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   Chapter 4 No.4

A Chambermaid's Diary By Octave Mirbeau Characters: 34319

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

September 26.

For a week I have been unable to write a single line in my diary. When it comes night, I am tired, exhausted, at the end of my strength. I think of nothing but going to bed and to sleep. To sleep! If I could always sleep!

Oh! what a shabby place, My God! You can have no idea of it!

For a yes, for a no, Madame makes you run up and down the two cursed flights of stairs. One has not even time to sit down in the linen-room and breathe a little, when ... drinn!... drinn!... drinn!... one has to get up and start again. It makes no difference if one is not feeling well, drinn!... drinn!... drinn! In these days I have pains in my loins that bend me in two, and gripe my stomach, and almost make me cry out. That cuts no figure; drinn!... drinn!... drinn!... One has no time to be sick; one has not the right to suffer. Suffering is a master's luxury. We, we must walk, and fast, and forever; walk at the risk of falling. Drinn!... drinn!... drinn!... And if one is a little slow in coming at the sound of the bell, then there are reproaches and angry scenes.

"Well, what are you about? You do not hear, then? Are you deaf? I have been ringing for three hours. It is getting to be very provoking."

And this is what generally happens.

"Drinn!... drinn!... drinn!..."

That throws you from your chair, as if impelled by a spring.

"Bring me a needle."

I go for the needle.

"All right! Bring me some thread."

I go for the thread.

"Very good! Bring me a button."

I go for the button.

"What is this button? I did not ask for this button. You never understand anything. A white button, number four. And be quick about it."

And I go for the white button, number four.

You can imagine how I storm, and rage, and abuse Madame, within myself. During these goings and comings, these ascents and descents, Madame has changed her mind. She wants something else, or she wants nothing at all.

"No, take away the needle and the button. I have no time."

My back is broken, my knees absolutely stiff, I can do no more. That suffices for Madame; she is satisfied. And to think that there is a society for the protection of animals!

In the evening, when making her examination of the linen-room, she storms:

"What! you have done nothing? What do you do all day long, then? I do not pay you to be idle from morning till night."

I reply rather curtly, for this injustice fills me with rebellion:

"Why, Madame has been interrupting me all day."

"I have been interrupting you, I? In the first place, I forbid you to answer me. I want no remarks, do you understand? I know what I am talking about."

And she goes away, slamming the door, and grumbling as if she would never stop. In the corridors, in the kitchen, in the garden, her shrill voice can be heard for hours. Oh! how tiresome she is!

Really one knows not how to take her. What can she have in her body that keeps her always in such a state of irritation? And how quickly I would drop her, if I were sure of finding a place directly!

Just now I was suffering even more than usual. I felt so sharp a pain that it seemed as if a beast were tearing the interior of my body with its teeth and claws. Already, in the morning, on rising, I had fainted because of loss of blood. How have I had the courage to keep up, and drag myself about, and do my work? I do not know. Occasionally, on the stairs, I was obliged to stop, and cling to the banister, in order to get my breath and keep from falling. I was green, with cold sweats that wet my hair. It was enough to make one scream, but I am good at bearing pain, and it is a matter of pride with me never to complain in presence of my masters. Madame surprised me at a moment when I thought that I was about to faint. Everything was revolving about me,-the banister, the stairs, and the walls.

"What is the matter with you?" she said to me, rudely.


And I tried to straighten up.

"If there is nothing the matter with you," rejoined Madame, "why these manners? I do not like to see funereal faces. You have a very disagreeable way of doing your work."

In spite of my pain, I could have boxed her ears.

* * *

Amid these trials, I am always thinking of my former places. To-day it is my place in the Rue Lincoln that I most regret. There I was second chambermaid, and had, so to speak, nothing to do. We passed the day in the linen-room, a magnificent linen-room, with a red felt carpet, and lined from ceiling to floor with great mahogany cupboards, with gilded locks. And we laughed, and we amused ourselves in talking nonsense, in reading, in mimicking Madame's receptions, all under the eye of an English governess, who made tea for us,-the good tea that Madame bought in England for her little morning breakfasts. Sometimes, from the servants' hall, the butler-one who was up to date-brought us cakes, caviare on toast, slices of ham, and a heap of good things.

