Works, by Guy de Maupassant

Old Amable

Part I

The humid, gray sky seemed to weigh down on the vast brown plain. The odor of Autumn, the sad odor of bare, moist lands, of fallen leaves, of dead grass, made the stagnant evening air more thick and heavy. The peasants were still at work, scattered through the fields, waiting for the stroke of the Angelus to call them back to the farm-houses, whose thatched roofs were visible here and there through the branches of the leafless trees which protected the apple-gardens against the wind.

At the side of the road, on a heap of clothes, a very small male child seated with its legs apart, was playing with a potato, which he now and then let fall on his dress, while five women bent down with their rumps in the air, were picking sprigs of colza in the adjoining plain. With a slow continuous movement, all along the great cushions of earth which the plow had just turned up, they drove in sharp wooden stakes, and then cast at once into the hole so formed the plant, already a little withered, which sank on the side; then they covered over the root, and went on with their work.

A man who was passing, with a whip in his hand, and wearing wooden shoes, stopped near the child, took it up, and kissed it. Then one of the women rose up, and came across to him. She was a big, red-haired girl, with large hips, waist, and shoulders, a tall Norman woman, with yellow hair in which there was a blood-red tint.

She said, in a resolute voice:

“Here you are, Césaire — well?”

The man, a thin young fellow with a melancholy air, murmured:

“Well, nothing at all — always the same.”

“He won’t have it?”

“He won’t have it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“What do you say I ought to do?”

“Go see the curé.”

“I will.”

“Go at once!”

“I will.”

And they stared at each other. He held the child in his arms all the time. He kissed it once more, and then put it down again on the woman’s clothes.

In the distance, between two farm-houses, could be seen a plow drawn by a horse, and driven along by a man. They moved on very gently, the horse, the plow, and the laborer, under the dim evening sky.

The woman went on:

“What, then, did your father say?”

“He said he would not have it.”

“Why wouldn’t he have it?”

The young man pointed towards the child whom he had just put back on the ground, then with a glance he drew her attention to the man drawing the plow yonder there.

And he said emphatically:

“Because ’tis his — this child of yours.”

The girl shrugged her shoulders, and in an angry tone said:

“Faith everyone knows it well — that it is Victor’s. And what about it after all? I made a slip. Am I the only woman that did? My mother also made a slip before me, and then yours did the same before she married your dad! Who is it that hasn’t made a slip in the country. I made a slip with Victor, because he took advantage of me while I was asleep in the barn, it’s true, and afterwards it happened between us when I wasn’t asleep. I certainly would have married him if he weren’t a servant-man. Am I a worse woman for that?”

The man said simply:

“As for me, I like you just as you are, with or without the child. ’Tis only my father that opposes me. All the same, I’ll see about settling the business.”

She answered:

“Go to the curé at once.”

“I’m going to him.”

And he set forth with his heavy peasant’s tread; while the girl, with her hands on her hips, turned round to pick her colza.

In fact, the man who thus went off, Césaire Houlbréque, the son of deaf old Amable Houlbréque, wanted to marry in spite of his father, Céleste Lévesque, who had a child by Victor Lecoq, a mere laborer on his parent’s farm, turned out of doors for this act.

Moreover, the hierarchy of caste does not exist in the fields, and if the laborer is thrifty, he becomes, by taking a farm in his turn, the equal of his former master.

So Césaire Houlbrèque went off with his whip under his arm, brooding over his own thoughts, and lifting up one after the other his heavy wooden shoes daubed with clay. Certainly he desired to marry Céleste Lévesque. He wanted her with her child, because it was the woman he required. He could not say why: but he knew it, he was sure of it. He had only to look at her to be convinced of it, to feel himself quite jolly, quite stirred up, as it were turned into a pure animal through contentment. He even found a pleasure in kissing the little boy, Victor’s little boy, because he had come out of her.

And he gazed, without hate, at the distant profile of the man who was driving his plow along on the horizon’s edge.

But old Amable did not want this marriage. He opposed it with the obstinacy of a deaf man, with a violent obstinacy.

Césaire in vain shouted in his ear, in that ear which still heard a few sounds:

“I’ll take good care of you, daddy. I tell you she’s a good girl and strong, too, and also thrifty.”

The old man repeated:

“As long as I live, I won’t see her your wife.”

