Works, by Guy de Maupassant

The Twenty-Five Francs of the Mother-Superior

He certainly looked very droll, did Daddy Pavilly, with his great, spider legs and his little body, his long arms and his pointed head, surrounded by a flame of red hair on the top of the crown.

He was a clown, a peasant clown by nature, born to play tricks, to act parts, simple parts, as he was a peasant’s son and was himself a peasant, who could scarcely read. Yes! God had certainly created him to amuse others, the poor country devils who have neither theaters nor fêtes, and he amused them conscientiously. In the café people treated him to drink in order to keep him there, and he drank intrepidly, laughing and joking, hoaxing everybody without vexing anyone, while the people were laughing heartily around him.

He was so droll that the very girls could not resist him, ugly as he was, because he made them laugh so. He would drag them about joking all the while, and he tickled and squeezed them, saying such funny things that they held their sides while they pushed him away.

Towards the end of June he engaged himself for the harvest to farmer Le Harivan, near Rouville. For three whole weeks he amused the harvesters, male and female, by his jokes, both by day and night. During the day, when he was in the fields, he wore an old straw hat which hid his red shock head, and one saw him gathering up the yellow grain and tying it into bundles with his long, thin arms; and then suddenly stopping to make a funny movement which made the laborers, who always kept their eyes on him, laugh all over the field. At night he crept, like some crawling animal, in among the straw in the barn where the women slept, causing screams and exciting a disturbance. They drove him off with their wooden clogs, and he escaped on all fours, like a fantastic monkey, amidst volleys of laughter from the whole place.

On the last day, as the wagon full of reapers, decked with ribbons and playing bag-pipes, shouting and singing with pleasure and drink, went along the white, high road, slowly drawn by six dapple-gray horses, driven by a lad in a blouse, with a rosette in his cap, Pavilly, in the midst of the sprawling women, danced like a drunken satyr, and kept the little dirty-faced boys and astonished peasants, standing staring at him open-mouthed on the way to the farm.

Suddenly, as they got to the gate of Le Harivan’s farm yard, he gave a leap as he was lifting up his arms, but unfortunately, as he came down, he knocked against the side of the long wagon, fell over it onto the wheel, and rebounded into the road. His companions jumped out, but he did not move; one eye was closed, while the other was open, and he was pale with fear, while his long limbs were stretched out in the dust, and when they touched his right leg he began to scream, and when they tried to make him stand up, he immediately fell down.

“I think one of his legs is broken,” one of the men said.

And so it really was. Harivan, therefore, had him laid on a table and sent off a man on horseback to Rouville to fetch the doctor, who came an hour later.

The farmer was very generous and said that he would pay for the man’s treatment in the hospital, so that the doctor carried Pavilly off in his carriage to the hospital, and had him put into a white-washed ward, where his fracture was reduced.

As soon as he knew that it would not kill him, and that he would be taken care of, cuddled, cured, and fed without having anything to do except to lie on his back between the sheets, Pavilly’s joy was unbounded, and he began to laugh silently and continuously, so as to show his decayed teeth.

Whenever one of the Sisters of Mercy came near his bed he made grimaces of satisfaction, winking, twisting his mouth awry and moving his nose, which was very long and mobile. His neighbors in the ward, ill as they were, could not help laughing, and the Mother–Superior often came to his bedside, to be amused for a quarter of an hour, and he invented all kinds of jokes and stories for her, and as he had all the makings of a strolling actor in him, he would be devout in order to please her, and spoke of religion with the serious air of a man who knows that there are times when jokes are out of place.

One day, he took it into his head to sing to her. She was delighted and came to see him more frequently, and then she brought him a hymn-book, so as to utilize his voice. Then he might be seen sitting up in bed, for he was beginning to be able to move, singing the praises of the Almighty and of Mary, in a falsetto voice, while the kind, stout sister stood by him and beat time with her finger. When he could walk, the Superior offered to keep him for some time longer to sing in chapel, to serve at Mass and to fulfill the duties of sacristan, and he accepted. For a whole month he might be seen in his surplice, limping and singing the psalms and the responses, with such movements of his head, that the number of the faithful increased, and that people deserted the parish Church to attend Vespers at the hospital.

But as everything must come to an end in this world, they were obliged to discharge him, when he was quite cured, and the Superior gave him twenty-five francs in return for his services.