I remember that one afternoon they obliged me to put on a very swell costume belonging to Monsieur,-to Coco, as we called him among ourselves. Naturally we played at all sorts of risqués games; we even went very far in our fun-making.

Ah! that was a place!

* * *

I am beginning to know Monsieur well. They were right in saying that he is an excellent and generous man, for, if he were not, there would not be in the world a worse rascal, a more perfect sharper. The need, the passion that he feels for being charitable, impel him to do things that are not very admirable. His intention is praiseworthy, but the result upon others is often disastrous, all the same. It must be confessed that his kindness has been the cause of dirty little tricks, like the following:

* * *

Last Tuesday a very simple old man, father Pantois, brought some sweet-briers that Monsieur had ordered,-of course without Madame's knowledge. It was toward the end of the day. I had come down for some hot water for a belated bath. Madame, who had gone to town, had not yet returned. And I was chattering in the kitchen with Marianne, when Monsieur, cordial, joyous, unreserved, and noisy, brought in father Pantois. He immediately had him served with bread, cheese, and cider. And then he began to talk with him.

The good man excited my pity, so worn, thin, and dirtily clad was he. His pantaloons were in rags; his cap was a mass of filth. And his open shirt revealed a part of his bare breast, chapped, crimped, seasoned like old leather. He ate greedily.

"Well, father Pantois," cried Monsieur, rubbing his hands, "that goes better, eh?"

The old man, with his mouth full, thanked him.

"You are very good, Monsieur Lanlaire. Because, you see, since this morning, at four o'clock, when I left home, I have put nothing in my stomach,-nothing at all."

"Well, eat away, father Pantois. Regale yourself, while you are about it."

"You are very good, Monsieur Lanlaire. Pray excuse me."

The old man cut off enormous pieces of bread, which he was a long time in chewing, for he had no teeth left. When he was partially satisfied, Monsieur asked him:

"And the sweet-briers, father Pantois? They are fine this year, eh?"

"There are some that are fine; there are some that are not so fine; there are almost all sorts, Monsieur Lanlaire. Indeed, one can scarcely choose. And they are hard to pull up, you can believe. And besides, Monsieur Porcellet will not let us take them from his woods any more. We have to go a long way now to find them, a very long way. If I were to tell you that I come from the forest of Raillon,-more than three leagues from here? Yes, indeed, Monsieur Lanlaire."

While the good man was talking, Monsieur had taken a seat at the table beside him. Gay, almost uproarious, he slapped him on the shoulder, and exclaimed:

"Five leagues! you are a jolly good one, father Pantois. Always strong, always young."

"Not so much as that, Monsieur Lanlaire; not so much as that."

"Nonsense!" insisted Monsieur, "strong as an old Turk,-and good-humored, yes, indeed! They don't make any more like you these days, father Pantois. You are of the old school, you are."

The old man shook his head, his gaunt head, of the color of old wood, and repeated:

"Not so much as that. My legs are weakening, Monsieur Lanlaire; my arms are getting soft. And then my back. Oh! my confounded back! My strength is almost gone. And then the wife, who is sick, and who never leaves her bed,-what a bill for medicines! One has little luck, one has little luck. If at least one did not grow old? That, you see, Monsieur Lanlaire, that is the worst of the matter."

Monsieur sighed, made a vague gesture, and then, summing up the question philosophically, said:

"Oh! yes, but what do you expect, father Pantois? Such is life. One cannot be and have been. That's the way it is."

"To be sure; one must be reasonable."

"That's it."

"We live while we can, isn't it so, Monsieur Lanlaire?"

"Indeed it is."

And, after a pause, he added in a voice that had become melancholy:

"Besides, everybody has his sorrows, father Pantois."

"No doubt of it."

There was a silence. Marianne was cutting up herbs. It was growing dark in the garden. The two big sunflowers, which could be seen in the perspective of the open door, were losing their color and disappearing in the shade. And father Pantois kept on eating. His glass had remained empty. Monsieur filled it, and then, suddenly abandoning his metaphysical heights, he asked:

"And what are sweet-briers worth this year?"

"Sweet-briers, Monsieur Lanlaire? Well, this year, taking them as they come, sweet-briers are worth twenty-two francs a hundred. It is a little dear, I know; but I cannot get them for less; really I cannot."

