Thursday, November 8, 2007



VOL. I {of III ??}
[*] At the close of the last volume will be found a complete list
of the French Titles of De Maupassant's writings, with their
English equivalents.
Of the French writers of romance of the latter part of the
nineteenth century no one made a reputation as quickly as did Guy
de Maupassant. Not one has preserved that reputation with more
ease, not only during life, but in death. None so completely
hides his personality in his glory. In an epoch of the utmost
publicity, in which the most insignificant deeds of a celebrated
man are spied, recorded, and commented on, the author of "Boule
de Suif," of "Pierre et Jean," of "Notre Coeur," found a way of
effacing his personality in his work.
Of De Maupassant we know that he was born in Normandy about 1850;
that he was the favorite pupil, if one may so express it, the
literary protege, of Gustave Flaubert; that he made his debut
late in 1880, with a novel inserted in a small collection,
published by Emile Zola and his young friends, under the title:
"The Soirees of Medan"; that subsequently he did not fail to
publish stories and romances every year up to 1891, when a
disease of the brain struck him down in the fullness of
production; and that he died, finally, in 1893, without having
recovered his reason.
We know, too, that he passionately loved a strenuous physical
life and long journeys, particularly long journeys upon the sea.
He owned a little sailing yacht, named after one of his books,
"Bel-Ami," in which he used to sojourn for weeks and months.
These meager details are almost the only ones that have been
gathered as food for the curiosity of the public.
I leave the legendary side, which is always in evidence in the
case of a celebrated man,--that gossip, for example, which avers
that Maupassant was a high liver and a worldling. The very number
of his volumes is a protest to the contrary. One could not write
so large a number of pages in so small a number of years without
the virtue of industry, a virtue incompatible with habits of
dissipation. This does not mean that the writer of these great
romances had no love for pleasure and had not tasted the world,
but that for him these were secondary things. The psychology of
his work ought, then, to find an interpretation other than that
afforded by wholly false or exaggerated anecdotes. I wish to
indicate here how this work, illumined by the three or four
positive data which I have given, appears to me to demand it.
And first, what does that anxiety to conceal his personality
prove, carried as it was to such an extreme degree? The answer
rises spontaneously in the minds of those who have studied
closely the history of literature. The absolute silence about
himself, preserved by one whose position among us was that of a
Tourgenief, or of a Merimee, and of a Moliere or a Shakespeare
among the classic great, reveals, to a person of instinct, a
nervous sensibility of extreme depth. There are many chances for
an artist of his kind, however timid, or for one who has some
grief, to show the depth of his emotion. To take up again only
two of the names just cited, this was the case with the author of
"Terres Vierges," and with the writer of "Colomba."
A somewhat minute analysis of the novels and romances of
Maupassant would suffice to demonstrate, even if we did not know
the nature of the incidents which prompted them, that he also
suffered from an excess of nervous emotionalism. Nine times out
of ten, what is the subject of these stories to which freedom of
style gives the appearance of health? A tragic episode. I cite,
at random, "Mademoiselle Fifi," "La Petite Roque," "Inutile
Beaute," "Le Masque," "Le Horla," "L'Epreuve," "Le Champ
d'Oliviers," among the novels, and among the romances, "Une Vie,"
"Pierre et Jean," "Fort comme la Mort," "Notre Coeur." His
imagination aims to represent the human being as imprisoned in a
situation at once insupportable and inevitable. The spell of this
grief and trouble exerts such a power upon the writer that he
ends stories commenced in pleasantry with some sinister drama.
Let me instance "Saint-Antonin," "A Midnight Revel," "The Little
Cask," and "Old Amable." You close the book at the end of these
vigorous sketches, and feel how surely they point to constant
suffering on the part of him who executed them.
This is the leading trait in the literary physiognomy of
Maupassant, as it is the leading and most profound trait in the
psychology of his work, viz, that human life is a snare laid by
nature, where joy is always changed to misery, where noble words
and the highest professions of faith serve the lowest plans and
the most cruel egoism, where chagrin, crime, and folly are
forever on hand to pursue implacably our hopes, nullify our
virtues, and annihilate our wisdom. But this is not the whole.
Maupassant has been called a literary nihilist--but (and this is
the second trait of his singular genius) in him nihilism finds
itself coexistent with an animal energy so fresh and so intense
that for a long time it deceives the closest observer. In an
eloquent discourse, pronounced over his premature grave, Emile
Zola well defined this illusion: "We congratulated him," said he,
"upon that health which seemed unbreakable, and justly credited
him with the soundest constitution of our band, as well as with
the clearest mind and the sanest reason. It was then that this
frightful thunderbolt destroyed him."
It is not exact to say that the lofty genius of De Maupassant was
that of an absolutely sane man. We comprehend it to-day, and, on
re-reading him, we find traces everywhere of his final malady.
But it is exact to say that this wounded genius was, by a
singular circumstance, the genius of a robust man. A physiologist
would without doubt explain this anomaly by the coexistence of a
nervous lesion, light at first, with a muscular, athletic
temperament. Whatever the cause, the effect is undeniable. The
skilled and dainty pessimism of De Maupassant was accompanied by
a vigor and physique very unusual. His sensations are in turn
those of a hunter and of a sailor, who have, as the old French
saying expressively puts it, "swift foot, eagle eye," and who are
attuned to all the whisperings of nature.
The only confidences that he has ever permitted his pen to tell
of the intoxication of a free, animal existence are in the
opening pages of the story entitled "Mouche," where he recalls,
among the sweetest memories of his youth, his rollicking canoe
parties upon the Seine, and in the description in "La Vie
Errante" of a night spent on the sea,--"to be alone upon the
water under the sky, through a warm night,"--in which he speaks
of the happiness of those "who receive sensations through the
whole surface of their flesh, as they do through their eyes,
their mouth, their ears, and sense of smell."
His unique and too scanty collection of verses, written in early
youth, contains the two most fearless, I was going to say the
most ingenuous, paeans, perhaps, that have been written since the
Renaissance: "At the Water's Edge" (Au Bord de l'Eau) and the
"Rustic Venus" (La Venus Rustique). But here is a paganism whose
ardor, by a contrast which brings up the ever present duality of
his nature, ends in an inexpressible shiver of scorn:
"We look at each other, astonished, immovable,
And both are so pale that it makes us fear."
* * * * * * *
"Alas! through all our senses slips life itself away."
This ending of the "Water's Edge" is less sinister than the
murder and the vision of horror which terminate the pantheistic
hymn of the "Rustic Venus." Considered as documents revealing the
cast of mind of him who composed them, these two lyrical essays
are especially significant, since they were spontaneous. They
explain why De Maupassant, in the early years of production,
voluntarily chose, as the heroes of his stories, creatures very
near to primitive existence, peasants, sailors, poachers, girls
of the farm, and the source of the vigor with which he describes
these rude figures. The robustness of his animalism permits him
fully to imagine all the simple sensations of these beings, while
his pessimism, which tinges these sketches of brutal customs with
an element of delicate scorn, preserves him from coarseness. It
is this constant and involuntary antithesis which gives unique
value to those Norman scenes which have contributed so much to
his glory. It corresponds to, those two contradictory tendencies
in literary art, which seek always to render life in motion with
the most intense coloring, and still to make more and more subtle
the impression of this life. How is one ambition to be satisfied
at the same time as the other, since all gain in color and
movement brings about a diminution of sensibility, and
conversely? The paradox of his constitution permitted to
Maupassant this seemingly impossible accord, aided as he was by
an intellect whose influence was all powerful upon his
development--the writer I mention above, Gustave Flaubert.
These meetings of a pupil and a master, both great, are indeed
rare. They present, in fact, some troublesome conditions, the
first of which is a profound analogy between two types of
thought. There must have been, besides, a reciprocity of
affection, which does not often obtain between a renowned senior
who is growing old and an obscure junior, whose renown is
increasing. From generation to generation, envy reascends no less
than she redescends. For the honor of French men of letters, let
us add that this exceptional phenomenon has manifested itself
twice in the nineteenth century. Merimee, whom I have also named,
received from Stendhal, at twenty, the same benefits that
Maupassant received from Flaubert.
The author of "Une Vie" and the writer of "Clara Jozul" resemble
each other, besides, in a singular and analogous circumstance.
Both achieved renown at the first blow, and by a masterpiece
which they were able to equal but never surpass. Both were
misanthropes early in life, and practised to the end the ancient
advice that the disciple of Beyle carried upon his seal: memneso apistein>--"Remember to distrust." And, at the same time,
both had delicate, tender hearts under this affectation of
cynicism, both were excellent sons, irreproachable friends,
indulgent masters, and both were idolized by their inferiors.
Both were worldly, yet still loved a wanderer's life; both joined
to a constant taste for luxury an irresistible desire for
solitude. Both belonged to the extreme left of the literature of
their epoch, but kept themselves from excess and used with a
judgment marvelously sure the sounder principles of their school.
They knew how to remain lucid and classic, in taste as much as in
form--Merimee through all the audacity of a fancy most exotic,
and Maupassant in the realism of the most varied and exact
observation. At a little distance they appear to be two patterns,
identical in certain traits, of the same family of minds, and
Tourgenief, who knew and loved the one and the other, never
failed to class them as brethren.
They are separated, however, by profound differences, which
perhaps belong less to their nature than to that of the masters
from whom they received their impulses: Stendhal, so alert, so
mobile, after a youth passed in war and a ripe age spent in
vagabond journeys, rich in experiences, immediate and personal;
Flaubert so poor in direct impressions, so paralyzed by his
health, by his family, by his theories even, and so rich in
reflections, for the most part solitary.
Among the theories of the anatomist of "Madame Bovary," there are
two which appear without ceasing in his Correspondence, under one
form or another, and these are the ones which are most strongly
evident in the art of De Maupassant. We now see the consequences
which were inevitable by reason of them, endowed as Maupassant
was with a double power of feeling life bitterly, and at the same
time with so much of animal force. The first theory bears upon
the choice of personages and the story of the romance, the second
upon the character of the style. The son of a physician, and
brought up in the rigors of scientific method, Flaubert believed
this method to be efficacious in art as in science. For instance,
in the writing of a romance, he seemed to be as scientific as in
the development of a history of customs, in which the essential
is absolute exactness and local color. He therefore naturally
wished to make the most scrupulous and detailed observation of
the environment.
Thus is explained the immense labor in preparation which his
stories cost him--the story of "Madame Bovary," of "The
Sentimental Education," and "Bouvard and Pecuchet," documents
containing as much minutiae as his historical stories. Beyond
everything he tried to select details that were eminently
significant. Consequently he was of the opinion that the romance
writer should discard all that lessened this significance, that
is, extraordinary events and singular heroes. The exceptional
personage, it seemed to him, should be suppressed, as should also
high dramatic incident, since, produced by causes less general,
these have a range more restricted. The truly scientific romance
writer, proposing to paint a certain class, will attain his end
more effectively if he incarnate personages of the middle order,
and, consequently, paint traits common to that class. And not
only middle-class traits, but middle-class adventures.
From this point of view, examine the three great romances of the
Master from Rouen, and you will see that he has not lost sight of
this first and greatest principle of his art, any more than he
has of the second, which was that these documents should be drawn
up in prose of absolutely perfect technique. We know with what
passionate care he worked at his phrases, and how indefatigably
he changed them over and over again. Thus he satisfied that
instinct of beauty which was born of his romantic soul, while he
gratified the demand of truth which inhered from his scientific
training by his minute and scrupulous exactness.
The theory of the mean of truth on one side, as the foundation of
the subject,--"the humble truth," as he termed it at the
beginning of "Une Vie,"--and of the agonizing of beauty on the
other side, in composition, determines the whole use that
Maupassant made of his literary gifts. It helped to make more
intense and more systematic that dainty yet dangerous pessimism
which in him was innate. The mid- dle-class personage, in
wearisome society like ours, is always a caricature, and the
happenings are nearly always vulgar. When one studies a great
number of them, one finishes by looking at humanity from the
angle of disgust and despair. The philosophy of the romances and
novels of De Maupassant is so continuously and profoundly
surprising that one becomes overwhelmed by it. It reaches
limitation; it seems to deny that man is susceptible to grandeur,
or that motives of a superior order can uplift and ennoble the
soul, but it does so with a sorrow that is profound. All that
portion of the sentimental and moral world which in itself is the
highest remains closed to it.
In revenge, this philosophy finds itself in a relation cruelly
exact with the half-civilization of our day. By that I mean the
poorly educated individual who has rubbed against knowledge
enough to justify a certain egoism, but who is too poor in
faculty to conceive an ideal, and whose native grossness is
corrupted beyond redemption. Under his blouse, or under his
coat--whether he calls himself Renardet, as does the foul
assassin in "Petite Roque," or Duroy, as does the sly hero of
"Bel-Ami," or Bretigny, as does the vile seducer of "Mont Oriol,"
or Cesaire, the son of Old Amable in the novel of that name,
--this degraded type abounds in Maupassant's stories, evoked with
a ferocity almost jovial where it meets the robustness of
temperament which I have pointed out, a ferocity which gives them
a reality more exact still because the half-civilized person is
often impulsive and, in consequence, the physical easily
predominates. There, as elsewhere, the degenerate is everywhere a
degenerate who gives the impression of being an ordinary man.
There are quantities of men of this stamp in large cities. No
writer has felt and expressed this complex temperament with more
justice than De Maupassant, and, as he was an infinitely careful
observer of milieu and landscape and all that constitutes a
precise middle distance, his novels can be considered an
irrefutable record of the social classes which he studied at a
certain time and along certain lines. The Norman peasant and the
Provencal peasant, for example; also the small officeholder, the
gentleman of the provinces, the country squire, the clubman of
Paris, the journalist of the boulevard, the doctor at the spa,
the commercial artist, and, on the feminine side, the servant
girl, the working girl, the demigrisette, the street girl, rich
or poor, the gallant lady of the city and of the provinces, and
the society woman--these are some of the figures that he has
painted at many sittings, and whom he used to such effect that
the novels and romances in which they are painted have come to be
history. Just as it is impossible to comprehend the Rome of the
Caesars without the work of Petronius, so is it impossible to
fully comprehend the France of 1850-90 without these stories of
Maupassant. They are no more the whole image of the country than
the "Satyricon" was the whole image of Rome, but what their
author has wished to paint, he has painted to the life and with a
brush that is graphic in the extreme.
If Maupassant had only painted, in general fashion, the
characters and the phase of literature mentioned he would not be
distinguished from other writers
of the group called "naturalists." His true glory is in the
extraordinary superiority of his art. He did not invent it, and
his method is not alien to that of "Madame Bovary," but he knew
how to give it a suppleness, a variety, and a freedom which were
always wanting in Flaubert. The latter, in his best pages, is
always strained. To use the expressive metaphor of the Greek
athletes, he "smells of the oil." When one recalls that when
attacked by hysteric epilepsy, Flaubert postponed the crisis of
the terrible malady by means of sedatives, this strained
atmosphere of labor--I was going to say of stupor--which pervades
his work is explained. He is an athlete, a runner, but one who
drags at his feet a terrible weight. He is in the race only for
the prize of effort, an effort of which every motion reveals the
Maupassant, on the other hand, if he suffered from a nervous
lesion, gave no sign of it, except in his heart. His intelligence
was bright and lively, and above all, his imagination, served by
senses always on the alert, preserved for some years an
astonishing freshness of direct vision. If his art was due to
Flaubert, it is no more belittling to him than if one call
Raphael an imitator of Perugini.
Like Flaubert, he excelled in composing a story, in distributing
the facts with subtle gradation, in bringing in at the end of a
familiar dialogue something startlingly dramatic; but such
composition, with him, seems easy, and while the descriptions are
marvelously well established in his stories, the reverse is true
of Flaubert's, which always appear a little veneered.
Maupassant's phrasing, however dramatic it may be, remains easy
and flowing.
Maupassant always sought for large and harmonious rhythm in his
deliberate choice of terms, always chose sound, wholesome
language, with a constant care for technical beauty. Inheriting
from his master an instrument already forged, he wielded it with
a surer skill. In the quality of his style, at once so firm and
clear, so gorgeous yet so sober, so supple and so firm, he equals
the writers of the seventeenth century. His method, so deeply and
simply French, succeeds in giving an indescribable "tang" to his
descriptions. If observation from nature imprints upon his tales
the strong accent of reality, the prose in which they are shrined
so conforms to the genius of the race as to smack of the soil.
It is enough that the critics of to-day place Guy de Maupassant
among our classic writers. He has his place in the ranks of pure
French genius, with the Regniers, the La Fontaines, the Molieres.
And those signs of secret ill divined everywhere under this
wholesome prose surround it for those who knew and loved him with
a pathos that is inexpressible. {signature}
BORN in the middle year of the nineteenth century, and fated
unfortunately never to see its close, Guy de Maupassant was
probably the most versatile and brilliant among the galaxy of
novelists who enriched French literature between the years 1800
and 1900. Poetry, drama, prose of short and sustained effort, and
volumes of travel and description, each sparkling with the same
minuteness of detail and brilliancy of style, flowed from his pen
during the twelve years of his literary life.
Although his genius asserted itself in youth, he had the patience
of the true artist, spending his early manhood in cutting and
polishing the facets of his genius under the stern though
paternal mentorship of Gustave Flaubert. Not until he had
attained the age of thirty did he venture on publication,
challenging criticism for the first time with a volume of poems.
Many and various have been the judgments passed upon Maupassant's
work. But now that the perspective of time is lengthening,
enabling us to form a more deliberate, and therefore a juster,
view of his complete achievement, we are driven irresistibly to
the conclusion that the force that shaped and swayed Maupassant's
prose writings was the conviction that in life there could be no
phase so noble or so mean, so honorable or so contemptible, so
lofty or so low as to be unworthy of chronicling,--no groove of
human virtue or fault, success or failure, wisdom or folly that
did not possess its own peculiar psychological aspect and
therefore demanded analysis.
To this analysis Maupassant brought a facile and dramatic pen, a
penetration as searching as a probe, and a power of psychological
vision that in its minute detail, now pathetic, now ironical, in
its merciless revelation of the hidden springs of the human
heart, whether of aristocrat, bourgeois, peasant, or priest,
allow one to call him a Meissonier in words.
The school of romantic realism which was founded by Merimee and
Balzac found its culmination in De Maupassant. He surpassed his
mentor, Flaubert, in the breadth and vividness of his work, and
one of the greatest of modern French critics has recorded the
deliberate opinion, that of all Taine's pupils Maupassant had the
greatest command of language and the most finished and incisive
style. Robust in imagination and fired with natural passion, his
psychological curiosity kept him true to human nature, while at
the same time his mental eye, when fixed upon the most ordinary
phases of human conduct, could see some new motive or aspect of
things hitherto unnoticed by the careless crowd.
It has been said by casual critics that Maupassant lacked one
quality indispensable to the production of truly artistic work,
viz: an absolutely normal, that is, moral, point of view. The
answer to this criticism is obvious. No dissector of the gamut of
human pas- sion and folly in all its tones could present aught
that could be called new, if ungifted with a viewpoint totally
out of the ordinary plane. Cold and merciless in the use of this
point de vue De Maupassant undoubtedly is, especially in such
vivid depictions of love, both physical and maternal, as we find
in "L'histoire d'une fille de ferme" and "La femme de Paul." But
then the surgeon's scalpel never hesitates at giving pain, and
pain is often the road to health and ease. Some of Maupassant's
short stories are sermons more forcible than any moral
dissertation could ever be.
Of De Maupassant's sustained efforts "Une Vie" may bear the palm.
This romance has the distinction of having changed Tolstoi from
an adverse critic into a warm admirer of the author. To quote the
Russian moralist upon the book:
" 'Une Vie' is a romance of the best type, and in my judgment the
greatest that has been produced by any French writer since Victor
Hugo penned 'Les Miserables.' Passing over the force and
directness of the narrative, I am struck by the intensity, the
grace, and the insight with which the writer treats the new
aspects of human nature which he finds in the life he describes."
And as if gracefully to recall a former adverse criticism,
Tolstoi adds:
"I find in the book, in almost equal strength, the three cardinal
qualities essential to great work, viz: moral purpose, perfect
style, and absolute sincerity. . . . Maupassant is a man whose
vision has penetrated the silent depths of human life, and from
that vantage- ground interprets the struggle of humanity."
"Bel-Ami" appeared almost two years after "Une Vie," that is to
say, about 1885. Discussed and criticised as it has been, it is
in reality a satire, an indignant outburst against the corruption
of society which in the story enables an ex-soldier, devoid of
conscience, honor, even of the commonest regard for others, to
gain wealth and rank. The purport of the story is clear to those
who recognize the ideas that governed Maupassant's work, and even
the hasty reader or critic, on reading "Mont Oriol," which was
published two years later and is based on a combination of the
motifs which inspired "Une Vie" and "Bel-Ami," will reconsider
former hasty judgments, and feel, too, that beneath the triumph
of evil which calls forth Maupassant's satiric anger there lies
the substratum on which all his work is founded, viz: the
persistent, ceaseless questioning of a soul unable to reconcile
or explain the contradiction between love in life and inevitable
death. Who can read in "Bel-Ami" the terribly graphic description
of the consumptive journalist's demise, his frantic clinging to
life, and his refusal to credit the slow and merciless approach
of death, without feeling that the question asked at Naishapur
many centuries ago is still waiting for the solution that is
always promised but never comes?
In the romances which followed, dating from 1888 to 1890, a sort
of calm despair seems to have settled down upon De Maupassant's
attitude toward life. Psychologically acute as ever, and as
perfect in style and sincerity as before, we miss the note of
anger. Fatality is the keynote, and yet, sounding low, we detect
a genuine subtone of sorrow. Was it a prescience of 1893? So much
work to be done, so much work demanded of him, the world of
Paris, in all its brilliant and attractive phases, at his feet,
and yet--inevitable, ever advancing death, with the question of
life still unanswered.
This may account for some of the strained situations we find in
his later romances. Vigorous in frame and hearty as he was, the
atmosphere of his mental processes must have been vitiated to
produce the dainty but dangerous pessimism that pervades some of
his later work. This was partly a consequence of his honesty and
partly of mental despair. He never accepted other people's views
on the questions of life. He looked into such problems for
himself, arriving at the truth, as it appeared to him, by the
logic of events, often finding evil where he wished to find good,
but never hoodwinking himself or his readers by adapting or
distorting the reality of things to suit a preconceived idea.
Maupassant was essentially a worshiper of the eternal feminine.
He was persuaded that without the continual presence of the
gentler sex man's existence would be an emotionally silent
wilderness. No other French writer has described and analyzed so
minutely and comprehensively the many and various motives and
moods that shape the conduct of a woman in life. Take for
instance the wonderfully subtle analysis of a woman's heart as
wife and mother that we find in "Une Vie." Could aught be more
delicately incisive? Sometimes in describing the apparently
inexplicable conduct of a certain woman he leads his readers to a
point where a false step would destroy the spell and bring the
reproach of banality and ridicule upon the tale. But the
catastrophe never occurs. It was necessary to stand poised upon
the brink of the precipice to realize the depth of the abyss and
feel the terror of the fall.
Closely allied to this phase of Maupassant's nature was the
peculiar feeling of loneliness that every now and then breaks
irresistibly forth in the course of some short story. Of kindly
soul and genial heart, he suffered not only from the oppression
of spirit caused by the lack of humanity, kindliness, sanity, and
harmony which he encountered daily in the world at large, but he
had an ever abiding sense of the invincible, unbanishable
solitariness of his own inmost self. I know of no more poignant
expression of such a feeling than the cry of despair which rings
out in the short story called "Solitude," in which he describes
the insurmountable barrier which exists between man and man, or
man and woman, however intimate the friendship between them. He
could picture but one way of destroying this terrible loneliness,
the attainment of a spiritual--a divine--state of love, a
condition to which he would give no name utterable by human lips,
lest it be profaned, but for which his whole being yearned. How
acutely he felt his failure to attain his deliverance may be
drawn from his wail that mankind has no UNIVERSAL measure of
"Each one of us," writes De Maupassant, "forms for himself an
illusion through which he views the world, be it poetic,
sentimental, joyous, melancholy, or dismal; an illusion of
beauty, which is a human convention; of ugliness, which is a
matter of opinion; of truth, which, alas, is never immutable."
And he concludes by asserting that the happiest artist is he who
approaches most closely to the truth of things as he sees them
through his own particular illusion.
Salient points in De Maupassant's genius were that he possessed
the rare faculty of holding direct communion with his gifts, and
of writing from their dictation as it was interpreted by his
senses. He had no patience with writers who in striving to
present life as a whole purposely omit episodes that reveal the
influence of the senses. "As well," he says, "refrain from
describing the effect of intoxicating perfumes upon man as omit
the influence of beauty on the temperament of man."
De Maupassant's dramatic instinct was supremely powerful. He
seems to select unerringly the one thing in which the soul of the
scene is prisoned, and, making that his keynote, gives a picture
in words which haunt the memory like a strain of music. The
description of the ride of Madame Tellier and her companions in a
country cart through a Norman landscape is an admirable example.
You smell the masses of the colza in blossom, you see the yellow
carpets of ripe corn spotted here and there by the blue coronets
of the cornflower, and rapt by the red blaze of the poppy beds
and bathed in the fresh greenery of the landscape, you share in
the emotions felt by the happy party in the country cart. And yet
with all his vividness of description, De Maupassant is always
sober and brief. He had the genius of condensation and the
reserve which is innate in power, and to his reader could convey
as much in a paragraph as could be expressed in a page by many of
his predecessors and contemporaries, Flaubert not excepted.
Apart from his novels, De Maupassant's tales may be arranged
under three heads: Those that concern themselves with Norman
peasant life; those that deal with Government employees
(Maupassant himself had long been one) and the Paris middle
classes, and those that represent the life of the fashionable
world, as well as the weird and fantastic ideas of the later
years of his career. Of these three groups the tales of the
Norman peasantry perhaps rank highest. He depicts the Norman
farmer in surprisingly free and bold strokes, revealing him in
all his caution, astuteness, rough gaiety, and homely virtue.
The tragic stage of De Maupassant's life may, I think, be set
down as beginning just before the drama of "Musotte" was issued,
in conjunction with Jacques Normand, in 1891. He had almost given
up the hope of interpreting his puzzles, and the struggle between
the falsity of the life which surrounded him and the nobler
visions which possessed him was wearing him out. Doubtless he
resorted to unwise methods for the dispelling of physical
lassitude or for surcease from troubling mental problems. To this
period belong such weird and horrible fancies as are contained in
the short stories known as "He" and "The Diary of a Madman." Here
and there, we know, were rising in him inklings of a finer and
less sordid attitude 'twixt man and woman throughout the world
and of a purer constitution of existing things which no exterior
force should blemish or destroy. But with these yearningly
prophetic gleams came a period of mental death. Then the physical
veil was torn aside and for Guy de Maupassant the riddle of
existence was answered. {signature}
The Major Graf[1] von Farlsberg, the Prussian commandant, was
reading his newspaper, lying back in a great armchair, with his
booted feet on the beautiful marble fireplace, where his spurs
had made two holes, which grew deeper every day, during the three
months that he had been in the chateau of Urville.
[1] Count.
A cup of coffee was smoking on a small inlaid table, which was
stained with liquors burnt by cigars, notched by the penknife of
the victorious officer, who occasionally would stop while
sharpening a pencil, to jot down figures, or to make a drawing on
it, just as it took his fancy.
When he had read his letters and the German newspapers, which his
baggage-master had brought him, he got up, and after throwing
three or four enormous pieces of green wood on to the fire--for
these gentlemen were gradually cutting down the park in order to
keep themselves warm--he went to the window. The rain was
descending in torrents, a regular Normandy rain, which looked as
if it were being poured out by some furious hand, a slanting
rain, which was as thick as a curtain, and which formed a kind of
wall with oblique stripes, and which deluged everything, a
regular rain, such as one frequently experiences in the
neighborhood of Rouen, which is the watering-pot of France.
For a long time the officer looked at the sodden turf, and at the
swollen Andelle beyond it, which was overflowing its banks, and
he was drumming a waltz from the Rhine on the window-panes, with
his fingers, when a noise made him turn round; it was his second
in command, Captain Baron von Kelweinstein.
The major was a giant, with broad shoulders, and a long, fair
beard, which hung like a cloth on to his chest. His whole, solemn
person suggested the idea of a military peacock, a peacock who
was carrying his tail spread out on to his breast. He had cold,
gentle, blue eyes, and the scar from a sword-cut, which he had
received in the war with Austria; he was said to be an honorable
man, as well as a brave officer.
The captain, a short, red-faced man, who was tightly girthed in
at the waist, had his red hair cropped quite close to his head,
and in certain lights almost looked as if he had been rubbed over
with phosphorus. He had lost two front teeth one night, though he
could not quite remember how. This defect made him speak so that
he could not always be understood, and he had a bald patch on the
top of his head, which made him look rather like a monk, with a
fringe of curly, bright, golden hair round the circle of bare
The commandant shook hands with him, and drank his cup of coffee
(the sixth that morning) at a draught, while he listened to his
subordinate's report of what had occurred; and then they both
went to the window, and declared that it was a very unpleasant
outlook. The major, who was a quiet man, with a wife at home,
could accommodate himself to everything; but the captain, who was
rather fast, being in the habit of frequenting low resorts, and
much given to women, was mad at having been shut up for three
months in the compulsory chastity of that wretched hole.
There was a knock at the door, and when the commandant said,
"Come in," one of their automatic soldiers appeared, and by his
mere presence announced that breakfast was ready. In the diningroom,
they met three other officers of lower rank: a lieutenant,
Otto von Grossling, and two sub-lieutenants, Fritz Scheunebarg,
and Count von Eyrick a very short, fair-haired man, who was proud
and brutal toward men, harsh toward prisoners, and very violent.
Since he had been in France, his comrades had called him nothing
but "Mademoiselle Fifi." They had given him that nickname on
account of his dandified style and small waist, which looked as
if he wore stays, from his pale face, on which his budding
mustache scarcely showed, and on account of the habit he had
acquired of employing the French expression, fi, fi donc, which
he pronounced with a slight whistle, when he wished to express
his sovereign contempt for persons or things.
The dining-room of the chateau was a magnificent long room, whose
fine old mirrors, now cracked by pistol bullets, and Flemish
tapestry, now cut to ribbons and hanging in rags in places, from
sword-cuts, told too well what Mademoiselle Fifi's occupation was
during his spare time.
There were three family portraits on the walls; a steel-clad
knight, a cardinal, and a judge, who were all smoking long
porcelain pipes, which had been inserted into holes in the
canvas, while a lady in a long, pointed waist proudly exhibited
an enormous pair of mustaches, drawn with a piece of charcoal.
The officers ate their breakfast almost in silence in that
mutilated room, which looked dull in the rain, and melancholy
under its vanquished appearance, although its old, oak floor had
become as solid as the stone floor of a public-house.
When they had finished eating, and were smoking and drinking,
they began, as usual, to talk about the dull life they were
leading. The bottles of brandy and of liquors passed from hand to
hand, and all sat back in their chairs, taking repeated sips from
their glasses, and scarcely removing the long, bent stems, which
terminated in china bowls painted in a manner to delight a
Hottentot, from their mouths.
As soon as their glasses were empty, they filled them again, with
a gesture of resigned weariness, but Mademoiselle Fifi emptied
his every minute, and a soldier immediately gave him another.
They were enveloped in a cloud of strong tobacco smoke; they
seemed to be sunk in a state of drowsy, stupid intoxication, in
that dull state of drunkenness of men who have nothing to do,
when suddenly, the baron sat up, and said: "By heavens! This
cannot go on; we must think of something to do." And on hearing
this, Lieutenant Otto and Sub-lieutenant Fritz, who pre-eminently
possessed the grave, heavy German countenance, said: "What,
He thought for a few moments, and then replied "What? Well, we
must get up some entertainment; if the commandant will allow us."
"What sort of an entertainment, captain?" the major asked, taking
his pipe out of his mouth.
"I will arrange all that, commandant," the baron said. "I will
send Le Devoir to Rouen, who will bring us some ladies. I know
where they can be found. We will have supper here, as all the
materials are at hand, and, at least, we shall have a jolly
Graf von Farlsberg shrugged his shoulders with a smile: "You must
surely be mad, my friend."
But all the other officers got up, surrounded their chief, and
said: "Let the captain have his own way, commandant; it is
terribly dull here."
And the major ended by yielding. "Very well," he replied, and the
baron immediately sent for Le Devoir.
The latter was an old corporal who had never been seen to smile,
but who carried out all the orders of his superiors to the
letter, no matter what they might be. He stood there, with an
impassive face while he received the baron's instructions, and
then went out; five minutes later a large wagon belonging to the
military train, covered with a miller's tilt, galloped off as
fast as four horses could take it, under the pouring rain, and
the officers all seemed to awaken from their lethargy, their
looks brightened, and they began to talk.
Although it was raining as hard as ever, the major declared that
it was not so dull, and Lieutenant von Grossling said with
conviction, that the sky was clearing up, while Mademoiselle Fifi
did not seem to be able to keep in his place. He got up, and sat
down again, and his bright eyes seemed to be looking for
something to destroy. Suddenly, looking at the lady with the
mustaches, the young fellow pulled out his revolver, and said:
"You shall not see it." And without leaving his seat he aimed,
and with two successive bullets cut out both the eyes of the
"Let us make a mine!" he then exclaimed, and the conversation was
suddenly interrupted, as if they had found some fresh and
powerful subject of interest. The mine was his invention, his
method of destruction, and his favorite amusement.
When he left the chateau, the lawful owner, Count Fernand d'Amoys
d'Urville, had not had time to carry away or to hide anything,
except the plate, which had been stowed away in a hole made in
one of the walls, so that, as he was very rich and had good
taste, the large drawing-room, which opened into the dining-room,
had looked like the gallery in a museum, before his precipitate
Expensive oil-paintings, water-colors, and drawings hung upon the
walls, while on the tables, on the hanging shelves, and in
elegant glass cupboards, there were a thousand knickknacks: small
vases, statuettes, groups in Dresden china, grotesque Chinese
figures, old ivory, and Venetian glass, which filled the large
room with their precious and fantastical array.
Scarcely anything was left now; not that the things had been
stolen, for the major would not have allowed that, but
Mademoiselle Fifi WOULD HAVE A MINE, and on that occasion all the
officers thoroughly enjoyed themselves for five minutes. The
little marquis went into the drawing-room to get what he wanted,
and he brought back a small, delicate china teapot, which he
filled with gunpowder, and carefully introduced a piece of German
tinder into it, through the spout. Then he lighted it, and took
this infernal machine into the next room; but he came back
immediately and shut the door. The Germans all stood expectantly,
their faces full of childish, smiling curiosity, and as soon as
the explosion had shaken the chateau, they all rushed in at once.
Mademoiselle Fifi, who got in first, clapped his hands in delight
at the sight of a terra-cotta Venus, whose head had been blown
off, and each picked up pieces of porcelain, and wondered at the
strange shape of the fragments, while the major was looking with
a paternal eye at the large drawing-room which had been wrecked
in such a Neronic fashion, and which was strewn with the
fragments of works of art. He went out first, and said, with a
smile: "He managed that very well!"
But there was such a cloud of smoke in the dining-room, mingled
with the tobacco smoke, that they could not breathe, so the
commandant opened the window, and all the officers, who had gone
into the room for a glass of cognac, went up to it.
The moist air blew into the room, and brought a sort of spray
with it, which powdered their beards. They looked at the tall
trees which were dripping with the rain, at the broad valley
which was covered with mist, and at the church spire in the
distance, which rose up like a gray point in the beating rain.
The bells had not rung since their arrival. That was the only
resistance which the invaders had met with in the neighborhood.
The parish priest had not refused to take in and to feed the
Prussian soldiers; he had several times even drunk a bottle of
beer or claret with the hostile commandant, who often employed
him as a benevolent intermediary; but it was no use to ask him
for a single stroke of the bells; he would sooner have allowed
himself to be shot. That was his way of protesting against the
invasion, a peaceful and silent protest, the only one, he said,
which was suitable to a priest, who was a man of mildness, and
not of blood; and everyone, for twenty-five miles round, praised
Abbe Chantavoine's firmness and heroism, in venturing to proclaim
the public mourning by the obstinate silence of his church bells.
The whole village grew enthusiastic over his resistance, and was
ready to back up their pastor and to risk anything, as they
looked upon that silent protest as the safeguard of the national
honor. It seemed to the peasants that thus they had deserved
better of their country than Belfort and Strassburg, that they
had set an equally valuable example, and that the name of their
little village would become immortalized by that; but with that
exception, they refused their Prussian conquerors nothing.
The commandant and his officers laughed among themselves at that
inoffensive courage, and as the people in the whole country round
showed themselves obliging and compliant toward them, they
willingly tolerated their silent patriotism. Only little Count
Wilhelm would have liked to have forced them to ring the bells.
He was very angry at his superior's politic compliance with the
priest's scruples, and every day he begged the commandant to
allow him to sound "ding-dong, ding-dong," just once, only just
once, just by way of a joke. And he asked it like a wheedling
woman, in the tender voice of some mistress who wishes to obtain
something, but the commandant would not yield, and to console
HERSELF, Mademoiselle Fifi made A MINE in the chateau.
The five men stood there together for some minutes, inhaling the
moist air, and at last, Lieutenant Fritz said, with a laugh: "The
ladies will certainly not have fine weather for their drive."
Then they separated, each to his own duties, while the captain
had plenty to do in seeing about the dinner.
When they met again, as it was growing dark, they began to laugh
at seeing each other as dandified and smart as on the day of a
grand review. The commandant's hair did not look as gray as it
did in the morning, and the captain had shaved--had only kept his
mustache on, which made him look as if he had a streak of fire
under his nose.
In spite of the rain, they left the window open, and one of them
went to listen from time to time. At a quarter past six the baron
said he heard a rumbling in the distance. They all rushed down,
and soon the wagon drove up at a gallop with its four horses,
splashed up to their backs, steaming and panting. Five women got
out at the bottom of the steps, five handsome girls whom a
comrade of the captain, to whom Le Dervoir had taken his card,
had selected with care.
They had not required much pressing, as they were sure of being
well treated, for they had got to know the Prussians in the three
months during which they had had to do with them. So they
resigned themselves to the men as they did to the state of
affairs. "It is part of our business, so it must be done," they
said as they drove along; no doubt to allay some slight, secret
scruples of conscience.
They went into the dining-room immediately, which looked still
more dismal in its dilapidated state, when it was lighted up;
while the table covered with choice dishes, the beautiful china
and glass, and the plate, which had been found in the hole in the
wall where its owner had hidden it, gave to the place the look of
a bandits' resort, where they were supping after committing a
robbery. The captain was radiant; he took hold of the women as if
he were familiar with them; appraising them, kissing them,
valuing them for what they were worth as LADIES OF PLEASURE; and
when the three young men wanted to appropriate one each, he
opposed them authoritatively, reserving to himself the right to
apportion them justly, according to their several ranks, so as
not to wound the hierarchy. Therefore, so as to avoid all
discussion, jarring, and suspicion of partiality, he placed them
all in a line according to height, and addressing the tallest, he
said in a voice of command:
"What is your name?"
"Pamela," she replied, raising her voice.
Then he said: "Number One, called Pamela, is adjudged to the
Then, having kissed Blondina, the second, as a sign of
proprietorship, he proffered stout Amanda to Lieutenant Otto!
Eva, "the Tomato," to Sub-lieutenant Fritz, and Rachel, the
shortest of them all, a very young, dark girl, with eyes as black
as ink, a Jewess, whose snub nose confirmed by exception the rule
which allots hooked noses to all her race, to the youngest
officer, frail Count Wilhelm von Eyrick.
They were all pretty and plump, without any distinctive features,
and all were very much alike in look and person, from their daily
dissipation, and the life common to houses of public
The three younger men wished to carry off their women
immediately, under the pretext of finding them brushes and soap;
but the captain wisely opposed this, for he said they were quite
fit to sit down to dinner, and that those who went up would wish
for a change when they came down, and so would disturb the other
couples, and his experience in such matters carried the day.
There were only many kisses; expectant kisses.
Suddenly Rachel choked, and began to cough until the tears came
into her eyes, while smoke came through her nostrils. Under
pretense of kissing her, the count had blown a whiff of tobacco
into her mouth. She did not fly into a rage, and did not say a
word, but she looked at her possessor with latent hatred in her
dark eyes.
They sat down to dinner. The commandant seemed delighted; he made
Pamela sit on his right, and Blondina on his left, and said, as
he unfolded his table napkin: "That was a delightful idea of
yours, captain."
Lieutenants Otto and Fritz, who were as polite as if they had
been with fashionable ladies, rather intimidated their neighbors,
but Baron von Kelweinstein gave the reins to all his vicious
propensities, beamed, made doubtful remarks, and seemed on fire
with his crown of red hair. He paid them compliments in French
from the other side of the Rhine, and sputtered out gallant
remarks, only fit for a low pot-house, from between his two
broken teeth.
They did not understand him, however, and their intelligence did
not seem to be awakened until he uttered nasty words and broad
expressions, which were mangled by his accent. Then all began to
laugh at once, like mad women, and fell against each other,
repeating the words, which the baron then began to say all wrong,
in order that he might have the pleasure of hearing them say
doubtful things. They gave him as much of that stuff as he
wanted, for they were drunk after the first bottle of wine, and,
becoming themselves once more, and opening the door to their
usual habits, they kissed the mustaches on the right and left of
them, pinched their arms, uttered furious cries, drank out of
every glass, and sang French couplets, and bits of German songs,
which they had picked up in their daily intercourse with the
Soon the men themselves, intoxicated by that which was displayed
to their sight and touch, grew very amorous, shouted and broke
the plates and dishes, while the soldiers behind them waited on
them stolidly. The commandant was the only one who put any
restraint upon himself.
Mademoiselle Fifi had taken Rachel on to his knees, and, getting
excited, at one moment kissed the little black curls on her neck,
inhaling the pleasant warmth of her body, and all the savor of
her person, through the slight space there was between her dress
and her skin, and at another pinched her furiously through the
material, and made her scream, for he was seized with a species
of ferocity, and tormented by his desire to hurt her. He often
held her close to him, as if to make her part of himself, and put
his lips in a long kiss on the Jewess's rosy mouth, until she
lost her breath; and at last he bit her until a stream of blood
ran down her chin and on to her bodice.
For the second time, she looked him full in the face, and as she
bathed the wound, she said: "You will have to pay for that!"
But he merely laughed a hard laugh, and said: "I will pay."
At dessert, champagne was served, and the commandant rose, and in
the same voice in which he would have drunk to the health of the
Empress Augusta, he drank: "To our ladies!" Then a series of
toasts began, toasts worthy of the lowest soldiers and of
drunkards, mingled with filthy jokes, which were made still more
brutal by their ignorance of the language. They got up, one after
the other, trying to say something witty, forcing themselves to
be funny, and the women, who were so drunk that they almost fell
off their chairs, with vacant looks and clammy tongues, applauded
madly each time.
The captain, who no doubt wished to impart an appearance of
gallantry to the orgy, raised his glass again, and said: "To our
victories over hearts!" Thereupon Lieutenant Otto, who was a
species of bear from the Black Forest, jumped up, inflamed and
saturated with drink, and seized by an access of alcoholic
patriotism, cried: "To our victories over France!"
Drunk as they were, the women were silent, and Rachel turned
round with a shudder, and said: "Look here, I know some
Frenchmen, in whose presence you would not dare to say that." But
the little count, still holding her on his knees, began to laugh,
for the wine had made him very merry, and said: "Ha! ha! ha! I
have never met any of them, myself. As soon as we show ourselves,
they run away!"
The girl, who was in a terrible rage, shouted into his face: "You
are lying, you dirty scoundrel!"
For a moment, he looked at her steadily, with his bright eyes
upon her, as he had looked at the portrait before he destroyed it
with revolver bullets, and then he began to laugh: "Ah! yes, talk
about them, my dear! Should we be here now, if they were brave?"
Then getting excited, he exclaimed: "We are the masters! France
belongs to us!" She jumped off his knees with a bound, and threw
herself into her chair, while he rose, held out his glass over
the table, and repeated: "France and the French, the woods, the
fields, and the houses of France belong to us!"
The others, who were quite drunk, and who were suddenly seized by
military enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of brutes, seized their
glasses, and shouting, "Long live Prussia!" emptied them at a
The girls did not protest, for they were reduced to silence, and
were afraid. Even Rachel did not say a word, as she had no reply
to make, and then the little count put his champagne glass, which
had just been refilled, on to the head of the Jewess, and
exclaimed: "All the women in France belong to us, also!"
At that she got up so quickly that the glass upset, spilling the
amber colored wine on to her black hair as if to baptize her, and
broke into a hundred fragments as it fell on to the floor. With
trembling lips, she defied the looks of the officer, who was
still laughing, and she stammered out, in a voice choked with
rage: "That--that--that--is not true,--for you shall certainly
not have any French women."
He sat down again, so as to laugh at his ease, and trying
ineffectually to speak in the Parisian accent, he said: "That is
good, very good! Then what did you come here for, my dear?"
She was thunderstruck, and made no reply for a moment, for in her
agitation she did not understand him at first; but as soon as she
grasped his meaning, she said to him indignantly and vehemently:
"I! I! I am not a woman; I am only a strumpet, and that is all
that Prussians want."
Almost before she had finished, he slapped her full in her face;
but as he was raising his hand again as if he would strike her,
she, almost mad with passion, took up a small dessert knife from
the table, and stabbed him right in the neck, just above the
breastbone. Something that he was going to say, was cut short in
his throat, and he sat there, with his mouth half open, and a
terrible look in his eyes.
All the officers shouted in horror, and leaped up tumultuously;
but throwing her chair between Lieutenant Otto's legs, who fell
down at full length, she ran to the window, opened it before they
could seize her, and jumped out into the night and pouring rain.
In two minutes, Mademoiselle Fifi was dead. Fritz and Otto drew
their swords and wanted to kill the women, who threw themselves
at their feet and clung to their knees. With some difficulty the
major stopped the slaughter, and had the four terrified girls
locked up in a room under the care of two soldiers. Then he
organized the pursuit of the fugitive, as carefully as if he were
about to engage in a skirmish, feeling quite sure that she would
be caught.
The table, which had been cleared immediately, now served as a
bed on which to lay Fifi out, and the four officers made for the
window, rigid and sobered, with the stern faces of soldiers on
duty, and tried to pierce through the darkness of the night, amid
the steady torrent of rain. Suddenly, a shot was heard, and then
another, a long way off; and for four hours they heard, from time
to time, near or distant reports and rallying cries, strange
words uttered as a call, in guttural voices.
In the morning they all returned. Two soldiers had been killed
and three others wounded by their comrades in the ardor of that
chase, and in the confusion of such a nocturnal pursuit, but they
had not caught Rachel.
Then the inhabitants of the district were terrorized, the houses
were turned topsy-turvy, the country was scoured and beaten up,
over and over again, but the Jewess did not seem to have left a
single trace of her passage behind her.
When the general was told of it, he gave orders to hush up the
affair, so as not to set a bad example to the army, but he
severely censured the commandant, who in turn punished his
inferiors. The general had said: "One does not go to war in order
to amuse oneself, and to caress prostitutes." And Graf von
Farlsberg, in his exasperation, made up his mind to have his
revenge on the district, but as he required a pretext for showing
severity, he sent for the priest and ordered him to have the bell
tolled at the funeral of Count von Eyrick.
Contrary to all expectation, the priest showed himself humble and
most respectful, and when Mademoiselle Fifi's body left the
Chateau d'Urville on its way to the cemetery, carried by
soldiers, preceded, surrounded, and followed by soldiers, who
marched with loaded rifles, for the first time the bell sounded
its funereal knell in a lively manner, as if a friendly hand were
caressing it. At night it sounded again, and the next day, and
every day; it rang as much as anyone could desire. Sometimes
even, it would start at night, and sound gently through the
darkness, seized by strange joy, awakened, one could not tell
why. All the peasants in the neighborhood declared that it was
bewitched, and nobody, except the priest and the sacristan would
now go near the church tower, and they went because a poor girl
was living there in grief and solitude, secretly nourished by
those two men.
She remained there until the German troops departed, and then one
evening the priest borrowed the baker's cart, and himself drove
his prisoner to Rouen. When they got there, he embraced her, and
she quickly went back on foot to the establishment from which she
had come, where the proprietress, who thought that she was dead,
was very glad to see her.
A short time afterward, a patriot who had no prejudices, who
liked her because of her bold deed, and who afterward loved her
for herself, married her, and made a lady of her.
Paris had just heard of the disaster of Sedan. The Republic was
proclaimed. All France was panting from a madness that lasted
until the time of the Commonwealth. Everybody was playing at
soldier from one end of the country to the other.
Capmakers became colonels, assuming the duties of generals;
revolvers and daggers were displayed on large rotund bodies,
enveloped in red sashes; common citizens turned warriors,
commanding battalions of noisy volunteers, and swearing like
troopers to emphasize their importance.
The very fact of bearing arms and handling guns with a system
excited a people who hitherto had only handled scales and
measures, and made them formidable to the first comer, without
reason. They even executed a few innocent people to prove that
they knew how to kill; and, in roaming through virgin fields
still belonging to the Prussians, they shot stray dogs, cows
chewing the cud in peace, or sick horses put out to pasture. Each
believed himself called upon to play a great role in military
affairs. The cafes of the smallest villages, full of tradesmen in
uniform, resembled barracks or field hospitals.
