Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

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The doctor was silent for a second,
and then resumed:

"One day, while I was receiving pa-
tients in my office, a tall young man
entered. He said to me :

" 'Doctor, I have come to ask you
news of the Countess Marie Baranow.
I am a friend of her husband, although
she does not know me.'

"I answered:

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" *She is lost She will never return to

"And suddenly this man began to sob,
then he rose and went out, staggering
like a drunken man.

"I told the Countess that evening
that a stranger had come to make in-
quiries about her health. She seemed
moved, and told me the story which I
have just related to you. She added:

" 'That man, whom I do not know at
all, follows me now like my shadow.
I meet him every time I go out.
He looks at me in a strange way, but
he has never spoken to me!'

"She pondered a moment, then added:

" *Come, I'll wager that he is under
the window now.'

"She left her reclining-chair, went to
the window and drew back the curtain,
and actually showed me the man who
had come to see me, seated on a bench
at the edge of the side wall with his
eyes raised toward the house. He per-
ceived us, rose, and went away without
once turning around.

"Then I understood a sad and sur-
prising thing, the mute love of these two
beings, who were not acquainted with
each other.

"He loved her with the devotion of a
rescued animal, grateful and devoted to
the death. He came every day to ask
me, 'How is she?' understanding that I
had guessed his feelings. And he wept
frightfully when he saw her pass, weaker
and paler every day.

"She said to me:

" *I have never spoken but once to
that singular man, and yet it seems as
if I had known him for twenty years.'

"And when they met she returned his
bow with a serious and charming smile.

I felt that — ^although she was given up^
and knew herself lost — she was happy tc
be loved thus, with this respect and
constancy, with this exaggerated poetry,
with this devotion, ready for anytMng.

"Nevertheless, faithful to her super-
excited obstinacy, she absolutely refused
to learn his name, to speak to him. She

" *No, no, that would spoil this strange
friendship. We must remain strangers
to each other.'

"As for him, he was certainly a kind
of Don Quixote, for he did nothing t»
bring himself closer to her. He intended
to keep to the end the absurd promise
never to speak to her which he had made
in the car.

"Often, during her long hours of weak-
ness, she rose from her reclining-chair
and partly opened the curtain to see
whether he were there, beneath the win-
dow. And when she had seen him, ever
motionless upon his bench, she came
back to lie down again with a smile upon
her lips.

"She died one morning about ten

"As I left the house he came to me,
his countenance showing that he had
already learned the news.

" *I would like to see her, for a
second, in your presence,' said he.

"I took him by the arm and we en-
tered the house together.

•When he was beside the bed of the
dead woman, he seized her hand and
gave it a long and passionate kiss; then
he went away like a man bereft of his

The doctor again was silent. Then he

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"There you have, certainly, the most than you think.


singular railroad adventure that I know.

It must also be said that men are queer

A woman murmured in a low tone:
**Those two people were less crazy

you tnink. They were — ^they
were — "

But she could speak no longer because
she was weeping. As the conversation
was changed to calm her, no one ever
knew what she had intended to say.

Liule Louise Roque

Mederic Rompel, the postman,
familiarly called by the country people
**Mederi," started at his usual hour from
the posthouse at Rouy-le-Tors. Having
passed through the little town, stridmg
like an old trooper, he cut across the
meadows of Villamnes in order to reach
the bank of the Brindelle, which led him
along the water's edge to the village of
Carvelin, where his distribution com-
menced. He traveled quickly, foUow-
4 ing the course of the narrow river, which
^'frothed, murmured, and boiled along its
bed of grass under the arching willow-
trees. The big stones, impeding the
flow of water, created around them a
sort of aqueous necktie ending in a knot
of foam. In some places, there were
cascades a foot wide, often invisible,
which made under the leaves, under the
tendrils, under a roof of verdure, a noise
at once angry and gentle. Further on,
the banks widened out, and you saw a
small, placid lake where trout were
swimming in the midst of all that green
vegetation which keeps undulating in the
depths of tranquil streams.

Mederic went on without a halt, see-
ing nothing and with only one thought
in his mind: "My first letter is for the
Poivron family; then I have one for M.

