As the weather was very fine, the people on the farm had dined more speedily than usual, and had returned to the fields.
The female servant, Rose, remained alone in the large kitchen, where the fire on the hearth was dying out, under the large boiler of hot water. From time to time she took some water out of it, and slowly washed her plates and dishes, stopping occasionally to look at the two streaks of light which the sun threw onto the long table through the window, and which showed the defects in the glass.
Three venturesome hens were picking up the crumbs under the chairs, while the smell of the poultry yard, and the warmth from the cow-stall came in through the half-open door, and a cock was heard crowing in the distance.
When she had finished her work, wiped down the table, dusted the mantel-piece, and put the plates onto the high dresser, close to the wooden clock, with its enormous tic-tac, she drew a long breath, as she felt rather oppressed, without exactly knowing why. She looked at the black clay walls, the rafters that were blackened with smoke, from which spiders’ webs were hanging, amid pickled herrings and strings of onions, and then she sat down, rather overcome by the stale emanations which the floor, onto which so many things had been continually spilt, gave out. With this, there was mingled the pungent smell of the pans of milk, which were set out to raise the cream in the adjoining dairy.
She wanted to sew, as usual, but she did not feel strong enough for it, and so she went to get a mouthful of fresh air at the door, which seemed to do her good.
The fowls were lying on the smoking dung-hill; some of them were scratching with one claw in search of worms, while the cock stood up proudly among them. Every moment he selected one of them, and walked round her with a slight cluck of amorous invitation. The hen got up in a careless way as she received his attentions, and only supported herself on her legs and spread out her wings; then she shook her feathers to shake out the dust, and stretched herself out on the dung-hill again, while he crowed, in sign of triumph, and the cocks in all the neighboring farmyards replied to him, as if they were uttering amorous challenges from farm to farm.
The girl looked at them without thinking, and then she raised her eyes and was almost dazzled at the sight of the apple-trees in blossom, which looked almost like powdered heads. But just then, a colt, full of life and friskiness, galloped past her. Twice he jumped over the ditches, and then stopped suddenly, as if surprised at being alone.
She also felt inclined to run; she felt inclined to move and to stretch her limbs, and to repose in the warm, breathless air. She took a few undecided steps, and closed her eyes, for she was seized with a feeling of animal comfort; and then she went to look for the eggs in the hen loft. There were thirteen of them, which she took in and put into the store-room; but the smell from the kitchen incommoded her again, and she went out to sit on the grass for a time.
The farmyard, which was surrounded by trees, seemed to be asleep. The tall grass, among which the tall yellow dandelions rose up like streaks of yellow light, was of a vivid green, fresh spring green. The apple-trees threw their shade all round them, and the thatched houses, on which the blue and yellow iris flowers with their swordlike leaves grew, smoked as if the moisture of the stables and barns were coming through the straw.
The girl went to the shed where the carts and traps were kept. Close to it, in a ditch, there was a large patch of violets, whose scent was perceptible all round, while beyond it, the open country could be seen where the corn was growing, with clumps of trees in the distance, and groups of laborers here and there, who looked as small as dolls, and white horses like toys, who were pulling a child’s cart, driven by a man as tall as one’s finger.
She took up a bundle of straw, and threw it into the ditch and sat down upon it; then, not feeling comfortable, she undid it, spread it out and lay down upon it at full length, on her back, with both arms under her head, and her legs stretched out.
Gradually her eyes closed, and she was falling into a state of delightful languor. She was, in fact, almost asleep, when she felt two hands on her bosom, and then she sprang up at a bound. It was Jacques, one of the farm laborers, a tall fellow from Picardy, who had been making love to her for a long time. He had been looking after the sheep, and seeing her lying down in the shade, he had come stealthily, and holding his breath, with glistening eyes, and bits of straw in his hair.
He tried to kiss her, but she gave him a smack in the face, for she was as strong as he, and he was shrewd enough to beg her pardon; so they sat down side by side and talked amicably. They spoke about the favorable weather, of their master, who was a good fellow, then of their neighbors, of all the people in the country round, of themselves, of their village, of their youthful days, of their recollections, of their relations, who had left them for a long time, and it might be for ever. She grew sad as she thought of it, while he, with one fixed idea in his head, rubbed against her with a kind of a shiver, overcome by desire.
