Guy de Maupassant.

The complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant online

. (page 123 of 125)
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this wood. All of a sudden, she felt anx-
ious to see it again, and dragging her-
self on her knees toward the corpse, sh9
raised up one comer of the garment that
covered it; then she let it fall again, and
began wailing once more. The crowd
remained silent, eagerly watching the
mother's gestures.

But all of a sudden there was a sway-)

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ing of the crowd, and a cry of "The
gendarmes! The gendarmes!"

Two gendarmes appeared in the dis-
tance, coming on at a rapid trot, escort-
ing their captain and a little gentleman
with red whiskers, who was bobbing up
and down like a monkey on a big white

The steward had found M. Putoin,
the examining magistrate, just at the
moment when he was mounting to take
his daily ride, for he posed as a good
horseman, to the great amusement of
the officers.

He dismounted along with the cap-
tain, and pressed the hands of the
mayor and the doctor, casting a ferret-
like glance on the linen vest which
swelled above the body lying underneath.

When he was thoroughly acquainted
with the facts, he first gave orders to
get rid of the public, whom the gen-
darmes drove out of the wood, but
who soon reappeared in the meadow, and
formed a line, a long line of excited and
moving heads all along the Brindelle, on
the other side of the stream.

The doctor in his turn gave explana-
tions of which Renardet took a note in
his memorandum book. All the evi-
dence was given, taken down, and com-
mented on without leading to any dis-
covery. Maxime, too, came back with-
out having found any trace of the

This surprised everybody; no one
could explain it on the theory of theft,
since these rags were not worth twenty
sous; so this theory was inadmissible.

The examining magistrate, the mayor,
the captain, and the doctor set to work
by searching in pairs, putting aside the
smallest branches along the water.

Renardet said to the judge:

"How does it happen that this wretch
should conceal or carry away the clothes,
and should then leave the body exposed
in the open air and visible to everyone?"

The other, sly and knowing, answered:

"Perhaps a dodge. This crime has
been committed either by a brute or by
a crafty blackguard. ^ In any case, well
easily succeed in finding him."

The rolling of a vehicle made them
turn their heads. It was the deputy
magistrate, another doctor, and the
registrar of the court who had arrived
in their turn. They resumed their
searches, all chatting in aa animated

Renardet said suddenly:

"Do you know that I am expecting
you to lunch with me?*'

Everyone smilingly accepted the in-
vitation, and the examining magistrate,
finding that the case of little Louise
Roque was quite enough to bother about
for one day, turned toward the mayor:

"I can have the body brought to your
house, can I not? You have a room in
whid^ you can keep it for me till this

The other got confused, and stam-

"Yes— no— no. To tell the truth, I
prefer that it should not come into my
house on account of— K)n account of my
servants who are already talking about
ghosts in — ^in my tower, in the Fox's
Tower. You know — ^I could no longer
keep a single one. No— I prefer not to
have it in my house."

The magistrate began to smile:

"Good! I am going to get it carried
off at once to Rouy, for the legal ex*

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Turning toward the doctor:

*'l can make use of your trap, can I

"Yes, certainly."

Everybody came back to the i^ce
where the corpse lay. La Roque, now
seated beside her daughter, had caught
hold of her hand, and was staring right
before her, with a wandering listless eye.

The two doctors endeavored to lead
her away, so that she might not witness
the dead girl's removal; but she un-
derstood at once what they wanted to
do, and, flinging herself on the body, she
seized it in both arms. Lying on top of
the corpse, she exclaimed:

**You shall not have it — 'tis mine —
•tis mine now. They have killed her
for me, and I want to keep her — ^you
shall not have her !"

All the men, affected and not knowing
how to act, remained standing around
her. Renardet fell on his knees, and
said to her:

"Listen, La Roque, it is necessary — ^in
order to find out who killed her. With-
out this it could not be found out. We
must make a search for him in order
to punish him. When we have found
him, we'll give her up to you. I promise
you this."

This explanation shook the woman's
mind, and a feeling of hatred manifested
In her distracted glance.

"So then they'll take him?"