Now, the town of Canneville did not yet know the exciting news of
the army and the Capital. It had, however, been greatly agitated
for a month over an encounter between the rival political
parties. The mayor, Viscount de Varnetot, a small, thin man,
already old, remained true to the Empire, especially since he saw
rising up against him a powerful adversary, in the great,
sanguine form of Doctor Massarel, head of the Republican party in
the district, venerable chief of the Masonic lodge, president of
the Society of Agriculture and of the Fire Department, and
organizer of the rural militia designed to save the country.
In two weeks he had induced sixty-three men to volunteer in
defense of their country--married men, fathers of families,
prudent farmers and merchants of the town. These he drilled every
morning in front of the mayor's window.
Whenever the mayor happened to appear, Commander Massarel,
covered with pistols, passing proudly up and down in front of his
troops, would make them shout, "Long live our country!" And this,
they noticed, disturbed the little viscount, who no doubt heard
in it menace and defiance, and perhaps some odious recollection
of the great Revolution.
On the morning of the fifth of September, in uniform, his
revolver on the table, the doctor gave consultation to an old
peasant couple. The husband had suffered with a varicose vein for
seven years, but had waited until his wife had one too, so that
they might go and hunt up a physician together, guided by the
postman when he should come with the newspaper.
Dr. Massarel opened the door, grew pale, straightened himself
abruptly and, raising his arms to heaven in a gesture of
exaltation, cried out with all his might, in the face of the
amazed rustics:
"Long live the Republic! Long live the Republic! Long live the
Then he dropped into his armchair weak with emotion.
When the peasant explained that this sickness commenced with a
feeling as if ants were running up and down in his legs, the
doctor exclaimed: "Hold your peace. I have spent too much time
with you stupid people. The Republic is proclaimed! The Emperor
is a prisoner! France is saved! Long live the Republic!" And,
running to the door, he bellowed: "Celeste! Quick! Celeste!"
The frightened maid hastened in. He stuttered, so rapidly did he
try to speak: "My boots, my saber --my cartridge box--and--the
Spanish dagger, which is on my night table. Hurry now!"
The obstinate peasant, taking advantage of the moment's silence,
began again: "This seemed like some cysts that hurt me when I
The exasperated physician shouted: "Hold your peace! For Heaven's
sake! If you had washed your feet oftener, it would not have
happened." Then, seizing him by the neck, he hissed in his face:
"Can you not comprehend that we are living in a Republic,
But professional sentiment calmed him suddenly, and he let the
astonished old couple out of the house, repeating all the time:
"Return to-morrow, return to-morrow, my friends; I have no more
time to-day."
While equipping himself from head to foot, he gave another series
of urgent orders to the maid:
"Run to Lieutenant Picard's and to Sub-lieutenant Pommel's and
say to them that I want them here immediately. Send Torcheboeuf
to me, too, with his drum. Quick, now! Quick!" And when Celeste
was gone, he collected his thoughts and prepared to surmount the
difficulties of the situation.
The three men arrived together. They were in their working
clothes. The Commander, who had expected to see them in uniform,
had a fit of surprise.
"You know nothing, then? The Emperor has been taken prisoner. A
Republic is proclaimed. My position is delicate, not to say
He reflected for some minutes before the astonished faces of his
subordinates and then continued:
"It is necessary to act, not to hesitate. Minutes now are worth
hours at other times. Everything depends upon promptness of
decision. You, Picard, go and find the curate and get him to ring
the bell to bring the people together, while I get ahead of them.
You, Torcheboeuf, beat the call to assemble the militia in arms,
in the square, from even as far as the hamlets of Gerisaie and
Salmare. You, Pommell put on your uniform at once, that is, the
jacket and cap. We, together, are going to take possession of the
mairie and summon M. de Varnetot to transfer his authority to me.
Do you understand?"
"Act, then, and promptly. I will accompany you to your house,
Pommel, since we are to work together."
Five minutes later, the Commander and his subaltern, armed to the
teeth, appeared in the square, just at the moment when the little
Viscount de Varnetot, with hunting gaiters on and his rifle on
his shoulder, appeared by another street, walking rapidly and
followed by three guards in green jackets, each carrying a knife
at his side and a gun over his shoulder.
While the doctor stopped, half stupefied, the four men entered
the mayor's house and the door closed behind them.
"We are forestalled," murmured the doctor; "it will be necessary
now to wait for re-enforcements; nothing can be done for a
quarter of an hour."
Here Lieutenant Picard appeared: "The curate refuses to obey,"
said he; "he has even shut himself up in the church with the
beadle and the porter."
On the other side of the square, opposite the white, closed front
of the mairie, the church, mute and black, showed its great oak
door with the wrought-iron trimmings.
Then, as the puzzled inhabitants put their noses out of the
windows, or came out upon the steps of their houses, the rolling
of a drum was heard, and Torcheboeuf suddenly appeared, beating
with fury the three quick strokes of the call to arms. He crossed
the square with disciplined step, and then disappeared on a road
leading to the country.
The Commander drew his sword, advanced alone to the middle
distance between the two buildings where the enemy was barricaded
and, waving his weapon above his head, roared at the top of his
lungs: "Long live the Republic! Death to traitors!" Then he fell
back where his officers were. The butcher, the baker, and the
apothecary, feeling a little uncertain, put up their shutters and
closed their shops. The grocery alone remained open.
Meanwhile the men of the militia were arriving, little by little,
variously clothed, but all wearing caps, the cap constituting the
whole uniform of the corps. They were armed with their old, rusty
guns, guns that had hung on chimney-pieces in kitchens for thirty
years, and looked quite like a detachment of country soldiers.
When there were about thirty around him, the Commander explained
in a few words, the state of affairs. Then, turning toward his
major, he said: "Now, we must act."
While the inhabitants collected, talked over and discussed the
matter, the doctor quickly formed his plan of campaign:
"Lieutenant Picard, you advance to the windows of the mayor's
house and order M. de Varnetot to turn over the townhall to me,
in the name of the Republic."
But the lieutenant was a master-mason and refused.
"You are a scamp, you are. Trying to make a target of me! Those
fellows in there are good shots, you know that. No, thanks!
Execute your commissions yourself!"
The Commander turned red: "I order you to go in the name of
discipline," said he.
"I am not spoiling my features without knowing why," the
lieutenant returned.
Men of influence, in a group near by, were heard laughing. One of
them called out: "You are right, Picard, it is not the proper
time." The doctor, under his breath, muttered: "Cowards!" And,
placing his sword and his revolver in the hands of a soldier, he
advanced with measured step, his eye fixed on the windows, as if
he expected to see a gun or a cannon pointed at him.
When he was within a few steps of the building the doors at the
two extremities, affording an entrance to two schools, opened,
and a flood of little creatures, boys on one side, girls on the
other, poured out and began playing in the open space, chattering
around the doctor like a flock of birds. He scarcely knew what to
make of it.
As soon as the last were out, the doors closed. The greater part
of the little monkeys finally scattered and then the Commander
called out in a loud voice
"Monsieur de Varnetot?" A window in the first story opened and M.
de Varnetot appeared.
The Commander began: "Monsieur, you are aware of the great events
which have changed the system of Government. The party you
represent no longer exists. The side I represent now comes into
power. Under these sad, but decisive circumstances, I come to
demand you, in the name of the Republic, to put in my hand the
authority vested in you by the outgoing power."
M. de Varnetot replied: "Doctor Massarel, I am mayor of
Canneville, so placed by the proper authorities, and mayor of
Canneville I shall remain until the title is revoked and replaced
by an order from my superiors. As mayor, I am at home in the
mairie, and there I shall stay. Furthermore, just try to put me
out." And he closed the window.
The Commander returned to his troops. But, before explaining
anything, measuring Lieutenant Picard from head to foot, he said:
"You are a numskull, you are,--a goose, the disgrace of the army.
I shall degrade you."
The Lieutenant replied: "I'll attend to that myself." And he went
over to a group of muttering civilians.
Then the doctor hesitated. What should he do? Make an assault?
Would his men obey him? And then, was he surely in the right? An
idea burst upon him. He ran to the telegraph office, on the other
side of the square, and hurriedly sent three dispatches: "To the
Members of the Republican Government, at Paris"; "To the New
Republican Prefect of the Lower Seine, at Rouen"; "To the New
Republican Sub-Prefect of Dieppe."
He exposed the situation fully; told of the danger run by the
commonwealth from remaining in the hands of the monarchistic
mayor, offered his devout services, asked for orders and signed
his name, following it up with all his titles. Then he returned
to his army corps and, drawing ten francs out of his pocket,
"Now, my friends, go and eat and drink a little something. Only
leave here a detachment of ten men, so that no one leaves the
mayor's house."
Ex-Lieutenant Picard chatting with the watch-maker, overheard
this. With a sneer he remarked:
"Pardon me, but if they go out, there will be an opportunity for
you to go in. Otherwise, I can't see how you are to get in
The doctor made no reply, but went away to luncheon. In the
afternoon, he disposed of offices all about town, having the air
of knowing of an impending surprise. Many times he passed before
the doors of the mairie and of the church, without noticing
anything suspicious; one could have believed the two buildings
The butcher, the baker, and the apothecary re-opened their shops,
and stood gossiping on the steps. If the Emperor had been taken
prisoner, there must be a traitor somewhere. They did not feel
sure of the revenue of a new Republic.
Night came on. Toward nine o'clock, the doctor returned quietly
and alone to the mayor's residence, persuaded that his adversary
had retired. And, as he was trying to force an entrance with a
few blows of a pickaxe, the loud voice of a guard demanded
suddenly: "Who goes there?" Monsieur Massarel beat a retreat at
the top of his speed.
Another day dawned without any change in the situation. The
militia in arms occupied the square. The inhabitants stood around
awaiting the solution. People from neighboring villages came to
look on. Finally, the doctor, realizing that his reputation was
at stake, resolved to settle the thing in one way or another. He
had just decided that it must be something energetic, when the
door of the telegraph office opened and the little servant of the
directress appeared, holding in her hand two papers.
She went directly to the Commander and gave him one of the
dispatches; then, crossing the square, intimidated by so many
eyes fixed upon her, with lowered head and mincing steps, she
rapped gently at the door of the barricaded house, as if ignorant
that a part of the army was concealed there.
The door opened slightly; the hand of a man received the message,
and the girl returned, blushing and ready to weep, from being
stared at.
The doctor demanded, with stirring voice: "A little silence, if
you please." And, after the populace became quiet, he continued
"Here is a communication which I have received from the
Government." And raising the dispatch, he read:
"Old mayor deposed. Advise us of what is most necessary,
Instructions later.
"For the Sub-Prefect,
"SAPIN, Counselor."
He had triumphed. His heart was beating with joy. His hand
trembled, when Picard, his old subaltern, cried out to him from a
neighboring group: "That's all right; but if the others in there
won't go out, your paper hasn't a leg to stand on." The doctor
grew a little pale. If they would not go out --in fact, he must
go ahead now. It was not only his right, but his duty. And he
looked anxiously at the house of the mayoralty, hoping that he
might see the door open and his adversary show himself. But the
door remained closed. What was to be done? The crowd was
increasing, surrounding the militia. Some laughed.
One thought, especially, tortured the doctor. If he should make
an assault, he must march at the head of his men; and as, with
him dead, all contest would cease, it would be at him, and at him
alone that M. de Varnetot and the three guards would aim. And
their aim was good, very good! Picard had reminded him of that.
But an idea shone in upon him, and turning to Pommel, he said:
"Go, quickly, and ask the apothecary to send me a napkin and a
The Lieutenant hurried off. The doctor was going to make a
political banner, a white one, that would perhaps, rejoice the
heart of that old legitimist, the mayor.
Pommel returned with the required linen and a broom handle. With
some pieces of string, they improvised a standard, which Massarel
seized in both hands. Again, he advanced toward the house of
mayoralty, bearing the standard before him. When in front of the
door, he called out: "Monsieur de Varnetot!"
The door opened suddenly, and M. de Varnetot and the three guards
appeared on the threshold. The doctor recoiled, instinctively.
Then, he saluted his enemy courteously, and announced, almost
strangled by emotion: "I have come, sir, to communicate to you
the instructions I have just received."
That gentleman, without any salutation whatever, replied: "I am
going to withdraw, sir, but you must understand that it is not
because of fear, or in obedience to an odious government that has
usurped the power." And, biting off each word, he declared: "I do
not wish to have the appearance of serving the Republic for a
single day. That is all."
Massarel, amazed, made no reply; and M, de Varnetot, walking off
at a rapid pace, disappeared around the corner, followed closely
by his escort. Then the doctors slightly dismayed, returned to
the crowd. When he was near enough to be heard, he cried:
"Hurrah! Hurrah! The Republic triumphs all along the line!"
But no emotion was manifested. The doctor tried again. "The
people are free! You are free and independent! Do you understand?
Be proud of it!"
The listless villagers looked at him with eyes unlit by glory. In
his turn, he looked at them, indignant at their indifference,
seeking for some word that could make a grand impression,
electrify this placid country and make good his mission. The
inspiration come, and turning to Pommel, he said: "Lieutenant, go
and get the bust of the ex-Emperor, which is in the Council Hall,
and bring it to me with a chair."
And soon the man reappears, carrying on his right shoulder,
Napoleon III. in plaster, and holding in his left hand a
straw-bottomed chair.
Massarel met him, took the chair, placed it on the ground, put
the white image upon it, fell back a few steps and called out, in
sonorous voice:
"Tyrant! Tyrant! Here do you fall! Fall in the dust and in the
mire. An expiring country groans under your feet. Destiny has
called you the Avenger. Defeat and shame cling to you. You fall
conquered, a prisoner to the Prussians, and upon the ruins of the
crumbling Empire the young and radiant Republic arises, picking
up your broken sword."
He awaited applause. But there was no voice, no sound. The
bewildered peasants remained silent. And the bust, with its
pointed mustaches extending beyond the cheeks on each side, the
bust, so motionless and well groomed as to be fit for a
hairdressers sign, seemed to be looking at M. Massarel with a
plaster smile, a smile ineffaceable and mocking.
They remained thus face to face, Napoleon on the chair, the
doctor in front of him about three steps away. Suddenly the
Commander grew angry. What was to be done? What was there that
would move this people, and bring about a definite victory in
opinion? His hand happened to rest on his hip and to come in
contact there with the butt end of his revolver, under his red
sash. No inspiration, no further word would come. But he drew his
pistol, advanced two steps, and, taking aim, fired at the late
monarch. The ball entered the forehead, leaving a little, black
hole, like a spot, nothing more. There was no effect. Then he
fired a second shot, which made a second hole, then, a third; and
then, without stopping, he emptied his revolver. The brow of
Napoleon disappeared in white powder, but the eyes, the nose, and
the fine points of the mustaches remained intact. Then,
exasperated, the doctor overturned the chair with a blow of his
fist and, resting a foot on the remainder of the bust in a
position of triumph, he shouted: "So let all tyrants perish!"
Still no enthusiasm was manifest, and as the spectators seemed to
be in a kind of stupor from astonishment, the Commander called to
the militiamen: "You may now go to your homes." And he went
toward his own house with great strides, as if he were pursued.
His maid, when he appeared, told him that some patients had been
waiting in his office for three hours. He hastened in. There were
the two varicose-vein patients, who had returned at daybreak,
obstinate but patient.
The old man immediately began his explanation: "This began by a
feeling like ants running up and down the legs."
"Bah! Monsieur," the old mountebank said to me; "it is a matter
of exercise and habit, that is all! Of course, one requires to be
a little gifted that way and not to be butter-fingered, but what
is chiefly necessary is patience and daily practice for long,
long years."
His modesty surprised me all the more, because of all performers
who are generally infatuated with their own skill, he was the
most wonderfully clever one I had met. Certainly I had frequently
seen him, for everybody had seen him in some circus or other, or
even in traveling shows, performing the trick that consists of
putting a man or woman with extended arms against a wooden
target, and in throwing knives between their fingers and round
their heads, from a distance. There is nothing very extraordinary
in it, after all, when one knows THE TRICKS OF THE TRADE, and
that the knives are not the least sharp, and stick into the wood
at some distance from the flesh. It is the rapidity of the
throws, the glitter of the blades, and the curve which the
handles make toward their living object, which give an air of
danger to an exhibition that has become commonplace, and only
requires very middling skill.
But here there was no trick and no deception, and no dust thrown
into the eyes. It was done in good earnest and in all sincerity.
The knives were as sharp as razors, and the old mountebank
planted them close to the flesh, exactly in the angle between the
fingers. He surrounded the head with a perfect halo of knives,
and the neck with a collar from which nobody could have
extricated himself without cutting his carotid artery, while, to
increase the difficulty, the old fellow went through the
performance without seeing, his whole face being covered with a
close mask of thick oilcloth.
Naturally, like other great artists, he was not understood by the
crowd, who confounded him with vulgar tricksters, and his mask
only appeared to them a trick the more, and a very common trick
into the bargain.
"He must think us very stupid," they said. "How could he possibly
aim without having his eyes open?"
And they thought there must be imperceptible holes in the
oilcloth, a sort of latticework concealed in the material. It was
useless for him to allow the public to examine the mask for
themselves before the exhibition began. It was all very well that
they could not discover any trick, but they were only all the
more convinced that they were being tricked. Did not the people
know that they ought to be tricked?
I had recognized a great artist in the old mountebank, and I was
quite sure that he was altogether incapable of any trickery. I
told him so, while expressing my admiration to him; and he had
been touched by my open admiration and above all by the justice I
had done him. Thus we became good friends, and he explained to
me, very modestly, the real trick which the crowd do not
understand, the eternal trick contained in these simple words:
"To be gifted by nature and to practice every day for long, long
He had been especially struck by the certainty which I expressed
that any trickery must become impossible to him. "Yes," he said
to me; "quite impossible! Impossible to a degree which you cannot
imagine. If I were to tell you! But where would be the use?"
His face clouded over, and his eyes filled with tears. I did not
venture to force myself into his confidence. My looks, however,
were not so discreet as my silence, and begged him to speak; so
he responded to their mute appeal.
"After all," he said; "why should I not tell you about it? You
will understand me." And he added, with a look of sudden
ferocity: "She understood it, at any rate!"
"Who?" I asked.
"My strumpet of a wife," he replied. "Ah! Monsieur, what an
abominable creature she was--if you only knew! Yes, she
understood it too well, too well, and that is why I hate her so;
even more on that account, than for having deceived me. For that
is a natural fault, is it not, and may be pardoned? But the other
thing was a crime, a horrible crime."
The woman, who stood against the wooden target every night with
her arms stretched out and her finger extended, and whom the old
mountebank fitted with gloves and with a halo formed of his
knives, which were as sharp as razors and which he planted close
to her, was his wife. She might have been a woman of forty, and
must have been fairly pretty, but with a perverse prettiness; she
had an impudent mouth, a mouth that was at the same time sensual
and bad, with the lower lip too thick for the thin, dry upper
I had several times noticed that every time he planted a knife in
the board, she uttered a laugh, so low as scarcely to be heard,
but which was very significant when one heard it, for it was a
hard and very mocking laugh. I had always attributed that sort of
reply to an artifice which the occasion required. It was
intended, I thought, to accentuate the danger she incurred and
the contempt that she felt for it, thanks to the sureness of the
thrower's hands, and so I was very much surprised when the
mountebank said to me:
"Have you observed her laugh, I say? Her evil laugh which makes
fun of me, and her cowardly laugh which defies me? Yes, cowardly,
because she knows that nothing can happen to her, nothing, in
spite of all she deserves, in spite of all that I ought to do to
her, in spite of all that I WANT to do to her."
"What do you want to do?"
"Confound it! Cannot you guess? I want to kill her."
"To kill her, because she has--"
"Because she has deceived me? No, no, not that, I tell you again.
I have forgiven her for that a long time ago, and I am too much
accustomed to it! But the worst of it is that the first time I
forgave her, when I told her that all the same I might some day
have my revenge by cutting her throat, if I chose, without
seeming to do it on purpose, as if it were an accident, mere
"Oh! So you said that to her?"
"Of course I did, and I meant it. I thought I might be able to do
it, for you see I had the perfect right to do so. It was so
simple, so easy, so tempting! Just think! A mistake of less than
half an inch, and her skin would be cut at the neck where the
jugular vein is, and the jugular would be severed. My knives cut
very well! And when once the jugular is cut--good-bye. The blood
would spurt out, and one, two, three red jets, and all would be
over; she would be dead, and I should have had my revenge!"
"That is true, certainly, horribly true!"
"And without any risk to me, eh? An accident, that is all; bad
luck, one of those mistakes which happen every day in our
business. What could they accuse me of? Whoever would think of
accusing me, even? Homicide through imprudence, that would be
all! They would even pity me, rather than accuse me. 'My wife! My
poor wife!' I should say, sobbing. 'My wife, who is so necessary
to me, who is half the breadwinner, who takes part in my
performance!' You must acknowledge that I should be pitied!"
"Certainly; there is not the least doubt about that."
"And you must allow that such a revenge would he a very nice
revenge, the best possible revenge which I could have with
assured impunity."
"Evidently that is so."
"Very well! But when I told her so, as I have told you, and more
forcibly still; threatening her as I was mad with rage and ready
to do the deed that I had dreamed of on the spot, what do you
think she said?"
"That you were a good fellow, and would certainly not have the
atrocious courage to--"
"Tut! tut! tut! I am not such a good fellow as you think. I am
not frightened of blood, and that I have proved already, though
it would be useless to tell you how and where. But I had no
necessity to prove it to her, for she knows that I am capable of
a good many things; even of crime; especially of one crime."
"And she was not frightened?"
"No. She merely replied that I could not do what I said; you
understand. That I could not do it!"
"Why not?"
"Ah! Monsieur, so you do not understand? Why do you not? I have I
not explained to you by what constant, long, daily practice I
have learned to plant my knives without seeing what I am doing?"
"Yes, well, what then?"
"Well! Cannot you understand what she has understood with such
terrible results, that now my hand would no longer obey me if I
wished to make a mistake as I threw?"
"Is it possible?"
"Nothing is truer, I am sorry to say. For I really have wished to
have the revenge which I have dreamed of, and which I thought so
easy. Exasperated by that bad woman's insolence and confidence in
her own safety, I have several times made up my mind to kill her,
and have exerted all my energy and all my skill to make my knives
fly aside when I threw them to make a border round her neck. I
have tried with all my might to make them deviate half an inch,
just enough to cut her throat. I wanted to, and I have never
succeeded, never. And always the slut's horrible laugh makes fun
of me, always, always."
And with a deluge of tears, with something like a roar of
unsatiated and muzzled rage, he ground his teeth as he wound up:
"She knows me, the jade; she is in the secret of my work, of my
patience, of my trick, routine, whatever you may call it! She
lives in my innermost being, and sees into it more closely than
you do, or than I do myself. She knows what a faultless machine I
have become, the machine of which she makes fun, the machine
which is too well wound up, the machine which cannot get out of
order--and she knows that I CANNOT make a mistake."
MAY 8. What a lovely day! I have spent all the morning lying on
the grass in front of my house, under the enormous plantain tree
which covers and shades and shelters the whole of it. I like this
part of the country; I am fond of living here because I am
attached to it by deep roots, the profound and delicate roots
which attach a man to the soil on which his ancestors were born
and died, to their traditions, their usages, their food, the
local expressions, the peculiar language of the peasants, the
smell of the soil, the hamlets, and to the atmosphere itself.
I love the house in which I grew up. From my windows I can see
the Seine, which flows by the side of my garden, on the other
side of the road, almost through my grounds, the great and wide
Seine, which goes to Rouen and Havre, and which is covered with
boats passing to and fro.
On the left, down yonder, lies Rouen, populous Rouen with its
blue roofs massing under pointed, Gothic towers. Innumerable are
they, delicate or broad, dominated by the spire of the cathedral,
full of bells which sound through the blue air on fine mornings,
sending their sweet and distant iron clang to me, their metallic
sounds, now stronger and now weaker, according as the wind is
strong or light.
What a delicious morning it was! About eleven o'clock, a long
line of boats drawn by a steam-tug, as big a fly, and which
scarcely puffed while emitting its thick smoke, passed my gate.
After two English schooners, whose red flags fluttered toward the
sky, there came a magnificent Brazilian three-master; it was
perfectly white and wonderfully clean and shining. I saluted it,
I hardly know why, except that the sight of the vessel gave me
great pleasure.
May 12. I have had a slight feverish attack for the last few
days, and I feel ill, or rather I feel low-spirited.
Whence come those mysterious influences which change our
happiness into discouragement, and our self-confidence into
diffidence? One might almost say that the air, the invisible air,
is full of unknowable Forces, whose mysterious presence we have
to endure. I wake up in the best of spirits, with an inclination
to sing in my heart. Why? I go down by the side of the water, and
suddenly, after walking a short distance, I return home wretched,
as if some misfortune were awaiting me there. Why? Is it a cold
shiver which, passing over my skin, has upset my nerves and given
me a fit of low spirits? Is it the form of the clouds, or the
tints of the sky, or the colors of the surrounding objects which
are so change-able, which have troubled my thoughts as they
passed before my eyes? Who can tell? Everything that surrounds
us, everything that we see without looking at it, everything that
we touch without knowing it, everything that we handle without
feeling it, everything that we meet without clearly
distinguishing it, has a rapid, surprising, and inexplicable
effect upon us and upon our organs, and through them on our ideas
and on our being itself.
How profound that mystery of the Invisible is! We cannot fathom
it with our miserable senses: our eyes are unable to perceive
what is either too small or too great, too near to or too far
from us; we can see neither the inhabitants of a star nor of a
drop of water; our ears deceive us, for they transmit to us the
vibrations of the air in sonorous notes. Our senses are fairies
who work the miracle of changing that movement into noise, and by
that metamorphosis give birth to music, which makes the mute
agitation of nature a harmony. So with our sense of smell, which
is weaker than that of a dog, and so with our sense of taste,
which can scarcely distinguish the age of a wine!
Oh! If we only had other organs which could work other miracles
in our favor, what a number of fresh things we might discover
around us!
May 16. I am ill, decidedly! I was so well last month! I am
feverish, horribly feverish, or rather I am in a state of
feverish enervation, which makes my mind suffer as much as my
body. I have without ceasing the horrible sensation of some
danger threatening me, the apprehension of some coming misfortune
or of approaching death, a presentiment which is no doubt, an
attack of some illness still unnamed, which germinates in the
flesh and in the blood.
May 18. I have just come from consulting my medical man, for I
can no longer get any sleep. He found that my pulse was high, my
eyes dilated, my nerves highly strung, but no alarming symptoms.
I must have a course of shower baths and of bromide of potassium.
May 25. No change! My state is really very peculiar. As the
evening comes on, an incomprehensible feeling of disquietude
seizes me, just as if night concealed some terrible menace toward
me. I dine quickly, and then try to read, but I do not understand
the words, and can scarcely distinguish the letters. Then I walk
up and down my drawing-room, oppressed by a feeling of confused
and irresistible fear, a fear of sleep and a fear of my bed.
About ten o'clock I go up to my room. As soon as I have entered I
lock and bolt the door. I am frightened--of what? Up till the
present time I have been frightened of nothing. I open my
cupboards, and look under my bed; I listen--I listen--to what?
How strange it is that a simple feeling of discomfort, of impeded
or heightened circulation, perhaps the irritation of a nervous
center, a slight congestion, a small disturbance in the imperfect
and delicate functions of our living machinery, can turn the most
light-hearted of men into a melancholy one, and make a coward of
the bravest? Then, I go to bed, and I wait for sleep as a man
might wait for the executioner. I wait for its coming with dread,
and my heart beats and my legs tremble, while my whole body
shivers beneath the warmth of the bedclothes, until the moment
when I suddenly fall asleep, as a man throws himself into a pool
of stagnant water in order to drown. I do not feel this
perfidious sleep coming over me as I used to, but a sleep which
is close to me and watching me, which is going to seize me by the
head, to close my eyes and annihilate me.
I sleep--a long time--two or three hours perhaps--then a
dream--no--a nightmare lays hold on me. I feel that I am in bed
and asleep--I feel it and I know it--and I feel also that
somebody is coming close to me, is looking at me, touching me, is
getting on to my bed, is kneeling on my chest, is taking my neck
between his hands and squeezing it--squeezing it with all his
might in order to strangle me.
I struggle, bound by that terrible powerlessness which paralyzes
us in our dreams; I try to cry out--but I cannot; I want to
move--I cannot; I try, with the most violent efforts and out of
breath, to turn over and throw off this being which is crushing
and suffocating me--I cannot!
And then suddenly I wake up, shaken and bathed in perspiration; I
light a candle and find that I am alone, and after that crisis,
which occurs every night, I at length fall asleep and slumber
tranquilly till morning.
June 2. My state has grown worse. What is the matter with me? The
bromide does me no good, and the shower-baths have no effect
whatever. Sometimes, in order to tire myself out, though I am
fatigued enough already, I go for a walk in the forest of
Roumare. I used to think at first that the fresh light and soft
air, impregnated with the odor of herbs and leaves, would instill
new life into my veins and impart fresh energy to my heart. One
day I turned into a broad ride in the wood, and then I diverged
toward La Bouille, through a narrow path, between two rows of
exceedingly tall trees, which placed a thick, green, almost black
roof between the sky and me.
A sudden shiver ran through me, not a cold shiver, but a shiver
of agony, and so I hastened my steps, uneasy at being alone in
the wood, frightened stupidly and without reason, at the profound
solitude. Suddenly it seemed as if I were being followed, that
somebody was walking at my heels, close, quite close to me, near
enough to touch me.
I turned round suddenly, but I was alone. I saw nothing behind me
except the straight, broad ride, empty and bordered by high
trees, horribly empty; on the other side also it extended until
it was lost in the distance, and looked just the same--terrible.
I closed my eyes. Why? And then I began to turn round on one heel
very quickly, just like a top. I nearly fell down, and opened my
eyes; the trees were dancing round me and the earth heaved; I was
obliged to sit down. Then, ah! I no longer remembered how I had
come! What a strange idea! What a strange, strange idea! I did
not the least know. I started off to the right, and got back into
the avenue which had led me into the middle of the forest.
June 3. I have had a terrible night. I shall go away for a few
weeks, for no doubt a journey will set me up again.
July 2. I have come back, quite cured, and have had a most
delightful trip into the bargain. I have been to Mont
Saint-Michel, which I had not seen before.
What a sight, when one arrives as I did, at Avranches toward the
end of the day! The town stands on a hill, and I was taken into
the public garden at the extremity of the town. I uttered a cry
of astonishment. An extraordinarily large bay lay extended before
me, as far as my eyes could reach, between two hills which were
lost to sight in the mist; and in the middle of this immense
yellow bay, under a clear, golden sky, a peculiar hill rose up,
somber and pointed in the midst of the sand. The sun had just
disappeared, and under the still flaming sky stood out the
outline of that fantastic rock which bears on its summit a
picturesque monument.
At daybreak I went to it. The tide was low, as it had been the
night before, and I saw that wonderful abbey rise up before me as
I approached it. After several hours' walking, I reached the
enormous mass of rock which supports the little town, dominated
by the great church. Having climbed the steep and narrow street,
I entered the most wonderful Gothic building that has ever been
erected to God on earth, large as a town, and full of low rooms
which seem buried beneath vaulted roofs, and of lofty galleries
supported by delicate columns.
I entered this gigantic granite jewel, which is as light in its
effect as a bit of lace and is covered with towers, with slender
belfries to which spiral staircases ascend. The flying buttresses
raise strange heads that bristle with chimeras. with devils, with
fantastic ani-mals, with monstrous flowers, are joined together
by finely carved arches, to the blue sky by day, and to the black
sky by night.
When I had reached the summit. I said to the monk who accompanied
me: "Father, how happy you must be here!" And he replied: "It is
very windy, Monsieur"; and so we began to talk while watching the
rising tide, which ran over the sand and covered it with a steel
And then the monk told me stories, all the old stories belonging
to the place--legends, nothing but legends.
One of them struck me forcibly. The country people, those
belonging to the Mornet, declare that at night one can hear
talking going on in the sand, and also that two goats bleat, one
with a strong, the other with a weak voice. Incredulous people
declare that it is nothing but the screaming of the sea birds,
which occasionally resembles bleatings, and occasionally human
lamentations; but belated fishermen swear that they have met an
old shepherd, whose cloak covered head they can never see,
wandering on the sand, between two tides, round the little town
placed so far out of the world. They declare he is guiding and
walking before a he-goat with a man's face and a she-goat with a
woman's face, both with white hair, who talk incessantly,
quarreling in a strange language, and then suddenly cease talking
in order to bleat with all their might.
"Do you believe it?" I asked the monk. "I scarcely know," he
replied; and I continued: "If there are other beings besides
ourselves on this earth, how comes it that we have not known it
for so long a time, or why have you not seen them? How is it that
I have not seen them?"
He replied: "Do we see the hundred-thousandth part of what
exists? Look here; there is the wind, which is the strongest
force in nature. It knocks down men, and blows down buildings,
uproots trees, raises the sea into mountains of water, destroys
cliffs and casts great ships on to the breakers; it kills, it
whistles, it sighs, it roars. But have you ever seen it, and can
you see it? Yet it exists for all that."
I was silent before this simple reasoning. That man was a
philosopher, or perhaps a fool; I could not say which exactly, so
I held my tongue. What he had said had often been in my own
July 3. I have slept badly; certainly there is some feverish
influence here, for my coachman is suffering in the same way as I
am. When I went back home yesterday, I noticed his singular
paleness, and I asked him: "What is the matter with you, Jean?"
"The matter is that I never get any rest, and my nights devour my
days. Since your departure, Monsieur, there has been a spell over
However, the other servants are all well, but I am very
frightened of having another attack, myself.
July 4. I am decidedly taken again; for my old nightmares have
returned. Last night I felt somebody leaning on me who was
sucking my life from between my lips with his mouth. Yes, he was
sucking it out of my neck like a leech would have done. Then he
got up, satiated, and I woke up, so beaten, crushed, and
annihilated that I could not move. If this continues for a few
days, I shall certainly go away again.
July 5. Have I lost my reason? What has happened? What I saw last
night is so strange that my head wanders when I think of it!
As I do now every evening, I had locked my door; then, being
thirsty, I drank half a glass of water, and I accidentally
noticed that the water-bottle was full up to the cut-glass
Then I went to bed and fell into one of my terrible sleeps, from
which I was aroused in about two hours by a still more terrible
Picture to yourself a sleeping man who is being murdered, who
wakes up with a knife in his chest, a gurgling in his throat, is
covered with blood, can no longer breathe, is going to die and
does not understand anything at all about it--there you have it.
Having recovered my senses, I was thirsty again, so I lighted a
candle and went to the table on which my water-bottle was. I
lifted it up and tilted it over my glass, but nothing came out.
It was empty! It was completely empty! At first I could not
understand it at all; then suddenly I was seized by such a
terrible feeling that I had to sit down, or rather fall into a
chair! Then I sprang up with a bound to look about me; then I sat
down again, overcome by astonishment and fear, in front of the
transparent crystal bottle! I looked at it with fixed eyes,
trying to solve the puzzle, and my hands trembled! Some body had
drunk the water, but who? I? I without any doubt. It could surely
only be I? In that case I was a somnambulist--was living, without
knowing it, that double, mysterious life which makes us doubt
whether there are not two beings in us--whether a strange,
unknowable, and invisible being does not, during our moments of
mental and physical torpor, animate the inert body, forcing it to
a more willing obedience than it yields to ourselves.
Oh! Who will understand my horrible agony? Who will understand
the emotion of a man sound in mind, wide-awake, full of sense,
who looks in horror at the disappearance of a little water while
he was asleep, through the glass of a water-bottle! And I
remained sitting until it was daylight, without venturing to go
to bed again.
July 6. I am going mad. Again all the contents of my water-bottle
have been drunk during the night; or rather I have drunk it!
But is it I? Is it I? Who could it be? Who? Oh! God! Am I going
mad? Who will save me?
July 10. I have just been through some surprising ordeals.
Undoubtedly I must be mad! And yet!
On July 6, before going to bed, I put some wine, milk, water,
bread, and strawberries on my table. Somebody drank--I drank--all
the water and a little of the milk, but neither the wine, nor the
bread, nor the strawberries were touched.
On the seventh of July I renewed the same experiment, with the
same results, and on July 8 I left out the water and the milk and
nothing was touched.
Lastly, on July 9 I put only water and milk on my table, taking
care to wrap up the bottles in white muslin and to tie down the
stoppers. Then I rubbed my lips, my beard, and my hands with
pencil lead, and went to bed.
Deep slumber seized me, soon followed by a terrible awakening. I
had not moved, and my sheets were not marked. I rushed to the
table. The muslin round the bottles remained intact; I undid the
string, trembling with fear. All the water had been drunk, and so
had the milk! Ah! Great God! I must start for Paris immediately.
July 12. Paris. I must have lost my head during the last few
days! I must be the plaything of my enervated imagination, unless
I am really a somnambulist, or I have been brought under the
power of one of those influences--hypnotic suggestion, for
example--which are known to exist, but have hitherto been
inexplicable. In any case, my mental state bordered on madness,
and twenty-four hours of Paris sufficed to restore me to my
Yesterday after doing some business and paying some visits, which
instilled fresh and invigorating mental air into me, I wound up
my evening at the Theatre Francais. A drama by Alexander Dumas
the Younger was being acted, and his brilliant and powerful play
completed my cure. Certainly solitude is dangerous for active
minds. We need men who can think and can talk, around us. When we
are alone for a long time, we people space with phantoms.
I returned along the boulevards to my hotel in excellent spirits.
Amid the jostling of the crowd I thought, not without irony, of
my terrors and surmises of the previous week, because I believed,
yes, I believed, that an invisible being lived beneath my roof.
How weak our mind is; how quickly it is terrified and unbalanced
as soon as we are confronted with a small, incomprehensible fact.
Instead of dismissing the problem with: "We do not understand
because we cannot find the cause," we immediately imagine
terrible mysteries and supernatural powers.
July 14. Fete of the Republic. I walked through the streets, and
the crackers and flags amused me like a child. Still, it is very
foolish to make merry on a set date, by Government decree. People
are like a flock of sheep, now steadily patient, now in ferocious
revolt. Say to it: "Amuse yourself," and it amuses itself. Say to
it: "Go and fight with your neighbor," and it goes and fights.
Say to it: "Vote for the Emperor," and it votes for the Emperor;
then say to it: "Vote for the Republic," and it votes for the
Those who direct it are stupid, too; but instead of obeying men
they obey principles, a course which can only be foolish,
ineffective, and false, for the very reason that principles are
ideas which are considered as certain and unchangeable, whereas
in this world one is certain of nothing, since light is an
illusion and noise is deception.
July 16. I saw some things yesterday that troubled me very much.
I was dining at my cousin's, Madame Sable, whose husband is
colonel of the Seventy-sixth Chasseurs at Limoges. There were two
young women there, one of whom had married a medical man, Dr.
Parent, who devotes himself a great deal to nervous diseases and
to the extraordinary manifestations which just now experiments in
hypnotism and suggestion are producing.
He related to us at some length the enormous results obtained by
English scientists and the doctors of the medical school at
Nancy, and the facts which he adduced appeared to me so strange,
that I declared that I was altogether incredulous.
"We are," he declared, "on the point of discovering one of the
most important secrets of nature, I mean to say, one of its most
important secrets on this earth, for assuredly there are some up
in the stars, yonder, of a different kind of importance. Ever
since man has thought, since he has been able to express and
write down his thoughts, he has felt himself close to a mystery
which is impenetrable to his coarse and imperfect senses, and he
endeavors to supplement the feeble penetration of his organs by
the efforts of his intellect. As long as that intellect remained
in its elementary stage, this intercourse with invisible spirits
assumed forms which were commonplace though terrifying. Thence
sprang the popular belief in the supernatural, the legends of
wandering spirits, of fairies, of gnomes, of ghosts, I might even
say the conception of God, for our ideas of the Workman-Creator,
from whatever religion they may have come down to us, are
certainly the most mediocre, the stupidest, and the most
unacceptable inventions that ever sprang from the frightened
brain of any human creature. Nothing is truer than what Voltaire
says: 'If God made man in His own image, man has certainly paid
Him back again.'
"But for rather more than a century, men seem to have had a
presentiment of something new. Mesmer and some others have put us
on an unexpected track, and within the last two or three years
especially, we have arrived at results really surprising."
My cousin, who is also very incredulous, smiled, and Dr. Parent
said to her: "Would you like me to try and send you to sleep,
"Yes, certainly."
She sat down in an easy-chair, and he began to look at her
fixedly, as if to fascinate her. I suddenly felt myself somewhat
discomposed; my heart beat rapidly and I had a choking feeling in
my throat. I saw that Madame Sable's eyes were growing heavy, her
mouth twitched, and her bosom heaved, and at the end of ten
minutes she was asleep.
"Go behind her," the doctor said to me; so I took a seat behind
her. He put a visiting-card into her hands, and said to her:
"This is a looking-glass; what do you see in it?"
She replied: "I see my cousin."
"What is he doing?"
"He is twisting his mustache."
"And now?"
"He is taking a photograph out of his pocket."
"Whose photograph is it?"
"His own."
That was true, for the photograph had been given me that same
evening at the hotel.
"What is his attitude in this portrait?"
"He is standing up with his hat in his hand."
She saw these things in that card, in that piece of white
pasteboard, as if she had seen them in a looking-glass.
The young women were frightened, and exclaimed: "That is quite
enough! Quite, quite enough!"
But the doctor said to her authoritatively: "You will get up at
eight o'clock to-morrow morning; then you will go and call on
your cousin at his hotel and ask him to lend you the five
thousand francs which your husband asks of you, and which he will
ask for when he sets out on his coming journey."
Then he woke her up.
On returning to my hotel, I thought over this curious seance and
I was assailed by doubts, not as to my cousin's absolute and
undoubted good faith, for I had known her as well as if she had
been my own sister ever since she was a child, but as to a
possible trick on the doctor's part. Had not he, perhaps, kept a
glass hidden in his hand, which he showed to the young woman in
her sleep at the same time as he did the card? Professional
conjurers do things which are just as singular.
However, I went to bed, and this morning, at about half past
eight, I was awakened by my footman, who said to me: "Madame
Sable has asked to see you immediately, Monsieur." I dressed
hastily and went to her.
She sat down in some agitation, with her eyes on the floor, and
without raising her veil said to me: "My dear cousin, I am going
to ask a great favor of you."
"What is it, cousin?"
"I do not like to tell you, and yet I must. I am in absolute want
of five thousand francs."
"What, you?"
"Yes, I, or rather my husband, who has asked me to procure them
for him."
I was so stupefied that I hesitated to answer. I asked myself
whether she had not really been making fun of me with Dr. Parent,
if it were not merely a very well-acted farce which had been got
up beforehand. On looking at her attentively, however, my doubts
disappeared. She was trembling with grief, so painful was this
step to her, and I was sure that her throat was full of sobs.
I knew that she was very rich and so I continued: "What! Has not
your husband five thousand francs at his disposal? Come, think.
Are you sure that he commissioned you to ask me for them?"
She hesitated for a few seconds, as if she were making a great
effort to search her memory, and then she replied: "Yes--yes, I
am quite sure of it."
"He has written to you?"
She hesitated again and reflected, and I guessed the torture of
her thoughts. She did not know. She only knew that she was to
borrow five thousand francs of me for her husband. So she told a
"Yes, he has written to me."
"When, pray? You did not mention it to me yesterday."
"I received his letter this morning."
"Can you show it to me?"
"No; no--no--it contained private matters, things too personal to
ourselves. I burned it."
"So your husband runs into debt?"
She hesitated again, and then murmured: "I do not know."
Thereupon I said bluntly: "I have not five thousand francs at my
disposal at this moment, my dear cousin."
She uttered a cry, as if she were in pair; and said: "Oh! oh! I
beseech you, I beseech you to get them for me."
She got excited and clasped her hands as if she were praying to
me! I heard her voice change its tone; she wept and sobbed,
harassed and dominated by the irresistible order that she had
"Oh! oh! I beg you to--if you knew what I am suffering--I want
them to-day."
I had pity on her: "You shall have them by and by, I swear to
"Oh! thank you! thank you! How kind you are."
I continued: "Do you remember what took place at your house last
"Do you remember that Dr. Parent sent you to sleep?"
"Oh! Very well then; he ordered you to come to me this morning to
borrow five thousand francs, and at this moment you are obeying
that suggestion."
She considered for a few moments, and then replied: "But as it is
my husband who wants them--"
For a whole hour I tried to convince her, but could not succeed,
and when she had gone I went to the doctor. He was just going
out, and he listened to me with a smile, and said: "Do you
believe now?"
"Yes, I cannot help it."
"Let us go to your cousin's."
She was already resting on a couch, overcome with fatigue. The
doctor felt her pulse, looked at her for some time with one hand
raised toward her eyes, which she closed by degrees under the
irresistible power of this magnetic influence. When she was
asleep, he said:
"Your husband does not require the five thousand francs any
longer! You must, therefore, forget that you asked your cousin to
lend them to you, and, if he speaks to you about it, you will not
understand him."
Then he woke her up, and I took out a pocket-book and said: "Here
is what you asked me for this morning, my dear cousin." But she
was so surprised, that I did not venture to persist;
nevertheless, I tried to recall the circumstance to her, but she
denied it vigorously, thought that I was making fun of her, and
in the end, very nearly lost her temper.
There! I have just come back, and I have not been able to eat any
lunch, for this experiment has altogether upset me.
July 19. Many people to whom I have told the adventure have
laughed at me. I no longer know what to think. The wise man says:
July 21. I dined at Bougival, and then I spent the evening at a
boatmen's ball. Decidedly everything depends on place and
surroundings. It would be the height of folly to believe in the
supernatural on the Ile de la Grenouilliere.[1] But on the top of
Mont Saint-Michel or in India, we are terribly under the
influence of our surroundings. I shall return home next week.
[1] Frog-island.
July 30. I came back to my own house yesterday. Everything is
going on well.
August 2. Nothing fresh; it is splendid weather, and I spend my
days in watching the Seine flow past.
August 4. Quarrels among my servants. They declare that the
glasses are broken in the cupboards at night. The footman accuses
the cook, she accuses the needlewoman, and the latter accuses the
other two. Who is the culprit? It would take a clever person to
August 6. This time, I am not mad. I have seen --I have seen--I
have seen!--I can doubt no longer --I have seen it!
I was walking at two o'clock among my rose-trees, in the full
sunlight--in the walk bordered by autumn roses which are
beginning to fall. As I stopped to look at a Geant de Bataille,
which had three splendid blooms, I distinctly saw the stalk of
one of the roses bend close to me, as if an invisible hand had
bent it, and then break, as if that hand had picked it! Then the
flower raised itself, following the curve which a hand would have
described in carrying it toward a mouth, and remained suspended
in the transparent air, alone and motionless, a terrible red
spot, three yards from my eyes. In desperation I rushed at it to
take it! I found nothing; it had disappeared. Then I was seized
with furious rage against myself, for it is not wholesome for a
reasonable and serious man to have such hallucinations.
But was it a hallucination? I turned to look for the stalk, and I
found it immediately under the bush, freshly broken, between the
two other roses which remained on the branch. I returned home,
then, with a much disturbed mind; for I am certain now, certain
as I am of the alternation of day and night, that there exists
close to me an invisible being who lives on milk and on water,
who can touch objects, take them and change their places; who is,
consequently, endowed with a material nature, although
imperceptible to sense, and who lives as I do, under my roof--
August 7. I slept tranquilly. He drank the water out of my
decanter, but did not disturb my sleep.
I ask myself whether I am mad. As I was walking just now in the
sun by the riverside, doubts as to my own sanity arose in me; not
vague doubts such as I have had hitherto, but precise and
absolute doubts. I have seen mad people, and I have known some
who were quite intelligent, lucid, even clear-sighted in every
concern of life, except on one point. They could speak clearly,
readily, profoundly on everything; till their thoughts were
caught in the breakers of their delusions and went to pieces
there, were dispersed and swamped in that furious and terrible
sea of fogs and squalls which is called MADNESS.
I certainly should think that I was mad, absolutely mad, if I
were not conscious that I knew my state, if I could not fathom it
and analyze it with the most complete lucidity. I should, in
fact, be a reasonable man laboring under a hallucination. Some
unknown disturbance must have been excited in my brain, one of
those disturbances which physiologists of the present day try to
note and to fix precisely, and that disturbance must have caused
a profound gulf in my mind and in the order and logic of my
ideas. Similar phenomena occur in dreams, and lead us through the
most unlikely phantasmagoria, without causing us any surprise,
because our verifying apparatus and our sense of control have
gone to sleep, while our imaginative faculty wakes and works. Was
it not possible that one of the imperceptible keys of the
cerebral finger-board had been paralyzed in me? Some men lose the
recollection of proper names, or of verbs, or of numbers, or
merely of dates, in consequence of an accident. The localization
of all the avenues of thought has been accomplished nowadays;
what, then, would there be surprising in the fact that my faculty
of controlling the unreality of certain hallucinations should be
destroyed for the time being?
I thought of all this as I walked by the side of the water. The
sun was shining brightly on the river and made earth delightful,
while it filled me with love for life, for the swallows, whose
swift agility is always delightful in my eyes, for the plants by
the riverside, whose rustling is a pleasure to my ears.
By degrees, however, an inexplicable feeling of discomfort seized
me. It seemed to me as if some unknown force were numbing and
stopping me, were preventing me from going further and were
calling me back. I felt that painful wish to return which comes
on you when you have left a beloved invalid at home, and are
seized by a presentiment that he is worse.
