Part 1 out of 3
This etext was produced by David Widger
ORIGINAL SHORT STORIES, Vol. 8.
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
THE LEGION OF HONOR
FOUND ON A DROWNED MAN
MY UNCLE JULES
THE FISHING HOLE
IN THE WOOD
A PIECE OF STRING
How strange those old recollections are which haunt us, without our being
able to get rid of them.
This one is so very old that I cannot understand how it has clung so
vividly and tenaciously to my memory. Since then I have seen so many
sinister things, which were either affecting or terrible, that I am
astonished at not being able to pass a single day without the face of
Mother Bellflower recurring to my mind's eye, just as I knew her
formerly, now so long ago, when I was ten or twelve years old.
She was an old seamstress who came to my parents' house once a week,
every Thursday, to mend the linen. My parents lived in one of those
country houses called chateaux, which are merely old houses with gable
roofs, to which are attached three or four farms lying around them.
The village, a large village, almost a market town, was a few hundred
yards away, closely circling the church, a red brick church, black with
Well, every Thursday Mother Clochette came between half-past six and
seven in the morning, and went immediately into the linen-room and began
to work. She was a tall, thin, bearded or rather hairy woman, for she
had a beard all over her face, a surprising, an unexpected beard, growing
in improbable tufts, in curly bunches which looked as if they had been
sown by a madman over that great face of a gendarme in petticoats. She
had them on her nose, under her nose, round her nose, on her chin, on her
cheeks; and her eyebrows, which were extraordinarily thick and long, and
quite gray, bushy and bristling, looked exactly like a pair of mustaches
stuck on there by mistake.
She limped, not as lame people generally do, but like a ship at anchor.
When she planted her great, bony, swerving body on her sound leg, she
seemed to be preparing to mount some enormous wave, and then suddenly she
dipped as if to disappear in an abyss, and buried herself in the ground.
Her walk reminded one of a storm, as she swayed about, and her head,
which was always covered with an enormous white cap, whose ribbons
fluttered down her back, seemed to traverse the horizon from north to
south and from south to north, at each step.
I adored Mother Clochette. As soon as I was up I went into the linen-
room where I found her installed at work, with a foot-warmer under her
feet. As soon as I arrived, she made me take the foot-warmer and sit
upon it, so that I might not catch cold in that large, chilly room under
"That draws the blood from your throat," she said to me.
She told me stories, whilst mending the linen with her long crooked
nimble fingers; her eyes behind her magnifying spectacles, for age had
impaired her sight, appeared enormous to me, strangely profound, double.
She had, as far as I can remember the things which she told me and by
which my childish heart was moved, the large heart of a poor woman. She
told me what had happened in the village, how a cow had escaped from the
cow-house and had been found the next morning in front of Prosper Malet's
windmill, looking at the sails turning, or about a hen's egg which had
been found in the church belfry without any one being able to understand
what creature had been there to lay it, or the story of Jean-Jean Pila's
dog, who had been ten leagues to bring back his master's breeches which a
tramp had stolen whilst they were hanging up to dry out of doors, after
he had been in the rain. She told me these simple adventures in such a
manner, that in my mind they assumed the proportions of never-to-be
-forgotten dramas, of grand and mysterious poems; and the ingenious
stories invented by the poets which my mother told me in the evening, had
none of the flavor, none of the breadth or vigor of the peasant woman's
Well, one Tuesday, when I had spent all the morning in listening to
Mother Clochette, I wanted to go upstairs to her again during the day
after picking hazelnuts with the manservant in the wood behind the farm.
I remember it all as clearly as what happened only yesterday.
On opening the door of the linen-room, I saw the old seamstress lying on
the ground by the side of her chair, with her face to the ground and her
arms stretched out, but still holding her needle in one hand and one of
my shirts in the other. One of her legs in a blue stocking, the longer
one, no doubt, was extended under her chair, and her spectacles glistened
against the wall, as they had rolled away from her.
I ran away uttering shrill cries. They all came running, and in a few
minutes I was told that Mother Clochette was dead.
I cannot describe the profound, poignant, terrible emotion which stirred
my childish heart. I went slowly down into the drawing-room and hid
myself in a dark corner, in the depths of an immense old armchair, where
I knelt down and wept. I remained there a long time, no doubt, for night
came on. Suddenly somebody came in with a lamp, without seeing me,
however, and I heard my father and mother talking with the medical man,
whose voice I recognized.
He had been sent for immediately, and he was explaining the causes of the
accident, of which I understood nothing, however. Then he sat down and
had a glass of liqueur and a biscuit.
He went on talking, and what he then said will remain engraved on my mind
until I die! I think that I can give the exact words which he used.
"Ah!" said he, "the poor woman! She broke her leg the day of my arrival
here, and I had not even had time to wash my hands after getting off the
diligence before I was sent for in all haste, for it was a bad case, very
"She was seventeen, and a pretty girl, very pretty! Would any one
believe it? I have never told her story before, and nobody except myself
and one other person who is no longer living in this part of the country
ever knew it. Now that she is dead, I may be less discreet.
"Just then a young assistant-teacher came to live in the village; he was
a handsome, well-made fellow, and looked like a non-commissioned officer.
All the girls ran after him, but he paid no attention to them, partly
because he was very much afraid of his superior, the schoolmaster, old
Grabu, who occasionally got out of bed the wrong foot first.
"Old Grabu already employed pretty Hortense who has just died here, and
who was afterwards nicknamed Clochette. The assistant master singled out
the pretty young girl, who was, no doubt, flattered at being chosen by
this impregnable conqueror; at any rate, she fell in love with him, and
he succeeded in persuading her to give him a first meeting in the hay-
loft behind the school, at night, after she had done her day's sewing.
"She pretended to go home, but instead of going downstairs when she left
the Grabus' she went upstairs and hid among the hay, to wait for her
lover. He soon joined her, and was beginning to say pretty things to
her, when the door of the hay-loft opened and the schoolmaster appeared,
and asked: 'What are you doing up there, Sigisbert?' Feeling sure that
he would be caught, the young schoolmaster lost his presence of mind and
replied stupidly: 'I came up here to rest a little amongst the bundles of
hay, Monsieur Grabu.'
"The loft was very large and absolutely dark, and Sigisbert pushed the
frightened girl to the further end and said: 'Go over there and hide
yourself. I shall lose my position, so get away and hide yourself.'
"When the schoolmaster heard the whispering, he continued: 'Why, you are
not by yourself?' 'Yes, I am, Monsieur Grabu!' 'But you are not, for you
are talking.' 'I swear I am, Monsieur Grabu.' 'I will soon find out,' the
old man replied, and double locking the door, he went down to get a
"Then the young man, who was a coward such as one frequently meets, lost
his head, and becoming furious all of a sudden, he repeated: 'Hide
yourself, so that he may not find you. You will keep me from making a
living for the rest of my life; you will ruin my whole career. Do hide
yourself!' They could hear the key turning in the lock again, and
Hortense ran to the window which looked out on the street, opened it
quickly, and then said in a low and determined voice: 'You will come and
pick me up when he is gone,' and she jumped out.
"Old Grabu found nobody, and went down again in great surprise, and a
quarter of an hour later, Monsieur Sigisbert came to me and related his
adventure. The girl had remained at the foot of the wall unable to get
up, as she had fallen from the second story, and I went with him to fetch
her. It was raining in torrents, and I brought the unfortunate girl home
with me, for the right leg was broken in three places, and the bones had
come trough the flesh. She did not complain, and merely said, with
admirable resignation: 'I am punished, well punished!'
"I sent for assistance and for the work-girl's relatives and told them a,
made-up story of a runaway carriage which had knocked her down and lamed
her outside my door. They believed me, and the gendarmes for a whole
month tried in vain to find the author of this accident.
"That is all! And I say that this woman was a heroine and belonged to
the race of those who accomplish the grandest deeds of history.
"That was her only love affair, and she died a virgin. She was a martyr,
a noble soul, a sublimely devoted woman! And if I did not absolutely
admire her, I should not have told you this story, which I would never
tell any one during her life; you understand why."
The doctor ceased. Mamma cried and papa said some words which I did not
catch; then they left the room and I remained on my knees in the armchair
and sobbed, whilst I heard a strange noise of heavy footsteps and
something knocking against the side of the staircase.
They were carrying away Clochette's body.
My Little Darling: So you are crying from morning until night and from
night until morning, because your husband leaves you; you do not know
what to do and so you ask your old aunt for advice; you must consider her
quite an expert. I don't know as much as you think I do, and yet I am
not entirely ignorant of the art of loving, or, rather, of making one's
self loved, in which you are a little lacking. I can admit that at my
You say that you are all attention, love, kisses and caresses for him.
Perhaps that is the very trouble; I think you kiss him too much.
My dear, we have in our hands the most terrible power in the world: LOVE.
Man is gifted with physical strength, and he exercises force. Woman is
gifted with charm, and she rules with caresses. It is our weapon,
formidable and invincible, but we should know how to use it.