And nothing could get the better of him, nothing could bend his severity. One hope only was left to Césaire. Old Amable was afraid of the curé through apprehension of the death which he felt drawing nigh. He had not much fear of the good God nor of the Devil nor of Hell nor of Purgatory, of which he had no conception, but he dreaded the priest, who represented to him burial, as one might fear the doctors through horror of diseases. For the last eight days Céleste, who knew this weakness of the old man, had been urging Césaire to go and find the curé; but Césaire always hesitated, because he had not much liking for the black robe, which represented to him hands always stretched out for collections for blessed bread.

However, he made up his mind, and he proceeded towards the presbytery, thinking in what manner he would speak about his case.

The Abbe Raffin, a lively little priest, thin and never shaved, was awaiting his dinner-hour while warming his feet at his kitchen-fire.

As soon as he saw the peasant entering, he asked, merely turning round his head:

“Well, Césaire, what do you want?”

“I’d like to have a talk with you, M. le Curé.”

The man remained standing, intimidated, holding his cap in one hand and his whip in the other.

“Well, talk.”

Césaire looked at the housekeeper, an old woman who dragged her feet while putting on the cover for her master’s dinner at the corner of the table in front of the window.

He stammered:

“’Tis — ’tis a sort of confession.”

Thereupon, the Abbe Raffin carefully surveyed his peasant. He saw his confused countenance, his air of constraint, his wandering eyes, and he gave orders to the housekeeper in these words:

“Marie, go away for five minutes to your room, while I talk to Césaire.”

The servant cast on the man an angry glance, and went away grumbling.

The clergyman went on:

“Come, now, spin out your yarn.”

The young fellow still hesitated, looked down at his wooden shoes, moved about his cap, then, all of a sudden, he made up his mind:

“Here it is: I want to marry Céleste Lévesque.”

“Well, my boy, what’s there to prevent you?”

“The father won’t have it.”

“Your father?”

“Yes, my father.”

“What does your father say?”

“He says she has a child.”

“She’s not the first to whom that happened, since our Mother Eve.”

“A child by Victor Lecoq, Anthione Loisel’s servant-man.”

“Ha! ha! So he won’t have it?”

“He won’t have it.”

“What! not at all?”

“No, no more than an ass that won’t budge an inch, saving your presence.”

“What do you say to him yourself in order to make him decide?”

“I say to him that she’s a good girl, and strong too, and thrifty also.”

“And this does not make him settle it. So you want me to speak to him?”

“Exactly. You speak to him.”

“And what am I to tell your father?”

“Why, what you tell people in your sermons to make them give you sous.”

In the peasant’s mind every effort of religion consisted in loosening the purses, in emptying the pockets of men in order to fill the heavenly coffer. It was a kind of huge commercial establishment, of which the curés were the clerks, sly, crafty clerks, sharp as anyone must be who does business for the good God at the expense of the country people.

He knew full well that the priests rendered services, great services to the poorest, to the sick and dying, that they assisted, consoled, counseled, sustained, but all this by means of money, in exchange for white pieces, for beautiful glittering coins, with which they paid for sacraments and masses, advice and protection, pardon of sins and indulgences, purgatory and paradise accompanying the yearly income, and the generosity of the sinner.

The Abbe Raffin, who knew his man, and who never lost his temper, burst out laughing.

“Well, yes, I’ll tell your father my little story; but you, my lad, you’ll go there — to the sermon.”

Houlbrèque extended his hand in order to give a solemn assurance:

“On the word of a poor man, if you do this for me, I promise that I will.”

“Come, that’s all right. When do you wish me to go and find your father?”

“Why the sooner the better — to-night if you can.”

“In half-an-hour, then, after supper.”

“In half-an-hour.”

“That’s understood. So long, my lad.”

“Good-bye till we meet again, Monsieur le Curé; many thanks.”

“Not at all, my lad.”

And Césaire Houlbrèque returned home, his heart relieved of a great weight.

He held on lease a little farm, quite small, for they were not rich, his father and he. Alone with a female servant, a little girl of fifteen, who made the soup, looked after the fowls, milked the cows and churned the butter, they lived hardly, though Césaire was a good cultivator. But they did not possess either sufficient lands or sufficient cattle to gain more than the indispensable.

The old man no longer worked. Sad, like all deaf people, crippled with pains, bent double, twisted, he went through the fields leaning on his stick, watching the animals and the men with a hard, distrustful eye. Sometimes, he sat down on the side of a ditch, and remained there without moving for hours, vaguely pondering over the things that had engrossed his whole life, the price of eggs and corn, the sun and the rain which spoil the crops or make them grow. And, worn out by rheumatism, his old limbs still drank in the humidity of the soul, as they had drunk in for the past sixty years, the moisture of the walls of his low thatched house covered over with humid straw.

