up boulders.
"As I reached the bottom of this ravine I heard women's voices, and I
soon perceived the two mysterious ladies of my hotel, who were chatting,
seated on a stone.
"The occasion appeared to me a good one, and I introduced myself without
hesitation. My overtures were received without embarrassment. We walked
back together to the hotel. And we talked about Paris. They knew, it
seemed, many people whom I knew, too. Who can they be?
"I shall see them to-morrow. There is nothing more amusing than such
meetings as this.
"July 22d.--Day passed almost entirely with the two unknown ladies. They
are very pretty, by Jove!--one a brunette and the other a blonde. They
say they are widows. H'm?
"I offered to accompany them to Royat tomorrow, and they accepted my
"Chatel-Guyon is less sad than I thought on my arrival.
"July 23d.--Day spent at Royat. Royat is a little patch of hotels at the
bottom of a valley, at the gate of Clermont-Ferrand. A great many people
there. A large park full of life. Superb view of the Puyde-Dome, seen
at the end of a perspective of valleys.
"My fair companions are very popular, which is flattering to me. The man
who escorts a pretty woman always believes himself crowned with an
aureole; with much more reason, the man who is accompanied by one on each
side of him. Nothing is so pleasant as to dine in a fashionable
restaurant with a female companion at whom everybody stares, and there is
nothing better calculated to exalt a man in the estimation of his
"To go to the Bois, in a trap drawn by a sorry nag, or to go out into the
boulevard escorted by a plain woman, are the two most humiliating things
that could happen to a sensitive heart that values the opinion of others.
Of all luxuries, woman is the rarest and the most distinguished; she is
the one that costs most and which we desire most; she is, therefore the
one that we should seek by preference to exhibit to the jealous eyes of
"To exhibit to the world a pretty woman leaning on your arm is to excite,
all at once, every kind of jealousy. It is as much as to say: 'Look
here! I am rich, since I possess this rare and costly object; I have
taste, since I have known how to discover this pearl; perhaps, even, I am
loved by her, unless I am deceived by her, which would still prove that
others also consider her charming.
"But, what a disgrace it is to walk about town with an ugly woman!
"And how many humiliating things this gives people to understand!
"In the first place, they assume she must be your wife, for how could it
be supposed that you would have an unattractive sweetheart? A true woman
may be ungraceful; but then, her ugliness implies a thousand disagreeable
things for you. One supposes you must be a notary or a magistrate, as
these two professions have a monopoly of grotesque and well-dowered
spouses. Now, is this not distressing to a man? And then, it seems to
proclaim to the public that you have the odious courage, and are even
under a legal obligation, to caress that ridiculous face and that ill-
shaped body, and that you will, without doubt, be shameless enough to
make a mother of this by no means desirable being--which is the very
height of the ridiculous.
"July 24th.--I never leave the side of the two unknown widows, whom I am
beginning to know quite well. This country is delightful and our hotel
is excellent. Good season. The treatment is doing me an immense amount
"July 25th.--Drive in a landau to the lake of Tazenat. An exquisite and
unexpected jaunt decided on at luncheon. We started immediately on
rising from table. After a long journey through the mountains we
suddenly perceived an admirable little lake, quite round, very blue,
clear as glass, and situated at the bottom of an extinct crater. One
side of this immense basin is barren, the other is wooded. In the midst
of the trees is a small house where sleeps a good-natured, intellectual
man, a sage who passes his days in this Virgilian region. He opens his
dwelling for us. An idea comes into my head. I exclaim:
"'Supposing we bathe?'
"'Yes,' they said, 'but costumes.'
"'Bah! we are in the wilderness.'
"And we did bathe! "If I were a poet, how I would describe this
unforgettable vision of those lissome young forms in the transparency of
the water! The high, sloping sides shut in the lake, motionless,
gleaming and round, as a silver coin; the sun pours into it a flood of
warm light; and along the rocks the fair forms move in the almost
invisible water in which the swimmers seemed suspended. On the sand at
the bottom of the lake one could see their shadows as they moved along.
"July 26th.--Some persons seem to look with shocked and disapproving eyes
at my rapid intimacy with the two fair widows. There are some people,
then, who imagine that life consists in being bored. Everything that
appears to be amusing becomes immediately a breach of good breeding or
morality. For them duty has inflexible and mortally tedious rules.
"I would draw their attention, with all respect, to the fact that duty is
not the same for Mormons, Arabs Zulus, Turks, Englishmen, and Frenchmen,
and that there are very virtuous people among all these nations.
"I will cite a single example. As regards women, duty begins in England
at nine years of age; in France at fifteen. As for me, I take a little
of each people's notion of duty, and of the whole I make a result
comparable to the morality of good King Solomon.
"July 27th.--Good news. I have lost 620 grams in weight. Excellent,
this water of Chatel-Guyon! I am taking the widows to dine at Riom. A
sad town whose anagram constitutes it an objectionable neighbor to
healing springs: Riom, Mori.
"July 28th.--Hello, how's this! My two widows have been visited by two
gentlemen who came to look for them. Two widowers, without doubt. They
are leaving this evening. They have written to me on fancy notepaper.
"July 29th.--Alone! Long excursion on foot to the extinct crater of
Nachere. Splendid view.
"July 30th.--Nothing. I am taking the treatment.
"July 31st.--Ditto. Ditto. This pretty country is full of polluted
streams. I am drawing the notice of the municipality to the abominable
sewer which poisons the road in front of the hotel. All the kitchen
refuse of the establishment is thrown into it. This is a good way to
"August 1st.--Nothing. The treatment.
"August 2d.--Admirable walk to Chateauneuf, a place of sojourn for
rheumatic patients, where everybody is lame. Nothing can be queerer than
this population of cripples!
"August 3d.--Nothing. The treatment.
"August 4th.--Ditto. Ditto.
"August 5th.--Ditto. Ditto.
"August 6th.--Despair! I have just weighed myself. I have gained 310
grams. But then?
"August 7th.--Drove sixty-six kilometres in a carriage on the mountain.
I will not mention the name of the country through respect for its women.
"This excursion had been pointed out to me as a beautiful one, and one
that was rarely made. After four hours on the road, I arrived at a
rather pretty village on the banks of a river in the midst of an
admirable wood of walnut trees. I had not yet seen a forest of walnut
trees of such dimensions in Auvergne. It constitutes, moreover, all the
wealth of the district, for it is planted on the village common. This
common was formerly only a hillside covered with brushwood. The
authorities had tried in vain to get it cultivated. There was scarcely
enough pasture on it to feed a few sheep.
"To-day it is a superb wood, thanks to the women, and it has a curious
name: it is called the Sins of the Cure.
"Now I must say that the women of the mountain districts have the
reputation of being light, lighter than in the plain. A bachelor who
meets them owes them at least a kiss; and if he does not take more he is
only a blockhead. If we consider this fairly, this way of looking at the
matter is the only one that is logical and reasonable. As woman, whether
she be of the town or the country, has her natural mission to please man,
man should always show her that she pleases him. If he abstains from
every sort of demonstration, this means that he considers her ugly; it is
almost an insult to her. If I were a woman, I would not receive, a
second time, a man who failed to show me respect at our first meeting,
for I would consider that he had failed in appreciation of my beauty, my
charm, and my feminine qualities.
"So the bachelors of the village X often proved to the women of the
district that they found them to their taste, and, as the cure was unable
to prevent these demonstrations, as gallant as they were natural, he
resolved to utilize them for the benefit of the general prosperity. So
he imposed as a penance on every woman who had gone wrong that she should
plant a walnut tree on the common. And every night lanterns were seen
moving about like will-o'-the-wisps on the hillock, for the erring ones
scarcely like to perform their penance in broad daylight.
"In two years there was no longer any room on the lands belonging to the
village, and to-day they calculate that there are more than three
thousand trees around the belfry which rings out the services amid their
foliage. These are the Sins of the Cure.
"Since we have been seeking for so many ways of rewooding France, the
Administration of Forests might surely enter into some arrangement with
the clergy to employ a method so simple as that employed by this humble
"August 8th.--I am packing up my trunks and saying good-by to the
charming little district so calm and silent, to the green mountain, to
the quiet valleys, to the deserted Casino, from which you can see, almost
veiled by its light, bluish mist, the immense plain of the Limagne.
"I shall leave to-morrow."
Here the manuscript stopped. I will add nothing to it, my impressions of
the country not having been exactly the same as those of my predecessor.
For I did not find the two widows!
You say you cannot possibly understand it, and I believe you. You think
I am losing my mind? Perhaps I am, but for other reasons than those you
imagine, my dear friend.
Yes, I am going to be married, and will tell you what has led me to take
I may add that I know very little of the girl who is going to become my
wife to-morrow; I have only seen her four or five times. I know that
there is nothing unpleasing about her, and that is enough for my purpose.
She is small, fair, and stout; so, of course, the day after to-morrow I
shall ardently wish for a tall, dark, thin woman.
She is not rich, and belongs to the middle classes. She is a girl such
as you may find by the gross, well adapted for matrimony, without any
apparent faults, and with no particularly striking qualities. People say
"Mlle. Lajolle is a very nice girl," and tomorrow they will say: "What a
very nice woman Madame Raymon is." She belongs, in a word, to that
immense number of girls whom one is glad to have for one's wife, till the
moment comes when one discovers that one happens to prefer all other
women to that particular woman whom one has married.
"Well," you will say to me, "what on earth did you get married for?"
I hardly like to tell you the strange and seemingly improbable reason
that urged me on to this senseless act; the fact, however, is that I am
afraid of being alone.
I don't know how to tell you or to make you understand me, but my state
of mind is so wretched that you will pity me and despise me.
I do not want to be alone any longer at night. I want to feel that there
is some one close to me, touching me, a being who can speak and say
something, no matter what it be.
I wish to be able to awaken somebody by my side, so that I may be able to
ask some sudden question, a stupid question even, if I feel inclined, so
that I may hear a human voice, and feel that there is some waking soul
close to me, some one whose reason is at work; so that when I hastily
light the candle I may see some human face by my side--because--because
--I am ashamed to confess it--because I am afraid of being alone.
Oh, you don't understand me yet.
I am not afraid of any danger; if a man were to come into the room, I
should kill him without trembling. I am not afraid of ghosts, nor do I
believe in the supernatural. I am not afraid of dead people, for I
believe in the total annihilation of every being that disappears from the
face of this earth.
Well--yes, well, it must be told: I am afraid of myself, afraid of that
horrible sensation of incomprehensible fear.
You may laugh, if you like. It is terrible, and I cannot get over it.
I am afraid of the walls, of the furniture, of the familiar objects;
which are animated, as far as I am concerned, by a kind of animal life.
Above all, I am afraid of my own dreadful thoughts, of my reason, which
seems as if it were about to leave me, driven away by a mysterious and
At first I feel a vague uneasiness in my mind, which causes a cold shiver
to run all over me. I look round, and of course nothing is to be seen,
and I wish that there were something there, no matter what, as long as it
were something tangible. I am frightened merely because I cannot
understand my own terror.
If I speak, I am afraid of my own voice. If I walk, I am afraid of I
know not what, behind the door, behind the curtains, in the cupboard, or
under my bed, and yet all the time I know there is nothing anywhere, and
I turn round suddenly because I am afraid of what is behind me, although
there is nothing there, and I know it.
I become agitated. I feel that my fear increases, and so I shut myself
up in my own room, get into bed, and hide under the clothes; and there,
cowering down, rolled into a ball, I close my eyes in despair, and remain
thus for an indefinite time, remembering that my candle is alight on the
table by my bedside, and that I ought to put it out, and yet--I dare not
It is very terrible, is it not, to be like that?
Formerly I felt nothing of all that. I came home quite calm, and went up
and down my apartment without anything disturbing my peace of mind. Had
any one told me that I should be attacked by a malady--for I can call it
nothing else--of most improbable fear, such a stupid and terrible malady
as it is, I should have laughed outright. I was certainly never afraid
of opening the door in the dark. I went to bed slowly, without locking
it, and never got up in the middle of the night to make sure that
everything was firmly closed.
It began last year in a very strange manner on a damp autumn evening.
When my servant had left the room, after I had dined, I asked myself what
I was going to do. I walked up and down my room for some time, feeling
tired without any reason for it, unable to work, and even without energy
to read. A fine rain was falling, and I felt unhappy, a prey to one of
those fits of despondency, without any apparent cause, which make us feel
inclined to cry, or to talk, no matter to whom, so as to shake off our
I felt that I was alone, and my rooms seemed to me to be more empty than
they had ever been before. I was in the midst of infinite and
overwhelming solitude. What was I to do? I sat down, but a kind of
nervous impatience seemed to affect my legs, so I got up and began to
walk about again. I was, perhaps, rather feverish, for my hands, which I
had clasped behind me, as one often does when walking slowly, almost
seemed to burn one another. Then suddenly a cold shiver ran down my
back, and I thought the damp air might have penetrated into my rooms, so
I lit the fire for the first time that year, and sat down again and
looked at the flames. But soon I felt that I could not possibly remain
quiet, and so I got up again and determined to go out, to pull myself
together, and to find a friend to bear me company.
I could not find anyone, so I walked to the boulevard ro try and meet
some acquaintance or other there.
It was wretched everywhere, and the wet pavement glistened in the
gaslight, while the oppressive warmth of the almost impalpable rain lay
heavily over the streets and seemed to obscure the light of the lamps.
I went on slowly, saying to myself: "I shall not find a soul to talk to."
I glanced into several cafes, from the Madeleine as far as the Faubourg
Poissoniere, and saw many unhappy-looking individuals sitting at the
tables who did not seem even to have enough energy left to finish the
refreshments they had ordered.
For a long time I wandered aimlessly up and down, and about midnight I
started for home. I was very calm and very tired. My janitor opened the
door at once, which was quite unusual for him, and I thought that another
lodger had probably just come in.
When I go out I always double-lock the door of my room, and I found it
merely closed, which surprised me; but I supposed that some letters had
been brought up for me in the course of the evening.
I went in, and found my fire still burning so that it lighted up the room
a little, and, while in the act of taking up a candle, I noticed somebody
sitting in my armchair by the fire, warming his feet, with his back
I was not in the slightest degree frightened. I thought, very naturally,
that some friend or other had come to see me. No doubt the porter, to
whom I had said I was going out, had lent him his own key. In a moment I
remembered all the circumstances of my return, how the street door had
been opened immediately, and that my own door was only latched and not
I could see nothing of my friend but his head, and he had evidently gone
to sleep while waiting for me, so I went up to him to rouse him. I saw
him quite distinctly; his right arm was hanging down and his legs were
crossed; the position of his head, which was somewhat inclined to the
left of the armchair, seemed to indicate that he was asleep. "Who can it
be?" I asked myself. I could not see clearly, as the room was rather
dark, so I put out my hand to touch him on the shoulder, and it came in
contact with the back of the chair. There was nobody there; the seat was
I fairly jumped with fright. For a moment I drew back as if confronted
by some terrible danger; then I turned round again, impelled by an
imperious standing upright, panting with fear, so upset that I could not
collect my thoughts, and ready to faint.
But I am a cool man, and soon recovered myself. I thought: "It is a mere
hallucination, that is all," and I immediately began to reflect on this
phenomenon. Thoughts fly quickly at such moments.
I had been suffering from an hallucination, that was an incontestable
fact. My mind had been perfectly lucid and had acted regularly and
logically, so there was nothing the matter with the brain. It was only
my eyes that had been deceived; they had had a vision, one of those
visions which lead simple folk to believe in miracles. It was a nervous
seizure of the optical apparatus, nothing more; the eyes were rather
I lit my candle, and when I stooped down to the fire in doing so I
noticed that I was trembling, and I raised myself up with a jump, as if
somebody had touched me from behind.
I was certainly not by any means calm.
I walked up and down a little, and hummed a tune or two. Then I double-
locked the door and felt rather reassured; now, at any rate, nobody could
I sat down again and thought over my adventure for a long time; then I
went to bed and blew out my light.
For some minutes all went well; I lay quietly on my back, but presently
an irresistible desire seized me to look round the room, and I turned
over on my side.
My fire was nearly out, and the few glowing embers threw a faint light on
the floor by the chair, where I fancied I saw the man sitting again.
I quickly struck a match, but I had been mistaken; there was nothing
there. I got up, however, and hid the chair behind my bed, and tried to
get to sleep, as the room was now dark; but I had not forgotten myself
for more than five minutes, when in my dream I saw all the scene which I
had previously witnessed as clearly as if it were reality. I woke up
with a start, and having lit the candle, sat up in bed, without venturing
even to try to go to sleep again.
Twice, however, sleep overcame me for a few moments in spite of myself,
and twice I saw the same thing again, till I fancied I was going mad.
When day broke, however, I thought that I was cured, and slept peacefully
It was all past and over. I had been feverish, had had the nightmare. I
know not what. I had been ill, in fact, but yet thought I was a great
I enjoyed myself thoroughly that evening. I dined at a restaurant and
afterward went to the theatre, and then started for home. But as I got
near the house I was once more seized by a strange feeling of uneasiness.