Know well that we are the mistresses of the world! To tell the history
of Love from the beginning of the world would be to tell the history of
man himself: Everything springs from it, the arts, great events, customs,
wars, the overthrow of empires.
In the Bible you find Delila, Judith; in fables we find Omphale, Helen;
in history the Sabines, Cleopatra and many others.
Therefore we reign supreme, all-powerful. But, like kings, we must make
use of delicate diplomacy.
Love, my dear, is made up of imperceptible sensations. We know that it
is as strong as death, but also as frail as glass. The slightest shock
breaks it, and our power crumbles, and we are never able to raise it
We have the power of making ourselves adored, but we lack one tiny thing,
the understanding of the various kinds of caresses. In embraces we lose
the sentiment of delicacy, while the man over whom we rule remains master
of himself, capable of judging the foolishness of certain words. Take
care, my dear; that is the defect in our armor. It is our Achilles'
Do you know whence comes our real power? From the kiss, the kiss alone!
When we know how to hold out and give up our lips we can become queens.
The kiss is only a preface, however, but a charming preface. More
charming than the realization itself. A preface which can always be read
over again, whereas one cannot always read over the book.
Yes, the meeting of lips is the most perfect, the most divine sensation
given to human beings, the supreme limit of happiness: It is in the kiss
alone that one sometimes seems to feel this union of souls after which we
strive, the intermingling of hearts, as it were.
Do you remember the verses of Sully-Prudhomme:
Caresses are nothing but anxious bliss,
Vain attempts of love to unite souls through a kiss.
One caress alone gives this deep sensation of two beings welded into one
--it is the kiss. No violent delirium of complete possession is worth
this trembling approach of the lips, this first moist and fresh contact,
and then the long, lingering, motionless rapture.
Therefore, my dear, the kiss is our strongest weapon, but we must take
care not to dull it. Do not forget that its value is only relative,
purely conventional. It continually changes according to circumstances,
the state of expectancy and the ecstasy of the mind. I will call
attention to one example.
Another poet, Francois Coppee, has written a line which we all remember,
a line which we find delightful, which moves our very hearts.
After describing the expectancy of a lover, waiting in a room one
winter's evening, his anxiety, his nervous impatience, the terrible fear
of not seeing her, he describes the arrival of the beloved woman, who at
last enters hurriedly, out of breath, bringing with her part of the
winter breeze, and he exclaims:
Oh! the taste of the kisses first snatched through the veil.
Is that not a line of exquisite sentiment, a delicate and charming
observation, a perfect truth? All those who have hastened to a
clandestine meeting, whom passion has thrown into the arms of a man, well
do they know these first delicious kisses through the veil; and they
tremble at the memory of them. And yet their sole charm lies in the
circumstances, from being late, from the anxious expectancy, but from the
purely--or, rather, impurely, if you prefer--sensual point of view, they
Think! Outside it is cold. The young woman has walked quickly; the veil
is moist from her cold breath. Little drops of water shine in the lace.
The lover seizes her and presses his burning lips to her liquid breath.
The moist veil, which discolors and carries the dreadful odor of chemical
dye, penetrates into the young man's mouth, moistens his mustache. He
does not taste the lips of his beloved, he tastes the dye of this lace
moistened with cold breath. And yet, like the poet, we would all
Oh! the taste of the kisses first snatched through the veil.
Therefore, the value of this caress being entirely a matter of
convention, we must be careful not to abuse it.
Well, my dear, I have several times noticed that you are very clumsy.
However, you were not alone in that fault; the majority of women lose
their authority by abusing the kiss with untimely kisses. When they feel
that their husband or their lover is a little tired, at those times when
the heart as well as the body needs rest, instead of understanding what
is going on within him, they persist in giving inopportune caresses, tire
him by the obstinacy of begging lips and give caresses lavished with
neither rhyme nor reason.
Trust in the advice of my experience. First, never kiss your husband in
public, in the train, at the restaurant. It is bad taste; do not give in
to your desires. He would feel ridiculous and would never forgive you.
Beware of useless kisses lavished in intimacy. I am sure that you abuse
them. For instance, I remember one day that you did something quite
shocking. Probably you do not remember it.
All three of us were together in the drawing-room, and, as you did not
stand on ceremony before me, your husband was holding you on his knees
and kissing you at great length on the neck, the lips and throat.
Suddenly you exclaimed: "Oh! the fire!" You had been paying no attention
to it, and it was almost out. A few lingering embers were glowing on the
hearth. Then he rose, ran to the woodbox, from which he dragged two
enormous logs with great difficulty, when you came to him with begging
"Kiss me!" He turned his head with difficulty and tried to hold up the
logs at the same time. Then you gently and slowly placed your mouth on
that of the poor fellow, who remained with his neck out of joint, his
sides twisted, his arms almost dropping off, trembling with fatigue and
tired from his desperate effort. And you kept drawing out this torturing
kiss, without seeing or understanding. Then when you freed him, you
began to grumble: "How badly you kiss!" No wonder!
Oh, take care of that! We all have this foolish habit, this unconscious
need of choosing the most inconvenient moments. When he is carrying a
glass of water, when he is putting on his shoes, when he is tying his
scarf--in short, when he finds himself in any uncomfortable position--
then is the time which we choose for a caress which makes him stop for a
whole minute in the middle of a gesture with the sole desire of getting
rid of us!
Do not think that this criticism is insignificant. Love, my dear, is a
delicate thing. The least little thing offends it; know that everything
depends on the tact of our caresses. An ill-placed kiss may do any
amount of harm.
Try following my advice.
Your old aunt,
This story appeared in the Gaulois in November, 1882, under the pseudonym
THE LEGION OF HONOR
HOW HE GOT THE LEGION OF HONOR
From the time some people begin to talk they seem to have an
overmastering desire or vocation.
Ever since he was a child, M. Caillard had only had one idea in his head-
to wear the ribbon of an order. When he was still quite a small boy he
used to wear a zinc cross of the Legion of Honor pinned on his tunic,
just as other children wear a soldier's cap, and he took his mother's
hand in the street with a proud air, sticking out his little chest with
its red ribbon and metal star so that it might show to advantage.
His studies were not a success, and he failed in his examination for
Bachelor of Arts; so, not knowing what to do, he married a pretty girl,
as he had plenty of money of his own.
They lived in Paris, as many rich middle-class people do, mixing with
their own particular set, and proud of knowing a deputy, who might
perhaps be a minister some day, and counting two heads of departments
among their friends.
But M. Caillard could not get rid of his one absorbing idea, and he felt
constantly unhappy because he had not the right to wear a little bit of
colored ribbon in his buttonhole.
When he met any men who were decorated on the boulevards, he looked at
them askance, with intense jealousy. Sometimes, when he had nothing to
do in the afternoon, he would count them, and say to himself: "Just let
me see how many I shall meet between the Madeleine and the Rue Drouot."
Then he would walk slowly, looking at every coat with a practiced eye for
the little bit of red ribbon, and when he had got to the end of his walk
he always repeated the numbers aloud.
"Eight officers and seventeen knights. As many as that! It is stupid to
sow the cross broadcast in that fashion. I wonder how many I shall meet
And he returned slowly, unhappy when the crowd of passers-by interfered
with his vision.
He knew the places where most were to be found. They swarmed in the
Palais Royal. Fewer were seen in the Avenue de l'Opera than in the Rue
de la Paix, while the right side of the boulevard was more frequented by
them than the left.
They also seemed to prefer certain cafes and theatres. Whenever he saw a
group of white-haired old gentlemen standing together in the middle of
the pavement, interfering with the traffic, he used to say to himself:
"They are officers of the Legion of Honor," and he felt inclined to take
off his hat to them.
He had often remarked that the officers had a different bearing to the
mere knights. They carried their head differently, and one felt that
they enjoyed a higher official consideration and a more widely extended
Sometimes, however, the worthy man would be seized with a furious hatred
for every one who was decorated; he felt like a Socialist toward them.
Then, when he got home, excited at meeting so many crosses--just as a
poor, hungry wretch might be on passing some dainty provision shop--he
used to ask in a loud voice:
"When shall we get rid of this wretched government?"
And his wife would be surprised, and ask:
"What is the matter with you to-day?"
"I am indignant," he replied, "at the injustice I see going on around us.
Oh, the Communards were certainly right!"
After dinner he would go out again and look at the shops where the
decorations were sold, and he examined all the emblems of various shapes
and colors. He would have liked to possess them all, and to have walked
gravely at the head of a procession, with his crush hat under his arm and
his breast covered with decorations, radiant as a star, amid a buzz of
admiring whispers and a hum of respect.
But, alas! he had no right to wear any decoration whatever.
He used to say to himself: "It is really too difficult for any man to
obtain the Legion of Honor unless he is some public functionary. Suppose
I try to be appointed an officer of the Academy!"
But he did not know how to set about it, and spoke on the subject to his
wife, who was stupefied.
"Officer of the Academy! What have you done to deserve it?"
He got angry. "I know what I am talking about. I only want to know how
to set about it. You are quite stupid at times."