Renardet; so I must cross ttft Wood.'^

His blue blouse, fastened round his
waist by a black leathern belt, moved
in quick; regular fashion above the green
hedge of willow-trees; and his stick of
stout holly kept time with the steady
march of his feet.

He crossed the Brindelle over a bridge
formed of a single tree thrown length-
wise, with a rope attached to two stakes
driven into the river banks as its only

The wood, which belonged to M.
Renardet, the mayor of Carvelin, and
the largest landowner in the district,
consisted of a number of huge old trees,
straight as pillars, and extended for
about half a league along the left bank
of the stream which served as a bound-
ary for this immense arch of foliage.
Alongside the water there were large
shrubs warmed by the sun: but under
the trees you found nothing but moss,
thick, soft, plastic moss, which exhaled
into the stagnant air a light odor of
loam and withered branches.

Mederic slackened his pace, took off
his black cap trimmed with red lace, and
wiped his forehead, for it was by this
tune hot in the meadows, thouf^ xu^
yet eight o'clock in the morning.

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He had just recovered from the ef-
fects of the heat, and had accelerated
his pace when he noticed at the foot of
a tree a knife, a child's small knife. As
he picked it up, he discovered a thim-
ble, and then a needlecase, not far away.

Having found these objects, he
thought: "I'll intrust them to the
mayor," and resumed this journey. But
now he kept his eyes open, expecting to
find something else.

All of a sudden, he drew up stiffly as
if he had run up against a wooden bar.
Ten paces in front of him on the moss,
lay stretched on her back a little girl,
quite naked. She was about twelve
years old. Her arms were hanging
down, her legs parted, and her face cov-
ered with a handkerchief. There were
little spots of blood on her thighs.

Mederic now advanced on tiptoe, as if
afraid to make a noise; he apprehended
some danger, and glanced toward the
spot uneasily.

What was this? No doubt, she was
asleep. Then, he reflected that a person
does not go to sleep thus, naked, at
half past seven in the morning imder
cool trees. Then she must be dead;
and he must be face to face with a
crime. At this thought, a cold shiver
ran through his frame, although he was
an old soldier. And then a murder was
such a rare thing in the country — ^and
above all the murder of a child — ^that
he could not believe his eyes. But she
had no wound— nothing save these blood
drops on her legs. How, then, had she
been killed?

He stopped when quite near her and
stared at her, while leaning on his stick.
Certainly, he knew her, as he knew all
the inhabitants of the district; but, not

being able to get a look at her face, k
could not guess her name. He stooped
forward in order to take ofif the hand-
kerchief which covered her face; then
paused with outstretched liand, re-
strained by an idea that occurred to

Had he the right to disarrange any-
thing in the condition of the corpse be-
fore the magisterial investigation? He
pictured justice to himself as a general
whom nothing escapes, who attaches as
much importance to a lost button as to
a stag of a knife in the stomach. Per-
haps under this handkerchief evidence
to support a capital charge could be
found; in fact if there were sufficient
proof there to secure a conviction, it
might lose its value if touched by an
awkward hand.

Then he straightened up with the in-
tention of hastening toward the mayor's
residence, but again another thought
held him back. If the little girl was
still alive, by any chance — ^he could not
leave her lying there in this way. He
sank on his kness very gently, a yard
away from her, through precaution, and
stretched his hand toward her feet. The
flesh was icy cold, with that terrible
coldness which makes dead flesh fright-
ful, and leaves us no longer in doubt
The letter-carrier, as he touched her,
felt his heart leap to his mouth, as he
said himself afterward, and his lii>s were
parched with dry saliva. Rising up
abruptly he rushed off through the trees
to M. Renardet's house.

He hurried on in double-quick time,
with his stick under his arm, his bands
clenched, and his head thrust forward,
and his leathern bag, filled with lettos

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and newspapers, flapping regularly at Ms

The mayor's residence was at the end
of the wood, which he used as a park,
and one side of it was washed by a little
lagoon formed at this spot by the Brin-

It was a big, square house of gray
stone, very old. It had stood many a
siege in former days, and at the end of
it was a huge tower, twenty meters high,
built in the water. From the top of this
fortress the entire country aroimd could
be seen in olden times. It was called
the Fox's Tower, without anyone know-
ing exactly why; and from the appella-
tion, no doubt, had come the name
Renardet, borne by the owners of this
flef, which had remained in the same
family, it was said, for more than two
himdred years. For the Renardets
formed part of that upper middle class
which is all but noble and was met with
so often in the provinces before the

The postman dashed into the kitchen
where the servants were taking break-
fast, and exclaimed:

"Is the mayor up? I want to speak
to him at once."