I was afraid of seeing him again. I was not afraid of him, not afraid of
his presence, in which I did not believe; but I was afraid of being
deceived again. I was afraid of some fresh hallucination, afraid lest
fear should take possession of me.
For more than an hour I wandered up and down the pavement; then, feeling
that I was really too foolish, I returned home. I breathed so hard that
I could hardly get upstairs, and remained standing outside my door for
more than ten minutes; then suddenly I had a courageous impulse and my
will asserted itself. I inserted my key into the lock, and went into the
apartment with a candle in my hand. I kicked open my bedroom door, which
was partly open, and cast a frightened glance toward the fireplace.
There was nothing there. A-h! What a relief and what a delight! What a
deliverance! I walked up and down briskly and boldly, but I was not
altogether reassured, and kept turning round with a jump; the very
shadows in the corners disquieted me.
I slept badly, and was constantly disturbed by imaginary noises, but did
not see him; no, that was all over.
Since that time I have been afraid of being alone at night. I feel that
the spectre is there, close to me, around me; but it has not appeared to
And supposing it did, what would it matter, since I do not believe in it,
and know that it is nothing?
However, it still worries me, because I am constantly thinking of it.
His right arm hanging down and his head inclined to the left like a man
who was asleep--I don't want to think about it!
Why, however, am I so persistently possessed with this idea? His feet
were close to the fire!
He haunts me; it is very stupid, but who and what is he? I know that he
does not exist except in my cowardly imagination, in my fears, and in my
agony. There--enough of that!
Yes, it is all very well for me to reason with myself, to stiffen my
backbone, so to say; but I cannot remain at home because I know he is
there. I know I shall not see him again; he will not show himself again;
that is all over. But he is there, all the same, in my thoughts. He
remains invisible, but that does not prevent his being there. He is
behind the doors, in the closed cupboard, in the wardrobe, under the bed,
in every dark corner. If I open the door or the cupboard, if I take the
candle to look under the bed and throw a light on the dark places he is
there no longer, but I feel that he is behind me. I turn round, certain
that I shall not see him, that I shall never see him again; but for all
that, he is behind me.
It is very stupid, it is dreadful; but what am I to do? I cannot help
But if there were two of us in the place I feel certain that he would not
be there any longer, for he is there just because I am alone, simply and
solely because I am alone!
LEGEND OF MONT ST. MICHEL
I had first seen it from Cancale, this fairy castle in the sea. I got an
indistinct impression of it as of a gray shadow outlined against the
misty sky. I saw it again from Avranches at sunset. The immense stretch
of sand was red, the horizon was red, the whole boundless bay was red.
The rocky castle rising out there in the distance like a weird,
seignorial residence, like a dream palace, strange and beautiful-this
alone remained black in the crimson light of the dying day.
The following morning at dawn I went toward it across the sands, my eyes
fastened on this, gigantic jewel, as big as a mountain, cut like a cameo,
and as dainty as lace. The nearer I approached the greater my admiration
grew, for nothing in the world could be more wonderful or more perfect.
As surprised as if I had discovered the habitation of a god, I wandered
through those halls supported by frail or massive columns, raising my
eyes in wonder to those spires which looked like rockets starting for the
sky, and to that marvellous assemblage of towers, of gargoyles, of
slender and charming ornaments, a regular fireworks of stone, granite
lace, a masterpiece of colossal and delicate architecture.
As I was looking up in ecstasy a Lower Normandy peasant came up to me and
told me the story of the great quarrel between Saint Michael and the
A sceptical genius has said: "God made man in his image and man has
returned the compliment."
This saying is an eternal truth, and it would be very curious to write
the history of the local divinity of every continent as well as the
history of the patron saints in each one of our provinces. The negro has
his ferocious man-eating idols; the polygamous Mahometan fills his
paradise with women; the Greeks, like a practical people, deified all the
Every village in France is under the influence of some protecting saint,
modelled according to the characteristics of the inhabitants.
Saint Michael watches over Lower Normandy, Saint Michael, the radiant and
victorious angel, the sword-carrier, the hero of Heaven, the victorious,
the conqueror of Satan.
But this is how the Lower Normandy peasant, cunning, deceitful and
tricky, understands and tells of the struggle between the great saint and
To escape from the malice of his neighbor, the devil, Saint Michael built
himself, in the open ocean, this habitation worthy of an archangel; and
only such a saint could build a residence of such magnificence.
But as he still feared the approaches of the wicked one, he surrounded
his domains by quicksands, more treacherous even than the sea.
The devil lived in a humble cottage on the hill, but he owned all the
salt marshes, the rich lands where grow the finest crops, the wooded
valleys and all the fertile hills of the country, while the saint a ruled
only over the sands. Therefore Satan was rich, whereas Saint Michael was
as poor as a church mouse.
After a few years of fasting the saint grew tired of this state of
affairs and began to think of some compromise with the devil, but the
matter was by no means easy, as Satan kept a good hold on his crops.
He thought the thing over for about six months; then one morning he
walked across to the shore. The demon was eating his soup in front of
his door when he saw the saint. He immediately rushed toward him, kissed
the hem of his sleeve, invited him in and offered him refreshments.
Saint Michael drank a bowl of milk and then began: "I have come here to
propose to you a good bargain."
The devil, candid and trustful, answered: "That will suit me."
"Here it is. Give me all your lands."
Satan, growing alarmed, wished to speak "But--"
She saint continued: "Listen first. Give me all your lands. I will take
care of all the work, the ploughing, the sowing, the fertilizing,
everything, and we will share the crops equally. How does that suit
The devil, who was naturally lazy, accepted. He only demanded in
addition a few of those delicious gray mullet which are caught around the
solitary mount. Saint Michael promised the fish.
They grasped hands and spat on the ground to show that it was a bargain,
and the saint continued: "See here, so that you will have nothing to
complain of, choose that part of the crops which you prefer: the part
that grows above ground or the part that stays in the ground." Satan
cried out: "I will take all that will be above ground."
"It's a bargain!" said the saint. And he went away.
Six months later, all over the immense domain of the devil, one could see
nothing but carrots, turnips, onions, salsify, all the plants whose juicy
roots are good and savory and whose useless leaves are good for nothing
but for feeding animals.
Satan wished to break the contract, calling Saint Michael a swindler.
But the saint, who had developed quite a taste for agriculture, went back
to see the devil and said:
"Really, I hadn't thought of that at all; it was just an accident, no
fault of mine. And to make things fair with you, this year I'll let you
take everything that is under the ground."
"Very well," answered Satan.
The following spring all the evil spirit's lands were covered with golden
wheat, oats as big as beans, flax, magnificent colza, red clover, peas,
cabbage, artichokes, everything that develops into grains or fruit in the
Once more Satan received nothing, and this time he completely lost his
temper. He took back his fields and remained deaf to all the fresh
propositions of his neighbor.
A whole year rolled by. From the top of his lonely manor Saint Michael
looked at the distant and fertile lands and watched the devil direct the
work, take in his crops and thresh the wheat. And he grew angry,
exasperated at his powerlessness.
As he was no longer able to deceive Satan, he decided to wreak vengeance
on him, and he went out to invite him to dinner for the following Monday.
"You have been very unfortunate in your dealings with me," he said;
"I know it, but I don't want any ill feeling between us, and I expect you
to dine with me. I'll give you some good things to eat."
Satan, who was as greedy as he was lazy, accepted eagerly. On the day
appointed he donned his finest clothes and set out for the castle.
Saint Michael sat him down to a magnificent meal. First there was a
'vol-au-vent', full of cocks' crests and kidneys, with meat-balls, then
two big gray mullet with cream sauce, a turkey stuffed with chestnuts
soaked in wine, some salt-marsh lamb as tender as cake, vegetables which
melted in the mouth and nice hot pancake which was brought on smoking and
spreading a delicious odor of butter.
They drank new, sweet, sparkling cider and heady red wine, and after each
course they whetted their appetites with some old apple brandy.
The devil drank and ate to his heart's content; in fact he took so much
that he was very uncomfortable, and began to retch.
Then Saint Michael arose in anger and cried in a voice like thunder:
"What! before me, rascal! You dare--before me--"
Satan, terrified, ran away, and the saint, seizing a stick, pursued him.
They ran through the halls, turning round the pillars, running up the
staircases, galloping along the cornices, jumping from gargoyle to
gargoyle. The poor devil, who was woefully ill, was running about madly
and trying hard to escape. At last he found himself at the top of the
last terrace, right at the top, from which could be seen the immense bay,
with its distant towns, sands and pastures. He could no longer escape,
and the saint came up behind him and gave him a furious kick, which shot
him through space like a cannonball.
He shot through the air like a javelin and fell heavily before the town
of Mortain. His horns and claws stuck deep into the rock, which keeps
through eternity the traces of this fall of Satan.
He stood up again, limping, crippled until the end of time, and as he
looked at this fatal castle in the distance, standing out against the
setting sun, he understood well that he would always be vanquished in
this unequal struggle, and he went away limping, heading for distant
countries, leaving to his enemy his fields, his hills, his valleys and
And this is how Saint Michael, the patron saint of Normandy, vanquished
Another people would have dreamed of this battle in an entirely different
A NEW YEAR'S GIFT
Jacques de Randal, having dined at home alone, told his valet he might go
out, and he sat down at his table to write some letters.
He ended every year in this manner, writing and dreaming. He reviewed
the events of his life since last New Year's Day, things that were now
all over and dead; and, in proportion as the faces of his friends rose up
before his eyes, he wrote them a few lines, a cordial New Year's greeting
on the first of January.
So he sat down, opened a drawer, took out of it a woman's photograph,
gazed at it a few moments, and kissed it. Then, having laid it beside a
sheet of notepaper, he began:
MY DEAR IRENE: You must by this time have received the little
souvenir I sent, you addressed to the maid. I have shut myself up
this evening in order to tell you----"
The pen here ceased to move. Jacques rose up and began walking up and
down the room.
For the last ten months he had had a sweetheart, not like the others, a
woman with whom one engages in a passing intrigue, of the theatrical
world or the demi-monde, but a woman whom he loved and won. He was no
longer a young man, although he was still comparatively young for a man,
and he looked on life seriously in a positive and practical spirit.
Accordingly, he drew up the balance sheet of his passion, as he drew up
every year the balance sheet of friendships that were ended or freshly
contracted, of circumstances and persons that had entered into his life.
His first ardor of love having grown calmer, he asked himself with the
precision of a merchant making a calculation what was the state of his
heart with regard to her, and he tried to form an idea of what it would
be in the future.
He found there a great and deep affection; made up of tenderness,
gratitude and the thousand subtleties which give birth to long and
A ring at the bell made him start. He hesitated. Should he open the
door? But he said to himself that one must always open the door on New
Year's night, to admit the unknown who is passing by and knocks, no
matter who it may be.
So he took a wax candle, passed through the antechamber, drew back the
bolts, turned the key, pulled the door back, and saw his sweetheart
standing pale as a corpse, leaning against the wall.
"What is the matter with you?"
"Are you alone?"
"You are not going out?"
She entered with the air of a woman who knew the house. As soon as she
was in the drawing-room, she sank down on the sofa, and, covering her
face with her hands, began to weep bitterly.
He knelt down at her feet, and tried to remove her hands from her eyes,
so that he might look at them, and exclaimed:
"Irene, Irene, what is the matter with you? I implore you to tell me
what is the matter with you?"
Then, amid her sobs, she murmured:
"I can no longer live like this."
"Live like this? What do you mean?"
"Yes. I can no longer live like this. I have endured so much. He
struck me this afternoon."
"Who? Your husband?"
"Yes, my husband."
He was astonished, having never suspected that her husband could be
brutal. He was a man of the world, of the better class, a clubman, a
lover of horses, a theatergoer and an expert swordsman; he was known,
talked about, appreciated everywhere, having very courteous manners, a
very mediocre intellect, an absence of education and of the real culture
needed in order to think like all well-bred people, and finally a respect
He appeared to devote himself to his wife, as a man ought to do in the
case of wealthy and well-bred people. He displayed enough of anxiety
about her wishes, her health, her dresses, and, beyond that, left her
Randal, having become Irene's friend, had a right to the affectionate
hand-clasp which every husband endowed with good manners owes to his
wife's intimate acquaintance. Then, when Jacques, after having been for
some time the friend, became the lover, his relations with the husband
were more cordial, as is fitting.
Jacques had never dreamed that there were storms in this household, and
he was bewildered at this unexpected revelation.
"How did it happen? Tell me."
Thereupon she related a long story, the entire history of her life since
the day of her marriage, the first disagreement arising out of a mere
nothing, then becoming accentuated at every new difference of opinion
between two dissimilar dispositions.
Then came quarrels, a complete separation, not apparent, but real; next,
her husband showed himself aggressive, suspicious, violent. Now, he was
jealous, jealous of Jacques, and that very day, after a scene, he had
She added with decision: "I will not go back to him. Do with me what you
Jacques sat down opposite to her, their knees touching. He took her
"My dear love, you are going to commit a gross, an irreparable folly. If
you want to leave your husband, put him in the wrong, so that your
position as a woman of the world may be saved."
She asked, as she looked at him uneasily:
"Then, what do you advise me?"
"To go back home and to put up with your life there till the day when you
can obtain either a separation or a divorce, with the honors of war."
"Is not this thing which you advise me to do a little cowardly?"
"No; it is wise and sensible. You have a high position, a reputation to
protect, friends to preserve and relations to deal with. You must not
lose all these through a mere caprice."
She rose up, and said with violence:
"Well, no! I cannot stand it any longer! It is at an end! it is at an
Then, placing her two hands on her lover's shoulders, and looking him
straight in the face, she asked:
"Do you love me?"
"Really and truly?"
"Then take care of me."
"Take care of you? In my own house? Here? Why, you are mad. It would
mean losing you forever; losing you beyond hope of recall! You are mad!"
She replied, slowly and seriously, like a woman who feels the weight of
"Listen, Jacques. He has forbidden me to see you again, and I will not
play this comedy of coming secretly to your house. You must either lose
me or take me."
"My dear Irene, in that case, obtain your divorce, and I will marry you."
"Yes, you will marry me in--two years at the soonest. Yours is a patient
"Look here! Reflect! If you remain here he'll come to-morrow to take
you away, seeing that he is your husband, seeing that he has right and
law on his side."
"I did not ask you to keep me in your own house, Jacques, but to take me
anywhere you like. I thought you loved me enough to do that. I have
made a mistake. Good-by!"
She turned round and went toward the door so quickly that he was only
able to catch hold of her when she was outside the room:
She struggled, and would not listen to him. Her eyes were full of tears,
and she stammered:
"Let me alone! let me alone! let me alone!"
He made her sit down by force, and once more falling on his knees at her
feet, he now brought forward a number of arguments and counsels to make
her understand the folly and terrible risk of her project. He omitted
nothing which he deemed necessary to convince her, finding even in his
very affection for her incentives to persuasion.
As she remained silent and cold as ice, he begged of her, implored of her
to listen to him, to trust him, to follow his advice.
When he had finished speaking, she only replied:
"Are you disposed to let me go away now? Take away your hands, so that I
may rise to my feet."
"Look here, Irene."
"Will you let me go?"
"Irene--is your resolution irrevocable?"
"Will you let me go."
"Tell me only whether this resolution, this mad resolution of yours,
which you will bitterly regret, is irrevocable?"
"Yes--let me go!"
"Then stay. You know well that you are at home here. We shall go away
She rose to her feet in spite of him, and said in a hard tone:
"No. It is too late. I do not want sacrifice; I do not want devotion."
"Stay! I have done what I ought to do; I have said what I ought to say.
I have no further responsibility on your behalf. My conscience is at
peace. Tell me what you want me to do, and I will obey."'
She resumed her seat, looked at him for a long time, and then asked, in a
very calm voice:
"Well, then, explain."
"Explain what? What do you wish me to explain?"
"Everything--everything that you thought about before changing your mind.
Then I will see what I ought to do."
"But I thought about nothing at all. I had to warn you that you were
going to commit an act of folly. You persist; then I ask to share in
this act of folly, and I even insist on it."
"It is not natural to change one's mind so quickly."
"Listen, my dear love. It is not a question here of sacrifice or
devotion. On the day when I realized that I loved you, I said to myself
what every lover ought to say to himself in the same case: 'The man who
loves a woman, who makes an effort to win her, who gets her, and who
takes her, enters into a sacred contract with himself and with her. That
is, of course, in dealing with a woman like you, not a woman with a
fickle heart and easily impressed.'
"Marriage which has a great social value, a great legal value, possesses
in my eyes only a very slight moral value, taking into account the
conditions under which it generally takes place.
"Therefore, when a woman, united by this lawful bond, but having no
attachment to her husband, whom she cannot love, a woman whose heart is
free, meets a man whom she cares for, and gives herself to him, when a
man who has no other tie, takes a woman in this way, I say that they
pledge themselves toward each other by this mutual and free agreement
much more than by the 'Yes' uttered in the presence of the mayor.
