Works, by Guy de Maupassant

The Carter’s Wench

The driver, who had jumped from his box, and was now walking slowly by the side of his thin horses, waking them up every moment by a cut of the whip, or a coarse oath, pointed to the top of the hill, where the windows of a solitary house, in which the inhabitants were still up, although it was very late and quite dark, were shining like yellow lamps, and said to me:

“One gets a good drop there, Monsieur, and well served, by George.”

And his eyes flashed in his thin, sunburnt face, which was of a deep brickdust color, while he smacked his lips like a drunkard, who remembers a bottle of good liquor that he has lately drunk, and drawing himself up in a blouse like a vulgar swell, he shivered like the back of an ox, when it is sharply pricked with the goad.

“Yes, and well served by a wench who will turn your head for you before you have tilted your elbow and drank a glass!”

The moon was rising behind the snow-covered mountain peaks, which looked almost like blood under its rays, and which were crowned by dark, broken clouds, which whirled about and floated, and reminded the passenger of some terrible Medusa’s head. The gloomy plains of Capsir, which were traversed by torrents, extensive meadows in which undefined forms were moving about, fields of rye, like huge golden table-covers, and here and there wretched villagers, and broad sheets of water, into which the stars seemed to look in a melancholy manner, opened out to the view. Damp gusts of winds swept along the road, bringing a strong smell of hay, of resin of unknown flowers, with them, and erratic pieces of rock, which were scattered on the surface like huge boundary stones, had spectral outlines.

The driver pulled his broad-brimmed felt hat over his eyes, twirled his large moustache, and said in an obsequious voice:

“Does Monsieur wish to stop here? This is the place!”

It was a wretched wayside public-house, with a reddish slate roof, that looked as if it were suffering from leprosy, and before the door there stood three wagons drawn by mules, and loaded with huge stems of trees, and which took up nearly the whole of the road; the animals, which were used to halting there, were dozing, and their heavy loads exhaled a smell of a pillaged forest.

Inside, three wagoners, one of whom was an old man, while the other two were young, were sitting in front of the fire, which cackled loudly, with bottles and glasses on a large round-table by their side, and were singing and laughing boisterously. A woman with large round hips, and with a lace cap pinned onto her hair, in the Catalan fashion, who looked strong and bold, and who had a certain amount of gracefulness about her, and with a pretty, but untidy head, was urging them to undo the strings of their great leather purses, and replied to their somewhat indelicate jokes in a shrill voice, as she sat on the knee of the youngest, and allowed him to kiss her and to fumble in her bodice, without any signs of shame.

The coachman pushed open the door, like a man who knows that he is at home.

“Good evening, Glaizette, and everybody; there is room for two more, I suppose?”

The wagoners did not speak, but looked at us cunningly and angrily, like dogs whose food had been taken from them, and who showed their teeth, ready to bite, while the girl shrugged her shoulders and looked into their eyes like some female wild beast tamer; and then she asked us with a strange smile:

“What am I to get you?”

“Two glasses of cognac, and the best you have in the cupboard,” Glaizette, the coachman replied, rolling a cigarette.

While she was uncorking the bottle I noticed how green her eyeballs were; it was a fascinating, tempting green, like that of the great green grasshopper; and also how small her hands were, which showed that she did not use them much; how white her teeth were, and how her voice, which was rather rough, though cooing, had a cruel, and at the same time, a coaxing sound. I fancied I saw her, as in a mirage, reclining triumphantly on a couch, indifferent to the fights which were going on about her, always waiting — longing for him who would prove himself the stronger, and who would prove victorious. She was, in short, the hospitable dispenser of love, by the side of that difficult, stony road, who opened her arms to poor men, and who made them forget everything in the profusion of her kisses. She knew dark matters, which nobody in the world besides herself should know, which her sealed lips would carry away inviolate to the other world. She had never yet loved, and would never really love, because she was vowed to passing kisses which were so soon forgotten.

I was anxious to escape from her as soon as possible; no longer to see her pale, green eyes, and her mouth that bestowed caresses from pure charity; no longer to feel the woman with her beautiful, white hands, so near one; so I threw her a piece of gold and made my escape without saying a word to her, without waiting for any change, and without even wishing her good-night, for I felt the caress of her smile, and the disdainful restlessness of her looks.

The carriage started off at a gallop to Formiguéres, amidst a furious jingling of bells. I could not sleep any more; I wanted to know where that woman came from, but I was ashamed to ask the driver and to show any interest in such a creature, and when he began to talk, as we were going up another hill, as if he had guessed my sweet thoughts, he told me all he knew about Glaizette. I listened to him with the attention of a child, to whom somebody is telling some wonderful fairy tale.

She came from Fontpédrouze, a muleteers’ village, where the men spend their time in drinking and gambling at the inn when they are not traveling on the high roads with their mules, while the women do all the field work, carry the heaviest loads on their back, and lead a life of pain and misery.

Her father kept an inn; the girl grew up very happy; she was courted before she was fifteen, and was so coquettish that she was certain to be almost always found in front of her looking-glass, smiling at her own beauty, arranging her hair, trying to make herself like a young lady on the prado. And now, as none of the family knew how to keep a halfpenny, but spent more than they earned, and were like cracked jugs, from which the water escapes drop by drop, they found themselves ruined one fine day, just as if they had been at the bottom of a blind alley. So on the “Feast of Our Lady of Succor,” when people go on a pilgrimage to Font Romea, and the villages are consequently deserted, the inn-keeper set fire to the house. The crime was discovered through la Glaizette, who could not make up her mind to leave the looking-glass, with which her room was adorned, behind her, and so had carried it off under her petticoat.

The parents were sentenced to many years’ imprisonment, and being let loose to live as best she could, the girl became a servant, passed from hand to hand, inherited some property from an old farmer, whom she had caught, as if she had been a thrush on a twig covered with bird-lime, and with the money she had built this public-house on the new road which was being built across the Capsir.

“A regular bad one, Monsieur,” the coachman said in conclusion, “a vixen such as one does not see now in the worst garrison towns, and who would open the door to the whole fraternity, and not at all avaricious, but thoroughly honest. . . . ”

I interrupted him in spite of myself, as if his words had pained me, and I thought of those pale green eyes, those magic eyes, eyes to be dreamt about, which were the color of grasshoppers, and I looked for them, and saw them in the darkness; they danced before me like phosphorescent lights, and I would have given then the whole contents of my purse to that man if he would only have been silent and urged his horses on to full speed, so that their mad gallop might carry me off quickly, quickly and far, and continually further from that girl.

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