**Yes, I promise you that."

"She rose up, decidmg to let them do
as they liked; but when the captain
remarked: "Tis surprising that her
clothes cannot be foimd," a new idea,
which she had not previously thought
of, abruptly found an entrance into her
brain, and she asked:

**Wherc are her clothes? They're
mine. I want Mm. Where have they
been put?"

They explained to her that they had
not been found, then she called out for
them with desperate obstinacy and with
repeated moans:

"They're mine— I want them. Where
are they? I want them!"

The more they tried to calm her, the
more she sobbed, and persisted in her
demands. She no longer wanted the
body, she insisted on having the clothes,
as much perhaps through the uncon-
scious cupidity of a wretched being to
whom a piece of silver represents a for
tune, as through maternal tenderness.

And when the little body, rolled up in
blankets which had been brought out
from Renardet's house, had disappeared
in the vehicle, the old woman, standing
under the trees, held up by the mayor
and the captain, exclaimed:

"I have nothing, nothing, nothing in
the world, not even her little cap— her
little cap."

The cur6 had just arrived, a young
priest already growing stout. He took
it on himself to carry off La Roque,
and they went away together toward the
village. The mother's grief was modi-
fied under the sugary words of the
clergyman, who promised her a thou-
sand compensations. But she incessant-
ly kept repeating: "If I had only her
little cap."

This idea' now dominated every other.

Before they were out of hearing
Renardet exclaimed:

"You will lunch with us, Monsieur
FAbbd — ^in an hour's time?"

The priest tinned his head round, and

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"With pleasure, Monsieur le Maire.
1*11 be with you at twelve."

And they all directed their steps to«
ward the house, whose gray front and
large tower, built on the edge of the
Brindelle, could be seen through the

The meal lasted a long time. They
talked about the crime and everybody
was of the same opinion. It had been
committed by some tramp x>assing there
hy chance while the little girl was bath-

Then the magistrates returned to
Rouy, announcing that they would re-
turn next day at an early hour. The
doctor and the cur6 went to their re-
spective homes, while Renardet, after a
long walk through the meadows, re-
turned to the wood, where he remained
walking till nightfall with slow steps,
his hands behind his back.

He went to bed early, and was still
asleep next morning when the examin-
ing magistrate entered his room. He
rubbed his hands together with a self-
satisfied air. He said:

"Ha! ha! Still sleeping? Well, my
dear fellow, we have news this morning."

The mayor sat up on his bed.

'What pray?"

"Oh! Something strange. You re-
member well how the mother yesterday
clamored for some memento of her
daughter, especially her little cap? Well,
on opening her door this morning, she
found on the threshold her child's two
little wooden shoes. This proves that
the crime was perpetrated by some one
from the district, some one who felt pity
for her. Besides, the postman Mederic
found and brought me the thimble, the
scissors, and the needlecase of the dead

girl. So then the man in canning oS
the clothes in order to hide them, must
have let fall the articles which were in
the pocket. As for me, I attach special
importance to the wooden shoes, as they
indicate a certain moral culture and a
faculty for tenderness on the part of
the assassin. We will therefore, if you
have no objection, pass in review to-
gether the principal inhabitants of your

The mayor got up. He rang for hot
water to shave with, and said:

"With pleasure, but it will take rather
a long time, so let us begin at once."

M. Putoin sat astride on a chair, thus
pursuing even in a room, his mania for
horsemanship. Renardet now covered
his chin with a white lather while be
looked at himself in the glass ; then he
sharpened his razor on the strop and
went on:

"The principal inhabitant of Carvdin
bears the name of Joseph Renardet,
mayor, a rich landowner, a rough man
who beats guards and coachmen — "

The examining magistrate burst out

"That's enough; let us pass on to the

"The second in importance is ilL
Pelledent, his deputy, a rearer of oxen,
an equally rich landowner, a crafty
peasant, very sly, very close-fisted on
every question of money, but incapable
in my opinion of having perpetrated
such a crime."

M. Putoin said:

"Let us pass on."

Then, while continuing to shave and
wash himself, Renardet went on with
the moral inspection of all the inhabi-
tants of Carvdin. After two houxs^

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discussion, their suspicions were fixed on
three individuals who had hitherCo
borne a shady reputation — a poacher
named Cavalle, a fisher for club and
cray-fish named Paquet, and a bull-
sticker named Clovis.


The search for ^he perpetrator of the
crime lasted all the summer, but he
was not discovered. Those who were
suspected and those who were arrested
easily proved their innocence, and the
authorities were compelled to abandon
the attempt to capture the criminal.