As soon as Pavilly found himself in the street with all that money in his pocket, he asked himself what he was going to do. Should he return to the village? Certainly not before having a drink, for he had not had one for a long time, and so he went into a café. He did not go into the town more than two or three times a year, and so he had a confused and intoxicating recollection of an orgie, on one of those visits in particular, and so he asked for a glass of the best brandy, which he swallowed at a gulp to grease the passage, and then he had another to see how it tasted.

As soon as the strong and fiery brandy had touched his palate and tongue, awakening more vividly than ever the sensation of alcohol which he was so fond of, and so longed for, which caresses, and stings, and burns the mouth, he knew that he should drink a whole bottle of it, and so he asked immediately what it cost, so as to spare himself having it in detail. They charged him three francs, which he paid, and then he began quietly to get drunk.

However, he was methodical in it, as he wished to keep sober enough for other pleasures, and so, as soon as he felt that he was on the point of seeing the fireplace bow to him, he got up and went out with unsteady steps, with his bottle under his arm, in search of a house where girls of easy virtue lived.

He found one, with some difficulty, after having asked a carter, who did not know of one; a postman, who directed him wrong; a baker, who began to swear and called him an old pig; and lastly, a soldier, who was obliging enough to take him to it, advised him to choose La Reine.

Although it was barely twelve o’clock, Pavilly went into that palace of delights, where he was received by a servant, who wanted to turn him out again. But he made her laugh by making a grimace, showed her three francs, the usual price of the special provisions of the place, and followed her with difficulty up a dark staircase, which led to the first floor.

When he had been shown into a room, he asked for la Reine, and had another drink out of the bottle, while he waited. But very shortly, the door opened and a girl came in. She was tall, fat, red-faced, enormous. She looked at the drunken fellow, who had fallen into a seat, with the eye of a judge of such matters, and said:

“Are you not ashamed of yourself, at this time of day?”

“Ashamed of what, Princess?” he stammered.

“Why, of disturbing a lady, before she has even had time to eat her dinner.”

He wanted to have a joke, so he said:

“There is no such thing as time, for the brave.”

“And there ought to be no time for getting drunk, either, old guzzler.”

At this he got angry:

“I am not a guzzler, and I am not drunk.”

“Not drunk?”

“No, I am not.”

“Not drunk? Why, you could not even stand straight;” and she looked at him angrily, thinking that all this time her companions were having their dinner.

“I . . . I could dance a polka,” he replied, getting up, and to prove his stability he got onto the chair, made a pirouette and jumped onto the bed, where his thick, muddy shoes made two great marks.

“Oh! you dirty brute!” the girl cried, and rushing at him, she struck him a blow with her fist in the stomach, such a blow that Pavilly lost his balance, fell and struck the foot of the bed, and making a complete somersault tumbled onto the night-table, dragging the jug and basin with him, and then rolled onto the ground, roaring.

The noise was so loud, and his cries so piercing, that everybody in the house rushed in, the master, mistress, servant, and the staff.

The master picked him up, but as soon as he had put him on his legs, the peasant lost his balance again, and then began to call out that his leg was broken, the other leg, the sound one.

It was true, so they sent for a doctor, and it happened to be the same one who had attended him at Le Harivan’s.

“What! Is it you again?” he said.

“Yes, M’sieu.”

“What is the matter with you?”

“Somebody has broken my other leg for me, M’sieu.”

“Who did it, old fellow?”

“Why, a female.”

Everybody was listening. The girls in their dressing gowns, with their mouths still greasy from their interrupted dinner, the mistress of the house furious, the master nervous.

“This will be a bad job,” the doctor said. “You know that the municipal authorities look upon you with very unfavorable eyes, so we must try and hush the matter up.”

“How can it be managed?” the master of the place asked.

“Why the best way would be to send him back to the hospital, from which he has just come out, and to pay for him there.”

“I would rather do that,” the master of the house replied, “than have any fuss made about the matter.”

So half an hour later, Pavilly returned drunk and groaning to the ward which he had left an hour before. The Superior lifted up her hands in sorrow, for she liked him, and with a smile, for she was glad to have him back.

“Well, my good fellow, what is the matter with you now?”

“The other leg is broken, Madame.”

“So you have been getting onto another load of straw, you old joker?”

And Pavilly, in great confusion, but still sly, said, with hesitation:

“No . . . no. . . . Not this time, no . . . not this time. No . . . no. . . . It was not my fault, not my fault . . . A mattress caused this.”

She could get no other explanation out of him, and never knew that his relapse was due to her twenty-five francs.

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