He came back at the close of the day, took his place at the end of the table, in the kitchen, and when the earthen pot containing the soup had been placed before him, he caught it between his crooked fingers, which seemed to have kept the round form of the jar, and, winter and summer, he warmed his hands, before commencing to eat, so as to lose nothing, not even a particle of the heat that came from the fire, which costs a great deal, neither one drop of soup into which fat and salt have to be put, nor one morsel of bread, which comes from the wheat.

Then, he climbed up a ladder into a loft where he had his straw-bed, while his son slept below-stairs at the end of a kind of niche near the chimney-piece and the servant shut herself up in a kind of cave, a black hole which was formerly used to store the potatoes.

Césaire and his father scarcely ever talked to each other. From time to time only, when there was a question of selling a crop or buying a calf, the young man took the advice of his father, and making a speaking-trumpet of his two hands, he bawled out his views into his ear, and old Amable either approved of them or opposed them in a slow, hollow voice that came from the depths of his stomach.

So, one evening, Césaire, approaching him as if about to discuss the purchase of a horse or a heifer, communicated to him at the top of his voice his intention to marry Céleste Lévesque.

Then, the father got angry. Why? On the score of morality? No, certainly. The virtue of a girl is scarcely of importance in the country. But his avarice, his deep, fierce instinct for sparing, revolted at the idea that his son should bring up a child which he had not begotten himself. He had thought suddenly, in one second, on the soup the little fellow would swallow before being useful in the farm. He had calculated all the pounds of bread, all the pints of cider, that this brat would consume up to his fourteenth year; and a mad anger broke loose from him against Césaire who had not bestowed a thought on all this.

He replied, with an usual strength of voice:

“Have you lost your senses?”

Thereupon, Césaire began to enumerate his reasons, to speak about Céleste’s good points, to prove that she would be worth a thousand times what the child would cost. But the old man doubted these advantages, while he could have no doubts as to the child’s existence; and he replied with emphatic repetition, without giving any further explanation:

“I will not have it! I will not have it! As long as I live, this won’t be done!”

And at this point they had remained for the last three months, without one or the other giving in, resuming at least once a week the same discussion, with the same arguments, the same words, the same gestures, and the same fruitlessness.

It was then that Céleste had advised Césaire to go and ask for the curé‘s assistance.

On arriving home the peasant found his father already seated at table, for he was kept late by his visit to the presbytery.

They dined in silence face to face, ate a little bread and butter after the soup and drank a glass of cider. Then they remained motionless in their chairs, with scarcely a glimmer of light, the little servant-girl having carried off the candle in order to wash the spoons, wipe the glasses, and cut beforehand the crusts of bread for next morning’s breakfast.

There was a knock at the door, which was immediately opened; and the priest appeared. The old man raised towards him an anxious eye full of suspicion, and, foreseeing danger, he was getting ready to climb up his ladder when the Abbe Raffin laid his hand on his shoulder, and shouted close to his temple:

“I want to have a talk with you, Father Amable.”

Césaire had disappeared, taking advantage of the door being open. He did not want to listen, so much was he afraid, and he did not want his hopes to crumble with each obstinate refusal of his father. He preferred to learn the truth at once, good or bad, later on; and he went out into the night. It was a moonless night, a starless night, one of those foggy nights when the air seems thick with humidity. A vague odor of apples floated through the farm-yard, for it was the season when the earliest apples were gathered, the “soon ripe” ones, as they are called in the language of the peasantry. As Césaire passed along by the cattle-sheds, the warm smell of living beasts sleeping on manure was exhaled through the narrow windows; and he heard near the stables the stamping of horses who remained standing, and the sound of their jaws tearing and bruising the hay on the racks.

He went straight ahead, thinking about Céleste. In this simple nature, whose ideas were scarcely more than images generated directly by objects, thoughts of love only formulated themselves by calling up before the mind the picture of a big red-haired girl, standing in a hollow road, and laughing with her hands on her hips.

It was thus he saw her on the day when he first took a fancy for her. He had, however, known her from infancy but never had he been so struck by her as on that morning. They had stopped to talk for a few minutes, and then he went away; and as he walked along he kept repeating:

“Faith, she’s a fine girl, all the same. ’Tis a pity she made a slip with Victor.”

Till evening, he kept thinking of her, and also on the following morning.

When he saw her again, he felt something tickling the end of his throat, as if a cock’s feather had been driven through his mouth into his chest, and since then, every time he found himself near her, he was astonished at this nervous tickling which always commenced again.

