MoboReader > Literature > A Chambermaid's Diary

   Chapter 17 No.17

A Chambermaid's Diary By Octave Mirbeau Characters: 34572

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


It is eight months since I have written a single line in this diary,-I have had something else to do and to think of,-and it is exactly three months since Joseph and I left the Priory, and established ourselves in the little café at Cherbourg, near the harbor. We are married; business is good; I like the trade; I am happy. Born by the sea, I have come back to the sea. I did not miss it, but it gives me pleasure, all the same, to find it again. Here one does not see the desolate landscapes of Audierne, the infinite sadness of its coasts, the magnificent horror of its beaches that howl so mournfully. Here nothing is sad; on the contrary, everything contributes to gaiety. There is the joyous sound of a military city, the picturesque movement and varied activity of a military harbor. Crowds in a hurry to enjoy between two periods of far-off exile; spectacles incessantly changing and diverting, in which I inhale that natal odor of coal tar and sea-weed which I love, although I never found it agreeable in my childhood. I have seen again the lads of my native province, now serving on State men-of-war. We have scarcely talked together, and I have not dreamed of asking them for news of my brother. It is so long ago! To me it is as if he were dead. Good day!... good evening!... be good. When they are not drunk, they are too stupid. When they are not stupid, they are too drunk. And they have heads like those of old fishes. Between them and me there has been no other emotion, no other effusion. Besides, Joseph does not like me to be familiar with simple seamen, dirty Bretons who haven't a sou, and who get drunk on a glass of kill-me-quick.

But I must relate briefly the events that preceded our departure from the Priory.

* * *

It will be remembered that, at the Priory, Joseph slept in the out-buildings, over the harness-room. Every day, summer and winter, he rose at five o'clock. Now, on the morning of December 24, just a month after his return from Cherbourg, he noticed that the kitchen-door was wide open.

"What!" said he to himself. "Can they have risen already?"

He noticed at the same time that a square of glass had been cut out of the glass door, with a diamond, near the lock, in such a way as to admit the introduction of an arm. The lock had been forced by expert hands. Bits of wood, glass, and twisted iron were strewn along the stone flagging. Within, all the doors, so carefully bolted at night under Madame's eyes, were open also. One felt that something frightful had happened. Greatly impressed,-I tell the story of his discovery as he told it himself before the magistrates,-Joseph passed through the kitchen, and then through the passage-way into which opened, at the right, the fruit-room, the bath-room, and the ante-room; at the left, the servants' hall, the dining-room, and the little salon; and, at the end, the grand salon. The dining-room presented a spectacle of frightful disorder, of real pillage. The furniture was upset; the sideboard had been ransacked from top to bottom; its drawers, as well as those of the two side-tables, were turned upside down on the carpet; and on the table, among empty boxes and a confused heap of valueless articles, a candle was burning itself out in a brass candlestick. But it was in the servants' hall that the spectacle became really imposing. In the servants' hall-I believe I have already noted the fact-there was a very deep closet, protected by a very complicated system of locks, the secret of which was known only to Madame. There slept the famous and venerable silver service, in three heavy boxes, with steel corners and cross-pieces. The boxes were screwed to the floor, and held fast against the wall by solid iron clamps. But now the three boxes, torn from their mysterious and inviolable tabernacle, lay yawning and empty, in the middle of the room. At sight of these, Joseph gave the alarm. With all the strength of his lungs, he shouted up the stairs:

"Madame! Monsieur! Come down right away. We are robbed! we are robbed!"

There was a sudden avalanche, a frightful plunge down the stairs. Madame, in her chemise, with her shoulders scarcely covered by a light neckkerchief. Monsieur, in his drawers and shirt. And both of them, dishevelled, pale, and grimacing, as if they had been awakened in the middle of a nightmare, shouted:

"What is the matter? What is the matter?"

"We are robbed! we are robbed!"

"We are robbed, what? We are robbed, what?"

In the dining-room, Madame groaned:

"My God! My God!"

While, with distorted mouth, Monsieur continued to scream:

"We are robbed, what? what?"

Guided by Joseph into the servants' hall, Madame, at sight of the three boxes unsealed, made a great gesture, uttered a great cry:

"My silver service! My God! Is it possible? My silver service!"