But the murder seemed to have
moved the entire country in a singular
fashion. It left a disquietude, a vague
fear, a sensation of mysterious terror,
springing not merely from the impossi*
bility of discovering any trace of the
assassin, but above all from that strange
finding of the wooden shoes in front of
La Roque's door on the day after the
crime. The certainty that the murderer
had assisted at the investigation and
that he was doubtless still living in the
village, left a gloomy impression on
every mind, and hung over the neigh-
borhood like a constant menace.

The wood, besides, had become a
dreaded spot, a place to be avoided,
and supposed to be haunted.

Formerly, the inhabitants used to
come and lounge there every Simday
af temoo^.. They used to sit down on
the moss at the foot of the huge trees,
or walk along the water's edge watch-
ing the trout gliding under the green
undergrowth. The boys used to play
bowls, hide-and-seek, and other games
in certain places where they had up-
turned, smoothed out, and leveled the
^j^ilf and the girls, in rows of four or



five, used to trip along holding oae
another by the arms, and screaming out
with their shrill voices ballads which
grated on the ear, disturbed the tranquil
air with discord and set the teeth on
edge like vinegar. Now nobody ven»
tured into and under the towering trees,
as if afraid of finding there some corpse
lying on the ground.

Autumn arrived; the leaves began to
fan. They feU day and night from the
tall trees, whirUng round and round to
the ground; and the sky could be seen
through the bare branches. Sometimes
when a gust of wind swept over the
s^dlr '^^.^'^^' contSuous ,3^
ho^lJj ^'T ^'"^''•' ^"d became a
hoarsely gro^mg storm, which drenched

Zil r"^. '^^^Py ^d yielding.
And the almost imperceptible murmur,
the floatmg, ceaseless whisper, gentle
and sad, of this rainfall seemed like a
low wail, and the continually falling-
leaves, like tears, big tears shed by the
taU mournful trees, which were weepmg,
as It were, day and night over the close
of the year, over the ending of warm
dawns and soft twflights, over the end-
ing of hot breezes and bright suns, and
also perhaps over the crime which they
had seen committed under the shade of
their branches, over the giri violated and
kiUed at their feet. They wept in the
silence of the desolate empty wood, the
abandoned, dreaded wood, where the
soul, the childish soul of the dead little
girl must have been wandering all alone.

The Brindelle, swollen by the storms,
rushed on more quickly, yellow and
angry, between its dry banks, Kned with
thin, bare willow-hedges.

Renardet suddenly resumed his walks

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under the trees. Every day, at sunset,
he came out of his house, descended the
front steps slowly, and entered the wood,
in a dreamy fashion with his hands in
his pockets. For a long time he would
pace over the damp, soft moss, while a
legion of rooks, rushing to the spot from
all the neighboring haunts in order to
rest in the tall stmimits, spread them-
selves through space, like an immense
mourning veil floating in the wind, ut-
tering violent and sinister screams.
Sometimes they would perch on the
tangled branches dotting with black
spots the red sky, the sky crimsoned
with autimm twilight. Then, all of a
sudden, they would set off again, croak-
ing frightfully and trailing once more
above the wood the long darkness of
their flight. Then they would swoop
down, at last, on the highest tree-tops,
and gradually their cawings would die
away, while advancing night merged
their black plumes into the blackness of

Renardet was stiU strolling slowly un-
der the trees; then, when the darkness
prevented him from walking any longer,
he went back to the house, sank all of
a heap into his armchair in front of the
glowing hearth and dried his feet at the

Now, one morning, an important bit
of news was circulated around the dis-
trict: the mayor was getting his wood
cut down.

Twenty woodcutters were already at
work. They had commenced at the
comer nearest to the house, and they
worked rapidly in the master's presence.

At first the loppers climbed up the
trunk. Tied to it by a rope collar, they
dtmg round it in the beginning with

both arms, th^, lifting one leg, struck
the tree hard with the edge of a sted
instrument attached to each foot. The
edge penetrated the wood and remained
stuck in it; and the man rose up as if
on a step in order to strike with the sted
attached to the other foot, and then
once more supported himself till lie
could lift his first foot again.