I, therefore, returned despite of myself, feeling certain that I
should find some bad news awaiting me, a letter or a telegram.
There was nothing, however, and I was surprised and uneasy, more
so than if I had had another fantastic vision.
August 8. I spent a terrible evening, yesterday. He does not show
himself any more, but I feel that He is near me, watching me,
looking at me, penetrating me, dominating me, and more terrible
to me when He hides himself thus than if He were to manifest his
constant and invisible presence by supernatural phenomena.
However, I slept.
August 9. Nothing, but I am afraid.
August 10. Nothing; but what will happen to-morrow?
August 11. Still nothing. I cannot stop at home with this fear
hanging over me and these thoughts in my mind; I shall go away.
August 12. Ten o'clock at night. All day long I have been trying
to get away, and have not been able. I contemplated a simple and
easy act of liberty, a carriage ride to Rouen--and I have not
been able to do it. What is the reason?
August 13. When one is attacked by certain maladies, the springs
of our physical being seem broken, our energies destroyed, our
muscles relaxed, our bones to be as soft as our flesh, and our
blood as liquid as water. I am experiencing the same in my moral
being, in a strange and distressing manner. I have no longer any
strength, any courage, any self-control, nor even any power to
set my own will in motion. I have no power left to WILL anything,
but some one does it for me and I obey.
August 14. I am lost! Somebody possesses my soul and governs it!
Somebody orders all my acts, all my movements, all my thoughts. I
am no longer master of myself, nothing except an enslaved and
terrified spectator of the things which I do. I wish to go out; I
cannot. HE does not wish to; and so I remain, trembling and
distracted in the armchair in which he keeps me sitting. I merely
wish to get up and to rouse myself, so as to think that I am
still master of myself: I cannot! I am riveted to my chair, and
my chair adheres to the floor in such a manner that no force of
mine can move us.
Then suddenly, I must, I MUST go to the foot of my garden to pick
some strawberries and eat them --and I go there. I pick the
strawberries and I eat them! Oh! my God! my God! Is there a God?
If there be one, deliver me! save me! succor me! Pardon! Pity!
Mercy! Save me! Oh! what sufferings! what torture! what horror!
August 15. Certainly this is the way in which my poor cousin was
possessed and swayed, when she came to borrow five thousand
francs of me. She was under the power of a strange will which had
entered into her, like another soul, a parasitic and ruling soul.
Is the world coming to an end?
But who is he, this invisible being that rules me, this
unknowable being, this rover of a supernatural race?
Invisible beings exist, then! how is it, then, that since the
beginning of the world they have never manifested themselves in
such a manner as they do to me? I have never read anything that
resembles what goes on in my house. Oh! If I could only leave it,
if I could only go away and flee, and never return, I should be
saved; but I cannot.
August 16. I managed to escape to-day for two hours, like a
prisoner who finds the door of his dungeon accidentally open. I
suddenly felt that I was free and that He was far away, and so I
gave orders to put the horses in as quickly as possible, and I
drove to Rouen. Oh! how delightful to be able to say to my
coachman: "Go to Rouen!"
I made him pull up before the library, and I begged them to lend
me Dr. Herrmann Herestauss's treatise on the unknown inhabitants
of the ancient and modern world.
Then, as I was getting into my carriage, I intended to say: "To
the railway station!" but instead of this I shouted--I did not
speak; but I shouted--in such a loud voice that all the
passers-by turned round: "Home!" and I fell back on to the
cushion of my carriage, overcome by mental agony. He had found me
out and regained possession of me.
August 17. Oh! What a night! what a night! And yet it seems to me
that I ought to rejoice. I read until one o'clock in the morning!
Herestauss, Doctor of Philosophy and Theogony, wrote the history
and the manifestation of all those invisible beings which hover
around man, or of whom he dreams. He describes their origin,
their domains, their power; but none of them resembles the one
which haunts me. One might say that man, ever since he has
thought, has had a foreboding and a fear of a new being, stronger
than himself, his successor in this world, and that, feeling him
near, and not being able to foretell the nature of the unseen
one, he has, in his terror, created the whole race of hidden
beings, vague phantoms born of fear.
Having, therefore, read until one o'clock in the morning, I went
and sat down at the open window, in order to cool my forehead and
my thoughts in the calm night air. It was very pleasant and warm!
How I should have enjoyed such a night formerly!
There was no moon, but the stars darted out their rays in the
dark heavens. Who inhabits those worlds? What forms, what living
beings, what animals are there yonder? Do those who are thinkers
in those distant worlds know more than we do? What can they do
more than we? What do they see which we do not? Will not one of
them, some day or other, traversing space, appear on our earth to
conquer it, just as formerly the Norsemen crossed the sea in
order to subjugate nations feebler than themselves?
We are so weak, so powerless, so ignorant, so small--we who live
on this particle of mud which revolves in liquid air.
I fell asleep, dreaming thus in the cool night air, and then,
having slept for about three quarters of an hour, I opened my
eyes without moving, awakened by an indescribably confused and
strange sensation. At first I saw nothing, and then suddenly it
appeared to me as if a page of the book, which had remained open
on my table, turned over of its own accord. Not a breath of air
had come in at my window, and I was surprised and waited. In
about four minutes, I saw, I saw--yes I saw with my own
eyes--another page lift itself up and fall down on the others, as
if a finger had turned it over. My armchair was empty, appeared
empty, but I knew that He was there, He, and sitting in my place,
and that He was reading. With a furious bound, the bound of an
enraged wild beast that wishes to disembowel its tamer, I crossed
my room to seize him, to strangle him, to kill him! But before I
could reach it, my chair fell over as if somebody had run away
from me. My table rocked, my lamp fell and went out, and my
window closed as if some thief had been surprised and had fled
out into the night, shutting it behind him.
So He had run away; He had been afraid; He, afraid of me!
So to-morrow, or later--some day or other, I should be able to
hold him in my clutches and crush him against the ground! Do not
dogs occasionally bite and strangle their masters?
August 18. I have been thinking the whole day long. Oh! yes, I
will obey Him, follow His impulses, fulfill all His wishes, show
myself humble, submissive, a coward. He is the stronger; but an
hour will come.
August 19. I know, I know, I know all! I have just read the
following in the "Revue du Monde Scientifique": "A curious piece
of news comes to us from Rio de Janeiro. Madness, an epidemic of
madness, which may be compared to that contagious madness which
attacked the people of Europe in the Middle Ages, is at this
moment raging in the Province of San-Paulo. The frightened
inhabitants are leaving their houses, deserting their villages,
abandoning their land, saying that they are pursued, possessed,
governed like human cattle by invisible, though tangible beings,
by a species of vampire, which feeds on their life while they are
asleep, and which, besides, drinks water and milk without
appearing to touch any other nourishment.
"Professor Don Pedro Henriques, accompanied by several medical
savants, has gone to the Province of San-Paulo, in order to study
the origin and the manifestations of this surprising madness on
the spot, and to propose such measures to the Emperor as may
appear to him to be most fitted to restore the mad population to
Ah! Ah! I remember now that fine Brazilian three-master which
passed in front of my windows as it was going up the Seine, on
the eighth of last May! I thought it looked so pretty, so white
and bright! That Being was on board of her, coming from there,
where its race sprang from. And it saw me! It saw my house, which
was also white, and He sprang from the ship on to the land. Oh!
Good heavens!
Now I know, I can divine. The reign of man is over, and he has
come. He whom disquieted priests exorcised, whom sorcerers evoked
on dark nights, without seeing him appear, He to whom the
imaginations of the transient masters of the world lent all the
monstrous or graceful forms of gnomes, spirits, genii, fairies,
and familiar spirits. After the coarse conceptions of primitive
fear, men more enlightened gave him a truer form. Mesmer divined
him, and ten years ago physicians accurately discovered the
nature of his power, even before He exercised it himself. They
played with that weapon of their new Lord, the sway of a
mysterious will over the human soul, which had become enslaved.
They called it mesmerism, hypnotism, suggestion, I know not what?
I have seen them diverting themselves like rash children with
this horrible power! Woe to us! Woe to man! He has come,
the--the--what does He call himself--the--I fancy that he is
shouting out his name to me and I do not hear him--the--yes--He
is shouting it out--I am listening--I
cannot--repeat--it--Horla--I have heard--the Horla--it is He--the
Horla--He has come!--
Ah! the vulture has eaten the pigeon, the wolf has eaten the
lamb; the lion has devoured the sharp-horned buffalo; man has
killed the lion with an arrow, with a spear, with gunpowder; but
the Horla will make of man what man has made of the horse and of
the ox: his chattel, his slave, and his food, by the mere power
of his will. Woe to us!
But, nevertheless, sometimes the animal rebels and kills the man
who has subjugated it. I should also like--I shall be able
to--but I must know Him, touch Him, see Him! Learned men say that
eyes of animals, as they differ from ours, do not distinguish as
ours do. And my eye cannot distinguish this newcomer who is
oppressing me.
Why? Oh! Now I remember the words of the monk at Mont
Saint-Michel: "Can we see the hundred-thousandth part of what
exists? Listen; there is the wind which is the strongest force in
nature; it knocks men down, blows down buildings, uproots trees,
raises the sea into mountains of water, destroys cliffs, and
casts great ships on to the breakers; it kills, it whistles, it
sighs, it roars,--have you ever seen it, and can you see it? It
exists for all that, however!"
And I went on thinking: my eyes are so weak, so imperfect, that
they do not even distinguish hard bodies, if they are as
transparent as glass! If a glass without quicksilver behind it
were to bar my way, I should run into it, just like a bird which
has flown into a room breaks its head against the windowpanes. A
thousand things, moreover, deceive a man and lead him astray. How
then is it surprising that he cannot perceive a new body which is
penetrated and pervaded by the light?
A new being! Why not? It was assuredly bound to come! Why should
we be the last? We do not distinguish it, like all the others
created before us? The reason is, that its nature is more
delicate, its body finer and more finished than ours. Our makeup
is so weak, so awkwardly conceived; our body is encumbered with
organs that are always tired, always being strained like locks
that are too complicated; it lives like a plant and like an
animal nourishing itself with difficulty on air, herbs, and
flesh; it is a brute machine which is a prey to maladies, to
malformations, to decay; it is broken-winded, badly regulated,
simple and eccentric, ingeniously yet badly made, a coarse and
yet a delicate mechanism, in brief, the outline of a being which
might become intelligent and great.
There are only a few--so few--stages of development in this
world, from the oyster up to man. Why should there not be one
more, when once that period is accomplished which separates the
successive products one from the other?
Why not one more? Why not, also, other trees with immense,
splendid flowers, perfuming whole regions? Why not other elements
beside fire, air, earth, and water? There are four, only four,
nursing fathers of various beings! What a pity! Why should not
there be forty, four hundred, four thousand! How poor everything
is, how mean and wretched--grudgingly given, poorly invented,
clumsily made! Ah! the elephant and the hippopotamus, what power!
And the camel, what suppleness!
But the butterfly, you will say, a flying flower! I dream of one
that should be as large as a hundred worlds, with wings whose
shape, beauty, colors, and motion I cannot even express. But I
see it--it flutters from star to star, refreshing them and
perfuming them with the light and harmonious breath of its
flight! And the people up there gaze at it as it passes in an
ecstasy of delight!
What is the matter with me? It is He, the Horla who haunts me,
and who makes me think of these foolish things! He is within me,
He is becoming my soul; I shall kill him!
August 20. I shall kill Him. I have seen Him! Yesterday I sat
down at my table and pretended to write very assiduously. I knew
quite well that He would come prowling round me, quite close to
me, so close that I might perhaps be able to touch him, to seize
him. And then--then I should have the strength of desperation; I
should have my hands, my knees, my chest, my forehead, my teeth
to strangle him, to crush him, to bite him, to tear him to
pieces. And I watched for him with all my overexcited nerves.
I had lighted my two lamps and the eight wax candles on my
mantelpiece, as if, by this light I should discover Him.
My bed, my old oak bed with its columns, was opposite to me; on
my right was the fireplace; on my left the door, which was
carefully closed, after I had left it open for some time, in
order to attract Him; behind me was a very high wardrobe with a
looking-glass in it, which served me to dress by every day, and
in which I was in the habit of inspecting myself from head to
foot every time I passed it.
So I pretended to be writing in order to deceive Him, for He also
was watching me, and suddenly I felt, I was certain, that He was
reading over my shoulder, that He was there, almost touching my
I got up so quickly, with my hands extended, that I almost fell.
Horror! It was as bright as at midday, but I did not see myself
in the glass! It was empty, clear, profound, full of light! But
my figure was not reflected in it--and I, I was opposite to it! I
saw the large, clear glass from top to bottom, and I looked at it
with unsteady eyes. I did not dare advance; I did not venture to
make a movement; feeling certain, nevertheless, that He was
there, but that He would escape me again, He whose imperceptible
body had absorbed my reflection.
How frightened I was! And then suddenly I began to see myself
through a mist in the depths of the looking-glass, in a mist as
it were, or through a veil of water; and it seemed to me as if
this water were flowing slowly from left to right, and making my
figure clearer every moment. It was like the end of an eclipse.
Whatever hid me did not appear to possess any clearly defined
outlines, but was a sort of opaque transparency, which gradually
grew clearer.
At last I was able to distinguish myself completely, as I do
every day when I look at myself.
I had seen Him! And the horror of it remained with me, and makes
me shudder even now.
August 21. How could I kill Him, since I could not get hold of
Him? Poison? But He would see me mix it with the water; and then,
would our poisons have any effect on His impalpable body?
No--no--no doubt about the matter. Then?--then?
August 22. I sent for a blacksmith from Rouen and ordered iron
shutters of him for my room, such as some private hotels in Paris
have on the ground floor, for fear of thieves, and he is going to
make me a similar door as well. I have made myself out a coward,
but I do not care about that!
September 10. Rouen, Hotel Continental. It is done; it is
done--but is He dead? My mind is thoroughly upset by what I have
Well then, yesterday, the locksmith having put on the iron
shutters and door, I left everything open until midnight,
although it was getting cold.
Suddenly I felt that He was there, and joy, mad joy took
possession of me. I got up softly, and I walked to the right and
left for some time, so that He might not guess anything; then I
took off my boots and put on my slippers carelessly; then I
fastened the iron shutters and going back to the door quickly I
double-locked it with a padlock, putting the key into my pocket.
Suddenly I noticed that He was moving restlessly round me, that
in his turn He was frightened and was ordering me to let Him out.
I nearly yielded, though I did not quite, but putting my back to
the door, I half opened it, just enough to allow me to go out
backward, and as I am very tall, my head touched the lintel. I
was sure that He had not been able to escape, and I shut Him up
quite alone, quite alone. What happiness! I had Him fast. Then I
ran downstairs into the drawing-room which was under my bedroom.
I took the two lamps and poured all the oil on to the carpet, the
furniture, everywhere; then I set fire to it and made my escape,
after having carefully double locked the door.
I went and hid myself at the bottom of the garden, in a clump of
laurel bushes. How long it was! how long it was! Everything was
dark, silent, motionless, not a breath of air and not a star, but
heavy banks of clouds which one could not see, but which weighed,
oh! so heavily on my soul.
I looked at my house and waited. How long it was! I already began
to think that the fire had gone out of its own accord, or that He
had extinguished it, when one of the lower windows gave way under
the violence of the flames, and a long, soft, caressing sheet of
red flame mounted up the white wall, and kissed it as high as the
roof. The light fell on to the trees, the branches, and the
leaves, and a shiver of fear pervaded them also! The birds awoke;
a dog began to howl, and it seemed to me as if the day were
breaking! Almost immediately two other windows flew into
fragments, and I saw that the whole of the lower part of my house
was nothing but a terrible furnace. But a cry, a horrible,
shrill, heart-rending cry, a woman's cry, sounded through the
night, and two garret windows were opened! I had forgotten the
servants! I saw the terror-struck faces, and the frantic waving
of their arms!
Then, overwhelmed with horror, I ran off to the village,
shouting: "Help! help! fire! fire!" Meeting some people who were
already coming on to the scene, I went back with them to see!
By this time the house was nothing but a horrible and magnificent
funeral pile, a monstrous pyre which lit up the whole country, a
pyre where men were burning, and where He was burning also, He,
He, my prisoner, that new Being, the new Master, the Horla!
Suddenly the whole roof fell in between the walls, and a volcano
of flames darted up to the sky. Through all the windows which
opened on to that furnace, I saw the flames darting, and I
reflected that He was there, in that kiln, dead.
Dead? Perhaps? His body? Was not his body, which was transparent,
indestructible by such means as would kill ours?
If He were not dead? Perhaps time alone has power over that
Invisible and Redoubtable Being. Why this transparent,
unrecognizable body, this body belonging to a spirit, if it also
had to fear ills, infirmities, and premature destruction?
Premature destruction? All human terror springs from that! After
man the Horla. After him who can die every day, at any hour, at
any moment, by any accident, He came, He who was only to die at
his own proper hour and minute, because He had touched the limits
of his existence!
No--no--there is no doubt about it--He is not dead. Then--then--I
suppose I must kill MYSELF!
There were seven of us in a four-in-hand, four women and three
men, one of whom was on the box seat beside the coachman. We were
following, at a foot pace, broad highway which serpentines along
the coast.
Setting out from Etretat at break of day, in order to visit the
ruins of Tancarville, we were still asleep, chilled by the fresh
air of the morning. The women, especially, who were but little
accustomed to these early excursions, let their eyelids fall and
rise every moment, nodding their heads or yawning, quite
insensible to the glory of the dawn.
It was autumn. On both sides of the road the bare fields
stretched out, yellowed by the corn and wheat stubble which
covered the soil like a bristling growth of beard. The spongy
earth seemed to smoke. Larks were singing high up in the air,
while other birds piped in the bushes.
At length the sun rose in front of us, a bright red on the plane
of the horizon; and as it ascended, growing clearer from minute
to minute, the country seemed to awake, to smile, to shake and
stretch itself, like a young girl who is leaving her bed in her
white airy chemise. The Count d'Etraille, who was seated on the
box, cried:
"Look! look! a hare!" and he pointed toward the left, indicating
a piece of hedge. The leveret threaded its way along, almost
concealed by the field, only its large ears visible. Then it
swerved across a deep rut, stopped, again pursued its easy
course, changed its direction, stopped anew, disturbed, spying
out every danger, and undecided as to the route it should take.
Suddenly it began to run, with great bounds from its hind legs,
disappearing finally in a large patch of beet-root. All the men
had woke up to watch the course of the beast.
Rene Lemanoir then exclaimed
"We are not at all gallant this morning," and looking at his
neighbor, the little Baroness of Serennes, who was struggling
with drowsiness, he said to her in a subdued voice: "You are
thinking of your husband, Baroness. Reassure yourself; he will
not return before Saturday, so you have still four days."
She responded to him with a sleepy smile.
"How rude you are." Then, shaking off her torpor, she added:
"Now, let somebody say something that will make us all laugh.
You, Monsieur Chenal who have the reputation of possessing a
larger fortune than the Duke of Richelieu, tell us a love story
in which you have been mixed up, anything you like."
Leon Chenal, an old painter, who had once keen very handsome,
very strong, who was very proud of his physique and very amiable,
took his long white beard in his hand and smiled; then, after a
few moments' reflection, he became suddenly grave.
"Ladies, it will not be an amusing tale; for I am going to relate
to you the most lamentable love affair of my life, and I
sincerely hope that none of my friends has ever passed through a
similar experience.
"At that time I was twenty-five years old, and was making daubs
along the coast of Normandy. I call 'making daubs' that wandering
about, with a bag on one's back, from mountain to mountain, under
the pretext of studying and of sketching nature. I know nothing
more enjoyable than that happy-go-lucky wandering life, in which
you are perfectly free; without shackles of any kind, without
care, without preoccupation, without thought even of to-morrow.
You go in any direction you please, without any guide save your
fancy, without any counselor save your eyes. You pull up, because
a running brook seduces you, or because you are attracted, in
front of an inn, by the smell of potatoes frying. Sometimes it is
the perfume of clematis which decides you in your choice, or the
naive glance of the servant at an inn. Do not despise me for my
affection for these rustics. These girls have soul as well as
feeling, not to mention firm cheeks and fresh lips; while their
hearty and willing kisses have the flavor of wild fruit. Love
always has its price, come whence it may. A heart that beats when
you make your appearance, an eye that weeps when you go away,
these are things so rare, so sweet, so precious, that they must
never be despised.
"I have had rendezvous in ditches in which cattle repose, and in
barns among the straw, still steaming from the heat of the day. I
have recollections of canvas spread on rude and creaky benches,
and of hearty, fresh, free kisses, more delicate, free from
affectation, and sincere than the subtle attractions of charming
and distinguished women.
"But what you love most amid all these varied adventures are the
country, the woods, the risings of the sun, the twilight, the
light of the moon. For the painter these are honeymoon trips with
Nature. You are alone with her in that long and tranquil
rendezvous. You go to bed in the fields amid marguerites and wild
poppies, and, with eyes wide open, you watch the going down of
the sun, and descry in the distance the little village, with its
pointed clock-tower, which sounds the hour of midnight.
"You sit down by the side of a spring which gushes out from the
foot of an oak, amid a covering of fragile herbs, growing and
redolent of life. You go down on your knees, bend forward, and
drink the cold and pellucid water, wetting your mustache and
nose; you drink it with a physical pleasure, as though you were
kissing the spring, lip to lip. Sometimes, when you encounter a
deep hole, along the course of these tiny brooks, you plunge into
it, quite naked, and on your skin, from head to foot, like an icy
and delicious caress, you feel the lovely and gentle quivering of
the current.
"You are gay on the hills, melancholy on the verge of pools,
exalted when the sun is crowned in an ocean of blood-red shadows,
and when it casts on the rivers its red reflection. And at night,
under the moon, as it passes across the vault of heaven, you
think of things, singular things, which would never have occurred
to your mind under the brilliant light of day.
"So, in wandering through the same country we are in this year, I
came to the little village of Benouville, on the Falaise, between
Yport and Etretat. I came from Fecamp, following the coast, a
high coast, perpendicular as a wall, with projecting and rugged
rocks falling sheer down into the sea. I had walked since the
morning on the close clipped grass, as smooth and as yielding as
a carpet. Singing lustily, I walked with long strides, looking
sometimes at the slow and lazy flight of a gull, with its short,
white wings, sailing in the blue heavens, sometimes at the green
sea, or at the brown sails of a fishing bark. In short, I had
passed a happy day, a day of listlessness and of liberty.
"I was shown a little farmhouse, where travelers were put up, a
kind of inn, kept by a peasant, which stood in the center of a
Norman court, surrounded by a double row of beeches.
"Quitting the Falaise. I gained the hamlet, which was hemmed in
by great trees, and I presented myself at the house of Mother
"She was an old, wrinkled, and austere rustic, who always seemed
to yield to the pressure of new customs with a kind of contempt.
"It was the month of May: the spreading apple-trees covered the
court with a whirling shower of blossoms which rained unceasingly
both upon people and upon the grass.
"I said:
" 'Well, Madame Lecacheur, have you a room for me?'
"Astonished to find that I knew her name, she answered:
" 'That depends; everything is let; but, all the same, there will
be no harm in looking.'
"In five minutes we were in perfect accord, and I deposited my
bag upon the bare floor of a rustic room, furnished with a bed,
two chairs, a table, and a washstand. The room opened into the
large and smoky kitchen, where the lodgers took their meals with
the people of the farm and with the farmer himself, who was a
"I washed my hands, after which I went out. The old woman was
fricasseeing a chicken for dinner in a large fireplace, in which
hung the stew-pot, black with smoke.
" 'You have travelers, then, at the present time?' said I to her.
"She answered in an offended tone of voice:
" 'I have a lady, an English lady, who has attained to years of
maturity. She is occupying my other room.'
"By means of an extra five sous a day, I obtained the privilege
of dining out in the court when the weather was fine.
"My cover was then placed in front of the door, and I commenced
to gnaw with hunger the lean members of the Normandy chicken, to
drink the clear cider, and to munch the hunk of white bread,
which, though four days old, was excellent.
"Suddenly, the wooden barrier which opened on to the highway was
opened, and a strange person directed her steps toward the house.
She was very slender, very tall, enveloped in a Scotch shawl with
red borders. You would have believed that she had no arms, if you
had not seen a long hand appear just above the hips, holding a
white tourist umbrella. The face of a mummy, surrounded with
sausage rolls of plaited gray hair, which bounded at every step
she took, made me think, I know not why, of a sour herring
adorned with curling papers. Lowering her eyes, she passed
quickly in front of me, and entered the house.
"This singular apparition made me curious. She undoubtedly was my
neighbor, the aged English lady of whom our hostess had spoken.
"I did not see her again that day. The next day, when I had begun
to paint at the end of that beautiful valley, which you know
extends as far as Etretat, lifting my eyes suddenly, I perceived
something singularly attired standing on the crest of the
declivity; it looked like a pole decked out with flags. It was
she. On seeing me, she suddenly disappeared. I re-entered the
house at midday for lunch, and took my seat at the common table,
so as to make the acquaintance of this old and original creature.
But she did not respond to my polite advances, was insensible
even to my little attentions. I poured water out for her with
great alacrity, I passed her the dishes with great eagerness. A
slight, almost imperceptible movement of the head, and an English
word, murmured so low that I did not understand it, were her
only acknowledgments.
"I ceased occupying myself with her, although she had disturbed
my thoughts. At the end of three days, I knew as much about her
as did Madame Lecacheur herself.
"She was called Miss Harriet. Seeking out a secluded village in
which to pass the summer, she had been attracted to Benouville,
some six months before, and did not seem disposed to quit it. She
never spoke at table, ate rapidly, reading all the while a small
book, treating of some Protestant propaganda. She gave a copy of
it to everybody. The cure himself had received no less than four
copies, at the hands of an urchin to whom she had paid two sous'
commission. She said sometimes to our hostess, abruptly, without
preparing herin the least for the declaration:
" 'I love the Saviour more than all; I worship him in all
creation; I adore him in all nature; I carry him always in my
"And she would immediately present the old woman with one of her
brochures which were destined to convert the universe.
"In the village she was not liked. In fact, the schoolmaster had
declared that she was an atheist, and that a sort of reproach
attached to her. The cure, who had been consulted by Madame
Lecacheur, responded:
" 'She is a heretic, but God does not wish the death of the
sinner, and I believe her to be a person of pure morals.'
"These words, 'atheist,' 'heretic,' words which no one can
precisely define, threw doubts into some minds. It was asserted,
however, that this English-woman was rich, and that she had
passed her life in traveling through every country in the world,
because her family had thrown her off. Why had her family thrown
her off? Because of her natural impiety?
"She was, in fact, one of those people of exalted principles, one
of those opinionated puritans of whom England produces so many,
one of those good and insupportable old women who haunt the
tables d'hote of every hotel in Europe, who spoil Italy, poison
Switzerland, render the charming cities of the Mediterranean
uninhabitable, carry everywhere their fantastic manias, their
petrified vestal manners, their indescribable toilettes, and a
certain odor of india-rubber, which makes one believe that at
night they slip themselves into a case of that material. When I
meet one of these people in a hotel, I act like birds which see a
manikin in a field.
"This woman, however, appeared so singular that she did not
displease me.
"Madame Lecacheur, hostile by instinct to everything that was not
rustic, felt in her narrow soul a kind of hatred for the ecstatic
extravagances of the old girl. She had found a phrase by which to
describe her, I know not how, but a phrase assuredly
contemptuous, which had sprung to her lips, invented probably by
some confused and mysterious travail of soul. She said: 'That
woman is a demoniac.' This phrase, as uttered by that austere and
sentimental creature, seemed to me irresistibly comic. I, myself,
never called her now anything else but 'the demoniac.' feeling a
singular pleasure in pronouncing this word on seeing her.
"I would ask Mother Lecacheur: 'Well, what is our demoniac about
to-day?' To which my rustic friend would respond, with an air of
having been scandalized:
" 'What do you think, sir? She has picked up a toad which has had
its leg battered, and carried it to her room, and has put it in
her washstand, and dressed it up like a man. If that is not
profanation, I should like to know what is!'
"On another occasion, when walking along the Falaise, she had
bought a large fish which had just been caught, simply to throw
it back into the sea again. The sailor, from whom she had bought
it, though paid handsomely, was greatly provoked at this
act--more exasperated, indeed, than if she had put her hand into
his pocket and taken his money. For a whole month he could not
speak of the circumstance without getting into a fury and
denouncing it as an outrage. Oh yes! She was indeed a demoniac,
this Miss Harriet, and Mother Lecacheur must have had an
inspiration of genius in thus christening her.
"The stable-boy, who was called Sapeur, because he had served in
Africa in his youth, entertained other aversions. He said, with a
roguish air: 'She is an old hag who has lived her days.' If the
poor woman had but known!
"Little kind-hearted Celeste did not wait upon her willingly, but
I was never able to understand why. Probably her only reason was
that she was a stranger, of another race, of a different tongue,
and of another religion. She was in good truth a demoniac!
"She passed her time wandering about the country, adoring and
searching for God in nature. I found her one evening on her knees
in a cluster of bushes. Having discovered something red through
the leaves, I brushed aside the branches, and Miss Harriet at
once rose to her feet, confused at having been found thus,
looking at me with eyes as terrible as those of a wild cat
surprised in open day.
"Sometimes, when I was working among the rocks, I would suddenly
descry her on the banks of the Falaise standing like a semaphore
signal. She gazed passionately at the vast sea, glittering in the
sunlight, and the boundless sky empurpled with fire. Sometimes I
would distinguish her at the bottom of a valley, walking quickly,
with her elastic English step; and I would go toward her,
attracted by I know not what, simply to see her illuminated
visage, her dried-up features, which seemed to glow with an
ineffable, inward, and profound happiness.
"Often I would encounter her in the corner of a field sitting on
the grass, under the shadow of an apple-tree, with her little
Bible lying open on her knee, while she looked meditatively into
the distance.
"I could no longer tear myself away from that quiet country
neighborhood, bound to it as I was by a thousand links of love
for its soft and sweeping landscapes. At this farm I was out of
the world, far removed from everything, but in close proximity to
the soil, the good, healthy, beautiful green soil. And, must I
avow it, there was something besides curiosity which retained me
at the residence of Mother Lecacheur. I wished to become
acquainted a little with this strange Miss Harriet, and to learn
what passes in the solitary souls of those wandering old, English
"We became acquainted in a rather singular manner. I had just
finished a study which appeared to me to display genius and
power; as it must have, since it was sold for ten thousand
francs, fifteen years later. It was as simple, however, as that
two and two make four, and had nothing to do with academic rules.
The whole of the right side of my canvas represented a rock, an
enormous rock, covered with sea-wrack, brown, yellow, and red,
across which the sun poured like a stream of oil. The light,
without which one could see the stars concealed in the
background, fell upon the stone, and gilded it as if with fire.
That was all. A first stupid attempt at dealing with light, with
burning rays, with the sublime.
"On the left was the sea, not the blue sea, the slate-colored
sea, but a sea of jade, as greenish, milky, and thick as the
overcast sky.
"I was so pleased with my work that I danced from sheer delight
as I carried it back to the inn. I wished that the whole world
could have seen it at one and the same moment. I can remember
that I showed it to a cow, which was browsing by the wayside,
exclaiming, at the same time: 'Look at that, my old beauty; you
will not often see its like again.'
"When I had reached the front of the house, I immediately called
out to Mother Lecacheur, shouting with all my might:
" 'Ohe! Ohe! my mistress, come here and look at this.'
"The rustic advanced and looked at my work with stupid eyes,
which distinguished nothing, and did not even recognize whether
the picture was the representation of an ox or a house.
"Miss Harriet came into the house, and passed in rear of me just
at the moment when, holding out my canvas at arm's length, I was
exhibiting it to the female innkeeper. The 'demoniac' could not
help but see it, for I took care to exhibit the thing in such a
way that it could not escape her notice. She stopped abruptly and
stood motionless, stupefied. It was her rock which was depicted,
the one which she usually climbed to dream away her time
"She uttered a British 'Oh,' which was at once so accentuated and
so flattering, that I turned round to her, smiling, and said:
"This is my last work, Mademoiselle.'
"She murmured ecstatically, comically, and tenderly:
" 'Oh! Monsieur, you must understand what it is to have a
"I colored up, of course, and was more excited by that compliment
than if it had come from a queen. I was seduced, conquered,
vanquished. I could have embraced her--upon my honor.
"I took my seat at the table beside her, as I had always done.
For the first time, she spoke, drawling out in a loud voice:
" 'Oh! I love nature so much.'
"I offered her some bread, some water, some wine. She now
accepted these with the vacant smile of a mummy. I then began to
converse with her about the scenery.
"After the meal, we rose from the table together and walked
leisurely across the court; then, attracted by the fiery glow
which the setting sun cast over the surface of the sea, I opened
the outside gate which faced in the direction of the Falaise, and
we walked on side by side, as satisfied as any two persons could
be who have just learned to understand and penetrate each other's
motives and feelings.
"It was a misty, relaxing evening, one of those enjoyable
evenings which impart happiness to mind and body alike. All is
joy, all is charm. The luscious and balmy air, loaded with the
perfumes of herbs, with the perfumes of grass-wrack, with the
odor of the wild flowers, caresses the soul with a penetrating
sweetness. We were going to the brink of the abyss which
overlooked the vast sea and rolled past us at the distance of
less than a hundred meters.
"We drank with open mouth and expanded chest, that fresh breeze
from the ocean which glides slowly over the skin, salted as it is
by long contact with the waves.
"Wrapped up in her square shawl, inspired by the balmy air and
with teeth firmly set, the English-woman gazed fixedly at the
great sun-ball, as it descended toward the sea. Soon its rim
touched the waters, just in rear of a ship which had appeared on
the horizon, until, by degrees, it was swallowed up by the ocean.
We watched it plunge, diminish, and finally disappear.
"Miss Harriet contemplated with passionate regard the last
glimmer of the flaming orb of day.
"She muttered: 'Oh! I love--I love--' I saw a tear start in her
eye. She continued: 'I wish I were a little bird, so that I could
mount up into the firmament.'
"She remained standing as I had often before seen her, perched on
the river bank, her face as red as her flaming shawl. I should
have liked to have sketched her in my album. It would have been
an ecstatic caricature. I turned my face away from her so as to
be able to laugh.
"I then spoke to her of painting, as I would have done to a
fellow-artist, using the technical terms common among the
devotees of the profession. She listened attentively to me,
eagerly seeking to divine the sense of the obscure words, so as
to penetrate my thoughts. From time to time, she would exclaim:
'Oh! I understand, I understand. This is very interesting.' We
returned home.
"The next day, on seeing me, she approached me eagerly, holding
out her hand; and we became firm friends immediately.
"She was a brave creature, with an elastic sort of a soul, which
became enthusiastic at a bound. She lacked equilibrium, like all
women who are spinsters at the age of fifty. She seemed to be
pickled in vinegary innocence, though her heart still retained
something of youth and of girlish effervescence. She loved both
nature and animals with a fervent ardor, a love like old wine,
mellow through age, with a sensual love that she had never
bestowed on men.
"One thing is certain: a mare roaming in a meadow with a foal at
its side, a bird's nest full of young ones, squeaking, with their
open mouths and enormous heads, made her quiver with the most
violent emotion.
"Poor solitary beings! Sad wanderers from table d'hote to table
d'hote, poor beings, ridiculous and lamentable, I love you ever
since I became acquainted with Miss Harriet!
"I soon discovered that she had something she would like to tell
me, but dared not, and I was amused at her timidity. When I
started out in the morning with my box on my back, she would
accompany me as far as the end of the village, silent, but
evidently struggling inwardly to find words with which to begin a
conversation. Then she would leave me abruptly, and, with jaunty
step, walk away quickly.
"One day, however, she plucked up courage:
" 'I would like to see how you paint pictures? Will you show me?
I have been very curious.'
"And she colored up as though she had given utterance to words
extremely audacious.
"I conducted her to the bottom of the Petit-Val, where I had
commenced a large picture.
"She remained standing near me, following all my gestures with
concentrated attention. Then, suddenly, fearing, perhaps, that
she was disturbing me, she said to me: 'Thank you,' and walked
"But in a short time she became more familiar, and accompanied me
every day, her countenance exhibiting visible pleasure. She
carried her folding stool under her arm; would not consent to my
carrying it, and she sat always by my side. She would remain
there for hours immovable and mute, following with her eye the
point of my brush in its every movement. When I would obtain, by
a large splatch of color spread on with a knife, a striking and
unexpected effect, she would, in spite of herself, give vent to a
half-suppressed 'Oh!' of astonishment, of joy, of admiration. She
had the most tender respect for my canvases, an almost religious
respect for that human reproduction of a part of nature's work
divine. My studies appeared to her to be pictures of sanctity,
and sometimes she spoke to me of God, with the idea of converting
"Oh! He was a queer good-natured being, this God of hers. He was
a sort of village philosopher without any great resources, and
without great power; for she always figured him to herself as a
being quivering over injustices committed under his eyes, and
helpless to prevent them.
"She was, however, on excellent terms with him, affecting even to
be the confidant of his secrets and of his whims. She said:
" 'God wills, or God does not will,' just like a sergeant
announcing to a recruit: 'The colonel has commanded.'
"At the bottom of her heart she deplored my ignorance of the
intentions of the Eternal, which she strove, nay, felt herself
compelled, to impart to me.
"Almost every day, I found in my pockets, in my hat when I lifted
it from the ground, in my box of colors, in my polished shoes,
standing in the mornings in front of my door, those little pious
brochures, which she, no doubt, received directly from Paradise.
"I treated her as one would an old friend, with unaffected
cordiality. But I soon perceived that she had changed somewhat in
her manner; but, for a while, I paid little attention to it.
"When I walked about, whether to the bottom of the valley, or
through some country lanes, I would see her suddenly appear, as
though she were returning from a rapid walk. She would then sit
down abruptly, out of breath, as though she had been running or
overcome by some profound emotion. Her face would be red, that
English red which is denied to the people of all other countries;
then, without any reason, she would grow pale, become the color
of the ground, and seem ready to faint away. Gradually, however,
I would see her regain her ordinary color, whereupon she would
begin to speak.
"Then, without warning, she would break off in the middle of a
sentence, spring up from her seat, and march off so rapidly and
so strangely, that it would, sometimes, put me to my wits' end to
try and discover whether I had done or said anything to displease
or offend her.
"I finally came to the conclusion that this arose from her early
habits and training, somewhat modified, no doubt, in honor of me,
since the first days of our acquaintanceship.
"When she returned to the farm, after walking for hours on the
wind-beaten coast, her long curled hair would be shaken out and
hanging loose, as though it had broken away from its bearings. It
was seldom that this gave her any concern; though sometimes she
looked as though she had been dining sans ceremonie; her locks
having become disheveled by the breezes.
"She would then go up to her room in order to adjust what I
called her glass lamps. When I would say to her, in familiar
gallantry, which, however, always offended her:
" 'You are as beautiful as a planet to-day, Miss Harriet,' a
little blood would immediately mount into her cheeks, the blood
of a young maiden, the blood of sweet fifteen.
"Then she would become abruptly savage and cease coming to watch
me paint. But I always thought:
" 'This is only a fit of temper she is passing through.'
"But it did not always pass away. When I spoke to her sometimes,
she would answer me, either with an air of affected indifference,
or in sullen anger; and she became by turns rude, impatient, and
nervous. For a time I never saw her except at meals, and we spoke
but little. I concluded, at length, that I must have offended her
in something: and, accordingly, I said to her one evening:
" 'Miss Harriet, why is it that you do not act toward me as
formerly? What have I done to displease you? You are causing me
much pain!'
"She responded, in an angry tone, in a manner altogether sui
" 'I am always with you the same as formerly. It is not true, not
true,' and she ran upstairs and shut herself up in her room.
"At times she would look upon me with strange eyes. Since that
time I have often said to myself that those condemned to death
must look thus when informed that their last day has come. In her
eye there lurked a species of folly, a folly at once mysterious
and violent--even more, a fever, an exasperated desire,
impatient, at once incapable of being realized and unrealizable!
"Nay, it seemed to me that there was also going on within her a
combat, in which her heart struggled against an unknown force
that she wished to overcome--perhaps, even, something else. But
what could I know? What could I know?
"This was indeed a singular revelation.
"For some time I had commenced to work, as soon as daylight
appeared, on a picture, the subject of which was as follows:
"A deep ravine, steep banks dominated by two declivities, lined
with brambles and long rows of trees, hidden, drowned in milky
vapor, clad in that misty robe which sometimes floats over
valleys at break of day. At the extreme end of that thick and
transparent fog, you see coming, or rather already come, a human
couple, a stripling and a maiden embraced, interlaced, she, with
head leaning on him, he; inclined toward hers and lip to lip.
"A ray of the sun, glistening through the branches, has traversed
the fog of dawn and illuminated it with a rosy reflection, just
behind the rustic lovers, whose vague shadows are reflected on it
in clear silver. It was well done, yes, indeed, well done.
"I was working on the declivity which led to the Val d'Etretat.
This particular morning, I had, by chance, the sort of floating
vapor which was necessary for my purpose. Suddenly, an object
appeared in front of me, a kind of phantom; it was Miss Harriet.
On seeing me, she took to flight. But I called after her saying:
'Come here, come here, Mademoiselle, I have a nice little picture
for you.'
"She came forward, though with seeming reluctance. I handed her
my sketch. She said nothing, but stood for a long time
motionless, looking at it. Suddenly she burst into tears. She
wept spasmodically, like men who have been struggling hard
against shedding tears, but who can do so no longer, and abandon
themselves to grief, though unwillingly. I got up, trembling,
moved myself by the sight of a sorrow I did not comprehend, and I
took her by the hand with a gesture of brusque affection, a true
French impulse which impels one quicker than one thinks.
"She let her hands rest in mine for a few seconds, and I felt
them quiver, as if her whole nervous system was twisting and
turning. Then she withdrew her hands abruptly, or, rather, tore
them out of mine.
"I recognized that shiver as soon as I had felt it: I was
deceived in nothing. Ah! the love shudder of a woman, whether she
is fifteen or fifty years of age, whether she is one of the
people or one of the monde, goes so straight to my heart that I
never had any difficulty in understanding it!
"Her whole frail being trembled, vibrated, yielded. I knew it.
She walked away before I had time to say a word, leaving me as
surprised as if I had witnessed a miracle, and as troubled as if
I had committed a crime.
"I did not go in to breakfast. I took a walk on the banks of the
Falaise, feeling that I could just as soon weep as laugh, looking
on the adventure as both comic and deplorable, and my position as
ridiculous, fain to believe that I had lost my head.
"I asked myself what I ought to do. I debated whether I ought not
to take my leave of the place and almost immediately my
resolution was formed.
"Somewhat sad and perplexed, I wandered about until dinner time,
and entered the farmhouse just when the soup had been served up.
"I sat down at the table, as usual. Miss Harriet was there,
munching away solemnly, without speaking to anyone, without even
lifting her eyes. She wore, however, her usual expression, both
of countenance and manner.
"I waited, patiently, till the meal had been finished. Then,
turning toward the landlady, I said: 'Madame Lecacheur, it will
not be long now before I shall have to take my leave of you.'
"The good woman, at once surprised and troubled, replied in a
quivering voice: 'My dear sir, what is it I have just heard you
say? Are you going to leave us, after I have become so much
accustomed to you?'
"I looked at Miss Harriet from the corner of my eye. Her
countenance did not change in the least; but the under-servant
came toward me with eyes wide open. She was a fat girl, of about
eighteen years of age, rosy, fresh, strong as a horse, yet
possessing a rare attribute in one in her position--she was very
neat and clean. I had kissed her at odd times, in out of the way
corners, in the manner of a mountain guide, nothing more.
"The dinner being over, I went to smoke my pipe under the
apple-trees, walking up and down at my ease, from one end of the
court to the other. All the reflections which I had made during
the day, the strange discovery of the morning, that grotesque and
passionate attachment for me, the recollections which that
revelation had suddenly called up, recollections at once charming
and perplexing, perhaps, also, that look which the servant had
cast on me at the announcement of my departure--all these things,
mixed up and combined, put me now in an excited bodily state,
with the tickling sensation of kisses on my lips, and in my veins
something which urged me on to commit some folly.
"Night having come on, casting its dark shadows under the trees,
I descried Celeste, who had gone to shut the hen-coops, at the
other end of the inclosure. I darted toward her, running so
noiselessly that she heard nothing, and as she got up from
closing the small traps by which the chickens went in and out, I
clasped her in my arms and rained on her coarse, fat face a
shower of kisses. She made a struggle, laughing all the same, as
she was accustomed to do in such circumstances. What made me
suddenly loose my grip of her? Why did I at once experience a
shock? What was it that I heard behind me?
"It was Miss Harriet who had come upon us, who had seen us, and
who stood in front of us, as motionless as a specter. Then she
disappeared in the darkness.
"I was ashamed, embarrassed, more annoyed at having been
surprised by her than if she had caught me committing some
criminal act.
"I slept badly that night; I was worried and haunted by sad
thoughts. I seemed to hear loud weeping; but in this I was no
doubt deceived. Moreover, I thought several times that I heard
some one walking up and down in the house, and that some one
opened my door from the outside.
"Toward morning, I was overcome by fatigue, and sleep seized on
me. I got up late and did not go downstairs until breakfast time,
being still in a bewildered state, not knowing what kind of face
to put on.
"No one had seen Miss Harriet. We waited for her at table, but
she did not appear. At length, Mother Lecacheur went to her room.
The English-woman had gone out. She must have set out at break of
day, as she was wont to do, in order to see the sun rise.
"Nobody seemed astonished at this and we began to eat in silence.
"The weather was hot, very hot, one of those still sultry days
when not a leaf stirs. The table had been placed out of doors,
under an apple-tree; and from time to time Sapeur had gone to the
cellar to draw a jug of cider, everybody was so thirsty. Celeste
brought the dishes from the kitchen, a ragout of mutton with
potatoes, a cold rabbit, and a salad. Afterward she placed before
us a dish of strawberries, the first of the season.
"As I wanted to wash and freshen these, I begged the servant to
go and bring a pitcher of cold water."
"In about five minutes she returned, declaring that the well was
dry. She had lowered the pitcher to the full extent of the cord,
and had touched the bottom, but on drawing the pitcher up again,
it was empty. Mother Lecacheur, anxious to examine the thing for
herself, went and looked down the hole. She returned announcing
that one could see clearly something in the well, something
altogether unusual. But this, no doubt, was pottles of straw,
which, out of spite, had been cast down it by a neighbor.
"I wished also to look down the well, hoping to clear up the
mystery, and perched myself close to its brink. I perceived,
indistinctly, a white object. What could it be? I then conceived
the idea of lowering a lantern at the end of a cord. When I did
so, the yellow flame danced on the layers of stone and gradually
became clearer. All four of us were leaning over the opening,
Sapeur and Celeste having now joined us. The lantern rested on a
black and white, indistinct mass, singular, incomprehensible.
Sapeur exclaimed:
" 'It is a horse. I see the hoofs. It must have escaped from the
meadow, during the night, and fallen in headlong.'
"But, suddenly, a cold shiver attacked my spine, I first
recognized a foot, then a clothed limb; the body was entire, but
the other limb had disappeared under the water.
"I groaned and trembled so violently that the light of the lamp
danced hither and thither over the object, discovering a slipper.
" 'It is a woman! who--who--can it be? It is Miss Harriet.'
"Sapeur alone did not manifest horror. He had witnessed many such
scenes in Africa.
"Mother Lecacheur and Celeste began to scream and to shriek, and
ran away.
"But it was necessary to recover the corpse of the dead. I
attached the boy securely by the loins to the end of the
pulley-rope; then I lowered him slowly, and watched him disappear
in the darkness. In the one hand he had a lantern, and held on to
the rope with the other. Soon I recognized his voice, which
seemed to come from the center of the earth, crying:
" 'Stop.'
"I then saw him fish something out of the water. It was the other
limb. He bound the two feet together, and shouted anew:
" 'Haul up.'
"I commenced to wind him up, but I felt my arms strain, my
muscles twitch, and was in terror lest I should let the boy fall
to the bottom. When his head appeared over the brink, I asked:
" 'What is it?' as though I only expected that he would tell me
what he had discovered at the bottom.
"We both got on to the stone slab at the edge of the well, and,
face to face, hoisted the body.
"Mother Lecacheur and Celeste watched us from a distance,
concealed behind the wall of the house. When they saw, issuing
from the well, the black slippers and white stockings of the
drowned person, they disappeared.
"Sapeur seized the ankles of the poor chaste woman, and we drew
it up, inclined, as it was, in the most immodest posture. The
head was in a shocking state, bruised and black; and the long,
gray hair, hanging down, was tangled and disordered.
" 'In the name of all that is holy, how lean she is!' exclaimed
Sapeur, in a contemptuous tone.
"We carried her into the room, and as the women did not put in an
appearance, I, with the assistance of the lad, dressed the corpse
for burial.
"I washed her disfigured face. By the touch of my hand an eye was
slightly opened; it seemed to scan me with that pale stare, with
that cold, that terrible look which corpses have, a look which
seems to come from the beyond. I plaited up, as well as I could,
her disheveled hair, and I adjusted on her forehead a novel and
singularly formed lock. Then I took off her dripping wet
garments, baring, not without a feeling of shame, as though I had
been guilty of some profanation, her shoulders and her chest, and
her long arms, slim as the twigs of branches.