And, lifting the empty compartments, and turning the empty cases upside down, she sank, frightened and horrified, upon the floor. Scarcely had she strength enough to stammer, in the voice of a child:

"They have taken everything! They have taken everything ... everything ... everything ... everything! Even the Louis XVI cruet."

While Madame was looking at the boxes as if she were looking at a dead child, Monsieur, scratching his neck, and rolling haggard eyes, moaned persistently in the far-away voice of a demented person:

"Name of a dog! Ah! name of a dog! Name of a dog of name of a dog!"

And Joseph, too, with atrocious grimaces, was exclaiming:

"The cruet of Louis XVI! The cruet of Louis XVI! Oh! the bandits!"

Then there was a minute of tragic silence, a long minute of prostration,-that silence of death, that prostration of beings and things, which follows the fracas of a terrible downfall, the thunder of a great cataclysm. And the lantern, swinging in Joseph's hands, cast a red, trembling, sinister gleam over the whole scene, over the dead faces and the empty boxes.

I had come down, in response to Joseph's call, at the same time as the masters. In presence of this disaster, and in spite of the prodigious comicality of these faces, my first feeling was one of compassion. It seemed to me that this misfortune fell upon me too, and that I was one of the family, sharing its trials and sorrows. I should have liked to speak consoling words to Madame, whose dejected attitude it gave me pain to see. But this impression of solidarity or of servitude quickly vanished.

* * *

In crime there is something violent, solemn, justiciary, religious, which frightens me, to be sure, but which also leaves in me-how shall I express it?-a feeling of admiration. No, not of admiration, since admiration is a moral feeling, a spiritual excitement, whereas that which I feel influences and excites only my flesh. It is like a brutal shock throughout my physical being, at once painful and delicious,-a sorrowful and swooning rape of my sex. It is curious, doubtless it is peculiar, perhaps it is horrible,-and I cannot explain the real cause of these strange and powerful sensations,-but in me every crime, especially murder, has secret relationships with love. Yes, indeed! A fine crime takes hold of me just as a fine man does.

* * *

I must say that further reflection suddenly transformed into a hilarious gaiety, a childish content, that grave, atrocious, and powerful enjoyment of crime which succeeded the impulse to pity that at first so inappropriately startled my heart. I thought:

"Here are two beings who live like moles, like larv?. Like voluntary prisoners, they have voluntarily shut themselves up in the jail of these inhospitable walls. All that constitutes the joy of life, the smile of a house, they repress as something superfluous. Against everything that could excuse their wealth, and pardon their human uselessness, they guard as they would guard against filth. They let nothing fall from their parsimonious table to satisfy the hunger of the poor; they let nothing fall from their dry hearts to relieve the pain of the suffering. They even economize in making provision for their own happiness. And should I pity them? Oh! no. It is justice that has overtaken them. In stripping them of a portion of their goods, in giving air to the buried treasures, the good thieves have restored equilibrium. What I regret is that they did not leave these two maleficent beings totally naked and miserable, more destitute than the vagabond who so often begged at their door in vain, sicker than the abandoned creature dying by the roadside, within two steps of this hidden and accursed wealth."

This idea of my masters, with wallets on their backs, having to drag their lamentable rags and their bleeding feet over the stony highways, and to stand with outstretched hands at the implacable threshold of the evil-minded rich, enchanted me, and filled me with gaiety. But my gaiety became more direct, and more intense, and more hateful, as I surveyed Madame, stranded beside her empty boxes, deader than if she had been really dead,-for she was conscious of this death, the most horrible death conceivable to a being who had never loved anything but the valuation in money of those invaluable things,-our pleasures, our caprices, our charities, our love, the divine luxury of the soul. This shameful sorrow, this crapulous dejection, was also a revenge for the humiliations and severities that I have undergone, that came to me from her, in every word that issued from her mouth, in every look that fell from her eyes. This deliciously grim enjoyment I tasted to the full. I would have liked to cry out: "Well done! Well done!" And, above all, I would have liked to know these admirable and sublime thieves, in order to thank them in the name of all the ragamuffins, and to embrace them, as brothers. Oh! good thieves, dear figures of justice and pity, through what a series of intense and delightful sensations you have made me pass!