Like a generous man, who despises considerations of money, Monsieur interrupted the old man, who was getting ready to justify himself by explanations.

"It is all right, father Pantois. It is agreed. Do I ever haggle with you? In fact, instead of twenty-two francs, I will pay you twenty-five for your sweet-briers."

"Ah! Monsieur Lanlaire, you are too good!"

"No, no; I am just. I am for the people, I am; for labor, don't you know?"

And, with a blow on the table, he went higher still.

"No, not twenty-five,-thirty, father Pantois. I will pay you thirty francs, do you hear that?"

The good man lifted his poor eyes to Monsieur, in astonishment and gratitude, and stammered:

"I hear very well. It is a pleasure to work for you, Monsieur Lanlaire. You know what work is, you do."

Monsieur put an end to these effusions.

"And I will go to pay you,-let us see; to-day is Tuesday,-I will go to pay you on Sunday. Does that suit you? And at the same time I will take my gun. Is it agreed?"

The gleam of gratitude which had been shining in the eyes of father Pantois faded out. He was embarrassed, troubled; he stopped eating.

"You see," said he, timidly,-"well, in short, if you could pay it to-night, that would oblige me greatly, Monsieur Lanlaire. Twenty-two francs, that's all; pray excuse me."

"You are joking, father Pantois," replied Monsieur, with superb assurance; "certainly; I will pay you that directly. I proposed that only for the purpose of making a little trip and paying you a little visit."

He fumbled in the pockets of his pantaloons, then in those of his vest and waistcoat, and, assuming an air of surprise, he cried:

"Well, there! here I am again without change! I have nothing but confounded thousand-franc bills."

With a forced and really sinister laugh, he asked:

"I will bet that you have not change for a thousand francs, father Pantois?"

Seeing Monsieur laugh, father Pantois thought that it was proper for him to laugh too, and he answered, jovially:

"Ha! ha! ha! I have never even seen these confounded bills."

"Well, on Sunday then," concluded Monsieur.

Monsieur had poured out a glass of cider for himself, and was drinking with father Pantois, when Madame, whom they had not heard coming, suddenly entered the kitchen, like a gust of wind.

Ah! her eye, when she saw that! when she saw Monsieur sitting at table beside the poor old man, and drinking with him!

"What's this?" she exclaimed, her lips all white.

Monsieur stammered, and hemmed and hawed.

"It is some sweet-briers; you know very well, my pet; some sweet-briers. Father Pantois has brought me some sweet-briers. All the rose-bushes were frozen this winter."

"I have ordered no sweet-briers. We need no sweet-briers here."

This was said in a cutting tone. Then she made a half-circuit of the room, and went out, slamming the door and showering insults. In her anger she had not noticed me.

Monsieur and the poor old puller of sweet-briers had risen. Embarrassed, they looked at the door through which Madame had just disappeared. Then they looked at each other, without daring to say a word. Monsieur was the first to break this painful silence.

"Well, then, on Sunday, father Pantois."

"On Sunday, Monsieur Lanlaire."

"And take good care of yourself, father Pantois."

"You also, Monsieur Lanlaire."

"And thirty francs, mind you. I do not take back what I said."

"You are very good."

And the old man, trembling on his legs, and with back bent, went away, and disappeared in the darkness.

* * *

Poor Monsieur! he must have received his lecture! And, as for father Pantois, if ever he gets his thirty francs,-well, he will be lucky.

I do not wish to justify Madame, but I think that Monsieur is wrong in talking familiarly with people that are too far beneath him. It is not dignified.

I know very well that he doesn't lead a gay life, to be sure, and that he takes such opportunities as offer. That is not always convenient. When he comes back late from a hunt, dirty and wet, and singing to keep up his courage, Madame gives him a warm reception.

"Ah! it is very nice of you to leave me alone all day!"

"But you know very well, my pet...."

"Be still."

She sulks for hours and hours, her forehead stern, her mouth ugly. He follows her about everywhere, trembling and stammering excuses.

"But, my pet, you know very well...."

"Let me alone; you make me tired."

The next day, naturally, Monsieur does not go out, and Madame exclaims:

"Why do you wander about thus in the house, like a soul in torment?"

"But, my pet...."

"You would do much better to go out, to go hunting, the devil knows where! You annoy me; you unnerve me. Go away."

