Part 21 out of 31
But the mayor incredulously shook his head:
"You will not make me believe, Maitre Hauchecorne, that M. Malandain, who
is a man whose word can be relied on, has mistaken this string for a
The peasant, furious, raised his hand and spat on the ground beside him
as if to attest his good faith, repeating:
"For all that, it is God's truth, M'sieu le Maire. There! On my soul's
salvation, I repeat it."
The mayor continued:
"After you picked up the object in question, you even looked about for
some time in the mud to see if a piece of money had not dropped out of
The good man was choking with indignation and fear.
"How can they tell--how can they tell such lies as that to slander an
honest man! How can they?"
His protestations were in vain; he was not believed.
He was confronted with M. Malandain, who repeated and sustained his
testimony. They railed at one another for an hour. At his own request
Maitre Hauchecorne was searched. Nothing was found on him.
At last the mayor, much perplexed, sent him away, warning him that he
would inform the public prosecutor and ask for orders.
The news had spread. When he left the mayor's office the old man was
surrounded, interrogated with a curiosity which was serious or mocking,
as the case might be, but into which no indignation entered. And he
began to tell the story of the string. They did not believe him. They
He passed on, buttonholed by every one, himself buttonholing his
acquaintances, beginning over and over again his tale and his
protestations, showing his pockets turned inside out to prove that he had
nothing in them.
They said to him:
"You old rogue!"
He grew more and more angry, feverish, in despair at not being believed,
and kept on telling his story.
The night came. It was time to go home. He left with three of his
neighbors, to whom he pointed out the place where he had picked up the
string, and all the way he talked of his adventure.
That evening he made the round of the village of Breaute for the purpose
of telling every one. He met only unbelievers.
He brooded over it all night long.
The next day, about one in the afternoon, Marius Paumelle, a farm hand of
Maitre Breton, the market gardener at Ymauville, returned the pocketbook
and its contents to Maitre Holbreque, of Manneville.
This man said, indeed, that he had found it on the road, but not knowing
how to read, he had carried it home and given it to his master.
The news spread to the environs. Maitre Hauchecorne was informed. He
started off at once and began to relate his story with the denoument. He
"What grieved me," said he, "was not the thing itself, do you understand,
but it was being accused of lying. Nothing does you so much harm as
being in disgrace for lying."
All day he talked of his adventure. He told it on the roads to the
people who passed, at the cabaret to the people who drank and next Sunday
when they came out of church. He even stopped strangers to tell them
about it. He was easy now, and yet something worried him without his
knowing exactly what it was. People had a joking manner while they
listened. They did not seem convinced. He seemed to feel their remarks
behind his back.
On Tuesday of the following week he went to market at Goderville,
prompted solely by the need of telling his story.
Malandain, standing on his doorstep, began to laugh as he saw him pass.
He accosted a farmer of Criquetot, who did not let hire finish, and
giving him a punch in the pit of the stomach cried in his face: "Oh, you
great rogue!" Then he turned his heel upon him.
Maitre Hauchecorne remained speechless and grew more and more uneasy.
Why had they called him "great rogue"?
When seated at table in Jourdain's tavern he began again to explain the
A horse dealer of Montivilliers shouted at him:
"Get out, get out, you old scamp! I know all about your old string."
"But since they found it again, the pocketbook!"
But the other continued:
"Hold your tongue, daddy; there's one who finds it and there's another
who returns it. And no one the wiser."
The farmer was speechless. He understood at last. They accused him of
having had the pocketbook brought back by an accomplice, by a
He tried to protest. The whole table began to laugh.
He could not finish his dinner, and went away amid a chorus of jeers.
He went home indignant, choking with rage, with confusion, the more cast
down since with his Norman craftiness he was, perhaps, capable of having
done what they accused him of and even of boasting of it as a good trick.
He was dimly conscious that it was impossible to prove his innocence, his
craftiness being so well known. He felt himself struck to the heart by
the injustice of the suspicion.
He began anew to tell his tale, lengthening his recital every day, each
day adding new proofs, more energetic declarations and more sacred oaths,
which he thought of, which he prepared in his hours of solitude, for his
mind was entirely occupied with the story of the string. The more he
denied it, the more artful his arguments, the less he was believed.
"Those are liars proofs," they said behind his back.
He felt this. It preyed upon him and he exhausted himself in useless
He was visibly wasting away.
Jokers would make him tell the story of "the piece of string" to amuse
them, just as you make a soldier who has been on a campaign tell his
story of the battle. His mind kept growing weaker and about the end of
December he took to his bed.
He passed away early in January, and, in the ravings of death agony, he
protested his innocence, repeating:
"A little bit of string--a little bit of string. See, here it is, M'sieu
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 9.
By Guy de Maupassant
GUY DE MAUPASSANT
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES
ALBERT M. C. McMASTER, B.A.
A. E. HENDERSON, B.A.
MME. QUESADA and Others
MADAME HUSSON'S ROSIER
THE ADOPTED SON
THE FIRST SNOWFALL
SUNDAYS OF A BOURGEOIS
THE LOVE OF LONG AGO
He was known for thirty miles round was father Toine--fat Toine, Toine-
my-extra, Antoine Macheble, nicknamed Burnt-Brandy--the innkeeper of
It was he who had made famous this hamlet buried in a niche in the valley
that led down to the sea, a poor little peasants' hamlet consisting of
ten Norman cottages surrounded by ditches and trees.
The houses were hidden behind a curve which had given the place the name
of Tournevent. It seemed to have sought shelter in this ravine overgrown
with grass and rushes, from the keen, salt sea wind--the ocean wind that
devours and burns like fire, that drys up and withers like the sharpest
frost of winter, just as birds seek shelter in the furrows of the fields
in time of storm.
But the whole hamlet seemed to be the property of Antoine Macheble,
nicknamed Burnt-Brandy, who was called also Toine, or Toine-My-Extra-
Special, the latter in consequence of a phrase current in his mouth:
"My Extra-Special is the best in France:"
His "Extra-Special" was, of course, his cognac.
For the last twenty years he had served the whole countryside with his
Extra-Special and his "Burnt-Brandy," for whenever he was asked: "What
shall I drink, Toine?" he invariably answered: "A burnt-brandy, my son-
in-law; that warms the inside and clears the head--there's nothing better
for your body."
He called everyone his son-in-law, though he had no daughter, either
married or to be married.
Well known indeed was Toine Burnt-Brandy, the stoutest man in all
Normandy. His little house seemed ridiculously small, far too small and
too low to hold him; and when people saw him standing at his door, as he
did all day long, they asked one another how he could possibly get
through the door. But he went in whenever a customer appeared, for it
was only right that Toine should be invited to take his thimbleful of
whatever was drunk in his wine shop.
His inn bore the sign: "The Friends' Meeting-Place"--and old Toine was,
indeed, the friend of all. His customers came from Fecamp and
Montvilliers, just for the fun of seeing him and hearing him talk; for
fat Toine would have made a tombstone laugh. He had a way of chaffing
people without offending them, or of winking to express what he didn't
say, of slapping his thighs when he was merry in such a way as to make
you hold your sides, laughing. And then, merely to see him drink was a
curiosity. He drank everything that was offered him, his roguish eyes
twinkling, both with the enjoyment of drinking and at the thought of the
money he was taking in. His was a double pleasure: first, that of
drinking; and second, that of piling up the cash.
You should have heard him quarrelling with his wife! It was worth paying
for to see them together. They had wrangled all the thirty years they
had been married; but Toine was good-humored, while his better-half grew
angry. She was a tall peasant woman, who walked with long steps like a
stork, and had a head resembling that of an angry screech-owl. She spent
her time rearing chickens in a little poultry-yard behind the inn, and
she was noted for her success in fattening them for the table.
Whenever the gentry of Fecamp gave a dinner they always had at least one
of Madame Toine's chickens to be in the fashion.
But she was born ill-tempered, and she went through life in a mood of
perpetual discontent. Annoyed at everyone, she seemed to be particularly
annoyed at her husband. She disliked his gaiety, his reputation, his
rude health, his embonpoint. She treated him as a good-for-nothing
creature because he earned his money without working, and as a glutton
because he ate and drank as much as ten ordinary men; and not a day went
by without her declaring spitefully:
"You'd be better in the stye along with the pigs! You're so fat it makes
me sick to look at you!"
And she would shout in his face:
"Wait! Wait a bit! We'll see! You'll burst one of these fine days like
a sack of corn-you old bloat, you!"
Toine would laugh heartily, patting his corpulent person, and replying:
"Well, well, old hen, why don't you fatten up your chickens like that?
And, rolling his sleeves back from his enormous arm, he said:
"That would make a fine wing now, wouldn't it?"
And the customers, doubled up with laughter, would thump the table with
their fists and stamp their feet on the floor.
The old woman, mad with rage, would repeat:
"Wait a bit! Wait a bit! You'll see what'll happen. He'll burst like a
sack of grain!"
And off she would go, amid the jeers and laughter of the drinkers.
