Typed by Brett Fishburne Proofed by Reina Hosier and Kestrel.
By Guy de Maupassant
Page Preface . . . . . . . 7 Mademoiselle Fifi . . . . 11 Boule de Suif . . . . . 33
Guy de Maupassant
Guy de Maupassant was born at the Chateau de Miromesnil, near Dieppe, on August 5th, 1850. The Maupassants were an old Lorraine family who had settled in Normandy in the middle of the Eighteenth Century. His father had married in 1846 a young lady of the rich bourgeoisie, Laure Le Poittevin. With her brother Alfred, she had been the playmate of Gustave Flaubert, the son of a Rouen surgeon, who was destined to have a directing influence on her son's life. She was a woman of no common literary accomplishments, very fond of the Classics, especially Shakespeare. Separated from her husband, she kept her two sons, Guy and his younger brother Herv.
Until he was thirteen years old Guy lived with his mother at Etretat, in the Villa des Verguies, where between the sea and the luxuriant country, he grew very fond of nature and out door sports; he went fishing with the fishermen of the coast and spoke patois with the peasants. He was deeply devoted to his mother. He first entered the Seminary of Yvetot, but managed to have himself expelled on account of a peccadillo of precocious poetry. From his early religious education he conserved a marked hostility to Religion. Then he was sent to the Rouen Lyce, where he proved a good scholar indulging in poetry and taking a prominent part in theatricals. The war of 1870 broke out soon after his graduation from College; he enlisted as a volunteer and fought gallantly. After the war, in 1871, he left Normandy and came to Paris where he spent ten years as a clerk in the Navy Department. During these ten tedious years his only recreation was canoeing on the Seine on Sundays and holidays. Gustave Flaubert took him under his protection and acted as a kind of literary guardian to him, guiding his debut in journalism and literature. At Flaubert's home he befriended the Russian novelist Tourgueneff and Emilie Zola, as well as many of the protagonists of the realistic school. He wrote considerable verse and short plays. In 1878 he was transferred to the Ministry of Public Instruction and became a contributing editor to several leading newspapers such as Le Figaro, le Gil Blas, le Gaulois and l'Echo de Paris. He devoted his spare time to writing novels and short stories. In 1880 he published his first masterpiece, "Boule de Suif", which met with an instant and tremendous success. Flaubert characterized it as "a masterpiece that will remain."
The decade from 1880 to 1891 was the most fertile period of Maupassant's life. Made famous by his first short story, he worked methodically and produced two and sometimes four volumes annually. By a privilege of nature and his Norman origin, he combined talent and practical business sense, which brought him affluence and wealth. In 1881 he published his first volume of short stories under the title of "La Maison Tellier"; it reached its twelfth edition in two years; in 1883 he finished his first novel "Une Vie", twenty-five thousand copies of which were sold in less than a year. Glory and Fortune smiled on him. In his novels, he concentrated all his observations scattered in his short stories. His second novel "Bel Ami", which came out in 1885, had thirty-seven editions in four months. His editor, Havard, commissioned him to write new masterpieces and, without the slightest effort, his pen produced new masterpieces of style, description, conception and penetration[*]. With a natural aversion for Society, he loved retirement, solitude and meditation. He traveled extensively in Algeria, Italy, England, Britany, Sicily, Auvergne, and from each voyage he brought back a new volume. He cruised on his private yacht "Bel Ami", named after one of his earlier masterpieces. This feverish life did not prevent him from making friends among the literary celebrities of his day: Dumas fils had a paternal affection for him; at Aix-les-Bains he met Taine and fell under the spell of the philosopher-historian. Flaubert continued to act as his literary Godfather. His friendship with the Goucourts was of short duration; his frank and practical nature reacted against the ambiance of gossip, scandal, duplicity and invidious criticism that the two brothers had created around them in the guise of an Eighteenth Century style salon. He hated the human comedy, the social farce.
In his latter years he developed an exaggerated love for solitude, a predilection for self-preservation and still worse, a constant fear of death and mania of persecution, which ran like a black thread through all his writings and brought on gradually the final tragic catastrophe.—He became insane in 1891 and died in 1893 without having recovered his mind.
Life, movement, penetrating[*] observation, and hypersensitiveness, both artistic and physical, are the dominant traits of this literary phenomenon. His rise to fame was as vertiginous as his fall and decay. As a novelist he may have his equals and superiors, but as a short story-writer, with the exception of Charles Nodier and Alphonse Daudet, he had none.—
The Happy Hour Library
[*][Note from Brett: The original uses "penertation" and "penertating" but I could not find this word anywhere so assumed it was a typographical error.]
The Prussian Commander, Major Graf von Farlsberg, was finishing the reading of his mail, comfortably seated in a large tapestry armchair, with his booted feet resting on the elegant marble of the mantelpiece on which, for the last three months that he had been occupying the Chateau d'Uville, his spurs had traced two deep grooves, growing deeper every day.
A cup of coffee was steaming on an inlaid guerdon, stained with liqueur, burned by cigars, notched by the penknife of the conquering officer who, while sharpening his pencil, would stop at times and trace on the marble monograms or designs according to the fancy of his indolent dream.
After he had finished his letters and read the German newspapers, which his orderly had brought him, he rose, threw into the fire three or four enormous pieces of green wood, for these gentlemen were cutting down, little by little, the trees of the park to keep themselves warm and stepped over to the window. The rain was pouring, a regular Normandy rain which one might have thought was let loose and showered down by a furious hand, a slanting rain, thick like a curtain, forming a kind of wall with oblique stripes, a rain that lashed, splashed, deluged everything, a rain peculiar to the neighborhood of Rouen, that watering pot of France.
The Officer looked for a long while at the inundated lawn, and yonder, the swollen Andilles, which was overflowing; and with his fingers he was drumming on the window-pane a waltz from the Rhineland, when a noise caused him to turn around; it was his second in command, Baron von Kelweingstein, holding a rank equivalent to that of Captain.
The Major was a giant, with broad shoulders, graced by a fan-shaped blond beard, flowing down his chest and forming a breast-shield. His whole tall, solemn person suggested the image of a military peacock, a peacock that would carry its tail spread on its chin. He had blue eyes, cold and gentle; a cheek bearing the scar of a sword wound inflicted during the Austrian war; and he was said to be a kind hearted man as well as a brave officer.
Short, red faced, corpulent, tightly belted, the Captain wore, cropped almost close, his red hair, the fiery filaments of which, when under the reflection of certain lights, might have given the impression as though his face had been rubbed with phosphorus. Two teeth lost in a night orgy and brawl, he did not exactly remember now, caused him to spit out indistinct words which one could not always understand. He was bald only on the top of his head, like a tonsured monk, with a crop of short, curly hair, golden and shiny, around this circle of bare flesh.
The Commander shook hands, and gulped down his cup of coffee (the sixth since that morning), while listening to the report of his subordinate about the incidents and happening in the service. Then both came back near the window and declared that theirs was not a cheerful lot. The Major, a quiet man, married and having left his wife home, would adapt himself to anything; but the Baron Captain, accustomed to leading a fast life, a patron of low resorts, a wild chaser of disreputable women, was furious at having been confined for the last three months to the obligatory chasteness of this out of the way Post.
Presently they heard a scratching on the door; the Commander said: "Come in," and a man, one of their automaton soldiers, appeared in the aperture, announcing by his mere presence that luncheon was served.
In the dining-room they found three officers of lower rank; one lieutenant, Otto von Grossling, and two second-lieutenants, Fritz Scheuneberg and Markgraf Wilhelm von Eyrik, a tiny blond man, haughty and brutal with his men, harsh toward the vanquished foe, and violent like a fire-arm.
Since his arrival in France his comrade called him only Mademoiselle Fifi. This nickname was bestowed upon him on account of his coquettish style of dressing and manners, his slender waist, which looked as if it were laced in a corset, his pale face on which a nascent mustache could hardly be seen, and also on account of the habit he had acquired, in order to express his supreme contempt for persons and things, of using continually the French locution: "Fi! fi donc!" which he pronounced with a slight lisping.
The dining-room of the Chateau d'Uville was a large and regal hall, the ancient mirrors of which constellated with bullet holes, and the high Flanders tapestries, slashed with sword cuts and hanging in shreds at certain places, told the tale of Mademoiselle Fifi's favorite occupations and pastime during his hours of idleness.
On the walls, three family portraits, a warrior wearing his armor, a Cardinal and a Chief Justice, were smoking long porcelain pipes, while in its frame, ungilt by age, a noble lady in a tight waist, was showing with an arrogant air an enormous pair of mustache crayoned with charcoal.
And the Officers' luncheon went off almost silently in this mutilated room, darkened by the shower outside, sad and depressing in its vanquished appearance, the old oak parquet floor of which had become solid like the floor of a bar room.
Having finished eating, it was time for smoking; they began to drink and, reverting to their usual topic, they spoke of their monotonous and tedious life. Bottles of cognac and liqueur passed from hand to hand, and seating back on their chairs, they were all absorbing their liqueur in repeated sips, holding at the corner of their mouths the long curved pipes ending in a meerschaum bowl, invariably daubed as if to seduce Hottentots.