"I say that, if they are both honorable persons, their union must be more
intimate, more real, more wholesome, than if all the sacraments had
"This woman risks everything. And it is exactly because she knows it,
because she gives everything, her heart, her body, her soul, her honor,
her life, because she has foreseen all miseries, all dangers all
catastrophes, because she dares to do a bold act, an intrepid act,
because she is prepared, determined to brave everything--her husband, who
might kill her, and society, which may cast her out. This is why she is
worthy of respect in the midst of her conjugal infidelity; this is why
her lover, in taking her, should also foresee everything, and prefer her
to every one else whatever may happen. I have nothing more to say. I
spoke in the beginning like a sensible man whose duty it was to warn you;
and now I am only a man--a man who loves you--Command, and I obey."
Radiant, she closed his mouth with a kiss, and said in a low tone:
"It is not true, darling! There is nothing the matter! My husband does
not suspect anything. But I wanted to see, I wanted to know, what you
would do I wished for a New Year's gift--the gift of your heart--another
gift besides the necklace you sent me. You have given it to me. Thanks!
thanks! God be thanked for the happiness you have given me!"
What became of Leremy?"
"He is captain in the Sixth Dragoons."
"He's a subprefect."
We were searching for other names which would remind us of the youthful
faces of our younger days. Once in a while we had met some of these old
comrades, bearded, bald, married, fathers of several children, and the
realization of these changes had given us an unpleasant shudder,
reminding us how short life is, how everything passes away, how
everything changes. My friend asked me:
"And Patience, fat Patience?"
I almost, howled:
"Oh! as for him, just listen to this. Four or five years ago I was in
Limoges, on a tour of inspection, and I was waiting for dinner time.
I was seated before the big cafe in the Place du Theatre, just bored to
death. The tradespeople were coming by twos, threes or fours, to take
their absinthe or vermouth, talking all the time of their own or other
people's business, laughing loudly, or lowering their voices in order to
impart some important or delicate piece of news.
"I was saying to myself: 'What shall I do after dinner?' And I thought of
the long evening in this provincial town, of the slow, dreary walk
through unknown streets, of the impression of deadly gloom which these
provincial people produce on the lonely traveller, and of the whole
oppressive atmosphere of the place.
"I was thinking of all these things as I watched the little jets of gas
flare up, feeling my loneliness increase with the falling shadows.
"A big, fat man sat down at the next table and called in a stentorian
"'Waiter, my bitters!'
"The 'my' came out like the report of a cannon. I immediately understood
that everything was his in life, and not another's; that he had his
nature, by Jove, his appetite, his trousers, his everything, his, more
absolutely and more completely than anyone else's. Then he looked round
him with a satisfied air. His bitters were brought, and he ordered:
"I wondered: 'Which newspaper can his be?' The title would certainly
reveal to me his opinions, his theories, his principles, his hobbies, his
"The waiter brought the Temps. I was surprised. Why the Temps,
a serious, sombre, doctrinaire, impartial sheet? I thought:
"'He must be a serious man with settled and regular habits; in short,
a good bourgeois.'
"He put on his gold-rimmed spectacles, leaned back before beginning to
read, and once more glanced about him. He noticed me, and immediately
began to stare at me in an annoying manner. I was even going to ask the
reason for this attention, when he exclaimed from his seat:
"'Well, by all that's holy, if this isn't Gontran Lardois.'
"'Yes, monsieur, you are not mistaken.'
"Then he quickly rose and came toward me with hands outstretched:
"'Well, old man, how are you?'
"As I did not recognize him at all I was greatly embarrassed.
"He began to laugh
"'I bet you don't recognize me.'
"'No, not exactly. It seems--however--'
"He slapped me on the back:
"'Come on, no joking! I am Patience, Robert Patience, your friend, your
"I recognized him. Yes, Robert Patience, my old college chum. It was
he. I took his outstretched hand:
"'And how are you?'
"His smile was like a paean of victory.
"'What are you doing here?'
"I explained that I was government inspector of taxes.
"He continued, pointing to my red ribbon:
"'Then you have-been a success?'
"'Fairly so. And you?'
"'I am doing well!'
"'What are you doing?'
"'I'm in business.'
"'Heaps. I'm very rich. But come around to lunch, to-morrow noon, 17
Rue du Coq-qui-Chante; you will see my place.'
"He seemed to hesitate a second, then continued:
"'Are you still the good sport that you used to be?'
"'I--I hope so.'
"'Good. And do you still love a good time and potatoes?'
"I was beginning to find him hopelessly vulgar. Nevertheless, I answered
"'And pretty girls?'
"He began to laugh good-humoredly.
"'Good, good! Do you remember our first escapade, in Bordeaux, after
that dinner at Routie's? What a spree!'
"I did, indeed, remember that spree; and the recollection of it cheered
me up. This called to mind other pranks. He would say:
"'Say, do you remember the time when we locked the proctor up in old man
"And he laughed and banged the table with his fist, and then he
"'Yes-yes-yes-and do you remember the face of the geography teacher,
M. Marin, the day we set off a firecracker in the globe, just as he was
haranguing about the principal volcanoes of the earth?'
"Then suddenly I asked him:
"'And you, are you married?'
"'Ten years, my boy, and I have four children, remarkable youngsters; but
you'll see them and their mother.'
"We were talking rather loud; the people around us looked at us in
"Suddenly my friend looked at his watch, a chronometer the size of a
pumpkin, and he cried:
"'Thunder! I'm sorry, but I'll have to leave you; I am never free at
"He rose, took both my hands, shook them as though he were trying to
wrench my arms from their sockets, and exclaimed:
"'So long, then; till to-morrow noon!'
"I spent the morning working in the office of the collector-general of
the Department. The chief wished me to stay to luncheon, but I told him
that I had an engagement with a friend. As he had to go out, he
"I asked him:
"'Can you tell me how I can find the Rue du Coq-qui-Chante?'
"'Yes, it's only five minutes' walk from here. As I have nothing special
to do, I will take you there.'
"We started out and soon found ourselves there. It was a wide, fine-
looking street, on the outskirts of the town. I looked at the houses and
I noticed No. 17. It was a large house with a garden behind it. The
facade, decorated with frescoes, in the Italian style, appeared to me as
being in bad taste. There were goddesses holding vases, others swathed
in clouds. Two stone cupids supported the number of the house.
"I said to the treasurer:
"'Here is where I am going.'
"I held my hand out to him. He made a quick, strange gesture, said
nothing and shook my hand.
"I rang. A maid appeared. I asked:
"'Monsieur Patience, if you please?'
"'Right here, sir. Is it to monsieur that you wish to speak?'
"The hall was decorated with paintings from the brush of some local
artist. Pauls and Virginias were kissing each other under palm trees
bathed in a pink light. A hideous Oriental lantern was ranging from the
ceiling. Several doors were concealed by bright hangings.
"But what struck me especially was the odor. It was a sickening and
perfumed odor, reminding one of rice powder and the mouldy smell of a
cellar. An indefinable odor in a heavy atmosphere as oppressive as that
of public baths. I followed the maid up a marble stairway, covered with
a green, Oriental carpet, and was ushered into a sumptubus parlor.
"Left alone, I looked about me.
"The room was richly furnished, but in the pretentious taste of a
parvenu. Rather fine engravings of the last century represented women
with powdered hair dressed high surprised by gentlemen in interesting
positions. Another lady, lying in a large bed, was teasing with her foot
a little dog, lost in the sheets. One drawing showed four feet, bodies
concealed behind a curtain. The large room, surrounded by soft couches,
was entirely impregnated with that enervating and insipid odor which I
had already noticed. There seemed to be something suspicious about the
walls, the hangings, the exaggerated luxury, everything.
"I approached the window to look into the garden. It was very big,
shady, beautiful. A wide path wound round a grass plot in the midst of
which was a fountain, entered a shrubbery and came out farther away.
And, suddenly, yonder, in the distance, between two clumps of bushes,
three women appeared. They were walking slowly, arm in arm, clad in
long, white tea-gowns covered with lace. Two were blondes and the other
was dark-haired. Almost immediately they disappeared again behind the
trees. I stood there entranced, delighted with this short and charming
apparition, which brought to my mind a whole world of poetry. They had
scarcely allowed themselves to be seen, in just the proper light, in that
frame of foliage, in the midst of that mysterious, delightful park. It
seemed to me that I had suddenly seen before me the great ladies of the
last century, who were depicted in the engravings on the wall. And I
began to think of the happy, joyous, witty and amorous times when manners
were so graceful and lips so approachable.
"A deep voice male me jump. Patience had come in, beaming, and held out
his hands to me.
"He looked into my eyes with the sly look which one takes when divulging
secrets of love, and, with a Napoleonic gesture, he showed me his
sumptuous parlor, his park, the three women, who had reappeared in the
back of it, then, in a triumphant voice, where the note of pride was
prominent, he said:
"'And to think that I began with nothing--my wife and my sister-in-law!'"
"I really think you must be mad, my dear, to go for a country walk in
such weather as this. You have had some very strange notions for the
last two months. You drag me to the seaside in spite of myself, when you
have never once had such a whim during all the forty-four years that we
have been married. You chose Fecamp, which is a very dull town, without
consulting me in the matter, and now you are seized with such a rage for
walking, you who hardly ever stir out on foot, that you want to take a
country walk on the hottest day of the year. Ask d'Apreval to go with
you, as he is ready to gratify all your whims. As for me, I am going
back to have a nap."
Madame de Cadour turned to her old friend and said:
"Will you come with me, Monsieur d'Apreval?"
He bowed with a smile, and with all the gallantry of former years:
"I will go wherever you go," he replied.
"Very well, then, go and get a sunstroke," Monsieur de Cadour said; and
he went back to the Hotel des Bains to lie down for an hour or two.
As soon as they were alone, the old lady and her old companion set off,
and she said to him in a low voice, squeezing his hand:
"At last! at last!"
"You are mad," he said in a whisper. "I assure you that you are mad.
Think of the risk you are running. If that man--"
"Oh! Henri, do not say that man, when you are speaking of him."
"Very well," he said abruptly, "if our son guesses anything, if he has
any suspicions, he will have you, he will have us both in his power.
You have got on without seeing him for the last forty years. What is the
matter with you to-day?"
They had been going up the long street that leads from the sea to the
town, and now they turned to the right, to go to Etretat. The white road
stretched in front of him, then under a blaze of brilliant sunshine, so
they went on slowly in the burning heat. She had taken her old friend's
arm, and was looking straight in front of her, with a fixed and haunted
gaze, and at last she said:
"And so you have not seen him again, either?"
"Is it possible?"
"My dear friend, do not let us begin that discussion again. I have a
wife and children and you have a husband, so we both of us have much to
fear from other people's opinion."
She did not reply; she was thinking of her long past youth and of many
sad things that had occurred. How well she recalled all the details of
their early friendship, his smiles, the way he used to linger, in order
to watch her until she was indoors. What happy days they were, the only
really delicious days she had ever enjoyed, and how quickly they were
And then--her discovery--of the penalty she paid! What anguish!
Of that journey to the South, that long journey, her sufferings, her
constant terror, that secluded life in the small, solitary house on the
shores of the Mediterranean, at the bottom of a garden, which she did not
venture to leave. How well she remembered those long days which she
spent lying under an orange tree, looking up at the round, red fruit,
amid the green leaves. How she used to long to go out, as far as the
sea, whose fresh breezes came to her over the wall, and whose small waves
she could hear lapping on the beach. She dreamed of its immense blue
expanse sparkling under the sun, with the white sails of the small
vessels, and a mountain on the horizon. But she did not dare to go
outside the gate. Suppose anybody had recognized her!
And those days of waiting, those last days of misery and expectation!
The impending suffering, and then that terrible night! What misery she
had endured, and what a night it was! How she had groaned and screamed!
She could still see the pale face of her lover, who kissed her hand every
moment, and the clean-shaven face of the doctor and the nurse's white
And what she felt when she heard the child's feeble cries, that wail,
that first effort of a human's voice!
And the next day! the next day! the only day of her life on which she had
seen and kissed her son; for, from that time, she had never even caught a
glimpse of him.
And what a long, void existence hers had been since then, with the
thought of that child always, always floating before her. She had never
seen her son, that little creature that had been part of herself, even
once since then; they had taken him from her, carried him awav, and had
hidden him. All she knew was that he had been brought up by some
peasants in Normandy, that he had become a peasant himself, had married
well, and that his father, whose name he did not know, had settled a
handsome sum of money on him.
How often during the last forty years had she wished to go and see him
and to embrace him! She could not imagine to herself that he had grown!
She always thought of that small human atom which she had held in her
arms and pressed to her bosom for a day.
How often she had said to M. d'Apreval: "I cannot bear it any longer;
I must go and see him."
But he had always stopped her and kept her from going. She would be
unable to restrain and to master herself; their son would guess it and
take advantage of her, blackmail her; she would be lost.
"What is he like?" she said.
"I do not know. I have not seen him again, either."
"Is it possible? To have a son and not to know him; to be afraid of him
and to reject him as if he were a disgrace! It is horrible."
They went along the dusty road, overcome by the scorching sun, and
continually ascending that interminable hill.
"One might take it for a punishment," she continued; "I have never had
another child, and I could no longer resist the longing to see him, which
has possessed me for forty years. You men cannot understand that. You
must remember that I shall not live much longer, and suppose I should
never see him, never have seen him! . . . Is it possible? How could
I wait so long? I have thought about him every day since, and what a
terrible existence mine has been! I have never awakened, never, do you
understand, without my first thoughts being of him, of my child. How is
he? Oh, how guilty I feel toward him! Ought one to fear what the world
may say in a case like this? I ought to have left everything to go after
him, to bring him up and to show my love for him. I should certainly
have been much happier, but I did not dare, I was a coward. How I have
suffered! Oh, how those poor, abandoned children must hate their
She stopped suddenly, for she was choked by her sobs. The whole valley
was deserted and silent in the dazzling light and the overwhelming heat,
and only the grasshoppers uttered their shrill, continuous chirp among
the sparse yellow grass on both sides of the road.
"Sit down a little," he said.
She allowed herself to be led to the side of the ditch and sank down with
her face in her hands. Her white hair, which hung in curls on both sides
of her face, had become tangled. She wept, overcome by profound grief,
while he stood facing her, uneasy and not knowing what to say, and he
merely murmured: "Come, take courage."
She got up.
"I will," she said, and wiping her eyes, she began to walk again with the
uncertain step of an elderly woman.
A little farther on the road passed beneath a clump of trees, which hid a
few houses, and they could distinguish the vibrating and regular blows of
a blacksmith's hammer on the anvil; and presently they saw a wagon
standing on the right side of the road in front of a low cottage, and two
men shoeing a horse under a shed.
Monsieur d' Apreval went up to them.
"Where is Pierre Benedict's farm?" he asked.
"Take the road to the left, close to the inn, and then go straight on;
it is the third house past Poret's. There is a small spruce fir close to
the gate; you cannot make a mistake."
They turned to the left. She was walking very slowly now, her legs
threatened to give way, and her heart was beating so violently that she
felt as if she should suffocate, while at every step she murmured, as if
"Oh! Heaven! Heaven!"
Monsieur d'Apreval, who was also nervous and rather pale, said to her
"If you cannot manage to control your feelings, you will betray yourself
at once. Do try and restrain yourself."
"How can I?" she replied. "My child! When I think that I am going to
see my child."
They were going along one of those narrow country lanes between
farmyards, that are concealed beneath a double row of beech trees at
either side of the ditches, and suddenly they found themselves in front
of a gate, beside which there was a young spruce fir.
"This is it," he said.
She stopped suddenly and looked about her. The courtyard, which was
planted with apple trees, was large and extended as far as the small
thatched dwelling house. On the opposite side were the stable, the barn,
the cow house and the poultry house, while the gig, the wagon and the
manure cart were under a slated outhouse. Four calves were grazing under
the shade of the trees and black hens were wandering all about the
All was perfectly still; the house door was open, but nobody was to be
seen, and so they went in, when immediately a large black dog came out of
a barrel that was standing under a pear tree, and began to bark
There were four bee-hives on boards against the wall of the house.
Monsieur d'Apreval stood outside and called out:
"Is anybody at home?"
Then a child appeared, a little girl of about ten, dressed in a chemise
and a linen, petticoat, with dirty, bare legs and a timid and cunning
look. She remained standing in the doorway, as if to prevent any one
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Is your father in?"
"Where is he?"
"I don't know."
"And your mother?"
"Gone after the cows."
"Will she be back soon?"
"I don't know."
Then suddenly the lady, as if she feared that her companion might force
her to return, said quickly:
"I shall not go without having seen him."
"We will wait for him, my dear friend."
As they turned away, they saw a peasant woman coming toward the house,
carrying two tin pails, which appeared to be heavy and which glistened
brightly in the sunlight.
She limped with her right leg, and in her brown knitted jacket, that was
faded by the sun and washed out by the rain, she looked like a poor,
wretched, dirty servant.