Toine was, in fact, an astonishing sight, he was so fat, so heavy, so
red. He was one of those enormous beings with whom Death seems to be
amusing himself--playing perfidious tricks and pranks, investing with an
irresistibly comic air his slow work of destruction. Instead of
manifesting his approach, as with others, in white hairs, in emaciation,
in wrinkles, in the gradual collapse which makes the onlookers say: "Gad!
how he has changed!" he took a malicious pleasure in fattening Toine, in
making him monstrous and absurd, in tingeing his face with a deep
crimson, in giving him the appearance of superhuman health, and the
changes he inflicts on all were in the case of Toine laughable, comic,
amusing, instead of being painful and distressing to witness.
"Wait a bit! Wait a bit!" said his wife. "You'll see."
At last Toine had an apoplectic fit, and was paralyzed in consequence.
The giant was put to bed in the little room behind the partition of the
drinking-room that he might hear what was said and talk to his friends,
for his head was quite clear although his enormous body was helplessly
inert. It was hoped at first that his immense legs would regain some
degree of power; but this hope soon disappeared, and Toine spent his days
and nights in the bed, which was only made up once a week, with the help
of four neighbors who lifted the innkeeper, each holding a limb, while
his mattress was turned.
He kept his spirits, nevertheless; but his gaiety was of a different
kind--more timid, more humble; and he lived in a constant, childlike fear
of his wife, who grumbled from morning till night:
"Look at him there--the great glutton! the good-for-nothing creature, the
old boozer! Serve him right, serve him right!"
He no longer answered her. He contented himself with winking behind the
old woman's back, and turning over on his other side--the only movement
of which he was now capable. He called this exercise a "tack to the
north" or a "tack to the south."
His great distraction nowadays was to listen to the conversations in the
bar, and to shout through the wall when he recognized a friend's voice:
"Hallo, my son-in-law! Is that you, Celestin?"
And Celestin Maloisel answered:
"Yes, it's me, Toine. Are you getting about again yet, old fellow?"
"Not exactly getting about," answered Toine. "But I haven't grown thin;
my carcass is still good."
Soon he got into the way of asking his intimates into his room to keep
him company, although it grieved him to see that they had to drink
without him. It pained him to the quick that his customers should be
drinking without him.
"That's what hurts worst of all," he would say: "that I cannot drink my
Extra-Special any more. I can put up with everything else, but going
without drink is the very deuce."
Then his wife's screech-owl face would appear at the window, and she
would break in with the words:
"Look at him! Look at him now, the good-for-nothing wretch! I've got to
feed him and wash him just as if he were a pig!"
And when the old woman had gone, a cock with red feathers would sometimes
fly up to the window sill and looking into the room with his round
inquisitive eye, would begin to crow loudly. Occasionally, too, a few
hens would flutter as far as the foot of the bed, seeking crumbs on the
floor. Toine's friends soon deserted the drinking room to come and chat
every afternoon beside the invalid's bed. Helpless though he was, the
jovial Toine still provided them with amusement. He would have made the
devil himself laugh. Three men were regular in their attendance at the
bedside: Celestin Maloisel, a tall, thin fellow, somewhat gnarled, like
the trunk of an apple-tree; Prosper Horslaville, a withered little man
with a ferret nose, cunning as a fox; and Cesaire Paumelle, who never
spoke, but who enjoyed Toine's society all the same.
They brought a plank from the yard, propped it upon the edge of the bed,
and played dominoes from two till six.
But Toine's wife soon became insufferable. She could not endure that her
fat, lazy husband should amuse himself at games while lying in his bed;
and whenever she caught him beginning a game she pounced furiously on the
dominoes, overturned the plank, and carried all away into the bar,
declaring that it was quite enough to have to feed that fat, lazy pig
without seeing him amusing himself, as if to annoy poor people who had to
work hard all day long.
Celestin Maloisel and Cesaire Paumelle bent their heads to the storm, but
Prosper Horslaville egged on the old woman, and was only amused at her
One day, when she was more angry than usual, he said:
"Do you know what I'd do if I were you?"
She fixed her owl's eyes on him, and waited for his next words.
Prosper went on:
"Your man is as hot as an oven, and he never leaves his bed--well, I'd
make him hatch some eggs."
She was struck dumb at the suggestion, thinking that Prosper could not
possibly be in earnest. But he continued:
"I'd put five under one arm, and five under the other, the same day that
I set a hen. They'd all come out at the same time; then I'd take your
husband's chickens to the hen to bring up with her own. You'd rear a
fine lot that way."
"Could it be done?" asked the astonished old woman.
"Could it be done?" echoed the man. "Why not? Since eggs can be hatched
in a warm box why shouldn't they be hatched in a warm bed?"
She was struck by this reasoning, and went away soothed and reflective.
A week later she entered Toine's room with her apron full of eggs, and
"I've just put the yellow hen on ten eggs. Here are ten for you; try not
to break them."
"What do you want?" asked the amazed Toine.
"I want you to hatch them, you lazy creature!" she answered.
He laughed at first; then, finding she was serious, he got angry, and
refused absolutely to have the eggs put under his great arms, that the
warmth of his body might hatch them.
But the old woman declared wrathfully:
"You'll get no dinner as long as you won't have them. You'll see what'll
Tome was uneasy, but answered nothing.
When twelve o'clock struck, he called out:
"Hullo, mother, is the soup ready?"
"There's no soup for you, lazy-bones," cried the old woman from her
He thought she must be joking, and waited a while. Then he begged,
implored, swore, "tacked to the north" and "tacked to the south," and
beat on the wall with his fists, but had to consent at last to five eggs
being placed against his left side; after which he had his soup.
When his friends arrived that afternoon they thought he must be ill, he
seemed so constrained and queer.
They started the daily game of dominoes. But Tome appeared to take no
pleasure in it, and reached forth his hand very slowly, and with great
"What's wrong with your arm?" asked Horslaville.
"I have a sort of stiffness in the shoulder," answered Toine.
Suddenly they heard people come into the inn. The players were silent.
It was the mayor with the deputy. They ordered two glasses of Extra-
Special, and began to discuss local affairs. As they were talking in
somewhat low tones Toine wanted to put his ear to the wall, and,
forgetting all about his eggs, he made a sudden "tack to the north,"
which had the effect of plunging him into the midst of an omelette.
At the loud oath he swore his wife came hurrying into the room, and,
guessing what had happened, stripped the bedclothes from him with
lightning rapidity. She stood at first without moving or uttering a
syllable, speechless with indignation at sight of the yellow poultice
sticking to her husband's side.
Then, trembling with fury, she threw herself on the paralytic, showering
on him blows such as those with which she cleaned her linen on the
seashore. Tome's three friends were choking with laughter, coughing,
spluttering and shouting, and the fat innkeeper himself warded his wife's
attacks with all the prudence of which he was capable, that he might not
also break the five eggs at his other side.
Tome was conquered. He had to hatch eggs, he had to give up his games of
dominoes and renounce movement of any sort, for the old woman angrily
deprived him of food whenever he broke an egg.
He lay on his back, with eyes fixed on the ceiling, motionless, his arms
raised like wings, warming against his body the rudimentary chickens
enclosed in their white shells.
He spoke now only in hushed tones; as if he feared a noise as much as
motion, and he took a feverish interest in the yellow hen who was
accomplishing in the poultry-yard the same task as he.
"Has the yellow hen eaten her food all right?" he would ask his wife.
And the old woman went from her fowls to her husband and from her husband
to her fowls, devoured by anxiety as to the welfare of the little
chickens who were maturing in the bed and in the nest.
The country people who knew the story came, agog with curiosity, to ask
news of Toine. They entered his room on tiptoe, as one enters a sick-
chamber, and asked:
"Well! how goes it?"
"All right," said Toine; "only it keeps me fearfully hot."
One morning his wife entered in a state of great excitement, and
"The yellow hen has seven chickens! Three of the eggs were addled."
Toine's heart beat painfully. How many would he have?
"Will it soon be over?" he asked, with the anguish of a woman who is
about to become a mother.
"It's to be hoped so!" answered the old woman crossly, haunted by fear of
They waited. Friends of Toine who had got wind that his time was drawing
near arrived, and filled the little room.
Nothing else was talked about in the neighboring cottages. Inquirers
asked one another for news as they stood at their doors.
About three o'clock Toine fell asleep. He slumbered half his time
nowadays. He was suddenly awakened by an unaccustomed tickling under his
right arm. He put his left hand on the spot, and seized a little
creature covered with yellow down, which fluttered in his hand.
His emotion was so great that he cried out, and let go his hold of the
chicken, which ran over his chest. The bar was full of people at the
time. The customers rushed to Toine's room, and made a circle round him
as they would round a travelling showman; while Madame Toine picked up
the chicken, which had taken refuge under her husband's beard.
No one spoke, so great was the tension. It was a warm April day.
Outside the window the yellow hen could be heard calling to her newly-
Toine, who was perspiring with emotion and anxiety, murmured:
"I have another now--under the left arm."