Mederic was recognized as a man of
weight and authority, and it was soon
understood that something serious had

As soon as word was brought to M.
Renardet, he ordered the postman to be
sent up to him. Pale and out of breath,
with his cap in his hand, Mederic found
the mayor seated in front of a long table
covered with scattered papers.

He was a big, tall man, heavy and
red-faced, strong as an ox, and greatly
liked in the district, though of an ex-

cessively violent disposition. Very
nearly forty years old, and a widower
for the past six months, he lived on his
estate like a country gentleman. His
choleric temperament had often
brought him into trouble, from which
the magistrates of Rouy-le-Tors, like
indulgent and prudent friends, had ex-
tricated him. Had he not one day
thrown the conductor of the diligence
from the top of his seat because the
letter had nearly crushed his retriever,
Micmac? Had he not broken the ribs
of a gamekeeper, who had abused him
for having passed through a neighbor's
property with a gun in his hand? Had
he not even caught by the collar the
sub-prefect, who stopped in the village in
the course of an administrative round
described by M. Renardet as an elec-
tioneering tour; for he was against the
government, according to his family

The mayor asked:

"What's the matter now, Mederic?'*

"I have found a little girl dead in
your wood."

Renardet rose up, with his face the
color of brick.

«A litUe giri, do you say?"

•'Yes, M'sieu', a little girl, quite
naked, on her back, with blood on her,
dead — quite dead!"

The mayor gave vent to an oath:

"By God, I'd make a bet 'tis littie
Louise Roque! / have just learned that
she did not go home to her mother last
night. AVhere did you find her?"

The postman pointed out where the
place was, gave full details, and offered
to conduct the mayor to the spot.

But Renardet became brusque:

"No, I don't need you. Sepd dw

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steward, the ma3ror's secretary, and tbe
doctor immediately to me, and resume
your rounds. Quick, go quick, and tell
them to meet me in the wood."

The letter-carrier, a man used to dis-
cipline, obeyed and withdrew, angry and
grieved at not being able to be present
at the investigation.

The mayor, in his turn, prepared to
go out. He took his hat, a big soft hat,
and paused for a few seconds on the
threshold of his abode. In front of him
stretched a wide lawn in which three
large patches were conspicuous — ^three
large beds of flowers in full bloom, one
facing the house and the others at either
side of it. Further on, rose skyward
the principal trees in the wood, while
at the left, above the spot where the
Brindelle widened into a pool, could be
seen long meadows, an entirely flat green
sweep of country, cut by dykes and
monster-like willows, twisted drawf-
trees, always cut short, having on their
thick squat trunks a quivering tuft of

To the right, behind the stables, the
outhouses, and the buildings connected
with the property, might be seen the
village, which was prosperous, being
mainly inhabited by raisers of oxen.

Renardet slowly descended the steps
in front of his house, and, turning to
the left, gained the water's edge, which
he followed at a slow pace, his hands
behind his back. He went on, with bent
liead, and from time to time he glanced
round in search of the persons for
whom he had sent.

When he stood beneath the trees, he
stopped, took off his hat, and wiped his
forehead as Mederic had done; for the
buminjT 3un was shedding its flery rain

upon the ground. Then the mayor re-
sumed his journey, stopped once more,
and retraced his steps. Suddenly stoop-
ing down, he stepped his hanc^erchief
in the stream that glided at his feet
and stretched it round his head, under
his hat. Drops of water flowed along his
temples, over his purple ears, over Ms
strong red neck, and trickled one after
the other, under his white shirt-collar.

As yet nobody had appeared; he be-
gan tapping with his foot, then he called
out: "Hallo! Hallo!"