As soon as their glasses were empty, they refilled them with a gesture of resigned weariness. But Mademoiselle Fifi broke his glass every instant and then a soldier brought him immediately a new one.
A mist of acrid smoke bathed, drowned them, and they seemed to sink into a somnolent and sad inebriety, in that taciturn and morose intoxication peculiar to men who have nothing to do.
But suddenly the Baron sat up. A revolt shook him; he swore: "By heavens! this cannot go on indefinitely; we must in the end invent something."
Lieutenant Otto and Second-Lieutenant Fritz, two Teutons eminently endowed with heavy and serious German faces, replied together: "What shall we invent, Captain?"
He mused for a few seconds and resumed: "What? Well, we must organize an entertainment, if the Commander will permit."
The Major took his pipe out of his mouth: "What entertainment, Captain?"—
The Baron came nearer: "Leave it to me, Commander; I shall send Pflicht[*] to Rouen, and he will bring us some women I know where to get them. A supper will be prepared here; besides we have everything, and I may venture to say we shall spend a rather pleasant evening."
Graf Farlsberg, shrugged his shoulders and smiled: "You are crazy, my friend!"
But all the officers had risen, surrounding their chief and beseeching him: "Let the Captain go, Commander; it is so sad here!"
Finally the Major yielded: "All right!" said he; and immediately the Baron sent for Pflicht. Pflicht was an old non-commissioned officer, who had never been seen smiling, but who carried out with fanatical punctuality the orders of his superiors, no matter what they were.
Erect, with his impassive face, he received the Baron's instructions; then he left the room; and five minutes later a large military wagon, covered with miller's tarpaulin stretched in the shape of a dome, was being rapidly driven away under the heavy rain at the gallop of four horses.
At once an awakening thrill seemed to run through the group of officers and shook them from their lethargy; the languid poses straightened up, faces became animated and they began to talk.
Although the shower was continuing as heavy as ever, the Major affirmed that it was not so dark, and Lieutenant Otto announced positively that the weather was clearing up. Even Mademoiselle Fifi seemed unable to keep still. He rose and sat down again. His harsh and clear eye was looking for something to break; suddenly, glaring at the lady with the mustache, the young prig drew his revolver: "You shall not witness it, you!" said he, and, without leaving his seat, he aimed. Two bullets fired in rapid succession put out the eyes of the portrait.
Then he exclaimed: "Let us explode a mine!" And at once the conversation was interrupted, as if a powerful and new curiosity had taken hold of every one present.
A mine, that was his invention, his way of destroying, his favorite amusement.
When he hurriedly left his chateau, Comte Fernand d'Armoy d'Uville, the legitimate owner, had had no time to take with him nor hide away anything except the silver-plate, which he had stowed away in a hole made in a wall. Now as he was immensely wealthy and lived in great luxury, his large salon, the door of which communicated with the dining-room, presented the appearance of a Picture Gallery before the precipitate flight of the master.
Priceless paintings and aquarelles were hanging on the walls, while on the tables, the tagres and the elegant cabinets, thousands of bric brac and bibelots, statuettes, Dresden and Chinese vases, old ivories and Venice pottery peopled the large room with their precious and odd multitude.
Hardly any were left by this time. Not that they had been stolen; the Major, Graf Farlsberg, would not have permitted nor tolerated it; but Mademoiselle Fifi once in a while exploded a mine; and on such occasions all the officers enjoyed themselves thoroughly for five minutes.
The little Markgraf went to the salon to fetch what he needed; he brought in a tiny and graceful Chinese tea-pot of the Rose family, which he filled with gun powder, and through the neck of which he carefully introduced a long piece of tinder, lighted it and, running, carried this infernal machine into the next room.
Then he returned quickly and closed the door behind him. All the Germans stood up and waited, their faces wreathed in childlike smiles of curiosity, and as soon as the explosion shook the Chateau, they hurried in all at once.
Mademoiselle Fifi, who had been the first one to rush in, was deliriously clapping his hands in front of a terra cotta Venus, whose head at last had been blown off; and each picked up broken pieces of China, wondering at the strange indentation of the fragments, examining the new damage done, claiming that some of the damage had been caused by previous explosions. And the Major was contemplating, with a paternal look, the large salon upset by this Neronian firework and strewn with the debris of the objects of Art. He came out first, declaring good- naturedly: "It was very successful this time!"
But such a spout of smoke had invaded the dining-room, mixing with the smoke of tobacco, that it was impossible to breathe. The Commander opened the window, and all the officers, who had come back to drink a last glass of cognac, crowded near it.
The damp air blew into the room bringing in a kind of water dust, which sprayed and powdered the beards, and a smell of inundation. They were looking at the tall trees bending under the shower, the broad valley darkened by this outflow of the black low clouds[*], and in the distance the Church spire rising like a gray point in the pelting rain.
[*][Note from Brett: The original uses "clowds," but I think "clouds" was intended.]
Since the arrival of the Germans, the Church bell had not rung. It was in fact the only resistance with which the invaders met in that neighborhood, the resistance of the bell-tower. The Curate had not refused to receive and feed Prussian soldiers; he had even, on several occasions, accepted to drink a bottle of beer or claret with the enemy Commander, who often used him as a benevolent intermediary. But it was useless to ask him for a single ring of his bell; he would rather have faced a firing squad. That was his way of protesting against invasion, a peaceful protest, the protest of silence, the only one, said he, that became a priest, a man of peace and not of blood. And everybody for ten miles around praised the firmness, the heroism of Father Chantavoine, who dared to affirm the public mourning and proclaim it by the obstinate mutism of his Church.
The entire village, enthusiastic about this resistance, was ready to support and back up its pastor to the bitter end, to risk anything, considering this tacit protest as a safeguard of the national honor. It seemed to the peasants that in this way they deserved better of their country than Belfort or Strasbourg, that they had given just as good an example, that the name of their hamlet would remain immortal for it; and with that single exception, they refused nothing to the victorious Prussians.
The Commander and his officers laughed in private at this manifestation of inoffensive courage, and as the entire neighborhood showed themselves obliging to them and docile to their orders, they willingly tolerated the priest's silent patriotism.
Little Markgraf Wilhelm was the only one who would have liked to compel the bell to ring; he was very indignant at the political condescendence of his superior officer towards the priest; and every day he was beseeching the Commander to let him do once, just once, "Ding-dong! Ding-dong!" merely for the sake of having a little fun. And he begged for it with feline gracefulness, the cajolery of a woman, the tenderness of voice of a beloved mistress craving for something, but the Commander did not yield, and to console himself, Mademoiselle Fifi exploded mines in the chateau d'Uville.
The five men remained there, in a group, for a few minutes, inhaling the damp air. Finally Lieutenant Fritz spoke with a thick laugh: "Decidedly, the ladies will not have fine weather for their trip."
Thereupon they separated, each going to his work, the Captain having a great deal to do to make arrangements for the dinner party.
When they met again at nightfall, they began to laugh at seeing each other dolled up coquettishly and smart like on grand review days, perfumed, pomaded and hale. The Commander's hair seemed less gray than in the morning, and the Captain had shaved, keeping only his mustache, which looked like a flame under his nose.
Notwithstanding the rain, the window was kept open and from time to time one of them went over to listen. At ten minutes past six o'clock, the Baron reported a distant rolling. They all hurried downstairs, and soon the large carriage came up with the four horses still galloping, covered with mud up to their backs, steaming and blowing.
And five women got off the carriage and stepped on the perron, five graceful girls carefully selected by a chum of the Captain, to whom Pflicht had taken a card from his officer.
They had not been reluctant to come, knowing that they would be well paid; besides, they were quite well acquainted and familiar with the Prussians, having been in intercourse with them for the past three months and making the best of men as of things. "Our business requires it," they told each other on their way, no doubt in order to ease off some secret pricking of a remnant of conscience.
And, presently, they were ushered into the dining-room. Lighted up, the dining-room looked still more lugubrious in its pitiful dilapidation, and the table covered with viands, rich china and silver plate, which had been discovered in the wall where the owner had hidden them, gave to the premises the appearance of a low tavern, where bandits are having supper after a successful raffle. The Captain, radiant, took hold of the women as of a familiar thing, appreciating them, embracing them, scenting them, estimating them at their value as instruments of pleasure; and as the three younger men wanted to take one each, he objected to it with authority, reserving to himself the privilege of making the assignments, in perfect fairness, according to rank, so as not to injure in any way the hierarchy.
Then, in order to preclude any discussion, any contest and any suspicion of partiality, he lined them up according to height, and addressing the tallest, in a tone of command: "Your name?"
She replied, raising her voice: "Pamela."
Then he announced: "Number one, by the name of Pamela, is adjudged to the Commander."
Having then kissed Blondine, the second as a mark of his claim to ownership, he offered the fat Amanda to Lieutenant Otto; Eva la Tomate to Second-Lieutenant Fritz, and the smallest of all, Rachel, a very young brunette, with black eyes like ink spots, a Jewess whose pug nose confirmed the rule that ascribes hooked noses to all her race, to the youngest officer, the frail Markgraf Wilhelm von Eyrik.