His' wife plunged her great bony hand into the bed, and pulled out a
second chicken with all the care of a midwife.
The neighbors wanted to see it. It was passed from one to another, and
examined as if it were a phenomenon.
For twenty minutes no more hatched out, then four emerged at the same
moment from their shells.
There was a great commotion among the lookers-on. And Toine smiled with
satisfaction, beginning to take pride in this unusual sort of paternity.
There were not many like him! Truly, he was a remarkable specimen of
"That makes six!" he declared. "Great heavens, what a christening we'll
And a loud laugh rose from all present. Newcomers filled the bar. They
asked one another:
"How many are there?"
Toine's wife took this new family to the hen, who clucked loudly,
bristled her feathers, and spread her wings wide to shelter her growing
brood of little ones.
"There's one more!" cried Toine.
He was mistaken. There were three! It was an unalloyed triumph! The
last chicken broke through its shell at seven o'clock in the evening.
All the eggs were good! And Toine, beside himself with joy, his brood
hatched out, exultant, kissed the tiny creature on the back, almost
suffocating it. He wanted to keep it in his bed until morning, moved by
a mother's tenderness toward the tiny being which he had brought to life,
but the old woman carried it away like the others, turning a deaf ear to
her husband's entreaties.
The delighted spectators went off to spread the news of the event, and
Horslaville, who was the last to go, asked:
"You'll invite me when the first is cooked, won't you, Toine?"
At this idea a smile overspread the fat man's face, and he answered:
"Certainly I'll invite you, my son-in-law."
MADAME HUSSON'S "ROSIER"
We had just left Gisors, where I was awakened to hearing the name of the
town called out by the guards, and I was dozing off again when a terrific
shock threw me forward on top of a large lady who sat opposite me.
One of the wheels of the engine had broken, and the engine itself lay
across the track. The tender and the baggage car were also derailed, and
lay beside this mutilated engine, which rattled, groaned, hissed, puffed,
sputtered, and resembled those horses that fall in the street with their
flanks heaving, their breast palpitating, their nostrils steaming and
their whole body trembling, but incapable of the slightest effort to rise
and start off again.
There were no dead or wounded; only a few with bruises, for the train was
not going at full speed. And we looked with sorrow at the great crippled
iron creature that could not draw us along any more, and that blocked the
track, perhaps for some time, for no doubt they would have to send to
Paris for a special train to come to our aid.
It was then ten o'clock in the morning, and I at once decided to go back
to Gisors for breakfast.
As I was walking along I said to myself:
"Gisors, Gisors--why, I know someone there!
"Who is it? Gisors? Let me see, I have a friend in this town." A name
suddenly came to my mind, "Albert Marambot." He was an old school friend
whom I had not seen for at least twelve years, and who was practicing
medicine in Gisors. He had often written, inviting me to come and see
him, and I had always promised to do so, without keeping my word. But at
last I would take advantage of this opportunity.
I asked the first passer-by:
"Do you know where Dr. Marambot lives?"
He replied, without hesitation, and with the drawling accent of the
I presently saw, on the door of the house he pointed out, a large brass
plate on which was engraved the name of my old chum. I rang the bell,
but the servant, a yellow-haired girl who moved slowly, said with a
"He isn't here, he isn't here."
I heard a sound of forks and of glasses and I cried:
A door opened and a large man, with whiskers and a cross look on his
face, appeared, carrying a dinner napkin in his hand.
I certainly should not have recognized him. One would have said he was
forty-five at least, and, in a second, all the provincial life which
makes one grow heavy, dull and old came before me. In a single flash of
thought, quicker than the act of extending my hand to him, I could see
his life, his manner of existence, his line of thought and his theories
of things in general. I guessed at the prolonged meals that had rounded
out his stomach, his after-dinner naps from the torpor of a slow
indigestion aided by cognac, and his vague glances cast on the patient
while he thought of the chicken that was roasting before the fire. His
conversations about cooking, about cider, brandy and wine, the way of
preparing certain dishes and of blending certain sauces were revealed to
me at sight of his puffy red cheeks, his heavy lips and his lustreless
"You do not recognize me. I am Raoul Aubertin," I said.
He opened his arms and gave me such a hug that I thought he would choke
"You have not breakfasted, have you?"
"How fortunate! I was just sitting down to table and I have an excellent
Five minutes later I was sitting opposite him at breakfast. I said:
"Are you a bachelor?"
"And do you like it here?"
"Time does not hang heavy; I am busy. I have patients and friends.
I eat well, have good health, enjoy laughing and shooting. I get along."
"Is not life very monotonous in this little town?"
"No, my dear boy, not when one knows how to fill in the time. A little
town, in fact, is like a large one. The incidents and amusements are
less varied, but one makes more of them; one has fewer acquaintances, but
one meets them more frequently. When you know all the windows in a
street, each one of them interests you and puzzles you more than a whole
street in Paris.
"A little town is very amusing, you know, very amusing, very amusing.
Why, take Gisors. I know it at the tips of my fingers, from its
beginning up to the present time. You have no idea what queer history it
"Do you belong to Gisors?"
"I? No. I come from Gournay, its neighbor and rival. Gournay is to
Gisors what Lucullus was to Cicero. Here, everything is for glory; they
say 'the proud people of Gisors.' At Gournay, everything is for the
stomach; they say 'the chewers of Gournay.' Gisors despises Gournay, but
Gournay laughs at Gisors. It is a very comical country, this."
I perceived that I was eating something very delicious, hard-boiled eggs
wrapped in a covering of meat jelly flavored with herbs and put on ice
for a few moments. I said as I smacked my lips to compliment Marambot:
"That is good."
"Two things are necessary, good jelly, which is hard to get, and good
eggs. Oh, how rare good eggs are, with the yolks slightly reddish, and
with a good flavor! I have two poultry yards, one for eggs and the other
for chickens. I feed my laying hens in a special manner. I have my own
ideas on the subject. In an egg, as in the meat of a chicken, in beef,
or in mutton, in milk, in everything, one perceives, and ought to taste,
the juice, the quintessence of all the food on which the animal has fed.
How much better food we could have if more attention were paid to this!"
I laughed as I said:
"You are a gourmand?"
"Parbleu. It is only imbeciles who are not. One is a gourmand as one is
an artist, as one is learned, as one is a poet. The sense of taste, my
friend, is very delicate, capable of perfection, and quite as worthy of
respect as the eye and the ear. A person who lacks this sense is
deprived of an exquisite faculty, the faculty of discerning the quality
of food, just as one may lack the faculty of discerning the beauties of a
book or of a work of art; it means to be deprived of an essential organ,
of something that belongs to higher humanity; it means to belong to one
of those innumerable classes of the infirm, the unfortunate, and the
fools of which our race is composed; it means to have the mouth of an
animal, in a word, just like the mind of an animal. A man who cannot
distinguish one kind of lobster from another; a herring--that admirable
fish that has all the flavors, all the odors of the sea--from a mackerel
or a whiting; and a Cresane from a Duchess pear, may be compared to a man
who should mistake Balzac for Eugene Sue; a symphony of Beethoven for a
military march composed by the bandmaster of a regiment; and the Apollo
Belvidere for the statue of General de Blaumont.
"Who is General de Blaumont?"
"Oh, that's true, you do not know. It is easy to tell that you do not
belong to Gisors. I told you just now, my dear boy, that they called the
inhabitants of this town 'the proud people of Gisors,' and never was an
epithet better deserved. But let us finish breakfast first, and then I
will tell you about our town and take you to see it."
He stopped talking every now and then while he slowly drank a glass of
wine which he gazed at affectionately as he replaced the glass on the
It was amusing to see him, with a napkin tied around his neck, his cheeks
flushed, his eyes eager, and his whiskers spreading round his mouth as it
He made me eat until I was almost choking. Then, as I was about to
return to the railway station, he seized me by the arm and took me
through the streets. The town, of a pretty, provincial type, commanded
by its citadel, the most curious monument of military architecture of the
seventh century to be found in France, overlooks, in its turn, a long,
green valley, where the large Norman cows graze and ruminate in the
The doctor quoted:
"'Gisors, a town of 4,000 inhabitants in the department of Eure,
mentioned in Caesar's Commentaries: Caesaris ostium, then Caesartium,
Caesortium, Gisortium, Gisors.' I shall not take you to visit the old
Roman encampment, the remains of which are still in existence."
I laughed and replied:
"My dear friend, it seems to me that you are affected with a special
malady that, as a doctor, you ought to study; it is called the spirit of
He stopped abruptly.