A voice at his right answered:
"Haflo! HaUo!" and the doctor ap-
peared under the trees. He was a thin
little man, an ex-military surgeon, who
passed in the neighborhood for a very
skillful practitioner. He limped, hav-
ing been wounded while in the service,
and had to use a stick to assist him in

Next came the steward and the
mayor's secretary, who, having been sent
for at the same time, arrived together.
They seemed scared, as they hiunied
forward, out of breath, walking and trot-
ting in turn in order to hasten, and mov-
ing their arms up and down so vigorously
that they seemed to do more work with
them than with their legs.

Renardet said to the doctor:

"You know what the trouble is

**Yes, a child found dead in the wood
by Mederic."

"That's quite correct. Come on.**

They walked on side by side, followed
by the two men.

Their steps made no noise on the
moss, their eyes were gazing downward
right in front of them.

The doctor hastened his stex>s, in-

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terested by the discovery. As soon as
they were near the corpse, he bent down
to examine it without touching it. He
had put on a pair of glasses, as you do
when you are looking at some curious
object; then he turned round very
quietly and said, without rising up:

^'Violated and assassinated, as we
shall prove presently. The Uttle girl,
moreover, is almost a woman — ^look at
her throat."

Her two breasts, already nearly full-
developed, fell over her chest, relaxed
by death. The doctor lightly drew away
the handkerchief which covered her face.
It was almost black, frightful to look
at, the tongue protruding, the eyes
bloodshot. He went on :

"Faith, she was strangled the moment
the deed was done."

He felt her neck:

"Strangled with the hands without
leaving any special trace, neither the
mark of the nails nor the imprint of
the fingers. Quite right. It is little
Louise Roque, sure enough!"

He delicately replaced the hant&er-

"There's nothing for me to do. She's
^en dead for the last hour at least.
tVe must give notice of the matter to
the authorities."

Renardet, standing up, with his hands
behind his back, kept staring with a
stony look at the little body exposed to
view on the grass. He murmured:

"What a wretch! We must find the

The doctor felt the hands, the arms,
the legs. He said:

"She must have been bathing, no
doubt. They ought to be at the water's

The mayor thereupon gave dhrections:

"Do you, Principe [this was his sec-
retary], go and look for those clothes
for me along the river. Do you,
Maxime [this was the steward], hurry
on towards Rouy-le-Tors, and bring on
here to me the examining magistrate with
the gendarmes. They must be here
within an hour. You understand."

The two men quickly departed, and
Renardet said to the doctor:

"What miscreant has been able to do
such a deed in this part of the country?"

The doctor murmured:

"Who knows? Everyone is capable
of that! Everyone in particular and
nobody in general. However, it must be
some prowler, some workman out of em-
ployment. As we live imder a Republic,
we must expect to meet this sort of mis-
creant along the roads."

Both of them were Bonapartists. The
mayor went on:

"Yes, it could only be a stranger, a
I)asser-by, a vagabond without heart or

The doctor added with the shadow of
a smile on his face:

"And without a wife. Having neither
a good supper nor a good bed, he pro-
cured the rest for himself. You can't
tell how many men there may be in the
world capable of a crime at a given
moment. Did you know that this litUe
girl had disappeared?"

And with the end of his stick he
touched one after the other the stiffened
fingers of the corpse, resting on them as
on the keys of a piano.

"Yes, the mother came last night to
look for me about nine o'clock, the child
not having come home for supper up to

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leven. We went to try and find her
nlong the roads up to midnight, but we
did not think of the wood. However,
we needed daylight to carry out a
feearch with a practical result."

"Wijl you have a cigar?'* said the

"Thanks, I don't care to smoke. It
gives me a turn to look at this."

They remained standing in front of
the young girl's body, pale and still, on
the dark background of moss. A big fly
was walking along one of the thighs, it
stopped at the blood-stains, went on
again, always rising higher, ran along
the side with his lively, jerky move-
ments, climbed up one of the breasts,
then came back again to explore the
other. The two men silently watched
this wandering black speck. The doc-
tor said:

"How tantalizmg it is, a fly on the
skin! The ladies of the last century
had good reason to paste them on their
faces. Why has the fashion gone out?"

But the mayor seemed not to hear,
plunged as he was in deep thought.