So that he never knows what to do, whether to go or stay, to be here or elsewhere. A difficult problem. But, as in either case Madame scolds, Monsieur has taken the course of going away as often as possible. In that way he does not hear her scold.

Ah! it is really pitiful.

* * *

The other morning, as I was going to spread a little linen on the hedge, I saw him in the garden. Monsieur was gardening. The wind having blown down some dahlias during the night, he was refastening them to their props.

Very often, when he does not go out before lunch, Monsieur works in the garden; at least, he pretends to be occupying himself with something or other in his platbands. It is always time gained from the ennui of the household. During these moments there are no scenes. Away from Madame, he is no longer the same man. His face lightens up, his eyes shine. Naturally gay, his gaiety comes to the surface. Really, he is not disagreeable. In the house, indeed, he rarely speaks to me now, and, though still bent on his idea, seems to pay no attention to me. But outside he never fails to address me a pleasant little word, after making sure, however, that Madame cannot be spying him. When he does not dare to speak to me, he looks at me, and his look is more eloquent than his words. Moreover, I amuse myself in exciting him in all ways, although I have taken no resolution concerning him.

In passing by him, in the path where he was working, bent over his dahlias, with bits of string between his teeth, I said to him, without slackening my pace:

"Oh! how hard Monsieur is working this morning!"

"Yes, indeed," he answered; "these confounded dahlias! You see...."

He invited me to stop a minute.

"Well, Célestine, I hope you are getting accustomed to the place, now?"

Always his mania! Always the same difficulty in engaging in conversation! To please him, I replied with a smile:

"Why, yes, Monsieur, certainly; I am getting accustomed here."

"I am glad to hear it. It is not bad here; really, it is not bad."

He quite straightened up, gave me a very tender look, and repeated: "It is not bad," thus giving himself time to think of something ingenious to say to me.

He took from his teeth the bits of string, tied them at the top of the prop, and, with legs spread apart, and his two palms resting on his hips, with a knowing look, and frankly obscene eyes, he cried:

"I'll bet, Célestine, that you led a gay life in Paris? Say, now, didn't you?"

I was not expecting this. And I had a great desire to laugh. But I lowered my eyes modestly, with an offended air

, and, trying to blush, as was proper under the circumstances, I exclaimed, in a tone of reproach:

"Oh! Monsieur!"

"Well, what?" he insisted; "a pretty girl like you,-with such eyes! Oh! yes, you must have had a gay time. And so much the better. For my part, I am for amusement; yes, I am for love."

Monsieur was becoming strangely animated. And, on his robust, muscular person I recognized the most evident signs of amorous exaltation. He was on fire; desire was flaming in his eyes. I deemed it my duty to pour a good shower of cold water on this fire. In a very dry tone, and at the same time very loftily, I said:

"Monsieur is mistaken. Monsieur thinks that he is speaking to his other chambermaids. Monsieur must know, however, that I am a good girl."

And with great dignity, to show exactly to what extent this outrage had offended me, I added:

"It will serve Monsieur right, if I go to complain to Madame directly."

And I made a pretence of starting. Monsieur quickly grasped me by the arm.

"No, no," he stammered.

How did I ever say all that without bursting? How did I ever succeed in burying in my throat the laugh that was ringing there? Really, I don't know.

Monsieur was prodigiously ridiculous. Livid now, with mouth wide open, his whole person bearing a two-fold expression of annoyance and fear, he remained silent, digging into his neck with his nails.

Near us an old pear tree twisted its pyramid of branches, eaten by lichens and mosses. A few pears hung within reach of his hand. A magpie was chattering ironically at the top of a neighboring chestnut tree. Crouching behind the border of box, the cat was pawing at a bumble-bee. The silence was becoming more and more painful for Monsieur. At last, after efforts that were almost sorrowful,-efforts that brought grotesque grimaces to his lips,-Monsieur asked:

"Do you like pears, Célestine?"

"Yes, Monsieur."

I did not disarm; I answered in a tone of lofty indifference.

In the fear of being surprised by his wife, he hesitated a few seconds. And suddenly, like a thieving child, he took a pear from the tree, and gave it to me,-oh! how piteously! His knees bent, his hand trembled.

"There, Célestine, hide that in your apron. You never have any in the kitchen, do you?"

"No, Monsieur."