"The spirit of provincialism, my friend, is nothing but natural
patriotism," he said. "I love my house, my town and my province because
I discover in them the customs of my own village; but if I love my
country, if I become angry when a neighbor sets foot in it, it is because
I feel that my home is in danger, because the frontier that I do not know
is the high road to my province. For instance, I am a Norman, a true
Norman; well, in spite of my hatred of the German and my desire for
revenge, I do not detest them, I do not hate them by instinct as I hate
the English, the real, hereditary natural enemy of the Normans; for the
English traversed this soil inhabited by my ancestors, plundered and
ravaged it twenty times, and my aversion to this perfidious people was
transmitted to me at birth by my father. See, here is the statue of the
"General Blaumont! We had to have a statue. We are not 'the proud
people of Gisors' for nothing! So we discovered General de Blaumont.
Look in this bookseller's window."
He drew me towards the bookstore, where about fifteen red, yellow and
blue volumes attracted the eye. As I read the titles, I began to laugh
idiotically. They read:
Gisors, its origin, its future, by M. X. . . ., member of several
learned societies; History of Gisors, by the Abbe A . . . .; Gasors
from the time of Caesar to the present day, by M. B. . . ., Landowner;
Gisors and its environs, by Doctor C. D. . . ; The Glories of Gisors,
by a Discoverer.
"My friend," resumed Marambot, "not a year, not a single year, you
understand, passes without a fresh history of Gisors being published
here; we now have twenty-three."
"And the glories of Gisors?" I asked.
"Oh, I will not mention them all, only the principal ones. We had first
General de Blaumont, then Baron Davillier, the celebrated ceramist who
explored Spain and the Balearic Isles, and brought to the notice of
collectors the wonderful Hispano-Arabic china. In literature we have a
very clever journalist, now dead, Charles Brainne, and among those who
are living, the very eminent editor of the Nouvelliste de Rouen, Charles
Lapierre . . . and many others, many others."
We were traversing along street with a gentle incline, with a June sun
beating down on it and driving the residents into their houses.
Suddenly there appeared at the farther end of the street a drunken man
who was staggering along, with his head forward his arms and legs limp.
He would walk forward rapidly three, six, or ten steps and then stop.
When these energetic movements landed him in the middle of the road he
stopped short and swayed on his feet, hesitating between falling and a
fresh start. Then he would dart off in any direction, sometimes falling
against the wall of a house, against which he seemed to be fastened, as
though he were trying to get in through the wall. Then he would suddenly
turn round and look ahead of him, his mouth open and his eyes blinking in
the sunlight, and getting away from the wall by a movement of the hips,
he started off once more.
A little yellow dog, a half-starved cur, followed him, barking; stopping
when he stopped, and starting off when he started.
"Hallo," said Marambot, "there is Madame Husson's 'Rosier'.
"Madame Husson's 'Rosier'," I exclaimed in astonishment. "What do you
The doctor began to laugh.
"Oh, that is what we call drunkards round here. The name comes from an
old story which has now become a legend, although it is true in all
"Is it an amusing story?"
"Well, then, tell it to me."
There lived formerly in this town a very upright old lady who was a great
guardian of morals and was called Mme. Husson. You know, I am telling
you the real names and not imaginary ones. Mme. Husson took a special
interest in good works, in helping the poor and encouraging the
deserving. She was a little woman with a quick walk and wore a black
wig. She was ceremonious, polite, on very good terms with the Almighty
in the person of Abby Malon, and had a profound horror, an inborn horror
of vice, and, in particular, of the vice the Church calls lasciviousness.
Any irregularity before marriage made her furious, exasperated her till
she was beside herself.
Now, this was the period when they presented a prize as a reward of
virtue to any girl in the environs of Paris who was found to be chaste.
She was called a Rosiere, and Mme. Husson got the idea that she would
institute a similar ceremony at Gisors. She spoke about it to Abbe
Malon, who at once made out a list of candidates.
However, Mme. Husson had a servant, an old woman called Francoise, as
upright as her mistress. As soon as the priest had left, madame called
the servant and said:
"Here, Francoise, here are the girls whose names M. le cure has submitted
to me for the prize of virtue; try and find out what reputation they bear
in the district."
And Francoise set out. She collected all the scandal, all the stories,
all the tattle, all the suspicions. That she might omit nothing, she
wrote it all down together with her memoranda in her housekeeping book,
and handed it each morning to Mme. Husson, who, after adjusting her
spectacles on her thin nose, read as follows:
Butter .........................eight sous
Malvina Levesque got into trouble last year with Mathurin Poilu.
Leg of mutton...................twenty-five sous
Rosalie Vatinel was seen in the Riboudet woods with Cesaire Pienoir, by
Mme. Onesime, the ironer, on July the 20th about dusk.
Oxalic acid.....................two sous
Josephine Durdent, who is not believed to have committed a fault,
although she corresponds with young Oportun, who is in service in Rouen,
and who sent her a present of a cap by diligence.
Not one came out unscathed in this rigorous inquisition. Francoise
inquired of everyone, neighbors, drapers, the principal, the teaching
sisters at school, and gathered the slightest details.
As there is not a girl in the world about whom gossips have not found
something to say, there was not found in all the countryside one young
girl whose name was free from some scandal.
But Mme. Husson desired that the "Rosiere" of Gisors, like Caesar's wife,
should be above suspicion, and she was horrified, saddened and in despair
at the record in her servant's housekeeping account-book.
They then extended their circle of inquiries to the neighboring villages;
but with no satisfaction.
They consulted the mayor. His candidates failed. Those of Dr. Barbesol
were equally unlucky, in spite of the exactness of his scientific
But one morning Francoise, on returning from one of her expeditions, said
to her mistress:
"You see, madame, that if you wish to give a prize to anyone, there is
only Isidore in all the country round."
Mme. Husson remained thoughtful. She knew him well, this Isidore, the
son of Virginie the greengrocer. His proverbial virtue had been the
delight of Gisors for several years, and served as an entertaining theme
of conversation in the town, and of amusement to the young girls who
loved to tease him. He was past twenty-one, was tall, awkward, slow and
timid; helped his mother in the business, and spent his days picking over
fruit and vegetables, seated on a chair outside the door.
He had an abnormal dread of a petticoat and cast down his eyes whenever a
female customer looked at him smilingly, and this well-known timidity
made him the butt of all the wags in the country.
Bold words, coarse expressions, indecent allusions, brought the color to
his cheeks so quickly that Dr. Barbesol had nicknamed him "the
thermometer of modesty." Was he as innocent as he looked? ill-natured
people asked themselves. Was it the mere presentiment of unknown and
shameful mysteries or else indignation at the relations ordained as the
concomitant of love that so strongly affected the son of Virginie the
greengrocer? The urchins of the neighborhood as they ran past the shop
would fling disgusting remarks at him just to see him cast down his eyes.
The girls amused themselves by walking up and down before him, cracking
jokes that made him go into the store. The boldest among them teased him
to his face just to have a laugh, to amuse themselves, made appointments
with him and proposed all sorts of things.
So Madame Husson had become thoughtful.
Certainly, Isidore was an exceptional case of notorious, unassailable
virtue. No one, among the most sceptical, most incredulous, would have
been able, would have dared, to suspect Isidore of the slightest
infraction of any law of morality. He had never been seen in a cafe,
never been seen at night on the street. He went to bed at eight o'clock
and rose at four. He was a perfection, a pearl.
But Mme. Husson still hesitated. The idea of substituting a boy for a
girl, a "rosier" for a "rosiere," troubled her, worried her a little, and
she resolved to consult Abbe Malon.
The abbe responded:
"What do you desire to reward, madame? It is virtue, is it not, and
nothing but virtue? What does it matter to you, therefore, if it is
masculine or feminine? Virtue is eternal; it has neither sex nor
country; it is 'Virtue.'"
Thus encouraged, Mme. Husson went to see the mayor.
He approved heartily.
"We will have a fine ceremony," he said. "And another year if we can
find a girl as worthy as Isidore we will give the reward to her. It will
even be a good example that we shall set to Nanterre. Let us not be
exclusive; let us welcome all merit."
Isidore, who had been told about this, blushed deeply and seemed happy.
The ceremony was fixed for the 15th of August, the festival of the Virgin
Mary and of the Emperor Napoleon. The municipality had decided to make
an imposing ceremony and had built the platform on the couronneaux, a
delightful extension of the ramparts of the old citadel where I will take
With the natural revulsion of public feeling, the virtue of Isidore,
ridiculed hitherto, had suddenly become respected and envied, as it would
bring him in five hundred francs besides a savings bank book, a mountain
of consideration, and glory enough and to spare. The girls now regretted
their frivolity, their ridicule, their bold manners; and Isidore,
although still modest and timid, had now a little contented air that
bespoke his internal satisfaction.
The evening before the 15th of August the entire Rue Dauphine was
decorated with flags. Oh, I forgot to tell you why this street had been
called Rue Dauphine.
It seems that the wife or mother of the dauphin, I do not remember which
one, while visiting Gisors had been feted so much by the authorities that
during a triumphal procession through the town she stopped before one of
the houses in this street, halting the procession, and exclaimed:
"Oh, the pretty house! How I should like to go through it! To whom does
They told her the name of the owner, who was sent for and brought, proud
and embarrassed, before the princess. She alighted from her carriage,
went into the house, wishing to go over it from top to bottom, and even
shut herself in one of the rooms alone for a few seconds.
