The Fishing Hole
by Guy de Maupassant
"Cuts and wounds which caused death." Such was the charge upon which
Leopold Renard, upholsterer, was summoned before the Court of Assizes.
Round him were the principal witnesses, Madame Flameche, widow of the
victim, and Louis Ladureau, cabinetmaker, and Jean Durdent, plumber.
Near the criminal was his wife, dressed in black, an ugly little woman,
who looked like a monkey dressed as a lady.
This is how Renard (Leopold) recounted the drama.
"Good heavens, it is a misfortune of which I was the prime victim all the
time, and with which my will has nothing to do. The facts are their own
commentary, Monsieur le President. I am an honest man, a hard-working
man, an upholsterer, living in the same street for the last sixteen
years, known, liked, respected and esteemed by all, as my neighbors can
testify, even the porter's wife, who is not amiable every day. I am fond
of work, I am fond of saving, I like honest men and respectable
amusements. That is what has ruined me, so much the worse for me; but as
my will had nothing to do with it, I continue to respect myself.
"Every Sunday for the last five years my wife and I have spent the day at
Passy. We get fresh air, and, besides, we are fond of fishing. Oh! we
are as fond of it as we are of little onions. Melie inspired me with
that enthusiasm, the jade, and she is more enthusiastic than I am, the
scold, seeing that all the mischief in this business is her fault, as you
will see immediately.
"I am strong and mild tempered, without a pennyworth of malice in me.
But she! oh! la! la! she looks like nothing; she is short and thin.
Very well, she does more mischief than a weasel. I do not deny that she
has some good qualities; she has some, and very important ones for a man
in business. But her character! Just ask about it in the neighborhood,
and even the porter's wife, who has just sent me about my business--she
will tell you something about it.
"Every day she used to find fault with my mild temper: 'I would not put
up with this! I would not put up with that.' If I had listened to her,
Monsieur le President, I should have had at least three hand-to-hand
fights a month . . . ."
Madame Renard interrupted him: "And for good reasons, too; they laugh
best who laugh last."
He turned toward her frankly: "Well, I can't blame you, since you were
not the cause of it."
Then, facing the President again, he said:
"I will continue. We used to go to Passy every Saturday evening, so as
to begin fishing at daybreak the next morning. It is a habit which has
become second nature with us, as the saying is. Three years ago this
summer I discovered a place, oh! such a spot. Oh, dear, dear! In the
shade, eight feet of water at least and perhaps ten, a hole with cavities
under the bank, a regular nest for fish and a paradise for the fisherman.
I might look upon that fishing hole as my property, Monsieur le
President, as I was its Christopher Columbus. Everybody in the
neighborhood knew it, without making any opposition. They would say:
'That is Renard's place'; and nobody would have gone there, not even
Monsieur Plumeau, who is well known, be it said without any offense, for
poaching on other people's preserves.
"Well, I returned to this place of which I felt certain, just as if I had
owned it. I had scarcely got there on Saturday, when I got into Delila,
with my wife. Delila is my Norwegian boat, which I had built by
Fournaire, and which is light and safe. Well, as I said, we got into the
boat and we were going to set bait, and for setting bait there is none to
be compared with me, and they all know it. You want to know with what I
bait? I cannot answer that question; it has nothing to do with the
accident. I cannot answer; that is my secret. There are more than three
hundred people who have asked me; I have been offered glasses of brandy
and liqueur, fried fish, matelotes, to make me tell. But just go and try
whether the chub will come. Ah! they have tempted my stomach to get at
my secret, my recipe. Only my wife knows, and she will not tell it any
more than I will. Is not that so, Melie?"
The president of the court interrupted him.
"Just get to the facts as soon as you can," and the accused continued:
"I am getting to them, I am getting to them. Well, on Saturday, July 8,
we left by the twenty-five past five train and before dinner we went to
set bait as usual. The weather promised to keep fine and I said to
Melie: 'All right for tomorrow.' And she replied: 'If looks like it,'
We never talk more than that together.
"And then we returned to dinner. I was happy and thirsty, and that was
the cause of everything. I said to Melie: 'Look here, Melie, it is fine
weather, suppose I drink a bottle of 'Casque a meche'.' That is a weak
white wine which we have christened so, because if you drink too much of
it it prevents you from sleeping and takes the place of a nightcap. Do
you understand me?
"She replied: 'You can do as you please, but you will be ill again and
will not be able to get up tomorrow.' That was true, sensible and
prudent, clearsighted, I must confess. Nevertheless I could not resist,
and I drank my bottle. It all came from that.
"Well, I could not sleep. By Jove! it kept me awake till two o'clock in
the morning, and then I went to sleep so soundly that I should not have
heard the angel sounding his trump at the last judgment.
"In short, my wife woke me at six o'clock and I jumped out of bed,
hastily put on my trousers and jersey, washed my face and jumped on board
Delila. But it was too late, for when I arrived at my hole it was
already occupied! Such a thing had never happened to me in three years,
and it made me feel as if I were being robbed under my own eyes. I said
to myself: 'Confound it all! confound it!' And then my wife began to nag
at me. 'Eh! what about your 'Casque a meche'? Get along, you drunkard!
Are you satisfied, you great fool?' I could say nothing, because it was
all true, but I landed all the same near the spot and tried to profit by
what was left. Perhaps after all the fellow might catch nothing and go
"He was a little thin man in white linen coat and waistcoat and a large
straw hat, and his wife, a fat woman, doing embroidery, sat behind him.
"When she saw us take up our position close to them she murmured: 'Are
there no other places on the river?' My wife, who was furious, replied:
'People who have any manners make inquiries about the habits of the
neighborhood before occupying reserved spots.'