"Well, I will give you some occasionally, because ... because ... I wish you to be happy."

The sincerity and ardor of his desire, his awkwardness, his clumsy gestures, his bewildered words, and also his masculine power, all had a softening effect upon me. I relaxed my face a little, veiled the severity of my look with a sort of smile, and, half ironically, half coaxingly, I said to him:

"Oh! Monsieur, if Madame were to see you?"

Again he became troubled, but, as we were separated from the house by a thick curtain of chestnut trees, he quickly recovered himself, and, growing more defiant as I became less severe, he exclaimed, with easy gestures:

"Well, what? Madame? And what of her? I care nothing for Madame. I do not intend that she shall annoy me. I have enough of her. I am over my head in Madame."

I declared gravely:

"Monsieur is wrong. Monsieur is not just. Madame is a very amiable woman."

He gave a start.

"Very amiable? She? Ah! Great God! But you do not know, then, what she has done? She has spoiled my life. I am no longer a man; I am nothing at all. I am the laughing-stock of the neighborhood. And all on account of my wife. My wife? She ... she ... she is a hussy,-yes, Célestine, a hussy ... a hussy ... a hussy."

I gave him a moral lecture. I talked to him gently, hypocritically boasting of Madame's energy and order and all her domestic virtues. At each of my phrases he became more exasperated.

"No, no. A hussy! A hussy!"

However, I succeeded in calming him a little. Poor Monsieur! I played with him with marvelous ease. With a simple look I made him pass from anger to emotion. Then he stammered:

"Oh! you are so gentle, you are! You are so pretty! You must be so good! Whereas that hussy"...

"Oh! come, Monsieur! come! come!"

He continued:

"You are so gentle! And yet, what?... you are only a chambermaid."

For a moment he drew nearer to me, and in a low voice said:

"If you would, Célestine?"

"If I would what?"

"If you would ... you know very well; yes, you know very well."

"Monsieur wishes me perhaps to betray Madame with Monsieur?"

He misunderstood the expression of my face; and, with eyes standing out of his head, the veins in his neck swollen, his lips moist and frothy, he answered, in a smothered voice:

"Yes; yes, indeed."

"Monsieur doesn't think of such a thing?"

"I think of nothing else, Célestine."

He was very red, his face congested.

"Ah! Monsieur is going to begin again?"

He tried to grasp my hand, to draw me to him.

"Well, yes," he stammered, "I am going to begin again; I am going to begin again, because ... because ... I am mad over you, Célestine; because I think of nothing else; because I cannot sleep; because I feel really sick. And don't be afraid of me; have no fears! I am not a brute. No, indeed; I swear it. I ... I...."

"Another word, Monsieur, and this time I tell everything to Madame. Suppose some one were to see you in the garden in this condition?"

He stopped short. Distressed, ashamed, thoroughly stupid, he knew not what to do with his hands, with his eyes, with his whole person. And he looked, without seeing them, at the ground beneath his feet, at the old pear tree, at the garden. Conquered at last, he untied the bits of string at the top of the prop, bent again over the fallen dahlias, and sad, infinitely so, and supplicating, he groaned:

"Just now, Célestine, I said to you ... I said that to you ... as I would have said anything else to you,-as I would have said no matter what. I am an old fool. You must not be angry with me. And, above all, you must not say anything to Madame. You are right, though; suppose some one had seen us in the garden?"

I ran away, to keep from laughing.

Yes, I wanted to laugh. And, nevertheless, there was an emotion singing in my heart, something-what shall I call it?-something maternal. And, besides, it would have been amusing, because of Madame. We shall see, later.

Monsieur did not go away all day. He straightened his dahlias, and during the afternoon he did not leave the wood-house, where he split wood furiously for more than four hours. From the linen-room I listened, with a sort of pride, to the blows of the axe.

* * *

Yesterday Monsieur and Madame spent the entire afternoon at Louviers. Monsieur had an appointment with his lawyer, Madame with her dressmaker. Her dressmaker!

I took advantage of this moment of rest to pay a visit to Rose, whom I had not seen since that famous Sunday. And I was not averse to making the acquaintance of Captain Mauger.

A true type of an old sea-dog, this man, and such as you seldom see, I assure you. Fancy a carp's head, with a moustache and a long gray tuft of beard. Very dry, very nervous, very restless, he cannot stay in one place for any length of time, and is always at work, either in his garden, or in a little room where he does carpentering, humming military airs or imitating the bugle of the regiment.