She smiled. "You are quite right. I don't understand anything about
An idea struck him: "Suppose you were to speak to M. Rosselin, the
deputy; he might be able to advise me. You understand I cannot broach
the subject to him directly. It is rather difficult and delicate, but
coming from you it might seem quite natural."
Mme. Caillard did what he asked her, and M. Rosselin promised to speak to
the minister about it; and then Caillard began to worry him, till the
deputy told him he must make a formal application and put forward his
"What were his charms?" he said. "He was not even a Bachelor of Arts."
However, he set to work and produced a pamphlet, with the title, "The
People's Right to Instruction," but he could not finish it for want of
He sought for easier subjects, and began several in succession. The
first was, "The Instruction of Children by Means of the Eye." He wanted
gratuitous theatres to be established in every poor quarter of Paris for
little children. Their parents were to take them there when they were
quite young, and, by means of a magic lantern, all the notions of human
knowledge were to be imparted to them. There were to be regular courses.
The sight would educate the mind, while the pictures would remain
impressed on the brain, and thus science would, so to say, be made
visible. What could be more simple than to teach universal history,
natural history, geography, botany, zoology, anatomy, etc., etc., in this
He had his ideas printed in pamphlets, and sent a copy to each deputy,
ten to each minister, fifty to the President of the Republic, ten to each
Parisian, and five to each provincial newspaper.
Then he wrote on "Street Lending-Libraries." His idea was to have little
pushcarts full of books drawn about the streets. Everyone would have a
right to ten volumes a month in his home on payment of one sou.
"The people," M. Caillard said, "will only disturb itself for the sake of
its pleasures, and since it will not go to instruction, instruction must
come to it," etc., etc.
His essays attracted no attention, but he sent in his application, and he
got the usual formal official reply. He thought himself sure of success,
but nothing came of it.
Then he made up his mind to apply personally. He begged for an interview
with the Minister of Public Instruction, and he was received by a young
subordinate, who was very grave and important, and kept touching the
knobs of electric bells to summon ushers, and footmen, and officials
inferior to himself. He declared to M. Caillard that his matter was
going on quite favorably, and advised him to continue his remarkable
labors, and M. Caillard set at it again.
M. Rosselin, the deputy, seemed now to take a great interest in his
success, and gave him a lot of excellent, practical advice. He, himself,
was decorated, although nobody knew exactly what he had done to deserve
such a distinction.
He told Caillard what new studies he ought to undertake; he introduced
him to learned societies which took up particularly obscure points of
science, in the hope of gaining credit and honors thereby; and he even
took him under his wing at the ministry.
One day, when he came to lunch with his friend--for several months past
he had constantly taken his meals there--he said to him in a whisper as
he shook hands: "I have just obtained a great favor for you. The
Committee of Historical Works is going to intrust you with a commission.
There are some researches to be made in various libraries in France."
Caillard was so delighted that he could scarcely eat or drink, and a week
later he set out. He went from town to town, studying catalogues,
rummaging in lofts full of dusty volumes, and was hated by all the
One day, happening to be at Rouen, he thought he should like to go and
visit his wife, whom he had not seen for more than a week, so he took the
nine o'clock train, which would land him at home by twelve at night.
He had his latchkey, so he went in without making any noise, delighted at
the idea of the surprise he was going to give her. She had locked
herself in. How tiresome! However, he cried out through the door:
"Jeanne, it is I!"
She must have been very frightened, for he heard her jump out of her bed
and speak to herself, as if she were in a dream. Then she went to her
dressing room, opened and closed the door, and went quickly up and down
her room barefoot two or three times, shaking the furniture till the
vases and glasses sounded. Then at last she asked:
"Is it you, Alexander?"
"Yes, yes," he replied; "make haste and open the door."
As soon as she had done so, she threw herself into his arms, exclaiming:
"Oh, what a fright! What a surprise! What a pleasure!"
He began to undress himself methodically, as he did everything, and took
from a chair his overcoat, which he was in the habit of hanging up in the
hall. But suddenly he remained motionless, struck dumb with
astonishment--there was a red ribbon in the buttonhole:
"Why," he stammered, "this--this--this overcoat has got the ribbon in
In a second, his wife threw herself on him, and, taking it from his
hands, she said:
"No! you have made a mistake--give it to me."
But he still held it by one of the sleeves, without letting it go,
repeating in a half-dazed manner:
"Oh! Why? Just explain--Whose overcoat is it? It is not mine, as it
has the Legion of Honor on it."
She tried to take it from him, terrified and hardly able to say:
"Listen--listen! Give it to me! I must not tell you! It is a secret.
Listen to me!"
But he grew angry and turned pale.
"I want to know how this overcoat comes to be here? It does not belong
Then she almost screamed at him:
"Yes, it does; listen! Swear to me--well--you are decorated!"
She did not intend to joke at his expense.
He was so overcome that he let the overcoat fall and dropped into an
"I am--you say I am--decorated?"
"Yes, but it is a secret, a great secret."
She had put the glorious garment into a cupboard, and came to her husband
pale and trembling.
"Yes," she continued, "it is a new overcoat that I have had made for you.
But I swore that I would not tell you anything about it, as it will not
be officially announced for a month or six weeks, and you were not to
have known till your return from your business journey. M. Rosselin
managed it for you."
"Rosselin!" he contrived to utter in his joy. "He has obtained the
decoration for me? He--Oh!"
And he was obliged to drink a glass of water.
A little piece of white paper fell to the floor out of the pocket of the
overcoat. Caillard picked it up; it was a visiting card, and he read
"You see how it is," said his wife.
He almost cried with joy, and, a week later, it was announced in the
Journal Officiel that M. Caillard had been awarded the Legion of Honor on
account of his exceptional services.
The Bondels were a happy family, and although they frequently quarrelled
about trifles, they soon became friends again.
Bondel was a merchant who had retired from active business after saving
enough to allow him to live quietly; he had rented a little house at
Saint-Germain and lived there with his wife. He was a quiet man with
very decided opinions; he had a certain degree of education and read
serious newspapers; nevertheless, he appreciated the gaulois wit.
Endowed with a logical mind, and that practical common sense which is the
master quality of the industrial French bourgeois, he thought little, but
clearly, and reached a decision only after careful consideration of the
matter in hand. He was of medium size, with a distinguished look, and
was beginning to turn gray.
His wife, who was full of serious qualities, had also several faults.
She had a quick temper and a frankness that bordered upon violence. She
bore a grudge a long time. She had once been pretty, but had now become
too stout and too red; but in her neighborhood at Saint-Germain she still
passed for a very beautiful woman, who exemplified health and an
Their dissensions almost always began at breakfast, over some trivial
matter, and they often continued all day and even until the following
day. Their simple, common, limited life imparted seriousness to the most
unimportant matters, and every topic of conversation became a subject of
dispute. This had not been so in the days when business occupied their
minds, drew their hearts together, and gave them common interests and
But at Saint-Germain they saw fewer people. It had been necessary to
make new acquaintances, to create for themselves a new world among
strangers, a new existence devoid of occupations. Then the monotony of
loneliness had soured each of them a little; and the quiet happiness
which they had hoped and waited for with the coming of riches did not
One June morning, just as they were sitting down to breakfast, Bondel
"Do you know the people who live in the little red cottage at the end of
the Rue du Berceau?"
Madame Bondel was out of sorts. She answered:
"Yes and no; I am acquainted with them, but I do not care to know them."
"Why not? They seem to be very nice."
"This morning I met the husband on the terrace and we took a little walk
Seeing that there was danger in the air, Bendel added: "It was he who
spoke to me first."
His wife looked at him in a displeased manner. She continued: "You would
have done just as well to avoid him."
"Because there are rumors about them."
"Oh! rumors such as one often hears!"
M. Bondel was, unfortunately, a little hasty. He exclaimed:
"My dear, you know that I abhor gossip. As for those people, I find them
She asked testily: "The wife also?"
"Why, yes; although I have barely seen her."
The discussion gradually grew more heated, always on the same subject for
lack of others. Madame Bondel obstinately refused to say what she had
heard about these neighbors, allowing things to be understood without
saying exactly what they were. Bendel would shrug his shoulders, grin,
and exasperate his wife. She finally cried out: "Well! that gentleman is
deceived by his wife, there!"
The husband answered quietly: "I can't see how that affects the honor of
She seemed dumfounded: "What! you don't see?--you don't see?--well,
that's too much! You don't see!--why, it's a public scandal! he is
He answered: "Ah! by no means! Should a man be considered disgraced
because he is deceived, because he is betrayed, robbed? No, indeed!
I'll grant you that that may be the case for the wife, but as for him--"
She became furious, exclaiming: "For him as well as for her. They are
both in disgrace; it's a public shame."
Bondel, very calm, asked: "First of all, is it true? Who can assert such
a thing as long as no one has been caught in the act?"
Madame Bondel was growing uneasy; she snapped: "What? Who can assert it?
Why, everybody! everybody! it's as clear as the nose on your face.