When she came out, the people, flattered at this honor paid to a citizen
of Gisors, shouted "Long live the dauphine!" But a rhymester wrote some
words to a refrain, and the street retained the title of her royal
"The princess, in a hurry,
Without bell, priest, or beadle,
But with some water only,
Had baptized it."
But to come back to Isidore.
They had scattered flowers all along the road as they do for processions
at the Fete-Dieu, and the National Guard was present, acting on the
orders of their chief, Commandant Desbarres, an old soldier of the Grand
Army, who pointed with pride to the beard of a Cossack cut with a single
sword stroke from the chin of its owner by the commandant during the
retreat in Russia, and which hung beside the frame containing the cross
of the Legion of Honor presented to him by the emperor himself.
The regiment that he commanded was, besides, a picked regiment celebrated
all through the province, and the company of grenadiers of Gisors was
called on to attend all important ceremonies for a distance of fifteen to
twenty leagues. The story goes that Louis Philippe, while reviewing the
militia of Eure, stopped in astonishment before the company from Gisors,
"Oh, who are those splendid grenadiers?"
"The grenadiers of Gisors," replied the general.
"I might have known it," murmured the king.
So Commandant Desbarres came at the head of his men, preceded by the
band, to get Isidore in his mother's store.
After a little air had been played by the band beneath the windows, the
"Rosier" himself appeared--on the threshold. He was dressed in white
duck from head to foot and wore a straw hat with a little bunch of orange
blossoms as a cockade.
The question of his clothes had bothered Mme. Husson a good deal, and she
hesitated some time between the black coat of those who make their first
communion and an entire white suit. But Francoise, her counsellor,
induced her to decide on the white suit, pointing out that the Rosier
would look like a swan.
Behind him came his guardian, his godmother, Mme. Husson, in triumph.
She took his arm to go out of the store, and the mayor placed himself on
the other side of the Rosier. The drums beat. Commandant Desbarres gave
the order "Present arms!" The procession resumed its march towards the
church amid an immense crowd of people who has gathered from the
After a short mass and an affecting discourse by Abbe Malon, they
continued on their way to the couronneaux, where the banquet was served
in a tent.
Before taking their seats at table, the mayor gave an address. This is
it, word for word. I learned it by heart:
"Young man, a woman of means, beloved by the poor and respected by the
rich, Mme. Husson, whom the whole country is thanking here, through me,
had the idea, the happy and benevolent idea, of founding in this town a
prize for, virtue, which should serve as a valuable encouragement to the
inhabitants of this beautiful country.
"You, young man, are the first to be rewarded in this dynasty of goodness
and chastity. Your name will remain at the head of this list of the most
deserving, and your life, understand me, your whole life, must correspond
to this happy commencement. To-day, in presence of this noble woman, of
these soldier-citizens who have taken up their arms in your honor, in
presence of this populace, affected, assembled to applaud you, or,
rather, to applaud virtue, in your person, you make a solemn contract
with the town, with all of us, to continue until your death the excellent
example of your youth.
"Do not forget, young man, that you are the first seed cast into this
field of hope; give us the fruits that we expect of you."
The mayor advanced three steps, opened his arms and pressed Isidore to
The "Rosier" was sobbing without knowing why, from a confused emotion,
from pride and a vague and happy feeling of tenderness.
Then the mayor placed in one hand a silk purse in which gold tingled--
five hundred francs in gold!--and in his other hand a savings bank book.
And he said in a solemn tone:
"Homage, glory and riches to virtue."
Commandant Desbarres shouted "Bravo!" the grenadiers vociferated, and the
Mme. Husson wiped her eyes, in her turn. Then they all sat down at the
table where the banquet was served.
The repast was magnificent and seemed interminable. One course followed
another; yellow cider and red wine in fraternal contact blended in the
stomach of the guests. The rattle of plates, the sound of voices, and of
music softly played, made an incessant deep hum, and was dispersed abroad
in the clear sky where the swallows were flying. Mme. Husson
occasionally readjusted her black wig, which would slip over on one side,
and chatted with Abbe Malon. The mayor, who was excited, talked politics
with Commandant Desbarres, and Isidore ate, drank, as if he had never
eaten or drunk before. He helped himself repeatedly to all the dishes,
becoming aware for the first time of the pleasure of having one's belly
full of good things which tickle the palate in the first place. He had
let out a reef in his belt and, without speaking, and although he was a
little uneasy at a wine stain on his white waistcoat, he ceased eating in
order to take up his glass and hold it to his mouth as long as possible,
to enjoy the taste slowly.
It was time for the toasts. They were many and loudly applauded.
Evening was approaching and they had been at the table since noon. Fine,
milky vapors were already floating in the air in the valley, the light
night-robe of streams and meadows; the sun neared the horizon; the cows
were lowing in the distance amid the mists of the pasture. The feast was
over. They returned to Gisors. The procession, now disbanded, walked in
detachments. Mme. Husson had taken Isidore's arm and was giving him a
quantity of urgent, excellent advice.
They stopped at the door of the fruit store, and the "Rosier" was left at
his mother's house. She had not come home yet. Having been invited by
her family to celebrate her son's triumph, she had taken luncheon with
her sister after having followed the procession as far as the banqueting
So Isidore remained alone in the store, which was growing dark. He sat
down on a chair, excited by the wine and by pride, and looked about him.
Carrots, cabbages, and onions gave out their strong odor of vegetables in
the closed room, that coarse smell of the garden blended with the sweet,
penetrating odor of strawberries and the delicate, slight, evanescent
fragrance of a basket of peaches.
The "Rosier" took one of these and ate it, although he was as full as an
egg. Then, all at once, wild with joy, he began to dance about the
store, and something rattled in his waistcoat.
He was surprised, and put his hand in his pocket and brought out the
purse containing the five hundred francs, which he had forgotten in his
agitation. Five hundred francs! What a fortune! He poured the gold
pieces out on the counter and spread them out with his big hand with a
slow, caressing touch so as to see them all at the same time. There were
twenty-five, twenty-five round gold pieces, all gold! They glistened on
the wood in the dim light and he counted them over and over, one by one.
Then he put them back in the purse, which he replaced in his pocket.
Who will ever know or who can tell what a terrible conflict took place in
the soul of the "Rosier" between good and evil, the tumultuous attack of
Satan, his artifices, the temptations which he offered to this timid
virgin heart? What suggestions, what imaginations, what desires were not
invented by the evil one to excite and destroy this chosen one? He
seized his hat, Mme. Husson's saint, his hat, which still bore the little
bunch of orange blossoms, and going out through the alley at the back of
the house, he disappeared in the darkness.
Virginie, the fruiterer, on learning that her son had returned, went home
at once, and found the house empty. She waited, without thinking
anything about it at first; but at the end of a quarter of an hour she
made inquiries. The neighbors had seen Isidore come home and had not
seen him go out again. They began to look for him, but could not find
him. His mother, in alarm, went to the mayor. The mayor knew nothing,
except that he had left him at the door of his home. Mme. Husson had
just retired when they informed her that her protege had disappeared.
She immediately put on her wig, dressed herself and went to Virginie's
house. Virginie, whose plebeian soul was readily moved, was weeping
copiously amid her cabbages, carrots and onions.
They feared some accident had befallen him. What could it be?
Commandant Desbarres notified the police, who made a circuit of the town,
and on the high road to Pontoise they found the little bunch of orange
blossoms. It was placed on a table around which the authorities were
deliberating. The "Rosier" must have been the victim of some stratagem,
some trick, some jealousy; but in what way? What means had been employed
to kidnap this innocent creature, and with what object?
Weary of looking for him without any result, Virginie, alone, remained
watching and weeping.
The following evening, when the coach passed by on its return from Paris,
Gisors learned with astonishment that its "Rosier" had stopped the
vehicle at a distance of about two hundred metres from the town, had
climbed up on it and paid his fare, handing over a gold piece and
receiving the change, and that he had quietly alighted in the centre of
the great city.
There was great excitement all through the countryside. Letters passed
between the mayor and the chief of police in Paris, but brought no
The days followed one another, a week passed.
Now, one morning, Dr. Barbesol, who had gone out early, perceived,
sitting on a doorstep, a man dressed in a grimy linen suit, who was
sleeping with his head leaning against the wall. He approached him and
recognized Isidore. He tried to rouse him, but did not succeed in doing
so. The ex-"Rosier" was in that profound, invincible sleep that is
alarming, and the doctor, in surprise, went to seek assistance to help
him in carrying the young man to Boncheval's drugstore. When they lifted
him up they found an empty bottle under him, and when the doctor sniffed
at it, he declared that it had contained brandy. That gave a suggestion
as to what treatment he would require. They succeeded in rousing him.
Isidore was drunk, drunk and degraded by a week of guzzling, drunk and so
disgusting that a ragman would not have touched him. His beautiful white
duck suit was a gray rag, greasy, muddy, torn, and destroyed, and he
smelt of the gutter and of vice.