Madame was not slow in recovering her self-possession. Her combative, aggressive nature suddenly reawakened in all its violence.

"And what are you doing here?" she said to Monsieur, in a tone of anger and supreme scorn. "Why are you here? How ridiculous you are, with your big puffy face, and in your shirt-tail! Do you think that will get us back our silver service? Come! shake yourself; stir yourself; try to understand. Go for the police, for the justice of the peace. Ought they not to have been here long ago? Oh! my God! what a man!"

Monsieur, with bent back, started to go. She interrupted him:

"And how is it that you heard nothing? What! they turn the house upside down, break in doors, force locks, empty walls and boxes, and you hear nothing? What are you good for, big blockhead?"

Monsieur ventured to answer:

"But you, too, my pet, you did not hear anything."

"I? It is not the same thing. Is it not a man's business to hear? And besides, you provoke me. Clear out!"

And, as Monsieur went up-stairs to dress, Madame turned her fury upon us.

"And you? What are you doing, standing there like so many bundles, and looking at me? It is all the same to you, I suppose, whether your masters are plundered or not? And you too heard nothing? What luck! It is charming to have such servants. You think of nothing but eating and drinking, pack of brutes that you are!"

Then, addressing Joseph directly, she asked:

"Why didn't the dogs bark? Say, why not?"

This question seemed to embarrass Joseph for a fraction of a second, but he quickly recovered himself.

"I don't know, Madame," said he, in a most natural tone. "It is true that the dogs didn't bark. That is curious, indeed!"

"Did you let them loose last night?"

"Certainly I let them loose, as I do every night. That is curious! Yes, indeed! that is curious! It must be that the robbers knew the house ... and the dogs."

"Well, Joseph, how is it that you, so devoted and punctual as a rule, did not hear anything?"

"It is true that I heard nothing. That is another singular thing. For I do not sleep soundly. If a cat crosses the garden, I hear it. It is not natural, all the same. And those confounded dogs especially! Indeed, indeed!"

Madame interrupted Joseph:

"Stop! Leave me in peace. You are brutes, all of you! And Marianne. Where is Marianne? Why isn't she here? She is sleeping like a chump, undoubtedly."

And, going out of the servants' hall, she called up the stairs:

"Marianne! Marianne!"

I looked at Joseph, who looked at the boxes. Joseph's face wore a grave expression. There was a sort of mystery in his eyes.

* * *

I will not try to describe this day, with all its varied incidents and follies. The prosecuting attorney, summoned by dispatch, came in the afternoon, and began his investigation. Joseph, Marianne, and I were questioned, one after the other,-the first two for the sake of form, I with a hostile persistence which was extremely disagreeable to me. They visited my room, and searched my commode and my trunks. My correspondence was examined in detail. Thanks to a piece of good luck that I bless, the manuscript of my diary escaped them. A few days before the event I had sent it to Cléclé, from whom I had received an affectionate letter. But for that the magistrates perhaps would have found in these pages a foundation for a charge against Joseph, or at least for suspicion of him. I still tremble at the thought of it. It goes without saying that they also examined the garden paths, the platbands, the walls, the openings in the hedges, and the little yard leading to the lane, in the hope of finding foot-prints and traces of wall-scaling. But the ground was very dry and hard; it was impossible to discover the slightest imprint, the slightest clue. The fence, the walls, the openings in the hedges, kept their secret jealously. Just as in the case of the outrage in the woods, the people of the neighborhood hurried forward, asking to testify. One had seen a man of light complexion "whose looks he did not like;" another had seen a man of dark complexion "who had a funny air." In short, the investigation proved fruitless. No scent, no suspicion.

"We shall have to wait," declared the prosecuting attorney, mysteriously, as he left that night. "Perhaps the Paris police will put us on the track of the guilty."