Everybody knows it and is talking about it. There is not the slightest
He was grinning: "For a long time people thought that the sun revolved
around the earth. This man loves his wife and speaks of her tenderly and
reverently. This whole business is nothing but lies!"
Stamping her foot, she stammered: "Do you think that that fool, that
idiot, knows anything about it?"
Bondel did not grow angry; he was reasoning clearly: "Excuse me. This
gentleman is no fool. He seemed to me, on the contrary, to be very
intelligent and shrewd; and you can't make me believe that a man with
brains doesn't notice such a thing in his own house, when the neighbors,
who are not there, are ignorant of no detail of this liaison--for I'll
warrant that they know everything."
Madame Bondel had a fit of angry mirth, which irritated her husband's
nerves. She laughed: "Ha! ha! ha! they're all the same! There's not a
man alive who could discover a thing like that unless his nose was stuck
The discussion was wandering to other topics now. She was exclaiming
over the blindness of deceived husbands, a thing which he doubted and
which she affirmed with such airs of personal contempt that he finally
grew angry. Then the discussion became an angry quarrel, where she took
the side of the women and he defended the men. He had the conceit to
declare: "Well, I swear that if I had ever been deceived, I should have
noticed it, and immediately, too. And I should have taken away your
desire for such things in such a manner that it would have taken more
than one doctor to set you on foot again!"
Boiling with anger, she cried out to him: "You! you! why, you're as big a
fool as the others, do you hear!"
He still maintained: "I can swear to you that I am not!"
She laughed so impertinently that he felt his heart beat and a chill run
down his back. For the third time he said:
"I should have seen it!"
She rose, still laughing in the same manner. She slammed the door and
left the room, saying: "Well! if that isn't too much!"
Bondel remained alone, ill at ease. That insolent, provoking laugh had
touched him to the quick. He went outside, walked, dreamed. The
realization of the loneliness of his new life made him sad and morbid.
The neighbor, whom he had met that morning, came to him with outstretched
hands. They continued their walk together. After touching on various
subjects they came to talk of their wives. Both seemed to have something
to confide, something inexpressible, vague, about these beings associated
with their lives; their wives. The neighbor was saying:
"Really, at times, one might think that they bear some particular ill-
will toward their husband, just because he is a husband. I love my wife
--I love her very much; I appreciate and respect her; well! there are
times when she seems to have more confidence and faith in our friends
than in me."
Bondel immediately thought: "There is no doubt; my wife was right!"
When he left this man he began to think things over again. He felt in
his soul a strange confusion of contradictory ideas, a sort of interior
burning; that mocking, impertinent laugh kept ringing in his ears and
seemed to say: "Why; you are just the same as the others, you fool!" That
was indeed bravado, one of those pieces of impudence of which a woman
makes use when she dares everything, risks everything, to wound and
humiliate the man who has aroused her ire. This poor man must also be
one of those deceived husbands, like so many others. He had said sadly:
"There are times when she seems to have more confidence and faith in our
friends than in me." That is how a husband formulated his observations
on the particular attentions of his wife for another man. That was all.
He had seen nothing more. He was like the rest--all the rest!
And how strangely Bondel's own wife had laughed as she said: "You, too--
you, too." How wild and imprudent these creatures are who can arouse
such suspicions in the heart for the sole purpose of revenge!
He ran over their whole life since their marriage, reviewed his mental
list of their acquaintances, to see whether she had ever appeared to show
more confidence in any one else than in himself. He never had suspected
any one, he was so calm, so sure of her, so confident.
But, now he thought of it, she had had a friend, an intimate friend, who
for almost a year had dined with them three times a week. Tancret, good
old Tancret, whom he, Bendel, loved as a brother and whom he continued to
see on the sly, since his wife, he did not know why, had grown angry at
the charming fellow.
He stopped to think, looking over the past with anxious eyes. Then he
grew angry at himself for harboring this shameful insinuation of the
defiant, jealous, bad ego which lives in all of us. He blamed and
accused himself when he remembered the visits and the demeanor of this
friend whom his wife had dismissed for no apparent reason. But,
suddenly, other memories returned to him, similar ruptures due to the
vindictive character of Madame Bondel, who never pardoned a slight. Then
he laughed frankly at himself for the doubts which he had nursed; and he
remembered the angry looks of his wife as he would tell her, when he
returned at night: "I saw good old Tancret, and he wished to be
remembered to you," and he reassured himself.
She would invariably answer: "When you see that gentleman you can tell
him that I can very well dispense with his remembrances." With what an
irritated, angry look she would say these words! How well one could feel
that she did not and would not forgive--and he had suspected her even for
a second? Such foolishness!
But why did she grow so angry? She never had given the exact reason for
this quarrel. She still bore him that grudge! Was it?--But no--no--and
Bondel declared that he was lowering himself by even thinking of such
Yes, he was undoubtedly lowering himself, but he could not help thinking
of it, and he asked himself with terror if this thought which had entered
into his mind had not come to stop, if he did not carry in his heart the
seed of fearful torment. He knew himself; he was a man to think over his
doubts, as formerly he would ruminate over his commercial operations, for
days and nights, endlessly weighing the pros and the cons.
He was already becoming excited; he was walking fast and losing his
calmness. A thought cannot be downed. It is intangible, cannot be
caught, cannot be killed.
Suddenly a plan occurred to him; it was bold, so bold that at first he
doubted whether he would carry it out.
Each time that he met Tancret, his friend would ask for news of Madame
Bondel, and Bondel would answer: "She is still a little angry." Nothing
more. Good Lord! What a fool he had been! Perhaps!
Well, he would take the train to Paris, go to Tancret, and bring him back
with him that very evening, assuring him that his wife's mysterious anger
had disappeared. But how would Madame Bondel act? What a scene there
would be! What anger! what scandal! What of it?--that would be
revenge! When she should come face to face with him, unexpectedly, he
certainly ought to be able to read the truth in their expressions.
He immediately went to the station, bought his ticket, got into the car,
and as soon as he felt him self being carried away by the train, he felt
a fear, a kind of dizziness, at what he was going to do. In order not to
weaken, back down, and return alone, he tried not to think of the matter
any longer, to bring his mind to bear on other affairs, to do what he had
decided to do with a blind resolution; and he began to hum tunes from
operettas and music halls until he reached Paris.
As soon as he found himself walking along the streets that led to
Tancret's, he felt like stopping, He paused in front of several shops,
noticed the prices of certain objects, was interested in new things, felt
like taking a glass of beer, which was not his usual custom; and as he
approached his friend's dwelling he ardently hoped not meet him. But
Tancret was at home, alone, reading. He jumped up in surprise, crying:
"Ah! Bondel! what luck!"
Bondel, embarrassed, answered: "Yes, my dear fellow, I happened to be in
Paris, and I thought I'd drop in and shake hands with you."
"That's very nice, very nice! The more so that for some time you have
not favored me with your presence very often."
"Well, you see--even against one's will, one is often influenced by
surrounding conditions, and as my wife seemed to bear you some ill-will"
"Jove! 'seemed'--she did better than that, since she showed me the door."
"What was the reason? I never heard it."
"Oh! nothing at all--a bit of foolishness--a discussion in which we did
not both agree."
"But what was the subject of this discussion?"
"A lady of my acquaintance, whom you may perhaps know by name, Madame
"Ah! really. Well, I think that my wife has forgotten her grudge, for
this very morning she spoke to me of you in very pleasant terms."
Tancret started and seemed so dumfounded that for a few minutes he could
find nothing to say. Then he asked: "She spoke of me--in pleasant
"You are sure?"
"Of course I am. I am not dreaming."
"And then--as I was coming to Paris I thought that I would please you by
coming to tell you the good news."
"Why, yes--why, yes--"
Bondel appeared to hesitate; then, after a short pause, he added: "I even
had an idea."
"What is it?"
"To take you back home with me to dinner."
Tancret, who was naturally prudent, seemed a little worried by this
proposition, and he asked: "Oh! really--is it possible? Are we not
exposing ourselves to--to--a scene?"
"No, no, indeed!"
"Because, you know, Madame Bendel bears malice for a long time."
"Yes, but I can assure you that she no longer bears you any ill--will.
I am even convinced that it will be a great pleasure for her to see you
"Well, then! let us go along. I am delighted. You see, this
misunderstanding was very unpleasant for me."
They set out together toward the Saint-Lazare station, arm in arm. They
made the trip in silence. Both seemed absorbed in deep meditation.
Seated in the car, one opposite the other, they looked at each other
without speaking, each observing that the other was pale.
Then they left the train and once more linked arms as if to unite against
some common danger. After a walk of a few minutes they stopped, a little
out of breath, before Bondel's house. Bondel ushered his friend into the
parlor, called the servant, and asked: "Is madame at home?"
"Please ask her to come down at once."
They dropped into two armchairs and waited. Both were filled with the
same longing to escape before the appearance of the much-feared person.
A well-known, heavy tread could be heard descending the stairs. A hand
moved the knob, and both men watched the brass handle turn. Then the
door opened wide, and Madame Bondel stopped and looked to see who was
there before she entered. She looked, blushed, trembled, retreated a
step, then stood motionless, her cheeks aflame and her hands resting
against the sides of the door frame.