In three months, he made up his mind to marry her, so much did she please him. He could not have said whence came this power over him, but he explained it by these words:

“I am possessed by her,” as if he felt the desire of this girl within him with as much dominating force as one of the powers of Hell. He scarcely bothered himself about her transgression. So much the worse, after all; it did her no harm, and he bore no grudge against Victor Lecoq.

But if the curé was not going to succeed, what was he to do? He did not dare to think of it, so much did this anxious question torment him.

He reached the presbytery and seated himself near the little gateway to await for the priest’s return.

He was there perhaps half-an-hour when he heard steps on the road, and he soon distinguished although the night was very dark, the still darker shadow of the sautane.

He rose up, his legs giving way under him, not even venturing to speak, not daring to ask a question.

The clergyman perceived him, and said gayly:

“Well, my lad, ’tis all right.”

Césaire stammered:

“All right, ‘tisn’t possible.”

“Yes, my lad, but not without trouble. What an old ass your father is!”

The peasant repeated:

“‘Tisn’t possible!”

“Why, yes. Come and look me up tomorrow at midday in order to settle about the publication of the banns.”

The young man seized the curé‘s hand. He pressed it, shook it, bruised it, while he stammered:

“True — true — true, Monsieur le Curé, on the word of an honest man, you’ll see me tomorrow — at your sermon.”

Part II

The wedding took place in the middle of December. It was simple, the bridal pair not being rich. Césaire, attired in new clothes, was ready since eight o’clock in the morning to go and fetch his betrothed and bring her to the Mayor’s office; but, it was too early, he seated himself before the kitchen-table, and waited for the members of the family and the friends who were to accompany him.

For the last eight days, it had been snowing, and the brown earth, the earth already fertilized by the autumn savings had become livid, sleeping under a great sheet of ice.

It was cold in the thatched houses adorned with white caps; and the round apples in the trees of the enclosures seemed to be flowering, powdered as they had been in the pleasant month of their blossoming.

This day, the big northern clouds, the gray clouds laden with glittering rain had disappeared, and the blue sky showed itself above the white earth on which the rising sun cast silvery reflections.

Césaire looked straight before him through the window, thinking of nothing happy.

The door opened, two women entered, peasant women in their Sunday clothes, the aunt and the cousin of the bridegroom, then three men, his cousins, then a woman who was a neighbor. They sat down on chairs, and they remained motionless and silent, the women on one side of the kitchen, the men on the other suddenly seized with timidity, with that embarrassed sadness which takes possession of people assembled for a ceremony. One of the cousins soon asked:

“It is not the hour — is it?”

Césaire replied:

“I am much afraid it is.”

“Come on! Let us start,” said another.

Those rose up. Then Césaire, whom a feeling of uneasiness had taken possession of, climbed up the ladder of the loft to see whether his father was ready. The old man, always as a rule an early riser, had not yet made his appearance. His son found him on his bed of straw, wrapped up in his blanket, with his eyes open, and a malicious look in them.

He bawled out into his ear: “Come, daddy, get up. ’Tis the time for the wedding.”

The deaf man murmured in a doleful tone:

“I can’t, I have a sort of cold over me that freezes my back. I can’t stir.”

The young man, dumbfounded, stared at him, guessing that this was a dodge.

“Come, daddy, we must force you to go.”

“Look here! I’ll help you.”

And he stooped towards the old man, pulled off his blanket, caught him by the arm and lifted him up. But the old Amable began to whine:

“Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! What suffering! Ooh! I can’t. My back is stiffened up. ’Tis the wind that must have rushed in through this cursed roof.”

“Well, you’ll have no dinner, as I’m having a spread at Polyte’s inn. This will teach you what comes of acting mulishly.”

And he hurried down the ladder, then set out for his destination, accompanied by his relatives and guests.

The men had turned up their trousers so as not to soil the ends of them in the snow. The women held up their petticoats and showed their lean ankles, their gray woolen stockings, and their bony shanks resembling broomsticks. And they all moved forward balancing themselves on their legs, one behind the other without uttering a word in a very gingerly fashion through caution lest they might miss their way owing to flat, uniform uninterrupted sweep of snow that obliterated the track.

As they approached some of the farm houses, they saw one or two persons waiting to join them, and the procession went on without stopping, and wound its way forward, following the invisible outlines of the road, so that it resembled a living chaplet with black beads undulating through the white country side.

In front of the bride’s door, a large group was stamping up and down the open space awaiting the bridegroom. When he appeared they gave him a loud greeting; and presently, Céleste came forth from her room, clad in a blue dress, her shoulders covered with a small red shawl, and her head adorned with orange-flowers.