"I next went to fetch some flowers, corn poppies, blue beetles,
marguerites, and fresh and perfumed herbs, with which to strew
her funeral couch.
"Being the only person near her, it was necessary for me to
perform the usual ceremonies. In a letter found in her pocket,
written at the last moment, she asked that her body be buried in
the village in which she had passed the last days of her life. A
frightful thought then oppressed my heart. Was it not on my
account that she wished to be laid at rest in this place?
"Toward the evening, all the female gossips of the locality came
to view the remains of the defunct; but I would not allow a
single person to enter; I wanted to be alone; and I watched by
the corpse the whole night.
"By the flickering light of the candles, I looked at the body of
this miserable woman, wholly unknown, who had died so lamentably
and so far away from home. Had she left no friends, no relatives
behind her? What had her infancy been? What had been her life?
Whence had she come thither, all alone, a wanderer, like a dog
driven from home? What secrets of suffering and of despair were
sealed up in that disagreeable body, in that spent and withered
body, that impenetrable hiding place of a mystery which had
driven her far away from affection and from love?
"How many unhappy beings there are! I felt that upon that human
creature weighed the eternal injustice of implacable nature! Life
was over with her, without her ever having experienced, perhaps,
that which sustains the most miserable of us all--to wit, the
hope of being once loved! Otherwise, why should she thus have
concealed herself, have fled from the face of others? Why did she
love everything so tenderly and so passionately, everything
living that was not a man?
"I recognized, also, that she believed in a God, and that she
hoped for compensation from him for the miseries she had endured.
She had now begun to decompose, and to become, in turn, a plant.
She who had blossomed in the sun was now to be eaten up by the
cattle, carried away in herbs, and in the flesh of beasts, again
to become human flesh. But that which is called the soul had been
extinguished at the bottom of the dark well. She suffered no
longer. She had changed her life for that of others yet to be
"Hours passed away in this silent and sinister communion with the
dead. A pale light at length announced the dawn of a new day, and
a bright ray glistened on the bed, shedding a dash of fire on the
bedclothes and on her hands. This was the hour she had so much
loved, when the waking birds began to sing in the trees.
"I opened the window to its fullest extent, I drew back the
curtains, so that the whole heavens might look in upon us. Then
bending toward the glassy corpse, I took in my hands the
mutilated head, and slowly, without terror or disgust, imprinted
a long, long kiss upon those lips which had never before received
the salute of love."
* * * * * * *
Leon Chenal remained silent. The women wept. We heard on the box
seat Count d'Etraille blow his nose, from time to time. The
coachman alone had gone to sleep. The horses, which felt no
longer the sting of the whip, had slackened their pace and
dragged softly along. And the four-in-hand, hardly moving at all,
became suddenly torpid, as if laden with sorrow.
CUTS AND WOUNDS WHICH CAUSED DEATH. That was the heading of the
charge which brought Leopold Renard, upholsterer, before the
Assize Court.
Round him were the principal witnesses, Madame Flameche, widow of
the victim, Louis Ladureau, cabinetmaker, and Jean Durdent,
Near the criminal was his wife, dressed in black, a little ugly
woman, who looked like a monkey dressed as a lady.
This is how Renard described the drama:
"Good heavens, it is a misfortune of which I am the first and
last victim, and with which my will has nothing to do. The facts
are their own commentary, Monsieur le President. I am an honest
man, a hard-working man, an upholsterer in the same street for
the last sixteen years, known, liked, respected, and esteemed by
all, as my neighbors have testified, even the porter, who is not
folatre every day. I am fond of work, I am fond of saving, I like
honest men, and respectable pleasures. That is what has ruined
me, so much the worse for me; but as my will had nothing to do
with it, I continue to respect myself.
"Every Sunday for the last five years, my wife and I have spent
the day at Passy. We get fresh air, not to say that we are fond
of fishing--as fond of it as we are of small onions. Melie
inspired me with that passion, the jade; she is more enthusiastic
than I am, the scold, and all the mischief in this business is
her fault, as you will see immediately.
"I am strong and mild-tempered, without a pennyworth of malice in
me. But she! oh! la! la! she looks insignificant, she is short
and thin, but she does more mischief than a weasel. I do not deny
that she has some good qualities; she has some, and those very
important to a man in business. But her character! Just ask about
it in the neighborhood; even the porter's wife, who has just sent
me about my business--she will tell you something about it.
"Every day she used to find fault with my mild temper: 'I would
not put up with this! I would not put up with that.' If I had
listened to her, Monsieur le President, I should have had at
least three bouts of fisticuffs a month."
Madame Renard interrupted him: "And for good reasons too; they
laugh best who laugh last."
He turned toward her frankly: "Oh! very well, I can blame you,
since you were the cause of it."
Then, facing the President again he said:
"I will continue. We used to go to Passy every Saturday evening,
so as to be able to begin fishing at daybreak the next morning.
It is a habit which has become second nature with us, as the
saying is. Three years ago this summer I discovered a place, oh!
such a spot! There, in the shade, were eight feet of water at
least and perhaps ten, a hole with a retour under the bank, a
regular retreat for fish and a paradise for any fisherman. I
might look upon that hole as my property, Monsieur le President,
as I was its Christopher Columbus. Everybody in the neighborhood
knew it, without making any opposition. They used to say: 'That
is Renard's place'; and nobody would have gone to it, not even
Monsieur Plumsay, who is renowned, be it said without any
offense, for appropriating other people's places.
"Well, I went as usual to that place, of which I felt as certain
as if I had owned it. I had scarcely got there on Saturday, when
I got into 'Delila,' with my wife. 'Delila' is my Norwegian boat,
which I had built by Fourmaise, and which is light and safe.
Well, as I said, we got into the boat and we were going to bait,
and for baiting there is nobody to be compared with me, and they
all know it. You want to know with what I bait? I cannot answer
that question; it has nothing to do with the accident; I cannot
answer, that is my secret. There are more than three hundred
people who have asked me; I have been offered glasses of brandy
and liquors, fried fish, matelots,[1] to make me tell! But just
go and try whether the chub will come. Ah! they have patted my
stomach to get at my secret, my recipe. Only my wife knows, and
she will not tell it, any more than I shall! Is not that so,
[1] A preparation of several kinds of fish, with a sharp sauce.
The President of the Court interrupted him:
"Just get to the facts as soon as you can."
The accused continued: "I am getting to them; I am getting to
them. Well, on Saturday. July 8, we left by the five twenty-five
train, and before dinner we went to ground-bait as usual. The
weather promised to keep fine, and I said to Melie: 'All right
for to-morrow!' And she replied: 'It looks like it.' We never
talk more than that together.
"And then we returned to dinner. I was happy and thirsty, and
that was the cause of everything. I said to Melie: 'Look here
Melie, it is fine weather, so suppose I drink a bottle of Casque
a meche. That is a little white wine which we have christened so,
because if you drink too much of it it prevents you from sleeping
and is the opposite of a nightcap. Do you understand me?
"She replied: 'You can do as you please, but you will be ill
again, and will not be able to get up to-morrow.' That was true,
sensible, prudent, and clear-sighted, I must confess.
Nevertheless, I could not withstand it, and I drank my bottle. It
all comes from that.
"Well, I could not sleep. By Jove! It kept me awake till two
o'clock in the morning, and then I went to sleep so soundly that
I should not have heard the angel shouting at the Last Judgment.
"In short, my wife woke me at six o'clock and I jumped out of
bed, hastily put on my trousers and jersey, washed my face and
jumped on board 'Delila.' But it was too late, for when I arrived
at my hole it was already taken! Such a thing had never happened
to me in three years, and it made me feel as if I were being
robbed under my own eyes. I said to myself, Confound it all!
confound it! And then my wife began to nag at me. 'Eh! What about
your Casque a meche! Get along, you drunkard! Are you satisfied,
you great fool?' I could say nothing, because it was all quite
true, and so I landed all the same near the spot and tried to
profit by what was left. Perhaps after all the fellow might catch
nothing, and go away.
"He was a little thin man, in white linen coat and waistcoat, and
with a large straw hat, and his wife, a fat woman who was doing
embroidery, was behind him.
"When she saw us take up our position close to their place, she
murmured: 'I suppose there are no other places on the river!' And
my wife, who was furious, replied: 'People who know how to behave
make inquiries about the habits of the neighborhood before
occupying reserved spots.'
"As I did not want a fuss, I said to her: 'Hold your tongue,
Melie. Let them go on, let them go on; we shall see.'
"Well, we had fastened 'Delila' under the willow-trees, and had
landed and were fishing side by side, Melie and I, close to the
two others; but here, Monsieur, I must enter into details.
"We had only been there about five minutes when our male
neighbor's float began to go down two or three times, and then he
pulled out a chub as thick as my thigh, rather less, perhaps, but
nearly as big! My heart beat, and the perspiration stood on my
forehead, and Melie said to me: 'Well, you sot, did you see
"Just then, Monsieur Bru, the grocer of Poissy, who was fond of
gudgeon fishing, passed in a boat, and called out to me: So
somebody has taken your usual place, Monsieur Renard? And I
replied: 'Yes, Monsieur Bru, there are some people in this world
who do not know the usages of common politeness.'
"The little man in linen pretended not to hear, nor his fat lump
of a wife, either.
Here the President interrupted him a second time: "Take care, you
are insulting the widow, Madame Flameche, who is present.
Renard made his excuses: "I beg your pardon, I beg your pardon,
my anger carried me away. Well, not a quarter of an hour had
passed when the little man caught another chub and another almost
immediately, and another five minutes later.
"The tears were in my eyes, and then I knew that Madame Renard
was boiling with rage, for she kept on nagging at me: 'Oh! how
horrid! Don't you see that he is robbing you of your fish? Do you
think that you will catch anything? Not even a frog, nothing
whatever. Why, my hands are burning, just to think of it.'
"But I said to myself: 'Let us wait until twelve o clock. Then
this poaching fellow will go to lunch, and I shall get my place
again. As for me, Monsieur le President, I lunch on the spot
every Sunday; we bring our provisions in 'Delila.' But there! At
twelve o'clock, the wretch produced a fowl out of a newspaper,
and while he was eating, actually he caught another chub!
"Melie and I had a morsel also, just a mouthful, a mere nothing,
for our heart was not in it.
"Then I took up my newspaper, to aid my digestion. Every Sunday I
read the 'Gil Blas' in the shade like that, by the side of the
water. It is Columbine's day, you know, Columbine who writes the
articles in the 'Gil Blas.' I generally put Madame Renard into a
passion by pretending to know this Columbine. It is not true, for
I do not know her, and have never seen her, but that does not
matter; she writes very well, and then she says things straight
out for a woman. She suits me, and there are not many of her
"Well, I began to tease my wife, but she got angry immediately,
and very angry, and so I held my tongue. At that moment our two
witnesses, who are present here, Monsieur Ladureau and Monsieur
Durdent, appeared on the other side of the river. We knew each
other by sight. The little man began to fish again, and he caught
so many that I trembled with vexation, and his wife said: 'It is
an uncommonly good spot, and we will come here always, Desire.'
As for me, a cold shiver ran down my back, and Madame Renard kept
repeating: 'You are not a man; you have the blood of a chicken in
your veins'; and suddenly I said to her: 'Look here, I would
rather go away, or I shall only be doing something foolish.'
"And she whispered to me as if she had put a red-hot iron under
my nose: 'You are not a man. Now you are going to run away, and
surrender your place! Off you go, Bazaine!'
"Well, I felt that, but yet I did not move, while the other
fellow pulled out a bream, Oh! I never saw such a large one
before, never! And then my wife began to talk aloud, as if she
were thinking, and you can see her trickery. She said: 'That is
what one might call stolen fish, seeing that we baited the place
ourselves. At any rate, they ought to give us back the money we
have spent on bait.'
"Then the fat woman in the cotton dress said in turn: 'Do you
mean to call us thieves, Madame?' And they began to explain, and
then they came to words. Oh! Lord! those creatures know some good
ones. They shouted so loud, that our two witnesses, who were on
the other bank, began to call out by way of a joke: 'Less noise
over there; you will prevent your husbands from fishing.'
"The fact is that neither of us moved any more than if we had
been two tree-stumps. We remained there, with our noses over the
water, as if we had heard nothing, but by Jove, we heard all the
same. 'You are a mere liar.'
" 'You are nothing better than a street-walker.'
" 'You are only a trollop.'
" 'You are a regular strumpet.'
"And so on, and so on; a sailor could not have said more.
"Suddenly I heard a noise behind me, and turned round. It was the
other one, the fat woman who had fallen on to my wife with her
parasol. WHACK! WHACK! Melie got two of them, but she was
furious, and she hits hard when she is in a rage, so she caught
the fat woman by the hair and then, THUMP, THUMP. Slaps in the
face rained down like ripe plums. I should have let them go
on--women among themselves, men among themselves--it does not do
to mix the blows, but the little man in the linen jacket jumped
up like a devil and was going to rush at my wife. Ah! no, no, not
that, my friend! I caught the gentleman with the end of my fist,
CRASH, CRASH, one on the nose, the other in the stomach. He threw
up his arms and legs and fell on his back into the river, just
into the hole.
"I should have fished him out most certainly, Monsieur le
President, if I had had the time. But unfortunately the fat woman
got the better of it, and she was drubbing Melie terribly. I know
that I ought not to have assisted her while the man was drinking
his fill, but I never thought that he would drown, and said to
myself: 'Bah, it will cool him.'
"I therefore ran up to the women to separate them, and all I
received was scratches and bites. Good Lord, what creatures!
Well, it took me five minutes, and perhaps ten, to separate those
two viragoes. When I turned round, there was nothing to be seen,
and the water was as smooth as a lake. The others yonder kept
shouting: 'Fish him out!' It was all very well to say that, but I
cannot swim and still less dive!
"At last the man from the dam came, and two gentlemen with
boat-hooks, but it had taken over a quarter of an hour. He was
found at the bottom of the hole in eight feet of water, as I have
said, but he was dead, the poor little man in his linen suit!
There are the facts, such as I have sworn to. I am innocent, on
my honor."
The witnesses having deposed to the same effect, the accused was
I have just read among the general news in one of the papers a
drama of passion. He killed her and then he killed himself, so he
must have loved her. What matters He or She? Their love alone
matters to me; and it does not interest me because it moves me or
astonishes me, or because it softens me or makes me think, but
because it recalls to my mind a remembrance of my youth, a
strange recollection of a hunting adventure where Love appeared
to me, as the Cross appeared to the early Christians, in the
midst of the heavens.
I was born with all the instincts and the senses of primitive
man, tempered by the arguments and the restraints of a civilized
being. I am passionately fond of shooting, yet the sight of the
wounded animal, of the blood on its feathers and on my hands,
affects my heart so as almost to make it stop.
That year the cold weather set in suddenly toward the end of
autumn, and I was invited by one of my cousins, Karl de Rauville,
to go with him and shoot ducks on the marshes, at daybreak.
My cousin was a jolly fellow of forty, with red hair, very stout
and bearded, a country gentleman, an amiable semi-brute, of a
happy disposition and endowed with that Gallic wit which makes
even mediocrity agreeable. He lived in a house, half farmhouse,
half chateau, situated in a broad valley through which a river
ran. The hills right and left were covered with woods, old
manorial woods where magnificent trees still remained, and where
the rarest feathered game in that part of France was to be found.
Eagles were shot there occasionally, and birds of passage, such
as rarely venture into our over-populated part of the country,
invariably lighted amid these giant oaks, as if they knew or
recognized some little corner of a primeval forest which had
remained there to serve them as a shelter during their short
nocturnal halt.
In the valley there were large meadows watered by trenches and
separated by hedges; then, further on, the river, which up to
that point had been kept between banks, expanded into a vast
marsh. That marsh was the best shooting ground I ever saw. It was
my cousin's chief care, and he kept it as a preserve. Through the
rushes that covered it, and made it rustling and rough, narrow
passages had been cut, through which the flat-bottomed boats,
impelled and steered by poles, passed along silently over dead
water, brushing up against the reeds and making the swift fish
take refuge in the weeds, and the wild fowl, with their pointed,
black heads, dive suddenly.
I am passionately fond of the water: of the sea, though it is too
vast, too full of movement, impossi-ble to hold; of the rivers
which are so beautiful, but which pass on, and flee away and
above all of the marshes, where the whole unknown existence of
aquatic animals palpitates. The marsh is an entire world in
itself on the world of earth--a different world, which has its
own life, its settled inhabitants and its passing travelers, its
voices, its noises, and above all its mystery. Nothing is more
impressive, nothing more disquieting, more terrifying
occasionally, than a fen. Why should a vague terror hang over
these low plains covered with water? Is it the low rustling of
the rushes, the strange will-o'-the-wisp lights, the silence
which prevails on calm nights, the still mists which hang over
the surface like a shroud; or is it the almost inaudible
splashing, so slight and so gentle, yet sometimes more terrifying
than the cannons of men or the thunders of the skies, which make
these marshes resemble countries one has dreamed of, terrible
countries holding an unknown and dangerous secret?
No, something else belongs to it--another mystery, profounder and
graver, floats amid these thick mists, perhaps the mystery of the
creation itself! For was it not in stagnant and muddy water, amid
the heavy humidity of moist land under the heat of the sun, that
the first germ of life pulsated and expanded to the day?
I arrived at my cousin's in the evening. It was freezing hard
enough to split the stones.
During dinner, in the large room whose side-boards, walls, and
ceiling were covered with stuffed birds, with wings extended or
perched on branches to which they were nailed,--hawks, herons,
owls, nightjars, buzzards, tiercels, vultures, falcons,--my
cousin who, dressed in a sealskin jacket, himself resembled some
strange animal from a cold country, told me what preparations he
had made for that same night.
We were to start at half past three in the morning, so as to
arrive at the place which he had chosen for our watching-place at
about half past four. On that spot a hut had been built of lumps
of ice, so as to shelter us somewhat from the trying wind which
precedes daybreak, a wind so cold as to tear the flesh like a
saw, cut it like the blade of a knife, prick it like a poisoned
sting, twist it like a pair of pincers, and burn it like fire.
My cousin rubbed his hands: "I have never known such a frost," he
said; "it is already twelve degrees below zero at six o'clock in
the evening."
I threw myself on to my bed immediately after we had finished our
meal, and went to sleep by the light of a bright fire burning in
the grate.
At three o'clock he woke me. In my turn, I put on a sheepskin,
and found my cousin Karl covered with a bearskin. After having
each swallowed two cups of scalding coffee, followed by glasses
of liqueur brandy, we started, accompanied by a gamekeeper and
our dogs, Plongeon and Pierrot.
From the first moment that I got outside, I felt chilled to the
very marrow. It was one of those nights on which the earth seems
dead with cold. The frozen air becomes resisting and palpable,
such pain does it cause; no breath of wind moves it, it is fixed
and motionless; it bites you, pierces through you, dries you,
kills the trees, the plants, the insects, the small birds
themselves, who fall from the branches on to the hard ground, and
become stiff themselves under the grip of the-cold.
The moon, which was in her last quarter and was inclining all to
one side, seemed fainting in the midst of space, so weak that she
was unable to wane, forced to stay up yonder, seized and
paralyzed by the severity of the weather. She shed a cold,
mournful light over the world, that dying and wan light which she
gives us every month, at the end of her period.
Karl and I walked side by side, our backs bent, our hands in our
pockets and our guns under our arms. Our boots, which were
wrapped in wool so that we might be able to walk without slipping
on the frozen river, made no sound, and I looked at the white
vapor which our dogs' breath made.
We were soon on the edge of the marsh, and entered one of the
lanes of dry rushes which ran through the low forest.
Our elbows, which touched the long, ribbonlike leaves, left a
slight noise behind us, and I was seized, as I had never been
before, by the powerful and singular emotion which marshes cause
in me. This one was dead, dead from cold, since we were walking
on it, in the middle of its population of dried rushes.
Suddenly, at the turn of one of the lanes, I perceived the
ice-hut which had been constructed to shelter us. I went in, and
as we had nearly an hour to wait before the wandering birds would
awake, I rolled myself up in my rug in order to try and get warm.
Then, lying on my back, I began to look at the misshapen moon,
which had four horns through the vaguely transparent walls of
this polar house. But the frost of the frozen marshes, the cold
of these walls, the cold from the firmament penetrated me so
terribly that I began to cough. My cousin Karl became uneasy.
"No matter if we do not kill much to-day," he said: "I do not
want you to catch cold; we will light a fire." And he told the
gamekeeper to cut some rushes.
We made a pile in the middle of our hut which had a hole in the
middle of the roof to let out the smoke, and when the red flames
rose up to the clear, crystal blocks they began to melt, gently,
imperceptibly, as if they were sweating. Karl, who had remained
outside, called out to me: "Come and look here!" I went out of
the hut and remained struck with astonishment. Our hut, in the
shape of a cone, looked like an enormous diamond with a heart of
fire which had been suddenly planted there in the midst of the
frozen water of the marsh. And inside, we saw two fantastic
forms, those of our dogs, who were warming themselves at the
But a peculiar cry, a lost, a wandering cry, passed over our
heads, and the light from our hearth showed us the wild birds.
Nothing moves one so much as the first clamor of a life which one
does not see, which passes through the somber air so quickly and
so far off, just before the first streak of a winter's day
appears on the horizon. It seems to me, at this glacial hour of
dawn, as if that passing cry which is carried away by the wings
of a bird is the sigh of a soul from the world!
"Put out the fire," said Karl, "it is getting daylight."
The sky was, in fact, beginning to grow pale, and the flights of
ducks made long, rapid streaks which were soon obliterated on the
A stream of light burst out into the night; Karl had fired, and
the two dogs ran forward.
And then, nearly every minute, now he, now I, aimed rapidly as
soon as the shadow of a flying flock appeared above the rushes.
And Pierrot and Plongeon, out of breath but happy, retrieved the
bleeding birds, whose eyes still, occasionally, looked at us.
The sun had risen, and it was a bright day with a blue sky, and
we were thinking of taking our departure, when two birds with
extended necks and outstretched wings, glided rapidly over our
heads. I fired, and one of them fell almost at my feet. It was a
teal, with a silver breast, and then, in the blue space above me,
I heard a voice, the voice of a bird. It was a short, repeated,
heart-rending lament; and the bird, the little animal that had
been spared began to turn round in the blue sky, over our heads,
looking at its dead companion which I was holding in my hand.
Karl was on his knees, his gun to his shoulder watching it
eagerly, until it should be within shot. "You have killed the
duck," he said, "and the drake will not fly away."
He certainly did not fly away; he circled over our heads
continually, and continued his cries. Never have any groans of
suffering pained me so much as that desolate appeal, as that
lamentable reproach of this poor bird which was lost in space.
Occasionally he took flight under the menace of the gun which
followed his movements, and seemed ready to continue his flight
alone, but as he could not make up his mind to this, he returned
to find his mate.
"Leave her on the ground," Karl said to me, "he will come within
shot by and by." And he did indeed come near us, careless of
danger, infatuated by his animal love, by his affection for his
mate, which I had just killed.
Karl fired, and it was as if somebody had cut the string which
held the bird suspended. I saw something black descend, and I
heard the noise of a fall among the rushes. And Pierrot brought
it to me.
I put them--they were already cold--into the same game-bag, and I
returned to Paris the same evening.
Like all the little wooden inns in the higher Alps, tiny auberges
situated in the bare and rocky gorges which intersect the white
summits of the mountains, the inn of Schwarenbach is a refuge for
travelers who are crossing the Gemmi.
It is open six months in the year, and is inhabited by the family
of Jean Hauser. As soon as the snow begins to fall, and fills the
valley so as to make the road down to Loeche impassable, the
father, with mother, daughter, and the three sons depart, leaving
the house in charge of the old guide, Gaspard Hari, with the
young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, and Sam, the great mountain dog.
The two men and the dog remain till spring in their snowy prison,
with nothing before their eyes except immense, white slopes of
the Balmhorn, surrounded by light, glistening summits, and shut
up, blocked up, and buried by the snow which rises around them,
enveloping and almost burying the little house up to the eaves.
It was the day on which the Hauser family were going to return to
Loeche, as winter was approaching, and the descent was becoming
dangerous. Three mules started first, laden with baggage and led
by the three sons. Then the mother, Jeanne Hauser, and her
daughter Louise mounted a fourth mule, and set off in their turn.
The father followed them, accompanied by the two men in charge,
who were to escort the family as far as the brow of the descent.
First of all they skirted the small lake, now frozen over, at the
foot of the mass of rocks which stretched in front of the inn;
then they followed the valley, which was dominated on all sides
by snow-covered peaks.
A ray of sunlight glinted into that little white, glistening,
frozen desert, illuminating it with a cold and dazzling flame. No
living thing appeared among this ocean of hills; there was no
stir in that immeasurable solitude, no noise disturbed the
profound silence.
By degrees the young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, a tall, long-legged
Swiss, left daddy Hauser and old Gaspard behind, in order to
catch up with the mule which carried the two women. The younger
one looked at him as he approached, as if she would call him with
her sad eyes. She was a young, light-haired peasant girl, whose
milk-white cheeks and pale hair seemed to have lost their color
by long dwelling amid the ice. When Ulrich had caught up with the
animal which carried the women, he put his hand on the crupper,
and relaxed his speed. Mother Hauser began to talk to him, and
enumerated with minutest detail all that he would have to attend
to during the winter. It was the first winter he would spend up
there, while old Hari had already spent fourteen winters amid the
snow, at the inn of Schwarenbach.
Ulrich Kunsi listened, without appearing to understand, and
looked incessantly at the girl. From time to time he replied:
"Yes, Madame Hauser"; but his thoughts seemed far away, and his
calm features remained unmoved.
They reached Lake Daube, whose broad, frozen surface reached to
the bottom of the valley. On the right, the Daubenhorn showed its
black mass, rising up in a peak above the enormous moraines of
the Lommeon glacier, which soared above the Wildstrubel. As they
approached the neck of the Gemmi, where the descent to Loeche
begins, the immense horizon of the Alps of the Valais, from which
the broad, deep valley of the Rhone separated them, came in view.
In the distance, there was a group of white, unequal, flat or
pointed mountain summits, which glistened in the sun; the
Mischabel with its twin peaks, the huge group of the Weisshorn,
the heavy Brunegghorn, the lofty and formidable pyramid of Mont
Cervin, slayer of men, and the Dent Blanche, that terrible
Then beneath them, as at the bottom of a terrible abyss, they saw
Loeche, its houses looking like grains of sand which had been
thrown into that enormous crevice which finishes and closes the
Gemmi, and which opens, down below, on to the Rhone.
The mule stopped at the edge of the path, which turns and twists
continually, zigzagging fantastically and strangely along the
steep side of the mountain, as far as the almost invisible little
village at its feet. The women jumped into the snow, and the two
old men joined them.
"Well," father Hauser said, "good-bye, and keep up your spirits
till next year, my friends," and old Hari replied: "Till next
They embraced each other, and then Madame Hauser in her turn,
offered her cheek, and the girl did the same. When Ulrich Kunsi's
turn came, he whispered in Louise's ear:
"Do not forget those up yonder," and she replied: "No," in such a
low voice, that he guessed what she had said, without hearing it.
"Well, adieu," Jean Hauser repeated, "and don't fall ill." Then,
going before the two women, he commenced the descent, and soon
all three disappeared at the first turn in the road, while the
two men returned to the inn at Schwarenbach.
They walked slowly side by side, without speaking. The parting
was over, and they would be alone together for four or five
months. Then Gaspard Hari began to relate his life last winter.
He had remained with Michael Canol, who was too old now to stand
it; for an accident might happen during that long solitude. They
had not been dull, however; the only thing was to be resigned to
it from the first, and in the end one would find plenty of
distraction, games and other means of whiling away the time.
Ulrich Kunsi listened to him with his eyes on the ground, for in
thought he was with those who were descending to the village.
They soon came in sight of the inn, which was scarcely visible,
so small did it look, a mere black speck at the foot of that
enormous billow of snow. When they opened the door, Sam, the
great curly dog, began to romp round them.
"Come, my boy," old Gaspard said, "we have no women now, so we
must get our own dinner ready. Go and peel the potatoes." And
they both sat down on wooden stools, and began to put the bread
into the soup.
The next morning seemed very long to Kunsi. Old Hari smoked and
smoked beside the hearth, while the young man looked out of the
window at the snow-covered mountain opposite the house. In the
afternoon he went out, and going over the previous day's ground
again, he looked for the traces of the mule that had carried the
two women; then when he had reached the neck of the Gemmi, he
laid himself down on his stomach, and looked at Loeche.
The village, in its rocky pit, was not yet buried under the snow,
although the white masses came quite close to it, balked,
however, of their prey by the pine woods which protected the
hamlet. From his vantage point the low houses looked like
paving-stones in a large meadow. Hauser's little daughter was
there now in one of those gray-colored houses. In which? Ulrich
Kunsi was too far away to be able to make them out separately.
How he would have liked to go down while he was yet able!
But the sun had disappeared behind the lofty crest of the
Wildstrubel, and the young man returned to the chalet. Daddy Hari
was smoking, and, when he saw his mate come in, proposed a game
of cards to him. They sat down opposite each other for a long
time and played the simple game called brisque; then they had
supper and went to bed.
The following days were like the first, bright and cold, without
any more snow. Old Gaspard spent his afternoons in watching the
eagles and other rare birds which ventured on to those frozen
heights; while Ulrich journeyed regularly to the neck of the
Gemmi to look at the village. In the evening they played at
cards, dice, or dominoes, and lost and won trifling sums, just to
create an interest in the game.
One morning Hari, who was up first, called his companion. A
moving cloud of white spray, deep and light, was falling on them
noiselessly, and burying them by degrees under a dark, thick
coverlet of foam. This lasted four days and four nights. It was
necessary to free the door and the windows, to dig out a passage,
and to cut steps to get over this frozen powder, which a
twelve-hours' frost had made as hard as the granite of the
They lived like prisoners, not venturing outside their abode.
They had divided their duties and performed them regularly.
Ulrich Kunsi undertook the scouring, washing, and everything that
belonged to cleanliness. He also chopped up the wood, while
Gaspard Hari did the cooking and attended to the fire. Their
regular and monotonous work was relieved by long games at cards
or dice, but they never quarreled, and were always calm and
placid. They were never even impatient or ill-humored, nor did
they ever use hard words, for they had laid in a stock of
patience for this wintering on the top of the mountain.
Sometimes old Gaspard took his rifle and went after chamois, and
occasionally killed one. Then there was a feast in the inn at
Schwarenbach, and they reveled in fresh meat. One morning he went
out as usual. The thermometer outside marked eighteen degrees of
frost, and as the sun had not yet risen, the hunter hoped to
surprise the animals at the approaches to the Wildstrubel.
Ulrich, being alone, remained in bed until ten o'clock. He was of
a sleepy nature, but would not have dared to give way like that
to his inclination in the presence of the old guide, who was ever
an early riser. He breakfasted leisurely with Sam, who also spent
his days and nights in sleeping in front of the fire; then he
felt low-spirited and even frightened at the solitude, and was
seized by a longing for his daily game of cards, as one is by the
domination of an invincible habit. So he went out to meet his
companion, who was to return at four o'clock.
The snow had leveled the whole deep valley, filled up the
crevasses, obliterated all signs of the two lakes and covered the
rocks, so that between the high summits there was nothing but an
immense, white, regular, dazzling, and frozen surface. For three
weeks, Ulrich had not been to the edge of the precipice, from
which he had looked down on to the village, and he wanted to go
there before climbing the slopes which led to the Wildstrubel.
Loeche was now covered by the snow, and the houses could scarcely
be distinguished, hidden as they were by that white cloak.
Turning to the right, Ulrich reached the Lammern glacier. He
strode along with a mountaineer's long swinging pace, striking
the snow, which was as hard as a rock, with his iron-shod stick,
and with piercing eyes looking for the little black, moving speck
in the distance, on that enormous, white expanse.
When he reached the end of the glacier he stopped, and asked
himself whether the old man had taken that road, and then he
began to walk along the moraines with rapid and uneasy steps. The
day was declining; the snow was assuming a rosy tint, and a dry,
frozen wind blew in rough gusts over its crystal surface. Ulrich
uttered a long, shrill, vibrating call. His voice sped through
the deathlike silence in which the mountains were sleeping; it
reached into the distance, over the profound and motionless waves
of glacial foam, like the cry of a bird over the waves of the
sea; then it died away and nothing answered him.
He started off again. The sun had sunk behind the mountain tops,
which still were purpled with the reflection from the heavens;
but the depths of the valley were becoming gray, and suddenly the
young man felt frightened. It seemed to him as if the silence,
the cold, the solitude, the wintry death of these mountains were
taking possession of him, were stopping and freezing his blood,
making his limbs grow stiff, and turning him into a motionless
and frozen object; and he began to run rapidly toward the
dwelling. The old man, he thought, would have returned during his
absence. He had probably taken another road; and would, no doubt,
be sitting before the fire, with a dead chamois at his feet.
He soon came in sight of the inn, but no smoke rose from it.
Ulrich ran faster. Opening the door he met Sam who ran up to him
to greet him, but Gaspard Hari had not returned. Kunsi, in his
alarm, turned round suddenly, as if he had expected to find his
comrade hidden in a corner. Then he relighted the fire and made
the soup; hoping every moment to see the old man come in. From
time to time he went out to see if Gaspard were not in sight. It
was night now, that wan night of the mountain, a livid night,
with the crescent moon, yellow and dim, just disappearing behind
the mountain tops, and shining faintly on the edge of the
Then the young man went in and sat down to warm his hands and
feet, while he pictured to himself every possible sort of
accident. Gaspard might have broken a leg, have fallen into a
crevasse, have taken a false step and dislocated his ankle.
Perhaps he was lying on the snow, overcome and stiff with the
cold, in agony of mind, lost and perhaps shouting for help,
calling with all his might, in the silence of the night.
But where? The mountain was so vast, so rugged, so dangerous in
places, especially at that time of the year, that it would have
required ten or twenty guides walking for a week in all
directions, to find a man in that immense space. Ulrich Kunsi,
however, made up his mind to set out with Sam, if Gaspard did not
return by one in the morning; and he made his preparations.
He put provisions for two days into a bag, took his steel
climbing-irons, tied a long, thin, strong rope round his waist
and looked to see that his iron-shod stick and his ax, which
served to cut steps in the ice, were in order. Then he waited.
The fire was burning on the hearth, the great dog was snoring in
front of it, and the clock was ticking in its case of resounding
wood, as regularly as a heart beating.
He waited, his ears on the alert for distant sounds, and shivered
when the wind blew against the roof and the walls. It struck
twelve, and he trembled. Then, as he felt frightened and shivery,
he put some water on the fire, so that he might have hot coffee
before starting. When the clock struck one he got up, woke Sam,
opened the door and went off in the direction of the Wildstrubel.
For five hours he ascended, scaling the rocks by means of his
climbing-irons, cutting into the ice, advancing continually, and
occasionally hauling up the dog, who remained below at the foot
of some slope that was too steep for him, by means of the rope.
About six o'clock he reached one of the summits to which old
Gaspard often came after chamois, and he waited till it should be
The sky was growing pale overhead, and suddenly a strange light,
springing, nobody could tell whence, suddenly illuminated the
immense ocean of pale mountain peaks, which stretched for many
leagues around him. It seemed as if this vague brightness arose
from the snow itself, in order to spread itself into space. By
degrees the highest and most distant summits assumed a delicate,
fleshlike rose color, and the red sun appeared behind the
ponderous giants of the Bernese Alps.
Ulrich Kunsi set off again, walking like a hunter, stooping and
looking for any traces, and saying to his dog: "Seek old fellow,
He was descending the mountain now, scanning the depths closely,
and from time to time shouting, uttering a loud, prolonged
familiar cry which soon died away in that silent vastness. Then,
he put his ear to the ground, to listen. He thought he could
distinguish a voice, and so he began to run and shout again. But
he heard nothing more and sat down, worn out and in despair.
Toward midday he breakfasted and gave Sam, who was as tired as
himself, something to eat also; then he recommenced his search.
When evening came he was still walking, having traveled more than
thirty miles over the mountains. As he was too far away to return
home, and too tired to drag himself along any further, he dug a
hole in the snow and crouched in it with his dog, under a blanket
which he had brought with him. The man and the dog lay side by
side, warming themselves one against the other, but frozen to the
marrow, nevertheless. Ulrich scarcely slept, his mind haunted by
visions and his limbs shaking with cold.
Day was breaking when he got up. His legs were as stiff as iron
bars, and his spirits so low that he was ready to weep, while his
heart was beating so that he almost fell with excitement whenever
he thought he heard a noise.
Suddenly he imagined that he ALSO was going to die of cold in the
midst of this vast solitude. The terror of such a death roused
his energies and gave him renewed vigor. He was descending toward
the inn, falling down and getting up again, and followed at a
distance by Sam, who was limping on three legs. They did not
reach Schwarenbach until four o'clock in the afternoon. The house
was empty, and the young man made a fire, had something to eat,
and went to sleep, so worn-out that he did not think of anything
He slept for a long time, for a very long time, the unconquerable
sleep of exhaustion. But suddenly a voice, a cry, a name:
"Ulrich," aroused him from his profound slumber, and made him sit
up in bed. Had he been dreaming? Was it one of those strange
appeals which cross the dreams of disquieted minds? No, he heard
it still, that reverberating cry,--which had entered at his ears
and remained in his brain,--thrilling him to the tips of his
sinewy fingers. Certainly, somebody had cried out, and called:
"Ulrich!" There was somebody there, near the house, there could
be no doubt of that, and he opened the door and shouted: "Is it
you, Gaspard?" with all the strength of his lungs. But there was
no reply, no murmur, no groan, nothing. It was quite dark, and
the snow looked wan.
The wind had risen, that icy wind which cracks the rocks, and
leaves nothing alive on those deserted heights. It came in sudden
gusts, more parching and more deadly than the burning wind of the
desert, and again Ulrich shouted: "Gaspard! Gaspard! Gaspard!"
Then he waited again. Everything was silent on the mountain! Then
he shook with terror, and with a bound he was inside the inn. He
shut and bolted the door, and then fell into a chair, trembling
all over, for he felt certain that his comrade had called him at
the moment of dissolution.
He was certain of that, as certain as one is of conscious life or
of taste when eating. Old Gaspard Hari had been dying for two
days and three nights somewhere, in some hole, in one of those
deep, untrodden ravines whose whiteness is more sinister than
subterranean darkness. He had been dying for two days and three
nights and he had just then died, thinking of his comrade. His
soul, almost before it was released, had taken its flight to the
inn where Ulrich was sleeping, and it had called him by that
terrible and mysterious power which the spirits of the dead
possess. That voiceless soul had cried to the worn-out soul of
the sleeper; it had uttered its last farewell, or its reproach,
or its curse on the man who had not searched carefully enough.
And Ulrich felt that it was there, quite close to him, behind the
wall, behind the door which he had just fastened. It was
wandering about, like a night bird which skims a lighted window
with his wings, and the terrified young man was ready to scream
with horror. He wanted to run away, but did not dare go out; he
did not dare, and would never dare in the future, for that
phantom would remain there day and night, round the inn, as long
as the old man's body was not recovered and deposited in the
consecrated earth of a churchyard.
Daylight came, and Kunsi recovered some of his courage with the
return of the bright sun. He prepared his meal, gave his dog some
food, and then remained motionless on a chair, tortured at heart
as he thought of the old man lying on the snow. Then, as soon as
night once more covered the mountains, new terrors assailed him.
He now walked up and down the dark kitchen, which was scarcely
lighted by the flame of one candle. He walked from one end of it
to the other with great strides, listening, listening to hear the
terrible cry of the preceding night again break the dreary
silence outside. He felt himself alone, unhappy man, as no man
had ever been alone before! Alone in this immense desert of snow,
alone five thousand feet above the inhabited earth; above human
habitations, above that stirring, noisy, palpitating life, alone
under an icy sky! A mad longing impelled him to run away, no
matter where, to get down to Loeche by flinging himself over the
precipice; but he did not even dare to open the door, as he felt
sure that the other, the DEAD, man would bar his road, so that he
might not be obliged to remain up there alone.
Toward midnight, tired with walking, worn-out by grief and fear,
he fell into a doze in his chair, for he was afraid of his bed,
as one is of a haunted spot. But suddenly the strident cry of the
preceding evening pierced his ears, so shrill that Ulrich
stretched out his arms to repulse the ghost, and he fell on to
his back with his chair.
Sam, who was awakened by the noise, began to howl as frightened
dogs do, and trotted all about the house trying to find out where
the danger came from. When he got to the door, he sniffed beneath
it, smelling vigorously, with his coat bristling and his tail
stiff while he growled angrily. Kunsi, who was terrified, jumped
up, and holding his chair by one leg, cried: "Don't come in,
don't come in, or I shall kill you." And the dog, excited by this
threat, barked angrily at that invisible enemy who defied his
master's voice. By degrees, however, he quieted down, came back
and stretched himself in front of the fire. But he was uneasy,
and kept his head up, and growled between his teeth.
Ulrich, in turn, recovered his senses, but as he felt faint with
terror, he went and got a bottle of brandy out of the sideboard,
and drank off several glasses, one after another, at a gulp. His
ideas became vague, his courage revived, and a feverish glow ran
through his veins.
He ate scarcely anything the next day, and limited himself to
alcohol; so he lived for several days, like a drunken brute. As
soon as he thought of Gaspard Hari he began to drink again, and
went on drinking until he fell on to the floor, overcome by
intoxication. And there he remained on his face, dead drunk, his
limbs benumbed, and snoring with his face to the ground. But
scarcely had he digested the maddening and burning liquor, than
the same cry, "Ulrich," woke him like a bullet piercing his
brain, and he got up, still staggering, stretching out his hands
to save himself from falling, and calling to Sam to help him. And
the dog, who appeared to be going mad like his master, rushed to
the door, scratched it with his claws, and gnawed it with his
long white teeth, while the young man, his neck thrown back, and
his head in the air, drank the brandy in gulps, as if it were
cold water, so that it might by and by send his thoughts, his
frantic terror, and his memory, to sleep again.
In three weeks he had consumed all his stock of ardent spirits.
But his continual drunkenness only lulled his terror, which awoke
more furiously than ever, as soon as it was impossible for him to
calm it by drinking. His fixed idea, which had been intensified
by a month of drunkenness, and which was continually increasing
in his absolute solitude? pene-trated him like a gimlet. He now
walked about his house like a wild beast in its cage, putting his
eat to the door to listen if the other were there, and defying
him through the wall. Then as soon as he dozed, overcome by
fatigue, he heard the voice which made him leap to his feet.
At last one night, as cowards do when driven to extremity, he
sprang to the door and opened it, to see who was calling him, and
to force him to keep quiet. But such a gust of cold wind blew
into his face that it chilled him to the bone. He closed and
bolted the door again immediately, without noticing that Sam had
rushed out. Then, as he was shivering with cold, he threw some
wood on the fire, and sat down in front of it to warm himself.
But suddenly he started, for somebody was scratching at the wall,
and crying. In desperation he called out: "Go away!" but was
answered by another long, sorrowful wail.
Then all his remaining senses forsook him, from sheer fright. He
repeated: "Go away!" and turned round to find some corner in
which to hide, while the other person went round the house still
crying, and rubbing against the wall. Ulrich went to the oak
sideboard, which was full of plates and dishes and of provisions,
and lifting it up with superhuman strength, he dragged it to the
door, so as to form a barricade. Then piling up all the rest of
the furniture, the mattresses, paillasses, and chairs, he stopped
up the windows as men do when assailed by an enemy.
But the person outside now uttered long, plaintive, mournful
groans, to which the young man replied by similar groans, and
thus days and nights passed without their ceasing to howl at each
other. The one was continually walking round the house and
scraped the walls with his nails so vigorously that it seemed as
if he wished to destroy them, while the other, inside, followed
all his movements, stooping down, and holding his ear to the
walls, and replying to all his appeals with terrible cries. One
evening, however, Ulrich heard nothing more, and he sat down, so
overcome by fatigue that he went to sleep immediately, and awoke
in the morning without a thought, without any recollection of
what had happened, just as if his head had been emptied during
his heavy sleep. But he felt hungry, and he ate.
The winter was over, and the Gemmi pass was practicable again, so
the Hauser family started off to return to their inn. As soon as
they had reached the top of the ascent, the women mounted their
mule, and spoke about the two men who they would meet again
shortly. They were, indeed, rather surprised that neither of them
had come down a few days before, as soon as the road became
passable, in order to tell them all about their long winter
sojourn. At last, however, they saw the inn, still covered with
snow, like a quilt. The door and the windows were closed, but a
little smoke was coming out of the chimney, which reassured old
Hauser; on going up to the door, however, he saw the skeleton of
an animal which had been torn to pieces by the eagles, a large
skeleton lying on its side.
They all looked closely at it, and the mother said: "That must be
Sam." Then she shouted: "Hi! Gaspard!" A cry from the interior of
the house answered her, so sharp a cry that one might have
thought some animal uttered it. Old Hauser repeated: "Hi!
Gaspard!" and they heard another cry, similar to the first.
Then the three men, the father and the two sons, tried to open
the door, but it resisted their efforts. From the empty cow-stall
they took a beam to serve as a battering-ram, and hurled it
against the door with all their might. The wood gave way, and the
boards flew into splinters; then the house was shaken by a loud
voice, and inside, behind the sideboard which was overturned,
they saw a man standing upright, his hair falling on to his
shoulders and a beard descending to his breast, with shining eyes
and nothing but rags to cover him. They did not recognize him,
but Louise Hauser exclaimed: "It is Ulrich, mother." And her
mother declared that it was Ulrich, although his hair was white.
He allowed them to go up to him, and to touch him, but he did not
reply to any of their questions, and they were obliged to take
him to Loeche, where the doctors found that he was mad. Nobody
ever knew what had become of his companion.
Little Louise Hauser nearly died that summer of decline, which
the medical men attributed to the cold air of the mountains.
I was going to see my friend Simon Radevin once more, for I had
not seen him for fifteen years. Formerly he was my most intimate
friend, and I used to spend long, quiet, and happy evenings with
him. He was one of those men to whom one tells the most intimate
affairs of the heart, and in whom one finds, when quietly
talking, rare, clever, ingenious, and refined thoughts--thoughts
which stimulate and capture the mind.
For years we had scarcely been separated: we had lived, traveled,
thought, and dreamed together; had liked the same things with the
same liking, admired the same books, comprehended the same works,
shivered with the same sensations, and very often laughed at the
same individuals, whom we understood completely, by merely
exchanging a glance.
Then he married--quite unexpectedly married a little girl from
the provinces, who had come to Paris in search of a husband. How
ever could that little, thin, insipidly fair girl, with her weak
hands, her light, vacant eyes, and her clear, silly voice, who was
exactly like a hundred thousand marriageable dolls, have picked up
that intelligent, clever young fellow? Can anyone understand these
things? No doubt he had hoped for happiness, simple, quiet, and
long-enduring happiness, in the arms of a good, tender, and
faithful woman; he had seen all that in the transparent looks of
that schoolgirl with light hair.
He had not dreamed of the fact that an active, living, and
vibrating man grows tired as soon as he has comprehended the
stupid reality of a common-place life, unless indeed, he becomes
so brutalized as to be callous to externals.
What would he be like when I met him again? Still lively, witty,
light-hearted, and enthusiastic, or in a state of mental torpor
through provincial life? A man can change a great deal in the
course of fifteen years!
The train stopped at a small station, and as I got out of the
carriage, a stout, a very stout man with red cheeks and a big
stomach rushed up to me with open arms, exclaiming: "George!"
I embraced him, but I had not recognized him, and then I said, in
astonishment: "By Jove! You have not grown thin!"
And he replied with a laugh: "What did you expect? Good living, a
good table, and good nights! Eating and sleeping, that is my
I looked at him closely, trying to find the features I held so
dear in that broad face. His eyes alone had not altered, but I no
longer saw the same looks in them, and I said to myself: "If
looks be the reflection of the mind, the thoughts in that head
are not what they used to be--those thoughts which I knew so
Yet his eyes were bright, full of pleasure and friendship, but
they had not that clear, intelligent expression which tells
better than do words the value of the mind. Suddenly he said to
"Here are my two eldest children." A girl of fourteen, who was
almost a woman, and a boy of thirteen, in the dress of a pupil
from a lycee, came forward in a hesitating and awkward manner,
and I said in a low voice: "Are they yours?"
"Of course they are," he replied laughing.
"How many have you?"
"Five! There are three more indoors."
He said that in a proud, self-satisfied, almost triumphant
manner, and I felt profound pity, mingled with a feeling of vague
contempt for this vainglorious and simple reproducer of his
species, who spent his nights in his country house in uxorious
I got into a carriage, which he drove himself, and we set off
through the town, a dull, sleepy, gloomy town where nothing was
moving in the streets save a few dogs and two or three
maidservants. Here and there a shopkeeper standing at his door
took off his hat, and Simon returned the salute and told me the
man's name--no doubt to show me that he knew all the inhabitants
personally. The thought struck me that he was thinking of
becoming a candidate for the Chamber of Deputies, that dream of
all who have buried themselves in the provinces.
We were soon out of the town; the carriage turned into a garden
which had some pretensions to a park, and stopped in front of a
turreted house, which tried to pass for a chateau.
"That is my den," Simon said, so that he might be complimented on
it, and I replied that it was delightful.
A lady appeared on the steps, dressed up for a visitor, her hair
done for a visitor, and with phrases ready prepared for a
visitor. She was no longer the light-haired, insipid girl I had
seen in church fifteen years previously, but a stout lady in
curls and flounces, one of those ladies of uncertain age, without
intellect, without any of those things which constitute a woman.