Tancret, as pale as if about to faint, had arisen, letting fall his hat,
which rolled along the floor. He stammered out: "Mon Dieu--madame--it is
I--I thought--I ventured--I was so sorry--"
As she did not answer, he continued: "Will you forgive me?"
Then, quickly, carried away by some impulse, she walked toward him with
her hands outstretched; and when he had taken, pressed, and held these
two hands, she said, in a trembling, weak little voice, which was new to
"Ah! my dear friend--how happy I am!"
And Bondel, who was watching them, felt an icy chill run over him, as if
he had been dipped in a cold bath.
FOUND ON A DROWNED MAN
Madame, you ask me whether I am laughing at you? You cannot believe that
a man has never been in love. Well, then, no, no, I have never loved,
Why is this? I really cannot tell. I have never experienced that
intoxication of the heart which we call love! Never have I lived in that
dream, in that exaltation, in that state of madness into which the image
of a woman casts us. I have never been pursued, haunted, roused to fever
heat, lifted up to Paradise by the thought of meeting, or by the
possession of, a being who had suddenly become for me more desirable than
any good fortune, more beautiful than any other creature, of more
consequence than the whole world! I have never wept, I have never
suffered on account of any of you. I have not passed my nights
sleepless, while thinking of her. I have no experience of waking
thoughts bright with thought and memories of her. I have never known the
wild rapture of hope before her arrival, or the divine sadness of regret
when she went from me, leaving behind her a delicate odor of violet
I have never been in love.
I have also often asked myself why this is. And truly I can scarcely
tell. Nevertheless I have found some reasons for it; but they are of a
metaphysical character, and perhaps you will not be able to appreciate
I suppose I am too critical of women to submit to their fascination. I
ask you to forgive me for this remark. I will explain what I mean. In
every creature there is a moral being and a physical being. In order to
love, it would be necessary for me to find a harmony between these two
beings which I have never found. One always predominates; sometimes the
moral, sometimes the physical.
The intellect which we have a right to require in a woman, in order to
love her, is not the same as the virile intellect. It is more, and it is
less. A woman must be frank, delicate, sensitive, refined,
impressionable. She has no need of either power or initiative in
thought, but she must have kindness, elegance, tenderness, coquetry and
that faculty of assimilation which, in a little while, raises her to an
equality with him who shares her life. Her greatest quality must be
tact, that subtle sense which is to the mind what touch is to the body.
It reveals to her a thousand little things, contours, angles and forms on
the plane of the intellectual.
Very frequently pretty women have not intellect to correspond with their
personal charms. Now, the slightest lack of harmony strikes me and pains
me at the first glance. In friendship this is not of importance.
Friendship is a compact in which one fairly shares defects and merits.
We may judge of friends, whether man or woman, giving them credit for
what is good, and overlooking what is bad in them, appreciating them at
their just value, while giving ourselves up to an intimate, intense and
In order to love, one must be blind, surrender one's self absolutely, see
nothing, question nothing, understand nothing. One must adore the
weakness as well as the beauty of the beloved object, renounce all
judgment, all reflection, all perspicacity.
I am incapable of such blindness and rebel at unreasoning subjugation.
This is not all. I have such a high and subtle idea of harmony that
nothing can ever fulfill my ideal. But you will call me a madman.
Listen to me. A woman, in my opinion, may have an exquisite soul and
charming body without that body and that soul being in perfect harmony
with one another. I mean that persons who have noses made in a certain
shape should not be expected to think in a certain fashion. The fat have
no right to make use of the same words and phrases as the thin. You, who
have blue eyes, madame, cannot look at life and judge of things and
events as if you had black eyes. The shade of your eyes should
correspond, by a sort of fatality, with the shade of your thought. In
perceiving these things, I have the scent of a bloodhound. Laugh if you
like, but it is so.
And yet, once I imagined that I was in love for an hour, for a day.
I had foolishly yielded to the influence of surrounding circumstances.
I allowed myself to be beguiled by a mirage of Dawn. Would you like me
to tell you this short story?
I met, one evening, a pretty, enthusiastic little woman who took a poetic
fancy to spend a night with me in a boat on a river. I would have
preferred a room and a bed; however, I consented to the river and the
It was in the month of June. My fair companion chose a moonlight night
in order the better to stimulate her imagination.
We had dined at a riverside inn and set out in the boat about ten
o'clock. I thought it a rather foolish kind of adventure, but as my
companion pleased me I did not worry about it. I sat down on the seat
facing her; I seized the oars, and off we starred.
I could not deny that the scene was picturesque. We glided past a wooded
isle full of nightingales, and the current carried us rapidly over the
river covered with silvery ripples. The tree toads uttered their shrill,
monotonous cry; the frogs croaked in the grass by the river's bank, and
the lapping of the water as it flowed on made around us a kind of
confused murmur almost imperceptible, disquieting, and gave us a vague
sensation of mysterious fear.
The sweet charm of warm nights and of streams glittering in the moonlight
penetrated us. It was delightful to be alive and to float along thus,
and to dream and to feel at one's side a sympathetic and beautiful young
I was somewhat affected, somewhat agitated, somewhat intoxicated by the
pale brightness of the night and the consciousness of my proximity to a
"Come and sit beside me," she said.
She went on:
"Recite some poetry for me."
This appeared to be rather too much. I declined; she persisted. She
certainly wanted to play the game, to have a whole orchestra of
sentiment, from the moon to the rhymes of poets. In the end I had to
yield, and, as if in mockery, I repeated to her a charming little poem by
Louis Bouilhet, of which the following are the last verses:
"I hate the poet who with tearful eye
Murmurs some name while gazing tow'rds a star,
Who sees no magic in the earth or sky,
Unless Lizette or Ninon be not far.
"The bard who in all Nature nothing sees
Divine, unless a petticoat he ties
Amorously to the branches of the trees
Or nightcap to the grass, is scarcely wise.
"He has not heard the Eternal's thunder tone,
The voice of Nature in her various moods,
Who cannot tread the dim ravines alone,
And of no woman dream mid whispering woods."
I expected some reproaches. Nothing of the sort. She murmured:
"How true it is!"
I was astonished. Had she understood?
Our boat had gradually approached the bank and become entangled in the
branches of a willow which impeded its progress. I placed my arm round
my companion's waist, and very gently approached my lips towards her
neck. But she repulsed me with an abrupt, angry movement.
"Have done, pray! How rude you are!"
I tried to draw her toward me. She resisted, caught hold of the tree,
and was near flinging us both into the water. I deemed it prudent to
cease my importunities.
"I would rather capsize you. I feel so happy. I want to dream. This is
so delightful." Then, in a slightly malicious tone, she added:
"Have you already forgotten the verses you repeated to me just now?"
She was right. I became silent.
She went on:
And I plied the oars once more.
I began to think the night long and my position ridiculous.
My companion said to me:
"Will you make me a promise?"
"Yes. What is it?"
"To remain quiet, well-behaved and discreet, if I permit you--"
"What? Say what you mean!"
"Here is what I mean: I want to lie down on my back at the bottom of the
boat with you by my side. But I forbid you to touch me, to embrace me--
in short--to caress me."
I promised. She said warningly:
"If you move, 'I'll capsize the boat."
And then we lay down side by side, our eyes turned toward the sky, while
the boat glided slowly through the water. We were rocked by its gentle
motion. The slight sounds of the night came to us more distinctly in the
bottom of the boat, sometimes causing us to start. And I felt springing
up within me a strange, poignant emotion, an infinite tenderness,
something like an irresistible impulse to open my arms in order to
embrace, to open my heart in order to love, to give myself, to give my
thoughts, my body, my life, my entire being to some one.
My companion murmured, like one in a dream:
"Where are we; Where are we going? It seems to me that I am leaving the
earth. How sweet it is! Ah, if you loved me--a little!!!"
My heart began to throb. I had no answer to give. It seemed to me that
I loved her. I had no longer any violent desire. I felt happy there by
her side, and that was enough for me.
And thus we remained for a long, long time without stirring. We had
clasped each other's hands; some delightful force rendered us motionless,
an unknown force stronger than ourselves, an alliance, chaste, intimate,
absolute, of our beings lying there side by side, belonging to each other
without contact. What was this? How do I know? Love, perhaps?
Little by little the dawn appeared. It was three o'clock in the morning.
Slowly a great brightness spread over the sky. The boat knocked up
against something. I rose up. We had come close to a tiny islet.
But I remained enchanted, in an ecstasy. Before us stretched the
firmament, red, pink, violet, spotted with fiery clouds resembling golden
vapor. The river was glowing with purple and three houses on one side of
it seemed to be burning.
I bent toward my companion. I was going to say, "Oh! look!" But I held
my tongue, quite dazed, and I could no longer see anything except her.