“I have not seen my mother for a long time,” she said. “It is very hard to be separated like that.” And she directed her looks into the distance, towards the village in the North, which she had left.
Suddenly, however, he seized her by the neck and kissed her again; but she struck him so violently in the face with her clenched fist, that his nose began to bleed, and he got up and laid his head against the stem of a tree. When she saw that, she was sorry, and going up to him, she said: “Have I hurt you?” He, however, only laughed. “No, it was a mere nothing;” only, she had hit him right on the middle of the nose. “What a devil!” he said, and he looked at her with admiration, for she had inspired him with a feeling of respect and of a very different kind of admiration, which was the beginning of real love for that tall, strong wench.
When the bleeding had stopped, he proposed a walk, as he was afraid of his neighbor’s heavy hand, if they remained side by side like that much longer; but she took his arm of her own accord, in the avenue, as if they had been out for an evening walk, and said: “It is not nice of you to despise me like that, Jacques.” He protested, however. No, he did not despise her. He was in love with her, that was all. “So you really want to marry me?” she asked.
He hesitated, and then looked at her aside, while she looked straight ahead of her. She had fat, red cheeks, a full, protuberant bust under her muslin dress, thick, red lips, and her neck, which was almost bare, was covered with small beads of perspiration. He felt a fresh access of desire, and putting his lips to her ear, he murmured: “Yes, of course I do.”
Then she threw her arms round his neck, and kissed for such a long time that they both of them lost their breath. From that moment the eternal story of love began between them. They plagued one another in corners; they met in the moonlight under a haystack, and gave each other bruises on the legs with their heavy nailed boots. By degrees, however, Jacques seemed to grow tired of her; he avoided her; scarcely spoke to her, and did not try any longer to meet her alone, which made her sad and anxious; and soon she found that she was pregnant.
At first, she was in a state of consternation, but then she got angry, and her rage increased every day, because she could not meet him, as he avoided her most carefully. At last, one night when everyone in the farmhouse was asleep, she went out noiselessly in her petticoat, with bare feet, crossed the yard and opened the door of the stable, where Jacques was lying in a large box of straw, over his horses. He pretended to snore when he heard her coming, but she knelt down by his side and shook him until he sat up.
“What do you want?” he then asked her. And she, with clenched teeth, and trembling with anger, replied: “I want . . . I want you to marry me, as you promised.” But he only laughed, and replied: “Oh! If a man were to marry all the girls with whom he has made a slip, he would have more than enough to do.”
Then she seized him by the throat, threw him onto his back, so that he could not disengage himself from her, and half strangling him, she shouted into his face: “I am in the family way! Do you hear? I am in the family way?”
He gasped for breath, as he was nearly choked, and so they remained, both of them, motionless and without speaking, in the dark silence, which was only broken by the noise that a horse made as he pulled the hay out of the manger, and then slowly chewed it.
When Jacques found that she was the stronger, he stammered out: “Very well, I will marry you, as that is the case.” But she did not believe his promises. “It must be at once,” she said. “You must have the banns put up.” “At once,” he replied. “Swear solemnly that you will.” He hesitated for a few moments, and then said: “I swear it, by heaven.”
Then she released her grasp, and went away, without another word.
She had no chance of speaking to him for several days, and as the stable was now always locked at night, she was afraid to make any noise, for fear of creating a scandal. One morning, however, she saw another man come in at dinner-time, and so she said: “Has Jacques left?” “Yes,” the man replied; “I have got his place.”
This made her tremble so violently that she could not take the saucepan off the fire; and later when they were all at work, she went up into her room and cried, burying her head in her bolster, so that she might not be heard. During the day, however, she tried to obtain some information without exciting any suspicions, but she was so overwhelmed by the thoughts of her misfortune, that she fancied that all the people whom she asked, laughed maliciously. All she learned, however, was, that he had left the neighborhood altogether.
Then a cloud of constant misery began for her. She worked mechanically, without thinking of what she was doing, with one fixed idea in her head: “Suppose people were to know.”
This continual feeling made her so incapable of reasoning, that she did not even try to think of any means of avoiding the disgrace that she knew must ensue, which was irreparable, and drawing nearer every day, and which was as sure as death itself. She got up every morning long before the others, and persistently tried to look at her figure in a piece of broken looking-glass at which she did her hair, as she was very anxious to know whether anybody would notice a change in her, and during the day she stopped working every few minutes to look at herself from top to toe, to see whether the size of her stomach did not make her apron look too short.