"Here is mamma," the child said.
When she got close to the house, she looked at the strangers angrily and
suspiciously, and then she went in, as if she had not seen them. She
looked old and had a hard, yellow, wrinkled face, one of those wooden
faces that country people so often have.
Monsieur d'Apreval called her back.
"I beg your pardon, madame, but we came in to know whether you could sell
us two glasses of milk."
She was grumbling when she reappeared in the door, after putting down her
"I don't sell milk," she replied.
"We are very thirsty," he said, "and madame is very tired. Can we not
get something to drink?"
The peasant woman gave them an uneasy and cunning glance and then she
made up her mind.
"As you are here, I will give you some," she said, going into the house,
and almost immediately the child came out and brought two chairs, which
she placed under an apple tree, and then the mother, in turn, brought out
two bowls of foaming milk, which she gave to the visitors. She did not
return to the house, however, but remained standing near them, as if to
watch them and to find out for what purpose they had come there.
"You have come from Fecamp?" she said.
"Yes," Monsieur d'Apreval replied, "we are staying at Fecamp for the
And then, after a short silence, he continued:
"Have you any fowls you could sell us every week?"
The woman hesitated for a moment and then replied:
"Yes, I think I have. I suppose you want young ones?"
"Yes, of course."
"'What do you pay for them in the market?"
D'Apreval, who had not the least idea, turned to his companion:
"What are you paying for poultry in Fecamp, my dear lady?"
"Four francs and four francs fifty centimes," she said, her eyes full of
tears, while the farmer's wife, who was looking at her askance, asked in
"Is the lady ill, as she is crying?"
He did not know what to say, and replied with some hesitation:
"No--no--but she lost her watch as we came along, a very handsome watch,
and that troubles her. If anybody should find it, please let us know."
Mother Benedict did not reply, as she thought it a very equivocal sort of
answer, but suddenly she exclaimed:
"Oh, here is my husband!"
She was the only one who had seen him, as she was facing the gate.
D'Apreval started and Madame de Cadour nearly fell as she turned round
suddenly on her chair.
A man bent nearly double, and out of breath, stood there, ten-yards from
them, dragging a cow at the end of a rope. Without taking any notice of
the visitors, he said:
"Confound it! What a brute!"
And he went past them and disappeared in the cow house.
Her tears had dried quickly as she sat there startled, without a word and
with the one thought in her mind, that this was her son, and D'Apreval,
whom the same thought had struck very unpleasantly, said in an agitated
"Is this Monsieur Benedict?"
"Who told you his name?" the wife asked, still rather suspiciously.
"The blacksmith at the corner of the highroad," he replied, and then they
were all silent, with their eyes fixed on the door of the cow house,
which formed a sort of black hole in the wall of the building. Nothing
could be seen inside, but they heard a vague noise, movements and
footsteps and the sound of hoofs, which were deadened by the straw on the
floor, and soon the man reappeared in the door, wiping his forehead, and
came toward the house with long, slow strides. He passed the strangers
without seeming to notice them and said to his wife:
"Go and draw me a jug of cider; I am very thirsty."
Then he went back into the house, while his wife went into the cellar and
left the two Parisians alone.
"Let us go, let us go, Henri," Madame de Cadour said, nearly distracted
with grief, and so d'Apreval took her by the arm, helped her to rise, and
sustaining her with all his strength, for he felt that she was nearly
fainting, he led her out, after throwing five francs on one of the
As soon as they were outside the gate, she began to sob and said, shaking
"Oh! oh! is that what you have made of him?"
He was very pale and replied coldly:
"I did what I could. His farm is worth eighty thousand francs, and that
is more than most of the sons of the middle classes have."
They returned slowly, without speaking a word. She was still crying; the
tears ran down her cheeks continually for a time, but by degrees they
stopped, and they went back to Fecamp, where they found Monsieur de
Cadour waiting dinner for them. As soon as he saw them, he began to
laugh and exclaimed:
"So my wife has had a sunstroke, and I am very glad of it. I really
think she has lost her head for some time past!"
Neither of them replied, and when the husband asked them, rubbing his
"Well, I hope that, at least, you have had a pleasant walk?"
Monsieur d'Apreval replied:
"A delightful walk, I assure you; perfectly delightful."
THE MAISON TELLIER
They went there every evening about eleven o'clock, just as they would go
to the club. Six or eight of them; always the same set, not fast men,
but respectable tradesmen, and young men in government or some other
employ, and they would drink their Chartreuse, and laugh with the girls,
or else talk seriously with Madame Tellier, whom everybody respected, and
then they would go home at twelve o'clock! The younger men would
sometimes stay later.
It was a small, comfortable house painted yellow, at the corner of a
street behind Saint Etienne's Church, and from the windows one could see
the docks full of ships being unloaded, the big salt marsh, and, rising
beyond it, the Virgin's Hill with its old gray chapel.
Madame Tellier, who came of a respectable family of peasant proprietors
in the Department of the Eure, had taken up her profession, just as she
would have become a milliner or dressmaker. The prejudice which is so
violent and deeply rooted in large towns, does not exist in the country
places in Normandy. The peasant says:
"It is a paying-business," and he sends his daughter to keep an
establishment of this character just as he would send her to keep a
She had inherited the house from an old uncle, to whom it had belonged.
Monsieur and Madame Tellier, who had formerly been innkeepers near
Yvetot, had immediately sold their house, as they thought that the
business at Fecamp was more profitable, and they arrived one fine morning
to assume the direction of the enterprise, which was declining on account
of the absence of the proprietors. They were good people enough in their
way, and soon made themselves liked by their staff and their neighbors.
Monsieur died of apoplexy two years later, for as the new place kept him
in idleness and without any exercise, he had grown excessively stout, and
his health had suffered. Since she had been a widow, all the frequenters
of the establishment made much of her; but people said that, personally,
she was quite virtuous, and even the girls in the house could not
discover anything against her. She was tall, stout and affable, and her
complexion, which had become pale in the dimness of her house, the
shutters of which were scarcely ever opened, shone as if it had been
varnished. She had a fringe of curly false hair, which gave her a
juvenile look, that contrasted strongly with the ripeness of her figure.
She was always smiling and cheerful, and was fond of a joke, but there
was a shade of reserve about her, which her occupation had not quite made
her lose. Coarse words always shocked her, and when any young fellow who
had been badly brought up called her establishment a hard name, she was
angry and disgusted.
In a word, she had a refined mind, and although she treated her women as
friends, yet she very frequently used to say that "she and they were not
made of the same stuff."
Sometimes during the week she would hire a carriage and take some of her
girls into the country, where they used to enjoy themselves on the grass
by the side of the little river. They were like a lot of girls let out
from school, and would run races and play childish games. They had a
cold dinner on the grass, and drank cider, and went home at night with a
delicious feeling of fatigue, and in the carriage they kissed Madame'
Tellier as their kind mother, who was full of goodness and complaisance.
The house had two entrances. At the corner there was a sort of tap-room,
which sailors and the lower orders frequented at night, and she had two
girls whose special duty it was to wait on them with the assistance of
Frederic, a short, light-haired, beardless fellow, as strong as a horse.
They set the half bottles of wine and the jugs of beer on the shaky
marble tables before the customers, and then urged the men to drink.
The three other girls--there were only five of them--formed a kind of
aristocracy, and they remained with the company on the first floor,
unless they were wanted downstairs and there was nobody on the first
floor. The salon de Jupiter, where the tradesmen used to meet, was
papered in blue, and embellished with a large drawing representing Leda
and the swan. The room was reached by a winding staircase, through a
narrow door opening on the street, and above this door a lantern inclosed
in wire, such as one still sees in some towns, at the foot of the shrine
of some saint, burned all night long.
The house, which was old and damp, smelled slightly of mildew. At times
there was an odor of eau de Cologne in the passages, or sometimes from a
half-open door downstairs the noisy mirth of the common men sitting and
drinking rose to the first floor, much to the disgust of the gentlemen
who were there. Madame Tellier, who was on friendly terms with her
customers, did not leave the room, and took much interest in what was
going on in the town, and they regularly told her all the news. Her
serious conversation was a change from the ceaseless chatter of the three
women; it was a rest from the obscene jokes of those stout individuals
who every evening indulged in the commonplace debauchery of drinking a
glass of liqueur in company with common women.
The names of the girls on the first floor were Fernande, Raphaele, and
Rosa, the Jade. As the staff was limited, madame had endeavored that
each member of it should be a pattern, an epitome of the feminine type,
so that every customer might find as nearly as possible the realization
of his ideal. Fernande represented the handsome blonde; she was very
tall, rather fat, and lazy; a country girl, who could not get rid of her
freckles, and whose short, light, almost colorless, tow-like hair, like
combed-out hemp, barely covered her head.
Raphaele, who came from Marseilles, played the indispensable part of the
handsome Jewess, and was thin, with high cheekbones, which were covered
with rouge, and black hair covered with pomatum, which curled on her
forehead. Her eyes would have been handsome, if the right one had not
had a speck in it. Her Roman nose came down over a square jaw, where two
false upper teeth contrasted strangely with the bad color of the rest.
Rosa was a little roll of fat, nearly all body, with very short legs, and
from morning till night she sang songs, which were alternately risque or
sentimental, in a harsh voice; told silly, interminable tales, and only
stopped talking in order to eat, and left off eating in order to talk;
she was never still, and was active as a squirrel, in spite of her
embonpoint and her short legs; her laugh, which was a torrent of shrill
cries, resounded here and there, ceaselessly, in a bedroom, in the loft,
in the cafe, everywhere, and all about nothing.
The two women on the ground floor, Lodise, who was nicknamed La Cocotte,
and Flora, whom they called Balancoise, because she limped a little, the
former always dressed as the Goddess of Liberty, with a tri-colored sash,
and the other as a Spanish woman, with a string of copper coins in her
carroty hair, which jingled at every uneven step, looked like cooks
dressed up for the carnival. They were like all other women of the lower
orders, neither uglier nor better looking than they usually are.
They looked just like servants at an inn, and were generally called "the
A jealous peace, which was, however, very rarely disturbed, reigned among
these five women, thanks to Madame Tellier's conciliatory wisdom, and to
her constant good humor, and the establishment, which was the only one of
the kind in the little town, was very much frequented. Madame Tellier
had succeeded in giving it such a respectable appearance, she was so
amiable and obliging to everybody, her good heart was so well known, that
she was treated with a certain amount of consideration. The regular
customers spent money on her, and were delighted when she was especially
friendly toward them, and when they met during the day, they would say:
"Until this evening, you know where," just as men say: "At the club,
after dinner." In a word, Madame Tellier's house was somewhere to go to,
and they very rarely missed their daily meetings there.
One evening toward the end of May, the first arrival, Monsieur Poulin,
who was a timber merchant, and had been mayor, found the door shut. The
lantern behind the grating was not alight; there was not a sound in the
house; everything seemed dead. He knocked, gently at first, but then
more loudly, but nobody answered the door. Then he went slowly up the
street, and when he got to the market place he met Monsieur Duvert, the
gunmaker, who was going to the same place, so they went back together,
but did not meet with any better success. But suddenly they heard a loud
noise, close to them, and on going round the house, they saw a number of
English and French sailors, who were hammering at the closed shutters of
the taproom with their fists.
The two tradesmen immediately made their escape, but a low "Pst!" stopped
them; it was Monsieur Tournevau, the fish curer, who had recognized them,
and was trying to attract their attention. They told him what had
happened, and he was all the more annoyed, as he was a married man and
father of a family, and only went on Saturdays. That was his regular
evening, and now he should be deprived of this dissipation for the whole
The three men went as far as the quay together, and on the way they met
young Monsieur Philippe, the banker's son, who frequented the place
regularly, and Monsieur Pinipesse, the collector, and they all returned
to the Rue aux Juifs together, to make a last attempt. But the
exasperated sailors were besieging the house, throwing stones at the
shutters, and shouting, and the five first-floor customers went away as
quickly as possible, and walked aimlessly about the streets.
Presently they met Monsieur Dupuis, the insurance agent, and then
Monsieur Vasse, the Judge of the Tribunal of Commerce, and they took a
long walk, going to the pier first of all, where they sat down in a row
on the granite parapet and watched the rising tide, and when the
promenaders had sat there for some time, Monsieur Tournevau said:
"This is not very amusing!"
"Decidedly not," Monsieur Pinipesse replied, and they started off to walk
After going through the street alongside the hill, they returned over the
wooden bridge which crosses the Retenue, passed close to the railway, and
came out again on the market place, when, suddenly, a quarrel arose
between Monsieur Pinipesse, the collector, and Monsieur Tournevau about
an edible mushroom which one of them declared he had found in the
As they were out of temper already from having nothing to do, they would
very probably have come to blows, if the others had not interfered.
Monsieur Pinipesse went off furious, and soon another altercation arose
between the ex-mayor, Monsieur Poulin, and Monsieur Dupuis, the insurance
agent, on the subject of the tax collector's salary and the profits which
he might make. Insulting remarks were freely passing between them, when
a torrent of formidable cries was heard, and the body of sailors, who
were tired of waiting so long outside a closed house, came into the
square. They were walking arm in arm, two and two, and formed a long
procession, and were shouting furiously. The townsmen hid themselves in
a doorway, and the yelling crew disappeared in the direction of the
abbey. For a long time they still heard the noise, which diminished like
a storm in the distance, and then silence was restored. Monsieur Poulin
and Monsieur Dupuis, who were angry with each other, went in different
directions, without wishing each other good-by.
The other four set off again, and instinctively went in the direction of
Madame Tellier's establishment, which was still closed, silent,
impenetrable. A quiet, but obstinate drunken man was knocking at the
door of the lower room, antd then stopped and called Frederic, in a low
voice, but finding that he got no answer, he sat down on the doorstep,
and waited the course of events.
The others were just going to retire, when the noisy band of sailors
reappeared at the end of the street. The French sailors were shouting
the "Marseillaise," and the Englishmen "Rule Britannia." There was a
general lurching against the wall, and then the drunken fellows went on
their way toward the quay, where a fight broke out between the two
nations, in the course of which an Englishman had his arm broken and a
Frenchman his nose split.
The drunken man who had waited outside the door, was crying by that time,
as drunken men and children cry when they are vexed, and the others went
away. By degrees, calm was restored in the noisy town; here and there,
at moments, the distant sound of voices could be heard, and then died
away in the distance.
One man only was still wandering about, Monsieur Tournevau, the fish
curer, who was annoyed at having to wait until the following Saturday,
and he hoped something would turn up, he did not know what; but he was
exasperated at the police for thus allowing an establishment of such
public utility, which they had under their control, to be closed.
He went back to it and examined the walls, trying to find out some
reason, and on the shutter he saw a notice stuck up. He struck a wax
match and read the following, in a large, uneven hand: "Closed on account
of the Confirmation."
Then he went away, as he saw it was useless to remain, and left the
drunken man lying on the pavement fast asleep, outside that inhospitable
The next day, all the regular customers, one after the other, found some
reason for going through the street, with a bundle of papers under their
arm to keep them in countenance, and with a furtive glance they all read
that mysterious notice:
"Closed on account of the Confirmation."
Madame Tellier had a brother, who was a carpenter in their native place,
Virville, in the Department of Eure. When she still kept the inn at
Yvetot, she had stood godmother to that brother's daughter, who had
received the name of Constance--Constance Rivet; she herself being a
Rivet on her father's side. The carpenter, who knew that his sister was
in a good position, did not lose sight of her, although they did not meet
often, for they were both kept at home by their occupations, and lived a
long way from each other. But as the girl was twelve years old, and
going to be confirmed, he seized that opportunity to write to his sister,
asking her to come and be present at the ceremony. Their old parents
were dead, and as she could not well refuse her goddaughter, she accepted
the invitation. Her brother, whose name was Joseph, hoped that by dint
of showing his sister attention, she might be induced to make her will in
the girl's favor, as she had no children of her own.
His sister's occupation did not trouble his scruples in the least, and,
besides, nobody knew anything about it at Virville. When they spoke of
her, they only said: "Madame Tellier is living at Fecamp," which might
mean that she was living on her own private income. It was quite twenty
leagues from Fecamp to Virville, and for a peasant, twenty leagues on
land is as long a journey as crossing the ocean would be to city people.
The people at Virville had never been further than Rouen, and nothing
attracted the people from Fecamp to a village of five hundred houses in
the middle of a plain, and situated in another department; at any rate,
nothing was known about her business.
But the Confirmation was coming on, and Madame Tellier was in great
embarrassment. She had no substitute, and did not at all care to leave
her house, even for a day; for all the rivalries between the girls
upstairs and those downstairs would infallibly break out. No doubt
Frederic would get drunk, and when he was in that state, he would knock
anybody down for a mere word. At last, however, she made up her mind to
take them all with her, with the exception of the man, to whom she gave a
holiday until the next day but one.