During this fatiguing day, amid the goings and comings, I had scarcely the leisure to think of the consequences of this drama, which for the first time put a little animation and life into this dismal Priory. Madame did not give us a minute's rest; we had to run hither and thither,-without reason, moreover, for Madame had lost her head a little. As for Marianne, she seemed to take no notice of anything, and to be unaware that anything had happened to upset the house. Like the sad Eugénie, she followed her own idea, and her own idea was very far from our preoccupations. When Monsieur appeared in the kitchen, she became suddenly like one intoxicated, and she looked at him with ecstatic eyes.

"Oh! your big phiz! Your big hands! Your big eyes!"

In the evening, after a silent dinner, I had an opportunity to reflect. The idea had struck me immediately, and now it was fortified within me, that Joseph was not a stranger to this bold robbery. I even went so far as to hope that between his Cherbourg trip and the preparation of this audacious and incomparably executed stroke there had been an evident connection. And I remembered the answer he made to me, on the eve of his departure:

"That depends ... on a very important matter."

Although he endeavored to appear natural, I perceived in his movements, in his attitude, in his silence, an unusual embarrassment, visible only to me.

I took so much satisfaction in this presentiment that I did not try to put it aside. On the contrary, I felt an intense joy in contemplating the idea. Marianne having left us alone a moment in the kitchen, I approached Joseph, and, in a coaxing, tender voice, moved by an inexpressible emotion, I asked him:

"Tell me, Joseph, that it was you who outraged the little Claire in the woods. Tell me that it was you who stole Madame's silver service."

Surprised, stupefied by this question, Joseph looked at me. Then, suddenly, without answering, he drew me to him, and, making my neck bend under a kiss that fell like a blow of a club, he said to me:

"Don't talk about that, since you are to come with me to the little café, and since our two souls are alike."

I remember having seen in a little salon at the Countess Fardin's a sort of Hindoo idol, horribly and murderously beautiful. At this moment Joseph resembled it.

* * *

Days passed, and months. Naturally the magistrates were unable to discover anything, and finally they abandoned the investigation. Their opinion was that the crime was the work of expert burglars from Paris. Paris has a broad back. Go look for them in the heap!

This negative result made Madame indignant. She railed violently at the magistracy, which could not recover her silver service. But nevertheless she did not give up hope of finding "the cruet of Louis XVI," as Joseph called it. Every day she concocted new and outlandish schemes, which she sent to the magistrates, who, tiring at last of all this nonsense, d

id not even answer her. At last I was reassured concerning Joseph; for I was always afraid that some catastrophe would overtake him.

Joseph had again become silent and devoted, the family servant, the rare pearl. I cannot help puffing with laughter at the recollection of a conversation which, on the very day of the robbery, I overheard behind the door of the salon, between Madame and the prosecuting attorney, a dry little man, with thin lips and bilious complexion, whose profile was as sharp as the edge of a sword.

"You do not suspect anybody among your people?" asked the prosecuting attorney. "Your coachman?"

"Joseph!" cried Madame, scandalized, "a man who is so devoted to us, who has been in our service for more than fifteen years! Honesty itself, Monsieur; a pearl! He would throw himself into the fire for us."

Anxious, with wrinkled brow, she reflected:

"Unless it were this girl, the chambermaid. I do not know her. Perhaps she has very bad relations in Paris. Several times I have caught her drinking the table-wine and eating our prunes. A servant who drinks his master's wine is capable of anything."

And she murmured:

"One should never take servants from Paris. She is singular, indeed."

Just fancy the mean thing!

That is the way with suspicious people. They suspect everybody, save him who robs them, of course. For I was more and more convinced that Joseph had been the soul of this affair. For a long time I had watched him, not from any hostile feeling, as you may know, but from curiosity; and I was certain that this faithful and devoted servant, this unique pearl, was foraging in the house for all he was worth. He stole oats, coal, eggs, all sorts of little things that could be sold without giving any trace of their origin. And his friend, the sacristan, did not come to the harness-room in the evening for nothing, and simply to discuss the benefits of anti-Semitism. Being a circumspect, patient, prudent, methodical man, Joseph was not unaware that petty larcenies, committed daily, foot up largely at the end of the year, and I am persuaded that in this way he tripled and quadrupled his wages,-a thing never to be disdained. I know very well that there is a difference between these little thefts and such an audacious pillage as that of the night of December 24. That proves that he liked also to work on the grand scale. How do I know that Joseph was not then a member of a gang? Ah! how I should have liked to know all that, and how I should like to know it still.