The garden is very pretty,-an old garden divided into square beds in which old-fashioned flowers are cultivated,-those very old flowers that are found now only in very old fields and in the gardens of very old priests.

When I arrived, Rose, comfortably seated in the shade of an acacia, beside a rustic table, on which lay her work-basket, was mending stockings, and the captain, squatting on the grass, and wearing an old foraging-cap on his head, was stopping the leaks in a garden-hose which had burst the night before.

They welcomed me enthusiastically, and Rose ordered the little servant, who was weeding a bed of marguerites, to go for the bottle of peach brandy and some glasses.

The first courtesies exchanged, the captain asked:

"Well, he has not yet croaked, then, your Lanlaire? Oh! you can boast of serving in a famous den! I really pity you, my dear young woman."

He explained to me that formerly Monsieur and he had lived as good neighbors, as inseparable friends. A discussion apropos of Rose had brought on a deadly quarrel. Monsieur, it seems, reproached the captain with not maintaining his dignity with his servant,-with admitting her to his table.

Interrupting his story, the captain forced my testimony:

"To my table! Well, have I not the right? Is it any of his business?"

"Certainly not, captain."

Rose, in a modest voice, sighed:

"A man living all alone; it is very natural isn't it?"

Since this famous discussion, which had come near ending in blows, the two old friends had passed their time in lawsuits and tricks. They hated each other savagely.

"As for me," declared the captain, "when I find any stones in my garden, I throw them over the hedge into Lanlaire's. So much the worse if they fall on his bell-glasses and on his garden-frames! Or, rather, so much the better! Oh! the pig! Wait now, let me show you."

Having noticed a stone in the path, he rushed to pick it up, approached the hedge cautiously, creeping like a trapper, and threw the stone into our garden with all his might. We heard a noise of breaking glass. Then, returning to us triumphantly, shaking, stifled, twisted with laughter, he exclaimed:

"Another square broken! The glazier will have to come again."

Rose looked at him with a sort of maternal admiration, and said:

"Is he not droll? What a child! And how young, for his age!"

After we had sipped a little glass of brandy, Captain Mauger desired to do me the honors of the garden. Rose excused herself for her inability to accompany us, because of her asthma, and counselled us not to stay too long.

"Besides," said she, jokingly, "I am watching you."

The captain took me through the paths, among the beds bordered with box and filled with flowers. He told me the names of the prettiest ones, remarking each time that there were no such to be seen in the garden of that pig of a Lanlaire. Suddenly he plucked a little orange-colored flower, odd and charming, twirled the stem gently in his fingers, and asked me:

"Did you ever eat any of these?"

I was so surprised by this preposterous question that I stood with mouth closed. The captain declared:

"Well, I have eaten them. They are perfect to the taste. I have eaten all the flowers that are here. Some are good; some are not so good; and some don't amount to much. But, as for me, I eat everything."

He winked, clacked his tongue, tapped his belly, and repeated in a louder voice, in which an accent of defiance was uppermost:

"I eat everything, I do."

The way in which the captain had just proclaimed this strange confession of faith revealed to me that his vanity in life was to eat everything. I amused myself in humoring his mania.

"And you are right, Captain."

"Surely," he answered, not without pride. "And it is not only plants that I eat; I eat animals also,-animals that nobody else has eaten,-animals that are not known. I eat everything, I do."

We continued our walk among the flower-beds, through the narrow paths where pretty corollas, blue, yellow, and red, were swaying in the breeze. And, as he looked at the flowers, it seemed to me that the captain's belly gave little starts of joy. His tongue passed over his chapped lips with a slight smack.

He said to me further:

"And I am going to confess to you. There are no insects, no birds, no earth-worms that I have not eaten. I have eaten skunks and snakes, rats and crickets and caterpillars. I have eaten everything. It is well known in the neighborhood. When they find a beast, dead or alive, a beast unknown to anybody, they say to themselves: 'I must take it to Captain Mauger.' They bring it to me, and I eat it. In winter especially, when it is very cold, unknown birds pass this way, coming from America, or from a greater distance perhaps. They bring them to me, and I eat them. I will bet that there is not a man in the world who has eaten as many things as I have. I eat everything."