When she asked her brother, he made no objection, but undertook to put
them all up for a night, and so on Saturday morning the eight-o'clock
express carried off Madame Tellier and her companions in a second-class
carriage. As far as Beuzeville they were alone, and chattered like
magpies, but at that station a couple got in. The man, an old peasant,
dressed in a blue blouse with a turned-down collar, wide sleeves tight at
the wrist, ornamented with white embroidery, wearing an old high hat with
long nap, held an enormous green umbrella in one hand, and a large basket
in the other, from which the heads of three frightened ducks protruded.
The woman, who sat up stiffly in her rustic finery, had a face like a
fowl, with a nose that was as pointed as a bill. She sat down opposite
her husband and did not stir, as she was startled at finding herself in
such smart company.
There was certainly an array of striking colors in the carriage. Madame
Tellier was dressed in blue silk from head to foot, and had on a dazzling
red imitation French cashmere shawl. Fernande was puffing in a Scotch
plaid dress, of which her companions had laced the bodice as tight as
they could, forcing up her full bust, that was continually heaving up and
down. Raphaele, with a bonnet covered with feathers, so that it looked
like a bird's nest, had on a lilac dress with gold spots on it, and there
was something Oriental about it that suited her Jewish face. Rosa had on
a pink skirt with largo flounces, and looked like a very fat child, an
obese dwarf; while the two Pumps looked as if they had cut their dresses
out of old flowered curtains dating from the Restoration.
As soon as they were no longer alone in the compartment, the ladies put
on staid looks, and began to talk of subjects which might give others a
high opinion of them. But at Bolbeck a gentleman with light whiskers, a
gold chain, and wearing two or three rings, got in, and put several
parcels wrapped in oilcloth on the rack over his head. He looked
inclined for a joke, and seemed a good-hearted fellow.
"Are you ladies changing your quarters?" he said, and that question
embarrassed them all considerably. Madame Tellier, however, quickly
regained her composure, and said sharply, to avenge the honor of her
"I think you might try and be polite!"
He excused himself, and said: "I beg your pardon, I ought to have said
She could not think of a retort, so, perhaps thinking she had said
enough, madame gave him a dignified bow and compressed her lips.
Then the gentleman, who was sitting between Rosa and the old peasant,
began to wink knowingly at the ducks whose heads were sticking out of the
basket, and when he felt that he had fixed the attention of his public,
he began to tickle them under the bills and spoke funnily to them to make
the company smile.
"We have left our little pond, quack! quack! to make the acquaintance
of the little spit, qu-ack! qu-ack!"
The unfortunate creatures turned their necks away, to avoid his caresses,
and made desperate efforts to get out of their wicker prison, and then,
suddenly, all at once, uttered the most lamentable quacks of distress.
The women exploded with laughter. They leaned forward and pushed each
other, so as to see better; they were very much interested in the ducks,
and the gentleman redoubled his airs, his wit and his teasing.
Rosa joined in, and leaning over her neighbor's legs, she kissed the
three animals on the head, and immediately all the girls wanted to kiss
them, in turn, and as they did so the gentleman took them on his knee,
jumped them up and down and pinched their arms. The two peasants, who
were even in greater consternation than their poultry, rolled their eyes
as if they were possessed, without venturing to move, and their old
wrinkled faces had not a smile, not a twitch.
Then the gentleman, who was a commercial traveller, offered the ladies
suspenders by way of a joke, and taking up one of his packages, he opened
it. It was a joke, for the parcel contained garters. There were blue
silk, pink silk, red silk, violet silk, mauve silk garters, and the
buckles were made of two gilt metal cupids embracing each other. The
girls uttered exclamations of delight and looked at them with that
gravity natural to all women when they are considering an article of
dress. They consulted one another by their looks or in a whisper, and
replied in the same manner, and Madame Tellier was longingly handling a
pair of orange garters that were broader and more imposing looking than
the rest; really fit for the mistress of such an establishment.
The gentleman waited, for he had an idea.
"Come, my kittens," he said, "you must try them on."
There was a torrent of exclamations, and they squeezed their petticoats
between their legs, but he quietly waited his time and said: "Well, if
you will not try them on I shall pack them up again."
And he added cunningly:. "I offer any pair they like to those who will
try them on."
But they would not, and sat up very straight and looked dignified.
But the two Pumps looked so distressed that he renewed his offer to them,
and Flora, especially, visibly hesitated, and he insisted: "Come, my
dear, a little courage! Just look at that lilac pair; it will suit your
That decided her, and pulling up her dress she showed a thick leg fit for
a milkmaid, in a badly fitting, coarse stocking. The commercial
traveller stooped down and fastened the garter. When he had done this,
he gave her the lilac pair and asked: "Who next?"
"I! I!" they all shouted at once, and he began on Rosa, who uncovered a
shapeless, round thing without any ankle, a regular "sausage of a leg,"
as Raphaele used to say.
Lastly, Madame Tellier herself put out her leg, a handsome, muscular
Norman leg, and in his surprise and pleasure, the commercial traveller
gallantly took off his hat to salute that master calf, like a true French
The two peasants, who were speechless from surprise, glanced sideways out
of the corner of one eye, and they looked so exactly like fowls that the
man with the light whiskers, when he sat up, said: "Co--co--ri--co" under
their very noses, and that gave rise to another storm of amusement.
The old people got out at Motteville with their basket, their ducks and
their umbrella, and they heard the woman say to her husband as they went
"They are no good and are off to that cursed place, Paris."
The funny commercial traveller himself got out at Rouen, after behaving
so coarsely that Madame Tellier was obliged sharply to put him in his
right place, and she added, as a moral: "This will teach us not to talk
to the first comer."
At Oissel they changed trains, and at a little station further on
Monsieur Joseph Rivet was waiting for them with a large cart with a
number of chairs in it, drawn by a white horse.
The carpenter politely kissed all the ladies and then helped them into
Three of them sat on three chairs at the back, Raphaele, Madame Tellier
and her brother on the three chairs in front, while Rosa, who had no
seat, settled herself as comfortably as she could on tall Fernande's
knees, and then they set off.
But the horse's jerky trot shook the cart so terribly that the chairs
began to dance and threw the travellers about, to the right and to the
left, as if they were dancing puppets, which made them scream and make
They clung on to the sides of the vehicle, their bonnets fell on their
backs, over their faces and on their shoulders, and the white horse went
on stretching out his head and holding out his little hairless tail like
a rat's, with which he whisked his buttocks from time to time.
Joseph Rivet, with one leg on the shafts and the other doubled under him,
held the reins with his elbows very high, and kept uttering a kind of
clucking sound, which made the horse prick up its ears and go faster.
The green country extended on either side of the road, and here and there
the colza in flower presented a waving expanse of yellow, from which
arose a strong, wholesome, sweet and penetrating odor, which the wind
carried to some distance.
The cornflowers showed their little blue heads amid the rye, and the
women wanted to pick them, but Monsieur Rivet refused to stop.
Then, sometimes, a whole field appeared to be covered with blood, so
thick were the poppies, and the cart, which looked as if it were filled
with flowers of more brilliant hue, jogged on through fields bright with
wild flowers, and disappeared behind the trees of a farm, only to
reappear and to go on again through the yellow or green standing crops,
which were studded with red or blue.
One o'clock struck as they drove up to the carpenter's door. They were
tired out and pale with hunger, as they had eaten nothing since they left
home. Madame Rivet ran out and made them alight, one after another, and
kissed them as soon as they were on the ground, and she seemed as if she
would never tire of kissing her sister-in-law, whom she apparently wanted
to monopolize. They had lunch in the workshop, which had been cleared
out for the next day's dinner.
The capital omelet, followed by boiled chitterlings and washed down with
good hard cider, made them all feel comfortable.
Rivet had taken a glass so that he might drink with them, and his wife
cooked, waited on them, brought in the dishes, took them out and asked
each of them in a whisper whether they had everything they wanted. A
number of boards standing against the walls and heaps of shavings that
had been swept into the corners gave out a smell of planed wood, a smell
of a carpenter's shop, that resinous odor which penetrates to the lungs.
They wanted to see the little girl, but she had gone to church and would
not be back again until evening, so they all went out for a stroll in the
It was a small village, through which the highroad passed. Ten or a
dozen houses on either side of the single street were inhabited by the
butcher, the grocer, the carpenter, the innkeeper, the shoemaker and the
The church was at the end of the street and was surrounded by a small
churchyard, and four immense lime-trees, which stood just outside the
porch, shaded it completely. It was built of flint, in no particular
style, and had a slate-roofed steeple. When you got past it, you were
again in the open country, which was varied here and there by clumps of
trees which hid the homesteads.
Rivet had given his arm to his sister, out of politeness, although he was
in his working clothes, and was walking with her in a dignified manner.
His wife, who was overwhelmed by Raphaele's gold-striped dress, walked
between her and Fernande, and roly-poly Rosa was trotting behind with
Louise and Flora, the Seesaw, who was limping along, quite tired out.
The inhabitants came to their doors, the children left off playing, and a
window curtain would be raised, so as to show a muslin cap, while an old
woman with a crutch, who was almost blind, crossed herself as if it were
a religious procession, and they all gazed for a long time at those
handsome ladies from town, who had come so far to be present at the
confirmation of Joseph Rivet's little girl, and the carpenter rose very
much in the public estimation.
As they passed the church they heard some children singing. Little
shrill voices were singing a hymn, but Madame Tellier would not let them
go in, for fear of disturbing the little cherubs.
After the walk, during which Joseph Rivet enumerated the principal landed
proprietors, spoke about the yield of the land and the productiveness of
the cows and sheep, he took his tribe of women home and installed them in
his house, and as it was very small, they had to put them into the rooms,
two and two.
Just for once Rivet would sleep in the workshop on the shavings; his wife
was to share her bed with her sister-in-law, and Fernande and Raphaele
were to sleep together in the next room. Louise and Flora were put into
the kitchen, where they had a mattress on the floor, and Rosa had a
little dark cupboard to herself at the top of the stairs, close to the
loft, where the candidate for confirmation was to sleep.
When the little girl came in she was overwhelmed with kisses; all the
women wished to caress her with that need of tender expansion, that habit
of professional affection which had made them kiss the ducks in the
They each of them took her on their knees, stroked her soft, light hair
and pressed her in their arms with vehement and spontaneous outbursts of
affection, and the child, who was very good and religious, bore it all
As the day had been a fatiguing one for everybody, they all went to bed
soon after dinner. The whole village was wrapped in that perfect
stillness of the country, which is almost like a religious silence, and
the girls, who were accustomed to the noisy evenings of their
establishment, felt rather impressed by the perfect repose of the
sleeping village, and they shivered, not with cold, but with those little
shivers of loneliness which come over uneasy and troubled hearts.
As soon as they were in bed, two and two together, they clasped each
other in their arms, as if to protect themselves against this feeling of
the calm and profound slumber of the earth. But Rosa, who was alone in
her little dark cupboard, felt a vague and painful emotion come over her.
She was tossing about in bed, unable to get to sleep, when she heard the
faint sobs of a crying child close to her head, through the partition.
She was frightened, and called out, and was answered by a weak voice,
broken by sobs. It was the little girl, who was always used to sleeping
in her mother's room, and who was afraid in her small attic.
Rosa was delighted, got up softly so as not to awaken any one, and went
and fetched the child. She took her into her warm bed, kissed her and
pressed her to her bosom, lavished exaggerated manifestations of
tenderness on her, and at last grew calmer herself and went to sleep.
And till morning the candidate for confirmation slept with her head on
At five o'clock the little church bell, ringing the Angelus, woke the
women, who usually slept the whole morning long.
The villagers were up already, and the women went busily from house to
house, carefully bringing short, starched muslin dresses or very long wax
tapers tied in the middle with a bow of silk fringed with gold, and with
dents in the wax for the fingers.
The sun was already high in the blue sky, which still had a rosy tint
toward the horizon, like a faint remaining trace of dawn. Families of
fowls were walking about outside the houses, and here and there a black
cock, with a glistening breast, raised his head, which was crowned by his
red comb, flapped his wings and uttered his shrill crow, which the other
Vehicles of all sorts came from neighboring parishes, stopping at the
different houses, and tall Norman women dismounted, wearing dark dresses,
with kerchiefs crossed over the bosom, fastened with silver brooches a
hundred years old.
The men had put on their blue smocks over their new frock-coats or over
their old dress-coats of green-cloth, the two tails of which hung down
below their blouses. When the horses were in the stable there was a
double line of rustic conveyances along the road: carts, cabriolets,
tilburies, wagonettes, traps of every shape and age, tipping forward on
their shafts or else tipping backward with the shafts up in the air.
The carpenter's house was as busy as a bee-hive. The women, in dressing-
jackets and petticoats, with their thin, short hair, which looked faded
and worn, hanging down their backs, were busy dressing the child, who was
standing quietly on a table, while Madame Tellier was directing the
movements of her battalion. They washed her, did her hair, dressed her,
and with the help of a number of pins, they arranged the folds of her
dress and took in the waist, which was too large.
Then, when she was ready, she was told to sit down and not to move, and
the women hurried off to get ready themselves.
The church bell began to ring again, and its tinkle was lost in the air,
like a feeble voice which is soon drowned in space. The candidates came
out. of the houses and went toward the parochial building, which
contained the two schools and the mansion house, and which stood quite at
one end of the village, while the church was situated at the other.
The parents, in their very best clothes, followed their children, with
embarrassed looks, and those clumsy movements of a body bent by toil.
The little girls disappeared in a cloud of muslin, which looked like
whipped cream, while the lads, who looked like embryo waiters in a cafe
and whose heads shone with pomatum, walked with their legs apart, so as
not to get any dust or dirt on their black trousers.
It was something for a family, to be proud of, when a large number of
relatives, who had come from a distance, surrounded the child, and the
carpenter's triumph was complete.
Madame Tellier's regiment, with its leader at its head, followed
Constance; her father gave his arm to his sister, her mother walked by
the side of Raphaele, Fernande with Rosa and Louise and Flora together,
and thus they proceeded majestically through the village, like a
general's staff in full uniform, while the effect on the village was
At the school the girls ranged themselves under the Sister of Mercy and
the boys under the schoolmaster, and they started off, singing a hymn as
they went. The boys led the way, in two files, between the two rows of
vehicles, from which the horses had been taken out, and the girls
followed in the same order; and as all the people in the village had
given the town ladies the precedence out of politeness, they came
immediately behind the girls, and lengthened the double line of the
procession still more, three on the right and three on the left, while
their dresses were as striking as a display of fireworks.
When they went into the church the congregation grew quite excited. They
pressed against each other, turned round and jostled one another in order
to see, and some of the devout ones spoke almost aloud, for they were so
astonished at the sight of those ladies whose dresses were more elaborate
than the priest's vestments.
The mayor offered them his pew, the first one on the right, close to the
choir, and Madame Tellier sat there with her sister-in-law, Fernande and
Raphaele. Rosa, Louise and Flora occupied the second seat, in company
with the carpenter.
The choir was full of kneeling children, the girls on one side and the
boys on the other, and the long wax tapers which they held looked like
lances pointing in all directions, and three men were standing in front
of the lectern, singing as loud as they could.
They prolonged the syllables of the sonorous Latin indefinitely, holding
on to "Amens" with interminable "a-a's," which the reed stop of the organ
sustained in a monotonous, long-drawn-out tone.
A child's shrill voice took up the reply, and from time to time a priest
sitting in a stall and wearing a biretta got up, muttered something and
sat down again, while the three singers continued, their eyes fixed on
the big book of plain chant lying open before them on the outstretched
wings of a wooden eagle.
Then silence ensued and the service went on. Toward the close Rosa, with
her head in both hands, suddenly thought of her mother, her village
church and her first communion. She almost fancied that that day had
returned, when she was so small anti was almost hidden in her white
dress, and she began to cry.
First of all she wept silently, and the tears dropped slowly from her
eyes, but her emotion in creased with her recollections, and she began to
sob. She took out her pocket handkerchief, wiped her eyes and held it to
her mouth, so as not to scream, but it was in vain. A sort of rattle
escaped her throat, and she was answered by two other profound,
heartbreaking sobs, for her two neighbors, Louise and Flora, who were
kneeling near her, overcome by similar recollections, were sobbing by her
side, amid a flood of tears; and as tears are contagious, Madame Tellier
soon in turn found that her eyes were wet, and on turning to her sister-
in-law, she saw that all the occupants of her seat were also crying.
Soon, throughout the church, here and there, a wife, a mother, a sister,
seized by the strange sympathy of poignant emotion, and affected at the
sight of those handsome ladies on their knees, shaken with sobs was
moistening her cambric pocket handkerchief and pressing her beating heart
with her left hand.
Just as the sparks from an engine will set fire to dry grass, so the
tears of Rosa and of her companions infected the whole congregation in a
moment. Men, women, old men and lads in new smocks were soon all
sobbing, and something superhuman seemed to be hovering over their heads
--a spirit, the powerful breath of an invisible and all powerful Being.