All of a sudden he turned aroimd,
surprised by a shrill noise. A woman
in a cap and a blue apron rushed up
through the trees. It was the mother.
La Roque. As soon as she saw Renardet
she began to shriek:

"My little girl, where's my little
igirl?" in such a distracted manner that
she did not glance down at the ground.
Suddenly, she saw the corpse, stopped
short, clasped her hands, and raised both
her arms while she uttered a sharp,
heartrending cry — ^the cry of a mutilated
animal. Then, she rushed toward the
body, fell on her knees, and snatched
Pie handkerchief that covered the face.

When she saw that frightful counte-
nance, black and convulsed, she recoiled
with a shudder, then pressed her face
against the ground, giving vent to ter-
rible and continuous choking screams,
her mouth close to the thick moss.

Her tall, thin frame, to which her
clothes clung tightly, was palpitating,
shaken with convulsions. They could
see her bony ankles and withered limbs
covered with thick blue stockings,
shivering horribly. Unconsciously she
dug at the soil with her crooked 6ngers
as if to make a grave in which to hide

The doctor pityingly said in a low

"Poor old woman!"

Renardet felt a strange rumbling in
his stomach; then he gave vent to a
sort of loud sneeze that issued at the
same time through nose and mouth;
and, drawing his handkerchief from his
pocket, began to weep copiously, cough-
ing, sobbing noisily, wiping his face, and

"Danm — damn — damned pig to do
this! I would like to see him guO-

But Principe reappeared, wiUi his
hands empty. He murmured:

"I have found nothing, M'sicu*, to
Maire, nothing at all anywhere."

The mayor, scared, replied in a thidL
voice, drowned in tears:

"What is it you could not find?**

"The Kttle giri's clothes.**

'Well — well — look again, and find
them — or you'll have to answer to me.**

The man, knowing that the mayor
would not brook opposition, set forth
again with hesitating steps, casting on
the corpse horrified and timid glances.

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Distant voices arose under the trees,
I confused sound, the noise of an ap-
proaching crowd; for Mederic had, in
the course of his rounds, carried the
Dews from door to door. The people
of the neighborhood, stupefied at first,
had gone gossiping from their own fire-
sides into the street, and from one thres-
hold to another. Then they gathered to-
gether. They talked over, discussed,
and commented on the event for some
minutes, and they had now come to see
it for themselves.

They arrived in groups, a little falter-
ing and uneasy through fear of the first
impression of such a scene on their
minds. When they saw the body they
stopped, not daring to advance, and
speaking low. Then they grew bold,
went on a few steps, stopped again, ad-
vanced once more, and soon formed
around the dead girl, her mother, the
doctor, and Renardet, a thick circle,
agitated and noisy, which swayed for-
ward under the sudden pushes of the
last comers. And now they touched the
corpse. Some of them even bent down
to feel it with their fingers. The doctor
kept them back. But the mayor, waking
abruptly out of his torpor, broke into a
rage, and, seizing Dr. Labarbe*s stick,
flung himself on his townspeople, stam-

"Clear out — clear out — ^you pack of
brutes — clear out!"

And in a second the crowd of sight-
seers had fallen back two hundred

La Roque was lifted up, turned round,
and placed in a sitting posture; she re-
mained weeping with her hands clasped
over her face.

The occurrence was discussed among

the crowd; and young lads, with eager
eyes, curiously scrutinized the nude
body of the girl. Renardet perceived
this, and, abruptly taking off his vest,
flung it over the little girl, who was en-
tirely lost to view under the wide gar-

The spectators drew quietly nearer.
The wood was filled with people, and a
continuous hum of voices rose up under
the tangled foliage of the tall trees.

The mayor, in his shirt-sleeves, re-
mained standing, with his stick in his
hands, in a fighting attitude. He seemed
exasperated by this curiosity on the part
of the people, and kept repeating:

"If one of you comes nearer, I'll
break his head just as I would a dog's."

The peasants were greatly afraid of
him. They held back. Dr. Labarbe,
who was smoking, sat down beside La
Roque, and spoke to her in order to dis-
tract her attention. The old woman
soon removed her hands from her face,
and replied with a flood of tearful words,
pouring forth her grief in rapid sen-
tences. She told the whole story of her
life, her marriage, the death of her man
— 2L bull-sticker, who had been gored to
death — ^the infancy of her daughter, her
wretched existence as a widow without
resources and with a child to support.
She had only this one, her little Louise,
and the child had been killed — killed in

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 122 of 125)