"As I did not want a fuss, I said to her: 'Hold your tongue, Melie. Let
them alone, let them alone; we shall see.'
"Well, we fastened Delila under the willows and had landed and were
fishing side by side, Melie and I, close to the two others. But here,
monsieur, I must enter into details.
"We had only been there about five minutes when our neighbor's line began
to jerk twice, thrice; and then he pulled out a chub as thick as my
thigh; rather less, perhaps, but nearly as big! My heart beat, the
perspiration stood on my forehead and Melie said to me: 'Well, you sot,
did you see that?'
"Just then Monsieur Bru, the grocer of Poissy, who is fond of gudgeon
fishing, passed in a boat and called out to me: 'So somebody has taken
your usual place, Monsieur Renard?' And I replied: 'Yes, Monsieur Bru,
there are some people in this world who do not know the rules of common
"The little man in linen pretended not to hear, nor his fat lump of a
Here the president interrupted him a second time: "Take care, you are
insulting the widow, Madame Flameche, who is present."
Renard made his excuses: "I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon; my anger
carried me away. Well, not a quarter of an hour had passed when the
little man caught another chub, and another almost immediately, and
another five minutes later.
"Tears were in my eyes, and I knew that Madame Renard was boiling with
rage, for she kept on nagging at me: 'Oh, how horrid! Don't you see that
he is robbing you of your fish? Do you think that you will catch
anything? Not even a frog, nothing whatever. Why, my hands are
tingling, just to think of it.'
"But I said to myself: 'Let us wait until twelve o'clock. Then this
poacher will go to lunch and I shall get my place again. As for me,
Monsieur le President, I lunch on that spot every Sunday. We bring our
provisions in Delila. But there! At noon the wretch produced a chicken
in a newspaper, and while he was eating, he actually caught another chub!
"Melie and I had a morsel also, just a bite, a mere nothing, for our
heart was not in it.
"Then I took up my newspaper to aid my digestion. Every Sunday I read
the Gil Blas in the shade by the side of the water. It is Columbine's
day, you know; Columbine, who writes the articles in the Gil Blas.
I generally put Madame Renard into a rage by pretending to know this
Columbine. It is not true, for I do not know her and have never seen
her, but that does not matter. She writes very well, and then she says
things that are pretty plain for a woman. She suits me and there are not
many of her sort.
"Well, I began to tease my wife, but she got angry immediately, and very
angry, so I held my tongue. At that moment our two witnesses who are
present here, Monsieur Ladureau and Monsieur Durdent, appeared on the
other side of the river. We knew each other by sight. The little man
began to fish again and he caught so many that I trembled with vexation
and his wife said: 'It is an uncommonly good spot, and we will come here
always, Desire.' As for me, a cold shiver ran down my back, and Madame
Renard kept repeating: 'You are not a man; you have the blood of a
chicken in your veins'; and suddenly I said to her: 'Look here, I would
rather go away or I shall be doing something foolish.'
"And she whispered to me, as if she had put a red-hot iron under my nose:
'You are not a man. Now you are going to run away and surrender your
place! Go, then, Bazaine!'
"I felt hurt, but yet I did not move, while the other fellow pulled out a
bream: Oh, I never saw such a large one before, never! And then my wife
began to talk aloud, as if she were thinking, and you can see her tricks.
She said: 'That is what one might call stolen fish, seeing that we set
the bait ourselves. At any rate, they ought to give us back the money we
have spent on bait.'
"Then the fat woman in the cotton dress said in her turn: 'Do you mean to
call us thieves, madame?' Explanations followed and compliments began to
fly. Oh, Lord! those creatures know some good ones. They shouted so
loud that our two witnesses, who were on the other bank, began to call
out by way of a joke: 'Less noise over there; you will interfere with
your husbands' fishing.'
"The fact is that neither the little man nor I moved any more than if we
had been two tree stumps. We remained there, with our eyes fixed on the
water, as if we had heard nothing; but, by Jove! we heard all the same.
'You are a thief! You are nothing better than a tramp! You are a
regular jade!' and so on and so on. A sailor could not have said more.
"Suddenly I heard a noise behind me and turned round. It was the other
one, the fat woman, who had attacked my wife with her parasol. Whack,
whack! Melie got two of them. But she was furious, and she hits hard
when she is in a rage. She caught the fat woman by the hair and then
thump! thump! slaps in the face rained down like ripe plums. I should
have let them fight it out: women together, men together. It does not do
to mix the blows. But the little man in the linen jacket jumped up like
a devil and was going to rush at my wife. Ah! no, no, not that, my
friend! I caught the gentleman with the end of my fist, and crash!
crash! One on the nose, the other in the stomach. He threw up his arms
and legs and fell on his back into the river, just into the hole.
"I should have fished him out most certainly, Monsieur le President, if I
had had time. But, to make matters worse, the fat woman had the upper
hand and was pounding Melie for all she was worth. I know I ought not to
have interfered while the man was in the water, but I never thought that
he would drown and said to myself: 'Bah, it will cool him.'
"I therefore ran up to the women to separate them and all I received was
scratches and bites. Good Lord, what creatures! Well, it took me five
minutes, and perhaps ten, to separate those two viragos. When I turned
round there was nothing to be seen.
The water was as smooth as a lake and the others yonder kept shouting:
'Fish him out! fish him out!' It was all very well to say that, but I
cannot swim and still less dive.
"At last the man from the dam came and two gentlemen with boathooks, but
over a quarter of an hour had passed. He was found at the bottom of the
hole, in eight feet of water, as I have said. There he was, the poor
little man, in his linen suit! Those are the facts such as I have sworn
to. I am innocent, on my honor."
The witnesses having given testimony to the same effect, the accused was