The Mayor was just going to sit down to breakfast, when he was told that the rural policeman was waiting for him at the Mansion-house with two prisoners, and he went there immediately, and found old Hochedur standing up and watching a middle-class couple of mature years, with a severe look.
The man, a fat old fellow with a red nose and white hair, seemed utterly dejected; while the woman, a little roundabout, fat woman, with shining cheeks, looked at the agent of the authorities who had arrested them, with defiant eyes.
“What is it? What is it? Hochedur?”
The rural policeman made his deposition: He had gone out that morning at his usual time, in order to go on his beat from the forest of Champioux as far as the boundaries of Argenteuil. He had not noticed anything unusual in the country except that it was a fine day, and that the wheat was doing well, when the son of old Bredel, who was going over his vines a second time, called out to him: “Here, Daddy Hochedur, go and have a look into the skirts of the wood, in the first thicket, and you will catch a pair of pigeons there that must be a hundred and thirty years old between them!”
He went in the direction that had been indicated to him, and had gone into the thicket, and there he heard words and gasps, which made him suspect a flagrant breach of morality. Advancing, therefore, on his hands and knees, as if to surprise a poacher, he had arrested the couple who were there present, at the very moment when they were going to abandon themselves to their natural instincts.
The Mayor looked at the culprits in astonishment, for the man was certainly sixty, and the woman fifty-five at least, and so he began to question them, beginning with the man, who replied in such a weak voice that he could scarcely be heard.
“What is your name?” “Nicolas Beaurain.” “Your occupation?” “Haberdasher, in the Rue des Martyrs, in Paris.” “What were you doing in the wood?” The haberdasher remained silent, with his eyes on his fat stomach; and his hand resting on his thighs, and the Mayor continued: “Do you deny what the officer of the municipal authorities states?” “No, Monsieur.” “So you confess it?” “Yes, Monsieur.” “What have you to say in your defense?” “Nothing, Monsieur.” “Where did you meet the partner in your misdemeanor?” “She is my wife, Monsieur.” “Your wife?” “Yes, Monsieur.” “Then . . . then . . . you do not live together . . . in Paris?” “I beg your pardon, Monsieur, but we are living together!” “But in that case . . . you must be mad, altogether mad, my dear sir, to get caught like that, in the country at ten o’clock in the morning.”
The haberdasher seemed ready to cry with shame, and he murmured: “It was she who enticed me! I told her it was very stupid, but when a woman has got a thing into her head . . . you know . . . you cannot get it out of it.”
The Mayor, who liked open speaking, smiled and replied: “In your case, the contrary ought to have happened. You would not be here, if she had had the idea only in her head!” Then Monsieur Beaurain was seized with rage, and turning to his wife, he said: “Do you see to what you have brought us with your poetry? And now we shall have to go before the Courts, at our age, for a breach of morals! And we shall have to shut up the shop, sell our good will and go to some other neighborhood! That’s what it has come to!”
Madame Beaurain got up, and without looking at her husband, she explained herself without any embarrassment, without useless modesty, and almost without hesitation.
“Of course, Monsieur, I know that we have made ourselves ridiculous. Will you allow me to plead my cause like an advocate; or rather like a poor woman; and I hope that you will be kind enough to send us home, and to spare us the disgrace of a prosecution.
“Years ago, when I was young, I made Monsieur Beaurain’s acquaintance on Sunday in this neighborhood. He was employed in a draper’s shop, and I was a young lady in a ready made clothing establishment. I remember it, as if it were yesterday. I used to come and spend Sundays here occasionally with a friend of mine, Rose Levéque, with whom I lived in the Rue Pigalle, and Rose had a sweetheart, while I had not. He used to bring us here, and one Saturday, he told me, laughing, that he should bring a friend with him the next day. I quite understood what he meant, but I replied that it would be no good; for I was virtuous, Monsieur.
“The next day we met Monsieur Beaurain at the railway station, and in those days he was good-looking, but I had made up my mind not to yield to him, and I did not yield. Well, we arrived at Bezons. It was a lovely day, the sort of day that tickles your heart. When it is fine, even now, just as it used to be formerly, I grow quite foolish, and when I am in the country I utterly lose my head. The verdure, the swallows flying so swiftly, the smell of the grass, the scarlet poppies, the daisies, all that makes me quite excited! It is like champagne when one is not used to it!