But everyone asked Césaire:

“Where’s your father?” he replied with embarrassment.

“He couldn’t move on account of the pains.”

And the farmers tossed their heads with an incredulous and waggish air.

They directed their steps towards the Mayor’s office. Behind the pair about to be wedded, a peasant woman carried Victor’s child, as if it were going to be baptized; and the male peasants, in pairs, now went on, with arms linked, through the snow with the movements of a sloop at sea.

After having been united by the Mayor in the little municipal house, the pair were made one by the curé, in his turn, in the modest house of the good God. He blessed their couplement by promising them fruitfulness, then he preached to them on the matrimonial virtues, the simple and healthful virtues of the country, work, concord, and fidelity, while the child, seized with cold, began bawling behind the backs of the newly-married pair.

As soon as the couple reappeared on the threshold of the church, shots were discharged in the moat of the cemetery. Only the barrels of the guns could be seen whence came forth rapid jets of smoke; then a head could be seen gazing at the procession. It was Victor Lecoq celebrating the marriage of his old sweetheart, wishing her happiness and sending her his good wishes with explosions of powder. He had employed some friends of his, five or six laboring men, for these salvoes of musketry. It could be seen that he carried the thing off well.

The repast was given in Polyte Cacheprune’s inn. Twenty covers were laid in the great hall where people dined on market-days, and the big leg of mutton turning before the spit, the fowl browned under their own gravy, the chitterling roasting over the warm bright fire, filled the house with a thick odor of coal sprinkled with fat — the powerful and heavy odor of rustic fare.

They sat down to table at midday, and speedily the soup flowed into the plates. The faces already had brightened up; mouths opened to utter loud jokes, and eyes were laughing with knowing winks. They were going to amuse themselves and no mistake.

The door opened, and old Amable presented himself. He seemed in bad humor and his face wore a scowl, and he dragged himself forward on his sticks, whining at every step to indicate his suffering. The sight of him caused great annoyance; but suddenly, his neighbor, Daddy Malivoire, a big joker, who knew all the little tricks and ways of people, began to yell, just as Césaire used to do, by making a speaking-trumpet of his hands.

“Hallo, my cute old boy, you have a good nose on you to be able to smell Polyte’s cookery from your own house!”

An immense laugh burst forth from the throats of those present. Malivoire, excited by his success, went on:

“There is nothing for the rheumatics like a chitterling poultice! It keeps your belly warm, along with a glass of three-six!”

The men uttered shouts, banged the table with their fists, laughed, bending on one side and raising up their bodies again as if they were each working a pump. The women clucked like hens, while the servants wriggled, standing against the walls. Old Amable was the only one that did not laugh, and, without making any reply, waited till they made room for him.

They found a place for him in the middle of the table facing his daughter-inlaw, and, as soon as he was seated, he began to eat. It was his son who was paying, after all it was right he should take his share. With each ladlefull of soup that fell into his stomach, with each mouthful of bread or meat crushed under his gums, with each glass of cider or wine that flowed through his gullet, he thought he was regaining something of his own property, getting back a little of his money which all those gluttons were devouring, saving in fact, a portion of his own means. And he ate in silence with the obstinacy of a miser who hides his coppers, with the gloomy tenacity which he exhibited in former days in his persistent toils.

But all of a sudden he noticed at the end of the table Céleste’s child on a woman’s lap, and his eye remained fixed on the little boy. He went on eating, with his glance riveted on the youngster, into whose mouth the woman who minded him every now and then put a little stuffing which he nibbled at. And the old man suffered more from every mouthful taken in by this little grub than by all that the others swallowed.

The meal lasted till evening. Then everyone went back home.

Césaire raised up old Amable.

“Come, daddy, we must go home,” said he.

And put the old man’s two sticks in his hands

Césaire took her child in her arms, and they went on slowly through the pale night whitened by the snow. The deaf old man, three-fourths tipsy, and even more malicious under the influence of drink, persisted in not going on. Several times he even sat down with the object of making his daughter-inlaw catch cold, and he kept whining, without uttering a word, giving vent to a sort of continuous groaning as if he were in pain.

When they reached home, he at once climbed up to his loft, while Césaire made a bed for the child near the deep niche where he was going to lie down with his wife. But as the newly wedded pair could not sleep immediately, they heard the old man for a long time moving about on his bed of straw, and he even talked loudly several times, whether it was that he was dreaming or that he let his thoughts escape through his mouth, in spite of himself, without being able to keep them back, under the obsession of a fixed idea.

When he came down his ladder, next morning, he saw his daughter-inlaw looking after the house-keeping.