The months went on, and she scarcely spoke now, and when she was asked a question, she did not appear to understand, but she had a frightened look, with haggard eyes and trembling hands, which made her master say to her occasionally: “My poor girl, how stupid you have grown lately.”
In church, she hid behind a pillar, and no longer ventured to go to confession, as she feared to face the priest, to whom she attributed superhuman powers, which enabled him to read people’s consciences; and at meal times, the looks of her fellow servants almost made her faint with mental agony, and she was always fancying that she had been found out by the cowherd, a precocious and cunning little lad, whose bright eyes seemed always to be watching her.
One morning the postman brought her a letter, and as she had never received one in her life before, she was so upset by it that she was obliged to sit down. Perhaps it was from him? But as she could not read, she sat anxious and trembling, with that piece of paper covered with ink in her hand; after a time, however, she put it into her pocket, as she did not venture to confide her secret to anyone. She often stopped in her work to look at those lines written at regular intervals, and which terminated in a signature, imagining vaguely that she would suddenly discover their meaning, until at last, as she felt half mad with impatience and anxiety, she went to the schoolmaster, who told her to sit down, and read to her, as follows:
MY DEAR DAUGHTER: I write to tell you that I am very ill. Our
neighbor, Monsieur Dentu, begs you to come, if you can. For your
She did not say a word, and went away, but as soon as she was alone, her legs gave way, and she fell down by the roadside, and remained there till night.
When she got back, she told the farmer her trouble, who allowed her to go home for as long as she wanted, and promised to have her work done by a char-woman, and to take her back when she returned.
Her mother died soon after she got there, and the next day Rose gave birth to a seven months’ child, a miserable little skeleton, thin enough to make anybody shudder, and which seemed to be suffering continually, to judge from the painful manner in which it moved its poor little hands about, which were as thin as a crab’s legs, but it lived, for all that. She said that she was married, but that she could not saddle herself with the child, so she left it with some neighbors, who promised to take great care of it, and she went back to the farm.
But then, in her heart, which had been wounded so long, there arose something like brightness, an unknown love for that frail little creature which she had left behind her, but there was fresh suffering in that very love, suffering which she felt every hour and every minute, because she was parted from her child. What pained her most, however, was a mad longing to kiss it, to press it in her arms, to feel the warmth of its little body against her skin. She could not sleep at night; she thought of it the whole day long, and in the evening, when her work was done, she used to sit in front of the fire and look at it intently, like people do whose thoughts are far away.
They began to talk about her, and to tease her about her lover. They asked her whether he was tall, handsome and rich. When was the wedding to be, and the christening? And often she ran away, to cry by herself, for these questions seemed to hurt her, like the prick of a pin, and in order to forget their jokes, she began to work still more energetically, and still thinking of her child, she sought for the means of saving up money for it, and determined to work so that her master would be obliged to raise her wages.
Then, by degrees, she almost monopolized the work, and persuaded him to get rid of one servant girl, who had become useless since she had taken to working like two; she economized in the bread, oil and candles, in the corn, which they gave to the fowls too extravagantly, and in the fodder for the horses and cattle, which was rather wasted. She was as miserly about her master’s money, as if it had been her own, and by dint of making good bargains, of getting high prices for all their produce, and by baffling the peasants’ tricks when they offered anything for sale, he at last entrusted her with buying and selling everything, with the direction of all the laborers, and with the quantity of provisions necessary for the household, so that in a short time she became indispensable to him. She kept such a strict eye on everything about her, that under her direction the farm prospered wonderfully, and for five miles round people talked of “Master Vallin’s servant,” and the farmer himself said everywhere: “That girl is worth more than her weight in gold.”