Suddenly a species of madness seemed to pervade the church, the noise of
a crowd in a state of frenzy, a tempest of sobs and stifled cries. It
came like gusts of wind which blow the trees in a forest, and the priest,
paralyzed by emotion, stammered out incoherent prayers, without finding
words, ardent prayers of the soul soaring to heaven.
The people behind him gradually grew calmer. The cantors, in all the
dignity of their white surplices, went on in somewhat uncertain voices,
and the reed stop itself seemed hoarse, as if the instrument had been
weeping; the priest, however, raised his hand to command silence and went
and stood on the chancel steps, when everybody was silent at once.
After a few remarks on what had just taken place, and which he attributed
to a miracle, he continued, turning to the seats where the carpenter's
guests were sitting; "I especially thank you, my dear sisters, who have
come from such a distance, and whose presence among us, whose evident
faith and ardent piety have set such a salutary example to all. You have
edified my parish; your emotion has warmed all hearts; without you, this
great day would not, perhaps, have had this really divine character. It
is sufficient, at times, that there should be one chosen lamb, for the
Lord to descend on His flock."
His voice failed him again, from emotion, and he said no more, but
concluded the service.
They now left the church as quickly as possible; the children themselves
were restless and tired with such a prolonged tension of the mind. The
parents left the church by degrees to see about dinner.
There was a crowd outside, a noisy crowd, a babel of loud voices, where
the shrill Norman accent was discernible. The villagers formed two
ranks, and when the children appeared, each family took possession of
The whole houseful of women caught hold of Constance, surrounded her and
kissed her, and Rosa was especially demonstrative. At last she took hold
of one hand, while Madame Tellier took the other, and Raphaele and
Fernande held up her long muslin skirt, so that it might not drag in the
dust; Louise and Flora brought up the rear with Madame Rivet; and the
child, who was very silent and thoughtful, set off for home in the midst
of this guard of honor.
Dinner was served in the workshop on long boards supported by trestles,
and through the open door they could see all the enjoyment that was going
on in the village. Everywhere they were feasting, and through every
window were to be seen tables surrounded by people in their Sunday best,
and a cheerful noise was heard in every house, while the men sat in their
shirt-sleeves, drinking glass after glass of cider.
In the carpenter's house the gaiety maintained somewhat of an air of
reserve, the consequence of the emotion of the girls in the morning, and
Rivet was the only one who was in a jolly mood, and he was drinking to
excess. Madame Tellier looked at the clock every moment, for, in order
not to lose two days running, they must take the 3:55 train, which would
bring them to Fecamp by dark.
The carpenter tried very hard to distract her attention, so as to keep
his guests until the next day, but he did not succeed, for she never
joked when there was business on hand, and as soon as they had had their
coffee she ordered her girls to make haste and get ready, and then,
turning to her brother, she said:
"You must put in the horse immediately," and she herself went to finish
her last preparations.
When she came down again, her sister-in-law was waiting to speak to her
about the child, and a long conversation took place, in which, however,
nothing was settled. The carpenter's wife was artful and pretended to be
very much affected, and Madame Tellier, who was holding the girl on her
knee, would not pledge herself to anything definite, but merely gave
vague promises--she would not forget her, there was plenty of time, and
besides, they would meet again.
But the conveyance did not come to the door and the women did not come
downstairs. Upstairs they even heard loud laughter, romping, little
screams, and much clapping of hands, and so, while the carpenter's wife
went to the stable to see whether the cart was ready, madame went
Rivet, who was very drunk, was plaguing Rosa, who was half choking with
laughter. Louise and Flora were holding him by the arms and trying to
calm him, as they were shocked at his levity after that morning's
ceremony; but Raphaele and Fernande were urging him on, writhing and
holding their sides with laughter, and they uttered shrill cries at every
rebuff the drunken fellow received.
The man was furious, his face was red, and he was trying to shake off the
two women who were clinging to him, while he was pulling Rosa's skirt
with all his might and stammering incoherently.
But Madame Tellier, who was very indignant, went up to her brother,
seized him by the shoulders, and threw him out of the room with such
violence that he fell against the wall in the passage, and a minute
afterward they heard him pumping water on his head in the yard, and when
he reappeared with the cart he was quite calm.
They started off in the same way as they had come the day before, and the
little white horse started off with his quick, dancing trot. Under the
hot sun, their fun, which had been checked during dinner, broke out
again. The girls now were amused at the jolting of the cart, pushed
their neighbors' chairs, and burst out laughing every moment.
There was a glare of light over the country, which dazzled their eyes,
and the wheels raised two trails of dust along the highroad. Presently,
Fernande, who was fond of music, asked Rosa to sing something, and she
boldly struck up the "Gros Cure de Meudon," but Madame Tellier made her
stop immediately, as she thought it a very unsuitable song for such a
day, and she added:
"Sing us something of Beranger's." And so, after a moment's hesitation,
Rosa began Beranger's song "The Grandmother" in her worn-out voice, and
all the girls, and even Madame Tellier herself, joined in the chorus:
"How I regret
My dimpled arms,
My nimble legs,
And vanished charms."
"That is first rate," Rivet declared, carried away by the rhythm, and
they shouted the refrain to every verse, while Rivet beat time on the
shaft with his foot, and with the reins on the back of the horse, who, as
if he himself were carried away by the rhythm, broke into a wild gallop,
and threw all the women in a heap, one on top of the other, on the bottom
of the conveyance.
They got up, laughing as if they were mad, and the Gong went on, shouted
at the top of their voices, beneath the burning sky, among the ripening
grain, to the rapid gallop of the little horse, who set off every time
the refrain was sung, and galloped a hundred yards, to their great
delight, while occasionally a stone-breaker by the roadside sat up and
looked at the load of shouting females through his wire spectacles.
When they got out at the station, the carpenter said:
"I am sorry you are going; we might have had some good times together."
But Madame Tellier replied very sensibly: "Everything has its right time,
and we cannot always be enjoying ourselves." And then he had a sudden
"Look here, I will come and see you at Fecamp next month." And he gave
Rosa a roguish and knowing look.
"Come," his sister replied, "you must be sensible; you may come if you
like, but you are not to be up to any of your tricks."
He did not reply, and as they heard the whistle of the train, he
immediately began to kiss them all. When it came to Rosa's turn, he
tried to get to her mouth, which she, however, smiling with her lips
closed, turned away from him each time by a rapid movement of her head to
one side. He held her in his arms, but he could not attain his object,
as his large whip, which he was holding in his hand and waving behind the
girl's back in desperation, interfered with his movements.
"Passengers for Rouen, take your seats!" a guard cried, and they got in.
There was a slight whistle, followed by a loud whistle from the engine,
which noisily puffed cut its first jet of steam, while the wheels began
to turn a little with a visible effort, and Rivet left the station and
ran along by the track to get another look at Rosa, and as the carriage
passed him, he began to crack his whip and to jump, while he sang at the
top of his voice:
"How I regret
My dimpled arms,
My nimble legs,
And vanished charms."
And then he watched a white pocket-handkerchief, which somebody was
waving, as it disappeared in the distance.
They slept the peaceful sleep of a quiet conscience, until they got to
Rouen, and when they returned to the house, refreshed and rested, Madame
Tellier could not help saying:
"It was all very well, but I was longing to get home."
They hurried over their supper, and then, when they had put on their
usual evening costume, waited for their regular customers, and the little
colored lamp outside the door told the passers-by that Madame Tellier had
returned, and in a moment the news spread, nobody knew how or through
Monsieur Philippe, the banker's son, even carried his friendliness so far
as to send a special messenger to Monsieur Tournevau, who was in the
bosom of his family.
The fish curer had several cousins to dinner every Sunday, and they were
having coffee, when a man came in with a letter in his hand. Monsieur
Tournevau was much excited; he opened the envelope and grew pale; it
contained only these words in pencil:
"The cargo of cod has been found; the ship has come into port; good
business for you. Come immediately."
He felt in his pockets, gave the messenger two sons, and suddenly
blushing to his ears, he said: "I must go out." He handed his wife the
laconic and mysterious note, rang the bell, and when the servant came in,
he asked her to bring him has hat and overcoat immediately. As soon as
he was in the street, he began to hurry, and the way seemed to him to be
twice as long as usual, in consequence of his impatience.
Madame Tellier's establishment had put on quite a holiday look. On the
ground floor, a number of sailors were making a deafening noise, and
Louise and Flora drank with one and the other, and were being called for
in every direction at once.
The upstairs room was full by nine o'clock. Monsieur Vasse, the Judge of
the Tribunal of Commerce, Madame Tellier's regular but Platonic wooer,
was talking to her in a corner in a low voice, and they were both
smiling, as if they were about to come to an understanding.
Monsieur Poulin, the ex-mayor, was talking to Rosa, and she was running
her hands through the old gentleman's white whiskers.
Tall Fernande was on the sofa, her feet on the coat of Monsieur
Pinipesse, the tax collector, and leaning back against young Monsieur
Philippe, her right arm around his neck, while she held a cigarette in
her left hand.
Raphaele appeared to be talking seriously with Monsieur Dupuis, the
insurance agent, and she finished by saying: "Yes, I will, yes."
Just then, the door opened suddenly, and Monsieur Tournevau came in, and
was greeted with enthusiastic cries of "Long live Tournevau!" And
Raphaele, who was dancing alone up and down the room, went and threw
herself into his arms. He seized her in a vigorous embrace and, without
saying a word, lifted her up as if she had been a feather.
Rosa was chatting to the ex-mayor, kissing him and puffing; both his
whiskers at the same time, in order to keep his head straight.
Fernanae and Madame Tellier remained with the four men, and Monsieur
Philippe exclaimed: "I will pay for some champagne; get three bottles,
Madame Tellier." And Fernande gave him a hug, and whispered to him:
"Play us a waltz, will you?" So he rose and sat down at the old piano in
the corner, and managed to get a hoarse waltz out of the depths of the
The tall girl put her arms round the tax collector, Madame Tellier let
Monsieur Vasse take her round the waist, and the two couples turned
round, kissing as they danced. Monsieur Vasse, who had formerly danced
in good society, waltzed with such elegance that Madame Tellier was quite
Frederic brought the champagne; the first cork popped, and Monsieur
Philippe played the introduction to a quadrille, through which the four
dancers walked in society fashion, decorously, with propriety,
deportment, bows and curtsies, and then they began to drink.
Monsieur Philippe next struck up a lively polka, and Monsieur Tournevau
started off with the handsome Jewess, whom he held without letting her
feet touch the ground. Monsieur Pinipesse and Monsieur Vasse had started
off with renewed vigor, and from time to time one or other couple would
stop to toss off a long draught of sparkling wine, and that dance was
threatening to become never-ending, when Rosa opened the door.
"I want to dance," she exclaimed. And she caught hold of Monsieur
Dupuis, who was sitting idle on the couch, and the dance began again.
But the bottles were empty. "I will pay for one," Monsieur Tournevau
said. "So will I," Monsieur Vasse declared. "And. I will do the same,"
Monsieur Dupuis remarked.
They all began to clap their hands, and it soon became a regular ball,
and from time to time Louise and Flora ran upstairs quickly and had a few
turns, while their customers downstairs grew impatient, and then they
returned regretfully to the tap-room. At midnight they were still
Madame Tellier let them amuse themselves while she had long private talks
in corners with Monsieur Vasse, as if to settle the last details of
something that had already been settled.
At last, at one o'clock, the two married men, Monsieur Tournevau and
Monsieur Pinipesse, declared that they were going home, and wanted to
pay. Nothing was charged for except the champagne, and that cost only
six francs a bottle, instead of ten, which was the usual price, and when
they expressed their surprise at such generosity, Madame Tellier, who was
beaming, said to them:
"We don't have a holiday every day."
To Leon Chapron.
Marambot opened the letter which his servant Denis gave him and smiled.
For twenty years Denis has been a servant in this house. He was a short,
stout, jovial man, who was known throughout the countryside as a model
servant. He asked:
"Is monsieur pleased? Has monsieur received good news?"
M. Marambot was not rich. He was an old village druggist, a bachelor,
who lived on an income acquired with difficulty by selling drugs to the
farmers. He answered:
"Yes, my boy. Old man Malois is afraid of the law-suit with which I am
threatening him. I shall get my money to-morrow. Five thousand francs
are not liable to harm the account of an old bachelor."
M. Marambot rubbed his hands with satisfaction. He was a man of quiet
temperament, more sad than gay, incapable of any prolonged effort,
careless in business.
He could undoubtedly have amassed a greater income had he taken advantage
of the deaths of colleagues established in more important centers, by
taking their places and carrying on their business. But the trouble of
moving and the thought of all the preparations had always stopped him.
After thinking the matter over for a few days, he would be satisfied to
"Bah! I'll wait until the next time. I'll not lose anything by the
delay. I may even find something better."
Denis, on the contrary, was always urging his master to new enterprises.
Of an energetic temperament, he would continually repeat:
"Oh! If I had only had the capital to start out with, I could have made
a fortune! One thousand francs would do me."
M. Marambot would smile without answering and would go out in his little
garden, where, his hands behind his back, he would walk about dreaming.
All day long, Denis sang the joyful refrains of the folk-songs of the
district. He even showed an unusual activity, for he cleaned all the
windows of the house, energetically rubbing the glass, and singing at the
top of his voice.
M. Marambot, surprised at his zeal, said to him several times, smiling:
"My boy, if you work like that there will be nothing left for you to do
The following day, at about nine o'clock in the morning, the postman gave
Denis four letters for his master, one of them very heavy. M. Marambot
immediately shut himself up in his room until late in the afternoon.
He then handed his servant four letters for the mail. One of them was
addressed to M. Malois; it was undoubtedly a receipt for the money.
Denis asked his master no questions; he appeared to be as sad and gloomy
that day as he had seemed joyful the day before.
Night came. M. Marambot went to bed as usual and slept.
He was awakened by a strange noise. He sat up in his bed and listened.
Suddenly the door opened, and Denis appeared, holding in one hand a
candle and in the other a carving knife, his eyes staring, his face
contracted as though moved by some deep emotion; he was as pale as a
M. Marambot, astonished, thought that he was sleep-walking, and he was
going to get out of bed and assist him when the servant blew out the
light and rushed for the bed. His master stretched out his hands to
receive the shock which knocked him over on his back; he was trying to
seize the hands of his servant, whom he now thought to be crazy, in order
to avoid the blows which the latter was aiming at him.
He was struck by the knife; once in the shoulder, once in the forehead
and the third time in the chest. He fought wildly, waving his arms
around in the darkness, kicking and crying:
"Denis! Denis! Are you mad? Listen, Denis!"
But the latter, gasping for breath, kept up his furious attack always
striking, always repulsed, sometimes with a kick, sometimes with a punch,
and rushing forward again furiously.
M. Marambot was wounded twice more, once in the leg and once in the
stomach. But, suddenly, a thought flashed across his mind, and he began
"Stop, stop, Denis, I have not yet received my money!"
The man immediately ceased, and his master could hear his labored
breathing in the darkness.
M. Marambot then went on:
"I have received nothing. M. Malois takes back what he said, the law-
suit will take place; that is why you carried the letters to the mail.
Just read those on my desk."
With a final effort, he reached for his matches and lit the candle.
He was covered with blood. His sheets, his curtains, and even the walls,
were spattered with red. Denis, standing in the middle of the room, was
also bloody from head to foot.
When he saw the blood, M. Marambot thought himself dead, and fell
At break of day he revived. It was some time, however, before he
regained his senses, and was able to understand or remember. But,
suddenly, the memory of the attack and of his wounds returned to him,
and he was filled with such terror that he closed his eyes in order not
to see anything. After a few minutes he grew calmer and began to think.
He had not died' immediately, therefore he might still recover. He felt
weak, very weak; but he had no real pain, although he noticed an
uncomfortable smarting sensation in several parts of his body. He also
felt icy cold, and all wet, and as though wrapped up in bandages. He
thought that this dampness came from the blood which he had lost; and he
shivered at the dreadful thought of this red liquid which had come from
his veins and covered his bed. The idea of seeing this terrible
spectacle again so upset him that he kept his eyes closed with all his
strength, as though they might open in spite of himself.
What had become of Denis? He had probably escaped.
But what could he, Marambot, do now? Get up? Call for help? But if he
should make the slightest motions, his wounds would undoubtedly open up
again and he would die from loss of blood.
Suddenly he heard the door of his room open. His heart almost stopped.
It was certainly Denis who was coming to finish him up. He held his
breath in order to make the murderer think that he had been successful.
He felt his sheet being lifted up, and then someone feeling his stomach.
A sharp pain near his hip made him start. He was being very gently
washed with cold water. Therefore, someone must have discovered the
misdeed and he was being cared for. A wild joy seized him; but
prudently, he did not wish to show that he was conscious. He opened one
eye, just one, with the greatest precaution.
He recognized Denis standing beside him, Denis himself! Mercy! He
hastily closed his eye again.
Denis! What could he be doing? What did he want? What awful scheme
could he now be carrying out?