She cried out to him:

“Come, daddy, hurry on! Here’s some good soup.”

And she placed at the end of the table the round black gray pot filled with smoking liquid. He sat down without giving any answer, seized the hot jar, warmed his hands with it in his customary fashion; and, as it was very cold, even pressed it against his breast, to try to make a little of the living heat of the boiling water enter into him, into his old body stiffened by so many winters.

Then he took his sticks and went out into the fields, covered with ice, till it was time for dinner, for he had seen Céleste’s youngster still asleep in a big soap-box.

He did not take his place in the household. He lived in the thatched house, as in bygone days, but he seemed not to belong to it any longer, to be no longer interested in anything, to look upon those people, his son, the wife, and the child as strangers whom he did not know, to whom he never spoke.

The winter glided by. It was long and severe.

Then the early spring made the seeds sprout forth again, and the peasants once more, like laborious ants, passed their days in the fields, toiling from morning till night, under the wind and under the rain, along the furrows of brown earth which brought forth the bread of men.

The year promised well for the newly-married pair. The crops grew thick and heavy. There were no slow frosts, and the apples bursting into bloom let fall into the grass their rosy white snow, which promised a hail of fruit for the autumn.

Césaire toiled hard, rose early and left off work late, in order to save the expense of a laboring man.

His wife said to him sometimes:

“You’ll make yourself ill in the long run.”

He replied:

“Certainly not. I’m a good judge.”

Nevertheless, one evening he came home so fatigued that he had to go to bed without supper. He rose up next morning at the usual hour, but he could not eat, in spite of his fast on the previous night, and he had to come back to the house in the middle of the afternoon in order to go to bed again. In the course of the night, he began to cough; he turned round on his straw couch, feverish, with his forehead burning, his tongue dry, and his throat parched by a burning thirst.

However, at daybreak, he went towards his grounds, but, next morning, the doctor had to be sent for, and pronounced him very ill from an inflammation of the chest.

And he no longer quitted the obscure niche which he made use of to sleep in. He could be heard coughing, panting, and tossing about in the interior of this hole. In order to see him, to give his medicine, and to apply cupping-glasses, it was necessary to bring a candle towards the entrance. Then one could see his narrow head with his long matted beard underneath a thick lacework of spiders’ webs, which hung and floated when stirred by the air. And the hands of the sick man seemed dead under the dingy sheets.

Céleste watched him with restless activity, made him take physic, applied blister plasters to him, and was constantly waving up and down the house, while the old Amable remained at the side of his loft, watching at a distance the gloomy cave where his son was dying. He did not come near him, through hatred of the wife, sulking like an ill-tempered dog.

Six more days passed, then, one morning, as Céleste, who was now asleep on the ground on two loose bundles of straw, was going to see whether her man was better, she no longer heard his rapid breathing from the interior of his low bed. Terror stricken, she asked:

“Well, Césaire, what sort of a night had you?”

He did not answer. She put out her hand to touch him, and the flesh on his face felt cold as ice. She uttered a great cry, the long cry of a woman overpowered with fright. He was dead.

At this cry, the deaf old man appeared, at the top of his ladder, and when he saw Céleste rushing to call for help, he quickly descended, felt in his turn the flesh of his son, and suddenly realizing what had happened, went to shut the door from the inside, to prevent the wife from reentering, and to resume possession of his dwelling, since his son was no longer living.

Then he sat down on a chair by the dead man’s side.

Some of the neighbors arrived, called out, and knocked. He did not hear them. One of them broke the glass of the window, and jumped into the room. Others followed. The door was opened again, and Céleste reappeared, all in tears, with swollen face, and bloodshot eyes. Then, old Amable, vanquished, without uttering a word, climbed back to his loft.

The funeral took place next morning, then, after the ceremony, the father-inlaw and the daughter-inlaw found themselves alone in the farm-house with the child.

It was the usual dinner hour. She lighted the fire, divided the soup, and placed the plated on the table, while the old man sat on the chair waiting without appearing to look at her. When the meal was ready, she bawled out in his ear:

“Come, daddy, you must eat.” He rose up, took his seat at the end of the table, emptied his pot, masticated his bread and butter, drank his two glasses of cider, and then took himself off.

It was one of those warm days, one of those enjoyable days when life ferments, palpitates, blooms all over the surface of the soil.

Old Amable pursued a little path across the fields. He watched the young wheat and the young oats, thinking that his son was now under the clay, his poor boy. He went on at his customary pace, dragging his legs after him in a limping fashion. And, as he was all alone in the plain, all alone under the blue sky, in the midst of the growing crops, all alone with the larks, which he saw hovering above his head, without hearing their light song, he began to weep while he proceeded on his way.