But time passed by, and her wages remained the same. Her hard work was accepted as something that was due from every good servant, and as a mere token of her good-will; and she began to think rather bitterly, that if the farmer could put fifty or a hundred crowns extra into the bank every month, thanks to her, she was still only earning her two hundred francs a year, neither more nor less, and so she made up her mind to ask for an increase of wages. She went to see the schoolmaster three times about it, but when she got there, she spoke about something else. She felt a kind of modesty in asking for money, as if it was something disgraceful; but at last, one day, when the farmer was having breakfast by himself in the kitchen, she said to him, with some embarrassment, that she wished to speak to him particularly. He raised his head in surprise, with both his hands on the table, holding his knife, with its point in the air, in one, and a piece of bread in the other, and he looked fixedly at the girl, who felt uncomfortable under his gaze, but asked for a week’s holiday, so that she might get away, as she was not very well. He acceded to her request immediately, and then added, in some embarrassment, himself:
“When you come back, I shall have something to say to you, myself.”
The child was nearly eight months old, and she did not know it again. It had grown rosy and chubby all over like a little bundle of living fat. She threw herself onto it as if it had been some prey, and kissed it so violently that it began to scream with terror, and then she began to cry herself, because it did not know her, and stretched out its arms to its nurse, as soon as it saw her. But the next day, it began to get used to her, and laughed when it saw her, and she took it into the fields and ran about excitedly with it, and sat down under the shade of the trees, and then, for the first time in her life, she opened her heart to somebody, and told him her troubles, how hard her work was, her anxieties and her hopes, and she quite tired the child with the violence of her caresses.
She took the greatest pleasure in handling it, in washing and dressing it, for it seemed to her that all this was the confirmation of her maternity, and she would look at it, almost feeling surprised that it was hers, and she used to say to herself in a low voice, as she danced it in her arms: “It is my baby, it is my baby.”
She cried all the way home as she returned to the farm, and had scarcely got in, before her master called her into his room, and she went, feeling astonished and nervous, without knowing why.
“Sit down there,” he said. She sat down, and for some moments they remained side by side, in some embarrassment, with their arms hanging at their sides, as if they did not know what to do with them, and looking each other in the face, after the manner of peasants.
The farmer, a stout, jovial, obstinate man of forty-five, who had lost two wives, evidently felt embarrassed, which was very unusual with him, but at last he made up his mind, and began to speak vaguely, hesitating a little, and looking out of the window as he talked. “How is it, Rose,” he said, “that you have never thought of settling in life?” She grew as pale as death, and seeing that she gave him no answer, he went on: “You are a good, steady, active and economical girl, and a wife like you would make a man’s fortune.”
She did not move, but looked frightened; she did not even try to comprehend his meaning, for her thoughts were in a whirl, as if at the approach of some great danger; so after waiting for a few seconds, he went on: “You see, a farm without a mistress can never succeed, even with a servant like you are.” Then he stopped, for he did not know what else to say, and Rose looked at him with the air of a person who thinks that he is face to face with a murderer, and ready to flee at the slightest movement he may make; but after waiting for about five minutes, he asked her: “Well, will it suit you?” “Will what suit me, master?” And he said, quickly: “Why, to marry me, by Jove!”
She jumped up, but fell back onto her chair as if she had been struck, and there she remained motionless, like a person who is overwhelmed by some great misfortune, but at last the farmer grew impatient, and said: “Come, what more do you want?” She looked at him almost in terror; then suddenly the tears came into her eyes, and she said twice, in a choking voice: “I cannot, I cannot!” “Why not?” he asked. “Come, don’t be silly; I will give you until tomorrow to think it over.”
And he hurried out of the room, very glad to have got the matter, which had troubled him a good deal, over; for he had no doubt that she would the next morning accept a proposal which she could never have expected, and which would be a capital bargain for him, as he thus bound a woman to himself who would certainly bring him more than if she had the best dowry in the district.
Neither could there be any scruples about an unequal match between them, for in the country everyone is very nearly equal; the farmer works just like his laborers do, who frequently become masters in their turn, and the female servants constantly become the mistresses of the establishments, without its making any change in their lives or habits.
Rose did not go to bed that night. She threw herself, dressed as she was, onto her bed, and she had not even the strength to cry left in her, she was so thoroughly dumbfounded. She remained quite inert, scarcely knowing that she had a body, and without being at all able to collect her thoughts, though at moments she remembered some of what had happened, and then she was frightened at the idea of what might happen. Her terror increased, and every time the great kitchen clock struck the hour she broke into a perspiration from grief. She lost her head, and had the nightmare; her candle went out, and then she began to imagine that someone had thrown a spell over her, like country people so often fancy, and she felt a mad inclination to run away, to escape and to flee before her misfortune, like a ship scuds before the wind.