She, too, was rosy, with rosy flesh tints with a deeper tinge that was
partly a reflection of the hue of the sky. Her tresses were rosy; her
eyes were rosy; her teeth were rosy; her dress, her laces, her smile, all
were rosy. And in truth I believed, so overpowering was the illusion,
that the dawn was there in the flesh before me.
She rose softly to her feet, holding out her lips to me; and I moved
toward her, trembling, delirious feeling indeed that I was going to kiss
Heaven, to kiss happiness, to kiss a dream that had become a woman, to
kiss the ideal which had descended into human flesh.
She said to me: "You have a caterpillar in your hair." And, suddenly, I
felt as sad as if I had lost all hope in life.
That is all, madame. It is puerile, silly, stupid. But I am sure that
since that day it would be impossible for me to love. And yet--who can
[The young man upon whom this letter was found was yesterday taken out of
the Seine between Bougival and Marly. An obliging bargeman, who had
searched the pockets in order to ascertain the name of the deceased,
brought this paper to the author.]
Mademoiselle Source had adopted this boy under very sad circumstances.
She was at the time thirty-six years old. Being disfigured through
having as a child slipped off her nurse's lap into the fireplace and
burned her face shockingly, she had determined not to marry, for she did
not want any man to marry her for her money.
A neighbor of hers, left a widow just before her child was born, died in
giving birth, without leaving a sou. Mademoiselle Source took the new-
born child, put him out to nurse, reared him, sent him to a boarding-
school, then brought him home in his fourteenth year, in order to have in
her empty house somebody who would love her, who would look after her,
and make her old age pleasant.
She had a little country place four leagues from Rennes, and she now
dispensed with a servant; her expenses having increased to more than
double since this orphan's arrival, her income of three thousand francs
was no longer sufficient to support three persons.
She attended to the housekeeping and cooking herself, and sent out the
boy on errands, letting him also occupy himself in cultivating the
garden. He was gentle, timid, silent, and affectionate. And she
experienced a deep happiness, a fresh happiness when he kissed her
without surprise or horror at her disfigurement. He called her "Aunt,"
and treated her as a mother.
In the evening they both sat down at the fireside, and she made nice
little dainties for him. She heated some wine and toasted a slice of
bread, and it made a charming little meal before going to bed. She often
took him on her knees and covered him with kisses, murmuring tender words
in his ear. She called him: "My little flower, my cherub, my adored
angel, my divine jewel." He softly accepted her caresses, hiding his
head on the old maid's shoulder. Although he was now nearly fifteen, he
had remained small and weak, and had a rather sickly appearance.
Sometimes Mademoiselle Source took him to the city, to see two married
female relatives of hers, distant cousins, who were living in the
suburbs, and who were the only members of her family in existence. The
two women had always found fault with her, for having adopted this boy,
on account of the inheritance; but for all that, they gave her a cordial
welcome, having still hopes of getting a share for themselves, a third,
no doubt, if what she possessed were only equally divided.
She was happy, very happy, always occupied with her adopted child. She
bought books for him to improve his mind, and he became passionately fond
He no longer climbed on her knee to pet her as he had formerly done; but,
instead, would go and sit down in his little chair in the chimney-corner
and open a volume. The lamp placed at the edge of the Tittle table above
his head shone on his curly hair, and on a portion of his forehead; he
did not move, he did not raise his eyes or make any gesture. He read on,
interested, entirely absorbed in the story he was reading.
Seated opposite to him, she would gaze at him earnestly, astonished at
his studiousness, often on the point of bursting into tears.
She said to him occasionally: "You will fatigue yourself, my treasure!"
hoping that he would raise his head, and come across to embrace her; but
he did not even answer her; he had not heard or understood what she was
saying; he paid no attention to anything save what he read in those
For two years he devoured an incalculable number of volumes. His
After this, he asked Mademoiselle Source several times for money, which
she gave him. As he always wanted more, she ended by refusing, for she
was both methodical and decided, and knew how to act rationally when it
was necessary to do so. By dint of entreaties he obtained a large sum
from her one night; but when he begged her for more a few days later, she
showed herself inflexible, and did not give way to him further, in fact.
He appeared to be satisfied with her decision.
He again became quiet, as he had formerly been, remaining seated for
entire hours, without moving, plunged in deep reverie. He now did not
even talk to Madame Source, merely answering her remarks with short,
formal words. Nevertheless, he was agreeable and attentive in his manner
toward her; but he never embraced her now.
She had by this time grown slightly afraid of him when they sat facing
one another at night on opposite sides of the fireplace. She wanted to
wake him up, to make him say something, no matter what, that would break
this dreadful silence, which was like the darkness of a wood. But he did
not appear to listen to her, and she shuddered with the terror of a poor
feeble woman when she had spoken to him five or six times successively
without being able to get a word out of him.
What was the matter with him? What was going on in that closed-up head?
When she had remained thus two or three hours opposite him, she felt as
if she were going insane, and longed to rush away and to escape into the
open country in order to avoid that mute, eternal companionship and also
some vague danger, which she could not define, but of which she had a
She frequently wept when she was alone. What was the matter with him?
When she expressed a wish, he unmurmuringly carried it into execution.
When she wanted anything brought from the city, he immediately went there
to procure it. She had no complaint to make of him; no, indeed! And
Another year flitted by, and it seemed to her that a fresh change had
taken place in the mind of the young man. She perceived it; she felt it;
she divined it. How? No matter! She was sure she was not mistaken; but
she could not have explained in what manner the unknown thoughts of this
strange youth had changed.
It seemed to her that, until now, he had been like a person in a
hesitating frame of mind, who had suddenly arrived at a determination.
This idea came to her one evening as she met his glance, a fixed,
singular glance which she had not seen in his face before.
Then he commenced to watch her incessantly, and she wished she could hide
herself in order to avoid that cold eye riveted on her.
He kept staring at her, evening after evening, for hours together, only
averting his eyes when she said, utterly unnerved:
"Do not look at me like that, my child!"
Then he would lower his head.
But the moment her back was turned she once more felt that his eyes were
upon her. Wherever she went, he pursued her with his persistent gaze.
Sometimes, when she was walking in her little garden, she suddenly
noticed him hidden behind a bush, as if he were lying in wait for her;
and, again, when she sat in front of the house mending stockings while he
was digging some vegetable bed, he kept continually watching her in a
surreptitious manner, as he worked.
It was in vain that she asked him:
"What's the matter with you, my boy? For the last three years, you have
become very different. I don't recognize you. Do tell me what ails you,
and what you are thinking of."
He invariably replied, in a quiet, weary tone:
"Why, nothing ails me, aunt!"
And when she persisted:
"Ah! my child, answer me, answer me when I speak to you. If you knew
what grief you caused me, you would always answer, and you would not look
at me that way. Have you any trouble? Tell me! I'll comfort you!"
He went away, with a tired air, murmuring:
"But there is nothing the matter with me, I assure you."
He had not grown much, having always a childish look, although his
features were those of a man. They were, however, hard and badly cut.
He seemed incomplete, abortive, only half finished, and disquieting as a
mystery. He was a self-contained, unapproachable being, in whom there
seemed always to be some active, dangerous mental labor going on.
Mademoiselle Source was quite conscious of all this, and she could not
sleep at night, so great was her anxiety. Frightful terrors, dreadful
nightmares assailed her. She shut herself up in her own room, and
barricaded the door, tortured by fear.
What was she afraid of? She could not tell.
She feared everything, the night, the walls, the shadows thrown by the
moon on the white curtains of the windows, and, above all, she feared
What had she to fear? Did she know what it was?
She could live this way no longer! She felt certain that a misfortune
threatened her, a frightful misfortune.
She set forth secretly one morning, and went into the city to see her
relatives. She told them about the matter in a gasping voice. The two
women thought she was going mad and tried to reassure her.
"If you knew the way he looks at me from morning till night. He never
takes his eyes off me! At times, I feel a longing to cry for help, to
call in the neighbors, so much am I afraid. But what could I say to
them? He does nothing but look at me."
The two female cousins asked:
"Is he ever brutal to you? Does he give you sharp answers?"
"No, never; he does everything I wish; he works hard: he is steady; but I
am so frightened that I care nothing for that. He is planning something,
I am certain of that--quite certain. I don't care to remain all alone
like that with him in the country."
The relatives, astonished at her words, declared that people would be
amazed, would not understand; and they advised her to keep silent about
her fears and her plans, without, however, dissuading her from coming to
reside in the city, hoping in that way that the entire inheritance would
eventually fall into their hands.
They even promised to assist her in selling her house, and in finding
another, near them.
Mademoiselle Source returned home. But her mind was so much upset that
she trembled at the slightest noise, and her hands shook whenever any
trifling disturbance agitated her.
Twice she went again to consult her relatives, quite determined now not
to remain any longer in this way in her lonely dwelling. At last, she
found a little cottage in the suburbs, which suited her, and she
privately bought it.
The signature of the contract took place on a Tuesday morning, and
Mademoiselle Source devoted the rest of the day to the preparations for
her change of residence.