With every upward movement was
slipped higher the rope collar which
fastened him to the tree. Over his loins
hung and glittered the steel hatchet
He kept continually climbing in easy
fashion like some parasite attacking a
giant, moimting slowly up the immense
trunk, embracing it and spurring it in
order to decapitate it.

As soon as he reached the lowest
branches, he stopped, detached from his
side the sharp ax, and struck. Slowly,
methodically, he chopped at the lin^
close to the tnmk. Suddenly the branch
cracked, gave way, bent, tore itself off»
and fell, grazing the neighboring trees
In its fall. Then it crashed down on
the ground with a great sound of broken
wood, and it slighter branches quivered
for a long time.

The soil was covered with fragments
which other men cut in their turn, bound
in bundles, and plied in heaps, while the
trees which were still left standing
looked like enormous posts, gigantic
forms amputated and shorn by the keen
sted axes of the cutters.

When the lopper had finished his
task, he left at the top of the straight
slender shaft of the tree the rope collar
which he had brought up with him, de-
scending again with spur-like prods along
the discrowned trunk, which the wood*
cutters below attacked at the base, stxik-

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ing it with heavy blows which resounded
through all the rest of the wood.

When the base of the tree seemed
pierced deeply enough, some men com-
menced dragging, to the accompaniment
of a signal cry in which all joined har-
moniously, at the rope attached to the
top. All of a sudden, the immense
column cracked and tumbled to the
earth with the dull sound and shock of
a distant cannon-shot. Each day the
wood grew thinner, losing its trees one
by one as an army loses its soldiers.

Renardet no longer walked up and
down. He remained from morning till
night, contemplating, motionless, with
his hands behind his back, the slow
death of his wood. When a tree fell,
he placed his foot on it as if it were a
corpse. Then he raised his eyes to the
next with a kind of secret, calm im-
patience, as if he expected or hoped for
something at the end of this massacre.

Meanwhile, they were approaching the
place where little Louise Roque had
been found. At length, they came to
it—one evening, at the hour of twifight.
As it was dark, the sky being over-
cast, the woodcutters wanted to stop
their work, putting off till next day the
fall of an enormous beech-tree. But
Renardet objected to this, insisting that
even at this late hour they should lop
and cut down this giant, which had
overshadowed and seen the crime.

When the lopper had laid it bare, had
finished its toilet for the guillotine, and
the woodcutters had sapped its base,
five men commenced hauling at the rope
attached to the top.

The tree resisted; its powerful trunk,
although cut half-way through, was as
rigid as iron. The workmen, altogether.

with a sort of regular jump, strained
at the rope, stooping down to the ground,
and they gave vent to a cry with lungs
out of breath, so as to indicate and
direct their efforts.

Two woodcutters stood close to the
giant, with axes in their grip, like two
executioners ready to strike once more,
and Renardet, motionless, with his hand
on the bark, awaited the fall with an
uneasy, nervous feeling.

One of the men said to him:

"You're too near, Monsiem: le Maire.
When it falls, it may hurt you."

He did not reply and did not recoil.
He seemed ready to catch the beech-
tree in his open arms in order to cast
it on the ground like a wrestler.

All at once, at the foot of the tall
column of wood there was a shudder
which seemed to run to the top, like
a painful shiver; it bent slightly, ready
to fall, but still resisted. The men,
in a state of excitement, stiffened their
arms, renewed their efforts with
greater vigor, and, just as the tree,
breaking, came crashing down, Renar-
det suddenly made a forward step, then
stopped, his shoulders raised to receive
the irresistible shock, the mortal blow
which would crush him to the earth.

But the be^ch-tree, having deviated
a little, only grazed against his loins,
throwing him on his face five metres

The workmen rushed forward to lift
him up. He had already risen to his
knees, stupefied, with wandering eyes,
and passing his hand across his for-
head, as if he were awaking out of an
attack of madness.

When he had got to his feet once
more, the men, astonished, question^**

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him, not being able to understand what
he had done. He replied, in faltering
tones, that he had had for a moment
a fit of abstraction, or rather a return
to the days of his childhood, that he
imagined) he had to pass imder that
tree, just as street-boys rush in front
of vehicles driving rapidly past, that
he had played at danger, that, for the
past eight days, he felt this desire
growing stronger within him, asking
himself whether, every time a tree was
cracking, was on the point of falling,
he could pass beneath it without being
touched. It was a piece of stupidity,
he confessed; but everyone has these
moments of insanity, these temptations
to boyish folly.