In short she was a mother, a stout, commonplace mother, a human
layer and brood mare, a machine of flesh which procreates,
without mental care save for her children and her housekeeping
She welcomed me, and I went into the hall, where three children,
ranged according to their height, were ranked for review, like
firemen before a mayor. "Ah! ah! so there are the others?" said
I. And Simon, who was radiant with pleasure, named them: "Jean,
Sophie, and Gontran."
The door of the drawing-room was open. I went in, and in the
depths of an easy-chair I saw something trembling, a man, an old,
paralyzed man. Madame Radevin came forward and said: "This is my
grandfather, Monsieur; he is eighty-seven." And then she shouted
into the shaking old man's ears: "This is a friend of Simon's,
The old gentleman tried to say "Good day" to me, and he muttered:
"Oua, oua, oua," and waved his hand.
I took a seat saying: "You are very kind, Monsieur."
Simon had just come in, and he said with a laugh: "So! You have
made grandpapa's acquaintance. He is priceless, is that old man.
He is the delight of the children, and he is so greedy that he
almost kills himself at every meal. You have no idea what he
would eat if he were allowed to do as he pleased. But you will
see, you will see. He looks all the sweets over as if they were
so many girls. You have never seen anything funnier; you will see
it presently."
I was then shown to my room to change my dress for dinner, and
hearing a great clatter behind me on the stairs, I turned round
and saw that all the children were following me behind their
father--to do me honor, no doubt.
My windows looked out on to a plain, a bare, interminable plain,
an ocean of grass, of wheat, and of oats, without a clump of
trees or any rising ground, a striking and melancholy picture of
the life which they must be leading in that house.
A bell rang; it was for dinner, and so I went downstairs. Madame
Radevin took my arm in a ceremonious manner, and we went into the
dining-room. A footman wheeled in the old man's arm-chair, who
gave a greedy and curious look at the dessert, as with difficulty
he turned his shaking head from one dish to the other.
Simon rubbed his hands, saying: "You will be amused." All the
children understood that I was going to be indulged with the
sight of their greedy grandfather and they began to laugh
accordingly, while their mother merely smiled and shrugged her
shoulders. Simon, making a speaking trumpet of his hands, shouted
at the old man: "This evening there is sweet rice-cream," and the
wrinkled face of the grandfather brightened, he trembled
violently all over, showing that he had understood and was very
pleased. The dinner began.
"Just look!" Simon whispered. The grandfather did not like the
soup, and refused to eat it; but he was made to, on account of
his health. The footman forced the spoon into his mouth, while
the old man blew energetically, so as not to swallow the soup,
which was thus scattered like a stream of water on to the table
and over his neighbors. The children shook with delight at the
spectacle, while their father, who was also amused, said: "Isn't
the old man funny?"
During the whole meal they were all taken up solely with him.
With his eyes he devoured the dishes which were put on the table,
and with trembling hands tried to seize them and pull them to
him. They put them almost within his reach to see his useless
efforts. his trembling clutches at them, the piteous appeal of
his whole nature, of his eyes, of his mouth, and of his nose as
he smelled them. He slobbered on to his table napkin with
eagerness, while uttering inarticulate grunts, and the whole
family was highly amused at this horrible and grotesque scene.
Then they put a tiny morsel on to his plate, which he ate with
feverish gluttony, in order to get something more as soon as
possible. When the rice-cream was brought in, he nearly had a
fit, and groaned with greediness. Gontran called out to him: "You
have eaten too much already; you will have no more." And they
pretended not to give him any. Then he began to cry--cry and
tremble more violently than ever, while all the children laughed.
At last, however, they gave him his helping, a very small piece.
As he ate the first mouthful of the pudding, he made a comical
and greedy noise in his throat, and a movement with his neck like
ducks do, when they swallow too large a morsel, and then, when he
had done, he began to stamp his feet, so as to get more.
I was seized with pity for this pitiable and ridiculous Tantalus,
and interposed on his behalf: "Please, will you not give him a
little more rice?"
But Simon replied: "Oh! no my dear fellow, if he were to eat too
much, it might harm him at his age."
I held my tongue, and thought over these words. Oh! ethics! Oh!
logic! Oh! wisdom! At his age! So they deprived him of his only
remaining pleasure out of regard for his health! His health! What
would he do with it, inert and trembling wreck that he was? They
were taking care of his life, so they said. His life? How many
days? Ten, twenty, fifty, or a hundred? Why? For his own sake? Or
to preserve for some time longer, the spectacle of his impotent
greediness in the family.
There was nothing left for him to do in this life, nothing
whatever. He had one single wish left, one sole pleasure; why not
grant him that last solace constantly, until he died?
After playing cards for a long time, I went up to my room and to
bed: I was low-spirited and sad, sad, sad! I sat at my window,
but I heard nothing but the beautiful warbling of a bird in a
tree, somewhere in the distance. No doubt the bird was singing
thus in a low voice during the night, to lull his mate, who was
sleeping on her eggs.
And I thought of my poor friend's five children, and to myself
pictured him snoring by the side of his ugly wife,
[1] Clochette.
How strange are those old recollections 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, 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, long, long ago, when I was ten or twelve years
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 pointed roofs, to which are attached three or four
adjacent farms.
The village, a large village, almost a small market town, was a
few hundred yards off, and nestled round the church, a red brick
church, which had become black with age.
Well, every Thursday Mother Bellflower 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, the 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, but not like lame people generally do, but like a
ship pitching. When she planted her great, bony, vibrant 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 ship in a storm, 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 limp.
I adored Mother Bellflower. As soon as I was up I used to go 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 the roof.
"That draws the blood from your head," she would say to me.
She told me stories, while mending the linen with her long,
crooked, nimble fingers; behind her magnifying spectacles, for
age had impaired her sight, her eyes appeared enormous to me,
strangely profound, double.
As far as I can remember from the things which she told me and by
which my childish heart was moved, she had the large heart of a
poor woman. She told me what had happened in the village, how a
cow had escaped from the cowhouse and had been found the next
morning in front of Prosper Malet's mill, looking at the sails
turning, or about a hen's egg which had been found in the church
belfry without anyone being able to understand what creature had
been there to lay it, or the queer story of Jean Pila's dog, who
had gone ten leagues to bring back his master's breeches which a
tramp had stolen while they were hanging up to dry out of doors,
after he had been caught 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 fullness or of the vigor of the peasant
woman's narratives.
Well, one Thursday 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 floor by the side of her chair, her face turned down
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 by the wall, where 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 a
great, old arm-chair, where I knelt and wept. I remained there
for a long time no doubt, for night came on. Suddenly some one
came in with a lamp--without seeing me, however--and I heard my
father and mother talking with the medical man, whose voice I
He had been sent for immediately, and he was explaining the cause
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. 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 bad.
"She was seventeen, and a pretty girl, very pretty! Would anyone
believe it? I have never told her story before, in fact no one
but 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.
"A young assistant teacher had just come to live in the village;
he was good-looking and had the bearing of a soldier. All the
girls ran after him, but he was disdainful. Besides that, 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 afterward nicknamed Clochette. The assistant
master singled out the pretty young girl, who was no doubt
flattered at being chosen by this disdainful conqueror; at any
rate, she fell in love with him, and he succeeded in persuading
her to give him a first meeting in the hayloft 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 he was beginning to
say pretty things to her, when the door of the hayloft opened and
the schoolmaster appeared, and asked: 'What are you doing up
there, Sigisbert?' Feeling sure that he would be caught, the
young school-master lost his presence of mind and replied
stupidly: 'I came up here to rest a little among the bundles of
hay, Monsieur Grabu.'
"The loft was very large and absolutely dark. Sigisbert pushed
the frightened girl to the further end and said: 'Go there and
hide yourself. I shall lose my situation, so get away and hide
"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 light.
"Then the young man, who was a coward such as one sometimes
meets, lost his head, and he repeated, having grown furious all
of a sudden: 'Hide yourself, so that he may not find you. You
will deprive me of my bread for my whole 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 to the street, opened it
quickly, and then in a low and determined voice said: '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. 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 out through
the flesh. She did not complain, and merely said, with admirable
resignation: 'I am punished, well punished!'
"I sent for assistance and for the workgirl's friends 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! Now I say that this woman was a heroine, and had
the fiber of those who accomplish the grandest deeds in 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 anyone during her life: you understand
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, while I heard a strange noise
of heavy footsteps and something knocking against the side of the
They were carrying away Clochette's body.
My God! My God! I am going to write down at last what has
happened to me. But how can I? How dare I? The thing is so
bizarre, so inexplicable, so incomprehensible, so silly!
If I were not perfectly sure of what I have seen, sure that there
was not in my reasoning any defect, any error in my declarations,
any lacuna in the inflexible sequence of my observations, I
should believe myself to be the dupe of a simple hallucination,
the sport of a singular vision. After all, who knows?
Yesterday I was in a private asylum, but I went there
voluntarily, out of prudence and fear. Only one single human
being knows my history, and that is the doctor of the said
asylum. I am going to write to him. I really do not know why? To
disembarrass myself? Yea, I feel as though weighed down by an
intolerable nightmare.
Let me explain.
I have always been a recluse, a dreamer, a kind of isolated
philosopher, easy-going, content with but little, harboring
ill-feeling against no man, and without even a grudge against
heaven. I have constantly lived alone; consequently, a kind of
torture takes hold of me when I find myself in the presence of
others. How is this to be explained? I do not know. I am not
averse to going out into the world, to conversation, to dining
with friends, but when they are near me for any length of time,
even the most intimate of them, they bore me, fatigue me,
enervate me, and I experience an overwhelming, torturing desire
to see them get up and go, to take themselves away, and to leave
me by myself.
That desire is more than a craving; it is an irresistible
necessity. And if the presence of people with whom I find myself
were to be continued; if I were compelled, not only to listen,
but also to follow, for any length of time, their conversation, a
serious accident would assuredly take place. What kind of
accident? Ah! who knows? Perhaps a slight paralytic stroke?
I like solitude so much that I cannot even endure the vicinage of
other beings sleeping under the same roof. I cannot live in
Paris, because there I suffer the most acute agony. I lead a
moral life, and am therefore tortured in body and in nerves by
that immense crowd which swarms and lives even when it sleeps.
Ah! the sleeping of others is more painful still than their
conversation. And I can never find repose when I know and feel
that on the other side of a wall several existences are
undergoing these regular eclipses of reason.
Why am I thus? Who knows? The cause of it is very simple perhaps.
I get tired very soon of everything that does not emanate from
me. And there are many people in similar case.
We are, on earth, two distinct races. Those who have need of
others, whom others amuse, engage soothe, whom solitude harasses,
pains, stupefies, like the movement of a terrible glacier or the
traversing of the desert; and those, on the contrary, whom others
weary, tire, bore, silently torture, whom isolation calms and
bathes in the repose of independency, and plunges into the humors
of their own thoughts. In fine, there is here a normal, physical
phenomenon. Some are constituted to live a life outside of
themselves, others, to live a life within themselves. As for me,
my exterior associations are abruptly and painfully short-lived,
and, as they reach their limits, I experience in my whole body
and in my whole intelligence an intolerable uneasiness.
As a result of this, I became attached, or rather had become much
attached, to inanimate objects, which have for me the importance
of beings, and my house has or had become a world in which I
lived an active and solitary life, surrounded by all manner of
things, furniture, familiar knickknacks, as sympathetic in my
eyes as the visages of human beings. I had filled my mansion with
them; little by little, I had adorned it with them, and I felt an
inward content and satisfaction, was more happy than if I had
been in the arms of a beloved girl, whose wonted caresses had
become a soothing and delightful necessity.
I had had this house constructed in the center of a beautiful
garden, which hid it from the public high-ways, and which was
near the entrance to a city where I could find, on occasion, the
resources of society, for which, at moments, I had a longing. All
my domestics slept in a separate building, which was situated at
some considerable distance from my house, at the far end of the
kitchen garden, which in turn was surrounded by a high wall. The
obscure envelopment of night, in the silence of my concealed
habitation, buried under the leaves of great trees, was so
reposeful and so delicious, that before retiring to my couch I
lingered every evening for several hours in order to enjoy the
solitude a little longer.
One day "Signad" had been played at one of the city theaters. It
was the first time that I had listened to that beautiful,
musical, and fairy-like drama, and I had derived from it the
liveliest pleasures.
I returned home on foot with a light step, my head full of
sonorous phrases, and my mind haunted by delightful visions. It
was night, the dead of night, and so dark that I could hardly
distinguish the broad highway, and consequently I stumbled into
the ditch more than once. From the custom-house, at the barriers,
to my house, was about a mile, perhaps a little more--a leisurely
walk of about twenty minutes. It was one o'clock in the morning,
one o'clock or maybe half-past one; the sky had by this time
cleared somewhat and the crescent appeared, the gloomy crescent
of the last quarter of the moon. The crescent of the first
quarter is that which rises about five or six o'clock in the
evening and is clear, gay, and fretted with silver; but the one
which rises after midnight is reddish, sad, and desolating--it is
the true Sabbath crescent. Every prowler by night has made the same
observation. The first, though slender as a thread, throws a faint,
joyous light which rejoices the heart and lines the ground with
distinct shadows; the last sheds hardly a dying glimmer, and is so
wan that it occasions hardly any shadows.
In the distance, I perceived the somber mass of my garden, and, I
know not why, was seized with a feeling of uneasiness at the idea
of going inside. I slackened my pace, and walked very softly, the
thick cluster of trees having the appearance of a tomb in which
my house was buried.
I opened my outer gate and entered the long avenue of sycamores
which ran in the direction of the house, arranged vault-wise like
a high tunnel, traversing opaque masses, and winding round the
turf lawns, on which baskets of flowers, in the pale darkness,
could be indistinctly discerned.
While approaching the house, I was seized by a strange feeling. I
could hear nothing, I stood still. Through the trees there was
not even a breath of air stirring. "What is the matter with me?"
I said to myself. For ten years I had entered and re-entered in
the same way, without ever experiencing the least inquietude. I
never had any fear at nights. The sight of a man, a marauder, or
a thief would have thrown me into a fit of anger, and I would
have rushed at him without any hesitation. Moreover, I was
armed--I had my revolver. But I did not touch it, for I was
anxious to resist that feeling of dread with which I was seized.
What was it? Was it a presentiment--that mysterious presentiment
which takes hold of the senses of men who have witnessed
something which, to them, is inexplicable? Perhaps? Who knows?
In proportion as I advanced, I felt my skin quiver more and more,
and when I was close to the wall, near the outhouses of my large
residence, I felt that it would be necessary for me to wait a few
minutes before opening the door and going inside. I sat down,
then, on a bench, under the windows of my drawing-room. I rested
there, a little disturbed, with my head leaning against the wall,
my eyes wide open, under the shade of the foliage. For the first
few minutes, I did not observe anything unusual around me; I had
a humming noise in my ears, but that has happened often to me.
Sometimes it seemed to me that I heard trains passing, that I
heard clocks striking, that I heard a multitude on the march.
Very soon, those humming noises became more distinct, more
concentrated, more determinable, I was deceiving myself. It was
not the ordinary tingling of my arteries which transmitted to my
ears these rumbling sounds, but it was a very distinct, though
confused, noise which came, without any doubt whatever, from the
interior of my house. Through the walls I distinguished this
continued noise,--I should rather say agitation than noise,--an
indistinct moving about of a pile of things, as if people were
tossing about, displacing, and carrying away surreptitiously all
my furniture.
I doubted, however, for some considerable time yet, the evidence
of my ears. But having placed my ear against one of the
outhouses, the better to discover what this strange disturbance
was, inside my house, I became convinced, certain, that something
was taking place in my residence which was altogether abnormal
and incomprehensible. I had no fear, but I was--how shall I
express it--paralyzed by astonishment. I did not draw my
revolver, knowing very well that there was no need of my doing
I listened a long time, but could come to no resolution, my mind
being quite clear, though in myself I was naturally anxious. I
got up and waited, listening always to the noise, which gradually
increased, and at intervals grew very loud, and which seemed to
become an impatient, angry disturbance, a mysterious commotion.
Then, suddenly, ashamed of my timidity, I seized my bunch of
keys. I selected the one I wanted, guided it into the lock,
turned it twice, and pushing the door with all my might, sent it
banging against the partition.
The collision sounded like the report of a gun, and there
responded to that explosive noise, from roof to basement of my
residence, a formidable tumult. It was so sudden, so terrible, so
deafening, that I recoiled a few steps, and though I knew it to
be wholly useless, I pulled my revolver out of its case.
I continued to listen for some time longer. I could distinguish
now an extraordinary pattering upon the steps of my grand
staircase, on the waxed floors, on the carpets, not of boots, or
of naked feet, but of iron and wooden crutches, which resounded
like cymbals. Then I suddenly discerned, on the threshold of my
door, an armchair, my large reading easy-chair, which set off
waddling. It went away through my garden. Others followed it,
those of my drawing-room, then my sofas, dragging themselves
along like crocodiles on their short paws; then all my chairs,
bounding like goats, and the little foot-stools, hopping like
Oh! what a sensation! I slunk back into a clump of bushes where I
remained crouched up, watching, meanwhile, my furniture defile
past--for everything walked away, the one behind the other,
briskly or slowly, according to its weight or size. My piano, my
grand piano, bounded past with the gallop of a horse and a murmur
of music in its sides; the smaller articles slid along the gravel
like snails, my brushes, crystal, cups and saucers, which
glistened in the moonlight. I saw my writing desk appear, a rare
curiosity of the last century, which contained all the letters I
had ever received, all the history of my heart, an old history
from which I have suffered so much! Besides, there were inside of
it a great many cherished photographs.
Suddenly--I no longer had any fear--I threw myself on it, seized
it as one would seize a thief, as one would seize a wife about to
run away; but it pursued its irresistible course, and despite my
efforts and despite my anger, I could not even retard its pace.
As I was resisting in desperation that insuperable force, I was
thrown to the ground. It then rolled me over, trailed me along
the gravel, and the rest of my furniture, which followed it,
began to march over me, tramping on my legs and injuring them.
When I loosed my hold, other articles had passed over my body,
just as a charge of cavalry does over the body of a dismounted
Seized at last with terror, I succeeded in dragging myself out of
the main avenue, and in concealing myself again among the
shrubbery, so as to watch the disappearance of the most cherished
objects, the smallest, the least striking, the least unknown
which had once belonged to me.
I then heard, in the distance, noises which came from my
apartments, which sounded now as if the house were empty, a loud
noise of shutting of doors. They were being slammed from top to
bottom of my dwelling, even the door which I had just opened
myself unconsciously, and which had closed of itself, when the
last thing had taken its departure. I took flight also, running
toward the city, and only regained my self-composure, on reaching
the boulevards, where I met belated people. I rang the bell of a
hotel were I was known. I had knocked the dust off my clothes
with my hands, and I told the porter that I had lost my bunch of
keys, which included also that to the kitchen garden, where my
servants slept in a house standing by itself, on the other side
of the wall of the inclosure which protected my fruits and
vegetables from the raids of marauders.
I covered myself up to the eyes in the bed which was assigned to
me, but could not sleep; and I waited for the dawn listening to
the throbbing of my heart. I had given orders that my servants
were to be summoned to the hotel at daybreak, and my valet de
chambre knocked at my door at seven o'clock in the morning.
His countenance bore a woeful look.
"A great misfortune has happened during the night, Monsieur,"
said he.
"What is it?"
"Somebody has stolen the whole of Monsieur's furniture, all,
everything, even to the smallest articles."
This news pleased me. Why? Who knows? I was complete master of
myself, bent on dissimulating, on telling no one of anything I
had seen; determined on concealing and in burying in my heart of
hearts a terrible secret. I responded:
"They must then be the same people who have stolen my keys. The
police must be informed immediately. I am going to get up, and I
will join you in a few moments."
The investigation into the circumstances under which the robbery
might have been committed lasted for five months. Nothing was
found, not even the smallest of my knickknacks, nor the least
trace of the thieves. Good gracious! If I had only told them what
I knew--If I had said--I should have been locked up--I, not the
thieves--for I was the only person who had seen everything from
the first.
Yes! but I knew how to keep silence. I shall never refurnish my
house. That were indeed useless. The same thing would happen
again. I had no desire even to re-enter the house, and I did not
re-enter it; I never visited it again. I moved to Paris, to the
hotel, and consulted doctors in regard to the condition of my
nerves, which had disquieted me a good deal ever since that awful
They advised me to travel, and I followed their counsel.
I began by making an excursion into Italy. The sunshine did me
much good. For six months I wandered about from Genoa to Venice,
from Venice to Florence, from Florence to Rome, from Rome to
Naples. Then I traveled over Sicily, a country celebrated for its
scenery and its monuments, relics left by the Greeks and the
Normans. Passing over into Africa, I traversed at my ease that
immense desert, yellow and tranquil, in which camels, gazelles,
and Arab vagabonds roam about--where, in the rare and transparent
atmosphere, there hover no vague hauntings, where there is never
any night, but always day.
I returned to France by Marseilles, and in spite of all its
Provencal gaiety, the diminished clearness of the sky made me
sad. I experienced, in returning to the Continent, the peculiar
sensation of an illness which I believed had been cured, and a
dull pain which predicted that the seeds of the disease had not
been eradicated.
I then returned to Paris. At the end of a month I was very
dejected. It was in the autumn, and I determined to make, before
winter came, an excursion through Normandy, a country with which
I was unacquainted.
I began my journey, in the best of spirits, at Rouen, and for
eight days I wandered about, passive, ravished, and enthusiastic,
in that ancient city, that astonishing museum of extraordinary
Gothic monuments.
But one afternoon, about four o'clock, as I was sauntering slowly
through a seemingly unattractive street, by which there ran a
stream as black as the ink called "Eau de Robec," my attention,
fixed for the moment on the quaint, antique appearance of some of
the houses, was suddenly attracted by the view of a series of
second-hand furniture shops, which followed one another, door
after door.
Ah! they had carefully chosen their locality, these sordid
traffickers in antiquities, in that quaint little street,
overlooking the sinister stream of water, under those tile and
slate-pointed roofs on which still grinned the vanes of bygone
At the end of these grim storehouses you saw piled up sculptured
chests, Rouen, Sevres, and Moustier's pottery, painted statues,
others of oak, Christs, Virgins, Saints, church ornaments,
chasubles, capes, even sacred vases, and an old gilded wooden
tabernacle, where a god had hidden himself away. What singular
caverns there are in those lofty houses, crowded with objects of
every description, where the existence of things seems to be
ended, things which have survived their original possessors,
their century, their times, their fashions, in order to be bought
as curiosities by new generations.
My affection for antiques was awakened in that city of
antiquaries. I went from shop to shop, crossing in two strides
the rotten four plank bridges thrown over the nauseous current
of the "Eau de Robec."
Heaven protect me! What a shock! At the end of a vault, which was
crowded with articles of every description and which seemed to be
the entrance to the catacombs of a cemetery of ancient furniture,
I suddenly descried one of my most beautiful wardrobes. I
approached it, trembling in every limb, trembling to such an
extent that I dared not touch it, I put forth my hand, I
hesitated. Nevertheless it was indeed my wardrobe; a unique
wardrobe of the time of Louis XIII., recognizable by anyone who
had seen it only once. Casting my eyes suddenly a little farther,
toward the more somber depths of the gallery, I perceived three
of my tapestry covered chairs; and farther on still, my two Henry
II. tables, such rare treasures that people came all the way from
Paris to see them.
Think! only think in what a state of mind I now was! I advanced,
haltingly, quivering with emotion, but I advanced, for I am
brave--I advanced like a knight of the dark ages.
At every step I found something that belonged to me; my brushes,
my books, my tables, my silks, my arms, everything, except the
bureau full of my letters, and that I could not discover.
I walked on, descending to the dark galleries, in order to ascend
next to the floors above. I was alone; I called out, nobody
answered, I was alone; there was no one in that house--a house as
vast and tortuous as a labyrinth.
Night came on, and I was compelled to sit down in the darkness on
one of my own chairs, for I had no desire to go away. From time
to time I shouted, "Hallo, hallo, somebody."
I had sat there, certainly, for more than an hour when I heard
steps, steps soft and slow, I knew not where. I was unable to
locate them, but bracing myself up, I called out anew, whereupon
I perceived a glimmer of light in the next chamber.
"Who is there?" said a voice.
"A buyer," I responded.
"It is too late to enter thus into a shop."
"I have been waiting for you for more than an hour," I answered.
"You can come back to-morrow."
"To-morrow I must quit Rouen."
I dared not advance, and he did not come to me. I saw always the
glimmer of his light, which was shining on a tapestry on which
were two angels flying over the dead on a field of battle. It
belonged to me also. I said:
"Well, come here."
"I am at your service," he answered.
I got up and went toward him.
Standing in the center of a large room, was a little man, very
short, and very fat, phenomenally fat, a hideous phenomenon.
He had a singular straggling beard, white and yellow, and not a
hair on his head--not a hair!
As he held his candle aloft at arm's length in order to see me,
his cranium appeared to me to resemble a little moon, in that
vast chamber encumbered with old furniture. His features were
wrinkled and blown, and his eyes could not be seen.
I bought three chairs which belonged to myself, and paid at once
a large sum for them, giving him merely the number of my room at
the hotel. They were to be delivered the next day before nine
I then started off. He conducted me, with much politeness, as far
as the door.
I immediately repaired to the commissaire's office at the central
police depot, and told the commissaire of the robbery which had
been perpetrated and of the discovery I had just made. He
required time to communicate by telegraph with the authorities
who had originally charge of the case, for information, and he
begged me to wait in his office until an answer came back. An
hour later, an answer came back, which was in accord with my
"I am going to arrest and interrogate this man, at once," he said
to me, "for he may have conceived some sort of suspicion, and
smuggled away out of sight what belongs to you. Will you go and
dine and return in two hours: I shall then have the man here, and
I shall subject him to a fresh interrogation in your presence."
"Most gladly, Monsieur. I thank you with my whole heart."
I went to dine at my hotel and I ate better than I could have
believed. I was quite happy now, thinking that man was in the
hands of the police.
Two hours later I returned to the office of the police
functionary, who was waiting for me.
"Well, Monsieur," said he, on perceiving me, "we have not been
able to find your man. My agents cannot put their hands on him."
Ah! I felt my heart sinking.
"But you have at least found his house?" I asked.
"Yes, certainly; and what is more, it is now being watched and
guarded until his return. As for him, he has disappeared."
"Yes, disappeared. He ordinarily passes his evenings at the house
of a female neighbor, who is also a furniture broker, a queer
sort of sorceress, the widow Bidoin. She has not seen him this
evening and cannot give any information in regard to him. We must
wait until to-morrow."
I went away. Ah! how sinister the streets of Rouen seemed to me,
now troubled and haunted!
I slept so badly that I had a fit of nightmare every time I went
off to sleep.
As I did not wish to appear too restless or eager, I waited till
ten o'clock the next day before reporting myself to the police.
The merchant had not reappeared. His shop remained closed.
The commissary said to me:
"I have taken all the necessary steps. The court has been made
acquainted with the affair. We shall go together to that shop and
have it opened, and you shall point out to me all that belongs to
We drove there in a cab. Police agents were stationed round the
building; there was a locksmith, too, and the door of the shop
was soon opened.
On entering, I could not discover my wardrobes, my chairs, my
tables; I saw nothing, nothing of that which had furnished my
house, no, nothing, although on the previous evening, I could not
take a step without encountering something that belonged to me.
The chief commissary, much astonished, regarded me at first with
"My God, Monsieur," said I to him, "the disappearance of these
articles of furniture coincides strangely with that of the
He laughed.
"That is true. You did wrong in buying and paying for the
articles which were your own property, yesterday. It was that
which gave him the cue."
"What seems to me incomprehensible," I replied, "is that all the
places that were occupied by my furniture are now filled by other
"Oh!" responded the commissary, "he has had all night, and has no
doubt been assisted by accomplices. This house must communicate
with its neighbors. But have no fear, Monsieur; I will have the
affair promptly and thoroughly investigated. The brigand shall
not escape us for long, seeing that we are in charge of the den."
* * * * * * *
Ah! My heart, my heart, my poor heart, how it beats!
I remained a fortnight at Rouen. The man did not return. Heavens!
good heavens! That man, what was it that could have frightened
and surprised him!
But, on the sixteenth day, early in the morning, I received from
my gardener, now the keeper of my empty and pillaged house, the
following strange letter:
"I have the honor to inform Monsieur that something happened, the
evening before last, which nobody can understand, and the police
no more than the rest of us. The whole of the furniture has been
returned, not one piece is missing--everything is in its place,
up to the very smallest article. The house is now the same in
every respect as it was before the robbery took place. It is
enough to make one lose one's head. The thing took place during
the night Friday--Saturday. The roads are dug up as though the
whole fence had been dragged from its place up to the door. The
same thing was observed the day after the disappearance of the
"We are anxiously expecting Monsieur, whose very humble and
obedient servant, I am,
"Ah! no, no, ah! never, never, ah! no. I shall never return
I took the letter to the commissary of police.
"It is a very clever restitution," said he. "Let us bury the
hatchet. We shall nip the man one of these days."
* * * * * * *
But he has never been nipped. No. They have not nipped him, and I
am afraid of him now, as of some ferocious animal that has been
let loose behind me.
Inexplicable! It is inexplicable, this chimera of a moon-struck
skull! We shall never solve or comprehend it. I shall not return
to my former residence. What does it matter to me? I am afraid of
encountering that man again, and I shall not run the risk.
And even if he returns, if he takes possession of his shop, who
is to prove that my furniture was on his premises? There is only
my testimony against him; and I feel that that is not above
Ah! no! This kind of existence has become unendurable. I have not
been able to guard the secret of what I have seen. I could not
continue to live like the rest of the world, with the fear upon
me that those scenes might be re-enacted.
So I have come to consult the doctor who directs this lunatic
asylum, and I have told him everything.
After questioning me for a long time, he said to me:
"Will you consent, Monsieur, to remain here for some time?"
"Most willingly, Monsieur."
"You have some means?"
"Yes, Monsieur."
"Will you have isolated apartments?"
"Yes, Monsieur."
"Would you care to receive any friends?"
"No, Monsieur, no, nobody. The man from Rouen might take it into
his head to pursue me here, to be revenged on me."
* * * * * * *
I have been alone, alone, all, all alone, for three months. I am
growing tranquil by degrees. I have no longer any fears. If the
antiquary should become mad . . . and if he should be brought
into this asylum! Even prisons themselves are not places of
The peasant was standing opposite the doctor, by the bedside of
the dying old woman, and she, calmly resigned and quite lucid,
looked at them and listened to their talking. She was going to
die, and she did not rebel at it, for her life was over--she was
The July sun streamed in at the window and through the open door
and cast its hot flames on to the uneven brown clay floor, which
had been stamped down by four generations of clodhoppers. The
smell of the fields came in also, driven by the brisk wind, and
parched by the noontide heat. The grasshoppers chirped themselves
hoarse, filling the air with their shrill noise, like that of the
wooden crickets which are sold to children at fair time.
The doctor raised his voice and said: "Honore, you cannot leave
your mother in this state; she may die at any moment." And the
peasant, in great distress, replied: "But I must get in my wheat,
for it has been lying on the ground a long time, and the weather
is just right for it; what do you say about it, mother?" And the
dying woman, still possessed by her Norman avariciousness,
replied YES with her eyes and her forehead, and so urged her son
to get in his wheat, and to leave her to die alone. But the
doctor got angry, and stamping his foot he said: "You are no
better than a brute, do you hear, and I will not allow you to do
it. Do you understand? And if you must get in your wheat to-day,
go and fetch Rapet's wife and make her look after your mother. I
WILL have it. And if you do not obey me, I will let you die like
a dog, when you are ill in your turn; do you hear me?"
The peasant, a tall, thin fellow with slow movements, who was
tormented by indecision, by his fear of the doctor and his keen
love of saving, hesitated, calculated, and stammered out: "How
much does La Rapet charge for attending sick people?"
"How should I know?" the doctor cried. "That depends upon how
long she is wanted for. Settle it with her, by Jove! But I want
her to be here within an hour, do you hear."
So the man made up his mind. "I will go for her," he replied;
"don't get angry, doctor." And the latter left, calling out as he
went: "Take care, you know, for I do not joke when I am angry!"
And as soon as they were alone, the peasant turned to his mother,
and said in a resigned voice: "I will go and fetch La Rapet, as
the man will have it. Don't go off while I am away."
And he went out in his turn.
La Rapet, who was an old washerwoman, watched the dead and the
dying of the neighborhood, and then, as soon as she had sewn her
customers into that linen cloth from which they would emerge no
more, she went and took up her irons to smooth the linen of the
living. Wrinkled like a last year's apple, spiteful, envious,
avaricious with a phenomenal avarice, bent double, as if she had
been broken in half across the loins, by the constant movement of
the iron over the linen, one might have said that she had a kind
of monstrous and cynical affection for a death struggle. She
never spoke of anything but of the people she had seen die, of
the various kinds of deaths at which she had been present, and
she related, with the greatest minuteness, details which were
always the same, just like a sportsman talks of his shots.
When Honore Bontemps entered her cottage, he found her preparing
the starch for the collars of the village women, and he said:
"Good evening; I hope you are pretty well, Mother Rapet."
She turned her head round to look at him and said: "Fairly well,
fairly well, and you?"
"Oh I as for me, I am as well as I could wish, but my mother is
very sick."
"Your mother?"
"Yes, my mother!"
"What's the matter with her?"
"She is going to turn up her toes, that's what's the matter with
The old woman took her hands out of the water and asked with
sudden sympathy: "Is she as bad as all that?"
"The doctor says she will not last till morning."
"Then she certainly is very bad!" Honore hesitated, for he wanted
to make a few preliminary remarks before coming to his proposal,
but as he could hit upon nothing, he made up his mind suddenly.
"How much are you going to ask to stop with her till the end? You
know that I am not rich, and I cannot even afford to keep a
servant-girl. It is just that which has brought my poor mother to
this state, too much work and fatigue! She used to work for ten,
in spite of her ninety-two years. You don't find any made of that
stuff nowadays!"
La Rapet answered gravely: "There are two prices. Forty sous by
day and three francs by night for the rich, and twenty sous by
day, and forty by night for the others. You shall pay me the
twenty and forty." But the peasant reflected, for he knew his
mother well. He knew how tenacious of life, how vigorous and
unyielding she was. He knew, too, that she might last another
week, in spite of the doctor's opinion, and so he said
resolutely: "No, I would rather you would fix a price until the
end. I will take my chance, one way or the other. The doctor says
she will die very soon. If that happens, so much the better for
you, and so much the worse for me, but if she holds out till
to-morrow or longer, so much the better for me and so much the
worse for you!"
The nurse looked at the man in astonishment, for she had never
treated a death as a speculative job, and she hesitated, tempted
by the idea of the possible gain. But almost immediately she
suspected that he wanted to juggle her. "I can say nothing until
I have seen your mother," she replied.
"Then come with me and see her."
She washed her hands, and went with him immediately. They did not
speak on the road; she walked with short, hasty steps, while he
strode on with his long legs, as if he were crossing a brook at
every step. The cows lying down in the fields, overcome by the
heat, raised their heads heavily and lowed feebly at the two
passers-by, as if to ask them for some green grass.
When they got near the house, Honore Bontemps murmured: "Suppose
it is all over?" And the unconscious wish that it might be so
showed itself in the sound of his voice.
But the old woman was not dead. She was lying on her back, on her
wretched bed, her hands covered with a pink cotton counterpane,
horribly thin, knotty paws, like some strange animal's, or like
crabs' claws, hands closed by rheumatism, fatigue, and the work
of nearly a century which she had accomplished.
La Rapet went up to the bed and looked at the dying woman, felt
her pulse, tapped her on the chest, listened to her breathing,
and asked her questions, so as to hear her speak: then, having
looked at her for some time longer, she went out of the room,
followed by Honore. His decided opinion was, that the old woman
would not last out the night, and he asked: "Well?" And the
sick-nurse replied: "Well, she may last two days, perhaps three.
You will have to give me six francs, everything included."
"Six francs! six francs!" he shouted. "Are you out of your mind?
I tell you that she cannot last more than five or six hours!" And
they disputed angrily for some time, but as the nurse said she
would go home, as the time was slipping away, and as his wheat
would not come to the farmyard of its own accord, he agreed to
her terms at last:
"Very well, then, that is settled; six francs including
everything, until the corpse is taken out."
"That is settled, six francs."
And he went away, with long strides, to his wheat, which was
lying on the ground under the hot sun which ripens the grain,
while the sick-nurse returned to the house.
She had brought some work with her, for she worked without
stopping by the side of the dead and dying, sometimes for
herself, sometimes for the family, who employed her as seamstress
also, paying her rather more in that capacity. Suddenly she
"Have you received the last sacrament, Mother Bontemps?"
The old peasant woman said "No" with her head, and La Rapet, who
was very devout, got up quickly: "Good heavens, is it possible? I
will go and fetch the cure"; and she rushed off to the parsonage
so quickly, that the urchins in the street thought some accident
had happened, when they saw her trotting off like that.
The priest came immediately in his surplice, preceded by a
choir-boy, who rang a bell to announce the passage of the Host
through the parched and quiet country. Some men, working at a
distance, took off their large hats and remained motionless until
the white vestment had disappeared behind some farm buildings;
the women who were making up the sheaves stood up to make the
sign of the cross; the frightened black hens ran away along the
ditch until they reached a well-known hole through which they
suddenly disappeared, while a foal, which was tied up in a
meadow, took fright at the sight of the surplice and began to
gallop round at the length of its rope, kicking violently. The
choir-boy, in his red cassock, walked quickly, and the priest,
the square biretta on his bowed head, followed him, muttering
some prayers. Last of all came La Rapet, bent almost double, as
if she wished to prostrate herself; she walked with folded hands,
as if she were in church.
Honore saw them pass in the distance, and he asked: "Where is our
priest going to?" And his man, who was more acute, replied: "He
is taking the sacrament to your mother, of course!"
The peasant was not surprised and said: "That is quite possible,"
and went on with his work.
Mother Bontemps confessed, received absolution and extreme
unction, and the priest took his departure, leaving the two women
alone in the suffocating cottage. La Rapet began to look at the
dying woman, and to ask herself whether it could last much
The day was on the wane, and a cooler air came in stronger puffs,
making a view of Epinal, which was fastened to the wall by two
pins, flap up and down. The scanty window curtains, which had
formerly been white, but were now yellow and covered with
fly-specks, looked as it they were going to fly off, and seemed
to struggle to get away, like the old woman's soul.
Lying motionless, with her eyes open, the old mother seemed to
await the death which was so near, and which yet delayed its
coming; with perfect indifference. Her short breath whistled in
her throat. It would stop altogether soon, and there would be one
woman less in the world, one whom nobody would regret.
At nightfall Honore returned, and when he went up to the bed and
saw that his mother was still alive he asked: "How is she?" just
as he had done formerly, when she had been sick. Then he sent La
Rapet away, saying to her: "To-morrow morning at five o'clock,
without fail." And she replied: "To-morrow at five o'clock."
She came at daybreak, and found Honore eating his soup, which he
had made himself, before going to work.
"Well, is your mother dead?" asked the nurse.
"She is rather better, on the contrary," he replied, with a
malignant look out of the corner of his eyes. Then he went out.
La Rapet was seized with anxiety, and went up to the dying woman,
who was in the same state, lethargic and impassive, her eyes open
and her hands clutching the counterpane. The nurse perceived that
this might go on thus for two days, four days, eight days, even,
and her avaricious mind was seized with fear. She was excited to
fury against the cunning fellow who had tricked her, and against
the woman who would not die.
Nevertheless, she began to sew and waited with her eyes fixed on
the wrinkled face of Mother Bontemps. When Honore returned to
breakfast he seemed quite satisfied, and even in a bantering
humor, for he was carrying in his wheat under very favorable
La Rapet was getting exasperated; every passing minute now seemed
to her so much time and money stolen from her. She felt a mad
inclination to choke this old ass, this headstrong old fool, this
obstinate old wretch--to stop that short, rapid breath, which was
robbing her of her time and money, by squeezing her throat a
little. But then she reflected on the danger of doing so, and
other thoughts came into her head, so she went up to the bed and
said to her: "Have you ever seen the Devil?"
Mother Bontemps whispered: "No."
Then the sick-nurse began to talk and to tell her tales likely to
terrify her weak and dying mind. "Some minutes before one dies
the Devil appears," she said, "to all. He has a broom in his
hand, a saucepan on his head and he utters loud cries. When
anybody had seen him, all was over, and that person had only a
few moments longer to live"; and she enumerated all those to whom
the Devil had appeared that year: Josephine Loisel, Eulalie
Ratier, Sophie Padagnau, Seraphine Grospied.
Mother Bontemps, who was at last most disturbed in mind, moved
about, wrung her hands, and tried to turn her head to look at the
other end of the room. Suddenly La Rapet disappeared at the foot
of the bed. She took a sheet out of the cupboard and wrapped
herself up in it; then she put the iron pot on to her head, so
that its three short bent feet rose up like horns, took a broom
in her right hand and a tin pail in her left, which she threw up
suddenly, so that it might fall to the ground noisily.
Certainly when it came down, it made a terrible noise. Then,
climbing on to a chair, the nurse showed herself, gesticulating
and uttering shrill cries into the pot which covered her face,
while she menaced the old peasant woman, who was nearly dead,
with her broom.
Terrified, with a mad look on her face, the dying woman made a
superhuman effort to get up and escape; she even got her
shoulders and chest out of bed; then she fell back with a deep
sigh. All was over, and La Rapet calmly put everything back into
its place; the broom into the corner by the cupboard, the sheet
inside it, the pot on to the hearth, the pail on to the floor,
and the chair against the wall. Then with a professional air, she
closed the dead woman's enormous eyes, put a plate on the bed and
poured some holy water into it, dipped the twig of boxwood into
it, and kneeling down, she fervently repeated the prayers for the
dead, which she knew by heart, as a matter of business.
When Honore returned in the evening, he found her praying. He
calculated immediately that she had made twenty sous out of him,
for she had only spent three days and one night there, which made
five francs altogether, instead of the six which he owed her.
"Ah!" said Captain the Count de Garens, "I should rather think
that I do remember that Epiphany supper, during the war!
"At the time I was quarter-master of cavalry, and for a fort
night, I had been lurking about as a scout in front of the German
advanced guard. The evening before we had cut down a few Uhlans
and had lost three men, one of whom was that poor little
Raudeville. You remember Joseph de Raudeville well, of course.
"Well, on that day my captain ordered me to take six troopers and
occupy the village of Porterin, where there had been five fights
in three weeks, and to hold it all night. There were not twenty
houses left standing, nay, not a dozen, in that wasp's nest. So I
took ten troopers, and set out at about four o'clock; at five
o'clock, while it was still pitch dark, we reached the first
houses of Porterin. I halted and ordered Marchas--you know Pierre
de Marchas, who afterward married little Martel-Auvelin, the
daughter of the Marquis de Martel-Auvelin--to go alone into the
village and to report to me what he saw.
"I had chosen nothing but volunteers, and all of good family.
When on service it is pleasant not to be forced into intimacy
with unpleasant fellows. This Marchas was as sharp as possible,
as cunning as a fox, and as supple as a serpent. He could scent
the Prussians as well as a dog can scent a hare, could find
victuals where we should have died of hunger without him, and
could obtain information from everybody--information which was
always reliable--with incredible cleverness.
"In ten minutes he returned. 'All right,' he said; 'there have
been no Prussians here for three days. It is a sinister place, is
this village. I have been talking to a Sister of Mercy, who is
attending to four or five wounded men in an abandoned convent.'
"I ordered them to ride on, and we penetrated into the principal
street. On the right and left we could vaguely see roofless
walls, hardly visible in the profound darkness. Here and there a
light was burning in a room; some family had remained to keep its
house standing as long as they were able; a family of brave, or
of poor, people. The rain began to fall, a fine, icy-cold rain,
which froze us before it wetted us through, by merely touching
our cloaks. The horses stumbled against stones, against beams,
against furniture. Marchas guided us, going before us on foot,
and leading his horse by the bridle.
" 'Where are you taking us to?' I asked him. And he replied: 'I
have a place for us to lodge in, and a rare good one.' And soon
we stopped before a small house, evidently belonging to some
person of the middle class, completely shut up, built on to the
street with a garden in the rear.
"Marchas broke open the lock by means of a big stone, which he
picked up near the garden gate; then he mounted the steps,
smashed in the front door with his feet and shoulders, lighted a
bit of wax candle, which he was never without, and preceded us
into the comfortable apartments of some rich private individual,
guiding us with admirable assurance, just as if he had lived in
this house which he now saw for the first time.
"Two troopers remained outside to take care of our horses; then
Marchas said to stout Ponderel, who followed him: 'The stables
must be on the left; I saw that as we came in; go and put the
animals up there, for we do not want them,' and then turning to
me he said: 'Give your orders, confound it all!'
"Marchas always astonished me, and I replied with a laugh: 'I
shall post my sentinels at the country approaches and I will
return to you here.'
" 'How many men are you going to take?'
" 'Five. The others will relieve them at five o'clock in the
" 'Very well. Leave me four to look after provisions, to do the
cooking, and to set the table. I will go and find out where the
wine is hidden away.'
"I went off to reconnoiter the deserted streets, until they ended
in the open country, so as to post my sentries there.
"Half an hour later I was back, and found Marchas lounging in a
great armchair, the covering of which he had taken off, from love
of luxury as he said. He was warming his feet at the fire and
smoking an excellent cigar, whose perfume filled the room. He was
alone, his elbows resting on the arms of the chair, his cheeks
flushed, his eyes bright, and looking delighted.
"I heard the noise of plates and dishes in the next room, and
Marchas said to me, smiling in a beatific manner: 'This is
famous; I found the champagne under the flight of steps outside,
the brandy--fifty bottles of the very finest--in the kitchen
garden under a pear-tree, which did not look to me to be quite
straight, when I looked at it by the light of my lantern. As for
solids, we have two fowls, a goose, a duck, and three pigeons.
They are being cooked at this moment. It is a delightful part of
the country.'
"I had sat down opposite to him, and the fire in the grate was
burning my nose and cheeks.
" 'Where did you find this wood?' I asked.
" 'Splendid wood,' he replied. 'The owner's carriage. It is the
paint which is causing all this flame, an essence of alcohol and
varnish. A capital house!'
"I laughed, for I found the creature was funny, and he went on:
'Fancy this being the Epiphany! I have had a bean put into the
goose, but there is no queen; it is really very annoying!' And I
repeated like an echo: 'It is annoying, but what do you want me
to do in the matter?'
" 'To find some, of course.'
" 'Some women. Women?--you must be mad!'
" 'I managed to find the brandy under the pear-tree, and the
champagne under the steps; and yet there was nothing to guide me,
while as for you, a petticoat is a sure sign. Go and look, old
"He looked so grave, so convinced, that I could not tell whether
he was joking or not. So I replied: 'Look here, Marchas, are you
having a joke with me?'
" 'I never joke on duty.'
" 'But where the devil do you expect me to find any women?'
" 'Where you like; there must be two or three remaining in the
neighborhood, so ferret them out and bring them here.'
"I got up, for it was too hot in front of the fire, and Marchas
went on: 'Do you want an idea?'
" 'Yes.'
" 'Go and see the priest.'
" 'The priest? What for?'
" 'Ask him to supper, and beg him to bring a woman with him.'
" 'The priest! A woman! Ha! ha! ha!'
"But Marchas continued with extraordinary gravity: 'I am not
laughing; go and find the priest and tell him how we are
situated, and, as he must be horribly dull, he will come. But
tell him that we want one woman at least, a lady, of course,
since we are all men of the world. He is sure to have the names
of his female parishioners on the tips of his fingers, and if
there is one to suit us, and you manage it well, he will indicate
her to you.'
" 'Come, come, Marchas, what are you thinking of?'
" 'My dear Garens, you can do this quite well. It will be very
funny. We are well bred, by Jove! and we will put on our most
distinguished manners and our grandest style. Tell the abbe who
we are, make him laugh, soften him, seduce him, and persuade
" 'No, it is impossible.'
"He drew his chair close to mine, and as he knew my weak side,
the scamp continued: 'Just think what a swagger thing it will be
to do, and how amusing to tell about; the whole army will talk
about it, and it will give you a famous reputation.'
"I hesitated, for the adventure rather tempted me. He persisted:
'Come, my little Garens. You are in command of this detachment,
and you alone can go and call on the head of the church in this
neighborhood. I beg of you to go, and I promise you that after
the war, I will relate the whole affair in verse in the "Revue
des Deux Mondes." You owe this much to your men, for you have
made them march enough during the last month.'
"I got up at last and asked: 'Where is the parsonage?'
" 'Take the second turning at the end of the street; you will
then see an avenue, and at the end of the avenue you will find
the church. The parsonage is beside it.' As I departed he called
out: 'Tell him the bill of fare, to make him hungry!'
"I discovered the ecclesiastic's little house without any
difficulty; it was by the side of a large, ugly, brick church. As
there was neither bell nor knocker, I knocked at the door with my
fist, and a loud voice from inside asked: 'Who is there?' to
which I replied: 'A quartermaster of hussars.'
"I heard the noise of bolts, and of a key being turned. Then I
found myself face to face with a tall priest with a large
stomach, the chest of a prize-fighter, formidable hands
projecting from turned-up sleeves, a red face, and the looks of a
kind man. I gave him a military salute and said: 'Good day,
Monsieur le Cure.'