At eight o'clock in the evening she got into the diligence which passed
within a few hundred yards of her house, and she told the conductor to
put her down in the place where she usually alighted. The man called out
to her as he whipped his horses:
"Good evening, Mademoiselle Source--good night!"
She replied as she walked on:
"Good evening, Pere Joseph." Next morning, at half-past seven, the
postman who conveyed letters to the village noticed at the cross-road,
not far from the high road, a large splash of blood not yet dry. He said
to himself: "Hallo! some boozer must have had a nose bleed."
But he perceived ten paces farther on a pocket handkerchief also stained
with blood. He picked it up. The linen was fine, and the postman, in
alarm, made his way over to the ditch, where he fancied he saw a strange
Mademoiselle Source was lying at the bottom on the grass, her throat cut
with a knife.
An hour later, the gendarmes, the examining magistrate, and other
authorities made an inquiry as to the cause of death.
The two female relatives, called as witnesses, told all about the old
maid's fears and her last plans.
The orphan was arrested. After the death of the woman who had adopted
him, he wept from morning till night, plunged, at least to all
appearance, in the most violent grief.
He proved that he had spent the evening up to eleven o'clock in a cafe.
Ten persons had seen him, having remained there till his departure.
The driver of the diligence stated that he had set down the murdered
woman on the road between half-past nine and ten o'clock.
The accused was acquitted. A will, drawn up a long time before, which
had been left in the hands of a notary in Rennes, made him sole heir.
So he inherited everything.
For a long time, the people of the country boycotted him, as they still
suspected him. His house, that of the dead woman, was looked upon as
accursed. People avoided him in the street.
But he showed himself so good-natured, so open, so familiar, that
gradually these horrible doubts were forgotten. He was generous,
obliging, ready to talk to the humblest about anything, as long as they
cared to talk to him.
The notary, Maitre Rameau, was one of the first to take his part,
attracted by his smiling loquacity. He said at a dinner, at the tax
"A man who speaks with such facility and who is always in good humor
could not have such a crime on his conscience."
Touched by his argument, the others who were present reflected, and they
recalled to mind the long conversations with this man who would almost
compel them to stop at the road corners to listen to his ideas, who
insisted on their going into his house when they were passing by his
garden, who could crack a joke better than the lieutenant of the
gendarmes himself, and who possessed such contagious gaiety that, in
spite of the repugnance with which he inspired them, they could not keep
from always laughing in his company.
All doors were opened to him after a time.
He is to-day the mayor of his township.
He had seen better days, despite his present misery and infirmities.
At the age of fifteen both his legs had been crushed by a carriage on the
Varville highway. From that time forth he begged, dragging himself along
the roads and through the farmyards, supported by crutches which forced
his shoulders up to his ears. His head looked as if it were squeezed in
between two mountains.
A foundling, picked up out of a ditch by the priest of Les Billettes on
the eve of All Saints' Day and baptized, for that reason, Nicholas
Toussaint, reared by charity, utterly without education, crippled in
consequence of having drunk several glasses of brandy given him by the
baker (such a funny story!) and a vagabond all his life afterward--the
only thing he knew how to do was to hold out his hand for alms.
At one time the Baroness d'Avary allowed him to sleep in a kind of recess
spread with straw, close to the poultry yard in the farm adjoining the
chateau, and if he was in great need he was sure of getting a glass of
cider and a crust of bread in the kitchen. Moreover, the old lady often
threw him a few pennies from her window. But she was dead now.
In the villages people gave him scarcely anything--he was too well known.
Everybody had grown tired of seeing him, day after day for forty years,
dragging his deformed and tattered person from door to door on his wooden
crutches. But he could not make up his mind to go elsewhere, because he
knew no place on earth but this particular corner of the country, these
three or four villages where he had spent the whole of his miserable
existence. He had limited his begging operations and would not for
worlds have passed his accustomed bounds.
He did not even know whether the world extended for any distance beyond
the trees which had always bounded his vision. He did not ask himself
the question. And when the peasants, tired of constantly meeting him in
their fields or along their lanes, exclaimed: "Why don't you go to other
villages instead of always limping about here?" he did not answer, but
slunk away, possessed with a vague dread of the unknown--the dread of a
poor wretch who fears confusedly a thousand things--new faces, taunts,
insults, the suspicious glances of people who do not know him and the
policemen walking in couples on the roads. These last he always
instinctively avoided, taking refuge in the bushes or behind heaps of
stones when he saw them coming.
When he perceived them in the distance, 'With uniforms gleaming in the
sun, he was suddenly possessed with unwonted agility--the agility of a
wild animal seeking its lair. He threw aside his crutches, fell to the
ground like a limp rag, made himself as small as possible and crouched
like a bare under cover, his tattered vestments blending in hue with the
earth on which he cowered.
He had never had any trouble with the police, but the instinct to avoid
them was in his blood. He seemed to have inherited it from the parents
he had never known.
He had no refuge, no roof for his head, no shelter of any kind. In
summer he slept out of doors and in winter he showed remarkable skill in
slipping unperceived into barns and stables. He always decamped before
his presence could be discovered. He knew all the holes through which
one could creep into farm buildings, and the handling of his crutches
having made his arms surprisingly muscular he often hauled himself up
through sheer strength of wrist into hay-lofts, where he sometimes
remained for four or five days at a time, provided he had collected a
sufficient store of food beforehand.
He lived like the beasts of the field. He was in the midst of men, yet
knew no one, loved no one, exciting in the breasts of the peasants only a
sort of careless contempt and smoldering hostility. They nicknamed him
"Bell," because he hung between his two crutches like a church bell
between its supports.
For two days he had eaten nothing. No one gave him anything now. Every
one's patience was exhausted. Women shouted to him from their doorsteps
when they saw him coming:
"Be off with you, you good-for-nothing vagabond! Why, I gave you a piece
of bread only three days ago!"
And he turned on his crutches to the next house, where he was received in
the same fashion.
The women declared to one another as they stood at their doors:
"We can't feed that lazy brute all the year round!"
And yet the "lazy brute" needed food every day.
He had exhausted Saint-Hilaire, Varville and Les Billettes without
getting a single copper or so much as a dry crust. His only hope was in
Tournolles, but to reach this place he would have to walk five miles
along the highroad, and he felt so weary that he could hardly drag
himself another yard. His stomach and his pocket were equally empty, but
he started on his way.
It was December and a cold wind blew over the fields and whistled through
the bare branches of the trees; the clouds careered madly across the
black, threatening sky. The cripple dragged himself slowly along,
raising one crutch after the other with a painful effort, propping
himself on the one distorted leg which remained to him.
Now and then he sat down beside a ditch for a few moments' rest. Hunger
was gnawing his vitals, and in his confused, slow-working mind he had
only one idea-to eat-but how this was to be accomplished he did not know.
For three hours he continued his painful journey. Then at last the sight
of the trees of the village inspired him with new energy.
The first peasant he met, and of whom he asked alms, replied:
"So it's you again, is it, you old scamp? Shall I never be rid of you?"
And "Bell" went on his way. At every door he got nothing but hard words.
He made the round of the whole village, but received not a halfpenny for
Then he visited the neighboring farms, toiling through the muddy land, so
exhausted that he could hardly raise his crutches from the ground. He
met with the same reception everywhere. It was one of those cold, bleak
days, when the heart is frozen and the temper irritable, and hands do not
open either to give money or food.
When he had visited all the houses he knew, "Bell" sank down in the
corner of a ditch running across Chiquet's farmyard. Letting his
crutches slip to the ground, he remained motionless, tortured by hunger,
but hardly intelligent enough to realize to the full his unutterable
He awaited he knew not what, possessed with that vague hope which
persists in the human heart in spite of everything. He awaited in the
corner of the farmyard in the biting December wind, some mysterious aid
from Heaven or from men, without the least idea whence it was to arrive.
A number of black hens ran hither and thither, seeking their food in the
earth which supports all living things. Ever now and then they snapped
up in their beaks a grain of corn or a tiny insect; then they continued
their slow, sure search for nutriment.
"Bell" watched them at first without thinking of anything. Then a
thought occurred rather to his stomach than to his mind--the thought that
one of those fowls would be good to eat if it were cooked over a fire of
He did not reflect that he was going to commit a theft. He took up a
stone which lay within reach, and, being of skillful aim, killed at the
first shot the fowl nearest to him. The bird fell on its side, flapping
its wings. The others fled wildly hither and thither, and "Bell,"
picking up his crutches, limped across to where his victim lay.
Just as he reached the little black body with its crimsoned head he
received a violent blow in his back which made him let go his hold of his
crutches and sent him flying ten paces distant. And Farmer Chiquet,
beside himself with rage, cuffed and kicked the marauder with all the
fury of a plundered peasant as "Bell" lay defenceless before him.
The farm hands came up also and joined their master in cuffing the lame
beggar. Then when they were tired of beating him they carried him off
and shut him up in the woodshed, while they went to fetch the police.
"Bell," half dead, bleeding and perishing with hunger, lay on the floor.
Evening came--then night--then dawn. And still he had not eaten.