An owl hooted, and she shivered, sat up, put her hands to her face, into her hair, and all over her body, and then she went downstairs, as if she were walking in her sleep. When she got into the yard, she stooped down, so as not to be seen by any prowling scamp, for the moon, which was setting, shed a bright light over the fields. Instead of opening the gate, she scrambled over the fence, and as soon as she was outside, she started off. She went on straight before her, with a quick, elastic trot, and from time to time, she unconsciously uttered a piercing cry. Her long shadow accompanied her, and now and then some night bird flew over her head, while the dogs in the farmyards barked, as they heard her pass; one even jumped over the ditch and followed her and tried to bite her, but she turned round at it, and gave such a terrible yell, that the frightened animal ran back and cowered in silence in its kennel.
The stars grew dim, and the birds began to twitter; day was breaking. The girl was worn out and panting, and when the sun rose in the purple sky, she stopped, for her swollen feet refused to go any further; but she saw a pond in the distance, a large pond whose stagnant water looked like blood under the reflection of this new day, and she limped on with short steps and with her hand on her heart, in order to dip both her legs in it. She sat down on a tuft of grass, took off her heavy shoes, which were full of dust, pulled off her stockings and plunged her legs into the still water, from which bubbles were rising here and there.
A feeling of delicious coolness pervaded her from head to foot, and suddenly, while she was looking fixedly at the deep pool, she was seized with giddiness, and with a mad longing to throw herself into it. All her sufferings would be over in there; over for ever. She no longer thought of her child; she only wanted peace, complete rest, and to sleep for ever, and she got up with raised arms and took two steps forward. She was in the water up to her thighs, and she was just about to throw herself in, when sharp, pricking pains in her ankles made her jump back, and she uttered a cry of despair, for, from her knees to the tips of her feet, long, black leeches were sucking in her life blood, and were swelling, as they adhered to her flesh. She did not dare to touch them, and screamed with horror, so that her cries of despair attracted a peasant, who was driving along at some distance, to the spot. He pulled off the leeches one by one, applied herbs to the wounds, and drove the girl to her master’s farm, in his gig.
She was in bed for a fortnight, and as she was sitting outside the door on the first morning that she got up, the farmer suddenly came and planted himself before her. “Well,” he said, “I suppose the affair is settled, isn’t it?” She did not reply at first, and then, as he remained standing and looking at her intently with his piercing eyes, she said with difficulty: “No, master, I cannot.” But he immediately flew into a rage.
“You cannot, girl; you cannot? I should just like to know the reason why?” She began to cry, and repeated: “I cannot.” He looked at her and then exclaimed, angrily: “Then, I suppose you have a lover?” “Perhaps that is it,” she replied, trembling with shame.
The man got as red as a poppy, and stammered out in a rage: “Ah! So you confess it, you slut! And pray, who is the fellow? Some penniless, half-starved rag-a-muffin, without a roof to his head, I suppose? Who is it, I say?” And as she gave him no answer, he continued: “Ah! So you will not tell me. Then I will tell you; it is Jean Bauda?” “No, not he,” she exclaimed. “Then it is Pierre Martin?” “Oh, no, master.”
And he angrily mentioned all the young fellows in the neighborhood, while she denied that he had hit upon the right one, and every moment wiped her eyes with the corner of her big blue apron. But he still tried to find it out, with his brutish obstinacy, and, as it were, scratched her heart to discover her secret, just like a terrier scratches at a hole, to try and get at the animal which he scents in it. Suddenly, however, the man shouted: “By George! It is Jacques, the man who was here last year. They used to say that you were always talking together, and that you thought about getting married.”
Rose was choking, and she grew scarlet, while her tears suddenly stopped, and dried up on her cheeks, like drops of water on hot iron, and she exclaimed: “No, it is not he, it is not he!” “Is that really a fact?” the cunning peasant, who partly guessed the truth, asked; and she replied, hastily: “I will swear it; I will swear it to you. . . . ” She tried to think of something by which to swear, as she did not venture to invoke sacred things, but he interrupted her: “At any rate, he used to follow you into every corner, and devoured you with his eyes at meal times. Did you ever give him your promise, eh?”