He was washed, sermonized, shut up, and did not leave the house for four
days. He seemed ashamed and repentant. They could not find on him
either his purse, containing the five hundred francs, or the bankbook, or
even his silver watch, a sacred heirloom left by his father, the
On the fifth day he ventured into the Rue Dauphine, Curious glances
followed him and he walked along with a furtive expression in his eyes
and his head bent down. As he got outside the town towards the valley
they lost sight of him; but two hours later he returned laughing and
rolling against the walls. He was drunk, absolutely drunk.
Nothing could cure him.
Driven from home by his mother, he became a wagon driver, and drove the
charcoal wagons for the Pougrisel firm, which is still in existence.
His reputation as a drunkard became so well known and spread so far that
even at Evreux they talked of Mme. Husson's "Rosier," and the sots of the
countryside have been given that nickname.
A good deed is never lost.
Dr. Marambot rubbed his hands as he finished his story. I asked:
"Did you know the 'Rosier'?"
"Yes. I had the honor of closing his eyes."
"What did he die of?"
"An attack of delirium tremens, of course."
We had arrived at the old citadel, a pile of ruined walls dominated by
the enormous tower of St. Thomas of Canterbury and the one called the
Marambot told me the story of this prisoner, who, with the aid of a nail,
covered the walls of his dungeon with sculptures, tracing the reflections
of the sun as it glanced through the narrow slit of a loophole.
I also learned that Clothaire II had given the patrimony of Gisors to his
cousin, Saint Romain, bishop of Rouen; that Gisors ceased to be the
capital of the whole of Vexin after the treaty of Saint-Clair-sur-Epte;
that the town is the chief strategic centre of all that portion of
France, and that in consequence of this advantage she was taken and
retaken over and over again. At the command of William the Red, the
eminent engineer, Robert de Bellesme, constructed there a powerful
fortress that was attacked later by Louis le Gros, then by the Norman
barons, was defended by Robert de Candos, was finally ceded to Louis le
Gros by Geoffry Plantagenet, was retaken by the English in consequence of
the treachery of the Knights-Templars, was contested by Philippe-Augustus
and Richard the Lionhearted, was set on fire by Edward III of England,
who could not take the castle, was again taken by the English in 1419,
restored later to Charles VIII by Richard de Marbury, was taken by the
Duke of Calabria occupied by the League, inhabited by Henry IV, etc.,
And Marambot, eager and almost eloquent, continued:
"What beggars, those English! And what sots, my boy; they are all
'Rosiers,' those hypocrites!"
Then, after a silence, stretching out his arm towards the tiny river that
glistened in the meadows, he said:
"Did you know that Henry Monnier was one of the most untiring fishermen
on the banks of the Epte?"
"No, I did not know it."
"And Bouffe, my boy, Bouffe was a painter on glass."
"You are joking!"
"No, indeed. How is it you do not know these things?"
THE ADOPTED SON
The two cottages stood beside each other at the foot of a hill near a
little seashore resort. The two peasants labored hard on the
unproductive soil to rear their little ones, and each family had four.
Before the adjoining doors a whole troop of urchins played and tumbled
about from morning till night. The two eldest were six years old, and
the youngest were about fifteen months; the marriages, and afterward the
births, having taken place nearly simultaneously in both families.
The two mothers could hardly distinguish their own offspring among the
lot, and as for the fathers, they were altogether at sea. The eight
names danced in their heads; they were always getting them mixed up; and
when they wished to call one child, the men often called three names
before getting the right one.
The first of the two cottages, as you came up from the bathing beach,
Rolleport, was occupied by the Tuvaches, who had three girls and one boy;
the other house sheltered the Vallins, who had one girl and three boys.
They all subsisted frugally on soup, potatoes and fresh air. At seven
o'clock in the morning, then at noon, then at six o'clock in the evening,
the housewives got their broods together to give them their food, as the
gooseherds collect their charges. The children were seated, according to
age, before the wooden table, varnished by fifty years of use; the mouths
of the youngest hardly reaching the level of the table. Before them was
placed a bowl filled with bread, soaked in the water in which the
potatoes had been boiled, half a cabbage and three onions; and the whole
line ate until their hunger was appeased. The mother herself fed the
A small pot roast on Sunday was a feast for all; and the father on this
day sat longer over the meal, repeating: "I wish we could have this every
One afternoon, in the month of August, a phaeton stopped suddenly in
front of the cottages, and a young woman, who was driving the horses,
said to the gentleman sitting at her side:
"Oh, look at all those children, Henri! How pretty they are, tumbling
about in the dust, like that!"
The man did not answer, accustomed to these outbursts of admiration,
which were a pain and almost a reproach to him. The young woman
"I must hug them! Oh, how I should like to have one of them--that one
there--the little tiny one!"
Springing down from the carriage, she ran toward the children, took one
of the two youngest--a Tuvache child--and lifting it up in her arms, she
kissed him passionately on his dirty cheeks, on his tousled hair daubed
with earth, and on his little hands, with which he fought vigorously, to
get away from the caresses which displeased him.
Then she got into the carriage again, and drove off at a lively trot.
But she returned the following week, and seating herself on the ground,
took the youngster in her arms, stuffed him with cakes; gave candies to
all the others, and played with them like a young girl, while the husband
waited patiently in the carriage.
She returned again; made the acquaintance of the parents, and reappeared
every day with her pockets full of dainties and pennies.
Her name was Madame Henri d'Hubieres.
One morning, on arriving, her husband alighted with her, and without
stopping to talk to the children, who now knew her well, she entered the
They were busy chopping wood for the fire. They rose to their feet in
surprise, brought forward chairs, and waited expectantly.
Then the woman, in a broken, trembling voice, began:
"My good people, I have come to see you, because I should like--I should
like to take--your little boy with me--"
The country people, too bewildered to think, did not answer.
She recovered her breath, and continued: "We are alone, my husband and I.
We would keep it. Are you willing?"
The peasant woman began to understand. She asked:
"You want to take Charlot from us? Oh, no, indeed!"
Then M. d'Hubieres intervened:
"My wife has not made her meaning clear. We wish to adopt him, but he
will come back to see you. If he turns out well, as there is every
reason to expect, he will be our heir. If we, perchance, should have
children, he will share equally with them; but if he should not reward
our care, we should give him, when he comes of age, a sum of twenty
thousand francs, which shall be deposited immediately in his name, with
a lawyer. As we have thought also of you, we should pay you, until your
death, a pension of one hundred francs a month. Do you understand me?"
The woman had arisen, furious.
"You want me to sell you Charlot? Oh, no, that's not the sort of thing
to ask of a mother! Oh, no! That would be an abomination!"
The man, grave and deliberate, said nothing; but approved of what his
wife said by a continued nodding of his head.
Madame d'Hubieres, in dismay, began to weep; turning to her husband, with
a voice full of tears, the voice of a child used to having all its wishes
gratified, she stammered:
"They will not do it, Henri, they will not do it."
Then he made a last attempt: "But, my friends, think of the child's
future, of his happiness, of--"
The peasant woman, however, exasperated, cut him short:
"It's all considered! It's all understood! Get out of here, and don't
let me see you again--the idea of wanting to take away a child like
Madame d'Hubieres remembered that there were two children, quite little,
and she asked, through her tears, with the tenacity of a wilful and
"But is the other little one not yours?"
Father Tuvache answered: "No, it is our neighbors'. You can go to them
if you wish." And he went back into his house, whence resounded the
indignant voice of his wife.
The Vallins were at table, slowly eating slices of bread which they
parsimoniously spread with a little rancid butter on a plate between the
M. d'Hubieres recommenced his proposals, but with more insinuations, more
oratorical precautions, more shrewdness.
The two country people shook their heads, in sign of refusal, but when
they learned that they were to have a hundred francs a month, they
considered the matter, consulting one another by glances, much disturbed.
They kept silent for a long time, tortured, hesitating. At last the
woman asked: "What do you say to it, man?" In a weighty tone he said:
"I say that it's not to be despised."
Madame d'Hubieres, trembling with anguish, spoke of the future of their
child, of his happiness, and of the money which he could give them later.
The peasant asked: "This pension of twelve hundred francs, will it be
promised before a lawyer?"
M. d'Hubieres responded: "Why, certainly, beginning with to-morrow."
The woman, who was thinking it over, continued:
"A hundred francs a month is not enough to pay for depriving us of the
child. That child would be working in a few years; we must have a
hundred and twenty francs."
Tapping her foot with impatience, Madame d'Hubieres granted it at once,
and, as she wished to carry off the child with her, she gave a hundred
francs extra, as a present, while her husband drew up a paper. And the
young woman, radiant, carried off the howling brat, as one carries away a
wished-for knick-knack from a shop.
The Tuvaches, from their door, watched her departure, silent, serious,
perhaps regretting their refusal.