"He had feared a surprise, some marauders' ambush, and he smiled
as he replied: 'Good day, my friend; come in.' I followed him
into a small room, with a red tiled floor, in which a small fire
was burning, very different to Marchas's furnace. He gave me a
chair and said: 'What can I do for you?'
" 'Monsieur, allow me first of all to introduce myself'; and I
gave him my card, which he took and read half aloud: 'The Comte
de Garens.'
"I continued: 'There are eleven of us here Monsieur l'Abbe, five
on grand guard, and six installed at the house of an unknown
inhabitant. The names of the six are, Garens (that is I), Pierre
de Marchas, Ludovic de Ponderel, Baron d'Etreillis, Karl
Massouligny, the painter's son, and Joseph Herbon, a young
musician. I have come to ask you, in their name and my own, to do
us the honor of supping with us. It is an Epiphany supper,
Monsieur le Cure, and we should like to make it a little
"The priest smiled and murmured: 'It seems to me to be hardly a
suitable occasion for amusing oneself.'
"I replied: 'We are fighting every day, Monsieur. Fourteen of our
comrades have been killed in a month, and three fell as late as
yesterday. That is war. We stake our life every moment; have we
not, therefore, the right to amuse ourselves freely? We are
Frenchmen, we like to laugh, and we can laugh everywhere. Our
fathers laughed on the scaffold! This evening we should like to
brighten ourselves up a little, like gentlemen, and not like
soldiers; you understand me, I hope. Are we wrong?'
"He replied quickly: 'You are quite right, my friend, and I
accept your invitation with great pleasure.' Then he called out:
"An old, bent, wrinkled, horrible, peasant woman appeared and
said: 'What do you want?'
" 'I shall not dine at home, my daughter.'
" 'Where are you going to dine then?'
" 'With some gentlemen, hussars.'
"I felt inclined to say: 'Bring your servant with you,' just to
see Marchas's face, but I did not venture to, and continued: 'Do
you know anyone among your parishioners, male or female, whom I
could invite as well?' He hesitated, reflected, and then said:
'No, I do not know anybody!'
"I persisted: 'Nobody? Come, Monsieur, think; it would be very
nice to have some ladies, I mean to say, some married couples! I
know nothing about your parishioners. The baker and his wife, the
grocer, the--the--the--watchmaker--the--shoemaker --the--the
chemist with his wife. We have a good spread, and plenty of wine,
and we should be enchanted to leave pleasant recollections of
ourselves behind us with the people here.'
"The priest thought again for a long time and then said
resolutely: 'No, there is nobody.'
"I began to laugh. 'By Jove, Monsieur le Cure, it is very vexing
not to have an Epiphany queen, for we have the bean. Come, think.
Is there not a married mayor, or a married deputy-mayor, or a
married municipal councilor, or schoolmaster?'
" 'No all the ladies have gone away.'
" 'What, is there not in the whole place some good tradesman's
wife with her good tradesman, to whom we might give this
pleasure, for it would be a pleasure to them, a great pleasure
under present circumstances?'
"But suddenly the cure began to laugh, and he laughed so
violently that he fairly shook, and exclaimed: 'Ha! ha! ha! I
have got what you want, yes. I have got what you want! Ha! ha!
ha! We will laugh and enjoy ourselves, my children, we will have
some fun. How pleased the ladies will be, I say, how delighted
they will be. Ha! ha! Where are you staying?'
"I described the house, and he understood where it was. 'Very
good,' he said. 'It belongs to Monsieur Bertin-Lavaille. I will
be there in half an hour, with four ladies. Ha! ha! ha! four
"He went out with me, still laughing, and left me, repeating:
'That is capital; in half an hour at Bertin-Lavaille's house.'
"I returned quickly, very much astonished and very much puzzled.
'Covers for how many?' Marchas asked, as soon as he saw me.
" 'Eleven. There are six of us hussars besides the priest and
four ladies.'
"He was thunderstruck, and I triumphant, and he repeated 'Four
ladies! Did you say, four ladies?'
" 'I said four women.'
" 'Real women?'
" 'Real women.'
" 'Well, accept my compliments!'
" 'I will, for I deserve them.'
"He got out of his armchair, opened the door, and I saw a
beautiful, white tablecloth on a long table, round which three
hussars in blue aprons were setting out the plates and glasses.
'There are some women coming!' Marchas cried. And the three men
began to dance and to cheer with all their might.
"Everything was ready, and we were waiting. We waited for nearly
an hour, while a delicious smell of roast poultry pervaded the
whole house. At last, however, a knock against the shutters made
us all jump up at the same moment. Stout Ponderel ran to open the
door, and in less than a minute a little Sister of Mercy appeared
in the doorway. She was thin, wrinkled, and timid, and
successively saluted the four bewildered hussars who saw her
enter. Behind her, the noise of sticks sounded on the tiled floor
in the vestibule. As soon as she had come into the drawing-room I
saw three old heads in white caps, following each other one by
one, balancing themselves with different movements, one canting
to the right, while the other canted to the left. Then three
worthy women showed themselves, limping, dragging their legs
behind them, crippled by illness and deformed through old age,
three infirm old women, past service, the only three pensioners
who were able to walk in the establishment which Sister
Saint-Benedict managed.
"She had turned round to her invalids, full of anxiety for them,
and then seeing my quartermaster's stripes, she said to me: 'I am
much obliged to you for thinking of these poor women. They have
very little pleasure in life, and you are at the same time giving
them a great treat and doing them a great honor.'
"I saw the priest, who had remained in the obscurity of the
passage, and who was laughing heartily, and I began to laugh in
my turn, especially when I saw Marchas's face. Then, motioning
the nun to the seats, I said: 'Sit down, Sister: we are very
proud and very happy that you have accepted our unpretentious
"She took three chairs which stood against the wall, set them
before the fire, led her three old women to them, settled them on
them, took their sticks and shawls which she put into a corner,
and then, pointing to the first, a thin woman with an enormous
stomach, who was evidently suffering from the dropsy, she said:
'This is Mother Paumelle, whose husband was killed by falling
from a roof, and whose son died in Africa; she is sixty years
old.' Then she pointed to another, a tall woman, whose head shook
unceasingly: 'This is Mother Jean-Jean, who is sixty-seven. She
is nearly blind, for her face was terribly singed in a fire, and
her right leg was half burned off.'
"Then she pointed to the third, a sort of dwarf, with protruding,
round, stupid eyes, which she rolled incessantly in all
directions. 'This is La Putois, an idiot. She is only
"I bowed to the three women as if I were being presented to some
Royal Highness, and turning to the priest I said: 'You are an
excellent man, Monsieur l'Abbe, and we all owe you a debt of
"Everybody was laughing, in fact, except Marchas, who seemed
furious, and just then Karl Massouligny cried: 'Sister
Saint-Benedict, supper is on the table!'
"I made her go first with the priest, then I helped up Mother
Paumelle, whose arm I took and dragged her into the next room,
which was no easy task, for her swollen stomach seemed heavier
than a lump of iron.
"Stout Ponderel gave his arm to Mother Jean-Jean, who bemoaned
her crutch, and little Joseph Herbon took the idiot, La Putois,
to the dining-room, which was filled with the odor of the viands.
"As soon as we were opposite our plates, the Sister clapped her
hands three times, and, with the precision of soldiers presenting
arms, the women made a rapid sign of the cross, and then the
priest slowly repeated the 'Benedictus' in Latin. Then we sat
down, and the two fowls appeared, brought in by Marchas, who
chose to wait rather than to sit down as a guest at this
ridiculous repast.
"But I cried: 'Bring the champagne at once!' and a cork flew out
with the noise of a pistol, and in spite of the resistance of the
priest and the kind Sister, the three hussars sitting by the side
of the three invalids, emptied their three full glasses down
their throats by force.
"Massouligny, who possessed the faculty of making himself at
home, and of being on good terms with everyone, wherever he was,
made love to Mother Paumelle, in the drollest manner. The
dropsical woman, who had retained her cheerfulness in spite of
her misfortunes, answered him banteringly in a high falsetto
voice which seemed to be assumed, and she laughed so heartily at
her neighbor's jokes that her large stomach looked as if it were
going to rise up and get on to the table. Little Herbon had
seriously undertaken the task of making the idiot drunk, and
Baron d'Etreillis whose wits were not always particularly sharp,
was questioning old Jean-Jean about the life, the habits, and the
rules in the hospital.
"The nun said to Massouligny in consternation: 'Oh! oh! you will
make her ill; pray do not make her laugh like that, Monsieur. Oh!
Monsieur.' Then she got up and rushed at Herbon to take a full
glass out of his hands which he was hastily emptying down La
Putois's throat, while the priest shook with laughter, and said
to the Sister: 'Never mind, just this once, it will not hurt her.
Do leave them alone.'
"After the two fowls they ate the duck, which was flanked by the
three pigeons and a blackbird, and then the goose appeared,
smoking, golden-colored, and diffusing a warm odor of hot,
browned fat meat. La Paumelle who was getting lively, clapped her
hands; La Jean-Jean left off answering the Baron's numerous
questions, and La Putois uttered grunts of pleasure, half cries
and half sighs, like little children do when one shows them
sweets. 'Allow me to carve this bird,' the cure said. 'I
understand these sort of operations better than most people.'
" 'Certainly, Monsieur l'Abbe,' and the Sister said: 'How would
it be to open the window a little; they are too warm, and I am
afraid they will be ill.'
"I turned to Marchas: 'Open the window for a minute.' He did so;
the cold outer air as it came in made the candles flare, and the
smoke from the goose--which the cure was scientifically carving,
with a table napkin round his neck--whirl about. We watched him
doing it, without speaking now, for we were interested in his
attractive handiwork, and also seized with renewed appetite at
the sight of that enormous golden-colored bird, whose limbs fell
one after another into the brown gravy at the bottom of the dish.
At that moment, in the midst of greedy silence which kept us all
attentive, the distant report of a shot came in at the open
"I started to my feet so quickly that my chair fell down behind
me, and I shouted: 'Mount, all of you! You, Marchas, will take
two men and go and see what it is. I shall expect you back here
in five minutes.' And while the three riders went off at full
gallop through the night, I got into the saddle with my three
remaining hussars, in front of the steps of the villa, while the
cure, the Sister, and the three old women showed their frightened
faces at the window.
"We heard nothing more, except the barking of a dog in the
distance. The rain had ceased, and it was cold, very cold. Soon I
heard the gallop of a horse, of a single horse, coming back. It
was Marchas, and I called out to him: 'Well?'
" 'It is nothing; Francois has wounded an old peasant who refused
to answer his challenge and who continued to advance in spite of
the order to keep off. They are bringing him here, and we shall
see what is the matter.'
"I gave orders for the horses to be put back into the stable, and
I sent my two soldiers to meet the others, and returned to the
house. Then the cure, Marchas and I took a mattress into the room
to put the wounded man on; the Sister tore up a table napkin in
order to make lint, while the three frightened women remained
huddled up in a corner.
"Soon I heard the rattle of sabers on the road, and I took a
candle to show a light to the men who were returning. They soon
appeared, carrying that inert, soft, long, and sinister object
which a human body becomes when life no longer sustains it.
"They put the wounded man on the mattress that had been prepared
for him, and I saw at the first glance that he was dying. He had
the death rattle, and was spitting up blood which ran out of the
corners of his mouth, forced out of his lungs by his gasps. The
man was covered with it! His cheeks, his beard, his hair, his
neck, and his clothes seemed to have been rubbed, to have been
dipped in a red tub; the blood had congealed on him, and had
become a dull color which was horrible to look at.
"The old man, wrapped up in a large shepherd's cloak,
occasionally opened his dull, vacant eyes. They seemed stupid
with astonishment, like the eyes of hunted animals which fall at
the sportsman's feet, half dead before the shot, stupefied with
fear and surprise.
"The cure exclaimed: 'Ah! there is old Placide, the shepherd from
Les Marlins. He is deaf, poor man, and heard nothing. Ah! Oh,
God! they have killed the unhappy man!' The Sister had opened
his blouse and shirt and was looking at a little blue hole in
the middle of his chest, which was not bleeding any more. 'There
is nothing to be done,' she said.
"The shepherd was gasping terribly and bringing up blood with
every breath. In his throat to the very depth of his lungs, they
could hear an ominous and continued gurgling. The cure, standing
in front of him, raised his right hand, made the sign of the
cross, and in a slow and solemn voice pronounced the Latin words
which purify men's souls. But before they were finished, the old
man was shaken by a rapid shudder, as if something had broken
inside him; he no longer breathed. He was dead.
"When I turned round I saw a sight which was even more horrible
than the death struggle of this unfortunate man. The three old
women were standing up huddled close together, hideous, and
grimacing with fear and horror. I went up to them, and they began
to utter shrill screams, while La Jean-Jean, whose leg had been
burned and could not longer support her, fell to the ground at
full length.
"Sister Saint-Benedict left the dead man, ran up to her infirm
old women, and without a word or a look for me wrapped their
shawls round them, gave them their crutches, pushed them to the
door, made them go out, and disappeared with them into the dark
"I saw that I could not even let a hussar accompany them, for the
mere rattle of a sword would have sent them mad with fear.
"The cure was still looking at the dead man; but at last he
turned to me and said:
" 'Oh! What a horrible thing!' "
Noon had just struck. The school-door opened and the youngsters
streamed out tumbling over one another in their haste to get out
quickly. But instead of promptly dispersing and going home to
dinner as was their daily wont, they stopped a few paces off,
broke up into knots and set to whispering.
The fact was that that morning Simon, the son of La Blanchotte,
had, for the first time, attended school.
They had all of them in their families heard of La Blanchotte;
and although in public she was welcome enough, the mothers among
themselves treated her with compassion of a some what disdainful
kind, which the children had caught without in the least knowing
As for Simon himself, they did not know him, for he never went
abroad, and did not play around with them through the streets of
the village or along the banks of the river. So they loved him
but little; and it was with a certain delight, mingled with
astonishment that they gathered in groups this morning, repeating
to each other this sentence, concocted by a lad of fourteen or
fifteen who appeared to know all about it, so sagaciously did he
wink: "You know Simon --well, he has no papa."
La Blanchotte's son appeared in his turn upon the threshold of
the school.
He was seven or eight years old, rather pale, very neat, with a
timid and almost awkward manner.
He was making his way back to his mother's house when the various
groups of his schoolfellows, perpetually whispering, and watching
him with the mischievous and heartless eyes of children bent upon
playing a nasty trick, gradually surrounded him and ended by
inclosing him altogether. There he stood amid them, surprised and
embarrassed, not understanding what they were going to do with
him. But the lad who had brought the news, puffed up with the
success he had met with, demanded:
"What do you call yourself?"
He answered: "Simon."
"Simon what?" retorted the other.
The child, altogether bewildered, repeated: "Simon."
The lad shouted at him: "You must be named Simon something! That
is not a name--Simon indeed!"
And he, on the brink of tears, replied for the third time:
"I am named Simon."
The urchins began laughing. The lad triumphantly lifted up his
voice: "You can see plainly that he has no papa."
A deep silence ensued. The children were dumfounded by this
extraordinary, impossibly monstrous thing--a boy who had not a
papa; they looked upon him as a phenomenon, an unnatural being,
and they felt rising in them the hitherto inexplicable pity of
their mothers for La Blanchotte. As for Simon, he had propped
himself against a tree to avoid falling, and he stood there as if
paralyzed by an irreparable disaster. He sought to explain, but
he could think of no answer for them, no way to deny this
horrible charge that he had no papa. At last he shouted at them
quite recklessly: "Yes, I have one."
"Where is he?" demanded the boy.
Simon was silent, he did not know. The children shrieked,
tremendously excited. These sons of toil, nearly related to
animals, experienced the cruel craving which makes the fowls of a
farmyard destroy one of their own kind as soon as it is wounded.
Simon suddenly spied a little neighbor, the son of a widow, whom
he had always seen, as he himself was to be seen, quite alone
with his mother.
"And no more have you," he said, "no more have you a papa."
"Yes," replied the other, "I have one."
"Where is he?" rejoined Simon.
"He is dead," declared the brat with superb dignity, "he is in
the cemetery, is my papa."
A murmur of approval rose amid the scape-graces, as if the fact
of possessing a papa dead in a cemetery made their comrade big
enough to crush the other one who had no papa at all. And these
rogues, whose fathers were for the most part evil-doers,
drunkards, thieves, and ill-treaters of their wives hustled each
other as they pressed closer and closer to Simon as though they,
the legitimate ones, would stifle in their pressure one who was
beyond the law.
The lad next Simon suddenly put his tongue out at him with a
waggish air and shouted at him:
"No papa! No papa!"
Simon seized him by the hair with both hands and set to work to
demolish his legs with kicks, while he bit his cheek ferociously.
A tremendous struggle ensued between the two boys, and Simon
found himself beaten, torn, bruised, rolled on the ground in the
middle of the ring of applauding little vagabonds. As he arose,
mechanically brushing his little blouse all covered with dust
with his hand, some one shouted at him:
"Go and tell your papa."
He then felt a great sinking in his heart. They were stronger
than he, they had beaten him and he had no answer to give them,
for he knew it was true that he had no papa. Full of pride he
tried for some moments to struggle against the tears which were
suffocating him. He had a choking fit, and then without cries he
began to weep with great sobs which shook him incessantly. Then a
ferocious joy broke out among his enemies, and, just like savages
in fearful festivals, they took one another by the hand and
danced in a circle about him as they repeated in refrain:
"No papa! No papa!"
But suddenly Simon ceased sobbing. Frenzy overtook him. There
were stones under his feet; he picked them up and with all his
strength hurled them at his tormentors. Two or three were struck
and ran away yelling, and so formidable did he appear that the
rest became panic-stricken. Cowards, like a jeering crowd in the
presence of an exasperated man, they broke up and fled. Left
alone, the little thing without a father set off running toward
the fields, for a recollection had been awakened which nerved his
soul to a great determination. He made up his mind to drown
himself in the river.
He remembered, in fact, that eight days ago a poor devil who
begged for his livelihood had thrown himself into the water
because he had no more money. Simon had been there when they
fished him out again, and the sight of the fellow, who had seemed
to him so miserable and ugly, had then impressed him--his pale
cheeks, his long drenched beard, and his open eyes being full of
calm. The bystanders had said:
"He is dead."
And some one had added:
"He is quite happy now."
So Simon wished to drown himself also because he had no father,
just as the wretched being did who had no money.
He reached the water and watched it flowing. Some fishes were
rising briskly in the clear stream and occasionally made little
leaps and caught the flies on the surface. He stopped crying in
order to watch them, for their feeding interested him vastly.
But, at intervals, as in the lulls of a tempest, when tremendous
gusts of wind snap off trees and then die away, this thought
would return to him with intense pain:
"I am about to drown myself because I have no papa."
It was very warm and fine weather. The pleasant sunshine warmed
the grass; the water shone like a mirror; and Simon enjoyed for
some minutes the happiness of that languor which follows weeping,
desirous even of falling asleep there upon the grass in the
warmth of noon.
A little green frog leaped from under his feet. He endeavored to
catch it. It escaped him. He pursued it and lost it three times
following. At last he caught it by one of its hind legs and began
to laugh as he saw the efforts the creature made to escape. It
gathered itself up on its large legs and then with a violent
spring suddenly stretched them out as stiff as two bars.
Its eyes stared wide open in their round, golden circle, and it
beat the air with its front limbs, using them as though they were
hands. It reminded him of a toy made with straight slips of wood
nailed zig-zag one on the other, which by a similar movement
regulated the exercise of the little soldiers fastened thereon.
Then he thought of his home and of his mother, and overcome by
great sorrow he again began to weep. His limbs trembled; and he
placed himself on his knees and said his prayers as before going
to bed. But he was unable to finish them, for such hurried and
violent sobs overtook him that he was completely overwhelmed. He
thought no more, he no longer heeded anything around him but was
wholly given up to tears.
Suddenly a heavy hand was placed upon his shoulder, and a rough
voice asked him:
"What is it that causes you so much grief, my fine fellow?"
Simon turned round. A tall workman, with a black beard and hair
all curled, was staring at him good-naturedly. He answered with
his eyes and throat full of tears:
"They have beaten me because--I--I have no papa--no papa. "
"What!" said the man smiling, "why, everybody has one."
The child answered painfully amid his spasms of grief:
"But I--I--I have none."
Then the workman became serious. He had recognized La
Blanchotte's son, and although a recent arrival to the
neighborhood he had a vague idea of her history.
"Well," said he, "console yourself, my boy, and come with me home
to your mother. She will give you a papa."
And so they started on the way, the big one holding the little
one by the hand. The man smiled afresh, for he was not sorry to
see this Blanchotte, who by popular report was one of the
prettiest girls in the country-side--and, perhaps, he said to
himself, at the bottom of his heart, that a lass who had erred
once might very well err again.
They arrived in front of a very neat little white house.
"There it is," exclaimed the child, and he cried: "Mamma."
A woman appeared, and the workman instantly left off smiling, for
he at once perceived that there was no more fooling to be done
with the tall pale girl, who stood austerely at her door as
though to defend from one man the threshold of that house where she
had already been betrayed by another. Intimidated, his cap in his
hand, he stammered out:
"See, Madame, I have brought you back your little boy, who had
lost himself near the river."
But Simon flung his arms about his mother's neck and told her, as
he again began to cry:
"No, mamma, I wished to drown myself, because the others had
beaten me--had beaten me--because I have no papa."
A burning redness covered the young woman's cheeks, and, hurt to
the quick, she embraced her child passionately, while the tears
coursed down her face. The man, much moved, stood there, not
knowing how to get away. But Simon suddenly ran to him and said:
"Will you be my papa?"
A deep silence ensued. La Blanchotte, dumb and tortured with
shame, leaned against the wall, her hands upon her heart. The
child, seeing that no answer was made him, replied:
"If you do not wish it, I shall return to drown myself."
The workman took the matter as a jest and answered laughing:
"Why, yes, I wish it certainly."
"What is your name, then," went on the child, "so that I may tell
the others when they wish to know your name?"
"Philip," answered the man.
Simon was silent a moment so that he might get the name well into
his memory; then he stretched out his arms, quite consoled, and
"Well, then, Philip, you are my papa."
The workman, lifting him from the ground, kissed him hastily on
both cheeks, and then strode away quickly.
When the child returned to school next day he was received with a
spiteful laugh, and at the end of school, when the lads were on
the point of recommencing, Simon threw these words at their heads
as he would have done a stone: "He is named Philip, my papa."
Yells of delight burst out from all sides.
"Philip who? Philip what? What on earth is Philip? Where did you
pick up your Philip?"
Simon answered nothing; and immovable in faith he defied them
with his eye, ready to be martyred rather than fly before them.
The schoolmaster came to his rescue and he returned home to his
For a space of three months, the tall workman, Philip, frequently
passed by La Blanchotte's house, and sometimes made bold to speak
to her when he saw her sewing near the window. She answered him
civilly, always sedately, never joking with him, nor permitting
him to enter her house. Notwithstanding this, being, like all
men, a bit of a coxcomb, he imagined that she was often rosier
than usual when she chatted with him.
But a fallen reputation is so difficult to recover, and always
remains so fragile that, in spite of the shy reserve La
Blanchotte maintained, they already gossiped in the neighborhood.
As for Simon, he loved his new papa much, and walked with him
nearly every evening when the day's work was done. He went
regularly to school and mixed in a dignified way with his
schoolfellows without ever answering them back.
One day, however, the lad who had first attacked him said to him:
"You have lied. You have not a papa named Philip."
"Why do you say that?" demanded Simon, much disturbed.
The youth rubbed his hands. He replied:
"Because if you had one he would be your mamma's husband."
Simon was confused by the truth of this reasoning; nevertheless
he retorted:
"He is my papa all the same."
"That can very well be," exclaimed the urchin with a sneer, "but
that is not being your papa altogether."
La Blanchotte's little one bowed his head and went off dreaming
in the direction of the forge belonging to old Loizon, where
Philip worked.
This forge was entombed in trees. It was very dark there, the red
glare of a formidable furnace alone lit up with great flashes
five blacksmiths, who hammered upon their anvils with a terrible
din. Standing enveloped in flame, they worked like demons, their
eyes fixed on the red-hot iron they were pounding; and their dull
ideas rising and falling with their hammers.
Simon entered without being noticed and quietly plucked his
friend by the sleeve. Philip turned round. All at once the work
came to a standstill and the men looked on very attentively.
Then, in the midst of this unaccustomed silence, rose the little
slender pipe of Simon:
"Philip, explain to me what the lad at La Michande has just told
me, that you are not altogether my papa."
"And why that?" asked the smith.
The child replied in all innocence:
"Because you are not my mamma's husband."
No one laughed. Philip remained standing, leaning his forehead
upon the back of his great hands, which held the handle of his
hammer upright upon the anvil. He mused. His four companions
watched him, and, like a tiny mite among these giants, Simon
anxiously waited. Suddenly, one of the smiths, voicing the
sentiment of all, said to Philip:
"All the same La Blanchotte is a good and honest girl, stalwart
and steady in spite of her misfortune, and one who would make a
worthy wife for an honest man."
"That is true," remarked the three others. The smith continued:
"Is it the girl's fault if she has fallen? She had been promised
marriage, and I know more than one who is much respected to-day
and has sinned every bit as much."
"That is true," responded the three men in chorus.
He resumed:
"How hard she has toiled, poor thing, to educate her lad all
alone, and how much she has wept since she no longer goes out,
save to church, God only knows."
"That also is true," said the others.
Then no more was heard save the roar of the bellows which fanned
the fire of the furnace. Philip hastily bent himself down to
"Go and tell your mamma that I shall come to speak to her."
Then he pushed the child out by the shoulders. He returned to his
work and in unison the five hammers again fell upon their anvils.
Thus they wrought the iron until nightfall, strong, powerful,
happy, like Vulcans satisfied. But as the great bell of a
cathedral resounds upon feast days above the jingling of the
other bells, so Philip's hammer, dominating the noise of the
others, clanged second after second with a deafening uproar. His
eye on the fire, he plied his trade vigorously, erect amid the
The sky was full of stars as he knocked at La Blanchotte's door.
He had his Sunday blouse on, a fresh shirt, and his beard was
trimmed. The young woman showed herself upon the threshold and
said in a grieved tone:
"It is ill to come thus when night has fallen, Mr. Philip."
He wished to answer, but stammered and stood confused before her.
She resumed:
"And you understand quite well that it will not do that I should
be talked about any more."
Then he said all at once:
"What does that matter to me, if you will be my wife!"
No voice replied to him, but he believed that he heard in the
shadow of the room the sound of a body falling. He entered very
quickly; and Simon, who had gone to his bed, distinguished the
sound of a kiss and some words that his mother said very softly.
Then he suddenly found himself lifted up by the hands of his
friend, who, holding him at the length of his herculean arms,
exclaimed to him:
"You will tell your school-fellows that your papa is Philip Remy,
the blacksmith, and that he will pull the ears of all who do you
any harm."
On the morrow, when the school was full and lessons were about to
begin, little Simon stood up quite pale with trembling lips:
"My papa," said he in a clear voice, "is Philip Remy, the
blacksmith, and he has promised to box the ears of all who do me
any harm."
This time no one laughed any longer, for he was very well known,
was Philip Remy, the blacksmith, and he was a papa of whom anyone
in the world would be proud.
[1] Bavarian beer.
Why on this particular evening, did I enter a certain beer shop?
I cannot explain it. It was bitterly cold. A fine rain, a watery
mist floated about, veiling the gas jets in a transparent fog,
making the pavements under the shadow of the shop fronts glitter,
which revealed the soft slush and the soiled feet of the
I was going nowhere in particular; was simply having a short walk
after dinner. I had passed the Credit Lyonnais, the Rue Vivienne,
and several other streets. Suddenly I descried a large cafe,
which was more than half full. I walked inside, with no object in
mind. I was not the least thirsty.
By a searching glance I detected a place where I would not be too
much crowded. So I went and sat down by the side of a man who
seemed to me to be old, and who smoked a half-penny clay pipe,
which had become as black as coal. From six to eight beer
saucers were piled up on the table in front of him, indicating
the number of "bocks" he had already absorbed. With that same
glance I had recognized in him a "regular toper," one of those
frequenters of beer-houses, who come in the morning as soon as
the place is open, and only go away in the evening when it is
about to close. He was dirty, bald to about the middle of the
cranium, while his long gray hair fell over the neck of his frock
coat. His clothes, much too large for him, appeared to have been
made for him at a time when he was very stout. One could guess
that his pantaloons were not held up by braces, and that this man
could not take ten paces without having to pull them up and
readjust them. Did he wear a vest? The mere thought of his boots
and the feet they enveloped filled me with horror. The frayed
cuffs were as black at the edges as were his nails.
As soon as I had sat down near him, this queer creature said to
me in a tranquil tone of voice:
"How goes it with you?"
I turned sharply round to him and closely scanned his features,
whereupon he continued:
"I see you do not recognize me."
"No, I do not."
"Des Barrets."
I was stupefied. It was Count Jean des Barrets, my old college
I seized him by the hand, so dumfounded that I could find nothing
to say. I, at length, managed to stammer out:
"And you, how goes it with you?"
He responded placidly:
"With me? Just as I like."
He became silent. I wanted to be friendly, and I selected this
"What are you doing now?"
"You see what I am doing," he answered, quite resignedly.
I felt my face getting red. I insisted:
"But every day?"
"Every day is alike to me," was his response, accompanied with a
thick puff of tobacco smoke.
He then tapped on the top of the marble table with a sou, to
attract the attention of the waiter, and called out:
"Waiter, two 'bocks.' "
A voice in the distance repeated:
"Two 'bocks,' instead of four."
Another voice, more distant still, shouted out:
"Here they are, sir, here they are."
Immediately there appeared a man with a white apron, carrying two
'bocks,' which he set down foaming on the table, the foam running
over the edge, on to the sandy floor.
Des Barrets emptied his glass at a single draught and replaced it
on the table, sucking in the drops of beer that had been left on
his mustache. He next asked:
"What is there new?"
"I know of nothing new, worth mentioning, really," I stammered:
"But nothing has grown old for me; I am a commercial man."
In an equable tone of voice, he said:
"Indeed--does that amuse you?"
"No, but what do you mean by that? Surely you must do something!"
"What do you mean by that?"
"I only mean, how do you pass your time!"
"What's the use of occupying myself with anything. For my part, I
do nothing at all, as you see, never anything. When one has not
got a sou one can understand why one has to go to work. What is
the good of working? Do you work for yourself, or for others? If
you work for yourself you do it for your own amusement, which is
all right; if you work for others, you reap nothing but
Then sticking his pipe into his mouth, he called out anew:
"Waiter, a 'bock.' It makes me thirsty to keep calling so. I am
not accustomed to that sort of thing. Yes, I do nothing; I let
things slide, and I am growing old. In dying I shall have nothing
to regret. If so, I should remember nothing, outside this
public-house. I have no wife, no children, no cares, no sorrows,
nothing. That is the very best thing that could happen to one."
He then emptied the glass which had been brought him, passed his
tongue over his lips, and resumed his pipe.
I looked at him stupefied and asked him:
"But you have not always been like that?"
"Pardon me, sir; ever since I left college."
"It is not a proper life to lead, my dear sir; it is simply
horrible. Come, you must indeed have done something, you must
have loved something, you must have friends."
"No; I get up at noon, I come here, I have my breakfast, I drink
my 'bock'; I remain until the evening, I have my dinner, I drink
'bock.' Then about one in the morning, I return to my couch,
because the place closes up. And it is this latter that embitters
me more than anything. For the last ten years, I have passed
six-tenths of my time on this bench, in my corner; and the other
four-tenths in my bed, never changing. I talk sometimes with the
"But on arriving in Paris what did you do at first?"
"I paid my devoirs to the Cafe de Medicis."
"What next?"
"Next? I crossed the water and came here."
"Why did you take even that trouble?"
"What do you mean? One cannot remain all one's life in the Latin
Quarter. The students make too much noise. But I do not move
about any longer. Waiter, a 'bock.' "
I now began to think that he was making fun of me, and I
"Come now, be frank. You have been the victim of some great
sorrow; despair in love, no doubt! It is easy to see that you are
a man whom misfortune has hit hard. What age are you?"
"I am thirty years of age, but I look to be forty-five at least."
I looked him straight in the face. His shrunken figure, badly
cared for, gave one the impression that he was an old man. On the
summit of his cranium, a few long hairs shot straight up from a
skin of doubtful cleanness. He had enormous eyelashes, a large
mustache, and a thick beard. Suddenly I had a kind of vision, I
know not why--the vision of a basin filled with noisome water,
the water which should have been applied to that poll. I said to
"Verily, you look to be more than that age. Of a certainty you
must have experienced some great disappointment."
He replied:
"I tell you that I have not. I am old because I never take air.
There is nothing that vitiates the life of a man more than the
atmosphere of a cafe." I could not believe him.
"You must surely have been married as well? One could not get as
baldheaded as you are without having been much in love."
He shook his head, sending down his back little hairs from the
"No, I have always been virtuous."
And raising his eyes toward the luster, which beat down on our
heads, he said:
"If I am baldheaded, it is the fault of the gas. It is the enemy
of hair. Waiter, a 'bock.' You must be thirsty also?"
"No, thank you. But you certainly interest me. When did you have
your first discouragement? Your life is not normal, is not
natural. There is something under it all."
"Yes, and it dates from my infancy. I received a heavy blow when
I was very young. It turned my life into darkness, which will
last to the end."
"How did it come about?"
"You wish to know about it? Well, then, listen. You recall, of
course, the castle in which I was brought up, seeing that you
used to visit it for five or six months during the vacations? You
remember that large, gray building in the middle of a great park,
and the long avenues of oaks, which opened toward the four
cardinal points! You remember my father and my mother, both of
whom were ceremonious, solemn, and severe.
"I worshiped my mother; I was suspicious of my father; but I
respected both, accustomed always as I was to see everyone bow
before them. In the country, they were Monsieur le Comte and
Madame la Comtesse; and our neighbors, the Tannemares, the
Ravelets, the Brennevilles, showed the utmost consideration for
"I was then thirteen years old, happy, satisfied with everything,
as one is at that age, and full of joy and vivacity.
"Now toward the end of September, a few days before entering the
Lycee, while I was enjoying myself in the mazes of the park,
climbing the trees and swinging on the branches, I saw crossing
an avenue my father and mother, who were walking together.
"I recall the thing as though it were yesterday. It was a very
windy day. The whole line of trees bent under the pressure of the
wind, moaned and seemed to utter cries--cries dull, yet deep--so
that the whole forest groaned under the gale.
"Evening had come on, and it was dark in the thickets. The
agitation of the wind and the branches excited me, made me skip
about like an idiot, and howl in imitation of the wolves.
"As soon as I perceived my parents, I crept furtively toward
them, under the branches, in order to surprise them, as though I
had been a veritable wolf. But suddenly seized with fear, I
stopped a few paces from them. My father, a prey to the most
violent passion, cried:
" 'Your mother is a fool; moreover, it is not your mother that is
the question, it is you. I tell you that I want money, and I will
make you sign this.'
"My mother responded in a firm voice:
" 'I will not sign it. It is Jean's fortune, I shall guard it for
him and I will not allow you to devour it with strange women, as
you have your own heritage.'
"Then my father, full of rage, wheeled round and seized his wife
by the throat, and began to slap her full in the face with the
disengaged hand.
"My mother's hat fell off, her hair became disheveled and fell
down her back: she essayed to parry the blows, but could not
escape from them. And my father, like a madman, banged and banged
at her. My mother rolled over on the ground, covering her face in
both her hands. Then he turned her over on her back in order to
batter her still more, pulling away the hands which were covering
her face.
"As for me, my friend, it seemed as though the world had come to
an end, that the eternal laws had changed. I experienced the
overwhelming dread that one has in presence of things
supernatural, in presence of irreparable disaster. My boyish head
whirled round and soared. I began to cry with all my might,
without knowing why, a prey to terror, to grief, to a dreadful
bewilderment. My father heard me, turned round, and, on seeing
me, made as though he would rush at me. I believed that he wanted
to kill me, and I fled like a hunted animal, running straight in
front of me through the woods.
"I ran perhaps for an hour, perhaps for two, I know not. Darkness
had set in, I tumbled over some thick herbs, exhausted, and I lay
there lost, devoured by terror, eaten up by a sorrow capable of
breaking forever the heart of a child. I became cold, I became
hungry. At length day broke. I dared neither get up, walk, return
home, nor save myself, fearing to encounter my father whom I did
not wish to see again.
"I should probably have died of misery and of hunger at the foot
of a tree if the guard had not discovered me and led me away by
"I found my parents wearing their ordinary aspect. My mother
alone spoke to me:
" 'How you have frightened me, you naughty boy; I have been the
whole night sleepless.'
"I did not answer, but began to weep. My father did not utter a
single word.
"Eight days later I entered the Lycee.
"Well, my friend, it was all over with me. I had witnessed the
other side of things, the bad side; I have not been able to
perceive the good side since that day. What things have passed in
my mind, what strange phenomena have warped my ideas, I do not
know. But I no longer have a taste for anything, a wish for
anything, a love for anybody, a desire for anything whatever, no
ambition, no hope. And I can always see my poor mother lying on
the ground, in the avenue, while my father was maltreating her.
My mother died a few years after; my father lives still. I have
not seen him since. Waiter, a 'bock.' "
A waiter brought him his "bock," which he swallowed at a gulp.
But, in taking up his pipe again, trembling as he was, he broke
it. Then he made a violent gesture:
"Zounds! This is indeed a grief, a real grief. I have had it for
a month, and it was coloring so beautifully!"
Then he went off through the vast saloon, which was now full of
smoke and of people drinking, calling out:
"Waiter, a 'bock'--and a new pipe."
Certainly, although he had been engaged in the most
extraordinary, most unlikely, most extravagant, and funniest
cases, and had won legal games without a trump in his
hand--although he had worked out the obscure law of divorce, as
if it had been a Californian gold mine, Maitre[1] Garrulier, the
celebrated, the only Garrulier, could not check a movement of
surprise, nor a disheartening shake of the head, nor a smile,
when the Countess de Baudemont explained her affairs to him for
the first time.
[1] Title given to advocates in France.
He had just opened his correspondence, and his slender hands, on
which he bestowed the greatest attention, buried themselves in a
heap of female letters, and one might have thought oneself in the
confessional of a fashionable preacher, so impregnated was the
atmosphere with delicate perfumes.
Immediately--even before she had said a word--with the sharp
glance of a practised man of the world, that look which made
beautiful Madame de Serpenoise say: "He strips your heart bare!"
the lawyer had classed her in the third category. Those who
suffer came into his first category, those who love, into the
second, and those who are bored, into the third--and she belonged
to the latter.
She was a pretty windmill, whose sails turned and flew round, and
fretted the blue sky with a delicious shiver of joy, as it were,
and had the brain of a bird, in which four correct and healthy
ideas cannot exist side by side, and in which all dreams and
every kind of folly are engulfed, like a great kaleidoscope.
Incapable of hurting a fly, emotional, charitable, with a feeling
of tenderness for the street girl who sells bunches of violets
for a penny, for a cab horse which a driver is ill-using, for a
melancholy pauper's funeral, when the body, without friends or
relations to follow it, is being conveyed to the common grave,
doing anything that might afford five minutes' amusement, not
caring if she made men miserable for the rest of their days, and
taking pleasure in kindling passions which consumed men's whole
being, looking upon life as too short to be anything else than
one uninterrupted round of gaiety and enjoyment, she thought that
people might find plenty of time for being serious and reasonable
in the evening of life, when they are at the bottom of the hill,
and their looking-glasses reveal a wrinkled face, surrounded with
white hair.
A thorough-bred Parisian, whom one would follow to the end of the
world, like a poodle; a woman whom one adores with the head, the
heart, and the senses until one is nearly driven mad, as soon as
one has inhaled the delicate perfume that emanates from her dress
and hair, or touched her skin, and heard her laugh; a woman for
whom one would fight a duel and risk one's life without a
thought; for whom a man would remove mountains, and sell his soul
to the devil several times over, if the devil were still in the
habit of frequenting the places of bad repute on this earth.
She had perhaps come to see this Garrulier, whom she had so often
heard mentioned at five o'clock teas, so as to be able to
describe him to her female friends subsequently in droll phrases,
imitating his gestures and the unctuous inflections of his voice,
in order, perhaps, to experience some new sensation, or, perhaps,
for the sake of dressing like a woman who was going to try for a
divorce; and, certainly, the whole effect was perfect. She wore a
splendid cloak embroidered with jet--which gave an almost serious
effect to her golden hair, to her small slightly turned-up nose,
with its quivering nostrils, and to her large eyes, full of
enigma and fun--over a dark stuff dress, which was fastened at
the neck by a sapphire and a diamond pin.
The barrister did not interrupt her, but allowed her to get
excited and to chatter; to enumerate her causes for complaint
against poor Count de Baudemont, who certainly had no suspicion
of his wife's escapade, and who would have been very much
surprised if anyone had told him of it at that moment, when he
was taking his fencing lesson at the club.
When she had quite finished, he said coolly, as if he were
throwing a pail of water on some burning straw:
"But, Madame, there is not the slightest pretext for a divorce in
anything that you have told me here. The judges would ask me
whether I took the Law Courts for a theater, and intended to make
fun of them."
And seeing how disheartened she was,--that she looked like a
child whose favorite toy had been broken, that she was so pretty
that he would have liked to kiss her hands in his devotion, and
as she seemed to be witty, and very amusing, and as, moreover, he
had no objection to such visits being prolonged, when papers had
to be looked over, while sitting close together,--Maitre
Garrulier appeared to be considering. Taking his chin in his
hand, he said:
"However, I will think it over; there is sure to be some dark
spot that can be made out worse. Write to me, and come and see me
In the course of her visits, that black spot had increased so
much and Madame de Baudemont had followed her lawyer's advice so
punctually, and had played on the various strings so skillfully
that a few months later, after a lawsuit, which is still spoken
of in the Courts of Justice, and during the course of which the
President had to take off his spectacles, and to use his
pocket-handkerchief noisily, the divorce was pronounced in favor
of the Countess Marie Anne Nicole Bournet de Baudemont, nee de
Tanchart de Peothus.
The Count, who was nonplussed at such an adventure turning out so
seriously, first of all flew into a terrible rage, rushed off to
the lawyer's office and threatened to cut off his knavish ears
for him. But when his access of fury was over, and he thought of
it, he shrugged his shoulders and said:
"All the better for her, if it amuses her!"
Then he bought Baron Silberstein's yacht, and with some friends,
got up a cruise to Ceylon and India.
Marie Anne began by triumphing, and felt as happy as a schoolgirl
going home for the holidays; she committed every possible folly,
and soon, tired, satiated, and disgusted, began to yawn, cried,
and found out that she had sacrificed her happiness, like a
millionaire who has gone mad and has cast his banknotes and
shares into the river, and that she was nothing more than a
disabled waif and stray. Consequently, she now married again, as
the solitude of her home made her morose from morning till night;
and then, besides, she found a woman requires a mansion when she
goes into society, to race meetings, or to the theater.
And so, while she became a marchioness, and pronounced her second
"Yes," before a very few friends, at the office of the mayor of
the English urban district, malicious people in the Faubourg were
making fun of the whole affair, and affirming this and that,
whether rightly or wrongly, and comparing the present husband to
the former one, even declaring that he had partially been the
cause of the former divorce. Meanwhile Monsieur de Baudemont was
wandering over the four quarters of the globe trying to overcome
his homesickness, and to deaden his longing for love, which had
taken possession of his heart and of his body, like a slow
He traveled through the most out-of-the-way places, and the most
lovely countries, and spent months and months at sea, and plunged
into every kind of dissipation and debauchery. But neither the
supple forms nor the luxurious gestures of the bayaderes, nor the
large passive eyes of the Creoles, nor flirtations with English
girls with hair the color of new cider, nor nights of waking
dreams, when he saw new constellations in the sky, nor dangers
during which a man thinks it is all over with him, and mutters a
few words of prayer in spite of himself, when the waves are high,
and the sky black, nothing was able to make him forget that
little Parisian woman who smelled so sweet that she might have
been taken for a bouquet of rare flowers; who was so coaxing, so
curious, so funny; who never had the same caprice, the same
smile, or the same look twice, and who, at bottom, was worth more
than many others, either saints or sinners.
He thought of her constantly, during long hours of sleeplessness.
He carried her portrait about with him in the breast pocket of
his pea-jacket--a charming portrait in which she was smiling, and
showing her white teeth between her half-open lips. Her gentle
eyes with their magnetic look had a happy, frank expression, and
from the mere arrangement of her hair, one could see that she was
fair among the fair.
He used to kiss that portrait of the woman who had been his wife
as if he wished to efface it, would look at it for hours, and
then throw himself down on the netting and sob like a child as he
looked at the infinite expanse before him, seeming to see their
lost happiness, the joys of their perished affections, and the
divine remembrance of their love, in the monotonous waste of
green waters. And he tried to accuse himself for all that had
occurred, and not to be angry with her, to think that his
grievances were imaginary, and to adore her in spite of
everything and always.
And so he roamed about the world, tossed to and fro, suffering
and hoping he knew not what. He ventured into the greatest
dangers, and sought for death just as a man seeks for his
mistress, and death passed close to him without touching him,
perhaps amused at his grief and misery.
For he was as wretched as a stone-breaker, as one of those poor
devils who work and nearly break their backs over the hard flints
the whole day long, under the scorching sun or the cold rain; and
Marie Anne herself was not happy, for she was pining for the past
and remembered their former love.
At last, however, he returned to France, changed, tanned by
exposure, sun, and rain, and transformed as if by some witch's
Nobody would have recognized the elegant and effeminate clubman,
in this corsair with broad shoulders, a skin the color of tan,
with very red lips, who rolled a little in his walk; who seemed
to be stifled in his black dress-coat, but who still retained the
distinguished manners and bearing of a nobleman of the last
century, one of those who, when he was ruined, fitted out a
privateer, and fell upon the English wherever he met them, from
St. Malo to Calcutta. And wherever he showed himself his friends
"Why! Is that you? I should never have known you again!"
He was very nearly starting off again immediately; he even
telegraphed orders to Havre to get the steam-yacht ready for sea
directly, when he heard that Marie Anne had married again.
He saw her in the distance, at the Theatre Francais one Tuesday,
and when he noticed how pretty, how fair, how desirable she
was,--looking so melancholy, with all the appearance of an
unhappy soul that regrets something,--his determination grew
weaker, and he delayed his departure from week to week, and
waited, without knowing why, until, at last, worn out with the
struggle, watching her wherever she went, more in love with her
than he had ever been before, he wrote her long, mad, ardent
letters in which his passion overflowed like a stream of lava.
He altered his handwriting, as he remembered her restless brain,
and her many whims. He sent her the flowers which he knew she
liked best, and told her that she was his life, that he was dying
of waiting for her, of longing for her, for her his idol.
At last, very much puzzled and surprised, guessing--who
knows?--from the instinctive beating of her heart, and her
general emotion, that it must be he this time, he whose soul she
had tortured with such cold cruelty, and knowing that she could
make amends for the past and bring back their former love, she
replied to him, and granted him the meeting that he asked for.
She fell into his arms, and they both sobbed with joy and
ecstasy. Their kisses were those which lips give only when they
have lost each other and found each other again at last, when
they meet and exhaust themselves in each other's looks, thirsting
for tenderness, love, and enjoyment.
* * * * * * *
Last week Count de Baudemont carried off Marie Anne quietly and
coolly, just like one resumes possession of one's house on
returning from a journey, and drives out the intruders. And when
Maitre Garrulier was told of this unheard of scandal, he rubbed
his hands--the long, delicate hands of a sensual prelate--and
"That is absolutely logical, and I should like to be in their
"I can tell you a terrible story about the Franco-Prussian war,"
Monsieur d'Endolin said to some friends assembled in the
smoking-room of Baron de Ravot's chateau. "You know my house in
the Faubourg de Cormeil, I was living there when the Prussians
came, and I had for a neighbor a kind of mad woman, who had lost
her senses in consequence of a series of misfortunes. At the age
of seven and twenty she had lost her father, her husband, and her
newly born child, all in the space of a month.
"When death has once entered into a house, it almost invariably
returns immediately, as if it knew the way, and the young woman,
overwhelmed with grief, took to her bed and was delirious for six
weeks. Then a species of calm lassitude succeeded that violent
crisis, and she remained motionless, eating next to nothing, and
only moving her eyes. Every time they tried to make her get up,
she screamed as if they were about to kill her, and so they ended
by leaving her continually in bed, and only taking her out to
wash her, to change her linen, and to turn her mattress.
"An old servant remained with her, to give her something to
drink, or a little cold meat, from time to time. What passed in
that despairing mind? No one ever knew, for she did not speak at
all now. Was she thinking of the dead? Was she dreaming sadly,
without any precise recollection of anything that had happened?
Or was her memory as stagnant as water without any current? But
however this may have been, for fifteen years she remained thus
inert and secluded.
"The war broke out, and in the beginning of December the Germans
came to Cormeil. I can remember it as if it were but yesterday.
It was freezing hard enough to split the stones, and I myself was
lying back in an armchair, being unable to move on account of the
gout, when I heard their heavy and regular tread, and could see
them pass from my window.
"They defiled past interminably, with that peculiar motion of a
puppet on wires, which belongs to them. Then the officers
billeted their men on the inhabitants, and I had seventeen of
them. My neighbor, the crazy woman, had a dozen, one of whom was
the Commandant, a regular violent, surly swashbuckler.