This time she looked her master straight in the face. “No, never, never; I will solemnly swear to you, that if he were to come today and ask me to marry him, I would have nothing to do with him.” She spoke with such an air of sincerity that the farmer hesitated, and then he continued, as if speaking to himself: “What, then? You have not had a misfortune, as they call it, or it would have been known, and as it has no consequences, no girl would refuse her master on that account. There must be something at the bottom of it, however.”
She could say nothing; she had not the strength to speak, and he asked her again: “You will not?” “I cannot, master,” she said, with a sigh, and he turned on his heel.
She thought she had got rid of him altogether, and spent the rest of the day almost tranquilly, but as worn out as if she had been turning the threshing machine all day, instead of the old white horse, and she went to bed as soon as she could, and fell asleep immediately. In the middle of the night, however, two hands touching the bed, woke her. She trembled with fear, but she immediately recognized the farmer’s voice, when he said to her: “Don’t be frightened, Rose; I have come to speak to you.” She was surprised at first, but when he tried to take liberties with her, she understood what he wanted, and began to tremble violently, as she felt quite alone in the darkness, still heavy from sleep, and quite unprotected, by the side of that man, who stood near her. She certainly did not consent, but she resisted carelessly, herself struggling against that instinct which is always strong in simple natures, and very imperfectly protected, by the undecided will of inert and feeble natures. She turned her head now to the wall, and now towards the room, in order to avoid the attentions which the farmer tried to press on her, and her body writhed a little under the coverlet, as she was weakened by the fatigue of the struggle, while he became brutal, intoxicated by desire.
They lived together as man and wife, and one morning he said to her: “I have put up our banns, and we will get married next month.”
She did not reply, for what could she say? She did not resist, for what could she do?
She married him. She felt as if she were in a pit with inaccessible edges, from which she could never get out, and all kinds of misfortunes remained hanging over her head, like huge rocks, which would fall on the first occasion. Her husband gave her the impression of a man whom she had stolen, and who would find it out some day or other. And then she thought of her child, who was the cause of her misfortunes, but who was also the cause of all her happiness on earth, and whom she went to see twice a year, though she came back more unhappy each time. But she gradually grew accustomed to her life, her fears were allayed, her heart was at rest, and she lived with an easier mind, though still with some vague fear floating in her mind, and so years went on, and the child was six. She was almost happy now, when suddenly the farmer’s temper grew very bad.
For two or three years he seemed to have been nursing some secret anxiety, to be trouble by some care, some mental disturbance, which was gradually increasing. He remained at table a long time after dinner, with his head in his hands, sad and devoured by sorrow. He always spoke hastily, sometimes even brutally, and it even seemed as if he bore a grudge against his wife, for at times he answered her roughly, almost angrily.
One day, when a neighbor’s boy came for some eggs, and she spoke very crossly to him, as she was very busy, her husband suddenly came in, and said to her in his unpleasant voice: “If that were your own child you would not treat him so.” She was hurt, and did not reply, and then she went back into the house, with all her grief awakened afresh, and at dinner, the farmer neither spoke to her, nor looked at her, and he seemed to hate her, to despise her, to know something about the affair at last. In consequence, she lost her head, and did not venture to remain alone with him after the meal was over, but she left the room and hastened to the church.
It was getting dusk; the narrow nave was in total darkness, but she heard footsteps in the choir, for the sacristan was preparing the tabernacle lamp for the night. That spot of trembling light, which was lost in the darkness of the arches, looked to Rose like her last hope, and with her eyes fixed on it, she fell on her knees. The chain rattled as the little lamp swung up into the air, and almost immediately the small bell rang out the Angelus through the increasing mist. She went up to him, as he was going out.
“Is Monsieur le Curé at home?” she asked. “Of course he is; this is his dinner-time.” She trembled as she rang the bell of the parsonage. The priest was just sitting down to dinner, and he made her sit down also. “Yes, yes, I know all about it; your husband has mentioned the matter to me that brings you here.” The poor woman nearly fainted, and the priest continued: “What do you want, my child?” And he hastily swallowed several spoonfuls of soup, some of which dropped onto his greasy cassock. But Rose did not venture to say anything more, and she got up to go, but the priest said: “Courage. . . . ”
And she went out, and returned to the farm, without knowing what she was doing. The farmer was waiting for her, as the laborers had gone away during her absence, and she fell heavily at his feet, and shedding a flood of tears, she said to him: “What have you got against me?”