Then he sat down close to a pool, and remained there till evening, gazing at the little birds that came there to drink; then, as the night was falling, he returned to the house, supped without saying a word, and climbed up to his loft.

And his life went on as in the past. Nothing was changed, except that his son, Césaire, slept in the cemetery.

What could he, an old man, do? He could work no longer; he was now good for nothing except to swallow the soup prepared by his daughter-inlaw. And he did swallow it in silence, morning and evening, watching with an eye of rage, the little boy also taking soup, right opposite him, at the other side of the table. Then he went out, prowled about the fields in the fashion of a vagabond, went hiding behind the barns, where he slept for an hour or two, as if he were afraid of being seen, and then he came back at the approach of night.

But Céleste’s mind began to be occupied by graver anxieties. The grounds needed a man to look after them and work them. Somebody should be there always to go through the fields, not a mere hired laborer, but a big cultivator, a master, who would know the business and have the care of the farm. A lone woman could not manage the farming, watch the price of corn, and direct the sale and purchase of cattle. Then ideas came into her head, simple practical ideas, which she had turned over in her head at night. She could not marry again before the end of the year, and it was necessary at once to take care of pressing interests, immediate interests.

Only one man could extricate her from embarrassment, Victor Lecoq, the father of her child. He was strong and well acquainted with farming business; with a little money in his pocket, he would make an excellent cultivator. She was aware of his skill, having known him while he was working on his parents’ farm.

So, one morning, seeing him passing along the road with a cart of dung, she went out to meet him. When he perceived her, he drew up his horses and she said to him, as if she had met him the night before:

“Good morrow, Victor — are you quite well, the same as ever?”

He replied:

“I’m quite well, the same as ever — and how are you?”

“Oh, I’d be all right, only that I’m alone in the house, which bothers me on account of the grounds.”

Then they remained chatting for a long time, leaning against the wheel of the heavy cart. The man every now and then lifted up his cap to scratch his forehead, and began thinking, while she, with flushed cheeks, went on talking warmly, told him about her views, her plans, her projects for the future. In the end, he said, in a low tone:

“Yes, it can be done.”

She opened her hand like a countryman clinching a bargain, and asked:

“Is it agreed?”

He pressed her outstretched hand.

“’Tis agreed.”

“’Tis fixed, then, for Sunday next?”

“’Tis fixed for Sunday next.”

“Well, good morning, Victor.”

“Good morning, Madame Houlbrèque.”

Part III

This Sunday was the day of the village festival, the annual festival in honor of the patron saint, which in Normandy is called the assembly.

For the last eight days quaint looking vehicles, in which lay the wandering families of fancy fair owners, lottery managers, keepers of shooting galleries, and other forms of amusement or exhibitors of curiosities, which the peasants call “monster-makers,” could be seen coming along the roads drawn slowly by gray or chestnut horses.

The dirty caravans with their floating curtains accompanied by a melancholy-looking dog, who trotted, with his head down, between the wheels, drew up one after the other, in the green fronting the Mayor’s office. Then a tent was erected in front of each traveling abode, and inside this tent could be seen through the holes in the canvas glittering things, which excited the envy or the curiosity of the village brats.

As soon as the morning of the fête arrived, all the booths were opened, displaying their splendors of glass or porcelain; and the peasants on their way to mass, regarded already with looks of satisfaction, these modest shops, which, nevertheless, they saw again each succeeding year.

From the early part of the afternoon, there was a crowd on the green. From every neighboring village, the farmers arrived, shaken along with their wives and children in the two-wheeled open cars, which made a rattling sound as they oscillated like cradles. They unyoked at their friends’ houses, and the farm-yards were filled with strange looking traps, gray, high, lean, crooked, like long clawed creatures from the depths of the sea. And each family, with the youngsters in front, and the grown up ones behind, came to the assembly with tranquil steps, smiling countenances, and open hands, big hands, red and bony, accustomed to work and apparently tired of their temporary rest.

A tumbler played on a trumpet. The barrel-organ accompanying the wooden horses sent through the air its shrill jerky notes. The lottery-wheel made a whirring sound like that of cloth being torn, and every moment the crack of the rifle could be heard. And the slowly moving throng passed on quietly in front of the booths after the fashion of paste in a fluid condition, with the motions of a flock of sheep and the awkwardness of heavy animals rushing along at haphazard.