After the evening when he gave me the kiss that to me was equivalent to a confession of the crime, when his confidence went out to me in a moment of passion, Joseph steadily denied. In vain did I turn him this way and that, set traps for him, and wheedle him with soft words and caresses; he would not contradict himself. And he entered into the madness of Madame's hopes. He too concocted schemes, and tried to imagine the robbery in all its details; and he beat the dogs that did not bark, and he threatened with his fist the unknown thieves, the chimerical thieves, as if he saw them running at the horizon. I did not know what to think about this impenetrable man. One day I believed him guilty; another day I believed him innocent. And it was horribly provoking.

We met again in the harness-room in the evening, as before.

"Well, Joseph?"

"Ah! it is you, Célestine!"

"Why don't you speak to me any more? You seem to shun me."

"Shun you? I? Oh! heavens!"

"Yes, since that famous morning."

"Don't talk of that, Célestine; you have too bad ideas."

And he sadly wagged his head.

"Come, Joseph, you know that I do that for fun. Would I love you, if you had committed such a crime? My little Joseph...."

"Yes, yes. You are trying to wheedle me. It is not well."

"And when are we to start? I cannot live here any longer."

"Not directly. We must wait awhile."

"But why?"

"Because ... that cannot be done at once."

A little piqued, I said in a tone of slight anger:

"It is not nice of you. You evidently are in no hurry for me."

"I?" cried Joseph, with ardent grimaces. "Why, I am crazy over you."

"Well, then, let us start."

But he was obstinate, refusing to explain further.

"No, no; that cannot be done yet."

Very naturally I reflected:

"He is right, after all. If he has stolen the silver service, he cannot go away now, or set up in business. Perhaps it would awaken suspicion. Some time must be allowed to pass, so that this mysterious affair may be forgotten."

Another evening I proposed:

"Listen, my little Joseph; I know a way of leaving here. We could get up a quarrel with Madame, and force her to discharge us both."

But he protested sharply.

"No, no," he exclaimed. "None of that, Célestine. No, indeed! For my part, I love my masters. They are good masters. We must part with them on good terms. We must go away from here like worthy people, like serious people. The masters must be sorry to have us leave; they must weep to see us go."

With a sad gravity, in which I perceived no trace of irony, he declared:

"I, you know, shall be greatly grieved at leaving here. I have been here for fifteen years. One gets attached to a house in that time. And you, Célestine, will it give you no pain?"

"Oh! no," I shouted, laughing.

"It is not well; it is not well. One should love one's masters. Masters are masters. And let me give you some advice. Be very nice, very gentle, very devoted; do your work well; don't talk back. In short, Célestine, we must leave on good terms with them,-with Madame, especially."

I followed Joseph's advice, and, during the months that we had to remain at the Priory, I promised myself that I would be a model chambermaid,-that I would be a pearl, too. I lavished upon them all my intelligence, all my willingness, all my delicacy. Madame became human with me; little by little, she became really my friend. I do not think it was my care alone that brought about this change in Madame's character. Madame's pride, and even her reasons for living, had received a blow. As after some great sorrow, after the overwhelming loss of some cherished darling, she no longer struggled, but gently and plaintively abandoned herself to the dejection of her conquered nerves and her humiliated pride, seeming to seek from those about her only consolation, pity, and confidence. The hell of the Priory was transformed for everybody into a real paradise.

It was in the height of this family peace, of this domestic calm, that I announced one morning to Madame that I was under the necessity of leaving her. I invented a romantic story; I was to return to my native province, there to marry a worthy fellow who had long been waiting for me. In words of tenderness I expressed my pain, my regrets, my appreciation of Madame's kindness, etc. Madame was overwhelmed. She tried to keep me by appealing to my sentiments and to my interest. She offered to increase my wages, and to give me a fine room on the second floor. But, finding me determined, she had to be resigned.

"I have become so accustomed to you now," she sighed. "Ah! I have no luck."

But it was much worse when, a week later, Joseph came, in his turn, to explain that, being too old and tired, he could no longer continue his service, and must seek the rest that he needed.