He began to shout and to swear: “What have I got against you? That I have no children by ——! When a man takes a wife, he does not want to be left alone with her until the end of his days. That is what I have against you. When a cow has no calves, she is not worth anything, and when a woman has no children, she is also not worth anything.”
She began to cry, and said: “It is not my fault! It is not my fault!” He grew rather more gentle when he heard that, and added: “I do not say that it is, but it is very annoying, all the same.”
From that day forward, she had only one thought; to have a child, another child; she confided her wish to everybody, and in consequence of this, a neighbor told her of an infallible method. This was, to make her husband a glass of water with a pinch of ashes in it, every evening. The farmer consented to try it, but without success; so they said to each other: “Perhaps there are some secret ways?” And they tried to find out. They were told of a shepherd who lived ten leagues off, and so Vallin one day drove off to consult him. The shepherd gave him a loaf on which he had made some marks; it was kneaded up with herbs, and both of them were to eat a piece of it before and after their mutual caresses: but they ate the whole loaf without obtaining any results from it.
Next, a schoolmaster unveiled mysteries, and processes of love which were unknown in the country, but, infallible, so he declared; but none of them had the desired effect. Then the priest advised them to make a pilgrimage to the shrine at Fécamp. Rose went with the crowd and prostrated herself in the abbey, and mingling her prayers with the coarse wishes of the peasants around her, she prayed that she might be fruitful a second time; but it was in vain, and then she thought that she was being punished for her first fault, and she was seized by terrible grief. She was wasting away with sorrow; her husband was also aging prematurely, and was wearing himself out in useless hopes.
Then war broke out between them; he called her names and beat her. They quarreled all day long, and when they were in bed together at night he flung insults and obscenities at her, panting with rage, until one night, not being able to think of any means of making her suffer more, he ordered her to get up and go and stand out of doors in the rain, until daylight. As she did not obey him, he seized her by the neck, and began to strike her in the face with his fists, but she said nothing, and did not move. In his exasperation he knelt on her stomach, and with clenched teeth, and mad with rage, he began to beat her. Then in her despair she rebelled, and flinging him against the wall with a furious gesture, she sat up, and in an altered voice, she hissed: “I have had a child, I have had one! I had it by Jacques; you know Jacques well. He promised to marry me, but he left this neighborhood without keeping his word.”
The man was thunderstruck, and could hardly speak, but at last he stammered out: “What are you saying? What are you saying?” Then she began to sob, and amidst her tears she said: “That was the reason why I did not want to marry you. I could never tell you, for you would have left me without any bread for my child. You have never had any children, so you cannot understand, you cannot understand!”
He said again, mechanically, with increasing surprise: “You have a child? You have a child?” “You had me by force, as I suppose you know? I did not want to marry you,” she said, still sobbing.
Then he got up, lit the candle, and began to walk up and down, with his arms behind him. She was cowering on the bed and crying, and suddenly he stopped in front of her, and said: “Then it is my fault that you have no children?” She gave him no answer, and he began to walk up and down again, and then, stopping again, he continued: “How old is your child?” “Just six,” she whispered. “Why did you not tell me about it?” he asked. “How could I?” she replied, with a sigh.
He remained standing, motionless. “Come, get up,” he said. She got up, with some difficulty, and then, when she was standing on the floor, he suddenly began to laugh, with his hearty laugh of his good days, and seeing how surprised she was, he added: “Very well, we will go and fetch the child, as you and I can have none together.”
She was so scared that, if she had the strength, she would assuredly have run away, but the farmer rubbed his hands and said: “I wanted to adopt one, and now we have found one. I asked the Curé about an orphan, some time ago.”
Then, still laughing, he kissed his weeping and agitated wife on both cheeks, and shouted out, as if she could not hear him: “Come along, mother, we will go and see whether there is any soup left; I should not mind a plateful.”
She put on her petticoat, and they went down stairs; and while she was kneeling in front of the fire-place, and lighting the fire under the saucepan, he continued to walk up and down the kitchen in long strides, and said:
“Well, I am really glad at this: I am not saying it for form’s sake, but I am glad, I am really very glad.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:58