The girls, holding one another’s arms, in groups of six or eight, kept bawling out songs; the young men followed them making jokes, with their caps over their ears, and their blouses stiffened with starch, swollen out like blue balloons.

The whole country-side was there — masters, laboring men, and women-servants.

Old Amable himself, wearing his old-fashioned green frock-coat, had wished to see the assembly, for he never failed to attend on such an occasion.

He looked at the lotteries, stopped in front of the shooting galleries to criticise the shots, and interested himself specially in a very simple game, which consisted in throwing a big wooden ball into the open mouth of a mannikin carved and painted on a board.

Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Daddy Malivoire, who exclaimed:

“Ha, daddy! Come and have a glass of spirits.”

And they sat down before the table of a rustic inn placed in the open air.

They drank one glass of spirits, then two, then three; and old Amable once more wandered through the assembly. His thoughts became slightly confused, he smiled without knowing why, he smiled in front of the lotteries, in front of the wooden horses, and especially in front of the killing game. He remained there a long time, filled with delight when he saw a holidaymaker knocking down the gendarme or the curé, two authorities which he instinctively distrusted. Then he went back to the inn, and drank a glass of cider to cool himself. It was late, night came on. A neighbor came to warn him:

“You’ll get back home late for the stew, daddy.”

Then he set out on his way to the farm house. A soft shadow, the warm shadow of a spring night, was slowly descending on the earth.

When he reached the front door, he thought he saw through the window which was lighted up, two persons in the house. He stopped, much surprised, then he went in, and he saw Victor Lecoq seated at the table, with a plate filled with potatoes before him, taking his supper in the very same place where his son had sat.

And, all of a sudden, he turned round, as if he wanted to go away. The night was very dark now. Céleste started up, and shouted at him:

“Come quick, daddy! Here’s some good stew to finish off the assembly with.”

Thereupon he complied through inertia, and sat down watching in turn the man, the woman and the child. Then, he began to eat quietly as on ordinary days.

Victor Lecoq seemed quite at home, talked from time to time to Céleste, took up the child in his lap, and kissed him. And Céleste again served him with food, poured out drink for him, and appeared content while speaking to him. Old Amable followed them with a fixed look without hearing what they were saying.

When he had finished supper (and he had scarcely eaten anything, so much did he feel his heart wrung) he rose up, and in place of ascending to his loft as he did every night he opened the yard door, and went out into the open air.

When he had gone, Céleste, a little uneasy, asked:

“What is he going to do?”

Victor replied in an indifferent tone:

“Don’t bother yourself. He’ll come back when he’s tired.”

Then, she saw after the house, washed the plates and wiped the table, while the man quietly took off his clothes. Then he slipped into the dark and hollow bed in which she had slept with Césaire.

The yard door reopened, old Amable again presented himself. As soon as he had come in, he looked round on every side with the air of an old dog on the scent. He was in search of Victor Lecoq. As he did not see him, he took the candle off the table, and approached the dark niche in which his son had died. In the interior of it he perceived the man lying under the bed clothes and already asleep. Then the deaf man noiselessly turned round, put back the candle, and went out into the yard.

Céleste had finished her work. She put her son into his bed, arranged everything, and waited her father-inlaw’s return before lying down herself beside Victor.

She remained sitting on a chair, without moving her hands, and with her eyes fixed on vacancy.

As he did not come back she murmured in a tone of impatience and annoyance:

“This good-for-nothing old man will burn four sous’ worth of candle on us.”

Victor answered her from under the bed clothes.

“’Tis over an hour since he went out. We’d want to see whether he fell asleep on the bench before the door.”

She declared:

“I’m going there.”

She rose up, took the light, and went out, making a shade of her hand in order to see through the darkness.

She saw nothing in front of the door, nothing on the bench, nothing on the dung pit, where the old man used sometimes to sit in hot weather.

But, just as she was on the point of going in again, she chanced to raise her eyes towards the big apple tree, which sheltered the entrance to the farm house, and suddenly she saw two feet belonging to a man who was hanging at the height of her face.

She uttered terrible cries:

“Victor! Victor! Victor!”

He ran out in his shirt. She could not utter another word, and turning round her head, so as not to see, she pointed towards the tree with her outstretched arm.

Not understanding what she meant, he took the candle in order to find out, and in the midst of the foliage lit up from below, he saw old Amable hanged high up by the neck with a stable-halter.

A ladder was fixed at the trunk of the apple tree.

Victor rushed to look for a bill-hook, climbed up the tree, and cut the halter. But the old man was already cold, and he put out his tongue horribly with a frightful grimace.

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