As a matter of fact they were all pretty and plump, without any distinctive character on their faces, shaped almost alike in appearance and style and complexion by the daily practice of their illicit trade and the life in common in disreputable houses.
The three young men wanted immediately to take their partners out of the room under pretext of offering them brushes and soap for washing and freshening up; but the Captain was wise enough not to allow it, claiming that they were clean enough to sit down to dinner, and for fear that those who went up might want to change their girls when they came down, and thus disturb the other couples. His experience prevailed. There were only plenty of kisses, kisses of expectancy.
Suddenly Rachel suffocated, coughing to tears and rejecting smoke through her nose. The Markgraf, feigning to kiss her, had blown a whiff of tobacco into her mouth. She did not get angry, did not utter a single word, but glared at her possessor with anger aroused way down at the bottom of her black eyes.
They sat down to dinner. The Commander himself seemed to be delighted; he took Pamela on his right and Blondine on his left, and while unfolding his napkin, he declared:—"This was a charming idea of yours, Captain!"
Lieutenants Otto and Fritz, polite and obsequious as if they were sitting near Society ladies, did slightly intimidate their neighbors; but Baron von Kelweingstein, let loose in his vice, was beaming; he cracked unsavory jokes, and with his crown of red hair, seemed to be on fire. He paid gallant compliments in his defective French of the Rhine, and his lewd nonsense, smacking of taverns, expectorated through the hole between his two broken teeth, reached the girls in the middle of a rapid fire of saliva.
The girls did not understand his witticisms, and their intelligence did not seem to be awakened until he sputtered obscene words, rough expressions, crippled by his accent. Then all in a chorus began to laugh as if they were demented, falling on the laps of their neighbors, repeating the words which the Baron disfigured purposely in order to make them say filthy things. They vomited at will plenty of them, intoxicated after drinking from the first bottles of wine; and relapsing into their real selves, opening the gates to their habits, they kissed mustaches on their right and those on their left, pinched arms, uttered furious screams, drank out of all the glasses, sang French couplets and bits of German songs they had learned in their daily intercourse with the enemy.
Soon the men themselves flushed and excited by the female flesh spread under their nose and within reach of their hands, lost all restraint, roaring, breaking the plates, while behind them impassive soldiers were waiting.
The Commander only kept some restraint.
Mademoiselle Fifi had taken Rachel on his knees and deliberately working himself up to a pitch of frenzy, kissed madly the ebony curls on her neck, inhaling through the thin interstice between the gown and her skin, the sweet warmth of her body and the full fragrance of her person; through the silk, he pinched her furiously making her scream, seized with a rabid ferocity and distracted by his craving for destruction. Often also holding her in his arms, squeezing her as if he wanted to mix her with himself, he pressed long kisses on the fresh lips of the Jewess and embraced her until he lost breath; but suddenly he bit her so deep that a dash of blood flowed down the chin of the young girl and ran into her waist.
Once more she looked at him, straight in the face, and washing the wound, she muttered: "You will have to pay for it!" He began to laugh, with a harsh laugh: "All right, I shall pay!" said he.
At dessert, champagne was served. The Commander rose and with the same tone as he would have taken to drink the health of the Empress Augusta, he said:
"To our ladies!" And a series of toasts were then drunk, toasts with the gallantry and manner of drunkards and troopers, mixed with obscene jokes, rendered still more brutal by their ignorance of the language.
They were rising one after the other, trying to be witty, making efforts to be funny; and the women, so intoxicated that they were hardly able to sit up, with their vacant look, their heavy, clammy tongues, applauded vociferously each time.
The Captain, no doubt intending to lend the orgy an atmosphere of gallantry, raised once more his glass and pronounced: "To our victories over the hearts!"
Then Lieutenant Otto, a kind of bear from the Black Forest, jumped up, inflamed, saturated with drinks, and suddenly, carried away by alcoholic patriotism, he cried: "To our victories over France!"
Intoxicated as they were, the women kept silent and Rachel, shuddering with rage, retorted: "Well! I know some Frenchmen in whose presence you would not dare say such things."
But the little Markgraf, still holding her on his knees, began to laugh, having become exceedingly exhilarated by the wine: "Ah! Ah! Ah! I never met any myself. As soon as they see us, they run away."
The girl exasperated, shouted in his face: "You lie, you dirty pig!"
For a second he fixed on her his clear eyes, as he used to fix them on the paintings the canvas of which he riddled with revolver shots; then he laughed: "Oh yes! let us speak of it, you beauty! Would we be here if they were brave?"—and he became more and more excited: "We are their masters; France belongs to us!"
She sprang off his knees and fell back on her chair. He rose, held out his glass over the table and repeated: "France, the French, their fields, their woods and their houses belong to us!"
The others, who were thoroughly intoxicated, suddenly shaken by military enthusiasm, the enthusiasm of brutes, seized their glasses and shouted vociferously: "Long live Prussia!" and emptied them at a draught.
The girls did not protest, reduced to silence and frightened. Even Rachel kept silent, unable to reply.
Then the little Markgraf placed on the head of the Jewess his glass of Champaign, refilled, and said—"The women of France belong to us!"
She jumped up so quickly that the glass was upset and spilled the yellow wine in her black hair, as for a baptism; it fell broken to pieces on the floor. Her lips quivering, she looked defiantly at the officer; the latter kept laughing; she stammered in a voice choked with rage: "That, that is not true! you shall never have the women of France!"
He sat down to laugh at his ease and tried to imitate the Parisian accent: "That is a good one! that is a good one! And what are you doing here, you little one?"
Confused, at first, she did not answer, as she did not, in her excitement, understand fully what he said; then, as soon as the meaning of it dawned on her mind, she shouted at him indignantly and vehemently: "I, I, I am not a woman! I am a prostitute! and that is all a Prussian deserves!"
Hardly had she finished, that he slapped her face violently; but, as he was raising his hand again, maddened with rage she caught on the table a small silver-bladed dessert knife, and so quickly that nobody noticed it, she stabbed him right in the neck, just at the hollow where the breast begins.
A word, that he was about to mutter, was cut short in his throat, and he remained stiff, with his mouth open and a frightful look.
All shouted and got up tumultuously; but having thrown her chair in the legs of Lieutenant Otto, who collapsed and fell down at full length, she ran to the window, opened it before they could catch her, and jumped out in the night, under the rain that was still falling.
In two minutes Mademoiselle Fifi was dead. Then Fritz and Otto drew their swords and wanted to massacre the women, who threw themselves to their knees; the Major, not without difficulty, prevented the butchery and had the four bewildered girls locked up in a room and guarded by two soldiers; and then, as if he were disposing his men for battle, he organized the search for the fugitive[*], quite certain that he would catch her.
[*][Note from Brett: The original uses "fugutive," but, again, I think this is a typographical error as there is no such word.]
Fifty men, whipped by threats, were launched on her trail in the park; two hundred others searched the woods and all the houses of the Valley.
The table, cleared in an instant, was turned into a mortuary bed, and the four officers, straight, rigid and sobered up, with the harsh faces of warriors on duty stood near the windows, searching and scanning the night.
The torrential rain was continuing. An incessant rippling filled the darkness, a floating murmur of water that falls and water that runs, water that drops and water that gushes forth.
Suddenly a rifle shot was heard; then another far away; and thus for four hours one heard from time to time, near or distant reports of firing and rallying cries, strange words shouted like a call by guttural voices.
At daybreak everybody returned. Two soldiers had been killed and three others wounded by their comrades in the eagerness of the chase and the confusion of the nocturnal pursuit.
They had not been able to find Rachel.
Then the inhabitants were terrorized, the houses searched most carefully, the whole region combed, beaten, scoured. The Jewess did not seem to have left any trace of her passage.
The General, who had been notified, ordered to hush the matter up so as not to give a bad example in the Army, and he disciplined the Commander who, in turn, punished his subordinates. The General had said: "We do not go to war to indulge in orgies and caress prostitutes." And exasperated Graf Farlsberg resolved to take revenge on the country.
As he needed a pretext to take drastic measures without constraint, he summoned the Priest and ordered him to ring the Church bell at the burial of Markgraf von Eyrik.
Contrary to general expectation, the priest showed himself docile, humble, full of attention. And when the body of Mademoiselle Fifi, carried by soldiers, preceded, surrounded and followed by soldiers, who marched with loaded rifles, left the Chateau d'Urville, on the way to the cemetery, for the first time the bell sounded the knell in a gay tone, as if a friendly hand had been fondling it.
It rang also in the evening, and the next day and every day; it chimed as much as they wanted. Sometimes also, in the dead of night, it would ring all alone and throw two or three notes in the darkness, seized by a singular mirth, awakened one knew not why. All the peasants in the neighborhood then thought that the bell had been bewitched; and no one except the Priest and the Sexton came near the bell-tower.
A poor girl was living up there, in fear and solitude, secretly fed by those two men.
She remained there until the German troops departed. Then, one evening, the Priest having borrowed the baker's cart, drove himself and the prisoner as far as the Gate of Rouen. When they reached the Gate, the Priest kissed her; she got off the cart and quickly went back to the disreputable house, the keeper of which had thought that she was dead.
She was taken out of the house of prostitution shortly afterwards by a patriot without prejudice, who loved her for her brave act, and then, having loved her for herself, married her and made of her a lady as good as many others.
Boule de Suif
For several days in succession the remnants of a routed army had been passing through the City. They were not troops, but disorganized hordes. The men had long, dirty beards and tattered uniforms; they walked with a listless gait, without flag nor formation. All seemed exhausted, worn out, incapable of thought or resolve, marching only by force of habit and dropping with fatigue as soon as they stopped. One saw for the most part hastily mobilized men, peaceful business men and rentiers, bending under the weight of their rifles; young snappy volunteers, easily scared, but full of enthusiasm, ready to attack as well as to retreat; then, among them, a few red trousers, fragments of a division decimated in a great battle; despondent artillery men aligned with these non-descript infantrymen; and there and there the shining helmet of a heavy footed dragon who had difficulty in keeping step with the quicker pace of the soldiers of the line.
Legions of francs-tireurs with heroic names: "Avengers of Defeat"—"Citizens of the Tombs"—"Brothers in Death"—passed in their turn looking like bandits.
Their leaders, former drapers or grain merchants, tallow or soap dealers, warriors for the circumstance, who had been commissioned officers on account of their money or the length of their mustaches; covered with arms, flannel and stripes, they were talking in a high-sounding voice, discussing plans of campaign, and claiming that they alone supported on their shoulders agonizing France; as a matter of fact, these braggarts were afraid of their own men, scoundrels often brave to excess, but always ready for pillage and debauch.
It was rumored that the Prussians were going to enter Rouen.
The National Guard who, for the past two months, had been very carefully reconnoitering in the neighboring woods, at times shooting their own sentries and getting ready to fight when a little rabbit rustled in the bushes, had been mustered out and returned to their homes. Their arms, uniforms, all their deadly apparel, with which they had recently frightened the milestones along the national highways for three leagues around, had suddenly disappeared.
The last of the French soldiers had just crossed the Seine to go to Pont-Andemer by Saint Sever and Bourg-Achard; and following them all, their general, desperate, unable to attempt anything with such non-descript wrecks, himself dismayed in the crushing debacle of a people accustomed to conquer and now disastrously defeated despite their legendary bravery, was walking between two orderlies.
Then a profound calm, a trembling and silent expectancy hovered over the City. Many corpulent well to do citizens, emasculated by the business life they had led, were anxiously waiting for the victors, fearing lest they might consider as weapons their roasting spits or their large kitchen knives.
Life seemed to be at a standstill; the shops were closed and the streets silent and deserted. Sometimes a citizen, intimidated by this silence, ran rapidly along the walls.
The anguish of suspense made the citizens desire the arrival of the enemy.
In the afternoon of the day that followed the departure of the French troops, a few Uhlans, coming from no one knew where, crossed the City in a hurry. Then, a little later, a black mass came down the Ste. Catherine Hill, while two other invading waves appeared on the Darnetal and Boisguillame roads. The vanguards of the three corps made their junction at precisely the same time in the Hotel de Ville Square; and, by all the neighboring roads, the German Army was arriving, rolling its battalions that made the pavements ring under their heavy and well measured steps.
Orders shouted in an unknown and guttural voice, rose along the houses which seemed dead and deserted, while behind the closed shutters, eyes watched these victorious men, masters of the City, of property and life by the right of war. The inhabitants, in their darkened rooms, felt the bewilderment caused by cataclysms, the great bloody upheavals of the earth against which all human wisdom and force are of no avail. For the same feeling reappears whenever the established order of things is upset, when security ceases to exist, when all that is protected by the laws of men or those of protected nature, is at the mercy of unreasoning and ferocious brutality. The earthquake crushing a whole nation under crumbling houses; the overflowing river swirling the bodies of drowned peasants along with the dead oxen and the beams torn away from the roofs, or the glorious army massacring those who defend themselves, taking away the others as prisoners, pillaging in the name of the sword and offering thanks to God to the thunder of the guns, are as many appalling scourges which disconcert any belief in eternal justice, all the trust we were taught to place in the protection of heaven and the reason of man.
Small detachments knocked at each door and then disappeared in the houses. It was occupation after invasion. Now the vanquished had to show themselves nice to their conquerors.
After a while, once the first terror had abated, a new tranquility settled down. In many houses the Prussian Officer took his meals with the family. Some were well bred, and out of politeness, showed sympathy for France and spoke of their reluctance to participate in the war. People were grateful for such sentiments; furthermore, they might have needed their protection any day. By being nice to them they would possibly have fewer men billeted to their houses. And why hurt the feelings of a man who had full power over them? To act in that way would be less bravery than temerity—and temerity is no longer a failing of the citizens of Rouen, as in the days of heroic defense when their City became famous. Last of all—supreme argument derived from French urbanity—they said that they could allow themselves to be polite in their own houses, provided they did not exhibit in public too much familiarity with the foreign soldier. On the streets they passed each other as strangers, but at home they willingly chatted, and every night the German stayed up later and later, warming himself at the family fire-place.
Even the City was gradually resuming some of its ordinary aspect. The French were seldom seen promenading in the Streets, but Prussian soldiers swarmed. Besides, the officers of the Blue Hussars, who arrogantly rattled their big instruments of death on the pavements, did not seem to have for the plain citizens enormously more contempt than the officers of the French Chasseurs who, the year before, had been drinking in the same Cafs.
There was, however, something in the air, something subtle and unknown, an intolerable foreign atmosphere like an offensive odor—the smell of invasion. It pervaded the houses and the public places, changed the taste of food and made you feel as if you were traveling in far distant lands, amid barbarians and dangerous tribes.
The conquerors exacted money, a great deal of money. The citizens kept on paying; they could afford to pay, they were rich. But the more a Norman businessman becomes opulent, the more he suffers when he has to make any sacrifice, or sees any parcel of his property pass into the hands of others.
And yet, within a distance of two or three leagues from the City, down the river, in the direction of Croisset, Dieppendalle or Biessart, boatmen and fishermen often hauled from the bottom of the water the body of some German swollen in his uniform, killed with a knife or by a blow of savate, his head crushed by a stone, or pushed from a bridge into the water. The mud of the river-bed buried such obscure, savage and yet legitimate vengeances, unknown acts of heroism, silent attacks more perilous than battles in the open, and yet without any of the halo and glamour of glory.
For hatred of the foreigner always arms some intrepid persons ready to die for an idea.
As the invaders, although subjecting the City to their inflexible discipline, had committed none of the horrors which rumor credited them with having perpetrated all along their triumphal march, people became bolder, and desire to do business belabored again the hearts of the local merchants. Some of them had large interest in Havre, which was occupied by the French Army, and they tried to reach that sea port in going by land to Dieppe and proceeding from there by boat.
They used the influence of the German Officers, with whom they had become acquainted, and a special permit was secured from the General in Chief. Now then, a large four-horse coach having been engaged for this trip, and ten persons having had their names booked with the driver, it was decided to leave on a Tuesday morning, before daybreak, to avoid attracting any crowd.
For some time past the frost had hardened the ground, and on that particular Monday, at about three o'clock, big black clouds coming from the North brought the snow which fell without interruption all that evening and during the whole night.
At half past four in the morning, the travelers met in the courtyard of the Htel de Normandie, where they were to take the coach.
They were still half asleep, and shivered with cold under their wraps. They could not see each other well in the darkness, and bundled in their heavy winter clothing, their bodies looked like fat priests in their long cassocks. Two men recognized each other; a third joined them; they talked:—"I am taking my wife with me—" said one;—"So am I"—"And I too"—The first speaker continued, "We shall not come back to Rouen, and if the Prussians should threaten Havre, we shall cross over to England"—They all had the same plans, being of similar disposition.
However, the horses were not yet harnessed. A small lantern, carried by a stable boy, came now and then out of a dark doorway, and immediately disappeared in another. Horses were stamping the ground, but their hooves being covered with dung and straw, the noise of the stamping was deadened; a man's voice talking to the animals and swearing at them was heard from the rear of the building. A faint tickle grew soon into a clear and continuous jingling, rhythmical with the movements of the horses, now stopping, now resuming in a sudden peal accompanied by the deadened noise of an iron-shod hoof, pawing the ground.
The door closed suddenly. All the noise ceased. The frozen passengers stopped talking: they stood motionless and stiff.
An uninterrupted curtain of white, glistening flakes ceaselessly fell on the ground; it obliterated the forms of things and powdered them with an icy foam; and in the great silence of the quiet City, buried under the winter, one could hear nothing save that vague, nameless rustle of the falling snow—a sensation rather than a sound—an intermingling of light atoms which seemed to fill the space and cover the whole world.
The man reappeared with his lantern, leading by a rope a sad-looking horse who followed him reluctantly. He placed him against the shaft, fastened the straps, turned around for a long time to make sure that the harness was properly fixed, for he could use only one hand, the other holding the lantern. As he was going to bring the second animal, he noticed that all the travelers were standing still, already white with snow, and he told them:—"Why don't you get in the coach? there you would be under shelter at least."
No doubt this had not occurred to them; at once there was a rush to get in. The three men installed their wives in the rear of the coach and then got in themselves; one after the other, the remaining indistinct and snow covered forms took the last seats without exchanging a single word.
The floor was covered with straw into which the feet sank. The ladies in the rear, having brought with them small copper foot-warmers, heated by means of a chemical coal, lighted these apparatuses, and for some time, in a low voice, they enumerated their advantages, repeating to each other things which they had not known for a long time.
At last six horses instead of four having been harnessed to the coach, on account of the difficult roads and heavier draft, a voice from the outside asked: "Is everybody in?"—To which a voice replied from the inside:—"Yes"—And the coach started.
The coach proceeded slowly, slowly, at a snail's pace. The wheels sank into the snow; the entire body of the carriage groaned with creaks; the animals were slipping, puffing, steaming, and the driver's gigantic whip was cracking continuously, flying in every direction, coiling up and unrolling itself like a thin snake, and suddenly lashing some rounded back, which then stretched out under a more violent effort.
Imperceptibly the day was breaking. Those light flakes that a traveler, a pure blood native of Rouen, had compared to a rain of cotton, had stopped falling. A murky light filtered through the big, dark and heavy clouds, which rendered more dazzling the whiteness of the country where one could see now a line of tall trees spangled with hoar frost, now a cottage with a snow hood.
Inside the coach, the travelers eyed each other inquisitively in the melancholy light of the dawn.
Way in the rear, on the best seats, facing each other, Mr. and Mrs. Loiseau, wholesale wine dealers of the Rue Grand-Pont, were slumbering.
Former clerk to a merchant who had been ruined in business, Loiseau had bought his employer's stock and made a fortune. He was selling very cheap very bad wine to small liquor dealers in the country, and was considered by his friends and acquaintances as a sharp crook, a real Norman full of wiles and joviality. His reputation as a crook was so well established that one evening at the Prefecture, Mr. Tournel, a writer of fables and songs, a biting and fine wit, a local literary glory, having proposed to the ladies' whom he saw rather drowsy, to play a game of "L'oiseau vole," (the bird steals—flies) the joke flew through the salons of the Prefect and from there, reaching those of the town, made all the jaws of the Province laugh for a whole month.
In addition to this unsavory reputation, Loiseau was famous for his various practical jokes, his good or bad tricks; and nobody could mention his name without adding immediately:—"Loiseau is merciless; he spares nobody!"—
Undersized, he had a balloon shaped stomach surmounted by a florid face between a pair of grayish whiskers.
His wife, tall, stout determined, with a loud voice, a woman of quick decision, represented order and arithmetic in the business house which her husband enlivened by his mirthful activity.
Beside them sat, more dignified and belonging to a superior class, Mr. Carr-Lamadon, a man of considerable standing, a leader in the cotton business, proprietor of three spinning mills, officer of the Legion of Honor and member of the General Council. During the Empire he had been the leader of the friendly opposition, solely for the purpose of commanding a higher price for his support when he rallied to the cause which he was fighting daily with courteous weapons, according to his own expression. Mrs. Carr-Lamadon, considerably younger than her husband, remained the consolation of Officers belonging to good families who had been quartered in Rouen.
She was sitting opposite her husband, pretty, slender, graceful, curled in her furs, and gazed mournfully at the lamentable interior of the coach.
Her neighbors, Count and Countess Hubert de Brville, bore one of the most ancient and noble names of Normandy. the Count, an old nobleman of aristocratic bearing, endeavored to accentuate by the artifices of his toilette his natural resemblance to King Henry IV, who, according to a legend, in which the family gloried, had caused the maternity of a de Brville lady whose husband, on account of his royal connection, had been made a Count and Governor of a Province.
A Colleague of Carr-Lamadon in the General Council, Count Hubert represented the Orleanist party in his Department. The story of his marriage with the daughter of a small ship-owner of Nantes had always remained mysterious. But as the Countess had a grand air, entertained better than any other hostess, and was credited with having been the Dulcinea of one of Louis Philippe's sons, the whole nobility showed her the greatest consideration, and her salon remained the most exclusive in the locality, the only one where old gallantry was conserved and admission to which was not easy.
The wealth of the de Brvilles, all invested in real estate, was estimated to yield an annual income of five hundred thousand francs.
These six persons occupied the rear of the coach, the side of wealthy, serene and solid Society, authoritative, honest people who have religion and principles.
By a strange hazard, all the women were seated on the same side; and the Countess further had for neighbors two saintly nuns who fingered long rosaries and mumbled Paters and Aves. One of them was old and had a face so deeply pitted with smallpox, that she looked as if she had been shot full in the face by a rapid-firing gun. The other, very frail, had a pretty and sickly head on a narrow consumptive chest eaten up by that devouring faith which makes martyrs and visionaries. Seated opposite the nuns, a man and a woman attracted the eyes of all the other passengers.
The man, a well known character, was Cornudet the democrat, the terror of respectable people. Since twenty years he had been dipping his large red beard in the bocks of all the democratic Cafs. He had spent, with the help of his brethren and friends, a good sized fortune inherited from his father, a retired Confectioner, and he was impatiently waiting for the advent of the Republic to secure a political position deserved by so many revolutionary libations. On the fourth of September, possibly as a result of a practical joke, he had thought that he had been appointed Prefect, but when he wanted to take up his duties, the clerk, who had remained in charge of the office, refused to recognize him, which compelled him to retire. A very good natured chap, and moreover inoffensive and serviable, he had worked with an incomparable energy to organize the defense of the City. He had had trenches dug in the plains, all the young trees in the neighboring forests cut down, traps set on all the roads, and at the approach of the enemy, satisfied with his preparations, he had hurriedly returned to town. He thought now that he would be more useful in Havre where new trenches were going to be needed.
The woman, one of those called gallant, was famous for her precocious embonpoint which had earned her the nickname of "Boule de Suif" (ball of tallow). Short and rotund all over, fat enough to supply lard, with puffed fingers constricted at the joints and looking like strings of small sausages, a shiny and tight skin, an enormous bust which protruded from under her gown, she was yet attractive and much coveted, her fresh appearance being pleasant to look at. Her face was like a red apple, a peony bud, ready to bloom forth; and in the upper part of her face, two magnificent black eyes, shaded by large thick lashes which cast a shadow into them; in the lower part, a charming mouth, narrow, moist, ripe for kisses, and furnished with white and microscopic teeth.
Moreover she was said to be full of invaluable qualities.
As soon as she was recognized, whispers circulated among the respectable women and the words: "hussy", "public scandal" were spoken so loud that she raised her head. Then she turned on her neighbors such a challenging and haughty look, that a great silence fell on the company and they all lowered their eyes except Loiseau, who kept on watching her with an exhilarated air.
But soon the conversation was resumed between the three ladies, whom the presence of this girl had suddenly made friends, almost intimates. It seemed to them that they should form a sort of "fasces" of their conjugal dignities in the presence of this shameless mercenary; for legalized love always looks down on its free brother.
The three men, also drawn closer by an instinct of conservation at the sight of Cornudet, spoke of money matters with an expression of contempt for the poor. Count Hubert related the damage done to his property by the Prussians, the losses that would result from their stealing of a tenfold millionaire grand Seigneur whom such reverses would hardly incommodate for one year. Mr. Carr-Lamadon, who had suffered serious losses in his cotton business, had taken the precaution of sending six hundred thousand francs to England, a provision for rainy days which would enable him to meet emergencies. As to Loiseau, he had found a way of selling to the French Quartermaster's Office all the low grade wines he had in stock, so that the Government owed him a tremendous sum, which he expected to cash in time at Havre.
And all three cast at each other quick and friendly glances. Although belonging to different social sets, they felt united in the brotherhood of money, the great freemasonry of those who possess, who jingle gold when they put their hands in the pockets of their trousers.
The coach was making such slow headway that at ten o'clock A. M. they had traveled only four leagues. The men got off three times and walked up the hills. They began to feel uneasy, because they expected to have luncheon in Ttes and now there was hardly any possibility of getting there before night. Each was watching to find an inn on the road, when the coach foundered in a snow-drift, and it took two hours to extricate it.
Appetites grew and spirits fell; no road-house, no wine dealer could be discovered, the approach of the Prussians and the passage of the starving French troops having frightened away all the trades-people.
The men went to the farmhouses by the roadside to look for food but they did not even find bread, for the suspicious peasants had hidden away their reserve of provisions for fear of being pillaged by the soldiers who, having nothing to eat, were taking forcibly what they discovered.
Toward one o'clock in the afternoon Loiseau announced that positively he felt a big hollow in his stomach. All of them had been suffering like him for a long time, and the violent craving for food, growing steadily had killed off the conversations.
From time to time one of them yawned, another imitated him instantly; and each, in turn, according to his character, manners and social position, opened his mouth noisily or modestly holding his hand before the gaping hole from which breath steamed out.
Boule de Suif stooped several times as if looking for something under her petticoats. She hesitated a second, looked at her neighbors and the straightened herself up quietly. Faces were pale and drawn. Loiseau said that he would pay one thousand francs for a knuckle of ham. His wife made a gesture as if to protest, then she became calm. She always suffered when she heard of money being squandered, and did not even understand jokes on that subject. "As a matter of fact, I don't feel well, said the Count; why did I not think of taking provisions with me?"—Every one was reproaching himself with the same omission.
Cornudet, however, had a pocket bottle of rum; he offered some to his companions; they refused coldly. Loiseau alone accepted a few drops, and when he returned the bottle, he thanked: "It is good, all the same! it warms you up and it cheats the appetite."—The drink put him in good humor and he proposed that they should do as on the small boat in the song: "eat the fattest of the passengers." This indirect allusion to Boule de Suif shocked the well-bred passengers. There was no response. Cornudet alone smiled. The two good Sisters had ceased to mumble their rosary, and with their hands thrust down in their wide sleeves, they held themselves motionless, obstinately lowering their eyes and doubtless offering up as a sacrifice to God the suffering He had sent them.
At last, at three o'clock, as they were still in the middle of an interminable plain, without any village in sight, Boule de Suif bent down quickly and from under her seat pulled out a large basket covered with a white napkin.
She drew out first a small earthen plate, a fine silver drinking cup, then a large pot in which two whole chickens, carved in pieces, had stewed in their own gravy; and one could further see in the basket other good things wrapped up, pastry, fruit, delicacies, provisions prepared for a three days' trip, so that the traveler would not have to touch the food in the inns. The neck of four bottles emerged from among the food packages. She took the wing of a chicken and, began to eat it delicately with one of those small rolls which in Normandy are called "Rgence."
All the eyes were attracted in her direction. Then the appetizing smell filled the coach, making the nostrils dilate and mouths water, while the jaws under the ears contracted painfully. The contempt of the ladies for this girl was becoming ferocious, developing into a desire to kill her or throw her, with her drinking cup, her basket and her provisions, out of the coach on the snow.
All the while, Loiseau had been devouring with his eyes the pot of chicken. He said:—"Well, well, the lady has been more provident than all of us! There are persons who always manage to think of everything."—She raised her head towards him:—"Would you like some, Sir?" "It is hard to fast since morning—" And looking around him he added:—"In moments like this, one is glad to find obliging people."
He had a newspaper which he unfolded on his knees in order not to soil his trousers, and with the point of a knife, which he always carried in his pocket, he picked a leg thoroughly varnished with jelly, bit it off and chewed it with such evident relish, that there arose in the coach a heavy sigh of distress.
Boule de Suif, with a humble and gentle voice, proposed to the good Sisters to share her luncheon. They both accepted instantly and, without raising their eyes, began to eat very fast, after having muttered a few words of thanks. Neither did Cornudet decline the offer of his neighbor, and with the nuns, they improvised a sort of table by unfolding newspapers on their knees.
Mouths were opening and closing constantly, swallowing, chewing, gulping ferociously. Loiseau in his corner was very busy eating, and in a low voice was urging his wife to imitate him. She resisted for a long time, but, after a cramp, which ran through her stomach, she yielded. Then her husband, rounding his sentences, asked their "charming companion" whether she would allow him to offer a small piece to Madame Loiseau. She replied:—"Why, certainly, Sir!"—with an amiable smile, and held out the terrine. An embarrassment occurred when the first bottle of claret was opened: there was only one drinking cup. They passed it around after wiping it each time. Cornudet alone, no doubt in a spirit of gallantry, put his lips on the spot which was still moist from the lips of his neighbor.
Then, surrounded by people who were eating, suffocated by the emanations of the food, Count and Countess de Brville, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Carr-Lamadon, were suffering from that torture which has perpetuated the name of Tantalus. All at once the manufacturer's young wife heaved a sigh which caused every one to turn and look at her; she was as white as the snow outside; her eyes closed, her head fell forward, and she fainted. Her husband, alarmed, was imploring everybody's help. All lost their heads, but the oldest of the two Nuns holding in her arm the head of the unconscious lady, slipped between her lips the drinking cup of Boule de Suif and made her swallow a few drops of wine. The pretty lady moved, opened her eyes, smiled and declared in a dying voice that she felt better. However, to prevent a recurrence of the fainting, the Nun obliged her to drink a full cup of claret, and she added:—"It is just hunger, and nothing else."
Then Boule de Suif, blushing and embarrassed, stammered, looking at the four passengers who had not yet broken their fast:—"Mon Dieu!, if I ventured to offer these ladies and gentlemen?" She stopped short, thinking she had hurt their feelings. Loiseau began to speak: "Well, by Jove! in cases like this, we are all brothers and sisters and must help each other. Come, ladies, no ceremony! accept what is offered; what the devil! do we even know whether we are going to find a house to shelter us during the night? At the rate at which we are traveling, we shall not be in Ttes before to-morrow noon." They hesitated, none daring to assume the responsibility of saying "Yes."
But the Count settled the question. He turned to the intimidated fat girl and assuming his grand aristocratic tone, he said to her:—"We accept gratefully, Madame."
The first step only costs. Once the Rubicon crossed, they ate heartily. The basket was emptied. It still contained one pat de foie gras, one pat de mauvette, a piece of smoked ham, Crassane pears, a Pont-l'Evque cheese, assorted petits-fours, and a cup full of pickled gherkins and onions, Boule de Suif, like all women, having a predilection for raw things.
One could not partake of the girl's provisions without speaking to her. Now then, they talked, first with some restraint, then, as she behaved very well, with more freedom. Mesdames de Brville and Carr-Lamadon, who had great "savoir-faire," made themselves tactfully gracious. Specially the Countess showed that amiable condescension of great ladies whom no contact can sully, and she was charming. On the other hand, fat Madame Loiseau, who had the soul of a gendarme, remained distant, sullen, saying little but eating much.
Naturally they talked about the war. They told the horrible things done by the Prussians, the deeds of bravery of the French; and all these people, who were fleeing, paid homage to the courage of others. Personal experiences soon followed, and Boule de Suif, related with unaffected emotion, with that warmth of language often characteristic of girls of her class in expressing their natural feelings, how she had left Rouen:—"First I thought that I could stay," she said; "I had my house full of provisions, and I preferred to feed a few soldiers then expatriate myself and go God knows where. But when I saw them, the Prussians, it was too much for me, I could not stand it. They made my blood boil with rage; and I wept all day for very shame. Then some were billeted to my house; I flew at the throat of the first one who entered. And I would have fixed that one, if they had not pulled me away by the hair. After that, I had to hide. Finally I found an opportunity to go, I left, and here I am!"
She was warmly congratulated. She was rising in the esteem of her traveling companions, who had not shown themselves as fearless. And in listening to her, Cornudet had the approving and benevolent smile of an apostle, in the same way as a priest hears a devout person praise God, for long-bearded democrats have the monopoly of patriotism just as the men in cassocks have the monopoly of religion. He spoke, in his turn, with a dogmatic tone, with the declamatory emphasis learned from proclamations daily posted on the walls, and he winded up with a piece of eloquence in which he condemned masterfully that "scoundrel of Napoleon III."
But Boule de Suif became angry immediately because she was a partisan of the Bonapartes. She turned as red as a cherry and stuttering with indignation:—"I should have like to see you in his place, you and your friends! It would have been nice, oh yes! It is you who betrayed the poor man! If we were ruled by rascals like you, there would remain nothing else to do for us but leave France."—Impassive, Cornudet kept a superior and contemptuous smile, but one could feel that big words were impending, when the Count interposed and, not without some difficulty, calmed the exasperated girl by proclaiming authoritatively that all sincere opinions should be respected. However, the Countess and the wife of the Cotton manufacturer, who bore in their hearts the unreasoning hatred of all decent people for the Republic, and that predilection which all women have for the pomp of despotic Governments, felt irresistibly attracted toward this dignified prostitute whose opinions were very much like theirs.
The basket was empty. The ten of them had easily consumed its contents, regretting that it was not larger. The conversation continued for some time, though it flagged since they had finished eating.
The night was falling; darkness gradually grew deeper and deeper, and the cold, felt more during digestion, made Boule De Suif shiver notwithstanding her corpulence. Then Madame de Brville offered her her foot-warmer, the coal of which had been renewed several times since the morning, and she accepted it willingly, for she felt her feet frozen. Mesdames Carr-Lamadon and Loiseau gave theirs to the Nuns.
The driver had lighted his lanterns. They threw a bright gleam on the cloud of vapor rising from the perspiring backs of the rear horses, and on both sides of the road the snow seemed to unroll under the mobile light of the lamps.
Nothing could be distinguished in the coach; suddenly there was a movement between Boule de Suif and Cornudet; and Loiseau, whose eyes scanned the darkness, through that he saw the long-bearded man jump up, as if he had received a noiseless but well aimed blow.
Tiny lights appeared ahead on the road. It was Ttes. They had traveled eleven hours which, added to the hours of rest given in four times to the horses for feeding and breathing, made fourteen hours. They entered the town and the coach stopped in front of the Hotel du Commerce.
The door of the coach opened. A well known noise startled all the passengers; it was the clanging of a scabbard on the pavement. Then the voice of a German called out something.
Although the coach was at a standstill, nobody got off, as if they were expecting to be massacred the moment they left the coach. Then the driver appeared, holding in his hand one of his lanterns which suddenly lighted the interior of the coach and shoed two rows of frightened faces, whose mouths were agape and eyes wide open in surprise and terror.
Beside the driver, in full light, stood a German Officer, a tall young man, exceedingly thin and blond, laced in his uniform as tightly as a girl in her corset, and wearing tilted to one side his flat and waxed cap, which gave him the appearance of a porter in an English Hotel. His exaggerated mustache, long and straight, tapering indefinitely on both sides and ending in a single blond hair, so thin that the point could not be seen, seemed to weigh on the corners of his mouth and pulling down his cheeks, impressed on the lips a drooping fold.
In Alsatian French, he invited the travelers to alight, saying in a stiff tone:—"Will you please get off, ladies and gentlemen?"—
The two good Sisters obeyed first with the docility of holy women accustomed to submission. The Count and Countess appeared next, followed by the manufacturer and his wife, then Loiseau pushing in front of him his larger and better half.
Loiseau, as he got off, told the officer: "Good day, Sir!" prompted by a feeling of prudence much more than politeness. The Officer, insolent like all men holding absolute authority, stared at him and did not reply.
Boule de Suif and Cornudet, although near the door of the coach, were the last to alight, serious and dignified in the presence of the enemy. The corpulent girl was trying to control herself and be calm; the democrat, with a tragic and rather shaky hand, was tormenting his reddish beard. They wanted to maintain their dignity, being fully conscious of the fact that at such meetings each represents a little his country; and both equally revolted by the supineness of their companions, she tried to show herself more proud than her neighbors, the honest women, while he, realizing that he owed an example, continued in his whole attitude his mission of resistance, first assumed when he mined and destroyed the highways.
They entered the spacious kitchen of the inn, and the German, having called for and inspected the permit to leave Rouen signed by the General in Chief, in which were mentioned the names, description and profession of each traveler, examined them for a long while, comparing the persons with the written particulars.
He said abruptly: "All right!", and he disappeared.
Then they breathed freely. They were still hungry; supper was ordered. It required half an hour to prepare it; and while two servants were apparently engaged in getting it ready, the travelers went upstairs to have a look at their rooms. They were all in a long hall ending in a glazed door marked with a speaking number.
They were going to sit down to supper when the proprietor of the inn appeared. He was a former horse dealer, a stout, asthmatic man, always wheezing, coughing and clearing his throat. His father had transmitted him the name of Follenvie.
"Mademoiselle Elizabeth Rousset?"—Boule de Suif started; she turned around:
—"That is my name!"—
—"Mademoiselle, the Prussian Officer wants to speak to you immediately."
—"Yes, if you are Mlle. Elizabeth Rousset?"
She became uneasy, reflected a moment, then declared squarely:—"That may be, but I shall not go."
There was a movement around her; each discussed and speculated as to the cause of this order. The Count came near her:
—"You are wrong, Madame, because your refusal might bring considerable trouble not only to you but also to all your traveling companions. We should never resist those who are the strongest. Assuredly your compliance with this order cannot involve any danger; no doubt you are wanted for some forgotten formality"—
All joined the Count in urging her, pressing her, lecturing her and finally they convinced her; for all of them dreaded complications which might result from insubordination on her part. At last she said:
—"I am doing this for your sake, don't forget it."
The Countess took her hand:
—"And we thank you for it."—
She went out. All waited for her return before they sat down at the table.
Each was sorry that he had not been called instead of that violent and irascible girl, and prepared mentally the platitudes he would utter in case he should be called in his turn.
But at the end of ten minutes, she came back, out of breath, red to suffocation, exasperated. She was stammering:—"Oh! la Canaille! la Canaille!"[*]
[*][Note from Brett: This translates, roughly, into "Oh! the rogue! the rogue!"]
All rushed up to her to find out what had happened, but she did not say anything, and as the Count was insisting, she replied with a great deal of dignity:—"No, it does not concern you; I cannot speak..."
Then they took their seats around a high soup tureen from which issued a smell of cabbage. In spite of this untoward incident, the supper was cheerful. The cider was good; the Loiseau couple and the Sisters drank of it by economy. the others ordered wine. Cornudet called for a bottle of beer. He had a peculiar way of uncorking the bottle, making the beer foam, examining it as he inclined his glass, which he then raised between the lamp and his eyes in order to appreciate better its color. While drinking, his long beard, that had kept the color of his favorite beverage, seemed to shake with joy; his eyes squinted in his effort not to lose sight of his glass, and he looked as if he were performing the only function for which he had been created. One would have thought that in his mind he established a relationship and a kind of affinity between the two great passions that occupied all his life: Pale Ale and Revolution; and certainly he could not taste the former without dreaming of the latter.
Mr. and Mrs. Follenvie were dining at the other end of the table, the man, rattling like a broken down locomotive, was too short winded to talk while eating; but the woman never kept silent. She told all her impressions on the arrival of the Prussians, what they did, what they said, execrating them first because they cost them money, and then because she had two sons in the Army. She spoke especially to the Countess, flattered at the opportunity of talking with a lady of quality.
Then she lowered her voice to broach delicate subjects, and her husband interrupted her now and then:—"You better hold your tongue, Madame Follenvie!"—But she did not pay any attention to his admonitions, and continued,
—"Yes, Madame, these people do nothing but eat potatoes and pork, and again pork and potatoes. And you must not think that they are clean. Oh, No, indeed not!—They soil and dirty everything, permit me the expression. And if you saw them drill for hours and days! they are all there, in a field, and march forward and march backward, and turn this way and turn that way. If at least they cultivated the land, or worked on the roads, in their country!—But no, Madame, these soldiers are good for nothing; what a pity that the poor people should toil and feed them and they should learn nothing but how to massacre!—I am only an uneducated old woman, it is true, but in seeing them wear themselves out by marching from morning till night, I say to myself:—"When there are so many people who make so many discoveries to serve the people, why should others take so much trouble to be harmful? Truly, is it not abominable to kill people, whether they are Prussians, or English, or Polish or French?—If you take revenge on somebody, who has wronged you, that is bad enough, because you are condemned to jail, but when our boys are exterminated like game, with guns, it must be all right, because decorations are given to the man who kills the most—No, indeed, I shall never be able to understand it."
Cornudet raised his voice:
—"War is barbarous when you attack a peaceful neighbor; it is a sacred duty when waged in defense of one's country."
The old woman lowered her head.
—"Yes in self-defense, it is another matter, but shouldn't we rather kill off all the Kings who go to war for their own pleasure?"
—Cornudet's eyes flashed:
—"Bravo, citoyenne[*]!" said he.
[*][Note from Brett: This translates, roughly, into "citizen"]
Mr. Carr-Lamadon was in deep meditation. Although a fanatical admirer of illustrious generals, the common sense of that peasant woman made him think of the opulence that would bring to a country so many hands now idle and necessarily ruinous, so many forces kept unproductive, if they were employed for the great industrial enterprises which, at the present pace, it would take centuries to complete.
But Loiseau, leaving his seat, went and spoke in a very low voice to the inn-keeper. The fat man was laughing, coughing, and expectorating. His enormous stomach shook with merriment at the jokes of his neighbor, and he bought from him six casks of claret to be delivered in the Spring, after the departure of the Prussians.
Hardly were they through with supper, they retired, as they were all tired out.
Loiseau, however, who had kept an eye on what was going on, send his wife to bed; then he pressed now his ear, now his eye to the keyhole in order to try and discover what he called "the mysteries of the hall."—
After about an hour, he heard a rustle, peeped out quickly and saw Boule de Suif, who looked still more corpulent in a blue cashmere dressing gown trimmed with white lace. She held a candle in her hand and made straight for the room at the other end of the hall bearing a conspicuous number. But a side-door opened, and when, after a few minutes, she came back, Cornudet, in his shirt-sleeves and suspenders, was following her. Boule de Suif seemed to deny him energetically admission to her room. Unfortunately Loisseau could not hear what they said, but in the end, as they raised their voices, he was able to catch a few words. Cornudet was insisting eagerly:
—"Come, now, you are silly! what does it matter to you?"—
She seemed indignant and replied:
—"No, my friend, there are times when we cannot do such things, and why, here, it would be a shame!"
Apparently, he failed to understand and asked why.—Then she became excited and speaking louder, she said:
—"Why? Don't you understand why? When Prussians are in the house, maybe in the next room?" He had a newspaper which he unfolded on his knees. A hussy who denied herself to the solicitations of a man while they were near the enemy, must have aroused in his heart his failing dignity, for, after having kissed her, he went back stealthily to his room.
Loiseau, quite excited, left the keyhole, and quickly jumped into the conjugal bed to seek solace near the hard carcass of his espoused.
Then the whole house became silent. But soon there arose from somewhere, from some indeterminate direction, which might have been the cellar as well as the attic, a powerful monotonous snore, a deep and prolonged noise, like the throbbing of a boiler under pressure—Mr. Follenvie was sleeping.
As it had been decided that they would start at eight o'clock the next morning, at that hour everybody was in the kitchen; but the coach, the hood of which formed a roof of snow, stood solitary in the middle of the yard, without horses and without driver. In vain a search was made for the latter in the stable, barns, and coach-house. Then all the men decided to scour the country, and they set out. They found themselves in the Square, with the Church at the farther end, and on both sides low houses in which Prussian soldiers could be seen. The first one they saw was peeling potatoes; further on, the second was washing the barber's shop. Another, bearded up to his eyes, was kissing a crying child and lulling him on his knees to quiet it; fat peasant women, whose husbands were "in the fighting army," were showing by the language of signs to their obedient conquerors the work they had to do: chop wood, prepare soup, grind coffee; one of them was even washing for his hostess, an impotent grandmother.
The Count, surprised, questioned the beadle who was coming out of the presbytery. The old Church rat replied:—"Oh, those here are not bad; they are not Prussians, according to what I hear. They come from farther off, I don't know exactly where; and they have all left wives and children at home; they are not so fond of war, I assure you; I am positive that over there they are mourning for their men; and war will cause them much distress, as it does us. Here at least we are not so badly off for the present, because the soldiers don't harm us and they work as if they were in their own houses. You see, Sir, we poor people, must help each other. It is the wealthy ones who make war."
Cornudet, indignant at the cordial understanding established between the conquerors and the conquered, went away, preferring to shut himself up in the inn. Loiseau cracked a joke: "They are re-peopling the country." Mr. Carr-Lamadon, more serious, interjected:—"They are repairing." But they could not find the driver. Finally they discovered him in the village Caf, fraternizing and drinking with the orderly of the Prussian Officer. The Count interpolated:
—"Didn't you have orders to have the coach ready for eight o'clock?"
—"Oh yes, but I have received other orders since."
—"Not to harness the horses at all."
—"Who gave you that order?"
—"Upon my faith, the Prussian Commander."
—"I don't know. Go and ask him. I am forbidden to harness the horses and I don't; that is all there is to it."
—"Did he tell you so himself?"
—"No. Sir, it is the inn-keeper that gave me the order for him."
—"When did he give it?"
—"Last night, just as I was going to bed!"
The three men became quite alarmed.
They called for Monsieur Follenvie, but the servant told them that on account of his asthma, that gentleman never got up before ten o'clock. He had even left formal orders not to wake him up earlier, except in case of fire.
They wanted to see the officer, but it was absolutely impossible, although he lodged in the inn. Mr. Follenvie only was authorized to speak to him about civil matters. Then they waited. The women went up to their rooms and got busy with their trifles.
Cornudet sat down and made himself comfortable in front of the high fireplace of the kitchen, in which a big fire was blazing. He had one of the small tables of the Caf brought there, ordered a jug of beer, and drew out his pipe which, among the democrats, enjoyed a consideration almost equal to his own, as if it had served the country in serving Cornudet. It was a superb meerschaum pipe, admirably blackened, as black as its master's teeth, but fragrant, nicely curved, shining, familiar to his hand, and completing his physiognomy. And he remained still, his eyes fixed now on the flame of the fire, now on the foam crowning his jug; and every time, after he had drunk, he passed, with an air of satisfaction, his thin, long fingers in his flowing greasy hair, while he sucked his mustache fringed with foam.
Loiseau, under pretence of stretching his legs, went out to sell wine to the dealers of the village. The Count and the manufacturer began to talk politics. They were forecasting France's future. The one kept faith in the Orleans dynasty, the other expected an unknown savior, a hero who would rise up when everything was desperate: a Duguseclin, a Jeanne d'Arc perhaps? or another Napoleon the Great?—"Ah! if the Imperial Prince had not been so young!"—Cornudet listening to their conversation, was smiling as a man who holds the keys to destiny.—His pipe perfumed the whole kitchen.
As it was striking ten o'clock, Mr. Follenvie appeared. He was immediately questioned, but he only repeated two or three times, without any variation, the following words:—"The Officer told me so!"—"Monsieur Follenvie, you will forbid the driver to harness up the coach of these travelers to-morrow morning. I don't want them to go without my order. You understand? That is enough!"
Then they wanted to see the Officer. The Count sent in his card on which Mr. Carr-Lamadon added his own name and all his titles. The Prussian sent word that the two men would be admitted to speak to him after he had had his luncheon, that is to say about one o'clock.
The ladies came down, and they all had a bite, in spite of their anxiety. Boule de Suif seemed to be sick and prodigiously worried.
They were finishing their coffee, when the orderly came to call the gentlemen. Loiseau joined the first two, but as they tried to induce Cornudet to go with them in order to add more solemnity to their application, he declared proudly that he expected not to have any intercourse with the Germans; and he resumed his seat near the fire-place, ordering another jug of beer.
The three men went up and were ushered into the finest room of the inn, in which the Officer received them, stretched on an armchair, his feet resting on the mantelpiece, and smoking a long porcelain pipe, wrapped in a flamboyant dressing-robe, no doubt stolen from the abandoned residence of some bourgeois lacking in taste. He did not get up, neither did he greet them nor look at them. He was a magnificent specimen of the insolence natural to victorious soldiers.
After a few seconds, he said in his defective French:
—"What do you want?"
The Count spoke:—"We wish to continue our journey, Sir."
—"May I inquire what is the reason for this refusal?"
—"Because I don't want."
—"I would respectfully call your attention to the fact, Sir, that your General in chief has delivered us a permit to go to Dieppe, and I don't think we did anything to deserve your rigors."
—"I don't want to let you go, that is all; you may retire!"
Having bowed, all three retired.
They spent a wretched afternoon. They could not in any way account for this German's caprice, and the most singular ideas worried their heads. Everybody stayed in the kitchen and there was endless discussion imagining the most unlikely things. Perhaps they wanted to hold them as hostages—but for what object?—or take them away as prisoners? or, rather, demand from them a large ransom? at this thought they became panic-stricken. The wealthiest were the most alarmed, seeing themselves already compelled, in order to redeem their lives, to pour bags of gold into the hands of this insolent soldier. They racked their brains to find plausible and acceptable lies, conceal their wealth, pass themselves off as very poor, very poor. Loiseau took off his watch and chain and hid it in his pocket. The approaching night filled them with apprehension.—The lamp was lighted, and as they still had fully two hours before dinner, Madame Loiseau proposed a game of "trente-et-un." That would be a diversion. They accepted. Even Cornudet, having put out his pipe, joined the party out of politeness.
The Count shuffled the cards and dealt; Boule de Suif had a full thirty-one; and soon the interest in the game quieted the fears that were haunting the minds. But Cornudet noticed that the Loiseau couple had arranged to cheat.
As they were going to sit down to dinner, Mr. Follenvie reappeared, and with his grating voice announced: "The Prussian Officer sends me to ask Mlle. Elizabeth Rousset whether she has changed her mind?"
Boule de Suif stood still, pale as death. Then turning suddenly crimson, she felt so suffocated by anger that she could not speak. Finally she gasped out: "You will please tell that scoundrel, that rascal, that carrion of a Prussian, that I shall never consent; you understand, never, never, never!"
The fat inn-keeper went away. Then Boule de Suif was surrounded, questioned, solicited by everybody to reveal the mystery of her visit. First she resisted, but soon exasperation got the best of her.—"What he wants?...what he wants?.... He wants me to keep company with him," she exclaimed. Nobody was shocked by this revelation, so great was their indignation. Cornudet broke his jug as he banged it down on the table. There was a general clamor of reprobation against the ignoble soldier, a waive of anger, a combination of all for resistance as if each one of the party had been called upon to make the sacrifice demanded of Boule de Suif. The Count declared just like the barbarians in ancient times. The women specially showed Boule de Suif an affectionate and energetic commiseration. The good sisters who showed up only at meal time, had bowed their heads and said nothing.
They dined however as soon as the first furor had abated, but they spoke little.
The ladies retired early; and the men, while smoking, organized a game of cart and invited Mr. Follenvie to join them, because they wanted to question him skillfully as to the means to be used to overcome the Officer's resistance. but he had his mind concentrated on the cards; he did not hear anything, did not answer anything, and kept on repeating: "Attend to the game, Gentlemen! attend to the game!"—His attention was so tense that he even forgot to expectorate, which produced at times a wheezing in his chest like the sounds of an organ. His whistling lungs gave out every note of the asthmatic scale from the deep and hollow tones up to the shrill crowing of young roosters trying to sing.
He even refused to go up when his wife, overcome with sleep, came to get him. Then she went away all alone, because she was an early riser, getting up with the sun, whereas her husband kept late hours, always ready to spend the night with friends. He called to her:—"Put my eggnog near the fire!"—and continued the game. When the travelers saw that they could not get anything out of him, they announced that it was time to retire, and they all went to bed.