“Well, it was lovely weather, warm and bright, and it seemed to penetrate into your body by your eyes when you looked, and by your mouth when you breathed. Rose and Simon hugged and kissed each other every minute, and that gave me something to look at! Monsieur Beaurain and I walked behind them, without speaking much, for when people do not know each other they do not find anything to talk about. He looked timid, and I liked to see his embarrassment. At last we got to the little wood; it was as cool as in a bath there, and we all four sat down. Rose and her lover joked me because I looked rather stern, but you will understand that could not be otherwise. And then they began to kiss and hug again, without putting any more restraint upon themselves than if we had not been there; and then they whispered together, and then got up and went off among the trees, without saying a word. You may fancy what I looked like, alone with this young fellow, whom I saw for the first time. I felt so confused at seeing them go that it gave me courage and I began to talk. I asked him what his business was, and he said he was a linen draper’s assistant, as I told you just now. We talked for a few minutes and that made him bold, and he wanted to take liberties with me, but I told him sharply to keep his own place. Is not that true, Monsieur Beaurain?”
Monsieur Beaurain, who was looking at his feet in confusion, did not reply, and she continued: “Then he saw that I was virtuous, and he began to make love to me nicely, like an honorable man, and from that time he came every Sunday, for he was very much in love with me. I was very fond of him also, very fond of him! He was a good-looking fellow, formerly, and in short he married me the next September, and we started in business in the Rue des Martyrs.
“It was a hard struggle for some years, Monsieur. Business did not prosper, and we could not afford many country excursions, and then we had grown unaccustomed to them. One has other things in one’s head, and thinks more of the cash box than of pretty speeches, when one is in business. We were growing old by degrees without perceiving it, like quiet people who do not think much about love. One does not regret anything as long as one does not notice what one has lost.
“And after that, Monsieur, business went better, and we became tranquil as to the future! Then, you see, I do not exactly know what passed within me, no, I really do not know, but I began to dream like a little boarding-school girl. The sight of the little carts full of flowers which are drawn about the streets, made me cry; the smell of violets sought me out in my easy-chair, behind my cash box, and made my heart beat! Then I used to get up and go onto the doorstep to look at the blue sky between the roofs. When one looks at the sky from a street, it looks like a river which descends on Paris, winding as it flows, and the swallows pass to and fro in it like fish. This sort of things is very stupid at my age! But what can one do, Monsieur? when one has worked all one’s life? A moment comes in which one perceives that one could have done something else, and then, one regrets, oh! yes, one feels great regret! Just think that for twenty years I might have gone and had kisses in the woods, like other women. I used to think how delightful it would be to lie under the trees, loving some one! And I thought of it everyday and every night! I dreamt of the moonlight on the water, until I felt inclined to drown myself.
“I did not venture to speak to Monsieur Beaurain about this at first. I knew that he would make fun of me, and send me back to sell my needles and cotton! And then, to speak the truth, Monsieur Beaurain never said much to me, but when I looked in the glass, I also understood quite well, that I also no longer appealed to anyone!
“Well, I made up my mind, and I proposed an excursion into the country to him, to the place where we had first become acquainted. He agreed without any distrust, and we arrived here this morning, about nine o’clock.
“I felt quite young again when I got among the corn, for a woman’s heart never grows old! And really, I no longer saw my husband as he is at present, but just like he was formerly! That I will swear to you, Monsieur. As true as I am standing here, I was intoxicated. I began to kiss him, and he was more surprised than if I had tried to murder him. He kept saying to me: ‘Why, you must be mad! You are mad this morning! What is the matter with you? . . . ’ I did not listen to him, I only listened to my own heart, and I made him come into the woods with me. . . . There it is. . . . I have spoken the truth, Monsieur le Maire, the whole truth.”
The Mayor was a sensible man. He rose from his chair, smiled, and said: “Go in peace, Madame, and sin no more . . . under the trees.”
Last updated Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 13:40