Nothing more was heard of little Jean Vallin. The parents went to the
lawyer every month to collect their hundred and twenty francs. They had
quarrelled with their neighbors, because Mother Tuvache grossly insulted
them, continually, repeating from door to door that one must be unnatural
to sell one's child; that it was horrible, disgusting, bribery.
Sometimes she would take her Charlot in her arms, ostentatiously
exclaiming, as if he understood:
"I didn't sell you, I didn't! I didn't sell you, my little one! I'm not
rich, but I don't sell my children!"
The Vallins lived comfortably, thanks to the pension. That was the cause
of the unappeasable fury of the Tuvaches, who had remained miserably
poor. Their eldest went away to serve his time in the army; Charlot
alone remained to labor with his old father, to support the mother and
two younger sisters.
He had reached twenty-one years when, one morning, a brilliant carriage
stopped before the two cottages. A young gentleman, with a gold watch-
chain, got out, giving his hand to an aged, white-haired lady. The old
lady said to him: "It is there, my child, at the second house." And he
entered the house of the Vallins as though at home.
The old mother was washing her aprons; the infirm father slumbered at the
chimney-corner. Both raised their heads, and the young man said:
"Good-morning, papa; good-morning, mamma!"
They both stood up, frightened! In a flutter, the peasant woman dropped
her soap into the water, and stammered:
"Is it you, my child? Is it you, my child?"
He took her in his arms and hugged her, repeating: "Good-morning, mamma,"
while the old man, all a-tremble, said, in his calm tone which he never
lost: "Here you are, back again, Jean," as if he had just seen him a
When they had got to know one another again, the parents wished to take
their boy out in the neighborhood, and show him. They took him to the
mayor, to the deputy, to the cure, and to the schoolmaster.
Charlot, standing on the threshold of his cottage, watched him pass.
In the evening, at supper, he said to the old people: "You must have been
stupid to let the Vallins' boy be taken."
The mother answered, obstinately: "I wouldn't sell my child."
The father remained silent. The son continued:
"It is unfortunate to be sacrificed like that."
Then Father Tuvache, in an angry tone, said:
"Are you going to reproach us for having kept you?" And the young man
"Yes, I reproach you for having been such fools. Parents like you make
the misfortune of their children. You deserve that I should leave you."
The old woman wept over her plate. She moaned, as she swallowed the
spoonfuls of soup, half of which she spilled: "One may kill one's self to
bring up children!"
Then the boy said, roughly: "I'd rather not have been born than be what I
am. When I saw the other, my heart stood still. I said to myself: 'See
what I should have been now!'" He got up: "See here, I feel that I would
do better not to stay here, because I would throw it up to you from
morning till night, and I would make your life miserable. I'll never
forgive you for that!"
The two old people were silent, downcast, in tears.
He continued: "No, the thought of that would be too much. I'd rather
look for a living somewhere else."
He opened the door. A sound of voices came in at the door. The Vallins
were celebrating the return of their child.
In society he was called "Handsome Signoles." His name was Vicomte
Gontran-Joseph de Signoles.
An orphan, and possessed of an ample fortune, he cut quite a dash, as it
is called. He had an attractive appearance and manner, could talk well,
had a certain inborn elegance, an air of pride and nobility, a good
mustache, and a tender eye, that always finds favor with women.
He was in great request at receptions, waltzed to perfection, and was
regarded by his own sex with that smiling hostility accorded to the
popular society man. He had been suspected of more than one love affair,
calculated to enhance the reputation of a bachelor. He lived a happy,
peaceful life--a life of physical and mental well-being. He had won
considerable fame as a swordsman, and still more as a marksman.
"When the time comes for me to fight a duel," he said, "I shall choose
pistols. With such a weapon I am sure to kill my man."
One evening, having accompanied two women friends of his with their
husbands to the theatre, he invited them to take some ice cream at
Tortoni's after the performance. They had been seated a few minutes in
the restaurant when Signoles noticed that a man was staring persistently
at one of the ladies. She seemed annoyed, and lowered her eyes. At last
she said to her husband:
"There's a man over there looking at me. I don't know him; do you?"
The husband, who had noticed nothing, glanced across at the offender, and
"No; not in the least."
His wife continued, half smiling, half angry:
"It's very tiresome! He quite spoils my ice cream."
The husband shrugged his shoulders.
"Nonsense! Don't take any notice of him. If we were to bother our heads
about all the ill-mannered people we should have no time for anything
But the vicomte abruptly left his seat. He could not allow this insolent
fellow to spoil an ice for a guest of his. It was for him to take
cognizance of the offence, since it was through him that his friends had
come to the restaurant. He went across to the man and said:
"Sir, you are staring at those ladies in a manner I cannot permit. I
must ask you to desist from your rudeness."
The other replied:
"Let me alone, will you!"
"Take care, sir," said the vicomte between his teeth, "or you will force
me to extreme measures."
The man replied with a single word--a foul word, which could be heard
from one end of the restaurant to the other, and which startled every one
there. All those whose backs were toward the two disputants turned
round; all the others raised their heads; three waiters spun round on
their heels like tops; the two lady cashiers jumped, as if shot, then
turned their bodies simultaneously, like two automata worked by the same
There was dead silence. Then suddenly a sharp, crisp sound. The vicomte
had slapped his adversary's face. Every one rose to interfere. Cards
When the vicomte reached home he walked rapidly up and down his room for
some minutes. He was in a state of too great agitation to think
connectedly. One idea alone possessed him: a duel. But this idea
aroused in him as yet no emotion of any kind. He had done what he was
bound to do; he had proved himself to be what he ought to be. He would
be talked about, approved, congratulated. He repeated aloud, speaking as
one does when under the stress of great mental disturbance:
"What a brute of a man!" Then he sat down, and began to reflect. He
would have to find seconds as soon as morning came. Whom should he
choose? He bethought himself of the most influential and best-known men
of his acquaintance. His choice fell at last on the Marquis de la Tour-
Noire and Colonel Bourdin-a nobleman and a soldier. That would be just
the thing. Their names would carry weight in the newspapers. He was
thirsty, and drank three glasses of water, one after another; then he
walked up and down again. If he showed himself brave, deter mined,
prepared to face a duel in deadly earnest, his adversary would probably
draw back and proffer excuses. He picked up the card he had taken from
his pocket and thrown on a table. He read it again, as he had already
read it, first at a glance in the restaurant, and afterward on the way
home in the light of each gas lamp: "Georges Lamil, 51 Rue Moncey." That
He examined closely this collection of letters, which seemed to him
mysterious, fraught with many meanings. Georges Lamil! Who was the man?
What was his profession? Why had he stared so at the woman? Was it not
monstrous that a stranger, an unknown, should thus all at once upset
one's whole life, simply because it had pleased him to stare rudely at a
woman? And the vicomte once more repeated aloud:
"What a brute!"
Then he stood motionless, thinking, his eyes still fixed on the card.
Anger rose in his heart against this scrap of paper--a resentful anger,
mingled with a strange sense of uneasiness. It was a stupid business
altogether! He took up a penknife which lay open within reach, and
deliberately stuck it into the middle of the printed name, as if he were
stabbing some one.
So he would have to fight! Should he choose swords or pistols?--for he
considered himself as the insulted party. With the sword he would risk
less, but with the pistol there was some chance of his adversary backing
out. A duel with swords is rarely fatal, since mutual prudence prevents
the combatants from fighting close enough to each other for a point to
enter very deep. With pistols he would seriously risk his life; but, on
the other hand, he might come out of the affair with flying colors, and
without a duel, after all.
"I must be firm," he said. "The fellow will be afraid."
The sound of his own voice startled him, and he looked nervously round
the room. He felt unstrung. He drank another glass of water, and then
began undressing, preparatory to going to bed.
As soon as he was in bed he blew out the light and shut his eyes.
"I have all day to-morrow," he reflected, "for setting my affairs in
order. I must sleep now, in order to be calm when the time comes."
He was very warm in bed, but he could not succeed in losing
consciousness. He tossed and turned, remained for five minutes lying on
his back, then changed to his left side, then rolled over to his right.
He was thirsty again, and rose to drink. Then a qualm seized him:
"Can it be possible that I am afraid?"
Why did his heart beat so uncontrollably at every well-known sound in his
room? When the clock was about to strike, the prefatory grating of its
spring made him start, and for several seconds he panted for breath, so
unnerved was he.
He began to reason with himself on the possibility of such a thing:
"Could I by any chance be afraid?"
No, indeed; he could not be afraid, since he was resolved to proceed to
the last extremity, since he was irrevocably determined to fight without
flinching. And yet he was so perturbed in mind and body that he asked
"Is it possible to be afraid in spite of one's self?"
And this doubt, this fearful question, took possession of him. If an
irresistible power, stronger than his own will, were to quell his
courage, what would happen? He would certainly go to the place
appointed; his will would force him that far. But supposing, when there,
he were to tremble or faint? And he thought of his social standing, his
reputation, his name.
And he suddenly determined to get up and look at himself in the glass.