"You, Joseph?" cried Madame. "You, too? It is not possible. A curse must have fallen on the Priory. Everybody abandons me; everything abandons me."

Madame wept. Joseph wept. Monsieur wept. Marianne wept.

"You take with you all our regrets, Joseph."

Alas! he took not only regrets; he took also the silver service.

Once away, I was much perplexed. I had no scruple about enjoying Joseph's money, the stolen money,-no, it was not that,-where is the money that is not stolen?-but I feared lest my feeling might prove only a fleeting curiosity. Joseph had acquired over me, over my mind as well as my flesh, an ascendency that perhaps would not last. And perhaps it was only a momentary perversion of my senses. There were moments, too, when I asked myself if it was not my imagination, carried to the heights of exceptional dreams, which had created Joseph as I saw him; if really he was anything more than a simple brute, a peasant, incapable even of a fine act of violence, of a fine crime. The consequences of this act frightened me. And then, is it not really inexplicable? This idea that I was no longer to be in the service of others caused me some regret. Formerly I thought that I should welcome the news of my liberty with great joy. Well, no! Through being a domestic, one gets it into his blood. Suppose I should suddenly miss the spectacle of bourgeois luxury? I foresaw my own little interior, severe and cold, like a workman's interior, my mediocre life, deprived of all these pretty things, of all these pretty stuffs so soft to the touch, of all these pretty vices which it was my pleasure to serve, to dress, to adorn, to plunge into, as into a perfumed bath. But it was too late to draw back.

Ah! who could have told me, on the gray, sad, and rainy day on which I arrived at the Priory, that I would end with this strange, silent, and crusty man, who looked at me with such disdain?

Now we are in the little café. Joseph has grown young again. He is no longer bent and clumsy. And he walks from one table to another, and he runs from one room to the other, with supple leg and elastic spine. His shoulders, which so frightened me, have taken on good nature; his neck, sometimes so terrible, has something about it that is fraternal and restful. Always freshly shaven, with skin as dark and shining as mahogany, with a skull cap on his head, and wearing a blue and very clean woollen shirt, he has the air of an old sailor, of an old sea-dog who has seen extraordinary things and passed through extravagant countries. What I admire in him is his moral tranquillity. There is no longer any anxiety in his look. One sees that his life rests on solid foundations. More violently than ever, he is for the family, for property, for religion, for the navy, for the army, for the country. He astonishes me!

When we married, Joseph gave me a marriage portion of ten thousand francs. The other day the maritime commissary knocked down to him at fifteen thousand francs a lot of wreckage, for which he paid cash, and which he has sold again at a big profit. He also does a little banking business,-that is, he lends money to fishermen. And already he is thinking of branching out, by taking the next house. Perhaps we shall start a music-hall there.

It puzzles me that he has so much money. And how much is his fortune? I do not know. He does not like me to talk to him about that. He does not like me to talk to him about the time that we were servants. One would say that he has forgotten everything, and that his life really began only on the day when he took possession of the little café. When I ask him a question that torments me, he seems not to understand what I say. And then terrible gleams flash through his eyes, as they used to do. Never shall I know anything of Joseph; never shall I know the mystery of his life. And perhaps it is this mystery which so attaches me to him.

Joseph looks out for everything in the house, and there is no hitch anywhere. We have three waiters to serve the customers, a maid-of-all-work for the kitchen and the household, and everything goes as to the beat of a magic wand. It is true that in three months we have changed our servant four times. How exacting these Cherbourg servants are! how thieving, and how shameless! No, it is incredible, and it is disgusting.

As for me, I superintend the cash, enthroned behind the bar, amid a forest of colored bottles. I am there also on show, and to chat. Joseph wishes me to be finely arrayed; he never refuses me anything for the adornment of my person, and he likes me to show my skin in the evening, in a tantalizing dress, somewhat low in the neck. It is necessary to excite the customer, to keep him in a state of constant joy, of constant desire. There are already two or three fat quartermasters, two or three engineers of the squadron, very well fixed, who pay me assiduous court. Naturally, to please me, they spend a good deal. Joseph spoils them especially, for they are terrible drinkers. We have also taken four boarders. They eat with us, and every evening pay for wine and cordials, which all hands drink. They are very gallant with me, and I do my best to excite them. But I am careful not to let my manners go farther than the encouragement of commonplace ogling, equivocal smiles, and illusory promises. Moreover, I have no intentions. Joseph is enough for me, and I really think I should suffer by the change, even if I had the opportunity to deceive him with the admiral. It is really funny; ugly as he is, nobody is as handsome as my Joseph. Oh! the old monster! What a hold he has taken on me! And to think that he has always lived in the country, and has been all his life a peasant!