The walk over, we returned to sit down under the acacia. And I was getting ready to leave, when the captain cried:

"Oh! I must show you something curious,-something that you have never seen, I am sure."

And he called in a loud voice:

"Kléber! Kléber!"

Between two calls he explained to me:

"Kléber is my ferret. A phenomenon!"

And he called again:

"Kléber! Kléber!"

Then, on a branch above us, between green and golden leaves, there appeared a pink snout and two little black, sharp, bright eyes.

"Oh! I knew well that he was not far away. Come, come here, Kléber! Psstt!"

The animal crept along the branch, ventured upon the trunk, and descended carefully, burying its claws in the bark. His body, covered with white fur and marked with pale yellow spots, had the supple movements, the graceful undulations, of a serpent. He touched ground, and in two bounds was on the knees of the captain, who began to caress him joyfully.

"Oh! the good Kléber! Oh! the charming little Kléber!"

He turned to me:

"Did you ever see a ferret as tame as that? He follows me about the garden everywhere, like a little dog. I have only to call him, and he is there directly, his tail frisking, his head lifted. He eats with us, sleeps with us. Indeed, I love the little beast as if he were a person. Why, Mademoiselle Célestine, I have refused three hundred francs for him. I would not sell him for a thousand francs,-no, not for two thousand francs. Here, Kléber."

The animal lifted its head toward its master; then it climbed upon him, mounted his shoulders, and, after a thousand caresses and a thousand pretty tricks, rolled itself around the captain's neck, like a handkerchief. Rose said nothing. She seemed vexed.

Then an infernal idea flashed into my mind.

"I will bet you," I said, suddenly,-"I will bet you, Captain, that you would not eat your ferret."

The captain looked at me with profound astonishment, and then with infinite sadness. His eyes became round, his lips quivered.

"Kléber?" he stammered; "eat Kléber?"

Evidently this question had never occurred to him, who had eaten everything. A sort of new world, strangely comestible, appeared before him.

"I will bet," I repeated, ferociously, "that you would not eat your ferret."

Bewildered, distressed, moved by a mysterious and invincible shock, the old captain had risen from his bench. He was extraordinarily agitated.

"Just say that again, and see!" he stammered.

For the third time, violently, separating each word, I said:

"I will bet that you would not eat your ferret."

"I would not eat my ferret? What's that you say? You say that I would not eat it? Yes, you say that? Well, you shall see. I tell you that I eat everything."

He seized the ferret. As one breaks a loaf of bread, he broke the little beast's back with a snap, and threw it, dead without a shock, without a spasm, on the sandy path, shouting to Rose:

"Make me a stew out of that for dinner!"

And, madly gesticulating, he ran to shut himself up in the house.

For some minutes I felt a real and unspeakable horror. Still completely dazed by the abominable action that I had just committed, I rose to go. I was very pale. Rose accompanied me. With a smile she confided to me:

"I am not sorry for what has just happened. He was too fond of his ferret. I do not wish him to love anything. He loves his flowers already too much to suit me."

After a short silence, she added:

"But he will never forgive you for that. He is not a man to be defied. An old soldier, you know!"

Then, a few steps farther on:

"Pay attention, my little one. They are beginning to gossip about you in the neighborhood. It seems that you were seen the other day, in the garden, with Monsieur Lanlaire. It is very imprudent, believe me. He will get you into trouble, if he hasn't already done so. You want to look out for yourself."

And, as she closed the gate behind me:

"Well, au revoir! Now I must go to make my stew."

All day long I saw before my eyes the body of the poor little ferret, lying there on the sandy path.

* * *

This evening, at dinner, when dessert was being served, Madame said to me, very severely:

"If you like prunes, you have only to ask me for them; I will see if I can give you any; but I forbid you to take them."

I answered:

"I am not a thief, Madame, and I do not like prunes."

Madame insisted:

"I tell you that you have taken some prunes."

I replied:

"If Madame thinks me a thief, Madame has only to pay me and let me go."

Madame snatched the plate of prunes from my hand.

"Monsieur ate five this morning; there were thirty-two; now there are but twenty-five; then you have taken two. Don't let that happen again."

It was true. I had eaten two of them. She had counted them!

Did you ever in your life?

* * *

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