"During the first few days, everything went on as usual. The
officers next door had been told that the lady was ill, and they
did not trouble themselves about that in the least, but soon that
woman whom they never saw irritated them. They asked what
her illness was, and were told that she had been in bed for
fifteen years, in consequence of terrible grief. No doubt they
did not believe it, and thought that the poor mad creature would
not leave her bed out of pride, so that she might not come near
the Prussians, or speak to them or even see them.
"The Commandant insisted upon her receiving him. He was shown
into the room and said to her roughly: 'I must beg you to get up,
Madame, and to come downstairs so that we may all see you.' But
she merely turned her vague eyes on him, without replying, and so
he continued: 'I do not intend to tolerate any insolence, and if
you do not get up of your own accord, I can easily find means to
make you walk without any assistance.'
"But she did not give any signs of having heard him, and remained
quite motionless. Then he got furious, taking that calm silence
for a mark of supreme contempt; so he added: 'If you do not come
downstairs to-morrow--' And then he left the room.
"The next day the terrified old servant wished to dress her, but
the mad woman began to scream violently, and resisted with all
her might. The officer ran upstairs quickly, and the servant
threw herself at his feet and cried: 'She will not come down,
Monsieur, she will not. Forgive her, for she is so unhappy.'
"The soldier was embarrassed, as in spite of his anger, he did
not venture to order his soldiers to drag her out. But suddenly
he began to laugh, and gave some orders in German, and soon a
party of soldiers was seen coming out supporting a mattress as if
they were carrying a wounded man. On that bed, which had not been
unmade, the mad woman, who was still silent, was lying quite
quietly, for she was quite indifferent to anything that went on,
as long as they let her lie. Behind her, a soldier was carrying a
parcel of feminine attire, and the officer said, rubbing his
hands: 'We will just see whether you cannot dress yourself alone,
and take a little walk.'
"And then the procession went off in the direction of the forest
of Imauville; in two hours the soldiers came back alone, and
nothing more was seen of the mad woman. What had they done with
her? Where had they taken her to? No one knew.
"The snow was falling day and night, and enveloped the plain and
the woods in a shroud of frozen foam, and the wolves came and
howled at our very doors.
"The thought of that poor lost woman haunted me, and I made
several applications to the Prussian authorities in order to
obtain some information, and was nearly shot for doing so. When
spring returned, the army of occupation withdrew, but my
neighbor's house remained closed, and the grass grew thick in the
garden walks. The old servant had died during the winter, and
nobody troubled any longer about the occurrence; I alone thought
about it constantly. What had they done with the woman? Had she
escaped through the forest? Had somebody found her, and taken her
to a hospital, without being able to obtain any information from
her? Nothing happened to relieve my doubts; but by degrees, time
assuaged my fears.
"Well, in the following autumn the woodcock were very plentiful,
and as my gout had left me for a time, I dragged myself as far as
the forest. I had already killed four or five of the long-billed
birds, when I knocked over one which fell into a ditch full of
branches, and I was obliged to get into it, in order to pick it
up, and I found that it had fallen close to a dead, human body.
Immediately the recollection of the mad woman struck me like a
blow in the chest. Many other people had perhaps died in the wood
during that disastrous year, but though I do not know why, I was
sure, sure, I tell you, that I should see the head of that
wretched maniac.
"And suddenly I understood, I guessed everything. They had
abandoned her on that mattress in the cold, deserted wood; and,
faithful to her fixed idea, she had allowed herself to perish
under that thick and light counterpane of snow, without moving
either arms or legs.
"Then the wolves had devoured her, and the birds had built their
nests with the wool from her torn bed, and I took charge of her
bones. I only pray that our sons may never see any wars again."
In the following reminiscences will frequently be mentioned a
lady who played a great part in the annals of the police from
1848 to 1866. We will call her "Wanda von Chabert." Born in
Galicia of German parents, and carefully brought up in every way,
when only sixteen she married, from love, a rich and handsome
officer of noble birth. The young couple, however, lived beyond
their means, and when the husband died suddenly, two years after
they were married, she was left anything but well off.
As Wanda had grown accustomed to luxury and amusement, a quiet
life in her parents' house did not suit her any longer. Even
while she was still in mourning for her husband, she allowed a
Hungarian magnate to make love to her. She went off with him at a
venture, and continued the same extravagant life which she had
led when her husband was alive, of her own volition. At the end
of two years, however, her lover left her in a town in North
Italy, almost without means. She was thinking of going on the
stage, when chance provided her with another resource, which
enabled her to reassert her position in society. She became a
secret police agent, and soon was one of their most valuable
members. In addition to the proverbial charm and wit of a Polish
woman, she also possessed high linguistic attainments, and spoke
Polish, Russian, French, German, English, and Italian, with
almost equal fluency and correctness. Then she had that
encyclopedic polish which impresses people much more than the
most profound learning of the specialist, She was very attractive
in appearance, and she knew how to set off her good looks by all
the arts of dress and coquetry.
In addition to this, she was a woman of the world in the widest
sense of the term; pleasure-loving, faithless, unstable, and
therefore never in any danger of really losing her heart, and
consequently her head. She used to change the place of her abode,
according to what she had to do. Sometimes she lived in Paris
among the Polish emigrants, in order to find out what they were
doing, and maintained intimate relations with the Tuileries and
the Palais Royal at the same time; sometimes she went to London
for a short time, or hurried off to Italy to watch the Hungarian
exiles, only to reappear suddenly in Switzerland, or at one of
the fashionable German watering-places.
In revolutionary circles, she was looked upon as an active member
of the great League of Freedom, and diplomatists regarded her as
an influential friend of Napoleon III.
She knew everyone, but especially those men whose names were to
be met with every day in the journals, and she counted Victor
Emmanuel, Rouher, Gladstone, and Gortschakoff among her friends
as well as Mazzini, Kossuth, Garibaldi, Mieroslawsky, and
In the spring of 185- she was at Vevey on the lovely lake of
Geneva, and went into raptures when talking to an old German
diplomatist about the beauties of nature, and about Calame,
Stifter, and Turgenev, whose "Diary of a Hunter," had just become
fashionable. One day a man appeared at the table d'hote, who
excited unusual attention, and hers especially, so that there was
nothing strange in her asking the proprietor of the hotel what
his name was. She was told that he was a wealthy Brazilian, and
that his name was Don Escovedo.
Whether it was an accident, or whether he responded to the
interest which the young woman felt for him, at any rate she
constantly met him whereever she went, whether taking a walk, or
on the lake or looking at the newspapers in the reading-room. At
last she was obliged to confess to herself that he was the
handsomest man she had ever seen. Tall slim, and yet muscular,
the young, beardless Brazilian had a head which any woman might
envy, features not only beautiful and noble, but also extremely
delicate, dark eyes which possessed a wonderful charm, and thick,
auburn, curly hair, which completed the attractiveness and the
strangeness of his appearance.
They soon became acquainted, through a Prussian officer whom the
Brazilian had asked for an introduction to the beautiful Polish
lady--for Frau von Chabert was taken for one in Vevey. She, cold
and designing as she was, blushed slightly when he stood before
her for the first time; and when he gave her his arm, he could
feel her hand tremble slightly on it. The same evening they went
out riding together, the next he was lying at her feet, and on
the third she was his. For four weeks the lovely Wanda and the
Brazilian lived together as if they had been in Paradise, but he
could not deceive her searching eyes any longer.
Her sharp and practiced eye had already discovered in him that
indefinable something which makes a man appear a suspicious
character. Any other woman would have been pained and horrified
at such a discovery, but she found the strange consolation in it
that her handsome adorer promised also to become a very
interesting object for pursuit, and so she began systematically
to watch the man who lay unsuspectingly at her feet.
She soon found out that he was no conspirator; but she asked
herself in vain whether she was to look for a common swindler, an
impudent adventurer, or perhaps even a criminal in him. The day
that she had foreseen soon came; the Brazilian's banker
"unaccountably" had omitted to send him any money, and so he
borrowed some of her. "So he is a male courtesan," she said to
herself. The handsome man soon required money again, and she lent
it to him again. Then at last he left suddenly and nobody knew
where he had gone to; only this much, that he had left Vevey as
the companion of an old but wealthy Wallachian lady. So this time
clever Wanda was duped.
A year afterward she met the Brazilian unexpectedly at Lucca,
with an insipid-looking, light-haired, thin Englishwoman on his
arm. Wanda stood still and looked at him steadily, but he glanced
at her quite indifferently; he did not choose to know her again.
The next morning, however, his valet brought her a letter from
him, which contained the amount of his debt in Italian
hundred-lire notes, accompanied by a very cool excuse. Wanda was
satisfied, but she wished to find out who the lady was, in whose
company she constantly saw Don Escovedo.
"Don Escovedo."
An Austrian count, who had a loud and silly laugh, said:
"Who has saddled you with that yarn? The lady is Lady
Nitingsdale, and his name is Romanesco."
"Yes, he is a rich Boyar from Moldavia, where he has extensive
Romanesco ran a faro bank in his apartments, and certainly
cheated, for he nearly always won; it was not long, therefore,
before other people in good society at Lucca shared Madame von
Chabert's suspicions, and, consequently, Romanesco thought it
advisable to vanish as suddenly from Lucca as Escovedo had done
from Vevey, and without leaving any more traces behind him.
Some time afterward, Madame von Chabert was on the Island of
Heligoland, for the sea-bathing; and one day she saw
Escovedo-Romanesco sitting opposite to her at the table d'hote,
in very animated conversation with a Russian lady; only his hair
had turned black since she had seen him last. Evidently his light
hair had become too compromising for him.
"The sea-water seems to have a very remarkable effect upon your
hair," Wanda said to him spitefully, in a whisper.
"Do you think so?" he replied, condescendingly.
"I fancy that at one time your hair was fair."
"You are mistaking me for somebody else," the Brazilian replied,
"I am not."
"For whom do you take me, pray?" he said with an insolent smile.
"For Don Escovedo."
"I am Count Dembizki from Valkynia," the former Brazilian said
with a bow; "perhaps you would like to see my passport."
"Well, perhaps--"
And he had the impudence to show her his false passport.
A year afterward Wanda met Count Dembizki in Baden, near Vienna.
His hair was still black, but he had a magnificent, full, black
beard; he had become a Greek prince, and his name was Anastasio
Maurokordatos. She met him once in one of the side walks in the
park, where he could not avoid her. "If it goes on like this,"
she called out to him in a mocking voice, "the next time I see
you, you will be king, of some negro tribe or other."
That time, however, the Brazilian did not deny his identity; on
the contrary, he surrendered at discretion, and implored her not
to betray him. As she was not revengeful she pardoned him, after
enjoying his terror for a time, and promised him that she would
hold her tongue, as long as he did nothing contrary to the laws.
"First of all, I must beg you not to gamble."
"You have only to command; and we do not know each other in the
"I must certainly insist on that," she said maliciously.
The "Exotic Prince" had, however, made a conquest of the charming
daughter of a wealthy Austrian count, and had cut out an
excellent young officer, who was wooing her. The latter, in his
despair, began to make love to Frau von Chabert, and at last told
her he loved her. But she only laughed at him.
"You are very cruel," he stammered in confusion.
"I? What are you thinking about?" Wanda replied, still smiling;
"all I mean is that you have directed your love to the wrong
address, for Countess--"
"Do not speak of her; she is engaged to another man."
"As long as I choose to permit it," she said; "but what will you
do if I bring her back to your arms? Will you still call me
"Can you do this?" the young officer asked, in great excitement.
"Well, supposing I can do it, what shall I be then?"
"An angel, whom I shall thank on my knees."
A few days later, the rivals met at a coffee-house; the Greek
prince began to lie and boast, and the Austrian officer gave him
the lie direct. In consequence, it was arranged that they should
fight a duel with pistols next morning in a wood close to Baden.
But as the officer was leaving the house with his seconds the
next morning, a Police Commissary came up to him and begged him
not to trouble himself any further about the matter, but another
time to be more careful before accepting a challenge.
"What does it mean?" the officer asked, in some surprise.
"It means that this Maurokordatos is a dangerous swindler and
adventurer, whom we have just taken into custody."
"He is not a prince?"
"No; a circus rider."
An hour later, the officer received a letter from the charming
Countess, in which she humbly begged for pardon. The happy lover
set off to go and see her immediately, but on the way a sudden
thought struck him, and so he turned back in order to thank
beautiful Wanda, as he had promised, on his knees.
M. Lantin had met the young woman at a soiree, at the home of the
assistant chief of his bureau, and at first sight had fallen
madly in love with her.
She was the daughter of a country physician who had died some
months previously. She had come to live in Paris, with her
mother, who visited much among her acquaintances, in the hope of
making a favorable marriage for her daughter. They were poor and
honest, quiet and unaffected.
The young girl was a perfect type of the virtuous woman whom
every sensible young man dreams of one day winning for life. Her
simple beauty had the charm of angelic modesty, and the
imperceptible smile which constantly hovered about her lips
seemed to be the reflection of a pure and lovely soul. Her
praises resounded on every side. People were never tired of
saying: "Happy the man who wins her love! He could not find a
better wife."
Now M. Lantin enjoyed a snug little income of $700, and, thinking
he could safely assume the responsibilities of matrimony,
proposed to this model young girl and was accepted.
He was unspeakably happy with her; she governed his household so
cleverly and economically that they seemed to live in luxury. She
lavished the most delicate attentions on her husband, coaxed and
fondled him, and the charm of her presence was so great that six
years after their marriage M. Lantin discovered that he loved his
wife even more than during the first days of their honeymoon.
He only felt inclined to blame her for two things: her love of
the theater, and a taste for false jewelry. Her friends (she was
acquainted with some officers' wives) frequently procured for her
a box at the theater, often for the first representations of the
new plays; and her husband was obliged to accompany her, whether
he willed or not, to these amusements, though they bored him
excessively after a day's labor at the office.
After a time, M. Lantin begged his wife to get some lady of her
acquaintance to accompany her. She was at first opposed to such
an arrangement; but, after much persuasion on his part, she
finally consented--to the infinite delight of her husband.
Now, with her love for the theater came also the desire to adorn
her person. True, her costumes remained as before, simple, and in
the most correct taste; but she soon began to ornament her ears
with huge rhinestones which glittered and sparkled like real
diamonds. Around her neck she wore strings of false pearls, and
on her arms bracelets of imitation gold.
Her husband frequently remonstrated with her, saying:
"My dear, as you cannot afford to buy real diamonds, you ought to
appear adorned with your beauty and modesty alone, which are the
rarest ornaments of your sex."
But she would smile sweetly, and say:
"What can I do? I am so fond of jewelry. It is my only weakness.
We cannot change our natures."
Then she would roll the pearl necklaces around her fingers, and
hold up the bright gems for her husband's admiration, gently
coaxing him:
"Look! are they not lovely? One would swear they were real."
M. Lantin would then answer, smilingly:
"You have Bohemian tastes, my dear."
Often of an evening, when they were enjoying a tete-a-tete by the
fireside, she would place on the tea table the leather box
containing the "trash," as M. Lantin called it. She would examine
the false gems with a passionate attention as though they were in
some way connected with a deep and secret joy; and she often
insisted on passing a necklace around her husband's neck, and
laughing heartily would exclaim: "How droll you look!" Then she
would throw herself into his arms and kiss him affectionately.
One evening in winter she attended the opera, and on her return
was chilled through and through. The next morning she coughed,
and eight days later she died of inflammation of the lungs.
M. Lantin's despair was so great that his hair became white in
one month. He wept unceasingly; his heart was torn with grief,
and his mind was haunted by the remembrance, the smile, the
voice--by every charm of his beautiful, dead wife.
Time, the healer, did not assuage his grief. Often during office
hours, while his colleagues were discussing the topics of the
day, his eyes would suddenly fill with tears, and he would give
vent to his grief in heartrending sobs. Everything in his wife's
room remained as before her decease; and here he was wont to
seclude himself daily and think of her who had been his
treasure--the joy of his existence.
But life soon became a struggle. His income, which in the hands
of his wife had covered all household expenses, was now no longer
sufficient for his own immediate wants; and he wondered how she
could have managed to buy such excellent wines, and such rare
delicacies, things which he could no longer procure with his
modest resources.
He incurred some debts and was soon reduced to absolute poverty.
One morning, finding himself without a cent in his pocket, he
resolved to sell something, and, immediately, the thought
occurred to him of disposing of his wife's paste jewels. He
cherished in his heart a sort of rancor against the false gems.
They had always irritated him in the past, and the very sight of
them spoiled somewhat the memory of his lost darling.
To the last days of her life, she had continued to make
purchases; bringing home new gems almost every evening. He
decided to sell the heavy necklace which she seemed to prefer,
and which, he thought, ought to be worth about six or seven
francs; for although paste it was, nevertheless, of very fine
He put it in his pocket and started out in search of a jeweler's
shop. He entered the first one he saw--feeling a little ashamed
to expose his misery, and also to offer such a worthless article
for sale.
"Sir," said he to the merchant, "I would like to know what this
is worth."
The man took the necklace, examined it, called his clerk and made
some remarks in an undertone; then he put the ornament back on
the counter, and looked at it from a distance to judge of the
M. Lantin was annoyed by all this detail and was on the point of
saying: "Oh! I know well enough it is not worth anything," when
the jeweler said: "Sir, that necklace is worth from twelve to
fifteen thousand francs; but I could not buy it unless you tell
me now whence it comes."
The widower opened his eyes wide and remained gaping, not
comprehending the merchant's meaning. Finally he stammered:. "You
say--are you sure?" The other replied dryly: "You can search
elsewhere and see if anyone will offer you more. I consider it
worth fifteen thousand at the most. Come back here if you cannot
do better."
M. Lantin, beside himself with astonishment, took up the necklace
and left the store. He wished time for reflection.
Once outside, he felt inclined to laugh, and said to himself:
"The fool! Had I only taken him at his word! That jeweler cannot
distinguish real diamonds from paste."
A few minutes after, he entered another store in the Rue de la
Paix. As soon as the proprietor glanced at the necklace, he cried
"Ah, parbleu! I know it well; it was bought here."
M. Lantin was disturbed, and asked:
"How much is it worth?"
"Well, I sold it for twenty thousand francs. I am willing to take
it back for eighteen thousand when you inform me, according to
our legal formality, how it comes to be in your possession."
This time M. Lantin was dumfounded. He replied:
"But--but--examine it well. Until this moment I was under the
impression that it was paste."
Said the jeweler:
"What is your name, sir?"
"Lantin--I am in the employ of the Minister of the Interior. I
live at No. 16 Rue des Martyrs."
The merchant looked through his books, found the entry, and said:
"That necklace was sent to Mme. Lantin's address, 16 Rue des
Martyrs, July 20, 1876."
The two men looked into each other's eyes--the widower speechless
with astonishment, the jeweler scenting a thief. The latter broke
the silence by saying:
"Will you leave this necklace here for twenty-four hours? I will
give you a receipt."
"Certainly," answered M. Lantin, hastily. Then, putting the
ticket in his pocket, he left the store.
He wandered aimlessly through the streets, his mind in a state of
dreadful confusion. He tried to reason, to understand. His wife
could not afford to purchase such a costly ornament. Certainly
not. But, then, it must have been a present!--a present!--a
present from whom? Why was it given her?
He stopped and remained standing in the middle of the street. A
horrible doubt entered his mind--she? Then all the other gems
must have been presents, too! The earth seemed to tremble beneath
him,--the tree before him was falling--throwing up his arms, he
fell to the ground, unconscious. He recovered his senses in a
pharmacy into which the passers-by had taken him, and was then
taken to his home. When he arrived he shut himself up in his room
and wept until nightfall. Finally, overcome with fatigue, he
threw himself on the bed, where he passed an uneasy, restless
The following morning he arose and prepared to go to the office.
It was hard to work after such a, shock. He sent a letter to his
employer requesting to be excused. Then he remembered that he had
to return to the jeweler's. He did not like the idea; but he
could not leave the necklace with that man. So he dressed and
went out.
It was a lovely day; a clear blue sky smiled on the busy city
below, and men of leisure were strolling about with their hands
in their pockets.
Observing them, M. Lantin said to himself: "The rich, indeed, are
happy. With money it is possible to forget even the deepest
sorrow. One can go where one pleases, and in travel find that
distraction which is the surest cure for grief. Oh! if I were
only rich!"
He began to feel hungry, but his pocket was empty. He again
remembered the necklace. Eighteen thousand francs! Eighteen
thousand francs! What a sum!
He soon arrived in the Rue de la Paix, opposite the jeweler's.
Eighteen thousand francs! Twenty times he resolved to go in, but
shame kept him back. He was hungry, however,--very hungry, and
had not a cent in his pocket. He decided quickly, ran across the
street in order not to have time for reflection, and entered the
The proprietor immediately came forward, and politely offered him
a chair; the clerks glanced at him knowingly.
"I have made inquiries, M. Lantin," said the jeweler, "and if you
are still resolved to dispose of the gems, I am ready to pay you
the price I offered."
"Certainly, sir," stammered M. Lantin.
Whereupon the proprietor took from a drawer eighteen large bills,
counted and handed them to M. Lantin, who signed a receipt and
with a trembling hand put the money into his pocket.
As he was about to leave the store, he turned toward the
merchant, who still wore the same knowing smile, and lowering his
eyes, said:
"I have--I have other gems which I have received from the same
source. Will you buy them also?"
The merchant bowed: "Certainly, sir."
M. Lantin said gravely: "I will bring them to you." An hour later
he returned with the gems.
The large diamond earrings were worth twenty thousand francs; the
bracelets thirty-five thousand; the rings, sixteen thousand; a
set of emeralds and sapphires, fourteen thousand; a gold chain
with solitaire pendant, forty thousand--making the sum of one
hundred and forty-three thousand francs.
The jeweler remarked, jokingly:
"There was a person who invested all her earnings in precious
M. Lantin replied, seriously:
"It is only another way of investing one's money."
That day he lunched at Voisin's and drank wine worth twenty
francs a bottle. Then he hired a carriage and made a tour of the
Bois, and as he scanned the various turn-outs with a contemptuous
air he could hardly refrain from crying out to the occupants:
"I, too, am rich!--I am worth two hundred thousand francs."
Suddenly he thought of his employer. He drove up to the office,
and entered gaily, saying:
"Sir, I have come to resign my position. I have just inherited
three hundred thousand francs."
He shook hands with his former colleagues and confided to them
some of his projects for the future; then he went off to dine at
the Cafe Anglais.
He seated himself beside a gentleman of aristocratic bearing, and
during the meal informed the latter confidentially that he had
just inherited a fortune of four hundred thousand francs.
For the first time in his life he was not bored at the theater,
and spent the remainder of the night in a gay frolic.
Six months afterward he married again. His second wife was a very
virtuous woman, with a violent temper. She caused him much
They were discussing dynamite, the social revolution, Nihilism,
and even those who cared least about politics had something to
say. Some were alarmed, others philosophized, and others again
tried to smile.
"Bah!" N----said, "when we are all blown up, we shall see what it
is like. Perhaps, after all, it may be an amusing sensation,
provided one goes high enough."
"But we shall not be blown up at all," G----, the optimist, said,
interrupting him. "It is all a romance."
"You are mistaken, my dear fellow," Jules de C----replied. "It is
like a romance, but with this confounded Nihilism, everything is
the same; it would be a mistake to trust to it. For instance, the
manner in which I made Bakounine's acquaintance--"
They knew that he was a good narrator, and it was no secret that
his life had been an adventurous one, so they drew closer to him,
and listened intently. This is what he told them:
"I met Countess Nioska W----, that strange woman who was usually
called Countess Satan, in Naples. I immediately attached myself
to her out of curiosity, and soon fell in love with her. Not that
she was beautiful, for she was a Russian with the bad
characteristics of the Russian type. She was thin and squat at
the same time, while her face was sallow and puffy, with high
cheek-bones and a Cossack's nose. But her conversation bewitched
"She was many-sided, learned, a philosopher, scientifically
depraved, satanic. Perhaps the word is rather pretentious, but it
exactly expresses what I want to say, for in other words she
loved evil for the sake of evil. She rejoiced in other people's
vices; she liked to sow the seeds of evil, in order to see it
flourish. And that, too, by fraud on an enormous scale. It was
not enough for her to corrupt individuals, she only did that to
keep her hand in; what she wished to do was to corrupt the
masses. By slightly altering it after her own fashion, she might
have used Caligula's famous wish. She also might have wished that
the whole human race had but one head; not in order that she
might cut it off, but that she might make the philosophy of
Nihilism flourish there.
"What a temptation to become the lord and master of such a
monster! I allowed myself to be tempted, and undertook the
adventure. The means came unsought for by me, and the only thing
that I had to do was to show myself more perverted and satanic
than she was herself. And so I played the devil.
" 'Yes,' I said, 'we writers are the best workmen for doing evil,
as our books may be bottles of poison. The so-called men of
action only turn the handle of the mitrailleuse which we have
loaded. Formulas will destroy the world, and it is we who invent
" 'That is true,' said she, 'and that is what is wanting in
Bakounine, I am sorry to say.'
"That name was constantly in her mouth. So I asked her for
details, which she gave me, as she knew the man intimately.
" 'After all,' she said, with a contemptuous grimace, 'he is only
a kind of Garibaldi.'
"She told me, although she made fun of him as she did so, about
that 'Odyssey' of the barricades and of the hulks which made up
Bakounine's history, and which is, nevertheless, the exact truth;
about his adventures as chief of the insurgents at Prague and
then at Dresden; of his first death sentence; about his
imprisonment at Olmutz, in the casemates of the fortress of St.
Peter and St. Paul, and in a subterranean dungeon at
Schusselburg; about his exile to Siberia and his wonderful escape
down the river Amour, on a Japanese coasting-vessel, and about
his final arrival, by way of Yokohama and San Francisco, in London,
whence he was directing all the operations of Nihilism.
" 'You see,' she said, 'he is a thorough adventurer, and now all
his adventures are over. He got married at Tobolsk and became a
mere respectable, middle-class man. And then he has no individual
ideas. Herzen, the pamphleteer of "Kolokol," inspired him with
the only fertile phrase that he ever uttered: "Land and Liberty!"
But that is not yet the definite formula, the general
formula--what I may call the dynamite formula. At best, Bakounine
would only become an incendiary, and burn down cities. And what
is that, I ask you? Bah! A second-hand Rostoptchin! He wants a
prompter, and I offered to become his, but he did not take me
* * * * * * *
"It would be useless to enter into all the psychological details
which marked the course of my passion for the Countess, and to
explain to you more fully the curious and daily growing
attraction which she had for me. It was getting exasperating, and
the more so as she resisted me as stoutly as the shyest of
innocents could have done. At the end of a month of mad Satanism,
I saw what her game was. Do you know what she intended? She meant
to make me Bakounine's prompter, or, at any rate, that is what
she said. But no doubt she reserved the right to herself--at
least that is how I understood her--to prompt the prompter, and
my passion for her, which she purposely left unsatisfied, assured
her that absolute power over me.
"All this may appear madness to you, but it is, nevertheless, the
exact truth. In short, one morning she bluntly made the offer:
" 'Become Bakounine's soul, and you shall possess me.'
"Of course I accepted, for it was too fantastically strange to
refuse. Don't you think so? What an adventure! What luck! A
number of letters between the Countess and Bakounine prepared the
way; I was introduced to him at his house, and they discussed me
there. I became a sort of Western prophet, a mystic charmer who
was ready to nihilize the Latin races, the Saint Paul of the new
religion of nothingness, and at last a day was fixed for us to
meet in London. He lived in a small, one-storied house in
Pimlico, with a tiny garden in front, and nothing noticeable
about it.
"We were first of all shown into the commonplace parlor of all
English homes, and then upstairs. The room where the Countess and
I were left was small, and very badly furnished. It had a square
table with writing materials on it, in the center of the room.
This was his sanctuary. The deity soon appeared, and I saw him in
flesh and bone--especially in flesh, for he was enormously stout.
His broad face, with prominent cheek-bones, in spite of fat; a
nose like a double funnel; and small, sharp eyes, which had a
magnetic lock, proclaimed the Tartar, the old Turanian blood
which produced the Attilas, the Genghis-Khans, the Tamerlanes.
The obesity which is characteristic of nomad races, who are
always on horseback or driving, added to his Asiatic look. The
man was certainly not a European, a slave, a descendant of the
deistic Aryans, but a scion of the atheistic hordes who had
several times already almost overrun Europe, and who, instead of
ideas of progress, have Nihilism buried in their hearts.
"I was astonished, for I had not expected that the majesty of a
whole race could be thus revived in a man, and my stupefaction
increased after an hour's conversation. I could quite understand
why such a Colossus had not wished for the Countess as his
Egeria; she was a silly child to have dreamed of acting such a
part to such a thinker. She had not felt the profoundness of that
horrible, philosophy which was hidden under his material
activity, nor had she seen the prophet under this hero of the
barricades. Perhaps he had not thought it advisable to reveal
himself to her; but he revealed himself to me, and inspired me
with terror.
"A prophet? Oh! yes. He thought himself an Attila, and foresaw
the consequences of his revolution; it was not only from instinct
but also from theory that he urged a nation on to Nihilism. The
phrase is not his, but Turgenieff's, I believe, but the idea
certainly belonged to him. He got his programme of agricultural
communism from Herzen, and his destructive radicalism from
Pougatcheff, but he did not stop there. I mean that he went on to
evil for the sake of evil. Herzen wished for the happiness of the
Slav peasant; Pougatcheff wanted to be elected Emperor, but all
that Bakounine wanted was to overthrow the actual order of
things, no matter by what means, and to replace social
concentration by a universal upheaval.
"It was the dream of a Tartar; it was true Nihilism pushed to
extreme and practical conclusions. It was, in a word, the applied
philosophy of chance, the indeterminate end of anarchy. Monstrous
it may be, but grand in its monstrosity!
"And you must note that the typical man of action so despised by
the Countess was, in Bakounine, the gigantic dreamer whom I have
just shown to you. His dream did not remain a dream, but began to
be realized. It was by the care of Bakounine that the Nihilistic
party became an entity; a party in which there is a little of
everything, you know, but on the whole, a formidable party, the
advanced guard of which is true Nihilism, whose object is nothing
less than to destroy the Western world, to see it blossom from
under the ruins of a general dispersion, the last conception of
modern Tartarism.
"I never saw Bakounine again, for the Countess's conquest would
have been too dearly bought by any attempt to act a comedy with
this 'Old-Man-of-the-Mountain.' And besides that, after this
visit, poor Countess Satan appeared to me quite silly. Her famous
Satanism was nothing but the flicker of a spirit-lamp, after the
general conflagration of which the other had dreamed. She had
certainly shown herself very silly, when she could not understand
that prodigious monster. And as she had seduced me only by her
intellect and her perversity, I was disgusted as soon as she laid
aside that mask. I left her without telling her of my intention,
and never saw her again, either.
"No doubt they both took me for a spy from the 'Third Section of
the Imperial Chancellery.' In that case, they must have thought
me very clever to have escaped discovery, and all I have to do is
to look out, lest any affiliated members of their society
recognize me!"
Then he smiled and, turning to the waiter who had just come in,
said: "Open another bottle of champagne, and make the cork pop!
It will, at any rate, remind us of the day when we ourselves
shall be blown up with dynamite."
"upon my word," said Colonel Laporte, "I am old and gouty, my
legs are as stiff as two sticks, and yet if a pretty woman were
to tell me to go through the eye of a needle, I believe I should
take a jump at it, like a clown through a hoop. I shall die like
that; it is in the blood. I am an old beau, one of the old
regime, and the sight of a woman, a pretty woman, stirs me to the
tips of my toes. There!
"And then we are all very much alike in France; we remain
cavaliers, cavaliers of love and fortune, since God has been
abolished, whose bodyguard we really were. But nobody will ever
get the woman out of our hearts; there she is, and there she will
remain; we love her, and shall continue to love her, and to
commit all kinds of frolics on her account, so long as there is a
France on the map of Europe. And even if France were to be wiped
off the map, there would always be Frenchmen left.
"When I am in the presence of a woman, of a pretty woman, I feel
capable of anything. By Jove, when I feel her looks penetrating
me, those confounded looks which set your blood on fire, I could
do anything: fight a duel, have a row, smash the furniture,
anything just to show that I am the strongest, the bravest, the
most daring, and the most devoted of men.
"But I am not the only one--certainly not; the whole French army
is like me, that I will swear to. From the common soldier to the
general, we all go forward, and to the very end, mark you, when
there is a woman in the case, a pretty woman. Remember what Joan
of Arc made us do formerly! Come, I'd make a bet that if a pretty
woman had taken command of the army on the eve of Sedan, when
Marshal MacMahon was wounded, we should have broken through the
Prussian lines, by Jove! and have had a drink out of their guns.
"It was not Trochu, but Saint Genevieve, who was required in
Paris, and I remember a little anecdote of the war which proves
that we are capable of everything in the presence of a woman.
"I was a captain, a simple captain, at the time, and was in
command of a detachment of scouts who were retreating through a
district swarming with Prussians. We were surrounded, pursued,
tired out, and half dead with fatigue and hunger, and by the next
day we had to reach Bar-sur-Tain; otherwise we should be done
for, cut off from the main body and killed. I do not know how we
managed to escape so far. However, we had ten leagues to go
during the night, ten leagues through the snow, and upon empty
stomachs. I thought to myself:
" 'It is all over; my poor fellows will never be able to do it.'
"We had eaten nothing since the day before, and the whole day
long we remained hidden in a barn, huddled close together, so as
not to feel the cold so much; we did not venture to speak or even
move, and we slept by fits and starts, like you sleep when you
are worn out with fatigue.
"It was dark by five o'clock, that wan darkness caused by the
snow, and I shook up my men. Some of them would not get up; they
were almost incapable of moving or of standing upright, and their
joints were stiff from the cold and want of motion.
"In front of us there was a large expanse of flat, bare country;
the snow was still falling like a curtain, in large, white
flakes, which concealed everything under a heavy, thick, frozen
mantle, a mattress of ice. You would have thought that it was the
end of things.
" 'Come, my lads, let us start.'
"They looked at the thick, white dust which was coming down, and
seemed to think: 'We have had enough of this; we may just as well
die here!' Then I took out my revolver, and said:
" 'I will shoot the first man who flinches.' And so they set off,
but very slowly, like men whose legs were of very little use to
them. I sent four of them three hundred yards ahead, to scout,
and the others followed pellmell, walking at random and without
any order. I put the strongest in the rear, with orders to
quicken the pace of the sluggards with the points of their
bayonets in the back.
"The snow seemed as if it were going to bury us alive; it
powdered our kepis[1] and cloaks without melting, and made
phantoms of us, ghosts of worn-out soldiers who were very tired,
and I said to myself: 'We shall never get out of this, except by
a miracle.'
[1] Forage-caps.
"Sometimes we had to stop for a few minutes, on account of those
who could not follow us, hearing nothing but the falling snow,
that vague, almost indiscernible sound which the flakes make, as
they come down together. Some of the men shook themselves, but
others did not move, and so I gave the order to set off again;
they shouldered their rifles, and with weary feet we set out
again, when suddenly the scouts fell back. Something had alarmed
them; they had heard voices in front of them, and so I sent six
men and a sergeant on ahead, and waited.
"All at once a shrill cry, a woman's cry, pierced through the
heavy silence of the snow, and in a few minutes they brought back
two prisoners, an old man and a girl, whom I questioned in a low
voice. They were escaping from the Prussians, who had occupied
their house during the evening, and who had got drunk. The father
had become alarmed on his daughter's account, and, without even
telling their servants, they had made their escape into the
darkness. I saw immediately that they belonged to the upper
classes, and, as I should have done in any case, I invited them
to come with us. So we started off together, and as the old man
knew the road, he acted as our guide.
"It had ceased snowing; the stars appeared, and the cold became
intense. The girl, who was leaning on her father's arm, walked
wearily and with jerks, and several times she murmured:
" 'I have no feeling at all in my feet.' I suffered more than she
did, I believe, to see that poor little woman dragging herself
like that through the snow. But suddenly she stopped, and said:
" 'Father, I am so tired that I cannot go any further.'
"The old man wanted to carry her, but he could not even lift her
up, and she fell on the ground with a deep sigh. We all came
round her, and as for me, I stamped on the ground, not knowing
what to do, quite unable to make up my mind to abandon that man
and girl like that. Suddenly one of the soldiers, a Parisian,
whom they had nicknamed 'Pratique,' said:
" 'Come, comrades, we must carry the young lady, otherwise we
shall not show ourselves Frenchmen, confound it!'
"I really believe that I swore with pleasure, and said: 'That is
very good of you, my children; I will take my share of the
"We could indistinctly see the trees of a little wood on the
left, through the darkness. Several men went into it, and soon
came back with a bundle of branches twisted into a litter.
" 'Who will lend his cloak? It is for a pretty girl, comrades,'
Pratique said, and ten cloaks were thrown to him. In a moment,
the girl was lying, warm and comfortable, among them, and was
raised upon six shoulders. I placed myself at their head, on the
right, and very pleased I was with my charge.
"We started off much more briskly, as if we had been having a
drink of wine, and I even heard a few jokes. A woman is quite
enough to electrify Frenchmen, you see. The soldiers, who were
reanimated and warm, had almost reformed their ranks, and an old
franc-tireur[2] who was following the litter, waiting for his
turn to replace the first of his comrades who might give in, said
to one of his neighbors, loud enough for me to hear:
[2] Volunteers, in the Franco-German war of 1870-71, of whom the
Germans often made short work when caught.
" 'I am not a young man, now; but by Jove, there is nothing like
a woman to make you feel queer from head to foot!'
"We went on, almost without stopping, until three o'clock in the
morning, when suddenly our scouts fell back again. Soon the whole
detachment showed nothing but a vague shadow on the ground, as
the men lay on the snow, and I gave my orders in a low voice, and
heard the harsh, metallic sound of the cocking of rifles. There,
in the middle of the plain, some strange object was moving about.
It might have been taken for some enormous animal running about,
which uncoiled itself like a serpent, or came together into a
coil, then suddenly went quickly to the right or left, stopped,
and then went on again. But presently the wandering shape came
near, and I saw a dozen lancers, one behind the other, who were
trying to find their way, which they had lost.
"By this time they were so near that I could hear the panting of
the horses, the clink of the swords, and the creaking of the
saddles, and so cried: 'Fire!'
"Fifty rifle-shots broke the stillness of the night; then there
were four or five reports, and at last one single shot was heard.
When the smoke had cleared away we saw that the twelve men and
nine horses had fallen. Three of the animals were galloping away
at a furious pace. One of them was dragging the body of its rider
behind it. His foot had caught in the stirrup, and his body
rebounded from the ground in a horrible way.
"One of the soldiers behind me gave a harsh laugh, and said:
'There are a few more widows now!'
"Perhaps he was married. And another added: 'It did not take
"A head was put out of the litter:
" 'What is the matter?' she asked; 'you are fighting?'
" 'It is nothing, Mademoiselle,' I replied; 'we have got rid of a
dozen Prussians!'
" 'Poor fellows!' she said. But as she was cold, she quickly
disappeared beneath the cloaks again, and we started off once
more. We marched on for a long time, and at last the sky began to
grow pale. The snow became quite clear, luminous, and bright, and
a rosy tint appeared in the east. Suddenly a voice in the
distance cried:
" 'Who goes there?'
"The whole detachment halted, and I advanced to say who we were.
We had reached the French lines, and as my men defiled before the
outpost, a commandant on horseback, whom I had informed of what
had taken place, asked in a sonorous voice, as he saw the litter
pass him:
" 'What have you there?'
"And immediately a small head, covered with light hair, appeared,
disheveled and smiling, and replied:
" 'It is I, Monsieur.'
"At this, the men raised a hearty laugh, and we felt quite
light-hearted, while Pratique, who was walking by the side of the
litter, waved his kepi, and shouted:
"Vive la France!' And I felt really moved. I do not know why,
except that I thought it a pretty and gallant thing to say.
"It seemed to me as if we had just saved the whole of France, and
had done something that other men could not have done, something
simple, and really patriotic. I shall never forget that little
face, you may be sure, and if I had to give my opinion about
abolishing drums, trumpets, and bugles, I should propose to
replace them in every regiment by a pretty girl, and that would
be even better than playing the 'Marseillaise.' By Jove! it would
put some spirit into a trooper to have a Madonna like that, a
living Madonna, by the colonel's side."
He was silent for a few moments, and then with an air of
conviction, and jerking his head, continued:
"You see, we are very fond of women, we Frenchmen!"
Every Sunday, the moment they were dismissed, the two little
soldiers made off. Once outside the barracks, they struck out to
the right through Courbevoie, walking with long rapid strides, as
though they were on a march.
When they were beyond the last of the houses, they slackened pace
along the bare, dusty roadway which goes toward Bezons.
They were both small and thin, and looked quite lost in their
coats, which were too big and too long. Their sleeves hung down
over their hands, and they found their enormous red breeches,
which compelled them to waddle, very much in the way. Under their
stiff, high helmets their faces had little character--two poor,
sallow Breton faces, simple with an almost animal simplicity, and
with gentle and quiet blue eyes.
They never conversed during these walks, but went straight on,
each with the same thought in his head. This thought atoned for
the lack of conversation; it was this, that just inside the
little wood near Les Champioux they had found a place which
reminded them of their own country, where they could feel happy
When they arrived under the trees where the roads from Colombes
and from Chatou cross, they would take off their heavy helmets
and wipe their foreheads. They always halted on the Bezons bridge
to look at the Seine, and would remain there two or three
minutes, bent double, leaning on the parapet.
Sometimes they would gaze out over the great basin of Argenteuil,
where the skiffs might be seen scudding, with their white,
careening sails, recalling perhaps the look of the Breton waters,
the harbor of Vanne, near which they lived, and the fishing-boats
standing out across the Morbihan to the open sea.
Just beyond the Seine they bought their provisions from a sausage
merchant, a baker, and a wine-seller. A piece of blood-pudding,
four sous' worth of bread, and a liter of "petit bleu"
constituted the provisions, which they carried off in their
handkerchiefs. After they had left Bezons they traveled slowly
and began to talk.
In front of them a barren plain studded with clumps of trees led
to the wood, to the little wood which had seemed to them to
resemble the one at Kermarivan. Grainfields and hayfields
bordered the narrow path, which lost itself in the young
greenness of the crops, and Jean Kerderen would always say to Luc
le Ganidec:
"It looks like it does near Plounivon."
"Yes; exactly."
Side by side they strolled, their souls filled with vague
memories of their own country, with awakened images as naive as
the pictures on the colored broadsheets which you buy for a
penny. They kept on recognizing, as it were, now a corner of a
field, a hedge, a bit of moorland, now a crossroad, now a granite
cross. Then, too, they would always stop beside a certain
landmark, a great stone, because it looked something like the
cromlech at Locneuven.
Every Sunday on arriving at the first clump of trees Luc le
Ganidec would cut a switch, a hazel switch, and begin gently to
peel off the bark, thinking meanwhile of the folk at home. Jean
Kerderen carried the provisions.
From time to time Luc would mention a name, or recall some deed
of their childhood in a few brief words, which caused long
thoughts. And their own country, their dear, distant country,
recaptured them little by little, seizing on their imaginations,
and sending to them from afar her shapes, her sounds, her
well-known prospects, her odors--odors of the green lands where
the salt sea-air was blowing.
No longer conscious of the exhalations of the Parisian stables,
on which the earth of the banlieue fattens, they scented the
perfume of the flowering broom, which the salt breeze of the open
sea plucks and bears away. And the sails of the boats from the
river banks seemed like the white wings of the coasting vessels
seen beyond the great plain which extended from their homes to
the very margin of the sea.
They walked with short steps, Luc le Ganidec and Jean Kerderen,
content and sad, haunted by a sweet melancholy, by the lingering,
ever-present sorrow of a caged animal who remembers his liberty.
By the time that Luc had stripped the slender wand of its bark
they reached the corner of the wood where every Sunday they took
breakfast. They found the two bricks which they kept hidden in
the thicket, and kindled a little fire of twigs, over which to
roast the blood-pudding at the end of a bayonet.
When they had breakfasted, eaten their bread to the last crumb,
and drunk their wine to the last drop, they remained seated side
by side upon the grass, saying nothing, their eyes on the
distance, their eyelids drooping, their fingers crossed as at
mass, their red legs stretched out beside the poppies of the
field. And the leather of their helmets and the brass of their
buttons glittered in the ardent sun, making the larks, which sang
and hovered above their heads, cease in mid-song.
Toward noon they began to turn their eyes from time to time in
the direction of the village of Bezons, because the girl with the
cow was coming. She passed by them every Sunday on her way to
milk and change the pasture of her cow--the only cow in this
district which ever went out of the stable to grass. It was
pastured in a narrow field along the edge of the wood a little
farther on.
They soon perceived the girl, the only human being within vision,
and were gladdened by the brilliant reflections thrown off by the
tin milk-pail under the rays of the sun. They never talked about
her. They were simply glad to see her, without understanding why.
She was a big strong wench with red hair, burned by the heat of
sunny days, a sturdy product of the environs of Paris.
Once, finding them seated in the same place, she said:
"Good morning. You two are always here, aren't you?"
Luc le Ganidec, the bolder, stammered:
"Yes, we come to rest."
That was all. But the next Sunday she laughed on seeing them,
laughed with a protecting benevolence and a feminine keenness
which knew well enough that they were bashful. And she asked:
"What are you doing there? Are you trying to see the grass grow?"
Luc was cheered up by this, and smiled likewise: "Maybe we are."
"That's pretty slow work," said she.
He answered, still laughing: "Well, yes, it is."
She went on. But coming back with a milk-pail full of milk, she
stopped again before them, and said:
"Would you like a little? It will taste like home."
With the instinctive feeling that they were of the same peasant
race as she, being herself perhaps also far away from home, she
had divined and touched the spot.
They were both touched. Then with some difficulty, she managed to
make a little milk run into the neck of the glass bottle in which
they carried their wine. And Luc drank first, with little
swallows, stopping every minute to see whether he had drunk more
than his half. Then he handed the bottle to Jean.
She stood upright before them, her hands on her hips, her pail on
the ground at her feet, glad at the pleasure which she had given.
Then she departed, shouting: "Allons, adieu! Till next Sunday!"
And as long as they could see her at all, they followed with
their eyes her tall silhouette, which faded, growing smaller and
smaller, seeming to sink into the verdure of the fields.
When they were leaving the barracks the week after, Jean said to
"Oughtn't we to buy her something good?"
They were in great embarrassment before the problem of the choice
of a delicacy for the girl with the cow. Luc was of the opinion
that a little tripe would be the best, but Jean preferred some
berlingots because he was fond of sweets. His choice fairly made
him enthusiastic, and they bought at a grocer's two sous' worth
of white and red candies.
They ate their breakfast more rapidly than usual, being nervous
with expectation.
Jean saw her first. "There she is!" he cried. Luc added: "Yes,
there she is."
While yet some distance off she laughed at seeing them. Then she
"Is everything going as you like it?"
And in unison they asked:
"Are you getting on all right?"
Then she conversed, talked to them of simple things in which they
felt an interest--of the weather, of the crops, and of her
They were afraid to offer her the candies, which were slowly
melting away in Jean's pocket.
At last Luc grew bold, and murmured:
"We have brought you something."
She demanded, "What is it? Tell me!"
Then Jean, blushing up to his ears, managed to get at the little
paper cornucopia, and held it out.
She began to eat the little bonbons, rolling them from one cheek
to the other where they made little round lumps. The two
soldiers, seated before her, gazed at her with emotion and
Then she went to milk her cow, and once more gave them some milk
on coming back.
They thought of her all the week; several times they even spoke
of her. The next Sunday she sat down with them for a little
longer talk; and all three, seated side by side, their eyes lost
in the distance, clasping their knees with their hands, told the
small doings, the minute details of life in the villages where
they had been born, while over there the cow, seeing that the
milkmaid had stopped on her way, stretched out toward her its
heavy head with its dripping nostrils, and gave a long low to
call her.
Soon the girl consented to eat a bit of bread with them and drink
a mouthful of wine. She often brought them plums in her pocket,
for the season of plums had come. Her presence sharpened the wits
of the two little Breton soldiers, and they chattered like two
But, one Tuesday, Luc le Ganidec asked for leave--a thing which
had never happened before--and he did not return until ten
o'clock at night. Jean racked his brains uneasily for a reason
for his comrade's going out in this way.
The next Thursday Luc, having borrowed ten sous from his
bedfellow, again asked and obtained permission to leave the
barracks for several hours. When he set off with Jean on their
Sunday walk his manner was very queer, quite restless, and quite
changed. Kerderen did not understand, but he vaguely suspected
something without divining what it could be.
They did not say a word to one another until they reached their
usual halting-place, where, from their constant sitting in the
same spot the grass was quite worn away. They ate their breakfast
slowly. Neither of them felt hungry.
Before long the girl appeared. As on every Sunday, they watched
her coming. When she was quite near, Luc rose and made two steps
forward. She put her milk-pail on the ground and kissed him. She
kissed him passionately, throwing her arms about his neck,
without noticing Jean, without remembering that he was there,
without even seeing him.
And he sat there desperate, poor Jean, so desperate that he did
not understand, his soul quite overwhelmed, his heart bursting,
but not yet understanding himself. Then the girl seated herself
beside Luc, and they began to chatter.