But where Joseph especially triumphs is in politics. Thanks to him, the little café, whose sign, "To the French Army," shines over the whole neighborhood, in big letters of gold by day, in big letters of fire by night, is now the official rendezvous of the conspicuous anti-Semites and the noisiest patriots of the town. These come here to fraternize, in heroic sprees, with sub-officers of the army and non-commissioned officers of the navy. There have already been some bloody fights, and several times, apropos of nothing, the sub-officers have drawn their swords, threatening to kill imaginary traitors. The night that Dreyfus landed in France I thought that the little café would tumble down under the cries of "Long Live the Army!" and "Death to the Jews!" That night Joseph, who is already popular in the town, had a mad success. He mounted a table, and shouted:

"If the traitor is guilty, let him be sent back. If he is innocent, let him be shot."

On every hand they shouted:

"Yes, yes! Let him be shot! Long live the army!"

This proposition had carried the enthusiasm to the height of paroxysm. Above the shouting, in the café, could be heard only the clashing of swords and the pounding of fists on the marble tables. Some one, having ventured to say nobody knows what, was hooted, and Joseph, rushing upon him, smashed his mouth with a blow of his fist, and broke five teeth for him. Struck repeatedly with the flat of a sword, torn, covered with blood, and half dead, the unfortunate man was cast, like so much filth, into the street, always to the cries of "Long Live the Army! Death to the Jews!"

There are moments when I am afraid in this atmosphere of debauchery, among all these bestial faces, heavy with alcohol and murder. But Joseph, reassures me.

"That's nothing," he says. "That is good for business."

Yesterday, coming back from the market, Joseph announced, gaily rubbing his hands:

"Bad news. There is talk of a war with England."

"Oh! my God!" I cried. "Suppose Cherbourg should be bombarded?"

"Pooh! Pooh!" sneered Joseph. "Only I have thought of something; I have thought of a stroke, a rich stroke."

In spite of myself I shuddered. He must be contemplating some immense rascality.

"The more I look at you," he said, "the more I say to myself that you have not the head of a Breton. Oh! no, you have not the head of a Breton. You have rather an Alsatian head. Hey? That would make a fine show behind the bar."

I was disappointed. I thought that Joseph was going to propose some terrible thing. I was proud already at the thought of being admitted to partnership in a bold undertaking. Whenever I see him in reflective mood, my ideas are immediately inflamed. I imagine tragedies, nocturnal wallscalings, robberies, drawn knives, people in the agony of death on the forest heath. And it was nothing but a petty and vulgar piece of advertising.

With his hands in his pockets, and his blue skull-cap on his head, he swayed to and fro, in a droll fashion.

"Do you understand?" he insisted. "At the outbreak of a war a very pretty Alsatian, finely dressed, would inflame hearts and excite patriotism. And there is nothing like patriotism to get people drunk. What do you think of it? I would put you in the newspapers, and perhaps even on posters."

"I prefer to remain in the costume of a lady," I answered, a little dryly.

Thereupon we began to quarrel. And for the first time we came to violent words.

"You did not put on so many airs when you were intimate with everybody," cried Joseph.

"And you?... When you ... Oh! you had better let me alone, because I could say too much."

"Strumpet!"

"Thief!"

A customer came in. The discussion ceased. And at night there was a reconciliation, with kisses.

I am going to have a pretty Alsatian costume made for me, of silk and velvet. Really I am powerless against Joseph's will. In spite of this little fit of revolt, Joseph holds me, possesses me, like a demon. And I am happy in being his. I feel that I shall do whatever he wishes me to do, and that I shall go wherever he tells me to go ... even to crime!

March, 1900.

(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares