Short Stories, by Guy de Maupassant

Old Mongilet

In the office old Mongilet was considered a type. He was a good old employee, who had never been outside Paris but once in his life.

It was the end of July, and each of us, every Sunday, went to roll in the grass, or soak in the water in the country near by. Asnieres, Argenteuil, Chatou, Borgival, Maisons, Poissy, had their habitues and their ardent admirers. We argued about the merits and advantages of all these places, celebrated and delightful to all Parsian employees.

Daddy Mongilet declared:

“You are like a lot of sheep! It must be pretty, this country you talk of!”

“Well, how about you, Mongilet? Don’t you ever go on an excursion?”

“Yes, indeed. I go in an omnibus. When I have had a good luncheon, without any hurry, at the wine shop down there, I look up my route with a plan of Paris, and the time table of the lines and connections. And then I climb up on the box, open my umbrella and off we go. Oh, I see lots of things, more than you, I bet! I change my surroundings. It is as though I were taking a journey across the world, the people are so different in one street and another. I know my Paris better than anyone. And then, there is nothing more amusing than the entresols. You would not believe what one sees in there at a glance. One guesses at domestic scenes simply at sight of the face of a man who is roaring; one is amused on passing by a barber’s shop, to see the barber leave his customer whose face is covered with lather to look out in the street. One exchanges heartfelt glances with the milliners just for fun, as one has no time to alight. Ah, how many things one sees!

“It is the drama, the real, the true, the drama of nature, seen as the horses trot by. Heavens! I would not give my excursions in the omnibus for all your stupid excursions in the woods.”

“Come and try it, Mongilet, come to the country once just to see.”

“I was there once,” he replied, “twenty years ago, and you will never catch me there again.”

“Tell us about it, Mongilet.”

“If you wish to hear it. This is how it was:

“You knew Boivin, the old editorial clerk, whom we called Boileau?”

“Yes, perfectly.”

“He was my office chum. The rascal had a house at Colombes and always invited me to spend Sunday with him. He would say:

“‘Come along, Maculotte [he called me Maculotte for fun]. You will see what a nice excursion we will take.’

“I let myself be entrapped like an animal, and set out, one morning by the 8 o’clock train. I arrived at a kind of town, a country town where there is nothing to see, and I at length found my way to an old wooden door with an iron bell, at the end of an alley between two walls.

“I rang, and waited a long time, and at last the door was opened. What was it that opened it? I could not tell at the first glance. A woman or an ape? The creature was old, ugly, covered with old clothes that looked dirty and wicked. It had chicken’s feathers in its hair and looked as though it would devour me.

“‘What do you want?’ she said.

“‘Mr. Boivin.’

“‘What do you want of him, of Mr. Boivin?’

“I felt ill at ease on being questioned by this fury. I stammered: ‘Why — he expects me.’

“‘Ah, it is you who have come to luncheon?’

“‘Yes,’ I stammered, trembling.

“Then, turning toward the house, she cried in an angry tone:

“‘Boivin, here is your man!’

“It was my friend’s wife. Little Boivin appeared immediately on the threshold of a sort of barrack of plaster covered with zinc, that looked like a foot stove. He wore white duck trousers covered with stains and a dirty Panama hat.

“After shaking my hands warmly, he took me into what he called his garden. It was at the end of another alleyway enclosed by high walls and was a little square the size of a pocket handkerchief, surrounded by houses that were so high that the sun, could reach it only two or three hours in the day. Pansies, pinks, wallflowers and a few rose bushes were languishing in this well without air, and hot as an oven from the refraction of heat from the roofs.

“‘I have no trees,’ said Boivin, ‘but the neighbors’ walls take their place. I have as much shade as in a wood.’

“Then he took hold of a button of my coat and said in a low tone:

“‘You can do me a service. You saw the wife. She is not agreeable, eh? To-day, as I had invited you, she gave me clean clothes; but if I spot them all is lost. I counted on you to water my plants.’

“I agreed. I took off my coat, rolled up my sleeves, and began to work the handle of a kind of pump that wheezed, puffed and rattled like a consumptive as it emitted a thread of water like a Wallace drinking fountain. It took me ten minutes to water it and I was in a bath of perspiration. Boivin directed me:

“‘Here — this plant — a little more; enough — now this one.’

“The watering pot leaked and my feet got more water than the flowers. The bottoms of my trousers were soaking and covered with mud. And twenty times running I kept it up, soaking my feet afresh each time, and perspiring anew as I worked the handle of the pump. And when I was tired out and wanted to stop, Boivin, in a tone of entreaty, said as he put his hand on my arm:

“Just one more watering pot full — just one, and that will be all.’

“To thank me he gave me a rose, a big rose, but hardly had it touched my button-hole than it fell to pieces, leaving only a hard little green knot as a decoration. I was surprised, but said nothing.

“Mme. Boivin’s voice was heard in the distance:

“‘Are you ever coming? When you know that luncheon is ready!’

“We went toward the foot stove. If the garden was in the shade, the house, on the other hand, was in the blazing sun, and the sweating room in the Turkish bath is not as hot as was my friend’s dining room.

“Three plates at the side of which were some half-washed forks, were placed on a table of yellow wood in the middle of which stood an earthenware dish containing boiled beef and potatoes. We began to eat.

“A large water bottle full of water lightly colored with wine attracted my attention. Boivin, embarrassed, said to his wife:

“‘See here, my dear, just on a special occasion, are you not going to give us some plain wine?’

“She looked at him furiously.

“‘So that you may both get tipsy, is that it, and stay here gabbing all day? A fig for your special occasion!’

“He said no more. After the stew she brought in another dish of potatoes cooked with bacon. When this dish was finished, still in silence, she announced:

“‘That is all! Now get out!’

“Boivin looked at her in astonishment.

“‘But the pigeon — the pigeon you plucked this morning?’

“She put her hands on her hips:

“‘Perhaps you have not had enough? Because you bring people here is no reason why we should devour all that there is in the house. What is there for me to eat this evening?’

“We rose. Solvin whispered

“‘Wait for me a second, and we will skip.’

“He went into the kitchen where his wife had gone, and I overheard him say:

“‘Give me twenty sous, my dear.’

“‘What do you want with twenty sons?’

“‘Why, one does not know what may happen. It is always better to have some money.’

“She yelled so that I should hear:

“‘No, I will not give it to you! As the man has had luncheon here, the least he can do is to pay your expenses for the day.’

“Boivin came back to fetch me. As I wished to be polite I bowed to the mistress of the house, stammering:

“‘Madame — many thanks — kind welcome.’

“‘That’s all right,’ she replied. ‘But do not bring him back drunk, for you will have to answer to me, you know!’

“We set out. We had to cross a perfectly bare plain under the burning sun. I attempted to gather a flower along the road and gave a cry of pain. It had hurt my hand frightfully. They call these plants nettles. And, everywhere, there was a smell of manure, enough to turn your stomach.

“Boivin said, ‘Have a little patience and we will reach the river bank.’

“We reached the river. Here there was an odor of mud and dirty water, and the sun blazed down on the water so that it burned my eyes. I begged Boivin to go under cover somewhere. He took me into a kind of shanty filled with men, a river boatmen’s tavern.

“He said:

“‘This does not look very grand, but it is very comfortable.’

“I was hungry. I ordered an omelet. But to and behold, at the second glass of wine, that beggar, Boivin, lost his head, and I understand why his wife gave him water diluted.

“He got up, declaimed, wanted to show his strength, interfered in a quarrel between two drunken men who were fighting, and, but for the landlord, who came to the rescue, we should both have been killed.

“I dragged him away, holding him up until we reached the first bush where I deposited him. I lay down beside him and, it seems, I fell asleep. We must certainly have slept a long time, for it was dark when I awoke. Boivin was snoring at my side. I shook him; he rose but he was still drunk, though a little less so.

“We set out through the darkness across the plain. Boivin said he knew the way. He made me turn to the left, then to the right, then to the left. We could see neither sky nor earth, and found ourselves lost in the midst of a kind of forest of wooden stakes, that came as high as our noses. It was a vineyard and these were the supports. There was not a single light on the horizon. We wandered about in this vineyard for about an hour or two, hesitating, reaching out our arms without finding any limit, for we kept retracing our steps.

“At length Boivin fell against a stake that tore his cheek and he remained in a sitting posture on the ground, uttering with all his might long and resounding hallos, while I screamed ‘Help! Help!’ as loud as I could, lighting candle-matches to show the way to our rescuers, and also to keep up my courage.

“At last a belated peasant heard us and put us on our right road. I took Boivin to his home, but as I was leaving him on the threshold of his garden, the door opened suddenly and his wife appeared, a candle in her hand. She frightened me horribly.

“As soon as she saw her husband, whom she must have been waiting for since dark, she screamed, as she darted toward me:

“‘Ah, scoundrel, I knew you would bring him back drunk!’

“My, how I made my escape, running all the way to the station, and as I thought the fury was pursuing me I shut myself in an inner room as the train was not due for half an hour.

“That is why I never married, and why I never go out of Paris.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09