What was he doing? Well, he was washing him in order to hide the traces
of his crime! And he would now bury him in the garden, under ten feet of
earth, so that no one could discover him! Or perhaps under the wine
cellar! And M. Marambot began to tremble like a leaf. He kept saying to
himself: "I am lost, lost!" He closed his eyes so as not to see the knife
as it descended for the final stroke. It did not come. Denis was now
lifting him up and bandaging him. Then he began carefully to dress the
wound on his leg, as his master had taught him to do.
There was no longer any doubt. His servant, after wishing to kill him,
was trying to save him.
Then M. Marambot, in a dying voice, gave him the practical piece of
"Wash the wounds in a dilute solution of carbolic acid!"
"This is what I am doing, monsieur."
M. Marambot opened both his eyes. There was no sign of blood either on
the bed, on the walls, or on the murderer. The wounded man was stretched
out on clean white sheets.
The two men looked at each other.
Finally M. Marambot said calmly:
"You have been guilty of a great crime."
"I am trying to make up for it, monsieur. If you will not tell on me, I
will serve you as faithfully as in the past."
This was no time to anger his servant. M. Marambot murmured as he closed
"I swear not to tell on you."
Denis saved his master. He spent days and nights without sleep, never
leaving the sick room, preparing drugs, broths, potions, feeling his
pulse, anxiously counting the beats, attending him with the skill of a
trained nurse and the devotion of a son.
He continually asked:
"Well, monsieur, how do you feel?"
M. Marambot would answer in a weak voice:
"A little better, my boy, thank you."
And when the sick man would wake up at night, he would often see his
servant seated in an armchair, weeping silently.
Never had the old druggist been so cared for, so fondled, so spoiled.
At first he had said to himself:
"As soon as I am well I shall get rid of this rascal."
He was now convalescing, and from day to day he would put off dismissing
his murderer. He thought that no one would ever show him such care and
attention, for he held this man through fear; and he warned him that he
had left a document with a lawyer denouncing him to the law if any new
accident should occur.
This precaution seemed to guarantee him against any future attack; and he
then asked himself if it would not be wiser to keep this man near him, in
order to watch him closely.
Just as formerly, when he would hesitate about taking some larger place
of business, he could not make up his mind to any decision.
"There is always time," he would say to himself.
Denis continued to show himself an admirable servant. M. Marambot was
well. He kept him.
One morning, just as he was finishing breakfast, he suddenly heard a
great noise in the kitchen. He hastened in there. Denis was struggling
with two gendarmes. An officer was taking notes on his pad.
As soon as he saw his master, the servant began to sob, exclaiming:
"You told on me, monsieur, that's not right, after what you had promised
me. You have broken your word of honor, Monsieur Marambot; that is not
right, that's not right!"
M. Marambot, bewildered and distressed at being suspected, lifted his
"I swear to you before the Lord, my boy that I did not tell on you. I
haven't the slightest idea how the police could have found out about your
attack on me."
The officer started:
"You say that he attacked you, M. Marambot?"
The bewildered druggist answered:
"Yes--but I did not tell on him--I haven't said a word--I swear it--he
has served me excellently from that time on--"
The officer pronounced severely:
"I will take down your testimony. The law will take notice of this new
action, of which it was ignorant, Monsieur Marambot. I was commissioned
to arrest your servant for the theft of two ducks surreptitiously taken
by him from M. Duhamel of which act there are witnesses. I shall make a
note of your information."
Then, turning toward his men, he ordered:
"Come on, bring him along!"
The two gendarmes dragged Denis out.
The lawyer used a plea of insanity, contrasting the two misdeeds in order
to strengthen his argument. He had clearly proved that the theft of the
two ducks came from the same mental condition as the eight knife-wounds
in the body of Maramlot. He had cunningly analyzed all the phases of
this transitory condition of mental aberration, which could, doubtless,
be cured by a few months' treatment in a reputable sanatorium. He had
spoken in enthusiastic terms of the continued devotion of this faithful
servant, of the care with which he had surrounded his master, wounded by
him in a moment of alienation.
Touched by this memory, M. Marambot felt the tears rising to his eyes.
The lawyer noticed it, opened his arms with a broad gesture, spreading
out the long black sleeves of his robe like the wings of a bat, and
"Look, look, gentleman of the jury, look at those tears. What more can I
say for my client? What speech, what argument, what reasoning would be
worth these tears of his master? They, speak louder than I do, louder
than the law; they cry: 'Mercy, for the poor wandering mind of a while
ago! They implore, they pardon, they bless!"
He was silent and sat down.
Then the judge, turning to Marambot, whose testimony had been excellent
for his servant, asked him:
"But, monsieur, even admitting that you consider this man insane, that
does not explain why you should have kept him. He was none the less
Marambot, wiping his eyes, answered:
"Well, your honor, what can you expect? Nowadays it's so hard to find
good servants--I could never have found a better one."
Denis was acquitted and put in a sanatorium at his master's expense.
It had been a stag dinner. These men still came together once in a while
without their wives as they had done when they were bachelors. They
would eat for a long time, drink for a long time; they would talk of
everything, stir up those old and joyful memories which bring a smile to
the lip and a tremor to the heart. One of them was saying: "Georges, do
you remember our excursion to Saint-Germain with those two little girls
"I should say I do!"
And a little detail here or there would be remembered, and all these
things brought joy to the hearts.
The conversation turned on marriage, and each one said with a sincere
air: "Oh, if it were to do over again!" Georges Duportin added: "It's
strange how easily one falls into it. You have fully decided never to
marry; and then, in the springtime, you go to the country; the weather is
warm; the summer is beautiful; the fields are full of flowers; you meet a
young girl at some friend's house--crash! all is over. You return
Pierre Letoile exclaimed: "Correct! that is exactly my case, only there
were some peculiar incidents--"
His friend interrupted him: "As for you, you have no cause to complain.
You have the most charming wife in the world, pretty, amiable, perfect!
You are undoubtedly the happiest one of us all."
The other one continued: "It's not my fault."
"It is true that I have a perfect wife, but I certainly married her much
against my will."
"Yes--this is the adventure. I was thirty-five, and I had no more idea
of marrying than I had of hanging myself. Young girls seemed to me to be
inane, and I loved pleasure.
"During the month of May I was invited to the wedding of my cousin, Simon
d'Erabel, in Normandy. It was a regular Normandy wedding. We sat down
at the table at five o'clock in the evening and at eleven o'clock we were
still eating. I had been paired off, for the occasion, with a
Mademoiselle Dumoulin, daughter of a retired colonel, a young, blond,
soldierly person, well formed, frank and talkative. She took complete
possession of me for the whole day, dragged me into the park, made me
dance willy-nilly, bored me to death. I said to myself: 'That's all very
well for to-day, but tomorrow I'll get out. That's all there is to it!'
"Toward eleven o'clock at night the women retired to their rooms; the men
stayed, smoking while they drank or drinking while they smoked, whichever
"Through the open window we could see the country folks dancing. Farmers
and peasant girls were jumping about in a circle yelling at the top of
their lungs a dance air which was feebly accompanied by two violins and a
clarinet. The wild song of the peasants often completely drowned the
sound of the instruments, and the weak music, interrupted by the
unrestrained voices, seemed to come to us in little fragments of
scattered notes. Two enormous casks, surrounded by flaming torches,
contained drinks for the crowd. Two men were kept busy rinsing the
glasses or bowls in a bucket and immediately holding them under the
spigots, from which flowed the red stream of wine or the golden stream of
pure cider; and the parched dancers, the old ones quietly, the girls
panting, came up, stretched out their arms and grasped some receptacle,
threw back their heads and poured down their throats the drink which they
preferred. On a table were bread, butter, cheese and sausages. Each one
would step up from time to time and swallow a mouthful, and under the
starlit sky this healthy and violent exercise was a pleasing sight, and
made one also feel like drinking from these enormous casks and eating the
crisp bread and butter with a raw onion.
"A mad desire seized me to take part in this merrymaking, and I left my
companions. I must admit that I was probably a little tipsy, but I was
soon entirely so.
"I grabbed the hand of a big, panting peasant woman and I jumped her
about until I was out of breath.
"Then I drank some wine and reached for another girl. In order to
refresh myself afterward, I swallowed a bowlful of cider, and I began to
bounce around as if possessed.
"I was very light on my feet. The boys, delighted, were watching me and
trying to imitate me; the girls all wished to dance with me, and jumped
about heavily with the grace of cows.
"After each dance I drank a glass of wine or a glass of cider, and toward
two o'clock in the morning I was so drunk that I could hardly stand up.
"I realized my condition and tried to reach my room. Everybody was
asleep and the house was silent and dark.
"I had no matches and everybody was in bed. As soon as I reached the
vestibule I began to, feel dizzy. I had a lot of trouble to find the
banister. At last, by accident, my hand came in contact with it, and I
sat down on the first step of the stairs in order to try to gather my
"My room was on the second floor; it was the third door to the left.
Fortunately I had not forgotten that. Armed with this knowledge, I
arose, not without difficulty, and I began to ascend, step by step. In
my hands I firmly gripped the iron railing in order not to fall, and took
great pains to make no noise.
"Only three or four times did my foot miss the steps, and I went down on
my knees; but thanks to the energy of my arms and the strength of my
will, I avoided falling completely.
"At last I reached the second floor and I set out in my journey along the
hall, feeling my way by the walls. I felt one door; I counted: 'One';
but a sudden dizziness made me lose my hold on the wall, make a strange
turn and fall up against the other wall. I wished to turn in a straight
line: The crossing was long and full of hardships. At last I reached the
shore, and, prudently, I began to travel along again until I met another
door. In order to be sure to make no mistake, I again counted out loud:
'Two.' I started out on my walk again. At last I found the third door.
I said: 'Three, that's my room,' and I turned the knob. The door opened.
Notwithstanding my befuddled state, I thought: 'Since the door opens,
this must be home.' After softly closing the door, I stepped out in the
darkness. I bumped against something soft: my easy-chair. I immediately
stretched myself out on it.
"In my condition it would not have been wise to look for my bureau, my
candles, my matches. It would have taken me at least two hours. It
would probably have taken me that long also to undress; and even then I
might not have succeeded. I gave it up.
"I only took my shoes off; I unbuttoned my waistcoat, which was choking
me, I loosened my trousers and went to sleep.
"This undoubtedly lasted for a long time. I was suddenly awakened by a
deep voice which was saying: 'What, you lazy girl, still in bed? It's
"A woman's voice answered: 'Already! I was so tired yesterday.'
"In bewilderment I wondered what this dialogue meant. Where was I? What
had I done? My mind was wandering, still surrounded by a heavy fog. The
first voice continued: 'I'm going to raise your curtains.'
"I heard steps approaching me. Completely at a loss what to do, I sat
up. Then a hand was placed on my head. I started. The voice asked:
'Who is there?' I took good care not to answer. A furious grasp seized
me. I in turn seized him, and a terrific struggle ensued. We were
rolling around, knocking over the furniture and crashing against the
walls. A woman's voice was shrieking: 'Help! help!'
"Servants, neighbors, frightened women crowded around us. The blinds
were open and the shades drawn. I was struggling with Colonel Dumoulin
"I had slept beside his daughter's bed!
"When we were separated, I escaped to my room, dumbfounded. I locked
myself in and sat down with my feet on a chair, for my shoes had been
left in the young girl's room.
"I heard a great noise through the whole house, doors being opened and
closed, whisperings and rapid steps.
"After half an hour some one knocked on my door. I cried: 'Who is
there?' It was my uncle, the bridegroom's father. I opened the door:
"He was pale and furious, and he treated me harshly: 'You have behaved
like a scoundrel in my house, do you hear?' Then he added more gently
'But, you young fool, why 'the devil did you let yourself get caught at
ten o'clock in the morning? You go to sleep like a log in that room,
instead of leaving immediately-immediately after.'
"I exclaimed: 'But, uncle, I assure you that nothing occurred. I was
drunk and got into the wrong room.'
"He shrugged his shoulders! 'Don't talk nonsense.' I raised my hand,
exclaiming: 'I swear to you on my honor.' My uncle continued: 'Yes,
that's all right. It's your duty to say that.'
"I in turn grew angry and told him the whole unfortunate occurrence. He
looked at me with a bewildered expression, not knowing what to believe.
Then he went out to confer with the colonel.
"I heard that a kind of jury of the mothers had been formed, to which
were submitted the different phases of the situation.
"He came back an hour later, sat down with the dignity of a judge and
began: 'No matter what may be the situation, I can see only one way out
of it for you; it is to marry Mademoiselle Dumoulin.'
"I bounded out of the chair, crying: 'Never! never!'
"Gravely he asked: 'Well, what do you expect to do?'
"I answered simply: 'Why-leave as soon as my shoes are returned to me.'
"My uncle continued: 'Please do not jest. The colonel has decided to
blow your brains out as soon as he sees you. And you may be sure that he
does not threaten idly. I spoke of a duel and he answered: "No, I tell
you that I will blow his brains out."
"'Let us now examine the question from another point of view. Either you
have misbehaved yourself--and then so much the worse for you, my boy; one
should not go near a young girl--or else, being drunk, as you say, you
made a mistake in the room. In this case, it's even worse for you. You
shouldn't get yourself into such foolish situations. Whatever you may
say, the poor girl's reputation is lost, for a drunkard's excuses are
never believed. The only real victim in the matter is the girl. Think
"He went away, while I cried after him: 'Say what you will, I'll not
"I stayed alone for another hour. Then my aunt came. She was crying.
She used every argument. No one believed my story. They could not
imagine that this young girl could have forgotten to lock her door in a
house full of company. The colonel had struck her. She had been crying
the whole morning. It was a terrible and unforgettable scandal. And my
good aunt added: 'Ask for her hand, anyhow. We may, perhaps, find some
way out of it when we are drawing up the papers.'
"This prospect relieved me. And I agreed to write my proposal. An hour
later I left for Paris. The following day I was informed that I had been
"Then, in three weeks, before I had been able to find any excuse, the
banns were published, the announcement sent out, the contract signed, and
one Monday morning I found myself in a church, beside a weeping young
girl, after telling the magistrate that I consented to take her as my
companion--for better, for worse.
"I had not seen her since my adventure, and I glanced at her out of the
corner of my eye with a certain malevolent surprise. However, she was
not ugly--far from it. I said to myself: 'There is some one who won't
laugh every day.'
"She did not look at me once until, the evening, and she did not say a
"Toward the middle of the night I entered the bridal chamber with the
full intention of letting her know my resolutions, for I was now master.
I found her sitting in an armchair, fully dressed, pale and with red
eyes. As soon as I entered she rose and came slowly toward me saying:
'Monsieur, I am ready to do whatever you may command. I will kill myself
if you so desire'
"The colonel's daughter was as pretty as she could be in this heroic
role. I kissed her; it was my privilege.
"I soon saw that I had not got a bad bargain. I have now been married
five years. I do not regret it in the least."
Pierre Letoile was silent. His companions were laughing. One of them
said: "Marriage is indeed a lottery; you must never choose your numbers.
The haphazard ones are the best."
Another added by way of conclusion: "Yes, but do not forget that the god
of drunkards chose for Pierre."
We were speaking of adventures, and each one of us was relating his story
of delightful experiences, surprising meetings, on the train, in a hotel,
at the seashore. According to Roger des Annettes, the seashore was
particularly favorable to the little blind god.
Gontran, who was keeping mum, was asked what he thought of it.
"I guess Paris is about the best place for that," he said. "Woman is
like a precious trinket, we appreciate her all the more when we meet her
in the most unexpected places; but the rarest ones are only to be found
He was silent for a moment, and then continued:
"By Jove, it's great! Walk along the streets on some spring morning.
The little women, daintily tripping along, seem to blossom out like
flowers. What a delightful, charming sight! The dainty perfume of
violet is everywhere. The city is gay, and everybody notices the women.
By Jove, how tempting they are in their light, thin dresses, which
occasionally give one a glimpse of the delicate pink flesh beneath!
"One saunters along, head up, mind alert, and eyes open. I tell you it's
great! You see her in the distance, while still a block away; you
already know that she is going to please you at closer quarters. You can
recognize her by the flower on her hat, the toss of her head, or her
gait. She approaches, and you say to yourself: 'Look out, here she is!'
You come closer to her and you devour her with your eyes.
"Is it a young girl running errands for some store, a young woman
returning from church, or hastening to see her lover? What do you care?
Her well-rounded bosom shows through the thin waist. Oh, if you could
only take her in your arms and fondle and kiss her! Her glance may be
timid or bold, her hair light or dark. What difference does it make?
She brushes against you, and a cold shiver runs down your spine. Ah, how
you wish for her all day! How many of these dear creatures have I met
this way, and how wildly in love I would have been had I known them more
"Have you ever noticed that the ones we would love the most distractedly
are those whom we never meet to know? Curious, isn't it? From time to
time we barely catch a glimpse of some woman, the mere sight of whom
thrills our senses. But it goes no further. When I think of all the
adorable creatures that I have elbowed in the streets of Paris, I fairly
rave. Who are they! Where are they? Where can I find them again?