About midday the police arrived. They opened the door of the woodshed
with the utmost precaution, fearing resistance on the beggar's part, for
Farmer Chiquet asserted that he had been attacked by him and had had
great, difficulty in defending himself.
The sergeant cried:
"Come, get up!"
But "Bell" could not move. He did his best to raise himself on his
crutches, but without success. The police, thinking his weakness
feigned, pulled him up by main force and set him between the crutches.
Fear seized him--his native fear of a uniform, the fear of the game in
presence of the sportsman, the fear of a mouse for a cat-and by the
exercise of almost superhuman effort he succeeded in remaining upright.
"Forward!" said the sergeant. He walked. All the inmates of the farm
watched his departure. The women shook their fists at him the men
scoffed at and insulted him. He was taken at last! Good riddance!
He went off between his two guards. He mustered sufficient energy--the
energy of despair--to drag himself along until the evening, too dazed to
know what was happening to him, too frightened to understand.
People whom he met on the road stopped to watch him go by and peasants
"It's some thief or other."
Toward evening he reached the country town. He had never been so far
before. He did not realize in the least what he was there for or what
was to become of him. All the terrible and unexpected events of the last
two days, all these unfamiliar faces and houses struck dismay into his
He said not a word, having nothing to say because he understood nothing.
Besides, he had spoken to no one for so many years past that he had
almost lost the use of his tongue, and his thoughts were too
indeterminate to be put into words.
He was shut up in the town jail. It did not occur to the police that he
might need food, and he was left alone until the following day.
But when in the early morning they came to examine him he was found dead
on the floor. Such an astonishing thing!
Old Lecacheur appeared at the door of his house between five and a
quarter past five in the morning, his usual hour, to watch his men going
He was only half awake, his face was red, and with his right eye open and
the left nearly closed, he was buttoning his braces over his fat stomach
with some difficulty, at the same time looking into every corner of the
farmyard with a searching glance. The sun darted its oblique rays
through the beech trees by the side of the ditch and athwart the apple
trees outside, and was making the cocks crow on the dunghill, and the
pigeons coo on the roof. The smell of the cow stable came through the
open door, and blended in the fresh morning air with the pungent odor of
the stable, where the horses were neighing, with their heads turned
toward the light.
As soon as his trousers were properly fastened, Lecacheur came out, and
went, first of all, toward the hen house to count the morning's eggs, for
he had been afraid of thefts for some time; but the servant girl ran up
to him with lifted arms and cried:
"Master! master! they have stolen a rabbit during the night."
"Yes, master, the big gray rabbit, from the hutch on the left"; whereupon
the farmer completely opened his left eye, and said, simply:
"I must see about that."
And off he went to inspect it. The hutch had been broken open and the
rabbit was gone. Then he became thoughtful, closed his right eye again,
and scratched his nose, and after a little consideration, he said to the
frightened girl, who was standing stupidly before her master:
"Go and fetch the gendarmes; say I expect them as soon as possible."
Lecacheur was mayor of the village, Pavigny-le-Gras, and ruled it like a
master, on account of his money and position, and as soon as the servant
had disappeared in the direction of the village, which was only about
five hundred yards off, he went into the house to have his morning coffee
and to discuss the matter with his wife, whom he found on her knees in
front of the fire, trying to make it burn quickly, and as soon as he got
to the door, he said:
"Somebody has stolen the gray rabbit."
She turned round so suddenly that she found herself sitting on the floor,
and looking at her husband with distressed eyes, she said:
"What is it, Cacheux? Somebody has stolen a rabbit?"
"The big gray one."
"What a shame! Who can have done it?"
She was a little, thin, active, neat woman, who knew all about farming.
Lecacheur had his own ideas about the matter.
"It must be that fellow, Polyte."
His wife got up suddenly and said in a furious voice:
"He did it! he did it! You need not look for any one else. He did it!
You have said it, Cacheux!"
All her peasant's fury, all her avarice, all her rage of a saving woman
against the man of whom she had always been suspicious, and against the
girl whom she had always suspected, showed themselves in the contraction
of her mouth, and the wrinkles in the cheeks and forehead of her thin,
"And what have you done?" she asked.
"I have sent for the gendarmes."
This Polyte was a laborer, who had been employed on the farm for a few
days, and who had been dismissed by Lecacheur for an insolent answer. He
was an old soldier, and was supposed to have retained his habits of
marauding and debauchery front his campaigns in Africa. He did anything
for a livelihood, but whether he were a mason, a navvy, a reaper, whether
he broke stones or lopped trees, he was always lazy, and so he remained
nowhere for long, and had, at times, to change his neighborhood to obtain
From the first day that he came to the farm, Lecacheur's wife had
detested him, and now she was sure that he had committed the theft.
In about half an hour the two gendarmes arrived. Brigadier Senateur was
very tall and thin, and Gendarme Lenient short and fat. Lecacheur made
them sit down, and told them the affair, and then they went and saw the
scene of the theft, in order to verify the fact that the hutch had been
broken open, and to collect all the proofs they could. When they got
back to the kitchen, the mistress brought in some wine, filled their
glasses, and asked with a distrustful look:
"Shall you catch him?"
The brigadier, who had his sword between his legs, appeared thoughtful.
Certainly, he was sure of taking him, if he was pointed out to him, but
if not, he could not answer for being able to discover him, himself, and
after reflecting for a long time, he put this simple question:
"Do you know the thief?"
And Lecacheur replied, with a look of Normandy slyness in his eyes:
"As for knowing him, I do not, as I did not see him commit the theft.
If I had seen him, I should have made him eat it raw, skin and flesh,
without a drop of cider to wash it down. But as for saying who it is,
I cannot, although I believe it is that good-for-nothing Polyte."
Then he related at length his troubles with Polyte, his leaving his
service, his bad reputation, things which had been told him, accumulating
insignificant and minute proofs, and then, the brigadier, who had been
listening very attentively while he emptied his glass and filled it again
with an indifferent air, turned to his gendarme and said:
"We must go and look in the cottage of Severin's wife." At which the
gendarme smiled and nodded three times.
Then Madame Lecacheur came to them, and very quietly, with all a
peasant's cunning, questioned the brigadier in her turn. That shepherd
Severin, a simpleton, a sort of brute who had been brought up and had
grown up among his bleating flocks, and who knew scarcely anything
besides them in the world, had nevertheless preserved the peasant's
instinct for saving, at the bottom of his heart. For years and years he
must have hidden in hollow trees and crevices in the rocks all that he
earned, either as a shepherd or by curing animals' sprains--for the
bonesetter's secret had been handed down to him by the old shepherd whose
place he took-by touch or word, and one day he bought a small property,
consisting of a cottage and a field, for three thousand francs.
A few months later it became known that he was going to marry a servant,
notorious for her bad morals, the innkeeper's servant. The young fellows
said that the girl, knowing that he was pretty well off, had been to his
cottage every night, and had taken him, captured him, led him on to
matrimony, little by little night by night.
And then, having been to the mayor's office and to church, she now lived
in the house which her man had bought, while he continued to tend his
flocks, day and night, on the plains.
And the brigadier added:
"Polyte has been sleeping there for three weeks, for the thief has no
place of his own to go to!"
The gendarme made a little joke:
"He takes the shepherd's blankets."
Madame Lecacheur, who was seized by a fresh access of rage, of rage
increased by a married woman's anger against debauchery, exclaimed:
"It is she, I am sure. Go there. Ah, the blackguard thieves!"
But the brigadier was quite unmoved.
"One minute," he said. "Let us wait until twelve o'clock, as he goes and
dines there every day. I shall catch them with it under their noses."
The gendarme smiled, pleased at his chief's idea, and Lecacheur also
smiled now, for the affair of the shepherd struck him as very funny;
deceived husbands are always a joke.
Twelve o'clock had just struck when the brigadier, followed by his man,
knocked gently three times at the door of a little lonely house, situated
at the corner of a wood, five hundred yards from the village.
They had been standing close against the wall, so as not to be seen from
within, and they waited. As nobody answered, the brigadier knocked again
in a minute or two. It was so quiet that the house seemed uninhabited;
but Lenient, the gendarme, who had very quick ears, said that he heard
somebody moving about inside, and then Senateur got angry. He would not
allow any one to resist the authority of the law for a moment, and,
knocking at the door with the hilt of his sword, he cried out:
"Open the door, in the name of the law."
As this order had no effect, he roared out:
"If you do not obey, I shall smash the lock. I am the brigadier of the
gendarmerie, by G--! Here, Lenient."
He had not finished speaking when the door opened and Senateur saw before
him a fat girl, with a very red, blowzy face, with drooping breasts, a
big stomach and broad hips, a sort of animal, the wife of the shepherd
Severin, and he went into the cottage.
"I have come to pay you a visit, as I want to make a little search," he
said, and he looked about him. On the table there was a plate, a jug of
cider and a glass half full, which proved that a meal was in progress.
Two knives were lying side by side, and the shrewd gendarme winked at his
"It smells good," the latter said.
"One might swear that it was stewed rabbit," Lenient added, much amused.