He lighted his candle. When he saw his face reflected in the mirror he
scarcely recognized it. He seemed to see before him a man whom he did
not know. His eyes looked disproportionately large, and he was very
He remained standing before the mirror. He put out his tongue, as if to
examine the state of his health, and all at once the thought flashed into
"At this time the day after to-morrow I may be dead."
And his heart throbbed painfully.
"At this time the day after to-morrow I may be dead. This person in
front of me, this 'I' whom I see in the glass, will perhaps be no more.
What! Here I am, I look at myself, I feel myself to be alive--and yet in
twenty-four hours I may be lying on that bed, with closed eyes, dead,
He turned round, and could see himself distinctly lying on his back on
the couch he had just quitted. He had the hollow face and the limp hands
Then he became afraid of his bed, and to avoid seeing it went to his
smoking-room. He mechanically took a cigar, lighted it, and began
walking back and forth. He was cold; he took a step toward the bell, to
wake his valet, but stopped with hand raised toward the bell rope.
"He would see that I am afraid!"
And, instead of ringing, he made a fire himself. His hands quivered
nervously as they touched various objects. His head grew dizzy, his
thoughts confused, disjointed, painful; a numbness seized his spirit, as
if he had been drinking.
And all the time he kept on saying:
"What shall I do? What will become of me?"
His whole body trembled spasmodically; he rose, and, going to the window,
drew back the curtains.
The day--a summer day-was breaking. The pink sky cast a glow on the
city, its roofs, and its walls. A flush of light enveloped the awakened
world, like a caress from the rising sun, and the glimmer of dawn kindled
new hope in the breast of the vicomte. What a fool he was to let himself
succumb to fear before anything was decided--before his seconds had
interviewed those of Georges Lamil, before he even knew whether he would
have to fight or not!
He bathed, dressed, and left the house with a firm step.
He repeated as he went:
"I must be firm--very firm. I must show that I am not afraid."
His seconds, the marquis and the colonel, placed themselves at his
disposal, and, having shaken him warmly by the hand, began to discuss
"You want a serious duel?" asked the colonel.
"Yes--quite serious," replied the vicomte.
"You insist on pistols?" put in the marquis.
"Do you leave all the other arrangements in our hands?"
With a dry, jerky voice the vicomte answered:
"Twenty paces--at a given signal--the arm to be raised, not lowered--
shots to be exchanged until one or other is seriously wounded."
"Excellent conditions," declared the colonel in a satisfied tone. "You
are a good shot; all the chances are in your favor."
And they parted. The vicomte returned home to, wait for them. His
agitation, only temporarily allayed, now increased momentarily. He felt,
in arms, legs and chest, a sort of trembling--a continuous vibration; he
could not stay still, either sitting or standing. His mouth was parched,
and he made every now and then a clicking movement of the tongue, as if
to detach it from his palate.
He attempted, to take luncheon, but could not eat. Then it occurred to
him to seek courage in drink, and he sent for a decanter of rum, of which
he swallowed, one after another, six small glasses.
A burning warmth, followed by a deadening of the mental faculties,
ensued. He said to himself:
"I know how to manage. Now it will be all right!"
But at the end of an hour he had emptied the decanter, and his agitation
was worse than ever. A mad longing possessed him to throw himself on the
ground, to bite, to scream. Night fell.
A ring at the bell so unnerved him that he had not the strength to rise
to receive his seconds.
He dared not even to speak to them, wish them good-day, utter a single
word, lest his changed voice should betray him.
"All is arranged as you wished," said the colonel. "Your adversary
claimed at first the privilege of the offended part; but he yielded
almost at once, and accepted your conditions. His seconds are two
"Thank you," said the vicomte.
The marquis added:
"Please excuse us if we do not stay now, for we have a good deal to see
to yet. We shall want a reliable doctor, since the duel is not to end
until a serious wound has been inflicted; and you know that bullets are
not to be trifled with. We must select a spot near some house to which
the wounded party can be carried if necessary. In fact, the arrangements
will take us another two or three hours at least."
The vicomte articulated for the second time:
"You're all right?" asked the colonel. "Quite calm?"
"Perfectly calm, thank you."
The two men withdrew.
When he was once more alone he felt as though he should go mad. His
servant having lighted the lamps, he sat down at his table to write some
letters. When he had traced at the top of a sheet of paper the words:
"This is my last will and testament," he started from his seat, feeling
himself incapable of connected thought, of decision in regard to
So he was going to fight! He could no longer avoid it. What, then,
possessed him? He wished to fight, he was fully determined to fight, and
yet, in spite of all his mental effort, in spite of the exertion of all
his will power, he felt that he could not even preserve the strength
necessary to carry him through the ordeal. He tried to conjure up a
picture of the duel, his own attitude, and that of his enemy.
Every now and then his teeth chattered audibly. He thought he would
read, and took down Chateauvillard's Rules of Dueling. Then he said:
"Is the other man practiced in the use of the pistol? Is he well known?
How can I find out?"
He remembered Baron de Vaux's book on marksmen, and searched it from end
to end. Georges Lamil was not mentioned. And yet, if he were not an
adept, would he have accepted without demur such a dangerous weapon and
such deadly conditions?
He opened a case of Gastinne Renettes which stood on a small table, and
took from it a pistol. Next he stood in the correct attitude for firing,
and raised his arm. But he was trembling from head to foot, and the
weapon shook in his grasp.
Then he said to himself:
"It is impossible. I cannot fight like this."
He looked at the little black, death-spitting hole at the end of the
pistol; he thought of dishonor, of the whispers at the clubs, the smiles
in his friends' drawing-rooms, the contempt of women, the veiled sneers
of the newspapers, the insults that would be hurled at him by cowards.
He still looked at the weapon, and raising the hammer, saw the glitter of
the priming below it. The pistol had been left loaded by some chance,
some oversight. And the discovery rejoiced him, he knew not why.
If he did not maintain, in presence of his opponent, the steadfast
bearing which was so necessary to his honor, he would be ruined forever.
He would be branded, stigmatized as a coward, hounded out of society!
And he felt, he knew, that he could not maintain that calm, unmoved
demeanor. And yet he was brave, since the thought that followed was not
even rounded to a finish in his mind; but, opening his mouth wide, he
suddenly plunged the barrel of the pistol as far back as his throat, and
pressed the trigger.
When the valet, alarmed at the report, rushed into the room he found his
master lying dead upon his back. A spurt of blood had splashed the white
paper on the table, and had made a great crimson stain beneath the words:
"This is my last will and testament."
In the office old Mongilet was considered a type. He was a good old
employee, who had never been outside Paris but once in his life.
It was the end of July, and each of us, every Sunday, went to roll in the
grass, or soak in the water in the country near by. Asnieres,
Argenteuil, Chatou, Borgival, Maisons, Poissy, had their habitues and
their ardent admirers. We argued about the merits and advantages of all
these places, celebrated and delightful to all Parsian employees.
Daddy Mongilet declared:
"You are like a lot of sheep! It must be pretty, this country you talk
"Well, how about you, Mongilet? Don't you ever go on an excursion?"
"Yes, indeed. I go in an omnibus. When I have had a good luncheon,
without any hurry, at the wine shop down there, I look up my route with a
plan of Paris, and the time table of the lines and connections. And then
I climb up on the box, open my umbrella and off we go. Oh, I see lots of
things, more than you, I bet! I change my surroundings. It is as though
I were taking a journey across the world, the people are so different in
one street and another. I know my Paris better than anyone. And then,
there is nothing more amusing than the entresols. You would not believe
what one sees in there at a glance. One guesses at domestic scenes
simply at sight of the face of a man who is roaring; one is amused on
passing by a barber's shop, to see the barber leave his customer whose
face is covered with lather to look out in the street. One exchanges
heartfelt glances with the milliners just for fun, as one has no time to
alight. Ah, how many things one sees!
"It is the drama, the real, the true, the drama of nature, seen as the
horses trot by. Heavens! I would not give my excursions in the omnibus
for all your stupid excursions in the woods."
"Come and try it, Mongilet, come to the country once just to see."
"I was there once," he replied, "twenty years ago, and you will never
catch me there again."
"Tell us about it, Mongilet."
"If you wish to hear it. This is how it was:
"You knew Boivin, the old editorial clerk, whom we called Boileau?"
"He was my office chum. The rascal had a house at Colombes and always
invited me to spend Sunday with him. He would say:
"'Come along, Maculotte [he called me Maculotte for fun]. You will see
what a nice excursion we will take.'
"I let myself be entrapped like an animal, and set out, one morning by
the 8 o'clock train. I arrived at a kind of town, a country town where
there is nothing to see, and I at length found my way to an old wooden
door with an iron bell, at the end of an alley between two walls.
"I rang, and waited a long time, and at last the door was opened. What
was it that opened it? I could not tell at the first glance. A woman or
an ape? The creature was old, ugly, covered with old clothes that looked
dirty and wicked. It had chicken's feathers in its hair and looked as
though it would devour me.
"'What do you want?' she said.