He made this explanation in a slow
tone, searching for his words and speak-
ing in a stupefied fashion.

Then he went off saying:

"Till to-morrow, my friends — ^till to-

As soon as he had reached his study,
lie sat d«wn before his table, which his
lamp, covered with a shade, lighted up
brightly, and, clasping his hands over
his forehead, began to cry.

He remained crying for a long time,
then wiped his eyes, raised his head, and
looked at the clock. It was not yet six

"I have time before dinner.**

And he went to the door and locked
ft. He then came back, and sat down
before his table. He pulled out a
drawer in the middle of it, and taking
from it a revolver, laid it down over his
papers, under the glare of the lamp.
The barrel of the firearm glittered, and
fcast reflections which resembled flames.

Renardet gized ct it for some time

with the uneasy glance of a drui^Len
man; then he rose and began to pace
up and down the room.

He walked from one end of the apart-
ment to the other, stopped from time to
time and started to pace up and down
again a moment afterward. Suddenly,
he opened the door of his dressing-
room, steeped a towel in the water-jug
and moistened his forehead, as he had
done oni the morning of the crime.

Then he began to walk up and down
once more. Each time he passed the
table the gleaming revolver attracted
his glance, and tempted his hand; but
he kept watching the clock, thinking:

"I have still time."

It struck half past six. Then he took
up the revolver, opened his mouth wide
with a frightful grimace, and stuck the
barrel into it, as if he wanted to swal-
low it. He remained in this position for
some seconds without moving, his fin-
ger on the lock; then, suddenly, seized
with a shudder of horror, he dropped
the pistol on the carpet, and fell back
on his armchair, sobbing:

"I can't. I dare not! My Godf
My God! My God! How can I have
the courage to kill myself?"

There was a knock at the door. He
rose up in a stupefied condition. A
servant said:

"Monsieur's dinner is ready."

He replied: "All right. I'm going

He picked up the revolver, locked it
up again in the drawer, then looked at
himself in the glass over the mantel-
piece to see whether his face did not
look too much troubled. It was as red
as usual, a little redder peifaaps. That

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was all. He went down, and seated
himself before the table.

He ate slowly, like a man who wants
to drag on the meal, who does not want
to be alone with himself.

Then he smoked several pipes in the
dicing-room while the plates were being
removed. After that, he went back to
his room.

As soon as he was alone, he looked
under his bed, opened all his cupboards,
explored every corner, rummaged
through all the furniture. Then he
lighted the tapers over the mantelpiece,
and, turning round several times, ran
his eye all over the apartment in an
anguish of terror that made his face lose
its color, for he knew well that he was
going to see her, as he did every night—:
little Louise Roque, the little girl he had
violated and afterward strangled.

Every night the odious vision came
back again. First, it sounded in his
ears like the snorting that is made by a
thrashing machine or the distant passage
of a train over a bridge. Then he com-
menced to pant, to feel suffocated, and
had to . unbutton his shirt-collar and
loosen his belt. He moved about to
make his blood circulate, he tried to
read, he attempted to sing. It was in
vain. His thoughts, in spite of him-
self, went back to the day of the mur-
der, made him go through it again in
all its most secret details, with all the
violent emotions he had experienced
from first to last.

He had felt on rising up that morning,
the morning of the horrible day, a little
vertigo and dizziness which he attributed
to the heat, so that he remained in his
iroom till the time came for lundi.

After the meal he had taken a siesta,

then, toward the close of the afternoon,
he had gone out to breathe the fresh,
soothing breeze under the trees in the

But, as soon as he was outside, the
heavy scorching air of the plain op-
pressed him more. The sun, still high
in the heavens, poured out on the
parched, dry, and thirsty soil, floods of
ardent light. Not a breath of wind
stirred the leaves. Beasts and birds,
even the grasshoppers, were silent.
Renardet reached the tall trees, and be-
gan to walk over the moss where the
Brindelle sent forth a slight, cool vapor
under the immense roof of trees. But

Online LibraryGuy de MaupassantThe complete short stories of Guy de Maupassant → online text (page 123 of 125)