There is a proverb which says that happiness often passes our way; I am
sure that I have often passed alongside the one who could have caught me
like a linnet in the snare of her fresh beauty."
Roger des Annettes had listened smilingly. He answered: "I know that as
well as you do. This is what happened to me: About five years ago, for
the first time I met, on the Pont de la Concorde, a young woman who made
a wonderful impression on me. She was dark, rather stout, with glossy
hair, and eyebrows which nearly met above two dark eyes. On her lip was
a scarcely perceptible down, which made one dream-dream as one dreams of
beloved woods, on seeing a bunch of wild violets. She had a small waist
and a well-developed bust, which seemed to present a challenge, offer a
temptation. Her eyes were like two black spots on white enamel. Her
glance was strange, vacant, unthinking, and yet wonderfully beautiful.
"I imagined that she might be a Jewess. I followed her, and then turned
round to look at her, as did many others. She walked with a swinging
gait that was not graceful, but somehow attracted one. At the Place de
la Concorde she took a carriage, and I stood there like a fool, moved by
the strongest desire that had ever assailed me.
"For about three weeks I thought only of her; and then her memory passed
out of my mind.
"Six months later I descried her in the Rue de la Paix again. On seeing
her I felt the same shock that one experiences on seeing a once dearly
loved woman. I stopped that I might better observe her. When she passed
close enough to touch me I felt as though I were standing before a red
hot furnace. Then, when she had passed by, I noticed a delicious
sensation, as of a cooling breeze blowing over my face. I did not follow
her. I was afraid of doing something foolish. I was afraid of myself.
"She haunted all my dreams.
"It was a year before I saw her again. But just as the sun was going
down on one beautiful evening in May I recognized her walking along the
Avenue des Champs-Elysees. The Arc de Triomphe stood out in bold relief
against the fiery glow of the sky. A golden haze filled the air; it was
one of those delightful spring evenings which are the glory of Paris.
"I followed her, tormented by a desire to address her, to kneel before
her, to pour forth the emotion which was choking me. Twice I passed by
her only to fall back, and each time as I passed by I felt this
sensation, as of scorching heat, which I had noticed in the Rue de la
"She glanced at me, and then I saw her enter a house on the Rue de
Presbourg. I waited for her two hours and she did not come out. Then I
decided to question the janitor. He seemed not to understand me. 'She
must be visiting some one,' he said.
"The next time I was eight months without seeing her. But one freezing
morning in January, I was walking along the Boulevard Malesherbes at a
dog trot, so as to keep warm, when at the corner I bumped into a woman
and knocked a small package out of her hand. I tried to apologize. It
"At first I stood stock still from the shock; then having returned to her
the package which she had dropped, I said abruptly:
"'I am both grieved and delighted, madame, to have jostled you. For more
than two years I have known you, admired you, and had the most ardent
wish to be presented to you; nevertheless I have been unable to find out
who you are, or where you live. Please excuse these foolish words.
Attribute them to a passionate desire to be numbered among your
acquaintances. Such sentiments can surely offend you in no way! You do
not know me. My name is Baron Roger des Annettes. Make inquiries about
me, and you will find that I am a gentleman. Now, if you refuse my
request, you will throw me into abject misery. Please be good to me and
tell me how I can see you.'
"She looked at me with her strange vacant stare, and answered smilingly:
"'Give me your address. I will come and see you.'
"I was so dumfounded that I must have shown my surprise. But I quickly
gathered my wits together and gave her a visiting card, which she slipped
into her pocket with a quick, deft movement.
"Becoming bolder, I stammered:
"'When shall I see you again?'
"She hesitated, as though mentally running over her list of engagements,
and then murmured:
"'Will Sunday morning suit you?'
"'I should say it would!'
"She went on, after having stared at me, judged, weighed and analyzed me
with this heavy and vacant gaze which seemed to leave a quieting and
deadening impression on the person towards whom it was directed.
"Until Sunday my mind was occupied day and night trying to guess who she
might be and planning my course of conduct towards her. I finally
decided to buy her a jewel, a beautiful little jewel, which I placed in
its box on the mantelpiece, and left it there awaiting her arrival.
"I spent a restless night waiting for her.
"At ten o'clock she came, calm and quiet, and with her hand outstretched,
as though she had known me for years. Drawing up a chair, I took her hat
and coat and furs, and laid them aside. And then, timidly, I took her
hand in mine; after that all went on without a hitch.
"Ah, my friends! what a bliss it is, to stand at a discreet distance and
watch the hidden pink and blue ribbons, partly concealed, to observe the
hazy lines of the beloved one's form, as they become visible through the
last of the filmy garments! What a delight it is to watch the ostrich-
like modesty of those who are in reality none too modest. And what is so
pretty as their motions!
"Her back was turned towards me, and suddenly, my eyes were irresistibly
drawn to a large black spot right between her shoulders. What could it
be? Were my eyes deceiving me? But no, there it was, staring me in the
face! Then my mind reverted to the faint down on her lip, the heavy
eyebrows almost meeting over her coal-black eyes, her glossy black hair--
I should have been prepared for some surprise.
"Nevertheless I was dumfounded, and my mind was haunted by dim visions of
strange adventures. I seemed to see before me one of the evil genii of
the Thousand and One Nights, one of these dangerous and crafty creatures
whose mission it is to drag men down to unknown depths. I thought of
Solomon, who made the Queen of Sheba walk on a mirror that he might be
sure that her feet were not cloven.
"And when the time came for me to sing of love to her, my voice forsook
me. At first she showed surprise, which soon turned to anger; and she
said, quickly putting on her wraps:
"'It was hardly worth while for me to go out of my way to come here.'
"I wanted her to accept the ring which I had bought for her, but she
replied haughtily: 'For whom do you take me, sir?' I blushed to the roots
of my hair. She left without saying another word.
"There is my whole adventure. But the worst part of it is that I am now
madly in love with her. I can't see a woman without thinking of her.
All the others disgust me, unless they remind me of her. I cannot kiss a
woman without seeing her face before me, and without suffering the
torture of unsatisfied desire. She is always with me, always there,
dressed or nude, my true love. She is there, beside the other one,
visible but intangible. I am almost willing to believe that she was
bewitched, and carried a talisman between her shoulders.
"Who is she? I don't know yet. I have met her once or twice since. I
bowed, but she pretended not to recognize me. Who is she? An Oriental?
Yes, doubtless an oriental Jewess! I believe that she must be a Jewess!
But why? Why? I don't know!"
The subject of sequestration of the person came up in speaking of a
recent lawsuit, and each of us had a story to tell--a true story, he
said. We had been spending the evening together at an old family mansion
in the Rue de Grenelle, just a party of intimate friends. The old
Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, who was eighty-two, rose,and, leaning his
elbow on the mantelpiece, said in his somewhat shaky voice:
"I also know of something strange, so strange that it has haunted me all
my life. It is now fifty-six years since the incident occurred, and yet
not a month passes that I do not see it again in a dream, so great is the
impression of fear it has left on my mind. For ten minutes I experienced
such horrible fright that ever since then a sort of constant terror has
remained with me. Sudden noises startle me violently, and objects
imperfectly distinguished at night inspire me with a mad desire to flee
from them. In short, I am afraid of the dark!
"But I would not have acknowledged that before I reached my present age.
Now I can say anything. I have never receded before real danger, ladies.
It is, therefore, permissible, at eighty-two years of age, not to be
brave in presence of imaginary danger.
"That affair so completely upset me, caused me such deep and mysterious
and terrible distress, that I never spoke of it to any one. I will now
tell it to you exactly as it happened, without any attempt at
"In July, 1827, I was stationed at Rouen. One day as I was walking along
the quay I met a man whom I thought I recognized without being able to
recall exactly who he was. Instinctively I made a movement to stop. The
stranger perceived it and at once extended his hand.
"He was a friend to whom I had been deeply attached as a youth. For five
years I had not seen him; he seemed to have aged half a century. His
hair was quite white and he walked bent over as though completely
exhausted. He apparently understood my surprise, and he told me of the
misfortune which had shattered his life.
"Having fallen madly in love with a young girl, he had married her, but
after a year of more than earthly happiness she died suddenly of an
affection of the heart. He left his country home on the very day of her
burial and came to his town house in Rouen, where he lived, alone and
unhappy, so sad and wretched that he thought constantly of suicide.
"'Since I have found you again in this manner,' he said, 'I will ask you
to render me an important service. It is to go and get me out of the
desk in my bedroom--our bedroom--some papers of which I have urgent need.
I cannot send a servant or a business clerk, as discretion and absolute
silence are necessary. As for myself, nothing on earth would induce me
to reenter that house. I will give you the key of the room, which I
myself locked on leaving, and the key of my desk, also a few words for my
gardener, telling him to open the chateau for you. But come and
breakfast with me tomorrow and we will arrange all that.'
"I promised to do him the slight favor he asked. It was, for that
matter, only a ride which I could make in an hour on horseback, his
property being but a few miles distant from Rouen.
"At ten o'clock the following day I breakfasted, tete-a-tete, with my
friend, but he scarcely spoke.
"He begged me to pardon him; the thought of the visit I was about to make
to that room, the scene of his dead happiness, overcame him, he said.
He, indeed, seemed singularly agitated and preoccupied, as though
undergoing some mysterious mental struggle.
"At length he explained to me exactly what I had to do. It was very
simple. I must take two packages of letters and a roll of papers from
the first right-hand drawer of the desk, of which I had the key. He
"'I need not beg you to refrain from glancing at them.'
"I was wounded at that remark and told him so somewhat sharply. He
"'Forgive me, I suffer so,' and tears came to his eyes.
"At about one o'clock I took leave of him to accomplish my mission.
"'The weather was glorious, and I trotted across the fields, listening to
the song of the larks and the rhythmical clang of my sword against my
boot. Then I entered the forest and walked my horse. Branches of trees
caressed my face as I passed, and now and then I caught a leaf with my
teeth and chewed it, from sheer gladness of heart at being alive and
vigorous on such a radiant day.
"As I approached the chateau I took from my pocket the letter I had for
the gardener, and was astonished at finding it sealed. I was so
irritated that I was about to turn back without having fulfilled my
promise, but reflected that I should thereby display undue
susceptibility. My friend in his troubled condition might easily have
fastened the envelope without noticing that he did so.
"The manor looked as if it had been abandoned for twenty years. The open
gate was falling from its hinges, the walks were overgrown with grass and
the flower beds were no longer distinguishable.
"The noise I made by kicking at a shutter brought out an old man from a
side door. He seemed stunned with astonishment at seeing me. On
receiving my letter, he read it, reread it, turned it over and over,
looked me up and down, put the paper in his pocket and finally said:
"'Well, what is it you wish?'
"I replied shortly:
"'You ought to know, since you have just read your master's orders. I
wish to enter the chateau.'
"He seemed overcome.
"'Then you are going in--into her room?'
"I began to lose patience.
"'Damn it! Are you presuming to question me?'
"He stammered in confusion:
"'No--sir--but--but it has not been opened since--since the-death. If
you will be kind enough to wait five minutes I will go and--and see if--'
"I interrupted him angrily:
"'See here, what do you mean by your tricks?
"'You know very well you cannot enter the room, since here is the key!'
"He no longer objected.
"'Then, sir, I will show you the way.'
"'Show me the staircase and leave me. I'll find my way without you.'
"This time I lost patience, and pushing him aside, went into the house.
"I first went through the kitchen, then two rooms occupied by this man
and his wife. I then crossed a large hall, mounted a staircase and
recognized the door described by my friend.
"I easily opened it, and entered the apartment. It was so dark that at
first I could distinguish nothing. I stopped short, disagreeably
affected by that disagreeable, musty odor of closed, unoccupied rooms.
As my eyes slowly became accustomed to the darkness I saw plainly enough
a large and disordered bedroom, the bed without sheets but still
retaining its mattresses and pillows, on one of which was a deep
impression, as though an elbow or a head had recently rested there.
"The chairs all seemed out of place. I noticed that a door, doubtless
that of a closet, had remained half open.
"I first went to the window, which I opened to let in the light, but the
fastenings of the shutters had grown so rusty that I could not move them.
I even tried to break them with my sword, but without success. As I was
growing irritated over my useless efforts and could now see fairly well
in the semi-darkness, I gave up the hope of getting more light, and went
over to the writing desk.
"I seated myself in an armchair and, letting down the lid of the desk, I
opened the drawer designated. It was full to the top. I needed but
three packages, which I knew how to recognize, and began searching for
"I was straining my eyes in the effort to read the superscriptions when I
seemed to hear, or, rather, feel, something rustle back of me. I paid no
attention, believing that a draught from the window was moving some
drapery. But in a minute or so another movement, almost imperceptible,
sent a strangely disagreeable little shiver over my skin. It was so
stupid to be affected, even slightly, that self-respect prevented my
turning around. I had just found the second package I needed and was
about to lay my hand on the third when a long and painful sigh, uttered
just at my shoulder, made me bound like a madman from my seat and land
several feet off. As I jumped I had turned round my hand on the hilt of
my sword, and, truly, if I had not felt it at my side I should have taken
to my heels like a coward.
"A tall woman dressed in white, stood gazing at me from the back of the
chair where I had been sitting an instant before.
"Such a shudder ran through all my limbs that I nearly fell backward. No
one who has not experienced it can understand that frightful, unreasoning
terror! The mind becomes vague, the heart ceases to beat, the entire
body grows as limp as a sponge.
"I do not believe in ghosts, nevertheless I collapsed from a hideous
dread of the dead, and I suffered, oh! I suffered in a few moments more
than in all the rest of my life from the irresistible terror of the
supernatural. If she had not spoken I should have died perhaps. But she
spoke, she spoke in a sweet, sad voice that set my nerves vibrating.
I dare not say that I became master of myself and recovered my reason.
No! I was terrified and scarcely knew what I was doing. But a certain
innate pride, a remnant of soldierly instinct, made me, almost in spite
of myself, maintain a bold front. She said:
"'Oh, sir, you can render me a great service.'
"I wanted to reply, but it was impossible for me to pronounce a word.
Only a vague sound came from my throat. She continued:
"'Will you? You can save me, cure me. I suffer frightfully. I suffer,
oh! how I suffer!' and she slowly seated herself in my armchair, still
looking at me.
"'Will you?' she said.
"I nodded in assent, my voice still being paralyzed.
"Then she held out to me a tortoise-shell comb and murmured:
"'Comb my hair, oh! comb my hair; that will cure me; it must be combed.
Look at my head--how I suffer; and my hair pulls so!'
"Her hair, unbound, very long and very black, it seemed to me, hung over
the back of the armchair and touched the floor.
"Why did I promise? Why did I take that comb with a shudder, and why did
I hold in my hands her long black hair that gave my skin a frightful cold
sensation, as though I were handling snakes? I cannot tell.
"That sensation has remained in my fingers, and I still tremble in
"I combed her hair. I handled, I know not how, those icy locks. I
twisted, knotted, and unknotted, and braided them. She sighed, bowed her
head, seemed happy. Suddenly she said, 'Thank you!' snatched the comb
from my hands and fled by the door that I had noticed ajar.
"Left alone, I experienced for several seconds the horrible agitation of
one who awakens from a nightmare. At length I regained my senses. I ran
to the window and with a mighty effort burst open the shutters, letting a
flood of light into the room. Immediately I sprang to the door by which
that being had departed. I found it closed and immovable!
"Then the mad desire to flee overcame me like a panic the panic which
soldiers know in battle. I seized the three packets of letters on the
open desk, ran from the room, dashed down the stairs four steps at a
time, found myself outside, I know not how, and, perceiving my horse a
few steps off, leaped into the saddle and galloped away.
"I stopped only when I reached Rouen and alighted at my lodgings.
Throwing the reins to my orderly, I fled to my room and shut myself in to
reflect. For an hour I anxiously asked myself if I were not the victim
of a hallucination. Undoubtedly I had had one of those incomprehensible
nervous attacks those exaltations of mind that give rise to visions and
are the stronghold of the supernatural. And I was about to believe I had
seen a vision, had a hallucination, when, as I approached the window, my
eyes fell, by chance, upon my breast. My military cape was covered with
long black hairs! One by one, with trembling fingers, I plucked them off
and threw them away.
"I then called my orderly. I was too disturbed, too upset to go and see
my friend that day, and I also wished to reflect more fully upon what I
ought to tell him. I sent him his letters, for which he gave the soldier
a receipt. He asked after me most particularly, and, on being told I was
ill--had had a sunstroke--appeared exceedingly anxious. Next morning I
went to him, determined to tell him the truth. He had gone out the
evening before and had not yet returned. I called again during the day;
my friend was still absent. After waiting a week longer without news of
him, I notified the authorities and a judicial search was instituted.
Not the slightest trace of his whereabouts or manner of disappearance was
"A minute inspection of the abandoned chateau revealed nothing of a
suspicious character. There was no indication that a woman had been
"After fruitless researches all further efforts were abandoned, and for
fifty-six years I have heard nothing; I know no more than before."