Jean did not look at them. He now divined why his comrade had
gone out twice during the week, and he felt within him a burning
grief, a kind of wound, that sense of rending which is caused by
Luc and the girl went off together to change the position of the
cow. Jean followed them with his eyes. He saw them departing side
by side. The red breeches of his comrade made a bright spot on
the road. It was Luc who picked up the mallet and hammered down
the stake to which they tied the beast.
The girl stooped to milk her, while he stroked the cow's sharp
spine with a careless hand. Then they left the milk-pail on the
grass, and went deep into the wood.
Jean saw nothing but the wall of leaves where they had entered;
and he felt himself so troubled that if he had tried to rise he
would certainly have fallen. He sat motionless, stupefied by
astonishment and suffering, with an agony which was simple but
deep. He wanted to cry, to run away, to hide himself, never to
see anybody any more.
Soon he saw them issuing from the thicket. They returned slowly,
holding each other's hands as in the villages do those who are
promised. It was Luc who carried the pail.
They kissed one another again before they separated, and the girl
went off after having thrown Jean a friendly "Good evening" and a
smile which was full of meaning. To-day she no longer thought of
offering him any milk.
The two little soldiers sat side by side, motionless as usual,
silent and calm, their placid faces betraying nothing of all
which troubled their hearts. The sun fell on them. Sometimes the
cow lowed, looking at them from afar.
At their usual hour they rose to go back. Luc cut a switch. Jean
carried the empty bottle to return it to the wine-seller at
Bezons. Then they sallied out upon the bridge, and, as they did
every Sunday, stopped several minutes in the middle to watch the
water flowing.
Jean leaned, leaned more and more, over the iron railing, as
though he saw in the current something which attracted him. Luc
said: "Are you trying to drink?" Just as he uttered the last word
Jean's head overbalanced his body, his legs described a circle in
the air, and the little blue and red soldier fell in a heap,
struck the water, and disappeared.
Luc, his tongue paralyzed with anguish, tried in vain to shout.
Farther down he saw something stir; then the head of his comrade
rose to the surface of the river and sank immediately. Farther
still he again perceived a hand, a single hand, which issued from
the stream and then disappear. That was all.
The bargemen who dragged the river did not find the body that
Luc set out alone for the barracks, going at a run, his soul
filled with despair. He told of the accident, with tears in his
eyes, and a husky voice, blowing his nose again and again: "He
leaned over--he--he leaned over--so far--so far that his head
turned a somersault; and--and--so he fell--he fell--"
Choked with emotion, he could say no more. If he had only known!
Just at the time when the Concordat was in its most flourishing
condition, a young man belonging to a wealthy and highly
respectable middle-class family went to the office of the head of
the police at P----, and begged for his help and advice, which
was immediately promised him.
"My father threatens to disinherit me," the young man began,
"although I have never offended against the laws of the State, of
morality, or against his paternal authority, merely because I do
not share his blind reverence for the Catholic Church and her
clergy. On that account he looks upon me, not merely as
Latitudinarian but as a perfect Atheist, and a faithful old
manservant of ours, who is much attached to me, and who
accidentally saw my father's will, told me in confidence that he
had left all his property to the Jesuits. I think this is highly
suspicious, and I fear that the priests have been maligning me to
my father. Until less than a year ago, we used to live very
quietly and happily together, but ever since he has had so much
to do with the clergy, our domestic peace and happiness are at an
"What you have told me," replied the official, "is as likely as
it is regrettable, but I fail to see how I can interfere in the
matter. Your father is in full possession of all his mental
faculties, and can dispose of all his property exactly as he
pleases. I think that your protest is premature; you must wait
until his will can legally take effect, and then you can invoke
the aid of justice. I am sorry to say that just now I can do
nothing for you."
"I think you will be able to," the young man replied; "for I
believe that a very clever piece of deceit is being carried on."
"How? Please explain yourself more clearly."
"When I remonstrated with him, yesterday evening, he referred to
my dead mother, and at last assured me, in a voice of the deepest
conviction, that she had frequently appeared to him, had
threatened him with all the torments of the damned, if he did not
disinherit his son, who had fallen away from God, and leave all
his property to the Church. Now I do not believe in ghosts."
"Neither do I," the police director replied, "but I cannot well
do anything on such grounds, having nothing but superstitions to
go upon. You know how the Church rules all our affairs since the
Concordat with Rome, and if I investigate this matter and obtain
no results, I am risking my post. It would be very different if
you could adduce any proofs for your suspicions. I do not deny
that I should like to see the clerical party, which will, I fear,
be the ruin of Austria, receive a staggering blow; try,
therefore, to get to the bottom of this business, and then we
will talk it over again."
About a month passed, without the young Latitudinarian being
heard of. Suddenly, he came one evening, in a great state of
excitement, and told the Inspector that he was in a position to
expose the priestly deceit which he had mentioned, if the
authorities would assist him. The police director asked for
further information.
"I have obtained a number of important clues," said the young
man. "In the first place, my father confessed to me that my
mother did not appear to him in our house, but in the churchyard
where she is buried. My mother was consumptive for many years,
and a few weeks before her death she went to the village of
S----, where she died and was buried. In addition to this, I
found out from our footman that my father has already left the
house twice, late at night, in company of X----, the Jesuit
priest, and that on both occasions he did not return till
morning. Each time he was remarkably uneasy and low-spirited
after his return, and had three masses said for my dead mother.
He also told me just now that he has to leave home this evening
on business, but, immediately after he told me that, our footman
saw the Jesuit go out of the house. We may, therefore, assume
that he intends this evening to consult the spirit of my dead
mother again, and this would be an excellent opportunity to solve
the matter, if you do not object to opposing the most powerful
force in the Empire for the sake of such an insignificant
individual as myself."
"Every citizen has an equal right to the protection of the
State," the police director replied; "and I think that I have
shown often enough that I am not wanting in courage to perform my
duty, no matter how serious the consequences may be. But only
very young men act without any prospects of success, because they
are carried away by their feelings. When you came to me the first
time, I was obliged to refuse your request for assistance, but
to-day your request is just and reasonable. It is now eight
o'clock; I shall expect you in two hours' time, here in my
office. At present, all you have to do is to hold your tongue;
everything else is my affair."
As soon as it was dark, four men got into a closed carriage in
the yard of the police-office, and were driven in the direction
of the village of S----. Their carriage, however, did not enter
the village, but stopped at the edge of a small wood in the
immediate neighborhood. Here all four alighted: the police
director, accompanied by the young Latitudinarian, a police
sergeant, and an ordinary policeman, the latter however, dressed
in plain clothes.
"The first thing for us to do is to examine the locality
carefully," said the police director. "It is eleven o'clock and
the exorcisers of ghosts will not arrive before midnight, so we
have time to look round us, and to lay our plans."
The four men went to the churchyard, which lay at the end of the
village, near the little wood. Everything was as still as death,
and not a soul was to be seen. The sexton was evidently sitting
in the public house, for they found the door of his cottage
locked, as well as the door of the little chapel that stood in
the middle of the churchyard.
"Where is your mother's grave?" the police director asked. As
there were only a few stars visible, it was not easy to find it,
but at last they managed it, and the police director surveyed the
neighborhood of it.
"The position is not a very favorable one for us," he said at
last; "there is nothing here, not even a shrub, behind which we
could hide."
But just then, the policeman reported that he had tried to get
into the sexton's hut through the door or a window, and that at
last he had succeeded in doing so by breaking open a square in a
window which had been mended with paper, that he had opened it
and obtained possession of the key, which he brought to the
police director.
The plans were very quickly settled. The police director had the
chapel opened and went in with the young Latitudinarian; then he
told the police sergeant to lock the door behind him and to put
the key back where he had found it, and to shut the window of the
sexton's cottage carefully. Lastly, he made arrangements as to
what they were to do, in case anything unforeseen should occur,
whereupon the sergeant and the constable left the churchyard, and
lay down in a ditch at some distance from the gate, but opposite
to it.
Almost as soon as the clock struck half past eleven, they heard
steps near the chapel, whereupon the police director and the
young Latitudinarian went to the window in order to watch the
beginning of the exorcism, and as the chapel was in total
darkness, they thought that they should be able to see without
being seen; but matters turned out differently from what they
Suddenly, the key turned in the lock. They barely had time to
conceal themselves behind the altar, before two men came in, one
of whom was carrying a dark lantern. One was the young man's
father, an elderly man of the middle class, who seemed very
unhappy and depressed, the other the Jesuit father X----, a tall,
lean, big-boned man, with a thin, bilious face, in which two
large gray eyes shone restlessly under bushy, black eyebrows. He
lit the tapers, which were standing on the altar, and began to
say a "Requiem Mass"; while the old man kneeled on the altar
steps and served him.
When it was over, the Jesuit took the book of the Gospels and the
holy-water sprinkler, and went slowly out of the chapel, the old
man following him with the holy-water basin in one hand, and a
taper in the other. Then the police director left his hiding
place, and stooping down, so as not to be seen, crept to the
chapel window, where he cowered down carefully; the young man
followed his example. They were now looking straight at his
mother's grave.
The Jesuit, followed by the superstitious old man, walked three
times round the grave; then he remained standing before it, and
by the light of the taper read a few passages from the Gospel.
Then he dipped the holy-water sprinkler three times into the
holy-water basin, and sprinkled the grave three times. Then both
returned to the chapel, kneeled down outside it with their faces
toward the grave, and began to pray aloud, until at last the
Jesuit sprang up, in a species of wild ecstasy, and cried out
three times in a shrill voice:
"Exsurge! Exsurge! Exsurge!"[1]
[1] Arise!
Scarcely had the last words of the exorcism died away, when
thick, blue smoke rose out of the grave, rapidly grew into a
cloud, and began to assume the outlines of a human body, until at
last a tall, white figure stood behind the grave, and beckoned
with its hand.
"Who art thou?" the Jesuit asked solemnly, while the old man
began to cry.
"When I was alive, I was called Anna Maria B----," replied the
ghost in a hollow voice.
"Will you answer all my questions?" the priest continued.
"As far as I can."
"Have you not yet been delivered from purgatory by our prayers,
and by all the Masses for your soul, which we have said for you?"
"Not yet, but soon, soon I shall be."
"As soon as that blasphemer, my son, has been punished."
"Has that not already happened? Has not your husband disinherited
his lost son, and in his place made the Church his heir?"
"That is not enough."
"What must he do besides?"
"He must deposit his will with the Judicial Authorities, as his
last will and testament, and drive the reprobate out of his
"Consider well what you are saying; must this really be?"
"It must, or otherwise I shall have to languish in purgatory much
longer," the sepulchral voice replied with a deep sigh; but the
next moment the ghost yelled out in terror: "Oh! Good Lord!" and
began to run away as fast as it could. A shrill whistle was
heard, and then another, and the police director laid his hand on
the shoulder of the exorciser with the remark:
"You are in custody."
Meanwhile, the police sergeant and the policeman, who had come
into the churchyard, had caught the ghost, and dragged it
forward. It was the sexton, who had put on a flowing, white
dress, and wore a wax mask, which bore a striking resemblance to
his mother, so the son declared.
When the case was heard, it was proved that the mask had been
very skillfully made from a portrait of the deceased woman. The
government gave orders that the matter should be investigated as
secretly as possible, and left the punishment of Father X----to
the spiritual authorities, which was a matter of necessity, at a
time when priests were outside of the jurisdiction of the civil
authorities. It is needless to say that Father X----was very
comfortable during his imprisonment in a monastery, in a part of
the country which abounded with game and trout.
The only valuable result of the amusing ghost story was that it
brought about a reconciliation between father and son; the
former, as a matter of fact, felt such deep respect for priests
and their ghosts in consequence of the apparition, that a short
time after his wife had left purgatory for the last time in order
to talk with him, he turned Protestant.
"I had loved her madly!
"Why does one love? Why does one love? How queer it is to see
only one being in the world, to have only one thought in one's
mind, only one desire in the heart, and only one name on the
lips--a name which comes up continually, rising, like the water
in a spring, from the depths of the soul to the lips, a name
which one repeats over and over again, which one whispers
ceaselessly, everywhere, like a prayer.
"I am going to tell you our story, for love only has one, which
is always the same. I met her and loved her; that is all. And for
a whole year I have lived on her tenderness, on her caresses, in
her arms, in her dresses, on her words, so completely wrapped up,
bound, and absorbed in everything which came from her, that I no
longer cared whether it was day or night, or whether I was dead
or alive, on this old earth of ours.
"And then she died. How? I do not know; I no longer know
anything. But one evening she came home wet, for it was raining
heavily, and the next day she coughed, and she coughed for about
a week, and took to her bed. What happened I do not remember now,
but doctors came, wrote, and went away. Medicines were brought,
and some women made her drink them. Her hands were hot, her
forehead was burning, and her eyes bright and sad. When I spoke
to her, she answered me, but I do not remember what we said. I
have forgotten everything, everything, everything! She died, and
I very well remember her slight, feeble sigh. The nurse said:
'Ah!' and I understood, I understood!
"I knew nothing more, nothing. I saw a priest, who said: 'Your
mistress?' and it seemed to me as if he were insulting her. As
she was dead, nobody had the right to say that any longer, and I
turned him out. Another came who was very kind and tender, and I
shed tears when he spoke to me about her.
"They consulted me about the funeral, but I do not remember
anything that they said, though I recollected the coffin, and the
sound of the hammer when they nailed her down in it. Oh! God,
"She was buried! Buried! She! In that hole! Some people
came--female friends. I made my escape and ran away. I ran, and
then walked through the streets, went home, and the next day
started on a journey.
* * * * * * *
"Yesterday I returned to Paris, and when I saw my room again--our
room, our bed, our furniture, everything that remains of the life
of a human being after death--I was seized by such a violent
attack of fresh grief, that I felt like opening the window and
throwing myself out into the street. I could not remain any
longer among these things, between these walls which had inclosed
and sheltered her, which retained a thousand atoms of her, of her
skin and of her breath, in their imperceptible crevices. I took
up my hat to make my escape, and just as I reached the door, I
passed the large glass in the hall, which she had put there so
that she might look at herself every day from head to foot as she
went out, to see if her toilette looked well, and was correct and
pretty, from her little boots to her bonnet.
"I stopped short in front of that looking-glass in which she had
so often been reflected--so often, so often, that it must have
retained her reflection. I was standing there. trembling, with my
eyes fixed on the glass--on that flat, profound, empty
glass--which had contained her entirely, and had possessed her as
much as I, as my passionate looks had. I felt as if I loved that
glass. I touched it; it was cold. Oh! the recollection! sorrowful
mirror, burning mirror, horrible mirror, to make men suffer such
torments! Happy is the man whose heart forgets everything that it
has contained, everything that has passed before it, everything
that has looked at itself in it, or has been reflected in its
affection, in its love! How I suffer!
"I went out without knowing it, without wishing it, and toward
the cemetery. I found her simple grave, a white marble cross,
with these few words:
" 'She loved, was loved, and died.'
"She is there, below, decayed! How horrible! I sobbed with my
forehead on the ground, and I stopped there for a long time, a
long time. Then I saw that it was getting dark, and a strange,
mad wish, the wish of a despairing lover, seized me. I wished to
pass the night, the last night, in weeping on her grave. But I
should be seen and driven out. How was I to manage? I was
cunning, and got up and began to roam about in that city of the
dead. I walked and walked. How small this city is, in comparison
with the other, the city in which we live. And yet, how much more
numerous the dead are than the living. We want high houses, wide
streets, and much room for the four generations who see the
daylight at the same time, drink water from the spring, and wine
from the vines, and eat bread from the plains.
"And for all the generations of the dead, for all that ladder of
humanity that has descended down to us, there is scarcely
anything, scarcely anything! The earth takes them back, and
oblivion effaces them. Adieu!
"At the end of the cemetery, I suddenly perceived that I was in
its oldest part, where those who had been dead a long time are
mingling with the soil, where the crosses themselves are decayed,
where possibly newcomers will be put to-morrow. It is full of
untended roses, of strong and dark cypress-trees, a sad and
beautiful garden, nourished on human flesh.
"I was alone, perfectly alone. So I crouched in a green tree and
hid myself there completely amid the thick and somber branches. I
waited, clinging to the stem, like a shipwrecked man does to a
"When it was quite dark, I left my refuge and began to walk
softly, slowly, inaudibly, through that ground full of dead
people. I wandered about for a long time, but could not find her
tomb again. I went on with extended arms, knocking against the
tombs with my hands, my feet, my knees, my chest, even with my
head, without being able to find her. I groped about like a blind
man finding his way, I felt the stones, the crosses, the iron
railings, the metal wreaths, and the wreaths of faded flowers! I
read the names with my fingers, by passing them over the letters.
What a night! What a night! I could not find her again!
"There was no moon. What a night! I was frightened, horribly
frightened in these narrow paths, between two rows of graves.
Graves! graves! graves! nothing but graves! On my right, on my
left, in front of me, around me, everywhere there were graves! I
sat down on one of them, for I could not walk any longer, my
knees were so weak. I could hear my heart beat! And I heard
something else as well. What? A confused, nameless noise. Was the
noise in my head, in the impenetrable night, or beneath the
mysterious earth, the earth sown with human corpses? I looked all
around me, but I cannot say how long I remained there; I was
paralyzed with terror, cold with fright, ready to shout out,
ready to die.
"Suddenly, it seemed to me that the slab of marble on which I was
sitting, was moving. Certainly it was moving, as if it were being
raised. With a bound, I sprang on to the neighboring tomb, and I
saw, yes, I distinctly saw the stone which I had just quitted
rise upright. Then the dead person appeared, a naked skeleton,
pushing the stone back with its bent back. I saw it quite
clearly, although the night was so dark. On the cross I could
" 'Here lies Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of fifty-one.
He loved his family, was kind and honorable, and died in the
grace of the Lord.'
"The dead man also read what was inscribed on his tombstone; then
he picked up a stone off the path, a little, pointed stone and
began to scrape the letters carefully. He slowly effaced them,
and with the hollows of his eyes he looked at the places where
they had been engraved. Then with the tip of the bone that had
been his forefinger, he wrote in luminous letters, like those
lines which boys trace on walls with the tip of a lucifer match:
" 'Here reposes Jacques Olivant, who died at the age of
fifty-one. He hastened his father's death by his unkindness, as
he wished to inherit his fortune, he tortured his wife, tormented
his children, deceived his neighbors, robbed everyone he could,
and died wretched.'
"When he had finished writing, the dead man stood motionless,
looking at his work. On turning round I saw that all the graves
were open, that all the dead bodies had emerged from them, and
that all had effaced the lies inscribed on the gravestones by
their relations, substituting the truth instead. And I saw that
all had been the tormentors of their neighbors--malicious,
dishonest, hypocrites, liars, rogues, calumniators, envious; that
they had stolen, deceived, performed every disgraceful, every
abominable action, these good fathers, these faithful wives,
these devoted sons, these chaste daughters, these honest
tradesmen, these men and women who were called irreproachable.
They were all writing at the same time, on the threshold of their
eternal abode, the truth, the terrible and the holy truth of
which everybody was ignorant, or pretended to be ignorant, while
they were alive.
"I thought that SHE also must have written something on her
tombstone, and now running without any fear among the half-open
coffins, among the corpses and skeletons, I went toward her, sure
that I should find her immediately. I recognized her at once,
without seeing her face, which was covered by the winding-sheet,
and on the marble cross, where shortly before I had read:
" 'She loved, was loved, and died.'
I now saw:
" 'Having gone out in the rain one day, in order to deceive her
lover, she caught cold and died.'
* * * * * * *
"It appears that they found me at daybreak, lying on the grave
He was dead--the head of a high tribunal, the upright magistrate,
whose irreproachable life was a proverb in all the courts of
France. Advocates, young counselors, judges had saluted, bowing
low in token of profound respect, remembering that grand face,
pale and thin, illumined by two bright, deep-set eyes.
He had passed his life in pursuing crime and in protecting the
weak. Swindlers and murderers had no more redoubtable enemy, for
he seemed to read in the recesses of their souls their most
secret thoughts.
He was dead, now, at the age of eighty-two, honored by the homage
and followed by the regrets of a whole people. Soldiers in red
breeches had escorted him to the tomb, and men in white cravats
had shed on his grave tears that seemed to be real.
But listen to the strange paper found by the dismayed notary in
the desk where the judge had kept filed the records of great
criminals! It was entitled:
June 20, 1851. I have just left court. I have condemned Blondel
to death! Now, why did this man kill his five children?
Frequently one meets with people to whom killing is a pleasure.
Yes, yes, it should be a pleasure--the greatest of all, perhaps,
for is not killing most like creating? To make and to destroy!
These two words contain the history of the universe, the history
of all worlds, all that is, all! Why is it not intoxicating to
June 25. To think that there is a being who lives, who walks, who
runs. A being? What is a being? An animated thing which bears in
it the principle of motion, and a will ruling that principle. It
clings to nothing, this thing. Its feet are independent of the
ground. It is a grain of life that moves on the earth, and this
grain of life, coming I know not whence, one can destroy at one's
will. Then nothing nothing more. It perishes; it is finished.
June 26. Why, then, is it a crime to kill? Yes, why? On the
contrary, it is the law of nature. Every being has the mission to
kill; he kills to live, and he lives to kill. The beast kills
without ceasing, all day, every instant of its existence. Man
kills without ceasing, to nourish himself; but since in addition
he needs to kill for pleasure, he has invented the chase! The
child kills the insects he finds, the little birds, all the
little animals that come in his way. But this does not suffice
for the irresistible need of massacre that is in us. It is not
enough to kill beasts; we must kill man too. Long ago this need
was satisfied by human sacrifice. Now, the necessity of living in
society has made murder a crime. We condemn and punish the
assassin! But as we cannot live without yielding to this natural
and imperious instinct of death, we relieve ourselves from time
to time, by wars. Then a whole nation slaughters another nation.
It is a feast of blood, a feast that maddens armies and
intoxicates the civilians, women and children, who read, by
lamplight at night, the feverish story of massacre.
And do we despise those picked out to accomplish these butcheries
of men? No, they are loaded with honors. They are clad in gold
and in resplendent stuffs; they wear plumes on their heads and
ornaments on their breasts; and they are given crosses, rewards,
titles of every kind. They are proud, respected, loved by women,
cheered by the crowd, solely because their mission is to shed
human blood! They drag through the streets their instruments of
death, and the passer-by, clad in black, looks on with envy. For
to kill is the great law put by nature in the heart of existence!
There is nothing more beautiful and honorable than killing!
June 30. To kill is the law, because Nature loves eternal youth.
She seems to cry in all her unconscious acts: "Quick! quick!
quick!" The more she destroys, the more she renews herself.
July 2. It must be a pleasure, unique and full of zest, to kill
to place before you a living, thinking being; to make therein a
little hole, nothing but a little hole, and to see that red
liquid flow which is the blood, which is the life; and then to
have before you only a heap of limp flesh, cold, inert, void of
August 5. I, who have passed my life in judging, condemning,
killing by words pronounced, killing by the guillotine those who
had killed by the knife, if I should do as all the assassins whom
I have smitten have done, I, I--who would know it?
August 10. Who would ever know? Who would ever suspect me,
especially if I should choose a being I had no interest in doing
away with?
August 22. I could resist no longer. I have killed a little
creature as an experiment, as a beginning. Jean, my servant, had
a goldfinch in a cage hung in the office window. I sent him on an
errand, and I took the little bird in my hand, in my hand where I
felt its heart beat. It was warm. I went up to my room. From time
to time I squeezed it tighter; its heart beat faster; it was
atrocious and delicious. I was nearly choking it. But I could not
see the blood.
Then I took scissors, short nail scissors, and I cut its throat
in three strokes, quite gently. It opened its bill, it struggled
to escape me, but I held it, oh! I held it--I could have held a
mad dog--and I saw the blood trickle.
And then I did as assassins do--real ones. I washed the scissors
and washed my hands. I sprinkled water, and took the body, the
corpse, to the garden to hide it. I buried it under a
strawberry-plant. It will never be found. Every day I can eat a
strawberry from that plant. How one can enjoy life, when one
knows how!
My servant cried; he thought his bird flown. How could he suspect
me? Ah!
August 25. I must kill a man! I must!
August 30. It is done. But what a little thing! I had gone for a
walk in the forest of Vernes. I was thinking of nothing,
literally nothing. See! a child on the road, a little child
eating a slice of bread and butter. He stops to see me pass and
says, "Good day, Mr. President."
And the thought enters my head: "Shall I kill him?"
I answer: "You are alone, my boy?"
"Yes, sir."
"All alone in the wood?"
"Yes, sir."
The wish to kill him intoxicated me like wine. I approached him
quite softly, persuaded that he was going to run away. And
suddenly I seized him by the throat. He held my wrists in his
little hands, and his body writhed like a feather on the fire.
Then he moved no more. I threw the body in the ditch, then some
weeds on top of it. I returned home and dined well. What a little
thing it was! In the evening I was very gay, light, rejuvenated,
and passed the evening at the Prefect's. They found me witty. But
I have not seen blood! I am not tranquil.
August 31. The body has been discovered. They are hunting for the
assassin. Ah!
September 1. Two tramps have been arrested. Proofs are lacking.
September 2. The parents have been to see me. They wept! Ah!
October 6. Nothing has been discovered. Some strolling vagabond
must have done the deed. Ah! If I had seen the blood flow it
seems to me I should be tranquil now!
October 10. Yet another. I was walking by the river, after
breakfast. And I saw, under a willow, a fisherman asleep. It was
noon. A spade, as if expressly put there for me, was standing in
a potato-field near by.
I took it. I returned; I raised it like a club, and with one blow
of the edge I cleft the fisherman's head. Oh! he bled, this
one!--rose-colored blood. It flowed into the water quite gently.
And I went away with a grave step. If I had been seen! Ah! I
should have made an excellent assassin.
October 25. The affair of the fisherman makes a great noise. His
nephew, who fished with him, is charged with the murder.
October 26. The examining magistrate affirms that the nephew is
guilty. Everybody in town believes it. Ah! ah!
October 27. The nephew defends himself badly. He had gone to the
village to buy bread and cheese, he declares. He swears that his
uncle had been killed in his absence! Who would believe him?
October 28. The nephew has all but confessed, so much have they
made him lose his head! Ah! Justice!
November 15. There are overwheming proofs against the nephew, who
was his uncle's heir. I shall preside at the sessions.
January 25, 1852. To death! to death! to death! I have had him
condemned to death! The advocate-general spoke like an angel! Ah!
Yet another! I shall go to see him executed!
March 10. It is done. They guillotined him this morning. He died
very well! very well! That gave me pleasure! How fine it is to
see a man's head cut off!
Now, I shall wait, I can wait. It would take such a little thing
to let myself be caught.
* * * * * * *
The manuscript contained more pages, but told of no new crime.
Alienist physicians to whom the awful story has been submitted
declare that there are in the world many unknown madmen; as
adroit and as terrible as this monstrous lunatic.
It was during one of those sudden changes of the electric light,
which at one time throws rays of exquisite pale pink, of a liquid
gold filtered through the light hair of a woman, and at another,
rays of bluish hue with strange tints, such as the sky assumes at
twilight, in which the women with their bare shoulders looked
like living flowers--it was, I say, on the night of the first of
January at Montonirail's, the dainty painter of tall, undulating
figures, of bright dresses, of Parisian prettiness--that tall
Pescarelle, whom some called "Pussy," though I do not know why,
suddenly said in a low voice:
"Well, people were not altogether mistaken, in fact, were only
half wrong when they coupled my name with that of pretty Lucy
Plonelle. She had caught me, just as a birdcatcher on a frosty
morning catches an imprudent wren on a limed twig--in fact, she
might have done whatever she liked with me.
"I was under the charm of her enigmatical and mocking smile, that
smile in which her teeth gleamed cruelly between her red lips,
and glistened as if they were ready to bite and to heighten the
pleasure of the most delightful, the most voluptuous, kiss by
"I loved everything in her--her feline suppleness, her languid
looks which emerged from her half-closed lids, full of promises
and temptation, her somewhat extreme elegance, and her hands,
those long, delicate white hands, with blue veins, like the
bloodless hands of a female saint in a stained glass window, and
her slender fingers, on which only the large blood-drop of a ruby
"I would have given her all my remaining youth and vigor to have
laid my burning hands upon the back of her cool, round neck, and
to feel that bright, silk, golden mane enveloping me and
caressing my skin. I was never tired of hearing her disdainful,
petulant voice, those vibrations which sounded as if they
proceeded from clear glass, whose music, at times, became hoarse,
harsh, and fierce, like the loud, sonorous calls of the
"Good heavens! to be her lover, to be her chattel, to belong to
her, to devote one's whole existence to her, to spend one's last
half-penny and to sink in misery, only to have the glory and the
happiness of possessing her splendid beauty, the sweetness of her
kisses, the pink and the white of her demonlike soul all to
myself, if only for a few months!
"It makes you laugh, I know, to think that I should have been
caught like that--I who give such good, prudent advice to my
friends--I who fear love as I do those quicksands and shoals
which appear at low tide and in which one may be swallowed up and
"But who can answer for himself, who can defend himself against
such a danger, as the magnetic attraction that inheres in such a
woman? Nevertheless, I got cured and perfectly cured, and that
quite accidentally. This is how the enchantment, which was
apparently so infrangible, was broken.
"On the first night of a play, I was sitting in the stalls close
to Lucy, whose mother had accompanied her, as usual. They
occupied the front of a box, side by side. From some
unsurmountable attraction, I never ceased looking at the woman
whom I loved with all the force of my being. I feasted my eyes on
her beauty, I saw nobody except her in the theater, and did not
listen to the piece that was being performed on the stage.
"Suddenly, however, I felt as if I had received a blow from a
dagger in my heart, and I had an insane hallucination. Lucy had
moved, and her pretty head was in profile, in the same attitude
and with the same lines as her mother. I do not know what shadow
or what play of light had hardened and altered the color of her
delicate features, effacing their ideal prettiness, but the more
I looked at them both, at the one who was young and the one who
was old, the greater the distressing resemblance became.
"I saw Lucy growing older and older, striving against those
accumulating years which bring wrinkles in the face, produce a
double chin and crow's-feet, and spoil the mouth. THEY ALMOST
"I suffered so, that I thought I should go mad. Yet in spite of
myself, instead of shaking off this feeling and making my escape
out of the theater, far away into the noise and life of the
boulevards, I persisted in looking at the other, at the old one,
in examining her, in judging her, in dissecting her with my eyes.
I got excited over her flabby cheeks, over those ridiculous
dimples, that were half filled up, over that treble chin, that
dyed hair, those lusterless eyes, and that nose, which was a
caricature of Lucy's beautiful, attractive little nose.
"I had a prescience of the future. I loved her, and I should love
her more and more every day, that little sorceress who had so
despotically and so quickly conquered me. I should not allow any
participation or any intrigue from the day she gave herself to
me, and once intimately connected, who could tell whether, just
as I was defending myself against it most, the legitimate
termination--marriage--might not come?
"Why not give one's name to a woman whom one loves, and whom one
trusts? The reason was that I should be tied to a disfigured,
ugly creature, with whom I should not venture to be seen in
public. My friends would leer at her with laughter in their eyes,
and with pity in their hearts for the man who was accompanying
those remains.
"And so, as soon as the curtain had fallen, without saying good
day or good evening, I had myself driven to the Moulin Rouge.
* * * * * * *
"Well," Florise d'Anglet exclaimed, "I shall never take mamma to
the theater with me again, for the men are really going crazy!"
For five months they had been talking of going to lunch at some
country restaurant in the neighborhood of Paris, on Madame
Dufour's birthday, and as they were looking forward very
impatiently to the outing, they had risen very early that
morning. Monsieur Dufour had borrowed the milkman's tilted cart,
and drove himself. It was a very neat, two wheeled conveyance,
with a hood, and in it Madame Dufour, resplendent in a wonderful,
sherry-colored silk dress, sat by the side of her husband.
The old grandmother and the daughter were accommodated with two
chairs, and a yellow-haired youth, of whom, however, nothing was
to be seen except his head, lay at the bottom of the trap.
When they got to the bridge of Neuilly, Monsieur Dufour said:
"Here we are in the country at last!" At that warning, his wife
grew sentimental about the beauties of nature. When they got to
the crossroads at Courbevoie, they were seized with admiration
for the tremendous view down there: on the right was the spire of
Argenteuil church, above it rose the hills of Sannois and the
mill of Orgemont, while on the left, the aqueduct of Marly stood
out against the clear morning sky. In the distance they could see
the terrace of Saint-Germain, and opposite to them, at the end of
a low chain of hills, the new fort of Cormeilles. Afar--a very
long way off, beyond the plains and villages--one could see the
somber green of the forests.
The sun was beginning to shine in their faces, the dust got into
their eyes, and on either side of the road there stretched an
interminable tract of bare, ugly country, which smelled
unpleasantly. You would have thought that it had been ravaged by
a pestilence which had even attacked the buildings, for skeletons
of dilapidated and deserted houses; or small cottages left in an
unfinished state, as if the contractors had not been paid, reared
their four roofless walls on each side.
Here and there tall factory-chimneys rose up from the barren
soil, the only vegetation on that putrid land, where the spring
breezes wafted an odor of petroleum and soot, mingled with
another smell that was even still less agreeable. At last,
however, they crossed the Seine a second time. It was delightful
on the bridge; the river sparkled in the sun, and they had a
feeling of quiet satisfaction and enjoyment in drinking in purer
air, not impregnated by the black smoke of factories, nor by the
miasma from the deposits of night-soil. A man whom they met told
them that the name of the place was Bezons; so Monsieur Dufour
pulled up, and read the attractive announcement outside an
"Restaurant Poulin, stews and fried fish, private rooms, arbors,
and swings."
"Well! Madame Dufour, will this suit you? Will you make up your
mind at last?"
She read the announcement in her turn, and then looked at the
house for a time.
It was a white country inn, built by the road-side, and through
the open door she could see the bright zinc of the counter, at
which two workmen out for the day were sitting. At last she made
up her mind, and said:
"Yes, this will do; and, besides, there is a view."
So they drove into a large yard studded with trees, behind the
inn, which was only separated from the river by the towing-path,
and got out. The husband sprang out first, and held out his arms
for his wife. As the step was very high, Madame Dufour, in order
to reach him, had to show the lower part of her limbs, whose
former slenderness had disappeared in fat. Monsieur Dufour, who
was already getting excited by the country air, pinched her calf,
and then, taking her in his arms, set her on to the ground, as if
she had been some enormous bundle. She shook the dust out of the
silk dress, and then looked round, to see in what sort of a place
she was.
She was a stout woman, of about thirty-six, full-blown and
delightful to look at. She could hardly breathe, as she was laced
too tightly, which forced the heaving mass of her superabundant
bosom up to her double chin. Next, the girl put her hand on to
her father's shoulder, and jumped lightly down. The youth with
the yellow hair had got down by stepping on the wheel, and he
helped Monsieur Dufour to get the grandmother out. Then they
unharnessed the horse, which they tied up to a tree, and the
carriage fell back, with both shafts in the air. The man and boy
took off their coats, washed their hands in a pail of water, and
then joined the ladies, who had already taken possession of the
Mademoiselle Dufour was trying to swing herself standing up, but
she could not succeed in getting a start. She was a pretty girl
of about eighteen; one of those women who suddenly excite your
desire when you meet them in the street, and who leave you with a
vague feeling of uneasiness and of excited senses. She was tall,
had a small waist and large hips, with a dark skin, very large
eyes, and very black hair. Her dress clearly marked the outlines
of her firm, full figure, which was accentuated by the motion of
her hips as she tried to swing herself higher. Her arms were
stretched over her head to hold the rope, so that her bosom rose
at every movement she made. Her hat, which a gust of wind had
blown off, was hanging behind her, and as the swing gradually
rose higher and higher, she showed her delicate limbs up to the
knees each time, and the wind from the perfumed petticoats, more
heady than the fumes of wine, blew into the faces of her father
and friend, who were looking at her in admiration.
Sitting in the other swing, Madame Dufour kept saying in a
monotonous voice:
"Cyprian, come and swing me; do come and swing me, Cyprian!"
At last he complied, and turning up his shirt-sleeves,
as if he intended to work very hard, with much difficulty he set
his wife in motion. She clutched the two ropes, and held her legs
out straight, so as not to touch the ground. She enjoyed feeling
giddy from the motion of the swing, and her whole figure shook
like a jelly on a dish, but as she went higher and higher, she
grew too giddy and got frightened. Every time she was coming
back, she uttered a shriek, which made all the little urchins
come round, and, down below, beneath the garden hedge, she
vaguely saw a row of mischievous heads, making various grimaces
as they laughed.
When a servant girl came out, they ordered lunch.
"Some fried fish, a stewed rabbit, salad, and dessert," Madame
Dufour said, with an important air.
"Bring two quarts of beer and a bottle of claret," her husband
"We will have lunch on the grass," the girl added.
The grandmother, who had an affection for cats, had been petting
one that belonged to the house, and had been bestowing the most
affectionate words on it, for the last ten minutes. The animal,
no doubt secretly pleased by her attentions, kept close to the
good woman, but just out of reach of her hand, and quietly walked
round the trees, against which she rubbed herself, with her tail
up, purring with pleasure.
"Hallo!" exclaimed the youth with the yellow hair, who was
ferreting about, "here are two swell boats!" They all went to
look at them, and saw two beautiful skiffs in a wooden boathouse,
which were as beautifully finished as if they had been objects of
luxury. They were moored side by side, like two tall, slender
girls, in their narrow shining length, and aroused in one a wish
to float in them on warm summer mornings and evenings, along
flower-covered banks of the river, where the trees dip their
branches into the water, where the rushes are continually
rustling in the breeze, and where the swift kingfishers dart
about like flashes of blue lightning.
The whole family looked at them with great respect.
"They are indeed two swell boats," Monsieur Dufour repeated
gravely, and he examined them closely, commenting on them like a
connoisseur. He had been in the habit of rowing in his younger
days, he said, and when he had that in his hands--and he went
through the action of pulling the oars--he did not care a fig for
anybody. He had beaten more than one Englishman formerly at the
Joinville regattas. He grew quite excited at last, and offered to
make a bet that in a boat like that he could row six miles an
hour, without exerting himself.
"Lunch is ready," said the waitress, appearing at the entrance to
the boathouse. They all hurried off, but two young men were
already lunching at the best place, which Madame Dufour had
chosen in her mind as her seat. No doubt they were the owners of
the skiffs, for they were dressed in boating costume. They were
stretched out, almost lying on chairs, and were sunburned, and
had on flannel trousers and thin cotton jerseys, with short
sleeves, which showed their bare arms, which were as strong as
blacksmiths'. They were two strong young fellows, who thought a
great deal of their vigor, and who showed in all their movements
that elasticity and grace of limb which can only be acquired by
exercise, and which is so different to the awkwardness with which
the same continual work stamps the mechanic.
They exchanged a rapid smile when they saw the mother, and then a
look on seeing the daughter.
"Let us give up our place," one of them said; "it will make us
acquainted with them."
The other got up immediately, and holding his black and red
boating-cap in his hand, he politely offered the ladies the only
shady place in the garden. With many excuses they accepted, and
so that it might be more rural, they sat on the grass, without
either tables or chairs.
The two young men took their plates, knives, forks, etc., to a
table a little way off, and began to eat again. Their bare arms,
which they showed continually, rather embarrassed the young girl,
who even pretended to turn her head aside, and not to see them.
But Madame Dufour, who was rather bolder, tempted by feminine
curiosity, looked at them every moment, and no doubt compared
them with the secret unsightliness of her husband. She had
squatted herself on the ground with her legs tucked under her,
after the manner of tailors, and kept wriggling about
continually, under the pretext that ants were crawling about her
somewhere. Monsieur Dufour, whom the politeness of the strangers
had put into rather a bad temper, was trying to find a
comfortable position, which he did not, however, succeed in
doing, while the youth with the yellow hair was eating as
silently as an ogre.
"It is lovely weather, Monsieur," the stout lady said to one of
the boating-men. She wished to be friendly, because they had
given up their place.
"It is, indeed, Madame," he replied; "do you often go into the
"Oh! Only once or twice a year, to get a little fresh air; and
you, Monsieur?"
"I come and sleep here every night."
"Oh! That must be very nice?"
"Certainly it is, Madame." And he gave them such a practical
account of his daily life, that in the hearts of these
shopkeepers, who were deprived of the meadows, and who longed for
country walks, it roused that innate love of nature, which they
all felt so strongly the whole year round, behind the counter in
their shop.
The girl raised her eyes and looked at the oarsman with
emotion, and Monsieur Dufour spoke for the first time.
"It is indeed a happy life," he said. And then he added: "A
little more rabbit, my dear?"
"No, thank you," she replied, and turning to the young men again,
and pointing to their arms, asked "Do you never feel cold like
They both laughed, and amazed the family by telling of the
enormous fatigue they could endure, of bathing while in a state
of tremendous perspiration, of rowing in the fog at night, and
they struck their chests violently, to show how they sounded.
"Ah! You look very strong," the husband said and he did not talk
any more of the time when he used to beat the English. The girl
was looking at them askance now, and the young fellow with the
yellow hair, as he had swallowed some wine the wrong way, and was
coughing violently, bespattered Madame Dufour's sherry-colored
silk dress. Madame got angry, and sent for some water to wash the
Meanwhile it had grown unbearably hot, the sparkling river looked
like a blaze of fire and the fumes of the wine were getting into
their heads. Monsieur Dufour, who had a violent hiccough, had
unbuttoned his waistcoat and the top of his trousers, while his
wife, who felt choking, was gradually unfastening her dress. The
youth was shaking his yellow wig in a happy frame of mind, and
kept helping himself to wine, and as the old grandmother felt
drunk, she endeavored to be very stiff and dignified. As for the
girl, she showed nothing except a peculiar brightness in her
eyes, while the brown skin on the cheeks became more rosy.
The coffee finished them off; they spoke of singing, and each of
them sang, or repeated a couplet, which the others repeated
enthusiastically. Then they got up with some difficulty, and
while the two women, who were rather dizzy, were getting some
fresh air, the two males, who were altogether drunk, were
performing gymnastic tricks. Heavy, limp, and with scarlet faces,
they hung awkwardly on to the iron rings, without being able to
raise themselves, while their shirts were continually threatening
to part company with their trousers, and to flap in the wind like
Meanwhile, the two boating-men had got their skiffs into the
water. They came back, and politely asked the ladies whether they
would like a row.
"Would you like one, Monsieur Dufour?" his wife exclaimed.
"Please come!"
He merely gave her a drunken look, without understanding what she
said. Then one of the rowers came up, with two fishing-rods in
his hand; and the hope of catching a gudgeon, that great aim of
the Parisian shopkeeper, made Dufour's dull eyes gleam. He
politely allowed them to do whatever they liked, while he sat in
the shade, under the bridge, with his feet dangling over the
river, by the side of the young man with the yellow hair, who was
sleeping soundly close to him.
One of the boating-men made a martyr of himself, and took the
"Let us go to the little wood on the Ile aux Anglais!" he called
out, as he rowed off. The other skiff went slower, for the rower
was looking at his companion so intently, that he thought of
nothing else. His emotion paralyzed his strength, while the girl,
who was sitting on the steerer's seat, gave herself up to the
enjoyment of being on the water. She felt disinclined to think,
felt a lassitude in her limbs a complete self-relaxation, as if
she were intoxicated. She had become very flushed, and breathed
pantingly. The effect of the wine, increased by the extreme heat,
made all the trees on the bank seem to bow, as she passed. A
vague wish for enjoyment, a fermentation of her blood, seemed to
pervade her whole body, and she was also a little agitated by
this tete-a-tete on the water, in a place which seemed
depopulated by the heat, with this young man, who thought her so
pretty, whose looks seemed to caress her skin, and whose eyes
were as penetrating and exciting as the sun's rays.
Their inability to speak increased their emotion, and they looked
about them. At last he made an effort and asked her name,
"Henriette," she said.
"Why! My name is Henri," he replied. The sound of their voices
calmed them, and they looked at the banks. The other skiff had
gone ahead of them, and seemed to be waiting for them. The rower
called out:
"We will meet you in the wood; we are going as far as
Robinson's,[1] because Madame Dufour is thirsty." Then he bent
over his oars again and rowed off so quickly that he was soon out
of sight.
[1] A well-known restaurant on the banks of the Seine, much
frequented by the bourgeoisie.
Meanwhile, a continual roar, which they had heard for some time,
came nearer, and the river itself seemed to shiver, as if the
dull noise were rising from its depths.
"What is that noise?" she asked. It was the noise of the weir,
which cut the river in two, at the island. He was explaining it
to her, when above the noise of the waterfall they heard the song
of a bird, which seemed a long way off.
"Listen!" he said; "the nightingales are singing during the day,
so the females must be sitting."
A nightingale! She had never heard one before, and the idea of
listening to one roused visions of poetic tenderness in her
heart. A nightingale! That is to say, the invisible witness of
the lover's interview which Juliette invoked on her balcony[2];
that celestial music which is attuned to human kisses; that
eternal inspirer of all those languorous romances which open
idealized visions to the poor, tender, little hearts of sensitive
[2] "Romeo and Juliet," Act III., Scene V.
She wanted to hear a nightingale.
"We must not make a noise," her companion said, "and then we can
go into the wood, and sit down close to it."
The skiff seemed to glide. They saw the trees on the island, the
banks of which were so low that they could look into the depths
of the thickets. They stopped, he made the boat fast, Henriette
took hold of Henri's arm, and they went beneath the trees.
"Stoop," he said, so she bent down, and they went into an
inextricable thicket of creepers, leaves, and reed-grass, which
formed an impenetrable retreat, and which the young man
laughingly called "his private room."
Just above their heads, perched in one of the trees which hid
them, the bird was still singing. He uttered shakes and roulades,
and then long, vibrating sounds that filled the air and seemed to
lose themselves in the distance, across the level country,
through that burning silence which hung low upon the whole
country round. They did not speak for fear of frightening the
bird away. They were sitting close together, and slowly Henri's
arm stole round the girl's waist and squeezed it gently. She took
that daring hand, but without anger, and kept removing it
whenever he put it round her; not, however, feeling at all
embarrassed by this caress, just as if it had been something
quite natural which she was resisting just as naturally.
She was listening to the bird in ecstasy. She felt an infinite
longing for happiness, for some sudden demonstration of
tenderness, for a revelation of divine poesy. She felt such a
softening at her heart, and such a relaxation of her nerves, that
she began to cry, without knowing why. The young man was now
straining her close to him, and she did not remove his arm; she
did not think of it. Suddenly the nightingale stopped, and a
voice called out in the distance:
"Do not reply," he said in a low voice, "you will drive the bird
But she had no idea of doing so, and they remained in the same
position for some time. Madame Dufour had sat down somewhere or
other, for from time to time they heard the stout lady break out
into little bursts of laughter.
The girl was still crying; she was filled with strange
sensations. Henri's head was on her shoulder, and suddenly he
kissed her on the lips. She was surprised and angry, and, to
avoid him, she stood up.
They were both very pale when they quitted their grassy retreat.
The blue sky looked dull to them, the ardent sun was clouded over
to their eyes, they perceived not the solitude and the silence.
They walked quickly side by side, without speaking or touching
each other, appearing to be irreconcilable enemies, as if disgust
had sprung up between them, and hatred between their souls. From
time to time Henriette called out: "Mamma!"
By and by they heard a noise in a thicket, and Madame Dufour
appeared, looking rather confused, and her companion's face was
wrinkled with smiles that he could not check.
Madame Dufour took his arm, and they returned to the boats. Henri
went on first, still without speaking, by the girl's side, and at
last they got back to Bezons. Monsieur Dufour, who had sobered
up, was waiting for them very impatiently, while the youth with
the yellow hair was having a mouthful of something to eat before
leaving the inn. The carriage was in the yard, with the horse in,
and the grandmother, who had already got in, was frightened at
the thought of being overtaken by night, before they got back to
Paris, the outskirts not being safe.
The young men shook hands with them, and the Dufour family drove
"Good-bye, until we meet again!" the oarsmen cried, and the
answers they got were a sigh and a tear.
* * * * * * *
Two months later, as Henri was going along the Rue des Martyrs,
he saw "Dufour, Ironmonger," over a door. So he went in, and saw
the stout lady sitting at the counter. They recognized each other
immediately, and after an interchange of polite greetings, he
inquired after them all.
"And how is Mademoiselle Henriette?" he inquired, specially.
"Very well, thank you; she is married."
"Ah!" Mastering his feelings, he added: "To whom was she
"To that young man who went with us, you know; he has joined us
in business."
"I remember him, perfectly."
He was going out, feeling unhappy, though scarcely knowing why,
when Madame called him back.
"And how is your friend?" she asked, rather shyly.
"He is very well, thank you."
"Please give him our compliments, and beg him to come and call
when he is in the neighborhood." She then added: "Tell him it
will give me great pleasure."
"I will be sure to do so. Adieu!"
"I will not say that; come again, very soon."
* * * * * * *
The next year, one very hot Sunday, all the details of that
memorable adventure suddenly came back to him so clearly that he
revisited the "private room" in the wood, and was overwhelmed
with astonishment when he went in. She was sitting on the grass,
looking very sad, while by her side, again in his shirt-sleeves,
the young man with the yellow hair was sleeping soundly, like
some brute.
She grew so pale when she saw Henri, that at first he thought she
was going to faint; then, however, they began to talk quite
naturally. But when he told her that he was very fond of that
spot, and went there very often on Sundays, she looked into his
eyes for a long time. "I, too, often think of it," she replied.
"Come, my dear," her husband said, with a yawn; "I think it is
time for us to be going."

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